Losing a Pole

When I was in junior high school, my best friend and I used to take the bus into Harvard Square almost every Saturday. We’d go to the Coop’s sidewalk sale to look at records and Indian print t-shirts, ogle the long-sleeved striped Marimekko t-shirts at Design Research, then make good use of our fake IDs until we had to head home. For all our desperate bohemianism — our $3 used suede jackets from Oona’s that smelled of perspiration and patchouli, our ridiculous love of pantomime, our feministically-correct unplucked unibrows — we were suburban kids, in for the day on public transportation.

In my memory it’s always fall — bright and windy on the way in and dark and clear and cold on the way home — and it’s always just my friend and me on the shitty bus, heaving and bumping and shlepping its way down Mount Auburn Street, past all the Armenian grocery stores and the two story houses and the neighborhood people walking their dogs and mailing letters and going into pizza places for big greasy slices. In my memory we’re always counting our money and talking about boys and giddy knowing that we’re just about to arrive in a place where we finally feel like we fit in and no one thinks we’re weird — unless, of course, they think we’re weird in a good way. And we’re always waiting for the strange guy to get on and sit right up by the driver and ask the same question over and over and over:

Didja evah lose a pole down by the stah mahket?

I’m not sure how many trips it took for us to understand exactly what he was asking the driver — a Boston accent is hard enough to understand without the overlay of a mentally-challenged twang — but eventually we figured out that the question had something to do with the two poles on top of the bus that connected it to the network of electrical wires that powered it and with the supermarket we passed right before crossing the Watertown line into Cambridge.  While we got the obvious meaning of the Didja evah lose a pole down by the Stah Mahket? question and all its compulsive Seussian variations — Didja evah lose a pole down by the Stah Mahket in the rain? Didja evah lose a pole down by the Stah Mahket in the snow? Didja evah lose a pole down by the Stah Mahket when it’s hot? Didja evah lose a pole down by the Stah Mahket when it’s cold? — I’m not sure we ever understood the larger question: why he was so fixated on and fascinated by losing a pole.

I was thinking about the question a few weeks ago when I drove through Watertown to Harvard Square on a perfect summer day–right behind a bus heaving and bumping and shlepping its way down Mount Auburn Street, past all the Armenian grocery stores and two story houses and people walking their dogs and mailing letters and going into pizza places for big greasy slices. Ben was in the backseat and we were looking to kill a few hours and take advantage of one of the few humidity-free days we’d had all summer. It had been almost two months since my mother had died and that afternoon I was feeling the way I’ve always felt: like I had one foot in the present, and one foot in the past, and that I was straddling the great divide of nothingness that came from never having a true foothold in the present.

Part of me that day was parallel parking and walking and talking, while the other part of me was thinking about how I’d watched the person who gave birth to me take her very last breath right in front of me and how every time I walk into my parents’ apartment now to visit my father I feel an overwhelming gasp of astonishment because her absence is so incomprehensible, it’s almost an abstraction. What happened? Where did she go? How can it feel like she was never even here? I was thinking about the dramatic trajectory of her illness; about the silence and stillness of her room and her last moments in it before she was taken out to hospice; about how pissed she’d be if she knew that Ben hadn’t touched the Taj Mahal Lego set she got him the week before she died and how in some perverse way she’d understand and even be flattered because she’d know it meant he missed her too much to play with it.

And I was thinking about how I’d lost a pole down by the Star Market.

Loss is big and vast and incomprehensible and abstract; loss is also small and close and tiny and real. Loss is knowing you’ll never hear someone’s voice again, never see their feet in their slippers, someday have to empty their closets and give away their eyeglasses. Loss is not knowing what to do with their driver’s license and their handbag and their lipstick, and not knowing what you’ll do when the next person dies. Loss is death and loss is also life. I lost a pole but I’m still here. Maybe even more here now that I’m only connected by one pole. Lose a kidney and the spare takes on a whole new meaning; lose one pole and the one remaining becomes a lifeline.  My one pole is my present, my life, my everything. I am the pole and the pole is me. It’s all I have and it’s all I’ll ever have and now I know what losing a pole really means. It means you can still keep going. It means you can still make it past the Star Market and into Harvard Square. It means that one pole is all you get so you better fucking grab it and hang onto it and let the electricity of your life and those you love run through you. So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m hanging on to my pole. I’m hanging on and I’m not letting go.

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26 thoughts on “Losing a Pole

  1. Lisa Adams says:

    Beautiful, as always, Laura. You capture these raw, cruel inevitabilities of live so vividly every time you grace us with your words. Thank you.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I rode on that bus too. I lost a kidney and celebrate the one I have left. I love you for reminding us about what matteres most before we forget.

    • Laura Zigman says:

      Your comment could be it’s own blog post. Feel free to “guest brant” someday about your story (or, part of it, anyway). I’d love to hear more and I bet all your followers would, too. xo

  3. Maggie says:

    Stunningly beautiful. You are so immensely talented at making the incomprehensible, comprehensible through your words. I’m so glad you’re hanging on to your pole and not letting go.

    • Laura Zigman says:

      Thanks, Maggie. I’m new to this terrain and just trying to figure it all out. Knowing that what I’m saying, or trying to say, makes sense to people is a huge thing to me. Glad you’re out there reading.

  4. bsain says:

    You are really amazing Laura. Exactly what I wish I could express — the lipstick, the purse, the slippers… all of which I still have a year and a half later. I really think the world of you.

    • Laura Zigman says:

      Like so many of my RL friends and Twitter friends, this is, sadly, known territory to you. You got there before I did but I’m there now and it’s weird weird weird. So helpful to have people like you to brant for.

  5. Caroline says:

    Beautifully written. The pain, the rawness is so apparent as is your desperate attempt to overcome them, to be here. You are on a long journey, becoming who you are now, learning that while the world is not as bright as it once was, the sun still warms you, the rain still cools you off. The world is still beautiful, even more so now that you are coming out to join us. Thank you so much for sharing Laura. xo

  6. Laura Scholz says:

    I love this, and I love you, and I love that you’re writing and sharing here. Hugs to you.

  7. Tess says:

    I just lost my father 3 weeks ago today. Thank you for expressing and making comprehensible to me what I can’t yet grasp or understand. I’m also doing 2 things at once: Going on with life, and trying to realize that someone who was absolutely central to my life is gone forever. It seems impossible that I can do these 2 things at once, and yet that’s exactly what’s happening.

    • Laura Zigman says:

      Hi Tess — I’m so sorry to hear about your loss and so glad you wrote. I hope connecting with people — however you connect with them (on Twitter, or Facebook, or in real life) helps you get through this rough time. I’ve been astonished at the support I’ve found in those places: people who had gone through this whole experience before me and knew where I was, and where I was going, and where I am now. It’s a sad sad journey, isn’t it? Stay in touch.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Would it be way too simplistic and cliched to say ‘you have a way with words’? Seriously, Laura. The fake shop, the pole — you have this unbelievable way of finding these beautiful little metaphors that — zing — just snap everything into focus. Even though I grew up counting my money and talking about boys on buses in a whole other state, you manage to extract the essence that makes that experience completely universal.

    You rock. That’s all. Please keep writing here.

  9. Donna Johns says:

    I am grateful for the Tweet that led me here. I rode the Waverly trolley to the same destination, with the same yearning to belong, if only for a few hours. Many years later, my kids did the same. And I’m hanging on like crazy to my pole. Thanks for a wonderful way to start my morning. Maybe I’ll take a little road trip to the square….

  10. Bobbie says:

    Thank you so much for this. You’re an amazing writer, you really are, and this post was not only moving but inspiringly true and real. It filled a gap in me that I’ve ‘lost’ for some time now. An important spot that had been missing since the day to day regimen sucked it out of me. The important things, the things we will take with us when we, leave this earth.

  11. Ann Leary says:

    Such a beautiful post again, Laura. xxoo

  12. Laura — this is beautiful. I do feel your one foot in the past, one with us now. Grief is such a strange experience — for me it was like walking underwater.
    Love the descriptions of your trips into Cambridge. My best friend and I used to take the T to harvard square, too, with the same aspirations.
    Thanks for this.

  13. Marilyn says:

    This is so spot on, so deft in catching the weight of grief and the spring of life, so close to my heart that I don’t have the words. But Laura, my talented friend, I’m so glad you do.

  14. […] 2010 by bsain I have a friend (I love saying that even though we’ve never actually met), she’s a writer — a real writer. Like a kick-ass-slap-you-in-the-face-and-make-you-stand-up-straight writer. […]

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