Out of Dixie and into the Hand

Gatita helping me to read my handwritten directions. She's very old school.

Gatita helping me to read my handwritten directions. She’s very old school.

My first night in Michigan, I had a dream in which I took the same roller coaster ride over and over and over again. A friend of Hook’s was at the festival with me, which I’ve learned from previous dreams usually means that Allan is somewhere nearby.

In the last months of Hook’s life, this same friend told me that he’d had a dream in which all three of us were living together in a house. In his dream, the landlord of the house was being mean to Hook and me, bossing us around. The friend said it was pissing him off how Hook and I were being treated, but that neither of us would say anything, that we just took whatever the landlord dished out. The friend’s dream, of course, was symbolic of living with a terminal illness: The house, Allan’s body; The landlord, the cancer.  This friend was with us when Hook took his last breath, so it has never surprised me when he and Allan show up in my dreams together.

In my sleep state, our friend gave me a quizzical look as if to ask why I kept getting on the roller coaster. I felt confused, because until I saw him, I hadn’t realized that that was what I was doing. There was no memory of the actual rides, only standing still on the platform afterwards and a feeling of exhilaration, each greater than the last. When I turned around to try and explain, the friend was gone and I saw only “210” appear in large, block white numbers, the size of a billboard. The numbers didn’t flash but held steady, not in the sky but in the air, off to my left.  When I woke up, I thought, What does 210 mean? Then I remembered, somewhat distressed that I could have forgotten even for a second: 210 is 2:10; 2:10 was the time of Hook’s death, or the time of his flying away, the moment of his freedom, the moment of ours, depending on how one interprets it.

Out of Dixie

I have left Dixieland and am now residing in the Hand state. If I am on an amusement ride of any kind, it is one made up of highway driving and short-term rental living.  I was not sad to leave the Outer Banks, but I wished more than once that there was a way to box up the ocean, the same way I boxed up nine containers of Quahog, Whelk, Clam, Oyster, and Wampum shells. Of course, the only box I really needed was the litter box which I washed out with soap and water then put inside a plastic bag and stored away for the drive.

Cats can hold their urine and feces for up to 24 hours. Gatita had used the litter box only an hour before our drive began. That first day, our trip was a simple 3.5 hours from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina into Kilmarnock, Virginia — from Dixie to Dixier – to spend time with some of Hook’s family. Fifteen minutes after I’d merged onto our first highway, Gatita began to circle the inside of the Jeep, beginning with her bed (the passenger seat) then my lap, then the entire length and width of the back area of the truck before returning to her bed. She walked this circumference several times before making what I knew immediately was her bathroom cry. She paused over the passenger seat and began urinating as I said “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god”.   Then, she walked over the console to stand on my thighs, arching her back and squeezing her butt muscles so that she could drop four, dry cat turds onto my lap. I did the only thing I could do – I petted with my free hand and soothed with my voice, reassuring her that we wouldn’t drive forever.

At the first exit, I pulled off and found a store that sold club soda and corn starch, allowing the feces to roll down my pant legs as I stepped out of the Jeep.  After I used paper towels to soak up the urine, I poured club soda over the wet area then generously applied corn starch. If you’re a cat owner, this is the one true solution to pulling up the yellow of the urine while simultaneously neutralizing the smell.  After I changed out of my poop pants, Gatita spent most of that first driving day asleep on my lap which is all she ever really wants anyway. After two days, we left Virginia and Hook’s family and began our trek up north to Michigan and to my family. I secured a litter box in the back of the Jeep which Gatita used several times, all of them for feces gifts that dropped from her kitty bunghole which faced the Pennsylvania and Ohio drivers traveling behind us at 70 miles per hour on the tollways.

Pure Michigan

Sanford is northwest of Midland.

The state of Michigan, sometimes referred to as the state shaped like a mitten, sometimes the Hand state. Temporarily, I’m living in Midland with one sister living in Sanford and another living in Saginaw. Although Sanford is not on the map, it is northwest of Midland.

Gatita and I arrived Michigan on December 22nd with dates and days immediately melding into a holiday fugue so that even knowledge of the exact hour became a mystery. I grew up in the Eastern Time Zone, lived in Michigan for the first 23 years of my life. I am by birth a Michigander, a girl from the Midwest, someone who enjoys board games and euchre.  I have traveled fourteen countries, driven European-style in one of them. I read maps, get around with little effort on other continents, but I come home to the Hand state and immediately lose all sense of direction. It has taken me 36 driving years to understand that I rely solely on comfort and awareness to navigate my home state.  I only know where to turn via landmarks or routes driven a thousand times in the past, familiarities that take a while to return when I’ve been away too long or when the visual marker has disappeared and been replaced by shiny, newer versions that appear when a state begins to prosper again. Last week, I found getting lost amusing. This week, I find it frustrating. By next week, I hope to find it educational.

Before leaving North Carolina for Michigan, I set up a short term rental in Midland, a halfway city between both of my sisters’ homes – one in Saginaw, one in Sanford. It was the only efficiency I could find that was fully furnished, accepted a cat, and would allow me to pay by the week before committing further. I was desperate to get Gatita onto steady ground so I ignored the duct tape holding down the carpeted entrance. By the next morning, I could distinguish the smells of stale smoke and old grease as I manhandled my Murphy bed, a mattress that springs out from a paneled wall at night then slips back into the wall in the morning, revealing a sofa underneath. Odd smells aside, the efficiency is all very retro and That Girl, and it hosts a heating unit that could warm up Alaska.

Before the first snow fell, I watched from a writing desk as the tall pine cone trees, always sturdy regardless of freezing temperatures, shook with the wind while some needles fell to the ground. The earthy smell that comes from these evergreens remains vibrant throughout the winter, almost as a reminder to humans that this is what we’re supposed to do as well.

For the last two years, I have avoided holidays with my Texas family and any semblance to what Hook and I had celebrated together. Here in Michigan, I was able to let go of Hook’s absence during the Christmas days of festivities, remaining centered through it all.  When sadness did finally come, it wasn’t until I was alone with Gatita, the one traveling companion I never wanted yet clearly need on this journey.

I’m in the midst of setting up new, temporary digs in Michigan, while preparing to welcome in the New Year.  I am indeed on an adventurous ride of sorts, but it is one of my own choosing and creation, the direction and purpose decided solely by me, with a quirky scientist guiding my every turn.  Even the snow in Michigan contributes to this revealing-itself-along-the-way sabbatical.

For now, Gatita and I are warm and safe and looking forward to 2016.

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Choosing One Another Part II

A small portion of my quahog shell collection as displayed on top of a painting I created: Same shell; Different beauty …. like people.

Originally, this Part II was only going to be about my real life date, but I decided to include something else that occurred here on the Outer Banks which is much more important.

First:  The Date, Post Hook

A few weeks ago, I watched a stranger on the beach from inside the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of his face so I could accurately describe it to the police. The evening before I saw him walk onto a sand trail close to my house, a path which others have used as a public beach access even though it isn’t one.

A month before, while on my morning run, I stopped to talk to a neighbor down the beach road who asked if I’d heard about the Peeping Tom in Kitty Hawk.  The peeper had been arrested, then released out on bail until his trial.  I hadn’t thought anymore of that peeper conversation until the evening around 10 o’clock when I saw a bouncing beam of light on the sand trail leading down the dune toward the water.  What I wasn’t able to see in the darkened night was this man’s mutt dog and the reason he later gave for his late walk along the beach.  I kept my eyes glued to the pattern of light until I could make out a figure.  After some time, he returned to the small dune and began a trek back toward the street.  Once he neared my house, I turned on the back porch light as a warning (Of what? That I was armed with a psychotic cat?).

The next time I saw the man was the day after, in the afternoon, when he brought his dog to the beach.  Under the pretense of offering the terrier a bowl of water, “In case he’s thirsty,” I said, I made mental notes of this man’s hair and eye color, approximate height, and any other details I thought a crime scene investigator would need to solve the mystery of my murder.  After the dog lapped the bowl dry, the guy approached my deck and apologized for scaring me the night before.

“I saw you turn on the lights,” he said.

I told him about the Peeping Tom, and he remarked how lucky he was that I hadn’t called the police.  I asked if he’d seen my license plates.

“Texas,” he said.

I nodded, “I don’t dial 9-1-1.”

“So you have a gun?” he laughed but I remained stone-faced with my best Hook smirk.

There are no safety locks on the doors of my beach house.  The only true weapons are my body odor after a long run and Gatita’s fish breath.  When this man continued to stand on my deck steps, I invited him to sit.  I asked about the book he was reading.  Self-help.  He confessed to being lost in a life transition, even admitted to being full of fear.  I couldn’t help reaching for my invisible coach’s hat while I began asking questions, but after awhile I said I needed to get back inside.  Before he left, he asked me out to dinner.  I declined and invited him to come over instead because that’s what one does when they like a person’s smile who may or may not be a Peeping Tom / Date Raper / Murderer. I really did think that inviting a stranger over was far safer than getting into his oversized four-wheel drive. When he showed up at the house later that evening, I asked to take a photo of his driver’s license, then texted this to a friend so she could help the police identify my killer, too.

When I started writing this post, I thought it was funny how this first date came about. The bizarre topics he insisted on bringing up over dinner, however, were not but this wasn’t the only reason that I turned my face and presented my cheek at the end of the evening when he leaned in to kiss me goodnight.  I was almost as surprised as he was when I did that. Although I’d initially found him attractive, the longer we talked the more I realized that our core values were severely misaligned.  When he left Kitty Hawk at the end of the weekend, I wished him safe travels but never returned his calls or emails that followed.

I consider this first date a huge success, because it was a milestone / icebreaker / benchmark reminder. I knew that the combination Hook possessed of cool and smart and goodness to the bone could not be replaced, because each individual is unique. Still, I hadn’t realized how damn high he left that benchmark.

Second: Really Choosing One Another 

HDU_MotherTheresaWhen I arrived in Kitty Hawk three months ago, I sought out three things: a place to run, a place to meditate, and a place to write. The beach road became my running trail, a local yoga shop became my meditation place, and Dare county’s second Thursday literary open mic became a writing group to attend.

In the open mic nights, writers read short essays or poems and sometimes ask for feedback on works in progress.  In the last gathering, one woman said she wanted to read “a political essay” that she wrote.  In it, she faulted, one by one, all the groups of people she felt were responsible “for what is wrong with the U.S. today.”  This was her list:  liberals, gays, transgenders, the mentally ill, Muslims, millennials, Oprah, and if I understood her, basically the entire black community.  She said order would only be found “by Bible or bayonet.”  The order she spoke of was relative to the happenings at the University of Missouri, before the Paris bombings had occurred, before the Syrian refugees became the next fiery topic on social media.  When the woman was done reading, everyone except me clapped wildly.  At the first available break, I stood up and walked out, saying nothing to no one as I left and drove back to my beach house.

I did not take the time to correct this woman and explain that the U.S. was not “founded on Judeo-Christian values” as she had said.  The ‘Judeo-‘ came after WWII was over, and after the U.S. had turned away almost 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler.  I did not mention that Oprah stopped doing a talk show almost five years ago, and that perhaps it was Dr. Phil she’d meant to deride.  Nor did I correct her when she said that blacks in the United States were now doing to whites what had been done to them.  I did wonder, though, if I’d missed some late breaking news about white men being lynched and left hanging in the wind until their families cut them down from tree branches. Finally, I did not say anything about how ‘Bible or bayonet’ was the value-system used to commit genocide on millions of Native Americans, the original people of the land we stand on today.

President Calvin Coolidge was the author of the “Bible or bayonet” phrase. Follow or be killed?  Don’t question the status quo?  That guy that I allowed to be my first date did not want people to question the status quo either.  I didn’t ignore his three phone calls and two emails simply because we voted differently.  He let it slip that slavery “wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be,” and he wanted to know “why people are complaining about things now when before it was okay.”

The woman at the literary function was angry that the black community was angry.  I was angry that she was angry about someone else being angry.  The circularity of this single emotion would be comical if it weren’t so destructive.

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

In my Wednesday night Dharma meditation classes, we are encouraged to try and understand the interconnectedness between us, so that we erase the “us vs them” scenario that continues to creep into our everyday lives.

The woman from the literary evening clung to her views as I clung to mine, neither of us choosing one another, both of us suffering because of it.  Maybe it would have made a difference if I hadn’t walked out.  Maybe my points would have been acknowledged, or maybe, maybe I misunderstood what she was really upset about.

Americans will begin celebrating a Thanksgiving holiday whose origins derived from one group helping another group to get through a winter and not starve to death.  So I leave you with these words:

We are compelled to choose one another, not by book or by sword but by the original innocence of good that is born into each of us; before we are taught something other than love and kindness; before we repeat the mistakes of our fathers and our mothers.   

I would also like it duly noted that I believe millennials are great. Translation: Please take care of me when I’m old.

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Choosing One Another

HDU_HeChoseHerSeems each time I started a blog post in the last two weeks, I was wonderfully side-inspired for my book in progress, working title ‘Down Under’ (aka ‘In The Land of Oz’).  I figured, the best way to give an update was to offer a peek at the non-love, love story of Ava and Daniel, loosely based on Hook and me with all the interesting parts embellished or outright fabricated.

Although I had not intended for my time here in Kitty Hawk to become part of the book, the characters have unraveled at will so I’m going to follow their lead.  Of the 96,027 words written so far, I do not know which will remain in the final copy or even make it to the second draft.   Nevertheless, a preview followed by a very short life update.

From Down Under

The last time they returned from a three-day weekend on Padre Island, Ava said, “We need at least a week,” and Daniel nodded in agreement.  After he died, Ava packed up the Jeep, returning to the saltwater they had known together.  When it came time for her to take a year-long break, she sought out a time and space unfamiliar to either of them, far enough away that she couldn’t return with a simple four-hour drive.

In Kitty Hawk, few residents roam the beaches in the off season. Ava has yet to feel any tug to return home, wherever “home” will be after she completes this sabbatical.  She remembers a scene in a movie where a character admits that he’s taking time off from taking time off.  That’s better than a sabbatical from crying, and she snorts out a laugh as she looks out to the clear blue calm of the Atlantic, a mere 50 feet from her back door.  She wonders how she will ever be able to leave the breeze and eastern scent of this oceanfront. The water is broken only with light, white waves falling on top of each other, creating a melodic hum.  It is this pattern that keeps Ava rooted to the tropical red deck chair for whole mornings or late afternoons, staring mindlessly into the distance.  It took her a month before she realized that the stronger the crash of the tide, the more intoxicating the energy of the water.  This beats champagne any day, she thinks then yells out loud, “Shut your face!” to Daniel who probably would have said, You should take a sabbatical from champagne.

“I can’t afford to be sad,” Ava says while refusing to think about why.

Before arriving in North Carolina, the last major body of water Ava stood before were the rushing waves of the Indian Ocean in Waterman’s Bay, a small coastal town in Western Australia.  But that was a time suspended from reality as she spread her husband’s ashes in a rocky cove off West Coast drive, down a stairway built from white rock, the boulders covered in green and brown algae which hid the light beige color of human remains that fell on top of them.  Ava did not like Waterman’s Bay with its wide, quiet avenues and small town center.  It was too tucked into itself, no room for an outsider like her.  Had she and Daniel lived there as planned, she would have balked at the eerie feeling of seclusion, too far away from Perth city, too disconnected from social activity of any kind.  If they had wanted away from people, they didn’t need to cross an equator to do it.

Yet here she is on the Outer Banks, living alone on the beach with unoccupied vacation homes on either side, sometimes for weeks at a time. That doesn’t stop Ava from feeling annoyed when she sees more than three people on her stretch of the beach. If too many days pass without her speaking out loud to another human, she accosts the first ones she notices from inside the house, hurrying down the wooden deck steps, baby soft sand sticking between her toes as she asks, “Any nibbles?” if it’s a fisherman or “Beautiful day, right?” if it’s a couple strolling on the shore.

People or no people, every day feels whole to Ava.  Even the occasional cold-meets-warm nor’easters that blow through with gusts of wind whipping by at 19 miles per hour, making the sand a formidable weapon and the opening of a cottage door risky, do not dampen her days.  If Ava didn’t keep the inside wooden door opened while the outer glass door remained closed, she would hear a deep whistling as the wind pushed through the crevices of the door frame.  It was during a mild nor’easter when Ava met Polly and Layla who had waited until the day’s second high tide to try and reel in plump red drum.  From their ocean side house, one street west of the beach road, they rolled a pier cart full of poles and bait and hooks, down the asphalt road and through the sand, as close to the water as they dared.   The wind was picking up and the tide was coming in stronger now, making Ava think of that last time with Daniel.

He sat quietly as she drove the Jeep south over the causeway that connected the city to the port and onto the Gulf Coast.  That Ava was driving at all was a clear warning of what was already happening.  They had come from their last appointment with the oncologist, what would end up being their last visit ever.  The longer Ava drove, the more consumed her thoughts on why they had been chosen to meet. Why Daniel? Why so little time? Why Us?  He said only, “We chose one another.”

As she sat on the deck watching Polly and Layla fling their fishing lines over and over again into the water, Ava tightened the wrap she had around her shoulders. Without realizing it, she returned to that day in her mind as the blue waters of the Atlantic lapped in the background.

He looked at us both when normally he only addressed you. 

 “There’s nothing more we can do for you,” he said.

I snickered at his use of a cheesy line right out of a Marcus Welby, MD, show.  We left his office as quietly as we entered in case he had the power to make our lives even worse.   

“I’m hungry,” you said. 

I started to name all the different types of food that existed in the world. You placed a hand on my forearm while I exhausted a culinary list of options.  We waited in the Jeep like that, with your hand resting on my arm, until I stopped babbling, until I was calm enough to drive. 

“Let’s go to Red Lobster,” you said, and I whipped my head to stare at you in disbelief at the suggestion of eating seafood at a chain restaurant.  “I’ve never done it before” I heard you say, and I nodded as though you’d given me your last wishes.  When we arrived, they seated us in a darkened booth, far away from the people that weren’t even there.  You looked pale and thin and I noticed for the first time a hint of yellow in your skin.  The hostess sucked in her breath when you walked in ahead of me, then took a step back as I aligned my body with yours.  I squinted my eyes at her, silently demanding she treat you as though you didn’t look like you were going to die right there in their lobby. 

After we sat down, the waiter brought us thin, plastic bibs.  He followed this with two over-cooked lobsters and a greasy substance that was supposed to be butter but looked like a slimy gunk of gray olive oil.  It didn’t matter the condiments since the only taste we would have for the rest of that day was the metallic flavor of fear.

When you ordered an entire lobster for yourself, the waiter looked at me to explain how large the crustaceans were and suggested that some couples share.  I shook my head, ‘No,’ and said to give you what you wanted.  You reached over and placed your hand on top of mine and we locked eyes, staring at one another just as we had on our wedding morning.  I answered you without words:  Yes, we are in this together. 

After we were back in the truck, you said, “Port Aransas,” and we drove home and packed in less than an hour.  Once we arrived, we acted as though we’d never been there before, like we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  You asked me where to put something, I snapped at you.  Then you suggested we go for a walk.  I stared at you with my mouth open.  You were barely able to make it up the three flights of stairs to the condo.  We’d be lucky if you could make it down the stairs when the weekend was over.  When I didn’t answer you looked away, but you stood standing in that stark white kitchen while the ticking of the wall clock sounded.  The click of the hand moving made us both look up, then at each other.  That was the first time I said, “I’m afraid,” as my heart thumped inside its rib cage, too large for the space between the chest and the back, my breath coming in shallow gulps until you opened your arms so I could run into them.

When we got home, we started saying “terminal” and “death” and “dying” in every day conversations as though this would stop the leaden moments that swooped in with no provocation.  You would be standing in the living room or sitting in your man cave and I would yell, “I can feel . . . ” and that would be all I could get out, all I could say before that hollowing washed over me.  I would run to wherever you were and you never asked why, you never asked what.  You held me and rubbed my back, sometimes stroking my hair until I could finish, “ . . . the fear.”  The more I held on, the tighter you squeezed and you never let go, you never let go, not once not even a little, until I did.

As the sun began to fall on the horizon in a lavendar haze, Ava came back to the present.  She knew she clutched to whatever bits and pieces of Daniel were still left, visiting every inch of their relationship from dating till death, cataloguing her regrets, still uncertain what it all meant.  When she stood up from the deck chair, she grabbed a container of bird seed from the ledge as she walked onto the smooth desert of the beach. Polly and Layla were farther down with their poles, attracted to a portion of the water where the gulls had collected above it.  Ava tossed the seed onto the sand, watching the gray and white sanderlings run toward her instead of away.

 “Thank you for letting me hold on,” she said.

From where he sat, Daniel could still hear Ava, but his ability to see her was ebbing away.  Although days and hours did not exist where he was, he could have measured from his soul how his visual retreat had begun the day she moved out of their home, and he understood what she did not already know: Her heart was starting to open again.

Ava wanted to stand there longer, but she only had an hour to shower and pick out clothes before her date picked her up at the house.  She thought about the brunette with the nice smile and said, “I owe it to myself to do this!”  Then she stuck out her tongue as though the meaty flesh might grow longer the stiffer she made it.

Even with his receding view, Daniel could still make out the juvenile gesture Ava gave him, and he roared with laughter as she mimicked his long ago behavior.  She never heard him.

You can come on the date if you want, Ava thought, then rolled her eyes.  Of course he would be there.

~    ~    ~

First Date

Well, yes I did have a real first date, post Hook, that started out in a comical vein and which I will absolutely share with you in a Part II, because this post is already long enough.

A Happy Birthday to Allan on this day.

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The Evacuation Sabbatical

HDU_Secondaryevacuation

Second book in my second evacuation pack. Should be interesting …

I do not think the words, “evacuation” and “sabbatical,” should ever, ever be tossed around together.  And while I’m on all the things that should not happen during a sabbatical, learning about coastal flooding would be another. 

I drove in from Texas seven weeks ago to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I must admit to loving every moment of being here, even the heartbroken ones, even the ones like last night as pitch black descended, preventing vision of any kind as to how high the water was rising.  I’d forgotten to pack the flashlight.  Damn it.

I exchanged Austin’s 104 degrees for Kitty Hawk’s balmy, oh who am I kidding, moist, sticky 88 degrees.  Today, it is 66, winds are 12 mph, gusts are 23 mph.  If you lived in the Carolinas, you would know that gusts are important to note.  I do not live in the Carolinas.  I only sabbatical here, using sabbatical as a verb because when one is creating during a time of rest and relaxation, anything is possible.

This is my sabbatical; my writing sabbatical, my writing road-trip sabbatical, a writing road-trip evacuate-to-higher-ground-from-flooding sabbatical, apparently.

This has been a wild 24 hours and one I’m sure will end up in some book in the future, but I could have done without the surges.  Coastal flooding, according to the National Weather Service, is flooding caused by seawater pushed onto the shore by the wind. This is also known as a “storm surge,” occurring normally during high tide, but when there is a hurricane lurking even low tide can be dangerous.  Think about your relatives that you do not like who show up at your front door.  That is a storm surge.

The high for wind “gusts” was 26 mph. Wind blows your hair back into a natural, feathered look as though you were posing for a Wella commercial.  “Wind gusts” assault your thighs and cheeks with sand that only a few days earlier was lusciously between your toes.  This same sand can now poke your eye out same as any BB gun, along with the debris that flows in with the high tide.  Everything is not bigger in Texas, certainly not the driftwood I see floating by in chunks in Kitty Hawk.

Romancing a Storm

HDU_Evacuationtable

CLICK to see enlarged, blurry photo: Contents of an evacuation backpack except for the freshly poured glass of Proseco. Don’t judge. Or go ahead and judge, after you’ve evacuated …

Two days before Hurricane Joaquin hit, I went shell collecting.  Rains beat down the dunes so much in the previous days that walking the beach meant straggling one leg higher than the other for long distances.  Uncomfortable yes, but worth the ache as strong tides brought in huge concha shells. I call them “concha” because that is the original Portuguese name, but some of you may know them as “conch” shells.  Those who say conch might also be the same ones who think Joaquin was chosen to be politically correct. Seriously? It’s a Hurricane.  Joaquin is a name.  They needed a ‘J.’  Don’t worry, the brown people won’t hurt you.

The cottage owners said we hadn’t seen the worst, but as I had zero experience with a storm of any nature, I thought that meant we might see more rain.  I didn’t think that meant I should make ready an evacuation backpack.

The day before, I saw gulls trying to fly away.  The most they could do was hold steady and see where the wind took their wings.  It reminded me of watching a gull on the shores of Busselton, on the far western edge of Australia, south of Perth.  I’m not sure why, but I guess I assumed birds had some extra special wind connection with storms, that they could still leave as they needed. But I also thought, well it’s Australia and things are different, maybe birds can’t just leave. Here in Kitty Hawk, though, if the birds were having a hard time getting out, what was it going to be like for me and my spastic cat?

Almost as a joke, I began to create an evacuation backpack, really getting into it, talking out loud to Gatita, “Should we take this? How about this? Oh, tuna, we’re going to need some tuna for you, you bad girl!”

Evacuation refrigerator: Only one of those bottles of Proseco is full.

My fake-turned-real evacuation backpack:

  1. One reading book wrapped in leftover toilet paper packaging
  2. A homemade first aid kit with hydrogen peroxide, band aids, cotton balls
  3. A year’s supply of contact lenses; Contact solution
  4. One pair of running shorts in addition to the clothes on my back and a creamy white zip up jacket. My mother would be aghast if she knew I brought something white which would show stains.
  5. Toothpaste and a new, unopened toothbrush
  6. Three hotel bars of soap
  7. Three types of chewing gum
  8. Coffee cup with my niece’s toddler face on it.
  9. Hook’s camping blanket & his Texas Tech University field station bag
  10. Eyeglasses and one pair of reading glasses
  11. One menstrual cycle’s supply of OB; A year’s supply of Advil

    HDU_Evacuationluxury_RuddyTurnstone

    CLICK to enlarge: Sandpipers painted by Hatteras Island artist, Stephanie Kiker, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

  12. A 2-year old miniature bottle of Tylenol with three tablets of aspirin
  13. One hair brush used to scratch my itchy back & Gatita’s itchy face
  14. A small Tupperware container filled with a six-week collection of heart-shaped shells from the shores of Kitty Hawk
  15. Cash, Passport, Sunglasses, 3 jump drives, 2014 & 2015 tax papers
  16. Four writing journals from the last two years
  17. One luxury: An 8×10 ceramic painting of sand pipers
  18. Grocery bag full of good stuff for 1 human & 1 cat
  19. Computer bag full of cords & crap
  20. One finicky feline

Items forgotten: Dental floss, hair bands to keep my big hair off my hot menopausal neck, and a flashlight.

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CLICK to enlarge: One evacuation dinner.

Already, I have written this adventure into Ava and Daniel’s story.  Who knows if it will stay there, if it will make the final editing cut.  And, I have returned to my evacuated cottage from the one up on stilts and from where I write this blog as the winds pick up to a ferocious speed of 26 mph with rain added in for ambiance.

Maybe I should have been more aware of the weather dangers in this part of the U.S.  But, that would have required me to do some research outside of the eight hours I spent on the internet trying to find lodging that would accept a cat.

I understand now the beauty and danger of water.  At 2:07 pm yesterday, I spoke to the owner’s son who said they were turning off water in the first four cottages.  I was in cottage #8 and had yet to shower. Oops. I scrubbed myself with soap and water as though both might be scant for days. When I was through, I saw the owner walking outside surveying the rising water.  I poked my head out the front door to ask, “When should I be concerned?”  The water was significantly closer than just thirty minutes prior.

“You should be fine,” he said but we agreed on a white parking stripe close to my cottage.  If the water reached that white stripe, I was to drive the Jeep to the other side of the cottages which were three feet higher above sea level.

“But you won’t see that until around midnight,” he said.

Thirty minutes later, the owner stopped by, pointing at the white line with water covering it.  “It’s there,” he said.

I grabbed the fake evacuation backpack, my computer bag, and the grocery bag, tossing all of this into the back of the Jeep.  Gatita was the last to go.  The winds were rough now and the sound alone frightened her.  She’d already hissed at me twice and I hadn’t lost my patience.  I want an award for that sometime before I die.  She was afraid, hell, so was I and I’m supposed to be the one in charge.

I couldn’t know that this probably wasn’t anything serious.  I’ve never factored in needing to evacuate anything, ever, in my life.  I helped my husband to die – to die!  I hiked the jungles of Chiapas where Jaguars sleep. I’ve slept outside in the Outback where dingoes can eat your face, and I’ve tried to order good coffee in Greece. But, I have never had to run from rising waters in a coastal town.

Evening of October 5th, 8 pmEST

The weather folks said they would call off coastal flood warnings at 4 pmEST then they extended that until 8 pmEST. Now it has been pushed to tomorrow, Tuesday, October 6th at 6 amEST. I can tell you what I was doing at 6 am this morning: Taking photos. The only reason I was up was because I hadn’t fallen asleep until 1:38 am, waking up at 3:47am, pulling myself up from the couch after 5 am when the storm broke at 25 mph winds. Yesterday, I didn’t know what that meant. Today I find it intoxicating, helping me to appreciate storm chasers and their addiction to the exhilaration of danger.

Gatita and I will not flood where we are at this moment, back in our original cottage #8.  I say this but I truly have no way of knowing as the toilet gurgles like it wants to regurgitate out whatever clear water is in there.  I’ve had to halt my normal water conservation tactics of yellow/mellow, brown/down and instead flush the toilet every single time I use it for fear that it could back up.

A master escape artist, Gatita figured out how to unbind herself out of the pink harness which was held down by a heavy chair. This was by far the scariest sight during the whole ordeal as I thought for a moment that she'd gotten outdoors.

CLICK to enlarge: A master escape artist, Gatita figured out how to unbind herself from the pink harness and leash which was held down by a heavy chair. This was by far the scariest sight during the whole ordeal as I thought for a moment that she’d gotten outdoors during the storm.

FROM GATITA:

This crazy fool was going leave me here alone in the cottage for five days.  Why did she bring me here at all?  My only reprieve is to hide underneath the bed and no, I’m not sorry that I swipe at her forearms when she tries to reach me.  She has this ridiculous pink (I hate pink!) body thing on me that she calls a “harness” which I secretly call a hard on because that’s how pissed I am.

When she grabbed me, it was to take me outside. Was she insane? She could barely stand up.  She covered my head and body with the master’s wool blanket that has pictures of fish and leaves and chipmunks.  I tried to chase the chipmunk once.  I’m not a horse, but that didn’t stop her from grabbing the back of my neck, preventing any type of escape.  She had to struggle against me the moment she opened that cottage door because the wind slammed us sideways.  And damn it, she didn’t leave the truck door wide open.  Is she slow witted?  I should have swiped her face then!

She packed me last. Apparently that’s how important I am.  And so what if I screamed for the first and last hours of being in the new place. I needed a comfortable spot to take a dump and she took me where the wind moved the frames of the windows  And she has the nerve to say:

“Okay, good, you stay there while I finish unpacking the Jeep.” 

Screw that. I followed her back to the door. Okay, so what, yes, I was afraid to be alone.

“You can’t come. Stay here kitty, please!”

You stay you wretched wench. You take me out of a comfy home, drag my hairy body across Confederate states.  Yeah, you think I don’t see colors?  And bring me to humidity followed by rain followed by water followed by wind.  In what human universe is this fun?  Then you try to tie me to a cottage chair and think that will hold me.  Are you high, woman? 

And, you freak out, holding your hands to your chest, because you think I somehow learned how to unclasp the lock on the cottage door.  If I knew how to do that, I would have left weeks ago! There is no amount of tuna that will make up for any of this.  And screw your Cast Away moment when you found ice in the freezer.  Get a life and stop trying to “treat me” to new adventures.

From Rosemary Again

I packed for one night and was able to return to our cottage to gather more things. When I returned for the second evacuation supplies, I brought Kurt Vonnegut’s, Breakfast of Champions.  I didn’t read his book or the first one I brought either. Instead, I tortured myself with back-to-back Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park: The Lost World and wished Tea Leoni dead before her first scene ended.

Safe and sound here in Kitty Hawk, not really, but what can I write except that which is happening in the moment.  And yes, the storm is unbelievably mesmerizing.

What would be in your evacuation pack?

Evacuation backpack -- a starter kit at least.

Hook’s backpack: Now my official evacuation starter kit.

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The Wampum Shell

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Wampum shells collected from the shores of Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks in North Carolina … days and days before Hurricane Joaquin came to visit on October 4th 2015. The background is a painting I finished before the storm began.

Just because there is a hurricane and it’s pelting down rain and the cat is freaking out and I’ve evacuated the first cottage … all of that is no reason to stop creating, especially as it’s possible the things I left behind may very well float away before midnight.

I sit in the first evacuation site in Kitty Hawk.  A blog post about Hurricane Joaquin TBD and if we do not lose power. Until then, enjoy a poem I wrote about wampum shells, my obsession for the last (almost) seven weeks.

The Wampum Shell©

  • Of crimson and violet, creamed colored rose
  • Such shells traded as currency
  • Shells used like gold
  • To the natives they said
  • Of this we oblige
  • But unfettered Europeans
  • Knew exactly not why
  • To know the mystery
  • One must find a Whelk shell
  • And learn of the Quahog,
  • The Clam, a hard shell
  • Then look deep into each
  • A shade that comes forth
  • Colors of the Atlantic
  • Beads from the north
  • Today we use green
  • No more red and blue
  • Our money is paper
  • No glorious, no hue
  • But know there is one
  • Who walks sand every day
  • Reaching for wampum
  • A time-honored way
  • With a bow to the past
  • A Native American kind
  • I give thanks to the ocean
  • In reverence, heart and mind

@RosemaryHook, Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, Oct 4th 2015, 5:57pmEST

WordPress formatting is off.  Blame it all on Joaquin <sung to the tune of Friends In Low Places> but in a flooding storm you want friends in high places … on stilts!

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Riding out Joaquin in Kitty Hawk

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Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, October 2nd 2015, 12:01pm – before the harsher rains set in.

This morning, I was supposed to be on the road driving away from Kitty Hawk toward the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for a scenic water crossing into Maryland.  From there, the plan was to continue a route into New Jersey and eventually Greenwich Village in New York to attend a writers’ conference that I’d impetuously registered for while still in Texas.  I could not have known that after my first 24 hours on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I would look for ways to remain in Kitty Hawk through the winter and into Spring of 2016.

All of that was of course before last night, when news of Hurricane Joaquin, now a category 4 storm, flashed across the television screen which now had intermittent connection. I had arranged to leave my belongings in the quaint cottage I’d been renting, but considering how people on social media vilified that dentist who killed Cecil the lion, I did not want to be the woman who took herself inland while Gatita the cat drowned in flooding waters from Joaquin, completely possible if she darted out of the cottage when one of the owners opened the door to check in on her.

Better for me to stay put and spend even more time with this walking hairball, locked away with her limited vocabulary and frenetic demeanor.  Gatita has decided that all humans, except me, are dangerous and not to be trusted as she hides away every time someone knocks on my cottage door.  Some of this is my fault because we have spent too many 24×7 weeks holed up as I peck away on my laptop keyboard while she lays on the table I never use for dining or splayed across my lap demanding that I both type and pet at the same time.  She has, I realize, elevated our relationship to a level I never wanted.

But this morning, I had bigger worries than a needy cat.  I had an empty refrigerator, void of even coffee.  In anticipation of being away for five days, I’d exhausted my food sources so I drove to the closest grocery store and chatted up two white-haired senior citizens who have lived their entire lives on the Outer Banks.  According to them, they’ve “seen it all.”  They said that I didn’t need to concern myself about hurricane water but instead flooding from the rain.  Not wanting either of them to worry, I did not mention that I was 100 feet from the soon-to-be-washed-out beach road and 200 feet from the Atlantic.

Rain water on the south side of the cottage was creeping closer and closer but the owners who have managed this property through 40 years of storms assured me that I’m fine.  To be wise, they are moving me to a cottage across the way that is much higher above sea level.

Years ago, I heard a stand-up comic say that he wanted his rain forecasts coming from an 80-year old, arthritic woman with gnarled fingers and in severe pain.  The deeper her aches, the higher the barometric pressure, the harsher the rain.  Those ladies in the Food Lion this morning, they’re my weather forecasters and not the media’s hype of the Governors of South & North Carolina declaring States of Emergency.

In the past when I would see people on the news caught in storms, I always wondered where they went when they evacuated.  I don’t think it’s a lack of people wanting to leave so much as it is a lack of somewhere to go.  Fortunately for me, I do have an emergency place to hunker down if an evacuation were called.  It is inland of Virginia Beach, about an hour and a half drive away.  For now, though, I remain somewhat dry and mostly safe in Kitty Hawk.

Reconstruction

Before the rains came, I walked the sand twice a day — before dawn and before dusk.  It was during one of these breezy evenings when I finally let Allan go.  The temperature was a perfect 75 degrees with the clouds pushing out the blue to make way for the violet and the descent of an orange sun.  The bulk of tourists had retreated back to their cottages and only stragglers like me were sitting on beach towels, taking in the perfection of the sky meeting the ocean.  I thought about how Allan and I used to close down each day on the Texas coast with a walk on the beach.  The sound of the rhythmic tide created an idyllic moment and automatically I began to whisper, “I wish you were …,” then I stopped, never completing the sentence.  I started shaking my head, No, saying No to the impossible, No to the wishing.

In that picture book moment, I chose to halt my yearning for something I cannot have again in this life time: Allan here on earth.  Elizabeth Harper Neeld calls this “Reconstruction” in her book, Seven Choices:

“The bereaved has relinquished attachments to old roles, relationships, and to the world of the deceased. Instead, a new relationship with the departed —a relationship of memory is developed.  This is the time that the bereaved starts to take action and reinvest themselves in a world without their loved one.”

To have continued wishing for Hook’s presence is almost a form of self-torture, a predictable depression.  And this is not the same as missing Allan which I see as entirely different.  Missing is reminiscent of the past; Wishing is hope for the future. But, there can be no future with a dead man.

I will long for Allan forever, and when I feel sentimental as I often do during morning showers or before falling asleep, I’ll still acknowledge that missing.  But never again will I pine for the impossible or say the words: I wish you were here.

So with the rising of the waters in North Carolina, I have at last risen to a point in which I take back my life from wishing for something I cannot have to doing and saying things differently, promoting a future instead of drowning in a past. In this way, I set myself free and Hook as well, pushing us to a new level in our separate journeys.  Too bad I can’t do the same thing with the cat.

From the Atlantic, riding out Hurricane Joaquin, while writing away here in Kitty Hawk …

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Everything I Own

L-R: Hook's siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I'm going to guess 1955 maybe '56.

L-R: Hook’s siblings, Walter and Claire then Allan with the big smile. Looking at his get-up, I’m going to guess 1955 maybe ’56.

When I woke up this morning, it was still dark.  I looked at my phone wondering if it would read 2:10 in the morning.  Nope, 4:52.  Somehow this was the pass I was subconsciously hoping to receive: That I wouldn’t automatically awaken at the time of his death every September 3rd.

Before falling asleep last night, I decided that I needed today to be one of commemoration not of foreboding.  I donned my orange Hook Donor t-shirt in the hopes that people on the beach would ask, What is a Hook Donor? so I could brag on my husband and our endowment.  And that strategy may have worked if I hadn’t gotten so caught up in my shell collecting that I had to use part of my shirt as a cup-like vessel to haul back my beach goodies. Stretching and bending, I was in a race to beat the first sweltering rays before they escaped the clouds and landed on my unprotected face.

This, I thought, will be my yearly dedication to Hook — a northerly walk along an oceanfront – to honor not the miracle of witnessing his death, but one of the times he briefly returned to me in a dream, communicating without words at the water’s edge, where I could always go to find him.  Then, it was Port Aransas on the Texas coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, which spills out into the Caribbean Sea and onward into the North Atlantic Ocean.

On the 1st anniversary, I stood looking out toward the Indian Ocean whispering these words:

Waterman's Bay in Perth, Western Australia ... the rock cove where a portion of Hook's ashes were spread.

CLICK to enlarge: Waterman’s Bay in Perth, Western Australia … the rock cove where a portion of Hook’s ashes were spread.

Votary of nature* even from a child,
he sought her presence in the trackless wild

To him the shell, the insect, and the flower,
were bright and cherished emblems
of her power

In her he saw a spirit all divine,
and worshipped like a pilgrim
at her shrine

(*Votary of Nature by Thomas Say)

My whole life, I will never tire of reciting this ode to my husband, but there are three things I have learned in the last seven days:

  • Music by Bread is not to be listened to on a regular basis.
  • There is beauty to be found in the broken pieces of shells hidden deep in the sand.
  • Kitty Hawk was not home to the Wright Brothers; it was only where they learned how to fly.

~    ~    ~

My friend, Cheryl, loaned me a book in 2003 called Beachcoming at Miramar: The Quest for an Authentic Life.  The author, Richard Bode, took the bold step of leaving “the real world” in exchange for the freedom to walk the sand at Miramar in northern California for a year.  Bode died eight years later but not before he’d completed his quest:  To heal and re-engage his own life.

~    ~    ~

A week ago, I stumbled across a song that I am oh so very glad I did not hear two years ago.  As music often does, these lyrics tugged at tender places, and my plan for this anniversary was simply to post this song and nothing more.  That’s how wretched the heartache was from listening to it.  But the words describe Allan and me and where I am today, so perfectly, that I felt you deserved to cry, too:

Everything I Own by Bread (Click to hear)

You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

And I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again 

You taught me how to love
What it’s of, what it’s of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you

Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can’t let go

Is there someone you know
You’re loving them so
But taking them all for granted
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And they don’t hear the words you long to say

~    ~    ~

In the future when September 3rd rolls around, I will not fret when melancholy sets in nor try to push back the sadness.  I will be grateful for what I have, not what I do not; and I will mourn a man so worthy of my tears.

Today, I am open and thankful and yes, a little disjointed in my thoughts. I am those jagged edges of the broken shells I keep collecting.  But I know that if I stay long enough by the water, I too will be smoothed over by the ocean.

~    ~    ~

When the Wright Brothers came to Kitty Hawk in 1900 to test their dreams of flying, they failed so often that people forgot they were even here.  It ended up being four miles south in what today is known as Kill Devil Hills where the brothers made their first successful “powered” flight.  But none of that matters because the Outer Banks was never home for Orville and Wilbur.  When they had done what they had come to do, they left North Carolina and returned to their family and friends, just as I will do when I learn how to fly.

Until then, I honor Allan William Hook, September 3rd 2013.

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The colorful beauty of broken pieces.

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