Tidal Lesson

from water view

Parking was impossible near my launch spot on this perfect summer Sunday, so I left my kayak in the sand and asked a friendly looking couple to keep an eye on it while I parked my car. Around and around I drove.  I ended up in a lot next to the volleyball, bocce courts and skatepark, a bit of a jaunt back to my boat.

I pushed off with a sigh. Choppy water made covering any real distance a challenge but I’m not an ambitious paddler. It’s really about getting away from land, seeing a different view of my usual world while being buffeted by gentle waves.

sandbar

Tide was going out and a favorite sandbar was emerging. A wave heaved my kayak onto the gravel. Perched on my plastic boat, I ate a plum, let the water churn around my ankles, searched the broken sea shells for treasures and then, just sat. After a time, I climbed back in and paddled slowly back to shore.

My kayak guardians were still there. I offered them a turn while I went and got my car. She declined and pointing to the sling on his arm, he said he’d end up going in circles. I left my boat under their watchful eye and went to retrieve my car.

Now most people, when they’re parked in the big lot next to the skate park, volleyball and bocce courts, go left when they’re exiting because they’re leaving the beach. But I had to retrieve my boat so needed to take a right and go to the loop of parking where the launch is. Going in that direction is certainly less common in that lot, but it’s definitely allowed. But a bruiser in a gigantic jeep (“RHINO!” writ large in front in case it didn’t look intimidating enough) insisted I was not allowed – and drove at me gesturing like I was an asshole, how stupid was I to be trying to go that way. No graciousness or hint maybe he was trying to be helpful. I paused while he flailed at me and pulled my car slightly back so he could pass since he clearly wasn’t going to move out of what I knew to be a perfectly valid lane going in the other direction.

But for a moment, I wasn’t sure… the car looked a little like it could be a (weirdly souped- up) police jeep. He and his car had an authoritarian look. Was he a cop? I know better than to pick a fight with a cop and for a minute I thought, well then, maybe he’s right. In any case, how preposterous for me, this grey haired late 50’s (but sprightly!) woman to get in a battle with this 30-something beefcake. (Oh, but I wanted to!)

“It’s one way!” he snarled at me.

“No it’s not!” I snarled back – blood pressure pumped, paddling-zen, kaput.

He barreled past. I clearly saw, he was no policeman. He was only a jerk. A macho, bully that feels comfortable and righteous throwing his weight around in his ridiculous man-toy of a car.

“Read the sign!” he yelled.

With him out of the way, I carried on and indeed read the sign – a simple STOP sign and below it No Left Turn. Of course not. It’s a loop. I went right and circled around to my boat being watched over by the sweet couple. I looked out at the water and sky and breathing, regained my chill. Or did I. I continued to think about it – and hours later, here I am writing about this encounter.

He was so sure HE was right. And how positive I felt that I was right. (And of course I WAS right. Haha!) But I wanted to find him and bring him back to the sign so he could see, it’s okay to go that way. I really wanted to prove to that guy he was wrong – as if only then would I regain the power I somehow felt I had ceded to him in reversing. Ridiculous?

In some ways, this exchange of only moments, felt a snapshot of the way I feel in the world these days. It’s a kind of wrestling match with myself to not engage in something that probably won’t end well because the one who’s wrong just won’t look at what the sign REALLY says. I’m joking. Kind of. Ultimately, in the end, these encounters just feel toxic to me. Better to keep my mouth shut, carry on doing what I believe to be right and try to let the crap go out with the tide.

 

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On the Water Again

Freckled legs, thrift-shop crocs and my new ride.

I arrived at the beach just after 9:30 AM, determined to get out on the water before the holiday weekend boaters took over. Ten minutes after leaving the house, I pulled into a spot close to the boat launch — rolled my kayak down off the car, slung it over my shoulder by the seat strap and teetered down to the water. High tide was around 7 so the water was still close enough that I didn’t have to navigate too many slippery rocks. Wading into the water with my boat beside me, I slid aboard, scooted against the back rest and began paddling towards the Norwalk islands, grinning.

Twenty minutes from my door: heaven.

It’s been 2 summers since I’ve been out paddling and I refused to make this a 3rd. Fairly priced kayaks are the first thing to go at tag sales and last year, I never scored one. It didn’t help that I wanted something very specific. I am not a confident water person and had gotten used to the impossible-to-tip-over ocean kayak I’d paddled with my ex. Last year I searched tag sales, Craig’s List and asked friends – to no avail. This year, riding the wave of excitement and satisfaction and yes, financial freedom of Molly being done with college, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. For just over $300 for kayak, oar, jacket and straps to tie the thing down on top of my Subaru. David, our salesperson, was a prince – guiding me towards the right boat, attaching foam to the rack on the top of my car and showing me how to attach it tight.

My present to myself for Molly’s graduation.

The first few times out, I loaded up with Molly who thoughtfully stood by trying not to help. I wanted to know I could wrestle the thing myself. Finally, she couldn’t bear to see me struggle and with a flip of an arm, threw the boat up on my car. While she’s around, I’ll welcome that help. But this morning, I did it myself from start to finish. I doubt it looked pretty, but damn it, I did it.

I swam here. Briefly. The water is cold.

And this is where I went. I floated, I paddled, I watched the birds, telling them how lovely they were. It’s cooler out there with a sweet breeze easing the heat of the sun. Pulling up to a spit of land that disappears at high tide, I pulled the kayak up and swam, marveling that this sweet beach was all mine. I wonder how I let 2 years pass without this dreamy experience so close to home!

A spit of beach that disappears and appears with the tides.

On my first solo venture out, I alternately felt thrilled and terrified. Nervous that no one was behind me navigating, paddling when I got tired. If I go under, it’s only me and my fierce whistle! But even as huge motorboats bore down on me, I smiled like a buddha. On my own, blissful with the birds skimming across the rolling waves, the odd splash of a fish and yes, the roaring motors of boats. In fact, once I think they see me and will probably not mow me down, I love rolling in the heaving wakes they leave. And I wave, imagining they must envy me – moving so sleekly along, quietly moving towards the egrets in the tall grass, so very happy in my solitude. I would.

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This Mother’s Journey

Kamogawa at dusk

I was 28 and living in Kyoto, Japan when the letter arrived. An ex-boyfriend wanted to let me know he had tested positive for HIV. The year was 1988 – early days of the disease when a positive diagnosis was still thought to be a death sentence. For a week I waited for results of my test and stared my mortality in the eye. Up until then, my life in Japan felt almost ideal – I could spend only a few days teaching English with plenty of free time to sculpt and paint and explore one of the most fascinating, inspiring cities in the world. I loved my life there, living primarily as an artist in a remarkable community.

That letter changed everything. I did not mourn I might never visit Morocco or make some piece of art. During that week of waiting, I walked up into the mountains  around Kyoto, biked along the river and felt lonely in that beautiful place. I discovered what I’d regret: the chance to be a mother. For the first time in my life, I not only thought about but wanted a baby.

When my test came back negative, I decided to return to the States. I’d had a Japanese boyfriend and imagined how beautiful a child would be – but I worried that for me, the differences between a man and woman were hurdle enough without adding cultural and language challenges to the mix. I returned to the USA with my new dream and hopes of finding my mate.

My years in NYC, working at the United Nations were punctuated by a few adventures but no man who was right. In 1992 I joined a UN Peacekeeping mission to the Former Yugoslavia – still determined to find a way to start a family even as I went off to a war zone. (I know, I know!) There I met Neil – the charismatic, handsome, funny and loving – but troubled Englishman I would marry. He too was keen to have a baby and we got right on it.

Premie Molly with proud parents at the beach in Ostuni, Italy.

At 36, I gave birth to Molly in Italy. (Another adventure I wrote about here.) I was right about the man-part of creating a family being a challenge – it turned out to be even more impossible than I imagined. Neil’s demons got the better of him and he ended his life a month before Molly turned 9. Being a single mom was never part of my dream and I know both of us have had flashes of feeling sorry for ourselves. Certainly there has always been the financial stress, but I have also worried about being the only one to cheer her on in life.

Except – I haven’t been and I am not. Together we learned to find love and support beyond the boundaries of home. This neighborhood has become family for us, pitching in to lend a hand on the turn of a dime, showing up — well, you can see in the photo below taken just before her high school graduation. Living in this community helped me to be a better mother. And my girl has learned what it means to create a ‘family’ of support and love.

A week ago, Molly picked up tickets for her college graduation. She was allowed 10 but needed only 1 ticket – for me. She felt embarrassed to just ask for a single ticket so took 3. As always, I fretted about how she’d feel when all her friends would have a cheering section for this momentous event.  And she would have ME. In fact, two of  her adorable friends joined me – cheering and tearing up beside me.

Over the years, there has always been noise for my girl when she has taken a bow or crossed the stage for an award. I clap until my hands sting, and hoot and whistle. But beyond my racket, there is always more of a roar from a circle that knows and loves her – though they may not share her blood. Molly has created friendships that run as deep as family. And like her two friends that sat beside me (and there was another row besides!) they show up and they make lots of noise so she will have no doubt that she is loved.

We did it!

We are a devoted duo – proud of each other. “We did it!” she captioned her graduation Facebook picture of the two of us. And it’s true. We did do it. She has graduated with pretty minimal debt and that, these days, feels big. For the last 20 plus years my primary, heartfelt focus and drive has been to nurture and launch my daughter in every way. And it is the best thing I ever did.

That glimpse of mortality delivered to a Japanese mailbox in 1988 clarified my dream and it came true. I write this on Mother’s Day – a holiday I mostly dismiss as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ – but for the record on this day and everyday – I am indeed a happy mother!

PS  – While the HIV positive ex and I do not stay in contact, I know that thanks to remarkable advances in medicine, he is still alive and well.

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Most of all the Light

The light of Spring thrills me as does the scent of hyacinth, the jolly daffodils and softening fractals of  tree branches in bud. But this morning, propped up against my pillows not yet ready to get out of bed, I basked in the abundance of morning sun and decided that most of all – it’s the light I love. The sky is clear of clouds so my bedroom will be bright all day right up until 12 hours from now when it will shift to the other windows in golden angles before slipping into night.

My garden is slowly waking up. From beneath the brown of leaves and winter detritus are leeks I planted last year – through the winter they stood skinny green spears enveloped by snow- now thickening enough that I might get a soup or two out of them. There are two perfect, bright little bouquets of parsley. Grape hyacinth area scattered across the lawn. My peach trees are positively pregnant with buds and for the first time in years it looks like I’ll have an abundance of lilacs – judging from what look like teeny bunches of grapes at the tips of the branches.

Spring brings such possibility, doesn’t it? I’ll plant a garden again this year – although last year I barely harvested a tomato, the chard never appeared, nor sunflowers. But I’ll still try again because I like that there’s a chance. With nature, there’s always a chance. She is my guide and comfort. Hang in there through darkness and we’ll get to the light.  Enjoy the warmth.

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Around the Corner

I’m sitting in front of my glowing wood stove grateful for this gloomy, rainy day. Sunny would have been fine too but on days like this, I feel license to do inside things. If it were more beautiful outside I’d berate myself for not going for a walk or at least pretend to clean my messy garden. But there’s a chill and keeping an eye on the log situation becomes an important task. Not that it’s really very cold – but there’s my excuse for sitting here on a Saturday afternoon.

Ruminating is valuable and lately I feel pressed to do more of it and to pay closer attention to what’s going on both in and around me. Besides, tomorrow’s my birthday and certainly a significant reason for reflection, as if I need one. Mind you, I don’t bemoan any additional years on my downward, post-50 slope. As far as I know, it’s better than the alternative. I love life and am very curious about what the future might hold – even as I reflect on the past.

This year is full of personal landmarks. Twenty years in the same job, twenty years since I bought my house, and twenty years since my mother died (when she was only 6 years older than I am now). And this May, Molly graduates from college. All of this feels momentous, rich and significant. For these twenty years I’ve maintained this sometimes challenging balancing act of stability through some significant insanity. And here we are, pretty rock-steady, my kiddo and me, both wondering about what the future holds.

As I listen to Molly ponder her next steps, I wonder the same. Sometimes I’ve felt paralyzed by the challenge but lately, I’m inspired and feel almost giddy with a sense of possibility. All I need to do is just carry on to the next corner to see what’s there, right?

And plan the party.

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Searching for Memories

Bosnia 1992

I watch a lot of English television shows – mostly the mysteries on PBS. In general, they have finer scripts and better acting than American network television, don’t you think? And there’s another reason. Sometimes, with some slang or turn of phrase, I’ll hear my late husband.

Neil would have liked the kind-but-tough main character from the series George Gently with his tortured, wise guy sidekick. The smoky scenes would have reminded him of his childhood in the 1960s. Watching it, I hear Neil’s voice in my head telling me how he once had a car like that, or exclaiming how he’d love a chip butty from a caff, an onion bajhi or some other peculiar delicacy he misses from home.

Venice 1993

The other day was his birthday – the 12th one he didn’t get to celebrate. Sharon, a friend who knew and misses him too, joined me in raising a glass to him. We reminisced with laughter. I miss the adventurous, charming, funny and generous man I loved and thought I’d grow old with. Instead I search the televised streets of England for memories of him.

PS – I am witness to the fact that addiction treatment is not always effective for every patient – but nor is cancer treatment — and THIS, this is criminal! Please speak up.

“GOP health-care bill would drop addiction treatment mandate covering 1.3 million Americans”

PPS – My shared memory inspired Neil’s ICRC mate and our friend Bojan to fill in some backstory on the top photo. And he’s letting me share it here…

“Speaking about memories, that tape on the window of Land Rover is ICRC tape…it was there to hold bulletproof glass together. We (Neil and myself) were driving to the airport. Heavy beast (land rover) slid off the road, nose down to the ditch. That happened on actual front line (Sierra 3, you might remember). We go out and radioed French to bring a crane and pull us out. In the meantime Serb soldiers came and tried to steal the car. They shot several times from their AK 47 at windows trying to break in. 
This happened in early January 1993. Check point was set smack in the centre of front line on the road going from UN HQ (aka PTT building) to the airport. That Landrover was fully bulletproof. Weight of that car was 4 tonnes (almost 10,000 pounds) which made it impossible to control on the snow (well, to everyone but me….hehehe). We got stuck (crashed), Serbs showed up shortly and then took off. We hitched a ride to the airport in Ukraninan APC. By the time we got French to take us back there in their mobile crane, Serbs were all over the car trying to steal it. Guns were drawn (French) reinforcement called and for some reasons, Serbs decided to leave it alone and finally left.
I looked at Neil and said: “what just happened”? He replied with simple…. fuuuuck. We did not talk about that much afterwards, do not know why.”
Type a message…
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Days at the Beach

Although the calendar reads February the weather has been mild and when I leave work, the sky is still bright. Aching to move and fill my lungs with fresh air, I have been walking at the beach. Following the sidewalk along the sand on these winter days that feel like Spring, I thrill at the chorus of languages from the chatting couples and families I pass. Spanish, Greek, Urdu, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese. These are my neighbors and a reason why 20 years ago, my husband and I, fresh from our life overseas, fell in love with this city on the Connecticut coast.

And this beach. Today I walked by the playground and for a moment, I remember myself spending hours on that bench watching little Molly slide down the fireman pole, climb up ladders, slip down slides. And my heart aches with the memory and I wish I could go back in time and be who I am now, watching my beautiful girl at play, completely attuned to joy, absolutely at peace. Instead, all those years ago, for too many seasons, I was lost in a cloud of worry, anger, hurt and terror.

My husband would be home sleeping – no matter the hour. Instead of sitting beside me watching our daughter, catching up on the week, planning our next meal – even just quarreling about things I imagine normal families do, he would still be sprawled across our bed in a drug induced sleep. Often, he would not wake until dinner, ignoring my tears, my pleas and harassment, stuck in the web of addiction that would eventually kill him. On those days at the beach, ever hopeful for the miracle that never came, I watched the cars enter the beach, hoping with some kind of magical thinking, that I might conjure him driving in next. There he would be – the man I’d married, waving and calling out the window, so happy to join us. Instead, Molly and I eventually returned home, the pit in my stomach deeper than ever and Molly not bothering to ask where Daddy was as he still slept upstairs.

Enough time has passed that I mostly remember the things I loved about Neil, a remarkable, beautiful, tortured man. But sometimes dark memories are ignited – like today on a beautiful day as I pass a bench in front of the playground.

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More on Burning Wood

This winter, I’ve been heating my house primarily by my new wood stove. My oil furnace is so ancient, it was a finalist (alas – not the winner!) in an ‘oldest furnace’ contest run by a local oil company. First prize was free installation of a new furnace. Mine is as old as I am but still was beat out by an even more impressive monster in someone’s basement.

While inefficient, my oil furnace is reliable and a new one would cost more than I want to go into debt for. Instead I spent half as much on a wood stove and feel good relying a little less on the fuel-oil roller coaster.

I have a friend who lets me have wood for free so every few weeks, I load up my Subaru. I like the exercise of carrying and stacking. Nights, I savor the gulp of frigid air when stepping out onto the porch to retrieve another log then back into the warmth to stoke the flames. The gentle lapping sounds and flickering glow make for sweet company. The rising warmth slowly sweeps upstairs so even my bedroom is toasty by time I climb between the sheets to sleep. The sheets I dry on my clothesline also featured in the photo above. Just call me pioneer woman.

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Building a Fire

I start with newspaper – usually the sports section although these days I can hardly bear to read any of it. Twisting the pages tight so they don’t spring apart, I line them up on yesterday’s ash. On top of this newsprint bed, I place a piece of beautiful fat-wood. At the start of the season a box of it mysteriously appeared at my door with no note and for days I quizzed people who might have sent it before finally tracking down the giver as my thoughtful, generous friend Laura. Right now I have cedar shingles as a bonus from the friend who has been giving me wood this season. They make for easy kindling, nice and dry and cracking easily into smaller pieces under my heel. Next I’ll teepee a few of the smaller logs from my woodpile. Making sure the damper is pushed all they way in, I strike a wooden match and set it to the paper. Leaving the door slightly ajar I wait, squatting in front of it to watch (and hope) it catches. Sometimes it’s slow going and doesn’t and I have to scrunch up more newspaper, shove another shingle bit in. I’ve figured out that it’s mostly about air, isn’t it? You have to have just enough to tease out the flames but not so much it blows the sparks out. Like life, isn’t it?

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Showing Up

How to explain my silence? I’d lost my voice. My excuses were: the election dismayed me, retail work during the crazy holiday season exhausted me. The longer I went without writing, the more I lost that muscle.

Since my dear dog died almost a year ago it has definitely been harder for me to find the quiet place from where my writing emerges. Our required walks together provided me with precious time for contemplation, observing nature, just being. I miss that and have yet to figure out another daily rhythm to regularly find that time and space.

But maybe in this interesting time of transitions in my life I’ve been looking in the wrong place for inspiration. Perhaps, rather than trying to replicate what worked before it’s time to find a new way…

Yesterday millions of people took to the streets. While 100% of me was willing to be there in spirit, I dragged my feet about going myself. When the friend I was going with decided to go to the NYC march instead of the one 15 minutes away I thought – I’m off the hook! No one will know and I can stay home and cheer my sisters (and so many brothers!) on from home! I know, I know – shame on me. But I’m not a fan of crowds, blah, blah, blah. Really, I had no good reason not to go. I went.

Surrounded by thousands of other peaceful protestors, I realized that of the things that have saved my life: friendships, writing, yoga, AlAnon – just showing up is the most important thing you can do.

Here I am.

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