Dead Man Running

I work on a small island where I see people running and walking every day.  Some I have noticed for years and others are new this season.  I have made up names for many of them.  It makes the drive to each job somehow more enjoyable and I feel happy when I see these people.  Some I have seen for ages and one I just noticed this spring.  It was not purposeful to name them, the names just sort of jumped in my brain and they stuck.

‘Dead Man Running’ is one I have actually met.  His name is Tony and when he is standing or chatting with me at the little market where I go almost daily for coffee he looks very much the picture of health…but when he is running, well, he looks half dead, like it is so painful and laborious for him to take another step…yet he does, for many many blocks, almost every single day.

‘Walking with Newspaper Man’ is really skilled at doing this task.  I happen to get violently ill when I am in a truck or car or boat and look down to read ANYTHING, even a glimpse and I get so sick, but this man has the amazing ability to read while he walks and I have even seen him turn the pages!

‘Tiny Weights Stepper’ is a woman who must be training for SOMETHING, God only knows what, as she is out at three different times of the day…I have seen her early mornings on my way to a job, in the afternoon when I am heading to another or going for supplies, and at the end of the day when I am leaving the island.  She can’t be 5 feet tall and she can’t weigh more than 90 pounds and she jogs the tiniest slowest steps I have ever seen and always carries small dumbbells in each hand.

‘Holding Hands Couple’ is my favorite.  They must be year round residents here as, like the post office, neither the rain nor the snow nor horrid humidity, stops them.  They often wear matching clothes and they are always holding hands.  I have never seen them side by side and not hand in hand.  Yesterday I watched them avoid a pot hole and step up onto a broken curb and noticed that they both had to adjust their pace…and I wondered, do they hold hands because they love each other so much, or as they are rather old, do they hold hands for balance?

‘Hot Mamma’ is a new one this season…she has long blonde hair and a rockin’ body and is pushing the most fabulous orange stroller I have ever seen.  She walks, jogs, and runs.  She appears to have no giggly bits whatsoever and giving birth to whatever is in the stroller did nothing to ruin her figure.

On my way home from work last night, tired and aching after a very hard day, I swerved into the shoulder, and when I straightened out, noticed ‘Tiny Weights Stepper’ on her evening jog and laughed, wondering if she has names for all the people she notices every day too…maybe to her I am “too big silver truck girl.”

I suppose much like a favorite tree, or great architectural masterpiece, or broken bench that other commuters notice every day on their rides to work, these people are my map markers.  I know I am in Surf City when I see ‘Holding Hands Couple’ and I know I am in Harvey Cedars when I see ‘Dead Man Running’ but mostly I guess I know where I belong…seeing the sights of my day, day in and day out, week after week, making my way in the world, even if my world is just a tiny barrier island…

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Braveheart

It’s not insignificant, to love somebody…to open your heart, to share your secrets, your fears, and your wishes.  Opening yourself up like that leaves us vulnerable.  If you, as I so often do, wear the proverbial hearted sleeve, then you know how easy it is to have your hopes dashed, your silly dreams shattered, or your heart broken. You want a person to want to tread carefully on your dream path and you hope, with every new relationship, that the person won’t stomp all over it.

I know two women who are still in love with the boy they fell in love with as teenagers.  They don’t have to share secrets or fears or wishes, as their partner has been with them every step of the way.  With those of us who try and fail repeatedly to find “the one” or at the very least a right one, we have to go through those motions again and again…how much do I share?  how much do I tell?  do I tell him my deepest wishes and wants?  do I keep my dreams to myself?  I’ve read a quote many times about how we all have baggage and that the trick is finding someone who wants to help us unpack…those who have long-term relationships filled their suitcases together, we who stumble through the obstacle course of love time and time again accumulate more and more as we grow older…the baggage, the skeletons, the regrets.  I think most of all we simply want somebody to love us regardless of the weights we carry.

I suffer with the illness of hopeless romanticism, I always have.  Some would say it’s a serious character flaw, to be so dreamy-eyed and hopeful when everybody knows that half of all marriages fail, so surely more than half of all relationships do as well.  But perhaps others would say it is brave, to dream of romance in a world where there is a never-ending cycle of unhappiness for so many.  Brave to, again, try to find somebody who fits me, somebody who wants to share my life, somebody to make plans with, wish on shooting stars with, maybe grow old with.  I know some just give up…but then what?  Love fills us to overflowing when it is new…the excitement, the spontaneity, the wonder of it all…but when it is no longer new it fills us with something else…ease, contentment, peace, a feeling of “belonging” to somebody.

It has been one year and one day since I got a text message from a friend that a boy wanted my phone number and was it okay to give it to him.  This boy and I had just “met” on Facebook, and we had written each other a couple times, we were in the -getting to know each other- phase.  Unknown to each of us at the time, we had both recently come out alive from draining relationships.  Maybe we jumped in too fast, maybe we got caught up in the excitement and in the newness we took off too quickly, maybe we were both just so happy that there was another chance for us both…I don’t know, but it all happened rather swiftly and we both had a lot of baggage.

I always said I would never date a man with kids, I used to think that if we were on a sinking ship, he’d grab his child before mine…but now my child is a wife and a mother, and I am in love with not only a man but with his child.  I anticipated this time of my life as having total freedom, no more obligations to anybody but myself, but now that has changed.  I love a man who still has 10 years or more of parenting to go.  That is a price I guess to pay, for love.  I now have all the freedom I ever dreamed of, but love a man who does not.

I have helped him this year to unpack and he has helped me tame some of my silly girl dreams.  I love him very much and I like him very much, and to me they are very different things.  He is my friend above all and that means the world to me.  We both often say or write things to each other in haste, and we both apologize too often when we hurt each others feelings, but every day I know him I want to know him more.  I am well aware that there is nothing binding us together, no shared rental agreement, no marriage certificate, no jointly owned dog…there is nothing that makes us “stay” together but the desire to continue to try to grow in love.  It’s not been a smooth year, for either of us…we’ve both had some twists and turns and some highs and lows.  I will just write that I am going to work very hard to focus on what is, not what isn’t, be mindful of the present and attempt to not dwell on the past or anticipate the future.  With two words either of us can end this, “I’m done” speaks volumes.  It means I am no longer interested in making this love work, I am no longer interested in working on this love.  I have never said these words and I hope I never do.  Relationships are dark and light, good days and bad days, affectionate days and distant days…but over time the good is more than the bad, and that tells me it is worth it…whatever it is.  My heart is brave and I wake up every day and think to myself, I care for this person, and I am going to appreciate this solstice season for all that it is…the longest days of light, the shortest nights of dark.

All in the family

It is no exaggeration, and I can double-check with my sister if my memory is accurate or if my mind is playing tricks, as gray matter often does, to write that I can count on one hand the number of times in my whole life I heard my father raise his voice.  Sure, we got punished when we misbehaved, but he never EVER lost his cool…no yelling, no curse words, no exhaustion over his screaming, bickering, disrespectful, or unruly daughters…none of that.  All we heard, slowly and succinctly and without a hint of regret was, “one… two…three.”  If and when he got to ‘three’ the next three words were the most unbearable for our wee ears to hear, “get the stick.” 

We had this thin long stick, and it was the choice object with which to spank us in our house and it was just one –whack!– seldom on the butt cheek, almost always on the palm of the hand…and it STUNG so much, but in retrospect, it did not sting nearly as badly as the knowing we had made our father mad.  I can still see my own little hand and my sister’s with our fingers balled up tight and hear my Dad’s voice saying, “open up your hand, it’s going to hurt more on your knuckles” and we, fearfully and hesitantly opening up our palms for the one sharp smack!  It hurt us more to have upset him, despite his truly remarkable skill of never appearing to be or behaving as if he were upset, than it did to get spanked.  His ease of cool and calm and control was I’m sure part of what made us so dearly want to be good for him.

I’m quite sure a Freudian scholar would tell us, when I next write about how we frequently deliberately misbehaved for our poor mother, mostly because she did so often lose her cool, calm, and control, that it was a classic Oedipal/Electra complex, that we so desired to make our father happy and so frequently made an effort to make our mother go ballistic.  I can only make an assumption that we learn how to parent by how we are parented.  My Bigdad, my Dad’s father, commanded so much respect from us, with, what appeared to be so little effort on his part, that I guess my dad just learned how to achieve this through his own childhood.  Very often in my daughter’s life, as I had no partner or husband with which to balance me, I found I was a mix of both my parents on any given day…I was sometimes super cool and my daughter respected me very much and I was sometimes a total wing nut, screaming and yelling and door slamming, I am sure making my daughter snicker that she had made me go ballistic, and not respecting me one single bit.

When customers sometimes say to me, “you’re just like your Dad” I don’t know that they realize, one, how much it means to me, and two how wrong they are.  I know they are referring to my love of work and my desire to do a good job and I take it as the greatest compliment.  There are however so many ways in which I am not at all like my Dad, it takes much more than one hand to count them.  For example, there are things about both my parents that perplex me, like how they have the money and the time to travel anywhere, but don’t care to, that they have the money and the time to go out to dinner and try any new restaurant and any new meal on any given night, but don’t care to,  like that they never voted for Bill Clinton but voted for George W., twice!!!  The differences could take both my hands and feet for counting!  The fact is, despite what I think are some of our major differences, my desire for a happy life & a loving family & a beautiful home &  work that provides both  joy and income & my understanding of making ‘plenty of deposits in my karmic bank‘, remind me that in these ways, I am just like my Dad.

There is nothing I would not do for either of my parents.  Despite my frequent clashes with my mom, as I’m told is so common between mothers and daughters, I still love, honor, and respect both my parents, and appreciate them deeply.  I know so many women my age who have no parents, or had terrible parents, or had only one or the other, neither of which proved to be an advantage, and I know how lucky I am, I truly do.  I watched my mother closely last week after a freak accident at home, in which my father was badly injured, keep her cool, calm, and control, in a way that I did not expect.  She impressed me, tremendously…It was the first time in my life I have ever seen my Dad scared, and it scared me nearly to death, but my mother stepped up and did not convey any of the fear that I think she felt, she was so awesome, and I realized, she was so awesome for my Dad more than for herself.

I realized that perhaps part of the beauty of their 47 year-long marriage is that they both desire to please the other, they do not want to disappoint.  Similar I suppose to being good parents, raising children who do not want to disappoint, loving and disciplining children in a way that creates respect and a desire to please those they care about.  I guess I understood that it’s not a parenting issue,  it’s simply a love issue: We wish to please those we love, and I think I concluded that anyone who wishes to displease me, or did so deliberately in the past, does not or did not love me.  It was like a hospital waiting room epiphany.  I hope as I grow older I continue to find my own balance between the calm and the ballistic, the control and the freak-outs,  my Mom and my Dad.

‘Mawige is wat bwings us togever today’

If you, as I, have seen The Princess Bride dozens of times, you laughed a little when you read the title to today’s post.  If you have not seen this film, then it is lost on you totally and there is really no sense whatsoever in you continuing to read any further, unless perhaps you are bored or sleepless and if that’s the case, enjoy this little homage to my Dad and Mom.  June 11th, my parent’s anniversary, is always a day for me to think about what love means to me, what it means to a family, and how it makes or breaks a life lived as well as possible.  There are loves that are simply destined to fail, cause great heartache, end on very bad terms, or leave both or more parties gasping for a breath of air, and then there are those that just manage to thrive, despite the odds against them, or get better with time and patience, continue to grow and evolve, and straightforwardly manage to exist in a world that often makes it very, very hard for them to be.  On June 13th, it will be my daughter and son-in-law’s 9th anniversary.  I happen to be a person with the good fortune to be surrounded by love.

My father was once engaged to a different gal before he and my mom fell in love.  My parents were friends over many years; he being a summer boy and she being an island girl, back when this barrier island to which we here at the shore are all connected, was not quite so populated, and most everyone knew or was at least acquainted with everyone else, or so I am told…and the story goes that my Dad was letting this fiance  be in charge of saving for their future, and months later she took all the money they had saved and bought a guitar, and then he broke up with her, suffering (I can only assume) the realization she did not have the common sense that he was looking for in a mate…so it’s possible that I might have been a much cooler girl, had my mom been a guitar toting hippie chick from the beach, BUT I would not have the good fiscal sense and responsible money management ideals that I do have because my father ditched the hippie chick, weeks later went to the Ship Bottom  pharmacy bar and had my mom make him a soda, asked her out on a date, and fell in love with her, and only eight weeks later they married; a polite, kind, organized, sensible, practical girl from the beach…life mate material.  I’m quite sure neither of my parents ever gives a thought about the others past.  I think they are just glad every day that they found each other, fell in love, and made a life together that they continue to take care of.

Neither of my parents does anything, well, there is no other way to put it, half-assed.  If you ask my father to put in a shelf, run a water line, install a junction box, build a bed, fix a crack, design a picture frame, help you build your dream house…he does whatever the task at hand is with the care and precision of a genius surgeon, and to be clear, a master carpenter is exactly like a genius surgeon, but he puts together objects other than organs, skin, or bone.  If you ask my mother to hem a pant leg, sew a button, fix a tape dispenser, find an error in your checkbook, put new covers on your barstools, help you draw your blueprints for your dream house…she too returns to you a professional job of anything she’s been asked to do.  It seems to me, in this week of their anniversary that they love and care with the same attention to detail that they do everything else.  Ergo, I suppose what I learned most from my parents is that you can’t expect top of the line results if you don’t look at the problem, job, task, or situation, from the perspective of a person who accepts only top of the line results.  You have to want a positive outcome to get a positive outcome, be it in carpentry, sewing, or relationships.

I am the daughter of a great love story.  My daughter is the daughter of something akin to a tragedy.  Her daughters are the daughters of a boy and girl who fell in love at 18 years-old within days after meeting in South Carolina on spring break, a dramedy.  We are all characters in this tale of love.  Each of us has played roles at which we were quite skilled, Oscar nod worthy perhaps, and some we needed to develop more fully to even be considered for a Razzie …we act out our parts over the days of our lives in this family, we express ourselves with intense passion at times and with disconnected apathy at others, we are all flawed humans, but we are bound by the one thing that has no right way or wrong way to be...”this is true love- you think this happens every day?”

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo

She wasn’t looking for love, let alone a prince, she just wanted a chance to get out of her work clothes and wear something lovely and go to the party…Cinderella has always been one of my favorite Disney movies, and truth be told, many times I have “blamed” some of these fairy tales of my youth for my occasional confusion about this ‘happily ever after’ business…  That she escapes in time to try on the shoe, and that it fits, oh my!!…the joy and excitement it brings out in me, still…she’s been working so hard, she is so kind and so loving…she deserves this…well, let’s just say to this day I get excited when her foot so elegantly slips into that glass shoe…

Last summer, eleven months ago today actually, I was not looking for love and did not expect to meet a prince,  I just wanted a chance to get out of my work clothes and wear something lovely and have some fun. I wanted to meet new people and see new things.  I wanted nothing more and had no expectations.  That I unexpectedly met a person as beautiful on the outside as he is on the inside was quite a fortuitous event.

My desire for a happy life in love notwithstanding, I had been “suffering” with a gratitude attitude problem for months…(can I call it ‘suffering’ if it is self-inflicted and purposeful…I’m thinking, no.)   This is not new to me, this inability, or really this resistance to accepting and appreciating all the good in my life: I am not unable to, I seem to choose, all too often, this twisty rut-filled muddy path rather than the manicured and trimmed and nicely edged with pavers path.  I am well aware, and have honestly always been, that I ought to simply be appreciative of all the wonderful, and to cease even recognizing, let alone contemplating, any of the not wonderful, and truth be told, there is and has always been, very little of the not so wonderful…

I get into such an internal rage sometimes that I am sure I could explode somebody’s head with my thoughts…I get into such an emotional funk sometimes that I just want to sit in the dark in my yard and deeply wish that the nearest human was miles and miles away…I get into such a teeth grinding eye rolling irritability that I say things in haste and then regret them.   A couple of weeks ago I worked alone for nine hours, there were no working exterior outlets for my ipod so I had music for only a couple of hours of battery life, and I can tell you, five hours with just the thoughts in my brain is not the best company…but, my thoughts began to change…

I started to not only realize, but to accept, that the WAY that I think and what I think about was and is infiltrating every aspect of my existence.  I started to force myself to stop the thoughts when they turned envious or ugly and to rethink the thoughts with a twist to the positive, to the optimistic.  And you know what?  Right!  It has started to sink in, deeply and thoroughly, and has made all the days of the last couple weeks better, and every day my thoughts seem to be better than they were the day before.  It’s working.

I’ve been told by a few people of my past that I had a “problem” that my problem of being unable to be -PRESENT- was my problem…nothing else was wrong or bad in my life, but my inability to think rightly.  It’s a gift, I have finally learned, and am learning to give myself, it is the best present, learning to be present.  Contentment with all that is good and all that is now is something precious.  I always knew this, I just could not seem to BE this.  I’ve ready plenty of books telling me, “it will work” but I suppose, like every living thing, it has to evolve on it’s own time to get to it’s full potential.  Early last weekend, I became teary eyed watching television; seeing the suffering people in a small town in Oklahoma sort through tons of debris that once was their lives, while I was sitting on my extremely comfortable Crate & Barrel sofa in my dream house…and then a short story of a family with five children, all of whom need heart transplants, suffering with worry…and I realized I was tearing up, with this odd mix of sadness and happiness.  So sad for those who have so much trouble and so happy for the life I am living, right here, right now.  I felt so much gratitude, like it was oozing through my veins…

It was a beautiful feeling, and a strange sensation…I realized I was becoming, finally, mindful.  I was perhaps starting to grok the concept of ‘isness.’  I did not need three fairy godmothers and no magic wands were involved, nobody had to sing Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo to me.  I was just hanging out on the sofa with a boy who loves me.  I started reflecting upon how lucky I feel that I feel more “me” (the good me, the true me, the authentic me) with this person than I have ever felt with anybody.  That together we share these three beautiful little girls, none of which are mine, and that they are smart and clever and funny and healthy.   That we have all that we really need and most everything that we really want. On Sunday I decided to give myself a gift of being totally present and doing only what I wanted to do, not anything that I had to do.  I took a short nap in the sun, I read a book, I listened to music, I walked around the yard and rather than look at a single weed that I chose not to pull, I looked at all the buds, the new bright green growth, the intense colors of the flowers that are already out, our veggie garden that is already double in size, the strawberries in the galvanized tub that were just hours away from turning their true full color…and I felt content in a way that I truly had not felt in a very long time, perhaps ever.  I felt a bit like all those strawberries, just being, patiently growing until it is the exact right time for them to ripen…