Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley
I am a blip on the screen in the only place I could ever say I came from, not a hometown girl. We lived there six years. A little space in the grand scheme of things, but the time it takes to go from age 12 to 18 is a whole lot longer than that.
At graduation, I was all about leaving. (I didn’t know how the place where you say goodbye to childhood sticks to you.) The town was an ailing general store and a post office, a railroad track down the middle, and ten or so houses, maybe fifteen. A mile up the road was a church. The school bus was an education in chewing tobacco, sibling beatings, pregnancy, and girl fights.
I don’t belong here, I used to tell myself. Yet if I wanted some place to claim me now, it’s the only place that even might.
In grade ten, we had a writing class led by an eccentric teacher in her sixties, a writer herself. Outside of music, it was the only creative water I was offered to drink during those years. The rest I had to find myself.
In the fall I reconnected with an old friend. I lived in the preacher’s house at the top of the hill twenty-five years ago. She lived closer to the general store. We rode the same bus and took some of the same classes. We sang together in choir, but otherwise, we had different circles of friends. We were friendly acquaintances with a similar appreciation for humor.
We both hurt, but we never talked about it. I cried myself to sleep at the top of the hill, too self absorbed to note the torrents and rivers of tears washing from her soul down at the bottom. We are talking now as we didn’t then. I am a writer. She is a painter, a photographer, and who knows what else. I’m not convinced she’s finished becoming all that she is.
The name of her site is a good enough introduction to her humor. If want to see art that is beautiful, thought provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, check out Wigglebutt Studios on Facebook. I recommend it whether or not you’re an art person, and especially if you are.
How we two came from the barren soil of that place, I have no idea, but we did. Maybe seeds from tiny town aren’t so unlikely. Maybe they’re lucky. I’m from the same place as Missy Friedl-Shipley, for heaven’s sake.
Girl one loves things that sparkle or shine. She started asking to have her ears pierced before she was in school. I said no, pierced ears were for teenagers. How much longer until I’m a teenager, she wanted to know. When she was seven, we offered to let her pierce her ears for her birthday. Disbelief. Belief. Leaping. Wild celebration.
It was my idea but I was sick to my stomach. Ashamed that I was failing to hold onto to the standards set by the God fearing, tradition loving pioneers. For all I knew, we would soon be watching soap operas and drinking beer for breakfast.
At the jewelry store, I watched the woman pick up the piercer gun and waited for the lightening I deserved to strike me. A few seconds later, Girl one hopped off the chair beaming, a new spring in her step.
Mirror time had always been popular. Now it was a frequent necessity. I rolled my eyes at the silliness of it all. And I began to look forward to twice daily ear care. Me carefully cleaning around the new holes. Her mouth full of wiggly teeth grinning at the site of her ears in the mirror in front of her.
The sparkle of ear rings has been a happy part of the last year and a half. Christmas Eve, with much advance shouting from her siblings, Girl one appeared. She said nothing, her eyes filled with tears begging me to fix it. An ear ring dangled by no more than a string of skin from her ear, the blood long dried. Instead of a hole, there was an already healing rip to the outside of her ear. No one knew when it happened.
I cleaned the ear and held her. She sobbed until she was gasping for breath. When she could finally speak, she wanted to stay home forever. Cancel all Christmas celebrations. Never go to school again. It kept my own tears in check trying to focus enough to gently redirect the passions of my little mad woman. I don’t know how long I held her, or how many times I kissed that head of hers.
My feet felt heavy when I took a step. I wanted a good cry myself for letting this happen. For failing her so greatly in something that mattered to her so much. Christmas Eve afternoon does not afford time for personal meltdown. I told myself that I didn’t live in Syria. That my child was disappointed and embarrassed, not hungry or dying. We still had more than enough reasons to celebrate.
Girl one’s ear is rather tribal now. I have promised to have it pierced again. Just above the small sliver of air that softly divides her ear lobe into two sections. There will be no ear rings worn outside in cold weather with hats, but I didn’t worry about the lightening when I promised. I’m content to have fallen in love with the mystery that is my daughter.
After two weeks of searching high and low, and following even the faintest of leads, a man is on his way with a trailer to pick up Shorty. Although I have been praying madly, beseeching, growling, and otherwise making a nuisance of myself at the gates of Heaven, I now feel like crying. The horse I thought might want to kill me now looks innocent and misunderstood. I am reminding myself that this is how he looked right before I let him out last week and he turned into Happy Days, Fonzie/Get away from my woman, in 3 seconds flat. But I feel sad anyway and my thank yous that he is going are softer and less festive than I had imagined.
This is what having children has done to me. They have squirmed in when I wasn’t looking and set about enlarging the chambers of this grinch’s heart. The living ones are obvious enough. Having been away last week, the hugs to prove how much I was missed have almost cracked bones (mine, not theirs). It’s the lost ones that teach me more quietly. Maybe because they can’t talk. Years I have prayed for the gift of tears on the outside. Some sort of acknowledgement that the tears on the inside are real too. I wouldn’t have known that lost babies who never saw the light of day would hold those keys. That they would know how to sit it out inside the depths of me, kneading with tiny fingers at the hardness of my heart until it softened.
So that is me now. All those years of lip biting and tough talk and I am ready to cry at the departure of a danger to hearth and home. Albeit hiding in the innards of a cute little 300 pounds of small horse. I am a shadow of my former strength. A whisper only now of togetherness.
Still wouldn’t trade those tiny fingers. For anything.