The Aviator

I have always liked to think that the birds of St. Michael’s were my friends. They have been with me my entire life, and that’s more than I can say for most folks I’ve encountered. c3afaa327f1a7aa93a40b4bf034479c8Despite the changing of the seasons and endless flipping of calendars, they have remained as constant as the bells that bring in the dawn. The clear and bright sound of their ringing disperses the fog every morning, and with it there is a chorus of beating wings to add to the hymn. I can recall waking up to those bells every day as a child. Now, despite all the changes in my life, the only thing that has changed in regards to how I wake up is the view from the bedroom window.

The only creatures that seem to be alive when I wake up now are the birds. Marvelously humbling creatures they are. Despite how swiftly the river of time flows, it would seem that we will always be craning our necks to see them. Even planes have their limitations, like fuel or bad weather, but birds can fly whenever they wish for however long they choose. Such freedom would be exhilarating I imagine. Back when I was young my life used to be that way. As the youngest in a family of eight my parents and older siblings had very little time to watch me, so I spent my days wandering the cobblestone streets of my town, often throwing breadcrumbs to the birds of the church. Perhaps that is why birds can fly and we cannot. They live so close to God’s own house that it must only be natural that they can almost touch the heavens. At night they all roost in the bell tower. I fear they must be cold at night, the poor little dears with nothing but feathers to keep them warm. I’m always cold at night now. I ask the nurses to add extra blankets to the bed, but they’re the kind that makes the skin itch something dreadful.

I suppose the birds have each other to keep warm. They bundle in tight for the night in their bell tower bed, dreaming of how they will take to the sky come morning. No one else will be awake to see them rise except me. Everyone sleeps in late now. Sometimes I fear that our world has forgotten what a sunrise looks like. God paints the sky every morning, and yet when I stare down from my window I see empty streets. It’s a melancholy sight. Some might call it peaceful, but it only makes me sad. An empty street is a lonely one. There’s nothing to make the ground give off a jolly rattle, and so by leaving them alone they are condemned to sleep. And so I watch the birds take to the sky alone. Up they go, higher than the kites of my childhood could ever hope to reach. I’ve got half a mind to fly a kite right now. What a sight that would be, a woman my age with a kite in town square. Of course, no one would see it anyway. And it’s not as if the nurses would let me go. These days I can’t be trusted to go to the bathroom by myself let alone walk into town. They keep insisting I could fall and hurt myself. Clearly they don’t know how strong my legs are. As a girl, I was the fastest runner in my seventh grade class, boys included. No one could catch me. Every time I tell that story though, the only response I get is that times have change. I don’t see how that could be. I still have the same legs after all. It’s not as though I’ve gone and gotten a new pair. The memory of running like that is still in them somewhere. Of course, I could never run now, but I’m certain I could walk mighty fine on my own. Well enough to get to St. Michael’s at least. It’s only two blocks from here. I can see it from my bedroom window. It’s a lovely sight. Did you know that the bells ring there every morning? It’s like clockwork really. Despite all that’s changed, they’re the one thing I can count on. That and the birds, my darling little birds.

I like to think of them as mine. No one else seems to care much about them now, but I still do. I remember how folks used to feed them. Children would tug at their mother’s arms, asking for pocket change to buy a bag of breadcrumbs. Folks were more compassionate then I think. Or at the very least, they noticed more. Once the streets do wake up, long after the sun has been in the sky I might add, people walk by them in droves, and rarely does anyone seem to see them. Unless, of course, the birds are in their way. If that’s the case people scold them and shoo them, calling them a nuisance among other things. The kind of language one does hear in front of God’s house these days is appalling. And with nothing left to turn to, the birds take to the sky, seeking the kind of warmth that divine love can give. Even with that though, I imagine they must be lonely. They must know how things used to be. They must miss it.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the world of the morning. When no one is awake but them or I, time seems to echo back on itself. The nice thing about quiet streets is it guarantees I can hear the bells. My ears aren’t what they used to be, and sometimes I fear that if cars start driving early in the morning, I will miss my wake-up call. Then I won’t get to see my friends immerse themselves that melted crayon sky. 8636567709_9f10548eab_mI must confess, sometimes I imagine I am among their numbers. That my fingers have stopped their infernal shaking and that they can crack my window open. From there, I would stand tall upon my ledge and a leap so strong that I would shoot up into the sky. My friends would teach me how to fly then and we’d soar until the town became nothing but a speck. We wouldn’t come down until nightfall, but even then we would share a roost. No more itchy blankets, only soft down feathers. I had a down quilt growing up. My own grandmother had made it by hand, back in the old country. Of course, it was falling apart the last time I remember seeing it. I asked my son to pack it with my things when they moved me. He said it was lost in the journey. But with my bird friends, it would be almost as if I had my quilt back. How lovely that would be!

That would be a dream life I should think; flying clear and free. Everyone around you encouraging you to go higher rather than to stay on the ground. Of course, it will never happen. My wings have been clipped I’m afraid. Instead, I will have to content myself to nothing more than the ringing of bells and the sight of grey feathers among an illuminated morning sky.


The Open Road

The thing they never tell you about an open road is that while it’s a long way forward, it’s a much farther way back when you look over your shoulder and see how far you’ve
No turns, no budges or bumps or hills, it’s all just flat horizon trailing behind you. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that if you look back over your shoulder and squint your eyes just so, you can see exactly where you started out from. And that point will just sit there, watching you watching it, clucking to itself like the mother hen it is. Going on and on about how foolish you are for leaving when here there’s food on the table and a roof over your head and warm yellow windows smiling brightly at you, waiting to welcome you inside and wrap you up in a blanket all snug and cozy.

  I’ve never been fond of blankets. They always seem to feel like they’re smothering me. And they can itch something fierce. But the worst part about them is that if you stay under one long enough, it starts to feel like your lungs are filling up with the very fabric itself instead of air.

  My mother thinks I’m crazy. A good-for-nothing, lazy excuse of a son who just can’t seem to sit still, shut up and do what he’s told. And maybe I am. I mean, I never did care much for school. Sitting in a desk all day when I could be out doing anything and everything else, who would want that? In fact the only class I ever did like and pay attention in was Mr. McCarthy’s photography class. Now he was something that Mr. McCarthy. He said he’d traveled to every continent at least once, even Antarctica, that he’d been a photographer for National Geographic. Makes you wonder how he ended up teaching high-schoolers in a place as dusty as Rose Hill Tennessee.

  I asked him about it one time. He just sort of looked at me funny for a while before sighing and chuckling sadly to himself. Then he got real quiet for a while before saying,
“My Grandma talked me into it. She told me she wanted her only grandchild to be with her during her last years. So I moved here and I just haven’t left since.” I asked him why. He told me he didn’t know.

  It’s kind of funny because my mother never liked Mr. McCarthy. Or maybe it was that he taught photography, a class she never did approve of me taking. Or maybe it was both. But no matter how you slice it, the fact is she blames him for me wanting to travel instead of just going to community college. Just like my older brother. She also blames him for me not wanting to help her run the family general store, also just like my older brother. The problem is, I’m not my older brother. And why in God’s name would I want to spend my life in Rose Hill when I had an entire world to see? The itch to travel had been pumped into my blood stream and it became the definition of my ambition to get out and see all the world had to offer. Through my own eyes though, not just second-hand sources from other people’s pictures.

  My mother never did understand that. She never really understood me either. Called me ungrateful for not wanting the life she wanted me to want. But I’ve never been the type of person to listen to others and just grovel in submission. So I left.

  The thing they never tell you about an open road is how lonesome it is when you drive it by yourself. Everyone needs someone to talk to, it’s just human nature. But the thing is, I’d rather be on my own and going places I want to be than just stuck in a town that I didn’t want to be in and quite frankly probably didn’t want me there either. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that while it’s lonely, it lets you breath like you’ve never breathed before. It’s invigorating. It justifies every choice you’ve ever made. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that it is the definition of pure freedom.

  I still talk with my brother from time to time. He doesn’t really understand why I left, but he supports me all the same. My mother doesn’t know we still contact each other. My brother says she’s taken all my pictures out of all their frames. It’s like I never even existed he says. My name is now just as much a taboo to her as photography and McCarthy and travel and anything else she decides she doesn’t like.

Not that I mind. It’s good company to have my name compared to. And it’s her fault really. She forced me to make a choice. So I did.

vintage-steering-wheel  The thing they never tell you about an open road is that it sometimes is built with regrets and what-ifs and could-have-beens. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that when you’re looking over your shoulder back where you started, those regrets sometimes seem to rise up out of the ground and wrap themselves around your neck. It’s just like the blanket all over again. But I think the most important thing I’ve ever learned about an open road is that it is so easy to snap your head around, aim your eyes down the road and charge forward, leaving your starting point far behind you. Even though you can always see it, eventually it becomes just a dot in the background of a much bigger picture. And why would you choose to focus on that when you’ve got an entire horizon in front of you, an open road just waiting to be driven off into the unknown?