Scroll down to the start of the novel, or first read the AUTHOR’S NOTE, here: The original chapters of Diving with Snookie were written in late November, 2006. The content was written just after returning to Nebraska after visiting my family home in SC. The visit was to care for my mother, as my father was suffering repeated fainting spells and hospital stays.
My mother was slipping with very limited short-term memory. I recall mourning the loss of who my parents used to be at what I felt was too early of an age for me to lose them (I was about to turn 42). The needle would scratch across the record of life a little over a month later, announcing that I had conceived my son, my first and only biological child (I was already a step mother). The pregnancy was unexpected, but welcome, given we had hoped for it when I was 37. We had all but forgotten that we had once been “planning.”
As a work in progress, I welcome feedback, suggestions, and notification of errors/typos. Thank you!
Diving with Snookie
I was born in 1964 in the deep South, with memories of mosquitos and horse flies, red mud, Blue Ridge trees, and sandy Atlantic shores. The “baby” of six kids in a traditional, middle class family, I grew up questioning canons and wandering with curiosity across taboos and into voids disguised as rebellion. It has been through reflection upon my childhood that I have come to understand the critical need society has to embrace a partnership paradigm with children. It is through the birth of my son that I have come to heal my inner child, learning a level of self-love that I finally gave myself permission to embrace.
My own background includes a familial paradigm of hierarchical and patriarchal influences. This story begins with a reflection of my bond with my sweet and vibrant mother, whom everyone close to her knew as Snookie. This was a name her friends gave to her in the 1940s. Magpie was my father’s nickname for me. The star fish in Chapter 4 represent my step-daughters, gained when I married their father when I was 34.
As this is a work in progress, I am not wholly comfortable using Magpie in third person and have not decided whether this will be changed. The metaphors used in the initial chapters were adopted in the 2006 writing. As the story progresses, this structure of writing will likely yield a more direct style in accord with the rawness afforded in social media.
Chapter 1. Investigations
That was Magpie’s quandary. Much as she took care to follow her heart, she consistently quarreled with her own logic. The trouble with a quandary is that you must remove it before you can move forward. Too many times in her life, Magpie had to remove these puzzles from her path. And if that was not distracting enough, she damn near lost her footing. She ran into complications at the bottom of the Tree of Misinterpretation.
Magpie loved trees…especially one giant, fragrant Southern Magnolia and a perfectly fine Weeping Willow situated right up against the sweet-smelling Camellia bushes in Hillbrook Forest. Trees were everywhere. They invited her to search down the hill of a back yard, across the borders, and immediately into the crunching leaves beneath her feet, the stillness of tall straight southern pines, and mossy creek banks flanked by clay beds and exposed roots.
And Snookie, it was widely accommodated even if not directly perceived, had her priorities. Sometimes Snookie was just as irritated at her charges for making mistakes that caused her to have to refocus. It was just a mixture of mirror images and responsibilities that sabotaged dreams and intentions.
By the time they got settled back to finding their way and diving into whatever the moment led them to consider as the right direction, Magpie and Snookie were in a different place altogether. It would take some time, navigation, and sufficient strength before Magpie could reach her point of departure again.
Especially under the canopy of those tall pines beyond the organization of the backyard where her imagination ran wild, never focused, always turning, and twisting, climbing, scaling, crossing, digging, unearthing, figuring, and deciding. Much like her paintings, organized only by informal elements of composition.
But, when foraging with Snookie, Magpie hit corners only every so often. They would go cascading down, gracefully turning while falling, landing lightly, and leaping across stones and dipping toes in here or there, rarely missing a step, and often laughing with deep satisfaction. Until Magpie reached the corners of Snookie’s heart. The places where Snookie had not delved deeply before. Suddenly, the subway doors were closing, and if Magpie did not push through, regardless of consequences she would be stuck on that hamster wheel of negotiation again.
Negotiation, that is, with the mirror. “What do we do now? We have identification of enough facts to validate what we thought all along…that we are staying within the lines. But, accused we are of anything other than maintaining our course. Who is confused? Hello? Am I alone here? Come on, what do you think? So, we push the lines out a little now and then. Who cares? We aren’t breaking rules! Honesty is its own rule.
It’s like they are hiding what we can readily see. If they cannot handle it, isn’t that their problem? I mean, what’s wrong with honesty? It doesn’t matter whether or not it feels good or bad; the feeling is evidence of living. Isn’t that what confirms that we exist? Am I missing something? All I know related to this is what I feel. And what I feel is evidence regardless of what they deny.
I cannot validate my existence in the face of denial. I cannot possibly make sense of the sequence of my life when I am told there is nothing where I see everything. My truth offends. My insistence is for examination, acknowledgement, and handling as if it is an object of curiosity.” And so, follows rejection.
Bursting through the door of her family’s life time and again, Magpie could not understand what she herself was not aware even existed. She copied her lens from what she knew. How was she supposed to anticipate the limitations of those higher up in the Tree? She didn’t comprehend respect for the rules of interaction when she saw them repeatedly broken.
Poppa hid scars on his soul, she understood later, but before that, all she saw was that he didn’t say as much. He was shifting gears. She cherished the rides on his feet. But, he was tall, and when he looked down, he didn’t stay there for very long. The rides on his shiny black dress shoes were all too short. She begged. Snookie stepped in. After all, Poppa was tired. Sometimes, years later, Magpie felt guilty for not being able to soothe Poppa’s unresolved spirit.
Magpie watched him, though….with fierce interest. She observed him as he engaged with others. She was charmed by his great big ears, his softened southern voice, kept facile by a dirge in pitch laced with the eloquence of useful words unencumbered by extraneous speech. His spoken words had a dichotomous lilt that rolled off the dirge, and flowed smoothly like the water trickling high and low in the shallow creek bed. His lyric was like that water, swaying gently according to the texture of its pathway, lifting off the meaning of his words like moisture dissipating into invisible air…this air swept up by the slowly dancing switches of the Willow tree. Little Magpie kept him neatly tucked into her sleeve. He was simple to address.
She drove all around his clean lines. The crisp white shirts. The dark drape of his suit. Those shoes with the waxy black laces. He wore dark socks that came only half way up the calf. His narrow black leather belt was unbuckled to her bare bottom only once that she remembered. It was during Mass one overcast spring morning. Right past the bent dogwoods they paced, she in his clutch, not knowing to be fearful. She’d misbehaved.
He grimly guided her wobbly gait to the rear doors, she only aware of the largeness surrounding her straight up to the wooden arches above, and spilling down and about through the incense-lingering spaces that subdivided the sacred architecture. Outside, they turned down the unequal concrete steps and around the curved sidewalk, passing quickly beyond those dogwoods that would in later years call her to play beneath them with her uniform-clad friends at recess.
It was over quickly. Snookie commented as their diving recovered this memory, “he really didn’t spank you with it, did he? He probably just threatened you.” Nope. Magpie was certain. She recalled thinking a woman might feel sorry for her…this woman exited the school across the parking lot. A nun? There was sidewalk and grass, a vestibule door, black pavement, and then the recessed side entrance to the parochial school. Down just a few steps and enclosed partially as so many niches in the architecture. It was hard to tell there on her belly stretched over one arm in mid-air while he raised the other…no, she was fairly certain that he had used the black shiny belt on her bare bottom, just as she’d only seconds earlier wondered why he was removing it from his waist.
But, she did not remember a particular sting. So, Snookie and Magpie lingered there no longer. Nothing left to explore in this shallow cove of perceived childhood discipline. They cast the memory aside like an imperfect conch shell along a beach. Indeed this exploration, while not predictable, chartered their hearts for deeper bodies of water.
Oceans called them.
Magpie led the way. Snookie cleared the path. Forward. That was their movement. Always forward. Until Magpie spilled too much. Or Snookie did not remember. Their diving paused with their breathing and sighing, resuming only to lap like gentle waves against the well-known reaches of a familiar shore as they cradled realizations and accepted unresolved endings. Drifting lazily, diving suspended by unspoken agreement.
Alone. She sat without purpose within the circle of the Willow branches. Peering out, seeing clearly through and all around. She listened to the sounds, smelled the scents that moved through the air in concert with the breezes and warmth of a glimmering sunlight, filtering down to spotty sections of grass, attached to beams, or dappling on front yard Mother-May-I stones.
Chapter 2. Agility and Her Center
Forward meant one thing to Snookie. It meant achieving satisfaction.
Snookie took great pride in measure, and all that she offered to her children was deposited against her personal pride and self-validation.
She managed that festivities were defeated marvelously every year against anxious claims of what she worried was surely not to be in comparison to the previous year.
A sea of gift-wrap filled lower branches of each year’s tree with mysterious treasures. Each gift was carefully allotted its weight in the overall measure for equality according to desire, need, and in some instances the privilege afforded by the individual child’s age.
Not every child was treated equally, but not every child’s needs were identical, and every child appreciated what they received. Even if Magpie felt envious, she understood the thought and gestures behind each gift no matter the recipient. Once or twice, Snookie let her choose which Madame Alexander doll she liked best, even if it meant spoiling the gift.
In this manner, Snookie stitched details in tandem with plans that unfolded as soon as designed to surpass her own expectations. Effortless…an ethereal unfolding…never spilling a drop…nothing left to waste…a matter of innate ability and a match for challenge.
Absorbed in her ability to glide swiftly throughout the branches of her family tree, Snookie mastered satisfaction.
Outwardly, hers was a charmed childhood, spent tickling silver spoons. So many keys to her depth died with her. Stories untold, answers to questions never asked. Her penchant for satisfaction gave way only in her return to infancy in dementia. Even then, her bright spots were omnipotent.
Magpie reached up through the branches of the family tree.
Various siblings pulled away like boughs unwilling to accommodate her. Others she found closely situated for light support, but she fell right through them. Some appeared out of her grasp, and she lacked the confidence to explore them. The branches seemed uninterested, or at best, impatient. One branch was so appealing…but its isolation did not offer much support. Another was daringly close, but intentionally prickly.
Unable to match Snookie’s agility by imitation, Magpie wandered elsewhere, not understanding what was so special about her position at the bottom of the Tree.
There was always the one remaining mystery: A forgotten gift discovered only after all the others lay opened and emptied of their impact, and just before time at the end of the year began moving forward.
The approaching new year ended all in the year’s reality that Magpie held onto as she sailed into a new era…the giant waves of deep-sea diving year after year carrying her out beyond the places she recognized. She drifted without a lifeline and swirled about unsteadily, not recognizing her direction.
Magpie often explored deep-sea diving alone. Dark hours and cool waters awakened her discomfort. Her siblings may not have noticed her missing…she was still visible…and audible…and her sticky sweet tracks were perpetually annoying. And the branches swayed according to the breezes that swirled about them.
But, Poppa was constant, if only shadowy. He was a fortress of right from wrong built from a mixture of child abuse and poverty. His roots remained in the dirt so that the Tree’s branches might recognize their beginnings. Like the tall pines, he allowed light to filter through so that the branches might see their futures.
Poppa was a lighthouse welcoming souls that saw his heart’s humble intentions from near and afar.
And like the softer wood of that tall pine, Poppa’s heart was not hardened despite the torture of his life’s many seasons.
His inward fragility enabled Snookie’s essence to permeate his substantial being. Without him, Snookie had no linear focus. She took root within the center of the Tree with entitled glory tempered by a compassion for suffering.
The very moment this occurred, Poppa’s roots found meaning.
Their dysfunctions married by passion created a beautiful legacy drenched in every messy human emotion, intertwined like the internal bond of a biological dyad, and yielding a mixture of possibilities from cause and effect bearing the factored fruit of exponential generations.
Chapter 3. Part I, Dreams
Snookie woke up dreaming about a plane crash.
Her age was playing tricks on her. She held a bosom that was past due. The emptiness that cratered her bedside was gently smoothed over by denial.
Denial was a method to maintain satisfaction in the face of everything that did not fit properly as she was caught between losing her edge and gaining her grace. She just did not know that time was standing still…still in five-minute intervals…still…like Magpie’s agenda.
Part II, Voluptuous Silence
Briefly, the little yellow room called them to mingle in the sweetness of sisterhood sullied by sadness. An old memory of twin beds beckoned acceptance between two strangers. No souls were exposed, and no dreams shared. Simple acknowledgement of vague concern covered open wounds as time ticked in silence above two sleepy heads, morning dread, and unanticipated decades-drifting-apart from each other.
Part III, Swimming
The Tree of Misinterpretation was shedding leaves, growing limbs, losing limbs, and aiming for the course of Snookie’s dreams. Poppa’s strides were all that earth could bind.
A maelstrom of years carved tributaries around the base of the Tree, carrying Magpie back to her center.
An upward shot at the top of the Tree appeared.
But, the lower branches were no longer offering foothold.
Magpie tucked this into her back pocket. She was hell-bent on moving forward. But satisfaction was not part of the design. It eluded her no matter how deep was her diving. She investigated every reef, every body of water, and every shore of future possibility that she could find within the limitations of her choices. Nothing seemed to fit.
Nothing seemed to yield the effortless exploration of diving with Snookie.
Chapter 4. Starfish
Time and the Tree of Misinterpretation bestowed Snookie adornments as spirits and jewelry. The family tree was gaining respect among the memories, mysteries, and treasures that sprang from its traditions.
Poppa was filling his pockets with riches. These riches were treasures offered by the mere trails of hope sprouted by his progeny, nourished by tokens of affection and admiration from grandchildren, their smiles coaxed by his gentle humor. Poppa was pleased and proud of fruit for which he would not even claim modest credit, as if his lineage appeared from thin air.
Unselfish in his desires, he pocketed what he could have of fleeting fulfillment running ahead of self-doubt.
Snookie rested comfortably on the crest of her generations.
Magpie fell into a whirlpool of her own creation, discovering diamonds disguised as starfish.
She briefly embraced abandon as her heart fooled her into believing that she was in the tousled folds of pure satisfaction.
Caught up in the newness of her reverie, she caught glimpses of the starfish swirling about her.
Starfish fell between the folds of satisfaction. Starfish tangled her hair. Starfish trailed along her sticky steps.
Starfish pinned themselves to her ribs. Starfish stole her sparkle. Starfish demanded her sweetness.
Starfish imprinted upon her heart.
Starfish swam with her to the top of the whirlpool and lit as diamonds upon its surface.
Starfish embedded themselves into her soul.
Bearing these starfish in her bosom, Magpie swam in a straight line toward Snookie with unforeseen speed, agility, finesse, and an agenda for eternity.
The bottom of the Tree embraced her once again. She wrapped herself around her identity and celebrated the inherited essence she discovered in the center of the Tree.
She gathered Snookie to perch upon the highest boughs for the purest vision. There was diving at hand.
Chapter 5. Legacy (coming soon)