Packing, I began to worry. What am I packing for? Visiting with family and friends, teaching, being. Being, being, being with the one I love. Requires sundresses. Requires cardigans, fishnets, Mary Janes. Requires books. Requires planning. I began to panic. If I packed too much, did that mean I would come back early? I know how the world works. Better to take out, better to do without, better to be unprepared. If I pack only lacey things, will I have only lacey days? Why do I have so many dresses? And why have I never worn this? And can I ever wear this?
I am superstitious.
Thursday a bird lighted on my hair, not a pigeon—a black bird, raven or magpie. I felt it touch my hair for split second, lift, then it was gone, a linger, like a long fingernail, like the woman who washed my hair in the salon. I asked for simple highlights, something to get me through the summer, but somehow, I was brought back to the exact shade of my childhood, my hair when I was a little girl, honey brown, the exact same as when I used to sing in the front yard.
My mother said, go play where I can see you. I waited to be discovered.
Indiana, a tiny town, Phlox. Our neighbors grew corn for Orville Redenbacher. Our neighbors taught me to chew with my mouth closed and blow bubbles and climb trees. Our neighbors were miles away. I sang songs from Mary Poppins; Peter Paul and Mary; Olivia Newton John; Annie; and the Beatles—the only records my parents owned. I would lie on my back on the floor, brown and white shag, stare at the album covers, trace them. Sometimes I colored under the table while my parents ate dinner above. Sometimes I tried to write words. I dialed random numbers on the phone; when someone answered, I panicked and threw the phone to my mother.
Play where I can see you, she said, so I went to the front yard, the tire swing, and dragged my bare feet and sang. I was four or five. Eventually, someone stopped, came down our unpaved road—I watched the dust coming for miles and kept on singing—and then the car stopped so I sang louder. A sedan, I think. Louder, louder.
It was a man. He wanted the for sale sign in our front yard. He was from the realty and they wanted the sign back. Did you sell your house? he asked. He had to shout over me so I stopped singing.
I don’t know, I said. I went into the house and asked my mother. I didn’t know we were moving. But we did, to the city, Indianapolis, and then to Georgia, and then to New York, where I sang on the balcony of the apartment. When we left that one, I stood on my knees on the back seat and pounded my fists on the window and cried. Twenty years ago.
I am packing sundresses and strappy heels. I am packing my favorite jeans, cut down to shorts now because of the holes in the knees. I am packing books. I am packing the photograph of my two best friends, the three of us together, as we were summers ago. I am packing one of the smooth rocks I hold in my hands when I’m nervous; this one from Cornwall. I am packing hope. I am leaving behind behind.
I am not taking coats. I am not taking doubt. I am not taking bets. I know the way. I am taking a map, though I know the way. I am coming to you.