country quiet

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
exploration of my inspiration to become a writer, how growing up in the city and taking vacations in upstate new york helped form my identity.

Submitted: September 26, 2011

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Submitted: September 26, 2011

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Country Quiet

 

The gravel beneath our dusty green Toyota’s wheels vibrates in the pit of my stomach, as my father winds around the road leading to our country house in the Catskills. It is 6:41 am. We leave our house in the city when it is still dark, at the surreal time of day when janitors and night shift workers are meandering the lonely city streets. The drive is two hours long and I am silent the whole way up. I listen to Bob Dylan at 8 years old, and I am fingering the silver buttons on the CD player because I do not know what to think about. I am young and I enjoy the quiet escapes from the city but sometimes I just feel lost in the fast emerald whoosh of trees passing on the highway. I feel lost anyway. I am still looking out the window. I am waiting for the car to slowly come to a halt so that I can go sit on the dirty tire that hangs from a tree, several paces behind my country house. We only go there on weekends, and every other weekend at that, so I had to make that tire swing count. The gravel morphs into wavy undomesticated grass as remnants of city life disappear. My mother jokes:

“That uncut grass reminds me of her hair: uncooperative, headstrong, lashing out in the wind with all this attitude…”

“ Just like her, “my brother mumbles from beneath his behemoth headphones.

 

I grab my backpack and run to the swing. The contents of my backpack spill out as I rush to my rubber donut savior hanging off a sinewy thread and heave full force into it. The leaves on the lower branch are brushing my eyelashes and I happen to glance down at my backpack, a downpouring of color, almost like paint streaks. A square black paint streak. I recognize the silver whir of my CD player, a muddle of colored pencils, and some books. I escape in books. They give me other worlds to find solace in when mine cannot be literally escaped. But this one, this square black book- this was a new kind of solace. A blank kind. The pages still white, I am beginning to understand that I can create my own world. I had written before, on sheets of paper lying around my downtown apartment in the city. But here I am with only my mind for company on this swing, and a plethora of enticing lined white sheets on the dirty ground beneath me. These sheets are to me what candy is to other little children.

 

I had bought the pretty, leather-bound journal at a dingy vintage store. Rummaging through the various worn clothes and used trinkets, I found this wonderful notebook. It didn’t look used, it wasn’t used; the sheets were blank. The cover and the glue in the binding still smelled of brand new leather. I bought it with money I had earned for looking after my neighbor’s poodle. I had always written as other children had doodled; words on random sheets, carved into my bed, but never a full story, written on consecutive sheets that were all mine. I see it not as a journal, but unwritten novel, unwritten poems, words I can create and rearrange that haunt and enchant me. This notebook is frightening, and represents more than I can understand.

 

I hear my brother shouting at me and hop off the tire, as the dawn finally invites the full sun. I leave the bag but take the notebook. I don’t worry about my belongings because the forest is soaked in light white, leafy silence, and there is not one person in the surrounding acres. I walk over to the house where my brother is grunting and dragging our duffle bags past the living room, and upstairs to the bedroom. I should technically be sleeping downstairs, because there is a foldout bed and upstairs there is only one bed, where my parents sleep. But there’s now a small mattress where I sleep in the room next to my parents and my brother sleeps downstairs. This arrangement is so because sometimes the quiet in the countryside is too loud, and I miss drunken brawls and ambulence sirens outside my city window.  The beat of my parents’ breathing is solace when the beady diamond stars in the dark sky rattles me more than the rustles of leaves. My notebook is in white-knuckled hands and it makes me feel safer, this weekend. But I still sleep in the bed upstairs, even though sometimes late at night when I go to the bathroom downstairs, an impossible winding staircase glistens black and taunts my stumbling, sleepy feet.

 

The breeze wanders through screened windows and I can hear my brother dragging our chipped red wagon to gather firewood. Whenever he went on these excursions he would take me to go blueberry picking with him. I hear the wagon and I burst out of the door, hopping inside it, to his dismay. He drags me through the uncut grass towards our secret pathway. He does not complain about carrying me because I am usually quite chatty and today I am silent, staring at the notebook that has still not left my hands. We are finally at the pathway. It winds and is lined with untamed bushes, pregnant with blueberries. I grab the juiciest ones and put them in the glass jar my brother has brought along. I leave the notebook in the wagon, because I don’t want blueberry juice to stain the pages before my ink does. I walk past my brother, who is searching for wood and has his black Sony headphones on to signal ‘alone time’. I keep walking along, though the jar is full. The hot sun beats on the rocks and warms me from the inside out when I rest my hand on their grey contours. I hear a hiss, and a tiny head pops out from beneath a rock, slithering its cylindrical body towards me with surprising speed. I don’t draw my hand back, though I probably should. Its body is exquisite and it looks a bit aimless, though defensive, cautiously eyeing my hand. I can connect to this feeling (I do not know my purpose in this silent orb, regardless of what it is in the fast city), so I smile and am not frightened. I should hear the rumble of the wagon a few meters away but I am mesmerized by the animal and forget to look up; I only my brother’s urgent shout and feel his arm push me protectively backwards until my new friend disappears.

It reminds me of back home, bargain-hunting with my parents for hours in the Strand, a massive bookstore near my apartment off the East Village. I am downstairs, and they are upstairs, and a gigantic Doberman saunters in the door with a woman half its size. It barks and snarls at a brightly outfitted boy nearby who jumps and quickly leaves the store. I love animals, even telling my parents at one point that I’d like to be a veterinarian, and I walk up to this dog without an ounce of hesitation, grasping its drooling, furry head in my hands. I kiss its nose and it licks my face. My mother is walking downstairs and sees me doing this, lets out a scream and grabs my hand as she walks me out: “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?” My father is laughing and puts his arm around me, talking about his pride for his strong, courageous little girl who had this strange connection with animals. I am sad I did not have a chance to look the snake (or that dog) in the eye longer, and I sulk as my brother walks me back to our country house. I tell him I’ll sit outside in the sun while he goes inside.

I want my skin to absorb more than the heat. I want the snake to come back. My notebook lies in front of me, in the grass, and I am finally alone in nature. There are millions of breathing things around me (not just animals, the house breathes, the trees breathe, all of nature heaves with life.) I miss the city but the air is fresh and everything thrives here: I feel more alive. I start writing the first letters in my notebook. Words and thoughts spill into one and for a rare time, everything makes sense. The quiet doesn’t scare me anymore; it helps me. I’ve embraced it. I’m strong and brave and make friends with Dobermans and I can discover the joy of being alone as a sole molecule surrounded by flora and fauna. The ambulances and bar fights and my parents breathe still comforts, but the cool breeze can suffice now.  The world is void of sound and my brother’s filling it with hair metal, a suitable replacement for him. I put down my Bob Dylan a while ago and my hands can’t seem to stop this cursive. I don’t know yet that it will mean everything to me, that it will plunge me into deeper worlds when I’m frozen or lost on my own. I don’t yet understand that though my heart grew out of concrete, when you create space in your head you can breathe easier, you learn to do something that most of us forget about when we’re young: we learn to appreciate things on both ends of the spectrum. When I was lost, I found comfort in what replaced silence. But the silence is in front of gaping, black, and me now and I’m going to jump fully into it. I know I’ll be stronger back home, where streetlights and the dirty toxins from the Con Edison power plant outside my house confirm who I am. But I’ve grown a part of me that can exist in silence, contently. And I’ll keep filling it with words on these papers, my companions in the country quiet that isn’t so lonely after all.

 

 


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