In the car, my mother would try to count. Nine states. Nine states and two countries. She had to use her fingers. Half of those were not my fault. Half of those, I was a child, moved by parents. Then I was not a child. Then I was moved by job, school, fellowship, but never love. I thought it was love—love for writing, love for teaching—but it was not. It was a ladder. I thought I had to climb: lecturer, visiting, assistant.
I was the stillest child in kindergarten. When we were punished, I kept my head down. The minister praised my parents. I found my mark and I stuck it.
Outside I was still. Inside I was swirling. I discovered in college I liked to drive at night when I couldn’t sleep. And I could never sleep. This has been dramatized. At night, the hills rolled out like carpets. I drove in the summer. I drove in the rain. I drove and drove until the tape reel wore thin. I was never stopped by police. I tried too hard.
Last year, I lived in a tiny town. There was nowhere to drive but highway so I set out on foot. My office was on the fourth floor, across the railroad tracks and rugby fields, two miles away in the attic of the English department, and I would forget things, have to go back to campus, have to walk, walk, walk through the dusk and the lazy players, the pollen stirred from the grass.
I am not that forgetful. It was the stairs I wanted, the hike, the reaching. Driving was just circling; there were only so many places I could go, but walking was moving forward, going up.
I am back where the campus at the top of the hill is reachable from town by a giant staircase. This too has been documented. I am back to teach. I am back to climbing. I used to complain bitterly when I was a student, backpacked, trudging uphill from my dorm on the other side of campus, down the hill for my piano lesson, then up again. 175 steps. Trust me.
Something has changed. I want to go higher. I don’t mind the work. I don’t count.
I even thought about it at two this morning; when, for nervousness or excitement, I was staring at the ceiling fan’s moth moves in the darkness, unsound. I thought about getting up, putting on some tennis shoes, and walking in the dark, going somewhere. I am going somewhere. I am not just circling. Some stillness, some stairs. I am moving for love.
This morning, on my first of six trips up and down the big stairs, I met an elderly woman coming down as I rose, books in my hand, wet hair, hungry, early nerves. We passed on the landing. She stopped for a beat.
She said: Pace yourself, honey. You got seventy-five to go.