It is maybe 20 years ago, and I am planted in front of the massive clear funnel at the New England Aquarium in Boston, hypnotized by the marine creatures of every form, size and color gliding by. I am most fascinated by the sea turtles which look prehistoric and are as elusive as the Waldo figurines in the Where’s Waldo toy tubes.
I am also fascinated by the humans in wet-suits with tanks on their backs who are strangely in there too. How happy and free they look. But covered head to toe in technical gear and freed from land and air, they seem as exotic as astronauts visiting the moon. I could never do that.
As soon as my divorce was final, I decamped to Trieste, Italy.
The easternmost city in Italy had beckoned ever since my newspaper reporter days in San Francisco. Trieste was the name of my North Beach neighborhood cafe, perched on a hilly corner, dark and cozy, with walls papered with photos of Beat Generation poets, many of whom, like Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, were customers still. I drank in the romantic atmosphere as eagerly as the cappuccino.
Trieste means “sad.” This fact hit me on my first day in the actual city of Trieste because in the vast piazza that seemed to merge with the Adriatic Sea and was swept by a trademark Bora wind, I was sadder, I think, than I ever was in my life.
In the uber-stressful days of hammering out a divorce settlement, the alternative of a legal separation was floated.
I dismissed this out of hand. I wanted, needed, to be unbound.
Hours after I signed the divorce settlement with my lawyer in a Thomaston hotel conference room (his office was in Biddeford), I was at Primo, giddily clinking champagne glasses with Deborah Joy Corey, who had been my rock for the five crazy months since I left my marital home.
In a photo at a Rockland courthouse for the divorce ruling the next day the smile on my face is as sunny as my yellow sweater, on which is affixed a butterfly pin divorce gift sent to me by a dear friend in Australia.
But just days later, sitting in an elegant cafe on Piazza Grande in Trieste, with couples cooing, groups of friends laughing, children noisily kicking a ball around a statue, what filled my mind and soul was the one thought: “Now, I am completely alone.”
I was afraid. No, terrified. For 29 years, someone else made all the big decisions. I didn’t see, let alone pay, bills. There was staff to clear the snow off the front house steps, haul away the garbage, come and get me if my car broke down. When I crossed the street, a guiding hand was on my elbow.
I kicked myself for not agreeing to the legal separation. Why was I so insistent on being all on my own? Why did I think I could do it all on my own?
In the first months of going from Mrs. to Ms. I did indeed make mistakes. I chose a divorce lawyer who had a face like granite because I thought he would protect me, but he was nastier to me than to my adversary. I entrusted the money from my divorce settlement to a man who talked in an avuncular way about “Team Patrisha” but turned out to be slippery. I entered into contract for a series of houses that would never have felt like home. I got taken by souk merchants in Fez, Morocco.
Every one of these times, I made a decision after canvassing many opinions.
But then I decided to listen to and trust my own instincts.
All on my own, I changed investment firms to an all-women team that explained the statements to me; I changed lawyers to one in my own town who values and respects my opinion; I found, negotiated, and bought a house that I am as madly in love with as the day I first stepped across the threshold.
Not quite a year ago, I decided I was going to become a scuba diver. I got certified at a resort in Cozumel, received my advanced certification on a boat in Egypt, and now on a week’s vacation at the Buddy Dive resort in Bonaire, I got certified to dive with Nitrox (safer, but more technical, than the air in normal tanks).
Bonaire is “the home of diving freedom” because since the Caribbean island just off Venezuela is ringed by coral you can suit up and dive directly from the shore instead of relying on boat schedules.
Four days of scuba diving. I see my first sea horse, and a bright orange one at that, and I hover, watching the cartoon creature, head actually like a horse and tail curled around a coral frond, wave in the current.
Then I decide I want to explore the various shore sites without cumbersome gear, so head out to snorkel.
I drive my cute little blue rental car (I never would have rented and driven my own car in a foreign land when I was married) past wild donkeys and pink flamingos, and park on the beach at Salt Pier opposite Cargill’s huge and blinding-white pointed salt hills next to massive holding basins of water dyed pink, coral and lavender from their salt-making process.
I wade past the surf, put on my fins and mask, and in the strip of astonishing turquoise before the bottom dips "down to China" as one dive instructor put it, I see one large sea turtle rooting in the sugar-white sand, then another, then a baby one and suddenly I am swimming with a dozen of these mystical creatures.
When they ascend (to gulp in air) they actually fly— their hefty scaly fins as graceful as bird's wings. I swim with them and I am actually laughing as much as it is possible to laugh underwater and not lose your snorkel.
I am flying. I am free. It is the best feeling in the world.