Emily

The sun casts a river of amber glitter atop the slow-moving waves lapping the side of my kayak, nudging me gradually out from shore. A large white sea lion eyes me from atop the rectangular dock a handful of yards away. I glance to my left and see your mother grinning while your son paddles their kayak from between her legs. To my right, near a leaning madrone on the water’s edge, I sense your presence. Not more than a dozen feet away is your daughter, the one I held just days after she was born, the same days during which you passed to the other side. She is accompanied by your best friend and her daughters, and they are wading into the sound, shrieking and laughing as the cold water shocks their bare calves.

Earlier that day we visited a bridge tucked into the woods beneath old growth doug firs, a place I understand you held dear and your children truly love. I watched them explore their surroundings, finding rocks, tossing sticks into the creek and gathering fern fronds to build with. I remember doing the same things with my sisters when I was a little girl.

It’s been five years since I saw your family, and since you left us. As I drove up the 101 North toward your yellow beach house by the sound, I had an overwhelming feeling that you were near. It was strange and magical, and I cried my way to the driveway before gathering myself to knock on the door. The weekend that followed was filled with stories and laughter and porch sitting; I even taught the kids how to hula hoop on the lawn. Your children carry your features on their faces, and the glimpses I caught of you made my heart ache and soar all at once. I miss you all over again and yet, I am comforted by spending time with your loved ones and learning about the corners of earth you treasured most.

At dusk, I sat in a white lounge chair gazing out at the two islands on the horizon, and as I scanned the water, drawing my eyes closer to the shoreline, I had to close and open them again, disbelieving what I saw. It was you – a faint outline of a woman’s profile with her hair down, the cool saltwater cupping her shoulders as she gazed out to sea. And then minutes later, a flicker of light danced across the water beneath the sinking sun, and it was an orange buoy bobbing on the waves. But I’ll never forget that image of you skinny dipping at sunset in the place where I’ve been told you felt free and comforted all your life by nature, family, friends and traditions.

I want to think of you now like this poem reads – resting ashore where you are surrounded by the salt, soil, air and trees of your childhood; safe, at peace, having arrived at last.

On this wondrous sea
Sailing silently,
Ho! Pilot, ho!
Knowest thou the shore
Where no breakers roar—
Where the storm is o’er?

In the peaceful west
Many the sails at rest—
The anchors fast—
Thither I pilot thee—
Land Ho! Eternity!
Ashore at last!

-Emily Dickensen

 

IMG-2316

 

 

Advertisements

About My Friend Abby

I want to write about my childhood friend Abby, about how much I loved this angelic tow-headed girl in black corduroy overalls from the moment I met her on a walk home from school. I want to tell you how free I felt around her to be myself at a time when that was what I needed the most. I remember most vividly how we created magic spells and faerie worlds with our imaginations; that we had countless sleepovers, and that to this day, there is no one who could make me feel as beautiful as she could while giving me one of her famed makeovers.

We were Abby one and Abby two — a couple of silly blonde and brunette girls with kindred souls on the same soccer team in elementary school. Since she passed away over a year ago, I have wanted to write about Abby countless times, but it’s been too hard. Last January, I wrote about her indirectly. Thankfully, yet heart-achingly, I finally feel ready to write some more.


The last time I got to be with her for more than an hour was on a weekend trip to Portland, a couple years before I moved there myself. We had reconnected after some years apart — our adult paths had wandered in different directions after high school, as they sometimes do. She invited me to stay with her as soon as she got settled in her new place (she was just about to move to Portland to go to beauty school).  About a month later, I decided to take her up on it. I rode the train up from Eugene, and I remember seeing her walking toward me in front of the station with that big, glowing smile of hers. Abby could take any speck of sunlight and triple it’s shine just by grinning. I had become so accustomed to her profound beauty over the years that it almost felt like old news. Almost. That day in particular, wearing a red long-sleeve top, with blonde waves caressing her cheek, she was radiant, and I was taken aback by this gorgeous woman my friend had become.

We decided to grab a drink at a bar nearby, and of course she insisted on buying my drink. That was such an Abby thing to do. Throughout our decade-long friendship, she had always been so generous to me, not only with her worldly possessions, but with her kindness. She had a complete willingness to share what little of hers she had with others — it was one of her defining characteristics, and I so admired her for it. In fact, I often felt stingy in comparison, ever-worried about not having “enough”.  It wasn’t as if Abby hadn’t lost everything before –she had. But this miraculously didn’t change her for the worst. Where some might have closed themselves off in response to the sting of the world, she gave even more freely.

She took me to her work where she introduced me to her hip crew of co-workers. It was clear to me that they meant a whole lot to her and vice versa. After chatting out back for a half hour or so with what felt like her tribe on a smoke break, we bought groceries for dinner and rode the bus back to her place. That night, while getting ready to go out in her little bathroom, I got my last and most memorable Abby makeover.

When she asked if she could do my makeup, I wasn’t too surprised. This was a game we’d played since we were 9 or 10. And now she was in beauty school, after all. I was so proud of her! I willingly closed my eyes and let her apply eye shadow. She blew on my eyelids afterwards to scatter any loose dust into the air. She took her time lovingly applying bronzer, mascara and lip color. We had a good laugh when I tried desperately not to blink during the mascara application; my eyes had a mind of their own and would clamp shut any time her little brush came near. After a fit of giggles, I regained my focus and held them open with steely resolve. When she was done, she told me I was beautiful.

There have only been a handful of moments in my life when I have truly felt seen, flaws and all, and believed another’s praise. This was one of those rare moments, and under her warm gaze, it felt effortless.

This memory of the two of us as kids-turned-adults applying makeup in the orange glow of her bathroom has remained my most enduring touchstone when I think of my friend after her death. It still conjures up a wellspring of love in my chest whenever I recall it. Of course, it also brings a torrent of sadness and longing. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know of the depth of Abby’s suffering. Of course we were privy to one another’s inner worlds as teens, when both of our worlds grew dark for a period. As we each watched our parents divorce, there was no doubt we had our share of private pain to live through. But when she switched schools, we grew apart, and evidently, there was a lot I missed.

In my hardest moments, I wonder if I had asked more questions when I saw her last, if there was something I could have done to help her. But it’s an impossible train of thought that leads me nowhere. So I cry instead, or laugh about a happy moment we’ve shared. I send her a faerie blessing from earth, and I reassure myself that she’s at peace, because in my heart I know she is.

The Sauna

It’s my birthday. Well actually I slept through it, she said. I was born in the middle of the night. I tried to relive it in my mind, but who remembers their birth anyways? That’s what I want to know.

Dark brown ringlets cascade from a haphazard pony tail stacked atop her head. She uses the towel to dry her feet, and then lets it drape loosely beneath two teacup breasts.

I try to picture her coming into the world; this woman in her mid-forties once a baby. And then I picture myself: the  darkness before the first breath of air and light. The rush of awareness, the instinct to push. The newness of understanding. The determination to be a part of all this out here.

Last night, my legs were pendulums. I let them swing from the bar stool. Thinking, thinking. Thinking. When did I start thinking about death? Must have been a long time ago. A day rarely goes by now without that hard realization of the temporariness of everything. All the people I love.

In the shower room at the sauna, I’m alone for an instant. The warm water soothes my skin, pouring down, melting over the contours, removing the layers of thought until it is just me, at home in a body, barefooted on the slate tile. Suddenly surrounded by three women. Large women. Ovals and folds, spherical shapes draping over organs. A fading tattoo of a red heart on her left buttock with the words “Fag Hag”.

I feel comforted by these large bodies; their presence make me feel like I am allowed to take up space. I think, how beautiful.

The tile is cool beneath my toes, and it is a relief to not have to talk to anyone. I can just be, water pouring overhead, soft voices drifting in and out of earshot. The women nearby gossip amongst themselves, occasionally laughing at one another’s wit. The earthy smell of Palo Santo wood drifts into the room and I breathe it in deeply.

As I dry off in the dressing room, I think about the last time I wrote a long story; it was about a woman who lost someone to suicide. I haven’t been able to go back to the story since my childhood friend died this year. The closest I came to it was in writing group when I imagined the world from the perspective of a cobweb, which then became a speck of golden dust, a product of some great force that eventually returned to the earth beneath wooden floorboards; home.

spider-webs-600495_640

Meanwhile, an elderly woman with a badly hunched back readies herself to walk to the sauna. She leans on a walker and takes baby steps, shuffling one foot after the other out of the dressing room. Her arced spine is the shape of a rainbow, leaving her head dangling beneath her chest. Sallow skin, aged and loosened by time tenses, then carries her weight gradually forward. It looks like she’s in pain, and I feel an aching sadness in my body as if her bones were my own.

I dress and head back out into the cold night. A tan pitbull eyes me from behind the legs of its owner. Zipping up my jacket, I look up – a thumbnail of moon smiles across the wide shoulders of an illuminated sky. Light fans out around it, then fades into dark indigo clouds.

I put my key in the ignition, and flick on the headlights. A pause. I breathe out. I stop wrestling. There’s just this moment. In it, everything feels both wrong and right. I’m so grateful, and so sorry, and so lost for why.

I get to be here, yet she’s taken her own life.