My sister asked me why I don’t come to the cabin in the fall.
I had to explain:
Spiders pack their tiny pink suitcases and move into the cabins for the winter. They don’t like to share their spaces with other beings.
So when you are tucked into bed, in a peaceful slumber from all the fresh fall air…
They crawl into your ear and whisper spider nightmares while you’re sleeping.
Nightmares of flies caught in webs.
Screaming in their tiny voices – pleading for their lives.
You hear them in your dreams, but you’re conflicted – your dreaming brain thinks you are a spider. The urge to eat overrides the human urge to help.
This goes on night after night.
Your days become a blur. You’re sleepy and confused.
And finally, when you haven’t slept well for many nights because of these spider nightmares, you pack up your things and get in your car and try to drive home.
But you can’t.
Because your brain is full of spiderwebs and now you can’t remember where you are going.
Eventually, they find you.
At the side of the road.
No gas left.
No signs of foul play.
It isn’t until the mortician gets you on her table and starts the embalming process, that thousands of tiny spiders with tiny pink suitcases come scurrying out of your grey lifeless ears and crawl up her arms
Looking for a kindly ear…
Life takes us in different directions all the time. Change is not really change, it’s just life. We want things to be static, but then get bored. And then get upset when change happens – honestly, we are the most contrary of critters.
I often long for a ‘normal’ life: I picture a tidy house, a soothing routine, a cup of tea, and a predictable day, week, month, year. But when I get there I start to think of it as a ‘rut’, and complain about how boring it is and long for life to be exciting! I don’t even like tea! I berate myself for my unadventurous nature and think disparagingly of all the things I haven’t done: travelling, climbing mountains, studying art in France, or studying law. But I rarely tot up the things I have done.
What have I done? I’ve survived a less than perfect childhood. We moved many times – too many times – and it was hard to form lasting friendships. We were poor. I didn’t realize this at the time, but when I look back at 6 kids and two parents crammed in a 2 bedroom house without a plumbed in bathroom? Yeah, that wasn’t ideal. And there were secrets, difficult secrets that have followed many of us into our adulthood.
After I dropped out of High school (twice!), I worked at many low paying jobs. I remember how excited I was when I got a raise to $2.25 an hour! I was supervising shift workers at a chicken joint and I worked all day for less than $20. That was hard. So I educated myself. I put myself through 2 years of college, 6 years of night school, 5 years of university. I still take courses compulsively – I have a demon on my shoulder that whispers ‘You’re stupid…’ in my ear. I read everything I can get my hands on, and challenge my thoughts constantly – is that right, Sandy? Is that true, Sandy? Sometimes you can hear me whisper it to myself if you listen carefully.
I raised two children. Through a bunch of interesting decisions I managed to create, and fall in love with two of the best people I know. I had exactly $132 for two weeks of groceries for the 3 of us. it was difficult, especially with one in diapers, but we did it. My children keep me on my toes, and keep me young as I watch the incredible ways they are expanding their lives. They are good people and that makes me proud.
I carved out a successful career through all of this – 32 years in the same industry. It has and is changing at the speed of light and yet, still fascinates me every day. I don’t feel like these changes have outpaced me – yet. But maybe it’s time to change again. I’ll let life tell me if that’s something I need to think about.
I’ve survived love, divorce, death. I’ve had relationships. One hard. One bad. One that finally provided a place for me to be loved unconditionally and propelled me into a new adventure of self acceptance. I miss him everyday, but am so glad for our time together. Another education of sorts, right? And I have to say that this last one seems like the more important one.
I’ve bought houses, sold houses, made money, lost money. I finished my undergraduate degree, got married and moved to Alberta. Bought a house, divorced, bought another house, remarried, sold that house, bought another house, then divorced again. Sold that house and moved back to Ontario. Basically, FYI, houses are not the most important thing. Having a home is. Having a house is not. If you don’t know the difference, your lesson is yet to come.
And I’ve travelled. I’ve have driven from one end of Canada to the other, almost. I need to drive to Newfoundland and I’ll have made it from coast to coast. I jumped out of my life in Ontario and ran away with my love to travel much of the mid-western states. I’ve been to Cuba and Mexico. I am planning to head to Europe one day, but that might wait for a wee bit. I have to go visit my cousin Kathy in Oregon first.
Running off to the next adventure seems to be a carryover from that unsettled childhood, doesn’t it? Well, I guess something good had to come from that.
I don’t think we are the sum total of our experiences. I don’t think we are a sum total at all. The ability to navigate your way through those crazy times, and come out with a good sense of self? That’s a life.
(What do you think Sandy? Is this right? Is it true? Is it good?) (You’re stupid…)
Shut up. I’m good with this.
The title is a loss leader – this post is about determination. But I really like it when people wish me Happy Birthday – I think every 365 days around the sun is an accomplishment 🙂
So please – feel free to wish me a Happy Birthday! I appreciate it 🙂
Cuba was a wonderful adventure. I learned to snorkel. Who knew it was something you’d have to learn? I mean, in the movies you put on the snorkel, and swim along looking at all the fish in the ocean, right?
I have been taught since I was wee, not to breathe while I had my face in the water. A lesson that was basically self-taught. I imagine that when I learned to drink from a cup and splash in the bathtub, I came to understand that water + lungs = not good, so overcoming the urge to hold my breath while my face was in the water was harder than I had thought it would be. well, ok, I didn’t even think about that when I thought about snorkelling.
But that wasn’t the first thing that was hard. The first thing that was hard was not freaking out about the fish. Yes, yes, I see your puzzled brows: uh, isn’t that what you were going snorkelling for? Of course. But when you watch tv or see documentaries or whatever, the fish are respectful and keep a good distance. Not so in the beach water of Cuba. Here the fish are conditioned to approach you because some tourists (I hesitate to say some dumb tourists) feed the fish breadcrumbs. Yes – they bring their breakfast rolls or toast or whatever down to the water with them and crumble it into the water to attract the fish. In my opinion this is bad for two reasons: first of all fish don’t naturally eat bread – there are very few underwater bakeries in the ocean – so we probably shouldn’t inflict our bad eating habits on these poor animals. Second: no one told me this could happen, so when the fish flocked to me to see if I had bread? It completely freaked me out.
I waded into the water carefully – trying to keep my balance with the moving water and shifting sand – and when I finally got in I was feeling quite accomplished. Suddenly something touched me. I jumped and screamed a little. Kathy and Rob laughed. Then another thing touched me. I screamed again, and batted at my unseen assailants. Soon many things were touching me. Uttering a loud not very nice word, I sloshed ungracefully to the beach and the safety of the hot sand.
Once Kathy and Rob stopped laughing, they tried to assure me that the fish were not trying to hurt me. But I knew better – the damn things were tasting me.
I watched carefully as other people went into the water and were laughing and feeding the fish. No one made quite as big a scene as I had, but I did see a few people jump and look down to see what was touching them. After careful observation it did not seem like anyone was really in danger from these fish. Ok. So I grabbed my snorkel and headed back to the water. My thought was that if I could see what was touching me, maybe I wouldn’t be so startled.
I waded back in, waiting for the first fish to ‘attack’ me. Nothing. I waded right in to where Kathy and Rob were. Nothing. The fish had moved on and were apparently shaking down the other swimmers for treats, so I was relieved of the harrowing experience. Time for Kathy to give me some snorkel instruction. She showed me how to fit the mask, blow the air out, hold the snorkel in my mouth properly, and reinforced that I should fight the urge to hold my breath and keep breathing naturally.
With mask and snorkel in place, I took a deep breath and put my face in the water. Immediately I stopped breathing. Sigh. I made myself exhale and breathe in – it sounded like a Jacques Cousteau documentary!! In my head I was narrating my swim: “the brave snorkeller explores the edges of the Cuban beach, looking for marine life” (and yes, I was narrating with a french accent). I carefully lifted my feet from the sand and floated while breathing underwater. Amazing!! Look at me!! I gave a few tentative dog paddle strokes and suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw 5 fish swim right past my head.
Screams underwater sound much different than above water.
I exhaled, inhaled, flailed, choked, screamed: it was a really good Sandy moment.
I found my footing, and tore my mask and snorkel off. “nope, nope, nope.’ I wallowed ungracefully towards the beach, ‘nope, nope, nope, nope…’ In seconds I was back on dry ground and DONE swimming for the day.
Kathy and Rob were almost drowning because they were laughing so hard. I settled myself on a lounge chair, ordered a piña colada and decided that maybe snorkelling was not for me.
When Rob came out of the water he settled on the lounger beside me and grinned, ‘So, will you be selling your snorkel on Kijiji?’ For some reason this irked me. I’m not someone who gives up easily. I admit that the idea of going back into that fish filled ocean was kind of daunting, but the idea of going home with out successfully snorkelling made me feel like I was… losing? Can you lose at snorkelling?
I thought about this for the rest of the day, and when we went back down to the beach the next morning I was determined to snorkel.
I asked Kathy to stay near me in the water, and we sat in the shallow water by the beach and enticed the fish to us by dropping sand into the water, pretending it was breadcrumbs. And it worked. About a dozen fish came – they were grey with a black dot on their body and a black tip on their dorsal fin. They swam about, bumping against my legs and rubbing against me. Not one of them was ‘tasting’ me… just trying to figure out how to make me drop the breadcrumbs. Success! I put on my mask and looked into the water – watching them dart away and come back – harmless and cute. Ok! I could do this! We went out a bit deeper and I put my face in the water again, remembered to breathe, floated along watching the bottom of the ocean and not startling when these little fish swam up to me.
After a while I was ready to swim up to the edge of the coral. It was sort of scary to me – I was really afraid of being above the coral: what if the water receded and I ended up scraping against it and hurting myself – or the coral? So I kept a healthy distance, and suddenly I could see all sorts of fish! There were tons of them under the edge of the coral or hiding in recesses in the coral. Beautiful blue fish, yellow striped fish, grey fish, white fish. It was amazing! We were out there for easily an hour. Kathy tried to entice me through the coral onto the deep ocean side of things, but I was not quite yet ready for that. One step at a time!
When we were finished for the day, I was exhilarated! I’d done it! I swam with the fishes and was no longer afraid of them touching me!!
I spent the next few days getting more and more confident in the water. Finally I was ready to try swimming closer to the coral. Kathy and Robbie and I swam to a natural break in the coral – I still couldn’t bring myself to swim over it – and we explored between the two coral reefs. There were more and more fish – damsel fish and sea urchins! It was amazing! But I could not get myself to swim along the outer reef. I don’t know why – but I also allowed myself to have this feeling, and decide that swimming on the outer side of the reef was the next day’s adventure. Just swimming between the coral reefs was enough for that day.
When we came back to the beach side, I swam far up the reef against the current, then turned with my head towards the reef and let myself be pushed gently back towards where I had come from. I floated peacefully along and saw some of the most interesting things – I watched a hermit crab crawl along the reef and then off onto the sand. A blue fish darted towards the crab and knocked it over, then returned and in a blur confronted the crab. When the dirt settled and the fish was gone? so was the hermit crab. The shell was there, but it was sadly unoccupied. Amazing to see the marine world in action!
Finally, after floating back to my beach, Kathy and I regrouped and again sat in the shallows ‘feeding’ the fish sand and chatting. I was becoming more and more at home in the ocean.
The following day I decided it was time for the outer reef, and Kathy and Rob and I headed back through the break in the coral, and then we were through. I was on the ocean side of the reef. It was a little more difficult to keep myself away from the reef as the waves pushed me towards it. After a few moments though, I had figured out how to swim against the current and hold my ground. A whole new ocean opened up in front of me. Kathy gestured under the water and after a few seconds I realized she was pointing at a flounder on the bottom of the ocean! Such a weird fish with both it’s eyes on one side of its body! Again, more and more wee fish – some bigger, some smaller, and every different colour you could think of. I turned for a moment and looked off into the wide blue ocean. I could see for quite a ways, but then it just turned into darker blue. I couldn’t make myself swim further out there – I had visions of shark and barracuda and god knows what else, but I was so proud of myself for getting this far!
We floated up and down the reef for quite a while, and eventually I swam back through the break and relaxed on the beach side.
This was how I spent the rest of my days in the ocean. I was even going in on my own and exploring the reef without my Kathy life guard and ocean coach. At one point Robbie said to me ‘I’m impressed. I really didn’t think you’d get snorkelling!’.
It comes down to determination, doesn’t it? And I guess that’s part of getting older and realizing that you don’t always get the same opportunity twice. I think about diving into my relationship with Warren and taking off on our adventure. If I hadn’t seized that opportunity when I did, I would have missed one of the best parts of my life. If I hadn’t just decided to go on the adventure to Cuba, who knows when I would have been brave enough to do it? And the snorkelling… well, what if I had let my fear of those harmless fish define me? I would have missed out on the magnificent ocean. And I would have missed out on the satisfaction of confronting and overcoming that fear.
Life is short. Allowing opportunities to pass is something not one of us should do without thinking deeply about what that will mean to us.
So yup, it’s my birthday today. I wonder what opportunities will present themselves to me in the next year? I hope that I am brave enough to embrace them all.
I hope you are too.
And as always, I miss you W. You would have loved Cuba.
Or at least thats what is happening tomorrow. I’ll be gone for 10 days and ten days only. My little house will wait quietly till I get back.
I bought a new suitcase. Brought it home, introduced it to Big Pinky, my other travelling companion from last year.
My second suitcase is identical to Big Pinky – the same American Tourister, same bright pink. But smaller. This one holds smaller hopes and dreams.