Cindy McCain – Lost in Morocco

56- Lost

I’ve been lost since 2014 when I left a teaching job of 27 years at a school my kidsattended K-12 three streets from our house. I moved to another continent 4,400 miles away. Solo. Sight unseen. As sure as Santiago in Coelho’s (Quelho’s) The Alchemist, I knew it was my destiny, an adventure to which God called me, promising roses in the desert where I’d sing like a girl again. I wanted to be lost in a love story. And so it began…

The taxi driver burrowed as far as he could into the Marrakech medina, stopping in a deserted, small square. “Where’s the riad?” Jasna, my new Canadian coworker asks.

He slices the air to point to a corner a few feet away, then bends his hand in a 90 degree angle to the left. Though we only know a few words in Darija, we’re getting good at Charades. “We turn left?!”we say mimicking his motion. He holds up 2 fingers. “ 2 times!” And we’re off.

Expecting a passage like the ones we’ve navigated in the souks dodging donkey carts and motorbikes, tourists and trinkets, we look around the bend and see an alley so narrow we’ll be forced to walk single file. Its path stretches between red sandstone walls–windowless, doorless, lifeless as far as we can see. We turn to tell the driver he’s mistaken, but he has vanished. We are stranded with no cellphone service. The walls are too high to see over to know where we are going, and the sliver of sky above us is turning from dusk to dark. All we can do is move forward. We enter the maze.

We twist and turn—twice. Nothing. I pray for a main artery that leads to Jemma el Fna square, the heart of the largest open-air marketplace in Africa pulsing with commerce, chaos, and cacophony. Where B erbers play Middle Eastern bagpipes, drums, tambourines, and lutes as dervishes dance and charmers call us to sluggish cobras, menacing monkeys, and henna.

We walk on–sweaty, thirsty, anxious in the August heat. Finally we see lamp beams in the distance…and the silhouette of a group of guys walking toward us. We slide by moving fast toward the light.

Spilling into a souk, we’re thrilled to weave under Arabian archways around shopkeepers, scarves, and stray cats. Shaky hungry from adrenaline, we step into the first restaurant we see and show the host the address to the riad. He says it’s too far away and his place is booked for the night.

With a flick of the wrist he summons a white-robed man from the alley. “Follow him,” he commands. Despite all my mother’s warnings to never trust a stranger, we do. Nervously we snake through the labyrinth wondering where he’s taking us. He stops before an unmarked door and knocks. Slowly it swings open.

With a wide grin and “Ouila,” he waves us over the threshold into paradise.

Flickering lanterns light the courtyard and pool. Water trickles from a massive mosaic fountain as birds chirp in orange and lime trees. Above us, rooms open to a balcony cascading with fuchia, bougainvillia, and jasmine. And on our white tablecloth under the stars, roses.

I was lost in Morocco, a kingdom of wide open spaces, in childlike wonder. A single mom since my daughter was three and son was one, I’d known that when our band, the 3 Musketeers, split up, I’d need a preemptive strike against being sad. I would need new. I was a Stage 5 Clinger. But I was a gypsy soul, too. So I honored a promise made to myself one summer standing in an Italian vineyard. When the kids left the nest, I’d fly away for awhile , too.

I signed a two-year contract to teach English at the American School of Marrakesh. The move was all I’d hoped it would be and more–a tall order for a girl born with a supersized imagination and fairy tales in her genes. My grandmother, Mama Lou, had read to me tales from T he Arabian Nights when I was a wee one and when a woman, lonely and rejected by divorce, she said God had something special for me. I was comforted by Isaiah that says He gives roses for ashes. He did.

I loved being lost…On my morning commute watching the sun rise into a pale lemon and conch- pink sky. Men in coffee- colored djellabas circled on low stools talking over morning tea. Women walking with babies tied tightly to their backs in brightly colored cloth cocoons. Shepherds tending sheep. In every class hearing “Good Morning Miss!” and passionate opinions on Holden, Huck, and Heathcliff. On weekends playing in secret gardens, sledding and trekking by foot and mule across snow-dolloped Atlas Mountains, watching sunsets from fortresses above the sea. Walking in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes at Taj Palace; sleeping in Josephine Baker’s suite; belly dancing with coworkers; caravanning by camel across The Sahara; volunteering with village girls.

Ok, all was not pools and palm trees–threats from ISIS, a mugging, a wreck–but getting lost in Morocco meant finding the girl inside me. There I walked with more confidence, faith, freedom and joy. I found kindred spirits– coworkers from a dozen countries who spent weekends together on the rooftop or in Europe on crazy-cheap flights. And other expats living new dreams who said I’d fallen under Marrakech’s spell, too. Lost in adventure, beauty, writing. Living like a woman much loved. Found.

Fall break my second year I head to the Atlantic Ocean to review yoga/surf camps. The ride to Taghazout reminds me of exploring the California coast with my children. I miss those days, but I remember us in London my first winter away. Wearing paper crowns in a pub on Portobello Road we toasted Christmas proclaiming home was now wherever we’re together. They’d flown to Marrakesh, too, and understood why Mom loves being here.

The next morning at Surf Berbere a beam lasers through blue wooden shutters on the window by my bed. I push them open and catch the sun rising slowly, then bursting boldly from behind buildings down the beach. I sing“Morning Has Broken” and “Wild World.” Cat Stevens loved Morocco as I do. Through the window at the foot of my bed I hear, smell, see nothing but sea–the tide pushing and pulling mightily in opposing directions. Same as the churning inside of me.

The danger of getting lost is fearing being found. The school and friends want me to stay longer, but how can I when people I love want me closer to home? I remember reading Life of Pi with my sophomores Mahmoud, Chadi, Fadi, Anthony, Brahim, and Medhi. When Pi’s sole companion while lost at sea, his tiger, walks into the jungle without saying goodbye, we were gutted. The line“All of life is letting go” made me cry in class. Because it’s true.

I miss the two lives I birthed–parts of my heart– walking around on the other side of this ocean. And I know I’ll miss this crazy, exotic country where I’ve created another new life, mine.

After 3 years away I moved home last summer to a different US, Nashville, me. Reverse culture shock registered in seismic shifts. I couldn’t believe the daily news. I also wondered…when did Jimmy Kimmel get so thin and manicures so pointy? Seriously, much was scary. I’d sold my house planning to buy back in, but at these prices with only adjunct teaching jobs??? I only knew I had to share my story to encourage others to take beauty breaks for the soul. I got a tiny apartment in a place I call Walden Woods and lived another life I’d imagined since high school writing. I missed expat life but loved being near family and friends again.

Six weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with a brain condition. Unable to live in Kentucky, she moved in with me. She’d look at the trees out my windows and say she felt lost in them. I felt lost, too. We watched and waited for her surgery, recovery, what would come next.

Two weeks ago on her 81st birthday, miraculously, she moved into her own apartment by my sister. Letting go of her home was hard, but she bravely found freedom in a new start. I took a full time interim teaching position ending soon. Then? No clue.

I’m visiting friends in Morocco in June knowing all there has changed. Everything alive does. After that? I’m groping blindly along walls. But every time I’ve been lost in the desert, seeking, knocking, a door finally opens. I step into a place where rose petals float in fountains. Where once I was lost, then I am found. No long-er blind, I see.

Matt Kelley – Where Are We?

56- Lost

The bus slowly came to a halt, and the driver stepped out to have a cigarette. We realized we were the only two people on the bus, and we had no idea where we were.

We had arrived in Rome for our honeymoon the day before, and while we had gotten over our jet lag, my wife and I were tired from a long day exploring churches and ancient ruins, and had gotten all the calories we burned back and then some with pasta and a few bottles of wine. But when the bus stopped, potentially for the night, we were suddenly wide awake and painfully aware that we were in a deserted part of a city where we didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and might be stuck here till morning.

For a while, neither of us said anything. Neither one of us wanted to be the one who started the fight. Clearly this was someone’s fault, and neither of us wanted to spend the next fifty years hearing, “remember that time on our honeymoon when you got us lost?” So we sat there silently, staring at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us totally sure where we were.

We stared at the door the same way we had stared at a bunch of boxes six months earlier when we had moved in together. She had rented a small house a few months before we got engaged, but it was always going to be “our” place. The clothes went in the closet, the guitars were hung on the wall, but the boxes of CDs, souviner keg cups from college, and plenty of other little knick-knacks that I couldn’t have cared less about until she suggested throwing them away? Those things didn’t have a clear place, and I figured the boxes could just sit there in the middle of the living room for the time being.

I figured wrong. My very organized, very disciplined bride to be could not co-exist with boxes of stuff that didn’t have a place. After a fight that ended with the wedding almost being called off, I spent the first night in our home together on the couch, not really sure where we were.

We silently stared at that open door at the front of the bus on the outskirts of Rome the way we had stared at the map of the city when we landed the day before. The travel agent who had helped us book our hotels and train tickets said they had found us a great deal on a room, and that it wasn’t that far from the train station in the center of the city. This person’s version of “not that far” and mine turned out to be a little different, so we lugged our suitcases and our jet lagged bodies along a street running parallel to the walls of the old city, a paper map being our best resource in the days before smartphones.

“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” she asked. “Yes, of course I do!” I didn’t. “Where did the travel agent say it was? It feels like we’ve gone too far.” I fumbled with the map, attempting to man-splain how  Europeans are more used to walking than us Americans, even though the agent who found me such a good deal was American, too. I was blowing one of my first chances to show that I, as her husband, was in control, that she didn’t have to worry. The one thing I couldn’t say was that I had no idea where we were.

We stared at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us saying a word, neither of us wanting to be the one to start the fight. I sat there praying that the bus route continued later into the night, trying to radiate a sense of clam I didn’t actually possess as I watched the muscles in her neck grow ever tighter in agitation, I finally relented in our silent battle over what to do. I stood up and walked out the door onto the dimly lit street, shivering as much from the late fall chill as my anxiety over being stranded and having no idea where we were.

In very broken Italian I attempted to ask the bus driver what was going on. He began speaking rapidly, his tone and flailing arms letting me know that I was interrupting his smoke break and to get back on the bus, you stupid American! I sat back down, telling my new bride that I had taken care of everything, which we both knew wasn’t true, but before she could call me on it the driver got back in his seat, shut the door, and the bus started moving again.

A few minutes later we recognized our stop, attempted to thank the driver who clearly couldn’t wait to be rid of us, and made our way back to our hotel. We didn’t have to say anything, because we both knew we were tired, stressed, and ready for this night to be over. But at least for the moment, we knew where we were.

Chloe Dolandis – Closer

56- Lost

Do you know where my iPad is? I’ve been asking everyone for months, and I’ve looked everywhere, and have been begging it to come home using the “find iPhone” thing to no avail. And although I come from a long line of people who lose things — my dad with his glasses, my Grandpa Tony with his sense of direction as he’d drive to my parents’ house for the 87th time, both of them with their tempers — it’s just not usually like mebut when I moved to Nashville by myself in November I was overwhelmed to say the least, and I started misplacing things. I’m not super attached to electronics but there’s stuff on this particular device that wasn’t saved in the cloud — like lyrics to songs I’ll never finish and voicemails from my parents and grandparents that I’d recorded onto it from my phone because I couldn’t figure out another way to save them. And I was getting flack from a completely clogged mailbox.

But these voicemails didn’t just sit in my iPad, they were part of my life’s soundtrack — I’d listen when I missed my family or when I wanted to share the insanity that sometimes ensues — my favorite one of all time has to be from Grandpa Tony. It simply went, “Grandpaaa! ::click::” If you knew him that wouldn’t sound so weird.

He’s always been known as a singer, a trumpet player, and a band leader. He created a family unit that some may consider a unique version of the Partridge Family, with some added New York flair (accent), a little more “Cry Me A River” than “Come On Get Happy,” and to this day still features my father playing accordion solos. My dad’s side, Greeks who are self-proclaimed honorary Jews, frequented the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and wedding scenes as musicians, upstate in the Catskills and then in South Florida, where we relocated shortly after I was born.

My grandpa, “Tony Stevens PhD,” made sure that I (his only grandchild) inherited the music gene by trying to give me piano lessons — which lasted about half a year when I was, like, 6 because we had very different “styles.” He played with the army band in Korea, of course had a PhD in music, performed at Carnegie Hall, and worked with some jazz greats including Dakota Staton and Harry James. He basically hated anything that wasn’t in that realm and I was a pop girl. And, his way was the only way. Even after I studied music in college with a focus on jazz, and became a professional musician, if he played what he said was a “G,” but I explained technically it really was a “C,” it was still, no question, a “G.” (Gotta give it to the O.G.)

Every holiday and family gathering, there’d be music. One of his favorite songs to play was, “The Curtain Falls,” made famous by Bobby Darin, which I could not find online for a while because I kept searching for the title “Closer” — the new title Grandpa Tony lovingly gave the song. He’d end all of his one man shows with it, singing:

“If I had this to do again 

And the evening were new again

I would spend it with you again

But now the curtain falls.”

When we got together we’d also have passive aggressive, more often aggressive, fights about who got to play, who’d play what, the voicing of a chord, my vibrato, Grandpa’s politics, my dad’s politics, religion…The last argument I had with him in person was about six months ago. He towered over me saying I wasn’t allowed to talk at the dinner table because I don’t know about politics, I’m a woman, and I’m “the child.” I finally stood up and asserted, “You can’t talk to me like this, Grandpa. This is not okay.” I think that may have been the same night I announced I was moving to Nashville so his fuse was shorter than usual. In a later phone call he was fuming: “You should stay in Florida, meet someone, and get married!” Grandpa’s M.O. was to “keep the family together.” My parents adamantly reinforced this as I grew up, and several years beyond college I willingly abided, but I knew it was time to go.

When we began spending less time together, Grandpa and I got into a rhythm of him calling me Wednesdays and me calling him Sundays. Sometimes we’d miss each other because he was practicing or sleeping or running an errand, and I was recording or auditioning or socializing. We’d always forgive each other and promise to call the next specified day. One day, after he got more used to me living in Tennessee, he turned a corner: “You’re doing the right thing. Focus on your career and you’ll meet someone when it’s time.”

In December I went back to Florida to play some shows and had the opportunity to be a guest vocalist with the Sunrise Pops Orchestra, a 60 piece band. As well as preparing standards and show tunes, my conductor helped me arrange two of my original songs. One of them, “Comin’ Home Real Soon,” I wrote with my parents as a Father’s Day gift for my dad, and in the lyric I mention specific family members, including my grandpa. Whenever I play it I like to dedicate it to my family, especially if they’re in the audience. I hesitated to invite him to the show — he did walk out of one of my gigs very upset because he wasn’t thrilled with the band or what I was doing. But, at 91 years old, Grandpa Tony was there taking it all in and changed his tune, and I got to dedicate the song to him. After the performance he pulled me close and said, “Baby doll, if you don’t make it, it’s not because you’re not talented.” By then I’d come to terms with the idea that his opinion wasn’t going to define my direction, but it was still nice to hear and I was happy he was happy.

I headed back to Nashville and we continued our weekly calling. A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my guitar player about a gig and Grandpa called on the other line. I didn’t pick up and totally forgot to call him back. He left a voicemail that I didn’t listen to. The day after, I considered going through messages and deleting everything to clear space — I was at capacity again — but left his latest voicemail as it was, still unheard, as a reminder to call him back. The day after that my mom got in touch with me. Grandpa Tony had died.

His timing was impeccable if there is such a thing as picking the right time to go. I had four gigs scheduled in Florida and had to leave just a day sooner than planned to be back in time for his funeral.

It was a perfect sendoff for him. One of his tapes (yes, cassette tapes) featuring songs from almost all of our family members played through the speakers as the viewing began. As I approached my grandpa’s casket to see him one last time, his version of “The Curtain Falls”, “Closer,” began to play.

After the funeral the family went back to his place — his glasses were still sitting on a piece of music he’d been working on, next to a pair of tweezers poised with a tiny paper music note, ready to be glued down to amend a chord on the page. He never needed updated technology to create something beautiful. Our small, shaken family gathered around his dining room table, ate dinner, and missed him. It dawned on me that I still had the unheard voicemail in my phone, so with everyone’s permission I played it. We collectively laughed harder than we have in a long time. Mission accomplished, Grandpa.

Right before we left, my dad sat down at Grandpa Tony’s piano and began to play. I sang:

“Oh, Nanny and Grandpa come over

Tonight by the light of the moon

And I want yours to be the first face I see

‘Cause I’ll be comin’ home real soon”

I’d like to dedicate this story to the memory of my iPad.

Lost – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our April 2018 theme “Lost.”

Nashville, tonight we were lost.

We were lost in a deserted part of the ancient city, and more lost in the early days of 56- Lostmarried life. But in the end, we were just glad to finally both know where we are.

We lost our “5-year-old” mother when our discriminating 17-year-old palette led to sprinting around the perimeter of the grand opening, till the cringe-worthy announcement reunited us in a moment of self-discovery.

We grew up traveling in military engagements in which the prime objective was to make good time. But we discovered that families in bizarro world were happy just to kind of know where they were going and not get lost.

We took a beauty break for the soul and got lost in the maze of the sandstone city, teaching Pi in Marakesh, and camel-riding in the Sahara. But we found our own life—which we brought home, and found home was also new.

We were lost in interviews where we wasted time competing with fire alarms and looking for people in the witness protection program and seeking connections in pubs and Pokemon. But we finally found relationships we cherish, and we know we can find our way out of the woods.

We left behind the red-eyed heathen of depression and bitterness and went to look for a place that calms a beating chest. And hiking through the tundra, avoiding apex predators, and fishing in the majestic beauty of wilderness streams, we found hope.

We felt lost when unrealistic dreams of perfect child-birth in a puffy pink gown crashed into Fantasy Mom’s prophecy of rejection and drying up. But our beautiful baby rescued us from the nightmare of a hot-rock massage.

We were lost in unmet family expectations and Grandpa’s dominating opinions. We were happy to learn that he thought his baby doll was talented—but we found we aren’t defined by that. And we sent him off with his version of “The Curtain Falls” and cherish his last musical “Grandpa.”

We were lost on a date when brownies with secret ingredients led us to not know if we were on a train, or what our date was saying, or whether we had eaten, or how to talk, or how to feel our face! But he helped us find our way home…and all we can say is, “Happy Friday!”

Huge thanks to Chloe, Anna, Matt, Cindy, Steve, Erin, Sharon, Jack, and Amy for their stories! We look forward to seeing everyone at Douglas Corner May 21 for our theme “Snapshot”. Bring a photo, tell the story. Let us know if you have a story!