Wednesday, December 30, 2009
My daughter took this picture of a man on Broadway handing out literature of holy reckoning, preaching repentance, warning that the end of the world was nigh. I don't know about the end of the world, but the end of the decade is certainly at hand. By my lights, endings are gateways to new beginnings, as my daughter's friend, laughing and undaunted by dire leaflet predictions in the foreground, seems to suggest. Then there's the lady in the background clearly engaged in her life, and the man himself, whose expression seems not judgmental, but rather gently bemused and kind. I like this picture as a metaphor.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Later, I asked my aunt how she liked the movie. "I left early," she said. "I had already seen that same story years ago on the news." Talking with her more, I got the sense that she had been confused by the movie, thinking the characters were real and that the events were unfolding in real time. It was as if the years had looped back on themselves, and at a certain point she decided she knew how the story would turn out, and she was ready to be back home in her chair. "It was longer than I thought it would be," she complained. She paused and added, "For the next picture, make it a good love story."
I'm thinking, It's Complicated.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Back to Christmas. Our son's best friend E., who is like my other son, slept over and woke up with us on Christmas morning. He and my son have been brothers in spirit since before they could say their names. They don't know this world without one another. I think they may have been twins in a past life, or maybe they are soulmates. Their friendship is effortless and generous and full of humor. They've both grown into striking young men, my son's friend, who used to be the small scrawny one, even taller than my son at 6' 4". Both boys are handsome enough so that when my daughter's friends come over, they huddle in the back bedroom and squeal, then walk out serenely, as if no one heard them, full of 15-year-old composure.
E. is Muslim. And Jewish. His mother, Jewish by virtue of her mother being Jewish, was raised a Christian, then became a Buddhist, then chose to raise her sons in the Muslim faith. So Christmas isn't really observed in his home, but we fold him into the season anyway when he's in our home. We all had fun Christmas eve, wrapping gifts and sipping egg nog and swapping stories about any and everything. Wonderful stream of consciousness.
We all pulled in a nifty haul, given the economics of the time. My husband and I both gave each other Kindle e-readers. We'd each confided in our kids, who were highly amused by our unwitting synchronicity, and insisted we open our gifts to one another at the same time. We got our daughter her own Nikon SLR film camera, a 1984 model and she was thrilled. Our son wanted the iHome speakers, which I have to say, produce amazing sound. E. got one of those white intentionally rumpled college boy button down shirts that he wanted (he's a high school senior applying to college so he's trying out the look), and there were other smaller gifts to and from and among. And there was great comfort and banter. I paused at one point to be quietly mindful that the moment we were living was perfect.
My niece, the one who just moved into her own apartment in November after living with us since summer, and her boyfriend came over to have Christmas dinner with us. So did one of my aunts (the family friend kind of aunt) and her daughter (with whom I shared a room for several school years growing up--another story for another day). We all visited with my 91-year-old aunt for part of the afternoon since she wasn't feeling up to leaving home and coming over. In general, it was all very low stress, even though I managed to get overly stressed that the food wasn't ready on time. Why do I do that? No one cared. We sat around and watched movies (the new Harry Potter and Up), and when we did finally eat, everything was delicious. My son, who isn't home that much since he arrived for the holidays, stayed in all evening with his family, and everything was cheerful and laughter flowed easily, and it was so good to have all my ducklings home and happy. In all, it was a very good day.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
What memory comes up for you when you think back to 13 or 14? It's such an impressionable age, isn't it?
Monday, December 21, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The cold last night was the least of it. The snow was harrowing to drive in, and as we made our way from Harlem to Soho to pick up our girl from the holiday party for her scholars program, I glimpsed for the first time how terrifying it must be to navigate a blizzard in rural parts, with no visible landmarks. We inched our way down the highway, picking our way through more traffic than you would imagine in such a snowstorm. When we got there almost an hour later, our daughter and her two friends skipped out to the car and chattered happily the whole way home, totally unaware of all the concentration it was taking for me to psychically keep cars away from us on the treacherous road.
Even though it was midnight by the time we got home, the girls, all of them 15 years old, changed out of their party clothes and bundled up to go play in the snow as they did when they were 7, making snow angels, rolling down slopes, catching snowflakes on their tongues. My son had the good sense to wrap himself in a blanket on the couch and watch movies with his friend and exchange man banter with his dad.
My niece had left earlier to meet friends way out in Brooklyn, and almost got marooned there in the 12 inches of snow that fell on us last night. She eventually slept at a friend's house, and left early this morning to come home in daylight. She is catching a flight home to Kingston, Jamaica at 2 p.m., so her mom and dad were on the phone first thing this morning, checking to see whether the airports were open in spite of the snow. They are.
The snow has stopped falling now. The sun is high in the sky, doing nothing for the chilly temperatures. The little kids were out early, sledding on the hill in front of our building while my husband cooked scrambled eggs and spicy sausages for the household. With some amusement, I watched my niece getting ready to go to the airport, groggily stuffing things in her suitcase, her face bare and dry, the desire to just curl up and sleep overwhelming her. She reminded me so much of myself when I was in college, partying all night, rolling out to the curb from the dorm with my suitcase at 6 a.m. to climb into my Uncle Charlie's car for the trip to the airport.
We've just dropped her off at the airport and arrived back home to find our son still on the couch, the blanket now on the floor beside him. He's meeting the day slowly. Our daughter had another engagement today. She and some school friends are baking cookies to hand out to firefighters. It's a tradition started by her friend Julia's family after 9/11. My girl, new to her school last year, is thrilled to be included in this annual event with all the longtimers. Then tonight she has another party, and she and four other girls plan on sleeping over at another friend's house. Meanwhile, our son is heading out later to show off the city to one of his college friends whose flight to Atlanta has been grounded until tomorrow. But first, he wants to go see the movie Avatar with his parents.
All around us, life is happening. My husband and I putter at the center of it all, contented.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
On towards eight last evening, my former editorial assistant, call her Cathy (not her real name), swung by the magazine. I was still there, swamped with work, trying to get two stories out my computer and into final pages, so she just sat in my office, hiding out while she waited for her friend, who is the only assistant editor left on staff. All the other editorial assistants and assistant editors have now been laid off; they were let go, I suspect, to balance the picking off of older workers nearing retirement age (that's a pretty incendiary statement, I know it). We have interns and temps to do the assisting now, but mostly we do our own admin work, chasing down invoices when they get lost in accounting for the umpteenth time, and crafting careful emails to incensed writers whose work has long been completed and whose rent or phone or credit card bills are coming due.
Cathy was let go in the last round of layoffs a year ago. She had been on staff two short years, and she truly was the best. Great work ethic, a quick study, good-hearted, full of initiative, organized, wry and witty. It was easy and enjoyable working with her. Yesterday, as she sat across from me, both of us not talking much as I tapped on my computer keyboard, but the two of us exchanging comfortable chatter in intermittent bursts, I had the strange sense that she was family, like a niece or a cousin, a young person I would go out of my way to help in whatever way she might need. She's doing well, actually. She found a good job with a publishing house just a couple of months after being laid off, and they seem to appreciate her there.
It was good to see her. It was good to remember that there is life after being laid off. Just in case I'm one of the next ones to be picked off.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
My daughter has a 10th grade English project on transcendentalism. She posed her cousin and friends in various settings in nature, huddled in stairwells with an X of tape over their mouths, against stark brick buildings, awash in sunlight, lying in the grass, and so on. She had chosen to illustrate ten quotes from Thoreau. The above photo of my niece was used to illustrate this quote:
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence with nature itself."
As part of the project, she had to interpret and explain how each photo applied. This was what she wrote for this one:
"In this photo, my cousin is surrounded by the tree branches. She is connecting back to nature, and simplifying that moment in her life to only the earth and life on it. The trees in nature are such a significant idea in transcendentalism because the goal is to simplify life and be an individual amid a sea of conformity. The trees show this because they have grown from the earth and flourished through many seasons, despite the outside influences. This is a model for the transcendentalist, to be free and grow as a person and defy all the judgments and routines of normal life. Also the branches are bare, showing that there are harsh outside influences that sometimes can change our path in life, however a transcendentalist can still retain individuality because these influences are a natural part of life, and it is our job to be able to stand up to them and grow from them."
I should mention that she took the photos with a 42-year-old Nikkormat SLR film camera and developed and printed the images in the darkroom at her school. The camera is mine, a second-hand beauty given to me by one of my uncles when I was 11 years old. My daughter took it down from a high shelf in the back of my closet. I wasn't even sure it still worked. But it does. I would love to show more of the her transcendentalist series but I'm not clear on whether some of her other subjects would mind their photos being posted, so I'll refrain.
Can I just say, my daughter so impresses me.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
For some reason, I find this comforting.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
After an hour or so of chit-chatting, he whipped off his shirt, then sat with a quizzical smile on his face, waiting for us to notice. I saw something, a shadow on his back, and asked him to turn around. He did readily, his expression proud and nervous. I guessed he was proud of his art but was nervous about what we would say, because he still cares.
His tat was his birthday present to himself, which he actually had done on his dad's birthday. It is a black and white piece, a stone cross surrounded by angel wings. It is not too big, not too small, nicely centered left to right, not too high, perfectly placed. And the art is lovely, not at all cartoonish, done by a steady, professional hand.
"It's beautiful," I said, and he melted.
"Ahh, that's the word I was hoping for!" he said, and then he hugged me.
"What does it mean to you?" I asked him.
"It's a symbol of faith," he said, "of the way you raised me. A reminder that God has my back."
I thought of my dad, and my husband's mom, my uncles, all the loved ones on the other side, watching over him. I believe he thinks of them, too.
I spoiled it a little by asking him not to get any tats on his neck or forearms, nowhere visible in job interview clothes. I even noted I could be just fine with this one tat on his perfect body that I birthed. My husband, at that point, told me (nicely) to back off, cool it. My son just smiled. His mom is his mom, and that was okay with him at that moment.
I was touched, really, that it mattered to him that we liked it, even though I know, if we had given him grief, he would have shrugged and pretended he didn't care.
I'm glad he cares.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Today is parent visiting day at my daughter's school, which means parents are invited to stand in the backs of classrooms and see where their tuition dollars are going. Our daughter asked us to come. She wanted to show me her photography porfolio (she got a solid A in photography, by the way). I wanted, so wanted, to be there, but today is also the day that two major stories are due in, and I have to edit and move them to my editor in chief by the end of the day. One is likely the be in good shape, the other is from a writer I have never worked with before, so I have no idea what to expect in terms of the work needed to get it to a place where I can send it to the editor in chief for her sign off. She is very invested in both stories, and both are potential legal nightmares, so both require careful and hyper attentive handling.
Today is also the last day in the office for the people who got laid off, and I and a couple of the other editors are supposed to be taking the woman I worked so closely with for 11 years to lunch. A goodbye lunch. I could miss it, I guess, but it would look callous and fickle. I want this woman to know how much I have appreciated her as a colleague and as a friend. Today, with her spirit still reeling from the "why me?" questions, I really need to be there to show her this.
I can't find the words to convey this to my daughter. The sentences that come to mind just sound as if I'm putting everything else ahead of her. I know this is what it means to be an adult, that one is always faced with these hard choices. But I wish I could be standing in the back of her classrooms today, watching the light dancing in her face because she is happy that her mama is there.
I wish I could be as pragmatic as my husband. When our daughter stood in the dark at the foot of our bed at 6 a.m. and asked her sleeping parents in a plaintive, guilt-inducing voice, "Are neither of you coming to my school today?" he had no problem saying no. Even though she looked crestfallen, he didn't follow her around as she got dressed trying to make sure she understood the reasons why neither of us would be there. When I asked him, "Don't you wish you could go?" he answered, "Of course not. This is high school. Who wants their parents hanging around?"
And yet, my girl wants us.
Guilt. It feels like self-recrimination and sadness. Useless and maybe misguided. But there.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Anyway, the point of all that is that between long hours at work and being there for my mom and my aunt, 87 and 91, I feel like I barely have time to formulate a thought, much less a whole post. And then there is my 15-year-old daughter, who is not so happy about the way school is going right now. Which of course makes me worry (my default) and sends me into a tailspin wherein I try to figure out all the worst case scenarios so I can get busy preventing them. It's exhausting!
So please forgive the quoting of whole exchanges from my life. It's all I can do to record them. I have no mental space or emotional energy left over for the sort of analysis that helps me gain perspective. But thank God for good friends with similar overactive imaginations, who can contribute some analysis when you're lacking the ability to provide your own.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Me: "Why was it horrible?"
My girl: "Because school just sucks. It requires you to tolerate never sleeping and then working and I cannot tolerate that."
She has been sorely sleep deprived. The tenth graders have just been slammed with work this year. Their teachers weren't kidding last year when they said it would get hard. But what makes me worry is that my daughter might be starting not to like school, which until now has been a source of fun and mastery for her. I don't want her to let go of her "good and responsible student" self-image, one that she has held comfortably from kindergarten until now. That was why the phrase "school just sucks" was worrisome.
Then I looked at the first message again. "Social wise was fine."
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I counted on her as a human being, too, her calm equanimity, her quick but never cruel wit, her refusal to give in to the free-floating fear and paranoia that is a constant in my workplace. I am still in shock and denial that she's leaving. We shared the same job title and backed each other up seamlessly. Which makes me also ponder the fact that they must have put us side by side and said, Okay, which one? I wonder if they chose her because I waived my medical insurance coverage with the company, going with my husband's instead. I wonder if it came down to the fact that I cost the company less.
I feel like we're all on a conveyor belt, except none of us knows how close we are at any given point to toppling off the end of it. We can't see what's ahead, we only know that conveyor belt just keeps on rolling, and we could get to the end at any time. There are so few of us left now, and so much work to get done. I'm not afraid of working hard and I love the nature of the work I do. But the losses we've sustained could break your heart.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Happy birthday to the love of my life on the big five-oh. For the past 26 years, ever since making his acquaintance in this life, I have loved this man with my whole heart. Truly, I think I loved him before this life; meeting him was like a warm rush of recognition. I wish him everything good on this day and all days. He is worthy of that and more. That's us the year we met, on our way to the beach in Antigua. Oh yes, he can be sublimely silly, too.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
With my dad at Blue Waters, Antigua, after Christmas morning service, 1983. I find, in this age of digital exactness, I am falling in love with the grainy, imperfect images taken back in the day. This was made with a Kodak instant camera, before the company discontinued it. I remember this day well. It was the morning I introduced my parents to my not-yet-husband's mother after church. None of us knew that we would one day be related through marriage and call one another family.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
My most vivid memory of Afasari is not one that makes me happy to recall. My son's friend Eugene was visiting us on a playdate. He and my son were 9. Afasari was 12. The three of them were downstairs in the courtyard playing, and Afasari was being very mean to Eugene, denying him the ball, calling him names, trying to exclude him. I think he resented him as an outsider. Finally, my son had had enough of it and suggested he and Eugene go upstairs to our apartment. When they came in, I looked at the boys crestfallen expressions and asked what was wrong. They told me Afasari had been making fun of Eugene. I marched the two boys back downstairs to the courtyard, where Afasari was still bouncing the basketball. He was alone now. I went over to Afasari and told him he needed to apologize to Eugene. Stunned and chastened, he did. He was really all bravado and fake toughness and not at all beyond deferring to a mother figure. The three boys decided to resume their game.
Then, the summer he was 13, Afasari announced that he was going away. His said his mom was sending him to live with his aunt in New Jersey. His mom was a single mother who worked long hours, and she didn't like that he was alone so much. He wasn't happy about moving, but what could he do, he shrugged. That was the last I heard of him. Until this weekend.
In fact, Afasari had moved back home in his late teens. I never ran into him in the neighborhood, so I didn't know. Maybe I wouldn't have recognized him. He had grown extremely tall and was very thin, with a mustache. I probably would not have realized it was him.
Sadly, on Sunday afternoon at about 3:30 pm, right as my mom and I were getting money from the bank ATM around the corner, just after we put our son on the bus back to college, Afasari climbed to the roof of one of the 21-storey buildings in our complex and jumped.
Many people saw. My friend who lives in the building he jumped from, was in the laundry room and heard a loud thud. Loud enough to make her run outside. There she found one of her neighbors, a tiny, elderly woman, shaking and screaming, "He just jumped! He just jumped!" My friend ran to her neighbor and put her arms around her, but was careful not to look where she was pointing. Already the security guards were running to Afasari, but it was too late.
Later, I heard that he had been battling depression for years. I felt so sad that I had never known that, and that I had never seen behind the scrappy wild child to the boy who must already have been hurting inside. I wondered if that day when he was being mean to Eugene he was really wrestling with his own bad feelings, and my towering over him and insisting he apologize was just one more moment when he felt dominated, buffeted by life. I wonder if there was another way I could have handled it, or if I should even have inserted myself at all.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
He and I had an argument of sorts before he arrived. Earlier, I'd called to find out what time his bus was getting in. My husband and I had a dinner engagement and I was trying to figure out how long I could stay as I wanted to be there when my son got home (you get all the best stories when your kid has just walked in the door). He sounded extremely harried the first time I called. "Mom, I can't talk now! Later." Click.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Today, our new living room furniture was delivered, a sofabed, a loveseat and an armchair to replace the broken down, torn, cracked and faded leather furniture that had lived in our house for going on ten years. I confess the battered pieces embarassed me when my children and my nieces brought friends home, even though it was those same said children who had brought the furniture to its sad condition.
Picture my son leaping onto the sofa from one side, one foot landing on the arm for an even better launch and landing. Now multiply that by hundreds of leaps in the course of a boy growing to young manhood, add somersaults and cartwheels from my daughter, always finding a sure landing on that furniture.
And of course, there's the loveseat that has been my son's preferred place to sleep throughout his high school years.
Yesterday, three men from our church came and took the old furniture away. Before they arrived, I was awash in sudden sentimentality, despite my plotting to replace those pieces for years now. A Labor Day sale finally did the trick, that and the thought of my son or my niece possibly bringing new friends home from college for Thanksgiving. Not that my children have ever cared about that broken furniture. I feel so shallow sometimes that it bothered me so much. But now, the leather loveseat which holds the invisible imprint of my son's dreams is gone, and in its place is an expresso-colored microfibre number that I hope he'll find as comfortable.
So, nothing is ever simple for me. I love the shapes of these three new pieces, but now I am wondering if I should have got the olive color instead of the expresso. I was thinking, of course, that the expresso would not show dirt, but perhaps I am in denial about the fact that my children are no longer in a phase of life when that matters. They are practically grown. Should I have gone with my first instinct in color? Then again, that would have made my living room furniture the exact same color as my mother's. Nah, expresso it is.
Top photo: My daughter when she was 9, executing one of her perfect cartwheels onto the leather couch in better days.
Second photo: My daughter, two days ago. Old habits die hard!
Friday, September 11, 2009
My daughter had just started second grade on September 11, 2001. She was 7 years old. Five years later, in seventh grade, when she was 12, as part of a class autobiography project, she wrote a remarkable piece about her recollection of that day. To mark the eighth anniversary of the tragedy, I am copying that chapter here.
My friends and I had the feeling that we were on top of the world. Partly because we thought we were so mature and partly because the weather was so perfect. It was our second day in the second grade. Perfect temperature, perfect sky: bright blue and not a cloud in sight. Everything was in a happy state. It stayed that way till the warm afternoon or maybe just before lunch, but either way, outside the window you could see the sun high in the sky, proud of all the light and warmth it was producing. We were reading a book during story time and either the lower school director or the student teacher at the time called Jay, our second grade teacher, to the doorway and whispered some piece of information with a look of dismay on her face. We were completely oblivious to the conversing teachers; we just saw it as a time to chat with one another until the class resumed.
Then Jay came back, with a thoughtful look on his face, only, this was a thoughtful expression that held some dread. One by one the class seemed to settle down, sensing something, worried about what had just happened. Jay spoke in slow motion, word by word: “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” A panicked look spread across some of the faces, those who knew what the World Trade Center was. I asked my friend Akene what had happened. He explained that the World Trade Center was the two Twin Towers. I felt destroyed. I had seen the Twin Towers in the distance my whole life. I had drawn pictures of them from the roof of Akene’s apartment two years before when Toni-Leigh, our kindergarten teacher, took us to visit the farmer’s market and we had lunch at his house nearby. It was practically impossible, those two secure structures had to remain in the sky forever, they were glued to the sky. Without them, the sky would be lonesome, even with hundreds of other skyscrapers. And besides all that, my dream had vanished. All I wanted was to be able to visit the towers, see what was actually inside, and experience the whole thing. Now they were up in smoke with a metal plane sticking out the side of it.
Jay had his hand on the top of his head pushing back his little spikes of hair and he seemed to be exploring the thoughts inside his head with alarm. He told us that parents would be picking us up or we would get home somehow, maybe by a teacher. Kids started disappearing as parents appeared. And then my dad came. I felt protected at that moment, like maybe we weren’t all going to die.
People scurried outside while hints of the beautiful day still slightly remained. I heard a deep silence in New York City. Rare, I think to this day, that all the noise, pollution of cars and people would disappear for a period of time. I would remember it though, all the way home, all the people walking in silence through the park, walking to Broadway, and making our way home. I had to keep reassuring myself that we weren’t all going to die; that a plane wasn’t going to attack all of New York. I remembered how before we left school, Jay had announced there was a second plane that hit the second tower, and that he felt our parents should explain everything to us. I didn’t want to break the tense silence between me and my dad on the way home. I couldn’t comprehend anything going on. I just knew it must have been serious if we had to leave school.
That night, I tucked under my mom’s arm with my knees pulled into my chest, making myself a ball while she watched the news and the horrible clip of my two dreams falling apart, dying. Finally, I asked what had been on my mind the whole day, “Mommy, are we going to die too?” My mom looked somewhat horrified. But she replied in a calm voice, “No, they have no interest in us. They were trying to get back at our government. They think our government did something wrong to them."
“Oh,” I replied, but what was really on my mind was, did the people in the towers do anything wrong to them? Did the people on the planes that crashed do anything wrong to them? I was afraid to go to sleep, and I heard planes overhead all night in the dark sky, which always made me jump. I wanted to cry for the people who died. But I didn’t because I thought I needed to be strong.
A few years later, my mom showed me some of my old work she had found in a drawer in my room. It was from the pre-K or maybe it was from kindergarten. It was a story I had dictated about a picture I had drawn. I remembered it vaguely. It was about something bad that made the Twin Towers start to fall over, but the big wind came and blew it back into place. I had drawn this picture and told this story before anyone had any idea that the Twin Towers might be in danger.
Now that more years have passed, people often share their stories and experience of that day. We all remember that perfect blue morning, turned to disaster.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
"There are no seven wonders in the eyes of a child. There are seven million." --Walt Streightiff
My daughter takes portaits of herself, as if she's trying to fathom who she is, how she appears to the world. "Your daughter is strange," she noted on seeing this picture. Strange and wonderful.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Problem was, I had to finish editing a story with a writer who is particularly painstaking and this was our last round before the story shipped. This woman is actually my favorite writer to work with. I love her work ethic and microscopic attention to content, her insistence on testing and testing and testing the voice and development and internal integrity of a piece. It matches my own preferred way of working as an editor, which is really old school in the current fast paced environment of publishing, but this writer and I have preserved a corner in which we can still work in this way. And you know what? Our stories always win awards. Every single year, we collect an small armful of plaques for the stories we worked on together.
Since we both believe this story we're working on will be another award winner, I didn't want to give it short shrift. Plus it's a heartwrenching subject (can't say what here; it would be tanatamount to giving away state secrets). Suffice it to say, I was experiencing one of those moments when you're determined to do everything fully, and maybe there aren't enough minutes in the hours to make it work. But I managed to finish up and dart out at 4:30 to meet the crew on the R-train platform. We were headed to Coney Island.
I hadn't even told my husband I was going. I texted him from the subway: "On the train to Coney Island with ______." He texted back: "You're on the train??? How did that happen?!" My dislike of the subway is famous. I am known for traveling the city in yellow cabs instead. For me it's moments of meditation (inside a taxi all my own) versus moments of claustrophia and hectic-ness (inside a crowded subway car). I wrote: "My daughter asked and the company is great." He sent back: "Our daughter is really working this only child angle!"--a reference to our son being away at college and our girl having us all to herself. He added: "Have fun."
The others were laden with bathing suits and blankets and towels and snacks. All I had was my two empty hands. It didn't matter. I bought everyone bottled water on the boardwalk, and we set up on the sand near the water. Lounging on blankets, the three 15-year-olds, two girls and a boy, munched on corn on the cob and peanut butter sandwiches and fruit and boiled eggs, while their mothers settled back to catch up on our week. The conversation was easy and meandering. While the teenagers were in the water, we shared stories of crazy things we'd done in our youth, changing the subject when our children arrived back and flopped down next to us, picking it up again when they left to stroll the boardwalk.
At one point, another text came in on my phone. It was from the writer I'd worked with earlier. She wrote: "That was a great edit today." Somehow, that added to the moment I was having. It was just beautiful on the sand as the dusk came down. The air was cool and salty. In the near distance, the lights from the huge Coney Island ferris wheel were a glittering circle, and the neon from the other rides dotted the night. The moon rose full over the water, and on beach and boardwalk and pier, every type of humanity was illuminated by it.
We tried to wait for the fireworks, which happen every Friday night in summer. By nine, the beach was crowded with locals and tourists encamped for the display. But it was delayed because of the minor league baseball game at the stadium way down the beach. Finally, near ten, we gathered up our blankets and towels and bags and headed back to the subway. Waiting on the elevated platform for the train back to the city, we suddenly saw the sky explode with blooms of color and light. The fireworks had begun, and from where we stood on the N-train platform, we had a thrilling wide-angle view. It seemed even better watching from the subway platform with other straphangers; it was more authentically New York somehow.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
This weekend, I finally understood that story as the perfect metaphor for parenthood. It is not about the boy at all. It is about loving someone so deeply that there is nothing of yourself you would not give to see them thrive, to see them happy, to see them comforted.
Now, belatedly, I am crying.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
My girl (that's the top of her head, second from right, with her fingers in a V) hiked the Appalachian Trail with some of her fellow campers during the first week of August, then went white water rafting at the end of it. She was stoked! "I want to do that all the time when I grow up!" she told me, her words rushing against each other in that punctuated teenage way.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I remember when Pearl was just a small girl. She used to arrive with her parents from New York to visit the family in Jamaica. I can still see my aunt with her frizzy orange afro and lime-green eyes, pulling small Pearl into her side, and my uncle, upright and stylish in his tweed jacket and hat set at a slightly rakish angle, which belied the generous but often bewildered soul he was. Pearl was the American cousin, a few years younger than I was. She and her parents would fly in each summer for a month or more, staying a week at a time in different relatives’ homes.
The way I recall it, Pearl was a disagreeable child, her face screwed into a perpetual frown, lips always pouting, her shoulders folded forward, her posture unwelcoming, closed. And yet Pearl was strikingly beautiful. Her eyes, like shiny black seeds, darted about; her full lips, through tremulous, were poetically shaped; her polished, coffee-brown limbs seemed to flail and jerk when she tried to run, and to push themselves forward with super-conscious effort when she merely wanted to walk. The effect was both unsettling and mesmerizing. Watching Pearl, I often found that I stared too intently, unable to pull my eyes away at the polite moment.
A short, neatly-cropped afro accentuated Pearl’s perfectly-shaped head. Her tightly-curled hair never seemed to need grooming or shaping. I was in awe of Pearl’s hair, envying its gleaming sunup-to-sundown perfection. My own fledgling afro was the most ordinary of browns, and it was a wayward mess, kinky on the top, fuzzy on the sides, curly at the nape, so that I was forced to fluff it several times each hour, tucking in this lock, pulling out that one, struggling for uniformity.
Of course, Pearl never would have imagined that anyone could have admired anything about her. She never could see her own beauty, because when she paused before mirrors, a sort of funhouse reflection jumped back at her, rippling with ill-contained energy so that her very image in the mirror seemed to quiver, leaving Pearl unable to recognize anything but her jitteriness.
In truth, that quavering feeling lay at the core of her, surfacing in the impatient, bossy manner in which she interacted with other children, and in her abrupt way of speaking that left many of her elders to dismiss her as simply rude. To make matters worse, Pearl had a stutter, which might have accounted for her rough tone. Only her mother seemed to understand that Pearl could do no more than force the sounds out before they stuck like peanut butter to her tongue, caught in a endless repetition of syllables.
Pearl always wore small earrings in both lobes, and until she was ten and her body started to bud, she wore mainly dresses so that no one would mistake her for a boy. Nothing shamed her more than being mistaken for a boy. As painful as she found being the chocolate brown, kinky-headed child in a family of many light-skinned, curly-haired cousins (she confessed this to me years later), being mistaken for a boy was much worse. Though she couldn’t have articulated it then, being seen as a boy meant that who she felt herself to be inside, the delicate, aching, girl-child reaching through the haze that seemed always to surround her, had no chance at all of being seen.
I think it must always have been so hard to be Pearl. I am trying to remember.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Two weekends ago, we spent the day in the woods with our son and daughter during their camp's visiting day. Soon after we arrived, I was in my daughter's tent (see photo above), watching her to sort her rather mud-caked laundry so that she could run it down a rocky wooded hillside to the unit director before we left the camp to resupply at Walmart and have lunch in the nearest town.