Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Franklin Line
She is on the commuter rail reading the restored edition of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Her eyes are misting over like the city she's about to walk through. She can't let go the last line of the Forward, what Hemingway's son, Patrick, reveals to be his father's last professional writing and "the true foreword to A Moveable Feast: 'This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.'"
He'd taken his own life a few months before she'd been born, and she'd grown up with his books at her trinket covered bedside table, thinking the man—of the few author's she'd read at the time—the most rugged, brave, passionate. Perhaps she'd held too close this quixotic adaptation of the novelist, and this line, this last line of the Foreword, causes her a minor heartbreak for Hemingway. This is not her handsome Hemingway, she thinks.
The train enters South Station and she slips her cap over her head, walks down Essex to Surface to Beach and through Chinatown. It's early morning and the street vendors have not yet set their tables at the curbs. Snow melts from Chinatown's sloped rooftops and awnings and dampens the fleece toque on her head. She crosses over to Kneeland to Tufts Medical Center.
At the TMJ clinic on the sixth floor the receptionist asks her if she's there for sleep or TMJ. She pauses a moment, she wants to say Sleep! Sleep would be nice. Had she bothered with such pleasantries (as she ordinarily does) she would have engaged the receptionist in a short conversation about the joy of sleep and the dolor of insomnia. Oh, I know, wouldn't we all like more sleep! the receptionist would cluck. But she's too tired for conversation. What she says is TMJ, and does not elaborate, and the receptionist automatically hands her a clipboard with the usual craniofacial pain indicator.
In Dr. Correa's surgical suite, her day and night guards are adjusted. They're too tight and the night bite splint keeps her from a deep sleep. She can hear Dr. Correa, in an adjacent room, whittling away at the hard plastic pieces with a drill. She slides off the exam chair and moves toward the glass bay. The window washers aren't banging against the concrete on their suspended scaffolding today. She spreads the louvered shades with her hands and looks across the street at the Floating Hospital where her daughter had had surgery in May. She thought about seeing her in pre-op, Everything will be fine, just fine, she'd said, and then, after Lu was wheeled away, she'd walked out the heavy swing doors and fell to pieces.
She looks north, to the right, up Washington beyond the Paramount, and, if she could have seen that far, the Old State House at Devonshire, Faneuil Hall at the foot of Congress, and Mass General a brisk walk beyond where her husband had been admitted for surgery in September. But her attention shifts to Government Center where they had parted after their first date more than twenty years ago, and where, just across the way at One Beacon, she had secured her first job in Boston, at a lively law firm that occupied four of the building's thirty-seven floors. If she could have fixed her eyes west on Kneeland where it stretches along the edge of the theatre district, funneling into Back Bay and Brookline beyond, she might have remembered how much she misses the walk down Chestnut Hill Ave from her apartment on Commonwealth to Bangkok Bistro at Cleveland Circle for chicken massaman, and then up Beacon, past her old apartment above the Rabbi's brownstone, to the Tam for a Bass Ale. But the Floating Hospital blocked her view west and she could see only the enormous brick facade of the medical center.
She thinks about lunch with Max at Jade Garden, and how he'd happily annihilated an oversized bowl of boiled shrimp, scallops and octopus. She thinks about the spongy pork buns and fragrant lotus leaf wrapped rice at Hei la Moon's dim sum with Lulu, and Blue Man Group, where she'd dug herself out from under toilet paper with both of them. She reminds herself to pick up mangosteens, winter jujubes and guava—the kids' favorites—on her way back to the train station. This had become her routine. And she didn't mind, even if it had become pedestrian, it took her back to a place, or even a time, she wished to be. She was not constructed for the burbs. She didn't understand its particular syntax or mechanics, the conformities within its framework, nor the nuances of its assembly. It was a misplaced parenthetical where she bided her time as the children played in the streets, joined soccer and lacrosse teams, engaged in requisite and acceptable activities. She longed for the rack and pinion of the city or the notched ridge of a mountain. The in-between hollowed her heart.
Boston was the city where, among its quaint stone buildings, streetcars, glass skyscrapers, Irish pubs, emerald parks and broad river—a place she'd felt was home, and it was home—she'd grown into herself. Now she gazed out the window at the snow-lined streets of a place that seemed far away; had she really lived there for more than a decade? During the past year, Boston had become her destination for sober reasons. She was at Tufts to be deprogrammed. When did the grinding start?
Dr. Correa returns to the room with her newly shaped appliances. They are the first part of the program. The second and third parts are physical therapy and relaxation. He asks her to sit down and keep them on for a while to determine if they're comfortable. She sits and tries to relax. She snaps the upper guard in and moves her jaw forward and back. There's more tongue room now, she says. She takes it out and tries the lower guard which seems looser and more wearable, which is important, the doctor reminds her, because we want you to be happy. We want the program to work.
Yes, they're fine, she says, just fine.
The doctor tells her to call if anything changes, otherwise, he'll see her again in three weeks.
She looks out the window one last time, packs her bag and runs back to South Station to catch the 2:40 so she can pick her kids up by 4:00pm. Under the split-flap she realizes that in her rush she'd forgotten to buy the Asian produce and would return home fruitless. She sits in a forward facing chair, because she does not like to ride backwards, tucks her Charlie Card in the loop on the seat in front of her and opens her book. The Franklin Line schedule marks where she'd left off at the end of Chapter 8: "All I must do now was stay sound and good in my head until morning when I would start to work again. In those days we never thought that any of that could be difficult."
Thank you to Leah, of Eating Life Raw, for gifting to me the Versatile Blogger award (which I've added to the sidebar). I had the happy occasion of personally meeting Leah last October when she travelled north to visit family, and I can vouch that Leah not only eats life raw but does so with fresh insight and tenacious optimism! Her words inspire—each of her posts are wrapped in shiny paper and curly ribbon, like little gifts to the world.
Labels: awards, books, Boston, hope, insomnia, Literature, Lulu, Max, New England, Suburbia, therapy, Writing
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Beautiful writing, Jayne. I took that journey with you in my mind.ReplyDelete
Loree- Thanks for being right by my side. ;)Delete
Oh Jayne, I live on Sutherland Road in Cleveland Circle just up the street from Bangkok bistro. We love walking along Beacon Street through Coolidge Corner and Kenmore Square. I understand your love for Boston. I have done things in reverse; living in the suburbs first and then moving to the city mid-life. It will always be here, waiting for you. I also lived in Franklin and took that same commuter rail. Small world. Thank you for sharing that beautiful reverie, and next time you come to visit, let's have lunch. You'll find me at work in Harvard Square during the day.ReplyDelete
Bill- Wow. Very small world. My children's pediatrician lived on Sutherland Rd. (Probably closer to the time I was there), and remember looking at apartments there. I think I was eyeing a rent control unit--which was near impossible to get back then.Delete
Is Bangkok Bistro still as delicious as ever? I've been wanting to take the kids there--they love Thai. Harvard Square is another of my old stomping grounds--such a great area to walk and shop. Excellent restaurants too. Still get there from time to time. I'll look you up next time I cross the bridge! :)
Dear Jayne, thank you for this lovely contemplative piece on the city of Boston, a place where I too grew into oho I am. I was walking behind you in the slushy snow through everyone of those streets, corners, pubs and restaurants. I don't live there now either, though I spend a great deal of time passing those cherished spots and, as it were, re-remembering my time there--in another life. And a very moving reverie on Hemingway, thank you. xoReplyDelete
Melissa- Do you remember Trident Bookstore Cafe? That was my hang on Newbury--Saturday mornings. And then a walk through the park, and maybe over to Filene's Basement if I felt coins burning a hole in my pocket (which happened more then than it does now).Delete
So glad you enjoyed this piece. It's kind of impossible to read A Moveable Feast without thinking of that special place you take with you wherever you go.:)
I really liked that and it brings back alot of great memories. However, you failed to include Boylston St. where your brother-in-law entertained bar patrons with a Bic lighter and his own flatulation. But then again I guess that would have spoiled the tone of the story.ReplyDelete
Hubby Dear - Yes, and the maitre d' who didn't appreciate the gesture. I thought it was more fabulous than fireworks over the hatch shell on the fourth of July. Thank you bringing a spark of humor to the story. ;)Delete
Ah: material from the remises of my memory and of my heart -- even without the crusher of a sentence that follows -- is a phrase to envy... Lovely how you turned it into an introduction to the meditation of your own (almost literally Ou sont les neiges...? in character) which follows.ReplyDelete
JES- I know. What a master. Simple prose but they pack a punch.Delete
And yes, where have the snows gone? The thing is, you never really remember it exactly as it was. Although, I know that we had a lot more snow back then. ;)
(I'm not liking this new comment thread--it keeps kicking me out when I publish a reply. I hope it's working ok for initial comments??)
hmmm sweeet...amazing how the little flashes of memory from a town can hardwire themselves into you...lovely pise J :)ReplyDelete
Dan- Thank you.:)Delete
I actually thought of you this Monday when I was Boston. I took several pictures of chinese artwork on a wall in a park at the entry to Chinatown (made me think of your St. Kilda post), and thought about posting some of them, but I want to first see what I pull up with some research...
Nice, Jayne. I like how you connect your Boston memories to "A Moveable Feast." Love that book. And Boston, of course!ReplyDelete
Hey Bob-- Thanks for stopping by! Hope all's well in Tucson. Even though you've traveled the entire world, I know you have a special place in your heart for Beantown. I'm really glad you liked this piece. Take care!Delete
You know me Momma i don't like alot but i really liked this, i might have liked this more than anything you've put up so far and not just because of my love of Papa, i'm not into the academics of it but something about this hits, more in-between the lines, in the subtlety, and if you haven't already read it i recommend Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner, i loved that book.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Kono. That means a lot to me because I trust your insight. I don't know anything about the academics of writing, other than that it tends to be blanketed in pretense and not all academics can write, but I don't pay attention to it (probably for those reasons--which, to be fair, are too broad).Delete
Haven't read Hotchner's book but I'm going to hop over to Amazon to look for it. Thanks. :)
Wow! A great post. I remember reading "The Old Man and the Sea". "The Sun Also Rises" was one that was difficult to get through for some reason in my early schooling. But what a beautiful tapestry you've woven here Jayne. It allows us to tage along! Thanks for stopping by also! :)ReplyDelete
Michael - My 12 year old read The Old Man and the Sea this summer. We started it together while in Maine, and I was afraid it would't capture her interest, but she loved it. She'd probably like some of his other novels too. I remember reading TSAR, and A Farewell to Arms at a pretty young age, and I've got the books in storage somewhere... But she's about to start Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for her English class, so I'll let her fully enjoy that one first. (Keeping my fingers crossed--I'm going to read it myself, yet again--I never tire of Bradbury).Delete
that was a very gripping story. I only know 'The Bostonians' by Henry James, and by other literature, and I've seen a bit of the city on TV. Now I have the feeling I got a more real impression.
I always loved Hemingway's prose.
TMJ I had to look up - Temporomandibular joints - but then it was what I thought - standing here for stress symptoms, I think?
Thank you for your story - I look foreward for more.
Britta - I haven't read The Bostonians. I'm afraid there are lots of books I haven't read, and probably will never get to. This was just a small slice of Boston, which I've always thought is a fairly conservative city, and, at least when I lived there, I felt the Boston Brahmin presence, but it has so much to offer.Delete
Yes, TMJ is fairly common--affecting more women than men. Stress tends to make it worse (like anything else!), which is a hard thing to reduce. I have to remind myself to breathe and say "ommmm." :)
'He'd taken his own life a few months before she'd been born, and she'd grown up with his books at her bedside table, thinking him—of the few author's she'd read—the most handsome, rugged, brave and passionate.'ReplyDelete
This is heartrending.
Everyone has at least one author crush, right Suze? ;)Delete
A beautiful piece of writing, every phrase so loaded with atmosphere, pain, memory, all of life. I was particularly struck by this: "But the Floating Hospital blocked her view west and she could see only the enormous brick facade of the medical center." Such an apt image in a story where things medical seem continually to block the way to blessedly ordinary life.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Susan. I'm glad you liked that sentence--I think that is precisely where I started to feel a little too emotional writing this piece. The medical stuff--just can't avoid it. But we are all well and that's a blessed thing. :)Delete
This made me melonchaly, of course, but was so very well done. You really infuse your readers with your mood, but we are not ungrateful.ReplyDelete
I love Hemingway. In this post you sound as if you had just spent time sharing drinks with him in one of those Boston pubs - not communicating, perhaps, but imbibing each other's thoughts.
Hilary- Hemingway really set the mood. I was just channeling. And wouldn't I have loved to be able to be in the same space and time as Hemingway. Imbibing. I can just close my eyes and imagine... :)Delete
Would love to see that public artwork J, as you know how cool/important I think art in public places is...thanks for the heads up :)ReplyDelete
On my list. Dang, I need to start keeping written list. That I don't lose! ;)Delete
Jayne, your words painted the most distinct pictures in my mind. I felt as though I was seeing through your eyes, feeling your mood. It was gorgeous. I think my being from MA made the scenes impact me even more. I love how you write and I'm so glad to have found Suburban Soliloquy.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the sweet words too! You put a big smile on my face.
Oh Leah, thank you my friend. Yes, you know Boston inspires! I wish I had taken a lot more notes when I was actually living there. Journaling was not something I made time for back then. What a dope. :/Delete
Jayne, This post is so evocative and rich--"When did the grinding start?" Now there's an existential question if ever there was one. You made a visit to a TMJ clinic fascinating.ReplyDelete
Maria- How I miss you. Time for a writerly confab...Delete
Why is it I keep asking myself these existential brand of questions? Don't I know better yet? Say, when will the grinding end?. :/
With my medical fixation, I honed in on the TMJ. I want to sit with you a bit and talk hypersensitized CNS disorders and their treatments, sleep issues, and that word I'm sick of hearing bandied about, STRESS. I do not think that word means what most people think it means.ReplyDelete
Nance- I would love to have a sit with you. I am staring closely at your words "hypersensitized CNS disorders," feeling like a big light has just been flicked on, and even without knowing the particulars of such disorder it sounds very much like it might cover the gamut of my ails. I am off for some research... :)Delete