What’s in a name?

An intimate look into adoption…

Heather Matarazzo

This is not a typical blog piece, though nothing about me is typical, so it fits appropriately.

I have been hesitant to write anything about my life that is deeply personal, because that requires an incredible willingness on behalf of the writer to be vulnerable and honest. However, I am always up for a challenge.

I’m 9 or 10 years old. I’ve snuck into my parents’ bedroom and am quietly walking across their carpet, praying that I don’t make a sound. I open their closet and find the brown metal box. My heart is pounding, hands shaking. I crouch down, balancing on the balls of my feet, ready to jump up and escape at the potential first creak of the stairs. Silence. So far so good. I lift the top up slowly. It doesn’t betray me by squeaking. I’m grateful. My little fingers search through the vanilla colored tabs labeled…

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Regrets, I’ve had a few…

     It was difficult to determine from the lighting whether it was still night or had the morning brought with it an overcast sky.  My eyelids still dutifully closed, my body seemingly weightless in my small bed. The old Victorian home I had grown to view with affection often settled in the night, creating indescribable,  inanimate groans. Yet, the noises that slowly entered my consciousness now were more than her old walls settling from the hustle and bustle she bore throughout the daylight hours. 

     I tossed in my blanket, feigning more rest. My alarm had certainly not shreeked yet;  I had time before I would wake for work. I yawned and dug both my hands into my pillow. Who knew, with all the animals in our home, maybe one of our wandering cats interrupted my sleep? 

     Again, my senses were roused. There was activity right outside my bedroom door; the main bathroom across from where I lay. The sounds of hushed but urgent voices intermingled with doors and floors creaking became more discernible. 

     My Memere’s voice beckoned now, her delicate tone disguised now by angst. I strained to hear her but only managed to hear muffled exchanges through my old wooden door. My eyes still closed, even with this budding awareness I drifted in and out of a light sleep.

     My Memere had spent the night with us as her lifetime love was in the ICU nearby. 

     The front door taunted me as it closed behind hurried footsteps. 

      It was with this final sound that my thoughts became coherent. 

    My Pepere, my Pepere, is this it? Why else would they have rushed out at this ungodly hour? 

    My heart ached as I envisioned him declining in his unfamiliar and isolated hospital bed, yet my mind sternly and irrationally responded, “Stop, you have work today. You have to go! You are still on orientation!”  

     Persistent but gentle, my heart etched for me the  uncosolable tears that would drift on my Memere’s cheeks. I would not be with her in her loss, nor with the others that faithfully gathered by his bedside. 

     Hours later, I sat defeated and crying myself at the chaotic nurse’s station. I hung my throbbing head in my hands. I had been loyal to caring for others but ultimately had denied my own. I now bore the ultimate regret, the rawest of consequences of allowing anything other than the echoes of my heart to lead me. I would never have the chance to hold his hand one last time and whisper, “I love you. I understand you’re time on earth  is nearly gone, until we meet again.”

      In his honor, I always pay due reverence to the sketching of the heart. 

“Failure is not an option,” or is it?

Spiders, snakes, critters and crawlers, the dark, ghost, heights; is  your skin crawling at the thought of any one of them?  Does the thought of a snake or spider on you or even near you make you scream or screech horror movie style?  Or, do you have other more deep rooted fears?  Maybe, you are hard core and fear nothing, lucky you! But I doubt it, did I say that?  Maybe,  you have yet to identify what truly causes you to get weak in the knees and that’s OK.  But, it does make life easier when you can name your demons and strip away their power.

I have a deep-rooted fear, nothing that the physical world could alone invoke.  Because my fear was so hidden, it took another to guide me to it. For the longest time I could not understand why?  Why would anyone expose you to a spider if it caused you intense distress and angst?  Seriously, back off.  What if you you were not even able to recognize why you felt such distress but another provided you a serving in disguise?  And, how the heck did they know before you did?  For years I was baffled as to why and how?

The college years supply potential opportunities for personal growth and self-awareness. These opportunities may not always present themselves as you would envision. They may actually seem quite the opposite. I have always been motivated by my academic performance.  For me, school was very straightforward unlike the unexpected twists and turns of life. There is no study guide for life and the instructions can come from unreliable sources. In a classroom,  the expectations and the results are generally very clear.  I thrived in the rigor and rewards of academics.  It was and still is my little niche.  Of course, as an adult I have accepted life itself as a teacher.

Freshmen year in college is universally a challenging time for students.  For me, it was particularly challenging as I was coping with personal losses, namely a relationship with my biological father.  I was also adjusting for the first time in my life to not having my twin brother near me.  I can recognize these more clearly now, years later. Despite these challenges, I was able to maintain my grades to my satisfaction.  So…it’s all good right?  As long as I could perform, there was no need to dwell.  At least that is what I naively thought.  As long as I focused on my studies, nothing else could hurt me.

It would be mid-way through my Freshmen year that I crumpled.  It seems so trivial now, but at the time it was if a snake was around my neck and spiders of all shapes and sizes where crawling up my legs.  I cried for the first time, sober I should clarify, in years.  The most independent of a child always, I uncharacteristically turned to my Mom.

“I don’t understand what I did so wrong that she would give me an F?”, I sobbed to my Mom.  I was in shock, never had I failed (since first grade, another story) in school.  It was my sanctuary.  The shock subsided and I turned to correcting whatever vital flaws this Professor imagined in my paper.  But, I still did not understand the significance of this particular grade or why I was so upset by it.

Now, please let me clarify.  This is like trying to rationale with an individual with a spider phobia that spiders are generally not harmful and not being able to empathize with the fear they are experiencing.  If you have identified your fears, those that truly initiate freight, you may understand why this one stupid F made me respond so irrationally.  If not, trust me…it was not a rationale response but one that would allow me to eventually grow.

Days later, I met one on one with the Professor.  She was a beautiful sister with clear blue eyes and bouncy brown hair that I actually envied.  I sheepishly handed to her the revised paper.  We barely spoke, after all I had minimal experience on discussing what I perceived as failure constructively.  She gently responded,

“It is OK to fail, you need to know that.  Failure is part of life.”

I kindly nodded, completely baffled and left her office.  What in the world was this lady trying to sell to me?  My instincts told me she cared, but on the surface I felt as if she failed me on purpose to teach me a lesson.  Seriously, who does that? And, at the college level to a student in a very competitive major.

 I was a seemingly strong draft horse making distinct footprints in my wake, but blinders shielded me from recognizing such an authentic truth.

It would be years and years later, after I experienced failure in its rawest form, that her voice would graciously come to me again. And yet again, in those moments that rendered me utterly stripped without my approval, my silly ego and I  managed to get back up again and again. Each time, life rolling nonchalantly along…whistling I swear it. I took notice. 

Failure had been my personal demon, the mere thought of it driving me to extremes both in and out of academics. 

Today, I envision my Professor with her beautiful, clear eyes and I genuinely thank her for caring enough to expose me to what I truly needed to learn.  I am grateful to her for delivering this lesson; in a safe manner, under her watch and with her wisdom as the ultimate guide.  I only wish life would be so generous, or maybe…just maybe, it is.

The Fourth Decade

Amanda Mininger

One of my closest friends turned 40 today. I’ve been thinking about this one, trying to figure out why we put this much significance on a birthday, why we decorate this particular mile marker with lights and flowers and well-meaning phrases full of pith, borrowed from antiquity or Sex in the City, one of the two. I’ve had this conversation before with friends in their late 30s and early 40s, and we all say the same thing: “I don’t feel 40. I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like, but whatever it is, I don’t feel it. Does it mean we have to wear longer skirts now?”

Whatever cause for contemplation there is, I’ll take the bait. I know that, at minimum, turning 40 gives us permission to take stock and see where we are, to ask of ourselves: What have I learned (if anything?) What have I…

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Summer ’92

     His deep, visceral request pierced the darkness like a beacon,

      “Where’s MY sister?!!”

     Instinctively, I moved in response to the concern and angst in his voice. Curled in the fetal position in the rectangular window behind the rear seats, I shimmied myself free from the tight quarters. It felt as if I was hanging upside down from the ceiling. 

      Disoriented, my feet reached out first, followed by my torso and my head. I slid out the backseat window feet first. 

     It was him that grabbed my feet and then carefully my hands,  steadying me upright from this awkward position.  I felt moisture on my feet, heard a hissing sound, and felt a subtle burning sensation on my back. I was the last one out; the others already running up the small gravel incline to the main road.  The brown station wagon now lying on its hood.

It’s gonna blow!!!”,  another voice warned. 

     I recognized the hissing sound as not natural and I too hurried towards the main road. Pacing on the side of the highway and in a bit of shock, we were quietly able to assure everyone was OK. The lights of an ambulance signaled in the distance; few words were spoken and we waited. 

      It was mere moments before we were singing along to the radio, relishing in the sweetness of summer as teenagers. Our driver sober but surely distracted by the chaos of the five other carefree teenagers that squeezed along for the ride. I sat in the backseat, behind the passenger seat, on my twin brother’s lap. 

    The screech came unexpectedly first, followed by an abrupt shift to our right. We all became immediately silent. My eyes could not adjust to the sudden and intrusive spinning, but the sound of metal being assaulted by hard pavement pierced my senses. Our bodies, six pairs of arms and of legs, cushioning each of us from injury. At least that is the only other reason we could deduce we were all safe. 

     It would be an hour or so later that I would discover a cut that ran the length of my lower back. Small pieces of glass, either from the rear window in which I was tossed or from the side window of my fortunate escape,  embedded within it. I was incrediblely lucky. We all were incredibly lucky. Minor cuts, scraps and bruises. No seatbelts, my lord! 

     A week later, the news. Another jeep full of teens, rollover. Ejected passengers who were not as lucky.

      Every time I see that scar on my lower back, above my silly purple flower tattoo, I count my blessings. 

     

     

First, ever teaching experience! It went well except…

     I made the decision to teach for my professional growth two years ago. I had a mostly satisfying and fulfilling career as a nurse. By the way, I still am a nurse. When you seek a profession to help others, you are born into a heritage that you remain faithful to regardless of life choices.  My calling still remains, to help others. The setting may be different, but the mission is similar. 

      October, 2013 I discovered myself standing before a class of Health Assisting seniors. I had very limited experience in public speaking and no formal experience as a teacher.  I was still very wet behind the ears. Fortunately,  I did have a very limited lesson plan for this 70 minute period, not that I even recognized what a “Lesson Plan” actually entailed. 

     What I did have was firsthand, real world experience in the topic, Emergency Room Technician. I was excited about this topic! I had worked as an ER Tec as a college student. I performed CPR for the first time in this role. I can still recall the sensations and the smells. My memory may be dulled, but I do believe the team attempted to revive this gentlemen for at least an hour.  His ribs cracking under my hands as I was instructed to continue the excessive compressions. Certainly, I had very real life experience that would serve me well as I stood before them. 

     The first hurtle was adjusting to 20 pairs of eyes focused on you (hopefully!).  The student’s attention was definitely drawn to the “new” teacher that presented before them. Thankfully, they were naturally curious and on their best behavior. 

     I would soon learn that these same eyes notice any subtle change you may make to your appearance. Often, complimenting your shoes, your hairstyle, or your make-up. But, these eyes also make note when you have an annoying pimple or dark circles under your own. This day, I was blemish free and still reeling from the excitement and adrenaline of this new adventure.

     Adjusting to standing before rows of desk and students may take time, as well as projecting your voice to reach 20 pairs of ears. I am not typically a talkative person and I am most definitely not loud. I have always prided myself for being a very good listener. I had yet to build my repertoire for creating very good listeners in my students. But, I wholeheartedly excepted this challenge. I was finally at a place in my life where I realized others may benefit from listening to me. 

      Fortunately, even on this day I knew it was vital to establish respect and trust to be effective.  I spoke respectfully and kindly to my class. I sought to connect with as many of the students as possible by prompting them with questions and genuinely respecting their responses. 

      Amidst the introduction of the foundations of this topic, ensuring their knowledge of individuals such as Clara Barton and of The Red Cross, I was able to find my way. Overall, I would assess my performance as a C+, respectable for a brand spanking new teacher. Hey, I didn’t run away crying.

     Change can be hard; the uncertainties and the possibility of failure creates such a looming barrier for most of us. I can still recall the inner turmoil I had to overcome to teach that day and the days following. At times being overwhelmed after years and years of enjoying providing competent and compassionate nursing care. 

     There are specific sensations I recall from this particular day.  The unexplainable fluctuations in temperature, one minute I was hot and moments later cold. I pulled my black cardigan absent-mindedly on and off over my head. The sensation of my voice echoing like from a cave in my mind. Was that me actually speaking? The floating sensation as if I was watching myself teach. It would take almost a full year of teaching to feel mostly at ease and mostly confident standing before a class of students. I am still eager to improve my effectiveness as a teacher and I have not looked back~ both encouraging signs! 

     The highlight of teaching my first class did not come until the bell rang and my students prepared to leave. I think I took my first normal breath as I felt my nerves dulling. One kind student approached me and leaned in, 

Ummmm, Missss…ummm, well I think you should know. Your sweater is on inside out.”

     My confidence was boosted with this revelation. Instead of students snickering at my struggle, that class spared me. They already respected me enough not to laugh and for that, I give myself an A. 

     

     

     

       

Seeking Inspiration…

     Give me something to bite my teeth into.

     Tearing away, please, only a piece to sustain me through the feast or the fast of this lifetime.

     A morsel to arouse my pacified senses; nourish me, energize me, awaken me once again to the flavors of each and every creation.

     The moments of magnitude, the ones labeled insignificant or those of obnoxious overindulgences, even those that leave you weak from it all; give me but a serving from each to ground me, yet all the while enticing me to find the balance in all the irony and contradiction that garnish unwelcome. 

     Give me my bite, my sliver of heaven, my tasty morsel~ forever more satiating to my heart’s delight.