I used to have a blog called the Hangover Journals. I kept it up pretty well for quite a few years and then I fell into a dark pit for a long time and it more or less went to hell. I kept thinking maybe I would get back to it but I never really did – until now. I think perhaps I am back. It has been five long horrible years since 2008, The Worst Year EVER (tm.) I have thought before that I was back and been wrong about it but maybe, just maybe, this time I am actually back, to blogging and to getting the hell on with my life and stuff like that. But I make no promises. However! Whether I am back or not, let me tell you a story.
Last weekend was my birthday. My FIFTIETH, yes, 50th, birthday at that, so a big one, the one where I give up once and for all and accept that I am not even remotely young, that I will never be a pretty girl again and that, by the way, my knees hurt. Also, I can’t drink like I used to, loud music hurts my ears, I need new glasses and you kids should immediately get on my lawn, ideally with power machinery or hungry herbivorous mammals, because I can’t at the moment actually see my lawn for all the waist high jungle out there. There could be an entire Rainbow Gathering for all I know and since this is what used to be Asheville (I believe now it is Asheville Lite, the less filling, more bullshit version) there probably is. However! My lawn is not what this story is about. This story is about my birthday. Well, more or less.
Because it was my birthday and I have the best friends in all the world, I got to go to one of my favorite places on earth, Folly Beach SC, for a fantastic mini vacation: we left on Sunday in the pouring rain, had a beautiful and great and wonderful Monday on the beach and returned on Tuesday afternoon in the light drizzle. I took with me to the beach an odd assortment of clothes, two bottles of wine, a couple of blankets, many packages of Emergen-C, the camera, a hideous gray bandanna and my parents’ ashes.
I put my parents ashes into ziplock bags on Sunday morning. I should rephrase that: I put half my parents’ ashes into ziplock bags on Sunday morning because one of my brothers decided that he wanted some. I had emailed a few days before saying, look, Mom and Dad (and their basset hound Buddy for a while, but in a fit of spring cleaning I confess to consigning Buddy to the landfill a couple years back) have, well, not exactly lived, but been stored in their cremains form in my computer room closet for the past five years. It’s a bad place for them because every so often I’ll do or say something and then I’ll hear that creaking noise, look up and watch their boxes begin to spin. (Note: this does not actually happen. If it did I would either be even more nuts than I already am or very rich indeed. Possibly both.) However, I do look up and I do see their ashes and it does make me, well, pause. I guess pause is the right word. So, I said to my brothers, “Brothers, I thought that one day all three of us would go to the beach or somewhere and have a suitably brief yet moving ceremony and scatter the ‘rents. But after five years during which there has never been a time when all three of us are actually speaking to each other, I have realized and come to peace with the fact that we will never do this and in fact will likely never even be in the same state at the same time again. So I’m dumping them into the Atlantic on Monday, kthxbye.”
Brother #1 said fine, whatever. Brother #2 said, no, wait, I want them. Therefore I decided to send him half of them, which is why I was opening my father’s surprisingly complex fancy screwed shut wooden cremains box on Sunday and thinking, well, this is one of the weirder things I’ve ever done in a lifetime of weird things. Moving ashes from one bag to another is simultaneously very banal – anything that involves a screwdriver is by definition banal – and very fraught and also you don’t want to spill them because, ewww. Not to mention that then you might have to vacuum up your father’s ashes and jesus, the whole thing is just too much. Anyway there was mercifully no spillage; I loaded up the ashes in labeled bags and cried a little and took off for the beach. At 8:00 on Monday morning I proceeded down to the very end of Folly Island, the lighthouse end, with my bags of ashes discreetly tucked in a canvas shopping bag under my arm.
I have this weird feeling that it is illegal to scatter ashes into the ocean. If it is illegal than please understand that this entire blog post is the completest fiction, the product of a diseased and overheated imagination. Or maybe it isn’t illegal after all – desultory googling just tells me that it is more or less illegal to scatter them on Scottish mountains, not really an issue here – but at any rate it is not the sort of dashing political crime for which I want to get arrested. So I was careful to go to a deserted part of the beach and once there I climbed out onto the rocks and prepared to scatter.
Let me tell you something about being fifty: your climbing skills go all to hell. I used to be able to move from large rock to large rock with, if not grace, then something akin to it but now I move with my butt first and the fear of death and disability right up there in my brain. I mean, if I fell I probably couldn’t get up. Also, it would be really horrifically ironic to die while attempting to scatter your parents’ ashes and while I appreciate a good irony, I’d just as soon skip that one. So I settled on a rock that was perhaps not all that far out into the ocean. Well, the ocean was sort of coming to it. More or less. I apologized to my ancestors, expressed my hopes that maybe they would appreciate shoring up Folly just a tad against erosion, apologized again for not choosing a more upscale beach like Sullivan’s, which they preferred (I don’t think my parents ever actually even visited Folly despite years and years living in Charleston, no, Sullivans was much more their speed) cried a bit again and upended Dad’s bag. A whole lot of ashes scattered onto the rocks and clung.
The waves refused to wash them away.
I did Mom’s ashes, crying a little more, leaning out a little further and managing to get them all properly into the surf. But there were Dad’s, still right there. Using my foot to brush them off seemed a little, I don’t know, disrespectful. I didn’t get along with my father very well but we weren’t at the I wipe you from the bottom of my foot level either. Or at least not once I hit 30 or so. So I wiped my father off the rocks with my hands only to discover that now my hands were, um, covered with wet Dad ashes. See? The metaphors, they write themselves.
I scrambled off the rocks and headed for the beach proper to rinse my hands and that is when I heard the squawking. The ungodly squawking, in fact. I haven’t mentioned how quiet it was at the beach that morning. I mean there was nobody else around, not a living soul, not a bird, not a porpoise, nothing. Just silence and surf and the crazy dead trees that line that end of Folly Island and watching picturesquely over it all, the Morris Island lighthouse. Everything was so hushed that as I said goodbye to my parents, I felt I had to sort of whisper. The raucous squawking, therefore, was sudden and kind of a shock. Huh, I thought, seagulls. I wonder what that’s all about. And I walked closer to the water, where I could now dimly see a couple of birds. They must be fighting, I thought, hmmm, I wonder if this is some kind of territorial display. Yes, I have watched my share of nature shows.
I drew closer and then closer (I mentioned the glasses thing, right?) and slowly realized that they were not fighting, no, not at all. They were doing what comes natural to two young seagulls in love. The seagull on top (I am heteronormatively assuming that it was the male bird but honestly I have no idea and also as I think about it I realize that I must have watched the wrong nature shows because I am not really clear on seagull reproduction at all except I thought perhaps it involved cloacas) was flapping his wings and waving them and squawking really loudly. The bird on the bottom looked kind of bored but there they were, indubitably going at it, alone on the beach except for me, the seagull voyeur.
My parents were married for 52 years before my father died in the summer of 2000. Theirs was not exactly a happy marriage and they were most certainly not the kind of couple who exchange furtive kisses or sneaks off to their room. In fact they had separate bedrooms for most of their lives and while yes, my two brothers and I are pretty much proof positive that they did in fact do THAT at least three times, sex wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you thought of them. Propriety, yes. Cocktails, probably. Excellent food, well told anecdotes and clothes from Brooks Brothers, most certainly. But sex, not so much. But here, just as their ashes were washing into the Atlantic while salt tears ran down my own face, were these two seagulls getting at it. Keeping life going and I thought, well, I don’t think Mom and Dad care that I chose the poor beach and not the rich beach to scatter them. I think they’re past all that now and I think, you know, that that is okay. I think that is pretty much what counts, in the long run.
And I think that male seagulls just fly off when they’re done with a parting squawk (see above comment re metaphors) but female seagulls stick around and let you get quite close as they wander along the beach picking up bits and pieces of their lives. So we wandered together for a little bit and then I went out for breakfast and a bloody mary with my friends and now, back in Asheville, I feel, I don’t know, just a little bit lighter.