Queen of the Geese

My best friend Jenna became Queen of the Geese in college.

This was not a nickname either kind or cruel or arbitrarily granted. This was and is her title which she won in single-dance-combat with the King of the Geese one balmy night at Gazebo Isle on the shores of Radio Springs.

This sounds absurd but I assure you every word I’m about to say is the truth. I know because I was there.

It was the middle of spring. The best time to be in northern Missouri when the nights are just starting to get warm and muggy but not too buggy and magnolias blooming with flowers the size of your face and honeysuckle bushes full of bees from sunup to sunset when, if you were lucky, you might catch a lightning bug or three if the weather was warm enough.

Right at sunset, when the sun was low over the corn and highway, if you watched closely enough you could see spiders making their webs in the tops of the hedges. Spiders with bellies bigger than grapes floating through the air. They would never quite touch the founder of our college; a hundred-twenty years dead and she still did her rounds in the evenings making sure we weren’t out and about up to no good in the twilight. Half-corporeal she was fond of long skirts and stationary — more than once I woke up in short shorts with scratches down my legs from fingernails headed the wrong direction from my hands, had sticky notes come flying at my head from across the room if I put off homework too long.

Our founder minded us well. Taught us the important lessons. The spiders wouldn’t touch her.

Jenna and I didn’t go out right after sunset. Rather, we waited, wished for red wine where we had none, courted nervous breakdowns chasing the promise of final exams. That liminal week before commencement where the halls smelled of cardboard and lilacs, girl sweat and the bitter tang of packing ourselves into the basement for another summer at home. We were, succinctly, a hot mess.

We walked in flip flops and short cotton pajamas down to the lake in the close dark talking about our mothers. They were alike as Jenna and I were alike. Women who did not know how to love themselves and could not fathom why their daughters did not fill the void in their chests for them. Jenna and I grew a little crooked. Complementary. Strong. Strange. The crickets sang and in the dark up the hills bracketing the road leading ever downward toward the lake the deer hummed their quiet music to accompany our conversation. It was always a little like that late at night. None of the wildlife had the sense to sound atonal.

One o’clock in the morning saw us sitting on the low wall that marked the edge of Gazebo Island. Lit orange by a lonely street lamp, grass bridging toward cold with dew that shouldn’t have settled until dawn.

Jenna and I talked about lovers, and the geese began to gather. To listen. We talked about girls and boys. How they betrayed us, how we missed them anyway, how our hearts were eldritch things we did not quite understand but oh how there was so much we could give from them.

I don’t know when it got quiet. When the night insects ceased their music and the deer wandered off to sweeter grass. But I know when we decided it was too late to stay awake any longer, too late to justify the cost of the night spent out of bed at the expense of daylight hours in classes, socializing with those daywalking friends of ours– when we decided that, a goose sat between us and our only route of exit.

He was big. The size of my torso and worth slow roasting for Christmas dinner if you had to have a goose for Christmas dinner. We approached. He stood, feathers puffed in indignation, and gave a single warning flap.

I glanced to my left. Jenna had a look in her eye I couldn’t quite place– it wasn’t befuddlement, it wasn’t discomfort– it was intense and it worried me. She took half a step back.

“Do you want me to scare it off?” The goose was big but, I reasoned, running toward it shouting with my arms outstretched would be sufficient to frighten it off.

Jenna broke eye contact with the goose for just a moment. Shook her head. Declared in the most solemn tone: “Nah, I got this.”

Her posture shifted in a way that I can neither describe nor mimic bodily except to say that it was positively avian. The goose followed suit, bobbing his head in insult, summoning from the water hissing, feathered minions. We were outnumbered. Jenna had no patience for this– she doubled down, returning the insult with gusto, and advanced on the King of Geese.

With undulating, articulated steps in time to a wardrum only she could hear Jenna walked forth and with a mighty honk sent the King of Geese and all his court fleeing across the lake.

We stared after them in silence for no less than half a minute then burst into laughter.

“Does this mean you’re their queen now?”

“Of course!”

We were troubled by geese no more on our nighttime adventures to the lake or anywhere else in town. In the act of crowning herself Jenna became known as the Queen of the Geese throughout the county. Geese on campus will nod and bow their respects when she passes to this very day.

Cut

Scene: a receptionist– excuse me, an “administrative assistant”– trying to pretend she hasn’t spent the last 48 hours crying into her tea over papercuts and obsessing over spreadsheet cell dimensions to the last pixel.

Perspective is a funny thing.

In ten years the last two will comprise 5% of her life rather than 10% and she will think back on her with a fond nostalgia, soothed by the balm of time and closer hurts that relative to this new present make her seem small. Nearly insignificant. Maybe even a fond memory. A lovely aching novelly-shaped bruise that gets showed off on Twitter instead of… whatever this is. Whatever this is.

There. The cells are evenly proportioned according to the Fibonacci sequence. No one else will notice but the receptionist– administrative assistant– will be satisfied.

fell in love with a girl

I didn’t know I was in love with her at the time, I had no idea what love was I was too busy being full of grief and hate and sorrow and having a chip on my shoulder the size of the Great Basin. I’d just transferred schools from the slums to the rich side of town where no one knew or liked me and I was smarter than everyone but they refused to put me in all Honors classes– you wouldn’t believe how much this offended me. Or maybe you would. If you know me personally you definitely know how much this offended me.

Her name was E–

She had red hair that was four feet long and the end of her braid was thicker than my wrist. She sang mezzo-soprano in choir but preferred alto because it was harder. Spoke French fluently and casually whenever she could and was learning Chinese, wrote with fountain pen, and was taking 6 AP classes. She carried those textbooks everywhere and I wanted to carry them for her. She painted one of the murals outside of the choir room herself, a reproduction of Picasso’s woman descending steps or something like that.

She wore square-framed blue glasses and was one of the only students at McQ (the school) who was kind to me and did not think I was weird or gay (a bad thing there) for complimenting her all the time. And I did tell her all the time I thought she was beautiful and cool and smart and sang so beautifully and skillfully. She had soft, delicate hands with perfect fingernails. Her penmanship was perfect.

I didn’t know if I wanted to marry her or be her– I was 14 and couldn’t fathom a world where I could marry another girl so I settled for trying to be her.

Which is why now I’m a redhead who sings soprano with big blue glasses, fountain pens, and a lust for knowledge that is unparalleled. Granted a few of these traits I already had but E– influenced me during that short semester I knew her. I don’t even think she knew who I was.

She cut off all of her hair when she graduated high school. Now she’s an MD– I don’t know her specialization. I hope she still sings though. I can’t possibly begin to describe the timbre of her voice to you.

rlb 2.28.17

for jenna

Down feathers– Not simply because of geese but because of the way the down feathers fall, flutter, and dance and the way you are so light on your feet without trying. I remember dancing with you one evening– I think you tried to teach me to swing or perhaps you were showing me your latest routine– whichever it was I could only think how lucky I was to see it. The arch of your foot, curved calves, magnificent thighs and the way those legs carried you without effort across the floor even though I knew how many hours, months, years, blood, sweat, tears of training went into every breath of movement–

Hailstones– You already know this one but you don’t know they remind me of your laugh. Hailstones on glass, bright and delicate in the middle of a storm, a startling and beautiful break from the gale that reminds us that there is far more out there than just thunder and fear. There is more to the symphony than the bass and the drums there is also the lone piccolo singing, flying above the rest of the din to carry the fugue and maybe it’s something of a fugue state that carries the audience somewhere else, somewhere new entirely to be someone new and isn’t that something? A new state of personhood just like that–

Dustmotes– You remind me, in quiet times, of dustmotes in sunbeams that would fall through the screen door of my grandmother’s house onto the dark-stained hardwood panel that marked off the entryway. That sacred space where we could give kisses and shrug off our days before giving way to rich, thick blue carpet, braced for family. The sun was such a dark gold I thought I could reach out and touch it; the dust would be velvet. You are those moments of stillness where we catch ourselves breathing and existing and it feels like someone has suddenly spotted us with our hand in the cookie jar but we’re grown ups so we know we’ve not done anything wrong at all it’s just old habit to pause and look over our shoulder, sheepishly smiling as if we are chagrined–

Spring grass– Specifically, the memory of lying on blankets in it when it has grown tall, tall, tall enough that lying on your belly makes it feel a bit like a forest if you pull your hat down low and listen to the wind and pretend. It helps if your best friend is lying nearby, not talking but breathing, too, quiet and present, like you are both creeping along on some adventure and trying not to be heard. It’s an illusion of course, a friendly one. All you have to do is roll over and it’s diminished in a wave of cool blanket on your back, hot sun on your belly, and the scent of grass on the wind– it’s itchy embrace kept safely away by the blankets. But your best friend is still there with her rockstar sunglasses, avoiding studying just as hard as you are, and all’s right with the world because it is spring and the sun is warm and the grass is tall.

rlb 1.25.17