During the first four years of my life, I lived on Anita Street in Laguna Beach, CA, a beachside city filled with sunny days, surfers, and oleander plants. One such bush grew large, blooming pink and fragrant in front of our cozy home of stucco and brick. Across the street stood two plastic flamingos in the neighbor’s edge of a front yard, just off the sidewalk. I loved those flamingos. I would constantly pull my mom or dad by the hand and insist we walk over so I could briefly commune with their pristine, pink elegance. When this was done, I felt satisfied for the rest of the day. This ritual was repeated time and again, much to the amusement yet annoyance of my parents. Still, they indulged me, which I appreciated. These inanimate birds were literally bright spots of beauty in otherwise pleasant but comparatively nondescript surroundings. Even the oleander, nice smelling and pretty as I remember it being, couldn’t compare to them.
One day, the local garbage truck ran over these flamingos. I still have a vague memory of seeing one of them torn apart, the pink plastic ripped away, exposing a tangle of wires. At age four, I hadn’t known loss yet (though that would soon change when my parents divorced later that same year and my father moved out). But, that day, I felt it for the first time, a sadness behind my eyes, a heaviness over me. Gone were those two captivating objects, heretofore unsullied, unchanging, yet they had felt so alive to me. Apart from my mother’s frequently made-up visage and long, honey-blonde hair, those fake birds were my first exposure to a sense of real beauty, except they felt like my own personal discovery, something I myself had come upon out in the world.
I had my own inclination to embody beauty, an elegant grace in appearance, movement, and feel. So, while those pink flamingos reflected all this so perfectly in their ongoing vigil across the street (before their fateful demise), I tried to carry and express it for myself on at least one occasion before I had turned four. An often-repeated story goes that I disappeared from the house one afternoon. My mother looked around before walking through the open back door, down a flight of twelve or so stairs, and into the backyard of concrete and laid brick. And I do clearly remember those stairs. They seemed so steep to me at the time. In the yard: No little Sean. She continued around the side of the house and then out through the white picket gate. About half a block up, she found me walking along in a pair of her high heels, my feet just filling their fronts. I looked proud of my accomplishment, for I hadn’t fallen at all. I can only imagine how big my grin was as I surely squealed with delight.
To this day, I have yet to fall while wearing a pair of heels. I have walked in them for hours at a time, such as on rough, pitted old flooring at a friend’s Halloween party. High heels, such elegance, themselves objects of beauty that I have gladly worn now and then by choice.
A major theme in both my childhood and adulthood has been a love of beauty and my own joy at finding it where I feel so many others do not. For me, it all started with pink flamingos and high heels, scented by oleander and warmed by sunny Laguna Beach days. And like that three-and-a-half-year-old I once was, I’m still finding my own adventurous ways of pursuing beauty while– more recently– returning to the joy of just being beautiful.
2 thoughts on “Plastic Flamingos and High Heels”
I delighted in reading your essay. The flamingoes (whose “spirits” still live on in you in spite of their untimely and ugly demise), the heels, the oleander, your childlike glee in your accomplishment, your openness to beauty around you… the connections you make are all just right. You invited us readers into something personal and deep, allowed us to share a connection–and that is the gift of a truly generous writer. So thank you. I love your final sentiment that brings the whole essay together. Children delight in beauty, and usually in themselves as well with an unconscious and unsullied acceptance that they themselves are beautiful. So many of us lose this as we grow older. The intention of returning to the “joy of just being beautiful” is, well, beautiful!
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Thank you so much for reading and for the generous, warm, beautifully-written praise!