Monday, September 7, 2009

Going to Water

Over a decade ago now, Fritz came home from work early, a little shamefaced. "Well," he said, "I got laid off." It was in some ways more a relief than anything. People had been dropping right and left in his department and we'd been living in an agony of suspense.

"Do you still love me?" he asked.

"Of course."


"Mm-hmm . . . so, what do we do now?"

"I think we should go to the Great Salt Lake."

So we packed our little girls in the car and drove up the valley and out to the spreading water. The cries of gulls. The different cries of different gulls. The wind. The light on water.

And now, whenever I think back to that anxious time between that job and that house and that town and this, my memories are contained in the deep quiet of that day, crawling over the rocky cliffs, walking along the salty sand. Even during that time, I felt the background of that immensity of sky, with white birds flying, containing the present worry.  I'd gathered seven rocks from the shore, one for each day of the week, and when the fear rose too high would hold the Rock-of-the-Day in my hands tucked up against my breastbone until the worry became something the size of a blade of grass blowing in that great wind on the shore of the water.

This past week, the day after Fritz's biopsy, I had to drive in early to the city for meetings, exhausted and worn when I got back to town. Eldest and YoungSon had been taking care of a neighbor's children so I swung by to pick them up and before we got home, someone called on the cell for YoungSon to play. We dropped Young off at his friend's and Eldest said, "Let's not go home yet. Let's have a Mother-Daughter date!" We both agreed: cups of soup and a shared pastry at Houlton's Bakery would be the perfect prelude to a nice long last-of-summer nap.

"Should we go back home and get Middlest, too?" I suggested.

"Oh, yes." So Eldest called her sister, "Change into something fun. Not just jeans."

But when we got there, Fritz met us at the door.

"You worked from home today?" I'd left in the dark that morning before anyone else was awake.

"I did. You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to go to the beach. Summer is nearly over and when will we have another chance?"

"Oh, honey . . . we've already . . . and I am so tired. Can't we go Friday?"

But no, not Friday, and so the girls changed back into jeans. We clambered into the new-to-us truck, gathered YoungSon early from his friend's house, and headed out of town.

Astoria is on the coast a hundred miles away.

Pig 'n Pancake with Swedish blintzes for dessert, and then we drove out to the half-buried wreck of the Peter Iredale. Climbed on the wreck. Took pictures. Walked in the water.

Played at scaring away our shadows.

Drew love-notes in the sand.

It is a sad measure of how far our daughters are from those little girls filling their pockets with rocks ten years ago: this time they kept up electronic chatter with texting friends, sending them pictures of the waves.

When Fritz and I were spending time together before we married, we spent it mostly hiking and driving around the mountains - pine and quaking aspen, scrub oak. We carried wild flower books and deliberated over which flower was which.

I remember one evening Fritz said: I'll even make the moon rise and set for you. Which he did -- by driving up and down a hill so that the high shoulder of the mountain revealed/ hid that full glowing pearl in the dark blue velvet sky.  What a guy.

So for us - heading for the hills is joy and laughter. Going to water is what we do to see something bigger than what we fear. And truly, if I think too much about all this - his father's history with prostate cancer - how things would change, may change, probably won't change, surely will never change, it scares me beyond words.

Or into only words of irritation, squabbles, impatience, anger.

I think it would be better to go without words for awhile.

To say without saying.

To laugh in this moment. Which is good. Because, as Fritz says, "Life is good."


And isn't it?

No wind this evening, standing out on the edge of the water, looking toward the curved horizon. 

Birds fly back and forth along the top of the waves. A string of them ribboning up and then swooping down to the crest of the wave, one right after the other. Do they do this just for the joy of it? After a little while, there they are again, undulating up and down right above the waves, dancing their birdly version of the Bunny-Hop. Or catching a meal. Either way, I listen to our children laugh to see it.

I watch the movement of our children, their gestures, expressions - seeing them as toddlers and seeing them grown at once and all together.

Trace their features that are his features.

No matter what comes, this coming to water will contain it.

I will hear always the larger sound of waves and the cries of birds when I look back on these days of waiting.


Lisa B. said...

I love seeing these pictures of your family. Still thinking of you and hoping for the best.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

This was plain romantic. It made my eyes mist to read and see. I'm so glad we reconnected a few months ago so I can be a part of these things. Thanks.

Melissa said...

I like the black and whites. And those are great pictures of you and Fritz (and of course your kiddos). How wise you were to go to the coast with Fritz even though you were exhausted. I'm praying for the best.

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