“The economy sucks. They’ve just laid off 10,000 people at Microsoft! It’s the end of the American Dream.”
I overhear this comment from my neighbor. A woman, who like me, is having her hair washed at my sister’s beautiful salon and spa in downtown Renton. Suddenly I’m overcome with dismal emotion—more than a little tempted to feel sorry for myself.
“I can’t believe it. I’ve finally finished my young adult novel after five years of writing and I just read a headline…last week was the biggest lay off in publishing history!” I say verbalizing my misgivings to my sister.
I surveyed empty shampoo bowls that were once filled and wondered why my sister was smiling above me, continuing to massage my scalp with her strong fingers.
“Why aren’t you stressing out about the economy?” I asked. My sister glanced behind her and pointed to a common house plant that had grown into anything but. The green stems and leaves had coiled and twisted around the entire perimeter of the salon, clinging onto the lighting, the wall, crown molding, pictures, anything it could lean on.
I felt the spray of warm water. It rushed around my head infused with the scent of Aveda shampoo.
“Whenever I feel afraid about the economy I just look at the Devil Ivy and it makes me feel better.”
The Devil’s Ivy began as a two-inch start given to my sister after she had just opened her salon in 2001…two weeks before September 11th. Back then I recalled it felt like the world was ending too. And yet like the Devil’s Ivy her small business had thrived.
“That plant is a lot like CD Danza Salon & Spa. It’s outgrown seven pots, at certain spots,” my sister said pointing to areas less robust than others, “its lost leaves and the vines have withered and sometimes we’ve even needed to prune it when it wanted to just grow wild. And just like CD Danza Salon & Spa over the last eight years clients and employees have come and gone, September 11th and now the economy. But I know in my heart the American Dream, like the plant, like CD Danza Salon & Spa, even like you and me, it just keeps growing!”
I relaxed my neck muscles, releasing my fears into my older sister’s hands just as I did when we were kids.
“Remember when you would wash my hair in the kitchen sink when the electricity would get shut off?” I asked her.
“Yeah, it was too cold to take a shower.” My sister said. “Boy that water sure was cold.”
“Yes…especially when you splashed me in the face!” I said pushing my hand into the water and flicking a little on her. “For old time’s sake,” I teased.
“It didn’t take much to amuse us,” she replied.
To say that my sister and I had experienced hard times when we were kids would be an understatement. Our parents divorce in the late seventies lead to our mother trying to find herself on a road trip to California. We wound up in a crazy commune and eventually homeless and experiencing deep poverty.
“It was a recession back then too, but we had fun,” my sister said toweling dry my hair.
She was referring to the recession in the early eighties reminding me of our nomadic childhood with blocks of government cheese, sleeping in cars, food stamps and handouts.
But my sister was right, I also remembered the kindness of strangers and the appreciation of simpler things like cold water fights between two sisters. My sister was right about us being like the Devil’s Ivy: it didn’t take much for us to thrive. Only unlike the Devils Ivy, we had something sturdier to lean on that walls, we had each other.
In fact, I’d based my novel on our shared experiences because these experiences drew my sister and I together in a way that we might not have otherwise. And has led to a deep connection we share. A deep connection that people recognize and appreciate. These human connections in times of great adversity can be like a healing balm, that in our case had proven stronger than whatever adversity came our way.
The hardship in my life and my book were eclipsed by the power of love between two sisters who in spite of everything rise up and are courageous.
I looked at the Devils Ivy anew, seeing its quiet power. Even now amidst all the chaos and fear I understand if we lean on each other and believe in ourselves we have something more powerful than money, we have a core that is strong. Now more than ever instead of feeling dismal I want to share that idea with people who might be facing similar adversities.
“You’re right, the American Dream isn’t dead!” I shout out to my sister, “So long as I have a pen, paper and my freedom to write, I’m living it.”
“And we know we’ll always have a kitchen sink,” my sister replied.
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