Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are they dancing near the ocean?

Children, especially very young children, always seem to believe I am about their own age--just a slightly taller child with interesting reading glasses poised on her nose. This suits me fine, because at heart I have great sympathy for the littlest ones, and tend to see the universe very much through their eyes.

True, I have in my decades of life learned a little bit of decorum. I don't skip nearly as much as I did a couple decades back, and that isn't only because my left knee has grown annoyingly fragile and my dogs get disconcerted when their human moves erratically. I refrain from blurting out all the questions in my heart--though I do still blurt one or two, and have very little fear of seeming stupid or ignorant--if you don't ask questions when are you going to get answers?

So, when the sprite with the long yellow hair and bright blue eyes, perched happily on her dad's shoulders in the grocery store line caught my eye, I smiled back at her. And she chirped up, "what's your name?" I told her, and she told me hers. And then she asked "where's your mommy?"

Her mommy was in front of her in the line, and I glanced at her, and at the stalwart young father who was acting as a nice horse for his little girl. The direct answer would have been something along the lines of "dead". And indeed, dead nearly 10 years. But that didn't seem like the sort of answer to give the little girl--I mean, did she even have a concept of death yet? Was I the one who was going to introduce it to her? I said "oh, my mom isn't around any more", which, as I said it, was bad enough. I could see my little blonde friend pondering.

"Why isn't she here? Where is she?" she asked, reasonably enough. Remember, kids do view me as one of them, and this little one is never, probably, far from her parents--she was wondering why I was wandering around without the help of a mom, I am certain. Before I could answer she said "well, if your mommy isn't here, where is your daddy?"

I gave the listening mother a glance that said "help!" because...well, my father has also been dead a decade now. She stepped in and said "I think her daddy is with her mommy" I smiled, "yes, that's right". The little girl--her father later told me she is only two and a half--asked "Where are they?"

The mother then said "oh, maybe they are together at the beach. Maybe they are dancing." Seems the child loves to dance. I smiled. "I'm sure they are having fun" I said.

The girl stared at me a moment, and then she said something I've carried with me a few days. She said "It's okay. If you need a mommy and daddy you can have mine. I share a lot!"

I smiled, though tears had sprung to my eyes, and thanked her for her very kind offer.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


My youngest brother, the Mississippi farmer, writes to me asking if I have a potion to restore him to his 17 year old self. It's a wistful response to a more serious note I'd sent him about my partner's health, and the healing measures I am taking.

Made me think--would I even wish to be restored to my 17 year old self?

Sometimes, as I look back over the scraps of my life, I hardly recognize the person I was at a given time. If I were to meet my 17 year old self along the road...would I know her? Well, probably, and I'd probably smile, but it has been a long, long journey.

I lived with a view of palm trees when I was 17, in a beach town. I walked the beach a great deal, when I could, sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night, foolish and fearless.

When I was 17 I walked barefoot and sang in the rain and wrote letters in code to my boyfriend. We met while cast in the school play as husband and wife--a husband and wife struggling with their relationship; my character was icy and scornful and the script called for me to smoke cigarettes with nervous disdain. Alas, the cigarettes were written out, but the disdain kept in. By the play's end my character melted and fell in love with her husband yet again. Kiss and curtain.

We had a lot of rehearsals. He counted his lines--he had a lot more than I did. He noticed that I usually carried books of poetry with me to read on the bus or between classes and asked if I also wrote poetry, and if I did, could he read some? I think I gave him a sheaf of 50 poems--oh, I was prolific in my youth, and didn't revise much; the stream of poetry gushed forth onto my careful typed pages at three or four bad poems an evening.

He returned the sheaf to me with corrections.

Nonetheless I fell in love, and he wrote poems to my eyes, my lips, my hair, my hips, and so on.

We were such innocents, the two of us, happily exploring lust and connections, constantly getting into trouble for our blatant display of public affection, and causing both our sets of parents much concern, since he was Jewish and I was not, and both sides were doubtful of the wisdom of this alliance.

But when I was 17, sweeping my long blonde hair out of my eyes, I wasn't worried about what anyone thought. Certainly my father and I had raging political arguments, and I got in trouble at my church for questioning doctrine and for teaching the little ones about the wonders of nature (somehow planting of mustard seeds led to accusations of sex ed for the 4 year olds). But the world was pretty shiny and bright, and I was very self absorbed.

When I was 17 I learned to bake, and planted a wild garden my father threatened to mow down. "Weeds, nothing but weeds". We had another argument.

When I look at photos from the period I see a barefoot, slender, and somewhat tense young girl staring at the camera. Opening a Christmas present. Standing in a family group. Holding her white cat in her arms.

I didn't know it, but it was just before the storms. My parents would divorce--ah, but by then I would be in my little beach house, struggling with my first suicidal depression. My competitive and critical poet boyfriend would be on another coast--well, we would meet again and again, and travel together. My poetry would get better. I would write and destroy two bad novels.

My hopeful heart would be broken countless times, and I would see love and loved ones die, and I would want to die myself. When I was 17 I would walk through the city streets and cry, thinking everyone I saw was doomed, that life was fragile.

And when I was 17 I wrote on all surfaces, in chalk, "Life is beautiful" and embarrassed my poor brothers by skipping and dancing in public, reciting poems, singing songs in my best off tune soprano.

Ah, I was innocent. Or blind. Towards the end of the year I started reading Emma Goldman. My arguments with my father were harsher still. I made plans to somehow get to the university; I longed to leave my family home, that home that would soon shatter.

I was very young. Younger, it seems to me, than my daughter was when she was 17. Perhaps a bit more tender. Probably a lot more naive.

I do remember one illicit arranged meeting before dawn at the beach. It was cold. My love and I shared a green pepper and stared at the pinkening sky. We thought we'd be in love forever, and forever young. We had no idea the pain we would cause each other, or the strange new twists our lives would take.

The kisses were pretty sweet. But no, I don't think I'd go back.