My brother and I went to an SAT tutor together. He’s a year older (1 year, 3 months, and 19 days to be precise) but we ended up in the same grade in high school. Neither of us are particularly good at or fond of standardized tests because they’re boring, but he was too driven and I was too lazy to study on our own, so a tutor it was.
I remember very little about my time at SAT tutoring. I don’t even remember our tutors name. I do remember, however, that she wore polyester leopard print tops and makeup on her hands which were also heavily moisturized in sparkly glitter. Her house smelled like Playdoh, which always freaks me out, and she really liked roosters. Rooster blankets; roosters wallpaper; rooster pillows; rooster plates; rooster statues; and roosters on those towels that aren’t face cloths and aren’t hand cloths but aren’t big enough to be a bath towel (UGH! Why do they make those!)
While I found myself incredibly uncomfortable by the twin Taxidermy Roosters that flanked the doorway to her sitting room, I was more unsettled by the fact that the toilet mags were a years worth of gun catalogs, Men’s Health, and Chicken Soup for the Soul- which, who writes those? Give me their name so that I can tell them that I am still scarred by that story about Tilly the dog who just wanted you to pet her before you went to school and you ignored her!!! and then you got home to find out that Tilly the dog had been hit by a car! I cried at recess when I read that, and I’ll never live it down… just like you’ll never ever be able to pet Tilly again, you MEANIE, you should’ve pet her when you had the chance!!!!!!!
My Chicken Soup aggressions aside… there are nice things I remember, too. Mainly, the drive with my brother, who’s always been one of my favorite humans. We would drive in our shared clunker the 15 mile route over to her house in the boonies of Newtown, passing some of my favorite sites: the Flag trees, about a mile from my house in Bethel; Fairfield Hills, a hauntingly beautiful abandoned(ish) psychiatric hospital; the colors of autumn. We’d listen to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on repeat (say what you will, it is a good song), Bob Dylan, and The White Album of the Beatles…. The musical education was probably more important than those silly tests anyway. I couldn’t have guessed then that things would be how they are now.
I drive past those old favorite spots of mine all the time, since I moved back to old Bethel town. And most of the time, I don’t notice them, but in the winter months I start to feel the heaviness of the past few years; the weight of the landmarks all of us grew up with has shifted slightly since December 14, 2012; the lives of all those little babies who were murdered senselessly, what could have been but wasn’t, what SHOULD have been but wasn’t.
Things have been hard lately, guys, and I know more than ever that I cannot be selfish – it’s not just that way for me, but it seems for everyone in our little corner of the universe: the unexpected passing of a 25-year-old lovebug; the passing of a beautiful, vibrant 22-year old girl I’ve known and loved since I can remember; the death of a 23-year-old new mother of a gorgeous 3-month old baby via hit and run; a cancer diagnosis of two beloved neighbors… Just in the last few months. Sometimes, I wonder, does this happen in other little towns? At 25, I can’t count the number of funerals I’ve been to, are we all alone in this burden? Then I find a little perspective in my Facebook feed, as my friends post more and more about their hardships or their friend’s hardships. And I am reminded not to be so self-centered. I’ve come to realize it doesn’t take away from individual pain, suffering, sadness, but rather makes me feel like I have a little purpose – to let people know “we’ve gone through this, we can help you get through this, because you CAN get through it” or at the very least “hey, I’m here if you need me, and I understand.”
So, I return to the flag trees. Painted when I was 12 years old, when towers fell and planes crashed. The flag trees have always held a special place in my heart, I’m sure I have photos somewhere of my siblings and I climbing all over them somewhere (though, as I am moving house, I can’t find any!!!) Most of the time I drive past them and forget they are there – how strange the way the landscape of home fogs over in your mind. I found these trees a comfort at 12 – old enough to understand, but not old enough to have people tell you everything; old enough to know your daddy had biweekly appointments on the 71st floor of the North Tower and luckily they weren’t on Tuesdays. I found them a comfort at 23 when twenty babies, six educators, one mother, and a severely ill young man died. To me, the trees are hope. Hope is not always a thing with feathers.
Sometimes hope is a thing that flutters like a flag, or continues to grow. Sometimes its just some paint on a couple of trees. Sometimes hope even looks like roosters and chicken soup for the soul. Sometimes hope is when you say, “I’m here if you need me.”
Brilliant, Ais. Brilliant Ais!
Aislinn, you probably don’t remember me ( i am the mom of Kendall Reilly who went to St Mary’s with you in 1st & 2nd grade) but I just had to tell you how beautiful your writing is. Two days before the horror in Newtown my 27 yo pregnant niece was killed by a hit and run driver as she was on her way home from her job as a teacher. I have often thought that she was there in Heaven waiting for those babies to comfort and guide them as they made they way. Just beautifully written Aislinn!
I remember you Mrs. Reilly! Thank you, and I am so sorry for your loss!!!!
Aislinn, I love your writing. I taught your Mom at JFK. Believe it or not, I can hear your Mom’s spunkiness and wit in your writings. Keep writing for all of us. Please say hi to your Mom from me. Much joy and good health to you. Sheila McGuirk Drohan