Monthly Archives: June 2024

The edge of the world, revisited

The woman two doors down stopped on the way back from the ice machine to check on me as I fumbled with the rusty lock of my door.  You all right, hon, she said, in the gentle voice that strangers use when they want you to know they mean no harm.  I told her that I was, in fact, all right.  She gestured toward the last lingering rays of sunset.  It don’t get better than this, am I right, she asked.  I assured her that I agreed.  She bid me good night and walked on by just as I got the door open.  

The room afforded about as much space in one square as my rectangular tiny house, though with substantially fewer electric outlets.  I laughed, remembering the absurd argument with my carpenter over why on earth one short crippled woman needed outlets every six feet.  I had to throw my meagre weight around to get USB ports in three of them.  

This place has a decent walk-in tiled shower and something my house lacks, a flush toilet.  My composting toilet spares me having to deal with a black water line but  poses other challenges.  Here everything seems new and well-maintained, better than I remembered from a prior visit.  It will suffice for the next forty hours.  I don’t even mind that the restaurant closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, something I had never had reason to know.  

I stay here almost exclusively for the soothing voice of the Pacific.  Her song comes to me over the noise of a neighboring television and the occasional slamming car door.  I didn’t have to come west after my six-month oncology check-up.  I could have driven home in rush hour.  I could go home tomorrow.  But I didn’t and I won’t.  Instead, I will spend two nights here sandwiching a delicious, beautiful day at the edge of the world.  My soul has already eased into neutral.  A kind of quiet has overtaken me.  I realize that I have been inland too long, too many days between sojourns at the sea.  My seven-day workweek has kept me from this respite.  

But I will not think of that now.  I sat on the hood of my car, feet on a rock, and watched the sunset.  A vanload of travelers climbed the sea wall beside me.  One of them, a young woman, lifted her open hands to the heavens.  Seagulls and pelicans skimmed the rippling waves.  A middle-aged couple wrapped their arms around each other.  As the golden orb slowly sank into the ocean, we released our breath as one.  Tension rose from our bodies and drifted toward the horizon.  The whole lot of us stood in the parking lot.  No one spoke.  Only the song of the sea broke the silence.

It’s the eighteenth day of the one-hundred and twenty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sea Longing

A thousand miles beyond this sun-steeped wall
Somewhere the waves creep cool along the sand,
The ebbing tide forsakes the listless land
With the old murmur, long and musical;
The windy waves mount up and curve and fall,
And round the rocks the foam blows up like snow,—
Tho’ I am inland far, I hear and know,
For I was born the sea’s eternal thrall.
I would that I were there and over me
The cold insistence of the tide would roll,
Quenching this burning thing men call the soul,—
Then with the ebbing I should drift and be
Less than the smallest shell along the shoal,
Less than the sea-gulls calling to the sea.

— Sara Teasdale



Down In The Dumps In The Delta

Sleep often eludes me.  Last night, I lay for hours resisting tears with my shuddery legs ignoring every exhortation to quiet.  Regret for a late-evening sugary snack clenched my shoulders.  Whether that half-cup of granola really caused the distress or not, I blamed myself.  The endless litany reverberated in the darkness.  My mistakes haunted me: eating too late, reading too long, making each and every blunder that brought me to the long stretch of wakefulness with cold air penetrating my nerve-endings.  

I headed into Isleton too early.  I forewent my usual scrambled eggs, hoping that the coffee shop ladies would come through with my little sandwich at lunch time.  Preparations for the weekend’s street festival engrossed me.  Off and on throughout the day my body rebelled.  My legs buckled.  My knees gave way.  Fatigue settled in my belly and curdled even the perfectly prepared tiny sandwich that I usually love.  I tried to persevere.  I stayed silent when I might have snapped.  I smiled when I wanted to cry.  I shook hands with a couple of guys who made our tiny town one stop on a paddle-board expedition from Sacramento to San Francisco.  I photographed a newly engaged couple, the woman wearing a sunhat crocheted by one of our vendors.  Her radiance almost salvaged my mood.

One of my creative cohorts at the shop started the day by spending two hours helping me rearrange.  Another ended the day by hanging a curtain for me.  Yet I still crossed the bridge on my way to the grocery store with bleary eyes and a sagging heart.  I’m always tired but today’s level of exhaustion overwhelmed me.  My quick spin up and down the aisles could have been painless, except that the store insists on keeping small specialty items on the top shelf.  With no floor clerks, far away from the cashstand, I inched my hand upward while trying to remain on my feet.  Unfortunately the package smacked my face.  One edge of a crooked tooth bit into the inside of my upper lip.

As I jostled my purchases onto the conveyer belt, I tried to tell the clerk about my accident.  Six years of shopping in a store that ignores the needs of disabled persons fought my urge for calm.  The lady responded by blaming me.  “You should have gotten help,” she scolded.  My internal struggle roiled.  I tried to tell her that I should not have to come all the way back to the front of the store when a better system of shelving would put those small items within easy reach.  She rolled her eyes, shrugged, and started talking to the woman behind me.   I called to her attention that I had not finished talking.  She blamed me again, saying that she had been trying to sort out where my order ended and that I should have been more patient.  She might have been right, but I felt my mood darken.

I left the store feeling desolate.  Weary and wanting to be home, I stopped and stared in dismay at the long line of vehicles at a standstill on the road.  The Rio Vista bridge had been lifted for a passing boat.  I told myself it would not be long and started to pack the groceries in my vehicle. I only turned my back for a second, but that moment claimed my cart. I turned and watched it roll towards the exit.  Now I blamed myself.  Had I not mentioned the assaultive ice cream, the cashier might have offered help with my bags.  Perhaps I would even have gotten on the road before the traffic jam.

The buggy slowly rolled towards a  truck.  I watched with open mouth as it swerved at the last moment, avoiding the truck and catching in the depressed edge of the driveway.  I started forward, urging my trembling legs to keep walking, to hold, to endure.  

The driver’s side of the vehicle opened and a tall man loped around the front and snagged my cart.  He wheeled it around and brought it toward me.  Apologies gushed from my mouth.  I could have hit your nice truck, I practically sobbed.  He steadied the cart and reach to shake my head.  It’s just material goods, he assured me.  Just material goods.  No worries.  He kept my hand in his for a moment and looked into my eyes to let me feel his sincerity.  He told me that he was glad he met me.  He resumed the wheel of his vehicle just as the line on Highway 12 started to move.  I got into my own car, started the motor, and moved behind my inadvertent savior.  I took one look at his bumper and felt my heart open.  Of course, I murmured.  Why am I even surprised?

It’s the fourteenth day of the one-hundred and twenty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

In Memory

Stephen Patrick Corley

12/25/59 – 06/14/97

Fare Thee Well – I love you more than words can tell.


A Night in June

My baby brother Stephen disappeared from this difficult world some time between June 07th and June 13th in 1997.  His gravestone notes his date of death as June 14th, but they could not say with any certainty.  They gave the span within a week.

We buried him in the Corley family plot in a cemetery in St. Louis, with the mother whom he loved beyond all measure, and the father whom he equally loathed.  His cremains bore a Grateful Dead sticker.  Someone tossed Cardinals football tickets into the small hole dug for the brass box.  His ex-wife stood stoically at my side, eyes blank, hands clenched.  She had mourned the loss of him years before that day, and doubtless has never stopped.

This morning I saw a little news report about Pat Sajack retiring from the television program Wheel of Fortune.  My heart skipped, and just for a few minutes, I sat by my mother’s bedside on some evening in 1985 when I had driven to St. Louis to take a stint in her sickroom.  Vanna White stood by the letters and Pat gestured for a contestant’s guess.  As the letters flipped, my mother chuckled and held the telephone receiver.  Inevitably it rang, she listened, nodded, and pronounced the caller to be correct.  When the next ring sounded, she lifted the receiver and chortled, Too late!  Thus did we play a cross-country game with our dying mother, with the first person to guess the Wheel of Fortune answer winning the priceless prize of her praise.

On one of those visits, my brother Stephen and I stood in the kitchen talking over coffee.  He shook his head and said, with his paramedic’s bluntness, It won’t be long now.  He did what he could.  Whatever else you might say about my brother’s behavior in the last few months of our mother’s life, he did love her.  He taught me how to melt her pain pills in the microwave, a skill that I stubbornly refused to understand how he learned.  He showed me the easiest way to stroke her throat to get her to instinctively swallow.  He sat in a chair by her side on many nights, doing what he could for her.  He took her pain into his heart.  We all did, really; but her baby seem to feel it quite keenly.  

A decade later, he still grieved.  He had a lot of monkeys on his back, did my little brother; and his inability to save his mama nestled boldly and cruelly among them.

I try to recall his face, and hers.  I start the annual grieving time right about now.  I imagine that last desperate drive he took, to his country land.  I won’t let myself picture the rest of it, except that quiet spot beside a tree where his friend later found him.   

I had a mural painted on my house several years ago in his honor.  The harsh sun had faded its bright colors, but I’m having it restored.  I think of my little brother sitting beneath a willow tree on the banks of a river, as the sun eases itself downward in the western sky.  He would be happy there; or if not happy, at least, perhaps, at peace.

It’s the seventh day of the one-hundred and twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

June Night

OH Earth, you are too dear to-night,
How can I sleep while all around
Floats rainy fragrance and the far
Deep voice of the ocean that talks to the ground?
Oh Earth, you gave me all I have,
I love you, I love you,—oh what have I
That I can give you in return—
Except my body after I die?
— Sara Teasdale