Friday, December 5, 2014

We never exchanged names because that would have been weird

But I imagine their names were Chuck and Debbie.  

Lately I've noticed something.  When you're in a big city and you need help with directions, there are plenty of people around you but no one to ask.  Because they are all plugged in to their phones.  And no one - I do mean no one - is going to take those ear buds out of their ears to help you get oriented.  That NPR podcast will trump you every time.    

But if you're lucky you can find a smoker.

The smokers' ranks are also thinning, but they are some of the only people in our society who seem to be willing to stand still for a few minutes and take in their surroundings.  They stand there quietly in their filmy white cloud and ponder.  I'm not sure what they're thinking about but they seem calm and connected and sometimes I wonder if more of us shouldn't take up smoking.  

Just without the tobacco part.   

Last night I was lucky enough to find not one smoker but two in downtown San Francisco, where I needed help getting back to my hotel.

"Excuse me, can you help me get oriented here?" I asked.  I had Google maps loaded on my iPhone and held it up so Chuck and Debbie could see it, because nowadays when a stranger approaches you on the street most people tend to assume you're unstable and they ignore you, and I couldn't afford to be ignored by the only two people in the vicinity who were standing still and not listening to a device.  

And I think Google maps on an iPhone is a clear indicator to the other person that you are not crazy.  

Debbie started laughing.  "Oh no, we're not gonna be able to help you.  We're visitors here ourselves. We just got here last week.  We've been helping our son get settled in.  He's starting a new job in this building right here tomorrow.  We're from Indiana.  We've been staying in Dayton City..."

"Daly City," said Chuck.  Those two words were to be his only contribution to our conversation, but it occurred to me that without Chuck none of us would have been there that evening.  If he hadn't proposed to Debbie on the lake that day in the summer of 1992, they wouldn't have had their son together and the three of them wouldn't have been standing there when I walked out of that building in downtown San Francisco on the evening of December 3, 2014.  

We never talked about how Chuck and Debbie met and got engaged because that would have been weird.

But I imagine that it happened on a boat in the summer of 1992.

"...Daly City," Debbie continued, "But we're going home tomorrow.  We've got stuff we need to do at home, and we've done about all we can to get him settled."  

Their son walked over to us and nodded.  Somehow his frame seemed very very small compared to the giant steel and glass building he was standing in front of.  The rest of his life was about to begin in that building tomorrow.  

And he looked very small.

We talked a little bit about him and his new job and where his new apartment was.  And I asked him if he knew how lucky he was that his parents were there to help him get settled in and he smiled and nodded.  

"Well I'm sorry we weren't able to help you," Debbie said as I walked away.  "Hopefully you can find someone who lives here."  And as I rolled my laptop bag past the dark bars and candlelit restaurants and fluorescent convenience stores on Mission Street, I realized Debbie and Chuck had given me exactly what I had asked for.  Because when I approached them, I had asked, "Can you help me get oriented here?"

And they did.  

They showed me that to my left was the fact that big changes are as scary as they are important.  

And to my right was the knowledge that you don't have to do everything alone.  

And in front of me was the realization that not everyone cares more about their NPR podcast than the people around them.

And I hope that behind me was the possibility that that building is not quite as big as it once seemed, or perhaps that you are not as small as you once thought.  

Someone else pointed me to my hotel that evening, but Chuck and Debbie helped me get oriented.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Exactly like it was supposed to be

It was the late spring of 2014.

Ty and I were having long and often painful conversations.  If you boiled down those hours and hours of conversation, this is what you would find at the bottom of that dry cauldron.

Proximity matters.

We had one of these conversations as I was sitting in the car one day.  This one was particularly long and it ended with the usual refrain.

Proximity matters.

He and I didn’t have it.  And we had no way of getting it.  450 hopeless miles separated us.  There really wasn’t any hope for our relationship, but neither of us wanted to pull the plug.

Proximity matters….

I looked at my hand on the steering wheel and gazed at the promise ring he had given me.  It was a beautiful silver rose, encrusted with marcasite gems.  The rose was elegant and long and looked like it had been made for my finger.  He and I had bought it at an antique shop in North Carolina on a happy, cold afternoon in February.  

I wondered what I would do with it when we finally pulled the plug.  I didn’t want to keep it - it meant nothing to me without the commitment that it symbolized.  

I didn’t want to sell it back to an antique shop.

Giving it back to him felt mean and spiteful.  

So I left it there on my finger and trusted that an answer would eventually reveal itself.  

If you asked me whom or what I was trusting, I wouldn't have been able to say, for sure.  God?  Love?  The Universe?  

Turns out I was trusting in the deceased grandmother of a girl named Natalie, whom I had not yet met.  


It was Mother’s Day 2014.  

My kids spoiled me.  Buddy spoiled me, although he was  half a world away  He gave us money so the kids could take me for a nice lunch after church.  There, the kids gave me their gifts.  

Audrey gave me a fragrant box of soaps, scrubs, lotions and balms.  It was so perfect for me.  My girl knows how much I love my time in the bathtub.  

I love that my daughter knows me well.  I love that she pays attention.  I love that she is generous.  

And I love that she knows the difference between body butter and body lotion.

Grant gave me a $15 gift card for Macy’s and explained, “I wanted to buy you a lipstick but there were so many colors and I couldn’t pick which one you would like.  But I took up a lot of the salesgirl’s time and I felt like I should buy something so I got a gift card and I thought you could go back and get the lipstick you like.”  

I kissed his forehead and asked if he would go with me to pick out the lipstick.  He smiled and said, “Sure.”  


It was May 30, 2014.  

It was close to closing time when Grant and I approached the Clinique counter.  

I looked at the rows and rows of reds and pinks and corals, and I was touched that my little boy had ever dared to go into battle against this pigmented batallion.  He was outnumbered from the start.

With the help of the salesgirl we eventually decided on Watermelon, and I went to the register to pay.  As I handed her my credit card, the salesgirl said, “My grandmother used to have a ring just like that.”  

She was talking about my rose ring.  

“Really?  Just like this?”  I asked.  It was odd because the ring is unusual.  I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.

She looked at it up close.  “Yep, just like that.  She left it to me and then I lost it in a club last Christmas.”  She looked down and to the side for a minute, as if she were regretting once again that she wore that ring into that club, that night.  “It was big for my finger,” she said, “And I had kind of bent the band to keep it on, but … it didn’t help.”

Bent the band.  

The band on my ring was bent.  

I took it off and showed it to her and asked, “Bent like this?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed.  She looked excited and happy, but then suddenly pushed that back down.  

I looked at her name tag and made a mental note.  Natalie.  And on the way home I called Ty and told him the story.  

“Clearly that’s her ring,” he said.  

“And…  I feel like I should give it back to her….  Would that be okay with you….?” I asked.  

It felt weird to ask.  I wondered if this was what it was like to be a nurse, approaching a family whose loved one was on life support, asking if they had thought about organ donation.  And handing them a brochure with a blurred picture of a rose on the front of it.  

“It would be more than okay,” he said.  “You have to.”  

So the next night I went back to Macy’s and I held the ring out to Natalie and said that I had talked to my boyfriend and he and I agreed that she should have it.  

And it was like she didn’t get it.  

She just stood there, looking at me.  

And as I stood there, waiting for her to accept the ring, I felt an unexpected moment of camaraderie with every lovelorn bachelor who has ever been on his knees, holding a ring in both hands, waiting for her to accept it.  Wondering if she will.  Hoping she will say yes.  

And finally she did.  “Oh, thank you!” she said.  And she started crying.  And she hugged me and she put the ring on her index finger.  

And I floated out of Macy’s, away from the Clinique counter and the salesgirl and the ring, and wondered about the mystery of it all.  

Why did Ty and I have to part ways so that Natalie and her ring could be reunited?  

Why can’t anything be just sad, or just happy?  

Why do the two always have to cling to each other, wrestle with each other?

I wondered for a moment, of course, if that really was Natalie’s grandmother’s ring, or if Natalie was a crack-addict who routinely swindled unsuspecting Macy’s customers out of their jewelry using that same line.  If the cosmetic salesgirl job was just a ruse that allowed her to run her jewelry racket.  

And I guess in the end I’ll never know for sure.  I can choose to believe what I want to believe.  

And ultimately that’s what we all do all the time.  We don't know, and so we guess.  We make up stories in our head.  And the beauty is, we get to decide how we put the pieces together.  

Maybe I reunited a girl with a precious family heirloom.  

And maybe she sold the ring in the parking lot that night and I inadvertently paid for her next hit.  

I’ll never know for sure, so I can decide.  

Maybe proximity matters.

Maybe it doesn’t.  

We get to decide.  

But here’s the thing.  When Natalie put that ring on her finger, she didn’t hesitate for a second.  She knew exactly what finger it fit.  And it did fit.  Except, it was a tiny bit big.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Exactly like it was supposed to be.  

It was all, exactly like it was supposed to be.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Babies were from God, and I was ready to give this one back

My dad had a milestone birthday this weekend and he said he didn't want big gifts, he wanted us to sing a song for him or write a poem.  

I thought it would be cool to write a blog post for him.  So I asked the librarian of my brain to retrieve a memory that I could write about.  I asked her to find something sweet, maybe something bittersweet even.  You all know how I love to make us cry happy tears here at the Downtown Diner.  

The librarian disappeared into my archives and emerged a few minutes later with a memory that was funny but not really bittersweet.  I explained that I was looking for something else, something that would show my dad's intelligence or perhaps charm or strong sense of compassion.  

She disappeared again and came back holding the same memory as before.  It was from the winter of 1975.  

I shook my head and tried to explain again that I wanted something with ... layers.  Shades of color.  Depth.  A memory that would say something poignant about my dad and me.  

She placed the 1975 memory on the counter and gingerly folded her hands over the cover as she explained that there had been budget cuts and they were now all hourly and limited in how much time they could spend on archival requests.

And so folks, this 1975 memory is apparently all we're going to get in this age of austerity.  Let's make the most of it.  

It was January or February of 1975 and my baby sister Amanda Jo was five or six months old. Amanda Jo was the fourth daughter born to Joe and Marie Parsons and she was by far the fussiest,  according to the family canon.  

My mom says that she would rock Amanda for hours and hours while she screamed and wailed.  

All of this noise took its toll on the family.  Even on me.  I was five years old and I was sick of hearing Amanda scream.  In my family and at our tender age, we were told that babies came from God, and I was ready to give her back.  

One day a horrible thought occurred to me.  What if God decided to give us ANOTHER baby?  As far as I knew, we had no control over when and how God dispatched screaming infants, and I began to worry that he had another one for us in the pipeline.  I knew that would break us.  

A few weeks after my dad had an out-patient medical procedure, which at the time meant nothing to me, I sat down next to him at the breakfast table.  I was eating cornflakes, my dad was drinking coffee and reading the paper, and my mother was down the hall tending to crying Amanda Jo.  

"Dad, what will we do if God gives us another baby?" I asked.  

"What?" he asked.

I raised my voice so I could be heard over the drone of Amanda Jo crying in the back bedroom.  "I said, what will we do if God gives us another baby?"  

He laughed and shook his head and said "Druse, God isn't going to give us another baby."

My dad calls me Druse.  Please don't ask me why.  Ask him the next time you see him, and he will tell you a story about my childhood and a woman named Drusie Johnson and a bucket of golf balls, and then you will look back at me and say, "Wait, now why does he call you Druse?"  

I was worried that he wasn't aware of the real and present danger here.  I didn't share his confidence that there were no more babies on the way for us, and I needed to know that we had a plan.  

"But what if he does?" I asked again.

The muscles in his neck and jaw tensed and he looked at me and said, "Druse, God is not going to give us any more babies."

Still unconvinced, I pressed on.  "But how do you know?" 

Now his face turned Cherokee red and he pounded his fist on the table so hard the milk splashed out of my cereal bowl.  

"God.  Is not going to give us.  Any.  More.  BABIES!" he shouted.  

I decided that although I didn't understand the details, somehow my Heavenly Father and my Earthly One had come to an agreement that the roster in the Parsons family was now full and that God would not be giving us any more babies.

And indeed, He did not.  

Dad and Daughter #1:

Dad and Daughter #2:

Dad and Daughter #3:

Dad and Daughter #4:

If I can come up with any more poignant memories about my dad in the next few days I will share them with you.  

But I will not attempt to tell the Drusie Johnson story.  

Because here's the thing.  I will be able to tell you the story.  And I can tell you that my dad calls me Druse.  But I will never be able to tell you what the connection is between the story and my moniker.  

Which, perhaps, is some depth right there.  For my entire life I have had a nickname that I don't understand.  Kids in the south often have nicknames.  Bubba got his nickname from his younger brother who couldn't pronounce "brother".  They call Tiny that because he's so big.  Mater had a beautiful tomato patch every summer.  Trey has the same name as his father and grandfather.  

And one steamy Saturday afternoon in Alabama a woman named Drusie Johnson pulled up in a rusty Chevy, her drunk husband and seven children in tow, to sell my dad a bucket of used golfballs.  And as she drove away in a cloud of red dust, I stood next to my dad and a bucket of overpriced golfballs and said, "Drusie sure married a poor husband."  

And that's the story, I'm serious.  That's all there is to it. 

Well I'll be damned.  She did toss one more memory to me before she clocked out.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Summer 2014

On May 31, 2014 I took the kids to the Nashville airport so they could fly to Beijing and spend the summer with Buddy.  

In the following 58 days, I was in Nashville, North Carolina, Washington DC, Beijing, South Carolina, Portland and San Francisco and here's what I did:

  • Moved all of our stuff in Nashville out of our 2BR/1BA duplex into a PODS

  • Visited my old church in Palo Alto.
  • Met with many dear old friends in the Bay Area.

  • Made a few new friends.
  • Got a facial, a pedicure and 2 manicures.
  • Flew to Beijing for a week to see Buddy and the kids.

  • Flew 20,200 miles, which means I boarded 16 planes.

  • Got our tenant to move out of the East Palo Alto house and got it cleaned, repaired and inspected so it’s ready for sale.  

  • Spent 11 nights in hotels.  
  • Visited every US time zone.
  • Put Cooper into a training camp for the summer.

            $$$$$$$         $$$$$$

  • Agreed with Ty that we’ll let each other go.  The 450-mile distance became a real show-stopper and neither of us was able to move.  
  • Toured the world’s largest digital print facility.
  • When I just slip it in like that does it seem like not a big deal?  Because I really want it to seem like it’s not a big deal.  
  • Dipped my toes in the Pacific.

  • Of course I mean the break-up.  Not the digital print facility.  
  • Ate a lot of sushi and frozen yogurt.
  • Gained 5 pounds.  (Or so...)
(connection?  possibly...)
  • Attended my awesome nephew's confirmation.
  • Ate a cro-nut.  (Whose idea was this???)
  • Facilitated classes for 234 amazing people.
  • Got bangs.

Summer 2014 you were sweet and I loved you.  
Thank you for everything you brought me and gave me.  
It was all perfect in its own way.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Tuesday Rule

Pat’s house on a Tuesday afternoon looks like a glossy page out of a home decor magazine.  

The granite countertops shine.  The bed linens are clean and smooth.  The floors glisten.  All surfaces have been dusted and they are free of clutter.  

There’s one rule on a Tuesday afternoon.  Keep It Clean.  When Pat walks in the house after work she wants to get that moment of living in a home decor magazine.  So if you get home before her, do not put your purse down on a countertop.  Do not pull any belongings out of a closet.  Do not mess anything up.  

Last Tuesday I got home before Pat.  Her son Kyle and his friend Armando ("Armando!  He brings us so much joy!") were in the family room playing video games.  

Whatever you imagine when you think of “teenage boy”, these boys are it.  They are in a huge growth spurt and they are clumsy in their new frames.  They take up a lot of space.  They don’t smell great.  They laugh loud.  They eat a lot of McDonald’s.  If you have a heavy suitcase they will carry it upstairs for you as if it were a briefcase.  They are generally happy and laid back, as long as they have a Lacrosse stick in their hands, or else a Chicken McNugget.

For some reason this day I was feeling responsible for the cleanliness of the house.  I wanted it to be nice for Pat, and I wasn’t sure if Armando knew about the Tuesday rule.  So I poked my head in the family room.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” I said.  

“Hey!” said Kyle.

Armando used his one free hand, the one that wasn’t connected to a gaming mouse, to give me a happy salute from the recliner.  

“Okay, Armando, do you know what’s really important today?” I asked.

He laughed.  “I know, I know.  Keep it clean,” he said. 

“Ha, I should have known that you know,” I said.  

Armando laughed again.  “Of course.  I live here too, you know!”

I walked upstairs and laughed to myself because seriously, how could you not?  “I live here too, you know.”

In reality neither Armando nor I live at 300 Alexander Avenue.  

But we feel like we do.  We know where the key is.  We know how to walk the dog.  We know the Tuesday Rule.  

I wasn’t actually planning to live with Pat all summer.  My plan was to live in our empty house in East Palo Alto while I got it ready for sale.  But when I arrived in California Pat asked me, “Why are you doing that?”

“Well, because I can, I guess.  And I don’t want to stay in a hotel all summer,” I said.

“What are you going to sleep on?” she asked.

“Oh!  Right.  Your air mattress.  Can I borrow it for the summer?” I asked casually, as if it were not a plan I had made that very second.  

“Why don’t you just sleep here at my house on a real mattress in the guest bedroom?” Pat asked.  

“For the whole summer?” I asked.  “That’s a long time!  I can stay at the East Palo Alto house.” 

“What are you going to make your coffee in?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.  

“Exactly,” Pat said.  “You’re here for the summer.  Kyle, put her suitcase in the guest bedroom!”  

And so it was decided.  I stayed with Pat for almost two months.  

We made grand plans for what we would do with our summer together.  We did some of it (moved the dresser, went to the beach for a weekend away) but we didn’t get around to some of our grandest plans (power wash Megan’s house, get tattoos).  

But we spent a lot of great evenings together in the living room, with our laptops in our laps and B-52s on the coffee table.  We read each other funny quotes from our Facebook feeds.  We moaned about everything that was wrong in the world.  We laughed about how easy it would all be to fix if we were just in charge of everything.  We laughed until we cried.  And sometimes we cried, until one of us made the other laugh again.  (“That joke would only have been funny if you were already DEAD!”)  

I love Pat’s house.  It has everything you might ever need.  

Need to snuggle with a ball of sweet fluffy love?  We’ve got that.

Need to take a dip in the pool?  We’ve got that.

Need to relax in the shade?  We’ve got that.

Need to chat while someone else does the cooking?  We’ve got that.

Need a comfy place to watch The Bachelorette and throw things at the TV?  We’ve got that.  

But the very most important feature in Pat’s house is Pat herself.  And that’s why I love it here.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Looking Back

It is a beautiful sunny California morning and Scruffy and I are out for a walk.  Scruffy, as usual, has chosen our route and we are at the elementary school at the end of the street.  It has a large parking lot and there’s a lot for him to sniff at.

He is a sniffer, this dog.  

I’m waiting patiently while Scruffy sniffs down a hibiscus bush.  A man carrying a baby is crossing the parking lot towards us.  The baby is in a Baby Bjorn, facing outward, and as soon as he sees Scruffy he starts waving his arms and legs.  Scruffy in turn wags his tail and we bound over to greet them.  Now that Scruffy is close by, the baby flails with even more excitement.  

“He seems happy to see your dog,” the man says.  

“My dog seems to be happy to see your son!” I say. 

“Oh, he’s not my son.  He’s my grandson,” he says.

“Wow, you look awfully young to be a grandpa,” I say.  He does.  

The man beams and says thank you.  We say goodbye and continue on our walk.  But the baby shrieks every few feet and his granddad turns around so he can get one more look at the four-legged furry wonder that is Scruffy.  I wave at the baby each time and his arms and legs flail with glee.  He looks like the happiest half of an octopus.

Another dog comes our way and Scruffy is elated to see him, but this dog seems to not even notice us.  Scruffy whines and tugs at his leash.  I let him approach the other dog but still, he ignores us.  I encourage Scruffy to come on, and he does, but keeps looking back longingly at the other dog, whining and wondering why, why, why….  

We’re almost home when we meet a woman walking in the same direction with her dog Jake.  She asks how old Scruffy is and I tell her he’s eight.  Which I think is pretty close to the truth.  When she tells me her dog is fourteen I exclaim, “Wow, he’s in great shape for fourteen!”  She nods but tells me that lately he’s starting to show Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.  I ask what that means and she says that sometimes he just stands in the middle of the house and seems to be confused about where he is and where he’s going.  Then she goes on to say it reminds her of her dad, who had Alzheimer’s.  She said he would sit in front of the clock and ask over and over again, “What time is it?”  

“Wow, I can imagine that’s hard to see your dog go through that, and to have those reminders of what it was like with your dad,” I say.

And then we both stop walking, and we stand there on the street corner for a minute in thoughtful silence.  

Then she looks up and squints into the sun.  She gives me a faint smile and asks what my name is.  I tell her I’m Melanie and I reach for her hand, and she shakes it warmly and says that she’s Nicki.  And we wish each other a good day, although I think in reality we are wishing much more for each other than a good day.  

I am wishing peace for her.  

I wonder what she was wishing for me.  I’m not sure.  

In a few more steps Scruffy and I are home.  At his home anyway, and for the summer it is also my home.  

I unleash Scruffy and untie my shoes and decide that I will give Scruffy credit for the song we just wrote together during our walk.  

We're still working on the lyrics but we have the title.

It’s going to be called “It’s Okay to Look Back”.  

(All Rights Reserved, Melanie Parsons Gao and Scruffy "I-Need-To-Sniff-That" Hill).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Monday July 14, 2014 was one of the best days of my life

I woke up in a beautiful resort at the beach, in a gigantic bed that smelled like sage and lemons.  

I went for a walk on the beach and thought about a friend three time zones away who was having a hard day.  

Then I spent a few hours with the geniuses behind one of my favorite websites in the world.  I know you use it too and you love it too.

This is why I love my job.  Because I work with people who are crazy smart and passionate about their jobs.  

After the class one of the participants thanked me for making the conference room a safe place for them, and when I asked what I had done to make it safe he hesitated, and then said that he thought ... it had something to do ... with my voice.

My voice….  Hmmm....

Then I went to Sam’s Chowder House and sat at the bar and ate grilled fish tacos and talked to the bar tender about the World Cup.  And then I alternated between admiring the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and watching all the families around me.  

Which means I alternated between enjoying my freedom and missing Audrey and Grant.  

Then I decided to visit my my mom’s cousin Nina and her husband Chuck, whom I hadn’t seen in 8 years.  I was in their neighborhood and had tried to email them but hadn’t gotten a response so I figured they wouldn’t be there and I would just leave them a note on the door.  But when I knocked on the door Chuck answered.  He gave me a big smile but I had the feeling he didn’t recognize me.  It has been 8 years, after all.  

“Chuck, I’m Melanie.  Marie’s daughter….”  

Another big smile.  Then Chuck said, “Oh yes!  And … do we know you…?”

“Yes, but it’s been years.  Marie is Nina’s cousin and I’m Marie’s daughter … I just wanted to say hi.  I was in the neighborhood…”

I was about to turn around and leave when Nina appeared in the background.  She clapped her hands in delight.

“Ah!  It’s … a Volkert!” she exclaimed.  At least she had identified me as family.  From there it was only a short jump to Melanie, Marie’s daughter.  

“Oh, Melanie!  It’s so good to see you!” Nina said.  “Chuck, we’re going to need champagne,” she said, and Chuck scurried off to the kitchen.

“Oh, I’m not going to bother you,” I said.  “I just wanted to say hi.  I was working just right across the street today and I wanted to say hello.”  

“It’s not a bother!” Nina exclaimed.  “Come in, come in!”

So I sat with Nina and Chuck for a while in their breezy beach bungalow and they told me about their children and I helped them program their new cell phones.  And when it was time for me to go we hugged and promised to get together again soon.  

Just then my BFF texted me and said that Highway 92 was closed due to an accident and I was going to have to take 84 to get over the mountain to get home and she was worried about me doing that in the Jeep, which is a stick shift.  And hers.  She let me borrow it for the summer.  

She let me borrow her Jeep for the whole entire summer.  And she let me stay in her house for the whole entire summer. 

And she watches traffic reports and sends me updates.  

And she worries about me.  

This is why we're BFFs.

So I bought her some clam chowder from Sam’s and started across the mountain in the Jeep.  It was actually more fun than scary, sort of like one of those Monte Carlo video games.  

And I thought that if I died in a crash on Highway 84, the clam chowder in the passenger seat would be a nice touch.  It would have given you all something to focus on at my funeral.  “Did you hear that the last thing she charged on her credit card was some clam chowder for Pat?”

But I didn't crash.  And Monday June 14, 2014 turned out to be one of the best days of my life.  

I wish I could tell you why exactly.  

It was a day when I was, technically, alone.  

I woke up alone, I walked into a conference room full of strangers, sat solo at a bar, went on my own to visit relatives, made my way across the mountain by myself.  

This day had the potential to be lonely but it wasn’t.  

I enjoyed my own company today.

And I talked to a lot of people today who I will never meet again.  We were in each others' lives for a brief moment, but for me that doesn't make the encounter any less precious.

Maybe that’s why I loved today.  

Or maybe I loved today because it was full of things that I have never done before and probably will never do again.  Each event, each encounter, was singular.  

Maybe that’s why I loved today.

Or maybe I loved today because it carried the scent of lemon and sage and fog and grilled fish and sand and salt and seagulls.  

And champagne.

And clam chowder.  

And, I guess, me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'm distracted by blood on the counter

1.  Re-caulk the sink.

2.  Replace garbage disposal.

3.  Repaint walls.  

I’m trying to make notes for myself about what to repair or replace before we put the house on the market.  I write down the things the tenant mentions, but I’m distracted by blood on the counter. 

This house is haunted for me.  

It’s 2004 and I’m cooking dinner.  Buddy is on a business trip in New York.  As soon as the kids and I walk in the door Audrey throws off her sundress and starts dancing around the living room.  Grant is with me in the kitchen.  He has just learned to walk and he gets into everything.  

We are a young family on the cusp of everything.  I have recently started a career job with a great company.  Buddy is getting his MBA at a prestigious school. 

Grant reaches into the garbage can and pulls out a soup can.  The edges are sharp so I take it from him and as I do he shrieks.  I pick him up and take him to the sink.  It’s pouring blood.  It’s going to need stitches.  I press a clean dishcloth against the cut and balance Grant on one hip as I turn off the stove.  Then with my one free hand I drop Audrey’s dress over her head.  

Thank God for summer and sundresses.  

I’m going to need help driving to the hospital.  I go to the neighbor who has the highest radio of adults:children.  Thank God Wayne is home and is available to drive us to the emergency room.  

The four of us sit in shiny plastic chairs in the ER waiting room for hours.  I tell Wayne he can go on home but he entertains Audrey while I hold Grant, who has drifted off to sleep.  At first I worry that he’s going into shock or something but by this point it’s after his bedtime and he’s just plain tired.  

When we are called back for Grant’s stitches they apply topical anesthesia and begin threading the stitches through his finger.  

And he sleeps through the entire process.  

I am in awe of my baby boy’s constitution.  His fascination with all things sharp and shiny.  His tolerance for pain.  His propensity for sudden and deep slumber.  

Tonight I can cradle him head to foot in my arms.  I am grateful that injury, rescue and healing can all happen in the shelter of my wingspan.  

But, he is growing.  

My tenant and I ascend the stairs.  “I’ve shampooed the carpet every year but you might want to replace it now,” she says.

The carpet does look worn.  

We are standing on the carpet for the first time ever.  Construction on our new house is complete and we’re doing the final walk through with the builder.  We are brand new parents.  Audrey is just four weeks old.  

And we are brand new home owners.  

And then, our brand new baby throws up on our brand new carpet.  I hand Buddy a wet wipe and he drops to his knees and cleans it up.  Shocked and embarrassed, we apologize to the builder.  

He laughs.  “It’s your carpet now!” he says.  

Buddy and I look at each other and laugh.  Then I start to tear up.  It is our carpet.  It is our house.  It is our baby.  

We are proud.  

We are happy.  

And in a secret corner of my heart I worry that we are not worthy of being entrusted with carpeting or a mortgage or a baby. 

I am standing in the middle of this place which was once was my house and still is, sort of, but hasn’t been mine for years. 

Maybe it never was.  

I drive away and look at 942 Baines Street in my rearview mirror.  It looks so different than the day we moved in fourteen years ago.  

So so different than it did fourteen years ago.  

Then everything was new.  Everything worked.  The emphasis was on potential.  

When I lived here I could cradle my life in my wingspan.  

And then it grew.  

It grew and I couldn’t protect it.  

I couldn't protect it and couldn’t control it.    

And now …

The garbage disposal is broken.  The carpet is worn.  The walls need to be repainted.

And we are divorced.  We live on different continents.  Our babies fly as unaccompanied minors around the world so they can have a relationship with both of us.
And yet …

She still loves to dance in the living room after school.

Every night he falls into a deep and heavy, heavy slumber..

And still ...  

In a secret corner of my heart I worry that we were not worthy of being entrusted with carpeting or a mortgage or a baby.