A woman walks into a T.J. Maxx holding a giant stuffed hamburger. She heads to a cashier and asks the teller if she can please have a refund. The cashier is polite enough not to laugh at said woman, but does stare at her for a second, absentmindedly rubbing the hamburger’s lettuce frill. Then, engaging the woman in small talk about the upcoming frost, she processes the return. The woman goes to the back of the store, picks up a sizable stuffed banana, hikes it under her arm, and heads back to the cashier line.
I was that woman last week.
“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” — Albert Camus
I am full-on fall this year, my friends, full freaking on. In fact, if it gets any fallier around here, my husband Frank* might faint.
In the six weeks since she’s been in college, Gabrielle Baker has:
- fallen down steps in her physics class, resulting in a foot injury that prevented her from driving home over Labor Day weekend.
- broken her iPad screen.
- fallen off her bike and badly scraped her knee.
- scratched her car while trying to parallel park.
- been in the E.R. with an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts.
Life has not, in short, been kind to our little Gabrielle lately, and she’s had to learn a lesson that we all, eventually, must face: Adulting is hard.
In turn, her parents have also learned a hard lesson: Cleveland is far.
Last Friday, my best friend Kristin took me on a hip parade of Winnipeg’s newest and best places.
It started in the area of the city called the Exchange District, named for the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and other commodity exchanges that, from the 1880s to 1920s, helped catapult the city’s growth and turn it into a major Canadian center. After World War I, though, the area faltered and, because it was eventually named a National Historic Site, became frozen in time, with many of its 150 heritage buildings sitting empty.
From 2001 to 2004, I worked in the heart of the Exchange District and, almost once a week, I would make the trek to the Underground Café, where I would order the very best veggie burger on the planet. On my walk, I would stare at these empty buildings and feel both nostalgic for a time I had never known and deeply sad that nothing present-day seemed able to fill them.
I am headed to Winnipeg tomorrow morning and, oh boy, am I excited. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I have lived away, there is just nothing like going home.
I was brainstorming with a student this weekend about her college admissions essay, and found myself asking this doozy of a question: “What kind of person do you think you are?”
As polite as this kid is, she couldn’t help but squint and look at me as if I had two heads. I recoiled slightly and realized I sounded exactly like a stupid, stodgy adult. In fact, I could practically hear her response, which was (and rightly should have been): “Lady, if I knew that, I sure wouldn’t be spending my Sunday afternoon with you.”
But it got me thinking. What is it about self-introspection that makes it so tough? What is one’s character, exactly? And how can you ever really know if you actually know yourself?
I was standing in Gabrielle’s dorm room desperately folding t-shirts. It seemed, at the moment, that my life depended on this growing stack, so I pulled 100 percent cotton from a suitcase and I folded. T-shirts advocating coffee consumption. Ones promoting unicorns. Ones boasting Sherlock Holmes. Ones with stripes. Ones with watermelons.
All in a stack.
One after another.
I folded and, buddy, I folded.
If that stack were neat and pristine, then I would stay neat and pristine.
Can you we please talk about the word “vacuum?”
Because, I’ve had enough. I spell it wrong every single time and, every single time, I get annoyed. I mean, is that seriously how it’s spelled? Two U’s? One C? No E in sight?
Adding insult to injury, there is no surefire way to remember how to spell it either. For a while, I tried to convince myself its hose, when hung, looks like double U’s. But it doesn’t. When hung, it looks like oval-shaped O’s. It looks about as much like U’s as it does C’s.
I’m sitting at the eye doctor with Gabrielle, who has just had her pupils dilated. It’s appropriate enough, as, nearly since I started writing this column 13 years ago, I described her as being a saucer-eyed kid. Today, her beautiful, big eyes look like they might contain whole planets and as she looks blindly around, I’m grateful she can’t see the tears in my eyes.
This, dear readers, is the last doctor’s appointment I will take her to before she leaves for college this weekend. It’s a strange feeling, and I’m seeing everything with new perspective this morning.
Let me tell you about a girl named Tilly. That’s right, dear readers, it’s time to update you on our little Bostie babe, who has been with us nearly three months now. I know you are beyond excited to read yet another column about our puppy, amIright?
Right now, Tilly is sleeping beside me with one ear up and one folded over like a baby puppy’s. Tilly’s ears are a serious subject of conversation in this house as they truly seem to stand upright or droop over according to her many moods. The one up-one down look generally happens when she’s feeling particularly feisty, which she certainly was from 6:45 this morning onwards.
So feisty, in fact, that she promptly peed on the rug that lies beside the front door. Keep in mind, I was leaning over to open said door so she could go outside. But, nope, with the ultimate amount of both elegance and confidence, she squatted and stared right at me, as if to say, “Peeing al fresco is for peasants, mother.”