48: The Ghost Town Is A Cell Phone Tower For Now


Our doors have an alarm system that is on and works but isn’t programmed. It beeps when one of the doors has been opened, and a robot voice, female, says as if opening a door were the simplest thing in the world: “Front. Door.” or “Back. Door,” depending on which one is spinning on its hinges.

The alarm was like this when we moved in. We’ve never talked about getting it fixed. We don’t know how to work its high tech buttons, though I do like to run my fingers over their lit up plastic surfaces, hard but squishy at the same time. We’ve never talked about taking the system down and putting the two chalky, chunky wall fixtures in the recycling.

Maybe we both like the illusion of protection it provides, to us and our guests. Maybe we are lazy. Maybe we just don’t know what to do with something so foreign to our normal, base-level apartment experiences. What’s this, you want us to make a home?

Maybe we know we won’t live in this place long, so what’s the point? We are modern American nomads, gatherers, emotional pioneers, stewards of the land for all who come next—be it just a granite countertop and hardwood floor, sure. But this is all we’ve been left with so it’s wonderful because it’s ours. For now.

And as someone’s grandpa probably said once, or as I would say if I were a folksy old grandpa, “Now is won spelled backward, so don’t waste your prize by thinking about what might have been or what’s barrelling down the plains next. Life on the ropes is no life at all.” — (Yes, I think I’d be the type of grandpa to jump from one tired metaphor to the next and predictably always bring up boxing just because I think I’m supposed to and because the metaphors there are as easy as a sucker punch. Ya see?) — “Now, ask your grandma if dinner’s ready.”

I wonder if the person who lived here before us did the same thing, and before her the same, and again. Everything is different, but still we are the same. Could we trace the lines of lazy alarm-keeping through the generations of strangers who have lived in this home? Do you think the robot who lives inside the alarm system is bored, waiting like a genie for freedom or at least one new sentence to say? Do robot voices rent just like us? Is our alarm system’s one-sentence assignment the equivalent of a studio apartment as they “get back on their robot feet” after a “brutal” robot breakup? A respite?

His/her emotional turmoil means little to me as I scowl at the alarm box in the early morning, willing it to quiet down so as not to wake my sleeping husband. He’ll wonder why I’m leaving. Why I’m going out the “Back. Door.”

This was more of a concern when I would sneak smokes at sunrise. Now I head outside to smell the fresh air. Spring is confused, still going back to Winter, thinking maybe this time it will work out. She’ll get over it soon, poor dear. We’ve all been there.

The smell of cold air and wet ground takes me back to childhood, a mostly happy place where running around outside was something I got to do regularly, not a chore as it is now. A line item on the to-do list to scratch off for the dopamine rush.

This smell, this air, reminds me of the bunny hutch we kept at the farm near the baby calves. These bunnies, I’d eventually accept, were for stewing, but at the time, they were for ogling through the thin wire walls that kept them safe from marauding felines.

I didn’t love much about the farm, but I did love the bunnies. They were cute and fluffy, sure, but here’s what I loved most: To get to them, we needed our dad. We weren’t allowed to (and were no doubt too weak to, anyway) slide off the hutch’s wooden slab roof to reach in and lift out the babies.

Dad was always busy, but he’d take a moment to lift the roof off—“Top. Door.”—which always scared the poor rabbits underneath witless but delighted us kids because that meant next, he’d pull out a baby bunny to let us pet and inspect. We never were allowed to hold them ourselves. They were too fidgety and would escape our little sticky hands too easily, their assumed escape most certainly would lead to the paws of a hungry cat.

Dad would hold the tiny animal close to his chest and we’d run a finger or two over its folded back ears. I liked being close to my dad in these moments. How tender he could be to these bunnies. How present he seemed with us. How close. I loved the bunnies but mostly I missed my dad. I wanted him to come run around outside with us more.

A few months ago I was talking about how much I loved these bunnies and getting to haphazardly pet them between chores. However, my dad remarked he didn’t realize we still had the bunnies around when I was around. (Somewhere between my learning fractions and cursive and elapsed time, the farm got rid of the bunny hutch and its renters for good.)

At first, this hurt my feelings. How could he not remember one of my favorite farm memories?

And then—and this is how I know I’m getting older. Or at least more mature. Maybe it is time to settle down and buy a house—I did this:

I let it go.

It’s important to remember how easy it is to forget. I’m sure he has memories of me that I have no recollection of. None of it matters anyway. Just now.

There’s also this. I not only know the following about myself, I’ve admitted it to myself (two very different points on the roadmap of self-actualization): I have a tendency to dig out reasons to get mad at the people I miss. It makes the missing not so painful. It lets me focus on another pain. Most self-destruction is distraction. Most anger valid but unhelpful.

Distancing oneself is a learned behavior. 

I think it’s important listen to it, know which door just opened, I guess, but shut it again if you want to keep everyone inside whole. That’s what keeps us safe—not the alarm system or the diligent, passive, heartbroken robot—but the action, the human, the movement, the hands. The holding. Love is really forgiveness unconditional. 

I just have to sit with all those aggressive feelings sometimes and let all of the emotions ride themselves out. It’s like observing a black and blue storm pass overhead, fight itself down, from the safety of a covered porch or, as in my current case, a wooden stoop with a “Front. Door.” just mere steps away in case things get out of control.

I float like a butterfly who thinks this cocoon will do just fine. For now.


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