This piece came from a prompt called “The Five Word Free Write” (for a detailed explanation of this prompt, click here). I always use different words, but the five words I used this time were:
Sea Turtles Green Blackberries Cliffs Leaving
I had just returned from visiting a dear old friend in Hawaii. Here’s what I wrote:
Some part of myself I left behind in adolescence comes roaring back, even as I struggle with the middle-aged body that has replaced it. The rotator cuff injury is healing—albeit slowly—and I can lose the extra weight I’ve put on if I just exercise regularly. But those thoughts don’t always curb the hopelessness that springs up some mornings, along with a stiff neck.
What does curb that hopelessness?
The unbridled laughter in my friend’s kitchen, recalling a character we both knew in high school; her spot on imitation of her nasal-voiced mother; sexual innuendo so inappropriate and absurd that we both go silent for a moment, then inhale deeply, breaking into stomach-burning giggles.
There we are: two sixteen-year-olds in forty-six-year-old bodies. Old friends.
Lying on the lanai, the aqua-blue bay in the distance bathed in white light, we touch on the wistfulness of being single and without children. We dream up a trip to Australia and New Zealand. We imagine foster children and a partner with a foreign accent. We make plans to collaborate on a Hawaiian yoga and writing retreat, complete with visits from sweet dogs who never shed and cats who kiss our toes with sandpaper tongues.
One night, we float in front of Waikiki Bay, and the Mai Tais go right to our heads. We deconstruct the melted fennel mashed potatoes with a Hawaiian waiter named Mary, while I enjoy her dimples. Another night, Tiki torches glow in the distance; the waiter with the golden eyes recommends the Opah and reminds us to save room for the chocolate soufflé. We’re in paradise, yet we somehow keep circling back to the kitchen table on Clifton Court, in the house where I was a teenager. We circle back to a lazy summer afternoon when we were only sixteen or seventeen. And there we are with my mother’s early onset dementia, her repetitious, nonsensical chatter. There we are only a few years after the death of my friend’s father. Two teenagers surviving loss with a cool sense of acceptance.
What a gift old friends are, I think. Standing witness for us for such a long time. Helping us see what hasn’t really changed in our lives, when so much has.
I tell myself, it’s the warmth of the place, the easy way of the people here, my friend’s no-nonsense attitude about living and growing and taking care of yourself. But it’s something else too: some part of me that was never broken. That brave young person who didn’t want to run away or escape, but instead, sat at the table with all of it—with all of them, now ghosts. He’s still here with her: that part of me that was always able to be present in the easiest, most authentic ways.