Fanny

“What are you thinking about?” Manda plops down beside me on the window bench and follows my gaze to the paddock. The sun is setting. It’s a perfect time for reflection. “You seem so faraway.”

“I am, sweetie,” I sigh. “I am.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’m thinking about your great grandmother. If she were still alive she’d have turned 100 years old today.” I watch Fanny, the new bay filly, cross the paddock to visit old Molly mare ~ her mentor of sorts ~ and smile. “You know,” I begin, “your great grandmother had a bay mare named Fanny.”

Manda’s eyes light up. She’s particularly fond of this new addition to our little herd. “She does?”

“Did, dear,” I correct. “Yes, she loved horses, and on the family farm she was the only one, out of eight siblings, to have a horse.”

“Do you know anything about her … Fanny, that is?” Manda asks. I love how she cares about family stories. It’s so important to understand our roots ~ it helps us to know ourselves. Still, I’m not sure I can share the only story I can recall gran ever sharing with me about her dear, old Fan. It’s sad.

“Well? Do you?” Manda prods.

“I have only one story,” I respond, “and it’s sad.” I register the look of disappointment in Manda’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

My niece looks at me assuredly through big, brown, beautiful eyes. “I can handle it. It wouldn’t be the first sad story you’ve ever told me.”

“You’re right, of course.” I smile weakly and reach for her hand. “Well, your great gran was a teenager when she had old Fanny. From what I know they spent many happy years together. Having her own horse was a pleasing distraction from a hard life on the family farm. Our mutual love of horses was one of the few things gran and I had in common.”

Manda’s mouth is beginning to twitch. I better get to the point or she’ll interrupt.

“Great gran got married when she was 18 …”

“Eighteen!!!” Manda squeals. “That’s only six years older than me!!”

“Yes, that’s true,” I sigh, “it was common practice to marry young in those days. People didn’t live as long as they do now and they got on with their lives quickly. Just as a side note,” I add, ” … your great gran was the only one of the five girls in her family who didn’t have to get married, if you get my meaning …”

“Ewww … that’s gross …”

“That’s life, sweetie. We live by our choices. Anyway …” I give her hand a squeeze and continue with the sad story. “She … her name was Mandy … you’re named after her.”

“I knew that,” Manda smiles.

“Of course, you did, sweetie … anyway, she married a handsome, but troubled, young man from a well-respected farming family in the same area. They met at a community chicken supper.”

Manda tilts her head questioningly.

“Those suppers were the social event of the week. Families from all over the farming community would gather on a Friday night at the local hall for a great potluck dinner, and after eating they’d dance, gossip and drink their cares away. Your great grandpa Louis was was a talented musician. He could play any instrument handed to him. He just had the knack and was particularly well know for his trumpet playing. It was one of the things that attracted Mandy to him. That and the fact he was quite the athlete. A pugilist, in fact.”

“Oh, he sounds dishy.” Manda pauses and then looks at me with uncertainty. “What’s a pugilist?”

“Oh, right, why on earth would you know what that is?” I laugh, “It’s an old term for professional boxer. Boxing was a popular past time in the early 1930s.”

“A professional boxer!!!”

“Yes. He was tall and lanky and athletic. Somewhere around here is a menacing-looking photograph of him sporting a pair of boxing gloves. Quite, quite handsome. In fact, your great gran, a diminutive and petite young woman, had to fight the other girls off to stake her claim. He was a popular guy.” I stop for a moment and think back to what I know of their history. It would have been so much better for gran had she lost him to one of those other girls. But then, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Manda. I squeeze my niece’s hand and continue, “He had a flaw, however.”

“He did?” Manda’s attentive, but her gaze has shifted out the window to rest on Fanny.

“He was mean.”

“Oh …” Manda turns to me and pouts. With these three words her mood has shifted somewhat. “Why?”

“His narcissism … you remember how we talked about that word before?”

“Yes … it means the inability to see the world beyond your own self-indulgence … or something like that.”

“Very good!”

“See! I do listen, you know,” Manda’s face glows with triumph.

“I’m glad to hear it.” I smile and squeeze her hand again. “Anyway, his narcissism got the better of him. He was very hard on your great gran in many, many ways. Still,” I pause, “that’s a story for another time.” I turn my attention to Fanny where this train of conversation started. “Shortly after they were married Mandy and Louis visited her parents on the farm. Before leaving they ventured out to the paddock to see old Fanny who walked over to the fence to greet them. They visited with her for a while. Gran told me it was a really sweet moment.” I hesitate. “And then, as they were leaving, the old mare wandered back into the middle of her paddock and fell to the ground … dead.”

“No!” Manda shrieks with disbelief.

“Yes, Manda. I’m sorry to say it’s true.”

“But … oh, that’s so, so sad. Poor, ol’ great gran.” Manda wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve and leans on my shoulder. “She must have been devastated.”

I let Manda stew in her sadness for a moment while remembering how spare gran had been with her feelings when sharing this story with me. I know she loved Fanny, so I have no doubt of her sadness. I’ve often wondered since if the timing of Fanny’s unfortunate death was a foreshadowing of the terrible marital years to follow. A shiver runs through me. Time to change the subject.

“Well, sweetie, I dare say she was. But that was long ago and far, faraway and we must now attend to our own little herd. I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go inside and have their supper.” I give Manda a hug and together we draw ourselves up from the bench. It’s starting to get dark out and her parents will be here soon to take her home. “Come on, let’s do chores and then we can have a quick snack before you go. Uncle Bill’s going to meet us in the barn. Oh look! … ” I point out the window as his truck pulls into the driveway, “there he is.”

Manda hesitates before following me. “May I spend some alone time with Fanny?” she asks, politely, as if in the asking she’s honouring that sad, faraway memory.

“Of course you may,” I smile. “Of course.”

~*~

Daily Prompt: Faraway

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

Alfie

remember-from-we-heart-it
Credit: We Heart It

#FWF Memory Prompt:

Write about your earliest memory. Good, bad, happy or sad. Before you begin, take time to dwell in that memory. Absorb everything you can about it. What you see, what you smell, what you hear and mostly, how you feel. Let it resonate. Marinate your mind in that one moment. Then begin.

~*~

“You want to know about my earliest memory,” I confirm with my 12-year-old niece, Manda, before travelling down that perilous road.

Manda, covered in a warm throw, slouches in the leather recliner across from me, my 20lb black cat, Indy, sprawled without apology across her lap. “Sure, if you want to share. I mean, it’s another school assignment ~ you know, interview an adult about their earliest memory and write about it.” She pauses, trying to act nonchalant, like it doesn’t really matter, but I know it does. Somehow she has the idea that I have the best stories. I don’t know why she doesn’t ask her parents these questions. “You know,” she continues, “like, do you remember what it was like before the telephone, that sort of thing.”

I throw her a sharp look. “I’m not that old,” I bark, playfully.

“I know,” Manda teases while scratching Indy under the chin, “I’m just trying to get you going. So, what is your earliest memory.”

“Give me a moment to think about it.”

“Okay.”

While Manda continues to cuddle the cat I’m abandoned to the past. I’ve been on the planet a half century and complex-PTSD has buried my memories beneath layers of trauma I’ve been working to heal. I don’t want to share something that might hurt her tender heart, notwithstanding it may be my earliest memory.

“Excuse me, sweetie, I’ll be right back.”

“No problem,” Manda responds absently.

I get up from my rocker and head to the kitchen to stare out the window at the horses quietly grazing in the paddock beside the house. It’s early spring and the grass is greening up. Soon, my equine friends will need to be on limited turnout to prevent them from getting sick with the high sugar content. Horses love sugar, and the grass is rich here in the spring. Old Molly horse is cranky, lifting a leg as if to strike the rambunctious yearling who keeps pushing her boundaries. Boundaries, yes, boundaries. My earliest memories reflect crossed boundaries. Not going there with Manda.

Ol’ Moll buries her nose in the round bale. Junior has moved on to pester someone else. In the massive maple the robins flit and flee. Birds. Charlie. Charlie the canary. My first pet. A bird cage. Newspaper lining the bottom. Bird seed all over the place. I’d rather muck stalls than change tray paper. Still, it’s not the memory I want to share with Manda.

Max, the ginger and white barn cat, perches patiently on the fence post, his eyes half closed as he basks in the early season sun. He’s my fourth orange and white cat. They just seem to gravitate to me, for some reason. Such characters, those red-headed boys. My first one, Alfie, could catch a pigeon before it touched ground and …

“Aunt Sal, where are you?”

“I’m in the … “

“I know you’re in the kitchen,” Manda notes with a hint of impatience, “I mean, where are you? Can I be there, too?”

I turn to face my lovely niece who’s standing in the doorway looking a little worried. She’s still unspoiled by the world and growing more mindful by the day, and I like to think I’ve had something to do with that. I’m the de facto baby sitter while her parents earn their bread and butter. They’re good people, too, but children can always benefit from the loving attention of an objective third-party. I love to pick her up after school and bring her here ~ her home away from home.

“Aunt Sal?”

“Yes, okay … sorry …” I reach for the biscuit tin filled with chocolate digestives and offer her one. Manda helps herself.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Where were you?”

“With Alfie.”

“Who’s Alfie?” Manda gives me that quizzical look with which she’s always so generous when something doesn’t make sense. Her eyes half closed, head tilted, lips slightly pinched.

“Alfie was my first red-head,” I say pointing at Max.

“You mean you had another cat like Max?” She asks between nibbles of biscuit. “You’ve had more than one red-head?”

“Yes, in fact Max is number four.”

“Four!!!” Manda exclaims, amazed.

“Yes … Alfie, Gus, Oskar and Max,” I affirm. “But let’s focus on Alfie.”

“Why was he named Alfie?”

“Actually,” I grin as memory recalls, “his full name was Alfredo Raffaello di Verdi ~ Alfie for short. Your grandma named him after operatic characters. And a character he was. He used to follow me and the dog when we went for walks around the neighbourhood. He invaded the vicar’s summer garden party once and helped himself to the salmon. He slept on the kitchen table beside my pile of books when I was doing my homework. He … “

“How old were you when you had Alfie?” Manda asks, confused.

“Hmmm … we got him when I was seven years old and he died when I was … 21?” I have to think about it.

“You were seven?” Manda asks, disbelieving. “And this is your earliest memory?”

“It’s the earliest memory I’m going to share with you,” I wink while offering her another biscuit.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Blank

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

 

 

 

Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Hallelujah!

Daily Prompt: Buffalo Nickel

Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

~*~

In the desk drawer to my right ~ where I keep paper clips, and pencils and the like ~ there’s a small ornamental bowl where the tiny things dwell. In it I find three coins, and opt to go with the now extinct ~ the Canadian penny.

Poor old penny. A relic from a time when we cared about pocket change.

The date on this penny? Well, there are two. It seems to be a commemorative coin … 1867-1992, it says … signifying 125 years of Canadian confederation.

Since I wasn’t even a hint of a gleam in anyone’s eye in 1867, I’ll focus on 1992 ~ a year on the downward slide, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Indeed, I don’t recall much of it. You know … that dissociation thing.

I was 29 years old and floundering. It was the year my marriage began to disintegrate (the seven year itch is not a fallacy.)

It was the year we tried to have a baby (thinking, at some level, it might help to save the marriage … duh!) Two (or three) failed in-vitro attempts and their subsequent terrible emotional, hormone-induced breakdowns later, my husband’s telling me I belong in the nut house (his exact words) and I’m telling him there will be no baby unless it happens naturally, because I am not going through that hell again.

Well, there was no “nut house” for me (but years of therapy after I left him), and no baby either. Thank god for small mercies. Not that I didn’t want children, just not under those conditions.

Anything good in 1992? Hmmmmm …

I was gainfully employed and on the public relations career track, writing for a living ~ producing a weekly newsletter circulated to a membership of 25,000 realtors. I also produced copy for and edited the monthly employee newsletter and other promotional materials as needed. I loved it! My secretarial years well and truly behind me. This is when I started taking a serious interest in photography as well, as I needed to produce images for these publications.

Musically, I was singing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I don’t recall everything we performed that year, but there were at least five Handel’s Messiah concerts at Christmas, and four Beethoven Ninth’s in the summer, all with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. The choir, though dependent mostly on amateurs (who must all pass a rigorous audition process) supported by a professional core of about 16 voices, has upwards of 30 performances a year. So, my involvement with the choir kept me quite busy learning music and attending rehearsals at least once per week. I believe I was also serving on the Choir’s Communication’s Committee.

The Choir was my sanity; the musical panacea for my broken heart. The only thing I had that kept me sound. For, you see, in those days there were no horses in my life. I’d given them up “for good” in 1990 after an incident that stressed me beyond my will to want to ride again. And, though I didn’t realize it at the time, the stress of not being around horses at all was taking an even greater toll.

So, 1992, the year the Cold War officially ended, Prince Charles and Lady Di agreed to separate, the Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture at the Oscars, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time and Lawrence Welk died, was a year I’m not inclined to revisit too often.

I guess the best that can be said about this year is that my eye’s were beginning to open … and I had my music.

As George Frideric Handel and the angels would say, “Hallelujah!”

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Violetta Unleashed

Daily Prompt: The Transporter

Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

~*~

One of my clearest and happiest memories of childhood takes place just before my family disintegrated.

As I’ve mentioned before, exposure to classical music was an integral part of my upbringing. When I was five years old the family lived in Toronto while my mother was going to opera school. Because she also worked in a hospital lab by night we rarely saw her. Dad was there for my brother and I, but I have no memories of him being that devoted.

Naturally, because of mom’s career trajectory we listened to a lot of opera. And, I fell in love with it.

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) was among my favourites. (Yes, imagine that as a five-year-old’s memory). I can even remember the record cover and studying the intricate details of the graphic design.

However, my strongest memory is powered by the profoundly beautiful dramatic opera, La Traviata (Verdi).

Mom had a record of highlights which I remember we listened to quite often. My favourite soprano aria was, and still is, Sempre Libera ~ Violetta’s big vocal moment. When I hear this incredible aria, I’m transported back to a Sunday afternoon (might have been Saturday) in our apartment living room when my parents were having friends from the opera school over for a visit.

Though I don’t recall exactly how the moment unfolded or even if I sang the whole thing (that would be asking too much), I do remember Sempre Libera playing on the stereo and me at centre stage in the middle of the room, commanding attention and singing my heart out. I believe I even did a little dance toward the end. My own Violetta unleashed.

Of course, everyone clapped and for that moment ~ a rare moment ~ I felt special in the eyes of both my parents at the same time.

Lois McDonall, my mother, as Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi's "La Traviata." English National Opera production.
Lois McDonall, my mother, as Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” English National Opera production.

As the years went by and my mother’s career blossomed, she performed the role of Violetta in London and beyond. This, naturally, only increased my love for, and connection with, this opera .

The last time I saw/heard La Traviata “live” was in Prague in 2008. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go and a wonderful production that only added to my special memories.

I live for these kinds of memories.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Another Silver Lining

Daily Prompt: Breaking the Law

Think about the last time you broke a rule (a big one, not just ripping the tags off your pillows). Were you burned, or did things turn out for the best?

~*~

In my 35 years of driving experience I’ve had about five speeding tickets. All were, admittedly, due to lack of awareness on my part for whatever reason. The third incident stands out as a particularly meaningful episode in my life … one of those clouds with a silver lining.

It was a beautifully clear Sunday morning in April 1999, about six weeks after my first marriage ended. I was experiencing a surreal period of my life; most unbalanced. I cried a lot, and by the grace of God and generosity of spirit of a few good friends I was hanging on.

One of these friends, who was also my shiatsu therapist, invited me to her country place for part of the weekend, including an overnight stay. Nestled in the heart of a beautiful rolling 50 acre woodland, her cabin was a 24 hour haven for me. When I left I was feeling the first glimmers of joy I’d known in a long time.

It was as I was driving home along the open, two-lane, hilly country road, not paying attention to the speed limit, that I got into trouble. I was lost in the immense sense of peace I’d finally found after weeks fraught with anxiety and sailing along enjoying a new-found emotional freedom.

And then there he was … the man in uniform. Just stepped out of the blue; flagged me down. My joy fled and was replaced again by an anxiety I’d hoped was gone ~ heart racing; hands shaking; helpless.

I tried to be sunny about it, but as soon as he started asking me questions I could feel myself choking up.

He was an older cop. Obviously seasoned. He looked at me with a bemused expression on his face and asked if I knew how fast I’d been going. I shook my head. He requested my driver’s license.

I scrambled for it in my purse and gave it to him. He scanned it back and front and pointed at the address.

“Is this your current address?”

I hesitated. “No … I live in Toronto now … ” My voice shook and faded.

“When did you move?”

“About six weeks ago.” My voice shook some more.

“Are you aware that you need to change the address on your driver’s license within a week of moving?”

“No …”

And, that was it. I fell apart. I’d been rabid about changing back to my maiden name on all of my ID and forgotten my driver’s license. How could I have been so stupid? The only thing I could do was tell him what was going on in my life. I felt so terrible.

“You know,” he said blithely after a moment’s hesitation, “I could charge you with two offences today ~ a speeding ticket for 20 kms over the limit, and  failure to keep your driver’s license current … but I won’t.”

“You won’t?”

“No … let me finish,” he pulled out his speeding ticket book, “the speeding ticket I can’t do anything about. It’s $120 fine and three de-merit points.”

He started writing. My heart sank. I sat there numb contemplating how I would pay such a fine and mortified at how this would affect my driving record.

“But,” he added as he handed over the dreaded ticket, “I encourage you to challenge this in court. Tell them the truth … and tell them that it was the first beautifully sunny day of spring and that you got caught up in it and weren’t paying attention to what you were doing, and that there was no other traffic around.”

He smiled in a gruff police-officer kind of way. He had a heart.

“What about my driver’s license?” I asked, trembling.

“Go directly to the driver’s license bureau and get … it … changed.”

I wholeheartedly agreed to do this and, notwithstanding the need to attend my day in court for the speeding infraction, I was really grateful to this kind police officer. He’d recognized my unsettled circumstances and done what he could to help.

Still, it was his parting words that impressed me the most, and not so much what he said as much as how he said them.

He stopped with me for a moment longer, leaned on the open window of my car and said with emphasis while looking me straight in the eyes, “Slow down.”

Not an unusual thing for a copper to say, but in that instant it was not just the speed at which I was driving my car that was brought to mind but the insane pace at which I’d been running my life since leaving my husband. Racing to close one chapter of my life while racing to start another.

The weekend away had brought me joy, but the admonition of the police officer helped me onto the road of peace. As I thanked him and drove away, I had a feeling that everything would, in the end, be fine. (And, of course, I drove straight to the government office to update my driver’s license.)

As for my court date … it came up about three months later. I attended the court local to where I’d been stopped, and a court officer heard my story before I went before the magistrate. I don’t remember much of what happened, except that my fine was reduced to $40, which I happily paid before I left.

I’m sure that police officer has said “slow down” thousands of times in the course of his career, but he will never know just how much the kindness behind his words that day helped me to begin to see my then frenetic life in a more self-aware light.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … every cloud has a silver lining.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015