Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.
As I was speaking to Chelsea, a fellow congregant at my church after service, her toddler took a sudden interest in me. Her name is Haley, like the comet. She’s not quite three & seems tall for her age but is still very quiet, especially around strangers. Typically, she appears lost in her own world while she plays with her toys around the vicinity of her mother’s knees while her sociable mother engages in the joyous banter of her ever-expanding Sunday social circle. Haley looks like a doll; not a Barbie doll, mind you, but the kind of doll made to look & feel like a baby so that young children who, barely beyond toddler status themselves, can pretend to play parent with a child of their very own. Haley’s hair is incredibly long & manageable, almost too perfect to belong to anything but a toy. She also boasts all the typical traits of “cuteness” like over-sized eyes & a head nearly as wide as her shoulders. And then there’s that pout; no matter what she’s doing, whether she appears agitated or pacified, her face always seems to be frozen in a perennial pout. It’s not a sign of sadness for her; more a sign of an unshakable demeanor–as if, no matter what, this gal will always be a cool customer who will remain at peace with her environment, even if that means staying non-reactive with said environment. But today was different. She approached me with a handful of goodies like a toy, a ziploc bag of cookies, & a bottled water. Out of nowhere, she sauntered out from beyond the shadows of her mother’s legs towards me & upon meeting me, promptly handed me her bottled water.
I was touched by her gesture & began talking to her in soft, simple sentences. I don’t think she understood me but she seemed comforted by my kind tone, if nothing else. I knelt down on one knee to greet her & she promptly climbed up onto my opposite thigh. Her mother looked pleasantly surprised that the toddler, who had only seen me once or twice before & at brief intervals, had taken such bold action to befriend me. Not having any kids of my own but having had plenty of time to ponder my parent’s relationship with me, I decided to impart some of my worldly wisdom on the child; the kind of wisdom that doesn’t come through books, but only through blood & tears. I’d figure I’d save her that trouble.
“Wow, Haley” I began. “You’re so sweet! I wish you could stay like this forever! But I know you can’t, so at least let me tell you a story. Once I knew a girl who was as sweet & innocent & as un-corrupted by the world as you are now,” I stated as my mind began to drift backwards to an era when my heart had one less scar than it had presently. “Any what made this girl even more special was that she wasn’t a little girl like you, but a big one! She was almost a grown-up in many ways, but in others, still like a child.” The precursor to tears began to pool up in my eyes & the pace of my speech slowed as I took care not to succumb to emotion.
“I worked with her & she was much younger than I was, so I had to be cautious about what I said to her & how I said it,” I explained. “Still, I tried to befriend her–slowly, so as not to alarm her. But I wanted to befriend her so that, little by little, I could help her understand how special she was. And I came close to telling her the big secret,” I sighed & took a moment to rejoin the present, making eye contact with the toddler to determine whether or not she had been following along. Haley’s eyes seemed intently locked on mine. She giggled & then reached her hand towards my face then smiled. “Yeah,” I thought. “She’s listening. I guess I can continue.”
After a deep breath, I resumed: “All I wanted to tell her is that I hoped she’d never change. But before I could . . . ” overwhelmed by the reminder of a painful memory, I found myself unable to complete the sentence. After a pause, I concluded “But I was too late. By the time I was ready to tell her, The Serpent had already gotten to her & had changed her forever.”
A moment of silence passed as my mind flashed back to a passage I recorded previously in “Stained Glass.”
“Haley,” I resumed again. “I know you can’t stay this way forever. I know you will have many friends. But no one will ever love you as much as your mother loves you. When you grow up, you may feel embarrassed about this; but once you really grow up, you’ll realize that it’s okay.” By this time, the child had climbed up onto my shoulder & I pat her on the back while I finished my story. I looked up at her mother & nodded that I was in the process of handing the sleepy toddler back to her. “And a beautiful girl like you will have many suitors. But make sure you choose one who appreciates how sweet you are inside & not just how pretty you are on the outside,” I concluded as I handed the toddler back to her mother. Haley immediately swung her head back to look at me as I started to back away, prompting me to add: “But don’t be disappointed if you discover that no man ever loves you as much as your daddy loves you. That’s okay too. It just means that you were loved in all the ways you should have been loved.” Haley smiled at me & waved as her mother made her way towards her husband & the rest of their family. And then, more to myself than anyone, I whispered: “Just don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can.”
A deep sense of regret sank in. Despite the successful interaction I had just shared with a member of our near future, I couldn’t help but mourn a failure of the recent past. “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E,” I lamented as I looked down at the ground. “All this time, I’ve blamed her for failing me. But, as much as anything else, I failed her. I didn’t tell her what I wanted to say in time. And he (the serpent) beat me to it. And now, the quality that had made her so special for so long is gone forever.”
Growing up, I never liked country music. The youth in my area wrote it off as the entertainment option for old folks & rednecks. But today’s reflection brought to mind the lyrics from an old Deanna Carter song:
Oh, bittersweet . . . Green on the vine.
Like strawberry wine.
I always kind of liked that song. When I was in high school, admitting even the faintest appreciation for country music served as a social status kiss of death. Or at least, it guaranteed your demotion to the status of old folk or redneck.
Oh well. I guess I’m a little bit of both: old folk & redneck.
And then I said to no one in particular, “The green on the vine. Like strawberry wine. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can, Haley. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And what you’ll receive in place of your innocence will be both good & bad . . . .
Bittersweet. Just like my memories of L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E.”