Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lewis and Clark: Day 35, still no path

Pretty soon the kids will be home from school and we'll start getting ready for trick or treating. If it doesn't rain. It's been clouding up, off and on, all day long. (Sixty percent chance of showers tonight, the weatherman says.)

The air is cool, but pleasantly so; there's no sting to it. You step outside and it's refreshing, like the burst of fragrant breeze that wafts through a half-opened classroom window in late September. You're thinking football, and newly mowed grass, and caramel apples, and buttered popcorn.

Driving around this morning, I saw a woman stopped at an intersection, her hand poised in midair elegantly holding a lit cigarette. Women who smoke when they drive put me in mind of a cat ready to pounce. They hold their jaws the same way, and narrow their eyes just so.

Waiting in line at the bank for a teller to attend to me, I got the shakes. My head got light and I felt unsteady. It seemed to me my heart was beating too fast again, but maybe it wasn't -- maybe it just felt like it was. It felt too strong, anyway, like a Cadillac engine that's been put into a go-cart. I went back to the car and sat there a few minutes, waiting out the trembly feeling. Eventually it did go away -- and I went on with my errands.

I still have the hives. I kept scratching nervously at the left side of my neck as I drove, trying not to dig too hard, but the irritated, restless feeling wouldn't leave me and I couldn't quit itching at it. I kept changing the radio station, dissatisfied with everything they played.

I got behind an old man, an old man driving a dusty blue car in a haphazard kind of way, weaving from the center line to the shoulder in uneven swathes. He'd look in the rear view mirror every now and then and I'd see a heavily furrowed brow frowning over thick black squarish glasses, as if it required all his concentration just to hold on to the wheel. Then I didn't feel so much impatient as sorry -- how it must feel to be that old, to be so uncertain that even the automatic, rote motions of a driving a car could no longer be trusted, or taken for granted.

I woke up this morning thinking of how time sculpts a person -- how wind and water erodes, but time and choices carve a face completely. Why else do some faces look harder, more brittle than others? What is it that happens to people?

How does a person learn to give, instead of breaking? There must be a secret, some message that some of us got in a folded note when no one else was looking.

Then I went to my son's Halloween party at school and I was still thinking about this and another mother drifted past me and murmured kindly: "What's wrong?"

I jumped, startled: "Nothing!" I felt defensive, unexplainably so, as if I'd been accused of something. But really it was that I'd been lost in my own, private musing (and also thinking, irrelevantly, that I need to schedule my sons for haircuts), and it seemed to me suddenly I'd been exposed -- that instead of sitting there silently I'd been broadcasting my thoughts (however sober) to the rest of the room, and everyone was frowning at me for it. Or: that everyone else in the room was having a great time (dressed in costumes, faces painted): why wasn't I?

I made myself smile and laugh lightly and say something casual, and I determinedly kept a smile on my face (however forced it felt) until my face got tired (or until I looked utterly psychotic) and we left early.

I'm not good at parties, maybe. I should be better at socializing -- and I'm really not. And it's not like I could talk about what I was thinking of; but even if I am having a cath on Thursday, there's nothing anyone can say or do to help, and I just need to deal with it -- and shut up.