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.

HDU_Evacuationdinner

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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Congruence in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

Unlike the Lost Colony that landed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1587, my whereabouts in Kitty Hawk will be well known if only because I am a lone, Texas woman traveling with a cat.  Gatita does not, however, partake of the beach with me on my early morning walks or my end-of-the-day strolls.

I was so anxious to see the ocean on that first day, August 19th, that I emptied as much of the Jeep as I could, hurrying in my sky blue flipflops to the entrance of the beach as though the water might disappear before I got there.

I walked north first, to the Kitty Hawk Pier, my face looking out toward the white swells of water rushing in to greet me.  I swear I could hear, Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you…  A mixed laugh-cry almost escaped with that first view as I felt all the second-guessing of this trip recede with the tide.   And my chest, heavy with joy, almost giddy, and holding the most important part of me, knew that my faith had not been for naught.

This is exactly where I am meant to be.

~   ~   ~

Whatever final tears I hiccupped out as I drove away from Austin on August 13th, I did while saying out loud, almost in defense of myself, “I have to do this!”

The oppressive, 104 degree heat from that last day had not only worn me down, but left me with a dusty smell and a shirt that stuck to my back, while sweaty running shorts continued to crawl up my crotch.  I’d spent the last four hours in Austin shuffling small possessions back and forth between the Hook House and the storage unit while I battled a stuffed up swimmer’s ear that still has not completely gone away. I was starting to feel not as though I’d never get out of Austin, but that I’d never escape the hell of south Austin.  It was 10:30 at night when a drug-free Gatita and I hit the road.  Since I was determined to leave regardless of the late hour, my sister-in-law, Mary Joy, suggested I stop in Waco, so I’d at least be out of Austin but halfway to Dallas.

I took her advice which was easy to do because my eyelids drooped as soon as I left the city.  Since I hadn’t researched venues that accepted pets, I checked into a Motel 6 knowing the price was in my budget.  I assumed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and requested a room on the bottom floor to easily transport the cat to and from the Jeep. Aside from crying for the first 30-minutes of our trip, Gatita was exceptionally calm at least until we realized that there must have been hookers in the room next to ours. Doors opened and closed all night long, but oddly this motivated me to be freshly showered and on the road by 6:30 am, making for a cool, early morning drive into Little Rock.  The tunnel of green trees lining the highways in Arkansas was a welcomed sight from the browning, burnt foliage in Texas. When we crossed state lines, I whispered, “Good-bye for now,” in anticipation of everything good, especially my first visit with an old friend and colleague from the mid 1990s.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I've traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I'd like to go but doubtful I'll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I'm far enough along in my writing, I may.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I’ve traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I’d like to go but doubtful I’ll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I’m far enough along in my writing, I may.

After two nights in Little Rock, I drove east toward Nashville and met up with the daughters of one of my best friends.  My plan was to stay only one night, but I hadn’t booked a long-term stay in Kitty Hawk yet.  Even though I’d already called three realty agencies representing a good portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, and even though I scoured Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO sites while sitting inside a well decorated, cat-friendly La Quinta (way outside our budget), and even though I spoke with private owners who indicated “pet friendly” on their websites only to openly practice feline discrimination, my options for finding long-term accommodations that would accept a cat were dwindling fast.

There was one more hour before I had to decide whether to re-map a route from Tennessee up to Michigan by way of North I-75, instead of remaining on East I-40 straight into North Carolina.  Although Kitty Hawk was my preferred destination, I’d spent so much time on the internet and the phone that I would have agreed to any place that allowed Gatita. Otherwise, I was going to have to alter my entire 12-month driving route.

~    ~    ~

Sea Kove in Kitty Hawk

Normally, I'm not a paper lover except when it coms to maps & books!

Normally, I’m not a paper lover except when it comes to maps & books!

When the cat and I arrived Kitty Hawk, our heads hummed from the accumulated 1,720 miles I’d driven.  Although she has been an ideal travel companion, her map reading skills are nada, and my brusque, unfolding of paper maps seemed to freak her out at inopportune times.

My co-pilot

My co-pilot

But I want to write, here and now, that I am forever grateful to the travel and cat gods for the presence of Gatita.  I absolutely love having her with me and only slightly more than I love, Love, LOVE living in Kitty Hawk.

Three days before, on the 16th, I’d spoken with Bill, whose kind, southern accent I knew would lead to an elderly gentleman.  He runs a series of rustic cottages called Sea Kove with his artist wife, Cari.  He promised to call me back even though his website clearly states: We are unable to allow any pets.  I explained my sabbatical and how I was looking for a place to write for six weeks, and would he consider allowing me and my cat to rent one of his inns?  I probably said I was quiet, that Gatita wouldn’t be any problem; I may have even offered to breathe less oxygen.  I’ll have to ask him why he altered his long-standing pet policy since I hadn’t dropped the widow card, nor blurted out how this was messing up my plans to create a whole new life.

Bill said that my “kitty cat” was welcomed and that although he didn’t have the same cottage for the full six weeks, he would make sure I had a place at Sea Kove for my entire stay.  The next day, Gatita and I left Tennessee, making an overnight stop in the rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. This halfway point from Nashville to Kitty Hawk allowed me to have dinner with a friend, my first tenant that leased out my home in north Austin during the Mexico sabbatical in 2004; forever spoiling me to expect perfection from future tenants.

And all the foot dragging I did before getting here? It inadvertently helped me to avoid most of the summer beach pricing.  In another week, I’ll be in off-season rates making this a perfect fit for a sabbatical budget.

~    ~    ~

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

In my room of retro wood-paneled walls and vinyl faux tile floors, there is no microwave but wi-fi and cable are free – a television treat I never allowed myself in Austin. Central air does not exist but a personal a/c wall unit above the electric stove, with burners wrapped in tin-foil, keeps my efficiency ice cold.  The rock hard mattresses might squeak when I lay down but not before I say goodnight to the rhythmic sound of the ocean from my private backdoor porch.  While I do this, Gatita takes her nightly dump underneath the cottage on stilts, in what has become her gigantic, sand litter box.

Yes, we are in harmony with our new home.

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

In the mornings as the sun beats in from the southeast, I walk out the front door to sit in the long, shaded balcony that connects me with my neighbors. This is where I sipped my coffee that first morning as the cool northern breeze floated in, and where I met Becky, another a widow of only nine months.  She lost her husband of forty-nine years, Big Dave, to congestive heart failure.  I remembered what nine months felt like for me. The only reason my cottage was available to rent was because someone from Becky’s family, who’s been coming to Sea Kove for over 20 years, wasn’t able to make it this summer.

Becky was “Mom” and “Grandma” to her family, but she was a woman with a broken heart to me. Before she left three days later, we exchanged hugs and information about a book, Seven Choices, written by a Texas professor, Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Seven Choices led me to find the strength to do this sabbatical because even in grief there are multiple junctures where we must choose:  To stay stuck in the past or dare to move forward.

No widow wants to lay in misery, to remain rooted in sadness, but it’s a Sisyphus kind of existence, seeming as though no action will ever lead to a different ending.  HDU_WarriorofLoveI was hardly a woman who was half a person when I met my husband.  I was then as I am now — whole — but when you love someone, you meld into one another.  They do not leave this earth without a part of your own spirit going with them. You don’t even have a say so, and this isn’t something that heals in a year. Harper Neeld gathered research data that indicated — on average — four, long years to move past grief when it is no longer the primary way in which you identify yourself.  In the future, when you meet a widow and she is happy again, know that time does not automatically heal all wounds.  That widow had to work at it.  She is a warrior!  We are all warriors — my widowed friends and me — because we dare every.single.day to make choices that test our emotional boundaries, hoping that these actions will carve a path to a future full of joy again.

~    ~    ~

Had I remained in Austin one more night, I would have insisted on staying in my emptied house, pulling Hook’s thermal sleeping bag from the Jeep, unrolling it upstairs on the shampooed carpets then wetting my pillow with tears until I fell asleep.  Instead, I only wept as I drove away.  I apologized to Allan for not being one of those widows satisfied with starting over where things ended.  Or, maybe there was guilt wrapped up in the fact that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t be taking this sabbatical at all.

In the past when I’ve needed a re-boot, a healing of sorts, I would venture out, leaving my homeland for extended periods of time. This sabbatical is not about the travel, though; It’s about the writing.  In the same way, that it was the spilled words of grief that saw me through the first year, I will write my way into this next phase of my life, doing finally what he and I have been waiting for me to do all along: Set myself free.

The book I’ve chosen as my debut will be the reality fiction story of Ava and Daniel, about love, loss, and the beautiful struggle to find joy again. It’s got Hollywood written all over it. The working title, Down Under (In The Land of Oz?), has little to do with Australia or at least I don’t think it does.  I’ve already written 70,048 words because I’ve been rough drafting on and off since last November.  I’ve yet to plot the timeline or even create descriptions for the characters, so I’ve weeks and weeks of background work to organize to get it to a place where I can move into a second draft.

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

In the meantime, I jump out of bed each morning hoping to hit the sand before 6:30 am.  I give greetings of “Hello!” and “Good Morning!” to my fellow disciples of this liquid healing, sitting in meditative state, or walking with the woosh! of the waves, our only music. We are the new pilgrims of the 21st century, welcoming the sun or saying good-bye to the moon.

At night, my gluteus maximus aches from the twice daily hour of sand trudging. But even though I worry about the intense sun on my adult face, I am a child in wonderment each time I bend over and reach down to collect the black and gray and beige shells littered along the shoreline.  I cannot resist these treasures from the ocean any more than I can hold back the transformation in my heart that is happening.

The second anniversary of Hook’s passing is coming. Until then, Gatita and I are comfortable in our place of contemplation and with life on the Atlantic.  And if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to those Warriors of Love, whose widowed paths I’ve had the good fortune to cross, who have helped me at various steps along the way: Gail, Greta, Celia, Karron, Cindy, Tomas, Valerye, Kristen, Russell, Felicia, De, Sharon, Laura, Becky in Colorado, Becky in Maryland, Loretta in Arkansas, and the young ones – Erin and Taryn.

And to Megan Ehrisman for recommending the unbelievably, perfect Outer Banks when my original plans for San Diego fell through.

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived. I think it's a sign!

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived.

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