I had a great idea in the car. The title was perfect and the subject was engaging and interesting. It could be funny
, I thought as I sat in traffic. The cement mixer truck in front of me had been blocking the intersection for what seemed like ten minutes. I was stuck there through two green lights. I see faces in the dried cement, scarred and bumpy, grey faces done as a relief against the dirty beige truck.
I am ignoring the sounds of cars honking around me. There is really nowhere we can go. I am thinking only of the essay I started two weeks ago and now cannot finish, trying to install this new great idea in my memory for now. The cement mixer keeps us held here, in the tension. There is nothing to do but wait. I won’t write down the idea because traffic might start moving, because I’m sure I’ll remember it, because the faces on the back of the cement mixer tell me I’ll remember and I believe them.
Earlier that morning, before the commute to my son’s school, before the cement mixer, there was the idea that I’d write about conversion, because most recently, I’m a convert.
It’s a lot like being a newlywed. Though it’s been two years since I gave my “yes” to Eastern Orthodoxy, it still feels new and exciting. Perhaps it’s because conversion is in my best estimation, not an event but rather an ongoing process. I thought I would write about conversion, all kinds of conversion—childhood to adulthood, pints to gallons, inches to centimeters, life to death.
Now I’m waiting behind the cement mixer, growing impatient, worried I will forget this thread of inspiration. I’m convinced that traffic happens because we’re all in too much of a damned hurry. Instead of waiting our turn we’re pulling into the intersection when the intersection isn’t clear and then we become part of the problem. I stare at the back of the truck, dried concrete grey faces adorning the lifted chute.
My cell phone rang as the words I planned to put on the page worked in my head while I waited for the cement truck to move. It took me a while to recognize the voice that told me our friend had been killed in a car accident and I could not quite make out the words. I thought for sure it was a wrong number. It must be wrong. This must be a mistake.
I notice I’m eating my lunch too fast. I’m shoveling it in as quickly as I can, barely chewing. I’m hungry but I have no appetite. Why am I eating now? I should know better, I get the hiccups when I eat too fast and then it will feel as though the food is stuck in my throat, in my chest just near my heart. I’ll pound there a little, near my heart. I’ll drink some water. I’ll break into another round of crying. I cannot believe she’s gone.
For a long time that morning I stared at the blank page after I arrived back home and I let that blinking cursor stare at me as though it was tapping its foot, waiting. Where are the words? Where are they? I shook up my inner dialogue and pressed fingers to keys, indiscriminate, letting the sound of the typing soothe that blinking cursor. What was that idea, that great idea in the car, behind the cement mixer, before the phone rang?
Conversion, conversion, conversion . . . from the Latin, convertere
meaning, " to turn around, transform."
Am I different than I was when I began the long catechesis, the learning about becoming Orthodox? Am I better than I was two years ago? Two years ago I had a drink with my friend Annie and we laughed. We talked about her teaching and my parenting and her best friend, my sister, spilling that Manhattan into my lap. Was that the last time I saw her? When was the last time I talked, in person or by phone with her? How it is the loss is so tangible at this very moment? I meant to call, I meant to make that date, I meant to send that letter.
I thought I would remember to call, to follow up, to check in. I turn around and she is gone—convertere—
life to death in just one car trip, one crash, one phone call.
Here’s a space waiting to be filled. My friends and I joke about the phrase “God-shaped hole in your heart.” We say it with tongue placed in cheek, but there is some truth in it. I’m empty here. …
That penny on the stairs has been there for at least a week, maybe longer. I pass it every time I walk up the stairs. I see it there and I walk past it. See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck
. All the day? All this day I should have been writing. Everything I wrote yesterday was crap, except for that one line about birds and air. I walked past that penny on the steps while I carried laundry upstairs. I leave it there waiting on the stairs. I ought to sweep those stairs. I have been staring into space, into the wall, into the fixed faces of the icons that line up so nicely on the shelf.
I have been remembering, thinking and feeling. Convertere,
to turn around, transform. It comes in waves of disbelief and rage and fear then the feelings subside and I turn around, back toward life, everyday life. I walk up the stairs, absently attending to laundry or the dusty windowsill. I ought to call, who? Someone. I ought to message, who? Someone, anyone. I ought to write it down so that I don’t forget, so that the memory is firm, solid, formed into faces, cemented in my head and my heart because everything I wrote yesterday was crap, except for that one line, about birds and air.
Angela Doll Carlson
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, “Nearly Orthodox” and “Garden in the East.”
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Everything I wrote yesterday was crap, except maybe for that one line about birds and air.