Coming home

By on August 15, 2014

I make a mean oyster stew. The simplicity of the recipe defies the senses. The subtle blues, greens, gray of pristine pacific coast bays wash over my taste buds to bring me home, again. My mother taught me to make this stew. I recognize the comfort as the warm oyster liquor swirls and blends with the richness of milk and cream. I can close my eyes and conjure the scent, the texture, feel the sense of belonging deep in my belly.

Northwest days can be gray and dreary, with the intermittent drizzle of rain, softening the air, and chilling the bone. The fireplace warms my edges and I am delighted with the Willapa Bay oysters I have brought home after a full day of work.

I am casting the spell of home-coming. I imagine my partner coming through our front door and being greeted by the warmth of fire and scent of coastal estuary combined with the richness of butter and herb. Candles are lit. I reach my hand out and touch, eyes glistening with appreciation and connection.

The moment is broken by the return to routine and expectations. But I want to savor and linger. I sit at the table filled with satisfaction and contentment. My partner rises with the loving words, “I’ll get the dishes”.

A simple sound evokes a shift of awareness. It so subtle it seems hardly worth mentioning in the moment. Other broken spells seem to be so much more historically significant. And yet I recognize the sound, I feel the energy shift. I know it and am summoned to alert. It is a sigh.

My partner, with all his loving intention, has opened the dishwasher.

I would like to dismiss this as an indulgent first world problem, and yet the “sigh” has the power to move butterflies in the Amazon, to alter the course of tides, and to break my perfectly created spell. I have hastily tossed pans and kitchen utensils haphazardly into the hidden depths of the dishwasher to create the illusion of kitchen tidiness and order. The “sigh” signals I have been discovered.

He is completely unaware that I have even heard the air expelling from his lungs, a signal that his sense of order has been challenged, that his vital energy is summoned to make right what has been put asunder. He is dutifully correcting the perceived imbalance and I note the sound of clanging as ceramic bowls displace stainless steel pots and utensils. The effort is about his story and life experience but my nervous system has been hijacked by the sound and I am dropping into the vortex of memory.

My spell of home-coming dissolves inside of me. The “sigh” invokes an unseen image. It is found deep in the wiring of my history and experience, and although I would like to say there are words for this story, in the moment it is only felt.

It happened when my mother checked into Women’s and Children’s Hospital for my birth. It happened so long ago that the pages would now be yellowed, the writing faded, memories long lost. The nurses greeted her with kindness and care, checking her into her room, and my mother explains, “If I have a girl, please take her away. I do not want to see her. I only want a boy”. I would hear this story repeated again and again through my life, and how the nurses gave me a nickname that my mother kept until I went away to college. Her reluctance lasted until the moment I was placed in her arms and my tiny nervous system knew to begin life with vigilance.

There are more chapters to understanding the complicated woman I knew as Mother. She taught me to make a mean oyster stew and to be vigilant for being worthy of belonging. The impossibility of “being good enough” is wired into the fabric of my nervous system.

The “sigh” triggers the delicate alarm. I scramble to make sense. I sit in mindfulness and watch electrons course down circuits that arm my defenses. I sit in wonder and watch the thought rise that tomorrow I will rip the dishwasher out of the kitchen and banish it forever as my evil nemesis. I giggle. I stand, and walk over to the fireplace to be warmed by its glow and comfort. I listen to water and dishes move and flow in the kitchen, out of sight. Unseen, I raise my arms up to the misty northwest sky, inhaling deeply, imagining stars beyond my known universe, and forgive myself again.

My partner emerges confident and satisfied from the kitchen. We snuggle on the couch by the fire, and listen to the sound of rain drops whispering the secrets of the estuary that once upon a time became oyster stew.

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Katherine Calvert Counseling is a private practice led by Katherine Calvert, LCSW. Katherine Calvert has built her practice from decades of education and applied experience working as a direct service provider in schools, hospitals, and counseling clinics. She holds a Masters in Social Work, is trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Imago Therapy, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Her practice is a warm, safe and inviting space in the Portland, Oregon area.