We stood at the back of the ferry that churned with surprising speed from Vashon Island to Tacoma. At the end of a three day adventure we leaned over the rail, three middle-aged women, each holding a paper umbrella, like the ones used to garnish drinks, waiting to release them into Puget Sound and forever, along with the wishes of our hearts.
Mary invited Lisa and I to join her at the cabin her family had been renting for the summer since she was a girl. She told us to bring a sleeping bag. Everything else was provided. We'd work out meals when we got there. The word rustic might have come up in conversation, but beyond that I had little idea what was in store for me.
We are amazingly easy together, the three of us. Lisa and Mary became friends because of husbands with common careers, and became sisters when first one and then the other husband took off with other women. Lisa and I became friends after her son was in my fifth grade class and after she went back to school to become a teacher, and became sisters while she tried to make sense of a world turned upside down by betrayal. Mary and I became friends when Lisa introduced us at improv game nights, and through our blogs, and were, I believe, sisters before we even met.
The cabin was a bit of a shock at first - beyond rustic into the territory of primitive. Swiss Family Robinson. Sleeping on an open air porch shared with spiders and a bat. The kitchen in which all three of us could fit, but only if we didn't move. The bathroom out the back door, along a short boardwalk with slug escorts, ivy growing around the base of the toilet. The memories of decades of family summers and much of Mary's recent history rustling in the dark corners where the single light bulb hanging from each room couldn't reach.
A huge, gnarled weeping willow guarded the small bridged path leading to the front door. The tinny musical trickle of water springing from the hill behind us played a duet with the deep rushing thrum of the ocean in front of us. Hummingbirds chipped and buzzed around us on their way to the fuschia at one corner of the yard, often resting on the reaching fingers of the nearby ancient madrona .
Swinging on the rope swing, shrieking with little-girl glee. Paddling over the clear cold water under a pure hot sky while a bald eagle hunted along the shoreline. Giggling over peanut butter s'mores shared at the community fire with the three families staying next door.
Playing with the candy cigarettes Lisa brought. Disappointed at how small they were. Indignant that the red tips were mostly missing. Laughing ourselves silly at our memories of these and other childhood delights.
Making boats of driftwood, leaves, flowers, candles, glitter, candy cigarettes, hopes and dreams. Sending those boats into the receding tide at dusk, along with wishes that would move each of us farther along on our journeys. Watching the lights from the candles on our boats march steadfastly across the bay, flickering occasionally, but burning long after their star cousins filled the sky.
Walking along the shore at low tide watching red rock crabs scoot here and there in the dancing sea lettuce. Gathering shells for the sand candles Mary planned as our craft, and for the sheer joy of holding the ocean's treasures in our hands. Marveling at the fountains shot by escaping geoducks and irritated anemones.
Woven in and around our play was the kind of conversation that can only happen in the midst of total safety, deep relaxation and earned sisterhood. Shared joy and pain and fear. Shared hopes and dreams and desires. We've suffered, all three of us, and survived. More than survived - we are thriving and healing and traveling the unworn path. We're also all at crossroads places in our lives.
My career change. Confronting the fear growing in the shadows of all the unknowns stretched out in front of me. Trying to understand my feelings about my own marriage and what I really want from it - and Walt.
Lisa managing the single parenthood of two brilliant and amazing teenagers, taking classes to become a principal, processing the divorce legacy of grief and anger and loneliness. All with singular grace and dignity and great humor.
Mary releasing the final remnants of pain from her divorce and facing a life much longer than she had reason to hope for after two cancer diagnoses. Now husband and cancer free, with a recent past created from a list of last wishes and a future as open and clear as the skies we played under, she was ready to mark the change.
So we smudged the cabin. The place where carefree childhood summers formed the foundation of her life. The place where her husband first proposed and then years later called her to tell her he was "moving on." The place she goes for rest and healing and serenity.
And while the purifying smell of sage filled the cabin, pushing ick from the dark corners; while it cleansed the spot outside where Mary received the final phone call; while the soft white smoke wrapped her in its healing embrace, I could feel all of that for my life as well. Purifying. Cleansing. Healing. A perfect end to a summer full of letting go. In the company of companions who understand and know and embrace it all.
Mary released her umbrella first, and in the custom of wishes meant to come true, did not share. When hers was no longer visible floating in the wake of the ferry, I let mine fly. Shortly after mine disappeared, Lisa's whipped through the air. We stood quietly for a bit, still connected to our wishes, savoring the memories of the previous days, storing it all away to be brought out for light during the long darkness of the winter to come.
Then one by one we turned and walked to the front of the ferry where Mary's car waited to carry us home. Moving on.