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.