Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Angie, Angela

The beach closest to the house is a small and rocky one that all but disappears at high tide. But I know a spot - behind all the rocks, in a little hollowed out nook in the side of the cliff - where I can sit on the wet dark sand, hidden, reading. Well I call it reading. Only half the time I am lying face down, my cheek pressed into the open pages of the book.

Once in a while a noise prompts me to look up. Few people come here, most preferring the main beach down the road. But now I hear the unmistakable sounds of flip-flops.

There are three of them, making their way along rocks half-submerged in water. The man is athletic and agile, with a deep tan and spiky brown hair. Close behind is an equally lean and tanned woman, blond ponytail swinging as she hops from rock to rock. The couple moves with the lightness of teenagers, and only when I catch a glimpse of their faces do I see they must be in their early 50s. They could be professional athletes. Runners maybe.

As I contemplate this, they pause, waiting for the person some distance behind to catch up. It is an elderly female form: soft, hunched-over body, sagging chest, thinning hair, unsteady mincing gait. The mother or aunt of one of them, I decide, and go back to my book.

Then I hear the blond woman’s voice and look up again. “Come on honey,” she says - in the sort of firm but gentle tone used to encourage children. “Come on honey, give mommy your hand.”

I see now that she is a girl of around 14, though it is difficult to tell for sure. She stands awkwardly on the uneven rock, her shoulders hunched forward stiffly, hands at her sides, fingers fanned out, slack mouth emitting a low pitched moan.

I feel a jolt to my system that I am instantly ashamed of. But it is the unexpectedness, the contrast of it. The couple's effortless movements and their beautiful, youthful bodies, each stretching out a perfectly formed hand toward their child.

“Angie! Angela” says the man now, trying to get her to look at him rather than down at the water. There is a big gap between the rock she stands on and the next one, and she is terrified to cross. Her moans grow louder. “Angie! Angela.” The man’s tone is even, patient but not exaggeratedly so, almost matter of fact.

When she still does not respond, both the man and woman step down into the water and, in what has the look of a practiced maneuver, pick her up by the upper arms and swiftly move her to the next rock. She is large, and at once so limp and so stiff, it is as if they move a life-sized ragdoll. And then they go on with their trek. 

Soon they are gone from my field of vision, but I continue to think of them. Their light, graceful limbs and her heavy, awkward ones, the sun lighting up her sparse wisps of hair.

In my younger years, I could dwell on such a scene indefinitely, crying over it without really knowing why. But now I am better at willing myself to forget, at removing thoughts and images from my mind, almost surgically. Eventually I go back to my book - reading it, then lying face down on it again.

It is not until three days later that I see her. A girl in a halter dress, riding her bike along the tiny main street. Her left foot is missing a sandal. And she is coasting, round shoulders relaxed, head tilted back, short sandy hair ruffled by the breeze. She is squinting into the sun and smiling so broadly, I cannot help but grin back reflexively.

In that moment I recognise her. I look around for the tanned athletic couple, half expecting them to be following on bikes or watching from the sidewalk. I don't see them. But the girl is unmistakably her. The face, the body, the hair, the way her clothing does not sit quite right. It is all there and it is all perfect, in the utter abandon of her posture and smile.

22 comments:

  1. Beautiful. The seeming simplicity of childlike joy is genius.

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  2. In my younger years, I could dwell on such a scene indefinitely, crying over it without really knowing why. But now I am better at willing myself to forget, at removing thoughts and images from my mind, almost surgically.

    This gets distinctly harder when you have children.

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  3. Today is the post that rewards me for clicking here many times and finding nothing to stir me.
    Thank you.

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  4. As good a description of grace as I have seen yet today. Thank you.

    Somervillain has an excellent point, too.

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  5. She's you.

    Everything takes practice.

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  6. When are you going to chuck this gig and get serious about the novel? Really . . . this is subtle, adept writing, perfectly paced, lovingly observed (that sandal!). You're running out of excuses.

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  7. My goodness, you are good at this.

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  8. Beautiful and touching. Thank you!

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  9. I guess you identified with her clumsiness, a very common state among non natural-born sports people (don't ask me how do I know). All the more striking because of the contrast effect. And then of course, cycling.
    I can understand how all of this writing can get messy. Too many bursts of emotion, and its probably also telling a bit too much. But it is nice to read :)

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  10. Did she have Down's? That's what I imagined, but am too literal-minded just to accept my reading.

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    1. Not Down Syndrome, but maybe Fragile X or something with symptoms of both. I am not knowledgeable enough in that area to know for sure.

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  11. It's funny, I can identify with everyone in this essay.

    We all find ourselves observing and being affected by these quiet moments of complicated human reality, right? If we leave ourselves open to the relationships there are to be had in the space we occupy in the world, then sometimes we're the ones who need to lift up and carry the ones we're responsible to. And, face it, sometimes we're the ones that others notice dealing with our challenges and burdens.

    Don't stare, but don't just look away either.

    Thanks, I got something out of it.

    Spindizzy

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  12. V is this fiction or real life or in between?

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    1. i believe you saw this but have never been comfortable with the way your imagination interacts with reality. not the fact that it engages your imagination, but the sentimental response always leaves me uncomfortable...life is much more complicated. i like that vacations provide new glimpses but don't really trust them. this is from one who only smiles when riding a bike but also know it does not solve all one's issues.

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    2. Happily we each have our own way of interpreting reality. We need not be comfortable with each other's.

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  13. From a 65 year old man. Wonderful and touching. Thank You!!!

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  14. For many years, decades, I worked with people labelled a variety of disabilities. Most who knew of my work had a maudlin view of my "helping those poor people." It wasn't true. I learned as much from them, when I opened to it, as from the most conventionally "brilliant and accomplished". Approaching the end of my seventh decade, one of my goals is to face the decline and end as gracefully as some of those wonderful people it was my fortune to know. They had faced challenges all their lives and rose to meet them.

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  15. You certainly know how to mix it up.

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  16. I wonder if you've seen this already, but I was instantly reminded of it after reading this. This man uses echolocation (he is blind) to ride his bike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpxEmD0gu0Q

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