Ah, the neck muscles of youth. Was that really me?
Around the time of these antics, my Father died suddenly of a heart attack.
Life was irrevocably changed. My sisters, new mothers at the time, were gone from the house. It was just me and Mom.
I felt like a lone confused wolf. The breadwinner who provided for us was no longer at the dinner table. Shouldn’t I be sad?
I confess that one part of me was relieved. No more fights between him and Mother, the worst being a particular Christmas Eve — finding him slumped over the steering wheel of the car in the driveway after his visit to a local tavern.
I did not want to be a grieving 16-year old.
I wanted fun, to make people laugh. And so I sought surrogate sisters vis-a-vis my “friends.”
But Mother told me my friends were sophomoric.
Sure. We were sophomores in high school.
Then Mother told me I had to find a job. After Dad’s death, our social security checks were not enough. If I wanted to go to college, I’d better start saving.
The florist in town hired me part-time. She had a heavy German accent. Wass ist los? she’d ask, hovering close. My reply: “Eh?”
I found myself emptying containers of stinky flower water and making corsages for the prom I did not attend.
The jewel in the crown: helping the florist set up funeral wreaths in churches. My Father’s spirit seemed to hover at every turn. I felt lots of heaviness and guilt in my heart over him. What had I not expressed to him that he needed to hear from me before he crossed over?
I showed up erratically at the flower shop. The florist dismissed me — I was no longer needed.
Meanwhile, my friends seemed like they were having a ball. They worked at Turnstyle, a discount department store. They bought hip-looking clothes on the layaway plan. They formed a clique, but I was not in their sisterhood.
The lone wolf once again.
To everything turn, turn, turn …
I started dating a guy down the street. He was Edward Scissorhands minus the scissors. We talked about our plans once we graduated from high school.
What were his plans? He looked forward to joining the circus.
When my “friends” learned I was seeing “circus boy” (as they called him), they laughed. Then they spray-painted an expletive on ES’s driveway.
ES did not deserve this disrespect.
Lightbulb: my friends were sophomoric. Could Mother possibly be correct?
Though I severed from my friends, I did not stay with ES. Barnum & Bailey claimed him and I needed to move on.
And so, to supplement college savings, my Aunt found me a summer job at the factory where she worked. I found myself bagging cotton and polyester fabrics alongside a tall, dark hippie sporting a handlebar mustache.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road …
Name a maiden who does not want to be looked upon as eye candy. Especially by a hippie who sports a handlebar ‘stache and rides a Harley-Davidson.
My Aunt, much to her dismay, spotted me on the back of Easy Rider’s motorcycle as we fled the factory and sped down Cuba Road on our lunch hour.
A short-lived tale. ‘Stache and the factory did not last beyond summer.
Fast forward. I am in college. Headstands are a long-gone thing of the past.
I trudge across campus, pre-Kindle and pre-computer days, backpack laden with classics: Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and James Joyce’s Dubliners.
It is in Dubliners where I learned that “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
I could relate to Mr. Duffy. I was largely living in my head, an English Lit major, enthralled by the classics.
I was in heaven, curled up in my apartment with its old, hissing radiator, sipping Constant Comment tea. Books became my BFF’s. I was feeding my mind.
Was it around the time I was reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis that my neck and shoulders started aching? Relieved that I did not wake up in bed transformed to a vermin like Gregor Samsa, I phoned a chiropractor.
“Lose the backpack,” he said, after examining and noting the Atlas bone in my neck was out of alignment.
Was it the backpack? Maybe it was the headstands of the “sophomoric” years. Or reading so much and living a short distance from my body, like Mr. Duffy.
No. I would never give up reading.
I feel I personally know Mr. Duffy.
Now, my book choices are more of a buffet. The entrees include Zen meditation and mindfulness books, creative non-fiction, poetry and contemporary literature. And when my eyes are tired, podcasts. (Some fave podcasts: Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris, Clear & Vivid with Alan Alda, The New Yorker Fiction, and On Being with Krista Tippett).
My body is becoming a portal for the breath. I “train the puppy” as the mindfulness facilitator leads our weekly meditation group. Why is it so difficult to sit still? “Don’t just do something, sit there!” my brain scolds my squirming body. I embrace that voice too and listen for waves of breath, to let go.
I am not the only Boomer who has lived a short distance from her body.
We are at the end of 2020 and approaching the hopes of 2021.
Turn, turn, turn.
Is it a cosmic coincidence that 1/21/21 is a palindrome? Read backwards and forwards it is the same — and it is the day our new President is sworn into office.
I leave you now with that mystery.