But I Don’t Have To Like It
“And perhaps that might be the way to write — to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.” John Steinbeck
Every house has its own personality, like husbands and dogs. Some are vivacious and alive, others solemn and quiet or deceptively charming. One of my favorite houses is our cabin on the shores of Clearlake, she’s a salad of shabby chic, vintage, and Mediterranean. You’ll have to trust me. It’s better than it sounds.
There has never been a time when I haven’t loved walking through those front doors, I love the way my blood pressure deflates as I drop my bag, and kick off my shoes.
If you’re wondering why my writing sounds freakish this week, I’ll explain. I just finished reading Cannery Row and although I enjoy my own elan, I have no qualms about sliding into another author’s style as if it were mine. I decided John Steinbeck’s words perfectly described weekends at the lake. He says, “it is a poem, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” Clearlake is a gathering place. A place to hang up your worries and concerns, let your hair down, unfurl.
I realize we’re retired, and you might be imagining that we’re in a perpetual state of unfurling, but you would be wrong. We still get wound up about all the normal things. Taxes, flu shots, Amazon deliveries, but more commonly, it’s the silent knots of disapproval that remain so deeply embedded in the fiber of our relationships that we can never quite work them out.
You know the ones?
Bonds so interlaced they can be activated with the slightest lift of a brow, a wayward tone, a divisive demeanor, and out come those reckless words, or worse, the carefully crafted ones.
I refer to them as the thorns that make us grow, how we negotiate being a couple without losing sight of ourselves or each other.
Although I have found… the one who initiates the aggression is almost always in the wrong. Tuck that note in your pocket.
As you know, I dream about water when I’m overwhelmed, so it mystifies me that such an ancient body of water has become my shelter, shade, and solace from the world at large.
There is an aroma that assaults your nose upon arrival at the lake. It is a combination of rot, algae, mold, dead carcasses, damp leaves, and the ether of a wild landscape left to its own devices for the last million years.
I find it appealing.
Pristine is both the right and wrong word to describe this landscape. There are weeded lots, unkept cottages, abandoned boats, shabby restaurants, sketchy bars, secondhand shops, Canibus stores, Casinos, and a Walmart with customers you could only characterize as sketchy. You know who I’m talking about? Steinbeck calls them the drunks, drug addicts, homeless, mentally ill, gamblers, and generally unruly types. So basically everybody.
We’re human. As a species, we embody all the above, but we’re also saintly, holy, compassionate, and on rare occasions, wise.
The lake is a charming combination of the saint and the sinner. Intertwined with the rustic parts are charming wineries, new eateries, drive-up coffee bars, specialty cafes, a mercantile, antique shops, a movie house, Elks Club, high-end grocery store, post offices, fire stations, libraries, hardware stores, schools, pubs, and pizzerias.
It’s a micronism of the entire world…water and land, flora and fauna, joy and misery, all overseen by a benevolent God who allows us the freedom to heal or hurt one another. Some defer to hurting because healing requires a faith that is rare, like the lady who reached for the hem of His cloak.
In the early morning, when the wild ones are still asleep and the lake huddles under the cloak of night, I’m unable to control a persistent cough, and I slip out of our warm bed to honor his sleep. Tiptoeing across the living room, kitchen, and through the french doors, I step onto a cold dock now covered in dew, bird shit, and a smattering of toys, wine glasses, mismatched flip flops, wrinkled magazines, children’s life vests, and memories.
Placing both hands on the railing, I lean into the view and my recollections of last night. Mesmerized, I stand there, jagged, slightly chilled, foggy, with unexpressed gratitude whirling in my gut.
A flock of pelicans is huddled below our dock, white, fluffy, bobbing along the rippling water wing to wing, resembling a giant cotton ball. I assume they are squabbling about the lack of threadfin this year, but maybe they’re anxious about their offspring, their spouses, and if there will be a nest to return to in the spring.
Gathering the memories from last night as if a deck of cards, I struggle to put them in order. Winery pickups, espresso martinis with the clan next store, bratwurst for the kiddos, lingering bathtime, sipping wine, a slab of fish, piles of dishes, and in the end, I am left slumbering on the couch.
Rubbing warmth back into my arms with slightly arthritic hands, I move back to my chair in the corner of the room as if a petulant child who has given herself a time-out. Burling under the soft fury blanket, I slip easily back to my sleep.
Waking from the chair, I scan the empty room, relieved to know that the epic flood was only a dream and I no longer need a sign that hints of solid ground.
Loading the car with hugs and smooches, we bid our hearts goodbye. The grandkids blow kisses through the side windows as their minivan rounds the corner. There’s a birthday party and a friend to celebrate, so they race back to Campbell, back to their own lives.
In the emptiness of the house, a little after nine, something shifts. It could have been my wayward brow or that sleepless night, but I’m reproached by Larry with what I would characterize as pedestrian issues. Negotiations ensue as I try and square our conflicting versions but to no avail.
The problem with words is that once articulated; they can not be withdrawn.
They burrow into the texture of our being, recharacterizing memories and moments, often leaving a defenseless past slightly eclipsed.
As you know, I avoid conflict at all costs, whereas Larry thrives in the arena of discord. Enneagrams eights! They really should have their own planet.
I deem the entire rant as divisive and immediate withdrawal to a secure location, to a kinder place, huddling as if a flock of pelicans with the best and worst of me. Thank God I brought my coffee.
After closing up the house, both of us staying in our prescribed lanes, hushed, paltry, and righteous, we lock the front door and head back to the bay.
Hoarding the last views of our pristine lake as if I were awaiting parole, my eyes savor the fading body of water, the last gas station, the last motel, the last winery, and the last passing lane before we merge onto the sixteen. Silently merging our way forward.
I watch this story literally crawl onto the page as if a garden snail determined to extol its worth. Because weekends at the lake are sacred, in my opinion, a respite from life, an echolalia that refuses to change, and disillusioned eights will just have to deal. I stand by my initial elucidation, in Steinbeck’s own words, “it is a poem, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
I’m Living in the Gap, inching my way through life, care to join me?
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Whoot! Hoot! This might be a proper occasion for champagne!