Rumor has it that our kids have planned a holiday party.
That I am hearing about this party in the form of an after-the-fact rumor is unsettling because it will purportedly take place at our house.
Anyway, while I hate to call you out on this publicly almost as much as I enjoy making disingenuous statements, here’s the deal: you kids can plan all you want, but the party isn’t happening, at least not like it did last year. Your father and I have learned from your mistakes.
You can’t have more than a hundred people in ugly Christmas sweaters trash the house. You can’t have people pee in the yard, vomit in the kitchen wastebasket, or dispose of empty Dubra bottles in the attic rafters. You can’t have them track mud and black heel marks all over the house, leave the doors open when it is fifteen degrees outside, clog the toilet with what appears to be a pair of stockings, or antagonize the neighbors into calling the cops. I hate to be the person bringing the buzzkill when you’ve been hard at work planning your reprise rager, but someone’s got to do it.
You father and I are what you might call enlightened party-poopers. We want you to celebrate the holiday with your friends, but on our terms. We encourage you each to invite one or two of them over. You can watch something on Netflix. We don’t even mind if you break out a holiday libation or two. There are board games on the shelf in the living room- we recommend Scattergories and Apples to Apples. Order in some pizza! At midnight, everyone turns into a pumpkin, so you might want to suggest to your friends that they leave before dad comes downstairs in his underwear. You know this is not an idle threat.
I think we’re being fair. As Santayana once said, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. It’s only been a year, and the memory is not merely fresh, but raw. It’s time to let other parents experience the doom from which they, too, can eventually escape.
Yesterday I came down with a stomach bug. I’ll spare you the gory details (and trust me, there are many) but probably the worst thing aside from the projectile vomiting was the fact that I was too uncomfortable to sleep but pathetically unable to do anything else.
Before the puking started in earnest I spoke to my father about my plight and said I needed sleep, which initiated calls every hour to find out if I felt better yet. When I wasn’t hugging the toilet I was too weak to talk, plus I had just visited him the day before, so I let his calls go unanswered.
The hourly ringing of the phone meant my father was never far from my mind. I was also nauseous, so my thoughts meandered to a childhood memory. I was maybe four or five and woke up in the middle of the night feeling certain I was about to throw up. At dinner that night, my father insisted that I eat my peas and mashed potatoes- two foods I hated. As I lay in bed, stomach churning, all I could think about were peas and mashed potatoes.
My father sat on the edge of the bed. I told him I was going to throw up because he made me eat peas and mashed potatoes. Maybe he felt guilty, because he stayed by my side, even though he was not one for even limited nurturing. He told me a story about fairies and flowers, because he sensed I needed distraction. Every time he’d trail off, first my mind, then my stomach, would start turning to peas and mashed potatoes, so I begged him to him to keep talking about fairies and flowers, which he did, maybe for hours. Miraculously, I made it through the night vomit-free, to which I credit my dad.
This is what I was thinking about yesterday when he called for the fifth time. I picked up, slightly buoyed by this childhood memory.
“How are you?” he boomed.
“Really sick, Dad. Even worse. Still throwing up.”
“Oh, God,” he said, followed by a pause. “I hope you didn’t give it to me.”
This is often the way my father thinks, and often the way he thought when I was young. Juxtaposing this against my childhood recollection was jarring, but I still felt like I’d been given an extra blanket, reliving the aforementioned very sweet thing he did for me so long ago, layered with the concern evident in the incessant phone calls.
It made me think that we have a choice: to hold onto hurt and disappointment, or to dwell on the times that were good. They may be precious few, but yesterday, it struck me that in that phrase, precious is the operative word.
They tell me
I am the safe harbor,
The tree that sways without breaking.
They tell me
I am the steady hand
The indifferent cook,
The bedside lamp,
The open book.
I would tell them
I am not the thing that ticks,
but the ticking itself.
I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,
it’ll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in
In Kim Addonzio’s “What Do Women Want?” is the defiant voice of the alter-ego I dream of possessing, only way more eloquent.
It’s weird. One day you feel like you are in perfect synch with the world, thrumming with positive forward motion. Even the most commonplace things ooze possibility. Then, the next day, all is off-kilter. Ennui settles, a thick blanket making everything you do an effort; Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill, again, again, again.
None of the furniture has been moved, but you don’t recognize the room. But it’s not the furniture or the room, it’s you who have shifted, only without shifting.
You’ll get that synchronicity back. Well, technically, you don’t get it back, because it never went away, not really. But when you wake up, though nothing may have changed, everything will be different. That’s the illusion of change and permanence. That’s the very real magic of perspective.
Years ago, when the kids were little, Sam was out of town for the weekend. In the middle of the night, the phone rang. A man said “Laura?”
I didn’t recognize the voice, but half-awake, said yes.
The caller wasted no time launching into a graphic description of a particularly perverted sex act he was hoping I’d join him in. Freaked out, I hung up immediately, my heart pounding. What worried me was our house had no security system and this guy had called me by name, and since our listing in the phone book was under Sam’s name, the call probably wasn’t random. I also surmised he must be aware that Sam wasn’t home.
The next morning, I decided to call the police. I had one more night on my own, and better safe than sorry.
A cop came to the house. It was early, and the kids were playing inside. He took my statement, and in addition to the relevant details I provided, he wanted to know what, exactly, the caller said. I told him I’d rather not repeat it. He told me that knowing what was said, verbatim, was important if he was going to catch this guy. I could whisper it in his ear if I didn’t want the kids to hear.
Maybe I was intimidated because he was a police officer. Maybe he had me momentarily convinced that this made some kind of sense. Anyway, I whispered into his ear what the caller said, my face bright red, feeling like I was somehow working the wrong end of a phone sex line.
I never heard back from the cop. That night, I did what I would have done anyway; locked the doors and slept like crap. The only thing worse thing than the obscene call itself was repeating it, all the while knowing it would not in any way help my situation.
This memory surfaced this past week, with the release of the 911 tapes from the Newtown school massacre. Not that a horrific tragedy and a creepy obscene phone call are comparable, but both involved the pointless disclosure of information that serves no purpose except to satisfy curiosity.
We are, by nature, curious. This explains rubbernecking and the National Enquirer. While something positive might have emerged from Newtown - say, banning assault weapons- sadly, nothing did. Outside of limited legislation, there was no substantive takeaway. There is, however, lingering curiosity, which we indulge.
Repeating the exact wording of that phone call served no purpose. The release of those 911 calls serves no purpose. What we need to know is one thing; what we want to know is our native curiosity, pretending not to know the difference.
My yoga teacher says,
as we attempt a balance pose.
Much of the pressure we are under
we bring on ourselves.
She is right
proving her point as I
grit my teeth, willing myself
not to fall.
Putting pressure on ourselves
(as I, on my third attempt,
keeps us from noticing
the cage isn’t locked.
I think about this
from one steady leg,
and midway between
distraction and enlightenment,
I find balance.
One gift I seriously covet is the ability to sing. In my fantasies, I open my mouth and my voice emerges, clear and strong and pitch perfect. When I listen to those fortunate enough to be able to sing, I am torn between being transported by the beauty of their voices and uncharacteristic murderous jealousy.
Anyway, last night I had this dream that I could sing. Not passably, but like Mariah Carey meets Joni Mitchell (before chain-smoking robbed her of that extra octave) meets Sarah McLachlan meets Regina Spektor. In the dream, I wasn’t singing to a packed audience of adoring fans. I was alone, walking down an empty hallway, singing my heart out.
It was awesome. There was nothing flashy about the dream but it made me incredibly happy. In contrast to my waking life, I was just putting it out there, with no need for external validation.
I appreciate the reminder from my subconscious that dreams live and breathe (and act and write and sing and dance) in that moment of inspiration, and wherever that moment takes you. It’s not about the pot of gold; it’s about the rainbow.