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.