Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just Being: At the Beach. Part I.

I love the beach. It is the place in the world where I feel the calmest; the lap of the waves, the call of the seagulls, the scent of the salt water all bring me back to happy childhoods romping in the surf at Rehoboth, not a care in the world. Even in those years when trips to the beach meant dragging baby equipment, sand toys, and a cooler full of juice boxes, the peace to be found at the ocean's edge was worth the price.

Yesterday, I wasn't so sure.

Bethany Beach is different than Rehoboth and has a parking system best described as odd. First you need to find a "Park-o-matic" machine, plug in your credit card, and receive your time-stamped ticket. THEN you wander around, looking for a place to put your vehicle. At Rehoboth, it was not unusual to dump kids and spouse at the boardwalk with accouterments, then drive to the third block back before finding a suitable spot. I assumed--erroneously, it turned out--that the situation at Bethany would be the same.

First of all, unloading a disabled spouse with a walker is not the same as unloading active toddlers with strollers and diaper bags. It's harder. You can pick up a toddler and tuck him under an arm; you cannot in any way hurry along a disabled spouse. Just getting Ron's Rollator out of the trunk of the car requires more arm muscle than God intended women to have. Once that was out and Ron was settled on the seat, I lugged out the beach umbrella, chair, towels, and cooler. Then, with a jaunty wave, I was off to find a parking spot.

This is not a quest for the faint-hearted. Only the first block of Bethany, as I soon discovered, is for the sun-seekers. The other blocks are given over to residents and businesses. By 11:45, most spots were already taken. (I blame this squarely on Ron, who is not a morning person. I, as the world knows, am. I could have been on the beach at 6AM.) After 20 minutes of our allotted two hours, I found a spot about four blocks from where I had left my husband. Then I walked back and began the fun part of the day: getting Ron and his walker to the sand.

I scooped up all the equipment and dumped it in a spot as close to the ocean as I could get, burning my feet along the way and leaving Ron perched on the Rollator at the end of the wooden path. Then I went back to help Ron, valiantly trying to push the darn walker through the sand. Not to be. Finally, I folded the walker up and carried it on one arm while Ron leaned on the other. Okay, now you have the image. Me, with my 350 pound husband on one arm and his 30 pound walker on the other. We finally made it to where I had dumped our stuff and when I began to struggle to put up the umbrella, a tanned and blonde young fellow came to help. Blessings on you, young sir. Someday, you, too, will be old.
Beach Umbrella Icon
I settled Ron into his seat with a sandwich and a coke, and sat in my own beach chair with an iced tea for a few moments of quiet. Ahhh. There is , as my mother often pointed out to me, no such thing as rest for a woman, so as soon as Ron had wolfed down his sandwich, he wanted to go sit by the water's edge. Now the beach at Bethany has what is best described as a cliff that drops off to the water's edge. I was contemplating how to manage this feat of strength when Ron called on a young fellow sitting near us for help. Vacationers are generally nice people, so while the young fellow carried the Rollator to the surf, his girlfriend and I help to steady Ron down the cliff.

Ron was settled and said he would be okay for a while, so I climbed back up the cliff to the umbrella and my novel. I gave the nice young folks a brief explanation: "He was in a car accident 14 years ago. He's had 26 surgeries and he's frequently in the hospital." The lovely girl puts a hand to her chest and gave a gasp. Then, because they are young and tanned and in love and because Ron and I were once all those things, too, I went on. "We've been married 37 years. You don't give up on someone because they are ill."

"Of course not," said the girl. She gave her boyfriend a steady look.

"For better or worse," I said and smiled.

They both nodded, this golden couple on this golden day, and the girl touched my shoulder. "Good for you," she said. "Good for you."

And so for a few moments out of what has been an incredibly long journey, there is not pain or hospitals or classes to teach or bills to pay. There is just me and the ocean, listening to its soothing sound as I sit not reading my novel, just for a short space of time being.

Good for me.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Daddy's Little Girl

She was trying to be okay about it. Fine, she said, if Dad can't come to the rehearsal, it'll be okay. But I really, really hope he can make it on Saturday.

I really hoped so, too, but when you are dealing with regional chronic pain disorder, traumatic brain injury, and the after-effects of a years-ago car accident, the future cannot be predicted. The doctors call it the trifecta of ailments, all of which we have dealt with for fourteen years. It makes life chaotic and messy. In fact, just two days ago, her father was at the doctor's office with symptoms if a urinary tract infection. And just two weeks ago, he was flat on his back at Hahnemann Hospital for ketamine infusion in a last-ditch attempt to give him some relief from the pain disorder.

He'll be here if he can, I assured her. I just called home and he's resting.

She nodded, her mind occupied with other things on this last day before her wedding. At least my  brothers will be here, she said. And you.

And your wonderful fiance, I reminded her. The most important ingredient to any wedding. She smiled at his mention, an action that had happened very naturally over the last two years whenever she heard his name.  He was the one she had waited and prayed for. Now, on the eve of their wedding, I was
determined to let nothing mar her happiness.

Remember what your brothers told him, I reminded her. No take-backs.

Yes, she said, they are anxious to get rid of me. She was joking, of course. Her two brothers--one older, one younger--had thoroughly scrutinized the wonderful fiance and declared him acceptable husband material for their sister. They had each confided to me that they would do all they can to make her wedding day a happy one, even if their father was absent.

It's sweet that the boys will walk you down the aisle, I said. Months ago, she had realized that there was no way her father would be able to walk the length of the church with her on his arm. She had recruited her brothers to "tag team" her to the altar, where her father would--if he as able--be waiting to give her over in marriage.

Our family had somehow adjusted around the catastrophic accident that almost ended their father's life. The boys often played father to their sister, just as she and her older brother filled in as substitute parents for the younger boy when hospitalizations and long, long surgeries kept me away from home and sitting in the plastic chair of a hospital waiting room. It was, we often acknowledged, a different sort of family. And different, she would remind me, don't mean bad.

But it did mean absences sometimes and while her brother played the part at the rehearsal of giving her in marriage, I knew her heart longed for her father, her daddy. Not the one that shuffled and limped and got his words mixed up. Not the one that was in the hospital more often than not. Not the one that was missing that night, but the one that she had grown up with, the one that coached her softball league and taught her to ride a bike and took her to the Father-Daughter middle school dance.

She and I stayed in a hotel over night, counting on the younger brother to get Dad to the church on time. I called home as she showered. Okay? I asked my husband.

I'm coming, he said. I'm getting dressed now. I crossed my fingers and my toes and said a little prayer. I had laid out his wedding clothes the day before, pressed and neat.

She was in the bride room when he arrived, looking better than he had in days. I pinned a boutonniere onto his jacket and kissed his check. There were still faint traces of the man I had married 37 years ago and I squeezed his arm.

Wait until you see her, I said. She looks beautiful.

Just like her mother, he said. I blushed. His sons helped him to the front of the church where he sat in the first pew, waiting. I returned to check on the bride one last time. The prelude started and, on the arm of my oldest son, I made my own way down the aisle, sitting behind my husband and putting a hand on his shoulder. The bridesmaids came next, and I stood when she--the bride--came to the door on the arm of her younger brother. Slowly, carefully, he led her to the middle, where her older brother offered her his arm. With an effort, her father remained standing. I saw him tremble and prayed he would have the strength to do this.

They arrived at the front, my two oldest children, and the boy helped his father to his feet, then slipped into the pew next to his girlfriend. The bride stood with her hand in her father's left hand. In his right hand, he held onto the bridegroom, the man who would, from this day forward, care for the daughter.

Who gives this woman to be married to  this man? asked the minister and without hesitation--because he knew all along that this young man was the right one for his precious little girl--he said Her mother and I do.
Slowly, my hand guiding him, he joined me in the second pew. My brother, in the pew behind us, helped my husband sit down.

The wedding was, as weddings are supposed to be, perfect. I am certain things went wrong, but none of it mattered. All that mattered were the two at the front, exchanging vows and promising to be with each other through sickness and health. I held my husband's hand. We knew something about that promise. In a matter of minutes, our daughter became a wife. She beamed her brightest smile.

You did great, I said to my husband. Just great.

I'm going to dance with her, he said. I promised her I would.

I tried to dissuade him. How would he ever get up onto the platform with her to dance? But he remained determined. He would give her this gift. I resigned myself to it. I had lived with this stubborn man a long time. Perhaps his damaged brain would forget the promise.

After the wedding party entered the church hall, after the announcements had been made, after the bride and the groom shared their first dance as husband and wife, the bridesmaid whose husband was in charge of the music whispered to my husband. Do you want it played?

Yes, he said and nodded. Slowly, painfully, he rose from his seat and, assisted by a good friend, managed the steps to the platform. And there he took his daughter in his arms and danced in small steps to Butterfly Kisses. She, the happy bride, cried and buried her face into his shoulder.

She was dancing with her Daddy.