love

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

I turned 55 last week. If we break that down, I was born in April 1959. I was four when JFK was assassinated, ten when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. Thirteen during the fateful Munich Olympics. Fourteen at the discovery of Watergate break in. In graduated from High school in 1977. I was 20 when all those middle aged looking “college” students overtook the American embassy in Iran.

Chrome or Firefox can help you figure out the remaining milestones in my life.

Those helped me learn that More than 79 million children were born during the boom years between 1946 and 1964. And despite a definitive trailing off of stork deliveries between 1958 and 1964, babies were a bumper crop. As a side notes, I hardly EVER meet people my own age. Advances in birth control perhaps……more saltpeter in the diet.

Anyway.

Essentially, what this means is that I’m at the very tail end of the storied baby boomer generation, that post war period in which our fighting boys came home from the Pacific and European Theaters to a country of burgeoning prosperity, growth and massive randiness. Lots of babies were conceived to the dulcet tones of Harry James, The Ink Spots, Elvis, Patsy Cline, Puccini and countless others who performed all the many languages of love…..even the sweaty operettas that were the one white stands.

I’ve had many discussions with people born two years ahead of me and three years behind me. Most agree that our years under the boomer heading left us feeling undefined and lacking a purpose.

Those born in 1946 to 1954 got to be Hippies. Peace, love, dope were ways they “countered” the Vietnam war. Protests in front of the university’s administrative office and eventually taking it over was the order of the day. Tossing a Molotov cocktail in the ROTC building and watching it burn, baby burn. Getting gassed by the National Guard when a gathering for draft card burning became a bonfire. They defied their parents and grew out there hair, wore the weirdest clothes and attempt to live in their version of Utopia, no rules, just love…..and lots of it.

The problem is, perfect worlds take work and these communes needed money. Nature can sustain but it’s a helluva lot easier to buy the seeds and the equipment needed for everything to take root. An all for one and one for all mind set has it’s merits, but not in a practical across the board application, not in a working self sufficient commune. They ‘re still around I know, but would guess they number in the tens….if that much.

The basic structure of a fully functioning society currently and always will consist of leaders and followers and with any luck at all, the followers get to decide who these leaders are in office

And when they must leave said office

Then, suddenly with crows feet and receding hairlines comes insight and awareness.

We traded the tie/dye for Brooks Brothers and Ferragamo and thought to,ourselves, “Gee, there’s something to this capitalism stuff. This Madison Avenue gig sure beats helping Arlo and his old ladies, Moonbeam and Starlight slop hogs back at the commune. And yet, we’re still groovy people so communal living can work……but for a profit; as apartment complexes, but instead of working for the common good, tenants “pay”to live there”. They’re on their own for everything else.”

“Cool, no more mass feedings And guess what? This college degree thing is helping me make money!!!! That shit is more magic than mushrooms!!!

“And we need to make all of this happen with cars of our own. Our own stereo equipment, fabulous furnishings An the occasional four cocktail lunch at Trader Vic’s is nice. “

Growing our own food turned into trips to the supermarket and if we still felt compelled, climate permitting, all we needed was the occasional trellis of tomatoes growing on the balcony of the 24th floor two bedroom/2 bath apartment on the Upper Eastside.

We were entrapped by the trappings. We became the very thing we tried to convince ourselves we weren’t. The Establishment.

And so it goes.

I was too young to be a hippie. It might have been in the generation that gave birth to them, but I didn’t feel apart of the chaos, which really didn’t change things. I watched the Sixties unfold on the nightly news. President Johnson kept sending troops and the North Vietnamese kept sending them back to us in body bags. I got the fact that this war felt futile. I remember looking up where Vietnam on the map. Texas is bigger, I thought. And at the same time, I didn’t see civil disobedience helping the country return to peacetime any faster either.

I heard my father’s views on the the war, Commie Pinkos and damned grass smoking Hippies and crazy women who went braless; How LBJ looked like an opossum and Nixon seemed sleazy. And the more criticism I heard, the more I wanted to be one of these, cool, indignant, stand up people. In tried. At 12, I bought peace symbol,patches and black light posters and a cool mobile with the word, “moratorium” in neon letters hanging down.

Moratorium? Isn’t that stage thing at a school with seating?????

But as I said, my timing was off…..as were my verbal skills.

I entered High School in the fall of 1973.. Troop withdrawal from Vietnam happened in ’75. Nixon left office shortly after that, then came the American Bi-Centennial and after that, we welcomed in the insidious disco era and with that came THEE ugliest clothing style EVER.

By the time I graduated from HS, there weren’t any grandiose causes. Sure there was Save The Whales effort, the ecology, inflation, gas shortages, feminism struggled and while that worked to a degree, women still make less than men, but by God, Title 9 allowed us femmes to participate in sports. Strides were made but that which didn’t work, didn’t prompt mass protest.

Why?

A couple of years ago the Hipsters decided socialism was the order of the day so the Occupy movement began…..then ended. There was a fair degree of good ol’ 60’s style anarchy at the WTO protests in Seattle a few years ago and every once in a while you see protest marches, picket lines, union disputes rear their heads, but nothing like that which happened on a daily basis on college campuses and outside political conventions 45-49 years ago.

Why is that? Why do we no longer go all Abbie Hoffman and The Weather Underground over issues?

Protests do work. Women and African Americans can vote and are offered the same freedoms as everyone else thanks to the bravery and bloodshed of those who dared to take on the mysogenists and the bigots.

Union demands are met with walk outs by the members. Am organization can’t make money is no one is running the factory, but that only benefits the members. Very often the rest of us have to pick up the tab fir their pay increases. Unfair??? Only if you choose to look at it that way.

Your piece of the pie is out there, but please understand once and for all YOU have to bake the damn thing yourself. Baking a pie takes time and the right ingredients. It’s a labor of love. But as in life, work, effort the driving force to make it a pie rivaling anything Martha Stewart could create.

But I do believe what we learned from the Hippie era was valuable. They, like every other know-it-all generation eventually grew up. Being hip doesn’t help the new titanium one that you had to surgically inserted a few weeks ago feel any better. We’ve grown up. Time mellows us all. Logic infused by mature reality replaces ideals.

Now don’t get me wrong; to rise up for a Common Cause is great, but what do protests and huge rallies with placard holding hordes of people shouting rhyming insults en masse do today, other than make great headlines?

I appreciate everyone who devoted their time and in some cases, their lives to causes that brought about true change and forced a nation to stop, rethink and rewrite it’s Constitution.

I appreciate the Peaceniks and Pacifists. Change can come by a persistent belief in a cause through non violent means.

But this is America and still a Democracy when I last checked. We thrive in a free market system. Capitalism. Free speech, the right to assembly within limits. L-I-M-I-T-S. Everyone has the chance to grab the brass ring of his or her making. Individual “failure to launch” in its truest form, is the fault and the responsibility of the person.

Lots of things contribute to bad economic times. The fault lies everywhere; In big business, sure— corporate greed is real, but not destructively rampant. If so, there would be repeats of Enron and World Com happening every day. Do corporate giants play a role? Only to a degree. They get away with what they’re allowed to get away with. Wall Street isn’t entirely to blame for the whole magilla, neither is Big Oil or Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Banking. All the problems start , as they have and always will—in Washington. The lawmakers there are the ones who allow tax breaks for corporations, these are the people who allow subsidies, who make the laws that work for some, while impeding others. Laws are the unfair way to keep us equal. And we as a citizenry put lawmakers in office, we actively chose the people, these professional politicians and their federal regulations. Washington is a mess. It’s in dire need of deep analysis and meds. Lots of meds. Thorazine drip time.

The next time you want to participate at a sit-in in a bank lobby or fire bomb a building or go out and fight the forces that were sent there to keep you from getting violent in the process of exercising your free speech, stop and think. Save for the glorious triumph of Civil Rights and certain other causes, protests—a la the Chicago 7—-don’t work. Not like they did or ver did, for that matter. These bloody, anger fueled rages didn’t bring US troops home any sooner. Whales are still being killed, the ecology is still gasping for clean air, as is the economy.

As Dorothy learned from Glenda, The Good Witch, you hadthe power the entire time.

The next time you want hope and change, vote…not only at the ballot, but with your wallet. Affect the bottom line if anyone or anything bothers you that much. In this day and age, refuse to buy a product because you disagree that its manufacturer has relocated its headquarters in a country ruled by tyrannical regime. Or they dont hire homosexuals or ban prayer from the classroom.

Then take it one step further by voting against then governmental tool who allowed the move and grant the tax break it guaranteed.

Vote people in and out of office, refuse to purchase certain things made by companies whose policies you despise…these things are the new Molotov cocktails. Do this and embrace your own version of a scorched policy.

Trust me, someone will get burned.

Closure

heartache_largeA friend of mine contacted me to tell me that a former boyfriend from 37 years ago contacted her recently.    A long four-hour telephone conversation revealed that he isn’t happy with his life and admitted that really, he hasn’t been since they broke up in the mid seventies.    They only dated for a few months–he was her ‘transition boyfriend”, but he never knew that and I don’t think it would have mattered if had an inkling.   He loved this woman, warts and all and knew what she didn’t:  that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

And he would–from a distance and it was with a view that was no better than a few stolen glances over the shoulder of  his rebound wife.    Yes, irony of ironies, the “transition boyfriend” married his “transition girlfriend”.    Of course his marriage to her would be unhappy, for the most part.  Oh, there would be glimmers of happiness; a joyous birth or two, but in the back of his mind,  piercing through every smile would be those damned feelings for ‘her”...THEE girlfriend.  The one that got away.

My friend is currently in a relationship herself.   She says she’s in love.   He’s a man she maneuvered into her life so the move from wife to divorcee would be seamless.

“I could NEVER ever t involved with (insert name here) again.   Ewwwwwww!”

I’ll lay odds that as her marathon conversation with this specter from her past winded down, visions of a life him in some form or fashion crossed her mind.    How could it not?    Name me one normal red-blooded sentient woman who couldn’t let her mind roam down the back alleys of her imagination as she’s being told she was/is the love of someone’s life.   That her absence has been felt every day for almost four decades.   That losing her was and always will be his life’s singularly biggest regret.

I had one of those heartaches.  I had one of those relationships that I let haunt me.   I allowed a simple, acne-faced 15-year-old boy who broke up with me four days into my Freshman year of high school dictate me emotionally for 39 years.       He was there, always present, seething in soul , gripping like a vice.      In some form or fashion, he was there on every date, every uttered “I love you”, every break up, every holiday.

After high school, he went straight to work.   No college for him.    He was a simple guy.   He found a job in the oil patch and never looked back.    He married a women he met in a small town where he’d landed a job;  they married and had kids and last I heard, he had a couple of grandchildren added to his family tree.

Bully for him.

This was the guy who broke up with me before every major gift giving holiday.    I could always count on heartache two to three days before Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day.    Easter,too.   Once, I accused him of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a reference that moved his bangs as it flew over his head.   Yet, I loved the little SOB.   He was my first boyfriend; my first love and at age 12, no less.     In the two years that we were together, he gave me a  yellow smiley face lollipop (which I kept as long as I can remember), a small black pocket  comb with greasy kid stuff still in it  , a very well-worn green and white cap with just as much greasy kid stuff in the inner lining, but the pièce de résistance????     He gave me a corroded silver-colored ring (I’ve yet to find the particular metal ANYWHERE on the table of elements) with green colored stones and three were missing.    He explained that the ring was in his jeans pocket when an impromptu game of backyard football broke out in the neighborhood.

As for the corrosion?   I shudder to think what might have started THAT scientific  process.     He found it, I’m sure but what did that matter?   I didn’t care.    HE gave it to ME.

I was lucky in that I was able to talk to him a few years ago.     A few weeks of phone calls, that’s all.    In that time, I was able to ask him why he left me so suddenly, without a real explanation and without ever really talking to me and he told me that he did so because I was in high school and would probably want to start dating and based on my upbringing he assumed that meant dinners and movies which took time and money–both of which he little of—and he was too embarrassed to tell me.   So, he did the sensible thing and broke up with me.

I can remember going silent at the end of the explanation, the reality that I was devastated by reverse snobbery was sobering.    I don’t remember what was said or even how much longer we talked, but I do remember this overwhelming feeling of release immerse me.    When we last spoke I had no money, only a half ass job, no boyfriend, certainly no modeling contracts or Academy Awards, the Pulitzer had eluded me, as did motherhood and marriage,  but even in the face of all those perceived negatives, I had one bright, shiny positive:  I had an answer to the single most pressing question of my life.

It made up for all the deficits during those holidays 43 years ago.  It was the best thing; the ONLY real thing of value he ever gave me:   the gift of closure.

This, I explained to my friend, is pivotal.     She should meet with this guy from her past that still holds the torch for her or at the very least, send him an email or something that could free him of the hold she has had on him.

“He told me he’s miserable and his marriage is nothing more than a joyless business arrangement.  He’s not happy because it was never what he wanted.” 

Of course it failed.   He settled.

Then, I explained it to her as I saw it, from someone who was haunted by a lost love for so long.  Emotional closure is vital for anyone who’s loved too long and all alone.    My God, is THAT a horrendous way to exist.

Sometimes it takes a gentle shove….a nudge….sometimes a major kick in the ass, but easing the pain is so important.   Not that it’s my friend’s responsibility,  not that it was my ex boyfriend’s either, but being told the real reason–even though it hurt a bit—was incredibly worth all risks, all feelings….everything.      I could stop the doubting;  the incessant wondering how and why.

But the truth is,  I was a lot like Dorothy Gale of the Oz and Kansas Gales.    I had the power to free myself of my emotional  enslavement all along, but I never really knew it.   Perhaps, I did but it served a good purpose.  I used it like a protective layer;  an impenetrable fortress.    Nothing gets near me;  I am safe.     But confines like that also allow nothing in either.   But I used it for as long as I used it–it kept me from getting too close to a lot of people.   So when I finally got the answer to a question that became rhetorical, 39 years ago, I let go.   I suppose it was time.

My life has changed since the  big release, in that he’s really no longer in it.    I rarely think about him anymore.  Oh, he’ll creep in when a song comes on that sweeps me back to 1972, but only in a certain fondness.    I don’t revisit unless a memory is triggered, and lately that trigger has a very secure safety on it.    As for the smiley face sucker?   I kept that for a long time, but eventually mice or other critters who forage storage spaces for food, destroyed it  and I would imagine the comb and cap met the same fate.   The ring, you ask?   I still have it.     It’s in a jewelry box somewhere and there it sits, just as it has for the past 42 years but I would imagine these days, it contains a few less green stones and the curious setting is now probably a lovely rust color.

The idealization of who he was and what he had all those years ago has long dispersed. And that is a very, very good thing;  a process that has taken a very long time.   I am free.  I now have a few well sorted  memories  that I keep in a memory bouquet.  I comprised it like one would order off a menu at a Chinese restaurant:   I’ve taken a few  memories from 1971, a couple from 1972 and one or two from 1973 just to complete the triad of years.

“Please set him free”, I begged my friend.    “You have to do for him what he can’t for himself.  Write him, phone him, telegraph, send a carrier pigeon.   How you do it is your choice, but please, just do it.”

She replied, “Why should I?   I  owe him nothing.  It was a lifetime ago!”

My answer came  surprisingly quick.

I told  her when spend most of your life, loving someone  in your past and it’s that all-encompassing love that burns as it cools, races as it rests; leans as it stands tall and straight, you have no traditional concept of time.   Any prisoner will tell you a 42 year sentence  takes forever to endure, but amazingly, when you look back on it, it  takes all of 42 seconds relive.   And in that time, which transpires quickly then slowly, then back again,  all you can think about  is being free from its clutches.

Freedom.   And  sometimes, for the damnedest of reasons,  freedom isn’t a choice….. but in some cases,  it can certainly be a gift.

She assures me, he’ll be receiving her email soon.

.

Realities

My family is fragmented.

We’re like this ancient vase:  cracked, pieces missing….beyond repair.   Anger and resentment makes a horrible glue.    

I’m not sure how it became so easy for all of us to turn our backs on each other.   We invented disposiblility.     At least that’s how it feels.    Most of my family doesn’t talk to each other and hasn’t for some.     Distance and silence are easy.  They also eliminate the awkwardness of effort.

It’s funny, teetering on pathetic, actually that at age 52, I still have this sophomoric fantasy of someday having this orchestrated nuclear family–straight out of one of those Little Golden Books, I had as a child.   

In my fantasy, my last name is Smith or Jones and it’s  a patriarchical unit that includes parents who exemplify love.  Broken down, that would include a mother who’s loving and nurturing; a father with a spine;  older sisters named Babs and Sis, a dog named Spot and Fluff, the cat.   And I would be this sweet, loving proportionately built girl-child; excelling through life because of an enviable support system that always made me feel loved and strong, win or lose.  

We had all the trappings.  On paper, it looked good.   As far as my sisters and I were concerned, we were very much like these three little girls; posed for the world to see.   Perfectly dressed in taffeta, crinoline and Niagara spray starch–posed in birth order, magazine smiles at the ready.

But that’s not really how it was.     That’s not how it ever is.  

While Child Protective Services never intervened, my childhood wasn’t all that great.   I was -like a million other kids–troubled.    Troubled people were the reason and I have spent years and countless paychecks on therapy and Zoloft trying to  understand  how and why.

Maybe it was because I always had that damned unrealistic family fantasy in the back of my mind. 

Anyway…

A few months ago,  I was summoned to the Texas Hill Country.    Partly by my mother; partly by a need to get out of Houston and breathe different air.  Daughterly duty also played a role

I stayed with my mother who now boasts a life consisting of 81 years on this planet. The woman who bore me 52.7years ago, truly is an amazing woman. She’s short…only 4’8″ (4′ 9.5″ providing her coif is sufficiently teased and Aqua Netted) but in many ways she’s the tallest woman I’ve ever known. Her personality is as it has always been: bigger than life. I appreciate her now in ways I couldn’t….

Or wouldn’t.

My problem is that I always allowed her mothering to get in my way. You see, she wasn’t necessarily a bad mother…perhaps, not the best for a woman like me. I wasn’t a bad daughter either…just hardly the one a woman like her should mother.

We’ve always had a rather tumultuous relationship. I’m not even sure why. I do think we’re both to blame though.

A little background: I knew I wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist since age six when a camera crew captured the top of my very blond head which appeared over the back of my centenarian great grandmother’s wheel chair. KENS-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Antonio had come to my home town to film her 100th birthday party. Guess life expectancy for former South Texas pioneer women wasn’t very high in the mid 60’s.

That night, clad in Winnie the Pooh footed pajamas, I sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor in front of the Curtis Mathis that night, waiting to see if I could see me on the news. Sure enough, there I was. You could only see the top of my head and only for a fraction of a second, but it was just enough to make me realize what I wanted to do, to be; to experience when I grew up.

I feel sure my mother had the same aspirations most of her life. But she dropped out of Baylor her Sophomore year to get married. Her hopes of being a writer were dashed when my oldest sister was born. Protestant procreation urges forced her to sprout two more groin fruit. I was the third and last bi-product of this Sealy Posturpedic co-mingling.

I am more like my mother than my two older sisters. In me, she saw herself and that was both good and bad. I became what she wanted to become but because of personal choices, didn’t. But I don’t think she always saw it like that. My mother has never been one to admit mistakes and because of that, at times I feel she needed to believe others stood in her way. This conveniently allowed her to cover up her own disappointment for never trying harder to do all the things she wanted. In fact, after a very tumultuous divorce, my mother was convinced that her marriage to my father–the result of falling for some line about his coercive fears of being made to fight the Korean hun and only returning to Texas in a coffin–was the main reason why her dreams of becoming a writer, were trashed.

The truth is, she never tried to write throughout her years of child rearing. I think she was scared of both failure and success. But that all changed several years into her retirement. She finally went for broke and took a few writing courses, but dropped out when the instructor harshly critiqued her essay. All of her life, her flawless dreams of being a published author never included being “edited”. No dreams ever do.

Sadly, she never wrote again and we all knew better than to ask why. The sad part is that we also knew that she actually could write very well. Even all these years later, I hate that she let one person’s very subjective opinion sully every aspiration she had.

Perhaps that’s only added to the conflict between us that has existed for decades. For reasons that I would suppose are deeply Freudian in nature, I feel certain that my mother both loved and hated my very public career in TV and radio. Whenever she had something to say to me, it was almost always critical. She found fault in every report; with my appearance in every TV stand up. She hated what I wore; how I phrased something. Then, if she couldn’t find fault with my performance, she criticized the station itself or the city it was in…or my salary. Yet I know she was proud of me because she would express her to other people but for some reason, she could never tell me she was proud of me to my face. I think she wanted me to succeed yet she needed me to fail. And that resulted in many attempts to shake my confidence. Most of the time, I deflected her negativity by striking back with arrogance. I acted like a know-it-all brat who fiendishly went for her emotional fontanel by rubbing her nose in my successes on more occasions than I care to admit. That almost always resulted in horrendous shouting matches that would make wharf whores and teamsters blush.

Regrettably, we’ve spent a lifetime arguing more than anything else. But this visit was different. At least, it certainly felt different.

This time, we weren’t rivals, but we weren’t friends either. I’m not sure what we were. But I do know the dynamic between us was very different. It was easy. I guess one could even call it effortless efforting, Somehow, the anger induced sparring of the past fell by the wayside. For one week we were civil. It was as if we’d managed to evolve into two much calmer women who understood each other…maybe for the first time ever. We celebrated that by drinking Scotch and sipping wine on occasion. We went shopping and tended to business. We watched TV together; we tried to out play each other on “Jeopardy”. We ran errands together; we had dinner out; cooked dinner at home and hosted a dinner party for family one night, but regardless of what we did in the course of the day or the plans we had in the evening, every afternoon at 5:00 like clockwork, we’d go outside and sit on her front porch to watch Monarch butterflies pilfer nectar from flowers wilted by a hard summer drought. We watched migratory geese fly south for the winter and wondered out loud how in the hell the geese selected the lead HGIC (Head Goose In Charge) and what a drag it was to be the weakest in the phyla and be forced to fly at the end of that famous “Y” pattern. We laughed at silly jokes and shared memories. We talked about love and life and failure and successes–other peoples’ mind you; certainly not our own. And yes, at times, she couldn’t help herself. She’d revert to type to do what she did best: she played mother and I knew I had no choice but to reprise my role as daughter.

And here’s the difference I wrote about earlier: I took it all. I just sat there and quietly endured six afternoons of being barraged with comments about my skin and how bad it looked. I learned that my hair was cut in a style that was much too young. I dressed all wrong for my age. I looked bloated. She’d ask me why I choose THAT eyeliner and how could I wear those shoes? And last but not least in order to meet a nice man and settle down, she insisted that I couldn’t just sit in my apartment and wait for one to knock on my door. I needed to get out there, take a chance, BUT I SHOULD AVOID GOING TO BARS TO MEET MEN!!

I said nothing. Arguing wasn’t an option, nor did I didn’t want it to be. I decided that I had two choices within this new ritual we were establishing: I could take the negative things she says to heart and flounder…OR…I can see my positives as I know them to be and refuse to allow someone else’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacies to rewrite my life’s profile page, even if that person is my mother; especially if that person is my mother. I had come to terms with the reality that this was who this woman has been and is; what she’s all about. It’s who she always will be and in the course of my week spent with her, I finally stopped fighting that fact. It was as if my life as her daughter and her life as my mother had reached some mystical reckoning simultaneously. And it all came into focus under the nuclear explosion of color that is a Central Texas sunset. In a way, she’d earned the right to be her whether I liked it or not and the late afternoon light proved that true. It illuminated her face and it showed every line and wrinkle, courtesy of so many years and experiences. It was odd seeing her like this….literally in ‘a new light’….and because of that, I never averted my gaze. I desperately wanted that image of her permanently emblazoned in my memory.

And as I sat on her front porch afternoon after afternoon, I realized that I no longer felt the need for approval that would never come. I no longer wanted her to compliment or coddle me. I didn’t want money or maternal recognition of any kind. I simply wanted time. That’s all. I wanted more time to be with this woman.

As twilight drew near, she’d always suggest that we go inside. I’d always oblige, but did so under silent protest. In many, many ways, I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to leave that porch. I didn’t want to leave her house.

The truth is, I didn’t want to leave my mother.

I once read that Life is but a candle’s flicker; out with a puff of smoke. All week-long, that sentence kept coursing through my head. I know her years left on this good Earth can be counted on a few fingers. Even so, I refuse to regret anything that’s happened between us. Even the bad stuff. Every afternoon, in the midst of butterflies, questions about flying geese and shadows that grew longer with each passing minute, I made a vow to replace every regret with better memories. Mercifully I realized or rather, I hoped, I’d still have time to make more.

Armed with this new strategy and mindset, I stood with her one last time on her front porch this morning. I got in my car after two hugs, a promise to return in a month, one kiss on the cheek and one “I love you”. I was the one who said it. She said nothing. She never does. When it comes to expressing emotions, that’s the one time when this normally chatty woman becomes utterly dumbstruck.

When I arrived back home to Houston after a long, three-hour drive, I looked in my purse.  Tucked inside I found one of her trademark powder blue envelopes which contained a $2.00 off coupon for some Oil of Olay anti-aging skin-care product; a $3.00 coupon for Metamucil and a newspaper article about the pros and cons of being loveless over the age of 50.

Two coupons and a newspaper clipping told me what she couldn’t:    that she loved me, too.

I guess every so often Little Golden Books, while tarnished, can have  some basis in reality.

Season-ings

Soon, I will be seeing the start of my 52nd Autumn.   

And yes, I know living here in Houston forbids me from actually seeing the summer end as the fall begins, but don’t feel too sorry for me all you Yankees.   I can still see a varied form of what you’re about to witness;   I’ m talking about  that incredible annual autumnal spectacle of arboreal color changes and falling leaves.   Truth be told,  I’m already seeing  the leaves change color,  but of course, that’s because of 41 consecutive 100 degree days.  But hey…dead leaves are dead leaves, right ?    Does the reason how or why  they died all that important in the grand scheme of things?    And so what if I’ll be looking at them while sweating profusely?

Even so, I’ll know when the fall is here.  All the signs are already pointing to its pending arrival.   Here it is late August and the days are already getting shorter.   I went walking this afternoon and the shadows are growing longer quicker.   And it’s getting darker earlier.  At 8:15 pm, I looked out my window and my balcony was illuminated by the street light.   And even though it’s hot here, you can feel an underlying change in the air.   Maybe its wishful thinking but I know I can feel the change.     I’ve always been able to feel it.

Okay, so I won’t be wearing my sweaters, leggings and boots any time soon.  So, I won’t be watching  the leaves change color per se, but for me, leaf viewing won’t be as nearly as important as  feasting my eyes on a 100-yard long field of very manicured grass divided in ten yard intervals by white chalky hash marks..  

Ah yes…football season  will begin soon and in  here Texas, that’s everything.   Hell, most of us cut our teeth on plastic kick off tees!!!

Make no mistake, football season is the hallmark of the autumn in the Lone Star State but there’s more to it than that…at least there is for me.  It’s personal. 

I love the fall.  For me, it’s the time of the year for renewal far more than the spring.   Detroit released its new cars.   There are all the new fall fashions to look at and wish I was young and thin enough to wear.    I have always loved the promise of the new school year.    The first cold front that eventually blows in, allowing cooler temperatures would prevail.   Plus, like a big leaf, I seem to always do a little falling myself in the autumn.  I seem to meet a great guy and fall in love more easily during this time of year.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I look better covered up by more clothing and in darker environs.

Oh, who cares.  I welcome the fall, regardless of how paltry it might appear to  be down in these parts.  It’s a wonderful time of the year.  

Look out men!!!

Aside from that warning, I’ll leave you with this seasonal joke:

A couple goes to an art gallery. opening.  They find a picture of a naked women with only her privates covered with leaves.
The wife doesn’t like it at all and moves on, but the husband stays put and just keeps  looking.
The wife  returns to her husband, still staring at the portrait.   She’s a bit annoyed and asks,  “Well come on, let’s go.  What are you waiting for?”  The husband replies, “Autumn.”

So am I ya’ll; so am I….but for different reasons.  I’m not in to chicks, man.

Love (?) Among The Pastrami

Disappointment

He walked in The Deli and every woman in the joint looked at him.

He was smooth, polished…virtually glided on a pair of black Florsheims.   The kind of man that by all appearances, not only makes me take notice, but one who makes me stare. Dark brown hair…neat but not too neat. He had cool blue eyes, just enough lines on his face to indicate character and a life well lived.    He had an air of just enough sophistication.  He could, it seemed, be comfortable in a five star restaurant and seemingly tear it up in some dirt floor dive.   I like that in man…this sense of knowing how to play and when and where.  Physically, he was by no means thin;  certainly not grossly overweight, but a little pudgy.   A beefy guy.   My kind of guy.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought he was attractive.   Almost every woman in the deli looked up at him.

One woman stopped in her tracks, her tray of food kept going.

One woman stopped chewing.

Two women’s mouths went agape.

Another woman said “Wow!” under her breath.   So did at least three men and only one was effeminate.

I sat there unable to move; unable eat my fully loaded baked potato. A small clump of buttered spud was situated at a perilous angle on my lip.   I wiped my mouth with my napkin, my eyes never leaving this incredible specimen of man.

I don’t think he knew he was that good looking. He didn’t have that swagger and there was something refreshing about him. Maybe it was a slight case of timidity I was picking up on–I wasn’t sure, but he was deliciously cute and in the time it took for him to first walk in the front door and approach the counter, I already had our stunning five bedroom house tastefully decorated and our massive tenth wedding anniversary party planned.

He walked up to the counter and stood there, hands on hips ,reading the vast menu board.   He ordered something…I think a Ruben. The guy behind the counter was unscathed, but the young girl restocking the tea and soft drink island certainly was. She noticed me noticing her. I looked at him, she looked at him–then, we looked at each other. I gave her my patented “he’s mine” look; and she responded with narrowed eyes that all but screamed, “over my dead body”.

And suddenly, two warring factions were born.

He paid for his meal, got a tray and headed over to the beverage island. She got into position. I knew I couldn’t sit back and watch this happen before my very eyes and do nothing.

I stood up with my glass. I needed a by God refill. NOW!!! I needed to intervene. I needed a strategy. Think fast, Kendrick!!! THINK!!!!!!!

Pawn moves two squares forward on its first move and is captured on square.

En passant, Bitch!!!!!

Just as I got up, my dining partner said, “Wait!! You’ve got a chive on your front teeth!”.

Without thinking, I removed it and started walking. I reached the ice machine and refilled my glass. He was filling his with Diet Coke.

I stood beside him. She moved into position with additional clean glasses.

I was one side; she was on the other.

Be devastatingly clever and cute, I thought to myself.   He stood there as my opponent and I edged closer.

I looked at his face. Oh my yes, he was cute.   Eyes azure; skin tanned. His hands were as big as baseball mitts; fingers like hotdog buns. For a fraction of a second, I wondered if the old wives’ tale was true.

She beat me to the first verbal exchange, “Hi, I’m Tabitha!”

“Tabitha”???    Of course she was.

“Here, let me get you a bigger glass!”

Dammit!!!! She’s scoring points with obsequious servitude!!

He responded with a closed mouth smile, the corners of mouth disappearing into two cavernous dimples, so deep that Matt Roloff could spend a day in them……spelunking.

I then tried to play catch up by spewing forth this gem, “Well hey, what do you know! We’ve got something in common. I love Diet Cokes, too!”

Oh great! THAT was neither cute or clever…just devastating. He stared at me, scanning my face as if he were looking for tale-tell signs of Mongoloidism.

I was embarrassed. Usually, I’m far smoother than this. But nothing was working right. I felt cornered and trapped by my own insecurities and ignorance. I didn’t know the guy; I was taking a chance. Perhaps he liked simple approaches; perhaps he didn’t. Whatever his preference was didn’t matter. I didn’t have time to stop and analyze his psyche. I needed something to break the ice.

As my nemesis handed him a glass, I looked at her. She felt my glare and looked at me. That’s when I furrowed my brow and sternly mouthed the words, “I love him!!”

She replied in kind with, “No, I love him”.

Then, he looked at me and said in this most ridiculously high voice, “Yeah, I love Diet Cokes, too”. He thanked her for the glass in what can only described as a supremely spot on Mickey Mouse impersonation and smiled again and that’s when we both saw he was missing one front tooth and part of the other.   His smile looked like the serrated edge of a hack saw.

He walked away with his Diet Coke in a much bigger glass and we just stood there–motionless–both of us drained of hope.  Dashed.  There went my lovely house, my extravagant tenth anniversary party and  might I add, my future post-divorce around-the-world- trip.

Disappointment had two distinctly different faces  that afternoon.

We looked at each other for a second ; mouths agape as they were at the beginning of this tome, but now, for different reasons. I shook it off–my extemporaneous exit strategy implemented as I said, “He’s all yours!”

If she said anything, I didn’t hear it. I didn’t stick around. I walked back to my table and as I did, I looked down and noticed the chive was still on my finger.   I did the only sensible thing I could do in that situation….I put it back.

I’m certainly not wasting a perfectly good chive.

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“Ride At Your Own Risk”

It was damn near impossible for any kid who grew up Texas during the 60’s, NOT to have visited either Six Flags or Astroworld at least once.

These two amusement parks in Arlington and Houston, respectively, were two seminal summer destinations for kids back then.   Which park was always a toss-up, but that was often decided based on proximity and the amount in the family vacation fund. 

I remember being at Six Flags once.  There was a roller coaster there,  safe and completely innocuous by today’s coaster standards, but the prospect of riding the “Runaway Mine Train” absolutely thrilled me.    As I approached the ride, I remember that tingly feeling of anticipation….butterflies, as the old wives’ would call this state of  physical nervosa.

I felt it before every cheerleading tryout…every ballet and piano recital…every collegiate broadcast competition.

I remember seeing the sign at the entrance to this theme coaster: “Ride At Your Own Risk”

The reason for that sign was two-fold:  it was meant to absolve the park from blame in case of accident, which technically it couldn’t and wouldn’t.  And it was also placed there to further the thrill factor for riders.

As I got older, I would think about that sign and it became even more relevant when I got old enough to view life as the thrill ride it was.  

I remember how a conversation between Grandma and her grandson in law from the movie,  Parenthood resonated with me:  

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around.  I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

I have been on many rides in my life.  They thrilled me, angered me, enticed me, boiled my blood and left me cold.   And I rode each one and all at my own peril.   Were they worth the risk?

Yes, even the kiddie cars.

But the thrill of certain life aspects, namely certain relationships have a way off sullying everything that comes after them.   It’s hard not to get lost in their memory.  That’s why perspective is everything.   Well, that and wanting what’s best.

Maybe even who’s best.

I knew one such “ride”….a million years ago in a place a million miles away.   And it was good.

If this ever happens to you and you think and feel as I do, you’ll notice the ride metaphor never leaves you.  

Trust me, it  doesn’t.    You always miss the thrill and that yearning in your heart and soul allows you to become a veritable carnival worker…a Carnie–just with better teeth and hygiene— with the hopes of being close enough to POSSIBLY experience that lusty, parabolic joy; those amazing ups and downs;  love and lust’s wonderfully never static nature, just one more time.

Nothing else can explain why I have had this ridiculous, inexplicable urge to eat Funnel Cake all the time or why I have this need to hire ex-cons or how I now measure the height of all prospective lovers with one of these infamous carnival ride signs:

 

I Had A Few Gong Moments

St. Oprah of Winfrey calls them, “A-Ha Moments”.    My gongers are the exact same thing.

Both are these very specific moments in which something snaps and clarity fills the void that once contained all that purposed ignorance.    It’s as though your eyes (the orbs in the sockets in your face AND the philosophical one in your mind) suddenly open and reality is the only thing you see on the immediate horizon.

Here’s how my Gong Moments went down:

I was taking my evening constitutional around a man-made lake on Houston’s southwest side.   It’s now June here in Houston;  you can practically trip over the brimstone, so needless to say in the midst of this three-mile sojourn around this body of water, I became very hot, very thirsty and I started sweating profusely.  The late evening offered no reprieve from the heat, so in retrospect, I either had a Gong Moment or was enduring a near-death experience.   Either way, it was an enlightening event that once rehydrated, gave me pause.

I’ve always been under the mistaken impression that I had only been in love twice.  The first time at the preposterous age of 12 and then the second time in High School when I fell head over heals for a boy who eventually became a man who like herpes and certain polyps, just won’t go away.  He keeps finding his way back into my life and has on three separate occasions since 1975, mind you.   And I must be honest–contrary to the way I just  described him, I care about him very much.    He happens to be the sweetest and cutest polyp I’ve ever known.  And more importantly, we have this thing; this indescribable bond.    The word “destiny’ is starting to enter into my vocabulary.

And I’m building a special exit for it, too.

You see, really I don’t want to get caught up in such a romantic notion.  Because while I could, I’m choosing not to.   As I walked I realize that I was coming to terms with the fact that I don’t want this relationship to be anything like the ones I’ve had before.    In other words, I…Me…Laurie…n0ne of us want me to behave as I did with other relationships.   I don’t want to get panicked, to feel angst because he didn’t call, I don’t want to worry and let my neediness and co-dependence dictate how it ends.

Yes, how it ends, because when I…me…Laurie act like some inverted narcissist, things never end well.

I was passing a few ducks swimming near the reeds when I realized that my relationships, every one of them, ended for two reasons.

1) There was not enough me in the relationship.   Fear and self loathing kept me distant…

OR…

2) There was too much of me in the relationship.   Fear and self loathing kept me waaaaaaay too close.

It’s all about breathing room and space.  I never got that before.  I was like this ramrod of LOVE ME!!!!    I was selfish because I made it all about me…my wants and needs.    And to tell you the truth,  part of it should have been about me, but proportionately so.   Sadly, I never saw the my own relevance; my own worth in any of my relationships.  Desperation might have looked as though I loved others, but I didn’t.  It was just covering up the fact that I got lost in that concept of love and never held an iota of anything back for me.

It didn’t matter if it was love or not.  I had no self-respect.  That was the problem.

GONG MOMENT #1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was my own problem.

Wow.   And I didn’t fully grasp what love was.

When I was 12 and in seventh grade and met ‘that boy’, that started my career of falling in love with love.    That never lasts.

Years later when my Recidivist Lover first entered my life,  I loved a bit more maturely.   Even more so when he appeared on my doorstep in Austin a decade later and these days, 25 years after the last break up, I am the President of the Maturity Club.   What I feel is so different.    So much so, that I have to question what it is that I’m actually feeling?  I’m calmer.  And that’s an alien sentiment;  I’ve never felt like this before.  Perhaps it comes with the territory of being 52.

So, is this love?

Well, I suppose I could answer that by going all 1st Corinthians on you, but I won’t.    What I will do is admit that I like how this feels.    I like him and I like the way he feels in my life; when we’re together and when we’re apart.  I like the way we feel.  He doesn’t take and give nothing back.  He brings something to the table and willingly leaves it there, when he leaves.  There’s no compromise. We offer each other options and in the face of so many choices, we choose to be together when we can and when that can’t happen, we’re fine with being apart.  Even so, we never feel forced to choose style over substance.  I love that and I love that right now, he provides the salt that adds much-needed flavor to my life.  He has become this wonderful exclamation point that’s brought pathos and sensation to it, too.

And be helps me bring me civility to the forefront.   A few weeks ago, we argued over politics, while still holding hands.

GONG MOMENT #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My God…am I…gulp…actually happy????    Me??????

Maybe I am, but am I in love?    I don’t think I am.  But I am committed to wanting this man in my life in any form that takes and for some reason, that feels very, very right for who and what I am at this stage of my life.

GONG MOMENT #3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow.  I’m happily NOT in love.

Guess that’s why I am so totally okay with the fact that the relationship we have is far from perfect.  At times, it’s downright insane.   In fact, Nietzsche, Mr. Crabby Appleton himself, once wrote, “there’s  always some madness in love.”

And then again, there’s always some reason in madness.

EPILOGUE

I walked my three miles while doing butt clinches every third step.   I then drove my Cheeks of Tungsten home where I happily sought solitude and sanctuary.  No phone; no computer to distract me.   Not that night.  I wanted to be alone.

I wanted to be all by myself  to  revel solo in the wonderfully fulfilling insanity that comes with being with this man, whether we’re together…

Or apart.

And then the gong broke.

UPDATE 12/5/12

My, my….how wrong was this gong.

I was never in love.  Never.  I was operating  from a position of fear based on some impending life changes that I didn’t want to deal with alone.  Silly when I think about it now, but it was a classic case of ‘needing’ more than ‘wanting’ ,  a situation that  never ends well.

I’ll accept most of the blame; but not all of it.  Not only was the timing wrong, the object of my affliction was/is/will always be way too self-absorbed.   And this isn’t coming from a place of resentment.  The truth is I could have said this about him 27 years ago; I’ll be able to say that about him 27 years from now.    He’ll never change.   But I was pathetically willing to accept crumbs.    Fools act foolishly when blinded by anxiety.

But in the years since writing this post, I’ve forgiven myself for my naiveté; for my desperation.   And even in the bleakness of this period in my life, I was able to come away with some invaluable knowledge:  sometimes the biggest assholes in our lives; the biggest pain inducers,  are the very best teachers.

Consider me schooled.

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