The traveler in the dark

I am feeling off-center, so I am compelled to write. I suppose that’s why I wrote so prolifically in college. Prolific sounds positive -- fruitful and generative. It wasn't necessarily that, more messily obsessive. Songs,  stories, emails, letters, journal entries, slips of paper by the bed at night, scrawled words in red pen I could never read the next day. A few songs sometimes made reappearances in later years in Dimestore Scenario. One of them, Half Life, is even on our long delayed EP The End of May that I hope to finish by the end of this May (four years after the fact). There are lines that make me cringe now, but I remind myself I was only 19 when I wrote it. I can’t see changing it. It is part of that small personal history and would seem artificial to make it into something that sounds better.

Alex was supposed to meet Wally and me at the Hudson Library on Leroy Street this afternoon. He was to stay there while Wally played—they have the most wonderful playroom with little wooden kitchens and mini slides where now Wally stretches his legs from the top and practically reaches the bottom. But Alex called after work to say he wasn’t coming—his leg hurt so much he was heading to the ER in a cab. Was he being hypochondriacal? Was it the muscle-pain equivalent of the "man cold" he so gracelessly suffers through every few weeks in winter, croaking out requests for chamomile tea which inevitably grows cold on the bedside table, untouched? Or was it something serious, like a stroke even? His cell phone battery had been dead all day. My cousin Moira stayed  with us for two days, in the room where we keep the phone chargers. Alex got home late last night and didn’t charge his phone per usual. So now it is nearly 5 hours later and I haven’t heard anything. I called NYU -- the hospital where Wally was born, where Grandma Miriam went for her near-final run, where the girlfriend of one of my best friend's works as an ER doctor. Funny, in such a big town as this to have this small-town sense of familiarity about that place. There was confusion over the spelling of Alexandre as there always is -- not Alexandra -- and then a vague report that he was being evaluated. 

I know there is nothing to worry about in particular: ER visits always take a long time. But as the hours go by, it's unsettling. Separately, no one I call back is answering the phone. People all seemed to be leaving and busy, meeting and carrying on with things that don't involve me. My parents were supposed to visit last weekend, then it was moved to this one, now because of the "ice dams" they may postpone yet again. Something feels off. Meanwhile Wally's happily eating a scrambled egg and leftover potatoes on his baby tiger plate. Because I do, he asks, “Where’s Alex?” every now and then. He lets the question hang in the air then offers one or another possible location. “Maybe he’s at the library. Maybe he’s working now. Maybe he’s on the E train.” He doesn’t know Alex is Daddy. He probably cares very little for whoever it is. Later, before Wally goes to bed, he looks out at the city, his city (literally everything is "mine" at this point, even a sprawling metropolis of 8.4 million people) and said, "Where's Daddy?" I am wondering too, with growing unease.

Wally and I are oddly not busy right now. My cousin Moira left. Plans changed, and now no plans tonight at all. I knew Wally would be heartbroken over Moira leaving, but did not expect the apartment to feel so empty to me. The whole time here she had Wally giggling. He spent hours racing up and down the hallway crashing into her and asking to do it again, a request she always obliged. She carried him around upside down, let him mess up all the stuff in her suitcase and jump into her bed. It's so quiet now. Wally's little train sounds almost seem to echo. 

Everyone is off to vacations and strange hospital visits and college tours. Moira's older brother Will is visiting a college in Boston tomorrow so tonight he will go with Moira and their parents to stay at my parents' on the way to what some people around that area refer to as "the city". My sister and her girls are already up there this week visiting. Maybe they're all gathered in the dining room now playing The New Yorker game and drinking Sam Adams. Still no word from Alex, not that he could send one.

Moira is only 15 but she is calmer than I am with Wally.  Other than worrying about the preschool stuff I've sunk into renewed--I guess,  despair?--over the infinity of the cosmos because we keep going to the Museum of Natural History  (my parents gave us a family membership this year as Wally's birthday gift). In the visible universe there are estimated to be 100 billion galaxies. That could be a fraction of the actual universe, which might be infinite. In our galaxy alone there could be as many as 100 billion planets. Now scientists are entertaining the idea of the multiverse -- multiple universes. Doesn't this bother anyone? I mean it is just so completely, mind-bogglingly bizarre. But isn't all this a bit harder to swallow than a supernatural being creating the earth? Sea creatures on the 5th day and Adam's broken rib? I mean how insane do you have to be to believe in evolution and the big bang? It drives me crazy; especially in the middle of the night. 

So there are the logistics to worry about on the one hand--preschool, job searches, freelance work I'm always trying to squeeze in, and now this odd silent stretch of Alex at that friendly neighborhood hospital -- and the vastness of the universe on the other.  I try so hard to fathom it--I remember doing this as a little kid--and it's pointless, not like I am going to contribute anything to our understanding of black holes or nuclearsynthesis. It's not getting me anywhere at all. When Will goes to college, will he study this in a more purposeful way? Will he write obsessively, finding himself off center? I can clearly picture the adorable five-year old boy that he was holding balloons at my college graduation. He was just two years older then than Wally is now. 

Last night at this time Alex was happily making dinner for Moira and me. Dinner was followed by a frantic search for his keys--worse than usual, their absence unfairly blamed on me because I misplace everything. (That part is true.) Absent-minded professor without the professor part. One tiny step for... ("woman" to me is a silly word, never sounds right; "girl" no longer apt; "lady" clearly outdated): accepting that it was my choice not to become a professor. For so many years I felt differently, encouraged by my own professors to continue on, but swayed away by voices that sounded louder to me. I blamed it on those loud voices, instead of the person who chose to listen. It was a choice to listen or not, then and now. Just as it's a choice to relax or hang up the phone. I don't think I'd have done many of the things I'm glad I did do if I'd agreed to relax.

For now I'm willing myself to "breathe" -- that too such an irritating word sometimes, because of the way it's said, though a rather essential thing to do, to agree to do on a daily basis. I always find it a riot to read a self-help mantra "Remember to breathe." Of course they  mean breathe slowly, pause for a minute. But alone it looks amusing. One hopes that no matter what else we misplace and forget, we at least remember to do that. For now I'm willing myself to put Wally in his cozy pajamas, to cheerfully read Blue Hat, Green Hat to him while cuddling on the bed, then to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, including those little-known verses about the traveler in the dark, and not wonder too much about what it is, or where you are. 


  1. I try not to worry about things that I can't do anything about. Wonder about then, sure - from time to time - but no sense needing to be told to helax over something that couldn't possibly have a needed action associated with it. Josh doesn't understand this about me, and neither do his parents. They work themselves into a frenzy over anything.

    One time, Josh's mom was trying to whip me into a frenzy over some testing she thought Morgan should have. They are academics, so studies are uber important, even if there is no action at the outcome. Finally, I snapped. "Either tell me what doctor to see for what specific test, or shut up about it!"

    The night ended badly, but I digress. Not worrying about things I can't take action on is one of the main ways I control my stress. Of course, a loved one in the hospital would be difficult to avoid worrying over - I was a basketcase when my sisters were giving birth!

    That's exciting about integrated pre-school! We have scary transitions going on here as well - Morgan will be going to middle school next year (eeek!) and the school has not previously had a program appropriate for him. But they've developed one and I've told them I'll hang in there for a year and see how it goes, so worry is over on that one :).

    Morgan made so many strides when he first started preschool! He wasn't really talking hardly at all when it started. He did have a 1-on-1 all day, and continues to have one (actually 2, one for the morning and one for the afternoon), and it has been awesome for him.

    Good luck and can't wait to hear how it goes!

  2. Great post. From everyday to the stars without missing a beat.

  3. I know this is nowhere near as comforting as having a psychologist tell you so, but I can't believe they keep saying Wally need special ed! He seems like such a bright, "normal" boy to me. Do you ever just wish this was the 50s (or hell, the 80s) and no one had labels for all this shit?

  4. Jen - yes. Thank you for saying that. What I can't believe is how many special ed classrooms have rejected him as "unmanageable". Alternate universe sometimes. Also fury at upstairs neighbor for reporting to rest of building that Wally has ADHD (her diagnoses, and of course, like many have said, what boy doesn't).
    Rhonda -- for the 3rd time I'm trying to reply to yr comment -- it's so weird. Thought I'd posted 2x before to it, but must not have been signed in. It's exciting to hear Morgan is moving on to middle school and a new program. I look forward to hearing how it goes. Also glad to see you are catching up on yr blog. I had to laugh at that exchange w/ Josh's mom even though it sounds so frustrating. People are incredible about doling out vague childcare advice. Especially the ones who would never accept it from anyone else.


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