As I continue work on Physician, Heal Thyself this summer of my discontent also continues. I have learned that I need yet another surgery in an attempt to repair my shoulder, returned to work on ‘light duty’ which actually means being moved from place to place because they have no idea what to do with me and Saturday morning my brother-in-law passed away very unexpectedly. Coupled with August being the anniversary of my parents birthdays as well as my mother’s death, it’s not my favorite time of year. However my mind is kept busy with my latest project, Physician, heal thyself and here is an excerpt.
The sun was just cresting the horizon and Ann snapped the strap of her bike helmet under her chin beginning her weekend ride. Once a competitive cyclist she now competed mostly with herself. When she did run races it was in the over-forty group but she could still hold her own. She really enjoyed riding, finding the exercise and experience invigorating. She hadn’t ridden since the earthquake so she wasn’t in a hurry; today was going to be a leisurely ride.
Because it was so early on Saturday morning she didn’t have to dodge much traffic as she made her way to the Colorado Street Bridge. It was such a beautiful old structure and she couldn’t see it, never mind riding over it, without thinking of Ted. His love of the bridge and architecture was something they had shared. Most people thought, since they were both in medical school, that was how they met but it was architecture and not medicine that had brought them together.
The day had been one of those warm days near the end of June gloom but before the summer heat set in and Ann was taking pictures of the buildings on the college campus when Ted came up behind her.
“What’s ya’ doin’?”
Without stopping her activity or looking at him she answered, “Taking pictures.”
“I can see that.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Well, I guess I meant why are you taking pictures of buildings?”
“You should say what you mean and mean what you say.” She walked away without looking at him.
He thought he was starting up a casual conversation with a very pretty girl but somehow it got turned around and now he was watching her walk away. What happened? He walked fast to catch up with her.
“So why are you taking pictures of the buildings?”
“So you’re a student here?”
“You aren’t very talkative.”
“You haven’t given me a reason to talk and I try not to unless I have something to say.”
“I don’t know. It just seems that most people talk without having much to say. So, like I said, unusual.”
“I don’t like to think of myself as ‘usual’.”
“You definitely are not.”
Ann turned to him and smiled, “Thank you.”
Her smile was radiant, her chestnut hair tumbled down her back and fell over her shoulders, gleaming in the sun, and her skin was like fine porcelain. His heart sped up and he felt a tightening in his chest.
He smiled back, “What’s your major?”
“I’m first year med school.”
“I’m fourth year.”
She smiled again but did not comment.
“So why the photography class?”
“I needed a little break from all the science and I love architecture, photography gave me an excuse to take pictures of the buildings I love.”
“Me, too. I actually considered architecture rather than medicine.”
“Why did you choose medicine?”
“It wasn’t really a choice I suppose since I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, it just never occurred to me not to go to medical school.”
“Me, too. I didn’t consider being an architect but I always wanted to be a doctor.”
“So we have a lot in common.”
“That’s more than a lot of people.” She agreed. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“No.” He thought things were going well so was surprised by the abrupt rejection. “I don’t drink coffee but you can buy me some ice tea.”
They had walked across the quad together and until she broke the engagement they had been together almost every day. Three years that he just threw away for a fling. She started pedaling as fast as she could, taking the just over two miles on Los Feliz in record time; a record for her at any rate. Ann continued her ride making a concerted effort to not think about Ted and his betrayal. A betrayal he still denied.
By the time she had gone about 7 of the 12 miles on Santa Monica Boulevard she could smell the ocean or at least she thought she could smell it, the salty, fishy smell that seems particular to the Pacific. After another four miles she tilted her head up and closed her eyes slightly, allowing the soft, moistness of the sea air to caress her face.
After waiting for the traffic light to change from red to green she made the wide left turn on to Ocean Avenue and took the few hundred feet to the pier. The sign that arched over the entrance had been there for as long as Ann could remember and she’d always wondered if it had ever actually been a marina for yachts and fishing boats as the sign proclaimed.
Once she hit the wooden decking of the pier she got off her bike and walked. The giant timbers making up the boardwalk were held together by huge steel nails. After all the storms and restorations of the pier she wondered how much of it was original, if any.
Bubba Gumps was the main restaurant at this end of the pier. What was it before the movie Forrest Gump, the movie? She was pretty sure it had always been a seafood restaurant but had no recollection of any of the previous names.
Down a bit, just past the stairs that led to the beach was a rock shop, or at least that was what the sign said but in the window were petrified starfish, sand dollars and sea urchins, even a sponge but no rocks. She chuckled at the absurdity.
She continued her sojourn of the wharf, passing the arcade, amusement park and miniature golf course. The few people on the pier were fishermen, none of whom seemed to have caught any fish. The cleaning tables on the lower deck held only soft drinks, coffee and bait. Catch buckets were empty. She guessed that the mussel shells strewn broken on the deck were deposited by the birds living on the old wooden structure.
At the end of the pier Ann watched as gulls swam on top of the water like ducks, paddling around the barnacle encrusted pilings. A few sandpipers were burying their beaks in the wet sand, pigeons were here and there and one pelican was swooping down to catch an early breakfast. There was one strange looking bird, small, black and white with a bill longer than a duck, shorter than a piper swimming atop the swelling water, suddenly diving down then surfacing again. The strange animal dove one last time then disappeared as the pewter waves smashed against the wooden pilings of the pier.
When she arrived there were very few people but now found herself having to maneuver around a lot of new arrivals.
Rising above her at the shore end of the pier was the Looff Hippodrome. She’d fallen in love with the carousel housed inside the first time her grandparents brought her here; she’d been eight. Ann peered in at the quiet machine. Built in 1922 it had been beautifully restored in the 1990s so was particularly beautiful when she and Ted decided to get married there.
Ann had never been one of those girls who dreamt of her wedding and knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted to look. A lavish, expensive wedding when neither of them cared about it was ridiculous considering the mounting medical school loans they would have to pay and getting married in the Looff Hippodrome seemed like a fun place to celebrate their union.
She could still imagine how wonderful the beautiful musical contraption would have been as a back drop for the wedding and reception. No fancy catering either, they’d planned on having a hot dog cart, popcorn cart and a cotton candy cart. They would have a cake and champagne but that was as traditional as it would get. She smiled at the thought of how lovely and enjoyable it would have been.
Slowly she walked around the brown stucco building stopping at the first of three octagonal corners, the Wurlitzer orchestrion was standing its lonely vigil, no longer functional since the belts in back were gone, making the piano, drums, xylophone, everything; silent. The memory of Ted’s insistence that they stay and listen to the entire repertoire of the antique machine was a reminder of how things change even as they stay the same. The mechanical device was still there but no longer worked.
The last corner of the old building was empty. It was where the ceremony was to have been. The painted posts in the dome-like corner were to be festooned with ivy, ribbon and flowers. She thought about the beautiful silk crepe gown her mother had had made; it was simple and elegant. Reminiscent of the 1930s, Chrissy (her hair stylist) had exaggerated the natural wave in the front of her hair and then braided the rest, wrapping it around her head. She’d felt as though she’d walked off the silver screen. She smiled remembering that Ted bought a tux, rationalizing that he would need it for medical conferences, etc. She wondered how many times he’d worn it.
For the first time she was filled with sadness rather than anger today as she stepped back away from the window and the memories. She leaned on the railing of the wooden stairs for a moment, surprised at her reaction. Anger had been her ‘go to’ emotion for so long that this new wrinkle of feeling sad caught her off guard. She had purposely not come here before because she feared her reaction but now she wasn’t even sure what her reaction meant.
Taking a deep breath she glanced up the stairs at what used to be apartments above the merry-go-round but now were offices for the pier. She wondered what it would have been like to live here in the heyday of the carousel; the roaring twenties. The thought brought a smile as she stepped out on to the weathered wood of the pier and went to the railing overlooking the beach.
She took several deep breaths, inhaling the salty, mist filled air. She smiled at the sight of a Newfoundland running along the sand, his black coat stark against the gray ocean and light sand. She laughed out loud as the animal plunged into an incoming wave. She wondered if Gigi would enjoy the ocean, too.
“That dog looks like he’s having a lot of fun.”
Ann turned to the young woman standing next to her, a lovely brunette who appeared to be high school age. “Yes. I was just wondering if my dog would like to do that, too.”
“What kind of dog do you have?”
“That’s the big white one, right?”
Ann smiled, “Most people have never heard of her breed.”
“My dad and I watch the Westminster Dog Show every year, it’s kind of a tradition.”
“I like watching it, too.”
Watching the famed canine event had become something of a tradition for Ann and Ted as well; over the years she’d missed it very few times even though Alex had considered it silly to watch a bunch of pampered pets run around a ring. She had countered that it wasn’t any sillier than watching a bunch of souped up cars run around in circles, NASCAR races being one of his favorite spectator sports.
The two women watched as a Golden Retriever joined the Newfoundland, barking as he went. Ann asked, “Do you have a dog?”
“No. Dad and I rent a house and the owner wouldn’t let us have a pet. But we’re going to move and dad’s going to buy a house this time so we’ll be able to have a dog.”
“What kind of dog do you want?”
“I love Goldens. I know it’s not very original but I really like them.”
“My parents have two. They’re really smart.”
“Mostly I like them ‘cause they’re cute and cuddly.”
Ann laughed. And the young woman noticed the bike. “Did you ride here?”
“Whoa! That’s far.”
“About thirty miles.”
“So you have to go sixty miles to get home?”
“Yeah. Not that big a deal. I ride every weekend.”
“I can’t imagine that.”
“It’s exhilarating; for me anyway.”
The young woman turned her back to the beach and took in the Looff Hippodrome. “I love the carousel. My dad brought me here when I was 8 and I still love to ride it.”
Ann turned as well, “My grandparents brought me here when I was eight. I haven’t ridden it in years. Too bad it doesn’t open until 11. I don’t feel like waiting around for it. Is that what brought you down here?”
“No. My girlfriend and I just wanted a change from school and the earthquake.”
“We’ve been working at the Red Cross after school and it’s been pretty intense.” She paused a moment. “You said you live in Pasadena?”
“That’s where dad and I have been looking at houses. It’s really nice there. Dad really likes the… what does he call it, craft houses?”
“Yes! I like them too.”
“Pasadena is a good place to look. I have one, a craftsman. I understand Monrovia has a lot of them, too.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever looked there.”
“It’s a cute little town.” She paused a moment. “I need to get going.”
“Yeah and I need to find Jenny. It was nice meeting you.”
“We didn’t really meet, did we? My name is Ann.”
“Well, like I said it was nice meeting you, Sara. Good luck with the house hunting.”
“Thanks and be careful riding home.”
“I will. Bye.”