Sunday, November 21, 2010


     When I was a little girl, I thought being a witch or genie were viable career options. I poo-poo'd my friends' dreams of becoming a ballerina or veterinarian, pony or princess and aimed higher. I wanted superpowers and since Batgirl didn't even rate second fiddle status (losing to a kid named after a dumb bird) and I couldn't reconcile myself to villainhood as a kick-ass Catwoman, I chose to go the 'magical and supernatural cleverly disguised as a domestic' route. The former had exciting careers but no one to come home to. The latter (in my opinion) had it all and I was convinced. I was sold. I practiced and perfected Samantha's snark, smirk, raised eyebrow and nose wriggle and Jeannie's wide-eyed devoted not-so-dumb blonde routine and the arms-crossed head nod-y blinky bouncy hair thing. I didn't even care much for "Master'...he was a bumbling pompous horses ass and Darren was so scared of Samantha he up and died and had to be replaced with an even prissier doppleganger midway through the series. I, like Samantha was non-plussed. Business as usual.

When you're little, you don't know the meaning of the word, 'limitation'.. That's probably why when you're told for the first few years of your life, 'No', 'Can't', 'Don't' and 'Shouldn't', you behave as though the world has ended because well, in a way, it has. Someone has placed boundaries on you to protect you from and prepare you for the realities of life when you really thought you could fly, and breathe under water, or talk with animals.

I used to believe that flowers, animals and toys, especially dolls and bears all talked with each other and if I could sneak up on them fast or stealthy enough, I would catch them in the hopes that they'd invite me to join them. I made sure to water and aerate my grandmother's African Violets and whisper encouragement into their petals and fluff up their dark loamy soil. I tried very very hard to not show favoritism to my cats and dogs and if I sensed any were feeling neglected, I would shower them with an extra helping of TLC and snackies, and my dolls and bears had regular union meetings where we discussed their feelings and also health care benefits. I even provided tea and pretzel rods at the end of each meeting. I was one devoted neurotic little kid.

I had a lot of friends but also enjoyed large chunks of time alone and spent it either reading, making stuff in the garage or attic (I was my own Icarus, fashioning kites out of construction paper and Tinker Toys but I wasn't allowed past the driveway, never mind reaching for the sun.). I conducted magic shows and backyard theatrical productions of my favorite episodes of Star Trek with my imaginary friend, a tall black man with a deep voice (who in hindsight could actually have been a neighbor. If he had climbed in my window and said he was a fairy I would have believed him) and I explored going on long walks or bike rides to nowhere, just looking and soaking everything in.

So it was with great delight and anticipation when my father would pack us all up in the car weekly and take us to the big park in the center of  town and drive down to the bottom level which was off Newark Bay, across from a large container facility. While my dad would set his crab traps with bait, I would watch the ships and follow their slow courses as I walked along the low pebble wall that looked awkwardly out of place, as if it belonged in a mermaid's garden rather than in a small fishing spot just off a parking lot.

One fourth of July, the area was particularly crowded in anticipation of a fireworks display to begin at dusk and after blowing and making a wish on the bait in my father's crab traps before he'd throw them over the wall, I began my usual path, running my hand along the small stones and shells set into the top railing like little jewels in an ornate box. The sun went down slowly. Its departure was lovely and many of us stood there admiring it while listening to the low murmurs and music of people around us enjoying their day off and I looked down into the darkening water and saw something large floating and bobbing along the wall.

It was ovoid, white and smooth and my little heart leaped with joy as I watched it make its way slowly down the promenade and I ran along the wall keeping up with it. At times I had to push past people leaning against the wall or talking in groups around it, while they were laughing and drinking beer and I was standing breathless pleading, 'Excuse me...Excuse me."  They would smile down at me and let me through and I followed the object down in the water which was maybe fifteen feet below with rapt attention.

When it appeared to have momentarily bumped against some kind of pylon or structure I couldn't see,  I ran screaming through the crowd to find my dad.  I was out of breath when I caught up to him and he knelt down with concern asking me what was wrong. When I'm very upset or excited I tend to become temporarily speechless and even at times unknowingly hold my breath and my father shook me a little to break me out of it. I inhaled deeply and smiled. "Daddy, I found a dinosaur egg."

He smiled and shook his head in an, "Oh you're so cute" way but still, took my hand and asked me to show him. We walked through the crowd together, me telling him about finding it in the water and wanting to climb down and rescue it and, "What kind of dinosaur do you think it is, Daddy?"

He sometimes called me Peaches. He sometimes called me Pickles. He usually called me by my given name which was the beloved name of his only beloved sister who died tragically before I was born, but he said it a certain way that no one else did and I liked it. It was like our secret little language.  Our private code.

He looked over the edge of that mermaid wall and his face changed. He scooped me up and kissed me and said, "Look closer. Do you see it? It's rolling over. Look"  I did. My heart broke. It was a watermelon, bleached from being in the water and sun for God only knows how long.

I was disappointed and unnaturally quiet on the way home and I know he felt bad for me. I felt silly and stupid. How could I be so dumb. Why couldn't it have been a REAL dinosaur egg?  I was experiencing disillusionment and discouragement for the first time and I know this must have been playing across my face as I sat in the dark car, the lights of the storefronts we were passing briefly illuminating me, and then my father took my hand.

"It's okay, you know. Why don't you write a story about it? That way it WILL be real.  I'll read it and later tonight you can stay up with me and watch a monster movie. Just me and you. You'd like that right?  I nodded and went home and started writing my story.

Thus began my habit, ritual, self-therapy, whatever you want to call it, of writing when I was down or scared or disappointed. Or delighted or in love or on the verge of something unknowing but probably powerful, great and wonderful.  I realized then and over time that there are limitations and boundaries on everything and with that comes the bad stuff like hurt and discouragement, but so does the good stuff like empathy, compassion, and feeling safe and loved within and in spite of those limits.

Like the mystical, mythical and magical, I don't believe there is any limit to what a wide open heart and imagination can accomplish.

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