I got back from the beach last night. On my morning walks by the shore I harvested a few beautiful shells. Now I stand at the kitchen sink with my coffee, lower them into the basin of water.
And my mind drifts …
“Come out of your shell.” Or, “She needs to come out of her shell.” I’ve heard it said about others, I’ve heard it said about me−both sincerely and sarcastically, as in , “Umm, girlie, you need to climb back into your shell; you’re a little ‘too far out’.”
But the shell thing−like sea urchins or snails−what a Divine idea. To carry your protection on your back; to be able at a moment’s notice to dodge any bullet simply by “climbing in.”
If I could have, I would have. Especially in the nineties. Those were ‘the paranoid years’. The time when my hair fell out in clumps. I knew people were whispering about me through the soup cans at the grocery store. One of the things Tim did was he copied my journal, rewrote it, then showed it to everyone he could think of. Hell yes, I wanted a shell. One that could hold a woman in her forties, protect her from the man who’d claimed to love her; one where she could cry every tear until they made an ocean she could float away on.
I run the water till it’s a little warm, and begin massaging each of the small, ridged shapes with my fingertips until their pearly surfaces become visible.
Some say time heals wounds. But it never says anything about what you’re supposed to do while the healing happens. Sit on the floor, back corner of the closet? That was a favorite spot. Fall asleep on the couch, with the TV on? That happened more times than I can count. Get home from your therapist, pace for twenty four hours, watching the clock til it’s time to get in the car and head back to her office? For months I did that. She saved my life.
Those experiences−the closet floor, the couch, Dr. High’s office−they never felt like healing at all. They felt like one big gyroscopic attempt to hang on. I thought the spinning would never level out, that I would never find solid ground. But the truth is, I did. And healing happened.
When I think about the woman I was then, I am moved by her pain; by her need to hide away. I want to reach back and hold her. I want to tell her it will be okay. Tell her that, believe it or not, she’ll survive. And she’ll be glad she did.
I swish the water gently and choose a shell, think of the moment I picked it from the sand. I turn this delicate vessel over in my hand. It is a profound reminder of protection and release.
Where have the creatures gone? Perhaps they found other shells for safe harbor. Perhaps their time came to transition, becoming one with the flotsam and jetsam. Or perhaps they are braving this world like I am−out of my shell, ready to move forward into whatever this day and this life will bring.
I sat on the chair, held his hands. He stood there in front of me, straight faced, looked into my eyes.
“I just need you to tell me the truth, buddy. I said no cookies before dinner. Did you take one anyway?”
He squirmed, and tried to pull his hands out of my hold, so I firmed up the grip.
“No, I didn’t take it. STOP!!” As he protested, I watched the speck of chocolate chip in the left corner of his mouth.
“Because I told you what the rules are. It’s too close to dinner, so no snacks right now. But I’m thinking you had a snack!”
“You think wrong! I’m not lying!” He kept squirming; the chocolate speck was melting into a tiny chocolate line. I looked in his eyes. He glared back at me. A standoff.
“Okay. There were twelve cookies on the tray. Let’s go count.” I got up and headed to the counter.
“Fine. Let’s count.”
I pulled the stool over and he climbed up. We started counting.
“One, two, three, four, five …” when we got to ten, I said,
“So now, how many are left?”
“And how many will that make?”
“Eleven.” We locked eyes.
“Hmmm,” I said. “Wonder what happened to twelve.” He held my gaze, then slowly climbed down, started to walk away.
“Come here, I want to show you something.” He pivoted.
“What?” I took his hand and we walked into the powder room. I flipped on the light.
“Tip toes, and look in the mirror.” He stretched up, looked in the mirror; grinned at himself.
“Wait; what in the world is that on your face?” I took my finger and did a Vanna White on the chocolate, which now chased along his lower lip. He cut his eyes up at me. I sat down on the commode lid, pulled him over to me.
“I think number twelve is.” I poked his belly gently. “Right. In. There.” I smiled at him. He ducked his head, a smile came on his face.
“You guessed it,” he whispered. I took his chin, tilted his head up and looked in his eyes.
“You told me a lie,” I said. “THAT is the worst part.”
“But I was hungry, and you said no snacks!”
“Yes, you’re right about that. Because dinnertime is now. So, what do you say?”
Sorry for what?”
“Eating the cookie.”
“And what else?”
“Lying to you.”
“Okay, do not lie again.” I hugged him and stood up. “Let’s get dinner.”
“I’m not hungry.”