Birth Day

When I was a child, my birthday was a day filled with a carousel ride in Central Park, chocolate cupcakes, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company or the Paper Bag Players, pin-the-tail-on-the-mouse, and friends and family. As I’ve gotten older, my birthday’s been a day of pampering or play, and the comfort of friends. Every birthday, I feel so much love and friendship coming from many different directions, and that’s the most remarkable gift I could ever receive.  In the past few years, my birthday has been infused with a layer of pensive contemplation, as it’s the one day of the year that’s raises a question for which I have no answer. It’s my birthday and I wonder…is the woman who gave me up for adoption at birth nearly five decades ago thinking about me today?

Who are we to one another? No one, really. Strangers. Two women in the world. And yet, we’re tied intrinsically by an organic thread. An invisible thread at once weightless gossamer and immovable anchor. Filment and root. I won’t dare let myself believe that my birth mother might have passed away, though it’s surely possible by now. That’s not the picture I’m willing to draw for this chapter of my story. And so, I ask myself, on this particular day of the year, is she wondering about me as I’m wondering about her? Is she remembering? Is she curious? What’s she feeling? And I ask these questions because I’m an exceedingly curious person, a voyeur, someone who wants to know all the details of someone’s story – their past as it defines their present and informs their future. So, here’s the thing: I’ve come to recognize that while I can tell one story about my life, there’s a whole other story that I just don’t know.

The not knowing can sometimes be frustrating, confusing, sad. On the other hand, and most of the time, I’ve found great strength from the not knowing – a strength that comes from feeling unencumbered, free, innocent, at ease to be whomever I want myself to be, as if an author creating a character from my imagination. And yet, on my birthday, the questions arise and, as if Samson knows that Delilah is picking up the scissors, my strength is momentarily tempered, revealing a tender spot for which I wish I might apply a soothing salve of a story that already exists, that I don’t need to make up. And I wonder, does she ever feel the same?

It’s my birthday and if I could, I would tell her that her baby was loved. And that the woman that baby became is grateful to be in this world, this life, and she’s been given experiences beyond her expectations which have made her feel secure and safe. Loved. It’s a happy birthday.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


The Voice of Memory

The characters in our stories speak to us; they urge us to listen to them, care about them, tell their stories; breathe life into them and be their voice. Sometimes these characters are gentle, tapping lightly on our shoulder, allowing us to glimpse them out of the corner of our eye as we’re making our way through the day. And other times, the characters who want our attention are aggressive, wrestling with us, forcing us to stop what we’re doing to face them.

I find as it is with characters, so too it is with memories. Our memories speak to us; they urge us to remember, remind us to care, and by informing our lives, inspire us to carry on by telling our own stories. Sometimes these memories are gentle, woven delicately through the strands of the quilt that cloaks our daily lives, whereby every so often we glimpse moments of our past – that dog on the beach who looks just like Lady (Remember that wonderful dog we had when we were kids?); that trim woman in the beige sweatercoat and off-white suede gloves (And we thought it was only our mother who wore suede gloves in the summer!); the sweet-sharp scent of Lily-of-the-Valley and Hyacinth (Come on, I’ll race you to see who can find the most Easter eggs hidden in Helen’s garden!) And other times, memories are aggressive, causing us pain or fear even though the event or person is no longer in control of us. Some such memories we feel no choice but to try to swallow and hide. Some, though, will not give way, will destabilize us and hold us captive, preventing us from moving forward until we’ve faced them and overcome them.

The stories we write are infused with both the memories and the characters that seek us out, of which we’re indeed a part. Consciously or not, we often craft our stories in order to explore, understand, and overcome those most aggressive of characters, those most aggressive of memories. And as we do so – as we give witness to them – we provide voice to them while at the same time proclaiming a voice for ourselves. The goal for our stories is to resolve and bring some closure to whatever it is with which that character, that memory, is insisting we contend. As we allow the character to guide us for a while until we express his or her journey, as we allow the memory to infuse us for a while until we sort out from whence it’s come and how we want it to quiet down, we allow our own voices to resonate louder and stronger. And we, for listening, caring, wrestling, and overcoming, are stabilized once more, ready to move on.

Thinking she was my protector, my mother’s mantra was “Don’t do that, it’s too dangerous.” Such protection became restriction; such protection became constriction; such protection became strangulation. And so it happened that I was unable to shake the fears I had about trying anything new, culminating in a remarkable moment of panic, distress and an inability to breathe when I first was learning how to ski a few years ago. I recognized the need to let certain memories speak to me, no matter how painful, and through a poem, I gave them a voice, thereby once and for all quieting the mantra and giving myself permission to breathe. And to ski.   That poem is shared below, in honor of poetry month, and in order to give voice to the writer I wish to become.

From a Daughter

Her caring clutches
around me, love-heavy;
a stifle-dark night.

Her memory’s voice
freezes my limbs; a tree,
glass roots, in ice-light.

With frost-sharp breath,
my own dawn, sun-fresh, melts
a path; free-

(c)  Emma D Dryden 2009

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


In honor of poetry month: CHARLES


gray flannel suit
a milky white shirt
a handsome and sleek-perfect fit

with supple suede shoes
and cream velvet gloves
his style has become such a habit

a sly backward glance
then out of the house
he folds himself into the shadows

accustomed to night
quicksteps without sound
he glides past alleys and windows

"Hello, Mr. C.!
Again on the town?"
wherever he strolls, he is known

he pauses a while
for drinks and a rest
then smoothing his coat he moves on

roving by moonlight
alert to the streets
he will greet sunrise at dawn

his family's at home
wishing he'd tame --

"Where has our Charlie cat gone?!"

(c) 2009, Emma D Dryden