Parting Ways

What happens during those forty years? Inside the exile, even well past the halfway mark, it is never clear that only a stretch remains. It is simply life. For the ones who learn to walk on shifting sand, this landscape is the world of waking and of dreams. They rise in the frigid morning, the last stars disappearing from the sky, the canvas streaked crimson with yet another layer of the known. This is beauty. This is Is. It is only because of the sad, faraway eyes of their parents and the strange outbursts at unfamiliar deprivations that the young ones even know of the Promised Land.
That other home, that Before and Beyond, must be a torturous place if it so frayed the tempers and tightened the jaws of their elders. In that unknown land, the shattered hearts of the elders live on, orphaned from the obstinate skeletons shambling through their banishment. Who would want to return to a world that has made the old ones recoil from the copper ribbons of the very earth beneath their feet? That has so blinded their vision to the marvels of a scorpion slowly poisoning its prey for an afternoon meal?
The children grow inside those years. Their bodies move with the rhythm of the stark seasons. In the awakening music of fertile flesh, they grow children of their own. They nourish their young nomads with cactus meat and the flesh of lizards cooked over low, dry fires. Their babies’ soft scalps absorb whispered incantations against the dark prophesies of the elders who cling to life with a barbed, unbending grip.
Even at year 39, they have no idea that this is not forever. Beneath the gaze of the grandparents, the young ones chafe as they say prayers aloud in a distant tongue to a god they have never met. In the silent conversations of their own hearts, they speak to sand and sky, and ask only for a better hunt, a low wind, and that perhaps the baby will come without trouble. They do not know deliverance is drawing ever closer. If they were to learn of it, they would guide the old ones to the border and gently nudge them to cross over. Then they would steer the remaining caravan back to the sloping, arid valley they have crossed a hundred times, and claim that unfixed landscape as their true home.





I suppose two and a half weeks is a nice reprieve. After all, Christmas and New Year’s filled the space with noise and ribbons. This weekend, however, the magnitude of the change hit me like a blunt object. I’m divorced? Hell’s bells. What now?

Sunday was one of those low, swimming-in-the-cesspool-of-despair days. An overindulgence of self pity left me far more bloated than even eating the whole pan of Rice Krispie Treats (not that I’ve ever done that before). Between bouts of crying and morbid thoughts about my unavoidable fate as a bag lady, I did manage to read a few chapters on the origins of the universe, fill several pages of my journal, and go to both Zumba and the contra dance. It is a small comfort to notice that my wallowing behavior has matured even if my panicky thinking has not.

On days like these, it feels as if I am trying to keep a dinghy afloat on the open water. Bug is in the back in his oversized life vest, holding the sides of the wobbling boat and asking, “Which way, Mommy? Where are we going?” We have no map of the stars, no sextant, and no horizon for which to aim. Our store of hardtack is shrinking precariously. In every direction, we face the blank, surging sea.

This metaphor is a joke. We are not anywhere near the ocean. We are paddling along the Intracoastal Waterway somewhere around Boca Raton. Just off the starboard side, the Banana Boat is pulsing with the boozy chatter of cruising singles. The salt is on the rim, the tequila is top shelf. Conch fritters, karaoke, even crayons and a kids’ menu. A few from the crowd wave us over, their happy hollers echoing off the murky water.

A diving boat passes on our other side, its captain and skipper engaged in earnest conversation. They are off to hunt for abandoned traps, to find the unintended victims – the sea turtles and marlins caught unawares and left to die. Their work is the only thing that matters. The tactics for achieving results require research and debate and quick decisions when the Coast Guard is bearing down. They need extra hands. They invite us to board, but they have neither the time nor the attention for us to dilly-dally as we assess our options.

At the edge of the water, a man stands on the pier. His smile is kind. He is good with knots. He gestures towards an open slip. In moments, we could have our feet on dry land.

Hell, if we keep looking, we could even find a riverboat with an all-night swing band and a cabin for two.

This is how it is. Up and down this stretch of wet highway, docks and ports and way stations turn our heads. Some are roomy enough to accommodate us. Others, we will have to squeeze our way in. Entertainment, conversation, direction, distraction.

As for Bug? He just wants whatever passes closest. Whatever makes the biggest splash. Whatever shines.

“Go faster, Mommy!”

Such an abundance of options! More than enough. We could troll up and down, sampling everything on offer. We could choose to dock, and leave our patched-up vessel to rust. We could fill a year or a decade making the circuit of this populous scratch along the edge of our continent. Our bellies would be full. Our heads dry.

All this assumes we don’t remember what is just beyond the mouth of the here and now.

That open water. That nauseating, restless sea.

If only I had the courage to plunge us out into its merciless expanse.

“Which way, Mommy? Where are we going?”

Today, as poorly equipped as I feel (and probably am), I choose the metaphor that makes me sick with exhilaration:

Wave and smile but paddle on. Pull our little tin can out to where the horizon is beyond reach. Get ourselves hopelessly lost. Learn to fish. Learn the stars.

In the absence of a way, make our own.