My last post I showed pictures from our recent PA and DC vacation. My husband is a history buff and wanted to visit Gettysburg for the 150th Anniversary. Thankfully he didn’t go full nerd on me; although there were plenty of people who did, like the family of 7 that wore t-shirts of cast members from the movie Gettysburg, complete with quotes. They were walking bumper stickers I couldn’t pass, following us everywhere. I don’t recommend maintaining a permanent eye roll. People start to believe you’re possessed. Although the battlefields were beautiful and the history, of course, is rich with civil rights and the evolution of our country, I could only take one day. Some dude did a rebel yell while we were in the parking lot and that just about did it for me.
Anyhoo, I took a lot of close up pictures too, filling up time while the ranger jawboned about fighting tactics and strategies. I didn’t include those pictures of sun bleeding through leaves and pedals. I wanted to include close-ups of another kind. Often times when we travel, we take the beautiful photos. The obvious shots. But sometimes we forget to see what is right in front of us.
Take an elevator ride in our DC hotel… I love elevators. There is something about confined spaces that reveal pieces of ourselves.
“Hello. Good morning,” we say in unison.
Housekeeping. She walks on with a sigh, pushing her cart of clean and dirty linens, rows of miniature shampoo bottles, conditioners and lotions before the door closes. She takes a sharp inhale before she realizes to hold her breath. The stale air of human smells rises up and hits her before she succumbs. Her basket of hair and shed follicles. Dirt and city smells that followed the guests back into their rooms, embedded into the sheets she has just stripped. She worked fast this morning, pulling back covers, trying not to notice if a stain had blemished the perfect white. But there was a mark, colored like a copper coin or darkened blood from a skinned knee. Or worse. Her job has always been just that. A job. Working quickly, mindful of details: emptying waste baskets, wiping countertops, tucking in covers. She remembers the day they taught her the careful folding techniques: perfect triangles and fluffed pillows. It almost seemed noble, slicing sheets of cotton with her hand, flipping it gallantly in the air before the perfect tuck under the mattress. And now, it is the gathered hair, tangled and strewn across white tile she knows. The pile of towels, smudged and marked with make-up and sweat. The build-up and collection of people, stripped down at night and put together in the morning. The kicked off blankets, and dragged footsteps. She sees the hundreds of mirrored reflections. The bags under their eyes. The sleep crusted to their lashes. The foul breath before they reach the toothpaste, squirt it on bristles, and streak the porcelain sink with bits of blue and white. The combed hair. The washed face. The splatter of water. They walk down to the free buffet, smelling of spring flowers and sunscreen, leaving behind the stink of themselves for her to clean. The men and their musk. The women with their swish and jingle of bangle bracelets. She drags her cart past them, nods, says hello, trying not to think of her hijos at home.
The door opens at the sixth floor. We are now three.
“Hello. Good morning.”
There is a swagger in his walk, marking his youth. The beautiful idea that the world is his for the taking. He steps on, pushing the button for the ground floor even though it is already lit, goes to the opposite corner from her, fumbling for his phone like a cigarette. He lights it up, inhales swiftly, swiping his fingers across a screen, hiding fears, knowing everything around him is coded and means something else. Something he is not privileged to see, and at the same time, not sure he wants to. He is caught in the change of his body: tall, thin, shoulders that hold an awkward frame, built like a hanger, his colorful clothes draping, falling – all elastic and cotton, brand swooshes and labels. His lip is curled to one side (a text?), brows low, eyes half opened, sleepy, hiding color. His face is filling out and soon will be handsome. He will be the one who gets the girls, for a while, anyways. Somewhere, it won’t be enough. He will believe he is owed something more than what’s in front of him. He’ll strive for it. Believing these dreams swirling inside his ripening mind. If he stops to assess, hesitates for a moment, he’s afraid the rise of indignation will reflect upon himself. He won’t lift his eyes from his phone though. And for a while, he will believe his world is held in the palm of his hands.
I look down at my shoes, the permanent summer flip flop, always selecting shoes that will allow me to walk miles in my contradictions. Still, but restless. A loyal runner. A youthful mom. An old soul. A cynical dreamer. A sweet realist. A frightened rebel. I have stared at the boy long enough to know his eyes were the blue you find at a great distance, like in a plane, looking down upon the sea. You know if you look too closely, they will disappear into a clear liquid. I have taken too long in the shower, told my family to meet me down at the buffet so that I could gather our belongings – the scattered neat-nick — restore order before disruption. Or more likely, to have a moment of silence that I cherish so fully, I know it will come back and smother me when they’re are gone. I have secretly stashed my fears in my children’s bodies, knowing they hold too much of myself in them, will feel their pain and disappointment too deeply. Those are the real sacrifices a parent makes — too feel all over again, with knowledge and wisdom and no control.
I step off, with the maid and the man/boy and we depart our separate ways. But for one small moment we breathed the same air. And I have my snapshot.