Friday, March 29, 2013

A Time of Innocence

“Time it was and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence, a time of confidences…”

                I reconnected on Facebook yesterday with my first best friend. My friend for life. Say what you will about social networking-and it definitely has a downside-but it has enabled me to keep in touch with many people with whom I share a bond. Some of these connections go back to high school or middle school, some back even further. And then there is Lynn. She has known me since I was born. Yes, actually since I was born. She was just a toddler herself then and I doubt she remembers much about my earliest years, but I do not recall a life without my Lynnie-Pooh. Through the years we would sometimes lose touch, but we always found each other again.

                Lynn’s actual first name is Patricia and she is Trish to most of the world. Lynn is her middle name and it was what her family always called her. Thus, so did my family. She lived across the street from my grandparents and our families were friends when we lived in Jacksonville. We moved away from there when I was two, but we would visit my grandparents several times a year and Lynn and I would pick up right where we left off. In between we wrote letters, and I still had those letters up until the day my mom’s house burned. Letters filled with little-girl confidences and, as we grew older, more serious secrets.

                We had so much fun together and could make each other laugh like no one else could. We were nothing alike physically-me with my chubby body and wild red hair; she with her impossibly skinny legs and straight blonde hair-but our hearts were the same. We didn’t share everything, since she loved to cook and sew and I couldn’t do either (still can’t), and I was always writing in my journal. But we were alike in nearly every other way, with an uncanny love for animals and nature and a desire to imagine and create and Do Things. When we weren’t Making Something or Building Something, we were Pretending Something. Countless reenactments of Old Yeller took place in my grandmother’s front yard, with dramatic weeping and sobbing in the final scenes. Sometimes we actually made ourselves cry.

                We adored playing school. Lynn was the teacher, and she had this giant pair of glasses that dwarfed her small face. She would put her hair in a bun and look for all the world like an old schoolmarm. “Now, class,” she would say in a nasally voice to me and the assembly of stuffed animals, “Today we will study MES-O-PO-TA-ME-UH. Can you say MES-O-PO-TA-ME- UH?”  This never failed to send me into hysterics. She made report cards for me and the stuffed animals, and I always got a D in conduct.

                We also played Barbies, which I absolutely abhorred when playing with anyone else. It was different with Lynn, because we made up very tragic stories that we acted out with the dolls, plus we made them some pretty cool outfits. Lynn seemed to have an endless supply of fabric scraps, which we would also use to decorate our shoebox “houses”.  Tiny toy animals purchased at the local dime store lived in the houses, and they had pretty adventurous lives. We made furniture for them, and itty bitty books and food and dishes from pieces of cardboard. Sometimes we would have tea parties on Lynn’s front porch, with all of our stuffed animals in attendance. Or we would play house in my grandma’s sunroom, and she would let us use her collection of salt and pepper shakers as long as we were careful. We never broke anything.

                Our favorite and most special thing to do, though, was The Trading Game. I’m not sure how it began, but it started with just a few cereal and Crackerjack prizes (back when Crackerjack prizes were actually cool as opposed to the junky little paper deals they have now) and eventually morphed into an entire elaborate system. We would save, in between the times we got to see each other, not only cereal and Crackerjack and gum machine prizes, but any small junk we could lay hands on. Mini notebooks and pencil sets, plastic rings that turned our fingers green, miniscule plastic dogs and horses, mini card decks and domino sets, and so on. Any party favors or prizes we got went into our respective boxes; every trinket we purchased or were given or found was saved until we saw each other again.

                We had a few rules for our game, one of which caused our first and only fight. Unlike most little girls, we rarely even had the slightest argument, perhaps because our time together was so limited that it would be pointless to waste it on girl drama and cattiness. Living so far apart, we didn’t have any mutual friends or boyfriends to come between us. The Trading Game was something we did exclusively with each other. It was one of the hallmarks of our special connection, a connection we never wanted to lose or mess up. But on this day…she tried to break one of our Rules. I was a stickler for Rules. Every game has them, and I was a game fanatic. In Scrabble, you can only make certain kinds of words. In Clue, you can’t look at the other person’s cards. In The Trading Game, once you put down an item to trade, and took your hand off of it, you HAD to trade if the other person wanted it. You could make the deal as tough as you wanted, but you had to trade for something.

                The culprit was a small red plastic canteen from a toy camping set. I desperately wanted that canteen. I loved to play Explorers and Prairie Girls and Cowboys and Army and Backyard Fort With Mud Wars, and that canteen would be perfect. Lynn set it down on the porch step…and removed her hand. I then began to bargain. She refused every offer. “Come on,” I said finally, exasperated. “I’m offering you the best stuff I have.”

                Then she said it. “No. I changed my mind.


                She shrugged. “ I decided I want to keep it. I can. It’s mine, you know.”

                “You can’t do that.”

                A defiant lift of her chin. “I can too.”

                “No. You took your hand off. It’s the Rules.”

                “You made the Rules, I didn’t.”

                “We BOTH made the Rules.”

                “No, we didn’t.” She was annoyingly calm. I was getting flustered.

                “I ‘ll throw it into that tree over there, “ I threatened, “and then come back for it later.” I said this because I knew Lynn would never climb a tree.

                Then she got mad. “Well, FINE.” She practically threw the canteen at me. “TAKE it. And fill it with Clorox bleach liquid, and DRINK it, and DIE.” With that, she snatched up four or five of my items and flounced off into the house.

                I was stunned, but got in a parting shot. “You’re a CHEATER. You cheated me out of my Snoopy pencil set with that picture of your brother, and I don’t even LIKE him anymore. I think he’s UGLY.”

                She stuck her head out the door. “Just take the stupid canteen and LEAVE.” SLAM.

                I grabbed my box and the canteen and stomped back across the street to my Nonny’s house, where I proceeded to throw myself down on the wicker sofa and wail. Fifteen minutes later, I heard the door open and Lynn came running in, her faced streaked with tears. “I’m sorry,” we both cried at the same time. We hugged. Then we went back and forth about who should have the canteen, since neither of us really wanted it anymore. We finally compromised-it would live in my Nonny’s toy closet, and we would both play with it when I came to visit. Lynn also insisted on giving back most of the stuff I had traded to her for the canteen.

                You see, things are just things, but a good friend is a rarity. We both instinctively knew that. So the Trading Game went on for several more years, long after we were really too old for it, just as we continued to play with dolls and stuffed animals into our teens-but only when we were together. No one else had to know. We are both married now, and in our forties, with children nearly grown, but yesterday confessed to each other via Facebook that we have taken a vow to never really grow up. I still play with toys and color and watch Disney movies and I don’t really care who knows it. Most people don’t understand, but Lynn does. She understands everything.

                In the movie “Beaches”, Hilary and CeCe have very different lives, yet through the decades they remain steadfast friends. They know that no matter how long or how far they are separated, by years or miles, they will be there for one another.  They will always be friends-no, more than friends. Soulmates. Kindred spirits. So will Lynn and I. If we should happen to get together sometime in the future-the last time we saw each other was in 2000, 13 years ago-I know that once again, we will pick up right where we left off. If we don’t see each other face to face again until eternity, I know we will still recognize each other. Maybe we’ll trade some heavenly trinkets. Who knows? I just know that I have been blessed to have so much love in my life, to know so many amazing people .Lynn is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

                I love you, Lynn!

“Long ago it must be, I have a photograph

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

To This Day

and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?

                Upon first hearing Shane Koyczan’s poem “To This Day”, I wept. Having now heard it and read it many times, the impact is no less. He has put so eloquently into words how so many of us feel-to this day. Yes, I have left it behind, in a sense. But the long-term effects are subtle. The long-term effects are a handy tool for the Enemy to use against us. That’s why, to this day, criticism stings me harder, certain words trigger a feeling of nausea, and the positive is easily buried beneath the negative if I am not careful.

every school was a big top circus tent
and the pecking order went
from acrobats to lion tamers
from clowns to carnies
all of these were miles ahead of who we were
we were freaks
lobster claw boys and bearded ladies
juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire spin the bottle
trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal
but at night
while the others slept
we kept walking the tightrope
it was practice
and yeah
some of us fell

                “Hey, Purd!” I can never forget it. I have tried. I won’t even tell how I got the nickname; it is too painful. It sounded like it didn’t mean anything, and that was the beauty of it for Her and all of Her lemmings. They knew I would never tattle, because then I would have to explain. So they could shout it at me on the bus or across the middle school campus and I would try to ignore it. “PURD! You look PURDY today!” Explosive laughter. Strange looks from people. Quizzical looks my friends, from my brother.”What does that even mean?” I never told. So they would say to Her, “Why don’t you shut up?” and of course She would put on a face of innocence. It was just a made-up word, what was the problem?

                That nickname did not follow me to high school, because She moved away. I began tenth grade with a profound sense of relief and a little bit of hope, which was quickly dashed those first few weeks. Some of Her lemmings tried the name, but it didn’t sound the same without Her to egg them on…so they came up with new ones, things that everyone could understand perfectly well…and I still never told because by then it seemed pointless as well as immature. Back then we were told to get over it, as long as no one was doing anything to us physically.

                When the cutting began, along with the hostility toward my parents, the diagnosis of borderline personality was made. How ironic is that? Day after horrible day I had to deal with being tortured by people who enjoyed watching others suffer, but I was the one with a personality disorder? At the time, though, I bought into it because I was already convinced there was something wrong with me anyway. My parents, not so much, especially when the suggestion was made to put me on Prozac. No, thanks. The idea of drugging their sixteen-year-old daughter was abhorrent to them, and they were right. In fact, I myself am opposed to that sort of thing under most circumstances-and I am not talking about legitimate things like actual ADD or bipolar disorder, in which case medication may be necessary in order for a person to function normally-but I am talking about drugs administered to mask the actual problem. Having gone through that with my son, who was put on Abilify at the age of ten, it makes me shudder.

                Looking back, I realize some things. I realize that I did have some issues, but they were probably more hormonal than anything. When at the age of thirty-two I was told by an OBGYN that no, I wasn’t crazy and never had been, that there were actual things going on physically that were not my fault, I actually hugged the man. I also realize that some of the issues had to do with the normal difficulties of growing up, that I am a particularly sensitive person which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and that the school I attended was a shark tank. I was one of the plankton on whom the sharks fed. Finally, I realize now that the kids who went through a lot of the same things and seemed unbothered actually were bothered, they just had stronger personalities and many of them, like my friends Tisha and Charlotte, had such a deep Christian faith and were so mature spiritually that they were able to withstand it better than I.

                Knowing all of these things on an intellectual level, however, does not honestly help very much in the reality of everyday life. I think of Truman Capote, who needed so much affirmation from people because his wounds were so deep. I think of how he drained them emotionally. I don’t want to be the sort of person who takes and takes from my family and friends without giving back. I never want to be the kind of teacher whose self-esteem is so tied up in how the students respond to me that I fail utterly at earning their respect. I don’t think I am any of these things, but I worry about it a lot.Ridiculous thoughts that are lies from Satan keep me awake at night-and even as I write this, I know it might happen again tomorrow. I still walk the tightrope.

                In the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, my favorite line, said by an English teacher to a lonely young man, is “We accept the love we think we deserve.” It’s true. I see it all the time, particularly with young ladies who don’t see their beauty and worth and will allow themselves to be treated like dirt. But I see it with young men, too. With them it is usually different as they build walls of sarcasm and hostility, purposely making themselves unlovable so they won’t be hurt any more. I did all of those things. I tried it all. None of it worked. To this day, I still find it hard to accept praise, to receive unconditional love. I had a great family, but the abuse I suffered at the hands of my peers unfortunately often overshadowed it. I also accepted Christ at a young age, but the vile words of classmates often made me forget that God made me beautiful.

                “Strong animals know when your hearts are weak. “ Thus says little Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, a movie that I love so much because it speaks such truth. The people who get some kind of joy from hurting those who are weaker know exactly who we are, and they attack. That gives them power. Logically, the thing to do would be to not let them see that they have hurt us, but that’s easier said than done. I got better at it over time. In fact, I am so good at it now that I don’t let people know they have hurt me even when it would be more beneficial for everyone if I did so. I push it way, way down. Sometimes I feel stuffed to the brim, as though I will explode. Sometimes I do explode-at the wrong people, the ones closest to me. To this day,I am not “all right”.

            What I am, though, is forgiven and loved, not only by family, friends, and students, but by a big incredible God.When you come right down to it, no one is all right. Everyone is broken, be it a little or a lot. We want to do God’s job and fix each other, but we can’t. What we can do is love each other, help each other, and encourage other. We can pray for each other and support each other. “I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe,” says Hushpuppy. Indeed, we all are. Some of us may feel that we don’t fit, that there’s no room for our particular piece of the puzzle, but we all do.

and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer
because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying

                The best mirror is God Himself. Look at Him, the One Who created us and sees only beauty, the One Who puts a spark of Himself into us all, and gives us life. He was the Something inside me that made me keep trying, even when I felt that I was on the edge of falling off the edge of the world. Those words that still echo down through the years can be drowned out by the Song, but I have to let that happen. I have to ask Him to silence those other voices and show me the mirror that reflects Truth and reveal to me daily that I am more than what I perceive myself to be-not because I am any better than anyone else, or any better than I ever have been, but because I am allowing Him to work through me.

“ Our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty.”