My Cat History

            Growing up we never had a cat. My mother was afraid of them. She truly believed that cats could suck the air from a sleeping child. Imagine the picture this put in my naive mind! A stealthy cat climbing the bars of a crib, sneaking up to the head of the child, staring at the face, looking for the best angle of attack, then slowly, ever so slowly lowered its head, mouth open, ready to steal the air from the hapless baby.

            It was not until I married my husband that I found out that this was one of those old wives’ tales.

            My family had a beagle from the time I was about eight until I was into high school. My husband’s family had always had a cat.

            When I saw the family cat, I tensed, expecting an attack. My husband noticed, asked and then laughed when I offered my reasoning.

            Once I knew the truth, I gradually taught myself that a cat could make a good pet. I was terrified of the claws, but then dogs bite. Equally dangerous.

            My husband had a friend up in Portland, Oregon. On a camping trip up north, we stayed with them. They had two Siamese cats. Elusive, yet curious. When one came close, I tried to pet it and immediately got clawed. The deep, blood-drawing type. For the rest of our visit, I cringed whenever those cats drew near. They knew I was afraid, and seemed to relish in torturing me.

            At that point I had no interest in having a cat.

            One time my women’s guild was having a bake sale to buy something for our pastor. I had made cupcakes. My oldest son, maybe four or five at the time, came with me. The women getting things ready were a bit discombobulated. A pesky reddish cat kept coming inside, begging for food. When my son saw her, he grabbed her, held her to his chest and begged to bring her home.

            I explained that she most likely belonged to a family living nearby, but if his father approved and if she was there in the morning when we went to Mass, he could have her. As soon as we parked, he ran to the small hall. The cat was there, still begging for food. He scooped her up and held her in his lap, me by his side, while my husband attended the service.

            She was named Cupcake Eater Connelly due to the bites of cupcake he fed her. Cuppie, as we called her, was a wonderful cat. She was not quite full grown, but not a kitten either. She adapted quickly to our house and our routine. We loved her and took good care of her. When she died, we were heartbroken.

            After Cuppie came a rescue that belonged to my daughter. She named her Calie because, guess what? She was a calico cat. Not too bright, but once we finally got her housebroken (and that really tried our patience), she was a loving cat. Calie was patient and kind. She loved my daughter and then, later when she had children, her daughter as well.

            Calie lived a good, long life. Once our daughter went off to college, Calie fell in love with my husband.

            For years after we were never without a cat. There was Josie, a tiny stray that walked out of my husband’s closet. She was a sweet, wonderful cat. Tigger was a feral cat our daughter brought home, saying it was a female. Nope. I hadn’t wanted a male, thinking they were aggressive. He was not.

            I adopted sister tuxedo cats. One ran away as soon as my husband left a door open. We saw her off and on, but she never returned to live with us. The other was a sweetie. She loved petting and had an awesome purr. Then she fell ill, kidney disease.

            Next came Cole, a kitten I fell in love with at an adoption event. He loved nothing more than sitting on a lap. The poor thing got very sick, very quickly.

            Immediately after Taffy joined our home. I changed his name to Tuffy, a more masculine sounding name. He was a bit standoffish until he got quite a bit older. Then he was a lap cat. Always on me or on my husband.

            Once he died, we decided no more cats. By now we were both older and didn’t want our kids to have to deal with a pet after we were either incapacitated or dead.

            I miss having a four-legged pet. I really want another cat, an older one as I don’t want to deal with clawed furniture and poop in closets.

            Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll find the right cat.

A Religious Awakening

Fifty years ago, my faith was in doubt.  Tired of hearing the hell and damnation homilies of the local parish priest, I tuned out every time he spoke.  I knew that I should have been listening, for I feared that I was one of the sinners that he condemned to everlasting fire, and that there was no hope for my salvation.

I did not “do” drugs, proffer myself to men, nor commit crimes against society.  I was, however, not a dutiful daughter who accepted her subservient status in a household that held women with little respect. My parents believed that my sole purpose in life was to work for them, as a household servant, and when those jobs were done to satisfaction, then and only then could I pursue an education.

I did not object to assisting with the care and operation of the house.  What angered me most was that my siblings were exempted from any and all responsibility, including cleaning up after themselves. 

A major part of the problem was that my parents were ultra-conservative and narrow in focus.  To them, the duty of an older daughter was to manage the house and to marry young.  By young, I mean by the age of fourteen.  I didn’t even date at that age, let alone have a serious boyfriend, and I hated housework, so I was a failure in their eyes.

It should be a surprise that I was so affected by what was said for the pulpit, for Sunday worship was not something that my parents faithfully practiced.  They went to church when they felt like it, when the weather was good, when there were no sporting events on television.  And when they did go to church, it was not at the nearest church, but rather one which held the shortest service.

When I left for college in the summer of 1969, I decided to act boldly: I would not go to church at all.  My resolve faded as soon as the first Sunday arrived.  Not wanting to anger God, fearful of blackening my soul any further, I found the Newman center on campus.  The atmosphere was one of welcome.  The music filled me with joy, literally erasing all my negative thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.

As time passed, my attitude toward the church changed. I believed the good news that I heard over and over during those joy-filled services. I understood that God had not judged me and found me wonting.  Instead, I now knew, He was a loving God who cried when one of His souls lost the way.  He offered peace and salvation to all who believed.  He gave solace, when needed, in times of stress and anxiety.  He loved us, no matter what we might have done.

Several months into that first school year, the Neuman Club organized a retreat up in the nearby mountains.  I had never done anything this before, but it sounded exactly what I needed.

The camp was somewhere east of Los Angeles, a rustic setting nestled in a forest. From the time we arrived at the camp, I felt at peace. All of us hurried inside, anxious to claim a bunk in one of the dorm rooms.  There was no pushing, no domineering, no one person making others feel worthless.

Having never been camping, I was unprepared for the chilly nights and the crisp morning air.  My clothing was not substantial enough to keep me warm, especially when it snowed in the night, leaving about six inches on the forest floor. Nevertheless, thanks to the generosity of those who shared warm mittens and thick sweaters, I stayed warm.

Throughout that weekend, my heart sang.  It was as if a giant anvil had been removed. Like a newly feathered chick, I flopped my wings, and took off.  Faith came at me from every direction.  From the treetops came God’s blessed light.  From the ferns sprang His offerings of love.  From my fellow participants came God’s unconditional love.  From our times of prayer and reflection, came discovery of my love for the God who loved me back.

I smiled until my face literally hurt.  I laughed at the crazy antics of my roommates, and joined in the singing in front of the fireplace at night.  During prayer times, tears poured down my face, yet I did not have the words to explain why.  It was as if someone had reached inside, pulled out all the pain, and filled me with a wholesome goodness.

I do believe that God touched me that weekend.  Not with His hands, for I did not feel the slightest brush against my body. What I did experience was the enveloping of His arms, holding me and making me feel safe. He gave the gift of feeling both loved and lovable.  He made me feel important, and inspired me to continue to follow His way.

When the weekend drew to a close, it was with deep regret that I packed my things.  I hoped to hold on to all that I had experienced.

I would love to report that my life was permanently changed, but it was not.  When at home, I continued to feel inadequate.  Not one day passed without hearing what a huge disappointment I was.  There was nothing that I did that ever pleased my parents, and not once did they give me a single word of encouragement.

When I graduated from college, I moved back to the still stifling environment of my parents’ home.  Pulled down by the never-ending criticism of my unmarried state, my unemployment, and by the wasted years at college, I quickly fell into a state of despondency.  The local Mass situation had not changed, even if the pastors had.  One pastor continued to preach the same old fire and brimstone message about the blackening of our souls.  In another, the Mass was so short you could be in and out in less than forty minutes.

It was not until my husband and I moved into the parish that he had known as a teenager, that the glow returned.  I rediscovered the God who loved me, who sheltered me from the storms of life, and who walked with me every step of every day. 

It was, and continues to be, a community of caring individuals who come together to worship and to pray for each other in times of need.  While priests have come and gone, the overall feeling has not.  We are the parish, the ones who define the atmosphere that envelopes all who step through the doors.

I know that there is a loving God who helps us walk through life’s challenges. He has blessed my life in ways that I am still discovering. 

That is the story of my faith.

The Gift

there are days when I

yearn for silence

no revving of motors or

screeching of tires

no planes lowering their

landing gear

as they begin their descent

no loud rap music

vibrating my windows with

its repetitive bass beats

no leaf-blower roar

or vacuum-cleaner whine

the vile swearing of the

teens next door

never greeting my ears

the phone, mercifully,

does not ring

I revel in this precious

moment

a gift of stolen time

as if the world stopped its

persistent revolution

simply for my enjoyment

when those seconds tick away,

and the silence suddenly ends,

I feel as if I witnessed

a miracle

a rebirth

An Unexpected Surprise

            When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, happy memories are few and far between. It’s easy to dredge up the pain and sorrow, to recall the angry words and the punishments that followed, but difficult to find just one that didn’t hurt.

            Today my husband and I went out for ice cream. After enjoying my delicious treat, as we were driving home, a sudden flash appeared: my sitting on a stool at a Walgreen’s counter.

            We seldom ate out. When you’re low income, money is tight and not spent on restaurant meals.

            When I was in fourth grade, we lived in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. My mom had just learned to drive, which really made life better when all our doctor appointments were in the city.

            I don’t remember why I was the only one with my mother. That rarely happened. My mother must have left my brother with someone, a relative probably, as she had no friends in the neighborhood. I don’t recall taking him somewhere, but we must have.

            I’m not sure why we were in town. It was around the time the principal of my elementary school told my father that I could not return without glasses. That’s the most logical reason for our outing.

            I knew, even then, that when my mother left home at thirteen, she moved to Cincinnati to live with an older sister. She helped my mom get a job at a Woolworth’s Department Store. I don’t know what she did there as she was so young.

            Anyway, here we were, sitting on stools in a Woolworth’s in downtown Dayton. A bunch of colorful balloons floated above our heads, all tied to a long string so as not to float away.

            Like any kid, I loved balloons. The colors, the way they flew about my head, the feeling of owning something that was just mine. Until my brother popped mine. Every last balloon I possessed he popped. Probably out of meanness. Maybe out of jealousy.

            Anyway, here was a bright, colorful, happy-looking array of balloons. I wanted one so badly that all thoughts were erased from my head except for the one of owning a balloon.

            The person behind the ice cream counter told me I could have any balloon I wanted. I recall looking at my mother to see if this were true. Possible. I remember holding my breath as I waited for her response.

            When the clerk said the balloons held surprises, that each one had a slip of paper inside that would reveal what ice cream treat I could have. I think she said that a few balloons awarded a free treat. A completely free ice cream treat!

            Even at that young age I understood that nothing was free. If something good came my way it would be immediately followed by something bad. But I was a kid and kids hope.

            When my mother nodded that I cold pick a balloon, I was shocked. I. Got. To. Pick.

            I am sure my eyes were wide in disbelief. I am positive that I knew I’d never win. But, like any kid, I imagined that my balloon would give me something free. Maybe an ice cream soda, or if I was really lucky, a banana split.

            But there was a really good chance that all I’d get was a cheap sucker. One of those wrapped in cheap plastic that doctor’s give after a shot. There was a glass jar of suckers on the counter right in front of the clerk.

            I liked suckers. Any color, any flavor. We seldom had them, so winning a sucker wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just not the thing I wanted most of all: a banana split.

            My mother grew impatient as I stared up at the balloons, trying to see through, to read the slip so as to ensure that I got that banana split.

            The clerk asked what I was hoping to win. I looked first to my mother, then when she nodded, I said, loud and clear (something unusual for me), that I wanted a banana split.

            My mother laughed. Not a happy laugh, but a mocking laugh. You’ll never win that, she said. Or I seem to recall her saying.

            It seems as if my shoulders must have slumped. I bet my whole body slumped.

            I think the clerk told me to take a chance. That she thought I’d be a winner. Just point and tell her which one I wanted.

            Back then, as now, blue was my favorite color. Except for the years when my Catholic school uniform was blue. But I loved blue t-shirts, blue socks, blue shorts and really, really wanted a pair of blue tennis shoes I’d seen in the bargain store where we shopped. I’d never gotten the shoes.

            There were several blue balloons. One way up high, one to the right, one to the left, and one right on front of me, so close I could have touched it. I thought about that one. It was so close, so it must be the lucky one, right? But that would have been too easy.

            I nodded. The only balloon that might be lucky was the blue one so close to the ceiling that it brushed the tiles when the fan’s blades came near. I pointed with my right hand, my middle finger extended.

            Are you sure the clerk asked. It’s pretty far away.

            She made me question my choice. Did she know something that I didn’t? Did she know that one held a worthless slip of paper? Or was she trying to steer me away from a sure winner? The one with the biggest prize?

            It made sense that she’d trick me into making a poor choice. After all, my life had been one poor choice after another. Why should this be any different?

            By now my mother was getting impatient. I could tell by the way her eyebrows scrunched up and wrinkles formed around her eyes. If I didn’t make a choice soon, there’d be trouble later on.

            I changed my mind and went for the blue balloon right in front of me.

            The clerk popped it, a noise that always made me cringe.

            She handed me the slip of paper. My reading skills weren’t so good back then, so my mom had to read it to me.

            I’d gotten a discount on a cone of ice cream. Unsure what a discount was, I’d asked. All it meant was that it would be a bit cheaper.

            The clerk must have been clever at reading faces, for mine registered intense disappointment. My eyes filled with tears.

            Don’t you want an ice cream cone she asked.

            I shook my head.

            My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me off the stool. Sorry, she said, we don’t have enough money even with the discount.

            Choose another balloon, the clerk said.

            I turned to my mother and saw frustration and anger. She wanted to leave. I knew then that she had never intended to buy me an ice cream. She took me there for the free sucker in cheap plastic.

            The clerk repeated that I got to choose another balloon.

            I decided to take a risk and go for a red balloon. Red was not my color. I’d never liked it. But I had nothing to lose. So I pointed to a red balloon off to the right.

            The clerk pulled it out of the bunch and popped it. She didn’t give the slip of paper to my mom. She read it aloud. I had won a free banana split!

            I didn’t know what that was, but based upon the happy look on the clerk’s face, I understood that it was special. A rare treat.

            My mom said I could have it.

            The clerk peeled a banana and then split if down the middle. She placed the pieces on either sides of a glass bowl. She added scoops of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream. Not the tiny scoops I’d get whenever we were lucky enough to have ice cream at home, but huge, huge scoops.

            She added toppings. Pineapple, Strawberries. Marshmallows. The tiny kind.

            Over that she poured chocolate sauce. Not my favorite, but glorious in its brown gooiness. On top went huge fluffy swirls of whipped cream with a bright red cherry on each mound.

            When she placed it before me, I was in shock. It was more ice cream than I’d ever had in my whole life if you added up all the tiny bowls I’d eaten before. And this was all for me.

            Or so I thought.

            The clerk handed me a spoon. Then gave one to my mother.

            I really didn’t want her to have any. This was mine. I’d won it fair and square. I understood fairness at that point. Fair things seldom happened to me. To my brother, yes, if my mom was the one in charge. But never to me.

            My mother told me to get started eating before the ice cream melted. That we had to hurry because I’d taken so long to choose. That if we didn’t get home soon my dad would be angry.

            My dad’s anger was terrifying. He shouted words I didn’t know but felt that they registered disapproval. He hit hard, so hard it left bruises. He shook me until it felt like my head was going to topple off. And his spankings left belt marks on my backside.

            I picked up my spoon and got to work, shoveling in the gooey combination so fast that my nose froze. I scooped faster and faster, taking very little time to relish and enjoy.

            My mother worked from the other side, eating slower, but still chipping away at my treat.

            I didn’t get to finish it.

            When there was still more than half left, my mother announced that we had to leave. She stood, buttoned her jacket, then lifted me off the stool.

            I bet my eyes filled with tears. I am pretty sure that my body registered my disappointed anger, something I had perfected.

            It’s funny how some memories stay hidden for a gazillion years while others stay fresh year after year.

            I can remember the punishments my dad dished out as if they happened yesterday. But this one happy moment, this one time when I got a very special treat has remained hidden for well over sixty years.

Reflecting

Friends have asked what I would do differently if I could go back in time. First of all, I would never want to relive my first twenty years of life.

My early years with my family were emotional bombshells. My dad’s explosive temper often resulted in physical punishments and humiliation. My mother preferred my siblings (yes, I am a middle child.) I had been overwhelmed and intimidated so thoroughly that I preferred to sit in a corner and hide.  

Elementary school amplified my feelings of inferiority as I was the dumbest kid in whatever class I was in: I couldn’t read and my teachers didn’t help.

Middle school added new torments. Previously I had attended Catholic schools, but now I was in the public school. Because of the size differential, it was easier for me to hide. Except from the Home Ec teacher who must have seen something in my demeanor that triggered all her alarms.  After a rather awful day at home the evening before, I was still suffering when I entered her class. She called me aside and asked if everything was okay at home. I lied. After that she never asked again even though I wished she had.

High school was more of the same socially, but by now my talent for math and learning languages had begun to shine. I joined the basketball team, and although I wasn’t the best player, it allowed me to stay late after school and travel to away games, thereby reducing the amount of time I could be abused at home.

My first year of college my parents made me attend the local community college. The highlight of that year was learning that my Spanish skills were beyond the course offerings! I beamed with pride. But, because it was a commuter college and I was still terribly shy, I made no friends.

My euphoria regarding Spanish didn’t last long because I struggled so badly in my English class that I had to drop it. Back to feeling stupid.

My next three years at USC were a mixed bag. I developed friends who were like me. Somehow, we found each other in the cafeteria. None of us were in the popular group, which might have been what united us.  While we never did anything together outside of school, at least it was a safe place to eat.

Unfortunately, I just have been sending out “I want you” vibes because several of the guys hit on me. One was a prince in whatever country he hailed from. He handed me a multipage love letter detailing how well he would treat me and what my life would be in his country. First of all, I liked him as a friend. Secondly, I knew how women were restricted in his country and wanted no part of that. He accepted my refusal with grace.

Another young man, Jorge, wooed me by asking a lot of questions about what I thought about this and that. He took me out to lunch and occasionally to a movie. I liked him because he was soft-spoken and gentle.

A break came up and he had nowhere to go. I invited him home with me.

My parents were not welcoming. First of all, I failed to tell them he was Hispanic. When they learned his name, saw the gorgeous hue of his skin and heard his charming accent, it was over. They were polite, but not welcoming.

Jorge ceased being my boyfriend after that. I couldn’t blame him: he understood that my parents were prejudiced.

My next boyfriend was a hippie, like I had become. He was easy to be with, had a car, and enjoyed camping as much as I did. I figured we would get married. And then he transferred to a college in Minnesota. During winter break I flew out to see him.

His family there were warm and welcoming. They drove us around to see many of the lakes and treated us to a tasty meal. They laughed easily and seemed comfortable in their own skins.

I pictured myself as part of that family and it felt right.

And then John told a group of his grad school friends that what he liked about me was that I never had an opinion. To his credit, I did keep my opinions to myself, but it didn’t mean that I was a blank slate! That was the end of that relationship.

When college ended, I had no choice but to return home, back to being bullied emotionally and physically. It took me a while to find a job. The most embarrassing interview was when I found out that the phone company was hiring. My mother insisted on driving me, then went in and applied for the same job! She got hired, but I did not.

The best choice I made was taking the test that could lead to a job with the federal government. Imagine my surprise when it led to a job, a good job with benefits. My first post was in SF, a city with huge hills and limited parking. I was a field agent, so I traveled all over the city, up and down those hills, going in and out of businesses and homes.

It wasn’t the kind of working environment where you made friends. People came in, worked, went home. I transferred to the Oakland office which was much the same. I was given the cases the furthest from the office, so I drove all over the area. That was the best part of the job.

I did meet someone. A very pleasant man asked me out. We got along quite well. We even went skiing and few times. It was going smoothly until he invited me to his apartment. That’s where I discovered that he was married with children, but currently on a trial separation. He had virtually no furniture: only a mattress on the floor. I broke up with him shortly thereafter.

My next posting was back to SF, then to San Mateo. I loved the people at the new detail. They were kind and helpful. They welcomed me into their “family” and truly cared about my welfare. It’s also where I met my future husband.

My coworkers encouraged me to speak up. They listened to my opinions and, in time, asked me to consult on cases.

It was thanks to them and to my future husband that I developed a voice.

A Fresh Idea

            When it comes to getting my hair done, I’m an avowed cheapskate. As far back as I can remember, my hairdos were monitored and maintained by my mom. She cut it, permed it and styled it, all using home care products that were unpredictable at best. I learned my cheapness from her.

            My hair hung well below my hips until I was nine. At that point, after tiring of my cries of pain, my mom decided to cut my hair. We walked to a bus stop, then rode from Beavercreek, a country suburb, into Dayton, Ohio. There, at a shop, I got my first professional cut and perm.

            I loved the feeling when someone else shampooed my hair and ran a comb through it. I was entranced by the parting and snipping that shortened my hair to shoulder–length. I hated the perm. Long rods were wound into my hair, rods which were attached to an electrified pole. The smell of the chemicals cooking sickened me.

I hated my curly hair, but my mom loved it.

            My dad didn’t just hate it, he stated that only whores had hair like min. His words were so hurtful that it was a long, long time before I allowed my mom to get my hair cut again.

            After college it became popular to have an Afro style hairdo. The perm chemicals had improved so they didn’t burn as much, but the smell lingered for days.

I loved the finished product. My hair was only a few inches long. It easy to take care of, requiring only a good combing. The one downfall was that my hair did not take to the perm naturally, and so I had to have second and third dousings in order to get the tightly wound curls that the style incorporated.

            When I met my husband, I had stopped getting perms and let my hair grow out a tad. The problem was that my hair is naturally straight and lifeless. But it was easy to care for.

Shortly after our marriage, I decided to go back to the tight curls, mostly because I didn’t have time to wind my hair into curlers every night and sleeping on them was nearly impossible. As a working woman, I needed to be awake and alert at work.

            We had little money back then, and so when I discovered there was a beauty school in our downtown, it became my go-to for all things hair. I found that one of the greatest the joys of going to the beauty college was that I could get my hair cut for free. Yes, it took a long time. Often hours. Because I chose to go upstairs where all the novices were, every step along the way had to be approved by a supervisor. But it was free! And unfortunately inconsistent.

            After months of this, I decided to stay on the ground floor, where the skills of the students were much better. It still required hours and I had to pay a minimum fee; I think five dollars. Quality varied, and so I had to be flexible in terms of the final product. Sometimes I really liked what they did, most of the time it was tolerable, and sometimes it was downright awful.

            I decided to move over to the south side of the main floor where the operators were nearing graduation. My care was still monitored, but not as closely. I was still getting perms, but only enough to put some life in my normally straight hair. The good thing was that my hair was getting done regularly for a minimal charge.

            After I went back to work and was making a little more money, I found a local shop that only charged eight dollars. It was located in a poorer part of town, in an old house not too far from my school. No appointments were needed, but by that time I had given up on perms, so all I needed was a trim.

            Because of how cheap it was and how close to my place of work, I went there for years. Unfortunately, the quality varied. Sometimes I got a cut that pleased me. But more and more often the operator cut my hair too short, making me look more male than female. Or it was butchered, long in spots, barely showing in others.

            I switched to a shop not too far from home that was run by sisters. The first one I met did an excellent job and she only charged twenty dollars. I returned over and over until I got her sister. She cut my hair the way she wanted it, way too short, almost masculine. It was uneven to the point that when I got home I’d have to do my own trim.

            My stepmom used a salon within walking distance of my home. She only saw one stylist, so I made an appointment with her. I should have known better. My stepmom’s hair was bleached to the point that it looked like straw. In fact, all the time she was with my dad, I wondered if maybe she was wearing a really cheap wig.

            The first few times this stylist cut my hair, she did a pretty good job. But then she decided to do things her way. Once again I ended up with a masculine cut.

            Things changed when my sister-in-law treated me to a cut at a salon out near her home. She had won a Raffle ticket for a free cut and style from an operator that she never sees. Without knowing what they normally charge, I assumed it was in the thirty-dollar range. While she did a great job with the cut, the stylist insisted on fluffing my hair out into a bouncy, plastered helmet. The good news was that I’d never have to go back as it was a good forty-minute drive from home.

Despite my helmet-hair, I discovered two important things: you get what you pay for and there is a difference between a cut and a style. I fell in love with style. Not that my “do” is fancy, because it isn’t. What I liked was having my hair cut evenly, the finished product a blend all the way around.

Despite the long drive, I contemplated returning to that shop. Until I attended a birthday party for a wonderful man that I had known for years. I sat next to his son during lunch, where I learned that his wife was a stylist in a nearby town. The next time I needed a cut, I went to her. I loved the result. I have returned over and over and will continue to go to her as long as she is local.

Now my cuts cost big dollars. It pains me to pay so much, as the cheapskate part of me is still there, but I love the end result. It is well worth it to pay more if, when you walk out of the shop, you feel pleased.

Drifting Along

Sunny summer days

Drift along

Taking my lazy ways

Across river deep and wide

Burst-of-color leaves

Silently fall

Calling my soul to grieve

For things unfinished

Speckled blue skies

Fill with migrating birds

Loudly, their cries

Call, inviting me along

\I yearn to travel

To see family far away

Concerns, worries unravel

Twisting around my fingers

Earth-bound am I

When winter approaches

Eager eyes look to the sky

Seeking freedom

Scars

            Some scars are invisible but powerful nonetheless. Because they can’t be seen, no sympathy is offered, no concerning questions asked.

            But what happens when you are told that your scars will be easily seen? Do you have the procedure or not?

            That’s the choice I faced when I investigated cosmetic surgery after losing eighty pounds.

            The scars on my arms would run down the backside. They might fade with time or they might remain as deep red lines. I didn’t care. I hated the flaps of saggy skin that smacked the water when I swam, so loudly that I could hear the whump, whump as the bags smacked the surface, despite wearing earplugs and a cap.

            I believed that if I could hear it that clearly, then so could everyone else.

            I hated the way my arms looked in short sleeves: huge bags of quivering flesh. I was embarrassed, humiliated and my self-esteem suffered.

            The surgery would remove the bags. I chose self-esteem over scarring.

            After recovering from that operation I investigated additional cosmetic surgery to remove the roll of skin that had pooled around my waist. Even though it was always hidden under my clothes, unless I wore an overly baggy top, the bulge was visible.

            Once again the surgeon said there would be scarring, most likely a deep red line that encircled my waist. My response? I told her that the only one who would see it was my husband. The benefit of the operation would be clearly visible: no roll of excess skin.

            Granted my scars are visible, but the surgery removed the psychological effects caused by extreme embarrassment, by my disgust of my body.

            After recovery, every time I looked in the mirror, I was shocked. Who was this woman looking back at me? She had no flabby arms, no roll of skin.

My new identity was hard to embrace.  Months went by and I still did not recognize myself, did not connect that reflection with who I was now.

Two years later I am still surprised. The scars are there, but they are badges of honor, not of shame.

My Birthday Party

            I had never wanted a party. I was lucky to have been born in August when school was out. It was impossible to hand out invitations, a true blessing. It didn’t bother me when I learned about other kids having parties to which I had not been asked to attend. After all, since I had no friends, who would I talk to?

            One year my younger sister wanted a party. Unlike me, she had friends who would come. And they did, bearing prettily-wrapped gifts. They played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs and relay races of various kinds. They watched expectantly as my sister blew out all the candles on her cake and then devoured their slices drowning in vanilla ice cream.

            She sat like a queen surrounded by her subjects as she opened her gifts. If she liked it, she’d blush with excitement and hold it aloft for all to admire. If she didn’t, she dropped it to the floor at her feet.

            She was six years old.

            Because my sister had a party, my mother decided I had to have one as well. My birthday is four days after my sister’s, which would place a huge burden on my family in terms of time and money. I didn’t want a party, but it did not deter my mother. She tried to make things equal, or at least pretended to make things equal. They never were and I knew it.

            My mother revered my sister. She placed her on a pedestal that I never had a chance to climb. Celebrating my sister’s birthday was an important event that involved days of planning. Everything stopped on her day. There was no yard work, no housework, no spending time alone. All focus was on my sister.

            So when the PARTY was confirmed, I think my mother felt guilty for not having one for me. Anyway, I was having one despite my loudly voiced opinion.

            To get ready, my mother bought juvenile-designed cards. I recall a clown with balloons. I was thirteen, too old for clowns.

            She made me sign them then ride my bike around the neighborhood delivering them to girls who never talked to me. Few opened the door when I knocked. The two who did looked at me like I was insane. They were right.

            My mother bought princess cut-outs that she made me hang in our windows. I was humiliated. No thirteen-year-old would ever tape up cardboard princesses on a bedroom wall, let alone in a window for all to see.

            I don’t remember anything about the food or the cake, but we played the exact same games that my sister’s friends played. Teenagers don’t pin things on donkeys or run around chairs. They listen to music and talk.

            My mother made me wear my best dress, something way too fluffy for a birthday party. She plastered my hair into an old-fashioned style piled up on my head, the spray so heavy that not a single strand would come loose in a tornado. I knew that I was inappropriately dressed and that if anyone did come, they wouldn’t look like me. There was nothing I could do about it.

            The clock crept toward the given hour. I stared out the window, hoping that no one would come. Then I’d wish that someone would come. I’d sit down on the couch, thinking that if I didn’t look, someone would come. Then I’d look, hoping to jinx the party.

            When I girl from down the street knocked on the door, my heart sank. There really was going to be a party. Two more came.

            My mother went into hyper-mode, telling us where to go and what to do. I spoke only when I had to, moved when I had to, blew out the candles when told and attempted to eat some cake without throwing up.

            The gifts matched the juvenile invitations. I recall a coloring book and crayons, a picture book and some paper dolls, all things that my six-year-old sister loved.

            I would like to share that time flew by, but it didn’t. It’s possible that it only lasted two hours, but it felt like four. There was no joy, not from me and not from the girls who came. It was an exercise only, a pretend party.

            Perhaps this is why I’ve never liked parties for myself. I enjoy celebrating the milestones in others’ lives, but not my own. I love buying gifts for others and watching them open them. I like being with others, watching the joy in their faces and listening to what they have to say, as long as I am not expected to speak up.

            Is that one disastrous party to blame? Probably. But maybe not. Maybe I’m just not a party person.

            What is amazing is that an event that took place sixty-two years ago impacted how I still feel about parties today.

            I wasn’t permitted to have a voice, to express opinions until I went away to college. My father was a bully who saw nothing of value in me except for the possibility of marrying me off to someone with a bit of money. My mother rejected me because I had no interest in being her. My brother was often a friend and playmate, but he could also be cruel. My sister was much younger, and due to some health issues, the apple of my mother’s eye.

            When I learned about middle-child-syndrome, at first I believed that I had fabricated the ways my family treated me. That I had exaggerated it all, that none of the punishments and constraints had ever happened.

            There is a possibility that my memories are distorted, but not to that extrent. I know that I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse. Those things happened.

            Because of my low position in the family, I felt that I had no voice. That nothing I said or thought mattered. This was reinforced by laughter, taunts and even commands to keep my mouth shut.

            And it wasn’t just at home that I felt powerless. My teachers seldom called on me and so when they did, my mouth seized up and no words came out. My classmates laughed each time and my teachers would give me a look of derision. I learned to sit low in my desk and to keep my thoughts to myself.

            It wasn’t until a kind high school math teacher saw something in me that no one else ever had that I began to speak. Anytime someone was needed to solve a challenging problem, I was the one he chose. At first he let me work in quite, but after a while, he insisted that I explain the steps.

            It was hard, but I spoke.

            Because of his support, eventually I began using my voice in my Spanish class. I tried answering questions in my English class when called on, but somehow I never got it right.

            There was an incident in Spanish 4. My teacher criticized my ac cent. I responded in a stream of fluent Spanish that got me kicked out of class for a week. After that he called on me with great regularity. By speaking up I had earned his respect.

            When I went off to college I was beginning to develop a voice. I could speak up in some classes, but not all. I managed to major In Russian without demonstrating a mastery of the language. I loved to show off in math, but then the department chair told me I was wasting my time majoring in math. He left me both speechless and distraught.

            After college I got a job as a customer service rep for a major furniture store. Day after day I had to answer the phone and be polite as irate customers yelled at me. I had a script to follow. Without those written words, I would have been mute.

            My next job was with the federal government. I had to go out in the field and knock on doors, demanding back taxes. I was terrified the entire time I held that job. I found excuses to hang out in the office, but I couldn’t do that every day. As time passed, as I gained experience talking to total strangers, my confidence grew.

            It was still challenging, but I did what I had to do.

            I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was quite small. When I had my first child I had no idea of what to do with him. Our city’s recreation department had an inexpensive parent-child education class that gave me ideas of activities. As a participant, I also had to teach the little kids at least once a week. I enjoyed it! Sitting on the floor with adoring eyes gave me the power to speak, to sing, to dance, to laugh.

            From there I earned my elementary teaching credential. When I stood in front of my third-grade class for the first time, I felt at home. I loved being the one helping them learn. I felt a deep responsibility to take them further than the curriculum asked and that meant helping them to find their voices.

            Helping them helped me as well. We grew together.

            I discovered that I knew things that many of my peers did not. I led workshops and spoke up at trainings. My principal considered me a mentor and I took that role seriously.

            Being a mentor at work gave me the strength to take active roles in my church, in my kids’ activities and even to initiate a summer educational program. With each success, my voice grew louder and stronger.

            I’d like to report that my voice is freely used, that I have no problems speaking up, but that would be a lie. When in a crowd, I tend to sit back and listen. When with strangers I revert to my childhood silent self. But when I am with friends, I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation.

            While my voice is not loud, it does appear in comfortable situations. I am still reserved, but I am no longer afraid of sharing opinions and thoughts. I love hearing what others have to say, but I also want them to know what I have to say.

            I found my voice. And I love that.