The Fall I decided I did not want to spend a life proving things…I was not welcomed home.
When I called my parents, to tell them that I would no longer be continuing on as a PhD student at Penn State, my mom shared this. ‘well you’re not coming back here. you gave up’ She hung up, before I could. I remember sitting down in my apartment, looking around, wondering what had I done.
It wasn’t too late. Nothing was in writing. I could have gone back to my advisor. Apologized for my behavior, excused it based on any number of things, I would have been excused, we all would have moved on. Maybe I would have sat in the back the first few weeks of the semester, instead of the front, like I always did, kept my head down, done my work, and done it well. I wouldn’t ask questions like usual, I would give up understanding, I would have kept my mouth shut. I’d accept that behavior is predictable, and I’d measure against variables. I’d be the first one in the lab, and the last one out. I’d prove my results. I could have done all the things, you do when shame is the driver. For me, the expression is to say nothing, to shut up. I’d show you. I’d run 5 miles in the morning. 10 miles on the weekends. I’d do it all perfectly. I promise you, I’d show you.
But if I could have done that. I would have. I was totally done proving things.
Instead. My sweet friend Juan came to get me. Everything I owned fit into a 2001 dodge caravan. Everything. Somehow, through my connections, I found a place to live back in Rochester. For $350 dollars a month, my friend knew a friend, who’s husband was working on a special project down at Hopkins. He’d be gone for the summer. Their dog Cleveland, he was sick, and Gail needed help, someone else in the house. She’s a writer, a professor, she needed someone else in the house, she’d be gone a lot this summer…to write.
It was in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rochester. A beautiful colonial home in the heart of the city. A front porch with a porch swing. Old wood floors and crown molding. 232 Barrinton Street. I fell in love with that home, as the summer went on.
The key is under the painted blue rock in the backyard…is what I knew.
My things were unloaded by the door. ‘Did I want help’? Was the question. ‘Oh no, no. I can do it I said. I can do this’.
I’d be there by myself for the weekend…directions were left for Cleveland. A note was left on the kitchen table. Cant wait to meet you. Heart. Gail.
Cleveland shuffled over to me when he heard me come through the door. The shuffle of an old man. The movement of a full full life, and zero commitment to hurry. He looked at me. Cataracts. And certainly nothing to prove. I reached down to pet him, and he shuffled away.
These old homes from the early 1900’s they had maid quarters…and yep, that’s where I lived. The kitchen would be shared. And my entrance was up the stairs, 3 flights, to the attic.
I walked up the final flight, the heat of an upstate NY summer, thick air, and a sky that from May to September, is always ready to shed and rain. 3 rooms. My bedroom with a queen sized mattress on the floor. A bathroom, with a claw foot tub and a small window. A 2nd room that had a small desk. My office I guess…for the things I was no longer learning.
A few trips up and down the stairs, and that was it. Everything I owned, in these 2 rooms. My things barely filled one corner.
What I can tell you about that summer 8 years ago…is this summer changed the direction of my whole life. There are a handful of moments that have saved me…and this, the one that began with the key under the rock. Is one.
As it is always….always, there are no coincidences or accidents. No, you see, life is far too brilliant for that. Gail and I were put together that summer, in a sisterhood, in a bond of two women, failing, healing, on our knees in desperation, in total separate parts of the house…but slowly the weeks went by, and Gail and I became inseparable. Together, most nights on the front porch, she in the adoriandack chair, and me, swinging gently on the swing.
Countless bottles of red wine. Preparing dinner in the kitchen together as NPR played. The measure and rhythm of 2 women who needed each other like air. When I couldn’t breathe…she was there. When she couldn’t breathe…I did. For her. Loud, so she could remember what it was like to breathe as a right and privilege, and sometimes…survival. We would laugh. Hard. We’d catch our breath somewhere between the kitchen hallway and the front porch, and I remember t We would celebrate the new beginnings we would each have that summer, a fire that is built from a woman’s hands, to burn down the bullshit, the pain of having given up…the realization, that no. Nothing can be proven.
What I did not know when I walked in the side door that first day, is that Gail’s world was coming undone. The conditions I had understood her husband to be gone, were not so. The fact was, he was indeed gone, out-of-state, and in this time, he fell in love with another woman. He would not be returning home. The house would have to be sold eventually. But for now…Gail and I were left to find our way to the porch, night after night.
It’s not that anyone was trying to keep the truth from me. It’s just that no one could say it out loud yet. And so, I found my way to that room in the attic, and I did not know. That this summer we would save each other.
Summer would move forward, and there’d be berries in the backyard to place in a small bowl with vanilla bean ice cream. July would move into August and Cleveland would pass away. We’d toast to him on the front porch, and were not at all concerned about the dog hair, that found it’s way into the history of the floor. Gail went away one weekend on a writer’s retreat. He was coming back to get a few things that weekend, in a truck. She looks me in the eye, and says this:
‘Lyndsey, whatever you do. Do NOT let him take the kitchen table’
I didn’t ask questions. I just knew that I would not let anyone remove the table out of the home so help me god.
It was a Sunday morning when I heard the truck pull up. I flew out of bed, the mattress on the ground. It felt urgent. I peeked outside, I could tell it was him. I stood at the top of the stairs for a while, hesitating. I didn’t know if he knew who I was. I heard footsteps, I heard the door opening and closing again and again. I heard then, footsteps in the kitchen, and I made my move.
I went down 3-flights of stairs, clumsy and loud, and saw him, crouched down by the pots and pans. He didn’t see me. I walked over to the table, and literally, I laid half my body on it. It was very weird, but I didn’t know what else to do.
He looks up.
‘Oh, you must be Lyndsey’.
Me. Short reply. ‘Yes’. Half smile. A mild giggle. Bed-head.
Both of us. Acting very strange and staring at each other.
He. Picks up a few pots, puts them in a box…walks in my direction. I grasp the sides of the table.
‘You cant take the table’, I said. Flat. And stared at him. Studying his face. His beard. His glasses. His shoes. Pissed at him. Knowing he was the cause of when I could hear Gail cry or, mornings when she wouldn’t wake up till morning was late.
He stared at me, curious. Amused maybe…
‘I wasn’t going to’, he said.
‘Oh GOOD’. I said. ‘Because it belongs to Gail’.
I mean who the hell knows WHO that table belonged too…but I saw it my only job to protect that table. An old butcher block from so so many years ago, I knew her sons had been around this table, I knew it from the family photos in the living room, I knew it the way there were indents where hands were placed, the burn marks where soup simmered, as dinner was served, and wine was poured, as kisses were snuck across, and above the middle…family.
He left shortly after, and I loosened by grip on the table. I went to make some coffee in the French press just like gail taught me…grind the beans, boil the water, stir it with a wooden spoon, not a metal spoon, to be patient and wait.
When she came home that night. I proudly stood by the table, like one of barkers beauties in the showcase showdown for the price as right, I gave the ta-da!!!! hands, and she smiled. And hugged me. ‘Good work’, she said. And we went to the porch.
Gail never had any daughters. And I had a very strained relationship with my mother at the time. I was so ashamed I had given up on something that meant so much to her, but not much to me. Gail helped me see that summer, that my mom, was doing the very best she could.
‘But she wouldn’t let me come home’, I’d say, and sometimes I’d cry.
‘Yes, but look at what happened, we would have never ended up together, and Lyndsey, I needed you here. You are home’.
When I walked in the door for the first time. When Cleveland was still alive. When Gail was a friend of a friend, a writer, who’s husband was out of town. When I had about 600 dollars in my bank account, and countless stories of how I failed. Before either of us told each other the truth…I said I’d be there for 3 months. Tops.
I was there for 9.
I was there when Gail began to date again, and we’d pick out the perfect outfit.
I was there to tell her about my hilarious dates. And we’d laugh and laugh.
I was there when I got my first job in pharmaceuticals, and could afford far more than a room in an attic…but we just weren’t ready yet, to leave each other.
I was there to meet all her beautiful, glorious women friends. All creative artists. Writers, painters, poets. And these women would come onto the porch, and I’d sit in wonder, and these beautiful women, with their long hair and stories of travel, adventure, love and lust. I’d hurry up to get another bottle of wine from the kitchen because I didn’t want to miss a moment. And when I would go to bed before them, I’d keep my window open, so I could fall asleep to the conversation and comfort of summer, of creative woman, breaking open the world with their ideas and words, waves of laughter, some tears, but heartbreak was not a shameful thing on this porch or this house. Heartbreak was the inspiration for art.
On the second floor, in the spare bedroom, these women would stay. Never more than one, and never more than a few days. I’d hope they’d have coffee with me in the morning. They were always so gracious with me. And I did not see yet, that I was one of them. A creative woman, with a story to tell. A passionate woman with fire, stories about how I would travel the world. A writer. What I didn’t know then, is these woman were showing me, who I could be.
As you know, this past month. Creatively, I have felt completely ignited. I have been up since 5am today, generating all the things I want to share. Having conversations with people, filled with passion and truth.
I am so aware…that 8 summers later…the lesson has repeated itself. I am SURROUNDED by absolutely beautiful, powerful, creative, nurturing, inspiring, making-shit-happen, WOMEN.
I am constantly being put in touch with this person, connection that trail blazer, to that game changer, having a conversations, that leave me in the wake of passion and desire….to go further, push harder, no force though…but a relentless pursuit to this big ol world.
I am not afraid of powerful woman.
I am drawn to them, to learn from, and to grow with.
I want every woman and man on this planet to be as big as they possible can…to make as much change, in this short time through, we call a lifetime.
I am frankly. Fucking pumped about what I see around me. Which is the urgency in which people are CREATING. Expressing. Telling the truth.
Everything I need to learn is put right in front of me. 8 years ago that summer, I learned what it means to be powerful and to lift each other up. To protect the kitchen tables of the people we love the most.
That there really is nothing to prove.