After the cancer there was another cancer.

Then my father died, and then I picked a man just like him, because I missed his criticism. Criticism was his love language and I wanted more of the familiar. I craved it without comprehension.

Before he died, I was shelling my father’s pistachio nuts and changing his bladder bag, when he said he was sorry.

Sorry for what?

For not taking you on more vacations, he said.

I almost laughed out loud. I was expecting an apology for the night I had to call the police because his personal dam had broken and was flooding our family, for telling me I was in a special needs class when I was placed with the bright students, the so much confusion of a childhood melted by the hot wax of time and memory.
I reassured him it was all perfect, we would always have our summers in Asbury Park – the ferris wheel, the Stone Pony, my cousins, the smell of Coppertone and cigarettes, and my aunts who looked like uncles.

Who needs Paris? I laughed.

And he laughed too, but by then, laughing hurt his lungs.None of this was the real Trouble Again – not even my father dying, which was a relief to me. Not my cancer, which they said they caught in time, not the new boyfriend who walked ahead of me in public and I eventually left behind.

None of that compared to me going back to work, with half of my life waiting for me on Kauai now, another part of it in the balcony of a theatre in Manhattan watching a Neil Simon play, or beside a stream on Koolalu Road, on the edge of a cliff writing in Big Sur, or walking the beach of the dragon.

I had been absent from my business to re-engage with life, and something was wrong with the cash flow, even though business was good, even though I expected to die and didn’t die. Instead of spreadsheets and budgets, I swam with the turtles, took my daughter out of school, travelled with friends, kept going back to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

My marketing company had worn me down like sea glass, like drift wood, and one day my Project Manager came into my office and she said, I know what’s wrong with the cash flow.

And the accountant was there, and the police, and the man who had stolen the money, an employee I trusted. He was in my office with me and the door was closed. 

And he said he was sorry and cried, and I was skinny then, my dress hanging like a sack and my clavicles like swords, and I knew it wasn’t over, this was the final test. The universe was asking me to choose – the world you have newly discovered with waterfalls and streams and hope and aloha, or this one you came back to that is a shell you have outgrown.

I stared at this young, talented man from behind a designer desk, and I understood these imperfections of mine and his were like the San Andreas fault line, mapped in us long before we were born, that I was truly made of stardust and rock and clay, and my father was both right and wrong. He had made me stronger, taught me resilience, and I didn’t need to hear “I’m sorry” from anyone. 

I was the one that had to ask for their forgiveness for not understanding my part in the journey.

Here it was, the interconnectedness of it all flooding over my body like the creased face of an old friend. I came out from behind that desk and walked over to him. I took his moon face into my hands and kissed his forehead, and I said thank you.

I knew the universe was ushering me out and in. It was time to make the long journey back to the girl who recited poems in front of her fourth grade class and came in second in the state spelling bee, losing to the girl whose parents had died, who was raising baby lions on a farm and read the dictionary as a grief practice.

I had engaged with the new world and survived my greatest challenge, but I had not committed, it was like not setting a date for a wedding, so you never had to say I do.

I knew in that moment I had the tools to do it, my father had taught me how.  All the pain and all the joy were the same, they were all necessary. I put my hand over my mouth and cried tears of recognition while my employee said, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry….and I kept saying thank you, thank you, thank you.

An invitation to write: Your Trouble Again Story: 

  • Write about how the next obstacle in your journey was the final event that pushed in a new direction.

For a deeper memoir  exploration through the Hero’s Journey,  take Laura’s 12-week workshop in a workbook with STORYquest, the Writer, the Hero, the Journey.