Of time and the river

Time tends to pass me by. I’m late to things. I respond to an email and am surprised to see I received it weeks before, when it feels like days. I put off picking up the phone to call friends because I don’t particularly like talking on the phone and then somehow it’s been five years.

And yet this past month, during a roadtrip through the Ohio Valley, I was astonished all over again at the way time eddies around me. It had been four, fifteen, twenty-two years since I had seen some of the folks my husband and I visited–some of them close family. I’d like to think this was a big enough shock that it would initiate a system reboot, or something, and suddenly I’ll be the sort of person who just calls you when she’s thinking about you. But people aren’t computers. (If we were, I would totally go for a memory upgrade. Mine is super slow and frequently returns errors.)

The paradox of connection is that it might take years for me to reach out to someone, but it’s largely because the moments that make them meaningful to me feel ever present. Here are some of the ones from this trip, as a somewhat impressionist chronological recap.

  • Being handed a brimming mugful of hot toddy, iconic of the care and gentleness with which these friends treat even a sickly house guest;
  • Eating dinner around a family table that at one point felt like home to me, and finding that it still did–and that there was really no adjustment necessary for new faces, it just happened, it just was;
  • Everyone being tired, or sick, or distracted by spur of the moment real estate decisions, and it being totally fine and comfortable and somehow perfect to get takeout Thai and talk about nothing;
  • Hugging family for the first time in two decades and tearing up;
  • My five year old cousin hiding jingle bells inside my much-beloved late grandmother’s treasure box, so that when I picked it up to take it home the box rang out and instead of being sad in that moment we all laughed;
  • The tour of the chocolate factory and the tour of the house, everywhere present the work of hands lovingly crafting;
  • Nibbling on spicy arugula while picking kale and beets in the sun and drinking the coldest beer;
  • Toasting marshmallows while the sun set over the lake and the full moon rose orange over the marina;
  • Making total singing fools out of ourselves, for love;
  • That steely-eyed, coldly-reasoned, absolutely cutthroat game of Jenga;
  • Proving that yes, Steve, this family can eat that much Chinese food;
  • And a brilliant double rainbow after the storm.

During this trip we saw Genius, the sort-of biopic of Thomas Wolfe. While the book of his that I love is Look Homeward, Angel and not his second epic volume Of Time and the River, they share themes of the circularity of time and of the insatiable human need for connection. Though I didn’t like much about the movie I was impressed at the extent to which both themes were folded into the narrative itself. It resonated particularly because this trip, for me, was like stepping back into the river at a point I thought I’d left behind and finding it unchanged. You’ve heard this analogy before, of course, and I know as well as you do that it’s never truly the same river twice. Often I think I write as a way to try to dam it. That never works. Time is slack sometimes and then it floods; all I can do is sketch a moment to remember the feel of it.