The Learning Curve
by Kate Groff
"Isn't it about time you stopped learning?"
The words still bounce around inside my head. My father sits across from me at Masson's of Tarpon Springs, the latest incarnation of the house cum restaurant trend that greets tourists in this quaint Greek sponging village. The man who saw to all of my needs as a child, who taught me to think, gave me strength to be who I am - yes, this 80-something Wednesday morning golfer who had just described in delicious detail, the wonderful food on his just-returned-from-yet-another-cruise. Didn't remember where they went or what they saw, but the meals were divine.
He's telling me to stop learning! Rage, disgust, pity, humor and absurdity dance behind my eyeballs. I just want to remove myself from this situation. Instead, I hear myself say, "I hope I never stop learning. You may as well as ask me to stop breathing."
"Bill, it's more than study. It's a chance to see more of the world, more of its peoples..." I hesitate. "...and it will bring in more business if I can say that I studied at Wat Po in Thailand." It's a little game we've been playing for years. I call to take him to lunch. We meet at a restaurant. We trade small talk, and then I begin with a carefully prepared speech. I'm coherent, concise, and consider all possible objections. Today is no different.
"I've always wanted to travel, never had time or money... you know me, never really wanted just to take a vacation...it has to mean something...I need to learn from my experience...here is this opportunity for a three week externship in Thailand...I've been e-mailing this one person...I bought the video, bought the book...It's fascinating...and there's this other person...I have his book, waiting for his video...both of them offer trips to Thailand, at the same time, for about the same money...I study for two weeks, sightsee, hike to the northern hills, interact with tribal people...the school's in Bangkok. I can stay longer if I want and just travel around for another week or two...Luke mentioned going over the Katmandu...you remember Luke...he's my videographer friend... said he could put me in touch with people who work with weavers in the hill tribes...I'd love to document some of the weavings...anyway, I don't know...the options are out there and I'm not getting any younger." My mouth is banging faster than my beating heart.
Bill asks me about my husband. "Daniel may go; he may not. He's working now and we're starting to climb out of the hole we dug...I'm not sure what he wants...but, that's his business...I'd like us to go together...I mean that's the one thing we promised each other when we got together, but I can't speak for him...I'm making money and saving twenty-five percent...no, I don't know how much...that's the beauty of the mystery...I stash it away until the time comes, then count it and see if there's enough...I'm pretty certain he could come up with his share and take three weeks off...but, like I said, it's his decision. This is between you and me."
I breathe again. I really want Daniel to go with me. It's important to our relationship. And although I don't think Bill likes him, I think he thinks the husband should accompany the wife anywhere outside home turf. I've got to play this just right. I continue. "I could write a book, take pictures, research for future trips...It's a beginning...I just can't wait any longer...I'm almost 50 and never really been out of the continental US. The trip's in early November...you get to participate in the biggest annual celebration...I even think I'll get to ride an elephant." This typical aspect of Tourist Adventure may appeal to him. "You know me, always on the move, searching out more and more, trying new things, experimenting." I have to be careful or I'll lose him completely, and for some reason, I want his approval.
Okay, one more breath. I've done a good job, made my points; now I sit back and take another bite. I always order salad so it doesn't get cold. But we're on the porch and it's Florida; the lettuce is wilted "So, that's it. What do you think?" He smiles and reaches for his checkbook, which he always brings when I call for a luncheon date. "How much to you want?" "Well the trip is about $2,500 but it leaves from the west coast so I'd have to get out there and back, but Luke knows this travel consolidator in New York..." "So, how much do you need?" "$3,000." He writes the check.
Two years ago, when our trip to China fell through, I was heartbroken. I had worked so hard "for the team," and the team...well, obviously, they weren't of the same mind. Four of us had sat around the glass conference table in Luke's office, one evening, and decided we should all go to China and document "stuff." We were intelligent, inquisitive, innovative, and intuitive. The world would surely be interested. We narrowed down our over-a-page-long list of proposed topics to one or two "really good causes," and planned, schemed, wrote a dynamite 30-page proposal complete with photos and slick cover; mailed it out, called for sponsors. We got nowhere except on each other's nerves. As it turned out, Luke went anyway by himself (which is what he wanted all along), Daniel stayed unemployed for another year, and Jim lost a lot of money in the market. I still worked two jobs, supporting us both and trying to boost everyone's spirits while scraping mine off the floor.
One day after I received a "wish you were here" from Luke, and feeling particularly sorry for myself, I sat back and looked inside; it was like opening a blank greeting card. There was nothing there. Here I was, a 47-year-old ex-hippie, ex-artist, ex-mother, cultivating carpal tunnel syndrome twelve to fifteen hours a day in the corporate arena. Add another three hours commuting. I would come home, cook, clear, clean, iron, wash, and fall into bed, occasionally finding a moment to make love with my partner. Motocross ruts don't get any deeper.
Now, there's a reason for everything. Call it faith or fact, but it's there and I couldn't believe the only reason we moved to this hot, humid, hectic wasteland was to witness my mother's death. That was over five years ago, and we were still here. It was my birthday; I was sitting up in bed trying to stay awake and read. My eyelids drooped, and I began to enter that world when words blur and the subconscious surfaces. I saw my mother and grandmother talking about things. Things that hadn't happened...yet. They did that all the time. It was no big deal. It just was. Most times they knew, sometimes they didn't, but they always felt...something. I remember my mother telling me about my sister picking all the winning lottery numbers one week, but not buying a ticket. Besides "how stupid can you be," I remember thinking. "Why not me?"
Something happened to me that night; the next morning, I felt new. I called a local massage school and arranged to attend an orientation meeting. Daniel tagged along. I knew he would. Perhaps there was a part of me that wanted him to share in my epiphany. After all, it was the enthusiasm I saw in his eyes as he recalled his body-working days that helped bring me to this point. I wanted to feel what I saw in him. We sat in on an anatomy class; I was angry and frightened at what I didn't know, never had learned. Then we stood silent against the wall in a darkened room, watching and sensing students exchanging quiet massage. We drove home without a sound. Even the traffic noises fell away from our car. The next day we had a financial summit at the dining room table. I was convinced. I was ready. Maybe I could get a student loan. My kids were financing their college education, thanks to the government. Why not Mom? I met with a counselor, the next week, discovered that I qualified for more than I expected, and signed the papers.
I started my first day of class on January fourth. Daniel began his study in April. Five hundred and seventy-five engaging, enlightening, inescapable hours later, I graduated with honors. Daniel followed in November. I spent the next two months holding my breath and studying for the national boards.
When it was all over, I exhaled. My breath was deep but hollow. I had just finished almost an entire year of structured exploration into the workings of the human body, and I felt as if I had just taken my first step. Friends congratulated me, then asked about my plans. "Try to find work," was my response on the outside. On the inside, I didn't know. I was just beginning.
Several months later, I got a job at a local resort. I shared a room with a woman who had been there four years. Her moves were different--more ranges of motion, more stretching. Turns out, she was seeing a Thai massage therapist and incorporating some of the moves into her own routine. I was fascinated. There was movement, positive response, and the clients liked it. A little research, a couple of hours on the web, and here I am, today, borrowing money from my father to study in Thailand this fall.
It's Saturday, the end of May. Caleb, age 19, my youngest son, has been here for two weeks. The reservation deadline for the trip is a couple of days away. I've worked all day; I'm hot, sweaty, the car's air conditioner is warm, and I've been on the road for over an hour in stop-and-go traffic. Daniel and the "kid" have done whatever each of them does on a day off when neither of them has any use for the other. I'm tired and don't want to cook.
This morning, I asked Daniel to be responsible for dinner. When I get home, the sun is setting, and the house empty. I pour myself a glass of wine and turn on the tube to catch the nightly news. Pretty soon, they drive up. Been to the beach. No dinner. I don't want to fight. I haven't seen Caleb for over two years, and I need things to be clean-sheet smooth, tonight. So, I get up and start the meal. I burn my hand; Daniel comes running to make sure I'm okay. But he doesn't stop there. He has to tell me what I did wrong and how I should have done it his way. I rail back loudly, "just leave me alone!" He reacts to my reaction. He wants to talk...in the park...tomorrow evening. He turns and walks away. It's two days before my period; I have absolutely no use for anybody, especially someone who's spent the day in the sun, listening to the gulf break against the shore. I'm feeling under appreciated and stressed.
The following evening, we drive silently to the park. He opens his door and gets out. I do the same. We walk up the hill. The setting sun bounces off the tree tops, shadowing our faces. My heart pounds, I sip at my sports bottle to wet my dried mouth and try to be calm. He begins. He wants to be in a quieter space. He realizes it's all his fault - our failed relationship. He needs to sit back and take stock of the situation, reevaluate options, to dwell. Oh, and by the way, he's not going to Thailand with me.
That did it. All I could see through my frustrated rage was a wasted ten years of struggle, pain, overwork, and loving a man who still can't get his act together. Now when he decides to put himself on track, it's going the other way. What a fool I've been. My thoughts flew to my ex-husband and his lack of focus. I thought I had chosen other this time. I was in love and it hurt. I exploded. Of course, the PMS didn't help either.
In hindsight, I realize that I didn't handle it well and that I was looking at a loss, my loss, rather than Daniel's need to finally move on this planet. I threw my bottle against a tree and started to walk away. After a couple of steps, I realized it was too late, too far, and too adolescent to do so. And I broke the bottle.
A few days later, Daniel changes his mind and says to include him in the trip. Now it's August. The summer has gone quickly. My savings, my father's loan are all in the bank and tickets are ordered. Daniel vacillated a half dozen more times. When he finally commits, he said he was waiting for me to commit to a solo trip: I'll go, but only if you agree to go without me. What kind of logic is that? A missed opportunity for sure, but there was no question.
Tonight, we begin practicing the initial massage sequence. I must have thirty sessions under my belt before we board the plane on October 30. Dr. James wants a diary of what I did, felt, and experienced, as well as any questions. I plan on keeping a journal. Maybe Caleb will enjoy reading it.
Kate practices the art and magic of bodywork, weaving, and writing with her husband in a tiny house at the end of a road in Tarpon Springs, Florida. She and Daniel plan to return to Thailand later this year.
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