Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Leaping Into Nothingness

A few weeks ago, my twenty-year-old daughter texted me from New Zealand to tell me that she had just bungee-jumped off a platform over the city of Queensland. My reactions ran the gamut from pride to anger (what if something had gone horribly wrong?), from fear (what in God’s name is she going to do next?) to disbelief (how did I give birth to someone who could possibly want to do this?). It took me a long time to settle down.

The disbelief is what has stayed with me in the days that have followed. I have known since shortly after she was born that my daughter and I are not terribly alike. She is shorter than I, brown-haired, blue-eyed, a person who loves to be surrounded by friends. (I have dark hair, brown eyes, and prefer the company of a chosen few.) She loves activity, noise, loud music, raucous laughter, bright lights. (I am quiet and sedentary and just generally more bat-like.) She can sing. (I can’t.) In short, I can’t really say that I’m shocked that she would be drawn to bungee-jumping, an activity pretty low on my list of What I Must Do Before I’m Eighty. (The only thing lower is intentionally setting myself on fire.) I have had a long time to grow accustomed to our differences.

Today, as I was jogging through my still-new-to-me neighborhood, I thought again, How did I give birth to someone who would want to bungee-jump? How do I—a person given to catastrophizing and imagining the worst, a careful person made happy by certainty—have a daughter who would willingly take a gleeful, running leap into nothingness?

It was a beautiful fall morning in my neighborhood, which sits on a cliff above Monterey Bay. Yesterday’s clouds had all but dissipated, leaving behind a pale sky and the smell of wet eucalyptus leaves. I could hear jays cawing from the Monterey pines and the rush and crash of waves in the distance. When I finally reached the shore, I sat for a minute and watched a trio of brown pelicans skim the water’s surface, then rise in formation, looking like a phalanx of unmanned drones.

Climbing the steep, rocky path up from the beach, I thought how happy living here has made me, how much I prefer my life here to my old life in the suburbs, where I never paid attention to the color of leaves, where I had a yard instead of a garden, where a sudden rainstorm would remind me only of the traffic jams sure to ensue on the flooded streets.

I live about a hundred miles away from my old house, but my move entailed so much more than packing and sorting and throwing away and then driving south for an hour and a half. It has meant leaving the house where I raised my children: the house where they built pillow forts in the family room and learned to read and hid my birthday presents and called for me in the middle of the night. My son worked on his Lego models at the kitchen table. My bungee-jumping daughter ate seven red Jello Easter eggs one year and threw up what I thought was blood all over the kitchen floor. Moving has meant giving up access to the rooms where these things happened. It has meant having to rely on my own memories, without the prompts of place.

Moving is one of life’s monumental stressors. Those of us who move have to find new places to shop, to exercise, to eat, to play. We have to make new friends. We have to get used to the way the new streetlights are timed. We have to find new favorite bookstores. (Mine is Capitola Books, located conveniently across the parking lot from a See’s Candy store.)

Moving has also meant giving up my life as a single parent to set up housekeeping with Robert. It has meant forging new traditions, like buying flowers and vegetables at the local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, and heading out to an orchard for apples afterwards. It has meant finding a place for his late father’s armoire (the guest bedroom). It has been a joyous process of accommodation and coming together and learning to make meatloaf just the way he likes it. But back when we had just begun the moving-in-together conversation, I had concerns. What about my freedom, my independence? What about all those things I liked doing alone? (Tellingly, I can no longer remember what those things were, but at the time, they loomed large.)

Remembering all this as I jogged home this morning, I was struck with the realization that moving is its own kind of gleeful leap into nothingness, a bungee jump without a cord. Perhaps my daughter and I have more in common than I’d thought. Perhaps, I decided as I turned into my driveway, I am braver than I had previously believed. It was a nice thought to have as I stood, panting, watching two gray doves peck the damp dirt beneath the now-flowerless hydrangea, each careful not to lose sight of the other, seemingly aware that the world can be a dangerous place.

I caught my breath; I imagined telling my daughter that we are more similar than not; I could hear in my head her uproarious laugh. Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. But I’m vowing that I will stop thinking of myself as timid and fearful, that I will give myself credit for occasional courage, however tentative, however mundane.


  1. You are the most beautifull writer I have ever known. You write well, too.

  2. Smiling(at both this blog and Robert's response),

  3. trying again...

    I think it's gonna work...

    This post is great -- I think both men and women will be able to relate to it.

  4. For me, jumping into nothingness was leaving a 35-year marriage. But I had no other option (than allow myself to be smothered) so I jumped. It DOES take guts, a large measure of self-confidence (or a small modicum of it and sheer desperation does a lot about making a measure out of a modicum).

    Your words paint the pictures beautifully and with rich texture. I am so glad to be a follower!
    Anne ('64)

  5. Thank you for posting the link to your blog. I apprectiate your perspective and humor. Elizabeth M.