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Climbing Out of the Cereal Bowl MAG
It was the time in August when summer begins to get stale, when nights cool just enough to welcome sheets again, and the rhythm of crickets nestled along house foundations and flowerbeds starts to lose its charm, which had people rolling over restlessly, longing for some new song to usher them to sleep – that it hit me … in a matter of weeks, summer would be closing its screened doors. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was something to prod gently and remind me that it would all be ending soon.
“So, this is really it, huh?” Her usually fiery brown eyes searched my face, looking defeated, yet holding a sharp clarity from crying. “You know, you could always just live with us. Then, next year we could graduate together. We just can’t not graduate together … We can’t.” Her voice started to crack again on that last word.
I fought within myself to find some answer that would justify why suddenly everything in the world that a second ago had been so concrete (and promised constancy) was sliding away, and leaving us both alone. Streaking thoughts of a new town, like falling stars, with jobs, stability, a public high school with TVs in every classroom, all died before they fully formed and I opened my mouth.
Her left leg (the one with a life all its own when she’s upset) moved spasmatically up and down in tight, anxious little motions … God, if I ever accomplish my dream of someday becoming a journalist, the first time I hear artillery gunfire, I’m not going to jump, and I’m not gonna be frightened, I’ll already be comfortable with the sound … It’ll be the tap-tap tap tap tap, tap tapping from the flat bottom of her tennis shoe against the slab of concrete we were sitting on. That single sound was probably responsible for blowing out insects’ ears all over the neighborhood.
The mountains were all that was visible, rolling across the horizon like always, nothing changing their primitive agenda. They offered no answers. But then, I didn’t really expect them to ... Mount Greylock, the highest point in all of Massachusetts, raised itself a little taller, the blinking lights of the radio tower beaming proudly, mockingly, into the dark of the oncoming night … We both shivered as light became scarcer and scarcer and each blade of grass was encircled in cool spheres of dew. Huddling into the worn comfort of an old boyfriend’s sweatshirt, quietly rocking back and forth, the newly born night sky becoming a dark screen for the memories about to play.
Once, when I was really small, my mom had been sitting out on the front step after weeding the garden, drinking orange Kool-aid from an old jam jar, watching the sun set. I had run in from the yard and stared into her face for a long moment waiting for her to acknowledge my presence. She gathered me in her arms, the hard bone of her chin resting on the top of my head with a comforting pressure. Pointing to each of the mountains around us, I asked, “Mom, what’s over that one?” And patiently, she named every hill town in Berkshire County. Then she told a story I’d heard all my childhood – about how we lived at the very bottom of a big cereal bowl, all the mountains that reached up to touch the sky were the sides of it … I remember shifting deeper into the warmth of her arms, feeling secure and content with everything in place, everything complete.
Tonight, though, those mountains were not such compassionate friends. I almost laughed, but it stuck in my throat as a thought hit me: I used to ask so excitedly what was over those mountains, but as I grew older, the security they assured bored me. In time, I’d grown to resent the familiarity and safety of my home. Now I was leaving, and in the face of the wave I wanted to shy away from those experiences and people that lay beyond.
It was both strange and ironic that something I’d always associated with protection in many ways basically choked us out. The mountains themselves stifled the area with lack of diversity, smothered with limited opportunities, and eventually, in the end, spat us out.
For a long time, dark circles wore hollows below my father’s eyes. Updated resumés and newspapers all found a new home on the kitchen table, and an anxious path worked itself into the floor in front of the telephone. Real truth in those black days confirmed all the times I’d heard, “You’ll never make it unless you leave this area. There’s no future here.” It struck me how right they all were, and how much it hurt to find that simple truth to be correct ...
Now, as much as the gentle landscape beckoned, and the mountains unfolded their ancient, flowing arms, other forces, even more powerful than the pull of the land, were propelling us to different places … places where the former beauty paled, where seasons spin together so fast it was difficult to distinguish one from the next. For the first time I’d miss an autumn fast in coming, like an afghan hastily thrown over the mountains, crocheted in bold, contrasting colors … Miss the stark winters and the black tree branches clashing against the stony mountains. Miss that harsh kind of beauty.
I looked over at her, my best friend, my soul-mate, my partner, the only person who really knew me. For the first time, the kaleidoscope shifted, and I saw her removed, independent of my friendship. A panic rose – what would I do without her? Then something sharp and gleaming tore inside and my eyes shed the evidence. We continued to sit there for a long while, connected in our separate silence and sadness.
The next morning, after the birds heralded the new day and hushed, the moving van came. It was a loud yellow Ryder, announcing that we were just about gone. And for the sake of the neighbors, cradling warm cups of early morning coffee, peeking out of kitchen windows, the scarlet lettering on its side verified any questions. Yeah, there were other places beyond the rim of those mountains, and knowing that provided some relief.
The heavy steel door rolled down with a bang and snap of hurry-up-and-say-good-bye finality. One last time we walked through the house. Footsteps echoed on the floor, and the bare walls stood open and patient, quietly waiting for its next occupants. Midway in the distance, the cereal bowl loomed, spilling over the salty sting of tears and memories of sugar-sweetened milk.