Well, Readers, this is the last read of The Wind and Me. Compared to Dan and Jeannie, this story is a bit heavy but we need a little heavy every now and then, don’t you think? I would very much appreciate your comments–responses, reactions, thoughts, criticism, anything that comes to mind as you read Bella’s story. Check back often for stories to come. Happy Story Time!
It’s a nor’easter, John’s weather radio says.
“And it’s set in,” said Red, the fisherman who runs the convenience store where Ron managed to get bread and milk this morning.
Annie asks what in the world that means, and my John, a good fisherman as well, replies, “It means the storm’s a rough one and it’s going to be here a while, maybe even a few days.”
“But not likely,” adds Ron with a smile.
“Hmm, maybe,” John halfheartedly agrees.
Having slept late from my exhausting experience yesterday, I traipse down the stairs in jeans and a dark navy sweatshirt. “It’s almost like a hurricane,” I add.
Ron looks up at me and grins. “Yeah, these storms can be rough. The wind seems to blow in like Superman, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive! Look! Up in the sky! It’s Superman!”
The guys are laughing. John punches Ron in the bicep. “Good one, man!”
The women don’t laugh. I certainly don’t. Already concerned about the third day sign, I don’t want to add fear of a devastating storm to my worries.
John’s eyes catch mine. They squint just a tiny bit, not enough for anyone to notice other than me. He’s concerned. He knows I’m worried, and he doesn’t understand why. I love storms at the beach, and he knows it. I usually curl up with a good book and drink tea or hot chocolate to my heart’s content. Why would I be afraid of this one? He doesn’t know it isn’t the physical storm I fear, but the one it foretells.
I stand at the floor-to-ceiling window and gaze out at the pounding, crashing sea, whipped to white froth by the violent wind. All the Freedom Fliers seem angry now—the wind, the sea, and especially the gulls. I can hardly see past the window panes. The world is one blah hazy shade of gray. How strange. Yesterday my world was a gigantic Monet, popping with extraordinary color—cerulean blues, the whitest whites and soft aquamarine greens, accented here and there by bright cadmium red surfboards and all the primary colors of children’s toys and bathing suits and umbrellas. Today, that same world is a gray monotone as far as I can see. My eyes search but there is no color. I’ve lived at the beach half my life. Surely, this happens every time a storm rolls in, but I never noticed it before. There is no color. Nothing pops. Everything I see—every object, every cloud, the rain, the sea, the birds, the ramp that leads down to the beach—fades into the grayness that has invaded and taken over yesterday’s vividly painted landscape.
John is watching me but pretending not to. I feel his warm brown eyes on my back. Turning slightly, I smile at him, hoping he will read my message as “All is well.”
He doesn’t. He reads, “All is not well, not well at all.” I can see it in his eyes and the way his mouth turns up in a non-smile.
My feet are cold. Why anyone would dress for a chilly, stormy day in jeans and sweatshirt and bare feet is a mystery. The hardwood is smooth beneath my cold feet. No one has gone out on the deck today, so the floor is slick and free of sand. I go upstairs to find my socks. The unmade bed—which I was free not to make up this morning—looks inviting, and for a few moments I consider spending the day snuggled under the warm down comforter with the new novel I bought at Barnes and Noble on the way to the beach. But then I remember my manners as well as the love of my friends and faithful husband. Socks retrieved, I patter back down the stairs with book in hand.
I spend part of the day cuddled up on the couch, pretending to read while gazing out the glass doors, pondering the meaning of what I’m experiencing. I smile. I carry on conversations with Jenn and Annie and the guys. I even play Trivial Pursuit and think I might win. I don’t, of course. The guys always win on the sports questions. It’s one of the frustrations of my normally dormant competitive spirit.
It’s almost dark now, but it’s hard to tell. It’s been dark all day. I’m dark as well. I’ve lost all my color, too, as if I have been drained of my life’s blood. I instantly reject such a macabre image although I hold on to the thought of how terrible it would be to have no color. Am I depressed? I wonder. Is this how depression feels? It runs in my family. A sinking feeling attacks my stomach.
Relief comes only when John quietly walks up behind me and interrupts my distressing thoughts. The warmth of his bare arms about my sweatshirt-clad body makes me feel secure and strangely uplifted at the same time. I can’t be too insane. Sensible, pragmatic John certainly wouldn’t want to be with me if I were. His breathing is like him, sure and stable and predictable; soft and gentle, yet strong and sure. I feel myself sinking into him, my rock and my ballast.
We stand there at the window for what seems like hours. It isn’t, of course; it only seems that way because I feel so safe and warm in John’s arms. The other two couples are playing Scrabble by candlelight. We stand there in silence until I catch a glimpse of someone’s lantern light at the end of the long pier that leads down to the beach, and I realize the storm is letting up.
“See that?” John whispers in my ear.
“Yes,” I whisper in reply. “Hear that?”
“What?” John nibbles my ear.
“Yeah, wind’s died down.”
I close my eyes, leaning more into him, pulling his arms around my waist.
“Storm’s moving out to sea,” he says. “Probably be gone by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Yeah…but you never know about a nor’easter. Guess you might say they’re the most ambivalent of storms.” John’s hands are under my sweatshirt now, caressing the tanned flesh over my ribs and waist, tracing my navel as if he is trying to memorize its circular path. The flight of ecstasy I am boarding suddenly comes to a halt just before takeoff, blocked by the word that came out of John’s mouth.
Ambivalent, he said. The storm is ambivalent. Of course, I had sensed it all along, that undercurrent of anxiety, the fear of not knowing what might happen next. My unrest now has a name, a reason for being. The wind I love and trusted has become ambivalent, untrustworthy.
John whispers in my ear once more. “Let’s go upstairs. The others won’t even notice. They’re too engrossed in the game.”
I half turn to him and smile. “Alright.”
John turns my face with his left hand while his right pulls my body around to face his. He gazes into my eyes suddenly blurred with tears. He doesn’t say anything, but that’s like him. “Actions speak louder than words,” he’s told me many times over the years.
“Go on up,” he says. “I’ll get us something to drink and be there in a few.” He kisses me, sticking his tongue between my unsuspecting lips.
I muffle a giggle, forgetting the ambivalence issue for a moment. Pulling him back to me, I wrap my arms about his neck and whisper, “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”
“Yeah, I know.” John grins, and his face glows in the candlelight.
“Hurry,” I tease and receive a sensual smile in return.
Later, I lie still in John’s arms, wondering if he’s asleep. I want to talk, and yet I don’t. I want to get up and walk out on the balcony and feel the balmy post storm breeze on my face, and yet I don’t. I prefer to lie still next to John and feel his breath on my neck and his heart beating against my back.
Two days ago, I was flying with the sea gulls, skipping and dancing on the beach like a little girl, proclaiming my freedom and newfound independent spirit. Now, in the midst of the storm that can’t make up its mind whether it’s coming or going, I can’t make myself leave the protective custody of my husband’s arms to walk out into the night for a few moments.
For the first time, I think I should be writing about the past few days. I’m a writer and that’s what writers do. I should creep over to the computer and do something constructive with all the craziness. But I don’t want to do that either. The curve of John’s body is my safe cocoon.
And so I lie still and smile into the night, thinking about butterflies, holding onto the realness of my experiences on the beach and yet wondering if I have regressed into my old cocoon and will never be a butterfly again. Perhaps my freedom was to be short-lived.
Out of the blue, I recall a statement I memorized long ago. Once one becomes a butterfly, one can never be a worm again.
I sigh in relief, whispering a prayer of thanks even though a nagging doubt remains.
John’s body is warm and secure. When I turn this way and that during the night, he is always there, always reaching out for me. When I enter a room filled with people, his eyes find mine no matter how deeply engrossed he is in conversation. The love of my life is certainly not ambivalent.
John is trustworthy.
Turning over, I kiss him lightly on the lips while untangling my feet to free them from the sheet. Even my feet want to be free, I muse.
I know my thoughts are silly, but I can’t help it. I look at my feet, and although I can’t see them very clearly, I admire my recent pedicure. I smile and wiggle my toes. My feet are not ambivalent. They know where they want to be, not bound by a sheet. They want to be out in the cool air where they can breathe and squirm and move about freely without constraint.
I sound even crazier now, I’m sure, but in my craziness it’s as if the electricity has suddenly come back on after the storm. It hasn’t, of course, but I’m now aware of a zillion sparkling stars splattered all over the night sky outside the glass doors facing the sea. And all the stars are laughing, laughing with me.
“Say it, Bella,” they sing. “Admit it, and you will be free.”
I’m giggling inside, laughing with the stars and all the heavenly beings among them. I feel wonderful. I can’t be still. I want to laugh aloud and bounce on the bed and scream. For two days, I have run back and forth on a magnetic pole as if I were a hamster playing seesaw with myself.
John wakes up. “What’s going on?” He whispers to keep our friends from hearing.
“What?” He mumbles in his sleepiness.
I’m ambivalent! I always have been,” I scream in a whisper, laughing.
“Hmm. Yes, sometimes you are.”
The laughing stars light up the room. I can see John’s dark eyes staring into mine only two inches away. “I know! But not anymore! I know the truth now. I am cleansed by the storm. I am really free. Isn’t it wonderful?”
I grab his face and kiss him full in the mouth. I roll over him and pull him onto the coolness of the other side of the king-sized bed. And then I kiss his ears and his neck and his chest and his arms and his fingers.
“Hmmm, it is wonderful,” says John, pulling me close, returning my passion.
And then I know. I am a butterfly in a resting place. I’ll never be a worm again.
Today is warm and balmy with just a hint of autumn in the September air. I stand on the balcony in my silk turquoise robe watching newly released diamonds dance joyfully on the sea. A seagull perches on the white railing, watching with me. We’re very comfortable together, he and I. After a few abnormally quiet moments, he looks up at me as if to say, “Ready to ride the wind?”
Smiling my assent, I rise on the tips of my bare toes, bringing my arms out and above my head. The breeze catches the silk fabric like an oriental sail and I laugh at what I must look like to the beachcombers below. The gull cocks its head to one side and looks at me once again as if to grant his affirmation of my preflight stance and then takes off straight down towards the sea. He dives and swoops and then whips around and back again as if wondering why I’m not following him as I had agreed.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!”
I feel John’s hands encircling my waist. “Who are you talking to?” he asks.
I look into his eyes and smile. “A seagull.”
He draws back and takes a good look at me. He smiles, and I know he’s satisfied that I’m okay now, even though I’m talking to birds.
The gull circles back again, cackling and squawking its impatience.
I take John’s hands and push him back into the bedroom. “Come on, the gulls are waiting. Come and dance with the wind and me.”
The Wind and Me: Day Two June 22, 2010
I know now that I was once lovely to look at and that’s still true in the eyes of various beholders. I didn’t know I was attractive when I was young, and now I can only guess that it was because no one ever told me. I am fifty-ish now, at my peak in the opinion of the wise, and until John there was never anyone in my life to tell me I was beautiful; not even to say, “You look pretty, Bella.” I don’t know why I’m bringing this up now. Perhaps, it’s been more of an issue than I thought. Or maybe it comes to mind because it’s part of what I felt yesterday when I danced with the sun rays and the sea and the gulls. I said yes to all that could have been and wasn’t but now could be again…now that I am free.
I walk the beach today, floating in my newfound sense of freedom, delighting in everything around me, even my own sense of loveliness. I feel, although I don’t fully understand it, that I have received extra grace to live the life I now know has always been opened to me. Someone once told me that grace is an inner quality that is expressed outwardly as well. I believe that to be true. I walk in grace today…and grace walks in me.
I feel the warmth of the sun caressing my arms and legs. My bathing suit is still wet from yesterday, so I threw on the first thing I could find this morning, jean shorts and a loose white cotton shirt. My outfit suits my mood and I’m suddenly aware that it suits my body as well. The glances that come my way as I walk past younger beach combers make me giggle inside. It’s hard not to preen.
I lift my face to the sun and receive its heavenly kiss. My eyes are closed, hands uplifted. I don’t care what people think. The sudden surprising revelation of that particular freedom makes me laugh. I have always cared what other people think. I thought it was one of life’s rules, and I’ve always lived by the rules.
My feet stumble.
“Watch out lady!”
My eyes open for the first time in minutes. I don’t know why I thought I could walk all the way to the pier with my eyes closed. Two small children are building a very large sand castle and I’ve stepped into their moat which is filled with water and complete with boats and knights on horseback. All types of sea creatures fill the moat along with one of my nicely tanned feet with brightly painted toenails.
“You were walking with your eyes closed.” The little boy’s voice still has the sound of his babyhood though I can tell he wants to be seen as the person in charge, the big brother. There is no question in his statement, just a commonsense explanation for my mishap. People who walk with their eyes closed can expect to fall in holes, his tone says.
I ease my foot out of the moat and decide the commonsense thing for me to do is agree. “I’m sorry. And yes, I was walking with my eyes closed.”
“Why?” The little girl has the biggest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Her voice is soft and sweet.
I beam her my just-for-children smile. “Because I’m free.”
The boy stares at me with squinted eyes and frowns as if he has just realized I might be one of those people his parents often warn him about. The big blue eyes, however, smile and lock with mine, and we both know that we share one of those mysterious secrets so prevalent in childhood. She understands. Perhaps, she sometimes walks with her eyes closed. She turns to help the boy repair the damaged castle.
No one walks with me. I am alone. The others stay at the house or on the beach. More than likely, John is surf fishing. They don’t seem to mind my absence. “It’s just Bella,” they say when they think I’m out of earshot. “She’s weird, but we love her.”
Nice of my friends, isn’t it? To love me when I’m obviously too weird to be loved? The thought doesn’t bring me down as it would have the day before yesterday. Oddly enough, I actually laugh, not at my friends but with them. I laugh at me because it’s the truth. I see it now. I truly am weird, and they really do love me anyway. I laugh because I know I’m weird and I love me, too, now that I am free.
Jenn and Ron lean against one another for a short rest and glance my way down the beach. They smile and wave and I wave back. They have been my friends for a long time. I know them well.
I turn around and walk backward for a minute or two. The wind—quite a bit stronger than yesterday’s gentle breeze—blows my sun streaked hair about my face, causing my white cotton shirt to look as if it were suddenly filled with helium. I feel light as a feather, almost as if I could float up and sail away into the puffy white clouds. Rising on tiptoe, I prepare myself for flight just in case this is the day the wind will take me up.
It doesn’t…but I’m not disappointed.
The wind gains momentum, pushing against my body. I like it. The reasons are countless, I’m sure, but one very practical one is that I don’t like being hot. Heat irritates me. It makes me feel as if I’m suffocating. Oh, I’m sure humidity has something to do with it, perhaps everything, but I don’t think so. I’m as miserable in a dry desert as I am in eastern North Carolina in the dog days of August. But that is only one reason I welcome the strengthening wind and embrace it as my friend.
I walk further today than I had planned. Of course, it doesn’t really matter how far I walk. I can walk as long as I want to or not walk at all. Else, I am not free.
Turning about, I walk faster now, knowing John might be concerned if I don’t return soon. I smile at the thought of him…faithful, practical, stable John. Hurrying back to keep him from being worried does not limit my newfound freedom. Choice is the greatest freedom, and I choose to do the loving thing. John’s face comes to mind. At fifty-two, his graying hair and lined face only enhance his natural good looks. Men seem to age better than women even though statistics say they die younger. One of life’s mysteries, I guess.
I can see the house up ahead but no one is out on the beach. For a few seconds, I’m surprised—it’s only 11:30 and we rarely go in before noon—and then I glance about and suddenly realize that the atmosphere of the day is quickly changing. Although the ocean is still shining, the diamonds have disappeared into their mysterious treasure chest beneath the sea and the sky above has transformed into a deep dark shade of blue, creating a spectacle almost as remarkable as yesterday’s.
I stop and stare at the incoming Atlantic. Its waves are bigger now, higher and more formidable. White caps have replaced the diamonds. I hadn’t noticed. I had been too caught up in my newfound freedom. Sounds about me are changing as well. Gulls scream even louder. The sea has begun to roar, nearly drowning out the chattering of the anxious birds. I smile. Parts of a phrase come to mind, “…like the sound of many waters.” The voice of God?
My long white shirt loses its helium-filled look and begins to flap about me, making a popping sound as if I am being spanked or slapped. Unexpectedly, I’m suddenly overcome with the familiar thought that I’ve done something wrong and worse punishment is on the way. But no, I won’t let myself think that way. I’m changed. I’m free. I accept and I am accepted. This is just nature. It doesn’t mean anything. But if the experiences of yesterday meant what I surmised, today’s experience has to mean something as well, doesn’t it? Of course, it does. Else I am not free, and I know I am free. I know yesterday’s experience was real. It is mine, and I will not let it go.
The temperature suddenly drops. I wrap my arms about my waist and turn towards the welcoming cottage, only a few sandy yards away now. It’s hard to trudge against the wind in a contest to get home before a storm hits while struggling to understand life’s symbolic meanings, but that’s what I do.
I don’t make it. Just before I get to the high rise of sand whereon rests our cozy yellow and white haven, the darkened sky releases a torrent of rain that beats my cold body with much more fervor than the slapping of the wind. It hurts and I begin to cry. I don’t know why. It just somehow seems the appropriate thing to do. The sky is crying so why not me? My tears mix with the rain, creating a veritable waterfall down my face. For a second, I think I might drown, but instead, I actually feel better. Perhaps freedom demands cleansing. Or maybe I joined in some wave of cosmic grief, the tears of the divine.
I can hardly see. Not only is the rain coming down in thick sheets, the drops are so large I can’t open my eyes to see where I am going. And I’m in pain. The colossal raindrops pelt my body relentlessly. I imagine I look like Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway car, riddled with gunshot.
Ducking my head down like the tip of a battering ram, I actually consider burying myself in the sand when all of a sudden, I feel strong arms about me—pulling, shoving, nearly carrying me upward. I hear the screened door open and someone, a female voice, shouts, “Get her in here quick, John. There are tornado warnings up and down the coast!”
Finally, I can see. But then I begin to shake and I can’t seem to stop. Jenn and Annie pull me away from John and lead me over to the fireplace. The crackling fire invites me to stay. I know John built it just for me.
Jenn says, “Sit here,” and she and Annie wipe me dry in no time at all. John comes back with a large blue blanket and wraps it double about my cold, trembling body.
Later, held safely in John’s strong arms and drinking hot mint tea, I look about me at each of my friends. Jenn’s eyes express deep concern as well as Annie’s. They are like mother hens, hovering over their nearly drowned chick, clucking orders as well as words of comfort. Ron and Joseph don’t know what to do so Ron, the one who usually makes a joke out of everything, reaches out and pats my hand once in a while and kindhearted Joseph offers me something to drink over and over again.
After a while, I lean my head on John’s warm broad shoulder and close my eyes, still struggling to understand the meaning of the day. If I was on the right track to begin with—and I believe with all my heart I was—then the signs don’t look very encouraging. Tomorrow is the third day.
The Wind and Me: Day One June 21, 2010
The wind is taunting and teasing, tormenting our house like a lover who is at one moment filled with unbridled passion and the next, totally apathetic. I love it…the wind, that is, not ambivalent lovers. My name is Bella and my story isn’t really about star-crossed lovers or relationships that slowly but eventually work out in the end. Ironically, it does include the wind, the wind that blows into each of our lives when we least expect it. Not the soft, warm wind we call a summer breeze or the cooling wind that revives us in the midst of sweat and toil. Not even the sweet fragrant wind that cuddles us as we stroll past gardenia blossoms in early summer or through a lovely rose garden in June. Somewhere below the surface of our consciousness we expect a gale, and we often get one, our cognizant selves feigning surprise.
Ocean breezes often speak to me. Thoughts, impressions, ideas…they ride the back of the wind, eventually flowing into the ears of my heart at just the right moment. Whether the prevailing wind is strong and blustery or soft and warm, I hear. I love the words of the wind. It’s a language I have learned, one that has no alphabet, only a still small voice that somehow lifts me up in its arms and rides me on its wings, taking me to heights of serenity I don’t experience any other way.
But the wind I tend to expect, sometimes subconsciously, is a violent one—destructive and utterly ambivalent, the human characteristic I despise most. On the surface, I don’t know why I hate even the word itself. Ambivalent…it sounds evil to my ear. I look back on my life so far, and every single person who has affected me negatively has exhibited that single characteristic persistently—one minute loving and caring; the next, either antagonistic or downright indifferent. No consistency. No stability. No relational security.
I’ve come to believe that all the painful relationships in my life were formed by persons who owned a certain common denominator near the root of their ambivalence. At least, it’s proved true in my life. They were, and are, untrustworthy.
I finally figured it out, you see. But that’s a long story, one that could either bore you to tears or depress you irrevocably. Or perhaps you might actually identify with me in my theory involving wind and ambivalence and untrustworthiness and wounds that fester in our hearts until one day we wake up and see the truth.
The rays of the sun dance happily on the waves of the bright blue sea, giving the impression of millions of sparkling diamonds covering the waters like a bejeweled blanket. I stand alone on top of the highest dune and watch, enchanted by the amazing light show before me. Only yards from shore a shrimp boat bobs in and out of the dazzling diamonds, and I consider what the sea looks like from the captain’s perspective. I wonder if he sees diamonds.
For one fleeting moment, I think of calling for someone to come out of the house and join me, thinking the spectacle far too marvelous for only one person to enjoy. It would be like discovering the Grand Canyon and keeping it a secret. But then, with mouth open to speak and head turned toward the house, I feel as if I am being pulled back to the sea, leaving any thought of inviting another witness floating around amidst sea oats and gently waving bear grass.
I walk slowly, deliberately through the deep sand down to the water’s edge. The pulsating tide pushes ever inward, softly washing my feet and ankles, eventually sucking my feet down into the gritty wet sand. And yet no matter how high the tide rises, the diamonds continue their lively dance upon the waves.
Squawking seagulls fly about overhead, offering a very unharmonious accompaniment to the dance of the sun beams. It isn’t their screeching sounds, however, that provide the real accompaniment. It is the movement of the gray and white birds, a song within itself. They join the sparkling dance, flying here and there, turning and flipping and diving, then soaring once again into the heavens, screaming to the sea and the sky and all mortal creatures bound to the sand, “I’m free! I’m free! I’m free!”
I whisper into the gentle ocean breeze. “I want to be free!”
My toes begin to wiggle in their watery graves of sand as my arms almost involuntarily rise to meet the sky. Laughing at the sucking sounds my feet make as I struggle to pull them out of their miry prison, I am suddenly aware that in my actions, in my very movements, I am making a declaration that will define my life from this day forward. I pull myself out of the powerful grip of sand and crushed shells and undertow, and before I have time to think, I find myself moving my body in tandem to the flight of the sea gulls and the rays of sunlight dancing upon the waves.
I feel at one with them all. What before today had seemed like the silliest, most annoying birds in the entire world, are now my dance partners. Freedom Fliers of the Sky, I call them. The gulls seem to have no flight pattern at all, at least not a corporate one like geese or ducks or any one of hundreds of varieties of birds. Gulls are individualists, I muse in wonder.
I’m twirling now, arms outstretched like the wings of the gulls, my feet and legs moving in time with the calm but undulating sea. The tide is coming in stronger now, somehow causing the diamonds to dance more rapidly, nearly blinding my eyes with their brilliant white light. I move. I turn. I close my eyes and imagine myself ever so lightly dancing upon the tips of the waves with diamonds about my feet. A gull swoops down and screams in my ear.
I scream back, “Yes! Yes!”
I don’t know why I say yes, but it feels good to say it. I guess I am saying yes to everything to which I once said no. Not the bad things, of course, but the good. The things I could have done and didn’t. The life I could have lived but was too afraid.
I said yes today. I am free.