Sunday, February 28, 2010

Magical Moment 24, "A Hero"

I played the piano for a children’s choir in Harlem. There were hundreds of kids ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade and although they were energetic and excited for the performance that night, they were a bit under rehearsed. The only person that seemed to bother, however, was the very frazzled choir director. We scrambled through a very last minute run through of the songs and then the children were dispersed for hair and wardrobe checks.

As the choir gathered back to their seats in the 2 reserved front rows, I kept glancing at the back door. My husband was to meet me right after drill that evening (he is in the Army Reserves). Knowing how traffic could be and that he drove his own car all the way through the city rather than using public transportation, I was afraid he might miss the program. In a matter of minutes though, there he was. Walking towards me smiling.

I must be immune to camouflage now. Because while it scarcely registered in my brain that he was still in uniform, the children were enthralled as he passed by them. I wondered just how many New York City children had actually seen a soldier in person. I watched their little heads follow him as he walked to the front of the room and heard whispers of “Look, a soldier!” One kid asked, “Do you know how to shoot a gun?” They pointed, talked, and kept their stares firmly on my husband. I know that he was suddenly aware that he was being watched and admired. He would be on his best behavior that night knowing little eyes were watching his every move. Eddie whispered to me, “You should tell them you’re one too.” I shook my head and said bitter sweetly, “I’m not anymore.”

My mind drifted back to years ago as a high school girl, feeling the same way those children do now. Every time I saw any military person in uniform, I got chills. Whenever I watched a “Go Army” commercial on TV, my heart would race. I used to dream of one day wearing that uniform. I may have idealized it a tad too much, making it an impossible standard to ever meet. In my experience, there are some soldiers who never did feel that pride in their uniform, but then there were some who did. My classmates in ROTC did. And they felt it even more after our friend Kevin was killed in Iraq. There are a few people I worked with at Fort Bragg who felt that pride, taking great care in its’ appearance and striving daily towards all it stands for. My brother felt that pride on each of his 3 deployments. My sister will feel that pride in a few weeks at her graduation. And I still have the pride and the memories that I wore that uniform every day for 4 years. I’ll certainly vouch for any soldier in the country. And I still have a fierce loyalty to the service and a respect for all their sacrifice and difficult way of life.

I realized that I am proud of, but a little disappointed in myself, hoping to accomplish more than what I did in those 4 years. I know in my head that the important thing was raising my hand, willing to go over (on a deployment) and not actually going over. But in my heart, I still feel like maybe I let my country down. Like I let Kevin down.

But these children don’t have any of these thoughts. In their mind, Eddie is a hero. And he is. They’ll talk for the rest of the week about the soldier who came to their school. And one day, many years from now, maybe one will join the service and remember how distinguished and disciplined Eddie was in his uniform and be a slightly better soldier because of it.

When the evening was over and I gathered all my things to leave, a little boy ran up to Eddie with a piece of paper and a pen, “Excuse me sir, can I have your autograph?” Eddie happily obliged and the little boy ran back to his friends as he held up his new prize. They looked at it with awe and jealousy and marveled at Eddie as we left the school in a hero's exit.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Magical Moment 23, "A Childlike Moment"

I woke up to nearly 2 feet of fresh, white snow on the ground and more still falling. It was still early and the snow plows, shovelers, and snow blowers still hadn’t bothered with our small side street, giving priority to main roads and parking lots. I bundled myself up with boots, coat, and hood to take my puppy, Joy, outside for her morning walk. I soon learned that I couldn’t walk far though. With the snow nearly up to my knees and not wanting to soak myself at 7 in the morning, I let Joy off her leash and watched as she enjoyed the deep snow.

She went nuts. Desperately wanting to run through the yard as if it were normal grass, she pushed and jumped with all her might but barely covered any ground at all. She buried her head under the snow and when she popped back out, she curiously stared at me with her big black eyes and ears straight up, face completely covered in snow. Soon she learned how to maneuver. She looked like a fish in a sea of snow, hopping in and out of the water and struggling as if she were moving up stream against the current. Once she hopped right into a snowdrift that was too deep and could not escape. I had to risk wet socks, feet, and pants to go in and rescue her. It was clear that Joy was having too much fun and we weren’t going inside anytime soon.

I noticed how even the thinnest limbs on each tree carried inches of perfectly contoured snow piles. Birds fluttered from branch to branch looking for a dry place to sit, but having little luck. Some branches under the weight of the snow hung low to the ground, nearly breaking off.

The snowflakes falling were the largest I’ve ever seen. So numerous, the air and sky looked completely white. The flakes were formed and clumped together so big, they looked like popcorn falling from the sky. And as they fell in slow motion, I looked up and watched them float down. My eye landed on one snowflake that was headed right towards me and in a moment of mindless instinct, I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue, where it landed perfectly.

Just then, my childlike moment was interrupted by laughter. My neighbor had been watching from behind his screen door, holding a hot cup of coffee. I looked at him, startled and embarrassed but managed a sheepish grin. I soon collected Joy and headed back inside, my neighbor still laughing. Oh well, I thought. At least he got a kick out of it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Magical Moment 22, "A Good Night"

I felt a little out of my element as I traveled through yet another snowstorm to a gig in the city. I responded to the ad about a week ago with a new and fresh perspective, keeping in mind my epiphany moment from a week or so ago (magic moment 16). I responded with a positive attitude as if I were perfectly suited for the job and I felt confident that I could perform well.

Performing was not why I was feeling out of my element however, just being out of my element was! I was to perform for a cocktail party in a Park Avenue penthouse. Now, the fanciest thing I’ve ever been to was my own wedding. And we ate at a place called Lee’s Chicken afterwards (where I used to play the piano in college). Just to give you an idea of the level of my naiveness, I had to google cocktail party and then google cocktail dress. After careful research of how I should dress and act, and carefully selecting a set list of all the staples for a New York City crowd (Billy Joel, Elton John, and Broadway), I got myself ready to go.

The closest thing I had to cocktail attire was a 6 year old black dress that I could only afford in the first place because it was 75% off and I only fit into it because I starved myself for the last 3 days. My sister told me that if I blow dry my hair the opposite way it normally lays and then straighten it, I'll have volume much longer (works like a charm, if you’re curious). I put on eye make up the fancy way - lid, crease, and brow. I wore my leather gloves and best coat, vintage with a fur collar (totally Audrey Hepburn) and I was probably the only person in Jersey to wear those kind of heels in a snowstorm, but if it killed me, I was gonna make it work.

Once again, leaving my house a million hours early because it was rush and hour and a snow storm, I made it to Port Authority where I killed some time with a cup of coffee and a book, and then it was down to the subway – 7 train and then 6 train all the way up town. I walked a few blocks to the building and a sharply dressed, very polite doorman opened the front door. On a side note, I think my husband would make an excellent doorman when he retires and if we’re still living near the city. They're polite, knowledgeable, and always make you feel safe.

When the elevator stopped at the hosts' front door and I stepped into their home, I thought, “Whoa Toto, I don’t think we’re playing at Lee’s Chicken anymore.” The place was beautiful and spacious, like Charlotte's apartment in "Sex and the City." Hallways and rooms went back farther than I could see. The furniture was pristine and the artwork, detailed and carefully selected. The wall colors were a meticulous blend of rose and ivory and the kitchen was large, clean, white, and open.

As the host and I got acquainted, I tried to ooze with grace and intellectual conversation. Be delightful, be confident, be…rich. This may not be the time to mention that I drove a car named Sludge for 3 years (the name explains it all) and another car too pitiful to have a name with no shocks and its’ side mirror dangling from the doors. Also may want to keep on the down low that when my husband and I order pizza, we don’t even use plates.

But the host was charming and made me feel very comfortable as I took my seat behind the baby grand piano that barely took up any space at all in the large room. I was placed right next to the bar where the bartender and I made quick friends on the shared experience of feeling out of our class. While the party guests paid little attention to me at the piano, he clapped after each song I played. Though the guests weren’t rude or anything, I suddenly felt very aware of the separation between us. I was "the hired." It was like nothing I felt before, but it was very apparent that was the case.

As I played a Taylor Swift song, a little girl who lives there pushed her way to the piano to tell me that she “loves that song!” I asked her if she wanted to sing it and she said yes. So I started the song again and the little girl, too young and innocent to know her place, sang every word and note perfectly.

The night went beautifully. Guests were taking my business cards and a few even made eye contact with me and smiled. The only glitch was when a slightly intoxicated older man asked me if I was the mother of one of the 4th graders in his daughter’s class. I only managed a horrified look as I shook my head no and suddenly thought, “Hmm. Botox. Maybe not such a bad idea after all.”

When the night was over, I collected my things, said goodbye to my bartender friend and to the host. As I got in the elevator, I noticed that she had tipped me so generously, I had to go back upstairs to make sure it was intended. I felt stupid when she said of course she intended to and I thanked her again and went on my way.

I said goodnight to the doorman and verified directions back to the subway. I began to smile and took a moment to reflect on all that took place that night. My efforts to work at having a new and better attitude were returned by God allowing me to have a wonderful night. A few steps onto the slushy street and I said out loud, to no one in particular, “That was good.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Magical Moment 21, "In the Rain"

It’s been raining for 3 days now. Not the pretty kind of rain when the sun shines illuminating rays through holes in the dark clouds. Not even the exciting kind of rain when thunder and lightning fill the sky and make you feel all cozy and safe inside your house. Just typical gloomy, gray, muddy, and constant rain.

I put off running necessary errands, hoping the rain would eventually let up but it never did and now I had to drive all over town completing my procrastinated tasks in the rain. First was VA stuff (some left over eye problems from the Army), always a lengthy headache and usually accomplishing very little. And then another government agency interaction; trying to get my 5 month old paycheck for government contracted music I did last year and after five months, still not receiving it. Grocery shopping, the laundry mat (what kind of apartment doesn’t have a washer/dryer hookup?!), first of course I need to go to the ATM for cash and then change it into quarters, and more dog food. I drove my puppy to the vet and her wet muddy feet dirtied my car as she got in and out. My engine light came on for the 4th time in 2 weeks. And $200 for 3 puppy shots? Really?!

Good grief, I thought, Why can’t things be simpler? Why can’t one of the mechanics who’ve looked at my car just fix it? Why does the stupid cat have to meow in my face at 6 o’ clock every morning? Why can’t my hair just naturally grow in Loreal Shade 68? Why can’t it stop raining or snowing for one day so I can get a decent run in? And wonderful, now the school bus in front of me stopped and I’m already late for work tonight. There was no point in trying to speed the rest of the way or pass slow moving cars. I was late.

As I anxiously waited for the child to step off the bus, I noticed a woman with a black umbrella rush out the front door of the house to meet the little boy. She was smiling uncontrollably and calling his name, barely able to control her excitement. The moment the little boy saw her, he ran to meet her the rest of the way. She may have been his mother, just back from a business trip. Maybe she was a close family friend or relative. Whoever she was, she loved the little boy very much, and he was ecstatic to see her. I slowly drove away, glancing in my rear view mirror. They hugged tightly for a long time in the rain and then she put her arm over his shoulder and walked him into the house, shielding them both with the black umbrella.

I guess if you’re willing to look for them, magical moments happen, even in the rain.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Magical Moment 20, "A Builder"

"A Builder" is a song I wrote for my dad a few years ago. If you know me, then you know my dad is a large source of my strength. He built a contracting business from the ground up and I couldn't be more proud of all he's done. I inherited several things from him; my eyes (green with a brown spot in the right one), my view on work ethic, the curse of incessantly stubbing my toes, my passion, my height, my pride causing me to burn an occasional bridge, and a little bit of never knowing when to rest. You can hear the recording of this song at Click on "A Builder" in the right hand box (you may have to scroll up or down) and then click play. I hope you enjoy it.

"A Builder" Words and Music by Elizabeth Grimes Copyright 2009

He gave me a piece of Ireland
I wear it in my eyes.
It’s a treasure I keep within.
He gave me strength to fulfill my dreams
When I’m weary he said, “Try again.”

A dreamer whose dreams always came last
A teacher whose wisdom built from years past
A builder whose work never ceased
And I’m his masterpiece.

A foundation of strength from ashes he built
Through the storms protected me.
And words to live by he preached,
“Do what’s right though no one may see.”

A dreamer whose dreams always came last
A teacher whose wisdom built from years past
A builder whose work never ceased
And I’m his masterpiece.

Years of toil and sweat, who would have guessed
That wouldn’t earn his prize.
After all this time, his greatest success
Was in his daughter’s eyes.

A dreamer whose dreams always came last
A teacher whose wisdom built from years past
A builder whose work never ceased
And I’m his masterpiece.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Magical Moment 19, "My Grandpa's Smile"

Last night, I had a dream. I pulled a bright red, dusty old car into a gravel driveway next to a tiny white house in the middle of miles and miles of long, blowing grass. I got out and looked around. The sun had cast an orange, hazy light on each green blade. Every speck of dust was illuminated as they lazily floated in and out of the streams of sunlight. I started walking down a hill. It was the same hill that my friends and I played on years ago at reccess. We would roll down it and make our secret hide-outs. We played t-ball in that grass on Wednesday nights and ate popsicles. Then, in my dream, I started to run.

When I got to the bottom, Duchess ran up and and jumped on me. She was on a leash, and my grandpa was holding the other end of it. He was wearing his work uniform even though he had been retired for years. It was a blue, button-up collared shirt with matching slacks. The same one he wore when he was an extra in the movie "Terms of Endearment." I was always so proud to tell people that my grandparents were in that movie.

And then he looked at me. My grandpa. His appearance hadn't change in the 16 years I knew him, not even in my dream. Square glasses, hair parted on the side, mustache, and visible graying whiskers. Suddenly, I panicked when I realized I didn't know what color his eyes were. And then he smiled at me. Grandpa didn't have a very big smile because he didn't have teeth. If a stranger saw grandpa smile, they would think it was just a common pleasantry, but I knew his smile meant something special. I knew exactly what he was saying to me, and when I smiled back, he knew exactly what I was saying to him. It was the most meaningful, heartfelt, silent conversation we ever shared. It was a smile that no one else could see but me.

It was the same smile that he gave me just days before he died. Every time I went to visit my grandpa, I hugged and kissed him goodbye before leaving. Every time. But one of the last times, he was too sick and as I leaned over to kiss him, he put his hand up as if to say, "Not this time." My heart broke. I couldn't leave without kissing him, so I smiled and blew him one. That's when he smiled at me and blew a kiss back. No one else in the room saw it. It is still one of the most cherished moments of my life.

In my dream after he smiled at me, I ran up and hugged him. I could feel his whiskers against my face. We hugged for a long time and when I woke up, my cheeks were wet with tears.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Magical Moment 18, "If I Could Choose"

I prefer wide grassland with subtle rolling hills stretched out to the horizon

over the beautiful slopes and cliffs of a mountain.

I would rather hear a melody from the beautiful, clear tone of a piano
than the orchestrated genius of a symphony.

I favor a night in with a rented movie, delivered pizza, and loved ones
over a night out, dressed up in a crowd.

I wish I had the money to see my sisters for a week
more than I want to vacation in the Bahamas.

I would choose my ipod full of treasured music
over a big screen with HBO.

I want to meet my great-grandparents
more than I want to meet a celebrity.

I hope I keep the things of true value a priority in my heart
rather than making it a priority to get valued things.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Magical Moment 17, "Life's a Long Hard Ride"

I strained my brain for something to do on my husband’s birthday. While Franklin, NC is a beautiful town (where he’s attending a 3 month course), it’s not a very busy town. We had done just about everything in the area; dinner, movie, tree aboretum, folk art museum, even karaoke where Eddie sang his favorite of all time hit, “North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton. I sang Patsy Cline and we even went for a Loretta and Conway duet, which I think somehow I ended up singing Conway’s part and Eddie ended up singing Loretta’s.

Anyway. The one thing left to do was horse back riding. We loaded ourselves in the car with our flannel, plaid shirts and worst pair of shoes and drove to the Nantahala National Forest. You may think that a Nebraska girl would be a little more outdoor savvy. I’m not. The last time I was on a horse was probably 20 years ago at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. I made sure our guide gave a very specific lesson of the most basic how to’s – go, stop, and turn. I carefully mounted the horse recalling all his instructions.

Once I was on the horse, I almost felt like I knew what I was doing. And then the horse started to move. By himself. Each step my horse took caused me to rock and bounce in my saddle. He knew the trail well enough that I barely needed to control him, but when I went too long without giving him some direction, he would grow lethargic and start walking me into trees and branches (leaving me with a scratch on the side of my face!). Eventually I got the hang of it and me and Luke (my horse) were like 2 peas in a very bouncy pod.

Because trail rides are least popular during the winter months, Eddie and I (and our guide) had the entire trail to ourselves. We had the freedom to trot and ride next to each other rather than in single file like at youth camp. We walked through streams and brooks and allowed our horse to gulp from the sparkling, clear water.

Although the winter months had caused the abundant trees to go bare and the grassy landscape to go brown, the scenery was still breath taking. We rode on the side of cliffs over looking miles of valleys full of trees, streams, and snow. It really was a beautiful ride.

By the time our trail had come to an end, my muscles began to ache. My daily morning run was no comparison to the beating my leg muscles took riding that horse through the bumpy terrain. And long into the next few days, they suffered the consequences of bouncing up and down and contracting in and out to stay steady in the saddle.

After I said goodbye to Luke and thanked our guide, we got in our car and drove back to city life. I flipped on the radio and Eddie and I smiled at the irony as we listened to the song that played by Randy Travis:

“Don't ever sell your saddle
Never owe another man
Watch where you spit on a windy day
Don't use words you don't understand
Find the Lord before you need Him
And never lose your pride
Don't ever sell your saddle
'Cause life's a long, long ride.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Magical Moment 16, "Revelation in the Smoky's"

I made the trip down to NC to see my husband, feeling a bit dejected. I often write about my success and failures as a struggling musician in New York City, but lately it seems I have experienced more failures than anything else. And while I was happy at the thought of being with my husband for a few days, I had a 14 hour trip to stew about my career, what I would do when I returned, and the ever weighing question on my mind, what if I never get anywhere with this?

After a few days in the Smoky Mountains, I couldn't face the prospect of going back home so soon. I extended my trip and decided to focus on my husband while I was here. I swore off my normal routine of scouring the internet hours at a time looking for jobs and another several hours a day perfecting recordings and practicing. I also wouldn’t miss the day to day journey in and out of the city – the bus ride at rush hour, the dirty, crowded subways, walking for blocks in the freezing cold, or constantly getting lost, confused, and misdirected. All I brought with me was my guitar and notepad, just in case a song idea hit me in the middle of the night. I felt relief and guilt at the same time for leaving these things behind for a week and a half. If I don’t put in the work, how can I expect to get anything out of it?

The other day, I drove to meet my husband for lunch. This small mountain town has few radio stations and I scanned the dial to find one without static interference. The one I found was a Christian talk radio station. I usually prefer music, but I left it because there is something familiar and comforting when I hear a radio sermon. It must be from my childhood when my mother listened to cassette tapes of sermons on road trips.

Only a few seconds had passed when I heard the man say something that got my attention.  He said the words, “unbridled ambition.” And then he gave the definition. I know that I have ambition for myself and I know ambition is a good and healthy thing to possess. But when he gave the definition of unbridled ambition, I soon felt a conviction in my heart. “Unbridled ambition is the willingness to work yourself to death in order to meet the worlds’ standards.”

I thought about my willingness to work myself to death. And not just with music. In the Army I gave every ounce of myself, did about a million things I didn’t want to do, didn’t think I could do, didn’t ever need to do, and probably should never have done, but I thought I had to do those things to meet the standard of officer my superiors expected. I certainly know now that much of what I did was unnecessary. I could have been just as good an officer without working til sun down when it could have waited until the next morning, or putting my body through unnecessary trauma after trauma. I thought, Maybe I am doing the same thing all over again.

Whose standard am I trying to meet anyway? My boss, my evaluator, my commander, the industry, a club owner, an activities or music director? I am striving to please the wrong people. I know this. I was raised in a Christian home. Duh, we do all things for the Glory of God, not man. I have forgotten, blinded by my frantic schedule, hours of work and research trying to find that one magical thing that will get me where I want to be. Who knows if God even wants me to be there because I hardly even bothered to ask.

I constantly worry, even panic over my career. This shouldn’t be my incessant frame of mind if I am pursuing something I love so dearly. And then he said something else, “If worry and anxiety are allowed to grow unchecked, they turn into depression. And if depression is not reversed, it can turn into deep despair.”

Eek. Again my mind went back to my days in the Army when at my lowest point of feeling like all my work had been in vain and all my efforts were useless, I felt the hopeless hold of depression. And how again, I felt the same cycle happening now with music.

After this revelation in the car, I felt an entirely new perspective take place. Priorities, balance, and God’s will should be my focus, not worry, anxiety, and failure. I’m not saying I’m magically fixed and I won’t be sad, frustrated, or stress myself out trying to reach perfection anymore. But at least I’m aware that I’m prone to these things and I know what should be my goal.

I had to take a minute to realize how amazing it was that I was in the car, listening to that station at that exact moment. God knew what I needed to hear and He brought me 762 miles to hear it.

**The preacher was Dr. Charles F. Stanley

Friday, February 19, 2010

Magical Moment 15, "She Loves Me"

Some people in this world just have talent oozing out their ears. Everything they do turns to gold and people can’t get enough of them. I can’t get enough of Dolly Parton. Since I was a little girl, I knew she was special and recognized her voice on the radio. I could probably pick her voice out of an entire choir. Now for those of you, who are quick to judge, take a second to think about all she has accomplished. She’s been in the spotlight for decades, runs her own theme park, plays every instrument under the sun (with 3 inch long nails no less), sings, writes, records, arranges, acts, and can give a live performance that will knock you over.

I don’t think there is anything about Dolly that I don’t admire. I love the fact that when she was a little girl, she saw the town tramp and thought she was the most beautiful woman ever, so when she grew up she imitated that beauty. While some people condemn Dolly for her looks, they don’t consider that most women in the world do the same thing. I happen to think tall, slender brunettes are pretty, so I dye my hair, wear heels, and run 4 miles a day. We all do it to some extent.

I admire that she met her husband on her first trip to Nashville in a laundry mat and has been married to the same man for over 40 years. I love that she wrote the song “Jolene” after she met a beautiful little girl while signing autographs with that name. I love that she wrote the song “9 to 5” using her fingernails as her only instrument and accompaniment. She clacked the acrylic back and forth to keep the beat because it sounded like a typewriter, keeping in theme with the movie. I love that on the set of “Steel Magnolias” when every other person was complaining of the stifling, southern heat and humidity and asked Dolly why she wasn’t complaining as well, she replied, “I’m doing exactly what I’ve wanted to do my entire life. What would I have to complain about?”

As far as I’m concerned, no one compares to Dolly as a songwriter. Patty Loveless said, "No one can touch the hem of Dolly's dress." I’ve learned a lot from her writing: the story telling in “Coat of Many Colors,” and "These Old Bones," the clever word play in, “Shattered Image” and “The Grass is Blue,” the simplistic beauty of the melody “I Will Always Love You,” the honest emotion in “Backwoods Barbie” and “What a Heartache,” and her genuine personality shining through in “Tennessee Mountain Home.” Have I convinced you yet? She’s a genius!

A few months ago, my husband surprised me with front row tickets to her concert on the “Backwoods Barbie” tour. I was beside myself with anticipation. I spent an hour perfecting a poster board sign decorated in paint, glitter, marker, and stickers that read, “I LOVE YOU DOLLY!” I bought a long stem rose for her and attached a letter to it, planning to throw it to her on stage, however security collected it before the show but said they’d make sure Dolly received all her gifts. I waited eagerly in the front row for the show to begin and looked around the enormous auditorium. I was happy that it was so full of people. Dolly deserves to still be selling out shows.

Finally, the stage lights went wild, the music began, and the announcer announced the one, the only…DOLLY PARTON!!!! I screamed with joy as I saw her in person, only a few feet away from me, walk onto the stage. She was just like I always imagined. Beautiful, energetic, and smiling. You know those pathetic people on TV we make fun of who are crying when they see Elvis or Michael Jackson? Yep, that was me. I was so overcome with excitement and disbelief, I shed a few tears.

I couldn’t get enough of the performance. I was on my feet the entire time, mouthing every word along with her. I hoped she would look down at me and read my sign. I wished I had my rose to give to her. And then, in a moment when she looked around the entire auditorium at all her thousands of fans, her gaze landed on me. Our eyes met for a second and then she winked, pointed, and said, “I love you too, honey!”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Magical Moment 14, "Friendiversary"

I sat in a Port Authority Bus Station coffee shop waiting for my bus to arrive. Returning from an audition, I had a half hour to wait for the next bus to take me back to New Jersey. As I sipped my coffee, 2 older ladies took their seat at the table next to me. They were maybe in their 60s, talkative, excited, and very cheerful. I didn’t hear much of their conversation until 2 more ladies joined them and their reunion caused such a joyous spectacle, I couldn’t help but listen.

It was obvious these ladies were close friends and went way back. Two lived in NJ and took the bus in, the other two lived in the city, and today was their first meeting in quite some time. I heard them talk about their families, joke about their wrinkles, and reminisce over shared memories.

Then they pulled from their bags a library of brochures and maps and one lady asked, “So what should we do today?” Another replied, “Maybe we should go to the Met. Or maybe we should go to the Empire State Building. Or maybe we should just go down to Atlantic City and gamble!” That suggestion was met with cheers and laughter. They carefully planned their schedule, making note of each events’ time and location. They even incorporated a lunch break from 12:00-1:30 and called the restaurant to reserve a table. These were some organized friends, serious about having fun together.

Naturally, I thought about my own best friend, Deb. Deb and I have been best friends since 5th grade and are still going strong. We’ve gone from homely, awkward girls in elementary school and junior high to grown-ups with goals and families. But one thing has never changed; whenever we’re together, we have ridiculous amounts of fun. Some people need alcohol to have fun, some need a party full of people to have fun, we just need each other and we have a blast.

Our favorite pastime as roommates in college was watching “America’s Next Top Model” and eating ritz crackers and cheese whiz. Another good time was simply getting in the car and driving down the street while making animal sounds out the window at random strangers. Deb was always good at a goat noise. We went karaoke probably twice a week and country dancing at least once a week. When nobody else wanted to sing or dance, you can bet that Deb and me were up there belting one out or the only 2 people on the floor line dancing (no partner needed to line dance). I’ve never been able to do any of those things since without wishing Deb was with me.

Deb and I are probably closer than a lot of best friends. As grown adults, we shared a bedroom and slept in bunk beds for 2 years. When she and her future husband went on their very first date, guess who tagged along. (We went minnie golfing and Deb and I embarrassed Josh on such a monstrous level, the fact that he wanted to see her again meant he was a keeper.) We’ve been on road trips, we’ve been in each other’s weddings and to each other’s graduations and commissioning, traveled to see each other cheerlead and play soccer, and I even thought about marrying her brother just so we would be related (I decided that might not be the firmest foundation for a marriage, however).

We’ve lived in different states for about 5 years now (wow, just realized how old we are) and I’m amazed at how we’ve been able to stay best friends. I contribute a lot of our success to our friendiversary. Friendiversary is a corny name I made up for our visits to one another. The rules are, it has to be annual at a minimum, and it doesn’t count if one is in town for some other reason (to see family or something). The purpose of the trip has to be to see each other.

Our most recent one was a few months ago when Deb had her second baby. That friendiversary was mainly spent at her home, snowed in, and entertaining her two young children. The one before that was in North Carolina. We spent that one lounging in my pool and being served by Eddie – my built in chef. We’ve already begun planning our next one, maybe this summer in New York City.

Whatever we do, we know that our friendship requires effort from both of us – not only an annual trip, but regular phone calls, texts, and e-mails. And more than anything we want to end up like those ladies I saw at the bus station – still close, still excited to see each other, and still only needing the 2 of us to have a ball. Maybe in 30 years or so, we’ll take another trip for our Friendiversary. Maybe we’ll go to the Met. Maybe we’ll go to the Empire State Building. Or maybe we’ll just go down to Atlantic City and gamble.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magical Moment 13, "My Bum"

Would I be correct in saying that there is a certain sweet, magical satisfaction that comes with being right? Especially between a husband and wife? There is gratifying validation when the confirming moment occurs and one person is right and the other person has to admit defeat! This happened the other day.

You see, my husband was different when he was active duty Army. His hair was never a millimeter longer than allowed. I’m talking, fresh hair cut every Sunday afternoon for seven years. Clean shaven with a sharp blade every morning. Polished, ironed, pressed, creased, and tucked in 24/7.

Well, things have changed in the last few months. He now ventures out into public in t-shirts and jeans taken from a wadded up pile on the floor. His face is overgrown with untamed, thick whiskers. His hair is long, uncombed, un-gelled, and usually unwashed.

As his wife, I generally feel it is my responsibility to see that he is presentable when we go out. I can usually coax him into getting a haircut and shaving – at least for church. And when he picks out a horrendously inappropriate outfit, I can demand that he change. But I can’t always be around to do that. It usually becomes a battle. Eddie claims he doesn’t look that bad and I’m just too picky. Nobody looks or thinks twice about a guy wearing white cotton socks with dress shoes and pants, and a few wrinkles don’t stand out that bad. For the most part, despite my numerous pleas for regular grooming, he has stuck to his disheveled ways.

The other day, he walked into a McDonalds (his eating habits are another story!) in his usual attire – wrinkled t-shirt, old Army camouflage pants, and flip-flops. His hair was a long, wild mess and he hadn’t shaved in days. He noticed an old friend that he went to school with and walked over to say hello. As he got closer, the man looked down, more intensely at his cell phone and turned his body away from Eddie. Eddie called out a hello, but he just put his head farther down in deliberate avoidance. Finally Eddie yelled his name and said, “Hey, we went to school together.” Finally the man looked up and after a moment of thought he finally recognized Eddie. “Sorry man, I thought you were a bum coming to bother me for money.”

Need I say more? He may look like a bum, but he's my bum.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Magical Moment 12, "The Gift of Hank"

One day, several years ago just after my grandpa passed away, my grandma and I were upstairs in his old office sorting through boxes and papers. His absence was still fresh in my mind as I came across pictures and old notes written in his handwriting. The house seemed different without him in it, yet my grandma managed to carry on the warm, welcoming atmosphere for the both of them. I still don’t know how she does it.

“Oh my goodness, Elizabeth,” I heard my grandma say as she pulled out a package from a disheveled pile on the desk. “Look at this.” She held up the object. It was a box set of Hank Williams Sr. CDs. I took the CDs and looked them over, wondering what the significance could be. I looked up and waited for her to explain.

She said that once, a long time ago, her and grandpa saw a commercial on TV advertising the Hank William’s box set. Grandma had mentioned how much she liked his songs. Several days later, the same commercial came on and Grandpa asked her, “Wouldn’t you like to have that?” Grandma had replied, not catching the hint in his voice, “Oh, now wouldn’t that be a silly thing to get me!”

And now upon finding the package, she realized the present had already been purchased, shipped, but never given. Rather tucked away in the office for fear it would not please his sweetheart after all. She told the story with a smile and a little laugh between phrases, I suspected to keep the sadness from showing. But I also suspect those CDs turned out to be a desired and cherished gift after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Magical Moment 11, "The Unlikely Hero of the Ice"

One February day, high up in the Smoky Mountains, a father and his 4 sons pulled their car to the shoulder of the winding, steep road to admire the majestic beauty of a tumbling waterfall on the side of the mountain. The water fell from high above their heads – from where, they could not see. The powerful force plunged down the vertical, brown rock and crashed intensely to the earth. Then calmly but rapidly, the water carried on into a peaceful stream flowing far out into the distance.

Beautiful, wet snowflakes fell softly from the sky, making a blanket of snow on the ground. The brown trees were so numerous and dense, their branches were indiscernible from one tree to another – only defined by a white line of snow that had accumulated enough to graze the upper half of each limb.

The freezing temperature had caused a lavish display of crystal icicles, each one unique in shape and size. At the base of the waterfall, some icicles froze into tiny droplets, building on one another until it formed a giant snow cone bubbling up from the ground. Some froze as they slid down the side of the flat mountain forming a smooth layer of shiny glass over the rock. But the most amazing icicles formed at the very top of the waterfall where the plummeting water had frozen over itself, never making it to the ground, but rather developing into the thickest, longest blocks of ice the 4 boys had ever seen.

Their immediate goal was to knock the colossal mass of ice from its hold and view the would-be spectacle of its inevitable crash and shatter into the rocks below. The 3 older boys formed snowballs and hurled them at the ice with all their strength. Most did not reach the target and the ones that did made no impact on the mighty ice. The father began to throw, wanting to be a hero to his hopeful sons and although he hit the ice several times, it was a useless battle.

The youngest boy watched his older brothers and father compete to knock the ice down. He knew he could never throw as far as them. After several more minutes of earnest attempts, the father finally called it, “Time to go.” He was answered by defiant grumbles and several shouts of, “One more try!” Eventually the 3 older boys followed their dad back to the car.

The youngest boy did not move. He looked back at the car and then looked at the ice. He bent over and scooped up as much snow as he could into his tiny palm. He clenched his fist. “Come on!” His brother called, growing impatient. The little boy said nothing. He knew all eyes were on him. His heart beat faster as he stared at his target and cocked his arm back. He heaved the snowball forward with all his might and let out a fierce battle cry with the release of his weapon. All eyes watched in amazement as the tiny cluster of snow smashed into the dead center of the ice.

It may have been a gust of wind. It may have been the direction of the water flow at that exact second. It may have been a branch falling, unseen by the eyes below. But at that moment when the little boys' snowball hit the ice, the monstrous block broke loose  and fell in what seemed like slow motion. Ice the size and length of 2 cars end to end, plunged down the mountain and exploded into a million pieces when it hit the rock, causing a thunderous thud. The boys watched in stunned silence and then erupted into shouts of cheers and amazement. The little boy held his mouth and eyes wide open as his 3 older brothers hailed him the unlikely hero of the ice. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Magical Moment 10, "The Frog and The Owl Valentine's Day"

The Frog and the Owl Restaurant is a small cafĂ© in Franklin, NC where my husband is attending a Park Ranger Certification course. It is one of the few places to eat in the small, Smoky Mountain town other than a fast food or a pizza place. Located on a cobble stone street in between an ice cream parlor and a thrift store, this is where we ate our Valentine’s dinner.

The quaint restaurant was lovely and warm inside, with candles to light each table and artwork on the walls displaying scenes from the beautiful mountainous region. The menu was a selection of pastas, seafood, and steak with a unique and creative twist to each dish. Our normal dinner conversation usually consists of what Eddie is doing in school or what I have been working on back home, but instead we began reminiscing about past Valentines Days and other milestones we’ve reached as a couple.

He’s told me the story before, but there is nothing like hearing it again – the day we met. We were both in the Army and it was my first day at Fort Bragg as a brand new 2nd Lieutenant. Eddie was a Sergeant. The two realms of officer and enlisted are forbidden to have a relationship outside of work, it’s called fraternization and it’s against regulation. Eddie told me that day I walked into the office and introduced myself (I was his boss), he couldn’t help thinking as he shook my hand, Why can’t enlisted girls ever be that pretty? Eddie’s respectful manner and overall genuineness caused me to think, That is the sort of man I could end up being with.

Several months later, Eddie prepared to go to Special Forces Training for a month, a grueling program that only the most physically and mentally fit soldiers stand a chance at completing. However four days before he was scheduled to leave, a theft in our unit threatened to keep him from attending. The entire unit was “locked down.” This meant absolutely no one could leave the building until someone came forward with the missing equipment. We were held there for days, sleeping on the floor, wearing the same clothes, and generally bored out of our minds. Thankfully, Eddie found a Scrabble game and asked if I wanted to play. We played probably 15 games in 3 days. I don’t think I ever beat him (although I’ve beaten him plenty since!), but we really began to talk and enjoy each other’s company despite the miserable circumstances around us. I was even a little sad when the lock down was lifted because I knew it meant he would be gone for a month.

When we were released, Eddie asked me as his supervisor, if I would drop him off at the training center. We pulled up to the building and Eddie collected his gear and got out. I wished him luck and waited in my car as I watched him walk up the long staircase and go inside the building. I could have drove off sooner, but I waited to see if he would turn around and wave to me one last time. He didn’t. He told me much later though, that he could see me in the reflection of the glass double doors and wanted to turn around, but was afraid of showing his true feelings. That’s when he knew he loved me and hoped that I might one day return his affection.

He told me that month was the most difficult month he’d ever endured. The physical pain pushed him to the limit and dozens of soldiers quit the first day, the first week, and all through the rest of the month even up until the very last event. He thought about how easy it would be to just walk away and quit like so many others, but he couldn’t stand the thought of going back and telling me that he quit. I didn’t tell him until later, but I made a bet with someone who didn’t think Eddie had what it takes to make it through. We bet $20 and a month later, that person paid me when we got the phone call that Sergeant Grimes completed the program.

It was just a few short days after Eddie’s return that he mustered up the courage to tell me that he could no longer ignore his growing feelings for me. And although we both knew what we stood to lose – our careers, promotions, salary, respect from peers – it scarcely seemed like there was even a choice to make. Of course we would be together. We should have been together from the first day we met. The consequences that we did endure were nothing compared to what we have already gained and will continue to gain for the rest of our lives.

At the corner table in the Frog and Owl, we talked freely about how lucky we were. It was not an everyday conversation, but a special one, reserved for only few times a year. I’ve lived our love story and have heard our love story, but I always love to hear it again.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Magical Moment 9, "A Goodbye"

An aged man lay in his hospital bed alone. He listened to the beeps and hums of the machine next to him and the footsteps of nurses and patients as they passed by his room. He concentrated on breathing, coaxing his lungs to move in and out with every passing second. He kept his eyes opened and studied each wall in his small room – the generic art work, the cracks, the cobwebs that no one notices and therefore never cleans. The only view out his window was blue  sky. He knew his time on earth would soon come to an end.

He was alone for a lot of reasons. He spent what could have been the happiest, most enjoyable time in his life, answering the call of his country in Vietnam. When he returned, his interests changed. And because he could no longer connect to the world on a normal level, he spent his years alone, drinking and smoking. He never caused trouble. He never harmed a soul, but the damage to himself was now taking its’ toll.

He lived in the same house for over 30 years, next to a couple that became the closest thing to a caring family he ever knew. Thirty years ago, the couple’s son, daughter-in-law, and 2 young girls came to live there as well. He and the neighbor became like brothers and together they became the unlikely playmates of the 2 little girls. On summer and spring days, he found himself outside entertaining, goofing around, attending tea parties, and discussing the vivid worlds of the girls’ imaginations.

When he, the little girls, and the grandfather were in the yard, neither parent worried about a thing. Although he was not a father or grandfather and had little to no interaction with children before, there was never a worry about the girls’ safety, well being, or boredom. It was a fond memory, for the girls had long ago moved out, grown up, and had their own families. They were most likely much too young re-call those days spent on the porch swing or in the garage-turned-playhouse.

A shadow came into the doorway of his room and he looked up. It was not a nurse or a doctor. It must be a visitor, he thought. He studied the face of the woman as she came closer to him, smiling. He wanted to say hello, but the tubes in his nose and mouth forbade him from speaking a word and even making facial expressions. She sat in the chair next to his bed, still smiling kindly and said hello. He soon recognized her. It was one of the little girls from next door. He could no longer remember her name, but he nodded his head up down to show her he remembered.

She sat with him for several minutes, talking about her family and giving updates on anyone he might remember from decades ago. He nodded along, amazed and grateful for her visit. The blue sky outside his window eventually grew darker and finally she gathered her things to leave. He wished he could thank her for coming by or do something to show his appreciation, knowing this would be the final time he ever saw her again.

Before she left the room, she leaned in close to him and paused for a moment. “You know,” she said softly in his ear, “You were the best baby-sitter we ever had.” He met her gaze. And because eye contact was all he could control, he locked his eyes onto hers as they shared an understood, silent moment of goodbye.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Magical Moment 8, "The Things We Do For Love"

I drove for 2 days in a blizzard to be with my husband for Valentines Day. Not just any blizzard, but the worst one on the East Coast in over a century. With me, I had a very scared, very loud cat and a very squirmy, energetic puppy. I spent the night in a fleabag motel when whiteout conditions would let me go no further. To top it off, my ipod died barely an hour into the journey. (In case you’re wondering, this is why there was no blog yesterday – no internet in the flea bag motel). I began to think about the things we do for love and it reminded me of another road trip in the not so distant past.

Last summer, I made a 24-hour trek from Nebraska to North Carolina with my sister, my dog, and my two nephews ages 3 and 1. In case you’re curious, this involved not only the normal amount four people’s luggage for a month, but dog food, car-seats, diaper bags, strollers, and high-chairs, most of which had to be strapped to the top of my car with bungee cables and old rope found in my parents garage. We set out with our Cheezits, juice, “Bob the Builder” DVD, and a little bit of legroom.

The first half of the trip, we thought it might be a good idea to drive through the night so the boys would sleep. This plan turned out to be a horrible disaster as the boys couldn’t get comfortable in their car-seats enough to sleep soundly and as a result, were up most of the night crying and up all the next day cranky. My sister moved back and forth from the front seat to the back seat trying to appease everyone’s hunger, boredom, and general crabbiness.

Between the 2 hour bottle feedings and potty stops (both animal and human) and listening to the Chipmunks sing the Macarena fifty million times, we made it to the east coast – which brought us a whole new set of issues. A West Virginia State Patrolman pulled us over and screamed at me for several minutes for talking on my cell phone. When I calmly asked him if cell phone usage while driving was illegal in the state of West Virginia, I literally saw his face turn scarlet red and steam shoot out his ears as he yelled, “No it is NOT illegal, but I can still give you a ticket for being difficult!” Well, I didn’t get a “being difficult” ticket and he let me go with only a verbal warning and a boost to his masculine, power hungry ego.

After an accident in Winston-Salem forced us to take an alternate route (which subsequently led to us being hopelessly lost for about 2 hours) and pulled over for a second time, (by a 12 year old officer on his first day at work who said I had poor lane control) we finally made it home. Although it was late that night, we arrived home to an immaculately clean house and prepared hot supper thanks to my husband.

The boys explored the new house with a sense of wonder and excitement that only children possess. All their un-used energy for the past two days was suddenly released as they ran through the new environment, delighted by every new experience. Each room, piece of furniture, and table knick-knack was a new mystery for them to discover.

Ethan found his new thrill when I allowed him to jump on my bed. The excitement was nearly too much for his little body to handle as he struggled to climb the monstrous bed frame and began to vigorously jump, squealing with uncontrolled glee. I watched him, amused as he tried to jump higher and higher, laughing and wired with joy. “I’m so happy, Wisabiff!!!” he yelped with delight, “Ethan’s happy!!!”

At that moment, my heart soared as high as Ethan jumped. I didn’t care about the excruciatingly long trip, or being pulled over, or the smashed cheerios now permanently embedded into my car seats and floor. All I cared about was hugging Ethan as hard as I could. I would have given him a pony, an airplane, or let him jump on my bed until every spring was destroyed if it would make him that happy again. I nearly burst open with love as I said, “I’m happy too, Ethan.” I hope he feels that kind of joy again and again in his life because every moment of his joy will surely bring countless more moments of mine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Magical Moment 7, "The Skyline"

I’ll never forget the first glimpse I caught of the New York City skyline. In the passenger seat of my Hyundai Santa Fe with the backseat filled with boxes, pillows, and a dog, I saw the dark geometric shapes stretch across the horizon as we drove along I-95. I was amazed at how clearly I saw the buildings even though the GPS said we were still 45 minutes away from our destination. Despite the 10 hour car ride, hunger pains, and sleep deprivation, I shot straight up and glued my nose to the window. As we got closer, the true outline of the buildings became clearer. Stacked rows of light shone through the square office windows making the vastness of the structures even more impressive. It was a mountain of buildings, sprinkled with lights. I thought about all the moments we would encounter here – the struggles, the work, the frustration, and the success.

It’s still difficult to describe the level of shock I experienced my first days in the city. For a Nebraska girl whose idea of a traffic jam is ten cars stuck behind a tractor on the road, culture shock might be an understatement. The sheer volume of different routes, highways, interstates, tunnels, and bridges intertwined with each other like spaghetti noodles is a far cry from the one interstate in Nebraska that stretches east to west, as flat and straight as a ruler. My idea of a sky scraper is a really tall church steeple. From growing up in a state where we brag about the fact that Kool-Aid was invented there and it’s where “Terms of Endearment” was filmed, to a place where practically everything was invented here and everything is always filmed here. Think about it – Law and Order, Friends, Miracle on 34th Street, New Years Eve, The Today Show – these places were in my living room on TV all the time and now I live WHERE THAT HAPPENS! Conan O’Brian, Tina Fey, and Sarah Jessica Parker live here, shop here, and walk around freely here. When a Nebraska football player is recognized at the mall back home, that is call for chaos and autographs. It’s a bit of a mind trip.

In true tourist fashion, one of the first things we did was visit the Statue of Liberty. Talk about your magic moments; take a ferry out to Liberty and Ellis Islands. Experience the surrealness as the famous image goes from a dot in the water, to a towering statue in a matter of minutes and the enlarged black and white passport photos displayed on the walls is of the museum is enough to give any person the chills.

As cliché as it may seem, I imagined all those people making the long journey to New York City and how different it would be from the life they were used to. They arrived with their belongings and children, hoping and dreaming that they could make it here. And this is still the place where if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. A place where a restaurant that serves nothing but macaroni and cheese can be enormously successful, yet people with all the talent and intelligence in the world can fall flat. But this is the place where you take that chance.

And in spite of their seasickness and pure exhaustion, they may have shot straight up with adrenaline at their first sight of the New York City skyline. They may have dreamed about all the days that would come – the struggles, the work, the frustration, and the success.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Magical Moment 6, "I Knew You'd Come"

I have the best granny in the world, or so says the homemade, brightly colored, baked clay clumsily glued to a safety pin “broach” I made for her in first grade. Constantly levelheaded, and always sensible, my grandma can be found in the front row of every Christmas play, piano recital, and cheerleading competition, bursting with pride for her grandchildren. Each of her co-workers knows by heart the lives of my sisters and myself. “Oh! You’re Mary’s granddaughter,” they say when she introduces me. “Boy have I heard a lot about you!” She drags every person she can club over the head to one of my boring jazz band concerts or just to listen to me play the piano at Lee’s Restaurant and sip coffee. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to return her love or see her happy. Nothing.

My grandma is the sort of person who could talk endlessly about nothing and all you would have to do to make her think you’re listening is unconsciously grunt or nod your head every so often – it’s one of her most loveable qualities. Never had I seen her flinch with foolish sentimental emotion. Raised by a single mother who spoke little English and no education, and one of 12 children, she has seen her share of difficulties. Things happen, suck it up and deal with it, and “Oh, by the way, do you have a tablespoon of lemon juice? I’m making chicken and forgot to run to the store.”

It was for this reason, I was not at all surprised that on our way to her sister-in-law and best friend’s funeral, she was talking about the banana sale at Russ’s Market. My sister and I were much more involved in smothering our completely inappropriate giggles over the irony as the song “Ashes by Now” began to play on the radio. Poor Great Aunt Louise had been cremated. From the back seat of the car, I half listened to grandma as I watched her gray head bob up and down, and the rise and fall of her hand correlate with the inflections in her voice. From the extra hours she’s been putting in at the office, to a perfectly good chair she found by the dumpster (all it needs is a good scrubbing), somehow, her stream-of-conscience chatter led to a story her priest told at Mass last Sunday. As she told us the story, her voice maintained the same non-stop, up-beat tone as when she told the banana sale story.

The story was of two soldiers in World War II. They were best friends. One soldier risked his life and left the trench to set a trap for the enemy. As the other soldier waited for his return, there was a terrible explosion and he knew his friend had been in the midst of it. Hours passed as he nervously waited in the muddy trench for him to reappear, but he never did. Against the will of his commanding officer, the soldier left the safety of the trench, determined to find and bring back his friend. Not more than a few minutes later, he returned, carrying his friend over his shoulder, eyes moist. He laid him gently on the ground. Dead. “I told you it was useless,” reprimanded his commanding officer.

It was here in the story, I heard something I had never heard before. My grandma paused, tried to go on, but rather whispered gently, “Excuse me.” Her head was still. Her hand went over her mouth. Her eyes dropped to the floor. After several moments of this strange new silence, she went on.
“No,” replied the soldier boldly to his commander. “You see, he wasn’t dead when I found him. When I knelt next to him, he said to me, ‘I knew you’d come.’”

There was more silence as my grandma gained control. Then she explained, “I never went to see her in the hospital.” My sister and I exchanged stunned and confused glances, afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the delicate mood. Grandma proceeded, “When I spoke to her on the phone, she even asked me, why hadn’t I come to see her?” A tender pause. “I knew you’d come,” she repeated softly to herself. “No that’s true friendship.” Her voice was quiet and full of bitter regret. It was in that moment, when I nearly cried of heartbreak for my grandma’s pain, that I wished I were lying in a hospital so that when my grandma came to see me, I could say to her, “I knew you’d come.” Because I know she would.

**This story was published in the Four Cornered Universe Online Literary magazine on March 6, 2010.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Magical Moment 5, "A Little Joy"

I had a best friend for 14 years. Together we traveled the country, went for jogs, lived in 3 different states, and relaxed in the evenings. She was my dog, Duchess. I had her for over half of my life. I remember the happy, playful energy she possessed as a puppy. I remember the dread that I used to feel as she grew older, slower, and more and more tired, knowing the day would inevitably come when she was no longer there to listen to me practice the piano or walk with me to Dunkin Doughnuts to get my morning coffee.

One evening, I arrived home from a gig in the city to see Duchess in our living room slowly rise from her napping position on the floor to greet me at the top of the stairs. Each move as she unfolded her legs, propped herself up, and walked towards me was more deliberate and painful looking than usual. I ached for her and gave her a reassuring pet, then walked to the bedroom to put down my things.

When I came back into the living room, I was struck with terror at the site. Duchess was panting uncontrollably and I will never forget the glazed over look in her black eyes as I desperately tried to comfort her. Immediately, Eddie and I carried her to the car and drove to the nearest animal emergency room. I sat in the back seat with her head in my lap, stroking her narrow face as she struggled for each breath. It was rush hour in New Jersey on Route 17, Translation - backed up traffic for miles. My sense of panic and urgency was uncontrollable as Eddie weaved in and out of lanes making every effort to reach the hospital in time.

We were about 2 minutes from our destination – salvation in my mind – when my hand that was stroking Duchess’s chest and stomach no longer felt a heart beat. Her eyes were closed. She had stopped breathing. She was gone. Our frantic efforts had been in vain and we sat in the animal hospital parking lot grieving for our lost friend.

The next few weeks were difficult and strange. A member of my family no longer lived in my house. I no longer heard her footsteps behind me as I moved from room to room. I no longer walked in the morning to get my coffee because she wasn’t there, needing her morning exercise. I thought I would never get used to her not being with me.

After some more time had passed, my husband surprised me with a new, beautiful, baby Sheltie puppy. I found her hidden in the bathtub, curled up, waiting for me with a big red bow around her neck. I scooped her up with tears in my eyes knowing that I needed her, and she needed me. I named her Joy.
I’ve had Joy for a month and a half now. We have walked every day, traveled, and I even took her on her first jog with me (she doesn’t quite understand the concept yet). Between the potty training, the feedings, and the vet appointments, she has become my constant companion and comfort.

On days like today when I feel a little down and I miss my family, my husband, and my friends, she always makes me smile. When I am alone in my apartment, searching for gigs online, sending out headshots and resumes, and thinking success may never find me, she is there at the end of the day to lay her head in the crook of my arm, trustingly close her eyes, and release a tired sigh of contentment. Sometimes in order to heal, you just need a little Joy.