Festival Day Observations

Sitting on top of a picnic table in the beer garden of the Music Festival, she was listening to this band she heard people calling some collection of numbers she couldn’t quite recall. 905? 906? Why do they call themselves that? She wondered to herself. She was afraid to ask anyone, however, for fear of feeling foolish in front of these people who she was going to be spending her summer with.

She continued to sit quietly and listen as the lead singer sang, “It’s good to be here.” The air smells like funnel cakes, grilled salmon and farm animals, she thought, skeptically eying the llamas and cows in the pasture next to her. The lead singer looks familiar, she thought, Maybe he’s from Homer? He sure looked like he would be from Homer. Long hair, bright orange patch-work pants and this pebble mine with an X through it sticker on his guitar case. What is pebble mine? She thought. Another question she’d save for later. A lady at the visitor’s center in Anchorage had told her to go to Homer, as it was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. So, she booked a flight on a very small sketchy eight-passenger plane and headed to Homer last weekend before making her way up the peninsula to Kenai.

Barefoot kids were dancing as the lead singer stomped his foot in time with the drummer. They look like they are having so much fun, she thought, secretly wishing for the courage to join them.

In the beer garden she was nursing her coffee, holding it tightly in her hands and clinging to its warmth, she was determined to capture every last ounce of warmth it would offer her. She was wearing the yellow fingerless gloves that Daniel had given her earlier that month in Indiana before she left for Alaska. She started twisting her hair curly brunette hair, a nervous habit she had carried around with her since she was a kid. She tried to push the memories of Daniel to the back of her brain. I should probably ditch these gloves. Maybe I could give them to the singer in the orange pants. Maybe I’d make a friend. Do I really want to make a friend though? Do I have the energy for conversation? I might with more coffee. She thought, looking over to the stage at the attentive listeners in the front row Wait, is that man wearing a blue tarp as a raincoat?

“Did I see you at the The Coffee Shop?” a deep voice interrupted her wandering, inquisitive thoughts, snapping her back to the present moment.

“Yea… I k-k-k-kind of just got a job there,” she stuttered, another nervous habit she carried around with her since childhood. “I’m learning to make c-c-c-offee. GOOD coffee.”

VERY unlike what I’m drinking now, she thought sipping her weak, burnt tasting Americano.

“How long have you been at the festival?” Again, the man’s voice brought her back to the present moment. “You look cold. Like quite possibly this is your first Alaska festival and you didn’t come prepared with the appropriate layers?”

“I’ve been here all day,” she replied, shivering. “It’s also been raining all day and I only brought this hoodie.” And my feet are wet, pulling her legs up to her chest, eying her soaked yellow chucks. She really just wanted him to go away but didn’t want to be rude. She just wanted to listen to the band and not think about this “summer of adventure” that looked so promising a week ago.

“What’s your story?” he inquired excitedly.

Realizing he was not going anywhere, she replied, “M-m-my name is Samantha,” questioning his curiosity. “I’m from Indiana. I decided to spend the summer of my 22nd birthday here in Alaska.”

“That’s what happened to me,” the stranger laughed and smiled. “Twenty six years later, I’m still here. Hey! There’s a musicians tent over there. It has a few heat lamps to warm cold fingers and a refill for your coffee. Want to join me for a bit while I tune? Get something to snack on and warm up a bit?” he enquired with a welcoming smile. Eying his bald head and bare feet, she questioned his sanity. How is he not frozen?

Reluctantly, she said yes and followed the march of the barefoot stranger. The musician’s tent was divine and she welcomed the warmth. She pulled up a camp chair and realized she didn’t even know this guy’s name.

“Hey Eddie! You’re next right?” she heard someone with a clipboard and a volunteer shirt yell.

Well, Eddie must be popular as everyone is gathering to his corner of the tent in order to say hi and hug him. It must be ok to be his friend. A whole town can’t be wrong, right? Or does he have everyone fooled? Oh God! What if he is just waiting to stuff me in his trunk…

“Samantha! Come meet my friends” Eddie yelled from across the tent interrupting her racing mind.

Eddie was standing by four other women, all wearing appropriately layered Alaskan festival attire. Eyeing the coffeepot, she introduced herself to the ladies. They were all tuning guitars and mandolins and one lady had an upright bass twice as big as her.

One by one, they said their names. She repeated their names over and over again in her mind hoping to remember. She was terrible with names. They started to play a song about a bald headed man and eying Eddie’s shiny head, wondered if it was a song about him.

“Do you sing?” Nancy asked her after their sound check song was finished. She was beautiful. Tall and blonde. She carried herself with strength, pride and grace.

I wish I could feel that confident about being tall, She thought to herself, standing up straighter. She had been slouching as usual, trying to make herself look smaller.

“I dabble,” she said, underplaying herself as always.

“Sing something for us!” one of the other ladies commanded with excitement. She had already forgotten her name.

Reluctantly, she took the guitar and timidly started finger picking a C chord. She started singing the first verse to “Hallelujah.” Trying not to appear too terribly excited that they were singing along with the most beautiful harmonies, she smiled at them and put the guitar down after two verses, reluctantly accepting their accolades.

As they left her alone in the tent and took the stage, she took that moment to refill her coffee and meandered to the lawn in front of the stage. She wanted a front row seat for this show. Please no one sit by me! She silently pleaded, noticing the improved taste of her more recent coffee refill.

Three songs in to their set, a man with a brown bag sat next to her on the green rain-soaked grass in front of the stage, clutching an accordion. He didn’t speak a word, as he was very intent on staring at the band, his eyes following every strum of the guitar and pluck of the bass. She couldn’t, however, figure out which one of the ladies he was staring at. “Maybe he was one of their husbands? Or stalkers….”

Their set ended and the rain had stopped, but the humidity had set in and the angry buzzing mosquitoes had arrived like an invisible plague. No one seemed phased by their presence, however, they just went about their business slapping themselves and each other intermittently, not bothered at all by the buzzing and biting and itching. “Invest in some ding dang bug spray!” she added to her mental to-buy list. And with that, everyone was dancing, not just the kids, but the adults too. The sun made it’s way through the clouds. The green grass had turned into one solid mud put, as the bare feet tore up the area in front of the stage.

“Oh hell,” she mumbled, with the horrific realization that they were dancing to get away from the mosquitoes.

Suddenly the man with the accordion grabbed her arm and began to swing her around. “I guess I’m dancing,” she said, fighting whiplash. She caught a glimpse of a familiar face across the dance floor doing some version of the funky chicken. Still caught up in the mob of people, eyeing the easiest escape route, the guy in the orange pants yelled, “Do you know that guy?” over the band, motioning to the crazy dancer.

“I just got a job working with him at the little coffee shop downtown,” she yelled over the band.

“You get to work with Sam? He’s a good one to keep around you, that one,” he said with authority, getting swept up in the dancers.

“Hey! What’s your name?” she yelled after the man in the orange pants! “And what’s your band’s name?”

“My name’s Rick,” he yelled back. “I own the local music shop and my band is 90…” But she couldn’t hear the final number thanks to very loud saxophone solo. I’ll have to ask him next time I see him, making a mental note to visit the music shop tomorrow.

Returning to the picnic table in the beer garden, she looked at her cell phone and realized it was midnight! The time was hard to keep track of these days because it never really got dark. Eddie grinned and waved at her from across the festival grounds. Watching her newfound dancing coworker, she threw the fingerless gloves away. Too warm from dancing, Rick threw his raincoat to the side of the dance floor revealing a t-shirt that said 907 in the shape of a guitar. The band is named after the area code of Alaska, proud of herself for figuring out some of the local culture. This is going to be quite the summer, she thought, catching herself smiling at the thought of the months ahead.

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Wind Chimes

Boxes. There were boxes everywhere in the dusty attic. Boxes of things she was holding on to, mostly. One box marked “Hopes,” and another “Dreams,” yet another “You and Me,” and another “Who I used to be.” Way over in the corner there was one that was labeled “Prayers,” and a small dark ragged box at the very top marked “Secrets.” She always meant to go through them. In fact, the thought crossed her mind quite often, but she always made up excuses as to why she couldn’t: She was too tired, too busy, or it was too overwhelming. Afraid of beginning because she honestly didn’t know where she’d end up. The plans she had made with him seemed so big. Too big.

She remembered back to when she was seventeen. I used to have dreams, she thought to herself. But I was afraid if I told too many people, someone would either take my dream or worse off crush it.

She felt like she was just dragging herself through her days, suffocating. She was buried in secrets and darkness and complacency. I didn’t know who he was when we were together. She thought has she unpacked the box labeled “you and me”. He told me I had to keep his secrets because if I didn’t he would get in trouble. she thought tearing into the box marked “secrets.” How could I have been so naive? I guess this is what they mean when they talk of being blinded by love.

Remembering that time, that dream and that person who she was before him, almost felt like she was remembering a stranger. I was happy before I met him she said to herself. Maybe one day I’ll be happy again.

But something about today was different, the snow was falling but the sun was out. It looked like sparkling diamonds were falling from the sky. The snow always gave her courage as it extended its hand and with it a promise of a second chance.

One box at a time she unpacked, making piles of things to keep, throw away and give away.  The pile of things to throw away was the largest. Strange, she thought. At the bottom of one box, she saw an old wind chime she had saved from her grandmother’s back porch before the developers came. She recalled that lovely and innocent time as a child when she listened to the wind chimes. I loved wind chimes, she remembered sadly. But she couldn’t even remember the last time she heard them. She took the unusually large pile to the dumpster, said a prayer for all of the remains and walked away.

She had this strange feeling something was following her but she looked around and didn’t see anything. But still, she felt a presence. She chalked it up to being outside in the cold too long and went inside. As she sat inside in front of the fire, scrolling through her facebook feed and warming up, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t alone.

She heard a knock at the door and answered it. He introduced himself and asked if he could come in. She opened the door as her cat ran and hid under the bed. Stranger danger, she thought regretting her choice to open the door immediately. He sat there quietly on the couch, unbuttoning his oversized pea coat and untying his red plaid scarf.

“Would you like some coffee?” she offered reluctantly.

He gratefully accepted the coffee and he used it to warm his chapped weathered hands. They sat in silence for quite some time. She could tell he wanted to tell her something or maybe ask her something. Finally, he cleared his throat and explained the reason for his visit.

“I saw you throwing away all of those things back there. I watched you as you drug all that stuff down the driveway to the trash can. As you descended down the driveway, you were heavy laden as though something was weighing you down.

“Well, I was carrying a massive amount of garbage!” she exclaimed somewhat sarcastically, unsure of where he was going with this.

He gave her a look that said have patience and continued. “Then I watched you walk home with this spring in your step. I think…. perhaps… I think…. “ He stuttered. “I believe my friend Freedom may have followed you home.”

Remembering the feeling that something was following her, she looked around for this “Freedom” of which he spoke. “There’s no one here but me and my cat. You can look around, but you probably won’t see him.”

“Will you trust me?” he asked “Will you trust me and come with me?” Although everything in her was so very scared to do this, something about him made her choose to trust and she said she would go. She put on her wool coat and yellow knit mittens  and let him lead her down this windy backcountry road. The snow was simply beautiful and fell silently as they walked together.

“When you make it to the finish line,” he told her, “you’ll hate what you lost, but love what you find. When you are startled to hear the sound of your own beating heart, wait a minute or two and remember just how far you’ve come.”

Admiring his running metaphor, she replied, “I’m caught somewhere between living and survival.  I want to start over. I’m just not sure how or where to start. Everything we had was built on lies. I thought we had this incredibly strong foundation, but as soon as I found out the truth, the foundation crumbled and so did my very existence.”

“So you took everything that crumbled and put it in boxes,” he said slowly, reaffirming what she said. “Oh! There he is!” he exclaimed suddenly, pointing at Freedom. Freedom was covered in snow from the many snow angels he had been making. Each snow angel carried the label that the boxes had.

“Now all of the secrets are no longer secrets and they are free to fly away just like these snow angels,” Freedom said pointing and brimming with pride at his accomplishment.

At the end of their journey, the man asked her if she would mind if his old friend stayed with her for a while, “He’s loud and crazy and takes up a lot of room!” he told her, “But I promise, just let him stay for a few days and you won’t even notice he’s here anymore.”

So as the girl and her new found houseguest opened the door and the man stepped outside to leave, she realized she could hear them again. She could hear the wind chimes that she loved so much and they were playing this beautiful melody that sounded so very vaguely familiar.

Seeing the puzzled look on her face, he said, “My friend here carries that around with him. I hope that’s ok.”

“It’s perfectly lovely,” she said smiling, filling with gratitude.

“Will you come back and visit again?” she asked the man. “I’ve grown quite close to you in our short amount of time we’ve shared together. And I’ve given you something I haven’t given anyone in a very long time. I’ve given you my friend Trust, and I’d like to see him and you again soon”

With a welcoming smile he said, “Of course I will, sweetheart. After all, you have my old friend staying with you. I’ll need to pay him a visit now and again. I miss him if he’s gone too long and besides your Trust and my Freedom seem to be getting rather close themselves,” he said eyeing the two playing scrabble at the kitchen table. “I’ll be back tomorrow, my dear. I promise.”

With that, she showed her new friend around, tucked Freedom and Trust in for the night, said a prayer and fell asleep to the familiar and comforting sound of wind chimes.

A Letter to My Six-Year-Old Self

A Letter to My Six-Year-Old Self:

Dear Little One,

I know you don’t think anyone notices or sees you, but I do. I know you don’t think anyone sees how difficult your six-year-old life is right now, but I do. I know what Daddy does behind close doors and I know where you go when you close your eyes. I know he told you that this is what all dads and daughters do and that if you tell anyone, Mommy wont love you anymore. I know you think you’re all alone, but you are not.

I can promise you that things will get easier. Soon, Mommy will figure out what has been happening. In the middle of the night, she will leave with you and your sister. You will have to disappear for a while and it will be scary not knowing anyone, but I’ll let you in on a little secret, Mommy has super powers. She is the strongest woman in the world. You’ll end up in a place called Strongsville and Mommy, sister and you will move in with Grandmother. Grandmother will become your best friend; so don’t be afraid to talk to her because she has a super power too; she can read minds. She knows what you’re going to say before you even say it. Daddy will eventually find you and he will try to take you with him; the grown ups will call it “kidnapping.” Don’t be afraid. Your Uncle will call his friends in blue and white. They will rush in like they do on your favorite K9 Cop movie and get to you right before you get on the plane. You’re going to go through a lot of scary things, but I can promise you that you will survive because you are brave!

You’ll go through years of what the grown-ups call “the trial.” It’s a scary word, but it’s how Mommy is going to fight to keep you and sister safe. After years of the trial, the judge is going to tell Mommy that you have to spend summers with Daddy at his house 5000 miles away. The judge won’t believe Mommy when she tells them what Daddy did, so you’re going to be told you can never talk about it with anyone until your eighteen because if you do, Mommy could go to jail. I know keeping this secret and spending summers, Christmases and Easters with Daddy seem scary now, but you’re going to be strong enough by then to handle it. This is where you’ll learn to forgive him. And don’t worry, you’ll be able to talk about it one day. Want to know another secret? When you do get to talk about it, your words will help other little girls just like you. You’ll learn you didn’t do anything wrong. You’ll learn Daddy was broken too and that’s why he did what he did. You’ll learn to forgive him and you’ll learn to forgive yourself too.

You will also go to what the grown-ups call a “counselor.” Don’t be afraid when you walk in and see a strange woman in bright red glasses that make her eyes look like bugs. She has a sand pit and a wooden trunk full of stuffed animals. Play in the sand and talk to the animals, they will help you get better. You’ll overhear her telling Mommy you have scary things in your head called “multiple personalities.” It’s okay. This doesn’t make you broken; it makes you unique and beautifully creative. The multiple personalities will explain why you can’t remember eating your dessert when you did and why you got in trouble for taking your sister’s doll when you don’t remember doing it. The people in your head showed up when Daddy came into your room. It was your way of escaping and going somewhere else. They actually showed up to protect you. They won’t be around forever because eventually the lady with the red glasses will help put you back together again. Just trust her, she knows what she is doing. You’ll be a whole person again.

You are a survivor, sweet girl. When you are finally allowed to share your story, some of your friends will tell you that you made it all up. It’s not their fault they don’t believe you, so don’t be mad at them. As hard as it will be, love them anyway because loving people is your super power. You’ll choose to move back to the same town that took your innocence because you’ll be determined to find healing there. And find it, you will. You’re going to have that little yellow car and calico kitten you always wanted. You’re going to fall in love. By this time, you’ll be happy again my darling; “run through the sprinkler on a hot summer evening and chase the ice cream man down the street in bare feet” happy. I can tell you all of this in confidence you see, because I was you. Take heart, little one, because we make it.

Katie