Metaphor

Last night a memory crept up on me. It felt a little intrusive since I was trying to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I tried quieting the memory, but, at last, it refused to be ignored.

It came to mind that maybe the memory was trying to tell me something important, so I decided to surrender and give it a fair listen.

The memory was of a night hike that I had taken in the fall while we were away on a school camping trip. The children were busy participating in an evening activity with the camp counselors, so a few teachers decided to meet up for a hike. I grabbed my backpack and prepared myself for an adventure with them.

When I met up with the group at the trailhead, Andrea told me to turn off my flashlight. This puzzled me because it was extremely dark. Thick clouds had invaded the night sky and swallowed any light from the moon and stars. With disbelief, I looked ahead to the trail. When I couldn’t make out the path in the dense forest, I felt unsure that I wanted to hike anymore. But then, I was taken by surprise when Andrea grabbed my hand and guided me into the darkness.

I was relieved that Andrea had sensed my uneasiness and impressed by her courage. She knew enough to know that I simply needed her hand without any questions.

I relied heavily on Andrea to lead the way at first. I walked carefully, hesitant that I might fall and injure myself. I tripped and lost my footing several times, but with Andrea’s support, I was able to regain my balance and continue on.

Halfway through our hike something remarkable happened, I started to see in the dark. I could make out where the path curved up ahead, and I could determine the shadows of the thick winding tree roots below. I felt my confidence slowly emerge, and I began to enjoy the hike. I breathed in the pleasant autumn air and immersed myself in the nighttime sounds of the forest.

An hour or so later, we approached the forest’s opening. The light from beyond signaled the end of our journey. I felt a little sad and like the end had come too quickly.

Andrea released my hand, and my heart filled with gratitude for the comfort she had given me. I knew that I would not forget her kindness.

Writing for me can often feel like a lonely expedition into the unknown. However, with the support of this kind and welcoming writing community, it has felt less like an individual journey. Reading fellow slicers’ work and seeing their courage day after day has made this journey feel like a group effort.

Lastly, I want to give special thanks to all my Andreas out there. You have made my journey possible.

Swimming Lesson

I remember my mom telling me the news in a Ponderosa and salty tears trickling to my plate of turkey and gravy. In those early days of my childhood, people didn’t die. Maybe your fish died or the neighbor’s tired, old dog died, but not people; especially, not people you loved.

But here was my mom, sitting across the table from me, saying otherwise. He had a heart attack she said. It’s when your heart shuts down and stops beating she explained. He had the best kind of heart, though, I thought.

I remember floating face up and staring at the twilight, and how the water felt tucked inside my ears. I remember the sound of water lapping gentle rhythms around my motionless body. I remember his arms cradling me and his instructions. Relax. Fill your belly with a big breath. Hold on to it. And let go.

Guardie, my godfather, had taught many children to swim. He and my godmother, Papa, lived on a lake in West Virginia and for many years they coached the local youth swim team. I remember watching Jeremy, their grandson, swim the butterfly. It was one of the most beautiful and shocking things that I had ever seen. I hadn’t known the body’s capabilities in water.

But, this was a first lesson, and I was not learning to curve my back or flap my arms like a butterfly. I was learning how to float. I took another deep breath and filled my belly with air. I leaned my head gently back into the water. I listened closely for Guardie’s voice and relaxed my body in his arms. Finally, I believed that the water would hold me.

I close this slice with a poem that reminds me of this memory and inspired this piece.

First Lesson by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Dinner

Today I’m thinking about the five people in my life I would like to invite to dinner if I had the chance. In no particular order these are the people I wish to invite to the table…

My Grandmother: I don’t have any real memories of her because she died when I was young. I’m sure that we had dinner together at least once at her home in Ohio. I’m curious about her disposition, and I’m interested in knowing if she’s like my mother. I wonder about her personal stories and also her interests and opinions. I wonder if any part of me is my grandmother.

My brother: Brad made any gathering more enjoyable. He was vibrant, smart, and engaging. His presence would insure that we’d share many laughs at the table. (I hope my grandmother has a good sense of humor). My brother is several years older than me, so it’s hard not to remember him through the adoring eyes of my child-self. I know that my brother had his share of struggles, but, in my mind, he was wise about embracing the spirit of life. He was the kind of person who could find a friend anywhere, even in a crowd full of strangers.

My fifth grade teacher: I haven’t seen Terry since the last day of fifth grade. He didn’t return to teach the following year. Terry was an inspiring teacher and a friend to me. I credit him with sparking my insatiable love for learning, and the main reason I chose a career in education. I’d like to share my teaching experience with him. I’d like him to know that when difficult situations arise in my classroom, I think about how he would’ve handled them, and that the important lessons he taught me in fifth grade, guide me today in my teaching practice.

Papa and Guardie: I simply can’t invite Papa without Guardie or vise versa. My godmother and godfather were a dynamic duo. When their van pulled up in our driveway all the way from West Virginia, I quickly became the happiest kid on the block. Papa would bring her famous pepperoni rolls and gifts from our favorite discount store. And, when Papa wasn’t watching, Guardie would invite me to share in his stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Papa and Guardie loved telling stories and jokes, and their playfulness and generosity were magical. I’ll never forget how I planned to grow up to be just like them.

Name

If I had been born a boy, my name would be Anthony. I’m not particularly fond of the name, but I imagine Tony would’ve suited me fine. I once had a crush on a boy named Tony in high school. His name matched his friendly, brown eyes. He was an artist. Sometimes, when class dismissed, he’d give me his drawings.

I wasn’t born first. Jennifer, my twin sister, was born five minutes earlier. Nicolas was her boy’s name. If I were born first, and a boy, I’d tell people to call me Nico.

My name was Rebecca for the two, short beginning hours of my life. Then, my parents decided they didn’t like the sound of Becky.

Growing up, I sometimes imagined my alternative Rebecca life. Rebecca’s hair was curly, not stick-straight like mine. She had freckles. My favorite and prettiest dolls were named Rebecca, after my first true name.

My childhood name was Debbie. My father, and friends who haven’t seen me for years, still call me Debbie. I liked Debbie well enough. I liked that I didn’t meet too many others with my name. Jennifer had no such luck. I longed to be an original like the boy in my grade school whose name was Yarrow. His father was a botanist.

I was never really teased because of my name. Some of the boys snickered and made harmless jokes when they found Little Debbie snacks in their lunch boxes, but it never bothered me. My biggest struggle was writing my name in cursive. I could never make the D look grand enough. It was always too fat or flat or floppy.

Deborah is my adult name. But, I chose it when I was young and impressionable. Changing my name to Deborah corresponded with leaving my childhood home. After meeting the sophisticated and intellectual Deborah Diamond in my freshman college dorm, I decided to change my name. The new uncertainty and insecurities I was met with at college told me that changing my name would make me confident. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I introduced myself as Deborah, but for a long time, it felt like a fib. Inside, I was still Debbie.

I don’t remember when exactly, but I did grow into my name. Similarly, I have also come to love my name. Sometimes, when I hear my name, I find myself smiling because I think that it sounds beautiful.

Once

Once a broken arm

Once a failed chemistry lab

Once a leap to water

Once a good bye too soon

Once an unexpected love poem

Once a mountain peak

Once a long time to heal

Once a night journey to love

Once an exchange of vows

Once a baby’s arrival

Confession

Saturday evening, I’m sick and in my pajamas. Most of the day, I’ve been curled up on the couch resting, watching you and Gus come and go.

It’s hard to take a time out and to miss all the weekend activity. This afternoon, when you and Gus ventured out in the rain to our favorite cafe, I missed accompanying you. I even missed participating in the ordinary things, like convincing Gus to wear his new rain boots. Which, he stubbornly refused.

Being sick is a lonely task. I appreciate you taking such good care of Gus. But, if I’m honest, I crave some of your attention. I know how hard that is to give because I’ve been on the other end of it. Gus needs a lot of attention and care .

If only I could have my mom here. That would solve a thing or two. She’d bring me chicken soup and ginger ale, if I’m lucky, jello for dessert. She’d tuck me in, rub my head, and keep me company.

Saturday evening, I’m sick and in my pajamas. Gus has had a change of heart and is clomping around in his new rain boots, anticipating tomorrow’s puddles. He tells me we’ll go splashing, but sadly, I imagine, I’ll be stuck here on the couch.

You’re in the bathroom trimming your beard, preparing for an evening out. The school’s annual Gala, it’s been on the calendar for months. I urged you to go without me, but you know how that goes. This silent, lonely part inside of me wishes you would stay here and watch a movie.

You look handsome in your suit. I feel grubby and unattractive in my pajamas. Before you go, I tell you to have fun and to say hi to everyone for me. Also, I want to tell you, please don’t talk to your pretty friend, the one from grad school, not without me there. I know it’s harmless, but I don’t know how to otherwise say that I’m feeling both a little bit vulnerable and jealous.

So, I’ll take my lonely post on the couch.

3

So many things about you say you’re almost three.

Your arms and legs are longer and slimmer. The chubby rings around your wrists and ankles are faded and nearly gone. Your favorite t-shirts are creeping up your belly, and the bottoms of your pants, we’re constantly yanking down.

You’re talking all the time and playfully repeating your daddy’s made-up phrases. I hear you cheerfully chatter with your trucks and cars as you scoot them across the floor.

This morning, when the first Saturday pancakes were ready, you gobbled your usual two. Shorty after you announced, “Mommy and Daddy, my tum pie is not yet full!” and, lickety-split, one after the other, you gobbled another two.

Last night, I watched you dance in the living room. You twirled and shook and sang the Hokey Pokey. You were having so much fun by yourself. Something, I think, you learn to do when you’re almost three.