Friday, September 19, 2008

...and the Home of the Brave

She would practice, when no one else was around. When she was driving, or at home alone, in the rare moments when her children and husband had scattered to pursue their own interests.

She would sing the National Anthem, and dream of the day when the Red Sox would call her up and ask her to open a game.

Years passed, and she stopped singing with her band. She stopped singing professionally, though she was good enough to stand behind Michael Bolton and Celine Dion on the big stage. She went back to school, became a wife and mother and therapist all within a short span, and accepted the new direction her life was taking.

But she still practiced.

Her life became more and more stressful and difficult. Each of her children has a big, intense personality, and broke and healed her heart over and over again, the way children do. Her husband was changed by parenthood and the weight of responsibility, the way we are. Her father-in-law died, and her own father became undiagnosably ill. Her sister called, devastatedly hit with breast cancer and possible colon cancer. The stress built, and life grew more difficult, and it became harder and harder to find things to smile about.

And then, in August, that call came through.

Her brother-in-law works for the Jimmy Fund, a cancer research and fundraising organization, and they were looking for someone to sing the National Anthem at a Red Sox game. Someone who was local, and who had a relevant story, and most importantly someone who would sing well.

She fit all of those criteria. And so, sight unseen, song unheard, they invited her to sing.

The first game was rained out, creating a bitter last-minute disappointment. But they rescheduled the game, and invited the same people back to perform. And this time, her two friends, with whom she had been escaping for a monthly girls-only lunch for the past many years, started to plan. They neither of them could have attended the August game, but husbands could be placed in charge of children and tickets could be obtained, to allow them to attend the September rescheduled game. And, more importantly, to be there, in person, when their friend sang her dream.

Waiting for the song to start, her friends were impressed with how relaxed and happy she seemed. They remarked that they would sooner face a firing squad than sing in front of so many people, and that at the very least they would be pacing and nauseous and nervous. But she just waited, and smiled.


Then the time came, and the announcer explained that she was singing this song for her sister. The crowd went quiet.

She was amazing.*


Her friends were so proud, so thrilled, so grateful to be able to be there and share that day with her, albeit from arm's length away. It's a pride without a sense of ownership, a vicarious wonder at watching someone else experience a lifelong dream. It's safe to consider the day as being on par with the births of her children, in terms of important, shining, successes in her life.

It was a very good day. Bigger than words. An honor to observe.**

*Note: The sound quality is good but the video... not so much. You may want to watch with your eyes closed. Her brother-in-law was sneaky with a video camera in a sports facility, and bless his heart for doing it. There are clearer still photos, here.

**And another note, while we're at it: Carolyn and Jenny, I don't know how often you stop by here, but I wanted you both to know just how grateful I am for our friendship. You are both so special and wonderful, and I'm thrilled to be able to share in your lives. Thank you.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Swimming with the Fishes

Sarah and I have reached a draw in our butt-bruises contest: her bruises are far, far more impressive than mine are, and will likely remain a part of her life long after the sunburns fade. Mine are less scary, but I broke my tailbone, according to the resort’s nurse-on-site, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges, or something. We both have a lot of whimpering and squirming, but it’s all for a good cause.


Mary is considerably less bruised, seeing as how she did not leap off any cliffs in the recent past, but she makes up for it by being smugly smarter than us for not having leapt off any cliffs in the recent past. It all balances out in the end. (Hah, the end, get it? I slay me.)


The original theory was that we would have lots of time on Sunday morning, to have a leisurely breakfast, do a little snorkeling, get packed up, check out of the hotel and be on our way around the island to Ocho Rios, where we were scheduled to swim with dolphins. To quote the Jamaicans, “No problem.”

Of course I knit. But not very much.

Then the reality dawned: my mother and sisters, to balance out for their myriad gifts and brilliance, have, how do you say, a bit of a challenge with the concept of packing quickly. Less leisure, and less snorkeling, but we were in the car and on the (left side of the) road in good time. I got to drive this time, and I can say with confidence that the weirdness of driving on the left side of the road wears off much faster than the weirdness of riding on the left side of the car.

Did I mention the goats?

We arrived at Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios after a wee bit of lostness – we drove right past it; it’s simply not well-marked. We had a bit of time before our appointment with the big fish, and Mary wanted to go snorkeling, so we headed into the ray area and got ready to snorkel. I got the mask, got the lifejacket, put everything in its proper place, got ready to place my face in the water… and promptly had a right and proper panic attack. Seriously, not a pretty thing; if they hadn’t let me go to the ladder and get out early, I’d have levitated. It was amazing; I had no idea I would panic like that. I can swim underwater, can put my face under, can even deal with sharing the water with creatures large enough to double as afghans on a cold winter’s night, but I could not – could not – put my face underwater while wearing the snorkel mask setup. I’ve never had quite that effective a freakout. So the girls and my mom snorkeled, and I paced and breathed slowly on the dock.


But then, swimming with dolphins? Awesome and fun. You’ll have to check back in a few weeks; I don’t have any photos, but the Dolphin Cove staff helpfully videotaped the whole thing and sold it back to us for a billion dollars, so once I get a copy of that I can probably post snippets of it. Sarah did not lose her bathing suit bottom, or her top… but she threatened to do both, at separate times.

Better pictures to follow... I was in the water with the dolphins, so we paid ridiculous amounts for the DVD made by the Dolphin Cove staff.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned that once again, I was the largest of a group of four women, and therefore was rendered effectively invisible for most of the trip? Sarah got two separate marriage proposals while we were in Jamaica; I’m not entirely certain they were kidding. I got to hold the camera.


Anyway, after that, we dried off. Then we drove to Kingston.


Hah, those five little words, they don’t sound too intimidating, do they? But we were driving through rain forest and mountains, on the left side of the road. On roads that were no more than 11 feet wide. Very exciting stuff, and my mother did a fantastic job driving. I’m certain I could have handled the driving, but I’m not certain I could have handled her anxiety while doing so… she’s not known to be the most calm of passengers under normal circumstances, and this was decidedly not normal. One of us would have ended up pitched over a cliff in rural Jamaica if I’d been behind the wheel, and I’m not quite sure who it would have been.


We made it to Kingston, a terrifying experience all by itself. The road that takes you to the outskirts of town is a wide, four-lane toll road; it dumps you off into a narrow, poorly lit inner city area in which prostitution and active, in-the-moment drug use happen on the sidewalk as you drive by. I haven’t spent a lot of time in my life being an obvious, physical minority, and it created senses of both self-consciousness and acute fear. I was very aware that we were four white women, in a nice (by comparison) car, with all of our possessions and money and identification in one place.

We made it to the airport, checked in the rental car, and asked the lot attendant to get us a taxi to bring us to our hotel. The Sheraton. “No,” he said.

Excuse me?

“There is no Sheraton here.”


I checked the printed confirmation page that my mother had carfeully carried throughout the trip. Sure enough: Kingston.

Kingston, ONTARIO.

Oh, my, yes.

It all worked out in the end. We weren’t able to get on an earlier flight, since our 6:40 a.m. flight was the next one to leave the island. But we found a room in the Hilton, the only chain hotel in Kingston with available rooms. It was overpriced but safe and not scary, and we made it back to the airport in plenty of time the next morning.


The flights home were thankfully uneventful, and I had a lovely reunion with my kids and husband.

And there were two feet of snow waiting in my front yard. Perhaps we came home a bit early…

Thursday, March 27, 2008

…if You Know What I Mean.

I think that, with time, yesterday is going to rank up there as one of the best days of my life. Not the best, of course, having given birth and gotten married, but pretty freaking amazing.


We started the day with what has already become a routine: breakfast at the buffet, time wading and sitting out by the water. I’m still sunburned like crazy, so there’s no more lie-in-the-sun time for me, but I’m perfectly content with some good lie-near-the-sun time.


Then around 11:00 we met in the lobby for our scheduled trip into Montego Bay – MoBay, to locals – for parasailing. Which is an amazing, mind-blowing, quiet, peaceful, exciting, fun time, and I’d go again in a heartbeat if someone let me. It was gentle enough that Mary was able to do it; you get the big harness on and just sit on the deck, and they let the rope out slowly so you float up into the air. We were on a 400-foot line, which could have been anywhere from 20 to 2,000 feet for all my holy-crap brain was able to judge. Turns out my height perception is not very good. This figures prominently in my day later on.



The four of us spent an hour or so parasailing, and our tour guides were Bruce and Miguel. Bruce is a dancing man who wears shorts and nothing else – really, nothing else – to work. Miguel is quieter and owns at least one white t-shirt. The Jamaicans are, in vast majority, a friendly and helpful bunch. I’m sure some of that is because their primary source of revenue is tourism and only the French seem to be able to get away with a successful tourism industry founded on disdain and poor service. I’m sure it’s also because they live in an incredibly gorgeous place, so even if it’s a bit in disrepair and falling apart at certain seams, the ocean is always just a few miles away.


We went directly from the pier to the airport, to pick up the rental car. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of driving on the left side of the road, since my mother did the driving yesterday, but I tell you what: sitting on the left side without a steering wheel is weird, weird stuff. It’s almost like being in a Disney ride all over again, except without the sense that they won’t kill you midway through.




After my mother and Sarah got their massages on the beach, we packed up and piled into the car for a two-hour drive around to Negril, where Rick’s CafĂ© is located. Rick’s is famous for its laid-back bar scene, its Plantars Punch and Sex with Rick (a bit like sex on the beach, but so much better), and its cliffs. That you jump off. And land in the ocean.


Rather than letting ourselves get psyched up about it any more, spending too much time thinking and talking ourselves out of it, Sarah and I immediately stripped to our bathing suits and, well, jumped.

Sarah was almost smart enough to back out of it, graciously allowing Kate to go first.

Forty feet is a long, long way to fall. Four stories. You have time to think:







Sarah answers the age-old question, "If your sister jumped off a cliff, would you do it to?" Affirmative.

And when you hit the water, it’s hard and cold and you are instantly ten feet under. You’re deep enough that the water actually looks blue, not like looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool where it’s clear because the blue color comes from the nice, safe, civilized pool liner. The first instinct is, “Ow.” Because you get a wedgie with your bathing suit so fierce that you’ve effectively removed the need to go to the dentist for the rest of the year, seeing as how you just flossed your back teeth from the bottom up. The second instinct is, “Up,” because it takes a while to find air again. Then you have to battle that ongoing “Ow” instinct to get to the narrow and steep ladder to get out of the water, but you have to smile and act like you don’t have an increasing agony spreading outward from your rear end because of the cameras and traveling companions.



The remainder of our trip will be punctuated by Sarah and me making whimpers and moans because we have dark purple bruises in various large areas from the back of the knee to the lower back. My tailbone is also sending out sharp pain, and I’m fairly sure I chipped it in some way. Ah, well. The price for awesomeness; I will not do it again, but I’m thrilled to bits that I made it all the way to Jamaica, survived a hair-raising and goat-intensive drive there (which quickly devolved into an ongoing game of inserting the word “goat” into proverbs and sayings, such as, “I regret that I have but one goat to give for my country,” “Carpe goat,” and “Another one bites the goat,” and then occasionally throwing in a pithy little, “If you know what I mean,” and somehow this was the height of hilarity for hours yesterday), and then threw myself off a cliff.


Would I do it again? All but that last bit, in a heartbeat. And even though I won’t be jumping off a cliff again, I made the right choice in the moment yesterday. No matter what my butt says.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Have Found the Secret to Happiness

…and it is clean underwear.

At about 2:00 this afternoon, I got a wonderful phone call. “We haff found your bags, miss. We are driving them from Kingston to MoBay. You should get them around five o’clock.”

We didn’t get them until almost 7:00, but this is a small tree in the larger forest that is filled with clean clothes and toiletries.

Oh, my goodness, having more than two choices of clothing (one set purchased for approximately a billion dollars in the hotel gift shop) and toothpaste is a wonderful thing. As are readily available meals and drinks of all sorts, there for the asking as long as you have a snazzy yellow wristband.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore... or Boston, either.

We ended up with a first floor room. In most circumstances, this would make me nervous – less safe from wandering nefarious people and aggressive crabs – but first off all, it’s really cool to be able to walk directly to the Caribbean, and secondly, the door weighs approximately six hundred pounds. Even the crabs aren’t that aggressive.


The day began with breakfast and a walk on the beach, and progressed to a flurry of reservations: massages on the beach – remember that massage tent I mentioned? – today, parasailing and cliff diving tomorrow (with copious amounts of rum consumption before the latter), and swimming with dolphins on Sunday. Expensive dolphins, and I’ll have to cram in a few extra overtime shifts to assuage the guilt of that, but it’s swimming with dolphins. On Easter. Halleluia.


From there, we had some beach time…


...some trips on a much-faster-than-it-looks catamaran…


...some sunburn (turns out, the tropical sun is different from the New Hampshire winter sun, and after 40 minutes of exposure I glow in the dark)…


It has been a vastly, infinitely better day than yesterday.


And my underwear is clean. Bliss.


It was a full moon that second night... apparently a full moon in Jamaica brings much better luck than the day-before-a-full-moon.