Friday, September 30, 2011

The Jellyfish

Some days I just want to sit in a pool of self pity about my life and whine about how hard it is, but then I remember that it could be so much worse.  I have it so good.  My kids are big and healthy.  They are smart and tough.  Some people have disabled kids, or they can't even have kids at all.  I have a great job, and I get paid well for what I do.  Some people don't even have jobs.

But then sometimes I just wish I could change Dad's condition.  Sometimes I just wish that I could stop it, or I could prevent it from ever happening.  Or maybe I just wish that I could reverse the clock back a few years and take back some words said and some time unspent doing the things we should have done together.

Sometimes we are dealt a hand that we don't know how we can possibly handle.  But somehow we make it through.  We are a brilliant and strong people.  We bash on ourselves as Americans all the time, as if we don't face enough adversity.  But sometimes I think "life" itself, is adversity enough.  I don't have to live in a mud hut and truck baskets of water on my head all day long from the creek to know how to appreciate life.

It's painful to watch someone so gifted with their hands and mind not be able to use them so easily anymore.  Watching someone struggle to speak the words they know are there, somewhere...  watching them struggle to sign their name.  It's just an ache so deep it's hard to put into words.  Some days are good, some are bad.  Some days there are broken projects strewn about the garage in frustration, and some days it's all in order, just like it used to be, with every tool in its place.  Sometimes we sit and tell stories about the old days, ones we've told a hundred times, but we still laugh.  There is one in particular that always comes up.  Sometimes I think I see it in my dreams.  A beautiful moment and I will never forget it.

We had taken a three week boat trip up to Dick and Lorena's that year.  They were old friends of my grandparents and they had purchased property years earlier and built a house overlooking Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island, British Columbia.  I was about ten or eleven that summer. 

They had a dock they had nick-named the "Mickey Mouse."  It was all homemade floats that were a little too narrow, and they had been lashed together.  If you got the wrong rhythm going in your steps you could start it rocking so bad that it would tip you off into the water if you weren't careful.  Their beach was rocky and covered with starfish and barnacles that would start to stink if the tide was too low, as it often was in the summertime.

My uncle and cousins were there that year.  We had come up in our boat from Washington with Papa and Grammie, and they had driven up in their car.  It took them about three ferry rides to get there, because you had to island hop to Cortes.  It was beautiful and remote with miles of rocky beaches lined with madrona trees and beach grasses.  Now and then we would see a rare weasel or river otter sunning itself on the shore.  We thought nothing of the bald eagles soaring overhead, or the many nights of steamed clams and crab for dinner.

One day, we stood out on the Mickey Mouse and looked into the water and saw a huge swarm of jellyfish drifting in on the afternoon tide.  There were thousands.  They were all moon jellies, which don't sting, so my Dad suggested that we go for a swim.  Several of us jumped in the water, tickled by the thousands of milky white jellies.  We swam and swam, pushing them around, watching them beat in rhythm under the hot sun.  Suddenly, my Dad shouted, "Jellyfish fight!"  We all burst into screams and the beautiful jellies flew everywhere.  All I could hear was laughter and the "Slop! Slop! Slop!" sound of the jellies hitting the water.  We were all nearly drowning from laughter when I raised my arm to sling a huge jelly in my Dad's direction.  I had perfect aim.  The gelatinous projectile hit its target directly in the open mouth.  I heard a loud gurgle and a Yeach!  I felt myself going under and I gasped a quick breath.  My sides ached.  With a strong kick, I rose back up.  I was in convulsive laughter.  I flailed my way back to the Mickey Mouse.  My Dad was already there in hysterics.  He kept rinsing his mouth with the salty sea water to try to make the slime wash out.  I nearly drown before I was able to grab the dock and laugh some more. 

After that we called a truce.  We all pulled ourselves back onto the dock in the warm afternoon sunshine.  We dried off and got ready to go out and collect our crab pots for that night's dinner.  I still chuckle to myself sometimes when I think of the sound my Dad made as the huge jelly hit his tongue.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A death of the mind

The slowest and most painful death is the death of the mind. It was happening to Dad, but I couldn't help but feel like it was happening to me, to all of us.

As I stood there quietly watching him, I saw his hands widen and waiver for a moment unsure, as if they had an agenda of their own and he was wrestling with them. They often took over and destroyed whatever it was he wanted to do. The very extension of his own body betraying him. In a second he gained control again and got his hands around Ava's little body to lift her up into his lap. He fumbled with her blanket and shirt for a minute trying to get his hands free of them. She turned around and looked up at him with her big brown eyes and said, "Movie Papa." He nodded and said, "Yes, how 'bout some Spongebob?" I let out my breath and relaxed my shoulders. It hadn't been easy for him the last few months since we'd moved out. He was lonely without the kids around making noise and slamming doors and leaving shoes in the doorway. We filled up the space in the house so there wasn't any quiet moments for thinking about things too much. There was always a bustle and a purpose when we were there. We needed him.

Dad seemed to light up whenever Ava was around. He would scoop her up and walk her around the yard in the sunshine. She would point to things and babble and he would happily obey her every command. Sometimes she would toddle around the yard and kick the ball or jump on him as he sat in the shade in his lawn chair. These were good times. Days at the lake in the hot sun, hours in the backyard throwing the ball for the dog, it was a time of forgetting the inevitable.  I just prayed to God that she would remember him this way.  Remember him like this, the way he should be remembered.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


There's this beautiful poem about being lonely:


by Adrienne Rich

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

For some reason it is speaking to me tonight and I feel like that little rowboat.  I am that woman driving across the country without stopping, mile after mile.  I am in a house wrapped in sleep at first light.

I'm not necessarily sad, just sort of lonely.  I've reached a point in my life where it's not easy to make friends anymore, and the ones I have, I've grown far away from.  It's hard to find something in common with married women, when I'm single.  It's hard to find something in common with stay-at-home moms, I work full time.  It's hard to find something in common with a lot of people around me right now for some reason and I think it's wearing on me.

Now I'm sounding quite morose.  Another blog to the universe, the cyber-space void where it's so vast that it makes it easy for your words to never be heard.  But maybe I like it that way.  No one to see my loneliness.  I can hide behind this cheery profile picture, looking sassy, and wishing I felt that way all the time.