Letter To My Son: The Hairy Summer

Dear Jacob,

When you were seven, we had a very big, busy summer as a family. It was the summer we got married. And by we, I mean me, your dad, and you. It was also the summer that you came into your own.

You discovered your hair.

Your hair was a beast unto itself. It didn’t curl like mine but laid straight against your head in a perfect shag. It grew more and more blonde with each passing warm summer day in the pool and outside playing with friends. Your perfectly chestnut hair changed over the summer to a perfect golden hue.

That summer, you were determined to grow it out long and you wanted so very badly for it to curl. Every other day or so you’d plead for me to curl your hair with a curling iron. Of course, those requests came at a time when I was busy cooking or doing something else so I had to say “not right now” more often than not. Even though it wouldn’t do it on its own and I wasn’t available to curl it for you, you found that your sleep habits helped create that wave and style you so hoped for.

I’ll be curious to know, when you read this as a grow adult, what your memories are.

Do you remember, as I do, the tangle that was your hair most mornings?
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The way it would flip out and scrunch up all over your head?
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It had a life of its own.

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Along with your hair, you also discovered your own style. You preferred a hat and jacket on most days. Your nice dinner jacket had become more of a costume piece. You wore it so often it had tears and rips in the lining. So many that I couldn’t keep up with them so I just let them go, figuring no one would notice…

Some days you were a super spy.

 photo null_zpsf2ea54f6.jpgAnd boy, were you a stylish super spy.

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And other days…well…I guess you went for that lazy beach bum look.

Other times you straight up wore a costume, becoming someone completely different. Comic book heroes were a big hit for you.

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As were comic books. That was the summer you discovered reading and the joy that a book could bring.

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Even if you read at the most inopportune places like in line at the grocery store or well past your bedtime. Many nights we’d find you wide awake with a book in hand and flashlight to guide your eyes when you should have been fast asleep.

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And just between us, I got a kick out of it. It brought me a special kind of joy to find you still reading when you should have been asleep. Though I had to act like an adult and take the books away so that you would go to sleep, I secret was dancing a little happy jig in my heart.

The best part about it was watching you develop before our very eyes. Rarely did you care what others thought about you. You did your own thing and walked your own road.

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Like the time you wanted blue hair.

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Or the time you dressed in long pants and a collared shirt in 90 degree weather.

You looked so spiffy even though I knew you’d be super warm and sweaty when I picked you up later that day.

Living life to the fullest, you pushed boundaries and found your own pace. Much of the time, it was appreciated by your dad and me. Other times, well…you’d push those boundaries and we’d push back only to find ourselves in a deadlock with you, head to head. It was at those times I’d remind myself that it was good for you to have a strong personality. It would serve you well as an adult, even if it would make your dad and me go grey early.

This was the summer you discovered more about yourself, about your interests, and about your personal tastes.

This was the summer I fell more in love with you, my son. I didn’t think it was possible because I loved you so much already. And I also worried, with the big responsibilities that came with a marriage, that I’d somehow fail you in some way. Instead I found new ways to love you than I had before. I loved your ingenuity, you curiosity, your creativity and I loved watching you discover new interests.

This was the summer you discovered your hair and it was the summer I discovered my love for you was endless.

xoxoxo,

Mama

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Creative Frustrations

Creative Frustrations

It is one of those days,
one in which I am faced with all
my shortcomings.

A day I will spend overanalyzing
my Self (or lack thereof).

In searching for the spark
of Me
I find incomplete sentences
and discarded dreams.

I find my Self as nothing more than
a collection of disorganized hopes and
good intentions

(the dust of artistic stagnation

    piling up at the foot of my bed).

I, my Self, am brimming with
wasted wishes and
a trashbin of disposable attempts.

My creative frustrations well within me,
seeking an outlet.

Inheritance

When I was a young boy, like all other curious children, I was attracted to my parents’ bedroom. Whether it was the larger than life bed made perfectly for bouncing on or the whispering darkness of the large closets housing my mother’s long sweeping dresses and my father’s perfectly ironed fancy shirts, I was always fascinated with all the mystery and magic that was held within the four walls of their master bedroom.

Coins hid beneath the neatly folded towels waiting to be stashed away in the hallway linen closet. My father’s large, shiny dress shoes lined the wall for me to hope from one to the other like I was in a military boot camp making my way through an obstacle course. Even though I was a boy through and through, I was very intrigued by my mother’s makeup vanity in which I would sit and powder my nose like a vaudeville actor about to take the stage. So many colors and tubes and wands of magical elixirs drew my attention on many trips into their room to wait while they dressed for a date.

But what attracted me most was different than most boys. Many would share stories in our middle school years of the raunchy girlie magazines they’d find tactfully hidden in a nightstand or under the bed on their father’s side. They’d boast about pages of women wearing next to nothing with large breasts and suggestively placed hands down panties of lace and silk. We all listened with our full attention to their harrowing stories of sneaking in to get a better look at the cover of video boxes and other adult items stashed away. And the best part was always when someone got too close and was almost caught in the act by their mother or father. It was in their narrow escape that we all held our breath, waiting to know if they would be caught and punished or if they would live to see another day of freedom.

When it came time for me to share stories of my adventures into my parents’ room, I shrugged and said I had nothing exciting to share. But that wasn’t true.

I never found scantly clad ladies or men taking advantage of large breasted women laying carelessly with their bodies exposed as if they were a Siren sending out an enticing call. Instead my discovery was a stack of comic books lying on the top shelf of a shoe condo tucked off to the side of my mother’s closet.

When I first discovered them as a young elementary school child, it scared me and drew me in simultaneously. The gory pictures of horrific demons and brightly illustrated superheroes both stunned me in their beauty and repelled me in disgust. The pages and pages of images drew me in and I found it hard to look away. I became afraid of the upstairs rooms at night and put my parents’ through many painful nightly battles at bedtime. I’d ask that they read another story or leave lights on throughout the hallway so that I could see the demons and aliens from my mother’s comic books as they came to life from the bowels of her closet.

My father’s poor haggard face still swims through my memory as I relive the nights that I cried for comfort and complained of monsters beneath my bed, all very real to me. My parents never stopped tucking me in and reassuring me that things were fine. My mother always kissed my forehead and held me close, reminding me that everything was ok and that they were always just around the corner, never far away. And yet I never stopped myself from leaving my warm, comfortable bed with my flashlight in hand to seek out the terrifying stories I knew were the origin of my nighttime fears. Those books, piles of them, called to me even though I never wanted to see what was inside again.

I tortured myself for single summer, flipping through the pages of stories laced with gore and violence and death. I’d sneak into her closet and claim a book to read. As I crouched down beside their large bed I’d listen to the sounds beneath me in the living room, checking to make sure they hadn’t caught on to my missing form from my room. I’d light the pages before me with a flashlight I kept under my mattress and I’d soak in every detail, making sure I missed nothing. It was like watching a train wreck. You didn’t want to see the carnage but you also didn’t want to miss a detail.

For months my parents would put me to bed and fight with me about the lights being left on or allowing me to sleep with one more stuffed toy. It got to a point where they started interrogating me and my sitter and grandparents, asking what I was watching or reading. Then, I cracked one night after a long drawn out battle of tears and frustration. I blurted out that I had found my mother’s Hellboy comic books and I was afraid of the bad guys comings up from hell to steal away my soul.

I remember the silence that followed my shameful confession. My heart steadily beat faster beneath my dinosaur pajama shirt as I waited for them to respond. Yet, as I sat there hiccupping with emotional exhaustion from arguing, I tried to read their expressions, to figure them out and know what to expect next. Were they upset? Disappointed? Ready to loan me out to a labor camp to break rocks? Were they about to start yelling at me? Would I be spanked and put to bed with a promise of no TV or freedom for a week? Maybe even two weeks?

Then they started to laugh. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I suddenly felt very afraid. My parents had snapped. My mother doubled over, clutching her stomach while my father placed a large hand on her back and wiped at his steady tears with the other hand. I didn’t understand and I wasn’t sure if I should laugh too or if I should just keep on crying.

After that night and my confessing to secretly reading violent things far above my maturity level long after I was supposed to be sleeping, the stack of comic books was suddenly nowhere to be found. I spent a few nights venturing from my bed, armed with my flashlight, in search of them, the craving to be terrified still aching within me. But I never found them again. And soon I was sleeping through the night without an issue and without any extra lights to comfort me.

It wasn’t until I started high school that I mentioned the comic books to my mother. One day, as we sat in the kitchen together, I asked her what had happened to all those issues of Hellboy after I confessed to reading them in secret. She smiled at me and shook her head, the memories of those long forgotten nights surfacing one by one. She told me they had been stored away for me one day. That they were always meant to be mine when the time was right.

I stared in awe. This wasn’t the answer I had been prepared for and I still didn’t quite understand. With her long fingers that played the piano almost as beautifully as she played the guitar, my mother brushed the hair from my eyes and kissed my forehead, promising me she’d tell me all about it after school.

That night, after football practice and dinner, I went off to my room to finish my homework in the steady quiet of my sanctuary. There, on the edge of my bed, was a box. It was taped shut and marked in black ink. “For Jacob” it said. Slowly I lowered onto the mattress next to the box, staring at it intently. I knew what it was. I knew what was inside.

Carefully, I lifted a loose corner of tape and began to pull, gently. As the last corner of tape came free, I reached over and opened the nearest flap. And there, in the slant of light filtering down through the flaps of cardboard sat the books I remembered and a few I didn’t. One by one I pulled them out and stacked them beside me on the bed.

Memories of the long forgotten nights in the dark flipping through pages of these comic books flooded back with an intense rush of emotions. The fear the demons created in me was palatable yet the love and trust in the heroes and heroines wrapped me in comfort. As I lifted the last edition and placed it on my lap, I realized my mother was leaning against the doorjamb. The mother that dressed up every Halloween and could cook a gourmet meal with anything she found in the kitchen.

There she stood, the same loving mother I’d known all those years and yet she looked different to me in that moment. I looked at her and suddenly I wondered what she was like at my age. I wanted to know her beyond her role in my life as my mom. I wanted to hear her stories and know why these books and characters meant so much to her. I suddenly wanted to know everything about her.

She smiled and chuckled to herself.

“The night you told us that you had been reading these books in our room,” she began, “we couldn’t believe it. All that trouble to get you to bed and it was because you were doing it to yourself. It was even more hysterical to us because I had been telling your father that one day I wanted these to be yours.”

Stepping into my room, she made her way to the bed. She walked around my duffle bag ready for practice tomorrow and a pile of clean clothes needing to be put away. When she made it to my side she sat down and leaned against me, playfully ribbing me with her elbow.

“We didn’t mean for you to find them then. We thought we were being clever keeping them in my closet knowing how afraid of the dark you were. But you foiled us and found them. I was worried you’d be ruined forever and wouldn’t want them when you got older.”

She watched me intently as I fingered the pages in my hand. I flipped steadily through from beginning to end, watching the flicker of reds and blacks and yellows and deep greys file past my eyes.

“So?” she asked. “Do you want them?”

I looked away from the glorious stack of action packed pages and nodded. Yes I wanted them. They were my inheritance! A part of my mom that would always remind me of those nights that she comforted me and tried to calm my fears. They would always be the key into the mystery of who she was beyond her motherly duties and a window into her interests I would never fully understand but would try to replicate in myself.

These stories and characters were us, our bond.

“Good,” she responded, smiling from the corners of her mouth to the lines at the edges of her eyes. “Enjoy!”

Standing she walked to the door when I called out to her, stopping her from turning out of my room. She turned to faced me with that calm waiting look that I knew so well. I stood and crossed the room to her, taking her into my arms and hugging her with a thanks. Her voice stumbled and she squeezed me tightly. Stepping back, I saw a mist circle her eyes as she drew a breath and held me out at an arms length.

“You are very welcomed, hun,” she forced out. “And don’t forget to use this.”

She pulled from her pocket a small keychain flashlight and placed it in my hand. Then, she cupped my face and looked straight at me. There, in the deep brown centers of her clear, bright eyes I saw myself. It was then I knew that she understood the pull of these imaginary worlds and characters. We were one and the same, two peas in a pod.

That night she gave me a part of her. That piece of her that kept her young and fresh, full of creativity and fancy. She gave me her inner whimsical child and made it ok for me to cherish my own larger than life imagination.

She gave me my inheritance.

Walk It Off

When I was growing up, we were taught some basic manners when it came to friends.

Always say your pleases and thank yous. Clean up the mess you make before moving onto another one and never leave someone’s house without putting everything away. Politely accept the food offered to you at meal time even if it’s not something you want to eat.

And never discuss your plans with someone in front of another person who isn’t invited. It’s rude and makes the person not invited feel left out.

That last rule was a big one for us because my family was very conscientious about other people’s feelings.

I can understand why from first hand experience.

I’ve had plans made in front of me or brought up while I was in conversation with someone that didn’t include me and it hurt. Hell, I’ve even been apart of the planning process for an event and not invited. It’s no fun to feel left out.

Recently, this issue has come up in the work place. A team was being created and I wasn’t invited to join. I overheard small rumbling of it down the hallway and in passing. I put two and two together that a bowling team was being created and they needed a woman player. At least one.

Well I’m a woman, I thought. And I like to bowl.

But I never got an invite and the topic was never even brought up directly to me. Instead people started talking about it in front of me like I knew what was going on, like I had been apart of it somehow.

To add salt to the social wound from the lack of invite, other women, non-employees, were being added as alternates.

Not only was I not invited but the plans for said team were being discussed in front of me AND people not directly associated with the company were being added to a list of others to play in case of a member missing a game or two.

It got me thinking about my place at work and how I never really feel like I’m worth much. Yes, it’s important for my company that I do my job because no one else wants to do it. But I’m just a cog piece in this machine and that’s it. I don’t get invites to lunch or happy hour. I don’t hang out with any of the officemates outside of the work week and now I’m not being invited to be on a team created with everyone else included.

That, of course, snowballed into me feeling less than and completely demoralized. I felt useless and unwanted. I could be invisible at work and no one would care as long as the credit checks were complete and the jobs were processed.

I got so worked up that tears, hot and rushing, pushed at my eyes as I listened to my coworkers talking about paying dues and buying bowling balls. I wanted so badly to say something but I knew that anything I said would be tinged with hurt and would come out wrong. I asked myself if I were asked to play, would I even want to? Or would I say “NO and fuck you too!”? I am angry and hurt and taking things so personally so I decided to not speak up. Not that my voice would have worked anyway…

So I plugged my ears with my headphones and headed out on a walk.

I walk every day. I take part of my lunch hour and I walk a little over a mile to clear my mind and get out of the office. I notice my afternoons are more manageable and I’m less irritable if I spend some time outside. The fresh air and the bright sunlight cheer me up a bit.

Today, like every other day this week, I plugged in my headphones, turned on a podcast, then took off on a brisk walk around the block. But I was still fuming over the situation of this bowling team and before I knew it I was crossing the street past my usual turning point. I just kept walking.

I needed more space. I needed more time. And I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to just walk home. To keep my feet moving me further and further away from that place, those people.

A half mile turned into a mile, then another half and soon I wasn’t fuming. I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. I was thinking about comic books and drawing and something I’m reading at home and how I’ll do my makeup and hair for our night out tonight. I was thinking about lots of things.

I was thinking about everything BUT the bowling team. And I realized around 1.6 miles that I wasn’t upset anymore. Instead I was working hard to move my legs and was thinking about a lot of other things. And I arrived in a calmer mood.

Does it still bother me? Yes because I still consider it rude, like bringing along a friend to a party or dinner you have been invited to without checking with the host first. I can work past it now and not allow it to bother me any more today.

Dream Away

Dream away with me.
Tell me things that aren’t true,
and make me believe.
Sell me on cotton candy clouds
and silver castles
and moonbeams made of tears.

Dream away with me.
Make the velvet sky of night
wrap around my smiling face
and pretend that life is as bright
as the stars between my eyes and
that everything will be alright.

Take me away
and help me forget
that life is a series of
dull Facts and Details.
Make me promises that we’ll never keep
but that we’ll always be able to come back to
when the days are dreary and
Life gets too involved.

Let’s close our eyes and dream away the day
and make-believe that life is fuller and more
Magical
in our bed of sheets and blankets and pillows.
Let us dream away…