While looking for the headstones of deceased family members (of my husband and son) in Adams County, Pennsylvania, I found other headstones that moved me. I’ll let them tell their own stories:
I think that parents’ intentions are good when they tell their children stories of fallen women and men. “You don’t want to end up like XXX. Study hard, ignore boys, and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t know that it always works. As a young girl, I would immediately feel interested in the “fallen” woman’s life I’d been warned against. And attracted. The reason behind my interest was the knowledge that the fallen woman had taken another track – one strongly advised against. Cautionary tales fail because children like alternate tracks. They like “What If” stories. They like doing what is unexpected and unaccepted.
What parents fail to realize, though, is that they do a disservice to the protagonists of their cautionary tales.
We (because all of us – at some time or another – have been the protagonists of cautionary tales) are not the sum of our bad times.
We all have bad days, bad months, and even bad years. We are not defined by those, though. We should also be wary of being good cautionary tales. We might have the great job, great boyfriend, and a much admired family life. Still, bad things can happy to us; stuff so bad that it derails everything we are a part of. What might a careful student or admirer of our life postulate then?
In the future, I will be one to correct others when they use people as cautionary tales, as I have been the subject of cautionary tales.
The age of fourteen was a rough one for me. My behavior and my words got me kicked out of not one, but two houses. The age of seventeen was a good one; I surprised everyone when my tiny self joined the Navy and made it through boot camp. The age of nineteen found me with a bad, bad, bad man. I did bad things because of him. In summation, those experiences shored me up. They afforded me the strength to get me through a horrible, horrible hardship.
Perhaps you are finding yourself in a bad time. Perhaps you feel as if you are being measured against others, and you are falling short. Perhaps you feel as if you are being held up as a role model for others to see, and perhaps that is weighing you down.
Know that I won’t use you as a cautionary tale. You are not defined by a bad day, bad month, or a bad year. You are on a journey. It isn’t over.
Here I am, tired. You’ve come to me and left me…weak. Scattered. Buzzed and over-sugared.
Today was my day to have sugar and beer. It was supposed to be a day of re-balancing. After my four day break and reconsumption of beer and processed sugar, I am feeling a bit lethargic. Buzzed. I don’t like this.
Crap. It didn’t used to be like this. But it is now. In order for the scale to say what I want it to say, I have to cut back on cookies and booze. I’d hoped it wouldn’t have to be this way. But here we are.
From here on out, I will only consume processed sugar and beer twice a week. Sigh.
Again, I’d hoped it wouldn’t be this way.
Sometimes, we must give away the things that own us. Sometimes we take them back, though. I am going to take these guys back sometime, but need some distance.
I need to get my power back. Taking a break from these things will help with that.
Because I am getting older. My battlefield shows age. Sure, my mind and experiences make me better equipped to face my adversaries, but my terrain is different.
Let me tell you, this older body loves to hang onto sugar. It sucks.
Yes, folks. I am talking about sugar and beer. I am giving them up for a few days. My stomach craves them. However, after only two days, the scale is already showing the difference. I kind of resent that.
What does this mean from here on out? Will I stop drinking beer? Will I stop eating things with sugar in them? I hope not.
To be continued…
The upper left hand picture features Cindy 1997. The picture on the right features Cindy 2016. Here’s what their conversation would sound like:
Cindy 1997: “What is up with your hair? Did the Dorothy Hamill bowl cut come back?”
Cindy 2016: “Hey. I am growing out a pixie cut. That’s right. A pixie cut. Brave, right?”
Cindy 1997: “Pffft. That doesn’t impress me. I am two years after finishing Navy Boot Camp. My hair sucked back then.”
Cindy 2016: “You’re right. It did.”
Cindy 1997: “Why is your skin so pale? Aren’t you getting out in the sun?”
Cindy 2016: “Do you know how old I am?”
Cindy 1997: “Well, I’m no college grad, but I think that I can subtract 2016 from 1976.”
Cindy 2016. “Ha. I’m a college grad. Anyway, it isn’t easy to hang onto younger looking skin. It takes sunblock and staying out of the sun. I’ll have you know that folks are usually off by my age by like…13 years. So, eff you.”
Cindy 1997: “Fair enough. Thanks for the maintenance.”
Cindy 2016: “You are welcome.”
Cindy 1997: “Are you still driving boats?
Cindy 2016: “Sadly, no. I develop bad motion sickness.”
Cindy 1997: “What do you do now?”
Cindy 2016: “Spoilers. I can’t tell. Can’t get you deviating from your course.”
Cindy 1997: “Navy pun. Well done.”
Cindy 2016: “I still love puns.”
Cindy 1997: “How could you not? So…you go to college? How’d you like that?”
Cindy 2016: “I loved it. I didn’t get the degree I wanted to, but got a marketable one instead.”
Cindy 1997: “Any warnings for me? Anyone I should look out for?”
Cindy 2016: “I wish I could warn you, but I cannot. I can tell you that you’ve already dated – and broken up with – the jerk which you will measure all future jerks against. It was a very painful, but crucial lesson.”
Cindy 1997: “That’s good to know. That was a rough time for me.”
Cindy 2016: “I know. I haven’t forgotten.”
Cindy 1997: “Anything else you can tell me?”
Cindy 2016: “Yes. I miss that jacket. It was pretty cool.”
Cindy 1997: “Damn IT. What happens to it??!!”
Cindy 2016: “Sorry. Can’t tell. Spoilers.”
Cindy 1997: “What is this “spoilers” stuff you keep referring to?”
Cindy 2016: “It means that you don’t want to ruin a movie, a story, or a future for someone who has not yet experienced it.”
Cindy 1997: “Oh. I understand.”
Cindy 2016: “You’ve always been good with rolling with the punches.”
Cindy 1997: “Thanks. Also, SUPER cool shoes. Where’d you get them?”
Cindy 2016: “Ebay.”
Cindy 1997: “I haven’t heard of that store. Can I find that in the mall?”
Cindy 2016: “Absolutely.”
Cindy 1997: “Any parting words for me?”
Cindy 2016: “Yes. Enjoy the people. Enjoy the times. Enjoy the music.”
Cindy 1997: “What happens to the music?”
Cindy 2016: Sigh. “Nineties music is as good as it gets.”
Cindy 1997: “Okay. I’ll hit up Sam Goody to pick up some more tunes.”
Cindy 2016: “You do that. I look forward to the memory.”
The introvert in me woke up long ago. I now love talking to strangers. I love learning their stories.
It wasn’t always the case, though. I used to be super shy. In certain situations, I still am. I don’t want to get to know my neighbors. They already see too much of me and I of them.
But strangers? Gosh, yes. I want to learn more of them. I want to grab the presented opportunity of an exchange with a stranger and ensure that I take it for all it is worth.
I am not good enough at math to present some sort of equation that would demonstrate how random and rare it is when our paths cross with those of people who form no part of our lives. But if I was that talented at math, I’d put it right here:
Me (meeting you) (at this place) (at this time) = ∞ rare
Yesterday afternoon found me at a hospital.
Such interesting characters to be found there. I enjoyed speaking to the nurses who spent time checking my vitals and administering exams that would ultimately show that my pain was the result of a phantom organ that would not be identified. (That’s my own diagnosis, by the way).
Two curtained walls away from me spoke a woman who had to drive herself to the hospital. She lived alone.
I wondered if she was lonely. I wondered if she missed having someone to talk to. I wondered if that visit to the ER was one that would make her feel better in more ways than one.
An IV was administered to me. After, I looked at how my blood went up the line and was reminded of getting an IV on the last ship I served on. Blood went into that line too, and into my IV bag.
I received a clean bill of health, and I was glad. Sure, I had no idea what caused my God-awful pains, but that was okay. I know of at least one beautiful person who went to the ER with abdominal pains and left with less than good news.
After my discharge, I waited in the parking lot for my husband and son to collect me (despite their protests, I had sent them home, as I didn’t want them in the boring and sick ER with me). I looked around and observed the people outside. I spotted a middle eastern man speaking in a language I couldn’t identify. I observed a Caucasian man speaking rapid fire in another language foreign to me.
My favorite exchange was with a nurse who had been a sailor just like me. He showed me a picture of a soldier he treated. The young man had a red impression on his chest, and a gold, concave medal hanging from his neck only millimeters away from the wound. A bullet had pierced the soldier’s vest, but had been stopped by the medal of Saint Michael, which had been given to the soldier by his mother.
I own a few Catholic charms of my own, but don’t wear them. What I carry is an open mind, ready to hear to stories, and ready to tell them, too.
We are leaving. Our time in Southern California has come to a close. It’s been fun. We saw tall trees, wet our feet in the cool Pacific Ocean, listened to mission bells, ate Carne Asada Burritos, wore sandals year round, and enjoyed the temperate weather.
But we aren’t from these parts. Others, who were also from other parts, came here and made Southern California a home. We tried, but it didn’t stick.
I am trying to make sure that I know what I’ll miss. Once I’m gone, I don’t want to be caught off guard about something about SoCal that I will miss acutely. The things on my “miss” list are: great infrastructure, ease of homeschooling, nice weather, cheap produce, abundance of avocados, great pizza and Mexican food.
This week will mark my last appointment with my doctor, as well as my last appointment with my dentist. I am trying to be cognizant of all of my “last times.”
I’ll miss my hairstylist. I’ll miss my OBGYN. I’ll miss our parish priest and the wonderful nuns there, too.
I’ll miss the conversations I didn’t have. There are regular faces that I count on. The smiling man who works the counter at the 7/11 on Garnet and Fanuel. The friendly, tall man who makes it a point to shake my son’s hand at mass. The baggers at the base commissary at 32nd Street. I’ll wave at them one more time and that will be that.
But there are new hellos to be said. There will be new faces to memorize. There will be new roads to travel. The new paths will make me raise questions that I’d never considered.
Here’s to the journey.