For Every Year

For every year that I’ve left these white dorm halls for a Thanksgiving weekend away, I’ve come back in Sunday night, and I’ve written for you.

And for me.

I’ll not go back, not look back and see, right now, but there’s an element of motion, of momentum, of clarity and confusion and unsettledness that I’ve felt before, on these late November Sunday nights.

There is still momentum, movement, this year, but I don’t feel the turmoil, the burnout, the ache to be done, quite like I have in the past.

I suppose this is because I have two more weeks left.

Two more weeks of living the life I’ve known for three and a half years.

Two more weeks of being an on-campus student.

Two more weeks of taking classes.

There are many, many other things of which I only have two weeks, but I’ll not list them here; you can imagine.

And the whole thing- this whole thing called ending is feeling very big and very vague and rather vaporously elusive at the moment. I just can’t wrap my head around it, and because I can’t imagine being done, I can’t seem to prepare for it, either.

So I suppose the best thing to do is to go to bed, to get up, to do all the things I normally do on my long, stretching Mondays, and with every thing I do, I’ll do it the very best with the very most eye towards the long future before me, towards what might be meaningful.

And I’ll just keep doing the days like that, with intention and effort and zeal, and slowly, maybe it will all come into focus, it will all make sense.

And then I’ll know, I’ll realize, I’ll really believe, that my time here is just about over,

And another thing is coming soon.

~Natalia

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Dear Target Baby Chaser,

I’m sorry. I really am.

I saw you, four kids in tow, the youngest one squirming in the front of your cart, and I saw your ease, your comfort, you confidence.

Not that you have it all together, not that you’re the best, better than all; but ease with your children. I saw comfort, gentleness, unity, in your relationships with the four there, tagging alongside your cart.

We crossed paths, there in the back of Target. You moving towards food stuffs, us winding our way to the toy section, but five minutes later, there you were again in the toy section.

Kids will do that to you.

As I stepped between the Lego Friends aisle and the Elsa/Frozen aisle, heeding alternating calls of Natalie, come here! and Natalie! Look at this! I saw your baby again.

Chubby feet bare, miniature shoes no doubt kicked off in the bottom of your cart, he was squatting in front of an endcap display, toddler-fat fingers running inquisitively over the toys there.

I didn’t see you, but I heard your voice, recognized the faces of your other children, and I trusted you.

You know your children after all.

I heard your voice again, some five minutes later. This time calling, repeating a name, a nickname.

Chasing the baby.

And standing right there in the Lego Friends aisle, while two little girls exclaimed to me in excitement about the latest Lego set they wanted, your baby boy came running towards us.

Bare feet smacking on the cold linoleum, hands outstretched in the funny way of a baby still learning to balance his movement, his momentum.

He ran, moved, escaped.

And I let that baby boy run right by.

Of course, you caught him soon after. You came stepping down the aisle, quickly, calmly. Calling after, following, your youngest son. Little ones can’t go that far, and it wasn’t long before he was in your arms.

I stood there, frozen, as you passed. I pointed in the direction he had gone, as if you didn’t know. And you moved, and you found him, and you squeezed that baby boy, moved your cart right on down the aisle.

The problem is, friend, that I’ve been in your shoes, in your place, before.

Just weeks ago, a miniature charge slipped out of her Sunday School class in the moments after I arrived to collect her. Her own feet bare, black church shoes sitting next to me on the classroom carpet, she was up the stairs before I caught her, pulled her thrashing body against my chest.

At the bottom of the stairs, the security volunteer, his earpiece balanced precariously, watched me huff and puff the child back to collect her shoes, her jacket, her craft.

He’d almost stopped her, there at the bottom of the steps; almost grabbed her little hand, kept her safe, nearby, until I could leap to me feet, until I could catch up with her.

But he hadn’t and I shook my head in frustration; it’s okay to stop an escapee, no matter if she’s a little one, I said as I passed, panting from the brief chase and the weight of her in my arms.

Yes, I’ve been in your shoes; I’ve taken those hurried steps past inert strangers, in pursuit of a child who’s outstepped me just this once- and probably will again.

I’ve been there, too, and I’m sorry for not helping, not stepping in, not delaying the escape of your little one.

But chasing him and catching him, following him and tucking him safely into the cart once more, you were calm and you were kind and you were gentle, and for that, I thank you .

~Natalia

Oh, I Chose

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Yea, I told her, I firmly believe that if you can’t do something because of homework, then you don’t have too much homework- you simply managed your time poorly.

And I do believe that.

And I also believe in humility.

Because this weekend I chose,

From Thursday night I chose,

To do so very many things

That were fun, engaging, challenging,

Real life things.

And yet they were not homework things,

They were not assigned things.

And here I am, on Sunday night,

Wilting into my pillow with a cough

And a long list I’ve yet to accomplish.

And yes, I’m right, I didn’t manage my time well,

At least not with homework in mind.

But at the same time,

I’m not sure I regret it.

~Natalia

The First Snow

The snow fell thick on New Year’s Eve 2013. The parents left in the early afternoon, Lala strapped into the pink carseat in the backseat. And even then the snow fell, fat flakes illuminated by the car’s headlights, shadowing the winter-pink sunset over the frozen lake. The baby delivered safely to her grandmother’s home, they drove on into the white wind, finally arriving, after hours of treacherous winter driving, at the lodge they’d stay at for the next four days, celebrating their 25th anniversary.

Back at home, the building settled into the cold, impervious to the drifts of snow collecting in the brick windowsills, the icicles growing yet longer, reaching frozen spikes from the third floor eaves. With doors on every floor open, we celebrated the end of one year, the beginning of another, as a building, as a family. The children of the building, more than ten in number, moved from one apartment to another; crafts here, cookie decorating there, hula-hooping here, and then finally sinking into the familiar couches of the basement theater for a movie.

The movie halfway over, the doorbell rang and Diana shuffled into the lobby, simultaneously stomping heaps of snow off of her boots and unwinding the long scarf she’d wound around her head. We hugged, exchanging greetings sprinkled with exclamations of the weather, the cold, the snow- oh, so much snow. In the kitchen, we poured water for ourselves, popped popcorn for the kids, traded vague plans for the next days; maybe go out and do something tomorrow- well, the snow- we’ll see- what do you think?

Some time later, the movie over, the party gravitated upstairs again, little bodies climbing the stairs fast, their feet and hands pounding the worn carpet rhythmically. And Jo and Drew, their visiting family, pulled their seats a little further from the table, made a little more room, and Di and I, and later Stevy, too, ate fish tacos and sipped drinks, swapping stories while the kids in the front room played. And all the while, the snow fell around us, white specks descending silently from the blackened sky. And the streets shrunk, narrowed by the piles of snow tumbling, cascading over the curb. And the yards, the trees, the plants, the cars grew, the snow heaping up in soft white piles on everything that didn’t move. And even some things that did.

Later still, the girls ate their decorated cookies, spooned vanilla yogurt while the ball dropped in Times Square on my computer screen. 11pm for us, a new year for them, and I kissed them goodnight tucked them into their heavily blanketed bed, and the east coast reveled in the first hours of 2014. In the front room, in those minutes between 11pm and 12am, we were four; draped on couches, sprawled on the floor, rocking every so slightly in the mother’s glider. And when 12am arrived, bringing with it the close of one year and the beginning of another, we were quiet, subdued, but celebratory. A midnight toast was said, hugs, high fives, New Years’ greetings exchanged.

And then it was our turn to watch a movie, the night hours, the first hours of the year, slipping past as we scroll Netflix, pulling films from the depths of Netflix’s instant playlist. And even then, the basement windows showed nothing but white, and the wind blew and the snow fell, and the whole city slipped deeper into the muted beauty of a place under snow.

And when the movies ended, when Di and I finally slipped into our beds, not long before the sun once again began its trek across the winter-pale sky, I stood in the window and watched the flakes fall in the yellow cone of light from the streetlight across the street. And the neighbors, the building, the cookies, the movies, the time-zone-ahead Ball Drop, and all that beautiful, pristine snow; it was just enough, just what I wanted to never forget about that New Year’s Night.

~Natalia

Dear D&D Diners,

I thought, as you stepped out on the sidewalk in front of me, that I’d pass you, soon.

But we walked- you barely a yard in front, my steps following in your matched stride- and even before we’d crossed Sherman Avenue, I knew I’d be behind for awhile.

You were two. Black coats buttoned, zipped high against the winter wind that had blown up in a matter of hours. You wore gloves, both of you, your hands swathed in thick fabric, stiffened fingers clutching the handles of your white grocery bags.

I wondered, as we approached Sheridan Road, where I’d cross, and slip behind Tech, into the athletic facility, where exactly you were headed. Of all the buildings Northwestern has to offer, I wondered where you would set your groceries down, where you would pull those thick gloves off, where you’d sink to the couch, the bed, your desk- breathing heavily the sigh of disbelieving relief that comes when whipping winds give way to heated walls and florescent lights overhead.

But you left me just before we crossed Sheridan. Both of you, steps still in sync, food-laden bags still bumping around your knees. You crossed the street to the south, the stood there, waiting, just as I did.

Twenty feet between us, we waited to cross the busy road, the white headlights and red taillights of rush hour traffic washing over first me, then you, as cars rolled haphazardly through the green light.

I turned for a moment then, to watch you both.

And as I watched, the stream of cars- rolling, stopping, jerking up the street- slowed, just for a moment. There are always more to come, but in that moment, there was a space, a gap, and one of you, the one closest to me- you stepped out. You moved towards the street, took a step, an ever so small step, in the way you would go.

But the other- the taller one of you, reached out then. Laid a thick hand on your arm, pulled you back. And you stepped back once more. Stood and talked once more. Let your groceries bump around your legs, swinging in the piercing wind once more.

And then the light turned, and we all crossed, but I turned north, just a bit, and snaked down the alley, past the backdoor smoking benches of Tech, and you? Well, I don’t know where you went at all.

But I know in that moment, standing at a stoplight, you reached your hand out to stop, to pull back; you cared to hold back, to keep safe, to keep close.

And standing where I was, across the brake-light lit street, I care that I saw.

~Natalia

Life Right Now {#60}

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Curious

Patient

Thoughtful.

Watching the big girls dance

While her own sister

Races, stretches, moves

In the studio next door.

~Natalia

Just Here Remembering

I’ve been here for awhile. Sitting on my bed, the lumpy purple throw pillow behind me becoming progressively flatter as I sink deeper into the school-issued mattress. I wonder, as I watch the cursor blink in the empty cavern of the WordPress box, what I will miss about this school when I leave. I sit, breathing the residence hall scent of clean laundry, ramen, and twenty-four different brands of perfume, and feel my mind wander, tracing the threads of routines, classes, and friendships through the past three and a half years.

Gazing with unfocused eyes out the window at the towering buildings across the street, their black windows outlined against the orange-gray background of light pollution, I follow the path my heart and mind trace. I think about the minutes between classes, the rhythmic clock ticks between the 50 and the hour. I think about the conversations I had even this morning between classes; words exchanged with friends as I shrugged my bookbag onto my shoulders, head-jerking my ponytail from its perpetual entrapment under the bag’s thick straps. I think about the settled feeling of familiarity that there is even in those moments between classes. Every week, every day, every hour. Finish the class, pack up the bag, take those steps through the door, down the hall. Moving from learning to learning between friends, beside friends, behind friends.

I think about the lunch routine. Moody’s dining room has a Twitter account- 2000 followers who check in every morning, noon, and night to see what delicacy they’ll be serving us next. Sitting in Romans on Monday, I pull my phone from the bookbag propped haphazardly under my seat, swipe through internet tabs to the food service page. Popcorn chicken and Mac n Cheese! Chicken noodle soup! Tortilla pie! I read to Sara, sitting next to me, her own bookbag drooping rather pathetically against my chair. And in those moments before class begins, the professor at the front of the class looks up from his powerpoint preparation, eyebrows raised, mouth furrowed quizzically, uncertainly. Are you ordering a meal? And I laugh and shake my head, waving my phone in explanation. And he nods, chuckling, as the clock ticks to 11am: the beginning of class.

I think about slipping quite obtrusively into a meeting just this evening. Twenty underclassmen of my own major gathered under the tutelage of the woman whose influence is seeping into every aspect of the education program here at Moody. I’ve interrupted, I know, and I’m about to wait in the hallway once more, but before I can tell her so, she’s there next to me, arm around me, both of us standing between forty eyes and the door I’ve just closed behind me. She introduces me and I feel my cheeks, my neck prickle with the heat of recognition, even as my heart swells with her kind words. I nod, smile, thank her, then slip back into the hallway to wait.

And not twenty minutes later, I’m back in the room, now empty of its underclassmen visitors. And even as she nods in approval of the project I’ve asked her input on, I feel again the shift, an ever-so-slight change in the winds of my footing, my place, my role. She packs her bag and I swing mine back over my shoulder and when the elevator’s dumped us onto the ground floor, we’re engrossed in an impassioned conversation on teaching, curriculum development, and books she knows I’d love, books we both can’t wait to read. And outside in the cold, she steps to the street and I move towards the dorms, my arms wrapped around themselves against the cold, and my parting words declare that I’ll come back to Moody- I’ll work to improve this major, teaching the things we both know need taught.

And we laugh, of course, because it was mostly a joke. But there’s a part that’s serious, a part of me that is passionate about this school and the students and the learning that fill its walls. And I guess, in the end, there are hundreds of things I’ll miss about being here, come December when I roll away, but who knows, who’s really the one to tell, if I won’t yet return to this downtown college?

Of course, God knows, God will say. But that’ll be in His time, in His way. And for now, I’m just here remembering.

~Natalia

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