December 5, 2009

Slack Tide

It is snowing elsewhere today. Relatives called, excited, wanting to hear about the snow or share tales of their own snow but it is not snowing here. It is raining and rotten. "Cold and miserable" as my mother would say. I don't find it cold or miserable--like airports, rain-days please me. I used to mentally beg it to rain every Christmas because the disjunct between the sunny California day and the indoor tree covered in wintery ornaments aalways seemed depressing, and artificial. I hoped at least for gloomy stratus. This wish was only satisfied once in almost two decades of begging and hoping and wishing, but I distinctly remember it as the best Christmas ever. This year, having demanded that the whole family gather in Virginia for Christmas, I hope to be completely satisfied and have a snow-day. I am setting myself up for disappointment, aren't I?

I am glad to be home. California was alarming and good and strange. As soon as I landed in San Francisco I realized I had no sense of direction because the ocean was on the wrong side. It was like horizontal vertigo. Lateral-igo. My digestive system is still grappling with the immense amount of Chinese, Afghan, Indian, and Mexican food I managed to ingest. Never have I been so pleased to see an avocado tree, or well-behaved drivers on 680, or Miss Hannah Gelb. Santa Cruz seemed weirdly short, I think because I am used to being surrounded by tall Virginia pines. There is too much sky in California, which may seem a ridiculous complaint, but I have thought it since I was a child. Don't even get me started about the Southwest. I went to the Poet & the Patriot and reveled in Guinness and the sight of my favorite bartender (soon to be bar-owner), though my visit was brief because we have all become old people: "My my it's awfully loud in this establishment." We migrated to the Red where we continued being old people: "Man I'm tired. One drink and then to bed!" I am as guilty as the next person in this. It made me yearn for the days of yore, summer '07, when life was all play and almost no work, and the Laurel Houses were the haven of fantastic themed shindigs, spontaneous dance parties, and all the pesto and mashed potatoes you could possibly wish for.

It is different to think of that summer now than it was to mourn it in the year following it, when everyone paired off and grew up and went their separate ways. I now look at it as something that I can't have back, and wouldn't want to relive, knowing what would follow. There was so much that was going to happen, and I didn't know, couldn't know, and I envy and pity that gone-girl for that. I couldn't recreate that summer now--none of us could. We left and now find ourselves too strange and too different to ever go back. There is a moment every day when the tide is neither high nor low, neither coming nor going, and the water swirls around itself and smooths, still as glass stretching out in front of the house. It is called the slack tide. I think that that it was that summer was. A moment of slack tide, when we all found ourselves standing still at the edge of the precipice, and danced there for a while, trying so hard not to see what was coming. I wish I could have held us there, arms around that moment tight. But I could not, and did not, and everything that has happened has happened and all that is left are the photographs and the indelible stains in the carpet of a house none of us live in anymore.


  1. Absolutely perfect. The last paragraph made me cry.


  2. We have established a tradition of spending a week at the N.C. coast around Labor Day and paddling about the sound in our kayaks. We are not avid, nor even semi-avid, kayakers, maybe going out once or twice a year. But we've had the boats for long enough that they have paid off the investment, at least.

    Well, except maybe for the value of the driver's side rearview mirror we knocked off trying to mount the boats to the roof of the Subaru a few years ago.

    Generally there's a lot of boat traffic on the sound, the tide is on the move, and the wind is whipping, so the water is pretty choppy. We went out one night, however, when the tide was, to turn your phrase, slack, the wind was calm, and the water was soft as butter. No metaphor here, really, but gliding around in the dark water among the dimlit piers was really a sensual experience.

    Here's a picture from when the water hadn't yet turned to butter, the color from the sunset is pretty accurate: