Like Ocean Waves

After midnight Tuesday, up in my office on my desktop PC instead of in my chair with the laptop in the living room.  Came upstairs to use my good toothbrush and decided to write a bit on this computer.  Carol is comfortably asleep downstairs.  I have a little concern being up here because her last seizure a couple of months ago was silent.

I won’t stay up here too long.  I just want to get this next section started, and hope to be able to resume it tomorrow.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Ocean was a bus or subway trip of less than half an hour away.  My buddies and I would just wear out suits beneath our jeans, roll a towel up into our back pocket and make our way by public transportation to Bay 8 of Brighton Beach, down the shore from Coney Island.

I spent one summer when I was thirteen with my family in a bungalow in Rockaway.  Same ocean, just some miles east.

In short, I became very familiar with the ocean.  In particular, I learned, as a matter of necessity, how to handle the ocean’s waves.  The one thing you did not want to do was get hit full force by a breaking wave.  Those waves could easily knock you off your feet and under.

An unpleasant but not life threatening situation.

You learned to either go over or under the wave depending upon where you were standing as it approached you.  If  you weren’t too far out from shore where the waves would break, you would advance toward it and dive under it before it reached you and then you surfaced on the other side.  If you were further out where the wave was just starting to crest, your job was a little easier. You just went over the top of the cresting wave.

All of which is preface to the metaphor that has been sitting in my head since the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

That’s enough of a start.  I can pick this up fairly easily when next I have the opportunity.

Friday afternoon in town in the library after a couple of errands.

Strange as it might sound, deciding whether or not to watch the Kentucky Derby this past Saturday caused me considerable stress.  This seems like a decidedly unimportant television viewing decision.

But it wasn’t.

Because it drew me back hard into the world Carol and I together had created and shared.

When talking about horse racing, or horses in general, I like to joke that growing up in the city my exposure to these large beasts consisted of the very occasional mounted police officer, the even rarer and perhaps unreliable memory of a horse drawn vehicle for a knife sharpening business, and much more prominently, horses of the wooden variety, such as those on the merry go round at an amusement park in Coney Island.

In the interest of historical accuracy, I will point out that I possess a picture of my young self, sitting uncomfortably on a horse somewhere on a family vacation trip.  My dim memory of that event is that I could not convince the horse I was on to move in the proper direction.

In short, that brief, unsuccessful close-up experience with horse flesh, did not do anything to change my indifference to horses and horse racing. That there are several race tracks in and around New York City including Belmont, home for the last of the triple crown of races, was a fact to which I paid no attention.

I do not know why horse racing didn’t register in my consciousness since I enjoy competition in almost any form.  It simply was not of interest to anyone in my family or among my friends or their families.  It is true that my first wife’s family, particularly her father, were serious followers of horse racing.  But I was never invited to share that interest with them, nor do I think I would have cared to.

I had no objection to following, or betting on, the horses.  I was just indifferent to them.

Until Carol changed that.

She grew up on a farm that still used work horses as indicated by a picture of her father with two such animals.  She had her own horse for a time, and spent a year in a private high school in Pennsylvania, which featured, among other things, training in equipage, including jumping.

When she lived in New York, her life was filled with a whole list of  new experiences and challenges, none of which involved horses.  It is possible—my memory is uncertain—she might have taken me to a horse show somewhere on Long Island.  I know we attended such an event.  I just can’t be sure where.  Long Island, particularly in the upscale north shore communities, does have the kind of horse owning culture associated with old money.  So the show might have been there.

But when we moved to rural Michigan, we were in serious horse country.  Our neighbor to the north until recently kept a couple of horses in a fenced area behind his house.  The owners of the house we bought had a horse stabled in the building we converted into an office.  Carol’s brother and his wife had their own horses and also even now make their barn and pasture available to renters.

Respite time over.  Will try to continue, perhaps tonight.

Monday night.  Kyle had a tough session with Carol who was non-co-operative.  He cajoled her onto her feet several times.

Ironically, she awoke from a short nap after he left in a remarkably good mood, alert state of mind and with a healthy appetite for the pizza we were sharing with Ryan.

Kind of a microcosm of the maddening ups and downs of this disease.

I’ll try to pick up the thread I dropped a couple of days ago.

All of my ruminating about horses is the context for my dealing with the Kentucky Derby.  Doings so reminds me, if such is necessary, of another indication of Carol’s love of horse racing,  So here it is.

Some years ago, in fact I believe not too long after we moved here, Carol took herself off to a writers retreat.  Three details remain in my memory.  First, the Subaru dealer in town managed mess up a routine service so that we deemed it unwise for Carol to take the car until the problem was resolved.  That fact also helps date this incident within a year or two of our arrival here in 2002 when we were still relying on the dealer for service.  Carol rented a car and went off.

I can’t remember where exactly the retreat was, perhaps southern Ohio, but it was not far from Louisville.  That is the second detail that is clear.

Which leads to the third.  I flew down to join Carol, and together we went to Churchill Down.  It was off season.  So no race, but she thoroughly enjoyed walking about the grounds and building.  I recall we also took a boat ride on the Ohio.

My musings about the Kentucky Derby takes me back to the metaphor I had begun to develop built on my recollection of navigating ocean waves.

I simply could not make up my mind first whether to watch it.  I knew we could not talk about it, at least in any meaningful way.  Perhaps I mentioned it.  I don’t recall.  If I did there surely was little response.

Sitting in the green room with the television remote in my hand, I was paralyzed by an indecision that was rooted in the heavy wave of sadness that had rolled over me.  It was the same kind of wave I experience regularly when I am forced to confront a reminder of what we used to share.

These waves can and do crop up without warning. There are hundreds of objects in this house that can be the occasion for one of them to arrive, uninvited and unwanted.  I live among them.  Most often they cause nothing.  But then something, the silly sign in the upstairs bathroom announcing baths for five cents, or the laptop sitting idly on the desk we bought and set up in her now unused office, the nightgown hanging on a hook in the bedroom I enter only to retrieve my clothes, the salmon rub she insisted we buy still on the shelf in the cabinet in the kitchen, these and all the others I encounter every day every once in a while raise that wave of sadness that engulfs me.

Unlike the ocean waves, there is no learning how to dive under them or ride over the top of them.  They will sweep over me.

But also unlike the ocean waves that smash you with tremendous force if you fail to implement one of the avoidance maneuvers, knocking you around and down, these waves of sadness instead are almost gentle, yes gentle, but not in a soothing way.

There is no physical beating.

Just the feeling of being enveloped in a gray mist, not black enough to lead to despair, but thick enough to create the physical sense of its cold embrace.

The moments pass.

But there will be another and then another, on and on, like the endless repetition of ocean waves against the shore.


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