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August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge
Toes first, and the water feels sun-kissed warm. It glimmers clear and blue like polished topaz, like an ad for a retirement community: swim your golden years here. And in a strange way, I’ve landed in preliminary retirement, un-homed among the community of RVers at Pier 4 in Moses Lake, Washington. Many are on vacation, but most long-tern RVers are retired. The park vibe is relaxed, no one cares what you look like in a bathing suit or how small your camp trailer is. They all smile at my caravan and shrug; everyone starts somewhere and every trailer has leaking issues. They say the biggest lie RVers tell is, “It never leaks!”
From 4 to 6 p.m. the park pool is “adults only.” Here I meet seasoned retirees full of tips for the nomadic lifestyle, physical therapy and politics. I avoid commenting like a wild woman with a machete at the mention of Trump’s name. I ask questions, though, trying to figure out why such a laid-back set would vote for the insane man. Most believe his opposition equally insane. America is destined for a straight-jacket, but I avoid stirring the water. Instead I try to learn about the people I meet, swap stories, connect.
In the water I do yoga poses, my body buoyant and able to work in water better than on dry land. I feel strong and flexible in the pool that glows with water rainbows from sun dapples. I stretch, hold, breathe, balance, tread and kick. I kick until my legs seize and remind me not all is right with my spine. I grimace until the cramps subside, and then I float, scissor kick and breaststroke from end to end. Five laps turns me into a twitching crab, so I walk long slow strides across the width, imagining I’m balanced upon a tightrope. 25 time back and forth and feel so powerful I want to channel my best #phelpsface but ruin it with a grin.
Floating, not retired, living on wheels. I’m finding pieces of me I didn’t know and letting go of ones I did. Community has mattered to me for so long, yet has eluded me. I’m on the fringe, the quiet woman walking in a pool when others swim, splash and laugh out loud. For 29 years I’ve followed a man on a mission. He still doesn’t know what that mission is but he’s never left the military. Community to him is superficial; I want deep roots, longevity. Yet here in the pool among a mobile and mostly retired community, I’m learning to embrace the superficial.
People ask, “Where are you from?” I want to reply, “Nowhere and everywhere.”
I left the town where I was born at the age of seven. It was a dark time, a time that robs me of breath and the ability to fully immerse my head underwater. I grew up in a town of 99 people (this realization I made when responding to a Times Past post for Rough Writer, Irene Waters). Yes, 99 people, no more, no less. I was an only child and found friendship among the old-timers, but I never felt a sense of community. Reflecting upon the two dozen places I’ve lived since, Boulder, Montana has the distinction of being the one place where I felt I belonged. We were in a civic club, the kids began school there, we had friends, church and I led a Girl Scout troop of Daisies.
My husband is the kind of person who rarely meets a stranger.
After 31 years out of the military, we are finally getting to understand what drives him to move so much. Unlike my childhood, he grew up in the town where his father was born and was friends with everyone. I had always thought his choice to join the Army was part of his need to wander. Now we are realizing he’s still on a mission; he’s still on military time. While we await a “legal” diagnosis from the VA, we understand that he left the Army with PTSD, was able to manage most of it, but what was left unmanaged has become an anxiety disorder.
I’m not big on labels, but I do believe it’s helpful to know what we are dealing with in our lives. To be whole is to accept the light and the dark within us. How can we choose if we don’t know? How can we overcome the darkness if we don’t acknowledge it? It’s not important that Todd gets an anxiety label, but it is important that we acknowledge he has service-related anxiety. It’s part of his journey; our journey. Knowing what to overcome helps the healing; accepting limitations is to accept the whole enchilada.
Already knowledge has made a difference.
We agreed to come to Mose Lake for him to work an aviation contract as long as he continued all his evaluations and appointments at the VA. We also agreed to make stable housing a priority. This has led me to think about the role of community in my life, or rather my longing for it. Walking across the pool 25 times, I’ve come to acknowledge that I delay community interaction as if I’m waiting to see if we stay or if we go. Yet, it occurs to me that permanency does not have to be a prerequisite to community. Therefore, I’m embracing my retirement community no matter how fleeting my time is here.
Learning Todd has anxiety was a stunner for me. I’ve never thought of my husband as anxious. He’s the most fearless person I know. But he always has anger on simmer. And that was the light bulb! Anger is his coping mechanism for anxiety. Suddenly, I realized my fearless and strong husband is one of the most anxious people I know. At first, I felt like his country failed him; his family and friends failed him; I failed him. How were we to know? PTSD was not discussed in the military in the 1980s. And he actually overcame symptoms by applying his military training. When he had nightmares, he began to deal with them like drowning. You see, he learned to drown in combat dive school; to overcome natural responses to drowning. He overcame his nightmares. He tackled his darkness.
And now we tackle the anxiety. When a stressful situation came up, I reminded him he had a phone number. He fixated on being lost late at night when he flew south for a job interview (yes, on the move again) and I responded with the phone number to the hotel he couldn’t find. He broke his fixation and said he’d call, which he did and they directed him to the place. The next morning I rose early to text him messages like those I’d send to fellow writers: “You’ve got this!” My former approach was to tell him what to do, what to remember. But that can add to anxiety. Instead, I worked on sending him calm vibes, like pool-side vibes.
At the VA, he has met with several counselors including one who manages vocational rehabilitation and education (VR&E). When he told her his problem with interviewing, she gave him good coaching tips. He remembered these, but forgot to mention that his veteran disability status qualifies him for a program that would pay his new employer if hired (for six months). We worked up a plan to respond to his interviewer with a note of thanks and to mention the program then. We actually sailed through the situation and now we wait to hear back if they are interested in hiring him or not.
I’m okay with waiting. Two months ago, I would have been unhinged. Two moths ago I would have been frustrated with my husband’s behavior. With knowledge and reflection, I better understand what I am seeking and what he needs in the way of support. We are certainly far from retirement — we have so much yet to learn and grow!
This week we are going to dive into transience. While the feeling of power in the pool is fleeting — gravity ultimately returns upon climbing out — the experience lingers. I might think community eludes, and perhaps it does in that permanent sense, but there’s nothing wrong with transient communities.
Miracle of Ducks is a story about a woman who comes to realize that community does matter and explores what it means to be married to someone who has never fully left his military community (yes, it sounds familiar and I admit to researching at home). Rock Creek is about the early development of community upon the western frontier and how three women contribute to the history of that transient community known as the Pony Express and its chain of road ranches. Carrot Ranch is a community, a dynamic one where writers interact weekly. And it’s a community for which I’m grateful as much else is hobo-like in my life right now.
August 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?
Respond by August 17, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
The Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“There were so many ducks. Flocks upon flocks, I tell you. A full regiment, an entire invasion, a miracle of ducks.” Ike concluded his story.
Malcom said, “Seems you saw in real life what artists experience when the vision of the canvas comes to them. It does feel like a miracle.”
Ike nodded and looked at Danni. She knew he wanted her to understand. Deep down Ike had a gentle soul, maybe even an artist’s soul if one could call building firearms and crimping bullets an art. At that moment she felt warm with love. It would soon pass.
Transients by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
“Poorest of the poor,” Henry said and tucked his nose beneath the cover of his hand.
Cobb swigged corn whiskey from a McNab Spirits Bottle. “They have coin on ‘em,” he said.
“Do you charge for their handcarts to cross your toll-bridge?”
“Everyone gets charged. Some less than others.”
Sarah locked eyes with one woman walking past with three children. Another woman pushed the handcart next to a man. She had heard talk that Mormons had more than one wife.
As if catching her fleeting thought, Cobb leaned down to growl in her ear, “One wife’s trouble enough, Rosebud.”