There is a certain place where Haywood and Pelham meet at a stoplight. You drive slightly upwards to this light, crest a hill through it, and then begin a long downward slope as you head towards the next intersection with East North Street. The first part of this slope opens up not just roads and buildings but a perfect view of mountains, clear as bells some days and nearly ringing with green, other days invisible behind filmy clouds you are only barely aware of. You only get this view for a few seconds as you head downhill, and people are flying past you looking at their cell phones or the person in the passenger seat or digging for a water bottle behind themselves.
I am looking just slightly up, until the trees and the buildings once again shield them from view.
Every time I start that downward slope I look first for the mountains.
I arrive at my friend Sarah's mother's house at 9 AM, as requested, to help set up for Sarah's baby shower. In one hand I've my own latte from a quick trip to Starbucks on the way, in the other a chai latte Linda told me to grab for her a few days ago when we chatted quickly on Facebook to make the plans.
I walk in the door and am greeted by Linda's harried shout of welcome, a list complete with little ticky-boxes for her to check off as things get finished, a woman I've never met before peeling oranges (her name is Amber and she is lovely, by the way), and Sarah's father doing his best not to be in Linda's direct line of sight.
I am given a moment to eat my breakfast sandwich.
Then I am handed a knife, a cutting board, a pile of tomatoes, some olives, a baggie of cheese squares, two cucumbers, and a box of special toothpicks with flowers on the end.
I start chopping cucumbers.
I am sitting in a chair next to Sarah while she opens presents, frantically writing down names and items and occasionally guessing, in a series of panic-riddled scribble-scratches, at how to spell things. I spell Kristi and Kari wrong, I am almost certain.
Some of the items that come out of the boxes are hard for me to describe, until someone leans over and tells me what they are. Most of the time, knowing what the strange contraptions do does not actually endear me towards the idea of having children.
The tiny T-shirts and tiny shoes and tiny tiny things, however, make up for it.
We are told to "make a baby"; this is not as inappropriate as it sounds. Everyone gets a ball of homemade play-doh and a plate. You make the best little play-doh baby you can. My friends Jessi and James make a small dinosaur surrounded by piles of awful. They even spelled the word 'poop' out with play-doh.
My friend Tyler just makes a giant head and a spray of silly-string coming out from its mouth.
No one lets Sarah carry anything, and I mean anything, the whole day. When I see her holding a bag that maybe weighs five pounds, I offer to carry it for her.
Sarah threatens to hit me with it.
I take the bag anyway.
Then I realize I have no idea where to take the bag, and Sarah has to show me, but I am still carrying the bag therefore I win.
I sit next to Jason on the couch, exhausted, reading a magazine Saturday night while he plays video games. The dog sleeps between us, wrapped up in his blanket, completely worn out from his exciting day of playing in Linda's backyard with her two dogs.
Occasionally, I tell Jason how much the items in Marie Claire cost.
He expresses sort of a resigned lack of surprise, as I've been doing this for the better part of a year. I explain to him in entirely too much detail exactly why I don't want those items.
He blinks at me.
I go to pick up Sarah for our plans for the day. We move to unload her car; all the baby shower stuff was still inside. She picks up a bag.
I offer to carry it for her, because she shouldn't be carrying things.
She offers to hit me with it.
This time, I do not win. I carry a different bag.
Sarah, Amber, and I meet Lauren at ShalomFest, as a local Reform Jewish temple. The pastry tent is outside, before you even get to where you can buy tickets. It occurs to me that this seems a cruel method of taunting us with tiny baked delicious things we cannot yet have.
Inside, I have a pastrami sandwich on rye, stuffed full of sauerkraut, completely un-sweet, perfectly sharp. Matzoh ball soup on the side is absolute paradise. Music plays on speakers, just loud enough to have to pitch my voice higher to be heard. Booths ring the edges of the food court, and shiny things continually catch my eye.
I nearly trip over my own feet four times while looking at stuff from the gift shop booths.
Hopefully, nobody notices.
Liz (who should update her blog, ahem no pressure) comes, and we listen to a short lecture about the Angel of Death, the Golem, and Lilith; monsters of a sort (although not really) in Jewish tradition. The speaker is engaging, fun to listen to, educational. When he asks who has read Frankenstein, I am surprised to see so few hands in the air when I raise my own.
Then I remember how tough getting through the first half of that book is, and all makes sense again.
During the Q&A, a random man in the audience starts asking questions about Jesus. I find myself deeply disappointed there are so few questions about the Golem or the Angel of Death or, really, even much of Lilith. I am part of the problem; I do not ask my questions. I make a note to write an e-mail and see if I can't ask the speaker about recommended books on his actual topic.
The Rabbi's wife explains the Torah to us in a room specially set up as an exhibit. I take too many pictures of the Torah. It is huge and the cover for it is absolutely beautiful.
She is explaining something, stops to take a drink of water. Loses her train of thought. Waves her hand in the air and says, "eh, nevermind, who cares on that."
I like this woman already.
I flip through some pages of a Women's Commentary edition. I take too many pictures of the Hebrew inside.
I resolve to visit my local library.
I want to buy a hamsa. I walk out with two. I also walk out with a pastry box full of sweets, a new book, and a pile of things I want to do research on. I wish I had seen more of the lectures.
We firmly decide we will visit as many lectures as we are physically capable of attending next year.
We briefly convene at Starbucks and then Liz and her boyfriend split off on their own continuing adventure while the rest of us head back to Sarah's house.
We watch the new My Little Pony show. There is much inappropriate laughter.
I realize I am going to fall asleep if I stay much longer. I pick up Everyday Organic on the way back to eat for supper, chattering to Jason on the phone about everything I've seen today.
My eyes are always slightly up, where the mountains ring the city.
They are slightly hazy with cloud cover, as rain starts to fall in fits and spurts.
My eyes see the road, but I'm still watching the mountains. I always look a little bit upwards.