In Which Sadie’s Birthday Is Celebrated

Today, I hosted a “surprise party” for Sadie. Now, the only real surprise was that the get-together with all of my friends that I had organized wasn’t just an afternoon lunch, it was also a birthday party for Sadie’s nineteenth. I made an ice cream cake, other people brought snacks and dishes, and we played a long and rollicking game of Loaded Questions.

If you squinted, it was like we were still in high school having fun on another weekend afternoon, half-dreading and half-looking forward to another week of classes and hours spent together in rehearsal, in class, and eating sandwich while perched on stools in the art room. But come tomorrow morning we won’t be grumbling over our math homework and calling each other to double check the assignments for AP English, instead everyone will be traveling back to college, ready to jump back into their new and exciting lives.

Thankfully, this time we won’t have such a huge gap before we get to see each other again.  Winter holidays are rolling around soon, and in the coming weeks Clara and I will be busy planning this year’s New Year’s party.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

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Spread your wings, but don’t expect to fly unless you’ve got jet fuel!

You know how sometimes people write about the items around them as manifestations of their person? Yeah well, here are the items on my desk: a tissue box. This represents my ability to relieve people of their boogers i.e. problems. Two mugs that formerly contained passion tea. These indicate that I have no passion. A desk lamp symbolizes the light that shines in my soul to make up for the fact that there are no overhead lights, in my soul that is. There are also an assortment of books which embody my Euclidean spunk.

Moral of the Story:

We must reel up the anchors of material STUFF from the ships of our lives so we can sail the sea, free!

-Courtesy of Cecelia, Preacher of Blockbusting

Cecelia can also be found sermonizing at http://justinapple.tumblr.com/.

In Which Ella Wins an Award for Packing

As it turns out you can fit a lot into a small Jansport backpack. Mine currently has a laptop, laptop case, change of clothes, toiletries, book, notebook, and a DOWN SLEEPINGBAG in it!

The zippers aren’t even all that strained!

I think I should win some sort of packing award, and since no one has appeared to give it to me, I think I’m just going to drink most of a carton of orange juice and eat chocolate chips in honor of my accomplishment.

To explain: I’m going to visit Cecelia tomorrow, which means many, many hours of trains and super-awesome-fun-times to be had by all. I will also tour Yale to see how I like it and freak about applying to college, though hopefully not at the same time. That would probably freak out the tour guide and not help my chances of being accepted.

In other news, I just painted my nails black for Halloween. You can never begin celebrating a holiday that involves COSTUMES soon enough. (And I also may have spent some time trying to paint my face to look like a leopard.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

It’s Cold In the House Tonight

It’s cold in the house tonight. I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and I still find myself twisting my hands, trying to warm up my fingers. My nails, which have gotten a little too long again, are lightly scratching my skin, making the hand-wringing a tad uncomfortable, but I can’t write if I tuck them under my legs. So I let my fingers become a little stiff and keep tapping away at the keys, pausing every few sentences to rub them together again.

I can’t help but think back to sophomore year and those winter nights when I would stay up until three or later in the morning, doing my homework. I’d line up small tumbler glasses on my desk, filled with ice and various flavors of Vitamin Water, and every time I felt my eyes drooping, I’d grab one and chug it, letting the cold, sugary liquid jerk me back from lethargy. My cheeks would flush from the cold and exhaustion, and I would cry and cry and cry. Because I was fifteen and too young for this stress. There were too many classes and too many activities and too many people to disappoint and too much sadness.

Sometimes, I’d sneak out of the house at one, two, three a.m., walk up the hill to the street sign, sit with my back against the freezing metal pole, bury my head between my knees, and try not to think for ten minutes. But pajamas, even when paired with a ski jacket, are not enough for thirty degrees or lower, and I’d be driven back to the house with a runny nose and a mind that was racing as much as it had been when I had left. Frequently, I’d think about just sitting down on the floor of my bedroom and screaming at the top of my lungs, but every time I’d open my mouth, a whisper of a scream would come out, and I’d feel as silly as Pushkin’s hisses, which are more air than menace.

As I sat at my desk, I was freezing and burning all at once, and my head would pound. Yet I managed to keep it together through those nights. The work got done. I got my A’s. My extracurriculars were Ivy worthy. It looked like I’d be able to go to Yale. And somehow, I was weirdly happy despite the cold and the stress.

But I’m eighteen now, and sophomore me, as perfect as she was, has long been abandoned. The cold now just means that it’s another lonely night where I feel empty and oddly poetic. But there isn’t anyone to share it with. No one to message paragraphs of essays for critique, and no one to gripe about homework to. It’s just me, the cats, and my laptop.

I like my quiet, but cold nights like these are supposed to be spent communicating with people, saying things that you would never say if it were light out and your toes weren’t beginning to go numb. The magic of the darkness, the way you feel more anonymous and safe to let your guard down a little, is lost without anyone to share it with. I love those conversations when you suddenly get to actually know someone, not just their pretty exterior, but the things that scare and upset them, and discover your shared demons. I haven’t had one of those talks in ages.

Maybe I’ll call George and talk to her for an hour or two. She’ll surely listen to my theories about Billy Collins, and I’ll be able to unload some secrets.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Discovers A Cat Underneath the Deck

I found a cat underneath the deck today. White with flicks of black and a black striped tail. She (I’m choosing to pretend that she’s a she.) reminds me of Kitty/Roxanne, Lee’s beloved childhood cat who was eventually accidentally run over by our neighbor when she–the cat, not Lee–at the old age of twenty-three and both deaf and mostly blind, decided to take an afternoon nap underneath his car, nestled up against the back wheel. I have never seen someone apologize so much or look so horrified as he did when he discovered what had happened. But no one ever stops to check for aging cats behind the wheels of their car. It isn’t exactly an epidemic the way bicycles in the driveway are.

I never did get close enough to see if she also had blue eyes like Kitty. For all I know, they could have been amber. And she certainly wasn’t half Siamese the way Kitty was. But she reminded me enough of the old cat that I started thinking about my childhood and cats.

Growing up in D.C. we had a cat named Natasha. She was a short-haired Tuxedo cat and my parents had adopted her from a New York City shelter shortly before she would have been euthanized. She was docile and loving, everything you’d want a cat with children to be. She never bit, and the only time she ever scratched was if she was leaping on or off of your lap and she began to slip. My father once carried her up and down the street while rollerblading (I’d show you the picture, but the rollerblades had bright pink laces, and I don’t think he would be very pleased with me.) We loved her dearly.

That black patch on her chest actually formed a perfect heart–so fitting for such a loving cat.

I only seem to have pictures of Natasha with Pippa on my computer, but young Pippa's adorable, so I think that it'll do.

But despite all of Natasha’s wonderful qualities, she did not, as Kitty did, let her dress her up and take her for walks in the stroller, and she avoided all of us kids whenever we were running around the house. At the time, I viewed this as very poor cat behavior, but as an adult*, I totally understand her aversion. If I were a cat, I would most certainly not want to be manhandled by a gaggle of seven to eleven-year-old children.

This brings me to my final cat of the evening. When I was about twelve, Joseph got a cat named D.J., which he named after himself. Joseph was a little, how do you say, rambunctious and crazy.

While Pippa looks to be the devilish one here, I can assure you that it was usually the other way around.

One day when nothing particularly exciting was happening, he decided to give D.J. a bath by wiping him down with wet paper towels. Then, because mostly wet cats tend to look a bit bedraggled, he decided that D.J. needed to dry off. But instead of giving him a gentle rub down with a blanket, Joseph passed the cat off to one of us and disappeared into the garage, emerging with several heavy-duty fifty-foot long orange extension cords. A few minutes later, we heard the roaring of what I hoped to be a blow dryer and not the leaf blower.

D.J. startled and took off running, the way any sane animal would, while Joseph charged after him with his mother’s blow dryer attached to two of the extension cords. Because the house was built so that the rooms created a circle, the extension cord began to wrap itself around the walls like thread around a spool. Eventually, after D.J. had suffered permanent emotional scarring, Joseph ran out of cord and fell over. D.J. has never looked at him quite the same.

I’ll leave you with those few anecdotes for the evening. I plan on determining whether the cat I saw was simply a vagrant wandering through or a squatter early in the morning. We’re going to have to set a humane trap and take it to get spayed/neutered if it indeed plans to take up residence.

Maxwell Perkins is sitting on my lap, loudly purring and drooling a little on my thigh. Having him here feels fitting.

*Yeesh. I can actually say that phrase now.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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.

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.

On Brunch and Goodbye to Audrey, Cecelia, and Tal

I said goodbye to Audrey this morning over brunch in my favorite café. She had french toast with fancy syrup that came in a little, personal jar, and I had a BLT with the bacon so crispy it crumpled as soon as you touched it. Her chai tea was topped with steamed milk, and my raspberry smoothie was so cold it froze my brain through the top of my mouth. She drove me home, and I gave her one of those awkward leaning over the front seat divider hugs before closing the car door and walking across the lawn, feeling lonely and sad. She’ll be fine, I just know it. She always is. But I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her so much.

In a few minutes I have to leave for Cecelia’s house to say goodbye to her and Tal. I’m not quite sure if I’m going to be able to handle it.

On the Last Get Together Before College

After spending an evening laughing with friends, eating dinner on a blanket in Sadie’s backyard, and playing games all squashed together on the couch in her sun room, it’s so strange to think that in less than a week these get togethers won’t be happening for months. It’s odd how I’ve taken these happy nights for granted, so for now, in the last hours that we have together, I try to create the best mental movies I can of the people I love.

On Tal, Friendship Bracelets, and Growing Up

Tal came over today and tied the friendship bracelet she had given me for my birthday so many months ago around my wrist. It’s lovely, all pink and blue knots stretching from hues so pale they’re almost white, to deep vibrant shades.

And when I look down at it, securely wrapped around my wrist, I find myself wondering about its creation. As someone who has attempted and failed to make bracelets before, I know that it requires hours of focussed knotting. You have to keep track of where you left off, and a misplaced knot is hard to undo. It requires effort.

I wonder where this bracelet travelled before it was attached to my birthday present and given to me. I wonder what Tal thought about and did while she was tying it. And I wonder about where it’s going to travel now that it’s on my wrist. How will I feel during our adventures together? How long will it last until it frays?

Sometimes, I wonder if I over think things. But viewing the world this way casts a great deal more of humanity onto everything I experience and the connections between them and us seems to dissipate day by day.