The Beach

From the car window, we both eyed that coast line; a deserted stretch of beach just past the Wisconsin border on the Upper Michigan Peninsula. There was not a soul in sight. The beach stretched on for miles and the sun gleamed off the golden stretch of sand as waves lapped the shore and seagulls flocked and landed. Daryl imagined jumping in the waves like an Orca whale. I imagined a long walk in solitude.

I had been hesitant to take this trip alone with my youngest daughter, who was now twelve and had a mind of her own. She had strong opinions and I was too exhausted most of the time to put my foot down. We often ended up in long arguments about things that made no sense which further exhausted me. It often felt like we were in a vicious cycle with no end in sight. We would be alone together for the entire trip. There would be no escape from the arguments. We would be trapped together in a car.

I was a single parent in the deepest sense of the word. I was single and a parent. The parent part meant that I never had a moment to myself. The single part of that meant that I still had dreams of having a life separate from being a parent.  I longed for a little solitude. I wanted time to have a completed thought of my own without Daryl interrupting with her desire for her mother’s attention.

“Daryl, why don’t you just play for awhile and I will go for a bit of a walk. I won’t go far. You can watch me. I’ll just go for a little way and come right back.” She relented and started to make a sand castle while I started my walk up the beach. As I walked I tried to imagine myself free of motherhood and able to just take long walks on the beach. I pictured what I might look like walking alone on the beach with the wind in my hair and a handsome man walking from the other direction. My vision was short lived.  Daryl trotted up by my side.

“But Mom, just come in a little; I’ll show you how to play in the waves.” she said with that look of someone certain they knew what they were talking about.  There would be no point arguing. Daryl would not let this rest. She danced along by my side in the edge of the water. “Mom, come in just a little; jump like this; feel the waves.”

I stopped and watched Daryl dancing around in the waves. She was so free about life. She found pleasure so easily in the simplest things. I gave in and joined her in the waves. I jumped the way she showed me how to jump. Then it happened. I felt the waves. I mean I felt the waves the way Daryl felt the waves. Daryl just played and looked at me satisfied that I finally saw.

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Dolly

I saw a little pink plastic hand sticking up out of the ground, peaking through the grass. Dolly had been missing for a week now and my two year old daughter Daryl had been miserable about it. She did not fall to sleep easily and without Dolly with her we were spending hours at night cooing her back to sleep. Sure enough, the pink hand belonged to Dolly. Our big fluffy dog, Teddy who eats everything, including soda cans, had buried her for a later treat. I dug Dolly out of the ground and shook off as much dirt as I could. We had discussed this being a good time for Daryl to give up Dolly.

Daryl never really liked dolls or stuffed animals, preferring trucks or blocks to play with. When her grandmother gave her Dolly on her first birthday and Daryl took an immediate liking to her I was a bit relieved. It was in the days when I still dressed Daryl in pretty dresses and put bows in her hair. As soon as she began to have a say in her wardrobe the pretty girl’s things were given to charity.

Daryl did not take to Dolly in the way most little girls take to their dolls. She did love that doll and hug her but her hugs would take on such intensity that it looked a little like she was trying to strangle the doll. There was even just a bit of violent shaking in those hugs. She also put some rather violent kisses on dolly’s cheeks that turned into bites and eventually one of Dolly’s pink plastic cheeks was bitten clear off. Dolly was run across the floor similarly to how a child would drive a car on the floor, eventually causing one of her eyes to close shut permanently and the soft cloth body became stained and grey.

Daryl did not go anywhere without that doll. During nap times and at night Daryl would curl Dolly gently in her arms and twirl her fingers in Dolly’s hair until she was sound asleep. The constant twirling of dirty fingers turned Dolly’s curly blond hair to grey dreadlocks.

The intensity of Daryl’s love for the doll eventually caused parts of the doll to fall off. Daryl did not love Dolly any less with only one arm and one leg. But when the head came off, I could see that Daryl was really distraught.  I decided the best answer was to get the head sewn on as quickly as possible. In my haste I grabbed the first needle with thread that I could find. I realized my error as I handed Dolly back to Daryl noticing how the black zigzag stitching around Dolly’s neck now made the doll look Frankenstonian.

Now I looked at this doll that I had just dug out of the ground with the gaping hole on one cheek, the dirty grey dreadlocks, one eye permanently closed, one arm and one leg missing and with black stitching around its neck and I knew what had to be done. I threw Dolly in the washing machine and dryer and gave her back to Daryl where she belonged.

The Haircut

“I want my hair back!” my six year old daughter wailed at the mirror after she was swiveled around by the hairdresser to see the final product. We are not talking about crying here, we are talking about full out wailing. The other hairdressers and the other patrons all turned to see what had happened. The hairdresser, a young girl who looked as if she was just out of beauty school looked perplexed and I am sure she wanted to crawl into a hole in the floor. She tried to ask if she could do something but her words were drowned by Daryl’s wailing.

My oldest Daughter, Kelly and I swung into action. I immediately went to the front desk to pay for the haircut trying to explain that there was nothing wrong with the haircut and there was nothing they could do to fix it. Kelly went to Daryl to try to extricate her from the barber chair and start the process of getting her to the car. Daryl continued to wail about wanting her hair back. After I paid the bill, I grabbed Daryl by the arms and Kelly grabbed her feet. We had perfected this act many times before, in grocery stores, in department stores, anything indoors with bright lights and lots of stimulating things. We carried Daryl out to the car and threw her in the backseat where she could thrash around freely if she needed to. We jumped in the front and sped out of there.

As the wailing started to slow down a bit I tried the art of distraction. “Daryl, you did such a great job holding still for that lady cutting your hair!” Kelly chimed right in, “Yeah, Daryl you were such a big girl.” By the time we got back home the cheerful Daryl was back. That is until she looked in the mirror again and the wailing started all over again. Eventually, she would get used to the new haircut and then we would have a breather until the day came that Daryl decided she needed another haircut.

It was not as though I even cared to have Daryl’s hair cut; there was always so much work involved with getting anything done with Daryl. It was so hard to get her to sit still when I did it myself. She was afraid of the scissors and something always tickled. She could not sit still and she never liked the results after it was done. It didn’t matter how nice the haircut turned out. She was just not good with change. But she had been begging me to get her hair cut. When Daryl wanted something it did not go away. She could be relentless and in the end it was usually much easier to give in.

This was the first time we had gone to an actual beauty shop. Later Kelly and I would talk over whether we thought it had been worth it. We decided it had gone pretty well, considering. Daryl sat really still for the hairdresser and she did not lose it until the very end and the haircut was done by then. We just needed to find a new shop to go to the next time.

Faith

“There’s a much shorter route to Wisconsin,” Kelly said looking at my accusingly. She rarely spoke to me since leaving Chandler, Arizona and we were now in Harmony on the California coast. I was wondering how long it would take for me to be busted.

Kelly was not happy about being dragged away from her high school graduation and from yet another place she called home to go God knows where with her mother. To make matters worse, we were not headed to another town for another job and another life away from the old one. Now, the destination was unknown.  I knew that we would end up at my parent’s home in Tomahawk, Wisconsin but after that, there was no plan. In the mean time I wanted to go as far as I could for as long as I could on the approximately $100.00 left in my pocket. “But you haven’t seen San Francisco yet; we’ll see the Golden Gate Bridge and then head to Wisconsin.” I pleaded my case with the biggest look of hope I could put on my face.

When we dropped Kelly’s younger sister, Daryl off at the airport in LA to get on a plane to Japan to visit her Dad for the summer, I promised we would take the most direct route to Wisconsin that there was. Kelly had no interest in one of my crazy road trips. She was only talking to me on a need to know basis and had stopped showering. It was her way of showing me how pissed off she was.  “I talked to this guy over in the bar and he showed me a map. We can get on a freeway right now and go straight across the country. San Francisco is way out of the way.” Kelly looked at me hesitantly fearing the worst. I could be very persuasive at times. By the time we got to San Francisco she was talking to me again, not yet showering but at least talking. It was progress. In Denver, we were back to our old selves. By then she could see that we really were going to make it to Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the $100.00 I had in my purse did not go quite as far as I imagined, even with sleeping at campgrounds; usually, we arrived late and left early before the ranger came by to collect and we ate cheap, mostly at greasy spoon restaurants. We only slept once in a wayside next to big diesel semis leaving their motors running all night long. Dad was a trucker and I felt safe with several semis around. Even if there was one bad seed in the bunch, one of them would be a good old guy like my dad and would save a couple of damsels in distress. It became clear on the long drive through Nebraska that we were not going to have enough gas money. At the next gas station, I sent Kelly in with my last twenty to pay for a coffee and the gas. I told her to pick up a lot of creamer; I thought it could sustain me until the next day. I sent out a prayer to the universe to get us to Wisconsin.

“This is the change they gave me. It seems like too much.” She handed me some bills and coins and nearly the whole twenty was there. “Show me the receipt,” I said. Sure enough, they had only charged Kelly for the coffee. Nearly the whole twenty was still there. We were about a quarter mile from the station by the time I figured out what happened. Kelly insisted that she told them she was paying for the gas too. At that point I looked to heaven and thought that was a rather un-kosher way to get me to Wisconsin but I took it as a sign and pressed on the gas pedal. We looked in the rear-view mirror for the next hour expecting to see a cop pull up. We rehearsed our story about how we had no idea that they didn’t charge us for the gas. We would put on our most inocent blue eyed, blond look.

We pulled out all the change from the seat cushions and put all the money we had into that gas tank. We commented on how the winds had changed in our favor and they really seemed to push the car along. The car rolled to a stop, finally out of gas, just as we passed the sign for Tomahawk, Wisconsin. We still had to make it to my parent’s house out in the woods on the other side of town. As the car stopped at the side of someone’s nicely manicured lawn, the Wisconsin friendly inhabitant came up to the side of the car (I swear this is true) with a gas can in her hand. “What’s the problem, out of gas?”  Kelly just looked at me with that look of; “I know this shit happens all the time on your damn road trips, but really?!” We got a gallon of gas, just enough to make it to my parents house.

Addicted to Therapy

My last therapist was a Guru who wore a tunic and a turban on her head and handed out flower essences like candy to a hurt child. I’ve always been attracted to therapists with some kind of weird angle.

The first time I went to a therapist it was in hope of salvaging my second marriage. My husband was considerate enough to agree to attend even though we were now living apart and each of us were now seeing other people. I thought the marriage was fixable, but if it wasn’t, I was going to have a backup plan so I hung on to the boyfriend. After our first two sessions together, the therapist separated us. I suppose that should have been telling. We lived in Oklahoma at the time so it was not surprising that the therapist believed that reaching out to God was the answer for everything. I did, however, find it surprising that the therapist thought I needed a divorce. In the end I put myself in her hands, filed for a divorce and moved to Arizona leaving my husband and my backup plan behind.

In Tempe, Arizona I found a place called, The Body Works Studio. It was just a corrugated metal warehouse separated into several rooms of different sizes. Anyone who touted the creative and the odd was invited in to set up shop there. I went to those workshops like a moth is attracted to a flame. I hoped to be transformed. I wanted the old Peggy to be burned away and the new me to fly free. I went to scream therapy, goddess therapy, writing workshops, poetry workshops, artist way groups, dream therapy and dance therapy.

It was at The Body Works Studio that I landed in with a therapist and a group of women who were addicted to men. I felt at home there, although I considered myself above the other women in my group because I did not currently have a man that I was addicted to. I never mentioned the gay guy from my poetry workshop that I was super infatuated with. It was a real blow when I finally realized he was gay.

The therapist from the addicted to men group became concerned about me falling into tears all the time in group and told me a prescription for antidepressants might do me some good. I didn’t really think that I needed antidepressants. I could figure this out without going on drugs. But the therapist seemed rather insistent and I thought I would give it a try.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office wondering how you go about asking a doctor for antidepressants. I thought about telling him about all the stress I was under raising two kids on my own. Or I could tell him about my job running a legal aid clinic while at the same time trying to pass the bar exam in Arizona. Or I could just tell him that the therapist recommended the antidepressants. It didn’t sound convincing to me. I was asking to be given a controlled substance after all.

These thoughts were still winding around my head when the doctor finally came in to see me. I think I got the words “I think I’m depressed” out of my mouth before bursting into tears. Big sobs started coming out and snot started to run. The doctor got out his pad of paper and handed me the prescription. I guess that’s how a person asks for antidepressants. I bawled all the way out of the doctor’s office and hid in the waiting room bathroom until I could get my sobbing under control. Maybe the therapist was right about the antidepressants.

By the time I moved to Tucson I had given up my addiction for men and I quit the antidepressants. But something was missing. I kept reaching for what it was but I could never really put a finger on what I needed. I found myself making better choices most of the time, but life felt hollow.

My new best friend found a therapist that she liked and I knew that this friend would have done her research so I was quick to sign up. The therapist’s office was in a little adobe backhouse across from where the therapist lived with her husband. The backhouse was old and painted in desert hues with sunset colors joined in. It was decorated with sea shells and stacked with stuff that looked like it was from a rummage sale. There was a pretty adobe fireplace that she lit on cold winter days. My new therapist always had a box of Kleenex and a cup of hot tea ready. She sat in a wicker chair with a large round back that made her look like she was sitting inside a halo. She was younger than me with long super curly hair and a cute face making her look angelic. I sat across from her in a comfortable cushy chair. It was in that chair that I spent an hour every week at first and then every two weeks and finally once a month breaking through to the secrets of my past that were hidden away in dark dank crevices of my mind and body. It felt like exorcism at times to reach them. Together we dug them all out and she helped me to normalize them. The day finally came when the tears stopped and I finally graduated therapy.

Graduating therapy was not what I expected. I still had problems that I needed to work through and it was not like my old self  burned away and a new me came flying forth. It was more like I became more comfortable in my own skin. I started to appreciate who I was with all the flaws and weird angles that I was made up of. I liked myself more just the way I was. I was just more “me” and it was just enough to hang onto out in the real world when things got tough.

I found Guru Ravi because I needed help with my youngest child who was proving to be a real challenge and I found myself turning into my mother. I had done fairly well tamping down the urge to scream and yell with my oldest daughter and I never reverted to spanking, but with this second child I had no resources and all my tricks were not working. I brought Daryl in for our first appointment expecting that the Guru would have a talking with her and figure out how to fix her. Guru Ravi told me to leave Daryl at home after that first visit. It turned out that I just needed some new parenting skills. I had been lucky with my first daughter; with this second one I needed some real training.

I went back to Guru Ravi when I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By that time she had became family. When either of my daughters, who were now adults, needed help, they turned to the Guru. I liked her turban and the joy she always radiated on her face. I needed to soak up some of that joy in a big way. It seemed natural to schedule an appointment to see her. I saw her for about four months to help me through the roughest parts of my recovery. We finally came to a place where I saw that I was going to make it. I would be OK whether I lived or died from this crazy disease. She could bring me to both these places and I could see that the real point was in living life while I still had it to live.

One year later, Guru Ravi would die from ovarian cancer.

The Outhouse

In the early ‘60’s in rural Wisconsin, when I was in my formative years, there were still houses with no indoor toilet. I know this because there was one right down the road from our house. I never knew the people who lived in that house because they didn’t have any kids. We lived out in the country, and especially in the summer, kids pretty much ran wild and had a life completely independent from adults. We somehow knew when it was time to eat and found our way back to the kitchen in time to grab some food and then we were off again. I never paid much attention to the neighbor’s house except to figure out a way to sneak past it to the woods just on the other side.

That all changed when one day my father’s brother and his family decided to move in next door. They had three kids.  One of the kids I really liked. On my father’s side of the family there was somewhere around 25 first cousins and we got together often. Tammy was on the top of my list of favorites and I was thrilled that she was moving in next door. Roaming the fields and woods was much more fun when you could share the experience. I needed a cohort. Our parents, or at least Tammy’s mother, thought that my younger sister would be a much better playmate for Tammy and tried to encourage them in that direction. Fortunately, our parents did not have time to completely supervise us and I was able to use my wily ways to get Tammy away from my sister and all to myself. Sorry Chris, but I was older and much trickier about such things at that time. Anyway, I decided Tammy’s younger sister was a much better choice for my sister. My Aunt may have had a point about my not being the best choice for her daughter, because anytime Tammy got in trouble, I was somehow involved. I remember one time she got grounded for the rest of her life or maybe just until she gave me up as a friend. But that is another story.

Soon after she moved in next door, Tammy and I became inseparable. Our immediate problem was figuring out where we could hang out. It was just not acceptable for me to always be at her house all the time and her mother wanted to be able to keep some kind of an eye on her (especially if she was hanging out with me) so we found the best solution ever. There was an old hay wagon in the field between our houses where both our parents could see us and if they yelled loud enough we could hear them and come running when needed. We named the hay wagon the TT club. We thought that we were so clever because the wagon had a “T” shaped back on it and both our last names being the same both started with a “T”. I have no idea how many hours we put in hanging out on that wagon.

The first thing my uncle did when he bought the house next door was to put a bathroom in the house. The outhouse was left abandoned at the side of the woods. One day Tammy and I discovered it as if it had never been there before. We were a bit nervous going in there, thinking it must really stink. We found that it did smell a little but it hadn’t been used in so long that the smell was now quite tolerable. We immediately decided this would be the new TT club

We went to work, with every spare minute we could be together, fixing that place up. We put a board over the hole in the seat and found flowers from the woods to transplant in the front of the clubhouse.  We had an uncle who had a hardware store in the neighboring town and, next time my dad went there, we hitched along to see if he would donate any paint to our endeavor. He did find us an old can of pale peachy-pink paint from the back of his shop that had rust around the lid and was no longer sellable. It turned out to be extremely runny paint and had a ton of bitty chunks like cottage cheese in it. We didn’t care in the least. It gave the inside of the outhouse a nice rosy glow, really brightening the place up. The cottage cheese texture seemed to give it a nice character.  It was really too bland though and we decided to get our crayons out to give the place a little more dimension. We left the crayons in the clubhouse and every time we met at the new TT club we added a little more of ourselves to the walls.

No one was allowed in that outhouse except us. It was ours and everyone knew it. It wasn’t like it even needed to be stated. I think Tammy’s parents were happy with the arrangement because the outhouse was closer to their house than the old hay wagon and they knew exactly where they could find us. My parents could just call on the phone and someone would send me home any time I was needed there. One of our cousins came to hang out with us once in the outhouse but we could tell she did not see what we saw in it. She did try to help out by planting some seeds we had been saving. She planted them in our flower bed. The seeds turned out to be grass seed but they didn’t grow anyway. Even the flowers we transplanted from the woods soon shriveled up and died. We thought things should really grow nicely because the ground had to be really well fertilized but it wasn’t the case. Maybe it was because the outhouse was so completely shaded by the surrounding woods. It didn’t really matter anyway.

The greatest thing about this place was that it was a real building with walls and a door and everything. We were completely alone in that old outhouse. Secrets could be told there. We made up secret names for each other. Tammy became A18 (her birthday was April 18th) and I became F20 (February 20th). After that she became Tomato which seemed too juvenile so we shortened it to Am. I was Pegleg which got shorted to Egg but my nicknames never really caught on. “Am” stuck for me though. I call my favorite cousin Am to this day.

As with the hay wagon, we eventually lost interest in the outhouse. I had mostly forgotten about it when one day several of our brothers and sisters came running to find us. No one could believe it. My Uncle had decided to tear down the old outhouse to make a fence out of it. He was starting a new venture in pigs out of our club house! Everyone came to watch as the clubhouse was torn down. It had long ago quit being an outhouse. It was now our sacred clubhouse. It would always be that even though we never went there anymore. It seemed so against the rules of nature for it to be torn down and for pigs!

It was the end of an era.

Home Birth

“I have seen vaginas fall out of women’s bottoms; is that what you want to happen to you?” asked Doctor Cook, my home town doctor. It was 1978 and I was pregnant with my first child. I had read articles about natural home births and some had said it was unnecessary to cut into your vagina and then have to sew the whole thing back up. Doctor Cook went on; “It may not happen after the first child but it stretches everything out down there and your vagina will fall out after awhile.” That was the end of our conversation about home birth until I got home and my husband was steaming mad. Apparently, Dr. Cook called him to have a man to man because Denny knew all about our little chat about home birth. “You are not going to read any more books; the doctor thinks you’re paranoid of hospitals! What the hell is wrong with you?!” I did not discuss things with my husband. In our highschool class of 99 students, he was always on the top. Who the hell was I to question his brilliance? I was used to his ranting and stopped trying to assert my opinion soon after we married. I thought the idea that I was paranoid of hospitals was going a bit far though.

My contractions started in the evening of June 6th shortly after going to bed. I woke my husband to tell him. He immediately raced into action getting me to the car as fast as he could. I remember him pulling at my arm as I stopped for a contraction. I’m certain he was trying to move me along because he was worried I had put off telling him about the contractions so that I could have the baby at home and he wasn’t having any of that. In fact, the contractions had just started and they were quite mild, but I was curious and wanted to stop and really see what they were doing to my body.  A band tightened across my abdomen pressing on the baby. I was fascinated and exhilarated that this baby and I were finally going to meet. The Marshfield clinic was 30 miles down the road. We drove through the countryside and small towns in silence; Denny driving as fast as he could manage and still keep the car under control. There was very little traffic at that time of night. People in rural Wisconsin go to bed early.

After we got to the hospital and completed the necessary paperwork, I was taken to a small lab to be processed. A pregnant woman was made presentable for the doctors before ever seeing one in person. I was given an enema and my pubic hair was completely shaved. No reason to give the doctor any unnecessary surprises. No doctor needs to be poking around in unsightly pubic hair. We needed a sterile surface and clean bowels to work with.

Then I was taken to a room to sit with my husband until I was far enough along for the doctor to be called in.  I took the bed and Denny took the chair in a mostly white and sterile room. We were in there for about ten hours with a nurse showing up every so often to poke and measure. Denny and I had long ago stopped talking to each other. He blamed me for getting pregnant and was resentful that we had to go through any of this. After I got pregnant and after I refused to have an abortion, he told me that he would marry me but this baby was my responsibility. To be fair, we did play cards a few times to make the time go faster. Each time a different nurse came in; I noted a look of surprise come over their face. I am sure I looked closer to age twelve than to my actual ripe old age of twenty-one. On top of that, Denny got mistaken as a girl at least once, which really pissed him off. He was rather pretty back then with his baby face and long hair.

My labor pains were not very strong and they never increased in duration. Apparently, the doctor on call became suspicious and decided to look into my situation. He came in with three nurses to hold me down and a room full of medical students to watch as he put his entire hand up my vagina which hurt like hell and was the most publically humiliating thing I have ever been through. He never explained what he was doing or why he was doing it. The room full of male medical students at least looked uncomfortable, shuffling around, not looking me in the eye and the nurses looked sympathetic. After that procedure I was told that my baby was a breech baby and wanted to come out butt first. Also, my contractions completely stopped and would not start again. A nurse on duty told me that was not unusual in these situations.

The doctor decided I needed a cesarean and it was scheduled. I don’t remember having much of a say in the matter.  It was 1978 and a time when hospitals routinely did cesareans. Years later I would read articles about doctors who did cesareans because it was easier to work out their schedule that way. A cesarean could be planned and was not usually done in the middle of the night. There was a near 30% cesarean rate at some hospitals.

Dr. Cook finally made it to the hospital and as I was being wheeled into surgery on a gurney he had just enough time to tell me; “This is exactly the reason why you do not have a home birth!” I burst into tears at that moment. I had held it together for as long as I could but my tough exterior had had enough. Big sobs burst forth. The nurse, wheeling my gurney was very consoling and wanted to know what Dr, Cook had said to make me so upset. Where could I begin?

Kelly Jo Rashka was born on June 7th, 1978. I met my Daughter after waking up from amnesia. She was a perfect baby with a perfect head and perfect hands and perfect feet. There was nothing not to love. It was, of course, all worth it and has been worth it over and over for the past thirty-four years.

Even though the typical hospital stay was seven days for a cesarean in those days, I insisted in leaving on the third day. I had to sign a release to be let out early. It turns out that I was paranoid of hospitals.

About the First Day of School

Me in Italy

Me in Italy

The day was filled with firsts. My husband and I woke up after spending our first night in an apartment we rented in Perugia, Italy in the heart of Umbria.  I opened my eyes to see an arched brick ceiling, part of a medieval tower. We had seen pictures of that ceiling on a website when we put our down payment on it earlier in the year, but in person the ancient mortared bricks with their graceful arc, reaching from each corner of the room, were so much more perfect. It was the first morning peering out the open shuttered window, seeing the swallows swoop around the valley below. Most importantly, it was our first morning walking up the steep hill to the top of the piazza and back down the other side to the immersion school where we would start Italian class.

It had been a dream of mine to go to Italy and take an immersion course for as long as I could remember.  I was fifty three years old when the plan to go was finally beginning to take shape. However, before we made any of the reservations, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was diagnosed in May and our plans had been to leave for Italy the next year and stay for the summer. Throughout my treatment for cancer, I calculated out my recovery period.  I could not let go of this trip to Italy.  I wondered often if I would choose to go to Italy and learn a foreign language if I really was on my last breath; if I could not beat this cancer. I held on to that trip to Italy like an anchor keeping me healthy. I did not allow myself to think of death: I would recover and I would go to Italy to learn Italian.

As I walked across the piazza on my way to Italian class with jet lag pulling at my ankles and hazing my vision, I could not help but snap awake to the fact that I was alive and cancer free. The anticipation that I would finally be learning a foreign language in Italy, which had been my guiding light for so long, suddenly dulled in comparison to the fact that I was alive and living life. That in the end was the miracle.