When Melinda saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time it took her breath away. She had to cough wildly to feel the air rise up again from the very soles of her feet through her body, her lungs and finally out her mouth again. Next she gasped in the vast glory of it all. At six o’clock in the evening, the light around her was perfect for blinking-eye snapshots. In two seconds a cloud of sandpipers appeared, engulfing her as they turned and flashed bright white undersides to reveal themselves. Then just as quickly they shifted and disappeared. Only the gentle flap-flap-flap-purr-whish of their movements suggested they were still nearby.
Alongside the salty foam and steady waves of the big sea, it was easy for Melinda to forget how hungry she was and what it might take to fill her belly or at least take the edge off. She realized the steady in-out-in-out of her body’s bellows was not unlike the hallowed rhythm of the tides. In grateful response, she lay down in the sand to rest. She let herself be held.
It was late afternoon before Melinda found a moment’s peace. She was bone-tired having washed the dishes, made beds, fed the dog, made soup, scrubbed the bathroom floor, conferenced with the teachers, harassed the mailman, ridden her bike to Safeway and back, unpacked the groceries and, oh yeah, made a suitable breakfast for herself and the others as well as gobbled down lunch alone between her tasks.
This layer of physical exhaustion was as thick and tumultuous as cumulus clouds, magnified by what preoccupied and fogged Melinda’s mind as she worked. Would her hand be strong enough to open the jar of pickles? Would her husband rest after his surgery? Would anyone love him as much as she did? And what about the truck? Who would drive it back across the country? And if he died, how could she manage two houses, two kids, two pets, two cars? Not to mention the wedding? While there was plenty of money, tracking it with any semblance of responsibility would take a level of energy beyond her. The thought of it all was just too much.
In a moment of slight pause, Melinda realized the best course was to take off her slippers, leggings, sweatshirt, panties, earrings, bra and thumb brace. Damn! She’d forgotten to fill the tub first. In stark nakedness, Melinda twisted the faucets, poured in bubble bath and sprinkled lavender salts.
While the soft cushion of suds rose Melinda gathered her tools – shampoo, conditioner, a razor, shaving cream, tweezers, a pumice stone. She paused again. What else could she possibly need? A candle maybe, matches. A bath towel. No, a large beach towel. No, both towels.
And then she locked the door, turned up the heat slightly, stopped the flow and swished the water with her hand. Ah, very hot. Enough to redden her skin even more. Just the way she liked it.
Melinda dipped her toe in next and slowly slid one leg in while she grabbed the old-person’s bar her father-in-law had nailed into the wall on one of his visits long ago. She lifted her second leg over the edge of the tub and squatted, slowly lowering herself into the bliss. Oh fuck, the tea! Now when she listened she could hear the tea pot screaming from the other room, “Don’t forget me. Pay attention to me, you fool!”
You can imagine the upwind required. The sigh. The tightening of muscles. The anticipation of chill then the shiver itself when she stepped out on to the mat, grabbed one of those towels, unlocked the door and appeased the almost empty kettle.
It drew tears of disappointment and a heave of sadness when she returned. Yes, she had a full mug of goodness to warm her but by this time the bath had cooled.
Why lock the door? The luxury would become a chore too – lying back to rinse her hair, watching the cream inflate on her leg before she shaved it off, slightly scrubbing that bothersome callus on the ball of her left foot…all done too quickly, in record speed to beat the temperature change.
Clearly in this next stretch she would need to learn to rest in the midst of it. To pause. To breathe. To flush her tears periodically rather than rely on the occasional gift of a long space of time alone. Maybe she could learn to move forward with calm if it killed her.
As the season turned, it was easier to embrace the ocean of grief in her heart. The sea after all, in its steadiness and endless presence accounted for all that was good. Melinda knew if all else failed she could build a roaring fire and curl up before it in a fetal position.
To finally be old enough to qualify for Medicare was a relief beyond compare. When her sore feet cussed bloody murder she was certain she could bring herself to slow down and breathe. The maturity of knowing knitted in the certainty of blessed containment around her edges. They vibrated. She was no longer solid and walled off. Finally the nearby electricity wove and bounced in and out like a sleek dolphin needling the surface of her skin.
The space around her almost always seemed more habitable these days allowing her the courage to heave sobs by herself in the blue room. To taste death and even lap up pain as her teacher.
Lately Melinda wondered if perhaps it would be best to hole up there in her pajamas for a while, really experiment with the limits of time. It’s possible her daughter would bring her nourishment, anything of the sort of caloric beauty she conjured up would do. Surely her husband would check in occasionally offering his exquisite form of kindness.
Long ago, the specialist had recommended she allow them to wrap her up like a mummy for 24 hours. They promised to care for her, to feed her, unwrap her for elimination. The doctor in charge suggested her energy was of the gourmet variety and explained, “Don’t you want to gift yourself with a sample of your full intensity rather than exhaust yourself by diffusing it all the time and everywhere?” Then he offered, “Simply containing yourself may be a challenge for you but we could create the sensation for you in this unnatural way. We’d stay nearby for the level of feeling of which you are capable. You’d learn to appreciate your fullness.”
Instead decades later, when Melinda was alone, she could invite the profound feelings he’d mentioned. She allowed the accompanying giggles and waves of light ness too. In search of looseness, her swollen heart was ready to spill over in the monastery of containment and see what she was holding back. To give all of this love to herself first before considering sharing it was quite a luscious thought.
What a delight to recognize this possibility as more than the usual restful retreat. By going away she could allow herself to explode as the ultimate present.