In July of 2000, I drove myself to Daytona Beach, 20 minutes west of my house in muggy, Central Florida to see Disney’s new film “The Kid.” I love most anything with Bruce Willis and the previews for this film were particularly fetching.
I bought some Raisinets and settled into my chair in the darkened theater. The hour-and-a-half celluloid passed in a blink. This is what happened in the dark: The main character in the film, Russ Duritz, a sharp, clean cut, professional image consultant, who is about to turn forty, meets up with his pudgy, lisping, unkempt eight year old self. The interaction between the two is strained, as adult Russ is ashamed of his childhood Rusty self, and just wishes he’d go away. The story goes on from there and ends on a high (and integrated) note, but I was too jolted to enjoy the happy ending. I was still in the middle, with a haunted feeling that I’d left something unfinished. Or perhaps someone.
In a haze I stumbled out into the soupy night air and somehow made it to my car. There, standing next to my Toyota 4-runner was a girl who was startlingly familiar. She looked about ten years old. She was pale skinned, and wore her dark auburn hair in a wedge-cut, styled like Ice Skating Olympic gold medal winner Dorothy Hamil. Her Jordache jeans were pulled snugly over ample hips (creating a camel toe that only ten year old girls can get away with because they are as of yet blissfully unconscious of its effect), and her turquoise terry cloth shirt hugged her not-quite budding breasts and rounded tummy like a second skin. She sported white Nike tennis shoes with bright blue leather check marks on each side that seemed to say “I’m going places. Maybe the roller rink.” She had a lazy eye just like my own and the pattern of freckles across her nose was an exact match to mine. I was speechless, but I opened the passenger car door for her and somehow managed to get myself behind the wheel to drive us both back to my house in the country. We passed the time in silence.
Dazed by her world and discombobulated by it intersecting my own, I spent the next six days stumbling around the painful playground of youth, asking questions, giving answers. She was shy at first, but then so was I. There was a large gulf between us. I’ll not pretend this was a happy reunion. It was awkward at best. She felt I had ignored her. And when I did pay her attention, she felt I’d judged her as a shameful memory. I, on the other hand, felt she was a bi-product of a narrow and condemning environment and always thought she’d be better off morphing into the butterfly I knew she could be.
I had a lot of apologizing to do. She was easy with me and forgave readily. I wondered what had happened to my own ability to forgive so easily. We exchanged stories and shared tears. On one occasion we both peed our pants, laughing like hyenas, as we remembered what P. J. Pectus did with his lime green jello in the lunchtime cafeteria.
The biggest gift she shared with me during those six days, was a fresh understanding of what it means to listen without judgement. As human beings seeking enlightenment in dark times, it’s our job to listen intently with an open heart. To our environment, to each other and to our deepest selves. If you are an artist (and aren’t we all in some way?) it goes even further. You must create from the place that is your raw center, the place you occupied as a child. You must listen to that voice and let it inform your own. I’d been ignoring mine for thirty years. A blessing and a boon that she returned to me and was willing to talk. I’ve unclogged the ears of my soul and listen intently now.
Our last night together she asked to go back to the movie theater. We watched Russ and Rusty again, and this time cheered with them during their triumphant final scene. We wore grins as wide as the Florida highway as we left the theater. We knew we were on our way. She asked for an after-movie treat and pulled me in the direction of a little joint next to the theater. The Second Chance Cafe.
We ordered root beer floats and shared a piece of peanut butter pie. When she said it was time for her to go, I cried. I wasn’t done. There was still so much for me to learn. “Look, you’ve got play to do and I’ve got work to do,” she said, standing up, her Jordache jeans riding even higher on her hips. I lurched from the booth and squeezed her. I wished I’d known her worth before, but I knew it now and I’d never let it go.
We parted in the parking lot, beside my 4-runner. Dear reader, don’t get all teary, it wasn’t like that. Or, it was, just a little. “I think you should carry this now,” she said, fishing in the horse-head embroidered front pocket of her jeans. She pulled out a Band-Aid, still wrapped in its paper sheathe. Her mother told her to carry it in her pocket every day, because, she said, “you never know when you might get hurt and need a little mending.” I held it in my hand, feeling the warmth still inside it. I carry that Band-Aid with me now, in my own pocket…a reminder that a little mending can prevent some the heart’s deepest wounds.
And what happened to us, you ask? We now meet at the Second Chance Cafe the first Monday and last Thursday of every month, and on each blue moon, for Root Beer floats and peanut butter girl talk. I think I’m growing on her.