Sunday, June 26, 2011

Folding Back The Page

I play tennis with Ann on Fridays. Or, I did, until her surgery. She had to get some things in her wrist fused together from an old injury and she hasn’t been able to play for a while.

Ann loves Friday tennis for much the same reason we all do: it makes us feel better. Not just the hitting (or the occasional winning) but the being together – a sometimes unlikely group of women who know just enough about each other’s triggers and downfalls that with a little time and a lot of good vibes we are often able to put our collective Humpty Dumptys back together again. At least for a little while.

Ann is especially good at this. Probably the best. It’s her superpower – making people feel better about whatever crappy circumstance they find themselves in. She does it as naturally as breathing.

After her surgery, Ann showed up at the courts on Friday with her dog, her field chair and a big canvas tote. She set herself up by the net (where a referee might stand) and tethered her chocolate lab, organized her water bottles, applied her sunscreen and donned her hat. Before she sat back to enjoy, she reached into her tote and pulled out a bubble machine.

It was small and brightly colored – not the kind of thing you’d use for Danceteria. More like for a playdate with 3-year-olds – that last contraption to amuse before things begin to deteriorate. She set it up at her feet and every time one of us hit a great shot, or we had an especially good rally, she tapped the button with her toe and hundreds of tiny celebratory bubbles flew out.

“Great serve!” she’d call out. Or when that didn’t apply: “Good try!”

Ann can see the good in everything, and she helps you see it, too.

When she came to my house last week and got me talking about the teenager and his impending Alaska trip, she couldn’t have been more excited for him. In an effort to put a damper on that goodness, I ran to my magazine pile and pulled out the Trip Brochure. It’s a glossy, 48-page catalog that lists all the trips from this particular outfit.

The teenager’s trip is on page 34 and 35, and the brochure has been folded open to that page for months. On the left, there’s a small picture of someone sea kayaking in Prince William Sound and a little detail map of where they’ll be hiking. The right-hand page has two large, vertical photographs, one of a group backpacking at the foot of a mountain range and another of the crevasse. It’s not called a crevasse in the brochure – it’s described as an “ice climb on the Matanuska Glacier.” There are half a dozen kids in the photo, some standing close to the precipice holding ropes, and the others at the ends of those ropes making their way up what seems to be an endless drop down an ice-walled canyon. The photograph is taken from just far enough away that you can see the vastness of the glacier and the profound vulnerability of the climbers.

People who have seen the picture – “outdoorsy” people who hike and climb and eat snakes for breakfast – all look at that shot and say, “Hmm, that looks dangerous.”

I shake the photo in front of Ann, daring her to try and find something positive to say about what the teenager is about to do – what I have agreed to send him off to do. She takes the brochure from me, looks closely at the picture and then folds the page in half. Meaning, she tucks the crevasse away so that only the backpackers at the mountain are showing. They’re all facing the camera and smiling. They’re all on rock solid ground.

That’s how I’ve been spending this past week – trying to keep folding back the page. Even in the middle of my madness about thunderstorms and bears and the earthquake that rocked some part of Alaska last Thursday night (7.2), I take another breath, fold the page back and tentatively move a little closer to putting him on a plane Monday morning.

I try and picture Ann at the airport with me as I’m walking back to my car, my child in the air, and I imagine thousands of tiny bubbles surrounding me in some kind of surreal Lawrence Welkian moment. I can hear Ann’s voice in the background, “You can do this, Mom -- you’re doing it! Good job! Good job!”

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