She came into the world on an early Tuesday morning in spring, just as the sun began to stretch itself over the horizon. She once read in Oprah magazine how the season you are born in will always be your favorite. Your power season, the article called it. She doesn’t read Oprah anymore, but she likes to think that’s why she likes spring.
She considers spring and fall “shoulder seasons” to the more intense winter and summer. Although she never minds the cold and wet of winter as much as some of her friends, too much darkness can plunge her headlong into a deep, untouchable place. A place where she often loses track of herself and forgets the way out, like the longest mountain trail full of switchbacks and slippery boulders. Calling for help is a last resort and one she rarely considers. But no season feels more oppressive to her than the end of summer. Statistically, more homicides are committed in the unrelenting dog days of summer, a statistic she understands. The end of August is spent draped in front of an oscillating fan, imagining rain and staying away from annoying people and sharp objects.
If spring isn’t her favorite, it’s a close second to autumn.
Childhood birthdays on 60 degree days splashed with cotton ball clouds. Her favorite yellow gingham culotte and navy blue saltwater sandals. Picnics on the lake shore, sipping from cans of cream soda and ripping crusts from tuna sandwiches to feed to the ducks. And her favorite birthday dinner–Kentucky Fried Chicken, before the food rules became a staple in her life. Before the shame set in.
As soon as the tender, green shoots of the crocus push through the dirt, her heart quickens and the world feels less heavy. In spring, she can smell things growing. The smell of dirt erupting with new life. Even the rain has a different scent in springtime–like a cleansing baptism rather than a daylong deluge. Roadside medians and neighborhood gardens peppered with pops of violet primroses, yellow narcissus and later, clusters of pastel hyacinths, resplendent in their intoxicating perfume.
Spring weather is mercurial, like her moods. Nothing annoys her more than people commenting on the weather in spring. Can you believe this crazy weather today? they exclaim while she thinks to herself, well, what did you expect? Spring does its thing as it should–a brilliant spectrum of meteorological events from pelting hail to thunderous lightning to blinding sunshine and double rainbows, all within a few hours in a day. There’s a beautiful lack of monotony to a proper spring and she wonders why everyone is always so surprised when it behaves accordingly.
And year after year, the lilacs bloom on her birthday. She slips out to tug the branches close to her nose and breathe in their fragrance. That’s it, she thinks every year. That’s the smell of spring.
From an early age, she learned that spring was what hope smells like.
It took twenty-three years and a new boyfriend before she flew on an airplane. Partly because her family never traveled much and mostly because her roots grow long and deep into her home soil, she was never inclined to give flying a try. But the onset of early adulthood and the inklings of a fresh love brought with it the potential of adventure. For once, she wanted to be brave.
Her father loved flying and loved to regale anyone who would listen with stories of his flights back east to visit family. His normally tired eyes danced when he spoke of the roar of the jet engines. She watched him carefully as he demonstrated how to let one’s body go limp during takeoff. So you can fully absorb the energy pull he’d say. She wonders if she inherited her love of hydroplanes and drag racing and punk rock from her father’s fascination with expressions of energy.
While her mother warns her of the perils of flying, her father offers to drive her to the airport for her red-eye flight. Puffing on his Benson & Hedges as he drives, he meticulously checks off each detail of boarding passes and departure gates. Her stomach roils with nerves. She looks at her lap and fidgets with the hem on the skirt of her ivory wool suit–a special splurge charged on her Nordstrom card for this inaugural flight. It was late August–the week before Labor Day–and she hadn’t even considered the steamy east coast weather when she planned her flying attire. These were the days when people still dressed up for air travel. The days before shoe bombs and pajama pants and TSA body scans.
She sits at her gate and remembers Saturday nights spent at the airport with her older sister, watching planes take off and land, over and over and over again. Like magic. Chocolate and vanilla swirled Diary Queen soft serve cones on the way home.
She grabs her blue duffel bag as the boarding agent calls her row. Her father doesn’t offer a hug, but instead presses three Xanax into her palm and promises he will stand at the window and watch her plane take off. Just to make sure. Just to be safe.
She always feels her father with her when she flies.
THREE: NEW YORK CITY
It took twenty-three years and a new boyfriend before she made it to New York City. She had never before ventured off the west coast but New York City had forever held a certain allure for her. Her father, born in a coastal town of Oregon, often spoke of his time as a young man in Manhattan. Boasting of his proficiency at navigating the New York subway system, spinning tales of his studies at Union Seminary, admitting his confused delight at being propositioned by gay men in Central Park. So many stories. Her father possessed an east-coast aesthetic that paralleled his liberal west-coast leanings. It was a combination that always made sense to her.
Her spiritual teacher once taught her to pay attention to visceral reactions to certain places. Notice what happens in your body, her teacher urged. She thinks of her aversion to Los Angeles and Arizona and places in the desert where life can’t be supported without artificial means. She begins to notice the waves of sadness wash over her when she visits friends in those arid regions. Every journey back to the Northwest her eyes predictably well with tears as the brown, lifeless hillsides transition to the rich, green forested peaks of her hometown. She remembers the way her shoulders and jawline release and how her breath feels fuller and richer when she spends time on the wild coastline of the Pacific. Her body is her teacher, if she allows it.
A lump of emotion rises in her chest at the first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline and the green sprawl of Central Park. The first time it happens she’s in an airplane and it startles her. She chalks it up to her relief at landing soon and brushes the tears from her eyes. But then again, on subsequent trips by bus and train. She doesn’t quite understand it like she understands the softening of her shoulders at the ocean’s edge or her exhale at the sight of her green forests.
Back west, she studies maps of New York City and learns its neighborhoods and boroughs. From faraway, the city skyline seems to dazzle with promise and sparkling secrets. Once on its streets, she leans into the city’s grit and guts. This is her favorite part. Feeling at once at home and completely lost, she dreams of a way to explain this to the people she loves so they understand. So she understands. She walks through Chinatown and Little Italy and into Soho, breathing in bouquets of rotting fish heads and capicola and flat loaves of ciabatta, pulled fresh from brick ovens. The people are friendly and straightforward. She feels seen but unseen and that brings her comfort.
Manhattan is perpetual motion. To idly stroll in Manhattan means to risk being swallowed. She appreciates the city that encourages her purposeful gait. She doubts she could ever live there, but imagines spending a week or two each year, perhaps in the springtime when the lilacs bloom in Central Park and she could wear more clothes and have time to linger at every painting at The Met.
Her children grow up and fall in love with the city as she did. Walking behind her son through Greenwich Village on a warm evening in late June, she glances up and recognizes the long legs and familiar stride. The purposeful gait. Tears puddle in her eyes. She remembers to listen to her body and feels at once hopelessly lost and at home.
She sees her father in her son on the sidewalks and subways of New York City.