Friday, February 5, 2010

It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want To

It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To

My father married three women who were obsessed with their bodies and suspicious of traditional medicine. My current stepmother made my father endure a grueling round of expensive blood cleansing routines called “chelation” performed by a physician who clung to his license via gossamer thread. The cupboards over the marble wet bar in their condo overflow with natural food store herbs and remedies. I avoid her phone calls because I lack the patience to endure the enumeration of her physical ailments. The first stepmother wasn’t hypochondriacal as I recall but obsessive about health and enthusiastic about crackpot alternatives. In the sixties, before it was hugely trendy she was a big health food store advocate, fasted, camped and practiced naturalism and free love.

My mother would visit many doctors but never take prescription medication, claiming her constitution was far too delicate. She distrusted Jewish physicians but made an exception and requested a referral to THE Dr. Lewinsky when she was prescribed a brief course of radiation. She had a weird affected way of saying the name. Loo´ in sky. I know it would be impossible for her to keep her mouth shut about the infamous daughter and I cringe to think about what she probably said to him. She suffered from mild asthma but always, like stepmother #2, was on the brink of death from some malady, the frequent mention of which was always accompanied by a weak wristed palm to forehead and a guttural, “This is a rough one kid.” Plus the between the lines, “You’ll realize how much you love me and will feel guilty when I’m dead.”

Since being institutionalized over three years ago Mom has been given a daily course of asthma and other medications and consequently her physical health has been quite good for a woman in her late eighties. There are intermittent problems with edema and potassium levels and her crepey skin is paper thin and easily bruised. Otherwise since leaving Fulton Avenue she has been of robust appetite and generally sturdy until a recent and potentially serious at her age, respiratory ailment. Dementia has stripped her of many things that I miss but also of complaint and bitterness.

It has taken me over fifty years, given my legacy, to realize that no one really wants to hear me prattle on about my body and if you feel crappy there is nothing to be gained by boring those around you and making them feel crappy too. Even though I am sure you would be terribly interested, I will spare you the details of my specific complaints. I admit only that I have had recently some shock and awe at my body’s surrender to the ages and its betrayal of my self.

Several years ago I rode a bicycle on the beach in Santa Barbara, feeling smug and self righteous for participating in a(n outdoor) physical activity in the name of recreation instead of obligation. Some tween boys are goofing around on their bikes and one momentarily cuts me off on the bike path. My reflexes are good and I avert disaster only to hear the hot dogger being chided, “Dang dude, you almost ran into an old lady.” As a connoisseur of humor I totally get that the “old lady” part really made the joke and was simply a huge stretch in the name of getting a laugh. This is the type of exaggeration I am not above myself although usually at least in voce much more sotto. But still.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped feeling immortal. Mortality considerations waft through my mind with increasing regularity. The “ceasing to be” thing doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t want to get onto that tangent now, but I am referring to a “ceasing to be” in the way that I am accustomed to being. It’s the love thing more than the afterlife thing that conflicts one about the dying thing. Having loved and having been loved makes the ceasing to be imaginable and maybe even tacit fulfillment of the bargain. It’s the fear of leaving complications for those who have loved me and have been loved by me so richly that I am not afraid to die that I am unable to shake. Based on my experience, fate may auger sadness that even the best of planning cannot ameliorate.

I have, in a number of arenas, less to give to and less to leave for my children than is optimal. The economy manacles my beloved to a job that makes him weary and me to a tiny business with an uncertain future. My office is crammed and funky and there are buckets strategically placed to collect roof leaks. The skeleton crew struggle to keep up on work and maintain a building as presentable as possible, which isn’t very and sometimes it is a hard and sad place for me to be. The boys are dropped at the office most days after school and it is an extension of home to them. They eat and sleep on my dad’s old cot. They watch videos and play games on the computers.

Worried about making payroll for the employees to whom I owe my comfortable life, I snap at the indolent children and make them feel guilty for not pitching in at the office. I tell them that they embarrass me in front of the employees. I call them little pashas, a reference they probably don’t grasp except to figure it’s an insult. The whole while I am screaming I remember my mother coming home from work and finding me lounging in front of the t.v. and exploding with stunning vitriol at my laziness. I can still feel that tightness I’d get in the pit of my stomach when I’d hear her car in the driveway. This still wounds after forty years yet I rage with the same fury and misplaced frustration at my own children.

Spuds is predictably reasonable and accepts my apology but the seventeen year old is wounded and distant and angry. My “guilty with the explanation of weariness” plea doesn’t resonate right now but explanations and apologies were not offered to me at all on Fulton Avenue. I am aware that having a wildly hormonal mother might not even register on the short list of a seventeen year old’s beefs with the planet but perhaps one day it will be remembered that at least I asked to be forgiven.

I am married to a freak but I love and admire him and I am protective of my idiosyncratic, not of this world, genius helpmate. I watch him while he reads. Sometimes he feels me watching him but mostly his concentration is intense and inviolable and I could gaze at him for an hour and he won’t flinch. I consider myself somewhat of a reader and he reads more in the average week than I do in a year. He gets annoyed when I mention this but unless his school load is particularly brutal, he writes about 12,000 words each week. For comparison, this blog takes me a whole week to regurgitate and is seldom longer than 2000 words. I have, on a number of occasions, copy and pasted the body of his week’s work into both Google docs and MS Word and word counted, lest there be a question of accuracy.

Himself’s generosity with his knowledge and intellectual acuity moves me and on a good day is motivation to keep my mouth shut about inadequacies, as perceived by me at least, in other areas. Due to his mental calisthenics that make me dizzy to ponder, he finds himself greedy and desperate for sleep. He too was shamed for his penchant for curling up with a book and sleeping in and lack of enthusiasm for household chores as a kid. On the few days a week that he is able to sleep late, he apologizes from the bed and despite my assurances that I don’t care, counter-assures me that he will be up and in action shortly.

This week has been one of late nights and early mornings. He is particularly exhausted and I am grateful that there is a change in schedule and he has an unexpected day off. He sleeps while I prepare to shower and my heart sinks when there is a tentative little knock on the door. He bids Spuds enter before I am able to scream, “Let Daddy sleep!” Spuds is apologetic but assertive with a mission only Dad can accomplish. It is the last day of the semester and he is making a presentation for his business class. Mom orders all the supplies and performs a custom printing job but only Dad can tie a necktie. It only takes a minute but there is a remarkable tenderness between them. I have no brothers and grew up in a house without men so the father/son thing is mysterious. Himself doesn’t throw a ball in a yard or teach them to fix stuff but it’s ok to wake him up to tie a tie and it is sweet to feel the love that exists on the periphery of, but significantly outside of my orbit.

I am turning 53 which is not significantly different than turning 51 or 52 and I predict that 54 won’t be any great shakes either. My children will turn fifteen and eighteen this year and it is staggering to think of how much re-creation happens every day in their lives. I distinctly remember feeling how they must feel, immortal and knowing more and more with greater and greater certainty every day. When was it exactly that I realized the inevitability of my own death and gleaned with certainty that I know less every day than I did the day before?

I want my kids to validate me and my experience and feel my love for them without being fettered by my looming fears. When I hear the whispers of a tie being knotted or look forward to some puerile joke that will inevitably break the ice with the seventeen year old, I become less frightened that my children will be weighed down by my existential fears. The anecdote for the panic an aging body foments, that a life, well more than half lived, has been of little consequence is this love so fierce that it fills this life, and every second that remains of it and infinite afters .

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

I read that many boys today grow up with no idea how to tie a tie. I did only since I had to wear one every day of h.s., but my dad may have worn one a handful of times I saw him as I grew up, being a flannel shirt lunchpail fellow for his hands-on clanking work. Now, I hear many boys also lack knowing how to tie a tie-- as they have no father around to show them.

So, despite the mixed blessings of matrimony, at least thanks to me, you've never had to learn that sartorial skill. In this way at least may I ease your considerable domestic burden with a rare example of manual dexterity.

I hope this birthday reminds you of the joys of parenthood. It's humbling to know that in engendering the next generation, we "naturally" seem to then wither, having done our duty, the procreation that at its inception we have no idea, literally, no conception, that it has occurred.

The "miracle of life" continues even as we organisms lack any control over its emergence. Weeds persist, babies defy the most spermicidal of applications, and parents continue to watch their children grow as their bodies wax and ours wane. In that acceptance, we find a lesson of perpetuity, and a humbling of our own youthful dreams, tempered by our own life's miracles, necessities, and wisdom.

Cumpleanos feliz, mi querida esposa. xxx me