Memorial Day, Part 1

A snapshot, circa 1979, faded with the imperceptible progression of time.  A two-year-old and an infant wedged into a pink armchair; one of the two is smiling.  The same two little girls, slightly older, walk hand-in-hand in an overgrown backyard wilderness.  Watercolors and endless sheets of paper covering the table in the Floridaroom (one word), hours vanishing into murky puddles of pigment, a slight breeze barely drying the paint.  Walks around Goat Island, the roar of Niagara Falls; someone was still in a stroller.  Mom cooking, or doing laundry (you could smell the Clorox), or watching “Days of Our Lives,” then taking her afternoon nap.  God forbid you woke her up.  Dad mowing the lawn, painting something in or on the house, building a fence, washing the Buick, then the first Nissan; maybe even half-lodged under the bathroom sink fixing a leak.  Don’t turn on the water!  Getting sick during the night; which made it scarier. Incomprehensible arguments.  Peeing in the backyard like “boys do” and getting in trouble.  Piano lessons, having my teacher cut my fingernails if they were too long.  The first day of kindergarten.

Boys, the common thread weaving childhood, adolescence, and adulthood into one broken person.  The ease of school work; the joy of coloring, writing, reading, writing about reading, singing in chorus.  Girls being catty about wearing the “Tuesday skirt.”  Becoming self-conscious for the first time.  Becoming comfortable wearing sunglasses and carrying a purse, and losing both items repeatedly.  Joyfully playing with the babies in the church nursery.  More piano lessons; a new teacher, honors recitals, a competition in a different state.  Discovering the powerlessness of nerves.  School is less easy now, especially math.  Dreading the inevitable parent signature on poorly done or incomplete homework.  Growing taller and more feminine; now the second-tallest person in the class, and often reminded of that fact.  Teasing, constant teasing from both sexes.  Daydreaming about what it would feel like to kiss a boy, hold hands with a boy; unable to concentrate on that stupid math homework.  Realizing that I wasn’t in the popular crowd.  Shrinking.
Junior high, or “middle school.”  Half lockers, separate wings for each grade level.  Fights.  Cigarette smoke in the bathroom, knowing which kids were the ones doing it.  Teachers, larger than life, herding us into the auditorium for assemblies about forgotten topics.  Filmstrips and overhead projectors; lights being turned off and heads collapsing into folded arms on desks.  “Bite the bullet.”  Perfect sixth grade attendance.  Designer jeans and Benetton sweaters; the “right” sneakers, V.C. Andrews books, writing in cursive.  The refuge of the orchestra room; skipping classes to have extra “lessons” and practicing cello and piano instead.  Moving to a bigger house in a cul-de-sac with glossy orange walls in the kitchen and huge bedrooms.  No longer walking to school.  Mom going to work for a dentist, no longer home after school.  Ice cream eaten out of the carton and “Saved by the Bell” until one or both parents got home, then it was homework and practicing.  Getting a Walkman, a boom box, a leather jacket that could only be worn to church, and a box of Berol Prismacolors, still being used twenty years later.

High school.  Being labeled a “frosh.”  Seniors looked like adults and acted like them, too.  Unofficial school uniform was jeans and flannel shirts, hiking boots.  Floral dresses with shoulder pads, having to wear pantyhose and a bra.  Babysitting, delivering newspapers; cash and envelopes and papers scattered all over the bedroom floor.  Constant asthma, coughing and wheezing during the winter.  Gym class was torture, especially if you forgot to shave your legs.  Everyone else could run a twelve-minute mile.  Being bussed to the other high school once a week for orchestra rehearsal; looking forward to those mornings all week.  First kiss; a ride home in a Firebird.  Not being allowed to go to Homecoming.  Typing papers and short stories into a computer with a 5 1/2” disk drive that needed to have its operating system booted from a disk every time it was turned on.  Using a dot-matrix printer that could be heard throughout the house whenever something was printed.  Fires in the fireplace, cross-country skiing on weekends during the winter, hikes at the wildlife refuge in the other seasons.  Bitterly complaining about having to do such “boring things.”  A chocolate rose and a letter on Valentine’s Day placed in my locker, asking me to go out with him.  The discovery of theater and being on stage, the escape of being someone else, singing someone else’s story.  Hours spent in either a partially-lit or pitch-black auditorium.  Getting a drivers’ permit; driving around the court in circles behind the wheel of a huge 1987 Ford Country Squire station wagon, Dad in the passenger seat cringing.  Working at the local custard/roast beef restaurant, getting a paycheck for the first time.  Spending a paycheck unwisely for what would not be the last time.  Quitting piano lessons.  Breaking up; learning how to be “just friends,” learning what jealousy feels like.  Getting a lead in the musical.  Junior prom, actually feeling beautiful for the first time.  College searches, trying to figure out what to do next, deciding that high school was a big waste of time.  Second serious boyfriend, the main source of familial conflict for the rest of the year.  Choosing to attend college in Michigan and deciding that piano was the only real option.  Practicing for the first time with a true purpose–the acquisition of scholarships.  Getting another lead in the musical.  Questioning decisions.  Succumbing to pressure and making mistakes; tossing a graduation cap into the air and asking the question for what will not be the last time: “Now what?”


A Lack of Faith

Unfortunately I have no faith in a peaceful future.  Life is exhausting.  I fear that I will always be stressed out, poorly planned, thrown together, insecure, not good enough. Someone will always get sick, or get into a fight, or disappoint me.  Ah, disappointment, an inevitable part of life. In the past I tried desperately to please everyone–teachers, parents, significant others.  Something clicked one day and I realized it doesn’t really matter if you please someone or not, because there will always be the inevitable disappointment that you didn’t quite measure up.  I have no idea why I experience these feelings of hopelessness that don’t belong in the blessed life I live, with a husband who truly loves me for who I am, and a pair of gorgeous kids.  The hopelessness emerges from the fear that I will never feel any sense of true accomplishment, or that I actually did a good job with something.
How do I go about fixing this? A peaceful life eludes me. Therapy and pills have their limits.  “God” is not going to solve my problems because I am the only one who can solve my problems. There exists the possibility that I don’t have problems; that perhaps I create my own problems, my own crises, my own personal dramas. The silent yet menacing voice in my head never quiets, never stills, never allows me to rest; it lurks inaudibly, it pulses like a current beneath the surface of everyday. It’s the voice that silently points me towards the things I know will never grant me the solace I am perpetually seeking, who convinces me “it doesn’t matter anyway.”  I am spiritually starving; hungering for a sense of peace, a sense of purpose, a sense of knowing why this creature was brought into this world with such unlimited gifts for music and creativity, yet lacking the tools to bring herself to her fullest potential.
Fortunately that potential still exists. Potential never goes away; it simply hunkers down and rests inside, dormant, waiting for an opportunity to hone itself into what it was meant to be, brought into existence. Potential is the hunk of clay, unshaped and hideous to the ordinary eye. Potential is the block of marble, the raw diamond, the chaos of unorganized sound, the field of wheat. Within the limited confines of this decaying body, there lies potential still untapped, forces of life energy that are stopped up by the black tar of unexorcised demons. There is anger; so much anger. From where? From what? There was a time I was driving towards the bookstore in search of the right words to push me out of rage, when the realization came to me that this was not my anger I carried, but someone else’s. I did not own it; it came from outside of me, and whoever unknowingly handed it over to me was as blameless as I was.  In that moment I was given the knowledge that I needed to let go of that anger, to release it back into the void from whence it came, instead of continuing the cycle and handing it over to another innocent soul.
Humans are born to help and serve one another. When I consciously assume the mindset of a servant, I am immediately more peaceful. Teachers are servants; subconsciously I chose the profession of teacher because I possess the ability to help others along their life’s journey.  When faced with a challenging student, I must ask myself the question “How can I help this person?” and the answer almost always follows. I must now ask the same question of myself, the most difficult student I have ever taught. Instinctively I know what must be done, for the tools are already there. They are simply rusty from being carelessly left outside in the rain, like my garden shears that somehow always wind up half-buried in the dirt.  There exists a tiny kernel of hope; I try to cling to it, talk myself into taking the next tiny, heavy step.  Forward.  There is no other option.