There were rides in the Cadillac, top down
Beatles loud on the radio.
After intense arguments
With my brother over
Who got to sit behind
Our father.

There were meandering walks on tree lined streets at the age of 15,
Giddy, stupid, and hungry
For bagels or cookies
but afraid
To go home.

I should have been home.
I should have worn shoes.
I should have followed everyone
else to college.

There was saying goodbye to my dad
For ten years.
There was speaking to my dad In the dark,
ten years after he died.

There were parties, so many parties.
There was takeout for dinner
On nights we weren’t picking at meals in restaurants
With cloth napkins served by waiters
We’d see later on
at the club.

I didn’t make choices,

I was along for the ride. In                                                                                                               between,
I slept like the dead in a
Bedroom cloaked by
Tightly closed, thick velvet
Curtains.

Then, came my son.
I didn’t choose him
any more
Than I chose anything else
In those days.

It took time
For me to make the transition.

For a long time, I was a daughter
Who mourned and drank
And wished she’d said goodbye
And I love you
While my father still knew who I was.

It took too long for me to
Step. The. Fuck. Up.

My dad has been gone
Forever.

I’m losing my son.

It seems like it was five minutes ago
I recognized I was his mother.

He’s known all along and
While he was waiting
For me,
he grew tired
And found
Ways to pass the time
On his way to becoming
A man.

I’m here now.

His shoes are in the hall.

His world is private,
On instagram
Riding shotgun or crouched in the backseat of an uber,
Or inside his dreams.

When I wake him up,
He always sounds surprised by my voice.

He used to cry
As easily
As some boys
Laughed at spongebob squarepants.
He doesn’t cry anymore.

I hear pop songs
About love
And I think of my son.

I want to tell him
Everything
But he’s
Already gone.

I wasted a long time
Waiting for a dead man
To speak.

The rest of my life
Belongs to the living.

When he comes home
I stay as close as I can,
Noting his tone,
Holding my cheek for a kiss,
Watching him as he moves
thru the kitchen and
Smears peanut butter on
bread.

Sometimes,
I don’t know him at all-
His voice belongs to a stranger.
When did he decide
he liked Pad Thai?
Extra spice, light on shrimp.

Once in a while, I see the smile or the way he holds his fork,
And I know to bring him milk
Or suggest he get some sleep.

It was easier,
In the days of
Gimlets versus Cosmos,
South End versus Brookline,
Backgammon or silly conversation.

But upstairs, right above my head,
There is a boy.
He is angry, sweet, and funny.

He calls me mom
even though
He believes with all his heart
I am an idiot
Who doesn’t understand a thing,
And tortures him by insisting
He put away his clothes.
He puts away his clothes.

I hope I am here
To witness
The best of him-
Which is going to be amazing.

My son, by age sixteen,
Has taught me more
Than everything I knew
Before him.

Advertisements

 

I read a poem

written by someone else’s daughter

About her mother, who has Alzheimer’s.

Judy spoke of her mother’s journey,

Of her need

To be let go.

She spoke of clocks, conversations, lunch round noon,

snow bout mid December,

and all the parts of life

that are defined

by knowing what is going on,

what has happened,

and what will likely happen next.

 

A million pieces of knowledge tether

Most of us,

To know the date most days.

Class is Wednesday night,

Colin plays on Saturday at nine fifteen,

I need to be at work by nine,

Katy’s birthday is coming in two weeks.

I am never sure what time it is, and sometimes

I think Wednesday’s Thursday, or I lose an hour or a week.

I’m not sick like her, or like you were.

 

When it took over,

your eyes were clouds,

your lips made shapes,

your tongue made sounds.

Your muddy eyes would take me in,

or the wall behind me,

or a angry nurse marchcing down the hall.

Your lips would purse, then open, close,

more like a fish

Than like a man.

You’d smile when I’d offer up

A cigarette

And smoke it

Unlit and upside down.

Your eyes were clouds,

They belonged inside a winter sky, not on a face,

but I never let them go.

I would

Bring you taboo cigarettes,

I would fix your shirt, wipe your chin

and when his mouth moved

I’d lean close.

I’d smell the spit, the sour breath, last week’s

applesauce, the sweat

And I would listen

Because I knew you

Would never leave without saying your goodbye.

You were a gentleman.

 

I never let my you go,

Not when you’d already left,

Not when you still looked at me

and knew my name,

Not in all those spaces

in between\

And afterwards

And now.

In the beginning…

My life before- I’d gorge on Nutterbutter Sandwich cookies
across the street from the market. I’d stagger the terrifying path on sheet ice to the high school from behind Briarcliff. At my first dance, I listened to the girls in the next stall over brag about how many bowls they’d consumed. and thought they were talking about gobbling down too much brownie dough…
Everything changed the day my father walked out of the Mtn. Lakes Club after a business meeting with his bosses. He’d just gotten home from rehab (what did they call it then?) so we are all excited about life going back to normal. He came out of the Club, found me in the parking lot. I’m sure I was on my way in to charge cigarettes or make a call, and he shook his head. For the first time, in a long time, I approached my dad without an agenda. I wasn’t thinking about hitting him up for a new record, or some guilt cash, or a ride. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen him look defeated. I walked toward him even though I really wished I had somewhere else to go, or was anywhere else in the world. He said to me “Julie, it’s over, I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.” I just stared at him. I think I was waiting for him to spin it, or change it, blame it on them, or tell me how over meant he had a new beginning lined up. “I don’t know, Julie, it’s done.”

I guided my dad to his car, a rented Cordova, black with red stripes, eight track, fully loaded, before he wept. I couldn’t see if there were actual tears, his head was bent over the steering wheel, his shoulders rose and and fell, and he didn’t make a sound. I don’t remember how we got home or told Mom or Jim or spent the rest of the summer.
I remember my own body pitching forward with pain, like I’d been punched in the gut. I grabbed for his arm and tried to say something right. And I remember, even though I had nothing to say, that somehow I spoke words outloud. I said- ” they are wrong, it takes time, it’s too soon”, he lifted his head He wiped his pale, pale blue eyes on the back of his hand. And while he listened to me ramble, my body still bent with the new weight of the world, he straightened up. He believed me. My words seemed to give him strength, and courage, and by the time he got to the car, he looked like the man I knew. And I wanted to believe that someone was back. “Fuck em all,” he said, “It was too soon!” he announced.
But I knew as I watched his eyes scan the parking lot, as I watched him try to figure out how to get home, it was done. Tennis matches. Fireworks. Egg catches. Trips to the market and slippery walks to the high school. Cocktail hour. And that magical sense that whatever came up, Daddy could fix it. That afternoon, I’d fixed Daddy. And I knew within an hour he’d forget where he worked, or lose his keys, or wonder why the rug was beige.
So when I remember Mtn. Lakes, it is mythical. Soon after he made his declaration, we had to move to Mt. Tabor. We were lucky someone in his office caught on early; his final days with early onset Alzheimers were covered with insurance.

The other day a friend of mine asked me why I blogged. Since then, I’ve been giving the matter  a lot of thought. I turned over the obvious reasons for a bit. I like being able to get in touch with my “creative side”. I enjoy sharing my own particular view of the world as much as I savor getting glimpses from others when I bump around their pages.

But they really weren’t quite right.

I just like to write stuff down.

For a long, long time, from about the age of eighteen, to somewhere in the middle of my 20’s, I watched my father succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease. Many of my memories of him are flavored with the picture of him trying to light a cigarette upside down, squinting at a friend of mine while he searched for their name, looking at me with an expression of total joy, then asking- “Are you the person that brings the ice cream?”

For about twenty years after that time, I did pretty much most of the stupid things people do when they are lost in grief. I drank way too much. I stuffed, snorted and smoked  anything I could get my sad nicotine stained little hands on. I stayed up so late I actually bought curtains for their ability to block out morning. i woke up so late, it was sometimes night. And so I’d start it all again, right after I had my “good morning” cigarette.

I don’t know how I got my life back. These days, I work at the YMCA. I just passed my ACE exam, which means I am now a certified personal trainer. I get up at six in the morning most days, and I don’t have to drink coffee to stay awake. I like coffee, and I like being awake. I know this sounds pretty normal to most people, but to me, even after about ten years of not being an idiot, I still savor not having a hangover. I still relish opening my eyes because I’m happy. And not because I really, really have to pee from the two bottles of wine I drank the night before.

I like going to sleep at night instead of passing out.

I started my blog for my kids. I want them to see our lives, right now, while they are young, the way I see them. I want them to know how very much I love going to the pool with Katy and how much she makes me laugh. I want them to read about how proud I am of Colin, when he catches a snake, or stuffs a ball thru a hoop. I want them to know  I love these days, that I celebrate the chance to be front and center in the audience while they grow up.

I watched my father lose his mind, and for a long time, that took a toll on me. But at the end of the day, it taught me how elusive the moments that make up our lives are, and how sometimes the memories don’t last.

I wish I had more of him than some photographs, a painting and some records. He was the most wonderful, charming, loving man in the whole world. He looked like Robert Redford. He laughed with his eyes. He loved me and for a long, long time he made me feel like there was nothing wrong in my life he couldn’t fix. That other person he became was just a man that taught me what I needed to know. It just took me a while to figure it out.

I don’t know if I’ll get Altzheimer’s. But I do know that someday, I’m going to die. And I really like to write stuff down.

I am blessed to be living a life that has contained so many memories worth saving.

Thirty Something Years Ago

February 2, 2013

In the course of a conversation with my supervisor the other day it came up that I’m no longer working on Mondays. I asked her- “Why can’t I work on Monday?” She looked at me, puzzled. “You said you wanted Mondays off, when we made up your schedule. Three days ago.” I have no recollection of asking for Mondays off, what would I do without work on Monday? Go to the spa? Mow the lawn, Clean out the closets? I can’t afford a spa, it’s the dead of winter, and I’m tooi scared of what’s inside my kids closets to actually look inside them.

That night, a fellow swim mom called me. She wanted to know if she was still picking Katy up for swim team that night. I didn’t remember her offering to take my daughter to swim team.  I didn’t remember talking to her at all last week. Of course, I didn’t hesitate, I’m always happy to let someone else drive my child around.

It didn’t occur to me until later on, after Katy was at swim team, and my son at a friend’s house doing homework, that in the course of a week, I’d pretty much misplaced two  entire conversations, one about my job, and one about my child. It scared the fuck out of me.

Thirty years ago, I was 16 years old and was standing outside the Mountain Lakes Club, in Mountain Lakes, NJ, waiting for my dad to come out of a business meeting and give me a ride home. It was his first day back after an extended absence. He’d been sent to a hospital, (this was before the days of rehab,) to be treated for alcoholism.  He was there for thirty days. Before he’d been sent away to deal with his addiction to russian vodka, he was a big shot, in charge of the American division of a company that imported raw cocoa That morning was his first day back, the big executives from Switzerland were in town.

When he came out of the front door, his eyes were down. He was carrying a briefcase like it weighed a million pounds. “Dad, what happened?” He looked over at me. He looked over at me, but it was like he didn’t see me. His eyes stared in the direction of the tennis courts, they never moved from the tennis courts. “I can’t… I couldn’t- I had to leave, Julie. Something’s wrong.”

“Dad, what do you mean? You’re sick?… Did you have a drink? Do you need to go back?”

He shook his head. I don’t think he ever stood up straight again. My father, my charming, handsome, funny father, the man that all the ladies wanted to sleep with and the men wanted to drink with, was gone. He put his arm around me, and we walked to the fancy company car. We drove home in silence. A week later, he was tentatively diagnosed with early onset Altzheimer’s. He was fourty four years old.

So when I find myself in the middle of a week with pieces missing, it takes my breath away.

It took me a long time to recover from the journey my father and I took, his descent to a place where he tried to stab his health aide. Where he smoked endless cigarettes upside down. Where they had to strap into bed at the nursing home because he was always hopping in with the ladies.

He really didn’t know any better.

After he died I spent about twenty years making a series of incredibly bad choices.

And then I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again. Long, long story short, I have two children now, one is 12, a basketball star and a lover of animals. My daughter is nine, she likes to slow dance with me in the morning, she writes songs, she makes me laugh more than anyone.

My father’s illness came close to destroying me, I can’t, can’t can’t get that disease. I can’t.

Tonight, I’m making Spaghetti Bolognese. I brown three different kinds of meat first. Then I dump it all in a colander lined with paper towels to strain out the grease. I chop onions and shallots and garlic together, real fine. Add the mixture to the meat back in the pan. Then I pour in tomatos, and an old jar of spaghetti sauce, and a box of special tomatos from Italy. (They are in a box, they must be very fancy.) I don’t follow a recipe, I don’t cry when I chop the onions, I know just the right moment to add the cream, and to boil the pasta.

Tomorrow, I’m going to the gym at 9 for a cardio class. Then I’m going to church. Then, a long walk with some friends and some dogs. The Superbowl. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

If I move really fast, and I pray really hard, and I surround myself with my family and friends, and I start paying attention- I’ll  make notes in my phone, I will actually use the calendar from the bank, I’ll buy a book about Mindfulness, and another about nutrition.

I’m scared. I’m not scared of having the illness, well, I am, but that’s not the main thing.

I don’t want to tell my kids. Like he told me. Because I never recovered from those moments in the parking lot in Mountain Lakes, NJ, thirty something years ago.

I can’t do that to my children. And I won’t. Because I am going to be fine. Period.

The spaghetti sauce is done, I can smell it. I will put on the pasta, and salt the water, and take out the plates. Katy likes milk, Tue, her friend, only water. With one cube of ice. Colin asked me to make a plate for him to eat later.

As long as I can remember the important things, I’ll, we’ll be alright.

Post script  An hour after I wrote this, I was going thru the voicemail on my phone. Remember the wonderful swim team mom that had arranged to drive Katy? The arrangements I forgot and confirmed I was on the path to dementia? She’d left me a voice mail I’d never listened to. And the conversation about working on Mondays, well, I may not remember it, but it was a damn good idea. Monday off. Maybe I can’t afford a spa, but I can sleep in, go to the gym and spend a really long time in the sauna.

I’ll be allright, and on special occasions, amazing.