Paddling While Rome Burns

I’ve been feeling pretty healthy and strong, which allowed me to withstand a week or two of moderate depression, and then a bout of simmering rage. Then all sorts of stuff happened.

Husband’s aunt sold her summer home, a place that has always offered us repose. I needed to figure out how to get out there in time to leave husband’s ashes before the closing.

My mom got diagnosed with colon cancer. Brothers and sisters are alternating care. I need to get there. How do I get away from here? I am tethered here.

And the president came to town, and I just knew that I couldn’t bear to deal with the lines and the crowds, so I simmered with the new rage of incapacity as everyone and their mother expressed glee about the visit.

These things are not equal, and yet they all hit, like a barrage. It all feels like loss. It is so overwhelming that I am going back into shock mode. The brain shuts down at times like these, to help avoid the pain.

On the day the president visited, every other kid was getting pulled out of school to get on line. Daughter’s math teacher wasn’t going to be in school that day. Daughter woke up with sniffles. So I called her in sick. Really, it’s all just so absurd, why play along anymore?

Then we went kayaking.

And while that looks like we’re playing hooky, we only got to this inlet after a heartbreaking start. We’d ordered new kayaks online. The tractor trailer couldn’t make it up my driveway. A dear friend joined me to rendezvous with the freight driver in Big Box Store parking lot to pack up the boats and bring them to my house in two trips. I went to the clerk of courts to register the boats, brought the wrong documentation, went back home to rip open the kayak packaging for the certificate of origin, returned to the clerk of courts, got the registration cards laminated before the kids got home, bought the 3″ high letters to stick on the boats during son’s therapy appointment. On her day off, daughter and I stuck the letters on the boats, realized we failed to buy 4’s, drove back to the local hardware store and bought two 4’s (the guy behind us quipped, “You could have saved money and bought an 8.” Good one!), slapped them on, heaved the kayaks atop the car, and took them off at the boat ramp (declining an offer of help from a nice young man cycling by). She watched the boats while I parked, we adjusted our seats, plopped in the water, paddled and….she got frustrated. Her boat was too wide. Her paddle was too small. We switched paddles. We switched back. She was grumpy and tired and sad. She held back tears. I held back tears and rage and frustration and shaking my fist at the gods. We turned around and headed back to the car.

About 100 yards from shore I asked, “Hey, didn’t Our Nice Kayak Lesson Teacher put a lifejacket on your seat so you could sit up higher?” She did! I sacrificed my lifejacket. She sat up higher. Paddling ensued for the next hour, maybe an hour and a half. In the inlet, she fished around in my hatch for the granola bars and apples. We munched away. We found a spot where echoes bounced off the trees. We paddled. We floated. We glided. We raced to the shore. She won.

That evening, we heard the ruckus on campus. We walked up there and stood on the street, a few hundred yards away from the President. We couldn’t see him, but we heard his stump speech. We heard our friends and everyone else in town cheering. It was good enough for us. We live on the fringe. It’s where we belong.

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