How to find peace (Henry writes)

From the pen—um, keyboard, rather—of a favorite guest paw-thor who has his own category here on Lit Bits and Pieces…

Dear, Dear Readers,

It has been far too long since we last communed.

So much has changed.

Where to begin?

Nearly one year ago, my Him ushered Me to a new home with new—how shall I say it?— Beings. A new Her. And a little Her. And two dogs, imagine.

Well.

Predictions were made. It was said by Some that I wouldn’t be happy. That I wouldn’t adapt. That I might lash out, because, Some stated, it is the nature of My kind, for We cannot be trusted…

That is where Some make the fatal error, see.

They commit assumicide.

They do not walk in My paws. They do not see with My eyes, do not feel the rhythms of My heart.

Sure, I am—I confess—a bit of a worrier who needs a dab of reassurance here and there.

—Okay, okay, My Him says “constant” reassurance, but.

Nevertheless.

I have reached a place of peace. A higher state of being.

—Right? I know you’re asking how that’s even possible, with My obvious preexisting highness! But it is true.

This, Dear, Dear Readers, is My secret.

It isn’t found in chasing rabbits. Trust Me, there are too many to catch. More will come to taunt you tomorrow. Not worth it…

It isn’t in staying in the same comfortable place ad infinitum, but in trusting, even when it leads you to somewhere very different.

It is always, always in People, even a small One who moves quite erratically and unnervingly yet drapes Herself around Your neck whilst murmuring “I love you” (I think of Her as my living necklace. My medal of honor. I wear Her with pride. Even as I tolerate Her plunking on a ukulele in excruciating proximity. Whatever happened to lyres, I ask You—?).

It is in learning to tolerate—nay, make friends with!—creatures that breathe the same air and share the same space… it is easier than Some might think. In fact, when all the Two-Leggers are out, those dogs and I have free rein (I prefer ‘reign’) over the dwelling. My old crate, My old safe place, has been disassembled. I need it no more, for now I am never alone, and accordingly feel no need to be “destructive” (although I occasionally recall the flavor of a good book cover with much fondness. Alas.).

Above all, this higher state is achieved in spending every possible moment with The One You Love Best (in My case, Him) which I have done more than ever since last spring, these moments, these days, the joy of My existence.

I wish it to last forever and ever, Amen.

But for now I will simply bask in it for as long as I can, togetherness.

So, from My perch here on the new couch I’ve claimed as My own personal seat of dominion, right beside Him’s desk where He works, I leave you, Dear, Dear Readers, with My perfect picture of peace.

May such be upon you and yours as well.

Most Cordially,

HRH

(Henry Rollins Haley)

To sleep, perchance to dream… of more love to give on waking.
Noble beast, Pit sublime, in his state of bliss.

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge honoring writers, writing, perspective, and voice.

On September and scuppernongs

September in North Carolina means the return of the scuppernong grape.

It’s the state fruit. I first tasted scuppernongs as a child, standing with my grandfather under his arbor, thick leaves waving in the breeze, benevolent sun intermingling with cool shadow. The plain appearance of these grapes is misleading; the taste is divine. Richer than anything on Earth. Those thick, humble hulls contain ambrosia. And seeds; Granddaddy said just spit ’em out. It’s worth it.

Today’s his birthday. He’d be 114. As long as I live, he is, the scuppernong is, inextricable from September…

Every year, I await the return.

And savor it.

September, sovereign whose
Crowning glory is not of gilt but of
Unassuming mottled orbs,
Pendulous bronze-green
Pendants strung on knotted vine.
Elysian fields, perhaps, this black earth where my
Roots run deep, where my ancestors sleep.
Noble edict, “Be fruitful and multiply,”
Obeyed here to an extent only by divine design.
North Carolina’s soil stirred, responded, produced—
God alone infused the foretaste of heaven in its grapes.

With deepest thanks to the friends who know and bring me these offerings from their families’ old vines.

Thanks also to the inspirational Poetry Friday gathering at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme and to Matt for hosting.

The Happy Napper

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crystal-blue eyes and a mischievous grin. On a June afternoon, when she was four-and-a-half, the little girl announced to her Franna:

“I can speak Unicorn.”

Now, this came as no surprise to Franna, who knew what magical creatures children are. She also knew that any adult playing a part in a child’s life is charged with sustaining bits of the magic, for that is the secret law of how the universe works… so, just as Franna was about to ask the little girl to please teach her how to speak Unicorn, too, a commercial came on TV.

“Look!exclaimed the little girl, pointing her tiny dear finger at the screen. “Happy Nappers!”

“Ah,” said Franna, nodding sagely.Those are … sleeping bags in the shape of animals? First they are pillows, and … you unsnap them to turn them into sleeping bags, then turn them back into pillows when you are done resting?”

“Yes,” answered the little girl in an imperious voice, her eyes glued to the images.

“How magical,” said Franna, scratching her head. She was on the verge of requesting Unicorn language lessons once again when the little girl drew herself up to her full height of forty-five inches and uttered the magic words:

“I. Wish. I. Had. One.”

She added a barely perceptible sigh—exactly the thing that sets the spell in motion.

Franna had no choice then, for it was the same spell she cast on her own grandfather when she was five, long, long ago. She wished for red rubber boots. The next time she came to see him, there they were, waiting for her. After all these years, Franna could still see his smile, could feel the rush of joy…

There was only one thing to do.

“Well, which Happy Napper do you like?” asked Franna.

“The pink unicorn,” announced the little girl.

Franna whipped out her handy smartphone to order the pink unicorn and … “Oh dear.”

“What is it?” asked the little girl.

I am trying to order the pink unicorn Happy Napper but it’s not available right now. This is called ‘on backorder.’ It means you have to wait a lot more days for it to get here…”

“Oh,” said the little girl, but not in a crestfallen way. She shrugged. “It will still come, right?”

“Yes, but some of the other Happy Nappers are ready to ship now. Like the white unicorn, if you want it instead …”

The little girl shook her head. “The pink one.”

So that was that. Franna ordered the pink unicorn Happy Napper which would take a month—an eternity!—to ship. And, quite unwittingly, she made a grave, grave error: She told the little girl that the pink unicorn shipping date was July 22.

On the morning of July 22, Franna’s son phoned to say: “Guess who woke up singing ‘Today is Happy Napper Day, Happy Napper Daaaay…'”

“Oh no!” cried Franna. “Today is just the SHIPPING day! And I haven’t had any updates!”

“I see …” said Franna’s son, and she did not envy him one bit, having to tell the little girl the Happy Napper really wasn’t due to materialize on that precise day.

And then… things got worse. Much worse. The unthinkable occurred.

A dreadful email arrived:

“Hello! We apologize, but due to overwhelming demand, your order is still on backorder … we expect additional inventory soon… you have the option to modify your order to a different character if you like…”

Feeling weary to her bones, and utterly unmagical, Franna called the little girl to explain: “Your pink unicorn Happy Napper is still backordered. It is not on the way yet. You can still change to a different animal …”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“Well, I guess the pink unicorn is really special and lots of kids wanted it. The Happy Napper people ran out of them and are having to make new ones. Supplies might be hard to get right now because of the coronavirus…”

And the little girl understood. Coronavirus meant she would not go back to preschool, not ever. Coronavirus kept her away from her friends. Coronavirus was a plague, a powerful enchantment that couldn’t be broken, only waited out. Tiny viruses topple mighty kingdoms…

Franna felt terribly sad and vowed not to mention the Happy Napper again.

The Happy Napper people must have known, for they sent Franna an e-book, which was some consolation, as the next most magical thing to a child is a book…and this one contained unicorns…

Then, one afternoon in late August, a mint-green box was delivered to Franna’s porch. She brought into the house and put it on the piano bench to await the coming of the little girl…

Several days later, here she came, strolling into Franna’s house with a joyous smile of greeting… when her crystal-blue eyes landed on the mint-green box…

It just so happened that the little girl could read quite well…

Those words on the box…

Her blue eyes widened. All the light in the universe converged there on her little face and shone forth as only this sacred magic can. She gasped:

“THE HAPPY NAPPER? It’s HERE??”

And so it was.

They opened the box, pulled out the silky-soft hot pink unicorn, and stretched it to its full blinding-rainbow length on the floor, whereupon the little girl climbed right in and made Franna zip it up to her chinny-chin-chin. The pink unicorn fit the little girl just right. The long wait was finally over, at last. And so Franna and the beloved little girl and her pink unicorn lived—can’t you guess?—happily nappily ever after.

One happy napper.

Once upon a time, Franna wished for a little girl.

*******

Magic moments of childhood never die: Here’s the story of the red rubber boots.

Hold on loosely

Grab hold

Grab hold! Jannes PockeleCC BY

Just hold on loosely,
but don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
you’re gonna lose control. 

—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik

The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it. The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?

And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.

How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?

Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?

When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…

Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more. With poetry, there’s always more.

So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”

Have only today
Have and to hold
Hold my hand
Hold it dear
Dear one
Dear children
Children laughing
Children leaving home
Home is wherever YOU are
Home place
Place of remembering
Place in the sun
Sun rising in the east
Sun dappling the grass
Grass rippling in the breeze
Grass withering, fading
Fading light
Fading fast
Fast go the hours
Fast and furious
Furious argument
Furious storms
Storms wreaking havoc
Storms passing
Passing over
Passing by
By the way
By getting to work
Work it out
Work hard
Hard to handle
Hard to reach
Reach anyway
Reach out
Out of time
Out of breath
Breath of fresh air
Breath of life
Life is short
Life is precious
Precious moments
Precious faces
Faces in photographs
Faces tugging at heartstrings
Heartstrings reverberating at final words
Heartstrings tied loosely
Loosely hold on
Loosely, not letting go.
go…
on…

What threads did you see?

Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.

Having shaken off the cobwebs, I go on…

Life is what you bake it

“‎All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

-Henry Havelock Ellis

Today I share my golden shovel poem inspired by the Ellis quote, posted this week on Two Writing Teachers‘ Slice of Life Story Challenge along with these questions: What are the moments you’re holding onto? What are you letting go of today?

Here’s to the art of living, to holding on while letting go, to savoring moments spent with children, making every one count.

I hold to all
moments spent with children in the
holy art
of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of
spontaneous embracing, of living
each day in newness. I hold to freedom that lies
in forgiving, that paradoxical self-rising power in
letting go. I hold to a
continuous, necessary cobbling of fine
crystal moments, their pure sanguinity mingling
with, dulcifying, the blood-tart of
a sliced heart. Letting
go of despair, of my shortcomings, letting go
of yesterday, yet believing in tomorrow, letting go and
savoring today in a bluesy canton of confidence, holding
onto the children, always the children, just holding on.

My granddaughter loves to bake. I love symbolism. Here’s our flag cobbler. “Canton” in the poem is the term for the flag’s blue square. Strawberries, heart-shaped, represent love; blueberries, youthfulness and confidence in the future. Bake it well.

The future is calling. I’m listening.

*******

Thanks also to Margaret Simon for hosting Poetry Friday. Visit her blog, Reflections on the Teche, for more poems and magnificent quotes in response to “What is poetry?”

On children and hope: Spiritual Journey Thursday

Photo: Child of Vision. Baby eye in black and white. Iezalel Williams. Public domain.

I’m a hopeful person. A hopeful writer. I created this blog in hopes that whomever encountered it would come away feeling uplifted. There’s already too much in the world pulling us down, every day. Burdens can pile until one hardly feels able to move. Grief is like this. Depression is like this. Oppression is like this.

Always, I am looking for a way, or writing my way, through to the better I believe is there. That, to me, is hope. Coming through. Knowing that possibility exists, sensing it, even when I cannot see exactly what it looks like. Eventually it reveals itself. And so I hope.

Yesterday I read that hope is not enough for one of humanity’s biggest burdens. Not COVID-19, which will eventually pass, although it will destroy many more of us before it is done. But we will be fighting diseases as long as we’re alive. No—hope is not enough, in itself, to remove the unbearable burden of racism.

As hopeful as I am, I know this is true.

Yesterday evening I watched a news segment featuring families talking to their children about racism. Black families, families with brown skin. A beautiful little girl—little girl—coached by her dad on how to respond if she should be singled out by those in law enforcement. Eyes wide, brow slightly knit in concentration, the child dutifully repeated everything her dad taught her on how to move, how to hold her hands … she covered it all. Dad paused in his feedback. He nodded. Then he said, quietly: “I did all that. And they still tased me.” The little girl’s face froze, then crumpled. Weeping, she climbed into her father’s lap, into his arms.

Another parent, a mother, said that as awful as it is to burden her children with this knowledge, it’s ultimately for their protection. They need to know.

A boy and another little girl from different families said they know it’s wrong for people to treat each other this way. “We are all human,” said the boy, a young teen. “It doesn’t matter what color skin anybody has,” said the girl (is she maybe six? seven?). “We should all be good to each other and love each other.”

Love one another.

The greatest spiritual journey we can ever take.

Loving means bearing each other’s burdens; it does not mean hoping the burdens go away. It means putting love into action, working to remove the burden, the systems, the structures that oppress others. The possibility is there; our hearts just have to be burdened enough, collectively, to usher it into reality.

For what’s the alternative? Hopelessness. The deadliest thing of all.

As I tried to sleep last night, so many images flooded my mind. Mostly children. Many I’ve known over the years. Black, brown, white faces, eyes full of light, little arms open wide, always ready to give away their love. How easily laughter, wonder, song, and joy come to them … my daughter-in-law texted that my granddaughter woke up singing yesterday morning, before she got out of bed: “Everyone is a star, and everyone has to see how strong and powerful, and everyone has to see how much I love you and how much I’ve grown.” She is four. The thought of anyone robbing the pureness of her heart is … inhuman. It should not happen to any child. Ever. But it does. It is the most terrible of dichotomies, that the big love we have for one another as children does not grow as we do. If it did, the world would be an entirely different place … and if we have any hope of it being better, it begins with acting now. Understanding now. Changing now. Breaking out of age-old racist, prejudiced molds that may have shaped us, now … or they remain intact, shaping those who follow.

I remembered a thing last night, as I finally fell asleep only to dream about children (babies, in fact, standing in a crib, laughing because they’d just learned to pull themselves up). Somewhere there is a photo of me in a crib with my doll, Suzy. So long ago. I saw her in the store while shopping with my grandmother. Beautiful doll. What was it about Suzy that I loved? Her dark eyes, like my own? Black hair and skin, not like mine? I don’t even remember the shopping trip; my Grannie told me years later how I asked for that doll. So she, a white woman from the rural South, bought it for me—in the late 1960s.

Every day, every action, great and small, every word … colors the picture of society that the children see.

That’s us, reflected in their eyes.

In kindergarten I drew a family picture that made my mother angry: “Why did you have to draw me with a cigarette?”

I blinked, and couldn’t respond: Because I always see you smoking.

Children.

On my mind when I go to bed.
On my mind when I wake.
Not just my own
or ones I’ve known.

Children.

So full of love.
So full of song.
So free with their giving
in everyday living.

Children.

We hand them the crayons.
Blank sheets of paper.

And set little hearts so earnestly
to coloring the world they see.

Children.

Is there a crayon called Hope?
To color Tomorrow?

And what will that picture be
if they copy you and me?

My little granddaughter once explained sadness this way: “I was crying with my blue eyes.”

I know, Baby. Same as I cry with my brown ones.

Everyone is a star, and everyone has to see how strong and powerful … let us all keep loving. And growing. And working together to help and heal. Daily finding the way.

That, I’d say, is what hope really looks like.

From my granddaughter’s heart: I love you so very much.

Special thanks to Ruth Hersey for hosting Spiritual Journey Thursday, and to all my friends and sojourners. You are welcome to continue the journey by reading their thoughts on the theme of Hope here.

Redemption nonet

One of my favorite themes in literature—in life—is redemption.

Life’s a complicated adventure. Things happen. We respond to them. Each of us is an individual, complex universe of tangled history, experience, emotion, psyche, and DNA. We make choices and our choices make us … and our story. As Shakespeare would say, “Thereby hangs a tale.”

Since I read The Goldfinch in February, while homebound with snow and a broken foot (which seems an eon ago, now) I’ve thought about how certain choices reveal true character more than others. For all the breathtaking artistry of the author’s craftsmanship, in all the moments I paused to reread passages to absorb more of their glory as the story swept me away, one little, shining nugget wedged itself in my heart deeper than anything else. Perhaps it is strange, I don’t know, and I will try not to be a spoiler here … suffice it to say that the main character, suffering from trauma, descends into self-destructive behavior as a means of coping. As he attempts to escape his circumstances, he takes a little dog with him rather than see it neglected. It’s not his dog and he’s actually embarrassed by its “girlishness” (it’s a Maltese) but his appalled distaste over the treatment of the animal and the conditions in which he first found it motivate him to make a rescue at risk to himself. This I found strikingly heroic. A revelation of the character’s inner wiring working at its best. Redeeming.

Then of course there’s the loving character of the little dog itself and I am quite, quite sure that I would have found that just as poignant if I had not had a little dog curled up in my lap as I read the novel.

I have been wanting to capture these sensations, somehow, ever since. Suddenly, today, it gels. Maybe it’s because the sun dawned so bright this morning on our troubled, changed world as it wobbles on. Maybe because this brightness mingles with a searing sense of grief and apprehension about the days to come. About how much of life as we know it will be lost. Destroyed. I’ve been writing an abnormal amount of poetry so maybe images are standing out with sharper edges and taking clearer form than usual.

At any rate, this is my first attempt at a nonet, inspired by that act of rescue in The Goldfinch. Maybe it’s about wishing for rescue. Or redefining it. Sometimes, in saving another, one is often saving oneself …

Redemption may be life’s greatest theme
a sign that all hope is not lost
overcoming brokenness
in the effort to save
another creature
not capable
of saving
itself.
=Love.

Frozen acrostics

Once upon a time, a terrible enchantment swept across the land like a howling, raging wind. It forced people into their homes so lives could be spared. It kept children from being with their friends and grandparents so the evil sickness would not spread. Many heroes waged a mighty battle with a tiny germ at great cost to the whole kingdom. Meanwhile, the people waited … and waited … and waited … and longed, with all their hearts, to be together again. They missed each other fiercely but they knew the waiting was an act of true love, and that love, eventually, conquers all

I would love to hold you close
Sometime soon
Only when it’s safe again
Let this virus go, let it go
All will be well in
Time
It is so long, so hard
On the heart, being apart
Now

Soon the spell will be
Over and we
Can be
In the same bright kingdom together
Again
Let this virus go, let it go
Don’t come back any more
It’s funny how
Some distance makes everything seem like
Time is frozen
Although, little queen of my heart, we are one day
Nearer to overthrowing this
Corona-nation separation to resume our happily
Ever after

Original photo with text: L. Haley. Edited with Cartoona Watercolor.

Do you know

Do you know
it’s been twenty years
since you handed me
that necklace
at Grannie’s funeral?
“Saw it at the drugstore counter,”
you said. “I thought it was pretty
and that you’d like it.”

Do you know
how it moved me
because you weren’t one
for giving gifts very often.
I was surprised.
And you were so pleased
when I put it on.

Do you know
that I still have it.

Do you know
that I wear it
to funerals
and it brings me
comfort.

Do you know
that I wore it to yours
and you seemed
very near.

Do you know
that I wear it to church
on special occasions
like Easter.

Do you know
that there isn’t any church gathering
this Easter.

Do you know
what’s happening
here on Earth.

Do you know
that on the back of the pendant
etched in tiny letters
is a word:

F
A
I
T
H

Do you know
when people comment
on how beautiful it is, I say
Thank you. It was a gift
from my father.

Do you know
that in all these years
the drugstore cross
you bought for me
hasn’t tarnished
at all.

He loves me, he loves me not

Today I am revising a fun memoir I first wrote as a model for a fifth-grade class. Given the choice of a time in my life when I was happy, sad, angry, afraid or embarrassed, the kids voted for “embarrassed.”

What fun it was to watch them alternately cringing and writhing in their seats—but also laughing.

*******

As soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot down the hall, through the doors, and to the crosswalk in record time. I could hardly wait to get home from school: My grandma had called that morning to say that my present should arrive in the mail.

I’d been thinking all day about what my present might be. Was it a latch hook kit, or a Mystery Date game? I’d been wanting those forever. Maybe it was those books that I heard some middle-school girls whispering about and which titles I kept mentioning as potential gifts, as I was dying to read them, but so far no one had gotten for me yet. Last year, when I was ten, I still read the Little House books and wished I was Laura to the point that my mother made sunbonnets for me, but of course I’d become too old for that now … most of the time…

I ran the whole way home, slowing only when I got a stitch in my side. At last I reached the steps of my own house. I took them two at a time and barreled through the front door into the living room.

“MOM, I’M HOME! DID MY PRESENT GET HERE?”

“It’s on the coffee table,” said Mom.

Sure enough, a large box wrapped in brown paper sat beckoning from the table. In ten seconds I had the paper off, trying to imagine what fantastic thing Grandma had chosen for me.

I threw the box lid on the floor and yanked away the tissue paper inside.

For a moment, I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing.

Clothes.

I was okay with clothes, but …

This was a shirt with some kind of huge design on it. I picked it up. When the shirt unfurled, the design turned out to be a giant daisy with a bright yellow center and enormous petals covering the entire front.

Ewwwww!

Mom said, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But that was not all. Oh no, that was not all.

Something was glowing at me from inside the box. A color so bright that it was practically blinding, a shade close to a French’s mustard bottle.

Somewhat fearfully, I lifted the glowing yellow thing out of the box.

Shorts.

A bulky pair of shorts that matched the daisy shirt.

Shorts made of thick polyester that would never wrinkle in a million years, an unsympathetic fabric that scratched against my skin.

I detested polyester.

I couldn’t pull my thoughts together. Was Grandma serious? Surely she wasn’t playing a joke on me! Didn’t she understand that I was now eleven, not six?

Mom said, “How cute, a little shorts set. Look—there’s still something in the box.”

I wanted to say I do not want to know, and I do not care, this is the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen in my life, but I quietly reached into the box one more time, as the last wisps of my hope withered and died.

In a flat pack of cellophane lay a pair of knee socks.

KNEE SOCKS.

They were white. Each had a daisy on them. One sock bore the words “He loves me” and the other sock was emblazoned with “He loves me not.”

“Now, that’s unique,” Mom commented. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“Mom! I can’t wear this! Can I ask Grandma to exchange it?”

“Absolutely not. Your grandmother took time to pick this out especially for you and to get it in the mail so that you’d have it on your birthday. You will keep it and be thankful.”

“Well, I’m not going to WEAR it!”

My mother’s eyes went dark, flashing like warning signs. She stuck out her chin, reminding me of a hungry bulldog that just had its food snatched away. I even detected a slight growl:

“Oh yes, you WILL wear it. You will wear it tomorrow and we’ll take your picture for Grandma.”

“I’m NOT wearing this to school, Mom! No way!”

The next morning, I trudged slowly, miserably to school in the hideous daisy outfit, socks and all, while Mom watched from the front steps with her arms crossed over her chest. She’d checked my bookbag to be sure I hadn’t snuck a change of clothes in there.

People could probably see me coming for miles, wondering what this unearthly glowing object could be. I kind of hoped I would get run over on the way to school, or that I would magically come down with flu, but my mother would still make me wear this so I might as well get it over with.

The snickering began as soon as I stepped into my fifth-grade classroom. The girls took a quick look at me, looked at each other, and erupted with uncontrollable giggles. The boys just stared, not even bothering to look away.

No one wants to be stared at in this way.

The cutest guy in my class, Allen, finally said, “What in the heck are you wearing?”

Why, oh why wouldn’t the floor just open up and swallow me? I couldn’t even think of a reply.

All day, when I passed by classmates, I heard little comments: “Here comes the flower girl” and “Has she figured out who loves her or loves her not yet?”

As I was getting up to sharpen my pencil, my left sock snagged on the side of the desk. When I snatched my leg free, a long thread pulled out.

Now I had to walk around with a long string dangling from my “He loves me” sock.

I could not endure any more. At lunch, I just wanted to sit by myself in peace. But when my classmate Vincent realized that the cafeteria was serving fried fish, he came around with his brown paper lunch bag, asking the rest of us if wanted ours. Vincent always did this on fish days; he took the greasy bag of collected fish home to his family.

He plopped down on the seat beside me. “Hey, you want your fish?”

“You can have it, Vincent. I’m not hungry.”

“Thanks! What’s the matter with you?”

“Geez, Vincent, isn’t it obvious? You can see what I look like today. Haven’t you heard what everyone’s been saying?”

“Not really,” said Vincent.

He did look a little confused.

“This is the most embarrassing day I’ve ever had! My grandmother sent me this ridiculous daisy outfit for my birthday. I can’t believe she thought this would be a good present. I hate it! I feel stupid.”

Vincent shrugged. “It ain’t that bad.” He took the fish off of my tray and put it in his grease-stained bag. “At least you got a grandma who loves you.”

I stared at him. He was smiling and happy, even though he wore the same brown shirt to school almost every day. He never seemed embarrassed. I thought about his family who’d be eating the unwanted lunches of fifth-graders for supper that night. Funny Vincent, the class clown. He made everybody laugh, including the teachers, even when they tried not to. It all came together in my mind, just then, how Vincent didn’t dwell on himself; he thought about others and tried to make them happy.

That’s what my grandma always did, too.  

Tears of shame stung my eyes.

“You’re right, Vincent. She does love me. She’s the best.”

“Anyway, happy birthday!”

None of my other classmates had said that to me.

I had an inspiration:

“Hey, Vincent, do you want half of my cinnamon roll?”

“You kidding me?”

And we sat sharing my cinnamon roll until lunchtime was over, with Vincent making Mmmm! Mmmmm! sounds and me swinging my leg, long string swaying gracefully through the air, daisy and all.

Photo: Macro daisy. Brandon Martin-Anderson. CC BY-SA