The sun in September.
Hurricane Donna struck the coast of New York in the early mornng hours. It had lumbered up the Eastern Seaboard slowly before its dark arrival. I awoke to windows rattling in the nearly hundred mile an hour wind and rain splashing against the panes in waves so heavy I thought the glass would smash. There was nothing between my bedroom and the furious storm except those flimsy windows. Our apartment was on the top floor of a building that sat on the top of a hill. It seemed to me like we lived in the clouds. Our windows overlooked a couple of steep, downhill blocks of one-story homes and culminated at the beach. The horizon was the Atlantic Ocean. There was nothing to buffer our home. I sat in a panic until the daylight which came slow and weak. Then, the damage could be seen. Tree limbs on top of parked cars, streets flooded and the traffic light swaying on broken wires.
The daylight seemed to break the intensity of the storm. The winds slowly abated and pouring rain subsided. By midday, Donna was gone. There were breaks in the clouds that let the sun shine down. It was then that my father took my sister and me for a walk on the beach. We walked on streets that were eerily quiet. The few stores we passed were still closed. Occasionally, we had to circumvent huge puddles that looked more like ponds around the curbs. But, the real amazement came when we left the streets and walked on the beach toward the shore.
When daylight first broke, we could see the roiling surf but now, standing just a few feet away, great white crests crashed down hard spewing salty drops over us. The sound was so loud, so constant, that we had to shout to hear each other. The sand was littered with dead horse shoe crabs, broken shells and sea weed. There were bits of boats and ropes and tree trunks sticking out of the sand at odd angles. For as far as we could see, there were no other people there.
When we returned home, the windows were no longer rattling and the sun was shining. We settled in to a calm, normal evening.
Winter in Upstate New York.
At least I think I remember what it was like to be love for the first time. I’m not sure what my mind has done to the actual, the factual, if that exists. Have I embellished some things? Did I bury others? Do I chose to remember the romantic and forget the angst? How susceptible is my memory to my current state of mind?
I’m fairly certan that these questions arise because there is a substantial distance in time and experience from the event I’m trying to remember. It’s like trying to make out what exactly lies on the point of the horizon where land meets sky. The more you focus on it, the fuzzier it gets.
Unlike some people, I usually don’t have memory problems. Sometimes, I think I remember too much and it might be good to try and forget things that lead to negative feelings. Forgetting past ills can be cathartic. Forgetting can also be a convenient way to change history, to reinvent yourself. Do I recall a past that confirms, even flatters who I imagine myself to be today?
Well, all that aside, here is what I remember.
I remember the excitement of meeting someone new. The world morphed into a magical place from the lonely, empty space I knew. I remember a smile taking over my face seemingly of its accord and my heart racing when I saw him. I remember feeling light as air and I thought surely I was capable of the most amazing things.
I don’t remember how we parted. I cannot remember if we even acknowledged that our love was over. We just took off in different directions. I willed myself not to think of the past, to concentrate on the future.
I think of you often. Just this month, I received a letter from your brother Aksel’s granddaughter in Norway. It came via a circuitous route. Actually, it’s amazing that it reached me. It was mailed to our old home where you and Mom brought us up and it was addresses to Gjertine, my dear sister who is gone now too. The letter languished in the Post Office’s saved mail while the current owners of our house were off on vacation. When they returned and received the letter, rather than returning it to sender, they contacted a woman in the neighborhood who has my address and phone number. She sent the letter to me.
When I opened it, I found that Heidi and her family had visited New York in October and were hoping to get together with us. I am so sorry I missed them and I’m going to write and tell them so. In the envelope was a picture that Aunt Henrietta had displayed on her bureau. It was of you, Uncle Aksel, Gjertine and me on Uncle Aksel’s fishing boat. Although I was only 8 years old then, I remember Mom snapping the picture.
I am hoping that someday I will return to Norway and visit with our family again. I am well as is everyone else. Still, after all these years, I miss you. I wish we could get together and drink coffee and discuss books and politics again. It’s November and soon the holidays will be here and I will miss you and Mom and Gjertine even more.
I always think of you with love.
Where I Write.
Where I write has to be quiet. Sound, even beautiful bird songs can distract me. Then again, when I am stuck on something–say searching for the right word–it often helps to lift my eyes away from the page and listen to those songs for a moment. A part of my mind drifts into the music and for that brief time I forget being stuck and I soar with the birds. When I look back at the page, the word is ready to be written.
Where I write has to have a lamp. I need lots of light especially pm dark December mornings or late night sessions. However, an overhead light will due when I want to pound the laptop keys fast and I decide to sit at a table.
I used to think I needed a view to write–a window to the world–to check the weather, to see the breeze change the shape of the trees, to provide a greater vision, a wider expanse. But, I’ve found that isn’t necessary. My mind provides all the scenery I need.
Flower in full bloom.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw
I had a fierce desire to be independent when I was young. Making it on my own was critical. I wouldn’t settle for anything less. Yet, I had hardly prepared for independence. Majoring in English Literature in college didn’t quite put me on a fast track career path. I found myself panic stricken as the end of my senior year approached.
I expressed my fear to a group of people at a party and the serious nature of my comment brought the conversation to a halt. But, I could see concern in the face of a woman sitting across from me. Maryann was a few years older than I and she’d been in the workforce for a couple of years. In the silence that followed my remark, she suggested I apply to New York University where she worked and where they were currently hiring. Maryann’s pretty face and caring eyes reached across the room and I felt a shot of confidence. A few weeks later, I found myself meeting with an Employment Counselor at NYU who referred me to the Financial Aid Office for an entry level position. They offered me the job and I was on my way!
Soon I had an apartment, a bank account and a credit card. With each acquisition, my confidence grew. I felt the courage to dream of the future and the conviction to become exactly who I wanted to become.
I equate hope with prayer. The two are linked by a strong bond. Of course, prayer is tied to religious belief. Hope is not. I stopped praying when I was a teen and I gave up on hope soon after. The phrase “dashed hope” took on painful meaning after college when my visions of a confident, happy adulthood crashed with reality. I pushed hope into the wishful thinking category. If I wanted something, I had to work to get it. There was no time to waste on hope.
I thought of myself as optimistically realistic. I took every step I could to create the life I wanted. Sure, there were missteps and sometimes I took a circuitous route when a straight line would have sufficed but, for the most part, I made progress.
Then, out of nowhere, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. When asked about the prognosis, the doctor said–get your affairs in order.
My younger sister. My best friend.
I read everything I could find on lung cancer and I found myself hoping that she would be one of the very few who would beat the disease. The odds were totally against this but she was young. She was strong. She was determined. Triumphs and setbacks ensued. I began to pray–Dear God, please help my sister. She was valiant. She fought hard. But, in the end, she became too weak to continue the fight. Then I hoped and prayed that she would not suffer any longer.