LINEY’S SENSE OF IT
by Ashlee Paxton-Turner
It was the not-so-early morning, coming on about nine o’clock, in the early spring or end of winter, whichever one prefers, and Dr. Naismith’s game the Saturday prior had just made the town feel alive and made its boys feel like they could be men going somewhere, elsewhere. Dismissing the papers on the desk, it was decided that today Sherwood Anderson was more important. There is no sense in trying to explain just what that means, but it is something one can’t help feeling, something one might try to explain nevertheless.
That Saturday, like all of the other Saturdays of the season, had brought the town out of its kitchens, living rooms, and Main Street offices. Of course, that Saturday’s game required a drive to a dusty gymnasium in a slightly bigger town. The hour’s drive to watch the boys play Dr. Naismith’s game had been spent differently by the different citizens of the town. Some had clambered aboard a bus, freed by the absence of seatbelts. Others had chosen to ride privately in their own vehicles, enjoying the ride, the accompanying conversations, and radio stations.
In the gymnasium, crowds filled the bleachers and the small alcoves leading to the bathrooms. Game time came on, and a young Caroline Lane pushed her way towards her seat, surrounded by the faces that belonged—according only to Caroline, that is—to amateurs. Of course, anyone else would have recognized that these faces simply belonged to students and maybe a few of the school teachers—Caroline actually being among those very teachers—who were too afraid to admit that they were more grown up than was preferable and insisted on sitting with the students in hopes of catching some of their passing youthful high school energy. But Caroline couldn’t see all that well from her seat what with everyone standing up. She was resigned to look between the arms and shoulders of those around her, wondering how long this process of bending her neck this way and that would continue. “Well, are they going to stand all night? Have I come all this way to miss even what’s right in front of me?” she muttered.
Caroline Lane, affectionately called Liney by those who knew her best, was in fact fast growing into the kind of person that one must refer to as an adult, fast forcing her to become more grown up than she might have liked. New thoughts kept coming into her mind—some less than profound, like her categorization of the faces around her as the faces of amateurs, but there were other thoughts, too. During the hour’s car drive, Liney drove down the road feeling rather isolated, despite the presence of her two companions. She was about to leave that town, the town she had not so long ago traded for her own hometown tobacco town. Liney was used to trading one tobacco town for another, but now preparing to leave this town, she felt grown up. At twenty-six, Liney had decided to take the backward view of life. This was a view of life decidedly unknown to the amateurs around her. It was known to the adults, the grown ups, and Liney couldn’t decide if she liked having the privilege of holding to this view or not. She chose to sit with the young students because part of her was not ready to let herself start small-talking with the other grownups and restrict herself to their nostalgia of their own (and soon her own) youth.
During the ride down, keeping one arm pressed against the driver’s window while the right hand held the steering wheel, Liney thought all the thoughts that she wasn’t sure she should or could articulate. She briefly thought of the burden on her little brother, Skip. To be Skip meant to become the head of Horner & Co. at some unspecified time. She thought of her own uncertainty, and to the outsider, Liney would have been a half-tragic figure, imagining her new maturity as something that set her apart but something that she did not particularly want to take hold of her.
Liney very much wanted someone to understand this feeling, but all the times she came close to explaining it to her traveling companions, she stopped and realized that there wasn’t enough time. There wasn’t enough time to bring them into her life the way she might have liked and might have done so had she known them just several years prior. She was leaving, and they were nice enough traveling companions, but that’s all they could be. They couldn’t really understand her new maturity and backwards view of life. They were not in a position to understand her isolation or her uncertainty. What a difference a few years make! They still had the youthfulness of twenty-three. Liney was about to remove herself for the second time in her life from a place that had given her a sense of stability, and perhaps, that’s what had brought on these thoughts and feelings.
When Liney was still very young, her mother, Martha, had suffered several miscarriages. The little boy who came into the world as Liney’s very own flesh-and blood brother, Skip, radiated with a sense of the present, of the here-and-now. He was the child who saved their mother from herself. He was the child whose impulsivity would probably forever spare him from taking this backward view of life that had caught hold of Liney. And Liney was a little envious of him. Just as she was a little envious of her traveling companions who also were free from this thought.
At the game, Liney watched the boys use Dr. Naismith’s game to imagine their elsewhere. Liney saw the boys fight for their chance to get to that elsewhere. They hoped, just like the town hoped for them, that Dr. Naismith’s game would grant them their departure from here and a new sense of sophistication. They saw no other alternative for getting from here to there. And yet, Liney, with several ways to get from here to there, was envious of them, too. These boys, much like Skip and her traveling companions, did not have to surrender to this maturity or uncertainty. They would either get there, get to elsewhere, or they would figure out what to do with themselves and content themselves here. They were not subject to this grown-up self-doubt that comes with trading what one has always known of what held one together during the deaths, funerals, and obligatory yet strangely consolatory ham biscuits.
And these boys were also Liney’s students. And lately, she felt she had nothing she could say to them. It was too hard to connect. It was too difficult to realize that they would continue to enjoy the space of the town that she had to leave behind. Of course, no one said she had to leave except herself. She told herself that the time to leave, to move, to go had come, and so she was leaving. And as the countdown drew nearer, it was hard to look at these boys. They were going to keep living and breathing in the space that had become her home. They were going to keep dreaming of leaving by the grace of Dr. Naismith and his game, or they wouldn’t leave at all. They would be granted departures and senses of sophistication by that game. And yet Liney had granted herself her own departure and somehow this new sense of sophistication had just befallen her. And there was nothing she could do about it.
There are only a few good words to begin with, and Liney wasn’t always sure that she knew them. After awhile, back in the car, “Well, I don’t know. That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I mean. I’m always on the verge of saying what I really want to say, I think, but I never quite get it. I suppose I’d better stop talking.” A few minutes later, “I do think it’s really terrific that they won. That has to mean so much. I’m so glad,” she added.
Liney was never going to get her traveling companions to feel this same sense of sophistication. And so, Monday, back at school, she ignored the papers. They didn’t seem like her papers. Sitting behind that desk, she realized that it didn’t really feel like her desk. None of it seemed real. In Winesburg, she would have been the banker’s daughter or maybe she would have been George Willard. But here, she couldn’t collapse into a car or onto a bed and have it neatly told by Mr. Anderson just the same. She couldn’t have her departure and sophistication wrapped up in the niceties of small-town Ohio. Here, Liney was subject to the intense desire to depart and to stay all at once, all at the same time. How lucky her traveling companions were to get to stay and keep embracing those old walls of the school, even if most days those walls never seemed real, even if half of the time, it all felt like a game, even if in departing, she could finally drop the act and become herself again, whoever that was supposed to be.
Today, Sherwood Anderson was more important. There was no more time to look at the papers, the classroom, the students. Liney’s sophistication told her that she must make that departure because it was the very assurance of such a departure at some time that brought her here in the first place.
Ashlee Paxton-Turner is a native of Williamsburg, Virginia and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an English major with a concentration in creative writing. A former Teach For America corps member, who taught high school mathematics teacher in rural North Carolina, Ashlee is now a law student at Duke University.