Conversations with Jessica

Jessica: What are you doing?
Me: Getting a ream of paper out of the closet.
Jessica: What is a ream of paper?
Me: A package of 500 sheets of paper. Although at one time a ream was 480 pages.  You see—
Jessica (trying to distract me): What’s for dinner?
Me: And you know what else? A quire. A quire used to be four pages folded over to create a folio of eight pages, but now—
Jessica (under her breath): Back in the Middle Ages.
Me: What?
Jessica: And anyway who uses that word?
Me: What?
Jessica: You’re getting upset over something that is really not important.
Me: It’s important to me?
Jessica: Mom.
Me: I have to care about something and this is it?
Jessica: Mom.
Me: I’m a pedantic old fuddy-duddy who should be making dinner about now?
Jessica: I didn’t say that.
Me: You implied it.
Jessica: I did not. You inferred it.
Me (cackling): Any day now you’re going to turn into me.

On most-wanted lists

Jess and I are going to see Muppets: Most Wanted, and she wants to know what “most wanted” means.

Me: If the police know you’ve done something criminal, but they don’t know where to find you, they might put you on the most-wanted list. Then if you’re spotted, the police will arrest you.

Jessica: Well, not me.

Me: True, because you would never do anything to get on a most-wanted list.

Jessica: And you are not on a most-wanted list.

Me: You make that sound like a question.

Jessica: I would just like to know.

Me: No, I am not on a most-wanted list.

Jessica: Do you know anyone on the most-wanted list?

Me: Hmm. Well, there was that time when I was getting all those letters from prisoners in federal penitentiaries but they had already been caught, so that doesn’t count. And my books are extremely popular in Russia, and I get a lot of letters from there, and I think one of the people who emails me might be Vladimir Putin, but maybe not.

Jessica: Sometime it is hard to understand what you are saying.

Me: You wanted to know if I know anyone on a most-wanted list—

Jessica: Because I would never know someone on a most-wanted list, but you might.

###

My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here. And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

On how I shine

“Your hair sparkles in the sun,” Jessica says as we walk along Massachusetts Street on a bright winter afternoon. I would like to believe this is because of how bouncy and shiny my hair is but I know she’s noticing all the silver in it. “It is like you sprinkled it with glitter.”

Considering the amount of gray hair I have, a certain percentage of which I owe to her, “sprinkled” is somewhat of an understatement. Still, I like the idea that I sparkle, that I’m not just getting older and tired of dyeing my hair.

We stop at a light. She’s looking at my hair, like she’s fascinated, and then she wraps a strand of it in her hand, the way she has done since she was three months old.

“Um, ow,” I say.

“Did that surprise you?” she asks, untangling her hand as the light changes and we cross the street.

“Surprise? No,” I say. “I know my girl by now.”

“Not everyone has hair that sparkles,” she says.

“That’s true,” I say, not feeling so lazy after all. I sparkle. I haven’t felt sparkly in a long time.

“Just people your age.”

“Um, ow,” I say.

She smiles and takes my hand. “You have a birthday coming.”

“I know! I just had one.”

“And there will be presents and cake and ice cream and flowers.”

“That sounds very nice.”

“I will help you pick out the cake and the ice cream. And the flowers.”

“You bet.”

She squints, looking me over. “Your hair is very sparkly today.”

“You mean as compared to last year? Or yesterday?”

She gives me her inscrutable smile. “Like someone sprinkled glitter all over you.”

###

My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

 

On things you’d think I would know by now

Jessica is opening her Christmas presents. Some of them are things she picked out for herself that I’ve wrapped and put under the tree.

She pulls the paper back from a book and asks, perplexed, “Am I supposed to be surprised by this?”

She can’t remember what she has picked out and what she hasn’t.

“Yes,” I say. “I picked that out for you.”

“Then I am surprised, and also you did a good job of picking.”

She strokes her hand down the cover of the book. It’s a Princess Jasmine book, her favorite kind, and I say, “Well, I know you like dolls and anything with Princess Jasmine on it, so that’s easy.”

“It is for the things that are not dolls and Jasmine that you ask my opinion.”

“Exactly,” I say. She has very decided but somewhat impenetrable rules about clothing and other things.

Our friend Randy has gotten her a Harry Potter sticker book, and later on the phone Randy asks, “Did she actually use it or did she put it on the shelf?”

The shelf is our private joke. Jessica hardly ever uses anything you give her. She collects it.

Later, Jessica and I are in her bedroom, getting rid of some old toys to make room for the new gifts, a process that sometimes seems physically painful for her. It’s not that I don’t get attached to things. It’s just that if I have a sticker book, I use it, and then I’m done with it. When a thing no longer serves its purpose, I have no trouble getting rid of it, even if I really liked it at one time. I hate clutter and we live in a small space, so pruning is a natural thing to me.

“How about this?” I ask, showing her a princess sticker book. “You haven’t used it.”

She visibly flinches, and mumbles, “I want to keep that,” and I don’t understand. The things I don’t understand about my daughter are legion.

“But why? You never use these things. You just keep them on the shelves.”

“I look at them.”

“You keep them on the shelves and look at them,” I say in exasperation. “Why do people bother getting you things you never use?”

I have visions of my grandmother carefully putting away the good handkerchiefs and the good perfume and the good stationery, always thinking someday she would have occasion to use it, never using any of it at all. It all got thrown away in the end. Why?

Jessica has dolls and stuffed animals and sticker books and action figures and any number of things that she might use to amuse herself, but she never actually plays with any of it. I don’t understand.

I tell her about my grandmother, and how she never got to enjoy anything, and how I don’t want Jessica to be like that.

“You gave that to me,” she says about the princess sticker book.

“Sure, and I give you permission to use it, or to toss it.”

“And Randy gave me that,” she says, pointing to a lapel pin in the shape of a red rose.

“Yes,” I say. She wouldn’t let me fasten it to her coat. I stop myself from reminding her of that, and of telling her that Randy also gives her permission to use things or throw them away.

I come sit next to Jessica on the bed. “And?” I ask.

“I do not remember why,” she says. Then, stubbornly, “But Randy gave it to me.”

And I get a glimmer, finally, of a thing she cannot articulate. Her memory is not like yours and mine; she cannot remember most things, events, even if you remind her or talk about them. They happen, and they affect her, and then they are lost.

“For your birthday,” I say. “Last year, when we were in New York.”

She nods in comprehension. She remembers New York because I have told her that we went there, but she doesn’t know it in the way of someone recalling an experience. She remembers it in the way of someone reciting a fact from history class, like the name of the sixteenth president. She can memorize things in a way she cannot remember them. They are two different acts.

She has the rose pin in her hand, gripping it, and I realize that this is the experience for her, that somehow the objects are the repository of the memory, an imperfect storage device but the only one she has, and I think of the things that belong to her which I have thrown away, and I am appalled.

I gasp the knowledge in and I say, “Oh my beautiful girl. I am so sorry.”

She leans into me, the tension leaving her body, no longer flinching. I have finally understood, and she no longer has to be afraid that I will steal her memories.

###

My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

 

 

On the appointed one

Jessica and I are snowed in, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix, sitting on the lime-green sofa and laying bets on whether there really will be six more weeks of winter, when she says, “Remind me who the acquainted one is.”

“The who?” I ask.

She points to the laptop and Buffy, and I say, “Oh, the anointed one. He’s supposed to lead the vampires.”

“And he is the appointed one?” she asks. “The boy with dark hair.”

“The anointed one,” I say. “Yes. Anointed means blessed but since they’re vampires they mean it in an unholy way.”

“Who does the appointing?” Clearly she thinks appointed is a better word than anointed, and I like it myself.

“I don’t know,” I say. “That part’s always vague. There’s like a prophecy or something. People telling each other stories and waiting for someone to lead them out of darkness. Or into it, as the case may be.”

She tilts her head, looks at me. “You would never wait for anyone.”

“Which explains why I spend so much of my life saying, ‘How did I get here?'”

She tucks her legs under her and says, “I have never heard you say that.”

“It’s a conversation I have in my head.”

“Oh, in your head,” she says. She has always thought I spent too much time there. “But now you have me,” she adds, as if that has solved everything.

I have always called her my Buddha baby. I lean over and kiss her soft cheek.  “I didn’t know I was waiting for you till you got here.”

###

My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On This Swiftly Tilting Planet

I have a little vertigo sometimes, and a while ago, I said to Jessica, “The world is spinning like mad!”

She stood for a moment, I guess checking out the world, and then she asked, “Is it the world, or is it you?”

And of course it was me, not the world; the problem, or the perception, was generated by my own brain.

It made me think how often we frame our experiences as being the result of something in the world when it is something in us. So a question I have asked myself more lately is, “Is it the world, or is it just me?”

###

My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.