Something is happening, and you
Don't know what it i-i-is,
Do you, Mr. Jones?
This old Bob Dylan song, dating from sometime in the sixties, is one I haven't thought of for lo, these many years. I don't recall it getting all that much play or attention even when it first appeared, but, at least in retrospect, it could well be considered a sort of counter-cultural anthem, the expression of a distinctive conflict between generations. While nothing is said explicitly about Mr. Jones's age or stage of life, as an embodiment of the archetypal square he is clearly middle-aged, like the parents of the young and hip whose words and actions so mystify him. And for myself at the time (and since), a key question was: Where exactly did I stand in relation to this generational conflict? And the truthful answer: somewhere in the middle. In spirit I could say, or at least tell myself, I was on the side of the hip young, sharing in their amused scorn for someone so clueless, so irredeemably lacking in awareness. In terms of how I actually lived, however -- working at a 9-to-5 job in an office cubicle for one or another publishing firm, living alone in a small studio apartment, spending many weekends visiting my father in the arch-middle-class suburbia of northern New Jersey, and, perhaps most unhiply, suffering from social awkwardness and sexual inhibitions -- I was forced to concede that I had far more in common with Mr. Jones.
A small incident: I was returning to the City after one of my periodic weekends in
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Something is happening, and you
Once again, I wake from the nightmare of being trapped in a vortex of water emptying down a black hole - I strain away but cannot escape. I want so much to be back under the sheltering tree, to see again the stars and feel the breeze on my face ... and that dream has gone.
Mother has brought me to the entrance to the schoolyard, framed on three sides by the red brick school and on the fourth side by a long concrete lean-to shed. It is cold, austere. Next to me a boy stands crying, clinging to his mother. I cross the empty yard alone and enter the school for the first time.
I know none of the other boys. My friends go to a different school. These boys speak with a different accent. We must sit still at our desks, all day. At our break we march in columns in the courtyard as teacher shouts “left, right; left, right” in Irish. I ask teacher questions, he is angry, saying: “You do not ask questions, I ask - you answer.”
Teacher has a strap made of stitched layers of leather. The first time teacher uses his leather he takes the small hand in his and unrolls the boys’ fingers with his thumb. The boys’ eyes are wide and watery. Teacher slaps the opened palm. Above teacher, high on the front classroom wall stands the Virgin Mary in a glass case. She looks serenely out over the class. Under her heel, the Virgin crushes the neck of a snake; the jaws of the snake are open, its fangs are white, its mouth bright red. The Virgin is oblivious to the pain of the snake she is crushing.
We chant our times tables. Teacher writes on his blackboard, and every now and again he silently swirls around flinging the chalk stick into the class of fifty boys. He says we must pay attention. Tiring of the chalk he flings the duster until a boy’s forehead is cut open on the wooden block, blood runs down the boys face from above his eye.
Long days, hypnotic with stultification, broken by the sing-song of other classes reciting alphabets and tables, and the echoing lashes down the long corridors as an infuriated teacher works his leather on an open hand. I count the lashes, six, twelve, on each hand.
I ask mother “Can I go to the school my friends go to, I don’t like this school.” Her response, when I ask again is no, adding that father also went to a Christian Brother’s school and I am to stay there, that it is a good school. Months pass. One day teacher calls me to the head of the classroom saying he has a task for me to do. He chooses me out of all the other boys in the class. I am excited and fearful. Teacher says it is a very important task.
He tells me to go to another classroom and ask for the round square for drawing triangles, saying to be sure to remember the correct order of the words. The words are meaningless and difficult to remember.
In the long corridor there are tall doors to one side, high windows on the other. I knock on the classroom door. A teacher opens the door and listens to my request. The boys in his classroom are older. He tells me to come in and to say out loud what I have come for. I ask for the round square for triangles.
A few of the boys giggle, others laugh. I don’t know why they laugh? He tells me to say out louder what I have come for. More boys laugh. The teacher shakes his head and says he does not have it, that I should go back to my class.
I return empty handed. Teacher tells me to go to another class and ask again. In one of the classes I hear the word ‘fool’. And so it went, class by class, not all the classes in the school but many.
Walking alone in the long corridors I feel hopeless. I am not special, I am a failure. At one point teacher has me repeat what I am asking for and boys in my class laugh, something has changed, something about me must be wrong.
Finally, teacher dismisses me, sends me back to my seat. Nothing further is said about the instrument, and he does not ask another boy to get it. I have failed. Each day I wait, expecting teacher to ask another boy to go for the important instrument. I wait for three weeks as resistance settles in me. I speak of my failure to no one, not at school, not to mother or father. I must hide that I am a fool.
Teacher marches us in the concrete schoolyard, shouting “left, right.” To his ‘left’ I step to the right. I fear and hate him. I give him nothing, I stop doing homework; I roll my eyeballs at him in contempt. And then the lashes begin, red-faced and angry. As the thick strap hits the open palm the shock ricochets within. I do not give him tears, I show him nothing of the pain. Afterwards both hands are numb, then a throbbing pain begins and slowly moves out.
The days pass with my barest compliance so as to avoid being sent to the reform school. Teacher tells us of reform school, where the disobedient and the truant are sent. I daydream that the headmaster announces that we have five minutes to destroy the school. Over and over I imagine myself smashing the windows and in my fantasy I smash the most, I have a plan.
Nine years later the annual school report suggests I be removed from the school, that I will not pass the intermediate exam.
More than four decades later sitting with mother, I finally tell her what happened that day and that, with hindsight, I assume it was April 1st., when I was six. Mother, once again, tells of how she nearly lost a finger when she was a child and that in those days there was privation and pain, real pain.
Another day I tell father the story. He knew nothing of it, he is saddened and says: “That was cruel!”
The subway. A group of friends. Front of the first car, behind the cab where the engineer sits. I’m carrying sheaves of papers. I lay them on the floor and sing to a little boy who stands among us—something sweet and instructive like “Tommy Lad” or “Danny Boy”. Not my son, but the son of a friend. When I leave, passengers clap, and I collect my papers from the floor, but incoming passengers flood the car as the door opens, treading on my sheaves of papers. They know nothing of me.
I totter to the bathroom trying to focus and clear my eyes of sleep. After reading, I return to our darkened bed and strive to drift again toward trance and dream and the unpleasantness of sleep. I wonder whether I’ll lie awake as sometimes I do thinking of
I reach into space and touch Dee, who stirs after a moment. We closed our eyes at bedtime touching each other. After a few minutes, I felt her withdraw her hand and turn. Later, I woke. Last night’s “Bachelorette” episode comes to mind, and my still near-dreaming thoughts are about love. I remember from the Bachelorette episode an enamored, infatuated look that this bachelorette gave somber Wes, who sang country songs to her, accompanying himself with a guitar—but we viewers suspect him to be a quiet and reserved bad boy, a type to which she’s said she’s vulnerable. We suspect there’s something that he’s not telling her. I touch Dee and take her hand, and a wave of utter grief and sorrow, shame and guilt sweeps over and through me for all the dreams and loves that I have lost, stopped pursuing, or failed to win—from an engineering degree to the women I’ve courted. No one shared the dreams. They flower alone. Thought returns of one great culminated passion—my eight-year marriage with
“More powerful than a Google search, friendlier than a wiki, and the best natural language processor on the market.” This is how Erica Olsen, the founder of Librarian Avengers, has characterized librarians. The words cross my mind. Another day calls this librarian avenger to move mountains and accomplish the impossible, which with interruptions takes a little longer than immediately. Grim smile at this humor that has flickered through myself. A hook, upon which to hang grit, with which to climb from bed.
I am standing, late at night again, under fluorescent light on the subway platform at
I acknowledge what I have and don’t of muscles and attraction; and the thought comes that I am to love faithfully regardless. I embrace the thought, committing determinedly to it; and for doing so I feel calmer and more present to these lights, this platform, this moment. I pray silently.
Friday, October 30, 2009
There was no knowing how long Fran would live after she renounced the chemo and radiation. The pain grew bolder and she fed herself her own meds. Fiercely independent, she maintained control for as long as she could. Hospice grew tired of her calling them. She was afraid of being alone, I’m sure. She knew I’d come whenever she wanted me to, but she would send me away too – wanting me to go back to the city. She’d be okay.
“Let me know,” I’d tell her. “You know I’ll come.” I used up all my sick time and personal days from work and I was hoping to hang on to my vacation days. But, I had those for her as well if she wanted and needed me to come out to her.
I guess I’ll always feel I could have done more, I should have gone out there to be with her, but I needed my job too.
Because she wasn’t a close enough relative I couldn’t take a leave of absence to be with her. But, I would have stayed anyway if she needed me to. She didn’t want me. She kept saying, she was saving me for later.
But, the weekends were ours. I grew to looking forward to spending time with Fran. She was easy to be with. She probably held back on her meds so that she’d be alert enough for us to go riding. She had to give up her driving – a really big deal, but she did it. She was brave and so dear. I drove her van. We went to the shore – the sound, the bay, and on good days and when Jim was free to come, we went to the South Fork to see the ocean.
I tweaked her big toe. “I’ll see you soon, Baby Doll,” were my last words to her when Jim and I left the hospital on Sunday. I spoke with her briefly on Monday. “I love you very much,” I told her on Monday afternoon. “Who said that?” She responded on the other end of the line. “DeAnn,” I said. “Tell her I love her very much too.” “I will,” I said. She was confused from all the morphine, I knew.
On Tuesday morning I called her. “I can’t talk right now,” she said. “I’ll call later, Sweetie,” I said. When I called she was asleep.
On Wednesday, I waited and called the nurses’ station when I knew they would have checked in on her. “She’s resting comfortably.” “Thank you,” I said.
At 11:20 A.M., Dr. Emanuele called, “Fran went to heaven at 11 this morning.”
Monday, October 26, 2009
I was four, almost five, too young to start school in
Mam-ma worked at Billy Richardson’s Hardware Store on
St. David’s sits on a high hill up the street from the Driscoll Hotel. As you drive up to the church, there is the feeling of approaching an ancient fortress. A long flight of stone steps lead up to a landing. Turn to the left and heavy doors open onto a small vestibule clothed in dark wood paneling. Through another set of doors lies the church’s dark interior with bits of sunlight pushing its way through the stained glass windows. It was here I was to be deposited for the year, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 12:30.
The weekday routine began with Mam-ma up and cooking breakfast; Bah and I dressing. Artie, the handyman who worked and drove the car for us, would arrive, have breakfast out on the back steps. After breakfast, there was a rush to get teeth brushed, hair neatened. Then we piled into the car, Artie behind the wheel with me seated beside him, Mam-ma and Bah in the back seat. Artie would start the car, slowly back out onto the gravel road. We travelled along Bridle Path, turned right on
Artie would slowly guide me to the kindergarten class promising to be waiting for me after class. And so went a year of my life.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The men would often stay up ‘till all hours playing poker or reminiscing, and the sound of their laughter, and wafts of snack food and smoke would drift upwards through the wrought iron grates between floors to the bedrooms, where some of us cousins were stacked up, sharing the crickety carved wooden beds that graced the old bedrooms which overlooked the back and front yards and farm.
My mother, grandmother and aunts could be heard gossiping and laughing as they washed and dried the dishes, or prepared food for the next day, or for “grownups only” at night.
We told stories and the older cousins (myself and Nelson mostly) hatched plans to ambush the younger kids in our “haunted barn”, or made a mental map of explorations we wanted to make in the mud flats or woods behind the chicken coop or up from the bay.
If by chance I managed to stay awake past the noise and into the quieter time when everyone had gone to bed, I used to love listening to the whippoorwills, and peeking out at the moonlit yard and field, where once in awhile, a tentative deer poked its way through the long grass . If I went to the bathroom, I was careful to walk along the long floorboards so as to avoid the creaks and groans of the old house and quickly, in case there were ghosts.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I don't even really remember the details of what it was about because, I think, in the long run it wasn't about details; The details were just little triggers, the tiny sparks that run along the soul before a firestorm breaks out. The van was perfect, silent until the key brought it alive, a moving container, literally a vehicle of escape.
Was it 2:00 AM, later than that? I don't remember that either. I remember a sharp, clear night with a great moon. I remember pulling out of the driveway carefully, hearing the gravel move under the tires, experiencing the sound as the background music to escape, the way sound effects on radio shows or in the movies foretell movement, change,
The moon lit my way although I did have my headlights on. I held the steering wheel carefully, so aware of how on edge I was, how little I was feeling the pull of wanting to be awake tomorrow. The sihouettes of great trees and low farms, both frightened and comforted me. Nothing was as I had known it in daylight or even on rides home from an evening event. This night of moonlight and no cars, of silence except for a brief wind, was new to me and yet part of timelessness.
The van was a stranger to the earth's history. It and I were just passing through, both of no long range consequence to the earth around us. A possom crossed the road in my headlights, giving me what I felt was an appropriately cross look. Then another, head down, scurried by. I was going slowly. I didn't want to hurt anything else that was alive.
I approached a bridge across a river that in the summer had been all current and rage. I sought its movement across jagged rocks, listening for the crash of water and barrier meeting. The river murmured. It didn't have the water for rage anymore than I had tears for my pain.
On the bridge I turned off the engine, cut my car lights. In the near distance something moved from the side of the road. I put my arms over the steering wheel, hugging its roundness, wanting arms around me. It was quiet, so quiet.
And then I saw her. She stepped out of the forest so quietly, so free and then stopped, alert, listening. Perhaps she smelled the warm motor of the van? She sensed something and turned toward me. Then slowly, keeping watch on the van, she moved a few more feet across the road, a few feet closer to me, and then she stopped entirely, her eyes curious, wary, but not afraid.
I rolled my window down slowly. I willed her to know that she was safe, that I would watch the road for her. She just stayed still and we looked at one another and as my eyes got better used to the moonlight I could make out her colors, sense the ripples of alterness on her flesh. Perhaps she could really see me. sense all of me, this doe walking alone in the night.
Softly I asked her to stay, to stay with me, to listen to me. "I am so alone", I told her. "I am so angry. I don't know if I can love." And the tears began to come.
Friday, September 4, 2009
“Your eyes were as big as saucers,” Ma said years later. Or maybe she said it a few days later. She wasn’t in the room. She was just there when I went ---and when I came out.
Daddy’s eyes were as big as saucers. Black saucers lost in space. I was lost in his saucer eyes as he lay there on the bed. He was propped up.
I think he spoke to me. He must have spoken to me. He wanted to see me. So he must have wanted to talk to me. He did talk to me. (Didn’t he?) For a minute or an hour or forever.
We didn’t talk that much, Daddy and I. When he came back from the war we did. We actually sang more than we talked. We sang in the car. “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah. I’ve got six pence. Rolling home. Rolling home. Rolling home.”
We sang in the car together. Daddy and me. Only Daddy and me. Rolling home. Seems like that was all we did. Did we do it once? Twice? A hundred times?
I never saw enough of my Daddy. He was busy being Dr. Bluestone in the small town where he was a counselor, a healer, a member of the Board of Education. We lived in a house on Crompound Road that had the office in front. I hated that he spent so much time with other people. But when he was around I hated that Ma spent so much time with him.
“Are you Dr. Bluestone’s son?” A curly headed girl who was six, like me, walked right up to me at lunch and asked me that. She seemed so grown up. Her name was Marlene and she became my best friend. A year or so later, we played doctor together. Of course I was the doctor. Who else? And I performed a very thorough examination.
Daddy tried to be upset when he heard that I had played doctor with Marlene. But he must have been proud that I played doctor with Marlene. After all he and my first mom had given me the initials M.D for Martin Donald. They were both doctors and here I was playing doctor. When he tried to tell me that I shouldn’t do it, I couldn’t quite believe that he really meant it. And that was strange. He always meant what he said.
The room where Daddy lay. My aunt Charlotte told me decades later that I would read aloud to Daddy. I would read from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I don’t remember that either. She said I would read that to him for hours or minutes and that he would fall asleep to me reading him Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
“Are you asleep Daddy?”
And I would tiptoe out of the room. I think I would tiptoe out of the room.
“Are you asleep?”
Marlene and I spent lots of time together. We were always together and always talking. When we were seven we went out to Hanover Road and hitchhiked. We wanted to see what it would be like to stick our thumbs out and have a car stop for us. That would be like magic. A car for a thumb.
A car did stop. And I followed Marlene’s flouncing butt racing into the bushes. That was scary. A car really did stop.
I don’t know when Marlene moved. She just moved away with her family. And left a hole in my life that I looked away from. I had other friends—Guy, Steven, Alan. But Marlene was Marlene.
Daddy’s eyes were giant black holes. Was he scared? Was my Daddy scared? I was scared. That’s what I remember. He was lying there next to the ugly bronze bell with the claw feet that he used to ring when he needed Ma. I hated that bell. But I hated his groans even more.
He lay there looking at me. I know that. He was looking at me and only me. I was looking at him. I do remember that I would agree to anything that he said. Anything. Couldn’t we sing? Couldn’t we ? Couldn’t I leave? When could I leave? Would I ever be able to leave.
For a moment I felt like I was as much a prisoner in that room as he was. I was standing. He was lying. But I felt that I couldn’t move ever again. Not now. Not ever.
What did he say? Did he say anything? Of course he said something. He said a lot. He told me he loved me. He told me that he always loved me. He told me to be a good boy and help Ma. He told me to do as well as I could do at anything that I did. And that I could do anything that I wanted to do. Didn’t he say that? Didn’t he?
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” He used to say that a lot. I hated that until I found that I believed it. He also said, “Too much of anything isn’t good for you.” Even at eight I thought that was redundant. I mean too much means not good, right?
But can you have too much love? Can you have too much joy?
Marlene and I would talk about life and death. Especially after Georgianne Banke’s mother died. Marlene had brought me the news with great excitement in the woods.
Georgianne Banke’s mother was crazy. She had accused me of putting Georgianne’s pigtails in an inkwell full of ink. It’s not that I couldn’t have done that if there was ink those ancient inkwells. But there hadn’t been ink in those inkwells forever and I didn’t do it anyway. She was crazy. And she was dead.
I ran home to tell Ma and Daddy the exciting news. It was dinner time. I do remember that Daddy didn’t yell at me for slamming the door. He didn’t yell at me for being late to dinner. He didn’t yell at me for yelling. He didn’t yell at me at all. He just stood up quietly and left the room. Ma told me that Georgianne Banke’s mother had been one of Daddy’s patients. I hated Daddy then for not being able to stop death. And for not yelling, like he always did. He was a doctor wasn’t he?
In his room while Daddy talked to me or didn’t talk to me I held a Roget’s Thesaurus that he had by his bed stand. It was one of the first paperbacks with cellophane over the thick paper cover. I held the thesaurus. I asked Daddy when I left whether I could have the thesaurus. He said I could. Yes he did say that. He did say that. I had peeled off all of the cellophane before I left the room. And I kept that book of words next to me all summer. I even brought it down to the lake and to sleep.
I stood at the foot of his bed. I don’t know whether I came closer to him. I was so scared. Did he give me a hug? Did he ever give me a hug?
Once he lay down next to me as I was going to sleep. That was really unusual since he was always so busy and Ma always put me to sleep. He lay down and I don’t care what he said. He was lying next to me. And he gave me a kiss good night and his beard stubble was like sandpaper on my cheek.
I stood in my Daddy’s room. I stood there for a minute or an hour or forever. And I have never remembered a word that either of us said.
It was the last time that I would see my father. . I was going to camp. He died two days before I came home. I would be away for two months and then would come home to a house without Daddy. We lived in that house for another year. I don’t remember ever going into that room again.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I promised myself to keep away from this topic, but I constantly lie to myself, it’s easy, like Little Feat sang in Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, “Momma said keep away.”
Going home from
June 1968, the Tet Offensive was in my rear view mirror, the “post mortar attack confession” to the Chaplain was now becoming a “story.” I decided, somewhere flying over the international dateline that I got 30 days at my disposal before returning to Battery B, 71st Air Defense Artillery, the jewel of the 97th Artillery Group attached to the Americal Division, aka the 23rd Infantry Division from the people who brought you the “Mi Lai Massacre” but don’t fuckin’ blame me. Bobby was in
So the genius decides to visit Joyce Altman in
The orange-colored Braniff Freedom Bird lands in
Heckle, heckle, little scumbag baby killer, how many kids you kill yesterday, GI? Yikes! We gotta get outta this place if it’s the last thing I ever do. It’s 12 o’clock and it’s time for lunch so into the men’s room I creep. Thankfully, I had my civies from R&R in my sand-stained duffel bag. Off with the military khakis. On with the paisley cotton button-down and khaki chino slacks. Only the military black shoes could be a giveaway, but it was a chance I needed to take.
I stuffed my duffel into one of those airport lockers, 25 cents I think, bought a pack of Tareytown filters and one pack of Camels, just in case. I needed to look cool for Choice Joyce. Oh, did I mention she sent me a Dear John in March of ’68? Like just after the fuckin’ Tet? Yes, she did. Said she was with child and would I please send her some money to help bring little what’s-his-name into a better life. Later, after much beer, Doyle explained to me that if I sent her money that I was the asshole of the decade. Greeno seconded it, and Monk explained that “you white ofay motherfuckers aint got no soul.”
So I wrote back that I aint sending her no money. A week or so later THE NON-SCENTED, NO S.W.A.K. ENVELOPE ARRIVES.
Back to the cab ride to
Knock, knock. Who’s there?
“She’s at work. Be home about 6,” she says.
“Oh,” is my reply. “Did she have the baby?” I ask.
“Uh, like, where is the baby?”
“Well, Joyce gave him up for adoption to the convent down the street.” (In
“Can you please take me to the convent?”
“Of course, Bobby. Joyce told me all about you.”
UMMM? What could that devil woman from hell have told her baby sister that might even remotely have a friggin’ amoeba-length of truth about me? UMMM?
What a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed little Norwegian looking bambino he was. I did the math. June 1967. June 1968. No way, José. Not mine. But……………
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
My first conscious feelings of terror, doom, and the apocalypse came from watching SCUD missiles and fighter jets fly through the air on our push button Trinitron T.V. I knew that there was a war going on but it wasn’t until I saw the images of the Gulf war that I understood what war might be.
That night I lay in my bed wondering when the bombs would start falling and seriously considered my death and the end of everything I knew. I was ten.
Ten years later. My cousins entered the Army to pay for college. I was slightly jealous, or perhaps nervous that the family would see them as men, doing men things, doing their duty, while I, only half-Puerto Rican, went to college and did soft, unmanly things.
My cousins, twins, my age, finished school and were shipped off to Korea and Iraq. I finished college and moved to Oregon to work in public service. Family reunions were yellow-ribbonned affairs with lonely fiancés talking about the future plans for their soldiers. News of the twins traveled around the room. They continued their tours and I continued living my life.
Frequent e-mails from my aunts about how to support the troops conflicted with my feelings that they shouldn’t be there. One of them came home from Korea. The other was wounded in
My family seemed to glorify his experience as a triumph and a sign of the right thing to do. But months later as his brain broke down, pondering the meaning of jumping into cesspools and following orders that lead to the death of his friends, I could see that his journey was no glory to him. His wife asked if I could talk to my ex-girlfriend’s father, a congressman, about getting him help for PTSD.
My family struggled with their own misunderstanding of what had happened. The war did not seem to make him into the theoretical man that emerges from battle. Hollywood was wrong. The actual man went through life wondering about its meaning, and wishing war had never come.
Separately, he and his brother called me to say they wished they had parts of my life, mostly the part where they didn’t go into the Army. We talked about living on one’s own and what freedom was like. They wanted my advice on how to figure out their new lives as civilians. We were 26, but they had just got out of college.
That morning I actually wanted to clean the house, which happens very rarely. I forget what I had in my hand when he called, I just remember I didn’t want to put it down. But the inner voice said very firmly, “Sit down and enjoy this call,” so I did.
He could talk endlessly about himself, his memories. That morning he was entertaining. He told me a story I had never heard, that his father, who worked in the jewelry business, used to go to nudist colonies. His mother never went along. One time, when he was still a boy, his father took him to one. He said it was remarkably asexual. People were doing the ordinary things they would do on vacation, they just did them without wearing clothes.
He talked about his family, as he often did, occasionally veering off to talk about
We both agreed he’d made a great recovery. He sounded so strong, so full of life that morning. “You sound like you’ll be around for years to come,” I told him, and he told me, as he often did, how his mother lived far into her nineties, and his uncle even older. His father died relatively young. He told me about his father’s passing, but I don’t remember it now.
At some point I looked at the clock and saw two hours had passed; it was getting close to the time I had a class to teach, for seniors, actually. I told him, and he raised his voice to a false, strident pitch, saying, “Okay, goodbye then—as usual you haven’t let me get in a word edgewise,” and we both laughed at his acknowledgement of his tendency to go on. Then he said “Goodbye, dear,” and hung up, a more abrupt ending to our conversation than I would have liked, though it gave me a few extra minutes to get dressed to go out.
The next morning a mutual friend called me to say he had passed away the night before. His lungs had filled with fluid again. His partner heard him coughing and called 911, but by the time they came he was unconscious, probably dead already, though they took him to the hospital.
To say nobody saw it coming is an understatement, even though he was in his eighties and had had those two previous incidents. I found out later that in the month or two since the last one, he had phoned almost everyone he knew, his large, multi-generational family, his large circle of friends, and talked to each at length. In retrospect, it seems like even though on a conscious level he felt like he had many years to go, on a deeper level he must have known his life was ending. I was moved and honored that I was one of the last people he’d spoken to, that we spoke on the very last day of his life.
So many people I’ve known have died in these last ten years or so, people younger than me, people older, and it’s always awesome when that last page is written, the story of that particular person concluded. But his passing was a shock—he was so alive and so filled with the joy of it, it seemed like he would live forever.
Monday, May 4, 2009
In my 58th year – and, in my apparent never-ending quest for that elusive “LOVE” to rock my world – I recently joined yet another online dating site. This one is called Plenty of Fish – and yes, there truly are.
In the first few days after uploading my photo and 200 words encapsulating my best character and personality traits, likes, dislikes, life story line, ideal man of my dreams, perfect first date, favorite movies, foods and reality shows – I received quite a few emails from other fish floating around in these stale and murky waters. Two or three of them seemed almost promising – at least, enough so for me to consider giving one my phone # (he lives in Rochester, so a phone chat or two would be required to inspire -- or not -- a desire to move forward), and making a loose-ended agreement with another to work out details to try to meet soon (he lives in Hudson NY). A third fish – a musician from the Rhinebeck area, was also on my growing ‘maybe’ list.
And, then…I got an email from Rick. His profile didn’t say a whole lot about him, just something about his proudest moment being the time he did some kind of small environmental clean-up project in
“You’re pretty” were his first words.
“Well, you’re really cute. You kinda’ look like Marlon Brando in his thin period. But, ya’ know, you’re dangerous for me…I have a weakness for good-looking guys,” I told him, flashing back on that near-decade of my life -- in my forties -- a period I’m still struggling to understand ten years later -- of my out-of-control psycho-sexual obsessional attachment to the dashing, elusive, some-might-say emotionally sadistic Englishman, David.
“Oh, really, do I make you weak?” he grinned.
“Yes, you do.”
We sat down with our coffees on 2 brown leather chairs and he gave me the 5-minute version of his life story and I did the same. I divulged my real age to him -- as opposed to my online age. Acknowledging our 10-year age difference, he says, “You’re a little older than me, but I like you.”
“I like you too…will you be my boy toy?”
He’s from this area originally, but has been living for several years in a small, rustic cabin in
“Hold your hand while you’re driving!?” I said.
“I’m a very safe driver.”
He told me that he had scheduled another appointment to help out a friend in New Paltz, so he couldn’t stay long at the coffee shop with me, but he’d like to see me again and will call tomorrow. I gave him my card and he gave me his: it was a 4x6” flyer-of-sorts, with his name, cell phone and Vermont land line numbers, that indicated he was a responsible, motivated individual seeking a house-sitting or caretaker situation in the Woodstock area.
The next day was Friday, and Rick called as he said he would. He told me he was thinking of taking a Tai Chi class with some friends from
On Saturday, Rick called in the early afternoon. He asked what I was doing. “Not much….just got home from my writing class.”
“Can I come over…see your place and meet your dogs?”
“Well, I guess so.”
“What should I bring?...need milk or something?”
He parked near my red barn and peaked inside. For a few minutes, he took in the steep rock outcroppings bordering one side of my property and then the deeply recessed gully bordering the other side. I gave him the requisite tour of the small 1800s house I had restored a few years ago. He loves old houses, too. He admired the old wooden ceiling beams running throughout the first floor. He liked my kitchen table made of 3 long pine planks, and told me he’s made several similar tables, even sold one or two. Hmmm…I’ve also liked a man with carpentry skills.
We sat on my couch. I asked if I could read him one my essays from writing class. He said he’d like to hear it. I read. He was an attentive audience. Later, he was still on the couch. “Come over here. Give me a kiss.”
“No, not today. Don’t be a bad boy. Don’t tempt me to be a bad girl. Behave yourself.” But, of course, he didn’t. And, alas, neither did
We returned to the dining room/kitchen area. I show him the mock-up of the book I’m planning to write, focused largely around the Englishman. It’s tentatively called, “A Recipe for Obsession.” He noticed I had a carton of Cocoa Crispies on my fridge – you know the one with Fred Flintstone on the box. He said he loved those; I prepared a bowl for him that he devoured with the gusto of a trucker enjoying his Lumberjack breakfast special at Ihop after a 16-hour haul. Then he engaged my dogs in the best play date they’ve had since – well, probably ever. Rufus, the sweet Golden Retriever whose only demand in life is that you pet his head and never stop – was almost satiated with head pets. And Rick gave Otis, the funny little pugnacious pug, the lengthiest deep tissue all-body doggie massage he’s ever had, and surely ever will. Yes, Rick transported these guys directly to canine heaven.
Before he left my home late Saturday afternoon, Rick announced that he’d like to move into my barn. “ My barn?!? I know you like to live close to nature — on your boat, in your rustic
As I -- along with my dogs -- was by now completely smitten with this near-stranger who wanted to move onto my property, into my energy field, into my lonely life -- the part of me that was not incredulous was, well -- simply, elated.
On Sunday, Rick called and told me he’s going to build me a wood shed, using the wood planks I had stored in the barn. I had told him I had intended to have a shed built last year, but aborted the project. As he talked about pine boards, my hormones were raging like a teenage boy’s. I was now in a state of perpetual excitement, flying high.
It’s Monday. He calls. “Hi cutie” …the dogs really miss you. Me, too…shit, dammmmn,” I say.
“Ha,Ha” says he… “Isn’t that a good thing?”
“I dunno,” I say. “I’m in danger,” I think. He tells me he’s going to
“Hi, cutie pie,” he says, when he calls on Tuesday. It’s just after a power surge has corrupted my Vonage router and my internet service, which means that that I’ll be spending the better part of the day speaking with a tech support person from my cell phone. Ya’ know…the modern-day version of hell on earth.
He tells me that his trip to see the accountant in
He calls Wednesday early evening to tell me that he made the trip today to
“Okay,” he agrees, and adds, “Tomorrow night.”
“Garden Café,” I suggest…“6:30.”
“Okay, get dolled up…me, too,” he says.
We don’t speak on the phone anytime Thursday. Neither of us calls to confirm. I wonder if he’s going to show up. He does.
We order dinner and wait for its arrival. He’s had a headache all day and has been feeling ‘frazzled.’ I give him an aspirin from my purse. He opens the manila envelope he had placed on the table and shows me its contents – photos of the wood shed in
And then -- I ask him the question – “Will…we…be...lovers -- ?”
His demeanor changes… dramatically. “Don’t make me feel boxed in. I don’t want to feel possessed.” And, then, he says...“I want to go.”
We ask the waitress to wrap up the dinners to go. She does. We leave. In the street, he’s silent, begins to drift away…”That’s it?! You don’t want to talk about this?” He stops, we talk. “You know, pretty boy, you don’t go onto a dating site to do a real estate transaction.”
“I’d be paying you some rent, and building the shed…and you couldn’t handle making love with me, anyway.” I know that last part is true, of course.
I knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t, really let this happen — open the floodgates and allow those feelings to spurt and clench me tight in their tentacles again… couldn’t allow that bottomless need and overpowering hunger to surface again, overtake my life – render me unfocused, incompetent, incapable of controlling my thoughts and my emotions –because all of these thoughts and emotions would be fixated on him...compulsively, frenetically. I have too much at stake -- my work that sustains me financially and mentally would be on the line; in dire jeopardy. I’m not a teenager now who can cast her fate to the wind.
I knew it was irrational, unhealthy, made no sense; I was being played by the male equivalent of Blanche DuBois, who went through life “always depending upon the kindness of strangers.” I guess I was being used by an emotional con man not lacking in charm – they never are. But, that’s his issue.
Me – I’ll be attending my first Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting with the other powerless love junkies any day now.