We Meet Again

It’s 1984, and our divorce has been final for a little over a year. We’ve not been in touch at all – since the day we signed the paperwork. I’m the one who left and although I did the best I could at the time…it was a messy leaving…oceans of pain and anger and heartbreak. I’ve been back in this little tiny town for almost six months. I know that he’s heard about the accident. Everyone knows about it.

It’s been three weeks since it happened. The first State Patrolman to arrive at the scene looked at me suspiciously and said,

“There’s no way that you could be the driver of that car. Look at it! Whoever was in there…didn’t make it out alive.”

Baffled by his words, I think a response, but don’t speak it out loud.

But I did make it out…and I’m alive.”

I am alive and I’m also not always sure about that. I decide I need to observe people seeing me…maybe that will convince me that I really am here in this world, and not in the vague, hazy, half-real place that I often find myself in since the accident. I’ll go to the potluck at the Grange this Saturday night…that’ll do it. I hope.

Gingerly, I walk into the old, weathered grange hall with its white paint peeling, doors and windows sagging. The sounds from exuberant conversations bouncing off the walls hurt my bruised body. Over the course of the evening, neighbors sensing my vulnerability, approach me carefully to visit. My mother suggested to me over the phone that I wear a sling even though I don’t need one, just to alert people to the fact that I’m injured. Right now I’m wishing I’d listened to her. There is one person who does not see me, or cannot see me, or more likely refuses to see me; it’s Tom, my former husband. I see him across the crowd and watch him look at me, but his face registers nothing.

Later on I gratefully crawl into bed and a deep sadness consumes me. He’s still so angry, or hurt or I don’t know what, that he cannot acknowledge his relief that I wasn’t killed. Even through his anger, and his heartbreak, there would be some little vestige of caring, of love, leftover somewhere, that would slip through…wouldn’t there? Maybe not.

During the two years between when I left our home and when our divorce was final, I eventually came to the realization that I was holding my breath in anticipation of a time when we could actually have a conversation about what had happened between us…about what had fallen apart. I realized that somehow, I was putting my life on hold, just in case we could have that one conversation. It was a pretty good guess that we were never going to have that talk. I began to know, or at least hope, that maybe it was possible we could sort things out on some other level.

What I did know for sure: there was nothing I could do to make this happen.

As one of my teachers says,

“You     j  u  s t      g  o t  t  a     wait…”

And so I carried on with my life and held this knowing, this hope, tucked way back somewhere in my consciousness.

Later that night in bed, I hope for sleep but am not rewarded with it. I begin to slip into another layer of awareness – it happens fairly often these days. I’m not asleep, but not exactly in my cabin either. I have a dream…or a vision maybe.

I’m in a dimly lit cave. Walls, ceiling, floor…all made of solid rock the color of angry storm clouds. Stretched out on my belly on a wide ledge, my chin rests on my folded hands.

I open my eyes and Tom is standing right in front of me. The ledge that supports me is high, and with our faces only inches apart, we are eye-to-eye. A profound silence settles upon us and then he speaks.

“I’m glad you’re alive.”

Then he’s gone.

When my awareness brings me back to my bed in the tiny cabin, back to my two cats purring loudly nearby, and to the crackle of the fire in the potbelly wood stove, I know that Tom and I just shared an actual communication. Somehow, miraculously, we made peace. I also know it might be the only time we see each other, for the rest of our days.

Apollinaire said,

“Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It’s too high!

COME TO THE EDGE!

And they came

And he pushed them

And they flew.”

– Christopher Logue

It is January, 2001. And I have come to the “edge”…again. I don’t exactly know that I’m at the “edge”, yet…but somewhere in my heart I can feel the enormity of what I’m heading toward. I’m driving home – moving back home to where I grew up, to “help my parents”, whatever that means. Home to my father whom I’ve been estranged from at times and been angry with for a very long time, home to my mother whom I’m also in a distant and tangled up kind of relationship with. Something has grabbed hold of me by the shoulders, turned me to look toward home, and given me a nudge. I am terrified to go back there and, I am going, just the same.

If I’m heading home, I sure am taking my sweet time – it’s as if maybe I can avoid ever arriving anywhere, especially back in North Hollywood where I grew up. A part of me wants nothing to do with this decision that I’ve made – it might be closer to all of me.

I have left my current home – a sweet and remarkable little town that sits within dense woods, on a peninsula in the Puget Sound of Washington State; a place where the only broad view to be had is when standing at the edge of the water. All along the way I stop to visit friends and family. I’m stirring up the memory of each place that I’ve called home over a span of twenty-nine years, stretching all the way to the place that birthed me.

A thick rope of asphalt and concrete cuts through the lush, green, wide-open Willamette valley of western Oregon. The highway moves in parallel to the great Willamette River. I am almost dizzied by the force of these waters coursing northward to join the massive Columbia River and ultimately the Pacific Ocean while I, at the same time, am hurtling south. This grand valley is the place that caught me when I leapt out of the home of my childhood.

I turn off I-5 at the Corvallis exit and begin a deeper, more detailed remembering. This town resting amidst the wide-open spaces of the valley held me tenderly beginning at the age of nineteen. Tom and I met when I was 23, and we moved out to the Coast Range a couple of years later. I pull up to First Alternative, a place that to this day, holds a deep and tender spot in my heart. “The Co-op” as we all fondly called it, was at the intersection of all my various relationships and stories throughout the sixteen years I lived in the area.

As I cross the threshold, I remember that Tom’s actually the person that introduced me to the Co-op so many years before. Around the corner, beyond a beautiful hand-made, wooden wine rack, I come to the dairy coolers of which there are so many now, with their tall, narrow, glass doors showing off a mind-boggling array of milk and kefir and yogurt and who knows what else, when I realize that I’m looking at the back of a man that is so utterly familiar…it’s Tom. Unmistakably, there he is, deciding which kind of yogurt is the one he really wants. He’s in his own little yogurt world. I stop. My whole world stops. I am grabbed up by an enormous wave of love and happiness to see this person, this man who shared so much with me…taught me how to cook, for God’s sake. We shared dreams, adventures, and so much laughter. And yes, heartbreak.

All of it floods through me in this one moment. And still, the overriding experience is one of pure joy to see the back of this man…his strawberry-blonde, longish hair, curling at the ends, balding on top…a faded, plaid flannel shirt spilling over equally faded blue jeans. I am shocked at how overjoyed I am to see him and also instantly realize that I have the advantage here…I’ve had this little private time to investigate my feelings. Tom on the other hand has no idea what is about to overtake him – a tidal wave of love.

He turns, still in his own little world, holding a quart of yogurt. I watch him slowly register who it is he’s looking at. I see every emotion fly across his face and cannot contain myself any longer.

“TOM, it’s SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!!!”

He’s silent but his face is saying, “It is?”

“How ARE you? What are you up to these days?”

I bowl him over with these questions. He’s still sorting, sorting, sorting in his mind, in his heart. But I am unstoppable – it is unstoppable.

I too, am a little bowled over with my response. This wave is much bigger than me, out of my control. Even if I wanted to stop it, I know I cannot. Tom’s a surfer, always been a surfer, and in some part of his knowing, he recognizes that an enormous wave…of something…is about to break. He can catch it if he times it just right, or be crushed by it if he’s late.

“Well…I’m building boards…we’ve got a surf shop over in Newport…” is where he begins, in a fairly monotone voice, especially compared to my vocal range. Then I send another wave of love rolling through, saying,

“REALLY!!!?! Tom I’m SO happy for you. That’s AWESOME…”

It continues to sink in. His face reflects that he’s standing there talking to me…a woman who maybe in his words, “broke his heart”, and he’s probably thinking he’ll do anything to defend against that happening again, even if it only lasts five minutes. Finally he responds to my declaration with,

“Why?”

“BECAUSE THAT’S BEEN YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE…to build surfboards, to own a surf shop…you’re doing it! Wow, Tom…so great…I’m SO happy for you,” I gush all over him.

This is how we are. I’m overflowing with excitement and love and he’s not finding too many words. But what I see, what I know…whatever that was, that wave that overtook me, that didn’t even give me a chance to wonder if I should say anything at all, if maybe I should just sneak out and get back in my car and drive like hell toward the “edge”…whatever that was…it washed over and through both of us. We made it. We both, in our completely different ways of perceiving, felt that unspeakable, unavoidable bond of love that will exist between us for the rest of our days, even if we never see each other ever again, even if we do. I know we both knew that. Finally. The meeting I had hoped for all those years ago; we had the meeting and THAT is a miracle.

And then it’s time for me to leave, because, after all, I’m going to the “edge”. This is a pretty good warm-up for whatever awaits me there.

I cannot recall how I found my way out of that tidal wave of love, or out of the Co-op, for that matter. The love is what I remember.

the Tree

For Dodie

on her Ninety-Eighth Birthday

with so much love

I’m on the floor, lying on my side. My right arm is bent so that my head rests in my hand. Eventually my forearm will be covered with squiggly indentations because of the rug but I don’t care, and my left hand is twirling little pieces of the gold-colored, wall-to-wall, shag carpeting that I think is fancy compared to what we have at our house.

The rule is that we kids have to go around to the back door; no kids allowed in the living room. Except for this time of year. Then the rule changes…if we’re careful not to make a mess. These days, the living room is home to the most magical thing I’ve ever seen and I visit it as often as I can. The room is dark and quiet. It’s just me, lying there on the floor. I don’t know where my best friend is; maybe she’s in her bedroom in the back of the house, or maybe in the den, watching TV.

I came to see The Tree.

I came to see The Christmas Tree.

The Tree lives at 5253 Beeman Avenue, and I live at 5219 Beeman Avenue. There are five houses between my house and where the Tree lives. Sometimes I count them when I walk by.

At my house, we celebrate Chanukah and we are not allowed to have even the tiniest little bit of anything to do with Christmas. I don’t really know much about Chanukah or Christmas, besides that Chanukah means we get to light candles every night and I love watching the candles burn down and melt all over the place…but it is nothing compared to the Tree.

I want to have a Tree so bad, but my mother says, “NO. Absolutely not.” And my father says, “It’s up to your mother.” So I go down to 5253 Beeman Avenue to visit the Tree as often as I can. It’s hard, because I’m shy, but I do it anyway because the Tree is so beautiful.

I love this tree and when I sit with it I am in a world where there is no one else but me and the Tree.

I have so many favorite parts of the Tree, but the very most favorite part is the lights. They are what make everything else magical. They are clear glass and in the shape of little candles. When the electrical cord that goes to the lights is plugged in, the glass lights light up and they are beautiful, but slowly, real magic happens. As I lay there quietly looking at every single detail of the Tree, the little glass candles begin to bubble inside and I wonder if a fairy just waved her magic wand all around the tree. It is a wondrous mystery every time.

The Tree has long strands of silver tinsel and they shiver and shimmer when the heat starts to come out of the vent over by the hall doorway. The tinsel begins to dance and by then the lights are bubbling and I am in heaven.

Here’s another dream-come-true special thing about the Tree. On the ends of some of the branches there are striped candy-cane shaped CO O K I E S. They are red and white and my friend’s mother, Dodie, bakes them every year. And she bakes lots and lots of other kinds of Christmas cookies too. I know because sometimes I’m there when she opens up the cupboard where they’re stored: there are shelves filled with boxes and tins of all kinds of beautiful cookies. I have tasted some and they are so good. I hope I get to taste more. She bakes and bakes and bakes. I always wish I could help her but I go to school everyday and besides I would be so shy to ask her. My mother doesn’t bake cookies…or really anything else either. She thinks it’s amazing what Dodie bakes, too. I really want to learn about baking. But I’m not brave enough to ask.

There’s something else that wraps itself all around me when I’m lying there watching the tinsel dance and the candles bubble and the little reflections of light that bounce off of colored glass balls that hang on the branches. It happens as soon as I walk in; it’s the smell of the Tree. I breathe it in and out when I come and I know it’s the Tree saying hello to me.

Sometimes Dodie talks to me but sometimes she’s busy making dinner. She doesn’t mind that I come to see the Tree. I think she feels the same way I do about it, but she has so many things to do. Maybe later, when she’s finished with the dishes she gets to sit with the Tree.

When it’s time for me to go home for dinner I have to say goodbye to the Tree. Sometimes I take so long to say goodbye that my mother calls Dodie to find out where I am. Then I really have to run home fast. It’s dark outside and I’m a little bit scared. I walk down the two front steps then RUN all the way home. Sometimes I look behind me to see if anyone’s there. Usually there is and you know who it is? It’s Tiger, my cat.

He follows me down to 5253 Beeman Avenue and I don’t even know it. He waits for me in the bushes. As soon as I start to run like the wind Tiger jumps out of the bushes and gallops all the way home, right behind me. When I get to our house, with the porch light shining bright, Tiger runs into the bushes by the front door and then pounces on me, like I didn’t see him running all the way home behind me. His fur is a little puffed up and he jumps a little sideways. I pick him up and he wants to get down and run again when he hears the door open.

When I go inside sometimes I get in a little trouble because I stayed away so long. They don’t know that I was visiting the Tree. We light the candles and I love to watch them, but I can’t wait to go back down to 5253 Beeman Avenue tomorrow night to see the Tree again.