ocean's gift: paradox

It was late, and our words were quiet. The house slept around us, snoring noises emanating from the various rooms."It's not so much about turning thirty," I said. "I've earned this number, and I have no reason to hide from it, but…"

"The round number makes it easy and natural to take stock of your life."

I whispered agreement. Conversations like these don't often take place during the light of day; they are the omnipresent thoughts, but the last to be voiced. First in, but last out; only after the chitchat and the catching-up conversations are exhausted do the soul-searching words tumble out as the friend's hand reaches for the metaphysical doorknob of sleep.

I write this here knowing that he will see it, knowing that I'll dread the moment he comes home, wanders off to his computer, and eventually spots these words, because it'll likely happen while I'm here. None of these words will surprise him, but it's the first time I've acknowledged any of them openly.

Coming out here, and staying with Patrick and his family, is hard for a reason that is brutally selfish and utterly stupid and probably doesn't make sense to anyone who hasn't been there (and probably to precious few of the people who have): Patrick's mother will come home. I can say that with a shrug and a smile, but it comes with an inner dish-up of sadness and leftover emotions that I just can't figure out how to process.

As I get closer to thirty, the one thing I come back to over and over is that I wish my father could have seen this life I'd created, and seen what kind of person I'd turned into. In the years before he died we had edged toward a relative peace, but it is the rarest of women who can come through as rocky of a relationship as my father and I had and square it all away into working order by her early twenties.

I wasn't that woman. To do so meant I needed more time than I was destined to get.

Much of my acquaintanceship with the coming 'thirty' revolves around where I've been in the past ten years, where I think I might be going, and who I wish to witness the process of transition between the two.

I ache for the fact that the person I'd put first on that list won't see any of this.

When asked about my life …
At ten, I would have said, "Did I do this right?"
At twenty, I would have said, "This is how it's going to be."
At thirty I find myself saying, "Is this right? I don't know, but I don't think you do either, so let's see where this takes us."

Over the past few years I've written with gradually less frequency about the impact of losing a parent, and for the most part, these days, I've come to terms with it. Nevertheless, every life change for me from now on will be evaluated in terms of not just what is there, but what is not there.

I wanted—want—him to see this recent positive upswing in my life, want it with a deep, aching sense of frustration and, yes, even anger, because part of me wants to face up with defiant teary anger and say "See? I've made something out of my life, and it couldn't have happened this way without everything that came before."

The sheer volume of what it took to put me in this chair, at this moment, staggers me. If I hadn't quit my evil job, I wouldn't have ended up doing web design at the ISP I worked at a few years ago. If I hadn't worked there, I wouldn't have met Kat or all of the people she introduced me to, and I wouldn't have worked dragon*con at all.

I wouldn't have met Patrick without dragon*con. Had I not done hospice care for my father a few years ago, I wouldn't have decided to fly out here to stay with him while his mother's transplant was taking place. If I hadn't flown, I wouldn't have tried to check out that book, and without wanting that book, I never would have found out that my library was trying to hire a coder/designer.

I wouldn't be here.

* * * * *

Seriously, Dad, this pisses me off. You should have gotten to see this, to see that despite your doubts my life turned out surprisingly well, but at some point I have to come to grips with the inevitable reality that without your death, my life would have turned out differently and there would be no 'this' for you to see.

Life's present to me on my thirtieth birthday: paradox. I can't show this uptick in my life off to the person that should most see it, because its existence requires his absence.

Son of a bitch.

So where does that leave me? I'm not sure. I suppose the simple and flippant answer is "Thirty, smartass." Older? Yes. Wiser? I don't think so. Perhaps just a bit more cognizant of life's capability of mingling bitter with sweet, a bit more appreciative of the subtle ironies inherent in life itself.

I suppose it means that at thirty, I am this: a woman contradictory enough to admit that she is jealous of her friend because despite a life-threatening illness, his parent will survive when mine didn't … but a woman loyal enough to realize that jealousy or no, when put up comes to shut up she'd do damned near anything in her power to make sure that years from now, he never has to write an entry like this one from his own point of view.

* * * * *

With that, I leave with a secret.

In life, it is not so important what touchstone we use to foster self-growth. The end result is more important than the process.

When I went to California, I started a ritual that I've kept. I see the ocean rarely, and for me it is always a major event; not just for the travel necessary to physically reach it, but for how I feel when I'm there. It's one of the few moments in which I realize how small I am on the scale of a planet; how these things, so important to me, become just another cup of water in a vast, ebbing ocean.

Every time I have gone to the ocean I've left a piece of myself there. I've taken a secret, an unresolved issue, and made a conscious decision to let it go, to imagine it burbling on the waves with the sea-foam and gradually sinking into the abyss with the receding tide. I left several in the surf of California. To my knowledge, they're still there by the Redondo Beach pier, serving as anchors for the barnacles and obstacles for the fish.

Tomorrow, packed between the beach chairs and the towels and the sunblock, I'll wedge this in, hoping that I'll be strong enough to heave it into the ocean and watch as it sinks --

-- and leave it there, a monolith for none but me.

If I've learned nothing else in the years of this life, it's that life's fragility dictates that we take every opportunity to choose joy, choose peace, and choose to better the lives of others. Such choices won't guarantee me a certain path in life, but they'll make it infinitely more likely that I'll like the weather wherever I do end up.