Block Island

In July of 1994 I packed up my car with a six pack of Tab, a pack of Carlton’s, my eight-year-old, and two cds, Pearl Jam’s second album, and Stone Temple Pilot’s Core, and off I went, north on I95 to have an adventure.  I had a friend at the time who had recently suffered an unimaginable loss; two weeks before her due date, her unborn baby did a somersault in her uterus and knotted his own umbilical cord, and arrived on this planet already dead…her sadness was too great, being at the supermarket and having women notice her flat belly and two older daughters in the shopping cart and ask, where was the baby?  did you have the baby? what did you have? etc., so she told her husband he needed to find a job someplace else, away, and they rented out their house and went north to heal their hearts and their young family and asked me to visit, and so I did.

I was working a full-time job that I loved, but that did not afford me the luxury of living “well,” and I was going to college full-time, both at night after work and on my days off, and that summer, although I was young, and although I did not then know what I know now, that life would become much, much harder and that I was then perhaps living the best life I would know, I was sad that summer…not boo-hoo sad, but wondering where my life was going, what I was doing, what was I working for, was what I was doing worthwhile, was I a good enough mother, was I good enough human, would I ever meet a man to share my life with?  I had that winter gone on six blind dates.  Back in those days when we had new computers and very limited understanding of this gigantic “thing” called the internet, we still had dating classifieds in the back of the Asbury Park Press, and because I had no interest in meeting a man who thought bars were a worthwhile way, or place, to spend one’s time, and because I had only met one man, in all those years of college that I thought good enough to date (full disclosure: I thought he was, but he turned out to be a person who lied to my face, and cheated on me with some girl who worked at a Dunkin Donuts and then got her pregnant while he was my boyfriend, so to write that I was feeling confused is no exaggeration) I tried the dating pages of the paper…where else was I ever going to meet somebody?  Well, I discovered it was not in fact the dating pages of the newspaper.  Back in those days you wrote a little blurb about yourself, and read little blurbs others wrote about themselves, and then you dialed a number and used your personal code to listen to the messages left in response to your blurb and then called back, or didn’t.  Six times I went out on a date with a person who called my ‘number’ and who I liked talking to, and seemed to enjoy getting to know, and six times, as soon as I walked in the door of the place we were meeting, said that I was sorry, that my child was home sick with a sitter and I would be able to stay no more than one hour, but did not want to cancel on such short notice.  Six times I just knew that it was not a good fit for me and I was not going to be interested in dating this person.  I admit it may have been horrifically superficial but if I did not feel a spark or an immediate tingle in my belly upon locking eyes with the person, or if I just did not like his face, I knew it would not work for me, no matter what…I needed the jolt, the zing, the spark of chemistry…and years later I would understand how that karmically works out in the universe, but then, it was simply how things were, and my “sick baby” excuse, seemed to be the best way to handle a less than desirable situation.

So…by that summer, after a lonely winter of trying and wishing to meet somebody, and by springtime having accepted that perhaps I was simply meant to be alone, I was feeling terribly confused…Most nights, after putting my book down and turning off my light, I fell asleep with the same questions swirling and turning in my head, how can it be so hard to meet people?  who would not want a girl like me who works so hard and goes to school and gets good grades, and likes to cook and clean?  when will I finally meet somebody to share my time and space with?  So when my friend asked me to come up to Rhode Island for a few days and to bring my daughter, and she could stay with them for a week and then I could go back to get her, and it would do me good…I thought, “um, yes.  Yes it will do me good.”

When I got to Rhode Island we did not talk about my friend’s sadness, loss, or move, we just hung out and ate good food, listened to good music, watched three little girls play…and then the morning before I was leaving to go back to New Jersey she told me we were going to Block Island.  Her husband was in charge of three little girls and we were off…we took a ferry, which at first for me was challenging, as I need Dramamine to be on any sort of vessel, but my enthusiasm for an adventure and my ability to keep my eyes on the horizon line, kept me from feeling ill for the entire hour…I loved the rocks and the buildings as we neared the dock and I loved the vibe from the moment we disembarked.  We wandered around a bit; first I found a coffee shop and then a lady who sold handmade batik fabrics, and I bought a dress…dark blue/black and covered in white stars, moons, suns, and galaxies, and I put it on right over top of my tank top and shorts, and felt immediately, well “open” is the only word I can think of all these years later, I felt open…and then we rented bikes…

I had not ridden on a bike since I was a teenager, or maybe an adolescent, to be honest, thinking back to then, and remembering now, I don’t know how long it had been, but it had been a L O N G time since I had been on a bicycle and I wondered, those first few tentative pedalings, “can one forget how to ride a bike?”  …and then something wonderful happened…we started pedaling and we did not know where we were going, but we just started riding and we were hot and sweaty within moments and we just explored this island, this place with rough craggy edges and magnificent buildings and we went around a curve and suddenly, unexpectedly, the whole world dropped away…growing up at the Jersey shore in what can easily be described as the flattest place on earth, one does not expect to go around a curve and suddenly find the road dropping…dropping many feet per second, or so it felt like, and finding oneself on a hill, which to me felt like a mountain, on a bike going so fast, SO SO So fast…and noticing as the land becomes flatter, that the road before us becomes less straight, not only is it less straight, it’s a curve, kind of a sharp curve, and I am now not peddaling, and I am now kind of terrified of braking, having gone over my handlebars as a kid in a situation with far less altitude, and I am doing what feels like much more than coasting…I am soaring, I am free, I am sweating in my new batik celestial dress and it is flowing and my hair is flying and I am absolutely terrified that if I don’t turn the handlebars “just so” as the curve nears at the bottom of the hill, that I will just catapult myself over the rocks and into the ocean and likely will die…but I did not die and I did navigate the curve just so, and when we got onto some straight paved road, I felt a sense of peace that I don’t know I had ever felt before, and thinking back, I don’t know if I have felt since…The exhilaration and excitement was so fulfilling and breathtaking that I felt everything, and nothing, at the exact same time…

Is it silly, to be almost 50 years old and to think of that day as being one of the most fun days, one of the very best days, of my adult life?

I didn’t think about boys, or men, or wishing I had one, or more,  for the rest of that summer…I felt like me, and I felt like “me” will be okay if she is alone for the rest of her life, or she will someday find somebody who fills her up, like that sensation that day on Block Island, or maybe she will never feel that complete or peaceful again…it wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I guess I stopped caring so much…

I want to feel that peace and that excitement and that sensation of bewilderment, and I don’t know how to do it…“Things were different then.  All is different now” as Eddie Vedder so often sings into my soul…That friend and I parted ways four years ago after almost 20 years of friendship…and I missed her for a long time, and then I just accepted that she was done with our friendship and I healed from that loss, just like we all heal from all losses.  I think about that day on Block Island every now and then, and I learned recently that she’s left her husband, and bought an RV and is going to California…I suspect she is going to have an adventure…and I wonder, if after all these years, she too thinks about that day, and remembers how it felt, on those rented bikes with the breeze blowing our hair and the sweat stinging our eyes, how free and easy life felt, seemed…godspeed my old friend…

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