For/Fourth/Forth

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I make positive protest posters.  They say what I believe, what I want, rather than what I’m against.

One of my signs was “Freedom from Fear,” copyright Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941.

I am for freedom, but not the freedom libertarians talk about, which is no freedom at all, the freedom to die alone and miserable with a gun in your hands.  I want freedom that comes from logic and wisdom and connection.

“In future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom to express one’s political opinions, particularly about the politicians one employs and the job they are doing, without fear of personal attacks in return.  We can critique them, that is our right, and they do not critique us.  By “us,” I include the press, who are “us.”

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his [sic] own way– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom to not be judged by the way one worships, or does not worship.  Freedom from judgment for those who desire to become Americans, and are willing to join our secular society.

“The third is freedom from want– which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom from want of health care.  Freedom that comes from government ensuring no one profits from another’s ill health.

Freedom that comes from a government that redistributes wealth to decrease crime and illiteracy and addiction and self-destruction of our citizens.

A commitment not to “jobs,” but to the government making its priority to provide education and opportunities to all Americans, not merely those with the money to fund political campaigns.

“The fourth is freedom from fear– which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.”

Freedom from fear of personal attack by our politicians, who work for us.  The freedom from fear of assumptions that one’s culture, more than another’s, relies on violence or oppression, when all human cultures include a history of violence and oppression.

Freedom from an obsession with terrorism that stuns and paralyzes our better angels.  People go on, through terrorism.  They actually do.  It isn’t, at least not yet, an atom bomb that would end us all.  We work to catch what we can.  We accept what we can’t, the cost of a free society.

Freedom from fear as our primary operating system, fear as our primary motivation for our immigration policy, our budget, our votes.  The scope of our imagination motivates our immigration policy, our budget, our votes.  What could happen?  What could we make?

We form our military policy from a sense of protection, and coalition building with our neighbors to make all of us safer.  Power distributed more evenly is safer for all.

Freedom from fear that the thirst from political power will trump the safety of our institutions.

“This is no vision of a distant millennium.  It is a definite basis for a kid of world attainable in our own time and generation.  That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

In our time, the tyranny of the presidency used to make money, to bully, to reel in allies who may think, “We can use him.”  Dictators meaning people who take office and show no knowledge, or respect, for our traditions, the office, our branches of government, and the way we want them balanced and respected.

These are what I want, what I dream, what we deserve.

Image: Fireworks Display over Lagoon, from the Chicago World’s Fairs series, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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What is the Whale

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We were given square canvases and teal and purple and white paint.  I found the teal and the purple horrible.  The teacher was going to guide people to paint a dandelion with its winged wishing seeds in the wind.  We did not have to paint that.

It took me a while to figure I wanted to paint a whale.  I sketched from a picture on my phone, I made a shape to trace on the canvas by running my pen over the outline repeatedly, until the liquid of the ink weakened the paper so much I could tear it out.  Then I mixed the teal and purple into a navy for the water.  The whale could be white.  I was pleased with it.  The Whale.

Later that day I was with a friend and walked past the Sea Glass carousel in Battery Park.  She is a native New Yorker, and had never heard of it.  “Will they let us ride?” she said.

“I think so,” I said.

We got tickets.

We entered the bowl, so to speak, it is shiny silver on the outside, and round, and the fish are soft neon pastels, with a plastic softness and bubbles in them and tiny sparkles.  I saddled up inside a pink fish, it was not very wide, just wide enough for a person to sit inside the “o” left in his body.

Then they began: the music, a twinkly classical piece I couldn’t identify, and the moment of the fish was not around, simply, it was rotating on four separate turntables, and up and down, and the whole thing was rotating, too, slowly, not like some octopus puke-ride, but like a loose dance.  Around, up, weaving in and out, seeing one side, another, one fellow fish rider, another, and outside it was becoming dusk, it was the longest day of the year.

I took the train past Philadelphia, late at night I arrived.  My brother and his fiance stood at the little station to pick me up.  They took me to their little duplex, up the steps to their spare bedroom.  They had put a pillow shaped like a whale on my bed.  It was a whale shape, white, with a blue outline and eye.

Is the whale about something you can never have, but are always chasing?

Is it the thing that swallows you when you try to run away, and gives you a space to think long and hard?

Is the whale the same as the blue glass one I bought during my worst spell of health, years ago, and there was something about the weight and smoothness and color and palm-sidedness of it that soothed me?

Is the whale the playful signal that the New York waters are cleaner than they’ve been for years, thus the whales are again in our waters, ramble-swimming and curious-surfacing?

A very large head, a tiny eye.

Is it the whale of the Natural History Museum, who hangs impossibly from one small spot on his lower back, and forever stays almost dived into that sea life room?  The whale who is annually vacuumed, with a long, long attachment.

A huge self, quiet until she sings, underwater almost always, but for air, only for want of taking in air through a single hole, she must surface, she may surface, she can.

Aside: the music for the Sea Glass Carousel is:  “Aquarium” by Camille Saint-Saëns; Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Mozart; “Daphnis et Chloé,” Suite No. 2, by Maurice Ravel; “Dance of the Knights” from “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev; and “La Mer” by Claude Debussy, arranged in new ways, with new instrumentation, by composer Teddy Zambezi.  More details.

The Office

When I worked downtown at my dad’s office, I saw my dad’s secret life.  I saw that the people who worked for him thought he was fair, and solid, and a little crazy, all of which I knew was true. I was sixteen, and I did everything I could to show them I was a hard worker, not spoiled, and not a snitch.

One of his secretaries was about to get married.  Someone brought in a book with pictures of naked men, and they tittered at it, and said they shouldn’t show it to me.  I was seventeen, not scandalized or impressed.  It was funny to me that they found the book so lurid, being grown people.

Dad and I sometimes ate lunch together that summer.  There are six kids in my family, so this alone time with Dad was strange and good.

We went to an Italian place for lunch.  I remember they had Ott’s salad dressing.  Recently my roommate threw out my Ott’s in my Brooklyn refrigerator.  Otherwise she did beautiful work and I am grateful, but salad dressing doesn’t go bad!  There is no other salad dressing with horseradish in it.

I was delighted that the guy who clearly owned the lunch place knew my dad, they chatted.  Clearly Dad had been going there forever, getting the same thing every time.  I was a getting a secret view of my dad, a place he could be free in a different way.  Someday I would have my own home-away-from-home restaurants, with kind and generous proprieters.

The downtown crowd at that time was so small, it was like its own little small town.

Walking to lunch, or to make the daily deposit at the bank, we would pass this old fountain that looked like silver trees.  That was where the homeless and the sketchy hung out, and you were supposed to walk past their quickly, so they wouldn’t draw you into their dangers.  I didn’t know anything about poverty then.

There were also ladies in heels and skirts, holding them so they wouldn’t blow up when the wind ran up the canyons of the buildings.  I wore long skirts then, anyway.

By dinnertime downtown, everything was closed up, and only a few sketchy wanderers, or people who were going to an evening event like the opera or the circus, would be downtown.

The lawyers I saw in movies and on TV made eloquent speeches in court.  I knew my dad went to court sometimes, but that he wasn’t the kind of lawyer who studied evidence and persuaded jurors and knew criminals.  Mostly he wrote and read and went to meetings.  That was a bummer.

Rarely, he had to go out of town for work, to do a “bond deal.”  I had no idea what that meant.  For one bond deal, he went to New York, and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria.  He came back with a box of lotions and shampoo from his hotel, which I treasured.

I never thought of his work world as a world of men, though I could have, I guess since he was always so insistent about me looking like a “lady lawyer,” and learning to mow the lawn.  Powerful, independent women were valued in our family.  My “lady lawyer” outfit was a white blouse with navy polka dots and a bow to tie at the throat, with a navy skirt.  It made me feel extremely grown up.  The only feeling I ever wanted to have was “grown up.”

Even now, I guess it’s one of my favorite feelings.  I’ve got this!  It’s probably one of my dad’s favorite feeling, too.  We like to take care of people, not necessarily in a touchy-feely way, more of a practical, protective way.

During the short period when he was single, after divorcing my mom and before remarrying, he took pride in teaching us to make salad, explaining he used to be the salad guy at a restaurant. He bought us little aprons to wear in the kitchen when we were on kitchen duty.  I cut the tip of my ring finger off, cutting radishes.  I preferred to help my little sister, get her into her overalls.  She had an incredibly adorable collection of Osh Kosh b’Gosh outfits.  She had the short and long overalls, the short and long sleeved shirts, mix and match, and I’m frustrated I can no longer dress her like that.

I loved Dad’s giant desk, his enormous swivel chair.  I loved that the Law Building sign was right behind his head.    I loved that the Law building in downtown Kansas City was abandoned, full of pigeons and crackheads or whatever.  (The building has since been torn down, and is a parking lot.)  I loved the leather, and the conservatism of the law. I loved how everything in the office was so heavy, physically and aesthetically.  In complete opposition to his in-the-wind childhood as a Navy brat, we had a deeply settled home.  Nothing was going nowhere.

I loved seeing how the other lawyer and my dad operated their weird work marriage.  They had a shorthand, and jokes, and rituals that I was on the outside of.  For dozens of years, there is an envelope they deliver to one of their clients.  It has a name: the Niffi ‘lope.

To the other attorney, I was the impish, trouble maker girl, oh no!  She has another ticket!  I happily rarely availed myself of the lawyer’s daughter privileges.  Maybe two speeding tickets.  A couple of fender benders.

My dad’s work world was hidden, but also very much a part of our family, as with any family business.  The real estate market, and the economy, would make our boat rise or fall, and we got used to that.  Only at the beginning of his career did he work for someone else.  I remember that man for the cigar boxes he gave me, Partegas, they have my favorite yellow inside the lid.  And I remember all the z’s in his name, probably because I have one, too.

My sixteenth summer I reorganized the files in the space next to the offices.  My dad rented two suites.  The one on the left was unfinished space, just bare shelves and boxes and columns.  I gave numbers to the boxes, rearranged them.  I listened to the White Album over and over and over.  I had stolen my dad’s Beatles CDs, and he would never get them back.

I was in frequent and passionate conflict with my dad through my adolescence and early twenties, the evangelical Republican dad versus the ecumenical leftist.  But I obsessively listened to the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix (the same music he listened to at my age) and I wore a brown corduroy blazer of his, until its linings wore out.

After my dad moved his office to the suburbs, downtown Kansas City went from ghostly to hopping.  They are turning his building into more fancy apartments.  I prefer the ghostliness, the otherworldliness, the half-emptiness, that I first knew.

Image: The Law Building, 12th Street and Grand, Kansas City, 1941.  Anderson, Kansas City, Missouri, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

Have Seen, Will See

America, June 2017, in the nave of the church from 1702, a mural of the gospel being preached to successive groups: gentiles, who look suspiciously white, Asians (an Indian woman, a Japanese woman), Africans with breasts in the fresh air, and finally Native Americans, who wear their babies on their backs and cover their breasts.  I’m the white lady who showed up at random, at noon on a Tuesday.  The other worshippers are casual with each other, saying hello, clasping hands.

The woman next to me opens a prayer book for me, to the Eucharist Rite One.  I do not need this, but it is sweet.  It reminds me of being at the monastery, where a sister usually opens my books and sets out my materials.  I’m always away from the monastery long enough to forget some piece of how the books and booklets work.

It really doesn’t seem okay, me the white lady looking up at the mural of the black people kneeling around a white preacher who has brought them the light, in this black congregation.

When I first walked in, the priest was reading from Revelation.

I hate Revelation.  Martin Luther and I feel it should be struck from the Bible for being full of craziness that inspires crazy people to do crazy things.  It is full of magic but magic that suggests the future is something outrageous, with no basis in the past, and I hate this idea.

Luther ended up leading a split in the church, and I was sitting 1,500 miles away from most of my family and friends, so the joke’s on us.

Revelation did inspire what is possibly my favorite television show, “The Leftovers.”

And the first time I went to worship at the church I took as mine in Kansas City, I looked over and saw a stained glass window with John sitting looking back over his shoulder, with a tablet in his lap.  Angels are standing on a golden staircase.  At the bottom it says: “Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are.”  I am mad for this window.

We’re wandering afield, though: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, ” Revelation 1:19.

A deceptive quote, because it continues: “The things that will be.”

I only ended up there because I had mistaken the time I was supposed to be at work.  I was an hour early.  My work schedule has been irregular.  I realized halfway through my commute.  Rather than get on the bus for the last part, I could check out that noon service at that church.  I had already explored the churchyard.  It had those coveted old time headstones with the heads with the winged skulls.  I’m flying away, yo!

This time, not only was the red door open, I had time to go on in.

The priest reading Revelation, and five little old ladies listening, occasionally nodding.  One had a purple hat with purple sequins.  I tiptoed in and sat on a type of pew cushion I’ve only learned about here: velvet, hard as a rock from the weight of a million butts.

“Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are.”  My eyes filled with tears.  Like a good Episcopalian, I showed no emotion, just blinking quickly and knowing that something was real I had doubted.

I’ve been in deliberations about where to live, what to do next with My Life, and see, here were capital letters for me.

Although I’m a practicing Christian, I can currently only categorize what I believe in as, “capital letters.”

“Do you have any questions?” the priest said.

The ladies did not.  I was sitting very quietly looking around, trying to be the most gracious guest in the history of the world.  Behind me, on the back wall of the church, the one the clergy look at most, there was a painted Jesus rising and four angels on each side of him giving him support.  The ceiling, between beams, was painted with shields that were symbols of the disciples, and probably other things, too, I wasn’t sure.

“We’re having a service next,” someone told me.  “It’s up there.  Would you like to stay?”

“Oh, yes,” I said.

I shook hands with the priest on the way up, explained I was visiting, “And I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your church,” I said.

“Oh, it’s not mine,” he said.  Touche.

The ladies, and some more people who trickled in, sat in the pews up the steps up front, and we faced each other in two pews on each side.  There was that crazy mural.  To me it looked like one of the African ladies’ faces was at the crotch of the white priest, which was even creepier, if that’s possible.

I looked carefully at all the bare feet, of the people who were gentiles, Asian, Native American, African, and the feet were very well done.  Feet are tough.  The breasts were also perfectly nice, neither lurid nor prissy, just regular old nipples of people who don’t wear shirts for no particular reason, it’s just awfully warm and they don’t like that horrible bra sweat you get waiting on subway platforms when you’ve just taken a stupid shower and wonder why you bothered.

We rose when the priest came back in, wearing robes.

The ritual, exactly as it always is, speaking, listening, reading, standing, sitting.

The sermon was on St. Boniface, who spread the gospel in Germany.  The church was founded in 1702, as the priest mentioned.  It was founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.  All parts are foreign, aren’t they? Many parts are foreign as far as grace and mercy are concerned.

I had to sneak out at the peace.  I had to go on to work.

Later I looked up the history of the church and saw they still use a chalice from 1704.  I’m really kicking myself for missing communion.  They might not have used it, anyway.

The things which I have seen.  The things which are.  I had to leave at the peace.  I gathered my things, excused myself, and they got communion.  My head was wavy with the feelings and ideas I’d had.  I looked at my phone, my landlord had written: what about rent?  I tried to pay my rent with this app I got, and the thing wouldn’t work, and I began breathing faster thinking I couldn’t pay my rent.

This is how long peace lasts and how you can’t hold onto it.  The things which you have seen, the things which are, I rejiggered the app and hit buttons until it said: You paid $900.  It’s okay, see?  Mistakes.  Rent.  Things you forget about because they were so small.

My coworker pulled up and I got in her car.

The things which will be?  She drove us across Queens, from Jamaica to Flushing, through its hills, raggedy commercial strips, duplexes, busses, corners.

The things which will be lunch, sitting on stools discussing Frederick Douglass and Kathy Griffin with my student.  “You’ll love Zora Neale Hurston!” I told her.

She will.

———–

The St. John window at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City is dedicated to a Mr. Alexander Butts (yep).  He ran the editorial page for the Kansas City Star, sometimes wrote lay sermons for inclusion in the paper, and this is a story about him:

One of his friends could not understand his compassion for the poor, and told him at a dinner at the Kansas City Club: “Why, Butts, there is not a better dresser, a better liver, a better society man in town than you are. Look at that carnation in your buttonhole now.”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Butts, “I like the beautiful, the pleasant things of life. But I believe that everybody does, and I would like to have them all wearing carnations.”

The site from whence this story, and the image of the St. John window below, came. 

Top image: “Knowledge of the Past is Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, by Robert Colescott, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Intersection

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On the opposite corner, four guys guard the liquor store with their leisure.  That is their leisure and this is mine: a paperback book I bought, the first I’ve bought in ages.  I took a pay cut, and stopped buying books.

On one corner I have a green bottle of water, two clear glasses, coffee in a teacup, and a big, wide bowl of granola and white yogurt and uneaten berries.

One man has an office chair, with a star base with wheels, and an orange seat.  The other has a black plastic folding chair.  The others stand.

I never go to the neighborhood liquor stores, with their plastic barriers ,where the alcohol lives behind, like a jail visiting room.  They should have telephones.  I always go to liquor stores in fancier parts of town.  I want to see the wine, choose one based on my whim combination of nationality (French, Italian, or Chilean), signs that declare quality in a number (96!) or vocabulary (cherry, “with red meat,” though I don’t eat any kind of meat).

People who want to be here: young white people, hustlers of all sorts, artists who were so lonely where they came from, and learn a new a different loneliness here, those who came her to be less stuck in the jobs that will have them, because there is American money to soothe the lack of beaches and soil and fruit trees.

People who don’t want to be here: people from here, people tired.

I can’t hear them, but they sit with knees out and lean in.  A ball cap.  Jackets.  Sweatpants.  An umbrella hung from the frame of the metal doors that pull down at night.  The sign above them says LIQUOR, vertically, red, and below the R it says WINE, only as wide as the R.  A sign in the window: New York Lottery, with a rainbow coming out of New York.

He raises a hand, he points.  She looks at faces, walks on by.

The other corner is a pharmacy, which is closed today, its grill-grate down.

The other corner is a deli, a bodega, whatever, a crummy one I must have gone into at some point, looking for Ritz crackers or plain M & Ms.  I don’t remember.  The better bodegas have cats, and don’t smell like fish or musty.

The bus comes, a little girl with pigtails wearing a penguin t-shirt holds her dad’s hand as they get off.

Someone carries an orange bag of laundry on his shoulder.

The brick wall I look at is cream brick, red brick arches, set in and hung like teeth, column, stone lintels, stone pale against the red brick, going up, black fire escape bones, curly iron Juliet balconies, air conditioner boxes, brickwork that makes slats, and all of it behind a stern black dumpster, silver cars, a green metal post crowned with a sign, MONDAY THURSDAY 8:30 am-11am.  A thick red line, arrows at each end.  I never see these.  I don’t park.

A man sweeps the sidewalk trash into the gutter with a bright blue broom.

The merchandise in the bodega window is blasted so, so pale, sickly, even in this city where direct sunlight is more craved than room to stretch.

A stocky white blonde woman with a white dog.  Men in strictly worker shoes: brown, black, meaningless.

Men with coverings over their enormous hair, like great eggs they are hosting, or enormous alien brains.

The fronts of our buildings are detailed here: painted top edges that make them taller, with wheat or fleur-de-lis or or oak leaves or banners draped printed in them, stripes made by brick tones.  Their sides, if you ever see them, are dead plain.  No one, here, knows how to use the sides of things because the sides are pressed to the next, almost all the time.

The rain, the weekend being almost over, you live around here?  The chill.  Long time?

Q & A

“Do you prefer Mozart or Bach?” he asked between algebra problems.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asked as we walked to the cafeteria.

“Oh, sure,” I said.  We were working in a basement office.

“Mozart,” I said.

“Why?”

“Mozart is more romantic,” I said.

“It sucks,” he said.  “Being in love.”  We crossed the quad.

“Yeah, it sucks.”

“Did you ever think about selling your computer?” she said.

“What?”

We had spent hour after hour scrawling on legal pads, through problem after problem on a website.  Her teacher had chosen assignments seemingly in random order, each section was unrelated to the previous, and I scrambled to recalibrate my own thinking before I could explain what leap we were making next.  For math work, it was hella illogical.

“No, I love my computer.  And I keep my stuff forever.”

I had told her I didn’t know how long I would tutor, maybe I would move away, adopt some kids.

“No!” she said.  “You can’t leave me!”

Teaching, there was always the understanding, the rhythm worked into all of us: this year I am your teacher, next year I will not be.  Tutoring, it’s up in the air.  I still live with the academic cycle, zooming around at finals time, albeit at a distance.

“You should adopt a teen,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Now I’m in love, but alone.  In love alone,” he said.

“Yeah.  That happens,” I said.  The campus had emptied out for the day, it was late afternoon Friday.  We walked down a ramp behind the art building, it curved toward the cafeteria.

I sat and recorded my student who had to perform on the recorder, and the harmonica, for her music education class.  She earnestly played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on a hot pink recorder.

“This feels so silly,” she said.

I smiled.

“I don’t think he cares that much how it sounds.”

“I’m sure that’s fine,” I said.

“I slept from like six a.m.to ten,” he said.

I know most college kids can get by on less sleep than me.  This is hard to remember because even as a college kid I needed sleep.

“You have to sleep.  And you have to eat.  Are you eating?”

“Romantic?” he said.

“I mean, emotional.  That kind of romantic.”

“Oh.”

We returned to powers to a power, square and cube roots and the quadratic formula.

My high school algebra teacher taught us to sing the quadratic formula to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”  I sing it to my students, and they groan and then they sing it.

“I don’t eat real meals,” he says.

“Okay….”

“But then I got my blood work back, and I’m deficient in all these vitamins.”

“Well, it’s good you’re eating those carrots.”

X is the opposite of b, plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 a c, all over 2a.

My mother calls halfway through a six-hour desperation marathon of trying to finish enough algebra to get my student safely through her poorly organized class.

“You want to talk to her?” I ask my student.

They talk . “I know I can do it.  I know I can,” my student says to my mom.

“Are you sure you want to keep going?” I ask her five hours in.

She just looks at me.

“If I leave, will you keep going, or will you cry?”

I stay.

Six hours in, I can’t see straight, or think, we have written equation after equation, running out pads of paper, and suddenly she says, “Wait,” checks another section of the website.

“We’re done,” she says, lightly and mildly because we just have nothing left.

“Oh, my God,” I said.  Our language had fallen from formality to light curses to uncreative profanity over the afternoon, the evening.  “Really?”

“Yeah.”

I walked to the bus.

“I might get a B!” my student said.

I frown.

X is the opposite of b, plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 a c, all over 2a.

Image: detail of “Two Men at table with Test Tubes and Beakers,” Walker Evans.

 

 

Chemical

 

Yesterday I was up at the Cloisters looking at a famous painting of the annunciation.  A teeny Jesus is flying in Mary’s window, teeny streaks of light behind him, a toothpick cross on his back.  He reminds me of Tinkerbell.

The tour guide said the announcement, the word of God, impregnated Mary, so Jesus was headed to her ear.

Do you know what’s inside you?  Or how it got in there?

Or do you know what’s inside and what’s outside?  Or what is chemical, what is science, and what is natural, whatever we mean by natural?

It still pisses me off that my anxiety remains relatively untouched by meditating, yoga, a hot bath, a massage.  Those things help keep me going when I’m in the worst of it, but they help only a little.  The itch is so deep in there, I can’t really reach it with anything but chemicals.

What helps is the drug no one actually knows exactly how it works, but perhaps keeps the serotonin in my brain from disappearing, raising my levels of serotonin to where most people’s are normally.  And where mine were until six years ago.  What we know is people can feel better.

When you’ve been having panic attacks and pretty much everything sounds scary to you for no reason, feeling better is a more intense version of when you have a terrible flu, and the first time you leave the house again, you just look out at the world, and your walking and talking and all the stimulation, you’re like, “Awesome!  This is amazing!”  I think, Why would I be afraid of the cafeteria?  Or lunchtime?  Or the bus?  Wow, that’s crazy.

It does take a while, the last week I was deliberately trying to force my brain wrong, to see if I could… could I?  I could work myself up a little, get nervous, that’s as far as it could go.

My sister came to visit, and it turned out to be less a go-save-the-faraway-family-member mission and more of a good time that showed how much better I am.

We walked in circles in Fort Tryon Park, accidentally.  I had never had trouble finding the Cloisters before, but this time, when it was raining and her shoes soaked up puddle after puddle, the curved paths, past scent-glowing lilac bushes and along the cliffs that guard the peaceful Hudson from the city, we somehow made a circle, regrouped, made another circle, whoa.  And only the third time we tried did we get a straight path, we got to where we could see the tower of the Cloisters rising above the trees.

“These trees are taller than in Kansas City,” she said.

“Nah,” I said.

“No, they are,” she said.

“Hm.”

We got wetter, and wetter, in circles, on sidewalks, on gravel, until finally somehow we got in the right line.  I saw the bell tower first, then the driveway.

When we were little girls, our grandparents took us to the Cloisters.  We took a taxi from Penn Station.  I remember someone saying it would be a long ride, and expensive.  We saw the unicorn tapestries.  I bought a flat gold bookmark in the shape of a heart.  Like everything from New York, it was precious to me.

We joined up with a tour at the museum, and the guide explained that a tapestry and two different shades because the bottom was a repair job.  “They did a wonderful job,” she said, “but this part with the color still vivid is plant dyes, and the part done with chemical dyes is the part that is all faded.

“So, go plants!” she said.  The plants in the tapestry were roses, which, in medieval times, had plenty of thorns and were heavily scented, and did not climb.  And lilies of the valley, who hang as jingle bells down stems, we had seen them in Fort Tryon Park, licked with rain.  Lilies of the valley are the flowers our stepmom dug up from her mother’s yard, and planted in her own.

In the center was a tree that isn’t real.  Only the fruits are real, pomegranates, which stretched to show their seeds, and dropped beads of juice.

Image: Detail of “The Unicorn in Captivity,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.