Go outside and read in the park

On five years of reading in the same park.

Claude Monet, Springtime, 1872 (me and all my friends)

Every woman brought an arsenal to the park this weekend: weapons to combat thirst and hunger and boredom. First they unloaded blankets. Some set up camp in the shade of the giant oak trees like I did. Some laid out under the sun, their tops rolled up to reveal white bellies, neglected over the long winter. Out came bubbly waters and bowls of fruit and hats with floppy brims and mirrored sunglasses. Out came the books.

I joined them around 2:00 p.m. and stayed for several hours. I had some editing to do that I had (stupidly) decided to do by hand, and so I brought it outside with my pen. I didn’t work for long because it was so easy to become envious. In my sightline a woman with an ice cream cone settled against a big tree trunk with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Another, flipped onto her back and raised a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to block the sun from her eyes. Still one more settled in near me and flipped open a copy of Middlemarch, well-worn and dog eared. Several more were too far away to see what they were reading, but they were there too.

We were out there for hours, each with our little island of fabric, my dog lapping water out of her bowl and wagging at strangers. It was the long weekend, sure, but it was also one of the first truly nice weekends of the year. The sun came out and stayed out. The rain didn’t show. The grass was lush and soft from a spring of afternoon thunderstorms and the air was thick with the beginnings of reminders that we do, in fact, reside on what should be a swamp.

It was idyllic, wonderful. I’m reading a book called Milkman by Anna Burns that a friend recommended, and eventually I put my editing aside to focus on it. I, too, wanted to relax with a book, to join the army of women all experiencing leisure in the same way. There were maybe 15 of us, and there was one man (a type) covered in tattoos with a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian held up. He sat on a bench.

We all nodded at each other slightly, acknowledged our existence as a group. The park near my house is maybe 3 acres, not giant, and definitely not the most popular park in the city. Most of the people who come to it live nearby. We are familiar strangers. We will see each other a lot in the next few months, before the cold comes back and we all disappear again, only to double take each other in the coffee shop or across a bar. Do we know each other? How?

This is such a gift, this season, this time, and I feel so lucky to have it: to be able to wander outside in the middle of a weekend without any other obligations and to lie myself down on a patch of soft grass with my dog and read for hours without anyone to tell me I can’t or any reason not to. Reading, we know, is for the educated and the rich enough to have leisure time at all. I’m grateful to, for at least this season, be one of them. I’m grateful to live in a city where people read, and where they read books with covers I can snoop on.

I’m feeling a little sentimental, a little nostalgic this Tuesday morning. This past weekend, five years ago, we pulled up in front of this apartment complex and unloaded a moving truck we had driven 1,525 miles across the country to a city we didn’t know and a place that for a while felt like we would never belong in. This is the true benefit of never moving, of staying in a rented apartment for five years while everyone else moves into bigger spaces or new cities or cooler neighborhoods: each physical space can hold so much. The park contains loneliness of the first year, and the contentment of the fifth and everything in between at once.

Now, I have lived in this small neighborhood for long enough that neighbors stopped by my blanket island to visit me, leaving their dogs for a second while they ran upstairs to get their own blankets, or filling me in on building gossip.

This weekend, as I laid in the park, I remembered, my very first weekend here, Memorial Day 2014, walking through the park with what was then a puppy. A few people stopped me because you are constantly being stopped when you have a puppy, and introduced themselves. Was this city, this career, this abandoning of the only state I’d ever known, a colossal mistake? I worried.

Five years ago today, on my second night alone in D.C., the night after my first day of work, I strolled through the park by my house. I cried because I felt really lonely, and I felt like I’d made a giant mistake, and the beginning of the rest of your life is too giant a thing for any 22 year old to sit alone in silence with. And then I saw this girl seated in the park on a blanket with a bottle of wine she was only semi-discretely pouring into a mason jar and then into her mouth. In her lap, she held The Goldfinch. I had a book in my bag. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember pulling it out purely out of envy. I wanted that woman’s security, her happiness, her independence instead of my loneliness.

I sat in the grass with my then puppy and read a book and it felt good. It felt right. It felt like everything would be okay. And it was.

On Friday, I will be telling subscribers about the first book published in English by a Mexican-American woman!

I AM GOING ON VACATION NEXT WEEK. You will still get newsletters (both will be public) but they will be by ~*guest writers*~. They are very good, and I am so excited for you to read them.