The only thing you can count on in life is that in the end, you’ll be alone. Even all those people who died in an instant, in the inferno under the planes, in the cloud of debris during that moment when gravity blinked – they were alone, were standing next to other people who were alone, shaking their hands, maybe, or pointing the way to the Lincoln Memorial, or about to tell them that their left shoelace is untied. Because to die means something different to everyone.
You will sit on the curb among the half-fallen buildings and watch the glassless doorframe of the Q Street Kwik-Mart swing open, closed, open, closed and an empty bag of Santitas Tortilla Triangles – “Auténtico estilo Mexicano” – scootch down the gutter twenty yards away. Of course, you can’t read the bag from that distance, but you’ll know that’s what it says because you’ve been watching it for almost an hour now, dragged like a corpse through the gutter away from your hand, from which it will have fallen as you reached in for the last chip.…
We’re watching a musical while they expel Annabelle from school. The theater is set in a small room that looks more like a woodshed than a stage. There’s a small circle of chairs with an aisle cutting it in quarters and a big, open space in the middle. The lights are soft and yellow, reflecting against my winter stained skin. The opening notes start to play but they don’t dim the lights like I’m expecting. They leave everything on. It’s bright and warm and feels like I’m in someone’s living room instead of the middle of a production.
At this point, I’m eighteen but she’s still only sixteen. I imagine her sitting in health services at this point, waiting for us to come visit her. Once you’re expelled you’re not allowed to live in the dorms. Health services is connected to the biggest residential building on campus and the nurses’ rooms are built the same way the dorms upstairs are. At this point, she’s probably waiting for us to come say goodbye. We’re at boarding school and have to be back in our dorms by 10:00 pm. We only have two hours until it’s too late. She leaves the next morning and while we say we’ll stop by and visit her then too we know that we won’t have more than a few minutes.…
It is now commonly understood that “Little Green”, one of the most arresting tracks on Joni Mitchell’s classic 1971 album Blue is a work of autobiography. More specifically, it’s about Mitchell, alone and freezing in the middle of winter in downtown Toronto, giving her child up for adoption, a fleeting last wish for her daughter’s happiness that the two will no longer share. Rendered in slightly veiled language, the song nevertheless spins a heartbreaking portrait of intermingled loss and hope, even divorced from its specific subject matter. The crucial thing, though, is that this context was not known at the time of the album’s initial release, and many had assumed it was simply a story song in the vein of many that were common from singers-songwriters of the time, such as James Taylor and Carole King. Mitchell herself was also deeply cagey for many years about how much this and other songs were “about her”, fearing both personal and professional consequences of such facts coming to light. It was only through a tabloid journal piece that the subject of “Little Green” came to general knowledge and this came after a career of being characterized by the musical press as “rock’s old lady”, defined more by her relationships with a number of male performers than her own work.…
You search for signs everywhere. You can’t help it anymore—it’s a habit. You find it in the secrets the wind whispers to you. You find it in the stairs that don’t creak for the first time in seventeen years as you come down slowly. You see in it your dog Chase, who doesn’t wait for you at the bottom.
You think back to the last time that happened.
You think he might know. At least feel it. Faint music plays in the house. Classical music, your ears register distantly—from Dad’s extensive collection. He would know the whole story behind it. You can’t even remember the musician’s name.
Ice frosts in your veins, because of the memory, what it means that your brother is playing it. Parts of you freeze, little by little. It crystallizes your blood and sets into your bones like the coldest winter on earth.…
My early life is charmed. I’m invulnerable. No such thing as tomorrow. February 1952, I’m six months old, and a childless Air Force lieutenant and his wife receive me at the Catholic infant home in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They love and care for me in their tiny Sumter apartment as best they can. Children want a forever happy story. In time, they learn more, but the worry-free child knows only now.
Mom vacuums the forest green wall-to-wall with her Eureka at the new home we share with Nana and Granddaddy; the secure place to which we’ll return between transfers. I’m four and follow her as she cleans. A sudden shock of pain makes me reel near the open basement door. She’s fired a chunky vacuum cleaner brush hard at my tailbone, and I wail. Why hurt me? What did I do? She later tells me the blow could have paralyzed me, but offers no apology or hug. Her cruel streak sticks with me a life-time. …