Posted in Back to the Castle, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie

Undertow

Last week I woke at dawn, in the home of my husband’s family, and took out my laptop to squeeze out a bit of deadline while everyone slept, but moments later closed my computer, and walked out the front door, and kept on walking, across the island, until my feet were in the sand, and the spray of  sea met my face, and the sun burst above the clouds in regal light.

I trailed the surf then until I came to “my” beach–between the Pan Am & the Crusader–and noticed how the empty lifeguard stands bore the name of roads–all flowers–instead of men or soldiers or continents; something I once dismissed and now appreciate.

I turned away from the surf then and trudged through the deep, soft sand, and into the dunes past the place where the prickers always found our feet or our ankles or our shins no matter how carefully we stepped, and past the beach hotels, across Atlantic, and down along the Little League field where Mrs. DelConte sold the Reese Cups; and across Seaview, alongside what remained of the beach houses not yet turned into condos, until I came to a rose bush, on the corner of Pacific, just across from “my” house, but I didn’t pretend that I lived there, not this time, I just kept on walking, past the Way’s house, the sister house to ours (and a better-looking one at that, having aged with love and continuity instead of loss and abandonment), and nodded across the street to the church where I went to Sunday School and married my husband and buried my mother, and nodded too to the big house beside it, the mother house of the 3, Aunt Sue’s, which was now a summer rental for the wealthy, and turned past the Johnson’s and the DelConte’s and what had once been the Parsonage, until I came to the other end of the block which was once my entire world, traversed barefoot, at the age of 4, big toe bloodied by sidewalks shifting on sand, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Nothing left but memory.

Anderson’s Corner Shop, my penny-candy Mecca, now a Realty Office; the bakery with the jelly donuts, a parking lot; and the Polish Shoe guy’s repair shop where he still charged a dollar to fix the pumps I wore as a young teacher, a Driving School. Sticky Fingers, across Cardinal, a Surf Shop, and Snuffy’s Hoagies, across Aster, where my grandfather opened me a summer account at the age of 7, now the Jellyfish Cafe. (Who wants to eat with jellyfish?)

I kept on walking across New Jersey Avenue past where I enrolled in the second grade, for two weeks, before we moved out to Colorado, and even though I told myself that I had no need to see the house that had once been my mother’s, especially with the sun rising higher in the sky, and the day growing warm, my feet took me toward the bay anyway, and I stood still for just a moment and felt into her presence, there on the porch in her wicker chair, with her tomato plants beside the stairs.

“Hi Kel,”

I sank into her steady, constant, contemplative presence, with those chesnut eyes like my first born’s and dark hair that she had dyed lighter and lighter and lighter until it was lighter than mine had ever been (which she had always admired/envied), and then it was the morning of my wedding, just after Jackie finished my hair and put on my veil, and I stopped by while I was still on the island, wanting to be sure that she was okay, and found her sitting on the front stoop, almost sober, still in her nighshirt, hair matted with neglect, and careful of my veil, married twice but never in a gown herself, somberly kissed me on the cheek, and as I got into my car, she stood to wave, leaving, beneath her, a puddle of blood, not knowing she was bleeding…

So I turned away, and headed north, walking until I left the shore once more and returned to the Green Mountains, a safe distance away, from the undertow of a lifetime of accumulated memory.

(2017)

Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers, Pure Love

The Heat of Love

“At the last moment before we die, all becomes clear that only love matters. So why don’t we all just get clear NOW?” Marianne Williamson
Van Gogh (visipix.com)

Hot temperatures like these–especially when night falls–bring me back to the bed I shared with my sister. The summers we shared as girls were enjoyed, or endured, without the aid of air condition–so we had to be creative in keeping cool–particularly on airless evenings.

One of our favorite tactics was pouring a glass of cold water onto our pillows.  I remember the relief I felt when I placed my head on that cool pillow case–and I remember how quickly it got steamy again–at which point, I’d turn it over to soak the opposite side.

Toulouse-Lautrec (visipix.com)

Steamy nights are rare in rural Vermont where I live now, and when they do come, we are ill-equipped to handle them. Most of our energy is invested in keeping warm–even on summer nights–when the New England temperatures can be downright cold.

If we do get a short spell of warm weather, a small fan usually does the trick.  But not this week–with temperatures rising past 100 all over the Northeast.

I feel a similar temperature rising within my family of origin as we move closer toward my sister’s August wedding.  I’m afraid that as the last of us comes of age, the family dynamic is heating.

Ten years ago, we buried our mother when the youngest was only 14.  Things were sticky then too, but roles and authority were clearly defined by familial order, and we were aligned by the singular focus of devotion and grief.

Now that everyone is an adult, the balance of power and responsibility needs to shift–or maybe needs to be relinquished altogether.  But I also fear this separation–because our familial unity has defined us–and me–for so long.

Twenty-five years ago, our parents made a mess of a divorce and we siblings became a family unto ourselves. To my surprise, others recognized and commented on this unique bond which we had taken for granted out of necessity.

Now the 8 of us are spread out between 4 states, spanning the country, and we’ve lost touch with the day to day intimacy of childhood.  On the hot summer night that our mother died, we all slept under one roof again–and even shared the floor–with wall to wall air mattresses around her dying bed.

Now that she’s gone, I’m not sure who to talk to about the heat rising among us.  I wish it was as simple as placing a pillow beneath each head–with a cold glass of water on the night table should things get steamy.

It would be simpler still to just let us fall apart from one another in the heat of this lifetime together.  Many siblings do.  Most maybe.  We could easily let a cooling distance form between us.  It might feel good.

But if we don’t want that to happen, we’ll each need to get creative–finding ways to cool our heads–while keeping our hearts warm.

Kelly Salasin