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.

——

(un)comfort(able).

I grew up giving to Goodwill, or the Salvation Army. We held rummage sales at our church, and my parents would volunteer, which meant I would volunteer. And yet in my adult life, giving away things seemed more of a selfish act, wanting to clear away clutter or free up space in my closet. If some place wanted my leftovers, they were doing me a service.

One Sunday night, I found myself in a church van, with three other people I had just met, plus our church’s pastor, headed out to the City to hand out blankets, jackets, jeans, socks, underwear, and lunches to the homeless. I didn’t necessarily want to be there. I hadn’t volunteered. My husband had volunteered. Then he got sick and suggested I take his place. I went because it seemed like the right thing to do, especially because they were short handed on a night when most of the country was tucked warmly inside their homes or sports bars rooting for two football teams they had some sort of interest in and watching the most expensive commercials of the year. I, however, had a lifetime of not caring about football, so I had no alibi.

All of the serious reasons I didn’t want to go could really be bundled up into one reason of not wanting to go: I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. The first sign of uncomfort was in the unexpected thoughts this stirred in me of my birth story. I don’t know much, but I was told my birth mother lived on the streets in Costa Rica. I think she already had boys, but I was her first girl. Not wanting her daughter to endure that life, its difficulties and vices, she put me up for adoption. I have managed to compartmentalize most of my feelings on this topic, until recently. I am wondering now if they have been simmering just underneath the fabric of my every day life, and this experience enabled a fissure of escape, but I just can’t be sure. I am forced to accept these emotions are here, stirring in me, giving me uncomfort and pressuring me to look into faces that remind me of a life from which I was saved, faces that could easily have been mine, faces that may be my brothers, my mother.

What I wasn’t expecting, was that our night seemed enveloped in grace. These men and women, having almost nothing, were polite, gracious, thankful. They were seeking just a bit of comfort. They asked first for blankets. We only had four that night, and they went to the first four who asked. We helped these men and women, with what we had, as best we could, locating sizes and colors to suit. The hours leading up to this night were full of personal doubt and dread. The first stop we made erased these feelings entirely and I was finally able to shift my focus towards the service we were sharing.

Why must I always approach a new situation by what it means to me? Why must I fixate on my own feelings of comfort or discomfort and inadequacy instead of pausing to consider the intent of the experience?

Service of this sort seems inevitably tangled between personal feelings and motivators and the actual helping of others.  I drove home with images of faces, eyes, hands, all wanting the same thing, seeking to fill a desire for a moment of comfort from a world that, for a wagon wheel of reasons, has led them to this space.

I thought of the men sleep-resting on a sidewalk, taking shelter provided by a building alcove. I talked with a few who were still awake and handed out personal hygiene bags. One man took it and immediately asked for a different one with soap. I thought they all had soap in them. But I looked through my bags and found one with the biggest bar of soap that I could. True joy in his eyes. Immediately I thought of this basic need. How often I wash my hands, the faces of my children, their hands. Take a shower. Wash my clothes. To be stripped of this ability, to the point where when someone hands me a basic needs kit to look first for soap, caused in me a sadness that lingers. I am unable to find a place to put this sadness, to categorize it, so that it can be a “thing I know what to do with,” instead of a “thing that confuses me,” or a “thing that makes me feel guilty,” or a “thing that I ignore.”

When I came home, I washed my hands, my face. I tucked myself into bed beneath my four blankets, the warmth of my husband making up for the slight chill of the sheets. I couldn’t sleep. I felt a glutton of warmth and comfort.

Hours later I woke to cries of my youngest child. I went immediately to his room, scooped him from his crib and just held him, wrapped him in a blanket of fish and turtles made by his Nana. I held him long after his cries went to whimpers and the whimpers back to snores. I slow smelled his hair. I wanted to pause this moment, a moment of true gratitude for this safe, warm place to let my son sleep. Gratitude for a painstakingly uncomfortable choice made by a woman who gave me life, but whom I’ll never meet. A choice that would take me 28 years to understand, and only after holding my own son and feeling both magnitude of love and weight of responsibility for his precious life. Gratitude to be in this exact space at this exact moment and the billions of choices that brought me here.

As I went back to my room, I paused at the top of our stairs, out a window that showed a glistening pavement. I always love when it rains, but this time I felt again that uncategorizable sadness. The first image being of a woman who had done a little sing-song dance of thanks for a weekend of no snow. The second, of a man who had built his bed of cardboard boxes. I thought of how, out of all the jackets we handed out that night, only a handful had any hope of providing shield from the rain that insisted on falling early that morning then persisted throughout the day.

What had started in uncomfortableness was ending in uncomfortableness. And yet, of the two, I will take the latter; the latter having provided me a new context for what matters in service. Giving me the opportunity to disconnect the (un) from comfort. To focus on my (able)ness to give comfort, and to begin to sort through the uncategorizable sadness that lingers.

leaving plants.

I love the smell of Home Depot. Every time I walk in a take a big long, deep breath. Trying, of course, not to appear insane, which is really difficult to do.  I never know where the thing I need is in that store, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Because it just smells so gooood.  I say “no thanks” to offers of help from the apron people because I like to wander their aisles, pondering the possibility of redoing my mailbox with fancy numbers or wondering if it would be wrong to use an outdoor pillow inside.  I sit on their bench swings and close my eyes for just a moment, maybe two. I wander to the aisle where they have all their products to clean stuff and I stare in amazement while thinking I have probably been cleaning my whole house ineffectively for possibly my whole life.

Once, after just having moved to Maine, I was in Home Depot looking for a new filter for my humidifier. Actually it was for the toddler’s humidifier. I thought there should be a section for it, and I found myself in the de-humidifier area. Commence conversation with Home Depot Apron Guy just trying to help:

Him: So can I help you find something?
Me: Yes, I’ve been looking for a filter for my humidifier.
Him: Oh, well you’re in the right section!
Me: That’s fantastic. So… where are they?
Him: They’re right here. (Looking at me like I’m an idiot.)
Me: That says “DE-humidifier.”
Him: Right.
Me: I want to humidify.
Him: Wait, what?
Me: I want to humidify.
Him: No one humidifies here. Are you new?
Me: Well, yes actually.
Him: Then surely you’re confused. We have the humidity here. We don’t want it.

Cue sneezing, coughing toddler.

Him: OH, you want to humidify him!
Me: (trying to hold back giggles) Yes, and, please.
Him: Yeah we don’t have those here, try Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Me: Of course.

But the trip was not in vain. It was summer. And summer meant the garden section was in full bloom. As much as I love the general smell of Home Depot, I think I just may love their garden section a bit more. I love the beginnings of their spring and summer when their perennials and hanging baskets overwhelm the aisles and greet me in the parking lot. I love looking at what plants need only 25% shade or which ones do best inside. I inspect the tiny pots of spices- the parsleys, cilantros, and rosemarys- their aromas fill my nostrils and my heart with pure joy.

I want every one of these beautiful plants. I want the flowers. I want the extra soil. I want the gardening gloves and shears. I want the big floppy hat. I want to know what to do with fertilizer and when.

I have to force myself away from this space because this longing for horticulture begins to tear at the edges of my soul.

I don’t know why I insist on visiting my little sanctuary in Home Depot, knowing that I will buy not even one tiny potted plant. I will purchase neither garden hose nor garden troll. I literally go to Home Depot just to stop and smell their silly roses.
And then I cry a little.
I cry because if I buy a plant, I will plant it. I will plant it and water it and love it. I will wait for it to bloom. I will cheer it on as though it’s my full time job. I will pray for it and hope for it.  I will take pictures of it and log it as noteworthy on all social media outlets to which I am a part. I will credit myself- gardener extraordinaire!- when the thing blooms or doesn’t just look completely sick and wretched. I might even name it. That’s not weird, right? Well let’s say I don’t name it, but I consider it mine and I wish it a lifetime full of happiness.

And then, I will have to leave it.

I’ll have to leave it to someone else, or worse, nobody else. Because it can’t come with me, and I must go.

Because this is the life we/I chose. The life of moving. The life of service.  The life of leaving plants.

I just can’t bear to leave any more plants so I just don’t buy them. I don’t have it in me to spend that kind of time. Make that kind of commitment, just knowing that the next person who lives HERE isn’t going to care about my PLANT. They won’t realize that this PLANT was all that I had, that it was the one thing keeping me going while I was waiting. Waiting on a phone call, waiting on the hope of an email, waiting on a letter, waiting for a boat to leave, waiting for a boat to return, waiting for orders, waiting for promotions. In all these years I’ve been keeping dinner waiting, keeping a baby waiting, keeping a toddler waiting, keeping family waiting for news of news, of life, of excitement, of anything that might convince them that yes, I did get married to a person that does exist and that I haven’t been living in an elaborate scheme designed only to get myself a full set of dinnerware and new towels.

After waiting on my person for so long, waiting on a plant seemed predictable and easy. And I need that. I need predictability, reliability. I need to know that something I’ve nurtured is going to be okay and not be relocated or told it’s not good enough or it isn’t working long enough or it didn’t do enough to get the job done. I want my PLANT to know it is good enough just because it is my PLANT and it is there, being beautiful, creating CO2

So I can’t go to Home Depot anymore. But because the universe has a snarky side, I can’t seem to really get away from it. Trees, shrubs, and hanging plants accost me as I make my way to the local warehouse store for my weekly collection of three half gallons of soymilk, two gallons of skim milk, and one gallon of almond milk, amongst of course, other necessary and important warehouse purchases.

I must also endure my neighbor, right across the street, endlessly pruning and planting, collecting and gathering so that her space is a specimen of yard perfection. She seems like such a sweet woman and I want to ask her for advice, but I can’t even walk across the street because my contempt for her safely guarded lilies and violets makes me only want to vomit a little in my mouth.

What once was just a thought, a mere- ‘won’t it be nice when we get out and…’ has become a gut wrenching, heart pounding, nerve wrecking, hamster wheeling, mind exploding heartbeat of ‘I can’t wait to be done with this lifestyle’ melody that repeats over and over like a certain song that never ends.

The root cause of the disintegration of my little world actually has roots.

And I want them too.
And I want them now.
And I’ll take an Oompa-Loompa and a Golden Egg while you’re at it.

expectations.

There is something special about a perfect sandwich. The right combination of meat, cheese, bread, and toppings is something truly extraordinary. I have spent an unreasonable amount of my time trying to create such a sandwich. Let’s be clear- I never try to compete with those wonders of a sandwich that can only be found in a favorited neighborhood deli, I would never dare enter that competition; I’d fail miserably. I just look to create something more exciting than what can be made by a so-called ‘sandwich artist,’ but not so reaching as to incur costs like owning a personal meat slicer.

I had a great friend in college whose dreams were very similar to mine, and we endeavored together to create the perfect sandwich, and we of course over spent our study break allowance to this purpose. But all work paid off and after a semester of macroeconomics we could explain what long-run consequences inflation might have on demand within a given marketplace while also eating a really amazing sandwich. We called it the “Meunster Sandwich.”

The official make up of this Meunster Sandwich is as follows: Hawaiian Sandwich roll (We needed the actual sandwich sized roll, not the smaller dinner rolls and not the big huge family loaf, this was/is important.), Kraft Mayo, muenster cheese (hence the muenster), and Boars Head Sausalito Turkey. That’s it. Don’t try to put a pickle on it or use mustard. Just the specific bread, meat, cheese and mayo.
Well almost.
The other part of this perfect sandwich was that I would make my friend’s sandwich and she would make mine. Because part of a perfect sandwich is to never make your own. Sandwiches always taste better if someone else has made it. This is scientific fact.

It was the perfect sandwich in every way.

And because every perfect sandwich needs a perfect drink and side, we would always get a gallon of Publix Sweet Tea and a big bag of barbeque potato chips to share without judgment.

Now it’s the perfect meal.

Occasionally when we decided to make this perfect sandwich/meal combination we would go to Publix and they would be out of sweet tea. The trip would then involve filling out a customer complaint, at the very least, and/or an inquiry to customer service to see if this was in fact absolutely true/telling them this can’t be true.

Several times we went and they did not have our Hawaiian Sandwich sized rolls. This really put our whole project to a halt. Despite what you’re thinking, we really couldn’t do this sandwich with the smaller dinner rolls. There would have to have been a formula to figure out, how many dinner rolls equaled a sandwich roll, no one wanted to cut cheese into smaller squares, not to mention feeling weird for eating two, three or four tiny sandwiches compared to just one sandwich, even if we decided it was okay to call it a ‘monster/muenster sandwich.’

And there was one unfortunate day when there was no Sausalito Turkey left. We tried a substitute and the whole sandwich was such a sad replacement disappointment that we started calling the deli in advance to make sure they had the appropriate turkey in stock.

We had created an expectation. An expectation that Publix would understand our need for this Muenster/Monster sandwich and be able to provide its necessary ingredients at any time of the day, and day of the week, regardless of the (college) marketplace demands for Hawaiian sandwich rolls or the restocking schedule of the Sausalito turkey people.

As all good things do end, I eventually graduated and found myself far from my friend, far from our Publix, and eventually outside the boundaries of the perfect sandwich ingredient zone. I’ve lived and looked for them on all sides of the country. Some sides do not have the Sausalito turkey, others don’t have the Hawaiian roll. Almost always I can get muenster cheese, but if I don’t have the rest of the ingredients, using muenster cheese is just a sad reminder of the sandwich I’m not eating.

The disappointment of the unrealized expectation is what cuts. Creates a void where a sandwich should be, even if the expectation of this continued sandwich is unrealistic and wholly self-engineered and propelled.

But I want the sandwich, I’ve come to expect the sandwich, I feel entitled to the sandwich.

I mourn the loss of an ingredient, which is keeping the sandwich from realizing itself as a sandwich.

I hope the sandwich could magically, spontaneously still be THE sandwich, even without a key ingredient.

I mourn again, when I realize it just cannot be, will never be my sandwich.

I want to go back to where the sandwich started, despite travel and cost, because certainly in that town, in that Publix, it is still possible.

I expect the sandwich is being eaten by someone else; someone who doesn’t deserve it, someone who didn’t spend hours of their life creating, perfecting, and misusing ingredients until they uncovered this special universe sandwich secret.

I decide I actually really hated the sandwich, that it was never good for me anyways, and that it would really have only done me harm in the end.

I am certain the Sausalito Turkey people are intentionally creating a shortage of Sausalito Turkey, as part of a widespread conspiracy to keep me away from my sandwich and by extension, all happiness.

Sandwich sadness overwhelms.

Eventually, I stop trying to create the sandwich. I stop casing the grocery store for the “special sandwich turkey.” I stop noticing if the grocery store is stocking the Hawaiian dinner rolls and family rolls, but not the sandwich rolls. I stop leaving customer complaints for this obvious misallocation of product choice and space.

I eat a salad.

And then one day, almost by accident, I buy 7-grain bread, baked fresh and pre-sliced from the bakery. I realize I have half a jar of pesto at home that I should “use up.” I happen to have some Boars Head chicken lunchmeat, Swiss cheese left over from a new recipe I tried, and a fresh tomato. As if by instinct I put it all together and in the toaster oven.

As soon as I take my first bite, I realize I have stumbled upon another sandwich sensation. I realize in many ways this sandwich fulfilled in me something I didn’t know I needed or wanted. It allowed me to broaden my sandwich horizons and use the ingredients I already had. It was a new sandwich, but it fit me better. It got me excited and ready to see what else I could create, instead of relying on the same sandwich day in and day out. It was a gateway sandwich. It was if the universe was telling me, there will always be a sandwich out there for me. If it’s not a muenster it’s a pesto, if it’s not a pesto, it’s going to be something, and it’s going to extraordinary. That’s to be expected.

doubt, benefit of the

When I was in college I was a part of this amazing group of students (aren’t college students always amazing?) Well no, we were authentically amazing and we had gathered for the summer to serve our university by ushering/greeting/welcoming/helping/teaching/confusing and congratulating the upcoming class of freshmen, and their parents.

I had signed up for this.
I had interviewed for this.
I was excited for this!
I had no idea this would involve waking up so early.

But I did, we did. There were probably twenty-ish of us. And we had spent the preceding semester preparing for this summer of service. We took our Myers-Briggs tests, we did our trust falls, we did the travel on a bus to an out of town conference for workshops and skits, we literally sat in a circle and sang kum ba yah (or a Dave Matthews song, it was probably a Dave Matthews song as I’m certain someone had a guitar), we memorized the university handbook and course codes and pre-recs, and what to tell parents when their kid chooses a liberal arts major, and for the only one in our group that managed to be in this group without already knowing the school fight song, we practiced the school fight song and the ten other chants/songs/dances that you would need to know to make it through a school football game without getting kicked out.

Then it got real.

6 am every day for six days a week for 12 weeks is hard for a seasoned adult let alone a college kid. But we were committed. Well, I think we made it to day three and then someone was late. For this, he received angry eyes from our bosses, but nothing more. The next day, three more of us were late. And all the sudden we had ourselves a problem.

It was quickly explained that each time someone was late, the entire group, all twenty-ish of us would have to come in five minutes earlier the next day. But five minutes for every minute that person or people were late.

Wait, that’s not right. (right?)

The group of three was three minutes late, so we had all just lost fifteen additional minutes of sleep for the next day.

We didn’t say this sort of thing back then, but if we did it would be: efffffffff.

So we did what all college kids are good for– we gave it the ol’ college try and somehow each of us managed to get there the next morning just.in.time.

The morning after that I was early. The, I could sit down and eat a leisurely breakfast and still be early kind of early. Probably because we were meeting in my favorite part of campus and I knew we would be near the restaurant with the tator tots, ahem, I mean hashbrowns.

But instead of a warm breakfast of hashbrowns and diet coke I went to run an errand for my boss. She had forgotten something extremely important in her office and asked if I wouldn’t mind running to the opposite end of campus pleaseandthankyou to retrieve it. In the summer. In Florida. In this humidity. (yes, even at 530ish in the morning.)

(internal sigh) “Ohsure, notaproblem” I said, and off I went.

By the time I had returned I was about 15 minutes past the scheduled meet time.
OH if lookscouldkill.
No one noticed me hand our boss her papers (I would later wonder if she really even needed those papers). Everyone was focusing on doing the math of 15 x 5: Carry the two and oh yeah, that’s 75 additional minutes!!! Oh noo.

Even though I knew I was actually early, even I got anxious because our boss was not addressing this very dire situation, she just continued on with the morning meeting.

Wait for it. Wait for it.
Finally.

Her speech went something like this:

So you may have noticed that one of your team members was late this morning. (One of your team members? Seriously, they all focused their dagger eyes on me when I came in, just say my name.) Well, what you didn’t realize is that your team member was actually here early, early enough to run an errand for me. You see (in what I would now call her Don Draper voice), I sent your team member on an errand, but you didn’t realize this. Instead, when she came back, all you did was judge her. You judged her and started blaming her for something when what you really should have been doing was waiting, waiting to hear why she was so incredibly late to our meeting. What you should have been doing was giving her the benefit of the doubt.

And there it was: benefit of the doubt.
Such beautiful, freeing words.

I felt proud, honest. I did in fact feel like a team player. It felt amazing to have more benefit than doubt.

Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt.

These words would continue their echo into my life, for the rest of my life.

I think it is easy to use this idea both poorly and appropriately. I remember dating a guy once and he suddenly stopped returning calls and not being home. I also seem to remember a hushed phone call the last time we hung out. I offered this relationship so much benefit and so little doubt because I wanted him to be interested; I wanted to be wanted, I wanted no doubt.

Then once in my first teaching position I had a student not turn in an essay assignment. I was prepared to be strong in my refusal of late work. I had plenty of cause with this particular student to have a whole bowl full of doubt, and I had the spoon to dish it out. But at the last moment I had the idea to just talk to him after class. When we spoke I learned his family had been kicked out of their apartment three days before and his father was back in jail, again. No apartment, no computer, certainly no ability to concentrate on the literary devices of our Zora Neale Hurston novel. I think ZNH would offer plenty benefit of the doubt in this situation, and I exhaled a silent prayer that I had been given enough grace in the moment to offer what little benefit I was carrying around.

Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt.

I hear it whispered in so many occasions. I find it (sometimes) easier to offer to my friends, and then I hoard benefit of the doubt from my family, especially my husband.

A friend forgets a lunch date, fine no problem: Benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt, benefit of the doubt. My husband in his after-work-mandated-shopping-trip forgets my bananas and brings only milk: he must not love me and wants me to fail.

Whaaat?

Yes, this is for serious.

I struggle with the effort it takes to offer this benefit, when I have needed this benefit on too many occasions. The idea that someone may not have been intentionally trying to push me down, keep me out, stifle my creativity, smash my hopes and dreams, let me down, or forget my bananas takes a physical strength that I often am unable to summon.

Certainly there are people not willing or interested in being my champion. Sure. But the rest, the other 98.9% of those in my life, are generally in my corner. Can I be the champion to others that I so earnestly seek?

I struggle to give more benefit with my doubt. I get stuck on the math, sorting out how much time it’s gonna cost me, how many minutes of sleep I will lose, how many bananas I won’t get to eat, and so forth. I am fighting to keep my doubt and offer instead some: benefit of the

—————————————————————————–

I submit this post in honor and memory of the boss I mentioned. She was an amazing light that left us too soon, and I credit her with instilling in me the wisdom behind offering those around us some benefit with our doubt, and some pause with our judgment. I fight for the strength to live this lesson more completely.

May your legacy continue, Rest in Peace.

bottles. (part one)

I wish I wasn’t forced to walk away. I wish my legs would somehow moor me to the spot where he said good-bye, so that I could stay in this one place without trying to go back and live my life – a life that endures his absence while his presence is all around.

Since the world was too cruel to allow me this sort of favor I headed back to my car, turned up my Cranberries CD, and made my way down 9A. I pulled in to the all too familiar parking lot of Total Wine. I left twenty minutes later with eleven bottles of wine. In my own defense, there was a buy one get one free event and an impulse purchase as I headed up to the counter. But if I were living in reality, I would know that a trip of this kind happened all too frequently and that eleven was on the lower end of my average.

I settled back in the car and took care to drive slowly home. Not because I was worried about damaging my eleven precious bottles (I made sure they wrapped them well in the store), but because I dreaded pulling into my driveway, seeing his truck, knowing it probably still smelled of his morning cologne and held his coffee cup, where the marks from his lips were still visible. I dreaded even more opening the door and having to get on with the business of getting on for the next six months without him.

When I opened the door to our house the aroma of flowers– an enormous bouquet full of yellows, pinks, and fuchsias, surprised me. My heart sung as I wondered how he was able to sneak these in, but the handwriting on the card stopped me. They weren’t from him. They were from her.

She was always so thoughtful. The best thing I had ever done was to give her a key to my house. I loved coming home and finding that she picked up the mail and set my favorite magazine on top. Or to see my dog playing with a new chew tow, beside a bowl of clean, fresh water. Sometimes she even put her leftovers in my fridge, an odd yet welcome in gift my world. She even once had my new ceiling fan installed so I didn’t have to waste an evening on it and could instead watch something really important on T.V. like, Desperate Housewives.

The flowers were a nice touch, and only slightly stinging that they weren’t from him. That he would have the foresight for a romantic notion such as flowers on this day was a hope that I would eventually release six years down the road. But flowers are flowers, no matter whose intent and these were beautiful. I picked up the phone to call her and say thank you, but all that came out was an unintelligible mess. She said, “I’ll be over in ten minutes.” And I knew she would be over in five.

With such an amazing friend, it seems like I wouldn’t need so many bottles of wine. But you’d be wrong. Friends, family, everyone, no matter how awesome they are, they eventually go home. In the space between the door closing behind them and the morning sun, that is when I need my wine. Or it needs me. Because at this point, now that it’s in my house, I decide that it needs me to drink it, to fulfill its purpose as wine.

Again, living outside of reality.

One day when I was standing in Total Wine trying to find the cheapest bottle of red so I could buy the one that was a dollar more, a guy told me not to take it all so seriously. (I of course wondered if he meant Life or the buying of the wine.) I had actually been standing in the ‘Pinot Noir’ section. At the time I hadn’t realized this was any different from a Cabernet or Merlot section, I just thought it was all red wine. So this angel of a man told me, “You can’t go wrong with a Pinot. $5 Pinot tastes just a good as $30 Pinot, so find a label you like and enjoy.” I noticed he grabbed a $3 bottle and walked away. What did I tell you about weakness finding weakness? It just happens. So I followed suit with the $3 Pinot and made my way to the ‘Chardonnay’ section, and I say ‘Chardonnay’ because I distinguished between white wines the same way I distinguished between reds. I grabbed a couple $5 bottles thinking I’ll see if this ‘all wine is essentially the same’ theory works out here too.

I’m fairly certain this was my addiction in its infancy.

I’m also fairly certain that I didn’t notice there was any sort of issue, daresay, problem until recycle day and the clank of bottle upon bottle sent up a flare of repulsion down my street and my throat. I was grateful for, at the time, a short driveway and an early start to my day and not having to pretend to ignore the sound of my sins around another human being. Praying also that no one walked a dog or child past my house until the recycle guy came to wipe my slate clean.

Days passed. Weeks passed. Nothing changed. He was still gone. My friend still came by leaving leftover chicken parm in my fridge and her copy of PEOPLE on my counter.
I still bought my bottles.
Why couldn’t I be the person he loved while he was under the sea, serving his country, providing for our family, that I was when he was in port and in my arms?

I had tethered my identity so closely to his that when he was absent, so was I.

I did what any reasonable person might: went out with friends, got a hobby, threw myself into my work, scrubbed my house from top to bottom, cried for hours into the neck of the world’s most steadfast and trusty chocolate lab that ever existed, I went to church.

I prayed. I know I prayed for all the wrong things. Praying for another two-for-one sale at your favorite liquor store probably didn’t count towards actually wanting to change one’s life and probably increased my chances for being struck by lightning, but I’m hoping I got points in the ‘hey, it’s a start’ category.

It was a bad start. I kept buying and I kept drinking.

In my emails to him, everything was fine. Letters to him were, ‘miss you baby,’ and ‘holding down the fort.’ I had no idea what he was doing out there and he had no idea what I was doing back here.

When it comes to drinking, there are many categories: social drinking, weekend drinking, party drinking, binge drinking, those who only drink beer, or only drink wine, or only drink schnapps, or only drink when they smoke (I’m certain this is the other way around), or during the ball game, or with out-of-town guests, or if it’s been a bad day, or if it’s been a good day or if it’s a Friday, or never alone or always alone and always to excess.

I fit into all and none of these categories at the same time. The difference being, that when he was home, those glorious weeks or days he was at home, I didn’t need to drink.

So because I can reason down any situation where I might be culpable into zero degrees of separation of him being culpable, I reasoned out this situation to being, yeah you guessed it:
his fault.