30 October 2010


This fall has been unusually beautiful, or I am unusually appreciative of it. The trees in Universe City are pink-red and yellow-orange and golden-yellow and, still, warm green, all together on a street, and I could crash my new car watching them above me, sometimes. It hasn't rained much, yet, so the leaves aren't battered off the trees and beaten into the ground, not yet. I walk around sometimes just staring at them, saying, "It's so beautiful! It's so beautiful!" to anyone who will listen.

I drove up to Gone West City last night, as the sun set, and there were low clouds hovering over the hills on either side of the road, and I wanted to bottle up the view and keep it so I could put my eye to the opening and savor it on dark, rainy evenings all winter.

But then it got dark, and I wanted to grumble like an old person about cars these days, their headlights are so bright, why can't they make them like they used to, and why can't these drivers just pass when they want to pass, why do they sit there just behind you for miles so their headlights shine right in your eyes through the side mirror until you have to drive with your hand against the window to block the reflection of those blasted new-fangled headlights.

The kids at the youth group ran screaming through the dark church, with B. racing behind them in his ninja costume, arms waving, trying to tag them. I watched the girls try to dip their heads in the bobbing bucket without messing up their hair, fretting when it took too long to get an apple, because ah! everyone is looking at me! and I was indescribably grateful to be 31 instead of 12. I do not miss the days of that paralyzing self-consciousness. It's so much nicer to like yourself.

I practiced my FIGHT moves on N. and B. in the church gym, demonstrating how to disarm someone with a gun to your back. "But I can get away," N. kept saying, and I said, "Yes, that is because I am not actually kicking you in the balls, nor am I elbowing you in the neck, because that would be mean."

27 October 2010

car car car!

I am infatuated with my car. I want to caress it every time I walk out to it. Only someone who hasn't had a car for an extended period of time can possibly understand how incredible it is, when you need something, just to get in a car and go get it. Or, OR! I can offer to drive. Or, OR! I can meet people for things in the evening when public transportation is done, and if I want to leave and go home, I JUST DO IT.

I'm not sure I can convey how truly exciting this is.

Tonight, I was at a store, buying things, and I heard a college student asking the cashier where he could catch the bus. "There is a stop just across the street," she said, "but you'll have to check when the next bus is coming."

I so clearly remember those cold, rainy nights, standing at a bus stop, wondering if the bus will ever come, and what you will do if it doesn't, that I stopped outside the door, hesitating, ready to offer him a ride, but he walked out the other way, purposefully, as if it would not discourage him as much to stand in the cold and dark alone as it always did me.

It's strange, and maybe not rational, but when I drive home in a warm dry car and go into my warm dry house, I feel less lonely than I used to feel walking in the cold wet night, waiting in a windy bus stop, watching the people in their comfortable living rooms.

24 October 2010


What usually happens is this: I start getting sick. I gargle and neti pot morning and evening. I take lots of ibuprofen. I get sicker. Finally, I pick a day when there is nothing much going on, and I determine that I will spend that day getting better. I will wake up late. I will do nothing but rest and drink tea.

Then I wake up that morning feeling fine, and so I get up, and I go to work or church, but by evening I feel terrible again. The next day is inevitably something I can't skip, and so I just plod on through.

21 October 2010

here and now/there and then

Every once in a while, I look around at my life and wonder, How did this happen? It isn't that I don't like my life. While I do miss Gone West City - the downtown parks (the downtown, period), the coffee and restaurants, my favorite people - I am building a life here in Universe City, and it is already fuller than the life I had there. I am filling it with the things I need and love.

And yet, every once in a while I read a blog post, I pick up a book, I pass a corner, I catch a smell on the breeze, I see a plane in the perfect blue arc of sky, and it transports me, and I wonder, How did I get here?

This wasn't supposed to be my life, you know. I was supposed to be traveling the world, feeling that ache of excitement that keeps you awake the night before a big trip. I was supposed to be living in warm, tropical places. I was supposed to be going to towns that have the sternest travel warnings from the State Department. I was supposed to be learning new languages and cultures. I was supposed to be far, far away from the boredom of life in a typical US American town.

If this wasn't supposed to be my life, if I miss that other life so much, why am I so happy here? And how is it that I'm happy here, now, and simultaneously I know that I have to go back to that life, that I will go back to it, someday?

You can't escape yourself, but there can be many homes that call you.

20 October 2010

discos compactos

You know what I had sort of forgotten?


Remember those?

I carried a whole book of them around under the seat of my truck in Rwanda, and I had an ever-revolving set of Philips portable CD players that I hooked up through the tape deck so I could have music in the mountains as I drove. (The CD players kept breaking because apparently they are not made for driving over rocky dirt roads. Oops.) On the curves between Kibuye and Kigali, I would automatically reach out to catch the CD player sliding over the passenger seat after I downshifted, to keep it from falling down between the door and the seat. This is why we have two hands: one for the steering wheel, one for the music.

One year later, when I went to Tanzania, I carried all my music on Wallace, the iPod that eventually met his doom in a pit latrine in Southern Sudan.

I'm on my third iPod now (her name is Winifred), and I couldn't really think of a reason to use CDs when you can carry around a universe of music on one little rectangle that fits in your pocket, until I realized something miraculous: you can get entire albums of new music on them, without paying $1.49 or whatever per song on iTunes. I haven't listened to an entire album in years, except the ones that T. gives me at Christmas.

But the library has CDs, it turns out, and it's brilliant how you can actually listen to new music without paying for it. Entirely new songs! Entirely new albums! Entirely new artists! I mean, sure, I might buy a song or two of a new artist on iTunes after I've watched it a million times on youTube to make sure I like it, but this is like stumbling upon a room full of gold bullion. I've been so bored with my old music, and I'm so excited about all these shiny new songs that I hardly know which one to put on first.

19 October 2010

party on

There are a lot of apples in my apartment now, yes, and I have nothing to do with them, really. One can only eat so many apples, unless they are fresh in the fall sunlight, and many of the ones on my counter are cooking apples.

I really do not like cooked fruit. I think it is an abomination. You have a perfectly good fruit, and you heat it until it gets mushy and then you mix it with sugar until it is sickeningly sweet, and then one is expected to eat the syrupy mush? This should be outlawed, along with mayonnaise and all other sour-tasting white substances: yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream - such things should exist only as moistening agents in baking of otherly-flavored baked goods.

Still, what is there to do with cooking apples but cook them? And baking apples at least smell delicious, with the cinnamon and the nutmeg and all.

I am seriously considering a party, for which I will bake pies that I do not eat. My apartment is too small, though. I might have to borrow my future apartment.

I have not thrown a party in six years, since I left Rwanda. In August of 2004, I laid out candles along the edge of the stone patio and dragged out the living room chairs and a single bed to supplement the seating. I bought beer and sodas, and Q. cooked vats of Vietnamese food. Nearly all my Rwandese and ex-pat friends gathered on the patio in the dark, with the candles the only light because, as always, the power was out.

I suspect my next party will be a little different.

17 October 2010


A. and I like to joke that whenever the two of us are in the same place, everything goes wrong: we take the wrong turn on the trail, we end up an hour further down the road than we need to be for the u-pick orchard, the wifi doesn't work in the cafe, the apple trees are picked over or the apples are spotted.

I looked up u-pick orchards on the internet, and it told me that the nearest one was north of Next City to the North, only that was a lie. There was one much closer, but finding it required internet (my new ipod touch failed me) and a phone call and then re-tracing our steps many miles back south.

We were spoiled in Michigan, A. and I, where the apple orchards are plentiful and bounteous. I suspect there was a frost here this spring, this long, cold spring, because nearly every apple had brown spots on it where the skin seemed to have been rumpled up. A. dug through the brown rumpled part and reached apparently normal apple flesh underneath, so we picked some of the ones with fewer spots and mocked ourselves for being wimpy modern North Americans. A hundred and fifty years ago, we would have been thrilled with those rumply apples.

"I'm going to make applesauce!" A. said, "and apple pie!"

"Let's make apple pie next Saturday afternoon," I said.

"I thought you didn't like cooked fruit," she said.

"Well, yes. That is true. But let's bake apple pie and then invite people over to eat it!"

16 October 2010

the haunting

It was supposed to be haunted and terrifying, but the scariest thing was the 12 year old girls shrieking behind us. We just laughed, and when a bony lunatic in a cage reached toward my forehead, I flicked his hand gently, chuckling at him. He patted my head as I passed the end of the cage, but I didn't even flinch.

Then I tried to get the zombie in the corner to move, but he wouldn't, so we hid around corners and jumped out at strangers.

It's disappointing how quickly people figure out that you are not a monster when you have no mask, blast it all.

15 October 2010

still more

I gave notice on my apartment today. I never fully settled into this apartment - there are boxes still full, and I never worked out systems for where things go. First I was waiting until I got a dresser, and then no sooner had I gotten the dresser at the church yard sale than my friend M. and I started talking about the possibility of living together. She has a big, expensive apartment with three bedrooms, and she needs a roommate, and I have a too-small apartment, and I'm ready to have a roommate again.

I think.

I've lived alone for about five years of my adult life: two years in Rwanda and nearly three years in Gone West. I loved it and I hated it. I loved the feeling that it didn't matter if I didn't wash those dishes in the sink for the third day in a row, and I hated the feeling that it didn't matter if I didn't clean, ever. Sometimes I just want to be alone, but other times I wish that there was someone watching tv when I walk in the door so that things aren't so dark and quiet.

And so, I will be moving again.

In honor of moving, or just because I wanted to get out of my apartment and had nothing to do tonight save sit around and go to bed early so I can get up for a 5K thingie (I will be walking, not running), I decided to go get some paint for the dresser.

After driving a 14-mile loop around the northern part of Universe City, I returned home, paint-less. One home improvement store was closed and the other two I somehow... missed. I don't know. I am new here. But at least I know where that one highway is that everyone talks about, and also that other road. So that is good.

The other things I needed were moisturizer and contact solution, and I stopped at an everything store to get them and somehow ended up with moisturizer and a new ipod touch (what?), but no contact solution, leading me to spend a frantic half hour just now looking for any left-over contact solution in my bags and backpacks, to no avail, and finally resorting to opening an old contact case or two and carefully decanting the tiny amount left in them into the current case so my contacts don't dry out overnight.

It's always a good day when I get to use the word decant in a sentence. It might be my favorite word, possibly.

11 October 2010


I've been in Universe City for over six weeks now, and I'm beginning to like it. I have more going on here than ever I did in Gone West City, between FIGHT class and my new-found penchant to just up and say, "Hey, I'm new here. We should be friends, and you should call me whenever there is something interesting going on." Also, I am working on being the instigator myself. It's amazing how well these things work. You just plan things, and ask people to do them, and if you are friends with the right sort of people, they show up. Even better, they also plan things, and they ask you if you want to do them.

Every time I move somewhere, I think hopefully that this time it will be different. This time, I will be surrounded by cool people who will all like me and I'll never have to spend a Saturday evening alone ever again, unless I want to. At some point, though, I figured out that I have to change in order to change my life, and with this move, I was ready. I knew what I needed. I knew what kind of life I wanted to build, and that I would have to do the work of building it.

Yeah, anyway. This is all a part of my realization, sometime in my last few months in Gone West City, that I am actually an extrovert. I like having activities going on. I just happen to be a shy extrovert. No one would call me shy after talking to me for a few minutes, but I am not the bravest at approaching new people and making conversation and asking people if they want to do things. I am working on that. I have made a couple of friends that way here in Universe City. It's hard to walk up to people and say, "Hey, can I talk to you guys? I don't know anyone here and I don't want to stand alone in the corner," but surprisingly often, I meet people that way, and surprisingly often, they too want new friends.

10 October 2010


Nearly twenty years ago, I woke up one night because one of my parents was putting a little girl into my bed. My sister and I shared a room at the time, but I had a full bed and she had only a single, so I was the one who had to share my bed whenever someone at church had a crisis and their daughter stayed with us.

A. stayed with us for a few days, and then went back with her mom, but we continued to pick her up for school in the morning at one of the apartment complexes that my middle class friends would have been afraid to enter. She was almost my second little sister for a while.

Years later, after things had begun to look up for her mom - a better house, a better job - I rode with them to a nearby town every morning one summer. I didn't really look forward to the ride. It bothered me that A. knew all the words to the dirty songs, and I didn't like it when her mom asked me for advice about parenting. I was only 18, and A. was 13. "Should I put her on birth control?" her mom asked, and I didn't know what to say.

I saw A. a few more times, after that summer. I saw her at church, and once in the pool at the Y.

I went to Rwanda, and then to law school. My parents moved to a suburban neighborhood, and a suburban church. I nearly forgot that we once lived in a world where people threw guns into our backyard while they ran from the police. I nearly forgot that we once lived in a world where a (different) girl with blood dripping of her face after an encounter with drug dealers might knock on our door at 4 am.

And then, one day, I heard that A. had been arrested for the shaking death of her baby girl, and then convicted and sentenced. I can only imagine how alone she was with a drug problem. I can only imagine how alone she was with a crying baby, the only one of her three daughters still in her custody. I can only imagine how alone she was with the men who paid her for sex with money or drugs.

That was two years ago. Every few months I have thought to myself, "I should send a letter to A," but I never knew what to say. How do you say, "I'm a lawyer, with a happy life," to someone who was once almost a sister but whose path went a different way those many years ago?

Today I heard that she committed suicide in prison.

Guilt doesn't change anything, nor apologies, now, but A., I am sorry. I wish I had talked to you that summer instead of trying to tune out on every car ride. I wish I had been there for you those years after your mom gave up on you. I wish I had sent that letter.

I wish you peace.

09 October 2010

those days

I took a new friend hiking today, a friend who is new to this state. Most of the hiking I have done so far in Gone West has been either 1. with someone who knows more about the state than I do, 2. with someone who knows more about hiking than I do, or 3. a trail I have done before. Today I figured out why.

There are authoritative books on the hikes of each part of the state, and yesterday I bought the book that includes Universe City. I looked up some hikes, and my new friend A. and I picked one of them on the drive out of town. We were excited. It looked like a beautiful hike.

We found the road, parked the car, and set off blithely down the left-hand trail. We left the book in the car, because it was raining.

Three hours later, we got back to the car, having not found the place we were looking for, which was supposed to be just down the trail. I took out the book and found the right page.

"Oh," I said. "We were supposed to go right out of the parking lot."

This is why they don't let me go hiking alone.

Back in town, I drove from the pizza place to the dessert place, wondering why people kept darting out in front of my car, until one guy screamed at me, "Turn your lights on, you *#&$ *#$&!"

Oh, right. You are supposed to turn those on, aren't you? Even in a city? It's been 8 years since I drove in this country on a regular basis.

"People do not use that sort of language where I am from," A. said. "In the South, men are supposed to be gentlemen, or at least pretend that they are."

I just laughed, because here the words have lost all their meaning.

Wrong trails and no lights: I am having one of those days.

08 October 2010

longish exercise post

I have never really understood the concept of a gym. This is partly because I dislike the stagnant indoor air, but it may very possibly mostly be because I have been broke pretty much my entire life and could not pay for a gym, except for those two years in Rwanda, when I was making virtually no money and still had plenty of money to spend but nowhere to spend it. I have always been in school or underemployed or underpaid. Now, though, I could actually pay for a gym. I am not quite broke.

Oh, who am I kidding? There is only one possible legal career I could have chosen that would pay less than the one I do. I am going to be broke forever.

I downgraded my cost of living, however, by moving to Universe City, and upgraded my salary. I feel rich. For the moment, until I start buying all those things that I've been putting off buying for three years while broke in Gone West.

Meanwhile, I have started to discover this gym concept. I have my FIGHT class, of course, and tonight I went to a Zumba class. I was utterly, totally out of my league. I cannot move my body like that, not at all. Thanks to FIGHT and my bike, though, I can at least keep moving the whole time without expiring in the middle of the floor from lack of lung capacity.

But I'm starting to realize why people pay money for a gym. It isn't the treadmill and the elliptical. Even a membership will not get you into a building to run on a conveyor belt like a rat in a cage if you are not gifted with natural willpower to exercise. It's the classes. The classes are the reason to pay for a gym membership. I have never once not wanted to go to FIGHT class. I look forward to it. Zumba could quickly become the same. And it's totally worth the cost if you actually move, especially in the middle of winter.

I want to be one of those people who runs. Exercise should be cheap, or free, right? We have bodies, and we just need to use them. I want to be a runner, who needs only shoes and an open space and will just head out and run, wherever she is.

I'm not. I need the structure. I need the warm, dry air. (Have you seen how much it rains here? Rain in winter is really, bone-crushingly cold.)

I'm glad, though, for the classes and the gym. It feels so good to exercise. This happens to me whenever I exercise: I like my body better. I'm not talking about the shape of it, because despite societal messages I have somehow managed to fall into a pretty good body image. It's the usefulness. I don't even think of my body most of the time, but when I come out of FIGHT class or Zumba, or finish a good bike ride, I look down at it and feel so very pleased with how well this body works for me. It breaks down every now and again (golf elbow, I glare at you) but it is strong when I use it.

(Speaking of breaking down, the gargling of salt water is no longer fending off my horrible sore throat. I hope I don't have to cancel my (free exercise!) hike tomorrow.)

06 October 2010


I finally used my new car tonight, for the exact purpose for which the Good Lord made cars: to run to the corner store four blocks away when I got half-way through making pumpkin muffins and realized that I had no eggs.

They were long blocks.

It was dark.

I needed to get the muffins baked fast in order to go to bed on time.

And it would have been a waste to throw away the ingredients I'd already mixed.


I knew this was going to happen.

05 October 2010

not different

I drove my car to Universe City on Sunday night and parked it nice and close to the curb in front of my house and...

I haven't gotten into it since.

"You are probably going to want to change your oil every six months, even if you don't drive 2000 miles in that time," someone said to me today. And right now it seems possible that I won't. (Other than those pesky trips to Gone West City to regain sanity.)

I had left my bike at work over the weekend, and so I walked to work on Monday morning, and I rode my bike to FIGHT class and home, and then I rode my bike to work today. My life hasn't really changed that much, except that I know I can escape when I need to get out of town. I know that I can go to that concert that will get out late on Thursday night. I know that I can stop at the fabric store that someone recommended to get the thread to fix my sweater. I know that I can go to the hardware store for paint. I know that if it rains, I can get in the car and drive to work without getting soaked.

This particular photo is for A.L.:

The color of the car, which I did not choose, being that it was second-hand, is remarkably similar to the color of my office, which I did choose. My life is full of the blue of underwater in the tropics. I like it.

04 October 2010

just sayin'

cake and candles

S. made me a birthday cake on Sunday. "No fruit and no cream cheese," I said, as she looked at recipes on the internet.

"Hey!" she said, "I'm the one making this cake."

So I shut up and lay down on the couch to nap in the sunlight while she puttered through the kitchen and N. watched Heroes on his laptop in the recliner.

I woke up 90 minutes later to the delicious smell of chocolate cake, that turned out to be frosted in chocolate coconut frosting, with no fruit or cream cheese in sight.

"I am going to videotape singing!" I said, getting out my camera.

"You are not going to videotape singing," S. said.

"Yes, I am!" I said, "and I'm going to post it on the internet someday if I need to."

She brought out the cake with candles in an M shape, and I turned on the camera.

"Blow out the candles," she said, and I refused. "Sing the birthday song," I commanded. "I am videotaping the birthday song."

"Apparently you are not," N. said, putting the computer away, "because I don't hear any singing."

"Blow out the candles before they burn the cake," he said.

S. said. "One of the candles is really short."

"I am not blowing out any candles until you sing the birthday song," I insisted, and finally N. started in with "Happy Birthday toooooo yooooou," dirge-like, and S. joined in, and I videotaped it while laughing in the background.

"This will be on the internet," I warned them, but of course I am not posting it. Yet. I need to keep some ammunition in reserve.

03 October 2010

birthday weekend

I bought a car on Friday afternoon. It was the first car I looked at, but it was clean and it purred, and I could not imagine a more annoying way to spend a weekend than looking at crappy car after crappy car. The oil was clean. The car didn't smoke. I drove it up to 70 mph and it still hummed, and N. stuck his head under the hood and tapped/flipped some things and pronounced it sound.

I liked it, and I made an offer, and then I walked out over $200. N. and I were back in his car before the salesman ran out and said, "Don't leave over $200. We can do your price." And so I signed my name approximately four hundred thirty seven times, and drove away in a new little sedan.

I drove home to Universe City in it tonight, and I love it. It scares me to say that, lest the engine fall out of it tomorrow, but so far it feels steady and solid.


We played darts on Friday night, boys against girls, and although there were three of us to two of them, they blew us away the first game. Between games, I practiced over and over, getting instruction from N., while C. and S. were off waiting in line at the bar, and the second game was closer and then, at the end, I won it for the girls with a double bulls-eye.

There was rejoicing.

I'm guessing the boys regretted telling me how a dart is actually supposed to be thrown.


We learned to salsa and chacha in a barn, one wall open to the cow pen. We swung around with people we knew and people we had just met, and my partner for much of the lesson was a surly 20 year old who said, when I needed a break for a minute, "Oh, good. Then I can go smoke."

I swung on a swing above the stack of hay, and it only took two people to break the pinata. I didn't go scrambling for the candy, but B. threw candy up to C., who passed half of hers on to me, and I sat back, contented, with starburst and a caramel apple lollipop, the taste of October.

When most people had left, we turned off all the main lights and went back to the dance floor in the glow of white Christmas lights. We tried swing and East African rap and ended up back with chacha, but with the wrong music, because the instructor had long left with the cd. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was getting the hang of a dance, twirling in breathless swing dance circles with C., spinning a chacha circle under N.'s hand. We took off our sweaters and I wished for a hairtie, but I was having too much fun to stop.


How Returning to Universe City Goes With No Car:

Take train to downtown Gone West City. Wait for bus. Line up to get on bus. Sit on overly-airfreshened bus for two and a half hours, listening to iPod because reading makes me sick, as if the overly-airfreshened air did not already make everyone sick. Watch little towns go by, resenting them for causing the bus to get off the highway and detour through them to their bus stations. Get off bus in Universe City. Get a cab because the buses either 1. aren't running or 2. are too far away to walk to in the dark alone. Pay cabbie $11. Lug everything into house. Realize I have no milk for breakfast tomorrow. Curse this town.

How Returning to Universe City Goes With A Car:

Hug S. and N. Get in car. Drive two hours while talking on phone with sister and/or listening to music. Get off highway. Stop at Trader Joe's to pick up milk and butter. Drive home in the warm car. Take everything out of the car and carry it inside. Feel surprisingly charitable toward this town.