Was This My Life Passing Before My Eyes?

I have the keys and the security pass
I have the newer car

He has a plastic bag tied in a knot
carrying five homemade VHS tapes

They have his handwriting on the spine
some of them have mine

This is a rendez-vous arranged
after hours at my school
to record from expiring video tapes onto DVD
the anctics of our infant daughter and seven year old
in the first red house we owned
on a street lined with silver maples
named Hubbard after the nursery rhyme

In the DVD room of the library
on pause with her back to the camera
is our oldest daughter
as if waiting on a film set for the “action” call

He presses turbo-dubbing on the remote
and she turns, blond hair flying,
smiles at the camera with one tooth gone
wearing the tee shirt I never appreciated (until now,
where is that tee shirt, in the attic somewhere? it was
a hand-painted stylized flag designed by the wife
of the director at Broom Street Theater
for my costume in “Joe, A Life”)

Here she is at the sink in the kitchen
there is the brown plaid carpeting on the floor
there is the window filled with a tree

There she is pointing to her sister in the crib
we borrowed from the neighbor
the little baby sister with the heavy head
the same one who texted me just now saying
Will you pick us up smiley face
on her way to a concert

(The oldest one herself right now
planning her own first child
in a distant town)

He leans back in the office chair
which almost breaks under his weight
as I point out the step-by-step instructions
the staff is so proud of around here
the configurations of transfer from VHS to DVD
that we obtained like a druid science
and wrote down on a laminated card

He says that DVD is going by the wayside too

What will we do then, I wonder
as in one machine the old tape whirs
and in the other the bald disc tick-ticks
as the video player and DVD recorder
pass scenes of the children between them
like buckets in a fire brigade: Here, comrade,
take the naked baby in the crib, take the girl
now she is in blue jean cut-offs
now her hair has gotten short

He says there were more tapes, one from Rio years earlier
I remember it showed me twirling around the living room
our first-born inside my taut belly
my brother behind the camera making me laugh
and there was the one from my dad’s last visit
the tape with the yellow spine
found in the video camera at the bus stop where he died
in the video camera so big you had to prop it on your shoulder

I had gotten so tired of it, but he kept telling me to film more
film all of it, everybody, my aunts, uncles, my mother, daughter, him
keep filming honey all these situations here
as if he knew the next day he’d be gone

The only people who don’t show up on that tape
except as background voices, are me (who was holding the camera)
and the man who is sitting in this office chair
the man who was once a man who was my husband
the man who was once a man I wanted to marry and did
the man who was a different man from this one
this is the man I wanted to say not to
and finally did on a day in April on the path in front of our house
(this was red house number 2)
I don’t know what became of that other man
at what point, or where, he was gone

or where those tapes have gone

And now he is saying there was a box of small cassette films
they were the next generation after VHS
they were the modern ones we took over a decade ago
where are those?

You must have them, I say
No, I only have these two and my kite ones, he says
But you took the television and all the tapes.
I thought so too, but they must be in the filing cabinet, he says
The filing cabinet?
The metal filing cabinet.
What metal filing cabinet?
The one with two drawers.
You took that to put under your desktop.
No I took the wooden one.
I have the wooden one.
No, I am talking about the small gray metal one.
You must have that under your desk.
No, I didn’t take that one.
I’ve don’t know where there’s a metal filing cabinet in the house.
The tapes were lying in the back of the bottom drawer.
Yes, I remember it under your desk.
Maybe we got rid of it.
Why would we get rid of it?
It was useless, he says, two hollow drawers like wheelbarrows.
Yes, things were lying loose in it under your desk.

Maybe we threw it out in Hawaii.
Then it can’t be where the video tapes are.

Maybe they are with the camera, he says.
You mean the broken video camera I’ve been meaning to throw out?
It works if you can find the cord.
If it works why didn’t you take it?
It can be used to make VHS tapes out of those cassettes, if you find the cords.
I don’t know about any cords.
They’d be in the bag with the camera.
There is no bag, the camera is lying on a shelf, I thought it was broken.
Then the tapes are in a box.
I was going to throw the video camera out like we did that other one, I say.
What other one?
The digital camera from Hawaii.
I have that, it sort of works.
You have that old camera? Then you must have all the tapes.
I thought so too, but there are only these two
only these two you might call Family Ones, Baby Nadine 1 and Baby Nadine 2

I’ll look at home, I say

I tell him there are a lot of things I wonder where they are
among other things all the books he got rid of

I got rid of? he says

Yes you sold all my books to Ron Czerwin for $300, I am constantly
coming upon books I don’t have any more, like the one that was side-by-side parallel columns comparing the teachings of Jesus and Confuscious

Why did you get rid of that? he laughs
That was your decision, not mine!

No, I wasn’t making decisions
all the decisions were yours
all the decisions were his
I didn’t know what a decision was

And anyway, he says, you can buy the books back again

I tell him I used to think so too but if there is one thing I have learned
it is that you can’t just buy books back again, they’re not in every town
does he know how long I have searched for some of those books, like
the Salman Rusdie I couldn’t find in San Francisco, not in London either
no not Satanic Verses, the one called Shame, that takes place in the Defense Society in Karachi near my uncle’s house…

Did you look online? he says

… I found it of all places in a Trondheim charity shop

And anyway, he says, there are libraries everywhere full of books

I tell him that speaking of libraries my book group was reading Hamsun so I went to the library
and there on the shelf was my fifteen-volume red-covered Hamsun collected works
the very same one I had from 1984, I had to check out my own book

There you see, there are collections all over the place, he says

Ron Czerwin got my collected works of Ibsen too.

There is no tension between us, there is nothing between us
just some kind of amused irony in the air
and now the big girl is practicing strapping the baby girl
into the car seat that is standing on the living room floor on the flowered rug

We would agree about what happened to the flowered rug

And there is the brick fireplace, my wing chairs, the chairs I loved
and the horrible kitchen carpet and white walls I didn’t know how to get rid of
and my oval split-oak library table, there are the straight back chairs I refinished one by one
(why those chairs, why my birds-eye maple table, why were all of them gotten rid of?)
and there is the brown stove, that hated two-tone brown enamel, the white formica top
there is me wearing stupid bangs, dressed in a white nylon track suit
glancing unwillingly at him behind the camera, my eyes dark and vacant
chaos all around me of things I loved and didn’t love and could have changed
but didn’t know how

There was so much I didn’t know how

And he is saying that now that it’s started this tape will just have to run
it might go on for six hours

I say the DVD will be full in two
the laminated instructions say it will turn itself off
I say I’ll do some work, go swimming, come back at eight o’clock

He ties his kite videos up in the bag
along with the useless CD-R discs he brought
follows me into the library stacks
I am juggling my heavy keys in my hand
I am slowing down in the center of all these books
the library is dark but there is light from somewhere
from somewhere there is light enough

Is it just to walk out? he asks
Yes, I say, it is just to walk out.

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