The Sea and Debussy
Impressionism is not music about the sea,
“but . . . the mysterious correspondences between Nature and Imagination.”
La Mer is not what I see
when I am at the sea
but what I feel.
Fall break’s arrival allows me the time and space to drive from Limestone College to my parents’ home in Surfside Beach, SC. Normally midterm holidays mean relaxing study and practice. However, this term because I’ve been feeling disoriented, unsure, nervous, I flee to my childhood home with hopes and expectations for recuperation.
Along the drive, my mind stagers from topic to topic. Thoughts regarding my grades, my course work, thoughts about my upcoming recital—all vie for control of my mind. Yet, these normal preoccupations of a college student, I realize, do not disorient me; rather the error made by the financial aid office resulting losing all of my aid package carries the blame. Because of the funds being removed with no idea of a returning date, survival skills test my personal boundaries of endurance: rice, rice and beans, rice and gravy, potatoes, potatoes fried, potatoes boiled, rice, potatoes, broths—are my new culinary life.
Of course, this is a true college life, isn’t it? This was my original thought, my attempt to romanticize my situation. However, as hunger pains become daily, my oh-it’s-fine laughter panicks.
Luckily, the new head of finical aid reexamined my paperwork spotted the error, corrected it, and resubmitted so that now a new financial package moves slowly to my bank account. Even though pauper meals nourish me, sleep rests much deeper.
With the unreasonable fears of losing vast amounts of weight now lifted, I should feel fine, better, lighter.
Exhaustion binds me. I sleep late, become lethargic in class, fall asleep in hidden library corners. Warming up with long tones occupies more time than it should while scales confuse and challenge me. Simply, what I don’t understand is why I physically feel the way I do when I believe I should feel the opposite. Where are the optimism, and the dedication to studies, and the lightheartedness I had just weeks before? I can’t find them.
Thus, I escape to Surfside Beach with hopes for the healing power of the sea to stabilize my semester, to wash my soul, cleansing it from all negativity. To feel the sea washing over my ankles, to taste the salty air, to rub the sea sand on my feet draws me with hope for a better term.
I have two majors: Music and English. I’ll be able to read while visiting dear ol’ mom and dad. Clarinet work, working through scales, stumbling through the Rose Etudes, or any technical skill simply stop when visiting my mother because she refuses to understand restrictions. Practice rooms should remain isolated, sacred spaces where a musician plays badly, makes mistakes, squeaks, t-a-k-e-s t-h-e p-a-s-s-a-g-e-s s-l-o-w-l-y. Mom believes practicing is mini performances. While I muscle through a new passage, making mistakes and sounding horrible, questions and comments bomb from the other side of the door—“Is that how it’s supposed to sound?; That’s none too pretty.”
At times, mom becomes wearied of hearing scales in thirds, broken chords, or long tones, so she interrupts with requests: “Hey, do you know what song would be pretty on the clarinet? ‘Sitting on Top of the World.’” OK, let me just put this Brahms sonata down and get out that Carpenters’ Song Book.
Still, I continue on home because home rests at the beach. Even though, my family only lived in Surfside for five years when I attended elementary school, the beach is my home. It is home, it is home. There, I feel the most comfortable; I feel the most stable being near the waves of the ocean, the murky water of the Atlantic, the vastness of the sea. The beach energizes me.
Surfside resides on a particularly large stretch of shoreline. One can walk on the beach from Garden City, past Surfside, the state park, and Myrtle Beach, ending in North Myrtle Beach, over twenty miles of uninterrupted beach. I start laughing as I remember my former live-in lover, with whom I vacationed on the Canary Islands. He desperately wanted me to see a beach on Fuerteventura: “It’s two kilometers long, Shatz,” he said.
“Is that big?” I asked honestly.
“It’s huge,” he said curtly, offended I questioned him.
I had lived in Germany long enough to comprehend two kilometers, and it didn’t sound huge to me. Since I failed in giving him the excitement that he thought this gigantic beach deserved, he showed his disappointment with a stern look. I explained about living in Surfside. “Shatz, Surfside is just one of four towns lining one long beach going like thirty-five kilometers,” I said. Converting miles to kilometers hindered me a little, but I maintained confidence the Grand Strand stretches longer than two kilometers. Of course, he didn’t believe me; he did, however, stop suggesting we take a day on our vacation to go see that mammoth two-kilometer beach.
His disbelief affected me. I remember feeling that I must prove to him that I wasn’t lying to him, that I wasn’t trying to outdo him, or attempting to embarrass him.
Upon returning home, I called mom to double check my memory. When I reported my findings, he ignored me, drank his coffee, and picked his nose, but leaving me feeling, strangely, that I had still mislead him, that I had disappointed him in not sharing the joy of this enormous two kilometer beach with him.
I’m missing the beach, missing the walks through the neighborhood at night and hearing the crashing waves in the distance; I’m missing the sight of porpoises dancing in the morning light, missing the excitement of watching pelicans diving for food. I long for the sea.
Inside me, my body reacts to something deeply buried, something in shadow, something my body remembers which my mind can’t see. Is it that my body is remembering another event, another situation that caused a similar feeling? Is it that my body is remembering emotions long unremembered? Is it that my body is remembering a fear I once endured? Is it that my body is remembering an apprehensiveness I once felt? Is it that my body is remembering pain, pain I once suffered? I once survived?
My shoulders press up but lose the fray against the weight of a memory, of a time that I cannot ascertain. Tears stand, unsummoned, like sentries on watch for an oncoming battle, readying for the bugle calling forward. They, the sentry tears, foresee that armada hidden in the shadow of the approaching orient.
I stop at a gas station for a break, a snack. The walk helps my mind clear.
Yet back in the car, my body feels nervousness returning again; my body feels fear tensing my hands again; my body feels sadness tightening my neck again. As I turn the key over, igniting the ignition, I simply cannot resolve the question: Why do I feel so depressed?
I’m simply going home, I think. I’m just going home. It’s been a rough semester, sure, but that’s it. There’s just no reason to be like this.
Back in 1982 when we moved to Chesnee, placing the beach house on the rental market, I all but refused to visit Surfside. I severed ties, never kept in touch. Leaving the place I loved killed me, and I wanted to be dead to all those who remained next to the beautiful sea. Going to visit and staying in a hotel never was an option. Hotels are for tourists. I am no tourist—this is my home. Unfortunately, with the house rented, this home, the only home of my childhood I identified as home, became hidden from me, become a dream, a memory.
The sun rises hopeful on a new situation: mom and dad again live here. I now allow myself the joy of going home while discovering going home’s darker side.
What does it mean to go home? It is as if going home sets in motion a self-examination. Who am I now? Who was I when I last visited? What has changed? Has my life improved? Am I where I ought to be? Where will I go next? Going home becomes an act of self-examination, self-realization, and self-harmonization.
I’ve coped through difficult times without going home to rejuvenate. Oh, I’ve visited mom and dad, but never with the feeling of going home I observed my military friends having when they planned leave to go home. They talked about what they would do, who they would see. They shared their joy through the songs they hummed while packing to go home, and in their faces of joy at getting to see and be home again.
I have never experienced that.
Today, today, something different mixes with everything else: the joy of going home builds excitement in me. Which, unfortunately, mixes with the apprehension accosting me, with emotions needling me like discarded voodoo doll picked up by a child.
I take time and enjoy the familiar landscapes of the Lowcountry. Though the landscape is familiar, the road is not because I am driving from Charlotte not from Gaffney. It has been some time since I’ve seen this exact road, if I ever did, but déjà vu helps pull me in the right directions. She has pulled me around places like Prague, Paris, Pompeii. Her voice gathers tones in softness like a stoned new-ager, talking about pyramid energy or crystal healing.
“The energy grows stronger here because you visited in a past life. Turn left, the energy flows freely toward the left.”
I burst out laughing. The places my mind goes, I think. At times, I feel I’m just watching a film.
My laughing bothers Loneliness, my usual travel companion who has been sleeping in the passenger sit for most of the journey. He’s been a constant companion. He turns a slight sleepy nod to me as if asking me to stop laughing, but this has encouraged me to engage in dialogue.
“Do you realize you just might be my oldest friend,” I say.
“No, I didn’t realize that. I know we’ve been acquainted for many years,” he says in his gruff cold voice, with a glance over his shoulder and back to trying to sleep.
“But, when were we not acquainted? I mean, I honestly don’t remember when we met. Do you?” I ask.
“I’ve been around most of your life, I guess.” He says sitting up, giving into the conversation. “We hung out a bit when you were in high school, but our companionship? That didn’t really get going until you were living in Germany,” he says.
Hearing Germany, a I feel the area between my shoulder blades twist; I feel my heart running; I feel my throat tighten—all simultaneous. Germany. I think about my years there most days, but at times parts are hard for me to remember as if they had happened long ago to another person, a character I read in a book.
I divert, “The high school years, yes, I remember needing you a lot then. It wasn’t so bad having you around. ‘Tis better to befriend Loneliness than oppose him as an enemy.”
“‘Tis indeed,” he says flatly without delight.
Then he rehashes the difficulty I had at finical aid. “Let’s not forget how you behaved when they. . . .”
“I had a lot to be angry at,” I say defiantly. “It was that little assistant and how she kept saying ‘but federal regulations’ like she worked on a bloody airline. Federal regulations, federal regulations.”
“Still,” he says, “that could and should have sent you home. . . .”
I turn him off and think about seeing the ocean. His voice metronomes in the background out of my comprehension until I hear him say a name. “What did you just say?” I ask looking at him sideways.
“I said: you remind me of Enzo when you’re like this.”
“What?” I snap, holding the steering wheel firmer.
“You remind me of . . . ”
“I heard you,” I interrupt weight cannoning each word. “I don’t understand.”
Looking a bit annoyed, he catches a moment to retreat before he continues his assault, “How many times did you want to talk to Enzo while he sat staring into space not listening?”
“I’m nothing like him. A conversation picking on me isn’t the same as a conversation about us,” I say turning my attention back to the road.
Enzo. Enzo. Loneliness adored Enzo. They were inseparable. Even when they weren’t together, one lived because of the other.
“Enzo, such a cool guy,” he muses. “Enzo had difficulties talking to you because English was his third language, but I depended on him: Mondays, Sundays, holidays—”
“What the fuck, lady move out the way. Damn women drivers. I hate them! Pull-out-drive: one action! Oh, now she’s worried about speed limits. I hate stupid people! I hate them! I don’t like the way they drive; the way they talk to me about stupid shit in line at the Walsmart.”
Loneliness sizes me up, “Mr. Overreaction. I shall continue now: I could depend—”
“Coooooooooooonway! Conway already. Did you see Aynor? I didn’t.”
Loneliness remains quiet, and I soon forget he’s there as my attention gets taken in by the familiar sites of Conway which really say ‘I am nearly home’. The radio grabs my attention because the music dances back decades. No new music since the 80’s.
In my childhood, I attended many events in Conway. I played soccer a few times on the fields around Conway High School. Performed in all county band, in the 8th grade at the high school.
The 70s at the beach created fun times. The Sun Fun Festival entertained with street dances, sandcastle building contests, dance contests, beauty contests. The sign of my victory in the watermelon eating battle remains on display in mom and dad’s guest bedroom. A sigh sings from my chest as I remember home and the excitement restarts.
Normally, nostalgia bothers me because she’s a difficult dance partner. She sometimes dances the shag to a song in a minor key. However, today nostalgia doesn’t bother me; she doesn’t mix happy dancing with sad music.
The memories dancing with nostalgia confuse me because the memories do not appear as thoughts. No, I, instead, feel the memory; I taste the memory; I hear the memory. I feel myself chasing the soccer ball. I hear my teammate call, “I’m open.” I feel myself kick the ball—we score. I hear families yelling. Inside the car, James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind” sings the only sounds.
What word means feeling the past?
Do our bodies respond to memories even before our mind allows the memory to appear?
Within twenty minutes, I arrive home singing seventies’ rock tunes, some Marshall Tucker Band, Lynard Skynard, The Little River Band. Journeying home returned nostalgia to me with a kiss, and I realize how important she can be in our lives. Going Home has rejoined me to a happy past, a past not thought of often, not remembered, a past with joy.
Yet, the unsettled spirits I’ve felt for the past few days begs the question: What other pasts wait for the draw bridge to rejoin the road, allowing access to me: what other voices; what other rooms?
As I start to step out of the car, Loneliness asks, “Are you going to invite me in?” He’s not a vampire, so he can come and go as he pleases.
I consider for a moment but realize mom and dad will be too demanding for Loneliness and me to hang out. Mom surely has a list of chores ready for me, and dad might even want to talk or watch episodes of M*A*S*H.
“Oh, I don’t think hanging out time happens here,” I say but not apologetically, almost annoyed. Even though he comes when he feels the need, he should know how mom and dad treat us kids when we visit.
“So, shall I,” he says pouting, then stressing the next word, “also be held captive in the car?” His question isn’t an honest question, and I know it. His attack halberds my heart. It isn’t the intention that cuts, it is the words which cause an unhappy, an angry déjà vu feeling to knock me.
While I want to blame him for the way my heart hurts, I realize somehow that these feelings originate within me; they are mine, as if I am the one disowned in the car.
In an attempt to regroup, I retaliate by stressing each word equally, “I didn’t order you to stay in the car,” I pause. “I just don’t think I will be available.”
“Alright then,” he says, gathering his things to exit. He’ll go visit other friends, I believe. His life away from me remains unknown. He has never introduced me to other friends; he has never mentioned other people in his life. He comes when he wants; when I need him; when it suits us both. While accommodating both of us with his visits, the visits are maintained on his terms alone.
I leave him and go to the side door, which is the one we always use. It has been left open, but the screen door is locked. The frail wood framed screen door rickets and knocks loudly when I try to open it. It is as loud as a knock would be, so I wait for mom appear and open it. She doesn’t.
I run to the front door which is also in the same open with closed screen door position. Passing by my car, I notice loneliness remaining in the car, but his appearance has changed. He looks like me, so much so, that I stop to exam the hallucination more carefully. I see myself clearly looking out at me. Inside I look lost, confused, depressed. I lift my hands to rub my eyes and remove the vision and notice the me in the car mimics me outside. Realizing, the ghost of the past is merely a reflection of me today, I laugh at my sudden fear at a hallucination.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me right now? Yes, money issues cause anxiety. Mom and dad might even have to lend me money before I leave. However, rent is paid, and food is available. Yes, I’ve lost a few pounds because rice and gravy composes most of my diet, but not enough weight to suffer from malnutrition. Not even enough for someone to notice. Yes, anger still influences me when I think about what happened in finical aid—but for crying out loud—to be so off center, so unbalanced, so insane slaps me in the face.
I rush to the door, under the pressure of needing a pit stop, but questioning the hallucination. Through the door, I see mom asleep on the sofa. A sensation captures my senses; tension in my body leaves. I sigh like a dog who struggled getting his spot perfect now lays down to rest.
I pause for a moment and take a deep breath, “come on, old lady, get up,” I atom bomb.
My mom’s body lifts off the sofa in one unit like she’s in a magic show.
“I ought’a wear your butt out, young man,” she says sleepily yet forcefully.
Home doesn’t feel like home without my parents’ teasing threats: Wait to your father gets home; I’ll never speak to you again; there’s gonna be war in this house and I’m going to win
After our hello’s, mom has prepared a lovely selection of “sandwich stuff,” cheese, lettuce, cold cuts for lunch. With telescope vision, mom’s garden tomatoes catch my eye, and I grab some bypassing the fancy deli stuff. Tomato sandwiches, oh I love them. I love the way the mayo and the tomatoes blend, the salt on the tomatoes. Too much. I introduced both of my European lovers to the tomato sandwich. They both loved them too. Even Enzo loved them, and his parents own an excellent Italian restaurant. Because of Enzo, I now add oregano or basil (whichever is available); although, his pretentious open-faced version is never mimicked.
“I was just thinking about Enzo,” I say to mom calmly.
“What about him?”
“He criticized everything I cooked,” I say as I spread the mayo on the bread, “said, it wasn’t real cooking because I used a cookbook. But tomato sandwiches. Tomato sandwiches, he loved.”
“Well,” my mom says. What “Well” means exactly, I never can determine: shock, mild support, disinterested affirmation? For this situation it could mean any or all of those; however, in another situation, the meaning could be you poor dear, what on earth, or keep going.
“To my surprise,” I continue talking, “he adored cornbread. And not from scratch, from the Jiffy box Brenda bought me from the base. Loved it! Loved it so much he wanted me to make some for him to take to his family, like I’d ever do that.”
Mom grunts a polite, I’m hearing you southern grunt of affirmation.
With that, I stop talking and focus on the taste of the sandwich.
In the pause, mom starts a rapid-fire question session which requires only nod-and-grunt replies. These rhetorical questions do not reveal any true interest in me or my situation; they function as light familial harassment.
“What are you doing here?”
“Didn’t we raise you right?”
“What do you need electricity for anyway, just runs up the power bill.”
“Why, you’re just like a boomerang: every time I throw ya’ away, you come back.”
Mom then explains she and dad have already planned a surf fishing excursion on Litchfield Beach for the morning. She states it with a tone of information only, but I recognize the invitation.
I say, “well looks like y’all have a good time.”
I hate surf fishing; I absolutely hate fishing. My parents would wake me up on a Sunday or worse a Saturday morning announcing surf fishing awaited us. My older brothers, with their cars, and their part time jobs, escaped the surf fishing prison. Mom and Dad would sit for hours never catching a thing. They baited their hooks with the sand fleas I caught for them each time the command to get them some sand fleas came down; then toss out the line and wait for the sea to push the line back to them, empty and ready to be rebaited. I guess they talked; I guess they liked being with each other—God this could be a quaint little romantic scene about old people still in love spending the day at the shore.
Is it possible, I first felt the healing power of the sea while having fun not surf fishing? I have always had a fascination with the sea. My parents and brothers have told and retold the story of my first visit to the Atlantic. We arrived in the middle of the night, but I was asleep in the car. After getting to our rooms we all went to bed, but through the excitement I returned to the waking world. Throughout the night I would rise and go to the window, and while gazing at the sea, I would repeat two words: Biiiiiig Waaaaaater. Biiiiiig Waaaaaater. Even though I hated surf fishing, being at the sea filled me with peace.
# # #
Sleep has happened, but I want more, need more. Mom, however, maintains that I should wake up and breakfast with them before they go to surf fishing prison. She wakes me by grabbing my big toe and pulling it to relocated a non-dislocated joint.
“Marshall! Breakfast’s ready,” Mom says.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Get your butt up, we want to ask you something,” she admonishes before rushing to the kitchen.
I sigh, keeping my eyes closed, waiting for a moment, hoping they will forget I’m here. A yell from one of them alarms and alerts me that they still remember. I toss the covers off me and roll off the bed so my feet hit the ground first allowing me to push up to standing. I grab some clothes and head to the kitchen table where I know they are already eating since mom times her calls for breakfast as she places the food on the table.
When I walk in, I notice they are sitting in new places at the table. Has there been a power shift? Before, Dad maintain the head of the table with mom at his left. Their configuration remains the same; however, mom now lords the table with dad on her right. The sight of their change in positions makes me nervous, oddly.
What should I care where they sit?
A better question is: why does seeing this make me nervous?
Whatever has been eating at me clearly is causing me to read too much into my parents table positions.
“Morning sleepy head,” says Mom as if it is the first time that she’s greeted me today.
I mumble a reply.
I mumble my reply again, although I can speak properly. I want them to know that I do not appreciate being woken up on my holiday so early.
“What in tar nation is that boy saying, Euna Mae?” My father addresses my mother with her double name (first and middle). All good Southerners have double names which are used often by friends and family. Mine, Marshall Wayne, my brothers are Terry Stephen, and James Daniel. Although James Daniel spondees off the tongue, while fine, the equality of the spondee rhythm loses the evangelical preacher lithe that the ladies find so romantic. If we had diminished it to Jimmy Dan, ladies would have fallen at his feet.
“I said in Germany they say ‘sleeping bag.’”
“Well Daniel, we woke up in the wrong country.”
“You going to open them eyes?”
Honestly, I can’t determine who is speaking unless they use names. Their teasing teases with the same tone, timbre, and cadence.
“I can’t, sleep presses them closed. I’ll sleep-eat this meal.”
“Fine, just don’t make a mess.”
“I hear sarcasm so mom must be speaking,” I say. Dad doesn’t employ sarcasm.
“Now snickering so dad joins the harassment.” My father rarely laughs; he snickers, grins. However, laughing with sound, laughing so much he can’t breathe—that only happens when Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby do stand-up.
“Is that right?”
“What about them eggs? Do ya’ taste them eggs?”
“Did you cook ‘em?
“I guess we are here, Daniel.”
“I guess so.”
They take this moment to formally invite me surf fishing. Mom has woken with the firm belief I would enjoy going surf fishing and would have been upset had they not gotten§ me up in time to join.
“Are you going fishing?” one of them asks demandingly, as if I’ve kept them waiting.
I’m suddenly awake, “It was never a consideration. That part of being home will not be relived—ever. It was agony when I was a kid—.”
“Shit,” they both say in unison.
“You had a good time.”
“Euna Mae, do you remember how he would run over that rock at low tide, acting like an airplane.”
“Or a dolphin.”
They agree with each other and suddenly stop speaking, stop giggling, stop snickering. This sudden quietness that makes me nervous.
After a short pause, Mom says, “Wella Balsome.”
Dad replies by laughing, well laughing in his way. Mom laughs, “Marshall we still talk about that.” They refer to a childhood event.
“Thank God I don’t have a boyfriend visiting to endure the whole story. I was in fifth grade.” I was in fifth grade, and one night I took my shower late. Everyone previously retiring to bed, and I thought, asleep. Mom and dad lay awake. The shower became my playground until the shower head released winter water. I pretended TV cameras surrounded me on all the walls, and I stared in many commercials. Some commercials I reenacted; some I made up. I did all the head movements from camera to camera sang the jingles, and Vanna-Whited the product. “Zest keeps my skin clean and moist. Farah Fawcett wishes she had hair like mine, thick and clean and pretty: don’t let her know, it’s Body on Tap. I just love Wella Balsom shampoo—it makes my hair shinny and healthy.” Singing “Wella Balsome,” hit my parents so hard that they could not contain their laughter so much so they feared I’d hear them and stop the show. Luckily for them I didn’t hear their laughter because I was busy telling two friends, who told two friends, who told two friends, and so on and so on.
While this little kiss from nostalgia causes me to blush and detect a rise in spirit, I still play annoyed.
“Marshall, we laughed all night.”
“I’m still not going fishing,” I say.
Through memories of surf fishing as a child, I envision them today sitting in their chairs, talking, listening to country music on the radio, drinking Co-colas and Mountain Dew, and if they still smoked, nearly chain smoking. They always sat together while I always entertained myself on the rocks or in the sand, but away from them. Today, at nearly thirty, going to the beach would mean sitting in an adult space next to them, and while being nearly thirty gives me an adult chair, this would not prevent orders to find sand fleas for them, which I believe drives this invitation.
Another vision catches my mind. In my memory, I see them enjoying this time as a couple. Is it possible I see this as their couple fun time, and that I don’t want to invade their space? That without realizing that my dislike comes from the feeling of being a third wheel on their date?
Once they take off for the beach, I clean the table and notice their new table. It fills the space so completely that in order for anyone to walk through the kitchen, the table must sit flush against the wall. This explains why they sit in the new manner: mom’s normal place disappeared when they placed the table against the wall.
I just don’t understand why I’m so edgy.
Four Weddings and a Funeral assists me in waking up. I like that show it reminds me of by British and Irish friends I’ve left behind in Europe. Around noon, I shower with the radio loudly playing BTO. The music moves me into a morose nostalgic mood. I remember BTO somewhat from childhood. However, I really remember them from my army days when Guy and I would listen to their Greatest Hits, So Far as we drove to the gigs we performed as army bandsmen. Of course, I introduced Enzo to BTO and he loved them, a lot, said they were very masculine.
I try to wash my back with mom’s back washer, but my shoulders remain tense.
I remember Enzo, my first falling-head-over-heels-in-love boyfriend. First loves pain us the most and elevate us the most. No other love will ever reach the intensity of our first time in love. Every activity, every emotion felt for the first time affects intensely simply because of the newness of the experience. Regardless of our age, falling in love for the first time turns us into adolescents who do not understand their bodies now process, create, and pump hormones completely differently, and those hormones cause emotions to cut deeply until we learn to control our reactions. With Enzo, I simply could not control my hopes, my love, my desire for our relationship, or the pain I felt as I watched it decline, as I experienced the loneliness of drifting apart, the loneliness of waiting, waiting for him to return from a visit to his family or for him to return to loving me as he once loved me. They are but the same situation, metaphorically and realistically.
I dry off with a bath sheet. The hot shower has filled the tiny bathroom with steamy air, so I open the door to allow the cold air-conditioned air in and receive a Linus comfort from the bath sheet. I dry off in the bathroom until no wetness remains though not fully dry, not dripping, dry enough to step out on to the carpet in the cool air of the bedroom. I dry completely in front of the mirror on the other side of the bathroom door.
Considering myself for a moment in the reflection, I look at the me looking back and wonder who exactly stands there? Several layers of protective whale blubber surround me as if preparing for a nuclear winter. My head has had my thick African-like curly hair while my face sports a goatee. My face expresses an emptiness, a hardness, a look that repels. My face appears tired which I blame on the weight of my body and the weight of whatever the past few days has done.
The music calls me to the dance floor of my parents’ bedroom, a private place occupied only by me. Being alone in the house bestows the perfect place to dance and regain freedom. Yet, my weight accepts gravity’s dominance: my feet refuse to move; my hips refuse to sway.
Dance! I want—I need to dance again.
I drop the towel but remain still.
# # #
One o’clock waves goodbye as the sea calls for me. I’ve delayed enough, but as I close the door and step down the steps, an anxious knot tightens in my back, my stomach catches a few butterflies. Suddenly, I feel that home not only symbolizes safety but also is safe. The realization hits me that I will be stepping outside the safety zone, and I’m no longer sure of what lies ahead.
Seriously, what is wrong with me. I’ve got to get my act together. This just doesn’t make sense.
I abandon the safety of home and step toward my heart, my healing, my sea. I love the sea, her mournful breath, her purifying salty air.
Pine Drive, our street, does not touch the beach; rather, a T-intersection terminates the street just a few blocks away from the sand. During my summers here, when the beach beckoned, I headed as directly to her as possible by walking down Pine for a few blocks, heading south to the Surfside Drive which led me to the pier, the arcade, and the beach where my friends sunbathed and swam.
Today in the afterlife of Hurricane Hugo, only the pier remains. The arcade has been replaced by a hotel, the friends became adults, moved, and accepted adult responsibilities. I’d rather avoid the memories of the arcade and pier area of the beach and find my own beach, my own private section of the beach where nostalgia will not tempt me with her songs.
Taking unnecessary turns, lengthening the journey, I visit the old neighborhood, areas I’ve not seen since I was in eighth grade. Passing the house where the dog who disliked me live, the nervousness of my childhood taps me on the shoulder. He would chase me as I bicycled to and from soccer practice. Over there relaxes the little pond, the favorite fishing spot of a forgotten-named friend. Roseanne arranged for us to cut the grass of that house.
I wanted to bring Enzo here. I wanted him to experience my history. I wanted to share with him a silly never-shared story about seeing a waddle of ducks covering an empty lot. One had only one leg. I froze, watching one-leg, wondering if he would survive with only one leg, or should I catch him and take him home to care for him. A silly story, I realize. Yet, silly stories expand and explain who we are. I saw Enzo’s childhood home during the brief time I was allowed in the house. I saw it, saw his bedroom, saw the décor, the little kitchen where his mother made him Hawaiian toast. Thus, I feel I got to know him better than he got to know me.
Is it that I wanted to share my childhood home with Enzo, or any lover, any partner who also wanted to share his childhood home, his memories, his stories of sandwiches his mother made him for lunch on a summer’s day?
With Enzo, however, bringing him to America for a visit seemed an impossibility. We were young with little money. Besides, a greater question was one I could never ask: When should we go? Christmas? While he lived with me, his umbilical remained, and Christmas could not be celebrated without him being at home with his family.
Christmases ago, Enzo and I had our first Christmas together as a couple. We met in January and started dating in April. I waited a month to declare my love for him, taking the time not to be too quick. Then at the beginning of December, we moved in together and begin our lives as a couple, a family.
When Christmas came, my only friend remaining in Germany, who I normally shared Christmas with, felt overwhelmed by her husband’s recent return from a long stay in the United States. She sent out word that she needed to spend this Christmas alone with family. I was understanding.
In Germany, Christmas Eve celebrates with family, carrying the family celebration through Christmas day. December 26th, called Second Christmas Day and a national holiday, allows friends to celebrate together. Enzo’s family, although Italians, celebrated like Germans.
I expected Enzo would bring me to his parents and disregard the decree not allowing me: to enter the home; or call the home; or enter the restaurant; or call the restaurant. In my mind, I foresaw an uncomfortable dinner table because of the tension between Enzo’s father, brother, and me. I decided to discuss with Enzo his plan to help his family not uncomfortable. Now it seems so silly really: what could one do other than state, Marshall’s coming, you will be nice.
“Enzo,” I said, “what are you doing to help your family with the idea of me coming for Christmas?”
Enzo looked at me and matter-of-factly stated, “you’re not invited.”
It took me a minute to respond, “So, what are we doing?”
“I’m going to my parents,” he said.
“Whatever you want.”
Whatever I want? I wanted to spend it with my lover.
I guess I should have included Christmas in the negotiations of moving in together. Which side of the bed do you want? How will WE spend holidays? Enzo never celebrated any holiday, including non-religious holidays like New Year’s Eve, with me; always first with family. When they were finished, I got the remains.
On Christmas Eve, I considered being kind, being understanding, being compromising. We had no food at the house, so Enzo agreed to take me, out of his way mind you, to the Haupt Bahnhoff to eat Christmas Eve dinner alone at McDonalds. Of course, the Haupt Bahnhoff would offer several other choices, too, if McDonalds wasn’t to my fancy. Stuttgart on Christmas Eve is lifeless. It is not hyperbole to call it a ghost town: the normal packed with cars road was vacated by traffic; shops stood forsaken, dark, empty; bars were deserted; public trains functioned void, nearly, of passengers.
Everyone belonged somewhere with someone.
Enzo left me at the west entrance to the train station, the one closest to McDonalds, and thoughtfully, handed me a ten note. “For dinner and the train home,” he stated as if he were doing me some great kindness.
McDonalds in the train station—closed.
All other stores, cafes in the train station—closed.
I began my walk home searching for something to eat.
McDonalds along the main shopping street—closed.
Every little kebab stand—closed.
All the bratwurst stands—closed.
Two hours of walking home, where I crossed the mountain from downtown to Botnag, where our apartment sat. I was tired, hungry, lonely, and angry. Enzo would be coming home soon, and I hoped he might bring a plate.
Seven hours later of being alone at home, he opened the door, with no plate, and no apology for leaving me alone so long. He said that he thought about bringing me something to eat but, “I couldn’t ask to do it because my dad might hear me asking for some food for you.” His hands held a bag of cookies his mother had gave to him with the instructions of “give this to him.”
Those cookies landed against the wall as a preview to a violent argument filled with bitter hatred at Enzo, his family that followed for hours.
However, after begging and crying, Enzo agreed to call and ask if I could join on Christmas day.
The next day he woke, jumped in the shower without speaking to me. When he was dressed, I asked him when he was going to call his family.
“I’m not,” he said and walked out.
And he didn’t.
I lost my mind, stepping as close to total insanity as I hope I will ever. As I traipse to the beach, thinking of that horrible day, that day of hatred, embarrassment follows along with me. Tears. Self-violence. Panic. Much of that day has been removed from my memory as if trying to protect me from something the pain of facing without doubt bring. I remember tears flowing for hours. I remember thoughts of attempting suicide in such a way as to survive, just to show him. I remember the fetal position.
I remember beating my head with my fist.
I remember—I don’t want to remember anymore, not right now.
The sun kisses me gently, as the sea crashing on the shore pulls me toward her. The details of the Christmas sit in blackness and cast a burning shadow. I prefer these memories remain in darkness.
From that day forward, humiliation beat me daily. How could anyone declare to be in love while treating me as Enzo treated me? I knew then, but I didn’t want to know—he was no husband, no friend, no man—just a boy. He could not stand up to his father, nor could he compromise his family’s sensibilities for the love he declared for me.
What if he changed? What if I waited, becoming the caring patient partner? He had to mature one day. Yet, I knew I knew I knew.
I lost my strength, no longer possessing the energy to breakup.
The following year, I worked, saving in order to visit my family, avoiding another incident. Because Enzo had not changed, I not only wanted to go home, but also, I needed home. I needed the experience of home that I am experiencing now. Unfortunately, mom and dad lived in Mayo, a town in which I never felt accepted, or I trusted as home, a town far from the sea. While going home comforted me, the strength I needed to change my life, to fuel my journey to independence, to singlehood did not fill the tank. While not running on empty or on fumes, my strength ran on a tank one fourth full.
Until now, I really have not returned gone home although I visited my family.
I touch home today. That touch of connecting with home, with my roots, with my past grows in me as I step closer and closer to the beachgrass, to the sand, to the sea.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an apricot, hanging quietly on the vine, peacefully; I follow the vine to the passionflower bloom. Passionflowers grow in South Carolina? I ask myself. Several blooms sway lightly in the breeze, and I consider each isolated bloom connected to the vine, independent, joined not alone.
Maybe, everything is really fine, I think as I move away from the passionflowers.
Even though financial aid stumbled, the solution stands up already implemented. I will eat; I will pay bills. I will continue to study and work toward my life-long dream of being smart. Perhaps, things aren’t as bad as my body continues expressing, as tension remains tightening my shoulders, my belly, my chest.
My feet continue wondering around Surfside; my eyes continue taking in the town. Quaint. Quiet. Consistent.
Enzo was a bastard. However, history belongs in books living on dusty shelves to be read later with objective eyes and hearts. Tears drip salt into wounds and in time may heal, but tears never change the past. If I date again, I’ll plan for me. Before we live together, I’ll make sure we both carry the same ideas about marriage.
The beach waits a couple of blocks away. The dunes block my view of the sea, but she’s there. I can hear her. I can smell her.
I walk onward toward the sea, and my thoughts turn to concentrating on where I am, of being only where I am, on enjoying where I am.
The sky—blue, radiates
The clouds—white, dance.
The dunes—grassy, invite.
My friend Roberta, visiting the sea for the first time, commented as we crossed the same boulevard: “It’s like walking into a different world.”
I am ready for a different world, I think as I cross the dunes, finally spotting the ocean, stretching further than the eye sees, hugging the shores of other places, other worlds. Worlds which danced in the shadow of books and photo journals until I crossed the Atlantic and experienced those worlds. The ocean crashes on many shores, many wonderful shores.
Improvements to the beach have been made since my childhood. Pilgrims no longer walk across the dunes, for the dunes are protected areas, filled with beachgrass and nesting birds. Pilgrims cross a bridge which maintains the safety and privacy and lives of the dune eco system. Along one side of the bridge runs a bench big enough for four people to sit. Here, I rest, sitting on the rail with my feet on the bench, looking, listening, longing.
Oddly along the beach, October sun worshipers worship the sun, supine, prostrate, enjoying life. On the beach, a woman lies on her back with her feet east; her white bikini shinning in the sun. A man with her wears this summer’s baggies, and props on his right arm, allowing him the chance to admire the lady. Even from the distance, I see the smiles each are giving each other, the flirtatious glances. Even though the wind hides the details of their flirtation, I hear their laughing, and smiles. She loves him because he makes her laugh; he loves her because she laughs.
Hoping for a future.
The beach scene triggers an odd, unsettled stirring within me, an almost déjà vu experience. It reminds me of that why-English-teachers-quit chain email. The email listed several “actual” metaphors found in high schooler’s papers. One said: it was a strange feeling like when you’re on vacation, and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 instead of 7:30. The beach captures me, binding me into that same strange feeling of being near but not eben, of living a skewed existence. One recognized, one easily observed, however, not fully comprehended.
My spirit feels rested but my heart races. I don’t understand these emotions. Tension? Sadness? Envy? Admiration? Sincere happiness?
They are a very pretty couple.
A wave crashes, calling me to admire the sea.
I wait longer before walking and touching the sea.
What secrets will the sea whisper to me once I step on her sandy mane?
I wait, delaying the moment, while enjoying the warming sun, the calming wind, the healing salty air.
The soft crashing waves awakens the chant Om within me. Om, continuous, ageless.
I close my eyes, turning my head, moving deeper into the sounds of the sea, allowing her chant to resonate in my chest.
The salty air fills my airways with each inhalation.
I walk deeper into that smell,
deeper into that sound,
deeper into that sensation.
I am calm.
I am quiet.
“Marshall?” I hear a voice carried by the breeze from the water’s edge, quietly, politely.
I don’t want to be disturbed. I need only the quiet and the privacy of the sea.
I don’t want to see who it is, yet I know who it is.
I recognize my oldest friend. My eyes open to find Loneliness traipsing along the water’s edge parallel to me, waving, less excitedly than usual, yet welcoming. I saunter, greeting him casually. Our familiarity, established for many years, dictates that instead of a hug greeting, a wave or handshake serves perfectly. Today, Loneliness indicates we should stroll along the beach without even a handshake as he clasps his hands behind his back.
Perhaps we both appreciate this time with the sea because his normal chatty mood doesn’t join us, which matches my mood and calms me more. My body still maintains the tension felt for weeks, but a relaxation begins to grow enough for me to notice the difference, if only in my release of breath which is becoming loose, free, deep.
To our right small crashing waves hum, piano passages mostly, which brings sobriety to my cluttered mind; an occasional subito forte brings fresh optimism to my soul.
A small flock of sea gulls wade in a small pool of ocean water left by the ebbing tide. With suddenly and childlike skill, I splash through their pool. They fly up quickly squawking their pleasure at my game.
Loneliness joins with a laugh, a contained laugh yet fully expressed. Something’s odd about him today; he’s more subdued, meditative, introverted. Before I identify his otherness, a gust of wind races by, and I lean back hoping the wind will support me like Gilligan. Sadly, a gust is a gust and not sustained wind.
My body remembers the wind after Hurricane David hit Savanah; my body remembers so much more: memories of happiness, of fun, of expectation for life. All felt on this beach, walking, searching for sharks teeth, worshiping the sun with friends, playing in the water.
The memories of childhood happiness dishearten me, so I fall on the white, dry, warm sand.
What’s wrong with me? I think.
The heat of the white sand warms my back as the sun warms the rest of my body.
Loneliness sits next to me with his hands around his knees. From the corner of my eye, I can see him. He watches the sea. Occasionally, I glance directly at him, but he rarely returns the glance. His focus is on the sea, watching it, observing it, waiting for to glimpse some hidden creature to rise, breathe, descend. His playful dark blond curls flutter lightly as a butterfly flutters around a flower bloom. His cheeks remain relaxed, but his eyes focus intensely on the sea.
I sit up to watch the sea, watching her swells, her white puffy caps, hearing her eternal breath, her sighs of longing. Where does happiness swim? I know he’s there. I know the ocean allows for happiness to play in her waters; I’ve play with happiness so many times. Where is happiness. It seems so long that that friend and I joined a party, prepared a dinner for friends. Oh dear sea, where is happiness.
I close my eyes and concentrate on my breath, harmonizing my breath with the sea, harmonizing my breath with Loneliness’, unifying my breath with myself, within myself.
I relax; I let go; I release. I release all the tension of studies, of the single life, of life. I simply lay on the beach, feeling thankful for the sun. I do not sleep. I listen.
My hand draws in the sand without my watching. I dig up a shell, and feel it, exam it without viewing it.
I love shells; they feel both smooth and rough harmoniously, like a great symphony, building tension until a resolution. Finally, I look at the shell.
The shell smells like the sea.
The shell tastes like the sea.
The shell sounds like the sea.
The shell is the sea.
I am the shell.
I am lifted and carried by the wind. The wind lightly, lightly, lightly houses me reposed in her palm. She holds me hovering over the sea where the waves drift, where they rise and fall and splash me lightly. She places me on the sea, my eyes closed, and I
feel my body floating on the sea,
feel my body wet with the sea,
feel my soul in repose on the sea.
I remain on the sand yet rise and fall with the sea. I remain on the sand in body, yet my spirit sails, taken away to find tranquility. I remain on the sand yet visit the albatross and the whale.
The wind whispers a farewell, softly, and lightly kisses me, tenderly, lovingly, hauntingly; then she flies to another lover, another soul needing the to be connected with the sea. She will return again, I know this, because she loves me, and I feel that love.
Eventually, the desire to join Loneliness again lifts me to a sitting position. With my walrus body preventing me from sitting like Loneliness, my legs extend in front of me. Loneliness gives a quick massage to my neck similar to a father or older brother comforting a loved one after a losing game.
“Thank you,” I quietly say but immediately regret breaking the silence with speech.
“You’re welcome,” he says. The sound of having a cold in his voice has vanished; the gruffness has also departed. His words are spoken softly, timed, measured, with fat warm tones like a quiet French horn or a quiet good night whisper from the beloved.
Loneliness asks, “Why no comments on the hotties jogging by.”
I look around and see that a few hotties have indeed passed by, but now run far from me to clearly adore them.
“I understood you enjoyed people watching and a friendly flirt,” he continues coyly, giving me a playful push.
“I do, but my mind is occupied so much, so fragmentedly that I needed to remain here, alone, without avoiding me,” I reply, and Loneliness nods affirmatively. “The conversation with the sea has been lovely.”
“She comforts. She teaches,” he says.
“She heals,” I agree.
Loneliness and I remain quiet as we both admire the sea.
The sea is power. The sea is life. The sea is beauty, inspiration, danger. The sea washes me in safety, not corporal safety, but emotional safety. To walk along the beach, and see and hear the sea, or even to drive and only glimpse the sea between houses is to find eternity. For me, it is to realize I’m not alone.
# # #
The sun begins descending toward the west horizon, shadows lengthen, and I realize the time has come for me to bid farewell to the sea. I stand, stepping away from Loneliness to pat the sand off of me without covering him.
“I love the beach,” say as sand butterflies around me, “and appreciate my time here. I feel better.”
“The sea accompanies you in spirit,” he says, standing to join me, with a namaste bow. He’s so weird today, not his normal self.
I go in for the good-by hug which he reciprocates. He’s a tall man, so I am sheltered with his arms and chest. He gives a good tight hug. Oddly, I notice he has been working out, “I enjoyed spending time with you today, old friend,” I say.
“Old friend?” he says pulling away just enough for our eyes to unite. “We’ve never met,” he says.
“What?” I say, shaking my head at his joke. “Our friendship crosses many years and many sorrows. Loneliness when did you get a sense of humor?”
He smiles, puts tender hands on my shoulders, faces me, eyes still holding mine, and says, “Loneliness is my twin.” His cadence delivers honesty, which allows my vision to perceive, to recognize a few facial features foreign to Loneliness’ face.
“Identical,” I say.
“Only on the outside,” he says smiling.
A smile which I desperately desire to be flirting, yet identify as tender caring, with a ray radiating from his eyes elucidating the motives of his flirtation: he cares for me, for me the person, the whole person.
He continues quietly, “We are often confused. He revels in razzing, whereas I am the strong silent type. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Solitude.”
“Solitude. My brother tells me about all his friends, and I hoped to meet before. I’ve often thought we’d enjoy our company. But,” he sighs, “you sought for me when you did.”
I don’t speak initially but consider his last sentence. I sought him?
“My dear brother steps forward more than I. I contemplate. I hope. I wait.”
“I’m sorry, I’m kind of toss about here as if on the sea. I didn’t realize I was searching for you.”
“As with most of my new friends. You have been searching for me in clandestine areas of public parks, where identities are lost and sexual addiction is conceived. You have been searching for me in smoky filled rooms, where uncontrolled laughter camouflages confusion.”
“Clandestine parks and smoky laughter, you say this embarrassing history without the tone of judgement,” I say.
He laughs with no sound. “No judgements, my brother does that enough. Just after the event in financial aid, you began to truly seek me, and here I stand. Happy to be here. Grateful you came when you did.”
In the hours, I’ve dallied on the beach, I had forgotten my knotted body. Now, however, my body remembers other things; the tension of the past few days returns yet distantly, controlled.
“My mind has been distracted,” I say, “since that day.”
“Distracted minds often lead many friends to me. In the future, you’ll seek me again searching different places, different situations. Churches, music, acting, writing. We’ve got work to accomplish, and this will last for a few years.”
I glance quickly toward him so that he will realize I am not aware of what he is talking about. Why would I need him for years? What work?
His eyes grab mine, holding them firmly. While intense and direct, they retain kindness and understanding. He says, “Enzo. . .”.
At the sound of the name my lips press tightly, “What about Enzo.”
“Enzo remains a difficulty for you.”
“Indeed,” I reply, my voice dropping a diminished fourth.
Solitude stands quietly and still, causing an annoying silence, which he will not fill. He waits, maybe hopes.
“I often hate him more than I ever loved him,” I admit. “When I think about us, my entire body tenses to rigor.”
“Just the same, you sometimes fantasize about Enzo, about seeing him suddenly, seeing him while you are successful, seeing him down and out, sometimes even seeing him happy.”
I fold my arms and breathe out without silence.
“Easy. Enzo was a bastard, that’s clear,” he says. Upon hearing that, hearing Bastard, hearing someone else say it, someone else acknowledge it, makes it real, and reassurance surrounds me. “You’ve been thinking about Christmas, and the times he left you at home to visit his family, the Saturdays, the Sundays, the Mondays, the . . . . “
“Yes! Most days,” I forcefully interject. “We are all aware of how often Enzo visited mom and dad.”
“Really? We?” His stern voice shows another side of Solitude, brutal honesty. “Your closest friends, even today, are not aware of the times he left you alone at home; they are not aware if this or anything else. Your friends are not aware of how enraged you became that Christmas, or how you beat yourself in the face, uncontrollably pounding your head. They know nothing. What We? What We are you talking about?”
My voice drops again, in fear, shame, and anger, “You seem to know a lot about me.”
“I do. Most importantly, I know what your friends don’t: I know of your self-accusation for what happened, for failures, for fights. No,” he says with a finality. “No. No, blame. It wasn’t your fault. No blame,” he pauses, and within the silence, the sense of reassurance reaches me. I believe him, yet my body holds on to the guilt and blame I feel. He continues forcefully yet kindly, “You should feel bad, not blame, because you hid the truth about your life with Enzo, the extent of it—you hid all this from your friends. They love you and would have, at the very least, been positive reassurance you so desperately needed.”
A wave crashes as the sea accents his words.
“I was afraid. Lonely,” I say and cut myself off. I’ve thought about Enzo a lot, but I don’t talk about the relationship. When we first ended, I did. I talked, but I never talked about everything between us.
Solitude and I are standing at the water’s edge and the sea washes our feet.
Solitude asks, “What happened that Christmas?”
I speak freely, uncontrolled, “I remember, but the details wish to remain in shadow. I was crazy—out of my head. I was mad because I felt trapped, caged in the apartment—where was I to go—how could I leave? My friends were all visiting relatives. I loved Enzo. I did. He hurt me, but I knew if I left, it would be to end the relationship. I wasn’t ready for it to be over, I wanted more of how it had been. I became self-abusive, hitting myself in anger at him, but more at myself for staying.”
“Yet, you hoped for a response from Enzo.”
“And none come, confirming what fear had been yapping at me all day: Enzo doesn’t care, doesn’t love . . .” I cut myself off. “When he returned home, I wasn’t well behaved.”
“You defended yourself, somewhat misguided, but you defended your self-value.”
“Yet, when I think back,” I place my hands on my forehead as if a migraine hits, “when I think back to those two or three days, I remember fear badgering me, sure. But there was someone else urging me to ‘just leave’. I still don’t know whose voice it was, reason perhaps. But, over and over ‘Just leave, just go.’ and I’d reply I couldn’t; it would get better; it would go back to way it used to be. ‘Just go, it won’t ever get better.’”
Solitude puts a hand on my shoulder, “Nothing changed, did it? Yet, that voice held steadfast at your side until you took a chance and left.”
“Yes, Christmas set in motion the voice telling me, urging me, begging me to leave. Since I didn’t leave, Enzo pushed every limit with me.”
“That year,” he says, “Christmas celebrated as a death march. As horrible as it was, Christmas blocks another event, a darker event.” He pauses.
He will say what I don’t want him to say it. With my hands hugging my belly, the feeling of bending over in pain rises. I focus on the sea and ready myself. Perhaps it is better if I speak first without his prompting.
“My birthday,” I admit. My shoulder presses into Solitude whose solid foundation doesn’t falter. “My birthday landed on a Monday the following year. Monday, family day. Monday, his family day. Monday, their family day fortified. He could not, would not, could not even make an exception—Monday, family day, a national holiday for his family, his family alone to share dinner. Mondays, after every Sunday which also was family day. That year, Enzo had just returned from visiting his grandparents in Italy. He returned to the city in the morning, just in time for work. I had not seen him, my live-in lover, for over a week. When I finished work, I stopped by his office to see him to learn about my birthday celebration. I always planned his, and he planned mine.
“His office was near downtown on the second floor of an apartment building. Right away when he opened the downstairs door, I knew, I knew, disappointment had opened the door, and standing nearby was a fight. He opened the door with his right hand and placed his left hand on the door frame to block me from stepping in the doorway, and to show me he would not be stepping outside as he normally did. He would step outside secretly give me a hug, sometimes even a kiss while looking around the alley for reporting eyes. Seeing him standing in the door, I felt like a Jehovah Witness. He didn’t even offer a friendly handshake.”
I stopped my monologue abruptly.
The desire to continue, to finish recounting what happened to me that day conquers me. But, my body hurts as my body hurt that day. Solitude prevents me from falling into the sand at the water’s edge, like I fell that day.
Solitude waits supporting me, encouraging me with silence. These thoughts, these memories, this day, this day I re-live right now, has been placed in a cage inside my memory, a dark cold cage where I could not feed it my fears, my anger, my pain. I shoved it into a cage believing it would remain there. Sometimes, while driving along a country road at night, darkness surrounding me, stars shining, alone in the car—suddenly I’d remember that birthday. Anger would grip the wheel and press the gas pedal. I’d grab that memory, dragging it back to the cage with it brawling to escape.
“I thought this monster accepted the cage I created for it,” I say to Solitude. “I see now, my mistake. A caged memory waits for another day to feud.”
Solitude gives a little smile, “You opened the door which still stands open.”
I detect the subtle hint. The images of that day materialize, vividly appearing in my mind, tossing me back to that day, to the following day, to the weeks shadowing that day with the same mixture of emotions, hatred, fear, heart break, which I endured then being experienced again by me right now on this beach, and I hate it. I hate the memory. I hate that day. I hate Enzo. I hate myself for not leaving, not packing up that day, that night, going leaving, leaving just leaving.
Even though I believe the answer is known to him, Solitude prompts me, “What did you ask him?”
“‘How are we going to celebrate my birthday tonight?’ I pause hoping for reprieve for Solitude to stop me from continuing. Solitude will not hide the truth or reality, so I continue, “Enzo said, ‘Oh, happy birthday.’ Oh, happy birthday,” I repeat mockingly. “Oh, happy birthday. Then he said, ‘We aren’t celebrating tonight, we’ll go out to dinner tomorrow night. I’m going to my parents tonight.’”
My voice fills with derision, “Of course, he had not seen mom and dad for over a week. Such a long time to not see them, he simply had to go, and I simply had to deal with it.”
Then more pain attacks. The pain I knew would return, which must have been returning for the past few weeks.
On that day, that day Enzo’s actions screamed you are not important to me. That day, my chest felt as if my rib cage were being crumpled. Standing with Solitude seems to bring the pain on stronger and compelling me to give details as a hope of staying the pain.
“My weak legs couldn’t carry me to the closest streetcar for me to go home,” I say to Solitude, “so I found a path isolated in a patch of woods, with steps leading down, down into the heart of the city. I was alone which was good because I couldn’t maintain my composure any longer. I sat sheltered by the trees and cried, cried holding my stomach, cried rocking and wailing.
“I couldn’t hold myself tight enough, couldn’t cry hard enough, couldn’t scream enough to stop the pain.” I said. “The pain of my chest, my rib caged being squeezed making it hard for me to breath.”
I take a moment to control myself before I return to the story, attempting to speak conversationally, attempting to hide the anguish. “A couple approached me, both wearing green coats. I remember those green coats. I don’t remember their faces much, but I remember their expressions. I remember the feeling they gave me. Of course, they stopped and considered me, asking if I needed help, what was wrong. I said: ‘es ist mein Hertz.’ It’s my heart.”
I put my hands on my heart as a shield, holding it fast lest the memory, the memory of that day when much of me faded into nothingness. From the day forward, still now, I no longer laugh as much as before; I no longer tell amusing stories about stupid situations as before; I no longer am the same person as before.
I continue, “Suddenly I saw the man’s hand reaching for me, so quickly. He was fast. That moment of his hand held out to touch me remains frozen in a snapshot. But I can’t look around it, all I see is his hand, just the hand, helping, reaching.” I paused, just paused, not for effect, not to regroup. Just to be silent.
To be silent in that memory, with his hand out to me as if I were drowning, as if I were falling from a cliff, as if I were nearly dead—I pause and remain with that hand hoping to help me, offering to help me. I pause because I know the next bit, the next part of the scene, the next movement of the camera. I know what is next and that memory follows me in a strange tenderly painful manner. When I remember the next part, I remain in the pain from Enzo, I remain with the sharp pains cutting my heart, but I also see a glimpse of compassion, a shout of compassion, a whisper of compassion, of brotherhood. Oh, who were these people who haunt my memory, leaving me moved to a place where contradictions paint vivid works of art.
“I saw his hand reaching for me,” I return to Solitude, “and I knew he thought I was physically ill. I said to them: ‘Ich meine, die Liebe.’ Die Liebe. I mean, love. The man raised up slowly, as if backing away from something he knew was dangerous. I have believed he backed away from a pain he may have felt in his life. Thunder did not sound; the earth did not quake. Only a bit a silence in a little patch of trees, as two people realized there wasn’t anything they could do to help.”
I stop, but Solitude won’t let me, so he prompts, “I’m sure they expressed that they wished they could help, knowing the limitations.”
“Whenever I recall that day, I feel they truly knew what Ich meine die liebe meant. They didn’t quickly run away but remained for what seemed a long time as I calmed. I thanked they for stopping, for offering to help. They replied with a nod, and slowly walked down the stairs to their own lives. I sometimes hope that they talked about it with friends at dinner parties, or over coffee. That they tell their friends about this guy who they thought was having a heart attack, but they discovered it was a broken heart. I do wish that they did tell someone and that person told them what a great act of compassion they performed by simply stopping. I hope someone told them that so that they know what they have meant to me.”
I feel a tight squeeze from Solitude.
“They considered me. I assured them I’d be ok, in time. When they walked away, I noticed she held his arm. They were a very a pretty couple.”
I take a deep breath in frustration and anger, then release it, pushing it from me. “I really don’t want to talk about Enzo. Why are we talking about him anyway?” I say taking a few steps away, retreating, regrouping, redirecting.
“Enzo? Why Enzo,” I say turning away.
“We’re not talking about Enzo: we’re talking about you.”
I glance over my shoulder at Solitude whose body is relaxed, confident, tender. “I thought Solitude was the bringer of peace.”
“Eventually,” he says with a smile, a breathy snicker. “I hope to bring you peace. You’re able to talk and think about this memory, re-live the pain. A few weeks ago, facing this painful memory, this memory you share with no one, a memory you have hidden inside you hoping the darkness of your deep subconscious would kill it.”
The sea swells to calm; the wind chants to cool; porpoises surface to breath.
Solitude holds me with his eyes, gently, friendly, “The events surrounding Enzo, the abuse—it is too much too process at one time. Little by little, you’ll be able to resolve this issue, and pain will no longer control your heart.”
Solitude releases me, then glancing at the sea, he continues, “You’ll have more difficulties with men and relationships in the future. You’ll ignore men and remain single. Later, you’ll try to date again but without selection. You’ll meet men who'll judge you for your beliefs. You’ll learn this lesson quickly; then you’ll use it so no one ever steps in the place Enzo dominated. You are not holding the space for Enzo’s return; rather, you are simply preventing another lover form residing in that home.”
I watch him, not with anger, not fear, just waiting, listening to him.
“Enzo will reappear over and over in your mind. Even in your dreams. You’ll be confused for a time thinking you’re trying to get over the relationship. You have recovered from the loss of the relationship. Now, you are examining the more important and more difficult issue of his abuse.”
The word Abuse clashes against my head. “I wasn’t abused. He never hit me.” Shaking my head ‘no’.
Solitude’s voice drops to not express exaggeration, “Yes, you were. It was abuse. Emotional abuse.” His heavy words knock a hole in the protective glass house surrounding my memories which I had buried deep within my subconscious.
“Emotional abuse? Is that what our relationship was?” I ask honestly.
“Getting you dependent on him, the isolation. The sabotage of happy times. All abusers use these activities to control, punish, and emotionally strip their victim.”
“Is this why I hold so much anger and hatred toward him?”
“Yes,” Solitude says. “That anger will be directed in destructive directions, projected on to other men. You’ll cause fights, where no fights need be; you’ll cause tension to grow in you, where no tension need be.”
“How am I going get rid of this anger?”
“If only anger could be done away with by using bubble wrap, popped into flat unusable plastic and tossed aside. Anger is an emotion. Emotions are dealt with by addressing them honestly, fully, and carefully. You have to make an effort to stop being angry. ”
“That’s not likely to happen.” I turn my eyes back to the sea.
“Not today,” he says and I hear his smile, “This is not the debriefing but the briefing.”
“Before the battle.”
“The briefing before a descent into hell,” he says.
I quickly glance at him and find him not smiling, not joking. He’s not employing hyperbole.
“You’re going to be dealing with this in many ways, most of them destructive. There will be tears, there will be anger. You’ll argue with Enzo in your head. You’ll cry about Enzo while you are alone. At times, you will feel dead inside. You’ll try to remember the last time you laughed honestly, loudly, but you won’t be able to remember it. You’ll even believe Enzo killed you. Yes, this is the briefing before a descent into hell.”
While overwhelmed and nervous, I understand Solitude. Often over the past months, I asked myself what happened to the old fun loving me. Why do I not laugh like I used to laugh? Why am I no longer the recontour at parties? I’m a serious, smiling, sad person. “Will it ever be over?”
“Over, as in finished? No, but it will get easier. Manageable. Livable. Remember what the mother in Torch Song Trilogy says?”
“She says that we don’t get over a death, we just get used to it like wearing a new ring or a pair of glasses. She says the loss becomes a part of us.”
“If you allow yourself to deal with the abuse honestly, the ring will become a part of you the same way. Except one day you’ll take off the ring because you will have grown and the ring will no longer fit. You’ll put it in a box, seeing it from time to time, remembering from time to time.”
“I find myself regretting and wishing I hadn’t been so stupid.”
“We all have had moments we wish never happened but directing your energy in dreaming impedes healing.”
My eyes look at the sea and we remain quiet. For the last few weeks, I’ve endured the first symptoms, the first pains of dealing with the realization I was abused.
Abuse. Abuse sounds violent, yet it comes in many forms. I was controlled, emotionally neglected. Epiphanies, I believed, are sudden realizations of something positive. Yet, I stand at the sea feeling pain, feeling lonely, feeling scared of my epiphany. Epiphanies are realizations of reality.
I need this quiet, the quiet of the sea in October.
Time passes slowly until Solitude says, “You cannot remain here. The sea doesn’t allow for avoidance. She fortifies, but she doesn’t hide.”
I understand and accept and start to walk away, but Solitude holds my arm for one last bit of advice, “Marshall, in the future, your body-memory will come alive, and if not ignored will lead you to me. Listen to the body-memory and allow your body to help you. Listen and remember the sea.”
I nod and he releases me. As I walk away, the wind off the sea follows me to bring farewells and good lucks. I turn toward west.
My right foot rises moving forward as I begin my new journey to my new home somewhere in the future, somewhere warm, cozy, loving, restful. Somewhere without anger, where abuse never visits.
Standing diagonally from me, I see a gray figure of a man pointing. The Gray Man Ghost points not to the sea as he normally points, as a warning of the impending storm but pointing to the west, the direction of my journey. A mixture of foreboding and comfort permeate me.
“Marshall,” Solitude says, causing me to look over my shoulder; the Gray Man disappears, “rejoice . . . for joy will come to you.”
Dedicated to Dr. Karen Gainey