Breaking the Tape

22 09 2015

In my dreams I am unpacking boxes, frantically looking for things that simply don’t exist. Box after box, I am ripping off layers of packing tape, excavating flap seams and coming up disappointed as I rummage through hastily packed items that might have just as well been left behind.

I wake myself in frustration, in a sweat, I can’t get back to sleep.

What is it that I am mining for? That is so important as to cause palpable frustration even in wakefulness?

Last night, as I was laying down to sleep, I saw a light up on the hillside. After a week, I am still unfamiliar with the placement of celestial pathways.  Will the sun peek through here in this moment, or will I miss it while I am off picking up scratch at the feed store?  I haven’t learned this yet because there haven’t been enough moments to just sit still and notice. Danae and I have yet to do what we promised we’d do every night — sit out on the deck in the evening and savor a glass of wine before dinner.

I remained still in order to see if the light was fixed or moving. Was it the moon shining through the trees, or were some mischievous teens using our logging road to make their way out of the ever popular condemned neighborhood evacuated after the 1982 slide?

I made my way through the house to the bathroom to find Danae in the shower and asked her to come and weigh in when she was finished.  I could see movement, but couldn’t be sure if it was the light, or branches in front of the light creating an illusion.

Danae finished her shower and came into the room. “The sky is bright,” she said. “Could be the moon. But let me go out on the deck and get a better look.”

Her fearlessness, one of the things that comforts me about her, has become contagious. Unlike living in a neighborhood, it will take two of us willing to confront anything to be effective parents and livestock owners here.

As she goes out to the deck, I begin to wonder what we will do if we deem the light to be from people — chicken thieves? — and brazen people to shine a light in direct view of the house when they can clearly see we are still up. Our neighbor, Noel, told us a story of finding some wayward teens hanging out in one of his many yurts (Noel and Judy own 220 acres that envelop our tiny 5.2 in a conservational land hug). He had no problem reminding them that they were on private property. They ended up being harmless.

Out my window the light moves and disappears.

Danae comes back, “It was definitely the moon,” she says. I know that in some instances she has learned that it is better to lie to me. I question whether to question her in this moment.

“Are you sure,” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “the sky is completely lit up out there. It is definitely the moon.” She tucks me in and I decide to accept what she is telling me, remembering that statistically the more likely of two answers is usually the correct answer.

I continue to look outside my window. All of the things that initially frightened me about living here — the potential for mountain lion encounters, the remoteness, the snakes, the mudslides — are receding in my ever-changing list of priorities of things to think about. The need to get things done far overshadows any fear, and the growing sadness that I am feeling about my father is buying up emotional real estate.

Gwen called him to thank him for her birthday flowers. When she hung up the phone she made a wheezy, weak voice and said, “He sounds like this.”

At Gwen’s birthday party, my mom told us she had called him to offer her support. “He got all pissy with me,” she said.

“Well, what did you say to him,” my sister and I asked.

“I told him he sounded like shit,” she said, as though stating the obvious.

My sister and I purse our lips but then can’t help but laugh. Yeah, I wonder why he got pissy.

Mountain lions are nothing compared to the apprehension I feel about calling him when I come off the mountain this morning. I know he will tell me what he is doing to fight, but I am not one to listen to what is directly given to me. Subtext is, and always has been, my sustenance.

Yesterday I unloaded the last truck load of stuff from Garden Street.  Danae’s knee has been very painful, so I had to do everything myself.  The kids were less than helpful, both of them acting out in extraordinary ways. These are the moments that I fantasize about violence in the same way others might fantasize about a tropical vacation. I use my anger to lift heavy boxes muttering, “Lazy, spoiled, selfish…” Occasionally one or the other hears me and calls back, “we can hear you!”

I know the sight of the truck makes everything final for them and that they must feel anxious and confused.

The tree swing and Sky Chair come out of the truck and, while we are now surrounded by trees, there is immediately nowhere to put them. Coastal Redwoods simply don’t have the low, thick branches that our American Elm had on Garden Street.  It will take some thinking and searching to find replacement homes for these items.

By the end of the evening, of course, we’re all calmed down. Gwen is still without her phone because she taunted us by saying we never follow through.  Just watch us.

K talks out his feelings with me while laying on the trampoline under the trees.

“I miss our tree,” he says, then comes to full tears.

On our backs, faces pointing skyward, we stay perfectly still and watch as the dead leaves fall from the oak trees and land close to our faces. We imagine what the area surrounding the house will look like in October after we have the trees dead wooded and thinned.  There will be more visible sky then. I wrap my whole body around him and his mood begins to lift.

This morning I must drive the truck back over the mountain to return it.  I don’t want to.  Now that I am here, the one final thing, the last possible thing that ties me to “there”, feels utterly impossible. It’s the finish line. If you’ve ever run a race, or biked a race, you know the feeling. You push and push and pace yourself and then you turn the corner and there it is, the banner that signifies you’ve arrived, you’ve made it, and suddenly you feel as though you can’t go one foot further to cross over. Danae would have returned it last night, but I felt it was too much for her to do.

There is so much left to do.  There will always be much to do.  In many ways that is the appeal of this move. Living here takes us outside of our petty concerns — away from a neighborhood where increasingly people are policing what you do on your own property. The more money people spend on homes, the more literal investment they have in the property values in the neighborhood and the more they try to manage what it is everyone else is doing that they feel impacts that investment.  It’s out of control.  Here we have more immediate, real life concerns.

Up on the hill yesterday evening, Danae, Kaherdin and I were feeding the chickens.

“I’m really happy,” Danae said.  “I know we’re drowning in shit right now, but I’m really happy here.”

I begin to suspect that she volunteers to care for the chickens just as an excuse to drive the Polaris.

Last night, just before bed, she says it again.

It’s eight a.m. and a gaggle of strange men is descending upon me.  I hear their trucks pulling up outside and one has already come up with some tools on the deck.  This has become my morning routine.  I sip my coffee and enjoy my quiet from 6:15 until their arrival.  I am still in my PJs. I no longer care.  They are both nuisance and company and will be for another month and a half.

I’ve downed the morning latte that Danae brings from the Ben Lomond Bakery every morning. The combination of caffeine and vertical stature has my brain working at half power. I will print the cabinet measurements for the contractor to review, I will alert him that our appliances are in for delivery and we will need the gas line for the stove installed sooner. I will shower, I will dress, I will ship out FG orders. I will return the truck and call my father.

I try not to look around me. The boxes, the unfinished deck enclosure, the “kitchen” devoid of cabinets and appliances. I remember two and a half years ago when we lived through a remodel at Garden Street.  We’ve got this.

In 2001, when Danae and I bought the house on Garden Street, one of her co-workers congratulated us on the purchase, then cautioned us. “You do realize,” she said, “that when you become a homeowner, your life becomes a never-ending list of 100 things to do.” I resisted.  I’m a doer, a girl of action. That would never be me.

My list came off the fridge two and a half years ago when I finally gave up on completing the little bits of baseboard behind large pieces of furniture, when I realized that the suggestion to fence in the garden applied to a section of the yard that had long been paved over, when I gave in to the realization that I no longer gave a shit.

I begin to realize something that I’ve learned before in different facets of my life.  Maybe there is no finish line, there is just doing what you need to do in order to move forward and taking the necessary breaks along the way.

It is 4:30 and I arrive home with Kaherdin. Danae and Gwen have beat us here. I climb the stairs into the house and walk back to the “master bath” to survey the work that has been done. They have cut the hole for the shower window. They have taken down the funky light box. They have roofed over the DIY skylight (a piece of plexiglass that had been glued down to a wooden frame). Satisfied that there was a good eight hours in what they’d done, I walk to the fridge and open it.

“Do you know what we need to do tonight,” Danae asks.

“Sit on the deck,” I say.

We have been here for a week and a half now and not once have we done any of the things that lured us here. We have not sat on the deck or gone for a walk. I haven’t been down to the creek in ages.

We make our way out to the deck and enjoy a beer together for the first time in our new home. We share about our days and, for twenty minutes, we feel almost normal.

I tell Danae that I only got to leave a message for my dad, but that my sister spoke to him. He’s out of the hospital and following his protocol. He feels he is going to beat this. I have decided to follow his lead. When she called him, he was driving to pick up our step-mother at the train station.

“Xiao-ke is here,” he said.

As my sister opened her mouth to say, “give her my love,” he hung up the phone on her.  Back to normal.  Shitty as it is, It’s a good sign.

Danae looks up at the changing light. “We should go up and feed the chickens before dark,” she says. She gets the Polaris key and drives it to the back driveway to unload while I go in the house and start dinner. By the time she comes in, I have food prepared for us — meals are so much quicker to the table when all you have is a catering burner and a microwave.

“Let’s eat, then all of us go up to the chickens,” I offer.

We set the table out on the deck and the four of us enjoy our meal. Microwave burritos for the kids, cucumber salad and leftovers from Gwen’s birthday for us. Quick and dirty as it is, it’s the most enjoyable dinner we’ve had in ages.

After dinner, Gwen and I hike up the hill, while Danae and Kaherdin drive up the logging road in the Polaris. We work together to get the chickens food and water and imagine what it will be like one day to have a pool on this very spot.

“It will be amazing,” I say. I realize in that moment that we set our own finish lines. Every little piece of life is a segment with it’s own start, it’s own finish, it’s own rest stops along the way. It’s up to us to set the finish in a place that we are able to reach without harm so that we can look forward to the next segment and the next. Maybe it’s not about finish lines at all, perhaps it’s just about moving forward while making sure to take advantage of the rest stops along the way.

I tuck the kids in before crawling into my own bed. Just before I turn out the light, Gwen walks into my room and lays down beside me.  “Mama,” she says, “I need to talk.”

“What’s going on,” I ask.

“A lot.”

“Is it the move,” I ask.

“It’s the move, it’s teenage hormones, it’s grandpa, it’s Poppy. I’m scared.”

I wrap myself around her and give her the pep talk I’ve been giving myself all week.

“It’s a lot,” I say. “All the things on your plate right now probably amounts to way more than anyone else you know.” I tell her that Poppy is responsible for his own health. He needs to exercise better self care and that his outcome is entirely beyond our control. I tell her that Grandpa is finally out of the hospital and ready to fight his cancer head on.  All we can do is follow his lead. I remind her that we’ve lived through a remodel before. Remember how good Garden Street turned out?  We will get there.  What matters most in this moment is that we are going through all of this together. We are working toward building something wonderful.

I know everything I tell her is true, and, apparently, so does she, because with a kiss on her forehead she is ready to go upstairs to bed.

It is 8:00 a.m. the next day. I am sipping my latte from the bakery and three trucks have just pulled up outside. I am in my PJs and I don’t care. Today all I have to do is get out some Faerie Goatmother orders, then wait for a friend to arrive. She is coming for a visit and I will have the chance to show her this place through the eyes we had when we bought it. We have promised the kids that we will go to the swimming hole after school. Tonight, another dinner on the deck. Friday night we will have dinner at the beach. We have direction but, suddenly, there isn’t a finish line in sight and, also suddenly, I very much intend to keep it that way.

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