Sunday, August 30, 2009

Remembrance of Sea Turtles Past

I remember the things I wish to forget and forget the things I wish to remember.

I am writing from my balcony on the nineteenth floor of the Sheraton Waikiki overlooking Diamond Head and the vast green and blue Pacific. Rolling curls of white surf tickle the sand. I see the outline of reefs which are remarkably close to the shoreline. And then I notice some of the shapes I took for reefs are moving.

Up pops a sea turtle, and then another, and another. My immediate impulse is to call to my daughters and make certain they have a chance to see these gentle creatures.

But my daughters are not here. Daughter One parlayed her film degree into work in the Los Angeles movie industry. Daughter Two used her degree in French and Anthropology as a ticket to law school in Seattle. I am alone on this balcony in Honolulu watching the sea turtles.

I reach for my cell phone and call Los Angeles.

"I can see sea turtles in the water from my balcony!"

"That's great, Mom."

Pause. "I didn't realize how big they are."

"Yeah, they're huge! I saw some in Fiji last week."

"I- well, I just wanted to say hello, Honey."

"Glad you called," my daughter said. "Have fun at the writers conference."

"I will," I said. She could not see the tears welling in my eyes and I hoped she couldn't hear them in my voice. Mom can get so emotional. "I'll call you when I get home."

"Okay," she said. "Love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Sweetheart."

I did not want to cry. I did want to touch my daughter. I wanted to touch my daughter when she was a wide-eyed four year old who had never seen a sea turtle. I forgot for a moment all the time that had passed. A part of me believed I could call her name out loud and she would rush to my side and look at the water until a sea turtle emerged, and then her face would light with glee and she'd call to her little sister to come look, too.

I go down to the poolside cafe to meet a friend from Australia whom I only get to see when we both attend this annual conference in Hawaii. I arrive a few minutes early. Children shriek and splash. Wait a minute. I know this place. I've been here before.

My daughters are 2 and 4. They have water wings and inflatable blue and green turtles that encircle their waists. I hover, holding both at once. These Seattle babies frolic without their raincoats, sweaters, boots in warm water under the Hawaiian sun on a clear November afternoon. Such beautiful skin they have. Time to apply more sunblock. Are they getting hungry yet?

When I signed up for this conference several months ago, I picked this hotel because it is where the conference is headquartered this year. At the time I was just three months out from breaking both legs. It was an act of faith to register in the first place--I believed I would be walking well enough by Labor Day that I could manage to attend, but I didn't want to push my luck by staying at another hotel that would require additional walking just to get to a meeting.

Not for one second did it enter my mind that I had been to this hotel before, and that memories of my babies would be there waiting for me when I arrived.

I love memories of my children. But I grow weary of tearful encounters that come from living in two moments at the same time when the choice of which to stay with is not mine to make.

Memories create many parallel currents in the rivers of our lives. They stay with us, and we recognize them as memories when we are thinking clearly, when we see things with enough emotional separation.

It's like watching the sea turtles from the nineteenth floor. If I were swimming down there among them right now, I'd be face to face with one, and how my adrenaline would rush and how alive I would feel! From my balcony, though, I see the whole picture. I see the ocean, the horizon, the sky.

I know my daughters are not my babies any longer. But I forget every now and then, if, for example, from my balcony I see sea turtles come up for air under the Hawaiian sun and I want my little girls to see them, too.

Being a mother means living in a thousand simultaneous minutes. Sometimes it feels like an act of courage to stay with the one the calendar calls today.

Photography: Green Turtle, Mila Zinkova, 2008; View of Diamond Head, Ergo Sum 88

1 comment:

  1. This, and every other post in your blog, is lovely, poignant, and amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, joy, and deep feeling with the rest of us.