Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cigarettes and Paco Rabanne....

I remember certain things about my dad: how he wore the ugliest boat shoes ever; how soft his silver hair felt; how he liked to eat his eggs mixed with potatoes and his tuna fish soaked with tons of lemon juice. He drank only coffee and water when he wasn’t drinking scotch, he loved watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and every once in awhile, I saw him reading a book, which made him seem more interesting to me for some reason. I remember the rock paper-weight I painted for him was in his top bureau drawer along with all the other things he probably forgot were there, he owned too many pairs of white socks that nobody ever wanted to match up and roll into sock-balls, and he smelled of cigarettes and Paco Rabanne.

However, going fishing with him when I was a little girl probably remains my most significant memory because those were the only times I actually spent time with him at all. We’d wake up at some ridiculous hour, maybe 4:30 am, pack up our bologna sammies, a thermos of water and some chips, and then get our poles together for our day on the water. We’d pull into Freeport’s Nautical Mile while it was still dark outside, unload all of our stuff, and bring it onto the boat we’d spend half the day on. Then we’d go find a stool at the counter in the greasy diner where we always ate our before-fishing breakfast of eggs, toast and home fries. By the time we were done eating, the sun would be up and the morning actually looked like morning.

We’d settle into our spot on the party boat, defrost our spearing and squid and wait to depart. I always felt awkward being alone with my dad because I really didn’t know how to have a conversation with him. But by the time the boat pulled away, that awkwardness dissipated. My dad would talk about the buoys, and how the captain knew where to anchor and just anything about fishing in general. I’d ask him questions and he’d always be happy to provide the answers. By the end of each fishing trip, I had a lot of fluke in my bucket and a new appreciation for the kind of relationship I could have with my dad.

Until I became a teenager, that is, and I eschewed fishing trips with my dad for nonsense time with my friends, trips to the mall with my boyfriend, or simply the allure of my warm bed. I was too cool and too busy for my dad, or so I thought, and as an adult looking back now, I would bet my eyeballs that he probably felt at least a little bit deserted and disappointed.

As kids, we all think our parents will live to be gray, shrunken shadows of their youthful selves so how could I have known I should have ditched my friends in order to hurry up and make memories with my dad because he’d be dead by the time I was nineteen? At almost 40, I don’t have nearly enough memories of him to be at peace with his death. He missed too much:

…my first experience at college, even if it was only Nassau

…walking me down the aisle and dancing with me. To this day, it’s too hard for me to watch anyone dance with their fathers.

…the joy of being a grandpa. After suffering with 4 females his whole life, he missed enjoying 2 grandsons and one princess.

…holding his oldest daughter’s hand through brain cancer and survival, and holding up his wife, as well.

… seeing all three of his girls as women, watching us stumble through life, picking us up when we fell down, cheering us on when we deserved it or simply because we needed it. And boy, do I need it now.

…teaching his grandkids how to bait a hook and how to tell when it was a fish or a crab biting the line.

…seeing his granddaughter at her first dance recital, being dissed by her dance partner but taking control to a roomful of applause.

…seeing his grandson –my son - on stage dancing like nobody’s business, shocking the shit out of everyone, especially me.

…watching me make that monumental walk across the Hofstra stage at almost 40 years old, finally earning my Bachelor’s Degree.

Admittedly, this blurb is pretty random and is basically just a self-serving recognition of my mistakes as a kid and my sadness at those realizations as an adult. It’s frustrating knowing I have to make an effort to remember his voice and how very few times I spent alone with him. I hate knowing I’ve spent half of my life without him and how I forgot what having a father is like. I hate the fact that I will never be able to know what kind of relationship I could have had with him as a grown daughter, instead of only having memories of being a young, selfish teenager.

I know there’s nothing I can do because, even though I hate to say this, but it is what it is. I suppose if anything at all, the tiny consolation of having a few memories will have to carry me through.

At least until they fade…

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Have a Magical F****** Day

Whoever said that Disney World is the happiest place in the world where dreams come true never went there with my two kids.

Let’s start at the beginning:

My kids have been begging me to visit Grammy Sixty-Seven for years. Camp was ending with three weeks of nothingness looming before them so I said, why not? I booked the flight, packed three carry-, ons, and waited for our day of travel.

I white-knuckled it about two hours into the Jet Blue flight before finally ordering a small bottle o’ calm. My $6.00 friend-in-a-bottle soothed my rattled flying-nerves enough so that when we landed in steamy Ft. Lauderdale, I felt ready for the week ahead.

Or, so I thought.

It all started off pleasant enough: we were greeted by a thrilled Sixty-Seven and her side-kick, Forty-Seven. We had some dinner, had some drinks, and settled in. The following day was spent by the pool as my skin sizzled and the kids swam with Auntie Forty-Seven.

What to do tomorrow? I thought. Surely, we can’t just swim every day. We can swim at home in NY. So, I informed Sixty-Seven that the next day, we were packin’ it up and heading out to see Mickey and friends.

The next morning I was greeted by two very unhappy looking people that resembled my children. We threw the bags in the trunk, brought a bag of snacks for the three -hour ride, buckled up, and headed out.

The ‘are-we-there yets’ started as we pulled out of Sixty-Seven’s parking lot.

Thirty-Nine: “We’re going to Disney World, damn it. It’s fun!”

Tired mumbles and Nintendo DS noises responded.

Now typically, I don’t drive anywhere that’s not just a quick jump onto the Meadowbrook or more than a half hour away, never mind driving in an unfamiliar state for three hours with two children and a mother who has no highway experience. Oh, and not a written direction in sight.

Thirty-Nine: “Do you know how to get there?”

Sixty-Seven: “Yeah, sort of.”

Just know that this came from a woman who can find anywhere in the US by taking side roads but yet, (as I found out the last day of Disney) needed to write down four words of direction on a scrap of paper just to get to the street out of the resort. “Turn right on Victory Lane.” Anyway…

The driving part turned out to be simple- straight down the Florida Turnpike- but the drama in the backseat conjured up an image of my dead father yelling at me, Forty-Two, and Forty-Seven on the way to our yearly summer visits to Montauk. My eyes were bulging and the veins in my head pulsating; all I needed was an unfiltered Camel hanging out of the corner of my mouth.

Thirty-Nine: “Shut up back there. I’m not driving three hours to Disney for you two while listening to this shit the entire ride there.

Where’s a bottle o’calm when you need one? Why aren’t they excited to go on the fucking Mad Hatter’s Tea Ride? Whose stupid idea was it to go to Disney?

When we got to our All Star Music resort, everyone was walking around, smiling brightly while handing out Mickey Mouse stickers and Disney pins. Everyone who greeted us was optimistic that we’d have a magical day. When we departed the Customer Relations area a half hour later with reassurance that my five-year old hopper passes were still usable, and with twenty five stickers and four My First Trip to Disney pins, their voices echoed behind us to have a magical day. The idea of having a magical day seemed unfathomable to me since these people hadn’t been in the car ride all the way there, but I wanted to believe I would.

When we got there, I decided that magical seemed too strong a word to associate with our day so far. As I forced Twelve to go on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Ride, all I hoped for was to have an unviolent day, or just a day that didn’t include law enforcement, hair-pulling, name-calling or medication of any type. We sat down and I immediately asked Twelve not to spin fast, since I’m old and had more potential to vomit. Twelve spun the fuck out of the tea cup anyway. I yelled. Seven got dizzy. Twelve got pissed.

I wobbled off and headed to the Haunted Mansion, telling Seven it’s fun more than scary. She seemed good with that, seemed being the operative word.

As we finally got to the black doors that we waited twenty minutes for, standing in four individual pools of sweat, Seven tore away in fear. I couldn’t help it: all of Magic Kingdom heard my rage over her cries of terror. We plunked our asses down outside, my inner, immature-self refusing to talk to an uncontrollably crying, yet apologetic, Seven. I envied the people coming off the ride, all happy with their stupid Disney dreams coming true. But when I saw little three and four-year olds coming out completely unscathed and without a hint of fear in their eyes, potentially scarring them for life, I pretty much folded my arms, stomped my feet, and pouted while I waited for my other brat to come out.

Seven: “Boo-hoo. Boo-hoooooooooooooooooooo

Thirty-Nine, close to tears and forgetting for a moment that I was, in fact, an adult: “It’s my favorite ride! It’s NOT scary! STOP CRYING!”

(I know one of you out of my small reading audience is saying what a mean, horrible bitch-of-a-mother I must be. To you I say… shut the fuck up). Onward….

After what seemed like an unmagical eternity in hell later, Twelve and Sixty-Seven came back. I dragged Twelve back onto the twenty minute line, and finally got my ridiculous ride that was now tainted by my guilt. The fun had already been sucked out of it by Seven. But Sixty-Seven took her to see the parade anyway while I jumped onto the moving, little black car, and swirled through the Haunted Mansion with the hitch-hiking ghosts, simultaneously reminiscing about being on that ride with my dad, Forever Fifty-Two, thirty years ago. It made me forget what an asshole I had been to my annoying, yet pathetically cute, sobbing child, even if just for a few moments.

By the time we got off, Sixty-Seven looked drippy and irritated. Apparently, while I was trying desperately to find a second or two of enjoyment, Seven had been displaying her infuriatingly strong, and obviously heat resistant will to my mother. According to Sixty-Seven, my child glared at her through a mass of oh, I don’t know, one million people closing in around her, seemingly unaffected by the fear of getting lost or snatched up. I mean, really, I can totally understand her crazed fear of scary fake corpses in a fake haunted mansion while her mother would have held her hand. I mean, that is way, way scarier than standing in the midst of millions of weird, sweaty, smelly strangers wearing mouse ears.

After yelling at her to obey her grandma and giving my people-are-crazy-and-can-snatch-you-away-forever speech, we left the area to find some other kind of torture. My mother and I walked around grumbling how we were both shocked that my kids seemed to be the only ones on the planet that seemed to hate Disney. I replayed everything in my head from the night before to that moment, trying to see where I went wrong when I offered to take my kids to a fun place. I had prodded them into the car that morning, excited for them, and for me. I felt like a good Mama, trying to make the last of their summer break fun, happy, and enjoyable. I had been intent on overcoming my fear of driving three-plus hours on an unfamiliar highway in an unfamiliar state, which I did, and I got us all there in one piece, thank God. But almost from the moment we saw that sign welcoming us to Walt Disney World, Where Dreams Come True, I saw only misery on their faces and heard nothing but complaints.

Anyway, the day continued like that. All day. All fucking day. And after cursing and yelling at unruly children in the happiest fucking place on earth, my former tingly feelings about being a good Mama dissolved into, where did I go wrong and why are my children so ungrateful?

We flew around on Aladdin’s ridiculous carpet for all of thirty seconds, grabbed a $40 freakin’ basket of chicken fingers, but, alas, we at least all finally agreed that The Pirates of the Caribbean was acceptable to all of us. The Buzz Lightyear ride was the hands-down winner of the hateful day, which we topped off with A Small World.

As we were leaving the park, Twelve and Seven decided that they needed snacks. Succumbing to the pressure of non-stop whining, I spent $6.50 on an ice pop, an ice cream, and a small dose of just shut the hell up. Then I just watched as the ices melted down their arms anyway.

Vendor: “Can I get you something, too?”

Worn and Weary Thirty-Nine: “No, thanks.”

Vendor: “I’ll give it to you free, just because you’re a great mom.”


Now, venom is sooooo not allowed in a place where princesses and happy, yet, ginormous mice, dogs and ducks wander around inviting joyful children to join them for photo-ops, but I had been feeling venomous all day. But just because you’re a great mom sounded so nice, so welcome, so completely Disney-ish and an unexpected departure from the nasty crap I had been hearing all day. He didn’t whine when he said it, or complain about anything, nor did he sneer at me. And this, coming from a complete stranger who didn’t know that I was on the verge of cursing out my children several hours ago. This, from a guy wearing a ridiculous get-up forced on him and others like him throughout the park who normally I’d be laughing at if I had any more venom left, but strangely enough, in that moment, I didn’t. The exhaustion of defeat had just about dissipated, all because some dude in a red and white striped costume offered me a free $4.00 cup of soda and a pleasant, if totally unfounded, compliment.

Thirty-Nine, (totally allowing this stranger’s kind words to seep into whatever part of my spirit had not been crushed, which was miniscule): “Um, a Diet Coke, please?”

He handed me my drink and I walked away, ignoring my arguing children and their sour, red, melting faces. The fact that he didn’t have any alcohol handy to spike my beverage somehow didn’t even bother me, either. My lip twitched. I almost smiled.

Maybe I left Disney without having a “magical day” as I was oft told to do, and maybe my dreams didn’t come true because they were crushed to death by my children’s utter dislike and disappointment, but at least I didn’t leave there dehydrated.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pole-Dancing with the Dead

So I already know that my sweet, mild-mannered son, Twelve, is smart, yet unfocused, and a class clown, yet in a reserved kind of way. Luckily, he's also CEO material. Whew....

Psychic: "You know your dad is here telling me these things. He's here with about 30 other people."

I looked around this woman's very normal, very child-friendly living space, picturing all these transparent-like Casper-ish figures standing around as if at a party. I made a peace sign with both hands and said, "heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyy!" I mean, really, what does one say to a room full of dead strangers?

This was the same psychic that Sixty-Seven spoke to a week earlier. She was kind enough to alleviate my worries about the son I am constantly telling to open a book and study; the kid I always think of as me, Thirty-Nine, in boy form. She said he needs to find focus. I sat there thinking that I had told him the same damn thing as the school year ended: that he better start focusing when he hits seventh grade in September, and just because he does well without even trying, he better start actually trying. All in all, she described my beautiful Twelve perfectly.

But then, she hits me with:

Psychic: "You're daughter is a force to be reckoned with."

Here it comes....

Psychic: "When this one enters a room, you know she's in the room."

No shit... really?

Psychic: "You know, your father's here holding up his pinkie. He's telling you she's got him wrapped around hers. He's enamored with her."

This, I already knew from Sixty-Seven's reading.

Psychic: "But this character and a half, she outshines her brother. Not that he doesn't have a personality, because he certainly does, but your girl outshines him."

Poor Twelve. In the shadow of this tiny force. And she said it would always be like that. Always.


Psychic: "This is the wild child."

Thirty-nine: "I knoooow!"

Psychic: "She'll take care of him."

Thirty-Nine: "I knoooow!"

Psychic: "You know, you won't see your son from ages 14-18 or 19. He'll be in and out all the time."

I nodded. It didn't surprise me since he's already been pulling away from me as it is. At twelve.

Psychic: "You know, you weren't a bad kid yourself. But you have a wild side nobody knows about."

Well, until that moment, anyway. And it was a secret between only me, her, my dad and the 30 or so other dead people chillaxin' with us. And now, you guys. All six of ya.

Psychic: "Your girl... now that's your pole-dancer."

Thirty-Nine: "I knooooooooooooooow!!"

It was the longest one-syllable word ever uttered.

Psychic: "She's the one you'll be giving the Breathalyzer tests to at 2:30 in the morning."

I laughed out of fear, but also acknowledgment. I knew this shit deep down anyway. After all, she is my mini-me in looks, so she might as well be it in personality, as well. God help everyone.

I know that this woman wasn't told one thing about me. She was actually going to cancel my appointment because she didn't feel well, but she told the person who made the appointment on my behalf, "that woman Sixty-Seven's husband is hangin' around still. Why? Am I seeing her daughter tonight?" When her agent confirmed this, Psychic said, "No, I can't cancel. I have to speak to her."

And speak to me she did. She told me what she told my mother the week before, (about dear old Dead Dad), but she also touched on three specific things in my life with dead-on (pun anyone?) accuracy. I'm going to keep her visions regarding that personal part of my world to myself, but while my life story unravels, I'm going to pull out the six pieces of paper I scribbled on while she spoke to re-read them every once in a while to see if any of it applies. Who knows? Maybe it will, maybe it won't. I can't help believing in her though since this is the only psychic I've been to where I came away feeling....reassured and comforted.

I'm sure there are at least 4 out of the 6 of you reading that think it's all bullshit. Forty-Four certainly does. But if I ever find Seven wrapped around a pole one day in the future, beer on her breath, I'll be blogging about it and you'll be begging for this psychic's phone number.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Like White on Rice

I'm always awake; the noise in my head is so fucking loud. New problems, old problems, solved problems: they're all game for some re-thinking. I'm still trying to figure out why I dated a boy/man who was five years older than me when I was in 9th grade. Five years of my life were completely devoted to him, and the next 25 had been sprinkled with thoughts of regret over why the hell I was so devoted to him.

My mind doesn't shut off. Little things, like how bad I'm going to feel in the morning when I have to leave my dog alone, to the larger things, like how I'm going to pay for school, consume me. These things sit in my head, heating up as the day progresses like kernels of corn sizzling in a pot of hot oil waiting to pop. And when my head hits the pillow at one or two in the morning, the popping is what keeps me awake until three.

There's so much discontent in my life, but even on the days when life is sitting well enough with me to a certain degree that I can actually start a task and carry it through to completion, I still don't feel any peace of mind. I often wonder why it is I can't put anything to rest. No matter how hard I try, nothing's ever dealt with and then forgotten; nothing ever has closure.

One particular relationship in my life barely had time to blossom before it was cut off; the person moved away, leaving a huge question mark what-iffing me to death for a long time, just like many other things before that and after. Friendships that I had thought sat on solid ground always seemed to end without warning or explanation, leaving me, again, faltering and wondering. But of course the biggest lack of closure, and the most significant one, was regarding who killed my father and why.

It's been almost 20 years since he's died and now that I, Thirty-Nine, am approaching Forty, I've come to accept he's not here, and have tried to reconcile his absence from mine and my children's lives. It's a difficult thing to attempt, but I never give up trying. After all, I have no choice. But even so, there will always be that desperate melancholy that permeates my soul when I see grandpas and grandchildren together.

Sixty-Seven called me up the other most shittiful day with Forty-Seven on the line. The two of them together meant something was a-brewin'. Apparently, they had just gotten off the phone with a psychic and needed to inform me of what had happened. Over the past 20 years, we have talked to psychics: some on the phone while they searched through old coffee grinds to "read" our fates, and others in person. Some seemed to say a few remarkably accurate things, while most just generalized. We've been to George Anderson, one of the first famous mediums to blast into the public eye claiming to communicate with the dead. My family read his books voraciously; they explained how he learned of his "gift" of communicating with dead people and how he couldn't be disproved. We suddenly had a tiny spark of hope: maybe there were people in this world who really might be able to help us communicate with our dad so that we could finally get some answers. Then we found John Edward. He, too, communicated with the dead. We read his books and watched his television show and even saw him in person. We still hoped for answers even when we weren't able to get them from either medium. But that day, two days ago, that awfully shitty day-in-the-life-of-Thirty-Nine, was somehow different.

Sixty-Seven: "This psychic told me I had a daughter with one child, and another daughter, my youngest, with two. She said the oldest grandchild has an attitude and a half and is a crack-up. He's also sometimes a prick."

We all laughed. Accurate enough.

Sixty-seven: "She then said my youngest daughter has a son who's sweet and mild-mannered."

Awwwws all around. My boy, Twelve.

Sixty-seven: "And listen to this."

I sensed something good, but never this good:

Sixty-seven: "She described Seven to a T. She's a princess and a yenta and a half. (laughter) She said Daddy can't get enough of her and he's with her all the time, protecting her. In her exact words, he's with her 'like white on rice.' He gets such a kick out of her because she reminds him of you as a little girl. He's always with her."

I cried the moment the words fell out of Sixty-seven's mouth. Just the thought that my dad was with my baby girl -protecting her, hovering around her- made me weak with relief. And belief. I never believed anything so much in my entire life and nobody will ever convince me otherwise.

Sixty-seven was flabbergasted as well. She said she was sure the first boy in the family, Fourteen, would be the focus of his dead grandfather's attention; never once did it cross her mind, or our's, for that matter, that Sassy Seven would have been the one Grandpa liked to hang around.

I wiped my eyes and fetched the now-burned chicken nuggets out of the toaster oven.

Thirty-Nine: "Here, Seven. Sorry they're burned."

I handed her the plate, phone still cradled on my shoulder. I couldn't help myself:

Thirty-Nine: "Hi dad."

Sixty-seven and Forty-seven laughed.

It was funny in a way, but serious in another. Funny that I addressed my dead father as I handed my daughter her lunch, yet serious in the way that now when I look at her, at her heavy-lidded eyes that we always joked were like her Grandpa's, I see my dad. Almost literally.

We were told by this psychic woman that my father is always with us, watching and protecting. We were told he loves my mother now more than he ever did. We were told that my father's father saw the gun and immediately came down and brought my father's soul quickly to heaven. We were told that his biggest regret is how he left us alone and in such a mess.

Sure, we might be gullible. But if someone told you after 20 years of whys, what ifs, and I wishes, that your daughter was being protected everyday by her grandpa, wouldn't you, too, believe?

It's the kind of closure I always dreamed of...

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Today, June 7th, would have been my dad's 72nd birthday and this December marks the twentieth anniversary of his murder. I have spent half of my life without a dad, and to tell the truth, I don't really remember what it's like to even have one.

Every year, when either his birthday, Father's Day, or the anniversary approaches, I tell myself , "Just don't think about it too much. Don't walk around or mope so people will know I am thinking about him. I can think about him, (or not), and cry about him, (or not)." Trying not to think about any of it just makes his absence even more overwhelming, which, of course, makes me cry anyway.

Last night I was looking at some pictures my mom posted on her Facebook page and I was so taken by both my parents' youth, their beauty, their...togetherness. It struck me that once upon half-a-lifetime-ago, I had parents - plural. In that other part of my life, never did I imagine that there would be any parenting done by anything less than two people.

As a kid, I always imagined that when I was a grown woman with my own kids, I'd return to my parents' house - my childhood house- to watch them "grandparent" my children. I struggle now, still trying to imagine what it would have been like. Would my dad be more interactive with them than he was with me? Would my mom have the kids sleep over on weekends and make them teddybear-shaped pancakes in the morning? Would my mom even wake up before 10:30 to make the pancakes? Would my kids climb the same tree that my sisters and I climbed in the backyard? My life seems punctuated with endless question marks. You know, I actually rent out small spaces in the worlds of "what-if," "it's not fair," and "why us? why me?" It's not even like I want to be in any of those places; real estate there is automatically included in the "losing-a-loved-one" package.

On any of the occasions that would typically honor my father's life, like today, it's his death that somehow winds up dominating my mind. It's not the memories of his life, or the memories of the (very) few things we did together that pop into my mind, but the way he died and what my entire family is missing because of his death that saturates my thoughts. However, there are years when his birthday comes and goes almost as if it's like any other day, but maybe because my kids have to be somewhere or the day is simply over-scheduled enough to keep my mind mostly occupied. While I always acknowledge the day somehow, even if silently to myself, and allow it to pass dry-eyed, I will still call my mom just because I want to acknowledge it outloud for her.

So many years have gone by now and all of the people in my daily life have no clue who my father was, including my husband and children. My mother recently said that she wanted to write a memorial to him on the twentieth anniversary of his death because, "I want people to remember him, to remember he was here." Maybe it wasn't in those exact words, but pretty close. When a person passes away, all you hear is that person's name for some time. But then what happens after those first few months or even a year? Nothing. Nobody ever mentions it again, as if that person never existed at all. At least that's how it feels. Certainly, I don't expect anyone to say my dad's name in casual conversation every day for the remainder of my life, but it would be nice if someone had a random memory to share with me about him. I'm a huge believer in sharing; I do it all the time. I remember seeing a friend many years after high school and telling her how I still remembered the smell of the soap in the bathroom of her childhood home, and also a funny story about her father, who had since passed away. She seemed so grateful to know that someone remembered those things, especially about her dad. Honestly, I told her because they were happy memories for me and I really wanted to share them just for the sake of reconnecting through that old childhood bond, but in the end, I was thrilled that it made her feel good on a completely different level.

I feel so accustomed to silence where my own dad is concerned. Sure, every once in awhile you have to tell someone that your loved one is dead if it comes up in coversation, and sure, he or she says they're sorry. As sorry as anyone might be, there's a certain disconnect to their sympathy because they never knew the person who died. I really wish someone in my life actually knew him, knew he existed which makes me understand my mom feels compelled to write a memorial in honor of him. Last night, feeling overwhelmed with life and feeling sad looking at the old pictures of my parents, I started to cry for a few minutes. Nobody wants to be sad alone, so I went downstairs to sit with my son and my husband but I started to cry again. My son asked me what was wrong and I said, "Tomorrow would have been your grandpa's birthday." Neither of them said a word. Their complete, yet faultless, disconnect to my sadness was because neither of them knew my dad nor understood my loss, but their silence made my grief even more suffocating. So, I called my mom.

I really never know exactly how I'm going to feel on Father's Day, when I have to give cards to my husband's dad instead of my own, for instance, or on my dad's birthday, like today. Maybe I'll mention it to my friend if we're on the phone, or I'll call my sister and talk about how old my father would be if he was still alive. Maybe I'll say hi to him when I finally go to bed, in the dark, at the end of a long day full of child-related activities. Maybe I'll cry alone, like I've done many, many times.

What I do know is that I love him and I'm heartbroken that he's not here anymore. But at one time, he was here. For all of you who never knew him, or for all of you who knew I once had a father but don't remember him, his name was Nathan Mizrahi.

And today, he's "Seventy-Two."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jazz Blues

Tonight I watched my son, Eleven, play his trumpet in one of his last Jazz band concerts in elementary school. This was the third time this week, (and the fourth time in the past two weeks), that I went to whichever school his jazz band "tour" was stopping at to play their groovy tunes. Each time, I couldn't help but stare mostly at the tall boy standing in the back row; the boy who is now taller than his mother; the boy whose mustache has been darkening by the day; the boy who's quickly looking less like a boy and more like a man. I stared simply out of shock because this boy is my son.

I brought my camcorder tonight and zoomed in to watch him as he blew into his trumpet. It was a fight just to get him to go to the concert, partly because he didn't want to miss baseball, and partly because he constantly claims he isn't interested in jazz band, or any band, for that matter, at all. So, we gave him the choice to play most of the game with the option to leave early to get to the concert. He said if he couldn't play the entire ball game, he wasn't going to play at all. This confused me, though, since whenever I tell him he has a baseball game, on nights when there are no conflicting concerts or anything else, he insists he's not going to play ball, either. I can't figure out what this kid wants and that was exactly what I was trying to do as I zoomed in on his face; figure out what was going on inside his head.

He looked sorta bored, sorta sad, even, whenever he removed the trumpet from his lips. His shoulders looked all slumpy, which is not unusual for him, as this posture is his norm when he's not feeling confident in himself. I nudged Forty-Three in the ribs, partly to hurt him, but mostly to get his attention.

Thirty-Nine: "He's all slumpy. He has no confidence."
Forty-Three: " ."

No, that's not a typo; Forty-Three is a man of limited responses. He just sort of nodded in agreement.

But I didn't need any response anyway. As a mother, I knew what I needed to do regardless of whether Forty-Three had anything to grunt in agreement or disagreement about. When the last sounds of Louie Louie faded out and as the children started filing off the stage, I found my son's band teacher and thanked her for the wonderful work with the band and the music program. I also thanked her, as I'm apt to do in my end-of-the-school-year thank you notes, as well, for her utter belief in my son and his innate musical ability. I wanted him to play a solo in the concert and expressed how sad I felt that he simply lacked the desire or the confidence to do so. It was difficult not to break down in tears, as again, I am apt to do when I talk about my kids, when I thanked her for encouraging him endlessly, and even admitted to her that I felt that not only was he letting her down by not practicing his instrument, but that I, too, was letting her down because I couldn't force him to love the trumpet or make him play like she believed he could play. She told me not to give up on him because even though next year in Junior High school he would probably lose interest, (lose even more interest, really), he might get it back. (unfortunately, though, I am not hearing wonderful things about the school's musical department, so.... a big "uh-oh" right there).
By the time we got home to watch my DVR'd American Idol, I still couldn't help thinking about my Eleven: an awesome trumpeter, an impressive home-run-hitter, a phenomenal third-base man. On top of that, he's also a smart, handsome kid with a good heart and a sensitive little soul. I stopped the DVR playback for what turned out to be a good ten minutes in order to tell my unconfident child some things he needed to hear.

I told him that because he has so many people believing in him, he needs to try to believe in himself, as well. Maybe it's wrong to do so on some level, but I told him that I never believed in myself and that I still struggle with that every day of my life - and I'm close to forty years old. I told him that I always allowed other people's negative opinions about me to become my opinions about me instead of believing all the good things I really knew to be true about myself. Every teacher he has ever had since preschool only had glowing things to report about his capabilites. Use them, I told him. Don't waste your youth trying to be too cool, or sitting in front of video games all day. Take the love and encouragement from your teachers and from us to feed your talents. Yes, I'm annoying, yes, I push you, I continued, but all for good reason. I wanted to play the piano and the drums, but I never got to. I never had the push that you have. Take advantage of it, I implored. I only do these things because I see how disappointed you are in yourself, how you don't think you are any good. Youth is when you can explore what you like, what you're good at. This is your time to blossom, I said.

He was laying on the loveseat, his long legs and big feet hanging over the side. I could see the thicker hair on his manlier-looking legs. But the way he was looking up at me was so child-like, so innocent. For the first time in, wow, I don't even know how long, I think he was actually listening to me. And not the one ear to me, one ear to Family Guy kind of listening, but absorbing listening. My tear ducts let one or two drops sneak out. You don't even know the depth of my love or pride, I added.

Eleven didn't turn away from me like he usually would even though I knew he was exhausted and that he just wanted to watch Adam Lambert and Kris Allen sing their final songs. He looked up at me, waiting. I added as much as I could, as much as I could articulate at 11 PM and with only 8 hours of sleep in two days. I, too, was so tired, but I took this "alone time" as an opportunity to share my desires with him as a parent. I begged him to learn from me, not because I am his mom, or only because I'm older, which we all know doesn't always mean wiser, or not because I know everything there is to know, but only because in this instance - the believing in oneself department - I know whereof I speak. The gist of everything I was talking about came down to using his youth, talents, and the push from his educators and parents to his advantage and not to let it slip away before it was too late.

He fell asleep, still in his black pants and white button-down, sprawled on that small couch. It still hurts me that I can no longer lift him up, carry him upstairs, change him into his Spiderman pajamas, and tuck him into bed. But if I can lift him up in other ways, then so be it.

As adults, we always wish we knew then what we know now, and when we were children, we thought we knew everything. I still don't know why my son looked so unhappy on that stage tonight, whether he really was just bored, or if he was feeling anxious just because he's Eleven going on Twelve and that's what eleven year olds going on twelve look like. Was he up there wishing he was at baseball? Was he up there angry that I was clapping proudly in the audience?
Was he up there thinking about a negative observation his friend pointed out earlier today that made him feel self-conscious?

As a mother, I can only guess about these things, but I do hope that now when my son has that certain look on his face, that maybe he's thinking about something important I once told him.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Beginning and the End. Period.

On February 8, 1982, 2:50 PM, that sudden, desperate need to pee hit me, but because it was almost time to pack up and get on the bus for home, I debated whether or not I could hold it in. My bladder must have heard my internal debate because it somehow communicated that a slow leak would be inevitable if I didn't book it to the girls' room - and fast. After getting permission from my teacher, I ran as best as one could run while pressing one's thighs together. Finally, and thankfully, I made it without peeing myself first. When I glanced down mid-pee, I noticed something on the undies I'd swiped from my sister's drawer that morning (because they were so cool). The realization that I'd just gotten my period, two days after my twelfth birthday, made me dizzy. And excited. I couldn't wait to get back to class to tell my friends. But I first had to tell my teacher, a woman I strongly disliked, so she'd let me go get a maxi pad from the gym teacher, as we'd been instructed to do when we had the sex ed class a few months earlier.

Twelve-Year-Old Me: "Mrs. O'Hara, I need to go see Mrs. Duchin."

Teacher, eyeing me up and down: "Did you get your period?"

Either I came back into the classroom leaving a trail of blood behind me, or "Mrs. Duchin" had been previously determined by the the faculty to be code for "student got her period." I nodded the affirmation of my womanhood, and ran out the door. By the time I left the locker room in the gym, I had something stuck to my undies equivalent to the size of a canoe. Wearing sweatpants didn't help, as the huge bulges in the front and back looked suspicious. I tied my sweatshirt around my waist, ran back to class, and proceeded to tell a few (disbelieving) friends. When I got home, I changed into my robe, as if having my first period sapped me of all energy, and required hot soup and bedrest. I called my mom, non-chalantly adding to the end of the conversation that she needed to bring me home a box of pads. Then I called my sister's best friend, my mother's best friend, and told anyone else that happened to call or come over that day.

Each month I waited anxiously for my new "friend" to come visit. Sometimes she came, sometimes she didn't. But it was still exciting knowing I was one of the first to get my period. From then on, my mother stocked the bathroom wicker cabinet with enough maxis, minis, pantyliners, and tampons for all four females in the family. It was a time for celebration; a new beginning of sorts.

Or was it?

A celebration? Hardly. A new beginning? Yes - to monthly agony. Long gone are the days when I anxiously counted the days on the calendar, waiting for the proof of my womanhood to show up. I think the novelty of that shit wore off when my periods started becoming more regular, rather than skipping a month or two, and when the cramps and mood swings started.

Male reader(s), take note: it is not a myth that hormones are a bitch, nor are they empty excuses women use for anything we need to excuse. They are the cause for everything from bad attitudes, ("MUST you breathe like that?") to extreme and insatiable hunger ("Yeah, so WHAT if I downed the fucking tortilla chips and the tub of Cool Whip?"), to rainy days on Mondays. The strength of a woman's will when her hormones are kickin' is powerful, well except when it comes salty and sweet, that is.

Forty-Three insists that I have one good week a month. Really, I'm in a perpetual state of periodness. There's the week before, when the appetite starts stirring, the week of, when people who cross my path are really in for it if they say hello to me without the proper tone, and the week after, when I feel like shit for the previous two weeks from eating too much and for yelling at people, my kids especially, because my hormones told me to.

Where the hell did I get the idea when I was twelve that my period was something to celebrate? I've had that bitch with me for twenty-seven years, or twenty-five and a half, if you minus my pregnancy years. It's nothing but a nuisance. I'm not having any more kids, (although not by my choice, but by Forty-Three's insistence that he was too old even when he was thirty-six to have kids), so it's not like I need to have my period anymore. But that, my five or six friends out in blogdom, is another blog all by itself.

Who wants to search for period-designated underwear every month, remember to lose the thong pre-period, just in case of early arrival, and schedule activites and outfits around it? I've had enough. Really. But then again, now that I'm Thirty-Nine, and menopause (or even perimenopause) isn't too, too far away in my future, I'm wondering if having my period might be the lesser of these two evils. Aging sucks for the very reasons I already mentioned in Damaged Goods, but even though it annoys the shit out of me, the thought of not having my period is a little frightening at the same time. It would mean I couldn't even entertain the idea of having any more biological children (if my partner was actually willing), and that all the changes I thought were bad in my thirties were really not bad at all, by comparison.

With the decrease of estrogen levels, there's an increase in other things that no woman in her right mind would want. It's bad enough having to tuck my tits into my jeans while still in my thirties, so I don't need start growing facial hair on top of that. You all know what I'm talkin' 'bout. Who hasn't seen a woman well past menopause with a mustache any pubescent boy (and some mature, semi-hairless men) wouldn't kill for? I have plucked an errant hair here and there, and I refuse to have any more than that. Refuse. If the day comes when I suddenly find myself in the bathroom, fighting for mirror time while Forty-Three and I shave our beards together, it's all over for me; the end. The couple that shaves together, stays together, my ass! I'm gonna need to find someone who deals estrogen - the good shit. Not those pansy hormone replacement pills the gyno gives; I want the strongest stuff in the estrogen-drug market because if I ever find a hair sprouting from any weird place on my body - a nipple, out of my ear - God help anyone within the vicinity.

I'm not hearing or reading favorable things about menopause, although there is one good thing: no more panty paraphernalia! But that's it. Periods are bad enough with the mood swings and constant hunger. (My mother-in-law constantly tells me that I "need to see someone about that.") but menopause has additional horrors: night sweats, hot flashes, loss of libido, vaginal dryness? Vaginal dryness? Come on, now. Hasn't my vagina suffered enough between the two childbirths and the unkind remarks by my gyno? If she could speak, she'd be begging for therapy. Loss of estrogen is so brutal. I mean, my voice is already getting deeper as I age without being in menopause. What else can I look forward to? Growing a penis?

I sit here, cramps upon me, craving a blob of melted mozzarella cheese, browned and bubbly. My stomach is distended, I'm yelling at my daughter, and I'm fighting a sudden bout of crabbiness, so I know it's the week before my frenemy's arrival. After thinking about the pros and cons of period-dom and menopause, I think if given the choice, I'd have to stick to the period. Let's face it: it's the beginning of womanhood and it does have some privileges, like getting out of gym class when you're a kid, (and sex as an adult), and allows for at least a couple of days when calorie consumption is allowed to go unlogged. By not having it, I'd feel like something, besides my estrogen production, was slowing down, if not coming to an end, like my thong-wearing days and the assumption that people would know I was a woman simply by the sound of my voice. I mean, really, am I gonna have to unbutton my pants to flash people my tits to prove it?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fear Factor....

(Note: This isn't really my blog... This is just an assignment I had to write for my class in school. When writing for magazines, word-count is of the utmost importance, so it's important to be aware of it as you write. But how do you get across a feeling, an idea, or an experience when you have to do it in 1,500 words or less? It's hard...really, really hard, and word choice is crucial. So, because I am unable to blog the silliness I sporadically blog about, I figured I would post this. Hopefully, if anyone reads this, everything, or at least some of the things, I was trying to convey in this piece will come across the way they were meant to. (And if the message you get by the ending is that I'm a freak... wrong message!) Anyway, this is my Fear Factor...

Every Sunday night when I was around nine years old, I would start crying as soon as I went to bed. To this day, my mother still tells me how frustrated she was whenever she heard the whimpering coming from my room.
“What is it?” she’d ask when I’d peek through her bedroom door minutes later, rubbing the tears from my eyes.
“I don’t wanna go to school.”
“You have to.”
“It just comes into my mind that I do not want to go to school.”
And that’s what I said, verbatim, every week. I didn’t know why the thought of going to school on Monday mornings caused me so much grief and anxiety. But halfway through my favorite Sunday evening television show, The Jeffersons, I’d start feeling sad, and by the time Alice came on afterwards, I’d start monitoring the clock, counting the minutes until it would be over. When I finally turned off the T.V. to go to sleep, my eyes would get scratchy and begin to water.
It was only when I became an adult that my mother finally figured out the reason for my weekly crying jags. I had lost two relatively young grandparents when I was around five, the only uncle I ever knew when I was around eight, and the family dog (who’d been with my parents longer than I had), when I was nine. My mom’s theory that I was scared she might die while I was in school made sense and manifested in my Sunday night crying jags. Even if I couldn’t articulate it, the seed of fear had been sown in my mind. I somehow knew that a person didn’t have to be old and wrinkled in order to die, and that once you were dead, that was it. My uncle could never make me one of his toasted-bread-tuna-fish-and-lettuce sandwiches again; I’d never hear my dog, Kelly, howl from the sound of a passing police car’s blaring siren; and because I rarely saw them to begin with, I’d never remember what my grandparents’ voices sounded like.
That cluster of loss unfortunately was not the only one like that in my life. When enough years had finally passed to at least mellow my fears about death and loss, a friend of mine was killed while crossing the street on her bicycle, and a few years later, a boy from my high school died in a car crash. As all bad things happen in threes, or so it’s been said, my mother’s fifty-two year old best friend died right after I turned sixteen. What he figured was minor heartburn had actually been the beginning of a heart attack and he died that night. Death was neither choosy about age, nor its method, as I was learning, and its unpredictability was unnerving. How would these families ever survive?
In November 1989, my friend’s father, who was a cop, was killed on the job. I couldn’t imagine how he’d be able to go through life knowing his dad died by someone else’s hands until a month later when my own father never came home for dinner. He’d been late many times before, but my mother had never gone looking for him, until that night. My one sister had gone with her while my oldest sister and I remained home. The tension in the air between us while we waited wasn’t because of her usual disdain for my presence; it was caused by an unfamiliar worry. They seemed to be gone for a long time, as the store my father owned was only about seven minutes away, but for all I know now, it might have only been a few minutes since the anticipation of anything invariably makes time go by slower. When they finally did return, my mother must have been shocked into an eerie sense of calm when she rather neutrally announced, “Your father’s been murdered.”
We had no solid reason to think anything was wrong that night; we never received a phone call, nor had a grim-looking officer shown up at our doorstep informing us of bad news. The friendships the Freeport police had cultivated with my parents over the twenty-plus years they’d known them had indeed been in conflict with their duties as officers. It was only our mom’s sixth sense that something had happened to our dad that spurred her out the door that night. Her fears were confirmed when she saw police swarming the parking lot where my dad’s car was parked. My mother’s last vision of my father was his body slumped over the steering wheel in his car. We were later informed that after he had closed his store for the night and sat in his car waiting for it to warm up, someone shot him at close range. From what we were told, he must have seen the person, lifted his arm instinctively, yet uselessly, to protect himself, and the bullet hit the main artery to his heart, killing him instantly.
There was scarcely time to absorb what had happened as funeral arrangements had to be made within twenty-four hours, according to Jewish law. The funeral, however, was two days later, and I can only guess it had to do with the nature of his death. His extended family made all of the arrangements as best as they could to conform to the religious procedures of a faith we barely practiced because, “that’s what he would have wanted.” We were driven to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn where the women huddled together on one side, while the men prayed on the opposite side. We watched as an unadorned pine box was carried in by some of his cousins and his deceased brother’s sons, his body naked inside and wrapped in a religious shroud. The entire service was done in Hebrew, none of which we understood, and without emotion or consolation. When it concluded, we left the temple and stood in the middle of some street in an unfamiliar city. Because of a ridiculous rule that didn’t allow women at the cemetery, we were only allowed to watch as his body was driven away in a hearse. We never saw him; we never threw dirt on the grave after it had been lowered into the ground; we never said goodbye.
We grieved by instruction, not by individual need. Jews sit Shiva for a week and that’s what we did. We were told when to eat, how to accept visitors, where to sit, and not to answer phones or doors. The dictates of a religion I cared nothing about superseded how I needed to mourn. It was my loss; our loss; I wanted to be angry and hateful, eat when, or even if, I wanted to; I wanted to smoke a carton of cigarettes and crawl into bed. But even at nineteen, I knew life outside of my house on Ann Road still continued, and that I had no choice but to continue living, as well. I went back to my same job and my same college classes, although a slightly different person. I knew his death not only signified physical loss, but abstract loss: no cheesy father-daughter wedding dances; no more fishing trips; he’d never know his future grandchildren. I knew I’d be forced to grow up quicker by being forced into the working world, and out of the security of my former family life.
But there are more than just those losses. Although I’m no longer that child with normal fears about death, I’m now an adult with irrational ones. The first, most vivid memory of my life is when my mother told us my father was murdered. The second is the coverage from Channel 12 News. “Freeport Business Man Murdered,” some newsperson said, as cameras panned the image of my father’s dead body hanging out of his car, the Reebox on his feet my Chanukah gift to him a few days before. For a while after he was killed, I was scared and looked over my shoulder wherever I went; I became fearful of everything.
I attach extraordinary amounts of danger to the most ordinary things, and it not only applies to me, but to my children. I worry if they stand by a railing on the second floor at the mall because they could topple over and fall into the Koi pond below; a low-flying airplane means a crash is imminent and makes me wonder if I’m close enough that I’ll get hit with part of the wing; a jog over the Southern State parkway incites a panic that I might somehow stumble and fall over the surrounding fence and die a splattering death on the hood of a speeding Honda. I had never considered the possibility of a murder happening in my family, but because it did, it makes me believe something just as horrific is equally likely, and I unfortunately live my life waiting for it.