Sunday, June 27, 2010

all over the place

This week, I went for a run for the first time in probably three years. I also took my road bike for a spin – its tires hadn't kissed the road since before I was pregnant with Ruthie.

I met up with some sensations and muscles that I had forgotten all about. It felt good to move. It also felt good to stop.

Then, I started thinking seriously about whether and when I might attend Yoga Teacher Training. The prospect makes my soul quiver and dance. I want to start right now, but does it fit?

I've also been thinking more about my book and when it might materialize. I need to nail down and pin up some specific writing goals.

So I'm looking at some decisions: what do I want to focus on? Where do I want to invest my time? Maybe I should just figure out a way to sleep for a week.

So in an effort to distract myself and make no progress whatsoever, I decided to write a story. I have trouble falling asleep anyway, and fiction is such a lovely escape. You'll read it, won't you? Come away with me.


At the Water

Lena dropped her carry-on bag heavily on the hardwood floor of the new bedroom. The echoy thunk slapped her ears like a door slam—audible regret. Shoot, I hope I didn't just break my iPod. She scanned the empty room quickly. The pink paint would have to go, of course, but she had to admit she liked the sloped ceiling and the alcove around the window. She could easily imagine her bed against that wall and just the right antiquey desk under the window. I can do this, she thought.

She dug in her bag for her keys. Dad had driven her car down here last month when he came to close on the house while Lena stayed back to finish the school year. He had already been working at the new clinic for a couple weeks by the time she arrived. His dress shirts hung crisply in his closet, which was half the size of the one at their old house. Mom wouldn't have approved.

This will be good for us, Dad had insisted the night he left. A fresh start. Lena nodded and put up her smile like the white flag she was so used to flying. He drove straight through the night. I'd rather see Chicago at midnight than at any other time, he had joked as he poured a tall thermos of coffee.

So he was gone when Lena had padded down the moss-covered steps built into the side of the hill that led to the pier. He was too far away to see the glinting bit of gold she carried in her half-curled palm. Lena had stood on the pier a moment, feeling the slats bend as she shifted her weight from heels to toes, hesitating before she drew back her arm and pitched the ring far out into the lake. The tiny sploosh had surprised her – it had been such a dead weight hanging from her mind that she half expected it to kick up a tidal wave.

But the concentric circles spreading from that tiny ground zero faded quickly and that was it. The ring was gone. For a second, Lena thought she might dive in after it. But a single look at the lake's algae-covered surface sealed the deal in her heart. She hadn't yet decided if she had given her mother's high school class ring to the lake as an offering or as a bribe, but it certainly finalized things. She would move on. Depression and suicide are not contagious. Lena knew that above all else.

She relied on friends to ferry her to school and finally the airport. It wasn't very hard to say goodbye – her inner hedges had grown tall in the past year, fertilized by the tragedy that had eclipsed her so completely. Only her ragged edges could be touched by anyone.

The house had sold in an instant—it was valuable lakefront property, located just a day's drive from the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The new owners would just vacation here in the summer. They wouldn't know the scenery of sadness that winter could bring on and they would never see the white bathtub streaked with a watery red in their dreams. She hoped their kitchen table would be round rather than rectangular – that room had seen too many sharp corners and dividing edges.

From outside, the new house looked like it was either half awake or half asleep – Lena couldn't decide which. Its two bedrooms featured street-facing gabled windows that stared down at her with raised eyebrows and heavy lids as she sidled up to her car, keys in hand. She squinted in the sun and wondered if she would ever get used to the smell. She fingered her long ponytail and absently brushed it under her nose, half expecting that the blond strands had already absorbed the smell of low tide. The lake seemed to occupy another universe – a place where evergreens created perpetual yard shade and only the stillest afternoons smelled mildly dank and fishy. It was hard to inhale completely here.

Lena sat in the driver's seat and typed her destination into the GPS. It wasn't too far – 15 minutes and she'd be at the water. She felt guarded, though – the Atlantic seemed too big to offer anything more than anonymity. She didn't expect to call the South Carolina coast home. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

When she got off the highway, Lena parked on a residential street, a block from a public access point. She stopped at the corner board shop for some sunglasses and the screened windows all stood open to the ocean breeze. She could breathe better here.

She crossed the empty street and strode across the boardwalk and down the steps to the beach, focusing on her feet and the countless divots in the sand. So many others had walked here first. She didn't look up. She didn't want to see the horizon and know that the ocean went on practically forever until it finally touched the sky. It was too much.

She kicked off her shoes in the dry sand so she could feel the wet, compact shoreline under her bare feet. She looked back and felt comforted by the footprints trailing behind her – they marched forward confidently and without a trace of hesitation, and it was impossible to identify exactly where they began. Her eyes swept the sand, fiddling over the shells and stones that piqued her gaze – and then – the sun reflected sharply off an object on the ground and burned a transitory spot into her vision. Probably just a bottle top. People never think twice about throwing trash at the water, like it will just dissolve.

But wait – no – Lena picked up the object and held it in her palm. Waves crashed in her ears. It was a solid band of silver: smooth, unmarked, unadorned. She wiggled it over the knuckle of her left thumb. Snug, still hot from the sun.

A few more steps and the waves could lick her toes. Lena knelt and submerged her hands in the water. The water crawled up her arms – a cooling touch. The ring caught the sunlight again and she raised her face to the horizon.

Suddenly Lena felt like she was stiffly shaking hands with a dear friend. She stood, and without thinking about clothes or keys, she plunged into the water and danced in the waves, buoyed and light.