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It's Nelly's World

New Day Dawning, Again

alec vanderboom

The historic event of this week--the one where you pinched yourself to make sure it was real, and it appears to be!--is making me reflect even more than usual on the paradox of good often arising out of what appears to be bad news. Maybe that ill-looking black soil is really the ideal growing medium of delicate, bright flowers.

I've been experiencing it (touch and go, of course, but that's the way it is) over the past year and a half since the delivery of my apparent bad news, which--according to the predictions of many of my friends--is slowly transforming itself into the sign and symbol of good luck. And now it's happening to all of us in a much bigger, nationwide kind of way, because it is the frighteningly dismal crap of the past eight years that made us willing to wake to this new sunrise.

I left my friends' house on Tuesday night tired, elated, but also strangely anxious underneath it all. Whenever I get something nice, I immediately think about what might happen to the gift: it might get wrecked, or lost. What broken thing inside me does this reprehensible thing? Whatever it is, it sure makes people recoil. And that, in turn, makes me feel even more unfit: I can't even be happy in the right way! Things work better for me when I am handed something that overtly appears to be a terrible blow, because then my inner Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm gets busy, digging under the top layer to reveal the sweet incipient green down below. And it is always there. The process can feel almost mystical. Inevitable. Made just for me, to learn the lesson I most needed to learn.

Last month, driving down the Thruway. At 75 mph, with one's child and one's dog quietly occupying themselves in the backseat, one concentrates very deeply on what one is doing; maintaining safe following distance, watching to see which idiot (the NJ tags a useful giveaway) might be approaching from behind at hurricane speed. You never lose the attentive lessons learned from motorcycle safety class: at a stoplight, stay in first gear, clutch engaged, with an eye on the mirror, in case the guy coming up behind forgets he has brakes. Et cetera. On the road, this is when it really pays off to be a pessimist. (Ha! Finally, Melissa!)

So I'm thinking about what we'll be doing over the weekend, the friends we'll be seeing, where to eat dinner, the route I'll take in (should I cough up the money for the Battery Tunnel, or brave the Brooklyn Bridge for free?) and suddenly a thought appears like a printed legend in my head: Did I ever turn off the broiler?

I'd packed a lunch containing a not-dog for my son before an early pick-up at school; when Nelly is in the car, I don't like to leave her at a rest area while we go in to eat--more negativity, eh.

Not-dogs are greatly improved by being served on a bun that's been lightly brushed with olive oil, then toasted under the broiler. This oven, though, is new to me: before it lies seven years of turning just one knob to shut off the heat, which became instinct. But now, suddenly, I have a stove that requires me to turn off two knobs. It hasn't even been seven months. You do the math.

Oh, come on, I told myself. You really are negative, just like they say. Obsessive. This must be one of those convenient catch-all worries for all those painful thoughts the mind wants to repress. And you've got more than your share of those right now.

And suddenly, I was standing in a parking lot in the Adirondacks, arguing with my old boyfriend while a cold wind made the tall pines whine in the darkness above. He was saying, over and over again, that he was sure he had left his iron on, and it was slowly burning through the board on its way to conflagrating the entire Brooklyn apartment building. I was trying to assure him that he had not. I could be certain of this, too, since we had earlier that day already turned back from the road to go home and check. It was not on, even though he knew it was. I felt then, and I felt now, a burst of sympathy for the weight of horrible worry he must have been carrying, to make a fire like that in his own mind.

Still, I needed to make sure there would be no fire in my rented house now. When we arrived in the city, I went online to try to find the phone number of my neighbor--whose last name I did not know. I spent 30 minutes searching for a business listing for him, since I did know that name (it's on the side of his car), but I could not turn up anything there, either. Finally, I conceded defeat and called Janet, the one friend I call on again and again. Four hours after I had left home, she drove to my house. She reported later that the heat slammed into her like a wall when she opened the door.

Why had that thought occurred to me, somewhere south of Bear Mountain and moving fast? Why does anything occur to us, the thoughts that can save us?