On Friday, while students confirmed their Spring Break cruise tickets, filled their mothers’ minivans with Bugles, beer and 20 gallons of gasoline, I picked up four books from the library with a Target bag in each elbow pit. You see, I intern in a newsroom two days a week and seeing as I was too embarrassed to ask my supervisor for days off over Spring Break, I’m sticking around a deserted campus. But I’d be lying to say I don’t love my internship and even asked to work more days than usual.
So while Matt from Fiction Writing class is checking out girls on the beach, I’m checking out two books on cadavers, a John F. Kennedy biography and Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining. Yes, I too was wondering what the girl scanning my books was wondering as she bid farewell and silently pushed the red emergency button below her desk.
All jokes aside I knew going into Shabbos that it was going to be wonderful. When you are alone for the weekend, except for the warm company of your roommate, there’s a restorativeness about the 25 hours, resembling a retreat from reality, that makes Shabbos a very personal experience.
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It’s Saturday, March 18th and my room is remarkably clean, noted because until yesterday the floor resembled a ransacked Old Navy on Black Friday. But now the room is spotless and sunless. I hoist the blinds open like one heaving a mast and the sun spills into the room, catching light onto the crystal collection I’ve started. I tear myself away only to fill a cup with coffee and pull JFK into bed with me. Just his biography, not him, though I’m sure he liked that joke in heaven where he’s seducing some poor man’s 72 virgins.
Eight o’clock ages to ten in two hazelnut cups and 30 pages about JFK’s adolescent ailments and spoon-fed life of luxury. Around this time I take my siddur and sit beside our bay window. I watch as the leftover lumps of snow melt below me. My roommate decides to go to Chabad to attend services, but I look down at my pajamas and can’t imagine separating them from my body. So I continue praying in slippers.
I make my own kiddush in a shot glass and throw together a salad. I wash for Ha’motzei ( a custom of washing the hands and remaining silent until a prayer on the bread) and when I finally bite into the Thomas English Muffin, I realize nothing has changed. There’s noone to talk to talk to to break my moment of silence. I am alone.
But not lonely. From my room I retrieve the envelopes of photos I have stashed in my dresser. Pictures Bubbie sends me two days after taking them. Photos of my new baby nephew, looking like a pink blob with a teeny mop. Photos at the beach with my best friend building ridiculous statues out of sand, making a mess. Photos of my boyfriend and I before we started dating, all dressed up, looking young. I am struck by a sense that he is so out of my league.
Checking in with these memories fills me with a flush of gratitude, my hectic schedule demands I overlook. And I make a mental note to secure this uplifting height throughout the week.
And when the photos are finished and I see the day hasn’t even hit noon, I bundle into sunglasses and an outfit even my mother wouldn’t recognize me in, and go for a walk without a destination, without a time-limit. The only thing I do have is pepper spray and a personal alarm, because hey, it’s an empty campus and my parents injected me with a shot of paranoia from the day I was born. I clip the two around my lanyard soas if I step outside the eruv, at least it counts as jewelry (?)
I walk along the perimeter of the entire campus. I walk to Ludwig Field, and watch men in shorts that I would never feel comfortable wearing, leap over hurdles on the track. The stands erupt in cheer and I move on. At The Clarice Smith Preforming Arts Center, I think about the silent disco I sweat through earlier that year and I hunt for the beautiful spot my boyfriend promised was there but never found.
I pass Oakland hall and admire the bikes lined up like colorful cakes at the bakery. Mischievously, I inspect how haphazardly they’re secured and imagine cutting this slender cord with cheap garden clippers. I pull myself away from reckless thoughts to the community garden wedged between Eppley and the School of Public Health. I put my nose into the garlic bed to see if it smells like garlic and I stiffen in embarrassment to find that no one is watching me. I see the stevia, dill, rosemary and lime thyme growing. I read the sign that says the garden is watered from runoff from the parking lot. I take note of the hours of operation and leave.
Behind the Xfinity Center I hear throngs of people hollering. I am met at the gate of a sports field by the “Terp Host” and am told Maryland is on the left side, Binghamton on the right. I smirk thinking how different my life would have been if I followed my high school guidance counselor’s advice and gone to Binghamton. I watch the families here. The fathers with tucked shirts and guts, the mothers wearing team colors in sensible shoes and sensible haircuts, younger siblings holding pompoms and uploading videos to their youtube channels. This ‘team family’ life is something I had only scene on screens, and I feel like a voyeur in this marvelous Saturday tradition of hotdogs and fastballs, coolers and team huddles.
I pass the soccer field I played on with my team the Red Heffers, where we were beaten brutally by a team of grad students and a teacher. I rounded the corner by to the Manfacturing Building where the decrepit yellow helicopter hides in a small lot. I remember my boyfriend showing it to me the night we started going out. How we were four friends and the cops came and asked for our IDs, how they thought we had been drinking when they saw us crawling around. I looked at it now, in the daylight, painted yellow, black and red: our school colors. The inside looks like an atomic bomb has exploded. Nothing but gray mechanisms with DANGER PULL on the door and a shattered windshield. There’s a small chain fence surrounding it now with a sign that reads, “Under Video Surveillance.” I don’t remember it.
Every fence is a gate if you want it to be. The gate near the horse stables happened to be open so I walk inside. An attendant opens one of the stables and lets me pet Diva, the smallest horse, who is an ashy tan and has white bangs spilling into her eyes. I pet her soft nose, like a touch-and-feel pad in a children’s book. Her snout is so close to my mouth, if she sneezes this dream will be all over. I pray that the personal alarm around my neck won’t choose to spontaneously detonate and I’ll be pinned to the side of the barn by a raging horse.
I walk along Frat Row, through the Mall around the Chapel, onto The Quad taking it all in, feeling as though I was saying goodbye. One Shabbos on Frat Row my friends had the brilliant idea to compete by seeing who could throw their keys further across the lawn. Of course someones keys got lost and we spent thirty minutes like grazing sheep with our faces to the dirt, trying to locate the missing keys. The Mall captures soccer practices and a subsequent soccer jump into the fountain. It was snow days on a toboggan and First Look Fairs when I signed up for the kickball club from whom I still get emails. It was roller blading down the ramps of doom and watching seniors take graduation photos. Something I’ll be doing in just a few weeks.
Yes, my walk literally takes me full circle.
I am in my apartment now, waking up from a three-hour nap and scarfing down deserved spoonfuls of peanut butter. I’m also reading about cadavers, more precisely, severed heads. Mary Roach, the author, is a science journalist icon. Curiosity guides her fascination to far-flung stories. She’s been to Antartica three times. Now she is inside a school of medicine lab where she watches medical students give face lifts to severed heads. Earlier that day the heads got nose jobs.
Roach is just remarkable: “I walk up and down the rows. The heads look like rubber Halloween masks. They also look like human heads, but my brain has no precedent for human heads on tables or in roasting pans or anywhere other than on the top of human bodies, and so I think it has chosen to interpret the sight in a more comforting manner. Here we are at the rubber mask factory. Look at the nice men and women working on the masks.” -Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)
I marvel at Roach and become buoyant when she quotes a physician I interviewed last Spring when I wrote a story on how Maryland’s unclaimed dead become donated to medical science. That story is now a finalist in a small regional competition. Maybe one day Block will be a name someone will marvel at too.
And it’s Eight o’clock again. And it’s time to sing Shabbos away with cinnamon and two Hannukah candles Smashed together with aluminum foil and another shot glass of grape juice. And it’s time to come full circle again.
I may not be sunbathing on a beach or trekking across the open road this Spring Break, but at least I recharged my batteries and remembered how much I like spending time with myself. And JFK. Obvs.
That personal alarm, though.