Sunday, June 9, 2013

Once: a collective list

Once I mistook my mother for another.

Once I wanted to learn to tie a bow more than life itself.

Once I saw an alligator under a sign that said "do not molest."

Once I was sure the peace movement in the 1960s would change the world.

Once when I was on the TV show Truth or Consequences, Bob Barker gave me an Instamatic camera as a consolation prize.

Once I buried a time capsule next to the clothesline in my yard.

Once I traveled to Iceland with nothing but a water bottle, a book, and a box of Fig Newtons.

Once I lived in Paris and it smelled horrible.

Once I planted a garden in the hot morning sun; then, in the evening, I cried upon reading an old friend's obituary that asked that we remember her by planting a garden.

Once I gave my mom an "over the hill" card for her birthday and now I am nearly the age she was that year.

Once I nearly gave up hope that we would ever be close again and now, here she is — sister.

Once I went skinny dipping in Ithaca Falls and soon afterwards I was discovered by a very large family of tourists.

Once there were exquisite lilacs everywhere; next day after the rain they were brown.

Once I thought I would always live in that house where my cats are buried, on that land, with the view of the valley and hillside rising to the sky.

Once when my sister and brother were scared by a thunderstorm I told them that the angels were bowling and the really big thunderclaps were strikes.

Once I had a warm, loving father, but now I don't.

Once in France I followed an old woman, but then I ignored her.

Once in November I lay outside under a blanket and counted shooting stars.

Once I loved someone I can no longer talk to.

Once I dreamed that I was flying and when I woke up I was bouncing on my bed.

Once I was sure I would end up homeless.

Once I believed I could change the world.

Once I thought I won the lottery.

Once and for all I claim the right to my body size.

Once I loved a little pug so much that he became my soulmate.

Once I took a chance and followed my heart.

Once I felt a presence.

Once I was comforted by sitting in a rocker and rocking back and forth … back and forth.

Once I looked in the mirror and didn’t know who I was.

Once I bought a classic long black wool coat so that I’d fit in when I walked across campus, but I still didn’t. 

Once I climbed a 12 foot ladder with a baby bird cradled in my hand and pushed my head and shoulders through a tangle of grapevines so I could return it to its nest.

Once I ran along the platform from one subway stop to another and I wasn't even winded.

Once I moved every year and things were a burden.

Once I saw meteors falling and watched until dawn, holding hands with a boy I loved then.

Once I saw my father cry — only once.

Once my mother told me that she "knew" things before they happened; later she seemed to forget this.

Once I breathed in tandem with you, your mouth hovering above mine, smiling.

Once I went snorkeling with white-tipped sharks in the Galapagos and it took my breath away, literally and figuratively.

Once, when I was less than 2 years old, I put a pussy willow in my ear; it was so soft and so small that I knew it belonged there.

Once, in Delphi, I had a spiritual experience — it was cloudy and the eagles were soaring overhead and the olive trees were swaying and I felt like a part of something larger than myself.

Once I hit my cousin with a flute.

Once I held someone's hand as they died.

Once I kissed a girl and I liked it.

Once I broke the long stem off the red pepper in Wegmans before weighing it.

Once I was a little girl who loved pink.

Once I was younger than this.

Once my cat chased me from side to side in my bathtub and I was scared because I thought he was going to scratch me but all he cared about were the waves.

Once making lasagna caused me to have a brief mental breakdown (actually possibly twice) — lesson learned: don't cook when hungry.

Once when I lived in the French Quarter I locked myself out of my apartment and got scared of the man who helped me so I stabbed him in the back with a knife.

Once I came to America on the Queen Mary and was seasick all the way.

Once I found a perfect robin's egg on the ground, but I dropped it.

Once I wore my hair in braids as thick as my arm.

Once I lived in a tent in the wilderness of British Columbia.

Once I had my palm read by a lady with a beehive hairdo.

Once I felt in charge of my life.

Once I saw a pelican land on the fin of a dolphin.

Once I always took the stairs two at a time.

Once, when I was 12,  I stepped on a frog in the moonless night in my bare feet and it popped, making a loudish sort of sound not much quieter than my shriek.

Once my father said he was proud of me, but only once.

Once Bruce Springsteen sweat on me.

Once I remembered to collect the monarch caterpillars in time and I held them as they dried their wings.

Once I was taller than both my children.

Once I stuck my head into a rose bush and bit off a rose to put on the pillow of the woman I adored.

Once I played the harmonica for a camel in the Sinai desert at dawn.

Once I thew an ice cream sundae at someone's head.

Once I over-thought everything and got nothing done.

Once I tried to eat a roasted cricket.

Once I dreamed I could walk through walls.

Once I could run like a horse for hours on end.

Once I began to raise my hand while walking and my pinky finger accidentally lodged itself in a lady's nostril, causing me to drag her along with me.

Once, while in labor, I walked across a gravel driveway in my bare feet and it didn't even phase me.

Once I carried an Oxford unabridged dictionary around in a backpack because I didn't want to be without it.

Once I told a lie to my father because I didn't think he would believe the truth.
Once I ran away from home and packed tissues to cry on.

Once I met George Clooney and Brad Pitt at a gast station in Whitney Point.

Once I had breast cancer and kicked its tush.

Once I thought my parents would be upset because my boyfriend was three years older than I was but they were actually more concerned with the color of his skin.

Once I lost a best friend by telling her the truth about something we both wished had never happened.

Once I cried tears of pure joy and decided that I'd like to do it again someday. 
Once you sang me to sleep and I dreamt of the ocean. 

Once a pair of amber eyes intently watched my progress from amidst the bushes. 

Once or twice I knew I was saying it wrong even as I was saying it.

Once I ran away and hid from police in dark doorways until I was ready to go home.

Once I got to choose all the groceries, and I made sure to buy pickled watermelon rinds.

Once I created an underwater sacred space to honor Neptune, God of the Sea.

Once I came home on a hot summer afternoon to find the inside of my kitchen windows covered with hundreds of wasps; after a couple hours they flew out on their own, but it was extremely creepy while I waited.

Once I lived in a European country for about 30 years and often woke up with an uneasiness that has a particular accent.

Once I spent a month in a yellow room but my morning tea was of a totally different color.

Once I waited in line at the grocery store for more than 10 hours for a bag of chicken breasts and now, 30 years later and living on a different continent, I am a vegan.

Once I read every Nancy Drew book.

Once I won a hula hoop contest.

Once I hitchhiked through Scotland and got a ride in a Cadbury Chocolate truck.

Once I spent part of the night in a graveyard in Nantucket.

Once I drove from Ithaca to Denver to see a play and only made one wrong turn, the one that took us to South Dakota instead.

Once I poured from the box of Softasilk cake flour instead of the box of Bisquick and the waffles I was making for my mother-in-law were really not that good.

Once while I was babysitting my granddaughter I alphabetized the spices in my daughter-in-law's cupboards.

Once or twice I forgot my way home, but once I got there I couldn't wait to hug my children.

Once, when I was 13, I was made to enter a beauty pageant, so I held the number card in front of my face.

Once, when I could still eat chocolate, I stuffed the freezer with red and green peppermint M&Ms.

Once I wore white platform shoes to an aerobics class. 

Once I made a grass salad for a turkey named Velma. 

Once a bumble bee “bumbled”over to me on the floor, and I ceased to be afraid of it. 

Once I carried words on scraps of paper in my pockets, but now I store colors in my heart.

Once I caught a mouse in my kitchen and then drove 24 miles to release it in a big city park.

Once I almost fell through the ice but my dog pulled me out.

Once I got lost at the World’s Fair and got stains on my face from crying into my big blue paper flower.

Once I was given an unfamiliar phone number in a dream, but I’ve never called it.

Once I lived in a flat spot on the map called Illinois.Once a pregnant woman at a nude beach asked me to rub SPF30 sunscreen lotion on her arms, shoulders, neck, back, tush, legs, and feet.

Once I could remember people’s names, but not any more.

Once I met my double in a parking lot eating nachos.

Once on a dark moonless night I almost drove into the lake because I refused to put the car lights on.

Once I pretended that I was from a foreign country and walked around New York City with my best friend, speaking our own made-up language. 

Once I got stuck at the top of the ferris wheel and I was so scared that I threw up on the person below me.

Once I had my first child, I became an insomniac.

Once, when I was 5, Italian nuns taught me how to eat spaghetti with a fork and spoon, twirling the spaghetti while sailing on the Mediterranean.

Once my mother told the young Leonard Bernstein that taking a shower after a dusty jeep journey was just a bit better than seeing him conduct an orchestra and play the piano.

Once I believed my life would be a story with a happy ending.

Once I taught my younger sister to climb up into the apple tree in our yard but did not teach her how to climb down.

Once I thought I knew all there was to know but now I know that I know next to nothing.

Once, the phone had a cord, paper was for writing on, information was found in books, and I carried address books and calendars in my purse; now, I need a five year old to help me find and navigate my life.

Once I thought that taking a nap was the ultimate waste of life but now I consider it a gift from God.

Once I was in  Russia and drank vodka at a picnic on the 4th of July and sang "America the Beautiful," and meant it.

Once I had a dog named Blondie.

Once I was the shortest kid in the class and everyone called me "Shrimp Boat."

Once I saw a triple rainbow from a mountain refuge in the Dolomites in Italy.

Once I pushed my younger brother out of a slowly moving car and for some reason he just can't forget it.

Once I planned a "Celebrate Every Holiday" party for someone who was leaving the country for a year.

Once, when I was 8 years old, I refused a schoolmate's gift of Evening in Paris perfume because I thought it would be wrong to pretend that I was his girlfriend. 

Once I longed to hike the Appalachian Trail with a falcon as my traveling companion.

Once I laughed in joy and relief when, after 36 hours of pain, I laid eyes on our first-born child.

Once someone lost a list with the words darkness, hand, beginner's goodbye, swag, and moonshine, and all but goodbye were crossed out and the list was found by me.

Once I was deeply green, but not in the way you're thinking.

Once I made three skirts from curtains just like in The Sound of Music . . . and this went exactly as well as that did.

Once I spent three days trying to succeed at being a teenage Fuller Brush Company salesperson, the outcome being very few sales, but one new elderly friend who enjoyed gardening too and gave me starts of three of her unusual plants.

Once I dreamt that I swam with the dolphins.

Once I came from Iowa.

Once I lived right down the street from my elementary school and I could go home for lunch.

Once I taught myself your favorite French song, but was too shy to sing it for you. 

Once I drove away and watched you standing in the rain through my rearview mirror until you were out of sight. 

Once you left me things to remind me of you — your notes, your sweatpants, your photos, a suit coat, your teddybear, your cologne — now your scent is fading from them and they are only objects.

Once I was not afraid to meet your eyes.

Once I lost something and once it was found and once I lost it and once it was found.

Once I took for granted an evening summer's breeze that cleared my psychological palette.

Once the smells of everything inspired me and filled me with wonder.

Once I didn't ask anyone for help, not because I didn't want to but because I didn't know I needed to.

Once I had a beautiful, vintage blue bike that came complete with a dress code and aura of overall awesomeness. 

Once I hitchhiked over the Rockies in the back of a potato farmer's 1950 pickup truck.

Once I watched one of The Flying Wallendas tightrope walk across the flooded falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

Once I sat on the porch and watched the storm rush in.

Once I laughed in a quiet movie theatre at a silent film and disrupted the rest of the audience.

Once I held a baby lamb.

Once, while standing on the bridge of the USS Princeton, sailing off the coast of Vietnam, I saw a bomb being dropped in the area of the DMZ, with sparks flying.

Once I stood clutching my pillow at the top of a flight of concrete steps leading down to our air raid shelter and was equally afraid of the planes overhead and the spiders and beetles down in the shelter.

Once I stood in a court in Virginia with about thirty or so others as we made our vows and became  citizens of these United States, and were assured by the presiding judge that "Now you can vote, just like real Americans."

Once I thought that it was still October in April.

Once my wallet was flushed down a toilet at the middle school where I was teaching.

Once I was in a car accident and thought I had died and gone to heaven, until I turned on the windshield wipers and realized my car was covered with snow.

Once I used to race home from school, almost taking off my dress on the way, in order to get into my bluejeans.

Once I read books while nestled in a big tree hanging over the river.

Once I had a friend who died of AIDS.

Once I was a member of a trio singing at a church service and when we came to a section of the piece we had had trouble with in practice, all three of us burst out laughing and had to sit down.

Once, a very long time ago, I wondered if I would be 60 years old; now I am past that.

Once I threw myself my own surprise birthday party.

Once a waiter told me that he had "never seen a woman eat that much."

Once I rode on the back of a galloping black horse across a beach in Ireland.

Once I leapt, since I was told that the net would follow, but it didn't. 

Once, thankfully very long ago, I discovered that who I genuinely am can be filled with joy and that somehow, through my punny, wiggly silliness, others find themselves dancing with me.

Once, before, now, and in the future, I am grateful for those moments when I know the mystics had it right — we are part of a greater and great universe.

Once on my seventh birthday I got a new bike with a banana seat and I told my mom it was the best day of my life.

Once I wore suits and dresses and heels and makeup and now I live mostly in boys’ sneakers and jeans.

Once I flew to Dallas next to a man who said he played pro football and the whole time we talked I thought he was lying but he wasn’t.

Once I paddled my surf mat out as far as I could go beyond the waves and watched the sunset until it was almost dark.

Once I got caught in an undertow and almost lost consciousness.

Once, out in the desert, I drove the car as fast as I dared and reached more than 90 miles an hour.

Once I played the cymbals in the high school band.

Once I swam in the ocean, sure swift strokes; I was young.

Once I thought adults didn’t sleep because when I went to bed I could still hear their voices and when I woke the same was true.

Once my friends set out to count every freckle on my face but they only made it to about 23.

Once my best friend and I would mix pink and yellow to make what we called the perfect color.

Once I named all of the trees in my neighbor’s yard after foods, and I can still remember which ones were candy cane, banana bread, or coconut.

Once, while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, two tiny, darkly striped translucent fish with golden fins, appeared at my side, staying close the entire day, as if I were their mother fish.

Once in late May, during a Grateful Dead concert at Cornell, three inches of snow fell outside.

Once a snapping turtle journeyed across the backyard, took a bath in a rainwater-filled Frisbee, and moved on.

Once, in a fit of pique, my little daughter revealed she had once been my mother.

Once I saw a gate standing all by itself in a field and I felt compelled to walk through it.

Thank you to all these wonderful contributors:

Alan Heath
Annie Wexler
Antonia Matthew
Barbara Anger
Barbara Cartwright
Barbara Kane Lewis 
Barbara West
Beal St. George
Blue Waters
Bronwyn J.Q. Mohlke
Carla DeMello
Carol Miller
Carole Russell
Cassandra Shortle
Cindy Stillman
Deanalís Resto
Diana Kreutzer
Dianne Ferriss
Donna Holt
Eleni Rigas
Gabrielle Vehar
Gina O'Donnell
Hank Roberts
Heather Dube
Jackie Parslow
Jane Edwards
Janie Carasik
Jaron Porciello
John Lyon Paul
Karen Schiller Kripke
Kathleen Halton
Kelly Morris
Kim Falstick
Laura LaRosa
Laurie Petersen  
Lauryn Member
Lee Miller
Linda Pope
Loretta Louviere
Lottie Sweeney
Lynne Taetzsch
Marty Hiller
Mary A. Roberts
Maude Rith
Melissa Hamilton
Meryl Young
Michael Schaff
Minna Resnick
Miriam Frischer
Mo Owens
Molly Sutton
Nancy Reynolds
Nelie Rea
Nina Miller
Noémi Kraut
Pat Baker
Patience Garcia
Patrick Robbins
Paula Arzac
Paula Culver
Peggy Stevens
Perri McGowan
Priscilla Walker
Rachel Frank
Rachel Siegel
Randy Ehrenbert
Robyn Bem
Ross Haarstad
Roxanne VanWormer
Sally Kamerling
Sara Robbins
Sharon K. Yntema
Siouxsie Easter 
Sorina Susnea
Stacey Murphy
Sue Bissell
Sue Norvell
Sue Perlgut
Summer Killian
Susan Koon
Susan Lesser
Tara Shanti Kane
Tish Pearlman
Tom Hall
Valerie Evans
Vickie VanCamp
Victoria Armstrong
Victoria Hastings
Vivian Relta 
Xin Li
Yasmin Kassam
Yvette Rubio