“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and the awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just living
heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life.
And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
I reached my heart attack stress limit in November. After being rescued from a difficult living situation and swept back to my cousin’s condo in The Moorings area of Naples in late November, I was again on the quest to find a new place to live. My next move would be the fourth move in as many months and my mind and body were maxed out from the strain of living out of suitcases and not being able to put my things away…like in drawers and on shelves and in cupboards. Everything had to be out where I could see it and find it, and that kind of disorganization disturbs my Wa (和 “harmony, peace, balance”).
My cousin forwarded me the email newsletter, Needs News, from First Baptist Church and I pored through it for “Roommates Wanted” listings. After my last experience, I was certain I needed to start at the church and find a like-minded roommate. There were several ads and I called on all of them. The first person to get back to me was a woman named Carla. Her present roommate was getting married and had given her only a short evacuation notice. She was desperate to find a new roommate and quickly. We talked over the phone and agreed to meet the next day. Both of us were nervous. It can be a real crapshoot to find a roommate you can actually live with in harmony. I don’t care how wonderful we think we are—we all have tics, quirks, persuasions and grooves that feel comfortable to us but can and will drive another person out of their tree.
I drove to the entrance of the Bridgewater Bay Association, a well kept, beautifully groomed and gated community in North Naples, pressed the code for the gate to open and drove to Carla’s condo. The person who greeted me at the door was a very tall, beautiful woman, near in age to me, elegantly dressed in a simple sleeveless top and pencil skirt with sparkling sandals on her pedicured feet. Her raven hair, olive skin, green/brown eyes and straight posture suggested a previous career in modeling. (I guessed at this part and I was right.) Her voice was kind and she seemed genuinely glad to meet me. We sat and talked, shared a little about ourselves and I assured her I was neat and clean and liked to cooperate when sharing a household with someone else. We are both single mothers with grown children so some of the rough corners of our inherent feminine selfishness have been rounded off.
After an hour of visiting and a tour of her beautifully decorated condo, I knew I wanted to live there and she knew she wanted me as her new roommate, but we both thought it wise to exchange references, if, for no other reason than to assure our friends and family that we had done due diligence in researching backgrounds. I ponied up the $150 needed for the Association lease application and background check and told her I would pay December’s rent on time even though I did not plan to move in until mid-December. I had so much graphic design work on my plate, I couldn’t imagine being down for even one day until I could get ahead of the game a little bit.
Garrett and I prayed for angels to help me move (again). I don’t have that much stuff but what I do have is heavy and my back isn’t good. Years of trying to lift, haul and move everything by myself has crunched some vertebrae and the pain prevents me from even trying. Carla called a couple young guys from her church and they signed up to help me move on December 19th. My cousin let me use her van which was a great help since, after my old Jetta had given up the ghost, I purchased a 2009 VW Convertible Beetle. I have to put the top down just to put something in the back seat now and the trunk is only a little bigger than the glove compartment. Still, it’s a great beach car and I am thrilled to have a convertible for the first time in my life! Always wanted one.
The weather in SW Florida has been stifling since I moved here in early August. No breaks. Always hot, steamy and humid. But on December 19, the day of my move, a cold front came through and it was almost chilly. It was the first (and so far, the last) day I have worn long sleeves and long pants, a perfect day for moving. Carla and the guys arrived at 9 a.m. and worked fast and efficiently to load up the van. They were relieved there wasn’t that much to move and I was relieved I didn’t have to hoist heavy stuff up the two flights of stairs to Carla’s place. We were done within an hour, I gave the guys both some money as a thank you, and the work of settling into my room began.
Carla is a gracious, kind, helpful and serving person. She is well connected in the community, loves to thrift store shop (oh…yay! My kind of girl), volunteers her time at a home for young, unwed pregnant girls, and has gone through some difficult things in life. Her childhood was less than ideal; raised in poverty, both physical and emotional, with an abusive father and an overwhelmed mother. Her father was the kind of man who made the neighborhood kids scatter when they saw his car drive up the street headed home after work. Her oldest brother was killed at age 49 in a car accident by a drunk driver, and she suffered plenty of heartache in a previous marriage. After her brother was killed, her father lost the desire to live. Shortly afterward, he developed a cough, was diagnosed with lung cancer, endured a few rounds of treatment but soon gave up the fight. His “buddy,” his son, his best friend was gone. He didn’t want to live anymore.
Carla’s one of those people who has scars that show but has steadfastly committed to becoming a more loving, giving, more understanding and compassionate person as a result of them. It would have been easier to become cynical and hardened. I admire her.
Less than a week after I moved in, she announced her sister was coming to stay for a month. I thought this was wonderful as she would have family with her over the holidays and it might take some of the pressure off me to “socialize” and carry on the backyard fence obligations that women do when they’re getting (and staying) acquainted. The two sisters are half Greek from their mother’s side and soon the kitchen was bustling with Greek food and delicacies being cooked up. I love Mediterranean food, life, culture and people. In another life, I’m sure I was either Greek or Italian. I certainly wasn’t Scandinavian. I like spicy food and lots of garlic. There’s a Greek Orthodox church just a mile away and I plan to be first in line at their next bake sale.
I was invited to Carla’s relatives for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but I declined. I don’t really like going to other people’s relatives’ homes on the holidays. I would rather stay home and watch “A Christmas Story” then try to muster an entire evening of small talk. That’s the introvert in me. I was, however, invited to spend Christmas Day with a couple “ex-Minnesota” friends and this felt somehow easier to manage. When you’ve reached your heart attack stress limit, a good Lutheran with just a shred of familiarity is easier to deal with than stepping into the unknown. I don’t know what I was thinking when I went to missionary training school as a young adult.
So my first Christmas in Naples has come and gone and it went surprisingly well. I didn’t do any shopping for gifts. Gift buying requires thought and my chaotic situation left no more room for extra thought. It was survival time and necessitated the use of only selective brain cells, shutting down all the others. I’ve also figured out that I should do all my Christmas shopping in June and July when it is “off-season” here in SW Florida.
Naples has entered what the locals call “in season,” meaning all the snowbirds, vacationers, and homeowners are returning from the north and things pick up in a hurry. Good for tourism and shop owners, tough in the traffic department.
Driving 1.5 miles to the grocery store is like running the gauntlet. Three lanes of traffic and it’s the only time in my life I’ve been neck and neck with Mazeratis, Bentleys, BMWs, Mercedes, and Ferraris. We all sit at the same stoplight together, the starting gate for the quarter mile to the next stoplight.
I can hear the racetrack announcer now.
“Aannnd, THEY’RE OFF! Black Mazerati is first out of the gate and takes the lead. Here comes White Mercedes on the outside. Super Beetle is on the inside rail. It’s Black Mazerati in the lead. White Mercedes has pulled into second on the outside. Super Beetle is forced over to the middle. Here comes Yellow Ferrari on the inside! It’s Black Mazerati, White Mercedes and Yellow Ferrari in the lead by a length! Super Beetle is airing and falling back to fourth place! They’re in the backstretch now. Yellow Ferrari is roaring up behind Black Mazerati but can’t find a hole in the pack. They’re almost to the next stoplight!”
I’m a chalk player. I’ll bet two bucks on Black Mazerati.