I am in Iowa City. I'm staying at my aunt and uncle's house and it is freezing. They heat with wood. Like people who don't have forced heat. But they do have forced heat. They just don't use it. Last night I was telling my uncle about a friend my husband and I stayed with in England who ground her own coffee. Like, literally. She had this metal canister with a crank on top and she ground her coffee by turning the crank by hand.
"This will just take twenty-five minutes," she told us the first morning we sat waiting (after a transcontinental flight, still wearing our British Airways socks), mugs in hands.
I waited for the punch line. "You're kidding," I said.
"It's delicious," she said. "Far better than electric ground coffee."
Really? It is THAT much better? (I am one of those people who need coffee in the morning. Right now.)
She cranked away happily. "It's very peaceful," she said. "Meditative."
I wanted to murder her. Like actually cause blood to come out of her eye sockets.
"If more people were like your friend," my uncle said last night, "we wouldn't be in the environmental mess we're in."
Never mind what his wood heat was doing to the ozone. "I'm willing to give up a few species for coffee in the morning," I told him.
It's freezing, but I like coming to my aunt and uncle's house. It is always the same. They are old hippies and it's an old wood house filled with art and library books and stuff brought back from travels.
But I can't sleep.
Maybe it's being back in Iowa City. I lay in bed under my quilt in the guest room and I try to let my mind go, and it doesn't happen. I've been here two nights. The first night, I laid awake until 3 a.m. staring at the doorknobs on the two closets. They looked low to me. Weirdly low. Was it perspective? Was it an optical illusion? I'd never noticed that they were weirdly low before. I finally got up out of bed and checked. They were weirdly low. Then I took some NyQuil and fell asleep.
Yesterday I confronted my aunt and uncle about the doorknobs. "Your upstairs doorknobs are all weirdly low," I told them.
"THANK YOU," my cousin said, throwing up his arms in vindication. He's like six foot four and has been bending over to open a door upstairs since he was fourteen.
I spent yesterday driving around with my mother's old friend Frank. This is what Frank and I do when we get together, we drive. Even when I lived here, he would drive me around and show me places. The lot where the church was before the tornado. The new high rise. The old cemetery. Etc.
"It's funny," he told me. "Some people, once they're gone or dead, you forget what they sound like. But your mother? I can still remember her voice."
We drove by the old place my mom and I lived at on Gilbert Street. The maple tree was gone. They'd paved the side yard to put in a driveway.
Later my aunt told me it wasn't a maple tree, it was a dogwood. And I didn't help my mother plant it, my aunt did. Memory is a funny thing, isn't it?
Last night, I was out of NyQuil. I don't think I slept more than an hour.
A few nights before I left for Iowa my daughter fell halfway out of bed. She was wedged, her palms on the floor, her legs still in bed, in a sort of push-up. I don't know how she caught herself. "Mom," she cried out, "I'm stuck! I'm stuck!" I rescued her. "I saved your life," I told her as I scooped her safely back into bed.
I had this nightmare before I left. It was one of those repeating dreams. I kept waking up and getting out of bed and then realizing I was dreaming. I couldn't wake myself up for real. I started screaming, trying to wake myself up, trying to get someone to help me.
"Mom, I'm stuck," I cried.
I ran down the stairs of our house and there was my mother coming in the front door. And I had to stop and think in my dream, did I still live with my mother? Was she not dead? And then I thought, "Am I dead?" And it wasn't so terrible. Because I was still in our house and I thought maybe I could still see my family, see my daughter grow up. And be with my mom.
I don't believe in ghosts.
But I think that there are places that are haunted.
Then again, I haven't slept in like 40 hours.
And I'm freezing.