Time traveling…

Twenty years ago when i walked across this campus, the strap of my backpack tossed over one shoulder, i easily deluded myself into thinking it possible to be mistaken for a student.  A graduate student, probably, but in my late twenties, i could still pass. 

This week?  Nope. 

Sporting my “Elder-Hooker” collection of travel clothing, i couldn’t even pass for a professor this year.  Just another invisible middle-aged woman, attending a conference on the grounds of a marvelous California campus.  A campus wedged neatly between the mountains and the ocean.

This meeting is held annually at the end of June, and has been at this site every third year for decades.  i’ve attended eight of these west coast conferences, going back to the early 1990’s.  The recurring venue – as well as the recurring content, and people – provided an unexpected pinning point, hiding inside a routine business trip. 

Although different from the Christmas pinning point, i was surprised to find myself stumbling backward in time.  When not attending sessions, or being goofy with my friends, i was awash in memories.  It was just a nice summer conference trip… The flashbacks caught me by surprise.

Time with old friends.  Making new ones.  Laughing about all the stupid stuff that happened before.  Who we are.  What we do.  How we live.  Catching up on lives lived hundreds of miles away.  From the mundane to the deeply personal, a chance to get the latest news…

“Hey, he’s fourteen already?  Great looking kid!” 

“I’ve got to do it…  I’m moving out next month.” 

“It’s a constant political battle for lab space and funding!  I’m looking for another gig…”

“Did you hear about Dr. Z?  Did six months in jail for that shit…” 

“Hey, RD dyed his hair!  Who wants to ask him if the carpet matches the drapes?”

Memories of insecurities and angst.  Hook-ups – near misses, line drives.  The occasional grand slam.  Unnerving flashback to a conversation on that bench.  “He died?  Really?  When? What happened?”

Hours spent playing billiards in the local Irish pub.  Pool parties.  Beach parties.  Private parties.  Conning the guys at the bar to get us guitars for an improvised jam session.  Scamming my way on stage with the hired band playing at the conference picnic… after swiping a cowboy hat in order to blend in…

The year i brought my children with me to the meeting.  The Boy, at thirteen, brought a friend.  Hitting the huge concrete park, they were in sk8rboy heaven!  The Girl, at fifteen, enjoyed wandering the small college town, roaming from thrift store to thrift store, while i attended sessions. 

Listening as a colleague commented on the smokin’ hot co-ed walking toward us at the conference reception, wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots.  Enjoying his discomfort when i said “That’s my daughter.  She’s fifteen. Don’t you have daughters?”

Feeling old and young simultaneously.  Memories rolling by like a newsreel…

A pile of silicon dioxide.  We tell the tales, draw the lines, leave a few footprints.  It all sort of flows together…. 

And the tide rolls in…

Pinning Points

Every November, i have the same argument: “Put up the damn Christmas tree!”  This is followed immediately by “What’s the point?”  Sometimes, i have this argument out loud.  By myself.  For several minutes… Because it amuses me.

Never one to go overboard with decorating, i’ve always kept the holiday stuff at a reasonable level. Never put out more than i could take down on a cold, January afternoon. As the kids grew, there were a few standards they wanted to see – the “mouse countdown” calendar, Santa’s Marching Band, and of course, the random collection of weird shit on our tree. 

The other family tradition?  Once the tree is assembled and decorated, we must stand beside it and say “It’s the most beautiful Christmas tree ever.  Just like last year…”  The kids often delivered this line in monotone, with corresponding eye-roll. 

The tree itself? For the past 15 years, it’s usually been the same artificial tree – assembled branch by branch. It looks good, but never as nice as the real ones we’ve murdered purchased from time to time.  And it seems that i am always near tears when i’m putting it up, or taking it down. 

So why the fuck do i do this?

Holidays provide easy “pinning points” in our lives.  i mean, you don’t sit there on some random May 15th and say “damn, i remember May 15th from four years ago…”.  It just doesn’t work that way.  So when that damn tree is put up, or comes down, i am overcome by memories of over two decades of tree assembly or deconstruction.  And all of the emotions that were present at the time.

Every year i tell myself “Fuck it.  Don’t do it.”  But i give in… and it usually feels right after it’s up.  Sometimes i tell myself it’s for the kids.  Although they say it doesn’t matter whether there’s a tree or not, i suspect it represents a pinning point for them as well.  Sometimes it’s just because i’m not ready to become one of those people who drags out a small, fiber optic tree and says “Voila!”  That’s so my Mother…

This morning.  Removing the ornaments.  Smiling at the goofy shit* we’ve had on the tree for years.  Groaning at the hideously ugly** ornaments Mom has given me – which i dutifully place on the back of the tree.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Year after year.  Stuffing the scratchy synthetic wires into the large cardboard box that will sit unnoticed on a shelf in my garage for the next 11 months.  Carefully taped shut to keep out spiders.

Remembering the tree assembly from 2006.  Knowing at the time it would be the last holiday we would be spending together as a foursome – a pseudo-family***.  Having a ridiculous fever of unknown origin**** but plugging through it anyway…  The Girl was sailing through Europe during her Semester at Sea.  The Boy and his girlfriend lending me a hand as i wheeled around the tree in a rolling desk chair to conserve energy…

Flashing forward to an unknown future.  Knowing that choices i’ve made in my personal life are far-reaching.  And will bring moments of darkness, along with the freedom i crave.  Letting this knowledge wash over me like a scalding shower.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Blasting through year after year.  Tossing aside the idea of getting a gigantic 12′ pre-lit artificial tree for next year.  It wouldn’t be the same…

Pinning points.  Our lives woven around them.  Sometimes a beautiful tapestry.  Sometimes ragged, uneven web…

http://www.zastavki.com/?lang=amr

image sourced from:  http://www.zastavki.com

* the traditional first ornament is a miniature 6-pack of beer.  we’ve got an alien spaceship, painted pine cones, holographic glasses… silliness abounds…

** she gives each of us two gold-plated “collector” ornaments each year.  Some of them are hideous – including the gold-plated mini-van.  Seriously.  A mini-van?  it’s like the people who have to come up with new ornaments for the series are sitting around saying “Holy Fuck.  We’re out of Christmas shit.  Let’s start doing cars…”.

*** Our divorce was final in August of 2006, but it was quite amicable.  We agreed to spend that holiday together to soften the transition.  The Girl was 20, and The Boy was 17…

**** At the time, the doc thought it might be malaria (after a meet-up with The Girl in Vietnam and Cambodia).  It was only mono that i contracted in the Cambodian jungle, but i didn’t get that diagnosis until early December.  Around the time i was diagnosed with breast cancer…  Sucky month, eh?