Welcome back to Member Monday. It’s a pleasure to feature member Jennifer Phelps. Jennifer’s piece, Cigarettes in the Volkswagen was recently published in the 2013 issue of the Santa Fe Literary Review. Welcome, Jennifer!
by Jennifer Phelps
We all need quiet in our lives. We must sweep off the table and make space for it. My life’s work dwells in the quiet spaces between things – of that I am certain.
When I was little, I had plenty of quiet. We lived way out in the country, in the middle of an apple orchard, and I was always alone. I had no siblings, no neighbors with kids, no playmates. What I did have was an active imagination, and I was a voracious reader and so I enjoyed robust adventures of my own conjuring.
Still, I thought I was lonely. I built tree forts and yearned for a friend – a Diana to my Anne (of Green Gables) – to come climb with me. We would giggle and tell secrets. She would know my heart and understand me without a word.
I thought I was lonely, and maybe I was, with only an aloof cat, the mute companionship of a sweet-natured dog, and the rough-barked apple trees. But as it turns out, along with the tree houses, I was also building something else.
I was building a relationship with myself. I asked myself questions and listened to the answers. The trees were my companions, the tractor-torn clay of the earth. I ran barefoot and my feet became tough and impervious to rocks. I ate plums and mulberries – and apples, of course – warm from the tree.
When I started school, I was confused by the complexities of interactions with my peers. Many of them were abrupt, judgmental, inconsistent. I began to see relationships as troubling, unsatisfying, and hurtful.
I have been blessed with some very dear friends in my life, but a true and durable friendship, as many of us know, is an uncommon thing. That Diana to my Anne – that “kindred spirit” that L. M. Montgomery spoke of – I don’t know that I’ve ever quite found her. Unless…
Unless I am that friend, to myself. When I think about it, this dialogue that has continued for well over 30 years, this old and comfortable knowing of myself that goes deeper than words, has served me well ever since my childhood, when such self-companionship was forced on me through my isolated circumstances.
When I’m alone, undistracted, and able to really be with myself, it’s like a visit with an old, dear friend. I thought I was waiting to meet her, but maybe she’s been here all along. She’s been waiting in the quiet spaces between things…and she is always there for me.
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They say to really know someone, you must spend time with them; them and them alone. Same goes for knowing yourself.