Category Archives: Marilea Rabasa

May 10 – The Calling Card

by Marilea Rabasa

Bears are almost mythic nowadays. They’re still around but far fewer in number; we keep destroying their habitat. But once while camping on Mt. Marcy in Adirondack Provincial Park, in upper state New York, though we didn’t actually see the bear, we knew he’d been there.

What’s scary is that we were sleeping in an open lean-to. If the bear had been really starving, he could have attacked us! As it was, he settled for going after our food.

Gene, like all responsible campers in bear country, hung our provisions up on a line out of the bear’s reach, including the bear-proof barrel. We went to sleep in the open air, confident that our food was safe.

As usual I woke up early while Gene snoozed on and went to get our food bag so that I could make coffee. After a long day of hiking the day before, I was hungry for a nice salty breakfast. I could taste the succulent bacon and eggs already, and was glad I’d remembered the salt and pepper packets we always snitched from McDonald’s.

But I was in for a surprise.

Sprinting back to Gene, I woke him up. “Honey,” I whispered, “the line is down and our stuff is strewn all over the ground. Did we get beared?”

“No, I put it up plenty high enough. There’s no way he could have reached it,” he asserted, opening his eyes.

“Then how did it happen?” I asked. “No camper would do that to another camper.”

“There’s always a first time,” he suggested. “Is there any usable food left on the ground? Did the egg holder protect the eggs? Any sign of the bear barrel?”

“No. I’m gonna follow the food trail and see where it goes.”

“Okay. But if it leads to another tent, come back here before you say anything to them.”

The trail led straight down a hill to a stream below. I searched the area for signs of food, and there, plopped in the middle of the stream, wedged between some boulders, was the bear barrel.

I waded out to the boulders, up to my thighs in cold running water. Grabbing the barrel and slogging back to the bank, I sat on a log and nervously scanned both banks for our friend.

Deciding to see what I could salvage, I turned around and went back up the hill to our campsite. All I found were torn wrappers stripped off our energy bars, shredded baggies, the Oscar Meyer wrapper, and some unwashed cutlery minus the food.

For a wilderness camper, food is life. We keep forgetting that they were here first, and have every right to forage for it. We’re in their backyard. But we got “beared” and were out of luck. So we had to pack out early.

Returning our barrel at the park entrance, the ranger gave us a knowing smile. The claw mark of our visitor was clearly indented in the top of the barrel.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at www.recoveryofthespirit.com. She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

March 31 – Reconcilliation

by Marilea Rabasa

When I met my partner, Gene, twenty-four years ago, he was an experienced canoeist, and he loved paddling every summer. So I figured I’d better learn fast. One memorable incident was during a trip to Quetico Provincial Park across the Minnesota border in Canada. It was there that I added a chapter to my “Life Lessons”  journal.

Gene and I always went canoeing with his best friend, Jack and his wife, Pat. I didn’t like Pat from the beginning. She talked non-stop, endlessly showing off how much she knew about everything. And worst of all, because I can’t even boil a carrot, she was a gourmet cook.

So the two weeks of wilderness paddling and camping were a challenge for me. At the end of one day, we scouted around for a stellar camping site and I showed Pat the one we had found.

“This island sucks,”  she sniffed, “Jack and I’ll stay on that one over there,”  she informed us, pointing to another one across an inlet.

“Okay,”  I chirped. “See you tomorrow.”

I was awakened in the morning by the smell of smoke in the air.

“Gene, get up!” I screamed, looking across the water. “There’s a fire on Jack and Pat’s island!”

We piled into our canoe and raced across the inlet to find them frantically trying to remove the underbrush from the flames. Soon we heard the Canadian Forest Service arriving by helicopter to douse the area. It took twenty-six hours, but they finally extinguished the fire.

Pat had neglected to stamp out her cigarette while she was shitting in the woods, and, well, shit happens.

She was inconsolable. She loved nature and couldn’t bear to see the results of her carelessness.

The Canadians sent a crew of four, two Ojibwa Indians, the ax man and the pump man, an assistant chief and a chief, both White. The cost of the manpower and equipment could have exceeded $12,000 if they hadn’t called off the aerial bomber. It was a particularly dry season that summer in Canada, but they didn’t fine us. We were lucky.

Pat and I had pushed each other’s buttons plenty before that incident. But our esteem for one another began then. I suppose the dark side of our natures enjoys it when our adversaries falter. And I’m no different. But somehow that smug inner smile turned the mirror back onto me, and I didn’t like what I saw.

“Pat, Pat, come on,”  I insisted, offering her a hug and a shoulder to cry on. “It could easily have been me. I smoke too. Please, don’t be so hard on yourself. It was just a terrible accident.”

She and I hold each other in very high esteem now. This brief confrontation with my darker side opened my heart to appreciating Pat’s good qualities. Maybe it also reminded me how human we all are and how important it is to lift each other up as we pass through life.

Beats bitchin’.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at www.recoveryofthespirit.com. She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

March 31 – Remembering Angie

by Marilea Rabasa

When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.

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“Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!”

Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.

“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.

“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”

“Yes, Angie, my darlin girl, I am. And thank you!”

Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:

Angie had a fascination for all things Asian–Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book.

I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass–to keep them safe.

I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”

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Marilea Rabasa grew up in New England. How she got to the Southwest is an interesting tale. For several years she was an ESL teacher in Virginia. Before that, she lived overseas in the Foreign Service. She may draw from my travels to write my sequel memoir. She lives with her partner in New Mexico now summers on Puget Sound.

Find her online at http://www.recoveryofthespirit.com/.

September 6 – Three Days

by Marilea Rabasa

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When I was a teacher twenty years ago, one of my assignments was as a long-term substitute. The teacher left lots of engaging assignments, and I did my best to implement them. The students had a break from their “real” teacher, and I felt little pressure to invest myself in the assignments because I knew I’d be leaving. That attitude, and my subsequent behavior, could have brought on tragic consequences.

Shirley was a pretty, soft-spoken girl in this class. She rarely smiled and I sensed that she was unhappy. But I left her alone. I had twenty-three other students to attend to. It was two weeks before I asked her if she had a problem she wanted to talk about, and she broke down in tears. I was relieved that she was so able to open up. She said that she was treated very badly at home. Shirley lived with a much older sister and her children, and this sister resented her living there. I asked her if there was any physical abuse and she said no; they just made her feel like she wasn’t welcome. Shirley said she was so miserable she wanted to die. I told Shirley I should tell the counselor about this, but she begged me not to say anything because she was afraid it would make things worse. This is where I made a huge error in judgment. Partly because I lacked experience with child abuse and partly because I had promised Shirley I wouldn’t tell, I naively hoped that the problem would correct itself.

But for three days I didn’t sleep well. I had a terrible sense of misgiving, and finally realized that I had to tell Shirley’s counselor what she had told me. There was immediate intervention, and Shirley was placed in a foster home where she eventually finished high school.

The weight of those three days still burdens me sometimes when I think of how my poor judgment could have proved disastrous. The fact that I was a substitute in no way should have diminished my responsibility to my students. My inexperience would have been a poor excuse if anything had happened to Shirley. Needless to say, after that I was very vigilant with my students, and often went to their counselors with my concerns.

But a larger truth I realize now as I’m telling this story is that we teachers are all imperfect, vulnerable human beings who have been given a large and important responsibility to care for other people’s children. How we regard that responsibility is at least as important as what we do in the classroom. That is the lesson we learn. We will make mistakes. If we are good, well-intentioned people who strive to do our best, are open to critical reflection and can learn from those mistakes, then I believe the teaching profession is better off with us than without us. And that’s what making a difference is all about.

Marilea is a retired teacher. Toward the end of her career she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching. This was a critical step on her life journey because it concentrated on reflective practice. Now she has time to reflect back on her life and put her stories down on paper. 

May 3 – Penteli Mountain

by Marilea Rabasa

My son and I loved to fly kites when he was growing up in Virginia. The right kind of wind could propel his paper bird high and far, with us right on its tail giving it enough slack to keep it soaring in the air currents.

He’s a grown man now, but I remember a day twenty-five years ago when we were living in Athens, Greece. We were driving home from his friend Chris’ house. Chris lived on Penteli Mountain, one of my favorite haunts outside of Athens. From the crest of this hill on a clear day in winter you could see the whole bowl of Athens, with the smog hovering overhead, and even beyond. This was where the Brits came to celebrate Boxer Day every December 26. They hiked up more for the whiskey than the view, but that’s another story.

As we turned the corner, we saw the tail of a kite peeking out from under a pile of rubbish. We knew it was a kite tail because it had flags zigzagging down the string. Also, everyone came to fly kites on Penteli Mountain in December when the weather changed. This kite had lost its wind and lay abandoned in the field, its owners having no more use for it.

And so, our curiosity taking over, we stopped the car, got out, and went to investigate. Right away our curiosity turned into compassion and we wanted to breathe new life into this broken and tattered old kite. I never thought that something inanimate could come to life. But at this time in my life there was a dying in me that I knew I had to defeat or it would defeat me. My son was part of this tragedy, and somehow we knew that the road to healing could start with repairing this kite and watching it fly again. A dust-covered old TV pinning it down to the ground was holding the kite hostage. Its colorful tail saved it from certain death.

So we took the kite home and repaired it with glue and tape. We waited for a good day with just enough wind to try and fly it. The day finally came, a clear sunny day with a nice breeze. Together we took the kite back to the mountain and flew it. We watched it continue to rise and float in the air until all the string was used up. We ran with it as it leaped in the wind. It was flying like it was brand new – a miracle!

We didn’t let that kite go. We brought it down and carefully put it in the car. We knew we would probably never fly it again, but we couldn’t let go of something that had taught us such an eloquent lesson: I was sure from that day on that there are second chances for those who have the heart to reach for them.

Marilea is a retired teacher. Toward the end of her career, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. “This was a critical step on my life journey because it concentrated on reflective practice. Now I have time to reflect back on my life and put my stories down on paper. I look forward to sharing them with you.”