"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Face to the darkness

I didn’t buy a scone today. I was going to, assuring myself after wandering through the makeup aisle in Kohls, I’d visit Caribou—support the Minnesota king of coffee shops—live scandalously on both coffee and blueberry scone. But when the white-blonde cashier asked if I wanted anything else with my latte, I shook my head and put my credit card away.

My fingertips scald through the ridged cardboard cup holder. I turn my back to the wall of windows, wanting the sun to talk less, the clouds to stop asking for directions, even if it is almost May and warm enough to leave green peacoat crumpled on the car’s back seat. I want blindness toward the waitress counting three pumps of sugar-free hazelnut. There is a brunette leather armchair facing the wall; it is good.

My seat pulls me down, and I watch the left-most wall, covered by a chalkboard, turquoise rivers on the map of a black hole. Scribbled words I used to think beautiful, but now I dig painted fingernails into my hand and leave red marks in my palms. A man’s plaid shirt skitters into my vision and hops out of it again; the man averts his eyes as he passes and does not see me try to smile. The fireplace sews quilts for all of us, even the ones who don’t notice, like me.

Two Wednesdays ago when I did homework here, I sat the other way, high on a stool facing the open room and the smiling cashier who talked too loudly, and two skinny high school boys in sweatshirts played Jenga and glanced at me every thirty seconds to see if I was impressed. This afternoon the only person my age is struggling with his friend to remember the name for people who make balloon animals. He smells weird. Is that cologne or sweat? He’s sitting too close. You should go away. But I don’t say it.

The cup with the caribou is lighter now. Don’t doctors say caffeine is bad energy?

I want to know what my breath knows, why when I breathe my horse’s eyes go soft. If my sister were in the opposite nylon armchair, her mind wrecked Jenga blocks on the coffee table, I would insist on what I understand, this place is still beautiful. But trapped with the blackboard, my words aren’t loud enough to be heard over my silence.

The coffee’s Splenda sludge at the bottom of the cup isn’t worth the calories, and I push it away.

The walls are strident. Breath drops out of my lips, trying to relieve the stomach-sickness that makes my head cry, breathe in, back digs into the cushion. Caffeine, or spiritual warfare, or three hours’ sleep, and the backfire of the barrista’s cool whip container bruises my face and coffee-thick air splinters my hearing. The radio churns on with its garbled song. It’s 2012, and the Mayans know the world is ending soon.

The laptop screen gapes as I realize this essay on poetry will sound more holy than I am. My back twinges as I twist in the armchair, face right. Perhaps fear can’t attack if your face is to the sun.