rain.

It is a quiet rain. 

Rain that stops and starts in between glances.
Rain that allows so much sun to shine through I think this must be how a mirage begins

and ends.

—–

One night we danced, the rain falling. Dishes in the sink, it didn’t matter. He took my hand and quickly we were outside, he pulled me in, closer. Easily he made me laugh, as drops landed, all around, the rain a sweet percussion to the melody he hummed in my ear. Water streaming our faces, I spoke softly—

“Don’t leave me.” 

“I know how to love you,” he said immediately, “please let me.”

Inside again, the linoleum gleamed under the fluorescent light, our faces flush, our future here somewhere. We turned in tandem to the sink, my washing, his drying, our task made easier by the togetherness of the moment. 

—–

I peered past the accordion style doors of my not walk-in closet to see him intently messing with the alarm clock, when from it burst a rhythm that instantly made me want to hear every note, every lyric, breathe in every beat of this unexpected music.

He was immediately in front of me. Feet close to mine. I pushed my toes under his. What a feeling this was. 

Try it sometime. It throws you just off balance just enough—you have no choice but to lean in, hold on. 

I leaned in. 
I held on. 
I felt his steady heartbeat pick up just slightly and his hands on the part of my arm just above my elbow and we moved together, to each other, to this new rhythm, to this song we’re hearing this time, for the first time, and I felt a small part of my hurt, my pain, my sorrow….I felt just the tiniest part of it heal, regrow, as if it were part garden lizard that had just lost its tail, and the tail knew, but not the lizard, not only that it could grow back, it would.
 
We danced there, between the closet doors, as the song thankfully repeated itself. 

When I looked up to his eyes, there was a softness. I could sense his fear, afraid I might grow tired of this closeness. I leaned back just enough to throw us both off balance causing him to stumble forward and knock us both against the wall. I wiggled quickly away and ran to hide in the close kitchen, hopeful he would be soon behind. When his footsteps didn’t appear I peered cautiously around the corner only to shriek at his immediate and intentional silly-scare.

I pushed him playfully and once again I was in his arms. We returned to our dance and my tears came gently, staining the light blue of his shirt, small shields of a happiness never expected. 

—–

In those early mornings he would wake me with kisses on my head, soft whispers of “good morning beautiful” and “I love you so much.” Now, years later, these moments are also prayers, sweet verses memorized from a lifetime before, soft remembrances bookended with an embrace that pulls us back and propels us toward another five minutes safe from the world and its worldliness. 

It hasn’t always been this way. 
I could say a lot about the way it was before, but 
I wonder what good it would actually do. 
But it’s true, 
it hasn’t always been this way. 

I remember one time he proposed to me on a 3×5 card. 
Once in a voicemail message I didn’t listen to until three weeks later. 
Again after an episode of The Office.  
And that time when we were just staring at each other a little too long. 

I said of course,
no. 

And I said no because…
it hasn’t always been this way. 

And when one is accustomed to things being not the way they are now, one is certain things are destined to be once again in just a different state of not being the way they are now, even if the new way is a different version of the old way.  

It makes sense. 
It does. 

Somewhere between the orchard and the ocean everything changed. 

I found myself carefully organizing his lunch box so he would see the small heart I drew on the lid to his salad bowl.  I bought the chocolate he liked and I didn’t eat it all when he wasn’t around. I stopped watching the next episode of our favorite show until we were together. I learned how to bake zucchini bread so he would have something additional to smother his butter on. I pretended not to notice when he used too much butter. I learned how to back into a parking space because he told me it was safer. I watched every Star Wars movie just to learn the references and then casually use them in our conversations. I tried to be a morning person. I cleaned coffee grounds from the french press without making a big deal about it. I bought the gum he liked from Amazon after not finding it in all the stores around town. I read the book he suggested. I let him teach me how to make eggs when I thought I already knew.

I started telling him things that mattered.

I told him how my heart seemed to never stop hurting
in the very small parts you were never supposed to ever feel. 
I told him that maybe I could never be free to love again. 
I told him I didn’t think we could ever be free of all our everything. 
And he 
he just
he was 
just. 

He stayed. He kissed my forehead. 
He told me I would be free to love again
and he wanted to be here when I could.

And he was right
because it did happen
and that night, when most were running from the rain that fell all around, 
we stood still 
and enjoyed the reminder of our dedication to something greater than ourselves
and I knew that he knew that I knew tonight he would ask me his question again. 

—–

It is a quiet rain. 

A rain that stops and starts in between lifetimes and
decisions and possibilities and wishes of maybe a time 
when there would be no rain. 
But that would be silly,
to have no rain.  

It’s the rain that brought us here.
The rain giving us life. 
The rain on our side. 
The rain making 
everything 
new. 
Over
and over 
and over 
again.

economists.

The economists smoked too much.
Once done, their smoke trails followed behind, lingering in the stairwell, tracking their presence. They were always in heated discussion, these economists. And it would stem from having just fervently read aloud some text—where they would emphasize words like monopoly and time value—or from a once meaningful class discussion gone awry. When this happened their argument expletives would reverberate against the walls of my office as they challenged each other’s theories about who was a greater genius—Marx, Hayek, themselves—this was important business, but it was also loud, and frequently unsettling, and I would get up and make a big to do about closing my door—saying EXCUSE ME, well maybe it was more, excuse me, I mean I would clear my throat and all of that, but these economists, they gave no notice of my presence.

The economists wore funny shirts.
Ones that required me to look at them just a little too long when we passed in the hallways. It was awkward for us both—me staring at their chests, them suffering through the social niceties exchanged in such situations—the hellos and good mornings and all that. Their shirts said things like: “Keynesian economics is so demanding,” and, “I like your ideas, however…” and, “Hayek is my homeboy,” and my personal favorite—”Maybe Hayek is right and you’re wrong.” I loved the irony of these economists, going out of their way to find and buy these shirts, then becoming disgruntled by the attention it gave them, obviously discomforted from my passing chuckle.

The economists never ate.
They would sometimes have food brought in, but it would be for other people. Mostly for non-economists in suits, to whom they would speak for hours on end. I’d watch our economists through the enormous glass window that let people like me see how hard they were working, immersed in their presentations and their books, and their heavy stares. They would prepare for hours, sometimes days, for these events, and when they were over, you could find them again, smoking just outside the stairwell, this time quiet because they had used all their words, now only able to offer the world their cigarette butts, thick plumes of smoke.

Occasionally the economists would have personal problems.
And they would burst from their offices on their cell phones, trying to get a doctor’s appointment or talk to their insurance companies or explain to their mothers why they hadn’t called. They would roam and pace our hallways, their voices growing faint and loud and faint and loud, providing added annoyance to the situation. Their fuses were short, and their frustrations quick when stuck in a circular call center cycle, which usually ended in enragement and further expletives to no one and everyone in particular.

The economists seemed sad.
I wondered where they would go at night, like my childhood version of grade school teachers—I never considered they would exist beyond this space, allowed only to teach, research, posit, and repeat. Maybe they were alloted some sad snack machine sandwich, to be eaten alone and quickly, but they were mostly kept in isolation from the rest of society until needed again.

I saw once this economist wander away from the others.
He stopped, aimlessly near our shared hallway statue. It was one of those Greek types, with a carefully placed leaf and the man-god’s face looking away, one arm lost completely, the other above his forehead, either sheilding his eyes from some eternal shock or forcing a hardened state of relaxation. This one economist, he even went so far as to lean against it, forcing a sad juxtaposition, getting the form all wrong, with the exception of that stone pallid face.

They both stared together towards nothing, everything.

I remained steady towards my task so as not to appear concerned,
but I was very.

dirty.

The clouds were angry. They were moving swiftly as if racing away from a storm they preferred to not be a part. They moved so fast that the cover they provided was quickly uncover then cover, then uncover again, overly purposeful in a way that seemed unusual for clouds, because, for whatever reason, I have only afforded clouds attributes of puffiness and timidity.

I wish I didn’t notice such things like angry clouds, but I do. And then a small voice, who had been following my gaze, said quietly: the clouds are dirty. I looked down at the source of this voice, and he said it again: The clouds are dirty mommy, and they need a shower. But clouds are a shower, so how will they get clean?

How will the clouds get clean?

This small human decides God takes care of clouds, but they don’t get a bath, they just get God, and that should be enough.

God should be enough.

And it was enough for him. He had reasoned through to this answer in less than ten seconds and returned happily to his task of investigating ants and dragonflies and the ever present bug unknown that were passing along our sidewalk, content he had solved this problem. So why couldn’t I accept this offering with the same quickness of faith?

God should be enough to make things clean.

I’m at once ruminating in my sin- it is a layer of pollen that covers every conversation, falling on every aspect of my person, clinging and showing itself despite my efforts to brush it away. Nothing seems ever enough to rid me from it.

I feel there is sin that doesn’t just sit on the surface, it’s under and part of every (in)action. But this sin, it snuck up like an unexpected change in season, I found myself stuck out in the sudden cold with no protection, and in one breath felt my entire world change course. I stumble foolishly, hoping there is water somewhere meant for all of this, but somehow, although I seek, I remain caught in a labyrinth that folds only into itself, reminders at every turn of my shame, lost in a system built solely to remind me of pain and lingering disappointment, begging for me to submit myself here, not promising relief, but a numbing solution.

But these walls know nothing of my confession. The confession I offer has been said in silent pleading nights, many times before, legs curled close to my body, hugging tight to the convulsion of pain that steers through me. I cried out to Him. And when I couldn’t breathe, when my eyes were swollen shut, when my pulse raced outside my temples, when the only way I found sleep was through exhaustion. I cried out to Him. What is next, where do I go, what do I do, how do I know what is Truth? Who do I trust, where do I turn? I cried out to Him.  What will I tell my children? What will I tell my family? What will I tell my church? What do I tell my friends? I cried out to Him. Should I return to my marriage? Should I run from this life? I cried out to Him. Where will I work? Where will I live? Will I be able to provide for my children? I cried out to Him. How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make his right? HOW DO I MAKE THIS RIGHT???

I cried out to Him.

I never thought about the enormity of her choice until I held my own child. I waited six agonizing hours after giving birth to hold him, and it felt like another nine months. And when I did, I felt a wave of love wash through me and I snuggled this sweet boy close and promised silently to never let go. I was holding the first blood relative I may ever meet. His face a combination of history and future, at once a reminder of a woman I had never met, would most likely never meet, a woman who chose life not once, but twice for me.

I don’t know much about her- her name, where she maybe once lived, what she named me. I often wonder what she looks like and if I see her every day without realizing it, if she is in the face of my sons, in their laughter, in their hugs.

I don’t know much about her, but I have had a few dreams that feel like truth, some more sensical than others. The last one began oddly, as dreams usually do. I had crossed over and found myself in a place best described as a movie theater. And although I was in this place meant for dead, it wasn’t just for those who had lost their lives, but the death of all things. Death of friendship being one. I found a familiar face, one I hadn’t seen since college, ours a friendship that had ended abruptly and for me, for no apparent reason. She was there urging me to quickly sit. She gave me a run down of the rules here, told me to act natural, blend in, and not bring any attention our way. Watch the movies she said. So I did. They were beautiful. I saw a beautiful bride. Her skin radiating and the dress just glimmering. There was sincere clapping somewhere in the audience. The movie at once changed to a side by side with another similar movie- another bride, another dress- the clapping erupted again. And I immediately realized we were watching someone’s happiest moment of their life. I could tell because the feeling of that same happiness ran immediately through my body. I was happy not for them, or with them, I was happy as though I was them. Suddenly there is someone else on the other side of me. He tells me he knows I’m not from here, he knows I’m just passing through. He’s talking so fast, but as I glance back to the screen I realize he’s telling me the story above me as it’s happening. It’s his story. He was a writer. He wrote beautiful novels and poetry and love songs. But no one ever heard them, no one ever read them, because he never dared to share them. He told me how it haunts him, even here. And I knew, just as with the brides’ happiness I knew his truth, full of sadness and regret.

My lost friend pulls me back, tells me not to get caught up with him. She told me to go, to keep looking. I said I would, but I had no idea what I had come here to find.

Suddenly I was outside. I did have a car. I didn’t have keys for it, but I had a car. I opened the hood and started to poke around to see how I might get it to work and suddenly my friend is there again. She’s mad. She said to stop making a scene. To just drive the car. I told her I didn’t have keys. She said plainly- you don’t need keys.

Oh.

So I got in and drove. I drove with that feeling I was being followed. Looking immediately for a place of safety. I found it in between two apartment complexes, and what my safety was, was amazing. There was a luscious green bank with the softest grass I had ever felt. There was a small beach and the smallest, blueist ocean with perfect waves. I laid back and was buried in comfort. As I settled in a creature popped out of the grass, ridiculously close to me. He was all the colors at once, and every few seconds would glow bright fuschia or burnt orange or olive green. He handed me food, knowing I was hungry. He told me I had to keep going, and told me where. I asked him to join me but he said he had no feet, could he have mine? And then he lunged for me. I immediately rolled down the bank and started running. The beach turned back to city streets that eventually gave way to a winding river. It was there I stopped. I saw them dancing, the bottoms of their colorful skirts just barely touching the top of the water. Their white blouses shining bright in the sun and the crinkly red, blue, and yellow embroidery sending me back to a time in my childhood where I had seen these dresses before, those dances before.

I knew at once they were costarricense. I was running to catch up, worried they were only a mirage. I followed the river around and there they were- two Costa Rican women, maybe they were in their thirties, maybe older, and one was holding a baby girl. As I looked at her I could sense her truth, just as I sensed the others back in the movie theater. She held the baby out to me. I said, I don’t think I can, I mean, I think you’re my birth mother and I think that’s me, I don’t think I- and then all the sudden I’m holding this baby, this baby who is also me, and my birth mother smiling at me and nodding yes, yes, of course, all of that, because we don’t speak the same language, and as she passed this baby to me, I felt her pass the weight of her entire heart. And she says to me- esto es lo mejor- this is what is best- and I felt it with the full sincerity of her being, the sadness and guilt and pain and love and hope and faith, all wrapped up together as she handed me her child, and in her eyes an understanding- esto es lo mejor- and finally, I understood it too.

Sometimes the most painful decision is the best decision.

I looked down at this baby, mesmerized by her acceptance of me, and then back up to muster some sort of thank you in broken Spanish to this brave woman, but she was gone. I knew she had joined the group ahead, dancing and singing down the river, joining in with their strong voices that caught the wind and filled the air.

And then it was over. I woke up in a fit of coughing, and was quickly reminded of the fading Alka Seltzer cold and sinus medicine that must have put me in this hallucination dream. But it felt so real, and I remembered every part. I could still hear those voices, and see the wide brown eyes of a peaceful child.

Sometimes the most painful decision is the best decision.

And so I am once again where I have been many nights before. Not sure what is real, what is truth. Holding close to the coolness of my sheets, I have nothing left to cry, nothing left to ask. I lay still.

Esto es lo mejor.

What is done is done, there’s no erasing it, and no way to make it right. The only thing now is, what is next. And my choice is painful, it hurts to places I’ve never before felt, but it is what is best.

And maybe one day my sweet boys will understand the choice I made, and feel the sorrow and guilt and pain and love and faith all wrapped up together as I continue the journey of finding the water that will make me clean.

burnt.

That first morning alone I made fried eggs. I scooped out a glob of coconut oil and watched as it seeped to the corners of my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. The heat, turned up too high, made this short task an emergency.  I frantically fanned the shrieking smoke alarm with a nearby cutting board, quickly switched the stove vent to HIGH, and uttered a concise expletive underneath it all.

The next morning my stove demanded a repeat performance. The children cried, covered their ears.
The third morning my youngest asked if maybe we should just eat cereal. I turned to the fridge and held tightly to its door. Crying silently, I promised myself it was just a stove, it was just a breakfast.
It felt like failure. The stove mocking my inability to perform this small task.
I opened the fridge cautiously and felt its coolness hit my face. I searched longer than necessary for two more eggs and reached again for the oil.
—-
It was the only shirt they had. It’s tag said “large,” but it was a medium. It sat in my closet a month before I had the courage to try. Today, courage or not, it needed to be worn.
I put it on.
Turning, I realized he was nearby, eyes glued to his phone.
Me: What do you think?
Him: (glances up briefly) It’s a nice goal shirt.
Me: goal shirt?
Him: yeah, it’s ok, it’s good to have a goal.
——–
His skin held the soft sweetness that only a newborn baby’s could. His eyes a clear blue that lit up with every smile, every sound. His feet kicked to show off their feetness, perfect toenails on perfect toes that I often kissed for no reason.
He wiggled on the changing table as I struggled to redress him from his latest catastrophe. My abundance of caution wasn’t enough, my wedding ring left a red mark on his back, which scarred me more than him.
I finished my task, and carried my sweet boy with me the five short steps to my room. I placed him gently on the floor, took the rings off- leaving them in a small wooden box on the dresser- scooped him back up, and went downstairs to start dinner.
That night after the house was quiet, I turned to him-
Me: I took my rings off today.
Him: oh, ok, why?
Me: Because when I was changing our baby it scratched him and I don’t want to keep doing that.
Him: oh ok.
Me: So it’s ok?
Him: Is what ok?
Me: To not wear the rings.
Him: yeah, it’s fine.
Me: You’re not worried?
Him: Worried about what?
Me: That someone will, you know, come on to me.
Him: Come on to you?
Me: Yeah, like pick me up.
Him: Pick you up?
Me: Yeah, like flirt with me. Because I’m not wearing a ring.
Him: So where would this happen? This flirting?
Me: I don’t know, at the park or something.
Him: So wouldn’t you have the boys with you?
Me: Yes.
Him: Then no, I’m not worried.
Me: Why?
Him: Because you have two kids. No one would want you knowing you have two kids.
———
On the fourth morning everything worked. The eggs were crisp and slightly browned. The pineapple had been on sale and was ripe enough to be easily cut. I also had revived my tiny French press, now perfect for my small breakfasting. The children congratulated me on a quiet morning in the kitchen. It was finally my preference to open the blinds and welcome in this sun and its brilliance.
If there was any particular moment to exhale, it may have been here. There was a simplicity to that morning, that seemed to beckon to me, like an Alice in Wonderland note left prompting my next move. But this moment, was everything but simple, everything but calm. Inside was a cacophony of thoughts, hurts, misgivings, fear.
How did I get here?
The words would burst into my skull at every imaginable time. It mattered not the situation- times when eggs are cooked perfectly, and the house is clean, the children snuggled in close for a night of movies and popcorn. Or after the only dinner choice that needed to be made was- which type of cereal- or when I realized how fun it is to sleep diagonally in bed, and wake up to the sweet silliness of my boys and their requests for tickles.
These words would echo also at times when the pain overwhelmed. Like when my children ask me why I always cry after seeing daddy, or when my house is empty of their giggles and prancing feet and dirty clothes. When I miss their tiny hands and neck hugs so much the inside of my throat feels like it will swell shut and when it doesn’t, it is only replaced with an emptiness that doesn’t even try to apologize for its presence, taking residence and unpacking and settling in for a long uninvited visit. When those sweet voices ask why I don’t want to be around daddy anymore, and when am I coming home, or can I just live in the basement and him upstairs, and why are there now two houses, and can they have another kiss and another hug and mommy don’t let go, please don’t ever let go.
How did I get here?
One day, in the middle of all of this, I remember he said- “they’re so young.” And he was right, he is right, they are, so young. But he said it as though this is a job, and it would one day be over, and that I should stay until it was. And that felt silly, that my job to them would be ever over, or that I could only do this job in this house, on this street. So this, this being mommy, is a thing that I will be always, at every hour and every minute of every day. To be the best mom to them, I need to be the best me to me, and in this instance, to put them first, is also to put myself first. To stand up, to insist- on change, on health, on honesty, on love. Tell me, when, when is a good time to fight for the value of ones life? That somehow, amidst all of this, I am losing additional points for the inconvenience of inappropriate scheduling.
They are so young.
I, too, am young. I consider how many years I have given to this path, to this life, to his life. And I, too, matter in this awful equation. There is no life that matters more than another. Each of these lives- mine, his, theirs- we all matter. I am so desperately trying to choose life.
Somehow in all of this, my life became lesser, and my motherhood and wifehood trumped my personhood. Instead of having mommy be a thing I am also, it was a thing I am only. I should be so proud to live in his house, drive his car, be his spouse. Only his desires matter, his aspirations, his goals. Mine classified as a terciary request, and then only if my chores are done.
What really happened, when you sort past all the…stuff… is actually quite simple. I requested respect. I requested to be valued, considered, and loved. In a way that doesn’t equal me crying on my side of the bed while his snores mocked my misery. I wanted to be wanted for more than what my body could offer to him at his desire and not mine. I wanted to be acknowledged for my contributions. I wanted to be seen and cherished and valued and loved and adored and can’t ever be lived without. I wanted his September promises to be true. I held mine. For years at sea and years at home, for finances kept and dinners made and diapers changed and visits to his family. I held my promises. And in return- in return I was ignored. In return I was laughed at. In return he never called. In return he didn’t care. In return I was never enough. In return I was left alone.
So I am alone.
But in aloneship I have been for some time. This isn’t new for me, this state of aloneship. What is new was that it was uncovered and exposed in an unexpected way, in an unexpected place, with an unexpected outcome. But that’s not what will be remembered. The pain I’ve caused, the lives I changed, the dreams I smashed, seeming picture perfectness disrupted. This is what I’m now buried in. Here I stand, in this uncomfortable intersection, it’s bright, there’s no where to sit, I don’t know what to do with my hands. They fumble, holding my crimson vowel, I’m now just a sad accident where passersby shake their heads and say unhelpful things like- maybe she should have focused on her marriage, or maybe she is just selfish, or maybe she is a bad mother, or maybe she’s just depressed, or maybe she’s unstable, or maybe she doesn’t deserve her kids, or maybe she was after him, or maybe she should apologize, or maybe she should never come around here again… thank goodness she hasn’t come around here again, or maybe she’s not a real Christian, or maybe she never was, or maybe it was planned, or maybe we should stop taking her calls- we were never really friends, or maybe she won’t notice if I just never text her back, or maybe I will call and maybe she will want to hear how awful I think she is, or maybe she will tell me something I can go tell someone else, or maybe I should send her a card with a bible verse about forgiveness and also include how disappointed I am in her, or maybe if we don’t make eye contact she won’t see us here, or maybe she doesn’t know how this hurts us too, or maybe she’s tried this before, or maybe this is just her character, or maybe she is just a bad person, or maybe this is the evil we have all been warned about.
Maybe you have no idea.
Maybe you have no idea of all these years, all these memories, all this hurt, all this sadness and guilt and pain and anger and loss and insistence of being told what I wanted, what I needed, didn’t exist, and to please calm down, and by the way, what’s for dinner, and have you steamed my shirt?
Maybe you don’t know how burnt into my soul is the feeling of him saying- Why are you still crying? Why do I have to call you? Why does it matter where I am? Why are you still thinking about that? Why do you want to do that? Why do they care what you think? Why do I have to kiss you goodnight? Why don’t you just sweep this under the rug? Bury this deep.
And so I did.
And so I was.

lucid.

Sometimes I have dreams that are mostly nightmares. And in the nightmare I know that it is a nightmare but I also know that it is a truth, or at least a truth that is trying to be a Truth and one that is trying to make itself known to me.

The other night I had one of these nightmares.

I was in an enormous amphitheater. The kind where you might find both a Greek play or a ballet recital on any given weekend. The arena was packed. There were people milling about the stage. Some were waiting for me. Some were waiting for something or someone else. Some were extremely invested and attentive, others were just present.

As I walked in, a path cleared and I kneeled down in the middle of the stage, only then realizing it wasn’t me they had gathered to see, it was this incredible albino translucent frog. It lay on its back on that blue rubbery stuff I hadn’t seen since dissection day in seventh grade.

As I peered down, I could see every part of its insides. The veins, the arteries, the organs. What ran through this frog seemed foreign and real, and suddenly I felt at one with it, as if I was looking down into a reflection of myself, and what I saw was obscenely familiar. 

This frog, so obviously in pain, looked up with an earnest face that met mine as though it had been in a state of patient impatience for my arrival. It was the only being in the place relieved to see me, happy to see me. This frog, my frog, smiled at me the most warm and human smile I had ever felt. It smiled at me in a way that I felt at once an intense and sincere connection, and it was at this very instant someone thrust in my hand a scalpel. The intent in this action was immediately understood and appalling.

I could not.  
I would not.

As I searched the crowd for someone that might help I felt something grab my other hand. I looked down, and this frog, my frog, had reached for and grabbed my hand. I stared in disbelief- first at our hands, and then up to meet the gaze of this frog. No words were exchanged, but I heard his voice in my head- do this for me. It’s what I need. Please. It’s what must happen. Don’t leave me like this.  

There was a sense that this frog, my frog, knew that its purpose here was to be exposed, to be made known, to be seen in a way that might force others to learn, feel, and understand just how deep pain lies, and that, even in an incredible pain that is seen by all, known by all, ignored by all, that it is still in fact pain, and will course through veins poisoning our being, weakening our bodies, destroying our purpose, as though it knows that the very act of bravery it needs will never be committed, because only in that act could this pain be released and allowed a journey that becomes part of somewhere else, someplace else… because even in the release it then becomes the worst possible act of another, an act that the other, well there is no other, just me- an act that I never thought nor felt nor could have imagined was even possible to commit.

I stood in place, and tightened my grip on the scalpel in hand.

I continued this gaze with my frog. I felt in my heart the rush of sadness. The rush of hurt. The rush of supplication. The rush of movement all around, but in this place, in this magnetic space between this frog’s face and mine- time was standing still just for us, so that I could receive what I needed to receive, to understand what needed to be understood, so I could do what needed to be done, without turning back. And it was amidst this rush that I pressed the scalpel just hard enough through the space where its heart was pumping. A tiny trickle of redness fell to the side and ruined what was once pure. What was once contained was now not, and the trickle grew to a steady stream as I continued in the task. Mixed with its blood was an expulsion of sadness, pain, guilt,… loneliness. I hadn’t realized I was violently crying through the death of this frog, my frog, and that also, among this incredible surge of emotion, was a calmness, a peace. 

I stayed in my responsibility until I felt my frog lose its grasp from my hand and lose its grasp from a life observed, critiqued, and mis-purposed. 

And suddenly I was awake. 

The peace was gone. In its place was a heaviness. I was heavy with sweat, heavy with confusion, heavy with hurt, heavy with the image of this frog’s gaze keeping mine, and the rush of its emotion that had pushed its way into every crevice of my being. 

I couldn’t shake the images of this frog. They followed me for days, weeks. And even now, months later, its face still haunts me, reminding me of an act equally terrible and freedom-filled. How does this get reconciled? I’m certain it can’t.

I wanted to be rid of them. Those images. And the rememberence of feeling another’s pain so completely that it led to me doing the one thing I never thought possible. 

I wanted so badly to be rid of them. I fell asleep intentionally tipsy on the warmth of bourbon so that I might have some other awfully fantastic dream that would at least not be this dream, but I was never allowed that possibility. When sleep did come, it came in short interrupted bits that constantly awoke me in fits of sweat and disgust.

I wanted so badly to be rid of this frog, but I couldn’t. It was there. I was there. It was indeed a part of me, and I had to stand up, next to it, scalpel in hand and look up and into the faces surrounding me that had gathered; the only real benefit being that because of this concert of pain my sins were already known, already seen, already ready for judgment.

And once I had accepted these acts, this nightmare was nightmare no more, holding its cruel power over all my hours. This nightmare is now my Truth and I will accept its awkward invitation, staying instead in its warm quiet presence and sinking finally into its arms, in restful needed sleep. Knowing that tomorrow would hold time enough to converse with this Truth and all its likely companions.

non-pond.

Mostly I feel like running. I would run for days if I could. To feel the pressure of each breath, to feel that hard place in my chest beating incessantly in a way that was controlled only by the beating of each hard step, foot to pavement, and then again, and then again. Until I couldn’t any more.

Mostly I feel like running. I would run out to this pond I found once, only it reminded me of no pond I had seen before, it was really a lake with the potential to be an ocean, but the sign said it was a pond, so pond it remained, even though, if I had been consulted, I would have asked the non-pond pond if in fact it was a pond or if it felt more like a lake with dreams of becoming the ocean, or perhaps it felt like it was an ocean in hopes of being a pond, or even further, perhaps it actually felt it was a desert, despite the so obvious moisture that filled its crevices, obvious of course to those only with the benefit of seeing this non-pond from the outside, a luxury this non-pond, lake, potential ocean, possible desert never had nor could dream of ever being able to create.

I would run to this difficult to name place. Once there I would strip of myself and dive immediately deep, amongst the algae and the water plants that would have, in any other world, kept me on the shore, constricted and contained, I would brush past these plants to hit the muddy bottom of this place, pushing my hands deep within and hoping, expecting, wanting and needing to feel the earth in its nascent state, to the possible places where life begins, where life began, until that incessant beating in my chest returned, reminding me, calling me, pushing me to either go further in this task or return once again to find temporary relief in the uncertainty of all that remains above.

Mostly I feel like running. Only then can this pressure, this intensity of understanding, confusion, doubt, and truth, only then can the pressure of these items be relieved and replaced by the limitations of physical ability and desire to replace burden with burden, building of course until something has to give.

Once, while I was busy enjoying my non-pond pond a stranger appeared and asked rather innocently if I was enjoying this beautiful gulf.

I looked out as though I was seeing it for the first time.

Eventually I said yes, it is a rather amazing gulf, and I have been enjoying it quite nicely, thank you. Becoming aware that my pond, my non-pond, lake, almost ocean yet desert had been none of these things. It was a gulf. And yet it wasn’t. It was this stranger’s gulf. It was still my pond/non-pond/lake/hopeful ocean/almost desert place that I just easily gave away to also being a gulf.

That is about the amount of truth I hold.

That is about the amount of truth we all hold. If we are looking out, and there is a clear sign that says what we’re seeing is a pond, and I see a lake and you see a gulf, we both get to see our lake and our gulf. My insistence on the existence of a lake doesn’t detract or deny you of your gulf. Sometimes, in a potential universe that I hope may someday exist outside my mind, I believe in a small intersection where your seeing of a gulf and my seeing of a lake brings us both to a realization that we are instead looking at the headwaters of something grander than each of us was able to see on our own. That the existence of your truth and my truth can complement not conflict, and allow for new truths, new paths, strangers no more, allied and capable of slowing the ever charged ever energized never ending desire for running, possibly finding a moment sheathed in a time within a time where for, just a moment, the sweat tears are wiped away, and the sun, a sun that has overwhelmed me in its intensity, exists instead to provide an internal warmth and comfort. If even for just a moment.

If for just a moment I could give up the expectation that for this enormously orchestrated event to occur you must even see my lake. Should you never see my lake, and I never see your gulf, we could still get to that moment, lying in the sun, basking in a realness that can only exist when you’ve relieved yourself of the burdens of carrying your own truths, exchanged for the truths of a stranger, exchanged again for the truth of a place that doesn’t even really exist nor can be drawn on a map to be returned to again and again.

Again and again I am in pursuit of a moment, one instance of solace, a moment that will require years of work, effort, steps, timing, and all the acts of dispensing and replacing the truths that have been told in a way that honors even the un-truth truths and doesn’t allow the darkness held within these un-truths to merge with my identity, my soul, my being. And yet, my desire to separate truth from un-truth is a naiveté that must also be confronted and exchanged. Still, the potential for discovery of this moment is worth the effort involved, to uncover even a glimpse of a small space in this universe where there exists a sign that says pond but is your gulf and my non-pond/lake/potential ocean/possible desert, and we are strangers no more, running no more.

alaska.

There was this white, worn ford ranger pick up truck. It drove cautiously. Steadily. Intentionally. It’s driver peering over the steering wheel. I found myself driving behind it for what was easily forty miles, probably more. It was going the speed limit. This truck was going the speed limit, and yet I fell in line, not once looking behind to see if I might pass. Go around. Get by. No, I had no intention of passing this truck.

There was a solace in driving in this manner. In allowing one’s mind to be free in the space of not worrying what will happen next. Will this driver speed up, slow down? Not likely. This driver is maintaining. Going. Plodding.

I was in the middle of a long drive. A drive I was in no rush to finish. I really enjoy driving. I enjoy the long stretches of road when the songs on the radio become a blur of all things country or all things talk, and the best solution to the static mayhem that inevitably happens every twenty minutes or so is to just turn the thing off.

Driving without music.
I never used to understand driving without music.

Growing up we would take road trips, long ones. Florida to Arizona. Florida to North Carolina. Florida to Canada. I would sit shot gun in the family van, my dad driving. That’s where I learned to pop my gum. You know, that ricochet of pop pop pop pop pop pop. That was definitely a learned annoying habit, and I think I finally figured it out somewhere in the middle of Texas, my dad equally laughing and crying that I had, indeed, finally figured it out. I used to tear through packets of Big League Chew. I’d spend hours trying to blow bubbles that would break the Guinness book of world records, because the only goals back then that were worthwhile, were ones that could break whatever record was in that book.

So we would take these road trips. I’d have my gum and my mad libs, the occasional irritated round of I Spy with my brothers, and conversations with my dad. The conversations with my dad would go something like this:

Me: Dad, can we listen to the radio?
Dad: No.

………

Me: Can we listen to the radio now?
Dad: No.

………

Me: What if I just turned it on really low?
Dad: That’s even more aggravating than if it was on all the way. No.

And yet, on shorter road trips we would listen without question, and we’d listen to the oldies station. I know every well-played 50s and 60s song by heart. Occasionally we’d even listen to this cassette with some old guy on front with an enormous bushy grey beard and a twinkle in his eye. No, it wasn’t Santa Claus’ greatest hits, it was some guy who I’d later learn was Kenny Rogers. Those were the days. For those trips we’d take his Corolla, and I’d sit in the backseat, near the window if I was lucky, and when we’d get to the part of the drive where the pavement gave way to gravel then dirt, my brothers and I would take off our seatbelts and we’d giggle and scream as that Corolla hit every bump as my dad drove into them like he was in the Dukes of Hazzard, our heads just shy of hitting the top of the car, and for this one time only we’d fall onto each other without worrying about who was touching who. But that was a short road trip.

So I guess I didn’t really understand why there were times when driving with music made sense and other times, when it just wasn’t even an option.

Until I had kids.
Children.
Small humans.
That make sounds and noises, loudly.
And that talk. And have opinions.
And words.
So many words.

When driving in silence there is somehow an ability to turn the back of the car noise into road noise and, if you’re lucky, it just disappears. Focused on the road, sure. But lost in thought, pure thought.

That’s why I love a good road trip. A long road trip.

And that’s where I was, when I had been traveling for days, alone but with my children, and I found myself behind this white ford ranger pick-up, complete with rust and camper shell, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of safety and a remembrance of someone I had once loved, still love.

The last time I saw a truck like that old ranger I was not driving behind, but sitting behind the wheel. I was probably twelve. I could barely reach the gas, if I had to break I would probably have had to stand straight up. But there I was. Actually driving. Scared out of my mind. My grandpa said, “why not?” He said he was driving by the time he was eight. And he said when he got stopped, he would just say he was ten and he’d be back on his way. I asked him what I should say if we got stopped, and he said, no hesitation, that he’d just tell the officer that my 12 year old eyes were better than his 72 year old eyes and it was clearly a better risk to just let me go ahead and finish the drive and also we’re mostly there anyways. Oh, and twinkle toes (his name for me), don’t forget to smile.

A few years earlier this man, my grandpa, had driven that white ranger from Florida to Alaska. Alone. When I asked him which hotel was his favorite, he just laughed and laughed. When he finally caught his breath, he told me the finest hotel in the world couldn’t beat listening to the crickets and a sleeping bag laid out in the back of his truck.

When he finally made it to Alaska, there was a story about him getting cut off the road and his truck going down the side of a mountain. He was somehow able to climb out the back of the truck and back up the mountain with not much more than some bumps and bruises, on him and the truck.

To me, this man was a super hero.

There have been times when I’ve been scared to drive to a different part of town. There have been times when I have refused to drive because I didn’t know the way, I didn’t have a map, and I didn’t want to try.

There have been times when driving alone, in all that silence, just would not have been ok.

But the thing about my grandpa, when my grandpa wanted to go somewhere, he got in the car and just went.

Anywhere, everywhere. Gone.

The first long road trip I remember taking on my own (and with one small child) was from Florida to Maine. I plotted and charted. I packed blankets and snacks. Overnight bags and car chargers. I made plans with friends, family, all those who I hadn’t seen in years but would take me in, in a heartbeat.

I planned, then I went. I drove. I stopped on my terms. I stopped on the toddler’s terms. But I went.

I was aware, constantly, of being alone.

After two days, however, I found my “I’ve got this” face, and just had fun. I sang, we sang, I ate entire bags of gummy worms, blew through gobs of double bubble, threw disgusting amounts of chicken nuggets to my back seat driver, I missed exits and phone calls, and just drove.

And what a range of feelings this brought.

It reminded me first of the feeling when I was behind the wheel, at 12 years old, the feeling of being overwhelmed with a power of which I wasn’t yet ready, but was offered. Something that someone else recognized I could achieve, accomplish, or at the very least, TRY, even when it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was something I might want to do, love to do.

I had a feeling I could drive forever. Why stop at Maine, why stop at all?

I had a feeling that I wished I had tried this earlier. I wondered if these new acquaintances, these feelings of confidence and self-reliance, might stay for the long haul, and why had it taken so long for us all to meet?

So I drove. First cautiously. Then steadily. And ever so intentionally. And there was a solace in it, in that space of not worrying what might happen down the road or if I missed the next exit. I got lost a couple times, sure, but I was finally right where I needed to be- behind the wheel, listening for the crunch of gravel and the occasional cricket- and finally on the road towards my Alaska.

hallways.

I remember being seven. Lying awake at night. Dreaming. Wondering. Thinking. If only.

If only I were older.
If only I could make my own choices.
If only I could get through elementary school.
If only I could get through middle school.
Then I’ll be in high school.
Then I’ll be closer to college.
Closer to the first day of the rest of my life.

But back to being seven: I remember lying awake at night. I remember squeezing my eyes shut so tight that I would force tiny specks to appear, bright little lights that would shimmer and make me think I had dreamt up a magical place and this power, this ability to create shimmery specks, meant I could do almost anything that I ever would want to do in all of life.

Years went by, as they do, and my dreams changed, but the idea of a dream remained. I didn’t see my shimmer as often, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable in the waiting for my dream to come true, as if it were in queue but its number never called.

I don’t think my seven-year-old self would ever invent, understand, or imagine that a dream could be lost or unfulfilled. And yet that is exactly what happened as the courage and wonder of thoughts I had at seven faded only to thoughts of: if only. As I grew closer to if only, I grew further from that little shimmer that encouraged my desire to dream and seek the impossible.

I seldom let myself be completely honest with myself. That’s a terrible space to be in, to hang around in. A space of complete honesty. It’s a space I do visit occasionally, but if I were to spend real time there, I might start into an alarming path of unraveling, which is unthinkable, as I’ve spent the entirety of my life completely satisfied within a personal labyrinth.

Despite my desire to keep my honest self secure and hidden, I occasionally meet another who sees through my fortress with ease. I find that annoying. I tend to avoid these people.

One of those people once told me I needed to spend time alone. Well, alone, but out in the world. Does that make sense? To be alone in the world, not running errands, but being. Maybe in a restaurant, or to a concert. To those places where, traditionally, it should be group event or shared experience. Not sitting at a table with a book or journal, but just alone. Eating. Staring. BEING.

Sounds awful, yes?

It was. But this person in my life, well I saw her then and still do, as: confident, smart, and independent. And amazing, generally. Qualities I wanted and desperately ached to call my own.

I completed the task and it was grueling. I have complete unease, distrust, and skepticism about time spent in solitude or any time spent not on (a) task. It doesn’t matter what the task might be. It could be scrubbing grout, or cataloging spices and their expiration dates. It could be pulling weeds. Painting a room. It could be reading or re-reading a favorite novel. It could be writing. It could be cooking. It could be making lists for future tasks. I have complete comfort in the doing of all these things and even doing them alone. But it would be something. It wouldn’t be idle. It wouldn’t be just being.

And yet, I have finally opened the door just wide enough to my honest space self to know, really know, and accept and welcome, that this is one of my burdens to bear, and hopefully, eventually, overcome and love and squeeze-hug ever so tightly, this concept, this ability to (just) be.

—–

The weight of decisions overwhelms me. Sometimes to the point of inaction, but usually to the point of overexertion and overthinking. I fervently want my life, my path, my career, my family, myself to be on the right trajectory, I’m concerned only with outcomes.

And the space between those outcomes? That is my personal misery. That is where I fall apart. Over question. Over process. Over think. Over do. That is where my sea of if onlys begins to swell in infinity and I lose any ability to BE.

And yet, that is where I need to be. I need to be in between outcomes. I need to be in that ocean. I need to be in that state of not yet there and no longer where I was before. I need to be okay in the in-betweens,
in the hallways.

It’s the hallways that matter.
It was in one of these hallways that I became a mother.
A thinker. A musician.
A friend.

I’ve avoided the hallways, quickly hoping to duck into the next door, hoping it would be THE door. Any answer, THE answer. Desperate for the relief that this door might hold my path, my yellow brick road, my calling.

All these years of rushing through the halls and I’ve finally realized: this is where life is lived. Where joy is found. Where love is had.

It’s the hallways that matter.
The more time I spend in preparation, the more courageously I can open and enter and choose not to knock on just the next door or any door that I find. Hallways are where I meet others, learn of their experiences, learn about the lives they’ve had behind the doors they’ve ventured, packing their experiences and lessons into my bags as my own, as I continue on, forge ahead.

Hallways are where, if I allow it, I can understand that the door I have just left, was not wrong, but was just next. Next on a delicate path that only asks from me to be on it. To be aware of it, embracing it, and finding the joy in its space, so that I might be closer to propping open the door to my honest space. To begin to live in it, dwell in it, explore it, and BE within it.

Will there be another door? Almost certainly. Hopefully. But until then, I’ll be in the hallway. Singing, writing, creating, playing, laughing. And finally, oh-so-finally loving every minute of just BEING in it and rediscovering the shimmery specks left there by my seven-year-old self.

ants.

The fly sat on my bedside table. Staring. Greeting me with judgment, that I dare disturb its schedule. It was not a regular fly. It was overly iridescent. At the end of its abdomen was a stinger. And based on my training and experience I know a housefly shouldn’t have a stinger. I know it had a stinger because it didn’t move, not even one antennae as I approached. I sank to its level. I stared back, my two pupils no contest for its compound eyes. I found it immediately irritating. How dare it take ownership in my space, perched overly close to where I rest my body. And since it had the stubbornness to just sit there, I put my cup on top of it. Suffocating its flyness. I immediately felt remorse. But not remorse enough to move my cup remorse.

I went about my business. I put away clothes that were in a laundry purgatory in the corner of the room. I brushed my teeth. Picked out clothes for the next day. Still thinking about that fly. Wondering what its fate should be. Thinking that maybe it should have done what every other normal fly would have done given my presence, and flown away. I looked for a tissue. Specifically for the box of tissues I had put in my children’s bathroom just the day before, the box that boasted: A: ALLIGATOR, in an overly inviting blue and green, a box that entices a two year old to want to pull out every single tissue in one sitting, I was looking for that box, but it was missing. So I grabbed exactly two squares of toilet paper. Two squares, because one and I would have to feel too much of the fly, and three would be excessive and wasteful for this task.

If I were the conspiracy theorist type, I would think this is what a drone fly looks like. Equipped with a tiny camera and tiny boom mike. Sent in this space to gather my creepy secrets as if it were conducting a very important research study concerning, among other interests, human flossing habits, to determine if I floss only the two weeks leading up to my dental appointments or actually every day of the whole year as I unfalteringly tell my dentist I do. If I were the conspiracy theorist type that’s the sort of thing I would think.

As I flushed the fly, I didn’t feel redemption. I felt disgusted in my need to keep my space clear of such beings, small and innocuous as they might be. I was disgusted by my interactions with it, that I couldn’t ignore it or wait it out for it to just fly away. I was disgusted that I let it become a part of my day and that I had given it a backstory. If the fly had done what it was named to do, my conscious could be free and clear of these affairs.

Three days later my son complained of a shiny bug with wings and awful eyes staring at him in his sleep.

My immediate thought: now it’s an infestation. And then: wondering if entomophobia can be inherited.

——

Two days after my son complained of the awful bug on his wall I saw a spider. I crouched to study it, expecting of course an ordinary spider. Hope within hope was lost almost immediately. It was not an ordinary spider. What I would give for a regular, friendly, slightly humorous and anecdotal black spider of the Charlotte variety. This was not a Charlotte. The abdomen of this spider was a deep penetrating red, seeming to draw its color from its vein like legs, a lesser red that promoted the circulation of its eerie color throughout the rest of its body. At its mouth were pinchers much like a scorpion, possibly not out of place, but unexpected on this creature. The thing reminded me of poison and immediate death. It crept along the edge of my bathtub, and once aware of my presence, it held still for its inspection. I explained to it that I had already met its accomplice several days back and that it had been no match for my two pieces of toilet paper and had met a swirling watery end by flush.

I afforded the spider no courtesy of time under a cup. This thing was immediately categorized as harmful and hazardous, and thereby removed.

Aside from wondering why my home seemed haven for all sorts of villainous pests, I gave the thing no further thought.

Except that this (hopefully) lone red spider reminded me of a true infestation of a colony of incredibly small spiders I once saw swarming on a wall. At first I thought they were tiny ants. But as I pressed my face next to the wall at an adjacent angle, I saw that they were the fastest, reddest, tiniest spiders I had ever seen.

Several weeks later, possibly not by coincidence, I moved.

——

There is this garden, and when I say garden, I remember it being more forest than garden, but a forest of orange trees, trees growing lady fingers, morning glories, and rows and rows of strawberries. These beautiful plants and fruits grew together in what seemed to me, at age six, an incredulous forest of horticulture, each plant growing into the next, extending itself just to the point where it met, but did not overwhelm its neighbor. It seemed a haphazard symphony of growth and sunshine that additionally emitted an amazing aroma that could unmistakenly only be earth.

The air here was filled with this sound of the world actually growing, and underneath, it was a cacophony of tiny inhabitants, unaware of the glorious show above. At age six, I was happy just to be with my Grandpa as he walked his land, listening as he described each plant by its scientific name and why it was planted and where, not by accident at all. I usually stayed quickly near his side, because he walked with knife in hand, eager to share the fruits of his labor, my stomach a welcome recipient. He would slice and share our way through his trees, walking slowly, keeping pace with my questions and small legs. He would chuckle as my face soured when I heartily devoured what I thought was sweet navel, but was in fact pure grapefruit.

One afternoon, I heard my brothers run out into this garden. I was always left behind, but I was quick to catch up. I found one brother jumping up and down on what looked to be a rectangle of carpet. Obviously it was out of place here in this space, but my six-year old mind did not continue on with the question of why it might be there.

I did my sisterly duty of pushing my brother off the carpet, and proceeded to jump and jump and jump and jump and jump.

My squeals of delight turned quickly to cries of terror. I suddenly felt piercing stings all over, all at once. My legs were covered in fire ants. Not a few, not twenty, my legs were completely covered in ants, as though they were intent on eating me alive as quickly as possible. I screamed and started running to the house. My Grandma appeared at the porch and kept me from entering, but told me to strip while she got the hose. My brain somehow caught on, but instead of waiting for her to find a source of water, I stripped, ran 300 feet past the house, and promptly jumped in their lake.

That night I lay carefully on the couch, my body having been soaked in a full bottle of calamine lotion. My legs, stomach, and hands a cakey mess of pinkish white relief. My brothers grinning behind their books, trying ineffectively to not burst out laughing every five minutes. They were only too happy that I served the brunt of that harsh lesson of why one would leave pieces of carpet out in a garden. It was my Grandpa’s first line of defense in the extinguishing of fire ant mounds.

Of course, and obviously.

I’m sure there is also a Charlotte-esque type moral here, something along the lines of being mindful in other people’s habitats, or not jumping blindly on carpet that might be holding something else back, down, or away. Or possibly even, not pushing ones brother, or against horseplay in general.

If those were the lessons I was to learn that day, I didn’t. All I can trace to that day in the garden is that it was the beginning of my life versus insects, all.

groton.

I was sitting shotgun in his Silverado. The second manicure I’d ever had was fresh, as was the ID in my wallet. Every twenty minutes I anxiously consulted my Map Quest print out, trying to match mile marker to its appropriate step of my plan. We only brought the most important items we owned, some still new in their boxes dotted with bits of scotch tape that held the wrappings of congratulations!, giving away the newness of our life together. One of those items was a rather large Mr. Coffee. I didn’t understand how this made the cut, I didn’t drink coffee, nor did I understand its dear importance. But he said it was important, so there it sat behind us, a silent bystander of a 1200-mile drive that started in Orlando.

The first stop we made was Savannah. When we walked into the lobby of the Hampton Inn on East Bay Street, I thought wow, a girl could get used to this. I remember a glistening chandelier, iced water, and the cleanest whitest linens I had ever experienced. We didn’t see much of the hotel, we found ourselves giddy with the delight of exploring a new city, especially one that seemed to hold such beauty and possibility.

That night we sat on the deck of the Chart House, a dark and sophisticated restaurant, but with a marlin on the wall. I had never been to such a place. We started into the business of ordering every possible sea creature and a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay something. I have no idea what our conversation was, but I remember the feeling of possibility. I remember the feeling of wondering, can I be here? Is this okay? I remember trusting the man behind those brown/hazel/golden eyes and not really realizing what saying YES had meant. I remember boats and shipping vessels and a quiet sunset on the magnificent Savannah River.

The biggest mistake I made that night was getting a TO GO box. Seafood anything should never be taken TO GO when you don’t have a house with a real refrigerator to go (back) to. We had a cooler and ice from the hotel vending area. But we were new, and I’m pretty sure he was being polite by not telling me this was the worst idea ever. He put my TO GO box in his cooler and I closed it up, promising to eat it for lunch the next day when we stopped. Well I didn’t eat it for lunch the next day. I didn’t eat it the day after that. In fact, no one opened the cooler until three days later. Three sunny days later we would open that little cooler. I know that I opened it first and almost threw up. I also know that I closed the lid real quick and pretended like I didn’t just do that while waving my hands frantically to get that smell out of the air. I also know that I tried not to look when he went to open it up. I saw him gag, but he didn’t say a thing. He just picked up the whole thing, left the room and came back without it. Five long minutes later all he said was, “Hey babe. Let’s not save any more seafood from restaurants, okay?” Weird. I definitely would have expected more of an upset from that. I remember thinking marriage was easy.

The day after we left Savannah I found myself at an Orioles game with my husband and his cousin. I kept reminding myself that this trip, was in fact, not our honeymoon, and that being at a baseball game with his cousin was OK, because this was not our honeymoon. I repeated that a lot that day. But because his cousin was there, I have a really neat picture together with my husband that shows just how happy I was to be so newly married. J also looks really happy, but I won’t ever be certain if it was because we were newly married or because we were at Camden Yards, my money is on Camden Yards. It was also a night game, which is the only reason I agreed to go in the first place. If I’m going to do something like watch baseball, I don’t want to have to pretend to watch baseball while being hot. That’s just madness. I don’t remember much else from that night. I have no idea who the O’s were playing or if the O’s won. I remember taking that one picture, eating a hot dog, and trying on a crab hat in the gift shop.

After Baltimore, the last leg of our trip was to drive to Groton. I remember the bridge over the Thames River and driving into town thinking this place was really exciting. A huge red GROTON INN sign greeted us at the exit. I would later use this sign to help me navigate around a town I felt was much larger than it actually was. I remember seeing a Taco Bell and the Chinese Kitchen and thinking, what other food could one possibly need? I remember using my new ID for the first time, handing it over like it was a newborn child to the guy at the Pass & ID office. That was the first time I heard J tell someone he was my sponsor. It sparked in me a tiny irritation, that I should need sponsoring. I remember driving around the submarine base. Every building looked to be the same only with a different number or letter. I remember thinking I would never feel comfort in this place nor could this ever feel like home, being grateful our stay was only for three short months, and yet so happy just to be anywhere with this man.

The Groton Chalet sat up on a hill, and reminded me not of a hotel, but of a place where you could perhaps build your own Frankenstein or stay in a real life haunted mansion. The inside seemed tidy, not clean. I remember looking at a picture of our room three years later and wondering how did I not cry? But I didn’t cry, not at first. It had a full size bed with a brownish comforter. One long-ish dresser. One chair. There must have been a mini-fridge, but I can’t say for certain. I remember happily arranging (not necessarily unpacking) all our worldly possessions, setting up Mr. Coffee, and shoving suitcases in the space between the wall and the bed, leaving it impossible to actually roll out of bed on that side.

The next morning, at 6 am, reveille burst through a speaker right outside our window, followed by the national anthem, and I almost peed on myself. Laughing hysterically was my husband. He was fully dressed, drinking coffee and watching Fox News. I was so confused. He kissed my head and told me he’d be back for me at lunchtime. As soon as he left I tried vainly to go back to sleep, which was impossible now that the smell of coffee had permeated the room. I quickly switched the channel from Fox News to Good Morning America. I think I watched the entirety of GMA, Live! With Regis & Kathy Lee, and it wasn’t until halfway through the Price is Right that I realized it was almost time for lunch and I hadn’t even showered.

This little routine went on for a week. The next Monday, J asked me if I could make his coffee, since the reveille woke me up anyways. I had never made coffee. How does one make coffee? How does a filter work? Where does it go? How much coffee stuff do I put in there anyways? I feel like I’m doing this wrong, this is too much pressure. I am doing this wrong. He assured me, I was in fact capable of figuring it out. I told him he didn’t really need coffee. That was our first fight.

Our second fight was when he told me to stop switching the news to GMA when he was in the shower. I told him I wasn’t giving up my news show for him. He told me GMA is not, never has, never will be, the news. I told him I would change the channel as soon as he left. He said, I’m leaving now.
That’s not true, well not in the: I’M LEAVING! sort of way. He did leave, but in the, I’m going to be late for work if I don’t leave now, sort of way.

I did watch GMA as soon as he left, but when the segment that came on was, “Which Winter Coat Best Fits Your Body Shape?” I started to think he might have a point.

The next morning I asked J a big favor. I wanted to borrow his truck. To drive it. To a place that wasn’t the Groton Chalet. I hadn’t been anywhere without him since we had been married, and I wanted to GO somewhere. But I was scared. I didn’t know how to drive his truck. It definitely still felt like his truck, not ours, and I was scared of ruining it. I also didn’t know how to drive on a navy base, there seemed to be additional rules, which were of course not posted, but required. I didn’t have Map Quest directions. I was scared.

So I drove his truck. I took the road just outside base and only made one right turn. I drove until it felt like I shouldn’t be driving any more (which in reality was only about five miles). I found the post office, a Dunkin Donuts, and a temp agency. I didn’t go inside any of these places; that would have required trying to park, but it felt so good to be outside.

That afternoon I had J drive me back to the temp agency. An hour later I had a job:
Groton Parks & Recreation, Secretary.

The job was perfect. It got me out of the Groton Chalet. I could stop pretending to understand the Spanish channel that I watched with the maid service when they cleaned our room. I learned to park J’s truck. We had a little extra spending money. This was the most exciting part.

There was no kitchen in our room. There was no real kitchen in the Groton Chalet. The only thing I could cook with was one of those little pots you could plug into the wall and talk to, begging it to boil your water. We ate packets of noodle meals and Banquet frozen dinners for a month before I found my sweet gig at the Parks & Recs Dept. Every night we would walk from the Groton Chalet, to the commissary, pick out our frozen meals, walk back to the Chalet, heat them up, and talk about our plans for our lives. I was in heaven, minus the banquet meals. I can’t even walk down the frozen food aisle any more, that’s the kind of damage eating Banquet meals for a month can do.

After I started working we felt more comfortable going out into the world. I remember being invited (well J being invited) to a nearby casino. I didn’t want to go, but by this time I would go anywhere that wasn’t the Chalet. So I did what any newly wed would do, I went to be polite. I have negative interest in gambling. But the casino was a haven for people watching. Once I got tired with that, I would find a comfy chair to read while J watched his friends gamble. Only once did I bring my LSAT study/prep books. Only once. Although J might argue it was more. I also only once brought them to a bar while he watched football, well maybe twice.

After three months of Groton I was tired. I was tired of the reveille speaker directly outside our window. I was tired of reading books at the casino. I was tired of walking to the commissary for banquet meals. I was tired of burning noodles in my plug-in pot. I was tired of trying to sleep in a full bed. I was tired of being the only wife that decided to go to Groton with her husband. I was tired of the tiny room that made me wonder about this military life and where it would lead us. I was tired of wondering where we would end up next, hoping with all my might it was better than this. I was tired of keeping all this to myself, my tiny pity party that celebrated disappointment.

The day J finished his training we had to be out of the room by 10 am. J of course had things to do all over base and couldn’t help me. Not a problem, other than the blizzard that had just started outside. An actual blizzard, the type with swirling snow that hurt your eyeballs. I managed to pack our truck, then sat myself in the lobby of the Chalet watched the weather channel and cried. All I wanted to do was leave.

At noon my husband found me and promised me we would leave. And we did. We drove off base, forging our way while the blizzard blew all around, never having driven in snow much less a blizzard, and we went half a mile outside base to a gas station. We sat there for two hours until the storm passed. It didn’t matter. We were one step closer to leaving Groton. We didn’t have anything to get the snow off the windows, so we used a credit card until someone told us to go inside and buy a scraper. J came back with a scraper and gummy worms. As I opened the gummy worms, the storm seemed to break. The sun greeted us, welcoming us away from Groton, down I-95, and onwards to the first day of the rest of our lives.

——

Moonlight and snow sheathed Groton from our harsh judgments as we drove into town again five years later. Morning, however, was quick and happy to reveal the city in its truth. The large red GROTON INN sign remained unchanged in its perpetual state of weatheredness, as was the Taco Bell and Chinese Kitchen. The distance I had hesitated to travel here as a newlywed seemed short and un-confusing. The sub base remained a rhinoceros: large, grey, obtrusive, ornery. I still didn’t like driving on it, but I did. The air carried a collective sadness, and pushed it out to the river, allowing in its place just newer sorrows. The city seemed to change only through its transient inhabitants, the rest remaining in a purgatory of service to those unending patrons.

This time, we spent no time at the Groton Chalet. We drove slowly past and remembered the good and the bad, making jokes about it being marriage boot camp. We visited the commissary with a budget that enabled us to thankfully skip the Banquet frozen meal section. Our stay here would be a little longer, six months. But we had navy housing just outside base, complete with a full sized refrigerator. We also had a little boy, not yet a year old. We had that renewed excitement, anticipation, hope even, for what was in store, not for our time in this place, but again for our time beyond.

We finally decided to explore our forced home.  We found cider and home made ice cream. We found a restaurant snuggled away behind unassuming industrial buildings that sold the best lobster bisque we had ever tasted. We found a pasta shop to which all future Italian meals would be measured. Six months passed thankfully quickly and we found ourselves once again packing up Mr. Coffee, our dreams, and heading out. There were tears this time, but of the bittersweet variety, mostly due to leaving the home where our son took his first steps and saying goodbye to those military friends that make this life bearable, exciting even.

——

I now have a small sentiment for all things Groton-esque, for the local spots we uncovered that allow me fond memories of a place that forces our return. But the city itself makes me nervous because of its stillness. It seems to approve of its unkempt state, its edges in an eternal upturn like a library book borrowed, carried around, but not read. So much had happened in our time away from here, so much in the in-betweens. But each and every time I am here, I hope to be, not here. Deciding instead to navigate in a space of what’s to come and opportunities unknown. And yet Groton pulls me back, intent on teaching me a lesson I’ve ignored, the city continually mocking me through its stagnation.

I feel captive by this place, its function keeps my mind in a constant holding pattern of hoping for more, for better, for anything that isn’t this. I struggle to see the grace of the continued transitions, the churn they cause throughout, disrupting my need to know, understand, and approve of what might be next.

It had been two years since we had lived in Groton, and my irritation with our necessary return was tempered only by knowing it would be our final visit. This time, the weeks were full of impatience and unrest, my mind full of the familiar anticipation of something else, something better just out of reach.

We waited for our J, to collect him from Groton, out of its grasp, as though he was a prisoner being released after time served. When his paperwork was final he joined us in the car. We looked to each other, and then together out the window to the submarine at its pier as our son declared, “When I grow up, I want to work on a submarine too.” His statement made me pause and question this drastic choice/change that had just been finalized. As we glanced in the rearview mirror, this time seeing not one but, two little boys in the back seat, both with bright eyes and enormous smiles, I felt a much needed peace about our choice and the two main reasons for it.

J drove us alongside the Thames, over its bridge, and we left the submarine capital of the world in the distance, and our duty to it. I felt what could only be a wrinkle in time, and we were starting just as we had left almost ten years earlier. That all of THAT, that first time in Groton and all the in betweens, those times, were just to get us to this time, and this was really our beginning. I felt that newlywed giddiness all over again. I felt that wonderment of, can I really be here? Is this really ok? We are driving away from everything we have ever known and we have no idea where we are going.

——

A year later I found myself willingly headed back. Our boys now both walking talking beings with preferences and words to express them. We joined our J on a work trip, to have a little northeast adventure, and to visit friends who were still tethered to this place. But this time for us, no Groton Chalet, no navy housing, just a Hampton Inn on the outskirts of town. This Hampton Inn had no chandelier or ice water waiting. The sheets were white, but not crisp. It didn’t matter. This trip was not about the hotel, but the city, a city my boys had never experienced, and I had mostly ignored. It took eleven years, but we were finally here for Groton and nothing more.

We took ourselves to Avery Point. We walked its singular path. We saw fishermen on the rocks and ladies power walking. We saw couples picnicking with nothing more than a beloved bottle of wine. We saw a college kid giving his parents the tour, pretending to know everything about everything. We disturbed a woman lost in a good book.

Looking west we saw the gorgeous architecture of what my four year old insisted was a castle. He instinctively grabbed his brother’s hand and took advantage of its expansive lawn and just ran. His father instinctively took pictures. I instinctively turned to the coast. And instead of lingering within the horizon and absorbing its beauty, I closed my eyes to enjoy the stillness.
I took in a wonderfully fresh breath of what could have easily been mine for years and years. I gave the universe my apology as I exhaled. The moment only made sweeter by the laughter of two brothers, sons, and the feeling of my husband’s arms around my shoulders.

I opened my eyes and of course saw my ocean, inviting me so quickly to fill it with my dreams and expectations. But my eyes fixed instead on a lighthouse that dotted the coast, a home not yet in the horizon and yet still out of reach. I wondered how long it had lived in that space, in the
in-betweens, and who had made it, and why did it look like a home, when it was still so far from its shore. But there it remained, unwavering and intentional, consenting to its purpose so that others could continue on to find theirs.

——