Sixteen years ago this week I was unpacking boxes in my first Austin apartment after U-Hauling it from Ohio with my friend Cynthia. There was a Nissan Sentra hitched to the back and the man who hooked it up said, “From here out out, there is no backing up.” I drove away from Cincinnati in a Rosie the Riveter t-shirt and with no idea what I was heading toward. We crossed into Kentucky and Tennessee, saw the Mississippi running below the bridge and commented on the bad roads in Arkansas. And then I was in the state I’d call home for decades to come. On August 12 I wrote in my journal, “My mind of late is on setting up house, and on bugs. Things flying and buzzing and crawling in this house. Welcome to Texas.” I’m amazed I made it this far.
The photo is from my Cincinnati going-away party, where I was given a cake in the shape of Texas. Really and truly, I’d never felt so special.
August 13, 2015
I knew nothing of Sirius, Orion’s dog, when I climbed into my car after an afternoon meeting and thought dog days. If the stars are revealing themselves at sunrise, though it is the only time to get out there and move, I was unaware. I only knew that there was for a long time a kind of faith in altered weather. Spring into summer and it rained and rained and things grew tall and deep green. This was, the Austin people hinted, how it had once been here. Mild. Steamy. Shaded. But it was myth, the belief that we could return to another time when August didn’t scorch. Our fig tree is dangling its last leaves, the grass turned crisp. And maybe Homer had it right:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
August 12, 2015
To get to the pool, race past the boy in the superhero swim trunks. Carry your purse in the crook of your elbow, goggles and nose clip and a whole package of bandaids inside. Look both ways. Watch for reversing cars. The cow with the long eyelashes propped in the yard is so last month, why even mention it? While your mother finds a chair in the shade, sprint to the water. In! In! Until the lifeguard’s whistle means it’s time to get out. In the kiddie pool, the hose is for battles. Crimp and explode until your mother says stop or you’ll have to go home. You are smeared with sunblock and schooled in how to keep water from your goggles. Even the shallow end is still too deep, so daddy stays close. The diving board was fun until you did a double bounce and then it was terrible. Terrible! You want the orange noodle, not the blue, a squirt of ketchup on your hotdog from your Uncle Rene. But you leave it on the table and leap back into the water. You will swim and swim chasing your cousin Lala who is taller and more thoughtful and all the way from California and who will save you if you go too far. Back home there’s a hula hoop and Incredible Hulk hands and a diary you would write your greatest wishes in if only you knew how to write. Lighter fluid drifts sharply to your nose, Pharrell’s “Happy” to your ears. Someday these Sundays will fade, become one giant day at the pool in which you ran and leapt and splashed and someone’s football sailed over your head and the noodle you wanted was always yours and parents bounced babies and told long stories and the water was only invitation. One more jump before you go. No, wait, just one more. And then you walk home, towel thrown over your shoulders, learning the gifts of the shady side of the street.
August 9, 2015
But oh, did we try. Roasted. Sauteed with olive oil and garlic and tossed with pasta. Left too long in the fridge and eaten fast upon arrival. Made into pilau, Southern for pilaf, for which I made an early morning trip to Trader Joe’s for bacon and basmati and then simmered it with onion and chicken broth and cracked black pepper. We missed the pickles, however, and never battered and deep fried. But there was wok searing, tomato adding. More salt, a dash of red pepper. And finally, as the season came to a close, one last attempt. Half of it ended up in the trash, despite my intentions. “We’ve taken our relationship as far it’s going to go,” I joked, and then started planning for next year.
August 3, 2015
This time of year kicks my ass. Interviewing applicants, twenty, thirty, forty of them, reaching and scheduling and inviting and welcoming and listening and explaining and testing and reassuring and then, hardest of all, choosing. It’s difficult to imagine a privilege greater than sitting down to hear someone’s story, the losses, the yearnings, the very hard things that kept them from what they wanted. They arrive with tattoos down their arms and onto their fingers, or in a nice blouse they clearly wore for the occasion, or with young children trailing behind to be entertained by cell phones while we talk. They laugh or fall silent with shyness or sometimes cry and cry. And it is an act of attention, of holding space, to be there with them, to really be present. And it tires. And so yesterday afternoon I stepped away early, came home, put on stretchy pants and lay down. When I woke two hours later the cat was snoozing at my feet. I ate tuna salad, cleared my in-box, watched Chopped, and went back to bed. This morning puttering in pajama pants I set tomatoes to roast at low temperature for three hours. They will turn sweet, so sweet, so slow and so sweet.
July 23, 2015
On Monday we smashed potatoes and then roasted them in duck fat until they were browned and crisp. On Wednesday the squash blossoms were so beautiful I had to lay them out for a picture. The frittata sang of yellow. On Friday I sliced cucumbers thin and laid them beside French beans, sliced tomatoes, and purple potatoes. At all there were olives, manchego on a bamboo board, the pickles I made from last week’s cornichons. At all there was conversation around the yellow table with friends I was happy to see. It must be summer break, with dinner at the house and no place else I am supposed to be.
June 12, 2015