Sharukh Bamboat’s Cherished Blogfest post, Diwali Now And Then: A Trip Into The Past, reminded me of a section from a writing-in progress book. It was my dear friend Melodie’s first public outing to a Diwali party after being on life support in the ICU. I coauthored the book, Volcano Woman, with Melodie until her death in September 2016.
The Diwali Festival Celebrated Today October 19, 2017
Diwali is the grandest festival of India. It is the festival of lights signifying the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over bad, and hope over despair – Sharukh Bamboat
Sharukh’s post about The Diwali Festival on Travel India Destinations
Melodie in Memory – Melodie, in glorious heavenly presence, must be in cahoots with Charlotte, my muse. The two of them push me to the limits in writing. Melodie and I could never figure out who wrote what when we finished parts of her book. The Synergy of two minds is still there! So, the story of her acquiring an outfit for the Diwali Party was a “two minds” blend with stand-by Charlotte to get us back on track if there was too much laughing or reminiscing about the event. Well, really, Charlotte, couldn’t you just laugh for once?
The Way Back Into Life – by Melodie (edited by the mind on earth)
The challenge to take on a public outing came the day I received an embossed invitation to an Indian Diwali party, a glamorous family festival of lights celebrating the victory of good over evil, hosted by close friends Dilip and Sonali. My first terrifying thought was no one would recognize me inside this huge, gray-haired, handicapped body, and I did not want to go. I sat in front of the shredder arguing with myself. “If I shred this, husband will never know and I’ll be doing him a favor, sparing him the embarrassment of going to a party with me.”
My hand hovered over the shredder, the invitation touched the blade, and I pulled it back, thinking, “If I do not go to this party, put myself out there, then I am hiding away. I will never get back into life.”
I reluctantly called Sonali and accepted the invitation. The real panic set in immediately, even though I had two months to get ready. “What would I wear?” I no longer had any “real person” clothes. I lived in oversized sweats or scrubs ordered through a King Size for Men catalog.
I would have spent the two months before the Diwali party obsessing about an outfit. But, another invitation arrived from my daughter to spend a weeklong Halloween celebration at their new Victorian flat in San Francisco.
There was a hidden opportunity to solve the outfit problem on our first day in San Francisco. We went to a party given by my daughter’s friend John, a Jackie O fanatic, who wore elaborate replicas of Jackie O clothes. During get to know people small talk I asked John where he got his Jackie clothes; I needed an outfit for a Diwali party. Before the words were out of my mouth, John was on the phone arranging for visits to clothing stores specializing in outfits for transvestites, drag queens, and oversized cross dresser. Arrangements were made for a friend to pick me up in a wheelchair accessible van the next day. Before we left the party John made me promise to trust him completely. He crooned. “Let me turn you into a real Queen.”
The next day a delightful canary yellow, wheelchair accessible, Hummer arrived. Deal With It logos emblazoned on the side panels. Our little caravan drove to the Tranny Shack Clothing Store. Caesar the owner with three assistants and the help of my ever growing caravan, pushed, dragged and lifted me and the wheelchair into the largest, most lavish dressing room, magnificent in gold fleck pattern wall paper, floor to ceiling mirrors, overstuffed red velvet chairs, and in the center of the room a mini runway. I was measured without judgment or comment, and I began to feel relaxed and accepted. I was transferred from wheelchair to a soft chair and told to watch and wait. I sipped Earl Grey tea, munched cucumber and smoked salmon finger sandwiches, and listened to surround sound Mozart concertos. I scrutinized outfit after outfit, modeled for my approval. From dozens of outfits, there were ten possibilities.
Before trying on the outfits, Caesar’s top assistant Lance said, “ In order to wear these beautiful clothes with authority, you have to have some hidden power, the breasts.” Lance fit me with the appropriate breast support for the three chosen outfits. Added accessories were silk scarves, and lots of ear and neck “bling.”
This amazing, entertaining mission to get a Diwali outfit ended up being about much more than an outfit. This event reconnected me to the joy and privilege of being alive, and to the endless possibilities and surprises that each day holds when you have the courage to “suit up and show up.” I remembered the promise I made when given a third chance to live…I promised to live in gratitude and never forget that life is a miracle and cause for celebration.
The Outfit & the Diwali Party
My final selection for the Diwali party was black silk pants and shell covered with an amazing Cobalt blue, black and gold acid etched Celtic Tree of Life patterned tunic in panne velvet. It was outrageously beautiful; a work of art, my body became a canvas. Following the principle that more is more and also to cover up my ruined neck and multiple chins, I added a metallic gold and cobalt blue Sari scarf and chandelier earrings in gold and jet black to the ensemble. I even dressed my bemused “husband” in an electric blue turtleneck with an Indian silk scarf matching mine.
Shaking and nervous at the party, I scanned the room for likely people to talk to. My main selection was to find people standing or sitting in places I could negotiate in my wheelchair without causing bodily harm to others or myself. I mention this as negotiating a crowded party or crowded anything for that matter from the seat of an oversized wheelchair is a major challenge. I propelled myself in the direction of a “target” group and a gorgeous, statuesque, beautiful woman in her fifties (or I thought so), stopped me.
She asked me, “Where did you get that tunic and those amazing earrings?”
I blurted out the no holds barred panic driven, this was my first public outing after the third major medical disaster and ICU admit, and ended with the Tranny Shack Clothing Store Story.
I waited for some kind of a shocked response, and instead she asked me a question, “How old do you think I am?”
I answered, “Early fifties.”
She told me she just had her 85th birthday. My mouth dropped open. “ How is that possible?”
She smiled. “It’s a combination of plastic surgery, Botox, DHA, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone injections and lots of sex. Let me give you some unsolicited advice that I have lived by…don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Don’t let them define you as handicapped, fat or old or anything else. Define yourself and your own rules. Back in the dark ages I modeled, was one of the beautiful people, then I got fat and became a Plus Sized model. When I got old, I got myself an even older husband with poor eyesight who adores me. Own who you are right now, and whatever you do, whatever you dream, don’t wait until tomorrow.”
Energized and emboldened by my successful conversation with this woman, I started to roll up to random groups of people, and started conversations. I laughed too loud. I was inappropriate and stumbling in my speech at times. I told nervous lies and exaggerated. I was physically uncomfortable craning my neck to look up at people standing, and equally uncomfortable squeezing my wheelchair under tables, squishing and bruising my thighs to speak with seated people. I was conscious of spilling out of the chair with every bulge and fat ripple showing. My enormous arms were awkward and took up too much space. I was the largest person at the party. I told my beginning disease Guillian Barre story too many times and bored a lot of people. But, I was there and alive.
Midway through the party, I had an epiphany. I realized that all the people I was afraid of, afraid of their judgments, their pity, their rejection were only middle-aged people all afraid, all wanted to be bright, heard and attractive. All with their own agenda and insecurities. It was not about me being handicapped or fat, or jobless, it was about being present, being real and having that be enough for me, because it is all I have right now.
After the party as my husband wheeled me back to the car, I remembered the 85-year-old woman’s words. I decided I am going to be as big and old as my body. Oversized, exaggerated, bright, gaudy, larger than life is just perfect for me.
A Final thought About My Forever Friend Melodie
It’s always in the context of her struggle to stay alive, her victory of light over darkness, hope over despair. In her own words, she found that at an Indian Diwali Party where people came together to share their joys. Melodie’s joy was finding herself.