After a full day of third-grade, my job is to hit record on the VCR at 3:57 pm and wait patiently for Mom to come home from her secretary job. She will open the mail, make dinner, check the messages, and fold the laundry. Dad will arrive with grease-monkey fingers and ask me to unlace his work boots to pull off his stinky socks. Later, when Mom’s put away the last of the dishes and he is snoring in the blue recliner, we’ll change the channel and press Play.
I will pretend to watch you, but instead am watching my mother watching you— because rarely did she smile, but when you spoke her eyes went sparkly. Sometimes, I know she is leaking with a desire that I cannot understand… except for this: you offer hope.
Everyone remembers that red wagon, you in that black turtleneck, those high-waisted jeans, the silver belt buckle, and the wave of curls in your perfectly coiffed hair, and that smile- your smile, Oprah. You declared Freedom from calories, fat, sugar… sloughing off the layers of 67 pounds of flesh that you had lacquered over your beautiful skeleton for protection. Protection and freedom from what? I did and did not know.
It was never about the weight, was it?
This was before any of us spoke about trauma… how it lives in your fat cells, inflames your mortal tissues, and hides in every nook and cranny of a brain that looks like a wad of chewing gum. I would learn in graduate school that the brain is not exactly split into left and right halves or jumbled like a tangle of cords. The brain is a delicate map, one that you unfold and unfold and unfold and unfold, like the thinnest of lace for miles. Along its edges, maybe that’s where we can finally breathe… when we can look at the map of ourselves and see what’s worth placing into a red wagon.
Mom slowly let the laundry pile lean like the Tower of Pisa. I stopped kneeling to pull off Dad’s boots.
When she divorced him in 1991, Dad said it was all your fault, Oprah (and a Wilson Phillips’ song). Luckily, all those nights of snuggling against Mom to watch her watching you teach the art of empowerment helped me stitch the threads of my brain differently.
Thank you, Oprah for helping us unfold.