Tag Archives: reminiscence

“All was well.”

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“He’ll be famous–a legend–I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future–there will be books written about Harry–every child in our world will know his name!”  –Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This weekend I will go see my very last Harry Potter film in the theater.  I will see the final new movie.  Ever.  As I wrote yesterday, this is exciting and incredibly sad for me.

These movies are so special to me, and the memories of watching them are sweet.  It is a bit surreal to see the book that I loved played out in front of me, see how the images match up with my own imagination.  I moan and whine when directors make choices that I would never have imagined (cough REMUS LUPIN cough) and swoon when things appear exactly as I had dreamed them.  But the movies are more than that.  They are connections, memories, a world I share with people I love.

The first film I saw in the theater was Azkaban.  I was returning from college and went with my friend A.  We went to a late night movie, sitting far in the back of the theater.  When we left, we saw many, many friends had filled the dark theater in front of us.  We sat wrapped in scarves–scarlet and gold striped, of course–that my mother knitted for us to wear to the movie.  It is one of the last memories I have of A before she moved across the country, but every time I see that scarf, I think of her and my mother’s love.  I remember being in a small town, in a dark room, enjoying being young.  It was love.

The only midnight show that I was able to go to was Goblet of FireE and bought our tickets ahead of time for a theater as far from our campus as we could find.  We waited in anticipation and the afternoon of the film, loaded our bags with books and notes and went to sit in line.  We sat on the sidewalk in front of the theater surrounded by middle schoolers and those special breeds that dressed up.  We intended to study, but the evening faded into darkness and we simply talked.  I’m sure we discussed the book and the films, but mostly we were just happy.  We laughed and shared a night that no one else has shared with me.  We smuggled hot Starbucks in with us and settled in for a late, long movie.  We found out the next day that plenty of our friends went to the theater about a mile from our school, but our secret adventure made the night all the more magical.

Order of the Phoenix was another beast altogether.  It came along at an odd time, was a bit more inconvenient–the summer after my graduation.  I actually saw that film twice.  I saw it first with my parents, sitting in the back of a theater while they visited me.  Then I saw it with a friend that I had classes with.  In our Modernism class, we discovered a shared goofiness, disregard for pretense, and love of Harry.  It was different, going with her and her friend, and not nearly as cozy as my other movies, but it was wonderful because it was yet another way that I connected, a friend of my geeky heart.

Half-blood Prince was the summer again.  I was alone in a big city, missing my movie buddy E.  I reconnected with an old college friend and we met up for an opening day matinée.  The line was surprisingly short and we watched the film further back than I would have chosen to sit.  As I rewatch this in my living room right now, as I write, I remember very little of the film.  I remember the book well, its heart-shattering end.  I remember being very dissatisfied, robbed of my beautiful grief.  And I remember talking with my friend after the film, enjoying when our criticism or kudos aligned.  It was delightful to have someone to talk about it with passion, who loved the books and world as much as I.  It was a wonderful recognition of a friend who is far more like myself than I realized.

Deathly Hallows was my last venture into cinematic Hogwarts.  This time, E was back from deployment and living in my city again.  We were reunited and it was as it should be.  A tiny twinge of guilt shadowed the night because we both had other people who we should have gone with, but we had to see it together.  We hadn’t been in the same city for long, and it was a special chance for us to embrace what makes our friendship wonderful.  As the film ended, we were determined to end the series together, but that was not to be.

So now I anticipate going to see the very last movie for the first time.  A sent me a message, reminding me to wear my scarf.  My mom will be visiting next week, and I have a hunch a movie is in our future.  My dad and I talked at length about the lead up, about what is to come.  E is deployed and we will have a movie night when she returns–she has already emailed me to ask how it is.  And I will go back with my excited Half-blood friend.  We are making an early day of it and enjoying a morning show.  I’m excited to talk with her about every word that strays from the book and sends a pain through my soul.  And we’ll enjoy the final reveal, the last moment of this adventure, and it will be another magical movie memory.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.  –Albus Dumbledor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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“Let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”

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“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.”  –Marcel Proust

My best friend, E, is getting married this weekend!  I am so excited for her, and my happiness comes from how much I love her.  There is something special about a best friend, but it’s a title that I have had conflicted thoughts about recently.  I have other friends who are close, who mean the world to me.  They love me and support me and we have fun together that no one else can bring.  They are blessings.  And no matter how much they mean, E is still my best friend.

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.  –Antoine du Saint-Expéry

C was my best friend growing up.  We went through all of school together, and were inseparable through the beginning of high school.  She was quiet, smart, goofy, innocent, and slightly awkward–just like me.  We had so much fun, played endlessly and talked on the phone for more hours that our parents liked.  We were a team.  I had other friends, and longed to be part of the popular group.  Our class was small, and I was gradually included more and more in that crowd, but it always came back to me and C.  She understood and accepted me in a way that I never would have survived childhood without.  Her family treated me as one of their own and our worlds were intertwined.

High school came, and we stayed close in the beginning.  Then we had classes apart.  And she got a boyfriend.  And I made new friends.  And three years passed.  And this past summer, she was married.  Without me there.  I don’t judge or begrudge her that.  I do know that, if my big day ever comes, I cannot imagine it without her there.  We haven’t talked in years, but she will always have a home in my heart, a starring role in my memories.

“No, don’t you remember? There’d be, like, this one person, who had, like, perfect hair, or perfect breasts, or they were just so funny, and you just wanted to eat them up — just live in their bed, and just be them. It’s like everybody else was in black and white, and that person was in color. Well, Rayanne thinks Angela is in color. Major color.”  My So-Called Life

Then came A.  We became friends in high school and she was in major color.  We had mutual friends and got along well.  And then we spent more and more time together.  And then she knew me better than anyone did.  She was everything I wasn’t, what I wished I were.  She was loud and confident, cute and likable.  School was an option and grades weren’t a stress.  Her dad was cool and laid-back.  She did what she wanted, how she wanted, and answered to no one because she didn’t need approval from anyone.  She made me laugh and feel free.  She reminded me that there were more important things than papers and grades, that adventures could be fun and life could be spontaneous.  She was a splash of cold water on my face.

Then I left town for college and started to build a new life hundreds of miles away.  A was the only person I visited when I went home, the only friend I would go out of my way to see.  It only felt right to see her, because she made home what it was before I left.  But I made new friends, people who were living life with me, experiencing my school and world.  She had loss and revelations and one day, in some big ways, she wasn’t the same.  There are still things that she posts on facebook that make me smile and break my heart, because they are why I love A.  They make me miss my friend, wish we were still close.  But distance and discoveries made us new people, and it became hard to get to know those people.  So we send quick notes, but the friend that I had no business adoring has drifted off into life.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends can make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”  –Elisabeth Foley

And now there is E.  We became friends our freshman year mostly because of the weird similarities we discovered.  Both the oldest with two younger brothers, we participated in Mock Trial in high school.  We love Heavyweights.  We love to buy office supplies.  We dip pizza in ranch.  And as we did more together, more commonalities appeared.  We shared a room and apartment, and everything that happened.  We talked and laughed and cried, studied and procrastinated, and we saw four years fly by.  We lived in the same apartment, but made a point to meet up for meals and go to the beach for our favorite sandwiches once a week–just us.  Somewhere in there, she went from a person who happened to be placed on my hall to someone who knew me inside and out.

E moved to the east coast after school for the Navy and has spent time at sea.  She has had relationships and friends, literally seen the world, and found the love of her life.  When many of my friends studied abroad in college, including her, I worried about their return.  I worried that they had seen so much, their world was now so big, that little me no longer had a place in it.  They had changed and I had not.  But she still has a place for me.  She doesn’t treat the mundane life I have lived, the smallness of my world, as insignificant.  She still lets me in to her life.  She makes me feel important and loved, even with all the other things she juggles.

I feel so guilty saying I have a “best” friend, because there are so many others that I love and have loved.  There are so many who have shared secrets and experiences with me, grown with me, changed with me.  But I would be lying if I said that these girls were not special, didn’t stand out in my memory.  A part of me grieves for the loss, that a new friend has replaced the old, but that’s the way of life, I guess.  They have new friends now too.  I would like to think that, when they look back, they remember me with the same aching affection, that they feel bittersweet tears spring up when they remember the beautiful friendships we had, and now do not.  As I think about these special people who sustained me, I can only hope I lived up to the friend that they deserved.

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/ And say my glory was I had such friends.” –William Butler Yeats

sO lOng Oprah

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 “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  –Anatole France

I know that this is a week late, but I’ve been thinking about the end of Oprah this past week.  The final episode of her show is strongly tied to the upcoming wedding of my best friend, in an odd way.

I am not a fan of Oprah.  I do not follow her book club.  I do not watch her show.  I don’t cling to every word that her drones spout, especially Phil.  I don’t see her as a saint, a prophet, or demigod.  I mostly disdain her for her hubris, her cockiness, her pretense.  It was a very, very rare day that I turned on her show to see what the topic was, and even more rare that I watched.  I caught perhaps three shows in the past year, and one of them was the very last.

I won’t say that I watched like an execution gallery, wanting to make sure it ended.  I watched for much the same reason I watched the royal wedding–it was history.  I wasn’t working, and there was nothing better to do or see, so I watched history take place.  The previous day I had seen snippets of the orgy of Oprah love that took place.  I was disgusted with the celebration of her, the emotion leaving love behind and venturing into worship.  It was all too much for me to stomach.  That being said, I’m not sure what compelled me to keep watching the finale.  It started with her declaring her desire to impart all her wisdom to her audience… again, the gross self-indulgence.

However, I will, humbly, admit that her last show was not horrible.  In fact, much of what she said was, surprisingly, wise and important to hear: find your passion and pursue it, acknowledge and validate others, give God His due.  And while I will give her kudos for her message, I was moved much more that I expected, no thanks to her sermon. 

I watched the show and thought about the countless episodes I watched when I was younger.  I remember watching her and Donahue with my mom, after school.  I remember hot afternoons in my stuffy bedroom in front of the old tv watching her talk.  The topics were far over my head, but I drank it all in.  I remember when her theme song changed for her tenth season and marveled that that was fifteen years ago.  The show is just about as old as I am.  And now it’s gone.  I don’t miss her and the show will not leave a hole in my life, but I am sad to see it end.  It is just another thing that is changing.  It is one more small piece of my childhood that has faded away.  The show reminds me of my mom.  It reminds me of being small and precocious.  Now I am old, average, and alone and hating to admit it.  I deeply dislike Oprah, but the end of her soapbox was much sadder than I was prepared to admit.

And now to E, my best friend, and her wedding.  I am excited and happy for her as she begins this new part of her life.  Since she has been back in town, I almost always hang out with her and her husband-to-be together.  I haven’t had her to myself for a long time now, and that is fine.  I miss our girl talk and being able to say anything I thought without a guy there, but I like him and we have fun all together. 

Nevertheless, her wedding signals an end to our relationship.  I know she is not about to leave me behind and stop our friendship in its tracks.  He is really respectful of our talk time, even when we’re all together.  But now, with those two little words, every one of her relationships changes.  She still has family and friends, and I know that she values them deeply, but he will become her first and foremost.  He is her family.  He is her roommate.  He is her best friend.  He is her person, her world.  I do not say this with bitterness or cynicism–this is exactly what a marriage should be.  He should be everything to her and for her.  That does not make the change easier.

I’m happy that E is happy and starting life as a “we.”  I am happy that Oprah will never again tell me what I ought to eat or read or do.  I am glad that life is changing and growing and that exciting new worlds are beginning.  But I am also saddened by what must end, what this newness closes.  It breaks my heart to know that my roommate will never again be my roommate.  She is going to be a wife, someday a mother, and we can’t be the same.  I am in disbelief that something so common, so mundane from my childhood is no more.  The little things that help bring me back are so precious, and another one is gone.  I don’t do change well.  I don’t like ends and goodbyes.  I don’t like newness and diving into something with no direction.  While life continues and the world gets bigger, I feel an ache for things to stay the same.  I know that they cannot, and will not, but in all the happiness, a quiet sadness sits still and watches it all pass by. 

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.”  –Joan Wallach Scott

The speed of childhood

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 “But to be most effective, the faces of the children would need to be painted in a blur, the way all children’s faces truly are.  For they blur as the run; they blur as they grow and change so fast; and they blur to keep us from loving them too deeply, for their protection, and also for ours.”  –Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 

In the past week, I got to visit my babies that I’ve had the privilege of watching live.  My baby cousins, now little boys with hobbies and voices and lives, and the children I babysit, now in preschool and building Lego houses, are not the tiny ones I once knew.  I have held them and fed them bottles, burped them and felt their tiny fingers squeeze my own.  I have propped them on my hips and stroked their wispy hair.  And now they are all walking, talking tiny people.  They like some food, hate others.  They tell jokes and giggle and tell me stories.  They say my name and climb into my lap all on their own.  In the past four years, I have stagnated and life has passed with no noticeable changes.  For them, life has made them unrecognizable.  I love their little toddler voices and the little boy stories they tell.

To see these children grow is bittersweet.  They bring us all so much joy as they develop and change.  They become more complete and whole as we watch.  I do not see them nearly as often as I would like, so each time I meet new children, find new little lives that have developed.  I watch as their scribbles straighten into shaky letters and words.  Their steps stabilize and evolve into endless running.  I love seeing them become more every day, but I miss those tiny bodies that slept and cried and just wanted to be cuddled.  It’s the pull everyone feels, every parent agonizes over: an ache to keep the baby frozen in time and an excitement to watch the child come into their own. 

I watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week too.  The Chronicles of Narnia were a fixture of my childhood.  I can remember sitting on the couch, next to my dad, in my brothers’ room, listening to the stories before bed.  But, in the scariest way possible, the memories are fading.  They stories are hard to remember, the details vague.  I can’t remember the nightgown I wore or which side of my dad I sat on.  I remember the story time, feel my heart swell each time I hear the books even mentioned, but the details are fuzzy.  It scares me that twenty years have melted away and that life will never return. 

 Watching the movie, I lost it and cried uncontrollably as the children slept on a dark beach.  They lay next to the fire, Eustace quietly crying his giant dragon tears.  I felt that fear, that pain so deeply.  I wake up and have no idea how I became this monster, this grown-up with freedom and power and authority.  I don’t know where my old life went and how I managed to let it slip away.  It is lonely and uncertain and all I can think is how much I want to be back home with my parents protecting me.  Somehow, my life got away from me.  That story, those words that lulled me to sleep all those nights, are forever a memory, never again reality.  I don’t get to go back, to return to those nights.  This, more than anything, breaks my heart. 

I marvel at the little lives I get to watch unfold.  I am a witness to their stories being written, their memories branded, their persons formed.  I love knowing more of them, privy to more of their thoughts and ideas and joys.  I do mourn the quiet, small times when they couldn’t play tee ball or chase after the dog.  I miss the soft weight of their tiny bodies curled against my chest.  I am trying to remember to enjoy them just as they are, each time I see them.  It is exciting to tell my parents about the changes they have to miss, the wonders of the everyday.  As I was told all about cars and school, I was just struck by how fast is has all gone by.  It is a reminder that each day is only here for a moment, that things change and people grow.  The first girls I ever babysat are now graduating from high school. 

The years streak by and there is joy in the changes that they bring.  The danger is not savoring the changes as they come, enjoying the process of life.  The more I drink in the present and force myself to be present, the more salient the memories become, sinking deeper into me.  Those nights, listening to stories of dragons and fauns and witches, my mind was not wandering.  I was not worried about the next day or regretting the one passed.  I was quiet and still, drinking in the story as it happened. 

“…Stop this train I want to get off and go home again/ I can’t take this speed it’s moving in/ I know I can’t/ ‘Cause now I see I’ll never stop this train…”  –John Mayer, “Stop This Train”

“Land that I love”

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“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.” –Erma Bombeck

The Fourth of July has always been a small, quite holiday with a big end.  We never did much growing up.  Perhaps there would be a barbeque, some time spent by a pool, but generally it was a day spent trying to hide from the cruel heat.  In high school, I spent the day working at the local celebration at the park and since I left home I have had to work as well.  However, no matter how big the fireworks I watch are, nothing compares to a small town Fourth.

After we ate dinner, my parents would load us into the car and head down to the fairgrounds to watch the fireworks.  We would leave early, well before sunset, in order to find a good spot to set up our blanket and chairs for the night.  We collected our walkmen and gameboys and books and made last-minute requests for sodas and snacks to go in the cooler, and then headed out.  We had different friends that joined us over the years, sitting on the grassy hill, but the night was always the same.  We swatted bugs and fought boredom and saw dozens of people we knew pass  by.  We’d chase down friends and heave overly dramatic sighs when people would stand in front of us.  When the sun set and the cool drifted in, our attention would wander as we whined and wondered when the show would start.  Rogue fire crackers would sound in the neighborhoods behind us and tease eager kids.  Then, finally, the first real one would rise.  We’d lay back and watch the sky above us, ooohing and awing at the raining sparkles.  Babies cried at the loud screams and booms and for a moment the whole town stood still.  The grand finale would always come too soon and life would start again.  As soon as the last light disappeared, under the drifting smoke, we would pack up and try to beat the traffic out of the middle of town.

I’ve seen some really impressive displays since moving to a big city.  I’ve listened to radio stations sync patriotic music to fireworks.  I’ve spent the night drinking and eating with friends.  I’ve sat home, exhausted, and done absolutely nothing.  None of those nights has yet to compare to Independence Day at home, in the summer breeze, with my family. 

Yesterday I spent time with friends, and friends of friends, doing nothing particularly patriotic.  We ate and drank and played games.  We watched the boys play baseball and walked through the streets barefoot.  Unexpected and thick clouds led us to choose to forgo a fireworks trip and opt for the hot tub.  Beer in hand, we headed to the pool to talk and soak.  As we walked we listened to the crack and whizz of fireworks just beyond our view.  A sparkle or two made their way above the trees, but we saw very little.  A dozen twenty-somethings sitting around watched colored clouds reflect the celebrations as the displays went on.  A barrage of booms signaled the end, the best of the night.  With no prompting, with no explanation or expectation, one of the guys began to sing.  By the second “America,” we were all singing along.  Perhaps it was the alcohol, the day, the way we were raised, or just an authentic feeling of love for our home, but no one hesitated to sing along.  We finished our verse just as the last fireworks echoed across the neighborhood, and just as quickly went back to our conversations.

Perhaps these simple holidays are a little more patriotic than I give them credit for.  Sitting on a street with family.  Walking and talking freely with friends.  An abundance of food and drink and laughter.  Fearlessly going out into the night.  This is the Fourth of July, what our nation is.  We don’t fear war or occupation in our back yards.  We don’t cower under dictators or hide from the military.  We live free and joyful, boldly and hopefully.  This country is not perfect, and I am not always as grateful as I should be for its gifts.  While I was not at home, last night was an unforgettable birthday celebration for my home.  Being alive and young and free is worth celebrating.  Having a home that allows us to be who we are, fights for us to be safe, protects our right to be happy–these are things worthy of our gratitude.  Voices raising in the darkness, singing through the night about a country that, for better or worse, we love?  That’s what the Fourth of July is all about.

“America!  America!/ God shed His grace on thee/ And crown thy good with brotherhood/ From sea to shining sea!” –Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”

A Toy’s Story

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“We’ve done our duty.  Andy’s grown up.” –Army Man, Toy Story 3

Last week I went and watched the newest (final?) installment of the Toy Story world.  I knew going into the film that it was an emotional story for me.  Andy, like any real boy, grows up and leaves home.  He heads off to college and leaves behind the toys that defined him, the story of his childhood.  I looked back through photos that I took of my room before I cleaned it out after graduation.  I looked at my collections, my awards and pictures that plastered the walls.  My dolls, my toys, my books and movies–it was the product of fourteen years of life.  I decorated rooms in college and now have my own apartment, but nothing has ever been as truly, deeply, boldly me as that room I grew up in. 

I was choked up within a matter of minutes watching that movie.  It pulled at  my heart throughout the story.  I later read a “confession” in Entertainment Weekly by a man who had seen the film.  It was about his own emotional outburst, and those that men confessed to him they cried while watching it.  Something about the movie is so painful, so beautiful, so personal to adults.  Yes, there are moments that children are enjoying, but Pixar knew that they were targeting every person who had ever packed up toys, ever decided to grow up, ever had to become an adult.  It asks the question of what a toy really is.  Is it something that you enjoy and then put away until it’s needed again?  Does it wait for the next generation to find joy in it?  Or is it never really happy unless it’s being loved and played with  by a child?

I know that all of this is silly to question, because toys are pieces of wood and cloth and plastic.  They do not feel or think.  They just are.  But this is the whole magic of the movies.  Everyone who has ever carried a toy everywhere, who has had ongoing games and stories they imagine, knows that a toy is much more than what it’s composed of.  I think of my Polly Pockets (the real ones, the tiny ones I couldn’t play with if my brother was awake) and Barbies and Precious Places and American Girl dolls all packed away.  The Littlest Pet Shop (again, the real ones, not the creepy new generation) and Beanie Babies and Legos that fill buckets in the garage make me feel guilty.  Should we give them away?  Should they be somewhere where children will love them as much as we did?  Is it selfish to keep them for the children I want someday?  Is a toy something that we can rightfully hold onto?  The army men left because their job was done: they saw Andy through his childhood.  After that, they had no more use.  Is there truth in this?  Or do we really never outgrow our need for the toys that accompanied us through the years?

“‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'”  –Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I grew up in America.  I had parents who loved me and my brothers, who provided for us and wanted to make us happy, give us a childhood of joy.  Part of this meant that we never wanted for much.  We had clean clothes, plenty of food, shelter and attention.  And we had toys.  We had too many toys.  Many of them I would never recognize if I saw them in a thrift store, but there are many others who I can feel in my hands, who I can smell and hear and never forget.  I remember the cardboard Grocery Store my parents assembled for me.  They painstakingly kept boxes from food and resealed them so I had REAL food for the shelves.  I can remember the way my mom’s doll house she handed down to me smelled, even after I started using it more to throw clothes on top of than to play with.  I can hear the swish of the water and plastic that swirled in my little pot, made to look like soup cooking.  Nothing on earth sounds like the clatter of hundreds of Legos falling out onto the floor. 

We were raised to appreciate our toys.  We were relatively good to them.  We didn’t draw on them or leave them outside.  We loved our toys.  My brothers both had a propensity for choosing the ugliest, hardest, sharpest toys to take to bed with them every night.  We kept the accessories and pieces and took care of what we loved.  My dolls all had names.  My mom made beds with blankets and mattresses for them. 

“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?'”

Another part of Toy Story’s universality is the tragedy of it.  Again, the unnecessary guilt sets in.  We all have favorite toys.  We would be excited by new ones, revel in the adventure of playing new games, but they would mostly fall by the wayside.  I feel sad for those toys, who were wonderful and gifts and special, but not special enough.  They were fun, but not lasting.  There were so many that eventually broke, or were lost, or handed down to other children.  As irrationally sorry as I feel for these toys, I feel an awe for the ones that stayed around.  When my grandma continues to give my little brother Legos for Christmas, a little part of me stings with jealousy.  Where’s my new doll dress?  Don’t I get a new stuffed animal?  There’s a piece of me that wants to know that others recognize that child that’s still inside me, that I still love my toys, that I’m not the only one who has no idea when I got old enough to live on my own or hold a job or make restaurant reservations.

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”

On my bed right now, next to my pillow, is the Pound Puppy I got for my fourth birthday.  She is now old enough to buy alcohol.  She has been everywhere with me.  She has gone to the hospital with me when I was scared.  She left for school with me when I was terrified.  She has been dragged all over our home, shoved in suitcases, gone on sleepovers, and seen two decades of my life come and go.  When I read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit my throat tightened.  My dad told me that the last time he saw Nicky he got choked up.  She doesn’t look like she did coming out of that box.  She looks old.  She has almost no fur left, few of the strings that separate her “toes” and much of the paint on her big eyes is scratched.  Her nose and bow are faded.  She is dirty and stained, looking more like she’s gray on accident.  She has soaked up tears and secrets.  She has no stuffing left in her neck, the perfect place for a child to carry a toy.  She is soft and floppy in all the right places for her to fold in half and fit perfectly in the crook of my arm as I sleep.

“‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”

I know one day Nicky will have to go away.  My parents have talked about having her cleaned and preserved, like they would in a museum.  One day I will have someone else to occupy my bed, and her place will be taken.  One day she will simply not be able to withstand the demands a girl puts on her.  I dread that day and prefer to think that if she’s made it this far, she’ll make it forever.  At a time when my family is far away, she is closer than anyone else.  When I’m alone and realizing that friends are not as true as I thought, she is steadfast.  When I feel like things are out of control and chaotic, she brings me back to the simple.  When all the fears and anxieties and dreams and wishes that I build up in my head get too big, she can bring me back to the small, to the little me that made her leashes and buried my face in her tummy.  She is more real than almost anything in my life, more than cloth and stuffing and thread.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.'”

A glimmer of hope

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Yesterday I spent time at the beach.  I sat alone on the sand, read and watched, and then went to a movie.  By myself.  While I was hesitant to do this, I ignored the voice telling me I should feel lonely and listened to the one telling me to do what I wanted.  I felt the cold ocean on my feet and watched people parasailing, and then settled into the sand for some reading.  As I tried to get through a chapter, I couldn’t help but watch all that was going on around me. 

I had started in a fairly empty stretch of beach, but people began to close in around me.  I was close to midway between the two piers that stretch into the water and mark off the beaches.  I was immediately back in my childhood.  On a visit down here, I took off on a walk with a friend.  We rarely saw each other, but managed to have fun when we did.  Maybe it’s just the way kids are.  We walked along down the beach, talking I’m sure.  The next thing we knew we had rounded a bend and were nowhere near our parents’ sight.  In my mind we walked for hours, but I’m sure it was no where near that long.  I just remember walking, no destination in sight, no fear, no timetable.  We were probably 10 or 11, and despite how beautiful she always has been, I can oddly remember feeling no insecurity as we walked along in our swimsuits.  We had an adventure, inadvertently, and that quite afternoon is both fuzzy and salient in my memory.  I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, what we saw, but the feeling of setting out, of going, of disappearing, is more vivid than my lunch yesterday.

As I left this memory, I noticed two things I have never seen before.  I saw a seagull in the water.  It was not flying above the waves, or pecking through the sand, but standing in foam that rolled in.  It let the water wash over its feet and lifted them to stay in place as the sand rushed back out with the wave.  It stayed in the water, something I have never seen before.  Another gull joined it, and then they both flew away, but for that one moment, I was seeing something completely new and unknown to me.  Then, moments later, an orange balloon rolled through the foam.  An orange, inflated, latex balloon just rolled along and then out of the water.  It blew across the sand and down the beach.  I wonder if anyone else saw that balloon.  It sounds like something Alice would have seen, beckoning her to a land of imagination.  Nevertheless, I have never seen a balloon at the beach before.

As I sat and watched the water, I noticed a young boy out in the waves.  He stood, letting them wash up onto his torso.  I am in middle school, standing in the water with my mom and youngest brother, raising onto tiptoes as each wave broke on my knees.  I watch him alone in the water and feel for him.  Then he’s joined by another boy, neither of which could have been more than 11 or 12.  They stood in the waves together, pulling long strands of seaweed out and whipping each other.  They twirl them around and jostle each other in the surf.  Then I notice a man on the shore.  He’s taking a picture of them out there, of the moment.  I can’t explain why, but it brought tears to my eyes.  It wasn’t a baby’s first day at the shore.  It wasn’t an engagement shoot.  It was simple and quiet–unextraordinary.  It was a desire to capture this moment, this day, this child, just as it was.  I can’t explain why, but I have such deep love for those children and that dad even now.

After the beach I went to the mall to see a movie.  I have not done this on my own before and it is something I have dreaded.  I have feared the loneliness and embarrassment that would come from sitting alone, worried that everyone would stare.  Poor, pathetic girl who has no friends.  Poor thing has to go to movies alone.  So sad.  On the contrary, I was much less anxious than I thought I would be.  At the mall, parking areas were blocked off for a skateboarding expedition.  While it made maneuvering the area a little tricky, I was less annoyed than normal.  This was something else, something new, that I have not seen before.  I watched for a moment before going into the movie.

All of this is to say that, as I sat and let my mind wander, I realized that I am every so slightly closer to my goal.  I had plenty of road rage and almost slapped a couple of people in the movie, but I saw new things.  I know, deep inside, that I want to continue to see new things.  I want to experience more, to see more, to know more.  I want to see New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Time Square on New Year’s.  I want to see the glow of the Vegas Strip and the Northern Lights.  I want to cook and sew and plant a garden.  I want to do and be more.  I started writing to change my attitude, to get some perspective.  I wanted to learn to love people again, to find joy in the world.  I’m still dissatisfied with my job.  I’m still lonely in my crappy, over-priced apartment.  I still don’t really feel like the me I used to be happy with.  Yesterday I really enjoyed being here.  I have a long way to come, but I have hope.  I have seen a glimpse of what life can be like, of the adventure and joy it can bring.  I have been reminded that this process and road are long, but there is progress.  Somewhere, in some way, my attitude is changing.  That’s really all I can hope for. 

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”The Shawshank Redemption

All dressed up and nowhere to go

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“A father is always making his baby into a little woman.  And when she is a woman he turns her back again.”  –Enid Bagnold

I’m sitting in my stuffy room after school.  As Nickelodeon cartoons flicker from the old tv in the corner, I riffle through my closet, squeezing between the Barbies and shoes, making my way to the back.  I pull my Easter dress off of the hanger, hopping back out onto the carpet.  I pull the dress on, fluffing the sleeves that my mother painstakingly sewed, and toss my uniform aside.  Peeking from my door, I race down the hallway to the bathroom to admire my gown.  I comb my hair and make sure the bow is tied perfectly at my waist, and then sneak back to my room.  I hide quietly, listening for the familiar crack of the front door opening.  For no particular reason, with no particular plans, I sit and wait for my dad to get home from work.  Maybe it is because I think this is what a princess does.  Maybe I just want to wear my dress more than one day that year.  Mostly it’s because he’s my dad and he’s coming home from work.

I sit with crumpled brown paper book covers making my legs itch.  Binders surround me and my eyes feel heavy.  Frantically trying to finish homework before Letterman’s Top Ten, I scribble on the couch across the room from my father.  He turns on Sports Center and I continue to work, procrastination becoming a familiar foe.  He turns the volume down and begins to tell me about whatever game is being recapped.  And about his day.  And that leads to stories about college, or childhood before cable, or the years when I was too young to be up this late.  Then it’s movies he loves, the books they remind him of, the art classes he once took.  Some stories are old, ones I’ve heard a dozen times.  Others are new, adding a new dimension to this man whose known me since I was an amorphous cell cluster.  Some are favorites I love each time and others I tune out as I continue work.  Only now do I realize what a sacrifice that was, staying up so late and getting up so early, working so hard and forgoing his rest to talk with me. 

I’m hot and tired and sore and hiking the longest trail I’ve ever seen.  I want to cry and shower and be anywhere but here.  He laughs along with the boys in my class, leading the hike with them while I lag behind with my friends, hating the camping adventure.  I hate them for being with him, hate him for wanting to be with them.  I hate this trip and the nettles that scratch legs and everything.  Then he drops back, slowing himself down, leaving the guys whose company he’s enjoying, and brings up the rear with us.  He’s a favorite chaperone, and enjoys the time with the class, and decides to lag behind.

I head out to visit him at a conference.  With no work, I have nothing tying me to the city so I head out.  He has sessions to attend, but we walk through the town and find a restaurant to enjoy dinner.  We talk about our weeks, what I like to drink, my brothers, the people around us.  We venture through a park, posing with the statues we find there, snapping pictures in the chilly drizzle.  We watch a marathon of Lock Up, laughing and riveted by the documentary of our prison system.  We go to dinner at a museum, he networking and me perusing the exhibits.  I put on a dress I bought a year before but never had reason to wear.  I want to look professional for the executives at the conference.  I want to look business-like, or fashionable, I’m not quite sure.  I just know that I’m still dressing up for my dad, simply because his work day is done.  I am always a daddy’s girl.

Lasting Impressions

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“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”  –Oliver Wendell Holmes

One afternoon, in Junior High, I sat on my best friend’s driveway with her.  We sat on the warm cement talking about boys and music and whatever else was important to our barely-formed selves.  We watched cars drive past and her cat at it pounced around the yard.  Slowly and softly, rain began to sprinkle down on us.  We laid down, sprawled on the gray slab, side by side.  We lay still and talked, letting the rain fall steadier and harder on us.  The ground warmed us for a while, until we steadily grew colder and damper.  We ignored her mother’s requests to come inside and stayed still.  We let the driveway grow wet, dark, shiny around us.  When we finally gave in and fled the chill, we stood up to examine our handiwork: two pale bodies, laying side by side, silhouetted by the rain.  We watched drops splotch over our images which eventually disappeared completely into the wetness.

Tonight I drove home with my window down, taking in the smell that can never be fully captured.  When I ran home at lunch today, my car was hot and stuffy, barely bearable even with the air conditioner blowing.  By the time I left, gray had covered the city and darkness had fallen early.  As sprinkles hit my windshield, I could smell it beginning.  I opened the window and reveled in the memories and peace of the beginning of rain. 

Nothing on earth smells as good, smells as safe, smells as comforting as rain on a warm sidewalk.  I inhaled so deeply that my lungs could have burst through my ribs.  I could not breathe in enough of the smell, could not possibly take in enough of the air around me.  It is warm and sweet, clean and alive.  I remember the smell drifting through the screen door of my childhood home, hearing the rain begin to lightly hit the fiberglass roof over our patio.  I am suddenly sitting in our living room, in front of the big window, watching the world be bathed.  I remember sitting outside at lunch in high school, sitting inside for lunch in elementary school.  I am back on that warm driveway, sharing life with my best friend.  The smell is safety.  I feel at home, draped in a blanket of memories, warmed by a simpler time.

Our outlines did not last.  They were quickly blurred and disappeared.  The smell of rain drifts away as the clouds continue to drop, lasting only long enough to be missed.  The moments, the smell, are fleeting.  The memories are indelible. 

“Let the rain kiss you.  Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.  Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”  –Langston Hughes

Home

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“There are places I’ll remember/ All my life though some have changed/ Some forever not for better/ Some have gone and some remain/ All these places have their moments/ With lovers and friends I still can recall/ Some are dead and some are living/ In my life I’ve loved them all…” –The Beatles

For the first time in a couple of years I went back to my college campus today.  I needed to sign some papers in the administration building and stopped by early in the afternoon.  Almost exactly three years ago I graduated.  It’s a bittersweet feeling being back.  I try not to think about my college life and self much.  When I do, I feel like Harry Potter.  He lived the school year in a world where he mattered, where he was a hero.  Then he returned to a world where he was neglected, humiliated and ignored.  College was my Hogwarts, a place where I was someone.  I was, as Ron Burgundy put it, “Kind of a big deal.”  Now, I live a life so different, so far from that that I hardly recognize it.  I am not a leader, not lauded for my efforts, not given responsibility.  I am not surrounded by friends, cramming my schedule full and forcing myself to make time to sleep.  I spend my days alone, bored, in quiet anonymity.

I walked through the ground floor of a building to get to my office destination.  As I opened the door, I quickly wondered if I would remember the way out of the labyrinthine classes and offices.  As soon as the thought entered my mind, my body took over.  Muscle memory led me through the halls, around corners.  I walked the buildings and pathways so many times, so naturally, that it was still ingrained in me.  My home of four years has changed significantly, new buildings sprouting up and faces all changed.  Despite the new terrain, it was the same.  The bookstore smelled exactly as it did when we wandered it between classes, despite all the new merchandise.  The quiet campus still held a calm and comfort that I found in my hundreds of hours sitting around it. 

All of the memories of who I was, of what I used to do, were hard to experience.  I remembered cramming for finals, frantically finishing assignments and meeting for half-hearted group projects.  I also remembered the people whom I loved, who loved me, and the time we spent there–the hours wasted in the coffee house, lounging on benches in the sun, strolling across the plazas.  It was comforting to know that a piece of me still felt at home, still belonged on that campus.  It also stung to see the new additions, the strange faces, and know that it is no longer my school. 

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”  –Saul Bellow