Sunday, June 6, 2010
The very best family isn't always those related by blood.
The best things and most things worth having are those that don't come easy.
All the bad things we go though are those that make us stronger and better people.
You never know just how strong you are until you have to be.
You should never, ever stop learning. Books, life, people, and yourself. When you stop learning, you start to die a little quicker every day.
Holding things in isn't good for you. I've learned this the hard way.
Religion or belief in a higher power, at it's simplest concept, is a damned powerful thing.
Those that genuinely love you will tell you the absolute truth, no sugar coating or bullshit, no matter how much it hurts.
Those closest to you are far more capable of cutting deeper than any stranger can.
Science doesn't solve everything. Religion doesn't solve everything. The more likely case is that it's a little of both and something that cannot be explained by either independently.
Sometimes, both sides are right.
My education or job does not define me. I am more than a piece of paper.
If I can be half as fantastic as my grandmother, I will be a great person.
I believe all the things in my past, good and bad, have made me who I am today. It's taken me a long damned time, but I think I might like her just a little.
Friday, June 4, 2010
So tell us about your favorite road trips and memories, be they with fighting siblings, lovers or friends.
Additionally, I have decided to make 'This I Believe' a long term topic. Feel free to add your beliefs to the existing ones when you're ready. Until then, get on the road and drive!
Sunday, May 2, 2010
One of the most important, but often overlooked, elements in a relationship is to want your partner's happiness more than your own. This should not be a chore, you should genuinely want to make your partner happy. But you should never feel like you HAVE to.
Do your job to the best of your ability and be proud of the work you do.
Liking cats more than dogs does not automatically make you a "crazy cat person".
No one is more entitled than anyone else in this world. If you want something you must earn it, buy it, or create it yourself. Do not wait for things to be handed to you.
You can believe in god in a vague sort of way, with no organized religion attached.
"Diet" is a four letter word, do not deprive yourself. Eat a (mostly) healthy diet and get some exercise.
Plan for the future but live in the present. Enjoy your life now. There is no prize for dying with the biggest savings account.
"Everything in moderation" is a wonderful motto. It can be applied to almost every aspect of life.
Always try to be the bigger person. It won't always be possible but the important part is trying.
Love will come when you least expect it.
You should not let other people's judgments dictate your life. You will waste a lot of energy trying to satisfy everyone else, and it is impossible to do so.
We will ruin the Earth if we keep going in the same direction. Too many people want to take and take and never give anything back. It is time to recognize that we have to have a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. If we take care of her, she will take care of us.
I Believe that at 30, my life just started. I have already done a lot, have been through a lot, and have learned from it all. Now it is time to take these lessons and use them to move forward.
I believe that it will get worse before it gets better. But it will get better.
I believe that those who truly love you will know the truth no matter what you tell them. When someone asks how you are and you say that you’re good, and they continue to ask you until you tell them the truth, that is a person worth keeping in your life.
I believe that those who have no interest in learning the truth are not worth keeping in your life. But I still miss some of them.
I believe that people are not inherently good or bad, we are just people. And we are all worthy of love.
I believe that our choices can be good or bad, but we often have the option to make even the bad ones good. If not, we can accept the past and choose to make better decisions in the future.
I believe wholeheartedly in hard work and compassion.
I believe that my daughter will be a better person than me. It should always be our hope that the next generation is better than ours. To me, she is perfect regardless.
I believe that we can all heal, but our scars will always be there.
I believe that being ashamed of our scars will not get us anywhere.
I believe that eventually I will be able to enjoy a day without flooding my head with sad thoughts. I have to believe this or I could not move forward.
I believe that there are people worth trusting and loving in this world, but it is not always easy to find them. I will keep searching for more of you.
I believe that when I find peace within myself, the rest will follow. I am getting there.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which I no longer attend.
I believe in Twitter, Facebook, text messages, pie, and all the other tangible things people say they don't believe in.
I believe in all the things I can see, and more than a few things I can't.
I believe in evil.
I believe in good.
I believe that people are better than we give them credit for, but worse than we may hope.
I believe there is no right way to live your life, but there are more than a few wrong ways.
I believe there is sin.
I believe there is salvation.
I believe that the human experience cannot be explained singularly by science, culture, or religion, but by a combination of all three.
I believe in a thing called love.
I believe there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy.
I believe that bad things happen to good people, that good things happen to bad people and that there is no reasonable explanation for either.
I believe that natural disasters are natural.
I believe in myself, because I can't count on anyone else to.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
"The lattice is the connective tissue...I see us as one, as a vast matrix, an army, a whole, each one of us responsible to one another, because no one else is."
To be a part of the lattice, you don't need to be brilliant, or rich, or powerful. You just need to believe in the lattice, and be. Those words have stuck with me for years. I am part of a smaller lattice, and that lattice has both made me who I am and kept me strong. It is comprised of the people that I love, people who have passed through my life, and sometimes people I don't know at all. My mother, my sister, my family and friends, my loved ones who have gone on to a better place, every boy I ever dated, the Cannonball Read participants, Pajibans, random people whom I pass on the street or hold the door for me - every one of these people have built and reinforced my personal lattice and brought something new and special into my life.
The framework of my lattice is love, kindness, and caring. When these things are interlocked they become stronger than the sum of their parts and they bear me up. By the same token, I am part of someone else's lattice. I may not even know it. But with each kind gesture, supportive word, or expression of encouragement and love, I am helping to bear someone else up. One of the best examples of this connection is Facebook; how many friends do you have on that social networking site whom you've actually met in real life? Often it is the friends you don't "know" who are there to support you when you lose your job, your home, a loved one, your mind. One small kindness adds another rung to someone's lattice. We are responsible for each other. We are responsible.
I believe in the lattice.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
While in its most recent on air version, there were a number of famous people sharing their beliefs, I loved the idea of a platform where people could share their principles. Listening (and reading the essays) over time, one sees that some beliefs are fundamental to who the people are and has always been with them; like Muhammad Ali's essay, I Am Still the Greatest (which is one of my favorites). Others' beliefs are results of experiences that shape them over time.
So this month's assignment is one dear to me. Tell us what you believe and why.
Monday, March 29, 2010
My dad died on October 2, 2007. It was a normal day, just like any other. A Tuesday. I was at work; I was always one of the first people to get to work, which I liked because I could goof off for a solid hour before my boss got there. It was just after eight when my mom called.
“Your dad is in the hospital again.”
I sighed. This was a pretty common occurrence over the past several years. To be honest, we’d gotten used to it. My dad was diabetic, and not the best ever. He’d gone into renal failure several years ago, and was on dialysis. It took my mom forever to convince him to even go on the donor list; they’d already turned down one kidney (with good reason, actually). My uncle offered up a kidney, but when they started the testing on him they discovered that he was diabetic too.
My uncle, of course, manages to be the epitome of the perfect T2 diabetic.
In August of that year, they gave my dad a kidney. He spent a solid two months in the hospital, with one brief trip home. He was back again the next day, because he had a major low and my mom had to call 911 on him.
He was finally home for real at the end of September. The kidney had finally woken up (translation: started working on its own), and things were looking up. There were about a bajillion tests that would have to be done. For months my dad would have to be at some doctor’s or another at least once a week.
Only none of that happened.
I remember going to the bathroom shortly after I got to the hospital. My mom was sitting in the waiting room, her only comment to me upon my arrival about how quickly I’d gotten there. I didn’t ask what had happened, and she didn’t tell me (until later).
I remember seeing the “Family Room” near the bathroom and thinking to myself that’s the room they take you in to tell you your loved one didn’t make it.
Guess where we ended up?
They let my mom go back to see him, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to see my dad on some hospital gurney, full of tubes, empty of life. So I stayed in that room and cried and cried and cried.
The rest of that week is mostly blurred, and that’s probably for the best. I remember going to the airport that night to pick up my aunt, who changed the flight she’d been about to get on when my mom called to come out East. I remember that my grandparents both came, even though none of us expected to, and all three of my mom’s brothers.
But most of all, I remember the dreams that I had. They were the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had in my entire life. My dad stuck around for that week before his funeral. I don’t know if anyone else realized it, but I am nearly positive of it. I dreamed about him every single night that week, and it was like being awake.
And they weren’t the nightmares you might expect of a girl who’d just lost her father, right when she thought he was taking a turn for the better. They were the most cherished dreams I’ve ever had. It’s hard to explain, honestly. And it’s not even that I remember them exactly, but they were all the same:
I was at home, as was everyone else who was staying at the house (which was way too many people for such a tiny house). They were like repeating the day I’d just had, only my dad was there.
“But Dad,” I would say to him, “you know you’re dead, right?” Not one for subtlety in dreams, am I?
He would answer in the affirmative.
“Then what are you doing here?”
He would shrug and smile, and never actually answered the question, even though I’m pretty sure I asked him that every night.
I’m pretty sure that he was just hanging out, making sure we’d all be ok. I doubt he was ready to go when he died (we’re pretty sure the anti-rejection meds caused a massive heart attack. He’d had silent ones before, several times, and I guess this was the big one). So he stuck around for several days to keep an eye on us.
I remember that he was, well, I’m not sure that happy is the right word for it. But he was happier than I’d seen him in along time. In fact, he was more as I remember him being from when I was little. He smiled a lot more, and he felt a lot better all of the time. That is the Dad who was in my dreams.
He used to tickle my face with his whiskers when I was little. Every winter he’d grow out his beard. That’s one of my favorite memories.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
When I was fifteen, I lost my best friend because a boy told me he loved me and I believed him.
We'd only known each other since we were thirteen and I moved to town, she'd grown up there. We bonded in the way that shy, dorky girls in middle school who have glasses, braces, a large vocabulary and a wardrobe that doesn't quite fit anymore do. She was trying to hide the beginning of a stunning hourglass figure that she kept concealed all through high school, I was already within an inch of my full height and built like a whippet. Going into high school, we both joined marching band which only brought us closer together.
We talked all the time during our Freshman and Sophomore years. We had classes together that we'd spend writing notes to each other that we'd fold elaborately to hand to each other after class. We ate lunch together whenever possible, often sitting on the floor outside the band room to avoid the crowded, noisy cafeterias. We discussed crushes on the junior boys who had girlfriends, and then reassured each other that we were totally prettier/funnier/all together better than those girlfriends. She started a website devoted to competitive high school marching bands in our area and it was the first website I ever wrote for. We spent the night at each other's houses, spent lazy afternoons sitting around the school before band practice started rather than going home, and we longed for the days when we'd have real independence.
Then I got a boyfriend. A boy that another friend had dated previously, but who I'd been given her blessing to date. He was a year above me in school but about a year and a half older, had the kind of wonderfully fluffy hair that I'm still a sucker for on guys, and was moody in that way that's tragically appealing to teenage girls. Being with him was consuming. He called every night and insisted on talking for hours, at school he spent every possible minute next to me, if I couldn't get a ride to come hang out with him at the local music store while he played their store guitars for hours and expounded on all the ways his life was awful he took it as a personal affront. My friend didn't like him, and I knew that. I tried to find time to spend with her when he wasn't around, but he refused to not be around. It wasn't until I was well into college and shed of that relationship that I realized how controlling and manipulative that behavior was.
She never gave me an ultimatum. There was no confrontation, no "you're choosing him over me and that's wrong", no fight, she just drifted away. I kept trying to keep up with her, especially when he graduated and I had my time at school free again, but our friendship never recovered. By the time we left for college we were barely talking anymore, and the fact that she went to a school 40 minutes away and I went to one 18 hours away finished what that relationship had started.
I don't know if we would have made it if I'd broken up with the boy a few months into the relationship, or if I'd never dated him at all. I don't know if my going so far away to college would've ended the friendship just two years later no matter what. I just know that looking back I wish things had gone differently for so many reasons, but most of all I wish I had been a better friend.
But when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Today, she has been gone exactly a year.
Her picture sits at my work desk more than a year and a half after she sent it to me. At first, it was an absent-minded accident that the picture ended up at my work desk. I had brought the picture to work so I could scan it when my home scanner was on the fritz. I left it propped against my monitor to motivate me through the last days of training; to remind me why I was doing something so foreign to me. All these months later, it's still there even though I need no reminder of the friend I lost too soon.
I could write volumes about her, and yet cannot say anything that doesn't sound ordinary in comparison to the real thing. It's hard to focus on eloquence when one's heart is this heavy and eyes are so blurry. But I don't need to write volumes about her now. If you knew her, you already know. And if you didn't, I don't want to make you sad that you missed out on something so amazing.
A woman, whom I'd never met nor had an actual phone conversation with, lost her incredibly valiant fight with leukemia. Her name was Amanda, aka Alabama Pink. I'd read her blog for a very long time, shared emails and FB conversations with her. I felt like she was a friend, even if only in that odd way of the internet connection. I cared a great deal about her and I still do. She was funny, smart, with a wicked sharp wit, and a humor and grace about the worst parts of life that I can only hope to have should I find myself in a similar situation. She loved her husband and her son fiercely, and spoke about them so beautifully. Put simply, she was a beautiful person, inside and out.
When it was first made public knowledge that she was sick, I hoped like hell that it was minor and fixable. However, as the fog cleared and the picture became clearer, I was scared for her. She was what we in the south call " good people". Bad things shouldn't happen to good people. Every day, I'd look for a new blog from her or her husband, anxious for some news. I didn't know how to go about contacting them and I honestly didn't want to be the crazy lady poking around in someone else's business. When they posted about the genetics of her illness, I became even more scared (possibly because I'm an uber-geek and researched it). Out of all the cancers in my family, leukemia was a new one. I didn't know how to fight it. However, about 2 months after Manda's diagnosis, my father-in-law, a man I love quite a lot, was also diagnosed with leukemia, but a different type. I got a crash course in leukemia at that point. That year became a blur of leukemia updates, hospitals, and hope for Manda and my father-in-law. His CLL is currently in remission.
I followed Manda's journey of hospitals, clinical trials, and the search for treatment. Every time things went bad, I'd try to remain hopeful. After the Johns Hopkins mean doctor, I sent her an email with a funny photo, in what had to be a sad attempt to cheer her up. I didn't know what else to do and I felt like that may be the only thing I could do. She sent me back a lovely reply. Then, she went to Houston and I hoped things would turn out for the best. Her very last blog post about Barbara Bush being right down the road still makes me laugh. I have this idea of what she sounded like and what her laugh was like and hear that sound when I read it. It makes me smile. All of us know what followed. That morning, I got to work and logged onto FB and saw the Pajiba link. Audibly, I said "No". I went Pajiba, her blog, and finally her husbands. I broke down at my desk for a long time. I couldn't stop crying. I felt like a fool crying for someone I'd never met. I didn't know how to explain it. She was one of the nicest people I've ever had the privileged of knowing, even if only in limited capacity. I still think about her often. I'd love to know how she would have felt about the Alice In Wonderland movie. Miss you Manda.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Eddie was a sensualist. Not in the sexual way (although that certainly came into play as we grew older) but because of his love of beauty. All beauty, especially music. He could be brought to tears by a good guitar riff, or a spectacular piano melody. But rhythm was his true love and he engulfed himself in it. One day, when I was fourteen and he was sixteen, he arrived at my house. I was in a mood, one of those moods that spontaneously pounce upon fourteen-year-old girls, and was sulking in my living room. “Field trip!” he announced. We went to New Orleans and walked to a corner near a construction site. He grabbed my arm to stop me and closed his eyes.
“What are you doing,” I asked. “Are you sleepy?”
“Shut up for a minute,” he said patiently.
“If we’re just gonna stand here, I came out for nothing. There are plenty of construction sites in Slidell. Aren’t we gonna DO something?”
“I said shut up. Have I ever brought you out here and not shown you a good time? If you shut up I can find it.”
Suddenly, he did. He opened his eyes and smiled.
“Okay, do you see that big yellow thing over there? The one that’s pounding the street?” he asked.
“That’s the bass drum. Hear it? It’s a real slow beat, in 4/4. Now pay attention.”
I looked at him with my right eyebrow cocked in sarcastic bemusement. I had no clue what he was getting at. My early teenage attitude was on the rise and I was about to say something, but he beat me to it.
“I said shut up. You can give me that shit when we get home, but for now I need you to listen. So, we have a bass. Alright, hear that glass? Like a crashing, tinkling sound. Those are the cymbals. The hammer over there, that’s the snare. The heels, hear em? Those are the rims. Now close your eyes and listen.”
I did. I closed my eyes, before he yelled at me, and leaned my head back for good effect. I stood there, thinking what a moron and then…I heard it. I heard it. I heard the beat of the bass start it off, I heard the clicking of a woman’s high heels at a faster tempo. Someone threw a bag of trash somewhere, crash. Glass broke, cymbals shivered. I heard something new: swish, swish. A street sweeper had come along. I opened my eyes and looked at Eddie. He was thrilled; he’d always wanted to try brush sticks. He pulled me in front of him and began to beat a rhythm on my back. We stood there, audience for the street corner concert, and listened.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
My relationship with my dad was complicated. And the best tribute I could give him came from the words I spoke at his memorial service. So, that's what I'm including here.
This is what is important to me: to not sugarcoat who Dad was. I refuse to present him as some saintly person, as that does him a grave injustice. Many of us loved Dad in spite of his faults, and that speaks volumes about his good traits.
If there is one word that I would use to describe Dad, it would be: intense. He was intensely joyful and intensely angry, intensely generous and intensely demanding, intensely playful and intensely competitive, intensely loving and intensely embarrassing. His sense of humor was often inappropriate. And boy, could that man hold a grudge. Dad took things very personally, and burned more than a few bridges over the years. At the same time, he was incredibly outgoing, and made new friends quickly.
The man had three wives and five children, and through it all, he had one house. The Farm, (as those of us who first lived and visited there called it), was always there; it was the one constant in his life. The fact that he is not still in that house is just wrong.
To say that his death was unexpected is to make an enormous understatement. He had lived through too much to be felled by delayed complications from knee replacement surgery. What he survived included: two boating incidents; alcoholism; one near-fatal car accident, which put him in CICU for a month; and Hepatitis C, which he got from the blood transfusion he received because of that car accident. Here’s the ironic thing: he put off having that knee surgery for so long because he feared the pain of the recovery period; it didn’t occur to any of us that it might lead to his death. Really, how could something so relatively minor affect such a survivor?
Dad was young beyond his years. He truly enjoyed playing any kind of game--especially with his kids. Popular board games included Sorry and Careers, which we would play for hours on end. Up to Seven Down to Seven (which is what my Grandmother Gaumnitz renamed Oh Hell) was the card game that dominated our house. He taught all of us how to play cribbage. Summer days were spent playing Frisbee and our special form of badminton, which involved no net and the goal was to keep the birdie in the air for as long as possible. Dad loved the pool—we would spend all day there and stay until it closed at night. In the winter, he would take us sledding and we would stay outside until we were sure that our whole bodies were frozen. Dad was tireless when it came to playing—particularly with his kids.
Dad loved to cook, and was quick to tell anyone what a great cook he was. For any of you who have tasted his food, you know his unspoken motto: more is more. This goes for flavorings as well as portions. Subtlety was not part of Dad’s vocabulary. There are two stoves at Dad’s house, because he refused to give up his beloved grill, which served up too many humongous breakfasts to count. Dad also hated to waste food, and his immediate family is all too familiar with his worst dish ever: leftover stew. Let’s just say that the rest of you are grateful you never sampled that one.
Dad had issues with privacy; it was a concept he just didn’t get. In addition to asking questions that would have been better left unasked, he often shared things about you that you didn’t want shared. I am sure that Dad never understood why I didn’t tell him more about what was going on in my life, but there was always the very real concern that whatever you told him would invariably be shared with others. Let me give you an example. When I was dating a woman in college, it took me months to tell Dad. Not because I thought he would have any problem with it, but because I knew he’d out me to everyone. Hi, my name is Glen, I’m an alcoholic and my daughter is a lesbian.
You will probably hear from many people what a generous person Dad was, and nothing could be more true. Heaven forbid that you might express interest in something, because before you knew it, it might be yours. One fall, Dad and Idalia came to visit Ethan and me in Northampton. I happened to mention that I liked some items I saw in the various stores we visited. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to find all those items under the tree at Christmastime. Speaking of that holiday, Christmas at Dad’s was an exercise in excess. Dad loved buying gifts for people.
Added to that, he was a bargain fiend. If Dad found something on sale, there was a good chance he’d buy multiples of it. The worst invention for Dad’s bargain obsession were those warehouse stores, you know, Pace, BJ’s, Sam’s Club. Dad was known to come home with gallons of cole slaw, for example. Something we clearly were never going to finish. We came up for a name for those items: Pace mistakes.
Dad would literally give you the shirt off his back. He has given me some of my favorite everyday items: two beloved baseball caps and a pen that everyone compliments me on when they use it. These were things that he really liked and enjoyed having, but which he thought nothing of giving to me. I’m sure there are many of you who have received random and not so random gifts from him over the years.
So, in the end, I know that Dad will be remembered for the many wonderful things he did for people. Things he thought nothing of doing, as it was simply his nature to give of himself. It’s clear that his tireless generosity will be missed in this world. And although, I will not miss those aspects of his personality which led me to dub him Mr. Annoying Man, it is the loss of the generous and loving part of him that I, and I’m sure many of you, find so unfair and impossible to understand.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
She fought. Oh, she fought. Surgery, chemo, radiation. She stayed optimistic and never indulged in self-pity. I begged God every night for a miracle. When the cancer spread to her brain, I went to the Shrine of St. Katherine Drexel and asked, on my knees, for one more year. In return I would name my first daughter after that good saint.
A year later, when it had spread everywhere, the doctors said they were sorry but there was nothing else to do. They gave her three months. She gathered her family close and said her goodbyes, and she went to a place of peace and love on November 27, 2003, Thanksgiving Day. I had seen her only ten days before, but I didn’t know it would be the last time, the last hug, the last “I love you, heart and soul.” She refused to let her nieces and nephews see her at the very end; the Juice held onto her dignity until the very last and she didn’t want us to remember her that way. So I didn’t know it was the last time. Some day I’ll come to terms with that.
She was the glue, and the center, and the ache never goes away.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
So in celebration of friends, their stories and words that bring people together, we're back! March will have be the first official month so anyone who is interested can submit their stories and newcomers can send requests to join.
The theme for March is 'The Ones We've Lost'. Share you stories of friends or loved ones you've lost or just lost touch with. The stories can be fictional or true. There are no limits to the number of tales you can share each month, or how many chapters you break a certain story into. You must stick to the theme and all stories for this theme must be submitted by the end of March. Don't forget to tag your stories with the this month's tags (below)
Welcome back and spin your tales!
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Share Thanksgiving memories or things you're grateful for. Tell us your tales.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
For some reason, I feel almost embarrassed about it. The thing is, accepting those things as vices, as something wrong or bad or even immoral seems like a blow dealt to my youth. I feel as if once you start thinking about those things as behaviors you need to alter, you're evolving past the carefree attitudes of youth and making the slow, inexorable move towards true adulthood, where you spend more time watching your cholesterol level then you do enjoying yourself.
Except that I don't think that's really true. I'm under no illusions -- at 33 years old, I'm hardly an old man. It's not like I was suddenly faced with my own mortality. But at the same time, there comes a time when you really, truly start to realize that the path you are on... will have serious adverse effects on your life and the lives of those around you. Not today, perhaps. Not tomorrow or next year or in five years or ten. But... eventually.
Sometimes, the threat of that eventuality is enough.
So I've given up many of my vices. Of course, perhaps I've traded them in for new, more interesting ones. I no longer spend my money on cigarettes and cheap beer. Instead, I've developed a taste for expensive Scotch. I no longer sit on my ass all day andplay video games. Instead, I took up mountain biking, an expenisve endeavor in and of itself, not to mention an inherently dangerous one. As I write this, I've got a pair of shredded shins and a bruise that is quite literally the size of an egg.
I suppose I'll never give up everything -- someone once told me everyone needs at least a few vices, if for no other reason than to keep like interesting. I still play my music too loud. I still swear like a fucking sailor who stubbed his toe. I still spend money a little too freely.
But at least now, I'll be able to do those things for much longer.
ps - I know it's not October anymore, but fuck it. This came to me and seemed better served being posted here.
Now playing: Hatebreed - Healing To Suffer Again
Friday, October 31, 2008
But if I had to imagine a vice that would possibly fit into my life, I suppose it would be my hopeless, constant need for the television to be on. No one--least of all my cerebral husband--understands this. Most of the time, I don't even watch or care what is on TV, I just want it on. Of course, I watch plenty of programs, occasionally get hooked on a few and move on--but the need to have distant voices fill my home is an entirely different tale.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time alone. Not just without friends my age--but without anyone. While many children of my generation were latch key kids, being babysat by TV while parents worked; I was home alone afraid to answer the phone lest news of my brother's death greeted me. Most of my brother's first four years were spent in various hospitals. I was there with him and my mom for the greater part of those years. But those times that my mom couldn't have me along, I'd stay home alone with little chores, promising not to answer the door--no matter how hard people knocked--and not answer the phone unless it rang once, hung up and called right back again. I knew then, at the tender age of 6, that I did not like house work. Nor did I like being alone, in silence. It did not take me long to find a world of friends with stories and adventures in the safety of my home. Since my literacy level limited my reading roster, I threw myself into the stories and lives of television characters. I fell in love with storytelling of almost any kind. Once the TV was on, I could forget everything that was going on around me and drown in unlikely stories and adventures. I didn't mind staying home alone anymore.
My peaceful world was shattered soon enough though. Half a world away, where the rest of my family still lived, a revolution was tearing the country apart--disrupting everyone's lives. It would only be a matter of time before the revolution upset my newfound peace as well. Soon enough, I would learn about the stern Ayatollah, the American hostages, the exiled Shah and burning effigies. Initial fears were replaced by a fascination and new addiction. I was hooked on any bit of news. Long after my bedtime, I'd sneak out of bed and try to hear the news. Ted Koppel was my new friend. He would tell me what was going on back home in a grown up voice. Sure, he said some things that didn't make sense--even I knew better than to believe some of the things they said on his show--but I was hooked on anything news related right then.
That is how I got where I am today. Addicted to news and stories. I do not like my news mixed with stories--I'm a purist--which is why watching the news most days is like a slow form of self inflicted torture. I still like stories of any kind as long as they're told well--that is getting a little harder to find these days as well, now that everyone has a reality show. Still, I can't let go of the need to fill the house with sounds of people to fill the void that I fell into so long ago. Which is good, I guess. Being perfect isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Authorial aside (haha, that just sounds pretentious): This may not make a whole lot of sense out of context, but at least the first section tells a little story, and the second section is a little bit philosophical, so I think we're good. Additionally, it has to do with vices, so it fits the theme, and I haven't posted in a long time because, well, I've been swamped with work and college. So, here is this for now, and if anyone is at all interested in the rest of the story (which is currently incomplete, as I am working on finishing it), please leave a comment and I can email it to you.
He started smoking cigarettes at a young age; he was thirteen. His father rolled his own, and one day he showed up at my house; papers in one hand, tobacco in the other, and a sly grin on his face. My parents did not smoke, or at least if they did I didn't know about it, so I initially tried to talk him out of it. But his enthusiasm was contagious, and shortly after, we were huddled in my basement, hacking up a storm. I decided I didn't like it; I felt my lungs were too weak. He, on the other hand, fell in love on the spot: he was made for it. He never looked so good as when exhaling a curling tendril of smoke. At the time, it was not terribly difficult for younger teenagers to get away with smoking in public. When we became old enough to frequent diners, he did not like to smoke if children were in the vicinity. 'Children are pure,' he would say. 'We all have a responsibility to keep them that way for as long as possible.' He would grow infuriated if he saw the smoking parents of babes, perhaps because his own parents always had. His preferred places to smoke were those marginal places of public use, areas no longer tended to, society's unpatrolled corridors, lost but then found, by us and other similar-minded people, policed by no one, places where a damn simply wasn't given whether you smoked or not: bathrooms in public parks, stairwells in concrete parking structures, run-down baseball diamonds in long-abandoned elementary schools. He didn't like to litter, either, so he developed the ostensibly disgusting habit of storing extinguished cigarette butts in his pockets until the appearance of trash cans. Later in life, I would watch a film in which an eccentric character had a similar habit, eliciting all sorts of sentimentality and nostalgia in me, to the point where I still have not been able to finish watching the damn movie.
Let's give it up for bad habits, shall we? He had his smoking, among other things. What about me? What are my bad habits? Well, I take pretty good care of myself physically. I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I go for long walks, I eat a lot of salad… my bad habits have more to do with the people I allow(ed) to become ingratiated into my life. I'm an enabler, I'm an over-analyzer, I'm far, far too loyal, and I want to save people. I'm not a humanitarian; I don't want to save everyone. But I wanted to save him, so badly. I wanted to be the light at the end of his tunnel. I wanted to be the silver living under his storm cloud. I wanted to make him believe in truth, loyalty, and trust. I wanted to show him that purity can exist beyond children, and I wanted to be pure for him, to be pure together. You shouldn't believe that you can save people. You shouldn't ever bring that burden onto yourself. People can only save themselves, and certain people have no desire to be saved. This is all very derivative, I understand, and abstract and vague and perhaps even a bit silly. But it's true, goddammit. We were both looking for something inexplicably indefinable, and I thought I found it in him, and now I know he never found it at all.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
But here we are in October and it is time for another theme, suggested by one of our fun writers and her brilliant 'cousin'. The theme is Vices. Share your vices whether as innocent as the cup of coffee you can't give up or something truly indulgent and sordid. Surely there are some special vices you'd like to share with your favorite readers.
You know the rules. Write once or many times, tall tales or short notes; and don't forget to tag!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
"So, did you like Costa Rica? Would you recommend it to your friends?"
"Yes", I said through clenched teeth. I tried to think of a happier time spent in Costa Rica, with monkeys roaming the streets, frescas and plush greenery.
ClickClick. Crinkled brow. Click.Click.
"What did you like most? Was the food good?"
I think there are two times when it is physically impossible for me to have a coherent conversation: when the dentist is working on my teeth, and when I'm reluctantly visiting my OB/GYN. Especially if there are cameras charting my insides, painfully held in place by a semi-distracted technician. I was thinking she should know better than to attempt small talk and sully my memories of Costa Rica in the process.
"Everything was wonderful. Too much rain in October. Food is ok."
"Hmm. Did you have your left ovary removed?"
"Not that I know of."
"I can't find it."
I'm pretty sure I hadn't misplaced an ovary. The very painful left ovary was pretty much the reason I was in this mess. Having her question my ovary count mid-exam did not inspire confidence.
Almost an hour of annoying double clicking, uninspired small talk and painful prodding later, she cheerfully let me know that I could 'empty my bladder if I liked'. Although it probably wasn't her fault, I had long decided that I did not like this woman.
I finally sat in a regular exam room, fully dressed and awaiting the doctor's opinion. He would probably take his sweet time and let me fester in my thoughts: how I hated August; how I had been planning my meals for the last two weeks around replenishing the pints of blood I had hemorrhaged, again; how I was behind in my Project class and how my projects at work were neglected. The more I sat there waiting, the more I was determined not to think about why I was sitting in a room covered with diagrams of the female reproductive system and various stage fetuses in the womb.
"Hi! I'm Dr. B. I've taken a look at the pictures they took today and would like to discuss them with you." He wasn't looking at me. At all. "We've been able to locate the cause of some of your cramping. Obviously, we'll discuss it in a little more detail."
He placed a blurry black and white image in front of me, marked with computer lines--the result of almost two hours of double-clicking.
"What you see here are some obvious fibroids. This one here is the largest, about the size of a grapefruit. No one had ever mentioned this one to you? No? Hmmm. Well, this one here is about average size, imagine an orange. This grape-like cluster here is a more recent development. It will grow with time and get much bigger. There is one in the corner--right there. That's about the size of a tangerine, right next to the lime sized one..."
"Key lime or regular?", I interrupted.
"I'm asking if that last one is the size of a key lime or a regular lime."
He stopped and looked at me for the first time since he had walked in the room.
"If you had seen your doctor regularly, he--or she--would have noticed the larger ones. We can discuss treatment options, see what would work best in light of the endometriosis and your cysts."
"I have endometriosis?" I knew it was a stupid question as soon as I had blurted it. Of course I did. What else could have explained the excruciating pain that I suffered for years? And the GI problems that had a rotating series of diagnoses for years .
"I do get regular exams. I just have incompetent doctors who refused to examine me and put me on birth control when I asked for it. Which is how I ended up spending my honeymoon in surgery for a ruptured cyst that bled into my abdominal cavity for a whole day. I get examined at least once a year."
I was exhausted. I didn't really care what he said anymore, even though I could hear him droning on. "...and obviously, pregnancy isn't impossible. Have you been trying to conceive?"
"No. I'm happy with the fruit bowl I have going there." The truth was, we hadn't been trying to get pregnant, because we were too poor to think of adding another person to our family. But more than that, I sat there thinking I had cursed myself when M and I had dated. I had told him I didn't know if I wanted children, and if he wanted kids, he should probably move on to someone else. He stayed.
The doctor handed me a box of Kleenex and sat in silence for a bit. "As I mentioned, pregnancy is not impossible. You would need monitoring and treatment. Obviously, there are miracles in my line of work as well. There are women with severe cases of endo that conceive very quickly and have fairly uncomplicated pregnancies. This is not a final diagnosis. And many people choose to adopt."
I don't remember anything else that he said. He talked for a long time before he sent me home; I don't remember getting home. I just found myself inside our home, contemplating the dust bunnies and citrus sized lumps in my uterus. M called at some point and asked how my appointment went. For a moment, I regretted insisting that I go through the day on my own. I wanted him beside me, but was too stubborn to say anything. I tried to make light of what had happened; I emphasized the fruitiness. I lied to him for another few minutes about how fine everything was and went back to observing the dust bunnies.
And that is how I am where I am. Every year, I curse August, because for the past seven years, that is when all my problems rear their head. Every August I am alone--and lonely. If I loved my friends' children before, I cling to them even more now, knowing that I will be their"Aunty", and not just Mommy's friend. I rejoice in the arrival of babies around me. I clench my teeth and lie to my family when they ask me when I will have children--they don't know my secret and I have no intention of sharing it with them. Life moves on and brings new projects, distractions and miracles with it. And each time, I try to drown a little bit more.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
The rest of the month, I spent in a panic over some health problems that mysteriously pop up every August, when none of my friends are available to listen to me whine. I realize I am a wimp, I just like to have friends around to listen to my hysteria on occasion. Is that too much to ask?
Which brings me to September's theme: The Loneliness. There are many ways of feeling lonely, and sometimes great things come from that loneliness. Write about the good and the bad, the times when you were lonely in crowds or times when lonely and lonesome went hand-in-hand. We've all been there, I'm sure you have handled it with more grace than I.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
“Since we got back to school, you’ve changed.”
I adjust in the chair. I lean too far back and flinch over my fear of tipping.
She continues, “You just stopped talking to me. I mean, about anything important. And you don’t sit next to me at dinner.” Her hands are on her hips with legs apart, her natural Superman pose.
I stare over her head at our matching plywood dressers. Both sets open, our clothes mingle in a dirty heap with shoes jutting out like lost children in the water. My sighing is internal.
“I thought maybe you were going through a rough patch, you know? During the first few weeks? I mean, I know we fought a lot when we were traveling, but that was just the stress.”
To her right is the window. In front of it is a big ugly fern that’s slowly dying. I hate how it blocks the view of the parking lot. It looks tacky from the outside. I checked last week when we argued about it again. The leaves are limp and colorless. Simply because the thing is ten years old doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be put down. I bet ten in fern years is about seventy-five in human years.
“Maybe moving in together right now was too soon. But you knew that we’d get the best apartment on campus if we did. I mean, I figured we’d just get over the summer and start fresh, you know?”
She doesn’t move very often. I noticed it on the trains from Italy to France to Luxemburg to The Black Forest. The woman doesn’t wiggle her fingers or bend her knees or even lean against doorframes. The way she can perfectly balance herself in the middle of a rocking city bus and not falter is unnatural.
“I just think you’re being mean.”
I suck my bottom lip through my teeth, pinching the thin skin until it bubbles between the gaps. My tongue prods, digging for blood. My chin juts a little.
“And, you know, I know you’ve been hanging out with Beth a lot. While I’m in class.”
Behind me, in her perfect line of vision, is where we sleep. Pillows and blankets spill over the edge; there are too many coverlets and sheets with clashing patterns.
Her eyes are hot, “I don’t care. I just wish you’d tell me.”
There’s a pause. I count to thirteen when she says, “It’s not that I don’t like Beth. I just don’t know why you think you can’t hang out with us both, you know?” Her right foot lifts to scratch the opposite calf.
Rubbing my arms, I lean forward until my vision falls to the ground. I stare at her pink and white sneakers. I sigh at their ugliness.
“I hear she used to be engaged until the guy broke it off. That’s why she transferred.”
I look at her. Not allowing myself to count the freckles on her nose or determine if she’s due for another highlighting, I focus on her eyes. These two huge blue orbs that glimmer when wet. It can be an odd vanity for a woman—to know she looks beautiful when she cries. It can be dangerous.
We stare off like this for too long. An intermission when we rehash the first acts points, character subtleties, and contemplate what will happen when the stage lights dim again.
As she breaks down, I get up. I move behind the chair and push it toward her. She sits down. With my body facing her back, her crying quiet but obvious, I offer her my moment.
“I can move out, if you want. It’s obvious that the summer can’t be forgotten. It was too much. I’m sure if it didn’t happen then, it’d happen like it is now. We just can’t do this anymore. I think we’ve moved beyond each other.”
We are both looking at the dressers. To their left, I see the door out of the bedroom and into the main room where Beth and a few others are studying.
“I’m not replacing you with Beth. With anyone. I think maybe we just aren’t good roommates. It can happen to friends, even best friends. Maybe, over time, we can start hanging out again. Right now, though, I just need some time.” I walk out. I don’t touch her shoulder as I pass. I don’t pause at the door, turning and giving her a calm, sad smile. I just walk out, she quietly crying in the chair. I shut the door.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
So, with my new found friend who was four, and I was six, the good times began. Suddenly my world of creating little things from paper what-nots and string, singing and performing, dressing up, giggling and whispering, and make believing that ‘Greg of the Brady’s’ was our hubby (a tad Polygamist, if you ask me) had begun.
Our bikes had baskets to fill with the neighbors prize flowers, and there were plenty of insects to kill and have fantastic mini funerals for. Life was good for us --not so much for the bugs.
Years later, life began. Work took over our lives, school became an on again off again game, and so did our boyfriends. And somewhere in between Holidays, our families proffered the opportunity for us to gather, laugh, and silently agree that as different as we were, our friendship was bonded by butterfly blood and the burial crosses that lined our childhood street.
We kept in sporadic contact.
It was years later that I called for a true friend request. I had moved to Croatia with my Croatian husband due to visa issues. The marriage had gone quite sour. I had returned home to Los Angeles with my daughter and without any of my belongings, leaving behind my visa less husband with his Mommy and Daddy. It was hard.
Suddenly I found myself in a role I’d never lived and had no clue how to do—a single parent in my home town. There I was. at my parents, wishing for something different. Feeling suspended in time, in limbo, without an anchor, and not sure what the future brought. And everything I had prior—was gone.
Working, and living with my parents, I found myself grateful… but that incessant heart ache would not leave. My father was less than approving of my upcoming divorce and my mother was my greatest cheerleader grateful I’d left the bastard. However, this life I was going to take on was foreign to her too. She was complete with her husband, as I viewed it. She had not only her husband, but her daughter and her granddaughter. And while she worried about me she couldn’t possibly know what ‘incomplete’ felt like. Did she know what it was like to feel like you were floating?
Needing an achor, my dear childhood friend came to my rescue. An apartment had opened up in her building. I filled out the application and soon we were neighbors yet again. We lived in the Industrial area of Long Beach. The bugs were sparse, the flowers were few, but the friendship still remained.
One day, sitting in my office at work I found myself hit, literally hit and overwhelmed by a flood of emotion. Grateful for the privacy and the early morning I chose to come in and put some last minute meeting ideas together, I closed my door and cried. And after the flood was gone, I pulled myself together and headed to my meeting with my cell phone in hand. Upon its completion I made the call.
“Hey Kristine, good morning, “ I said, sounding rather nonchalant as usual.
“Hey what’s up?” she retorted, busy with her stacks of work papers too.
I wondered how best to pose the question, but I went in for the kill….
“ How’d you like to go to Venice than Croatia with me?”
I continued, “I want to go this Fall. I left a lot of my things there including all of my daughter’s baby pictures.”
She agreed. Eager for the next adventure as most 20- somethings are, it wasn’t much to twist her arm and simply say, “total babes” –and suddenly it was a trip we were planning.
There we were with two giant suitcases, one sprightly five year old, and buckets of rain pouring down. It was Fall in Venice.
In Venice we ate authentic Italian food prepared at a Chinese family owned restaurant, complete with California wine. We put on our most enticing of outfits and showed the Italian boys what California Girls were made of. Our gondolier whom we jokingly bartered with charged us close to nothing and took us through canals not on the usual route.
Italian romance included five Italian young men crossing the Gran Canal. They were there for the Venice vs. Sicily soccer match. Newly divorced I walked in a city I had always wished my ex husband would have been romantic with me rather than argumentative in. I shared a kiss with one of these young men. As passionate as it was under a full moon, he suggested in Italian that we go back to his room.” It was the truth when I told him that my monthly friend was in town. At that point my ears and the skies of Venice heard, “Que Fortuna!!!” (What fortune!!!). My ego stroked, and some of my wounds healed…I was ready for the drive to Croatia the next day.
The following day we met my former father in law in the arrivals section of the airport. He did not know that we arrived the day before. We looked fresh, but he was a man and so, how could he tell? The drive to my old home was long and I was as tense as I thought I would be. But then I watched Kristine and I remembered why I had asked for her to come.
If I had gone alone their abusive statements would have taken away all the work I’d done to reground myself. I hadn’t felt strong yet. I was still broken. But in my world of Los Angeles I was not the way they had made me feel. I was capable. The two years that I had spent with them could not overshadow the lifetime I had spent with my dear friend. She was my anchor.
And as we drove to the next greatest adventure of our lives, I watched her laugh and joke and admire the country in which I had lived and cried. I, 'in a sense', watched the child that I was growing up, visit the country I struggled in--and realized I was not. And slowly I was no longer floating. Suddenly I was rooted. Finally, I was grounded. My friend who was born just in time to save me once, arrived again just in time to save me twice.
We had the most incredible time. And we share the most incredible stories. But someday when we are old and gray and still good girls hell bent on having a good time…we will look back and know that some friendships have a purpose far greater than the mortal eye. It is only the picture that we paint in retrospect that helps us see that without them, we merely float.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Share your friends and enemies stories. Tell us of those people you love and embrace, those who have stood by you when you thought you were alone and those who may have kicked you (gleefully) when you were down.
Since technically, there are two topics, you can post stories at least twice. I hope you share more.
You know the rules, don't forget the tags.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Here's the short version: My pop used to beat the hell out of me. Not regular, sustained violence. Not constant abuse. But when I did something wrong, or when he lost his temper, his wrath was a fearsome thing. Somewhere in the vast difference between spankings and trips to the hospital; that's where we were. Certainly nothing as mild as a spanking on the bottom. But... belts? Closed fists? Bruises and shoves to the ground?
My father, like me, had a lot of rage.
My father, like me, has also changed.
My father, when I was 17, apologized. I'd never even heard of a father doing something like that. But there it was. It changed everything.
Anyway. That's what I wanted to write about - my father taught me something that I don't know could be taught any other, or better, way. That there is an astonishing capacity for change in people. That, barring the more extreme exceptions, no one can't be salvaged. You don't need religion - my dad was, is and always will be a staunch Atheist. I'm sure it would be different for everyone - for my dad, it was a moment. At least, I think it was a moment. We were unpacking the dishwasher, joking around, and my dad reach above my head to open a cupboard. I flinched.
That was our moment. A strange, seconds-long moment where literally nothing happened, but everything changed.
Sometimes it only takes a moment. Sometimes it takes an intervention. Sometimes it takes reading the right book. Who knows? But in the long and varied list of life lessons I learned from my dad, that's the one at the top of the list: People can change. Followed by: Learn to forgive.
My dad turned 70 last week. If I live to that age and am half the man he is, I'll consider it a life lived well.
Friday, July 25, 2008
My father was escorted out of his dysfunctional home when he was about 16 years old. He lived on the streets, trying to survive in a society where your name and family were your line of credit. His name did not inspire trust or acceptance and he and his family had come to a mutual decision to despise each other for a few decades. Most people in those circumstances survive by racing to the bottom. My father pulled himself to the top, because for him there was no other option.
He slept in parks, until he gained the trust of a mechanic who hired him and gave him permission to sleep in the shop. A few years later, he was no longer an apprentice, but a trusted assistant. He planned carefully, charming customers with his attention to detail and stories, making friends along the way. Those friends remembered him when he started his own business and supported him. A few of the older customers adopted, fed and advised him. When he was ready to marry, it was these men and women who vouched for his character, spoke to my maternal grandparents and accompanied my mom to pick a wedding gown. It was their affection and optimism that made them forget his rage, temper and stubbornness. Everyone wants to see a happily ever after for their underdog.
By the time I came along, he was a successful young business man, almost cleansed of the name and past his parents had left him with. By the time I came along, he was careful to give me a name that would be a perfect reflection of what he saw in me. He studied the names in the city registry as my mother lay in the hospital. He concluded that I was 'Like an Angel'. And I am.
Over the years, I knew him by his absence and his temper. I was his favorite, but that wasn't a shield against the sharpness of his tongue or the cruelty of his humor. We did not understand each other, no matter how much he loved me or how much I tried to embrace him. He had learned everything he knew the hard way; a self-made man who had no use for books or education. He learned by asking; everything had come to him the hard way. I threw myself into books with reckless abandon, and sought refuge in school--confusing him to no end with my talk of people who only existed on paper. I knew I was going to go university, read great books and think great thoughts. He knew I was going to live in a house close to him, raise a family and organize family gatherings--everything he had ever wanted and did not have.
It was a predictable battle of the wills, with each of us sticking to their own vision of what my future would be. He outsmarted me by bringing me to the US in the middle of my college preparations. I outsmarted him by going along with it. He broke my spirit over a month; I prayed to be left behind. He boarded a plane home, and my prayers were answered. I stayed with the promise to follow him in a week--a promise I didn't keep. I quietly applied to universities and filled our forms, he promised to come back and get me--a promise he didn't keep. In the end, he challenged me in every conversation, attacked my abilities, doubted me, distracted me, threatened me and predicted my failure; yet he continued to pay for my 'madness'.
My senior year he asked me, "What kind of man builds his own prison? What kind of man works as hard as I do to keep his only source of joy away?" And all I could say was, "A man who knows better than to imprison his joy." We both thought my response was ridiculous. We both continued on our chosen path.
In the end, he worked hard to give me what he had wanted his whole life--and what I wanted for all of mine. My dreams contradicted everything he believed and wanted, but he still helped me. I cannot forgive the hurts he has inflicted on me and those I love. Nor can I forget what he has given me.
“At least you’re honest.” What else can I say to a sixty-four-year-old retired school teacher? A born-again Christian who told my father, a never-born Christian, to be baptized or she wouldn’t say Yes, Sarah is a woman who screams Middle America Grandma in the knickknack, homemade sweater kind of way.
I look at her and, though my parents have been divorced and ignoring each other for the past twenty-two years, I feel like screaming, “You’ll never replace my mother!”
Sarah knows that, though. She knows other things as well. She knows that there are family grudges and pains that she will never be able to smooth. She knows that I have siblings who don’t talk to other siblings and cousins I’ve never met. Sarah is joining our family and I fear “For Better or Worse” is in bold print on the marriage vows.
My father, a man who will probably be found dead at his desk, seems to have calmed down over the few years I’ve know him. I assume, like other members of my family, that it’s directly because of the death of his own father last year. Sixty-five is an age when mortality really begins to sink its teeth into your neck. Especially when you’re now the oldest member of the clan.
Dad is someone who shouldn’t be called Dad by his own admission. I decided to slap him with the olive branch when I was eighteen and what has developed is a friendship between two adults. Two adults with a forty-year age gap. We find each other amusingly bizarre. He is the youngest member of his district’s Lions Club (average age is 76) and volunteers to park cars in people’s yards during the Indy 500. When I showed up to his office with a barbell in my eyebrow, he actually sneered. We now have calmed down to pleasant, honest conversation and no longer try to antagonize one another.
But, Dad is getting married. In the year they’ve been dating, he has actually left his desk for longer than a day. He’s gone on trips out of state and laughs constantly, baring his upper teeth like a hungry man in front of a hamburger.
Sarah has asked me to stand with her at the wedding. Sarah is the one who convinced my dad to visit me in Chicago, allowing a chance to accept my live-in boyfriend and his tattoos. Dad can now deal with my irrational work schedule and short hair and city bicycling because, hell, I’m still going to do it anyway.
“He’s gone crazy,” is how my brother puts it. Which is the greatest of compliments--this change of a man who swore he never would. Mostly, we just can’t figure him out anymore. Which is awesome.
I look forward to the wedding. Forward to standing at the altar beside his new bride and trying not to imagine the honeymoon.
“We’re going to Aruba,” Sarah whispers to me, continuing our walk through the busy city. The sun has set and we’re headed back to my place. I settle into the back of the car and, again, try not to imagine the honeymoon. Or my dad’s bathing suit choice. I’m just glad he’s swimming.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Well, to start, my dad's a real character - so much so that if I'm ever missing him, there are a couple of TV reruns I can watch to feel as if he's right there in the room. I swear people, he's a cross between George Constanza from "Seinfeld" and Louie DePalma from "Taxi."
Don't believe me? Here's a slew of fact-imitating-fiction moments I've collected in my dusty brain box:
- When he went to the movies, if anyone had the nerve to sit in front of him, he'd start this pretend hacking cough that sounded worse than a TB hospital ward, accompanied by snorting, wheezing, and the occasional saliva spray mist. It worked every time.
- He has an overactive fear of sharks after watching "Jaws" back in the 70s - so much so that when he drives by the ocean, he double-checks the locks, because as he says, "You just never know now do you."
- My dad can't stand the sound of liquid being poured into a glass. It makes him nuts. I've even seen him leave a room or turn up the volume on the TV just to block out the sound.
- Ever wonder what kind of people actually bother to call those 1-800 numbers on the back of the label if they're dissatisfied with a product? Yep, that would be him. He's also the one who regularly writes Letters to the Editor, and - if some lowly employee makes the mistake of giving him lackluster service - he'll loudly complain to the manager, and if STILL not satisfied with the results, he'll start a letter campaign to the head of the company until he gets what he wants.
Oh and hell hath no more trecherous fury if that complaint is disability-related (he has MS and uses a scooter)...he'll do all of the above PLUS write about you in his syndicated disability-rights column. And if you're STILL not giving him a proper reconcilatory response, he's going to report you to the Better Business Bureau and call his local Congressional representative and put them on your case as well.
And to answer your question: Yes, he's retired. From what? Accounting and law. Explains a lot actually ;-)
- This is a man with a law degree, two master's degrees, and a slew of professional accolades. He used to travel all over the place and he's dined in some of the most recognized restaurants in the world (although he could care less about that stuff now). His column on disability-rights is syndicated and can be seen in papers across the country. Yet he still thinks it's the most hysterical thing when he asks you, "pull my finger."
- No surprise, "Blazing Saddles" is one of his favorite movies of all times. And he knows he's a lot like the aforementioned characters George and Louie - and he actually gets off on the comparison.
While some of you may think I'm slamming my dad with these stories, I promise I say them with love. It's true that growing up I would have much preferred one of those "Daddy's Little Girl" fathers, but one of the lessons I have learned from my relationship with my dad is to love and accept people for who they are, not for whom you want them to be. And I'm not going to rehash all the bullshit from the past, because we've reconciled, and I've made peace with that. And the most valuable aspect of forgiveness that I've learned is to let go of the pain and to stop rehashing all the things a person has done wrong before. That is a defamation of spirit for everyone and unworthy of our best selves.
My dad taught me many things, such as no matter how magical a time from the past was, you can never go back. He taught me the importance of a good work ethic and follow-through. I learned how to debate like a lawyer, and the value of bullheaded tenacity. My dad told me until you see what people do, the rest is lip service. I inherited my father's looks (in blonde version), his passion for music, and his need for regular, isolated down-time. I have also learned through the years I can come to him with any problem at any time, and he will be there. He's a master in a crisis.
Like many children, I thought my dad was an invincible force growing up. He could recall conversations like a stenographer, he was a demon on the racquetball court, and he could occasionally predict the future. Seeing him struggle with multiple sclerosis has been mind-blowing, to say the least. Now, my dad needs a scooter to get around, his recall isn't quite as razor-sharp, but his mind is still quick. In fact, he has mellowed considerably, and I am so grateful that his symptoms have stayed about the same for a while now. I am enjoying my relationship now with my dad more than I have ever in my life, and while I would never wish this illness on anyone, I wonder what role it has played in our reconnection. Or maybe all this just comes with age and maturity on both our parts. I suspect that the happiness he has found with my stepmother, Sy, may also be a larger contributor than I would have previously credited.
I also learned things in spite of him, by watching his mistakes and trying not to let the sins of the father become my regrets. I have triumped and failed on many of those. My dad's a tough nut to crack, so I try to be open and trusting. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and to not hold a grudge. I let the little things go and I try not to plan every moment of life anymore.
I mention these foibles not to bring him down, but to show him as the complicated person he is - that we all are. When I hear people give these verbal portraits of their parents as these perfect people, I tend to think they don't know them very well. Because our parents are just like everyone else...they're human.
And while we lose our hero-worship by getting to know our mothers and fathers as they truly are, we gain a more nuanced, three-dimensional picture in return - one we can at least attempt to pick and choose what is to be passed down and what should be cast aside.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I think I was five years old the last time my dad and I had an argument. My dad is, for the most part, a serious looking man with a good pokerface. However, being half Italian and half German, when his temper flares he suddenly becomes an animated caricature of his usual sober self. His stance widens, knees slightly bent so he can bounce a bit to the rhythm of his yelling and carrying on, his arms wildly gesturing as his voice rises with his temperature. The sudden change in demeanor would crack me up as a kid and I ended up laughing hysterically even as he was trying to scold me. He eventually gave up yelling at me, finally realizing his attempts at punishing a giggling five year old were futile. We've gotten along ever since.
My dad is an old Air Force guy. He used to take us shooting in the woods where he would set up beer cans for us to fire at. I remember one time we had paused so that he could set up more cans, I was holding the pistol with the barrel pointing up as he had instructed. Unfortunately, I had failed to keep my finger off the sensitive trigger and the gun accidently fired straight up in the air. My dad, who may have actually shat himself when the gun went off, hotfooted it back to me all the while trying unsuccessfully to form a comprehensible sentence.
"Give me the...watch what yer...don't hold the...gimme that!"
To his credit, he didn't get angry he just took the gun from my stunned little hand all the while rolling his eyes at me.
My dad liked to mess with my friends all through my teen years. He was a gun enthusiast and had a room in the basement where he would work on restoring and cleaning his collection. He would emerge from the basement, knowing that my friends and I were upstairs playing video games, and stand quietly in the doorway of the family room lovingly stroking a pistol with a grease stained white cloth until one of my friends would turn around and notice him there. My friends often decided they had to go home shortly thereafter.
When I was twelve we moved to a suburban neighborhood where most of the men went off to work everyday in a collared shirt and tie, and spent the weekends around the house in khaki shorts and a polo. My dad worked for the Air Force National Guard and went to work in fatigues and on the weekend could be seen mowing the lawn in ripped up cutoffs, combat boots, and a faded black shirt/jacket thing that was held closed with three ties down the front that he most likely picked up overseas somewhere when he was still in the Air Force.
My dad retired from the National Guard five years ago. His plan was to find a part time job that would give him something to do and yet require him to have only the most minimal responsibilities. It took a few tries since it's in his nature to take on responsibilities (his opinion is that people are idiots and if you want it done right, do it yourself) but he finally found something he enjoyed that only took up a few hours at a time. My dad is now a hot air balloon wrangler. His job, along with a couple of other guys, is to get the balloon and basket set up and then hop in his truck and follow the balloon across the southern end of the county until the pilot finds an open farm field to land in. Then they wrangle in the balloon, deflate it and pack it up. Think of it as a tamer version of tornado chasing. He's quite fond of the job and it allows my mom and him to go on their camping trips whenever they want. It also allows him to enjoy his other favorite past time, military reenactments. Because what else is a retired military man supposed to do with his time?
What else can I say, the man's a legend.
(*yes, that's my dad's name. It shouldn't come as a surprise that most of my friends were perfectly happy calling him Mr. Dunkle)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I focus the camera on my dad as he stands in the dark hotel room. The videocamera was graciously “borrowed” from Best Buy, and would be returned with receipt within the 30 days grace period. My cousin Michael was graduating from law school in New Hampshire, and his mother was in a hospital bed recovering from surgery to remove a tumor. As the lone film student, my job was to record the ceremony for her to watch. So I was testing out the new camera.
“C’mon, fatman. Say a funny.”
My dad and I share a baked-potato like appearance so much so that our elderly neighbor often confuses me for him when I’m home from school. Except, where I am merely a late-twenties lothario, my father is hardened steel gone soft in the wake of recently receiving his AARP card.
He stares out the window for a second and then he kind of leans forward on one foot, like a tubby flamingo, and does this strange little hop forward. Once, twice. Bouncing with his arms stretching like wings. Then he goes back to staring out the window.
I turn off the camera, satisfied that my rudimentary first level white balancing skills and slow zooms will be more than enough to capture the diploma dispensing. I return the camera to its box.
Then my dad explains his phone call.
Minutes before, as I was doddering about with the lenses and instructions, he took a call on his cell. He’d just started a few months ago with a new company. After 25 years as a vice-president of construction management, in an industry where they told him he’d never make it anywhere as a Catholic, the company he had bled and sweat for had fucked over his entire retirement. And here he was, overqualified for everything, unable to find an employer who wasn’t trying to mine him for his industry contacts and then chuck him aside before he could ditch them for something better, working in a new job as essentially the knowledgeable one who went to construction trade shows and answered questions. Had he not had two sons to put through college, he would have started his own contracting company, and been a goddamn millionaire. Instead, here he was, answering questions on his vacation.
I had only caught snippets of the conversation. My dad was defensive and embarrassed. He said, “No, I’m fine. Jerry. You don’t have to… Well, you can call it whatever you want. I don’t want you to… I don’t want…. That’s silly. Don’t call me. Well, I don’t agree with that, but whatever. Fine, you’re welcome. Okay. I will. Take care.”
So with the camera safely packed away, and my mother getting ice, my dad decided he’d honor my request. He told me a story.
He had just come back from a trade show in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, at their convention center. They decided it was a moot point, and wanted to beat the traffic back into the civilization of Pennsylvania. He had been packing away their stand, and he and a co-worker were helping the woman who had been stationed next to them load up her car. My dad had placed his materials in the van that he and his buddy had driven down, when he realized that he had forgotten his glasses.
This comes as no surprise. My father needs to wear reading glasses, which he’s not accustomed to, and so he purchased cheap-ass half glasses which he constantly has to tilt his head and peer down through. My brother and I call him Geppetto. He has about four or six pairs scattered among glove compartments, briefcases, offices, coffee tables, because he almost always forgets them, and so multiple pairs mean there's a better likelihood one will be at hand.
My dad pauses in the story, rubbing the back of his head. He looks at me, “I don’t want you to tell your mother about this.”
My father and I are both short, stocky little brick shithouses. The man’s got a head like a damn cannonball, bald and mighty. But we’re both well under 5’6”, and each of us keep competing to see who can stay 40 pounds overweight in the gut. My dad was an athlete, a goddamn machine. He didn't fight in Vietnam, he was in Laos and Cambodia in 70-71, where he was an Airborne Ranger. While overseas, he studied Aikido. The shit that Steven Seagal does. He failed his third degree test, because after he defended himself seven times from upwards of eight men at a time, he got a glancing blow from the FOURTH SWORDSMAN as he was hurling the first swordsman at the second and third. The final test, he failed. So he’s only a second degree.
My brother and I used to mess with my dad. I’ll never forget the day, as we were leaving a Pizza Hut, after my dad met us on his way home from work, when my brother was slapfighting with my dad. The day was waning as we crossed the parking lot and my brother kept sweeping in, slapping my dad on the back of the dress shirt, and feinting punches at him. As I walked a few steps behind them, my dad does this amazingly graceful skip to the right, kicked down into the back of my brother’s knee, and my brother drops like a lead zeppelin. All without hurting anything but his pride. We all laughed, even my brother, because that was fucking AWESOME.
But that was a whole lot of report cards ago. My dad was sprouting a whole of snow around the summit now. And there are a few more Deep Dish Pan pizzas in the bellylands.
As he walked out to the car, he saw four guys helping his friend load stuff into the car. He got closer, and realized they weren’t helping. One of the guys was holding his co-worker’s arms while the other was punching him in the face. The other two guys were in the van, pinning down the woman. One held her, while the other tried to pry her legs apart.
My dad pauses for a moment before sprinting across the parking lot. He tucks himself into a ball and tackles the guy punching his friend, knocking him sideways to the ground. My dad struck the guy at an angle, so their combined weight snapped the man’s leg like a fucking pencil. He falls to the ground screaming, my dad on top of him driving an elbow into his cheek. My dad said he turned around after he felt a thud. That would be the second attacker, punching my dad in the head. All my dad saw was him clutching his knuckles. Two of which he broke when he tried to hit my father. My dad sprung up and turned to the guy who tried to hit him. He swings at my dad again, who tucks the guy's fist under his armpit and strikes the guy in the forearm, snapping his arm in half.
By this time the third guy, the one trying to rape the woman, runs after my dad. My dad lets the guy swing twice before hitting him in the ribs, breaking most of them. The guy was hopped up on something, and goes at my dad again. My dad punches him in the nose, shattering the guy’s nose, spraying blood all over himself. He stops his return strike at the last minute, because he realizes he’s about to drive his palm heel into the guy’s nostrils and jam the bridge of his broken nose into his brain, killing him.
Meanwhile, the fourth guy gets out of the van, and starts running away. At this point, almost all of the middle aged construction workers from the trade show had been piling out of the convention center and noticed the ruckus. So all these fat balding guys in suits and ties chased down the fourth guy, knocked him to the ground and started kicking and punching him until the cops showed up.
News vans pull in. My dad is totally fine, except he’s worried that his name is going to be in the paper, because he doesn’t want people to make a big deal about it. He doesn't want it getting out, the news that an overweight, senior citizen ex-Ranger just fucked up four guys dusted out of their minds. He doesn’t want people calling him a hero or anything. He doesn't want my mom to hear the story. The police have to take his name, in case (get this shit) the guys he fucked up want to press charges. My dad leaves, drives his friend home, and then goes home.
He sneaks up the side stairs and quickly changes his shirt so my mom wouldn’t notice, so she wouldn’t worry about him. He just wants to let the whole thing blow over. The next day, they got in the car and drove up to New Hampshire for my cousin’s graduation.
My dad delivers this entire speech to me while standing against the television, staring at the carpet. Not once does he look up. He’s almost ashamed to tell me the details. Meanwhile, my mom had come in the room around the middle of the story.
He explained to her that that was what the phone call was about. That was his boss, calling to ask if he was okay. The guy he saved had come to the office and told everyone what he had done. He was calling him a hero. My dad didn’t want any part of that. He just did what he had to. He asked me not to tell people what happened.
He told my mom that’s why he hadn’t said anything when he came home. He just didn’t want her to see the blood and get scared that he hurt someone. He’d not a fighter. My dad’s the kind of guy who’ll buy drinks for the bar. He’s a goddamn teddy bear. She was okay, she just wished he told her what happened.
He then shrugs, smiles and says, "Let's go get dinner."
I’m thinking to myself, “I can’t believe you didn’t turn on the fucking camera.”
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I was recently talking to my friend and she was telling me about her husband's reaction to the birth of their daughter: he became a teary puddle of mush. Before they left the hospital, he had already promised to never let a anyone break her heart. This was a stark contrast to his reaction to the birth of their son--he took his 3 day old son outside as he grilled kabobs, thinking the boy could take the heat.
July is all about dads. Sure, everyone has already celebrated Father's Day with ties and golfing (is that how Father's Day is celebrated?), but have you shared your stories? I didn't think so. It's time for you to share your favorite Dad stories. Are you about to become a dad? Do you remember when the father-child relationship changed? What is your favorite Dad memory?
The rules are the same. Tell us your stories.
Monday, June 30, 2008
We walk into the kitchen to fix tea and grab beers; four of our colleagues sit in the room just ten feet away. I barely get around the corner before he slams me back against the wall and kisses me hard all over, and I have to restrain myself from fucking him right there, in front of everyone...
There was something about him—maybe it was being in Santiago, maybe it was the my youthful audacity, maybe it was the water going the other direction in the toilet bowl—that made me want to have him. To own him. He spoke several languages; something I find intimidating and extremely sexy. I spoke with my body, and it was something that probably had a similar effect on him, I imagine. He was older; I was still in college and had nothing in the foreground but sex, music, and work. I was traipsing about life, feeling exceptionally comfortable in my body, had no illusions of a relationship and was now running full steam ahead through the beginnings of a personal sexual revolution.
The tension that has been building between us for the last month explodes and it feels like I have never had sex in my life, never felt my heart pounding from pure lust, and I don't stop myself from gasping when he grabs my legs and pushes me up the wall. All I want to do is rip our clothes off; I wrap my legs around his waist and pull him tightly to me. He hastily pulls my top up and presses his face to my bare chest, kissing and sucking; my fingers twine into his hair as my back arches off the wall, my body not allowing me to register anything but this, now, him, more...
I was drawn to him from the moment I saw him, and him to me. It was strange—we looked at each other that first time and knew we had to have this person; we never even discussed it. It happened as naturally as a handshake. I stepped off the plane as a student—his student, actually, but we rationalized that he wasn't technically my professor, although he was an associate professor on our project, and I was part of the student group. Looking back, I get the feeling that everyone turned a blind eye to our involvement. They knew, and they knew they could do nothing about it. None of us could.
The tea kettle starts to scream and we force ourselves apart, suddenly very much aware of how quiet the conversation has become in the next room. Well, it only makes sense; he did just throw me against the wall. We compose ourselves and walk back in to silence, which soon turns to easy chatting and laughing over drinks.
"Carolina--" I whisper later—she turns those deep brown eyes on my face, smiling.
"Yes. We heard you." Oh shit.
"It's not a big deal, no one cares," she assures me. "Americans are so uptight about sex."
Not this one, sweetheart, but some...
We never did have sex; that happened to be the last passionate moment we shared. I used to count it as one of the minor tragedies of my twenties, but since then life has become far too serious with serious things to consider in serious ways, and I find myself strangely pleased that it did not end with sex. It leaves the story somewhat unfinished, with a feeling of anticipation and wanting. After all, that is what keeps me interested—that something.