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Being here

Updated: May 13

It's nearing midnight and I'm sitting in the quiet kitchen, jazz on my laptop, water cascading off the roof; I can see boughs of trees shaking in the rainy breeze. Birds are singing. I've been here one week already and I haven't found the time or inner peace to write, not because I'm lacking in either, but because there's so much to say and I want to get it right: the joy of clasping hands and shaking-it-all-about for Katla, for doing dishes and hearing her say my name, "Misseeeee", commanding I join. The joy of over-bite Vera and pregnant Lucy, who last night was sweet, she plopped herself full body in my lap as we watched the first two episodes of Nashville, which reminds Brenna of that time in her life and me of eating dessert with Dad and Danielle and Daniel, always begging for one more episode. The joy of being with Brenna, of slow-mo jigging the way we used to greet river boats on the greenway, of watching her be her super silly self, the one I've always loved. Of watching her be such a gracious, patient mother, the way she teaches and adores and loves. The joy of this perfectly cozy house, with the long hallway and forest green walls, with Bren's eclectic adornments and pops of color, with a seriously short counter of bread and butter and overflowing dishes drying next to the sink. Of sharing this time with Bren and her family, feeling like a part of one different than my own, and how grateful I am to say that, of being here now.

 

Last Friday Bren picked me up from the airport and drove us to Katla's cousin's house, where we snagged a few slices of wood-fired pizza from a portable oven--maybe the best homemade pizza I've ever had-- as three two-year-olds ran around chasing each other with tomato sauce mouths and hands. On the way home, Bren and I got Icelandic hotdogs with a big bag of steaming, delicious fries: a meal I'd remembered from two years before, one that you can't quite forget.



On Saturday, Bren joined me for leg day (squats) at the gym across the street and then we hung around the house until about 4, when we started getting ready for her sister-in-law's 40th birthday party, Great Gatsby themed. We wore black dresses and rigged headpieces with what we had; we put on eyeliner and beads and left the house around 7.

The party was divine: women only, champagne flutes and wine glasses, pink grapefruit tonic and a delectable spread of snacks: grilled chicken kabobs and sweet strawberries, deli-rolls and cheese salad, bowls of pretzels and light puffy chips, three-layer chocolate cake and brownie bites and slices of fresh baguette. The house was a beautiful industrial mixed with plush, cement walls and emerald green velvet chairs, a big off-white fluffy round sofa, cabinets with no handles, extra-wide spice drawers, floor-to-ceiling windows to watch winter's northern lights. Candlelight flickering as the sun never set. Soft 20s swing and all the glam: so many blonde women sitting proper in nude tights and short dresses and high heels, all the headbands and frills. I loved it so much. We chatted mainly with Ivar's sweet sisters--including the youngest, who said she'd visited Berlin and thinks of it as such a "free" city-- and then left around around midnight and drove to downtown Reykjavik. All the street parking was taken and the sidewalks full of bar hoppers, taxis waiting. We passed an overflowing Irish pub and groups of friends brisk-walking in the cold. We attempted parking but then decided to head home, which was more than an hour away.


On Sunday we drank tea and lounged, then went grocery shopping and to Brenna's friend's full-moon gong ceremony. We drank tea in a cozy yurt in a borrowed backyard; I swallowed so many leaves that snuck through my teeth. The fire popped in the wood burning stove as the rain softly fell; we were supposed to relax and get comfy as she struck the gong and sang, but I was having a hard time. Still, I tried. I closed my eyes and stoically listened, occasionally readjusting my lounge position to lessen the pressure on my bones. I probably should have laid out a mat like Bren and the others, but I was feeling too restless. After about an hour, the "journey" ended and everyone expressed their gratitude for the ceremony, which had involved writing things on pieces of paper that we both wanted to burn and invite into our lives during the next moon phase and year. We also read tea leaves: Brenna's showed a cave and a dragon, mine showed a playful me, tossing things in the air. When it was my turn to say 'thanks', I suddenly heard myself talking about Mom, how she would have loved this, how it was just her thing, how I went to something like this with Mom before. When Brenna's friend mentioned energies and deceased loved ones visiting us during things like this, Brenna held my hand as I spontaneously and overwhelmingly sobbed.

 

On Monday, Bren and I took the dogs for a walk, a chore that struck me last time too as some sort of poetic ritual: driving the Land Cruiser through standing water and dirt pits as Lucy and Vera sprint and bound along the adjacent fields, chasing both nothing and each other. Living like dogs should, tearing roots from the ground and begging for Brenna's lupine.

 

On Tuesday, Bren and I drove about 45 minutes to Reykjadalur Valley. The parking lot was filling up; people were little dots in the distance. We hiked for about an hour into a panorama of hills along a steep dirt path, until we came to a long boardwalk next to the steaming river. I stripped off seven layers of clothes and two pairs of leggings (I might have a tendency to get cold) down to my bathing suit, and we climbed in, trying not to fall. Bren said she's seen the river so crowded that there's hardly anywhere to sit, but Tuesday wasn't too bad. We rested against a semicircle of rocks as Bren stacked more. We chatted and people-watched as Bren said "G or B" and cracked up. The water was hot-tub warm and the current kept pushing our legs. This whole thing of volcanoes and geysers and boiling water and steaming river rocks is just beautifully bizarre: a way that Iceland nurtures and nourishes its people, how it says 'sorry' for all the gale-force winds and snow...


For lunch we went to a new food hall in town that Brenna had never been in. We ordered fish and chips, which was the perfect after-hike meal: a basket of crispy fries and juicy, lightly battered Icelandic white fish with fresh-squeezed lemon and a sort of mayo dipping sauce. MmMMmmM. We ate big chocolate-dipped vanilla cones from the gas station and then snacked on fresh bakery treats with tea Bren bought in Berlin: Marani Exotisch-Fruchtig, delicious. For dinner that night we ate really well, too: Brenna made her mom's lasagna and we ate it with salad and delectable bread and butter. Bren is such an effortless chef: she whips things up like they're no big deal and everything tastes incredible.



On Wednesday, after an unsatisfying and restless sleep, I woke up feeling tired and sickly. I stayed in bed until 11 and drank tea, but then went to the gym with Brenna anyway, my new approach to malaise: doing things anyway. Living as much as I can like a whole person instead of micro-managing my symptoms. I didn't feel worse after the gym, drank a lot of water, and that night cuddled up with Lucy on the couch as Bren and I watched Nashville. The poor dog is a few weeks away from giving birth, and her obnoxious hyperness has calmed a little these past few days: she finds mostly quiet places in the house to hide and lays there, heavy breathing.

 

On Thursday, Ivar and Katla stayed home because both of them were coughing a bit. I worked most of the rainy day, constantly looking over and waving through the door of the kitchen whenever Katla would come running back and press her face to the glass. She's started this new thing where she'll wave and then pinch her whole face into an adorable smile.

When Bren got home, we tidied up the house some, walked to the market for a couple of things, and then made dinner: me mashed potatoes of course, and Bren an incredible roasted chicken, slathered in butter, stuffed with lemon and fresh green onion and garlic, with a pan of carrots and onions underneath to catch the drippings. And gravy. Seriously, Bren knows how to cook, and she helps me remember how much more fun it is to cook when you're doing it for others, when you can say "let's eat" and everyone is happier because of the effort you put in. I think it's harder to feel that kind of gratitude (as both the chef and the person eating the food) when it's part of a daily routine or family life, like whenever things become normalized it's easy to take advantage of them? But being a guest is such a special thing, observing (and being able to participate in) not just mealtimes but the little ways people make their house into a home: how TSF Jazz plays softly in the kitchen; how Bren sips fresh-ground coffee in her new favorite stone-ware tulip mug; how she keeps the counter basket full of oranges and apples. How Katla moves all the flower magnets from the dishwasher to the fridge and then back again, with some left behind. How Bren keeps photos of all her friends in little squares on her fridge, and how Katla points to so many women who aren't me and says "Misseeeee". How it's always warm in here, unless the windows are open and the cold rushes in. How fresh laundry hangs everywhere.


Bren and I have talked a lot about being somewhere in general, how it's always better if you have more time--to really feel like you're living there and not just checking things off a to-do list. The pace of activity to leisure has been perfect this trip and I'm getting things done: working when everyone is out of the house doing the same, working out (which helps my physical and mental health hugely), spending time in the late afternoon and evening, and squeezing in a little Illustrator when everyone goes to bed. The weather's been rainy and cold and there's a huge part of me that doesn't mind one bit if I have to spend the next week in this kitchen, listening to jazz as the cold wind beats against the walls.

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