Still East of Eden


July 23, 2016
Vienna Elementary. That’s Vy-anna. In a few weeks, Paul and I will walk Oh Emily down the halls to her 3rd grade open house and in our minds we will remember when Lauren met her 3rd grade teachers. And we will remember that Grace’s first open house at Vienna was for 3rd grade since we had just moved to this neighborhood. Between the 3 girls, we’ve been constant at Vienna since fall 2007. The technology has been updated, the cafeteria has nearly doubled in size, and teachers and principals have come and gone. But it won’t take hardly a split second to mistake Emily’s little hand in mine for the long lost hand of Grace or Lauren.
Beach week for the Mauks and Lauren’s +one, Jayden. I’ve spent the week re-reading East of Eden by Steinbeck for the third or fourth time. Paul gave me this book in 2003 to occupy me on our drive home to NC from our 18 months in Seattle. I’m not a reader, and I remember being overwhelmed thinking I’d never finish this 600 page book. But with 2500 miles ahead of me, there was an awful lot of distance available to insult Paul’s gift giving if I didn’t at least try to read part of it. And just like Vienna, the beach and John Steinbeck are no respecters of my memory. As I read a page now at Myrtle Beach, SC, I expect to look up and see Paul dressed in western gear and me as a floozy having our olde timey photo taken on day 3 or 4 of the journey somewhere in Yellowstone 13 years ago.
The future is full of unknown. But the past is set. Determined. Unchangeable in its definiteness. But in a moment before turning the page, I can close my eyes and hear the ocean roar, and wonder if the roar is from now or is it from years ago because the sound is the same. I can call up a memory from wherever it hides down inside me and I can twist the past, repaint it, trim it to fit whatever box I need it to fit. I can smooth and press the rough edges and wrinkles so only the pleasing smiles shine back at me. And I’ll shred the hem along the bottom if I’m wanting, no needing, to rework unfinished business of yesterday. And if melancholy and regret are my targets, my laser focus of selective memory knows just how to ignore the redemption I’d rather not see. And you’d better believe I’ll dog-ear the corner of that thought so it’s easier to find next time I look for it.
Y’all. This just happened. Lauren just asked “do you remember the year Daddy got a speeding ticket on the way to the beach? Mommie never would have gotten a ticket!” Yes Lauren, let’s think on these things. Ahh, that’s a memory I’m gonna just leave as it is. No need to bend that one out of shape.
I’m drawn to East of Eden because it’s all about remembering what has happened before and choosing to do it all over again or not. Steinbeck stresses timshel, thou mayest. Thou mayest choose to bless or curse others. Thou mayest choose to bless or curse yourself. Thou mayest choose to accept and believe the blessing or curse of others. At this point, Paul isn’t sure if he blessed or cursed me or himself by giving me that book. Reading 600 pages takes such a time commitment that once I start, I just can’t stop. And like I’ve been a golf-widow, Paul becomes a Steinbeck-widower. Thou mayest be a blessing or a curse.
We’ve been cursed by separation and we live with the scars from not only our own self mutilation but by daggers thrown by friends. And we are daily blessed by reconciliation and just moving on. And speaking of self mutilation, Grace’s bikini doesn’t cover old cutting scars, but My Gorgeous chose to go without her wigs at the beach with the pixiest of pixie cuts peeking out from under a headscarf. And I actually borrowed her hair brush and hair conditioner yesterday when mine ran out. And though my often-bald girl and I haven’t shared much in the way of hair stuff since Trichotillomania started, we have shared tears. So I’ll count a pixie and hair supplies as a blessing.
And then there’s that preemie who was still in the hospital the evening of Grace’s kindergarten open house and for many days after. But she isn’t cursed by preemieness anymore because now she is blessed as a rising 6th grader rising almost as tall as me. And her bike accident in the creek was nearly the death of her, and we sure don’t want any more hospital stays, and her head will always be lumpy from surgery, but I’m blessed to watch My Lovely ride her bike now without fear in her heart or mine.
And Emily was in my tummy when Lauren had her accident so you could say she helped me pull Lauren out of the creek to safety. But instead of being cursed by the creek before birth, Oh Emily has turned that around into a blessing by having more fun pulling salamanders and crawdads and frogs and toads from that creek. And Emily finding a new critter in the creek replaces the memory of a really bad season with the joy of a little girl discovering nature.
And I think back on all of it and choose the redemption sometimes and the melancholy other times, and I don’t so much mind the wrinkles and the rough edges when I get to see the smiles, and if I’m ever ready I’ll maybe do over that tore up hem. There’s plenty of blessing to go around, and I claim them as true because I know they are. And the curses have a way making themselves known, but I don’t have to believe them.

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