What I remember most about my childhood is the darkness – the heaviness of it all – the feeling of being alone. The nights spent curled up in the corner of my bed – tucked tight under my favorite blanket with the satin edges – cool to the touch. I would lie in waiting – praying that tonight would be a night he would forget to come in to punish me for sassing my mother or for not combing the fringe on the oriental rugs or for leaving the ice cube tray empty after fetching his drink. I believed that if I prayed, I would hear his footsteps move past my bedroom door. But many nights, I didn’t pray hard enough. The door would open – flooding the room with light for a brief moment – the smell of scotch and cigarettes reaching my nose before he did, and I pressed myself against the wall before he pressed himself against me.
When morning came I would rush into the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, get dressed, pull myself together and rush downstairs to set the table and get ready for our family breakfast.
My favorite fairy tale was Cinderella – and I dreamt of meeting Prince Charming and living ‘Happily Ever After’.
And then it happened…
I was waitressing in a cute little luncheonette on Main Street – making shakes and sliding plates down the long counter – when I received a dozen long stem roses delivered anonymously. Woohooo!! Except I didn’t know who my secret admirer was – YET!
I carefully placed one of the roses in a parfait glass at the cash register up front – and took the rest home to enjoy. My father asked me who the flowers were from. And I found these words rolling off my tongue – “They’re from the man I’m going to marry.” But who was he?
The next day I was back slinging hash and eggs and keeping a close eye on all the single men – looking for a clue from my mystery man.
My shift came and went and no one stepped forward. But there was a shy guy who came in regularly sitting alone at the counter and ordered his usual bacon, egg, cheese and homefries on a hard roll. His name was Steve. He was cute in a rough kind of way – scruffy beard, Pegasus tattoo on his forearm. He always made me laugh. Maybe he was my secret admirer? He gave no indication. The next day came and went – no bites. On the third day, I asked my friend to bring a dozen balloons – anonymously – to the bar Steve worked. My friend was concerned that the roses weren’t from Steve. How can you know? It doesn’t matter – he’s cute.
So a dozen balloons made their way to Binki’s Bar – and as they were being delivered, my Prince Charming said “She figured it out.”
We were inseparable from the get-go – Steve and me – two broken pieces with the perfect fit. We both loved music – he loved the Beatles, the Stones were more my style. He had a fiercely honed funny bone – and I loved to laugh.
We built a new life together – building a new foundation out of the love we held for one another – brick by brick by brick- getting married, creating a family we both wished we had growing up. Putting down roots – we both got jobs that were a little more respectable and created more financial stability. We had our much planned for and eagerly anticipated daughter – Taylor who was the light of both of our eyes. Bought a Cape Cod style house in Steve’s childhood neighborhood. He built a white picket fence around it. We built a fabulous life together – piece by piece – one step at a time.
Oh, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There were challenges – small ones and BIG ones. Steve was diagnosed with Hep C – managed with trips to Yale and then Columbia Presbyterian – there were doctor visits, angry words, withdrawal, medications, betrayals, fears, transplant lists, hopes for the future, huge disappointments dashing our hopes for the future.
Instead of drawing us closer – those challenges found us creating new rooms in this tower we created – this structure of our life. We walled ourselves off – retreating into the silence – retreating into the darkness – pulling back – pulling apart.
And then it happened…
I picked Taylor up at school and we walked in the house together and immediately something didn’t feel right. Where was Steve? Taylor ran downstairs to see if he was at his desk in the basement. I stood looking up the stairs leading to our bedroom calling his name. Looking at all the photos lining the stairway – baby photos, pictures of our wedding, there was a photo of Taylor in the bathtub with a bubblebeard, pictures of Steve helping Taylor on her maiden voyage on a bicycle, a recent photo of the 3 of us lying on the hammock in front of the white picket fence. I ran up the stairs, opened the bedroom door – and there he was lying in bed, not moving, not breathing, lifeless. The next hour or so was a blur – screaming, running downstairs, 911, Paramedics, Police, neighbors, phones ringing, confusion, disbelief, morticians. I remember hearing the zipping of the body bag and watching two men struggling to bring the stretcher down the stairs. Leaving behind in their wake the cracked, shattered, splintered, broken family photo that had fallen to the ground.
There’s a card in the tarot which I consider to the most challenging. The image is of a Tower perched atop a craggy mountain – gray clouds of misfortune hovering over head, lightening strikes and flames burst from the building’s windows. A man and a woman are leaping from the tower head first in desperation. It’s a SHIFT HAPPENS card. It’s a shake up of epic proportions. It’s about being shattered –crumbling – being cracked open. Life will never be the same. And it won’t…
But on the other side of the Tower is The Star…
A woman kneels at the edge of a small pool – naked, vulnerable, open. She has one foot on the ground and the other foot in the water – listening to her inner voice. The stars are shining on her – illuminating the darkness – giving her hope. Perhaps they are not stars in the sky but rather opening where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.
Several years after Steve left this world, I woke up,- lying in the same bed we had shared for over 20 years – watching the sun stream in through the silk curtains, casting little rainbows on the white down comforter that had been my chrysalis. Time has softened my memories of our life together - and time has softened me - smoothed the rough edges – much like a broken piece of bottle emerges from the surf as sea glass. And I have hope - knowing I can write my own happy ending.