a sense of place: hurricane house

Post-Hurricane Exterior
One might decide to focus on the damage.

Conclude this house failed to weather the storm.

I choose to focus on the fact that it’s still standing.

Unconquered.

*

Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004.

90% of the buildings on the island lost their roofs.

By 2008 most had been repaired or rebuilt, but some, like this one, were abandoned.

Standing here I was struck by the absolute stillness and silence, as well as the sense that the house was slowly but surely being reclaimed by the wilderness.

(Click here for a larger version of the image.)

people, man. wtf.

Yesterday I had to block someone on Flickr. Flickr!

This random dude – who, apparently, first discovered my photo stream when he Googled “Rasta dumptruck” – was commenting on nearly every photo I posted. Which wouldn’t have bugged me if the comments had had any real content, but they were all something to the effect of “nice 1″. That’s what the “add to favorites” button is for, buddy.

I had made up my mind to just ignore him. Because I figured he was a moron, but a harmless moron. But then he sent me a message, asking me if I’ve got any more photos of myself because he’s “fixin’ to make them wallpaper” on his cell phone? I ignored that too, but decided he only had one more strike. The next comment he left was on a photo of a tree, and it was a line from a recent and entirely unrelated blog post, followed by “grow, tree. grow!”

No. Blocked. Blocked so hard I wish I could block him twice.

Also.

Last week my faith in humanity got a huge steroid shot in the ass, when I wrote a heartfelt, tearjerker of a post about my mom that quickly because the most popular thing I’d ever done on Tumblr.

Then last night, right before I went to bed, inspired by I-have-no-idea-what, I made my first ever Courage Wolf.

Courage-Wolf-JOIN-TUMBLR-NEVER-WATCH-TV-AGAIN

And, yeah. It has been reblogged more than a hundred times, and is now by far the most popular thing I’ve ever posted on Tumblr.

Sigh.

FINE.

Since so many people have seen it I’d like to explain that when I said “JOIN TUMBLR – NEVER WATCH TV AGAIN”, I did not mean that Tumblr takes up so much of my time that I don’t get around to TV. I meant that with all the wonderful liveblogging of, for example, the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I don’t need TV.

It’s kind of like “watching” a baseball game by listening to the radio, except I can “listen” to a whole bunch of channels simultaneously. It’s one of the main reasons I adore Tumblr. ADORE I SAY.

tumblr is funny

I saw a random post the other day that tickled me. Something to the effect of,

“I’M SORRY BUT BLASPHEMY IS AN AUTOMATIC UNFOLLOW.”

Can you imagine the force of will it took for me not to comment on that? Can you? OK. Whatever you’re imagining, multiply that by 10.

And I just have not been able to get it off my mind. Blasphemy is an automatic unfollow. Blasphemy is an automatic unfollow. I’ve been carrying it around with me. A giggly whisper in my ear. Blasphemy is an automatic unfollow.

Giggly? Yes, giggly. Because really. I’m VERY open-minded, but “blasphemy is an automatic unfollow” is one seriously ridiculous statement. Because you know what?

RANDOM IDEOLOGICAL ULTIMATUMS ARE AN AUTOMATIC UNFOLLOW.

AND I’M NOT SORRY.

HAVE WE REACHED AN IMPASSE YET?

sprained my ankle today

I have a long, clumsy history of screwing up my feet. Like the time I went camping and stepped on a rusty nail. Or the time I walked barefoot into the Hudson River and stepped on a broken bottle. And then there was the Donnie Wahlberg incident, wherein I decided to dismantle the cheap-o frame the poster had come in, because I thought it would look better bare and thumbtacked to my bedroom wall. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it was behind actual, real glass. I will spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say I’ve still got a visible scar on my big toe.

The first time I sprained my ankle I was in 9th grade. Walking across campus, I stepped down from the blacktop to the grass, and somehow managed to miss the concrete step and a half that separated them. Never mind that I’d successfully navigated that step and a half nearly every school day from the time I was eight. All of a sudden I was just sitting on the ground, terrified to stand up because I’d heard, I swore I’d heard my ankle crack.

I was sure it was broken but it was only sprained. And not even that badly. Apparently I’ve got really loose ligaments. (It’s the yoga.)

After that my ankle got more prone to injury. Like the first sprain was a gateway to more and more spectacular injuries. A year later I went down during a varsity basketball game. Accidentally kicked the headmaster in the face while he was trying to untie my sneaker. The following summer I slipped on some loose rocks in the French Pyrénées, and found myself limping all the way to Andorra, where I did what any red-blooded American 17-year-old would have done. I bought a bottle of Wild Turkey. Tax-free. In a supermarket. Because I could.

Fast-forward fifteen years. I’m pregnant with Bean and have suddenly learned to be careful. Carrying my child, I became very aware of things I’d never before given much consideration. Every bite of food I put in my mouth. How close I’d approach just-painted boats and and their potentially hazardous fumes. Every single step I took. It was of vital importance that the ground underneath my feet be solid. Stable.

Bean’s a little boy now. Not really a baby. He’s in school four days a week. Stuff happens to him that I only know about because he tells me. Not too long ago, I was with him nearly every single moment he was awake, and him having a life apart from me would have been unfathomable. So when I see him sneeze into the crook of his elbow, I acknowledge that I wasn’t the one to teach him that, and I decide it’s OK. I let go of it and don’t study the fact that the real letting go has yet to begin.

(I won’t pretend that I wasn’t thrilled when his teacher told me that he said he couldn’t sing with her because he only sings with Mommy. Won’t even try.)

Bean was at school today when I twisted my ankle. I guess even after all these years the tendons remain nice and loose. (I still do yoga.) And I guess I’ve forgotten or at least relaxed the habit of careful stepping. Because I simply don’t know how it happened. How I missed the single step into my own garage. But I did, and I went down, and I screamed and screamed, more in frustration and surprise than pain.

Tonight, after dinner but before I went to my class, I showed Bean my ankle. He marveled at how swollen it was, put his little hands right on the black and blue and said,

“But I don’t understand, Mommy. How did you fall down? You can’t fall down. You know how to walk.

It’s true, baby. Mommy knows how to walk real well. She does. But sometimes, just for a minute… she forgets.

happy birthday, mom

grandma kay, 1970
This photo of my mother was taken in 1970. She was a year out of college and teaching biology at Cathedral High School in New York City. She was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. Living in Manhattan was an enormous challenge for her. That first winter, she tells me, she got herself a long brown coat, her secret weapon against the weirdos on the subway who’d otherwise ogle her bottom.

That summer, she made costumes for Shakespeare in the Park. In the fall she continued to teach and also started graduate school at Columbia. The following summer, she and my dad got married. Five years after that, they moved to Nyack and had me. My brother arrived two years later.

It wasn’t easy for her, of course, when my dad left. But after a while she pulled herself together and did things she might never have done had they remained married. In Montana one summer, under the wing (ha) of a Native American named Brooke Medicine Eagle, she went on a vision quest. She taught at the Audobon Camp in Maine. She lived for a time on the Clearwater, the Hudson River Sloop. She published a short story.

Whenever there were breakthroughs in science, she’d get the newest college textbooks and teach herself whatever there was to learn. Dinosaurs, global warming, mitochondria, and neurotransmitters. For example. She was an enormously popular teacher and at least once a month I pass along to her Facebook messages that I can only describe as fan mail.

In 2001 she and her boyfriend of seven years got married, retired, sold the house I grew up in, moved onto a 45’ Herschoff Mobjack and sailed to the Caribbean. The lived on their boat and sailed from island to island until 2004. They were in Grenada when my mom got word that her father had passed away. She went to Indiana for the funeral, and several weeks later, while she was still in the States, her husband was very badly injured in an accidental fall. He needed orthopedic surgery, and medical care that was simply unavailable in the Caribbean, so she flew back to Grenada so she could be with him while they medievaced him to Florida. He was at one of the best hospitals in the country, and I was so certain he’d be fine, I didn’t talk to him on the telephone before his surgery. On the operating table he suffered a massive stroke. He never woke up.

It was, simply, the scariest thing that had ever happened to me. Not only John’s death, but what it did to my mother. I was so worried about her I couldn’t breathe, or cry, or imagine how we would ever again be whole.

She stayed with me in New York for a while, but by January she was itching to get back to Grenada. It had become home. And so she went. I followed her a few months later. I was supposed to stay for six weeks, but when my time was up I didn’t want to leave. So I stayed. For four years. By the first anniversary of John’s death, we had found a house, brought my grandmother to live with us, and I had met a guy and found a job. I was also pregnant. With Bean. Who is, by the way, named after the grandfather he never got to meet.

I still think about John a lot, and I know my mother does too. I do not think that I will ever, as long as I live, stop missing him. Nor will I forget what it was like to witness my mother become a widow. To watch her face crumple up with a sorrow I could not ever hope to soothe. But I am at peace with the knowledge that we survived the hardest part. We weathered the storm. And we are stronger for it.

Today is Mom’s birthday. She’s 63. She’s just as beautiful as she was at 24. She doesn’t have any wrinkles, and her white hair doesn’t really say “old”. It says “hippie snow princess”. She still bakes and sews and has an almost supernatural touch with our garden. She loves dark chocolate-covered chili peppers. She devours the books I recommend and then wants to talk about them for hours. She is quiet and shy and soft-spoken. She is nothing like me and she is also everything like me. And she is the best Grandma a Bean could ever have.

I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday.

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