Friday, July 02, 2004

That Is Worth Something, When You Think About It

Noonday glare in cobalt blue. Pleasant heat to windward as I steer the car south and east, the hairs on my left forearm slowly going from brown to red and then to gold in the sun, growing lighter as the skin grows darker. I'm developing backwards into a photo negative while Pennsylvania hills give way to Virginia plain and sudden explosion of urban sprawl fifty miles to either side of DC. Everything changes in ways both perpetual and eventual; only the low thrum of the asphalt is constant.

A trip to the market
A trip into the pearl-gray morning sunlight
That settles over Washington
Crossing the bridge in Norfolk we see to starboard a tall ship, a three-master, wondrous and unlikely, ploughing upriver towards us; then it's past and we're hurtling into the sky, whining up a vertiginous overpass with tall concrete barriers blocking the view on either side. It's a tunnel without a top. There is no more landscape than there would be on a roller-coaster—only the road ahead, with walls on either side beneath a blank blue dome.
This is the only life
Sorrows everywhere you turn
I am standing on the tarmac of a service station-cum-convenience store, a gallon jug of springwater in hand, washing chunks of puke from my son's clothing and car-seat. On the backside of Richmond we hit a miles-long traffic snarl—hours of crawl-and-stall that left us all gloomy and tense. In the midst of this misery, Sam began woefully to vomit. Four hours still to drive; he lies now across D's lap in the back seat, sleeping fitfully.

The last few years have been hard for us—as for everyone, of course, but. There's been a certain grindstone austerity to the long process of breaking away and re√ęstablishing ourselves. This is our first vacation since—when? The epic passage to Nebraska with Sam just six weeks old felt less like a holiday than a pilgrimage; our last real vacation was probably Disney World, in early 2001—and that is too long to go carrying that weight without sustained relief. It settles in, deep into the bones, and you no longer feel it there until you recognize its absence.

Crossing some bridge or other, there's a hint of salt and a promise of the sea in the air, and a hand I did not realize was throttling me slides away from my throat.

To prove that I love you
Because I believe in you
Summer skies, the stars are falling
All along the injured coast

This prospect of a week in North Carolina took tremendous work—even with the lion's share done by World's Best Sister-In-Law Tammy—but neither D nor I feel hard-done-by. This isn't one of those too-frequent projects where one takes the lead and does most of the work, leaving that one feeling exploited and the other feeling buffaloed; We've both knocked ourselves out to make this happen, both accepted that this is the best either or both of us can do.

If I have weaknesses
Don't let them blind me now
Summer skies, the stars are falling
All along the injured coast
The children are good travellers overall, and the journey is a pleasure even as the day grows long. Because D and I care passionately about many things (each other foremost), we fight a lot; it is because of that, not in spite of it, that our marriage is strong. The last third of any long car trip is a dangerous corner; in the weariness and confinement, anything can trigger a little detonation of resentment. Today, though, there are no sighs, no sullen silences, no snaps or snarks. We are together in an almost religious sense of gratitude. We are grateful because we are not arguing: we are not arguing because we are grateful.

And the Cape Fear River plain shears away, and we are off the mainland, onto the narrow spit of Wrightsville Beach, with the breakers rolling in to greet us.

If I have money
If I have children
Summer skies, the stars are falling
All along the injured coast
A New England kid, I—my idea of Ocean formed by the bleak beauty of the Ipswich shingle and the kneebusting scree and nipplestiffening brine of Maine—never knew water so warm or waves so high and laden with shells, each literally rattling as it breaks to the strand carrying such treasures as to drive Caligula to war with Poseidon.

My shades reflect kites blazing in a perfect sky over the pier. Claire is seven, soon to be eight, thigh-deep in thundering surf, lovely and fearless. Sam and Sophie are the picture of laughing industry, bright plastic shovels working in the sand, shooting an occasional appraising glance at the encroaching sea with eyes big as thumbprints on a Christmas cookie. Something in me aches at their sheer beauty; the fierce grin will not leave my face, and my eyes are brimming beneath my clip-ons.

Three hundred steps away, the house is cool and quiet. There's a book lying open face-down on the porch swing, just waiting, and later there will be mahi and tortillas. When we go, so few days from now, the foodstuffs and supplies we do not use will go to the church across the way, and from there to folk who need it.

I am at perfect peace, if only for a while; I am surrounded by the people I love best, and if my heart is breaking it is only because it is overfull.

Leaving the Valley of the Shadow behind me now.

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