They were young (relatively) and lean (for their various reasons), fit (age hadn’t set in) and in love (as though it were the first time, which it wasn’t). Their world, now and temporarily, had become one of easy adventure. He, because he’d had a recent divorce, a new life he’d been forced to forage in until she showed up and he could show it to her, share it with her. She, because she could put aside two men—the one she was in love with back in Philadelphia who wasn’t in love in return, and the temporary one who didn’t seem to care either, and share this entirely new world, one he knew.
Portland—Oregon—the river gorge—opened new worlds every day. Now, for instance, they’d packed bags and had been hiking into this wood for an hour. There were hot springs there, he said, natural ones, the water hot out of the ground, a wonder to her. But she didn’t need hot springs. The woods were thick and the sun dappled through and they laughed and talked and walked until, finally, they arrived at a clearing. He showed her the tubs, the water steaming from them, single tubs with people in them—how exciting!—and several big ones, like the outdoor pools people rig up in their back yards, surrounded by trees, decks built around them, , open to the sky.
They’d eat first.
“Hi,” the man said. “Hi. Welcome. I’m Don, the forest ranger.”
The greeting was so unexpected. They’d just spread out their cloth; she was cutting up cucumbers and tomatoes for their Greek salad. He was opening a bottle of wine. They looked up, smiled. They were friendly people.
Don worked the forest, the tubs. He wore his ranger outfit. He was around their age. Would he like some wine? some grapes or anything? No, no, he was just making the rounds. Thanks and welcome to Bagbee. He had things to do. Nice meeting you.
The couple were packing up their picnic things—decidedly lighter now—when Don the ranger came by again. “That big tub over there—“ he gestured to a hidden alcove. “People just left. You two” (he smiled, it was obvious they were lovers) “might enjoy that one. I cleaned it up.” He waved and went on his way.
They thanked him, headed over in the direction he pointed. The tub was steaming, filling up. They took the buckets (made available) and climbed down the few steps to the cold stream icy water to make the hot tub bearable. It was lovely. They undressed, tossing their clothes on a bench, towels and their bags scattered, and lowered themselves into the tub. So delicious, and in a way decadent, since the experience was new, another new sensation in a world of nothing but sensation. The sky was bright blue above, cloudless, the woven web of leaves above them like a surrounding fringe, the privacy complete. They smiled at each other, knowingly.
“Hi,” the man said. “Don here again. I thought I’d join you.”
The couple darted eyes to each other. The hot tubs were open property they guessed, watching Don take off his ranger outfit, and she watched almost with horror, his penis bobbing along as he padded to the water’s edge and submerged himself into what was now a trio, smiling awkwardly at each other. The water was not high enough to cover her breasts and she felt odd advertising them to two men at once.
Surely Don would get out soon? What was the protocol? The couple looked at each other, remaining calm. This is the way it’s done, I guess? The three talked as though they were sipping martinis on someone’s patio: Are you from here? Oh, that sounds interesting. . do you like it? And so on.
No one moved. An hour or more went by. They couldn’t even signal each other. Finally, she made the move and stood up – naked, fully exposed—a woman of a well-proportioned shape, a water goddess almost, she felt, rising fully out of the tub, pushing herself out to pad in full view over to the bench and reach for a towel. Her lover did the same. And Don the ranger? Well, he said, watching, they were right—he was getting water-logged, too, and he joined them to towel off, get dressed.
What a tryst! They waited for privacy to explode into giggles. It was a long giggly walk back out of the woods. Hi Don, Hi Don! they joked. Some day they’d go alone.
Cassandra’s heart was broken. Literally. The images from the scans showed it, clear as a bolt of lightning. Which was what it looked like, a small lightning bolt crack down the middle third of Cassie’s heart. It was the reason her body had blown up like a balloon. Plasma was leaking from her heart and entering the atmosphere of her other organs. Her lungs became literal containers for unwanted fluid. Her liver was like a whirling dervish, trying to hire as many part-time workers as possible to deal with this emergency.
Thank goodness you brought her right to the emergency room, Dr. Matier said to Sean, who, though he hadn’t slept in days, stood in front of the doc with eyes wider than full moons.
So, she’s OK?
Sean knew Cassandra wasn’t OK. A person’s body doesn’t suddenly double in size overnight and then become OK.
Yeah the human body is like a balloon, all we needed to do is let out some air. Your wife is back to her normal size now. We’re just going through the release paperwork right now. You should be home in time for Daily Show.
This is not what the doctor said to Sean. What he did say was
I wish I could tell you what’s wrong with your wife. We have her stable at the moment. We have a cardiologist looking at her labs right now and we’ve alerted the team at UCLA about your wife’s condition, so there’s a possibility we may need to airlift her there, once we are sure that’s the best plan.
So it’s her heart.
Yes. That much we know. Your wife has a broken heart.
Terry and his dad waited at the window of the airport in 1966, long before security kept family and friends circling the parking lot. His big brother, Steve, was flying home. He’d flunked out of the university after only two quarters. The dean, a friend of his dad, had been the one to kick him out. When your GPA drops to 1.3, you’re gone.
No more football or basketball. No more dates. No more music. No more of whatever he did when he probably should have been studying.
“Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in,” his dad murmured. Something in his tone told Terry that this was the first time he’d ever had a relative leave college. Much less fail to stay there. They Johansons didn’t do that. They succeeded. It was in their blood and in their family line. Well, maybe not in their family line, but Dad knew that if he could keep his kids doing the right thing, goal-oriented and success-oriented, things would be fine. So there were consequences for straying from the goals.
When Steve left campus in the seventh grade to buy balloons for a Student Body President campaign, he got five hours of detention. Terry knew he was going. Steve asked him not to say anything, and he didn’t. When Steve asked him to read answers to him on a chemistry quiz when he was in tenth grade, Terry said no. He could feel that they were going to get caught, and he wanted no part of it.
“That line about home is a quote from Robert Frost if memory serves,” his dad, always the coach and advisor, explained to Terry, the one who was not in trouble.
There was nothing either of them could do but welcome Steve home. At least that’s how Terry saw it. His room was waiting. Some job slinging hamburgers was probably waiting too, though maybe Steve would do much better. Kids with high self esteem pull themselves out of trouble, Terry thought, as his father hugged his older brother.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Steve said. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“Damn right, you will,” Dad said with a buck-up kid voice like he used in his soccer coach days.
Terry wasn’t so sure though, and he didn’t want to find out. No way he’d let himself flunk out of college and have to come back home a failure. He didn’t have what it took to be like Steve—good or bad. He played by the rules because he was afraid to test the boundaries, and he didn’t want his inadequacies displayed, much less tested.
After Labor Day weekend, Lincoln City seems like a ghost town compared to what it was like during the summer months. The local people finally have their beaches back, and the leaves on the tree outside my window have begun to turn red and yellow and a few have even shriveled, soon to fall off the branches. The rain has arrived, but only for part of the day.
Now darkness begins on the beach at around 7:30 when it stayed light until well after 9:00 pm in the beginning part of the summer, yet the ocean is still beautiful at twilight, sometimes calm and sometimes fierce. The ocean doesn’t change for the seasons – it always remains the same. You can count on that.
This is the first autumn I’ll experience in Lincoln City – after getting through the spring and the summer. It makes me think of how drastically my life has changed these past few months – how I’m alone more than I have been since I can remember, maybe the 1970’s, but even then I don’t remember being alone all that much. It’s like experiencing the empty nest syndrome on steroids – because not only have all my kids moved on, but they’re not even living close to me outside of Stevie and Liezl who live an hour away. I had planned to find an apartment close to them in Keizer or Salem, so that I could just drop by any time or they could do the same.
A couple of weeks ago an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t heard from in a long time called me – Mike Halloran. He was the one who gave me my first ukulele back in 2010, and we had kind of a thing for quite a while which was complicated. I remember how strong my feelings were for him then, but now it was just nice to hear from an old friend. He said he was visiting Portland, Oregon and would love to see me. I was a little nervous about that, but I agreed.
“How about if you come see me in Lincoln City?” I said. I was tired of having to drive all over the countryside to visit everyone.
To my surprise, Mike agreed and he did arrive in Lincoln City one evening. Yes it was good to see him again after all this time – someone from my previous life in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The first thing he asked me was, “So – why Lincoln City?”
I had to think about it. “Why not? It’s by the ocean and I always wanted to live by the ocean.”
I didn’t tell him that the transition to living in Lincoln City had been way tougher than I thought or imagined because I’m not accustomed to being so far away from everyone and that sometimes it felt downright lonely for me.
“Oh yes, I remember you’ve said that before. Do you like it here?”
“It’s growing on me – the ocean is close by and I can hear it all the time. And there is a music scene here. Just gotta get more ukulele jams going!”
Mike smiled. He knew how much I loved my ukulele jams – and I missed all the people and jams I’d attend in the bay area. Most of all I missed my grandkids and my kids.
As I talked to Mike I remembered how I wanted to escape from my teenage kids when they gave me trouble – and I’d fantasize about driving north and settling somewhere on the northern California or Oregon coast with baby Megan. But then baby Megan grew up and I fantasized about living alone in a place where I didn’t have to share the bathroom or rummage through stuff in the refrigerator to find my own food, a place I could call my very own.
I found paradise – only it’s just now dawning on me.
Autumn hums and murmurs;
Autumn is brown, is bronze, is brazen
But only briefly before
Autumn settles and
leaves whirl and wither;
Autumn soothes and frightens
with its light
Its light light, caressing and threatening,
Assuring, wavering, dissolving,
But not yet.
Autumn, a smoothing, a quiet,
A last hurrah;
The morning light late in the windows,
The evening light lingering,
Letting us know it will be gone.
Last chance, lost chance,
A beauty and a desperation: