Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prisoner of Wishing

I overslept by a few minutes this morning; Mike startled me out of a dream to rouse me. Just seconds before, I had been following my mom around our old house. She was looking for something, and I was helping her look while carrying a bag of chocolate chip cookies. I was shoving cookies in my mouth one after another. Upon waking, the dream immediately began to fade, and because I so rarely dream of my mother, I tried to make my brain hold on to it. I stumbled sleepily to the shower, threw my pajamas on the floor, stood beneath the hot water and closed my eyes, willing the image to come back, desperate to remember her voice.

I focused. The cookies I could explain. After spending the past few months working out and limiting calories like a fiend, I am accustomed to waking up with a rumble in my stomach and very odd dreams about junk food. But what was my mother looking for in my dream? I kept thinking about it and trying to get it back, and eventually it came to me. My mom had been searching for her MIA-POW bracelet. Room to room she wandered through the old townhouse we had moved into when I was in 6th grade. And I was following her, helping her look, still eating the stupid cookies. It made total sense.
Except for the part where it didn't at all.

My mom was born in 1953, slightly too young to be a real hippie in the 60’s. There were no cross-country treks to the Haight-Ashbury, no real love-fests or drum circles, and she was too young to be allowed to march on Washington without parental supervision. However, the attitude of the times had definitely affected her, and she spent her life knowing, preaching, and demonstrating the importance of tolerance, peace, and equality, and she made sure that those values were passed directly to me and my sisters. She told us stories of the 60’s on rare occasion. Her best friend, Teri, usually had a starring role, and her stories of rebellion seemed thoughtful and with purpose, in contrast with my high school crimes of skipping class and smoking Camel Wides for the sole purpose of pissing her off.

At some point in the early 70’s, right after high school, she and Teri took a trip to San Francisco. I am pretty sure that was where she purchased her MIA bracelet. A student group in California had started printing the simple, cuff-style bracelets bearing the name and rank of a soldier missing in Vietnam to bring much-needed attention to the MIA-POW issue and to the families who were struggling in the vast unknown. I imagine that my mom purchased it because it was something she believed in strongly, although I know that the bracelets were also very trendy with the aspiring-hippie types. My mom hung on to that bracelet for the next 20 years.

Until I got ahold of it.

The hippie culture came back in style while I was in high school, although we called it grunge. It was an Eddie Vedder- and Kurt Cobain-fueled attitude and uniform that bore a small resemblance to the hippie lifestyle of the 60’s, at least that’s what my friends and I told ourselves. (Hell, we even tried to bring back the Dead.) In trying to keep with staying super-cool and hippie-ish with my high-school friends, I frequently begged my mom to let me borrow her MIA bracelet, knowing that wearing a real piece of the 60's would make me even more popular than my ripped flannel shirt and Lollapalooza tee already had. While she had always been generous with her things, that bracelet was the one thing she wouldn’t let me borrow. In retrospect, I think it was the last remaining tangible piece of her sordid youth after marrying into an instant family, having kids, and divorcing all while still in her 20’s, and she wanted to protect it, keep it sacred. But I wasn’t thinking in retrospect then; I was a selfish 15-year old who only cared about being cool.

So I took the bracelet out of her jewelry box one morning before school and wore it. Over the course of the day, after bending the three-dollar, 20-year-old piece of aluminum for the umpteenth time to keep it from slipping off my bony wrist, the bracelet broke into two pieces. I was initially very upset. However, after thinking it through, and being the honest, responsible, and respectful little snot that I was, I threw the broken piece of history into the dumpster, and then swore to my mother for the next two years that I hadn’t seen it every time she went looking.

I never told her what really happened. Even later when we became friends in my twenties I still didn’t spill it. I told her about smoking pot in high school a couple of times, and I told her how old I was when I lost my virginity, and I told her who really stole the bottle of tequila from the pantry (not, as she had so innocently assumed, the house sitter from the summer vacation of ’92.) But I never told her what I did to her bracelet. Maybe it was because it never came up, but probably it was because I still felt horrible about it. Still do. In fact, even more now.

So, any psychoanalyst worth her salt could easily pinpoint the meaning of this morning’s dream, the one that has been haunting me all day. It’s pretty easy to figure out a dream when it is about something that actually happened. What I couldn’t understand, though, was what brought up that old bracelet-guilt after almost 20 years.

At some point today, it occurred to me, and I was actually able to decode the way my normally jacked-up mind was working

The feeling that I have had in my adult life every time I have thought about that bracelet is actually very similar to the feeling that I had last night watching Barack Obama win the presidential election. I know that sounds weird because I was ecstatic last night. But as that initial euphoria wore off, there was momentarily a familiar wishful longing.

I wish I wasn’t such a spoiled brat when I was 15. I have wished a million times since that day that I had just left that bracelet where it belonged, nestled on the blue velvet that lined my mom’s antique jewelry box. I wish. I wish. I wish.

I wish that my mom would have been around to see what happened in America last night, to see that the things she believed in and instilled in her children were actually, finally coming true in the rest of the country. She would have been so happy; she would have cried tears of joy just like I did.

I wished that Senator Obama would win, and it came true, but I also wish that history wasn’t happening without my mom around to see it. I wish she wasn’t MIA. I wish. I wish. I wish. Sometimes I feel like I will never stop wishing.

(But, on the bright side, I am glad I didn’t really eat all of those cookies.)


Brandi said...

Beautiful post - makes me long for loved ones that I have lost.

Lucas said...

You just gave me shivers MS. And as always after a long absence, it is so lovely to read you again!

Anonymous said...

you are an amazing writer...with tears streaming down my face...

That girl from Shallotte said...

I can't tell you how much I've missed your beautiful voice, my friend. I'm sitting here at work with misty eyes, awed by this beautiful piece. Glorious.

Cara said...

Wow! Thanks everyone! It is nice to be back writing again. Can't wait to catch up on everyone's blogs.