Read more about this project here.
Day 1 (July 10)
If you look closely, you can see the round circles where the futon legs used to be. It hadn’t been there for long, only a month since I’ve moved into this new apartment. It still wore its way down into the carpet.
It wasn’t a great futon. The cheap vinyl that covered the seat was starting to split from use and the Texas heat. It wasn’t that comfortable. But it had been my home base for grading, reading, Netflix watching. And it had been free, like so much of my furniture has been over the years.
Even now, I look around my apartment and I see things that I’ve adopted as friends have moved on, upgraded, discarded. I was there, arms outstretched. Being a perpetual student requires perpetual thrift.
My propensity to take what others give is not solely practical. I like looking around and being reminded of the kindness of others, seeing how I have been cared for through castoffs. But occasionally there comes a time to say goodbye to the old and tired, let bygones be, and get something new. Something that is chosen, purchased, wanted. Something that is mine.
The new couch comes on Thursday. I can’t wait.
Day 2 (July 11)
Buc-ee’s is the ultimate Texas road trip pit stop. Too big, too many options, too much merchandise, but the best bathrooms on I-35. My parents taught me the value of choosing your rest stops wisely on road trips.
Multiple people have said I’m a good road trip companion. I attribute this to the practice I got as a child, when my family would make the drive from South Dakota to Florida each May. We would brush our teeth in Georgia, and we three kids would sleep in the back of the van while mom and dad took turns driving through the night. 31 hours after we left the prairie, we’d arrive, unpack, go grocery shopping, and then head to the beach for the sunset. We’d also drive to Montana many summers, leaving the prairies behind again for mountains and evergreens. The Kelms vacationed well. And drove.
In college, I had to fly to see my family, but my friends and I would spend the summers driving to each other: Medford, St. Helens, Vancouver, Newberg. After my sister started college in Seattle, I would trek north and sleep on her dorm room floor.
A few years ago, my brother and I and all of my earthly possessions I could fit in my Camry (packed to the brim) drove from Portland to Waco: through mountains and deserts and ravines and nothingness. Another epic trip, in terms of miles, landscape, and emotions. In that car, he told me he was going to ask his now-wife to marry him.
Everything is far in Texas, and I found road trip buddies in grad student friends. I’ve road tripped to places like Fayetteville, San Antonio, and Huntsville. Last summer, the drive back from a wedding in Montgomery became a trip to see the ocean in Mobile and eat beignets in New Orleans. We ate the leftovers in a Buc-ee’s parking lot in Houston at midnight, the wind throwing the powdered sugar in our faces.
Yesterday, I road tripped with three friends from Fort Worth to Austin to see a writer give a one-hour talk. Our trip was extended by massive accidents that closed the interstate, but we stopped at Buc-ee’s on our way, and I sent this photo to my parents, an image of one of their favorite Texas places. Kelms know good rest stops make good road trips. They’ve taught me well.
Day 3 (July 12)
I fly more than I road trip these days, given that the people I love are spread from coast to coast and way up north. By the end of the summer, I’ll have taken two flights west, one north, two northeast, and two southeast in the past year.
On every flight I’ve taken, I always have a moment when I face the reality of this choice I’ve made. I’m miles upon miles up in the sky, hurtling through clouds, sitting too close to strangers in a metal bird, piloted by a person I’ve never seen. Often, this moment occurs when the bird starts to shudder, buffeted by wind… I guess? I don’t really understand turbulence either.
As I wrote that, the seatbelt light just went on and the flight attendant just told everyone to return to their seats. I’m about to have that moment, that “why do we do this” moment, that “what am I doing up here” moment. People are not supposed to fly. Will our flight be punished for humanity’s hubris by the turbulent gods?
The plane stabilizes, and the map says we’re above the Tennessee/Kentucky border. Out the window all I see are pinpricks of light. I got into this plane in the heat of Texas; I’ll leave it in the middle of the Boston night; and all I did was obediently sit in my seat, listening to my podcasts and drinking my complimentary ginger ale.
Flying seems wholly disconnected from the dirt, barely connected to the body. No wonder we say souls soar when they travel. Flying is mysterious, unseen, even slightly imaginary. It feels unknowable. It feels like magic.
Then the plane rocks gently in the sky and I remember how humans are not meant to fly. But we are meant to love, and wonder, and wander. So I’m in this crazy metal bird that I’ve decided to trust to carry me to Maddie, and Lillian, and Jessie, and Stephen. I don’t understand how it works, but I don’t really care. The privilege of flying reminds me how we often get to places in ways we don’t understand, our bodies and souls along for the ride.
Day 4 (July 13)
This little girl loves maps. Last night, she learned the word “symbols” and then went through each individual symbol in the legend on the map of the art museum. Her mom patiently explained what each symbol represented and they found each one on the map: the elevator, the stairs, the bathrooms, the gift shop.
I could say something philosophical about that, about place and location and direction. But mostly it was cute and sweet, and I loved seeing this little girl excited to learn new things. Just yesterday I was holding her week-old body, and now she explains maps to me. She embellishes a bit, but I think the art museum would benefit from her architectural vision. Every art museum would be vastly improved by the addition of boats and trains. She and I both think so.
Day 5 (July 14)
I don’t spend a lot of time with babies in my daily life. The majority of my time is spent with fledgling and more established adults. Oh, and books. But when I’m in Boston, it’s all about the babies.
Facebook tells me that eight years ago, this beautiful woman and I were at a Harry Potter midnight movie premiere in our small college town. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in that space, with my perpetual student/teacher lifestyle. I come to Boston to be reminded of how much time has passed, to see those little girls who weren’t even in our dreams eight years ago.
My job takes me into the past and has me imagine the future: what do my students/field/colleagues already know? What can I learn and teach them for the future? Sometimes I forget it’s also about the present, the people and ideas and challenges and fears and hopes right in front of me.
Being around babies teaches me about the present. Lillian feels in the moment. She is amazed or thrilled one second, is upset the next, is suddenly irreparably tired the next. She exists in each particular moment, fully and completely.
This photo is a beautiful, perfect moment tied to the future and the past. Looking at it, I see Lillian’s mom, my best friend, and I see that incandescent smile I’ve loved for a decade. I imagine the future, who Lillian will become, and where, and why, and how I can be there for all of it.
Mostly, though, I see the moment: a Boston evening, the sun setting, Jess laughing, Lillian crowing and flapping her arms, me storing the memory away.