Monthly Archives: October 2012

Night Vision

The three of us held hands as we walked along the road between campsites. The glow of campfires and lanterns just reached our dark path but didn’t illuminate it. Voices of the families gathered around them were hushed now that darkness had fallen. We were headed towards our own shared campfire. We could hear our friends’ voices, laughing and telling stories, as we walked towards the warmth and light awaiting us.

“Hey, come here.” His familiar voice out of the shadows startled us a bit, not much. “I’ve got something to show you.”

He’d been waiting for us to return from our trip, hoping to catch us away from the others so our absence wouldn’t be noticed. We didn’t have our lights on, but we could see him now that we knew where he was. Smiling face obvious now, the lenses of his glasses flashed the slightest bit in the starlight.

“Come on. We’re going to the beach.”

The kids and I all carried headlamps in our pockets, but only Michael used his as we started down the steps from the headland to the beach. Cupped in his hand, it emitted the faintest red glow through his fingertips, just enough to illuminate the uneven steps hewn from enormous logs brought in by the tide. Once we reached the beach and cleared a log jam against the cliff wall, he clicked it off and we stood a minute to let our eyes readjust. The sand at our feet was still warm from the sun, the brisk breeze on our faces cooled by salt spray.

Our toes dug through the churned up dry sand as we crossed the top of the beach. It became flatter and harder, almost like concrete, as we continued towards the water. The tide was so low and the waves so far away that the roar of the Pacific was muffled and remote. The sky was vast above us, the light of the stars bright enough that we could see each other clearly.The kids ran ahead, no longer concerned about tripping over logs or falling into moats dug around sand castles.

We met at the water’s edge, the rising moon still bloodied by the reflection of the sun, a reflection we could no longer see at the horizon but that stretched unseen around the curve of the earth. Those last rays of the sun reflected in the moon’s face made its path glowing across the calm sea just this side of pink.

In a low voice Michael pointed out the constellations to the girls, their questions and giggles still low, but lively. The darkness blanketed even the sound of children’s voices, but not their energetic tones. He pointed out constellations, mars, satellites overhead. Then he showed them the tiny pinprick of light on a fishing boat miles out, so far that it looked about to fall over the horizon at any moment, like the sun had.

I didn’t fully listen. I was content with the named presence of the big dipper, the rising moon. I thought instead of the gift he was giving them. A memory being built. Tonight it’s an adventure. Long from now, in some unexpected moment, this memory will surface: Dad, beach, night, new rising moon. Entering their minds like nourishment, stored away for when they need it.
****

Driving at night on the winding, two-lane rural road. It rises from the river bottom, curving its way through small farmsteads, in and out of woods of maple, oak, birch, and sassafras. Humid summer air whisking in the windows, smelling of cows and mown hay. The night noises of crickets and frogs gaining and losing volume as we pass. The family is safely enclosed in the car, my parents’ profiles silhouetted by blue lights from the dashboard. My sister and brother on either side of me, dimly seen, but pressed close in the back seat. We are silent, expectant, because the cabin is just a mile or two away.

Finally, we crest the last hill into the bright full moon, leaving the woods behind for a little while. Dad says, “Look at this everybody!” and he clicks off the car’s headlights for a few exhilarating minutes. We speed along the broad bend at the top of the hill in the moonlight and slope downwards just enough to feel the rollercoaster swoop before he flips them on again.

“Jim!” my mother scolds as we laugh at the utter recklessness and audacity of it all.
****

We slowly turned our backs on the ocean and the moon to scan the sky behind us for shooting stars. The little one leaned against my legs, shivering a little. A line of flashlight beams snaked its way along the headland path and down log steps. Snatches of laughter and occasional shouts made their faint way towards us.

“Let’s go back.” He said.

We walked holding hands, four across this time. Passed invisibly into the shadows as the teenagers whooped and hollered their way past playing flashlight tag. At the bottom of the steps, headlight cupped in his hand, Michael illuminated the path with pinpricks of light. We headed back from the dark towards the light and conversation of fire and friends.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Please click here to see a photograph of Kalaloch Beach by Leonel Torres.

Please click here to see the moon rising over the headland at Kalaloch Beach by Leonel Torres.

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Imprint — Thumbprint

I didn’t feel any pain as the knife slid first through the bagel and then through the tip of my thumb. Severing it almost clean, just a small hinge of skin held it in place. A cry of shock, not of pain. No swearing. The rush to the closet, supplies flung everywhere. I grabbed gauze and a washcloth, wrapped the bleeding thumb securely in the bandage, then the cloth, and rubber-banded it into place. I yelled for TK to run next door to the neighbor’s, to ask her to drive us to the Emergency Room.

N____ can be counted on to be prepared for every eventuality. She pulled up to the house, her cooler-sized first aid kit balanced between the two seats in the back. We hopped in. Me, still not feeling any pain but waiting for it to kick in, breathing hard; TK calmly reaching over and patting my knee with her small hand. It wasn’t the first time she’d witnessed a parent-sized injury.

****

I am a skilled and practical driver. I’ve driven the route to the hospital through the narrow, traffic-laden geography of city many times. Some of those trips required both speed and strategy: while in labor with TK, and based solely on physical sensations of the roadway under the car, I called out shortcuts to my husband as he raced us through the dark streets, arriving mere minutes before TK was born.

I know my way up there.

N____, however, is a very cautious driver. She would probably prefer not to drive at all if she could avoid it. She is a person who drives at, or slightly below, the posted speed limits. She will not be hurried and, knowing this, she tries to distract me by brightly making small talk.

N____ pulls slowly into the empty street, comes to a complete stop at the stop sign, and drives north through the neighborhood.

I would have turned south.

She continues on, sure to stop at each of the next two corners, finally turning west onto a major arterial which has, as I well know, three long, congested traffic stops between it and the highway.

I would have cut south through back roads and turned towards the interstate at least two miles closer to the hospital.

In the time it takes N____ to reach the first intersection, the one with the longest light, I would have been at highway, gauging its traffic to plan my next move.

We are a quarter mile in the wrong direction. I would have been long gone.

I want to ask where the hell she’s going, but it is getting more difficult to keep pressure on my thumb. I know as well as anybody the first rule of first aid: apply pressure to a bleeding wound. I’m lightheaded and a little freaked out, but I am also aware that N____ is doing me a kindness on a sunny, summer afternoon in Seattle when no one else can. She is doing her best and I just need to keep my mouth shut, press my thumb into the roof of the car because it’s too tiring to keep the pressure on it any other way, and breathe.

****

Grinding minutes later and we’re still at that first light. The car is inching forward. A long line of traffic waits for the light to change, and when the occasional car turns right, we move haltingly forward just enough. My thumb has started throbbing and pain is searing its way into my consciousness. I listen to but can’t hear N____ and TK talking. Occasionally I’m asked, “Are you doing okay?” Her concerned eyes inspect me from the rearview mirror. I make sure to focus on her question, “Uh, huh.”

The light finally changes. Cars in front of us start forward, then pause as they turn to let pedestrians make their excruciating way across the six-lane street. We are three car-lengths from the intersection when the light turns red again.

****
He is on the corner as he is every day. Awkward cardboard sign, something scrawled upon it in Sharpie. It’s hot. He has no hat, thin white hair and scalp exposed to the glare. He leans towards the window of the first car, says something, backs away. The next car and the next car; he makes his way along the sidewalk. He sees the open window and me watching him. He perks up and walks towards us. “No, no, no,” I plead to myself. “Not today…” And there he is at the window, bending down to look at us, to ask.

His face is unexpectedly smooth behind the gray stubble of a beard just starting, his skin the shiny pink of a burn victim’s, though he has not been burned except by the sun. Watery blue eyes, small and alert, take us in. His sign droops as he leans on the car.

Before he speaks, N____tries to head him off. “We’re headed to the ER!”

“You’re going to the hospital?” he asks.

“Yes! She’s hurt.”

He moves closer. To me, “Are you hurt?”

“I sliced my thumb. I can’t give you any money. See? I have a bandage.” I’m nauseous now; I don’t want to explain. It doesn’t occur to me that I don’t have to.

“Is this your mom?” he says to TK. She nods.

“That’s terrible. That’s terrible you got hurt.”

“Yes. But I’m going to get taken care of.”

He looks at me with concern. He steps back, adjusting his sign.

“I’ll pray for you,” he says. “I’ll pray for you.”

The light turns green.
****
The day passed as expected. It took us a long time to get to the hospital: we hit every red light; we had to take alternate routes to avoid congestion caused by the annual Sea Fair celebrations; we stopped so N___ could wisely rewrap my tight bandage. While my thumb was stitched back together by the doctor, N____ and TK went for lunch, bringing back a bagel sandwich for me. (Bagel? “You’ve got to get right back on the horse,” says N____) Home, then movies, then dinner kindly brought over by our Good Samaritan.

****
The next day I turn north as TK and I drive to the store, stopping at the corners, turning west on the major arterial that I almost always avoid traveling. TK says, “Why are we going this way?”

“Oh, I’ve got something I want to do.”

We slow for the wait at the light, inching forward in the line of cars. He is on the corner as he is every day. Awkward cardboard sign drooping when he stoops at car windows. I hand TK a couple of bills.

“Give those to him when he comes to the window,” I tell TK.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because he did me a favor yesterday.”

“He did?” She’s puzzled. “Okay.”

The man approaches the window. TK gives him the money, and he looks at us both without recognition. We are just two more of the hundreds of people he sees every day. There is no reason for him to remember us.

I wave my bandaged hand at him and say what I wished I’d said the day before.

“Thank you.”

And the light turns green.

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