From scars into sunshine

I was going to write about my hair.

December '88, with my Uncle Keith.

December ’88, with my Uncle Keith.

My hair, which has sheltered me from so much, which has hidden my face when I’m ashamed, which has been my security blanket since I finally stopped carrying my beloved Blawnklie around.  Besides the time I grabbed the bathroom scissors at age three, I have never deliberately cut it on my terms.  Nana made me get it cut into a pixie cut when I was four – she wasn’t a fan of the ahead-of-its-time choppy asymmetrical cut.  Then came years of bangs to cover up my forehead’s size while the rest was growing it out.  And then I was forced to cut it to my chin – thanks, hormones, for making my hair greasy.  But I’ve been growing it out since then.  A serious lack of trusting hairdressers led to my letting the split ends get out of control, then having to get more chopped off.  And now it’s beautiful and down to the middle of my back and I’ve been obsessing about pixie cuts.  I think I might get one this week.

That’s how this was supposed to be.

But then something happened – that, strangely enough, connects to my hair in some small way.  I’ve even let it fall around my face more than usual all day because I wanted the extra comfort.

My uncle Keith died this Valentine’s Day.

I didn’t know him well and I hadn’t seen him in years, but I think about him from time to time.  He was my only uncle on my mom’s side.  He always smiled at me.  I don’t remember him ever being harsh with me or being scared of him, despite whatever else may have been going on.  His eyes sparkled like sun glinting on a creek and he laughed a little after everything he said.  His accent was so low key it made me sleepy sometimes: a mix of southern California and just plain tired, but with a cheery lilt to put you at ease.

Nothing ever seemed to go right for him.  He’d be okay or flying under the radar, at least, and then, suddenly, he’d go off like a grenade.  He wasn’t happy, no matter how close he got to what others might describe as happiness.  He was, as my aunt said today, “a tortured soul.”  He made every mistake a person could make, wandered from place to place, lost himself and everyone he knew a time or two, and hit every bump in the road at approximately 999 miles per hour.

My most vivid memory of him, however, has nothing to do with prison sentences, harried phone calls, bad impressions, cigarette runs, drugs, and whatever else he got into.  It doesn’t even have to do with the sweet stories my dad tells me about how devoted he was to me when I was a sleepless baby and he was a listless fifteen-year-old who watched me swing in a baby swing for hours.

I have a faded scar on my forehead that’s been there as long as I can remember.  It’s the reason I didn’t want bangs: the cowlick in my hair split my bangs open to perfectly frame the scar.  It was much more noticeable when I was young and I was surprisingly self-conscious about it.  When you grow up being passed from person to person, not everyone knows what happened at each place, when you were sick, and where your scars came from.  Moreover, sometimes people can’t face the reality of their past in later years, so the people who once knew are left wordless.

When I was two, I unbuckled my seat belt in the front passenger seat of the car.  My mom had to slam on the brakes, and I hit that windshield, which fits with the timeline of when I got my scar.

But my memory isn’t hitting the windshield; it’s what happened afterward.

My uncle would take me to Chuck E. Cheese sometimes, as a treat.  He’d pick me up where my mom worked and he’d take me out to lunch and to the arcade.

The truth is, I don’t remember going to Chuck E. Cheese.  I remember knowing he was going to take me.  I remember walking out of the building, into a well-shaded alley with red brick on either side, where my mom’s red car was parked.  I felt terrible about hurting the car – see, in my family, we not only name cars, but we also often give them voices and personalities, plus, you know, I was two – and started to cry.  He understood.

Keith picked me up and held me over the hood, ever-so-tenderly, so I could kiss the epicenter of that crack.

And we walked out of the alley to the street, and turned left into what was just another sunny day to everyone else in the San Fernando Valley.

This the memory I played every time something bad happened to Keith or he got into trouble.  It’s the way I see him when someone mentions his name: young, smiling, lifting me up, and making me feel better.

Here’s the thing.

People tell me that God is one way or another.  They tell me that there is right and wrong and no in between.  I know of pastors who refuse to perform funerals for suicides or people who haven’t attended services.  I see in movies that thieves and addicts get dragged into hell and heroes and women in white are welcomed into heaven.  I’ve heard there’s nothing more unforgivable than not changing your ways.  I watch people with mental illness become vilified time and again on television and in breaking news stories.

But my God is more gracious than you, I, or anyone else can possibly comprehend.

“God is love.”  -1 John 4:16b

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  -1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

“But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”  -Luke 23:40-43

There is a place beyond consciousness, beyond understanding, and beyond human interpretation.  And I believe that, in those moments and in that place, grace is granted and human tribulations mercifully end.  I believe that the hopeless find hope.  I believe that the lost are found.  I believe in life after death.

And I believe that God will lift each of us up to kiss our regrets and mistakes – the spiderweb windshield cracks of life – an apologetic goodbye, take hold of our hand, and walk us into the brightness of his perfection, which could very well be like a beautiful southern California day.

I don’t like to ask for money or help, but my family could really use some in this difficult time.  If you have the opportunity or the thought to, we’d appreciate any help you can give.  The circumstances are bizarre, sad, and shocking.  But God, through our crazy lives, has prepared us for anything and we are getting by.  If you’d like to help, please visit the GoFundMe dedicated to funds for his funeral expenses.

Your prayers and thoughts are greatly appreciated.

I might just get that pixie cut now to flaunt that scar.  Scars are reminders of pain, but testify to the healing that comes with time.


6 thoughts on “From scars into sunshine

  1. Pingback: Gone pixie: “Jo, your one beauty!” (Creative Thursday) | Barely Rebellious

  2. That was really, really good. The last time I saw Keith probably wasn’t more than 4 or 5 years after that photo was taken. I’d hear of him and some of the things he was up to, but to me he was always that teen-aged boy who loved his niece and sisters and wanted so badly to be the next Eddie Van Halen. Thanks for reminding me of his laughter after he’d say something; when I read that I was immediately able to see and hear him as he was then. RIP Keith, you’ve earned it. And God bless his sisters (Renee, Dawn, and Angela) and nieces and nephews in their time of sorrow.


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