New York in the Fog

Tim and I randomly drive into New York to play tourist. I think I’m afraid that someday soon our life will come into focus and we’ll end up moving to Kentucky or something and I won’t have access to Central Park anymore. New York is dynamic, constantly changing and shifting. It never looks the same twice to me. Perhaps if I actually lived there I’d feel different about it, but each time I drive in I see something crazy and beautiful that I never noticed before.

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This particular day was wet and cold and foggy. We were planning on seeing The Museum of Natural History, but the parking we’d prepaid for was mysteriously full up. We ended up just driving around New York instead.

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It was amazing. The fog was dense and clung to the tops of the buildings like smoke rings. Sometimes we couldn’t tell if the buildings were ended or the fog had just swallowed up the upper stories. I tried to imagine what it would be like to work in one of those offices, to look out your window and see nothing but smoky grey, instead of the usual bustle and beat of the city below you.

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The bridges too were smothered, so that as we drove over the George Washington, we could barely see the other side of the river.

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I’ll never forget how beautiful it was.

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“It’s Braver to Have Climbed…”

Flushed from my successful six-hour road trip to Williamsburg, I decided to tackle the next fear on my list, driving alone. I used to be able to drive by myself for an hour, so that’s all I’m really shooting for. I figure an hour is enough to get me to my parents house or to visit the friends I left behind after our recent move.

I’ve been working on it in stages. I began with driving myself to the library, which is about 20 minutes away. I lengthened that by ten minutes when I started taking the long way home. It was two days since we got home from VA, and I was on my way home from the library. I’m not usually spontaneous, but as I passed the turn off for route 80 I thought of the scenic overlook three minutes down the highway. I imagined myself pulling in, taking a picture of the valley and texting it to my husband with the words:

Guess where I am! 😉 ❤

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I pulled off onto the highway. Pride flushed in my cheeks as I easily merged into traffic. I turned up ABBA and looked for my turn off. It came quickly. I slowed and began the circular assent to the parking lot. It wasn’t until I pulled in that I began to regret my decision. I felt alone and exposed, like standing naked in a den of convicts. I quickly snapped a photo of the view and ran back to my car. I locked the doors (presumably to keep out the invisible convicts), dialed my husband, then hung up after several rings because my GPS wouldn’t tell me which way home was if I was calling someone at the same time. My GPS connected. My vision blurred, and my heart melted and dripped into my stomach, making it churn.

Home was 22 minutes away. 22 minutes of highway driving. The kind I most despise. 22 minutes after I had already been alone in the car for over 30.

I exploded.

My husband called me back at about this moment. I told him I was stranded. That I was a fool. That I needed him to come get me and to stay on the phone with me the whole time until he got there. I cried and shook. Adrenaline surged through me, making me feel simultaneously chilled and hot.

The first panic attack passed as soon as Timothy was on the way. I decided to start driving, knowing that he would only be about 5 minutes behind me and I could always pull over if I needed to. He made me describe the scenery I passed, mostly wet barren trees and massive tractor trailers thundering around me at 70 miles per hour, leaving my little white Honda shuddering in their wake. When I pulled off at the next exit, my GPS decided it would be better not to turn around and get back on the highway, but to go home via strange back roads.

I exploded again.

“Pull into the shoprite,” Tim said. “I’m right behind you. Just wait for me.”

So I did. He pulled in and I threw myself into his arms, pressing my jittering adrenaline fueled hands against his chest. I let him kiss the top of my head and shush me for a minute, then I stuttered, “Do you need anything from shoprite?”

Tim laughed. We went in and picked up potatoes and apples. I was still trembling when we got out of the store and my heart was full of tears. I squeezed his hand.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” he asked.

“For failing.”

Without pausing for thought, he replied, “A man who climbs a mountain and needs to be rescued, is braver than the one who never even tried to climb.”

I stopped and pressed his lips to mine, kissing him hard and long in the middle of the parking lot, not caring who saw or whose way we were in.

He’s so kind and patient and wise.

Living with anxiety and depression can utterly demoralizing at times. But I’m so thankful that God gave me this man as my copilot. Even on days like this one, when I have to fly solo,  it’s nice to know he’s in the control tower with gentle words of wisdom to help me navigate home.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Grocery Shopping on Mt. Doom

The story you are about to read is almost fiction. Any similarities to persons, places, or things, living or dead, is, more than likely, a nearly coincidence-like occurrence.

Grocery shopping is hard. Really! It usually begins with that rainbow framed, glisteningly perfect parking spot that you try to pull into, only to find that some lazy sluggard left a shopping cart in it, even though the cart return was two slots over. It’s all downhill from there…

The Shoprite complex in my town is the gateway to Tartarus. Twice a day, and increasingly around holidays and potential snowstorms, the most festering species of demonic humanity are birthed from the molten fires of this, New Jersey’s Mount Doom. Smiles melt from faces as they succumb to the grey cloud of oppression that hangs around the belfry of this seemingly innocuous grocery store. I’m a fairly chipper gal but even I often leave there tense, covered in sweat, and in dire need of a Xanax.

It always starts in the parking lot. I once applied for a job at the hair salon next door and the manager there boasted to me that this strip mall had the second highest traffic of any in New Jersey. I didn’t believe him. I still don’t, but sometimes when I step out of my car, look both ways, and still nearly meet my maker trying to approach to the door of the shop, I wonder if the half bald, nasal voiced man spoke the truth.

Once inside I take a deep breath, say a little prayer, and walk into the produce section.

I shop on a budget, therefore, I have three grocery stores on my checklist. I know that, unless on sale, lettuce, apples, and onions are cheapest at BJ’s. Eggs, sour cream, and bread are best bought at Walmart. I get the majority of my groceries at Shoprite, but I’m not going to buy carrots there if I can save the $2 I need to buy bread at Walmart by purchasing said carrots at BJ’s. “Swifty ‘n Thrifty” they call me! (Just kidding, nobody calls me that…)

Anyway, I put lettuce in my cart then remembered aloud, “Wait no. Lettuce is cheeper at BJ’s.” I carefully replaced the leafy vegetable.

“What did you say?” The voice snarled from behind a cart of celery. A cruel, bearded bloke leered at me through one open eye. “What did you say about the lettuce?”

Doing my best impression of Oliver Twist, I glanced down at my feet and whispered penitently, “Please sir, I said it was cheeper at BJ’s.”

The man snorted. “BJ’s eh? I would never shop at BJ’s. You could hardly call it a store. It’s dirty and smelly. Your feet sticks to the floor and their shopping carts are massive. Pugh! BJ’s.” He spat at the floor to get the taste of the name out of his mouth.

I muttered my thanks and ran for the meat section. BJ’s is a haven of rest and comfort compared to this place. This den. This wretched hive of scum and villainy. I threw some chicken into my cart, glided quickly through the spices, and rounded the corner to the frozens. There was nobody in the aisle except one thin, pale man, obviously sucked dry of joy and hope from employment at this place, stacking bags of frozen vegetables in one of the freezers. His eyes were wide and never stopped moving. Left. Right. Up. Down. His lips mouthed the inaudible mutterings of a fellow on the brink of madness.

I pulled out my cell and checked my shopping list. Let’s see. I got bananas…orange juice…milk… The florescent lights flickered. I looked up curiously. My eyes fell on a figure at the end of the aisle. A teenage boy, dressed in black from head to toe, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. He skulked my way. I wet my lips with my tongue before looking back at my shopping list. Ummm…milk…did I need butter? I glanced up. Our eyes met. Awkward. Awkward and freaky. I could barely tear my gaze from his. His brown eyes bored into my soul with a sickening malice. What had I done? Why did he hate me? I couldn’t call on the half-mad employee for aide. He was too busy sucking his fingers and humming songs from “Frozen”.

An electric handicap cart came up behind me. A homeless man, with a open flask in one hand, drove drunkenly down the aisle giggling like a thirty-year-old with a case of silly string. “Wow this is fun!” he hiccuped at me. “Everyone should have one of these!” I couldn’t tell if he was referring to the flask or the cart.

That was the moment I truly began to wonder if I would ever see my husband again.

The shady boy stood abreast me. I did not turn my head, pretending instead that I had been staring at something else the entire time we spent gazing into each others eyes. He opened the door directly behind me and pulled out a frozen pizza. A pleasantly plump blonde woman spontaneously burst into being uncaused from nothing with a little pop.

“Don’t you want two?” she asked him. The boy made a noise, a sort of mix between grunt, snort, and snarl. He grabbed another pizza and dropped them both into the cart. She smiled at him and they shuffled away. I shuddered, ran through the checkout, played a real life version of Frogger, and dumped my groceries in the backseat of my car. All that remained was to dutifully return my cart.

A poor little white haired man was pulling out of his spot. He was nearly out when a redhead dashed into her drivers seat and threw it in reverse. The old man leaned on his horn but she paid him no heed. So desperate was her flight that he had to pull back in his spot in order to prevent her large black SUV smothering the life out of his little silver Toyota. She started a 16 point K turn. I watched this incident with another female pedestrian. I felt sorry for the guy but what could I do? I was just a helpless woman armed with naught but a shopping cart. My companion refused to let this oppression continued unpunished. She jumped in front of the SUV screaming and shaking her fist. The SUV tore out of the parking lot followed by the angry woman. The old man tried to back out again. A blue sedan tore through the ally at about 60 and leaned on their horn. The old man pressed his head against the steering wheel and cried quietly.

Has the entire world gone mad? It was like Midnight on Black Friday with four shots of Vodka and a case of Redbull.

I ditched my cart in the return, slammed my door shut, and held my breath until I was safely on my way home.

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The Day I Almost Killed My Brother

High School was wretched. I had very few friends. I was the girl in the hallway whose books were knocked from her hands. I shudder when I drive past my old school, and intend to burn any notice I receive for a Class Reunion. One of the bright spots in my HS years, was that I rarely rode the bus. God blessed me with a beautiful junker of a car. It passed from my sister to me, and made my days a bit easier. When my brother reached the same campus as me, he received the added benefit of this, since he then rode with me to school. He was a bookworm, a proclivity I completely understand, and used the precious half hour ride to add book after book to his pile of conquests.

Here is where my story really begins.

I was lonely after long days of loneliness (redundant explanation perhaps but true) and longed to engage in uplifting conversation. My brother is three years younger than me, and has always been a precocious fellow. I would hop into the car, buckle up, and promptly begin to chatter. His occasional grunts deceived me into thinking I was listened to, and I blathered on, wagging my chin like an idiot. The day I finally realized he wasn’t listening, I was a little miffed. I dropped back into silence and watched the tedious scenery roll by my windows. He barely noticed the difference and continued to contentedly turn pages.

We left school at the same time. We went home the same route. September to June. Twice a day. The scenery got boring, until one element of the view caught my eye and gave me a source of entertainment.

A boy, probably a year or two younger than me, got off his school bus at the corner and walked down the street to his house. He had a mop of curly brown hair, often wore a red flannel shirt, and nodded his head rhythmically up and down as he walked. I noticed it once. I noticed it twice. I started looking for headphones, or some sign that he heard something I didn’t. Apparently not, it must have been a tick. I’m not judging. My eyes twitch violently when I eat something sour.

He gave me weeks of silent analysis and mental study. Why nod? How nod? Was he a drummer? Was he humming too? What was his name? Which house was his? On and on and on… None of this madness would have continued if my brother had spared me those thirty minutes for conversation! None! Especially not what happened next…

I have a strange sense of humor. Few people understand it. Sometimes I’m not sure I understand it myself. But I began to concoct stories about this boy and tell them to my might-as-well-have-been-deaf brother.

The boy’s name was Josh. He and I were in love. We wrote beautiful letters to one another. He was a musician and a poet. We shared our first kiss in yonder field. We carved our initials in the knotted bark of that tree. Ah! Rapture! Bliss! The unparalleled heavenly taste of his lips against mine! I told my brother a new story about this boy every day for about a week. All went unheard. One day I went a step too far.

We came upon the turn. There was his bus. It stopped. He stepped down and began his nod accompanied stroll down the street.

“There he is Michael,” I sighed. “Look at those gorgeous locks. Tonight I shall run my fingers through them.” I looked at my brother. Who knows where he was. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. “You don’t believe I know him do you?” Silence. “I do and today I’ll prove it to you! Today I will wave at my beloved and he will blow me a kiss, then you will know all I speak to you is true!”

I took the turn slowly, positioned myself, one hand on the wheel, one lifted to wave at my unsuspecting victim. I locked my eyes on him, slowed to a crawl, and waved vigorously, my face plastered with feigned rapture. He looked up at me. His eyes widened in surprise. My brother screamed.

“RACHEL!!!!!!!!!”

This was neither a scream of affirmation, nor of wonderment that all my stories were true. No. It was a scream of utter terror.

If you don’t believe in God, if you don’t believe in miracles, you are about to hear a tale of mine.

My brother looked up from his book. He NEVER looked up from his book. That day he did, just in time to warn me that I was gliding on a direct course for a tree on the side of the road. Apparently the perpetual diagonal line I walk on is a defect in my brain. The one handed grasp on my wheel was gently gliding us off the road, unbeknownst to me.

I screamed, swerved, and slammed on my breaks. My brother and I sat for a moment or two in silence, learning once again how to properly breathe.

“What the heck were you doing?” Michael asked.

I shook my head in silence. I removed my foot from the break and we rolled on towards home. I glanced in my review mirror. The boy stood still in the middle of the road, his head gently nodding.

I never saw him again, but I often think of him. I wonder if he ever thinks of me. The girl that nearly ran into a tree just to look in his eyes and wave her hand at him.