Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Dirtday (be forewarned: not the usual recap...)

50 some-odd years ago tonight, I hurtled head-first through the body of a woman who did not want me.

She tried, she really did. There were times she did the best she could, times when she was wondrous (I think... it might have been an act) and times she really just fucked it up altogether. Ultimately, when I was 22, she quit being my mother; she resigned; she cut me loose. I haven't seen her in over 30 years.

It was early in the morning on January 27th when I was born in Mt.  Sinai Hospital in New York City. And every year, right about now, if I'm awake – and I usually am – I sense (or imagine) a gentle wrinkle in the air, a tiny flaw in the denseness of time, that causes me to feel close to her again and sadness falls upon me like an annual shawl. It doesn't last.

About 20 minutes ago I went to bed. I stared up wide-eyed at nothing, knowing I had to just get up and write this down.

See, Dirt Girl Unleashed is where I get to figure out what it means to dig in the dirt. Why I do it.

My mother was with me the first time I did this. I was maybe 11 years old and we were down near the South Street Seaport, before it got all gussied up. I don't know why we were there. She was just really fascinated with the oldness of the area and wanted me to be fascinated too. And so I was, because I loved her wildly and I was a wide open child.

As we were walking back to the bus along the cobblestoned streets – there was no one around – I saw a hole in the ground, a small construction site. There must have been some traffic cones, but I don't remember. I just knew I wanted to go down there. Could I? She said I could.

I climbed down into the hole and began digging into the side, down below the street. There was stuff in there. Pieces of porcelain, bits of broken iron pots, curves of old, blown glass, brick, all kinds of stuff from early New York, all churned up and packed down and paved over. Excitement. I grabbed what I could and brought it home. I cleaned it up and showed it to anyone who came over.

We had a huge dictionary in our apartment – maybe the Oxford? It was housed in a stiff, cardboard box and in the top of the box was a small drawer that held a magnifying glass. That's where I kept the pieces of Old New Yorke. They're probably still in there.

Last night, I dreamed about that apartment. My mother and I were living there again, together. It was neither good nor bad, just neutral. But I looked up at the ceiling and saw that the place where the walls met the ceiling was twisted and cracked. There were other cracks too, along the floors. Soon, it would all fall down.

Tomorrow, to celebrate my birthday, I will go out into the countryside with some good buddies and turn on my machine and walk slowly through fields and forests. If we're lucky, we'll come across the remnants of an old home, or a Civil War encampment. And when I hear the signal, I'll get that sweet rush – yes, I know: serotonin – and dig down and see what the ground has for me. And I'll hold that bullet or that thimble or that button in my hand the past will thrill through me as if I'm standing too close to a bell.

And somehow, what's lost is found.


  1. Whit, I don't follow this faithfully but each time I read a piece you've written I feel like I'm right there with you. LOVE your voice/style. I have no gift for you for your birthday but that's OK because YOUR gift is so big none other is needed.

    1. THat is so kind; thank you. I'm really enjoying writing these.

  2. Thank you. I was afraid this one was too much of a departure. Heading out tomorrow, back to the site I wrote about in My Arms Hurt. I was there yesterday for about 30 minutes and got lucky...