in all the years that we’ve been pulling up chairs, it’s become more than cloudy clear, i’m certain, that i tend to be a nesty girl, a girl who sinks her roots down deep, and doesn’t yank them lightly.
so bear with me while i tell you the tale of why it is i am apartment hunting nowadays, and what in the world three-dot plates have to do with that far-flung adventure.
i suppose the time has come, at last, to let you all in on what had been a secret, but now is seeping out, so it’s not a secret anymore. (i can imagine the pounding in your hearts as you worry where this is going; fear not, no need for worries.)
but let’s begin at the beginning, where most stories do begin, and turn the clock back to a dark december day.
there i was sitting at my typing pad in the newspaper tower, when i heard a ping ring out from the box that was my desk-top computer. i clicked and looked and saw there a missive from my lawful wedded mate.
seems he’d gotten a little email from some folks at a university in cambridge, massachusetts. they were asking him to apply for a fellowship, a journalism fellowship, one that gathers 24 fellows from around the globe, and one that would entail a one-year stint, thus lifting our whole little family out of our cozy chicago life and plopping us onto an unmapped one in cambridge.
kind fellow, decent fellow, my mate, he wrote back right away to say that he was deeply flattered but no thanks; we have a little fellow, a fifth-grade fellow, he explained, who could not be yanked from his life.
as a mere afterthought, this man i married, he sent this all along to me so i could smile and carry on with my otherwise ordinary day. or at least that’s what he thought i’d do.
but i did not.
i shot right back, “whoa, hold your horses there, buster. at least stop and think about it,” i implored. “is this not the manna from heaven that we’ve been praying for? peering skyward day after day, in search of sign of falling crumb?
“let’s at least ask the little guy, see what he has to say,” i begged, all but dropping to my knees.
and so we did: that night at dinner, we asked the 10-year-old lad what he’d think about moving away for just one year, moving, say, to massachusetts, so daddy and mommy might go back to college?
why, that brave old soul, he did not blink, nor flinch. he piped right up: “sounds great. i want to see the world.”
we explained every which way that this would mean he would not be here for sixth grade, nor for soccer on the team he loves, nor for spring baseball, nor friday night skate, his highlight of so many weeks.
no matter what we pitched his way, he batted it all away, stood fast to his determination that it was time to see the world.
so, as i scrubbed the dirty plates that night, it was my turn to come up with excuses why we shouldn’t leave. i wasted no time ticking off a long list of things i could not bear to leave behind: my three-dot plates, for instance. i’ve only four sets, and only scored them after tracking them down at a resale shop, after pining for them for 20 years. they’d been the plates i wanted back when we were getting married, but the architecture critic who would be my mate thought the dots got in the way. in the way of what, i’ve never quite determined. but the dotted plates went the way of the rose-covered bedsheets i’d once admired. one makes compromise when living with a design-steeped fellow, and i long ago realized our peaceful co-existence depended on my occasional surrender to his whims. so these plates, procured a full two decades post betrothal, they are the plates i pluck from the stack whene’er i need a ceramic boost.
and somehow, in that odd way my mind stumbles along, they came to represent the dividing line between the world i’d leave behind, and the one i just might dive into. what if they were cracked and broken while we were away? what if, whilst i was off in pilgrim land, they were accidentally expunged from the cupboard, and, upon return, i’d find myself without the proper spotted saucer to uphold my breakfast toast?
for more than a day or two, i weighed the choices here: go to harvard, play like a pig in mud, taking any class i could stuff into my braincells; or stay here in chicago, in the house i know and love, and eat off three-dot plates till the end of time.
in due time, i realized i was, frankly, an idiot to be debating such obstacles.
i surrendered to the adventure of it all, and cannot over-emphasize how that deep-down sense of grab-it-now-it-might-not-come-again has come to permeate, well, just about everything.
ever since, i’ve been living my days as if each one is a bit of a hallelujah christmas gift, a box wrapped up in shiny paper, with pretty bow and all.
it was, in fact, the rocket-booster oomph behind my thinking it was time to leave behind the newspaper life i had long loved. and right in here, with may and june and summertime swirling deliciously around us, it’s what propels me not to mind spending hours at the kitchen table, or perched on chairs outside, in the dappled light of the pine trees, chewing over a thousand ideas and stories with my college boy, now home for endless days and nights of sweetest-ever summer.
we had no idea, of course, whether embracing the adventure would lead to any sort of happy ending. had no idea, once the long and layered application was turned in, shipped off cambridge way, whether the deciding folks would pick the home-team architecture critic, slot him in the nieman class of journalism fellows for the school year 2012-2013. but, indeed, they did. he is the arts and culture fellow.
so here we are. poring over real estate ads, dialing up massachusetts realtors, searching high and low for a two-bedroom apartment in ZIP code 02138 or 02139. and before we’ve found a place to lay our sleepy heads, we’ve taken care of business and secured a slot on a cambridge soccer team for our little goalie. priorities, after all.
as for this old house we love, we have a beloved friend who will move in, hold down the fort here, watch over the three-dot plates, and the red-and-white checked chair, and the window seat i’ll miss.
and for one extraordinary year, i’ve come to deeply realize, i will make a new nest. i will come to know the rhythms of a new city, an extraordinary city, a city where i have always, always wanted to live. i will sit in classrooms, and stuff my brain with poetry and writing and divinity, and some of america’s great professors. i will tiptoe into the widener library, and deep breathe. i will walk home down cobbled streets, absorb the cacophony of a learned city.
and a week from today, we will board a plane, all four of us in our little adventure troupe, and we will pound the sidewalks, ring doorbells, and peek in cupboards and bathrooms till we find the place that we’ll call home for the next sweet year.
and maybe while away in far-off cambridge, i will stumble into yet another thrift shop, and lying there in stacks, i’ll spy a three-dot plate.
and i will know, through and through, that home is wherever you set the table. pull up a chair. and share your heartfelt stories.
so that’s the news of the week, and, fear not, you’ll all amble along with us on this fine adventure, as the chair will go on, and i’ll impart every week the finest things i’ve learned in all my college lecture halls. congratulations, we’re all going back to college.
p.s. next week’s trek is merely the apartment-hunting expedition. we don’t pack the wagons and head east till round about early august….