Tuesday, May 14, 2013

EDUCATING Z - Chapters 6-10


            Writing college acceptance essays was a particularly daunting task. The topics were –
 ‘The Stupidest Mistake I Ever Made’
Z, ”Now who would want to publish that?”
Z, “Morbid.”
Z, ”Scary stuff.”
 ‘Ten Best Inventions: A Personal Perspective’
Z, ”Ten? How about five?”
Z, “Could write about my family’s history.”
 ‘A Year of Challenge’
Z, “Okay, that last one is easy to write because three terrible things have happened in the last six months alone. A few impressive quotes and I’ll have a good looking essay.”
She picked up the book of famous quotes hoping to make a grand opening statement. She found one – Tolstoy : ”All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
            Z, ”Woe is me. We have been terribly unhappy, and with the doctor having said Ma is very, very sick, we have been feeling even worse. We had the huge chemical spill in our town killing eight people. I can still feel fumes scorching my throat when I remember that day. But I still need a few high impact quotes for good measure.”
               She resumed reading and as if by magic one line picked itself and suspended itself in the air above the page for her to read – Einstein : “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.
            “Okay, okay, I get the sign. Let’s put things in perspective without trivializing them.”
            She wrote an essay a lot less lachrymose than she had planned.
            “Heritage” was her next choice.
            “Daddy, tell me something about the town you grew up in.”
“We moved a couple of times but we always lived in a town adjacent to
 Lake Woebegone, where all the women were strong, all the men were good looking, and all the children were above average,” said Daddy and gave a great big guffaw. “And when we messed up we said,”So what?”
Ma looked wan, weary, and distant, and said, ”You are growing up very differently from the way we grew up. Times have changed.”
Z sat, pen poised over paper for an eternity and no words came forth. ”Is this writer’s block? Feels more like blocked wisdom. I feel like I haven’t grown since the eighth grade and yet I feel profoundly tired.”
            Ma said,”Show me what you’ve written. I’ll help you with your essays,” and was happy with the one Z had written. Daddy and Z read a novel each by Wodehouse while Ma napped to fill the hours.


This was a bleak period in Z’s life. Their castle and moat sank and shrank to give them a snow globe to live in, a little plastic deal with fake water, fake snowflakes that glittered and swirled when shaken, and a little crystal palace. Amidst a grand party for the world at large it seemed to Z the little world of Daddy, Ma, and Z was cold and oppressive.
            Z cried herself to sleep every night and couldn’t fathom why. She didn’t know, or rather hadn’t understood very well what the doctor had meant when he said that her Ma was very, very sick. She just imagined it would take her a very, very long time to recuperate. Within a world that was alive in vibrant colors and happy music, Ma, Daddy, and she lived in a grey and yellow world and were mute.
            There was just one bubble of air in this world, at the top of the snow globe to which they could rise to socialize. On a sojourn to that little bubble where the thick fake water in the snow globe could no longer distort her view of the world she looked toward the window in the east hoping to catch a glimpse of children playing in the warm golden sunshine, and green grass, to cheer herself up. She saw instead an unfamiliar and shimmering world that she had no passport to and was tantalized by it. One part of her said she belonged in that world, but the other said not. She did not have the reserves of trust and humility to ask for anybody’s help or good counsel so she turned away hoping life would find a way of getting things right for her. Somehow something did not feel right.
            On a sad, sad day Ma slipped away to Heaven and left them looking on helplessly unable to follow or to pull her back into their grey and yellow world. So like a mermaid she dove back into the depths of her thick ocean while her Daddy remained in the bubble flailing his arms against the plastic that held him captive in the saddest part of his life attempting escape.
            Her mother, her best friend, her philosopher, her teacher, had all been taken away for ever and she wept tears that got lost in the thick fake water amidst the fake snowflakes. And as if that wasn’t bad enough she threw a spiritual tantrum abandoning prayer. Her life had begun showing the effects of being under siege but no one seemed to have noticed.
            “Grace under fire is what the world expects from you and anything less gets trampled underfoot,” she surmised.
            Compassion not given, not received, became the redundant currency in her grey and yellow world.
            The snow globe seemed to close in on her as she sat alone at its bottom grieving, crying, ranting, and trying to make sense of it all. It was all so useless she gave up the struggle and became very quiet. She accepted that perhaps her whole life until now had been a sham and felt better. Her little crystal palace under the ocean imploded quietly. She hoped someone had notified her Daddy of this catastrophe. She remained so still she hardly knew she was alive.
            Into the cramped space, through the thick fake water a gentle glow appeared as the sun rose and peeped into the room. Accustomed to the half-light and the confines of her few cubic centimeters of fake water the light meant little to her but as if by some natural instinct she moved toward it. Divine intervention that surely must have been for she walked through the plastic like a heroine in a sci-fi movie and then through the grille on the window in the east into the real world with real people, with real hopes, real dreams, real goodness, real flaws, real hurt, and real decisions to make each day. This world demanded real forgiveness and real change.


            High School was nearly over. Her yearbook all signed, phone numbers of dear friends in her diary, Z began to get serious about moving out of the house. Daddy would be remarried sooner or later. She wasn’t sure which, sooner or later. Other than that life had been a colorless blur. She had been slow in sending out her college applications and was now paying a price for it. She still didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she was on her way.
            After school she sat in her room one day at the bottom of the snow globe, minding her own business, when SUDDENLY, a dark shadow appeared before her. It was a FRIGHTENING FACE, an old crone in a dark scarf in a dark mood in a dark voice cackled as she saw Z startle. Z was screaming under water now. No one heard her scream. That seemed to have propelled the crone into action. She picked up the snow globe and gave it a good shake and she mumbled with satisfaction as she saw the insides swirling. Z, sadly for herself, never lost consciousness even when she bumped her head a million times as she swirled with the water. Each bump and bruise felt new and she felt it in its full force.
            By the time the water became still again Z had crawled back to her rock and had been sitting there as still as the water a very, very long time, holding tightly to a cut on her arm that bled and stung if she let go. She had probably cut it on debris from the previously imploded crystal palace but she wasn’t sure. It did not really matter to her as to how she was hurt. The why was a question too large and distorted from her point of view to even begin to attempt to answer.
            Dulled by the aftermath of pain she lost her concentration and let her grip on the cut slip. A plume of bright red blood floated up and like a smoke signal sent out a message ‘Calling All Predators’ far and wide. She saw the gusher and put her hand over the gash tightly again and darkness fell. She fell asleep.


            It had been several months since Auntie M had passed away. Cousin Z was graduating high school and the LP, Mama and Papa were invited to attend. Mama picked out a beautiful heart-shaped pendant for Z and promised to take her shopping for a prom dress. Back at Uncle N’s after an exhausting day of trying on clothes and shoes and hairdos they were sitting together in the den after dinner, relaxing. Z looked very mature with her hair pinned up and her pj collar slipped down to simulate the neckline on her gown to show off her new pendant and chain. They switched off the T. V. to go to bed.
          As Z looked at the dark screen she saw herself and burst into tears sinking into the armchair her knees drawn into her chest as she rocked and cried. Mama put her arm around her and a few minutes later Z pulled herself together, dried her eyes, sat up straight, and said,”I’m sorry I bawled. Ma would have loved to be here today but she can’t.
            “But she is. Please believe that she is with you every day and wants very much for you to be happy always.”
            “I try, I try, and sometimes I fail. And I stupidly ask ‘How dare you die?’ ”
            “It’ll get easier as the years go by. Live up to her dreams for you and make her proud. In fact you already have.”
            Z started to tear up again so Mama just held her hand and said a prayer for her and said to Z, ”There’s magic in those words if you’ll say them everyday.”
            “I know what I have been doing wrong. I have refused to pray and have lost my only source of peace. I have put the pieces back together on the outside but there is a nebulous muddlemess inside of me that needs attention. Thank you for helping me in so many ways.” 


            On an airplane leaving home for college many miles away, excitement successfully replaced trepidation. Cousin Z noted the uses of a flotation device, the exact location of the emergency doors, and was stunned by the fact that the flight attendant had just said that an adult sitting next to a child must wear his or her oxygen mask first and then put one on the child’s face.
            She knew Ma would have put the mask on her first and then attended to her own. “What a metaphor! If only Ma had known that you can’t give away what you don’t have.”

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