I remember the first time I became of aware of me. A sense of myself; separate and aware of my existence, within a group of others or a part of something else.
I was in first grade. My teacher was Miss Hilda. She had red hair, fair skin. Her teeth were crooked. Two prominent front teeth, the lower ones mashed together, one shoved up against the other. It wasn’t something I was aware of then, her teeth. Funny how I remember now though. I watched a documentary last week on John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his teeth were not perfectly straight and not glaring white either.
Now, everyone’s teeth are white and perfect, like a row of chiclets. I’m aware of teeth.
Back to first grade. My father, who never wore a suit or tie or hat, showed up in the doorway of my classroom with a suit, tie and hat on. About 10-15 little heads swiveled his way, including one bigger one, Miss Hilda’s. She held up a finger, acknowledging him, as she went back to scratching on the green chalkboard with a nub of chalk.
I was squirming because I knew why he was there. Miss Hilda finally wrapped it up. She erased the board, swished the palms of her hands together to remove the chalk dust and nodded her head at me. “Go ahead,” she said, looking at me, then at my father.
I fast-walked over to Daddy. I wanted to run, but there was a strict teacher-student decorum and we weren’t supposed to run inside. No.
“Daddy! Is it a boy?” I looked up at him, that Mad Men-like hat on his head. I think he was uncomfortable in that suit but he shouldn’t have been. I thought he was the most handsome man in the world.
He squatted down beside me. “It’s a girl.” I hugged him and he hugged me back. I don’t remember much after that. I think he left to go back to the hospital maybe and I went on with my first-grade day.
I was the second of three girls and we’d all been waiting for a boy; all of us just knowing the four of us would then become a hierarchy of girl on one end, boy on the other. I felt a a little let-down at the news. I wondered if my father felt it but I didn’t ask him. He seemed happy so I was happy.
That day I became acutely aware that things don’t always work out the way you think they’re going to, but that baby girl grew up to become one of my best friends.
To Be or Not To Be Aware
I’m not sure we really grasp the concept fully of being aware until we experience loss. I think awareness comes slowly through the passage of time, it matures as you do.
“There were these eagles and they all wore little wigs,” my father said pointing up and laughing. “What Daddy?” I asked him. “What are you talking about?”
The TV, he said, stabbing his finger in the air, getting frustrated. He was lying in the bed of a hospital room. Machines beeped as he looked at me, his eyes opening and shutting slowly. I told him that was funny, thinking he must be imagining something from the medication. He smiled, shook his head slightly.
I talked to him about inconsequential things until he became tired. I left him sleeping fretfully, he hated doctors and hospitals. A tiredness was in my bones and worry wore at me incessantly. Sleep, when it came, was brief and something to be gotten over in order to keep doing this other thing to be gotten over—go to a hospital and watch my father fade—day in, day out.
My foggy brain was aware of what was happening and in a minute niggling part of it, I knew, despite my trying to control what was happening, there was nothing I could do to stop it. When I had to leave to go back to where I lived then, we locked eyes before I walked out the door. Both of us knew. But that awareness was too big; there just wasn’t any place to put it.
Awareness is a big thing, isn’t it? It’s a mind full of what truly is. Something’s too painful or we believe if we don’t acknowledge it, it will go away. We don’t want to feel it. We don’t want to face it. It remains though, skirting at the periphery of awareness until it simply can’t. Until it lands right in your big place of NOW and then, well, you just have to deal with it.
I believe as we grow older we become more adept at being aware. I think it’s because we learn how to—better—from living, aging. That’s life, period and we’d better be aware if we want to also be aware of the fleeting preciousness of it.
I understand that in the tick tock of my life now, there’s going to be times where the memory of some painful experience will feel as sharp as the day it happened. But I’m also learning to just settle into it. Feel it—the uncomfortableness of it—all of it.
I think, if our loved ones can indeed still communicate, when we feel these things, it could be them telling us: I’m okay and this thing that you’re feeling is love—the forever imprint of me. Be aware. Be happy. Have a sense of humor about life. You know who you are and you know what you want.
Oh, and those eagles with wigs (view below). Turns out it was a funny commercial my father watched while he was in that room by himself. He was the one aware. I was the one who wasn’t.
But I am now.
Happy Monday everyone.
Do you remember your first big thump of awareness or have you had a big whop of awareness lately?