Tuesday, October 29, 2013

a widdershins welcome

It is always sad when someone leaves home, unless they are simply going around the corner and will return in a few minutes with ice-cream sandwiches.
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid

If I ever have a daughter, I am sure that one night, as we sit in front of our homey little hearth together, I will impart to her various bits of wisdom that I have collected over the years.
I have not yet collected any of this wisdom, but I plan to do so in the near future.
Hopefully, by this particular evening, I will have amassed a great stockpile of wisdom I can share with my daughter.
She will sit in the rocking chair across from me [in order to implement a spirit of a hospitality so welcoming it borders on aggressive, we will have a whole army of rocking chairs stationed in front of our home's hearth] , as she crochets delicate little scarves or napkins or afghans. 
I am quite sure her father or uncle or grandmother will teach her how to crochet, since I do not possess that skill myself.
Or perhaps she will be a brilliant autodidact who will teach herself to not only the lauded --and to me, utterly mysterious-- craft of crochet, but also learn the finer subtleties of string theory, and develop a frenzied passion for phrenology, all through what I imagine will be her voracious reading tendencies and insatiable desire to learn about the vast and incomprehensible universe.
Hopefully, her father or aunt or grandfather will also teach her how to darn socks. My only regret in life is that I have never learned how to darn socks, a practice which I think is not only economical and sustainable, but it is the only activity of strictly bare-bones practicality and sensibleness of which I heartily approve.

And as we sit together in front of our hearth, my daughter crocheting, and I reading Alec Guinness: the Authorised Biography, (which I still will not have finished, even then. I will have been "working away at it" for three decades or so).  I will heave a sigh. 
For I will feel very palpably at that moment how time is flying by (as time is always wont to do), and already my daughter is fourteen. I will shake my head. Fourteen. It seems as if only yesterday I was cradling her in my arms instead of an unwieldy tome detailing Sir Alec's attempts at theatrical success in post-war England. 
And I will sigh, and probably clear my throat, and say: Belinda, my dear. (or perhaps her name will be Lucinda or Esmeralda or Guinevere. A good, robust 19th century name that packs a hefty Romantic punch. None of my children will be saddled with twenty-first century names, names that are airy and postmodern and have no weight attached.)
Anastasia, I will say, meditatively, in a maternal, vanilla voice that sounds like lavender smoke and lilac soap, The most valuable use of one's free time is by learning to penetrate the idiosyncratic foibles of whatever bus system (or systems) are indigenous to the environs of the metropolis wherein you will found your future home.
Anastasia or Eleanor--whatever name she is eventually christened--will listen and take to heart whatever pearls of wisdom I will drop into her lap, but all the while continuing her crochet, her deft and nimble fingers moving the needles at a mind-boggling rapid pace.
I have a distinct feeling she will be an incurable multi-tasker, a trait which I believe is inherited genetically through one's mother.
I will caution her that a bus system is like a romantic escapade in many ways. And by learning to navigate a bus system, she should be able to navigate the mine-field of young romance armed with the incomparable weapon of: Experience.
Like romantic escapades, a bus system is filled with excitement and daring and takes you to stops you had never hopped off at before.
It also brings with it a great deal of potential loneliness, and devastation and sometimes humiliation very comparable to running after a bus that you just missed by a few seconds.
They say (and I will make sure to pass this on to Marietta or Olivia,) that your first love is the deepest.
I will tell her not to believe them. 
But I will warn her that an envisioned ideal public transportation system is usually the modeled after the first one you fell for.
The London bus system.
I will sigh, and then tell her of the London system, my memory and my heart's holy affections still stained with the happy recollections of a system so efficient and timely, so straightforward and yet intricate, that my heart could never quite be free of it. 
My heart is haunted by those tantalizing memories of rain streaming down the upper windows of a double-decker. 
The deepest pockets of my memory will hold onto the visual map of route number 74 for a long while.
I had never known a bus system before.
I remember the fateful January day when my friend said: "The bus system is intimidating at first. You just have to break through the fear, hop on, and you'll figure it out."
I did not think such seemingly practical advice would forever change the course of my life.
I will tell Belinda of the sorrow that comes from leaving that first, tender love behind.
And I will warn her of that fatal attraction that afflicts all young bus system explorers.
Sometimes, young starry-eyed woman are fatally attracted to a man, for no other reason than he reminds her of her first love. 
This is the most dangerous of attractions, because it is attraction mixed with the heady and potent force of nostalgia.
I will warn her against bus systems that seem, on the surface, to be laid out neatly, stirring that inner fire of hers that remembers the clear-headed order of the London bus system with delight.
These bus systems appear to run on time, and to have straight-forward routes.
But they will inevitably let you down.
And you should not keep returning to the same stop over and over again, simply because it's listed as a boarding point for the bus.
You must shake the dust of that bus system from your heels, move on, and remember that the bus rider who is brave enough to move on will be rewarded with a new route.

I will wistfully tell young Christina that, just like buses who are always late, past flames will pop up unexpectedly, and usually inconveniently, and they will muddle the clarity and efficiency of the whole system. You will think: wait. maybe THIS is the 310 that will take me up to Islington. And you will waste valuable time considering the importance and significance of a stray bus.
This will happen because you have forgotten the number one rule of bus systems: late buses, stray buses, buses whose time has passed have no importance. 
And you only think they are significant because you have not yet found the correct bus.
Approach them or ignore them at your own peril.

Finally, I will warn young Rosalind that buses are veritable incubators of potential vulnerability and humiliation.
You will wait for a bus, wait for a bus, wait for a bus, then throw your hands up in the air and tell the bus to have marital relations with itself, and decide to walk. About five minutes later the bus will jauntily roll down the road next to your sidewalk.
A girl must draw on every ounce of character and poise to continue walking, head held high, ignoring the looks of passengers, and the rude glare of the buses headlights.
Those yawning vacuums of windows will stare at you, and you will keep walking with singleness of purpose, ignoring those pointed, glassy stares.
Courage, at least as bus system lovers experience it, is to not let one's step falter in the face of humiliation. 

Young Belinda or Juliet or Cordelia will have probably heard enough by now, and signal that the conversation is over by returning her crochet project to her work basket.
As she goes up to her room to retire, I will bite my lip to keep from shouting out a nagging reminder to floss before she brushes. And I will watch the remnants of the fire die away, as I remember my bus-riding days.
I will hope she experiences the thrills of running to catch buses, and feel the frustrated tears that flood one's eyes after missing buses. I pray she rides buses alone at night in the rain, rides them after dates at the opera, rides them when she's crying, rides them when she's giddy with laughter.
And I hope that she will run off to board many buses that will take her to adventures in all the exotic destinations that can be found inside the boundaries of her city limits.



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