Well, let me tell you something.
You cannot pick your ghosts.
I suppose it was to be expected that my crazy would show up, that little bastard, and it did.
What a joy it must be to live with me, to try to make me happy!
Poor Mr. Moon. God love that man. I know I do.
I felt anxious yesterday and why? Who knows? Not me. We drove down to the beach and the water was frothy and waves were slapping the shore and the wind was up and I was reminded again that the Atlantic is not the Gulf and only a few brave young surfers were in the water. We drove on to Vero and the changes that I see are astounding. Where there was once nothing but dense jungle from the river to the ocean is now one massive landscaped rich-people enclave after another. Unbelievable.
We did, however, see a bob cat cross the road right in front of us, and that made us feel better. He was huge, for a bob cat, and it was reassuring, somehow, to see that long, slinky body padding across the road towards the beach. Nature may be tamed but it cannot be eliminated. Not here.
Vero is full of rich-people shops and rich-people restaurants and rich-people investment firms and rich-people mansions. The real estate signs in front of these mansions are the size of postage stamps and many of them say "Sotheby's" and honey, if Sotheby's is selling your property, it's worth the very large bucks.
And yet, drive ten miles away and you find trailer parks.
Prince Charles comes to Vero to play polo.
People come to Vero to fish off the jetties at the inlet and stay in fish camps.
We had a beer in Sebastian at Earl's Hideaway with some of the people who probably live in the trailer parks. That felt right. I took pictures yesterday but Mr. Moon unloaded them onto his computer and there they will stay until he figures out how to send them to me. But let me tell you that there's a sign at Earl's which says, "God bless America, Harley Davidson and Earl's Hideaway." I just fucking love that.
We also went by my old elementary school which has been restored and has a small museum in what used to be the cafeteria. And that's where I suppose the ghosts of crazy crept up on me, waiting there with the displays to pounce on a vulnerable person, a person to whom the names of the people in the pictures were the names she knew as a child.
The old lady who was manning the desk didn't know a tenth as much about the area or the building as I did but she told me she'd been reading up on it all and that it seemed as if times had been easier then, that the family had held more importance.
I wanted to spit at her.
The poverty was grinding back then. The kids had black teeth, rotted from decay. It was not unusual for children to show up at school wearing the same thing, every day of the week, and never clean. The man who lived across the street from us abandoned his wife and kids to run away with a woman who lived nearby who abandoned her own kids and her husband. Every kind of abuse happened in houses then, both shacks and tidy cottages. Alcoholism was rampant.
Our school had no library. I never had enough books to read. Our lunch room lady was the bus driver. The place where the trucks unloaded for the lunchroom kitchen drove right across the pathway where the children ran out of the building at recess. When I was attending school there, one of my mother's students got run over and killed during a school day. We all saw him, his head a complete broken bowl of brain under the truck's tire. We watched that truck driver walk and smoke all afternoon long, right outside our classroom where there is now a parking lot.
I often wonder what happened to him.
We had no gym equipment. Recess was frequently spent jumping rope or playing jacks on a cement slab that covered the septic tank.
Bullying? You want to talk bullying? I was called so many names that I still cringe to think about it. "Nigger lover" was one of the nicer ones.
My own mother was my teacher in the third grade. I had to call her Mrs. Miller.
Not a good idea, that one. Not a good idea at all.
And yet. And yet I had some amazing experiences at that school. I have no idea why but by the time I was in the fifth grade, I barely spent any time in class. I worked in the cafeteria, I swept out the bus, I mimeographed tests. When someone finally got tiny library together, I checked out the books. What was I? Ten years old? Eleven?
I look back on that and think, "What the hell?"
And yet, if I had had to sit in that classroom I might have gone truly insane. That fifth grade year was a horrible year for me. It was the year my mother remarried. Better for me to scrape plates under Aunt Flonnie's eye in the kitchen, better for me to mop the floor of the cafeteria, better for me to turn the handle of the mimeograph machine, breathing the vapors of that sweet-smelling chemical as the pages shot out underneath it than to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher drone on about things I already knew.
And so there I was, in that school and it was something and let me just say that going to a museum in a place you attended as a very real school a million years ago can make you feel old and make you feel weird.
And I just got quieter and quieter as the day went on.
It was lovely to go out for supper at the Ocean Grill. It's a place that hasn't changed much more than a whit in the last fifty years. It's made of funky old wood and the ocean pounds beside and even underneath it and the menu hasn't even changed very much. I got shrimp scampi, which is what I always get, and it was delicious.
But I wasn't really there and it was so unfair to my husband.
Well, I say again. I love this place even if there are ghosts of me, coming and going. Ghosts of my grandparents, ghosts of my mother, ghosts of my brother, ghosts of my friends and the kids who called me names and ghosts of the magic and the cruelty and the wonder of some of it and the glaring horror of some of it.
Hey. That is life.
And if sometimes I get quiet and can't talk about what's going on in my head because even I don't know, well, that's part of it.
And the things that held and sustained me then are still here. The river, the sky, the sound of the wind in the Australian pines going, "shush, shush, shush" and there is also my husband, this steadfast man who loves me, even if I go so far inside of myself sometimes that even I can't find me.
He knows to just wait and that I'll be back.
Perhaps we should paddle down the river today, see if there are any manatee, see if we can get in the middle of some dolphins which swim up this river. Maybe he'll catch me another sort of fish for me to cook him tonight on the pretty pink stove top in this beautiful little kitchen by the pool. Maybe we'll get hot enough to jump in the pool the way we did the other day, the lions spitting their lion-water at us, the bougainvillea blooming beside it.
It's all okay, even the hard parts. And it's good to know that even if there are ghosts here in this place and probably mostly in my heart, that the remedy is close at hand, the reality is now and that I can still love it here so much.
And talk about it here.
Bleed out and bandage it up. Sing out with joy for the now and despair for the long, long ago.
Hell. There's a museum. And just as that school building looks on the outside so much the way it did then, and just as it contains my old school reader and the same stairways and restrooms and heart pine floors, there is much that has changed, just as much has changed within me.
When you are fifty-six years old, all the ages that you have ever been are still inside of you with their clear or blurry memories, their sorrows and their wonders.
That's the way it is.
At least for me, on this sweet fall day in Roseland, Florida and I am being tender with myself and I am celebrating all of it that has brought me here to this place, mostly that man but also, whoever it is that is so tough inside of me that she managed, somehow, someway, to escape and yet, to come back.
And be so glad she did.