Sunday, May 19, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapter 31 - 35

31.  JUNIOR  

            When do you know you’ve been moved from one room to another while you were sleeping? When you wake up. Duh.
            Something along those lines had occurred at Z’s home during the summer between sophomore year and junior year. She was in unknown territory. Nothing fit.
            She was biding her time. It wasn’t worth getting into fixing things any more around here. Uncle E had said it, “The (saand) bull had destroyed the china shop. No amount of glue is gonna take care of that mess.”
            But then Z had had two years to get used to the facts on the ground, so what if she floated about on a cloud in the aery faery world of long forgotten music and centuries old stories for the most part. There’s something magical about 24 months, especially when it comes to adapting to sea changes. It was a little over 24 months since Ma had died, just under 24 months since Daddy remarried, and just under 24 months since she had left for college. She was beginning to grow up, get comfortable with traveling on her own, going to the bank by herself, getting a grip on the various structures of community at large, so on. Disillusionment with the world and family was the only unfortunate byproduct of this process, but just how long do you wish to worship false idols???
            The curriculum had fallen in place for Z like a little bit of magic. Every course was designed just for her it seemed to her. She took to academics like a fish takes to water. Or a duck? Whatever the real phrase might be, you get the point. By Thanksgiving she had arrived at a very important decision. She would no longer go home and get sick to the stomach. Instead she’d find a place to stay, and live in the library until they threw her out. Her morale and her health improved dramatically every time she left Fairview so why get sick on purpose? Of course it had taken 24 magical months to get to that realization/decision, but better late than never.
            The year saw all of the Juniors come into their own as individuals. Or perhaps Z began to see them that way. The sorority definitely was more mature and serious now. New York had made quite an impact on Julie, they noticed right away. Her understanding of the world of music had always been something to marvel at. Now she talked like a virtuoso. She played like one too. She had touched the soul of Music and you could see what magic that had done. Rachel was hardly a giddy girl anymore. She saw herself more as the other half of Bill who was a lawyer and political strategist in training. She spent an awful lot of time with him and his parents at Georgetown. That one fact now a year old had turned a very giggly gangly Rachel into someone you could trust to give you sounder advice than your grandmother could, now with her new perspective on Life. Iravati had MIT on her mind a lot. Clare had set foot in all the time zones of U.S.A, Hawaii included, as well as the MGM studios, also Universal and Nickelodeon. She had plans to see the locations where Mystic Pizza, and Driving Miss Daisy had been filmed. Melissa was toying with the idea of transferring to Stanford where her twin brother was, if they’d accept her.
            Melissa’s twin brother had surprised her one day showing up at dinner time while they had been eating beef stroganoff. He was a character. To him the sorority was an extension of Melissa. There were just more Melissas to harass. He had a week off so he decided to spend it with Melissa but he wouldn’t say he missed her. The twins had never been apart for more than two weeks at a time before they had left for college. While she was at class he wandered about blending into the crowd and regaled them with stories about his day in the evenings. His most favorite character in this parade of characters in his stories was an older unavailable ‘Miss Kegel’. That was most likely not her real name. She was with, according to him, ‘Mr. Legally Blind’. Somewhere along that storytelling hour of the day he had figured out Z never fully understood his jokes, not for 24 to 48 hours at least. He, however, had a Marauder’s Map (Harry Potter) of her mind so he knew where the blind alleys and blind corners were. He’d pitch his stories at just such spots much to his and the sorority’s amusement. Z, who prided herself on decoding people’s mental grammar within five minutes of meeting them felt very humiliated. Her head was getting transparent she was sure. People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. And this transparent person can see things no one else can, like they can see Thestrals now, and cannot see things most everybody else can. It is a pretty unfortunate situation for the bereaved.
            On Saturday they walked down to the ice cream parlor. Outside, waiting perhaps for other people, were ‘Miss Kegel’ and her ‘legally blind’ significant other, Melissa’s brother pointed out to them. Mr. Legally Blind was hot. He was nothing like the doddering persona with a cane that Z had imagined. Her first impression of him was a tauter, bronzer, smarter Gilderoy Lockheart. Miss Kegel was older than she had thought, with tightly wound boxes where her biceps, behind, and calves should’ve been, that made you want to scream, ”Lay off the HGH sister.” 
            “I thought you were jealous of Mr. Legally Blind,” said Z.
            “Because you, Z, are legally blonde,” said the Jewish brat to the Indian girl and laughed so hard he walked into a lamppost.
            That night they went out to a traditional Louisiana dinner and then walked the French Quarter, playing host to their out of towner guest, enjoying the change in perspective that comes with such an excursion. They each knew they wouldn’t be here for ever. The time for leaving their home away from home was getting closer each day. Z watched the rising crescent ♫moon over Bourbon Street♫ and vowed she’d always cherish the happier moments savored in this city.
            The year brought lots of fresh ideas, new ways of bending ideas, new tools for breaking open ideas, and such. Z felt like she was on a thrill ride in a carnival intellectually. She met new people who introduced her to new people and suddenly she found herself surrounded by an amazing group of some very sharp minds. Her waking hours were filled with sudden newness like spring showers after much aridity. For the first time in her life she saw the fabric of life interwoven with art, science, history, geography, religion, politics, and all of human striving and human consciousness.

            Z set aside her comic book and tired of ♫chasing pavements♫ took the nicest path from the library back to her dorm, a green mile -- grassy knolls, manicured lawns, sidewalks covered with clover, vacant lots between buildings draped with kudzu – for your walking pleasure if you were willing to hop step jump detour duck etc. It brought perks with it – a little pond with algae and a water lily or two, low hanging wisteria for the picking this time of the year, dandelions to play wishing games with, four leaf clovers for the lucky ones, and a short stretch of an almost yellow brick road. If only she had those magic slippers.
            This last year of college behind her she would be ready for the real world. Being a real person in training can get very tiresome, even boring, and embarrassing, by the time one turns twenty three, like having training wheels too long. Gung ho about doing job interviews she had to rein in her mind and keep it on the page before her nose.
            She looked up at the blank blue wall in front of her and saw HWMBF sitting on a white chair, a little table with a black rotary telephone on it, a young lady she recognized from years ago in elementary school seated on a divan, and to her utmost surprise she heard her own name being spoken! She blinked, many more times than two or three, and resumed studying.
            A fortnight or so passed. It was afternoon again. She was slaving at her test prep again. And a swarm of angry little miniscule insects jet black and shiny showed up in front of her and spoke to her in a voice as commanding as the Snow Queen’s that she recognized right away after all those years, “Z, let him go.” Z replied, “I have. I will,” and followed through.
            Z could no longer understand the words on the page so she put her head down on the desk and said to herself, ”So this was why I needed to see that -- to put the matter to rest and seal the hushed casket of my soul.”
            Once again after many long years she felt the light in the sunlit was simply not enough to live by. When the lamp is shattered the light in the dust lies dead. And that which is dead feels nothing.

Z would be flying home with extra baggage if she carried all her things with her so she decided to ship the books and clothes she didn't need and to that end was to be found waiting in line at the post office. In walked an old friend who was so completely out of context she took an extra second to say hi, what with the sunglasses and visor and all. He was leaving for Fairview that afternoon having attended a conference in town over the week. He asked if she knew his polo playing buddy just got married? 
Z said, "Of course."
"Who told you?"
 "I must be psychic," she said.
"No, seriously," he laughed,"who told you?"
"No one did."
"Ah, okay," he seemed to accept the fact Z was not willing to disclose her sources, not for a moment suspecting Z was perhaps telling the truth.
"Honestly!" insisted Z.
He said the bride was from Fairview.
And that confirmed to Z she was in fact not "seeing" things.    
She asked him the bride's name.
"We went to the same kindergarten school,"said Z nonchalantly.
Her friend nearly jumped out of his skin,"You know her??"
"Why, yes. We sat together first semester in kindergarten, until the homeroom teacher decided it wasn't a very good idea."
"I can imagine," he laughed heartily.
"She's pretty," said Z.
"Some might think so," he said, he said, looking very concerned.
"You know Z, I think you had a narrow escape."
It was Z's friend's turn to go to the counter. It was almost closing time. They said goodbye, and see you in Fairview. 
When Z put her pen to paper she realized her home address had become so alien to her it took her a moment to recall the street number where her house stood.


Z had stashed away some cash from her summer jobs and as a present to herself took a trip to Colorado with her roommate and a few friends to “just get away from it all” there being a two week period of nothing between exam date 4 and exam date 5, a scheduling error overlooked for too long, and could not be remedied at this late hour. Back at their dorm she found a small package, her mail, and a note from her friend N the TA’s wife, waiting for her in the lobby. The note simply said, ”Call him.”         
“What does she know??” thought Z to herself. Then she opened the package from her step mother and found some homemade “imperishable” snacks in ziplock bags, and two letters from aunts who lived in the old country, a birthday card from a friend from high school, and an invitation to a wedding back east she couldn’t possibly attend.
The biggest shocker for the day was that she has assumed incorrectly the date on the wedding. She knew she had lied to her friend from Illinois and that was why. But she really had had no idea one little white lie, simply going from the present tense to the past, can affect a person’s reality so vastly. ”But what of that? What’s decided is decided. N knows about the matter. How does she?? “
Curiosity got the better of her and she called N and asked. There was no mistaking what N knew and what she thought of it. She was plainspoken always and now she was as direct as anybody could possibly be.
“Call him. Tell him what you just told me. It seems very likely he does not know half of what you just told me. See what he thinks of it. I know you think it might be too late to call but give life a chance to surprise you. You could always say you called to say goodbye. There is something called closure that people need before they can move on to the next chapter in life. You and I, because of our cultural heritage, sweep these things under the rug but it never works. Call him now before it really is so late it becomes inappropriate to do so.”
Z was horrified at the thought of having to do this, as much as she was torn by the need to just talk to him. Realistically, she’d look like a crazed idiot, so calling was pretty much out of the question. N was her friend and firmly believed the situation merited at least a phone call. The dilemma in Z’s head resolved itself with a, “How can I possibly say goodbye to someone I have never said hello to?”
“Sorry I forgot you have no heart.”
Stung by those words Z sat on the floor and after a long pause said, ”My heart refused to cross the mighty Mississippi so I left it there on the riverbank and came here by myself because the rest of me has to carve a life out of what I have been given. 
“Do you want me to come over?”
“No. I just need some time alone. “

Memories of Colorado made perfect sense now. In the deep of REM sleep she had heard a whisper in her ear, “Wake up, will you.”
            Not quite awake and not quite asleep she found herself in a comfortable space, like it might be the most natural place for her to be, that wasn’t her home, nor her dorm, nor this hotel room, but a place where she felt a sense of belonging.
            The exact same thing had happened the following day. The same wake up call, the waking up to a beautiful place, but just so sleepy from the high altitude effect she took a little longer to wake up. In five minutes the replay was derailed. She thought she had done or said something wrong. She started to drift back into the hotel room.
It took Z a few moments to put things in order in her freshly woken up head. She was wide awake now. She could see the outlines of objects against the light from the city glare coming in the window. Her roommate was snoring as usual. She could feel the textures on her quilt and the headboard she held on to as she sat up. She heard, clearly, unmistakably, the words, “Z, I don’t know why this has happened. I don’t understand why I am doing this.”
Z turned the lamp on and then turned it off again. Daybreak was hours away. She had time to think, to reflect, to neatly package this memory in mothballs and put it away. She had no earthly idea how her interpretation of this moment would affect the rest of her life. As always she had taken the blame entirely on herself.
 “If I do call now it would be weird to the max. I’d cry. I’d offer to fly on wings to be by his side if he so much as suggested it. It would be such a soap opera. After all the near misses this is the last one I guess and it looks like I need to accept this just as it is. He had three whole years to make this decision, and if this is his decision I can accept it for what it is. It looks like the goodbyes, at least on his part, have already been said. I’ve watched other people go through this and I know I can handle it. If N wants to call him she can do it of her own free will. If she does reach him and he asks to speak with me I’ll talk, but not otherwise. Lack of protest on my part was acquiescence N would surely understand. It’s a cultural thing. ”
A song floated about in the darkness in the distant future.
♫“If I never knew you I'd be safe but half as real … If I never knew you … I would never have a clue how at last I'd find in you the missing part of me … If I never knew you I'd have lived my whole life through, empty as the sky never knowing why, lost for ever. ♫

            Expected to vacate dorm rooms the same weekend as exams ended Z had to find a place to stay the extra week she had planned to stay to attend the annual bluegrass festival the city hosted. It gave her a week to transition between one world and another, college and home.
N invited her to stay the week and Z gratefully accepted. She felt like she could use a safe house to fall apart. N being the one person in the world who understood and sympathized and seemed to have some idea of the real world facts as well Z couldn’t wait to talk to her at length. Once she got to her place however Z figured she wasn’t designed to have meltdowns before an audience. She couldn’t fall apart, come unglued, let her tears flow. She felt better just holding it all in. When N tried to get her to talk she gave her the royal brush off.
 She had in her own mind pooh-poohed the Colorado incident and related happenings as nonsense but she had to finally admit to herself she was under so much stress she needed this break more than she had previously imagined. Going straight home would’ve been like going from the beach into a cryogenic pressure chamber so she might’ve gone into thermal shock. Add to that the oddest question in the world - How do you accept the fact that you are hurting when there is no logical reason to be doing so? – and you have a situation. Your life is falling apart and you cannot believe your life is falling apart. You cannot believe your life is falling apart. And you cannot believe that beyond the shadow of a doubt your life IS falling apart. You are drowning in a desert; you’re screaming but not a sound can be heard; you are praying but there is no God, or so it seems; the emptiness is oppressive; you’re sensitive beyond imagination but you don’t know if you’re dead or alive. And yet every minute comes and goes on schedule. Small delights like the perfectly browned toast or fireflies in the backyard must be honored. Daily routines must be honored. People in your life must be honored. You imagine that when you wake up in the morning this will end like a bad dream. Except this is no dream. And this is not night going into morning. This is when the dark night of the soul is just getting started. It’s about five o’clock on a cold winter’s evening for your soul, except this is about the same time as the summer solstice in the real world. And you are young and blessed in the eyes of the majority because the majority see with just their eyes. A few, a very small minority, of all the people you meet, see with their hearts and know you are not. The incongruities never end.
            There was just one more thing that she couldn’t understand. N, who awoke at four each day to get a few hours of reading and her hour of jogging done before her son woke up, would hover around the couch where Z slept at just about five thirty. As Z’s eyes fluttered open she’d say, “Z, when he contacts you don’t respond. Promise me now you won’t. You know how men are. I don’t want you getting hurt.” She’d repeat that again every evening, just when Z would begin to drift off. Z marveled at N’s ability to know exactly when she was waking up and when she was nodding off. “Comes with the territory of motherhood I suppose,” she thought amazed and amused in equal parts.
            Z humored her three days and then laughingly asked if she was programming her using some technique she’d learned like sleepytime mind control or something. N told her she was dead serious. That begged the question did she know anything? N swore she had not heard of him since he’d left and in fact she had never actually met him. Her husband knew him somewhat because every evening when he took their son to the park HWMBF would be walking to his apartment at about the same time. She said she just knew it in her bones that one day Z would hear from him. It could be soon. Z thought that was bizarre. Twenty days ago N had asked her to call him. That Z had thought was bizarre. Now she was asking her to make this strange promise over and over on a strict schedule and that was equally bizarre, in fact more. All the same Z promised fifteen times over seven and a half days she wouldn’t respond if he ever contacted her. “N is a sweetheart but overprotective and just a tad soft in the head. How silly. Why on earth would He Who Does Not Know My Name contact me, at this time in his life??” thought Z to herself. “He might not know whom to contact, logically speaking, since he does not know my name you know. These thoughts, these feelings, the premonitions, N, were all stuff and fluff. As far as I can tell nothing ever happened. All I have to do now is remember that very important fact. Other than N nobody seems to take it seriously. If they did someone might’ve actually said something that made sense in all these years. The family found out God knows how and just says mean stuff to hurt my feelings and get a reaction out of me like they do with everything else. If I stop reacting they’ll stop saying things. By and by every one will forget. I’m as silly as a bear of very little brain. When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. So this will never get out into the open.”
The day she was to leave N cooked them a traditional breakfast of idlis and chutney which the four ate on the patio in the cool of the early morning hours. N’s son woke up too to say goodbye to Z. They would drop her off at the airport. Z would be on her way to another facet of her worldly experience and be back for the very last year of a privileged existence as student.
For some reason undecipherable intangible indeterminate as Z saw it, she saw her surroundings with a degree of clarity she had never before experienced. The whites were whiter, the colors were brighter, the patterns showed in sharper relief. The sun just rising from a point in the horizon adjacent to the oak tree festooned with Spanish moss lit up the world, and Z saw splendor in the grass, dewdrops afire, more brilliant than the world’s most precious diamonds, dangling from the most impossibly green grass of summer, and scattered among them a few acorns adventuresome enough to stray so far from the tree. The two little resin bunnies that sat by the patio had a visitor, a curious young squirrel who had woken up bright-eyed bushy-tailed to explore his universe, the ends of his fur and whiskers aglow in the morning sun like an aura of the deified around him. N’s son had named the bunnies Peter and Benjamin. Button mushrooms sprouted at their feet making them seem very real and very at home.
            Z took it all in and savored it. She would always remember how good this felt. N and her husband had cared for her like they cared for their son and that had restored her in immeasurable ways. All it had taken was a little love, a little nurturing, a little Zen, some Suprabhatam, some genuine friendship, wholesome home cooking, a little fun, all at once in sensible portions like a well balanced meal, even though this was a very difficult time in her life, to fine tune a dial in her awareness, even if for a few hours, to give her a glimpse of what was possible if those conditions persisted. Unknowingly she internalized that newfound knowledge.

            So by and by Z forgot everything else, her promises to N, what people had said, what she had thought, what happened, her dreams – all were laid to rest. She’d made peace with them all. The clarity remained in areas of her life where love flowed freely, but in cold harsh hate-filled circumstances her eyes, her heart, her brain, her nose, her ears, all stopped functioning. She ached for a day when all would be well and tried to take the good stuff and sneak it, then force it, into the cold arid zones of her existence. Try as she might she always got beat back, with greater force and malevolence each time, over many years. Memories of happiness can warm your heart only so long. One needs real happiness to live by after a while. The hatred induced venom in her and it was spreading like kudzu and slowly choking her as she began to struggle to survive. She hoped Life would hurry up and show her the way to happier days. But Life, like rivers, knows this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. All the strife and fear and stupidity and falsehoods would have to be leeched out of her before the good stuff could find a home in her awareness. Life had someplace to take her nice and slow without telling her where or why or exactly when. All the artifice in the world wouldn’t change a thing.

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