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Monday, March 6, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: Ivan: Promise kept

Back to the Suburban Grind: Ivan: Promise kept: I didn't let myself fall for him right away but the girls did.  I watched him from across the room and saw how much everyone wanted to b...

Ivan: Promise kept

I didn't let myself fall for him right away but the girls did.  I watched him from across the room and saw how much everyone wanted to be near him, how many people wanted to touch him, embrace him, love him.  He was indeed lovable.  The loveliest thing I'd seen in a long time and I didn't want to get my hopes up.  Or theirs.  I started looking for the less popular, the wounded, the flawed.  I showed these options to them too and they, bless their hearts, gave them as much love as they could give, but they wanted him. 

We'd taken so long to fulfill this promise, had stalled, stuttered, and deflected for so long that I could see they were beginning to doubt that we'd ever intended to honor it.  And that finally broke me.  Because I don't make promises lightly, certainly not to my children, and I knew that if they loved him, really loved him, then I had to give them the chance to take him home.

Ivan is mostly white with one brown ear.  He is a poodle/Stafford terrier mix and his eyes are the color of deep water and sea glass. He has a long tail that curls into a circle and he is as soft as a bunny.  I always thought, if I were ever to have a dog, he'd be black and strong, representative of my projected strength and power.  I thought he'd be sleek and sexy, shiny-coated and muscular, deep dark-eyed with wisdom and calm.  My imaginary dog was my image self, the fuck you to a world that didn't want me to express my strength at all.  But this dog is not only mine.  He's OURS and we all wanted him and we want him to be part of US.

When I was around ten years old, the same age as my oldest daughter now, I saw a puppy in a pet shop window that seemed to love me as instantly as I loved him.  I'd gone in with my father and my sister and possibly my brother, I can't quite recall, and asked if I could hold him.  When he was put in my arms, he snuggled and squirmed and licked me and loved me just as I'd suspected.  I asked for him.  Begged and pleaded.  I made promises not only about how well I'd look after him but about how I'd do better as a young human being, be a better person, more giving, more loving, would keep my room clean (though it was usually extremely tidy), fight less with my siblings, be amenable to any and all suggestions for my betterment.  I'd psychically prostrated myself on the ground before my father and offered my life in exchange for this love.  I knew my dad couldn't just give it to me for no reason, this was 1980 and only Richie Rich from the cartoon got what he asked for just like that, so I waited for Christmas. 

In the dream sequence, my father recognized my desperate need for love and contact.  He saw that I needed to be important to something or someone, that I needed a place to express my love and devotion.  Both he and my mother had grown up with pets and I appealed to their memories, mercilessly begged for this thing.  He was a tiny Chihuahua and he trembled with fear at the world much the way I did inside though you'd never know that from my outside.  I wanted to make him strong, to give him courage, to let him see that with me he'd be safe, and I'd have a friend when none was available.  I wanted to be as strong as I'd hoped to make him.

He was on the top of my Christmas list.  My parents hadn't said no, but they'd also not said yes.  They'd said nothing, so my ten year old self, still believing in dreams coming true, in great surprises, and in their noticing that something was missing in my life, truly expected to see him sitting next to the Christmas tree surrounded by all the colorfully wrapped boxes and candy filled stockings. 

I was lonely.  I had plenty of friends but no one particularly close and I was sensitive, often living an alternate life completely in my imagination.  Our family is funny in that we spend and spent time close together but not together.  We don't and didn't share intimacies, hopes, desires, dreams.  It was easy to feel alone surrounded by company, so my longing, my burning love for this puppy exposed me in a way that was terrifying.  But I was so blinded by love, by my own hunger for affection, I couldn't help it. 

He wasn't there on Christmas morning.  I never saw him again.  I'd even gone back to the store to see if someone else had had the chance to give him the life I'd wanted so desperately to share with him.  I have loved like that all my life.  Desperately, afraid of losing it, nearly obsessively.  I don't claim that it's healthy.  It isn't at all but it's what I have known.  I struggle with my sense of love and giving my girls another way to see and feel and be loved.

Two years ago, the girls started asking for a dog and as I'd never had a pet before being their mother when goldfish, hamsters, and newts came into my life, I was actually afraid to say yes.  Every cell in my body felt that yearning for my pet store Chihuahua and then whispered, "You can't do this.  You've never had a pet.  You are not supposed to.  You'll probably do it wrong."  As I've believed all the other bullshit spoon-fed me about who and what I am, I believed that I was not a dog owner, that I couldn't, that it would just never be.  And has happened each time I am about to tell my daughters the same no's that I was told, I change the narrative.  To be sure, I promised. 

We first started looking for a purebred, a Havanese, because they don't shed and I am a neat freak and clean like a maniac even without a dog in the house.  But almost immediately that plan was fraught with obstacles--timing, the right season, location, expense.  They were surely cute but I didn't quite see myself well-represented in a Havanese.  The girls loved the idea of them but not the time it would take us to procure one.  A rescue, we all agreed, would suit us fine and a mix even more so. 

That Saturday morning at the shelter, Ivan was the most popular little thing going.  Everyone wanted to hold him, meet him, touch him, kiss his soft head.  In a room with his sister Savannah, Ivan, then Ethan, held court.  The two of them rolled all over each other and jumped on our legs, licked the girls in their eager faces, and I watched my ten year old girl's little dimple press hard into her cheek.  I saw that look on her face.  She had fallen in love for the first time with someone not in our family, something outside of us.  I saw her want him and want him so desperately that she giggled and whispered to him silently.  As I suggested other dogs for us to meet and greet she said with assurance, "But I want him."  And we met three others and she said that they were nice and sweet and good and would be happy with any one that we were able to take home, but that she wanted him.  And I was already afraid for her.  Didn't want her to love him too much just in case.  Just in case I would fail her by not writing the right thing on the form, by not charming the pants off the staff, by not convincing them that we were worthy, by revealing the flaws that I was bringing to the table.

When they called that Tuesday afternoon, they called the house first.  I saw the number come up on the Caller ID and did not answer it.  Lily was home sick with me that day and I could not bear having to tell her while she lay in bed that we did not get the puppy we wanted.  I let it go to voicemail.  I waited for the message icon to appear on the phone.  My breath was a little shallower than seconds before.  And then my cellphone rang.  It was my husband.  They'd called him next.  We could pick him up that week and had the night to discuss it before deciding if and when.  It had been decided all those years ago when I saw my hoped for Christmas gift sitting behind the glass at the pet store.

Ivan is our dog.  He is white with one brown year.  His mother was the color brown of his ear and his father was a white poodle.  My youngest daughter says that he is white and brown just like us.  He is going to grow up with them and he has made me a dog owner and the mother of a fur baby for the first time. To say that he is loved and cared for beyond measure would be to understate it.  How do you not love someone you have been waiting for nearly all your life? 




(c) Copyright 2017.  Repatriated Mama:  Back to the Suburban Grind.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: The box

Back to the Suburban Grind: The box: I'd carried the box with me for almost thirty years because I'd never found the right moment to go to the post office and send it.  ...

The box



I'd carried the box with me for almost thirty years because I'd never found the right moment to go to the post office and send it.  As organized and efficient as I have always been, I'd just never found the time or the inclination to address it and send it.  It came with me from Freehold to Boston, Boston to Atlanta, Atlanta to New York, New York to Barbados, and Barbados back to New Jersey. 

I'd texted my mother two weeks ago  and asked for his parents' address.  She'd given it to me once before, another time I'd meant to send it and then didn't after getting heated about her having their new address and telephone number after all of these years.  They'd moved again and she had the new address now.  I've made my peace with their continued contact.

He'd been my first boyfriend, my very first at a time I was sure I'd never, ever have one.  When we broke up, years later, after I'd followed him to university, his father had said some truly awful things about me.  We were sixteen when we met.  I'd long pined for him, a beautiful, shy, athletic boy.  He was pretty, so, so pretty, with delicate features, long limbs, a kind heart, like the shy hero in the '80s teen romantic comedies.  He was too sweet and lovely for me.  His own father had said so once we broke up.  I think he said something about "that kind of girl" and not being able to trust me.

I've held onto that comment as long as I'd had the box.  Wondered just what kind of girl this man thought I was.  Wondered how he'd found me to be untrustworthy after I'd dated his son for four years.  Wondered how he could still be friendly with my parents and deem me "that kind of girl."  I'd programmed myself to be a girlfriend, learned the tricks from television and movies.  So desperate for any love and affection, I'd clung to this boy with all my strength and desire and need.  I am sure I'd made promises I'd never be able to keep and promises for a future I could not quite visualize.  I was sixteen and then seventeen and finally nineteen when we broke up.  He'd been my first boyfriend and everything I was, I'd assigned to him.

The box contained a bracelet with his name on it, given to him by his parents when he was a small boy, some Cub Scout badges and pins, collectible pins and patches from various Olympics and soccer camps and teams.  They'd been the most important things in his young teenage life and he'd gifted them to me.  I believe in the magic of objects, the energy bestowed upon them by whomever possessed them.  Always loved that psychics and mediums could make a greater connection with departed loved ones if they could hold something that was either symbolic or important to them.  Even when I knew that this boy, now a man, could not forgive me my transgressions, had not yet found a way to incorporate our young love into his narrative, I could not bring myself to get rid of these special things.

When I stumbled upon the box looking for something else, I felt the immediate need to send it.  I opened it to make sure that everything was secure and wrapped each item in tissue paper.  Then I wrote a note on carefully chosen stationery to his parents explaining what was in the box.  Inside the box, I placed a card, written to him, with an apology and a wish for him and his family.  I told him I hoped that the box and its contents would be a welcomed surprise, something he could share with his children.  I'd treated the items with the utmost respect and care and was happy to return them with love and gratitude.  I walked to the post office and mailed the package and wandered back home through the park.  I felt that I'd finally made peace, after all these years, with how I'd hurt someone that I loved.

First loves unleash this incredible energy and power.  I never knew I could love or be loved as I'd loved him.  It wasn't mature, I know, but my love for my parents felt unrequited, they very seldom reciprocated, and he was the first person to return my affections and my need.  I loved in the most desperate way.  We were so entangled, knotted, that the thought of losing him left me panicked.  He'd been everything.  He answered for me the nagging questions, Was I deserving of love?  Was I lovable?  Was I beautiful?  Was I desirable?  For the first time the answer to these questions was yes.

It was so heady as so much of the teenage experience was.  I'd felt alone and then he was there.  It cannot be understated what those first kisses, long, crazy make out sessions were like for this girl.  I'd practiced on my pillow, certain it would NEVER happen for me in real life, completely unprepared for just how many people one might be able to kiss in a lifetime.  With each barrier broken, greater intimacy and connection created, I began to hook into him.  Could not bear to be without my well spring of love and affection.

When he went away to college the year before I did, I prided myself on my loyalty to our great love.  I was stoic and steadfast.  We wrote letters and made lots of expensive phone calls.  I visited him at school and pined for the day we could be reunited.  I followed him to the same university the next year.  He was the only love I'd ever known.  And then came life.  And I became "that kind of girl," for which I'd apologized profusely to him.  To his family.  To my family.  The shame, the betrayal was mine.  I'd fucked up or I'd grown up and I'd hurt everyone.  He'd returned a beautiful gold necklace I'd given him, swore he could not bear any reminders of me.  He said he regretted our time together, that he'd made a horrible mistake, that he should never have trusted me, that I was a terrible person.  And I could not disagree.  What had I done with love?

When we stopped seeing each other on campus, stopped trying to be friends as it was just too painful, stopped allowing ourselves to acknowledge that we'd gotten each other to the next phase of our lives, stopped showing love, I found the box.  He didn't want it, he'd said.  Didn't want anything from me.  So I put it away for safe keeping and promised myself I'd send it in time.

Yesterday I received a letter from his mother.  I'd sent the box to her to forward to him, sure he still wanted nothing to do with me.  I recognized her handwriting immediately.  She'd always been so good and so kind to me, was one of the things I loved in his life, his amazing family.  She assured me that the package was on its way to him.  She too thought it would be a welcome surprise for his children and thanked me for taking such good care of it.  I read and re-read the note.  Nearly thirty years ago I'd been completely in love with her son and had made promises I couldn't keep.  But I did still love.  For all those years, through all that BS, I'd been so grateful that he loved me and had loved him no matter that he believed me to be cruel and heartless. 

I don't expect to hear from him.  I didn't even address the note to him, but I am relieved and thankful that he can have these mementos and whether he can deal with it or not, the energy of the person who touched him is still on those objects and I loved him so.


(c) Copyright 2017.  Repatriated Mama:  Back to the Suburban Grind.




Monday, January 30, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: The very best words

Back to the Suburban Grind: The very best words: I've had nothing and everything to say.  In the movies when the aliens or the mermaids or angels arrive and meet human beings they oft...

The very best words


I've had nothing and everything to say.  In the movies when the aliens or the mermaids or angels arrive and meet human beings they often can't speak.  They don't know the language spoken where they've arrived on earth so they communicate with emotions, with touch, long gazes, and love. 

I haven't known how to write or speak this feeling in which I have been wading.  My vision blurry, I feel my way towards my allies and steel myself for our survival.  I don't want to use too much energy so that I don't spend my reserves.  It must look like depression or anxiety.  It must look like panic.  It feels noisy and chaotic and wordy though I've not spoken much at all.  I've shared on social media, I've advocated for the rights of everyone, and I wear my heart so open and unbuttoned that is screams out, you can see its beating outline on my chest.  I'm no mermaid, no angel, sometimes alien, but I don't know the words to speak here. 

I see messages from friend to other friends who don't believe this mess involves them.  White women who text other white women in the hopes that they have the same disdain for the disruption of their regularly scheduled privileged lives, only to find that the receiver of the message is active and hurt and organizing, and I am speechless.  It figures, I've thought.  And then gratitude washes over me for the friend who did respond in kind.  I read posts from people in my life from way back, way, way back, who say, "Stephanie, it's only been a week.  Give him a chance."  And I remember giving the bullies in my high school whose torment of me crushed moment to moment and being advised to either ignore them or ask them, sincerely ask them, why they've chosen me.  And I am stunned.

Sometimes people listen, really sit with you and listen, hold you in a space that they've generously given.  Sometimes when you aren't even there they are praying for you, hoping for you, holding you dear, sending you strength.  Sometimes, when you can hardly speak, they read between the lines and hear you.  Sometimes the very best words are expressed, barely spoken.


I have before felt lonely, afraid, ashamed.  I have before felt disconnected, excluded, outside.  This was something else.  In my spirit's journey for meaning, I'd assumed that deep down everyone was on a similar path, only to hear/see/read the most violent, hateful, racist, sexist, misogynistic, uninformed, terrified and terrifying rhetoric spewing like bile about almost everything and everyone I love and hold dear.  I have felt that all-consuming fear that makes people do the craziest things.  I have watched in shock, horror, and disbelief at what my black people would call the devil, take his place on a thrown right next to the people's god.  They look at the throne and can't tell the difference.  Angels, devils, mermaids, and aliens. 

I was sitting on a bench outside the bank on the corner of an intersection in my town.  I'd walked there to get out of the house where my husband was on day two and a half of man-flu and because I needed to take some fresh air into my lungs.  It was 33 degrees and windy.  It was perfect and it was quiet.  I talked to myself and to my angels.  These existential dialogues have been occurring with greater frequency, as soon as I've a free moment from the needs, desires, and demands of everything in the world.  It sounds like hysteria or panic, which it truly is not, but a real consideration of purpose, mine and everyone's, that I've not really had with this much intensity in my life.  This moment in history feels fraught. 

The wind hit my face and my hands as I tried to type on my phone to a friend.  It was so cold that I thought to just put the phone down for a while so I could just stop the sizzling in my brain that happens when I'm plugged in.  I put the phone in my pocket and turned my face to the sun trying to work her magic on that cold day.  When I opened my eyes, I made contact for a fleeting moment with a new friend, a woman I knew just briefly through shared friends and in our attendance at school functions, who was passing with a friend at just the moment I'd opened my eyes.  She doubled back and said, "Can I just give you a hug?  I want to hug you." 

I said, "Oh, yes.  Yes, please."  And we stood on the corner of at the crazy intersection in our little town and held each other.  When we let go I thanked her and we both wished each other a good day.  She walked on and I sat back on my bench and took in the air deeply, tears immediately coming.  Oh, my heart. 

Nothing and everything to say.  SHE had the very best words.









(c) Copyrighted 2017.  Repatriated Mama:  Back to the Suburban Grind.

Drawing, work in progress.  Grace, 2017.  Stephanie Penn-Virot

Monday, January 16, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: Learning MLK

Back to the Suburban Grind: Learning MLK: Black National Anthem Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of liberty; Let our rejoicing rise,...