Monday, March 14, 2011

Uranus at 29 Degrees of Pisces: Part II

Photo credit: T. C. Gardstein, 2007

With the situation in Japan worsening (as per the predictions of my last post), I thought I'd muse upon my own inner earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown with Uranus in the final degree of Pisces. It is also more than worth mentioning that Neptune happens to be transiting the final degree of Aquarius, and that up until last weekend, in fact, there was a seven-year-long mutual reception between these two outer planets (i.e., Uranus was transiting the sign of Neptune's rulership, with Neptune transiting the sign of Uranus's rulership). Obviously the semi-sextile, a so-called minor aspect, between Uranus and Neptune pulled a powerful punch. And it did so on many levels.

A planet or planets in the last degree of a sign, either by transit or progression, is all about summing up the meaning of that sign, while preparing to bid it adieu. This may very well be why individuals who are born on the cusp (29 degrees) of a sign, or have a cusp Ascendant or other planets, are prone to identity crises and restlessness. It's more about waving good-bye than saying hello, and not yet meeting face-to-face what is right around the corner.

Three-quarters of my six-day R&R to the West Indies was magical, spent swimming, eating, reading, sketching, sleeping, and not sleeping on my favorite beach on my favorite island, in the company of my sweetie whose first visit to St. Martin it was. The last quarter of my trip, which coincided with the New Moon in Pisces, was marked by a haunting sadness and creeped-outed-ness that I have not yet shaken, after more than a week back at home.

My oldest friend, whom I met at a summer writers workshop twenty years ago this summer and who introduced me to astrology, is buried on the small island of St. Eustatius, which one cannot reach except by puddle-jumper prop plane from St. Martin (actually, St. Maarten -- the airport is on the Dutch side of the island) or sailboat. I last visited my friend in March 2007; he'd been living in Statia, as the locals call their island, for the past two years. He died unexpectedly the following spring, from complications due to diverticulitis, which I did not know he had been diagnosed with, just two weeks after I'd returned home from a trip to the Bahamas with my best girl friend. It had been the first time in several years that I hadn't visited my oldest friend since he'd moved to the West Indies, and as I'd just returned from a vacation and was virtually broke, I did not make it down to Statia for his funeral, a fact that has troubled me for nearly three years. His three adult children made it down, and one of them gave me a pretty detailed description -- the pickup truck used as a hearse, the coffin built by a man who'd used the same wood to construct my friend's bookcase.

Through dreams I have often communicated with my departed friend. I do not feel as though I've "lost" him through his death; the sad, hard truth was that our true separation occurred while he was still in Statia. Four Marches ago, as I sat on the runway in the puddle-jumper that would fly me back to St. Maarten and then home, I saw that my friend's Jeep was still in the parking lot, and I thought I could see him, too -- a shadowy dot. I broke down and wept. I knew with absolute certainty that I would never see him again.

When you have a Plutonian relationship with someone, there is never easy "closure." My oldest friend, who was once upon a time not as platonic a friend, was persona non grata in my family, and no one in my post-2002 life knew him except for one ex-boyfriend (with whom, as it goes, I had a terrible falling-out a year and a half back, and is just now beginning to un-fall). I held a memorial party in my apartment at the one-year mark, to which his three kids, none of whom live in the NY area, did show -- though neither of his ex-wives, who are both relatively local in NJ, accepted the invitation. We talked and ate and drank and passed photos around. It was something; it just didn't feel like enough. I knew that somehow I had to get back to Statia, an expensive proposition given the fact that WinAir has raised skyway robbery to an art form and that my prospects as a freelancer were diminishing by the month.

So the trip finally happened, spurred in part by recently acquired steady part-time work, the other part from a false review I'd spotted on TripAdvisor about how the King's Well Inn in Statia was up for sale. This was my friend's last, and in some ways truest, home since he'd moved to the islands to teach pharmacology at the local medical schools. Far from a resort, the King's Well was a quirky little hotel run by an older couple, both Cancerians (in fact, the husband and I share a birthday and Moon sign!), who'd once run a restaurant on Long Island and fell in love with Statia while vacationing there in the '80s, at just about the time Pluto entered Scorpio. The King's Well had dogs, cats, and parrots, all of whom freely roamed the premises, so it was not a place for anyone who did not like or at least tolerate animals. The couple cooked savory, straightforward dinners (wiener schnitzel, chicken with ginger sauce, grouper with white wine sauce) and served huge gratis breakfasts to hotel guests. There was a nice swimming pool, jacuzzi, aloe plants in the garden; Oranje Bay was a short stroll down the hill. There was also a cemetery up the hill, which appears in this post's photo; I snapped this shot from the prop plane shortly before landing at Statia's FDR Airport in March 2007.

The review I read was so negative (the reviewer and his wife had left after only two hours, claiming extreme discomfort in the surroundings) that I immediately sent the owners of the King's Well an email to find out if the rumor was true. It was not; the wife informed me that the guest in question was out of his mind, and that when she and her husband were ready to pack it in, they would leave the hotel to their grown kids. I was also offered free accommodations if I chose to visit, only having to pay for dinners. Very soon after that exchange, I told my sweetie, who was in the process of packing up his apartment to move into mine, that I wanted to make a trip to St. Martin and Statia before winter's end. He was not surprised, since I'd mentioned more than once or twice my desire to revisit this part of the world, as well as my need to pay my respects at the grave of my oldest friend. It made perfect sense to start out in St. Martin and end the trip in Statia. Just before boarding the puddle-jumper, I picked up a bottle of duty-free champagne to thank the owners of the King's Well for their generosity.

What I was not expecting was that the King's Well Inn was just as decrepit, perhaps more so, as the reviewer on TripAdvisor had claimed. We were given an oceanfront room with a terrace, but it was situated near the hotel's dumpster, which reeked of garbage. The waterbed was fun and sexy in theory, but it was only halfway filled, causing extreme back discomfort for both of us. There were huge cobwebs all over the room. We did not put any of our clothes in the few drawers that passed for a bureau. The windows lacked screens, and the wooden French doors were warped and never stayed fully closed. Fortunately, the ceiling fans were in working order, which saved us from being eaten alive by mosquitos as we slept (albeit fitfully). The painting in the room was grotesque, depicting a couple clinging to each other not in ecstasy or tenderness, but in grief or agony. There were two other couples staying at the hotel, but I learned from the owners that they now only accepted known quantities -- even extending to those visitors who only wished to dine at the King's Well. The owner who is my astral twin was in a terrible car accident on St. Kitts last summer and is on a steady diet of painkillers; his wife, who never seemed to welcome "outsiders" to the King's Well as readily as her husband, seemed even more insular in her worldview; she will only visit nearby St. Martin a few times a year to pick up such hotel supplies as towels and sheets, since Statia does not offer much in the way of creature comforts. In her opinion, most people are morons or fools. The misanthrope in me sees her point, yet she is so strident and knee-jerky in her judgments that I find myself taking the other side, for the sake of balance and fairness. She also never asked me a single question about what had been going on in my world since 2007. I don't take this personally, as her own world is so circumscribed it could fit on one of her dinner plates.

We arrived late Friday afternoon, just before the New Moon in Pisces; after a quick dip in the pool, which thankfully was clean (I learned that the man who lives in my old friend's apartment, which is right next to the pool, performs this task), I cleaned up, donned my black sundress and shawl, grabbed a stick of incense and a candle that came in an ornate tin, and headed up the hill to the cemetery. It was my intention to be there at sunset, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. My sweetie accompanied me. It did not occur to me that I would be unable to locate my friend's grave; that it would still, after nearly three years after his burial, be unmarked. My sweetie helpfully offered to walk back downhill to the hotel restaurant and ask the grande dame of the King's Well, who was preparing our dinner, for directions. In his absence, as the sun sunk into the ocean, I wandered around the cemetery, studying each headstone in the hope that finally I'd found the one I was looking for...and taking great care to avoid the mounds of goat shit (or maybe it was cow shit) that decorated the grounds. My sweetie returned with the information that my friend was buried near the break in the cemetery wall, near "Hank the plumber." Supposedly there was a pile of rocks to mark my friend's burial spot. I did not find a pile, precisely, but there were a few heavy rocks near the plumber's headstone. My sweetie respectfully walked off a ways as I lit the stick of incense and stuck it in the ground; I lit the candle, and as soon as I asked my friend if he knew I was there, the flame went out. I spoke to him for a few minutes -- nothing so different from the times I've spoken to him in my mind. But the situation was so dismal and depressing I did not want to stay in the cemetery for longer than that. I wrote in one of my first astrology posts that I rather liked cemeteries, but this one was the exception that proved the rule. It really took the cake (or cow patty).

I planned to mention the sorry state of the cemetery, and my friend's unmarked grave, to the grande dame once we'd finished the chicken with ginger sauce. But as soon as I voiced to her that I'd probably found the grave, she weighed in with her judgment that cemeteries were pointless, that she herself never visits, and that my friend was not really there anyway -- his spirit was at the hotel. I managed to hold my tongue. After all, we were staying at the King's Well for free, and we had another night to go after this one. But here is what ran through my head: So what if it was "just" my friend's empty shell rotting in an unmarked grave, in a boneyard scattered with shit? It was still the container of his spirit, his soul. He'd apparently asked for a Jewish funeral (which ruled out cremation). His adult children, at least the older two, were financially solvent enough to have chipped in on some sort of simple marker. That they hadn't done so this long after the fact left me gobsmacked. I have a difficult relationship with my own father (whose nickname just so happens to be identical to Statia's aforementioned dearly departed plumber -- ain't irony grand?) and yet if he died anywhere on this planet, even if I did not have my mother or sister around to help out on this formality, I'd make it my business to mark that shell.

My visit to Statia lasted for less than forty-eight hours, but it felt like far longer. There were some bright moments: yoga, making a decent watercolor painting on the moldering terrace, a long frolic in the sea with my sweetie (though the beach of Oranje Bay had eroded considerably since my last visit). Neither of the owners of the King's Well wanted to drink the bubbly I'd brought, so my sweetie and I shared it during our second and last dinner, which was grouper with white wine sauce, at the King's Well. (The food, thankfully, was as delicious as in prior visits.) Near the end of the meal, I met the man who took over my friend's dwelling; he'd just celebrated his fifty-seventh birthday, and was studying to be a doctor after considerable success in the business world. When I introduced myself, he came over, charming Texan that he was, and sat with my sweetie and me for a spell. I'd had enough champagne by then to mention that my oldest friend had once lived in his apartment, and asked if he'd ever sensed anything strange, any movements; I so wanted to believe the grande dame of the King's Well that my friend's spirit was on the hotel grounds, though I hadn't sensed it at all in the past day. He immediately shook his head no and said, "Only when I had that rat problem."

Later that night I sat alone on the rotting terrace's mildewed couch, sipping from one of the bottles of Ma DouDou rum punch I'd picked up in St. Martin (my all-time favorite elixir, particularly the banana-vanilla and chocolate flavors). It was just past the Lunar Return of my oldest friend, and with the Moon/Uranus conjunction approaching, I was trying so hard to connect with his spirit as I stared at the palm trees and the night sea. But it all felt like a stage set, perhaps because of the harsh lighting. All I could think was that I'd come to Statia to pay my respects, and found (barely) an unmarked grave and a dying hotel. My sweetie, who'd been reading in the uncomfortable bed, eventually drifted out to the terrace. He reassured me that I'd done what I'd set out to do. Maybe so, I fretted -- but what about my friend's pathetic excuse for a grave? Should I contact his kids or what? Lying in the swaying bed, my sweetie and I clung to each other much like the angst-filled couple in the disturbing painting overhead. We were tired but restless, sensing unrest if not outright ghosts.

The next morning, upon our departure, I was told to "have a good life" by the grande dame of the King's Well Inn. Obviously she realized without my having to say a word that another visit was not in the stars. My astral twin, who was apparently not too badly incapacitated from painkillers that morning, drove us to the airport. My sweetie and I were not able to grab seats together on the WinAir prop plane, even though we boarded in tandem. Perhaps having to sit next to a stranger was what made it possible -- that sense of aloneness I felt as I watched Statia recede in the blue haze that melds sea and sky -- for me to finally be able to cry for my oldest friend. Once again.

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