Archive for the ‘Books in Progress’ Category

Turning the Planets Around


Love in the Time of Spinal Cord Injury

“Full fathom five thy father lies,

of his bones are coral made,

those were the pearls that were his eyes,

nothing of him that doth fade,

but doth suffer a sea change,

into something rich and strange…”  The Tempest

For Robbie



I’m looking at his legs.

Robbie and I are pedaling down the coast from Rincon to the Ventura County Fairgrounds, a 22-mile round trip.  The blue Pacific is to our right.  On the left, a two-mile hillside stretch of yellow daisies tumbles onto the windy bike path.  Soon we will reach the point just before the trestle bridge where we will hop off our bikes and carry them out over the rocky beach to the tide line.  Then we will rest.

His legs.  The calves long and toned with lean muscle.  His thighs, with the quads clearly defined through black Lycra bike shorts.  I like following these legs.

A hundred yards away, Highway 101 hums with traffic.  But we are down close to the surf and that is what we hear. We cycle past RVs parked along the edge of the perimeter road, almost on the beach.  We smell the charcoal lighter fluid and hot dogs.  We eye the portable tables set with bowls of barbecue potato chips. We whiz past kids running full tilt with their kites.  We drink from our water bottles, imagining the salt-rimmed margaritas waiting for us down the road.  Robbie holds his water bottle arm’s length from his head, shooting it in a strong stream into his mouth.  He lets me catch up with him and then sprays water at me, laughing.  It feels cool and reckless and good, though I think for a moment that he’s careless with his water, that he should be saving it for the hard ride back in the headwind.  I will probably have to give him some of mine. 

That’s okay.  I’m the luckiest woman alive.

To be in this place on this day with this man feels lucky.  How many women wheel into a dream of love in their middle years, a love that makes them feel 18 again?  How many 50-year-olds are adored, ravished, excited, joyful, satisfied?  The best part is, I trust it.  I trust that this will be the defining relationship of my life.  This will be the love that saves me, that brings me everything I’ve waited for, everything I’ve earned.  This will be my time.  I feel life pulse in my fingertips.

We reach the spot just before the trestle and set out over the rocks with our bikes.  The beach is wide here and the stones are large.  No one bothers to stumble over them out to the point for a swim.  Robbie and I are in one of our favorite places: an empty beach.  The rocks stop close to the shoreline and we take off our shoes and stretch out on the sand.

            “I can’t believe this day,” I say.

He reaches for my hand and pulls me close enough for a long kiss.  He lies prone, his head resting in the crook of one arm, looking at me with one eye.

            “It’s all good,” he says.  Then he turns over and I see an erection pushing out through his bike shorts. 

            “Do you need some help with that?” I ask.

            “You bet.”

I’m getting better with my hands.




            “Stupid Goofballs.”

            That is the name of a club with only two official members: Robbie and me.

            It is so named because that’s how we act when we see each other. It describes this crazy love relationship that we’ve gotten into late in our lives.  We are nutty over each other like adolescents, like chimps swinging from vines, impulsive, reckless, whooping it up, as if to say we’ve survived a whole bunch of heartbreak and we’re still strong enough to cut our own meat, so let’s have sex!  We’ve already had marriages and children and careers and all the stuff people call life while they’re on the way to you-know-what.

            Bullet-proof Robbie doesn’t think much about you-know-what.  He’s gone off scuba-diving in Micronesia.  I am at home in LA, eating lunch over the sink.


The call comes from the ship Thorfinn at two in the afternoon. 

“It’s Brian.” 

I recognize the voice of Robbie’s son.

 “There’s been an accident.”

My blood shrinks in my veins.

 “We think Dad got the bends.”  There is a beat. 

“He’s paralyzed from the waist down.”

            Stupid goofball.


            It has been an unimportant day, a small narrowing of circles as I pack for a two-week vacation with Robbie.  I am to meet him in Honolulu as he makes his way back from a week long scuba diving trip in Truk Lagoon, a tiny spot 1,200 miles from Guam where, toward the end of World War II, the U.S. sank the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Fourth Fleet.  A world famous dive site, Truk has been on Robbie’s map for a long time. 

            When the phone rings, I am standing in my kitchen, checking off my travel list: vitamins, swim suit, sun block, camera, maps of Maui.  It is a featureless March day in Los Angeles, the last day of the month, the day everything changes.


Accident report, as recorded by Robbie’s son Brian


Friday, 3/31/06


1.       At approximately 8:00 AM, dive on Nippo Maru.

2.       Dive to approximately 148’, averaging 37 minutes of bottom time.

3.       Did our stops as per the dive computer; last stop was approximately 15’ for 10 minutes.

4.       Dad gave me the OK sign to surface.  I surfaced at approximately 9:00 AM.

5.       At approximately 9:05 AM, I noticed that Dad was hanging onto the side of the boat while everyone else was coming aboard.  I looked down to him and noticed that his pupils were dilated and that his regulator was out of his mouth. 

6.       His speech was slurred when he was asked if he was OK.  I told Mike, the Dive Master to look at him.  Mike said, “Let’s get him out of the water.”

7.       Mike and others pulled Dad out of the water and onto the boat.  They laid him down. He was still disoriented and slow to respond.  We went back to the Thorfinn.


Other words follow about bubbles in the spinal cord, the time difference to Micronesia, how and when to contact each other, hyperbaric decompression chambers, boats and evacuation flights from small islands to larger ones and then on to the Naval hospital in Guam.

            I see the dark stone flecked with umber and gray in my granite counter tops.  There is the window sill, the garden outside still mute from a non-blooming winter of drought.  Two o’clock on a Friday.  The quotidian landmarks of my kitchen: counter, sink, cupboard, clock.  Like a timepiece stopped on the picture-book wall of a childhood story, Dali-esque, or like the clocks stopped after a bomb drops or the power goes out. 

Two o’clock, the sun too high for shadows.  I am land-locked, unable to move.  He is

paralyzed at sea.          






Ignatius Skye was alone.  With his good eye he peered wearily out at the rocking sea from his perch atop the crosstrees, the only piece of wreckage still afloat after the scuttling of the HMS Oracle.  Turquoise ocean stretched calm in every direction, and blissful tropical weather prevailed, but Ignatius Skye was one worried cat.  Thirst for fresh water prickled on his tongue.  Longing for his soft-woven cushion in the window at Number 4 Tide Street, Boston, crested higher than ever.  This time Ignatius Skye had drifted too far.


Boston, 1783



In the darkening garret, Isobel Skye lay with her litter of kittens.

“They look like things that have been boiled and spat out,” she thought, looking at her brood.

They were scrawny with pink skin showing through thin, wet fur.  Their eyes were clamped shut into slits that looked sewn shut.  Tiny plugs of ears jutted from the sides of their heads. Isobel knew that before long their raw, newborn looks would change.  Soon she would see their eyes and hear their voices mewling for food.

The abandoned house was cold. Soldiers had made a wreck of it during Boston’s Siege.  With the war finally over, Isobel hoped that the Jeffers family – the Deacon, Sally and their children – would return to the clapboard Yankee house and make Isobel’s world whole again.  Home for the Jeffers was here, at Number 4 Tide Street.  Home is where any family should be.

Isobel turned to the task at hand.  She was a seasoned mother and had sent other offspring into the world with the skills they’d need to survive.  She would begin again with this batch, starting with their names.  Isobel would copy Sally Jeffers and give each one a name that began with same initial letter as hers.

Innika was pure white with a spike of black on her tail.  Ivan was a feisty ginger cat.  Indigo claimed an inky, blue-black coat. Isaac was a classic tabby male. Last, and smallest, was Ignatius, the runt of the litter.  His tiny body and legs were white.  Seven toes on each front paw and six on the back, gave him more toes than his siblings and most other cats.  They made his feet look big and flat, as if he were wearing mittens.  A cape of gray striped his back and covered his ears, forming a mask above his eyes.  His eyes.  Through the narrow opening, Isobel caught the briefest glimpse.  The right eye shone the bluest of ocean blues; the left glimmered  a tawny, earthen gold.  Ignatius Skye bore the colors of land and sea.

Isobel licked each kitten clean and set it to nestle with the others.  Once they were comfortable,  she did the thing that came most naturally.  She rested herself…