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Legend has it, that during the Middle Ages, swarms of pests began to obliterate the valuable crops of poor farmers. Seeking assistance, the farmers of these fields prayed to the Virgin Mary, who soon responded to ease their woes. Upon her command, the 'Beetles of Our Lady' army swooped down from the heavens, devoured the enemy and rescued the crops for the farmers. Today we bestow the title to these miracle fighters as, ladybugs, symbolic of their good luck and fortune.
So when the home on 37 Highland Ave. wore its red, white and black living welcome sign on its first visit with its new residents, I believed it to be a heavenly sign. Only seven years old, I knew that within my unfolding years would come change, blessed change. Racing around the house, wearing my mother's red lipstick and noticeably fake eyelashes, I couldn't wait until I reached those teenage glory years. Standing in my empty bedroom, I saw myself six years hence; sneaking out my window to meet my dreamy boyfriend or lying on my bed, reading Seventeen magazine with my best friends. I could feel the promise of happiness pulsate through my anxious body.
But when I came to the point in my life where I began to fit into my mothers high heels, when I no longer had to stuff tissue paper into my 34A trainer bra and when I realized that there is no such thing as Santa, I began to understand that I was a fool for believing that with age, life gets better.
Middle school was the bridge between adolescence and maturity, an empty void where I became lost in an abyss. In only three years, I had endured the loss of five of my closest friends, my grandfather, my beloved dog and my idealic childhood. By the end of eighth grade, the very parts of my life that made me feel whole had evaporated. A rough exterior became a veil to shield me from additional pain. My eyes and mind now reflected a cynic.
Remembering the old times of exuberance hurt more than imaginable. But I recall those memories vividly.
We would call ourselves the 'Girl Street Group.' Six miniskirts bobbed up and down, a wave of pinks and greens. The blaring boy-band music paled the roar of the high-pitched shouting and the delight of the thirteen year old girls who danced in a circle of an off-beat harmony. Moments of bliss, such as this, resemble the adventures of catching fireflies. Excitement flies around you, lighting electricity that buds around you. All you want to do is to capture one, two or three. You run around in dizzy circles with your hands cupping the summer's early midnight air until you finally capture one. Once you have it, you grasp it between your palms, never wanting to let it go. You want to bundle this exuding thrill within you, but you know, sooner or later, you have to let it go.
Each of us knew this to be a special time that we shared together, and wanted to log it into our diaries forever. So one day, we decided to have our first official Girl Street Group (GSG) session. The six of us embodied a spirit and soul that made us one. Hannah, the 'blonde blue-eyed beauty,' naturally attracted attention, became the source of jealously and competition, but cherished nonetheless. Alia, the queen of all social bees, was never seen without her smile and dramatic charm. Meredith, the shy follower, faded into the background of the scene, though harbored the arsenal of important kindness and humor that we all grew dependant upon. A friend to all, Molly was known and accepted for her infectious peppy personality, peppered with an occasional dash of sarcasm. Katie was the outcast who fell victim to bouts of depression and who remained generally confused abut life and friendships. And then there was me, unsure and undefined. I was the wind that blew in any direction. Yet setting awkward tendencies aside, we as a group were united. GSG rose above. And in this moment, we danced for hours to the music of good times, clinging to the hope that we could capture time and freeze it as is forever.
With each year of Middle School, the GSG lost members who moved away. By the end of eighth grade, only two, Katie and I remained. With four shadows and empty lockers, our lost soul mates turned to haunt us for time to come. When each of them left, a part of me was taken. I began to not recognize myself. My late grandfather whispered in my ear, 'You must say goodbye, to say hello again. Don't forget, but move on.' Not only did I have to say goodbye to my five best friends, but soon my cherished grandfather.
I woke one early summer morning, at the dawn of the rising dew, to spend time with my grandpa alone. I quietly tiptoed down the stairs, hoping to not wake the rest of my family nestled in slumber. As with every morning, he was sitting in his special chair, reading the daily newspaper, and I took my place in the chair next to his, coloring book and crayons in hand. Every once in a while I would sneak a glance just to watch and admire him. His thick tan skin and rich brown eyes that were magnified through his reading glasses. He would take his time reading each page, chuckle to himself on occasion and sometimes catch a glimpse of me; my pudgy doll-like legs that protruded from the edge of my father's t-shirt and my serious concentration as I tried to try to color between the lines. Being together, no words were necessary to fill the silence that bonded us together.
We sat in the living room parallel to the doors that opened up to the back porch. Beyond this portal overlooked the rippling bay and the end of the Cape Cod nice arm. The wooden porch that caused numerous splinters in my bare feet, witnessed all nine Zacarian children sprout from toddler to teen. This was home to memories abound. This was the home where we rode our tricycles, pretended we were fish as we swam in our colorful blow-up pool, and where we lay on the ground fighting back mosquitoes as we gazed at the stars that spanned the dark blue sky. Yet as much as the Cape house and porch set the stage for times of familiar joy, it also raised its last curtain call for a show of tragedy. This is where my grandfather had a heart attack while watering the plants with his beloved wife. He fell dead by her side like the final act in Romeo and Juliet.
I offered my last goodbye, standing above his open casket. I brushed the side of his cheek, the one I had kissed countless times before. It felt cold, hard and lifeless. This could not be him; this could not be happening I repeated to myself in mantra. I had always seen my grandpa as a man so rich with life and full of spirit, compassion and charisma. He was a man who would surprise me with a plastic ring each time I would visit him. I adored my grandfather. And now I am left alone.
When I close my eyes and try to recall or recreate memories of my grandfather, my view point conjures faded images of his face. I wish I remembered more. If I had spent more time with him, perhaps I would have more distinct memories? If I had asked more questions, would I have known him better? God forbid, would the same problem happen again and again should other depart from me? I had never suffered such raw emotions of fear, anguish and grief. These horrible feelings produced an uphill battle. Images of life and death led me down a darkened path, shielding truth with distortion and abundant confusion.
'You can go see him, if you would like,' announced the veterinarian softly. It had been what I was waiting to hear for the last hour, but for some reason, now I couldn't stand. A tornado of questions blazed as false hopes spun in my head, causing a paralyzing frenzy. A damp palm slid beneath mine, and in my ear I heard my younger sister whisper, 'just go.' Bracing myself, I slowly peeled myself from the waiting room seat and followed the veterinarian down the corridor.
Bing hadn't been eating his meals for a few days which was very odd for the dog we knew that would normally wolf down anything from sneakers to license plates. So when my parents decided to send him to the vet, Bing was leaving our home and my bedside. The specialists diagnosed my dear pet with advanced lime disease and kidney failure. We were told that death was eminent.
A parade of emotions raged down the hallway, punishing me with each step I took forward and closer to the door. The veterinarian stopped, I couldn't breathe. She opened the door to the examination room with an encouraging smile and I stumbled inside. Lying on the ground, in a corner of the bleak metallic room, was my best friend. He was weak and sullen. His skeletal form bulged from its sides and a large plastic cone wrapped around his neck. This image broke my heart in splinters of fragments that I imagined would never reassemble to origin form.
Putting fears aside, I knelt to hug him. I expected him to jump up onto my thighs, knocking me down onto the floor and licking every inch of my face like a Popsicle, like he had done consistently for six years, but he didn't. He sat there shivering, eyes fixed up on me as if weeping from within. I could read his mind: the confusion, the misunderstanding, and all the things wrong about this premature loss. Bing was my dog, the brother to Harry who was selected by other family members. Both were Labrador puppies who spent every moment together and were unrecognizable twins to most. When I was sick, when I was hurt, when I needed love, Bing knew. Sometimes late at night when I was secured in the privacy of my room, devoured in tears, he would jump up on my bed and kiss my face, licking away the salty specks of sorrow until I couldn't help but laugh.
Now when I sat next to him drenched in tears again, he didn't have the strength to console me. Our roles were reversed. I needed to help him in his moment of desperation. I laid there beside him on the bitter concrete floor and prayed to God for a miracle.
The next day, he died.
At the end of eighth grade, I had to wonder what happened to the ladybugs? My house felt naked as much as I did. With five dear friends, one grandfather and a dog gone, I had lost faith in life and was consumed by loss. Where do I to go from here?
Only until recently did I realize the disillusion of teenage life. There is nothing so spectacular about it. But with this realization came a powerful replacement. I still had faith in myself. I was not 'unsure and undefined.' I did feel and I did know and I could pick myself up again.
Today I feel older and apart from most of my teenage comrades. I prefer to hang with those beyond my years as they feel and experience life more real to me than the random conversations that consume the cafeteria, hallways or parties. I am alone, but I am whole in knowing myself. I am a grown-up. I am wearing my own high heels and stylizing my own fashion in the mirror and wonder what life will serve me next.
With a 'for sale' sign mounted on my front lawn, soon I will have to say yet another good-bye. Yet this time, I get to say,' Hello' to the start of a new life. With the scars of my past mended, I welcome the future. The unknown paths I may follow withhold good luck and fortune. No matter where my feet, mind and soul may lead me, I know there will be a ladybug flying beside me.