Tuesday, March 23, 2010

B-Ball Goal

So, recently Craig and I have been talking a lot about wanting to do something better with our time.  We aren't in a position to give much money, but we do have time to offer.  Several ladies at our church run the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Memphis.  If you don't know about Dorothy Day, this link explains her story and the reason the house is named after her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Day.  The House is a transitional home for homeless families.  It's the only shelter in Memphis that will take couples.  It's also apparently one of few, if not the only shelter, that will take teenaged boys. I think that's unbelievable and irresponsible of other shelters, but I'll leave that alone.  They allow families to live there until they can get jobs and get on their feet again.  It's a wonderful home.  It doesn't have a lot of the things that I would foolishly consider necessities, but it's warm and safe and comfortable.  We're cooking for a family that lives there now.  We thought that we would be helping out, but after spending some time with them, it might be us that gets the best part of the deal.  The three kids are hilarious and the Mom is an incredibly smart, driven, and spiritual woman who has done an inspiring job of raising her kids in spite of some tough circumstances.  This past weekend Craig and his friend Daniel put up a basketball goal for the kids at the house.  The concrete had to wait until today to set, so we went over there for the guys to put up the backboard and hoop.  They were so excited.  The boys immediately went out and started playing.  One of them was checking the weather over the weekend to make sure they'd be able to get it done.  Unfortunately for his tutor, the goal was being finished during one of the boy's lessons.  I mean, there's only so much a kid can do when they're excited!  Well, a kid and maybe me.

The kids with Craig and Daniel.

Don't be fooled by the face on the right. He was thrilled. He's fifteen, though. You'd be too cool, too.

Their Mom is so funny.  She said she was gonna dunk on all of them.  I wouldn't doubt her.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Letter to My Dad Ten Years Later

I was sixteen when you died.  Sixteen.  A fragile and fractured age, not well equipped for tragedy.  I was mad at you at the time.  That's the particularly cruel thing about losing a parent when you're a teenager; there's a good likelihood that you were mad about something that you would've gone on to quickly forget.  When you died, though, the sum of that day and time deposited itself into a time capsule such that I'll never forget what would've been an otherwise normal day.  I was so enmeshed with both you and mom as an only child, and with you two being divorced, that I never quite figured out where I ended and you all began.  With me and you, though, that separation was all the more fluid.  We looked out onto the world with similar eyes.  Partners.  We never had the 'you and me against the world' experience that galvanized me and Mom, but we knew without saying that we were cut from the same cloth.  Each with a skin that bruised easily and a desire to look as far within as we could see out. 

I was sixteen then and I'll be twenty-six next week.  You weren't there for my first broken heart, you weren't there for my graduation from high school, college, or law school.  You didn't walk me down the aisle.  None of my friends have ever met you. You don't know my husband and you'll never know my children.  I guess what makes me the most sad is that after my high school graduation, I stopped feeling your absense so acutely.  It seemed more like an incredible, abstract idea that you could've been there to begin with.   In all honesty, I can't imagine what it would feel like to say "Dad" to a living person and it not be a story about you or in reference to someone else.  Sometimes I say it in my head just to imagine what it would be like to call you on the phone.  What would I say? The space that you left was never filled, but my life has grown around it. 

Card from some old birthday flowers.

It's been ten years and no matter how hard I've tried, I've forgotten some things.  I have a lot of guilt about that because I know that there aren't a whole lot of people walking around with memories of you.  I wanted to be the bearer of all of those things.  You were a kind, smart, funny, deep feeling and thinking person and I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that those who love me and didn't know you, know that. 

For all of the things that I've forgotten, there are some things that I'll never forget. I can see the callouses on your fingertips from guitar strings and the way you raised your eyebrow when you sang.  I remember how you let me eat salted watermelon until I threw up every summer.  I remeber being a little bitty girl and you would hold me tight to your chest and rock me in the pool when I was learning to swim and would get water in my nose.  I remember all of your stories, fiction and non-fiction, even though you sold them all as true.  I remember when someone would tell me I was pretty you would always lean down and say, "That's true, but boo boo, pretty doesn't matter."  I remember that you made me mix tapes with Cat Stevens songs and I thought, like Superman, that he was really you because you looked like him.  I remember the time that I drove your car with my learner's permit and you were so proud.  I remember our walks in the woods when I was a teenager, how we'd talk for hours.  You'd tell me about growing up and what to expect.  A lot of the lessons you taught me were over my head at the time, but became my conscience and guidepost as I got older and didn't have you.  I remember how proud you were of me for being smart.  You taught me that I should never put stock in transient things.  Thank you for teaching me to seek an interesting and challenging life.  I remember the smell of your aftershave and the way you would toss me in the air when Alabama scored a touchdown.  I remember you putting your giant '70s ear phones on my head and letting me listen to records on the floor, but mostly I remember having to lay down because they weighed as much as me.  I remember how sad you looked when it was time for me to go home on Sunday.  I remember the sound of your car coming around the corner to pick me up on Friday.  I remember how you never could quite figure out how to fix my hair.  Bread ties don't make good ponytail holders, but I didn't mind.  I remember when you converted the walk-in closet in your apartment into a play room for me with pictures hung and all my toys.  As an adult, that gets me every time. I remember beaming with pride when you chaperoned my preschool trip to the zoo.  I remember giggling until I was dizzy.

The thing that I try to remember the most is what it felt like to be a father's daughter, his little girl.  That one slips away from me the most and is the hardest to remember.  That's the most precious.  If I'm not vigilant, a characature will take its place.  The version of you that's the result of my own telling and retelling and retelling of stories.  The you that's placed on the highest of pedestals.  None of those things are false, but they are definitely empty.  The you that smiled with the same smile as me and knew my thoughts better than I do, the one who loved me to my core, the you that I idolized from birth--that's the one I want to protect in my memory.

I hope that you would be as proud of me today as you were when you were here.  You're a frequent contributor on the playlist that is the voice in my head and my conscience.  I have married a man that is wonderfully (and frighteningly) like you.  He thinks that my quirks and my wit are my best qualities and he always pushes me to be better.  He is gentle and kind.  He never talks to hear is own voice and he would do anything for me.  Like you, he's leary of people he doesn't know, but feircely loyal and protective of the people he loves. His hands look like yours.  He loves me for all the things that I have been since I was a little girl.  I know you would love him too.  His football preferences leave something to be desired, but what I can do? 

I know you weren't a religious man, per se, but I hope that you have found the peace you so very much deserved.  Know that I'm happy, and that when I'm not, I'm working on it.  I think that's where I would have made you the most proud.  It might always make me a little sad to see a bride dance with her father. When I hear Melissa by the Allman Brothers, I'll always hear you sing.  I might never conquer my fiery indignation and I'll probably always be a bit of a softy, but all in all I'm a pretty happy girl. This letter could never convey what is and what's lost, but I know that even when my words fail me and my meaning is part image and part emotion, you would still know me, even in the dark.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The expression of "growing up too fast" never really applied to me.  Some people talk of kids who want to be older, to emulate others a few grades ahead.  I was not one of those.  My mom always said that I was born forty.  That, and my proportions bordered on the ridiculous.  The first was a product of usually being the only kid around group of adults and having a pretty serious temperament at the time.  The second--well, that couldn't be helped.  Trust me.  I sent up many a twelve year old's prayer to just slow down the development.  There was a rumor in the sixth grade that I stuffed my bra and I so wanted it to be true.  Other than those things, though, I was never in any hurry to grow up.

I was always fairly reflective, particularly at time markers like birthdays, first days of school. Getting a new license, even.  I looked at the picture that was about to be outdated and thought, if you only knew what the next few years will bring.  I thought of the impossible hurdles that the me in the picture was facing and how small they look reflected back in time.  Like anyone, I was always excited about turning 10, 13, 24, but I was also sad that the age I was had come to an end.  I have a vivid memory of the last day of eigth grade, riding the bus home.  The sun was so bright and hot that the plastic on my seat was almost too hot to sit on.  I sat on my algebra book instead, which was about as much use as it ever got.  A hot seat wouldn't normally have been a problem, but I always wore shorts that were just this side of a dress code infraction on the last day of school since no one would notice.  We had a convenient finger tip rule.  Being 5'2'' and not having ape arms, I was able to slide by on the last day, proudly displaying my fingertips a solid 3 to 4 inches above my knee.  Jezebel--I know. Anyway, I remember thinking that it was a big moment.  I was excited about starting high school, but I understood what I was leaving. I knew it the way someone much older than I was knows.  I knew that I would never play again like I had.  I knew that there would be new pressures and that I would handle them, but that some part of me would be left behind on the swingset. I was thrilled to drive, but I'd never again stare out at the stars while being driven home from a dance and think that I was the first to ever feel what I did.

I know this sounds like a lot of meloncholy for a child, and that may be true, but I'm so grateful for it. That has made all the difference.  I definitely experienced the bittersweet before I had the words to describe it, but I also had the incredible blessing of consciousness about the pace of it all at a young age-a sense that it would end and that one day I would have to squint to make the past out clearly.  I tried to freeze the place in my memory so that it wouldn't get lost.  I hoped that later I could thaw it out and bring it back to life, if only in my mind.  The incredible thing is that it's not lost, at least a lot of it.  I remember so, so much of my life that sometimes it feels more like a loop than a chronological line. It's not just recreations from photo albums and stories, but I recall what it felt like to be me at eight.  In some ways, it feels a lot like this.  I know that person looking back at me from my kindergarten picture, even if I can't remember all the details.  Sometimes I think that it's a gift I was given so I can always carry my memories of my dad around in my pocket.  He's been gone almost ten years, but I've never forgotten the sound of my name when he would pick me up for a weekend or the way it felt to float on my back while he held me up in the pool. 

I was always a little scared of change and terrified of the day when crawling into my mom's bed wouldn't give the world a night light's glow.  In the end, all the changes in the world have happened anyway.  It turns out, I like being an adult as much as liked being a kid, and I did like being a kid.  I think that's the point.  If we don't pay attention to how short each phase of our life is, we'll only enjoy it in nostalgia and not in the present.  With the bitter comes the very sweet.  Today I was thinking, in thirty years from now I know I'll look back on this as a sweet time in my life when my marriage was new and we lived on lunchmeat and dreams.  I'll smile when I think about how young our parents were and how I thought my shoes were timeless.  I'll think about the luxury of sleeping late and not having to worry about anyone but ourselves.  I'll see everything that I am now through the lens of all the things that are about to happen to me.  I'll want to comfort my current self and say, enjoy it, it's a lovely time.  If the unexamined life is not worth living, then I hope that the overly examined one will prove rich and rewarding.