“Come to Cal’,” my younger brother, Brandon, urged me on the phone in March of 1979. “Come and look for a house for the summer. Just think about the summer, nothing else.”
Brandon, a TV executive in California, had been divorced for about six years. Spending some time with him seemed like a good idea. Spending time with B—as we called him--had always been a good idea. Although he was three years younger than I, B was my “spilt-apart” soul. Even as children we had shared the same innate sense of the outrageousness of life: our laughter bubbling up simultaneously.
Only I wasn’t so good at laughing these days. I had been separated from my second husband for seven months and consumed by misery and shame, I was living on baked potatoes and cigarettes, rail-thin and hollow-eyed.
Nonetheless, the realization had been creeping up on me, as slinky and drag-ass as an inchworm, that I would not survive living in the same small Ohio town with what would shortly be my two ex-husbands.
I knew I had to at least think about leaving. Leaving? After twenty-three years of life and friends in Perrysburg? I was petrified.
“Come on, Ces,” B persisted. “You have to get out of there.”
I headed west.
B had organized a realtor who took me straight to the Pacific shore at Malibu. “You need the water,” Brandon reminded me and I knew he was right. Water is healing for me: soothing, always shifting, the colors changing constantly. Rough or smooth, water is my element.
But Malibu was not. I simply wasn’t up to Malibu.
Alta Tingle, a friend of Brandon’s, had planned a dinner party for me. I didn’t want to go. “Don’t worry about it,” B chided. “It will be very casual. You’ll like the people. It will be fine.”
It will not be fine, I thought, as I dressed in jeans and an old shirt and some sneakers.
“No!” B shouted when I emerged from the guestroom. “I said casual, but you are not going looking like that. You looked better when you got off the plane. Put that stuff on.”
The dinner party was OK. The people were welcoming and friendly and I did my best. It was a buffet supper and we sat around Alta’s living room, some on chairs, some on the floor. My brother was sitting next to Alta on the couch and I was on the floor nearby.
When most of us had finished our food, B suddenly stood up and announced, "I’m done with this plate!” And then, in one swift motion, he backhanded his white china dinner plate into the fireplace, where it shattered into a million pieces.
Conversation stopped. People were gape-jawed over what had just happened. Brandon fell back into the couch, he and Alta rocking with laughter. Then B caught my eye with that old look, that naughty, utterly familiar look from our childhood when he was urging me to do something outrageous. He didn’t say a word. He just gave me that gleeful, dare-you look.
Without thought, I rose to my knees and winged my empty plate into the fireplace. The pieces flew all over the carpet. We were all laughing now and plates were flying across the room. Over the racket I heard my brother say to Alta, “You see? I told you. She is going to be all right.”
On the way home B confessed that he had planned the whole thing. He had seen the set of white plates at a yard sale and had the idea. “Ten dollars,” he grinned. “Small price to pay to see you light up like that.”
A day later, flying home, I recalled the giddy rush of freedom that I had felt as I winged that plate into the fireplace: the satisfying sound of pottery breaking against stone, and I smiled. I had done it, I thought. I had stepped up—at least gotten to my knees--and tossed that damned plate.
I knew then that I would leave Ohio. With his extraordinarily creative wisdom, my wonderful brother had reached right into the core of me and reignited the pilot light of my life.
Where I would go, I didn’t know. It would take a while, that was certain. But one way or another, somewhere, somehow, I would begin again.
Written with great love and gratitude for the life of my brother,
March 31, 1937- December 22, 2014
Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com