Sunshine cometh after the rain. Storms always precede rainbows.
Apparently, all these cliches I’ve heard since inhanthood are true; today has been an all around happier kind of day than yesterday. No unsettling events took place. Instead, we played at a science museum, took the girls for haircuts and had a full day of school. I was able to communicate with two different readers, which always makes my day better. There were two especially wonderful things that happened. First, tonight, my girls and I made a fort fashioned out of a colorful blanket we’ve long since dubbed “the storytimer’s quilt.” We use the “storytimer’s quilt” for outdoor picnics and the like. Tonight, though, I ducktaped one end of the jumprope to the wall and the other end to the mantle’s ledge, then draped the Storytimer’s Quilt over the middle of the rope. This created an instant, if somewhat crude, fort. We “decorated” it with Lambie, my hairy, beloved pillow and about a gazillion stuffed animals. We threw a flashlight, the girls’ photo blankets and a couple of books in for good measure; then, we all squeezed in alongside each other. We didn’t have much room, but there was enough. We giggled as we pretended each other was hogging all the pillows and, once, I was accused of squishing smaller fingers. Finally, once we managed to get semi-comfortable, we started the story game, which is where one of us starts a story and the others add to it, until we’re all too exhausted to think of anything to further the already “whacked-out” silly plot. We sang Christmas songs because we love Christmas a whole, whole bunch. On my phone, we found a youtube video of live crickets. We dimmed the light on the phone and played that. I crawled out, retrieved a “Frosted Vanilla” cupcake that I then lit. A bag of marsh mellows later and we were “roasting marsh mellows” in this rudimentary fort over candlelight. This uninterrupted time was undoubtedly my favorite part of the day. It left the biggest “hartprint” on my soul of all and one I fully intend on repeating tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow night, we’ll bring in coloring books and pretend the pictures are coming to life before us. My oldest daughter loves when I tell her stories about my “imaginary friends” (aka: characters) but I haven’t yet told her about Ash. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll tell her about their trip to the ice cream parlor, or how they climbed trees and found a bird’s nest with eggs inside. My youngest loves to reminisce—perhaps I will have her tell me about her favorite part of the magic show we went to see recently. Playtime isn’t just playtime: it’s time devoted to learning, really, who the girls are. Beyond birthdays and major life events—-what they are thinking, and feeling. It’s a way for me to make sure I’m staying connected. It’s a gift for all three of us. As most mothers do, I love making handprints of the girls. I have made molds of my hand holding theirs. The memories we create each day when we play together, and laugh, are “hartprints”—-engravings of sweet memories on each of our hearts.
The playtime wasn’t the only interesting, positive or thought-provoking event, though.
As the girls settled into bed, I played my phone for a couple minutes. I go through phases where I delete all the games that aren’t kid-related because I simply don’t play them anymore. Games like WwF and Ice Village and others have been relegated to this deleted status. Other times, I play. The sense of nearly overwhelming loneliness I spoke of in last night’s post probably has something to do with these phases. Anyway, currently, the game I play most is Dice with Buddies. I don’t know why, it really has very little skill to it. But, I downloaded it a few days ago and hit “new game”, then selected the “random player” option. The phone then paired me with a total stranger, about whom I know absolutely nothing. I won, this player wanted a rematch. So I played, and won, again. The third time, I lost, but she/he challenged me to a rematch anyway. Sure, why not? So, again, I played this same, nameless, faceless person. Although I know nothing about her/him, I do know that we play alike: we don’t procrastinate or take hours to do our turn. This morning, I won (I think, right now, we’ve played about seven games and I have won five: I have really good luck!) and she/he requested a rematch. I agreed. As I did, this time, I took note of her/his username. Hers/his is just a bunch of seemingly random letters. I wondered who it is, then I happened to glance at my username: hartprints.
Hartprints was the name of the collection of poetry I wrote years ago. It wasn’t ever available for sale, but it was unique and special. A collection of short stories and poetry. Since then, it has been my username for just about everything. Funny how, when I first titled that collection, I wasn’t thinking about prints made on my heart. I was just trying to think creatively, and used the title of one of the poems for the collection. Today, however, it inspired the question, “What prints are on your heart?” Just as our fingerprints are unique, even amongst billions of people, our hearts also have a unique set of memories. Each of us can recall certain events—-good and bad—- at the drop of a hat. Certain smells strike certain nerves in us. Specific songs and movies and books seem to call our names for specific reasons. There are rooms within the heart; the right and left atriums are hallways leading to specific memories unique to each individual that evoke specific emotions and behaviors. I wanted to know what my “hartprints” looked like. I’m a very visually oriented person: it is hard for me to conceptualize something without being able to see it. Even the stories I write play out as movie scenes in my head before they are written as words on paper. So I got a piece of paper and drew a heart, sectioned off “memory rooms” and then labeled them with “prints:” specific things in my current life that have molded me into the woman I am.
The biggest room in my heart is my faith. I simply wouldn’t be here without it. If, as a child, I had not sincerely believed the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob was on my side, I truly believe I would have sought out suicide or more aggressive attempts at self-harm that I did. I would not have been able to cling to hope; I would have missed the enormity of Joey and the stranger who held the door open for me and the feeling of being trapped would have made me give up. However, every time I hit rock bottom, a scripture or event convinced me there was something bigger than me, and that made me hopeful that the next day would be better than the night I was in. My faith has left the deepest “hartprint” on my soul. The next “print” would be my girls. They’ve given my life purpose and meaning. They’ve added joy and depth and I truly am the happiest when I am with them. Whether we’re playing in homemade forts built out of a “storytimer’s quilt” and duck tape or I’m spending ten minutes per child convincing her to let me brush her hair in the mornings, I thrive with them. It is when I am the most confident and the happiest. The next biggest print would be writing. Writing has shaped my life, given the inspiration definition and put words to the emotions I couldn’t otherwise convey. Both as a reader and as a writer, characters have acted as my sounding boards and as my friends. They also created the third “hartprint”: advocacy. If you had told me when I was a teenager that, one day, I would be speaking to large groups about very sensitive things, I would have called you crazy. Even when I was in college and giving intense speeches and volunteering as a teacher for third graders, I could have never pictured myself saying aloud the shameful and difficult parts of my past. Frankly, I am thoroughly convinced God inspired me to write because He knew that, without it, I wouldn’t have been able to give truth the space it needed. I can’t explain how loudly my heart beats for hurting children. I can’t describe with paltry words how passionately I feel about standing up for them and making it crystal clear that they are not alone, nor at fault. Advocacy is a calling I whole-heartedly embrace, even when it is personally very difficult, and writing is my gateway for accomplishing that calling. These rooms: faith, my children, writing and advocacy create the inner walls of my heart, they furnish the rooms closest to my soul. The prints they have left on my heart motivate and inspire every decision I make, and have ever made. They are the reason I am able to see the luminosity of the sun and appreciate seemingly insignificant things, like a stranger who smiles at me on a particularly rough day. These prints harbor my deepest dreams and desires. Sometimes, they lead me to act out of self-defense when there is no reason for defense, which then creates issues. But they are the cornerstone foundations of who I am.
Secondary prints, prints that act as the second layer of my heart, are the people who have taught me to be Tiffini. My mother taught me that womanhood is vulnerability. My sister taught me that womanhood is strength. Both are the only individuals that I believe have ever really loved me. They have each left huge prints on my heart that continue to affect the way I think and behave. They have set the standard for womanhood that is probably more than I ever will achieve but look to as examples. Stackhouse left a print on my heart by caring. So did Dr. Estes, Mrs. Waller, Mrs. Krutsinger, Mrs. Hogshead and all the other extraordinary teachers who paid attention to the silent, straight-A-in-everything-but-math, always-had-her-head-in-a-book student. I remember what it felt like to sit in one of these beautiful people’s classrooms and feeling capable. Good teachers make even mediocre students feel brilliant. Great teachers inspire confidence and a sense of worth; they offer a reason to make those good grades that’s greater than money or rewards at report card time. Readers have wrapped pieces of warmth and healing around broken edges of my heart. Every, single reader who has ever e-mailed me or left a review that stated my words meant something to their lives has shouted out I was never alone, either. Some of these readers are my age which means that, when I was being hurt, they were being hurt, too, and that means it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the awful alien I felt like. Instead, I was a child, reacting and behaving in the way that a child would. Readers have left plenty of “hartprints.” And there are others—–children I’ve known, men I’ve known, women I’ve admired—–who have each left a “hartprint”, some small and some large, but all of which still matter in my life. After all, human beings are really nothing more than a collage of people and events glued together to form learned behaviors and conscious decisions.
It’s interesting to note that there aren’t any negative “harprints.”
There are a few events in my life, negatives ones, that burned the edges of my soul. Take my father, for example. There is no way of sugarcoating the devastating effects on me that my childhood had. I used to comfort myself by telling myself it “wasn’t that bad.” After all, I wasn’t in a concentration or death camp. Be that as it may, however, it hurt. And it made me need….. need faith, need family, need those loving teachers and strangers. But these events didn’t really leave a “hartprint.” Instead, they acted as chips of ice that settled on top of my heart. Left untreated, they could have caused my heart to suffer frostbite, at which time, I would have resorted to things like drugs, sex, self-harm, suicide. They created a fire that could have left my heart a rubble of ashes. That’s where the hartprints come in. The negative events in my life, the traumatizing ones, left a wound; hartprints were the salve. Hartprints are hartprints because they fulfilled a need, a gaping hole, deep inside the corridors of my heart in a positive and constructive way. Yesterday, I felt lonely, alienated by society. Today, a game with a nameless stranger reminded me that I’m not the only one on the planet—-there are others, too. See, pain creates a void—-pain creates the hole in the heart. But what determines who you will ultimately become isn’t the wound itself…. it’s what you do with it. And what you do with it depends on what kind of hartprints are left on your soul. Hartprints like drugs would, in the end, only make that gaping hole wider. Hartprints like a career might fill the hole partway….until you realize you’ve been living for the temporary dollar, at which time the hole grows wider. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the blessed, like me, whose heart is full of positive prints. The other night, I watched an episode of I Survived. This show is not good for my emotional well-being but I watch it anyway, for the same reason I researched the Holocaust until my brain exploded: the fact that people survive such gosh-awful, unimaginable….. hell…. gives me hope and inspires me to believe I, too, can survive the hand I’ve been given. We didn’t have a lot growing up. We lived off fast food, hotel rooms and unattainable dreams of normalcy and stability. But what we did have, even in the midst of the reign of terror, was the unshakable belief in God and each other. Love overshadowed all the evil. Even when I was being sexually abused and emotionally stripped bare, I knew I was loved because Mama was my mother, and Mandi, my sister. The hartprints were deeper and bigger than the fire that tried to destroy my heart. The same has been true as I grew older, and experienced mind-blowing heartbreaks and set-backs.
Hartprints are examples of grace that even the alcoholic has—–after all, at some point, even the alcoholic finds himself without the bottle. It’s what he does then that matters—-does he see the hands waiting to help him up, or does he get angry because he has to feel again? Hartprints are the grace that’s given in the form of smiles, hugs and make-shift forts in the middle of the living room. Hartprints are the songs that make us cry and the movies that make us laugh. Hartprints are the ladders we’ve used to climb out of the Grand Canyon pain threw us in. Hartprints are made by the warmth even a sliver of light can provide to a cold and searching soul. Solid, positive hartprints are deeper and ultimately more meaningful than the pain because they help us live in spite of what we have seen, done, been through. Kindness is an absolute necessity in my life—-it is why I will not debate or argue politics online. Showering others with grace allows us to feel grace in the places we must need it and bask in the warmth of the prints that have been so preciously left on the vulnerable, soft contours of our hearts.