Escape: Part 2

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The SUV hummed along as the sunset melted away. The tires on pavement, the heater fan and warmth brought Darla to the edge of sleep. She speculated about whether or not she was being kidnapped by benign but nutty elders or if soon she would actually be at Granny Robb’s, eating something good. Curled up with a big mug of tea. Darla had called; Granny said she was up north but to come on. She’d be back soon, tomorrow probably. Just lock the doors, lay low. Darla could think in front of a crackling fire at her  grandmother’s; that was crucial. She’d feel like herself there, a semi-whole person. Separate from Abe.

It was too good to be true, these Gentry people picking her up. She imagined they were angels–that told her just how desperate she was–but she still had a world of trouble ahead.

“Got any kids?” Kenneth asked. “Or are you footloose?”

Darla sat up straight and blinked. “No, just a dog, a husky named Dixie…”

She felt a longing for Dixie that ached. She was mostly Abe’s dog but Dixie and she had become friends as she worked outdoors, the big dog padding after her when Abe was too busy or gone.

“Want a cat?”

Kenneth chuckled when Roslyn flicked his shoulder hard.

“Never mind him. Noto is her name, short for Notorious–I know, strange name but leave it to Kenneth. At the start she was notoriously fussy and expensive due to health needs. But he indulges me. He enjoys making me happy, lucky me! He’s got his parrot–talks back to me and Noto! You married, dear?”

She didn’t want to talk about personal things. This was a ride to safety, not a social excursion. She could tell them anything she wanted. She could as easily say she was single, a visiting professor from British Columbia. She had gotten lost after a seaside conference and then her car broke down so she decided to just have an adventure and see the States, not go home until she made it to Vancouver via hitchhiking. That she was spontaneous, independent, loved a good challenge.

Yeah, right.

“No, well, once, but things changed.”

“Hmm.” Kenneth took off the weathered straw hat and scratched his head. “Took us awhile to meet up and get hitched. But good thing, as it all worked out.”

Noto climbed up on Roslyn’s shoulder and meowed in assent. The cat sat there, tail twitching back and forth like a serpentine thing.

Roslyn scratched Noto’s ears. “We met at a gym when we were nearly forty. That’s twenty five years ago. We both ran marathons then and worked out. Both teachers, well, Kenneth became an administrator. I taught sixth grade. He was all about science. I was single and he was widowed young. So there we were, working up a sweat and trying not to steal a glance at each other week after week. He had good legs! One thing led to another. Coffee out, running dates, then dinner at my place…I guess some are meant to be married and some are not.”

Darla looked out the window. Could they go faster and talk less? She felt something rise up from her gut and it clutched her with misgiving. She and Abe: three years, six months, nine days. Too long. That’s what she finally decided even though he had this delicious appeal, the way he made her laugh, how he could rejuvenate things with a hammer and nails. His boldly good looks. His way with the campers, which was oddly patient. His lasagna and pot roast dinners. The way he held her when things were good. Up to Abe’s standards, that is. Yes, long enough. Now she had to keep out of his reach. Convince him she was not the one. They were a mistake that needed undoing.

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The coastal road was full of switchbacks and Noto was thrown forward, landing on Darla’s lap, claws extended to catch hold. Darla tried to lift her and give her back. The cat hung on to her hoodie, then turned three times and settled on her lap, throwing Darla a look that indicated tolerance and possible appreciation. Darla smiled at Roslyn when she looked back.

“See? Noto’s good with people when she trusts them. Great instincts, too. So tell me about your grandmother.”

Kenneth grunted, either at the Noto remark or a truck that passed going around seventy instead of fifty.

“She helped raise me and now that my mom’s in Seattle, she’s my family. Granny used to own a gift shop in town.”

Why did she have to say that? The less information the better. Or was she being paranoid? Abe always warned her to say nothing.  Treat everyone with suspicion, except the campers and their families. They brought in money. Used to. He made less money since he married her, he said. All her fault, her shyness, her laziness.

Breathe, just breathe slowly. Think first, speak judiciously, act later.

“A gift shop in Winton? I wonder if I’ve been there.”

“Not likely! She sold it four years ago, or is it five? I was in college  when that occurred. Now she’s retired.”

Roslyn reached back for Noto but the tabby was purring, rumbling against Darla’s legs.

“The shop was called what, dear?”

I didn’t say, she thought. I don’t want to talk about anything, let you know me.

She considered asking them to stop, let her out, but the heat inside, the cold outdoors, the way the cat had snuggled close…Or she could just spew it, how terrified she was getting, how she didn’t know what to do. How Abe could be wonderful and then not, just like that.

No, keep steady now.

“Cornucopia.”

“Cornucopia? My goodness, I know that place! I’ve shopped there for years because she’s had the best jewelry and special things. I made it a habit to stop there for some Christmas gifts. You said her name was… Lisa? Lela? No, Lena! I did note there was a change in staff.”

Darla didn’t answer. She had lain her head back and closed her eyes. Roslyn got quiet again. The car swayed along the narrow road. The cat seemed to snore. Maybe she had cats wrong, they could okay companions, smaller and less willing to play but still… She recalled Dixie, those blue eyes, that furry breadth when Darla hugged her. Dixie had been consistently gentler than Abe had ever been and that undisputed fact brought a prickling of tears.

Kenneth spoke in a whisper to his wife. “Do you think something is wrong or is it just me?”

“Of course.” She whispered back. “Just trying to figure it out. What woman would hitchhike alone?”

“You know that shopkeeper?”

“I know of her but can’t recall her whole name.” Her voice grew  louder. “Well, we’re going to her house so we’ll meet.” She looked back at Darla to find her eyes still closed. “I think she’s running away.”

“Why that? From what?”

“I just feel it. She’s secretive. Worn out. Something desperate about her look.”

Darla didn’t care. She just wanted to sleep, dream of solutions, awaken somewhere else to find morning light greeting her like a balm. No fear. No wondering what was next. So what if they suspected something? She’d be at Granny’s soon. Never see them again.

They were close now. She opened her eyes a small slit and took in the lights of town. Saturday night and everything was lit up like a celebration in little Winton, tarnished jewel of the coast. It gave her a headache. If she had had money she’d be somewhere far from here. Mexico. Hawaii. Even Alaska sounded good tonight.

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She sat up. Noto jumped off her lap.

“Turn left here,” Darla directed, “then turn left again and down four blocks to the beach. Otter Road; the house is an A-frame.”

They drove slowly up to Lena Robb’s dark house. Darla felt her jaw tense and then…no, really? There, parked right before the driveway, was her apparently repaired Volvo. Abe sat in it. He turned his head toward the Gentry car.

Darla fell over and bent down.”Keep going! Don’t stop! Abe is there!”

Kenneth said nothing but kept driving at a steady pace. Roslyn patted Darla’s back with her warm, thin hand. They drove on, right out of Winton and then sped up.

“Say now, Darla…how about coming to our place, having dinner? You can rest, call your grandmother.”

Darla clutched the back of Roslyn’s seat. Tears had breached her  will to just carry on and she could not stop. She cried so hard, the painful breaths emptying in small heaves, that Noto cried out with her. Roslyn took her hand and asked Kenneth to pull over.

“Please–right now, Kenneth.”

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Darla could barely make out the dash lights but she felt like she was in an airplane or a space ship going somewhere strange and unknown and all she could think was I’m leaving I’m leaving I’m leaving I am really leaving.

The Gentrys waited until the crying stopped.

Roslyn spoke softly. “You’re safe, my girl. We’ll shelter you until you get Lena to come.”

“Yes, please let us help, dear,” Kenneth said, his voice husky.

They drove on to the Gentry cottage. Darkness was like a silky veil on Darla’s hot face as night accompanied them in a quest for comfort. Darla hummed to herself, an old lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was a kid and life was an unblemished horizon. How to get back? Or was she finally going forward? Noto curled up on her lap to better watch her the rest of the journey.

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Fealty: Definition 2. Faithfulness; allegiance

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I am often jolted from sleep, words blazing in my brain, sometimes whole phrases or poems that demand their places in my notebook. I obey, lest they slip away to the vast hinterland of dreaming once more. I hope they will stay in place on paper, releasing me so I can return to rest, but they often pursue me until given the gift of freedom. Which means: a life to call their own. This ultimately requires my attention in the waking life. The day has begun and I am glad of it.

But this morning was the sort of re-entry into daily life that I would rather avoid. I rose from murky consciousness toward a sheerness of wakefulness as sunlight tried to illuminate my thinking. My eyes remained closed against the morning as a weightiness threatened to hold me hostage. Unbidden words passed through the darkness under my eyelids: The music is over; your voice was lost. Too much means less and less. Travelling alone without one good compass ends good journeys. Who can even see your footsteps upon the earth?

All the things I don’t like and who among us would? Uncertainty, the remnants of loss, weariness, old hurts that reconvene like a war council. Unease remained as I pushed out memories that can still haunt me, the times when problems didn’t resolve despite earnest effort. The errors of judgment that hollowed out places where defeat still can burrow. I called on God of all, of east, west, north and south, God within and without, Jesus who finds and comforts me, reminds me of revolutionary love.

Capture all old tears and bring them back to me as shining orbs. Set me straight. Let me see again, a woman without misgiving.

My eyelids flickered and the room in its blueness came forward. The variety of pictures greeted me. Morning was grounded as light slipped over my hands and feet. I let the scattered threats fly away. But not before one more word lodged itself where the others had lain in wait.

Fealty. I knew the word from somewhere. Fealty. Didn’t it have something to do with truth? Or…money?

It presented itself many times as I prepared for the day. With a fragrant mug of tea beside me, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary. I opened the volume.It was there, the word, right on the page before me. Out of all the pages that might have been interesting to read first, the dictionary opened to this page.

I read the first meanings: “1. a. The loyalty of a vassal to his feudal lord. b. The obligation of such loyalty.” I immediately recalled watching an historical drama, “The White Queen”, the previous night and believed I heard the word there. But, wait, a second meaning: “2. Faithfulness; allegiance.”

I sat back, held the mug between both hands and sipped. The words ran through me. Spoke to me. What am I faithful to? What loyalties means the most  and what am I called to do? Where is the allegiance that matters no matter what? My family, yes, of course, and friends. Then, as though unearthed from beneath the unwanted sourness, came this: Divine Love. Compassion and the causes of mercy and enduring hope. Celebration of all that the Creator gave us. And this fierce passion to write.

How foolish I can be, a small soul making my way through the unbearable and marvelous phantasmagoria of life. Fortunately I am still teachable.

This is the life I most care about, the one I choose. This morning began as a puzzle tossed into disarray, then reassembled in one swift movement. The day and my place in it came together again. I have my  compass. I have notebook and pen. A guiding Hand, an angel, a sudden crack in the dark that allows the right clues admittance to my heart.

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Between Earth and Heaven

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Tonight I am walking between ordinary daylight and incipient twilight, beneath billowing clouds against a sapphire sky. Faraway stars shun the darkness. As if on a tightrope, I am moving just above inconceivable grief and below the swell of vertigo where there is no return. I walk in limbo, in the wake of atrocities, adults and children taken from their golden times, of happiness robbed, peace vanquished. Oh, all the families, friends.

The walking takes me into a whorl of anguish and gradually out again.

My old companion, interminable hope, lies low. But how it breeds in the deep of heart despite sorrow or outrage, unable to surrender. It stakes a claim in the fields of abundance or paucity. It talks back when silenced. It yields not to cruelty or grave error, or the pressure to exit. This hope, how it disturbs tonight with its strong back and blameless grace. Hope, like a lion, rests when unnoticed, then raises itself up with stealth and might when called upon.

It is hope that makes us vulnerable. It makes this life break apart with tenderness and recreates itself. It unfurls from many small spaces when there is nothing found to praise. When its power is denied we lose half our selves to these damaging times. Without hope we succumb to woundedness, that anchor that drives us down into cold depths. Even a small bit of it, even a whisper of hope, despite disbelief, will keep us floating. Will keep us close to its lifegiving heat. And so I hold the hope where it matters most, in the rich sinew of heart and that mysterious guide, the soul.

The walking propels me into a torrent of sadness, then brings me back again. May I keep holy the softness of compassion. May I be strengthened with even a thread of hope rewoven into this humaness.

I envision a circle of angels, such a circle as has no beginning and no end, and they are gathered round the world as it heaves and spins,  as it barters and bleeds. They make a ring of light and everything is aflame, their radiant tears streaming.  They are with us now, between this life and the next. Between earth and heaven. May hope look up again.

Angels Welcome at our Table

I was savoring salmon and salad at the table, looking over a wind-ruffled lake. The light was hinting at bronze and the air had the scent of fall on its tail. It was good to spend time with four family members. My oldest sister had just had a pacemaker successfully implanted and was smiling again. My brother-in-law had recovered from a debilitating illness he contracted when travelling in southwest Asia.  My other sister  and Marc, my spouse, and I had come to the Seattle area to visit for the week-end.

It had been a satisfying day spent at a botanical garden and the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Winding down, we talked about a little of everything with a comforting rapport, despite our varying views. It struck me that I had had a lifetime or a few decades hanging out with my family, yet they are still enigmatic. We each carry our particular experience in complex ways that no one can entirely comprehend or embrace. Spoken or written language carries us closer to understanding and touch speaks intensely. But there are frequent occasions of partial understanding with fewer moments of thorough comprehension of who we truly are and what we mean to offer.

Brother-in-law, R., laughed easily as he joked, then was silent a few moments as he dug into his seafood dish. Shortly, he sat back and said, “If there is one thing I do know, it’s that there are angels. You know I was a pilot in the Navy, landing fighter  planes on decks that are not nearly as big as you might think, not when you’re flying. Everything has to be precise. I was so exhausted a couple of times, I knew I was going to miss. Twice I would have died, it was a sure thing,” he jabbed the table hard with a forefinger, “but twice I was saved. I can’t tell you exactly what happened but I landed when I knew I could not. That plane landed safely each time and it was not my skill, anymore. I am certain angels were watching over me. I was being kept from death, allowed to live.”

R.’s voice was resonant with the vivid recollection, and his blue eyes sparked with the wonder of it. He leaned forward, elbows on the table. I studied him. R. is a strong-minded, debate-driven, somewhat crusty sort of guy. Having commanded small and large planes most of his life, he is not an emotion-based person, but he cares deeply. In his seventies now, he is fascinated by life as well as intrigued by what others have to say. So now he waited for us to respond.

We chimed in with appreciation that this had occurred. One story led to another, each of us telling a tale or two. Marc, for example,  spoke of diving off a fifteen foot cliff as a kid and somehow landing safely in the water below with no injuries. Afterward, it frightened him to think he had been so foolish. He felt he was protected by angels. I was impressed; I had never heard of it.

This is not such an unusual topic in my family. We chat as easily about religion, the physics of mysticism and God’s work in our lives as music, books, and choice facts or fiction about our family tree.

Finally it was my turn. My husband glanced at me. He knew what was coming. He thinks I walk a bit on the wild side of the spirititual life, and he just accepts it.

But my sisters know a great deal more about me. They were around much of the time I grew up, after all, although my oldest sister is thirteen years ahead of me and our middle sister is five years older than I.  We visit on the phone. We have been there for each other. We have yearly sister week-ends when we take off for somewhere fun, and at end of each day can talk into the wee hours. There was one year when we swapped stories of having seen or spoken with our mother after she’d passed on, and the motel room had fairly vibrated with our love and her essence. That was a powerful night.

But some things I have not easily shared in a more public, casual manner, and not for the reasons one might think. I find it difficult to locate precise enough language to share what I have experienced not once or twice, but countless times in my life regarding angelic beings/celestial energy or simply God’s presence. For one thing, they may sound like rather dramatic events. (They seem familiar, natural to me.) For another, they often reflect times in my life that have been taxing. (I have fewer of those but they are often accompanied by extra-ordinary experiences.) And how does one explain what occurs largely beyond the confines of human language? How do I say: “These things–this and this and that–just do happen” and not have someone discount them or look away in embarrassment? Or ask a lot of questions I can’t answer? So I generally keep things to myself. It is enough for me that I get to live this life. It is what it is.

But this was my family. It was a pretty day, an afternoon of good food and lazy talk. So, I shared what I thought everyone knew by now, anyway.

“Well, I was lying in the back yard when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, and looked up at the summer sky and there they were. I guess you would call them angels. I knew they were like my friends, but with brilliant clothing on, blinding, really, all sorts of colors, yet it seemed more like light than fabric. They were very large,  blotted out the sky. Sort of hard to see their features–they were just too bright, but they seemed like human beings, too. They stayed above me, up in the air. I could hear something like music but not anything we have likely heard here. It was like a chorus of millions singing, spine-tingling music. And they said, ‘Do not worry, you are not ever alone. We will be with you all your life.’ I didn’t hear them out loud. I just knew their words. Like a message. I felt so peaceful. It was a great comfort. I had been having very bad times then, so it was good to have them visit. I wanted them to stay but as quickly as they had come, they rose up and were gone. It was just a summer sky again. I lay in the grass awhile, then went inside. I told mom. She acted like it was not surprising but, then, you know mom was close to the thin places, to God.” I paused. “I have always known I was not truly alone, good times or bad. I have never forgotten they are with me.”

There were murmurs of assent. I felt the old emotions coming up, a mixture of joy and sadness; this often accompanies the telling.

I shifted in my seat, took a drink of water, then turned to my husband. “Another time you might recall was when I had that second stent implant in my artery. I was apparently asleep but not doing so well. I was drifting somewhere outside my body and looked down at a mighty, rushing river. Everything was sepia-toned, from where I was, but the other side was brilliantly-hued. I was excited; I could see crowds on the other side and they were waving to me. I was filled with relief when I saw mom and dad smiling at me, waving. Then, all of a sudden, mom said, ‘Why are you here now? Go back!” and then they disappeared and I came back to my body. I didn’t want to open my eyes yet. I wanted to go back to that river. I was irritated; Marc was shaking me. I awakened and he said, ‘You were so still, like you weren’t breathing! Are you okay? Stay awake now!’ But all I could think about was that river and everyone welcoming me. Once more, as I had often been over sixty years, I was terribly homesick for that other place.

I offered two more events that anyone sitting nearby might have thought were scenes from a fantasy or sci fi story. I looked down, felt this was enough telling. Everyone was quiet.

“There are a lot more than this, but…I don’t like to talk about it that much. Not everyone understands or cares to hear. It gets to sounding foolish to others, I suspect. So I keep it  close.” I looked into the distance at the tidy white-sailed boats. I thought, I have said too much.

But R. was leaning across the table and said, “You have to write about all this. You could help someone, your experiences could make a difference to others, inspire them, comfort them. You have to write it down and share it.”

I  smiled at him. “Well, really, I don’t think so. I mean, lots of people write about things like this, anymore. Times have sure changed…and I don’t know quite what I would say. This is only a very small part of what I have experienced. I have had a strange life. Hard at times. A few detours, as you know.”

“You’ve done some dumb things. But look what you have gotten to experience, anyway!”

“Yes. There has always been this constant, powerful awareness that God is with us every step, that we are here for so short a time. That heaven is close, so close. ”

R.’s eyes glimmered with tears. “But you need to share this with people. You need to write about it. It could make such a difference in people’s lives.”

His face shone with the intensity of his certainty, his feelings. He started to turn away a little, not accustomed to letting his tears fall before others. And in that moment I was allowed to see him, the man he is, his soul filled with compassion and courage, the complicated beauty of his life. The sacrifices he has made. The burdens carried and released. His devotion to his many friends and his family. His unerring and inordinate love of life.

“Thank you for saying that,” I said softly. “I’ll think about it.”

So here I am writing about things I have never planned on sharing with people other than my family. I may not ever do so again. I would have to tell the whole messy story, the most painful bits, in order to get to the miracles  known and witnessed, the treasures excavated. More likely I will continue to fictionalize some of it, slip in another God story here and there so you barely see it coming.

But the very best experience that autumn afternoon spent with my family was this: everything fell away from R., his heart was bared and his soul, oh, it shone–how, truly,  each and every one of them shone.

(The crew gathered during my oldest sister’s 75th birthday March 2012)