Lost objects, second chances, claim tickets

( – promoted by NLinStPaul)

I’m not so careful with second chances. I’ve had a few and I’ve made a mess of most of ’em. And I’ve lost things over the years; lost ideas from memory, faces and names of people I should recall, relationships with friends I should have maintained. I’ve let go of objects I’ve created and loved, or things I took a special hand in designing. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes through negligence, sometimes through a perverse need to purge while initially denying the emotional investment in the loss.

Two hawks flying

Above the highway

They play so much like  us.

One always runs away…

I’ve had this song sleeping in my head over thirty years, and I’ve lost the title and the artist’s name.  

If I could sing, I’d sing it to you. Just those four meaningless lines.

The album itself was lost in a basement flood eighteen years ago, in the only house on which I’ve owned title. An entire collection of first edition Beatles albums was also destroyed in damp and mildew, forgotten amidst the detritus of damp cardboard.

I later lost the house.

Then there’s exhilaration. My very best childhood memories center around the playground of the school behind the motel my folks owned when I was young. There was a jungle gym, the swing-set with the rubber tire cutout seats and heavy duty chains, and the monkey bars. I was rotten at the monkey bars. I’d play “hot lava” with friends by jumping from monkey bar to jungle gym to merry-go-round, trying frantically to avoid the asphalt below.

There was the requisite tall galvanized metal slide. The sanded swirls on the platform of the slide reminded me of small rocks in stream beds. I earned my mother’s wrath because there were no Ziplock sandwich bags in those days, and I often stole the Reynolds wax paper to slicken the slide.

The old metal merry-go-round was the best of all. Any Webster’s definition of exhilaration should be appended with “the joy and danger inherent in spinning out of control on a merry-go-round”. You don’t see many of these dangerous apparatuses anymore.

Exhilaration is the Breeze

That lifts us from the ground,

And leaves us in another place

Whose statement is not found

Emily Dickinson, The Single Hound (Part V)

Racing and racing around, running as fast as possible while pushing or dragging the metal poles that radially arc from center to disk perimeter, jumping on the thing right before your feet fly out and you are dragged to your death! Exhilaration.

I can recall thinking the eyes of the kids on the other side of the ’round were like the eyes of astronauts taking off on an Apollo mission. Pressed against the poles. That gritted-teeth, cheek-flapping, squinty-eyed grimace caused by centrifugal pressure, watching the center hold as the world falls away in a blur.

But the thrill is gone. I lost exhilaration so long ago that it’s hard to believe I ran so fast in circles just to feel the spin.

More recently, a few years back, but close enough that the loss is just beneath the skin over my heart, I never returned to the cleaners to pick up my last wedding dress and the attendant dresses I had hand-made for my daughters to wear at my second wedding in 1998. I’d picked a lovely light damask fabric in two pre-made Jessica McClintock dresses that I had purchased for my maid of honor and one bridesmaid. Old fashioned roses in light magenta and pink, and delicate sage green leaves accented the faintly ivory damask embossed satin.

Exhilaration…

Returns us not, but after time        

We soberly descend,

A little newer for the term

Upon enchanted ground.

Emily Dickinson, again

I ordered additional fabric at significant cost from the McClintock warehouse, and purchased fine lightweight acetate satin in a faint blush pink to line the interior of the dresses. I crafted three dresses in three different styles for my three daughters, who were 8, 10 and 12 at the time of the wedding, attaching and ruching the interior lining to gracefully let fall the line of the dress fabric. I taped the hems for stability and seam strength and added matching delicate crocheted lace to the hems and bodices. There was a time I was a decent seamstress. So many details; you see, my heart was layered into the construction of the beginning of a second chance at a new life.

My wedding dress was an aged ivory damask, embossed in an ivory cabbage rose pattern, all of a color. I hand-stitched seed pearls along ridges in the lace on a simple bolero-style jacket with a crocheted kind of Nehru-style stand-up collar. A mark of the way I operate, ever last minute and ever enterprising, I stitched the final pearls on the jacket a half hour before the ceremony.

I lost that union four years ago. I took the dresses to the cleaners a couple of years back to clean them and prep them for long-term storage. I’ve never returned to pick them up.  Such is the perversity of purging by “forgetting”, denying the emotional sunk cost.

A memory now is my hand trailing in the water as I go downstream. I release the grip on a flower earlier picked along the bank of the river, turning a crumpled handkerchief of petals into little boats that dip and buck on the crests of the wake my boat leaves behind. A blossom, picked spontaneously for such beauty and aroma; because of my choice, a delicate object doomed to fade too soon. I tried to hold perfection for a time. In a dream, I watch the flower as it swirls away in the passing water. I want it to reform itself, to find another river bank, to reach again to the sun. In my dream, my heart hurts more. Just can’t hold onto something that holds so much beauty, such memory, so much sentiment, so much sheer effort on my part. So much heart invested in pieces of artful cloth, in trying to capture a life outside the pale.

What is thy purpose? Ah! What is thy doing?

White stars are water-blooms set in the ocean,    

Young lives are petals from one burning Blossom,

Fallen from altitudes starry and primal-

Welcome the wind that shall blow them to shelter,

Breathe on their circumstance, shape the Soul’s eddy

Separately fire and transform all this wonder.


Fred Bowles, An Insurgent of Art, 1917

There are moments I want those dresses back more than I suffer the loss of my love. I don’t know why. What does that say about me? Did I invest too much in objects that I created, both in my mind and with my hands? And too little in the joining of lives thereafter?

Did I let those dresses go because to keep them, to pick them up, would mean I was holding something no longer needed? Or deserved? Perhaps my subconscious mind relegated them to remnants that could not dress the wreckage and remains of a shattered institution.

Something broke inside, and still fractures yet at the edges as I write about those handmade, hand-stitched beautiful gowns.

In revisiting the various RFK tributes these past few weeks, and the echoes from the past forty years, I overheard Tom Brokaw on MSNBC the other night. He mentioned a curious thing about a the night and days thereafter of the assassination. That he thought of the five and six and seven-year olds on the assassination of JFK in 1963, and the nine and ten and eleven-year olds who witnessed the death of Bobby, and how they must think this is the way America deals with its leaders.

But that is not what I thought. I thought politics attracted some of the brightest and the best. I absorbed Democratic politics because talk was pervasive in my home as I grew, and I had a mother who felt she owned a part of Kennedy lore. She was one of so many “Kennedy Democrat” in those years who lived and breathed at every mention of Kennedy news, and who grieved with every tragedy or misstep. She carried hope even past the RFK loss in the Oregon primary – he would win, she was certain, though her state went for McCarthy, for all the right reasons, for all the wrong ones.

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Robert Kennedy, 1966, Day of Affirmation, Cape Town SA

When Bobby died, my mother lost her exhilaration. Something broke inside.

Thereafter, she still never failed to vote in any election, and always voted along the Democratic party line, except for one Republican – Tom McCall. She liked Bill Clinton enough. But 1968 had ended the dream. My mother saw the territory ahead, once Nixon was elected.

Brokaw didn’t comment on the next few years those few nights ago – that those same five and ten-year olds (as I was five and then ten in 1963 and 1968 respectively) were also witness to high corruption, the threat of impeachment, prosecution and the follow-through of resignation of a sitting Republican President – eight years later in 1974. And the end of failed policy and the tragedy of misguided war at sixteen or seventeen years of age. The exit of America from the compounds and roofs of Saigon.

It might be said my generation – at the end of the baby boomer generation, born of parents who were raised through the Crash, parents who first came of age during the Depression, and were tempered in the years of WWII – my generation, all existing generations have that second chance to swing the course of history by pushing a prevailing wind. A second chance to elect the brightest and the best and to attract those who would be, again. Echoes of the possibility have ever been there, at least for the last forty plus years.

“Let no man think he fights this battle for others. He fights for himself, and so do we all. The golden rule is not sentimentality but the deepest practical wisdom. For the teaching of our time is that cruelty is contagious, and its disease knows no bounds of race or nation.

Robert Kennedy, 1966, Witwatersrand

No matter the messenger, the words remain true.

Dammit, I listened as a kid, as I’m sure millions of other kids listened, and I inherited a heretofore dormant hope that yet silhouettes the image of what a President is, and what a country can do with a President who…is. As a student and teacher of politics, and a voracious consumer of biographies and news, I recognize some nugget of hope has lain in wait for a second chance, a once-found object to recover, waited for a reason to return the claim ticket and repossess and invigorate the ideal.

Step to the counter, push the circle, wax the slide. Produce the worn and tattered claim stub. Now, starting now, I’ll search the waters ahead, not mourn for the wake behind.

Two hawks flying

Above the highway.

They play so much

Like us.

One always comes so close.

One always runs away…

Is that the fifth line? I’m still looking for the artist and title of that song. Anybody recognize it?

(updated – from comments below…fleisch on Dailykos has informed that it’s The Wind in New York City, Wendy Waldman. It’s the short intro, Two Hawks Flying, to the main tune, more orchestration than lyric. Funny how the lines have stayed (incorrectly it seems) with me for thirty years.)

(also on Dailykos)

23 comments

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  1. thirty days until my 50th birthday. Woo hoo!

    Cake, or death?

    • Robyn on June 10, 2008 at 8:16 pm
    • Edger on June 10, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    You’re good for another 50, yes? 😉

    • Robyn on June 10, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    …of what might have been.

    There are moments I want those dresses back more than I suffer the loss of my love.

  2. You write beautifully, evocatively … thanks …  

    • RiaD on June 11, 2008 at 12:07 am

    i’ve missed you! so very glad you’ve popped in….

    turning 50 must be reflecting time…much like new years eve ~only on a grander scale….

    i turn 50 in appx 60 days

    • kj on June 11, 2008 at 4:30 am

    for this, many times over.

  3. its just what I needed tonight.

    And 50? pfffttt – youngun 🙂

  4. good to see you over here too. I enjoyed our earlier reminiscing conversation.

    Lets fly!

  5. from where you are, I’m sorry to say.

    The worst of it will be the feeling of utter betrayal you feel the first time your body fails you.  If you think you’re introspective now, wait till that happens.

    (Typing from my wheelchair where I’m recovering from a broken pelvis sustained four weeks after major surgery, thus making me essentially immobile for four months.)

    I have twelve years on you.  I was a senior in high school when JFK was assassinated.  That event pretty much shattered my teenage naivete’.  I was sure we’d be invaded by some foreign country immediately thereafter.  When that didn’t happen I understood that this was just another part of the political process.  By the time they got around to Bobby and Martin I’d become so cynical that those two killings barely registered.    

    I spent the next thirty years pursuing a simple goal…having fun.  In retrospect it’s easy to see that as an “eat, drink and be merry” reaction to incomprehensible events.

    Our childhoods were lived against a backdrop of violence.  The effects of that are still being realized.  Essays like yours go a long way toward healing the still-open wounds. Thank you.

    P.S.  My best to your daughters.  How fortunate they are to have you for their mother.

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