Friday, December 17, 2010

Jackie Paper Returns

A letter to my father, who will  never read my blog:

My darling Dad,
I will always, always hold dearly the memories you've given me growing up, and especially the thousand songs we've sung together while you played your guitar for me.  I love that we still do this very thing.  When I was a little girl you used to sing Puff the Magic Dragon to me, and I remember you singing the lyrics  but somehow it never occurred to me how very sad the end was.  Perhaps because as a child I still had the wonder of my imagination and the possibility of dragons.  The other day I played this song for Starry and cried for the first time when I heard the ending.

"A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

...His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave."

Once in a while Dad, I like to change an ending.  Great song and I love that you sang it to me, but I can't accept Jackie growing up and not believing in dragons anymore.  Out of countless things you've taught me, the first was to BELIEVE.  I believe in the power and limitless borders of the mind.  And I believe that Jackie Paper does come back and find Puff, and that he never doubted the wonder of his own imagination.

This is in honor of you Dad, and all that you've given me and taught me to believe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tonight I Am Thinking About Christopher

Amidst a half dozen partially finished sculptures, loose blocks of clay and luminous powders in little jars, tonight I am remembering very vividly my tender inspiration behind all of this.  In moments like this despite a large to-do list and bed time slipping beyond me, I do what I am led to do.  I share my heart.  And tonight I share Christopher.

When I was 8 years old, I (along with the world) lost my childhood friend Christopher.  He died unexpectedly in a very sudden and tragic accident.  To read about that experience and my journey into adulthood without him, you can visit this link:  Tonight I am not here to talk about his death and how it impacted me, but his life and the very profound imprint it had on mine.  Last night I fell asleep murmuring to my husband the dozen or so memories that I can recall of Christopher.  It has a stinging effect, that limitation of my adolescent mind and the things it didn't hold onto.   Had I known that was all the time we would be given together, I surely would have collected our moments like carefully netted butterflies and tried to delicately hold onto all of them.

Of my limited list, I remember that we were learning about palindromes in class and Chris thought of the word "Aha".  I never say that word out loud but think it all the time.  It is a private word for me, he gave that to me.  I remember on Valentine's Day he gave me two Valentines and I knew he buried me in his heart.  I recall beating him in the 2nd grade spelling bee.  He spelled "believe" wrong and I didn't know how to spell it either but somehow the letters found their right order.  How ironic and meaningful.  Believe.  And I do, Chris.

I have one saved that is so touching to me that it glows.  We went on a class field trip to Becker Farms and he sat next to me on the bus.  Chris and I had the most chemistry when we argued and teased each other but this day I think God set aside a quietness for me to hold onto.  On this day Chris put his head on my shoulder, and with each bump in the road I thought how uncomfortable it was because of how hard his head felt on my bony shoulder, and I hoped we never reached the farm so it would stay there all afternoon.  It was a moment that defined to me how close we were, because I knew it wasn't comfortable for him either but he left it there to retain that closeness with me.  We were at an age where boys and girls didn't like each other but I felt on that bus ride that we loved each other in the purest way that one child can love another.  Later, he stayed near me in the orchards and I helped him pick his apples because he was so small.  I pulled the branches downward and Christopher reached for them one by one.  That was the exact image that recoiled in me when I learned of the accident and his death.  Christopher, in his smallness, reaching for his apples.  How very, very little my Chris was; the nature of his death so unfair.

Within seconds or minutes of learning he died (time and shock have a deceitful partnership) a second image came to me.  It is the only memory of us that I wish I could burn.  In my mind's eye I see Chris standing in the aisle of the school bus getting ready for his stop.  It was the last day of school before summer vacation, and it would be the day before he died.  Energy radiated from his core, it always did, and his vibrancy coupled with the excitement of the summer he thought was ahead had him over the moon.  Christopher was doing kicks and spins in between the seats.  The last thing I ever heard him say was "I am Rafael!".  The last thing he ever heard me say was "You're too much of a shrimp to ever be a Ninja Turtle".  That was it.  With round eyes that harbored surprise and a shadow of hurt he just looked at me and the bus stopped.  I saw his body sway forward slightly and then upright again from the inertia, and then he turned and got off the bus.

Final words, and at that time I felt clever for saying them.  Tonight I feel as wrecked thinking them as I did the day I learned he died.  In the blissful ignorance of childhood, I did not know the high price of a moment or the cost of my own words.  Each year follows the next and thoughts of my sharp tongue prick the colorful ballooning memories I have of him and let out some of that sweet air.  And when you grasp at air you come up empty handed.  Sometimes I think that is where all my other memories of him wept away to.

A woman wrote to me a few months ago because she was touched by a blog entry I had written about him.  She said that for me to have carried him with me all these years and have spread his legacy so tirelessly was something remarkable to the extent that she wondered whether destiny meant for us to be soul mates.  It was a darling concept except that I always associate that term for partners and lovers and it does not capture the innocence and purity of what Christopher and I had.  He is truly, deeply, my forever friend.

Chris, a thousand times I have gone to bed wishing I could bury those last words in place of you.  There is not even the scent of doubt in my heart that you have not forgiven me, and yet I am so indebted at times I feel I could never climb out of this guilt to reach you.  Tonight I want you to know that sharing your legacy is my gift back to you.  From the very first angel sculpture I made of you, and the hundreds I have made since for others, you have been the round eyes behind my own and the true inspiration for me to follow a path leading me to the joy and sorrow of others.  It is because of you that others have found both comfort and a sense of peace.  You were special to the point of bursting and when I don't have any more words to describe the wonder of you, I mould them with my hands.  God wrapped the most extraordinary being in the package of an 8 year old boy and tonight I want you to see how different my life is because you were and are in it.  Two decades ago we picked apples in an orchard, and I now realize that we truly had no idea the depths of what we were harvesting.  Always I miss you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Almost Mythical

Unresponding love
is a beast of its own species.
Yearned and untouchable
it glows kingly
and grows wings.

If I knew you now
I could find faults to flaw you,
dull your mane to something more mortal
less dreamlike
make you human again.

Time betrayed me
when I surrendered you to it
relying on its restless course
to pave gray over all the colors
you made me feel.

Out of decency you should have
punctured me with hurt
so I would withdraw to some dark place
and let the soft skin scar privately
while I learned not to love you.

Heartsick and eager I beg
the severing of the anchor
vying for freedom's sweet release
the moment you become

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I Sculpt Child Angels

Christopher Brown was really little. In a class of third graders he was teeniest among all of us. He was also the most spirited. I adored him, so we fought constantly. I was a masochist for those bickerings and used to stare at the small gap between his front teeth as his mouth moved around them proving me wrong in little bursts of animation.

This is not a story about childhood love. It is not a story about friendship. Despite the presence of these things, this is pure ache and a lesson that broke my heart to learn. I will not go into sharing the details of what made Christopher a spectacular being wrapped up in the package of an 8 year old boy. I trust you find me credible and will believe this. I also ask that despite the longevity, in Chris' honor you read this.

On the first day of summer in 1990, Christopher was playing baseball with his brother, sister, and babysitter in his back yard and the ball went over the fence into a neighboring construction site. He climbed his swing set onto his father's shed, then jumped from the shed roof over the fence to get the ball. I cannot picture this in my head (either because the logistics are not clear or because my mind is protecting itself from this visual) but when Christopher jumped the fence his hand hit a latch on a crane which released two cement highway dividers. He fell and they fell on top of him. A very cherished 8 year old lost his life that day.

There was no closure. My mother felt that attending the services would be too traumatic and kept me from saying goodbye in person. I understand, but still. I agonized for years about this, even into young adulthood. So many blanks I could not fill in. I did not know where he was interned, when his birthday was. The specific day he died. Every milestone I had, I wished for him. On first days of school I would find his seat in class and then mentally spite the child who sat there. On last days of school I would be sick at the excitement around me. I'd imagine Chris's thoughts as the final bell rang and he dreamt of ponds and trails and popcorn at the drive-in, not knowing he would die by next nightfall. For years I just carried him with me. The night before my high school graduation I dreamed of him approaching through the crowd, as grown as I, and hugging me. In tears I type this.

In my second year of college I became desperate, not for closure, but for closeness to Chris and wanted so badly to connect with his family. With such a common last name they felt impossible to find. All I could do was speak of him often and hope someone connected. One day this exact thing happened, and by fate a woman scrawled an address on scrap paper and sent me away with it. I finally had a portal to his family and despite years of longing for contact, I had no idea how I could begin to express my heart to them. 

Honestly I do not recall the specific details of the sentiment that I poured into 7 handwritten pages, but my message was strong and clear. I missed Christopher, I loved him still, and I REMEMBERED. Always I remembered him. The letter I received back I held with trembling hands, but never could I have been prepared for what Christopher's mother would share with me.

She spoke of the myriad of emotions that my letter brought forth, and I expected that would be the case. She broke me down entirely when she went on to write that receiving my letter was a true miracle that had breathed new life into their son.  She shared that tragically, the loss of Christopher was so painful for others that he became rarely spoken of.

To hear that Christopher not only lost his life but also his legacy was the greatest shame imaginable. My small but bursting childhood friend had become lost to the world. Was truly buried. I cried for days. She later wrote that the greatest gift I had given them was sharing his memory with other people and allowing him to live on in this way.. Mary and I stay in touch and I am smiling this moment over the profound friendship I found in Christopher's mother.

I visit his grave when I am happy and seek to share that with him. I go there when I am hurt so I can have solitude but not be alone. My husband and I picnic with our young daughters there and they like the bells that softly chime in the fir overhanging his grave site. He is truly my forever friend, and my gift to him is ensuring that despite his life being stifled, his legacy never will be. Now you know Christopher. He was small, mighty, and magnificent. I would be beyond humbled should anyone repost his story as daily I fear that in his 8 short-lived and bittersweet years of childhood, not enough people had the chance to know his name.

This was a gift I could not stop giving to Chris and his family, and with it I achieved the opposite of closure. It burst open a door for me and truly inspired fire in my heart, because it was then that I saw a very clear window into the lives of bereaved parents. One of the things that stood out profoundly to me was need. The need for their children to be acknowledged, celebrated, spoken about. The need to know others remember. The need for a LEGACY.

Sculpting the ever-present bond between parents and children who touch the stars too soon is truly my heart's work and daily I startle at the extreme honor of being so blessed to be able to do this. My goal was to create something for parents to display for others which would then evoke conversation. I really wanted to be able to create some tangible way for parents to show others that it is okay to talk about their children and for my sculptures to be a “starting place”.  In my heart of hearts I pray that people see these pieces and realize that despite the overwhelming pain in losing a child, there is healing for parents to simply know people remember.

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