The helicopter overhead was distant–the propeller’s thumps a low murmur seeping into my mind, stirring up dread, thick and suffocating.
I stood inside my grandmother’s old house and gazed at the peeling yellowed paint on the walls and the layers upon layers of dusty photographs covering every inch. In one black and white photo, a young pig-tailed girl’s face beamed, sitting on her father’s knee, her face forever frozen in mid-laugh. In another– a girl in her teens, blowing out the candles on the cake, her father resting his hand on her shoulder.
A splintered mirror on the wall reflected an older woman. A woman now startled by the creases circling her hollowed eyes and the raw bleeding wounds dotting her scalp. The wounds my mother gave me.
Hot red anger flashed as my fingers frantically tried to cover them with tufts of matted hair– but there were too many, they just grew and grew, and bled and bled.
A soft breeze blew the front door open, rustling the photos about like leaves. I shuddered as the leak of fear dripping in my mind ran cold. A rush of wind swelled and the hardwood floor beneath me groaned, each floorboard lifting one by one, rippling like waves. I turned to look out the window.
It was coming.
Lazers of red light pierced through the tiny holes and cracks in the floor, casting blood-orange spots around the room; the thundering pulse of the propelleralmost on top of me now.
I opened my mouth to scream, but only a raspy gasp escaped my lips. The photographs began to flutter and fall to the floor, forming tiny swirling tornados that danced and circled around the room; the blackened edges of each photo curling unto itself until each one disintegrated into a thin gray dust. Vibrations rippled through me, my body nothing more than an empty shell as the helicopter’s relentless chant filled my ears.
Bracing for impact, I shut my eyes and turned away, the taste of choking dust filling my mouth. It was outside the window now–a spinning black steel spider hanging from an unseen web growing bigger and bigger until it was inches from breaking through the glass.
Suddenly, it stopped to hover, frozen in mid-flight; as if the web’s sinewy thread was pulled taut. I felt a hand on my shoulder. My breath stopped.
It was my father.
I searched his face, unbelieving. He was young again; his face smooth, his smile warm and knowing. A sparkling white light radiated from his eyes.
Don’t be afraid, he said without moving his lips.
I will help you.
Watch me. I’ll show you.
Churning back to life, the helicopter continued its path toward the window. I closed my eyes, imagining it tearing through the house, shards of exploding glass, wood and metal showering down, consuming me in flames.
Look, my dad said. Here, look.
I opened my eyes.
He stepped in front of me and raised one arm, his hand shielding me from the spider. In response, it reversed, the broken shards of wood and glass flying backwards with it. Thethundering pulse of the propeller a soft murmur again as the helicopter vanished into a small black dot swallowed whole by bright blue sky.
I sucked in the air and a sweet coolness spread across my face, into my lungs and down my spine.
I was standing on the precipice of the tallest mountain. Below me, an endless sea of jewels, sparkling blue and green. I drank in the beauty as it flowed through my veins.
I floated. I was free.
My dad grabbed my hand and smiled. We were back in my grandmother’s house again.
Do you see?
I looked down, wisps of my hair were swirling to the floor like feathers. I tenderly touched my head. My wounds were gone, replaced with pink skin–warm, soft and new.
I do, Dad. I see.
I looked out the window and into the bright light.
In People magazine’s World’s Most Beautiful article, they recently unveiled more photos showing celebrities without a drop of makeup. When someone sees a celebrity with no makeup, the tendency is to be a little shocked. Apparently, we love to see them show off their true beauty, we think it’s ‘refreshing’ and ‘real’. For a moment, we realize these people are actually human, just like us!
I’m all for going au naturel, if that’s what a woman wants to do. I normally don’t wear a ton of makeup. Not because I’m not vain at all (ha! good one!) but because I am allergic to almost everything. Also, my hand shakes when anything with a sharp point or resembling a clamp gets too close to my eyeballs. Put an eyelash curler in the hands of a colossal clutz like me and you’re flirting with disaster. Besides, I live in Maine, where we’re not obligated to look halfway decent out in public. The more worn around the edges you look, the more you fit in around these parts.
When I do slap on some concealor or lipstick, my husband notices right away. “WOW, honey! You look good!” After he recovers from a few rapid-fire jabs to his arm, he desperately tries to backpedal. “I mean, you always look good. Even with no makeup. Ow!Stop hitting me! Ow! Actually, you don’t need makeup at all, it just looks good on you sometimes! Ow! What I am trying to say is, you are gorgeous just being you, I swear!”
This is my love/hate relationship with makeup. We all know it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Still, sometimes I want to look a little better than what the cat dragged in. Is that wrong? The older I get, the less I want to care about my outer looks, but it’s still there. We have been conditioned to believe this is what matters. I’m not going to start pointing fingers and playing the blame game about media, movies, celebrity because we all eat that stuff up just as much as we condemn it.
I suppose it may be true humans are inclined to prefer things they initially find appealing to the eye–gorgeous sunsets, beautiful flowers…people with long lashes and perfect lips. But I’ve found that once you get to know a person’s inner personality, their true soul shines through and completely transforms the person’s overall appeal. Once this happens, the superficial looks of a person are not even noticeable anymore. It is a shame that we tend to focus only on the outer attractiveness when we hold someone in high esteem, like celebrities. But it does sell a lot of magazines.
Maybe we’d all feel better about our natural beauty if we could see more of these celebrities in their genuine natural glory. Or better yet, someone like me who wasn’t already blessed with a perfectly symmetrical face and high cheekbones. Would People magazine ever feature everyday women like me? Well they tried with this article showing the “inner and outer beauty” of women. Still, not a asymmetrical face in the bunch; all of them have what we deem as an ‘attractive’ face.
Instead, this is what I wish People magazine would do: get someone who had no sleep the previous night, say someone who slept on the edge of her 5 year old’s twin bed for a total of three hours of jagged sleep; someone who had no time for a shower, and had to pull her hair back into a ratty ponytail in her rush to get the kids off to school; someone who can’t afford fancy soaps and moisturizers made out of rose petals and Dead Sea salt scrubs; someone who worked long hours all day standing on her feet, her face puffed up and bloated; someone who inherited her mother’s dark circles, bad skin, crooked nose and saggy chin. In other words: someone with a regular normal face.
Maybe then I’d believe we are free from our insecurities with our own looks and the innate desire to look more attractive. I know I still struggle with it, like a lot of men and women. The older I get, the more I want to just be myself, gray hair, wrinkles, dark circles and all. But if I go to Target looking like that, I sometimes feel a little embarrassed, especially if I run into say, an ex-boyfriend from college. Suddenly I’m Quasimodo with my hands covering my face. “Look away! Bah! Nothing to see here!” Other days, I really don’t care what people think of me. Yeah, so what! I’ve got zits and I’m 41! I’ve got crow’s feet and dark circles! This is what I really look like–deal with it! Feels good. Being yourself and loving it. Imagine! It’s a process. I’m slowly getting there. I suppose not being able to halt the aging process helps me get there faster.
Same goes for my weight. It’s just a number. Why do I care so much? I am the weight I am and I should just go with it. The important thing to meshould be: Am I healthy? Am I happy? Am I able to be live and breathe and be with my family and friends? And who really thinks I’m beautiful, even in my natural state? My kids, husband, family and friends. Of course they do, they love me. These are the ultimate things we should be concerning ourselves with, not whether a person still looks ‘good’ with no makeup or if their bodies aren’t a certain weight.
We are all so much more than our bodies, our faces. Obviously, our true essense has nothing to do with our bodies at all. Instead, our bodies should be cherished and accepted as they are because they are the vehicles that get us around while we’re alive. But ultimately, they’re the shells we shed once we die. Yet we preoccupy ourselves so much with how they look and continually put ourselves down when we try to measure up to what society thinks is attractive. I know I do. Takes a bit of joy out of living.
Deep down we all know this to be a fact: what matters in the end is what we do, who we love and how we treat others while we’re here. Kindness. Compassion. Respect. Love. If you allow these things to shine through–the real you–the outer physical stuff falls away and in your heart you’ll feel radiant and gorgeous because you are.
The cemetery was full of swaying trees and bright sunlight; the dancing rays sparkling within the reds and golds of the leaves. Gazing at the rows of gray stones, I felt a gentle stirring of peace blossoming from within, spreading around me with its warm embrace. I stood alone on a grassy hill and listened to the wind. I wanted to hear the voices of those who had passed on. Those buried in the ground were dust and bones now, their spirits set free a long time ago. Still, I wanted to hear my father. I closed my eyes.
“Hey, Mom!” my son yelled from a distance. “We found him!”
I smiled as I crouched down on the cold ground next to my son. He read the name of the tombstone aloud with excitement, “Ralph E. Stairs.”
“That is your grandfather,” I said with a heavy weight in my voice. “My dad. He died 20 years ago this month.” My fingers traced the dates etched in the granite.
“Wow! So you were pretty young then, huh?” my son remarked, then ran off to the next row of stones before I had a chance to tell him more about my dad; the incredible grandpa he had never met. How could I express what my dad meant to me or the person he was? Will my son ever know? Will I continue to remember?
When I was a young girl, my father was my entire world. The phrase “Daddy’s Girl” originated the day I was born. The man who raised me was an unique dad. He was sensitive to our emotional needs, and he always took the time to be present with me and my brothers. He enjoyed doing things with us, whether it was coaching our Peewee baseball league (I was shortstop), shooting hoops in the driveway, or sitting on the front porch chatting with us on a warm summer evening.
He was a slight man, tall and thin. His personality was one of quiet support, and he was very gentle in his ways. There was hardly a time when he raised his voice to yell and he never laid a hand to spank. He raised us on two things: love and respect. He disciplined us the hard way, by somehow convincing us that doing the right thing was the only thing. It was expected of us. If we dared to screw up (and we often did during the teen years) nothing would be more damaging then the moment our dad would peer over his glasses, sigh and sternly say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” This was the worst punishment we could ever face.
Being his only girl, he went out of his way for me. If I needed a certain piece of piano sheet music, he’d drive with me all over the state to find it. If I had a baton competition two hours away, he’d be there in the stands, his eyeglasses reflecting in the lights. As long as I knew he was there to cheer me on, I could do anything. He was my constant support. In many ways, he was like a mother to me; nurturing, loving and proud. These were the traits my own mother lacked. When I was sick, he would come home from work with some ginger ale and rub my back until I felt better. Every night, I would say, “Good night, Dad! I love you very much!” as he tucked me in. I’d wait for him to say, “I love you, too” so I could close my eyes and safely dream.
During the last years of his life, I was just embarking on my college adventures. I was an awkward, shy teenager, unsure of my place in the world. I began to see my dad as a man, separate from me, with a past of his own. We started to have deeper conversations about life’s pain, sorrows and regrets. When I told him about my fear of leaving home, he discussed with me his time in the Navy, a young man fresh out of the Bronx, full of excitement and fear when he was shipped out to sea. We talked about family and death. His own beloved father, my grandfather, died at 53. He told me how hard it was, growing up poor in New York, having to make dinner with his brother and sisters while his mother worked all day and night as a waitress. Being so centered in my own world and consumed with my own problems, I realized I didn’t know much about my dad’s history.
Now, I would give anything to sit on the front porch with him again and have one last conversation. I would ask him more about his childhood. I would ask him endless questions. What was he afraid of? What made him happy? What did he miss? And did he miss me as much as I missed him?
I would tell him about his grandkids. Did he know that my son loves soccer? And that he has inherited the same gentle, loving, sensitive spirit? Did he know that my daughter is a dancer and loves to sing? Did he know that I met and married the love of my life? Did he know that I wanted him to walk me down the aisle? Did he know that I graduated college? Did he see any of this? Was he proud of me?
Standing at his grave this week, I knew the answer.
I slowly brushed the leaves away to reveal the date: Nov 17 1991. “Hi, Dad,” I said aloud. “Hope you’re doing okay.” I stared at his name and imagined his face again. I could see his blue eyes twinkling at me, the sides of his mouth curving up into a laugh. My dad and I were sharing a secret only the two of us knew. “I miss you,” I added as I walked away.
As we pulled out of the cemetery, I noticed the blue eyes reflecting in the rearview mirror–piercing, knowing, twinkling.
She has started a new guest post series about gratitude:
In her own words: “Despite the hardships we face, there’s something that makes us believe hope is worth nurturing. That better times are coming. For me, then, it was natural that TMiYC’s guest blog spot be dedicated to gratitude.”
I invite you to read, These Arms Were Meant to Hold You, about my journey of painful loss, unwavering hope and finally, gratitude. This post explains why I go by “miraclemama”. Thank you for reading.
And a huge thank you to you, Deb, because your willingness to share some of your darkest times inspired me to dig deep and share mine as well. And it feels good to get them out in the open and let the light shine in!
Dads everywhere have long received a bum rap when it comes to their parenting abilities. If past movies or TV shows are any indication, a dad usually falls into one of two categories: a flustered and clueless idiot, not even capable of changing a diaper without tongs, duct tape, and a gas mask or a cold and distant larger-than-life man who works all day, only to come home and hide behind the newspaper with a pack of smokes.
Of course, these are myths, at least most of the time. Dads are worthy of our highest praise and respect (and some harmless teasing, if the situation calls for it). My kids’ dad was once honored to be named “World’s Greatest Dad”. A coffee mug can’t be wrong. He didn’t get this title for nothing.
WHY MY KIDS LOVE THEIR DAD:
He has no sense of danger
When my son was five years old and could barely reach the height limit to ride the Log Flume ride at Funtown by himself (even on his tip toes), my husband thought it was a bright idea to send my sweet dimpled boy (and his imaginary friend, Steve) on the log-shaped Death Trap anyway, conveniently when my back was turned. For the next three and a half terrifying minutes, I watched my son gripping the handrails, grinning from ear to ear, yelling at Steve to “hold on!” As he slowly ascended Mt.Everest, I closed my eyes and prayed that he wouldn’t spontaneously jump out at the top. My son and Steve safely made it down after all, completely drenched and laughing. I shot my husband The Look, ran over and crushed my son with hugs, thinking, Thank God he’s okay! I walked away with a few new wrinkles and, I admit, a pretty cool picture to put on our fridge. And, to my son, Daddy was the hero of the day.
He feeds them crap
On the rare mornings that I get to sleep in, I’ve shuffled out to the kitchen only to find one of my kids halfway through a BBQ potato chip bag or a box of cookies. Their dad usually pretends he didn’t notice they’d somehow dragged heavy chairs across the floor to raid the pantry. Or he’ll shrug and say, “So what? It’s just cookies. It’s not gonna hurt ‘em.” I have my suspicions he’s been taking cues from Bill Cosby’s old 80s stand-up routine: “Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake!”
He forgets to dress them
Whenever my husband is alone with the kids for any length of time, my kids inevitably end up wearing things out at Wal-Mart I wouldn’t dress my dog in (if I had a dog and even then, I’d still spare the poor dog any embarrassment of wearing a hot pink tutu over winter boots, a tiara, no shirt and a tie). Or he’ll somehow forget vital articles of clothing entirely, such as socks, mittens, a hat and a jacket when it’s minus twenty with the wind chill. “What?” Dad will shrug. “They’re only outside for all of two minutes from the car to the store. The cold isn’t gonna hurt ‘em.” Once again, Daddy = Hero.
He is their favorite toy
My kids have every electronic gadget, loads of Legos, Hot Wheels and Barbies. But nothing tops playing “tickle monster” with Dad. Every night it’s like the WWF match-up between Andre the Giant and the Little People. If it involves my husband being attacked by two giggling hyenas, rolling around the living room floor, my kids are in heaven. Sure, Dad may have to pause here and there for a breath or defibrillator, but he presses on with the head-locks and accidental kicks to the groin because he knows they love it. Dad is The Man.
He loves them dearly and never hesitates to show it
My husband’s arms were the very first to cradle both of my kids after they drew their first breaths. Those same arms and hands rocked them during those endless, colicky nights, changed their diapers, rubbed their backs when they were sick, hugged them close when they had nightmares. He blows my son kisses at the bus stop every morning and swings my daughter up into the air when he gets home from work, covering her in giggly kisses. He is full of love and affection for them and I see their light shine when he is around.
He respects who they are and believes in them
The one thing my kids know for sure is that their dad will be there for them, guiding and supporting them in any way he can. He listens to my son when he cries that a kid teased him at school or when he’s frustrated with a basketball game loss or when he asks, “Why did God make the world?” Sometimes Dad knows the answers and will give some advice. Sometimes Dad will ask them for advice. This, to me, is the most important duty of any parent/caregiver/teacher in a child’s life: to really listen and to encourage a child to discover their true shining inner self and soul. This foundation of acceptance and security will help support them the rest of their lives and shape the person they will become in immeasurable ways. For this, their Daddy is my hero.
This upcoming Sunday, I will celebrate the amazing father my husband has become over these nine years. And I will honor all of the other dads out there doing their best every day to show their kids how much they love them. Even if that means Oreos for breakfast.
This week I was thrilled to be a guest blogger for one of my favorite sites, Significantly Simple, created by my friends Heather and Laila. Their site is filled with informative articles on everything from the environment to homeschooling and natural living. They offer product reviews plus their favorite recipes and books.
Please feel free to pour yourself another cup of coffee or tea and settle in to browse their lovely site. I hope you enjoy my take on recurring dreams, Finding My Way Home.
Back when I didn’t know a thing about yoga, just the word itself would conjure up images in my mind. Mostly of New Age-y people wearing chakra jewelry and chanting Om while twisting themselves into pretzels. Continue reading “Yoga Love”→
The holidays are upon us once again, arriving in my world at warp speed. Wasn’t Christmas just last week? And along with the endless barrage of Christmas commercials, so begins an acute and incurable state of “gimme-itis”.
I have had the Marley and Me movie for awhile now, sitting in my DVD collection, collecting dust. I kept telling myself to watch it, but I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready. I had already read the book, (like everyone else on the planet) so I knew about the heart-wrenchingly sad ending. I could barely get through the book without weeping, so a movie would surely push me over the edge. And crying is something that once I start, there’s no stopping the floodgates. I honestly didn’t think Kleenex made a big enough box.
I knew deep down that the real reason was I never truly had a chance to grieve for my own dog. My dad brought her home from the pound when I was seven and she was “my dog” from the start. Princess was young and energetic, with soft brown fur and gentle eyes. One of her ears stood straight up at attention, the other flopped down to the side. She was a mutt, a mix of Collie and, my brothers and I liked to think, wolf.
At our first meeting, my younger brother was petrified of her and ran into his room to push his dresser up against the door. I was in love. She was my best friend from the start. I recently found the very first picture of Princess in an old photo album. There I was, standing in our kitchen in my pink pajamas and Dorothy Hamill haircut, wrapping my arms around her and grinning like crazy. I was beyond thrilled that my dad had brought her home to us, rescuing her from the cold and lonely streets.
I spent every waking moment giving her hugs and kisses. She slept with me at night in my white canopy bed, peacefully curled up on my legs. I would drift off to sleep feeling her warm, soft heaviness at my feet. She was my constant companion, my security blanket, my guardian angel.
When I was feeling blue, I’d take her for a walk. Sometimes her sheer enthusiasm for walks would be enough to snap me out of my funk. We’d go to the nearby playground at dusk. I’d unhitch her leash and off she’d run, dog tags jingling in the shadows. We’d sit together in the field and look at the stars. Those moments were some of the most content and magical of my life, Princess by my side, doing nothing but simply enjoying the peacefulness together. She understood me like no one else. With her, there was nothing but acceptance and love.
As sweet as she was, Princess was also tough. In her early years, she had managed to break every single cable leash that clerk at L.L. Bean’s swore were unbreakable. She’d be out in the driveway, sitting in her doghouse. My brothers and I would jump on our bikes and zoom off, only to turn to see her galloping after us with a grin on her face and a broken leash dragging down the road behind her.
When I finally went off to college, my parents told me she would sit by the door where my bags were, her head down, waiting for me to come back home on the weekends. It broke my heart to leave her even for a week.
By the spring of 1991, she had become old and frail. She had arthritis in her legs and soon she didn’t have the strength to stand up. I rubbed her hot swollen legs for hours trying to comfort her. Maybe if I did that enough, she’d be okay. My dad told me with tears in his eyes that it was time we called the vet. I had never seen my father cry until that day.
After she was gone, the house was heavy and silent, almost suffocating. Later that summer, my dad told me about a dream he had. He was in a huge gorgeous green field and Princess was there, bounding over to greet him. He said it was the most vivid dream and seemed real. Not too many months later he would die as well. The grief for my dad was all-consuming and looking back, I don’t believe I ever had the chance to grieve for my sweet girl, Princess.
Now, almost twenty years later, it was time.
As I slid the movie into the DVD player I thought, “Can I handle remembering her again?” I felt a sudden chill. “And, if I do remember her, will I then have to finally let her go?”
I sat curled up on my couch alone and watched Marley and Me. At the end it happened. The tears came. My body went limp as I sobbed. I could feel the pain of loss bubbling up and releasing in waves almost too big for my soul to handle. I heard Owen Wilson utter the final lines of the movie:
“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
Princess did just that. And finally, I can say that no, I don’t ever have to let her go.