August 8, 2007
Martian for Dummies
We went on a trip this week out to rural East Texas to see a cousin of mine who was in town from Washington, D.C. to visit with her family. She's one of my absolute favorite people in the world and an amazing writer who has always helped me grow in my own craft.
We've been close friends since we were maybe ten years old, and yet we didn't actually meet face to face until I was in college. All those years, we wrote letters to each other, long detailed letters in which we talked about everything and, almost by accident, became writers in the process. I don't think we figured it out at the time, but the bond that we built through those letters was based on our shared experiences of feeling like outsiders, in our families and in our home towns. Seeing her again reminded me just how little that has changed. The difference now, I guess, is that we've both moved on and made peace with it.
Julie and I packed Schuyler into the car and drove three and a half hours east, into the deep woods of far East Texas, just this side of the Louisiana state line. As is almost always the case, Schuyler was the ideal traveling companion. Her curiosity and her observations about the world around her give us the chance to see that world through young eyes, and to appreciate the mystery that lurks in every imaginable spot if you're open to seeing it.
We spent the night in a hotel, and although the room had two beds, it wasn't long before Schuyler crawled in between us in the dark with a quiet giggle. She noticed a small green light on a smoke alarm above the bed, and decided that it was a fairy, with green wings. She told us this reverently and with surprising clarity, and then put herself to sleep muttering and singing softly to the smoke alarm fairy in her quiet Martian jabber, too fast and indistinct to follow.
It's a language that is frustrating and a little sad for us since it represents so much that we'll never know, Schuyler's secrets forever unshared. But I have to confess that it is also one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me. When she plays with her toys and strikes up conversations between them, or when she makes up songs to herself (something that she does more and more) as we travel down the road, it's easy to forget that she's speaking broken words.
To me, it sounds like poetry from another world.