Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Project Whimsy Part II

This morning, I had a strange sensation. And I gave into the turn of the mind, turn of the weather, turn of the dream scape. It was cloudy out and had been for days, so I put on the coffee and sliced garden zucchini; I battered the slices in raw milk and rice flour and cooked them into little pancakes, which I heaped on a platter. I turned on the living room computer and found a copy of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s eponymous album on You Tube.

Then I sat back, closed my eyes and listened intently to the scratching record sound somebody had imported to mp3 technology. I took one bite of zucchini, and another, and I drank my coffee, the enchantment fooling my senses. With a few tricks of cooking and technology, I could time travel to the days when I spun vinyl on record players. I could consider the enchantment in the music as a yet more distant conceit, since Crosby, Stills, and Nash recorded the album before my birth. It was retro even in the now retro days of the nineties, when the songs’ atmosphere caught me up in dreams of wooden ships on water and tangled little circles of alliteration. Wordlessly watching, [I] wait by the window and wonder at the empty place inside.

I fill the empty place with life in the Northwest: I carry my AM/PM coffee mug with me to the 57 bus stop on the corner. Native Portlanders don’t use umbrellas, and I’m a native. Instead, the rain drizzles on my head, and the afternoon disappears into an early evening. After the bus swallows me in its brightly lit interior, I stare out the window and see only my own white face staring back at me, which bores me because, as a stoic, I can’t make myself smile. It’s part of my philosophy: sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Happiness isn’t something to grasp, though, and smiles don’t suit me. I have a book–a journal. It’s one of my senior year projects, and I fill it with little stories and essays until I fill up the last page. I’ve never written in a journal before (and have rarely done so since). Writing in little books isn’t my style. But it is today. Or it might be if I had any interest in writing words or any lines left to write them on. I flip through and read an excerpt about my sister, whom I’m off to visit at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

In the excerpt, I’m watching her work in the pottery shed. It’s an abominably cold metal building with rain leaking through the roof. My sister spends too much time here, and it’s no wonder that she’s always wrapped in scarves and fighting off respiratory infections. The rain leaks through the roof, and it runs in rivulets of muddy clay on the floor. The rain taps and taps and eventually beats its way in. Due to the damp and mud, my sister is barefoot, her feet in puddles, as she models clay into perfect formations with her fingers. Her fingers are able to accomplish what most artists can’t form with the help of a wheel or machinery. She has delicate fingers, too. They’re slender, small, tapered. Her wild red hair somehow stays out of the muck. Even with her pottery and mud, she’s more pristine than I’ll ever manage–nails like the moon, skin carefully freckled, as though she ordered the placement. Boys tend to bend over backward to catch her attention, and she’s blind to them, and I can’t understand this. If a boy were to give me a second look, I would be so astonished I would wonder whether I had entered an alternate universe. But that’s the way it is. I’m a watcher, and not a person watched.

The rain hits the top of the bus. It slides down the bus windows, and I’m reluctant to leave the muggy warmth and enter into the dark afternoon. Forest Grove is the end of the line, though, and the Pacific University campus waits with its cluster of important brick buildings and overbearing trees and shadows. I’m to meet my sister at her room, and I hurry there, to a charmless dorm building, where the smallness and darkness hover in strange corner rooms. I knock on her door and stand waiting in the dreary hall. My sister is the one with the vibrancy; I’m there for her and not the atmosphere. As it turns out, my sister has forgotten me. Her roommate peers out and looks as though she doesn’t quite know what to do with this forlorn little sister creature who has appeared from the shadows. The roommate’s name is Andrea, and she’s the type of girl who carries grace with her everywhere she goes–it’s embedded in the genes that have created her elegant bone structure. Of course, she’s a ballet dancer, and that’s the point.

Andrea invites me in and, after I let go of my backpack, where does the enchantment go? Where does it direct itself, but to the outdoor world of a night campus, where rows of trees catapult us into a fantasy realm? Stoicism forgotten, sudden and unplanned whimsy captures me when I run outside with Andrea. I can’t explain what comes over us. We invent stories and run through the grass and twisted trees. We crawl through the shadows, and, for my part, forget disappointment. We’re as children in a pretend world, except the world is startlingly real. We really do spin through the grass and land in a fairytale.Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Add to that: happy and yet happy. I’m neither a watcher, nor the watched. Rather, we’re both in the moment and (obviously) out of it at the same time.

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3 comments

  1. I love it Jill! Thank you for capturing that moment and giving it back to me as a gift in the middle of my Iowa summer. I remember the shadowy corridor of trees and collapsing on the grass. Beautifully written, and it brings back a part of me that needed to resurface.

    1. It was fun to try to recapture that night, but difficult. I remember making up a fantasy story and can’t remember the story part at all. Did it involve fairies? I have no idea! 🙂

  2. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after looking at many of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

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