Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Day at the Beach

Wyatt is chasing seagulls. A moment ago the birds stood with beaks into the west wind, their backs to the dog. It only takes one of them to spot the blur of black and brown and white, racing up from the waters edge. They begin to run, too, into the wind and away from the dog. Wings open and they take flight. Wyatt slows to a trot, looks over his shoulder at us. “Good boy!” we both yell. He accepts our praise and lowers his nose to a lump of seaweed left behind by the falling tide.

Byron and I walk along the waters edge, in no hurry to go anywhere. We are alone here on this cold, sunny March day. This is a winter beach; empty, open, full of quiet possibility. We pause and look out to sea. A lone fishing trawler, maybe three miles out, booms spread wide on either side, nets dangling beneath the surface gathering whatever swims unseen below.

The wind is at our backs, cold and steady. The ocean is almost flat. Byron says it first - “This would be a great sailing day” – although I am thinking it was well. Perhaps that is the habit of sailors, strolling along a beach when their boats are high and dry. Judging the day by whether or not we’d rather be sailing.

He leans in and whispers in my ear “Soon, we’ll be out there, sailing up the coast together”. I close my eyes and feel the rise and fall of his sailboat beneath my feet. I’m at the helm and he’s up on deck, turning back to smile at me. The west wind carries us north and then east. I see the charts, spread out on his dining room table at home, and remember how we traced the route last night, to the Statue of Liberty on day one. Up the East River, through Hell’s Gate and into Long Island sound on day two. Two more leisurely days along the coast of Connecticut then up the Thames River to New London. It’s not as though we’ll be crossing an ocean or rounding the Horn, but I feel like a kid anticipating the adventure ahead of us.

Wyatt prances along the water’s edge, watching ducks floating just twenty yards away, in a calm gully along the edge of the jetty. He does not like water, and has never seen waves before today. There is nothing in his genetic makeup to help him here. He is a cross between a hunter and a herder. Not a water dog at all. A wave retreats and Wyatt tiptoes after it, eyes on the ducks who are not paying him any attention. His body is all alert, twitching muscles, waiting to spring into the mess of ducks. A tiny wave rolls in and Wyatt turns tail, running up to dry sand like a human child at play. He is blessed with a short attention span and forgets about the ducks, burying his nose in the footprints of another dog. He lifts his leg, then trots on, nose down, following rich sea scents that are new, strange, exotic to his mind that before today knew only the smell of moss and dead leaves and the mud under melting snow. If he could speak, I imagine that tonight over dinner, he would say “This was a great day…one of the best ever”.

Byron puts his arm around me and whispers in my ear. His nose is cold. We kiss and I taste the salt of the sea on his lips. I remember the first kiss, the first boy, decades ago, on another beach, on another cold and wintry day.

I slip into a moment of grace. This is how I always thought it would be…my life at middle age…walking on a beach with a dog and a man I loved…content…warming one another against the cold winter wind…dreaming of sailing adventures yet to come.
It’s only taken half a century to get here, to the place where there is nothing lacking, where all is as it should be.

Later that night, I wake and lie quietly. We are both light sleepers and I don’t want to wake him. But it seems he is already awake. “Listen” he whispers. I hear it then. Wyatt is asleep in his bed, at the foot of our bed, but he’s dreaming. A muffled “woof, woof, woof”, he’s barking in a dream. I wonder what he dreams of. Perhaps he is chasing the sea gulls and this time, when they open their wings and take flight, escaping from him and the earth beneath his paws, perhaps in that moment he sprouts wings and flies after them.

I turn back the covers, awash in a hot flash. I stumble in the darkness to the bathroom. Wyatt wakes up enough to lift his head as I pass, then he drops it back onto his bed. All is well.

In the shared language of new lovers Byron says what he says almost every night when I rise with a hot flash “Hey hon, can you check the anchor while you’re up?” It’s a cold winter night. I hear the wind blowing outside, hear the slap of the halyard but it’s only the flag pole by the driveway, not a mast being buffeted by the wind. I’m glad we’re on land; safe, warm, together. I come back to bed and dream of hoisting the anchor on a clear and balmy May morning, heading north as the wind fills the sail. Then we’ll spread our own wings and fly.

Friday, November 16, 2007

From Dreams to Reality

The Discovery Channel, in collaboration with IBM and the Quantum Physics lab in Los Alamos, has created an exciting new series which combines the latest technological advances in thought scanning, along with high speed, high definition photography, to bring you an amazing view into the inner workings of the human mind.

In episode one “From Dreams to Reality”, we take a rare and in-depth look at what happens on a typical Monday morning as our subject, Pam Driscoll, wakes up.

Brain wave activity has been studied and recorded for decades, with predictable changes occurring at each level of consciousness. Here we see the typical change from alpha waves to beta waves as Pam leaves the sleep state and enters the waking state. Now, using our new technology, we can get an insiders look at the details of this transition, and can actually experience the thoughts, images and emotions that Pam experiences as she wakes up.

The first thing we see here, is a truly remarkable feat, the ability of the brain to perform a seemingly conscious act – hitting the snooze button on an alarm clock – before our subject has actually left the alpha wave stage of sleep. Amazing.

She’s apparently attempting to re-enter the dream she was experiencing just before the alarm clock went off. Ah, yes, she’s sailing, of course, one of her favorite and most pleasant dreams: iridescent turquoise water, the sounds of gulls overhead, she can even feel the wind on her face. Pam is what we call a highly sensate dreamer, able to incorporate memory and experience into her dream state in a way that involves all the senses. Watch what happens now as the alarm clock goes off again. Yes, she doesn’t come completely out of the dream, she fumbles for the snooze, makes contact, slips back onto the boat, but wait. A part of the brain that we’ve now come to call the ‘Executor’, is becoming active. This is a part of the brain that evolved during the period in human evolution when cultural roles and rules were developed. It’s newer than the ancient reptilian brain, whose purpose is to perform the basic functions of breathing, responding to physical stimuli, and sensing danger. The executor seems to have developed as a way to encourage culturally acceptable behavior, and to inhibit unwanted traits in tribal societies. Today, it acts primarily to help us remember appointments, dates, faces, deadlines, social obligations, etc. It’s been triggered now by the repeated hitting of the snooze alarm.

The mechanism at play here is still not understood. But the results are astounding. In Pam’s case, the executor is aware that the dream state is too appealing, and is distracting her from the more pressing need to get up on time and go to work. In an evolutionary breakthrough, the executor is able to hijack the dream, changing the theme or events or sensations in a way that effectively makes Pam want to wake up. This morning it’s chosen the scenario in which Pam’s sailboat is suddenly enveloped in a fog bank. Her heart rate is increasing, breathing is becoming shallow, but still she doesn’t wake up. Instead, she’s trying to navigate, sail the boat to safety. The executor then moves to phase two – in which the formerly calm sea begins to boil, with waves growing to over twenty feet in height. Pam grips the wheel more tightly. Oh, my, the steering wheel of the boat vaporizes. Pam is no longer able to control the outcome of the dream. We see the look of abject terror on her face as a monster wave builds...her heart rate and breathing rate both increase...and now the adrenal glands kick in, and there she is, fully awake.

Now, comes a most interesting period of time for Pam, in which she is awake, but appears unable, or unwilling, to get out of bed. It’s as though her motor control is not yet on-line. Let’s check in with those thought processes and see what’s holding her up.

It may seem paradoxical, but the lack of physical activity seems to be associated with an abundance of mental processes, all apparently waking up at the same time. In a computer model, this could cause even the most robust system to crash, but the human brain is much more resilient than any piece of hardware. Thoughts, memories, emotions are all vying for her attention, probably fueled no doubt by the adrenaline rush of a good dream gone bad. We can only speculate that her executor knows what it’s doing - but clearly, this method is taking a toll on all of her systems.

Let’s try to filter through some of these thoughts. This is where our high speed camera is able to slow down the action. It’s interesting to note here that each subject who has been part of this study uses different images to represent thoughts and emotions. In Pam’s case, the images are often related to the Earth’s oceans, and so this morning we see her thoughts represented as an underwater coral reef – beautiful, full of life; and yet there is always the lurking presence of shadowy predators. Her thoughts, like agile and brightly colored fish, are darting to and fro, first into the light, then into sheltered caves, then in a panic they flee from a hammerhead shark. If you are at all squeamish, you may want to look away.

Just what are these thoughts? Let’s take a closer look. Upon awakening, Pam’s brain is performing a systems check – first scanning the physical being for any aches or pains. It makes note of the slight headache forming behind her eyes, which almost immediately spawns an emotion of regret over having had a glass of red wine last night, followed again, almost immediately with a tinge of anger – why can’t she have a single glass of red wine without her body rebelling? In a fascinating chain of events her body has picked up on the communication, and is reacting with a defensive stance, which manifests as muscle tension in her back and neck, which is causing the headache to throb even more. There appears to be some sort of problem here in the feedback loop – a common occurrence in all of our subjects living in so called advanced civilizations. Pam is no exception.

Now, the brain moves on to the physical world outside Pam’s body and tries to orient her to time and space. Yes, it assures her, she’s in her bedroom, it’s morning, it’s time to get up, it’s Monday. Now, that was an interesting reaction, an entire school of seals is now swimming for its life, with a great white shark in close pursuit. The awareness that it is Monday morning creates an almost universal reaction in subjects who are gainfully employed. A list of activities begins to play out in Pam’s mind, as she mentally opens her day book and checks the appointments, conference calls, and deadlines she must respond to today. Again, her body reacts with fatigue and more muscle tension. No wonder she is unable to move.

At this vulnerable and defenseless moment, old memories and their associated emotions appear, almost as if a cloud has covered the sun, blotting out all light. She replays scenes of unpleasant events, reaching back into childhood for some of them, just yesterday for others. And in a surprising turn, the mind creates situations that have not yet occurred and worries over them. This again is a phenomenon seen in all the human subjects in the study, but rarely appears in other mammals.

As if to allow her a respite, the executor loosens its grip and allows Pam to have a small yet pleasant daydream. She’s imagining that she’s a writer, not a software engineer. She is imagining what it might be like to wake up at peace, anchored in some protected harbor in a warm climate, with a day of writing and sailing ahead of her. She begins to embellish on the day dream a bit – and introduces a new character – her perfect mate and companion. Once again, her body is responding, but in more pleasant ways, heart rate slower, breathing deepening, there’s a gentle smile on her face, her jaw is no longer clenched. The executor senses that this pleasant daydream has veered off now into fantasy, and if it doesn’t step in now, all will be lost. It creates a gentle voice that whispers in her ear “Just get up and go to work and keep writing, keep writing, keep writing”.

This gentle encouragement, along with the fact that her dog is now awake and licking her face, and an urgent signal from her body that her bladder is quite full; is enough to trigger the required motor activity to get her out of bed. Although the system may not be perfect, it is effective, and demonstrates the fine balance between mind and body.

This series has been made possible by grants from The Cruising Life magazine, Starbucks Coffee and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Join us next week as we explore what happens when Pam hits an emotional and physical slump later in the day. Will she turn to caffeine and sugar for a pick me up, or will prayer and meditation guide her?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Building a Heart

People from other lands are often puzzled by an ancient winter custom of my people – the building of a heart – so I will try to tell you about it, in words I hope you know. Language is different for us here. Sometimes we hum, or growl, or sigh a note, instead of using words, which can be so easily misunderstood. I’ll try to use words we’ll both understand.

When my people return at the end of autumn to reclaim our homes on the hard, on the island, we often build new hearts. It’s hard to keep a heart on a boat, or a raft, or in the underwater caves where some of us live in the warmer months. Hearts survive best on land, so when we become land dwellers again just before winter arrives, we inspect our hearts and do what we can to keep them going another year.

Everyone has a heart. I suppose that’s true even in your culture. But in my travels I’ve yet to wash up on a shore where hearts are built as they are here. From an early age we learn how to build our own hearts, because no one else can do it for you. With wisdom and age and a little luck our hearts survive, some even become stronger and more beautiful with each passing year. But there are those that shrivel up and blow away. I think that is true everywhere.

I remember, as a young girl, my first heart was built of sand – a castle with turrets and towers and spires and a secret keep and a moat. I built it too close to the high water mark, and a rogue wave washed it out to sea before I could show it to anyone. I felt foolish and didn’t build another heart for years.

We build our hearts along the coastline. They’re meant to be seen and shared with the whole village. They’re also meant to withstand the elements. What good is a heart that’s hidden in a cave?

Taking a walk along the hearts on a cold winter morning is a good way to see how your friends and family are faring. Some days you see a heart with a fresh coat of paint, or bright green sea glass adorning the walls, or saffron colored silk banners flying from the highest points, and you know someone has fallen in love, or given birth to a daughter, or written a poem.

And then, you might come upon a heart that has been neglected so long that sand has partially buried what the north wind couldn’t blow away. When you find a heart like that you visit its owner and sing or hum or rattle some shells or beat a drum. It helps – the sounds – better than any words. If you saw this friend on the street, without first visiting his sad heart, and asked him how he was he would say ‘Fine, really fine’ but his eyes would slide away before meeting yours. That’s the trouble with words. You need to visit your friend’s heart to know the truth.

Busy parents with young children quickly repair what they can each winter, hoping it’s enough to keep their hearts beating and intact for another year. They promise each other it will be different when the children are older, when they have time to care for themselves differently. They do the best they can.

Repairs and additions and improvements are good and necessary, but sometimes, you just have to tear down what you’ve got, especially when you no longer recognize it as your own, and start from scratch.

By the way, it’s best not to build a new heart when you are discouraged or depressed or despairing. Why do you have so many words for this? Sleep and chocolate is best in this dark place. Too many people wear themselves out when they should just be sleeping. Building a new heart requires energy.

Sometimes, things get a little out of hand with our hearts – maybe it’s like that where you are too? Like the night young Sam Wilson fell in love, for the first time, and he lit a torch atop his heart, drawing the entire village to the beach with the blaze. It was one of the coldest nights of the winter, so cold that the smaller waves near the inner sandbar froze mid-curl. We all sang with Sam, voices raised to the heavens, until the wind came up and a spark flew to the heart just down the beach – wouldn’t you know that one was made of straw? It caught the flame, and sent it to the heart beside it, and soon half the hearts on the island were in flames.

That might sound like a disaster where you come from, but for us it was a wild night and passion. So much fire, burning like that on a beach in the dead of winter can do that to you, especially when you’ve lived most of your life in the water. The heat was so intense, most of us had sunburns the next morning, and nine months later so many babies were born. But that was a long while ago.

It’s best to be done, really done, with your old heart before building a new one. We all know what it feels like, the knowing that it’s time to build an entirely new heart, but there is no word for it. There is a sound - the sound the ocean makes just after slack tide, when the moon pulls the sea towards it again, so far away. It sounds like that. Maybe you can’t hear it where you are.

You need to remove what’s left of your old heart, sorry and dilapidated as it may be, before building the new one. There are almost as many ways to do this as there are ways to say “I love you”. How many ways can you say it in your language?

You could wait for the next northeaster to blow and let the storm tides carry it away, back to the sea, especially if your heart came from the sea to begin with.

There’s a ceremony for burning the old heart down – which is very different from the way Sam Wilson did all those years ago. You do this alone, on the night of the solstice, singing to the smoke that curls up to the stars. It’s our oldest song, the one with no words. Even babies know this song.

Or, you could slowly dismantle it, saving what you can, giving away what you no longer need, returning pieces of it to the ones you once loved, and maybe still love.

We have a word for it – no matter how you do this part – we call it remembering. You have this word, but I’m not sure if it means the same thing in your language.

It’s best to be mindful when choosing materials for your new heart, and in no particular hurry.

I remember the year I build a new heart, after my husband sailed away with that stupid girl from the next island. I tore down the heart I’d been building for years with him, the one I thought he loved. It was a modern heart – all sharp angles and abstract forms. He said he loved it, but really, who could love a heart like that? I didn’t even love it. After he left I borrowed a bulldozer from my neighbor and ran it over. When it was flattened and shattered and scattered all over the beach, I grabbed the nearest thing I could find – an old grandmother sea turtle’s shell, and plopped it down over the place where my old heart had been. It was like that for years. I almost forgot how to love. But one day I replaced that old shell with a new heart and life went on.

So, it’s best to build a new heart when you’re strong and healthy and ready to let go of the old.

That’s where I am today, on the edge of this winter, gathering the raw materials for my new heart.

In your culture, where youth is king and queen, you might find it amusing that a fifty year old woman would even be considering building a new heart. You would probably make a sitcom about it. But here, we write songs about the elders (and I’m a fairly young elder) who build new hearts. They are our heroes. Who has more courage than us, starting afresh yet again when our bodies and minds are slowing down, settling into a new rhthym?

This heart will be like a tent, made of rich tapestries that I’ve been weaving all my life, with threads pulled from every story I’ve told and every dream I’ve dreamed. The ceiling will be the stars, the moon will illuminate the inner chambers, each one filled with a different color (magenta and periwinkle) or sound (laughter and bells and incoming waves).

I am still gathering a few more special objects – an imperfect conch shell, a smooth, warm stone, the soft rosy sand from the cove on the east end of the island. And there, something small and blue caught in the strand line, in the dried seaweed and driftwood. The brilliance of the blue – like lapis with gold flecks – draws me closer. It’s a feather, a blue gull feather. You don’t have blue gulls in your land, and even here they are rare.

I reach for the feather, just as another hand reaches for it as well. He has one end of it. I have the other.

We look up in surprise, then recognition - another old soul, deeply lined face, deeply blue eyes, building a new heart of his own.

He opens his mouth, but no words come out, only the sigh that we all hear when we fall in love.

Is it the same in your land?

Thursday, November 9, 2006

On Falling in Love at Fifty

It may not always be so, but today

He stands on my doorstep, flowers in hand, wearing a smile that radiates light.
I forget that he’s an hour late.

It may not always be so, but today

He laughs at my jokes, sighs and holds me tight when I tell a sad tale.
I begin to trust.

It may not always be so, but today

He says I make the most delicious roast chicken and gravy he’s ever tasted.
I offer him seconds.

It may not always be so, but today

He writes poetry…for me.
I begin to surrender.

It may not always be so, but today

He gives me the gift of a book about adventure and love and sailing, and we take turns reading aloud to one another.

It may not always be so, but today

He assures me I’m much more interesting than women half my age.
Hmmm….I’ve become interesting.

It may not always be so, but today

He tells me my writing must be shared with the world.
I feel a little dizzy.

It may not always be so, but today

He whispers his desire for me.
I hear him clearly, even though his lips are pressed against my bad ear.
When will I tell him I have a bad ear?

It may not always be so, but today

He thanks God for our good fortune and asks for blessings as we begin this journey.
I whisper ‘Amen’.

It may not always be so, but today

He tells me I am the one.

It may not always be so, but today

I am.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Her Name is Periwinkle

"Keep the red channel markers close on your port side," shouts the old fisherman at the dock.

"Thanks," I reply.

We wave goodbye. I turn Periwinkle around and head down river, hugging the edge of the narrow channel. It's a quiet, gray afternoon. Fog is rolling in from the ocean. The only sounds are the steady rumble of the diesel engine, the call of the sea gulls flying overhead, and the pounding of my heart.

Yesterday Periwinkle was launched.

Thank you to the many friends who have put up with me these last couple of months as I navigated the tricky waters of purchasing an older boat and getting her ready to launch. Thank you for understanding when I didn't return emails promptly, when I turned down social engagements because I had to work on the boat; and worse yet, when I broke appointments because of last minute launching details. My apologies. You will be among the first aboard.

Thank you to the boat yard guys - the crew who did all the things I couldn't do myself, especially the foreman who fielded my daily phone calls gently nudging/nagging/whining/demanding/cajoling - basically doing whatever I could at the other end of the phone to move things along. I think he was happier than me to see us finally leave the dock yesterday.

Thank you to the other boaters at the yard who offered advice and encouragement along the way. Lobstermen, sailors, pleasure boaters, fishermen, all eager to share stories and warn me about the mud flats to avoid on the way to the harbor.

Thank you to the readers of my blog who wondered what happened to me.

This is what happened to me.

I fell in love with a sailboat.

I never really understood before why boats were referred to as 'she' and not 'it'. I've owned other sailboats, and they were always 'it' to me, not 'she'.

"It handles nicely, " I might say to a friend. Or "Its name is Simplify", or "It's blue".

But Periwinkle is different. Or maybe I'm different.

Now I understand why for eons men have referred to boats using the feminine pronoun - somehow they transform from inanimate objects to objects of desire. They become the focus of an outpouring of emotions: love, commitment, frustration, joy, heartbreak.

For me, I was attracted to her from the moment I first saw her photo on the internet. (Before I go any further, let me just say that I am devoutly heterosexual, except when it comes to my sailboat)

A friend found her on and sent me the link. Thank you Mark for the introduction.

Then I met her in person at her home "on the hard" at a boatyard in Rhode Island. Her previous owner clearly loved her - it showed in every detail. He had five large loose leaf binders filled with documentation, notes, maintenance schedules, manuals. I love to read about things, so that alone was a major turn on.

She was adorable, but I really wanted a larger version of the same boat. I spent another month looking at other boats, and after each encounter, "she" looked more and more appealing.

I made an offer, then spent a cold day in April on board with a marine surveyor, checking every system and fitting, going over the rig and the hull and the engine. About half way through, when it looked as though there were no major issues to deal with, I said to the surveyor "I'm starting to love this boat". He laughed and said "She's looking very good".

Negotions followed, along with many trips to Rhode Island, and finally she was mine. Just after Memorial Day she was hauled up to the boat yard in Beverly, but still "on the hard" waiting to be rigged and painted and have all the minor repairs and mainenance items tended to before launching. I would drive to the boatyard after work, getting there with at most two hours of daylight left, and I would putter around, fix things, clean stuff. I removed the old name and applied the new one, offering the appropriate prayers to Neptune and Poseidon and gods and goddesses unseen. Sometimes I would just sit in the cockpit and eat a take out dinner and watch the sun set over the Bass River. One of the other boat owners confessed that he enjoyed seeing me, sitting at the wheel on dry land, with a far off look in my eyes. He understood how I felt, how eager I was to be on the water, sailing her, testing her and myself at the same time.

While she was on the hard I got to know her slowly, and loved her more all the time. I loved her when I scrubbed the decks. I loved her when I learned how to crawl into the engine compartment and empty water from the fuel filter. I loved her when I refinished the teak woodwork. I wondered what she would be like when she was on the water, how she would handle, what she would do well, what she would need to be coaxed to do, how she would respond to my touch. That's when it began to feel more like love, that eagerness to know another, to experience how we would be together, to imagine the exhilaration of sharing a day on the open ocean, spending the night in a cozy harbor, gently rocking to sleep with her.

She's on her mooring in Salem now. I think of her often and wonder when I'll see her again, and what we'll do together.

If I leave now, I can get there before the rain comes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Nyquil - My Drug of Choice

It’s day nine of an unpleasant and unwelcome virus. My body aches from the coughing, from the fever, from lying down for so long. I can’t think clearly. My moods swing from bored to irritable to restless to comatose. In an energetic and lucid moment I stand for three minutes in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil and I break out in a cold sweat. I’m tired of being sick.

In the last nine days I’ve come to realize there are few creatures less sympathetic to the needs of a sick woman than her own teenage children.

My fifteen year old son, Tom, came home from school, saw me sprawled on the sofa under a blanket with a pile of wadded up tissues beside me, my unwashed hair sticking out in all directions from lying on a pillow all day, and he said “Mom, you’re a mess.”

Ok, there was perhaps more than a shred of truth in that statement, but still…not very kind.

Later, when I asked him to take the dog for a walk he said “How do you get your voice to sound like that? You sound like Marge Simpson, no, you sound like one of her chain smoking sisters. It’s kinda cool. Say something else.”

When I moaned something like “I feel awful”, my daughter Ali, the fitness fiend, suggested that perhaps a brisk walk around the block would clear my head. I gave her an evil look. I don’t think she took it too seriously, what with my red nose, bloodshot eyes, and hair sticking up in weird cowlicks.

In a fever induced nap I concoct a fantasy about my perfect man and all the delicious and delightful things he’d do for me. No, unfortunately, not that kind of fantasy. Here’s what unfolds:

“Darling,” he says in his deep bass Barry White voice, kneeling beside the sofa where I’ve taken up residence this week. “I know you don’t feel well, but you look absolutely amazing. The fever brings such a lovely flush to your cheeks.”

He leans in and gives me a sweet kiss on the forehead. “Look what I’ve brought home for you” he says, holding up several bags from CVS. “Here’s the latest issue of People magazine. You’re such a brilliant woman…I know you don’t usually read stuff like this, but when you’re sick it’s ok to give your brain a rest. And I bought the extra soft tissues with lotion in them, so your nose doesn’t get all red and chafed. I stopped at the video store and rented all the old Tracy and Hepburn movies I could find. I’m going to fix you a nice bowl of orange sherbet and a tall glass of diet coke with lots of ice. Won’t that make your throat feel better?"

God, how I love this man.

While I watch my favorite videos he massages my aching muscles. He brushes my hair. He changes the pillowcase so it feels fresh and cool against my skin. He says the most amazing things, like “The dog’s been walked, the kids are fed, the kitchen is clean – what else can I do for you my dear?”

He is incredible.

Later that night, when I’ve moved from the sofa to our bed, he says “I have a surprise for you, something that I know you really like.” And, with a flourish he produces a bottle of Cherry Flavored Nyquil.

“You’re too good to be real,” I say, smiling gratefully before I swallow the magic elixir that will guarantee a good night’s sleep.

At least I still have my imagination.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What's for Dinner?

“On behalf of the crew of America West flight 820, I’d like to welcome you to Boston. At this time you may turn on your cell phones.”

There’s a general rustling about in the cabin as passengers unbuckle their seat belts and find their cell phones. I turn mine on and the message waiting tone sounds immediately. It’s from Tom, my 15 year old son.

“Hi Mom. Dad had to leave on a business trip today, so I’m at your house. I’ll see you when you get home.”

It’s 8:30 pm. I’m tired after a long day of travel. First, a two hour drive to Phoenix, then a two hour wait at the airport, followed by a five hour flight to Boston. I’m tired…very tired. I’m also very happy to be back in my part of the world. All in all it was a challenging week in Sedona, as I attempted to let go of thoughts and emotions that were clinging to me like barnacles on a rusty old barge. Yes, I do feel like a rusty old barge at the moment.

It turns out that combining a spiritual retreat with the ending of a relationship that never really began is not a good way to use up your vacation time.

My phone rings. This time it’s my oldest son Ben.

“Where are you?” he says. Ben is a man of few words. ‘Hello’ doesn’t seem to be one of them.

“We just landed. I’ll be off the plane soon. Where are you?” I ask, praying he’s at least close to the airport, hoping he hasn’t forgotten to pick me up.

“I’m here. I’m at the baggage claim.”

Prayer answered.

Ten minutes later I find Ben.

“Hi Mommy”, he says in a silly, sheepish voice. Then he hugs me the way a twenty year old man/boy hugs his mother…reluctantly. As if to make up for his lack of enthusiasm he offers to take my heavy backpack.

“Thanks”, I say. “Wait here; I’ll go find my bag.”

Standing at the carousel, watching the endless stream of black suitcases, all the same shape and size as mine, it occurs to me it’s time to buy new luggage…in an outrageous color, or at least personalized in some way. Perhaps bumper stickers would do the trick. Why don’t people put bumper stickers on their suitcases? Maybe there’s a market for that. I’m imagining the stickers people used to put on their steamer trunks – all the far off end points of their journeys, or dreamed of destinations. I think of my travels in life, really all of our travels in life. Would there be a market for a suitcase sticker for middle aged single parents that says “To hell and back”?

My daydream is interrupted by my ringing cell phone. It’s Tom again.

“Where are you?” he wants to know.

“I’m waiting for my bag. We’ll be home within an hour.” I tell him.

“Well, I’m really hungry”, he says.

“You haven’t had dinner yet?” I ask.

“No, I was waiting for you. And I don’t think there’s anything here to eat. Could you pick up a pizza on the way home?”

“Everything will be closed by the time we get home.”

“I’m really hungry, Mom”, he says.

“Ok, I’ll think of something.”

Just then Ben walks up and asks “What’s for dinner? There’s nothing in the house.”

I take a deep breath, and answer in a voice that attempts to be calm and centered, but probably ends up sounding rather shrill. “I haven’t been home for ten days. It’s nine o’clock at night. I’m exhausted. I can’t find my suitcase. And you expect me to be cooking dinner tonight?”

The woman standing beside me takes her eyes off the carousel long enough to catch mine, and smiles. She must have children.

In the end, we all go out to dinner. The boys entertain me with stories and jokes and silliness. I ask them what they would have done for dinner if my flight had been cancelled. “Don’t worry Mom”, they reassure me, “We’ve seen enough episodes of Survivor Man on the Discovery Channel. We could have made it for days on dry Cheerios, and even built a shelter with the cardboard box if the house burned down.” It’s good to know they are so self reliant.

Days later, Tom asks as casually as possible, “So, how’d it go with that guy in Sedona?”

Tom knows "that guy's" name, but referring to him as "that guy" keeps him at a safe distance. So far, he is not a real person in Tom's world, just a voice on the other end of the daily phone calls to his mother. The question he's asking is partly about whether or not "that guy" will become part of his reality.

Just as casually I reply “Oh, that didn’t work out. It’s over.”

He pats me on the back and says “Well, we all knew that would happen. The fact that he lives 2,600 miles away should have been a clue.”

I pause for a moment, thinking about everything Tom is saying with those two statements. He and his siblings have discussed this, obviously. Ick. A variety of emotions get tossed around between my semi-broken heart and my heavily bruised ego. Regret, longing, despair, disappointment, embarrassment, anger, despair again just in case I needed some more of that. There is probably something wise I could say here, some explanation, some defense. Perhaps this would be a good time to talk about relationships. Who am I kidding? I’m not ready for that.

“Actually, when we were 2,600 miles apart, we got along great. When we were in the same room…not so great.” This is the best I can do, and closer to the truth than any other explanation I've tried to come up with since.

Tom gives me a big hug. I’m grateful his hugs are not yet reluctant. Maybe they never will be.

“I love you, Mom”, he whispers in my ear. “You’re the best.”

He breaks the embrace, clears his throat and asks, “So, what’s for dinner?”