By Inez Castor
For the Triplicate
People move to our peaceful little corner of California for lots of reasons. They come for jobs, for a peaceful retirement, or to join family members already living here.
Summer Rogers came here to die. She was in her mid-40s, a single parent whose one child was grown, and she was sick and tired unto death.
It started when I was 12, she explains. I fell and hurt my hip at a swimming pool. I hid it from my mother as long as I could because I was afraid she wouldnt let me go swimming anymore.
It sounds like such a little thing, and yet it led to four hip replacements and a liver transplant. During the first surgery, when Summer was 12, she contracted hepatitis, which caused severe liver damage. From then on, surgeries happened every few years; pain and illness were constant companions.
Ive had chronic pain all my life, so I just put it on the back burner; its so much a part of my life, that Im not even aware of it most of the time. I guess God gave the ability to ignore it to me to help me through this.
As an adult with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation, Summer worked in counseling and group dynamics. A lot of kids arent given any boundaries and what I was working at was helping them develop their own discipline, helping them learn to be social.
A very disciplined and social person herself, she volunteered with community agencies, ignoring her pain and developing fund-raising plans. Unfortunately, while she had learned to be socially responsible, she hadnt yet learned to say No.
Id have an idea, or mention something, and then all of a sudden, I was the head of it. I worked with the city of Monterey, and was often a docent to different groups. And then came the liver transplant, at a time when she was within weeks of having to go on life support. Afterward, the agencies and friends that had counted on her for myriad tasks, continued to do so.
A lot of people that had been friends never fell out of the pattern of waking me to share their fun times, and wanting me go places and do things, she says. Id been very social, and I just couldnt do it anymore. I couldnt drive my car, and I had a terrible couple years with medication that sent me off into the ozone. It takes a long time after a transplant for the body to get used to the changes that are going on.
Anti-rejection medications create a feeling of anxiety, and people who must take large amounts of steroids startle easily. Even a ringing phone can cause their hearts to pound and bring on panic attacks and disorientation.
People who hadnt seen me in a while were horrified at the change in my appearance and I didnt have the energy to care how I looked. I just wanted to be off by myself where I didnt have to pretend I could do things I couldnt, or make excuses.
Needing to escape the hectic Monterey Peninsula while remaining within the state, she ended up near the dead-end of a quiet street in Crescent City.
This was the first house I saw; it had to have been a gift from God, because he brought me through all of this. My family did all the packing and moved me up here and my niece set up the bed. When they left, I was there for days, so weak I couldnt move.
The days came and went and the phone never rang. No one called her to spearhead a committee or form a taskforce. She could sit by the ocean for hours, breathing in fresh air and giving her body and mind time to heal. Gradually, she began to regain her strength.
She rescued a Viszla puppy named Penny. An abandoned kitten, Matilda, arrived during a rainstorm to take possession of house, woman and dog. Summer began to paint again and take an interest in her surroundings. The house is small and old, a nurturing, homey little place full of houseplants. Ancestral portraits on the walls look right at home.
When I was in Monterey, I felt like people were picking away at me, demanding that I spend energy I didnt have on civic projects. There are things that I want to take part in, but theres only so much I can do. My plate gets full fast.
Locally, she joined the Sunrise Garden Club, because she can attend meetings when shes able and not feel guilty when shes not able. Shes active in her church, and shes begun to think about working just a bit with Gateway and Habitat for Humanity.
But I dont want to be overwhelmed. I still have that fear of being swallowed up. I cant worry about letting you down when I dont have the strength to stand up.
Summer walks with a cane and at the age of 51 she has more strength than shes had during her entire adult life. Her skin is tan and she laughs easily and often. When she gets tired, she has the freedom to sit down and let the cool sea breeze stir her thick, curly hair, a tousled mane of blond turning white.
Ive gotten a lot healthier since Ive been here, said the woman who thought she was coming here to die. I walk on the beach, and the peacefulness of the whole area soothes and heals me.
Penny and I walk along the cliffs near Pt. St. George, and every year Im better and stronger, she says, stroking the cat in her lap. I can do my own thing, and my life pretty much consists of Penny, Matilda and Me.
I didnt want to be this old woman that had a dog and cat for a best friend, but here I am, she said with a contented sigh.
Looking around the neat, quiet little house, stroking Pennys silky ears, it seems like a very good place to be.