21 June, 2015

What We're Left With

I have my dad's turntable, I have his records. I have his guitar, a white Fender Stratocaster that he would let me play on special occasions. It was his guitar of choice onstage and there are many days where I still don't feel worthy enough to play on it, like I'm desecrating it with my clumsy fingers, my sadly muted f sharp. 


I remember sitting in his studio while he played, strumming alongside him with a beater guitar, my first, as he played the solos to new medleys he was working on: Chicago, the Beatles, the Eagles. There are days when I try to play along with James Taylor because that always reminds me of growing up in the Berkshires with him, guitars in the background, playing around a bonfire or watching him play at a concert on the lake. I usually pick something slow and bluesy, something I don't have to think about while I'm playing.

I had the dream the other night, the same one I can't seem to shake. He was in it, and so were all these faces I didn't know. We were running through a street, not from something, not to something, just running. In real life, he was not a runner. But dream him strides along effortlessly. He doesn't look like himself, but I still know it's him in the way he talks, the way we interact, how it feels to be in his company. He keeps trying to say something to me, but I'm not listening to him, or to anything really, just staring ahead, just running. Sometimes I pretend that the whole dream has some deeper meaning, that if I only think about it enough and push through, I will unlock some great epiphany. But I know it's just a dream, my brain's sophomoric attempt to create something interesting with faux metaphors and pretentious allusions while it whiles away the hours, unable to keep my eyes open, unable to shut my brain off.

I wanted to make this a happy post. I wanted to find the humor in the darkness and to tell you funny stories that will make you forget about life for a minute or two. You know, the reason why I created this blog. That's what I wanted for you, that's what I wanted for me. I really did want to, but I just don't know how today.

Because most days, lately, the sun shines too early through the window and falls on the clothes in the corner and the stack of sympathy cards on the table. Most days, it's hard to ignore the kind gestures and echoed platitudes that remind me he's gone. 'He's moved on to a better place.' The pictures from his funeral. 'He had a good life.' The Fender on the bed. 'He's not suffering anymore.' The guitar picks on the dresser. 'He was a good man.' The books he didn't read, and the letter he wrote me before he passed, in his curly scratch of handwriting. He wanted me to read it in front of him. "I'm so proud of the person you've become." You can barely make out the word "person." I usually can't get through it all.

In the end what we're left with, if we're lucky, is a pile of the happy times. Letters, scribbled notes on paper napkins, worn-through flannels, stories shared between sisters, unearthed pictures from before he got sick, two broken fishing rods that we had every intention of fixing. A guitar, some records, and a turn table. 

It's only been a couple months. It'll get easier, people keep reminding me. And I believe in my heart that it will. But it doesn't feel that way today. So instead, I'll take out that guitar and play along, poorly, to some 70s tunes. Maybe even try to read the letter again. (Maybe not.) Maybe try to write something funny again, one day soon. He would like that.

Happy father's day, dad. (I miss you.)

30 March, 2015

Today, We Lost a Good Man

Today, we lost a good man.
He was kind, he was quiet, he was handy with tools, he was clever and funny. He worked hard. He taught himself guitar, then created bands and toured the country. He fell in love with my mom in an instant and shared a marriage that spanned more than 4 decades. They enjoyed different cities but they came alive on the Cape and in the Berkshires. He taught me guitar and would jam along even as I fumbled through chords for years. He was patient. He taught himself to cook, then bought a restaurant and fed our town. He treated strangers like friends and friends like family, surrounding himself with people and stories. He had four daughters and many more unofficially adopted children, and over his lifetime, he had a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, and hamsters. He built things: a house on the Cape for my mom so they could start a family. He fixed things. He listened. He was a man of few words in a loud, highly opinionated family, but when he spoke, you listened. He was so many things I aspire to be.
Some of you knew him personally, some of you just knew him through me. Thank you to everyone who sent hundreds of cards, emails, prayers, gifts, flowers, food. Sometimes they made him laugh, sometimes they made him cry. But they all made him, and us, feel loved.
I wanted to take a minute and tell you about him. Today, after a long, unfair fight, the world lost a good man. But he's not suffering anymore.
I love you, Dad.

03 February, 2015

What I Thought About When I Was Locked Outside in a Snowstorm for 90 Minutes

It was upon entering the second hour of being locked out of my apartment in a snowstorm when I really started to dig into how I got here. Where did it all go wrong? Why did I leave my phone upstairs? Why were none of my neighbors coming to their doors? Is this how they'd find me, tears frozen to my colorless cheeks, bottom frozen to a frayed straw chair on a sagging porch, shovel in hand, regret strong in what was left of my frosted heart?

Hour 00:15-- Re-evaluation of my day's choices

It only took 15 minutes to really start to berate myself for all the mistakes that had led to this point. I left my phone on the charger. I didn't put on an extra layer of pants under my pants to keep me warm. I was overly confident that helping my husband Dan find parking space would only take a minute, 4 minutes maximum. I didn't count on the cold. I did not count on the lack of parking.

I did, however, congratulate myself on at least wearing basic winter survival gear: hat and gloves, boots, jacket. But neglecting the long underwear, extra socks, taller boots, and perhaps a hidden flask was shortsighted, to say the least.

The strength of the wind, too, was a dark horse. The wind slammed the front door shut when I was not ten feet away from it. I was staring at the door, about to reach for the knob. This is a door that doesn't even close correctly sometimes, so you have to reaaaaally pull hard. The door closing smoothly, effortlessly by a gust of wind was a cruel twist of mother nature that I'm positive was meant to be seen, felt, and agonized over in the ensuing 90 minutes. If only I was closer. If only I had used less ice melt so the bag propping open weighed more and thus would have been a better door holder opener. If only I had remembered that my keys were in my other jacket. If only there weren't 50 feet away, locked inside, useless, but safe and warm inside something fleecy. Where I was meant to be. My keys were nestled near my phone, just waiting to share with me news of the world, to help me connect with friends worldwide, to send a text to Dan saying I was locked out, to help me locate that one fluffy cat video I'd been trying to find for weeks (where the cat is staring at something off screen and is pouncing all around and is so fluffy it looks like a cartoon. I love that cat.)

Hour 00:20-- Paying it forward in the hopes that I could correct my mistakes
I decided that karmically, I was off. So to reset the balance, I made up my mind to shovel the fire hydrant so it had a safe and easy access point for all future firemen. I felt good about myself. I was a nice person, I reminded myself with a metaphorical pat on the back. Because of my good deed, Dan would surely be back soon with keys to my blessedly warm apartment. I mean, I shoveled the fire hydrant! Someone above had to be watching and put in a good word for me. "Hey, that girl down there? She did a really nice thing. Don't make her wait too long in the cold. She deserves better." This wouldn't be that bad, and it'd only been 20 minutes. How long could I really be outside?

Hour 00:30-- Dear God, am I still here? Just sitting on a porch in a snowstorm? Do I have to actually think about my life now and be forced to have a long, dark night of the soul in the daytime, in an uncomfortable wooden chair?

At first, I told myself it was relaxing. I forced myself to believe it by commenting on it out loud, like a crazy person.

"This is nice," I said, to me. "It's not often you get to unplug from technology like this. I bet people pay a lot of money at schmancy resorts to truly disconnect this way. Look how pretty the snow is, falling down so softly. I wonder how long it will take to build up on the banister?"

After a while, my thoughts turned more pragmatic, but still I retained hope that it would be over soon.

"Well, someone's bound to come around soon." I reassured myself. I scanned the street a lot, hoping that the snow plowers and the one Domino's driver weren't secretly laughing at me. "Dan has to have found a space somewhere by now. Maybe he's right around the corner. Maybe he found an open Dunkin' Donuts, and he brought me a coffee!"

Then, it got downright sinister. Who were these people, my neighbors, sitting all warm and cuddly in front of their tvs or computers. I bet they were sipping hot cocoa. Why did they deserve to be happy? In my mind, they were tugging the blanket a little bit tighter around their bodies because they felt a draft, the pansies. I pictured them laughing and sharing a moment, looking wistfully out their window, remarking, "wow, it's really coming down out there, Betty!'

How DARE they. They don't even know what cold is!

Hour 00:45-- I should have gotten to know my neighbors better so that they would take pity on me when I lock myself out in the snowstorm

We'd already had ten inches of snow fallen today, on top of the thirty we had fall last week. There is just no where for this snow to go. It kept climbing last week, first by inches, then by feet, glomming over all the available parking until we found ourselves in a barren, Hoth-like wasteland. Our banks are five feet tall. I heard that we were getting another 8 inches later this week. Where is it going to go?

I had much time to contemplate these snow banks and their future volume. I sat and stared at them, the snowflakes falling gently, almost beatifically around me for the next forty minutes. I could have counted the snowflakes if I wanted to. However, a deep, very real fear of being lulled to sleep by the counting of the flakes kept me vigilantly avoiding acknowledgement of the snow. If anything, I felt like it was to blame. If it hadn't been snowing, preventing street parking, I never would have gone downstairs to help Dan, I never would have forgotten my keys, I never would be sitting on a porch pretending that I wasn't cold and that snow didn't exist.

My texting gloves, while adorable and useful during the daily commute, were poor insulators, and I started to lose feeling in my fingers. I realized I should see if any of my neighbors were home-- I was clearly in it for the long haul. So I started knocking. By the time I knocked on the fourth door, I realized that a) either everyone of my neighbors was at work, despite the parking and driving ban, or b) they heard me, looked out the window, decided I was pathetic, and chose to ignore me or c) I had already died and was invisible like the ghosts in the Sixth Sense, and I was trying to communicate with people who couldn't hear me because they didn't have Haley Joel Osment's special gift. Maybe my body was at peace on the porch, and I was left to wander the streets knocking on doors, hoping someone would help me haunt my old apartment. I later decided I was far too cold to actually be dead (weren't you supposed to be free of pain?) but this thought wouldn't leave my mind for an uncomfortable amount of minutes.

In retrospect, talking out loud to myself on a porch in a snowstorm is probably why my neighbors didn't answer the door when I knocked.

Hour 01:00 This is my life now.

I resigned myself to the situation at hand. And so, with time stretching endlessly before me, I got reflective. I reflected on my outdoors time as I'd tell it later on, when I was warmer, sharing the story with friends over a piping hot beverage.

"What did you do?" They'll ask, sympathetically. "Were you cold?"

"You know, it wasn't that bad!" I'll laugh, my voice lilting without a care in the world for I will be warm then. "I watched the snow fall. It was actually pretty relaxing! You never really get a chance to unplug, like totally unplug from technology. You know?"

But God, was I bored. I was so bored I redefined boredom. My teenage self had no frame of reference for ever claiming that she was bored beyond belief. I had no phone, no books, nothing to stare at but the snow. I was so bored, I read the instructions on the shovel on the porch. I may have been the first person to read the instructions on a shovel. Did you know there were instructions? I read the menu of Lotus Express twice as they helpfully left us four identical pamphlets. I wondered if nine dollars was a fair price for Szechuan spicy beef. I told myself that if I ever got back into the apartment, that one day, soon, I would give them my business. Lotus Express deserved it; they were a beacon of light in the darkness, a future I could envision. One day, I would eat at Lotus Express. I would be warm and indoors and eating Chinese food. One day. I clung to this belief with all that I could clung.

But I was still cold. I had worryingly lost feeling in my left pinky toe, and I tried to tell myself that people can survive in the cold for days without long-term repercussions. I stamped around because I've seen people do that in movies. I didn't want to lose this toe- I was really attached to this toe. I saw a future where I'd have to tell all pedicurists and friends who witnessed me in flip flops that I lost a toe because I locked myself out of an apartment in a snowstorm in a major metropolitan area where you think I'd be able to walk into places and warm myself up. I was embarrassed for my future self.

Then, to distract myself from my toe, I thought about my future. I thought about where I'd buy a house (not anywhere where it snows). I thought about when I'd have children and what their names would be. I thought about telling them this story, and how I'd reprimand them for not taking keys with them. Don't be stupid! Use your brain, girl! I would have to start adopting the word "girl" more into my vocabulary. It sounds strongly maternal.

I thought about maybe buying some sort of hamster, or a bird, or something, a pet that's fairly easy and lets you love it. Then I realized I'd probably just lock it inside my apartment and kill it, and that made me sad. I could barely be trusted with me, how can I care for another living being?

I thought about that fluffy kitten again. I bet that fluffy kitten was warm somewhere, under a blanket. It probably lived in California. It probably never had to experience snow like this. It probably had all of its toes.

Hour 01:29:14-- My knight in shining armor, covered in snow, frostbitten, and sad, returns!

Then, there was a happy and supremely uneventful ending. Dan returned! Dan had his keys! We walked (painfully) upstairs! He told me his story about how he'd finally found a questionably legal parking space, how he'd had to shovel it out, how he'd had to walk back. How he lost feeling in his feet, too. I told him about my thoughts, my desire for a pet, and my toe. We gave ourselves a tiny pity party, we made hot food. And, once the feeling returned, we were fine. I got back to the work I should have been doing the whole time I was outside, reflecting on my life. I made a point not to watch the snow continue to fall that night.

And throughout this whole thing, I was reminded how very lucky I was to have a warm apartment and a hot meal, blankets, and a safe space, even if they weren't accessible for a little while. So I did the thing that truly paid it forward in a way that's a lot more meaningful than shoveling out a fire hydrant: I donated to Rosie's Place. No one should have to be out in the snow and the cold. Even if, technically, it was their fault.

29 January, 2015

Let Me Tell You a Story

Let me tell you a story. It has all the elements that you love: one fateful night, two young hearts, hippies, rock and roll, and a man named Bob. It starts with my dad.

You see, my dad Dave dropped out of college to play guitar in a band with his friends. This act would have gotten me excommunicated from the household for three life terms, but for him, it was no big deal. He had long hair, a collection of guitars, and had already played in a band in high school- they called themselves Destiny's Children. And while I don't necessarily believe that Beyonce may have stolen the band name from four awkward young white teens in the heart of Boston, it does raise a few questions, doesn't it?

My dad and his band, the Shittons, went on grand tours across the northeast college campus and dive bar circuit, so the night they were playing at a small college in the suburbs of Boston was just another night. Or was it? (Of course it wasn't. Why on earth would I be writing about some random meaningless night where nothing happened? I need you to get on board here.)

A brief note on the Shittons, the band. The revelation of what their band name was didn't occur to me until embarrassingly too late (18). It literally is just two words smooshed together: "shit" and "ons". I also later learned that it was a clever play on the wildly popular Chiffons. But the Shittons was a name that I just grew up with. You know how if you're really familiar with something, you never really think about what it means until someone else calls it into question? This was one of those cases. I'm sure this was very edgy for the college crowd, and that has shaped my image of the 1970s: full of raw guitar sound, freedom, long hair, and poop-related band names. That night, the Shittons were to play at Northern Essex Community College.

As fate would have it (I told you this story would include fate), my mom Deb should not have been at the Shitton's concert that night. My mom's friend Jane was in charge of all the bands that came to entertain the masses at Northern Essex Community College. Jane was out sick, Deb stepped in to help her friend, yadda yadda yadda, my mother met my father.

The way my mom tells it, he had hair down to his shoulders, a kind smile, piercing blue eyes. Something about his eyes is probably what prompted my mother to invite him back to her apartment later that night for a party. A party that, until the previous millisecond, had not existed.

Mind you, this was in the early 70s, at least three decades before the dawn of texting. Sociality in these days required effort- real effort. Finding people. Calling land lines. Probably more than a little prayer.

As the story goes, my mom called her friend, who called her friend, who called her friend. And thus, the makings of a party were born. A party being thrown for a boy my mom had just met in a rock band that was spending one night at her college. (Hashtag: things I would have gotten in trouble for in college had I pulled a stunt like that.)

Anyway.

The Shittons' set ended and the band packed up their equipment. I like to imagine my dad lingering around, trying to find my mom. (He was nice like that.) And then he did, he found her. She gave him the address to her apartment, at which point in the story my mom almost always interrupts and instructs us to never invite over strangers to our apartment without knowing who they are. ('Do as I say, not as I do' is a mantra strong with the love children of the seventies.) She gave her keys to a friend and told her to get everything set up. She then left to go to the package store to grab beer, liquor, all the other alcohol essentials. Probably some snacks; my mom has always had a strong snack game.

Later, as my mom arrived at her apartment, the Shittons were also pulling up. My mom walked up her steps, making small talk, planning some excuses in the likely event that no one would show up. She turned the handle to enter her apartment, an apartment that, until 3 hours before, had not been expecting any visitors, and especially not throngs of people.

But instead, you can guess what happened: she saw people, multiple people. People she knew, some people she didn't. They were drinking and laughing, listening to music, sitting on her furniture. She always interrupts the story at this point to say that there were definitely no drugs. "There were definitely no drugs" at a party thrown at a young hippie's house in the seventies for a rock band that was touring her college for the night. (There was only drinking in moderation; no drugs.)

In my head, I've always imagined 75 people packed into her tiny apartment, elbow to elbow, bell bottom to bell bottom, talking about the latest songs, probably Creedance Clearwater Revival, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash (but not Young, my mom hates Neil Young.)

And so it was. They fell in love, quickly and madly. They were married in a small church with five people in attendance, she clad in a navy floral dress, he donned a plaid suit. We still have them in the attic, somewhere. That was 43 years ago. Just goes to show- plaid has always been in style. Oh no, wait, that's not it. It goes to show that love doesn't need a $30,000 wedding or even a white dress. (You hear that, Pinterest?) It just needs two people who love each other, and maybe some drinking (but definitely no drugs).

But I also promised you something about a man named Bob. Bob was my mom's ex-boyfriend, a man with a motorcycle. This fact, of course, I took as a seven year old to mean he was up to no good. He probably wore a black leather jacket. He probably didn't wear a helmet.

Bob broke up with my mom when they were in a van with four other people and then proceeded to start dating another girl in the car that very same car trip. Such was Bob's character.

Needless to say, my 18 year old mother was devastated. And while I'm sure Bob is not an evil person- like, he most likely doesn't kill kittens for pleasure (that I know of)- for the sake of this story he is a villain and terrible and he got what he deserved.

And what he deserved came after he showed up at my mom's party. He saw her sitting at the foot of some upstart musician with enviably long, lustrous hair (I've seen the pictures). He tried to talk to her, but she was so distracted with this new guy she didn't even notice him. Bob stuck around for a bit, I guess, felt awkward, and then left. We once got a Christmas card from Bob and his family. He was married, had a family. Wrote my mom a nice note (the bastard). It's weird to think about what life would have been like if my mom had gotten back together with Bob that night, someone she knew, someone that, until three hours prior, she thought she was still heartbroken over.

If she hadn't filled in when Jane got sick. If she hadn't met my father.

Two young hearts, hippies, rock and roll, and a man named Bob. That's the story of how my parents met, and then lived their lives filled with love, music, guitars, way too many children, an impossible number of grandchildren, a country house, a garden, dogs, cats, a bird, a series of unfortunate hamsters, and me. And a moderate amount of alcohol, but definitely no drugs.