So she slams the car door, says “Bye, daddy,” and starts running to the house. Halfway there and suddenly, she stops.
Sure, I write to remember, of course, but I also write to wonder, to poke certain memories with a stick in order to see, in and through language, what they reveal. And also to create a documented memorial to memory, for the minutia, for those fleeting things, so sly, that frequently slip by into the unspeakable realm of forgotten things. So maybe she can one day read them too, a woman, perusing tombstones of her childhood, things her daddy thought.
And it’s all in the stopping. When she stopped. Stop.
What, spinning on dimes, changes our minds? For instance, you’ve decided with certainty that you want the carrot cake, you close the menu, sip your coffee, wait. But when the waitress comes and solicits your decision, you hear yourself order the crème brulee. It’s like that, no? Someone else emerges through you and you, from some quirky 3rd person perspective, hear them trump your carrot cake with crème brulee and you’re like ‘What?’ But then you quickly adjust to the thought that it was your idea because the spooky alternative lacks coherence and, besides, the crème brulee? It was delicious.
And she turns.
One of the first paintings I ever loved was Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Because, though ambiguously, she—a static image—wants to move and she does in your firing imagination. She’s turning. But away from you? Or toward you? And what’s the deal with the expression on her face? Is she longing for her lover? Mourning? Startled? It was the first painting that ever filled me with confused wonder that, far from irritating, lit me on fire with awe and questions. I wanted to know her but I knew I never would, that her story would always both beckon and elude me. I remember the last day I saw my best friend. He walked away as I wondered if he would stop and turn around. I remember my rum soaked step-dad walking down the hall as I wondered if he would stop and turn around.
The sky is so blue that it could make you cry if you thought about it too hard and the sun smashes through like a baseball shattering a window. And there she is, wearing a purple dress. Stopped, turned, and now standing on the white sidewalk. So present, she owns the space she occupies and the palms lean in. She has such a keen draw on my attention that she often forces me to imagine that the vast interconnection of all the things of this world are all thus locked in an effort to continue producing her, permitting her to erupt into the world with her mischievous smile and long yellow hair. What does she want? Why is she standing there?
When you closely observe, in the midst of a conversation, how fast we talk, how quickly the words come up our throats and off our tongues, it becomes easy to doubt that there’s a process by which we first think of words and then say them. Rather, language sometimes, especially when we “say things we don’t mean,” seems to have a mind of its own, as if perhaps Language itself is speaking and merely using people in the way we tend to believe that we use art supplies. Can you imagine? We use paint and brushes to paint landscapes. What if Language uses us to speak its mind? It’s just a thought. But whose?
“I LOVE YOU, DADDY!”
It startles us both. Because it’s more than the declaration of a 9-year-old girl. It was as if something grabbed her, stopped her, and spun her around. And then, wild and blue-eyed, she yelled it. A man walking his dog stops to make sense of the scene. There is a yellow fire hydrant and yellow flowers waving in the wind. And I, so often perplexed by issues of meaning and worth, feel as if the world just opened its front door and invited me in.
How separate are we? Is there such a thing as alone? What, besides ideas, stands between me and you and the infinite riches of the treasure house? She runs back to the car, leans in the window, and gives me a kiss. “I love you too, little girl,” I reply and she turns once again to run to the house without looking back. And I drive away, cruising the city’s streets as everything—cars, park benches, litter and debris—come alive and smile at me.
Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine