Swimming in Calmer Seas

Far too long ago (three weeks!), KeAnne wrote a post entitled Swimming that I kept promising and promising, to myself and in her comment section, to respond to with a post of my own.

Finally, life here has calmed down enough for me to do so.

And with that statement, I sum up her post, oddly enough. Go read it if you haven’t. It’s beautiful.

KeAnne writes:

“I love the ocean, but I can’t swim in it.  It’s mainly due to fear. […] The ocean is too wild and unpredictable for me to be entirely comfortable with it.”

I love the ocean as well; but I am absolutely comfortable in it. My history does include frequently visiting family on the coasts of Rhode Island, Virginia, California, and the US Virgin Islands, with the addition of living on a sailboat with my parents as a toddler. Add lakes, rivers, and streams in Michigan, Colorado, Louisiana, and Arkansas. It’s not surprising that I’m okay with wild water.

But I know the feeling of uneasy anticipation when first arriving at a new beach. What are the waves going to be like? What kind of creepy crawlies or sharp spikies do I need to look out for as I slog to deeper water? I remember some serious surf in New England that almost killed me when I was around twelve. And when I went to help my grandparents with their move back to the mainland in 2003, I went with my grandfather to beach bars (him to drink, me to swim) where you got a free shot if you stepped on a sea urchin. I was extra careful to not be able to take advantage of that offer. I remember a storm once, when we took a family trip to Biloxi. But I never faltered in these situations. I wouldn’t let anything come between me and the ocean that I love so much. It was always worth the risk.

photo (3)My grandmother painted this from a photograph of me in their backyard in St. Croix.

But somehow, that Lieutenant-Dan-screaming-into-the-storm attitude toward the liquid ocean doesn’t translate into the ocean of life for me.

Or does it?

The ocean doesn’t care; I am insignificant on its Neptunian scale. I swim anyway, when I can, luxuriating in its embrace.

Life doesn’t care; I am insignificant on its primordial scale. I live anyway, every day. I luxuriate when I can; I struggle to tread water when I must.

I am stubborn. I haven’t quit. Things happen, but I still make choices. I haven’t given in and huddled under a blanket forever, although that does have its appeal.

KeAnne’s analogy doesn’t quite fit my water-view. The ocean is wild, yes, but pools have their own dangers. We lived on a college campus when I was ten, when my mom was finishing her degree, so my best friend and I had access to the Olympic-size pool–with its miles-high diving board. Just the sight of that thing was almost enough to send me into a panic. It was so high. I couldn’t even jump off the small one without dares and mockery from the other children. But the high one? You can call me a chicken all day long. You can point out the four-year-old jumping off without a second thought. wasn’t going to do it. I climbed up once, and climbed back down.

It’s all the same to me. Wherever you choose to swim, there’s danger lurking somewhere nearby. Maybe in, around, or under; maybe the water itself. It’s always there. But I still have to jump in, just not from a height. I still kick and frolic and dive. Because the choice is already made for me when I see the water. I have to go in. I can’t resist.

And the choice is made in life. There are dangers all around me, all the time. But I’m still kicking. I’m still trying to enjoy what I can when I can. I can’t resist trying to win. I can’t resist swimming.

“Through it all, the ocean keeps going, indifferent to the bruises it causes and the beauty it creates.  It’s up to us to make our way through it.”

So true, KeAnne.


Bob Marley asked: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” How would you answer him?

I copy/pasta’d the quote last night, and at that time I had a firm, ready answer: yes. I was satisfied. Not necessarily happy, certainly not ecstatic, but the life I’m living was something I could definitely handle. It was satisfactory. Not filet mignon, but a bologna sandwich.

I try. I do. I don’t know who I’m trying to convince that I’m trying, but I try. I welcome a logical, ordered progression of choices and events. As long as it makes sense somewhere, it makes sense. It fits the part of me that needs a perfect domino effect.

I chose to stay married after Ian cheated on me. Ian chose to stay married after he cheated on me. We are a team; when one of us has a problem, it’s our problem. Except for one.

I’m not done being angry. Or hurt, or betrayed, or sad, or jealous, or neglected, or ineffectual, or any number of other feelings that all stem from that one illogical, unordered, nonsensical choice. I won’t let this be our problem. It’s mine, and I can’t let my death grip on it loosen.

It’s the same bullshit brainwashing of ‘you can do anything.’ Oh, it takes two to five years to recover from an affair? I can work harder at it than anyone, I’ll blow that number out of the water. But I can’t. I can’t do that when I have to keep starting over. Sometimes I feel like I can’t make any progress, in spite of knowing that’s not true.

Today the lawyer emailed us a copy of the ruling for approval before she submitted it to the judge. I asked Ian about one paragraph, and that opened the floodgates. One thing led to another, and finally I screamed that I was upset about having to read a document that wouldn’t exist if my husband hadn’t cheated on me.

I screamed at him to leave me alone, and I’ve been lying in bed in the dark ever since.

I signed up for NaBloPoMo to get me through September. I don’t know if it’s helping. I don’t know if I would feel better or worse if I didn’t have ‘homework’ to focus on every day, to break up the daily grind of time marching on.

I want to quit everything. Take me off the NaBloPoMo list, cancel my doctor appointment tomorrow, cancel the marriage counselor appointment tomorrow, tell my boss to fuck off, and just run away alone and empty handed.

No, Bob Marley, I’m not satisfied. Not today.

What can I do? What can I change? I can define problems and find answers, so I don’t have to keep asking the same questions that hurt me so much. I can look for a way to accept that some questions will never have answers and that some feelings will never entirely disappear. I can take the time for myself that I need, instead of feeling guilty about it.

But those rare days, like today, when it seems like everything has been for nothing, are dark, scary pits. If I fall in again, I feel like I’ll be screaming forever.

In Memoriam

Grandma Inez left us early last night. She didn’t have two more weeks. She had two days. She died in her own bed, with all of her children in the room with her.

I missed my sister’s call, but I knew when I read her text saying simply ‘give me a call when you get a chance.’ I called her back and had the short conversation, tears rolling down my face. When I got off the phone, i quietly asked my husband for my medicine, then I took a shower and went to bed.

I only lay there a minute, facing the wall, before he came in and lay down next to me, putting his arm around me, telling me he was sorry about grandma, and that he loves me.

I couldn’t speak. I had so many things to say, and nothing to say. I had a knot in my throat choking off the words before they could do any more than form in my heart, sometimes before they could do that much.

I put his other arm around me and held his hand. We lay like that, not speaking, for a long time. All I could hear was my own breathing inside my head.

And all I felt was selfish.

I couldn’t stop myself from wondering why my father had never bothered to call me back. From wondering why my mother hadn’t called to check on me, when my sister told me she’d called her to let her know. From feeling that all the family that was here before me who loved me no matter what was gone.

I miss my grandparents. All of them. Because they never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Because to them, I was always perfect just the way I was.

It didn’t matter if I didn’t go to school for an extra twelve years. It didn’t matter if I was depressed. It didn’t matter how I looked or felt or acted, they always loved me, they were always proud of me, and they never let me down.

That is who I want to be when I grow up.

I rolled over, and I hugged my husband. I held him tightly, and he held me, until I couldn’t anymore. I felt his back under my hands, and I thought about how much I love him, how much I want things to be okay, how much I want us to be happy.

After another long time, we both rolled over again and snuggled up back to back. He went to sleep, and I dozed some of the night, tossing and turning for most of it, hugging my pillows.

I think to Grandma Inez, love meant pillows. She made me dozens of pillows over my lifetime. Maybe that’s why pillows mean love to me. Pillows mean love and comfort and hugs.

My grandmother always knew I loved her. And she always gave me pillows.