Breathing Possibility

In this great future, you can’t forget your past.

I wake up one morning a few weeks ago at 6 a.m. with an overwhelming, stomach-churning sensation of panic.

For four years, college has been the center of my life. Summers, Christmas vacations, fall and spring breaks are just that — breaks, vacations, a hiatus from my real life at school. And now graduation’s imminent. Without the frantic rush of rehearsals, classes, parties, and friends, what will my new life be like?

It’s 11 a.m. and the house is silent except for the irritating chirping of my sister’s cockatiel, Zippity. My family has wanted to send this bird back from the moment it arrived, but Shannon defends it fiercely even as she screams for it to shut up.

I pour myself a glass of iced tea and relax into the brown faux leather of the breakfast room chairs. Something is missing: reading material. It occurs to me that with everyone else in my family at work or school, it is my duty by default to retrieve the mail.

The grass is cool and dewy as it sinks beneath my bare feet. I step carefully onto the gravel at the roadside, wincing at the sharper pebbles, and reach around into the mailbox.

It’s Wednesday, which means the TV Guide has arrived, with David Duchovny on the cover. I remember the summers before I turned 16 and started working, when my sisters and I fought over who had to go get the mail and who got to read it first, especially on Wednesdays.

These are the moments that matter.

I curl up on the porch swing, a fraying rope relic of a family vacation to North Carolina. The houses around us are growing dark, and even the incessantly barking neighborhood dogs are quiet after the storm. The rain stopped a while ago, but lightning still flickers in the distance, sending shadows across the planes of his face.

He doesn’t look as you might expect my best friend would. He recently let his roommate cut his hair into a spiky blond mohawk again–but at least this one’s not purple. His arms, corded from years of drumming, lugging musical equipment, and construction work, are criss-crossed with various scars and tattoos of his own design. He is seldom without a beer, a guitar, or a tool of some kind. In this instance, his choice is an old acoustic.

He grins as he tells me stories about an old Irish pub singer before launching into song. His voice, roughened by God knows how many Camels, isn’t perfect. But slowly, as I sit there, my worries (packing, moving tomorrow, an unreliable real estate agent) circle and spin themselves out.

I think about how I’ve known him since first grade, how we’ve been friends and confidantes since eighth. I remember how many times I’ve sat in my parents’ living room, his parents’ basement, the band room at our high school, thinking about other things, relaxing into the rhythms of his songs. No matter what different paths our lives have taken, it always seems to come back to this.

He grins at me as he belts out the chorus.

These are the moments that matter.

The only sound in my parents’ new house is the scratch of the broom as it goes forth and the whisper as it comes back. I hold the wooden handle firmly in my grasp and examine the soft puddles of sawdust on the floor.

This is a much better task than last night, when I tried to help my mother refill the ditch leading from house to the well. We discovered quickly that I was not a good dirt shoveler. (I was too worried about falling into the ditch.)

But I like being inside the new house. The smells of wood and sawdust mingling together remind me of the stables where I used to ride as a child and the tech shop of theaters. There are no complete walls in the new house yet. Only wooden outlines.

This is a place that breathes possibility.

I can imagine visiting my parents here, years from now, and bringing my own family with me. The ghosts of the future dance in the fading light, but it’s hard to be frightened of them here. I start sweeping again as I daydream.

These are the moments that matter.

I stumble sleepily into the living room, past the half-shut door meant to block out the noise from the TV. Grabbing the patchwork quilt from the love seat, I wrap it around myself and hibernate on one end of the couch.

My boyfriend laughs at me and takes another drag from his cigarette. “Morning, sleepyhead,” he greets me.

I reach down and pet the fat black cat, who gives my fingers a sandpapery lick in return. The “Incurable Collector” is on TV, showcasing a grizzled old guy in jeans who proudly displays his vast antique toaster collection.

I love this show because it reminds me that people are fascinated by so many different, utterly bizarre things. The last few weeks have been crazy, between graduating, moving home, moving back, going through job interviews, and getting my driver’s license at long last.

But this morning has a sense of wonderful, relaxing routine to it. I smile beneath the covers.

These are the moments that matter.

Article © 2002 by Jessica Emanuel