The Tiny Spark Series is a community effort to share our varying dark days and what “spark” helped light the way for us again. It’s an understanding that good is always there even when we can’t see it. I’m excited to kick-off with some uplifting words from friend and writer <strong>Miranda Gargasz. Readers of Scattering Moments adore Miranda for her humor, take-no-prisoners observations on day-to-day life, and (as you’ll soon learn) her unwavering honesty. I hope you’ll find a moment scattered in her story that shines true for you.
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Who knew a Chinese proverb I read in the newspaper could sound a bell in me so strong that it would reverberate through my every memory?
I was rocketed back thirty years to my four-year-old self, sitting on the sofa in feety pajamas, staring back at my dad’s giant, sausage fingers, as they pounded his point home via my chest. “You’ll. Never. Amount. To. Anything,” he said. I believed him then.
My dad told me I wasn’t smart enough to be a veterinarian. He said that the way I dressed and carried myself solidified that “no decent boy” would want anything to do with me. In my house, any grade below a “B” earned you a beating with a belt. He’d rear back and lash me as hard as he possibly could until his arm grew tired.
It was no secret that my dad was a physically abusive alcoholic. The saddest part was that I believed I was a bad kid and deserved everything he dished out. My mom wasn’t much better. She never came to my defense because he would beat her, too. Toward the end of each week the beatings got worse because we were out of money and he was dying for a drink. I struggled through most of elementary school knowing my dad was right and wondering if I could ever be enough.
I was thirteen years old when the fog began to clear for me, and I saw the truth. I was sitting in study hall near the end of October worrying because report cards were only a few days away. My study hall teacher, who was also my history teacher and believed in his own demented form of humor, said he could name all the kids there that had straight A’s on their report cards. I paid no attention to the names he called until he included mine. The appropriate reaction would be happiness or disbelief, but all I could think was, “What a sick bastard! If only you knew how unfunny you are right now.” When I saw my grade card and realized he was serious, my legs turned to Jell-O.
The bus ride home was filled with bliss and daydreams. I had never earned grades like that before and began to wonder if someone had made a mistake. Regardless, I had a get-out-of-a-beating card and I was going to cherish every moment of it. I raced through the door at home and showed my mom, who stared, nonplussed, at the neat column of A’s. I nearly squealed with delight and couldn’t wait to show my dad. Visions of him hugging me and pouring accolades over me filled my head until he got home.
He swaggered through the door and went straight into the shower. I showed him the grade card just before he left to be with friends, as he did most evenings, my cheeks aching from all the smiling I had been doing. He scanned it and said, “What do you want me to do about it?” He tossed it onto the coffee table with all the flair one affords a piece of trash and left.
It was that very moment that I realized I wasn’t the problem. It’s a memory that I cherish and the one most closely related to the Chinese proverb I read. I made a conscious decision to stop being a punching bag. That’s the day I picked up my gloves and fought back.
Every report card from that day forward rarely deviated from the straight column of A’s. I was the first person in my family to graduate high school. I went to college and received my Bachelor’s Degree in Education, and graduated magna cum laude.
My single greatest achievement was in breaking the cycle of abuse. As a mother I make sure to tell my children every day how much I love them. As we go through life together I try to teach them about how special they are, and how they should love others. I try to tell them that sometimes bad things happen, but we have the power to learn and grow from them—to make lemonade from all the lemons.
Our oldest son recently made his first communion and he took his new bible and rosary to be blessed. My husband and I tried to impress upon him that they were holy items and therefore required special care and respect. Our youngest son must have been paying rapt attention, because, as I tried to cut the proverb out of the paper, he came up to me and climbed up on my lap.
“I’m important, Mama,” he said as he wrapped his arms around my neck. “Even more important than the holy stuff, huh?”
I smiled and said, “Have I ever told you how smart you are?”
My handsome boys, the sweetest lemonade known to man.
“You always say that, Mama.”
“Have I ever told you how handsome you are?”
He rolled his eyes at me, “Moooom.”
“Well, I know what I haven’t told you. You and your brother are holy stuff, too.”
He pulled away from me and said, “I’m blessed?”
I wrapped my arms around him and thought, So am I.
As he ran off to play it occurred to me how different my life could have been if I had just given up. For the first time in my life I realized I was important, if not to my parents or myself, then to my children and husband. It dawned on me how far-reaching our words can be and that you never know who is listening as you speak. I hope that each of my sons keeps trying, keeps moving forward and never accepts what someone else says is possible as the limit.
I hope their lives are filled with lemonade and holy stuff—they make life worth the living.
Have you broken free from a vicious cycle in your life?
How/When did you know to stand up that eighth time?
Friday, December 7th