This word is in the subject line of an email I receive today. Simply put: quiet.
In the morning, I go up to the faculty lounge to get my lecture tea. Yellow chamomile in a blue striped cup. Anyone who has ever listened to me lecture will know the motions. I enter the room, squeeze the last bit of liquid from the tea bag, place my copious notes on a podium (or table if it’s a seminar) and begin.
This morning I am running early. Yes, really! I encounter a senior faculty member in the lounge. He’s one of those that seemed to me senior-ish when I was a law student myself, now almost 25 years ago.
Tell me, how long have you lived in Madison?
Oh, maybe 55 years by now. Why?
I want to know: is this the most beautiful fall you have ever experienced here?
Yes, definitely. And the driest. But seasons have been less and less harsh here for me.
For him? For all? Because with time, maybe everything appears less harsh.
It is still early afternoon when I leave campus. Classes are finished. I am back at my downtown loft. I put on a CD from the summer and stretch out on the couch. I let myself resurrect the image of the house I was so happy to get rid of this summer, the one in the suburbs.
(Truthfully....) I have not returned to my old neighborhood. No, I’m lying. I did go back, exactly once, a week ago, to show off the block to a friend who had never seen it.
When I had handed the keys to the new family, I felt relieved. The place was sold. The new family seemed happy. They had small children, they would fit in. But now, driving by in the evening I felt like a bullet had gone through me.
The yard was butchered. No, really, stripped naked. Forget the perennial beds – those were wild, imitating a cottage garden. Not everyone likes that. But what hit me was the absence of trees. The huge birch, towering over half the house, providing the dappled light that only a birch tree could display – gone. The crab apple with a million blooms – gone. That goddamn lawn is going to take over again, isn’t it?
My friend let me sit in silence for a while. I had nothing to say. This was not the house where my family lived. This is not it anymore.
Walking home from campus this afternoon, I pick a route that is exceptionally sunny. Warm. Quiet. In repose. Even the bicycles are resting.
A friend from the old neighborhood drops in at the loft. She has not seen it before. She marvels, she says all the right things, I love her to death…
Oh, did you see what happened to your old house? The desecration? The elimination of trees?
The night ends with my adorable Torts group. There is a gathering. I meet them at this first stage of their night out. We take pictures. We tease – me, about their issues, they about my tattoo.
(the Torts women, with the prof in their midst)
It is close to midnight. The Torts students head out toward State Street, I head home, in the quiet of West Washington. Home. Where I set my priorities for the next day and the days after.