The campground is still. Everyone cleared out early this beautiful, drizzly, grey morning because of last night’s downpour. I can’t blame them. I did the same thing, breaking camp at record speed from the primitive campground I was able to secure at the last minute. When I arrived, it was dusty and dirty but after Saturday’s monsoon rains, I woke up to ponds of mud. Dogs and mud and camping, I don’t think so, so Monet and I and headed into town for a cup of Lily’s latte and a veggie breakfast burrito.
Right now, and I suspect for the rest of the week while I’m here, it will remain quiet. Labor Day is a full week behind us and now us retirees come out of the woodwork and pantomime part-aay—whoot, whoot—like it’s 1976.
Right now, I can hear the rush-rush-rush of The-Weekend’s-Over-traffic, but it is muffled, almost like the breaking waves. This stillness, this calmness, sitting under my black umbrella as the rain drizzles around me, feels like my mother’s powder puff on my ruddy cheeks. When Katie was born, 31 years ago, everyone in the household was holy, reverentially, silent. We tiptoed. We spoke in whispers. We were in awe and transfixed by this tiny fawn of a human child. Being silent in Nature is like that. And even though “civilization” is just a mile away, I am uplifted, swaddled by an imaginary stork.
The rain is so welcomed to drought-weary California. Even though it can mess up plans—camping, outdoor birthday parties, hikes—it is an exciting reminder of change, how, as much as we try to be organized, we’re actually not in control of the big stuff, like the weather, or accidents, or terminal diseases.
Living-in-the-moment is my new discipline. Clearly, I need a lot more practice!
Having time helps, as does not worrying about unpaid bills. I had no idea that this State of Being was even possible. To sit, like I am, drinking a very strong cup of Kona coffee at my favorite campsite on a Sunday afternoon, not stressing about rushing home, what I’m going to teach tomorrow, watching the little yellow bird jump from bush to bush, enjoying my own company, is astounding, is an experience I wish everyone could also enjoy.
I am grateful that I was able jump when I was ready, that nothing pushed me off the edge; an illness, a financial calamity, a negative attitude about my home, my family, my city. I left with tears in my eyes, and love.
I suppose I’ll be processing the why I left and its implications for some time to come. What I know is I craved silence. I craved the white space of a clean canvas. I craved staring at the ocean for as long as I want. I craved saturating myself in being open to conversations with strangers, paying attention to interactions and relationships, being the observer and, when it feels right, the participant.
So yesterday, after a night at a dog-friendly hotel and enjoying an engaging dinner with my dear friends, Julie and her best-guy-ever husband, Ken, I decided to save money on a second night at the hotel, and reserved a primitive campground just a mile east of the one I booked for the upcoming week. I’m in wine country and driving past some of my favorite wineries without stopping was weird and very much unlike me; I figured, I’m by myself, I have my dog, it’s hot, and solo wine tasting isn’t fun if you don’t have a buddy with you.
But the vibrational pull of Vineyard Drive off the 46 and my favorite wineries was just too much for me.
You know, I had no choice. So, I turned right at the turnabout and took my Aloha Time down the oak-tree canopied winding road.
The folks at Rangeland Wines on the westernmost edge of Paso Robles are like family to me, so I figured I wouldn’t feel so pathetic wine-tasting alone. I love the owners, Laird and Lisa Foshay, their writer son, Jackson, and their sweet black and white herder pup. We always talk about the books we’re reading, the complexities of Climate Change, of course wine, and sometimes poetry.
Saturday, the tasting room was packed, more patrons than I’d ever seen before, but somehow Rangeland’s accommodating staff found room for me and seated Monet and I next to four senior citizen regulars; we immediately begin chatting about dogs, how my cattle dog isn’t especially friendly, and how much we loved Rangeland.
One of the men, a particularly upbeat, chatty guy, shared that he was celebrating because he sold his house—full asking price on the first day—and would be moving to Utah to a senior citizen complex that provides assisted living. “Weren’t you sad?” I asked. “Hell no! I’m sick of all the work,” he said. His friend, a woman who appeared to be in her mid70s, said they would be joining him in a couple of years because they can’t stand the Governor and the direction California appears to be heading. “It’s not so bad here, but in Los Angeles and San Francisco it’s just awful,” she complained, assuming I was on the same political page as her.
I didn’t get into it with her, but I love California, just like my immigrant parents did. Sure, there are parts that are annoying. The traffic. The congestion. The home prices. The homeless problem. But that’s true of all cities, I suspect. But look at our beaches. Look at our mountains, our National Parks, our economic opportunities, our diversity. Look at Kirk, one of the servers at Eberle Winery, another winery I stopped at (couldn’t help myself—it was close to the hotel!); he’s a long-retired principal (his son is also a principal) and he’s in love with his second career, pouring wine and talking about the challenges teachers and children face, and wondering about solutions.
“My son is in the class teaching because there aren’t enough teachers to fill the vacancies,” he said.
My friend, Julie, whose daughter is also a principal, told me the same thing. Hopeful educators are burning out, yearning to leave the profession. Educators are being blamed for problems they didn’t cause and can’t solve.
Man, oh man, we knew this was coming. It was predicted 20 years ago when I went back to college, at age 44, to earn my teaching credential and Master’s degree. We actually do know how to fix it: Teachers need to be respected monetarily. Teachers also need time to reflect and restore. Finland figured this out at the end of World War II when they systematically re-evaluated, and addressed, their national values and priorities; they made societal changes accordingly. I remember meeting a young Finnish mother on a paid-for, year-long maternity leave as we were waiting to get our passports renewed; she said that in her nation teachers are placed on a pedestal,”They more important than doctors.”
See, as I’ve been sitting here relaxing, thinking about birds and trees and the walk I’m going to go on in a few minutes now that the rain has stopped, I’m not checking out. I’m restoring. Getting better. Maybe edging to a place, in the future—not now—of boredom. At some point, I’m going to get tired of reading and relaxing. And no, as my sister asked today, “Do ever get lonely?” Not yet. I talk to people. Listen. I have days and weeks to think, which is what everyone needs.
Did I tell you, I’m on my second book, “The Namesake”, a paperback I picked up for a dollar at the library? Did I tell you that I once again crave writing? Did I tell you I’ve painted my second watercolor? Did I tell you that for the first time in years I languished in the hammock, fell asleep, and had a dream? Did I tell you today feels like Fall? Did I tell you a woman who was walking behind me noticed these magical, crispy yellow leaves dropping on me like a bride on her way to her honeymoon, and said, “Make a wish. It’s supposed to be good luck”?
I stopped on the muddy pathway, arched by poplar trees and a ribbon of campfire smoke, and closed my eyes.
There I was, 66 but feeling like 6, believing in Santa Claus, the magic of Walt Disney, and all the songs of my youth that said dreams really do come true.
So, what did I dream? You know I can’t tell. But I’ll let you know when it happens.
I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding this. Writing. Figuring things out. The Scary Silence. The deadline-less lifestyle. The lack of traffic and noise. The simple, simple life I lead. Surely, in this floatation passage of Week Three Without a Home I have figured out some Epic Truth About Life?
I haven’t heard the St. Winifred’s Grappenhall Church bells yet. No rainbows. No shooting stars.
Fleeting moments of wisdom sail across the sea, bringing tears to my eyes. And then, just as suddenly, I forget what moved me and lounge chair-rest into The Moment, you know, the state of just being, a wave pattern of bliss; nothing else matters but the here and now.
I sleep late. I’m resting better than I have in years. Yes, I get up, toss and turn—courtesy of my aching bones. But I am sleeping soundly beneath the stars, to the sound machine of the beckoning ocean waves. Sometimes, I think about the “shoe” dropping, a problem that is expensive or I can’t solve; problems with the house, the sale of the house, my bank robbed, or the engine of my 21-year-old van blowing up (even though I just spent a ton of $$$ fixing it). Worries are still there, but they are pale blue instead of Las Vegas neon.
I am enjoying my wine.
Over the last three days, I have consumed 1½ bottles of wine. By myself. Me. Alone. Solo. Starting with dinner—olive bread, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese, green peas, a handful of walnuts—my first night. Adding a Chardonnay from Castle Rock today at lunch and finishing last night’s J. Dusi red wine blend (all-women run company) as I consume the last chapter of a book I’ve been reading for months, Sue Monk Kidd’s “A Book of Longings”. The book, if you haven’t read it, is about the imagined wife of Jesus, Ana. She longs for, thus the title of the book, respect and a chance to pursue a career beyond her marriage to her very cool, very hip and adorable life partner. While the premise may offend some, I appreciate Kidd’s, “I wonder what would happen if….?” curiosity and her exhaustive research. 10/10 for originality, writing style and escapism.
So, what is so pressing that I felt the need to pull out my laptop and document my status quo as I sit beneath the blooming stars and almost-full moon at a not-perfect camp spot near Cambria, my most favorite place on the planet?
1. This is my home.
2. I need to wander.
3. I need to be here.
I’ve known this for more than 30 years. I’ve camped along the Central Coast for decades, usually about six times a year. The air. The wind. The skies. The crisp fog. The rain. The stillness.
I am alone on this camping trip. But I am not. Everything is familiar. Everything is comfortable. I am at ease. I am where I am supposed to be. My landing place. My raft in the stormy seas.
Literally, every single time I Ieave Cambria, I feel like crying. And I do.
Upon leaving, I try to talk myself out of chest-crushing sadness and give myself a pep talk, “You’ll be back soon enough.” I do my best to avoid L.A. Freeway Hell. But it never fails, the traffic, the people, the foul, heat and smoggy weather, always greets me like a Haunted Mansion Ghoul. I just don’t like Southern California any more.
It has been my home for 66 years. And I think, no, I’m pretty sure, I want a divorce.
* * *
post Labor Day,
post most kids back to school,
in a campground I’ve been to dozens and dozens of times before;
there is something so familiar and reassuring and meant-to-be;
it is hard to fathom why it’s hard to write,
hard to think,
hard to commit to The Next Step,
The Next Chapter,
the Next Place.
I’ve known it for as long as I’ve known myself.
Soon. I’d say within the next year, I will find the perfect place. Within my budget. With a view of the sea. Charming. Vintage. Feels like home. Because it will be.
This will be my place. No regrets. A fresh start.
While I long to wander, I also know I need a nest.
I met a woman at the local grocery store today. She was in her 80s. I told her I’ve been dreaming of living here for 30+ years. She said, “You should do it,” and smiled before shifting lanes and chatting with a cashier friend. She could be me in 30 years. A little old lady content with life.
We met up again, outside the grocery store, and I offered to help her onto the Cambria Community bus. “One day, I hope to be your neighbor,” I said. “But not just yet. I am on a traveling adventure.”
“Good for you,” she said, smiling again. “Do it while you can.”
That’s what people tell me. Travel while you can.
Things happen. The Great Next. But for now, I’m cruising in my VW camper van, staying open, learning lessons, trying to listen, and enjoying the feeling of floating on a flaming pink floaty to destinations unknown.
I’ve been sleeping on the porch for the last two nights. Just can’t get enough of the ocean, the rainstorms, the stars, the singing birds, the clouds, the trade winds, the feeling of total love and relaxation here in Paradise, otherwise known as Kaena, Kauai.
We are staying at my niece’s friend’s charming, vintage, Hawaiianesque/Malibu-y cottage a stone’s throw from the ocean. I’m with Julie’s family, my sister and cousin and today is our last full day. And no, I don’t want to leave. Ever. I want to wave goodbye to my peeps and say, “Mahalo, I’ll see you when you come back,” and then have my third mug of Kona coffee and return to the porch, read, write, create art, listen to Hawaiian music and later in the day, wander over to the food trucks for some dinner. Or maybe I’ll eat two papayas instead, with a scoop of yogurt and macademia nut granola.
It is sprinkling again. And my sun-dried, ocean-crisped skin is, fortunately, re-hydrating. The birds, these fascinating, abundant members of the Los Angeles Chorale, are serenading me. Honestly, it feels like I’m in Disney’s “Snow White” and these Celine Dion-tongued birds are musically encircling me with an orchid lei. But I’m not doing a jig, I’m writing, trying my best to capture Paradise in a Box so I can take it back with me to the Mainland, open it like a jeweled case, and whenever I feel the need, conjure this vibrant land of watercolor possibilities ,
I don’t want to go home. Oh, that’s right, I don’t have a home. I could actually stay as long as I want. And maybe I will.
Just not right now.
I’m in the settling-into-retirement blissful stage. A year ago, I stopped working as a teacher. There was that stage of adjustment of not being and feeling “needed” 24/7. When I sold my home, there was the letting-go of material possessions/memories/my life as I knew it stage. And now I am riding the Mahalo outrigger canoe in the balmy, tropical seas stage. Maybe I’ll go here, maybe I’ll go there, maybe I’ll wake up at dawn and write, maybe I’ll stay up until 2 a.m. and read. Maybe I’ll take up photography, become a rainbow chaser, play the ukulele, or become a long-distance swimmer. Maybe I’ll never watch CNN again or read the newspaper. Maybe I’ll become an Origami Master specializing in paper airplanes. Or maybe I’ll just sit here and watch the shifting clouds, admire the ever-changing wave patterns or get my paints out and try to capture the spirit of The Magic Tree that sits at the perimeter of the property.
To do nothing, is to do everything sometimes.
Now, I have a reason to get up–for me. I get to decide what I will learn today, how I will grow, what I will accomplish—for myself. This phase/stage takes some adjusting to. I never had the Me-Me-Me 20s, as I was a single parent of a baby and a little boy. Then all of life happened.
I am proud of my accomplishments, proud I strived to do my best when I was a journalist and a teacher. I’m proud of my adult children, proud of my grandchildren, but now I have that thing inside me, I do not know what it is, but I know it is within me Next Chapter.
Just sitting. Just looking. Just feeling. Just listening. Just laughing. Just chatting with family, with strangers, who in Hawaii can instantly become your best friends. Just relaxing. Is everything.
It’s like the lush gardens and the egret hunting for tiny lizards in the soaked, knotted grass; he knows food is plentiful, why rush? Enjoy the journey.
The next sunrise, the next sunset, another swim, a day paddling along the river near Princeville, perhaps a shaved ice in the afternoon, and a celebration sunset dinner. This is on today’s—the last day here in Paradise—To Do List.
In this quietude, before the children wake up and the energy of joy shakes the very foundation of this cottage with a forever-view, I breathe-in the moist air, bow down to the rising sun and say, “Thank you.” Never in my whole life have I ever experienced such a beautiful, relaxing, just-perfect home at exactly the right time of my life.
Jump and the parachute will appear.
My wise reader-friends, you were right.
I don’t fish. I barely even eat it. But my son said on my way back to Southern California that I should stop by one of his favorite hideaways about an hour east from Medford, Oregon.
Normally, I camp. I had all the equipment neatly organized in the back of the Subaru. In fact, I bought new gear especially for the trip up and back. But when my son told me what a great time he had staying at the rustic cabin overlooking the lake, I decided, What the heck, I’ll treat myself to cabin life.
The cabin looks like it’s from the 1950s. The furniture is crude, laminate floors and fake butcher block counters, a futon couch, sponge-painted dresser from the 90s, that kind of thing. The kitchen, bedroom and bathroom are ultra-tiny. But it’s perfect. Just what I was looking for to transition into my new vagabond life. Quiet. No TV. No internet service. Just my own books, art, writing, thinking and walking.
It’s hot in the day, cool in the morning and evening. No extremes that can’t be remedied.
I strung my prayer flags and twinkle lights along the porch awning, establishing that the cabin’s my place for a couple of days. I was going to head back today, but I figured, why not spend the extra night so I can really reflect and relax?
It’s strange how doing nothing feels like doing everything. It’s baffling how talkative-me does just fine talking to no one. I feel the breeze, listen to the geese circling over the lake, stay in the shade when it’s too hot and hang out in the shade of the cool wood planked porch. I’ve cooked nothing but healthy foods, drank a little Willamette wine, and walked down to the resort café to buy a slice of homemade berry pie just out of the oven. I’ll have that a little later after doing my Girl Scout-best to start a fire with no kindling.
Look, I wish it weren’t so, but I suck at making fires.
Even though everything is old and anti-designer, I feel like I am staying at a five-star hotel surrounded by old-growth pine trees ornamented with hanging moss garland. Monet’s happy to walk around without a leash and when she’s done sunning herself, she jumps on the bed to nap. Her ease at relaxing is inspiring.
This is not the kind of resort fancy people would like. My sister, who is far from fancy, would likely be creeped out by the nightly bug show buzzing around my outdoor lights. But the creatures of this Golden Pond oasis fascinate me.
So, this is what it feels like to be peaceful? This is what it means to have no agenda?
It’s like I’m in the middle of a poem.
It feels like Norway, Yosemite, Alaska, places far away. It feels like I’m alone, but at the same time everyone is with me. I see their ghosts walking down to the lake with a cup of steaming hot cocoa and a tennis ball to toss to Monet.
There’s no hooting and hollering. No drunken airhorns or blasting rap. Just the hum of wasps and squawks of birds celebrating the impending sunset.
Could I live like this? No worries. No deadlines. No grandchildren. For a spell, yes. As long as I can touch basis with my loved ones, yes, I think I could enjoy more frequent encounters with solitude.
All those years working, all those years prepping and grading, looking over my shoulder lest I innocently offend a student or parent and re-appear on the principal’s naughty list, seems to have taken its toil.
Not being “wrong” or misunderstood feels good.
Breathe in the wild fire-free fresh air. Breathe out the crap. Breathe in the positive. Breathe out the decaying crap.
I need to memorize the cawing crow and the quivering poplar leaves, this paint-chipped picnic table and the volcanic rock firepit. I’m sitting in a post card, domed by pinhole stars.
I think I’ll wait until the fire–yes, the one I successfully lit and is now a mini-bonfire–turns to embers and wait for a shooting star.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, that fresh-picked, just out of the oven, berry pie was pretty spectacular. Thanks chef Sarah. It was worth every damn calorie. If I time it right and the café is open in the morning, I’ll get a slice to go.
I am in the process of healing those below-the-surface microrganisms–-emotional bacteria. I knew it was there, but the gurgling junk—The Why behind The Why—was easy to bury beneath The List of Tasks and Shoulds. Keep calm and carry on sort of thing. Well, here’s what I know about giving one’s self a calm space with ZERO Shoulds: You begin to hear better, see better, your body gets looser, you take unapologetic naps, you’re suddenly open to music beyond what’s on your Playlist, car-dance to entire soundtracks (“Hadestown”, “Ken Burns’ “The War”) and suddenly those feelings you’ve been pushing down start to rise to the surface. Opportunities to heal unfold. You begin to dream again and answers are whispered.
Day 6 of My New Life Thus Far: My Very Sick Brother, the source of a great deal of pain I continue to process. He didn’t mean to be mean. But he was. I’ve tried to trace back the origins: Why is he like this? I blamed myself for being born, for taking away my parents’ attention, for me being me, which he tried to change—for whatever reason. I was fat, too emotional, insincere, not intelligent, impulsive, overly imaginative and the list went on and on. I was afraid of my brother, as were others, because he could snap and throw chards of glass over practically any comment he disagreed with. He was superior and everyone else was The Inferior, aka Stupid, aka Me.
Despite it all, I looked up to my big brother: He was–-is—incredibly smart. He was—before illness felled him like a wind-blown redwood—tall, handsome and engaging. Sharp, too, and witty. He was/is decisive and measured. A former Naval officer, then high-ranking policeman, I craved his acceptance and love. But every time I tried to get close, I had to duck, be on-guard, hold up a shield, which never worked because his ugly words always—always—penetrated my pathetic self-defense. I learned to never win, to always, at least in his eyes, accept being wrong. I learned to avoid, mask, overeat, whatever it took to protect myself from his venom. Until last week when I felt compelled, one could say called, to drive up to Oregon to visit my brother and his equally bruised, lovely, family. Something inside me said, “Go. Don’t wait!”
My pup and I made the long trek; I was proud of myself for jumping two feet into the New Life I said I wanted: Adventure awaits! I stayed at a hotel—a very big deal for Solo Me—and negotiated the unfamiliar roads, and on Wednesday last, drove up the dirt driveway to my brother and sister-in-law’s former house, now leased-to-own by my dear niece and her husband. The last time I was there, the experience wasn’t pretty: our dad was sick and my brother was in his typical foul, raging mood. The tension was so bad I couldn’t wait to leave. Long after I returned home, the hostile encounter gave me nightmares.
This time, however, my brother was in a rehab facility 30 mins. away. He was seriously ill after a blood infection almost killed him. He’s been in and out of the hospital for months due to numerous falls and complications from diabetes and alcoholism.
I had hoped this trip would soften our relationship, that somehow, I would be “used” to plant seeds to help him heal his relationship with his family. I wanted to be The Light, prompt an awakening. Silly me. Predictably, there was no “Come to Jesus”, choir-singing, running up to the altar, falling down, baptismal, salvation—YAW00ZZAA—TV moment.
“In God’s time,” my friend, Julie, reminds me. Ugh. Patience is not one of my virtues.
One might think a person with my brother’s numerous afflictions would have the insight, grace, humility to seek closure, to say he’s sorry, to ask for forgiveness, which would be the most awesome, healing thing he could say to me and his adult children. I don’t understand such stubbornness. Our dad always said he was sorry after a disagreement or misunderstanding. It was one of the qualities I most admired about our dad. Not my brother. Like steel. Maybe he thinks apologies are a sign of weakness. Maybe he loathed that trait in Dad. Who knows?
To me, being vulnerable, admitting guilt, is a sign of strength.
So yesterday, a cup of coffee in hand, I knocked on the door to their cottage and prayed God would give me the right words to say before my journey back to SoCal. (I forgot to mention that his mule-headed stubbornness prompted an early release from the step-down facility so he could be in care of his saintly wife.)
Despite his illness, being frail, in a wheelchair, dependent upon others to feed and clothe him, my brother is still Marlon Brandon Godfather-scary. His tongue is sharp and opinions shaped by FOX “News”. He tries, but anger is his go-to. Just yesterday, I broached a tough subject—the strained relationship with one of his daughters—but he told me to back off. OK, so I don’t have the gift of Mother Teresa to open hearts. So instead, I shared my own story of trying to learn from my mistakes and be a better person.
He listened. But no response.
He returned to a non-controversial topic: vacation plans; “I’d like to take the family on a cruise, re-trace the steps of Jesus.” Wow. Never expected that from my non-church-going brother.
“That’s a great idea. Let’s make it happen,” I said.
It was getting time for me to hit the road when he looked at me. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” he said. He wanted to compliment me for having the courage change my life; “You’re on the right path.” Then he offered me a couple of brotherly financial tips.
I realized, it was his way of telling me that he loved me.
Instinctually, I leaned over, hugged him and gave him a kiss—something we NEVER did or do. Cupping his hollowed, grey face, I said, “Thank you. Thank you for being my big brother.”
I am who I am because of you.
I have chosen this path, lived my life the way I have, because of my Big Brother’s influence, both good and bad.
He cried. I cried. His wife cried.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you,” he said.
It is what my brother needed to hear. It is what I needed to say.
If the only prayer you ever say at the end of the day is thank you, that’s enough, I remember Oprah Winfrey saying.
I’m not sure what all this means, but I can tell you those aimless cycling feet I described to my brother when he was strapped to a hospital bed in the convalescent home, now those same feet feel grounded, assured, as I hike around a sunny, breezy, lake in Southern Oregon, a place I never expected to be. In a rustic cabin, alone with my dog, art materials, a couple of books, and my thoughts.
I can’t predict the future. But what I know is today I am at peace.
I’ve saved the hardest until last. I’ve junked and stored, celebrated and cried. I’ve doubted and been certain.
I’ve had my rounds (and rounds) (and rounds) of Lasts: last time I watered, last time I slept in a proper bed, last time I took out the trash, last time I cleaned out the fridge, the stove, the floor, the shower—the lasts of The Shoulds, the tasks, all the necessary distracting responsibilities of moving. Physically and emotionally grueling. Stressful. Beyond, and then some.
I’ve written to the new owner.
I’ve written to my wonderful neighbors.
I’ve set aside thank you bottles of wine. I’ve waved. I’ve hugged. I’ve regretted: Why did I wait so long?
I’m about to have my last dinner at 510; tomorrow, before my trip to Oregon to visit with my sick brother and his family, I’ll have my last breakfast. I just paid my last utility bill, spent the last weekend with my grand boys at Gma’s house, enjoyed my last wine and cheese gathering around the fire pit, watched the stealth egret fishing near the pond for the last time, felt the Redondo ocean breeze for the last time, brushed up leaves, thought about chores and all the ongoing maintenance that never, ever ends. Sitting here in the gazebo, enjoying the view and tranquility of my back yard, feeling the feelings of what it means to have loved this home. For the last time.
It has been an honor being Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea’s mum for almost 30 years. She has blessed me, my family, and those who have gathered here. She has loved me as much as I have loved her. We’ve been buddies, best pals, a partnership of creativity and passion. She is my Velveteen Rabbit, my realized dream. To live by the sea, in an old house filled with history, a place where there’s elbow room amidst a city of shrouding concrete and greed. Hope. A safety net. A future I thought I had, but didn’t. A dove without a partner, just finding her way from branch to tree to babbling stream.
No harm will come to Angel Cove, I made sure of that when I had her registered as a historic property. The new owner can enhance, but not demolish. For Angel Cove, like me, having a new family to love her will breathe new life into her so she can live another hundred years. So she can be glorious.
A fresh, new start. For both of us.
As much as I want to be happy and chipper, which I am, I am also deeply sad that this part of my life is over. I no longer have a career. I no longer have children I’m raising. I don’t have a life partner to share my days with. I don’t have this wee house to fuss over. I have sagging skin that keeps getting saggier. I have all my life possessions in a 10′ x 10′ storage unit.
I am alone. I am without.
No more memories of my making will be shaped here. Today, Angel Cove belongs to someone else.
This is the quandary of love, of walking away.
It’s like growing up, leaving your parents’ home bound for college or a dream job. You want to leave, start anew, but you’re scared, and you can’t wait, all at the same tornado time. Swirling. Churning. Parched. Drenched. Gregarious, yet craving solitude.
It feels exactly like that; the adventure of a wide, open road, only when I look in the rear view mirror, I see a grayer me that doesn’t at all look like me. Instead of decades and decades ahead to make mistakes and recover, I have fewer chapters left. I have to be mindful, fiscally smart, measure my moves, be steady, yet free, unburdened, joyously young.
On the eve of my Great Next, I want to remember everything: the plants carefully considered, the view from the swing, the Christmas trees that now tower well over Angel Cove. I want to remember the kids playing Army around the pond, The Ticklemonster, Fairytale birthday parties, safaris, our sweet Bailey, Tahoe, Grace—their ashes buried at the foot of the silk oak tree. The Monarchs, who don’t mind me talking to them, the pesky squirrels who cheekily steal my plums (I only managed to rescue one this year), the rocks from Dad and Mom’s house, the jade plant from Dan and Kay’s, the forgiveness Angel Cove modeled to me over the years having made dreadful decorating decisions (hand-painted beach scenes on the kitchen cabinets, for example). She just stood there, with her arms wide open, smiling, I suspect, amused by my silliness. That’s how much she loved me, as I loved her.
Will it ever happen again? Will I ever fall in love with a home, be as devoted to a place as I feel about Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea? I suspect not. How could one ever love as deeply, care as much? Will my next home be a financial investment vs. a home? Time will tell.
I wonder, do others LOVE their homes, their cars (I own a 21-year-old car I have a hard time parting with), their ex-husbands, so much that you hold onto for more years than is probably healthy or necessary? Well, I’m that person. Taurus that I am, I don’t give up. Which means it is sometimes–NO–let me be honest, it’s ALWAYS hard, for me to say goodbye.
Tomorrow, when I shut the door for the last time, I will most likely drive up the street and have to pull over because my ugly cry tears have made it impossible to see. (Note to self: bring an abundance of tissue paper.) I just can’t help it. I’m that person. I’m that way. But I hope, as my new life unfolds, I will remain sentimental and appreciative as I discover new things about myself
In closing, I want to convey my sincere gratitude to you for sharing your stories and finding a connection to mine, for being vulnerable and inspirational. You have no idea how much your comments have encouraged me, providing a lift when I felt a bit lost.
I’m going to go through some stuff. No doubt about it. I’m in the midst of a big life passage/change. Thank God I have God–and writing–to help me figure things out. I have faith that something marvelous and unexpected is on the other side. For all of us.
Cheers, until tomorrow.
“We’re going to miss you. You may not be aware, but you’ve been an asset to your neighbors, and the neighborhood,” a fellow former teacher, neighbor and parent to former student, Cole, told me the other day. He’s 23 now. An assistant superintendent at a local golf club. Schooled at the University of Hawaii as an agriculture major, his first job out of college and he makes $73,000 a year. Amazing, right? He’s doing well. His family’s doing well. I remember Cole’s pregnant mom jogging to the beach, then strolling him down the hill, and sitting across from her at parent-teacher conferences. Now “our” boy’s a gainfully employed man!
But me, an asset?
What a compliment, no, the ultimate compliment! Because that’s the only thing I have ever really wanted: To leave the world, and its inhabitants, better than I found it. Or as the song from “Wicked”, “For Good”, goes:
Just look at me
And just look at you
You can do all I couldn’t do, Glinda
So now it’s up to you
For both of us
Now it’s up to you
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good
And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done you blame me for
But then, I guess we know there’s blame to share
And none of it seems to matter anymore
Like a comet pulled from orbit (like a ship blown from its mooring)
As it passes a sun (by a wind off the sea)
Like a stream that meets a boulder (like a seed dropped by a bird)
Halfway through the wood (in the wood)
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed
I love this song so much. (Katie, how much? SOOOO much) I took my grandsons, Jack and Bronson, to see their first Broadway show a few weeks ago. It was a choice between “The Lion King” or “Wicked”. Tough decision, but I decided the three of us NEEDED to see my fave musical of all times: Naturally, I was in tears throughout the entire performance. Looking at my cheering, engaged grandsons, I felt immensely blessed by this closed-circle moment. Incredible. Emotional, on par with this version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ0pXUb5jVU
Like Elphaba and Glinda from “Wicked”, without being totally aware or conscience of it, I seemed to have made a positive difference to my neighborhood community by simply loving this old house. Over the almost 30 years, Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea has been my heartbeat: I cut and pasted, covered up, uncovered, and cherished this little patch of a project to the best of my financial and otherwise ability. I did it for me, for my family, and all the people who drove and walked past this sweet little engine that could. Turns out, our home was a lighthouse, a beacon of love and light, a place where people could walk past and smile and feel their own creative magic stir. Ours was a place of imagination, promise, that I only now that I’m moving, am learning about.
Truth is, I always hoped this would happen, that Angel Cove would inspire hope. But I wasn’t sure the magic of a garden, of an old farmhouse-exterior, could crack the veneer of condo’ed, Zoomed-out, Covid-ized neighbors. But now that I’ve sold almost everything and the movers will vanish the Leaning Tower of Pisa Memories on Monday—now, now—every single day, I talk to a half dozen neighbors, some of whom I have never met before, who stop their cars, wave, and tell me, “Thank you.”
It is immensely gratifying. Because I know we saved her from the bulldozer all those decades ago—and decades to come—because we had the City declare her a historic treasure. All that work, all that love, seems to have made a difference to others, to strangers, who needed a lift, who needed to re-direct their thoughts, if just for a moment.
These days, bear with me, I’m into lessons and the Grand Meaning of Moments aka The Patchwork Quilt of Life. So here goes Ms. Barker’s Chalkboard Life Lessons:
First, follow your gut. No matter what anyone else says, create a beautiful, unique environment that represents you, not some Netflix designer show. “Perfection” is boring. Your vision is way more interesting than some clone postcard/TV series.
Two: Don’t wait. Now, at the eleventh hour, I realize that I didn’t need a poofed-up, stain-free couch or matching dishes or Iron Chef-inspired food to invite people over. I could have always worn my 20-year-old dressing gown. Who cares? This is one of my biggest regrets is that I waited, that I set up ridiculous expectations. And now that I’m leaving, I’ve met these loving, caring neighbors who could have been my best friends, but I was “too afraid” to welcome them into my little imperfect world.
I limited my life because I felt limited.
More lessons are sure to follow as Angel Cove becomes more echo-y. But this never-ending moving process is, apparently, just what I needed. I needed time to shed, time to grieve, time to box-up and toss and put in pile and clean and reflect.
Next week, as I wait-out the close of escrow, I have been gifted Time to walk down to the Pier, listen to music, swim in the sea, finish that Sue Monk Kidd novel I started months ago, and bathe in the solitude of gratitude and peace.
Soon, I will no longer be a home owner. I will be a visitor. A thinker. A listener. An explorer.
Turns out, all this the stuff littering the dining room was more than just stuff. It was clay.