Yesterday I woke up feeling all sorts of emotional. Crushed under the empty weight of Millie’s absence. What would have been her 62nd birthday. At first I resisted it. I got up, got dressed and got ready to go for a hike. The universe had other plans. The tension hit my stomach and knotted it. Even the coffee I crave daily the minute I open my eyes, tasted off. Made my lips curl and my stomach knot further. I went back home and gave in to it. I cried. Fetal position crying. That’s when I knew.
You’re doing the same thing, V.
I have a tendency to sequester myself when I’m feeling off. I reject the world, any comfort that’s available. I sit and feel sorry for myself. Alone. I grieve alone. I’ve always done it alone. That’s not serving me anymore. So, I reached out to two of my sisters, grabbed my rollerblades and headed downtown.
When you want to change, you have to be pro-active about it. It takes time and effort to change habits. Especially ones you’ve held on to for so long. That have lost their value.
I wrote the entire way downtown. My journal on my knee, homemade iced tea in one hand, and a black pen in the other. I’ve been using the Pilot Precise V5 blue pen for almost twenty years. Since college actually. I bought a black ink pack the other day on a whim. They were on sale. I needed a pen. So, why not? It wasn’t until I was using the pen on the train to write a letter to Millie that I realized the symbolism of it all.
When you’re trying to change, the shift has to happen even in the details. As a writer, the pen I use is very important. To my process. The pen has to glide across the page so when I’m caught in Muse moment, I can get it down as quickly as possible. But the color of the ink? Hmmm. The angels are in the details.
I finished my letter to Millie and posted it. I had to. If this doesn’t show all the work I’ve been doing on voice, I don’t know what does.
Then I put on my blades and rollerbladed the half mile to meet my sister, Rhonda, by her job. We sat and talked. About Millie. The massive changes going on in our lives. Our fears. Our worries. Our writing. VONA.
I’d planned on hitting Central Park afterward but when we parted, as I tightened my blades, an image came to mind: Purple Lights pier in Battery Park City.
My rollerblades were my means of escape and release for so many years. The obsession started when I was in a terribly abusive relationship in college. I’d jump on my blades in Inwood (207th St.) and would head downtown. I wouldn’t stop until I reached Purple Lights. Then I’d cross the Brooklyn Bridge and would head to Bushwick, my old hood.
On blades I could forget about everything. An argument. The discovery of yet another betrayal.
While rollerblading through the streets, I focused on the road. The people.The cars. Nothing else mattered. At least not while I was gliding across the city. Rollerblading was meditation. Still is.
When I got to Purple Lights, a fifteen mile trek, I’d take out my journal and I’d write. I’d cry. I’d pray. Then off I’d go again when it was too much. When the pen made me confront the truth of it all. I’m a master at avoiding. I’ve been honing the skill for such a long time.
So, I put on my blades on 52nd and 6th Avenue and headed to Purple Lights, making one stop at Paragon Sports to get my blades maintenanced.
I fell in love with rollerblading again. The traversing the streets of this here city of mine. The rush of the speed and weaving through traffic. The workout. I remembered how beautiful NYC can be in the summertime.
When I sat at the pier with my journal, the grief came back. I started thinking about what life would be like if Millie were still here. “Would you be the grandmother to Vasialys that my mother isn’t? Would you let Mom treat me like she does? Would you intervene and tell her about herself? I’d like to think you would, Millie.”
Just then I was startled by the shrill cry of an orange-beaked waterbird. (Have I told you that orange was Millie’s favorite color?) She stopped on one of the wooden posts that juts out of the water just next to the pier, swallowed the fish in her maw and looked at me. Then she sat, as if to say, “Let me chill. I’m full.” I laughed. I felt Millie close. I could imagine her telling me: “¿Y quien dice that I’m not still here?”
I put my journal aside and started stretching. While I’m no stranger to working out, I have not rollerbladed that long a distance at that speed in years. My muscles were tight, in a splendid, damn-this-feels-good way.
As I was leaning on one of the posts, stretching my upper body and back, a beautifully spotted butterfly landed not two feet away from me. She flapped her wings, laced them out. Hints of gold and green and gray and orange. She cleaned her antennae, stretched her legs (is that what they’re called?). Waited. Waited. Waited. Then she was off. I watched her flutter around the trees across the bridge.
There’s no way that wasn’t a sign. My Millie. A Dim Capacity for Wings! Heaven yes! The pain eased.
I smiled, wrote a little more, strapped on my blades and headed further down to the Staten Island Ferry. Then I took the train uptown to Times Square to meet my sister Sandra. We didn’t know where we were going. We just walked and ended up in Riverside Park by the Boat Basin on 79th. Talking. Sharing. Tearing up. She let me go on and on about Millie. She let me cry. She shared memories of picnics by the water with her family when she was a kid. We walked back downtown to 59th St and 8th Ave and parted ways.
On the train I wrote about how sad I’d woken up, and how I’d done something about it. I didn’t just sit in it and let it eat at me like gangrene. I let my heart lead and ended up having a wonderful day. Full of love and exercise and release. Signs from nature. Consolation.
I put on Millie’s orange t-shirt before crawling into bed. The one with the shoulder pads. Like I’d promised her.