Sunday, July 20, 2008


I decided to try and figure out my relationship with my dad, after thirty years of awkwardness. Awkwardness on my part. He's always been great to me, but there's been this overhanging shadow, yeah he's great, but he left, man. Don't trust him.

I guess now that my life is crowded with kids, I have huge bills, and a husband I couldn't pay to leave me, I felt comfortable enough to tentatively poke at this long relationship with a very long stick. I had nothing to lose.

When your dad leaves when you're nine years old, you spend alot of time wondering how your dad could leave someone as great as you. You figure you must not be that great. You figure you weren't trying hard enough, you weren't grateful enough, you weren't smart enough. There was something you were not doing. The mind at nine years old is pretty straightforward. There's no adult romantic life to take into consideration. You could give a rat's ass about what he actually was doing, what his actual adult reasons were for leaving one relationship for another. All you figure is that, for whatever reason, you weren't good enough. Something else was better.

And the truth is, you weren't good enough. Cause a nine year old doesn't have any power over a thirty year old, even if it is your dad. He loves you, but not like you love him. You love him like he is the only man in the universe. Cause he IS, the only one that belongs to you. My dad was still shopping. In the cruelest sense, he had already bought everything, but he was a grown up and he was still shopping for a better fit. I happened to be one of the packages from the first shopping trip. So he could move on, but to me, he was the whole store. There wasn't the possibility of any other situation. I didn't want anything else. Why would I? I was just living in the wilds of my childhood, expecting everything to stay cozy, predictable, warm.

They say you have nothing to do with the relationship between your parents, but you are a product of the relationship. You are a vital piece of that puzzle. So when one parent decides to leave, even if they are responsible (visits, overnights, financial support), there's still a huge hole. The hole is their familiar face who isn't there anymore, who belongs to you and your house. Who stays and gets your pajamas out, and tells you to brush your teeth. It's not the same in a new house, in His house. He belongs to you, the everyday you. Your parents are the cement of your young life. When my mom became the only one left, things were suddenly shaky. I had to fiercely protect her, because what if she decided to leave?

So, back to 1976. My dad started a new family and had my sister. My brothers and I felt like the loser first family, dumped by the wayside. My mom was devastated, and her sadness leaked all over us. She had no ability to shield us from her emotional upheaval. Even though her sadness hurt us, we learned that love was powerful, and that loving someone totally meant being a mess when they left. Because you feel the loss. That people, and connections, have meaning. It gave me a sense that love was completely scary, and that being vulnerable was worthwhile if you were willing to risk losing everything.

Tragedy, but beautiful from an adult perspective. Of course I spent most of my twenties trashing every relationship I got in. No way would anyone get that close to me. Yet I longed for connection. Barry was the only person who said, "Hey, what the hell are you doing." He thought my heart was all scarred over, but that underneath was a clean, pure, loving person. He talked to me until that person would slide inches out into the light. I'm two inches out so far. It's been seventeen years since I met Barry.

I sort of came at my dad sideways, a few weeks ago, to talk about everything. I wasn't sure how we would even talk about it. But he said some pretty wonderful stuff. He said he needed to apologize to the nine year old, and to the adult me. He said he probably couldn't make it up to the nine year old. He said a bunch of stuff that made me cry, but mostly he said he wanted to keep talking. It's hard to not feel pathetic, because it's like the dog that's been kicked, going back avidly to the dangerous person that kicked him, looking for love. Not stupidly, just vulnerably.

I'm not sure how much I want to know about those times, I don't actually want to know much about why my parents split up, or how they felt. I just want to not feel bad about it anymore. I want to help the little kid who got hurt, and I want to move forward. I'm tired of carrying around that person who is scared of everyone and of every conflict. I have so much joy in my real, true life that I want to blaze forward and drop the garageful of leftovers I don't need.

The scariest part, though, is feeling all the pain of being nine years old, and having my heart cracked. What I'm trying to learn is that it WAS worth it to love my dad, then and now. It was worth it to be broken, because my heart is still big. Somewhere in me, buried, I knew that I was worth every minute of my dad's time. So I sort through the wreckage and find his hand.

I have my mom's, and I can have his too.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

From "Open Wider," my short story collection "The Big K"

The Big K

I rushed there late, some shirt thrown on, a jacket he had given me. A girl I didn't know was making blue¬berry blintzes on the stove wearing only a long Japanese pajama top.
I thought of the party at this place months back where he had stood on the balcony with his new girlfriend, and I left because I couldn't imagine him fucking her while I was still alive. And he had grown a moustache and he hadn't let me know.
The mystery girl said: "You know the only other person who brought fruit salad was--" My heart squirmed shut like a baby's screaming eyelid.
He appeared with that harmless look. Not the true him. The truce him. He smiled and suddenly there was a Cape Cod house with a wooden swing and Campbell's soup steam coating the windows.
"You look beautiful," he said casually. I know he could see the blood, pouring out of my face. He stood close to my leg. "I see the moustache," I mentioned. " - you like it?"
I paused. "You look like Jackie Gleason." "I think I look like a young Howard Hughes." "Smokey and The Bandit. 1976."
He picked at my fruit salad, pulling out a coconut-covered strawberry. He pushed between my knees and nuzzled my cheek with his nose.
He kissed me, deep, and I bit him and he pulled away and said "Jesus" admirably, and we drifted apart. After many beers, we ended up fighting like convicts at a prison riot. I didn't see him for awhile after that. Once briefly when I was dating that guy he referred to as "The Cuban Crisis." And then again when his grandmother died, and he told me he was rich. Two years dribbled by and I heard he was living ten minutes from me, serving a sentence with some girl named Nina he met at a U2 concert. I called and hung up on their machine enough to cause a disturbance in their relationship. Then he called me. "They're putting the big 'K' up." "So?" "I thought there'd be some sort of ritual you'd want to start." We met in the K-Mart parking lot equal distance from both of our houses. I got in his car. We watched human-size men lift a superhuman-sized red letter. The old, parched-orange "K" lay shattered and emaciated against the building, begging for change.
"You can't just call me," I said finally. "I dumped Nina. She's gone." He picked his shoes. I felt like my bobbed hair matched my bobbed teeth. "Let's move away." "Nobody moves away." "Let's move someplace that has plant sales at the church parking lot on Saturdays. Lots of cheap baked goods, maybe a girl scout for extra zest." He picked a flake off his tarnished tennis shoe. Placed it on my leg. “I don't want that." "I don't either."
I moved away to a place featuring seasons. I started writing a book I titled "I Reached Paradise But My Emotional Luggage Was Forwarded to The Nether World." I drove around in what I considered my pajamas, seeing trees and deer signs. Nothing in Spanish spray painted on the back of a van. No train tracks splitting angry cement. I called him. "The world here bursts with light and life." "I'll have what you're having, with a twist." "Life here is unreal. In Los Angeles, life was unreal in the crack addict way. Wake up in the backseat of an abandoned car under a bridge you don't know with your cracked teeth in your hand way. All those sirens blaring, no one could hear a word I was saying, not even me."
"I gotta go," he said.
"But you're not really living," I said.
"Some of us open whole new K-marts," he said wisely, "Some of us only replace the Big K on the outside."
I could hear his latest conquest giggling at cartoons in the background.
"She's of legal age," he added, reassuringly.
I wondered how much his hair had changed in my absence.

I moved back. I saw him at a tennis club, months later. He had on little green socks. He twirled the racket around on its string.
"Where's your girlfriend?" I asked.
He toted a phony tan.
"I don't really miss you," he added.

He sent me pictures of his wedding. She wore a great big puffed veil, globbed like frosting on top of bad cupcakes.
"That's to hide the scar," he scrawled on the back.

A few years later they were thinking of having a baby. It was a Saturday and he was walking down Fairfax and caught sight of their reflections in a black bank window near Farmer's Market.
"I knew by the end of the block," he told me on the phone from Tahoe. "I couldn't have a baby with her, she was an IDIOT."

He paid for my train trip to Tahoe, where we spent six days hurling ice cubes from the third floor balcony onto tourists below.

“I could never marry you," he said after three days without a shower and killing a bottle of tequila in the hotel bar. "You're not serious enough."
"And besides you're married," I added.
"She was a phase."

I moved to Prague. He called from his car phone.
"You can't stay there," he whined.
"I certainly can."
"No one's in Prague anymore."
I looked out the window at people on the street.
"Are you working with orphans?" He interrogated. His voice via satellite.
"I bought a Porsche."

When I got back from Prague he called me every day. I ran into him at a discount department store in Studio City. I was buying wood. He was buying a huge can of beans.

He cried.
We moved in together. He cried quite a bit as I took over drawers previously assigned to me the last time.
"I don't think it'll work," he cried nervously.
I rubbed his arm, consolingly. "I don't care what you think."

Years later we watched the Big "K" come down because of earthquake damage. We drank champagne out of Dixie cups on the hood of my car.
"That's never gonna happen to us," he said, and watched a woman pass us in spandex.
"Not ever."