Caring for a parent

The Day I Nearly Drowned

Six years ago this month, my sister and I traveled to Tanzania to visit my daughter who was in the Peace Corps there. At the end of our visit we spent a couple of days in Stone Town on the main island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. We flew to the island, then took a small ferry back to Dar es Salaam where we would board our plane to head home. A storm in the Indian Ocean accompanied our crossing, with most of the passengers vomiting into bags for the duration. I have never been so scared or felt so trapped in my life. We traveled parallel to the coast, which sometimes could be seen and mostly could not. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just turn the damn boat and head straight for land and safety. I would gladly have taken an overcrowded and unsafe-at-any-speed dala dala to Dar from wherever we came ashore.

Mama loves to water, with the automatic sprinkler system that she refuses to set to come on at predictable times. Twice last week, fairly early on beautiful warm mornings but not at the same time from one day to the next, I sat outside to do a little morning writing and had to leap from my chair and dash to safety as I heard the spigot at my feet gurgle to life when she turned it on from the other side of the house. Today, late morning, I have to dodge the crisscrossing jets as I head down the hillside lawn to the vinca and blackberry vine jungle of the lower 40 with loppers and saw to cut the vine maple and alder that threatens my view of the valley. And then it starts to rain and I am getting watered from all directions.

This week I have felt like I am drowning. I not-on-purpose sent all my computer files to the trash. Yes. ALL of them. The Apple Geniuses, and two 120-roundtrip-mile trips to Tacoma, helped me get it back, so all is well. Except I still need to make space on my computer, and reloading the back up meant I lost the work I had done toward that end; and I still need to restore some document changes made since I backed up. I was trying to get myself into position to make progress in my writing life and get a handle on my new job, and found myself in regress instead.

And I am so bored with preparing dinners according to someone else’s needs. I eke out yet another one and immediately realize I have to figure it out again the next day. And the next and the next and the next. I just want to heat Progresso tomato-basil soup and grill a cheese sandwich and sit on the deck with a book or in front of the TV while I eat. Mama doesn’t eat cheese and she has soup for lunch every blessed day and requires protein and two vegetables–at least one of which is leafy green–for dinner each and every night. Where is room for being a slackard there?

I feel trapped in the ferry and headed for a drowning in the chaotic sea. And regress is not only computer related. I often think a problem has found a solution, only to find myself having to solve it again. I remind myself to turn and swim, stroke by stroke, parallel to the shore of the future, knowing it is there even when the clouds hide it from view. When it is time, the tide will turn and carry me to the next port of call. In the meantime, I try to keep the faith that I will not drown; the waters will become calm again and the sprinklers will shut off and I will enjoy this cruise. But now it’s 4:15 and I have been writing instead of figuring out what’s for dinner.

4 thoughts on “The Day I Nearly Drowned”

  1. Love this story.
    Often I can relate to the feeling of being trapped. I try to remember Mary Oliver’s wise words at those times :

    “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life. ”

    Mary Oliver, Wild Geese


  2. I’ve “been there,” Gretchen–well, not exactly there, the circumstances differ, but I know the trapped feeling. It’s tough being responsible (or super-responsible). Hang in there….things will get better.


  3. This is one of your posts that I wish I had written. I feel what you’re saying about being trapped, and I feel the hopefulness. You will find your way. There is no doubt in my mind that you will.


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