There is a new bar downtown and we gather there like moths. The artists, the event planners, the fundraisers. The real estate developers, the graphic designers. The couple that owned the dance studio but have just sold it. Some of us are falling in love. Some falling out. Some of us are planning to move away any time now. We are all in various stages of waiting.
There is a man I have seen around town for twenty years but have never spoken to. Tonight, we are introduced and we laugh. I know who you are, he says and I say the same. We pull up chairs at the same table with our friends. From where I am sitting I can see the streetlamp just outside the window. The yellow light flickers.
At the end of the evening, everyone embraces and talks about the next time. Soon, we say. Soon. The man says something about twenty years and I say has it really been that long? It has, he says, it has. But you do not seem to have aged at all.
Then there’s a magazine party and I go to that, too. I buy my drink tickets in advance, clutch them. A woman near the entrance throws her arms open, mistakes me for a Japanese woman we both know. I smile, shake my head, say my name. She looks confused for a moment, so I say my name again and bring my hand to my chest and pat it as if I were signing for the deaf.
I thread my way through the clusters of people. At the bar, a young man in dark-rimmed glasses starts a conversation as he is waiting for his soda. He has started a business. He has moved here from New York. We chat for a while near the bar. We grew up in neighboring towns, it turns out and learning this makes me unreasonably cheerful. He mentions the name of another town and then the name of the school where his mother teaches, and I exclaim, “That is where I went to high school!” as if my days there were ones I ever cared to remember.
Two young women I know come up to me and I introduce them to the young entrepreneur, slipping behind him and making my way for the door.
My friend is waiting at a table near the fireplace when I arrive. We embrace. We talk about the afternoon. I took the train to the museum, wandered the exhibits until my legs ached. She took her son to a play space where they sang songs and clapped their hands and danced. This is not the way she expected to be spending her days.
He is up all night, she says. We have ordered a salad to share and she picks at it. Every hour on the hour, he wakes up screaming.
I’ve gone back to ballet, she says. For years, she danced. She was invited to audition for professional dance companies although I don’t know how far into that she really got. Now, she has enlisted her mother-in-law to watch her son on Monday mornings, while she races for the train in tights, spends forty-five minutes at the barre and races back. An hour and a half tops, she says, but some weeks, I don’t even have that. Her husband travels all the time.
The weekends are the worst, she says. At least during the week, there is some structure, she says. The weekends are just endless.
In high school, we were inseparable. We stayed close in college, but after, she left the area for a Ph.D. in political philosophy and published papers in journals and presented research at conferences while I married and then divorced and met my friends in bars.
Anyway, I am whining, she says, leaning forward. Enough of that. Tell me about you.
I am struggling with the writing. Fits and starts. Fragments that lead nowhere. I feel depleted and tired. At the museum, while I walk through the exhibits, I take notes, hoping something will take hold later. It is important just to keep moving, I tell myself. Just to keep showing up, sitting in chairs and pawing at these keyboards. But I wonder how long I can tread water this way.
I am struggling with the reading, too. I am dragging myself through the final passages of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, the language seeming to grow denser, more strange even as I stare at the words on the page:
The accidents of fate that people hold to had long fallen away from him and had now lost even their spiced, bitter taste that was needed for pleasure and pain, and had become for him pure and nourishing. From the roots of his being there developed the firm, overwintering plant of a fruitful joyousness. He was totally immersed in gaining mastery of his inner life; he did not want to overlook anything, for he did not doubt that his love was in all of it, and increasing.
I leave for the gym and it is still dark. The light has gone out on our porch long ago and we’ve not yet replaced it. When we have people here, I walk them to the door at the end of the night, apologizing. Be careful, I say, it’s so dark. Watch where you put your feet.
When I get back, it is light. There is a bird sitting on the front lawn, pecking at the dirt.
My son is preoccupied with death and so we find books for him. Tales of the Buddha, where a monkey tells stories of reincarnation. A book with drawings of insects and animals and plants that shows how every living thing must eventually die.
The one he likes best is simple, direct. What is death? it asks. How can we ever really know? It talks about different religions and cultures. How each looks at death a little bit differently. No one really knows what happens after we die, the book says, but suggests that maybe death is not so different from things we know in life.
When we go to sleep at night
and wake up in the morning,
we are still the same person
but it is a new day
and it’s almost like
being born again.
When we learn
an important lesson in Life,
we let an old part of us die
and a new part is born.
Back at the party, I run into someone I have not seen in many years. We talk about people we knew in common. Some who have moved away, others who have stayed. We talk about music, about the bars where we would go to hear the bands who came to town. So many places closed now. So few of those bands traveling through.
He tells me of this film he has seen about these musicians we once knew. He lists their names and affiliations. Some are familiar, but many are not. You should see it, he says. I think you’d like it. It’s really great, he says, to see all those people again.