Grace Changes Everything

This is from one of my latest projects – a non fiction novel called Deconstructing Tracy. They say it’s not the age but the mileage that counts. I can’t believe I’ve been on this road for so long. If I were a car I’d be an antique by now and I don’t know when that happened.  Really, if I was a car I’d probably be in the junk yard by now.  This is just a piece of a draft as I work my way through the years but there is a recurring theme;

Grace Changes Everything

The journey began in 1967, in the Land of Make Believe.

That’s my way of saying that I was born in 1967 in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Norwalk Hospital, to be exact. The same hospital my mother was born in, or so I found out many years later when I was filling out the application for my marriage license. I don’t think I’d had that little piece of information prior to applying for that marriage license when I was in my forties.

Anyway, I was born. And I grew up. My parents built a house in the 1950’s in the town of Ridgefield, CT. I call it the Land of Make Believe because most people there had a lot of money and a lot of attitude to go with it. It was like there was a bubble around the town – you know, like that movie, “The Boy in the Bubble” or whatever it was. I think John Travolta was in that. Or maybe not. But there was a bubble around the town; a bubble that kept reality out.  What reality? Any reality. There was maybe one black family (at a time) in town. It’s the craziest thing, you can pick up a yearbook from back in the early to mid 80’s and flip through all four classes and it’s like there was some kind of printing error where everyone’s face is white, except like one.  I found out many years later that they had a cross burned on their lawn and they left town immediately following. 

I had one Jewish friend when we were growing up and it was a huge deal. Of course, I had no idea what Jewish was or anything, but she was different. Her family did not stay in town long. A couple of years and they were gone.

The bubble that kept reality out also seemed to keep money in. When I was a teenager I worked in the local grocery store as a cashier. I used to see people like Robert Vaughn coming through the checkout line. The entire cast of As the World Turns lived in town. Robert Vaughn used to stand in front of the registers on Sunday mornings until someone (anyone) recognized him. On a slow Sunday morning that could be a while. My friend, Cathy and I used to take turns recognizing him just so he could check out and go home.

I don’t recall too much about my early childhood. Or maybe I do. Sometimes I think it’s almost nothing and then I start recalling a few specifics and I’m surprised at some of the details I can come up with. My brother was (and, still is) eight years older than I am. We didn’t really have much of a relationship. I don’t think he had much use for a little sister and the age difference was pretty significant. I have a few pictures of us together. Some of them are those awful posed portrait things our parents used to make us do every year. Some photographer would come to the house to take the pictures and I remember those stiff, formal dresses that made me look like some kind of doll. And my poor hair – tortured into curls not with a curling iron but by being tied up all night in knots with rags or something. Other pictures of the two of us together are when I was more or less a baby or toddler and we seem to be getting along all right. 

I remember the jungle gym in the yard. It looked kind of like a space capsule. I used to like to hang upside down from the highest point. The jungle gym was next to the playhouse. The playhouse was actually just a shed, but I used it as a playhouse when I was young. And it’s where I kept my bike. I loved that bike. It was a yellow Huffy three-speed and it had a picture of the Yellow Submarine on the seat. See? Details. The bike I remember. Conversations with my parents – no memory. Could be that I just don’t remember. Could be that we just never had any conversations. Pretty sure it’s the latter.

Christmas was always awesome. I made a mile long list every year and was pretty sure that I would get most of what was on the list. Plus some stuff I didn’t ask for. I got baby dolls once in a while even though I didn’t like them. They kind of freaked me out. Especially the ones that talked. Or peed. That should have been the first clue that kids were just not for me. Too much leaking. The first thing on my Christmas list was always a Breyer horse, or two. I’d go through the catalog every year searching for the right ones. I wound up with a huge collection. I always recognized the shape of the box through the wrapping paper and went for those gifts under the tree first.

We opened one present on Christmas Eve, the rest had to wait for morning. Stockings first, of course. There was usually a lot of candy in the stocking. My favorite was the orange shaped chocolate balls that came apart in slices. Then the packages under the tree got attacked and ripped open. There were two trees in the house, one real one in the living room and a fake tree in the dining room. Gifts were under the real tree. The tree was by the gun cabinet where the rifles were. That’s a weird connection to make but it’s hard-wired in my head. The good presents got taken right away to the bedroom. The socks and underwear presents stayed under the tree until someone else put them away. Then there was a meal around noon and Christmas was more or less over except for the cleanup.

Nothing about our Christmas celebrations was about Jesus. I knew who Santa was, but I’m not sure I even knew the name Jesus. I heard something about shepherds when I watched the Charlie Brown Christmas special, and back then they used to show Little Drummer Boy on TV as well, so I knew there was something about a baby in a stable but that was about the extent of my religious education re:Christmas.

When I was about ten or so I remember my friends going to “religion classes” and I didn’t understand what that was about. It was like a club that I wasn’t a member of. I wanted to know who this “God” was. As best I could understand, he was in church on Sundays. So I wanted to go to church. I begged to go. So, my parents took me to the Methodist church in town. Most of my friends were Catholic – but I didn’t know what any of those words meant. I just wanted to see God and figure out what all my friends were talking about. The church was beautiful. There were these really uncomfortable wooden pews with cushions that didn’t seem to make them any more comfortable. There was a choir and they sang some hymns and that was really nice. And then parents started sending their kids out somewhere to some kind of kids’ church school thing and I didn’t go, because I didn’t want to miss God. So I stayed. Then some guy dressed in black got up in front of everyone and talked for a while and it seemed like forever. And then there was more singing and then everyone got up to leave. I didn’t understand what was going on – God hadn’t showed up. I didn’t ask to go back again. That was the first, last and only time I was in a church as a kid.

Easter was another big holiday – lots of food, lots of chocolate. We got Easter baskets full of goodies. That’s what I knew about Easter. Somewhere along the way I heard something about Jesus being nailed to a cross. Jesus was the baby from the Christmas cartoon. I couldn’t believe someone nailed a baby to a cross. That just didn’t make any sense at all.

At some point I really started to resent God, if He even existed.  In elementary school we were supposed to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I was fine with standing but for a while I refused to say the words, “under God” because I figured if He really was up there, he didn’t care about me.

In Junior High I was cast in a school musical. I loved being on the stage. The musical was Li’l Abner and I was cast as Marryin’ Sam, the preacher. As part of my costume I needed a Bible to carry. I mentioned that at home and my mother dug out a dusty old Bible from one of the many bookshelves in the house. It had been given to her by a Methodist church she attended when she was growing up. I opened it a few times out of curiosity while I was rehearsing for the show and read a few pages here and there but none of it made any sense to me, but when the play was over I didn’t return the Bible to the bookshelf. I kept it. And I still have it. It’s on a bookshelf in my own home, although it’s now missing its cover and the pages are a little tattered from having been read over and over.

In High School I had my first inkling that God really did exist, and that He did really take a personal interest in me. As I’ve said, I loved being on the stage. I went out for every play and every musical that came along. As a freshman I landed a role in a play called The Rhymers of Eldritch. It was a challenging drama with a great director and a talented cast. One of the cast members was a handsome senior named Marty. He had a devilish grin and a contagious laugh. He was also dating everything that moved and was right in the middle of any trouble there was to be had. I remember hearing a voice in my head, letting me know that he was the one… but not just then. So, I didn’t talk to him, didn’t go near him. He graduated that year and went off to college in another state and frankly the odds of ever running into him again were slim to none.

Years passed and I went out on my own at a young age, cutting ties with my family. I struggled financially and emotionally but I was determined to make a life of my own, on my own. What I mostly made was a mess. I got involved with drugs, drug dealing, prostitution – while still holding down a full-time job – and couldn’t seem to figure out what life was really all about. I had a couple of places of my own, and then moved in with a roommate who I continued to share homes with for almost twenty years. I got tired at an early age.

In my mid twenties I started trying to pull myself out of the moral tailspin I’d been in for a while. I stayed home on Saturday night, got to sleep early and actually got a good night’s rest. It was rare for me to be up and out of bed before noon on a Sunday, but that Sunday I was up early in the morning. And I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Then I heard that voice again. This time it said to get dressed and walk to church. I didn’t have a car, so walking was going to be the only option anyway. It was summer – one of those summers when the humidity was thick and the temperatures were scorching. I put on a dress, and pantyhose, because back then you just didn’t go without pantyhose. They made the heat and the nearly mile long walk to the church almost unbearable. The heels didn’t help. But I went.

I remember the feeling of walking into that sanctuary. It was a beautiful place, featured in many architectural publications, and right on the Five Mile River. But the physical appeal of the place isn’t what sparked something inside of me. It was what I felt in the sanctuary – peace. I don’t think I’d ever felt that before. I was one of the first people to arrive, because I hadn’t really been sure what time services started, and I sat alone in the sanctuary for a while, just soaking in that peace and feeling like I was finally where I was supposed to be. I almost started crying then and there. I can’t recall what the service was about that day, but I couldn’t wait to come back.

I came back the next week, and two weeks later I was singing in the choir. The following year I was made a deacon in the church. The only problem I see, looking back with clearer eyes is that I hadn’t even really read the Bible yet. But I at least I was heading in the right direction for the first time in my life.

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