Blue Line

Carl dug his walking stick in, a slight incline ahead.  The Priest, this Shenandoah trail he had hiked for nearly thirty years, was hardened, slick now by late November frost. The main trail veered to his right.  To his left, noticeable now with the lack of leaves and vines, a narrow footpath headed west.

Each winter, Carl and his a group of longtime friends drove SUVs and pick-up trucks up a fire lane to a remote spot, close enough to hear the rush of Crabtree Falls.  Truck camping was perfect for bringing in a load of firewood, a Weber grill, and coolers filled with steaks and beer. Also packed was a huge custom wall tent, spacious enough to fit a long folding table for days of card and board games.

Carl knew where this unveiled narrow path must lead.  A blue line was somewhere down the slope. If it was April, and if Carl held his fly rod instead of a walking pole, if he had his waders and not his heavy boots, he’d follow that secret track and find that line.

How many times had he sat on a fallen log on a main trail and pulled out a trail map to discover a hidden stream?  You don’t find a great catch staying on the waters most known.  You go searching for those thin blue lines, barely etched on the map.  You really have to look for those anonymous creeks and streams, racing over rock and falls, their waters reaching for a river beyond. Finding these lines, walking a day with them in peace and appreciation, for Carl, was as good as winning any prize.

He’d be back to this place branching off the Priest.  When the sun was shining through cotton clouds and trees rustled welcome, and the earth smelled of peat and green.  Carl took out a pen and marked his trail guide for his new found path.  Next time he reached this fork, he’d go west and find that line and the rock ledges it bathes.  Carl would rest atop a boulder, next to a simple waterfall, able to look through a clearing in the canopy to a peak of mountain ridges beyond. He would finally come across his line’s pool, with silver fish nestled in the shady edges, feasting on flies both real and crafted.   And he’d send some flies to the center where the water’s depth cooled the biggest ones, hungry enough to come up for a bite.

But now, clouds were rolling in with a cold wind heralding a possible rain. Camp was an hour away, his buddies probably still cocooned in tents and sleeping bags, awaiting his return to stoke the fire and light the grill.  As the early riser, he had become the camp’s breakfast chef. He’d wake them soon for biscuits, gravy, Bailey’s in coffee and a fireside chat about a blue line waiting for them come spring.

 

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Cabo

“It’s not a catamaran?” I looked at the speedboat and then up to Craig’s face, my hand shielding my eyes from the Cabo San Lucas sun.

“I thought we were sailing?”

“Well, I thought it would be fun to do something different.  We’ll still see the whales, but have a little speed fun, too.” He knew my disappointment was morphing to annoyance.

I clenched my teeth, scolding myself for sending Craig down to the cruise excursion desk alone without specific instructions to book a whale watching sail.

“I had planned on a relaxing morning, not a thrill ride,” I pulled him down the pier for privacy as two other couples boarded the silver bullet boat.  The captain, in surfer jams and t-shirt, helped his morning charter customers on board.

I don’t deal well with unfulfilled expectations. I go into near meltdown when a plan goes awry.  A tantrum was building. Craig knew it was coming.

“Common, Celia.  It’ll be awesome,” Craig tried to steer me back towards the captain and the others laughing as they put on life vests.  “It’s us and two other couples. Just a few hours.”

I had dug my heels into the weathered dock, and Craig felt me become immovable.  “It’s not much more than a fucking banana boat,” I hissed.  “I don’t do fucking rafts.  I don’t do speed.”

Craig dropped his head, “Fine.  Let’s just go get some breakfast then.”

“No. You want to go.  Get on your damn boat. Have fun,” I fumed and stormed down the pier. Craig went off on another adventure without me.

A cantina right off the harbor had an upper terrace and breakfast was being served.  I made my way up, and took a seat at a high table looking down to the street and the harbor across.  I had sun on my face, sea breeze and smell. “Almost like being out on a cat,” I huffed to myself. All that was missing was the hump of a big fish. And Craig.

A flier on the menu boasted Bottomless Mimosas.  Perfect.  I didn’t want to touch bottom, to connect.  I wanted to float away from what was now changing from rage to regret.  I did not want to feel the sting of that familiar fall.

I met the boat when it came back to dock later that morning.  Craig disembarked, a big smile and hug for me.  He had a remarkable ability to forget my falls.

“You missed a great ride, Ce!  The gang wants to grab lunch.  Let’s go, ok?”

“Lunch sounds great.” A concession, my typical apology, granted as I bowed to get my bag.  I glanced out to the bay as I stood.  A tremendous whale breached, spiraling in silver spray to reach its nose to the sun. Thrilled, I turned, “Craig, did you see?” He was walking away from me, his arm around a new friend.  I looked back to see the whale’s fluke raised against the sea and sky, my own lonely adieu.

 

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Disclaimer: Newbie alret – my first flash fiction Streak.  Not sure what I’m doing!

Fall Again

 

Two days until we celebrate 28 years married.  Sometimes it feels romance is gone.  The heart no longer skips a beat.

I’m up at “The Fox,” our new neighborhood pub, having their amazing #5 chicken with Mumbo sauce.  I love sitting at the high top next to to huge open windows.  Fresh air and city sounds.  And Mumbo sauce – a D.C. Classic.

A 90’s soundtrack plays in the background.  I’m in a happy place. An hour or two out of my home office, alone with only my thoughts.

Tonight is Scott’s weekly boys night.  He’s off to see his buds and bond over this week’s selection of strategy games.  I just got his text he’s leaving soon.

One of tween-Moo’s favorite songs plays:

But hold your breath
Because tonight will be the night that I will fall for you
Over again
Don’t make me change my mind
Or I won’t live to see another day
I swear it’s true
You’re impossible to find

My phone pings, another text from Scott.

 

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And my heart skips a beat.

 

 

 

Talk With Dad

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I’m on my daily walk around the townhouse-lined streets of Georgetown. The trees are just about to bud, from drab to frothy green. The peat smell of fresh mulch, wet from last night’s rain, confirms it is finally spring. But this spring, for the first spring in my 53 years, I am fatherless.

I’m climbing the Whitehaven Street hill between 37th and 34th. And I start talking to Dad.

Are you there?
I haven’t felt you with me.

Like when Mardi died, I heard him for nights after rustling in the closet laundry pile like he did before bed.
And Beni. I felt him rest his soft chin on my ankle, on my foot dangling off the side of the bed. It was his way to wake me up to go out each morning. He was there for days after I literally sobbed myself sick when he died.

Where are you Dad?

Are you happy? Finally happy?

I have so much worry now. Can you help me?

Nothing new – just the same Top Five worries that have dominated my life, my every single waking moment.

My family – are they ok? Do I love them right, enough?
My weight – how fat am I now?
My finances – is there enough this day, this week, this month, this life?
My work – am I doing the right thing fast enough, good enough?
My home – is it beautiful and clean and organized and up to par?

I’m dumping Janet’s Top Five on you, Dad.

So selfish, as I know I can be. How can I ask you to now be my Fairy God Father? To grant me wishes or give me help? Or for anything?

I wasn’t loving to you all the time. You annoyed me. You frustrated me. You embarrassed me. You scolded me. You leaned across a table and spat at me because I voiced another opinion.

You once told me how you never felt accomplished.  You said everything you touched turned to dust.  Am I dust?

I didn’t always like  you very much.

But I always loved you, and wanted you to love me. Not just love me. Show me you did.

So I’m going to stop asking for your help with the Top Five. It’s not fair to either of us. They never get resolved anyway,  so I don’t want to set you up as the one not helping me out.

And I’m not going to expect some sign you loved me. Because I know you did but just couldn’t show me. If you couldn’t show me here in life, how can you now – wherever you are?

But I’m going to keep talking to you. Ask your advice. Tell you how Mom is. Share how beautiful spring is when you take a walk and pay attention. I never talked to you about this stuff before.

So sit back and settle in. We’ve got some catching up to do.

 

Letter from Dad…

 

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From Dad to Mom on their wedding day.

September 14, 1958

Dearest little Elsa-bug,

For an old airline type to give his bride a train case may seem an outrageous apostasy, but here it is. I’ve been wising it could be all fitted out with the proper gee-gaws and do-dads, but now I’m sorta glad it’s empty.

Maybe you can look inside and see it all brimming over with hopes and dreams for the big trip we are starting together and for all the little side trips through the years. Down in the corner is a little package; a few months of memories.

Soon, the accumulating memories will be all mixed up with the hopes and dreams, like two shades of powder spilled together. Then, perhaps sometimes you can look inside this little case and see all of us, and what we have been, and are, and dream of being together.

Oh, hon, I love you so. I wish I could say that the way we will walk together will be broad and smooth, with no storms. And yet, I know it cannot be thus, and really deep down, I wouldn’t want it to be so simple.

Hand in hand we’ll walk over all sorts of roads, get muddy and dusty, be snowed on and sunburnt, be hungry and thirsty sometimes, and tired. And yet, together, it will be a good walk. Our steps will falter near the end, and we’ll have to sit in the fields and rest. But we’ll be able to look back through the hazy years and know that it’s been a good road.

So, then, darling – do you have your hiking shoes? Shall we go?

Always love today and forever,

Gray

 

A Journey

I’m a politics junky. I’d watch political news 24/7 if I could (Scott stops me, thankfully).

But last Friday, it was unbearable to watch. So I took myself down 19 floors and across the street to the spa. My escape was a four hour package, perfectly timed over the noon hour I needed to avoid.

When I spa, I don’t want to chat. I don’t want to hear chat. I want to be numb to let my brain go quiet for a few hours in a magical place. My poor mind is on overdrive most of my waking hours. Let there be peace.

I never even really make eye contact with my spa team. I don’t want to connect. I don’t want my curious side to start asking question because that starts chatting.

The esthetician retrieved me in the heavenly waiting room. I was wonderfully cocooned in a fluffy robe and warm neck wrap.   I shook her hand, and she led me to the candle lit treatment room. I responded in syllables and nods. “Please,” my mind begged, “Do not engage me.”

Laying face up, she started to massage my weary shoulders and neck.  Almost purring, she started to lament about of how we women take on so many burdens.

As she massaged my temples and cheeks, she asked if I was married, had children. In already a dreamy haze, I mumbled, “Yes,” breaking my no chat rule.

Her melodious voice told me her story. Cleansers, scrubs, exfoliants, masks and serums flowed as I heard how she was raised in India by college professors, married, welcomed two babies, then lost her beloved to cancer.

“We women don’t give up. We do, we go where we must.”

So she brought her young baby girls to America, where hope is a beacon for immigrant women and their fatherless daughters. And I asked questions. How did this mother do it all alone?

She was wiping away some potion, and she wiped away my tears. Her story of hard work and devotion quieted my  mind by filling my heart.  Her daughters, I learned, are now college graduates.

As she and I hugged in the beautiful waiting room when our chat was over, she whispered, “We mothers are on this journey together.”

As I watched the miraculous marches a day later, her words echoed as tears again flowed.

Bad

photo21_inner_252-43-916-36-217-698-916-733I just posted to Facebook a picture of my family from my wedding 28 years ago. Along with a bunch of thumbs up likes, an unanticipated memory surfaced.

I was in my office, maybe ten years ago, coaching a sales person, a young man who showed promise. On my desk was a small wedding portrait of Scott and me. He pointed to the framed image and said, “Don’t you feel bad?” I replied a bit taken aback, “For what?” And he said hurriedly, “Well, for how you changed.” I knew he meant my weight. I think I brushed it aside to save both our faces with a glib comment about only feeling bad for not keeping humongous sleeves and ruffles on my business suits.

Haha. Yuck yuck.

So a decade later I’m even farther away from the size 6 bride in that picture. Do I feel bad?

I constantly get told I should. Bombarded with imagery on and offline of young, thin women and by endless chatter from family and friends about weight and diets.

Bad. Means I’m not good. Negates everything I’ve accomplished in the almost thirty years since that photo. I’m not worthy even though I sustained a marriage, raised an amazing child who has become an amazing adult, became a respected executive and mentored so many young professionals, kept warm relationships with family, in laws and friends.

I’m still bad. I’ve been bad since I was a nine year old and a clothing shop owner told my mother she needed to do something about my ‘baby fat’. I’ve been bad since a middle school teacher went desk to desk pointing out thin and fat kids. Bad since a high school encounter where a ‘cool’ guy called me lard ass. Bad when a stranger assumed I was pregnant when I wasn’t (an incident that happened a month after I delivered Moo and then multiple times in the years after). I was bad when a work friend I hadn’t seen in years met me for lunch and looked me straight in the face and didn’t recognize the fat me.

And I felt bad that day in 1989, with a tiny waste and defined collarbones, because I wasn’t down another 5, 10 or 20 magical pounds. I felt bad then, I feel bad still.

Here’s the thing. You never unhear you’re bad.