I was a sensitive child. There was an episode of Barney where in a dramatic effort to convince children to put away their toys, the big purple dino slips on a toy ambulance and falls down, cries dramatically and has to wear a bandage on his stuffed tail for the duration of the episode. The first time I saw this, I bawled and ran out of the room. According to my mom, I refused to watch Barney for months after this, because I lived in constant fear of having to witness the smiling tyrannosaurus rex injure himself and my poor heart just couldn’t handle it. Since my TV time allowed my mom to cook dinner, the Barney boycott was especially inconvenient. My three-year-old brain did not understand that surely Barney did not teach children to put away their toy ambulances every day. There were other lessons to be learned.
My grandmother used to read me a children’s book that involved a fox chasing a rabbit. At one point, probably at my own prompting, my grandma had to explain to me that the fox’s intent was ultimately to kill and eat the rabbit. I simply could not accept this morbid and violent reality. So I invented my own. “No, Grandma. Foxes do not eat rabbits.” When she asked me to tell her what they do eat, I confidently replied, “Cream cheese and bagels.”
My parents are cynics, for the most part. My father does cry at the end of Homeward Bound when the dogs come home, but he also threatened to “do what they would do in the South” and shoot our yellow lab in the backyard when the vet said he might need some very expensive surgery. This was because he had chewed apart and ingested an entire baseball. He did not need the surgery nor are we in possession of a firearm, but my little sister and I did not find the joke funny.
My little sister grew up to be tougher than me, probably as a result of being the youngest. She has enjoyed flipping me and my brother from a young age, and if caught, was not often scolded because “she had to learn to defend herself.” Abby used to cry when my mom would play Lucinda Williams. The difference is I still do.
I suppose I was destined to be the writer of the family, like my sister was destined to be the nurse. We took the careers of our grandmothers. Me the paternal and she the maternal. I took the anxiety and my sister the courage.
Despite their love of snark, my parents are also both deeply religious, which I love, because my favorite people are those that don’t fit into boxes. In church, my mother proudly projects her voice. (My father does too, but he also gets paid for it.) Over Easter weekend, I go to church three times in a row. I realize how accustomed I am to hearing my mom’s voice next to mine. I am so tethered to her cadences, that if she stops singing mid-verse, I sometimes stop as well. When we say the creed, I mirror her intonations. When my mother says, “thanks be to God!” it’s louder than anyone around us. Her Sunday morning mood may vary, but the volume doesn’t, and I think that’s good theology. Maybe she feels like she has to set a good example as the pastor’s wife. Maybe she wants to set an example for me. I mumble through the prayers, but when we sing, I sing loud and off-key like a drunk girl at a concert. If we sing “Be Thou My Vision,” forget it. I will openly weep.
Easter always sneaks up on me because of the time of year. I always kind of forget about it until it’s right there. Easter snuck up on me and I’m crying in church again because this year, my brother came to church and to dinner, the rain and snow held off for a day, and the sunset coincides with that sleepy state that comes after wine and a meal and is perfect for taking a walk. And I walk with the man I am going to marry and my brother and Zachary who is basically my brother and we think about Ryan who was basically our brother. Today would have been Ryan’s birthday, and his parents came for dinner because they are family. It’s also the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. But it is also resurrection day, and maybe today we are a little closer to a world where foxes eat cream cheese and bagels. It would certainly be inappropriate to eat rabbits on Easter.
Of course we don’t talk about any of this. Sometimes it’s better that way. And it’s why I wrote it down.
Caroline (Higgins) Nyczak (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.