The Lens: Lemons, Sleepless Nights, and Other Bitter Things

By Aiyana G. White, Crimson Staff Writer
By Aiyana G. White

There is a bittersweet tranquility to scheduling my day around the best time to pick lemons. In the spring, our tree drops hundreds — gigantic monstrosities, bloated with enough juice for each one to fill a glass on their own. We have nothing to do with them except leave them in a cooler at the roadside, in the hopes that others will share what is too much for us.

By Aiyana G. White

There is the physical exhaustion that stems from classes timed for a Boston morning when I am across the country, the mental strain that comes from attempting to speak a foreign language as I watch the sun rise through my window. It’s followed by a jittery tension in my shoulders, one I’ve drank straight from my seventh cup of black coffee.

There is a heavy-hearted fogginess to going through the day feeling like I’ve forgotten to don my glasses — I can see the colors of reality, and I can touch them if I reach out far enough, but everything is hazy and farther away than I think. Only if I squint, focusing completely, can anything be completed. If I try to focus on two things at once, I fall back into a kaleidoscope. But there are notes of sharpness in my days, too: The punches of rising death tolls and the bruising words, ‘we still don’t know,’ that linger as an unsettling aftertaste.

There is a disconcerting feeling of antiquity when the sweltering Southern California sun tells me it is midday as the fluttering calls of nightingales whisper ‘midnight’ in the breeze. Instead of hours, I use the periods of various assignment deadlines, or the commas of meals and housework, to punctuate my day.

There is a comforting loneliness to nights. The blurriness of my days blends into darkness, and the angry white noise of life starts to quiet — but my comfort at night only makes weary mornings more difficult. The night makes my mind come alive, finally sputtering into order once everything else has been blocked out. As night starts to flounder into day, I fall into the heaviness of sleep in the hopes that the fog I am wading through will have cleared when my eyes open again.

There are two definitions for the word “pith.” The first is the spongy white tissue that sits under the rind of a citrus fruit, coming from the archaic descriptor for spinal marrow. The second is simply the essence of something, its true meaning or feeling. I’ve found that it is easy to connect the two definitions, for the best way to describe the pith of my time in quarantine is a deep set, bitter sadness.

The best time to pick lemons is the moment right before midday breaks, when warm hasn’t yet turned to blistering. There are no mosquitoes in the air.. I stand on a ladder so my head lies in the crown of the tree and watch honey bees flock to the lemon blossoms dotting the branches. With scraped arms I pick them one by one, their sweet, melancholic scent drifting in the breeze, placing those burdened with the most juice in a pile on the side so I remember to turn them into lemon muffins the following morning.

— Staff writer Aiyana G. White can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @grace_aiyana. This is the first iteration of The Lens, a new content category from Fifteen Minutes for visual storytelling.

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