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In a minute, she will whisk the skillet off the burner, move it over towards the pie pan sitting on counter, and coax the apples into the pan. She will do it all in one fluid motion. Afterwards, she will cover the apples with a round, yellow-tinted pie dough circle, slide the pan into the oven, and wait.
Here’s how it happens. We meet in the soft evening light at a national landmark, preferably he Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower, but I guess the Chrysler Building or something could do in a hurry.
Harvard is represented in my head by a large Venn diagram. The two overlapping crimson circles are labeled “Before” and “After.” The first circle encompasses my freshman and sophomore years. The second contains my junior and senior years. They are separated by the year I was gone. Not many things fall in the overlap.
I am too old for this. Last week I arrived at a house party only to spend the first 20 minutes putting the finishing touches on my gender studies junior tutorial syllabus. Tonight is squishy, slushy, miserable, the kind of night that will leave the streets shiny, lethal disco floors by morning. It’s 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, I’m trudging alone down Mass Ave on the way to Eliot Street, and I have never more deeply regretted the existence of New England.
Within the first two weeks of having met him, I learned two things: 1. He was married, and had a child. 2. He had terminal brain cancer.
Rolling her head back against the driver’s seat and snapping her gum, M asked the question that had been ricocheting through the air since we all came home from college: “Where should we go?”
On weekend afternoons in cafes over lattes or weeknights over drinks during the semester, I’d often put lecture notes aside to share my half-joke revelation about how to best savor time at Harvard: books, I declared, would always be here, but the electricity of connection between people around us is only now.
Then the dust got so bad in the winter you had to do the floors every day, twice a day, grime thick on the table, my laptop, our books. I hardly left the boys’ place. Woke with my mouth glued open and my nostrils dry, construction workers banging across the way. Deep in the night (and we all crashed at their apartment in a last study binge, kept jagged hours in the sore-throat tipsy-sunny early December, scrambling to get papers done) the watchmen knocked their staffs against the bone ground calling jaagte raho! jaagte raho!—stay awake!—striding in tandem like the ladies that power-walked together every day down the streets of my New Jersey housing development.
If someone had told twelve-year old me that I would someday voluntarily join a dog sledding trip in January in Maine, I would have put down my cold medicine next to my three inhalers and wheeze-laughed until I cried. If someone had told fifteen-year-old me that I would someday voluntarily wake at 6:30 a.m. to shovel dog shit, I would have rolled over in bed and asked for ten more minutes.
When I tell people I’m from Alaska, I get a variety of responses from “You must get a lot of snow!” to “Doesn’t it get dark there all the time?” to “Do you have penguins?”. I’m not kidding about these. I’ve heard them all, and more. Alaska has such a distinct character that most people feel they’re well acquainted with the “Last Frontier.” Unfortunately, this acquaintance often seems to stem from a regrettable combination of Sarah Palin and TLC.
I’m kind of addicted to sadness. Just the other day I was staring at the Pacific Ocean’s dirty-window sheen, discussing the futility of marriage and ambling down a beach strewn with scrappy shrubs and barely-clothed people. (No matter the weather, no matter the Ugg boots, Southern Californians always seem a little bit naked.)
It was an outrageously funny but simultaneously frightening moment, which in retrospect seems to be the kind of thing you secretly hope for when you travel far away from home.
Once somebody sent me a chain email that talked about the differences between football season in the North and in the South. It said that in the North women pack for a game by slipping a chapstick in their back pocket and a $20 bill in their front pocket. Down South, women attending the game need to sport a Louis Vuitton duffle with two lipsticks, powder, mascara (waterproof), concealer, and a fifth of bourbon. Wallet not necessary in the South, the article said—that’s what dates are for.