Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Theme: Giving Thanks

November's theme is so easy for me; lately I have been grateful for many things. I always have a long list of things that I want or need at any given moment. More this, less that and just the right amount of the other. However, if I am honest there is plenty that I am thankful for every single day. The problem then becomes identifying that for which I'm most thankful. Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday. Not for the marathon cooking sessions, nor the tense family gatherings that inevitably bring up unpleasant encounters but for the potential recognition of what is good and right in our lives.

Share Thanksgiving memories or things you're grateful for. Tell us your tales.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vice, Vice Baby

You know, a year ago this would have been a no-brainer. A year ago, I could have written an essay - a dissertation, even, on vice. More specifically, on my vices. Unfortunately (for the purposes of this space, anyway), my vices are slowly dissipating into history, like smoke from a bottle. It's taken a bit of adjusting to. In the last year, I've quit smoking, started eating right, getting regular exercise. I stopped drinking as much and pretty much stopped my minor recreational drug use (I'm far removed from my more serious drug use days). I mean, that's a steady list of vices right there, and I've dumped 'em all in less than a year.

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.

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Now playing: Hatebreed - Healing To Suffer Again
via FoxyTunes

Friday, October 31, 2008

Almost Viceless

Since this theme was suggested, I have been wondering what on earth can I list as a vice? It's the unfortunate downside of being so close to perfect. My one cup of morning coffee is a pleasant ritual; my sweet tooth is an reflection of my sweet nature...You can only imagine what my poor husband goes through having to live with someone with no known vices.

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

Excerpt from an Untitled Story

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

October Theme: Vices

Last night, I was so tired that all I could do was lay on the couch and ponder the heat. Then I thought, summer hasn't been too bad. I have trained almost all summer without serious problems. And the temperature being close to ninety degrees in August wasn't too bad, right? Except I realized it wasn't August, but the first day of October. NINETY DEGREES in OCTOBER? If I didn't know better, I'd think I was living in Arizona again.

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

Fruit of the Womb

ClickClick. ClickClick.

"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.

"Excuse me?"

"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

September Theme: The Loneliness

Hello friends! I'm sorry I'm posting the September theme six days into the month, but life has been crazy lately. Last month, as a reward for my hard work on the last two projects at work, I was removed from my comfort zone and put on a project that is a mess. Under a new manager. In a group known for being overly 'helpful'. I spent a good part of August freaking out and resolving to be a failure at work.

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

"We Need to Talk"

I’m led into our bedroom. Already, the computer chair is in the middle of the room facing the door, positioned for a one-member audience for a one-woman show.


“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

My Anchor

It was simple. I was born. I was born and I grew in a neighborhood of all boys. The Star Wars Action Figures had me relocated to Princes Leah every single time I played. I played, resigned to the way life was until the baby sister of one of my friends suddenly grew and seemed interesting. Having completed her bout with diapers and incessant crying, she suddenly was ‘not’ annoying. At six years old, my life of Princess Leah was finally over—just in time to miss armpit farts 101.

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?”

(Silence)

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

August Theme: Friends and Enemies

I collect friends like some women collect jewelery. I can honestly say that my friends have had as much to do with my getting to where I am as any other factor in my life. I have been fortunate to have friends from every walk of life and background; people who embrace me for the (slightly) imperfect being that I am. And sadly I have a few people who make me cringe every time I think of them.

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

Lessons learned

Long ago, I wrote a post on my own blog about my father. It was perhaps the most difficult, soul-baring post I've ever written, and I've since taken it down. It was just too much to have out there. I've thought about re-posting it, but there's more in there than needs to be shared. At the time, it was rather cathartic, just getting it all out there. Now, it seems unnecessary.

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?

Yes.

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

What He Gave Me

In the end, it comes down to the two things my father gave me: a good name and my education. Each was a small miracle in its own way.

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.

A Grey Wedding

Walking down Michigan Avenue, my father’s fiancĂ©e comments that she may come up to Chicago to buy her wedding dress. “Don’t worry,” she whispers to me, “I’m not going to wear white.”


“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

Characters Welcomed

My dad and I have a very complicated history, so choosing this month's particular topic as my inaugural post on "Blog Me a Tale" probably wasn't the smartest way to go, but anyone who knows me understands I rarely take the easy way out.

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

Dick*


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

KUNG FU PANDA

“Tell me a story.”

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

July Theme: Who's Your Daddy?

It's already July, people. I'm not sure I'm ready.

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

Unrequited Something

You can't really call it an affair, I suppose. And it certainly wasn't romance; there were no sweet whispers in small Chilean cafes or handholds, or long walks. It was, however, the sexiest something of my young life up to that point. It crackled under our skin. Electricity. Chemistry. Something purely in the realm of the physical. It was intoxicating and inescapable.

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.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes! (Part II)

The assault on his nose ended almost immediately, to be replaced with a stifling feeling of heat and the smell of dust. Afraid of what he would find yet still infinitely curious, Martin slowly opened his eyes only to be blinded by the brightness of the sun beating down on him. The fear he felt at finding himself in a new locale with no explanation as to how he got there was ratcheted up several hundred degrees when he realized he stood in the middle of a dusty street, large wooden buildings rising up on either side of him, and that a large and angry looking man stood at the opposite end of the street with a gun pointed in Martin's direction.

The angry man was dressed much like the men from the Westerns Martin had so enjoyed as a child, and he realized, looking down, that he too was holding a gun and dressed like an extra from The Rifleman. Fear more than instinct made him squeeze the trigger, and he jumped what felt like 15 feet in the air at the explosion that emanated from the barrel of the gun. Shaking in fear, he threw the gun down even as a large whoop went up from the people standing on either side of the street, watching this showdown. Guns were fired into the air in celebration all around him, and he cringed and shook with each one. Men poured onto the street around Martin, slapping him on the back and yelling for whiskey for the hero. Martin allowed himself a small smile at being called "hero" and looked forward to a bracing shot of whiskey from the saloon he found himself dragged into, but the smile quickly faltered and disappeared when he heard a loud crack from above his head, as the people around him yelled and scattered away from him. He looked up to see a large, ornate chandelier tied to a huge beam that sunk inward and broke apart even as he watched. As the chandelier shot rapidly toward his head, Martin had time to think "Again?," before he was overtaken and shot back into the dark.

Next Martin awoke to find himself in the Industrial Revolution, in a large factory producing some product or another. Men and smoke surrounded him, and he found himself covered in grease and grime, and sweating profusely. As per the previous experiences, he became aware of his situation even as shouts warned him of some disaster. He looked up, expecting to see the ceiling of the building hurtling toward him, but instead fell flat to the floor as an explosion rocked the factory around him. After several confused moments, foremen came around and started ushering men out the door, and Martin found himself shoved unceremoniously into the street. He decided to take advantage of the longer duration of this visit and take in some of his surroundings. He walked down the street, nodding at people who passed him, and generally enjoyed his bizarre once-in-a-lifetime journey. That is, until shouts around him warned him, once again, to look up just in time to see the next in the series of head-trauma-causing objects whistling toward him. This time it was a large, dead, vulture-like bird, beak pointed straight at the crown of his head. "Oh, you have GOT to be kidding," his mind exclaimed shortly before being pierced by five pounds of carrion fowl and hurtled back into the blackness.

This time, Martin came to comfortably seated in the grass, leaning against a tree and surrounded by music and the smell of marijuana. Looking down at himself, he saw his clothes were of varied shades of tie-dye, and he suddenly realized the music he was hearing was Jimi Hendrix's famous version of the Star-Spangled Banner. Amazed at his good fortune at being able to see such a legendary musical moment, Martin threw back his head and whooped with pleasure.

And saw a naked man sitting in the tree above him, holding a set of bongos hooked on one finger and gesticulating wildly toward the stage. Martin's joyous yawp turned into a resigned sigh as he watched the bongos slip from Tarzan's finger, and he thought to himself "Stinking hippies," before the bongos crashed into him in the least musical way possible.

When the blackness and dizziness subsided for the last time, Martin found himself laying on his own couch, in his own home, in his own time. The chair was not where it had been when he sat in it, and a quick perusal of his house likewise turned up no mystery chair. Since his head still throbbed and he could still detect the faint smells of farm animal, grease, dust and pot, he quickly came to the conclusion that all the experiences were real glimpses of himself throughout history, and that once the chair had shown him these sights, it had travelled on without him to who knew where or when. He wasn't sure why the chair had shown him these things, except maybe as a warning to go through life with a hardhat. Martin realized he had only a few minutes until his guests were due to arrive, and so rushed upstairs to clean up and change for the party, filing away his journey for examination later.

He had just finished his ablutions and was slipping on his shoes when the first knock came on the front door. Giving himself one last look in the mirror, he smiled at the almost-40-year-old version of himself in the mirror, and laughed at what he was quickly becoming convinced was the dream he must've had while dozing on the couch. He giggled quietly to himself at the sheer absurdity that a mystery chair could take him on a space-time tour of his previous lives. He was still giggling to himself when he opened the door and welcomed his friends to his home. And he was still giggling to himself when he heard one of the supports he had installed for the Brazilian sculpture, under which he was currently standing, crack and start to give way. His giggle subsided when he looked up in time to see the 300 lb. sculpture slowly descend toward him, the figure's huge erect phallus pointed straight at his skull. "Happy birthday, Martin Aimes," he thought to himself even as the black embraced him once again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bees and Strawberries


The sting on his face was clearly swelling. He was horribly self-conscious all of a sudden. For the entirety of his adult life, he had managed to steer clear of bees, and now, today, a bee found its way downtown and attacked Jim, as though it was targeting him because it somehow knew it would cause him a greater deal of pain than it would anyone else. He fell to the ground in agony and the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen happened to be passing by, and of course she stopped to help him. When it became clear what the matter was, she took his hand to lift him up and then she accompanied him to the emergency room. She assured him that she could stay with him throughout this ordeal, if he wanted her to. He nodded miserably, having no one else to call.

“My name is Alice,” she gently remarked.

“I’m sorry we’re meeting under such circumstances, Alice. I’m Jim.”

He feebly smiled at her, trying to ignore what he felt was surely an incredibly disgusting rash developing around the spot the bee had stung. She smiled warmly at him in return, and he melted to the floor. He was now in love with her, and particularly with that dark, curly hair hanging loosely at her sides. But he could barely stand to look at her, and he inched away from her on the bench as far as he could without seeming rude, because this beautiful, kind woman smelled awfully strongly of strawberries.

Bees and strawberries. Jim cursed his parents for carrying the prone-to-allergies genes without said genes actually manifesting in either of them. Instead, they were passed down to Jim, in whom they manifested severely. He was tested for every allergy he could possibly have, and it boiled down to two: bees and strawberries. He hated the summer, and flowers, and sugar. He cursed his one real misfortune in life.

As a teenager, he became fanatically obsessed with his allergens. He learned everything there was to know about bees and strawberries (The most well-known bee species is the Western honey bee and the most commonly cultivated strawberry is the garden strawberry). One evening, as an adult, he watched a television show about the pollination process of bees on The Discovery Channel (Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which helps in the gathering of pollen). That same evening, his fanatical obsession switched gears. The Discovery Channel was now his sole joy in life, having given him something to look forward to every night (The Discovery Channel debuted on June 17th, 1985, and he is so glad that it did). He hated his job, and women mostly terrified him, and he couldn’t have any pets in his apartment building, and despite having lived there for three years, he still hadn’t made any real friends, so The Discovery Channel was his company (The Discovery Channel’s slogan is The World Is Just Awesome, which Jim appreciates but mostly disagrees with).

Alice
was on her way to the local New Age/hippie store, In Tents In Cents, where she bought many of her candles and all of her incense, when she saw Jim fall to the ground. Always wanting to help, she rushed to his side, day’s plans forgotten. She helped him up, and he mumbled something about an allergic reaction to a bee sting. “I don’t need an ambulance,” he said, “but I do need to get to the hospital.” So she hailed a taxi to get them there. He reminded her of Alan, her next door neighbor, although Jim was scrawnier, and awkward. Alan was never awkward. Alan was gorgeous and tall, sweet and polite, funny as hell. She hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks; he was away on business. Somewhere in Spain, he didn’t miss her. She thought she loved him, but he considered her nothing more than the friendly woman next door. She briefly wondered about Jim’s love life, but by then they had arrived at the hospital, so she didn’t ask.

In the emergency room, Jim thought that if only he could distract himself from the smell, maybe he could scale down the escalation of this already hellish experience. So he focused on her necklace. The chain was long, and the bright green parrot at the end of it hung squarely in the center of her torso. ‘I am not allergic to parrots,’ he thought. ‘A parrot might be nice.’

And then she noticed.

“Oh, do you like my necklace?” she asked. Startled, he looked up into her face.

“Yes… It’s quite lovely. You like parrots?” he managed to choke out in between raucous coughs, which in turn caused her to rub his back good-naturedly, which itself caused him to cough even louder.

“Oh yes, I just love parrots. All animals, really. I have a parrot at home. His name is Barry, and he’s just great…” He tuned out after this, and tried to let the sound of her voice soothe him. It didn’t, because even her breath seemed to reek of that god forsaken fruit.

“You know, we’ve been waiting for a while,” she suddenly changed topics, “and your rash and cough are not getting any better. I’m going to go talk to someone in charge, see what I can do.”

“Wait, wait. Let me ask you something first. Do you ever watch The Discovery Channel?”

Half-out of her seat, she sank back down. “The what?”

“You know, The Discovery Channel. They play all kinds of interesting shows about science and space and sharks.”

“Oh. It’s a television channel. I’m sorry, I don’t even own a television set. I can’t remember the last time I watched one.”

The rash instantly spread across his already-red face, and he could feel the burn; as if all this weren’t already embarrassing enough, now he had really made a fool out of himself. He smiled the pitiful little smile of a defeated man, and cursed himself under his breath as Alice walked away to consult the woman at the front desk. Jim did not notice the small battle that ensued between the two, nor did he witness the final concession made, entirely missing the first (and perhaps only) time two women would ever (technically speaking) fight over him. He did immediately notice, however, when Alice came striding back, his troublesome genes forcing his poor nose to twitch at the smell.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she announced.

“Bad news first, please.”

“Anyone that could possibly help you is busy, and as long as you aren’t visibly dying, we have to wait.”

‘If only I could plug up my nose and get rid of this rash, I could spend all of eternity waiting next to you,’ Jim thought as he said, “So what could possibly be good news, then?”

Alice grinned mischievously and pointed to the muted television perched in the corner of the room. This television, normally kept strictly on the public access channel specifically created for hospital use, had been changed for the first time in twelve years. Perhaps it was Jim’s sad demeanor that had convinced the woman at the desk. Regardless, The Discovery Channel’s swirling-Earth, instantly recognizable logo was now displayed, miniaturized, in the right-hand corner of the screen. As only pure, random luck would have it, a program about the African Grey parrot was on. The closed-captioning ticker scrolling along the bottom read: “These parrots are particularly known for their cognitive capabilities, thought to have evolved due to their history of cooperative bird-feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa.”

“Hey!” Alice exclaimed, “That’s what Barry is! An African Grey! And he is quite smart; he calls me by name and everything!”

Jim’s heart rate decreased. His rash stopped burning. Even the swelling seemed to have petered out, and was now reversing itself. The Discovery Channel did for Jim what Alice’s voice could not, and within minutes, even his coughs grew less and less frequent. He looked over at Alice, who was now reading the ticker with rapt attention (“African Greys have been kept as pets for over 4000 years”), and was struck once more by her beauty. Filled with gratitude, he braved the smell and scooted closer to her. ‘Oh, to hell with it,’ he thought as he reached for her hand.

Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes! (Part I)

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Martin Aimes travelled in time.

That’s how it felt to him anyway. It could easily have been a product of an undiagnosed aneurysm or a flashback from his more drug liberal days, but Martin was convinced that the rapid rush of images he saw was a personal journey through his own timeline. He’d never been one to buy into the idea of past lives or destiny, but the chair and the sights it showed him quickly changed his opinion on the subject.

Martin had spent the day prepping his house for the celebration that evening. Finger foods were in the refrigerator or oven as necessary, beverages chilling in one of the dozen or so coolers housed in the garage, decorations collected from Martin’s various journeys across the world had been hung or strategically placed throughout the house. He had even somehow managed to hang the 300 lb. ceremonial fertility sculpture he had acquired in Brazil over the arch connecting the living room and front entry area, though he was convinced it would probably come crashing down any second, leaving Martin to celebrate his 40th with a personal injury lawsuit. But he was incredibly proud of the sculpture and the journey it represented, so up it stayed. The use of his souvenirs as decorations was his way of celebrating the 40 years he had already lived, and of the many things he had seen in that time. It was also to be a reminder that he still had many things to see and do, and that despite this milestone in his life, he had many years in which to see and do those things.

Since he had already thoroughly cleaned his house to the point that every surface sparkled and squeaked, even the cloth curtains, he was almost completely ready for the party when the knock on the door came. He answered, expecting to see an early party-goer, and was instead greeted by a nice but modest looking chair on his front step. He stepped out and looked up and down the street, but saw no one running from his house, nor any cars he didn’t recognize from the neighborhood. Assuming this chair was an odd gift that would be explained at a later time, he dragged it into the house and closed the door.

Martin had several friends who were practical jokers, so he thought it prudent to thoroughly examine the chair for breakaway legs or a false back before trying to sit in it. The chair was of average dining room table size, solid wood that looked old and expensive and stained a light chocolate brown. It lacked any flourishes or adornments, and looked like it was created for solid function rather than airy form. There were no notes or greetings of any kind attached to the chair, save for a simple card reading “Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes,” so the mystery of its origins remained a mystery. But the seat was nicely padded, the construction looked to be of quality, and Martin (an avid lover of antiques of all kinds) decided that he owed it to the chair and the craftsman who created it to put it to its intended use, just for a moment. So he sat and leaned his head back against the chair’s back, and closed his eyes for a brief rest before making his final party preparations, which is how he ended up taking the strangest and most intriguing journey of his life so far.

The rush of dizziness that overtook Martin as soon as he had settled into the chair startled him, but he simply attributed it to the work he’d been doing since he got up at 8 AM that morning. He figured keeping his head back and eyes closed for now would allow the spell to pass. He realized how wrong he was when the smell of manure and dirty humanity hit him. Thinking again of the joker friends and the riot act he would read them for stinking up his immaculate house, he opened his eyes and quickly rose from the chair, but stumbled both from the continuing dizziness and from the sight that greeted his eyes.

Martin had been to France on several occasions, and loved every trip, but had never seen it like this. Everywhere he looked he saw horses, goats, cows, and other animals associated with farming. Stalls of fruits and vegetables surrounded him, all staffed by dirty and unkempt French people. Most alarming was the smell. His nostrils were assaulted by a mix of human and animal waste, rotten produce, and almost sentient funk of thousands of unwashed humans. Thinking he was dreaming, Martin pinched himself, but only succeeded in adding a smarting arm to the rotten stink and bizarre images surrounding him. Being an avid student of world cultures and history, he easily recognized the dress of the people as being from the mid-1700s. Certain of the impossibility of the situation he found himself in, Martin stood stock still and tried to simply observe, at least until a fat Frenchman started pointing and yelling in his direction.

Martin had never fully learned French, despite his numerous trips to the country. He understood some basic phrases, but would find himself hard pressed to communicate if left alone with solely French-speaking people. So he reeled from the confusion that hit him when he realized he could understand every word the fat man was yelling, and even more when he realized he was yelling back in French. Of course, despite the fact that Martin’s confusion and embarrassment made it feel like this exchange took an hour, it all happened in a split second. It was just enough time for him to realize that what the fat man was yelling was “Look out, you stupid pig! Above you!,” and for Martin to look up and see the globe-sized chunk of masonry hurtling toward his head from the building behind him. “Merde,” thought Martin, and then all was blackness and dizziness again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm Big In Brazil

A few years ago, we traveled to Rio de Janeiro for my cousin’s wedding. My cousin had been engaged once before, but a few months before the wedding, they broke it off. My cousin was heartbroken, had to un-invite all the guests, explain without explaining too much. But then he manned up, went to law school up in New Hampshire, met a vibrant and beautiful Brazilian girl, and ended up having what would literally be a fairy-tale wedding in Rio. Let this be a lesson to all of you who are nursing a broken heart: things can work out like the following.

Up until this trip, I had been out of the United States exactly one other time. We went to the Bahamas for a weekend. It was rainy and overcast the entire time, except for approximately 15 minutes. I have never been abroad. I have never been to Canada or Mexico. Despite my adventurous trek cross-country, I am hardly a world traveler.

But we were going to Brazil! This magical mantra served us well in trying to get the necessary time off for the trip. My brother is a first grade teacher. It would be his only vacation time for like four years. I just started temping a data entry position for a pharmaceutical company. I might not have a job when I returned. But we were going to Brazil! Just the concept of going to a foreign country seemed exotic and alluring to our countrified PA asses.

Little did we know what we were in for.

My family is close. Cousins are like brothers, it’s just the way we were raised. Fernanda, my cousin’s intended, had spent several Thanksgivings and Christmases with us, so we already knew how much we liked her. But her family embraced all of us with open arms as if they were going to marry us. Fernanda’s parents were divorced, so we weren’t ever sure who was who. There were so many family members, but everyone was so loving and kind, we just ended up hugging and kissing everyone. As far as we were concerned they were all our family, and they loved “The Americans!”

The wedding was taking place in Rio, and we were staying in hotels near Ipanema Beach, which served a young man well in penning a song about a certain girl from Ipanema who went walking, and Copacabana, which served a not-so-young man well in penning a song that continues to moisten adult diapers to this very day.

For most of the trip we careened around from celebration to celebration, never knowing what was going on. None of us spoke a lick of Portuguese. But we were determined to be adventurous. The first night, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, and the menu had some Portuguese words, and some Italian words. I just picked something at random. Erico, Fernanda’s father, asked what I ordered. I said, “I don’t know. I hope it’s good!” It turned out to be boiled bull scrotum. But they seasoned it so good, you’d never know!
(Actually, it was a variation on chicken saltimbocca. I’m adventurous, but I’m not retarded.) I went home and promptly learned all the words for different foods. This is how I was able to learn how to order from the juice bars and different restaurants. It didn’t work so hot when my brother and I wandered off to Bob’s Burgers for lunch, only to get Grade K meat (some orphan meat, mostly soy and lawn clippings). It was the only slip up in an otherwise magical trip.

There’s no decent way to say this, so I’m just going to put it out there: Fernanda’s family is pretty much royalty. Her father works as one of the executives for Globo, which is THE network in Brazil. Over 85% of the homes in the country watch Globo. They’ve got money and power and influence. We just assumed all Brazil was like this. We have been spoiled and it is worth it.

The engagement party was held in their penthouse apartment overlooking Sugarloaf, which houses the big statue of Christo, the giant huggable Jesus that you’ve seen in every shot of Rio ever taken from an airplane ever in the history of ever. We rode in through the gated entrance, flanked by guards in bulletproof vests and armed with semiautomatic machineguns. They sent us up, six at a time, in a small elevator, which opened on their apartment. There, everybody that is even remotely related to the wedding was there, dancing around in the huge apartment, and pounding liquor. They would serve caipirinhas, which is sort of a Brazilian martini. Essentially, you take two shots of liquor, mull it with fresh fruit, and serve chilled. It’s called different things if you use vodka, or sake, or whiskey, or rum. Usually, they serve it with Cachaca, which is a version of rum that tastes like rocketfuel teabagged with a monkey sack when taken straight, but magically tastes like Kool-Aid when mixed with fruit. Erico constantly kept on hand Johnny Walker Blue Label. His step-son Fabio, a true party-machine, always kept on hand cases of Sugar-Free Red Bull (sugar free means you can drink more and keep the same caffeine effect without getting sick). I love Brazil!
They told us they had a little surprise for us. Up the elevator comes a bunch of guys carrying various instruments, all dressed in Hawaiian shirts. We’re like, Oh, sweet! Live music.

Then the first samba dancer arrived.

She was easily over six foot, and that was before she wore sparkly heels, and a giant two foot bedazzled headdress. She was cocoa brown, and wore nothing much more than a glittery bikini, draped with beads. We were agape. Then the next one arrived. And the next one. And the next one.

There were about five or six in all, when the samba players started jamming. Everyone danced with the samba dancers (from the best samba school in Rio – according to Duda, Fernanda’s brother and a party promoter). It was insane. My tiny mom and dad are jamming out with these Amazonian goddess in spangled finery. I thought things can’t possibly get better than this. And this was knowing that full well, tomorrow afternoon we’d be served dinner at a chirrascuria, which is an all you can eat meat buffet where they bring grilled meat out on swords until you belch out “No Obrigado”.

However, my cousin, his girlfriend, and I myself were whisked off that next afternoon to see Globo, while everyone else went sightseeing. Because, we were the screenwriters. I was fresh from graduating from BU, and Mark was in the middle of signing a deal to option his television pilot with the networks. So we were the screenwriters, and we got our own private studio tour. Which was amazing. They make a serial soap opera called “Bang! Bang!” which is set in the American Wild West, and features characters like Zorro, who is an incredibly gay blade, and Elvis. It’s somewhere between Deadwood and Arrested Development. It’s hilariously Telemundo. One thing that’s pretty amazing about their soap operas is that they only run it for one year. No matter how popular they are (and the numbers on this thing are ridiculous – everyone watches it) they cancel the show after one year, and then start with a new show entirely. I think this is a great idea.

The wedding itself was amazing. Fernanda had about 60 bridesmaids and groomsmen. There were three flower children, and the front tableau was my uncle, Fernanda’s mother and step-mother, and her father and step-father, as well as my mother and father (my aunt had died, and so my cousin wanted her sister – my mom – to stand in for her). I was paired up with my cousin’s cousin, so we were both smiling clueless Americans. My brother got paired up with this gorgeous Brazilian girl, who, as we were walking down the aisle, started shaking like a leaf. Later, we asked her why. She was explaining that most of the celebrities in Brazil were in the audience. It would be the equivalent of walking down an aisle and seeing the cast of Oceans’ Eleven on one side and the cast of Charlie Wilson’s War on the other. (and yes, I know Julia Roberts is in both, I assumed she’d be cut in half and portioned appropriately.) The wedding ended up getting written up in the Brazilian version of People magazine. My mom was in People magazine. I want to see how that ties in to Jury Duty.

That was the best part of the wedding. Nobody cared who anyone else was, we just all danced and laughed and had a great time. The reception was held in the Natural History Museum. It was more like a rave. There was booze and food and techno music. They busted out glowing sunglasses and glowsticks, and flashing rings and necklaces, and those LED whisk looking things. It ran until 5 AM. I spent most of the time drunk on caipirinha and Johnny Walker Blue and Red Bull. Fernanda told me I kept coming over to them and jumping up and down and asking when Carnival was. I was invited by six different people to come and stay with them. At one point, I blacked out for two hours. When I came to, I was kissing this statuesque beauty and still dancing. I was going to go home with her, when my cousin pulled me aside and said, “Noooo! Dude, I’m all for everyone having a good time, but that’s dangerous.” Turns out she lived in the most dangerous favelas. So there would have been me, in my tuxedo, wandering the streets of the Brazilian ghetto at 4 AM, trying to get a cab. Still, it might have been worth it.

We spent the rest of the week recuperating at their villa in the mountains. Yeah, it was a villa. It was insane. We watched Mozart and the Whale two years before it came out in theatres in their private screening lounge. I got regaled with epic tales of my drunken cavorting. They kept telling me I made friends with Jo Soares. And I’m like who? And they said Jo! He loves you! He wanted to take you home so you could marry his daughter! He keeps asking how you are. I said, “Tell Jo I’m great!”

Jo Soares, it turns out, is the Brazilian equivalent of David Letterman. He wanted to have me on his show. Later on, I found out that Jo apparently was up visiting with television executives up in New York, and he was telling them how he met their Brian Prisco. And they go, “Who?” And he says, “Brian Prisco! He is a screenwriter! He is very wonderful!” He was under the impression that I was a celebrity. So was I.

It was a magical time, and I am forever ruined from ever leaving the country, because it will never be as magical a time as that wedding with my family. But take three things away from this: 1) if someone breaks your heart, the best revenge is to marry a beautiful Brazilian princess. 2) never be afraid to try new experiences, unless they involve fast food restaurants and ghetto murders. And 3) always get drunk at weddings, it will make you a star.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Left My Soul There, Down By The Sea

We'd been in South Africa for a week, visiting my parents. We were scrabbling around a mountain path, a long, winding, twisting path that curled its way up and around. It was right by the ocean, wandering through air scented with salt and sand and seaweed and the earthy, thick smell of the mountains. It's a heady combination, especially for my sister and I, traveling far and long to be there; her from New York City, me from Boston. My parents, wind blowing through my mom's hair, wind... um... gently shifting my dad's graying afro, were smiling at the joy on our faces.

We came to a bridge. A long, steel-reinforced, wood-slatted, rope-railing bridge that swayed in the high wind. It connected the path we were on to another path on a smaller rock formation, and across an ocean inlet. I can't remember if we were on the Atlantic side or the Pacific side of Cape Town. The bridge was spectacular - my father rushed ahead so he could turn around and photograph us as we clambered across it. My mother, nervously smiling, gripped the railings with white knuckles, determined to enjoy herself.

My sister and I do not know fear when we are together. Separately, we have our weaknesses. Together, we don't understand fear. I think sometimes her own brazenness simply makes me stronger. We giggled and laughed and bumped and shoved each other as we stumbled along the bridge. My parents made it to the other side, and stopped, sitting on a rocky outcropping, taking drinks of water and watching our hijinks.

We paused, leaning against the high rope walls of the bridge, gazing out at the sea, breathing in the sweet, salty air. The smiles on our faces had never been bigger, the sights we saw never more beautiful. We were probably 25 feet above the water. Gulls aimlessly drifted above us. Smaller birds flitted beneath the lazily swaying bridge.

We looked down at the water. My sister smiled at me.

We looked over at my parents. I smiled at her.

We grabbed the railing, hauled ourselves up, and without a word, without a second thought, without a sideways glance... we leaped.

At the time, the fall felt like minutes. It was likely not even seconds. We smashed into the water, a frozen, salted blast that shocked my entire body. It hurt my ribs to breathe. My lungs could barely keep the breath in them as I sank beneath the choppy, frigid surface. I let myself sink as long as possible, then kicked once, twice, three times and exploded to the surface. I tread water desperately - the surf was much more intense than I'd thought. My sister crashed through, looking like a black-haired devil bursting through the broken glassy waters. She screamed in shock, joy, with raw energy. We clutched each other momentarily, and turned our faces to the sun, feeling that small trickle of heat.

My mother was in an absolute panic. My father was rolling his eyes.

They should have known better, should have suspected. My sister and I are of the sea. Some people like mountains, some people like sand, some people like forests. We live for the sea. We do not fear it, not its brutal chill, not its depths, not its currents. We were raised near it, and it's a part of us. We grinned, dancing on the edge of madness as our hearts pounded and muscles strained, as our cold-weakened legs kicking to keep us afloat, spitting out the briny water, eyes shining.

Finally, we swam in stuttering, muscle-burning strokes towards the rocky shore. We pulled ourselves up, teeth chattering, bodies clenched in shivers, cramping, feeling absolutely, gloriously happy. My mother fussed and slapped me on the arm, trying to look stern and failing. My father, as is his way, took a picture.

That evening, we gathered at one of my aunts' house, regaling our local cousins with our foolish tale of craziness. They laughed along with us, giving each other "what can you do? They've always been crazy" looks, slapping us on the back and tipping back bottles of Castle Lager. One of them asked us, "Where were you again?"

We told her.

The air in the room got thicker, and the bemused looks turned to looks of surprise, shock, fear, anxiousness. My cousins stared at us, bodies immobile, silent.

"What?!" I asked.

Nothing.

"You guys! WHAT?!" My sister demanded.

Another cousin finally replied.

"They... you... that's..."

He started over.

"Jesus, you two. They go shark-cage diving there. You know, with tourists and marine biologists and stuff. They choose it because there are so many sharks around."

*Gulp*


We do not know fear.

We are of the sea.