11. The Intersection

She spent the earlier part of her life as a nun before she was called to leave the church to help others hone their spiritual gifts.

When my time is over onboard O’Kane, I take orders to Point Loma in San Diego, California.

The base where I'm stationed overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

I watch sea gulls and kite-boarders from the panoramic window of the front office, I run five miles from the base to Sunset Cliffs and back every morning before work, and I often take my lunch alone at the foot of the lighthouse at the tip of the point, surrounded by water.

It’s the first time on land that the sanctity of the ocean is inside of me.

I'm a part of something much bigger.

Everything about San Diego feeds my spirit, and my intuition grows stronger; now I’m aware that I can hear my wise, confident little voice much clearer when I’m careful about how I treat my body.

I live on farmers markets’ fresh produce, clean fish from the sea, and 20-mile runs that keep my channels clear, but my social life is on fire and it’s hard not to fall into the rock star-like, Southern California scene.

Before long, I do.

image of sky at sunset with pinks and purples and the silhouette of a muti-tier road sign in the foreground

I meet Paul a year into my stay here.

He’s a Marine Corps Officer and can party all night and wake up fresh to run at 4:30 am, when I chase him seven miles through the hills.

He shows me love with extravagant vacations, gifts, and dinners out.

To top it all off, he has a XXX-rating that gives me that sense of desire I crave.

We look great on paper, but we get into horrible fights, regularly fueled by alcohol.

It’s a week before he has to leave for his second deployment this year, and we are in an old bank turned gold-and-velvet-draped hotel in San Francisco.

I’m standing in our room in a black dress that clings to me in a way that feels like almost nothing, and heels that make me tall enough to reach Paul’s lips.

We are fighting: I am screaming; he is stoic.

Through the static of my drunkenness, I hear it.

Stop. You have to stop. 

I deflate.

Everything Paul is saying turns to a mumble.

I look down into my hands, holding a fresh full glass of pinot noir that we had delivered to the room after we got back from a night of multiple bottles.

The thickness and color of the wine hypnotize me.

My stomach seizes. 

Stop, you have to stop. 

My body is electric.

I am more alive than alive.

My arm is pulled back like a marionette under someone else’s control.

I launch the wine across the suite.

It smashes against the wall by the window, leaving splatters of red all over the glass and classic white walls.

In the moment, I couldn’t tell you what made me do it.

What I do know is that all of the fighting stops, and I realize that Paul’s love of all things Paul is getting in the way of a time in my life when I could be filling my spirit as I’d promised Pop-Pop so many years before.

Paul leaves for deployment; I stop drinking and start focusing more on running and lifting and filling my body, mind, and spirit with goodness.

My Navy friend Luna and I bond over our Catholic childhoods and beliefs in a spiritual realm we cannot see, but both know is there.

She wants to visit a psychic downtown that she’s heard about through a trusted friend, so I go with her.

A bell jingles when Luna pushes the door open.

Everything is blood red and velvety except for tiny sconces with tea candles that light up the corners of the room.

A woman appears from behind a heavy, rope-lined purple curtain, sweet and dainty like Emma Stone.

She tells us that she spent the earlier part of her life as a nun before she was called to leave the church to help others hone their spiritual gifts.

I’m two steps into her shop when she grabs my arm and looks me square in the eyes.

“The church is in your blood,” she says and sends a shockwave through me that locks me in the moment.

In an instant I process all of this: My grandmother is a Della Chiesa, which means “of the church” in Sicilian. My family history is thought to include St. Anthony Della Chiesa, who was said to perform miracles of the mind. Pop-Pop is a Mesagno, “of the blood” in Italian.

With her one comment, she gets my buy-in.

image of sky at sunset with pinks and purples and the silhouette of a muti-tier road sign in the foreground

“You have a very strong gift. When you’re ready, I’d love to work with you.” She lets go of my arm, leaving me standing in a haze of wonderment, before she and Luna disappear behind the curtain. 

Almost a week after meeting her, I recall what she said and am motivated to explore the gift that she saw in me.

I’m on the balcony of my third-floor apartment overlooking San Diego Harbor.

For the first time in my life, I call to my inner voice. I hope to gain clarity on my impending decision as to whether or not I should leave the Navy after my contract ends next year.

I take a deep breath and, using my experience on the café balcony in Australia as a template, I try to connect to everything around me.

I fixate on the sky, its indigo hue, the way it moves in waves as an ensemble with the water below me, the seagulls calling to one another from every which way along the dock.

The direction of the wind, its warmth against the skin of my arms, and how it cools on its way in through my nose.

I follow my breath inward to my chest as it rises and soothes my heart. 

Are you there? I ask. Timid. Curious.

I’m always here.

I feel it in my stomach. It’s a fullness that resonates through my heart to my head. Wise. Confident. Certain.

And before I ask my question about whether or not I should leave the Navy, I hear the answer.

You have to go to Ireland.

This time, I hear within those words, that I have to leave the Navy as soon as my contract is up. Although I’m aching to know what happens in Ireland, I don’t take it as an urgent message.

I’m starting to learn how to use these feelings, the knowing, as guideposts.

I only know that it’s time to get out of the Navy, but with a year still left on my contract, I also know that I won’t be in Ireland anytime soon. 

image of sky at sunset with pinks and purples

On February 9th of 2010, after 10 years, five months and 24 days of service, I drive to the administrative building at the top of Point Loma.

A starry-eyed new sailor, with a perfectly coifed coif of blonde hair and wearing a pressed black uniform and sparkling shoes, greets me at the door.

“Good morning, FC1 Ryan,” he says, and leads me to a chair at an over-sized, polished-slick desk where he hands me one of those heavy, executive ball point pens that you only find at the fanciest Navy establishments.

There’s a stack of papers on the desk in front of me, staggered in a pile like a staircase so I can see the line at the bottom of each of the pages.

“I flagged all of the places you need to sign,” he says. 

Diamonds fill the air around us, and that divine peace where it all makes sense washes over me. 

I sign my name eight times on eight crisp pages of type, not reading any of it. I finish and look up at him as he stands at attention and holds out his hand. I take it and stand up into the light. 

“Have a great life,” he says through a whole-faced, squinty-eyed smile. 

“You too,” I say, and as I walk to the door my shoulders relax for the first time in over a decade.

Glitter envelops me as I drive away, down the hill, away from the point, away from my beloved Navy.

I miss Mom.

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