The word of the star is spreading. I have my disciples. The new religion has begun. At least, that's what it feels like. Today, I decided. This isn't just a passing whim, a funny way to pass the time. This is real. People need this. It is no small thing, a gold star.
We are all of us wounded children. I know it sounds pathetic, trite even, but it's true. It's what makes parenting so hard. No matter how hard you try, no matter how you might arm them, your children will come away with war wounds. We all do. Sometimes we can figure out ourselves or with the help of others how to fix those wounds, to patch them up and move on. Sometimes, hopefully, we can laugh at ourselves, at how we cling to those gaping gashes inside us instead of giving them no mind. Either way, they are there, nearly from the beginning, in one way or the other.
My morning started next to the cutest little girl, clad in a bright rainbow-striped sundress just like my favorite dress when I was a kid, with a polka-dot headband and a little bright blue fabric purse strung across her. She sat like a little adult at the table with her father, having a muffin and chatting amiably about issues she was having with a friend. He was encouraging her to just be herself, not to worry about anyone else. She couldn't have been more than 5, was probably younger. She looked over at me at one point, and I couldn't help but reach out.
"You're fabulous," I said to her. "Love the dress, love the heaband, love the purse. You couldn't be cuter." She just smiled, shyly.
"She made that purse, with her mother," her father said, proudly.
"Wow," I said, "you sew?" She nodded.
"I have something for you," I said, and pulled out from my purse the biggest gold star I had.
As she took it, something came over her. She looked at it, then up at me, screwed up her eyes in slight confusion but in clear, overwhelming gratitude, and, in an instant, she had scooted over close to me on the bench and was hugging me, hard and appreciatively. She placed her gold star proudly on her chest as she scooted back to her position across from her father.
I was blown away by her reaction. I am always a little blown away by how much people acknowledge they need the stars, each in their own way, but this was of a different stripe. I found out why after she left. Her parents recently split up. It is so hard to be in the midst of a dying relationship, especially when you have no part in any decisions that get made. Hopefully, her whole family can all go forward better than before. She is trying, so hard. She is so cheery in every way, in her manner of dress, in her warmth, in her spirit. She will be just fine.
We all find our ways to move forward. After the little girl left with a sweet wave and a warning from her father not to hug strangers when he wasn't around (a comment I found a bit sad), I was joined by two fabulous ladies; my poet friend, who is now proudly published, and my performance artist friend, whose one-woman show, when it's done, will put the Vagina Monologues to shame. We met as we'd sorta kinda planned, the kind of plan I love when it works out. We each tell our sad stories of woe and laugh uproariously at the unbelievable details, some more harrowing than others, all real and remembered and looming in the way we live our every day. We could write a book together, easily, some people next to us said so. It would be amazing.
Today, somehow, we got on the subject of pets and how we'd fared with them. The poet declared, brilliant in her delivery as usual, that, "I had a fish. It committed suicide." Her fish had literally tried to free itself again and again from its bowl, a lethal act she had tried, in vain, to prevent numerous times. She did what she could, but "It didn't want to live with me," she said, shaking back and forth the new, brave rasta dreads hanging behind her headband.
I declared that I was the meanest mom in the world because I went into the pet store preparing my children for the eventual death of the damn fish I acquiesced to buy after wimping out on a hamster that could easily end up in my hamper or the lizard that I would have to feed live crickets. Sorry, no live food. Especially since I hear crickets in the home don't even chirp. When the fish, Kirby, did die after only a few days, the kids shrugged as he was flushed into the New York sewer system with barely a see ya. Too blase perhaps? Am I teaching them too much detachment? Or is it just that I don't think a fish really matters? Hard to know what lessons they'll learn.
The performance artist just pursed her lips, closed her eyes in homage to her greatness and gestured to her fine self with both hands. We knew what was coming. "I kept a fish alive, for three years," she said. The details are fuzzy to me, as usual, 'cause I am usually laughing too hard to hear them. This is why she kills.
After coffee, headed to the gym, I stopped the Music Matters man, opening his small store, to inquire if they carried Saturday Night Fever CDs. I am finally willing to concede that I will never get around to finding and installing a record player to play the album I bought on the street, the one that looks exactly like the one I danced to in my living room so happily for years. He said, sadly, no, but agreed after I asked that it was a great album, which I appreciated. He said he could order it but apologized. With the holiday coming, it wouldn't be here for a bit, til at least Wednesday. I laughed. "I haven't danced to it since probably the 8th grade. I think I can wait a few more days," I said, as I reached into my bag to get him a gold star.
"Oh, just four years ago?" he said. I didn't understand at first, then gratefully acknowledged the compliment. "Thanks for that," I said, and gave him his gold star.
Walking on, I saw a man carrying an amazing piece of salvaged-wood furniture. "Wow, what's that?" I said. "I love it." He turned it around to show me. It was a little side table made from a Canada Dry case dated 1959 and legs in my perfect milk-paint green of old that used to be part of a banister in an old house in Greenwich Village. I had just been writing about my mom's Italian twin friends, Jean and Joan, who lived in Tucson but recreated their Greenwich Village past through salvage placed in their desert abodes, like the old New York Public Library card catalog that acted as Joan's kitchen counter. I loved this connection to that memory.
The man was clearly pleased I had stopped him, that I appreciated his piece. "I made it. I love it. My wife hates it. I am bringing it to my storage space. It's going to go into the cabin I buy in the woods someday," he said.
"Are you a carpenter?" I asked, hopeful.
"Yes," he said.
"That's my dream job!" I said. "Can I come watch you? Be your apprentice?" I was only half joking. He looked scared.
"Ummm, sure?" he said. What could he say? I took his number, told him again how much I loved the piece and talked with him about it, how cool it was. I would have bought it, but it wasn't for sale. He loved it. He could picture it clearly in his mind, in a little corner of his dream home.
I'm sorry this is rambling on. There is so much to write about. Looking for receivers, I am open to the world and the amazing people in it. I am conscious of how hard everyone is working in their way.
At the drugstore, I gave a star to Elsie's Mom for many reasons including that she, like me, is known often by association with her progeny. It is a great thing to be linked with fabulous young beings, I do not mind it, but it does still negate one's own identity. Elsie's mom had been waiting eagerly for her gold star since I mentioned to her on a day I didn't have them that she deserved one. She is the opening scene in the documentary I want to make on motherhood because she captured it perfectly. When I asked her one day at the gym what was new she plastered a huge smile across her face, cheeks overly up, and said, loudly, articulate, deadpan, "You know. School...laundry..."
The words and their delivery were perfect. They said it all. Laundry is a universal. All you have to do is mention it and even the most passive go passionate. When I had mentioned to her how I had replayed this perfect scene for others so many times since she'd said it, she shook her head. "Did we know?" she asked. "No," I said. "And if anybody had tried to tell us, we wouldn't have understood anyway. We would have done it anyway."
My friend at the window at the gym, given his gold star finally cause I saw him, so cute, kissing his girlfriend and canoodling sweetly on a picnic bench in the park, was wearing it proudly on his nametag and asked for two more, which I happily gave without asking why and heard him give away to others. I promised to bring him some to give out at his window.
"I'm sure you come across a lot of people who need them," I said.
"Oh, yeah," he said. Oh, yeah.