Friday, January 20, 2017

Lady Di

"I used to stand in the shallows and get pounded by the waves," she said.  "I didn't know how to get to the other side to where the water was calmer.  One day, I got up all of my courage and I just dove right into this huge, on-coming wave.  I thought it was going to kill me. I panicked because I felt like my body was getting crushed by the sheer force of it.  I was suspended for a moment in time, in that incredible pressure.   I couldn't breathe, I couldn't hear, I couldn't see.  Then suddenly, I popped out on the other side.
The pressure hadn't killed me after all.  It had actually just moved me all the way through the wave into the calm.  Now I know, when I'm scared and I'm getting pounded, I don't just stand there so I can get clobbered.  I jump in head first.  And I am always moved through to the other side."

Di (or Diana) was talking to a group of us women.  My friend, Claire, who had known her for years had invited her.  Di, was telling us that this is how she still felt, despite the horrific surf accident that left her with broken ribs, ruptured breast implants and bruising all over her body.
She went on to explain that she didn't blame the ocean.  It was an accident.  She talked about how even while she was recuperating, she longed for the solace of her mother.  That's what she calls the ocean, "Mom" (and she calls the universe "Dad").

"I've been resting for months," she said.  "I'm just now starting to get out and feel like myself.  But I keep asking the doctors,"When I can get back in the ocean? When can I surf again?"
In the meantime, she said, looking sad.  I stay connected to my "mother" through Facebook.
"Surfers post all of the time.  You can see where the waves are going off.  Where it's too crowded or the surf is too glassy.  Facebook's keeping me sane right now.  I need that connection."

Now she was speaking a language I understood.  I know all about the surfer Facebook connection.  I know about sites like Surfline that use cameras placed on cliffs and light posts near all of the "cranking", local surf breaks.  I know that some breaks are "left" and others are "right." I know that surfers follow weather systems all over the globe like they are forensic meteorologists.

"Did you see that system near New Zealand? That might send some waves our way...."

I know all this and yet I have never even really gone past my knees in the ocean off our California coast-line.  The two or three times I have been on a surfboard have been in tropical waters with sturdy, sun-kissed surf-instructors guiding me.

"Okay, pop up now, Laura!  POP UP NOW!  Okay, don't worry.  We'll catch the next wave..."

 I know all of this because the man I love is a surfer here in Los Angles.  And on any given morning he's on "dawn patrol" (when there is surf), which means he will rise quietly at 4:30am and slip out in to the cold morning to drive his car (pre-packed with surfboards, wetsuits, food and water) 20 minutes to an hour to get wherever it is that has the best left-breaking waves.  Yes, surfers, he's "goofy," (for the rest of you, that means right-footed).

"My boyfriend's a surfer too," I said to her after a few of the other ladies had drifted in to side-conversations.  "I'm going to tell him that analogy of the wave pushing you through to the other side.  He loves the ocean like that.  He calls it his mother, too."

"So you fell for a surfer, eh?" Her blue eyes sparkled with curiosity.  "And he calls the ocean 'mother'?" She laughed, but I knew it wasn't at me (or Scottie).  It was a "me too!" laugh.
I took her in for a second.  She looked to be in her sixties.  Her grey hair was cropped short.  Her face was sun-worn, smile-lines ran from her thin, white lashes to her temples.  Her eyes were stunningly blue.  Not turquoise or azure, just a pure, sky blue.  Her smile and speaking voice were that of a little girl.  But her laugh was throaty and mature.
I felt myself smiling at her.

"Yes, Scottie's all about surfing," I continued.  It's what keeps him centered."
Suddenly Di stopped laughing.
"Scottie?" she said as though I had somehow spooked her.  "What's his last name?"
"Slaughter," I said.
"Not Scott Slaughter from Facebook?!?" Her eyes grew big as her jaw gaped open.
"Yes, well maybe..." I said, not totally knowing what she meant by that.
"Scott Slaughter's Facebook posts have been getting through this whole recovery!" she was practically yelling.  "I read them every day."
My mind raced, This woman is reading Scottie's post every day?
"You read Scott Slaughter's surfing posts every day?" I said, emphasizing his last name.  "Blond, used to live in Utah?"
Surely she must be mistaking him for some other Scott.
"Yes!" she said triumphantly.
"Do you know him?"
"No, I've never met him!" she said resolutely.  "But I feel like I know him."
I started laughing,"Scottie's going to trip!" I said.  "Wait 'till I tell him.  Actually, you should message him," I said.  "He would love to hear that from you.  That's a crazy coincidence, right?"

That first Facebook message from Di to Scottie was the beginning of a year-long Facebook "pen-pal-ish" relationship.  Di wrote Scottie long, melancholy "odes" to her surfing days and Scottie responded by giving her daily surfing reports.  From her computer, Di lived vicariously through Scottie.  Through him, she was able feel the frustration of trying to practice his "cut back in the foam pile," while some dumb-ass that didn't know the rules of the line-up "dropped-in" on him. When Scottie had this the one epic surf day where a photographer snapped his picture on a beautifully, clean wave, it was Di that he shared it with after he got home.  Slowly, I grew used to laying in bed with him at the end of the day, as they "Face-booked" each other surf-story after surf-story.

Almost exactly one-year later, Scottie was helping me carry trays of macaroni and cheese in to a potluck lunch and Di came around the corner into the kitchen.  She looked from me to him and then back to him.  A huge grin of recognition spread over her face.
"Hey, hey!" he beamed as he put the tray down on the counter.  She walked quickly over to us.  I broke in to a huge smile.


"Di, this is Scott...," I began.
"It's really you!" she smiled
Their instant, delighted, chatter was really pretty sweet.  They knew what the other looked like from their year of messaging and posting on Facebook, but to actually see each other in person after all that time was something else.
"I knew that was you," she said.  Even before I saw Laura.
I looked from one smiling face to the other and felt the corners of my mouth turning up with pride.
Look how cute this is!  Look what I've done!

"I might take Di down to the beach with me tomorrow."
It had been three or four months since the day of the pot-luck and I felt like every day Scottie had another "Di" story for me.
I waited before looking up.  I knew that whatever was about to come out of my mouth wasn't going to be kind.
"Hon?" He was looking at me with that little boy look that seems to say, "what's wrong, Honey?"
I kept my eyes on my phone.  I was playing Words With Friends.
"You're going to take her to the beach?"  I said without looking up.  "Why?"
I heard my snippy, intolerant tone.  I could help it.

Wasn't it enough that they had been Facebook "pen-pals" for over a year now?  Why did she call him all  the time to chat about the surf? And actually just when and why did he give her his phone number?!?

"She hasn't been to the beach since her injury.  I just thought she might like to go."
"Okay," I said.  Of course, the swiftness of my "okay" indicated that it was anything but okay.

The week before, Di had come over to drop off a birthday present for Scottie.
"How sweet," I said as I grabbed the gift bag through the partially opened door. "But Scottie's not here."
"Oh I know, he went to Silver Strand.  I just got off the phone with him."
I narrowed my eyes.
Strike one.(Don't be knowing more about my man than I do.)
"Right!" I said lightly.  "That's Orange County?"
"Ha!" She laughed. "It's up in Ventura.  Haven't you ever been up there with him?"
Strike two. (Don't be judging me and my relationship)
"Not my thing," I said curtly.  "I don't really do the ocean out here."
"Oh you should," she said with some urgency.  "My last relationship ended I think partly because we didn't have surfing in common."
Strike three. (Don't try and compare me and Scottie to you and your little, failed relationship.  Girl, bye!)

"Is it?" he said peering at me over my phone.
"Is it okay if I take Di to the beach with me tomorrow?"
"It's fine," I said leveling my eyes toward him.
"Are you sure, Hon? You don't seem like it's fine."

I'm just a little tired of sharing you with her.  I'm more than a little tired of hearing her name come out of your mouth.  I'm also tired of her telling me things about YOU like I don't already know them!

"It's fine," I said finally. " Really, it's fine."

When Scottie got home from the beach the next afternoon he wanted to tell me about his morning with Di.  I "Umm-hmmm'd" and "hmmmm'd" without eye contact until he got the message.  I wasn't in the mood to hear about her.  And the truth was I wasn't going to be any time soon.  He could have his "little friend," but I wasn't going to participate in the "Di delight" sessions anymore.  He could hang out with her, but as far as I was concerned she was now his friend only.  If he brought up her name, the subject (whatever it was) would be dropped.  He was cut off.

Di's symptoms started showing up almost two year's later.  Scottie was concerned about the fact that she seemed to forget things and then get really agitated.  He tried to talk to me about it at dinner one night.  I listened politely but my mind was still closed to hearing anything about her.

"Probably just aging," I said taking another bite.  "How old is she?"
"I don't know," he said putting his fork down, I'm a little worried about her.
I fixed what hoped was a look of compassion on my face.
"I'm sure she's fine."  I reached out to touch his face.
This is exactly why I love him so much.  He so much different than me.  He's so much different than most people..."
"You are really, a dear, sweet man, you know that?"

When Di was finally diagnosed with dementia, I expected to find that all of my cold detachment from her would be suddenly replaced by a flood of compassion.  But instead, I still felt oddly removed.  I wasn't a stake holder in Di's life or her diagnosis.  I felt compassion for Scottie because he felt badly for her.  But I didn't really feel connected to what it must be like for Di.

"Did Scottie tell you that I entered into a medical study for Alzheimer's?  Apparently, I qualify."
Di was standing in our kitchen.  I was practicing being a gracious hostess and made sure that my eyes held contact with hers while she spoke.
Alzheimer's?  I thought she had dementia?
"It's kind of scary," she said in a confidential tone.  "I don't always understand everything that's going on."
I heard a loud cracking sound deep inside of me.  Like an iceberg in the movies when it begins to melt.  It startled me.  I felt my chest warm and soften a little.
"Do you," I stammered. "Do you go by yourself?" I asked.
"Most of the time," she said.  "And most of the time, it's okay."
"Oh wow," I said.  "No, I didn't know.  I didn't know that you had an actual diagnosis."
"I'm okay now," she said quickly.  "It's not bad yet."
I looked at her again as though I was seeing her for the first time.  Truthfully, I had seen her quite a bit over the last few years, but right there in my kitchen, for the first time in a long time, I really LOOKED at her.  Her short gray hair had grown out over the last few years and was now almost shoulder length.  Her face and body seemed to be about the same, but there was now a frailness about her, which I hadn't noticed before.
Scottie came out and they talked about her granddaughter who had been over the month before to hang out with Scott's daughter's, Lily and Nora.
When Di said goodbye a few minutes later, I found myself hugging her.  She stiffened up in my arms for a moment, then seemed to relax a little.
"I'll see you later," I said.  "Take care, Di."
"Okay," she called over her slightly hunched shoulders.  "You know me, one breath at a time!"

"Are you coming over for New Year's?" I asked her.  It was Di's weekly Saturday morning visit.  Sometimes she came a little early. This morning she'd arrived right on time.
"Huh?" she said.
"New Year's Eve," I said making eye contact with her.
I knew that asking her a week in advance was risky, but I thought I should plant the seed.
"Maybe," she said shrugged, "if I remember."
She was absentmindedly twirling her new piece of jewelry around her slim wrist.  It was a medical alert bracelet.  I looked away from it abruptly when I found myself staring at it.  It was an actual physical symbol of her condition.  My eyes kept going back to it.  I remembered that Scottie told me she was crushed when she finally agreed to put it on.  
Looking at it created a fresh wave of guilt and sadness inside of me.
"I'm going to hug you, okay?" Over the past few months, I'd learned to ask permission and warn her before I touched her.  Physical contact seemed to make her flinch as though she were in pain.  Loud noises and yelling did the same.  I moved mindfully around her now, careful to telegraph my every move.
"I hope you can come," I said.  "I'm sure Scottie will remind you."

Around 7:15pm on New Year's Eve, I was getting ready for our gathering, when I heard Scottie shouting in the bedroom.
"Do you see her?  She should be in the trailer in the parking lot."
I peeked in to the bedroom, "Who Honey?"
He grinned at me and pointed to the phone in his hand.
"You see the trailer? Yeah, that's it her rig.  It's in the back of that lot, right?"
"I'm talking to the Uber driver," he whispered (loudly) to me.
I looked at my phone.  7:17
Why is he having her picked up so early?
I walked back into our bathroom when I heard him say, "You got her?  Yes, she should have a little dog with her."
I cut my eyes at him as I walked out and began to light candles.
She's bringing her dog to our New Year's Eve party?!?

"I sent Di an Uber," he said when he hung up.
"I heard," I said curtly.  I was irritated that my old Di/Scottie-irritation seemed to be re-forming.
"She was scared to leave her dog alone in the trailer in a strange place, so I told her it was okay to bring him."
"Okay," I said.
"She wouldn't come without him," he had that look again (like, "you're with me on this, right?")
"Okay, Honey," I said forcing a smile.

Minutes later, as I was in my closet changing into my dress, the doorbell rang.
She's so early!

I heard Di and Scottie talking in the hallway.  He told her that he would take her dog into his office.  I heard them talking about how cute the dog was.  I felt my chest getting tight.
I came out of our bedroom after I had taken a couple of deep breaths.  She was standing  alone in the kitchen.
"You look beautiful!" she exclaimed when she saw me.  "Look at that dress!  Wow!
I'm sorry I'm so early.  I'm sorry I had to bring my dog. I'm sorry if I'm early..."
"It's fine," I said cutting her off.  I softened my face, "you look lovely."
And she really did look pretty,  She as all dressed up and she seemed to be sparkling.  She was wearing one of the NYE tiara's from the pile of festive hats that I'd placed on a table by the front door.
"Can I help with anything," she said.  "I really want to thank you for having me over."
"You're always welcome, Di" I said.  I found myself meaning it.
"I think we're okay.  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?"
"I'd like to help, please," she said earnestly.  "I really do want to thank you for having me over."
I caught the words before they came out of my mouth
"I know, you just said that."
"Would you like to light the rest of the candles?"
"Oh yes!" she said excitedly.
I gave her a long, Bic, pencil-length lighter.
"Where should I start?" she twirled around in a circle twice.  I could see the beginnings of confusion setting in.
I thought about the first time that I met her and that story she told about not wanting to get "clobbered by the waves" anymore and she dove in head first.
"Just dive right in.  You can do this room or the dining room.
"Okay" she said with a slight smile. She pointed her lighter like a sword as though she were leading the charge."
"To the dining room!"

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