The Tears of a Clown

Fidgeting with the art supplies on my desk, I pondered if I was the only student who did not enjoy art. I was finally beginning to catch up with my classmates after lagging behind in first and second grade, but this assignment distracted me.

Sister Eileen told my mother how proud she was of the progress I had made in the past year. The additional tutoring over the summer had made a noticeable difference. I was proud of myself. However, art made me doubt myself. I was uncomfortable in my desk, my stomach suddenly upset.

We had been instructed to draw a clown. Next to me, my classmate was humming to herself and shaking her shoulders back and forth as she emptied the crayons onto her desk.  It was obvious, she was anxious to begin.  I, however, slouched my shoulders and slid down in my seat, lowering my eyes and tilting my head to inspect my brown knee socks.

Perhaps, I was distracted for another reason. Sean had been in a hospital after the night by the staircase. We still did not know for certain what was causing his odd behavior.

There were days that the silence was deafening and the darkness inescapable. The majority of my understanding arriving by the manner of osmosis. Closing my eyes at night, I had to sing commercials over and over in my head to keep from worrying about him, “Milk, it does a body good.”

Reaching my hand forward, I slid the crayons closer to me. I raised one to my nose and inhaled the smell of the wax.  Closing my eyes, my hand lowered back to my desk. As I opened my eyes, I began to outline the face of my clown.

By the end of the week, Sister Eileen announced that our class would be hosting an art show for our parents to view our work.  She had awarded some pieces of art awards that would be presented at the show.

I shrugged my shoulders and continued to work on the cursive penmanship assignment we had been given. I was suddenly more invested in perfecting the capital letter M in cursive than I had been before she made this announcement. I kept my gaze fixed on my desk and smirked.

                        ***

     The following week, we returned to school after dinner for the art show.  The cafeteria had been arranged to allow for the display of art along the walls and at tables arranged in the center of the room.  My brother and I lagged behind our mother waving to our classmates and giggling.  It was not often that we were at school at this time of day and it caused us to be silly.

“Oh, Mary Beth! Look! This one has your name on it and it has a ribbon!” my mother stated scurrying to a drawing displayed at the center tables.  I followed, confused. Certainly, it was not mine. My mother had to be mistaken.  Her body obscured my view.

“Wow, look at your clown Mary Beth!” my mom continued as she inspected its face.

“Wow,” she whispered as she placed two fingers by the clown’s nose.

She turned so that her eyes met mine, her fingers lingering on the paper.

For the first time, it seemed, I beheld the face of my clown.  It was good, especially for a third grader.  The curly hair, the red lips, his clown hat…all of it was drawn in considerable detail.  But, what was most striking about this clown was that the corners of his lips were turned into a frown and his wide eyes appeared sad. By his nose, one glistening tear fell. Beyond the crayon and the cheap construction paper, this clown had a story to tell.

As we stood for a moment longer, it seemed to also hum, “The tears of a clown when no one is around…”

“Mary Beth, that was amazing.” my mom said more to herself than to me.

A deep sigh exited my lips and I felt a warm rush of blood in my chest as I watched her turn back one more time to view my portrait.

‘Thank you, Mom,’ I thought as we made our way across the cafeteria.

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The Dressings of Divorce

My focus remained fixated on my hands folded on my lap.  Silence surrounded me, except for the sounds of the highway.  I abandoned my typical game of observing the cars passing.  Instead, I intently investigated my freshly trimmed nails and did not lift my gaze.  All my strength consumed by maintaining my composure.

My dress, that I now forced myself to ignore, lay against my scrawny thighs.  I was so excited when I picked it out weeks earlier.  It was sky blue with white polka dots.  The selling point was the ruffles that adorned the hem and the straps.  The fabric was soft against my sun kissed skin.

I had worn it on the dance floor, the ruffled hem cascading as I twirled.  I made myself dizzy that night, spinning as I tilted my head and my eyes to admire its invigorating flow. In the blended family wedding photo, it is impossible to miss my flushed cheeks and proud grin.

Tonight, though, was completely different.  I was confused because with each moment that passed of this deafening silence, I grew more and more ashamed of the ruffles that had so recently brought my young heart so much joy.  It had been the special dress I chose to wear to my mom’s wedding.  Now, it was a source of contention and rejection. Was it me or the dress?  In my innocent mind, I could not separate the two.

With as minimal movement as I could produce, I opened the car door and kept my eyes from raising to the expression on my father’s face.  My young heart could not bare to interpret it. I was all sensing, no feeling in those moments. The cold of the door handle against my sweaty palms.  The warm breeze that greeted me as I opened the door.  The welcoming sounds from the nearby highway; cars beeping and tires against the pavement.

If words were spoken, I was now deaf to them after the calculated hushed tones that had ensued just an hour earlier.  I walked in a daze to my front door.

The dress was deemed not suitable for the restuarant, inappropriate with my bare shoulders adorned by ruffles.  Cotton, no less.  I must be taken back home to my mom and miss dinner.

As I closed the heavy wooden door behind me, tears brimmed in my eyes and I was barely able to will my feet forward.  P.J., our family dog, greeted me and I let my hand touch her scruffy fur.  With her beside me, I was able to find my way to the coach and sink into the comfort of all I knew.

Suddenly exhausted from the weight of the emotions that I had just withstood, I discovered myself sobbing in my mom’s arms. I was not able to comprehend what had just happened. I just knew I had not felt pain like that before.

Although this memory is unpleasant, through it my emotional resilience was fostered.  With no apologies, I gradually discovered the words and the bravery for that sweet girl. I refuse to be ashamed of the love and acceptance I am now capable of spreading in her name.

Wordsmith

My tools are not shiny or sharp, nor do they have serrated edges.

An arrow with its crimson target, breath aligned with skill, I pursue.

Threading my bow with echoing sentiments, may it penetrate and render you breathless.

Captured; become untamed to the language of the heart.

In Darkness, Light

Bound and dulled your desires may be. Lulled and dampened by emotions undeserving. Lost or hidden fears may mysteriously reply. Unsteady, unsure your confidence may seem.

Damaged, broken or unyielding it may all appear to be. Resigned to only maintain and not to thrive. Huddled; seemingly protected from all the uncertainties that may carelessly intrude otherwise.

From this hollowed crevice…a crack, a light will appear. Allow yourself a glimpse. For with just that, it will resonate despite it all.

The truth, the light, that is safely cradled within us all. And, as with all the other moments before, welcome the possibilities of its warmth and its comfort. Rediscover the undeniable strength, the glowing intentions, and the endless loving gestures forever streaming from its rays.

BIRTHDAY

Son, although tomorrow is your birthday, my heart will shamelessly celebrate the gift you have been to me.

Yes, we will all celebrate, perhaps with your favorite steak.  Candles will be lit, we will sing to you and wait with anticipation as you blow out your 14 candles.

Yet, all the while a warm rush will fill my chest.  I will do my best to remember your face, your voice and your eyes in these moments.  My heart knows all to well that time passes carelessly.  I must steal the moments and make them mine.

In the glow of the candles, I will linger at the vibrant kaleidoscope of memories, not knowing where my love ends and your life begins.

I will remember the wide eyes of the toddler that looked to me for courage.  In your face, I will see traces of the tenacious young boy who would not give up.  I will strain to hear in your voice remnants of the baby who once called for me.  As you walk, my heart will tease me; you refused to crawl face down, sitting upright and gliding across the floor with a foot extended to propel you.

I will search for traces of the chubby hands that once reached for mine. And, when I hug you…my heart will remind me of the peaceful nights I cradled you for hours. I never felt so alive (or sleep deprived).

Yes, on your birthday, we will sing and celebrate while my heart faithfully unwraps once again the gift that is you.

Rosary

My long, dark hair was secured in a neat twist, not to distract me from my duties.  My hair has always signified the intensity of my focus, which could be razor sharp at times. This a fact that enabled me to perform well in stressful situations, composed and assured.

This focus, although it can be deemed undesirable to some, was of notable relevance this particular afternoon as I cared for my patient in her final hours. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was in the final stages of its grasp. She struggled to catch her breath, her eyes wide and scared.  I did my best to make her comfortable, methodically positioning her as her gaze met mine.  My eager and compassionate presence, I can only hope she sensed.  Even as an inexperienced nurse, I possessed this ability whether I appreciated its significance or not.

It would not be her final moments that I recall with the most detail, but the moments after her spirit left that causes me to pause now.

I discovered her still before the end of my shift.  There was no energy or activity, other than my attempts to comfort her earlier, involved in her passing.  It was peaceful I imagined as she parted her lips once last time, her breath escaping as did her spirit without unnecessary effort or pain.  It was her time, I accepted that with reverence.

As an even younger nursing assistant, I had been trained in preparing and transferring the deceased.  However, on this day, I knew her sisters would be coming to see her before she left our floor.  I had an expanding appreciation for the significance of these moments, the final farewell.  I also recognized that it was I, alone, that held this responsibility of preparing her for her sisters.

There were large windows in her private room and the sun slanted in through the partially closed blinds.  I reached for the cords and pulled them completely open, the light radiating on her bed.  I cleaned her and dressed her in her favorite sweater.  Adjusting her bed upright, I ensured her blankets were tidy, folding the top neatly under her arms.  Her hands; I focused on those in particular.  I applied lotion and folded them together in prayer.  Searching in her bedside table, gently lifting her rosary beads with conviction and weaving them strategically through her cool fingers…I was satisfied.

Her hair styled; I sprinkled baby powder under her neck and shoulders in an effort to mask the odor that my nose recognized as common in these final moments.  My focus completely on the lasting impression this visit would have on her loved ones.

By her bed, I placed her bible and a box of opened tissues.  It is noteworthy, that in all the possessions she must have possessed in her life only her bible, rosary, and a few articles of clothing remained with her. This, I would recognize time and time again.  All else, passing fancies.  Nothing more, nothing less.

As I turned to leave her room, I partially slid the privacy curtain closed.  Holding on  to the edge of the curtain, I glanced back at my surroundings.  The sun, gratefully, had not yet set.  A steady stream of light reflected off the floor, her bed within range of its rays.  She appeared peaceful, poised even,  holding her rosary beads.

At the nurse’s station, her sisters waited arm and arm.  They leaned onto each other, steadying one another physically and emotionally in their combined sorrow.  “She is ready for you now,” I spoke as I touched their intertwined arms.  As they walked away, every fiber of my being knew this to be so.  She was ready.

Although I spent the majority of my nursing career welcoming new life, it was in moments similar to these that I truly could appreciate what it meant to live life.