1. I can’t tell the difference between right and left. I understand that right exists and left exists, but I can no sooner tell one from the other than can a person with tone-deafness tell the difference between A-flat and D-sharp.
2. Because of my inability to tell the difference between right and left, I failed my driver’s license test four times. Or, at least I tell myself that this is the reason. The other reason is that I’m not a very good driver.
My friends cheered me on. Some followed me into the river. Some were too afraid. A funny thing happens to a person when they do something really, really really stupid. Time stops, for one. Or, no, it isn’t that it stops, it’s just that it goes prismatic. Like Vonnegut’s character, I had become unstuck – UNSTUCK! – in time. And I don’t think I was ever put back in place properly. In any case, as I fell, the inky water seemed to freeze into lead. The faces of my friends leaning over above me froze as well. And all at once, I saw every moment of my life glinting like shards. And not just my life – every moment of that river too. That river had seen battles and atrocities and inquisitions and expeditions. Christopher Columbus sailed the rapidly approaching waters under my feet. So did Franco. So did the resistance. Each moment spangled before me like stars.
I splashed down. I lived. My friends splashed near. They lived. We suffered terrible rashes from the centuries of pollution running through that river, but we lived.
We found out later that the river bottom is man made, and it’s banked. If we were just thirty feet to the right or left, we would have landed in about five feet of water, and we would have been dead. Stupid? Oh, my yes.
4. I can’t remember number sequences. Like at all. It took me over a year to learn my home phone number. I still don’t know my cell number. And when I write a number down, I start at the middle and work outwards. Always have. No idea why.
5. I have a wrist that is permanently dislocated, thanks to an Unfortunate Incident with a very pissed-off cow. Every time I rotate my hand, my wrist shudders, pauses, and pops out of joint. Then it pops back in. Doesn’t hurt much, so I’ve never bothered to fix it. Also, it has the added benefit of giving me a quick way of telling which is right and which is left. (It’s my right wrist that pops. I think. Unless it’s my left.)
6. Once, when there was a series of stranger-rapes in my neighborhood, my mom signed up my sisters and I at a local self-defense course. I learned how to kill a man by hitting his nose and that a pencil or a set of keys can be a deadly weapon and that if I was ever in doubt I should go for the eyes. In fact, my instructor’s voice barking at us, “GO FOR THE EYES GO FOR THE EYES” over and over is a thing that haunts my nightmares. Whereas, I never have nightmares about the serial rapist, which just goes to show you that you never can tell what, exactly, will scar us for life.
7. I had to become certified in First Aid and CPR in order to graduate from high school. That requirement no longer exists. Which is too bad because the information I learned from that class saved the life of my middle child on three separate occasions. (Can you put a price on an effective Heimlich maneuver instruction? No, sir, you cannot.)
8. There was a time in my life when I could bench press my own body weight. That time, alas, has passed. Now I feel lucky to have gotten a heaping basket of laundry up the stairs.
9. I wrote two books before I ever told anyone that I had started writing again. (I had stopped for a long time after college – distracted by love and politics and wandering and graduate school and shiftlessness and baby-making. I was on the scenic route, and I don’t regret it.) They were, as books go, uniformly terrible. I printed them out slipped them into the recycling bin and waved goodbye. Then I wiped my hard drive. And while I don’t miss them, sometimes I have dreams that they have become ambulatory, that there are paper fingers and paper toes and paper eyes and paper mouths wandering around my house. Paper spines and paper hips swishing as they walk. When they sneeze, letters scatter across the ground. When they say, “Excuse me”, their words type against the walls or the windows, and vanish before I can see.
Is this normal? Does this happen to anyone else?
10. Once I was on a date with a boy. I knew I liked him. Then he recited a poem by e.e. cummings, and I loved him ever since. I was twenty. It was October and cold, and I loved him so much I thought I’d die of it. He credits e.e. cummings. I credit poetry memorization (would I have loved him as much if he had recited Gerard Manly Hopkins or Mary Oliver or Nikki Giovanni? Probably.)
So let this be a lesson to all of you: poetry can be your ace in the hole in the dating department. Memorize poetry, lest you die alone.
And oh! He was lovely, and oh! How he closed his eyes in that last stanza. Here it is:
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look will easily unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
And later – much later – I recited this:
ever been kidnapped
by a poet
if i were a poet
i’d kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter
you to jones beach
or maybe coney island
or maybe just to my house
lyric you in lilacs
dash you in the rain
blend into the beach
to complement my see
play the lyre for you
ode you with my love song
anything to win you
wrap you in the red Black green
show you off to mama
yeah if i were a poet i’d kid