Sunday, May 15, 2016

Trapped by Commitment

Finally, after 17 straight days of rain, the sun has broken through. I feel the pull to go into my garden and dig in the wet dirt, plant my roses and arugula, while the window of opportunity is open. But what I really have on my agenda is to write – write through and finish Shadow and Light.

And I’m going to. I feel the breeze blow through the open window and catch the slant of morning rays through the trees. Mottled light dances on the hostas. My lady slipper orchid basks in a patch of sun that brightens the corner of the dining room. Isn’t it enough notice?

But a bigger question dogs me this morning, my lens pulled back to wide angle: What are you up to, Annie?  What really matters in this world? 

On the cushion for a brief, fidgety moment, it occurs to me:  I’m fluttering around, like I’ve throughout my life, the quintessential floater, from flower to flower. I get confused. I’m not sending a clear message to the universe about what I want.  So it’s confused too.

I do this to hedge my bets.  Of course I do.  It was a habit learned so early, or ingrained in my genetic code, or both.  And in all that brilliant coping…I end up with nothing. Or what feels like nothing. Though I know that’s what the Dark Force calls it to keep me running scared.

It doesn’t help that one of the things I’ve chosen to do with my life is one of the hardest, most unrewarding endeavors in the world:  This writing. No wonder I chose it.  The rejection is endless and the moments of triumph so rare, it adds more fuel to my fire that I’m worthless. And the Dark Force grins with sinister glee.

I feel trapped in the commitment I made to myself to write this Mexico book.  There’s no way I’m giving up!

Didn’t this happen in the Peace Corp too?  Didn’t this happen in my marriage? Didn’t this happen in my adolescence? Imprisoned in my parents’ drama, I’d do anything to escape, and yet was compelled to stay, protect, fix the un-fixable. Confined by my own commitment, I would not let the bastards take me down. So I persevered. And when it didn’t work out how I’d envisioned, again and again, I got the point where I couldn't trust my own commitment.  

Do something.  Help yourself.  Recognize this. You’re caught in a double-bind. You can’t WIN this game, sucker!

It’s almost comical. I can feel a tiny bubble of laughter rise out of my throat.  Ha ha ha. That giddy acknowledgement leads to a question: What matters?  The meditation practice matters, because it allows me to step back, not be the situation but the observer and, for a brief moment, laugh at it. That, and the writing, will save my lonely life, if the writing, ironically, doesn’t kill me.

Does anyone else feel this way?  Or only the childless mothers out there whose commitment to their own freedom has left them with way too much time to ponder?

Back to birthing the book, pushing through the pain. I’m long overdue. 

But first I take a moment to gaze at my happy lady slipper.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Bundled in my layers, slicker on top, cap pulled over my ears and boots zipped up, I’m headed to the Breakwater with Mom in my pocket.

When you first start out on this bridge of boulders traversing the bay your steps are tentative, the spaces between puzzle pieces of rock are chasms. You must watch for every foot fall, sure you don’t miss. But after a while, concentration fixed, the wide gait becomes natural, the pace picks up, and by halfway, the speck of Long Point lighthouse grown to the size of a pencil tip, you have your rhythm. 

Far enough from both shores, smack in the middle of the harbor and not a human in sight, that’s when I start looking for a put-in place.

The tide is coming up gradually, filling the marsh. The gulls soar low, eyeing their pray. I spot a calm tide pool not too far below the elevated walk. But I must crouch down and lower myself on my rear, watchful of my footing on the slick, mossy rock. 

‘Careful, daughter,’ Mama tells me. ‘That’s close enough.’  

She is right. On the cusp of spring that water’s at its icy coldest. I secure my boots on some rocky nubs, release my grip to unzip my jacket pocket, and carefully pull out the zip lock baggie.

It’s a good day for dispersing ashes. The wind is calm, barely perceptible. Strings of hair lightly brush my face. Yesterday I made it only half-way across the jetty and kept Mom safe in my pocket. The gusts so strong, I felt like they might just rip the nose from my face, and would surely have swirled her powdery remains in all directions. 

I inch a little closer to the dark pool and see that it’s alive with mollusks, minnows and ribbons of undulating seaweed.  I cock my arm back and teeter for a moment.

Mom yelps a high-pitched ‘Ohhh.’  She was always such a scardy-cat.  

‘I’m fine,’ I assure her, as I always had to about anything remotely risky. I’ve mastered this ritual by now, taking Mom on my travels and setting her free in some way-out places, both sides of the Atlantic:  in Portugal, at the majestic rose garden of Bom Jesus, into the roiling surf at Assateague Island, off a precipitous rock face La Coruna, Spain, outside my own front door, into the frothy currents of Rock Creek. And now here, on this tiny fingertip of land that juts into Cape Cod Bay. 

I inhale, steadying myself, and on the exhale swing my arm underhanded like a pendulum, letting Mom go at the top of my pitch. Her snow white bits of bone and dust fly through the air. The finer particles blow back and land on the rock, but most of her rains down onto the surface of the water then drifts like silt to the sandy bottom.

It’s quiet and calm down there, a place my mother, the cerebral introvert, will like as she awaits the tide to take her out sea. She’ll summer with the Provincetown fishermen and the ferries (both kinds).

I release two more pinches as I recite my prayer to Imanja, Condoble goddess of the sea: May you flow with the currents, into the Vs, out to the sea, where one day you’ll meet me and we’ll live forever hap-pi-ly. 

I realize it’s corny, with its rhymes and iambic pentameter rhythm. But it’s become part of the ritual and no one needs to know about it but Mom and me. I stuff the empty baggie back in my pocket, brush my dusty fingers against my leggings, and crawl backwards like a crab up the rock. 

Regaining my footing on the jetty I stand tall, watch the water lap against the rock below. Above me, the sun tries to push through a bank of clouds, its rays casting patterns of shadow and light across the moor. I feel myself smile as the sky opens up, and the lines become defined. It’s turning into the perfect day for our ritual.

It’s my turn now. Once I’ve released Mom, I feel I’m entitled to some requests.

I ask for love – I always ask for that.  I need it more than ever now that she’s gone. And now that she’s gone, it’s easier for me to receive it.

‘All that I have,’ she says, and I already know, but it’s nice to hear.

Getting closer to where stone meets sand, my steps in a mesmerizing rhythm now, I try to push away the presence of my brother and sister, there on the rock with me, behind my shoulder. They’ve been gone from my life since Mom died, maybe long before that, and I miss them, or some idea of them. I feel the pinpricks of tears tickle my nose.

‘I’m sorry, daughter,’ says Mom.

This hurts her as much as it hurts me, that she couldn't hold us together. So I try not to bother her too much about it.  ‘Just tell them I’m really not all that bad.’

‘Of course, but you know they don’t listen to me,’ she laments. 

‘I didn’t either, for the longest time.’ 

The lighthouse is near, its image transformed from a flat white cutout to three dimensions. It rises tall and majestic out of the yellow dunes. I’ve made it to the other side, but I can’t linger. Darkness is falling. As I turn back to the mainland, and see the distance I have to go, I feel a flash of adrenaline. The jetty’s arrow points home. I resume my steps, running now, and I ask for one more wish, as though three is all I get when I really know it’s endless. I ask my mom for the Muse.  

‘Ah, that one’s easy,’ Mom says through me.  ‘She is you, daughter.’

And so today, maybe she is.