The year I turned seven we had this gate, between the fenced back yard and open front yard, a beautiful iron lattice gate, about eight inches of the ground. And the yard was full of plum trees, different kinds of plum trees, and for a couple of years our sandwiches were slathered with plum jam.
And the night before I turned seven I found a couple of holes in the lattice work and hooked my feet into them, rocked and rocked and rocked and watched the night sky.
I made a wish. I am not sure I remember it. But I think it came true.
Sometimes, I would beat myself up for living too easily in my regrets or in my fantasies, and never, ever, ever in the here and now.
And later I would realize that longing is built into my nature. It's as natural as fucking. As natural as eating. The once and then and the someday maybe and the here and now coexist quite easily in the mammalian consiousness. And I don't worry anymore.
Watery autumn sunlight. My Doc Martens sinking into mud. I was jittery, caffeinated, nervous, smiling broadly; my words stuck in my throat.
And then when I started I could not stop.
We were driving to California, and I had never been there. But I was only going this time to work. I was thinking too much that night: mind jumping ahead to my task for the weekend, and sliding back to previous weekends, to problems and people that were, then, way out of my reach. I was drowning out the conversation in the car. I was frustrated.
But the colors of the leaves had just turned that year, and it hadn't started raining, and the sun had just set - context context context, forget it: when I looked at the trees they were like torches, glowing against the purple night air.
I said Shut up, Christen. I turned off the gears and cogs in my fevered, frustrated brain and said Enjoy this moment, this thing right in front of you: It will be one of the best of your life.
The year I turned eight, I got rollerskates and a crimping iron. Mom and I went out late one night a few nights before in search o the latter, finding it at K-Mart just before it closed.
On my birthday, which was and is also Halloween, I skated up and down the long hallway of our house, passing out trick-or-treat candy, fluffing my purposely-frizzy hair. Later we went out trick-or-treating ourselves. It was dark, and we were stalked by a pleasant sense of fear and anticipation. Sara was a cheerleader. I was a cowgirl, with freckles drawn on with an eyebrow pencil.
And sometime before that there was a visit to the farm: hot for October, golden sunlight stretching across the fields like the skin of a drum.
Once on my birthday, I dressed as a cat. My tail was broken and I carried it around.
Once on my birthday, years later, I dressed as a cat, no tail, and I reached, expecting to carry it. I got just drunk enough that night to be pleasant and no more, singing at the top of my lungs with the band in the bar, warm and smiling.
Once on my birthday I had cheesecake instead of regular cake.
Once on my birthday almost everyone I knew forgot me, or forgot to call, or was forbidden, and I went to bed crying.
Once on my birthday I was assistant-directing a play, and I had to recover a part. So I wore bellbottoms. There was a middle-aged man in the cast with his eye on me, and I knew it. I wasn't old enough yet to know what to do.
Once on my birthday my roommate found me a leftover piece of cake from dinner and a single candle, which I blew out just before midnight.
I got what I wanted that year.