By MIRANDA CIPKOWSKI
Special to The Times
I threw the car door open and struggled to make my way into my classroom without breaking a hip. I felt myself slowly losing balance, so I ungracefully collapsed into my dependable rolling chair. There, sprawled on my desk, lay my purse, my cell phone, the latest book I repeatedly reminded myself to finish, an article on teachers’ pay I’d been meaning to share with my coworkers, a CD of my newest favorite songs I’d hoped to listen to before class began, essays, bills and a coffee cup. I was a few minutes late, and I knew it. By the looks on my colleagues’ faces, everyone knew it. I not only entered the building, it seems I made an entrance – an uncoordinated, clumsy entrance.
Just as I was gathering my wits about me, my understanding boss, Mr. Hitt, stuck his head in the door and said “ You look like you could use a little more pixie dust,” referring to my recent trip to Disney World, and offered a reassuring grin. He was right: I wanted to harness some of the magic from that trip and carry it around with me wherever I went.
I grabbed my compact in hopes of slapping a dash of manufactured color on my cheeks and a stain of gloss upon my bare lips thanks to Mary Kay. I opened the plastic encased mirror. The brown eyes staring at me weren’t any I recognized. Upon closer examination, I noticed dark circles that hung around like cobwebs, filling the hollows underneath a pair of eyes that were undoubtedly mine. The worry lines that once disappeared quickly with my changing expressions, had now taken up permanent residence, as a crack in a sidewalk might. I half-heartedly and completely sarcastically wondered if I should consider charging rent. After all, the extra income would definitely come in handy. Crow’s feet now accessorize the dark pools that seem to shout to the world, “I’m tired!” I never knew a bird could walk across my face undetected. I don’t know, I am so distractible these days.
When did I get older? It must have been when I was doing laundry. There once was a time I literally stopped traffic. These days, the only attention I garner from a car, is a police cruiser because I failed to come to a complete stop at the corner of Clifton Street. There was no more time left to lament every imperfection on my face; I heard the trampling of growing feet headed toward my classroom. As my students took their seats, one of these children bellowed, “Mrs. Miranda, you look pretty today…..you gotta pencil?” Proof that teenagers, in fact, know very little, I reasoned.
There are days I cannot remember if I applied antiperspirant much less execute successfully the schedule for my two daughters’ extracurricular activities, and that doesn’t even include the baby, unless temper tantrums qualify as a sport. Oh! How I wish I could schedule those! Tantrums would preferably occur when I am not in public and when I am well rested. There are days that I wonder if I will be well rested again.
Usually while I wait for Nora to finish soccer practice, I try to read or talk to a friend instead of obsessing over the five pounds I gained over Christmas. Some mornings I stand in that lovely closet of mine and feel the anxiety rise into my chest, and then my throat, and wonder if my backside somehow mysteriously doubled in size overnight. Diet has become a loaded word in my vocabulary.
I came home; I fought with my garage door opener, went to my closet to change clothes before the kids got home, and got the call I dreaded. My friend Denise died after a valiant fight against cancer. Denise had been my friend as long as I could remember. We hadn’t seen each other in years; we kept in touch. I slumped onto the floor and thought of my friend’s children. I had no idea what to do or what to say. The only thing I kept thinking is that 35-year-old women weren’t supposed to die. Then I grabbed that old stuffed animal that comforted me since the death of my mother from its shelf.
A few days later, I took a life-affirming breath, grabbed the bag and headed inside the funeral home to say goodbye one last time to my friend. The bitter night air weighed heavy on my shoulders as I marched across the parking lot. Once inside, I felt so small and completely alone. I searched the room for a friendly face. I spoke to a few childhood friends, and then made a beeline for Allen, Denise’s brother, one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known. We talked for a while. I explained what I had in the bag. It was a gift for Katie, Denise’s daughter. In that bag was the bear I grabbed from the shelf a few days before. I put a new bow on that stuffed bear and drove it to United Funeral Home, the same place I had received it 29 years before. You see, my mother died young – 35. I became a motherless daughter at the tender age of nine. My beautiful friend Denise was only 35 and her daughter Katie only nine. The time had come to pass that ragged, much loved bear to someone who needed it more than I did. Perhaps someday she’ll know the significance of such an imperfect object. While there may be safety and security in the closet, I must learn to go and live no matter how scary.