Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The red winged blackbird...and love.

Once upon a time, a college senior lived on the freshman floor of a women’s dorm, in a single room. This was the same girl who dreamed of her senior year being full of memories with her two friends, sharing a suite in the cottages at the edge of campus. Not so much after both girlfriends got boyfriends over the summer and sleepovers ensued. One friend slept over at her boyfriend’s dorm room, the other’s boyfriend slept across the hall from me.

It was the year I made a sign in markers, each letter a different color: “Change is the only constant.” And how true it was. Change happened in the death of a drama student by electrocution, Fall Weekend. That same day, in a New Jersey hospital bed, my grandfather breathed his last breath. I still have the belt I purchased at a store in Union Station, Washington, D.C., on the way home to my parent’s house in Rye, New York. The belt may never fit again, but it holds the memory of the day I wandered around Union Station, before everything changed.

Because after that, it wasn’t just our classmate and my grandfather. It was Ray’s grandparents, all four of them. Not all at once, you understand. Grandparents die. But then it was freak accidents, brothers and mothers and children dying in car crashes. It was as if Voldemort had come back and the sky was dark every day. Except that none of us had ever heard of Voldemort. This was 1992, after all.

In the spring, a new year, 1993, when I lived in my nun-like existence, I often took walks around the small college town. My favorite place was just beyond the trailer park, an area of the river where cat tails and other kinds of reeds grew. I would locate the red-tailed blackbird, and everything would be alright.

Today, I woke up early, and it seemed only fit to take a walk.

I came across a broken egg, yoke and all, on the walk around the reservoir and looked up. Two more women stopped by and we ascertained that it was probably some kind of hawk. One of the women had been a close friend, about ten (more?) years ago. And I just wanted to talk, maybe to walk with them, tell her how excited I was, that I’m off to Florida in a few days, and before I knew it, she and her walking companion were gone.

Snubbed. Alone, again, naturally…like the old British lyric.

And as I walked along, taking pictures of cherry trees (there must be more than five kinds of cherry tree up at the reservoir), I took out my broken heart. And I took more pictures. And I counted how many benches Mr. and Mrs. Richard Fisher have paid for—EIGHT!  

[this is where there would be a picture of one of the benches, with a plaque, reading, “Mr. and Mrs. Richard Fisher.”]

And as I walked to my car, an old man with a dog chatted me up, wanting to know was I taking pictures and not asking exactly why, but wondering in his conversation. Had I grown up here? Did I live nearby? This was a man who could not conceive of taking pictures for the beauty of the day, only for the memory. And so I explained it in terms he might understand. I’m going away for a bit and all this will be gone, all the flowers will be different, when I return. Where are you going? Are you moving away? He was an old man, caught in the past, not seeing the beauty, wanting to talk about the year the deer ate all the tulip bulbs. His dog was cute, it was the kind with a beard—a Scottish terrier?

This man, to me, was Pittsburgh. Living in the year things went badly. Expecting young people to be moving away for a job. There was no joy in his step, only duty.

I’m not being fair, you realize. Pittsburgh is also young and adventurous and musical and very very artsy. But if you’ve lived here any time, (twenty years, give or take?) you realize that there is this Eeyore quality. “If you ask me, and nobody ever does.”

But I’ve drifted away from the red winged blackbird.

I decided that though I no longer wanted to walk around the reservoir (I didn’t want to bump in to HER and her friend), I’d walked my mile and I was tired, that I’d drive down to Lake Carnegie. Its name makes me chuckle, because it is no lake. It’s a pond, that Andrew C. himself paid for, to be a sort of reservoir before the technology existed to have the double reservoirs we now have. But Lake Carnegie it is. The mallards live there in the winter. And who did I see among the reeds? My old friend, the red winged blackbird. Reminding me of another time when I felt snubbed, and that I got through that time as well.

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in. (Edwin Markam)

I had this on my study carrel in the library. My friend Rachel had it on the door of her dorm room. For today, it is enough. And I will write on my friend’s Facebook page, “So nice to see you at the reservoir this morning.” And I will post the pictures I took, pictures I was able to take because I was on my own, with my own thoughts. Not a bad place to be.