When I was younger and it was all new, this writing business, this business of being in the world, I used to wait around for the next thing to happen to me: the publication, the award, the drop from the sky. Something always happened, but I knew, even as a child, I was only as good as the last one.
Now things don't come, or they come in a trickle--slow, with year spaces in between. Now I am trying to measure myself not by what I do, but what is done to me, what is given.
In conversation with a very good friend last night, he told me a story of us I had forgotten. It was like I was hearing it for the first time, like I was a character in my own time. Once, in college, we were walking, heavy in conversation, as we came around the corner of the science building, trees on one side--they are gone now--a group of athletes, lacrosse players with pads and sticks, started approaching us from the other direction. In the middle of the path was a magnolia blossom, blown from a tree, and it became clear, my friend said, that we were going to walk right past the blossom. We were going to meet it in the middle, we were going to cross its path. We saw this, and the lacrosse players on the other side saw this, too.
And we got closer and closer, and finally they said: Come on! Give her the flower, man!
Then I remembered. And then it was two gifts to me last night, my friend and a memory of my friend.
Another friend, the Shakespeare teacher, went to New York over the weekend and he asked me if I wanted anything. I said surprise me, not thinking anything, thinking it was a funny thing to say, the right response. But then last night, before the sad, unexpectedly sweet movie we shared, he did surprise me. He brought out a brown paper bag: tomatoes in a fat, red jar.
In the movie, they did end up together, happy, despite everything.
So now I wait for the next thing. I wait and I hope like I used to wait for the contest to be announced, to watch the mail, which I still do sometimes, to see my poems come back to me in pages. But this has cooled. Now I think the most extraordinary thing I could do is love and be loved. Now I wait for the jar of tomatoes, the phone call, the friend. I wait, holding my breath, and it becomes clear that we are going to cross it.
Come on. Give her the flower.