Monday, August 2, 2010

Rebekah's White Blanket

The other day I realized I stunk.
Not me exactly, I shower after working out and days spent running around sun-up to sun-down with my girls I’m more likely to reek of pool chorine and play-dough. No, it was my t-shirts.
Believe me, it’s tragic all right because clothes are nostalgic.
Choo choo train jammies with the bunny feet grandma stitched on her old sewing machine or a beat-up pair of jeans you’ve patched up and just can’t throw away. They have meaning. Memories associated with them. I used to have this Star Wars pillow case I slept on for almost ten years, and I loved that thing like an adopted child, but tragically, most relationships, even those with the clothes we love, must all come to an end.
And so, my beloved brown Powell’s City of Books, blue George Fox Track & Field, and green Nike “Pre-Lives” tee’s had to go. I left them in the trash at the Westin Resort room and never looked back.
Suddenly I was in the market for a new tee. But the Fort Lauderdale shops around Kuda and Nusa Dua offered little in the category of class.
Here were some examples of t-shirt slogans:
1. Butt Wiser: The King of Rears
2. Sex Instructor: First Lesson for Free
3. I “upsidedown hear with g-string” Big Butts
4. Panda Smoking a blunt: WWF (World Weed Federation)
5. Blink if You’re Horny!
Let’s just say… letting go might be easy, but finding a replacement… that’s the trick.
Still, I’m an optimist, and for everything sort of crummy we go through, I know beauty abounds ten-fold right around the corner. So today I got off the beaten path a little and followed a sandy trail through the jungle finding an old tire swing hanging from a palm tree atop this hill. I could hear the sea through the dense tree branches and rode back and forth with sand between my toes kicking at the air and laughing quietly to myself. The sun’s heat emanated from my skin and I thought about all the things I’ve let go of this year, sort of a mental check list of discarded things I used to hold dear. Just swinging along in the rectangles of sunlight through the palm leaves. Laughing, because they hold no more power over me, and I don’t miss them at all.
Farther down the path there is an old man in a rainbow bamboo hat trying to sell me his wares at this tent at the edge of the beach. He uses words like Bintang, Barong, Bilabong and Bennie Ben. I don’t understand him and try to smile my way out. Smiles are so important in life. They tell us everything we need to know about the person and ourselves.
The old man is shirtless and wearing a traditional skirt. His chest sags in mounds of gray hair and flesh as he squares up my shoulders and points to my heart. Points a finger right at my heart. My heart. Then lets me go on my way.
One-hundred meters away I look back and he is still standing in the middle of the road watching me go. Why am I so tender to these moments? Why do I let these memories stay with me? Why do I think, life is not the memories we make but how we remember the things that happen to us along the way? Let it go. It’s just a memory. I’m right. And it’s gone.
I cross the grass and head out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. There are a group of boys playing soccer dangerously close to the edge. I drop my pack and kick the ball with them, laughing, a shirtless forty-year old man rough-housing with ten-year-old boys. They think nothing of it, but rather hone their skills, trying to take me on individually as if the cliff’s lip is the goal and the net the sky beyond. There is nothing between us but grass and whipping wind. One after another they try to kick the ball into the vast abyss behind me but I block it.
It makes me so nervous that I quit, patting them on the heads and giving high fives. They look confident as if they have bested a giant, run off a wild wolf, but I am just so relieved the ball was not lost. It reminds me I am not a child anymore. I have too many worries, too many concerns. Let them go. Leave them here at the edge of this cliff for them to fall into the sea.
That night the wind whistles and blows the sand up in small furies. SungJoo and I put the girls down and go out. It is good to talk to her. We speak about dreams we have, places we wish to go, and how we must merely live the days in between. Lately we’ve been talking a great deal about her returning to Korea. I know she misses her family so immensely and it would be good for the girls to live there for a few years. There are stars, brilliant stars, poking their heads out from among the silvery clouds in the dark sky. We lay down on the cold sand and look up, feeling we are on the edge of the world, feeling we have come to the end, and must jump. Are we holding on too tightly to let go? Won’t someone come and give us a gentle nudge or should we just bend our legs and scream, “Geronimo…!”
The next morning I realize I’ve lost Rebekah’s white blanket.
She’s four now and still sucks her thumb. Everybody tries to make her stop, I do too, but it’s how she gets through tough times and that makes sense to me, so I don’t bug her too much about it. She's so sweet though. I mean, if the first thing out of Xian’s mouth is, “I did it the best.” The first thing Rebekah says is, “Daddy, can I give half my cookie to Kinu?”
She is my heart’s delight.
So when I remembered I’d left her blanket in the hotel room, wrapped up right on top of the bedding where I meant to snag it before we headed out the door, I was so upset at myself. This is the blanket she has slept with every night of her life. The one I bought before she was born and laid in her crib while SungJoo was pregnant and I was reading Lewis Carroll to her swollen belly. The one Bekah curls up with when she runs a high fever, and has been taken on countless airplanes, trains, and bus rides in six different countries as a pillow, confidant, and shelter from the cold.
My heart broke at the thought of losing it.
And little Rebekah didn’t say a word until bedtime, curled up beside me with drowsy eyes, “Daddy, where’s my white blankie?”
I mean, I couldn’t keep my eyes dry while I sang her to sleep.
The next day I called the Westin Resort and wouldn’t you know it, they had it. We paid almost fifty dollars for a driver to go and collect it and two days later it was hand delivered back.
Total relief.
But the best part, wrapped up beside the white blanket, all cleaned and pressed, were my three grubby and disgusting stinky t-shirts I had thrown out in the trash.
Is the past always there? Can I never rid myself of it exactly? Is it what we are made of, what we carry with us, what makes us who we are?
Nah… it’s just a t-shirt, and I’m too wise to care about nostalgia anymore.
I threw those gross shirts in the trash again and hugged my four year old, who hugged me back, happy she had another day before growing up and turning her back on everything that used to be important and moving on.

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