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10—Jonah in Oceanside

As the Macaroni Grill faded from my little bubble of light, the sound of the sea teamed up with the wind to take possession of the night. Under siege of bullets of rain, I flung off my blankets. “This is personal,” I muttered as I leapt up, then strode across the room, pulled back the drape, and slid open the balcony door to confront the bully ocean. But the wind knocked me back with a blast of razor-sharp rain that stung my face and in the seconds it took to slam the door shut soaked me through to the skin. 

Even after I’d dried off, turned up the heat, and withdrawn into my blanket, something disconcerting seemed to inhabit my room. The gray ceiling beams came together over the bed like an upturned ship. In the eye of my own storm, I opened the bed-stand drawer, slid out the holy book....

Trying to avoid God’s directive to go to Nineveh to turn the people from their godless ways, Jonah stowed away on a ship bound for another port. To express his displeasure with Jonah, “the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken...”
To save themselves, the sailors tossed Jonah into the sea where he was devoured by a big fish. And from the belly of the fish, Jonah cried out.

“...The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped around my head....I will pay that that I have vowed....”

And when Jonah finally agreed to go to Nineveh, the fish barfed him up onto the land.

A drowsiness overcame me. I turned off the lamp and drifted into sleep.

The next day, I avoided the ocean by taking a hike in Cape Lookout State Park. I chose a trail that wound through a spruce forest that opened up to a rocky cliff high above the Pacific. Panic attacked me on the way back to the car. 

9—The Macaroni Grill

The sound of the storm and the sea receded, and as if in a dream, there I was in my own little bubble of light across the table again from Dr. Spinoza at the Macaroni Grill....


Josh our waiter appeared. I ordered the vegetarian lasagna and a salad. Dr. Spinoza ordered the lasagna Bolognese, a salad with extra parmesan, iced tea, more bread, and for dessert, the ginger peach tort with a double dollop of vanilla ice cream. “And now,” he said while slathering butter across another slice of bread, “please tell me your story.”

That story suddenly felt ridiculous. I thought of throwing down money for lunch and running. “My mother,” I heard myself say, “died with no unfinished business and with such beauty that grief seemed irrelevant. But it was the light that...”

Josh brought our salads. I felt hot and exhausted. Dr. Spinoza dumped the extra parmesan on his bed of greens and dug in with his fork. “It was the light that...” he cued me.

“That changed me forever,” I said. 
And the story of my mother’s death came pouring out:

8—Off the Middle Path

The walls of the motel room were light gray; the furnishings, plain and sparse. Even inside and high on a hill, the sea seemed to be coming for me like a freight train never quite arriving. 

Electric heat was just a slap on the wrist of the damp chill that had taken possession of everything—air, bones, hair, towels, sheets, clothes. Suddenly, the south wind began driving bullets of rain at my glass door. As I reached out from my cocoon of blankets for a sip of merlot, the sea crashing below sent an unsettling shudder up through the rock cliff and frame building into my bed. Back in the desert, the voice of the departed sea spoke to me small and still through the contours of basins and canyons, connecting me down through the millennia to the source of all things. I’d come to the sea itself with the hope of recovering the person I was before I lost everything. But now here I was huddling alone in the eye of some inexplicable terror. I should have listened to Dr. Fong.... 


Dr. Fong was a small slender man. As he spoke, his white polo shirt and khakis blurred into the white cupboards and tan walls of the exam room. “I understand your concern,” he said, “that taking a psychotropic medication may flatten your affect as a writer. But given what you’ve just described....” 

On the wall to Dr. Fong’s right, George Clooney smiled at me through a plastic magazine holder. The headline above the Sexiest Man Alive asked: Boston Nanny—a killer or victim? To Dr. Fong’s left, on the wall above the red hazardous waste receptacle was a photograph I recognized as the fluted black schist formation in Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon. My mind drifted down the wild green Colorado, our gray raft floating and bobbing alongside the shiny jet-black Vishnu Schist infused with streaks of pink Zoroaster Granite, my fingers reaching back 1700 million years to a time older than grief and fear.

Dr. Fong had stopped talking and was handing me the small sample box of the drug. While I wanted nothing more than to take it, I shook my head. 

7—Walk on Crab Avenue

As the door of the Netarts Grocery closed behind him, a large white cat with black markings sauntered toward me. His demeanor and the splotches of black fur on his face suggested that he’d just emerged marked but victorious from the paintball war to end all paintball wars. After casting a surly glance in my direction, the cat hopped into the president’s box. 

“Good morning, Mr. President,” I said. 
“Meh,” the cat replied. 
“Lugs,” I remarked, “what an interesting name. How did you come by it?”
“Meh,” said the cat. Then appearing to wait briefly for some additional favor that I failed to offer, he looked past me as though I’d ceased to exist. 

I walked into the store and was greeted in a friendly but reserved manner by a slim brown-haired woman behind the counter. “That’s quite a president you have,” I said. 
The woman rolled her eyes. “He’s mad. I put the lid on the jerky.”

The door opened. 

6—Fax and Copie

A sign on the two-lane wooded road to Oceanside told me I was only two miles from the House on the Hill Motel. My budget allowed only five days for the rebirth of my spirit, so I was eager to discover what wisdom the ocean had for me. As the road curved, the coniferous canopy opened into a scattering of weathered pines against the dank gray day. To my left lay the Pacific—vast, flat, gray, and punctuated along the near shore by dark rocky outcroppings.  

The road inclined downward into Oceanside. To my right, a steep hillside of houses. The main street was a single block lined with two small restaurants, a motel, a tiny post office connected to a one-room community center, a volunteer fire station, a coffee shop with a few weathered motel cabins, and—yep, not a single shop.  A few people moseyed here and there without apparent purpose. High on the hill at the end of the road was my destination.

Before settling in, I needed to send a fax and asked the motel manager if he would do that for me. “The closest fax machine is back in Netarts,” he told me. 

“Knee-tarts?” I asked.

“At the Sea Lion Motel,” he explained. “Two miles down the road. Right next to the Netarts Grocery. You can’t miss it,” he promised. But, it would seem I already had.

Sure enough, two miles down the road, a small weathered village began to materialize out of the trees and drizzle. 

Like Brigadoon, only without the music.