One of my favorite authors, Dorothy Keddington, said that the way to begin a story is like picking up a puppy. You must grasp it firmly around its middle.
The middle of my story happened in Bedford Hills, New York, when I was twenty-one years old.
New York, or Manhattan more specifically is the city that never sleeps. Between the shopping on fifth avenue, concerts in central park, The museums, Little Italy and The Feast of The San genero I never ran out of things to distract my mind. New York was supposed to leave behind the world of darkness I’d lived in since my father’s death. The broken pieces of who I was were buried beside him. The anger, loss, loneliness, and pain were supposed to be left behind as well.
Imagine my surprise when after nine months in The Big Apple I was only different; not better.
I had friends I went clubbing with, we dated the cadets from West Point, we shopped, saw Reba Macintyre in Time Square, watched The rockettes dance, and saw “Les Miserables” on Broadway. The twin towers still stood. The park was a crime scene waiting to happen after the sun went down, and Arsenio Hall was rich and famous.
I, on the other hand, remained lost in the darkness. I was illuminated by nothing but neon lights. I was lonely in a city of millions. I hated God, I hated myself for hating God, and I couldn’t figure out why life after death didn’t feel like living. It felt like dying by inches.
About two weeks before I came home to visit my family, I talked to my boss, Olivia. She told me I was tired all the time, I wasn’t as dedicated to the kids and she was worried about me.
“Go home for a week or so and recharge,” she told me. “Come back with your love of life.”
That evening after I fed, bathed , and put the kids in bed. I went to my room in the basement to watch television. I was restless that night, not hungry but feeling like I should eat. Bored, but too tired to care about fixing it. I was depressed with nothing to blame for being the culprit. I took a shower and dried my hair before I went to the mirror over my dresser to put my make-up on.
As I stared into the image in the mirror’s eyes, I took a step back. I was staring at a stranger. The eyes weren’t the hazel brown I’d seen other days. The hint of green that usually made them pretty was just a muddy pool. The skin of my face usually smooth with a slight olive tint was only a porcelain mask, the fine cracks of despair distorting the features. I was gone.
You’ve been gone for years. A quiet voice prodded in my head.
I wish it had been my father’s voice, but it wasn’t. My father wouldn’t know this reflected stranger any more than I did. He would not have smiled at me, before wrapping one arm around my shoulders. He would not have said he loved this waxen mold. As tears streamed down my ashen cheeks, I realized I had lost the part of him that lived inside of me. I abandoned his love, his patient perspective, his powerful faith when I died alongside of him all those years before.
I hadn’t buried the broken pieces of me with him. Those shards and splinters were inside of me, filetting my soul.
My father loved me more than anyone in my life ever had. More than I deserved, more than I comprehended, and more than I loved myself. How could I go on when that was gone.
I wish this story had a miraculous moment where I wiped my cheeks clean, straightened my shoulders and decided to be the daughter I was supposed to be. Wouldn’t that be a fairy tale ending?
For another two years I took moments of realization and bound them together with the faith that I would see the girl i'd been before my father died. The stronger my pearls of hope became, the more I wanted to be the girl my father knew I was, even when I was' nt her yet.
Maybe that means I don’t believe in fairy tales. I believe that we are more than we think we are. I believe that the portion of love I drank from my father like a parched plant, is just a tear drop compared to the love God has for me.
After that day with my false façade shattering my heart, I understood one thing. Before you can love anyone with all your heart, mind, might, and strength, you must first practice.
You must first practice loving the most imperfect, flawed, broken, and needy person you know. Its you, by the way.
I don’t know all your secrets, all your sins, all your weaknesses, or all your gifts.
I don’t need to, I know mine. If I can love the tattered piece of mortal that I am,loving you is easy.
Even now, when I look in the mirror. I don’t see anything, at least not in the glass. I still see that girl though. I remember what if felt like to not recognize the hull of that woman. My eyes are not as pretty as they once were, One is made of glass, and one is clouded by cataracts and glaucoma.
My smooth porcelain skin, is scarred, wrinkled, and colored by kidney failure.
I’m not sure the reflection I would see would be recognizable after all these years anyway. Without being able to see the changes happening in my reflection I really don’t know what I look like anymore. However, I don’t worry about it.
In my head I see the night of Jr. Prom the month before my father passed away. He chaperoned the dance as he was a member of Hurricane High’s faculty, and I danced with him.
He’s been gone for almost 25 years now, but just like I still see that reflection from New York. I hold the picture in my heart of my father’s face as he kissed my cheek when are dance was over and told me I was beautiful.
I believed him, and I still believe him.