Oct 18, 2011
Here I am, my little Enlai, contemplating underneathness and upsides. Optimism holds my hand, but occasionally I feel its fingers loosening. And it is during these moments that I think of you, your curiosity, your laugh when I do my master Winnie the Pooh impersonation, your top-o-the-lungs shouting to anyone who would listen at the playground that you needed a plaster because your ma tripped and fell while chasing you, your desire to kiss my eyelids just as I’ve always kissed yours.
After a decade together, your pa and I are divorcing. All three of us have new adventures in our paths ahead, and despite the inevitable adversities that go hand-in-hand with separation and change, I think we should feel reassured, feel warm. There is still – and always will be – a genuine love and affection between your pa and me, so let’s choose to be excited about embarkations, about the opening of different doors. The fact that the movers had to take the door off of the hinges in our new home in order to fit things in should not be lost on us. Metaphors leak truths, my son.
There are benefits to bond breaks. In addition to gaining insight into ourselves and life, we are given an opportunity to stop, to stop and be grateful. To pause and think about how we must never take anything for granted.
What I want you to know is that I loved your pa with every part of my being. He was my everything. His eyes mesmerised me (as did his calf muscles), but it was his intelligence, his wonderment and lust for learning, his dark sense of humour, and his sensitive soul which enamoured me.
On our first date, your pa talked about Hemingway and made me smile. I talked about how one of Haruki Murakami’s books changed me. I told him about a poetry class I was taking and a Bukowski poem about stirring beans that I liked, and he started in with Auden and Yeats. We talked about visits to Greece and France and Japan and China and how we’d like to go back. He told me he spent his summers at camp in the Hamptons, and I told him that I spent mine in Oakland, picking blackberries and raspberries and eating green tea ice cream. We laughed a lot. And five hours later, with everyone else in the restaurant long gone and the staff staring at us as if to say, “Happy to see that you two are having a great date and all, but can we wrap this sh*t up,” your pa drove me home. I think it was evident to both of us that we liked each other. But, more significantly, I think it was evident that we needed each other.
Following this first date, there was rarely a day when we didn’t see each other. I took him to see Buena Vista Social Club in concert, and to my surprise, your pa stood up and starting dancing in the aisle. And even though he was dancing to a beat that only he seemed to hear, I threw my arms up, shook my hips and joined him, and once again, we laughed. My sweet son, I can only say that you are fortunate that you inherited your sense of rhythm from your ma. A few weeks later, I invited him to hear David Sedaris speak. We laughed so hard, we cried.
Not long after this, your pa gave me a present: ee cummings’ complete poems. Wherever life takes me, this book will always travel with me, to remind me that “love is more thicker than forget”.
Fast forward a bit, and I can tell you about the time we had our own two-person Super Bowl party, complete with a trip to Fatburger to stock up on some fatty burgers, chilli cheese fries oozing with grease, onion rings dripping with oil, and cookies and cream milkshakes. After eating and drinking this lardy line-up, we lay on the bed comatosed. We fell asleep and missed the Super Bowl.
Four months after our first date, your pa invited me to drive up the California coast for the weekend on the back of his motorcycle. He taught me how to give the secret hand signal to fellow riders, and a motorcycle mama was born. It was during this weekend that your pa proposed to me. I did not expect it at all, and after he asked, I sat there silent for about 15 minutes. He handed me the gold and fuchsia plastic ring that came out of a vending machine a couple months prior (when I asked him if he had any change so I could get a treat from the machine), and when I saw this ring, I knew that your pa understood me. I said yes.
To mark the occasion, we indulged in some highly recommended spa treatments. I wondered if he might retract his proposal due to the events that unfolded after the spa visit. Your pa decided to get a head and neck massage, and I opted for a facial. Halfway into my facial, I heard the spa technician say, “Hmmm. Let’s try something different.” She wiped my face, applied something else, and said, “Hmmm. Hmmm.” I asked if there was something wrong, and she said, “Have a look for yourself.” She held up a mirror, and after looking in it, I said, “Hmmm.” My face was bright red, with even brighter red bumps all over. I was obviously allergic to the secret potions she used. She wiped my face of all products, and I said I thought it best to end the facial. I walked back to our room in a makeshift bathrobe burqa. I took a shower, and just as I was getting out, your pa walked in. He said he couldn’t really lift his head up because he was in so much pain from his massage, and I said that was a good thing because a funny little thing happened to me at the spa.
Shortly thereafter, we moved in together and lived in sin. It was during this time that we realised the continual compromises required when one of us is a hoarder and the other a minimalist. For the record, the one who you call pa is the former. It was during this time that I found out that your pa had a penchant for midnight barbecues. He doesn’t like to be rushed when he cooks. And it was during this time that I roasted some spicy chicken and managed to measure ingredients incorrectly, and your pa nearly had to go to the A&E from cayenne pepper ingestion.
It was during this time that your pa read poetry to me in the buff. And I started to write love letters to him and stick them in his briefcase whenever he had to travel. And it was during this time that we initiated DJ nights, when we’d sit down in dim light, drink wine and take turns playing each other songs. For every one of these nights, I could count on your pa to play Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing “Girl from the North Country”. I often wondered if it was the emotion in the song itself or whether he was thinking of a former love when he listened to this song because he would usually cry. To this day, I don’t know where the tears came from, but if it was for a former love, she is lucky to have spent time with your pa.
When we were planning our wedding, we were both eager for the ceremony to be modest. We decided to marry in Greece, and there were six people in attendance, including us and the officiant. It was a day with water, with anticipation. It was a day with a motorcycle crash and contemplation. A day with gyros and laughter. A day with ignorance as to how to tie a bow tie and a sunset concocted just for us. A day with Procol Harum singing at an unexpected moment, a day with what felt like an entire island on their terraces to cheer us on. A day of love on top of love on top of love, a day that nobody can ever take away from me.
Cut to a few months later, when we moved from the West Coast to the East Coast of the US. On our departure, we met Grandpa Tony for lunch. I don’t think it was easy for him to say goodbye, and it wasn’t for me. Watching through the windshield of your pa’s Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce, I saw your grandpa tell pa something and give him a hug. When your pa got in the car, his eyes were welled up with tears. I asked him what grandpa told him, and he said, “He just said that I better take care of you.” And your pa said he would.
This cross-country adventure of ours, my sweet Enlai, has to go down in history as one of the most reckless and necessarily amusing trips in history. For our first night in Arizona, we checked into a dubious motel. You should’ve seen the suspicious stain on the carpet of this motel room. I felt a little nauseous, but your pa was roarin’ to go to Denny’s for a Grand Slam this-or-that or a this-or-that skillet or scramble. I told your pa I would just have a bite or two of what he was having. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, for fear that the stain perpetrator would be back for more. I know humans can sometimes exaggerate the size of things, but I kid you not when I say that this stain was the size of a dromedary whose belly was swollen after eating his fair share of grass and fallen leaves that day. And the stain was not a nice colour. Then there were all the armadillo road kill in Texas, the strange petrol station in Oklahoma, the dry county in Arkansas, and all the big rigs in the rain that insisted on frightening the bejesus out of me. I fed your pa ham, cheese and olives as he drove, and we sang along to Eric Clapton (your pa unapologetically singing all the wrong lyrics).
After our moving truck arrived in Washington, DC shortly after we turned up, your pa and I had a pizza picnic in a small space among cardboard box walls. We ate in light borrowed from the street lamps outside our big windows, laughed, and fell asleep in each other’s arms next to a half-eaten pizza.
One day, while living in Washington, DC, we ventured to the Maine Avenue Fish Market for some goodies. Upon leaving with a belly full of blue crab, I jumped on the back of pa’s motorcycle. What was supposed to be a ten-minute ride home turned into me almost losing my life. Your pa forgot to take the correct exit, and we ended up on some highway in Virginia. It wasn’t the shock of the 120mph speed that nearly killed me; it was the fact that the strap from the helmet that flew off my head was wrapped around my neck and choking me. When we finally pulled off the highway, I told your pa that I would be getting a taxi home. We laughed hysterically – he from genuinely getting a kick out of the situation and me from disbelief that I was alive – as I rubbed the strap burn on my neck.
On one occasion while in DC, one of my friends said he had a chance to move to London for work. I extolled the virtues of living in such an amazing city and told him he should not let the opportunity pass. Your pa overheard my conversation and asked if he detected a hint of my wanting to live across the pond because he wouldn’t mind. We both worked hard at making the possibility of living and working in London became a reality, but it was really your pa that took the reins. I gladly galloped.
The day came, and we were living our first week as Londoners. The initial transition was not an easy one, particularly for me. Your pa recognised this and did what he has always done – be there. We had Sainsbury’s Indian in a Box dinner nightly, with forks and spoons that were loaned to us, unbeknownst to the loaners. We listened to BBC radio on our Grundig. We were pals on yet another amazing voyage. And we were very much in love, always holding hands.
There was the time in Paris when we sat in the Jardin du Luxembourg – one of my favourite places in the world – and nearly fell asleep in our chairs. The time your pa made the mistake of hanging his coat on the decorative hook at that Parisian bistro, when the moustachioed host came sprinting over, shouting, Monsieur, noooooooo…..” The time we had the oysters, Sancerre and the most delicious cigarette at that restaurant near the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. As we were leaving, the waiter ran after me and presented me with one of my most prized possessions – an ashtray. The time we had a huge meal before going to the Picasso Museum (which we never went to because the meal carried on, and the museum closed). We finished the feast with the best Roquefort I’ve ever tasted. For one reason or another, we didn’t have to pay for the meal, and if you ever hear your pa say, “Merci pour le Roquefort,” he is referring to something he has received gratis. There was that blue light that your pa knows I crave seeing with my own eyes, and he gave me that light. There were all those walks in the rain, and the time during one torrential downpour when we sought refuge under an awning near Le Bon Marché with several strangers. Your pa pulled me close to him and held me tight.
And Berlin on my 30th birthday. I indulged your pa with his love of schnitzel and bratwurst, and he my love of art. The day we ate a meal while looking out the window at the Gendarmenmarkt is inscribed into my bones, as is the meal that nearly made us miss our flight because we didn’t want to leave. Try as I might to take a stab at German phrases, your pa could only laugh at me every time I attempted to say anything. He’s the language maestro, I’m the listener.
Your pa has been my biggest fan, and I his. When he has felt like the universe was against him, I told him I would fetch our coonskin hats, and we’d put up a fight together. He has encouraged me, and he was sincere in his encouragement. He has taught me more than anyone ever has. And I’ve taught him. At the very least, he knows a bit more about tamales and hip hop.
When I said I wanted to have a child, your pa knew. And you, my precious, precious Enlai, were born of love. Your pa was the first to see you when you were born, and his first words were, “It’s a boy, and he has my arches.” Every opportunity he has to brag about you, he takes full advantage. As far as my love for you, I know you know. I will never falter in showing you.
Things happen in a marriage, my sweet son, which make it irreparable. But just because the marriage is broken doesn’t mean the friendship is, or for that matter, that the family is. We remain The Three Musketeers.
There are empty spaces in this tale. These spaces are for your pa to fill in your conversations with him over the years. Or for you to ask me about. I will always be more than happy to tell you whatever you would like to know. If ever you detect a hint of sadness in my demeanour in the coming days, weeks, months or years, it is only because life is so short. It is so short that your pa and I were only allowed to have so many of those extraordinary moments of silence as husband and wife when we were both so moved to be sharing an experience with the other that no words needed to be spoken. Your pa and I comprehended that silence, breathed that silence, and in my experience, not many humans do.
There is this way your pa would switch gears when he drove his car, and with me in the passenger seat next to him, he would always put his hand on my leg in between, in a “I’m here, always” way. I know he still will be. And I will be for him. And we will be for you.