i went to the water empty-handed today, but not with an empty head. i felt a tugging, a pull, something heavy inside of me when i woke this morning. and a down-to-the-bone yearning for a wide open space without distraction. i did not bring a book. no pen or paper, no journal to write in furiously. left the cell phone in the car and walked the path to the backside of fort williams. stood at the top of the cliff and looked down, scanned the rocks for the biggest sprays of water, finally seeing exactly the spot, and slowly navigated the rocks down to it. sat as close as i could to the waters edge, near enough that i felt the occasional cold splash on my feet, but high enough so that i wouldn't be drenched completely by the spray. the sea was rougher today than yesterday, and the breeze coming off the water was strong and ocean-air cool...when the sun went behind the clouds, i would find myself shivering and wishing that i had brought a sweatshirt with me. and then the sun would peek out again and i would cloak its warmth around me like a blanket.
i watched the waves roll in, the smaller ones splashing gently against the rocks, the bigger ones that always followed pounding so hard the spray would shoot 20 feet in the air, pushing the water all around me, white surf turning luminescent green. i got lost in it all, felt hypnotized, gave my mind permission to become empty of any thought and held myself completely still. i must have sat like that for an hour, not moving, lulled to almost-sleep by the water i sometimes desperately crave and so much of the time have to be near.
after a time, my mind began to stir, to wake from meditation. and i thought about the lovely bones and ann sebold's version of heaven. if heaven exists, i want it to be exactly as she described it, how we are given, in our heavens, our simplest dreams, how they are created by what comforts us and by what we desire. if that's heaven, then mine will look something like shapleigh sitting on top of the backside of monhegan island, and it will be filled with everyone i've loved and lost and who made the journey before me, and it will be recognizable to the people i leave behind so that when they make their own journey they will find me easily. i will see them coming and i will wait for them, holding chocolate and flowers and then i will cover them with kisses and we will release the longing and the heartache that only comes from what you believed in your head was a separation that would last an eternity.
and i want so much to believe that we can stand in some beautiful spot there, and with no effort we can follow the lives of those we left behind. that we can sit next to them. visit them in their dreams. and that if we are gentle enough so that we do not frighten them, there might just be a moment or two when they understand we are there. and that in those fleeting seconds the longing and the missing will disappear for them. replaced by comfort. and grace. and a sense of being held closely. how beautiful that would be, what a gift.
i thought of these things as i sat and stared at the water, and then my mind, suddenly and with no warning, was filled and then overflowing with Betty. if i am honest i can say that she has been on the very edge of my thoughts lately, maybe because this book reminded me so much of her. the heaviness revealing itself. maybe i want so much to believe in sebold's heaven because then i will know that Betty is with me, watching, following me, just out of my reach but still there, just in a different way.
during the first year following her death, i was certain she visited me. i would have long, colorful dreams at night and we would walk together in fields of lavender and sometimes we would talk, and sometimes we wouldn't. and in those dreams i could feel her arms wrapped around me. i could lay my head on her shoulder and rest there awhile. there would be days when i would sit outside at my old house in scarborough, and the wind would kick up a certain way, and the chimes would ring and i would know, know deep down in my bones, that she was sitting right next to me. those were the days when grief sat in my belly like a brick. i don't remember if the grief made my heart hard like a stone, or if it made it fragile, too soft, like powder, or dust in my hands. i only remember that the ache was constant, that it seared through me like a knife, and that it made breathing difficult. i remember so often feeling as though i just. could. not. breathe.
i don't feel her like that anymore. she does not visit me in my dreams. sometimes i forget what she looks like, and when that happens i have to run into the livingroom and pull her picture off the shelf. and i make myself stare at it, long and hard, so that i can memorize her face all over again. i wonder if this is what happens when the grief subsides, when we begin to let go of the dead and go back to those who are still alive. do the dead understand this? do they feel our letting go and then also feel their pull on us fading away?
yet even as she seemingly fades away, there are still moments when i miss her so much that it burns my skin like fire, moments when i just want, for one tiny moment, to feel her hands clasped around my mine, to see her smile, hear her laughter. and somehow, this feeling of missing her is comforting to me because it means she has not left me altogether. i do not want her to disappear completely, i do not think i could bear it.
these were the thoughts that consumed me out on those rocks today. i kept willing Betty to show her face, in a wave, in the wind, in the reflection of the sun on the wet rocks, in anything, anything at all. i waited and waited. i was surprised to feel the water running down my cheeks, surprised to taste the salt, and i was not oblivious to the irony of water and salt, ocean and tears. we crave the ocean because we have bodies that are exactly like the ocean.
i waited and waited, and she did not come.
and so i stood. wiped my face. whispered i miss you to the wind. and then, i'm going to go home and write about you. turned my back to the water and climbed my way to the top again and did not look back. walked into the open field and looked up at the blue sky and saw the kites, again, kites everywhere, floating through the air like giant pieces of confetti.
you are nowhere and i need you to be everywhere.
with much effort, i moved away from the in-between spaces in my mind where ghosts keep company with the living, and into the place where Betty does not live anymore. but where i still do. walked to lady bug's car, opened the door, rolled down the windows. sat there, hands on the steering wheel, doing what i could to push the sadness away. was finally able, after a time, to take in a long breath that did not feel like a hot poker pressing against my lungs. started the car, and drove her home.