My First Girl

This Mothers Day post is from the way back of time, but it still keeps. To all the Mamas out there . . Happy You Day.

Peace and love

I remember walking you home from school. We’d stop by the park and I’d push you on the swings. We’d fill our faces with chocolate bars so perilously close to supper, because we could. And then we’d laugh at having broken with such frivolous convention. We’d hike to the supermarket and trade knowing winks, as if we had committed high treason on the butcher with our chocolatey smiles.

I’d haul the heavy bags home as we talked about the Beatles and the travails of kindergarten. You were my first girl. Hey, I was rather mature for my age, and you needed a five year old best friend. You needed to know what it was to feel young. God knows you had so much of it stolen from you.

I’d tell you how beautiful you looked and how great you smelled. Compliment your shoes. Hold the door. We’d make dinner. Dad, absent; the hours with him were dissolving as work took him away from us more and more. So it was you and me. You taught me to cook. Give foot rubs. Dance. All the essentials for a boy who was just beginning to marvel at the wonders of a girl.

I was the man of the house whenever he was away, and you made me earn it. Cause a Catholic girl always does. I loved the time we spent alone, because it gave me the chance to steal that amazing laugh you possessed. I wish dad would’ve warned me about that laugh. To this day, a woman’s laugh holds a most deliciously intoxicating mystery for me. Yours was childhood, the one you never got to unwrap because you were too busy growing up, too soon. I knew enough to know too much. It’s why I beckoned that laugh whenever I could. To summon the little girl away from the primitive conclusions of this world for a little while.

Thank you for teaching me how to throw a baseball . . . how to set a table . . . how to love a woman . . . thank you for that silent conversation we shared when you came to visit me in the hospital, a conversation I might never match with spoken word if I live to 100. Thank you for the advice you would impart whenever I went searching for the answers to a woman’s heart, like the time you told me “If it was that easy to figure out a woman, there’d be no need for alcohol.”

My little girl has a middle name that comes from you, but that’s not all she carries of you. She carries your sense of humor, your honesty, your grace. And my son has your persistence and that wholesome sense of purpose that makes him my twelve year old role model.

Because of you, I spend a small fortune on Mothers Day cards. I have my own personal “Mothers Club”, and you are the reason why I lean on them so hard and love them so completely. Because of you.

You taught me that life isn’t about having all the answers. Not when comfortable shoes are so much more important.

There is a thank you in every conversation we share. But here’s one for the hell of it.

And so it goes

There wasn’t enough time.

Zeke was fifty three years old when his heart gave out and the rest of his life stopped happening. The news came to me in a phone call from my Aunt. She sped through the details in Spanish, going on for several minutes before she stopped to ask me what language she was speaking in. I told her it was alright, that I understood.

It’s just that, the most important part of this story is the part I will never understand. Because we never can, we’re not allowed to. Life is a horribly wretched circumstance, and it’s one to which we hold to dearly. And it always happens this way, always.

We hadn’t been close for too many years, disconnected by the miles and different lives and familial misunderstandings. None of it was personal, and yet I can’t help thinking that it becomes all too personal after it’s too damned late to do anything about the silence that existed between us.

I never called him after the separation from my cousin. Not even a simple text to let him know that I was there if he ever needed to talk. Then again, I became quite good at not being there for that side of my family, so really . . why would he have been immune?

It doesn’t matter a wit, not compared to the two beautiful children he left behind. Grown now, they possess the depth and passion of their father. And if nothing else can be retrieved for me, their lives become something I might understand with more familiarity now. Before something else becomes too late.

Me and the kids spent Saturday with this side of the family. We attended a celebration of his life. So many people shared their stories. He was loved for his quirks, his humor and his passions. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word. He loved music and math, friends and family and Kurt Vonnegut too.

I remember things about him that have no blessed Shakespeare to them. They are simple things that have loosed themselves inside my mind over the last couple weeks, since I first received the news of his death. Things like his love of the Talking Heads and Devo. And the ad he did for Absolut vodka. And how he was an avowed liberal who loved debating; not yelling or screaming, but actual discussion. And how he just didn’t get sports, at all. And how he got books, and loved them. And how he had theories . . on everything. And how he folded his arms and gave you his undivided attention when he spoke to you. And his hugs. God, I can close my eyes right now and I can feel his hugs.

And if I could be granted five minutes with the man, I might ask that it be one long hug.

The memory that keeps prevailing over the last couple weeks, it’s twenty eight years removed. It was the day Zeke married my cousin Yvette. They wed in a nondenominational church near the Trade Center. Eleven years later, Zeke was in those Towers when the first plane hit. He made it downstairs and watched as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. And then he ran like hell, as fast and as far as his legs could take him.

But he never made it out of there, I don’t believe. He lost his job when the company he worked for folded after the attacks. He busted his ass to get back, but he never really could get back what was lost. Mentally and spiritually, I think he struggled even more.

Maybe that’s why I think back to his wedding day. The bride, so beautiful in white, and Zeke with his trademark black suit and tie. Two beautiful kids who were going to live forever, in a city that was always going to be the magical iteration of Runyon and Warhol and pride dressed in the cursive of stardust.

And so it goes . . .

The Happily To Ever After

It took me fifty one years to really get Jane Austen.

The girl could write the snow off the top of Mt Kilimanjaro with the kind of fiery passion that a thousand year love affair couldn’t match. Her demurely driven portrayal of female equanimity belied the wicked apple martini that a sensuous purr can serve up, after which booty calls become wedding vows. Jane knew that a momentary lapse of reason was all it took.

And I finally get her because she knew the secret to which any successful dealer in addictions must abide: Don’t get high on your own supply. See, Jane painted great big pictures of love and romance from the catbird seat of a single woman’s vantage point. Marriage was the kind of thing to write on, if not invest in. So she never did, like ever.

Now, I happen to be a single fella who admires the verve to that kind of swerve. And even though I did tie the knot once upon a time- back in that glorious age otherwise known as the Clintonian Era- I have now been divorced for a longer time than I was married. It’s not something I celebrate, mind you. I’m jaded as fuck, but I’m not a dick.

Nah, I simply discovered my simpatico with the iconic author was something I could book passage on for the sake of this post on love and marriage. Because I have also come to believe that pretty words do not a lifetime make. And you know what? That’s okay.

I have no beef with matrimony. In fact, I love the idea, in the same way I love Europe and Vegas and the West Coast. I might never visit again, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have great memories.

And so it was that I went to dinner last night at my soon to be fellow in-laws house. They’re good people, and their daughter is the very best thing that ever happened to my son. The wedding is in July and so we went over the plans and discussed the logistics. Me, the in-laws, my son and his fiancee. And oh yeah . . my ex-wife.

It was a really good night, filled with lots of laughing and wisecracks, good food and even better company. I showed off my pet whisperer skills over the course of the evening- first by convincing the finicky and rather aptly named “Gray Kitty” to cuddle with me for a spell. Later, I hypnotized their chocolate lab-Drake- into giving me his favorite rubber ball without a single growl.

I was having such a good time that it took me a solid hour to pick up on a pattern that was busy stitching its way through the conversations. I first noticed it when my son stopped me almost dead in my tracks when I had gone off topic on what I felt was a pretty innocuous story about our old house. And then later on, I noticed it again when his fiancee clipped her father’s wings before he could ask a question she didn’t want him asking. These were subtle incidences, made plain by the fact that I picked up on the avoidance strategy the kids were utilizing.

I’m not being cryptic, it’s just that, my kids share a tenuous relationship with their mother. There are reasons for this, to be certain. And just so that we can all be clear on one thing, she is a good person. She simply made the fatal error of getting remarried, moving away and having another child. Mind you, I had absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I celebrated that first event, raucously.

But I’m not my kids. And while it’s not fair that they feel the way they do, it’s understandable. They get to feel the way they want to feel. I never provoked a single ill gotten sentiment, never placed a single mean spirited verb. I was too busy playing peacemaker and dad.

Still, it was a great evening as far as I was concerned. I laughed a lot, told some funny stories and made a few more four legged friends for life. And the conversations with the ex weren’t bad either. And in spite of all the differences, in spite of all the shit that went down inside our previous lives, there is no animus between us; only two amazing kids. So I’m calling our time together a win.

I drove the kids back to Target after we left because his fiancee had left her car there earlier while shopping with my ex wife. I asked them if they wanted to stop off for some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Hot Chocolates and they whined about how it was past nine o’clock and thus, too late for that. I swear, they’re a couple of old people dressed in twenty something clothing.

They kept me company when I decided to grab a few things for the breakfast I was going to make them this morning. And then the conversation opened up, and all the things that had been left unsaid? Got said. Some of it was enlightening, but most of it was just old news. And then I told my son the whats what.

The gist of it was that his Mom and Dad are different but the same. And no matter what didn’t work, two things did. Spectacularly so. And Mom doesn’t love them less because she is living somewhere else, and Dad doesn’t love them more because he never re-married. That’s not how this works.

The advice was simple, really. Never wish for that which isn’t, just be thankful for that which is. Because let’s face it, if Jane Austen had fallen in love and gotten married, she might’ve given up her writing gig for all we know. And if Mom and me had never gotten married, we would have missed out on our two favorite people in the whole world.

All I know is that these two crazy kids finish each other’s sentences, make each other laugh, like . . all the time, and make a fine art of their respective quirks and oddities.

That’s called blue skies, baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lies of a fine place worth fighting for

I remember going to my kid’s elementary school a few days after the September 11th attacks. I had asked my daughter’s teacher if I could come in to help out and she informed me that there was a schedule for such things. Still, she took mercy on me because she knew about the stir I had created on that horrible Tuesday morning when I called the school and spoke to the principal. I was at work as the news kept coming about another attack, somewhere else. There were all these rumors about more to come, and while schools didn’t seem to be a target, all I knew was that the world was burning and I didn’t have my kids.

So I called the school because I wanted to come by and pick them up early. Things did not go well. The principal attempted to reassure me that the kids were safe and I was having none of it. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t need to be fucking comforted, I needed my kids. I’m not much for pretty words when my hard drive goes Chuck Norris. He didn’t miss a beat, keeping calm and talking me down from my crazy ledge. His was the voice I needed right then, even though I trusted nothing of a world that could produce the kind of morning we were living through.

I listened, and eventually I agreed with him. I was ten minutes from the school in the event some other catastrophe signaled the end of the world as we knew it. If I had to fucking walk to get there, that’s what I would do.

So my visit to the school was a need to be close to my daughter, my kids. I wanted to apologize, to the secretary and the principal. They hadn’t deserved my storm of curse words. They had jobs to do, jobs that became more difficult once the attacks began. And they had children, and families of their own. They didn’t need some irate father reminding them that the world was a mean place.

As I walked to my daughter’s classroom that morning, the walls were lined with crayoned pictures. Planes in the sky, buildings, people running . . flags . . caskets . . birds, peace signs. All those little, innocent minds had created a mosaic of that horrible morning. The definition of heart wrenching, it was in those little crayoned pictures.

” . . . we wanted the children to be able to process the event . .” Explained a teacher as we walked down the hallway.

I wanted to ask her how a child might explain that which has no reasonable explanation, but I had already used up all my grace points during that phone call a few days earlier. It made no sense to me, any of it. I felt so hopeless as I perused those portraits of the horror hanging from the walls. I felt as if the world had gotten lost and there was just no finding it.

The world I knew had been replaced, with this. With a place where my kids would come to expect death in the deep blue skies, and in malls and workplaces . . and classrooms.  It was as if Dante’s toy chest had been opened and now, inside this horrible now, there was no going back.

My prevailing thought was that these kids were too young for this shit. There was no processing such a thing as this. As an adult, I didn’t even know how to process it. I struggled with how I was supposed to explain the attacks when they finally got around to asking me, and so when they did, I began by talking about monsters. Even though I understood that such analogies were simplifications of a much more sinister truth. The truth being that bin Laden had been a boy once. The truth being that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were boys. The truth being that somewhere along the line, all those individuals had lost their better angels to the demons within. The fact that they were not monsters, that they were actual human beings . . this was the truly frightening thing. For me.

So I colored the story with talk of monsters, because that was the way had to process these horrible things. They had become monsters, somewhere along the way, and so that’s where I picked up the story. For them.

And then my son asked me if the bad people wanted to blow up schools and I told him no.

“They only shoot in schools? . .” He said.

I still don’t know how to answer that one.