The passage of years sheds new light on dark memories.
My first husband's buddy touched my crotch, uninvited, unwanted. As he walked by me in my dining room, the back of his hand grazed my skirt. His knuckles tapped, in a subtle move that only a pro could have pulled off. My simultaneous reactions were: 1) That did not happen, and 2) Oh yes, it did. Sensation-wise, sirens blared and horns blasted; and neon arrows and helicopter searchlights pointed at The Spot. My mind might have doubted, but my body knew the score.
The man was a respected manager, trailing a string of whispered allegations from promotion to promotion. He reported to my husband, who'd heard the workplace rumors, but believed his friend. Why not? None of the women could prove a thing.
I didn't tell my husband. He would have said I was mistaken. and that betrayal would have shamed me more than the knuckles did. That's the dark memory.
Here's the new light: That silence said nothing about my spouse, but it spoke volumes about me. I denied him the chance to take my side. I withheld an opportunity for him to love me. By failing to trust him, I betrayed my first husband.
I first suspected the existence of parallel worlds last spring, when I passed beneath the branches of an oak and heard birds roosting above my head. I tried to get a good look at the warblers, but no amount of tilting my head or squinting rendered them visible. Chirping emanated from everywhere and nowhere at once, so I spread my arms and let the chatter rain down on me, grinning at the enchantment in the canopy.
After my husband installed a bird feeder outside our kitchen window, an overpopulated city sprung to life in our silent winter garden. As I pressed my forehead against the icy pane, great clouds of birds swooped in to feed in a jittery mass and then exploded off the perch like scattershot. I was a child again, watching a magician wave his hankie. Voila, a flock appears; voila, it vanishes.
My husband and I ventured in to a feed store redolent of cedar. We were explorers, who'd crossed a border into foreign territory. The owner spoke a language peppered with exotic words like milo, while she rang up a fifty-pound bag of seeds and a bird book for identifying our backyard population.
Today a visitor clad in polka-dotted plumage flapped onto the feeder tray. I scoured the book for its photo in order to prove its existence. When I looked up, the traveler had vanished … along with the magic.
Another lesson from the animal kingdom.
More about the trouble with labeling things.
I admire how basketball players fall. Splat on the belly and then slide across the floor, slick as a sled down a snowy hill. Or thud on to the butt
and pop up as though it were part of a tumbling run. Right back in the game.
I need to learn that, because the winter I lost my footing on an icy sidewalk, my hand took the brunt of it, which broke my wrist. I was out of the game for months. It was an artless tumble. Strictly amateur.
Last week, my husband and I walked into the Y for our usual cardio and found the gym swarming with guys and girls in wheelchairs, in town for their regional basketball tournament. As in all endeavors, a star emerged, a kid with genius moves. He was fast, graceful, smart, and accurate. A set belt strapped him into the chair; both legs were missing from the hip down, his right arm amputated at the elbow. While he was executing a series of intricate fakes, dribbling into position for a three-pointer, his chair rolled over. It pinned him underneath, wheels in the air, spinning. I couldn't tell how it got worked out––I'm often six moves behind while watching a game, but he was upright and sinking a free throw before I could gasp. Before my respect finished its artless decent into pity.
I tell you what; I admire how basketball players fall.
Love Letter to a Basketball Coach
My brother's plane was late. I passed the time by pacing and exchanging sympathetic hellos with others packed into the airport, waiitng. I expected Wayne to roll through the gate in his wheelchair. Instead, he walked, his backpack and coat piled on the chair seat. "Hey Wayne," I said, "that looks pretty funny, you pushing your backpack."
"I'm so tired of sitting on that damn plane, I want to scream. I need to walk."
I imagined him––a six-footer––folded into those tiny seats. "Well, hell. I'll ride in the chair and you can push me," I said. I plopped myself down and set the backpack in my lap, twisting around so we could gossip while we made our way to baggage claim. He parked me off to the side of the carousel, and then waded into the mob to wrangle his duffel bag.
A man emerged from the crowd heading toward me. I opened my mouth to say hello. At the last second, he averted his gaze and hurried past. A woman approached. I smiled up at her. "Hi," I said. She seemed to locate my voice; her head bent in my direction, but just as our gazes were about to intersect, she turned away. One after another, their gazes bounced off the top of my head like basketballs hitting the rim.
"The weirdest thing just happened," I said to Wayne. "Your wheelchair made me invisible."
"Yeah," he said. "Welcome to my world."
I lay in bed after waking up at 5:00 AM. I noticed dust was piling up on the blades of the ceiling fan. I worried about the credit card bill. I wondered why on earth I was lying there. Such a waste of time. Tomorrow I'd get out of bed right away. A ray of sun crept across the bedroom wall. I figured out how to spend less money, and then I swung my legs out from under the covers and got up.
My routine. Day after week after year. Until the day I stopped as both feet hit the floor. It occurred to me ; although I always got up … I hadn't decided to get up. There'd been plenty of time to make that decision, but it seemed to be missing.
An experiment followed. I woke at 5:00 AM. Would my legs swing out of bed by themselves?
Thoughts flew by like the daily parade at my bird bath. Boy, that ceiling fan's filthy. Gotta drive Lynn's mom to her doctor's appointment. Hope I don't get lost. Think I'll wash the car first. Better wait till next month to buy … Hold on. What's that? I sensed a change in my body, it's location non-specific The impetus to move! Undecided. And then my legs swung out from under the covers. Getting up happened on its own. Staying under the covers happened on its own.
The clock read 6:15. An hour watching truth unfold. A timeless hour of freedom.
Read about another daily routine that happened on its own
And here's something else I did, which I could not control
The dance of life leads you where you need to go
"Honey, I want an office. Where I can close the door and write."
My husband chuckled. "The whole house is your office."
True. The patio. The couch. Even the kitchen counters. In fact, closed doors made me claustrophobic.
A girlfriend and I were admiring her back yard. "I love writing at home, but Ben likes to tell me about the news and I hate saying don't talk to me." We strolled past a bird feeder. "If I had some signal … maybe stick something in my hair."
She led me inside. "I've got it!" She held up a box filled with cat toys, including brightly colored feathers. I stuck an orange one in my hair and checked myself in a mirror. "Yeah. This could work."
Ben agreed to try it. Still, I was nervous about upsetting our routine.
After sunrise, I plodded into the spare bedroom, grabbed the laptop, and stuck the feather in my hair, the door to the hallway open beside me. Downstairs, the blender whirred. Floorboards creaked. Energy vibrated, telegraphing that Ben had already perused CNN.com.
"Those damn––" A foot crossed the threshold. He screeched to a halt. I typed. Silence. I typed faster. He tiptoed down the hallway. Yeah. This could work.
How do you close the door?
Read another post about how dicey it is to change.
When my first-generation Kindle arrived, I was too excited to open the box. I danced around in circles until calm enough to handle scissors. Now it lies in the bottom of a drawer, replaced twice over. Obsolescence follows the happy dance every time. A non-functioning computer cable coils around itself on my closet floor. Dead batteries collect inside a plastic bag. Disposal of my gadgets involves driving to the electronics recycling center
, a journey only worth my time and gas if I take a trunk full.
I set an empty jar on the counter, step one in its removal. Step two: plop into a box in the garage. Three: place filled box in car for trip to glass-only dumpster in the grocery store parking lot. That should be the end of it, but we've switched grocery stores, which means a detour to the old one after shopping. That leads to step four: discover box in back seat after returning home. Five: repeat.
I want to leave behind an empty house, pristine as the day I moved in. It's an ongoing task that I probably won't complete. So here's advice for my loved ones, who'll be left to sort the detritus that represented my life: simplify. Recycle what's usable. Incinerate what remains––including your memory of me.
What will you leave behind?
Read another post about closure.
The refrigerator was bulging. We'd stuffed crab legs into the deli bin; they were a gift from family. Then Ben had come home after breakfast with a friend, bearing goodies from Farmer's Market: a bushel of pears, roasted chickens, three heads of romaine, fishes and loaves, and I think an entire banana tree.
The day before, the fridge had been a food desert.
Oh, I'd been thinking about going to the store. I'd written a list. Researched recipes. Budgeted. Scheduled. Cleaned the kitchen to make way for all that potential food. Boy, was I busy with my visit to the grocer. But I cannot decipher any connection between my raising of all that dust and the transformation of our refrigerator into a cornucopia.
Is this happening with the laundry, too? I fuss and worry and fidget, and then one morning dirty clothes end up in the washer, while my mind is off working on an entirely different problem. Our California vacation. One minute I was saying, "Honey, I'd like to––" and the next minute Kate Guendling was dropping us at the airport. I'm inclined to experiment with this. Strategize less. Let the doing happen when it's ready.
Read more about how my life carries on without me doing the doing (http://dawndowneyblog.com/1/archives/05-2014/1.html)
I ordered scrambled eggs, sausage, English muffin, and fruit, only because crunchy granola wasn't on the menu. On discovering its absence, I'd sucked in my breath in disbelief and––let's face it––horror: a clear sign I'd become set in my ways.
I always have crunchy granola for breakfast, right after showering with my usual body wash and slathering on my usual lotion. Last week CVS ran out of my usual deodorant, which comes in an easy-to-spot lime green bottle. I was forced to read labels in a search for the right combination: solid, invisible, unscented. It traumatized me plowing through the high desert-scented roll-ons and fragrant petunia blossom sprays. If they take my brand off the market, I'll have to stay home for the rest of my life.
CVS hadn't stocked my usual dental tape either, and I'm too set in my ways to switch to floss. The hygienist said if I don't use the tape, my teeth will fall out. Which might not matter, since I won't be leaving the house anyway because of my stinky armpits. Besides who needs teeth when crunchy granola's not on the menu? I'll just gum the scrambled eggs.
My sister Michelle
posted a video to Facebook, having just learned how to do that with her smartphone. It was a beach scene from Santa Barbara, my hometown: lazy whitecaps, spray droplets on the camera lens, dull roar of cresting waves. A seagull flew past. At the end of the video, Michelle is talking for a second. Although her words are unintelligible, her voice is cheery and musical.
I used to stroll along that beach. Hot dry sand sifted between my toes, until the always frigid tide washed over my feet. That's not to say it was a happy time. It's more than likely I was either mad or lonely as I walked along the shoreline. I've felt just as out of place in all the half dozen cities I've lived in since. Maybe that's why there's been no yearning to return to any of them, including my hometown.
But Michelle's miniature movie caused my shoulders to slump from a brand of melancholy new to me. It settled on my skin, delicate but unshakeable, like walking into a cobweb. I pressed play again and let the surf's hypnotic song pull me back toward familiar voices.