Requiem for 11 & an Opening for 12
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in… do not dwell on what is passed away or what is yet to be. — Leonard Cohen
• • •
I have never been what you would call graceful.
I used to practice dance routines in my bedroom, trying to find ways to feel graceful, and to gain control of my defiant body. I closed my eyes and imagined I knew exactly what those complicated steps felt like to seasoned dancers. I would watch Gregory Hines and practice my version of the Shuffle, Ball Change. I made up whole routines. I spent weeks mastering my interpretation of Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” in order to audition for a dance part in my high school musical. I channeled my best Liza/Mein Heir/Fosse Style chair dance. Sadly, I chickened out, only mustering enough courage to audition for the speaking, singing roles. To this day, I still remember most of the steps…
My thoughts have been drifting back and forth towards my perceived and actual lack of agility. I end up reminiscing about the two weeks worth of swimming lessons Jack took over the summer. He went farther and was more graceful than I ever was. He swam underwater, without fear, without question. I envy that type of confidence.
Growing up, I never learned to swim or ride a bike, properly. It was all either self-taught or husband aided. At this point, I think I could only swim enough to save my life.
My lack of education was not based on fear. More based on the sheer will of one caring yet over protective parent and the lethargic complacency of the other. I should have fought more for lessons, the same way I begged them to teach me how to drive.
I almost drowned in a pool once. The experience was not how I imagined it; that frantic whirlwind of arms and legs flailing about as it is often portrayed in the movies. At least it was not that way for me.
I was 11. Our family was on a whirlwind journey down the east coast. I forget what hotel we stayed in — it may have been Seven Springs. I had never been to an indoor, in-ground pool before. My dad rushed off down the long, tackily carpeted hotel corridor in order to make it to the pool before anyone else. He was a competitive swimmer/diver in his younger life.
I don’t remember how most of it happened, but I must have not paid any attention to which side was the deep end and which side was shallow. I simply walked in without a thought.
I remember feeling as if I had sunk to the bottom. Sound was muffled. All I could see were the flourescent lights from the ceiling reflecting off the surface of the water. The pool might as well have been an ocean due to how completely small and insignificant I felt. Instead of flailing about, I felt an unbelievable calm. I am not really sure why. My sister said she observed an awkward struggle, but all I remember is gazing above in wonderment.
The lifeguard pulled me out a few seconds later. I was dazed by the whole thing. My mother wrapped her arms around me and took me back to the hotel room. I remember that blur, that haze, that calm before the storm where I was released and pulled out into the air… I became stunted by fear at 11. But it wasn’t my fear. I had adopted hers.
• • •
I never expected this past year to have such a profound effect on the landscape of my life. That landscape has evolved both subtly and significantly. 2011 left me gasping, dazed, mesmerized, and longing in much the same way that serenely harrowing pool experience did.
Of course, it was fitting that this past year had one final funeral to complete the bookend in a very long, death filled year. It was even more fitting it was for this particular person. Well, not fitting in the sense that it was the demise of this human being, but more in regards to what he represented. To the casual observer, this man was a rough and tumble person. He was old school, conservative, filled with piss and vinegar, and gruff in voice and nature. But underneath it all were these subtle shades from a man who dealt mostly in blacks and whites. A self-made man; a father figure to most that knew him (including my husband); someone who traversed adversity to a the other side.
I was numb to the feeling of funeral homes at this point in this year. My numbness may have come across almost overly social so I had to dial it back a bit, so instead of really joining in, I sat back and listened a lot to everyone’s chatter. Through all the crotchety stories, the one phrase that seemed to summarized this person’s existence was he was “a tough son of a bitch, but he was always fair” or some variation of that. Perfection. As I sat on the couch and continued to listen to the merging of words, my inner voice began to run through this end of year checklist, this dialogue that spoke to me like an end of the movie monologue. I began typing them in on my iPad simply so I could remember:
MY LESSONS/MY YEAR IN REVIEW/MY SHOUTING INNER VOICE/MY “WHATEVERS” (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
• I’ve said goodbye to more people, places, and things than I was ever prepared for. I’ve welcomed new folks and lamented over the severing of old ties to things that were simply not relevant anymore.
• I’ve learned better usage and application of the word NO.
• I’ve learned to migrate towards the people who have my best interests at heart.
• I’ve learned that some people are just incapable of giving others what I need no matter how badly they or I would like them to.
• I’ve learned that choosing, wanting and needing are sometimes mutually exclusive. At others, they are all perfectly in sync with each other. I have yet to find that trifecta.
• I’ve soul searched and found insight through unexpected channels on how to be a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend.
• An epiphany = nervous breakdown (metaphorically speaking). I don’t mean to make light of NBs, nor do I know the feeling first hand, but I would like to imagine that moment of clarity when you come through to the other side of both experiences may or may not render the same effects on your psyche.
• I just heard someone mutter the phrase “disadvantage is just advantage turned on its ear.” I have never heard that phrase before, but I feel motivated in this moment to make those words ring true when the time or place is right for the seizing.
• I’ve learned that my inner dialogue REALLY can ramble with unending, exhaustive, narcissistic monologues.
• I’ve gotten to hear so many people talk about so many other people and see so many others people from a new-found, and sometimes skewed, perspective.
• I’ve gotten to appreciate my husband more and have watched him constantly strive to be the best version of himself for no other reason than that deep down, that is who he is, and everything else is who he striving to be.
• I’ve learned that if you don’t spray your coat with Febreeze after every funeral, the next time you put on your coat and for many weeks afterwards, you will be inundated with a very weird, pungent combination of perfumes, carnations, and lilies.
• • •
REQUIEMS, CRESCENDOS, AND $8 EPIPHANIES
I appreciate requiems. They really put a period on the end of a sentence with all the pomp, circumstance, and all the crescendos a moment deserves. Anyone who knows me well, knows just how much I love crescendos; I am a sucker for them in ANYTHING. I thump my chest like Celine Dion when I hear that manufactured, musical fortissimo in all its over the top glory. This love for elevated endings was definitely honed while performing as the “cymbal girl” in my high school marching band. Carrying around 20 pound cymbals for hours at a time makes you really appreciate the crash that comes at the end of a large swell.
Last year was my crescendo, one manufactured by me and heavily influenced by the course of events that transpired. A year of a series of slow and steady rises and falls to the precipice of something. I have been left more empty and more filled by this past year than most any other. I felt such raw emotion as if I just traversed something all too hard to comprehend. The I am still waiting for the final curtain call, for the conductor to close his palms and bow.
I saw a movie with my family the day before New Year’s Eve. After the morning funeral, we wanted a quiet family afternoon with a little, nondescript, innocuous family film. One that we expected to watch and then forget about. I did not expect it to affect me so deeply. (Damn you Cameron Crowe and that stupid zoo you bought!)
All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage…
The movie was formulaic and sweet at the outset, but as it gathered momentum, there were many moments of “something.” And then there was a moment — a moment that summed up my entire year. A year I felt isolated by and isolated inside of. A year where I felt my struggles were my own and foolishly kept my laments primarily to myself.
After their long and arduous process of trying to build this zoo and all the movie drama that entails, the main character and his son (who of course were at odds during most of the film) have the proverbial blow out to release all the tension they have been building for the last two hours. After some reflections, their relationship slowly saunters it way into the realm of getting back on track. The day before the zoo is set to launch its grand reopening, father and son sit in front the animal cages and talk. Without the benefit of You Tube, I can’t remember exactly how it went, but it was a conversation designed to be a vehicle to get the two of them really communicating again. The father suggests that the two of them say something they have always wanted to say to the other one, simultaneously, on the count of three.
I can’t for the life of me remember the exact words so the impact of this may not be as potent as it is in my head. “I know you did your best, dad,” or some suggestion of that notion was uttered in that simultaneous exchange. It was really a small moment that before I had a kid wouldn’t have even noticed. In a sappy moment that only Mr. Crowe can manipulatively and poignantly deliver, my body just couldn’t stop itself. I felt the tears roll down my face and all that exhaustion at trying my very hardest at everything came to a head. Then I heard the sniffling on the other side of Jack. I looked over at my husband, saw his glassy eyes, and I realized after all this time he was silently experiencing all the same things I thought I only knew the darks spaces of; the same worries, the same self-doubt, the same need to be and do the best for this little person we created who means everything. I realized he was feeling everything, but that I had been taking it for granted that he wasn’t. For some reason it just didn’t cross my mind.
I held Dave’s hand and I understood everything. The hurt, the worry, the unsureness he never shows but somehow a few moments within a beautifully corny film revealed. All this undue pressure to strive to be better for Jack is a hard thing to live up to. We are looking to live this life a different way, a better way, a less exhausting way, but up to and including this point we are not sure how. He is not sure how.
On the car ride home, I reached across to the driver’s seat, lovingly grabbed the back of Dave’s neck and asked. “What’s our adventure?” He looked over with tears in his eyes and quietly said, “I dunno.” His honesty was both comforting and complex. He turned off the car, smiled, and the three of us walked hand in hand into the grocery store, putting notions of life changing exploits on the sidelines for the moment. We ran at full speed across the parking lot, Jack holding both our hands as he begged us to swing him onto the sidewalk. We obliged.
Our $8/Junior Mints and popcorn epiphany: we needed our adventure to begin and we were ready for it now more than ever. Maybe we ignored the call long ago. We had both lost parents at the dawn of our adulthoods and losing your parents at that stage in your life makes you forge your life’s path in one of two ways, carefree and without a net, or it makes you wary of all other risks. For me, all my safety nets were taken away and up until this point, I hadn’t realized I was spending my time trying to feel safe again. Moreover, in that desire for safety, I was cheating myself of everything else. I spent most of my adulthood being an ADULT because I was so afraid not to. I was afraid of letting the phantom version of my mother down. That realization hit me like a sucker punch.
But then I thought, maybe this search for safety and its subsequent realization process was how it had to be in order to become fully formed to this point. Life was waiting for us to be ready, and now it is almost time.
• • •
WISHES AND PROMISES
This day started out very cynical and ended up being scared, a little sad, doubtful, and hopeful. I am sure life will chip away again, But I had more resolve than ever to somehow keep the momentum going.
Still waterlogged by our evening film, Jack turned to me and said, “I have never seen a real ocean before and I really want to.” I promised him that we would somehow make that happen this year.
Prior to Jack’s ocean wish, I had spent the day engulfed in negativity, reading negativity, and hearing negativity wrapped in cleverness. But this simple wish and the catharsis of mine and Dave’s emotional moment inspired me to dive headfirst into an art project I have had rattling around in my head for quite some time: one that incorporates the choice we make and the dreams we have. I am convinced, now more than ever, that our dreams are important, our choices are imperative, and that we all start living this adventure instead of working so hard to muddle through.
I promised Jack that if he stuck with swimming and actually swam underwater, I would take lessons as well. I will make good on my promise this year. One step closer to grace.
• • •
A few weeks later, the three of us went sled riding. Another thing I had never attempted until now. I was afraid but excited. Jack was nervous as well. There was something special about experiencing this for the first time together if for no other reason, we really understood what the other one was going through.
I went downhill with Jack. We started on the small hill and worked our way to the top. He sat behind me, held onto my neck, and screamed with delight. We took it the whole event slow until we eventually sled down the hill from the very top.
I asked if I could head down the hill with Dave. Jack said he would follow behind. I took my seat behind Dave and held on as we started sliding down the hill. I kept trying to dig my heels into the ground on the way down as to slow our pace. Dave lifted my heels and wrapped his arms around my shins to keep them elevated. He knew I needed to let go. I spent the rest of the ride thinking of nothing except that hill, that leap forward, that slide into the parking lot. It was a spiritual moment, blurry, uncertain, scary, exhilarating — our metaphor for the next — a plunge we took together. He seems to have a knack of finding subtle ways to show me bravery without even realizing it. I got up from the descent, laughed, thanked him, straightened out my cheap, end of the supermarket aisle kiosk hat, and trudged up the hill, family in tow.
• • •
EPILOGUE ON 11
I realize our “photograph” is still being developed. As much as we want to forge and force destiny, we kind of have to ride things out a bit organically as well. We all wanna to be Kerouac or at least the jazzy, eloquent idea of him. We all want to be graceful like Fosse and fearless like every pioneer who has come before us. Knowing how to traverse our newest adventure is gonna take time to decipher. I want to become less awkward and more sure when I finally reach my destiny. But for now I will still dance awkwardly in supermarkets while singing under my breath, and continue to move past “11.”