Sunday, September 2, 2012

Summer's Endings

Labor Day Weekend is that last blast of time to pack in any and all of summer left undone.   I have had a long adventure filled summer.  During the down time I went in for some deep process overkill as I attempted to review, reclaim, and resolve a few too many areas of my life.  So I decide to take myself to the beach, again, this one last time to gain some closure and solace.  I have to seriously consider this 2 1/2 hour trek by now.  Earlier in the summer it seemed a need, a pull, a place to land my larger than life stirrings and uncertainties.  It seemed to be the only place to quiet my fears.  But suddenly, and thankfully, there seems to have been a reckoning and the beach is my reward. 

I drive out early.  Leaving my house at 7:15, I pull up to the parking lot by 9:20.  I have accomplished record-breaking time, and I don’t have to fight the crowds.  It’s Labor Day weekend, clear skies, 90 degrees hot!  There will be traffic to fight for all of those that come after.   Conqueror of time and speed and the Southern State Parkway I head across the sand, victorious.  I set up my chair, drop my bag, toss the towel, pull the dress over my head and walk triumphantly to the water.  It’s cold today, but I forge ahead the way I would have at 9 or 12 or 15.  Last one in is a rotten egg!  Although I am here alone, I have a small army of others with me this summer prompting me forward.   I stay in longer than usual, diving under waves, bouncing and floating and just being. I head back to my chair, dry off and watch the crowd swell.  Gathering my camera, I head out on a long walk.  I return to soak in the sun and play in the water.  I have made it.  I have survived my summer of fear and reckoning and nearly post-divorce disorder.  (nearly, because, well, papers, signage, desks, delays, disarray, divorce attorneys….nearly)

I decide to celebrate my victory of saved time with a visit to Woodside, Queens, my birthplace, to capture it in photographs and pay homage to.  It will be easy enough to get to on my way home and I have been churning through the need for quite some time.  I have taken this pilgrimage several times throughout my adulthood.  I have not had family here since 1983, nearly 30 years, but it remains my “homeland”.   I have brought my children as though it will show them from where we have come.  I suppose it does.  Last year, my son and I stopped to eat at Donavan’s Pub.  For the “Best Burger” in NY, it wasn’t.  It probably wasn’t the best burger in Donegal, or Croatia for that matter.  But it was in the homeland and he needed to experience his family, his past, or at least mine.  We went into my church, and the church of my parents and grandparents.  St. Sebastians.  My school yard, a blacktop courtyard.  My street, Skillman Avenue, and apartment building, 53-11.  My front stoop, where I played late into the long nights of summer, Home Free All, Ring-a-Levio, and Hot Beans and Butter, shouted through the block as children ran and laughed and looked out for each other.  I remember this place, bitter-sweetly.  There is great happiness and also a haunting hurt in these streets.

On this solo visit, I take my time and many pictures, tracing the steps of my childhood.  I have been carrying my hurt from here like a soldier.  This visit is my homage to me. I intend to reclaim the part that was taken from me.  I take pictures of my doorway and the blue door across the street.  I was six or seven or eight when I was followed into the entry foyer.  I saw a man coming toward me from across the street.  Not from the blue doorway, but the blueness caught my eye.  I see this door clearer than the man, in nightmares throughout my adulthood.  They lay buried through my childhood.  The nightmares are obscure and frightening, in the cellar of this apartment, in the darkness, but not recognizable or connected to the event, until I turn 30, for a variety of reasons, I'm sure.   

I have chosen men out of fear and ensured they were not available to me so that I did not have to relive what happened in the entryway at six or seven or eight.  Instead, they helped perpetuate my sense of being somehow, less than.  I have played-out, and fought, and worked this event into my being in an effort to understand and make sense and determine some deeper meaning or flaw in me.  I have attempted to wrestle it out and all that have tried to come closer.  I come today to lay it all to rest, like a soldier, paying homage to the battlefield.  I come today to find myself and carry on. To know, finally, it meant nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Period, the end.  Calm and peace come, and fill me.

Calm and peace surround me while another part of me, my history, unfolds here.  As I walk through the streets of Woodside, from my church and my school, I approach “The Soldier Park”.  Fitting I suppose, as I am soldiering through.  As children we called it The Soldier Park because there is a statue of a soldier there.  Each Memorial Day, my father marched, or lead, or spoke to commemorate fallen soldiers.  We, four offspring, marched and saluted, and baton-twirled, well one of us got to baton twirl, our way through the streets and up the hill to the soldier, “The Doughboy”.  I mastered my march and charm and could probably put your eye out with a baton, and my own as well.  Each morning we walked through on our way to school.  Winters were spent sledding here, summers rolling down the hill.  

Today, as I walk toward the soldier I am caught by the light, and the shadows, a perfect silhouette is caught by my camera. I continue snapping photos and as I finish and turn to walk up the hill towards my apartment building, I am accosted.   Confronted, waylaid, and shouted upon.  “Do you know what that is?  Do you even know what that means?, he shouts, white-haired and red-faced, wild.  I am caught off guard, but momentarily.  I start to size him up and almost grin, but quickly remember this is not really normal behavior.  I snarl out “Yessss.” as only I can snarl.  I lock eyes, briefly but turn away, like the snot-nosed me of seven or eight or nine.  And walk off, sort of victoriously, at the very least self-assured. 
I am not the slightest riled or threatened.  No longer afraid.  I go on my journey and allow healing and calm and familiarity to soothe.  I go down my street and take it all in.  I look ahead and see the outline of the Empire State Building.  I cross the street and walk toward the apartment where my grandmother lived, her windows level with the elevated subway station.  We would giggle and yell and shake ourselves silly shouting "Earthquake!" when it came rumbling by every 20 or 30 minutes.  I find myself getting hopeful, or at least expectant, that the white-haired, red-faced, wild man is going to be in the park when I return to make my way to my car.  I am getting a little bolstered, one might say, and sure, I realize this is not really the right way to approach things.  I am going to tell him what the Doughboy represents but not until I size him up and lay him out, I imagine.  I want to tell him I don’t appreciate his confrontation and let him know his disgust is unwarranted and unnecessary.  "Huh! He’s lucky he’s not there, this time."  I think, as I go through the park. I find myself, again triumphant and grinning.   

Not only did I reclaim myself here today, but I rediscovered who I am and where I come from.  I discovered in this man, what others often see in me.  This confrontational stance, the snot-nosed posturing, the pride of Woodside, the Irish bravado and put up your dukes greetings and well wishes and wherewithal.  Slightly crazed I suppose to the untrained eye.  Survivor, warrior, determined and proud, if not a wee bit off center.  Woodside, continues to be this homeport for Irish immigrants, the fighting-est kind.  Those that need to fight to stay alive from time to time.  To fight to honor all they were forced to leave behind, or all that has been taken from them.  They are all around, in parks, and pubs, and shops and church.  They will smile the devil at you and fight you for a piece of the promise, and just as quickly fight with you to ensure you get a piece.  Grit and determination and spirited resolve, is the common thread.  Woodside is the homeland for me, my grandparents home away from home.

I start heading home, more acculturated and less the survivor of loss than ever before.  Suddenly somewhere along the Sprain Brook Parkway, as the calm fills and the processing begins, I realize this jumping ahead and assumptive posturing all felt more than slightly familiar.  It felt like firecrackers and explosions, but not the ones you enjoy from afar, the ones that are misfired and heading right at you.  I very recently acted the part of the wild-haired, red-faced man.  Reactive and defensive.  Well, I suppose in one way or another I have been acting or feeling this way throughout my life, or stifling and tamping it down, after learning it was not so normal, at least outside of Woodside.  It was somewhat funny, to find a brother in arms living out my feelings in the streets of Woodside with no apology on this journey toward reclaiming me.  But recently, it was pointed out to me and I put up my dukes and went for it like a sailor. I might try to leave this part of me behind, if I can. This part of me that makes so much noise, that wants to be heard.  I am realizing that it's difficult, maybe impossible to notice if anyone else can hear me, if my own sound drowns out the responses of others.   I, and those around me will benefit from this loss.   Benefit from the quiet.  I pull off the road, I have an apology to make and some peace to reclaim. 

The Doughboy?  Some believe it to be in reference to young American World War I soldiers, fresh faced and corn-fed ready to fight a war.  There is also reference to American soldiers during the Mexican American war, the dry dusty clay of Mexico covered the soldiers in a white powdery coating making them look like dough.  In any event the term is related to young American soldiers willing and ready to fight – in which case I’m off the hook and I can retire my dukes.

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