Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Transience and Fantasies That Make it Bearable

When I was nine years old my father went to Poland and brought me two traditionally dressed Polish dolls and a bunch of photographs. I still vividly remember my favorite photo of the bunch. It was of a couple of gypsies dressed in full, ground grazing skirts, babushkas, and heavy coats. They had their backs turned away from the camera because for reasons I don't know they didn't want to be photographed.

I spent a great deal of time looking at that picture and making up stories in my head about what kind of lives those people must have lived. To me the word gypsy conjured images of vardos, caravans, and campfires with good drinks and even better music. A life unencumbered by mortgages and electric bills. Where rules didn't always apply and along with the animals that accompanied you, people may be collected along the way and added to the fracas.

Perhaps I identified so much with the gypsies because of all the constant change in my life as a young person. Most likely I glamorized and romanticized their existence like I do most things, but whatever the case was, it was an admiration that never went away. One doesn't really run into too many gypsies in the US, you've got your transient youth, and the travelling salesmen but no gypsies. Fortunately for me, we've got something better. THE CIRCUS.

Four years ago during a trip to my in laws in southern Indiana I went to the circus. It was the first circus I can remember seeing. This was no Ringling brothers. This was a small, family owned operation that performed every show under the big top, in this case it was more like a medium top. I remember vividly standing outside of the tent with it's pennants waving in the wind while children ran by holding sticks of cotton candy bigger than their heads. Next to all of this was a small enclosure containing an elephant. I stood in awe of it all.

As I watched the show, the trapeze artists, the acrobats, the animals, and the clowns, it dawned on me that the circus really embodied so many of the things I loved about gypsies. Except everything was covered in feathers and they had a BEDAZZLER! HOW MUCH COOLER COULD THAT LIFE BE!?!? And thus began another round of fantasies involving people's lives I didn't know very much about, other than BOY DID I WANT IT!

Lucky for me, Water For Elephants came out around that time, further plunging me into the glamorous, imaginary world of circus life. Since then I have often wished someone would make a documentary abut a small circus like the one I had seen and so when I saw this as a suggestion for me on Netflix I was really, really excited. I'm into episode three and it is just SO good.

Recently on a drive home from Indiana, when I was only a few miles from home I saw the points and flags of a big top tent on a hill on the side of the interstate. As soon as I got home we found it online, Cole Brothers Circus and the very next day we got to go. Every single part of that experience was magical for me and I felt so much like a kid again, believing in magic and fairies and dreams as I watched it all. But what was even better was watching my children as the twinkle of the lights reflected in their eyes and they sat, in rapt attention, soaking it all in and believing in the magic with me.

I don't believe in lying about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, and so those childhood experiences aren't as much for me as a parent because of that. But this, this was REAL magic and for a couple of hours we got to believe in it together, pink poodles and all.

I always thought that when I married a dentist he would start a practice somewhere and we would settle down for the rest of our lives...and then The Navy entered our lives, or we entered it. So a life of constant change continues on with its history and we keep adding people to the fracas. But just like I did as a kid, I continue to play the fantasies in my mind to get me through some of the hard parts. Except this time I have other players with me. Maybe now we're circus performers, moving on to the next show. Pack the unicorns and the pink poodles! Make sure you have your fancy costumes. I've got the bull whip and the megaphone, now everyone in the clown car and let's go! The show must go on, no matter where it takes us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Saying Goodbye

I've done it so many times. I'm so good at it. I can do it without crying...in front of you.
And then there are those moments, like now, when I'm alone. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my heart. Those are the moments when I allow myself to taste the sorrow of what goodbye really means. And it is such a bitter sweet feeling. At once both drowning my soul with intense pangs of love and grief. Like waves it pulls me back and forth. I swallow the lump that rises in my throat but I let the warmth of the tears fill my eyes and spill out the sides...just a little. I can't give in all the way because it may never stop. So, just a small cry. A silent cry on the outside, but inside my mind is flooded with memories, misty water colored and technicolor, some just a faint remembrance, others as real as if they just happened.

Those memories make up my life. And it's funny the things you remember. It's usually not those moments you went out of the way to make feel special and memorable that you end up remembering. It usually IS the moments that at the time seemed irrelevant, inconsequential. Impromptu dancing in the kitchen while making dinner. Laughing in bed about the things our children said. Saving worms from imminent death on the sidewalk. Playing whiffle ball off the patio. Long talks on the porch. These precious moments all add up to make us who we are and they are the things I treasure most. Because, as most of you know, I've learned to let go of tangible things. They, for the most part, do not matter.

This post was supposed to be about the cat we lost and found after Katrina, Richard Parker. But as I was going through iPhoto looking for pictures of him (I had to go back six years), it was like my life was playing in fast forward before me. All the tears, all the laughter, all the joy. And that is when the beginning of grief began, and the moment I knew this post couldn't just be about Richard Parker, in part yes, but it has to be about letting go. Not of the things we can hold, but of those we can't. It's cathartic. Caressing the memories and moments with your heart and mind, and then letting them slip out of your heart's fingers and fall back into the past.

So here we go...

Goodbye Jack Johnson. I never loved you the way I should have. You annoyed me with your youthful exuberance and your tail that always knocked things off of my coffee table. You were a good dog. You loved us faithfully and I'm sorry I didn't return your love in full. When you were hit by that car I should have just let you go...but I thought I couldn't. I thought I had to keep you alive for Jeremy. I was foolish. Sometimes it's better to think with your head and not your heart, and in that moment of decision I let my heart guide me, and it led me wrong. I'm sorry to both myself and you that I made you undergo surgery after surgery to repair your broken body. You were never the same after that and I know you were always in pain. As if Katrina didn't do a complete enough job, you taught me even more about letting go. Two years after we spent so much time and money to put you back together and make you whole again, we had to let you go forever. I'm sorry. I wish I could have been there to tell you myself that deep down, I really did love you. And even though you were just a dog, I think you would have understood. And I think you would have said that it didn't matter because you loved me all along anyway. So, now, I'm letting you go. Goodbye.

Wow, that hurt more than I thought it would. Ok, next one.

Goodbye Baby Ellie. You were my first baby and BOY did I know nothing about being a parent. But you came into the world so good and quiet (unlike your sister as a baby) and gracious that it made so many of my mistakes seem forgiven. I have held onto so much guilt for some of the things I did to you as a new mother. The fact that I was a failure at my first attempt to breastfeed. My inability to cut your tiny little fingernails successfully, a fact that resulted in you scratching your face until it bled. In so many ways I grew up with you. I was still so much the reckless, wistful spirit of my youth until you came along. And even though I made so many mistakes, you, YOU changed me. You became the most important thing in my life and so many of the things I had once cared about faded away into nothing. A protectiveness so fierce I can only equate it with animals, lions, tigers, and bears, grew inside of me and I knew without second thought that if required I would give my life to save yours. That is a powerful thing; thank you for helping that grow in me. Thank you for letting me make big mistakes and loving me anyway.

You're more five than four now and not a baby anymore. But it hurts me so sweetly to look at pictures of you as a baby because I know I will never have that time with you again. You'll never mispronounce the same words again. You won't waddle into the kitchen in a diaper and ask me for MIWLK. You won't ask to watch Barney and you stopped lining up all your toys a long time ago. Just like your mother, the you then is gone, replaced by an older and wiser you. And so Baby Ellie, I'm letting you go. I will always cherish every moment I've ever been given with you. I will always be thankful that it was you I was given first, for you are forgiving and wise beyond your years. I will tell you now, and as many times as I need to as you grow up and inevitably blame me for things that go wrong in your life. I'm sorry for the mistakes I've made. And I'm sorry for the ones I have yet to make. I know there will be more, but I pray that as it has been in the past, you will continue to teach me how to be a parent as I teach you how to be a better person, and together we'll learn how to love even more.

Goodbye Baby Ellie, I will keep your pictures and your memories, but I will stop holding onto you and the remorse. I am letting you both go.

Ouch. That one hurt even more. I think that's enough catharsis for one day. TO BE CONTINUED...