Screwy Prayer

Screw ItMy two best friends in the world are going through an absolute hell of a time right now. Their son, with whom they are pregnant after several rounds of IVF, has developed a serious condition in utero that will require the mother’s hospitalization through the remainder of the pregnancy (look up Vasa Praevia for more details).

I used to be one of those people who always wanted to pray with you. Out loud. I’m not one of those people any more—not where almost anyone is concerned (the two aforementioned friends would be an exception, but even then, only seldom). I don’t get anything spiritual from hearing myself pray now. Now, I need my prayers to have feet, legs, hands, grocery bags, rides to the airport, long runs, active things. So last night I went to their house and helped. I put together a book shelf. I ironed a curtain and helped move furniture. I brought tacos for dinner.

I’m not writing all this to say, “Look how wonderful I am!” I’m writing it to say that I like prayers with feet. And Phillips head screwdrivers. And big things of greasy queso. And last night, in my meditation after I got home, I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and prayed—for this baby, for my friends, for all of the extended tribe we have. If you’re so inclined, please join me—whatever that looks like for you.

 

Two Lips

Tulips

The first time we saw this house, nearly a decade ago, it had been staged to within an inch of its life. That included the backyard, which was planted with a perfectly timed seasonal rotation of blooming things that began with the first flush of spring and continued through midsummer. I’ve never done much to tend to those plants, and as a result, many of them haven’t survived my inadequate care. But these tulips have come up year after year. I’m not sure what changed in 2015—our neighbors on that side built a fence—but this year, they exploded. I cut a few of them and put them in a vase in the dining room.

Cross Words

Not bad for a Sunday morning. (Some help from the Internet—What's the point if you don't learn something?) #NYTcrossword

 

I ordered home delivery of the Sunday New York Times at the beginning of the year, and it’s added so much to my life that I’m a little ashamed I didn’t do it before now. My Dad and I have done crossword puzzles together since I was twelve or thirteen; he doesn’t live here, of course, so I’m pretty much on my own to do the one in the Times magazine. I try to work out as much as I can, but I consider it completely legitimate to use the Internet to solve a clue I can’t get on my own—as long as that clue is something easily looked up. There are plenty of crossword cheat sites, of course, but unless you’re well and truly stuck, that’s lame. I stick to Wikipedia for the ones I just can’t get on my own. Because what’s the point if you don’t learn something, right? This one made me proud, though, because I answered somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of the clues without having to look.

DeLorme’s

Today: Broken Bow, Idabel, Hugo, Boswell, Atoka, Coalgate, Ada, Seminole, Tecumseh, Norman.

The back page of DeLorme’s Oklahoma Atlas & Gazetteer is the most useful thing in my car, because I can access it quickly and almost always find my way where I need to go.

Here’s how powerful sense of place is for me: I look at this map and instantly feel like there’s a literal, actual, physical (in other words, not figurative) thread tied somewhere in my chest to the ground, to the land, to the dirt, and as long as I’m physically within Oklahoma, I’m tied down, I’m home, I’m home, I’m home. I’m okay. Do you have that feeling where you are?

Bright Patch

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The Belizean morning is a little chilly. I hadn’t anticipated that, especially on the second of May. But we’re fifteen miles out to shore, so the wind buffets me ever so lightly, and I draw my arms around myself and shiver.

The breeze is gone as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived, and though the sun has only begun to rise, I can feel its needles of warmth prickling the back of my neck. Of the four people who currently inhabit this one-acre mound of dried coral in the Caribbean, I’m the only one awake. The palm trees move with another breeze; this one doesn’t cut to my bone and sneak under my shorts the way the other one did. The small pebbles, bits of formerly living things, are sharp under my feet, but I make my way down to the dock.

I had planned on a morning swim. Vacations are like this, when you hit them in the right mood (and don’t have any children). Sometimes, you rise unbidden, both surprised and not that your body didn’t feel the need to sleep in for a third day. Your body seems okay with it—even eager, like, “See, this is the life we should be living! Up and at ’em!”

So you get up, smile at your lover coiled up, and make your way through some chilly morning breezes and pointy beach sand to the dock. On the way, I think about going over to the cabana and grabbing a Belikin from the fridge—the guys on staff said we could help ourselves to beer whenever we felt like it, and this morning, I feel like it.

But I’m also in that dreamy vacation state, allowing myself to believe that some mystic force has pulled me out here this morning to watch the sunrise finish up, even though the dock faces west. The mainland is barely visible through an early fog. The water laps doggedly around the dock, its wet slaps like a drunk trying to play the steel drum with a soaked sock.

The water is dark. Green. The waves are high.

I’d come out here thinking I’d sit for a moment and then jump in, but something is holding me back now. The water seems too dark, the waves too high, and I suddenly realize that in order to jump in, I’m going to have to take off my glasses. This will leave me blind to any movement in the water. Sure, I’ll still be able to see the dock, and the island, but not, say, a barracuda.

Do they have barracudas in Belize?

My vacation Buddha smile vanishes. I stand, put my hands on my hips, and regard the water the way one might regard a flat tire when running late for work: brows crinkled, lips twisted off to the side, teeth baring down ever so slightly on each other.

You wanted a swim, my mind tells me again. There’s nothing to worry about. You swam yesterday just fine.

But the water seems active, alive, hostile, chaotic.

You’re not going to be able to talk yourself into this. Just do it.

I strip off my linen shirt and stand at the edge of the dock, every muscle in my back tensed and pointed at the water. In some part of my mind, I can see what I look like: a six-year-old—who has just turned thirty—afraid to jump in some water.

I imagine the staff watching me from the cabana. Fucking American is afraid of the fucking water.

I jump in.

There is the rushing sound, the cold, the salt. Something burns. I feel my feet hit the bottom. Something squishes between my toes. My leg jerks away before checking with my brain.

It was just seaweed, my brain says after I’ve surfaced and caught breath. But man, look at this water.

From within, it seems high and frenzied, the tops of the waves far above my head. I’m pointed out to sea, and all I can see is water—and not even for but a few feet in front of my face. I tread, I swim in a little circle, I turn my head to get a good look at the dock, only a few feet away, and the island only a few feet of foot-deep water past that. But I know that behind me is The Sea, the roiling blanket of water that covers the whole planet and into which I can be sucked and disappear forever.

Also, barracudas.

I climb back up the dock and pull my shirt back on but do not button it. I stare into the water. Now I can see exactly how deep it’s not, how dark it’s not, how very threatening the whole thing isn’t. I feel ridiculous, like when I was a kid and kids would pretend to throw punches in my face to see me flinch. I always flinched; I didn’t want to, but it was what my body did. I never figured out how the other kids stopped themselves.

The hollow sound of the water lapping against the bottom of the dock sounds like laughter, like a sarcastic slow clap. I stand up again.

About thirty feet from the dock, diagonally to the left, is a bright patch of something underwater—seaweed, maybe, or bright coral. Even with my glasses, I can’t tell, as the water is moving too much for me to distinguish shapes underneath. Whatever the bright patch is, it’s not moving. Hands on hips, I stare at it for awhile.

In an instant, my mind is made up. I doff the shirt, throw it behind me, set my glasses down, and dive in. I swim like a crazy person, like a cat that’s been thrown in the bathtub. I forget all form I learned while swimming in college—my flat hands slap against the surface, my feet kick clumsily against the waves, my breath comes ragged and quick, sucking salt water across the roof of my mouth and into my sinuses.

I reach the bright patch. I tread for a moment. The view is even scarier now—I’m further out, the waves are higher, and everything in my mammal brain is screaming at me, get out, get out, get out, they’re coming, it’s coming, it’s going to get you, you’re going to be sucked under and out to sea and gone forever and this is how it’s going to end, get out, get out, get out, get out, get out.

I was raised on the prairie. On the prairie, you can see things coming at you from far away. The ground is underneath and while the wind is formidable, your animal sense tells you it won’t carry you away.

My animal sense is shaking apart like a defective carnival ride. I suck in a quick breath and do my crazy paddle back to the dock. I think I can feel an undercurrent pulling against me, but after what feels like several minutes and is probably only a few seconds, my fingers brush against the wood of the dock. I put my feet down in the sand and climb back up.

My heart is pounding. The breeze feels cold now against my wet skin.

I stand on the dock and stare in to the water, hands once more on my hips.

“Huh,” I say out loud, amazement like a little pop of color on a gray canvas, a light far out at sea, fading.