Been trying to write about my LOVE LIST all week, with no luck. Frustration took over yesterday, and I just had to let it be.
Then the phone rang. It was dad.
He and Diane needed me to place an add on Craig’s List. They thought I’d know how. I didn’t, but I was willing to learn. Thousands place ads every year. How hard could it be? He also asked if they could borrow my copy of a book his eldest brother had written ten years ago, and sold on Amazon? Sure, if I could find it.
The past year I spent a good deal of time packing up most everything I own, with a mind that the house was going to sell. It hasn’t, but it will.
Went out to the garage and opened one of those white cardboard boxes. This one was labeled “BOOKS”. Didn’t find the book (but I did make a mental note: I own several novels that need reading!) Discovered a short stack of old pictures from my childhood too; photos randomly slipped inside that box, last year while packing. This particular photo was atop the stack…
Made me grin. Weren’t we adorable?
I flipped the snapshot over. The handwriting read: Renee 11 Timmy 7.
Still grinning, I set the photo aside, and resealed the box. No success, finding the book, but not to worry. I’ll find it around here at some point–when I’m supposed to find it.
Picking up the snapshot once again I studied the young children in the white and pink t-shirts, almost giggling at the photographer, and actually said out loud, “Think I was meant to write today after all…”
As young girl, I was taught all the moments in life matter; that every effort should be made to preserve the memories of our daily candid experiences and the rare orchestrated milestones too. Recording our lives visually was so important, in fact, my gram made sure to introduce me to a camera at a very young age.
I was about ten when a small black rectangular box, made of hard plastic, arrived in the mail. It was marked with a golden sticker labeled: KODAK. A few rolls of film, in a smaller box (the color of a school bus) were included as well. A sweet note of encouragement was found taped to the back of the camera: write the names and dates on the back of each photo. One day you’ll be glad you did!
Gram was right. Today, forty years later, that random tiny bit of information gave clarity to a fuzzy picture I had been trying to form in my head all week. Instantly drawn back to 1976, the mental images I had been struggling with for five straight days quickly came into a focus of remarkable transparency; so much so, I could see straight through the photo to a memory of a hot summer day, back when I was only eleven years old…
My foster mother placed a few silver coins in my hand, and drove me to the nearest bus stop.
As her car pulled up alongside the curb, just ahead of a small group already gathered, Bertha put the car in park and turned pointedly, “You have the quarters I gave you?”
My head bowed, glancing down at the sweaty palm and four fingers gripped tightly around the bus fare. It was my hand holding the coins; I was the one taking the bus ride. My head rose, nodding slowly in agreement. I couldn’t speak.
Then she placed a tiny white strip of paper in my other hand. It had a series of numbers and a name written on it; the address in Huntington Beach, she said, for a house I vaguely remembered as being tiny, gray, stucco maybe?
Had never been to Huntington Beach but that one time–once–and then, I traveled there in a car, driven by an adult. It wasn’t the bus that frightened me; I had ridden a bus alone before (only that time someone I loved was waiting to greet me at the other end). No, this time, the fear came from the realization that today, I was on my own.
“Take the bus all the way down Beach Blvd, until it ends at the sand. Straight down, all the way. When you see the ocean, get off there. Then go on over to Cheryl’s house. I’ll come down later and bring you home. You’re gonna help her with the girls this afternoon.”
I replayed the words over and over again in my head, hoping I could somehow connect the mental images (both imagined and real) of a perpendicular visual playing out in my mind: a long busy street that ran into that other long busy street, in front of the ocean–and a little gray house located somewhere near that giant rusted steel grasshopper looking oil pump thingy we saw on our way home.
Took a long time, with several stops, passengers getting off and on. Surfers, old ladies with nylons and sturdy looking shoes, mothers and their bucket and pail carrying broods filled the bus, as we made our way closer to the water.
Beach Blvd was longer than I remembered. When I could smell the ocean though, I knew we were close. Good. All I had to do now was find the street name on the little piece of damp paper crinkled up in the palm of my hand. My chest tightened, but I vowed success.
Turning right, into a neighborhood, the bus driver ruined my plans. Wait! Where is he going?! We’re supposed to go…
Straight down, all the way!
I sat there patiently as I could as the bus stopped and started, entering further into a maze of side streets I had never seen before. Suddenly I hear, “LAST STOP!” My head whipped around to the left and then back to the right–the ocean was no where in sight.
You remember that feeling when you lost your mom in the grocery store aisle–momentarily? Yeh, that times a million!!!
Maybe it was sheer survival, or maybe it was abject terror that day that gave me the inertia to rise from my sweaty haunches, walk down the aisle and inquire, “This bus doesn’t go all the way to the ocean?”
I can’t recall the details his face, or his voice either, but I do remember his words and how he made me feel:
“No darlin. This is the last stop.” I leaned over and noticed he was writing something on a pad of paper. Quickly, his head glanced back at me again. I retreated a step, and then stood there, paralyzed.
“You know where you’re going?”
Reaching out cautiously, I stepped forward and handed the man in uniform my slip of paper, sharing all I knew, “Its near the ocean.”
Disbelief and concern outlined his words, “The ocean is that way, straight up that street there about two blocks. I’m pretty sure this street here is just a few down that away.”
I reclaimed my flimsy directions and said softly, “Thank you”. Exiting the bus I stood there, adjusting my eyes and feeling the hot sun on the top of my head, dreading my daunting task at hand. Don’t recall the name listed on the street sign on that corner, but it didn’t match the one written on my paper, so I started to walk.
My search lasted long enough for me to learn there were lots of short streets near the ocean, lined with smaller homes, built really close together. I must have gone up and down and back again several times before I noticed sweat was dripping down my back; ignoring the fear pounding in my chest.
Then, I heard the sound of Cheryl’s baby girls playing and talking in the quaint courtyard, peacefully waiting my arrival, in front of the gray house-and I thought I was imagining things. I raced down their driveway like a kid racing to win!
That rush of adrenaline, that release of fear is filling my veins all over again, as I relive my tiny legs racing down that long driveway. It was scary–terrifying even that day, but I am glad I relived it tonight. Its important to reflect on the times you were strong, brave, and courageous; when fortitude replaced fear, and even more important to recognize when the universe steps in to help out.
My goal that day was to find a house. I did find it. But I had help.
Like many, I go back every January and take stock of the written and unwritten goals I have reached over my lifetime, and remind the doubter in me: I am always growing, intentionally or not.
I make time to take note of the many men and women in my world that have touched my life every single day, and I re-discover my appreciation of their roll in my successes; being cognizant, once again, I am not alone. Didn’t have a name for it back then, but I do now:
I call it my LOVE LIST, and it gets longer every year.
Reflect. Its a good start. Then, resolve.
Walked into a local restaurant here in south Orange County and it was packed. Holiday weekend. Lots of big parties; mostly families, waiting to be seated. Eating out is a way of life for us so no big deal.
We put our name in and the hostess handed me a beeper, ” ‘Bout a twenty minute wait. ” I thanked her, and then, “Is there self seating in the bar?” “Yes, the line is forming over there.” Only one party in that line. Cool!
As we took our place against the wall, I noticed that first party got seated pretty quickly. Still had my beeper though just in case the free seating area got jammed up; there was some game on the big screen tv’s that everyone was watching intently, and it didn’t appear they were planning on vacating their coveted seats any time soon.
We waited anyway.
My daughter and I were chatting about something and soon found ourselves surrounded by other hungry people as the lobby filled to capacity, and our “line” became an indiscernible blob. Made me a little nervous; what if our booth opened up and I went walking over to it. Would I start a riot? Ahhh!! I’m not good with blurred lines!
That’s when I felt his hand on my arm. “Tell them you’re with Jeff, and that I am in the bathroom or something. My beeper has a shorter wait time than yours. ”
It was a sweet face looking down on me; a kind face that looked like it was used to wearing a smile. Took me a moment to speak, but as I glanced down at the beeper he had just placed in my hand I explained, “Oh thank you, but we’re good. We’re next in line for a booth in the bar.”
His eyes crinkled up as his head, covered in a thin layer of silver hair, nodded in agreement, “Well, now you’ll get the next table either way.”
I flashed him some teeth, and expressed my sincere appreciation and the thoughtful man went on his way. Kinda dumbfounded, I turned to my daughter and said, “It happened again!” She giggled and announced, “And this one’s name is Jeff!”
Once again, I was taken aback by the generosity of strangers. I didn’t start my LOVE LIST until I was eleven, but I know my life, my entire existence has been touched over and over again by these non assuming, compassionate, helpful citizens.
From the concerned bus driver that day near the beach; to my delighted lady english teacher in college, who handed me back an essay I had written on my little brother and super heroes, “If you don’t write some day, I will be very disappointed”; to the generous business woman who owned the condo we were leasing when my twins were born, “Oh honey, two babies at once? Let me see if I can lower your rent”(and then she did–by $300/month!); to the fireman at the grocery store last year who simply looked over at me (at my lowest point) and said, “Wanna come over here? This line is shorter”; to the man who saw my car get hit-and-run in the parking lot, and stuck around till the woman admitted her guilt; to the adorable older gentlemen in Sizzler recently who sauntered over, nudged my elbow, and with a wink and a smile whispered, “I wanna have dinner with you”; to all my stranger-loves, who took a moment of their day to notice me; to make my day just a little bit better, I am deeply grateful.
While it’s true I haven’t led a life adorned by an inner circle of familial support (an inner realm so many find themselves born into effortlessly), I do have a lengthy beautiful list of love that could circle the earth!
As I go into 2015, I will remind myself to reflect on all those amazing and important times the average stranger has come to my rescue, take a deep breath of comfort acknowledging I am not alone, and resolve to be that kind of blessing in return. <3