By: Jen Shoop

Shadow mornings, the tile of my garden apartment cool and dark underfoot as I’d pad over to the chipping white desk beneath the window that overlooked the postage-stamp-sized yard that belonged to the French woman upstairs.

So early, I’d need my lamp on, and my best friend in the room next door would sleep soundlessly on for a good two hours before rousing for work.

Alone in Georgetown, straining to make out Ezra Pound as the sun rose, sending splinters of gold across the floor. An aubade to poetry itself.

Today I stand outside the row home on R Street, and I can barely remember a single line of The Cantos that once defined me, and the old French lady has passed away, but I feel myself at 24, and crisply.

Running on the cobblestones after Elizabeth, before she was diagnosed, before she left. We were sixteen — cheekbones and crushes — and the flick of her Visitation lanyard around her finger a practiced cool I imitated in my own childhood bedroom later, alone.

It was June dusk, and we were high on Thomas Sweet ice cream and end-of-year awards, practically skipping out of our bodies with joy. Singing our youth.

Today I walk those same cobblestones, and I have forgotten so much of Elizabeth that I cannot piece together the shorthand from the letters that I’ve kept. What was it that she’d whispered to me in the backyard of that row house party we attended on Prospect Street with those boys from Deerfield Academy? We had doubled over with laughter, gasping for air. I remember the shape of us, the sheen of her hair in the floodlights, the cicadas and beer pong tables and tattered furniture in the front room, the urgency of her voice: “Jennie.” I can’t resurrect the words, but I return to myself at 18.

Rounding the corner of Q Street, nearly-late for my nannying gig. Two tiny children and top-end appliances (“the Miele washing machine is silent,” the mom had told me) in a narrow, overstuffed row house. Sticky-hot afternoons in Volta Park, and a wagon to tote the children home in, and testing my yearling authoritative voice. “I’m going to count to three –“

Today I pass Volta Park and don’t know that I’d recognize the children as they are now — in college? But I inhabit myself at 20, their now-age. Life somehow doubling back on itself.

Walking down 32nd Street, past my second apartment there, the one infested with camel crickets. The day I returned from Charlottesville with a diamond ring on my finger, shaky with joy, the word “fiance” as thick as peanut butter in my mouth, and my best friends waited inside the dim foyer and invited all the details to spill out between us.

The internship at Tudor Place when I was 15: stocking the gift shop, my eyes saucer-like with responsibility. The photo shoot outside Dumbarton Oaks in my fledgling blogger days, teetering on heels and the start of something new and formless. The boot camps in Montrose Park. The crushed side view mirror on P Street, my first drudging encounter with insurance paperwork. The weddings at Trinity, Panis Angelicus, red rug and incense. Milkshakes at Sugar’s, back when it was Sugar’s: an off-campus privilege for the older Visitation girls, who wore their kilts short and their polos bleached. The midnight run-in with former high school classmates on Prospect — “you are cute, Jen Nurmi!” — while I dashed down the street in a denim mini skirt and tall boots, having shed my awkward teenage years while at the University of Virginia. Wild Turkey Rare Breed in a too-full dorm room, a boy named Adam, “Moonlight in Vermont.” Waiting in line for bathrooms at The Tombs. My first mentor at the academic press at Georgetown (“I want you to know I think you are special,” she told me, at Patisserie Poupon). My oral examination before graduating: stammers and semiotics. Running up and down the Exorcist Stairs. Running to my mother as she left The Opportunity Shop off P. Running across 34th Street with Landon to avoid the August rain.

Running into myself at every cross-street.

I can map my life across this part of Washington, each corner bronzed with patina particular to me. I came into the world in Sibley Hospital in 1984, but much of who I am was born just down the way in Georgetown. So many versions of myself intersect here, and last week, I stood on the cobblestones and saw my long shadow and thought: here, too, is another.


+More on my grad school years on R Street — writing, endings, growing up.

+Missing my dear friend Elizabeth.

+But life takes root around the perimeter.

+My new favorite thing is the Magpie Digest. Subscribe here for a weekly roundup of top essays, musings, conversations, and finds.

Shopping Break.

+If you’re looking for a statement sneaker that’s different from Golden Goose / Veja / Adidas / New Balance, consider Autry. I’ve been seeing this brand pop up here and there but not yet ubiquitous. Into this funky pink pair but this would be chic for fall. Cute with shorts like this or a dress like this now, and jeans like this later.

+This splashy Boden dress reminds me of a style from Rhode (but at a fraction of the price).

+Gorgeous new rug from Serena and Lily.

+These terry sweatshirts are in my cart for the kids!

+Love the heather pink of this sports bra and shorts set. And speaking of fitness, I can’t stop buying all the Vuori things (mini review of my first order from them here). Love (!) this tank that came in the mail last week — such a cute boxy fit — and now might go back for these shorts.

+More summer fitness favorites.

+OK, this lunchbox situation for adults is very chic. Who knew packing salad/lunch for office could be so stylish?

+This little jeweled bag is SO fun and unexpected for an evening look, or even just pairing with a crisp white shirt and jeans. Looks like something you might buy from Miu Miu.

+I don’t own this exact set, but I love my snapware glass storage containers. They are so heavy duty, do not cloud/warp, and seem to last forever.

+Perfect end of summer everyday dress.

+Lots of wedding guest dress requests recently. If you’re thinking ahead to fall, this one is insanely chic in its gorgeous restraint and simplicity.

+I’ve been wanting to try Saucony’s endorphin running shoe forever…have heard THE BEST things about this style.

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12 thoughts on “Patina.

  1. This piece – like much of your writing about the DC of ten-to-twenty years ago – resonated with me powerfully. We’re exact contemporaries; I was born in 1984. I’m not a DC native (but married one – a Gonzaga alum!), but I moved to Georgetown in the early aughts for college. I can relate to each and every one of these places, and many of the experiences. The garden apartment across from Montrose Park. Sugar’s. Calling out to friends late at night as you pass each other on the broken-brick Prospect Street sidewalks (I lived in a ramshackle townhouse on Prospect with seven other people my senior year – how did we ever…!). The bathroom line at the Tombs, where I waited tables one fall. We’ve never met, but I am sure we were in many of the same places at the same times.

    The “parochial wild” is one of the best descriptors I have heard for what the city feels like. I remember vividly my early days in DC, and encounter past versions of myself throughout the city all the time. I live across the river now, in Arlington, which has its own flavor of the parochial wild (driving through the dense woods down Spout Run to GW Parkway calls it to mind for me). Georgetown feels much different these days, but the memories remain.

    1. Oh Allison – you totally get it! I can’t believe all of our shared experiences, right down to the Spout Run reference. I know the exact stretch your referring to and always think about the one time my high school girlfriends and I took that way to get to a small concert one of our friends insisted we attend. It is etched in my memory, that stretch of road, as a sort of apotheosis of that time of female friendship in my life. Like, listening to music in my friends’ green Explorer, driving through Arlington and N.W. DC. Ahh! Takes me straight back. Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Oh! This piece is like a shot to the heart as someone who also has many connections to Georgetown (both the neighborhood and the university). I met my husband at Georgetown while we were both in grad school and parishioners at Holy Trinity – and now almost 10 years and many moves later, we’re parishioners at Holy Trinity again and he’s teaching at Georgetown. Almost every weekend, we traipse around the neighborhood together, and I truly feel like I’m “running into myself at every cross-street” as you said here, whether we’re ducking into the Tombs for a drink, walking down Prospect together, or sitting next to each other in a pew that we’ve been frequenting for almost a decade.

    1. You GET it, Megan! You are living my own experience, more or less, though even richer with all the now-permanent connections to Georgetown University. Such a special place and so interesting to meet those versions of yourself and overwrite them with new ones.


  3. Loved this reflection on past selves. I find that one of my greatest treasures is having done these types of walks in my grandparents’ homeland with them. To hear the reminiscence out loud, so many years after they had left their land to come to America. They were little stories, trivial isn’t the right word, but maybe, ordinary? Like falling off that step in the barn, running down that lane and bumping a chin, that school, the old church, etc and etc. I am teary thinking of my own past self, how lucky she was to learn so much about their lives by walking in the fields where they ran. The lilt of their accents is still imprinted in my mind and they come alive for me again as I pass the same stories down to my own kids. I think this reflection above is the first step in our oral tradition and it’s so lucky that your kids live near where you were reared so you can share so much of your past selves with them.

    1. Oh gosh – I love this SO much. It is truly such a gift to remember the deceased and previous generations, and to pass down those memories carefully. Thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your grandparents with us!


  4. This brought up so many of my own memories growing up in Georgetown. Memories are so funny in the way that we all have own our distinct memories and yet someone else’s memories can almost feel like your own?

    Thinking about so many Thomas Sweets trips, Sugar’s (!!!!), walks from Filmore Arts camp over to Volta pool for afternoon swims, the dip in the path at Montrose Park where I loved to poke and dig around with a stick (that I’m sure has been repaved by now), the vastness of the lawn as you come up on the end of a walk around Dumbarton Oaks. Even now going to Georgetown for things brings it all back up!

    1. Oh Sofia – you get it! I was chatting with a few Magpies about how Georgetown is particularly evocative (and probably any other very historic town / hamlet / neighborhood) because so much of it (all of it?) stays the same, preserved by law and tradition. Like, the houses are exactly the same! There are no new, modern buildings that replaced the ones my friends lived in. It’s incredible.

      Thank you for sharing. I completely know what you mean when you say that sometimes other people’s memories can feel like your own — just by virtue of adjacency of experience!


  5. Oh my. I feel a lump in my throat reading this. The way we greet spectres of our younger selves as we plod along the hallowed grounds of our youth. And maybe the way that late summer always makes me feel a bit like that young self again about to become someone new in the fall….just woof, it’s hitting me right in the feels this morning.
    I love this, thank you.

    1. Jenny! I’m so glad this landed. You nailed it. Something about peak summer stagnation begins to make me feel/think about/crave transition? Like I’ve been on a flat road for awhile? Maybe that’s part of what spurred these thoughts on metamorphosis.

      Thank you for sharing —


  6. I’ve been telling (asking?) you to try Saucony shoes for a long time! Follow your fathers advice ( I think you said he runs in Saucony) and mine and go for it! Go boldly!!!

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