When did I become the person who measures time in decades?
In another year, another season, I was ten. My grandmother and I walked towards the low back field to gather persimmons from the ground. We’d carry soft brown tear-shaped fruits that would be frozen in chest freezers in her back room in stiff, cracked plastic containers; after she moved into an assisted living home, her sons would pull the plug on these freezers, crammed with these and other frost-bitten ziplocks of harvested things. Solostalgia, I read in last week’s paper: a state of homesickness that’s unrequited by the presence of home. We’d find the black bodies of bananas, peaches, packets of meat stuck directly into the crevices and corners too tight to hold a Cool-whip container.
My grandmother would look at me as if I were a grownup. “The first ten years take a long time,” she finally said. “But the rest don’t.”
In May 2007, I woke in a small summer house built by a piedmont lake, a dammed snake of a river where mornings buzz with outboard motors, fishermen setting out to fill five-gallon buckets with catfish, bass, and brim. Raptors dip and soar overhead. I would have lived in the mountains for over a decade now, but it’s still this muddy, gasoline-scented water with its trimmed azalea edges I know as home.
My partner is, and was, a wiry, bright-eyed woman who left journalism to care for her sister’s newborn, which is how I first met her in the last month of the last millennium. The newborn is now, in 2007, a fiercely joyful girl. We’ve brought her best friend: the two talk non-stop, their thoughts flowing easily, unbidden, a freedom I can neither recall nor truly imagine. Later, I’ll hear them splashing together, painting one another with pyrite-bright mud.
I would have brought my coffee and a book down to the pier, leaving my partner snoring softly in the warm bed. Buddy, her Jack-Russell-Bisenji mix, would have been ten then, already thick with the cancer that would kill him though we didn’t know it yet. He curled beside me on the pier, his wrinkled brow perpetually distressed. I was reading Eudora Welty, and my notebook from that weekend is filled with carefully copied passages from her essay, “Is Phoenix Jackson’s Grandson Really Dead?”
“It’s all right,” I read, “for things to be what they appear to be, for words to mean what they say. It’s all right too for words and appearances to mean more than one thing---ambiguity is a fact of life. But is not all right, not in good faith, for things not to mean what they say.” I would write a comment here, in my notebook: Really? And then, Yes, I think so.
I wish I were the kind of writer who paid more attention to where I was in the moment, who could tell you about the games the girls played together, the stories they created with action figures and plastic horses. “But what happened? What was it like?” my partner asks. I never know what to say. I remember Buddy’s expression because of the words I’d used to describe it, rather than remembering the expression itself. “The habit of love cuts through confusion and stumbles or contrives its way out of difficulty, it remembers the way even when it forgets, for a dumbfounded moment, its reason for being,” Welty continued. I’ll follow the words as I write them, spilling across the screen, finding out, as they appear, what I mean, a meaning I wouldn’t know when I lived the story I’m telling you now.
Carolyn Ogburn lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina where she does any number of things for love and for money. She blogs for Ploughshares, and is a contributing writer for Numero Cinq. She attended UNC School of the Arts, Oberlin Conservatory (B.Music 1992), UNC-Asheville (MLA 2010), and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA 2016). She’s received an Emerging Artist Grant from the Asheville Area Arts Council, and fellowships from Ragdale Foundation and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
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