Sunday, February 1, 2015



I learned early the fragility of joy and the rapidity with which it can be lost in grief: My boarding school was in the middle of an orchard with ninety-seven apple trees, most of whose fruit was sold at farmers' markets or to the town's cannery. There was an occasional hurricane when they were ripe, and I can still hear the sounds of hundreds of apples smashing against roof and walls. For weeks afterwards we had an endless supply of pies, cobblers, apple pancakes, and apple sauce made out of the bruised fruit. The directors of the school stopped the production of apple juice after an outbreak of violence started by drinkers of the stuff--fermented. Some of them also flew through the air during the apple fights that took place between cliques, in spite of severe penalties. We called them summer snowballs; but for me, the least belligerent, the most splendid season was the month of blossoms: the universe seemed afloat in a sea of pinkish snow! Lovely! I would walk among the trees with tears welling up in my eyes out of pure joy, the same kind of near-ectasy I had formerly felt when, a believer then, I knelt in chapel and prayed to the Blessed Virgin. Well, it was precisely that joy that led to a disaster that still lacerates my heart: The milkman left our bottles of milk near the side of the road on the edge of the orchard, about a block away. Each morning a group of us would run through the trees, to bring back two bottles each. So, one morning in the middle of blossom season I am returning with my bottles, one in each hand, breathing in the scented air, feasting my eyes on ten thousand pink snowflakes, in absolute heaven, swinging them back and forth, back and forth, back and--CRASH! They both shatter, one jagged edge slashing my left thumb. I can still see myself staring, stunned in utter disbelief, at my red blood mingling with the white milk on the ground. I was punished severely--one month of isolation, no games or socializing with others. There is still a scar on my thumb, there is still a scar on my soul.

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