“Well, I don’t know what to say except it’s Christmas and…we’re all in misery.”–Ellen Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
Amy Stokes is one of my most promising clients. Every story that deals with loss is also a story that deals with finding. The tragedy of the Phoenix in flames is redeemed by its miraculous flight. In Amy’s poignant narrative, the loss was the premature death of her mother when Amy was only twelve. How is that hole in your heart ever filled? How to replace post traumatic stress with post traumatic growth? Amy’s “13 Divas” wades through a recurring tide of self-doubt to the shores of certainty. Ultimately, rather than feeling her mother’s absence, she feels her mother’s presence. Such is the joy of catharsis, when it works. As I work with Amy on her manuscript, I see a remarkable woman who makes the decision to dance every dance. Let Stefanie introduce you to,
by Amy Stokes
I pull down on the frail, dangling string, suspended in the air from the ceiling of the carport. Nothing. I pull a little harder. No dice. I take both hands and pull with all my strength, and this time the creaky, attic door comes unstuck, releasing itself abruptly, falls open and lands on its hinges, like a massive UFO connecting with planet Earth for the first time.
I stumble a few steps back, try not to slip and fall, take a deep breath.
Dang. Got it open. Wonder if I will ever be able to get it closed.
Oh man, she’s going to be so furious at me if she can’t get her new, shiny, perfect yellow car back in this garage.
Cracking open the kitchen door, my father’s voice from inside the house is sweet,
“Amy, you ok out there?”
A little irritated, Yeah, Daddy I’m fine. Attic door was just a little stuck. I got it. Everything’s fine.”
I know Adelyn, my stepmother, has directed him to come find out if I am messing anything up. Seriously? Nothing much out here but a bunch of junk. I’m thinking, my life is pretty messed up, that count?
Suddenly, worn out sheets of piano music softly descend down from the sky. I mean, from the open attic door, like slow dancing down, before reaching the splatters of black oil leaked from my father’s little red pick up truck on the garage floor.
His voice, patient.
“Ok, just checking on you out there. Don’t stay outside too long. You might catch a cold or something.”
“I’m fine Daddy, just trying to find some of our Christmas records to listen to. So we can all get in the spirit.”
He smiles and starts to sing cheerfully, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”.
Closes the door.
Under my breath, she’s so nosey, aggravates the living daylights out of me. (I hate her.) Honestly, how can he be so damn happy all the time?
Attic is so packed; things are starting to bust out at the seams around here. I try to get away from it, but my stepmother’s negative, critical energy is felt, following me everywhere I go. I live with a pervasive heaviness I can’t seem to escape anyway, and she’s like fuel to my fire.
Feeling the melancholy of the grey day, I smear the scattered papers of musical notes into the greasy oil with my boots a bit, grinding in the past, of the lyrics that were once written, swirling it all around. I start to feel better. The concoction gives me a hope. I pause, sit in the slick papers and dirty oil, daydream a few beats about what Christmas should look like, don’t really care that I am sitting in the cold concrete, the black grease.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Hey, it’s Christmas time in the city! If you wanna call this a city, and it dawns on me, this torn and taped together, vintage music rained gently down, like on que, and I need music. We need the music. Joyful, thankful hearts. Right?
Looking up, I see the stairs unfolding leading into the attic, like magic, inviting me into the unknown. A once hidden, secret entrance lay before me. Although I have been up before, I can’t remember when I had last been up there, and something feels different, pulling me in this time. I make my way up the precarious, unstable stairs and enter the darkness.
A filigree of carefully woven cobwebs clings to the windows in the corner of the attic, filtering in the morning sunlight, when I begin to discover a woman I never met. The beautiful patterns of light are coming through. A cold chill runs up my spine. I am not really sure if these are feelings of expectation, something stirring inside of me, or if I am simply chilled to the bone on this rare, bitterly cold December morning in Mississippi.
I hear this repetitive, tapping sound coming from outside. After about 10 hard taps, it stops for about five counts, and then it starts back up again. It feels so mysterious. I look around with confusion, and then I see her. Past the wide net of intricate webs, a female cardinal is staring at its reflection in the window and pecking on the glass. She is beautiful, glistening in the sun. Wait. She is looking at me. She’s fighting so hard, trying to get my attention, trying to get inside the attic to be with me. I look away for just a moment to regain my footing on the attic floor, and when I look back, she is gone.
I whisper, she was just there.
I had been growing bored inside the house. I’ve been back from Nashville for several days now, and my stepmother was on one of her predictable rants. Despite having inherited loads of money from her sister, a prominent attorney from Jackson, she’s just so overwhelmed with the holidays this year.
And it’s simply horrid that she was left with the job of spreading her best friend, Frances Jean’s ashes in Deer Creek, a few short miles up the road in the small town of Leland, Mississippi: Home of Kermit the Frog.
Bitching and whining in her elongated southern accent, “I just can’t bring myself to do it, Walter. How am I supposed to scale down the sides of the creek and do this by myself? I just have to go lie down.”
My father lets out a sigh, manages to show a look of forlorn, gives her a little pat on the rear and says, “Ok, sweetheart.”
Deep inside he knows she’s a drama queen, even faker than that frog, Kermit, living down on Deer Creek.
So, for six months, she continued to drive around Greenville with Frances Jean’s ashes in the back of her yellow dodge until she could get her courage up. Poor Frances Jean.
* * * *
Stef here. Just wanted all of you to know that Amy actually sent in more than this, but obviously, we could only show the first thousand words. I WAS a naughty girl and peeked beyond the thousand word wrapping at the gift that was the rest of her entry*. And if you want know what else she wrote, read the whole thing when it comes out!
*Please don’t tell Santa. I really, really, really want that Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser for Christmas!
This entry made me think about one of my absolute favorite Christmas movies ever: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. While they are certainly different stories, both do address the stress and agony of dealing with difficult family members during the holidays, but always with an undertone of genuine affection that somehow gives us the strength to get through it. That, and it gave me one of my favorite responses whenever my dad asks me what I want for dinner: “I don’t KNOW, Margo!!!”