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 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.

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.

——