The Center is Holding.
We struggle, Him and myself, with parents biological, adoptive, birth and step. We are hostage to four separate tragedies, playing themselves out before our eyes. We strive to honor our significant elders and beaten down we cling together and pray for patience and humor and thick skin.
Richard joined me and the kids at the Hotel for the annual Christmas celebration. Himself and I have a deal that he only has to see my mother on her birthday and I only have to see his father on his. Even in the few days since the move downstairs there is noticeable decline, although the strangeness of the big dinner and the room crammed with families may have addled her a bit more.
I am never able to eat the gravy laden served on styrofoam plates meals plopped in front of us at these huge holiday banquets but my mother and the kids, and even Richard eats with the nostalgic abandon of a kid in a cafeteria. I pick at my food. My mother glances at me. "Layne, you're not eating." "Yes I am." She returns to scraping the gravy from her chicken and shaping it with her fork into a smooth little mound, as if to say, "I dislike gravy." Spuds finishes every last pea and eyes my plate and I swap my full one for his empty one for him to attack. My mother glances at the empty plate in front of me. "Did you eat all that?" she asks, outraged.
I made latkes in the kitchen that I never enter without feeling deeply thankful for. I was reminded of how my dad always beamed when he talked about the screening room on Fulton Avenue. He did it on the cheap, completely by his own design, and it was cunning and groovy and I remember him running films and smoking his pipe and listening to Nelson Riddle or Artie Shaw in his beatnik riff on a French Cafe. This is the most happy memory I have of him. This space was the most beautiful thing he ever created in his life. I wake my beloved from a sound sleep and beg him to hold me so I feel safe and he is weary but he does. I cook in the kitchen I worked so hard to bring to fruition while the kids lounge about eating microwave popcorn right out of the bag and watching Arrested Development on the new t.v. and Himself sits in the corner and blogs and whispers little songs to his poodle. It is almost unbearably sweet. The center is holding. When I get over feeling bereft and humiliated, I am reminded again and again that I have what I need and then I bask in luxury.
The center is holding although tears are shed on Christmas, a day through California, from L.A. to S.F. up the 5 with snow and winds and tumbleweeds and pounding rain and rainbows and crystal skies and every second looked like the most romantic of matte paintings or idealized landscape of the big big west. The 16 year old made a trip playlist and recorded all of my favorite albums and a couple of Himself's on his IPOD and we listened on shuffle, each song a wonderful new treat, until Himself was driven, by the under representation of his musical tastes, to his own IPOD and the wife canceller's, the headphones which he spends hours of car time painstakingly cleaning and fussing over. Soon after, the 16 year old tired of my lexicon and reclaimed his IPOD and Himself and I listened then to a few hours of an Irish Radio produced reading of Ulysses, the part where Bloom burns the kidney and probably farther into the book than I ever got for a film and literature course I got an "A" in anyway. But I saw the movie.
Our rental apartment is on a sort of scuzzy part of busy Fell Street. The stairs are wobbly and steep and there is the musty small of rotting wood and vaguely damp carpet. The banister is six inches too low and rough with splinters. The towels are thin and the unheated bathroom is dank and moist. The tiny kitchen cupboard contains a head of garlic, a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels with a few sips left, reduced sodium soy sauce and thousands of packets of salt from In 'N Out Burger. We ordered Indian food online, a huge novelty because the only delivery available on Mt. Washington is Pizza Hut and the food was surprisingly good, particularly when followed by the pint of Hagen Daz I splurged on when I lay in a small store of provisions at the woebegone bodega, alone and lonely on Christmas Day.
We learned at an Exploratorium exhibit ways that married people can argue more constructively. We have issues that are such ancient history we don't even bother anymore. I eat in bed. I am extravagant. I am my mother's vain needy daughter. He would rather have a 13-year-old get drunk than waste a drop of the hard cider I was unable to finish. My beloved has now learned though that walking ahead of me, that beyond speechifying, hard kernel of ancient history, can have devastating results. Nearly half a century of pain and shame was savaged at him as long legs forged ahead en route to a dingy Chinese restaurant. We are full of empathy. We are disappointed and angry. I am tempted to change this to "I" am full of empathy and "I" am disappointed and angry because maybe it is arrogant for me to presume my beloved's feelings and foolish to try to capture the recent maelstrom in dumb meager words. Whenever Himself was wistful and yearning to know his biological parents, I assured him that this was something he'd overrated. But my heart hurts as he discovers that there is a truth to this. We have always said that the Bay area has been very good to us. This is a trip that challenges that. Or, it challenges us to make it so. We are tender and in this sentence I have no temptation to change the "we" to "I".
The center holds. We cling tight with every sorrow and in each other’s arms we are more certain than we have ever been that God's grace shines on us now and more strange and wonderful, is that it always has. I write this from the old redwood ringed Mt. Hermon cabin where we stayed last summer, next door to Chris and Bob. This is our longest winter visit. Himself and I are both vulnerable to cold and sometimes even in milder L.A. our teeth chatter and our bones ache. We long to retire here and pass our days with books and walks and music and simple meals and complicated conversation. I guess we'll tolerate the cold, if we take vigorous strolls and clomp about in heavy socks and nubbly sweaters. I am waiting for Obama to wave his magic wand and let us believe again that this is possible.
Plotting retirement is foolish and masochistic in dire times when we are asking ourselves questions about short term survival that we never dreamed, after our decades of hard work, we would be asking. My mother's notions of past and future have degraded now in a (serendipitous) wearing out of an eighty eight year old brain. My own "now" demands my full attention and it requires self discipline not to wander from past to future in avoidance of the terrifying present. The center is holding but I have to keep reminding myself that this is true. I lie on the cheap Herculon couch in this funky cabin watching daytime network television with my indolent goofball teenage boys. We sleep in a double bed in a pine walled room, closed off from the central heating. The morning light streams through the redwoods and shines on our tangled bodies. The room fills with the ancient, familiar scent of our awakening together. I thank God for keeping me so very warm and am reminded the center is holding and it is sweet and solid.
May we all be showered with blessings in the new year, the year I believe will define for all of history the turn of the millennium. I send special love to Chris and Bob whose friendship affirms how very good the Bay area has been to us indeed, but we beg them to contact the Dog Whisperer post haste. Leaving our refuge here and returning home to home’s trevails is softer for me, knowing I will begin New Year’s Eve exercising and bitching in the dark cold with my beloved bootcamp sisters who are an anchor and a comfort. I cherish every minute I am blessed to spend with them, except for the exercise part.