Monday, July 18, 2011

A Coastal Drive (1/8)

Part I
Picture the scene, if you can, for in a moment you’ll duly note the incongruity of the physical landscape and the emotional state of our heroine.  It’s a sunny day, with an unblemished azure sky that mirrors the glistening ocean below.  If you look carefully, you might see a dolphin or two bobbing up and down in the sparkling water.  So far, everything is fine.  Maryanne is taking a stretch of the Oregon Coast Highway from her workplace, the Siebeck Memorial Veteran’s Hospital, to her humble ranch house in a sleepy village of horse properties and vineyards about sixteen miles south.

On her right, sand dunes and succulent ground cover separate the two-lane road from the grey pebble beach.  June brings out a handful of determined surfers who otherwise avoid the chilly waters this far north; the surf is disappointing today, despite a promising forecast on last night’s local news that brought them here this morning.  The young, bleached-blond men have parked their vehicles at the side of the highway, and Maryanne, not paying attention to anything but her imminent fate and the sad set of circumstances that will have led to it, nearly hits one of them, a polka dot Volkswagen van.

On her left, a small mountain range covered in thick coastal vegetation, featuring arresting patches of bright yellow and vermillion flowers, reaches upward toward a rock facing that serves as a launching pad for daring sky glider enthusiasts on more windy days than this one.  Another mile or two up the road, on the inland side, the green hillsides will briefly give way to marshlands and a lagoon where fat and drunken urbanites noisily enjoy their summer vacation.  I say briefly, for Maryanne has her foot heavy on the pedal.

If you were to pull to the side of the road, trudge your way through the dunes, and take the well-trod path along a promontory all the way to the end, you would reach a bridge-like crag overlooking a cove.  There you would find unspeakable serenity in the spray of mist during high tide, the familiar sound of seagulls above, and the scent of wildflowers that carpet this rocky terrain.  By contrast, inside Maryanne’s blue Jeep Cherokee sits an agitated 41-year-old woman at the steering wheel, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she struggles with—if not surrenders to—dark thoughts.

She’s zipping along at a healthy speed, unmindful of the signposts as well as stray surfer vans.  The vast blue horizon and the sounds of the breaking waves, I might note, have always been a source of contentment for Maryanne, ever since she arrived in the area from the Midwest some twenty years ago, with a wayward husband and two small children in tow.  The coastal magic that everyone talks about has evidently lost its charm with her—at least today.  The ocean no longer speaks to her, for she has had enough with living.

Only a few miles from Maryanne’s left turn off the highway is an unmarked, gravel turn-out.  A short walk leads to a vista point.  Here nature lovers take the time to gawk at the rocky shoreline and take in the sea air.  Maryanne will be coming upon it in a few minutes.  It’s the only spot along the road without the steel guard rail.  At the vista itself, a knee-length stonewall keeps people from meandering to the edge with their digital camera, unmindful of a vertical 300-feet drop-off, and falling headlong toward their death onto the unforgiving shoreline below.

Maryanne has been to this site twice before.  The last time, about two months ago, she stood arm and arm with John, a prosperous real estate agent from Eugene.  John was not just any guy; he was her world, the first person she fell in love with since her divorce, if not the only person she every truly loved.  Maryanne hadn’t been looking for love, not consciously anyway.  In his arms she felt content and knew she had found her soulmate.  Or so it seemed.  Unfortunately, John was not interested in a long-term relationship and told her so only hours ago.  This news couldn’t come at a worse time for Maryanne.

Perhaps a little background information is in order here.  Maryanne has been a nurse for some seventeen years.  She’s raised two children by herself after her divorce from her husband Chuck in 2003.  She managed to complete her BS degree in nursing through long nights and hard-earned dollars, but her career opportunities have not improved and now she's saddled with even more debt than Chuck had left with her.  Her daughter Kirsten got pregnant barely into her first year of college in Portland.  The conditions surrounding her pregnancy, and regretful words exchanged after the miscarriage, made their relationship, to say the least, difficult.  The unfortunate meddling of the boyfriend's parents certainly didn't help.  Kirsten lived with her father for a time, but now she's renting a room near the university.

Maryanne's estranged son Scott, having graduated from high school last year, is living at his girlfriend’s house, smoking pot, and cheating on his girlfriend.  He was her baby and she still can't figure out what went wrong.  Only in the past few months did she come to the painful observation that the boy, not long after puberty, took after his father.

Maryanne has been taking antidepressants, though she knows better.  Her sister Jenny, a fraternal twin who understands her better than anyone, noticed this gradual descent into the abyss, as she phrases it, but took hope in Maryanne’s relationship with John.  Things seemed to get better for Maryanne after meeting him, and Jenny has been cautiously optimistic.  But now John’s change of heart has Maryanne spinning out of control on a collision course.

She’s coming upon the vista point.  She wants an end to her pain and misery.  Maryanne closes her eyes.