Something About Nothing

19 10 2015

We’ve probably all heard the saying, doing nothing is a choice, but what does it really mean to “do nothing”? Nothing is a relative, subjective term, and sometimes doing nothing is doing everything that you need to do in any given moment.

Thursday night Kaherdin was suffering what appears to be a migraine. He’s never had one before, but after a particularly stressful car ride home from school with Danae and Gwen (whatever transpired, Danae saw fit to ban Kaherdin from TV and Gwen from the school dance), he developed a headache so painful that he needed to wear a sleeping mask for the rest of the evening. After a heartfelt apology to Danae (for apparently calling her “retarded”), we allowed him blindfolded on the sofa while we watched a couple of episodes of Drunk History. I rubbed his temple with one hand and wrapped my other arm around him. Before eight o’clock he was breathing deeply and steadily. He was out for the count.

Earlier, Danae had connected the dots. K had a field trip that day to the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  Danae theorized that K’s meltdown and migraine were a result of being a completely overloaded introvert.

K has recently been self-identifying as introverted. He fits the bill. He and I share many of the same qualities: we’re observers, we need to take alone breaks when around large groups of people, we prefer one-on-one or small group social interactions, the day after being around a lot of people we tend to be exhausted and/or crabby.

We’ve been discussing the needs of introverts a lot since moving here. I’ve begun to take the things I feel out of the “preference” category and place them neatly and firmly in the “needs” category. For years I’ve felt that I’ve had something to prove, whether to my in-laws that I was of value to my family and not a freeloader just because I don’t have a full time job (the question, “WHEN are you going back to work?” started very soon after Gwen was born), or to my parents that I was creating a life they could be proud of. What got lost in all of that proving was me. I’ve spent the past decade and a half feeling spent, beyond spent, as I’ve buried myself beneath a shell of what others wanted me to be. I don’t want that for Kaherdin. I’ve taken the change in lifestyle very seriously, as I set out to make an example that he can follow in how to identify and take care of his own needs.

Monday through Thursday I had kept the dogs in the house as Doug worked on drywalling the new bathroom and kitchen. I placed a dog gate across the length of the kitchen to protect Doug from getting his ankles bitten, and by Thursday was able to get the dogs to be calm by putting on a movie for them to listen to in the background. I was exhausted. Doug is a lovely man and we enjoy talking with each other, but still, every morning at 8 a.m. there is at least one man in my house. The dogs and I cannot live in the house the way we would otherwise. Friday I made a decision — not about tile or which vanity would go in the new bathroom, I made the decision to do nothing.

I crated the dogs and headed to Santa Cruz to our favorite Indian restaurant. They have a lovely lunch buffet for $9.95. I got some food to go, then drove to Seabright Beach, walked close to the water, put down my chair, took off my shoes and ate my food.  The food tasted amazing. The sun was mild, the breeze was soft, my toes wriggled in the sand.  I could feel the stress of the week melting away. My cell phone would not receive a charge, so I was completely and totally disconnected for the day.  No calls, no texts, just this. I sat there for nearly two hours watching a sea otter surf the waves, watching sea birds dive, watching dolphins swim past.  It was heaven.

Saturday Danae and I worked as part of Jim’s crew to build the Tuff Shed. Danae has spent weeks trying to get someone over here to construct the 10×16 loafing shed, but everyone so far has flaked. Jim arrived around 9:30 and we quickly got to work leveling the dirt with a jack hammer, constructing the foundation, and, the very hardest part, moving and raising the 16×10 single piece walls. After the last contractor, Terry, walked off the job a few weeks ago, I have taken to calling him “Mr. No” since he couldn’t come up with or accept any solutions for how to get the shed up. Jim was Mr. Yes! Not only was he willing to work with my solutions and strategies, he frequently was inventing his own. Around four, Trish and Robert picked up the kids to take them to a Holloween party at a friend’s house. Danae, Jim and I continued working.  After nine hours of hard physical labor, we decided to call it a day. The shed is 3/4 built and, while we didn’t finish it, we were very happy to get as far as we did. We gave Jim big hugs then were on our way with a plan to reward our hard work with dinner at Olita’s at the Santa Cruz Wharf.

The wait for a table worked out to be just enough time for us to enjoy a margarita at the bar. We ate dinner on the Boardwalk view side of the restaurant. I said to Danae, “This is how I like the Boardwalk best, at a distance.” I can take the crowds, bright lights and noise maybe once or twice a year, and then only because the kids love it so much. I find that as I get older, the jarring of the Big Dipper has lost its appeal.  So many other things in life are thrilling and jarring in ways that don’t leave me battered in bruised the next morning.

We finished our dinner and walked downstairs and outside. Very quickly we could see a commotion taking place down the wharf. We walked over to see what was happening. A car had driven over the edge and sunk down into the pitch black water. One police car was just on scene. There was nothing he could do. A woman was walking to her car, soaked. Very quickly I was able to determine that she was not a driver or passenger of the car. She had identified herself as a lifeguard and immediately jumped in after the vehicle. The car sunk too quickly and she realized there was nothing she could do.

Danae was exhilarated and smiling. Some of the police officers were doing the same. I literally could not comprehend such a response. Two men were twenty-five feet beneath us, suffering, scared, fighting for their lives. It was as if I could feel their anguish from below. I scanned the crowd. There was a mix of smiles, blank faces, people recording video and taking pictures, very few seemed to be registering the gravity of the situation. More rescue vehicles drove onto the wharf — fire, ambulance, more police. One by one, divers arrived on scene. They were hanging around talking, no one seemed confident about what to do. Why were they doing nothing? Whey were they not just diving right in? I realized they needed to be briefed and come up with a plan. Once that was done, they each climbed to the top of the fence rail then jumped 24 feet below into the dark sixty degree water. The police shined a light onto the spot where the car was thought to have landed. Six divers took deep breaths and went down in twos. They could not find the car. Lifeguards with rescue boards thew their boards over the wharf then jumped in behind the divers.

Police were interviewing witnesses around us. Apparently the car was speeding and lost control as it tried to pass another vehicle — a large pick up truck. The car bumped over the curb, crashed through the railing, teetered for a few seconds before plunging into the dark, murky ocean.

Why did the divers not have scuba? Why did they not have their own high powered lights? Again and again they went down and came up bewildered. Finally a witness suggested the car landed closer to the piers of the wharf rather than several yards out.  Suddenly I felt a letting go. Someone’s struggle down there was over, I just knew it. It had been twenty minutes since the car went down. A diver went back down again and came up saying he thought he saw a light. More divers free dove down and finally the car was located. All search was being done by touch. Again and again they plummeted to the dark depths until finally one diver called out that they needed the board, they had recovered a body.

The young man was shirtless, just wearing shorts. They placed him on the board then, as a team, paddled the board to the beach, where the EMTs had been repositioned. The man’s belly was sucked in, ribs showing. His chest was not moving. His head flopped from side to side. They got him to shore. A few minutes later someone called out, they needed the board, they had another body. The lifeguard paddled back out to the scene, but this time he took the body to a waiting coast guard ship waiting farther off shore. For twenty minutes they performed CPR on that young guy on the beach. Taking turns between three different people so no one person became fatigued, they pumped his chest. Finally they stopped, six or seven people helped pick up the board and carried the body to the waiting ambulance.

Watching the rescue very much had the feel of watching a football game on TV — people rooting, some for the team of wanting everyone to survive, some for the team of wanting to put themselves at the center, of having a good story, of being able to say, “I saw a man die.” In the very literal sense, there was nothing we could do. But in doing nothing, could our collective energy accomplish anything? If the survival team was stronger, could their will fuel the rescuers to do more, try harder. Could high hopes keep the men alive?

Just then Robert arrived with the kids. We had been in text contact about where to meet up for the exchange. I looked out at the coast guard ship making its way to dock. I looked where the ambulance had been. It was gone and had left without lights or sirens. I felt completely empty.

On the car ride home I asked Danae, “I can’t stop thinking about the look on that woman’s face as she stood there with her wet clothes clinging to her body. Pitch black, sixty degree water. Would you have jumped in?”

She thought for a moment. “I don’t know, you know?”

I searched inside myself and was certain. “I would not have jumped in,” I said. “Too many unknowns.”

I thought back to the time I saw a man straddling the side of a bridge on 280. He meant to go over, I just knew it. Even though I passed him at a decent speed, his face will be forever burnt into my memory. He had black hair and a comb-over. He had full lips and a slight overbite. He looked incredibly frightened. I had a choice to make: approach him directly, or get to the next call box and call the police. The call box by the Junipero Serra statue was very close by. I could still see the man as I spoke to dispatch.

They wanted my contact information.

“There isn’t time for that,” I protested. “Get someone out here!”

“Ma’am, we need to get your information.”

I knew there was no getting around this. I gave my name, address, phone number.

“OK, what is he doing now,” she asked.

“Oh,” I said as the man slipped over the side, “you’re too late. He’s gone.”

“OK,” she said, “officers are on the way.”

“What do I do,” I asked.

“Nothing. Go home,” she said. “Just go home.”

For days I struggled with my decision. Did calling dispatch equate to doing nothing? If I had approached him, what difference could I have made? Could I have talked him out of taking his life, or would my approach have caused him to jump sooner, leaving his actions placed firmly on my conscience for the rest of my life? Might he have grabbed me and taken me with him? There would never be any way of knowing. I finally decided that the man’s choice to take his life was his business. Perhaps he had his reasons. Perhaps they were even justified.

Both kids had a great time at the party with Trish and Robert, but Sunday K was leveled. His mood was volatile at best.

This was the day we were finally bringing the goats home. Danae said she was going to bring Gwen with her. Gwen has proven herself to be quite the goat wrangler. She is able to intuit their next move and grab them when they least expect it. I asked Danae if she needed K and I to come. She said no. Part of me wanted to be there, but another part of me absolutely did not.

Being there for the goats is one thing, but Sarah, the woman we have boarded them with, is a total and complete energy suck for me.  Sarah is nice enough, but she’s a talker, she’s rather coarse and Danae and I both find her poorly done face tattoos rather distracting. She normally takes a shaman class on Sundays, and Danae and I find it amusing that she fancies herself a healer when she can be so harsh toward the animals she claims to love.

She once demonstrated for us how we should deal with goats that won’t mind, the babies who want to play and eat our clothes.  “You need to rap them on the face real hard,” she said as she slapped one of the babies on the nose.  As another goat approached her, she hit that one too.  We were horrified. We did and said nothing. We felt trapped. Sarah is the only goat boarder we know, and we needed the goats to be somewhere safe, even if not emotionally ideal.

Another time she wanted to catch Suki so that Danae could help trip her hooves.  She lunged toward the goat, grabbed her by the horns and in the blink of an eye, she and the goat were rolling over one another in the dirt. Danae and Gwen watched in astonishment. No matter what, Sarah was not letting go.

Over the past four months we have watched as our goats have come to fear even us. I have been eager, the five weeks since we’ve moved here, to get them back and win them over again. Particularly my beloved Adobe, my “dough baby”. He and I have a very special bond. He is the goat that got stuck in the birth canal. The one the vet told us to let go because he was too weak to survive. Sarah separated him from the rest of the herd and put him with one other buck that challenged him constantly. Adobe is a love. He just wants face scratches. With this buck Adobe was lonely and isolated. He became so reclusive that he would no longer even come out from under the barn to say hello when we would come to visit. I wanted him home.

Sunday I felt a pressure in my head and was spacey and drained from the previous day’s work and from witnessing the rescue. I literally felt like I could not take on one more thing. Danae was fine. Gwen was fine. Kaherdin was laid out on the sofa. I told Danae that K and I would hit up Staff of Life for some groceries and meet up with them later.  Danae and Gwen left for Sarah’s, so I told K to get on his shoes.  He resisted, protested, sighed and whined, but I got him in the car and drove him to the store. We got some things to get us through the week, then walked into the salad bar. I suggested to Kaherdin that we get something from the bar and take it for a picnic like we used to do when he was in preschool. He often talks of how those picnics were some of his fondest memories.

“Nah,” he said when I offered. “There’s nothing here for me to eat.”

“Really,” I questioned him. “There are roasted potatoes, hard boiled eggs, soups…”

“Meh,” he said, his low mood continuing.

I grabbed a small cup and filled it with corn chowder, then grabbed a pre-made plate of Indian food for myself. We went to the drink aisle to pick up some Kevitas. A woman walked up and grabbed a root beer.

“These,” she said, “are AMAZING.”

K looked at the label. “Probiotic root beer?”

I picked one up and read the ingredients. Only 5 carbs per bottle. Made with Kefir water. I was intrigued. We grabbed two, hit the check out and were off.

K started to open the soup in the car.

“Hold on,” I said. “We’re going to the beach.”

We drove over to Seabright, set our chairs in the sand and ate our food. We spotted two sea otters rolling around in the water.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” I asked.

K nodded.  He looked toward the wharf. “It’s hard to believe that the car went into the water just right over there.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you think they’ve lit some candles for the guy that died?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “They haven’t released the names of the victims. Maybe once the friends and family have been notified, they might do something.”

“It’s just so sad,” he said. I could tell that, like me, K was deeply affected by the accident in a way that Gwen and Danae were not. Me and my boy, we’re just made of the same stuff.

“I know,” I said.

We sat in silence eating our food. When K was done he got up and said, “Let’s go.”

“No,” I said. “We’re going to sit here for a while and take it all in.”

K sat back down.

“Do you know some of the hidden reasons why people find the beach so relaxing,” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

“The negative ions coming from the water. The grounding effect of having your feet in the sand. It’s a great place to be when you need to come back to center when you’re feeling stressed.”

K got up again. “I’m going to dig in the sand.”

He made a sand chair and sat in it. “Do you want to try my chair,” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Do you want me to try your chair?”

“Yes.”

I got up and went over to the chair, sat down and reclined. “Oh, look at those clouds! Did you look at the clouds when you were in your chair?”

“No,” he said.

“You need to try.”

K took my hat so his hair wouldn’t get sandy and I gave him my sunglasses so he could look at the sky without glare. He laid there watching the clouds.

“Do you want to go now,” I asked.

“Only when you do,” he said this time.

I finished my root beer just as I got a text from Danae saying that Adobe was completely wild and almost took Sarah’s husband, who was holding his leash, down the hillside. She didn’t think she could manage him on her own.

“We should get back,” I said, “Mom needs my help.”

We drove back home. K had made a total turn around. He was just lighter. I felt lighter, too.

“You know,” I said, “being wiped out the next day doesn’t mean you didn’t have a good time the day before, it just means you need to take some time for yourself to restore.” I was just as much saying this to myself as I was to him.

As soon as we got to the house I ran up to the top of the hill. Danae was walking up the logging road away from the van.

“Where’s Adobe,” I asked.

“He’s still in the van,” she said. “He was rearing up and going crazy. I do not know how we are going to get him the rest of the way up the hill.”

I walked toward the van and opened the side door. “Do you have any carrots,” I asked Danae.

“He won’t take them,” she said.

“Just give me the carrots.”

I crouched inside the van and saw Adobe. He looked scared. I desperately wanted him to remember me and trust me again.

“Here, Dough Baby, what a good boy,” I started talking softly to him and extended a carrot.  He took the carrot.  Then another. I was feeling optimistic. I clasped a leash to his collar then unlatched the tie down leash that was attached to the seat and gently began pulling him out of the van.  At first he pulled back, but I gave a firm tug while talking gently to him. He finally stepped out of the van. He lunged toward some baby oaks and took a mouthful of leaves.

“That’s OK,” I said and pulled him toward me. “There are a lot of new things for you to eat here.”

I made a decision. If he took off, I would not let go. He would have to drag me down the road with him. Danae was right behind me. I gave a slight tug on the leash and Adobe reared up. Danae gasped. I held the leash firmly with both hands and Adobe came crashing down to the ground. He looked stunned.

“Baby, are you OK,” I asked. He stayed down panting for a moment before getting back up again.  Little by little I got him up the hill to the temporary goat run. Danae unlatched the gate and Adobe eagerly went inside, seemingly grateful to be reunited with his herd.

“Dude,” I did it.

Danae shook her head in amazement. “I can’t believe you got him up here just like that.”

I wondered how Danae had been handling him. Perhaps she was businesslike — all doing, no feeling — focused on her end goal, rather than on him and his needs. That works for some things, but, in this instance, he needed someone who understood his state of mind. A few hours earlier and I might have deferred to Danae, asked her to just deal with it. But my experience with K helped me build back up just enough reserves to get that goat safely up the hill.

My connection with Adobe was restored. Our herd was finally home. And in that moment I saw more clearly than ever how sometimes doing nothing is the something that must be done before anything else can be accomplished.

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