To Ben, who has married my Lecie   Leave a comment

I went to a family wedding a few nights ago and found myself depressed.

     One minute I’m listening to Lecie singing Oklahoma’s “I’m just a girl who can’t say no” in high school, and half a minute later, calling frantically from Nova Scotia to make sure the brand new NYU freshman was present and accounted for as the first of the blazing twin towers crumbled to the ground only blocks away.  And the next, she’s the bride up there against the backdrop of the lovely old St. Patrick’s church in New Orleans, her sweet familiar face newly sculpted with maturity.  One minute I’m listening to the stoic sniffles of little Stacee, wet and miserable in the car after being caught by a sudden rainstorm at a street festival, turn into squeals of forbidden delight as I put her out on the curb by a newly-formed roadside lake, then scoot my car back and forth, sending wave after wave over her head.  And the next, she’s the sophisticated woman in the bronze peau-de-soi and chic blonde updo, dispatching her social duties as maid-of-honor with such grace, introducing me to people who would have required no introduction had I not lost those 12 years.
     They don’t know, have no way of knowing, how much of an impact they have had on my life.
     Back in 1989, when I was away at graduate school in the enchanted lands of Cajun Country,  I reconnected with a cousin I hadn’t seen since we were teens.  She brought me home to meet her little family, and thus began a much-cherished relationship with her soon-to-be-two young daughters.   Even after I graduated, I often made the 2 hour drive west across the beautiful Atchafalaya Basin for a school play, a festival, a graduation, but mostly, for no reason in particular.
     And sometimes Sherri would pack her husband and the girls in the car and they would come to New Orleans, where we would foray to the zoo, or a shopping spree through the French Quarter, or just my house, a dilapidated old historic wonderland that I was restoring by hand.
     An eccentric with an artsy temperament, and an only child with no experience with kids, they were my first window into a child’s world, and my first teachers in patience and forgiveness.  The things I’ve learned about myself through them are the foundation stones on which my relationship with the soon-to-arrive step-grandchild I just heard about will be built.
     That little family, as I once told their parents, was as close to God as my little heathen heart would ever need to be.

Christmas Lights at the State Capital, '93?

  The rainstorm at the street fest sent us dripping and disturbed, to the
  Car.  But riding home I set them to the curb, cuz we
  Passed a street-side lake.  We’re already wet, I said, so I
  drove past back and forth, throwing waves above their head.
The new butterfly house at Audubon zoo. Lecie’s already found a friend.
     Then, in 2001, a sequence of events that, as I’ve said before, can only be described as Sisyphean, threw life as I knew it to the four winds and spelled the end, though I didn’t realize this at the time, of my free and easy jaunts to see my girls.  They were 17 and 10.  The other night, 12 years later, seeing them so elegant in their gowns, so grown and self-possessed, I felt to the bone how much I had missed.   It’s not as easy to pick up where you left off when formative years change a 10-yr-old into a college Communications major, or a high school student into a 28-yr-old lawyer.  And me, I’ve changed 3 lifetime’s worth.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Jackson Square

     Lecie doesn’t remember going to the farm, where an overly-frisky horse chased  us under the big oak tree roots by the water’s edge for our carrots, or the elf that kept  leaving presents for her on one of the tree’s roots; a blue jay feather, some pecans on a sprig of Spanish moss, a shard of broken pottery, without her ever being able to catch him in the act.  Ever, not once.
      Does she remember being on my shoulders for the lights at the State Capital in Baton Rouge?  Or coming to New Orleans to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Saenger, after waiting for months, then having to leave her mother behind at the   last minute, sick at home in bed?
    Does Stacee remember the postcards from a Nova Scotia archaeology summer that I sent to her in class at school, for some kind of contest, with postmarks from as many states as I could drive through between New Orleans and Maine?  Does she remember her roaring glee, chortling my “butt print, butt print” over and over when I pointed out the little wet spots we’d left behind on the old worn stairs at my house after coming in from the hot tub, a phrase I suspect was forbidden outside the context of “Cousin Laura”.  And the congratulations card she drew for me when I got my Master’s, just before Christmas?  “Who is it?  It’s Saint Nick, disguised as a cat.”

The elf's oak, Laura's farm on Bayou Teche

   Paintings of a cat, in a  
   Santa beard and hat, on the                             
   Frigerator door, they turn
   Brown and won’t lay flat. The
   Note from summer camp, tells of
   getting a black eye.  From
   falling off the blob.  
   (What’s that?)

At the rock wall

Does Stacee remember one evening, lying on the livingroom floor with the family watching old slides, seeing me burst into tears because I had just seen, very unexpectedly, a shot of my long-dead grandmother, and then letting her own floodgates open?… for no other reason than sympathy for me?  I’ll never forget it if I live to be 100.


Rock wall, right after getting back from Nova Scotia, fall 2000

I’ll remember waking up in their room, in a tiny ladybug tent I got them somewhere  along  the line, that held my head and shoulders and Stacee, Lecie very sensibly still in her bed.

   And sitting in the kitchen, having my hair Rasta braided into beads of every color and material, talking about nothing in particular; school and friends and who was gross and what was cool.  Jeez, we’re such different people now.     

                                Chatting ‘cross the kitchen counter,  beads a’braided through my hair.. hmm….  nope, nothing’s coming to me. How ’bout this.

 Dad stomps up the stairs, at
        Sunday morning’s dawn, to
        Spice Girls, shrieks and thumps, and 
        Beany Babies thrown.
        My face beneath the blanket, peaks
        Out beneath their own.  He
        Smirks, “Oh, it’s you.
        Should’a known.”
I remember spontaneous leaps out into the rain, first thing in the morning, pajamas and all, into the backyard ‘pond’ that always formed when it rained.  I remember biospheres of algae and brine shrimp, and butterfly farms, and burping contests in the car on the way back from an ice skating rink up by Opelousas.


          Coming back from ice skating, with
          hot cokes in the car, we
          practice burping.  Wanna see if
          Mom will start a war.
A little artistic license there.  Mom was back home waiting for us, but was duly appalled when the contest, still in progress, walked into her kitchen.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
 Am I bitter?  Yes.  Do I feel robbed?  Hell, yes.  Could I have managed the situation differently?   That’s the thing; I don’t know how.  I thought of calling a hundred times, but for the life of me, I didn’t understand what had befallen my life myself, let alone explain it to them.   My last year with them, 2001, was the first year that my life was no longer my own. I won’t talk about why.  But the “Oh, it’s just a setback; things will be back to normal in a couple months”s were still in the air a decade later, until, with the tunnel’s end finally approaching, I sat in the Audubon Tea Room reception last week, a stranger.

     That ends today.  Ben, Lecie… I’m coming up.


Posted April 6, 2012 by Laura Stella Sitges in Current Journal

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