June 11, 2012 § 21 Comments
“No Meg, don’t hope it was a dream. I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.” – from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
Jacksonville feels like a stain. It looks as dirty and tired as a bar after last call. We are staying in an extended stay hotel on Western Boulevard, the main business route, which is an aggregate of Old Navys and Olive Gardens, Walmarts and Wendy’s. The air smells like fried chicken and cigarette smoke and the sunlight bounces off all that asphalt. At night, shadowy packs of boys walk along the strip, their jeans low on their hips. Yesterday, I went to the grocery store and a man in a wife beater and flip flops leered at me. He parked his cart by the shelves of raw chicken thighs and made comments at women who walked by him. I turned sharply into the aisle with the detergent and held a box of Downey sheets up to my nose wondering how I ever could have complained about Washington, DC.
We will probably be staying at the Hilton Home2 until the beginning of August, when a house will be available for us on base. On the first floor of the hotel, a fitness center with a television is adjacent to a laundry room. Twice, I let the boys watch Disney Junior while I used the elliptical machine and slipped quarters into the washing machine. On Thursday, I struck up a conversation with another mother of two boys who is staying at the hotel because her house burned down last month. Marines in camouflage come out of other rooms on our floor, and from behind closed doors, I hear Southern accents and babies crying. I smell food being microwaved and Ramen noodles cooking. The night we arrived here, I had a quiet meltdown – conscious of the thin walls and my sleeping boys – thinking that at 39, I am too old to be living in a place that smells like someone else’s dinner. What was the point of the college degrees and all that striving? I thought back to another hotel room eight years ago in San Francisco. I was up all night helping the president of my company write her presentation and at five in the morning, I staggered off to Kinkos with it, thinking that finally, I was on my way. I would never in a million years have believed that I was on my way here to a town overflowing with soldiers.
Each place I have lived during the last six years has taught me something. In Philadelphia, Oliver was born, ironically, two hours from the town I drove 3000 miles away from when I was 21. In San Diego, I learned how to be an adult, a mother, and a wife. In Ventura, I was taught how to trust my heart and to believe in goodness. Washington DC taught me how to be alone and then how to be with people. I spent a year with this guy:
And despite being so lonely for my first year there, things like this began to happen:
Tonight I went for a walk along Western Boulevard, a four-lane highway with sidewalks but no crosswalks. After a while, my walk began to feel like a game of chicken with the pickup trucks and I started back to the hotel. I passed by Ruby Tuesday and the House of Pain tattoo parlor, Food Lion, and a dilapidated barber shop. Even though it was nine at night, a couple with a small child was going into Hooters. I wondered briefly if I should be afraid and then decided I shouldn’t. I figured I could outrun an attacker, and if I couldn’t, I would put up a good fight.
Coming towards me was a group of young Marines. Maybe I wasn’t as different from them as I thought. I too am the kind of person who would fight to the death to protect myself, and as they approached, I realized I am ashamed of this. The boys looked so innocent as they walked by me, so young. I wondered if they signed up to serve and protect and if they were surprised when they found out what was asked of them. Or maybe they weren’t. When I looked up, one of them said hello with a smile that lit up his face. And then they all looked at me for an instant, their faces lovely with youth.
I thought about how complicated it is to serve, how the word protect sometimes also means kill and how much that bothers me. I thought that some of those young boys might be headed off to a war I despise while others might build a school somewhere or save a child. They would all be trained to shoot and a few might have to pull the trigger when it counted. I thought about how much I hate being part of the military, how paying the cashier at the market sometimes feels like handing over blood money. And I thought of how proud I am that my gentle husband is a part of the same organization I hate, because he has watched over his own share of young men with such devotion. How contradictory it is to protect a freedom, how much freedom is taken away to accomplish that, how the choice to serve takes away so many other choices.
And then I thought about the first Power Yoga class I took at Downdog Yoga in Georgetown. For the last six months, that studio has served and protected me, which I never would have thought possible after that initial class, which I wasn’t sure I could even finish. On that morning, last July 4th, as we celebrated freedom, I was trapped in my own thoughts of how thirsty and tired and miserable I was. “I’m so hot,” my mind kept saying. ImsohotImsohotImsohot.
Gradually – and despite my best efforts not to – I fell in love with Power Yoga and began to practice at the Downdog studio four times a week, at least. On my second to last class there only six days ago, Kelly, who was teaching, told us that if we were uncomfortable, then we were in the right place. “That’s what you’ve come for,” she said. “To be uncomfortable and to see what’s underneath.”
As I finished my walk under the streetlights on a sidewalk that was still hot, I felt the same way I did in that first yoga class in Georgetown. I don’t want to know what’s underneath. I don’t want to see how I judge, how I hate, how I break every yogic value I strive for. I want to know why I am here in this strange town near the ocean. I want meaning and reason. I want validation that I am in the right place.
But the night gives me nothing other than the smell of fried chicken and hot concrete, the sound of my own sharp panic and stale discomfort. And maybe this is why I am here: to be uncomfortable. To crack off another layer. To cleanse myself here, in this city that looks toxic and not a single bit lovely in the dark.
Oh, Pam … first of all, that Wrinkle in Time quotes is one of my favorites from a book i cherish. And second – wow. It sounds like a lot of discomfort and uncertainty, all around, and I can certainly relate to why that is difficult and painful. Sitting with the uncertainty to see what’s underneath is pretty much my least favorite thing EVER. I am waiting with bated breath to learn from the lessons this place teaches you, as I learn from everything you share. Sending you so much love. xoxo
Pam, your bravery is astounding. That’s just it, isn’t it? We’re all ok and in the flow, when it’s easy to be; when circumstances make it so. Reading your vivid writing felt like watching a scary movie. I wanted to scream at the screen – run away! get out of there! You don’t belong there! And then in your wisdom you see that you are right where you are supposed to be. I send you love and hope that pockets of beauty and smells of fresh air emerge from time to time. The beach? Have you been?
You are a lovely soul, Pamela. Your writing was just what I needed this.imorning. Thank you for sharing your light. xoxo
Thinking of you as you transition once again. Take good care of yourself. Thanks for this post, and for all your posts. I love seeing them in my inbox. I can relate to so much of what you share in this post, especially the desire for validation that you are in the right place, and that you don’t want to be uncomfortable. Know that we are out here, your virtual community, and are grateful for your presence and insight. Namaste. Colleen
You brought me some more peace today with this post. As always – thought provoking and beautiful. Hope you get to move into your new place soon and congrats on the teacher training! xxx
So I literally haven’t been on my laptop in weeks. When I opened it, it opened to your page where you said I won the book, which thrilled me. I left a note saying I hope you are staying sane. And then I read this. hmmmmm.
It honestly sounds miserable. But i think you can be uncomfortable and stay sane. Right?
I will keep sending good thoughts your way. I promise.
You bring me to tears every time. Keep writing.
My yoga teacher recently taught, “Adapt. Adjust. Accommodate.” When my husband and I were first married we lived in a flat in what I call the “undesirable” part of the city we still live in. There were cockroaches and so many mice we went through bags and bags of industrial grade mouse poison. My mother visited once, was horrified and never visited again. We spent five years there because we had no money to move up in the city/world. But, we painted and decorated and made it our home, and we met some very nice neighbors and found some cool, locally owned cafes. You have so much wisdom, I know you will find a way to adapt, adjust and accommodate. My thoughts are with you.
You are not at all alone in your feelings about this town. I came kicking and screaming last year. Your words could have been my words. I feel for you and I certainly can’t make you any promises but I assure you that there are people here who will hear you. There is value to this place and this time. Also there is yoga nearby. Look up gingergarner.com.
I am really sorry. It seems to me even if you didn’t try, “layers will be cracked off”. So please be gentle on your self. May you be well, my virtual friend.
I’ll following your jacksonville journey and sending my positive thoughts.
Thank you so much, as always, for sharing your experience so honestly, Pamela. This is the hardest part, I think. Have faith that you will find your home here… or perhaps create your home here. I have faith in your ability to find meaning even in the difficulty!
Oh, dear. I think you should write a lot in this place.
I’m not envying you there, especially with my recent experience in moving to a new place with a young family… it’s hard and it’s lonely- even if the new environment is beautiful and the community mostly serene and friendly… and what you describe is far from that…
I love the way you open your mind and heart to the world, you see and feel what’s happening where you are, and put it into words. It’s so inspiring. Stay strong, keep writing!
My brain tries madly to string the rubies together like sequined sewing that my own wrinkles’ topography scatters and folds, skin like sheets of uncountable threads, touching here in time and drifting apart like grand curtain canyons of lonely, lovely, perhaps only seeming separation.
I found a cowrie shell on my canyon walk, crushed into the dust. A tuft of mystic tattered cord, a gain of sand in its toothy mouth, a hollowed vista where the body had once been, a window on a world and a spiral, hypnotic, incomprehensible even to child-eyes, but numinous to the eternal eyes growing like so many branches from wandering awakening disoriented and reoriented hearts and their echoed rhythms of sea, moon and Mother.
Your writing, as always, is beautiful and inspriational to me, although I know this blog comes from a raw place for you. Know that I am sending my love and thoughts during your time of transition. The passage below from your blog has set the tone for my week and helped me give myself some needed pushes, so thanks 🙂
” “On my second to last class there only six days ago, Kelly, who was teaching, told us that if we were uncomfortable, then we were in the right place. “That’s what you’ve come for,” she said. “To be uncomfortable and to see what’s underneath.””
Miss you and sending love!
Your post reminds me of a quote I recently read:
“You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.” —Abraham Maslow.
How true this is. I have learned about myself that I tend towards the safety side but know that to continue to grow, to expand myself as a person I must experience the uncomfortable – it is only because you do not know. Once you experience it, you will gain that level of comfort and learn more about yourself as a person.
I love this post and I love your writings.
I adore your transparency and your honesty. I’m sending hugs and love to you, in your discomfort and in your place of unease. xoxo
I’ve been irrigating lately. I suck at irrigating. It seems so simple. Get the water to go down hill. But there are so many dry spots. I’m reading about your dry spots. Dry pavement, dry grocery stores and stares. Dry parents down the hall with dry smells.
When I was young I expected my life to be a big forward progression. That hasn’t quite panned out. Uncomfortable is one way of putting it.
My navy brother retires this summer. I’ll be thinking of you as I celebrate with him. I’m thinking about all my military friends these days. Life is different because of what you endure.
Thank you. I see you.
I’m irrigating these days. I stink at irrigating. Water leaks everywhere except to where I want it. The dry stuff seems to stay dry. I’m thinking about your hot, dry pavement and feeling black and heavy. Wishing I could push some water up and over the Colorado Rockies to you to flood you with freshness, but as I’m finding out here, in my uncomfortable way, I just can’t push water uphill no matter how hard I try.
I have to go with the flow. Or at least find the flow.
What is the flow of pavement and Wendy’s restaurants? Ramen noodle dinners? What’s great about that aroma?
My navy brother is retiring this summer. I’m going to be thinking about you and all my military friends as I honor him and celebrate with him. You lead a different life. I’m becoming aware.
I see you.
Thank you for helping have those eyes. It matters.
I’m reading this the morning that I’ve also read of my friend’s retirement after 20 years as a Naval Officer, and it reminds me of the sacrifices our military families make every day.
My husband was stationed at Camp LeJeune for the last year of his enlistment and hated every minute of it. I visited him there twice, but otherwise he chose to bum a ride to DC from his friend who drove 24+ hours each weekend to Boston so he didn’t have to stay on base. We used to joke that God had forgotten about Jacksonville, or at least written it off as a lost cause.
I think now it’s because no one really wants to be there. No one calls it home. It seems like everyone there is on their way to somewhere else – frequently an even more unpleasant place. Other bases are part of a larger community which has a lifeblood aside from the military, but not LeJeune.
The one saving grace is the beach (as I’m sure you’ve already discovered).
My prayers are with you and your family as you settle in and establish a life for yourselves there. It’s a little like flowering in the desert I think.
All good things to you.
A wonderful post. And the last paragraph? Incredible. Love your words here.