in which I offer up an excruciatingly emotional post of questionably redeeming value!

photo (2)

The problem with keeping a journal, a friend and I were discussing, is we tend to write when we need to decompress, to vent, to sort through unhappiness via the therapy of words. “People,” I’d said, “would have thought I was the most depressed, angry person in the world” if I’d hung on to those sad collections of my darkest adolescent thoughts.

Social media has changed that – in private, we may still pour out grief, bemoan our lives, but online we want to be liked, are literally rewarded by how many likes we garner, and so our posts lean toward love, vacation, sunsets, gratitude.

And that’s okay. Celebrating the good, acknowledging what gives us joy reinforces our awareness of how much joy permeates our lives. (Sure, sometimes certain friends come off as bragging or in denial. We’ll give them a pass for now.)

Sometimes I look back at this blog, which has variously served as a place to record playlists from my radio days, chronicle my parenting experiences, attempt meaningful observations on social issues, note what books I’ve read, track my surf sessions and insomnia, and occasionally to serve as a place where I work through hurt – sometimes a combination of the above.

All this is just preface. Or, in unkinder terms, bullshit.

I’m reminded of my creative writing classes, how I would turn something in, some exercise, and and my teacher would cross out the first few lines, paragraphs, pages, then write a note with an arrow pointing out, “This is where the story actually starts.” So much of writing is a feeling out of direction, is timid in the face of the audience. Sometimes I can dive in. Sometimes, like right now, I grovel, disclaim, excuse, explain. I need you to like me first. Because if I started with, “I hated everything tonight,” would you still come along?

Because I hated everything tonight.

All day, disparate obligations pulled me in different directions. It was the mental equivalent of being stuck in traffic, hand on the stick, foot on the clutch, shifting up, shifting down, unable to ever get past second gear. After work I finally followed the path that usually proves cathartic: I tossed my board, wetsuit and wax into my truck and aimed for the beach.

But it didn’t help. Instead, everything bubbled up. “You’re in the ocean,” I told myself. “Be here. Stop thinking. You have such a good life. Look at you.” But my brain wouldn’t quit. I hated my knees because they hurt and are making me look like a beginner all over again when I stand up. I hated my wetsuit because the holes in it are going to prove problematic once this summery weather turns. I hated myself for not getting enough education to have a better paying job, for not saving enough money when I did. I hated how lonely I feel sometimes. I hated that no one will just magically make my life easy. I hated that life has peaked and it’s just going to be struggle and scramble forever. I hated all the stupid racist, misogynist people. I hated wars. I hated all the various men who have put their hands on me against my will. I hated that I never reported any of them to the authorities because it means the offenses aren’t official and therefore are only my opinion. I hated all my so-called friends who are unbothered by the assaults on my person. I hate this delayed-but-profound anxiety I feel over it all. I hated being abandoned, in various ways, by various people once important to me. I hated that I could not protect my children from the world’s callousness. I hated that I always have to plan everything, care for everyone, even as I knew “always” was an exaggeration. I hated being unsure of my place in life. I hated being 44 and not having life better figured out. I hated how embarrassingly self-indulgent I was in hating. I hated being out in the ocean, which I love, full of all this hate.

Eventually the darkness encroached enough that I had to make the last wave I caught my last wave. I wanted a better one, to tap into that energy that makes everything else recede, that one magic ride that lifts me out of the mortal world and gives me a taste of the sublime. Instead I found myself dropping off a fading right and paddling against the current, the shore questionably distant. What if I just gave up, I thought for a moment, let the sea pull me out? I could just rest my head on my board, my cheek against the wax, inhaling that sweet crayon scent. Except I couldn’t. I’m not a quitter, not really, tempting as it sounds sometimes. So I kept paddling. Reached shore. Trudged to my truck, aware, despite my mood, of the pink glow dimming along the horizon. Very pretty. I flung my board into the back, started to tug off my wetsuit, except the zipper caught at the end, trapping me in neoprene. That’s when I burst into tears.

See how pathetic I sound? Good grief, my life is just fine – I cringe to recall how two hours ago I was sobbing, tears falling on the sand as I twisted the hubcab locks free.

I arrived home, all deep breaths and shuddering sighs, hid in the hot water of the shower until the crying stopped. Toweled off. Comfy pajamas. Oh, how I love pajamas. And then I had sharp cheddar cheese and decent bourbon and buttery tortillas with hot sauce as an excuse for dinner, and Slice of Humboldt apple cider pie for dessert. And took photos of the cat for my middle daughter because she likes her daily Skimble picture. And wrote a venting email to my dear girlfriends who would understand the emotional throes I’m thrashing about in. And answered an email from another friend who has utterly had my back in an aforementioned situation, reminding me that I’m not crazy, that some people do think I have value and, hell, a lot of people do, and I am lucky in that, even if a few have removed themselves from my life over the years. So, as happens, the hate ebbed, the gratitude flowed in.

Sharing this seems almost ridiculous – perhaps it would better serve, greatly reshaped, as fodder for some other type of writing not so blatantly confessional? But I know people and I know people hurt from time to time and sometimes misery is eradicated by company, so please, if you are in the thick of despondency, hold on. Breathe. Cry. Eat some cheese. Or pie. Write. Reach out. Find your own reasons to be grateful and wrap them around yourself until your heart is warm again.

insomniasurfkidsoceannight

The door must have opened first, but it was the closing that woke me, followed by the motion lights coming on. I stumbled out of bed to check the driveway. No one. The side gate squeaked open, shut. A car’s headlights shone through the hedge. My son and his friends had decided to get a middle-of-the-night snack, apparently. I returned to bed, listening for them to return. To fill the time, I started worrying. About teenage drivers. About the potential for drunk or texting drivers. About the kids in general. About the event I have tonight. About recent rough patches in a couple friendships. About making it through a long day of work, a busy night and leaving the next morning on so little sleep.

I should’ve gone downstairs and found my headphones, plugged in and listened to one of my relaxation apps. But I didn’t want to get up. Finally I got up and decided to write.

Sometimes I miss writing about surfing, repetitive as it was. Last time I went out was Sunday. The sky hovered mostly gray, sunshine promised, but not yet forthcoming. Waves broke on my face in the channel. My bootie has a hole and my wetsuit’s leaking, but the water temp’s been steady mid-50s, not too bad. My knees ache every day lately, but I caught a couple waves and did all right. Nick caught some and, as always, watching him fly along from the back triggered happiness. Most everyone in the water was a friend. The waves were head-high, slightly over, and mushy. I had to wait until they were almost breaking to get into them – good practice, mentally, taking off later than I’m typically comfortable.

A set came, larger than the others, maybe a foot overhead, maybe more. Usually I either get caught inside or somehow miss the set waves, instead observing everyone else tear them up while I linger pathetically alone on the outside. This time, I caught one. Dropped down the face, bottom-turned, back up to the lip, slid down – just an average ride on an average wave that filled me with exceptional happiness because that is what surfing does.

Rode to the beach, where Nick was waiting. We had places to be, so I ended on that successful note and off we went as the sun finally emerged and the day turned brilliant.

I wish those moments came to me in the midst of tossing, turning, adjusting pillows, sheets. Instead, the anxieties I keep at bay during the sunlit hours assault me. I remember when I would get up and check Nick’s blood sugar in the dark. For years, I’d set the alarm, sneak into his room, poke his finger, watch the drop of blood spread into the strip. Wait for the number. Either I’d be able to go back to sleep, satisfied that he was, for the moment, okay – or start the correction process, which might take hours. He’s been handling that himself, at his insistence, for a couple years. I don’t miss the interrupted sleep, but I do miss being fully informed, having oversight. I wish we discussed his diabetes beyond him reassuring me that he’s fine. I believe he’s paying attention. I know he’s not paying attention the way I want him to.

But since when do the kids do what I want them to? They’ve been teenagers, near-adults, adults for a while. So much letting go. It’s freeing in many ways, this relinquishment of control. What doesn’t go away is the worry. I remain shackled to that.

So here I am, coming up on 7:30 a.m., wondering if I attempt more sleep or caffeinate my way through the day.

I have a big deal Ocean Night tonight (see Lost Coast Outpost at some point today for a comprehensive post), then off to Outside Lands tomorrow. Life is sweet, yes? Even without the sleep.

 

 

How to Surf When Your Knees Go Bad

Look at the bright side: At least now you have a legitimate reason for not being out in the water. Before the doctor ordered you to take a few weeks off, what was your excuse? Too much work, too many social commitments? Sure, you do suffer from both of those, but let’s be real: None of your excuses are valid. You have security with regards to food and shelter and therefore there are no valid excuses for not doing what you love.

You could have been surfing almost every day and the days you weren’t surfing, you could have walked on the beach. You live right next to it. But no, you forgot that you need to get up at 5 a.m. and started loitering in bed until 7 – which is a disaster for a person like you. You have a lot to get done. Multiple jobs and many friends. You are lucky for this. But you need to get up early to make it all work. Minutes in the morning are worth hours in the afternoon. You’ve blown it.

It doesn’t help that instead of checking the swell, you’ve more often checked Facebook. Something to do while shoveling oatmeal into your mouth and waiting for the Earl Grey to kick in. Liking stuff on autopilot, then distracted by the funny, the terrible, the tragic. Oh, look at the time, you’d realize. The window has closed, has been closed, and now you’re running late for the rest of life. 

Your surfboards became things you walked past instead of used.

You’re out of wax because you surf so little that you never remember to pick any up. In fact, you can’t remember the last time you went into a surf shop.

Now your knees hurt. Almost all the time. An afternoon of Frisbee turns into a morning of being crippled into tears and immobility. So you go to the doctor. The one you started going to when you landed your former job. You’re relieved she’s taking Covered California patients so you don’t have to wait to get in. She pokes your knees, asks if you feel any pain. “A little,” you say. “Some,” you say. “Ow!” you scream as your body bucks an inch off the table. She explains about cartilage and Baker’s cyst. Gross, you think. Then you get in your poor rusty truck that hasn’t driven on sand in weeks and the NPR folks are interviewing Boston Marathon bombing survivors. You’re a jerk. At least you still have your knees. Maybe you can even fix them.

So you stay out of the water – as if you weren’t doing that anyway – and gobble ibuprofen and rub in arnica and drink too much wine while you wait to see a physical therapist, who may or may not be covered by your new insurance. It’s confusing and you’re too busy to figure it out. But you get in. The PT guy gives you a rundown similar to the doctor’s, has some suggestions for reducing the pain. Stretching. Ibuprofen. Possibly taping your kneecap into a different position. You imagine your body like your poor rusty truck, like an old piece of machinery held together by duct tape. You promise to do the stretches. He tells you to work on your butt muscles. You’re a bit indignant – you work on your butt muscles all the time thankyouverymuch. Now you feel fat. Now you feel guilty about feeling fat. Look at all these poor old people doing tiny exercises around you. He reassures you that you’re fit. 

“What about the stuff I can’t do?” you ask or, some might say, whine. 

“Like what?”

“Surfing and hiking,” you tell him. “The doctor told me not to for at least a couple weeks.”

He shrugs. “You can do whatever you want. You might be in pain for the next 40 years or maybe I can help you. But you can’t give up the shit that brings you peace of mind.”

You love him.

Er, appropriately.

So the next day you fling your wetsuit into your tub, slide your longboard into your truck, drive down the spit like you have 1,000 times before. No one is out. The foghorn blares its beautiful call. The waves look small and a bit bumpy. You shake an earwig off your wetsuit and pull it on. You remember being cold is good sometimes because it makes you appreciate warmth. You panic for five minutes because the stupid zipper isn’t working and you’re about to call disaster when suddenly it catches. 

You paddle past the rocks and feel the same way as when you’re heading north on 101, passing through Piercy, the Humboldt County sign about to welcome you home. On your first wave, you’re too anxious, too far up, end up pearling in a maneuver so kooky you almost give up right then. But you’ve been here before. Calm down. Look at that gray whale coming up for air right off the end of the jetty. Seriously. 

You breathe and start catching waves for real. Your knees don’t hurt at all. A mix of adrenaline and cold water, you suppose, and your dedication to the ibuprofen god. And then some guy paddles out. He strikes up conversation. You agree that it’s fun. You think it’s getting better, you say. He tells you, yes, it’s been much better on this tide than that one and explains that he surfs here all the time. Like you’re some random person who just happens to be out on his wave. And you have no retort, because even though it’s your wave, you haven’t been using it. Goddamn it. So you shut up and catch some more waves until you’re tired, which happens too soon, but you did it. 

And later your knees do hurt like hell, but your mind, your mind feels so good.

insomnia #22 aka “I Want to Know What Love Is”

It worries me that the songs most often stuck in my head are by Foreigner. 1.) I’m not that old. 2.) Foreigner, really? Why not The Cure or Violent Femmes or Concrete Blonde or Elvis Costello or Nirvana or PJ Harvey? Bands that seeped into my adolescence, bands that soundtracked me into adulthood. Bands that meant something to me. I’d welcome something recent – I do listen to new music daily, after all – anything decent, something to reassure me I’m neither obsolete nor lacking in taste.

But, no. It’s all “Jukebox Hero” and “Cold as Ice” and “Urgent” bouncing around in my skull as I’m lying in bed at 3 a.m. unable to sleep. That, as much as the inability to stop the concurrent roil of thoughts, forced me out of bed.

Let’s talk about surfing instead. As ever, I don’t surf enough – there is no enough – but I did get out for a session earlier this week, scored a few fast, head-high rights in a friendly crowd before the wave shut down like our time had run out. (“Put another quarter in!” we joke, those of us familiar with quarter-driven mechanical animal rides.) The wind accelerated as we paddled around in search of that one more, one more, one more that would finally take us in to the beach. I need a new wetsuit (again) and the breeze on top of the cold water had me shivering – by the time I managed to pick off a left, my calfs were cramping and my knees stiff.

But, still. Surfing was better than not surfing. The current never relented and my shoulders ached the next day from all the paddling – “It should be called ‘paddling,’ not ‘surfing,'” one of my friends regularly jokes – and the ache made me happy.

I should read something and I think I will soon. When did the habit become always to turn to the computer? Alison Bechdel’s marvelous Fun Home waits to be finished, New Yorkers pile up alongside Mental Floss and The Atlantic as if our living room is a waiting room, only I never find myself sitting down, killing time until someone is ready for me. Instead, I am the person people are waiting for as I finish the dishes, fold the laundry, pay the bills, complain that the bathroom needs cleaning, announce for the millionth time, “I have so much to do.” Last year, I practiced making Sundays a no-screen, no-car day with the only exception being to look up the swell and/or drive to the waves. It was lovely to lie on the couch, book in hand, or jaunt out to the beach sans phone, and I think I will try it again.

Does everyone obsess about improving themselves? We absorb endless messages about how to be smarter, happier, more successful. Thinner. (Always thinner.) In between the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently” and “8 Facts Will Make You More Productive” (both of which I have bookmarked, along with “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 a.m.” and “5 Scientific Secrets to High Performance“) – in between these manifestos on How To Be Better are treatises on the importance of self-acceptance. I often wonder at what point we’re allowed to stop striving and say instead, “Look, this is how I am.”

Because I know a lot of people who wear their faults without regret, embrace their curmudgeonly or messy selves or, more likely, just get on with the business of living as if part of them isn’t hovering above, watching and judging their behavior without pause. Oblivion to one’s effect on others has drawbacks, but sometimes I would appreciate a break from so much worry.

I was reading an advice column – partly because I enjoy advice and good writing, and partly because I’m a human who does things and has people, so I can usually relate in some way to what’s happening (unless it’s Savage Love, which, perhaps sadly, offers problems more exciting than my own) – when a line in a letter from a frustrated former employee regarding an open position at her prior workplace resonated: “I don’t think I actually want the job; I’m well aware of the frustrations and challenges of that particular role. What I want is for them to want me.”

Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even if I don’t want to come to your party, I will be hurt if you don’t invite me.

And then it was as columnist Heather Havrilesky climbed into my brain with her response:

“…So you wanted someone to show you that they noticed all of this hard work. You wanted to feel wanted. Instead, they said ‘Sorry, we just can’t promote you.’ Here’s what they DIDN’T say: ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That’s what you HEARD, but that’s not what they actually said.

“…And maybe you’ve never seen a therapist. Maybe… you return to old slights as if there’s some important mystery to be solved there, as if the more you dig up buried disappointments, the more you’ll learn about what you did wrong. You figure you fucked up something, or maybe there’s something off about the people involved, and if you look really hard at the mess you left behind, you might figure it all out.

“…I will work tirelessly to be understood. I will explain and re-explain. And at some level, I am absolutely certain that, with enough explaining, I will be understood and embraced—at long last!”

That last one, seriously. My friends laugh (at least I hope they laugh) about how prone I am to following up conversations with emails elaborating on “What I actually meant in case I wasn’t clear” or “I didn’t mean to be a jerk when I said such-and-such.” Havrilesky’s lengthy response could have been aimed at – or written by – me. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because I’m not lacking in validation or (I think) confidence. But we take the good feedback for granted sometimes, weight the criticism as if it means more, then spend our efforts trying to prove ourselves to the wrong people. (Please note how I switched to third person there. Because it’s not just me… right?)

Which is why the advice in the final paragraph should be taken to heart:

“Some workplaces, some bosses, some friends, some relatives, some exes will never want you, and will never appreciate all of the amazing qualities you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with you. Forget them. Build those parts of you that make you feel peaceful and accepting and satisfied and soft and vulnerable. Make a religion out of letting go. You do great work, and everyone knows it. Don’t fixate on the indifferent. Keep yourself surrounded by people who look you in the eye, listen closely, and really seem interested in you as a person. Try to do the same for your friends. Stop working so goddamn hard for once in your life. You are already good enough.”

Look, this is how I am.

 

 

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

If I were to make a list of things I’d most like to leave behind in 2013, insomnia would be up there. I blame the evening’s red wine this time, but the cause could just as easily be falling asleep too early with too much on my mind. It’s a horrible thing, thinking.

My arsenal of sleep aids – herbal teas and tonics, Tylenol PM, relaxation apps – are failing to do the trick tonight. Rather than lie in bed kicking my husband every time he nears snoring, I’m here in front of the computer, writing.

It seemed potentially more productive. New Year’s Eve. Why not take stock?

304165_10152416926225478_656626004_n

January: Our sweet dog died, my younger daughter was detained in London en route to Ireland, I wrote my first Five Things, and a friend and I attended the Presidential inauguration.

404497_10152521770615478_1593043058_n

February: My older daughter turned 23, my husband and I relived the ’90s by seeing Soundgarden in Oakland’s Fox Theater, I moved into The Link and I went on an epic surf-work trip to Central Cali, the first of many excursions I’d take with my dear friend Casey.

882931_10152574519030478_736576682_o

March: Spent another week along the central coast, my younger daughter turned 19 and I wrote my first (and so far only) cover story for the North Coast Journal.

484462_10152730699230478_2096059864_n

April: My first Five Things column ran in the NCJ, I tripped to Sacramento and Santa Cruz, and I helped coordinate a memorial service and paddle out for John “Moose” Mason, a man whose sudden death brought forth such beautiful tribute from so many people that I found myself thinking, “We should all be so loved” – and that we should all be so kind and good as Moose.

May: Some idiots filming an ad at Moonstone high-centered a Dodge truck on a rock, launching me into Surfrider mode and ending with me being named a “Humboldtian of the Week” on Facebook, a work trip took me to D.C., we attended my fabulous brother’s fabulous wedding in San Francisco, where I stayed on for a conference after – four hotels in 10 days.

993533_10152857796840478_1220950979_n

June: Traveled to Long Beach for work and some time with my older daughter, stepped in as the NCJ’s music columnist, spent Summer Solstice at Shelter Cove, wrote about the dead whale that washed up on my beach and was given a six-month layoff heads up.

970794_10153000445285478_497217605_n

47690_10153016998750478_505845848_n

July: Played cornhole and bocce ball for the first times and failed at neither, took a vacation to Seattle that included a whale watching tour through the Puget Sound and a stop in Portland on the way back that included visiting a friend with whom I shared a room when we were 18 – and all the required reminiscing that implies, and wrote my favorite Five Things so far.

1157624_10153113460480478_24893875_n

August: Threw a most excellent birthday party for my husband’s 50th, was hired on to do part-time outreach for Humboldt Baykeeper and moved my younger daughter to Santa Cruz.

September: Played a small role in Humboldt Made’s big premier, guested on Sherae O’Shaughnessy’s Late Night gig, traveled with Casey to San Diego for the annual Surfrider conference, helped cover the arrest of alleged crossbow killers in Manila, helped clean up around a homeless camp for Coastal Cleanup Day and wrote about it.

1374319_10153257796235478_1996801215_n

October: My kickball team raised $2,697 for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and came in second in the annual tournament, Casey and Kj joined me for my second excursion to a foreign country, this one a long-anticipated trip to Manzanillo, Mexico, where we spent six days surfing, swimming, reading, drinking and eating tacos – best vacation ever – followed by a closer-to-home excursion to track gray whales and see humpbacks, a transcendent experience.

46914_10153332681900478_1675847287_n

November: My son turned 18, my friend Grant and I took off to New York for a week, where I stayed with my brother and his wife and celebrated my own birthday – 44! – at The Comedy Cellar, and upon returning home, my husband and I moved into the upstairs master bedroom after 11 years of downstairs living.

1451466_10153450079555478_342398874_n

1393665_10153395956720478_588019961_n

December: Held what was likely my favorite Ocean Night ever, wrapped up my job with Ocean Conservancy, made plans for a next chapter with the Northcoast Environmental Center, tripped down to Santa Cruz to visit our younger daughter, reminisced about a time I almost died, and trekked up to Crescent City for an especially memorable surf safari due to cramming five people in a Honda CRV, finding fun waves under endless sunshine, a rescue by me of a person drifting out to sea, stinky sea lions, piles of fish and chips and hours of excellent conversation.

1453460_10153585255250478_1932045522_n

In between and throughout all that, a million photos of sunsets, sunrises and various bodies of water. Also, surfing. My wonderful writers’ group. Parties. Music. Books. Movies. Food. The requisite ups-and-downs and various heartbreaks involved in being a human people who spends time with people. Most importantly, a ton of love and good best friends. I aim to transform this list of things done into something larger and life-useful at some point, but for now, what a reminder that I am a lucky, lucky girl.

A worst thing

There are many worsts in life. This was one of them.

I would never hurt a dog. I found myself repeating that fact out loud. To my children. To the guys who pulled over to help. To myself. I would never hurt a dog.

Seconds before the impact, we’d been glowing from an evening surf, Nick, Kaylee and I, waves and weather conspiring to keep us in the water through dusk. One more, just one more as the sky flared pink and orange, and the ocean shimmered in the sun’s last rays. We’d been raving about the session – So fun! – the three of us smushed in the cab of the truck, what a great surf that had been. We hadn’t all surfed together in months, schedules and temperaments not often aligned.

From the jetty to home is all of ten minutes, a sprint up the spit with a single stop sign interrupting the journey. I don’t speed – even if I were inclined, my truck trundles along on the slow side. But the limit is 55, far too fast to stop in time when two dogs bolt out of the darkness onto the road directly in front of you. I tried. I saw the silhouettes, the kids shouted, “Mom!,” I hit the brakes, I swerved. All these actions piled on top of each other so quickly it was as if they were the same moment. And then the thunk. I pulled over and we ran to the dog I’d hit as Kaylee called 911. The other dog had raced away.

Nick implored me to keep Kaylee away from the dog I’d  hit, but I had no chance. She ran over to it, hoping somehow it would be okay despite that horrible sound. I wanted a miracle as well – in my mind, as I caught up to her, we were already loading the animal into the truck, racing to the emergency vet. But the animal had been killed on impact.

I killed a dog.

I would never hurt a dog. Never.

Nick went off to search for the other one. Kaylee cried and said we had to move the body out of the road so no one else would hit the poor thing. The dog was larger than our old yellow lab we’d lost in January and black in a stretch of street with little light. The thought of picking up the lifeless body, dead weight like a sandbag in my hands, blood, there would be blood, horrified me almost as much as the vision of a car ramrodding over the corpse, splattering the insides across the lane.

And then the responsibility for the aftermath ceased to be mine. A couple guys from Samoa Fire pulled over to see what was happening. Through tears, we explained. They were concerned about my son’s safety – he had not yet returned, but as we spoke, he emerged from the darkness. No luck finding the other dog, he said. He expressed his worry about Kaylee again, frustrated that I’d let her experience the dead dog up close. I couldn’t stop her, I cried. I couldn’t stop.

The volunteers tugged the dog’s body to the side of the road. They reassured me. No way to avoid it, miss. I wanted them to be right. I wanted to think that I could have done nothing else, that underneath the circumstances, the outcome was inevitable. I replay the moment – dogs! brakes! swerve! – over and over.

I would never hurt a dog.

I love dogs. We had a dog for 14 years and I miss her almost every day. My son grew up with her. They were practically littermates. For all his concern over his sister, I know he’s horrified at what I’ve done. What I’ve done. In an instant I went from cool surfer mom to mom-who-killed-a-dog. That the collision was unavoidable is of scant comfort. We lose our children’s idolization bit by bit as they grow older and discover our flaws, learn to their great disappointment that their parents are merely human. We long to be superheroes. A superhero would’ve somehow brilliantly avoided disaster. A superhero would have managed to save the dogs, not kill one of them, scare the other off. I have taken an animal’s life, by accident. Someone, somewhere will miss this dog and I am so, so sorry. I miss the moment ten minutes ago, when life was perfect and hopes high.

A sheriff’s deputy shows up. We explain, again. He reassures, again. He hands me the front license plate he’d picked up from the road – the impact had knocked it off the truck. We shiver in our wetsuits. The men agree nothing remains for me to do. I should take the kids, go home, don’t feel bad. It was an accident. These things happen. There was nothing I could have done.

Mexico: Departure

Of course, it wasn’t quite over. In between dropping Kj off at the airport and cleaning the house, Casey and I squeezed a final surf in at Santiago Bay, picking off waves between local kids flinging themselves into the head-high barrels with abandon. And then we were done.

That would have been an elegant way to end, but at the airport I discovered I’d lost my immigration paper, which meant I couldn’t board the plane. They held it for me – thanks to Casey’s quick thinking – as I scrambled to pay the fine required to replace it. This was the second time an important piece of paper had gone missing while I was with Casey – the first was in a San Diego security line when we finally got to the front and I abruptly had no boarding pass – so her patience with the situation was especially commendable.

And then we were done.

Mexico: Day Five

I don’t have a graceful or subtle way to say this. Of course, what happened wasn’t graceful or subtle: I’d started my period and was bleeding to death. Cramps galore! Why my body has to kick in this way every single time I travel mystifies me. No matter where I am on my cycle, something about getting on a plane apparently alerts my uterus that it’s time to shed that unwanted lining. I wanted to cry. Not that I can’t surf while bleeding to death and falling over with cramps, but the situation is hardly ideal for flinging myself over pitching slabs of swell. So I sat on the sand at Paraiso and watched everyone else alternatingly tear it up and get munched. So it goes.

A boat tour through the mangroves cheered me up – and the value of having good friends along can not be understated. Even under the circumstances, gratitude to have two such lovely, kind, fun, responsible traveling companions along infused every bit of my being.

The days had grown in heat since our arrival and this one seemed the hottest as we left the turtle sanctuary. The ocean called. We leapt in. I swam out past the breakers (Everclear echoing in my head, natch), dove and let the waves roll me. The joy of being in this warm ocean buoyed me, brought me back to myself. Refreshed and rejuevenated, we departed for another taco shop. More fish tacos, more laughter.

Detoured at a Starbucks to jump on the wifi and check in with my poor, abandoned husband. Everything was fine. No emergencies. Having a great time. Love you.

Back home, we finished the tequila and I finished Peter Heller’s Kook, the story of a middle-aged guy determined to not only learn to surf, but to go from beginner to big wave surfer in six months. I’d been unprepared for how funny and poignant the book would turn out to be. The story peaks in mainland Mexico – I kicked myself again for not charging Pasquales – and was a lovely note to end vacation on.

Mexico: Day Four

I rose late, a nearby midnight drum session having interfered with my sleep – so late that Casey had to get me up, a situation greatly reversed from the norm! We headed straight to Paraiso, where I was determined to try the hollow waves on my rented board. The waves rolled in a few feet overhead, steep and pitching. A better surfer would’ve been barrelled for days, but for me, I was stoked to make the drops, repeatedly pushing myself into another and another.

We then ate the best tacos in the world. I scarfed down two chile con queso while Casey moved in on a third. Antonio and I teased her. La Nina es La Gorda! Off to Pasquales, an internationally known spot and the only place we saw other tourists. If you enjoy hammocks, a pool, well-muscled Australians and epic barrels, I highly recommend this place. The waves were bigger here, the surfing pro level. I hung out on the edge of things with a paunchy Canadian, finally caught a wave and called it a day, in part due to the fact that my board was de-waxing in the heat as I watched.

Back home, we made more silly Vines and dinner. I’d found a bottle of citrus liquor and made what I thought would be amazing margaritas. I should have made a test one first – the look of polite disgust on both Kj and Casey’s faces suggested “amazing” was not the taste they were experiencing. I sipped mine. Oh, puke. We returned to the tequila-Fresca combination that’d been working much, much better.

“Tomorrow’s the last day!” – Kj

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” – Me

Mexico: Day Three

We looked and looked and looked for waves. Santiago Bay, then through Manzanillo’s Centrale Historicale district to the power plant, the jetties. The heat oppressed us. I wanted to get in the water so badly, but everywhere was closing out. We took a break for tacos pescado and were restored. After, Antonio pulled over without telling us why. As we climbed out of the car, he pointed into the trees. Iguanas! We then walked inside this place that was part zoo, part iguana sanctuary. An exhibit of raccoons made me laugh – bastards used to show up on my porch every night and they get their own space here? The other critters made me sad – a pig tied to a tree, birds in tiny cages. But the iguanas roamed free. As I held up my phone taking video of the dozens of iguanas, one detached from the group and marched at me so quickly I backed up, tripping over a mound of dirt behind me and falling on my ass. That would have made an even better video, but the moment will have to live on in only my and Casey’s memories.

Having given up somewhat on the surf, we trekked over to La Boquita for some snorkeling. Ah, the blessed relief of bath water temperature ocean on a baking hot day! A shipwreck lies not too far offshore, so we loaded up the snorkels and goggles on the boards, then paddled over to where a rusty beam protruded from the water. Now, maybe it was my two recent rounds of X-rays at the dentist, but I found the snorkel mouth bit disconcerting. Wasn’t sure I could relax and get used to it. Nonetheless, I swam around the edge of the shipwreck peering through the cloudy water as the tide pushed and pulled. Suddenly, the visibility improved. Brightly striped tropical fish exploded into my vision. I gasped like a little kid and kicked closer. The experience repeated as I stroked across the top of the wrecked ship – silvery fish twinkled, sunlit under the water. More clown fish, so many others I didn’t know. I forgot everything in my delight.

After, I drug out the longboard and caught some peeling ankle-biters for a while. So far I’d surfed every day.

Later, we drank wine and tequila and read outside as a tropical storm brought a few hours of rain. I scrawled this in my journal:

“I am sitting on a patio in Mexico, half drunk in a thunderstorm, reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder while two of my best girlfriends sit drinking margaritas reading Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins and the thunder cracks and the rain falls into the pool and the wine sits on the table and we’re tired from swimming and snorkeling over a fish-riddled shipwreck and all the sun that came before the rain and has life ever been so wonderful?”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,011 other followers