I have been transported by rubber and steel and tar and and gasoline – by focus and NPR and thumbs and Mexican horns blowing harmonies like locks fit with their keys. I detoured from I-95 before I hit D.C., driving the slightly longer and certainly more scenic route through Pennsylvania. No sign of snow or ice was on the roads as I navigated through the flat-ish farmed valleys framed by mountains that have been tamed by time and ice into aggrandized hills that remind me of my childhood home in the Ozarks.
It is the last terrain to be covered before one returns to the urbanity of the great Metropolis I left about a month ago. Strange to think how much has changed since then. When I left New York in December, I thought I felt the winds of change – I just didn’t realize quite the direction they were blowing. Or how chilly they would be.
But being in my happy place – my grandmother’s sculpture studio – reminds me of other cold Christmases I’ve survived: it never fails to be a time of challenges for me, it seems. As the years have gone by, once-close friends have fallen out of my orbit, though I know they’re circulating in their own spheres not far from my own. I choose not to intersect with the old boyfriend who works downtown – the former friend who frequents that particular bar. Instead I spent many nights in the company of my oldest friends in Sarasota: John the Fireman and Lara.
Lara entered my life through my sister Erika and over the years, the two of them began to include me in the friendship.
We went out for dinners and drinks and nights dancing to coverbands in smoky bro-filled bars. Every year, we’d have a dinner together at Lara’s house where we would watch a silly movie and eat and drink and generally be merry. Lara and I have kept up the tradition, though it has become a Trader Joe’s feast and I now read Lara’s tarot cards, too.
This year we watched Boyhood, the Richard Linklater film about a young boy and his sister growing up with a single mother in Texas. It was a really insightful movie, but it went only half watched before Lara needed to go to bed – I packed up and headed over to John’s house.
John (the Fireman) entered my life over ten years ago when I graduated from college and came to Sarasota for my sister Skye’s wedding. I believe Lara introduced me to him, but I might be the only one who recalls. Over the years we’ve gone to shows and watched bizarre art films, he’s visited me in New York and been with me at strangely crucial moments. I’ve watched his house change over the years, reflecting his string of live-in girlfriends and changing interests.
John is like a jester – it is hard not to laugh around him. And he does have an uncanny ability to find himself in awkward situations, like driving a truck loaded with a massive pedicab sticking straight up like a totem pole.
We went to an open mic on one of my last nights in town and I enjoyed watching him play his de-tuned bass – what I think of as his performance art.
I am lucky to have great friends – fortunate to have weeded out the old from my life, though I can look back with fondness. Truth be told, I hardly think about those old boogeymonster relationships anymore – the ones that caused me such seemingly interminable pain in bygone eras. I walk on the dust of those old ghosts and they disperse beneath my every step, without a sound – without my noticing, most of the time.
My grandmother’s house can not be tarnished by the memories of pain born there, because it is such a safe and cared for place. A place that changes slowly and subtly and with intention.
The last weekend I spent in Florida, mom and I drove up past Tampa with the truck loaded up with kayaks and camping gear to claim a site near the river where mom had planned to take us kayaking the next day with my sister and her family.
We pitched our tent from the back of the truck and mom made us some cozy little beds. We drove to the projected end point for the next day, to scope it out, and took a wee detour on what looked like a road on Google maps, but turned into a sandy track down which we proceeded warily, though we only, luckily, met one other vehicle on our way.
We eventually made it out of the woods, despite mom’s kayaks shaking loose several times, and found the restaurant at the end of the kayak float, where we ate onion rings and I had a beer and then we headed back to the site.
We took Sprite for a walk into the cypress glen near sunset and then returned to camp to make the evening’s fire and food.
I made gumbo with veggie sausage and okra and plantains. We had it over brown rice that mom made over the fire. After dinner, it was pretty cold so we retreated relatively early to our sleeping bags and read for a while.
In the morning, mom made breakfast burritos with eggs and cheese and salsa and toasted the wraps in the skillet, making it crispy outside. Mmmm.
Skye and her entourage arrived: Cameron, Cate, Charlee and Brent – her fiancee. We packed up lunches and I stayed at camp with the two girls, teaching them chords on the guitar, as they unloaded the boats at the put-in and mom drove to the end-point to drop off her truck and return with an additional kayak.
After a quick delay when mom realized she’d left Sprite at the end-point (oops!) we were off!
Cameron, Catelin and Charlee each took a small single seater boat and Skye shared a boat with Brent, while mom and I partnered, Sprite co-piloting. We paddled a ways up the slow, tea-colored river and the day warmed up slowly as well. We stopped for lunch and Cameron warned me just before fires ants engulfed my feet – sparing me from even worse injury than I got.
After lunch, mom got in a boat with Catelin and Charlee got in with her dad – Skye, Cam and I got our own boats and we paddled through cypress swamp, punctuated with red swamp maples.
It was a lovely, if exhausting day – especially for the girls. Catelin snoozed as we finally arrived at the bridge which marked the end of the trip.
Back at the camp, I made veggie chilli and we had it over Fritos with cheese and salsa and some very spicy jalapeno and the meat-eaters added grilled sausages to their plates.
We got the fire going and made s’mores and played games and music around the fire. The girls went to bed and Cameron stayed up with us, hanging out and being awesome. I played Under the Boardwalk for him and eventually we all went to bed: mom in the truck bed, me with the kids in the tent, and Skye with Brent in their vehicle. A comfortable night was not exactly had by all, as there were not quite enough beds to go around, but we survived and made it to breakfast where we made cocoa for the kids and coffee for everyone else. Mom made french toast with almonds and we went for a walk in the woods before Skye et al had to head back to Tampa.
Mom and I drove back to Sarasota, agreeing it had been a good trip.
And suddenly, it was nearly time for me to leave. We had some lovely weather the last few days I was there. Mutti returned to her gardening after several days of enforced stillness and bad weather kept her inside. I had an appointment to get my tattoo touched up and expanded a bit and I dropped off some items at the thrift store. I was waiting for my car to get a clean bill of health after getting some work done and then it was time. I packed up my car Thursday evening and headed up to Tampa for one last night with the kids and Skye.
We played guitar and I helped Cam with his homework (though I also spilled ink on the carpet like Bad Mousie. Sigh. Do we ever grow up?).
I waited around for the kids to go to school the next day before heading out of town, north, into the second half of winter. But it got sunny and warmer as I drove, the front dissipating. I made it to Durham in time for dinner and rejoiced to be with friends again.
The next day we went for a morning walk and enjoyed what passes for winter in idyllic North Carolina. Then we went to a baby’s first birthday party where I got to see all manner of other people’s children and play with them, likely contracting a cold from one of them, unfortunately, but I like baby-time. Mary Caton’s baby is especially adorable.
We walked back to the house and spent the evening watching Boyhood (so I got to see the ending – hurrah!).
I caught up with another friend in town and then, poof, time again to move. I left around noon Monday, after one last walk with MC and her little one, and arrived back to my little corner of Brooklyn as if nothing has changed.
I so love the cozy camp-out feel of my grandmother’s studio that I forget how much I love my little room – how nice it is to have a space – a room of one’s own. I love my family, but I have always felt restricted by old notions of my personhood. I am not the same person I was two years ago or even two months ago. Two weeks seems like an eternity.
Sometimes it is hard to see the point of the trials we put ourselves through. I’ve always believed in the power of love to heal, especially after appropriate doses of time and space. A case in point: last night I met up with my cousins and my Aunt Susan – who was married to my Uncle Flip. Despite all that she went through with my uncle’s illness, which was a prolonged and hard, she didn’t lose faith that she could and would find love again, that everything comes in time.
The merry-go-round of emotion may spin, but we can choose to embody love instead of fear – to express love openly and honestly when it stirs in us. It is hard to quell the voice of fear and loss, as I well know. It laid me low three years ago, and I refuse to go back there again – it isn’t because I don’t love deeply, or because I think there’s nothing left to say, but I realize this time around that there is nothing I can do or say to “earn” love, if it is mine. I’ve spent my life trying to overcome any Scorpionic tendency to manipulate others, so I’m taken by surprise when others have no problem manipulating and controlling those they purport to love. But I don’t want love that controls, or lies, or attacks. Love that hurts.
I don’t want compulsion or force or manipulation. It is all just drama – theater.
But I am no stranger to the transformational. These times rear their hydra heads of difficulties – things beyond my control – some things I have no wish to control. Some things that must be controlled, lest they control me.
I have been delving into my personal history of late, trying to decode the oldest imprints left on me, the deepest ones. There are only so many ways of accessing the psyche – especially the parts we didn’t have words yet to process when they made they’re mark. Trauma takes many forms and creates many echoes through our lives. I was listening to a journalist discuss the effects of PTSD, and realized that all traumas affect us like PTSD, only smaller traumas might make smaller waves – more manageable ones. But places where our lives touch death – those places make the trauma into a tidal wave that threatens to overwhelm us, because it changes our entire landscape. And anything that brings up that old loss is met with panic, fight or flight reactions that far outweigh whatever triggered them.
It takes courage to face down ancient trauma – it disrupts and uproots all that has been built on the old scar tissue. But the alternative is a life frozen and lived through vicarious fantasies. A life which eventually petrifies and closes up – which forgets how to love and be loved and remembers only how to reject and annihilate.
I’m desirous of change, but for now, I’m just content to be still. But I know others feel it too: my dad finally decided to close down his business and move on to the next phase of his life. If he can release his old patterns, so can we all.
Love and miss,