Warm waves, surprise thoughts and Cuban coffee

beach

Trudging across the sand alone, a strong breeze hit my face and my sunglasses pressed hard against my nose. The only other person on the beach was a worker setting out beach chairs for the day.

“A storm is coming in,” he says to me. “Probably will have to just drag these all back in a few hours.”

Setting my bag down on the shore, I took off my sundress and ran like a child into the waves. I let the water hit my face hard and push me over. Snapping on my goggles and fighting the current, I swam out until my feet barely touched the sandy bottom. Then I waited for a wave to crest, dived under and flipped around to watch the water crash above me. Surrounded by bubbles, I surfaced when I was out of breath.

When my body got tired I went limp and let the waves push me to shore. I lay gasping for breath on the hot sand. I stood and barely dragged myself to my bag. Eyes closed against the sun, I stretched out and let the warmth blanket me and the calming sounds of the waves lull me to sleep.

“That is a stupid thing to do.”

A strong male voice that was surprising close hit me like a jolt. Startled and disoriented I felt the heat of my body and the scratchy sand under my face.

“I don’t care if it’s stupid, just do it.”

A female voice, high and filled with annoyance, answered even closer and I felt around for my sunglasses.

Drool was along the side of my face and my entire body was sticky with sweat and sand. Rolling on my side I saw them. A couple, maybe in their 50s, tan and in matching swimsuits was standing a few feet from me.

“Just hold the damn coconut and let me get the picture,” the woman said pushing the round, brown fruit into his hands.

Could it be they don’t see me? I thought.

“Want me to get a picture of you both?” I said. My voice sounded so raspy and odd that I wasn’t even sure I said it.

“That would be perfect!” the woman said in a very different voice. Her hair was flowing around her face and I noticed she wore a lot of makeup for a beach day.

I dragged my body up and could feel how exhausted I was. Several late nights, travel, wine and vacation had set on me like a drug. My body was more relaxed then I could remember it ever being before.

This couple snapped into picture mode before I was even up. There they stood in a pose that I imagined came from years of comfort and familiarity. His hand around her waist, she holding the coconut like a sweet newborn baby and both with matching smiles that accentuated the laugh lines around their eyes and mouths.

“Thanks,” he said and offered to take my picture holding the coconut.

Shaking my head, I gathered my things as they started to banter about placement of towels and what they would eat for lunch.

The walk back was hard. I could feel the extra weight on my body like I was carrying one my children piggyback style across the hot sand. I silently chided myself for how bad I have mistreated and neglected my body.

When I arrived back at the resort I found a bathroom. I looked in the mirror and laughed. A long, crazy almost hysterical laugh.

Here I am, I thought.

Sand was stuck on me from a combination of salt water, sweat and drool. It was all over the left side of my face, my neck, arm and leg. A crusted layer of sand accentuated the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth. My skin was slightly red and shiny. My hair was a tangled impossible mess.

Here I am, I thought again.

Everything I have done in my life has resulted in the person I was seeing in the mirror.

Laughing at myself some more, I made a half-hearted attempt to clean up and then headed out.

I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Wandering around the gorgeous resort, I found myself sidling up to the Tiki bar that had just opened for the day.

Signs all over proclaimed things like “If You’re Drinking To Forget, Please Pay in Advance” and “Dear Lord…Let this Be a Flip Flop Day.” The bartender was about my age. Her name was Michelle. She recommended the Key Lime Colada.

An older couple from Phoenix shared the bar with me and we talked for over an hour about life, marriage, kids, travel and retirement. I kept drinking until my lovely friend came to retrieve me.

This was four days into my trip. Days that had been unlike anything I had imagined they would be. My friends embraced me with more love than I can explain and I felt full in a way I didn’t know I needed to be.

Amazing conversations driving in the car at 1 a.m. Cuban coffee. Some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Creativity. Cuban coffee. Unbelievable sunsets. Spirituality. Did I mention Cuban coffee?

I felt nourished in every way possible. My soul had been feasting and was just so full.

Sitting at that bar a realization flooded my body and I felt a surge of something new.

I did not miss my kids.

For some reason I had imagined I would spend the entire trip pinning away for them like missing limbs that had been cut from my body. Somehow I had told myself that a “good mother” could not possibly enjoy vacation without her children. That my very essence would be crushed and I would weep at the sound of their voice on the phone and be worried anxiously the entire time.

None of that happened.

I did not miss my kids.

I knew they were fine and I allowed myself to be fully present in the experiences that were planned for me. Soaking in it and revealing in this feeling of freedom and comfort, I let it wash over me.

A phrase kept surfacing in my mind.

I feel so adult.

It’s a ridiculous thought for someone who will be 40 in a few short years, yet it was there. It kept coming back and I realized what it was. I do everything with my kids. I have become so into their world that I forget sometimes that I do have choices and life OUTSIDE them.

It’s not that I don’t do anything adult. However, most of my “adult” things involve eating sweets and watching movies my kids are not allowed to. It’s almost like I’m a teenager and I “sneak” these little things as a way of rebelling against my parents.

I am an adult.

I am in charge of my life.

***

On the long plane ride home I sat in the middle seat. The man on my left was flying into S.F. for a job opportunity. He was young, maybe late 20s, he was full of optimism and hope for his future. The woman to my right was in her 50s and was visiting her only child away at college. She was so excited to see her and you could see the pride and love she had for her daughter radiating off her.

When we landed we all said our customary good-byes and headed our three separate routes.

As I walked off the plane I was filled with excitement to see my children. My heart started to pound and I could not wait to see them.

My daughter ran and leaped into my arms and peppered my face with kisses. My boy said “hey” and I got a glimpse at the teenager he will be soon. I gathered them both into my arms and kissed them.

I love my children more than anything in the world.

But I did not miss them.

And that’s OK.

me

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And then I lost my mind…

Walking to my car I was so engrossed with my phone that I didn’t even realize I had arrived until I bumped into it. I unlocked the door and continued my texting conversation without missing a beat.

That’s when I saw a shadow.

It was just a moment of darkness and then the light returned.

Immediately I locked the doors and started my car. I set down my phone and returned to reality.

I was in a parking garage.

Downtown.

Alone.

Late.

As I drove down the ramp toward the exit, a tiny little whisper entered my mind.

“What if that shadow was someone in the parking garage about to rob me?”

Good thing I locked the doors.

I’m safe.

Inserting the parking ticket into the machine, I exit the garage and wind my way through downtown to the freeway.

Time to get my dance on.

“If you feel like happiness is the truth…”

Not this song AGAIN! I snap off the radio in frustration and enter the freeway.

Some quiet is a good idea.

“What if that shadow was someone in my car?”

Wait…WHAT? Stop it.

“What if they are waiting until we get far away from the city to stick a knife to my throat?”

NO! Stop it.

“What if I never see my children again?”

AHHH!!!! Stop it!!!

The thoughts start spiraling down into a deep, dark place filled with regret, fear and panic.

Sneaking looks into my rearview mirror becomes too scary and I almost pull over on the freeway and run away from my car.

Stories I’ve heard of women being raped and left mutilated on the side of the road start playing in my head. Every image of abuse and death that I’ve tried to suppress start playing like some absurd, grotesque slide show of my impending demise.

“How could you be so stupid to not check the car?”

There it is.

The reason it all started.

I didn’t check the car. I paid no attention to my surroundings.

STUPID PHONE.

I almost roll down the window to chuck it, but realize it might save me if I am indeed sharing the car with a murderer hiding in the third row. He could easily be under that giant karate duffel bag back there.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

I look back and it seems the duffel bag has been moved from where I remember seeing it last.

Panic time.

I turn the music on and off for several minutes trying to decide which is worse, hearing my attacker or being surprised when he jumps up to kill me.

Every passing car I search their faces to see if they are signaling me that they see someone in the back.

I swear I can feel pressure in my back, like someone leaning on my seat.

Now I’m crying.

My poor kids…would they know how much I loved them? Would they remember all the little things I did for them? Would they forever be haunted by the memory of me leaving them to see a play?

How could I be so selfish to go see a play without my family?

What is wrong with me?

The freeway exit is ahead and I’m now convinced this is the moment my attacker is waiting to pounce. He has enjoyed watching me panic. I can almost hear his breath.

I exit and stop at a red light.

Should I run? I could just leave the car right here and run for it. The gas station is right there…

STOP THIS.

I turn on the interior lights and look around the car.

I’m alone.

The duffel bag is against the back door and nobody is behind it.

Light turns green and I drive the rest of the way home in a daze.

***
In just two days I am flying on an airplane without my family.

I am headed to Florida to stay with a very dear friend and her beautiful family. It is an early birthday present from her and I’m so grateful.

Yet…

The fears that spiral in my mind have gone into hyper drive. Untruths are being yelled in a voice so loud that it’s hard to hear anything else. I’ve been tempted to cancel…to crumble and fall into a heap so I can feel safe.

Yet…

I am going. When I am quiet I can picture the beach. I can see their happy faces and almost feel their hugs. The break from my life that I so desperately crave is just within my reach.

Yet…

Fear feels like such a part of my skin that I can’t seem to shake it.

It is following me as I count down the days and is clouding everything I do this week. I’m not going to share all the horrible, ugly things that keep surfacing.

Trust me. It’s stupidly dreadful.

Yet…

I am going.

Yesterday my sister heard my panic and did something amazing. As an early birthday present, she took me shopping and bought me a heap of adorable clothes that fit. I’m more grateful to her than I can even express. Feeling better about how I look is helping me to shake some of the fear loose.

My kids are going to be fine. Daddy and grandma have fun things planned. They will be loved up and safe. This is their chance to miss me and I them.

Fear and guilt are my two favorite punishments that I live in daily.

They are making me so tired.

My body and mind are craving this trip.

Sun.

Sand.

Friends.

Change.

Rest.

I am going.

See you soon.