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.

The 12 Days of Christmas at the Beach

I just came in from a couple of hours on the beach, this gorgeous but a bit chilly, sunny December day. On my walk, I found 4 sand dollars and I thought that was cool since it is December the 4th (or is that tomorrow?!) I also witnessed a family staging and taking photos for their annual Christmas card. They had brought an upholstered wingback chair over the dunes, scattered shiny ball ornaments around in the sand, and took turns wearing a Santa hat and snapping photos. Their dog just wanted to play fetch and absolutely loved dashing into the cold waves retrieving, then running back to the thrower, dropping the stick, then shaking off, water droplets flying everywhere. I had brought my pen and paper and what came out was the following song lyrics for a beach version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” – enjoy!  All together now …

A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree on Holden Beach, compliments of Irene and a local decorator!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

a conch shell from the beach.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

two olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

8 fish a swimming, 7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

9 sticks of driftwood, 8 fish a swimming, 7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

10 dolphin jumping, 9 sticks of driftwood, 8 fish a swimming, 7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

11 shells a clinking, 10 dolphin jumping, 9 sticks of driftwood, 8 fish a swimming, 7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me..

12 sea gulls flapping, 11 shells a clinking, 10 dolphin jumping, 9 sticks of driftwood, 8 fish a swimming, 7 boats a shrimping, 6 waves a crashing, 5 sandy kids.

4 whole sand dollars, 3 crawling crabs, 2 olive shells, and a conch shell from the beach.

Jonathan Livingston

Today I was lucky enough to be able to spend a little time on the beach.  It was barely after high tide and there weren’t too many seashells to search through, so after a short walk I sat in my green reclining beach chair and absorbed the peacefulness of my final day of solitude.  I had taken this week after Thanksgiving to spend alone at Holden Beach, my birthday gift to myself now that I’m 52 and “an empty nester”.  After a few glorious moments of feeling the sun’s warmth on my face, I opened my eyes to take in the scene and this is what I saw directly beside me to my left:

I’ve always resonated with Jonathan Livingston Seagull since I first read Richard Bach’s classic book as a teenager back in the 1970’s, feeling different from other birds in my flock.  About a year ago, I experienced a healing “journey” exercise with my energy healer, where I was greeted by my animal teacher for the day, and lo and behold it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull!  I hadn’t thought of him in decades, but he suddenly popped into my awareness when I asked for an animal guide to share any pertinent information for me during our Reiki/energy healing session.

During the next 30 minutes, we flew together, Jonathan and I, and, soaring inland about 200 miles, he gently carried me from the ocean to my own backyard, where he waited patiently as I dialogued with my real animal pet, Bailey. Bailey had been my beloved golden retriever/border collie mix love for more than 15 years, but her vision and hearing were just about gone, her arthritic hips failing her at times, despite the glucosomine “treats” I fed her every day. Lately, she’d been struggling to climb the steps of the deck to greet me, often slipping on them, and my heart was heavy with her pain.

We talked, Bailey and I, and she let me know how much she loved me — enough to let me decide when I was ready to let her go.  She had lived a good life, had finished what she had come here to do – to watch over me and my girls through my divorce and their growing up years and now, with my youngest graduating from college soon, Bailey was ready to go on to doggie heaven whenever we were ready to let her go.

I cried silently on Fran’s table, tears falling into my hair, my ears.  Then I hugged Bailey one more time, turned to Jonathan, climbed upon his feathery back, and we lifted off from my backyard and soared quickly back to the beach.  We landed gently on the surface of the calm sea and I came back through my ocean wave portal the same way I had entered.  I didn’t yet understand how I would ever really be ready to let her go, but I knew that I had Bailey’s permission to mercifully end her life when I was ready.

About 6 weeks later I took Bailey to the groomer for her “Christmas do”, mentioned the sliding on the steps thing, and asked for her honest opinion, as I’d done every grooming during the past year.  Deborah called me when Bailey was ready, and told me that Bailey really seemed to be in much more pain than the last time she had groomed her, and that she thought I could consider the inevitable anytime.  It was 2 weeks before Christmas and a cold winter was expected, which always made Bailey’s arthritis worse.  We also had travel plans and would be needing to leave her in the coming weeks and I hated the thought of not being with her as she deteriorated.  And so, I scheduled a home visit with our wonderful vet on a Friday at 5pm when the family could all be together to celebrate her life and to comfort her as she transitioned.  It was a bittersweet evening, but none of us would have wanted it any other way.

So today, just a week before the year anniversary of Bailey’s exit from the earth plane, I  have to wonder if this seagull that hung out with me so nearby and for so long (and without any crumbs or food to entice him!) could have been MY seagull, my Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  Very possibly, for I KNOW I sensed my loving Bailey’s energy around us both.