Updated: Jan 18
Ivy is based on a fictional character. She is telling her story as a mature adult and recalls from her youth while reflecting on her life now.
Did you see the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? He was run down, out of options, and at the end of his rope until he was gifted a small pill that could make him a super-enhanced version of himself. In the end, everything fell apart, and the premise of the movie was that most of us could not handle that reality, at least not yet. During my early years, I believed anything was possible. I had many strange dreams of living somewhere else and a future where anyone could attain enhanced versions of themselves. I flew in my dreams, as many people do. In one of my reoccurring dreams, I saw doors representing the following options; 1: Adventure, 2: Family, and 3: Career. I always seemed to choose option 2. But when I awoke, I wanted option 1. I was young and was not thinking about having a family when this dream repeated itself through my twenties.
Before getting too far off track into the metaphysical, I return to my journey in Iran. One of my most memorable adventures was a week-long trek across campsites near meandering rivers, hot deserts, and mysterious villages carved into the mountainsides, where people still lived. The hillsides offered remote mosques from which innocent children could rob prayer stones, punishable by losing a finger or a hand. We often saw weather-beaten travelers on their way to somewhere gathering food for survival, unlike our carefree, adventurous clan. I can't remember what our final destination was, but it entailed backpacks and camping gear. We caught donkey and camel transports but mostly walked for what seemed like an eternity. According to Mr. Anderson, our destination was unique, and we would never forget this for the rest of our lives.
I looked over the edge of a very steep and narrow footpath as we passed pedestrians of all ages and occasionally barefooted. Our group suddenly passed one man with a body the size of a basketball wrapped in a blanket. He was smiling and laughing. Stunned, I took a moment to try to understand. I was thoroughly perplexed by what was in front of me. Tearing up, confused, and feeling deep sadness for this person's misfortune, it was clear that this poor soul was missing vital body parts to function independently. Mr. & Mrs. Anderson's sons started laughing and running away, my siblings continued in silence, and I stood there, staring, trying to figure out how this was possible. I remember the shock when the man started laughing at me. With only a few teeth and his puppeteer waiting for others to drop coins into the marionette's straw basket, my heart sank.
My Mother ushered me to carry on as we continued our journey; I remember the forest like patch with short, smooth-barked trees and olive-like branches in beautifully laid out groves. It felt out of place, mainly the sheep meandering around and laying freely in patches of greenery. I had a magical feeling that I was in a place never to be seen again. I remember the crickets, birds, and smells, similar to the overpowering deep colors and feelings I had later in life after my daughter's birth.
When my sister Elder suddenly fell off the 20-foot ledge at our Iranian exposed patio and into the neighbor's yard, no one saw. I came out looking for her in the back yard. I saw Elder laying there in the neighbor's backyard lifeless. I took a minute to decide what I was seeing before screaming for our parents. She looked like she was taking a nap, but she was out cold. Why didn't I call out right away? In my memory, I saw her wearing a white nightgown, the same one you always see little girls wearing in classic horror movies. I watched the lady next door pick her up like she was a doll and say to me in rough English, "Don't worry, she will be OK!" My Mother ran to the front of the neighbors home. She was calm as if she knew instinctively; her youngest daughter was OK. She always seemed to know how to keep everyone quiet and move onto the next chapter without the drama.
I admired Elder's ability to move through life without worrying. I wish I could have been like her. Elder would grow up to be a lot like our Mother, and I would marvel at her gracefulness. Elder became an amazing mother, having five children, two step-children, and three younger ones, who turned out creative, caring, and worldly adults. Elder was admired in her community and gave endlessly. I believed she was saved that day in our Iranian neighbor's backyard because her survival would positively affect many lives, including my own. Elder slept all day and had no memory of what happened. No one ever knew what she thought when she walked off the exposed ledge. I imagined she was sleepwalking while dreaming of swimming in their circular swimming pool with a beautiful walking bridge one could swim through. We all enjoyed looking at their backyard, which seemed like an oasis.
Our parents quickly erected a retaining fence, and our swimming pool was soon drained. My Mother said there was a crack in the pool. The next day my siblings moved on quickly to make a village out of the utility box from our new refrigerator. It would be our next distraction from the curiosity behind the two tall cement walls and one exposed; lovely neighbors fenced side; we were never to look or go over again. We knew the other two walls were dangerous. The north-facing vacant lot wall, which always seemed darker and colder at the end of each day, became a dumping ground and a chemical, electrical nightmare, especially for children.
I will now reflect forward in time but will return later to my childhood version of living in Tehran, Iran, in the next chapter...
At age twenty-one, I was young, healthy, and naive. I developed an intense fascination with reincarnation, a love for Tibetan culture and its Buddhist religion. While walking to work in NYC, a man came up to me out of nowhere and told me he wanted to give me something. He took me to his small shop filled with Buddhist statues from India and gave me a rawhide neckless tied with two buddhas, one is covering its mouth, and the other has a simple expression. He told me that he was supposed to give this to me, and I had no obligation. It was that simple. So, I thanked him and left a bit surprised by his generosity without wanting anything from me.
Timing in life is no mistake. I had a few experiences before age 24. A note left for me at my art school bulletin board is where my journey began to understand my ancestors and why my life ended up in America, which I will share more in future chapters. My boyfriend Mike occasionally used words to break my spirit by pointing out flaws that I did not see. Focusing on more positive memories, he inspired me with his love of cooking and art and introduced me to many emerging musical artists in the early 1990s. I will never forget the Pat Matheny concert at the Boston Center for the Arts or seeing The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the auditorium at the University of Vermont. He ended his life in his late forties despite marrying a beautiful woman and having a precious little girl.
During the summer of 1993, while visiting our family's summer home at Rhode Island's Green Hill Beach, I rescued a drowning man. The beaches had been evacuated after a small hurricane had hit the day before. There were no lifeguards, and I had just passed my advanced lifesaving to become one. The man's family watched in horror as huge waves swallowed him before I was able to pull him out. It took great effort and a lot of letting him go because he was grabbing onto a liferaft, which was me. Each time a wave came crashing down on us, we had to dive deep to keep us from being pulled out to Block Island. The tide was going out, and it was one of the scariest experiences I have faced. Walking away, dazed and tired, I called my Mother from the Green Hill Beach's Red Store payphone. I slept for the rest of the day.
Before leaving Boston to work in NYC, while walking home one rainy night, I was one of few who witnessed a head-on collision where a couple of bodies landed on the sidewalk. I walked up to one of the cars and saw what had happened inside. It is still in my mind seeing the young woman crying, confused, and becoming one with the vehicle unnaturally. She was in the passenger seat. The driver was not so lucky. With no cell phones, we all stood there and waited for help. There was not much to do but talk compassionately to the conscious victims that help was arriving soon.
Soon after, an adventurous, mountain-loving sports enthusiast boyfriend from upstate New York carried me away with his charm at my brother's wedding. He looked like James Dean, with deep blue eyes, blonde, tall, and very charming. Don was a bit goofy, but I instantly loved that about him. He shared so much with me about his dreams for the future and how much he loved living in the mountains. Visiting him was beautiful, and I felt I was home. I knew someday I had to live out of the city and one with nature. I thought he would be my future husband. I was ready to pack my bags and live happily ever after with him.
While Don was visiting me in NYC, I locked myself out of my Hoboken, NJ apartment. The fire-escape fell on him as he tried to enter my kitchen window. The 50-pound pendulum split his head wide open, he lost teeth, an eye was permanently damaged, and his personality was forever changed. I quickly removed my shirt, closed his exposed skull so no more gray brain matter would fall out, and wrapped my shirt around his head. He wanted to spring up, but I kept him still. He had a dislocated shoulder, and his teeth were falling out. I told Don to stay still, and I was going to get help. I ran to the local park. A man was running with his baby and said he would call for help. I said, "let them know it's a massive head injury, it's an emergency!". Upon arrival at the hospital, he had a 50/50 chance of survival. My brother and his wife came immediately to support me. When seeing Don in the emergency room, my sister-in-law almost fainted, and my brother stood strong and comforted all of us. They both did. They were awesome. I saw all hope of a future with Don fading.
Fortunately, Don is still living in upstate New York and oddly has a son born paralyzed on one side of his face, the same side Don sustained in the accident back in 1993. The fire escape was faulty. His grandmother gave me a Christmas angel. Every year I place the angel on a mantel and think about Don. Don was unfortunate, or I was bad luck.
During this time in my life, I was intrigued by the philosopher Raymond Moody and his Life After Life and Near-Death Experiences book series. I was married in 1997, after dating my then-husband on-and-off since I was seventeen. My new father-in-law was John, whom I miss since his passing in 2001. To me, he was an extraordinarily talented world-class marine artist, historian, and philosopher. He introduced me to the late clairvoyant Edgar Cayce and his book Life After Death. He also inspired me to apply to the Art Institute of Boston (AIB) to obtain a bachelor's degree in Fine Art. Unfortunately, AIB closed in recent years after being a private college for over 115 years. John's wife, Claire, was fascinated with people's personalities and how they matched well through astrology and numerology. Throughout my young adult life, I found my in-laws refreshing and exciting. I always felt at home with them and loved hearing their stories. Although they were both a bit eccentric and unable to function well in the world they had created, they did have inquisitive, highly creative, and brilliant children.
The people who come into our lives are no accident. As I age, I am judging less and loving more. Patience is something I see as a savior, not a destination.
Returning to the present...
As we look towards a new year and want to forget the nightmare, anguish, and bewilderment of 2020, I remain undecided on how far this story will take me.
Christmas 2020, the WhatsApp call comes from Chesham, England, bringing our British family closer as we grow concerned with each passing month unable to see them. As my husband heals and strengthens back to normal after two and a half years of surviving cancer, I feel gratitude and trust in the path laid out before me. My second father-in-law today is alive and well and loves his fags (British term for cigarettes) while enjoying living in the English countryside. The family jokes a lot with its diverse cast of characters. I miss the playfulness that comes through in the virtual world. I think about the movie Shipping News, how it made me laugh, cry, and think deeply about the cast of characters representing all of us. I feel privileged to be connected to another culture. Through all the family chatter, my father-in-law shares a surprising bit of news. He tells the family to be quiet! I have something to say! I felt honored that he took the time to share with me, "I have found a few grammatical errors, but they are few." He is reading and dissecting my novel story that I have shelved due to writer's block.
He asks, "Why are you not writing?" I replied, "I am not sure anyone is reading it, and I did not receive a degree mastering the English language." As a child and now adult, I could not keep my eyes steady on books. I wanted to tell him, dyslexia is a bitch, and I am no longer disillusioned about life as a magical journey to be had by all. But I will continue writing for my children and future generations.
My father-in-law's refreshing reply, "Well,… you have to plant your acorns to grow that oak tree!" "So keep writing and don't be daft!" Get on with it!"
I am blessed with a few unexpected mentors in my life.
This chapter is dedicated to my father-in-law Richard of Chesham. He has also graciously reviewed and edited Ivy's Traveling Circus using proper English Grammar.
Photographs from Iran are property and courtesy of Mr. Anderson (based on a real character), a world traveler and lover of the Middle East culture. They were taken in the late 1970s with the author and her family sometimes in tow.
*This fictional story is based on actual events, written by The Stymied Optimist. Please make contact if you see any grammatical errors or an overall opinion.