The holiday party at my work is on Wednesday and they are having an ugly sweater contest. When I first read the memo, I thought, “meh.” Then the more the idea settled, the more fun it seemed. I searched through thrift store racks for something so ridiculous no one could argue the ugliness. Then, I began to think of ways I could make it look even worse.
Last night, I finally got around to sewing strings of bells onto my sweater. I finished one sleeve and examined it, convinced it might just be hideous enough to win.
And then my older son walked into the room (he’s thirteen.)
“Why are you sewing bells onto your sweater?” he asked.
“Because I’m making my ugly sweater even uglier.”
“But it’s not ugly, it looks kind of pretty.”
Pretty?! I stopped to look at his expression, certain he was messing with me, like when he convinced me a bee had landed in my hair. (There was no bee, but I hope he enjoyed the show, because I have not forgotten… and I will get him back!)
“It looks fancy,” he said.
Well, fancy wasn’t what I was going for. I decided that ugly was in the eye of the beholder. And then my thoughts led me down the loopy path that became this post…
The gifts under my 4-ft Walmart tree are not adorned with bows or ribbon. I have never lived with a cat who could not resist chewing and ingesting the ribbon. It’s like ribbon is woven with tuna and catnip and is too irresistible to the feline palate. Never mind the intestinal issues that follow… not even that will deter them. This is why I have a strict no ribbon policy and no matter how much the kids beg for the “pretty stuff”, it won’t happen.
Some might see our gifts as not aesthetically pleasing; even ugly. I’m so used to “plain” presents that I see the assorted wrapping papers and think, “pretty!”
Again, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.
Here’s where my thoughts looped again, and I associated this statement with people. I’ve met people who, on the surface, seem ordinary or dull, but once I got to know them, they were quite interesting- whether it be fascinating travels, quirky sense of humor or unique hobbies. What a pleasing surprise that is!
On the other hand, it’s a crushing disappointment to be enamored by the fluff and frills, only to discover that once all that’s gone, there’s nothing of substance. When that happens, it’s hard to remember what I found so beautiful in the first place, because all I could see was the ugliness beneath it all. It’s like even the memories were a fraud; they became fuzzy and disconnected from the reality I learned.
Ugly really is in the eye of the beholder.
Age has taught me a few things. Like, gravity happens, but it matters less and less. And, maybe my parents understood more than I gave them credit for. And, the best friends are those who don’t need to be everybody’s friend.
And finally, real beauty isn’t observed in a glance.
Have a beautiful Tuesday (even if you happen to be donning an ugly sweater!)
It’s strange but several people, upon hearing of my crumbled marriage, have consoled me by offering responses along the lines of “you’re still young and you’ll find love again.”
I’m not certain, but I think the involuntary look that flashes across my face is something like my expression when I catch a whiff of my older son’s socks after a cross country meet, or when I remove a lizard from under the couch once the cats are done playing with it.
My gray hairs contradict the “young” statement, but that’s beside the point. I know they are well-meaning and trying to make me feel better, but it doesn’t make sense. It’s like telling a shark attack victim that they should get right back out there and swim. Or, after walking through poison ivy, following the exact same path. Or, taking a person to a bonfire after they are rescued from a burning building. Or, after someone has gotten sick from fish tacos, serving fish tacos for dinner the next day.
Okay, I’ll stop- I think you get the point.
My response is always the same: “Oh, I’m ready to embrace my new life as a crazy cat lady.”
They always laugh. They think I’m kidding. They have no idea!
I’m serious, and I have some cell phone photos I’ve taken over the last ten days to prove it:
I think I have a knack for this crazy cat lady gig. What do you think?
I don’t know how many pictures one can take of sleeping cats… but I’m on a mission to find out! (Don’t worry… I don’t plan to share them… well, not all of them, at least 🙂 )
Eli, over at Coach Daddy Blog, invited me to participate in his monthly 6-word story challenge. This time, he asked for a 6-word memoir title. Wow. Only six words to sum up the colossal mess that is my life in a way where someone would actually want to read it? It took several days to narrow it down, but this is what I finally chose:
My Life: Socks For Christmas… Again
(If you’re curious what others submitted, click here to read the post… but I hope you finish reading here before curiosity takes you away!)
I chose this title because how it’s taken is all a matter of perspective.
I think we’ve all received a gift that we’re less-than-excited about. We put on a smile and deliver our best fake grateful “thank you” in hopes of sparing the gifter’s feelings. Before he was trained to do this, my mom has told the story of how my brother threw a fit because he got clothes for Christmas. To a boy of three or four, it must have been insulting!
Sometimes I feel disappointed when I look at the lowlights of 2015… this year, after eighteen years, I finally accepted that I failed and my marriage was beyond repair; I had to say goodbye to my dog and one of my cats; I’ve chased ghosts (illness) with my younger son… soon, they will confirm if it’s what they think, but there’s no solace in the known or unknown; and the first half of the year was anchored in such darkness, waking up each day was a chore.
That’s my year in a nutshell. Seriously 2015, is that the best you could do? It’s like opening up a beautifully wrapped shirt box and finding a six-pack of crew socks.
Or is it?
I received the socks in the above photo from my younger son for Christmas last year. I had commented on how adorable they were, and he listened. Now, I do realize I’m past the age of being able to pull off the silly sock look, but thankfully, I’ve also reached the age where I really don’t care. (Yep, it’s only a matter of time before I “dress up” in my robe and slippers before heading to Walmart.)
Maybe my life is like gift socks… maybe it’s not so bad if viewed from a different perspective. I’ll look at 2015 again: after eighteen years, I realized that change won’t happen if the person doesn’t see the need… no matter how obvious it is to me; I loved my dog for seventeen years, and my cat for nearly fifteen years- I had to say goodbye to them, but they are no longer in pain; if the doctors have pinpointed my son’s illness, it can be managed with medications and he can start to find a new normal… if it’s not what they think, then they have enough to know there is something going on and they have ruled out another thing it isn’t; and during my extended time of darkness, online and offline friends lit my way with prayers and words of encouragement (thank you to everyone for your kindness!)
It’s the same life, same year, but whether I feel despair or hope hinges on how my mind focuses on the facts. For the first half of the year, I felt despair. It was scary. I want my thoughts to gravitate toward hope.
When I look back on my life, each day, week and month might appear to be the ‘same old stuff’ on the surface, but I want to see more than that. I want to look at the gift of my life and exclaim, “Yes! I got socks for Christmas – Again! Isn’t that great?!”
So, what do you think? Am I as crazy as my socks? 🙂
Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a collaboration with Emilio, where I write a story inspired by a photo he provides. It’s completely my fault! See, Emilio gave me this photo to write for September. I have no excuse for my delay, other than 2015 isn’t landing at the top of my “best year ever” list 🙂 If you haven’t checked out Emilio’s blog before, you really should – click his name to link to his site…. I gave you three chances here! I’ll stop rambling now – the story begins right after the photo.
I had a knack for finding the broken ones. I would take them in. I would love them. I would lose myself in them. Each time, I thought my heart was full enough to make them whole. Each time, the shine tarnished and I escaped with a little less of me.
My present is made up of their pasts, the cracks in my broken heart filled with pieces of their pain. Desperado, Cat’s in The Cradle, Father of Mine, Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough… their burdens set to music. As I sped down the remote highway, I played each and every one of these songs, over and over. It’s funny how the years of heartaches wrapped in catchy melodies slid along the hardened spaces of my soul with such ease. At least the tears reminded me that I was still alive.
This time, I didn’t care if I lived to give again. Phillip had been my latest broken bird, on the verge of falling into the dark abyss. I scooped him up and nurtured him. For three years, he greedily fed on my love and affection until he was strong enough to fly. And he flew all right… straight to my ex best friend, Sarah. I took his bad and gave him my good. It all cancelled out in the end and left me… empty.
Off to the right, a row of rusted old cars and a seen-better-days ranch caught my eye. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel behind me. When the dust settled, I stepped out of my car and eyed the street sign perched atop a leaning metal pole. I didn’t know which was more ironic; the fact there was a street sign marking a span of dirt that could barely be considered a road, or that the sign read “Opportunity Way.” I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads.
I walked for a little ways until I came to a waist-high wooden fence that encircled the yard. For a time, I perched on the fence, staring at the row of cars. I couldn’t help but relate to them; we had all been shiny and something to look at back in the day. But now… well, I cried.
I didn’t want to think about it, but I suspected I would always see the lost ones, broken, looking for validation and something that felt like love to make them okay for a while. I could see my future so clearly… like beggars pleading for loose change, their eyes would search mine for a bit of my soul they could have. On my strong days, I would turn my head and quicken my pace. “I don’t have any,” I would mutter. It would be true. If God was merciful, they won’t pursue me. They would see I was as broke… broken… as they were. They would sense I had nothing to offer, no hand to grasp in desperation.
I startled, losing my balance and fell back into someone’s arms. I twisted my neck and glimpsed a not-completely-unattractive man, possibly in his early fifties. Exactly what I don’t need. I jerked my weight forward and steadied myself on the fence.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“I didn’t thank you.”
The wood bounced as he hoisted himself to sit next to me. He shrugged. “I was overlooking your lack of manners.”
I clenched my jaw, but kept my gaze focused on the cactus that took root next to the blue car. “Speaking of manners, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s thoughts.”
He smiled. “Maybe not, but when the thoughts are thunk on my property, those rules don’t really apply.”
“You’re right. I’ll go.” Before I could slide off the fence, he touched my arm.
“You’re welcome to stay.” He shifted his gaze toward the cars. “Lots of people come here to think. It keeps me in business.”
“Business? What kind of work?” I thought maybe mechanic, but his khaki pants and pastel blue polo shirt didn’t fit.
“I’m a companion broker, you could say.”
“Companion broker?” The words tumbled around in my head as I tried to figure out what that meant.
He laughed. “Lemme explain. I help fix people. This highway is traveled by lots of lonely people; people with heavy stuff on their mind. Sometimes all they need is human connection.”
My eyes widened. “So you’re a pimp? That’s horrible!”
He lifted a rhinestone and gold-plated Zippo from his pocket and lit the cigarette hanging from his pressed lips. “No, not a pimp. I mean, sometimes people are looking for that, but usually, they just want to talk so they don’t feel alone.”
“Not a pimp, huh? That blinged-out lighter says otherwise.”
“Hmph. One of those.” He shook his head and exhaled a trail of smoke.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged. “Bitter, disillusioned and bearing scars of past loves. I’m guessing you’ve convinced yourself you’re on a journey to find you, but really, you’re running from who you are.” He paused to exhale another puff of smoke. “You judge me because it makes you feel better about yourself.”
“Listen, Mr…. Mr. whatever-your-name-is, you may think you know my story, but you don’t!” I clenched my eyes shut, hoping it was enough to keep the tears back.
“They call me Big Guns.”
I stifled a laugh. “Big Guns?”
He pushed up his shirt sleeve and flexed, I think. “See what I mean?”
I saw a barely perceptible bulge in his bicep. I shook my head, “I’m sorry, but those aren’t even purse pistols.” I laughed, almost forgetting that moments ago, I wanted to cry.
“Come on,” he said as he hopped off the fence.
I didn’t move. Following him seemed like insanity.
“Trust me. You need to see this.” He held his hand out, waiting for me to grasp it.
Impulsively, I took the invitation and his fingers curled around my hand. “Is it more impressive than what I’ve seen so far, Mr. Guns?” I shocked myself with the flirtatious tone in my voice.
This time he laughed. “I think you’ll be amazed. You can call me Thomas.”
I followed Thomas to the row of rusted cars. With his back to me, I slipped my tinted gloss from my pocket and swiped a quick coat on my lips.
“These cars were my dad’s hobby, but he passed away three years ago. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, yet I don’t have the expertise needed to restore them either.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I found another way to use them to honor his memory, though.” He opened the door to the first car and gestured for me to look inside.
Paper filled the inside of the car clear up to the windows. “What is all this?”
Thomas smiled. “These are letters from the lonely. We’re all broken in some way and these letters allow those passing through to let go of some of their burdens.”
“What do you do with the letters? Do you read them?”
“I don’t read them. I leave them here so the intended recipient will find them. There’s no such thing as coincidence; our paths cross for a reason. Some people write letters, but others read them and take one with them when they go. All I ask is that writers include their name and phone number, and when you take a letter, you contact that person.”
Companion broker… it made more sense. “Do these people ever meet?”
He shrugged. “Some do. I’ve gotten a few letters thanking me, but really, I’m just doing God’s service.”
Thomas smiled. “I used to be a pastor but disagreed with the human way of organized religion. So, I decided to minister to people on my own, according to God’s word and Jesus’ principles.”
My cheeks flushed. “I-I’m so sorry, I called you a pimp.”
“And you laughed at my biceps.” He closed the car door and led me to the blue car. “I think this one might have what you’re looking for.” He pointed to a notepad and pen on the dashboard. “Write a letter, or take a letter, it’s up to you. Take your time.”
I watched as Thomas shuffled away, dust trailing behind him. A pastor. Unbelievable. I turned my attention to the mounds of paper filling the car. I shoved them aside so I could sit. I wondered why he thought I’d find what I was looking for here. I didn’t even know what I sought.
I grabbed the paper and pen and wrote my first tentative words. The rest of the words followed swiftly and before I knew it, both sides of the page were filled. I hesitated. Then with a deep breath and long exhale, I scrawled my name and phone number. After I dropped the paper onto the pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted from inside me.
The dense pile swallowed my hand, and my arm up to my elbow, before I grasped a page. I held it up so I could focus on the scrawled words. I can’t believe I’m writing a letter to leave in an old car for some stranger to read. I smiled. My letter started similarly. By the time I got to the end, my eyes blurred. I swiped the wetness from my cheeks with the back of my hand.
My breath caught as I stared at the familiar name. A buried past, exhumed and resurrected by one hand-written letter. I folded the page into fourths and shoved it into my back pocket. Twenty years felt like a span of a few breaths. That letter transported me from middle age to mid-twenties. I stepped out of the car and slammed the creaky-hinged door behind me. The thought crossed my mind that the old car was a time machine of sorts.
Maybe Seth had been right back then… that love wasn’t enough. Maybe I was right in my proclamation that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Maybe right or wrong no longer mattered.
All I knew in that moment was that I needed to find out.
Last night I found myself in an unusual position: it was 7pm and neither kid was watching the TV. I decided to nab the opportunity to watch another episode of a series I started a couple weeks ago on Netflix. Apparently, this has the same effect as when I pick up the phone to call a friend, or sit down to balance the checkbook- a few minutes into it, my younger son plopped down on the couch next to me.
“What are you watching?”
“An episode of a TV show I found on Netflix.”
After a few moments of silence. “Is that guy his dad?”
“No, they didn’t meet until just now.”
“Why did he call him Father then?”
“Because he’s a priest and that’s what people call priests.” I glanced over at him. “Did you want to watch one of your shows?”
“No, I want to see what happens.”
So we watched the show, but not in silence. He had lots and lots of questions. I had some answers, but not all. See, I had the benefit of seeing the 19 episodes prior, so I knew the history. History is good, but it doesn’t necessarily give an obvious clue as to the future.
It struck me that this is a lot like life. It would be be nice if life were like Netflix, where I could watch the “good” parts over and over, rate the “bad” parts with one star and remove them from my watch list, and skip ahead when I just can’t wait to see what happens next.
But life isn’t like that. Life is “old school” – I only get to see it real time, as it happens. It seems like the difficulties and struggles linger while the peaceful times are as brief as a single breath…maybe two, if I’m lucky. I know where I’ve been, I know where I’m at, but I have no idea what happens next. I have no choice but to meet one sunrise after another and take it in as it unfolds. I may not like all the “parts,” but with God’s grace, surely I can frame my view so I see each moment as something to cherish.