When instructed to meditate or given tips to fight insomnia, I've often been told to picture my "happy place." For many years, that image has consisted of random, non-specific beaches or childhood swimming pools. Now that I'm older, my beach and pool time is rare and actually more stressful than uplifting due to swimsuit anxiety and a daughter who is more than a guppy, not yet a tadpole. Lately, I've had to do a little soul searching about the validity of my old standard happy place.
I was right in the middle of it, thinking, "I just love this spot," when it hit me. No, not a car, although that could have happened I really need to be more aware of my surroundings. My happy place is an intersection in the Central West End: the crossing of Euclid and McPherson. You can't get more specific than that. I don't live near it, and have little chance to frequent it, but I think that's what makes it more special. Each visit is a little vacation, satisfying some need for acceptance, excitement, rest, or joy.
I'm an avid reader, and a vehement supporter of independent press and further, independent bookstores. Left Bank Books occupies one corner of my beloved intersection. Left Bank's selection, comfortable atmosphere, and familiar faces draw me in, make me want to curl in a corner and never leave. LBB does a great job bringing in authors and poets for readings, ever offering attractions for an increasingly diverse audience. When I'm there, I have this sense of anticipation, as if waiting for a ride or for a beginning maybe for Godot, I don't know but I know I want to be there when whatever it is arrives.
Bookstores, no matter where I am, are usually my favorite places. In St. Louis, I still mourn Paul's Books, which closed oh-so-long ago, and to a lesser extent Library, Ltd., both fine places with fond memories.
Right behind reading comes my love of good food, and in the CWE, restaurants abound. There are several clustered 'round this quartet of corners, and down just a few blocks to Maryland and Euclid, even more delightful dining finds. The best opportunity to enjoy these eateries is spring and early summer, when you can sit outside on the sidewalk and people watch. Meals at these places have taken up residence in my memories: a pivotal lunch with best friend Judy at Zoe, both of us making giant personal leaps of faith. Other catty sidewalk lunches, more Judy, munching salad and watching people, watching us, watching them. The joyful reunion with my former teacher, poet Jerry Harp, dining at Llywelyn's after his reading at Left Bank. Getting to know poet and darling Jenny Kronovet, and discovering via late night Google-ing, she already knew of me. Many nights of River Styx readings at Duff's, listening to Michael Castro, and of course, meeting Richard Newman. Dinner at Dressel's where Mark, my lawyer friend, promised he'd hire me in a minute if I ever go to, (and presumably finish), law school. Will I go? I don't know, but I like to replay the scene now and then.
On the day of my revelation, I met a dear friend of my sister's who had just moved to St. Louis from Florida at Llywelyn's for lunch. I told him that he'd just been invited to my very special spot and pointed out Left Bank across the street. To my delight, he e-mailed the next week that he'd returned over the weekend with his family, bought books, had lunch and what sounded like a lovely day.
These watershed moments used to occur in this precise place coincidentally. Now I orchestrate them; if I think it's likely the kind of meeting that will alter my course, or have replay value, I'll plan it to happen there. I like the idea of weaving the threads of my memory through these streets and doorways, stairs and windows.
My family does not share my affinity for the CWE, and they do not elect to go there. My husband's younger brother was treated for cancer at Barnes Jewish Hospital a few years ago. We, as a family, waited with him until he passed away, my mother- and father-in-law literally moving into the Chase for a month, but camping at the hospital most of the time. It was an indescribably difficult time in the lives of my husband, his parents and the rest of the family. At the very end we stayed nights in the waiting room, balled up in chairs or crammed into love seats. One night I spent hours sleeplessly looking out the window. My favorite intersection was just a few blocks away. I could see the top of the Cathedral Basilica from where I stood and in my mind, traveled down Euclid trying to find peace, to turn back time, to find the words that would make any of them feel better, if only for a moment. It was somehow comforting to know my spot was out there; to imagine sitting on the sidewalk, drinking coffee, reading a book, chatting with friends in happier, simpler times.
It's the significance of the emotion tied to the memories that has made this particular geographic spot stand out in my mind. My favored corners do not recognize me as wife, mother, employee or daughter; here I am stranger, writer, poet, flack-for-the arts, friend. Till now, these memories were unshared, these sentiments wholly mine. What must these corners mean to others? Do those faces I see have similar points on their maps; comfort zones that actually exist in concrete, bricks and glass? What is your happy place?
Marijean Jaggers is a writer and St. Charles resident who would sleep better if she'd just lay off the Starbucks.