Things I Saw Today

-Three kittens playing with their mother’s tail.
-A man wearing a back-brace that looked kind of like a corset.
-Youtube videos of one of my heroes.
-Blog posts that have been open in the tab-bar at the top of my browser for days.
-The park outside my house, absolutely deserted because it was so freaking hot.
-“Bridesmaids,” the new Judd Apatow film.

Once in a while, I like making an actual effort to remember the day I’ve had. It’s refreshing.

Night Birds

Our apartment has huge windows in the adjoining kitchen and living room. It’s almost a balcony. Only it’s not. We have blinds that we lower and raise, depending on the hour, on how brightly the sun is shining, on how much privacy we want.

Big windows can be horrible if all you’ve got to look at is the inside of someone else’s house. If that’s the view you get, you have a sort of forced intimacy with whoever lives across – you know they see you, and you know that they know that you can see them. It can become very awkward, trying to time things right so as not to spy on each other. Maybe then you both become recluses and never catch a ray of sunlight.

We don’t have those kind of big windows. Ours overlook a relatively large oval-shaped park, surrounded by trees and lined by paths going around and through it. There are benches there where the Filipinos hang out and talk while their elderly charges sit, awkwardly, either unable or unwilling to talk with their peers. There are mothers and fathers walking strollers along the paths, trying to lull to sleep screaming babies, or maybe just sitting by empty strollers while their toddlers delight in the sandbox and the wooden pirate ship that dominates it. There are elementary-school kids and high-school teenagers walking to and from school every day, backpacks weighing them down, some in groups and some alone and some even more alone than the others. These are the things we see during the day.

At night, it’s harder to see. The lamps in the park are yellow and dim and sometimes blown out or simply not turned on. So we use our ears instead of our eyes. On some nights, we can hear teenagers sitting on the benches, whistling and yelling, the glowing red of their cigarettes the only light in the park. On other nights, it’s so silent out there that we long for a storm to come along, to thunder in the sky, to pour down rain so we can hear the tip-tap-drip on our windows.

The best nights, though, are when the night birds sing. We’ve never yet seen them, only heard them. Their cry is shrill, like a whistle, but it’s melodic as well. They seem to be yearning for something, missing something or someone so deeply that it hurts them. Their sound makes our hearts melt a little bit, and even as we smile and pause to listen to their lonely, beautiful cries, our hearts seem to tug at us, feeling a little sore and swollen all of a sudden. Our night birds let us share their desperate want for something unnameable, they nurture our longings, even if we don’t realize it’s happening.

I sometimes wonder if our night birds are like emotions – unseen, only heard somewhere deep, sometimes shrilly enough that it’s impossible to ignore them.

Mirror

Look in the mirror.

Who do you see?

Do you see yourself?

Do you see your parents?

Your brother or sister?

Do you see your friends, standing around you?

Or do you just see yourself?

I used to see myself.

I used to look in the mirror,

and see the truth.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw, plain as day,

the length of my hair falling over my shoulders

and the green of my eyes, lost sometimes in the gray.

I saw my mouth and my nose and my chin,

and my face as a whole.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw the length of my neck

and the breadth of my shoulders,

the collarbone always pronounced.

I saw the swell of my breasts

and my wide ribs that moved when I breathed

and my stomach rounding down

with the bellybutton right in the middle.

I saw the curve of hips and my thighs,

the length of my legs

with the knees looking funny

as they always do,

and feet with nice toes that weren’t too big.

Not good or bad,

just true.

Today,

I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore.

I see everything that isn’t there,

or the things that are there but too much.

I don’t notice my hair or my eyes,

except when I’m in a really good mood.

I don’t remember the good things behind the facade,

I obsess over details.

Not good,

Bad,

and true.

Only not really true.

But it’s hard to disbelieve an irrational truth.

I try not to look at mirrors much, anymore.

Warm Milk

When I was little, we always called it “warm milk,” even though it was really hot-chocolate. I don’t know why. Maybe “warm milk” sounds nicer, more wholesome somehow. To this day, though, I still think of it that way.

When I was little, in my grandparents’ home in Los Angeles, I had a cup with a screw-on top. It had handles, and the top was pink. I also had a yellow one, at some point, although I’m not sure which came first. The cup was clear plastic, with little drawing stenciled on it of butterflies and flowers. It was the kind of cup that adults love, because if it falls, very little can spill out of it in the time it takes for the fall to be noticed. It was the kind of cup I loved, too, because it was unique. I was the only one who drank out of it.

The taste of warm milk with chocolate Nesquick mixed into it brings me memories of that house where I used to drink out of that cup. The smell of the wooden floors in the kitchen seem to magically rise into my nostrils, as well as the smell of cleaning supplies that accompanied any late night in that kitchen, seeing as how my grandfather always cleaned the kitchen meticulously after dinner.

It is so strange, somehow, the way memories rise at such trivial moments, such as a regular Friday evening. The taste of warm milk is still in my mouth.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

Molly, Gas-Station Attendant

Molly blinked, sleepy eyes feeling slow and sticky, and tried to stifle a yawn. Failing utterly, she tried to hide the yawn behind her hand. It had been a long night, and Molly’s shift wasn’t quite over yet.

She silently cursed Thom, her boss, with the most colorful language she knew. He had convinced her to work the night shift a month back or so, promising that she would find the slight pay-raise well worth it. Oh, what a gullible fool I am, she thought.

A car pulled up to the self service lane. Molly sighed. Almost no one used the full service gas lane anymore. It made the night shift even worse – it was bad enough to be bored during the day with only a few cars to deal with every hour. During the day, at least, there were other workers around. The night shift was manned by one worker only.

Molly looked at her watch. 4AM. Two more hours to go. She cast a shift look around, and seeing that no one was there – the car had driven away from the other lane already – she plopped herself down on the curb and produced a book from her uniform’s back pocket. It was a cheap paperback romance novel, the kind that cost $4 if you bought it new.

Molly had been purchasing another of these books every day for the past month for 99 cents at the used book stall near her dad’s apartment. These books were what saved her from falling asleep on her feet, much like a horse, during the long, boring night shifts.

She opened the book at the page she’d folded down earlier and scowled. She’d finished about three-quarters of the book already. Damn, she though, I’ll finish it in less than an hour and then what will I do for the rest of my shift? Well, she resigned herself, I’ll figure that out in an hour, I guess.

An hour later, after quite a few jumps to her feet so she could look busy to the drivers pulling up, Molly closed the book with a guilty, girlie sigh. Rudolph had won Cathy over and Cathy understood just how wrong Patrick had been for her. All was right with the mushy, romantic world of Cathy Learns to Love.

Molly loved these novels. She loved the simplicity of the stories and the good feeling they left her with when she finished reading them. As a literature major at her local community college, she also felt a bit ashamed for loving the cheap romances, but not enough to give up her nightly saviors.

Molly still had fifty-eight minutes before she could walk the mile to her father’s apartment and sleep for a few hours before running to her classes. She sat with arms propped on her knees and chin leaning on her hands and let her thoughts wander.

Hopefully she’d be able to convince her boss to give her at least a couple day shifts a week. He was nice, in a gruff sort of way, and would probably agree if she begged him or pestered him enough.

Classes were still as interesting as they’d been in her first year – Molly was happy about that. She only had this ear and a summer term left and then she would officially complete her BA and then, hopefully, she’d get into publishing and do something with it.

Simon, her dad’s dog, was sick. The poor old mutt was 13 years old, and Molly knew he wouldn’t last much longer. It broke her heart to think that when she moved away after finishing her degree her dad wouldn’t een have Simon to keep him company.

Maybe I’ll get Dad a puppy as a gift before I move away, she mused. I think that’s a good idea.

Molly looked at her watch again. 5:04AM. Damn, she cursed, in the books people always get lost in thoughts for hours. With me? Two minutes.

She got up, stretched, and stuck her book back in her back pocket. The pocket was a perfect size for a small paperback book, and it made the whole uniform worth its baggy ugliness.

Looking around, Molly decided that she could risk going over to the Quick-Stop across the street for a couple minutes – there hadn’t been a car in the station for ten minutes straight.

Molly looked up and down the empty road and seeing no cars, crossed it rather slower than necessary. She laughed at herself inwardly. Crossing the street slowly wouldn’t really pass the time.

She pushed the door of the Quick-Stop open, and was greeted by a warm gust of air. It’s not fair that they have heating here, she fumed silently. Still, the warm air was soothing to her chilled face and hands. She was tempted to stay there until her shift ended, but knew it was no good. A car would probably come just when she wasn’t looking, and then she ran the risk of getting in trouble with Thom if he found out she hadn’t been there when needed.

Molly looked at the rows of snacks and chocolate bars on her right. She selected a box of cookies to take home to her father, who had a sweet tooth, and a small bag of potato-chips she could munch on back at the gas station.

She took her snacks to the cashier that sat at the back of the store. As she put the things down on the counter, the cashier looked up, and Molly couldn’t help but blink. My, my, she thought, here’s a real sweet!

The cashier was in his mid-twenties, with a shock of black curls that managed to fall to his shoulders without looking messy. His eyes, a deep chocolate brown, reminded her of a cat’s for some reason. He was clean-shaven, with slightly rounded cheeks and lips that were just a bit on the full side.

Molly had one wild moment in which she envisioned herself the heroine of one of her romance novels. The scene was set: her working at the gas station every night and stopping in at the Quick-Stop every hour to flirt with this young man who would, of course, ardently return her passions and pine for her until one night he’d reveal that he was actually an heir to a fortune and would whisk her away to Paris on a private jet, where they’d spend the rest of their days living in modesty and donation their fortune to the poor.

“That’ll be six bucks,” a nasal voice, slightly too high to be appealing, emerged from the man’s lips. Molly’s dream burst as she handed over the cash and headed out the door of the Quick-Stop.

She smiled with amusement as she crossed the road back to the station. A car was just pulling up to the full-service lane when she got there. As she filled the tank, she couldn’t help but giggle a little, earning an odd stare from the driver. Molly, Gas-Station Attendant, Learns to Love indeed, she thought to herself. As if.