Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

In Which We Have A Little Faith...


Oh, lucky readers, sometimes I think you don't know what a good friend I am to you.

After yesterday's disastrous revelation--that in the midst of our first big vacation together, I had somehow been bamboozled into dropping Her Lovely Self off with an old boyfriend (Popeye, the old boyfriend she still seemed to have feelings for) while I went to a wedding of some college friends--you had only to agonize (as I always like to assume you do) for a day about what would happen next.

I had to agonize for two weeks.

And the throes of that agony twisted me every whichaway. I wanted to blow off my friends' wedding and keep Her Lovely Self to myself. I wanted to forbid! (which I later amended to "ask" and then to "beg") her, tell her I wanted her to go anywhere else, do anything else. I even contemplated doing something sneaky--of which I am, sadly, all too capable--like sabotage my own car, or somehow pretend that it had broken down. Nothing permanent (or God forbid, expensive), just enough to put us a day behind schedule, forcing us to cut the whole Connecticut part of our trip out of the itinerary.

In the event, I did none of these things. I had decided to be patient, as I had with so many other of Her Lovely Self's boyfriends. Patience, I'd decided, was the path to trust and faith, things I sensed I would need if I was to have any future with the woman I loved. As I've mentioned, being patient was not a natural state for me. It was a decision, really, a hard one. In fact, I look back at my 23-year-old self with a kind of quiet, slightly head-shaking pride. The decision to be patient was probably one of the first truly adult decisions of my life (what am I saying? It was THE adult decision of my life.) And like so many adult decisions, while I sensed that this decision was the right way to proceed--or at least lay in the general direction of the right way--it made me a little miserable.

Although it must be said, I had a lot of help when it came to feeling miserable. This is because I made the mistake of telling everything to Greg and Bill, my good pals and true from my Chicago days. I called them after the events of yesterday's post and we convened almost immediately for an emergency session at our favorite bar. At first, they just couldn't grasp the stupidity of what I'd agreed to do. "So, in the middle of your first big mess-up-the-motel-sheets-in-nine-states getaway with your little honey, you're going to take a break from that and drop your girlfriend off. At this other boyfriend's place. For a whole day," Greg said, very slowly, to make sure he understood.

Alas, Bill knew me slightly better than Greg, and understood only too well the kind of awful predicaments I was capable of getting myself into. "Jesus!" he cried. "I thought you were smart. What the hell are you thinking?"

"Well, the whole thing snowballed on me," I whined. "She insisted I just drop her off at Popeye's and I couldn't think of a way to stop her. I mean, what am I gonna do, leave her at a rest area for a few hours while I go to the wedding?"

"It's an option," Greg said. "Anything's better than delivering her to his doorstep like the freakin' pizza man. You think he's gonna tip you? No. He's gonna bonk her."

"No, that's not what's going to happen!" I cried.

"Actually," Bill said. "It sounds like that's exactly what's going to happen."

"I bet Popeye's strong to the finish, too," Greg mused.

"Would you STOP? What are you, Satan?" I cried. "Are you two helping me? At all? You know HLS! She's a good person. I love her and I'm supposed to trust her and be patient and have faith in her. And you guys are supposed to be the angels of my better nature and remind me of that, not wind me up!"

Bill gave me a I-don't-understand-the-words-coming-out-of-your-mouth look. Greg just shrugged. "It's not our fault you're fixing your girlfriend up with her old boyfriend." Bill just nodded. I tell you, I never had friends before or after like the ones I had when I lived in Chicago. Thank God.

So now, here Her Lovely Self and I suddenly were. Two weeks later, Chicago just a faint skyline behind us, we were on our way east in my old Toyota, planning to stop somewhere in the middle of Ohio for the night. In the morning, the fateful morning in which we were planning to make it all the way to Connecticut, so I could be there in time for the wedding the next morning--and to do that other thing--I started the car and noticed a light come on that I had never seen come on in my car before, but it was red and looked dire.

I got excited for a moment--God had stretched out his finger and stilled my car at a crucial time! But no. Directly across from the motel--and I mean 20 feet from where I had parked--was a garage with a big Toyota sign hanging on it. The guy was opening for business as I coasted across the street and, wouldn't you know it, his morning schedule was open too. It turned out my alternator was shot. I couldn't afford a new one--not without spending a massive chunk of vacation money. Why, we'd probably have to just skip Connecticut and one or two other stop and just head on up to New Hampshire and stay in my parents' old trailer or something. Anything sounded better to me than what I was scheduled to do that day. But as I was broaching this scenario to Her Lovely Self, the mechanic came out from a storeroom holding what turned out to be a rebuilt alternator--the only one he had in stock--and it worked only on my precise year and model of car. Seventy-five dollars and 45 minutes later, we were back on the road.

"Wow, that was a lucky break," Her Lovely Self said, although she sounded a bit strange when she said it.

"Mmm," I said.

"I can't believe how well that worked out. I mean, I really thought we were going to miss--well, you know, really going to have to change our plans," she said, in that same voice.

"Hmm," I said.

The next 12 hours were 12 hours I could stand to have erased from my life. It was easily the longest time I've spent in a rolling metal capsule with someone I loved and not said anything. Or rather, said lots of things, lots of useless small talk ("Look at that." "Do you need to stop?" "Mmm." "Hmm."), but not address the great big elephant in the back seat. And the front seat. We stopped for the night just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts, almost within sight of the Connecticut state line. I had driven almost the whole way and I was utterly, physically and emotionally exhausted.

"Are you all right?" Her Lovely Self asked me when we were finally settled in. There was a tone in her voice that made me think she wanted to talk, and I meant to turn and talk to her. But instead I fell asleep. We didn't mess up any sheets that night. I had fevered dreams about Greg singing "Popeye the Sailor Man" and the mechanic from earlier in the day, coming out of his storeroom with something in his hands. The mechanic had horns on his head. And in lieu of an alternator, he was holding my beating heart.

In the morning, I threw on slacks, a jacket and tie. Although the wedding wasn't til after lunch, I wasn't really going to have a chance to change. We had a hasty and rather silent breakfast and then drove on into Connecticut, down through Hartford, on our way to Groton, where I would drop Her Lovely Self off before heading back to New London for the wedding.

As we got closer, I was feeling a kind of atmospheric pressure building up inside me. Whatever odd and unhelpful compulsion--the one that had kept me from saying anything to Her Lovely Self concerning the day we were about to spend apart--was finally wearing off. I started to say something, but literally as I opened my mouth, Her Lovely Self suddenly cut across me.

"We're going to be there in about 15 minutes," she said, staring at a map.

"Mmm," I said.

There was a pause of a lot longer than 15 minutes. Of about 15 years, I think. Then she said, a trifle hotly, "And you don't have anything to say to me?"

"Hmm?" I said. "I mean--"

I closed my mouth. I was frozen. Suddenly there were a hundred things I wanted to say. "Don't go! Come with me! Let's get out of Connecticut! Forget this wedding, let's have one of our own!"

I opened my mouth again and for one awful second, I thought my friend Greg's voice was going to come out of my mouth, shouting, "Don't bonk him!" or something. Instead, I sputtered. "What--I don't--" I took a breath. "What did you want me to do? Forbid you from seeing this guy, like some caveman? A caveman driving you to Connecticut?" I don't know why I added that.

Her Lovely Self gave me a Look. It was early in our relationship, so I didn't realize it was a Look, until she said, "What are you talking about?" Then I realized what that particular Look meant (she thinks you've lost your mind) and filed it away for future reference.

I was so busy storing this information that HLS forged ahead. "I don't know what you're--what do you mean 'forbid'--" she took a breath. "I was talking about this wedding thing you're going to."

I stared at her for so long, I almost drove off the bridge and into the water between New London and Groton. "What?" I asked, totally confused.

"You're just going to go to this wedding and not say anything or, I don't know, promise me you'll behave or whatever?" she asked, her voice rising.

Now I was ready to just turn the wheel and steer us straight off the bridge.

"What?" I asked. It was the only word I could muster.

Then she gave me another Look and I had no trouble figuring this one out. She was mad. "Look. I'm not stupid. This is a wedding where all your college friends are going to be there, right?"

I nodded dumbly, thinking Please God, bail my poor ass out of this. I have no fucking clue where this is going.

"So," she said. "So your old girlfriend's going to be there, right? The one you almost shacked up with?"

"Gretchen?" I asked, in utter astonishment. It honestly hadn't occurred to me to think about Gretchen. Hadn't thought about her in, literally, a year, probably two. But now that I did, I was worried. Because, yeah, Gretchen would almost certainly be there. And the last time I saw her, she was furious with me. I had, after all, just told her I wanted to see other people (specifically, other women). I broke her heart. It was not my finest hour--certainly not one you'll find on the blog, not in great detail, anyway. What was more, Gretchen was a brown belt in karate. She swore that if she ever saw me again, she'd kick my ass. Suddenly, I wanted to drop me off at a rest area, or ask if I could tag along with Her Lovely Self and Popeye.

Her Lovely Self, not quite used to reading my face either, mistook my look of shock as one of guilty shamefacedness. "I knew it!" she cried.

There was a sound in my head of gears grinding as my brain reversed course and tried to take this in. Are you kidding me? I thought. Is my life SUCH a sit-com that we've both just wasted hours and days--and a really nice motel bed last night--each worrying that one was stupidly letting the other go off to a tryst with an old flame? I tell you, some day--a very long time from now--I will be dead. And the first person I want to see when I cross over is not either of my parents, nor any of my dead friends or relatives. The first person I want to see is the guy who wrote my life while I was living in Chicago. And I'm going to make him explain WHY exactly he felt the need to put me through such unnecessary emotional calisthenics.

But meanwhile, I was continuing not to say anything and this was driving Her Lovely Self up the wall. "God, I'm so stupid! I wondered why you were so eager to dump me with [Popeye]--I mean, what boyfriend does that? But then I realized why!" I tell you, we were hitting a lot of firsts on this road trip. Aside from getting exposure to some new Looks, I was discovering that Her Lovely Self was just as capable of crazy as the craziest women I'd ever gone out with. She was working up a real head of steam. It got scary there for a few minutes, I'm here to tell you.

"Listen--" I began.

Her Lovely Self was studying her directions. "We have to go up Route 12. [Popeye's] apartment building is a few miles north," she announced, as if she hadn't heard me at all.

Knowing a little about whoever was writing my life at this point, I realized I had just a couple of minutes to pull this one out of the fire, otherwise, the big plot twist of this episode was going to be at my expense. The way things were going, Her Lovely Self would end up with Popeye just to spite me, not realizing that I was heading off to a meeting with an ex-girlfriend where the only physical contact I was likely to get would be a round kick that sent my teeth through the back of my head.

"Okay," I said. "First of all, nothing is going to happen with Gretchen, I can assure you. Yes, she will probably be there, no doubt with the guy she's currently 'shacked up with.' And I sincerely hope she doesn't see me, because if she does, there's a good chance she'll reach down my throat and turn me inside out, anus to esophagus." Unfortunately, that amused me, saying the end of that sentence. I often amuse myself like that--it's actually quite fatuous of me. Especially at this moment, because I let out the smallest laugh. It was bad.

"You always think everything's a joke," she muttered, and I realized I hadn't said the thing she needed to hear, which was that I had no interest in my former girlfriend and that even if she begged me, I'd just turn my head and politely but firmly decline all amorous overtures. I started to add this, but she interrupted me with terse instructions--"Turn here"--and I saw that we were at Popeye's apartment complex.

"Listen," I tried again. "It's just, I'm relieved," I lied. Actually, I was feeling dizzy and nauseous at the thought of what stupid ideas we'd been laboring under. I pulled us into a parking space that was far from the apartments, and then I just spilled my guts, told her everything I'd worried about the last two weeks, how hard it had been to resist the urge to say anything to keep her from doing something she might regret (well, anything that I might regret). How I was trying to be all grown-up and patient about these kinds of things.

Her Lovely Self seemed to be coming back from crazy, but not entirely. Finally, she said, "Why didn't you say any of this before? I don't know any man, [Popeye] included, who would just drop me off at the door of another man without being a little jealous. What were you thinking?"

"Honestly? You said it was something you wanted to do, instead of going to the wedding. I want to give you what you want," I said. "I want to let you do what you want to do. Even if it's something I'd just as soon not have you do. In this case, I figured I'd just have to trust you."

"Oh," Her Lovely Self said, looking kind of stunned herself.

"But if you'd rather," I added, "we could just make a little pact: I'm happy to promise not to bonk Gretchen at the wedding if you promise not to bonk Popeye."

She laughed at this. Evidently, "bonk" amused her in a way that "anus to esophagus" did not. "No," she said. "I liked your first answer better." And then she kissed me, which was fantastic for two reasons. One, just on general principle, because my girlfriend was such a great kisser (almost as good as my wife). And two, I suddenly understood that we were going to be fine, and in that moment all the agonizing I'd done the past two weeks seemed almost worth it just to get to this moment. I guess sometimes the guy who wrote my life back then actually knew what he was doing.

Also, I lied. The kiss was fantastic for a third reason: Her Lovely Self planted it on me just as a certain sailor man was peering in through the back window, scowling at me as though I'd just stolen his favorite can of spinach. Which I like to think I did.

And that was that.

I went on to my friends' wedding. And yes, Gretchen was there, but my digestive tract remained in its original configuration (it turned out she was actually not too mad at me anymore. But I still didn't bonk her.)

Her Lovely Self spent an uneventful, if sadly awkward day with her old flame. I guess he tried pretty hard to get her to dump me and stay with him. He made so many disparaging remarks about me that she quickly kicked the shim out from under the door she's had propped open in her heart for him all those years. She may have also made some comparisons about petty boys versus grown-up men, as well as a few remarks about the abiding virtue of trusting your woman and having a little faith, instead of resorting to jealousy and possessiveness. In short, Popeye pretty much hanged himself, ruining whatever chance he might have had with Her Lovely Self.

At least, that's what she told me when I picked her up late in the day and we continued our vacation back into Massachusetts and on northward to the next motel. After we got back, I told my friends Greg and Bill what happened. They just crowed at me, told me I was gullible and naïve.

But I knew what I knew. And what I didn't know--particularly where she was concerned--I was just going to have to trust, to take on faith.

That strategy has worked pretty well ever since.

At least, I think it has.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

 

In Which We Wonder Pointlessly About A Near-Miss...


So I had some time before a story interview today. It wasn't quite enough time to work on my other writing or really do anything constructive, but it was plenty of time to indulge in some pointless rumination. Specifically, I found myself thinking of the dream Her Lovely Self had a few days ago. You know: the dream about marrying her ex-boyfriend. I didn't tell you this, but the ex-boyfriend in my bride's dream scenario was not just any old ex-boyfriend, but the one I will call Popeye, for no particular reason, except that this guy and the eponymous spinach-eater were both sailors, and both terribly unattractive, each with a cartoonishly screwed up face and a chin like a baby's ass. I suppose I could be misremembering some of the details. I only met the guy the one time, and really, once was enough.

You'll have to forgive my animosity, considering he only popped up in dream form, but you have to understand: Popeye was a real near-thing deal. He and Her Lovely Self met in college, harbored secret affections for one another for years, but only got over themselves and started dating towards the very end of their last year of school. At one point, Her Lovely Self told her parents, "That's the man I'm going to marry." (Something that, incidentally, she never said about me. Me. The man she actually did marry.) To me, that's a worst-case scenario.

Thankfully, Her Lovely Self did little more than voice this idea, and then only to her parents (and later, alas, to me. Many times.). Popeye went off to fulfill his financial-aid obligations to the Navy and Her Lovely Self proceeded to Chicago where, as you may recall, Fate had already expertly guided me.

But after putting me in the path of Her Lovely Self, Fate took a powder and left me to fend for myself, which sucked. First, I had to endure being just pals with my future wife, which is ordinarily a process I enjoy. But Her Lovely Self, in case I have never otherwise left you with this impression, was Different. I wasn't friends with her very long at all before I realized that I had been struck--but good--by the Thunderbolt. So it was sheer agony to have to listen to her moan about all the awful guys she was dating, of which there was quite a dismaying lot. This was during the phase of my life when I was known as Every Woman's Second Choice on a Friday Night. Certainly I was hers.

But I was patient, which actually is not a natural state of existence for me, at all, ever. Nevertheless, there's no other way to put it: I was patient. I waited these guys out. Instead of coming off all jealous and crazy, I just let them pay out enough rope to hang themselves, let them reveal themselves for the cads, churls, and mashers that they turned out to be.

I didn't wait forever, of course. Some boyfriends proved to have unfortunate adhesive qualities--not unlike wet sand, say, or a globule of snot--when it came to getting up against the woman I loved. Thus I was compelled to act. In particular, I'm thinking of Joe, the boozing frat boy who couldn't keep his hands off Her Lovely Self during a party. While I watched. No man should have to stand by and be subjected to that kind of thing, so I have long since forgiven myself for following Joe to his car, ambushing him, and locking him in his trunk (details here). Really, it was protective custody. If he had remained at the party any longer, I would have been forced to light a match in his face, igniting the alcohol in his breath, burning him from the inside out.

Trouble is, Chicago's a big place with too many guys and not nearly enough trunks, and so, when I decided that patience had gotten me as far as it was going to, I declared my feelings, which, in yet another example of my impeccable timing, I did while Her Lovely Self was waiting for her current boyfriend to come pick her up, which rather diminished the effect I was going for, and forced me to resort to overkill (details here). Don't ever let anyone tell you that overkill is a bad thing when it comes to wooing a woman, boys. Overkill works.

You know, so long as you don't already have a reputation as a stalker.

I know I've written before about the lengths I went to, well to win Her Lovely Self (which, ladies, let me just say here and now that I meant that in the kindest non-objectified I-know-she's-not-a-Kewpie-doll-at-the-carnival way), but I never really told you about Popeye. Recalling what happened with him sometimes makes me a little ill, because in the early days of my romantic involvement with HLS, Popeye was a great threat. If things had gone just a little differently, if I'd been wrong about how I chose to deal with him, he'd be writing about his wedding anniversary and stuff instead of me (although I like to think you wouldn't be nearly so entertained. Popeye was a terrible writer. I know this because one night at her apartment, after Her Lovely Self fell asleep on the couch, I had a good look around her room and found all his letters to her).

The big problem, see, was that Popeye and Oliv--I mean, Her Lovely Self dated just briefly at the end of their senior year of college and never really got a chance to explore that relationship as fully as they might have had they started going out a little earlier. In short, they went off carrying a bit of a torch for one another. Which is why Her Lovely Self would bring him up, just pop him into conversation whenever things looked they might just be getting serious. Popeye had become the Ideal Absent Boyfriend. I'd already had some experience with girls with IABs, and I really, really, really did not want anymore. The woman who holds a torch for an IAB is a woman who has a door propped open in her heart, and as long as that door is open, no one else really has a chance at getting all the way in. Well, at least I didn't have a chance, if my history is anything to go by. Your romantic mileage may vary.

And while we're on the subject, I have to say that I didn't think being an IAB was any great thing. In my recent past, I had been an IAB, which was disastrous in my case, since the woman with whom I was conducting this long-distance relationship had ultimately decided she liked the idea of me more than my actual physical presence, something I did not discover until I had driven 22 hours and a couple thousand miles to see her. But I digress.

I gave Popeye a lot of thought, more thought than I had ever devoted to any man, then or since. I finally concluded that, since I had a sort of home advantage--I was in town; he was off somewhere in Europe finishing up his tour of duty--I just needed to continue to run my own race and do my level best to avoid Popeye as a subject of conversation.

That worked well enough for a while. My relationship with Her Lovely Self seemed to grow stronger. She stopped mentioning Popeye altogether. She began openly to refer to me as her boyfriend. Indeed, by that summer, we decided to take the big step of going away on vacation together—10 days, a long time for your first vacation as a couple. Her Lovely Self had never been to New England, and I guess I talked about it a lot—it was home, after all—and she was keen to see it.

Unfortunately, right about the time we were finalizing our plans, Fate came back into town and decided to play a little trick on me. It came in the form of a wedding invitation. Friends from college, now living in Connecticut, were getting married and I was invited to the wedding, which would fall within the very 10 days that I was already planning to be there. Alas, my friends were young and poor and many invitees were given solo invites. No "and Guest" on the invitation. I presented this unfortunate turn of events to Her Lovely Self. I hated the idea of leaving her somewhere for a few hours while I went off to a wedding without her (in case you were wondering, I offered to pay whatever the per-head fee was that the wedding caterer had determined so that HLS's presence wouldn't pose a financial burden, but was rejected out of hand as it was a small reception space and there actually wasn't any more room for additional guests).

But before that could even become an issue, Her Lovely Self informed me that she was perfectly happy--relieved even--not to have to go to a wedding where she didn't know anyone except me.

"Also," she added, almost as an aside. An aside as big and looming as a skyscraper, "I looked on a map of Connecticut, and the wedding is one town over from where [Popeye] is living now."

"Oh?" I asked, all Joe Cool. "I thought he was off the coast of Europe or something." Clearly I had not found all the letters.

"No, he's back in the country. He called me the other day. I mentioned I was coming east and told him about this wedding, and so he invited me to spend the day with him while you're at the wedding with your friends. Isn't that great?"

"Mmm," I said, noncommittally.

"Well, you don't mind do you? I mean, you're not going to get upset if I spend some time with him, are you?" she asked, pointing her loaded question right at my head.

"Hmm," I answered.

"Well, okay, then," she said. "I'll call him and make my plans."

Sweet Jesus, what the hell do I do now? I thought...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

 

In Which the Past Is Prologue...


Well, if you've been here even once or twice, you know what today is (and if you don't, jumping back two years in the archives will solve the mystery for you). But instead of dwelling on the last chapter of my parents' lives--I won't even bother with a link--I find myself looking in other directions, including back beyond my parents' beginnings to, well, their prologues.

Alas, I don't know how my Dad's parents met (it's a gap in my story catalog that I really need to fill, and hope to this summer, when I go on an extended research trip to New Hampshire), so that's a tale I can't share yet. How my maternals met--my mother's prologue--that's fairly well documented.

Mom was from Massachusetts, although that was something her New Hampshire relations tried very hard not to hold against her. There was no saving her father, though, not the mighty Papa Jim. He was a Massachusetts flatlander bastard to his core.

(I know it rankles some Mass. folks to hear that label, and there are a stunning lot of you who read me, so please accept this parenthetical as an apology. But I just have to say: To me, it sounds less like an insult and more like a gang of cool badasses, like a Civil War regiment. The 57th Massachusetts Flatlander Bastards)

Papa was proud of it, too. As I've mentioned before, he grew up in South Boston and took no shit from anyone, except his mother, who talked him out of accepting a baseball scholarship to Colgate (Papa Jim was, by all accounts, a stunning athlete in his day). So when he graduated from high school, he quit baseball and in 1938 got a job tending bar at the Statler-Hilton hotel in Boston. No more fastballs or curveballs for Papa Jim--only highballs.

If my grandfather ever regretted not going to college, he never admitted to it. In fact, I suspect he was just fine with the way his life was going at the hotel, because in short order, Jim took notice of one of the hotel's chambermaids, a statuesque woman with raven-black hair and a regal bearing. Grandma Catherine--known in her family as Kay--lived near Cambridge. Her mother's family worked in publishing at the Riverside Press--one grandmother was a copy editor; her husband a skilled marbler--creator of those beautiful colorful wavy designs such as you never see now on the endpages and edges of books. Her father's people were horsebreeders and trainers and young Kay was brought up as something of a thoroughbred herself. As well-heeled as she was, her parents were by no means wealthy, so they had taken care to impress upon her the importance of making your own way. When she enrolled in college for her nurses' degree in the fall of 1938, she took a part-time job making beds and cleaning bathrooms at the Statler. It was good work--in those days, hotel guests almost universally left tips for chambermaids in the room. The only imposition Kay had to suffer was the attention of the cocky young bartender with the Southie accent. She found Jim to be déclassé, and did everything she could to ignore him. "Back then, I wouldn't give him the steam off my oatmeal!" she famously remarked one Thanksgiving, which made me laugh so hard that gravy came out of my nose. It still makes me laugh.

Both of them were devout Catholics. Both went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, and both of them prayed to God every night. I imagine my future grandmother appealing to the Lord for the strength to resist the mashing advances of the drinkslinger from Southie, while across town, Jim was asking God for a little help, a small miracle to win the woman of his dreams.

I've always understood that Papa Jim was good pals with God, and if proof was required, this is the story that does it for most folks. You see, God answered Jim's prayer, and not with a still, small voice, either. God pulled out all the stops. God went Old Testament on my future grandfather.

He sent The Great Hurricane of 1938.

As I bet my Massachusetts readers (you are still there, right?) could confirm, that storm still stands as one of the worst in New England's recorded history. It was no answer to a prayer for some people--casualties of the storm range from 600 to nearly 1,000, depending on your source--but it did Papa Jim a big favor.

Jim was walking to work the morning that the storm hit Boston. The streets were practically deserted--Papa later said the only other person he'd seen on the way in was a man who'd been blown literally off his feet and into a doorway, which quickly opened and allowed him shelter. But Jim wasn't stopping--he had to get to work. In minutes, the wind was so ferocious, he was rappelling from lightpole to mailbox to get to the door. In the front windows of the hotel, the rest of the staff already there--Kay included--watched Jim's slow, almost heroic progress. They really shouldn't have been standing anywhere near the windows, but Jim was very popular on the staff (with the one notable exception) and they couldn't look away. Which was just as well, because really, they hadn't seen anything yet.

Then it happened: Just up at the corner, a metal sign tore from its post and came flying down the street, heading straight for Jim like a killer Frisbee.

The staff watching from the window let out a terrible moan, except for Kay, who screamed as the sign whistled past. Jim's head was bent slightly, so he didn't see the sign until about one half-second shy of Too Late. And in that split instant, whether it was his baseball instincts kicking in or a nudge from his old pal God, Jim ducked. The sign came so close, he said later, that he felt it cut his hair. But that was all it cut. Jim scrambled on all fours through the hotel door to safety, and I like to think, a round of cheers and applause.

Like many people caught in the Hurricane of 1938, the staff and guests of the Statler-Hilton were stuck there for a couple of days--even after the storm abated, there were downed power lines and broken gas mains everywhere. I guess for want of anything better to do, Catherine finally spent a little quality time with Jim and came to realize that, coarse Irish bastard that he was, he was evidently her kind of coarse Irish bastard.

They dated for a couple of years, then married during World War II. By that time, my grandfather was in the Army and due to ship out to Alaska and then Colorado to train with the 57th Massachusetts Flat--er, I mean the 10th Mountain Division. He and Kay didn't have a lot of time or money, so they went for a cheap honeymoon, up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There they spent a happy week in one of the many tiny but snug tourist cabins up there, before Jim had to get back to Boston and ship out.

Nine months later, my mother was born.

To the extent that I've thought about it all, (and really, I haven't. The only thing worse than contemplating the death of your elders is contemplating their sex lives. Parents, grandparents, it doesn't matter--it really is the very definition of Too Much Information.) I guess the fact that my mother was likely conceived in New Hampshire gave her a certain immunity to flatlander bastard-ness. From a young age, she loved New Hampshire and often begged her father to take the family--which would grow to include her sister, my aunt Cathy--on vacation up there. Something about the place must have appealed to Papa--with a take-zero-shit attitude like his, I'm sure the "Live Free Or Die" motto of my home state struck a chord in his heart--because almost every summer, he brought the family up to a little inn in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire. My mom loved that inn so much, that when she turned 18, she started working for the proprietors, paying her way through college exactly as her mother had.

The chambermaids at the inn were composed of local girls and several from away, including my mom. She and several other girls stayed in a kind of loft in a long shed at the back of the property. When they were off-shift, the girls hung out in their loft, smoking cigarettes and playing records, and were often joined by the local girls, who often as not were being followed by a bunch of local boys.

One night, the guys were in a triumphant spirit, and brought another boy who was the center of their attention. Partly this was because the fellow had brought two six-packs of beer with him, but mostly because he was the main character of a really good story that happened that day, and he was warming up to tell it.

An awful thing about being the storyteller of your particular branch on the family tree is that your predecessors are always better than you. They knew more, remembered more, and told it all so much better than you. And then they go away without completely filling in all the details, forcing you to leave big gaps in a story or else make up the truth, which is of course the storyteller's greatest skill, and one I have yet to master.

Which is my long-winded way of saying I don't know what story my Dad told that day. It's possible he related the tale of how he shot a hawk through the eye--while it was in flight--with a .22. He might have told the story of the drag race on the New London road, or of the mountain lion he'd glimpsed in the woods, despite there being no confirmed sightings of the beasts in a century or so.

Whatever story he told, he must have told it with hurricane force. My mother was certainly blown away by it. It led to her going with him on a date to the movies (Mom fell asleep in the middle of the film and drooled extravagantly on Dad's sweater. It was a Friday the 13th, forever after a lucky day in our family) and things just went on from there.

So it's probably better that I don't know the story that won Mom over. For one thing, young love deserves its mysteries (especially when your parents are the young lovers. Like I said, TMI). What's more, the stories you don't know have a way of making you appreciate the ones you do, so you might as well be grateful.

And anyway, it hardly matters, because we're well past my parents' prologue. What happened next is really prologue for someone else. And after today, he's not looking back at his story.

After today, his eyes are fixed forward.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Thursday, April 23, 2009

 

In Which We Count to 15...

This morning, the morning of our 15th wedding anniversary--the Crystal Anniversary, if I'm not mistaken--my wife announced that she'd had a wedding dream.

"Oh, wow. What are the odds?" I said.

"Yeah, I was getting ready to marry my old boyfriend."

This wasn't the dream-wedding scenario I'd had in mind. "Oh. Where was I?"

Her Lovely Self just waved her hand and made a Pff! noise with those perfect lips of hers. "No idea. You were just gone. Outta the picture."

"Oh. Well, that's a nice way to start your anniversary," I said.

"Stop it. I can't control my dreams. It was just a dream. It's not like he e-mails me. Not like all your old girlfriends."

Well, this was a fair point. Over the past 15 years, I must confess that I have received electronic mail from at least four--no, it's five--women who at one time or another qualified as being, howsoever briefly, girlfriends (for our purposes here, a "girlfriend" is any female I’ve had amorous contact with at any point along the American Male Baseball-Field Scale of Sexual Conquest. Which, if you really must know, involved me spending a lot of time between first and second, and, alas, setting a league record for the number of times I fouled out along the first-baseline).

"Yeah," I finally said. "But they're not emailing me to get married, you know."

"Well, how do I know?" she said, baiting me.

"Because you read all my e-mails," I countered.

That got her. "Oh. And how do you know that?"

"Because I know you. Just like I know them," I said. I meant that I'd always started out as friends with every girl I'd ever dated, and friendship is weirdly durable, often able to survive even the worsts of events, including break-ups, and so it was only natural that I might get some e-mails, not from old girlfriends, but from old friends. But based on The Look my wife gave me, that wasn't what she heard. So I hastened quickly to add a clarifier, which was a mistake. "Well, obviously, I know you QUITE a lot better than I know them," I sputtered on. "And of course I don't KNOW know them the way I know you. Like, you know, Biblically, or anything. At least not anymore. I mean—"

Truly, no one digs himself into a hole faster than me.


Thankfully, one of us had some crystal clarity for her 15th anniversary today, and she let me off the hook. In a moment, things degenerated pretty quickly into one of those not-quite arguments that's just so ridiculous you have to laugh.

At least, I think it was.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go spend the rest of my anniversary with the woman of my dreams.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

 

In Which We Count to Two...


Dear Elizabeth Claire,


Well, my little Éclair, you're two years old today. The idea that there are no longer any babies in the house fills me with the most contradicting feelings of stark relief and utter despair. But really, there's no arguing the point. THIS is no baby:


lilbizzy


Like your big sister before you, you jumped from babyhood right to small womanhood, only you did it faster. You do everything faster. When I think back on your big brother's baby days, everything took longer. Your brother (and can I say here how much I love that you call him "Brubby" and not his given name? Which is exactly what I did to my Big Brother when I was two, at least according to our parents) was a baby for years on end. Then the Brownie came along and I thought she grew up rather quickly. But baby, she was a slowpoke compared to you.

I know it's mostly a birth order thing (well, birth order and sheer genius), but you did everything earlier, from walking and talking to climbing the pantry shelves to the high place where the M&M's hide to wrapping the males in your house around your stubby little fingers.

In the nearly four months that I've been home, you have inexorably bent me to your tiny will, much to the shrill exasperation of your mother. Incidentally, it really bugs her that after asking her anything she tells you "No" too, you immediately turn on your little heel and seek me out to ask for (actually, what really cheeses her is that I tend to give it to you. Except that crème brulee torch. I'm drawing the line: It has to wait til you're at least three).

These past few months--a whole twelfth of your life--have been hard for me, in a way I hope you never experience for yourself. It's a terrible thing to find that I have become a walking cliché--the unemployed middle-age middle manager, the out-of-work father of three. But rather than let me dwell on that, you fill my days with a constant, noisy, messy, frustrating, wonderful, joyous string of demands. I love how you approach me for things, wandering in past me, as if you were looking for your Elmo doll or the little piano thing the childless couple gave us, and then veering and coming at me from ambush to yell, "Daddy! Want you!"

Actually, like you're doing right now.

I love how you insist on having the first bite of whatever I'm eating (I warned you that enchilada was hot, though). I love how you yell for me and Blaze--not Mommy--to come rescue you from your afternoon nap. I love how you can't let me do my work without being a micromanager, to the point of sitting in my lap while I type.

Like you're doing right now.

I conffffooffess iiiii wishdh you dintttttttttt inssssist @$#%thyryeurooooo on mashingggjsl;kg the keyyss whilllxlkjbl while I type, because it forces me to get you in a right-armed bear hug and type one-handed, which is slow and annoying. But I'm willing to put up with it for a bit. A paragraph, anyway.



You probably don't know this--although you're so scary smart I wouldn't put it past you--but there was a point in time when your mom and I didn't think we were going to have any more than two children. And then when we came back from New Hampshire that last time in the summer of 2006 and found out you had snuck aboard for the ride, we weren't quite sure we could handle it. I've talked to a lot of parents over the years who have counseled me on the dangers of letting your children outnumber you, so I admit I was a little worried. Then you showed up--two years ago today--and it was as though every last tumbler in my life had finally clicked into place.

Almost from the first day of your life, I've said that you resemble your grandmothers. When you get worried or put out, you look a lot like Grammy N. But when you've decided it's time to get me off my dead ass and do something, you have a look that is a pure distillation of my mother, the Grandma you never got to meet. You were only on the same planet together for five days. Grandma got to hear you (I held the phone to your hospital crib when you were about two minutes old) and she and Papa at least got to look at some pictures of you. But it's small consolation when you remember (as I always will) that she and Papa were just eight or nine hours--a mere business day--from getting to see you before they died. That was a hard thing for me to deal with, especially with a recovering mommy and a new baby in the house. Actually, it's still hard. In fact, I know there are days over the past two years when it would have been downright unbearable, so bad it would have brought me to my knees permanently.

But somehow, having you around made it all easier to bear. I don't know whether that's because it's hard to focus on death when you're around a baby with so much life in her, or you just decided I needed to be kept busy so I couldn't stop and feel sorry for myself (something your grandmother was also rather skilled at). But either way, I have to tell you, in perfect honesty, that I think your being here saved my life. In fact, every day you continue to save my life.

Like you're doing right now.

So, Happy Birthday, baby. I know the kids have already given you a thousand nicknames--Zuzu, Puppy, Turd-face (that one was from you brother), Stinkypants (your sister), Harooo (the noise Blaze makes only when I go to get you from your nap), Buggy, Lil Bit, Bitty, Bumpus, and many others. These days, you are almost universally regarded as Little Bizzy (when you say your name, it comes out "Bizzet," which your brother and sister quickly modified to "Bizzy" and my God it suits you. You are the busiest--and occasionally dizziest--baby I've ever met).

But no matter how many names you go by, no matter how old you are, no matter how big you get, you'll always be my little Éclair.

Love,
Daddy


Monday, April 20, 2009

 

In Which I Ask YOU For A Favor...



I had an interesting week last week.

Was it a good week? Well, I guess, insofar as I finally felt like I got going on my Work. I've been pecking away at a big piece of writing for a while, trying to find my way back to the headspace for this material. It's been a bit of a slog, finding my groove on this material, which was, let me tell you, pretty goddamn dismaying at first.

And then, Friday morning, I got up, went downstairs to my computer in my pathetic little office/Harry Potter space under the stairs. I started typing...and the next thing I knew, the kids were home from school. But I wasn't nearly done, not nearly ready to abandon this magic. So I kept on. I ate dinner downstairs. I finally called it a night--for so it suddenly was. I had worked from about 8:45 in the morning til about 7:45 that night. I wrote 10,500 words in one sitting. I haven't done that since I was in my 20s (and believe me, my aching ass was reminding me of the fact the moment I stood up). Walking Blaze that night, I realized I was exhausted, but man! It felt good, the way it feels after a long day of doing something hot and dusty and supremely satisfying. There is nothing that compares to that feeling of contentment.

I was planning to dive right in this morning and see if I had another 10,000 words in me (although, really, I'm thrilled to get 3,000 of a day), when the phone rang and I realized I was about to have another interesting week. Good or bad, well, we'll see.

Because my life is nothing if not ironic, the call I got was from an editor, asking me if I had time to do a quickie piece of freelance. Are you kidding me? I already have work. I have The Work. I'm writing Magic Words now! Where were you two weeks ago when I realized I wasn't going to get a teaching job this year and started freaking out about money?!? I screamed back. Fortunately, I screamed it in my head.

And because my life is nothing if not richly ironic, the quickie writing assignment is--you will SO love this--a family story about how to help kids cope when Mommy or Daddy has lost a job.

And just to add a little topspin of unmitigated gall to the whole affair, guess what magazine it's for?

I'll give you a hint.

Its initials are RBM.

I shit you not.

So you guessed it, sports fan, the very magazine that cut me loose three months ago is now assigning me freelance. And not just any freelance story, but a freelance story about how to help your kids cope when you have lost your job.

I know, I know, can you believe the nerve?

I was so utterly disarmed by this stunning display of thoughtless corporate cheek that, of course, I accepted the assignment immediately. Hey, between this and our tax refund, it'll cover the mortgage for almost the rest of the year.

And anyway, I'm sure they see it as a kind of combination olive branch and helping hand (although, really, did they have to give me this particular story topic?). So, I'm going to plow on this story. If I can line up the right sources, I ought to be able to hand it in before the week is out.

But I need a little help, which is why I'm turning to you, kind readers.

I know from the comments in my first post about being laid off that many of you have suffered the same fate, and those of you who haven't know someone--probably several someones--who are in the same pickle. I really don't want this story to be just a list of tips from experts. I'd like to get real, on-the-ground, this-is-what worked for me advice from real folks.

So, here's the part where you can help. If you or a spouse/partner have recently lost a job and have kids (anywhere from about 8 to teenage), I would love to know what you told them, or what little rituals or traditions you came up with to help them feel safe and secure in what is, let's be honest, a pretty scary situation (and I speak not only from current experience, but as a 6-year-old kid whose Dad had to explain what "laid off" meant.)

Actually, I suppose it doesn't have to be a recent lay-off (although that would be my preference). If you lost your job at some time in the past and had a REALLY good strategy that put your kids at ease, I'd be willing to hear you out.

And if you haven't lost your job, or you don't have kids, but are reading this and thinking, "Hey, I bet my sibling/friend/neighbor/parole officer would be perfect for this," then I ask you--pretty please, with sugar on top--to check with that person first, then contact me and let me know.

Sometime this week, please.

So bottom line. If you'd like to help and you have a lead--or you have advice of your very own to offer--e-mail me. My e-mail should be somewhere on this blog (I just checked: click on my profile and you'll find it), but just to make it easier--and also because I've never once written out my address in that weird, let's-all-prevent-spam way, it's: magazine dot man at gmail dot com.

One last thing: Whoever gives me tips or tells their story has to be willing to have their name appear in print. If you're a married woman and you changed your name, I'd agree to quote you under your maiden name, I guess, but otherwise, I don't do anonymous sources or name-withheld deals.

Said the blogger who calls himself the Magazine Man. I told you the irony was rich here.

Actually, I promise: Anyone I connect with for this story will know my real name and where this story will run. It's not like my secret identity is so secret these days, you know?

Anyway, that's the gig. Please don't feel obligated to help--we all have things to do. But if you could spare the time and had some nuggets of wisdom or a good source to pass along, you would earn my undying gratitude. Also, I would owe you A Favor. And I do not forget about favors.

And now, I have to make a call: I have an interview lined up with a social worker who specializes in counseling unemployed families.

After that, I'm going to go back downstairs and see if the magic is still there.

Thank you, one and all, and know that I am, as ever,

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Monday, April 13, 2009

 

In Which We Offer Up Some Odds and Ends...

Egad, what a week. Well, actually, it was only the end of the week that felt like a full week. Like a full month, come to that. So you'll forgive me if I just make this a short post. And not merely short, but also a largely unconnected glop of doings (with some pictures--we're overdue, don't you think?) in the Magazine Mansion.

It all started early the morning of Good Friday, when Thomas awoke us for what I called Vomiting Vespers (oh, no pictures here, in case you were snacking). The poor little shit (and, sadly, I mean that all too literally) was exploding from both ends and had tried to deal with it on his own from the time he woke up at 3:30 to the time he woke us up at 5. By then he was so weak, he couldn't even climb back to his bunk, but just fell asleep on the floor. I feared dehydration and made him drink water and stuff, but he spent the rest of the morning shuttling between the sofa and the bathroom.

And then, about an hour before lunch, we got a call from school that the Brownie had taken a dainty little hurl into the teacher's waste basket, so we had to go get her, then bring her back and prop her up against Thomas. I know they were both really sick, because they didn't caper around or play with toys or videogames or do anything they normally do when they're stuck at home with a head cold or strep. Neither one really stirred from whatever spot they happened to collapse in after their latest trip to Great Porcelain God.

Her Lovely Self ordered me to stay away from the older kids--she knows how lousy my immune system is--and put me in charge of the Éclair for a chunk of the day. I tried to argue with her that from a logical--indeed, from an epidemiological--standpoint, we'd all already been exposed to this bug. Generally, it's very hard to spread a flu bug to someone else when they're already showing symptoms, because most people don't want to be within the splatter zone of a flu sufferer. Viruses know this and have adapted over millions of years to infect well in advance of making you sick. It's a survival thing.

Her Lovely Self doesn't believe my logic--or possibly believes that I am incapable of logic--so she ignored this little nugget of information gleaned from my health-reporting days and let her orders stand.

Not that I mind. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend the day with this charming container of pure, undiluted cuteness?

bizetcute1

But by evening, I was feeling decidedly worn out--23 month-olds are intensely demanding of your time and attention, which I guess I remember from the two earlier kids, but not to this extent. So I was more than happy to get to bed early. Only to wake up around midnight and find myself impersonating Thomas from the night before.

Man, that night was nothing I want to repeat in a hurry. Easily the worst stomach flu of my life, even worse than that time I aspirated bits of--well, you know the time I mean.

The silver lining in all this is that the Éclair seems to have missed the bug entirely (knock wood, dear God, knock a forest of wood). While at the other end of the spectrum, I'm still sipping broth and staying within five steps of the can.

Despite the outbreak, we had a decent Easter. The Brownie and Thomas bounced back Saturday morning and by Sunday, they were ready to color eggs and devise an egg hunt for their little sister (the first I knew of it was when my new boss toddled over, shoved a basket in my face and said, "Daddy, we goin' egg look. Hold on to this!")

Later, since we were getting all Catholic about it anyway, the Brownie decided to model her new dress from Communion (which will occur in about a month).


annacomm1


I have to say, it was one of those rare moments in the Magazine Mansion where everyone was speechless. Even the Éclair couldn't say anything; she just stood real close, gawking at her big sister (whom she worships like a wise goddess).


annabiz


I always knew my elder daughter was a woman--even when she was just a 4-year-old woman--but seeing her this way made me understand afresh that she was only going to get bigger and older and more independent and (because it's all about me) less in need of her Daddy.

I understood that this would happen--it was in the original parenting job description--that you were to love and protect and raise kids so that they could go off in white dresses--the daughters, anyway--and leave you. And it was that last part of the job description that really hit me on Easter, because there's a very strong likelihood that the next time I'll see her in a white dress, it'll be...

You know what? Let's move on.


Yours,
(hey, I said it would be short)
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Thursday, April 02, 2009

 

In Which I Remember Every Word...

As a child, I was always in awe of my mother's great presence of mind. She never seemed to be caught flat-footed, never lacked for just the right thing to say in any verbal confrontation, especially when she was standing up for someone she loved. But if I thought my awe of her could get no stronger, I was dead wrong. I discovered this when I became a parent, in particular, when Thomas got old enough to get in trouble himself.

Readers may recall that my son had an unfortunate incident of his own in second grade (which, in looking back through the archives, I'm astonished to discover happened almost exactly three years ago this week), when a self-styled "dean of discipline" gave my little guy detention (for a second-grader!), and all because my boy had stuck up for a fellow classmate.

I told the story in some detail at the time. What I didn't tell you then was how much I sweated over every phone call I made to that dean of discipline, the hours I spent sitting up in bed, not sleeping, going in over in my mind every possible permutation of my anticipated encounter with the man who had it in for my son. I wasn't worried about letting my boy down, see--I didn't want to let my mom down. I wanted to be every inch the staunch and articulate defender she had been for me and my brother when we were kids. I wanted to make sure I had just the right words to say, the proper tone, the appropriate response.

When that incident was all over, Thomas came out on top, but not because I had managed to turn the tables on the guy--in the end, it was my son's friends who ultimately came to his rescue. That unexpected outcome was so exciting, it was a few days before I got around to beating myself up for my lackluster performance, but I did beat myself up. For a little while anyway. But in the end, you know, I had to let myself off the hook. Because my mom had a rare and special gift that few parents could hope to match.

Or so it certainly seemed to me, especially on that late afternoon in 1978 in the hated Mr. F's classroom, when my mom had engaged in her very best Waiting in an effort to get this teacher to apologize to me for his terrible bullying, yelling, sausage-fingery poking of my person, and all-around comportment as a first-class asshole.

But Mr. F had out-Waited her, it seemed. I should have known--there was no way this guy was going to apologize to me, even though he had been SO in the wrong. And when my mom broke off her Waiting gaze and turned to face me, I felt for a second like something had broken in my chest. It was a feeling ten times worse than the humiliation I'd felt that morning under Mr. F's bullying, harrying glare.

And then, she winked at me.

And she said, "Now remember this, MM. Remember how small it makes you look, to be wrong, and to be too proud to admit it. Especially when everyone else knows it."

In that moment, I understood that she was trying to tell me something important, something to remember. But all I could really process was the excited fizzy feeling that instantly welled up behind my eyes, seeped through my brains, out my ears.

She had totally got Mr. F!!

He certainly thought so. He literally rocked back on his heels as though struck. And now he was shouting. "You don't talk about me this way, not to a student!" He spluttered, utterly unmanned in the moment.

My mom didn't even turn to look at him. She just kept hitting him with her back as she grabbed my elbow and in one smooth move, spun me in front of her and ushered me out the door, Mr. F still gibbering behind us. "You come back here! I have not--did not--there IS no apology owed to--"

But all of a sudden, his booming voice seemed diminished to me. In the time it had taken my mom to turn on one heel, this man had ceased to matter.

That incident stayed with me a long time, not just as a moment of composure to emulate someday if or when my own kids got in trouble, but just because I never admired anyone so much as my mother when she bearded Mr. F in his den.

And it was a moment, as you might expect, that I would need to call on. We never again had anything quite like the confrontation that we'd had that morning--I liked to think Mr. F had decided on a line that he would not cross, lest he hear the clack of my mother's sensible shoes on his linoleum again. But for the next two years, Mr. F almost never gave up in his attempts to make my life miserable (or at least more challenging than they needed to be). Long-time readers may recall that he tried to trip me up in my efforts to win the district Spelling Bee, for example. I really could have done without him, to be perfectly honest. Kids have a hard enough time growing up, negotiating school. They get plenty of crap from their own peer group; they certainly don't need to be bullied by a grown man in an authority position.

But there was another moment that stayed with me longer, and it occurred about a minute and 40 seconds later, when we were out in the parking lot, in our car. Mom was about to start the engine--it was a little nippy out--but she thought the better of it. She reached over, rifled through her purse and handed me my book.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

I nodded silently, staring only at the cover of my book. I thought I could see the greasy indentations of Mr. F's sausage fingers on my Story Book.

"Look at me," she intoned, and I did. My mom's brown eyes were no longer aflame, but they were intent.

"You have a special talent, and talent will always have enemies. Do you understand what I mean?"

I nodded.

"There will always be people like Mr. F--and you will find them everywhere in your life--who are afraid of talent. Who are threatened by it, and who will do anything then can to squash it. For no other reason than one sad, pathetic fact: Because they can't do what you can do. I'm sorry you had to find this out now. But it's just as well, because the sooner you understand something, the better."

"Understand what?" I asked.

She grabbed me by my arm. "That you will always have to fight these people. That if you are not always vigilant, eventually they will get to you. And if you aren't careful, you will start doing their job for them. You will start to doubt your talent. And if you do that, then you will lose it." She shook my arm, and for a moment I was almost in tears again. And here was the thing: so was she. "Don't you ever let anyone do that to you, do you hear me? I won't have it!" she hissed.

"Okay! Okay! Jeez!" I cried.

My mom let go of me then and started the car up. "Now, don't go getting a swollen head about this. I would never have said this to you at your age if it hadn't been for that...that...ass!"

My mom said this last with her Boston accent coming on strong and thick, so the word came out "ahhhhhhhhssssss," which was always funny to me, and I snorted. Then she cracked a smile and I knew we were out of the woods.

I hesitated to tell you about this conversation, although for me it was easily the most important part of the whole story. I hesitated because it sounds so self-serving, to repeat all those wonderful things my mom said to me, said about me (and you better believe I remembered every word). It was quite heady stuff for anyone to hear, and it did give me a bit of an inflated head. On the other hand, I guess Mom figured that, given the kind of opposition I was attracting, maybe I needed to be built up a little. And while she was maybe not so big on babying her sons with mushy sentiment and general coddling, building us up was definitely one area of motherhood at which my mom excelled.

I said earlier that I really wished I could call my mom about now, tell her what's been going on, but she obviously knew what she was doing when she raised me. She did such a good job that now, coming up fast on two years after her death, I can hear her just fine.

So I can hardly complain about my sad life, lament my coming up empty-handed on freelance and academic jobs. That would just lead me to moan about how worried I am that my skills and talents are bleeding away. And the moment I hear those words start to form in my head, I almost laugh at myself. Because I know it isn't true. And I only know that because she knew it wasn't true.

If that sounds self-serving, well, I apologize.

But my mother wouldn't have had it any other way.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


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