40 on 20
“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge while people run you through
And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.“
— Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
• • •
What a long, temperate, and very temperamental summer it has been.
Dave and I watched Jack play with his buddies while we sat on the only available park bench. We had just emerged through a difficult winter and spring. It was the very beginnings of the summer.
Dave said something to the effect of “I just can’t do this job anymore.”
Work had been sucking the life out of him and the money out of our bank account for quite some time. Radio sales in Pittsburgh is not what it used to be. Living to work, not working to live. Stress and snippiness. The past two years had been the equivalent of running uphill through tar while wearing ankle weights.
The perfect blue skies of the day contrasted the gravity of our conversation. We lamented over our choices and acknowledged that as of late our lives were more focused on surviving than living. We both agreed that if he was going to quit his job, then the pursuit of happiness had to be one of our priorities. We had to revisit some of the dreams we had planted in our early youth, once cultivated by our glorious naivety. The dreams we let fall by the wayside over the past 20 years. The ones that got supplanted with more “age appropriate, responsible” things. We had to find the road where responsibility and dreams intersect. We had forgotten.
He woke up the next day, made a phone call, and walked away. Things felt heavy and light all at once.
Summer was stressed and struggling. We fought and made up and made the best of things. More stress and snippiness. We took on extra work, odd jobs, and part-time opportunities; job interviews and freelance newspaper articles and board meetings for the both of us.
Jack’s version of the summer was less tethered than ours. It was youth-filled freedom both by design and necessity. Playing outside both in and around the neighborhood. On his own for the very first time. Coming home when dinner was almost ready.
Car repairs and haircuts. Bills and expenses. Sleepless nights. Sunrises that I wasn’t looking forward to be awake to witness.
I lost sight of myself in the midst of all this change. I mistreated my mind, my soul, and my body. I gained and lost weight and gained it back again. I felt the weight of everything that laid on his shoulders and the weight that rested on mine. Were we doing the right thing? We both were working hard at make things work and their was little room (or time) for much else.
August was near its end. I sat at my sister’s kitchen table, fearful of the future. I worried about the person we created and I lamented over all of the mistakes I have made.
And right as the first leaves began to lose their summer green, tiny opportunities came filtering in.
Dave will finally be able to publish a book of his poetry. Twenty years of his work that he has long wanted to see as a compilation is being printed as we speak, all thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, his talent, and some very generous and wonderful people. One of his dream projects is on the way to fruition.
I, too, am finding more work, or new work is finding me. I am creating more things and laughing at myself and with others.
I am grateful we are slowly traversing to the other side.
• • •
THE OTHER SIDE IS 40
I arrived at 40 and took on a project.
It originated as my annual birthday art project. A simple social media celebration and a gorgeous reflection of my friends creativity.
I wanted to make 40 a little different than the previous years’ art.
I sent a digital message to the masses: “This year, I turn 40 and I would like to give all of you a gift. I would like to send everyone a word. The word I send to you makes me think of you or is inspired by you. You can do with your word whatever you like. You can print it out and photograph it, share it with others, write it on your arm, or maybe you just want to keep it for yourself. As I approach a new decade, I thank you for being a part of my decades… I would love to see a picture or interpretation of your word post over the next month or so: You holding your word up to the heavens or placing in front of a waterfall or on your desk or on the subway or wherever. It is up to you. It is a gift that asks for nothing in return. I may try to make a book out of your images if you do indeed decide to share them, or at least a blog or Tumblr post of all your word creations.”
I have assigned about 450 words or so out of 700. I am taking my time with this task and really thinking about words, their gravity, and what they mean both in and out of context.
I will keep everyone posted on the progress and I will let everyone know if these creations do indeed become a book.
• • •
“Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road.”
— Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
40 on 20
It’s been 20 years since the course of my life changed. The butterfly effect of September 27, 1994. Twenty years ago, tomorrow.
I think I will visit her gravestone, even though I know it’s merely a symbolic gesture. Maybe I will lay on her stone and pose like Madonna. My mother would be slightly horrified.
I have been thinking in key moments as of late. Those key moments of life peppered in with your own versions of the actual events. A lot is forgotten in 20 years. Just the other day, my sister and I were trying to remember her favorite foods, her favorite restaurants.
I think she liked the dinner rolls at Red Lobster. I know she loved Paulie’s Lookout and Jim’s Hot Dogs.
It all starts to get a little fuzzy.
• • •
“Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye.”
— Someone Saved my Life Tonight
20 on 40
My inner strength was reinforced with a value meal.
She said goodbye as he pleaded to stay.
She had had enough. I think in some ways he did as well. He still wasn’t ready to admit it to himself.
I watched her stand with stoic strength and tears of goodbye that somehow, willfully, would not stream down her cheeks.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and begged her to let him stay.
The cabbie came to the door, helped him to the car, and took him to the airport.
The tears started to come, just barely, as I watched her do one of those “hardest things” we all are called to do in this life. A necessary thing. The sadness and the heartache needed to end for the both their sakes.
We watched them drive away. She picked up her dust rag and started cleaning again just like it was a regular Tuesday. My brother and I didn’t say much.
When the divorce was finalized, she showed me and my brother the legal announcement in the papers. One small line announcing the dissolution of their 23 year union. She bought us McDonald’s to “celebrate” — a meal we could afford, a meal that symbolized the future.
I could write about how difficult it was for the next three years and how she struggled to get to the life she had always dreamed of. I could talk of how hard she struggled with depression and anger and with the very notion of her kids growing up. She wanted a do over. She wanted us to be little again. She wanted us to be there forever.
But that stoic moment with the cab driver and that last embrace will always be my symbol. When life is hard sometimes you have to be harder for everyone’s happiness. Even when the tears that won’t come tell you otherwise.
• • •
To all of these ends, I am inspired by the women in my life who have taken the place of my original maternal mentor. I watch you in awe and observe you and listen to how you act and react in the world. I see how your subtle grace and sometimes roaring power encompasses you. It influences and inspires me and allows me to “Tetris” together a cohesive identity. From this Frankenstein monster creation of emotions, I become better.
I was given three words in the 700 Words/Birthday Art project.
• One by my friend, Nique. We met for lunch. We asked for chalk and then we wandered the alleyways of the SouthSide and created this.
• The second word was poignant given to me by my friend, Tracy. This post captures that word better than any other image I could possibly create.
• The third word is the one I give myself. It is the one I usually forget to name myself in my list of the many descriptors of me. My tribute to them.
I don’t usually write two blog entries this close together, but yesterday turned out to be an epilogue to the epilogue. Enjoy.