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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tea at Gillian's Whately Prep p. 29

Aunt Gillian's porch.                dee

I park the Volvo in Gillian’s driveway.  I sit and stare at the three story Saltbox that holds much of my childhood.  The roses out front are forming buds, blossoms will not be long in coming.  There is an ancient Magnolia tree in the front that has always been a favorite of mine.  When the flowers form, they are so showy and extravagant that I make it a point to walk by everyday until the last velvety petals have dropped.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
My cell phone is ringing. I fish it out of my purse.  It’s Declan.  I can’t, I won’t talk to him at this moment in time.  I feel too ragged and raw.
I notice tears keep spilling over my lower eyelids.  I peer into the rearview mirror.  There is nothing I can do to stop them.  I unlock the door and swing my legs out onto the ground,  Standing up isn’t as hard as I expected.  Walking is harder.  I am aware that the Earth has changed. Gillian has left her mark, but she is gone, gone, gone. I am being far too melodramatic. I use my cell phone to text a message to my office, I include a brief statement to send to Community Relations.  They will deal with the press release and the obituaries.  I know Gillian wanted it posted in the New York Times.  Any of her remaining friends that could read, would read about her death in the Times. 
As we get older, there are fewer and fewer people left to witness our passings.
Gillian’s porch has a swing, two rockers and a chaise.  I settle into the chaise.  I sit still.
I watch the squirrels chase each other.  I observe the birds; in particular, a pair of wrens care for their young in a nest above the header on the porch.  
Looking at my hands in my lap, they are folded like the wings on the wrens. I reach down for the manilla envelope that I brought from the hospital. I am careful when I unclasp it, then spill out the contents onto my lap. My skirt is pulled as taut as a drumhead.  Using my skirt, I spread apart the collection of my aunt’s few possessions that she took to the hospital.  There is her Medicare Care, her Blue Cross Insurance Card, a key ring with a miniature flashlight holding three keys, a small change purse with two twenties and two quarters, and a picture of her with me when I was sixteen. I hold that picture for several minutes, studying it.  Then, the dam breaks. I can’t be seen, Head of Whately Prep sitting on Gillian Dickinson’s porch sobbing inconsolably.  The third try is the charm and I let myself into Gillian’s house with her own key.  I wail, filling the silence with my grief.  I kick off my shoes and leave them by the door then keep moving.  I collapse in a pile on the sofa in the living room.  Gradually, I cry myself out.  I lay on my side inventorying the room for memories.  I practiced piano on that piano, Aunt Gillian did needlepoint in that chair, I climbed in through that window one night, I broke the handle off of that bowl -- I can see the glue marks where we reattached it.  Doing this allows me to tie the past to the present.  I am having a very hard time contemplating the future.
I wander through the first floor rooms.  In the kitchen, I notice she must have had a cup of tea last night. So like her to clean and rinse the cup, saucer and spoon before calling Security for help.  I turn on the water and let it run until it is cold.  I fill a glass of water and guzzle down twelve ounces, then fill it again.  I am thirsty from all the crying. 
The dining room looks like a showroom.  The chairs are neatly arranged around the table. The side board displays her favorite Willow china.  One swinging door is open, the other is shut. I push through the shut door into the center hall that divides the house. 
Across the hall is Aunt Gillian’s den.  A small room with wooden shutters on the windows, it is always dark.  I flip on the overhead light.  Without touching a thing on her desk, I know everything will be in perfect order.  It was her way.  I pull open the top desk drawer about two inches and peer in.  Elastics, scissors, paper clips and stamps are arrayed in a tray.  Curious what else she might have organized in the drawer, I pull it open a bit wider.  Between the lip of the tray and the back of the drawer is a small manilla envelope labeled “key.”  I open it and find an old-fashioned skeleton key.  It reminds me of the Tiffany key Declan gave me for my birthday last year.  I know that it is a significant key.  Nothing Aunt Gillian ever did was capricious.  I wonder what lock the key might fit.  
As proof that I am more capricious than my aunt, I pick up my cell-phone and scroll through numbers.  I dial one.
“Hi, I’m at Aunt Gillian’s. Are you free to come over and help me with something?”
I move back into the kitchen and put the electric kettle on for tea.  Just as the whistle is reaching its full head of steam, I hear a knock at the back door.  The screen swings open and Carl steps inside.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Corn Fields Whately Prep p.28

Whately fields.                dee

I whistle for Lily, an eight-year old Irish Setter.  She has been with me since she was a puppy.  All the mistakes in her training are mine; that’s an unexpected upside to being single during her lifetime.  She has met Maggie, my first -- and only -- wife. Maggie and I  have been amicably separated for twelve years.  Neither of us seems to get around to formalizing our status.  We like checking the box on our income taxes: Married, filing separately.  And living separately, working separately, loving separately.  It has been a wonderful way to rescue our friendship. Maggie is everything almost any man would want in a woman.  She is bright, and funny, charming and very, very beautiful.  She is the mother of an energetic seven-year old boy.  We exchange notes on the parallels between dog-training and parenting about once a month.  She remains a big influence and a good friend, Maggie does. 
Lily is a pushover so far as people go.  If she likes you, she showers you with attention.  That means dog toys, tail-wagging and lots and lots of kisses.  Lily demonstrates the adage that “you get what you give.”  I do not let Lily sleep with me, though her bed is on the floor beside mine.  She is going to be in heaven with all the students on campus to befriend. While Whately Prep has a strict leash requirements and emulates New York City’s 1978 Canine Waste Law.  When the news that a campus in rural western Massachusetts was requiring residents to pick up after their dogs hit, it went national.  Affiliates from NBC came out and filmed a segment, interviewing Head Dickinson -- Julia’s father -- about his decision.  He was videotaped saying, “The campus is a whole lot more pleasant without the unnecessary worry of stepping in a dog patty. For heaven’s sake, we have all we can handle with the cows in Whately!” It was good for a sound bite.
I don’t see many clues of what led to the vandalism at the graveyard.  For a mere $350, I have a local stone mason coming out to right the stone and do a visual examination of all the markers to make sure they are all stable and fixed.  I am tempted to dismiss the whole thing as nothing more than adolescent hi-jinks.  However, I found a small scrap of fabric that was caught on a nearby branch. It has me wondering who might have been out there.  
I clip Lily back on her leash as we cross Routes 5 & 10 at the Swamp Road intersection.   
A light was installed at that juncture about eleven years ago when a Whately student was seriously injured by a UMASS student who was driving too fast.  The student was late for classes.  I am guessing he never made class that day. 
I nod at the few pedestrians I see as I cross campus.  I notice the SUV is gone from Julia’s driveway, as it the Volvo sedan.  I can’t help but wonder what she is up to today.
I stop by the shop to pick up some paint I ordered. I am painting my living room a soft shade of green. I know it will be calming and peaceful.  Precisely what I am looking for. I already hung one ne of my favorite photographs over the mantle.  The green walls will only enhance it.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cooley Dickinson Hospital Whately Prep p. 27


I valet park the car.  I do what always works for me when I am stressed.  I make a list, then recite exactly what I intend to do, in order, on the list.  This method allows me to disassociate from whatever difficult reality I am expecting to face.  My fear that Aunt Gillian will not survive this random embolism is intense.  I know how pulmonary embolisms can travel to the lungs from a leg, causing death.  
Prayer is a convenience for me.  It allows me to talk to God on a conversational basis.  The God to whom I pray is not angry, vindictive or judgmental. Quite honestly, my God, is of my own creation.  I am reasonable. I understand that Aunt Gillian has lived a long, a full life. It's just that I am not ready to let her go. I would bargain, but I did all the bargaining I could when Kelly died, and I know it doesn’t work.  I am not willing to consider the alternative. That there is no God. That we are alone in a meaningless world with no higher power illuminating our existence.  If that were true, then really, what’s the point?  
I rush past the coffee shop, then back up to ask for patient information.  I am not sure if she is in the Emergency Room still, or if she is upstairs in a patient room. A very, very large woman wearing orange and purple bracelets that clash with her tightly permed, scarcely present, pink hair tells me,”Just a minute, please,” when I ask for Gillian Dickinson.  The obese senior dials a number and mumbles into the receiver.  I can not make out a word she is saying.  Is she speaking Spanish? 
When the receptionist turns to me, her affect has changed considerably.  It is conciliatory.  Immediately, I am on guard.  She says, “Someone will be right out to get you.”  I turn over those words,‘out to get me.‘   She didn’t say, “Someone will take you to your aunt...” My reflections are interrupted by the arrival of a young woman who introduces herself as Gretchen Sabelowski, a hospitalist.  She asked me to follow her to as small conference room  “Never mind, we can talk here,” I gesture to the lobby.
“No,” she insists.  “It’s just down this corridor.”
We enter a room that is the same size as my bathroom at home.  Our knees graze when we are seated.  “Ms. Dickinson, your aunt came into the emergency room at (she pauses to look at a clipboard) 6:22a.m. this morning.”
Impatient, I interrupt her, “Exactly, that’s whey I would like to see her now.”  A shudder ripples through me.  “Unless....is this your version of the notification of the next of kin?”
I laugh inappropriately.
More gently, Dr Sabelowski continues, “Actually, Ms. Dickinson, I am afraid it is. Ms. Dickinson expired at 6:47 a.m.  We withheld attempts to resuscitate your aunt based on her advanced directives.”
“Can I see her?” I can see my hands tremble.  I will them to stop.
“Actually, her body is presently in the hospital morgue.  Due to state law, you may not go in that area of the hospital.  Usually we suggest families view their loved ones at the funeral home.  Is there a funeral home you usually use?  Perhaps that might be Wrigley’s?”
“Yes, yes.  Wrigley’s seems to be burying my entire family.  Why did she get an embolism? Could it have been prevented?”  'You fat cow, stop this,' is the subtext running in my head while I behave like a rational adult.
“They can develop randomly, Ms. Dickinson. If we had warning signs and could have diagnosed it, we could have used anticoagulants and we would have made suggestions about exercise, the use of compression stockings and other measures.”
“She hasn’t been traveling. She walked two miles every morning. I don’t understand.  She seemed so healthy.”  I sound whiney, we both know it.
I think for a second then I am filled with worry.
“She didn’t suffer. Tell me this wasn’t painful.”
“There can be some discomfort associated with the clog once it reaches the lungs. However, when she was brought into the Emergency Department we started her on powerful pain medicine.  She did not suffer.”
I stand, too abruptly, probably.  I shake Dr. Jankowski’s hand.  She mentions that Gillian’s effects are at the nurse’s station if I would like to pick them up before I go.
When I walk out of the hospital, I am carrying my purse and a small manilla envelope. 
I feel like I am going backward through the movie of the Wizard of Oz.  When the house falls on the witch, Dorothy steps into a world of brilliant color and possibility.  I feel like I am stepping out of the hospital into a world of black and white and pervasive bleakness.
My beloved Aunt Gillian has left me behind.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Declan's Advice Whately Prep p. 27

State Beach
“Julia, listen, Sarah and the boys will be fine. We are having a great time reacclimatizing to Island life.  This morning, we went out on my cousin’s shellfish license and caught some clams. I had Sarah in the backpack; she fell asleep on my back while I was raking.  My point is that you should do whatever you need to do for your Aunt.  I know that she was like a second mother to you.”
“I can’t understand you, Julia. You are crying too hard. Why don’t you stop in Northampton at Starbuck’s before you go into the hospital?  Get a coffee and collect yourself.”
“NOoooo. She might die while I am deciding Grande or Tall, soymilk or one percent.”
“Okay, then at least buy a cup of tea at the hospital coffee shop.  You need to be coherent and strong to talk to the doctors.  Aunt Gillian will be counting on you to do this for her.  Wasn’t it less than a month ago that she asked you to be executor of her estate?”
“Well, she updated all of her documents with her estate lawyer.  She included a DNR, Declan. She doesn’t want to be resuscitated, Dec.”
“You need to stay present, Jules.  Go in and see what is going on.  She named you her health care proxy, so you should be able to get all the information.”
I hear her snifflle, then take a deep breath.
I hope my pep talk is helping.  I am sitting on State Beach, watching the boys while they take turns using a paddle board.  We rented it from the vendor on Beach Road. Sarah is digging a hole and watching the water fill it.  From where I sit, Life is Good.
My thoughts take a tumble.  Julia and I have a complicated history. Our children were the single reason we came together.  She was pregnant and I was in an untenable situation.  When we compared notes, we made a deliberate and concerted effort to spawn a relationship, to get married.  My family was ecstatic that I was marrying up.  Her family was receptive to me; I was familiar since we had been close high school friends.  Our college years were spent apart. When I saw her next, we needed each other.  From that need, we have built a life.  
I know that for Julia, Aunt Gillian’s mortality is not easily contemplated.  One lose so closely resembles another where the heart is concerned.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gillian Slides Whately Prep p 26

Tiger Swallowtail

The phone is ringing. I check the caller id; I am already late, but if it’s Declan or the kids, I will simply have to be later.  The teacher’s meeting starts at 8:30 a.m..  I know this last meeting of the year preys on their patience. They all -- to a number -- want to be on the way to the summer break.  For the teachers who are teaching this summer, there is a week before preparation begins for summer school.  The clock is ticking.  We all feel it.
The nature of working in an academic environment is that life revolves around a calendar.  It is a reliable and inexorably predictable dance.  
Whately Prep shows on the small screen of the house phone handset. This call originates on-campus.  I pick up the receiver.  “Head’s House.”
“Head Dickinson?”  This is Cole Potter.”
“Oh, Potter, have you got news about the recent vandalism?”
 “Workin’ on that, m’am. I’m callin’ about Gillian Dickinson, your aunt, m’am.
My deputy reported that she called Security at 5:51 a.m. to request assistance.  We wanted to call 911, but she said she would refuse to go with them to Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Ms. Dickinson said she would accept a ride in one of our vehicles or not at all.”
“Why did she want to go to the hospital, do you know?”
“She said her heart hurt and that is was hard to breathe. She said she lost her balance.”
My own breathing is quickening.  I feel the lub dub, lub dub of my heart pounding in my ears.  I know she’s 89, but I have not allowed for the possibility that anything could happen to her.  She is an institution. I should know better. Even the Roman Empire fell.
Potter is still jabbering. 
“Ms. Dickinson insisted that I promise not to call you before 8:00 a.m..  She was hospitalized under the care of Dr. Spring.  They are doin’ tests at the moment.  Among other things, they mentioned she might have a urinary tract infection.”
By the time I am off the phone with Potter, I have formulated a plan. I have a finely-honed skill when it comes to emergencies.  First, I disengage. I create as much emotional distance as possible from whatever it is that is occurring.  Second, I review the facts in order to move on to ...Third, I make an action plan.  
My aunt is under the care of a hospital because she in medically unstable.  More information is not available at this time.  I have a meeting I am expected to chair in exactly....I glance at my watch....seven minutes.  The hospital is eleven minutes away.
  1. Call Assistant Headmaster Craig to review the changes of benefits and administrative changes with the professional staff.
  2. Call Dr. Spring and check Aunt Gillian’s condition.  Pick up anything she needs from her house.
  3. Drive to the hospital. Call Declan from the car.
  4. Breathe.
Dr. Spring says that it is likely that Gillian has an embolism.  This can be very serious.  She will be undergoing a battery of tests today. “It would be nice for her to have someone with her,” he says, “Does she have family?”  
“I’m it,” I say.
Dr. Spring urges me to pack Aunt Gillian an overnight bag.
I have rarely entered Aunt Gillian’s home uninvited. It feels like a violation somehow.  I stare at the stained glass window that is over the stairs like I have never seen it before.  
For just a moment, I soak up the colors as they stream through the glass.  On the way up the stairs, she has her beloved butterflies photographed and inventoried.  I never see a butterfly without thinking of Aunt Gillian.
Moving upstairs to her room, I find it exactly as I found it five years ago and fifteen years ago.  She has the taste of a Spartan.  It seems oxymoronic to enter a Victorian home occupied by an eighty-nine year old woman and find it spare, almost cold.  Gillian does not embrace nostalgia or sentimentality.  This is visible in the way she lives.  I gather a couple of her cotton, full-length nightgowns, her denture case, eyeglasses, toothbrush and four pairs of underpants.  Hanes, for her.  I add a shawl and a pair of slippers.  She has a devotional and two reading books by her bed.  Her glasses, set upside down to protect the lenses, rest on top of the stack.  I take the devotional and one of the literature books.  I wonder why she is reading “In the Country of the Pointed Firs” by Sarah Orne Jewett.  I swear she could recite it she has read it so often.
I place all the object in a small valise she has stored inside the bedroom closet.  
I am struck by how Aunt Gillian is.  Everything is exactly where I would expect it to be.
Aunt Gillian, in a nutshell.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ruth Whately Prep p.25

I move the tea kettle off the hot front burner and the loud, explosive whistle loses its head of steam.  Four thirty a.m., four thirty p.m., they are the same to me.  At my age, time spools out in a continuous feed.  There is not much of a distinction between night and day.  I am simply grateful that I still manage by myself.  My closest friends are dead; I have grown accustomed to having conversations with myself.  Students are assigned to rotate through to help me with projects.  As if I am no more than a chore on a chore wheel.   My image is distorted in the old lead glass windows of my house.  They are all being replaced for some health reason.  Nonsense. Glass is an amorphous solid material; this I can remember from the fifty years I taught high school chemistry.  The glass in my house -- in windows and in mirrors -- has ripples.  It has slowly flowed, succumbing to gravity.  Perhaps, no more than I have. When I see my reflection, I am always startled that I see my mother looking back -- exactly as she looked at eighty-nine. The untamed, wiry Brillo hair, the stick thin arms and legs and the osteoporotic dowager’s hump shrinking my former 5’8” frame to 5’3” are her image. 
I make a proper cup of tea.  Tea pot, tea strainer, loose tea and boiling water.  There is a ritual to be observed. I find when we overlook these everyday rituals, the very moments that make life bearable are simply swept along by the currents of time.  I use chamomile.  At my age, caffeine has some unexpected results, including heart palpitations and loose stools.  The thing about being as old as the hills, and growing older, you do as you please, when you please.  It’s an unplaiting of the ties that bind.
One bond to which I cling most diligently is to the family of my brother’s daughter.  Julia has stepped into the role of Head of Whately Prep.  I would have liked that job myself, but in my time, no woman could have filled that role. The times in which we are born determine so much about our futures.  Julia has been at the job for three years without much more than a hiccup.  I have a unique perspective.  Besides being  her aunt, I am on the Board of Directors.  I can keep informal tabs on her outside of the birthday parties and family gatherings.  She is good enough to allow me life tenancy in the house that I have occupied for the past seventy-seven years. I have a cleaning lady come in three mornings. I am where I want to be and in reasonably good health.  
The tea is just right. I sit at the ancient round oak table.  With the ceremony it deserves, I pour a cup of tea into the porcelain tea cup, avoiding spilling into the saucer.  After taking a sip, I lift my eyes to the window. The very first streaks of dawn are spreading its fingers across the morning sky.  By the time I am done with this pot of tea, it will be day.     

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oak Bluffs Whately Prep p.24

Methodist Campgrounds       dee

Life on the Methodist Campgrounds requires a willingness to overlook small transgressions.  Neighbors are within an arm’s reach of each other.  Sometimes, houses touch -- a brush by rather than a caress.  Our bedroom is on the second floor. To get to it, we pass through first Julian’s, then Marshall’s rooms.  The front stair case is steep; the back staircase, next to the kitchen is steeper.  It resembles a ladder.  Our house rule, your head has to reach the fifth step before you are allowed to use it.  The upstairs rooms get most of their air from the double French doors that open onto a small porch outside of our room. Julia never lets the boys on the porch because the rail is somewhat rotted.  Exuberance of any nature would likely result in death.  As we have already discovered,death lurks around every corner.  We are more cautious than many, maybe most, parents.
I stretch the blue sheep sheets onto the bottom bunk in Marshall’s room.  I know enough that it is sheep for Marshall and Batman for Julian.  I know enough not to mention their preferences for childish sheets in front of any of their friends. It would be an embarrassment. I know enough to enjoy this moment. Marshall is downstairs, practicing Brahm’s Waltz Op. 30 No. 2.  The entire house vibrates when the one hundred year old spinet spits out a melody.  Julian is playing with hard-earned action figures; each one represents a week of “good” behavior -- no back-talking, no whining.
I glance out the front balcony.  From my perch up in the knotted oaks, I see that, even though it is still mid-June, the flags are starting to go up on all of the houses.  The Fourth is just around the corner.
Julia was planning to join me tomorrow.  She called just as I walked in from Circuit Ave.
in Oak Bluffs.  I let the boys “Stay Together” (in my firmest authoritarian tone) to linger in store fronts and play in the game room with a promise they would be home in half an hour.  Her call came when I was alone. Julia’s words were succinct and factual.  Someone had knocked down her uncle’s, Gile’s, tombstone. She was concerned that it might have been more than a random act.  She had entreated the Head of Security at Whately Prep to look into it. Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper when she added, “I didn’t tell him about the letters I have been getting.  Do you think I should have?”
“julia, I honestly don’t know if Cole is the brightest bulb in the tree. I’m definitely not convinced he’s your guy if you want to figure out what those weird letter mean and whether they are relevant to the tombstone. Why don’t you just put it all behind you and come out to the Island.  You only have a week here.”
“I can’t come with this hanging over me, Declan. You know I would never willingly put our children in harm’s way.  What if the mysterious letter-writer follows through on any one of his threats?  It seems so much more real now.  I am glad you are there and the boys are with you.  I will deal with things at this end so we can be together -- without a cloud over our heads --- as soon as possible.”
I met her suggestion with silence.  I was at a loss what to say.  I knew she was right, but I didn’t like it.
Now I am busy cleaning out the tool shed.  It’s a rite of the summer season.  I oil tools, toss hard glue, congealed paint and sweep out the 4 x 6 foot shed. Marshall asked if he could make it over into a room for himself.  I have been thinking about letting him.  I could convert one empty wall in the pantry into a space to hang the tools. A few new shelves, some hooks and some nails and presto! a tool shed.  He could drag down the bed from the middle room. The middle room, at 8 x 9 feet isn’t much bigger.  It has a twin, a bureau and a floor lamp.  No closet.  
Maybe that’s just the thing for us to do on this overcast, muggy June day.  Create a bachelor pad for Marshall with the added bonus of being attached to our house and having a door that locks from the inside.  
I am missing Julia and wishing she could be here.  
I will call the Ratkins, our next door neighbors, to come over for a barbecue tonight.
Julia will do what she has to do to settle things in Whately. She’ll be here soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Name That Voice Whately Prep p.22

A Whately Landmark         dee

I am not scheduled to start working for another ten days. The school plans on letting me move in, get settled, open bank accounts and get my household in order.  The call from Cole Potter is unexpected. I know it is Cole before he says the second word out of his mouth.  
If there was such a thing as a game show called, “Name that Voice,” I would be a fierce competitor.  I have heard that there are people with unusually sensitive palates and others whose olfactory senses are nearly superhuman.  Some people claim to have perfect pitch or the ability to memorize and recite unimaginably long numbers without fault.  My particular gift to this world is the uncanny knack of hearing a voice and being able to flawlessly recall the person’s name with whom the voice is affiliated.  It would have been nice if this translated into some particularly refined musicality on my part.  While I like to bang on the piano and strum on a guitar, I would never consider myself gifted.  But in this particular modality -- voice recognition -- call me Mozart.  The only benefit to having this talent is that knowing a caller before they identify themselves can give me a leg up on any given situation.  I have been told that, in social settings, I have the habit of shutting my eyes when I can’t remember someone’s name.  I know it’s so I can hone in and distinguish the person’s voice from the background noise, but it can look a little awkward.  
“Cole Potter?  What’s it been, eight years or more?”
In a drawl he must have imitated when Dallas was still on t.v., Cole says. “Y’all got that right.”  What bothers me is this guy was born in western Massachusetts, educated in western Massachusetts, and has lived here his entire life.  His wife, Lucinda, on the other hand, is from Texas.  They go back for one week every year.  Could a guy really adopt an accent reflecting his wife’s personae?  I suppose, anything is possible.
Cole is built a little like a brick.  He is squat, almost portly, and when he walks, his arms hang off his body at a thirty degree angle. He swings each leg in a slight arc as he struts rather than kicking straight through on a line.  Gotta wonder.
“Are you and the Missus settlin’ in, Carl?”  He knows perfectly well that I am not married.
Two can play this game. “We sure are.”
He is either not listening or is done with amenities.
“Julia asked me to call you. There’s been some goin’s on in the graveyard.”
I feel myself shrug, physically recoil, at all his dropping of g’s.
“Is that so?” I prompt him.
“Y’up.  Wondered if you had time to run over and look-see at it and get back to me on how much damage’s been done.  You know I took over as Head of Security about three years ago, I ‘m sure.  Right?”
“Congratulations.” My voice is flat.  Any flatter, it would be an iron.
“So, can you take care of that soon? I’m going over the footage now tryin’ to work out what happened.  It’s a pitiful shame someone would knock down a headstone like that.”
“Cole, you haven’t told me what happened....”
While I am still talking, I hear him, his voice turned away from the receiver, “Did cha catch the Red Sox came last night?”  Then, I hear a click.  Dial tone.
I hang up the receiver.  With a deep sigh of exasperation, I look through a box or two to locate my official Whately Prep cap.  Finding it, I jam it on and head out the door.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Graveyard Visitors Whately Prep p22

Words etched in tombstone.                dee

As I have every time I have run to the River since Kelly died, I run by the school cemetery buried deep in the woods.  My head swivels in the direction of her headstone.  I see her ethereal form among the dandelions on the far side of the stone markers.  Just as my gaze returns to the footpath below my feet, I am startled by the sight of a headstone that has been overturned.  
Instantly, I am incensed by this violent mischief.  The likely perpetrator is a Whately Prep student.  Unbeknownst to whoever did this, security installed a nearly undetectible
motion-activated camera about five years ago.  Kids were claiming they were hiking, but were here getting stoned.  I walk over to look at which headstone has been tipped.  A rhythmic pounding in my ears means my blood pressure is going up.  I literally feel the pressure behind my eyes.  It is the stone belonging to my father’s brother.  He died at the age of 22.  My parents have always been close-mouthed about the circumstances.  Kelly comes around and sits on the cement pad where the marker had rested.  Remembering the camera, I remain mute.  It is impossible to guess who is on the other end of the camera and what they might do with the juicy tidbit that the Head is speaking to an invisible being.  Mark Twain may have said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” I might be credited with saying, “The reports of my sanity have been greatly exaggerated.”  
I walk over to my father’s grave and lay a small stone on the edge of the marker.  There are hundreds on his grave.  Everyday that I run to the River, I pick up a small stone.  It has become a ritual that is imbued with meaning for me.   I walk around the back side and I am horrified to see the words,
“The Bitch Must Die.”  It looks like red paint, hopefully, it’s not blood. 
I do not have my cell phone with me.  Looking ahead, I calculate how long it will take be to run back to school.  It will take me about fifteen minutes to end up on Security’s back steps.  I look around before I leave the graveyard;  Kelly is gone.  Whoever is responsible for what I found this morning will be brought to justice.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fog Whately Prep p.21

The Connecticut River layered in fog.      dee

The current of the river is running fast today.  The rain last night has caused the water level to rise higher than usual along its banks.  I wend my way through the overgrowth of vegetation that serves to slow down the erosion of land along the Connecticut River.  Since the long-ago retreat of a massive glacier that moved down through Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, certain plants have adapted to life along the River.  I see willow trees - with their deep, water-seeking root systems -- and maples - that survive flooding as readily as droughts, and shrubs, grasses, grapes and black raspberry brambles.  I carefully avoid the happy abundance of shiny-leaved poison ivy, having lived through one entire summer inflamed with a reaction to the plant, I don’t want to repeat that.  The path that leads to the water is narrow and sandy.  When I take off my sneakers and socks and stand barefoot in the water, I hold on to a tree.  I know how quickly the current can knock you off balance and send you ass-over-teakettle along with the swift current.  My feet sink in the deep silky layers of water, mud and sand.  The water is too dark, too murky to see past my ankles.  I stand and take it all in for a moment.  I am touched by the wonder of this body of water always racing, racing toward the sea.
Carl was there for me when my world when sideways.  When no one was my friend, Carl was.  Having him back in my life fills me with hope and possibility.  Yet, I am a married woman and do not want to break my vows to Declan.  
I start running home.  The invasive fog that had obscured my view of the other side of the river is starting to lift, a little earlier than usual.  The cool temperature of the river meets the warmer air aloft and creates a dense fog layer that can saturate your clothes even if you haven’t been running.  Carl’s denim shirt has turned indigo blue from the moisture in the air.  I tried to dry my feet after plunging them in the river, but to no avail. They, too are wet.  I settle into a very slow jog to cover the distance to home.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sandcastles on the Vineyard Whately Prep p.21

Sandcastles on the Vineyard
It takes us five hours to get to Martha's Vineyard after we shut the door on the house at Whately Prep. Always hard to leave Julia behind, it's made easier knowing that she will be joining us in the next day or two.  Sarah misses Julia, asking for her with a frequency that grows annoying.  I let the two boys deal with her disappointment.  I know I will let her sleep in our bedroom with me tonight.  It's the only way I can hope to sleep tonight.  Dinner tonight?  Giordano's, of course.  They make pizza with no cheese for the boys.  We get a couple of side orders of chicken fingers and fries. We sit out on the front porch watching the boats on the harbor.  It's a show without beginning or end.  There is nearly a skirmish between a driver and a mo-ped rider when the mo-ped veers in front of the car.  One of the summer rent-a-cops asserts his limited authority to separate the angry vacationers.  Sarah drops her pizza slice upside down on the porch floor, our dog, Calvin, is on it.  I offer to walk the kids into town for an ice cream.
When we get home, the house phone is ringing.  We are not used to hearing it ring.  It's my mother, making plans to spend the morning with her grand-daughter.  The boys and I will paint the porch trim first thing.  Later, we have a tee-time of 2:30p.m. at  Farm Neck; it's my father's membership.  He will be happy to host his son and grandsons.
The kids and I are all ready for bed by eight o'clock.  Our house is so small that, when I read to Sarah - Madeline - the boys hear every word. I couldn't help noticing neither of them had iPhone headphones tucked in their ears. Sarah falls asleep before I finish one page.  I plan to get up and call Julia, but I fall asleep myself.  When I wake up next, it's after eleven.  I walk the dog, lock up the house and turn off the lights.   The boys share the bunk-bed room.  Seeing them stretched out in their boxers and tee shirts, I am filled with a deep sense of affection and gratitude.  Purity bring such light.
In the morning, before I take Sarah to my mother's, we will stop at Mocha Mott's, get bagels and drinks, then head to Eastville Beach.  We will built a multi-level sand castle.  We can easily do all that before 9 a.m.. I love my children with a complexity and an intensity that I never imagined existed.  The Vineyard gives us time to live that love without the distraction of the school.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Light Comes Whately Prep p.20

I twist the wedding finger on my ring finger.  It’s what pulls me back to my senses.  
“Let’s go inside before anyone sees us,” I suggest.
I fold my arms over my breasts because I am self-conscious that I am cold and not wearing a bra.  Carl says, “Through the kitchen -- you can throw your shirt in the drier.  In the laundry room, there is a buttondown you can put on while yours dries.  I was just starting tea.”
A distant loud thud reminds us that the storm is moving out.  
He calls after me, “Honey with your tea?”  I peel off my shirt.  His shirt, a blue denim is lying on the dryer.  It smells like lavender.  I check out his laundry detergent.  Tide with Lavender. Says he’s a traditionalist with a gentle side.  I roll up the sleeves, then squeeze out the water from my tee shirt into the deep tub sink by the washing machine. I pull out the load from the drier. All towels (blue) and sheets (queen, paisley).  I start folding to forestall the return to the kitchen.  The tea kettle whistle alerts me that the tea is almost ready.  Count to thirty and I have the rest of the load folded.  I pause on a random pair of men’s underwear that has clung to the sheet.  Boxers. I would have thought nothing less.  Cardinals.  That could mean he likes birds or baseball.  Hmmm.
“Julia, you’re spending too long in there. Come have your tea.”
“Would you mind turning off the light? I would hate for the night watchman to see me in here at this hour.”
I move into the kitchen where the table and chairs are lost in dusky light.  Carl is sitting on one of the chairs, rocking back on two legs.  He holds his Whately Prep mug in both hands.  I pick up mine and blow on it.
“Reminds me of that morning we arrived in Rome at 4:30 in the morning. That storm lasted a good hour. Remember how you ran out and danced in the fountain until some mounted police came? I warned you, but you were ready to argue with them.  Thank goodness for our passports and hotel reservations.  I think we would have been international felons otherwise.”
“Were we ever really that young?”
“I know I was.  The pictures prove it.  What really convinces me is coming back to Whately Prep.  This place resembles the Whately Prep I remember, but time has marched forward.  The new gymnasium is impressive.  The Vegetarian and Vegan menus in the dining common, now that's a change.  It strikes me as removed as can be from the slop they served us when we were students.”  Carl’s smile moves from his mouth to his eyes predictably every time. 
“I look forward to being on campus with you again -- we will have a good time working together, Carl.”
“Is there going to be something more?  What brought you here, Julia?”  His voice was sweet, so quiet I could barely hear him.
“I don’t have a clue why I came, Carl. I was out of my skin and I needed to see you. I don’t know why.  I don’t know what it means.”
I put my hand over his.  The legs of his chair tip forward, touch down, then connect with the floor.  
“Go.  Light is starting to break.  You can’t afford to be caught anywhere near here, Julia.”
I get up and cross to the back door.  
“I’m sure my shirt isn’t dry, yet. I’ll get it some other time.  Thanks for the tea.”  I give Carl my best effort at a smile.  It wobbles. For a reason I don’t understand, I want to cry.
Carl crosses the room in two easy strides.  He lifts my face toward his using one finger of his right hand.  He looks at me.  Really looks at me.  I forgot that a look can do that, make my legs go jelly-like.  His kiss lands square in the middle of my forehead.  
“Take care, little girl.” 
I leave on a run.  I head down to the Athletic fields, doing four laps around the football field until the light is bright enough that it makes its way through the trees.  At long last, I can run to the river.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Porch Meeting Whately Prep p19

Despite the noise of the thunderstorm, I was able to discern what sounded like the sound of a shutter, banging against a window upstairs.  The noise changed to a sharper sound,, then I heard the sound of glass breaking.  I had a quick flashback of Julia, at 14, throwing pebbles at my window to lure me out of the house to spend time with her.  I processed the likelihood that it would be Julia at 4a.m. on a Friday morning in June during a humdinger of a thunder storm.  Ridiculous.
When I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I am suddenly gripped with the knowledge that Julia is out there.  I run to the porch just as a bolt of lightning slams into the ground a couple of hundred yards from the house.  In the brilliant after glow that last mere seconds, I see her.   I see her vault from the ground as the loud, percussive sound of thunder follows on the heels of the lightning strike. Julia jumps up onto my porch; she is nearly weightless when she flies into my arms.  She is wet, her hair looks like she just came of the shower.  I had forgotten a long ago discovery that, a woman, soaked to the skin, seems more vulnerable than when she is dry.  I fold my arms around her, close my eyes and silence all my thoughts for the two minutes I hold her.  I know that there when she walks out of my embrace, the sweet purity of our love will be besieged by external forces.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

4:00 a.m. Rain Whately Prep p.18

I have not slept well. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin.  I yearn to be with my family on the Vineyard, but I know staying behind for the last three days of the week will afford me to lock my office and leave  Whately Prep for an entire week, barring emergencies.  The wind has been howling so hard that it’s been hard to hear the thunder and lightning.  The rain hasn’t arrived; the wind carries hot, humid air and tosses it across the Valley. I read from 12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., click out the light, and wait. I must have dozed off because next time I look at the clock, it reads 3:30.  I sit up in bed and peer out the window by my bed.  Still that uncomfortable antsy feeling. The oaks alongside the house are bending and thrashing, like drunk sailors riding out a storm.  I pull on my running shorts.  I can not stay in the house for another minute.  I look at the clock again.  I started chewing my nails, a habit from long, long ago.  
I pull down the shade, just to raise it a bit, but it catches and flies up.  The entire window is laid bare and I am afforded a view of the campus from my second story perch in the Head’s house.  There are a couple of lights on here and there.  I see the golf cart whirl by -- the night watchman doing his rounds.  The one house I wonder about most has two lights on. The front porch is illuminated.  There is also a dim light in a room on the second floor.  I look at the clock again.  3:47a.m.  I pull my nightgown over my head, drop it on the floor at the foot of the bed.  I pull on a Smith College tee shirt.  I zip on a wind breaker that I pull off a hook in the closet.  No lights, I do it all by feel and memory.
Down the steps, I pull down on the front door handle, it is never locked.  When I step out onto the porch, the warm, humid breeze carries a few drops of rain sideways under the cover of the porch roof.  I root around in the shoe basket to find my sneakers.  I jam them on with the familiarity of an act I do almost every morning.  Looking over my shoulder through the sidelight along the closed front door, I see the time illuminated on the alarm system.  4:03 a.m..  My stomach leaps. I am about to cross an invisible line. I know it. I know it, and can't seem to stop myself.  I try, I try to rein in my feelings.  I try to reason with myself, but I feel like I am moving on auto-pilot. I set off at a slow jog.  Looking for other night time wanderers. I see no-one.  By the time that I arrive under his window sill, the rain is falling more steadily.  A crack of lightning makes me jump.  The sky is eerily bright for an instant.  I see a gravel drainage verge and pick up a few round stones.  The lightning is followed by a deep, resonant, boom.  The storm must be directly overhead.  I hurl the stones at the second floor window that glows with a dim light.  The first two passes miss; the wind picks them up, hurtling them away from the house.  The third stone cracks the glass.  Damage I never intended.  Maybe this whole thing is a bad idea.  I toss one, last, small stone, angling it and putting some muscle behind it.  To my dismay, I hear the pane of glass shatter. I expect to see someone’s face in the window.  I start to back away, regretting having even come out.  
“Julia?”  his voice breaks through the raging storm.  “Is that you?”  His voice comes to me from the first floor on the front porch. 
I am drenched to the skin.  When I step onto his front porch, I look as bedreaggled as a drowned rat. A particularly close lightning strike causes the hair on my arms to stand on end. The deep skull-splitting percussion of the resounding thunder feels like it will split me in half. Then, I am in Carl’s arms and he is dragging me inside, behind closed doors.  He leaves me in the hallway for a minute, then comes out of a room down the hall.  Bet dry off,” he says.. I squeeze water from my hair into the heavy, blue towel he hands me.
“Still can’t sleep through thunder and lightning storms, hunh?”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Carl’s arms encircle me. The wind lets up. The persistent train whistle effect of the wind finding its way across campus begins to recede.  We are less buffeted by the strong storm.  The moon, full and luminous, appears low in the sky.  First light hints like hope in the eastern sky.   I stand with my ear tight against Carl's chest. Finally, I am tired.  All I want to do is fall asleep listening  to the beating of his heart, steady and strong.      

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Whately Prep Prom Whately Prep p.17

Whately Moonrise            dee

The moving truck arrived a little after 10 a.m. this morning. I am calculating the tips for the movers and willing them to be gone.  I find moving disrupting.  I would have preferred to do the move without the professional movers, but it was part of the package I was offered, and I felt it was important to make use of the entire offer. It sets a precedent.  I don’t want to seem like I think I am stuck up, but it was a real luxury to have Ideal Movers come, back up my meager belongings and deliver them to me at my house on the Whately Prep campus.
I feel surprisingly lighter since my romance recently faltered; Jennifer Whalen and I split after an eight-year romance.  I put my feelings out there.  It was marriage and children, or it was over.  At forty-five, I am beginning to think it may be too late for me to find a woman who shares my goals and dreams.  All along, I believed that once Jennifer had a taste of success as a CPA, she would be able to make the necessary sacrifices that are required of becoming a mother -- at least the kind of mother I would hope to have for my children.  I was mistaken. I thought she would outgrow the impetus that kept her fulfilling her own needs rather than giving herself over to me and to our offspring.  Again, wrong on that count.  I can’t say I wasted eight years with her, I learned a lot, we traveled widely, and we were companionable.  Passion?  I can not say we had passion.  Taking this job at Whately Prep is like throwing myself into the jaws of the tiger.  I will be surrounded by other people’s children, reminded of my bachelorhood, and working with the first woman I ever loved.  It is not my intention to disrupt her marriage, remind Julia of the past or win her back.  I believe we can be adults.  
I head over to the dining commons for dinner.  The place is practically deserted.  There are only two people staffing the kitchen.  I grab a “to go” box and fill it with chicken chow mein, salad and a couple of cookies from the buffet.  I had the forethought to bring my travel mug.  I use it to fix a cup of tea to go with my meal. I know the gas is on for my stove, but I have no clue where the teapot or mugs might be. Grabbing a napkin and some flatware from the dining commons,  I carry the food back to my front porch.  There are two wicker rockers that must have been left by the former inhabitants.  The cushions look lumpy and slightly mildew. I toss them on the front steps.  I will add them to the pile I plan to take to the dumpster later. I settle into one of the chairs.  With the white styrofoam box open on my lap, I start to shovel in the chow mein.  It tastes predictably like school food. Why is it that the food tastes the same from year to year? The chefs must change from time to time.  Julia did tell me that a hot-shot chef is starting at Whately Prep in August.  She reportedly transformed the food -- making it delicious, healthier and on less money -- at a hospital in Rhode Island. This chef has a tall order to fill, but judging from what I am tasting at the moment, it shouldn’t be too hard to improve the taste of the food.   My sweet tooth is unrequited after two oatmeal raisin cookies.  Inside, I use my pocket knife to slice open the tops of three or four boxes labeled “kitchen.”  Finally, I find a Toblerone bar that does the trick.  
In a sort of absent-minded haze, I open several more boxes.  Since I didn’t pack them myself, each one surprises me.  The year book on the top of the last box I open causes me to fall heavily into the futon that is set up in the middle of the living room.  In a semblance of order, the movers left it facing the fireplace.  I will place it in the den.
Opening the 1987 yearbook, I see a picture of the Whately Prep Cross Country Team. I was third from the left in the back row.  I was four inches taller than the other boys.  I remember this was partially because of the height of my Nike sneakers.  Caught in the picture, with just one leg trailing, is Declan Kendall, who later became Julia Dickinson’s husband.  It’s no wonder my face looks tight and stretched with anxiety.  Just that afternoon, we had a dispute over which of us was taking Julia to the Senior Prom. In what I thought was an act of nobility, I deferred to Declan.  His brother had recently died of a drug overdose and I was conscious about his state of mind. We had been in classes together all four years of high school. Declan felt like he had a bond with Julia because they both had lost a sibling.  He actually threatened me when he heard I was going to ask her.  I laughed at first, I thought he was joking.  When I realized that he was serious, I thought, ‘Man, this dude is fragile!’  It took a lot for me to back down.  In retrospect, I can’t imagine why we didn’t leave it up to her.  As it turned out, It was the night of the Prom that Julia’s life fell apart.
These unbidden thoughts are taking center stage, which is exactly what I feared. I worried that I would start rehashing the past. Being on campus, seeing familiar people and places, it’s hard not to reopen the past.  Maybe the only way to get to the future is to move through the past.