Of Angels and Expectations

Of Angels and Expectations

Today, like so many others, is already overflowing with goodness, kindness… and yes, I say that as a recent widow. I am not a Pollyanna, although I get it, I probably sound like one at times… I think I may be the exact opposite of Polly. I know it’s almost impossible to see yourself accurately, but I see myself as very rough-and-tumble, very jerzey, hard around the edges. Heart o’ gold inside, but damn, it’s DEEP inside lol. But I think it’s because of all my tumbles in various dark alleys and side streets that I have eyes for the good in these tough days. I’ve already seen the dark up close and personal, so now I’m on the lookout for goodness always, and baby those wondrous clouds today? They were all for me… though I don’t mind sharing.

I’ve been home for a few days now from the jerzey trip. Went up for a week to bring Paul’s ashes home to family, to honor him with the surf community at the paddle out, and to attend a dear friend’s wedding.  I got to see people who know me and my story, who know my kids and my man and our history, and it was more than good. It was deeply healing and wonderful. I cried, I laughed, and oh baby, did I eat!! Periodic jerz is good for the soul, not so much for the belly. But even that is good, that self-indulgence when you need comfort the most. All that to say, it did me a world of good.

Coming home was just as good, arriving back to the beauty of Floridee, medicine itself to me always. My son and I stopped and got tested in Jax on our way home so I already knew I’d spend the first few days by myself. Solitude felt right to me, quietly taking it all in… It’s weird, I always wondered what it would feel like to have a doctor deliver terrible news to me or my loved one. I wonder about weird things, pretty much everything. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t feel like you’d think it would at all. Because you can’t believe it, it’s too surreal. Especially with your strong man standing next right next to you, looking all handsome and all… your rock. I had one moment in the car driving by myself when reality slid past the centurions, and the panic had me instantly hysterical. But most of the time, that day and in the months that followed, the brain refused to fully comprehend. It’s too terrible, and as long as he’s here, his presence refutes it all. Even as he grows thinner and weaker, you’re able to somehow sidestep it, give it a wide girth.

Then you spend six days in hospice saying goodbye to his still, sleeping form and even still it’s not real. Reality may be a little more solid than when you were at home, but not by much. Early Thursday evening he breathes his last, and you cling to his body… you try to fight leaving him at the end, hanging on and on for that last touch… to push back that dark, dark truth… And strangely, even then, when you and your son go home without him, it still isn’t completely real. The weeks and months pass and you somehow calmly tell the woman at the insurance office to remove him from the policy, you disconnect his phone… and STILL it’s not really happening, is it? It can’t be.

But damn. Then you wake up one morning and you have to go to his paddle out. Where his ashes will be spread. Shit just got REAL. No more avoiding. But I was focused on breathing while sobbing in a mask, and being present to so many who greeted me lovingly on the beach with masks AND sunglasses (now I’m REALLY confused!). Trying to take in the many glorious kindnesses of the surf community and our friends and family in honor of this amazing man… trying to comfort my sobbing granddaughter… trying to accept what my eyes were telling me was happening right before me. I gotta tell the truth, driving away from all that reality was good. Well, not good. Just a relief. Sitting with girlfriends and crying and drinking and laughing… that needed to happen. I probably shouldn’t tell that part. Only readers who have suffered a visceral loss will get what I mean there… but hey, why write if not to tell the truth? And come on. Girlfriend power.

Having a few days before seeing people has been good. And now, finally, I get it. It really happened. And I’m feeling all the feels but they’re not crushing me with their immediacy. Jake and I were talking this morning and I said, “I’ll be right back, I gotta go cry.” Went in my room, shut the door and let the tears flow. Because yes, now I really get it. I saw the wind take Paul’s ashes and blow them across the waves he loved so very much. It happened in real time. He is gone, and I take in his absence with each breath.

But that’s not all of the story. Is anything really all of the story? Two wonderful childhood friends of Paul kind of came alongside us in the last year of his life in the most wonderful way. It was absolutely amazing, they became like ministering angels to us. Sweetness after sweetness, and their support was so encouraging. I was especially touched by it because I’d never even met them and yet they took it upon themselves to care for us in very meaningful ways… reminding me always that goodness still existed. The darkness we faced could not ever completely shut out the light.

Early on they’d sent two gift certificates for massages for us. SO thoughtful. Unfortunately Paul’s pain levels made it impossible for him to use, and Covid knocked it out for me. But this week I’d taken TWO 16 hour car trips, losing a night’s sleep each time. Once I got my negative test results a message shone before me like a quivering desert mirage. This amazing gift was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

As Heather worked on me today, I felt the obvious relief of her strong hands meeting my knotted muscles, but there was something else happening. Something significant that went past my musculature and into my spirit, just as tattered as my back and neck, maybe more so. I had explained the tiniest bit about how we received the gift certificates when she asked, and of course had to mention the ankle, recently broken and sprained. As she worked her magic I began to realize she was doing more than massaging; she was pouring into me. I’d never met her before but I knew she was intentional in the way she was ministering to me, and I trusted it. I opened up my heart to receive it. My expectation is that Love wants to heal us, that Love will find a way. So if it unexpectedly shows up in a massage studio who am I to argue? I gave myself over.

Turns out she is also a writer and an actor so we chatted a bit at the end about the arts, and I left her studio renewed and refreshed. Grateful. The word of the day, of the year. This relentless monster of a year, the year that ate the world. Still, gratitude prevails… because goodness shows up. Goodness trumps Trump. (Couldn’t resist). Here’s the thing. I believe in angels. I believe that Judy and Sandy sent those two gift certificates months ago and Goodness knew that Paul couldn’t use them, but also knew that I’d be a wreck, a sleepless hunched over shell of a girl… and Goodness knew that Heather would end up taking the appointment, a masseuse trained in Reiki, a human trained in listening beyond words…. Goodness put the day together. Posted those clouds to drive me home… home to the house that Paul built. The house where Love lived… and still lives. He just brought along his happy pals Serendipity and Kindness. I’ll go into the bedroom and cry a few times today. But like I said, it’s not the whole story. It never is, is it? Look up, yo.

Lookin’ Up

Lookin’ Up

She stood by the entrance to the lighthouse, holding colorful dollar store gloves. I was surprised to see her but then I had no inkling of the moment’s significance. Do we ever? I thought I was there to cheer on a local hero, a woman who a year ago was paralyzed but was today going to ascend the 219 winding iron steps of the local lighthouse. Not something I would ever do, but I’m no hero.

My spidey senses should have been tingling madly; that dark circular staircase was a wrought iron metaphor for my own twisty climb back from the brink. But it was really only in the past year or so that I had acknowledged the road, let alone recognized the movement of my spirit. How is that even possible? I think of those moving walkways used in airports, transporting us as we passively stare straight ahead. It’s possible to move through your own life in a similar fashion, feeling almost submerged, the sounds muted and fuzzy.

The first four years after losing my son were very much a case of putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t know any other way to get through that kind of pain. There is no reasonable expectation; reason left the building that summer morning along with my sweet Zachary. But at the same time, I knew enough to keep moving. Movement was key. To stay in that place of stunned brokenness was unfathomable. So I kept walking, a wounded, limping deer in the headlights of a grief train barreling down the tracks. Each step a victory, a refusal to lie down.

Not that I didn’t laugh along the way and eat fine food, do laundry and take vacations. I did all of those things and even enjoyed some of them. But it wasn’t fully me. It was someone who looked like me, answered to my name. But she was off in some significant ways. Not fully present. My crazy showed itself in a variety of manifestations, some pitiful, some actually funny. I can laugh now at the two years spent insisting I was in my forties when really I was in my sixties. No idea why now. Was I trying to turn back time? The brain has its own way of functioning, completely apart from our control or wisdom.

That’s really a big part of what it’s about, isn’t it? That loss of control. Who knew you could walk downstairs one morning and find the world had turned utterly inside out and upside down? It’s amazing how even as years pass there’s a small part of your brain…your heart, that still sometimes wonders for a few seconds upon waking…did that really happen?

My husband and I were relatively new to Florida, where we’d moved to expand our art business. So we were driving all over the state each weekend, setting up our tent and art in lovely towns, in beautiful parks and on breathtaking waterfronts. All we had to do was look up. The skies were the prettiest I’d ever seen, full of pink birds, snowy egrets, and lush greens. Sunshine sparkled brilliantly on water everywhere it seemed, reminding me that possibilities still existed. Our house sits across a meadow from an alligator farm, a local attraction that also is home for an estuary. So each new morning and closing dusk dazzling birds fly in and out, over my small yard, where I’d sit and drink in the hope, the healing. If your heart is broken, first thing to do? Move to Florida. Let the state do its wondrous thing on your spirit; you don’t have to lift a finger. Just an eyelid, to let in the beauty. Turn the news off, go outside and breathe. Let those pink roseate spoonbills do the heavy lifting in your soul.

About a year and a half ago I began to breathe easier, felt myself coming back closer to whom I used to be. I developed a deep thirst for books, spiritual books that spoke of positivity and hope, of redemption. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and repeatedly getting the same message: give back.

The road back is paved with intentional kindness, thoughtful giving. Moving away from self-focus and onto the needs of others. I tried a number of places, served several holiday dinners, before finding the spot that fit me best. Pie in the Sky collects, packs and delivers groceries to seniors in need, and there I found my tribe. It’s been several months now of twice weekly packing sessions and I just took on my first regular delivery route this past week. I can’t say enough about how good it feels to forget about me, to put the needs of others first for a change.

But my story is about more than that. The woman who started the program several years ago is a bit of a community fixture. Everyone knows Malea and the good she’s done, not just for our seniors but also for the migrant farm workers barely surviving on the outskirts of town while picking the fruit and vegetables that fill our tables so bountifully each day. So when she woke up one morning with what was eventually diagnosed as Guillain-Barre syndrome, it was a shock to many of us. I followed her recovery on Facebook, watched her brutal struggle on the parallel bars, willing her feet to move again. When they announced at Pie one morning that Malea was climbing the local lighthouse in commemoration of the past year’s fight to come back, I knew I wanted to be present to cheer her on. From the ground. Both feet planted solidly on terra firma.

And that’s exactly what I told Tina when I saw her standing in front of the entrance that morning. My good friend explained that the gloves were for gripping the railing during the climb and tried to hand me a pair. Not necessary, I explained; my fear of heights was longstanding and well documented. Of course she said the usual things about not looking down and focusing only on the step in front of me, but all I heard was Charlie Brown’s mother. Wha wha wha. I knew she meant well but come on. A narrow circular staircase with steps you could see through? Not gonna happen.

And that was the position I took, right up until the moment I saw Malea. Inspiring does not even begin to cover it. Serving the poor and climbing the lighthouse steps a year after being paralyzed?! What a showoff. I slipped the gloves on with much fear and trembling and took my spot right behind her on the damn staircase. Glaring into her back as we climbed, me clinging to that railing, I half-hoped she could feel my rage rays beaming upon her spine. She stopped to rest on the landings, and I got to hear a bit more of her story, as her daughters and a local newscaster were climbing also, filming the exhilarating event. After a while I forgot to be a brat and began to realize not only what an honor it was to be there, but what an unexpected release it was becoming for me. We made our way past each of the 8 landings, all 219 steps, and when Malea came through the door on the top of the lighthouse I was right behind her, both of us grinning ear to ear.

I know this because I saw it on the news that night. Sure, the story was about Malea’s triumph, as it should be. I like that my side tale is on the down low, known only to me. Only I know that stepping out onto that deck at the top was pushing back against the insecurities that had been trying to strangle me, shut me down after the horrors of that morning when suddenly nothing seemed secure anymore. And there’s truth in there; what is really secure in this world in the sense that it’s never going to change? I needed to let that go. I needed to see again the beauty even in the precariousness of the climb.

This morning I was at the lighthouse again, making my way up those 8 landings out onto the bright red deck. I go several times a week now, climbing 3 or 4 times at each visit. It’s a great workout, and I’ve become friendly with several of the other regular climbers. But the benefits of this have gone way past the physical. It is more of a spiritual practice for me at this point. I gaze out over the sun glistening on the nearby ocean and the intercoastal, I watch the dolphins cavort and the palms sway in the breezes.

And I remember that I have this day in which to be alive, to give back. I have this exhilarating gift of nature and beauty. If I forget I can just watch that news clip again, and remember how much life likes to surprise us.

This morning I passed a couple on the lower landings as I made my way to the top, but on my way back down I found the woman sitting by herself about halfway up. I asked her if she’d changed her mind but I already suspected her answer. Sure enough, she said her fears had stopped her. I told her the briefest of summaries about my own first time, and how empowering it has become to me, how life-changing. She was willing to give it another try, and together we made our way up the next four landings. Her husband’s face when she stepped out onto the deck said it all and I quietly made my way around to the other side. Leaning into the sunbaked wall I gazed over the trees and water, all the way to the downtown sights, the red-roofed college buildings and the gleaming white sails of the tall ship docked in the harbor. I thought about those twisty iron steps that had brought me to all this beauty, all this wonder, and how well it reflects my own journey with its sorrows and its graces. Tomorrow is not promised but look at all I have today, in this moment! Slipping my gloves back on, I blew a quick kiss toward the heavens for Zachary and started my descent, one grateful step at a time.

Spinning Gold

Spinning Gold

You may or may not know, I am intrigued by the workings of the Universe and more specifically, the compelling ways in which it speaks to us, draws us, teaches us if we’ll allow it. I try to stay open daily to new lessons, new signs of closeness and truth. I’ve had many days of ups and downs recently, as is to be expected, but yesterday felt like a day of “rightness” to me, deep inside. Not right as in the opposite of wrong, but right more in the sense of being on my own true path, where I’m wired and led to be. It’s been a while since I had that feeling. Eight weeks, to be exact.

A few things came together to bring me to this spot. Yesterday I was part of something that Paul and I loved to do together. Nothing spectacular, just a little affirmation gathering, a small group of friends honoring some good work done in the world. I’d been excited in the planning but yesterday as the event drew close, I felt my energy waning. Something that has been reoccurring in these 8 weeks… without Paul I lose my mojo, my momentum. So I’ve found myself in social situations, some of my own creating, where I sit like a log. Not weeping or maudlin, just… empty.

But yesterday’s was all about Light, and I was fortunate to have other light-bearers involved who could push me forward gently, and I was able to get up off my log. In fact, I had a wonderful time. The whole evening actually made me think of Paul, how much he “got” that kind of thing, how much his presence might have added. We used to do evenings like that a lot. But last night was all female and all right. Most of my floridee life is female, which is very different than my jersey days, where I was lucky enough to have lots of guy friends and a man who was cool with it. I loved that about Paul, his confidence, his trust. Anyway, I cleaned up after guests left and climbed into bed…. and oddly, had a dream about a friend of mine from jerz, a young guy that both Paul and I were positively influenced by and grew to love, along with his sweet family. The dream wasn’t about Aaron actually, he was just in it. Saying the word “alchemy” to me.

As an official word freak, alchemy is one of my favorite words. I love the spelling, the old-fashioned feel and origin of it, and I love the way it has morphed into its more contemporary meaning: “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or a combination of both.” Change stimulates me, most of the time anyway, and I woke up happy to think of a magical transformation heading my way. I curled up in my “quiet chair” by the open window, music flowing, pen and books in hand, and let the day’s words begin their work in me, their alchemy.  Parker Palmer has been blowing me away for a few months now, and this morning I read of how restorative nature is to him, as it very much is to me. He spoke of how watching a beloved area of forest grow back over a period of years after a damaging derecho showed “me what it takes to heal my own wounds so I can be in the world as a wounded healer.” These words jumped off the page at me, stirred the shreds of my broken heart. Might I find purpose in the world as a wounded healer?  

Maybe that’s why last night meant so much to me, being in a room where magic is happening. People  being recognized for doing good in the world, friendships  beginning and deepening, wondrous surprises blooming in every part of our willingness to come together for each other. Yes, I fell asleep thinking of how much Paul would have enjoyed the night… but maybe he did? And maybe he is a part of the alchemy ahead, where I live in a more female world without him… or without his physical presence anyway. I know if there is a way to be close to me in another form he will find it. I trust him as much as he trusted me. Maybe he played a part in sending Aaron to speak of alchemy to me, because we both so very much saw the deep value of learning from people younger than ourselves whenever we could. I know I am to keep learning, and growing, and moving forward as a “wounded healer” might spin gold from my shattered spirit. What higher calling could I have?

Yes, I am the very definition of an over-sharer, lol, and that is bewildering to some people. Which is fine, of course. But I deeply believe in the power of sharing our stories, our process. All of us have stories and all of us have the right to hold them close to our hearts or bring them to the fire, where possibly others may find warmth, or truth, or hope from them. We all have to make the choice that is right for ourselves. I don’t feel I so much make a choice, as I simply follow my wiring, and trust in Love to alchemize my offering. Hopefully turning my pain, or joy, or whatever, into someone else’s goodness, even for a moment. Maybe it’s simply a trust offering on my part…Maybe your reading is a love offering on your part. Isn’t that a beautiful alchemy, spinning gold from one another’s pain? If so, I take this opportunity to thank you for reading, for trusting along with me, in the Universal alchemy of Love at work in us all.

Morning Calisthenics

Morning Calisthenics

I made it to the beach today in time to catch the sun peep over the horizon, a sight that usually thrills me. I was glad to be there, eager to expend some muscle energy in this time of enforced stillness. But my groove never really caught. My eyes kept drifting to the heavy clouds above; this sense of foreboding was not what I got up early for. Even my trudging on the thick sand felt weighted, clumsy, and the tide was high. Not the best walking circumstances. I thought maybe that was it.

But within minutes I knew. It was gonna be a different kind of walk this morning… Grief, if you walk with it long enough, has a strong kind of muscle memory to it. You sense the aching gray moving into your spirit and you know immediately what is in store. The muscles of your heart line up in formation; it’s not the exercise you had planned today… but make no mistake, it is going to be a workout. Reluctant emotional calisthenics, like your least favorite gym teacher surprised you at the beach and blew her start whistle right in your face. “Aaaandddd, JUMP!”

But I know the drill. This bitch will not be stopped. It’s better to flow with the movements rather than attempt to fight them off. The only way through it is through it. So I followed… I opened my heart to let it feel the coming pain… his leaving… his absence… the grayness that lies ahead. When my headphones cued up the romantic Carly Simon ballad, I let the tears rip, the agony race through my mind. The bitch had access to my playlist, and I let her have it. Sometimes this release must have its way. You may think you’re doing okay, as well as can be expected when the love of your life gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. And you are, you’re made of strong stuff. But this ripping apart is visceral, bone deep. It’s both agonizingly slow and brutally fast. Time seems to crawl, and yet it also bears down on you like an angry locomotive, your feet tied to the tracks as the villain twirls his curling mustache. Yes, there is a cartoon aspect to all of this, like you’re watching this unfurl in the worst movie, one you never wanted to see. It can’t be real, but then there’s the medicines and charts lined up on the kitchen counter. This can’t be happening, but your days follow the rhythms of his pain patches and doctor appointments. Time can be capricious; she is either your merciful friend or a ruthless dominatrix. These forces are greater than you. You cannot fight them. So let yourself sob, Kevan. You know all too well the pain that lies before you.

When we lost our son seven years ago, it was out of nowhere. We woke up one morning, and he was dead in his bed downstairs. So that pain was all reactive, like the world’s biggest bandaid was ripped suddenly from our very hearts, leaving them shredded and smoking. Having notice is very different, and quite surreal. Who knows what is better/worse? Can that even be calculated? There are few easy ways to leave the planet, and apparently none when it comes to being left behind. But we are both grateful people, who recognize each day as the gift that it is. Even the ones that begin with tears flowing on a dawn beach. I know that if I hadn’t experienced a love as amazing as ours has been, as unexpected and tenacious and mind-boggling as ours, it wouldn’t hurt so much to know that he is leaving. I will try to accept the terms of this devilish bargain, understanding that even in this there is a gift.

The rain began even as I made it back to the parking lot, and it felt right. I’ve always loved when the weather mirrors my soul so perfectly. As I walked toward my car I let the sobs rip, my chest opening to the release of pent up grief. My hand was stretched to the car door as I spotted the silver van pull into the lot, my heart stopping when I realized that he was pulling up to me, catching me in the act of missing him before he’d even left. “Oh Sug, what’s wrong?” he asked, his bony hand reaching out for mine. “I just love you so much,” I cried, letting our intimacy make everything clear. We clasped hands for a long few minutes, the rain doing all the talking between us. He said that he loved that the universe had brought him to me at just that moment. I nodded and thought of it as a knockout to the grief bitch, a shot to the head, her shrill whistle tumbling to the rain-soaked ground. It won’t stop her completely. She’ll be back another day. But for today, right now, I hold tightly to his hand for as long as I can.

To Kevan on Her 18th Birthday

To Kevan on Her 18th Birthday

Dear Kevan,

First of all, you made it, girl. You got through it all because you’re strong, and you’re loved. You just don’t know it yet, it’ll take a while. But you’re going to be amazed once you discover all the love around you. You will even come to see this rough beginning as a gift. Not the best gift you’ll ever get, or one you’d even want, but you’ll see. Because of all those years of sorrow and pain, you’ll have an appreciation for love that most don’t get. And guess what? Love begets love, girl. And the river is wide. You’ve got so much goodness ahead of you. But here’s few tips that might make the road a bit safer.

You’re gonna want to start over on all the things you’ve come to believe about yourself. None of them are healthy, they will not serve you well. Open your mind up to the possibility that there is goodness in you, and everyone else too for that matter. Try to maybe find one good thing within yourself each week, and work on letting it settle inside. Those holes and wounds you’re carrying are gonna send you to some dark places if you don’t begin to replace them with healthy truths. And since we’re on the subject, all those guys sniffing around? That’s not love, girl. Not even close. That’s another hard lesson you’ve got in front of you. If you don’t value yourself no one else will either. You’re worth way more than you think you are, and you’re communicating your low self esteem in so many ways you don’t even know about yet. Put some clothes on, start reading some good books.

Speaking of books, you don’t know this yet either, but you’re pretty smart. All that reading when you were a kid paid off. You’re not acting all that wise, but it’ll come. Oddly enough, it will be a man who opens up this truth to you. A pastor who becomes like a father to you. A real father, not the nutballs you’re used to. Yeah, a pastor, you didn’t see that one coming, did you? That’s really where your healing will begin, and it will open the door to some wild goodness that you can’t even imagine yet. Don’t look now, but you’re gonna fall HARD for Jesus Christ. Stop laughing, it’s true. What’s so funny, He’s only the best cat there ever was, I ain’t even kiddin’. Dude, you think you’re a rebel?! He’s turns the whole planet upside down. But you’ll see, just don’t waste your energy fightin’ it. It will open the door to some of your best growth and friendships ever, even a family. You’ll get the chance to rewrite your story of family. Oh yeah, don’t panic, but you’re gonna get married and have kids, and its gonna be amazing. No, I know, I know, you don’t believe me. You think you know so much, girl…. Get ready to unlearn a whole lot of misinformation you’ve been carrying around for years. Don’t feel bad, all young people think they know everything. But yeah, humility is a very cool thing, another game changer you’ll learn in those church years.

About those years…. Its gonna be a really mixed bag for you. LOTS of blessings. Oh relax, it’s just a word! Don’t get hung up on words. “Blessing” is just goodness bestowed, and you’ve got lots comin’ your way. So anyway… those Jesus years will bring you the first hope you’ve ever had, and some of those teachings will open you up to the idea of getting married. The kid thing will just happen…. You gotta be cool when your man gets outta jail, it’s an easy time to get sloppy with the birth control lol. But that’s okay, that was all part of the plan, the one you didn’t know about. Kids will be the mother of all game changers lol. Well, actually you’ll be the mother, if you can imagine that. I know, weird. But that’s the thing about turning worlds upside down. Jesus likes that shit. You’ll spend quite a few years in the church stuff, and weirdly, those will be the best years of your life, the ones you’d most like to return to. But there will always be elements that feel off to you, parts that you will have a hard time with. You’re gonna do pretty well at staying true to yourself in those situations. Eventually the gap will widen to the point where you have to walk. It’ll be brutal for you to leave your first real family, but you gotta be true to yourself.  Try not to bite the hand that feeds you though; remember it was actually in the church where you first began to even find yourself. Be gracious and kind when it’s time to walk away, and bless them on the way out the door.

Okay, the kid stuff. Here’s the thing: you’ll do the best you can. You’ll love them with all your heart. It will bust your heart wide open, and leave it walking around completely and utterly exposed to whatever comes along. It’s rough stuff, I’m not gonna lie. But here’s my best tips: don’t compare yourself to other mothers, and learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you WILL make. Just let them know you love them, over and over. They’ll get sick of it, but whatever, do it anyway. In the really rough years, there will be times when you don’t actually get to FEEL the love you have for some of them, but don’t worry. It’s always there. Oh, and Kevan, I need to try to warn you… as best I can… they’re not really YOURS. You may be called upon to give one up before you’re ready. All I can say is it won’t kill you. It’ll just feel like it will.

Now, marriage. Dude, another shocker, I know. More of the Jesus stuff, but you two will actually surprise a lotta people with this one. You have a big heart, and you’re gonna need every drop of love you’ve got. As science predicts, the child of addicts chooses an addict; the worst kind of familiarity. Sorry, but addiction is the crimson thread that runs like a river through your whole life. Again, one of those mixed bag things. Broken people will always be your tribe, the place where you feel most at home. That will be a beautiful thang once you get the real hang out of it, but that will take many years, many tears. Through this you will learn that sometimes the greatest gifts contain the greatest sorrows, and vice versa. But you and Paul will cling to one another through every wild wave, even the ones you cause yourselves. His addiction doesn’t make you the better partner. Remember that always, because his public messes will make it easy for you or others to make that wrong assessment. His heart is golden, and he loves you deeply. Those messes are not indicative of his love for you; once you get that, you’ll do a lot better. Be merciful always. Who doesn’t need mercy? You two will be as shocked as everyone else by the longevity of your marriage and your deep friendship, but that will only cause you to treasure it all the more as the gift it really is. As long as you both have breath, give each other everything.

I’ll try to wrap this up, I didn’t mean to go so long. You’ll be someone who truly values and honors friendships, although that will take a while too. Forgive yourself for those early mess-ups; again, you were always driven by your wounds in the early years, but that happens to a lot of us. Growing up takes a minute. You’ll have your father’s passion for music. Go to all the live shows you can, but remember, Sly will always show up late, if at all, as will Lauryn Hill. You’re fortunate to make it to the generation that offers you all the music you could ever want for free in your pocket. That alone was worth stickin’ around for. Try to be kind as much as possible as much of the time as you can. You’ll never regret that. And that thing you have for checkout people? That’s a good thing, more of that. I feel like I want to warn you or offer you some help with the food issues that will plague you and many of your gender and generation throughout your life… but we don’t have that kind of time. Do the best you can. If you remember to love yourself it might not mess with you as much. Aging is a privilege. But you’re a pretty grateful person, I think you get that. So keep on keepin’ on, girl. You got this.

Fay and Corona; A Love Story For Our Times

Fay and Corona; A Love Story For Our Times

Here’s the thing. I’m wired for positivity. That one fact I think makes me look a lot better than I actually am, in my heart of hearts. When handed bad news, my mind begins ticking quickly, looking for the way out, the silver lining. Searching for the hidden happy like a compass seeks the north, quivering steadily until it lands.

Once I’ve found my direction, I can head that way, implementing whatever tools I find along the road. And I’m a good Finder of Tools. However, it’s when I’m walking down the road that my shell first begins to crack. My human reactions, my true feelings start to bubble to the surface. So I’m slower to crumble maybe than others, but it’s happening, baby. It’s just all internal, unknown even to me, the overly optimistic host.

So when I first hear of a deathly virus bearing down upon me, and my husband with stage 4 cancer, I don’t have a big reaction. Actually, my reaction to Paul’s cancer diagnosis in early winter, was strangely muted as well. Both of these things have felt otherworldly to me, so surreal that I have a hard time taking them seriously in the beginning. Even as the pounds fall from Paul daily before my eyes, I have the hardest time wrapping my brain around it. Until suddenly I do, and then the torrential tears threaten my very breath.

That’s what I mean about appearances being deceiving. I may look strong but I’m really just still absorbing. Not so much a pillar of strength as a snail of comprehension. But no apologies. No one can help their wiring, right? Like Popeye, I ams what I ams. But anyway, back to the Corona monster straddling NYC skyscrapers, holding Fay Wray gently in his monstrous paw… hard to take that stuff seriously at first, right?!

I mean, I watch a bit of news, not a lot. Maybe 20 minutes in the morning, occasionally 20 more at day’s end, but not regularly for sure. The days of newspapers are long past, so like most of us I pick up my understanding of current events through osmosis, on my phone. Which is to say that I have no real factual source of news, certainly if that is my venue. Everything we absorb reaches us through filters today; the old school models of news information are obsolete now. Remember the 5 W’s we learned: who, what, when, where, why? Our information is now gathered through partisan filters, so the virus is either a democratic hoax or a republican failure. News seems fear-driven right now, less informative than I need it to be to begin to really understand the threat against me, and particularly Paul. Since I feel I have limited understanding of the genuine threat level, I look at something shiny instead. I go on with my day. I don’t know if it’s so much head-in-the-sand as it is I’ll catch up with y’all later, I’ve got stuff to do.

I’m fortunate in that I have plenty to keep me busy. I’d been falling way behind in my mosaics production without Paul’s gluing help, so I spend time each day working on those. I’d also started working with repurposed cotton clothing and paints shortly before the virus, and it’s an art form that I really enjoy. I’d picked up about 40 articles of clothing right before the shutdown so that has helped to keep me busy too. A good friend and I are working with writing prompts pretty much daily and that has been a great source of  entertainment and, well, illumination too. Which brings me right up to today’s topic: how has the virus and its attendant quarantine affected me?

And I guess all of the preceding adds up to say: I’m not sure yet.  I don’t think the effects are coming at me head-on yet. I’m still optimistic. The beaches are closed, but true to form, I strongly believe they’ll reopen shortly in a limited fashion. I still have plenty to do. I get to sit and read a bit sometimes, and that is something I rarely had time to enjoy before. But look…. all of those are surface responses…..

Am I afraid? Honestly, yes, I’m a little scared. What will our world look like when we finally emerge? Will there be resources? Commerce? Who will have money to spend? I feel a bit frightened for my kids, and their kids. This virus does feel like King Kong, who knows what other monstrous event lies ahead? Did we ever think the whole planet would close down like this?

Am I sad? Yes, I’m a bit sad too. I can’t even see my daughter and her family, because they still work and Paul in particular is so high risk for the virus. I miss them terribly, and I miss my friends a lot too. I’m a very social person. I like being alone and I get recharged in my solitude, but my norm is many hangouts and fun activities with friends each week. I miss my community, at Pie in the Sky, at the farmers markets we do each week, my peeps. Straight up, I miss my people greatly, and this saddens me. I’m also very much an outdoors person and this is the best weather of the year. We’re missing a fantastic spring, a gift we can no longer count on each year, so I feel this loss hugely. Yes, I have my windows open, I walk constantly, and spend time in my yard. Believe me when I tell you this cannot replace outdoor hangs with friends, cafes, beach visits, lighthouse climbs. These are my necessities. Or I guess now…. they once were. This is a new day.

But. Those are things I feel. My honest feelings. I also must consider what I believe.

I wasn’t always an optimist. In fact, when I was a child my feelings were pretty dark most of the time. My childhood was one long unhappiness in which I felt trapped always. I never stopped thinking of escape, which actually maybe was optimism now that I think of it. And once I got out I found great relief in being happy, and in being free to create more happiness. That didn’t come quickly or easily, I had a lot to recover from, but it did come. And since that time I’ve held on to it tightly, even through some very hard times. My wiring rose up and began to dominate; my needle formed neuropathways in the direction of north. North is now my DNA. And my experience is that I’ve never gone hungry. I might not have had much but I’ve always had enough, for me and those I love. I’ve seen miraculous supply and presence. I’ve felt myself carried by Love too many times to ever discount it. I’ve been trained by life to believe in goodness and rewarded for believing in it. It is actually its own reward, and I embrace that with every part of me. This is my core belief and it informs my feelings, so I am doubly armed in this Corona battle. In every fight actually, and it’s a good thing. I’ve got some tough days ahead of me.

But we all do right now. We have dark days head and we have opportunity before us to be light bearers. Some days I’m gonna be not brushing my teeth and shoveling pizza in my face to comfort myself. And some days I’m gonna be sending out sunny beams of hope to the pizza shovelers. I’m going to allow myself to have both days without judgment. I’m not going to pressure myself to be all good or berate myself to believe I’m all bad. King Kong would love that and I’m not giving him the satisfaction. Fay Wray was able to find goodness in the beast and I’m going to do the same. I just won’t look as cute.

 

TREASURES

TREASURES

When we drove back to our small island home after Hurricane Michael, our expectations were low, I must say. We’d seen videos on Facebook of properties around the corner, waves splashing wildly against windows and doors. And it had been a few days of imposed exile since the storm had passed through; as seasoned islanders we knew enough to expect a smelly, soggy mess. Still, knowing and seeing are too different things. Our hearts sank as we opened the front door and saw a heavy wooden chest had floated across the room, landing finally on what remained of our living room couch.

My art room was once a garage, so it sits a good six inches lower than the rest of the house, right off the living room. I had watched the weather reports and lifted everything off the floor. Like I said. seasoned islander. I had begged my husband to help me lift the rest of the house but he was insistent that we would have no flooding, and I couldn’t lift the heavy furniture on my own. I tried to believe that he was right, and the rest of our home remained unprepared. Interesting that I’d lifted all of my art supplies and left my clothing in low drawers. The water line was close to two feet off the ground, coming fortunately right to the bottom of the switch plates. It was a very hard and sobering reentry.

But we’re both wired for positivity and used to hard work, so we set to it immediately. Paul saw to our ruined appliances, heating and air services, and I began to drag out all of our sopping, ruined belongings to the front yard. As is common after huge storms, the weather was beautiful, the sun shining gloriously over the stinking debris that began to pile up on the street as stunned neighbors began the islander’s slow dance of recognition and recovery. Never pretty. We’ve always been fortunate to have good friends in our life, and our house was filled within an hour of our arrival with friends who had not been affected, showing up to scrub, tote, and comfort.

I have to say, I didn’t love it, but I wasn’t that upset. I kept saying, “It’s only stuff. We’ll be fine.” And I meant it, I swear. I’ve never cared all that much about material things, and I was way more aggravated about the amount of work ahead of us than I was about losing furniture or clothing. My cheery attitude stayed with me through that whole long, soggy day, hours of stinky, discouraging work. But honestly, I was so grateful for the help of my good friends, so buoyed by their love, that I wasn’t really that disturbed.

Until I opened that old, wooden trunk that had floated. I’d forgotten that it had ben filled with our family photo albums. At that point it had only been five years since the death of our second son, Zachary. I was as okay as I was ever going to be in my recovery from that soul-shaking loss, but I was going to be a lot less okay if I’d also lost all my pictures of him growing up. We never had money for a video camera, but I was always taking photographs of the kids, and I was the one person in the family who regularly took out the albums and looked at them. The wail that arose from the pit of my heart when I realized what had been in that trunk was feral, and from that moment on my bravado was GONE. I cared nothing for the clothing, food, furniture, any of it. All I cared about was rescuing these photos, if at all possible.

By the time I found them, the sticky pages had been deteriorating for a good 3, 4 days, and the edges of them were smearing, the colors blending into disconcerting swirls edging toward the center. My tears flowed unabashed as I ripped each photo from its page, out of probably 20 albums, carefully laying them on towels spread in the sun. I had felt a secret pride in my ability to let it all go hours earlier, but this discovery humbled me, brought me to my knees in agony. And I stayed there for a few days, working my way through those photos, saving as many as could possibly be saved. Weeping anew over many images, many memories of my sweet family, my precious son. The news and the neighborhood was filled with tales of calamitous loss, suffered by so many in our tiny island town and its neighboring areas. But my world had grown very small, contained to a growing pile of old photos, warped but each one carefully wiped dry and welcomed back.

I no longer use photo albums, although I am unusual in that I still take and print photos. I love remembering, celebrating moments of joy and fun. I keep them now though in a large antique ceramic bowl, placed by my living room couch, the area in which we are most likely to gather with each other or guests. The bowl is within reach of anyone who sits down, the photos openly spilling out, no longer set behind plastic.  I often grab a random handful while sitting, and I find it interesting to see who else does too, who recognized the treasures so openly displayed. I only managed to save a small portion, but they are my treasures, and will be the first thing set up high when any kind of storm approaches. Who needs couches or appliances anyway?

Brighter

Brighter

The heat between them was instant. Not the pure white heat of the stars above them on the beach that night, but something more feral, as far from pure as the earth is from the stars. The huge bonfire warmed their faces, dancing in the soft sand only raised the temps of the tightly undulating crowd. She found herself gently shoved into his firm chest repeatedly, and his eyes glittered each time, hard as the crab shells buried deep beneath their damp toes. Nervously, she reminded herself that this had been her objective. Too many movies watched alone, too many seasons spent wishing she’d find someone, had led her finally to this darkly thrilling beach. To this reckless night of desperate hope, and his eyes so locked upon hers felt like possibility.

She was too eager when he tugged her hand, pulling her wordlessly out of the crowd. She babbled over the receding sounds of the band as they headed into shadowy corners, a grouping of large rocks looming before her suddenly. He was a man on a mission, not even answering her until she finally yanked her hand back, her heart hammering against her ribs.

“Wait,” she finally cried out. “Hold up a minute,” the words falling onto the gray sand unheeded, as his rough lips pressed against hers, his hands pawing her back, her ass urgently. She pressed him back, her arms wedged against that rocklike chest. What had seemed so appealing a few songs ago was now edged with the beginning flutterings of fear. Trying to regain control of the scene, she stammered, “Um, wait, please. Can’t we talk a bit?”

In the silence, their labored breathing suddenly loud, he glared at her. “Look,” she gulped, “the stars are so bright tonight. Even brighter than last night,” her words trickling wastefully down onto the beach. Feeling foolish, she flapped one hand nervously up toward the blanket of stars now so clear above them, over the sad scene of the girl who did not understand the ways of the world. The stars that had so often beckoned to her, whispering tales of love found and lives fulfilled. The stars that she had rested hope upon, for their beauty, for their constancy, their relentless shining.

He stepped back, disgust covering his features, a snarl forming on the lips that had seemed so promising.

“Hey,” a soft voice ventured into their circle of danger. “Everything okay here?” A tall figure emerged from the shadows, a flashlight bouncing with his steps. She turned toward the voice, recognizing another dancer from the beach. He walked to her side, his eyes searching hers. Looking now at the man now quiet across from her, his arms and torso still stiff with intention, his words were firm. “Go back to the fire, buddy. Walk away.”

The stare between the men felt electric, and she watched them without breathing. Finally, still not yet having spoken a word to her, the smaller man turned on his heel, spitting roughly in her direction before walking off into the darkness through the rocks. She felt her breath return, her chest heaving as relief flooded her lungs, her mind. Embarrassed, she turned toward her rescuer, standing several feet from her, his flashlight bright between them. She saw his eyes soft upon hers, his voice gentle as he said, “You know, I think you’re right. The stars are much brighter tonight.”

Magic Always

Magic Always

The problem was time. Time played unfairly, she felt. Always had. Running ahead, speeding up… mostly running out. She remembered how long the month of March used to feel when she was a kid. Endless days of gray skies, the air stiff with cold. Today is the last day of the same capricious month, and it had gone by in a cruel snap.

His face this morning was closed. Today for the first time he didn’t leave the house early to go walk the beach, or more recently, as things progressed, at least sit by the beach. Water had always been his solace, and she wondered how she might bring the ocean to him. She’d never wanted to be a god so badly.

He was so much more than her husband. Together they had been delivered from the emptiest of lives. Together they had been reborn, reimagining their futures. Together they had done the impossible. Surely she could move an ocean for him now….

As long as light shone from his eyes, the earth could continue rotating on its axis. Days and weeks would unfurl, commerce would spin on, oxygen for everyone. But the emptiness of his eyes this morning…. He’d been heading this way for a few days, but denial was a necessary step. She dug her foot into that fissure in the wall and clung desperately, fingers grasping the rocky edge fiercely. Until his sadness filled the air, no longer possible to not see. Her rock was beginning its work of crumbling, dust to dust.

Their relationship had always been a matter of smoke and mirrors, looking one way on the outside, its internal mechanics quite different. He the rock, she the babbling brook. He the tortoise, she the hare. He the voice of reason, she the dreamer. But a kite without a tail just crashes into the sand. He was always her beautiful ballast, not tethering her as much as grounding her in the most essential way. He quietly brought solidity to her every dream, substance to the shadow that she had been alone. She wasn’t sure how clearly that showed on the outside, but she knew it to be true in the deepest parts of herself. No one deserved an ocean more than this man.

These were the days of the virus, and the globe was flattening itself, trying to avoid illness and death. Even the beaches had been locked down, another one of time’s cruel jokes. She looked across the room at her shrunken man, eating his tiny lunch…. and began to devise her plan. Let them arrest me, she thought. Let them lock me up. I’m getting my man some ocean. I’m heading down there with a jar. I’ll fill it with salt water and love, and we’ll curl up on the bed and shake it, remembering younger days of jumping waves, hand in hand. We’ll put our grey heads together and giggle at our magical powers like the children we are still inside. I’ll give you the ocean, my love, because we are magic always.