Riding along with windows down and sunroof open, I looked out at miles of salt water estuary. Heading to Walmart to pick up a prescription, I drove along the one road off the island.
A carefree solitary moment and then dagnabbit — Brandy came over the radio. The 1972 song by Looking Glass.
“And there’s a girl in this harbor town
And she works laying whiskey down
They say Brandy, fetch another round
And she serves them whiskey and wine
They say,”Brandy, you’re a fine girl
What a good wife you would be
You could steal a sailor
From the sea.”
Every time, every last time this old song surprises me on the radio, emotion swells at my throat. I’m 8 or 9 riding in the passenger seat of a Chevy station wagon on the way to school. My dad wearing a suit drives. Who knows how I’m dressed or if my hair is up in a pony tail? A metal lunch box might sit at my side but there isn’t a backpack on the floorboard. In 1972, we didn’t need such things to carry a slim book home.
Dad and I, Easter 1968.
My dad reaches over to the radio knob and turns up the volume. “I like this song,” he says.
I’ll remember that moment till my last breath.
Why do tears well up and a lump form in my throat? I tried without much luck to force tears pooling in my innards into submission.
Why does a tune about a port city barmaid pining her life away for a sailor who can’t settle down make me soppy with emotion?
I need to figure this out because it’s most irritating when you have to leave the car and appear composed and not like you’ve been crying about riding to school with your father 45 years ago.
A conservative guy, my father didn’t listen to popular music.
In 1972 didn’t all fathers vote for Nixon, wear a crew cut as naturally as a white undershirt and leave work at 5 p.m. no matter what was on their desk? As far as I knew, he didn’t listen to music at all. It was like sex. Parents didn’t do such a thing. Ever. Okay maybe once. Three times tops depending on how many siblings you ended up with.
Here was this solid, straight-as-an-arrow guy turning up the radio for a Top-40 song. And one having to do with an attractive woman serving drinks in a bar.
Who was this man?
Maybe the tears are for the sea of everything I’ll never know about my father? For all the conversations we didn’t have. For all the ones did.
Maybe they are for the sea of things that went on between that moment and now? How that expanse of time, all its joys and mistakes, is lost forever.
Maybe because when things get overwhelming there is nothing I’d rather do than erase all the chatter in my brain and be with my dad riding to school listening to Brandy?
I can’t pin it down to one or even a hundred things.
Surely when I left the car that long ago morning, I had worries.
A test? Lord knows if it was on grammar I was worried. Or should have been.
Maybe it was my week to be on the outside of the in circle? My week to be talked about behind my back and have notes passed to-and-fro about my wader pant legs (an occupational hazard when you’re a tall girl growing an inch every other day).
And surely the boy with whom I was in love didn’t know I existed. For that was my usual elementary school love life modus operandi.
Life is wonderful but it’s complicated and not at all like I thought it would be in 1972. Things will be easier when I’m grown up. Children. Career. Novels. Time for everything. No indecision. Adults know what they want and make things happen. Just like they plan.
Just like I planned. And dreamed.
You know what really puzzles me? How moments fixing dinner and folding laundry seem to drag by then you look up and over half your life has roared by with the furious velocity of a locomotive plowing through Minnesota farmland.
Beats the heck out of me.
I do think I’ve figured out why my dad turned up the radio.
The other afternoon with a sky as clear and blue as an aqua cat’s eye marble, I pulled my bike outside. As the heavens arced overhead and the pavement rushed underneath, even the trees stood still. No wind except the rush of air created by speed.
Even though I only had an hour, a little voice nudged me to Doster.
For those not familiar with the roads crisscrossing Morgan County, Doster Road rolls through some of the most scenic pastureland in the county.
There are a few steep hills. Riding out from town, you get to go down.
Coming back toward town you climb up – but climbing the mountain clipped into a bike is another post entirely.
About five miles out of town, I approached the hill. After cresting the top, bike and I hurled downward. Still operating as a team.
Now my bike computer has decided not to work. Hate it when that happens. I can’t track of my speed but I’ve been down this hill enough to know — without braking — I’ll hit about 35 mph.
Here’s the headcase part. I haven’t done Doster much this year. Maybe twice?
And rushing downward that day, my hands twitched to squeeze the brake. A slight quicken in my pulse. You better slow down heading into the turn toward the bridge.
I can ride this hill without braking. I’ve done it lots. What was my hesitation?
And just like that, therapy happened.
Relax. Trust yourself. Put your head down and ride.
I exhaled. Bent over the handlebars all the while my hands hovered over the brakes. Well you never know if a heat crazed doe is going to dart out.
I was down the hill and over the bridge, pedaling back up the next incline.
Why was the urge so strong to brake going into the turn?
Fear of course, but fear of what?
How many times throughout my day, my week, the years, my entire life – have I put on the brakes mi-experience rather than exhaling and
And enjoying the hell out of it?
Sometimes a gal’s just got to get on her bike and ride.
Roger Taylor’s relentless drumbeat guides my down pedal many a ride.
What can I say? I shall always be a child imprinted with AM radio and 70s music.
That’s when my alarm went off Saturday morning to drive down to Cordele for the Georgia Veterans Sprint Triathlon.
See. I made it.
And in complete journalistic integrity, I admit to totally cropping out my under-eye circles.
* * *
Gosh you all. Here it is a week later and I haven’t finished this post. Crazy week. Even crazier me but there was a nugget from this race that I want to share.
See. I read national triathlon pubs, posts and blogs. They are good and all. But what about us midlife peoples who are just doing the best that we can to make it 2.5 hours down the road in time to start?
For example, I recently read an article about the swim. How when we swim laps in a pool, we get mini-rest breaks touching the wall to turn around. You don’t get those built in, bitty rests in open water. This well-meaning expert suggested to do your flip turn a few feet in front of the wall with no rest or push off.
Are you flippin’ kidding me? I can’t even do a flip turn this days without sending myself into a vertigo death spiral. Much less do one in front of the wall and not push off.
For what it’s worth, here’s a real midlife try-athlete’s advice on the swim:
The park was quite lovely.
The photos look a little dark cause it still was early.
The little swim course.
I didn’t think it looked 400 yards. I asked someone if we turned at the yellow buoys and she said, “yes.”
Maybe that was my problem. I thought I’d get it over lickety-split.
When our wave — 50 and overs — got up to the water, I was in the front.
I don’t know if it was because I was in front of the pack, but soon it became apparent to me — things weren’t working. My breath and my stroke and my pace were a jumbling mess.
To swim well, you glide through the water. Cutting through the water as smooth as Everclear in trashcan punch.
That morning my forward progress through the water felt like a ride in an out-of-balance on the spin cycle after taking a shot of rot gut.
Pooh. My heart, my stroke, my breathing were all messed up.
What did I do? Attempt a flip-turn mid lake?
Heck no. I flipped on my back and started backstroking. My breath settled back down, I got into a rhythm and cruised.
Till I thought, “Jamie. You are in a race. Flip right back over this minute and swim like you aren’t the looney woman doing the backstroke in a triathlon.”
I flipped over and tried the freestyle. Nope. Still weird. Can’t get a pace. Back to the backstroke.
I tried this two more times before it occurred to me, this backstroke thing was working.
My heart rate, my breathing, my pace — it all felt right.
So I did most of that little swim on my back.
Got out of the water and headed to transition.
At races end, I met up with my friend, Aubie, and told him about my swim fail yet win.
Then I got home and looked at the results. I finished fourth out of 13 in my age group.
And the bigger surprise, I had the third best time in the swim.
So here’s the midlife takeaway.
Go with what works for you at the moment. No matter if it’s not convention or slightly goofy. Or really goofy.
I love to swim freestyle, but maybe I started too fast, or maybe I was trying to swim too fast — whatever reason, I couldn’t regain a comfortable pace with that stroke.
But I did on my back. At least for that moment. That race.
I learned don’t be afraid to change midstream. Have confidence in what’s working. If you have clarity of mind and body, go with it. Even if you’ve never tried something that way before.
One good thing about driving 2.5 hours south of Atlanta to race is not that many of the competitive metro crowd shows up. At least till the secret gets out that this is a great little race.
A very fun morning. And a lesson learned that I won’t soon forget.
Any backstrokers out there?
And a quick shout out for two Cotton Patch Tri-Club members, David Burback and Joe Cardwell, up in Canada today.
Tomorrow they race the Mont Tremblant Ironman. KILLER DILLER. Wishing you guess the bestest racing day ever.
What? No one has posted here since . . . heck, when did I post last?
I could have posted about the beach. My three flat tires (bike). My first ever chiropractic adjustment. How I’m going to tank the run of another triathlon on Saturday. The first day of school. My therapy epiphany.
I just didn’t write.
I did everything else but blog.
So to love and pet and whisper I’m sorry for being gone so long to my dearest blog, I’m hopping on the Finish The Sentence Friday bandwagon.
For I can hop. It’s Friday. And I like to finish sentences.
My own. And everyone else’s.
Hoeing in a sundress. Is that a word? Hoeing?
The most amazing thing my body has done is…
1. Given birth.
That’s cliche. The truth. But cliche.
As a writer, I’m taking a giant leap over the obvious.
2. Had sex.
An act I seriously wondered in sixth grade if I’d ever accomplish.
With someone else, that is.
But guess what. My body has done it. With another. At least once.
Sunday is the triathlon. Now it’s just a sprint but for a busy gal like me — it’s been hard to put in the miles for proper training for my 50-year-old self.
One thing I wanted to do before Sunday was an open water swim. Swimming in a nice, pretty pool with a wide black stripe on the bottom is a lot different than a deep lake. The muddy Georgia lakes are akin to sticking your head under the bead — with goggles. And no air.
But I love it so.
Open mouth. Insert finger and jam in back of throat.
So with the days ticking down and the weather not cooperating in the least, I headed out to a friend’s dock mid-day.
A cold front decided to park itself over our heads for the next few days. It looks like I could be swimming in this weather for the race — so might as well swim in it now.
When I got to the dock, the rain had turned into a mist lightly kissing my face.
Pooh on mists that lightly brush my expanding thighs in my new black tri shorts.
The lake up close and personal.
I guess I had to get in.
There’s a dock that’s about 200 yards out. I swim out to that and back and I have my 400 yards for the race.
So donned my cap and goggles. Held my breath and jumped in.
It was still warm. You don’t know how happy that made me. Of course by Sunday the water will be cooler after nothing but rain for three days but I’m not going to obsess about that now.
There’s plenty of time to obsess on the negatives tomorrow.
I started to swim and it felt great. Till the black water, gray sky and cloudy goggles started to close in on me. Very disorienting. This is when I always think . . .
To be an instrument rated pilot you have to fly blind — or with nothing but clouds in front of you — only looking at the information on the cockpit panel. When I can’t see clearly and imagine people splashing all around, I just bury my head in the black water and think stroke, stroke, stroke. All I have to do it keep breathing and stroking though I can’t really see a blasted thing.
Every now and then it’s important to stop, look up and sight the buoys — but remain calm and keep swimming.
The first 400 yards were okay. Only a few mild bursts of disorientation followed by slight panic. The second time out and back to the dock was better.
So I’m ready as I’ll ever be at this point.
Looking forward to it.
I really am.
Have you ever done a triathlon? Any open water swim stories to share?
On one trip, I looked up halfway down my grassy, bumpy drive to spy this . . .
GASP. George Harrison Best of Dark Horse. Only one of my favorite CDs.
I know. I’m intolerably old with my discs but I love this one and have had to order it twice from random people (who obviously don’t care about George like I do) because they don’t print the CD anymore.
And I was surprised by how emotional I got this morning.
Even typing that I feel silly, embarrassed. Nothing has happened to him. In fact it’s all great. He’s away at a wonderful school. Enjoying his classes. Meeting interesting people. Having new experiences.
But the birthday flag sits in a corner and not out on the porch like it has on September 7 for so many years.
He didn’t tell anyone it was his birthday. Just like his father never did.
One year with a new job as a young law associate, I asked my newish hubby if he was going to tell anyone it was his birthday.
“No way. I don’t want anyone to know.”
Okay, if that’s the way he wanted it, I didn’t call a single co-worker. I certainly didn’t text them or even e-mail. No back then, I would have had to actually talk to someone on a corded phone.
His birthday came and he went to work. I called him in the middle of the day. “How’s it going?”
“No one knows it’s my birthday.”
Of course no one knows it’s your birthday. You didn’t tell them.
So this is a text I sent to a friend this morning. A friend whose daughter is a freshman at the same college.
It’s hard to not worry if you baby is having a good 19th birthday.
Of course it will be better if his friends know.
She will tell them, won’t she…and they will do something?
Thirty-one years since my father said good-bye to me on a rainy, gray morning in Dallas, Texas. I turned and walked into the empty dormitory. Got to my room, curled up on my mattress and slept till my roommate arrived.
There I was…curled up on my little twin bed.
What would I say to that 18-year-old girl curled up on the bed?
* Stick with the salad bars. Okay, don’t think I gained the full freshman 10 but I came close.
* Be friendly. Talk with people. Everyone is raging with insecurities too. Sure there is the occasional mean jelly bean but most of the people you meet in college and life are truly wonderful.
* People are different. There are extroverts and introverts and you fall somewhere in between. Be comfortable in the fact that you don’t need to be the life of the party. You are by nature an observer and thinker and that is why you will one day discover the need to pour things onto a blank page.
* You don’t have to be crazy in chemistry love with someone to go on a date with them. Have fun and go on dates with all those nice guys that ask you. When the time is right you will find the one. Until then — go out and have a good time.
* DON’T THINK SO MUCH. Except of course on exams. And think when you study for them.
* Study for exams. Well, more than the half hour before.
* Things just work out. Don’t worry. Each day is to be celebrated whether you are learning a tough lesson or lying in the sun.
* Build a huge bridge and get over yourself. The sooner you discover it really isn’t all about you, the happier you will be in life.
* Have fun. You’ll blink and 31 years will have passed and you’ll be sitting at keyboard writing this thing called a blog post — Sounding way too much like an old lady.
What would you tell your teenage self?
Linking up with Mama Kat: 1.) If I could tell my teenage self… (inspired by Le Musings of Moi)