I am in part going to tell a story that I promised not to tell—but I’m pretty sure that the part I share will not violate any vows.
Last year, my dear Frenchie friend (who lives alone here in Key West the majority of the year and yes, who is still my employer) broke her ankle at her beach house in Edgewater, MD. Being that I am from that area and still own half a house there, being that I know the hospital and shopping environment, being that I am single and capable, the co-owners of the shop where I worked asked if I would go to Maryland and take care of their partner, Frenchie. Absolutely.
Beach house is a stretch—it is a beach shack, in the shackiest sense of the word. A two bedroom, dusty, old thing, with brown paper, hula-fringe-wall-covering in the living room, D.C. and French memorabilia filling in wherever the fringe has torn. The tiny bathroom walls are papered (by Frenchie’s late husband) in fading and blistered New Yorker magazine front covers—completely. Beach remains, photos, art (exceptional pieces along with flea market finds), fishing rods and reels, rusty buckets and tools are everywhere. There is a single, ancient air conditioner in one window. There is no central air, no microwave, no dishwasher, no disposal, no washer or dryer. There is wifi, a stack of movies on cd’s, but only French tv. There is a rotting deck outside and an ample table with assorted chairs, all sitting under a slightly shredded awning that bows with the weight of dozens of crab pot buoys. The view is outstanding.
While staying with Frenchie, I, of course, visited my former home, my ex-husband and his girlfriend. Difficult, to say the least, as that property, once my source of comfort, safety, and joy had been seriously violated. But the shack grew in importance and held me close as challenges mounted, a crowded simplicity to the space that added no baggage to my brain. This curious and funky, slightly moldy and slightly grimy, Chesapeake cabin became one of the most nurturing properties I have ever had the experience to enjoy. And in a recent visit back to Maryland (as my home there is now for sale), my darling Frenchie offered me her empty shack, my second stay confirming the sanctity of this space. Challenges were more difficult this time, the pain of letting go and moving on slapped me at every turn. But it was at the shack that I finally acknowledged my brokenness, there that I fully looked at all the sadness that I carried and still carry, there that I could admit that my courageous act of jumping off the cliff was also my running away. What is it about a place, a Walden Pond, a Bhutan monastery, a Chesapeake cabin or Key West cottage that offers peace, safe enough to offer confession? Is it just that we treasure those places where revelation, where understanding comes to us, that those places are just the lucky locations where the light bulb finally comes on? Is it profound experiences, history, children, lovers that make a property special, or merely a moment in time when we feel whole? Are there spirits within these places, a wind from a certain direction, a tilt to the ceiling, a light that falls with exceptional clarity that carries us to knowledge, to creativity, to wisdom? I have no earthly clue. In Alcoholics Anonymous they tell you there is no such thing as a geographic cure and with regards to the alcoholic I absolutely believe that to be true. But that adage holds no weight whatsoever with regards to my soul. That shack has seen my soul, held it, loved it, and gently nudged me out the door with a kiss. Peace to you and your abode.