Friday, September 09, 2016



Whether AM or PM 12:34 has been a time of day that for some reason I always seem to notice. I'll look up from writing.


I'll wake up for some reason, disturbed from the three or four hours of sleep I'm getting in this incredibly busy year and glance at the clock.


Through the years, that time of day had held an almost magical fascination for me. For a long time, a song was associated with it. I could be driving down one of the long, boring stretches of I-70 between Ohio and Tennessee, and Steve Winwood's While You See A Chance would come on. I'd look at my watch. 


Don't you know by now
No one gives you anything?
And don't you wonder how you keep on moving?
One more day your way
And that old gray wind is blowing
And there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because it's on you...

The song and the time have a special significance to me--a conversation shared long ago between a girl who didn't know what she wanted but knew she didn't have it and a young man who knew exactly what he wanted but didn't know how to share it. Both were lonely, with many friends and few confidantes, and looked far beyond their familiar worlds and yearned for new horizons. Many nights, in the car, Winwood would come on the radio and we'd look at the clock. 


A moment we shared, exclusively. Just ours.

That was thirty years ago. Twenty-three years ago, we parted ways. But in all the years after, that one, specific time continued its significance. For some reason, every once in a while, I'd glance at a clock--a bank clock downtown, the clock in the car, the time stamp on a document, the time when my cell phone rang. 


Yesterday was a long, hard day. I've spent the past few days working on a story that ended up going viral, keeping me at the computer for long hours making sure the story kept its legs. Not my normal wheelhouse; not a fantasy novel. A human interest story based in college football, about a wonderful young athlete and the brave and joyful six year-old who inspires him. But other things came up today--personal things that have made it difficult to stay focused. 

I shut the computer down around ten, and resolved to leave it that way and try to get an actual good night's sleep. I took a long bath, went to bed, and (naturally) couldn't go to sleep. So I finally gave up. Something was bothering me. I figured I'd write a blog since I was awake. When my desktop fired up, I glanced at the time. 


That time means even more to me today than usual. You know, when I first began to recognize 12:34 as a significant moment in time, it was associated with a person. A young man with whom I laughed and dreamed and dared to hope for escape from all that weighed me down. 

It's been almost exactly twelve hours since I got a phone from my oldest daughter--a phone call that came not at 12:34, but at 12:45. I didn't think about the significance of the time when we spoke. It wasn't until tonight, as I lay in bed unable to sleep, that I thought to check my cell phone to see what time she'd called. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of my favorite poets, and there's a passage in her masterpiece Aurora Leigh that came to my mind this afternoon and stayed there all day:

For tis not in mere death that men die most, 
And, after our first girding of the loins 
In youth’s fine linen and fair broidery 
To run up hill and meet the rising sun,  
We are apt to sit tired, patient as a fool,  
While others gird us with the violent bands 
Of social figments, feints, and formalisms,  
Reversing our straight nature, lifting up 
Our base needs, keeping down our lofty thoughts,  
Head downward on the cross-sticks of the world. 
For a long time, 12:34 meant so many different things to me--love, commitment, fulfillment, maternity, dreams, art, brilliance, joy, disappointment, self-loathing, anger, loneliness, wistfulness, longing, youth, laughter, failure--all the words that encompass the beauty and terror one faces as a young adult. 

But it won't anymore. 

Now, as I glance at the clock, it's 1:14. 12:34 AM on this day is gone and past, blown away from me like a skirl of  October wind will blow the autumnal leaves from the hundred-year-old oak in my front yard. In the dry rustle of those leaves whispering across my lawn, 12:34 will also be gathered and dispensed with, to make way for winter's bitter grip on the Ohio landscape. And when the snows finally blanket the world, will I look out my window and think regretfully of 12:34? 

No. 12:34 will always be with me, locked into my heart and my memories whether smothered under January snows, drenched in April rains, June storms, and August's stubborn grasp upon the seasonal heat. And when my October comes to meet me at last, I would not be at all surprised if I succumb to its insistent call at 12:34. 

That call, when it comes, is unavoidable. 

And that old gray wind is blowing 
And there's nothing left worth knowing 
And it's time you should be going--

It's 1:34 now. Our last hour is done. Requiescat in pacem.