True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice. —St. Francis de Sales
I am currently without wifi in my apartment, hence the silence here. That should be fixed soon enough.
For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot of Orange lately; I think that in the midst of a New York January I have a subconscious desire to wander the streets of my old neighborhood again in the sunshine. Or maybe it’s because that was the last time I had an apartment (the summer’s dorm room didn’t really count), and as the rhythm of my days begins to fall into a familiar pattern, I’m reminded of when that rhythm was set against a different, sunnier backdrop. It’s funny, though, the things that remind you of a place, the details that actually bring old memories flooding back. It’s not the obvious things, not the palm trees or the street fair or the local landmarks. No, what reminds me of Orange is standing on the street corner by the used car lot, waiting for a break in traffic so that I could cross to my favorite vegan cafe and get a banana peanut butter mocha smoothie (oh, how I miss you, banana peanut butter mocha smoothies!). The sun beating relentlessly down on the asphalt, the bells ringing at the railroad crossing to signal my chance to cross, my hands struggling to hold my phone and keys and wallet and smoothie, because I never bothered to bring a bag and somehow always forgot to factor in carrying the smoothie on the return trip.
In one of my old journals, I wrote down details of my everyday life that I knew would be entirely meaningless to anyone else, but they meant something to me—or at least, I hoped they would. I realized that when I looked back on stages of life that had since passed, it was the small, unassuming, seemingly insignificant details that, when remembered, would stop me cold and send me right back to that moment. When I think of my time in Rome, I fondly remember visiting the Pantheon and St. Peter’s; I remember the Scavi tour and the Borghese Gallery and the Trevi, all with a warm rush of awe and wonder. But certain details can make me remember not just the places I visited in Rome but what it felt like during that era of my life. When I think of the water cooler in studio with its little plastic cups—the one I stopped at multiple times a day—I am seized with an emotion more raw, more vivid, than any memory of the Trevi can produce. I think of our studio balcony with its tall glass doors and marble balustrade, where I’d walk outside and call home on my little plastic TIM phone, gazing over at the new gelato shop that had just opened down the street and craning my neck to try and get a glimpse of the spire of Sant’Ivo. I think of the sound of an Italian ambulance passing by on the street (after a while, we started to forget what American ambulances sounded like). I think of walking across the cobblestones of Campo dei Fiori, carrying a laundry bag and watching the vendors take down their booths for the day. These memories send me spinning, not because they were so monumental in and of themselves, but because they each happened more times than I can count. When I think of them, I am not thinking of any one incident; I am thinking of a routine, of actions that became so ingrained that they are forever nestled within the folds of my memory, and yet are no longer a part of my life. It amazes me that I visited Rome at all, but it amazes me so much more that I spent so much time there that I now associate Campo dei Fiori with laundry.
I am taken aback by how ordinary these things all once were to me, these relics of a past life—or rather, I am taken aback that these ordinary things are no longer a part of my everyday life, because they still are so familiar to me, so clear. Sometimes the marker for how much my life has changed can be measured by the things I’ve done a million times but don’t think of anymore, the habits that have fallen away.
What else reminds me of Orange? Waiting at the red light at the intersection of Chapman and Tustin before taking the on-ramp to the 55, seeing the orange-red glare of the sunset through my rearview mirror and dusk settling into the hills before me, a line of cars circling the drive-thru Starbucks to my right and the Chevrolet sign blinking on, each letter lighting up one at a time—C-H-E-V…. Pulling into one of my usual parking spots at the Fresh and Easy. Walking through the underpass at the train station, with its chrome signage highlighting important dates in town history. Picking a pew at Holy Family from which I could see the stained glass window of St. Anne.
I could do this for any place I’ve lived—pick out the mundane details from the recesses of my brain and drink in the memory of an era gone by. I have to make an effort not to overindulge in this sort of sentimentalism, as I tend to be an overly nostalgic and sentimental person; but sometimes it’s healthy to pause and take note of the shifting tides. What are the little things I’ll remember on from my daily life right now, and are they the things that I want to remember? Are the habits I’m keeping, the ones that will someday burn on in my memory, for my good?
I think so. I hope so. I’m trying.
Timing my steps as I approach the crosswalks at Astor Place, avoiding the areas blocked off for construction. The click of the gate walking up the steps to work. Tea, cashews, and copyedits. Crossing underneath the monkey bars of the neighborhood playground as a shortcut home. A key ring with five keys (marked with different colors of nail polish to tell them apart) and a St. Bernadette medal. Late-night duets with my roommate, she on the piano and me on the flute, occasionally switching places.
It’s a good life. I don’t know exactly what I’ll remember about it in days to come, but I can only hope that someday, the details of my New York life will make my heart swell as much as it does when I think of the water cooler in Rome or the townhome in South Bend. I hope that all the small, lovely details of my life here will indeed become ingrained in my memory.