First off, I’d like to say how intimidating it is to begin seriously writing after graduating from UNCW. It’s scary. I’m sick and tired of looking at my thesis material. I no longer feel enchanted by my life working at Whirlpool building washing machines. I did once. I did for a long time. I need a break, I think. But there are moments, though, that make me miss it, like walking past Joy, the mining machinery factory here in Franklin, PA, that I’ll itch for it. For the yellow glow of light over my head, the sallow skin that stretched over my bones between the scares and nicked knuckles. And I’ll miss the buzz of the machines, and the way I could begin to differentiate the machines by their specific noises, the clangs and clicks, and the voices. I miss being a part of something bigger. With my hands in the machine, I felt connected to something.
Lately, I’ve been running the hills here in Franklin, one in particular, the one where the roads wind up the mountain, and end at Rosemont Farms. It’s where I go when the panic sets in. Lately I’ve been panicking about stupid things. Panic brought on probably from spending eight hours a day alone, about love and life and jobs and money. I go for these walks becomes sometimes I need a sign. Ever since I started thinking Mike could be *cough cough* it, ever since I graduated with my Master’s, ever since I’ve realized no one wants to hire me.
I get this panic honest. Every woman on my mother’s side of the family has it. The other day, I called her, told her how the attacks felt, and how I reacted. “Mom, I’ve convinced myself of the worse possible outcome in every situation. Everything goes to the bad end of the spectrum. And I scare myself out of believing in anything good.
“Oh God. You are like the women in my family. You need to be more like your father, and his mom. They never thought bad about anything. They just turned their cheeks to bad.”
And this makes sense to me. During these attacks, I convince myself I’ll never get a job, that all my education will have been a waste of time, that I’ll be stricken down by some disease, that I’ll never get married, that I will get married, that I’ll never be able to have children. And I fear these things so irrationally sometimes that I lose it. Truth is, I think this anxiety spawns from not having a whole lot going on right now, from feeling like I’m putting in and putting in, and never getting anything out. And this doesn’t have to do with Mike at all. This is about filling out countless applications and kissing so much ass, and still not having a job. How much can I do before something comes back to me? Economy. Ugh.
So things get to me and I climb the hill. I like how the road gradually approaches it, how i can feel my footfalls becoming shallower as the concrete rises against me. And I pull myself up. That way, when my heart pounds and my head sweats in anxiety, I can blame it on the exercise. I blame it on the way the sun feels hotter between trees, like all the heat is concentrated into the patches between the shade. And it beats down mercilessly. I can blame it on the humidity, and the way the air is thinner here, harder to breathe in the Appalachians, so much different than the sea level air of Wilmington, NC, and the near sea level air of my Ohio fields. And I blame the pounding heart on how quickly I scale these roads and trails, and the uneven pavement, and the way I clumsily roll my ankle on this stone, or that one, because I got caught up in staring at a branch that shook with the prospect of what I need to see…
As a child, I sat on Uncle Grandma’s counter top. Uncle Grandma was my father’s mother, will always be his mother, and my grandmother. I called her Uncle Grandma because her youngest son, my father’s only sibling, Jim, never left home. He’s a towering seven feet tall, and bearded, with thick glasses and hands the size of tennis racquets. His beer gut was like the biggest ice cream scoop of a sundae, with his belly button protruding like a cherry on top. When I was young, I must have been astounded by his size, and related everything under my grandparents’ roof to him. So Grandma became Uncle Grandma most of the time, and that was the one that stuck.
Uncle Grandma had worked during most of her childhood until she got married, and her job became housewife and homemaker. I used to sit next to her kitchen sink while she did the dishes, one arm always ready to guide me back to safety if I scooted too close to the edge. I loved her kitchen window. So much.
There were stick patches on the wooden pane, a clover and a little Irishman. There was also a double frame with two black and white pictures; one was of my father holding a birthday cake, the other of my Uncle Jim in the same pose. There were two cacti on the window sill, one tall and smooth, the other round with a white fur around it. There were no more than five inches high. Uncle Grandma only ever let me touch the one with the white fur-like needles. And in the corner, down by the small faucet of the sink, was Uncle Grandma’s drinking glass–the one she refilled every time she took medication, or needed a drink.
Outside of the kitchen window, we always waited for Dot, the Dalmatian that lived behind the house, to come around for after-dinner scraps. I was afraid of Dot; she’d accidentally nipped the skin between my thumb and forefinger when she was just a pup.
But the real beauty of the kitchen window was the set of bird feeders that Uncle Grandma had hung from the eaves. For hours, I sat on the counter with Uncle Grandma behind me, a light blue book in her hands to identify the birds. They were mostly finches, canaries, other brown birds I didn’t care about. But Uncle Grandma always got ridiculously excited about the cardinals at the bird feeders. She called them “Cardies” and she always pointed them out to me: the color, the tuft on the top of their heads, the way even the females had a red tint to them. And I loved the cardinals, the way they were so much bolder than the other birds, the way they held themselves so confidently. I liked the way the other birds seemed to move out of the cardinal’s way. It was majestic.
So when things–things being the anxiety attacks–started happening during my last year of grad school in Wilmington, I’d go for a run through Forest Hills, a neighboring community. I mostly stayed on the roads, but the first time I ran down a bike trail, the sun was hiding behind gray clouds, the grass was wet with rain, and I was worried about something. It was probably money or my thesis. But a cardinal flew from a tree to the grass beside the trail. I had thought about it in years, and my Uncle Grandma had passed away in 1997, when I was eleven years old. And there I was, a twenty-four year old woman, and the cardinal instantly made me think about Uncle Grandma and her Cardies.
It was instantly comforting, and I immediately felt her presence, like the way she used to meet me at the door and kiss my face with her hands on either side of my face. She was the cardinal. And that cardinal made me quit worrying.
Everything panned out. I mean, I graduated. And I’m not bankrupt (yet). But I did become reliant on the cardinals, these good omens. From the cardinals that I began watching from my Uncle Grandma’s kitchen sink window to the ones that appear to me now, embodying my Uncle Grandma, I’ve noticed that they always calm me. Grandma’s spirit always shows itself to me when I’m worried. And I think of the conversation with my mother, and how she told me to be more like Uncle Grandma.
So here in Pennsylvania as I live jobless and friendless in this town under my boyfriend’s roof–rent free–I go for walks to make the pounding heart and sweat seem worthwhile, and I go to look for cardinals.
It’s strange how quickly peace overcomes me, and every time, I literally say out loud, “Thanks, Grandma.” And then my heart only pounds with the exercise, and I move forward, okay until the next attack.
She never lets me down. The cardinals even make noise sometimes if I’m not looking in their direction, seemingly to make her presence known. Today, for instance, I found myself on the hill expressing my anxiety to a friend on my phone, and I stopped mid-sentence and said, “There’s my cardinal. I’m gonna be okay.” I’d explained this phenomenon to my friend before. He, too, seemed more at peace with my anxieties.
So the reason for the poll–and stuff. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of dishes. With no job, I have no excuse for Mike to come home to a dirty apartment, or to a sink full of dishes. And while so much time is spent at the kitchen sink, I find myself thinking about the window. Outside of Mike’s kitchen window is a huge Maple tree, the branches draped in front of the glass creating a barrier between me and the apartment building across the alley. Almost every house I’ve ever lived in has had a window above the kitchen sink.
And I wonder why.
Is it because so much time is spent there? At the sink? With our hands elbow-deep in suds and water? Is it a nod to the housewife, who was caged in at home in the 1950’s? Or simply a way to see when her husband pulled into the driveway from his job, her cue to get dinner onto the table? Or maybe a way to watch playing children? A way to see what was going on in the neighborhood?
Most of you seem to have had kitchen windows above the sink, and you all seem to enjoy them. I love(d) mine. But now I’m interested in your theories about why we put windows above the kitchen sink.
Should we be angry at the feminist view of it? That it was for the housewife? Or should we be thankful that there was a window outside. I mean, men do dishes. So why do none of the arguments go that way? And when did it start? Why do we do it?
I think I could get angry about it. Or I think I could be grateful for it. All I know is that I enjoy it. And the cardinals. Without a kitchen window, I would have never seen the cardinals.