Friday, May 2, 2014
What The Luck?
He arrived on a typical summer evening on my suburban cul-de-sac, just another night in which Susie refused to come in from outside, or take a bath, or brush her hair – because those things led up to the dreaded bedtime.
So when I couldn’t find my hairbrush anywhere, my mother assumed it was just another attempt to delay the inevitable. Not so. My hairbrush was gone. It wasn’t in the bathroom or on the bedroom dresser I shared with my older sister, much to her dismay. And when I accused Nancy of using my hairbrush she laughed haughtily. She was fourteen, a teenager with her own collection of brushes and combs, a girl who spent most of her waking hours applying Dippity-Do and using orange juice cans as hair rollers. No, Nancy had no interest in my disgusting hairbrush. And my brother was innocent, too. Sean was only three and hadn’t yet reached the age where he stole anything and everything – including my naked, armless Barbie dolls – to use as airplanes on bombing missions.
The brush had disappeared.
So my mother and I looked everywhere for that stupid thing and came up empty-handed. Eventually, Mom untangled my hair with her own comb, and tucked me in.
At some point during the night, an odd sound woke me from a deep sleep. The headboard of my twin bed was against the same wall as the bedroom door, so I faced into the room. The dresser mirror provided a reflection of the hallway behind me. When I heard the strange sound again – a scraping and sliding noise – I sat up and opened my eyes.
I heard a giggle. I looked into the mirror and saw him under the hall light, a little man in a matching green top hat, jacket, and short pants. He wore black shoes with big silver buckles. His eyes twinkled and his cheeks were rosy. And he was laughing and skipping down the hallway, kicking his heels when he wasn’t kicking the hairbrush along the wood floor toward my bedroom.
I froze, my eyes glued to the mirror. This little man was making such a racket that I couldn’t believe my parents and siblings didn’t wake up. I looked over at Nancy. She was sound asleep, her orange juice cans denting into the pillow. I tried to call out to her but I couldn’t get my voice to work.
It was just me and a guy who was clearly a leprechaun. I didn’t dare turn and look directly down the hallway, so I took another furtive glance in the mirror. He caught my eye, and laughed even louder, like he was glad to be caught in the act. Then he gave me a mischievous smile.
I slammed down onto my back and yanked the covers over my face, trembling with fear as the scraping sound got louder and louder. I heard him in my room. He was giggling up a storm and mumbling to himself in a loud sing-song voice. And then – poof! – he was gone.
I woke up the next morning to find my brush placed in the center of my dresser. I couldn’t believe it! Nobody admitted to finding it and putting it there. My mom thought I was just being a rabble-rouser when I told her all about my leprechaun, the way he giggled and what he was wearing and how he had kicked up his heels. She hugged me, laughed, and told me what a wonderful imagination I had.
“Maybe one day you’ll be a writer!” she said.
You may wonder why I’m telling you about my leprechaun at this point, since the last time I posted a blog I was just about to be discharged from the hospital after three months, twenty surgeries, and the amputation of my left leg above the knee. Bear with me.
Let’s return to February 25, 2012, the morning I was really, truly, finally GOING HOME. I woke very early, flipped on the light, and sat up in my hospital bed. Then it hit me – the ordeal was over. I’d done it. I’d survived. I’d been strong. I’d beaten the odds. I’d aced the test!
I’d like my leg back now.
Really, that’s what went through my head. Of course it sounds ridiculous, but I understand how I might have thought that way, since it was how things usually worked for me. For the previous fifty years of my life, I had put my faith in a simple formula: if I worked really hard, things usually turned out the way I wanted them to. All I had to do was use my God-given talent, push on with bullheaded determination, and let the good luck dust sprinkle down on me the way it always had – even before I was born.
My sister is almost ten years older than me. In between Nancy and myself, my mother had three miscarriages. While being examined after a car accident, my mom learned she was pregnant again, and assumed I would become number four. But she realized something was different this time around. My mom always described it this way: “I started to feel a powerful life force inside me, pure determination, and I knew you would be fine. You were going to be born and that was that. I never worried about the pregnancy again.”
This determination/luck thing went on to work for me in the post-natal years, as well. How I got into college and how I became a published author are prime examples of the formula in action.
I wanted to be a journalist, so with decent SAT scores and a B average from my little suburban public high school, I applied to the No. 1 journalism program in the country at that time – and nowhere else. I carefully filled out the admissions application and spent months crafting, typing, and polishing my essay, then drove to my in-person interview. I woke up in the middle of the night before my appointment, and tore that sucker into confetti-sized pieces. Then I sat down at the small round table in front of the hotel room window and wrote about how I’d just destroyed my essay because it was from the girl I thought they wanted me to be, not who I really was. I wrote this triumph of teen angst in pencil. On Holiday Inn stationery. Off the top of my head. The generous admissions staff at Northwestern University accepted me anyway, and I went on to get bachelors and masters degrees from the Medill School of Journalism.
More than twenty years later, I was married with two young children and working part-time as a fine arts fundraiser when I decided I wanted to write popular fiction. I gave myself one year – three hundred and sixty-five days – to write a novel from start to finish and snag an agent and/or a book deal. Since I had to quit my job in order to write, that’s all I could spare. But I figured a year would be plenty of time to discover if I had what it took to be a published novelist. If it didn’t happen within that time, it wasn’t meant to be.
As the end of the year approached, I’d written two complete novels and was working on my third. I went to a writer’s conference where I randomly sat down next to an editor at lunch. Based on our informal chat, she asked to see the first few chapters of my work-in-progress, and called a week later to say she loved the book and wanted to read the whole thing. I left a panicked voicemail with the only literary agent I’d ever met in person and I became her client by the next day’s close of business. Within six weeks, I’d finished the novel and had a two-book contract with my dream publisher. Yes, I had gone past my allotted time, but hey, I figured it was close enough.
I tell you these stories to provide context, because this sort of stuff happened in my life so often that it was the norm for me. I was an incredibly lucky woman. I didn’t talk about it much, but sometimes my mind went back to the night of the hairbrush, and I had to admit that I just might be in a relationship with a leprechaun.
The morning of my discharge, as I looked at all my belongings packed and ready to go, it dawned on me that the tried-and-true formula would not work in this situation. Being a stellar patient wouldn’t earn the return of my knee, calf, ankle, and foot. No amount of bullheaded determination would regenerate my flesh and bone. It pained me that my damn leprechaun hadn’t even bothered to belly up to the bar before closing time. He should have shown up to do his sprinkling thing before my leg got whacked off in the first place.
Clarity – a big-assed concrete block of clarity – crashed down on my head. My charmed life wasn’t charmed anymore. I was a one-legged woman, and nothing I could do from this point on would change that. I was permanently powerless over the situation.
I know. The idea that any of us human beings are “in charge” of any damn thing is delusion. I’ve always understood that, but only as a spiritual concept that didn’t necessarily apply to me. In prayer, I would give over the flow of my life to the Source. In meditation, I would let the idea of “accepting what is” float through my mind. And then off I’d go, right back into a life that I expected to work according to my equation – talent, effort, and luck would get me wherever I needed to go.
Crap. All of it.
Not only would I be going home without a leg, or a fully functioning brain, or a strong body, I’d be going home without my safety net of delusion.
My leprechaun had left the building, and he’d taken my charmed life with him, the little fucker.