On the way home from the hospital I take the long way. It’s only long because I drive at 15 miles an hour, all four windows down, enjoying the warmth of a March night down in the Valley. There are dozens of citrus trees on this street. Not as many as when my friend Ann brought me here years ago, but still many. Their trunks are painted white and shine in the dark.
The scent of orange blossoms comes to me as I travel down the road, leaving behind the mechanical noises and smells of the hospital. Ten hours in that building, yet I’m in no hurry to get back to the house where I’m staying. This is fifteen minutes of pure sensation. I feel suspended, timeless in the city at night, the air warm and the orange blossoms of an almost piercing sweetness. It’s one of the rare times today of feeling no responsibility to anyone, and I need it to last a little longer.
I know people who drive, who love driving. I never really have. I knew a boy in college who took out his anger on the highways around Hartford, Connecticut at night. He’d jump on Interstate 84 and get his old Chevy up to a hundred and cruise along for an hour or two at that speed while he screamed. My mother loved to drive. She had a map in her head of all the old turnpikes and parkways around New York City, and she preferred these to the newer, more efficient highways. She preferred the green and spacious roadways, the roads less traveled, and when I sat in the passenger seat I could feel her relax behind the wheel, her body moving with the car as if the road beneath us were a broad band of water.
Tonight I’m aware of time being precious. Time with Ann, who is in the hospital after a terrible fall on her face. That time is precious. And this interlude between the mechanical and emotional world of the hospital with its ventilators and DNRs, its glaring lights and calls for a Code Blue; this interlude between that and the confused little dog at home, Ann’s 7-pound pup who fought off the paramedics and firemen who arrived to pick Ann up off the street; the interlude is precious. I relax into it. The neighborhood opens around me and the darkness enfolds me. The sound of the tires and the breeze created by forward movement. All the space in the world and an awareness of it. The heavenly scent that lasts for thirty days, a moment, then is gone.
It’s the third day of March. Eight days ago, Ukrainians woke up to their country at war. Our friend Laura Kelly writes from Bulgaria where she is teaching journalism: 26 Ukrainian students on campus. Palpable dread, distress among students and profs. Refugees coming into Bulgaria over the Romanian border. It feels close and very very real and world scary. One of my students, Viktor, I am especially close with. Just met his parents a month ago when they came from Kyiv for the screening of his senior project. I love this kid, have had him in 4 classes. Viktor tethers me to Ukraine and I am heartbroken.
I contribute to a column for Flag Live! called Letter From Home. This week I’ve chosen to send out an old one, one of the first columns I ever wrote, about the Cold War. It’s a long piece, longer than readers may feel they have time for or interest in. Still, I’m sending it out in its entirety as a reminder. The Cold War itself was long and full of waiting and full of a kind of wonder that I don’t mean to equate with Christmas or fireflies or the first snowfall. It was the wonder of children who struggled to understand what was happening around them, why they had to run to their lockers and wedge their small bodies inside.
By the time my Letter From Home goes to print, there may be signs that air raid sirens and fallout shelters are not the direction in which we’re headed once again. But for the Ukrainians, the nature of the attack on their country is not just in the details, but in the larger context of unprovoked military aggression, nuclear or not. It is, after all these years—all the many years since my own childhood—“world scary” in Laura Kelly’s words, full of palpable dread, and heartbreaking. Here in America, from my comfortable chair, I am still trying to wake up to the fact that here we are again.
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