If you’re new here, my Monday musing is some loving guidance I send your way weekly to tide you over or top you up or get you through. I believe that shit happens but we can fix it and feel so much better when we do. Life doesn’t have to feel this hard. LOVE doesn’t have to feel this hard.
Gather round children, get some cookies and milk or as I like to call it, wine. I have a story to tell you, and I will confess to you right now that I don’t even know what the moral is going to be. I mean I feel it brewing and broiling, but Imma gonna be as surprised as you are. So that’s fun and new. Anyhow it’s a goodun, so without further adieu.
It’s the summer of a freaking long time ago, to be exact. My children are tiny. I’m gonna venture, 2 and 5. Summer is a very big deal for me back then. Some get spring fever, well I used to get summer fever. The last day of preschool or kindergarten I threw structure and routine and list making and accomplishment OUT the window and morphed from a type A into this magical free spirited being who jumped in lakes and danced by firelight dripping with jingly coins and flowing skirts, and drove down winding highways with the windows open wide and my hair whipped into tendrils. As a mother I was fiercely adventurous, all of my drive and energy went into transforming the muggle world into Hogwart’s the beach edition. I took my kids on all kinds of road trips and hikes and to theme parks and on picnics. We built sand castles for hours and played mermaids and made up mermaid names. I was mesmerized and mesmerizing.
Our beach of choice was in my mom’s small town where she grew up with my aunty and my grandmother was a pioneer. We often stayed with The Ladies, we called them, who lived together in a matriarchy of gentleness, sleeping on foamies or sofas, wherever they could squeeze us in. But this summer my granny wasn’t feeling well so I got the idea to rent us a place through VRBO on the actual lake. This was a big huge deal for me. I didn’t spend money on vacations ever. Not to sleep somewhere. Money was for ice creams and carnivals and festivals. I didn’t stay at hotels, or buy dinner in restaurants. To spend $3500.00 to stay for ten days at a beach rental was a revolutionary act. It was the life that I knew I was meant to lead. For ten glorious days I was not going to have to pack for two hours, lunches and drinks and snacks and icy coolers and sun screen and hats and extra hats and pull ups and buckets and inflatable toys and air pumps; that whole list. I was not going to have to coordinate nap schedules and meal schedules and moods and find parking and then pray to the gods of solar power that no one would have a meltdown before the magic happened, or that during some glorious fifteen minutes I might be able to pick up a book, or scribble in my notebook words to capture the light infused lake blue. No, Friend. I would sit at the water’s edge when the children were sleeping and soak up its shimmery darkness. I would inhale the fragrance of warm sand and briny weeds. Instead of seeking it out, paying homage to the lake we would make outings for food or provisions or ice cream and come home to find the lake right there, filling our senses, lulling us into the rhythm of her soft waves. Lifting us to a higher place. That is how I imagined it as I wrote a cheque like I was pulling a tooth.
We arrived, my husband and my two daughters and I in our minivan. My husband did the walk around the property with the owner before he traded keys for the remainder of payment and took off. I remember that man’s face, his voice, his demeanour. Good ole Mr. Rondald. I remember walking into the place and observing the shelves stuffed full of belongings. I could hear the voice of his advertisement, something about not being your typical beach rental but having the ‘comforts of home’. I was a naïve renter then. I believed I was getting something extra, a greater stash of board games, spices in the cupboards. The kids explored. My husband and I set up in the master where we found the closets and dressers full, like when you opened a drawer you could hardly get it closed again. We laughed it off. What funny people. We imagined living their life. We didn’t much care for their taste in furnishing or the old musty carpets, but the house was large and there was a pool table in the basement which our 5 year old found fascinating. I was optimistic. The Universe was looking out for us; the children would be more entertained with all of this stuff around than in some place shiny and new and slightly more habitable. And there was peanut butter already in the cupboard.
Then we found THE LIST. THE LIST consisted of instructions for the property. But just you wait. Not the usual. Not here’s how to log into the Wifi, or where to find the beach towels. Nope. This was a list of expectations for maintaining the property, and I neither kid nor employ hyperbole when I say it was three pages long and included items such as:
- Lawn maintenance schedule for watering and mowing the very large lawn
- Garden and plant watering, yes all of their summer flower beds, hanging plants and extensive gardens were left to our care.
- Feeding and maintaining the wall sized aquarium in the basement, replete with all kinds of fancy ass fish.
In case you are asking yourself whether the Rondalds advertised or in any way informed prospective “guests” of their “rental” that they would be caring for fish, the answer is NO. NOPE. NADA.
- Feeding and changing the litter box for THE FAMILY CAT.
Now might be an opportune time to mention that my husband was deadly allergic just being in the same household as cat hair, so not super excited to pay three grand to cat sit for a stranger.
Conveniently the owners were off to Hawaii and we weren’t going to find a place in that valley that was not already booked, so we found ourselves at a crossroads. If we complained, we could get our money back, maybe possibly best case scenario without a fight, but summer vacay with the kiddies would be a bust. So, we smiled. We laughed at THE AUDACITY, we picked up the extra strength allergy pills, and we went on about having a fun time. The next two days were pretty blissful, except that there was a heat wave in the area, and the temperatures were skyrocketing. The entire valley was about to light on fire and we were struggling to figure out the air conditioning, which for some reason (what!?) did not make it on to THE LIST. We tried to call the owners in Hawaii where they vacationed while we cared for their property. They did not call us back. This was before cell phones, and the temperatures kept rising. No one was sleeping. The basement was cooler and fine for our 5 year old but our wee one had to move into our room which was slightly cooler than hers. Finally on day 3 they answered our call, only to plead complete ignorance as to why the air conditioning might not be working. They promised to call a technician.
Before any such technician was called the valley reached its record temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. 40 degrees Celsius. We fed the children ice water and popsicles. We traded around the one fan in the house. Our five year old developed a cough.
On day five the washer backed up and flooded the basement. We were left in charge of managing the insurance restoration. LARGE HEAT FANS were installed in the basement to dry it out. I moved one daughter into the hallway to sleep under an open window. In utter desperation my husband hunted down and finally found the air conditioning unit, only to discover that it had been…locked. The owner, Mr. Ronald (truly part of me wants to call him by his actual name when I think about this unconscionable act) LOCKED the air conditioner so that he would not have to spend any money on air conditioning in the middle of a heat wave when we had small children and he knew this and he lied about it. Wow-uh.
On day six, all of the fish in the wall sized aquarium died on account of the extraordinary heat in the house resulting from both the heat wave and THE SIX LARGE HEAT FANS. So now the house smelled not just of musty carpets and other people’s clothing (ew), it smelled of large dead fish.
On day seven, I think we’re almost through Genesis here, we were awakened from our feverish half sleep by the gunfire of corks exploding into the air. The Ronald’s extensive fancy ass wine collection, adjacent the fancy ass fish carnage, had boiled to the breaking point. Basically the wine had taken its own life.
And what a marinade of smells that was. What a clean up.
They told us we would be getting a substantial refund in the calls that ensued.
And so once again we made the best of it.
Maybe our vacay would be free; this was The Universe giving us a week at the beach with a few hurdles to overcome and we would laugh one day and see it as an adventure. Right? *mops up sour wine soaked dead fish.
My daughter’s cough progressed. We took her to the doctor and they treated her for pneumonia.
At the end the Ronalds refunded us $700.00, but then kept my damage deposit of $500.00, saying that the housekeeper found the place quite messy with sand on the floor. Lower your heads with me will you in a moment of profound silence.
Today I can say to my family Remember the Rondalds? And we laugh and laugh and shake our heads.
And finally today I am going to share with you the truth of this experience.
Yes, we were naïve renters, and mislead, and VRBO was newer back then and there were less standards in place. The Ronalds were unconscionable in their treatment of us. Unethical. Unkind. Slumlord scammy. At the level of the world this is true. Had I taken them to court I would have won, but it wasn’t worth the emotional energy, and the reliving of the whole thing to me.
Maybe if I could borrow the Ghost of Summers Past I could get a glimpse of whatever was going on for Mr. Ronald. Maybe he was falling apart, and his wife was going to leave him, and his work was going to fire him. Maybe he was a gambling addict and had to rent his home to pay for his debt to the local small town mob boss. Or maybe he was cruel and calculating, and the tragedy for him was that he was twisted by hate and fear and lack in his heart.
The truth for me is that I loved it there. I loved the Tikki torches at night, the one night before the fire ban prohibited the use of them. I loved that the beach felt like mine, and that I could inhale the stretch of sand and the wind on the water turning the caps of the waves white and feel the wind in my bones. I loved the afternoon when everyone took a nap and I lied in the baking sun and read a book, and swam until I felt reborn, when juxtaposed images of fire bombers and children playing showered my notebook. I remember that I left that precious notebook on the roof of my car one day, and going door to door until a young woman fetched it from the garage where her father had placed it after finding it at the side of the road. I remember feeling so protected, a wild freedom somewhere deep.
We hold on to the transgressions against us, sometimes because we needed a witness and we didn’t get one. We needed someone to say that it wasn’t okay that we felt hurt or were hurt with sometimes murderous intention or reckless disregard. We hold on because some small part of ourselves feels unworthy, or worse responsible. The movie plays and the jury reappears and we argue our innocence once again, we set to prove their harm once again. Over time without really understanding why, we grow tired and we lose compassion for ourselves and for one another.
But there is a place in which the sun shines, and we are untouchable. It’s not the silver lining, it is the whole truth, the bigger truth beyond the worldly pain and suffering. I forgive you today, Mr. Ronald. Surprise! I would rather know my invincibility than fight you for a debt. Your debt or your sentence, legal or moral, 8 billion peers screaming that you were wrong won’t heal my wound or yours. I choose instead the $3000 worth of wilderness in my heart. The immeasurable beauty that is great enough to wrap around us all. I choose the love that is bright enough to eclipse loss. Today let me be your witness. Let me stop holding you to your worst slum lording self, the image that pain and fear and hate may have twisted you into, and witness instead the moment your heart grows three sizes, that you become a hero. Let me hold court for your strength and your bravery and your capacity to share a piece of paradise. I was really happy there.
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
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