Hurricane

So, it’s hurricane time where I live.

My daughter asked if I had ever been through a hurricane before, and the answer is a solid “no”.  I grew up in Michigan, the land of snow and construction.  It gets cold there, but you don’t get hurricanes.  I’ve always been fascinated by them, riveted by weather reports about them, and somehow Z and Melinda both picked up that high alert to weather systems that I have.  I watched the forecasts for Katrina for days out, thinking about how I would prepare if I had somehow been in that path.

I am now.

We were on vacation last week, unbelieveably on a cruise ship in the Atlantic, being chased by Hurricane Irene.  The ship diverted from some ports and steamed up North more quickly than expected, giving us long, lovely days at sea that seemed blissful and calm.  All the while we watched the news feed from New York and realized that when we arrived home to Connecticut, we would be sitting squarely in the bullseye of a forecast hurricane.

Now you Gulf Coasters are probably chuckling at the hysteria being created by us East Coasters by Irene, but to be fair, we don’t do this that often here.  I certainly haven’t ever seen anything come on this course in the nearly 7 years I’ve lived here.  We’ve seen some tropical storm force type storms, but a real hurricane, with sustained winds over 12 hours or more?

Yeah, we’re not used to that type of thing.  Nor’easter, no problem.  But this?  We’re all kind of freaking.

So I went to the grocery store as soon as we arrived home from our lovely trip.  Just like you see on TV:  shelves emptied of bread and bottled water, long lines at the check out.  Batteries were the stuff of dreams, emptied from their end caps in every area of the store.  Mostly, people being nice and generous with each other. But a frantic look in everyone’s eyes as they grabbed peanut butter and granola bars off the shelves and into their carts.

R went to the hardware store in search of a generator.  Four stops later, he gave up, and reported the batteries were a pipe dream where he’d been as well.  A girlfriend posted on Facebook that batteries were still available at the adult toys store half an hour away, but no where else.  We chuckled, but it’s a little creepy.  Newscasters are smartly asking people to prepare for days to a week without power, which is daunting but honestly the right move.  We’ll be filling up our water pitchers and containers later today (many people around here have well water, which means they lose water with power….we don’t have a well, but we’re still going to make sure we have water available just in case).  We’re pulling in everything from outside.  I’ve done the groceries.  The biggest job is the basement; if the power goes out we’ll lose our sump pump, and likely get water in there.  With eight to twelve inches of rain predicted for our bullseye location, we have to get everything up off the ground or in plastic just to be safe.  We have gas in our cars and cash in our wallets, and we’re ready.  Last night, we made Hurricane drinks from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe and cooked food from the freezer in our attempt at a good old fashioned Hurricane Party.

Otherwise, we’ll be hunkering down, charging our batteries and hoping for a miss.  As the sun comes up Monday morning, we’ll know if we made it through unscathed or not.

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Beach Musings

I was sitting on our patio at our beach condo, the day after Christmas, huddling against the chilly breeze.  I loved our Florida Christmases, with R’s parents and my father all together; it was our new family tradition.  Most people went to the beach in the summer, but we went for our Christmas holiday, and I looked forward to it every year.  Up in CT they were expecting a Nor’easter today with at least a foot of snow; while it was cold here for Florida, the breeze was still warm enough to be relaxing, not biting, on my face.

I loved these quiet moments watching the sunrise while my family still slept in their vacation beds.  Sometimes my dad would stay over a few nights and he’d sit here with me on our patio, the world not awake yet, and watch the sun coming up.  I remember my mother used to do the same at her friend’s beach house, and it always reminded me of her, being at the beach.  I breathed in and out and let my mind wander.

I thought of Joe, still.  Over the weeks my anger had continued, but as life had continued in its usual routine, I found myself not obsessing on my new found knowledge every minute of the day.  But as my thoughts passed over Joe and what he was doing this Christmas, they landed on someone else whom I’d known during that time in my life.  I wondered where Ray was, right now.

Ray, my first boyfriend, the first person I’d ever agreed to marry, the man who brought to me my first real love and my first hearbreak.  We’d kept in loose touch over the years; I’d last seen him in the 90s.   We’d met for lunch one warm summer day right after R and I got married.  It turned out that Ray had gotten married after the demise of our engagement, but divorced a few years later.  He’d left the army and lived with his parents for a while; this was when I’d last seen him.  I didn’t hear from him for a few years after that, but sometime when I lived in Ohio I’d received an email telling me that he now lived out west and had a daughter with a woman in Utah.   I didn’t hear from him again until I lived in CT, when I received another email.  By now he’d lived in Key West sailing boats, traveled to Russia and France and Canada and all over the Carribbean and lived a full but crazy life.  He had just settled down with another woman, who’d borne him a second child, and now lived with her in Germany.

I’d reread that email dozens of times, feeling that tinge of regret and questioning of life.  I’d long ago stopped being angry or resentful of his treatment of me during our dating years; I’d accepted my own responsibility as well.  But there had always been something about Ray; his gruff, masculine exterior masking a warm, caring person underneath.  I was grateful to hear he was happy with his life now, though I had to admit, quite jealous of it.  He’d traveled the world; I’d hardly been anywhere.  My life had seemed full and pretty fortunate until I looked at it through the lenses of my old friend, who’d done so much more since we’d last seen each other.  Hearing from Ray brought into focus all of the ways that my current life wasn’t the life that I might have had if one choice either of us had made had gone differently.

He was actually here, right now, in Florida.  I knew he wasn’t far away, just down the road really in Clearwater.  Every person who walked by on the beach, I wondered if it was him.   Unbelieveably, his parents were “snow birds” (those who spent summers up north and winters in Florida) and had a place about twenty minutes away in Clearwater.  The thought of Ray and his wife and daughter away in Germany made communication safe and satisfying; the ability to have questions answered from this person who’d known me for so long was a gift.  But the idea of running into him at the Publix where we bought our groceries for the week made my skin prickly warm.  What would I say if I saw him?  What would he say?  I looked out at the beach in front of me and imagined him walking towards me during one of my morning walks.  Like a scene from a movie, me walking north and him walking south, each of us out of focus until the other knew exactly who was in front of them.  What would happen then?

The picture stayed fuzzy in my head; it was probably better that way.

Vacation

I am on vacation this week, going back to my family who still live back in Michigan, as I alluded to in my previous post.  I tried to make sure I had enough posts to get me through the week while staying at my sister’s house, but unfortunately I am going to not be able to cover a few days this weekend while I’m in transition back to “My Current Life” in Connecticut.

I spent this morning visiting the tree lined neighborhood where I lived prior to my parents’ divorce, and took pictures of the elementary school where I went for my first five years of school.  It was definitely surreal to drive down that same street where I delivered papers, the same street that inspired my very first post here, Paper Routes and Sunrises.  I wrote it a year and a half ago; what a strange feeling to be in the same place at such a very different time in my life.  They say you can’t go home, and it is very true…my time here hasn’t brought me peace at all, but I never suspected it would.  It’s probably easier, and better for my peace of mind, to recreate the stories in my mind than to actually physically revisit My Former Life.

So I’ll be back here in a few days to tell a few more stories, though we’re getting very close…I’m currently writing stories now that happened AFTER I started this blog last year.  I’ll be finished soon, and somehow, My Former Life will meld into My Current Life.  Until then, I’ll be trying to keep my head above the lapping waters of the past that is surrounding me in every sense of the word for the next few days.  It’s not an easy journey, but I hope that when I come out the other end, I’ll be better for it.

Lucky Girl

The boy held my hand. The boy kissed me. And he was OLDER. I wasn’t even sure how to think about this, the feelings I was feeling. I should have been scared. This was the kind of thing that could end very, very badly. I was out late, with my mother having no idea where I was, with a boy I’d just met a few hours ago, and he was touching me and kissing me. It was very compromising, and I was just shy of my fourteenth birthday.

I was extremely lucky. This was actually a nice boy. This story could have ended very differently, but strangely, here’s how it ended.

The boys dropped Dawn and I off around three in the morning in our neighborhood, at Dawn’s friend Shawn’s house. Of course neither of us could go home, so we found a hidden spot to talk for a few hours about what had happened. The Boy had asked for my phone number and wanted to call me. Which, all things considered, was kind of amazing. I had never “made out” with a boy before, but I was pretty sure that when you got to first base with a girl that you’d just met and didn’t go to school with, it would be pretty easy not to follow up on that. So for him to want to call me at some point was really something. I wasn’t sure at all how I’d explain the “how we met” part to my mother, or the “yes, he’s three crucial years older than me” part. By the time we both wandered home at seven in the morning (me timing my arrival to take place just after my mother left for work, because my sister would still be asleep, so there would be no questions as to why I was coming home so early), I was smiling with anticipation of what it would be like to date. I’d never had a boyfriend before, ever.

And sure enough, the boy did call me, a few days later. On the phone, he admitted that he wasn’t three years older than me; he was six years older than me. Anticipation turned to fear. I made out with a nineteen year old? What would he expect from me? I knew what boys that age expected from their girlfriends. What would we have in common? He told me he worked at a gas station and where he lived, which was not far at all from where I lived. My fear turned to panic; I didn’t want to date a nineteen year old who worked at a gas station! I wanted to date a nice, high school boy who studied but knew how to have fun too. This was not at all what I bargained for.

I told The Boy politely that I didn’t think it would work out for us to date, that the age difference was too great, and that we couldn’t possibly have very much in common. I felt kind of creeped out that this guy would have made out with me all night; what kind of guy that age likes a fourteen year old girl? I was relieved when he agreed.

I had to be nuts. A good looking older boy wanted to date me, the first guy who ever had, and I turned him down.

Paper Routes and Sunrises

It was…the summer of 1980.

I was not quite yet 10 years old, and it was just before 5am.  I left my house on my blue two wheeler in the cool darkness, finding my way through the sleepy suburban streets.  No one was awake at home when I left; not my mother, not my older sister or brother.  I wasn’t even sure that anyone knew I was gone.

The sky was pitch black, save for the tiny speckles of stars that punched through.

I was up this early because I had promised to help my friend Brian with his Sunday morning paper route.   I had been helping him after school for months.  I loved the whole idea of being able to make money at something at our age.  The only thing I’d ever done to make money was to sell Girl Scout cookies, and that money went back to the troop.  He shared some of his profits with me, and I was hoping that maybe I could start filling in for him on a more regular basis.

Plus, I liked spending time with Brian.  He lived a few streets over from me in our neighborhood.  He had been in my classes at our elementary school since first grade.  Back in those days, you were tracked by ability.  Brian and I always ended up together because we were “the smart kids”.  We would challenge each other in class and play chess while the rest of the students finished work we’d already completed.

Brian didn’t seem to mind all of the things that made me insecure:  my coke bottle glasses, the goofy haircut I was still growing out from last year’s disastrous “bowl cut”, the fact that I was the only kid I knew with divorced parents.   It didn’t seem to matter to him, and I was happy to have someone to spend some time with outside of literary characters.  I’d spent the whole previous year with Harriet the Spy and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it was nice to have real conversations with a real person.

On Sundays, paper kids went to the distribution center early in the morning.  This center was fortunately a short bike ride from both of our homes, and we met up there.    The first step in getting the papers ready was to put inside of each and every paper you were to deliver the Sunday supplements.  The shiny packets of coupons and magazines were sorted and bundled, but the kids had to place one in the fold of every paper for delivery.  Hence the 5 am arrival time.

Brian and I, working together, quickly loaded up our papers.  The next step was to load the paper bags that balanced on the back of his bike.  The paper delivery bags had two pouches, one that hung on either side of the back wheel.   We loaded the papers carefully so that he could ride his bike without it being lopsided.  The papers went in folded up, so that they would be easy to grab.

We had a mile long stretch of houses to deliver to.  Each paper had to be placed between the storm door and the front door; there was no tossing them at the houses or the end of driveways like you’d see in the movies.  It was a long process, and the rules were that you had to have the route done by 8 am.

We finished the route with him, with time to spare.  He worked hard, he never complained, and it made me want to rise to the same level.  We talked while we delivered; about the upcoming presidential election between Reagan and Carter, about our friends at school, about our bikes, about chess.

When we were done, we stopped in a vacant lot and watched the sky glow brighter, until the sun was well into the sky.  It was quiet, and still.   There was peace there, a calm that I wasn’t used to experiencing at that point in my life.

The moment passed, though, too quickly, and it was time to go home.  We went our separate ways on our now empty bikes.  I softly closed the front door behind me;  no one knew I’d even gone out of the house.

But I came home different than I left.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that the presence of one person can make an ordinary moment rise to an entirely different level.   It was the first time I recognized specific qualities that I admired in someone of the opposite sex:  intelligence, thriftiness, industriousness, and humor.

I called him my first boyfriend, and he called me his first girlfriend.    And I glowed like the sun we’d shared that morning.

Brian and I lost touch after the fifth grade when we both moved away from the neighborhood.  I spent years wondering whatever happened to him; his move took him out of state.   Last year, on a whim, I searched out his unusual last name on Facebook.  I messaged the one person I found that might fit the criteria for Brian with:

Hi,  I recently got contacted through Facebook by CK and JVL…and we’re all going down memory lane. Are you by any chance Brian who went to Tenniswood Elementary??  If you’re not, so sorry!

I received the following in response:

Of course it’s me. Not too many Brian’s (with this last name) out there!  I don’t remember the other two names, but yours certainly is familiar. In fact, I wrote it down a few months back when I had to list my first crush (one of those “remember when…” surveys). I think we were seven years old. How have you been?

And all I could do was feel the glow rise again in my cheeks, the same way it did that morning when I was 9 years old.

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