The last time I was at the Island was one of the hardest times in my life that I have been there. It may be one of the reasons I haven’t been back in 7 years, although it is a place that lives in my heart, daily. And I ache for it in the same fashion a chocking person aches for air to fill their lungs.
We had just moved from the other city in the Swamp, back north so my partner could be closer to his family. We both needed a change of scenery, as too much had happened during our years of being away that we both needed to heal from. It was a frenetic move. When we finally arrived in the town where his son lives, I repacked a bag for the Island and the next morning left, to help my parents with the two-day drive. When we were younger, we would do the drive in one day or overnight, but with my parents aging they had begun, years before, to divide the trip into two parts. I went with them, to help drive which my mother could no longer do, as she was falling into the early stages of Alzheimer’s (although we didn’t know it at the time). But my father’s rabid control over the schedule and the car left me few options but to sit and stay alert (he is a terrible driver) and then spend the night in a hotel with them, crying softly as I pretended to sleep, listening as my mother grew more confused (this had begun to happen when she got tired) and the argument over silly things, like the dog’s tags for his collar, or something else she couldn’t find. Somehow I managed to fall asleep and the next day we arrived.
My siblings had also come out to help open up the property for the summer. It is never an easy task, as often times it takes forever to get the pump to work, or there are cracks in the pipes that have occurred throughout the frigid winter months, or the septic tank has issues. There are always trees that have come down and cottages to inspect, to make sure that no serious damage has occurred in the six months they would have been away. I did what I could, but my heart was heavy. Everywhere I looked, I saw my dead husband. I would spend hours in the woods, away from everyone and everything, simply to not feel as if I was going insane with grief. I would lay on the ground above where I buried his ashes, and let the sun try and warm my cold heart as the tears would silently slide down my face. Everywhere I went, he was there. Every cottage, every step that we had ever taken. And yet he wasn’t. He was gone and I would never be able to feel him, touch him, smell or talk to him again.
My siblings spent the weekend doing much of the heavy lifting. By the time they all returned to their respective families and homes, I was left alone with my parents. I had no job, as I still was looking for one when we left the Swamp, so I imagine I was considered “fair game” by the rest of them to stay and watch my parents. Much easier said than done.
As children, which I have mentioned before, the Island was the one place that was our escape from reality. Where my father took time to actually relax, invest some interest in us, and there were no schedules, no time. Days slipped by like the waves on the lake. Yet, there I was as an adult, and somehow this had all changed. I don’t know if it was because with his retirement, he still “needed” to have a schedule to his days he could control. I just know it was unlike any other time I had been there, and my stress level went through the roof.
My father has always pushed my buttons, since I was a teen and I can almost guarantee that most of my sisters would agree. Instead of what I thought it would be like, from my memories of childhood of lazy days and nights, we were now on a tightly controlled schedule. Breakfast was at 7. Lunch was at noon, with a nap immediately after. And instead of dinner being a “whenever” affair, long past when the sun had dipped below the horizon, that too was now at a certain time. I immediately felt as if I was regressing to my 18-year old self, and since I am non-confrontational, except in rare occurrences, I went along with it. God help us if we were in town or on the mainland when the noon hour hit. You could see the frustration and anger on his face if this happened. And it pissed me off more that I can express in calm words.
I was there for three weeks. As I normally do when stress is crushing down on me, especially from him, I stopped eating (which drove him insane). I was sick three times in three weeks, simply because I knew what he was doing to my soul and I had no way of releasing the anger and frustration I had toward him. I couldn’t sleep, so I would spend my nights in the back room of the main cottage, doing consulting work for one of my former colleagues, and that saved my sanity somewhat. But eventually, I broke.
I called my partner and told him he had to get me away from there. From my father. I didn’t care what it cost, but as soon as possible I had to leave. I was dying, literally, and I couldn’t take it any more. As much as I hated leaving my mother, who was the only thing keeping me there, I simply could not be around that man anymore.
As usual, my partner came through. He had me on a flight the next day. After 3 weeks with my father, I ended up getting wasted in the airport, but I didn’t care. I was awash in the grief of leaving my mother, leaving a place that meant so much to me but he had changed that – I simply had the memories of a childhood gone and a husband dead. My partner took it pretty well, although he was not happy I had used alcohol as my outlet. But I was at my wit’s end.
When I stepped on the scale after my return I had lost almost 15 pounds in 3 weeks. Thank you father. Truly, he is perfect for the stress diet.
The rest of the summer was not much better. I lived in a house with five males, three of whom were children and loud (I have mentioned how precious silence is for me, right?). I had no job, no prospects and very little money. I spent most of my days in my bedroom, scribbling in my journal about how much I hated life. I was also being weaned from my 20-year relationship with Paxil, so I know that didn’t help. When the opportunity for a position became open, I jumped at it. I had to get away from the noise, the house of men, and find something that I could do, to give me some independence and a sense of purpose again.
Little did I know I was going into a viper pit. But I survived that. In many ways the two years there were easier to deal with than the three weeks with my father.
They will not go this year, unless he gets a wild hair and forces my mother in the car and makes the journey, one I am not optimistic they will survive. It is the first year since he was 12 that he cannot go, and I do feel that pain. Because I share in the loss and longing of that magical place on our lake, where time meant nothing and every day was an adventure.
I hope we can keep it in the family. I do not know if that will be possible with their mounting medical bills. But I would love one month, simply me and the lake, the tress, the pine needles and the memories. I want to inhale the scent that never quite leaves my nostrils and calms me. I want to find my peace here. I hope someday soon, I can. I hope I still have the ability to be able to, even if we lose it.
© Sorrow & Kindness