[My apologies — this blog post is all over the place, yet it needed to be written. The sweet memory of a few cherry blossom trees demanded it]
I stood in my kitchen, sobbing as I watched out my patio window, the landscapers buzzing down a perfectly good cherry blossom tree. It struck me as incredibly sad, and I could feel the tree sobbing, desperately pleading with them not to take their chainsaws to its limbs, wondering what it had done wrong.
I knew what that tree felt like. I, too, wondered why my life seemed so crazy, buzzing out of control. Why, after reading my writing, one editor called me “brilliant” while a new critique partner ripped through my latest chapters like they were plowing bullets into a target practice dummy. Why I had no idea how to do my taxes, when, if ever, I’d receive unemployment benefits, why I had no clue if I would be splitting my time between a random storage unit and my car in less than two months’ time.
What was it about the chopping of this and two more trees a few meters away, that turned me into a quivering, full-on, snot nose-blowing, weepy mess? A friend I talked to later in the day pointed out it was, perhaps, a culmination of things tipping me over the edge toward a needed catharsis, brought on by the recent death of my beloved cat and the current downward-twisted pandemic economy. I agreed, only to have my friend turn it around on me. He asked me, why is it that I can feel such empathy for a tree when I can’t feel the same way for another human being?
We frequently push each other on the spiritual, existential side of things. Although his epiphany stung, I knew exactly what he meant, considering I feel little grief over the death of people, who I know are still alive in spirit, but who other people believe they have lost forever. My friend advised me to send love and gratitude to the trees, and be thankful that they had graced the courtyard in my condominium complex and provided me with a beautiful view, given squirrels a place to run and play, and birds a place to nest. With regard to people, however, perhaps investigate, through meditation, why a tree can cause me such anguish but losing a person almost never brings me to tears, and how I could be more empathetic towards other humans experiencing pain of this sort.
I thought for a moment before I responded. It could have something to do with the fact I experienced death of a childhood friend at a very young age, and have been in contact with him at various times of my life since, which makes me not fear, and not even feel, human death as final.
This, and my idea that human beings set up their own situations, consciously and unconsciously making choices leading us to situations which are sometimes devastating but are all ultimately of our own making. All the tree was doing was being beautiful — it was in full blossom, perhaps one branch was dead but at least 90% of the tree was flowering. Did I think about the tree as myself, able to be sliced down and mulched into oblivion in less than 15 minutes time? Did it know that somebody loved it? How do I relate this to people in my life that I feel such little empathy for, in my person circle, social media friends, or people in the world as a whole?
So I wondered, did the tree have free will when it was planted? Did it have free will to grow consciously or did it just listen to the seasons with no hand whatsoever in blossoming? The answer is — I have no clue.
My friend also explained — absolutely nothing in the universe happens that is not supposed to happen. This means, the tree was cut down because it was supposed to be cut down. Perhaps it knew this beforehand and put on a spectacular display because it loved me and everybody else who could see it and enjoy its beauty. But perhaps the tree wanted to go be a tree in another universe, only it could not do so while still manifesting here, and so, it bid me and my neighbors farewell. Only, all I could see was how it affected me. How short-sighted of me, eh?
It made me think about my own self manifesting somewhere else, where perhaps I disappeared from somebody else’s universe, to come here and be who I am in this one. It made me wonder, in this world, when I stopped being friends with certain people if they felt like I did today, watching the cherry blossom tree get decimated and leave their lives very suddenly. Perhaps I withdrew my love from them and left their world in the same manner that the tree left mine. And maybe we all do that to some degree, to save ourselves from pain, maybe, or simply because… it was time for a change. After all, we’ve all been “unfriended” in real life, at some point. And it usually hurts.
The ultimate lesson is perhaps that change sometimes hurts as well, and whether we can see why it hurts is up to us to pursue. What am I supposed to learn from this change? How can this make me foster more conscious Love into the universe through my own being? How can I see that the tree’s life and death is merely the beginning of something else I couldn’t understand previously? I realized when I returned home, not only could I now see straight through to some of the other condominiums, they could see straight through into mine. While not great for privacy, perhaps this could foster more community which is normally something I shun because I’m an introvert. Something else I noticed is, it’s way sunnier on my patio. I would be getting a lot more sunlight in the afternoon now that the tree is gone.
So now I also felt guilty, as if the tree’s demise brought about more sunshine. But that’s the thing about change — we can never really see what’s around the corner if we get stuck in the emotion that ties itself to thoughts about the change itself. The best advice I can come up with is to let myself feel sad for the tree (I do actually have a special relationship with trees, and it’s something I’d encourage you all to investigate for yourselves) but also, along with accepting my sadness, accept the change for exactly what it is: a starting point for something new.
And new is scary as hell. Like waking up in a pandemic and not knowing what the hell is gonna happen from here on out. From now on, I will stand in my kitchen and look out at the remaining cherry blossom trees, I will think fondly about the beautiful one now missing. It was, after all, never really mine, or anyone else’s, but its own beautiful self, perhaps presently manifesting as beautiful in somebody else’s universe. Maybe they’re thanking me for sending it off to them with such loving thoughts. And maybe, we could all send each other off with loving thoughts a lot more, since we were all once saplings, we might all be struck down by unseen forces, or maybe, it was the plan all along.
This morning, as I lie in bed, I am awakened by a familiar sound. Could that be a black-capped chickadee, or the robins, or some as-yet-unidentified-by-me bird, chirping from a nearby tree? It is, and more follow. I peek out the window to find, birds are still chirping as they fly by, and downstairs on my patio, Mr. Wobbles awaits his daily peanuts. Nature adapts. So can we.
There’s only x number of days left! – I can’t wait!
We all know at least one friend who relentlessly counts down to Christmas, posting memes and already finishing not only their Christmas lists but their shopping as well. All for that one day, that one week, one season. Outside of holidays and social media, we have bill deadlines, elections, births of babies, weight loss, things we look forward to being o-v-e-r. We always want to get to the finish line. The goal. The end where everything will be done, finito, accomplished. Hastening, causing things to happen before they normally would, is part of our daily lives.
It is: The Future. The Not-now. The … end of the waiting. (It’s petty to say it’s the hardest part… but well, you know)
Looking forward to things is not all bad –pregnancies end in messy miracles, deadlines come to fruition with achievements realized, elections culminate in new leadership that doesn’t have its head up its ass. Things we look forward to are generally things that have been fostered and nurtured in the time that precedes them.
Except holidays, for me. This hastening drives me crazy. (Okay, crazier. Sha’up) Holidays are merely seen, by most people, as festive but stressful. To some, they’re a nuisance, but to most, they are something to be cherished. For me, they ruin everything – with hastening.
I admit to fantasies of throttling people who start that rolling countdown calendar from the fall of the first leaf until the actual day, sometimes even before Halloween. Why? First, because I don’t celebrate holidays in general, and more specifically, because counting days down until the blessed event (and I say that with no religious connotation whatsoever, just want to avoid the word “fucking”) relegates the days in between now and then to the Less Important Bin.
And I am a person of the Now.
As Christmas lurks on the horizon, some people rush to cross off items from their lists. Yay for consumerism and efficiency. The fervor of anticipation for that single, solitary day that will put all these other days to shame. Granted, since the whole season is supposed to be all about Love, and the whole Christ-thing, I can’t actually hate the whole season. I try not to hate, but I take umbrage (recent affection for this word) with the anticipation that makes people neglect two things: the Here and the Now.
Let me expand this to include things less seasonal than holidays – let’s say, life goals. The “one day I’ll” ‘s as well. Days whiz by, we get lost in tedium, maybe it just seems easier to concentrate on a point far off into the future – less pressure! So, we make the only thing that matters the goal, that one day, that one time, that one “not now, but Then.” The Then that seemingly makes all other Nows seem somewhat … obsolete.
The day, the deadline, the goal. When one thinks the goal is the final destination, what makes it all worthwhile, I think they’ve got in all wrong. Backwards. The goal, that is. To me, the goal is everything you do to get to the supposed goal. The way. The stones along the path. The sunsets you see when you’re kicking those stones and the flowers you see to the side of the path and the dog you see tromping through those flowers.
Did I lose you?
Personal example time. Three years ago, I set a goal, to write a book and get it published. Nobody, save for a few fortunates who possess means and avenues not available to us normal folks, or for those who self-publish, has any idea that writing a book worth traditionally publishing is a lot harder than it seems. I thought a month or two of hard writing would do the trick. And wow, what I turned out during those long happy days of blissful ecriture was sad, sad drivel. Not even vomit of the keyboard, but drool that had no business (and not a shot in hell of) being published by any publishing company who, you know, values its integrity.
But the lessons I’ve learned on the way to fixing, revising, editing, re-re-rewriting, the people I’ve met, befriended, and aided in their own journeys along the way, and the self-discovery and learning I’ve become addicted to, that’s what the goal of publishing a novel has become to me. Not an end goal, but the gift of a million Nows on the way to a goal that is no longer my primary one. Now, and many Nows since and forthcoming, are my goal. The learning. The anticipation. The knowledge that I am working towards something that is itself fulfilling, and tasty in its own way. The nibbles. The morsels. The failures that will inevitably point me in the right direction despite seeming like the wrong one at the time.
My goal has morphed into Forever Reaching My Goal. It’s a beautiful thing that I realized about six months in, when I asked the Great Universe for guidance. Enjoy the ride, it said, for that is the real treasure. The discoveries, the unveiling, the pitfalls, the humbling of several writing contests where I failed to impress, and the few where I did. The praise of a few friends who were kind enough to tell me how good (or how bad) my writing was (and oh, God, I’m sorry you’ve had to read the drivel I asked you to read – but I promise, I’ve become a far better writer than I used to be!) and for the praise I know I will receive once that publisher says yes to what I’m still perfecting at this moment.
Because the goal, literally, my intent to be published by a real company, is already happening. I set my intention, and in the way that Time is all Now and All at Once, at the same time, I’ve already been published. So, all this “time” in between then and now, is The Perfection. My learning, my yearning, my practicing my words and scrapping them just as much, the plot twists, the characterization, the climax and the denouement of my story.
Which brings me back to the Hastening. I understand people want to get to that special day. The birth of their child, the outcome of the election, the day they and friends and family can rip open presents, but to me, the joy is often missed by sight of the Goal.
So, soften your focus. Keep that goal in sight, of course, but see it as something that is going to happen regardless, and make each day your goal instead. Like exercise plans for weight loss, a job promotion, graduation – they are all great in concept but even more wonderful to work for. Celebrate that, the million tiny achievements in the everyday – they are all more beautiful than you can imagine because they are singularly fleeting but in the aggregate, monumental.
Save the hastening for things like the wish that your dental exam would go by faster – the hoping that filing your taxes would be less complicated – that the jerk in front of you would stop driving like his thumb’s up his ass and the dick behind you would stop riding your ass. Hasten small things, but not days. Not entire days. Do something small, every day, that makes you cherish it somehow. Then let it go. But acknowledge it for its importance, and not just as some throwaway in the pursuit of something bigger than will one day, just like this one, become obsolete.
(This trip happened a while ago but took me several months to work through the PTSD incurred by it and so the delay in posting.)
A vacation. A short but honest-to-goodness vacation. Something I’ve saved my pennies for and feel a quiver in my liver merely thinking about. Vacationing alone, venturing out to parts unknown. This is going to be epic. A true spiritually enlightening island getaway. I want to do yoga on the beach and meditate to the sound of crashing waves while Zenning the fuck out.
With no sleep, Friday morning at 3 AM, I start preparing, stuffing my low-carb feast of frozen protein bars, little plastic containers of cashews and pouches of beef jerky into every available nook of my carry-ons. Going to stay as focused and carb-free as possible. By 4:30, I’m out the door, on the way to Midway Airport.
With two backpacks perched on my shoulders, I queue up for the security check. Which is when I realize, my itinerary is not an actual boarding pass. This is perhaps the first sign of impending doom, but ever the optimist, I surged on, obtaining my pass from a kiosk and returning to the line. They wave me through Security with only a nod so I gain back most of the time I lost. Although I’m one of the last ones to board, a chorus of angels sings to me when I see one of the few seats left is nestled between Hottie-One and Hottie-Two. Yes, please.
To my left, Hottie-One resembles Jake Gyllenhaal, and to my right, just some random manform of beauty. Doesn’t matter. He’s older than thirty and he’s cute. Works for me. I’m not that picky anymore. Except… wait…. Hottie-Two decides he doesn’t like sunlight in his eyes while he’s trying to sleep, and he closes the window shade. Seeing my disappointment, he faces me. “I’d like to close it, but I can keep it open during takeoff if you’d like.” I barely hear this because his eyes, and, damn, …. I’d like. To keep it open. Um, what? Close your mouth, Lauren. And stop drooling.
After our initial ascent, the window shade plummets, and so do his eyelids. At least now I can stare without him knowing it. I pull out my laptop and start to read a romance manuscript that a fellow writer friend from Texas has recently asked me to critique. I’d heard everything is bigger in Texas and according to her novel, that is a correct assumption.
And, oh, critique I do. While I drool. And try to cover the screen as I highlight and type “OMG this is Hot!” about ten times in rapid succession. Poor Hottie-One (aka H-One) is working on a fossil fuel presentation while I sit here ensconced in some serious Hot-For-Teacher action, the lead student character halfway to O-Town and me trying not to squirm in my middle seat. At least I’m afforded the pleasure of rubbing elbows with H-One and H-Two on several only slightly accidental occasions. But, alas, the flight ends. H-One and H-Two-Oh-It’s-a-shame-I’ll-never-see-you-again both disperse. *Sigh.*
I have about an hour and a half to kill until I board my second flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, Bahamas. I’m so enamored with this manuscript I’m reading, I don’t even care that once again, I’m one of the last passengers to board the aircraft. Somehow, I snag a window seat, disrupting a man who clearly figured that sitting on the aisle would secure him his own row. Think again, bucko. He’d be nice-looking if he weren’t wearing a scowl of general disdain for everyone who dare make eye contact.
“Excuse me.” He shoots me a harried glance, then grudgingly stands up and lets me through. “Thank you.” No desire to talk to this man and the feeling is obviously mutual. I keep reading the manuscript and blush to myself while I thoroughly enjoy the story. Once we get close to the Bahamas, I forget the manuscript and begin taking lots of pictures documenting the beauty of the islands. Such blue water! I can’t wait to go swimming.
The Nassau airport is beautiful. Slightly confusing, but using O’Hare all my life has prepared me to not panic when bombarded with a million signs and placards. The twin-engine plane to Andros Island is easy to find and off I go. But, damn. It’s a short, stuffy little plane. And smelly. And hot as hell. God knows what is coating the windows. I drag a napkin out of my backpack and after a few swipes, the greenish-brown film is lifted and I snap some more pictures. Unfortunately, it has started to rain. Hard.
Shaky flight but I love adventures. We disembark in the middle of the runway, all of us huddling quickly into the airport as we get soaked. It’s almost 4 PM and I’m tired, hot, and hungry. Paul Simon’s I Can Call You Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can Call Me Al trolls through my mind as I feel like a bit like scattered cattle in the orphanage marketplace… don’t ask me to recall the correct lyrics. I can barely think straight. Someone official-looking notices a rain-soaked foreigner with a glazed countenance and takes mercy on me, guiding me to a “taxi” and a woman I can barely understand who drives me to my destination.
Let’s call that destination OMiFuNo. As in, Out in the Middle of Fucking Nowhere. I chitchat with the woman driver all the way, and she assures me she will be back on Monday morning at 6:45 to pick me up and take me back to the airport. The next 60 hours are reserved for fun! Yea!
It’s too late to go down to the beach, and it’s too dark with rainclouds, and holy sheet, the mosquitos are threatening to lift me off the ground. I talk to the nice man named Freeman in the office/dining area of the OMiFuNo Lodge, and he prepares me a “salad.” I did request lettuce and cheese and dressing, and that is what exactly what I got. No more, no less. The man did his best but I suppose the difference between the Salads of the U.S. of A and what I was presented with surprised me. And not in a good way. Torn iceberg lettuce leaves with a garnish of American cheese sliced in crude triangles decorating the outer edges of the plate. Low-carb at its basest.
But I am tired, and Freeman is kind. Although TripAdvisor had encouraged me to think of this place as a little nugget of paradisal wonder, the OMiFuNo Lodge seems deserted except for me and three scrawny stray cats. Tossing some beef jerky down for them, I trudge to my room and flop down on my bed. I eat one of my protein bars while scratching my insect bites furiously and look forward to my Saturday morning snorkeling adventure.
An hour later, I’m zoned out. Here I laze, in Room 3 at OMiFuNo’s Lodge. Still wired from twelve hours of travel, I can’t sleep. And I’ve never felt so alone. Or, perhaps I have, although since all we ever really have is “now,” it’s a moot point. Everything is Now. I feel alone. Now. Purposeless. Except for writing my romance novels, which today does not seem like such an important accomplishment. I wax philosophic. It’s all I have to do since I can’t get the tv remote to cooperate. And my cellphone gets zero reception. Lah, dee… Dah. Boredom.
A truly fitful night of barely legitimate shut-eye ensues, thanks to the million bug bites screaming out for the scratch of a fingernail. Why I’m so melancholy is beyond me. Sixty percent of my skin is covered in mildly poisonous insect saliva and I’m aggravated because the nearest store is several miles away, and that anti-itch cream I brought? Oh, wait a minute. No. I brought copious amounts of shampoo and conditioner in my 2 oz. airline regulation bottles. Because there are just so many people here to impress with my luscious locks.
Scratched to high heaven and feeling dejected, I await my daily adventure. I take a shower and eat some Freeman-inspired scrambled eggs, bacon, and few bites of toast, and one smidge of fruit jelly. Freeman has been most cordial although I admit, I only understand about half of what the man says. His accent is very “tropical.” He drives me the mile to my snorkel site. Jesse, his uber-thin wife Chelsea and their two small children (plus dog) boat me out to several small reefs and blue holes. The snorkeling here is nothing compared to my experience in St. John, St. Kitts, or Dominica, but I try to enjoy the view regardless.
And in an earnest effort to enjoy the Now of my island adventure, I accept the experience for what is was, which comes served with slight humiliation of the ultimate Baywatch couple watching me beach myself, belly-first, onto their tiny boat after each of the four dives. Why the boat doesn’t have a ladder irks me but when your life revolves around scuba diving, swimming in vast oceans, and maintaining perfect bikini bodies, who needs stairs? The third self-launching onto the boat is hard because for some reason, my arms are already aching. However, I eventually hoist myself up, refusing to be embarrassed. Yes, I’ve got 20-odd pounds on me that refuse to leave but whatever. It’s me. And I’m OMiFuNo, remember? I just don’t GAF.
When I regain my footing on the boat the fourth and final time I dive, my reception borders on cruel, and although unintentional and innocent, takes a great deal of ignoration on my part. Their five-year old son looks me over and exclaims, “You are very fat!” At first, I thought I heard him incorrectly, because dammit, I’m not that fat. And screw you, privileged child. I bite my quivering lip and admonish myself.
WTH is wrong with you? You just internal-voice-insulted a kid who weighs all of forty pounds dripping wet…
I see his father turn abruptly and say something to him. I also see his mom shoot her husband a questioning glance, quietly telling him to admonish his son for his proclamation. I internalize my shock, speaking instead to the black Labrador Retriever, Duke. I pet him and ask him to scoot over so I could return my humiliated size 10 ass to the middle of the boat.
Further ignoring the undeserved comment, I converse with Chelsea as Jesse maneuvers toward the shore to conclude my trip. I hop back into the water at OMiFuNo Lodge after I fork over $100 of my favorite dollars and fight hideous amounts of insects to make my way back to my room. I’m exhausted. I try unsuccessfully to take a nap, then make my fat self go for a walk north on Queen’s Highway. Every muscle in my body aches. Upon finding a path to the beach, I start to cry. Surrounded by beautiful ocean and scenery, the awe that I felt while watching the shoreline from the plane has vanished. My sense of beauty as a sole and fulfilling experience has evaporated. My soul hurts.
It’s not just the kid insult. It’s…. everything. Even swimming in the ocean, my joy plummets as the fresh fingernail-scratch marks sting in the salt water. After lounging in the turquoise surf, verging between sniveling and feeling oh so lonely, my soul cries out silently for a connection with somebody, anybody I could find to soothe my lonesomeness, I succumb to despair. Feeling unworthy and fat and generally very hungry and tired and sad… Why the hell do I feel this way? I’m supposed to be having FuN. Zenning the fuck out. And I don’t like kids anyway. Where’s my goddamn yoga mat?
Screw you guys. I’m going home. In the shower, I take notice of more large welts on my skin. All. Over. Have I really been scratching that much? Using the spotty internet reception and my laptop, I research “skin irritation after swimming in Bahamas” and discover that there is currently a large concentration of jellyfish larva in the water. And really, I should have, of course, thought of that before jumping into a sparkling clear turquoise ocean. Because, duh.
I have two and a half hours to kill before meeting Freeman outside. He took pity on my hunger and asked me out for dinner at a restaurant a few miles away. I can’t wait. I hadn’t had more than bare minimum carbage in the past two days and my energy is dwindling. And then it hits me. That’s why I am so depressed and feeling so desolate. My body needs bare minimum 20 carbs per day to operate and when I tallied up what I had eaten in the past 48 hours, I couldn’t come up with more than 30. No wonder I feel dead inside. Melancholia solved.
Anyway, Freeman takes me and a few friends to a bar which blares loud music and boasts a buffet. I stuff my face with chicken and macaroni and cheese, and thanks to a nice man named Matt, didn’t spend a dime. The locals are also nice enough to load me up with plenty of insecticide since they see all the red welts on my skin. Matt even slips me a small bag of Ruffles and a Coke when he kisses my cheek goodbye. Island folk sure are generous. And slightly grabby. (Eat your heart out, Chelsea!) Back to my room, where although I am sticky and slimy with bug spray, I sit, tapping away a diary entry at my keyboard.
Undoubtedly the locals had no idea that my sadness consumed me this afternoon, but somehow, their souls heard mine lament its loneliness, and the universe answered my silent requests for company. It really does amaze me sometimes how Ask and You Shall Receive operates. What-fucking ever. Pass me the rest of those goddamn potato chips.
After another shower to rid myself of excess DEET, I lie down in bed and try to sleep. It’s only 830 PM and sleeping this early is foreign to me, except that by basking in potato starch, my mind is adrift on a sea of insulin. And itch. Itch. Itchy, itchy, itchtastic — why the fuck am I so itchy? It almost feels like something’s crawling on me. Flipping the light back on, I inspect the bed. Don’t notice anything, but take out the extra bedspread in the closet and sleep on top of it just in case. Maybe it’s still the jellyfish larva residue on the sheets.
The next day is a hiking adventure with a wonderful lady named Barb. She takes me through jungles and (almost) into caves and we swim in an inland blue hole. Very, very relaxing. Soothes my skin. And my desire for companionship, for Barb is a naturist and wonderful conversationalist as well. Unfortunately, by the time she drops me off back at OMiFuNo Lodge, the thunderclouds have rolled in and a wicked storm is brewing. Even the stray cats scramble to hide from the ferocious wind.
Having finally figured out the television remote, I have also figured out that the tv only receives one channel. And, lucky me, it’s a political channel that airs in-depth views of all the political heavy-hitters from elections season in a two-hour repeat loop. Just what I wanted to watch on my vacation. But then zzzzzzzt.
Power’s out. As in, there’s not a single light on anywhere. It’s pitch black inside as well as out and it’s only 5 PM. The wind whips up and howls outside, and any thoughts of dinner of any kind are erased because Freeman had mentioned earlier that if the storm was too bad he wouldn’t be able to make it back to the lodge. And so I’m alone. Again. Naturally.
Alone and really, really hungry. One pouch of beef jerky left, one 2 oz serving of cashews. My low-carb vacation is doing wonders for me as I’m sure I’ve already lost that 20 pounds from yesterday just by hiking and swimming so much today. Alas, I am exhausted and decide an hour’s nap during the rainstorm would be wise. And so I lie down.
And… itch, itchy, itchiness to the nth degree… This is no jellyfish larva issue. I swam in freshwater blue holes today. This has to be something in the bed. Sure enough, I lift the fresh sheets that I’ve just fitted on the mattress this morning and find several black dots courtesy of my phone screenlight. These are not the previously feared bedbugs. These are Fleas. I should know. I see this all the time. I even worked at a flea control company at one point in my contiguous United States life. I know flea poop on sight. Great for a résumé. Bad for the Now.
Because Now, along with an enormous thu-thu-thu-thunder and lightning storm outside, there’s still no electricity, my laptop’s dead, my cellphone still has no reception, and I can’t lie down on the bed. I don’t want to take a shower in the dark amid Psycho fears, and Freeman isn’t on the property. I hear howling outside. Animal? Human? Can’t tell. Not sure I want to know.
I double-check the lock on the door, and sit down in the rather uncomfortable chair that has been provided. After a mindless amount of time and several unsuccessfully attempts to meditate and bring myself to the unattainable state of bliss I so desperately desire, I give up. I surrender to the Now and suddenly, zzzzzzzzt. Power’s back on. I immediately plug in my laptop, thinking, if all else fails, I can email someone directions on how and where to find my mangled insect-ravaged, carbless carcass in the morning. Fuck the Now. The Now sucks ass.
Looking at my phone, whose only purpose is to mark the passage of ungodly desolate time on this godforsaken island of doom, I remark there are twelve hours til morning, when my taxi driver will return to take me away from this decidedly unZen-like paradise.
The tv hums with political ad after political ad, sandwiched in between shows about Trump and Hilary and Bernie. My mouth waters at the mere thought of sandwiches. I try to arrange myself on the chair and not salivate while thinking of peanut butter and jelly. Of fried bologna with mustard. A BLT. Any sort of any food-like substance crushed between two slices of thick crusty bread sounds heavenly.
Upon tearing open the last of my food stash, I cringe, biting off another mouthful of teriyucky jerky. Filling my stomach is great but now that I’m aware of my high-protein fatigue, my mind spins out of control. I swear at the cashews, snarling insults never before hurled at mere nuts. I have only half a bottle of water left (saving it for an emergency…. does this count yet??) and I don’t dare drink the tap water. One huge clap of tumultuous thunder and the tv fizzles and Yea! Power’s out again! I’m this close to throwing the door open and tearing off into the black night screaming Love Reign O’er Me. Over me, over me, over me, Whaaaoah!
Yet I don’t. Because the stray cats are outside. I know they are. Like Cujo, they probably wait perched outside the door, salivating. They have no doubt provided me with the fleas that infest my room and make my skin crawl. They’re not getting any more sustenance from me! Traitors. An hour of pacing my room later, I try again to mount an attack on sleep while perched against the desk. The mosquitoey histamine crawls across my skin, robbing me of more than a minute of peace, and the intense prickling sting of flea bites is enough to drive me over the edge.
Except, I’m too tired to even drive to the edge. Defeated, I stare in the dark at a blank tv screen. Until 3 AM, when it lights up anew, ready to treat me to the reruns of the same Trump, Hilary and Bernie shows I avoided watching earlier. Delirium is setting in. It kicks off its shoes and rests its feet on my back while I sit cross-legged in the chair, rocking autistically, cursing Travelocity and its promise of utopian serenity. The insect bites on my back become unbearable. And I can’t reach them to scratch because my arms are still sore from hauling my fat ass onto the Baywatch boat yesterday, never mind the additional swimming today.
In my desperation, I smear tartar-control toothpaste on the end of my unused snorkel tube and reach around, swiping it across the itchiest parts of my back. Jacques Cousteau, eat your heart out. The dim promise of sunrise cracks through my window as minty freshness bathes my blistered back. It’s 6 AM and I’ve decided to at least take a shower to get ready for a long day of travel. I still have plenty of shampoo and conditioner! I use the bathroom and flush the toilet. The water sucks away and doesn’t return. Perplexed, I go to wet my toothbrush when I notice a parade of no-see-um bugs (which ironically, I see in droves). They trek across the entire bathroom wall from the door to the vanity and down the sink drain. I turn on the faucet, intent on drowning at least some of the battalion.
That’s when I discover the water that I had just flushed down the toilet was the last water I would see coming out of any faucet. And so, no shower. Just one lone, half-filled bottle of Dasani I had managed to squander. And so, ravenously hungry, no-doubt dehydrated, desperately over-tired, and still somewhat itchy, I bathe myself with 8 ounces of water. Don’t ask. At 6:40, dressed and peering out my window, begging the universe to keep in mind my flight leaves in an hour and a half, I hear the toilet lurch. Curious, I twist the sink faucet. And hey! Water’s back on! So glad Freeman warned me about the nightly drought… Too late to take a shower, though.
The lady in the van pulls up and I cast a weary glance back at the stray cats, nod to Freeman and thank him for being such a gracious host. Not his fault the OMiFuNo Lodge sucks and I’ve just spent fifteen minutes furiously shaking everything out, determined to omit any fleas from my luggage. En route to the island airport, I fantasize about purchasing some vending machine food. Until I get there and realize I just tipped the taxi driver with the last of my cash and now only have my debit card, which they don’t accept. Because, why would they? That would have left me with more than one happy memory of my trip here. My stomach gurgles for another hour until my stinky stuffy plane deposits me back in Nassau.
I’ve never been happier to see an airport in my entire life. After stalking the Wendy’s the minute I land, I scarf down a whole breakfast sandwich and hash browns. I drink an entire 24 oz. bottled water. Carb me, baby! I scope out a bank of leathery chairs and sprawl my belongings out over them, hoping to catch a few zzz’s before my flight to Fort Lauderdale in four hours.
Thinking I’ll set my alarm so I don’t sleep through any boarding calls, I fiddle with my phone, which has, of course, ceased functioning. I take out the battery and restart, only to discover my device has morphed into a Way-Back machine. The time and date displayed is 9:12 PM on November 4, 2012. Have I lost that much sleep? Am I hallucinating? Then the vibrating starts. One text message, two, twelve, seventeen. All the texts from that date in 2012 feed into my small unreliable handheld piece of crap I call a Smartphone. And I’m supposed to rely on this thing to wake me up?
Near tears, I attempt sleep, hoping to God my internal clock will rouse me in time for my flight. But I never actually fall asleep. Because I’m still scratching every available inch of flea-bitten skin I own. Boarding to Fort Lauderdale on a Sunday crunches me with a full flight and other exhausted adults so no window seats and definitely no numbered Hotties. I settle my backpacks between my legs and try not to appear too catatonic.
This is when the itching reaches fever pitch. I feel something biting my ankle. I must be delirious. I bend down to inspect my lower shin, and discover a small red bite. One of those little fuckers has hopped aboard and is now terrorizing me, just when I escaped from Hell Island for good. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, I would endure at least 7 other bites, courtesy of some little six-legged varmint who will be meeting his violent death by insecticide as soon as I get home.
Which I arrange, happily. At around 9 PM. Dusting myself off, I race inside and fetch a can of flea spray (yes, I have these on-hand due to my profession as at times, I bring fleas home from client houses). I open the trunk and aerosize a bigly amount of poison over my belongings. I don’t even care if it ruins anything. That little sucking fucker needs to die.
Stripping naked in front of my washing machine, I boil all garments on the whitest whites setting while I shower with the remaining tepid water and rinse my tears down the drain with glee. I’ll never curse my home sweet home again. I have water. I have food. I have electricity. What I end up not having is a flea-less bed, because somehow I’m still being bitten two days later.
Another round of insecticide ensues, but the nightmares continue for a few more days. I eulogize my snorkel tube while I pitch it in the trash, coated with crusted dentifrice. It’s been a spectacular aid in the war on unreachable itchies.
And so finally, easing back into the workweek, I receive my usual fair share of telemarketing calls. On Wednesday, I’m going through the McDonald’s drive-thru about to order a bunless double-cheeseburger when I answer yet another call. A robovoice informs me I have just won an all-expense-paid vacation to Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
I press End Call and proceed to order a Big Mac and fries.
It has come to my attention that my last blog post may have seemed a teentz sad. That was not my intent and although this blog exists mainly for me to exercise my literary muscles, I do strive to keep people somewhat entertained, and I do appreciate feedback. Usually when I write in verse, it is with the mindset of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, not Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. There’s enough of that in the world already. So, for this post, I bring you…. Love.
For those of you that don’t know, I love Love. I am all about the Meet-Cute, that romantic bada-bing, bada-boom that preludes the Big Bang. I love watching it in movies, reading it in books, and witnessing it in real life. In fact, I currently have three romance novels in the works so a few of my imagined Meet-Cutes are actual works-in-progress. (Stay tuned on those.) My mind concocts Meet-Cute scenarios every day, devised from random snippets of conversation overheard or situations observed at the grocery store, the gas station, the premium cat food section at Petco. Even, as this one did, during my dog walks.
I see many odd things on those walks. From the spent condoms, empty packs of cigarettes and wayward boomerangs, to half-filled bottles of pop (or… worse), crusts of bread, and slices of cheese, these items spark arbitrary and sometimes slapstick narratives which then project themselves onto my brain’s virtual keyboard. Such is the way my mind works, and to pass time during monotonous dog duty, I concoct. I form. I fabricate. The following is one of these fantastic extrapolations, fashioned after a chance encounter with a slice of American cheese in its native habitat (and by that, I mean America). Travel with me and my mind’s eye to the frozen food aisle in a local grocery store.
“Excuse me, are you talking to the cheese?”
His deep baritone reverberates both next to my ear and down into my shoes. His bright blue eyes, which blink like strobes, bely the benign question he poses of me. It’s a testament to his shock that a seemingly-sane woman would converse with wedges of rinded Brie. His cart swerves around mine, stopping in front of the Neufchatel. I hold my ground. Nobody puts Brie in a corner.
“Um, yeah. So?” I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear while I proceed to ignore the semi-softs and instead square off to face the slices and shreds. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice his blue irises diminish while his pupils fixate on me, one brow lifted like an inchworm, twitching as though any second, he expects me to launch a Babybel at his forehead. I also notice he’s kind of cute in a decidedly nerdy manner, his auburn hair tousled and bed-headed, like he can’t be bothered. He sports a lopsided grin with a side of coffee breath.
I stealthily rotate my head on my neck axis, Exorcist-style, and level him with a stare both Linda Blair and Blair Witch would be proud of. I also gracefully afford him a more elaborate response. “I was asking it if it was moved and if so, who moved it.”
The eye beneath the inchworm squints. “Did it Hem and Haw, or did you get a straight answer?”
One sidelong leer later, I wonder, briefly, why I divulged the depths of my crazy to a total stranger. I mean, who admits they actually ask who moved their cheese? Apparent to me however, is the fact that he has read the same self-help book I did twenty years prior, as evidenced by his use of the two main character names. My inadvertent smirk is mirrored on his face.
“No. It’s rather elusive cheese.”
I toss a pack of shredded Sargento into my cart and shift away from him. Down the aisle I sashay, swinging past the free-range eggs born of chickens that certainly deserve more than $4 to push those suckers out. One dozen selected, I strike out in search of celebratory bacon, My stomach grumbles impatiently, ravenous for one of my signature omelets. That omelet will be most incomplete without cheese and I require American for my impending egg concoction. I double-back. What was I thinking slinging cheddar into my cart without regard for American? I know, technically American isn’t real cheese, but I shush myself and scurry back to rescue a pack of slices.
The inquisitive Señor Queso smiles at me when I arrive back at Cheese Central, confident that he’s lured me back with his baby blues. I don’t give him the satisfaction and instead grab a cube of 24 individually wrapped Velveetas, thinking That’s not real cheese either! Standing at his side, I pause to sniff. The man doesn’t have coffee breath per se, but rather smells like a delicious slow-roast himself, his whole body, one whiff shy of caramel macchiato. Before I start to drool and ask him where the whipped topping is, I turn back down-aisle toward the bacon. As I twirl in front of the thick-cut, smoked pork perfection, I pluck out a pack and fling it backwards into my gaping grocery basket, which, I decide, is the perfect time to size up, from afar, the man who smells like the inside of a doughnut shop. He did, after all, smile at me. How bad could he be?
My breath catches in my throat. He is no longer afar at all. My eyes stumble upon Mr. Coffee’s cart, now perched beside mine in front of the cured meat. His turn to pretend to ignore me, feigning confusion about his option: links or patties? I see right through his staged quandary.
He weighs each hand, then tosses the patties aside. He proceeds to fondle a bundle of regular pork links in one hand, low-sodium in the other. Stymied about his choices, his fingers linger over the zip top tab of each package. I tap my foot and cross my arms as I contemplate his pursuit, convinced he’s mocking me and yet unable to look away. For a calculated moment, he inches closer to me. “Difficult decision…”
The grumble of my stomach reminds me, my as-yet-unmade omelet awaits, a mere fantasy that needs to come to fruition, and soon, lest I collapse from low blood sugar.
“So many links, so little time,” I tell him, snatching the maple-flavored, fully salted links from his hand. I grace him with a wink while I toss them in my basket. I leave, discontinuing this Breakfast of Champions, a flirtation that surely exists in my head only.
As if to confirm my suspicions, he doesn’t follow me as I wheel my grocery selections toward the front of the store, and I chalk it up to a mere hit-and-run, a cute guy merely making conversation on a Sunday morning shopping spree. I sigh and spread out the links, the cheese and the eggs onto the belt and watch as they near the register. The cashier plucks out a small square piece of paper that’s been rolled up and wedged inside the egg carton, and, upon realizing it’s not a coupon, hands it back to me. I unfurl it to to see a phone number and the words…
Oh, come on, you already know what it says, don’t you?
The correct answer is F) A new beginning. Don’t bother pointing out that there was no E. Everyone who knows me knows I have an affinity for the F.
Anyway, a secret, a squirrel, and some nuts are all part of my story. If you’ll kindly follow me into the Wayback machine, Mr. Peabody, I will explain. Please keep your hands inside the ride at all times.
Like many kids, I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved animals, so maybe a veterinarian? Or perhaps a private investigator, a sleuth like Nancy Drew or Columbo, or a Cruise Director like Love Boat’s Julie, yippity skippity and on perpetual vacation. Deep down, however, my specific role on this planet eluded me. The death of friend at age seven left me confused, and although I seemed like a normal kid on the outside, I was a lonely one, a girl who watched the other kids from my bedroom window and wondered why I never quite fit in. I even felt quite disconnected within my own family.
When I bumbled into my teens, I still had no clue as to why I was alive. I faked what I could at school, tried and failed to fit in to any one clique, and left for college feeling as lost as ever. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. With some professional insight in the early 90s, doctors discovered what I already knew: I was clinically depressed. I was promptly medicated. One of the first people on Prozac, I followed up with a host of other selective seratonins, all with varying degrees of success. Later, my diagnosis was fine-tuned to manic-depressive, or bipolar. Bipolar II, to be exact. Different meds. Same cluelessness. I felt like one frothy little whitecap flailing on a tidal wave of uncertainty, forever crashing into and subsequently adrift on a sea of half-assed career attempts, dumb-ass relationships, and sad-ass apartments. Along the way, I collected a beautiful dog, several ungrateful cats, and a vague disinterest in life. I was a scrambled mess, heavy on the cheese. After a man I loved tossed me aside like moldy cheddar, I grew even more depressed. Not only did I have none of my shit together, I didn’t even know what shit I wanted. Career? Marriage? Kids? … Bueller?
What the hell does this have to do with secret squirrelnuts?
Patience, Peabody. Fifty years is a lot to sum up in a few paragraphs…
When I moved back into the same sad-ass apartment where I had previously lived (it seemed like the go-to complex for wayward singles, only less Melrose Place, more Roseanne), I started feeding squirrels. Used to stuff my pockets with peanuts so that when I walked to my car, they would recognize me and scamper up, eager for their treat. During one particularly frenzied feeding, I noticed that squirrels didn’t have any of the identity crises that plagued me. Watching them, I took note of their innate senses of confidence, determination, and purpose. Squirrels are Type A. Call them pesky, call them cute, call them irritating-as-shit rodents, what you can’t call them is lazy. They bustled about relentlessly in their pursuit of the nuts I tossed at them, and when they found them, they gathered, transported and stored them. In short, the squirrels had an agenda. A purpose. A passion. They had their shit together. They had their nuts.
And I was jealous. The only thing we had in common? They foraged for nuts. I was nuts.
That’s not the point I was trying to make but bear with me a little longer.
My depression, anxiety, and a plethora of self-esteem issues trudged with me into my thirties, along with the bevy of pharmaceutical crapshoots. While most of my friends married, started families, and settled into meaningful careers, I still had zero notion of what to do with my life. I finally succumbed to both societal and internal pressure, fake-forged a career path at a major corporation and snagged a decent husband. I thought that would be where my story would get more interesting, or at least more stable. But all it got was… stale. I was stuck in a job I didn’t want, a marriage I wasn’t happy in, and a life that didn’t fit.
I remember typing “Why am I so unhappy?” into a search engine and scouring the internet for the answers. I started a petsitting business and took some travel classes after quitting my corporate job. But despite a supportive husband and a thriving business, I still Was. Not. Happy. Not even close. The tidal wave of my twenties returned with a vengeance, drowning me with a riptide of This Is Not My Life-isms. If I thought few people understood why I left a great job to pick up dog crap and scoop litter, even fewer comprehended why I left my cushy marriage simply because I “wasn’t happy.” I was, in a word, Stuck.
Which leads me to The Secret, The Squirrel and The Nuts.
The secret was something I’ve only recently figured out. In my life, I lacked what the squirrels did not: an agenda. A purpose, a passion. Nuts. (Hold the snarcasm!)
For over fifteen years now, my lifestyle has afforded me an opportunity to both spend all day in jeans and take pictures, which is something I do enjoy. But while some of my friends grapple with their first midlife crisis, I head resolutely into my second. I’m finally becoming unstuck, my Squirrel Theory alive and kicking. In the past two-and-change years, I’ve weaned myself off all pharmaceuticals, written a complete-although-under-constant-revision book, started several more, and have taken up photography with a vengeance, especially after one of my eagle photo shoots went slightly viral on Facebook.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Lao Tzu said so.) Similarly, I believe the happiness of a thousand squirrels lies with a single nut. And finally, at long last, this “sqirl” has found her nut. Actually, I found two. (I’ve heard they’re better in pairs.) Writing and Photography. This blog will feature mostly-true anecdotes (embellished for the hell of it, cuz it’s my blogpost and I’ll lie if I want to) but also random musings that flit through my brain, emulating anyone from Stuart Smalley to Dr. Wayne Dyer. Off-the-beaten-path photographs will also be featured, and to keep things unpredictable, will be accompanied by random writing sprints that marry a photo with a haphazard fictional narrative.
So there it is. The explanation of the Secrets, the Squirrels and the Nuts.
And so, on my quest to define just what the hell I’m doing on this planet, I have undefined it first. I am not going to get a real job and be miserable again. I am not going to sit around and live the next half, third or quarter of my life unhappy. I have found my nuts, and goddammit, I’m going to crack those fuckers in half and chew. Squirrels, you’ve been warned.
** I’ve decided to add a music portion to my blog posts. My friend Michael from the band Get Set Go has graciously allowed me to link to his Bandcamp.com page and so for this first post, I offer you this song. Get Set Go: The Secret of My Success