It’s 10:15 and I’m in my usual writing spot, only a bit later due to a routine dental appointment. Now I’m sipping my skinny vanilla latte, the old standby, and hyperaware of the fluoride coating on my teeth.
I have seven more days of class/three-and-a-half weeks/one lit mag launch/one creative nonfiction workshop/one 47th birthday party/one grant-funded discussion/one writing retreat to plan until the end of the semester, and Lord knows I am ready for it all to be done.
The older I get, the less I understand how time passes. It is April 11. Yesterday it hit 80 degrees for the first time, and my students, arriving sweaty to class, pronounced it the official beginning of summer. I have planted some seedlings in the raised bed, and other than two squash which look very sketchy, nothing has died. I’m still in the leggings-under-dresses phase of my annual wardrobe, and it seems both too late to be wearing warm clothes and way too early to be thinking about the punishing heat that will soon be here.
I wrote in an essay-in-progress about something that happened to me recently, followed by my question How the hell did I get here?
“What did you mean by that question?” my writing partner asked, tapping her pen against the line. I suppose she was looking for the short-term answer--I got in my car and drove, which was more or less how I’d intended the line when I’d written it, but the answer didn’t seem right to me now, at the moment we were considering it. It seemed more of an existential question, something meant to probe years of decisions and coincidences and accidents, family history, the branches leading backward to the beginning of time.
This is the story of how the hell I got here.
At the Starbucks where I park myself for four hours every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as some Fridays-Sundays when life permits, they have a keypad lock on the bathroom door. At times, the baristas sing out the five-digit code to anyone who asks, and at other times, like now, that information is strictly need-to-know. Something must have happened, like vandalism or a patron who wouldn’t leave, and so now when they are asked, the baristas make an effort to conceal their annoyance, come around the corner, and punch in the code for each guest.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I say when I arrive, fresh from an hour in the dentist’s chair, the orange juice I consumed before that heavy in my bladder, “but could you let me into the bathroom?”
The barista, her impressive head of hair piled in a high bun on the very top of her head, glances left and right and leans forward. “I’ll just tell you,” she says, and whispers the five digits that I immediately commit to memory.
I have passed a test.
I have been deemed worthy.
Yesterday, after my last class, three students stayed to talk to me—one making a plea for leniency, another providing an explanation for the wrong file that had been uploaded, the third just needing someone to listen.
I was lenient with the first, assured the second that we all make mistakes, listened to the third. I left exhausted and made my way straight to the parking lot.
It was still warm—the unofficial start of summer, after all—and students were out and about, sitting on benches, skateboarding past. Two students were taking pictures on the sidewalk next to the building with the owls’ nests, and I stopped to ask if they had seen the owls. It had been weeks now since I last spotted them, before the time change, back when I was leaving campus in the dusk.
In response, one of the students pointed—not up to the third floor where the branches from their nests still hung over the louvred shades—but straight ahead, just behind the hedge, to where an owl was watching us.
It wasn’t one of the parent owls, with their impressive wingspans and weathered faces, and it wasn’t the baby owlet that had blinked down at me weeks earlier. Except, of course, it was—bigger now, maybe an adolescent, with the cool gaze of a teenager.
And once again, I don’t understand how time passes.
Paula Treick DeBoard