***** 2019 *****
Denise lay in bed staring at the darkness. The clock read 2:59. She couldn’t sleep. She eased out from under the covers, careful not to wake her husband. She slipped into some shoes and grabbed her purse. Stealthily she crept out of the house, not wanting to wake her teenagers.
She winced when she turned the ignition, but the engine came to life quietly. She backed out of the driveway and nosed toward the highway.
She wasn’t sure where she was going, just knew she had to drive.
She passed cars until there was no one left in front of her. She drove hard, headed East.
After a couple hours, the sky began to lighten.
Still she drove. Two more hours and she knew she was reaching the limits of her bladder and the gas tank.
The gas would have to wait.
She reached her destination. The one she didn’t realize called her.
She pulled into the parking lot of the state park and headed to the restrooms.
Ahead of her was the sea, crashing waves on the sand.
She inhaled deeply and let the smells of salt and fish envelope her.
She remembered she had a bag of candy stashed in the glove compartment from the international market.
She opened the bag and put one piece in her mouth. Bliss.
She tried to recall which piece of the mosaic of the past this taste belonged to.
Growing up as an army brat meant moving every two or three years, sometimes overseas.
She pondered the taste, then remembered the summer she turned six.
******* 1980 ********
The neighbors were having a party. The windows rattled with the noise of the music and dancing.
She shared a room with her twin four year old brothers. They were giggling and talking. None of them felt tired. It wasn’t the music. They were used to that. They’d slept through worse.
She jumped on her brothers’ bed and joined them in laughing at who knows what.
Then she remembered the candy stashed in a pillow case under the bed.
Somehow they had been able to hide it from their mother. She shoved her hand into the pillow case and pulled out a handful. The boys weren’t able to unwrap the pieces, so she did it. The crinkle of the wrappers couldn’t be heard above the giggling and the giggling couldn’t be heard above the music. They were safe.
She told silly stories and jokes and unwrapped candy. Her brothers worshipped her adoringly.
Long after the soft snores of her brothers permeated the air, she lay awake.
The sounds of music and dancing died down and ceased.
Then she heard the rhythmic beat of rain on a tin roof. Inside she was warm and safe and happy. She fell asleep comforted by the sound.
****** 2019 *******
She climbed a sand dune grabbing tall grasses to help her ascend the steep part. She summited and sat at the vantage point where she could survey the miles of coast.
She could feel her breathing slow.
She stared at the water, watching wave after wave crash against the sand. She noticed the creep of the tide.
She took a couple pictures on her phone, but instinctively felt she needed to capture this moment in a deeper way.
She ran down the dune and headed back to her car.
She headed back to the last town she’d passed. First of all, gas. Then a craft and hobby store.
She bought a canvas, some oil paints, and brushes. She debated about an easel, then grabbed it, too. She didn’t make a mental calculation about how much she was spending and tried not to think about her already maxxed out credit cards. Surely she had one that wasn’t at the limit.
She threw her purchases into the car and raced back to the beach.
Before she began climbing, she walked past a pool filled with kids laughing and splashing. She caught a whiff of chlorine. The smell took her back.
******** 1991 *********
The girls’ PE teacher was out for the day, so 5th period PE girls were instructed to get their swimsuits on and head to the pool for a co-ed class attempting to learn water polo.
She headed out and stood poolside, scanning the group. Some of her favorite people were in this class. Some were good friends. Some she wished she knew better.
The boys’ PE teacher was a first year teacher with enthusiasm and energy. He spent fifteen minutes explaining the rules and strategies, then quickly divided the group into two teams.
Another five minutes was lost determining who would play in each position.
Finally, the competition began.
The attempts were comical.
Then it turned into a free for all, with no regard to where the ball was. The main goal was to splash your opponents if you were close to them or your teammates if you weren’t.
Screams, shouts, water everywhere.
Lots more fun than water polo.
She fell behind the other girls walking back to the locker room. She wanted to savor this delicious feeling. The feeling of utter happiness. Of belonging and being seen and accepted and wanted. No self-consciousness or akwardness or embarassment.
The feeling of being somebody, but not even that. A somebody who was part of the tribe. One who belonged.
She loved it. This feeling.
She had almost reached the locker room, when she heard her name called.
She whirled. She recognized a student office aide.
“Hurry up and get changed. Your dad is here. You need to hustle into the guidance counselor’s office pronto.’
Her heart plummeted. Her dad wasn’t due back for three more days. There could only be one reason he would show up at school in the middle of the day.
They were moving. Again.
Her bubble had burst.
******* 2019 ********
Even though the sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and the sea a mesmerizing mixture of greens and blues, her painting was dark.
Blacks and grays for sky and sea. White caps and white clouds and and occasional white gull.
But no color.
She couldn’t bring herself to use the blues and greens.
The blacks and grays were necessary.
She worked without stopping, except for an occasional sip from a water bottle.
When every square inch of the canvas had paint, she exhaled.
The tightening in her chest relaxed.
She breathed again, deeply, looked out at the water and felt a moment of peace.
Then she unscrewed the caps on the brown and red and yellow paints.
She added an island to the painting, crowned by a lighthouse that sported a yellow glow.
She closed her eyes and exhaled again.
P.S. If you’re new to the concept of frozen grief, start here.