“Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of all! The brooding and blissful halcyon days!”- Walt Whitman
I mostly find Whitman quotes pedestrian. But I think in this case, it fits my summer goals. This is my first summer staying at school, away from home. I am finally taking a poetry class! I want to paint the sky a shade of aquamarine and the Josephine Blossom House as white as driven snow. Arthur Wade, my boy-friend is on campus for baseball and my friend, Bonnie Fredrick, and I’ve been sharing a room in the Josephine Blossom House, because she is taking a calculus class.
I have no reason to feel alone.
Before college, I was a Bobby Soxer who loved Frank Sinatra, root beer floats, and the poems of Hilda Doolittle. I wanted nothing more than a poet. I wanted to end up surrounded by the smart set, drinking sherry and reading my works. I would see my name displayed in the pages of the New Yorker. I’d have dinner with Frank Sinatra and he’d sing my verse as songs. And while it sounded fantastical. But my brother, Jamie, got drafted and I wrote a poem about it for my Junior High writers’ club. The poem got around town and I was published in a local book of Erie poets at fourteen. As far as I knew, I could claw my way up to the top.
But when I think about being a poet now, I imagine Ozymandias– his trunkless body, eroding in the sand, as time turns us all to ruins and rips the context from our words. I decided the day I left for college. My older sister, Biddy, was waiting for me in the car. My little sister, Anne, was rifling through my clothes, hoping to keep something for her wardrobe.
“Biddy’s already packed,” my mother said from the doorway.
“Are you nervous, A chroi?” I nodded and told her all about how I am worried about the Chaucer class, a requirement for the Poetry major.
She held up her hand “We talked about this, Claire. I know you are a good writer. But college is a time for reality. I just don’t think you’re New Yorker material. I think you need to start thinking about your future.
Have you thought of majoring in something like more… sensible?”
I turned to Anne and told her she can keep my Auden and my H.D. “But Jamie gave those to you…” she protested. But I raised my hand to stop her. I told her mom is right about being practical. To Trust that those around you to know what’s best for you.
So what do the ambitions of a grownup named Claire Cait Byrne look like? To be a school teacher of modest means and to marry well off. Concisely, a simple life and to be loved.
And, because I’m a good Irish Catholic, to live a life of piety and chastity. To live in joy, even if it’s restrained, because sometimes, life’s worst moments come to you when you least expect it.
How can you continue to take in oxygen when your entire world has changed? When you find yourself at the seams of a bursting light that spreads across the universe. The explosion that sets the world in motion. How can you breathe after that?
Arthur and I went up to the family cabin for weekend away from school with my whole family. Sunday morning, I woke up with my red locks are stuck to my pillow with sweat. I tumbled over myself to reach the bathroom. When I got there, I coughed and all I have eaten leaves my body. I convulsed with every ounce of my being. I sat on the empty floor in the cabin bathroom. My tears splashed against the porcelain as I attempted to stand on jell-o legs. A knock came at the bathroom door.
“Hey Claire, you alright in there?” It was Anne’s little voice, all 16 years old and full of oxygen and moxxie.
I stood up a little woozy in the head. Then I heard Biddy’s voice calling us down to breakfast and I heard Arthur’s lilt, rambling about how he knows how to cook eggs.The smell of the eggs smacked my olfactory bulb and suddenly I stuck my head in the toilet again. I told Anne that I was going to skip breakfast. I could hear my parents coming back from their morning swim. My lungs fill with dread instead of air. I sat back down on the floor of the bathroom. And I realized I was alone. Tried to play it off like it was nothing but a touch of flu. But I went to the barn dance party last week with Bonnie and Arthur, and I had to run out sick there, too. This time everyone saw.
Am I supposed to pretend nothing is different?
I am aimlessly jealous of Bonnie Friedrick. I look at her and sometimes I think about the girl I was. When I had this madcap love in high school with this boy whose father owned the hardware store around the corner. All I wanted to be was a poet. I look at Bonnie and I think is what ever happened to the Bobby Soxer? Did she go down with my brother’s plane over the Pacific? Did she erode like Ozymandias over time? Will she ever come back? I am certain she won’t now. I choose to bury her, too. One cannot be childish and have a child.
What will I always remember from today? The colors of the baseball house. To quote H.D. “Amber husk fluted with gold.” Such a hue paints your brain with memories associate your. Someone takes the canvas of amber fluted with gold and paints your most strange day with it. My smile, which endlessly stretches to find sweetness in my voice. Because honey in the trembling voice sounds beautiful. The thud of a flask.
A calloused hand wrapping mine up. And the sound of Arthur’s voice. I cannot remember his words; they become a ringing in my ear. But at least the sound was kind.
I will remember this H.D. poem I kept thinking of. “Beautiful, wide-spread, fire upon leaf, what meadow yields so fragrant a leaf as your bright leaf?”
And the cold dread wash over me when Arthur told me he had no money.
How no wind stirred the grass and no breeze could move the hot blanket of air.
And this memory I had of breaking up with my old boy-friend, Harry Wenworth. Harry was standing in front of me, but I was behind my dorm room window. His face and the daffodils in his hands were wilted. Biddy is there with her roommate, Irene, and my roommate, Rosemary. Biddy snarled as she looked at him. “Look at him!” I looked at Harry and our eyes met. “His dad’s got a hardware store on the corner of Main and Forrester. And him… he’s working at the dry docks! He’s not even going to school. You think he’s gonna give you the life you want?” She scoffed and waved snarkily at him then closed the curtain. Rosemary stormed out. I peeked out the curtain but Harry was gone. Biddy stroked my hair as I cry. “Claire, listen. One day, you’re gonna meet someone on your level. Someone sophisticated and charming. Who’ll give you the life you deserve and the live your future children deserve.” If she could see me now!
But mostly, I will remember feeling the swish in my stomach.
I should not feel alone. I have no reason to feel alone. I am choosing to bury the Bobby Soxer. And be someone else entirely.