There are moments in life where you realize that you are purely and truly loved, and they usually catch you off guard.
Tonight I was walking to the Subway at 8th Street after a wonderful dinner with a wonderful friend, and I decided to switch up what I was listening to on the iPod and put on The Trip Tapes.
The Trip Tapes had originally been mix tapes that my father had made out of radio recordings and vinyl records - doo wop, 70s rock, the Beach Boys opus, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." The "rama lama ding dong" song was a special favorite on our long, oh so very long drives from South Jersey to Vermont every winter to go skiing. (With the overnight pit stop at Schnectady followed by morning pancackes and hopefully an afternoon lift ticket if we could make it to Pico in time.)
I was carrying some Christmas presents in a shopping bag, a few of which were secretly for myself, and standing on the platform...
"Foolish little girl...
Fickle little girl...
You didn't want him when he wanted yo-o-o-u."
And I just started dancing and smiling like a fool. Trying not to be too obviously delighted. I boarded the R train. "The man who shot (bang!) Liberty Valence... He shot (bang!) Liberty Valance... He was the bravest of them all...." And I was so overwhelmed with happiness I couldn't stop beaming, remembering those long nights driving in the van that always mysetriously had french fries in the seat cracks. (Even immediately after cleaning it, new fries would appear.) It has a very uncanny power, this van.
And we, a rag tag bunch of girls with matching noses and matching smiles, sang our little girl hearts out to our favorites. Apparently we were all usually sleeping by the time the Beach Boys tape rolled around. But there were so many songs -- Wham, The Doors, the late, great Sam Cook, the fast version of A Sunday Kind of Love, "New York's a lonely town, when you're the only surfer boy... around..."
Those tapes saw many, many miles.
The first and only Christmas I ever missed at home, I spent in India, and when my parents were helping me get ready on that last day before my flight to New Dehli, my father handed me a CD wallet.
Inside, 6 disks - Trip 1, Trip 2... He had found a machine that would let him record the tapes on CD - digitizing tapes that were probably pushing 15 years old and had seen their fair share of wear and tear.
I was going on a trip. Who can do that without The Trip Tapes?
I listened to them on the rickety train from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on Christmas Day. I was listening to them as we drove through the tea fields of Kerala and on the plane as I flew on weeks later to Vietnam. On my wildest adventure, I was able to take The Trip Tapes, so that no matter what, with the push of a button, I was home. I was loved.
Listening to them brings back other memories -- and as some of my friends become fathers, I want them too to reach back and remember if they can -- two little events that to this day bring tears to my eyes because they made me feel like the most precious person in the world, so very, very loved.
I can't have been more than four or five, and we were at my grandmother's. This puts my father right around as old as I am now, I would bet. And I remember him coming in the door, and he had brought me a small plastic and metal child's ring - gold with a green stone - and I thought - and still think even to this day - that it was the best ring in the whole world.
I don't know where it came from, or what ever happened to it. Those kinds of things disappear when you're not old enough to make your own Frosted Flakes. But I never, ever forgot my father handing it to me, and how wonderful I felt realizing that he had picked it out just for me - the color of my birthstone - and gave it to me for no reason. It wasn't a special day. It wasn't my birthday. It wasn't special at all. Except for that ring.
Such a small thing, but 25 years later, it still makes me feel like I just got a bear hug. In my family there are no small hugs.
The second gift I have here in my jewelry box, and will hopefully be buried with. I want it to be the only thing in my hair at my wedding -- somewhere over the years its partner has gone missing. If the remaining one is lost, I will be devastated.
I have a single lacquered barrette. It's gold with an ivory background and dark lavender flowers with green leaves.
My father gave it to me when I was in fifth grade, after the first few years of surgeries to reconstruct my head had finally left me with enough hair to ditch the wigs, a few years after the addicent. I could brush it and style it so that I only needed my own hair, forever.
And so when I awoke from surgery, with the searing pain of being cut up, prodded and pulled back together in a new way, sick as a dog... He gave me these two beautiful barrettes in a box, like precious jewels.
It is the most precious, sacred thing I have ever received. I don't even know if he picked them out, but that will never matter. But he was a doctor, and had spared me so much. After the hours of sitting at the coffee table in the living room injecting my head with saline to fill the plastic balloon underneath that would stretch my hair to cover the rest of my bare, wounded head, so that I wouldn't have to go somewhere and have some stranger do it... To love me enough to choose to do it himself, and then to have him hand me something so delicate, beautiful and girly, overwhelmed me, and still does. It marked the end of one long road, and the beginning of another. It made me feel loved, cared for and seen. He knew how hard it was, and wanted me to feel like any little girl.
What father wouldn't?
"Tell me you love me for a million years... Then if it don't work out... If it don't work out... Then you can tell me goodbye."
Sometimes its the little things - the seemingly trivial gifts born of attention, love and time - that hold us together and can make us realize that even on the darkest night of the year, we light up the lives of everyone we touch, and smallest gestures can create a lifetime of spontaneous dancing.