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When you know, you know.

My first glimpse at the beach in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

My first glimpse at the beach in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

It all started with a trip to Monte Cristi. I was nearing the end of my second trip the DR, and my friend Elena insisted on taking me to what she promised was one of the most beautiful beaches on the North Coast, and quite possibly the world.

Elena enlisted José to drive us. The same José, a retired policeman turned taxi driver, who had picked us (Mumsy, Kathie, Nona, Julie and myself) up at the Santiago airport on my initial trip to the DR that January. Just as he had on that night, José brought his friend and former partner along for the ride.

“Our bodyguards,” Elena joked, as we headed out early that morning.

The ride to Monte Cristi and back again took us through the Dominican Republic's central Cibao valley.

The ride to Monte Cristi and back again took us through the Dominican Republic’s central Cibao valley.

But I wasn’t so sure. Oh, this young cop was nice enough, if a little shy. The problem was that he’d already made it known that he was interested in me. And, while I thought I’d made it pretty darn clear that I wasn’t interested in him, well… I had a feeling it was going to be a long day.

And, sure enough, it didn’t take him long to make his initial play to hold my hand. I swatted it away with a laugh and a bit of an eye roll. The activity in the back seat did not go unnoticed by Elena and Jose.

“When you get married, I want to be the best man,” Jose said, grinning at us in the rear view mirror.

That little prediction earned another eye roll from me.

But at some point during the day, my attitude started to change toward this man, whose name I didn’t really know. Was it Andy? André? Only later did I finally come to understand it was Andry.

IMG_1626Maybe it was how seriously he took his role as my bodyguard. Or how he insisted on coming in the water with me, even though he was clearly uncomfortable with the size of the waves.

Or maybe it was when I noticed the color of his eyes exactly matched the surf pounding around us.

Or when I went to use the public restroom on site, only to discover I had been a bit too generous with my emergency stash of tissues. (You’re welcome, Elena.) And he handed me his shirt. An offer which I found incredibly chivalrous, but declined.

Or maybe it was the beach itself, with its steep rock walls and terracotta sand. It was stunning and we had it all to ourselves. (It still blows my mind that this place barely makes the foot notes of most guidebooks, because it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.)

Maybe it wasn’t one thing, but rather an accumulation of all of these small items that set the carefully constructed wall around my heart to crumbling. All I know is that at some point the attention he was paying me stopped being bothersome. And on the return trip, when he reached for my hand, I wasn’t so quick to brush it away.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. And the next morning, I woke up with a poem rattling around my head, waiting for me to spill it out on paper.

I did. And then I did something completely crazy: I translated it into Spanish and shared it with him.

José, our best man, looks on after we said our (first set) of I Do's.

José, our best man, looks on after we said our (first set) of I Do’s.

The following day, March 26, we had our first official date. It was another trip with José and Elena, this time to Playa Grande in Rio San Juan. It was another gorgeous beach, and yes, I dragged him into the ocean with me again.

A little over a year later, on May 9, 2015, Jose’s little prediction came true. And yes, he was Andry’s best man.

Here’s the poem I wrote that long ago morning, when I knew I’d found someone special.

Because when you know, you know.

#

Lost in the moment…

 

Your voice rolls over me

smooth and seductive

like the surf.

It’s not the words,

but the cadence,

I understand.

 

Your fingers trace lazy circles

and I shiver,

shy like a school girl

with her first crush.

 

The brush of a kiss

on my temple,

feather soft,

draws my attention to your eyes.

 

Grey-green

against the caramel of your skin

I’d lose myself there,

if not for the tug of a smile

on those perfect lips.

 

Would they taste like salt

from the sea?

I wonder, reluctant to break

the spell of this perfect moment

even for the pleasure

of finding out.

 

MS March 25, 2015

 

Perdido en el momento…

 

Tu voz me vuelca

suave y seductor

como el surf.

No son las palabras

pero la cadencia

entiendo.

 

Tus dedos traza círculos perezosos

y tirito,

tímido como una muchacha de la escuela

con su primer amor.

 

La caricia de un beso

en mi frente,

suave como pluma

me llama la atención a tus ojos.

 

Gris-verde

contra el caramelo de su piel.

Me perdería

si no fuera por el tirón de una sonrisa

en esos labios perfectos.

 

¿Saben a sal

desde el mar?

Me pregunto, reacio a romper

el hechizo de este momento perfecto

incluso para el placer

de descubrir.

IMG_1667

Farrell Family Favorites: A tribute to a favorite uncle and his amazing daughter

Two of my favorite ladies!

Two of my favorite ladies!

I opened Facebook today to find two of my favorite ladies smiling back at me. I was so excited to see that my cousin Coleen had chosen one of my favorites from my wedding day as her new profile picture. It’s a candid of Coleen and Mumsy, in their respective roles as maid of honor and mother of the bride, taken as we were waiting to be collected for the beachfront ceremony.

As I looked at those familiar faces, smiling back at me, I felt so incredibly blessed. I am blessed. Blessed to have found the love of my life and made it official before family and friends on what would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary. And blessed, also, to have these two amazing women in my life.

For the last 40 years, they have cared for me, comforted me, supported me, cheered me on, laughed both with me and at me, and helped me celebrate all of life’s milestones – big and small. And even though we’re a few thousand miles apart at present, we all carry each other in our hearts every day.

In a family of 35 first cousins, it’s a dangerous thing to go picking favorites. Difficult, too, since the Farrells are a pretty amazing bunch. But Coleen and I have always had a special bond. The fact that more than a decade separates us in the roster of Farrell descendants has never been a factor.

It was Coleen who dropped everything and drove from New Jersey to Syracuse the night before my surgery a few years ago, so that Mumsy wouldn’t be alone during those tense hours.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP's Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Fun in Philadelphia for AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight walk to prevent suicide.

Who walked 18 miles from dusk to dawn with me to raise money for suicide prevention, a cause that has hit both of us far too close to home.

Who, quite literally, held my hand to keep me sane when a nasty infection in my leg had to be lanced. It was painful, yes, but worse was my fear that it would keep me from making it back to the DR in time for my own wedding! (Something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do if not for Coleen’s sister Jean, who diagnosed the problem and started me on a course of strong antibiotics before sending me to the clinic.)

It was she who moved heaven, earth and the passport office in order to stand up with me on my wedding day.

That’s just a sampling really, of the thousand and one ways she has been there for me over the years. This despite all of the challenges life has thrown at her along the way. You’d never know it though, the way she’s willing to drop everything for everyone around her.

While we have always been close, it was during my father’s illness that we went from being cousins to sisters. She, her husband Steve and their three phenomenal offspring (Jillian, Bret and Eric) were such a comfort to my dad during those three long years he battled cancer. And by a comfort, I mean an excuse to shoot off automatic weapons, adventure out on 4-wheelers or snowmobiles and engage in epic Wii tournaments. They brought a lot of love and joy to a man doing his best to hide his Stage IV cancer from the world. And they’ve helped us find the strength to get through even the most difficult of days leading up to and since he took his last breath on January 26, 2012.

Through all of that, I vowed to myself that I’d do the same for them if ever they faced a similar situation. That unspoken promise was put to the test this year, as both Steve’s mom and then Coleen’s father, my Uncle Bill, fell ill.

It has been difficult to watch both from afar, knowing there is little I can do from this distance. But I know that’s nothing compared to what they and our families have gone through.

I vividly remember the night of August 30. As I tossed and turned, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of my Uncle Bill. I finally gave up trying to sleep and decided to write down all the memories swirling around my brain. I was determined to tell him just how much he meant to me and to all of us Farrell cousins that had been privileged to grow up in his shadow.

My mother has seven brothers, but only one big brother. He was everyone’s big brother, in fact. I can’t imagine the pressure he felt – the responsibility he had – being the oldest of 12. At what it must have been like to lose his younger sister Agnes at such a young age. To have been closer in age to his mother, than to his youngest siblings well before the last of the litter, my Uncle Tim, came along.

One of my favorite pictures of another of my favorite ladies, Aunt Cecilia.

Our angel, Aunt Cecilia.

He would also be the first to go off to join the Navy and, later, to start his own family with the talented nurse who nursed his father back to health after losing his leg in an accident on the tug boats. This last was his coup de grace, in my opinion, because Aunt Cecilia – like her daughter Coleen – is a walking angel in my eyes.

It was from Uncle Bill that I learned to appreciate the Pecan Sandie above all other commercially available baked goods. And I’d wager I’m not the only Farrell cousin that swore never to get a tattoo after being weaned on the story of how he contracted hepatitis from those he’d gotten in the Navy.

Uncle Bill’s family newsletter, Farrell Family Facts, drew something of a cult following among my college friends. A few even angled for invitations to the Farrell Family Fun in the Sun Social, another brainchild of my dear uncle. And when it came time to plan a Winter Break trip to the sunny Florida Keys, a pit stop in St. Augustine to visit Uncle Bill and Aunt Cecilia was considered a given.

This is how I'll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia.

This is how I’ll always remember Uncle Bill, dancing with Aunt Cecilia and finishing each other’s sentences.

He was recovering from a stroke at the time, and my mother wanted a full report on his progress. But what I remembered most was how he and my Aunt Cecilia finished each other’s sentences. Not out of necessity, but out of habit. I thought to myself at the time that someday that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have. And I do, with Andry. Although, granted, my fledgling Spanish may have something to do with that. (A topic for another blog, I promise.)

The last time Uncle Bill was at our house, he mentioned that visit to me and I was so touched. Until I realized, that is, that the reason he remembered it so vividly had more was because Liz and Melissa, my traveling companions for the trip, were both close to six feet tall.

It was these memories and more that I endeavored to put on paper that night. It was just a first draft, which I intended to polish up in the morning. I never got around to opening that document again, though. Because at a little before 6 a.m., a message came through from Coleen.

“He’s gone,” it said.

And with that, I knew I’d already said my goodbyes without realizing it.

It reminded me, though, how important it is for us to show our love, appreciation and gratitude while we can. So this isn’t a eulogy for the dead, but an ode to the living. Because he does live on in each and every Farrell.

Coleen, I love and appreciate you more than you know. You are not just my cousin, but a true sister and friend.

To you, Aunt Cecilia, Billy, Timmy, Jean, Cecilia, Terry and your families; My mom and the rest of the Farrell siblings; and rest of the extended Farrell clan – I send all the love in my heart and strength in my body. Because I know that even now, especially now, we reel from the loss of the man who was at once husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle, sailor and friend.

Uncle Bill, I hope heaven welcomed you with an unlimited supply of Pecan Sandies and old Hollywood movies on-demand. Don’t let my dad and Uncle Rich take your last nickel at cards. Give Mom Mom a kiss for all of us.

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