What every girl except m.., p.12
What Every Girl (except me) Knows, p.12Nora Raleigh Baskin
I’d only lost a memory, only the story, and a story is something you could find. It’s got to be all in there somewhere, a dream, like a mystery of the mind. You just need to know where to look. Or how.
What if I could? I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Had I spent so much time keeping lists and journals when all along I could have been looking?
“What if I could just go and look for her?” I think I said that out loud.
The feeling welled up inside me like a huge possibility. It gave me a tremble inside like when you’re standing on top of a very high ladder, looking down, feeling like you’re going to fall, knowing you are probably going to fall, but wondering all the same if maybe you could fly.
“Well, when I’m looking for something I’ve lost, I try all the places I usually put things,” Taylor said. She stopped coloring.
“I run around the house like crazy tearing everything apart, pulling out drawers, throwing things on the ground,” I said.
“I ask my mother where she put whatever I’m looking for, because she is always moving things and then I can’t find anything.” Taylor had closed the coloring book now.
“Well, after I’ve tried everything else, I go back to the place I know I last had it,” I said.
Taylor’s mother had long since picked Taylor up, Stouffer’s mac and cheese dinners had been microwaved and eaten, and everyone had gone to bed. But not to sleep. At least not me.
I lay in my bed and listened to my eyelashes fluttering against my pillow. I flipped around, stuck out my feet, and pulled them back under the covers. Left side, right side. Stomach. I tried to conjure up the image of a mother, my mother, walking out of a New York City apartment building. Pushing a stroller? Carrying her pocketbook over her shoulder? Apparently the mystery of my mind was a blank. I would have to go back. Literally.
I took my photo album off my shelf and fumbled through the pages. Here. It’s here. I ran into my brother’s dark room and told him my idea.
“You want to do what?” Ian asked me, rubbing his eyes.
“I want to go to four thirty-five East Seventy-ninth Street,” I repeated. “It’s right here. It’s the address. It’s where we lived when our mother died.”
I was holding her driver’s license, which, I remembered, had an address on it. Her address. Our address. I was waving it in my brother’s face, a face that had been sleeping just a few seconds before.
“What do you want to do that for? That’s ridiculous.” Ian sat up and flipped on the light beside his bed, a black light. It didn’t brighten the room much but all his posters came to life, reaching out from the walls in lime greens and pinks. It made the white T-shirt Ian slept in glow like it was plugged in.
“I just want to,” I said. “I want to go back to the last place I know she existed; at least for me. Maybe you, too. And see if I can remember anything.”
I sat down on the floor. I crossed my legs, like a kindergartner at circle time. “I mean, there’s got to be something way deep in my brain. Rhonda Littleman did a report on that called ‘The Mysteries of the Mind.’ Everything you’ve ever seen or said or done is in your brain somewhere, even if you can’t remember it.”
“Rhonda Littleman?” Ian said sarcastically. “I guess this really is serious.”
“Never mind,” I said as I stood up. “I don’t even know why I came in here. I just thought you’d be interested. I’m going tomorrow. On the train. Don’t tell Dad. Anyway, he’s got his first-Saturday-of-the-month class. I’ll be back before he even gets home.”
Ian grabbed the shirt of my pajamas as I started to leave. I could feel his fingers on my back where he held on. His touch was startling. So unfamiliar. Ian never touched me.
“How are you going to do this?” he demanded.
“I just am,” I said.
“How are you even going to get to the train station? It’s in Poughkeepsie,” Ian said. “It’s half an hour away. By car!”
“So?” I said, just like Oprah recommended. This time it worked. Ian had no response.
I walked back to my room. I crawled under my covers, which I had left warm but were now empty and chilly. At some point I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember it was Saturday morning.
The sun was clearly shining. In the flooding water over our lawn the sky was reflected as glassy blue, even formations of white clouds could be seen by looking down at where the ground used to be. I was planning my trip. I had Plan A and Plan B. Plan A: Call the cab company and find out how much it would be to get to the train station from New Paltz. And B: If a cab was too much, go into town, forge my dad’s signature, and cash one of my U.S. savings bonds. Then call the cab company. Then go to the train station. Then go to New York. Then find apartment. Come home.
“Will you be home today?” My dad’s voice startled me from my reverie.
I turned away from the window and saw my dad. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and his briefcase under the same arm.
“It’s the first Saturday of the month. I’ll be at the college all day,” my dad said resignedly. “We’ve got to review portfolios.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“Well, the reviews are boring and listening to the other faculty talk about the reviews is even more boring, but other than that it’s loads of fun,” he said. He put down his coffee and looked at his watch.
“Then why are you going?” Ian was up unusually early for Ian. He walked into the kitchen and had his eyes on me.
“Why?” My dad began to answer. “To make a living, that’s why, and besides, I have nothing better to do with my time since…since…you know.” He cut himself off.
He wouldn’t even say her name. So I shouted it inside my brain—Since CLEO.
And then I shouted ME inside. So quietly.
ME, Dad. ME. Look at me.
“I’ll see you when I get home,” my dad said, then kissed the top of my head.
“Bye, Dad,” I said.
As soon as I heard my dad’s car leave the driveway, I turned to Ian and said, “I’m still going. Don’t try and stop me.”
I had prepared myself for Ian to make fun of me. To dismiss my mission as so dramatic and ridiculous that only I could have thought of it. I know that if he had done that, he might have convinced me. I might have chickened out. Then how many things would never have happened the way they did?
“I already called Paul and asked him to drive us to the train,” Ian said. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the machine Dad had just flipped off. I tried to think if I had seen Ian drink coffee before. “Hurry and we can catch the eight fifty-five.”
“We?” I asked once and not again.
I needed Ian and I knew it. And he knew it.
The train rocked us back and forth and clicked over the tracks like a metronome counting out measures.
I was afraid to look at Ian.
The round-trip tickets cost us each $24.24. The taxi to the apartment on 79th Street would probably be another $5 or $10, Ian figured. We could walk back to Grand Central, and with food and maybe a drink this whole thing was costing. Really costing.
As we moved farther and farther away from Poughkeepsie (Ian was right, I could never have walked to the train station, even with two days’ supplies and a sleeping bag), I watched out the window streaked with grease, inside and out. We were passing through towns so quickly I could hardly focus on the lives taking place on the platforms, people waiting, strange faces seen and then gone. We were on the Croton/Harlem express straight to 125th Street and then Grand Central, New York City. Ian and I were facing backward; in front of us a businessman sat hidden by his newspaper. He, facing forward. I heard voices all around, some louder than others; male, female, all muffled and mixed together by the drone of the train.
I leaned my face against the cold window frame and started singin
I was singing a song that was popular on the radio. Inside my head, I was pretending to be onstage with a microphone. I used to want to be a singer…before Ian told me I sing off-key. Now I kept my dreams to myself.
Ian had told me I sing off-key and here I was, and there was Ian. I lifted my face off the window and turned to look at him. Ian was watching me.
“Sorry,” I said. “I forgot.”
“For what?” Ian asked.
“I sing terrible and it bothers you,” I reminded him.
The man behind the newspaper rustled his section. He turned the page over, snapped it into place, and was still again.
“If I tell you the truth about that, you won’t get all nutsy on me, will you?” Ian asked.
I didn’t want to swear or promise up and down, or anything that might appear “nutsy.” I nodded my head in agreement, then shook my head, realizing it might have looked like I was saying, “Yes, I would be nutsy.”
“Well, when we first moved to New Paltz, I was about seven or eight. You were maybe five or something. I didn’t ever want to go to sleep. I fought with Dad every night.”
Ian was still talking to me. I didn’t know where to look. I watched my hands in my lap, then a stain on the floor by my feet.
“I made Dad sing to me and then I screamed at him that he wasn’t singing the right song. The one she sang. I’d have these major tantrums and after a while he’d just rub my back, and he didn’t try to sing anymore and I stopped asking. That’s when he started telling us bedtime stories.”
Ian wasn’t looking at me anymore. He was seeing something else, I guess.
“So when you sing, it kind of pisses me off. I don’t know why,” Ian said.
I glanced over to the man behind the paper to see if he had heard the bad word; maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t. He didn’t move.
“You can sing,” Ian told me. “It sounds nice. You have a nice voice, actually. You don’t sing off-key at all. I wouldn’t even know it was you when you’re singing.”
My heart soared, but quietly, so as not to appear nutsy. I have a nice voice? Like my mother?
After 125th Street the train slipped into darkness underground. The other passengers began shifting around with movement; some gathered their papers, or reached for their coats, or ended their cellular phone conversations. We were almost there.
Ian nudged me impatiently. The start of all the activity on the train must have made him anxious, like the train was only going to slow down and everyone had to jump out.
“Get your backpack off the ground,” he said sharply. “We’ll be there in a minute.”
I didn’t argue; I obeyed. I had no idea what to do when we got off the train. The times we had taken the train before to visit our grandfather and Nana (when she was alive) we had been greeted at the platform by wide-open arms. Nana would wrap her arms around me, and I would be enveloped by her tiny body and the smell of her perfume that would stay with me long after she let go. No one would be waiting this time. No one even knew we were here. Except Paul, I guessed.
“Your return ticket is in your backpack, isn’t it?” Ian snapped. “Get it, before we have to get off.”
The train hissed loudly then jolted to a stop. There were lights inside the tunnel but it was still dim. Men and women burst out of the train as soon as the doors slid apart. Then the whole mob moved forward in one direction down the platform and up a long incline. Men dropped their newspapers into huge bins in the center aisle while others rummaged through and took them out. I saw the man we sat across from drop in his paper and hurry along without missing a beat.
Ian and I were swept into the singular forward motion. Each step took us up from the darkness, and when we entered the main lobby of the terminal, the room was grandly lit with crystal chandeliers. Marble walls and floors flashed with pink hues. The ceiling arched to the sky, a sky alive with stars and the magical men and beasts drawn between them. This was Grand Central Station. It was the first time I really saw it. Huge and hollow, filled with hundreds of people. But no one person here was looking for me, Gabby Weiss.
Each stone arch indicated what lay beyond it—LEXINGTON AVENUE, SUBWAY SHUTTLE, 42ND STREET, NORTH BALCONY, TRACKS 100−117. We spun around for a while, reading the arches that surrounded us, till Ian pointed.
“Let’s just get out of here so I can get my bearings,” Ian said. He started walking quickly toward one of the huge bowed openings, which led, hopefully, to the street we wanted. I had to quicken my steps to catch him. I could hardly keep up.
I had to reach out and take hold of Ian’s sleeve. Ian didn’t turn when he felt the tug of my pull on his shirt, but he slowed his pace.
I moved so near I could feel Ian deliberately lift his arm away slightly, and as usual he pulled his hand just out of reach.
Ian stood for a moment in the street with me beside him. Outside we were immediately hit by the harsh sunshine and loud city noises. People were in even more of a hurry out here, and there were more of them, dodging in and out between the others, cutting ahead by jumping off the sidewalk and scooting faster to get in front of someone else. There was no time to stand still, no place to if you wanted.
“What’s the address again?” Ian said. He had to shout.
“Four thirty-five East Seventy-ninth Street.”
Ian and I both squinted up to see the street sign ahead, but neither of us could make it out.
“Let’s start walking this way,” I said, pointing. “And if the streets don’t start going up, we’ll know we should be walking the other way,” I suggested. New York was no place to look lost.
Without a better plan, Ian agreed. We pushed our way to the end of the block and read the sign: 41st Street. “Wrong way,” Ian said. “Let’s cut over the avenue here.” He stepped down off the curb when the light said WALK in white letters.
Ian had us cross over to 3rd Avenue and head east. We passed 41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th and things started to quiet down. The streets were wider and there were less people. I finally was able to unhunch my shoulders and relax the feeling of being potentially lost and swallowed up by the crowds.
“We’ll walk to First Avenue and get a cab from there,” Ian told me.
I was admiring Ian’s confidence in finding the right direction as I followed beside him down the wide city blocks. Then, there was a river. Right in front of us. It was out of reach by at least two concrete sidewalks, a walkway, yellow barriers, and nothing less than a highway called the FDR, but there it was.
“Look.” I pointed.
“So?” Ian looked.
“A river, here in New York City,” I said as if I couldn’t believe it. “I wonder if our mother walked here and saw this river.”
I thought of myself and the steep walls of the Wallkill, the poison ivy growing along its banks, how I loved to watch the quiet water traveling by. Maybe this is why. Maybe I saw this river as a baby, with my mother.
“We didn’t live anywhere near here,” Ian said coldly. “We’ve got forty blocks to go. You really didn’t think this through very well, did you?”
“Oh,” I said.
We walked about midway up the block, then stopped. “Why are we stopping?” I asked.
“We can’t walk there and back and be back in time for the train. I’m getting us a taxi, remember?” Ian snapped. He was obviously losing patience with me. “You would have been completely lost,” Ian said.
I wasn’t going to follow him anymore.
“Do you want to do this?” I said. “’Cause you’re acting really mean, like you don’t want to. So…I don’t think you should. You don’t have to go any farther. I can go by myself.”
Ian lowered his taxi-hailing arm. A few cars went by, a string of buses, and a lot of cabs before Ian answered
“You know, I do want to do this,” Ian said, softening his voice. “I guess…I guess…I’m a little nervous about it.”
I thought then, I thought for the very first time, What if Ian has a list, too, a list of “things I need a mother for”? What if he has his own stash of Styrofoam marigold containers in his closet? I supposed he did. Or something like that, something he never told me about.
Just then he spotted a cab on our side of the street and waved his hand at the driver. I opened the door of the cab and scooted over. Ian told the driver the address of where we wanted to go.
“Seventy-ninth Street,” Ian said, leaning forward toward the Plexiglas divider and speaking clearly. “Between York and First.”
“How did you know that?” I asked Ian. “Between York and First?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
The cab took off through the streets and the traffic. This part of New York was more residential. Here, children walked beside their mothers, people had dogs and bags of groceries. There were window boxes and flowers on the front stoops. There were trees. Just as I had imagined.
The numbers of the streets got higher—61st, 62nd, 63rd… We headed uptown. Ian was keeping his eye on the taxi meter, which was also getting higher. $5.30…$5.60…$5.90.
“You can let us off at Seventy-seventh—right here is fine.” Ian leaned close to the divider as he spoke to the driver again.
“Whatever you say, kid.” The driver swerved the taxi over to the curb to let us out. I was fishing inside my backpack for my money. I should have begun looking earlier, as the numbers of the streets got closer to 79th. I was frantic. I had barely unzipped the top when Ian brushed my efforts away.
“I got it,” he said. Ian handed the driver a five and two ones from his front pocket. He’s taking care of me, I thought, and we got out.
I wished I could say, when I stepped out of the cab, that this felt like home. “This is my neighborhood,” I might say. But it was as unfamiliar as could possibly be.
We had been let out at the corner, where a little grocery store stood. Fruit lay out on a shelf leaning right into the sidewalk. It was filled with all colors and shapes of things to eat. One big bucket of fresh flowers stood beside it on each side. Food hung from baskets hooked onto the awning above, peanuts and dried beans.
What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Nora Raleigh Baskin / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes