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Shadow

When I face the sun,
Unseen, it trails behind me
With every stride, tethered
To my footsteps

When the sun goes dim
Shadow comes to light
Murkiness glows
Darkness grows

If I walk toward the Sun
I will not vanquish my shadow
But I will free myself
From its chains

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GoGo Boots

I was a young girl during the 1960’s, and like everyone at the time, I was madly in love with the crazy wild colorful fashions of the day. Bell bottoms, miniskirts, and…

GoGo Boots.

Maybe it was the hippie dippie dancers on Laugh-In that triggered my passion. I don’t recall. But, oh, how I loved those boots! I wanted a pair so badly, the way all children want what they want. Beyond reason, without cost-to-benefit analysis, without practical consideration. The heart’s yearning is fathomless, and fulfillment of the wish feels like a life or death matter.

I pleaded with my mother for a pair of those boots. The way I begged for Lady Janes when I was in first grade. Back then my mother dispassionately explained to me that patent leather shoes weren’t practical. They didn’t “breathe.” Her answer to me at that time was a resounding unequivocal no.

As it was this time.

Lucky for me, the Universe heard my prayer and decided to answer it anyway. A neighborhood friend’s sister had outgrown her perfect condition knee-high, white, zippered, clunky-heeled authentic GoGo boots. And she generously offered them to me for free.

I was in heaven! I confess, they were a little bit tight on my feet, too. They weren’t so comfortable for walking any distance. But I cherished them. I loved wearing them around the house, playing dress-up, and just gazing at them on my closet floor. Those boots inspired bliss.

Meanwhile, massive riots were plaguing urban areas around the country. We were living outside Buffalo, New York when the 1967 riot ravaged that city. An organization called the “Fresh Air Fund” started soliciting suburban families to take inner city kids for a few weeks during the summer to give them a break from the violence surrounding them. My mom, ever the champion of underdogs and the underprivileged, happily signed up and sponsored two young children to join our family for two weeks that summer.

Without question, it was a noble and wonderful gesture. But, this benevolence precipitated the demise of my brief love affair with my GoGo boots.

At some point during this two-week stint, unbeknownst to me, my mother had a conversation with the young girl we were hosting where the topic of my boots must have been discussed. I don’t know what possible exchange could have prompted it, but my mother inexplicably decided to give my boots to this girl. She did not ask me, or even tell me about it. She did not provide me the opportunity to protest. One day my lovely GoGo boots simply disappeared from my closet floor and WentWent into the suitcase of this young girl as she packed for the drive back to Buffalo.

This felt like a huge betrayal. But when I complained, my mother made me feel ashamed for selfishly wanting to keep the boots, calmly stating: “They don’t even fit you!” I felt guilty for resenting that my prized possession was re-gifted to someone else, without a whisper of consultation or an ounce of compassion for my hurt feelings and sense of loss.

It remains a conundrum to me. My mother is a thoroughly sweet, loving, caring human being. I cannot explain why she felt this outright theft was justified or excusable. Her desire to mitigate the suffering of another child must have blinded her and superseded any concern she might have had for the suffering of her own.

But this was not a one-off.

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My Piano

When I was little someone gave my mother an old but sonorous upright piano, which she decided to put in our kitchen. Perhaps this was an odd resting place for the behemoth. But our kitchen was huge, like all the other rooms in our Victorian home, and it was a convenient spot for her if she felt like playing while keeping an eye on the stove.

I was magnetically drawn to this piano. I have a distinct memory of my six-year-old body wriggling on the butt-polished swivel stool, perched on a thick Yellow Pages phonebook, while my mother did dishes and prepared dinner in the background.

I can see myself gazing at the music stand propping up John Thompson’s introductory piano book. I recall the excitement I felt looking at the mysterious language reflected on its pages. It spoke of a magical world awaiting me.

My mother took a few moments to show me the seven ivory keys that comprise the Key of C and pointed out Middle C itself, which is the central note on the keyboard. Then she went back to her work and I started Lesson One to figure out the rest.

Everything about musical notation intuitively made sense to me. I easily deciphered that a whole note of four beats had the same value as two half notes of two beats or four quarter notes of one beat. I “grokked” the math.

Throughout my childhood, piano was my go-to entertainment. I spent countless hours playing and teaching myself increasingly complex pieces. I never tired of the challenge to improve my skills and loved expressing the beautiful work of classical composers.

When I was nine, we moved to another Victorian home, and in the new house the upright piano was placed in my father’s enormous den. I can still picture his large wooden desk and the French paneling on the walls. The musty Asian wool rug on the unfinished hardwood floors. The floor-to-ceiling windows lined by heavy drapes, and old-fashioned radiators interspersed around the perimeter. It was a quintessential den, and a very cozy place to be when I had the room to myself.

The piano was older now, of course, and it no longer held perfect tune, but I still loved its resonance and my ability to play it LOUDLY when my pubescent emotions were inspired. The den’s thick wooden French doors were a natural soundproof barrier shielding the rest of the household from my exuberant bouts of forte.

Then, when I was twelve, something miraculous happened.

My grandfather, quite unexpectedly and inexplicably, decided to bequeath to me his mint condition Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. He even paid to have it delivered to our doorstep. What prompted him to give his treasure to me is an unsolved mystery. We weren’t close. I barely knew him. It wasn’t Christmas, or my birthday. It was just something he decided to do.

While Mom’s old piano remained in the den, my piano commanded the prime real estate of our very spacious and elegant living room. It was a showpiece to behold. And the acoustics were phenomenal.

I cannot overstate how much I loved that piano. First, it was solely mine. Second, its tone was mellifluous to the ears and soothing to the soul. It transported me to a sound of music so beautiful I can only describe it as heavenly, mystical, spellbinding. No instrument could be more exquisitely expressive.

Within months of receiving this precious gift, my father announced we were moving again.

This time we were moving to a much smaller house in Upstate New York and my parents advised us that a lot of what we owned would not be coming with us. After a brief panic, I was reassured that there would be a place for my piano. There was a small room on the main floor of the new house between the dining room and the living room. My parents dubbed it The Piano Room. It was aptly named because literally it filled the entire square footage of the space.

Then, just as we were getting settled into the new home, something devastating happened.

The old farmhouse needed a new roof badly, and it was my father’s priority to replace it. This was a big undertaking and he was doing the work by himself. It was a job that couldn’t be done in one day.

So, he worked in stages over a few days. The new roof was nearing completion, but one small area still stripped of its old shingles remained, and there wasn’t enough time left in the day to tack on the new shingles. Dad checked the weather forecast, which called for zero percent chance of rain. He was relieved and confident it was safe to leave this part of the roof unprotected. He would finish the job the following day.

Before doppler radar was routinely available, weather forecasting wasn’t exactly exact. Unfortunately, on this day the weatherman completely botched his prediction. A surprise thunderstorm rolled through in the early morning hours and dumped a deluge of rain. Sadly, the only roof area not shingled happened to be the very spot directly over the piano room.

Yup.

My nightmare dawned with the realization that inches of water had pooled in the body of my piano overnight. My father felt terrible, of course. But the damage was done.

Some may not realize that pianos are quite delicate. Water destroys the soundboard, disintegrates the felt pads, and rusts the metal strings. After the piano dried out, we tried to tune it, to replace damaged pads and strings, but the soundboard was irretrievably warped. There was no way to bring this extraordinary instrument back to life. Its sweet tone was extinguished forever.

My beautiful piano was ruined.

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Back Then, I Was…

A new memoir essay for my writing community. I share it here, though it is pretty intense and strips me bare. But forge ahead I must….Courage….

Preface: In no way is this story a tale of woe. I am not a victim or a martyr. I own my own “stuff.” I do not blame my well-meaning, decent parents for anything. This is simply a vignette of my childhood experience as I remember it:

Back then, I was…

Such an unhappy little girl. So insecure. So scared. So lonely. So ill equipped for life on Earth.

From the outset, my external environment was overwhelming. I was in chronic discomfort: extremely sensitive to loud noise, violent outbursts, cold, hunger, unpalatable food, excessive sugar, lack of sleep, scratchy clothes, discordant energy, harsh touch.

I often broke out in rashes and had persistent eczema. I was a magnet for insects, and my allergic reaction to their bites led to welts so itchy I would unceasingly scratch until they bled. My legs were perennially adorned with unsightly scabs.

It wasn’t pretty.

I also had recurring insomnia. Apparently, when I was still crib-bound, I often rocked back and forth so vigorously at night that the crib ended up on the other side of the room by morning. This became one of many parental “jokes” that emerged as family lore, to cloak an inability to understand the inexplicable.

Life was a daily struggle to adapt to the thinly veiled, if mostly suppressed, paternal rage and maternal depression. I instinctively knew something was amiss in our home. But being in the precognitive stage of development, I could not decode the discord and dysfunction in our midst. I felt besieged by powerful emotions my tiny body could not contain, digest, or name. My nerves were always on high alert; my synapses fired like pyrotechnics.

I was the family’s Town Crier, so to speak. Frequent crying jags would last until I utterly exhausted myself. Of course, no one enjoys being subjected to incessant crying. These copious tantrums shook salt into my parents’ unhealed wounds. It was not welcomed, to say the least.

Nowadays many parents would recognize the obvious signs of distress in their child and feel some inclination to address them. But in those days, these antics were simply annoying irritations my heavy-laden parents grudgingly endured. Instead of offering empathy for my plight, I was packed into an invisible box labeled “troubled, difficult, bad.” I guess it was their strategy to separate themselves from feeling pain. Mine, or theirs. I was “the problem” after all. It had nothing to do with them! As the family Crier, I received routine, frequent punishment for my unacceptable behaviors, which typically included spankings and banishment to my room.

The latter being the Best Punishment Ever.

My room was my sanctuary! Each one of us kids had our own bedroom. I also had the luxury of a big walk-in closet. That closet became my haven, my retreat. Only within its dark cozy four walls did I feel safe, where I could forget my distress and creatively play for hours. My inner life, imagination, and solitude were blissful escape and solace. My father used to tease (ridicule) me about this. “Why would you spend hours in your closet when you have your own room?” To my mother he would bewail: “She’s in her closet again!”

He could not understand that this was my buffer zone. I needed a room within a room to have a safer safe room!

Back then, I wonder….

If I might have had some form of sensory autism? My sensitivities seem so extreme in retrospect. I am still quite sensitive compared to most perhaps, but fortunately, through decades of effort and lots of grace, I found my way to joy, peace, love, calm, and sane living.

But, whew, I had a rough start!

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Feral

A poem that came to me this morning in reaction to last night’s presidential debate:

Feral

Cornered, trapped
No time for breathing

Claws up, gesticulating
Fangs down, eviscerating

Snapping and snarling
Jowls drip blood and entrails

Savage eyes
Scarlet cheeks

Pushy snout, foraging for food
Starving the Bassett Hound

A wolverine

He devours
He degrades
He destroys

Alpha Supreme

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Wonderland

Iridescent fairies scamper with glee
Angels sing praises gloriously
To the stars I fly on Pegasus’ wings
Colors, light liquid, such magic it brings

All is so beautiful, yes, it is true
There is that brick wall you say, blocking the view?
Perhaps, so it is, but look closer, you’ll see
There IS, I am certain, a bright golden key!

So, open the door
It is free

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Portent

Your blustery breath
Rustles the leaves
I feel you prodding
This tumbleweed

Behind me
Beside me
Before me

You weave a tale for the listening
But I do not understand your language
What secrets could you share?
What message have you there?

It is coming
It is near
It is here

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She

She surrenders her leaves, one by one
No longer sustained by Life

Do not mourn the falling of her petals
Such a crisp, fleeting beauty in their parting

Stripped to the bones
She stands tall, fiercely in command of the howling winds

Her soft blanket a shelter for my feet
She sacrifices all for Earth’s new seedlings

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In Gratitude for the Sun

No matter where I go, there you are

You shine your light, as if for me alone
You emit such warmth and reassurance
You offer me your full attention, as if I am the only one you see
You guide my every footstep and lift my spirits without fail

You lure me

I hear your voice so clearly though you don’t say a word
Your bright and joyful disposition
Makes my heart flutter open
My cares drift away

Instinctively, I reach for you like the plants that grow

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A Poem

This little poem came to me in meditation this morning:

I Am
a Lighthouse
Solid, rooted, unwavering
Laser focused, I cast my beam over the vast dark ocean
Searching for shipwrecked souls
Illuminating
buoys, life rafts, the wave back to shore
I Am
your Beacon