Off The Hook, Junebug

Junebug loved to play in the neighborhood. It was in the alleyways playing hide and go seek and capture the flag and in the echoes of the dinner bell ringing or my French next door neighbor's mom calling us to come home for dinner, that felt like home to me. I think it was moving in circles together with my next door neighbors imagining we were on great adventures without parents in sight that felt more comfortable to me than standing in a line to walk to the cafeteria in First Grade or having to wear pantyhose to Sunday School.

It makes sense to me now as it is harder these days to stand still for too long or to think about dressing up for the Jewish New Year next week. When I write and circle back to my Junebug days, often it feels like the only way out of my sadness. I understand Junebug more and more and how it must have felt for her to lose the unconditional love of a parent; especially when I look at my own kids and my heart breaks every time I feel what they have lost.

At age six, Junebug did not understand that unconditional was not something you can find playing hide and go seek or catch fishing in the sewer or by rubbing ice cream on your face to make friends laugh; but I don't know anyone who tried harder to fill what was missing inside that left her feeling messy, insecure and angry at herself. She was hooked.

I remember when she got hooked and here is where my head circles between real and my imagination. She was casting her line and the hook landed in her hand. In the middle of the night, she dreamt the hook was instead stuck in the shoelaces of her tennis shoes and while in her dream, she was pulling it out of the shoelaces, in real life, she pulled it out of her hand. She must have screamed in her sleep because the nurses came running into the room and she woke up terrified.

When she came home from the hospital, her hand was swollen. She started to be afraid that maybe the hook was in still in her hand and she had only dreamt that she pulled it out. Or maybe it had moved to her heart? Her heart did feel like it had metal in it and it was hard to breathe. Her mom took her to the doctor.

"Be real still for a moment and take a deep breath"  the doctor said. He was always so gentle the way he listened to her breathe with his cold stethoscope on her back as she sat on the examination table that was covered in crinkly white paper.  "Yes Junebug, you are wheezing again. Your lungs are filled with water from the sewer behind your house. What are you fishing for anyway, Junebug?"

"Magic fish and toys" she replied.

Junebug sometimes would have to go back to the hospital or her mom would bring her home with a portable IV bag and make her red jello. She would cough and cough and cough trying to get the fluid out of her lungs so she could breathe easier but all the coughing in the world did not help. It would take decades and another sudden loss to uncover the real problem.

I know it's time to let myself off the hook and forgive myself and to accept that feeling messy and insecure are street signs along this road with no detours. It's a long road to unconditional and It is not something you find or catch or joke yourself out of but something that grows from the tiniest seed of our truth, Junebug.

Cloud Cult You're The Only Thing In Your Way. 4th grade school photo in favorite duckhead yellow overalls.