Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Companionship of Books

“Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.”—The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de  Angeli, 1949

In one of the very favorite photographs I have of Cliff, he is a four-year-old Reading Buddha. Sitting cross-legged on a miniature red plastic rocking chair in his bedroom overlooking our backyard, his focus on the page is almost trance like. On the floor surrounding him is the deep, wide sea of books he had already looked at, having carelessly allowed each one to fall to the floor once he reached the last page. He’s dressed in a Pull-Up and a red sweatshirt, his soft, silky light brown hair falling softly across his brow, head bent close to the page as his little tongue rests between his lips.  I love that picture for the memories it evokes, and for the serenity reflected in his posture as he "read" Love You Forever.

Cliff had always had a preference for books over toys which, I suspect,  had something to do with his difficulty figuring out the way some of his toys worked, including those for which he needed a more expansive imagination. He sometimes required my company to model the ways in which he could play with the Little Tykes play house and the kitchen set, or with building-type toys meant for kids with better fine and gross motor skills.

"Mumma", he would say in his velvety-rasp of a voice, forming the sign with his right hand, followed by the sign for "help". He had a good attitude towards at least giving each toy a go, because he enjoyed watching me act out the directions, which was as much fun if not more so, as the toy itself.

Looking at my little Buddha picture, I can recall that at the end of each day, I would go into his room and place the books back on the shelves, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. That’s how large a collection we had. I counted them out of curiosity the day I took them off the shelves and packed them into moving boxes.  The 350-plus books we had accumulated by this time traveled the highways on a U-Haul truck, through three states to our new home in Massachusetts because I could not bear to get rid of a single one. Cliff possessed an absurd number of books, which to some might smack of indulgence. But Cliff was our only child for his first six years and we loved to lavish him with all the books his little heart desired. Books made him happy and all I wanted was for him to be happy, deliriously so.

At the time the photo was taken, I had every reason to believe Cliff would someday learn to read. I knew other people with Down syndrome who had that ability and, though I knew it would take time, I was not cynical about the possibility. He had certain pre-reading readiness skills, such as naming the letters when I pointed to them, matching letters with the sounds they made and, of course, motivation. Then, cruelly and incomprehensibly, at around eleven and a half, the age at which he showed the beginning signs of puberty, he began a regression in reading and speaking that essentially was irreversible. It was very gradual, but heartbreaking in its cumulative conclusion.  

I have been told by various doctors and speech pathologists this can happen to a small number children with DS for no reason anyone has been able to definitively identify or understand. The teachers and my husband Ken and I nonetheless continued in our efforts to teach Cliff to recognize at least some sight words. I wasn't ready to give up. Eventually, however, we made the decision to stop teaching him to read words in the standard way, instead immersing him in what are called “picture symbols”; this method is a tangential form of reading that has value beyond just the reading of stories. It is also a type of augmentative communication tool for those who are non-verbal, with which the individual can point to a picture symbol of the type of food he’d like for instance, or of the activity he’d like to spend his time doing on a Saturday, to say he feels sick or hungry, or to communicate a mood--sad,happy, mad, etc.

The teachers wrote picture symbol stories for Cliff to read. Sometimes they were about his day at school (“Today I went to gym and played basketball with my friends”). When he came home, he would read to us about his daily activities. I also got in on the action by purchasing software to use at home; Mayer-Johnson picture symbols was a godsend as it allowed me to write simple stories for him about his family, holidays, and social stories about manners and emotions. There were picture symbols for everything, including pronouns, prepositions and articles. Reading had become accessible to him through a technique that made him feel successful. He never actually became fluent as a picture symbol reader, but it was enough to engender in him a genuine feeling of accomplishment and pride as we sat and read together.

When we moved into our new home in 1997, about half the books were hoisted up the attic ladder in boxes and bags to be dealt with “someday”. But many were kept in his room because his love affair with all kinds of books would continue for a long time to come. We never abandoned the books he had come to associate with cuddling on the couch next to me, especially after “Googie” and “New Baby”, his pet names for his brother and sister respectively, were born. Naturally, I continued to buy books over the years, books that were clearly meant for young children rather than a young adult. But other than the picture symbol books we created, these were the stories he still enjoyed and was able to comprehend. I did explore reading chapter books about his favorite TV show—Full House, reading two or three pages of a chapter before I realized he wasn’t really following the storyline.

Almost sixteen years later, my general frustration with the clutter upstairs had reached its pinnacle, forcing me to make time for my “Operation Attic” project.  One day while standing on a pile of my daughter’s pink flowery baby dresses that had spilled out of a box onto the floor, a switch turned on in my head. It’s the same switch that goes on when the refrigerator has too many of last week’s leftovers. I surveyed all the accumulated “stuff” of the kind George Carlin used to build comedy shows around, and I felt like a lost child in a department store, bewildered about how to find my way. In the spirit of the words of Lao-Tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," I picked up the first box. No fewer than seven bins and bags of Halloween paraphernalia were the first to go. I avoided the books at first, because some of them, the ones whose titles were visible from my vantage point, were calling to me, messing with my determination to stop holding onto stuff that no longer held the same magic, but whose presence brought back to mind a little boy on the cusp of becoming a reader.

They were everywhere, spread amongst the stuffed animals and elementary school art work that likewise have a vise-like grip on my heart.  I looked into each box or bag, and whispered aloud, “Oh!” and “I loved this one!” when I picked up a particularly special book. Each corner, every area I thought held old clothes or ornaments or crib toys or junk, revealed a monumental hoard of books born of a love of reading, yes, but also of simple moments unburdened by ambitious motives.  Each subsequent discovery of yet another assemblage of Dr. Seuss and Little Critter stories weighted with memory made my heart sink; I had anticipated this excess of books, but not the bittersweet recall of an unrealized dream. Cliff would never learn to read, no matter what I had or had not done, or the choice I had made to give up and concentrate on other routes to “reading”.

 As I slid each heavy load down the unfolded attic stairs to my son Max, who ironically, reads perfectly well, but has neither the time nor the inclination to pick up a book, he would exclaim as to the discovery of yet another cache of books spilling into the hallway.

“Whoa! Mom! How many more ARE there?”

It took almost two weeks to examine each book and decide which of the piles would become that book’s destiny--keep, give-away, or toss. I  asked Cliff about some of them, but he clearly indicated, via the use of the same expression he uses when his iPod is out of power, that this would be my task, mine alone.

In the end, I was proud of myself for keeping only three boxes full. I didn’t fret too much over the books that were too damaged from age, or the ones that weren’t well-written. Many I kept simply because they are no longer in circulation and I could never replace them. Otherwise the keep pile was strictly for the books I remembered best, or those with an inscription inside the cover: "To our Cliff-Boy, Love from Mommy and Daddy", or the books Cliff might still enjoy. Some were books for which Max or my daughter, Olivia, claimed some nostalgia. I imagined reading to the grandchildren I hope to have someday. I’ll tell them, “This one used to be your Uncle Cliffy’s favorite book.”

On the last night I placed the final rescued book in its designated area, I brought Ernie's Big Mess into Cliff's room and asked him if I could read it to him before bed.   As I read, I spoke with a British accent just for the hell of it. It had a bit of the aristocracy of Downton Abbey, mixed with the silliness of a Monty Python skit. As I had hoped, my dramatic reading of Bert’s frustration at his roommate’s slovenly ways made him laugh. I said, “Cliff, you are too old for this book, but I still love it. It’s actually pretty funny, right?” His eyes were closing, but he managed to answer in the affirmative before falling asleep.

“Thanks for reading with me, Cliff Boy. Love you. See you in the morning,” I whispered.

In the grand scheme of things, that my kid never learned to read is a small speck of nothing. There are worse things, after all. None of us is good at everything; I don’t know how to swim, though I could probably save myself with a decent backstroke.  Despite my Italian heritage, and an entire family of cooks, I didn't get the cooking gene; at family gatherings, I bring the wine.

 A person can learn a lot from a kids' book:  When Ernie ran away from home after Bert became angry at having to clean up after him, Bert understood Ernie was incapable of living up to Bert’s impossibly high standards. He realized he’d rather have a messy friend than no friend, and he accepted what he could not change. It was a satisfying read about acceptance, one that speaks to the uniqueness of each one of us.

It’s like I used to tell Cliff’s somber-faced grade school teachers and special educators at his Individual Education Plan meetings. I’d finally gotten tired of hearing, “Cliff can’t do this, Cliff can’t do that, He can’t blah, blah, blah”. I looked them in the eye and reminded them I already knew what he couldn't do. I lived with him, for goodness' sake. 

“How about you tell me what Cliff CAN do and work with that?” We all have alternative avenues for getting through a day, finding a way around the obstacles that don’t have to be impediments to some kind of progress.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a few stories for adult, non-reading book lovers like Cliff, not about childish concerns, but about topics like work, love, dances, friendship—because he still loves books.  And my grown-up son still deserves to be happy, deliriously so.


Sunday, November 4, 2012


"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention,  but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." --Dave Barry
When your kid is a teenager, and he starts acting like someone you don’t personally know, (think Ferris Bueller or any of the characters from Invasion of the Body Snatchers) there isn’t much you can do. “Who ARE you?” was the running commentary in my head from my middle child’s thirteenth year to approximately the twentieth. The best you can hope for is a good night’s sleep to buoy up your strength because tomorrow it’s only going to get worse. I don’t care how sweet and adorable your kid is, how often he’s scored the winning point at basketball, how many AP classes she’s in, or the fact that he’s been chosen as first chair in the school orchestra –from time to time he or she will shatter all your hopes and dreams and make you question why you ever had children, and you’ll end up furiously scraping off the stickers on your car that read "Proud Mom" and "I (Heart) My Kids". The good news is you won’t feel that way forever. At some point, when your Karmic past reaches equilibrium with your present, or the child in question has a more fully connected frontal lobe, whichever comes first, he or she will begin to change back into the sparkling, friendly person you recall from their childhood.  I know this because Max has returned to his smart, considerate and funny, thoughtful self. (Cliff, my oldest, hasn't actually done anything worse than steal my breakfast sandwich. My third, however, Olivia, is eighteen and has only recently become “not-Olivia”. I will let you know how that goes.)

Here are eleven words you never want to hear over the phone from your teen’s mouth: “Mom, can you come get me at the police station?” Insert shocked pause here, during which you squint your eyes and sigh. “Please?” Or the equally popular, “Uhh, hey mom. Soooo, I’m sort of a little in trouble.” 

We unfortunately heard those eleven words more than once (but fewer than five times) from our middle child, Max, who will no doubt be really mad at me for telling you all this. Let me preface the rest of the story with the assurance that Max didn’t do anything his father or I, or you for that matter, didn’t do when we were teenagers. It’s just that there were fewer rules and laws back then, (I'm speaking of the 70's here) and the police were more likely to chase you out of the woods or off the high school football field than to put you into the back of their squad car. “Go on you kids! Get outta here before I call your parents.” Then you would frantically toss the beer can you were holding, or the funny cigarette perhaps, and beat it. No adult would be the wiser.

Once I expounded on the uniquely skillful talent of our town police officers and their apparent use of crazy laser-like "Max Radar" that led directly to him and his friends whenever he was about to do something foolish(bringing a 30-pack of Coors to a party directly across the street from eagle-eyed neighbors, for instance), he was a lot more careful. Plus, one mention in the police blotter was plenty for me, and I reminded him each time he went out that I was tired of going incognito whenever I had to go to the local Stop ‘n Shop to buy groceries.  

Then, the most wonderful thing happened in the merry,merry month of May! My son turned twenty-one. Within hours, he had gone to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and exchanged the old, junior license for a new one that proudly announces his status as someone who cannot ever get arrested again for being “a minor in possession.” He has grown to cherish it and proudly flash it about to every restaurant server and liquor store clerk with whom he comes in contact. It’s a beautiful thing.

The other most wonderful thing, if there can be two “mosts”, is the newfound connection between father and son. I call it “The Beer Alliance”. This consanguinity gives them endless opportunities to discuss Max’s newfound expertise on a subject about which they both feel extremely enthusiastic. It’s both an unexpected and delightfully surprising aspect of Max’s adult standing.

 Ken and Max have a close, easy-going relationship, but they are very different. Ken’s get-it-done personality exists in marked contrast to Max’s I’ll-get-around-to-it-eventually one. Where Ken tends to think in a linear fashion, precise and logical, Max has the heart and soul of an artist, and arrives at answers and decisions through the thoughtful processes of a more sentient being.  Max looks at the “big picture” and then breaks it down into manageable parts, while Ken analytically looks at the pieces and then creates the whole.  Left brain vs. right brain stuff. Happily, Max’s and Ken’s teenage years do hold some commonalities, and that’s one of the saving graces of their relationship. These commonalities gave Ken infinite patience when the eleven-word phone calls would interrupt dinner and/or require him to drive to the Franklin P.D.  in the deep freeze of New England weather.    His reaction was the counterbalance to mine, which included expletives, hand-wringing, and staring at Max's baby picture, wondering where it had all gone wrong.

On Father’s day, Max’s gift to Ken was a six-pack of beer, St. Bernardus Tripel to be precise, and a beer chalice.  Max had turned twenty-one just one month before, and the novelty of legally purchasing alcohol was as exhilarating as the blush of first love. It was the perfect offering on a day Ken holds sacred, having lost his own dad before Ken turned fifteen. My husband never had the opportunity to proudly present his father with the gift of a specialty beer he had himself chosen, a simple but transcendent symbolic representation of guyhood, that bastion of male bonding.  His memories of his father do not include matching beer foam mustaches or animated pronouncements of which beer deserves high praise, or even a taste test at the kitchen table over dinner. Boy Scouts, Little League, the Smithtown Volunteer Firefighters Parades, and chess games, yes, but beer summits for Ken and his dad were not meant to be.

I’m inclined to think that Max’s misadventures with beer as a teenager were the precursor to and preparation for his eventual tenure as a beer aficionado.  Ken has become a beneficiary of Max’s expertise, leading to a meeting and melding of the minds—the engineer’s and the artist’s. Have you heard the joke about the pessimist, the optimist and the engineer? The pessimist sees the beer chalice as half-empty, while the optimist sees it as half-full. The engineer, however, sees a liquid containment device twice as big as it needs to be. On this point I believe Ken and Max would agree.

 Fathers and sons, as the sons grow into men and the fathers wonder where the time has gone, must continually strive to find common ground, steer true north for new, ever-evolving avenues of connection. The father must see past the son’s transgressions which have served as learning experiences, because truly, they aren’t so different, at least not where it counts. Some things are meant to be after all, and those times when you question why you ever had children happen far less often than those times when you are incredibly grateful for the gift of those children. They are the best of what life has to offer, despite the occasional hiccups. The memories we will end up holding closest are the good ones, really, like chess games and a dad's first sip of St. Bernardus Tripel. I suppose you can say that's the key to a happy life--making memories and preserving those which are most precious and appreciating the love that dwells in each and every one. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Let Go Already!

“I don’t know how, but somewhere dreams come true. And I don’t know where, but there will be a place for you. And every time you look that way, I would lay down my life for you. I don’t know why I know these things, but I do.”—Shawn Colvin, “I Don’t Know Why”

The morning’s blue chill wakes me just ahead of the alarm. Despite my inclination towards the genial bent of the spirited lark, as opposed to the moon-eyed night owl, I want to shut my eyes to the rising light edging its way into the space between the window and the shades. Some days my son, Cliff is the alarm, engaging in self-talk from his bedroom on the second floor with no care for the volume of his voice, and no consideration that perhaps the rest of us are still asleep. I have no illusions about sleeping in.

This is home:  sounds of the morning coming from the bedroom down the hall, the rasp of words spoken but unintelligible and raspberry noises on the air. I pull on whatever clothes are immediately accessible and go downstairs to make his breakfast and the lunch he takes to work. It’s important to him to find the food already on the table when he arrives in the kitchen, so I make like a butler for the master of the house, setting his place with the egg sandwich, the plate of fruit, the low-cal breakfast cookie, o j and vitamins. Then I head upstairs to help him dress and wash up. I won’t allow him to leave the house unless he’s clean-shaven and un-mussed. When he was little, I used to dress him in stylish Gap clothes and not allow him to get dirty. It serves me right that at the age of 27, he often eschews cutlery and treats his shirt collar, his sleeves and his jeans like a napkin. Call it the delayed fuck you attitude of adolescence. It makes me proud and angry all at the same time.

Breakfast done, making our way out to the van waiting to bring him to work can be a test of my patience. His quirks include touching doorknobs and doorjambs, peering down the basement stairs and closing the three open doors along the hallway. When he gets to the garage, the tall shoe rack and the railing post on the landing must be touched and held onto before descending the five steps down. I don’t consider this particularly odd behavior; who doesn’t have odd habits? You and I are simply better skilled at concealment. “Cliff, let go and come on.”   Step. Hold. Step. “Let go, honey. The bus is waiting”. We link arms and sing, “the bus, the bus, the bus is here.”

He lets go.

These two words--Let go—have been causing havoc with the caretaker groove I have cultivated since I myself was 27 years old. Cliff and I are as connected as gills on a fish. Letting go is as unimaginable and fantastical an idea as freefalling from space and landing in a New Mexico desert on one’s feet. Someone else can go ahead and try it, but I prefer to sit that one out.

Each weekday I do let him go for precisely seven hours during which his life becomes about meaningful work, social interaction with men and women who live similar lives, and going about his business with no help from me. I trust people not related to him for those seven hours because I know they are fond of him and his quirks, his boyish charm, his willingness to go along with their plans for the day. They are good people, so I let him go. But the idea of him actually living apart from me is very much fraught with the kind of high anxiety usually reserved for combat situations and air traffic controllers. Naturally, I try to avoid thinking about the inevitable, but how long can I realistically hang down from the window ledge by my fingertips before the wind gusts force me off?

And then the question becomes “Should I?” Everyone has an opinion about this. Friends and people “in the field” of disability work, postulate that Cliff should have his own life just like any young man. “Fine”, I say, “but why now?” I know a mom who arranged for her twenty-four-year-old son to live in a group home.  Jonathan attempted to run away three times, trying to find his way back to his mother. I'd give almost anything to have that story erased from my brain.
My original plan to not ever die or become infirm is looking less and less realistic just based on the slight nuisance I call “reality”. To that end, I have started the process of figuring it all out. There’s no reason to hurry so I’m on a five-year plan; I will be sixty by then and much closer to the random-pains-for-no-reason-years. So in the spirit of positive thinking (as opposed to the magical variety) I attended a conference recently entitled, “Building a Home” ; it seemed like the responsible thing to do. Here’s what I learned: No one actually knows anything about “building a home” for individuals like my son, including the presenters. This is the first obstacle to my five-year-plan. You would think someone by now would have created a clearinghouse, a centrally located set of beautifully-appointed brick offices manned by knowledgeable people in career clothes who tell you exactly what to do first, second, third and so forth. Instead, I came away feeling confused by the jargon of the day, terms and acronyms thrown out in the jumbled and bewildering fashion reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe/…”

I do believe my husband and I are on our own, as we reject the current established norm of group homes and Adult Foster Care.  In my fantasy, Cliff will live with a couple of his buddies and an endlessly  patient, fun-loving, song-singing  live-in care provider schooled in egg sandwich-making,  in a charming Victorian in the center of town, with his own bedroom, private bath, and a finished basement for singing as loudly as he likes.

Home should be the place where warmth and contentment grows, and a feeling of lively interaction predominates when he enters. No institutional white walls, dentist office furniture, or wall art from the starving artist sale at the Holiday Inn. No medicinal smells, sterile bathrooms with hold bars in the shower stall, or flat, oatmeal- colored Berber carpeting. These are my terms.

I know, I know. Ultimately it isn’t about me at all. At the core of my reluctance to let him go lies a Peter Pan wish to never grow up or grow old, to keep singing the bus song. But time, in all her irritating insistence, is unstoppable.  Where he will live and with whom and how I will find him his place in the world is what I wrestle with every day. The years ahead will come as quickly as the years behind seem to have gone. When did he grow up? When did I start growing older? Does every mother feel as I do, like the ocean is at my back and the waves come with frightening constancy, forceful and unbidden?

I’ve been hoping the answers will come to me from shining light bulbs above my head, and opportunities will present themselves. I’ll slap my forehead and say, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that before?”

 It’s time for me to get a better grip on that window ledge, and hold on long enough to find the center where practicality and creative thinking, soul-searching and jargon can meet like careful friends, swirling on a breeze of raspberry sounds to get down to the business of planning for my son’s future.  

Here’s the thing: if Cliff wants to go, it will make all the difference. If he is okay with it, I will be okay with it. Five years from now, maybe the skyfall will feel more like floating on a gentle current of warm air, with all the safety of a harness and the beauty of my billowy parachute. Maybe I can think about that trip to Europe I’ve always wanted to take. Or maybe I’ll just sleep in.


Thursday, September 20, 2012


“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is.”
Ellen DeGeneres

Lying in my bed, I shift my left knee this way, then that. There doesn’t seem to be a position my leg is willing to consider for longer than a few minutes. My knee has every right, after all, to be resentful after everything I’ve put it through in the pursuit of a more healthful lifestyle. At any rate, the torn meniscus should be easy enough to fix, but until then I find myself relegated to going against my very nature. Slowing down is anathema to me. The faster I can do something, the better. I tend to be impatient in lines, driving behind people going the speed limit, waiting of any kind. Moving about in a pokey way holds no charm for me, but I have had to learn to stubbornly go along with it, because my knee seems to want me to, and at the moment, it’s the boss of me.
This injury has put me on a slower, more equal footing with my son, Cliff.  I mean this in the sense of our “mph” rating. He’s not a fast mover, generally speaking. The word I might use to describe the way in which he does most things, is languidly. This morning, for instance, when his van arrived in the driveway and beeped once at 8: 10, Cliff sat in front of his unfinished breakfast, lifting the fruit cup in slow motion to his mouth. The van driver beeped again at 8:14. I fidget and pace; he eats with a tortoise's sense. The fruit cup finished, he has to digest for a minute before he finishes his orange juice. I hover, sing-songing my pleas to hurry, hurry, hurry up. When he is finally out of the chair, he stays true to his nature—in the time it takes him to get from the breakfast table to the van, I could have run up and down the street twice (That is, I could have before the injury). It’s a rare morning to find Cliff ready on time, despite all my pleading, which doesn’t seem to have any effect.  It’s like trying to push the positive and negative poles of a magnet together.
After completing physical therapy for my knee, I was admittedly impatient about getting back to running. I love to run; I feel strong, powerful, as if I could live forever. I’m a sometime believer in the Greek motto, “Nothing to excess”, but not when it comes to running.  When I last left the house alone for some exercise about three weeks ago, my knee hurt but I assured my husband I would just walk. “I’m just going to walk, see how it feels”, I told him as he looked at me skeptically. My promise lasted about a thousand feet. A quarter mile later, it felt as if some small being, a teeny-tiny knife-wielding troll perhaps, stabbed me in the right side of my left knee, thereby causing such pain as to force me to turn back and sheepishly hobble home, to admit what I had done.
If Cliff is the tortoise then I am the hare in this relationship. The hare is humbled and the tortoise is grateful for a mother who is as slow-moving as he is. Our walks have been more pleasant of late, because I’m not urging him along to work off a few calories. To someone driving past, we must look adorable, strolling arm in arm as I point out something or someone interesting around the corner. We stop occasionally to watch the roofers on the house nearby, and admire their skill. “Oh boy, Cliff, do you suppose they’ll fall off?” and “Shall we ask if we can come up there?”
 He replies with a giggle, “Silly mother!”
Here is what I would have missed today if I had run past it all: the perfectly imperfect spider web extending out from my little maple tree; my neighbor’s new hopeful white arbor in her side yard, the first sign she’s moving past her husband’s unexpected death of two years ago; the brindle-colored terrier standing so still I mistook her for a statue; a little boy stepping off the yellow school bus in his pine green, fall jacket, backpack bouncing, as he ran towards his mother, waving the artwork he’d been waiting to show her. And 13-year-old Maddie across the street, singing out on her walkway, uninhibited and joyfully swaying with the music in her head.
I’ve often heard, from others who parent someone with an intellectual or physical challenge, that they have learned patience from their children. Cliff has been a good teacher, but I have no more learned patience from him than he has learned to be in a constant mad rush from me. I must say, however, watching how Cliff walks and moves about in the world, I’ve at least developed an appreciation for the joy of a pace that isn’t all bad. I have had to adapt, just as he’s had to adapt his whole life to a world that doesn’t always wait for him to catch up. He seems okay with that, very happy even.
Thoreau said, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”
I’m inclined to agree. Of course, as soon as my knee has forgiven me my transgressions against it, it’s a safe bet I will get back into my running. For now, though, I have no choice but to walk in Cliff’s shoes awhile longer, languidly making my way to wherever it is I’m going. Can’t promise I’ll completely embrace the walking life, but I will certainly endeavor to try.
To move in spirit to and fro;

To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;

Observing all the things we meet

How choice and rich they be. To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;

To mind the good we see;

To taste the sweet;

Observing all the things we meet

How choice and rich they be.

To walk is by a thought to go; To move in spirit to and fro; To mind the good we see; To taste the sweet; Observing all the things we meet How choice and rich they be.    

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of the week.

WILLIAM DEMENT, Newsweek, Nov. 30, 1959

We are on the roof of a tall city building, white sky all around us. There is no barrier on this nightmare roof, no parapet to keep us from falling over the edge to certain death. There are two of us in that odd lonely space. I am one. Cliff is the other. I can sense the presence of others on the rough gravel surface but they are like ghosts, white, unformed, almost invisible, as if an artist, in rendering the scene, had run out of paint. I am far, too far from him as he closes the gap between himself and the brink, and so I scream, “NO!” He doesn’t seem to hear me, or at any rate he won’t acknowledge my existence except to glance at me as he backs up. I continue to scream and implore those others, the faceless beings floating in place like useless sentries, to help. Cliff is oblivious to the danger he is in, doesn’t understand that this space between us means I can’t help him in time. They say most dreams last only seconds, but my screaming and fright feels endless, because even though I try to run to save him I know I cannot. Just as I get close, holding both arms out towards him, he falls backwards and is gone.
I wake, shaken, frightened, disturbed, horrified. I think, “Oh, God, God.”  There is no sleep for me until I get up to check on him, because I worry that my sixth sense is telling me he may be in some sort of distress and I need to help him. When I reach his bedroom, standing and staring, waiting to observe the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes, I see reflected in his mirrored wall, the depths of my own worst fears.

I used to see a therapist who asked me if I tended to "catastrophize" everything. I thought about the time Max didn’t come home all night. I kept waiting for the police to call to tell me he was thrown from his car or had been robbed and beaten. In 1974, in Buffalo, New York where I went to college, my roommate Mary wanted to have a Halloween party. Reluctantly I went along with it, all the time having serious doubts that more than maybe a couple of people would come. She was a witch; I was Malcolm McDowell’s character from “A Clockwork Orange”. We sat on the couch, waiting for the people to show up. I kept looking at the heaping plates of chicken wings and celery with blue cheese we had carefully placed on the vinyl-covered table and felt sorry for her because we had gone to all that trouble for nothing. Two years ago, I felt a lump in my left breast and began to think about what I would say in the farewell video I would record for Olivia, Max and Cliff, telling them how honored I was to be their mother; in a fantasy where I am not actually a jealous wife, I rehearsed a speech in which I would tell Ken he should try to fall in love again.

I told the therapist that, yes, I certainly did have a propensity towards unwarranted worrying. I refused the pills she offered to me, arriving at the conclusion that there is a part of me that feels if I worry less, something bad will happen. Possibly, the fight or flight thing won’t kick in when it’s supposed to, and then where would that leave me?

It would seem that wide awake or in the surrender of REM sleep, I have a constellation of fears probably not all that different from the rest of the human race. At times I let it take over, leaving me open to an imagination bent on scaring the hell out of me. But I always, always get a hold of myself. (I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Moonstruck” where Loretta slaps Ronny twice, saying, “Snap out of it!”.)

However, there is still the question of Cliff and my recurring nightmare and the reasons behind it. I suppose one doesn’t have to be a student of Freud to understand that deep down, I don’t believe I can protect him from hurt, from disappointment, from sadness, from leukemia, from Alzheimer’s, from missing his old job.

 What I don’t understand is how everyone else seems to be walking around singing “Que Sera Sera”. I’m looking at them, wondering, “How do you DO that?”

The answer at which I have arrived has something to do with faith and hope. I have faith that everything will be okay, and I hope I’m not wrong.  Also, even with all my insecurities, my fears, and wild assumptions, I would argue that I am both rational and sane. That is, can I really expect to have that much control over what happens? Sometimes, I  have to consider that those other people (the ones who are singing) are probably struggling too from time to time, waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Max was neither thrown from his car nor beaten and robbed. He fell asleep (i.e. passed out) at someone’s house where he’d been partying. Halloween, 1974 in Buffalo turned out to be a success; there were so many people we ran out of chicken wings. The lump in my breast turned out to be a cyst.

In my recurrent dream concerning a city roof high above the unforgiving ground, I waken with a pounding heart. Unable to go back to sleep, I quietly leave my room and enter my son’s. I remember to be quiet because he wakes up at a pin drop. It’s the middle of the night and he’s still breathing. As I leave, I pass Max’s closed door, then Olivia’s, touching each with a flat hand like some sort of bizarre blessing. I do this without forethought, but afterwards, all is peaceful and right. And bad dreams are stalled for a good long while. These are not the actions of a crazy woman, just one who loves deeply and worries too much for her own good.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


He nods, as if to acknowledge that endings are almost always a little sad, even when there is something to look forward to on the other side.”
Emily Giffin, Love the One You're With

“It’s ok not to be ok.” from Jessie J, “Who You Are”

The ride back from my daughter Olivia’s college orientation was quiet. This is notable because conversation is one of our best events. While neither of us ever forgets who’s in charge, we’re pretty good friends. In fact, on the way to LIU Post from our home in Massachusetts three days before, we talked for the first two hours of the trip.

Did I say “we”? I did most of the talking, as I had a captive audience, and I hadn’t seen her much lately. She is 18, after all, the age at which one should be anywhere but home as often as possible.

On Sunday morning, with a three-hour trip ahead of us the quiet made me feel jittery, odd. It’s uncomfortable for me to be sitting next to her in a silence this loud. It’s a feeling analogous to the gloomy dark curtain that swoops across the window just before a storm, entering my house like a ghost, when just moments before the sun was warming the sill.

  At first I thought she was annoyed because I refused to drive back as soon as orientation was finished the prior evening. Instead, we had driven to my parents’ house less than an hour away to avoid having to do part of the trip home in the dark. I don’t like driving in the dark which, in Olivia’s opinion means I’ve lost my sense of adventure. I prefer to think of it as self-preservation. I happen to like getting to where I’m going alive and in one piece.

At issue was her need to hurry back because she’d already been away from her friends for three nights in a row. It was a ridiculous reason to be sore at me, from where I was sitting anyway, considering that all summer she’d been spending five out of seven nights not sleeping in her own bed. She shows up at home to shower, grab a snack, catch up on Facebook and request a few bucks for gas.

Finally, the reveal: “I’m the only one of my friends who is going to school so far away”, she said. “ I won’t be able to come home that much. I’ll  hardly ever see them.” My cranky traveling companion was not angry with me. At least,not directly.  In a matter of weeks, everything was going to change. Uncertainty is Change’s companion, and there is no crystal ball to consult. I remember leaving home and being scared too, wondering how it would all pan out.

I don’t know how to allay this fear, this newest wrinkle in her life. Change has some very sharp edges, and I’m unsure whether or not it’s within my power to soften them.  There are just some things you have to discover for yourself. Everyone knows change isn’t something you can run from, thinking you can outpace it if you’re clever enough. You can’t hide under the covers, and peek out at the world hoping for a static landscape despite the change of seasons.

Maybe I’ll assure her that if her friends are true friends, they will be here when she returns. If they’re anything like my best friend from high school (I had just the one, but she was worth ten), they can pick up where they left off; time does not diminish the connections the heart has made.

Maybe I’ll impress upon her the idea of change as being the thing you should strive for! If nothing ever changed, nothing would grow or learn or stand taller or age gracefully. I want to tell her that not only will her faithful friends still love her, but she’ll be adding new ones.  She’ll fall in love (more than once), make her own decisions, and figure out what’s around the corner. She probably won’t listen but maybe I’ll remind her that everyone and everything changes, daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, and you just have to see the beauty in that, in the amazing, albeit occasionally sad, parts of being alive.

Maybe I’ll just tell her it will all be ok. And when she’s not okay, to sit with it for awhile until the feeling passes. Don’t worry so much. Yes, that’s it.

I can try to get used to the quiet of a car ride if it’s required, and from the perspective of a mother, appreciate it for the peace it can bring . It’s inside the quiet that we listen best, and learn something we didn’t know before. The future will teach Olivia what she's supposed to know. But this is my little instruction for all my children: In the hush of the space in which we find ourselves is the persistence of memory, and what came before exists through each shift of time—friendships, love, losses and gains, and the certainty that what we once had, we will have again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


“To make a 5 slide it down/then send it curving round/almost there please don’t stop/until you’ve put a hat on top.”—

We are a family of five. When the children were little, we would set the table with five dinner plates. Five napkins. Five forks. Five glasses. We five sat together at supper time, with a dog named Sammi at our feet.  We were “Taylor, party of five” at restaurants. In the space provided on an invitation, it was the number I would put down. Five, always five—the number which forms the simplest star, the points of which represent spirit, earth, air, fire, water.

After giving birth to Olivia, a wave of certainty came to me as I lay in recovery. I was done having children. It was as final a feeling as a door closing shut and locking afterward. Imagining my future life, it was with three children, no more. The desire I once had for a bigger family had disappeared like the smooth stone Max once excitedly showed to me, before he skipped it across a lake, where it skimmed the water’s surface before sinking to the bottom. I tried the word out in my head a few times before giving voice to it, saying it aloud to Ken. “Done.”

When they were younger Max and Olivia wistfully dreamed of having more brothers and sisters. One day we were walking along the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore, stopping to talk to a rather large family whose youngest member was a little girl with Down syndrome. Max was especially intrigued by the fact that the couple had seven kids. As we walked away, he said, “Mom, I wish we had a big family like that. It would be fun. Why can’t we have more kids?”

At eight, Olivia began to ask about adoption because I told her I was too old to have more children. She thought we should adopt a baby girl from China, where daughters were perhaps not valued as highly as were sons, so there were certainly more than enough of them to go around. She could have a sister with whom she might share clothes and toys. It was so simple in her mind, a jot of magical thinking; we could go get a baby and add her like we had added the fish we named Algebra and the hamster we kept in the upstairs hallway.

The subject came up time and again over the years, but I would gently reply with what I believe to be true: “God gave us the family we are supposed to have. We are a family of five.”

Most nights, now that Max and Olivia are older, I set the table for three. Ken, Cliff and I sit down to eat our meal--three plates, three napkins, three forks, three glasses, three occupied chairs at the kitchen table. When we go to the movies we purchase three tickets. If we go to a concert, take a walk around the neighborhood, climb into the car to explore places we haven’t yet seen, it’s just the three of us.

At restaurants we are “Taylor, party of three”, unless we’re celebrating someone’s birthday or other special occasion.

I remind myself that this is supposed to happen. Kids grow up, go to work, have friends to visit, places to go. I miss them, those other two, when they are absent. I believe Cliff misses them too. Sometimes I need to remind them how essential they are to their big brother. He needs them in the same way he needs all the things that sustain us--food, drink, shelter, love, breath. Taking him out for ice cream or for a walk or maybe reading him a book isn’t usually the first thing they think of to do with their day, though they love him deeply, because they are young and a little selfish, as all young people are.  

 A family is an entity in perpetual flux; the Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserted that flux is the state of constant change in which all things exist. “All things are flowing.”  There is ebb and flow as in a river, continuous change steering us into and away from each other’s daily lives. I believe God gave me the family I am supposed to have and that the universe will supply everything we need. This family of five will always stay together despite time and circumstance and physical distance. I have no doubt of that.

The constancy of change demands that the smooth rock resting at the lake  bottom is transported to some shore eventually, where a little boy or girl picks it up, carries it to some other supper table at which children and parents join in an excited chorus, imagining where else it has been.

Friday, July 20, 2012


The quality of a marriage is proven by its ability to tolerate an occasional "exception."-- Friedrich NietzscheLESSATTRIBUTION DETAIL »

 Getting married is a total crapshoot. There’s just no telling at the outset which marriages are going to work, and which ones will circle the drain awhile and go down finally, sucked up by the muck and mire of incompatibility and irreconcilable differences, mid-life crises and communication breakdowns. I think we all start out with the best intentions and a feeling of optimism about the future.

I’ve often wondered if it’s true that we all have one soul mate, and that if you find him or her you’re guaranteed to have a happy marriage. Hmmm…I’m not in the mood for that much philosophical thought. Besides, I prefer to wonder about more interesting things, like if you keep pushing the elevator button, does it really arrive faster?

Ken and I celebrated our thirtieth anniversary this year. Do you know how long thirty years is? It’s a freaking long time. Ken likes to tell people we were babies when we got married. Age-wise we really weren’t babies, but in terms of life experience, I’d have to agree. We were in love and had excellent chemistry, so one sweltering summer day in his attic apartment, when he told me he wanted to marry me, after spending the afternoon in his ridiculously small twin bed, I said yes. We had been dating for a whopping four months.

I figured he must really, truly love me; for one thing, I was dating another guy for some of that whopping four months. I still can’t believe he put up with that situation for as long as he did. Also, the day I brought him around to meet my parents, my then thirteen-year-old brother Michael made the mistake of being a smart-aleck at the dinner table. In response, my very strict father growled menacingly and smacked Michael in the head. Right in front of my new boyfriend. If I recall correctly, Michael sat right next to Ken that night. Naturally I was horrified and mortified, and the aftermath of finishing our meal in silence was beyond awkward.  But it didn’t scare him away. Go figure.

We got all dressed up one day in the month of May, invited a couple hundred people, and said our vows.  When we returned from our Bermuda honeymoon, people would snicker because neither of us was tan. They joked that we probably never left the room. I wish. As it turns out, Bermuda isn’t tropical, something we didn’t know, and it rained the ENTIRE time we were there. You could say that was the first test of our married life. We spent a lot of money just so we could ride around for a week on mopeds in raingear.

But the true tests of marriage vows are inevitable, and we are no different than anyone else in that regard.  There was the reality of raising a child with a disability, a long and difficult bout with infertility, the credit card bills that I racked up, Max and Olivia’s teenage years.  He even stuck with me through my hideous assymetrical hair style in 1991, which didn’t grow completely out until at least the end of 1992.

We’ve taken only one vacation alone since Cliff was born. It was an entire weekend near Cape Cod, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary. People are always surprised when I reveal this fact. It isn’t because we can’t afford it.If you really want to know, I'm afraid to leave Cliff. It’s just something I have a hard time with. Ken has grown accustomed to my anxieties by now, and doesn’t force the issue. Would he like to like to sit at a Paris bistro with me eating a mille-feuille? Sure! Have a picnic of bread and Chianti on a blanket under the Tuscan sun? Sip a Grey Goose martini poolside in Aruba? Gaze out of our tree house on the African savannah? Oh yeah. So would I. Someday. It’s a concession he’s made, one of many concessions and compromises, matched only by the ones I have made as well.  That’s how marriage works. Luckily, according to Redbook Magazine, the first rule of marriage is to not spend all your time together. “Constant togetherness is unhealthy for any relationship,” says one expert from the Redbook Marriage Institute. How far away could we get from each other on the African savannah?

After thirty years, we still love each other. The chemistry is still wicked good too. Once, a long time ago, when I asked Ken why he thought we had a good marriage, he said, “Mutual respect”. I’d have to agree. Love, chemistry, respect. And knowing when to tell the truth and when to just shut up. It was years before I knew how much he really hated that haircut.

I highly recommend marriage, if you really want to know. I mean, what is life after all, if not one enormous gamble?  It’s a beautiful thing. If you have doubts, just remember that the nice thing about a crapshoot is sometimes you do get lucky.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Est. 1962

My sister asked me to write about our childhood home as a way to celebrate the official fifty-year anniversary of our occupancy there. I didn't want to at first because it seemed too daunting a task. Then a writer friend of mine challenged me to write a poem or prayer using the word "let" as the very first word. I decided to join these two challenges and I came up with what I guess I'd call a prose poem. I am publishing it on my blog even though it has nothing to do with what I normally write about, but mom asked me to so...

Let me recall the grace of this house,
the beauty in every arch, crack, and creaky stair.

Let me close my eyes and see all the gathering times

of aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers, and angels we have entertained unawares,

and feel the spirits of those loved and cherished, even in their absence.

Let me look around each shadowy, jumbled closet in which I have hidden,
at the staircase where so many babies learned to ascend and descend in their need to conquer,

and behind each door where children’s voices still echo from fifty years of playing in hushed tones,

or counting in the night when we couldn’t sleep, from fights over clothes and pilfered albums,

and endless games where we each were winners in the end.

Let me stop and listen for the music of my mother, and the laughter of my father,

but also, the remonstrations and the soft crying and the apologies and finally,

the enveloping hugs which have made us who we are.

Let me carry in my heart the light that emanates from this house’s walls, windows, leaky faucets,

the small tables crowded with photographs, and the doors that never did close properly.

Let me gaze outside from windows propped open by fat books, at the trees we climbed,

and at the weeping willow under which old women once sat, watching over us and smiling,

with folded hands over ample stomachs.

And at the concrete steps from which I have observed each season, and shook my fist at too-fast cars,

and orchestrated my sisters’ sidewalk games; those same steps where

my brothers posed for pretty girls, and neighbors stood to pass the time.

Let me recall every sorrow and joy when, in some future time,

I am lonely for what was.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


“This my shit.”—Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”

In the impossible pursuit of perfection, I am like King Sisyphus, compelled to keep rolling a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down time and time again.  Even in the face of the proverbial losing battle, after I’ve picked myself up and patched the bruises, I have to keep trying to fix things I believe to be either wrong or at least in need of renovation. My motivation is a general attitude about wanting to balance out the world, my family, my friends, and my home. As with anything one does to excess, my tendency towards perfectionism is problematic, (just ask my husband!) leaving me at times disillusioned and ineluctably disappointed in the outcomes. But isn’t that the very definition of optimism? To continue to try to make things right despite poor odds?

Still, there are days where I am painfully reminded that there are just some things that are beyond my ability to fix. There are people, I am finally coming to accept, whose minds I can’t change and whose beliefs are too ingrained for me to reform. Perhaps it was arrogant of me to think I could do that in the first place.

After Cliff was born, I began to see people in a different light, to scrutinize and evaluate.  I learned to be perceptive, to cull from a person’s words and actions the answers I needed to find. Some of the friends I had didn’t make the cut. I shed them from my life because I would not compromise the happiness of my son and my own peaceable spirit by holding on to anyone who was not accepting and open to the idea that everyone belongs.  Their ignorance made me sad and angry, and I chose to walk away. Nor did I have patience for pity, because I was happy to have Cliff as my son and I needed, needed, them to be happy too.

In the years since, I’ve developed radar which assists me in surrounding myself and my family with the type of people who possess a like-minded philosophy. It always makes me smile to see them make an effort to talk to Cliff or to engage him in some meaningful way. I love them for their persistence even when Cliff doesn’t answer right away or he decides he doesn’t feel sociable at that moment.

It is sometimes a cruel world clearly in need of repair. I won’t stop trying to fix the things which do not support an inclusive, accepting society, or stop trying to enlighten the people who insist it doesn’t matter if they utter the word “retard” if they weren’t actually referring to my child. I will not listen to or support comedians who equate intellectually challenged individuals with dogs, even if that particular horror occurred eleven years ago (he’s not sorry, as there are other examples of his hate speech since that time). I guess my mistake is in expecting too much, and in hoping the fundamental differences between us are not irreparable. It gets to be exhausting, trying to fix things, but “this my shit”, this is who I am. My love for my son and my strong belief in the value and sanctity of each life compels me to roll that boulder up the mountain over and over, despite its immensity and the challenge of bracing against it in the hope that from time to time it will stay put.

Talking isn't doing. It is a kind of good deed to say well; and yet words are not deeds.   –William Shakespeare

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Mother's Song

"Gonna dance with the dolly with the hole in her stockin', while her knees keep a-knockin and her toes keep a-rockin. Gonna dance with the dolly with the hole in her stockin', gonna dance by the light of the moon."

My mother is one of those people who makes her mark on the world quietly but with great style. We are alike in some ways, most notably in our introverted personalities. We can both attest to the challenges of being an introvert in a society in which extroversion is highly valued and seen as a key to success. On those occasions when the extroverts in our lives seem to overshadow us, it can be difficult to remember that we have something worthwhile to offer. I have been discovering, however, that introverts, once they realize their power, can see themselves as God sees them, and claim their own particular kind of success.
My mother made a remark on my most recent visit home that both surprised and pained me. At the time, I brushed it off, gave it short shrift because the meaning and import of what she said didn’t take hold in my thoughts until later.

Before I tell you what she said, I should preface this with a brief description of the man she married, as it figures greatly into this story.  My dad is most definitely not an introvert and in fact, has oftentimes been described as strict, gregarious, outgoing, loud, a storyteller.  As children, my seven siblings and I feared his booming voice when we were caught doing something wrong, so it was always our sincere hope that if we were found out, my mother would be the one to admonish us instead. The decibel count was considerably lower and she would often respond to our minor transgressions by speaking aloud to no one in particular, with her familiar lament: “One word from me and they do as they damn well please!”, she would huff with exasperated surrender.  She was the steady thrumming rain while my dad was the thunder and, on occasion, the lightning.

When in 1985 I presented them with Cliff, their second grandchild, neither of them had had any experience when it came to children with intellectual challenges. Even so, they responded with typical familial joy and an attitude of complete acceptance, and simply loved him like they would any grandchild. From the beginning, my dad was inclined to try to make Cliff laugh whenever he could. It is Dad's nature to be silly, to bark like a dog, recite the lines from Jack and the Beanstalk—the ones that start with “Fee Fi Fo Fum”, break out into song at the dinner table, and dance to a tune on the stereo. While my dad was involved in these various shenanigans, my mother would sit by and smile, or occasionally raise her eyebrows. But one would never, ever see her risk her dignity by making faces or animal noises of any kind. I suppose you could say my dad was the actor at center stage while my mom hung back, off left in the wings in true extrovert/introvert fashion, respectively.

So, getting back to the remark she made, it was just after my dad finished singing a song about broccoli he made up years ago and still sings to Cliff, with consistent results—Cliff sings along and laughs uproariously at the last vibrato-tinged note. Here’s what she said, and I am paraphrasing here, but the essence of it was “I can’t do that, be silly and goofy and make Cliff laugh like that. I wish I could do that. I guess Daddy just ‘has’ it.” Her tone of voice felt a little sad, as if she were revealing that she had long harbored this desire, and not just in that moment.

I began to think about my mother’s relationship with Cliff, to decipher what it was she thought was lacking. I have come to the conclusion that nothing is lacking. Nothing at all.

 If you don’t know my mom, whose name is also Celia, you might not know she is extraordinarily talented.  She graduated from the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and plays the piano in such a way as to make you stop what you are doing, sit down, and listen. She was classically trained, which is why all of us can hum Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. If she hadn’t become a mother, she could have become world famous.

Yet here she was, expressing a desire to be something she wasn’t, could never be. In that moment , I think she had forgotten herself, and all the years of memories where she is sitting at the piano, inviting a 6-year-old Cliff, a 10-year-old Cliff, a 19 -year-old Cliff,  to sit on the bench next to her as she plays to him, singing Rudolph, Simple Gifts, America the Beautiful and all the other songs in his repertoire, leaning towards him as she connects his words to her rhythm. Here in my memories, are visions of her sharing her music with him whenever there was an opportunity, a moment of relative calm in the pandemonium that sometimes describes life at 60 Wesley Ave. There is my mother, playing all the music that has formed the background of my family’s life, starting with Cliff, creating the remembrance of precious moments with each of her 18 grandchildren. But her remark was about Cliff and I need to write this so that not one more day will pass without her knowing that Grandma's unique way of delivering the goods is just as wonderful as the song that belongs to Grandpa. She has done that a million times, in the most lovely way for all of Cliff’s 27 years.
Where my father is the lungs, my mother is the heart. One needs both to live. There is no one else who can do what my mother does. She should know that. And remember it forever.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Us, in a Nutshell

1980, Summer

He gazed at her from his spot on the corner, from under the eaves of a small five and dime store. She noticed and looked back at him from where she stood under the bus stop sign. The number 13 bus arrived.
“Why are we always the last ones to leave?” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Sit with me?” he said.
“Sure,” she said.
“What’s your name?” he said.
“I have a boyfriend,” she said.
“I see,” he said.
“I have a car we can use. I’ll pick you up tomorrow,” she said.
“I need a rug and a couch for my apartment,” he said.
“I’ll help you pick them out,” she said.
The next night he bought a second-hand red Persian rug and a furry, rust-colored loveseat. They went out to a bar.
“I’ll have a pina colada,” he said.
“Bring me a 7 and 7,” she said.
“Thanks for driving me to the store,” he said.
“I’d go to bed with you tonight,” she said.
But he had a friend crashing at his apartment. “ Maybe tomorrow?” he said.
She did not care that she had a boyfriend. She slept with him the next day and began to fall in love.
Years 1-4
“I don’t know how or when, but I’d like to marry you,” he said.
“Okay,” she said. And they were married.
They made love on the red Persian rug.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“Let’s name him after my dad,” he said.
1985, Winter
The baby was born. She cried.
“Why did this happen?” she said.
“It will be okay. He’ll be happy. We’ll make sure of it,” he said.
“I love him so much,” she said.
They had a cat named Desdemona who got sick and died two months after he bought it for her. It broke her heart. She taught school while he worked for a company near the bus stop sign where they had met.
Years 5-8
They bought their first house. She missed her family, now three hours away.
“I want more children,” she said.
“Fine,” he said. But she couldn’t have children unless she had an operation.
“I’m fine with just the one,” he said.
“I want more children,” she said.
Years 9-12
Years passed. She had the operation, even though he was scared she would die and leave him alone. Thirteen months later, the next baby boy came. Three years after that, their baby girl. They were miracle babies.
“I love them so much,” she said.
“They’re beautiful,” he said.
Years 13-30
More years went by. They had two dogs named Sammi and Jojo, a mean cat named Toughie, and various hamsters and blue Betta fish. They had moved again. She still missed her family, so far away. They muddled through, always coming together when necessary, always returning to love even when their children gave them headaches, even when they didn’t like each other very much.
 “The kids are almost grown,” she said.
“Yes. But here they still are,” he said.
“Perhaps that’s a good thing,” she said.
“Perhaps,” he said.
They got older. Their muscles ached. They slowed down. She had bad knees. He lost most of his hair.
“Wanna fool around?” he said.
“The kids are still awake,” she said.
“Maybe tomorrow?” he said.
“I would have gone to bed with you the first night,” she said.
“I know,” he said. 
“I love you the same,” she said.
“I love you the same, too,” he said.
The End (at least, for now)…