One night, during the first week of December, I came home after a therapy session and pulled a straight-back chair away from the kitchen table and sat down. All I wanted to do was sit there, looking at the view of the city lights. I was exhausted from the semester and couldn’t wait for winter vacation. I’d taught all day, had a quick bite to eat, then on to therapy. It was almost eleven. I had to get to bed--another long day at work tomorrow, essays to grade, classes to plan, meetings to attend--but I continued sitting there, my hands jammed in my coat pockets. I glanced around my studio apartment, at the unlit candle on the coffee table in front of the small couch--a love-seat with just enough room for me to lie down alone.
My life. I was almost forty years old and completely stopped. Done-in. Done-with. Stopped.
I took off my coat and sat up straighter. I meditated, focusing on my breath.
After what I gauged to be about twenty minutes, I got up and went into the bedroom and opened the closet. I found the paper bag. Inside was a framed photograph of my parents.
I sat in the chair again and stared at the black and white photo, at my mother who was eighteen, at my father who was twenty-two. 1946, before they were married, before they had children. A friend had taken the picture of my parents as they walked down Harrison Street in Oakland, California, one foot forward, the other foot back, in perfect symmetry. My mother looked straight ahead, her mouth slightly open; she must have been talking. Her eyelids were lowered as if she knew a sweet secret. My father's head was turned toward her, attentive. They looked relaxed and happy. For better or for worse, they were matched.
I stood up, walked to the sink and splashed water on my face, wiping the tears away with a paper towel. I went back and sat in the chair. Sitting there was helping me figure something out.
I looked at the photo. My parents were once two young people hoping for the best, wanting to love and be loved.
Their marriage had not turned out for the better. They had hurt their children and themselves. I was their child, but I was also me, someone trying to grow up. When would I grow up? How long was it going to take?
I imagined my parents, just starting out, walking down a street holding hands, before they knew what a disaster their match would become. Part of the disaster was that they had not grown up; some essential growing in each of them had never taken place.
Instead of all the other muddle of emotions, I only felt compassion. In that moment, a trapdoor opened and I climbed up, out of self-pity, out of the past.
I looked out at the span of lights across the Bay Bridge, the lights of the cars going towards love or trying to find love. The light in the windows of the buildings, houses, apartment complexes--so many people wanting the same thing, love. I thought about some of my students who were in exile, from Cambodia and Vietnam and Iran, forced to leave their countries, their families. I thought of the suffering everywhere, how suffering was as constant as love. I was connected to it, to everyone, to the world.
To my parents, most of all.
I had wanted my parents to change. I could only change myself.
I set the photograph against the vase of flowers on my kitchen table. I threw the paper bag away.
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