Ella and the Goodbyes

Today, the last of my friends left for college.* It’s got me thinking about goodbyes and the last time I said goodbye to an era of my life.

When I moved from D.C. to where I live now, I was twelve, and I knew from the moment I carefully unpacked my entire china fairy collection** from the boxes in my room all by myself and cleaned up without anyone telling me to afterwards that things weren’t going to be the same anymore—I was no longer a child. I was suddenly part of that awkward in between stage where you aren’t quite a teenager, but you’re certainly too old to be a kid. And it felt like eating one of those sour candies I used to buy from the ice cream truck–the type that I once made Pippa eat so much of that her tongue got so red, swollen, and bumpy that my mom nearly called the doctor.***

At first, it was so sour that your eyes teared up and your tongue felt like screaming in shock and pain. Then, just like on a long run, you become impervious to it–it still hurts, but you can work through it in a dull, rhythmic manner. It’s as if the pain will never leave, but you can just keep feircely struggling through it with eyes narrowed and forced, even breathing. Finally, it tastes sweet, like a proper lemon drop or a strawberry sucking candy. But there are always those sour pockets still stuck in the sweet part that make you cry all over again, and it hurts as shockingly and sharply as it did in the beginning.

I liked the responsibility of this new in between age. I loved being known as “the smart, mature one,” but I missed building fairy houses every fall until my arms were caked with mud, and the flowers in the front yard were rather unevenly pruned of their blossoms.

This is an impressively poor angle of the houses, but you get the general idea.

I missed playing in our backyard, in the kids’ space under the addition, where we had the secret and illegal “flat feet club,” named not for the height of our arches, but for the ability to plant your entire foot, covered in wet mud, on the whitewashed ceiling while swinging at scarily high angles on the swings. It made terrific bangs if you were inside of the house listening and the footprints were very difficult to wash off with the jet of the hose alone.

I missed playing “Laura Ingalls Wilder” for hours on end in brightly printed calico dresses as we watered the “fields”–my mother’s herb and vegetable garden–or made corn cakes on the stove, dribbling batter all over the floor to Louie the Dog’s delight. I was Ma, the ringleader and boss of the game, Pippa was Mary, Joseph was Frederick, Laura’s brother who died, Lee was Laura, Beth was Carrie, and Beth’s and Lee’s two-year-old younger sisters both played Grace.

I missed playing baseball in the front yard for hours. Like most of our sports games, we didn’t play with regular rules. The bases were all about six feet apart and the pitcher, which was me about ninety percent of the time, played all the positions except catcher. All the other kids would line up behind home plate and choose between the thin yellow wiffle bat, the big, flat-sided plastic bat, or a kid’s metal bat that made a satisfying ping when it connected with the ball. It was impossible to strike out, and instead of umps, we duked it out by seeing who yell the loudest and most intimidatingly. There were no teams, and we’d go for hours.

It was almost as fun as the World Cup soccer games we’d play across the street under the oldest oak tree in D.C. When we weren’t arguing over who got to be Djibouti, Ghana, or France, we were all charging around the ball, elbows wildly swinging, trying to get a goal. Tripping was common, and we’d frequently end particularly vigorous games sporting purple bruises all over our shins. But the bruises were battle wounds, and we wore them proudly, pointing at them and explaining in excessive detail exactly how that one was gotten when we had made a particularly impressive play.

But here in this new place, I didn’t have any of those endless hours of outdoor playtime. People in this town mostly stay inside and go to scheduled activities, and so I did too. I learned that you could use the internet for more than just buying American Girl Doll clothes and checking your email. I switched from play dates to “hanging out” and “going over” to other people’s houses. I cried a lot, and it sucked. But I adjusted. I began to really like it. This new era became me and who I am, and not some uncomfortable place where I didn’t want to be. Sure, I miss being a kid a lot. I feel a weight and a slight tingling in my solar plexus every time I think of how much I miss it. Sometimes, I tear up. But being here became good and sweet just like the center of that candy.

I’m still solidly in the super sour candy phase right now. I cried this afternoon. And unlike when I was ten, I can’t force Pippa to deal with it for me. But if I did it once before with some amount of grace, I know I can do it again. There are exciting, new, and shiny things ahead, I just need to keep eating the candy long enough to get to the sugary part.

*Well, George is still here, but she’s leaving for Durham in the U.K. in a few weeks, and she’s busy working a lot of the time.

**Which, along with most of trinkets I was fond of during my childhood, now sits, carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in shoe boxes, underneath my bed.

***This incident along with the time I gave her chemical burns from spraying air freshener (I thought it was hairspray. I was five.) directly onto her scalp gets brought up anytime Pippa needs proof that I am a “mean person.” I never meant to cause her harm, I just didn’t have any idea what the consequences would be.

On Ella’s Poor Sleeping Decisions

Sometimes, I decide to stay up until four thirty in the morning writing, and then wake up less than five hours later.

It always seems like a really great idea at the time–I’m on a roll, and the exhaustion fades after I hit my second wind at around two–but then I wake up in the morning, feeling a little loopy with my eyelids burning. And then I use way too many filler words. The amount of times I can say “stuff,” “like,” and “things” in a conversation about teaching monkeys to use money* can be pretty embarrassing. I’m also prone to forgetting about Carter’s pardons when playing Trivial Pursuit later on.

I think that getting a little more sleep tonight just might be the right move**. I’m going to seriously mess up my Sporcle scores if I don’t get my act together.

In other news, yesterday, my parents celebrated their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and over twenty-six years together. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

*This sounds like a joke, but researchers actually have been working on experiments like this to explore economic concepts like game theory and the connections between the way animals and humans calculate risk.

**Update: So after I put in all of this effort to go to bed early, I ended up accidently punching the headboard really, really hard in my sleep while rolling over and then not being able to sleep for about an hour in the middle of the night because of it.

I’d really like to know what I was dreaming at the time. It may have been that reoccurring one where someone tries to rape Pippa and I while we’re walking around Boston at night. Usually, I end up trying to stab the rapist with a knife in an attempt to give Pippa enough time to run away, but my efforts always seem to fail. I might have been mid-stab when I rolled over.

Ella Explores the Beach

Thanks to a hurricane power outage, please enjoy some teaser pictures from my vacation in this post written before the storm struck. I’ll provide the story behind them as soon as we’ve got the power back!

I Am In Love With the Impossible Miracle of the Universe

The day that I spent close to eight hours in the airport, I purchased The Year of Living Biblically from the airport bookstore. I’ve been reading it off and on since then, so one day when we were at the beach, I grabbed the book and headed down to the beach to read. My parents had just carried our kayak down, so while they swam the long distance to the buoy and back, I perched on the green hull and read the final fifty pages.

My parents are the two black dots on the left next to the buoy.

And when I finished, I slowly closed the book, dug my feet a little deeper into the sand and stared out across the beach in silence, letting people’s shouting, conversations, and the crashing of the waves becoming a dull buzzing in the background.

I slowed my breathing down and reached out for that periwinkle calm feeling that descends on me whenever I write or pray. I didn’t grab at it with needy fingers the way I am now as I desperately try to write blog posts for the coming days without power or the internet. I merely turned my hands palms up in my lap and waited. And it came with its softness and gentle weight, settling down over my shoulders and in the pit of my stomach.

Pressing my palms and fingers lightly together, I looked straight out over the water, let out a slow breath through my lips, and said, “Hello, God? Are you here, somewhere around me? I want to talk to you.”

I don’t pray very much. It’s more like a three to four times a week kind of thing for me, and it only ever happens when I’m really, really happy, really, really scared, or at church. Normally, I rush it, almost as if He wouldn’t hear it if I took more than a few minutes. But even if I’m trying to jam it all in in the minute of silence during Prayers of the People or in the few minutes following communion, I always ask permission. I know I never need it–God is always there, listening–but if I’m going to do something so terribly important, I want to make sure that we’re both entirely ready.

I waited a moment just feeling the pressure between my two hands and then said, “Hi, God. It’s me, Ella. I know that sounds just like the title of the Judy Blume novel about a girl named Margaret, but it sounds like such a nice opening to begin talking to you.”

And so I prayed, sitting there silently, trying to thank God for all that He has done for me. The clouds drifted slowly across the sky, and I thanked him for my friends, for my family, and I kept going until I was waxing poetic about the grains of sand clinging to my legs.

All of a sudden, the sky seemed to get a little brighter and the sun just a little bit warmer, but it wasn’t in a you-should-put-on-some-more-sunscreen sort of way–it felt like the miracle of the world was embracing me a little more tightly and that God was responding to my thanksgivings.

I don’t know how much I believe in the literal stories of the Bible sometimes, but I do know that some things are sacred, that there is some tremendous force of good and power that has given us the miracle of life, and that we must give thanks.

Out of all the ways that the particles from the Big Bang could have arranged themselves, this is the way they came to be. And from this arrangement, I had been chosen, also by chance, to be born. For a brief moment in time, I will have consciousness and experience this miracle; I will have the opportunity to experience the infinite good of the world. There will be other people from the same origins as me to interact with and there will be other animals with consciousness, and plants, and rocks, and all other sorts of inorganic materials, so much to explore and consider. It doesn’t matter how this was all created–it is a gift, and I will give thanks.

A little while later I stopped my prayers and examined my hands, still lightly held together. I traced the lines of the veins on the back of my hands and noticed for what felt like both the millionth and the first time, how I could watch the thin bones in my hand move as I wiggled my fingers. Beautiful, I thought, What a miracle.

If I were less self-conscious, I would have climbed up on the kayak and yelled, “I am in love with everything, dead and alive and about to be born! I am in love with this impossible miracle! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” But I didn’t, because people would have stared, and I probably would have frightened them. So instead, I did it in my mind. My voice rang out all the way across the ocean, and it was heard by all. And we all gave thanks together, a perfect harmony of thank you in an infinite number of languages to the air around us that would be heard across the universe and into the ears of God, wherever he may be.

Then, I stood up, carrying my book in my right hand and walked across the sand to the landing at the bottom of our street, up the stairs, and past the five houses between us and the sea to the back door, where I carefully brushed the sand off my legs and feet and walked into the house.

Back at the house everyone was moving around with the same speed they were before. Pippa and Jeanne were fixing themselves tall glasses of cold Gatorade, and my mother and my grandmother had started to fix dinner. There was a constant hubbub of noise and everyone seemed to in a hurry. Such a stark difference to what I had just experienced. I stood in the back hall for a moment, embracing my periwinkle feeling of calm before throwing it all off and diving back into reality.

“Did you get the yellow type of Gatorade, Mom?” I asked as I opened the refrigerator door to look for the bottle. “The red one tastes icky.”

Ella and Hurricane Preparedness

Today, I was rudely awaken at around noon (yesterday was one of those thirteen hours of sleep nights) by the ominous whooshing of the beginning of a torrential downpour. I hopped out of bed, put on my hurricane preparedness outfit, and headed outside to move everything into the garage.

I never knew that we owned so many garbage cans or potted plants. Getting it all into the garage along with one of the cars was like playing Tetris, only with very large heavy objects, which, surprisingly, is not as fun as playing it on my phone. Watching Pippa and my Dad carry the two big gas grills down the deck stairs was particularly exciting, like they’re about to announce the winner on one of Pippa’s favorite reality shows exciting. I, on the other hand, was sent to go do the lighter things, like gather up all of the soaker hoses, which turned me into a complete mud ball. I did find an enourmous amount of earthworms, though, which made me exceedingly happy*.

I’ve got seven flashlights ready to go, two lanterns with fresh batteries, and extra batteries stationed in the living room, and I’ve made sure all the laptops, cell phones, iPods, and iPads are fully charged. My dad is currently nailing plywood over all the windows on the porch and over the huge sliding glass door onto the back deck**. I’m fully prepared to spend the next few days catching up*** on some reading and playing Scrabble****.

This should be quite the adventure.

Because our power will inevitably go out, and therefore the internet, for the next few days, I’ve written some posts to publish automatically for the next few days. Expect lots of writing about the beach!

*Remember that time I wrote this post? Ella the Worm Saver to the Rescue? Well, I like earthworms. A lot.

**Getting out of the house is going to be interesting. I vote that we somersault out of the windows.

***That’s funny, considering that was what I’ve spent a majority of the summer doing.

****One of these days, I’m going to overcome my inability to spell and come in first place.

Sitting In Cars Makes Me Inexplicably Tired

I continue to be monstrously surprised by just how tired eight hours in the car will make me. I did nothing but sit all day, and I’ve been ready to go to bed since I arrived home a little after six.

Stupid hurricane ruining vacation.

In other news, I just discovered this picture of me at the beach with Pippa and a cousin. Pippa’s the cutie in the middle, and I’m the rugrat on the right with the demented look on her face. It’s surprising how much and how little both us and the house have changed since I was four.

“Hurricane, Hurricane, Hurricane!” She Says While Dancing Madly Around the House

I suppose that by the time one reaches eighteen their reaction to news of imminent catastrophic weather impacting their area should not be one of somewhat giddy anticipation. But I can’t help myself. Something terribly exciting is about to happen and I’m pretty much guaranteed to be in the middle of it.

I’ve lived through category three hurricanes before. I know how it goes. Trees fall down and hit things, often knocking down wires; the electricity goes out; sticks are littered everywhere; the grocery store is a mad house; no one has batteries in stock; you nearly light your hair on fire with some candles; and you have to eat all of the perishables in the refrigerator and freezer before they go bad. I’m particularly fond of the eating all the ice cream part.

Unfortunately, this hurricane means we have to cut our beach time short. After we make sure everything here is secure, we’re headed home tomorrow morning to batten down the hatches in our non-vacation-fun-times-abound house. Plus, the cats shouldn’t be left alone in the storm.

I leave you with one funny story from the time Hurricane Isabel hit Washington, D.C. when I was ten.

At the time, I was, to put it lightly, obsessed with the Sheryl Crow song, Soak Up the Sun. I had a dance I did to it while lip syncing, and everyday after I finished my homework, I would play the song over and over and over again. It got to the point where my dad had to physically pry the CD from my hands and confiscate it so that no one would commit suicide or go bonkers from being forced to listen to it too much. So just as the sky was turning a sickly shade of gray-green and the wind was picking up, I popped the CD into the stereo and hit play.

As soon as my index finger hit the button, I heard a wooshing noise, the lights went out, and the house became oddly silent. That’s odd, I thought, A fuse must have just flipped. But then I looked out the window and noticed that the power was out in the house behind us and in both of our next door neighbors’ houses, too. I panicked. I just cut out the electricity for the whole neighborhood, maybe even the whole city! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What did I do? Oh, gosh! Dad is right! This song really does wreak havoc!

Then, my father came into the room and informed me that even though the world would be a much happier place if we didn’t have to listen to Soak Up the Sun ten times a day, I was not responsible for the power outage. It was just lucky timing. “Oh,” I said as I felt my muscles relax and the lines on my forehead fade, “Good. I didn’t want everyone mad at me.” And the storm raged on with me not the cause of darkened houses, missed TV shows, and slowly warming refrigerators.

Ella Goes to the Drive-In

Pippa has wanted to go to the drive-in movie theatre here at the beach for quite some time now. And since Jeanne, her best friend, is here with us this time, we decided to give it a shot.

I was very hopeful that something interesting would be showing, but of course, the only thing on tonight was a double feature of The Smurfs and Crazy, Stupid, Love. We’re twenty minutes into The Smurfs, and I’m ready to run out of the theatre and down the highway screaming in horror.

The good thing is that it’s fifties/sixties themed, and before the first feature, they showed old ads and played the national anthem, complete with subtitles and animation. I particularly enjoyed the rocket going to the moon.

The little blue things just showed up in Central Park, and they’re playing and ruining the Vampire Weekend song, Holiday. I’ve got at least another three hours of this. Golly geez.

A Light Tap of the Spacebar

I talked to Anastasia this afternoon on Skype for over an hour.

We had been near inseparable in middle school, but when she moved away in ninth grade we’ve slowly drifted somewhat apart. I haven’t seen her since the summer before Junior year, and we hadn’t communicated directly beyond Facebook “liking” since January. So when we planned to talk this afternoon, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

But the moment that her face popped up on my screen, it felt like we were fourteen again and giggling almost maniacally as we wrote up study guides for the high-school level science class we were taking with a teacher who we very kindly likened to both a bloated yoga ball and a pigeon. And after we had to hang up so she could go to dinner, I leaned back against the wall on the front porch and smiled to myself because that conversation proved once again that if you are truly friends with someone, it doesn’t matter how much time has gone by or how different you or your lives are, you can still fall back into the same comfortable interactions you had before. It’s as if you just hit the pause button on your relationship and all it took was a light tap of the spacebar to get it going again.

Here’s hoping I get to see Anastasia again soon. I miss and love that girl so much.

Ella and the Slippery Mattress

My bed* at the beach does not have the world’s best mattress. It’s old enough that my dad can’t remember when it was new. Unlike most ancient mattresses, this one hasn’t become lumpy or springy. It’s just solidified into solid sedimentary rock. I’m going to do a very vigorous jig when it gets replaced.

But until that happy day, my mom and I have been coming up with methods of making it softer. Yesterday, when I moved into the room after two nights on the extremely comfortable** sofa on the porch, we decided to put two sleeping bags on it. It seemed like a great idea–sleeping bags have a cushy layer of down–but we forgot that the outside of them is made of slippery material. The bottom sheet won’t lay flat, and every time I roll over or shift, I slide with the sheet. It’s a very strange feeling, and it’s very hard to relax when it feels like you’re going to fall out of bed because the bottom sheet won’t stay still or even tucked under. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like trying to sleep on top of one of those sacks you use to slid down those garish inflatable slides at school carnivals on the platform right before the slide itself.

It’s too late tonight to really justify remaking the entire bed, and not having a cushion of any sort would probably be just as bad, but fixing this problem is at the top of my to-do list for tomorrow.

*Of course, every other room’s is perfectly comfortable.

**I’m not being sarcastic.