And the further we write, the deeper we are drawn back.
Thus, as all my writing inevitably draws me back and back to my childhood -- I am reminded of these things:
Of tumbling out of the cherry blossom tree, having fallen asleep with a book in my lap. The writing of plays and epic poems, the camcorder you begged for, and finally received. Of naming every tree in the yard, writing stories for them. You don't look back and see, so much, the things you did as the stories you were writing as you did them. What was the point of putting this overly imaginative and shockingly unathletic child on the soccer field? So she could have an hour, laying backside-down on the manicured greens, to stare up at the clouds, to write in her head new stories, and new endings to the ones which she'd read.
The front yard and the backyard were equal contenders to host these games of creative play. The front, with its crescent-shaped driveway -- which was perfect for writing songs and stories as I whipped around on my bicycle, bellowing them out into world, voicing the various characters, and shouting the plot lines with a grand episodic, AND THEN!
...And sometimes sneaking off the property to ride the wide loop around the neighborhood. I would pass by the many houses with their colonial fixings on green lawns on these humid Virginia evenings, would wonder at how they chose the flowers they put in their gardens, see them park their cars and families tumble out of the doors, would wonder at their elusive interior lives.
(Wondering is the absolute, preeminent verb of my childhood.)
Occasionally I would be invited indoors by the old women in the surrounding houses, who were always my favorite people. And they would whip up, spit out pithy life-instructions,
Say yes to everything. Don't get old like me with an old sack of regrets. Tell people you love them.
And they, in all their withering states, who would inch slowly across their homes, shuffle on canes into their kitchens...would say these things without a crack in their voices. Loud and young. Like birds who have been trapped in a net and are suddenly sent wildly free over the water.
And during these visits is when I learned of celophane-wrapped moon pies, and also of urns -- from the frail, sweet woman who shared a fence with us. And I told my mom about the walker she shoved around, and about her husband in the urn on the mantle...my mother listened, and when I was done she said,
It's important to be very, very kind to lonely people.
And thus began the lifelong confusion of trying to unfold, define the line between aloneness and loneliness. Which was an odd thing for a girl of seven or eight to try to pin down -- especially one who, in a house crowded with people, sought, and sought, and sought out aloneness.
The treehouse. The garage. The top of the cherry blossom tree. The attic. A wide, open seat on the bus. The wood at the edge of the neighborhood. The street rushing on beneath your bicycle. Your own odd and wonderful mind.
-- But, who, for all her love of solitude, for the fruits of it -- the stories conjured in happy, contemplative walks alone to the edge of the neighborhood (the universe) -- never felt quite lonely.
Aloneness is a bewildering thing to sort out for those who don't seek it. They are the ones who approach us at the outskirts of parties, where we huddle in tiny clusters of two, and say,
Come over here. You look so lonely.
But, you love people. This is not the culprit. Oddly, it's your being so far to the loving-people end of the spectrum that you start to lose yourself. Too long in the company of others, you start to feel yourself dissipate into the noise, and aloneness reminds you that you are. Because, for a certain circle of us, the most assured way to know you are is to see the keys click out the words, to move the bookmark further along, to flip through the photographs, to see yourself in a way that's surpassed the untenable.
But ah, this hunt, for solitude. It once caused me to be locked in the coat closet at the bottom of the stairs -- trying to flee from five brothers who were trying to snatch a poem I'd written. I remember sobbing in the dark closet -- no light bulb string to pull in this one -- while my mother pulled at the sticky door, the heavy weight of it bellowing against the door frame, seesawing back and forth until I was freed. And my oldest brother sat on the stairs, waiting, silently, for me to emerge so he could say,
Hey, don't lump me in with the rest of them. I just want to read it.
And this taught me just one of the many lessons I've learned about the difference between loneliness and aloneness. You hear that yearning in your brother's words, too, so unlike the others in your family, you think. It is not to need it always, but to need it when you do. Because you have poems in there. And you want to find them...
You think: maybe loneliness is the fear that once you're trapped in the closet, you'll be stuck there forever. But aloneness is taking the risk of peeking in -- desperate to know what's inside -- and hoping that someone will be waiting on the stairs when you emerge.
And maybe he'll want to read your poems.
And that's what it's always been for you, dear and familiar one. It is as much in the hiding away as it is in the stepping back out, the emergence.
It is in finding that this thing, which was once scribbled messily onto your heart -- a bird trapped in a net -- now wavers, wings wide, on the tip of your tongue...and ready to be sent wildly free over the water.