Riptide
by Marion Smith

Chapter 19

[p.165]Hundreds of windmills are spinning full speed ahead, grinding out power for Los Angeles. An army of Don Quixote’s giants. Tina’s little boy loves to see them when we drive in from Ontario.

I’m going home today whether Duncan likes it or not. It’s too bad we’ve made this tremendous effort to get here, but that’s the way it goes. I’ll buy my ticket with cash and fly home under another name. They’re always empty seats on that flight. I told Tina to save her stub from a movie she went to last night. She thought I was weird, but I know she saved it. I’ll say I was at the movie. The stub will be in my coat pocket. I’m not involving anyone else in this anymore!

It’s scary to think of being all alone in this mess.

Behind my eyelids are wells of tears. Can I forgive myself? Not just for Clint’s death. For everything. For hurting Duncan. For not protecting Jeanne and Jasmine. I must, if only as a message to the rest of the family.

When Jeanne remembered her abuse, I felt I would go insane. I ordered myself to hold on. I felt no guilt at first. After all, we’d never had a clue what was happening. Guilt was buried under tons of other strata. Now it’s all I feel—guilt and sadness. I’ve got to shift into acceptance of a past that’ll become endurable. Can I do that? Who knows? The human spirit is superlatively teachable.

[p.166]The sun’s warming my arm through the glass. Duncan’s snoring again. I’d rather drive than sleep. Why can’t I think about something else? Will this trip ever end?

There was an old woman named Greer,
Whose actions were really quite queer.
When they asked was she sorry,
She said “Please, not to worry,
He was evil, there’s nothing to fear.”

Or,

There once was a pervert named Clint
Who got shot near an old pile of flint.
When she asked, “Did I sin?”
They said “Please, pass the gin.
We’ll drink to the hope that you’ll win.”

Win, sin, crime, slime—like grinding him up in the garbage disposal with Jasmine’s goldfish. I’m losing it.

A few hours ago, when I looked out the window into darkness, I could feel space pulling me. I thought, Earth doesn’t hold me safe. I’m too far gone. Like in my old spinning bed when I was six. Down, down a black velvet spinning funnel where I can barely see this swirling globe, tiny, twirling moth ball globe, choked with billions of silver pins, heads up, stuck in sticky, spongy clay. It’s not their close hot breaths that pollute the once light air, but the endless stream of words they spew. Formulae. Equations. Slogans. Theories. Letters pouring in neon-blazing jets of scalding light against the velvet darkness. Signs, labels, definitions burst on and off like quick-exploding super novas. Ideas swallowing their prey like vast black holes. Clinging to the slippery pole of some red stop light, I reach with disfigured fingers to press band aids on cancers and stuff marshmallows in open mouths. [p.167]My hand is numb in the crumbling dike of our beliefs. I can’t shout or move or breathe. Freud and Sartre, Christ and Nietzsche, Mother and Lao Tse, Stephen Hawking and the Mind of God are left to grapple, before my universe collapses on us all.

Enough!

“Duncan, will you drive again? I can’t see.”

“Sure. We must almost be there. Pull over.”

He turns the ignition key and says, “You look half dead. Ready to quit?”

“You mean permanently?”

“I hope not. But maybe. Are you?”

“As someone said, ‘We have just begun to fight.’”

“I was thinking about the war memorial in South Africa. Do you remember Bloemfontein?”

“I don’t remember much about South Africa … I was too sick.”

“There was a monument to Boers killed by the British. It says ‘We will never forget. We will never forgive.’ It’s what the Boers wrote after thousands of their women and children had died in Lord Kitchner’s concentration camp.”

“Hmmm. The Holocaust Memorial in Israel only says, ‘Lest we forget.’”

“I feel like those old stubborn Boers … I could use a shave and a shower.” He stretches an arm above his head while holding the wheel with the other.

“Remember when Tina played Sarah in J.B. while she was acting in New York?”

J.B.?” Duncan sounds confused. “The play about the modern-day Job?”

“Yeah, the one where Satan and God wear masks and talk in amplified voices. Remember?”

“Sure.”

[p.168]“Well, in the play, Sarah has a line when she comes back to J.B. after all the disaster and after God has spoken to him. J.B. had thought Sarah was dead, but she says she couldn’t do it. Sarah’s seen a flower growing in the rubble, and says even the forsythia is enough to stop her. She says my words. Then she says something like, ‘Blow on the coal of the heart, my love, blow on the coal of the heart, and we’ll have light.’ Something close to that.”

“You’ll have me crying.” He sounds like he means it.

“That’d be good.”

“Sarah’s line is mine, too, you know.” He speaks so softly I can barely hear. “Every bit as much as yours.” His hand is on my thigh.

A long pause, Then I add, to relieve the emotion, “MacLeish got a Pulitzer for that play.”

Duncan suddenly says, “If I’m Sarah in J.B., who are you?” “Pick any book?” Good, we can play this game until we get there. “Mrs. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse—it’s like I’m her clone and have all her strengths and weaknesses.”

“Like what?”

“She’s more gracious and wise than me, but she has the same drive for nurturing. Her whole life is spent tracking the subtleties of everyone’s feelings and taking care of everyone. It’s second nature to her. Her whole being is mothering.”

“That sounds familiar,” Duncan says with ironic tone. “What about her weaknesses?”

“She’s controlling. Not to have power, but because she thinks she knows how things should be. She’s overly protective. There’s another character, Lily, who’s her foil. Lily loves Mrs. Ramsay, but she knows Mrs. Ramsay’s an anachronism. That book was written in the 1920s or early 30s. Think of Mrs. Ramsay—or me—in the 90s!”

What happened to our game? Instead I’m making speeches.

[p.169]“She’s an anachronism?”

“Pretty much. Women today are supposed to be enlightened enough to know they can’t live through other people. That it’s destructive to both parties. Lily knew that.”

“Like you and Jasmine?”

“Exactly, Letting go of Jasmine is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I’m starting to cry again.

“I think you’re both coming along. It’s hard on her too,” Duncan says comfortingly.

“I know. We’re working. It’ll come.”

But will it? Letting go of her feels like a huge risk, even though there’s no alternative.

When Jasmine went into the hospital at seventeen for her bulimia she wrote me a letter saying she felt she was lost again like when she was six at ZCMI. She wrote how badly it hurts to grow Wings but that she was going to fly regardless of the danger. She says when she remembers the abuse, it’s like being seven again. Back then she loved to have things tied: bandannas, shoe laces, ribbons on pony tails, yarn around kittens’ necks. Jeanne and Jasmine were tied together then too. Not glued or cemented, but tied with threads that could stretch a continent, slender as a hair but strong as steel. Often, I thought back then, Jeanne and Jasmine existed for each other.

It was Clint who snarled their threads into ugly knots. He bound them to each other as much as to himself. He told Jeanne, “I’ll kill Jasmine if you tell,” “You’d better take care of Jasmine,” “If anything happens to Jasmine, it’ll be your fault,” “You mind me or Jasmine gets hurt.” Over and over the threats, spoken or implied. Sometimes With a club or belt or knife nearby.

For them, back then nothing had to have a reason. Jeanne and Jasmine never had reasons or words for each other. They still don’t. Their mingling’ is like ocean and sand; a shore line where [p.170]water and earth become so mixed that where they meet a new substance forms that gives umbilical nourishment. Chris would be jealous of this connection if he didn’t recognize the balance and strength it gives.

Jasmine can describe their dialogue. “We don’t talk,” she tells me. “But when we do, it’s in child language. ‘Dummy. Don’t you dare take the biggest piece!’ ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ ‘Moron! I’m not washing the dishes!’ ‘I guess I’ll have to go to your graduation so Mom’ll be happy!’ ‘You have absolutely the worst taste in movies!’ ‘Go make these phone calls for me!’ ‘When did you wash your hair?’ ‘I need a glass of water. Get it.’ ‘Your dirty dog’s not coming in my house!’ That’s how it goes,” Jasmine says.

I’ve heard these endearments, their tender language. When Jeanne was having her hardest time, she had to get through it for Jasmine. When Jasmine wanted so much to die, she said, “I can’t do that to Jeanne.”

Jasmine tells me a dream she has about Jeanne.

“In this dream,” she begins, ‘‘I’m both myself and Jeanne. I’m Jeanne dreaming in my dream. Jeanne dreams that all of the family except her and Chris are on a large balcony carpeted in red pile. The balustrades are white marble baroquely carved. They are too bright in the glaring sun. It’s hot. There are no clouds, just blazing sunshine. Everyone is standing speechless, gazing at a pool of sparkling turquoise water. Chris and Jeanne are getting married in the pool.

“Now I’m Jeanne getting married there. I’m in a satin lace gown of exquisite workmanship with tiny pearls everywhere on it. My long train floats on the water behind me. It doesn’t seem to get wet. My hair is so long it reaches almost to the end of the train. Some preacher in a black top hat is mumbling marriage vows. Now I’m myself back on the balcony looking down on the wedding scene. A huge bloated body of a dead man floats between [p.171]Chris and Jeanne and the minister. Slowly and aimlessly he floats between Chris and Jeanne, around them, over the silk train, close to the preacher. No one says anything. The preacher mumbles on, Jeanne and Chris clasp hands, and Jeanne tears a little. The dead man is on his back and from his gaping mouth a green stalk starts to grow. On its point is a white bud. Slowly it opens into a huge white lily whose overwhelming sweetly nauseating fragrance is everywhere. No one says anything about it. The minister concludes and all of us on the balcony silently applaud. As Chris slips the golden band on Jeanne’s finger, I’m suddenly out of Jeanne’s dream lying on a bed panting like I can’t breathe and needing to go to the bathroom badly.”

Jeanne and Jasmine dream each other’s dreams. They also hold each other through their waking nightmares.

Jasmine dreams so many dreams. I’ve heard only a few, and most of them I can’t remember. She’s always dreaming she has to save things. Rescue endangered turtles or New Guinea from the Exxon pipeline. “I don’t care when I lose people,” she says. “People will always pop up again like roaches.”

She loses islands, while I see her lose her already damaged innocence. Out of the blue Duncan turns to me and says, “I wish he’d died that day at Barking Sands. Even if I’d had to go with him.”

Barking Sands is a beautiful, isolated beach on the leeward side of Kauai. The only human marking on its sands that stretch for miles are from dune buggy tires. To the north the beach dead-ends in the rugged grandeur of the Napali cliffs; to the south it meets a curve of sea rock too far to walk to. It’s magnificent, especially at sunset when the sky and sea and sand and cliffs all burn orange together. In summer the currents are calm, but in winter the tides pound angrily.

We went there the Christmas Elizabeth was three months [p.172]old. There were Katherine and Clint and Elizabeth, the newlyweds Jared and Rachel, Tina, Jeanne and Jasmine, and Duncan and I. It was almost time to start the barbecue. Jasmine was nine; she couldn’t stay out of the waves. Jasmine and Clint were playing in the spray; jumping and then disappearing under the mountainous waves that broke so shallow, and then emerging like brown coconuts bobbing up and down.

Then I saw that they were in trouble, and there was no time for anything. “Duncan,” I screamed. “Get them!”·

In a moment Duncan was there, holding onto Jasmine and with his strong stroke trying to bring her in. The tide would bring them almost to touching—it looked so simple—then it would sweep them out again like straws. They couldn’t hear our frantic cries over the pounding surf and kept trying to come in. “This time we’ll make it!”

Katherine, clutching her baby, ran for help, but the only other people were far down the beach and I knew her effort would be useless. We didn’t have anything to throw to them. Tina and Jared kept crying, “They can’t fight it. They’re doing it all wrong. They’ve got to go with the riptide.” I was up to my knees, almost knocked over with each wave. I knew I’d go out, but that it was hopeless. I’d be another helpless swimmer. I’d only make it worse.

“I’m going!” Jared shouted.

“I can’t believe Dad’s doing this,” Tina screamed, “He knows they can’t fight it. I know how to do it.” Tina was our best and strongest swimmer; a state champion in high school. But her statement was still a question, a plea for permission.

Clint and Jasmine couldn’t last much longer, and still they fought the current. I looked at Tina, my child whose beautiful blue eyes melted my heart every time I looked at them, and I knew she’d had more training than Jared. Besides, he’d leave Rachel behind. “Go Tina. Make Duncan listen to you.”

[p.173]The four of them were out there now, and Katherine was back from her frantic search for help. My heart pounded for her more than for me. My whole life was out there in that current; yet, all I could do was stand and watch them disappear.

“Can’t we do anything?” Jeanne cried.

“Pray,” I answered.

I watched in awe as Tina calmed them down and took hold of Jasmine and told them what to do … But oh, dear god, if she goes too!

They were drifting with the riptide now, but we didn’t know where it would take them.

Then the miracle.

The tide changed. They felt it change beneath them. It brought them straight in, and Katherine and the baby were with Clint where he lay motionless on his stomach, the tide foaming back and forth about his ankles. I held Jasmine as she moaned over and over, “My fault, all my fault.” Duncan was crying as he stood and held Tina.

Remembering it now, I suppose Katherine and Jared, if they could make such a choice, might sacrifice the others to have let Clint drown and their children be saved from him. But for me—my life was there in that raging current. The symbolism amazes me—Clint luring everyone into the riptide.

I look at Duncan concentrating on the traffic.

“I don’t know what made the current change, Duncan, do you?”

“God. Prayers. Natural forces. I don’t know either. I just know I’d gladly have drowned to have him die back then. “

“It wouldn’t have worked that way. Tina and Jasmine were there, too. Remember how Jasmine kept saying it was all her fault?”

[p.174]“I guess she thought everything connected to Clint was all her fault.” Duncan sounds exhausted.

“That whole event used to be a metaphor for me: go with the tide and it will bring you in. Now, when I remember it, it makes me sick to think of Clint being so close to Jasmine and Jeanne in that condo in Kauai.”

“He’s ruined even our memories of what we thought were wonderful times,” Duncan says quietly.

“He’s destroyed our family’s collective life.” I’m quiet too.

We drive through the desert watching for the first exits to Palm Springs. He drives under 65.

I’d like to think Clint wished he’d died at Barking Sands. But he didn’t. I know he didn’t.