before and after

 

 

BEFORE

He dumped me just days before Irma hit the Keys. Right when I was freaking out. He wasn’t my boyfriend—he was my gay friend, my first friend on the island, my very dear and only friend ‘till I started working. He once told me, “I don’t like a lot of people but I like you so you’re stuck with me.” And just weeks before the break up, we chatted for hours, rather, he chatted for hours. He told me things about himself that I never knew, that I never assumed—along with a couple of the repeat stories he loved to tell. It sure did hurt like he was my boyfriend.

I was dumped by a girlfriend once before, but, Jesus, that was 40 years ago, some left-over, high school behavior. And I know several women who have been dumped by lovers and others for a variety of stupid reasons, but I don’t know what happened this time. Of course, I understood what was said in the text, but it was so unexpected, so harsh. In one sentence he called me PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE and I must say my girlfriends back home had a good laugh over that—nothing passive about me. This was my first Florida hurricane and it was a monster. Hell yeah, I was needy, scared to death. I had no husband, no boyfriend, no girlfriend, no neighbors, no car, no exit strategy. I knew nothing. “MY ADVICE TO YOU, GET OFF THE ISLAND!” Why would a grown man write me off like he did? Bulging capital letters. I mean, if I didn’t like you, or decided I didn’t like you anymore, I would stop being available or not take your calls, not respond to your messages till you got the message. Right? Or if you were really a good friend, I would tell you what a pain in the ass you were being and we’d talk about it and move on. Right? I did reach out at Thanksgiving but got no response, and I did give a hearty “Hello” one time when I passed my (former) friend on my bike and again, nothing. I find it so sad. Something shifted and I never saw it coming—ill winds blowing up from behind, taking me by surprise.

 

AFTER

I’ve got bad tree karma. I’ve known this for a long time, thinking once that in a previous life I set forest fires and vengeful trees were my lot. I’ve lost trees to tornados, nor’easters, ice-storms and disease. I’ve lived under Black Walnuts that unloaded pungent, green orbs filled with maroon tar on the sidewalk. I’ve lived in a forest of Oaks, many of which were diseased and desperately trying to save their own species by over-producing. Two months or more of leaf raking, acorns everywhere, oak sprouts everywhere, acorn hail on the cars, the roof. I once saw a tree get hit by lighting, swear to heaven; I was sure it was a sign of some sort. I now live under a Poinciana and play pick-up-sticks while brushing tiny, leaf scabs out of my hair—constantly. But no more cleaning up under the Frangipani that flourished on the other side of the house. The dear, old gal lost her head in the storm and she will never be the same.

I cursed that Frangipani when I first moved in. Charred leaves with yellow undersides that always fell belly up, littering the tidy garden I envisioned. Pitiful, bare, old lady arms, a tumor here and there. And then she bloomed. And I begged her forgiveness which she granted with a full head of hair and the softest of scents. She was my only umbrella on the South side of the house, a surrogate for the orchids, a bridge for the cat’s climb to the fence. I loved that tree. Frangipanis all over the neighborhood and mine was chosen as the sacrificial one. Damnit. Such is my karma or my circumstance. So sad, another loss, another little heartbreak in paradise, another couple of months waiting on the coming and going of a tedious tide and the aftermath of change.

 

the french lady

 

 

I work for a french woman who owns a long standing, high-end Key West boutique. Sabine is effortlessly chic, charming, successful, a diva for certain–but a diva with arms so wide she could take half of Key West to her bosom. I have watched her outfit the Key West wealthy, the tourist, the passerby who is drawn into her shop by the tantalizing goods perfectly displayed in the wide window. Her accent is alluring, cementing her charm while allowing her unrecognized sarcasm should the occasional customer question her taste or her wares. I am devoted to Sabine. She has taken me under her wing and schooled me in fashion and retailing, and more importantly, she has schooled me in the challenges a single woman (well past her prime) must face in hurricane vulnerable Key West. She was on vacation in France when Irma met the Keys and her beach house on the Atlantic took a terrible hit, but like the grand dame herself, her home stood strong and lives to meet the challenges of another season.

Sabine called me after the storm to check on both my safety and anxiety. We talked for some time and not particularly about the hurricane devastation, but rather about the uncertainty before the storm, the constant fretting, the do-I-stay or do-I-go decision that only those who face impending danger can understand. Second to family and pets, the love of one’s home is paramount. Home is security, a sanctuary, a respite from a complicated and uncertain world, and Sabine understands that if you are alone, it is all that is dear to you. “How do you walk away from that?” she asked. “How do you leave your baby behind and hope for the best?”

“It is the price we pay to live in paradise,” she told me. “It is island life. It is the housing compromise we have made, our choice, our hardship. It will be a difficult year, but it is what makes us resilient, strong, different. And different is good, my dear, for who wants to be like everybody else,” she asked with her french-filled, fancy laugh.

Thank you, Sabine. Thank you for your mentoring, your hand holding, your grace, and your unflappable island sensibilities. I do live in paradise, made so not only by lofty palms but by compassionate people, a one human family. I live in a paradise currently in the processes of resurrection and renewal. Key West strong.