There I was: sitting in ‘my’ willow tree, in the breezy warmth of summer in the country, barefoot, looking at the lake, singing, and daydreaming about the prince across the lake who was going to come and pledge his love to me. Ah, ten!
I would dream of me as a grown woman. For some reason, I couldn’t wait to be 50. I saw a life-loving, free–spirited, politically and socially active, creative, singing, barefoot dancing, long wavy red-haired, loving, woman. I was so excited to become her already. My hair was pin straight and couldn’t hold a curl, so I knew I was really pushing it, but isn’t that what dreams are for?
Back then, I couldn’t see what the road to 50 looked like. I couldn’t picture anything but living the life of wonder I imagined.
At ten, I was constantly singing and dancing. My sister and brother used to tell me to shut up and, of course, I didn’t listen. Everything seemed to just get in the way of my music, dance, and daydreams. I was happy, energetic, and full of life, ready for the journey. I marched to a beat all my own, and when referred to as weird, I was flattered.
My parents nicknamed me Tirzah with the smiling face, and even made me a T-shirt with the words printed on it. I am the product of a singing dental surgeon, with a great sense of humour, who was a star athlete in his youth, and a talented mom, who went from small town country girl to well-known theatre director and writer, so who I was made perfect sense.
Eleven awakened me to heartbreak. The object of my heart’s desire literally burst my bubble gum bubble, then slapped the top of my head with the sticky ammunition, leaving me with no choice but to cut a coin-sized lock of my butt-long red hair at the root. The tuft naturally began to sprout, which of course only added to my humiliation. I suffered a second blow of defeat when my well-developed friend won his affections. This was going to pass, just as soon as the alfalfa sprouts on my head could be tamed, I told myself. But no. At twelve, I lost my summer love to my cousin. Fine, I loved him and he “liked” me. Still, he had been my Stairway to Heaven dance and my Sadie Hawkins husband every summer. How could this be? He was mine! But she too was beautiful with a sizeable rack. And so it went.
Later that year, my parents began to reveal the signs of their failing marriage enough that I noticed. Something had changed. I felt it. I heard it in the tone they used to fight. It didn’t sound the same. It didn’t feel the same. The love was no longer behind the passion. The passion sounded like resentment.
When I met my now ex-husband, we were both passionate musicians. He was a talented jazz pianist (and illustrator), and I, a bluesy roots rock singer with vocal experience in studio and onstage. For so many reasons I didn’t understand then, the music died. I stopped singing. I was stressed, working insane hours, and I felt my appetite wane. Soon, my healthy weight of 134 pounds plummeted to 109. I was hospitalized for two weeks, and have spent the years since battling a debilitating neurological condition called gastroparesis.
There was plenty of time to reflect during those long and painful years of illness. Somewhere along that dark and lonely journey, all I could see was Tirzah with the smiling face, sitting in that tree, watching the lake. She was back, and in typical fashion, wouldn’t shut up (so to speak). She convinced me to remember who I was to become, to see the woman I had envisioned so long ago, and to be her.
As I began to regain my strength, I realized that I had buried the best part of me a very long time ago, and I missed her. The ghost of me was hollow. I had to resurrect that spark—the singing, barefoot dancing redhead, now with natural curls! I promised myself that if I recuperated, I would sing again. I promised myself that if I survived, I would be “Ah Ten”!
Now, at 49, I am joining forces with the child in me and learning from the past. Here are some of the lessons I learned the difficult way:
I learned that without constant communication, relationships are doomed. When you stop communicating with yourself on the deepest, most brutally honest levels, you get lost.
I learned how love can turn when people change and grow in different directions, if they are not truly invested in one another. I had stopped investing in myself, and ended up wandering in the desert of me for far too long.
I learned to accept that individual growth takes its own sweet time.
I learned to follow the light of the positive, rather than bearing the weight of the negative.
But most of all, I learned that I will face more happiness and more pain, and I can accept it all as lessons for my older, wiser years.
So why not do it all while singing, dancing barefoot, or sitting in a willow tree?
Tirzah Tward is the creative director and founder of THE LUCiD LiNE graphic design house, which specializes in all things graphic. The company has been credited with work for a variety of publishing houses including Simon & Schuster New York, and is scheduled to be featured in the August issue of LD+A Magazine. Her company is currently designing interactive online course modules for the University of Toronto. She is raising two awesome sons, and singing the blues and roots rock nourishes her soul.