Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

The Rescuers

When I was small, I had an LP of the old Disney movie, The Rescuers. Now, this wasn’t just any LP. This was the ENTIRE MOVIE, start to finish. Of course there was the music, but every line and every sound-effect was captured as well. I can’t be sure, but I doubt I’d had more than one opportunity to see The Rescuers before I got that LP. I’d sit and listen, over and over, like our parents listened to Little Orphan Annie on their radios.

I was drawn to The Rescuers as a child… still am, I suppose. This dear, sweet orphaned girl – considered by herself and those who would hurt her to be “homely.” She thought nobody wanted her. Now, to be clear, Penny was far worse off than I. I lived in a house full of grown-ups, all of whom loved me. But still, I feared that I was homely – unwanted – never good enough – longing for rescue. My entire life has been one effort after another to gain approval… sometimes, from people I care about, and sometimes, from anybody who’ll give it.

Now, my tiny girl has fallen in love with The Rescuers. She’s too young, I think, to understand the reasons for Penny’s sadness, but she does grasp that there are some very mean things happening to Penny. She shows real concern for Penny, and for Cody in The Rescuers Down Under too. But I think she watches them for the adventure. She begs, “Watch Mice?” and then is glued to the screen, giving her own tiny-girl commentary. “Penny sad… Sweet kitty… pretty bird… Whee!!!! Airplane Birdy!… Awww, Penny cwying…” and so on.

I’d forgotten that old LP. But the other day, the mice were doing that rescuing thing they do, and I suddenly saw myself sitting in our old attic “apartment”, listening and trying to picture what was going on. I remembered crying when Penny cried to the tune of “Someone’s Waiting For You” – and I found myself crying yet again. It’s so strange how large our childhoods still loom. I realized quite recently that I tend to couch my analogies for friendship in terms of rescue.


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For my 5th birthday, my grandparents gave me a stuffed Gund puppy dog that I promptly named “Puppy”. An unoriginal yet practical name, Puppy was a fluffy, adorable, small stuffed dog with soft long hair and an expressionless face. He had two large, dark eyes and a hard, black plastic nose that had the texture of a real golden retriever’s.

Even though I appreciated the gift, somehow I misplaced Puppy during a trip to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina and I returned home to New Jersey without him. Soon after, I remember sobbing to my mother in a rare display of panic that I had lost Puppy and was desperate to find him. On the phone to my grandparents, my mother pleaded with them to search their home and after rummaging through their hall closet, under the snow jackets was Puppy’s small face, neither happy nor sad, that he had been left behind for months.

From that day forward, Puppy remained within close distance of me. At first, puppy accompanied me on long car trips to visit family members and family vacations. The summer before my 8th birthday, Puppy took on new role in my life: a guardian, a comfort, a best friend.

My parents’ bitter, traumatic separation led to a long, tedious divorce and through it all I depended on Puppy. His face, constant yet loving, helped me through my father’s awkward visitations- uncomfortable trips to bowling allies, Disneyland, and the movies. My father took pictures of me atop a horse while riding, a frequent Saturday afternoon activity of ours, with Puppy dangling in my 10-year-old arms. I chronicled my visitations with my father in my “little girl” journal and Puppy was a recurring character. I recorded my limited time spent with my father and my “little girl” rage at why life had changed so drastically since my father left.

At times, Puppy came to my child therapy sessions and acted as a mediator between the harsh realities of a divorce that my therapist needed me to face and my wild imagination that everything would return to “normal”. At times, when I didn’t know which parent I missed most, I would squeeze puppy tight and pretend that he would tell me, “Everything will be OK.”

Fluffy fur gradually turned into matted hair as the years went on. I started to notice the nicks and blemishes on puppy’s plastic nose and eyes. I would tell myself that each little tuft of matted hair was a hug I had given Puppy and I must have loved him too much.

When pre-adolescence faded into womanhood, Puppy’s place soon moved from the side of my hip, to a throw pillow on my bed, to the back of the closet, a place he had familiarized himself with shortly after he came into my life. And though I’m an adult now, he sits quietly in the back of my closet- alone and acquiescent, with that same expressionless face, waiting to be by my side if ever I need him again.

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“When I was a child, I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons. Now I’ve got that feeling once again. I can’t explain. You would not understand. This is not how I am.” — Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”

One of my earliest memories is of hallucinations.
At a very young age, no older than five, I sat at the piano and cried. I wanted to play, but I had this smeary sense of time and space. I knew the tempo of the piece, but no matter how hard I struggled I could not hear it right in my head. It came out either frantically rushed or morbidly slow, and I couldn’t reconcile the two and start to play.

And my hands… my hands felt enormous. Not structurally large – the bones were the right size – but almost spherically fat. If I closed my eyes, I could feel my hands puffing up until each tiny finger became too wide for the piano keys. My parents had friends over, and they’d asked me to play something for them. I was proud but frightened (a stage fright I never overcame), not wanting to disappoint my parents by making a mistake, and therefore not wanting to attempt. But I was determined to perform for them. And my hands started to swell as time became erratic.

I remember my father growing frustrated with my apparently willful opposition, but I simply could not play. I’d been nervous about playing, but now I was downright terrified by what was happening to me. I couldn’t explain; I knew they would not understand. As I cried, my mother came in and closed the door. I tried to tell her that there was something actually wrong; I wasn’t making it up, but nothing was coming out right, and I gave up. My mother just sat and looked at me in utter confusion. Then, as always, she didn’t want to give in to a tantrum, but she didn’t want to be unreasonable and mis-judge actual trouble as a tantrum.

I don’t remember what happened, or what she did. But I do remember that this sensation happened again and again throughout my childhood. Some of the occasions I remember all occurred during times of high stress or frantic activity. I was once jumping on a trampoline, and my body entirely changed shape and stayed suspended in air as I came down much too slowly. Other occasions occurred while doing something very deliberate or quiet. I frequently felt my hands and feet start growing puffy and heavy while I was trying to go to sleep.

As I grew older, these sensations dissipated. I still have them once in a very long while, but not like before. During my teen years and through college, the hallucinations became more visual and auditory. I sensed motion out of the corner of my eye, or saw halos around objects. I could hear a pattern in any white noise – music, voices, both. One morning, I distinctly heard my mother’s voice, coming from outside my head, saying, “Get. up. right. now.” Talk about startled. I genuinely expected to open my eyes and see her standing there.

But synesthesia is the weirdest. Late one night, there was a fire – a big fire – across the street from my apartment. I’d dozed off while studying. As I lay there, I was awoken by a horrifying smell. Think of every rotten, molding, excremental smell you’ve ever encountered. This was worse. I said, “What’s that horrible smell?” My husband, who was still awake, said there was no smell, but the sirens were getting pretty loud. I dozily said, “‘mergency…” and then was fully awake. The smell persisted. Until I was outside and actually seeing the fire trucks, the noise was being clearly perceived through my nose.

Only as an adult did I discover that all of these sensations can be versions of the migraine “aura“, or neurological phenomena leading to sensory mis-perceptions, usually preceding or coincident with a migraine. And that the “puffy hands” phenomenon is more commonly associated with childhood migraines. What an odd thing – to be relieved that I have migraines. “Ohhh… I really wasn’t making it up… I really wasn’t crazy… I was just sick!”

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I cut off her hair.
Now she is my pixie.
She twirls on the sidewalk;
Like Maria, singing
“The sidewalk is alive
With the sound of
She delights in her green shoes.
She revels in her tiny, healthy body.
She squeals, “Running SHOOOES!” as she gallops,
Then stops to pick up a straw.
Diligently, patiently feeding straw through
Holes in a park bench.
Then, “Running ‘gain, Mommy toooo!”
A child, in her impatience, is the essence of patience.
Leaving no leaf unturned, no flower unsmelled,
Sometimes no nerve untrodden.
On good days, a reminder to enjoy the journey.
Would that she stay this way.

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