Free Spirit

 

Photo credit: Betterphoto.com

Photo credit: Betterphoto.com

***

The night I lay beneath the star-punched blackness, a bucketful of glitter spilled across the sky.  You were there as the wind became the calm, and at the moment I dropped anchor in the middle of Inky Nowhere.

I remember how you woke me the next morning with a jarring blast from the blowhole of a bottlenose dolphin.

I watched you rise from the fold in the universe where the water meets the sky, drenching the morning vapors in chalky pink and orange.

You cooled my ankles as they dangled from the bow, as they dragged across the salty foam on a windward tack.

Late in the day I sat on the boom and leaned into the sail that luffed like a hammock.  I felt you there, an intense and suffocating heat that softened my skin like wax.

That was the last time, Free Spirit, that you and I were one.

Today we are fragmented and distant, like cousins who grew up and grew apart, who share a history and gene pool, and the kind of tethered love loop that is both wonderful and right.

It is always good to see you again.

You are the unfiltered freedom uttered halfway through my second drink; the one that sharpens the soft consonants into fits of hearty laughter.

You are the clarity found on a long run and the euphoria that eludes me most days.

You are what makes his laugh lines deepen.  You are my ridiculous plans and lofty dreams that turn his temples silver.  Because of you, he has pulled me from the riptide countless times.  You are the reason he loves me; the reason that defies all reason.

I reach for you on grey mornings, and in traffic jams, and over the stacks of bills that obscure my rosy worldview.

It’s been ages since I rolled in and out with the tide.   But these days you are all about them anyway.

You’re in the coloring books and the Lego sets and in the tiny snowflakes they catch on their tongues.

You’re on the lined pages of the journal she’s not yet written, where she will someday open her butterflied wounds.

They plan their lives on your time line, as your days are never numbered.

I hope their futures are as tidy as a pile of autumn leaves.  I hope they unfold convention into wide-casting possibilities.  I hope they reject logic and sensibility wherever an opportunity for silliness presents itself.  May they be guided by their instincts on roads less traveled.

And once they’ve pushed back complacency, conquered their fears, and landed smack in the middle of “How Did I Get Here”, may they always have you, Free Spirit, to bring them back to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Negative Spaces

tequila-shots-with-lime

***

If you look closely at the photographs, you could almost trace it with your finger.  As we raise our tequila–filled shot glasses and excitedly toast our new friendships, you must look carefully to see it.  Between the lines of our arms, where our sleeves roll back toward our shoulders and our watches slip around our wrists, you have to squint to pull it into focus.  There, in the negative space of a seemingly shallow tradition, in the background of what is quite obvious, is the outline of something more honest.  In that gap between our physical forms, darkened by shadows and secrets, is the place where our lives intersect.

The shapes blur in and out of focus, but if you colored them in with a pencil, they’d look like groceries bags full of heartache and laundry baskets overflowing with laughter.  The moment I loop my arm around my new friend, a photo is snapped.  The shape of a boat (a life raft?) appears between our torsos.  When another of us doubles over in laughter, a hand is placed upon her shoulder.  In that negative space between their touching forms are the images of a favorite dog, a broken promise, and one hundred snowy Christmas mornings.  We really barely know each other.  Yet at any place where we physically connect, the negative spaces tell our truths.

You’ll never appreciate a negative space unless you have the courage to create it and the patience to let it appear.   It develops between our consciousness and our collectiveness, along the links that form a human chain.  The spaces fill up and break apart like oil rolling through water, providing just enough buoyancy to allow us to rest shoulder to shoulder in a crowded elevator, or stagger arm in arm along a cobblestone sidewalk… or even, if you’re lucky like me, drift down the aisle holding hands with your handsome forever and always.

As soon as I got home, I looked for him.  I needed to feel the negative space between us, the one that appears as an hourglass when I’m wrapped up in his arms.  The tighter we hug, the more we squeeze the funnel shut- and I imagine that we’re beating the system, having hedged our bets long ago that the sands would pass too slowly for us to ever notice.

But I do notice, and I see now how much it all matters- every physical connection, every human link, every negative space- they all create the continuum of our existence.  And these precious moments are temporary, ever changing, and hard to recreate.

Man, that was some really good tequila.

***

 

 

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Michael

***

There was this kid I used to know- a crew-cut, towhead in red shorts and cowboy boots.  Even at half-strength, his toothless grin was still bright enough to light up the night sky.  There’s always been magic in those star-flecked green eyes, and enormous sincerity in a voice so sweet the trees would bend down to hear it.

He was one of those kids who adults genuinely liked.  It’s like they could relate to person he was destined to become- a guy you’d pick to be your best man, or give your spare house keys to, or share both your good news and your bad news because either way you could count on his steady footing to rebalance your newly rocked world.  You knew he’d be the guy who would always keep everything beautifully in orbit.

He is that guy now.

And as of this weekend, he is a college graduate.  Lucky for us, he is still the kid with the popcorn enthusiasm.  His tomorrows are the rosiest in the room, because he believes that inspiration and calloused hands have the power to mend broken dreams. He is proof that children can ride answers bareback, leaping over riddles with resilient, elegant strides.

The tragedy in Connecticut happened to him too, years ago, in his very own middle school classroom.  One child calmly murdered another, stabbed his best friend to death, for reasons unknown in this dimension.  And while the grown ups shook their fists- cursing the volatility of the universe and placing blame on its poorly written handbook- he learned to dodge life’s falling stars and step over their shattered edges.

Throughout the pomp and circumstance, we couldn’t help but think of them- those children who were never promised a lifetime, but worthy of one just the same.  The emotional tide of a weeping nation persistently spilled over the wall of nostalgia we had erected around him.  Michael is still a little cowboy to us, frozen at six and a half, who continues to routinely unleash the power of a hard blink and a heartfelt wish.  Random and arbitrary are predictable concepts in his world, navigating the stars as if he designed the course.  There is no one we’d trust more to throw our pennies in the fountain, or represent grace and goodness among tragedy and loss.

It is heartbreaking to know that the families of those little souls won’t ever know the victory in their virtue, or see their cowboys in caps and gowns.

Congrats Cowboy- keep on inspiring us with your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground.  We are incredibly proud of you and thankful to have you in our lives.

Lucky, lucky world.

 

 

 

 

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Where’s Maria?

 

***

I don’t remember much before this moment.  I don’t recognize exactly where I am, although this recliner chair fits me like a glove.  A female talk show host on the television is blathering on and on about some burst of insight, but it’s not Oprah and I don’t care for the knock-off, dime store psychology.  The imitation is enough to make me shift in my seat and utter something in annoyance, more of a raspy croak than my usual gentle voice.  I glance to my right and the grey-haired man next to me smiles with his eyes and a tangle of memories are suddenly swept out the corner and set adrift, cascading down in my mind, as sparkly as water splashing off of sun soaked rocks.

I feel a flood of joy and break into a face-splitting grin, which quickly changes to concern as my brow furrows.  He looks surprised as he reaches for my forearm and gives me a gentle pat.

“Are you getting Maria off the bus?” I ask him.

He continues to pat my arm, turning his attention back to the Oprah Winfrey imposter.

Typical.  He never responds to anything I ask the first time.  I guess I’ll have to go get her myself.

I start to stand up, my knees grinding in revolt, and somebody rushes from the across the room and pushes me back down into my seat.

This actually hurts a little.  I must have strained my back carrying laundry up and down the stairs.  I swear the amount of laundry these kids produce…

This lady is pointing her finger at me.  I’m told to stay .  Like a dog-trainer scolding a errant beagle, she says it three times in escalating volume.  Why is she so angry?  The fourth time she is pushing down on my shoulders so hard that I have no choice but to push back.

I realize that the bus is almost at the end of our street and, at this rate, no one will be there to meet her.  Sunny must be home with her baby.  I think Shane is at football practice with his son.  Or maybe with his dad.  I can’t keep them straight.  Poor Maria won’t know what to do.  The thought of her standing there, alone, looking lost and afraid, causes me to panic.

I am quicker this time, and get to my feet before the lady can bully me any further.  The grey-haired man also protests my actions, reaching for me from his recliner, which makes me really angry considering it’s his six-year-old daughter too.

I shout something at him, using language that comes from somewhere primordial and deep.  I don’t like these words, but I sure do mean them.  He pulls me by the wrist and I swat at him with my other hand.

I’m coming, baby.

Now that I’m standing I have the sudden urge to pee, and  all I can think about is making it to the bathroom in a hurry.  The lady blocks my way and tries to reason with me, but there’s no reasoning with my bladder.

I am nearly hysterical now.  These people won’t let go of me and now I’m wet and my baby girl is all alone.  This is so humiliating, and frustrating, and unnecessary.  I slump back down into my recliner, defeated and sad.  The man pats my hand and gives it a squeeze.

I look into his eyes and I see something warm and familiar.  His voice is gentle and kind.  He loves me, so he says again and again.  I adore him too, since the first time we met.  Our wedding was a blast.

My back starts to ache again so I shift in my seat.  I look to my right at the grey-haired man sitting next to me.  He seems like a very nice man.  His wife must be very lucky to have him.  I hope she loves him as much as I love my husband.

There’s that twinkle again.  And that pat on my arm.  Wait a minute, that’s not Oprah.  What’s going on here?

Where’s Maria?

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Flat Pennies

http://ipadwallpaperportal.com/end-of-train-track/

***

Although she had a penchant for exploration and imagination, the girl who climbed the sandy bank of the railroad tracks could never have written the plot lines that would tell her story.  As she searched for pennies flattened by a recent passing train, an adventure she likened to discovering buried pirate treasure, her ankles wobbled over chunks of broken asphalt and porous stones set loosely between the railroad ties.  She was careful to avoid the hot smears of creosote that left tarry stains on her tennis shoes, and her fingers recoiled from the searing steel as she plucked each melted coin from the rails.  She cast a long shadow as she hopped along the tracks, leaping with the downward gaze of a nascent steeplechaser, easily losing her rhythm if she dared to look up.  If only she had taken a moment to peer ahead, to follow the seam of the tracks as they disappeared into the scrub pine, she might have seen him there.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered boy with a quiet, esoteric brilliance that he kept largely to himself.  He walked along the tracks in his tread worn boots, hands shoved deep into his coat pockets, driving his shoulder forward into the sleeting grey winds as if he were pushing through an impertinent crowd. He, too, was looking for flattened pennies, and he cleared the snow from the rail with a gloved finger precisely at the exact location he’d left them.  He paused, crouched between the rails, sensing a distant vibration with an unfamiliar tempo. When he heard his grandfather holler to him from the shops, where the stacks sent plumes of soot and ash billowing into the air, coating the town in an inky silk patina, he jumped up to run toward him. The sudden wail of a train’s whistle pulling out of the yard smothered the constant tapping of rock against steel produced by a small, wistful girl 2000 miles away.

How lovely it is to share this common convention, one that now lies fragmented and useless in the tall grasses between his hometown and mine.  We realize now, of course, after years of tracing the patterns of well-worn tracks across miles of unfamiliar terrain, that our individual perspectives only gave us the illusion of depth.   Our separate stories were incomplete, having only his east-west and my north-south chapters to tell. 

His railroad was the livelihood of generations before him, a hub for the transportation of natural resources as valuable as the men who consumed them.  My railroad, conversely,  catered to the vagrant, hipster souls who retreated to southern latitudes in search of self, comfort, or new beginnings.  The railroads were a constellation of patterns and choices, and for all our common experience, there was simply no direct route between his heart and mine.  Today, at a time in history when your soul mate lies just three Facebook friends removed, it is far more romantic to think of the two of us touching the same threads of steel, inching ourselves closer and closer to each other until we felt the full force of insight.

Railroads simultaneously exist as function and metaphor; the former surmising his constitution, the latter an excellent explanation for mine.  How much richer we are together, how much more colorful our journey, for having lived as two sides of the same coin- a coin whose once distinct images have been blurred into a smooth, flat treasure more valuable than pirate’s gold.

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Motherhood: Between The Suns

***

The ring on her right finger is shaped like a sun; a pearl center with small diamond petals radiating from it like sparkly sunbeams.  When her mind starts to race, she spins that ring back and forth like a metronome, adjusting her thoughts and her pulse into a coordinated tempo.  Sometimes she covers her hands, to hide the bump in her knuckle or the sunspots on near her wrist.  But mostly they are folded in prayer, as she refills her spirit with goodness and grace that already abundantly overflows the soft edges of her heart.  As she sits beside me, she pats me gently on the knee, and between us passes a warm wave of constancy and a legacy of unconditional love.  I know these hands so well I could swear they were my own.  They belong to someone named Sunny, and I am her daughter.

Her fingernails are frequently dirty and unkempt, and the object of redundant consternation.  Her hands can usually be found cupping her chin, elbows on knees, in clear resignation and signaling her monstrous boredom.  She shields her braces from view with them when she laughs, and fidgets nervously with the zipper of her hoodie when you ask her a question. As she sits beside me, she jams one hand into her pocket and rests the other one on my knee, dirty fingernails in situ, and gently presses her shoulder into mine.  Between us passes a warm wave of constancy and a legacy of unconditional love.  I know these hands so well I could swear they were my own.  They belong to someone named Sunny, and I am her mother.

I live and love in the space between the Sunnys and ping between them like a helpless pinball, bouncing from one life lesson to another. I have felt adored, safe, and cherished, and awed, frightened, and blessed.  I lean on one, while the other leans on me, and together we form a human domino chain, falling into place with intricate precision.  This space has somehow formed me, molded me into a unique shape within the peaks and valleys of their constant presence at my sides… two bookends holding me up on this journey known as motherhood.

The day I became a mother, I was the last one to meet her.  While I was tied up with post-C-section inconveniences, my husband had the good fortune of breaking the news to my mom in the waiting room, where she held her breath in anxious anticipation, until he finally said the words she’d waited nine months to hear, “Sunny’s here”.  

I wanted to tell her first.  I wanted to tell her I had a daughter.  I wanted to be the one to introduce them.  I wanted to carry her namesake into the room, bundled in pink blankets, and proudly present her with the same wide grin I had the day I finished my finger painting project in nursery school; “Look Mommy!  Look what I made!”

Because I knew she’d give me that look- that astonished, wide-eyed, jaw-dropping, face-beaming smile that said, “Honey, you are so amazing!  You did a great job.”  And into the outstretched hands of the most competent mother in the world, I would share our treasure.

Instead, she gave me that look the first time Baby Sunny burped on command. And the first time I successfully changed her diaper.  And the first time I calmed her newborn cries.  Yes, my mama was so proud of the mama I was becoming.

And, miraculously, I found myself giving Baby Sunny those same looks, for all of those same accomplishments, and slowly started to recognize the role I was intuitively assuming.  I knew exactly how to smile at her, be astonished by her, and cultivate her character from a place of genuine instinct.  I heard this familiar voice inside of my own- the same coos and tut-tuts, the same singsong speech patterns that had once been music to my ears.  I was delighted to discover the enchanting joy of motherhood, and grateful for the coach in my corner. 

Everything I am, and now everything my children are, is because of her.  It’s because no matter how trivial my struggles, she carries them for me like a hundred pound cross.  It’s because she doesn’t let me doubt myself, and she offers me excuses before I can make my own.  It’s because underneath piles of laundry, tired bones, and weakened self-esteem, I have a mother who champions my effort.  I have a mother who raised seven kids of her own, who has overcome enormous sorrow and loss, and can still say to me with unaffected sincerity and a shake of her head, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Now that Baby Sunny is an adolescent, feeling the barbs and spurs of the world under her tender feet as she walks her own path, I feel an even greater sense of panic and ineptitude.  I now wince at her pains, and find myself shouldering her burdens- anything to take it from her.  I have nearly mastered the smile-while-your-heart-breaks disguise as she realizes that she’s not nearly as perfect as I have led her to believe.  And in these moments of uncertainty, when I discover that I’m not nearly as perfect a mother as I have been led to believe, I turn to my mom with that same quizzical face, and she answers me with a sympathetic smile and a pat on the back. 

Only now I can see the hunch in her shoulders as she loads up my burden once again, and the flicker of sadness behind her smiling eyes.  And as comforting as it is to have her in my life to share my triumphs and my sorrows, I now want to carry my own cross- and hers as well.  On this Mother’s Day, I want her to know that I can do this.  I want her to know that she has succeeded.  I want her to rest easy knowing her that her grandchildren, and my future grandchildren, are in competent hands.  I want her to know I’ve learned how to do this from the best teacher in the world, and she no longer needs to spin the ring on her finger on my behalf.  

But the downside of motherhood is that you never do stop spinning your ring.

I love you so much, Mama.  Happy Mother’s Day.

 

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Farm Boy and Ocean Girl, Part II

***

Deep within the quilted, patchwork fields of Pennsylvania, threaded with broken, narrow roads that unravel through the hillsides, I reached the proverbial fork and took the road less traveled.

I visit that corner in my mind sometimes, landmarked by the dilapidated silo on the right and the gated patch of tombstones on the left, next to the old brick church built by men in suspendered black pants with long, dusty beards that bloom beneath their sweaty straw brims.

I take that sharp left turn and catch my breath, feeling the familiar push-pull of angst and adventure as the road winds into the trees- the canopy as dark and ominous as a hooded stranger.  I drive ahead, applauding my ignorance, until the shadows fade to light and the land splits open like a rip in the fabric, revealing the shale-covered lane that leads me straight to him.

What if I had lost my nerve?  What if I had burst from the fields, frightened by the drone of the corn header driving through the countryside?  The deer that scampers across the lane in front of me stares at my soul with a look I’ve seen a thousand times in the mirror.  She knows exactly what scares me.

It’s not just the pace- the slower heartbeats, the unhurried clock, the giant popcorn clouds that float across the sky with agonizing leisure, like giant glaciers of air insulating the valleys from distant urban tempos.

I can do slow.

I can downshift into an inert mass of wet sand on a warm coast.  I can lose myself in nature, and dawdle on coastal, bipolar landscapes that are alternately tranquil and ferocious. I can sit on a shoreline and stare at the end of the world until time simply runs out.

But he’d be nowhere to be found.

Our world is flat, like a two-sided coin.  His side is rugged like the quarries and as enduring as a winter storm.  Mine is smooth as hot glass, reflecting light like a laser.  Flipping it would most certainly quash dreams for one of us with an unfortunate thud.  Instead, we spin on the edges and hold on for the ride.

I’m glad I turned left, and I am thankful there is ample room in his arms for my big winter coat.  But still, most days,  I stay outside the snow globe, waving dispassionately to the swaddled country folks huddled beneath the quaint streetlight.   I could join them, but somewhere in the distance is the bellow of a conch shell, beckoning.

 

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Spirit of a Storm

***

I realize that woven strands of all that is both intentional and incidental can unravel at the slightest tug.   Our hope is that the fibers buried deep within the fabric will not fray at the edges, or snag on a sharp point.

But I can see the smolder in her eyes where the twinkle used to light the room.  Her eyelids pinch at the corners, wincing at the slightest flutter of the restless spirits that drift by.  They mischievously nip at her courage.

***

I faced the ocean with forlorn glances and my most solemn stare, and it countered, cantankerously, with a hiss of foam and salt, cambering the palms toward the earth like submissive slaves.  I wondered, poignantly, if they bowed more with respect than with surrender; with deference more than disgrace.

My audacity cracked like thunder.

***

There is a potency in a springtime storm that is there to be absorbed, inhaled, and enveloped when sorrow seems an invincible foe.  I need to take her there, drive my hands into her shoulder blades, and push her headlong into the wind.   

When the clouds break apart, and  layers of grey peel back against a still, cerulean sky, she will find her footing and her smile.  She will tuck the tattered, white flag deep into her pocket, and tip her margarita glass to the sea. 

As we stand together at the water’s edge, a passing seagull will be carried away on the breezes of her last heavy sigh, and I will, once again, be in awe of her resilience.   

***


 


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Farm Boy and Ocean Girl

***

For any first time visitor, where a seventy-one degree December breeze deemed it officially “sweater-weather”, it was easy to be impressed.  And as a bubbly, nervous twenty-three year old tour guide, I was more than willing to let nature show the farm boy my heart.

It was the perfect night for a drive.

A sailor’s moon, hanging low across the waterline, silhouetted the palm trees like feathery plumes leaning out of their inkwells.

The mangroves at the edge of the point hunkered in the shadows like crusty old mariners with knotty joints and crooked spines.

It wasn’t until I killed the engine and pointed at the magnificent skyline that I realized that he wasn’t interested in the view.

A pair of hazel eyes, glassy and intense, flattened my anxious laughter until my heart valves froze.  Starlight and stillness enveloped us.

The Moment had come. 

I was completely affected by the fever of his gaze.  I was smitten beyond recognition. I was dangling by a tenuous thread, ready to fall, as he leaned closer toward me. 

Naturally, I reached for the handle and dove out the door.  I was always a gifted runner.

He found me on a large rock at the water’s edge, staring at the reflection across the bay where the neon colors of the cityscape sparkled like a shattered mirror.

The pulsing red and green lights of the channel markers and the thick humid air restored my composure.  There at the ocean’s edge,  I found the breath I’d lost.

It was in this moment that I no longer felt frayed and undone, but softened and stilled as he slipped his hand into mine.  I turned to him, allowed my eyes to find his, and welcomed the future to come. 

I smiled when he suddenly wrinkled his nose, glancing furtively side-to-side, and shifted uncomfortably in his flip flops.  He recoiled from the briny smell that was wet pine and seaweed, and wiped the sweat from his temples.  He repeatedly slapped his ankles and stomped his feet like a counting pony, which amused me with calloused perplexity.

Up in the heavens, there was the unexpected clash of colliding dreams.  Behind a floating  curtain of purple clouds, flashes of heat lightning flickered across the sky, like the nostalgic home movies we’d had yet to record.  

Wordlessly, yet without uneasy silence, the charge of that Christmas sky sealed the fate of the farm boy and the ocean girl.  

And it happened there at Lugo Point.



 

 

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Celebrate Life

***

Got myself all worked up last night.

Just as my chaotic house settled down and the shadows crept in from the corners, I could feel the fragility of it all.

We all lose the ones we love, and eventually, we become the souls lost to someone else.

And in the end, we try to celebrate the life that blessed us so deeply.  We hold hands, hug, and shed tears… and shiver against the whispers of hope that kingdom come is, by some stretch of the imagination, a warmer place than in our arms.

This does little to smooth the prickles on our skin, or sew up the gaping hole in our hearts.

These tremendous sorrows affect even those on the periphery, and the shining tributes to the lives since passed leave us feeling deprived for never having known them.

I’d like to know them, please.

I’d like to laugh with that baby girl who charmed everyone she met.

I’d like to look into the bluest eyes on St. John’s island and feel immediate friendship.

I’d like to know your parents, your siblings, and your cousin who drives too fast.

And you should meet my family.  And my best friends.  And the man who holds my heart.

And what about those lives that are broken, hurt, and empty?  Can’t we celebrate those as well?  Indeed, perhaps if we did, they would no longer be waiting to die.

Thankfully, the sun has risen again this morning.  So far, my life is intact.  This gives me today to celebrate.  

So today is the day we should create the slide show of our lives- and put it to beautiful music- and show our best smiles.

Today is the day others say wonderful things about us- and share the ways we have impacted their lives- and we return the favor.

Today is the day we capture every second of life between sunrise and sunset, and stare at the stars until our eyes fold shut.

Today is the day we celebrate life, because today we are still living.

 

Inspired by a girl I never met, but wish I did.  Condolences to her family.  

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