Of Water, Ice and Fog

In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut

I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan.  According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.

On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving.  I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes.  My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.

But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water.  I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic.  When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful.  Strong.  It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.

I feared nothing in the water.  Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it.  It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.

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But time passes.  Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season.  There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.

In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake.  It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets.  It is beautiful and sometimes deadly.  A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre

It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form.  Courage that I lack.  I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter.  I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.

WINTRY WEATHER MICHIGAN

If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown.  We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk.  We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.

And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances.   Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late!  Too late!”

I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more.  I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance.  For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.

I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”

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Time Flies

Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets.  You can only afford one.  Which of these do you buy, and why?

 

A time machine, of course.  No question.

I’d love to say I would be altruistic and use a time machine for the good of the world:  Save the Titanic.  Unload the Eastland before she tipped over.   Kill Hitler before he gained power.  Tell E.L. James to get out of fanfiction and write her own damn book.

You know, the kind of actions that could prevent untold human suffering.

But I’ve read enough Science Fiction to understand that altering the past like that could have terrible consequences. Besides, I think I’ve established here in my blog that I’m basically a pretty selfish person at times, so let’s just accept that I would use a time machine for my own selfish purposes.

I’d go back to Woodland Elementary and pants a little boy named Tripper.  Totally humiliate the little bastard and warn him to leave my six-year-old self alone.  While there, I might also warn Leroy Butler to stay off the monkey bars in order to avoid shattering his jaw during recess, and I’d have a nice sit-down discussion with my mother about sending me to school in home-made “Stretch-N-Sew” polyester clothes.

I’d go back and tell my high school self to stop worrying about being fat and unpopular and just enjoy herself.  I’d tell her to give up the crush on a boy named Bucky, because in thirty years he will still be with the same perky little blonde — who will still be perky and blonde (and much nicer than I ever gave her credit for).  I’d point out the skinny, geeky science nerds and hint at all of the wonderful things puberty is going to do for some of them in a few years.

I’d tell her to savor the moments with Dee, Dawn, Aaron, Dale and all the others who are going to be gone too soon.

A time machine would give me a chance to go back and tell my college-aged self that dropping out of college is the stupidest thing she will ever do in her life.  I wouldn’t tell her just how many other stupid things she is going to do, but she should know that her future will be a mess if she doesn’t get that degree.

I’d tell the young, starry-eyed bride at my wedding to dance with Dad. It’s just one song, for God’s sake.  Not for him; for her.  She needs to understand that he is a good man who did the best he could, and that he never stopped loving his daughters.  She needs to forgive him, and she needs to realize that he doesn’t have much time left.

I’d tell that same bride to keep a closer watch on her marriage and recognize when things start going bad.    Get out sooner, before they hurt each other as much.

On the subject of hurting people, I’d tell myself to name the jerky ex-boyfriend character in Her House Divided  “Lester” instead of “Randy.”  Trust me on this one.  Sorry, Randy.

I’d let the air out of all of the tires of both of our cars on June 21, 2011, so that my kids couldn’t go to Christian Fellowship that night.  Better yet, I’d make a call to the Van Buren County Road Commission a week earlier and tell them to cut down a certain half-dead maple tree on County Road 388 before it falls in a storm and hurts someone.

I’d go back and tell Doug Adams to stay off the treadmill and see a cardiologist.  Beg Kurt Vonnegut for just one more story.  Tell Jim Henson it’s not the flu; go see a doctor.

I’d tell myself to gossip less, laugh more.  Say “I love you” as much as possible, even when no one says it back.  Tell my sisters I love them, no matter what.  Both of them.  Read more books from unknown authors.  Eat less, exercise more, and don’t lose touch with old friends.  Don’t wait for the universe to drop a tree on my head to make me understand that I am loved and I matter to a lot of people.

Of course, if I did all of those things, I wouldn’t have the chance to gain wisdom from the experiences, and my present-day self wouldn’t know what to do with the time machine.  Wouldn’t have the advice and warnings to give . . . which means nothing would change.  Or everything would change. . .

I think I just understood the theory of a Moebius Strip, but only for a second.  Then it was gone and now my head hurts and I suddenly remember why I don’t write Science Fiction.

So let’s just say I would use my time machine to travel back to 1973 so I throw myself at Randolph Mantooth.  Then again, I’d be old enough to be his mother then, and I’m not sure I could pull off being a cougar.  And now my head hurts again.

Screw the electronics store.  I’ll spend my money on Toblerone and Diet Coke.

 

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Thanks, Dad

My father didn’t leave me any money.  I didn’t get his height or his broad shoulders or even his pretty blue eyes.  I’m sort of glad I didn’t get his hook nose, although I have to say I’m not really happy with the one I ended up with.   And I breathe a sigh of relief whenever I think about how awful his deep chin-dimple would have looked on the sharp, pointy chin I inherited from my mother’s family.

In short, all I got from Dad – other than the gene for alcoholism – was his sense of humor.

In the immortal words of Robert Frost, “That has made all the difference.”

I get depressed quite often.  Maybe more than the average person.  So sue me – It’s my divorce party and I’ll cry if I want to.  But when I’m done crying, I have to find things to laugh at.  Sometimes, I laugh while I’m still crying, which is sort of messy and tends to make people eye me warily, as though questioning whether or not they should start Googling phone numbers for the nearest distributor of straight-jackets.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion.  I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

— Kurt Vonnegut

My search for a place to live has been a mess.  It has become something my soon-to-be-ex-husband would refer to as a Goat Rodeo, which is apparently only a step or two removed from being a complete and total Cluster Fuck.  At the rate things are going, I fully expect to enter all-out Cluster Fuck territory any day now.

I made an offer on the perfect house.  And by “perfect” I mean “enough bedrooms, great location, within my price range, needs some work, has a creepy pet cemetery in the back yard.”   I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.  I then called a different Realtor – a smart woman with whom I graduated – and followed her advice.  I made another offer directly to the Seller’s Agent . . . who hemmed and hawed and made excuses about why the bank wasn’t responding.

Meanwhile, the house went up for auction.

I looked at another house, which was described as having renovations that were “85% complete”.  It had a gorgeous layout, including a built-in greenhouse window in the kitchen and a set of French doors leading from the Master Bedroom out onto a deck.  It also had garbage piled up throughout, holes in the floors and walls, no bathtubs or toilets or kitchen cabinets, and ivy growing on an inside wall.  The big red “Condemmed” notice on the front door was a bit of a surprise, as was the raging river gushing through the basement.

Good thing I majored in English, because my poor math skills make it impossible for me to calculate where the “85% complete” factors into that particular equation.

In short, things are not going as well as I had hoped.

I can’t even find a three-bedroom house to rent.  I’d settle for an apartment, but there are no three-bedroom apartments in a town this size.  And forcing my children to change schools is not an option.  I may end up finding a two-bedroom apartment and sleeping on a couch in the living room until my older children graduate.  Not a pleasant alternative, but possibly my only alternative at this point.

I have cried so much in recent weeks that I just feel sort of . . . done.    I can’t cry any more.  So when I laugh at my housing problems, I am not in denial; I am not avoiding the situation; my amusement is not a sign that I am not taking this seriously.  I am taking it seriously, believe me.

But come on – ivy on an inside wall?!  A raging torrent of water in the basement of condemmed house, and some  moron actually has the chutzpah to ask $20,000 for it?  A Realtor who assured me that she understands that I have bad credit, no job, limited funds – and then sends me details on houses that cost upwards of $70,000?

I have to laugh.  It is simply too preposterous not to laugh.  If this situation isn’t funny, then it has to be tragic, and I just can’t do tragic right now.  You know the old saying about how “someday we’ll all look back on this and laugh”?  I can’t wait for someday.  I have to laugh now.

It’s in my genes.

Not to sound ungrateful, Dad, but you couldn’t have just left me thirty grand instead?

Comedy is tragedy plus time.

— Carol Burnett