Parties

When I turned fifty, I had a birthday bash. I asked folks to sing their favorite song, write a new one, or read me a much loved poem. Those were the gifts I wanted. I asked them to pretend I had died, and to get up and speak about my life, the way they would talk at my funeral. I wanted to hear what folks were going to say. Otherwise, how would I know? I draped photos from different chapters of my life around my sister Susan’s palatial house, giving folks something to laugh about and a way to focus conversation. There was a fire in the fireplace, friends played fiddle, mandolin and guitar. We ate well. A small bubbly Jewish friend named Sharon was one of the last to leave. I remember her making her way out the front door, her arms heavy with dishes. “I bet you never thought you’d look this good at 50, did you?” I was stunned. Was I supposed to look bad? 

When I lived in The Columbia River Gorge with my friend Tom, we had summer parties on acres of land. Folks hung clothes they no longer wanted on the line to be exchanged for the offerings of others. I hired a caller. We contra danced in long lines, laughing as we swirled and kicked our skirts up. We ate well and smiled openly. We sat on hay bales around an evening fire and munched handfuls of raspberries from the fifty acres that grew in the back field. 

B’lou, (short for Betty Lou, a name she hated) and I used to give all kinds of crazy parties. Our last one was, The God Party. We all came in character, dressed as our overseeing angel and talked about ourselves like we weren’t there. I was Mother Superior and had a delightful evening reprimanding those less perfect with a ruler. B’lou had a costume closet where a pantry used to be, and had turned the dining room into a dance floor with large mirrors and millions of theatrical hats. You were never expected to be yourself when you entered. Do you know how refreshing that can be?

When I turned 55, I asked friends to parade down Salmon Street in their pajamas. Ten women showed up, plus my daughter, granddaughter and a few neighbors. We put ivy in our hair and walked a short mile playing instruments, but it lacked something – a brass section, I think.  

I’ll be 65 on the last day of November; an age I can’t believe belongs to me. I guess there will be no party, because I have no ideas or motivation. I’ve planned a trip to California to visit my granddaughter, Britan, who will be sweet 16, and my son, Clay, who is pushing 40. We share the same birthday season. Then I’ll return, and have a quiet week-end at the coast with my buddy, Susan.

I’ve become solitary and hermit-like in my old age, living in the forest and doing little but working as a healer, teaching, writing and more and more healing work. I’ve also begun doing really dumb things, like searching for the phone while I’m talking on it. And putting on my sunglasses at night, instead of driving glasses, then freaking out believing there is something horribly wrong with my lights. I don’t feel as brave, as tough or as social as I used to. I miss that. But the worst part, is that people I don’t know keep sending me letters about cremation, hearing aids and hospital services. My mother was hang gliding and riding camels until she was 90. Why don’t they send letters encouraging us to do that?

The Lesson

bee

Jill is a big hearted woman, too much so. She has a knack for finding a lost cause and devoting herself to it until she gets used up and spit out. The universe gave her a brilliant lesson in this pattern as we went floating down the river last week.

There was a bee in the current, who was more dead than alive. Jill spotted him immediately, and began devising ways to enact a rescue. She decided a leaf could make a good life raft, so I paddled over, snatched a dogwood leaf from a gentle eddy and gave it to her. Jill placed him on top, but he had other ideas. He might have been a suicidal little guy cause he kept working to get back in the water. I was eager to continue our float but Jill had abandoned the idea and was now completely obsessed with saving the life of the bee.

Here is the way Jill saw it:

“He clung tenaciously to the stem of his life raft, waterlogged and exhausted. I was slightly unnerved, paddling to shore against the current, belly flop style with one hand, while holding a leaf with a very possibly irate bee in the other. I made it to shore and because it was an extremely hot day, searched the bank for the perfect spot to deposit him. I gently placed him in the shade of a cool river rock, so as not to scorch his little bee feet. Yes, I actually went that far. I know.

Karen felt the need to point out, in an amused sort of way, that my behavior with the bee was strangely reminiscent of my behavior with men. I find them drowning, struggling and then I, as rescuer, spring into action. Not only do I make the save, but I make the save my life’s work. We giggled at the analogy, but I had to agree. How many men have I gone out on a limb for at my own peril?  

The bee was now safely deposited in the shade of the river bank, so I continued the float. I was relieved as I basked in the hot sun, the cold water and the knowledge that I had done a wonderful deed. But not for long. Barely 15 minutes had passed before another bee spotted me, singled me out in that vast landscape, and out of the hundreds of people who lined the shore, landed and plunged his stinger deep inside my arm!  

Karen roared with laughter at the irony of it, because the story always ends the same! But I learned a valuable lesson, so the next pathetic creature that floats my way, be it animal, mineral, vegetable, or cute guy, I will look into the depths of my heart, and find that cold spot that I know must be in there somewhere, suck it up, turn a blind eye, and for once in my life, paddle by and save myself. Sometimes, the life worth saving just might be my own.’

Jill is currently looking for work in the court system where her desire to serve can be directed towards a more positive outcome. Let’s wish her well.

Friends – old and new

hand

I had a long talk with my friend, Joy, today. We’ve been friends for 38 years. She is in Ohio and I am in Oregon but as soon as I hear her voice on the phone, distance dissolves and we are young again, remembering what it was like when we lived together and stayed up all night talking, laughing and trying to find direction for our lives. We were single mothers, poor, divorced and determined. I found work singing with a classical guitarist, while Joy modeled and kept us in groceries by distributing Leggs pantyhose, which were displayed in little silver egg-shaped cartons in her delivery van.

I’ve heard you can count the truly close friends you have on one hand. That has been true for me. I wondered today, after we hung up, exactly what made the quality of our friendship so rich and lasting. We have a shared history, yes, but also an openness of heart and an ease in conversation. There is a quality of feeling safe and understood, but the big one for me is having a give and take in discussions that does not involve me being the sole listener. There is a natural easy flow between us and an ability to pepper any discussion with heartfelt laughter.

Our conversation filled my thoughts as I began my walk up the driveway, which I do every evening, (well, that’s a lie! The intention is every evening, but the reality is more like two evenings a week) because my exercise ratio is off. I sit 90 percent of the time and exercise ten percent. Not good, so I walk, and to amuse myself, I sing. Tonight I sang a song one of my clients wrote:

Please carry me over to the opposite side of where I’m standing

cause I’m looking at something that’s brighter than halogen.

A small deer walked out of the forest as I sang. I was not sure what to do, because I didn’t want to scare her, so we stood frozen for a few minutes watching each other. Then I began to sing again and to my surprise she did not run away, she walked towards me. That’s what we did for awhile, I sang and she got closer. Then I continued up the drive, which is really long and steep and a pain in the butt to climb.

On my way back she came out of the woods again, I sang again and she walked toward me, stopped a short yard away and ate some grass. Her wild spirit told me that she was as close as she could risk. I acknowledged her and sat down. Deer are such an expression of gentle innocence. I will never understand how anyone can pick up a rifle and end their lives. I sat on the ground with my back to her, hoping she would come closer, but when I turned she had gone. Instead the black cat appeared rubbing her dirt-covered coat against my sleeve, encouraging me to walk home. I was grateful for the company. 

Inside I fixed tea, changed into my nightdress and finished making Joy’s birthday card. Joy works as an actress and teaches film making.  She will be 67 on Monday.

God Karen, she’d told me, I just received a new script. They want me to play a 50 year old woman!  Do you think I look that old?

 

Waiting for Mr. Right

autumn-roadWe ate lazily, a sun warmed strawberry bursting with flavor for me, a sip of ginger tea for Kim.

Here he is again, she said, placing the chariot card in the center of my tarot reading.

He is still coming, getting closer.

Kim doesn’t read cards for anyone but me, believing she can’t really do it, but Kim can’t read tarot cards the way Michelangelo can’t paint the Sistine Chapel. Her readings have always been spot-on.

I listened getting a little angry. This guy’s been showing up for the past two years. Whoever he is, he’s taking his good sweet time. I wiped strawberry juice from the corner of my mouth, staining my napkin red. Don’t you think it’s odd he’s been showing up in the cards and not showing up in my life…at all?

She didn’t look up, busy placing a second card against golden patterns of grain on the coffee table. Patience is not your strong point Karen, he’s on his way or the cards wouldn’t be so consistent. You know that, you were my teacher!

The two of pentacles was the next card down, followed by the king, then the lovers. 

Seconds ticked, quiet moments as the cards lit in her eyes, revealed themselves and invited us forward. A gaping stretch of unhurried time.

He holds your dreams, she continued. He’s a traveler, well-educated, confident but weary. Looks like there is an entanglement he needs to free himself from first, perhaps another marriage but the two of pentacles, the change card, means he is close now, very close.

There it was, the image of the snake wearing a golden crown, making a figure eight by holding his tail against a purple and blue background. The word change printed boldly at the bottom.

Do you think he’s only a business man and not a partner? I asked, afraid of the answer.

She didn’t hesitate. No, not just a businessman. He is your husband, this will be good for you. Life changing. 

She drained the last drops of tea from her Staffordshire cup, the one I save just for her, wiped crumbs of chocolate from her lap, rose and carried her dishes to the sink.

My shift at the hosptial starts at 5 tonight, she said gathering her ample purse and notepad. I still have to get Dylan from school, so I’d better be off. 

She flung her arms around my waist, gathering me into her feminine presence, the same loving warmth offered to the babies on the lactation unit more than sixty hours a week.

My readings for Kim have been about working fewer hours, resting and the need to integrate her gifts as a singer and harpist into the fabric of her life. You must do more than work, I lecture through the medium of the cards.

Her readings for me have been about patience and good things coming in career and romance. Success is coming, believe it!

Kim and I have both made strides. I’ve had my man tucked into my life for five years now. He makes me crazy, but we’re well-suited. What does that say about me? I’ve given up my ideas of how marriage should be and have learned to embrace how it is.

 Kim is weaving a tapestry with voice and harp these days, as she becomes a medical music-thanatologist. That means she sings and plays for dying patients and their loved ones. Kim is a saint among us. She consistently turns toward the face of suffering and not away, as she opens her big compassionate heart to all of us lucky enough to know her.

Oh, you animal!

bookMy massage therapist, Jean, recommended a book by Crowley and Lodge called, Younger Next Year.  She said it inspired her to eat well, and set her on a course of regular exercise.

Being inspired to exercise sounded good to me, since I find it difficult to do anything but work, write, cook, see clients and watch some BBC. Jean did not mention, nor did the title, that the book came in two versions, one for men and one for women.

I searched my library and was glad to see the bright yellow book jacket resting happily on the top shelf, waiting for me to tuck it under my arm and take it home, which I did.

The book started out innocently enough, two men talking about the importance of staying fit, one man a physician, the other a 70 year old attorney, who traversed from aliments and retirement, to trim and energetic.

I did wonder if I wanted to read a book written by two men, since I’m not inclined to take advice from men. I find them a little alien and male for my literary tastes, but I forged ahead.

As I turned the pages, I began to wonder how Jean could have felt so excited about the information, and questioned our compatibility as readers. In one chapter, I was jolted out of all propriety when I read, “Get off the couch and exercise, you lazy son of a bitch.”

In another chapter, I learned that nose hair could become a real problem as I got older, and that I’d better plan to find a way of clipping it before my nostrils looked like a home for wolverines.

That was followed by a piece that said I should never neglect shaving in my later years, lest I start looking like Yasir Arafat. It did not end there.

I read that my ears would need tending as well. They advised finding a barber who was good at that, unless I wanted to look old and furry.

I began to have alarming ideas about age. The last straw was a paragraph that told me that guys in their 50 or 60’s could be surprised by suddenly having a penis that curled up like a chow’s tail when erect. “Imagine,” it said, “straight ahead and true for 50 years. And now, it’s looking ever so slightly up at the sky.”

Must I be warned about the future of my husband’s penis?

I closed the book and reached for the phone. Jean! What were you thinking to recommend such a book to me? I can’t believe you even liked it.

When I told her what I had read she began to laugh her lovely light Jean laugh. You must have the book for men, she said. There is a similar one for women. I’ll lend you mine, if you’d like.  At that point I was nearly finished so I declined. Besides, I had not read the chapter titled:

YOU ARE AN ENDURANCE PREDATOR, ACT LIKE ONE!

Henley

readingHenley continued to move through our lives with regularity. Utterly oblivious to the material world, he became a serious student of metaphysics. He also became convinced that I had special healing powers, which I certainly did not, at least not the kind he imagined. In the evening he knocked on the door to request a healing treatment for his balding head. This consisted of seating himself in front of the woodstove and offering non-stop conversation, while I placed my hands above his head, and sent the heat from my palms into his thinning patches of remaining hair. I had no faith in my abilities, but he was positive I had powers from another world. It couldn’t hurt and his conversation was interesting, so I became his healer. (His hair never did grow, by the way.)

Henley never entered or left a room in the usual manner. Most people have rituals which consist of entering or leaving talk. For instance, how nice to see you, how have you been? Or in leaving, I think it’s about time to go, it’s been great. Henley, however, entered a room like he’d been there all day, and had just gotten up to get a drink. He launched into full blown conversation without warning and left by simply disappearing. He just rose from his chair and walked out. This always left Kristen and I baffled, and looking at each other questioning, is he gone? Do you think he’s done now?

The other bizarre puzzle was that one of the young skaters he had coached had matured and was on her way to a silver medal. Because he didn’t have a phone, I would receive his calls and retrieve him from the far corners of the house. The calls came from all over the world. When he took them, he stopped being the eccentric Henley I knew, and became the authority in his field. His voice lowered as he dispensed advice, and gave long distance suggestions on winning strategies. My jaw always dropped to the floor during these conversations. I privately mused, who are you Mr. Henley, who lives in there?

We lived in Henley’s house for five years, then left for Seattle. His mother passed away shortly after Kristen and I moved out, leaving him a large settlement. He gave B’Lou one of his mother’s mink coats, paid his back debts, sold his house and moved to Tacoma. I lost track of him after that. But where ever he is, I’m sure he continues to be optimistic, has maintained his status as a world class trasher, and is pursuing his love of learning. If I am wrong, and his inheritance has run out, you might look closely into the eyes of the next tall thin man you see bending into the garbage to retrieve bottles. Could be Henley, who is not really a bad guy at all. I think you’d like him.

Artistic Community

peacockI had a friend named B’Lou, short for Betty Lou, who was an incredibly gifted, intense and sharp-edged woman. I met her when I sang in a Rock Opera at Storefront Theater. We became fast friends. B’Lou cut her hair short, smoked long brown cigarettes and had the lean styled body of the professional dancer she was. She was aloof, elegant, and both baffled and alienated by the culture she lived in. We shared a background in the arts and many long afternoons in her costume closet.

B’Lou either liked you or she didn’t, there was no middle ground. If a person had artistic qualities, or if the men were gay, she sensed a potential friend and playmate, then her world was welcoming and wide. But if people were not on her preferred list, she could be rude and distant. They were greeted like a bug in her caviar.

 B’Lou always had strange and unusual ideas. For instance she thought it was great fun to put on a costume and parade with friends down the street like Princess Di, smiling and waving a mindless regal wave. She taught movement classes and encouraged students to go to a near-by shopping center to create as many variations of walking as they could think of. Ultimately, security guards arrested her for walking backwards too long; they found it threatening and unnatural.

I made my way through prize dahlias and artfully sculpted foliage to seek her advice. I needed a place to live but had no income. I don’t know how to move without money, I told her, but I have to leave. The only place I’d found to stay when I came back from touring was in the house of an x-husband. She looked intently at the end of her long brown cigarette. You obviously need to leave, she said, we have to figure out the funding. Her face lit with an idea. Henley is having his house foreclosed, but that could take a very long time with the legal procedures. Maybe you could move in there. It would not be ideal but it would buy you some time.

I don’t even know Henley, How can I introduce myself and say that I’m interested in living in his house rent-free, until his life self-destructs? Seems a bit much, don’t you think?

No, not really. I’ll take care of explaining it to him.

Henley had the corner house next to B’Lou. I liked the idea of being neighbors. Of course you’ll have to clean it, she said. Henley is a trasher of the highest order. Be prepared for that. She knocked an ash into a large crystal bowl and welcomed her Siamese cat into the folds of her sweater. The other reason this could work, she continued, is because Henley is interested in metaphysics. You could teach him in exchange for rent, if you are both in agreement.

When I showed up for our meeting, I met a man whom I can only describe as alarming. He looked like he’d been foraging through garbage cans all morning, the zipper of his trousers was undone and he was dirty and smelled. I was not impressed. As I sat across from him, I thought I would sooner land in the gutter than share a space with such a man, free or not.

To my surprise, when he spoke I discovered an intellect that bordered on genius. He was regal in his mannerisms and remarkably knowledgeable. I wondered how such a man could have fallen so low. Henley had been an internationally known ice skating coach, who still received calls from Olympic hopefuls. He had lost his father, thought he had cancer and completely bottomed out. Something snapped and he stopped functioning, stopped working and thoroughly neglected his appearance. The ironic part was that he was totally optimistic.

Henley lived on the second floor and told me I could have the first, which had its own entrance and plenty of privacy. The furnace was hopelessly broken but a woodstove in the main room provided heat. The building was a lovely vintage home which had fallen into the same disrepair as its owner. Uncontrolled blackberry bushes covered the sidewalk; the front porch was piled with garbage, old magazines and official looking threats from the city. He opened the door to a black and white tiled entryway, a large living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. The backyard looked like the front, overgrown and untended. He had junk, refuse, discarded garbage, dirty clothes, and smelly debris knee-high inside.

What should I do with your things, I asked while trying a new technique of breathing out and not in. I’ll throw everything away unless it looks valuable.  

He moved through the space as if he were in a meadow. I don’t care, he told me, do what you like.

The next two weeks were spent hauling away garbage, scrubbing walls and tiles and waging a battle with blackberries. I made my way through the lower part of the house, while Henley studied philosophy and metaphysics. It was hard not to hate him for the squalor I worked in. I scrubbed and disinfected while saying to myself, Henley, you Idiot. How could you let his happen? How could you live like this? How can you stand the odor?  I’d fill great black garbage bags with untouchable belongings and he’d come up behind me, thrust a tarot card over my shoulder and say, What does this one mean? He was oblivious.

This is not the best time for me, Henley, I’d explain gritting my teeth. Could you wait a few minutes? He was obsessed with curiosity.

If I got money from a reading or from the rare arrival of a child support check, we’d go shopping. I’d buy him shoes that didn’t leak, warm socks and food. The first time I took him to dinner, I told him to order anything he wanted.

Do you mean it, he asked.zebra-man1

Anything!

He ordered three separate meals plus dessert. He hadn’t eaten in a long time. I knew that B’lou also fed him but most of the time he lived on coffee, and the mental pleasure of books. I wasn’t paying rent, couldn’t afford to, but shared what I had with him, and he was good to me.

One afternoon sitting in B’Lou’s hot tub I inquired. Why do you think Henley is the way he is? He’s so smart but completely checked out. I care for him but don’t understand him at all. We were soaking in evening air underneath a cedar tree. The yard was lit with candles. B’lou’s eyes reflected light as she answered. Karen, we’re all case studies of sorts. Henley’s file is just a little thicker than ours, that’s all.

Eventually things turned around. Henley owned several pieces of professional work-out equipment. I talked him into selling them so he could use the money to live on. He had a friend who began making arrangements to save his house. I cleaned and rented the attic space to a chiropractor who could afford to pay rent. Things were looking up, Kristen and I settled in.

B’Lou managed to place friends in bordering houses when they came up for lease, so we had a community. We gathered at her house on Sundays to share food, talk about our lives and the latest creative projects that might save us all from poverty.

Revolution

arc-de-triomphe-moonWhen I noticed the light what I saw was promise, candles lined up dancing and flickering. Nest again, they advised. Remove yourself from the go-too-fast, be-too-busy place and center.

We perch in this place, in this hovering above the world place to gain perspective and a way of knowing ourselves and one another. Life feels raw without it. My days have a razors edge where gentleness should be. Why is that? Too much work and not enough community, too much staying up late and pushing to create a way out of a box I have built to live in.

I need change, a big one. My life needs a new foundation, new wiring.

There is a revolution happening in my heart and it throws me off balance, as any overthrow of the existing regime must.

I don’t always know how to be with this kind of change. I breathe and center, and do what is inside me to be done one day at a time. Today it is my place to come home to the candlelight and my community of sisters, who discover themselves by moving pens across paper. It’s been two months since we’ve gathered, and I have missed it.

Linda Hefferman

 bootsIt was such a relief when Linda came forward to help me. The woman is a gift from the Gods. Her willingness lifted me up and put me back in the game.

Dearest Linda, took all my creative projects off the shelf and gave them life. She is my most personal assistant, and the managing editor of Yorkshire Press. She is handling business details I have no capacity to understand, making phone calls to people I would not pursue and filling in the fine print of bank forms and publishing contracts. She is, in short, the left brain I don’t have. She is willing, eager, intelligent, artistic, affordable, responsive, well-traveled and mine. Obama would steal her if he knew.

Last year I had several of my projects ready to go, but no way to launch them. My marketing person, Anthony, decided to focus elsewhere, Gib got caught up in a pallet company, and I was the only one left to birth my dreams, but there were parts of it, I literally could not do.

I had a dream one night that I was riding a horse in the desert with Anthony and Gib. We were all riding happily along when the horse collapsed from thirst. The men got up and walked away, leaving me alone to figure it out. I was really angry when I woke up because the dream was such a clear statement of where we were. Seemed like a good idea at the time, Karen, but now we’re out of here!

Then came Linda – months later – a referral from a friend. She rode into my life on a strong steady horse, pulled me to my feet, and has carried me ever since.

I don’t forget something like that, because without her I would still be on that broken down steed in the desert, watching the well-intended men in my life high-tailing it for greener pastures.  

Linda is birthing my dreams. She and her friends are midwife to my souls expression. I overflow with gratitude.

Not my job

red-crossI am not a nurse. My father thought I should be. He saw my gentle ways and compassionate heart and declared me nurse material, but he was dead wrong.

Before that, he thought I should be an airline stewardess. In 1955 airline travel was all the rage. He was a world class flight instructor and had visions of me dressed in high heeled shoes, white gloves and a smart little tailored uniform serving gourmet meals to the elite few who could afford to fly. I tried to comply, but each time we became airborne, I turned white and threw up all over his career plans. We tried this repeatedly, thinking perhaps my queasy stomach and loss of breakfast was a fluke, but nope: airplane up, vomit, airplane down. I was predictable. No waitress in the sky job for me. 

I flew back and forth to a Vermont boarding school on holidays. I climbed the steep steps of a puddle jumper, the name given to a small plane with such a short distance to travel, (500 miles) that it didn’t bother with altitude. These flights were filled with business men in dark suits and polished shoes. They moved their fine leather brief cases out of range as I filled one barf bag after the next. When I finally stepped from the plane I was ill, weak and embarrassed.

These planes still exist, if you are ever in the mood to torture yourself. Anyone going into the Elmira airport can find themselves on a plane so small that there are no overhead compartments, one seat on each side of the aisle, and a flight crew that graduated at the bottom of their class. No matter what seat you were assigned, you’ll be asked to move to the rear, so the plane will have enough weight for take off.

The stewardesses and pilots assigned to Elmira flights are a different breed and take some getting used to, lest you think you are standing in front of a renegade nun brandishing a ruler that looks like a microphone.

On my last flight from Philadelphia the stewardess made the following announcements:

“If you have to go to the bathroom, I want you to hold it. If you get up and head to the toilet while we are in line for take off, the pilot is required to go to the back of the line. That would be bad for everyone involved. You don’t want to be responsible for that happening, so hold it.

Check for personal belongings before you get off the plane. On the last flight a man named Tom Harris forgot his divorce papers, left them right there in the second row seat. Don’t tell me he’s not going to miss those!

You’ll be happy to know the pilot did a real good job on take off last time and brought it down just fine too. He’s doing real well today, so don’t worry about a thing.

Soft drinks will be served after we reach maximum altitude, if you have exact change. Don’t ask before I offer. Also, hang on to them during turbulence, because the liquid jumps right out of the cup. Stay in your seats and you’ll have a nice flight.”

 I am tending my friend Susan today, who has been my non-biological sister and closest, dearest ally for 35 years. She just had a hip replacement and needs a live-in friend. Her attitude is always top-notch, even in recovery. She is a big Swedish optimist, whose laughter fills the house and whose love for me has never faltered.

I, on the other hand, am anxious and grumpy. I am a poor queasy excuse for a nurse, being traumatized by the sight of anything medical. The pill bottles, hospital bed in the living room and changing of bandages leave me nauseated.

This morning I took her chamber pot from her bedside (totally gross) and spilled half of it on my feet as I poured it in the upstairs toilet. That was lovely, both the moment and the cleaning up after.

A nurse will visit to draw blood this afternoon, take her temperature, blood pressure and peer into her raw incision. I’ll take a long walk around the block, breathe some fresh air and think that maybe being an airline stewardess on an Elmira flight might not be so bad after all.

Assault

seattle-street It was late – almost midnight.  My friend John and I had gone to the theater in downtown Seattle. We were waiting for buses to arrive, to take us home in different directions. He offered to ride on my bus, to see me safely home, but I discouraged the idea. For heaven’s sake, John, the buses hardly run at this hour. You’d be on a bus all night long if we did that. I’m a big girl, so go on your way. I appreciate your concern, but no. It’s not at all necessary.

John’s bus came and went, while I waited and waited for my own. After fortyfive minutes, I decided to stop waiting and walk. It was a five mile trek, but I knew the exercise and night air would do me good. Besides, I reasoned, if I got tired I could grab the next bus that went by. I was within a mile of my house, when I began to have an unsafe feeling. Suddenly, the road seemed a little too dark, and I felt a little too alone. To remedy this, I left the well lit main street and headed toward the residential neighborhood I was familiar with. I was weaving my way past historic moonlit houses and enjoying the architecture, when a shadow of a man burst from the bushes, heading straight in my direction. I stopped walking and yelled at him.

Please stop. Don’t run at me like that. You’re scaring me.

My head hit the pavement with a thud as he pounded fists against my face. Blood ran from my mouth and tears filled my eyes as he continued to pound and kick. So, this is how I will die, I thought, murdered on the streets of Seattle. It was all happening so fast. My body was reacting to each new blow with stunned shock. Where, I wondered, was the superhuman strength I had read about when mothers lifted cars to free trapped children? Where was the superhuman strength that would kick in to defend me now? I felt my bladder release and the unwelcome warmth of urine against my legs. I was wearing black Chinese slippers, a long black skirt and taffeta jacket. I remember because I later burned them.

Scream, I told myself. You can do that much. Come out of alarmed silence and scream. Do it! Do it!  From somewhere inside a blood curdling scream rose from my throat and filled the air. I screamed as loud as I could, while he ran his hands along my bruised body in search of a wallet, jewelry or anything else of value. Porch lights flashed on in neighboring houses as men and women ran into the street in pajamas and bathrobes. The attacker fled as quickly as he had arrived – a dark man, in dark clothes going back into a dark night.

Within moments, police lights flashed up the street. A woman in her nightdress lifted me from the sidewalk, my eyes swollen and painful, my mouth bloody and my jaw tender to touch. The woman wanted to bring me inside for comfort, but I felt the wet against my skirt and declined. Two policemen propped me up. What did you see? Exactly what happened? Could you identify him if you have to? Do you need to go to the hospital? Are you sure you are okay to spend the night alone?

They drove me the final mile to the storefront and ushered me inside. This is the worst possible lock to have, the older policeman said, and these windows, why anyone could come right through these windows.

 I couldn’t believe he was lecturing me. Could we discuss this another time? I asked. They agreed and offered to check on me the next day.

Thank you, I said. I’d like that. They piled fear upon fear, left their business card on the table, and walked out. I closed my flimsy door with the inadequate lock behind them.  I think I might have been able to spend the night alone, if their words hadn’t pushed me to the edge. I sat for a long time wondering what to do when I remembered a street musician I’d met at Pike Place Market, a black man with beaming brown eyes and strong arms. We’d laughed together and shared stories over lunch. I liked and trusted him, so I rang him up. I knew he was getting ready to leave for Holland, hoping to permanently change his residence, but he hadn’t left yet.

Tyrone, this is Karen.

He was yawning, his voice full of sleep. Karen, girl, what’s up? It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. You sound awful.

Would you come to my house and sleep on the couch for a few nights, that would comfort me. I’ve just had a crazy experience on the street. I’m afraid of being alone right now, if you could bring some things and stay two or three nights. I would greatly appreciate it.

Give me directions, he said.  My son is staying with his mom this week-end, I’m free. I’ll be right over.

To his eternal credit Tyrone transported himself in the middle of the night, tucked his large framed body into my very small couch and went off to work in the morning. 

My face was swollen in shades of pink, black and deep purple. It hurt when I talked or moved, neither of which I was inclined to do.  I was afraid to leave my house. Crossing the street to Rip’s Market became an ordeal. I stood in the doorway for long periods of time, looking both ways. Waiting, heart racing, wondering who would jump out next. Was I really that hungry? I’d ask myself. Can’t you wait a little longer to go? I cracked the door open slowly, fearfully looking each way before stepping out. I soon realized that others were avoiding my gaze, taking me for a battered women. I no longer made eye contact.

Sleep was no escape. I woke repeatedly lurching in bed, my body covered with sweat, my dreams full of terror and knives. Tyrone stayed on the couch, while I kept the phone inches from my pillow. It took two weeks and a trip back to New York to recover, but recover I did and began scheduling clients again.

Ode to Lydia

What is that instant connection with another person; that sudden timeless knowing that you know or have known each other; that warm immediate acceptance that feels like a welcome reunion between strangers?

It’s not exactly falling in love, but it is a falling of sorts, perhaps into the eyes of another’s remembering. This mysterious bonding can happen anywhere, with anyone, at any age. It’s a rip in reality as we know it, an opening, both uncommon and familiar.

Her midnight eyes caught my attention, not the color, but a spark, a flash of light; an almost tangible electricity. Our meeting took less than a moment as we walked in opposite directions along a quiet ocean shore.

Her name was Lydia, eight years old and going into fourth grade, but I wouldn’t find that out until the next day. Now all I had was the flash of recognition that we once knew each other and wanted to again.

Lydia’s long brown hair spilled over her shoulders in full waves of curl, accenting her vibrant turquoise jacket and pants. She watched me watching her, as she planted her hands in the sand and rose barefooted into a cartwheel, then another and another still; her young legs never quite extending above her confidence. She looked back as if to say, Did you see what I can do? What do you think of that? Pretty cool, huh?

Her parents walked beside her. Her father, a slender man with early grey hair, her mother average and withdrawn. They walked happily forward, insular in their privacy. Lydia shot me a knowing smile, she was an obvious beacon in their careful lives. That was Thursday night.

 I was at the ocean with my granddaughter, Isabella and my daughter, Kristen, having a mother-granddaughter vacation. I kept Lydia in mind as a playmate for Isabella, deciding to introduce them if I saw her again.

On Friday we rose eager to walk and explore the shoreline. The tide was out and small bodies of water dipped into little pockets of discoveries. Isabella found several starfish in purples, reds, browns and blues. She pocketed countless agates and two hard earned sand dollars. We climbed cliffs and discovered new views, Bella always staying behind to make sure I got up without trouble. I’ve got ya, she’d say, extending her hand over rocky terrain. When did we switch roles? I wondered. When did I become the one falling behind and not her?  The ocean air invigorated our spirits as we made our way back for lunch.

It was late afternoon before I saw Lydia again. Isabella was flying her multi-colored bug kite, the one with the curly tail and face that reminds me of a protective Hindu God. Lydia watched from afar, then pulled out a pocket-sized kite of her own, a dragonfly trailing yards of shimmering gold metallic. Both girls ran as only the young can to keep them airborne. As the kites slowed and fell to earth, I took the opportunity to introduce myself.

I know you, I said running next to Lydia, You’re the girl that did those amazing cartwheels on the beach yesterday, aren’t you?

She did not lower her eyes or pull back in shyness. No, she met me eye to eye drinking in our conversation like the desert wanting rain.

Yes, that was me, she said. I’m eight years old and going into fourth grade. I’m here on vacation and I’ve been here before. We live in Washington. We came here last year too, only it wasn’t so cold then.

Her face lit like the sun itself, radiating light in all directions. I loved watching her generate words from her inner excitement and give them to me, like small wrapped gifts from an unseen self.

I do lots of things, she continued. I study gymnastics and learn piano from Miss Barker. She’s been my teacher for two years and she lives in the brown house just down the street. It doesn’t take long to walk there. She has a really small dog with red hair who waits for me by the corner of the house. His name is scruffy but he is not at all scruffy. You would like him, I bet. Have you ever been to the ocean before?”

I come to the ocean every few months because it’s a short drive and beautiful in all kinds of weather.

The ‘every few months’ part struck her as impossible. She was mulling that over when her mother approached.

People can do that when they live near-by and this woman does not know who Miss Barker is, Lydia, nor does she care. Lydia’s father stood next to her now, joining forces with her mother like a bucket of water waiting to extinguish light.

We have a nice fire going, I offered, and plenty of marshmallows, if you’d like to join us. I’m sure Lydia’s as good at roasting marshmallows as she is at doing cartwheels. She beamed in my direction, unable to contain her excitement. Can we mom, can we?

We’ll make a fire before we end our vacation, her mother promised. An indirect and unchallenged refusal.

Are you enjoying your time here, I asked.

 Now we are, the father offered, but we had to move our lodging when we first arrived because the landlady was getting too friendly.

Oh, I see, I said, and I did. Point taken.

Lydia looked at me for a moment and beyond to distant flames that spit and rose in the air.

Perhaps we’ll see you out here tomorrow, I said, It would be nice for the girls to fly their kites together.

We’ll still be here, the mother answered, collecting Lydia’s pail and shovel. Her father folded their beach chairs in one arm and Lydia in the other.

I’ll be here tomorrow, Lydia said eagerly. I’ll be here at 9 a.m. and if you want to, please come get me. I’ll be in cabin 18 ~ right over there. Her eyes were saying, I want to go home with you, as her body turned in reluctant compliance.

We didn’t see each other the next morning. She was not on the beach, but my daughter saw her later that afternoon while I was resting. Yes, they played together for awhile, Kristen said, but Lydia had to leave. She gave Isabella a butterfly kite as a goodbye gift.

How were the parents?

Distant, separate, aloof. Lydia did not stay.

 And that was that. I never saw Lydia again and don’t expect to.

But here I am two days later writing about her. She is on my mind. She left an impression. I’m pondering her journey through life and what it will be like as she reaches toward the cornucopia of the world, while her parents diminish the flow to crumbs of fear and safety.

Lydia is a child living in radiant color next to shadow people. I wonder what affect that will have. I wonder if their fears will come to own her, or if she can use their example to push past them, into her own growing wisdom and remembered knowing.

But most of all, I wish I’d had a moment with her; a small island of uninterrupted time when I might have spoken into those clear receptive eyes; when I might have spoken with the freedom people have when they recognize each other from another time and place. I think I wanted to tell her that it will all be okay and that there are others like her here. I wanted to say, Don’t worry dear, you are not alone.

written 8-12-08

Life Sentence

My writing voice comes from the past. It’s like a fine-tooth comb moving through and around experiences that are otherwise forgotten.

My writing voice remembers the steel clank of heavily guarded prison doors, where I emptied pockets, answered questions, signed papers and allowed myself to be searched by people who had forgotten how to smile.

I was in a high security prison for my friend’s wedding, a slight bird-like woman named Linda who popped into my life when I was alone, exhausted and struggling. Linda thought of herself as a black woman, even though she was the tiniest little white thing you ever saw. I first met her when I was opening a storefront in Seattle, ripping out interior walls and refinishing floors. My overalls and tee-shirt were dripping dust, as I walked outside to rest on the sidewalk.

 “What’s going on here? What’s this going to be?” I looked up at a delicate woman with dark corkscrew curls cascading around her head. Her jewelry glittered against morning sun, as she stood with one hand on the hip of her thin summer dress. Her high heeled shoes clicking in rhythms all their own.

“What it is, is a disaster,” I replied, feeling more then a little defeated, “but what it’s going to be is, The Mount Baker Psychic Center.” I pointed to the wreckage of lumber and sawdust heaped inside.

“Are you doing this all alone?”

“Yeah.”

“Not anymore, you’re not. I love psychic stuff.  I have to work today, but I’ll come by later and help you.”

I expected never to see her again, but at six o’clock she knocked on my door, all smiles and bounce.

“Here I am, let’s get to work!”

Moments like that are not quickly forgotten. 

Linda had been living with Dave, a once famous jazz musician who landed in prison after becoming addicted to heroin. He robbed stores to support his habit, ending a brilliant musical career.  After two years of visiting Dave in prison, Linda accepted his proposal of marriage.

Linda asked me to be her maid of honor.

Dave asked me to do readings for the inmates.

I said yes to both.

Door after door opened, as the last slammed closed behind us.

Finally we were delivered to a large room where the ceremony would take place.

The guards were at bay.

The service was sweet and sincere. Linda married in a pink satin dress holding a trailing bed of miniature roses. Dave and his best man were dressed in black suits, high gloss shoes and crisp white shirts. After champagne and cake, I set up a table while Linda and Dave went off to a trailer. “You will do readings, won’t you, Karen?” Dave asked. “The brothers are really excited about it.” 

The men lined up, smiling and ready. They were mostly black, large, masculine and sincere. Their questions were no different than questions asked on the outside. They sought information about loved ones, wives, children and parents. They needed hope for the future and to have someone witness their goodness. They wanted to be listened to, shown respect, given comfort and guidance. I thought I would be afraid of them but I was not. Instead, I felt gentle and compassionate.

The tempers ready to detonate had not come from the inmates, as expected, but from the guards. Their behavior was dominant, controlling and abrasive. Repressed anger radiated from closed hearts. Those were the men I didn’t want to meet on a dark street, not the prisoners. The prisoners had committed crimes, but the guards were living day after day of malignant rage which was destroying their humanity ~  a whole different kind of life sentence.

My writing voice is also my healing voice. I offered it then, and I offer it now in the hope of making connection.

written 5-28-08

Miracles Happen

 Her hand is extended in friendship. The gesture is genuine and wanting. I place my hand in hers, taking it ~ touched by the gesture and the sisterhood implied. But another part of me is cautious, not because of her. I am cautious because of the courage a real friendship requires. I am a coward in this area, afraid of what will be asked of me. Not asked, maybe but demanded. I must be honest, dead honest to be close. I am so easily hurt and the sting is lasting. It feels so hard to say, “When you did that, I felt this. It felt ungenerous. Did you mean to hurt me?” I have chosen instead to be distant all these years.

My oldest sister did mean to hurt me. She schemed and planned. It was her occupation and she was masterful. How can we leave Karen out, she wondered. How can I get rid of her? She formed groups of exclusion. Oh Karen, we were just talking about what we were all going to do, and we all decided that we did not want you to be part of it. We think you wouldn’t be of much use.

What was it in her that needed to destroy me and why? This older child who hated me was my care-giver and only available parent. We’re old women now, but the relationship remains, except I no longer engage in opening or extending. She still waits coiled and ready to strike. I ask in gestures and words. Can we stop this yet? Can we give this up? The answer is, No. Her position is set.

 What I had not fully realized is how this relationship has colored my ability to reach towards others. How quietly and subtly I have folded my hand behind my back or deep inside my pockets, when the thing my heart needed most was to extend forward, placing the warmth of another’s willingness inside the courage of my own. Honesty is required. I must speak and not be silent to create what I desire. I must risk that my words will fall on gentle soil.

Why does love require such courage?

Love should wash over us naturally and with ease the way the sun rises each morning or the way water laps gently and consistently against the shore.

Maybe love is that way after all, once our fears are put to rest and our wounds healed. Maybe in the end, it’s all that easy; but for me, I’m thinking probably not. For me, I will need courage, honesty and willingness. Maybe I can do that more easily now. Maybe miracles do happen.

written 7-27-08

Neville – my view

I used to work in a small studio space near 20th and Hawthorne owned by my eccentric friend, Neville. His ancestral home was next door, taking up most of the city block. When Neville retired from teaching, he decided it was time to experiment with the illegal substances he’d read so much about. He talked freely about his discoveries, taking his professors mind into each expanded reality. 

Roses bloomed full, red and fragrant outside my studio window. As my evening client wrote my check and carefully tore it from her vinyl checkbook, I gazed out the window at Neville. His hands were gloved as he pruned blossoms from the bushes that climbed the wire fence. He’d left shirt and tie behind long ago in favor of loose fitting cottons. His eyes were full of light, an ear-ring dangled from his right lobe and the smile on his face rested satisfied and deep.

I walked my client out the door, down the cobbled path and through the gate. We parted with a hug and words of appreciation.  Then I turned to 70 year old Neville who continued trimming and grinning in his own blissful realm.

What are you doing today, Neville, I asked, enjoying his approach to discovery. Today I’m trying mushrooms, he said, and I’m pleased with the result, very satisfying. I should have done this long ago. Neville’s face shone with round contentment. He was fully present and in the moment without fears, baggage from the past or sorrows.

In that moment, he defined everything I hoped to accomplish with my clients. I found myself envying him. I wanted to trim the roses, I thought. I want to go where he has gone.

Neville performed my wedding ceremony when I lived in The Columbia River Gorge. White flowing robes matched his white flowing hair as he readied himself for our service. Do you need a changing room, I’d asked earlier. No, he replied, I have nothing on under my robe. I prefer it that way, the wind feels so good.

Dear Neville, coming to see me session after session, but always content spiraling in his own unique orbit. His experiments doing more for him than I ever could.

 written 7-9-08

Song for Keyo

I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday, but my brain has forever stored the lyrics to useless, senseless songs from the 1950’s.

Dungaree Doll

I wanna make a chain of paper clips and chain us together while I kiss your lips.

The kind of slow sensual song I listen to now reminds me of packing seven of us into a Volkswagen Van to drive from Portland, Oregon to New York City. Big Bush was the driver, named for the Afro that filled most of the front seat. They were street musicians who performed in Harvard Square. They played music and I read Tarot Cards.

The lyrics to Lean on me floated through the square sung by Keyo Morales, my wonderful Puerto Rican friend from Spanish Harlem. Keyo had a shaved head. He wore a hoop ear-ring (before men did such things), a tuxedo jacket over Army fatigues and red high top tennis shoes. I loved Keyo with all my heart, but so did ever other woman whoever met him, because Keyo’s love was universal, too big to be contained. Keyo sang because he wanted people to stop fighting and start smiling and dancing. His music opened their hearts.

What a lovely troupe of friends I traveled with that summer. My daughter, Kristen was there too, but I missed my son, who stayed with his disapproving father, my thankfully X-husband. Everyone welcomed Kristen as part of our traveling family.

Eager customers formed lines around the block waiting for comfort, healing, and a view of their future from the woman in the blue velvet dress. I gave each person 15 minutes and they gave me $5, which actually meant something 30 years ago. After a long night of work I hid in the public restroom and counted my money. Great wads of five dollar bills made me rich. It was enough to get us an apartment for the summer and keep us in food. Transportation was provided by Keyo, who gave me a ride to Harvard Square each day on the handlebars of his bike, my nine year old daughter perched on the cross bars between his protective arms. Women were always lined up to see him when we arrived, but I was the only one coming and going on his handlebars.

When I hear dreamy loving music I remember that summer, the summer of being a nomad. How ironic that I led a gypsies life only blocks from the French Music School where I’d prepared for a career in opera. My life seemed to veer farther and farther from the mainstream every day.

Once I asked Keyo if he had ever done acid. “400 times,” he answered. Some part of me thought I should be worried, but it was the baldheaded man in red tennis shoes I felt most comfortable with. He was the person who taught me about love with no sexual expectations or conditions.  Keyo was love. His life was loves statement and his music its expression. His audience recognized the lack of it in their own lives and flocked to him like a pied piper of the heart.

I returned to Portland in the fall on The Grey Rabbit Hippie Bus, all of us crowded together like bunched asparagus. No room to move or breathe. They let us out in California and we hitchhiked back to Portland. Keyo stayed. I heard he moved in with a Native American woman in the winter. I tried to imagine a female vast enough to encompass his energy and love.

I felt sad and more than a little jealous, yet I knew he’d been there as my teacher and deepest friend; holding him was like holding the wind.

written 5-21-08

Energy of the day

Today was kind of a cotton-candy fluff day, with wispy strands of long transparent lines floating in the air.

Lines of  transparent sweet energy hovering, and moving in haphazard fashion on currents of nothing.

The strands were falling, resting or landing on the people I was with.

Sweet strands of unseen energy coming to rest on eyelashes, a shoulder or a knee.

Energy moving and floating like a string of invisible pearls, falling and resting on others in random unpredictable patterns,

Patterns that have no real-world body or scent at all.

written 4.23.08

The Writing Group

I am liking myself more these days.

I am buying new clothes and wearing brighter colors.

My eyes are softer and hold more tenderness when I look in the mirror. I believe it is because I’ve been stripped down like the walls in Gail’s kitchen, taken back to lath, beam and purpose.

I know this birth is a result of being in this group. This is the only place in memory where I have felt free to express all of me. I am held here. I have a blanket to wrap around me in your warmth, acceptance, love and language.

I did not expect a birth. I never came expecting such holding, but it was given none the less; the perfect place at the perfect time. I bow humbly and thank you from the remodeled walls of my heart.

written April 16, 2008

The Celtic Weave

I won’t leave him. He is the only man I won’t ever leave. I am learning tolerance. I am learning to embrace the faults of another with compassion and love. Whenever I think of going I remember our mutual birthday. There is something about coming into the world on the same day that binds us more strongly than I would have imagined. It’s like being separate roots on the same tree. We are sun and moon. Our differences repel, attract and bind.

The Celtic weave on our wedding ring is knotted, but not a tight knot. It does not suck the air from a room or become a hand closing the flow of freedom. No, this pattern is a loose open weave, expansive, and solid.

I have come to allow his forgetfulness and distractibility, and have learned to embrace his child-self who bounds into each new day with excitement and expectation, but resists domestic chores and limit setting.

He has stretched to love me also. He is an excitable extravert, who had to incorporate my solitary nature, my need for electronic-free living and my shunning of his boisterous friends.

This man belongs to me and I to him. We are different and the same. We are a pair of shoes together and apart. My granddaughter, Britan, says, Grandma, you married one of a kind!  She shakes her head at his quirky eccentricities, all the while being drawn into his orbit by his open-hearted generosity and playful acceptance.

He is patient with me, endlessly patient, while I am more often impatient and short-tempered with him. When I call to apologize, he waves me off. Oh Karen, Your moods don’t bother me at all. You’re wonderful and amazing just the way you are. Really, don’t give that another thought.

He thinks I’m a rock star, an undiscovered gem. He holds my identity with a full respect that I have trouble affording myself.  If I said, Gib, I need you to drive across the United States for me, he would reply, when shall I leave?

I have been with many men, all chosen for the wrong reasons, or attracted from father pain. Gib came after a drought and a desire to live alone rather than continuing to hurt myself in that way.

Oh, don’t get me wrong! The man has put me through hell with inconsiderate actions, dysfunctional family and a very real fear of being close, but somehow this is different. I love him and can stay, because his actions are not born of abuse, rather they are signs of adjusting to a life together after many years of living lost.

I am not his wife in any traditional sense. I won’t take his name or his diamonds.

I just want to be ‘us’ together, two people, caring and walking side by side for as many days as we have left.

written July 16, 2008

Naked in the Bath

shower-handleWhen I was divorced the first time – still a virgin to divorce – I lost all sense of reality. My house was being sold, my goods auctioned, and my life shattered into a million sharp lethal pieces. I had no way to move forward. The land was too foreign, threatening and unknown. I lost half my body weight.

The night before the auction I went out alone and drank a full bottle of wine. I have a system that does not tolerate alcohol, so a full bottle took me to even more unknown places, all dismal and not numbing enough. I somehow made my way home, opened the car door, spilled out on the lawn, and slept the night.

In the morning people began coming to buy up my life. I rolled from the grass, pushed through the crowd and locked myself in the bathroom. I listened to my life being physically dismantled from the cold enamel of the tub, one material object at a time. Who would I be now, I wondered?  No home, no identity as wife, no job skills, no child support, two small children and a backlog of depression.

My body did not want to participate in the ordeal that lay ahead, but somehow I lived through the day. I rose again and lived through another, and another still.

I met a woman at the library. Her name was Joy. She asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on her motorcycle.

Oh boy, do I ever!

Joy was getting divorced too, from an engineer; mine was a highway patrolmen, neither man a good match for free spirited women.

Joy and I moved in together. She got a job modeling and selling Leggs pantyhose. I sang in the clubs, fronting a rock and roll band.  Eventually, I worked with a classical guitarist, who was a much better fit for my quiet spirit.

At night, Joy and I had long conversations, me perched on top of her refrigerator, her being the more responsible one, and setting limits.

Karen, I don’t like it when you give away my toothbrushes to your friends. They need to buy their own.

We stayed up all night laughing, talking and often crying. We understood and loved each other.  We were full of smiles and raw open pain.

That was 36 years ago. We stay in touch, because I’ll never stop loving her for the way she filled my heart during those lonely confused beginnings. She helped me out of the bathtub and into the world.

 

Multiple Personality

Today I was a:

Housekeeper

Bed maker

Shower taker

Laundry woman

Therapist

Psychic

Dream consultant

Safe place for children

Typist

Correspondent

Care taker for dogs

Care taker for cats

Burial person for a bird

Radio audience

Motorist

Library patron

Grocery shopper

Check writer

Postal patron

Mother

Ashram visitor

Dinner Guest

Friend

Gift receiver

Student

Artist

Writer

Traveler

Chef

Wife

Listener

Sleeper

written May 28, 2008

Absolutely!!!

I got an email a few days ago from my friend, Dorie, whom I have not heard from for more than a year. The subject line read, Absolutely!!!

She was responding to a thank you card I had mailed after our last luncheon, probably unearthed on her desk, while doing her annual guilt-driven clean-up. Dorie is a painter and designer. She also creates unique handbags and whimsical mittens. Her spirit is fresh and optimistic, as she divides her time between art, grand-children and caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s.

Absolutely!!!

I had requested we meet again for lunch, soon. The word ‘soon’ being relative in her busy world. I searched my emails to see if I had written her recently and forgotten. Then, I remembered last year’s thank you note. I imagined my card being lovingly read and discarded on her craft table, slipping with the best of intentions below new fabric samples, buttons, shimmering yarns and products that didn’t meet her standards. She emailed her reply like I’d sent the card in yesterday’s mail; as if no time had gone by at all.

Absolutely!!! Karen Dear Friend, let’s meet for lunch, for coffee or everything. Getting together with you is an enormous treat. I miss you. Then she went on to say that a friend of hers had died recently so she was waking up to the value of friendships and wanting to keep in touch.

Ah yes. Death ~ nature’s wake-up call.

I was a new bride in my twenties when I had a similar experience. An older woman helped us find our first house in Circleville, Ohio, home of the pumpkin festival… we won’t go down that road. I wanted to have her to dinner as a thank you gesture and to deepen our connection into friendship, but not until the house was perfect. I thought about her often, but the bedroom needed paint. I wanted to replace the sofa. The house needed to be just so when she came, so she could ooh and aah, in appreciation of all we’d done. A year had slipped by before I learned she died.

Suddenly, it all felt very shallow; the rugs, the paint, the dust in the corners, all just stuff. I had missed her without knowing, as I preformed my vain attempts at perfection. She was a ship leaving the shore of my life with treasures of spirit I would never see again. A hard lesson, but a valuable one. I wish I had sent her a letter, or better yet, knocked on her door. I wish I had said, Absolutely!!! Dear lady, Come over for lunch, for coffee or everything. Getting together with you is an enormous treat. I would miss you if you were not here.

written August 14, 2008

Hammock

The hammock is the surest sign of summer I know. The purple, green, red, blue and orange of the Mexican hammock carries stories and memories. It waits and invites. The hammock says stop, rest, read, swing, gaze up into the branches of a tree.  See the boughs. Study the light and shadow that breathe between leaves. Watch them sway against spaces of sky. Time in a hammock allows me to know tree and sky the way Georgia O’Keefe painted them.

There is something wonderful about two women in a hammock, bodies touching, looking at each other from opposite ends of an airborne canoe, sharing secrets while resting against ankles and folded legs. It reminds me of being kids at a sleep-over. The sheer closeness removes formality and barriers. The feeling is revealing and immediate.

Last month I held my marketing meeting with Anthony in the hammock. He didn’t want to leave when it was over. He called his wife, You’ll never believe where I am… in a hammock looking into the forest… Yes, we did work. I love this, I’m going to stay awhile.  I brought him beer while he rocked and soaked in the good juju of the woods. Gib and I perched on a near-by bank enjoying his unexpected pleasure.

In our old house I tied Isabella inside the hammock. I took a rope and wove the net securely closed. We rocked slowly at first, then escalated to broad bold strokes of excitement, until finally she spun in screaming circles upside down, round and round, all the while yelling, “Stop. No!  Faster ~  more. Oh no, no, stop. No ma, don’t stop. I want more.”

I have some friends who talk too much to please me. They move fast and keep busy schedules. They enter the hammock with reluctance, but talk about our visit for months to come.

The hammock is essential. It is as important as floating down a churning river or dancing naked under an August moon.  Summer brings me alive. I find delight where depression used to live, and know who and what I am more fully. I don’t crave the harsh desert light. I don’t want to be baked red in the face. I just want the absence of grey. I want the water to live only in the rivers. I want to be invited outside to play and feel freedom and joy running through my veins, reminding me that I am young at any age.

written 7-2-08