2020, The Year of Perfect Vision
“This shit is hard.” Words spoken by a friend who went to Harvard to describe living life on life’s terms. Wiser words could not be more true than at this 100 plus day mark of living through a pandemic.
But that is not what this story is about. If anything, it is more about the cure. At least metaphorically. And for me, part of the cure for my prudent isolation is found in daily walks. In my modest neighborhood. I love seeing the different houses. It is not a cookie cutter neck of the woods. Rather, many modest mid century homes, about 1200 square feet, mine with original hardwood floors and based on the 12 or so remaining prongs, a dishwasher of the same era.
In THIS neighborhood, no one has an electric garage door to foster the ability to slip into your home, without knowing or engaging with your neighbors on the street.
So one day, about a month or a year or 5000 weeks ago, in the spring, I was winding my way home from a mile or so walk when I heard the sound of a bird. It appeared to be coming from a house on my street. Imagine a house that squawks like a crow, and that is what I heard. I slowed to see a figure in the window, obscured by a screen to reveal a child. I guessed to be about 6 or 11. It was hard to tell. The child had longish brown hair, but I could not discern girl or boy.
A few days later, I saw that the child was a little girl as I rounded the bend from a walk to find her in the front yard with her father. I got excited. As her dad and I chatted, discovering that we were both writers and painters, she marched into the conversation, hell bent on being heard. This one is tenacious and very bright. I had her pegged at nine or so. Wrong. She was just five years old. And this precociously charming child had done just that. Charmed me. And for the record, the definition of precocious, (adjective. unusually advanced or mature in development, especially mental development: a precocious child. prematurely developed, as the mind, faculties, etc.,) is a compliment and perfect description of my experience of the five year old adult human being in the works who goes by the name of Sloan Gallagher.
On our next meeting, I had a delivery. I was thrilled to present her with some of my prized loon feathers that I had found and collected on the beach in Florida as I spent my February there. “Did you know that there is a bird who has polka dotted feathers?” I began my cocky spiel about this fascinating fact. I had placed a few in a ziplock bag and at a safe social distance, laid them at her feet in her yard. Sloan picked up the bag, and with a flat affect that did not miss a beat, looked me straight in the eye and said emphatically, “I like seagulls.” The fact that she was not a bit reluctant to speak her truth was so refreshing to me. This person had not had a drop of the “What can I say to make you feel good about what I don’t like when I say it” koolaid. “So noted.” My reply with a smile of pure endearment that stretched across my face.
The next delivery was more sea bird feathers. The ones with no spots. They were Sloan’s favorite. I am still smiling to think of this child’s bold honesty. My ego was busted that my polka dot story did not impress. But my spirit, which has been a little low with this isolation was elevated to new highs.
A few more weeks passed. I deliver little bags of this and that. Feathers, paints, shells, canvas and paint. She painted this beautiful picture with what I had given her. Giving me more than she could know to see her joy and exuberance as she too lives in isolation.
One day, I stopped to say hi, and as I am talking to her dad I learn that this little human is about to have a birthday. Number six. Which is really just a technicality as I see it. This one has a very old soul. I see her channeling Scout from “To Kill A Mockingbird.” And innocent wisdom and love for ALL things and people. I love the irony that the day she was talking to that bird it could well have been a mockingbird. She was indeed one.
In the middle of June, I stopped to say hi. Chatted with Sloan’s dad as I learn Sloan is about to have a birthday. On June 25th, Sloan was gonna be six! As she clamors her way into our conversation, I ask her what she wants for her birthday. “My dad is getting me a remote control car.” At this point, her dad goes into the house. In his absence she says, “So if you want to leave anything here for me on my birthday you can.” I am beaming. Inside and out. Again at her boldness. “Ask and you shall receive” is a verse she has down pat. Good for her. “Well I won’t make any promises, but what else do you want for your birthday?” My rhetorical question as my inner Santa has been channelled, already planning and plotting on how I could make her day better knowing there would be no birthday party. Since that innocent ritual celebration has been postponed until further notice, I knew I HAD to do SOMETHING. “I’d like a remote control plane.” “Okay. We shall see.” My parting words as I walk two doors down to my house with the bright pink door which I could not open fast enough to tell my daughter of my plan. My daughter worked for a time at a hobby store with the specialty of remote control everything. She had had remote control Jeeps and drones of her own, so I knew she was the one to ask. “We can get her a drone. Something where replacement parts would be cheap. It would be a good way for her to learn.” She was infected with my enthusiasm as she spoke her words. So the order was placed for the perfect drone for a perfectly delightful young woman who I wanted to see happy on her birthday.
So at 6:00 am, just after my normal wake up time on June 25th, 2020, the sixth birthday of the future and the hope of America, I snuck down the street. With her parent’s permission, I set up a surprise in her yard. Her favorite colors were pink and purple, so I took purple and white crepe paper and wrapped the porch rails to make an “x.” From there, I ran streamers to a big box in the yard. Full of pink and purple paints, Strong Girl themed Happy Meal toys, a brown plastic dollhouse hutch with windows and doors that open, a blue and white dollhouse armoir that opened up also, a red dollhouse fireplace, seashells and glue sticks and shells and all of the rest of my seagull feathers-all with the suggestion to “make believe’ and “make art.” And in front of the box was my once prized color print of The Butterfly Alphabet.” A photo array of actual images taken in over 25 countries over 25 years by Kjell B. Sandved. A photographer with a beautiful eye that saw 26 letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0 thru 9 in these breathtaking images, all represented on this framed poster.
When I came home from all day making art at “Stuff Dreams Are Made Of,” I was met with a visit from Sloan and her dad. She was ELATED at what she found when she woke up a year older. “I loved what I got. Thank you!” Her words as she and her dad handed me a tupperware container with homemade chocolate ice cream. I had signed the note I left her “Love Lucinda and Abby” so Sloan could not wait to hand me two gift bags. “This one is for you. This one is for Abby.” I told her Abby was gone as I invited her and her dad to stay for a moment. “Make sure you give that to Abby.” She insisted as I placed it on the porch. All in our masks as if that were normal, we hung out for a beautiful moment. Sloan had the cutest mask. Kid sized with camouflage dinosaurs on it. “I like your mask!” “I like yours too!” Her six year old telling my six year old as she sees my puppy dog face on the mask that I wear because I could not stand for people to not see me smile. “I like your eyes.” As we comiserated over how cool it was that the dog’s face was placed just so to make the wearer’s eyes be in just the right spot to look like a dog person hybrid. I opened my bag to find one of the shells I had given her on a red string that was in the box I had given her, three popsicle sticks, two bobby pins, three different buttons, a purple fuzzy ball with one googly eye, a small styrofoam ball and the direction to make some art with these things. (Mission accepted. I will post my work here later.)
AS I talked to her dad, who was kind enough to stand there with the sun in his face so that we could visit, Sloan began to pluck long leftover lilly leaves from my garden. “I like your grass.” She said, as she stood there with a fistfull of 18 inch blades. “I want some more.” She interjects in a hushed voice into the conversation. “Help yourself.” I say back as she plucks to her heart’s content. And boy was MY heart content. “I like to put grass in a vase.” She said as her dad and I giggled.
What they did not know was that I was having an emotional day. While I was in my happy place making art, I was beginning to feel the grief over the fact that my daughter and I would soon be parted. By 800 miles. A distance that has never been more than a twenty minute drive. At age 22, she is moving out of my house where I have enjoyed her for most of a year and into her adulthood. Living on her own for the first time. And I am moving too. To Florida, The place where they have the most amazing seagull feathers. And those boring polka dot ones. I had a good cry about that. Not the feathers, but about leaving my daughter. Necessary tears to honor the loss of what has been, tempered with the hopes of what is to come in our relationship in the future. “Visit a lot.” Sloan said, as they started their 2 minute walk home. Knowing that is not likely, I told her we could meet in a Zoom room, a tool we have both used during our #covidvacations. Hers for education. Mine for human connection and fellowship.
I will look forward to this possibility. To bear witness to the bringing up of this special human, who gives me much hope for the future of us all.