Fingernail Moons

Crescent-Moon My kids used to call crescent moons “fingernail moons.” When I see those luminous, thin, curved lines gleaming in a dark night sky, I smile, remembering Caroline’s delight at this original analogy. Back then, I was slim and had nice legs. Back then my bum was perky despite two pregnancies. Back then I wore short skirts and running shorts, not at all self conscious.

But something began happening at age forty. Doing laundry, the type on the clothing tags began to blur and I struggled to discern “tumble dry low” from “hang to dry.” At forty-five, I began to gain weight, especially around the middle. At fifty, well, let’s just say gravity really started playing cruel jokes with my body.

First to change were my arms. What used to look like triceps morphed into what my kids affectionately started calling “bye bye arms” — because “they look like they’re waving bye bye when you hold them up, Mama.” Vainly, I shied away from sleeveless shirts that revealed my flaccid arms, until hot flashes started drenching me in unannounced moments of torrential wetness and I practically stripped off my clothes wherever I was. Clearly I needed to dress in layers, with only the slightest of sleeveless shells next to my skin, even in winter. By that time, I didn’t much care about my bye bye arms.

Then one day while toweling dry after showering, I looked into the mirror at my naked body and it hit me where I’d seen such a sight before. I now resembled a disturbing image I’d accidentally discovered in a Playboy Magazine in the bottom of a basket in my granddaddy’s bathroom when I was just a girl. But not those of the fold-out variety. No, I looked just like a female cartoon character which had puzzled me at age ten. Not only had the joke itself escaped me back then, but I had questioned the talent of the cartoonist and how he (it had to have been a he) illustrated that woman’s elongated breasts. Years later, looking at the effect of gravity in my own reflection (when had this happened?!), I cackled out loud at the sudden “aha” moment. I lovingly gathered up my precious girls, one filling each cupped hand, and I thanked God I still had them, that I’d been able to nurse my two babies, that I’d survived breast cancer, and that I was happily married to an older man now. No matter how old my body gets, it will always be thirteen years younger than his.

Last weekend I was at the beach with my “bridge girls.” When our babies were little we played bridge. For the past fifteen to twenty years, however, those of us who are local get together once a month for dinner, drinks, and laughter — basically free therapy. Twice a year Connie flies back from Nashville, Susan returns from Phoenix, and we take a long weekend trip together, often to my little beach house. These are, we think, the equivalent of pricey therapeutic women’s retreats. I think this fall’s jaunt was our 51st trip, so you can imagine how comfortable we all are with one another, how accepting, yet lovingly candid. Well. Well.

We had loaded up my husband’s aluminum fishing cart with our sand chairs, beach towels, coolers with wine, peach daiquiris, Susan’s “wine coolies,” cheese and crackers, and bottled water (you know, for my dog). We were partway through solving the world’s problems when I got up and walked over to the cart to get more libations. Just when I leaned over to open the cooler my best friend of, count em, 35 years, burst out laughing.

I knew immediately what had set her off and I jerked straight up. I’d responded exactly the same way the week before when I’d been at a dental conference in Las Vegas with my husband. For some ungodly reason, every hotel room in Vegas seems to sport walls of mirrors, the spacious bathroom of our swanky hotel room notwithstanding. Bent over at the waist, drying my long hair with the loudly whirring, burnt smelling hotel hair dryer, admiring my still agile flexibility, my ability to touch the floor beyond even flat palms thanks to yoga, I peered out between the triangle of my straight, veiny naked legs. Without warning, my eyes suddenly caught sight of myself in the mirrored wall above the Jacuzzi tub across the room. Two pale “fingernail moons” peeked out at me — milky white crescents which had escaped the sun’s summer rays while the rest of my thighs had a nice, golden tan. Really? Really?!

I turned to Connie. “I know! I know! Isn’t that hysterical?!” I tried to cover my embarrassment. “I just got a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror at the hotel in Vegas last week and thought I would die!

“I’m sorry.” Connie tried to stifle her unfiltered outburst, not very successfully. “It’s just … it’s just you used to be …”

“I know, right? My what gravity does to us as we age.”

And in that moment, I let my pride go yet again, just like I had with the bye bye arms.

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“After the Storm”

Prompt writing: 20 min: “after the storm” GO!

After the Storm

After the storm, the clouds make way for a little light to peek through. Then a little more. The deep elephant gray morphs into a lighter ashen gray, then a bluish tint that gives the moving sky that cotton candy look. The wind still gusts, bending palm fronds in unison. But you can see beyond the dunes on the horizon, and the sea has calmed. No breakers crashing their powerful see-what-I-can-do white foaminess as they slam down in mighty display.

No, today the magnificent, dreaded Hurricane Sandy is moving north, sparing us here in North Carolina, gathering intensity to smack a mighty blow to the more populated northeast. I feel their pain, their fear, knowing well the all-consuming efforts to gather water, food, flashlights and batteries. Sandbagging, boarding windows, doors, sometimes escaping inland, awaiting your own “after the storm.”

After the storm, the real work begins – picking up the littered pieces of wind-tossed fragments of foreign lives now resting in your yard. Wondering where your own things are – a lawn chair here, a bird feeder there, a soggy library book floating in a muddy puddle. Hopefully not expensive boats smashed, ruined, piled high together on a shore of debris.

And what of other, more personal, less tangible storms? The storms of intertwining lives? Isn’t it just the same?

Shell-shocked at first that it really got that ugly, that crazy. Replaying the angry words over and over in your mind as you wonder what to do next, where to begin the clean up. You thought you were prepared, hell, walked around with some niggling part of you always at the ready, to protect and defend your sensitive heart at a moment’s notice.

Yet sometimes we just can’t anticipate the big ones. They’re temperamental, with a mind of their own sometimes, those life-altering storms. You’re not looking for them – no weather report warning you days in advance. No extra milk and bread and toilet paper security. No, just when you think there’s no need to have the candles and a lighter handy, a storm can just come out of nowhere really.

But there it is – all black and red and spewing hatred like fire from a dragon’s mouth, and you cower, closing down once again, raising the drawbridge to keep the “enemy” out, protecting your heart, or what’s left of it, from further wounds.

Sometimes you might lash out right back, not gonna take this shit anymore, escalating the war of words and painful barbs, as “love” takes some deformed shape you don’t recognize at all and you just keep adding insult to injury, determined not to get backed into a corner. You might throw your shoe, hoping to scare the storm away, force it back, those slippery droplets of venom leaking through anyway, flooding the space between the two of you, until you are both ankle-deep and one of you decides to end the madness.

After the storm? Well, what can you do, really, but pick up the broken pieces and weep.

“Snag It”

Another 10 minute prompt writing, without lifting the pen for 10 minutes straight:

“Snag It”

Snag it. Snag that fish swimming so quickly through the salty ocean waves. Tempt him with your bait of shrimp, “cut bait” of other unfortunate fish in bits, pulled from your freezer for just this day.

Snag it. Snag it, reel it in, growing heavier with each crank of the reel. Feel the jerky movement through the steady waves, pulling back to snag it. To test it. Is it just a wave? The ocean’s wave action? Or is it really a fish? A good catch, or just a little sucker? Or one that knowingly nibbles the bait off your hook and goes on swimming his merry little way on down the beach?

I love the feel of the nibble. The patient waiting, the lazy day spent absorbing the endless sounds of the churning surf. But really I don’t want to clean a fish, or even cook it up. Let’s go out to Captain Pete’s for a seafood dinner after we go in from this glorious day of fishing and shelling and swimming, showering off the sticky, salty day.

Snag it. Snag the beauty of the day. Snag the peaceful ions, absorbing them into the very fiber of your being. But let’s throw back any fish we snag. Better yet, let them eat bait. Let them eat all the bait while we wait, and wait, and breathe in the peace of God.