Friday, December 02, 2005

Slides on a White Sheet

Saw a great movie this evening - "Walk the Line" - really good, I was moved by the love, the journey, the pursuit of an artistic dream, the wish for safe simplicity.

Where have I been this week?

Thanksgiving was relaxed - two dinners on two days - sisters-in-law each doing the turkey, letting me do fun stuff like deadly-sugared yams and alcohol-drenched stuffing. Oh and the pumpkin pie from Marie Callendar's with luscious whipped cream. On Saturday, the day of the second dinner, my brother dragged out old slides, from when we were children, and we watched our own young faces in photos taken by my father...watched my parents' 30-something faces flash by, clicking by with no music, without the benefit of a sexy computer program to entertain us by crumpling pictures or pixelizing them as the show moved from slide to slide.

My dad loved photography and he took wonderful pictures that absolutely captured the era, their beauty, our sweetness. How well those pictures covered up the pain, the drama of their real lives, of what came later when their marriage finally blew up, emotional shrapnel whipping through all of us. B, my brother, and A, we all laughed and approved and mocked and sighed as we sat in the darkened living room, watching the shots against a wrinkled white sheet hanging along a set of drapes. The light of the projector and the sounds of the slides dropping into the lit pocket of the machine drifted throughout the room, like something ethereal, like the memories of the pictures themselves.

I left the dinner missing my father above all - missing his humor, missing the mystery of him. Among the pictures were images of a friend of theirs, JB. I recall him vividly. He lived next door to us - I remember him one time vigorously brushing his teeth, in his bathroom in his small cottage, five-year-old me watching him and asking him questions. I remember him riding a bike. He had reddish, curly hair, he spoke Spanish, and he was kind to us. I believe he loved my mother. I believe she was not averse to him either. But I don't really know the details...I wonder if it's true. What else did he see in my mother, other than the obvious? What did he think of my father? What does he remember...tell me anything, everything.

I searched for him on the internet, a quirk I have in that I know his real name. I'm tempted to write him, to ask him, "Do you remember us, do you remember them then?" I did locate him, where he works now (a professor of course at a technical university). I almost felt as if I was looking for my if I'd actually found him. I was reminded of a fantasy that haunted me for the longest time after his death - the one where he never died, but had simply left, run away to start a new life. Time and time again I'd "see" him passing me by on the road in his favorite sports car, I'd swear he'd be at street corners or in the mall. I remember a time staring at the hands of a client because the hands looked so much like my father's I could barely hear the needs of the client. A trust, I think, a trust for the client and his wife. Look how he puts his hands together, look how he plays with the watch band...the hair on his arms...the cuffs folded over...

I was in a weird place on Sunday - not depressed, not sad, not peaceful, no, I was filled with a kind of anxiety that had no outlet. Something simmered within, making me impatient.

I know I'll never contact that man because to do so might destroy the fantasy that Papa is working, working well and successfully, accomplishing his dreams.

But I have to ask - why do I continue to grieve these parents of mine? Why do they lurk constantly in everything I do...I don't know.


Wednesday afternoon, A lost his temper, ending up in a bit of a breakdown at the prospect of homework. Took him an entire hour to gain some self-control and calmness and once he did, it was as if nothing had happened. Earlier, his teacher just shook her head at my query as to how he was doing, "It's so hard to get him to write anything or do any math."

"Can you e-mail me...I feel like you're not keeping in good contact--"

"We have a parent-teacher conference, next week."

"Oh right...okay, we'll talk then."

Useless, helpless me.

That same afternoon, M clung to me when I tried to leave for class near six. J fussed and argued against our efforts to get him to study for a quiz. By the time I arrived at school, I felt drained, empty of anything to offer my students. Listlessly after an uninspired, thankfully-short lecture, I handed out an in-class assignment and walked the room, helping where I could. The students raised their hands for help and I went to them, answering their questions, correcting their work to better prepare them for next week's final exam. One woman called me over and kept writing as she asked me a question. An older student of Hispanic descent, she wore largish, stylish frames, and with soft hands, wrote in a halting and unsure style(how familiar those hands looked to me!). Then I noticed the skin beneath her eyes was moist, as if her eyes had watered with the hard work. I realized quickly, no, she's crying.

I put my hand on her shoulder and leaned down a tad so I could better see her face. The tears began to really flow then.

"Oh dear," I said, "You're really having a hard time, aren't you? Oh no..." I sat down immediately and went over each question with her. I'd wanted to go home but there was no way - we stayed later, late, after everyone left, and another student and I looked at a take-home assignment with her, going over everything, assuring her that she was on the right track. I helped where I could...told her she just needed more experience and that she'd get it in time.

"I can't seem to get past this point..." And the tears bubbled over once more. I felt so sorry for her - I knew that hurt - that feeling that everyone else seems to "get it". Useless, helpless me. For some reason...she reminded me of my mother. Only a few times did my mother's real-life tears move me...and this lady's tears...well, they moved me.

Back to the parents again.

The tearful student left near 10:15 p.m., still sniffling as she headed down the walkway to her car. The assisting student then asked to perform a poem for her speech class, "A power poem for a woman who works, who loves, who lives," in practice. I smiled and listened and offered praise for her hard work, for a very challenging project.

Home at 10:50 p.m. The house is quiet. The rooms are darkened with sleep. Sassy is wagging her tail at me, having met me at the door.

Sometimes, I find myself disappearing into my parent's old drama and I'm small and helpless again, waiting for them to remember me.


When I was a child, my world revolved around the drama of my parents. As an adult, my world revolves around the drama of my children. All of them seem louder than me, more demanding than me. I'm sandwiched between layers of seeming, suffocating chaos. How strange that is.


Christmas is coming and D put lights up on the house. We'll have a Christmas tree, we'll spend a little more money, money we don't have. Sometimes D infuriates me - little things, annoying things. I hate that we're so disparate in our artistic likes - in turn, he doesn't read what I write, other than the occasional once-over and his response is always lukewarm.

But I didn't marry him for our artistic "symbiosis." I married him because together we'd create a home with a proverbial picket fence, a colorful Christmas tree in the window, and a dog barking in the backyard. I married him because together we'd not be dramatic. And so it is relievingly mundane that in the evening we sit, legs and feet intertwined on the couch, watching a television show, or lie in bed, reading our books, or sit in a booth in a suburban restaurant, eating a steak and veggies dinner and talking about our funny they are, how smart they are, how aggravating they are...did you see M with her hair in a bow and those mismatched clothes?! How much is the bill? Is this a let's use the credit card...I want dessert though. Let's be adventurous and order a Tiramisu! USC is playing UCLA this weekend...we going to Auntie's? Is that the bill? How much is it?

How funny it is we created drama out of our desperate need for simplicity, a generation beneath us.


Diana said...

But I didn't marry him for our artistic "symbiosis." I married him because together we'd create a home with a proverbial picket fence, a colorful Christmas tree in the window, and a dog barking in the backyard. I married him because together we'd not be dramatic.

Wow. Wow. Wow. I could have written this. And sometimes I ache for "drama," but maybe my instinct was right? Lots to think about...

Fromage de Merde said...


That was beautiful!

Think you'd wanna adopt me as another son? I so hate to do homework too!

nappy40 said...

Worth the wait.

Carolyn said...

I loved reading this. I can so identify with that feeling you woke up with and the grieving of the parents. Since my dad passed away in April, these holidays are not the same. My mother is still living but she isn't a "warm" person. I grieve both the living parent and the deceased one. And that feeling-- gah! It's like wind blowing against me to grow and move past the parents, and another pushing against me to stay. It's a dilemma.

Great post :)

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