I found my way to the sea again.
In the shank of July, New England weather generally sheds its predictable, unpredictability and settles into heat and humidity in-land and glorious beach weather at the shore.
Go figure… on my week of vacation, the sea is angry and the skies? Well…dark and stormy. The air temperature is groaning to reach the low 60’s and the wind is making a mess of my perpetually chaotic head of hair.
This summer, each weekend since late June, save the 4th of July, I have competed to bring New England tennis championship glory home for Connecticut, only to fall short again and again. First at mixed doubles, then women’s 55 and older.
In sweltering hangars masquerading as indoor tennis centers, I battled ego, fatigue, and opponents who were equally invested in maneuvering a fuzzy yellow ball out of reach of racquet.
As I played, sweat poured from my scalp, forehead, armpits, and made a river in my cleavage. Vacation week on Block Island was a distant mirage. In the final day of constant competition, the anterior tibialis of my left calf began its’ weep. The tennis elbow which had kept me off the court for a month prior started to growl again. By the final day, my right forearm sent angry messages to lay my racquet down for a time.
Even in loss and pain, what fun it was!
Weeks of competition came to a disappointing close and I meandered to New London on a sunny Sunday, hopped the express ferry and in 75 minutes popped on my sunglasses and lugged my bags onto the docks of New Shoreham, Rhode Island. Tennis will be there when I return. I would not need my sunglasses again for days.
My dear friend and regular traveling companion, Jo Ann, met me as I disembarked. In a jiffy we were picked up by our hostess in her runaround, Island-ready Subaru. In a leap of faith, Jo and I had accepted the gracious offer to stay in her friends home; rent a room in a house with a view of the ocean.
I was happy to be ashore and thrilled to see the grey, clapboard shingled home of our hostess, as laughter wafted through the screen doors and onto the front porch overlooking the increasingly churning Atlantic Ocean. Bottles of wine and beer in icy coolers were there for the taking. As I entered the house the savory scent of ham and scalloped potatoes escaped the oven, tempting my behemoth appetite. Friendly faces of other ladies staying there welcomed me. Vacation looked promising and, as woman so easily do, we came to know each other’s stories long before sleep beckoned us.
Last year, I rented off-season in Watch Hill and lucked upon Indian Summer. Temperatures hovered in the 80’s, the beach sand was warm, as was the salt water in which I swam each day. To vacation in similar style would be out of my price range in the heart of summer. A shared house with a view of the ocean in Mid July? It gave me pause, but I thought it was worth a try.
As I climbed the charming wooden staircase and turned into our room tucked in the corner of the ancient home, I was reminded of my initial skepticism. I had to duck my head to avoid the short door frame and pessimism took hold.
Our room was charming for one; teensy for two. Jo arrived a day ahead of me and claimed the single bed by the window, as agreed beforehand. I was game for the air mattress on the floor. We each took a drawer and ½ . The air mattress stood on its end, leaning against the wall, and once we wrestled a twin sheet on it and laid it on the floor, it was obvious that an evening trip to the bathroom would be treacherous. Surely, I was weary enough to settle into a cocoon on air and give in to the lullaby of pounding ocean surf.
My 55 year old body protested. At 5’8 inches, the 6’ twin air mattress did not allow for the splay I enjoy in my king size bed; hands and feet met wooden floor throughout the night. A roll to the left or right meant floor met body. The ear plugs Jo provided to muffle her dulcet, evening tones were of little practical use; they popped from my slender canals.
No amount of focus could set me to dream and so I grabbed my blanket and pillow and gingerly maneuvered the floor space to escape to the downstairs couch around 2 a.m. I adjusted myself in the roomier space, and closed my eyes, only to tune into another symphony of snoring in the downstairs bedroom. Sometimes, sleep is but a dream.
As the rest of the house rose, so did I. I was agitated, tired, and wholly out of my comfort zone. I poured a cup of coffee and looked out at the still angry sea and wondered why I ever thought a shared room and air mattress would work? Then I checked my email. As happens sometimes, there was one that cleared my head and directed me to make a grown up decision.
Someone died. Not someone I knew, but the best friend of a writing companion I’ve come to know well. Robert’s best friend since high school passed away unexpectedly. His age: 59. Robert had recently shared dinner with him with the expectation of many more dinners to come. The inexplicable shock of death shook me from my martyred, sleep-deprived space.
The first thing I did was find my own room with a view.
The old me would have fought the tide; complained of discomfort but hunkered back down on that mattress resolved to make it work. The old me would have slapped a smile on it, but seethed underneath. As the week wore on I would be no one’s pleasant companion.
Someone died and I phoned a hotel and found a room with a view. Someone died too young and I put worry of money aside and packed my luggage, thanked my hostess, and checked into my own room with a view.
Perhaps, it seemed ungrateful.
Perhaps, I seemed like the Princess and the Pea.
But here’s a new twist: I don’t care.
I understand at 55 that mortality lurks around every corner. People die unexpectedly and the money left behind has no real meaning.
So someone else can take the mattress and share space with strangers.
Not me, not anymore. People die unexpectedly.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll take the room with a view.