By Michelle Railey
The Photos I Took. The Photos I Didn’t.
god help you if you can put your phone away before you become that creep on the beach taking pictures of Other People’s Kids.
Poor Photography Hygiene, Mount Washburn, and Me
At the top of Mount Washburn, you can’t see the future. The air is thin but not that thin.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Dusk, and Me
the horizon is endless green farmland and summer is in every fibre of every living thing
Quoth the Dorothy, Nevermore
Once upon a time there was a babysitter. Her name was Dorothy. She looked after me and my sister when we were about five. Dorothy was nice, although not particularly conversant in “young kid.” This was on Webster Street, where she served us canned cream of mushroom soup (again, not particularly conversant in “young kid”) in her kitchen. She had a 1950s-style dinette set with an oval, formica faux-marble top. The chairs were ripped, felt-lined grey cabbage-rose covered naugahyde. Incidentally, all of the above was the same color as the cream of mushroom soup.
After our soup, Dorothy would send us into a little room off the living room.This was, unlike either kitchen or living room, the playroom. It contained a toy or two and a tiny, collapsible card table sized appropriately for a four or five-year-old child. On said table there was a ceramic Christmas tree. It lit up. I had never seen anything like it outside of a nursing home, so I thought it was pretty special that she put it in the playroom for us kids to enjoy. Also on the table? A huge– I mean, seriously, the thing was massive– container of crayons.
You know what? I could eat the nasty un-kid-friendly cream of mushroom soup all day long. You bet. I could accept the complete and utter lack of cake in that place. (Did I mention? I don’t remember Dorothy ever giving us any cake.) What I cannot— nay, never — forgive, no matter how kind and sweet Dorothy was (and she was), was the fact that she dumped those crayons into one, gigantic, waxen, Tupperware-encased mess of disorganization. The nerve! As if she didn’t know that crayons belong in their box, in chromatic order, and that periwinkle should never touch melon should never touch sea-green.
But no! Alas, poor Dorothy. She didn’t know. And that’s why she was the world’s worst babysitter (probably an exaggeration, because she really was kind. Plus she lived on Webster Street, the best street). Dorothy mixed the crayons, the beautiful, amazing, hundreds of crayons. They were thrown helter-skelter, willy-nilly in an un-beautiful heap in a Tupperware container.
The saddest sight my five-year-old eyes ever did see. Thank god she had the Disney channel and that light-up tree or I might not have made it to age 6.
Appendix: Apropos of Dorothy, A Brief Moment in Celebration of Great Crayons of the 1980s.
Crayola crayons are sort of like a First Love. It’s difficult not to always think they are forever special or not to get nostalgic when thinking or seeing them. However, sometime in 1982, I was introduced to Prang crayons. My friend Megan had them. At first, I spied them suspiciously. They were not Crayolas. How could they possibly be good?
Crayon snob! Prang crayons of the eighties were waxier than a standard issue Crayola, it is true. However, their color was far more saturated than Crayolas ever could be. I learned to love Prang crayons. Sadly, they were difficult to find in 64 flavors colors. That was the drawback of eighties-era Prang.
And circa 1983, in a house of brown on Loomis Avenue in Colorado Springs, My sister and I were each gifted a box of K-Mart brand crayons. Yes, their box and wrappers sucked. They screamed of “generic.” But it would be misguided not to give them a chance. Waxier than Prang; waxier than candles; waxier, in fact, than wax were the K-Mart brand crayons. But there has never been a prettier color, not in nature, nor in artifice, than a 1983 K-Mart brand crayon in Kelly Green.
And in second place? Prussian blue. Also of the K-Mart persuasion. Crayola had nothing like it.
Crayola remains the grand champion of crayon manufacturers. But K-Mart, while they’re not so successful now, they will always be the ones who gave the most beautiful two colored crayons to the world. In 1983.
Sign Language. Or Something.
…mis-spending a decade in midnight stints at Denny’s and Steak ‘n Shakes and the Clocks, chain-smoking, reading newspapers and obscure books, writing incessantly, hoping for wisdom, drowning in coffee, longing for something that never quite arrived.
3 April 2016
Spring break is notable to me because that means teenagers will be in the sauna at the gym this coming week. Teenagers. In the sauna. Wrapped in Saran Wrap (they really do that). It smells like bacon when a Saran-wrapped teenager sits in the sauna. It really does. And not in a good way. And that, kids, is one of the very many reasons I’ll be glad when spring break ends.
The other reason is that I’m a grown-up and I don’t have a spring break. Spring Break…what’s that?
It might be a good thing if grown-ass adults got spring breaks every year. Kids are young and resilient. Do they really need a spring break? Do they need it more than we, working grown-ups, buried beneath 40 hours a week, laundry, dishes, and bills?
No, universe. Of course not.
But life is unfair (teenage-worthy sigh here). And I, like many of my middle-aged, responsibility-bearing peers do not get a Spring Break. No Jell-O shots, no bikinis, no carefree sand and sun-soaked vacation. Just further daily drudging. (Insert yet another teenage-worthy sigh. Impatience and exasperation is the fountain of youth: to stay young, just think of another damned load of laundry or dishes. Sigh. Stamp of foot. It’s almost like being fourteen. Except you can drive yourself. In fact, you have to. And that’s sigh-worthy, too.)
So, as Sunday night closes into another week of regular work while Facebook is awash in vacation photos and my gym is overrun with tanned and heavily-mascara-ed sixteen year-olds, cooking in the sauna, well, I envision running away my very own self.
My middle-aged spring break would involve no chores, no alarm clocks, no errands. No gas tanks to fill. No groceries to carry. No world-weary sighs because I am tired. Spring Break: me and somewhere warm. No schedule. Maybe some cocktails. Maybe just long walks and naps in the sun.
It’s nice to think about at any rate.
Kids already have all the fun. They don’t have to adult. They can just be and grow. And I can tell you, looking back, I did not fully appreciate the wonders and gifts of an entire week off in the spring to just be.
Not at the time. But now? What I wouldn’t give to have that spring week back again. Youth is, after all, as they say, utterly wasted on the young.
I’m beginning to think all the good things are. (Big, heaving sigh.)
4 August 2018
Listening to Zooropa by U2.
There’s a lump where there shouldn’t be. It’s probably sebaceous.
Time is crazy. Memories crazy. Life crazy. Love a miracle.
I was sitting with a friend who also grew up in the nineties. It was a discussion of letter jackets and angora-wrapped class rings, of skating rinks and pop rock, of rap, of insecurity, of memories from then being more potent than things that happened five years ago.
We never grow up. Not really. We move on, sure. We develop and improve or whatever. But we never grow up.
Take your 1989 self and glom it on to you now: there’s something there that never went away.
I’d bet on it.
I used to think it was just me: the fact that in my jewelry box were Swatch watches and Coke watches, the fact that in the back of my head I could remember perfectly the saddle shoe Nike cheerleading shoes, the Crayola markers, the Memorex “Pop” collection of cassette tapes, the VHS of Rhythm Nation, the sheet music for Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue. The Phantom of the Opera. The smell of Ralph Lauren Polo on a teddy bear from a boyfriend who gave you a friendship bracelet.
I thought to myself, for so long, it’s dumb of you to remember these things. It was so long ago.
But everyone has a so long ago. There’s always a time we can’t touch.
We never grow up. Not really.
We always belong to our parents, our siblings, our bedrooms, our secrets at twelve, at thirteen, at fourteen.
We’re always looking to graduate. But we never do. We never grow up.
How can we leave all that behind?
I’m forty-three. Presidents have been my age. I can’t really understand it but there you are. They have been. The leaders of the world have been my age.
When the Great Fire of Chicago happened, Mrs O’Leary was 44. The newspapers described her as “old,” “a hag.”
I don’t know what the forties are. Middle-aged? Probably. Grown up?
No. We don’t really grow up.
Forty in the past? Probably, maybe different than forty now. We’ve been told for the past two decades that age is the new black, that thirty is the new twenty, that forty is the new thirty, that you don’t have to grow up: keep your skin tight, your fashion fresh, your interests alive.
Forty is nothing more or less than four decades of life. We grow, we grow, we grow. I still think we, now, we never grow up.
The grown-ups now run the world: they’re anywhere from thirty-six to ninety years of age.
Do they seem restrained or intelligent, knowing, wise, noble?
No. They haven’t grown up either.
The greatest illusion of all time is the grown up who has actually grown up.
We. Don’t. Grow. Up.
I think this could be a good thing, perhaps: I would rather hire for my leader a person I knew from high school who liked to learn, who was curious and forgiving, who was crafty and secure and interesting.
I would rather, more than anything, to have a leader, a governor, who understood uncertainty, who felt it, who honestly wondered what it was to be at the cool kids’ table and knew, for sure, what it was to not be there.
Someone, in short, who could feel sympathy and unfairness and the need to incorporate the outsider.
I knew outsiders in elementary school, in middle school, in high school. In college.
I’ve been one myself.
Outsiders are dangerous sometimes. I guess. Adam Lanza, for example. But for the most part, outsiders are just like every one of us: playing at being grown-up, paying the water bill, reading the news, tucking the kids in at nighttime, making dinner, and occasionally rubbing their head in wonder at the sudden appearance of a song they knew, the way thread art in fifth grade mathematics looks, the notebook of a social studies classmate, the songs you sang about peace in fifth grade, friendship bracelets, summer nights with pop-its and streetlights and the beginnings of both romance and conflict.
We never grow up.
We’re all outsiders. We’re all insiders. We’re all the cheerleaders, the cool kids, the uncool kids, the football players, the rich ones, the weird ones.
We never grow up.
We get to be forty and we can see more of it, that’s all. We can empathize with every subset of kid we ever and never were. That’s the difference.
At the end of the day, though, we can be forty, we can be fourteen. We never grow up.
At thirteen, did I ask what the meaning of life was? I asked difficult questions then. I was one of those girls: you know the type. Reading too much, not eating enough, practicing reactions in the mirror, a perfectionist, too sensitive to be practical; good at school, bad at boys; weird occasional focus on the macabre.
Because, at that age, for that girl, the idea of the macabre, of death, had no bearing to the real thing, to eternity, to the real things that happen when a life leaves the planet.
We never grow up. Except for the part where we know there’s a thing such as finite or dead. That eternity hasn’t been proven. That resurrection isn’t a thing that has happened before, unless you believe that, and some people don’t.
You never grow up. We never grow up.
We learn things. We get scared of things.
We breathe. And breathe some more.
I still think we never grow up, not really. We just get better at the press and the shell.
I look at the mirror. I feel older than I look. I look plenty old. I have regrets. Tons of them. I have worries. Tons of them.
There are bags under my eyes. Lines on my forehead.
I know my age, my cohort, the years I have lived, all the concerns that face me.
I remember all the things from twenty years ago like they were yesterday. Thirty years ago? Also yesterday. The earliest things I remember still are happening.
All these things are forever happening because I don’t grow up. We never grow up. We’re constantly growing up.
And I don’t know what it is to get there- to be grown up, so called.
I think it’s always been this way. I think Suleyman; I think Charlemagne; I think Churchill; I think Reagan…
Well, I think everyone in the past, in the present, they haven’t grown up, either.
I don’t care who you are or what country or religion you’re ruling, I think you’re still a damn kid, standing there, biting your lip, hoping against hope someone will see the real you and dreaming that maybe you could be the cool kid or slow dance with the one girl, the only girl.
We never grow up. We can have kids, we can take down an economy, we can do good, or do ill. We never grow up.
We’re always standing in worn-down shoes, with the toes turned in. We’re always looking at straw, wondering if we should bundle it or walk through it, stick a stalk in our mouth or walk away.
Watch it blow away. Wonder what it’s for.
It’s straw. We don’t know what to do with it. And we don’t know what to do with ourselves or life or love or anything.
It’s straw. We’re straw. Nothing grows up, nothing goes away: it blows, it’s bundled. It scratches, it goes on. It doesn’t grow.
Wonder what it’s for?
That Time I Went to a Psychic
Thirty dollars in New Orleans is eternity, if you spend it right.
That Time My Sister and I Detasseled*
Three Fragments for Fall: Brass, Tempera, and Violets
To All Trains (Chicago 2017)