Breakfast this morning:
Breakfast this morning:
I stopped writing here.
From December 2015 to now, we’ve had 8 foster children in and out of here. The two that are here now, will stay awhile. Which is good because we are falling in love with them, and them with us.
Back in December, we thought we knew, but we didn’t. We couldn’t have imagined what foster care would be like, all its misery, heartbreak, joy…And love. There is love there. And what it meant for our family. I know, so vague. It’s just there was so much I couldn’t distill. But I found myself writing little stories about what it meant to have these kids in our home, even through the most ridiculous and crazy of times, and I kept writing them in emails and sending them to myself, so I wouldn’t forget them.
I wanted to remember every kid, since so much of them was temporary to us.
And it occurred to me, while I was emailing myself, that I could come back to this blog and write about it here, remember it here. And that seemed to make more sense.
Why was I emailing myself anyway? It was all I had time and energy for. But now, we’ve found solid ground, and I have things to say again.
I considered posting some of what I wrote in those emails, but I decided to keep them to myself. At least for now. I’ll start here. Today.
And see what happens next.
September 27th, 2015
I was talking about the Pope coming to NYC.
And the kids were like, who is this Pope person?
And I was like, the holy man of the Catholic religion.
And they were like, are we Catholic?
And I was like, yes, yes you are, kinda.
And then we talked about baptism and communion and how confirmation was like a Bar Mitzvah, a spiritual coming of age thing, and I wondered why they knew so much about Bar Mitvahs when we aren’t Jewish, and so little about being Catholic.
But then I knew why. Lapsed Catholic and all.
So, I told them what it was like to be Catholic. For me. I talked about, in the car on the way home from gymnastics, about how hard it was to sit through mass, and Father Meehan and the way he talked on and on and on about nothing, my mother and grandmother said. I talked about how Father Meehan was always 45 minutes, and hour late for church school, every week, and how I felt he didn’t care about us learning anything, how I felt he disrespected children. And how I told him so, one day, in a burst of confidence and stupidity.
I told them about how Mrs. Wilkinson, my church school teacher, said that anyone who wasn’t Catholic would die in hell, and I spent nights crying myself to sleep sure that my non-believing father was going to burn in the fires of hell.
I was young and believed what adults told me. I spent nights in tatters over this.
I told them how I went to a Franciscan college and loved the super-cool friars that drank with us in the Rathskellar, and the meta-physics class where I learned that my God wasn’t Meehan’s God or Wilkinson’s God. I started going to church everyday, those short, non-musical masses that no one goes to at noon, except old ladies clutching rosary beads.
Those masses felt like a meditation.
I told them how I ran a children’s theatre out of the Franciscan Monastery on 96th street in NYC, how I drank with the priests – priests can drink – and how I spent every Christmas at the convent with the sisters, and how we cooked together in the convent kitchen. How they taught me about tending to the poor, raising up the poor. How the sisters were all about the poor. How maybe I was poor – spiritually, emotionally poor – during that restless, lonely, black, secretive period of my life, and they were all about me without me even knowing it.
I told them how I stopped believing, that Daddy was pretty much an atheist and I was agnostic. But that faith isn’t linear. The Franciscans taught me that you can’t have faith unless you go through periods of non-belief, and you re-examine and you battle back to God.
That this is faith.
A life of searching is a life of faith.
I talked about Pope Francis, how the church isn’t perfect on issues I care about – the church struggles still with gays and women and women’s bodies – but this Pope inspires me to re-think, to keep searching. I told them Pope Francis ate with the poor, not the politicians. And this made me love him.
I said a lot.
And then, there was a great silence in the car, where we were all thinking about our place in this great universe of everything, and Lucy said: What if….a magical poop emoticon controlled all of humanity?
And she was totally serious.
September 15, 2015
Who should I marry? they ask me.
I hope they marry someone like their dad, I think.
But what does that mean?
I tell them, you can marry or not marry, or have kids or not have kids, or marry a dude or marry a lady, or someone who doesn’t feel they are a lady or a dude, or feels they are both, or someone in a wheelchair or someone with one leg, or someone with a burned face, or someone with your skin color or someone with a different skin color, someone from here, with your culture, someone from somewhere else, with all kinds of different beliefs and ideas….
Have I forgotten anyone? This list of possibilities goes on so long they roll their eyes.
But, I say, choose your partners, your friends, your people, well.
And they don’t get it. So I explain.
For instance, I tell them, when you are at a contortion class for your kid, and you open your computer to work on your novel, the novel that is 7/8s finished, and you see that it has disappeared, and you try to keep your cool, it has to be there somewhere, but you can’t, your cool is leaving the room, you become frantic as you look through folders and files and back-ups, and you are FREAKING out. FREAKING OUT, even though the Mom next to you wants to talk about her Etsy business, and you can’t hear voices anymore, because the world has slipped into this crazy, surreal slow-mo, and you picture yourself starting from the place on the old document in front of you, like 25 chapters ago.
Kim, you have to re-write the last 25 chapters. You are talking to yourself now.
And you start to cry, right there in the parent’s seating area, and there is more Etsy talk, and you are nodding and responding, and smiling like an idiot, and she doesn’t seem to notice the pathetic, lone tear bubbling down your cheek. And right there in a folding chair in a contortion gym, you realize something about yourself – you must be an idiot, it’s confirmed, because you did the impossible, and lost a saved and recoverable Word document that is the most important document in the world to you right now.
The world and the Etsy Queen have sunken into the background, and you think your face might explode, and you hear none of the people around you talking, just lipsticked mouths opening and closing like demented sea bass, but none of it penetrates the dull ache you now feel creeping through your body, turning your blood cold and sludgy.
You say, excuse me and walk out, your computer in your hand. Now, it’s no longer a tool, but a useless and expensive piece of sculpture that you are lugging around, and you stand in the hot parking lot, next to your truck, crying. Just balling like a fucking baby. And you aren’t sure what to do next, because now you have to write 25 chapters. Again.
Did you save those notes? Will you forget what you wrote? Yes. Yes, of course you will. You aren’t Super-Woman. There was so many nuances and perfect little details to recall. (Were they really perfect? They seem so perfect now they are gone)
And so you do the only thing you can do, you call the most important person in your world, and he listens to you ball. You just wail and blubber into the phone. It’s so embarrassing you can’t even use speaker phone. And he is sure it’s not gone, but you know it is.
It just is. It’s gone. Everything.
And he says, without any hesitation that he is coming. He just drops everything he’s doing, because he knows how important this is to you, and your sanity, and he probably doesn’t want to have to be around you for the next two months as you grumble, and bitch, and re-write these chapters, because you will be unbearable, you will be so fucking unbearable you will chase polar bears away with your howling, maniacal growl and sub-arctic chill-blast of self-pity.
You wait for him.
You can’t talk to the Etsy Queen, because blah blah blah Etsy, so you stand there in the parking lot, feeling the sun dry you out, while he packs the other kid in the car across town and drives to you.
He tells you to meet him at a nearby Starbucks. You do.
He tells you the document has to be there, and you want to believe him. But you know. And you’re right. It’s gone. He can’t find it either. One kid is sipping on a tea, and you go back and pick up the contortion kid, and avoid the Etsy Queen, and bring the kid to the Starbucks after her class.
He is still working on the computer.
The Tea Sipper tells him we should just forget it, but he tells her he isn’t going to give up. That you only make things happen if you keep going, so he does. The Tea Sipper and The Contortionist have cake pops and more teas.
You put your hand on his leg and you calm myself. You talk to yourself in your head.
You can re-write this, you say. It’s an imposition, but in the scheme of life, it is measly. It will take more time to finish, but you have time, you aren’t going anywhere, and you can piece this story together and it will be better than it was before, because you know it in the tiny crevasses of your existential being, in the fissures and cracks of your gut-deep sinews. You can do this.
Breathe. Its okay.
There’s a part of you that likes a challenge, and like a Beast in the shadows, it rises up and takes over.
Please. You can do this. Bring it.
You’re feeling The Beast now.
You say to him, to this guy trying so hard, not giving up to save your story, you say, It’s okay. If we can’t find it, I’ll re-write it.
And you mean it.
Just wait, he says.
How many chapters? The Tea Sipper asks.
Thats a lot, she says and adds, Daddy says I lost my story too, but it was only two chapters.
I’ll help you re-write it, you say.
And she smiles and says, That’s okay, I remember it.
(That’s my girl.)
He has his head in his hand, typing into the computer with the other. Things don’t look good.
But you don’t care what happens now, because you’ve made your peace. There is work and there is life, and they are not the same.
And you have The Beast.
I will not break. I promise, you think in your head.
And then by some crazy miracle, he finds it. He twirls the screen so it’s in front of you, so you can read your own words, your own crazy-beautiful words, the ones you thought you were going to have to make all over again, and your heart goes fucking bonkers, a standing ovation of heart beats.
Is that it? he asks you. Is that the draft?
And you’re crying again because you scroll to the last paragraph. 45. You see some familiar notes you scribbled for yourself at the end, plot reminders, ways to tie the characters together.
Yes, it’s the one. You’re crying again. The Contortionist looks concerned. Is Mom going off the edge again?
So you tell her, It’s cool, girl. These are happy tears.
You’re taking big beautiful deep breaths now.
He found it tucked into some isolated, remote, highly-toxic, recovery-hell-space that was nearly invisible and needed genius level computer abilities to extract. Your man is genius. Your family is genius. Life is genius. Writing is genius.
You realize you aren’t so bad yourself. Inside there is a Beast you had forgotten about, who can deal with things. The Beast is genius, too.
So, when the girls ask me the question about who they should marry, I tell them, I tell the girls when they ask, marry someone like that. Marry someone who will drop everything and save your crying ass in a hot Vegas parking lot.
And marry someone who will let you do the same for them.
Have friends like that. Have people like that.
Now, back to finishing this novel.
September 11, 2015
The day was nuts.
Not bad. Not like stage 4 cancer bad. Or bankruptcy bad. Or jail bad. Or fire that kills everyone bad.
I have perspective on this.
Edie had a meltdown, real tears, over how to spell the word approximately. It lasted 45 minutes. Like wailing on the floor.
I didn’t write much that morning. Some, but not enough, and I’m close to the end of this new novel so I’m eager to get it done. Eager to pound it out. The story is always in my head, all this confrontation and resolution, a collision in my head. I sort of stare off dreamily into space a lot, looking like a checked-out doofus, all the stuff happening in the confines of my head. I am looking forward to this writing time while the kids do parkour, but the coach never shows, and we wait outside the gym in the heat for an hour, while he texts he’s coming, but obviously he’s not. And the kids are complaining about being “dehydrated” while I check the time and see whatever writing time I had slip away.
I asked the kids for 5 minutes to think, because they were fighting, incessantly fighting, violently pummeling each other and screeching like Teradactyls, Lucy and Edie decided they would follow me to the bedroom, while I lay face down in the pillows, and fight on top of me. I am deaf in one ear. I turned the good one into the pillow and pretended they weren’t there.
Edie stopped pinching her sister long enough to turn my head towards her and check that i was joking. I was. And I wasn’t. But I smiled and kissed her cheek anyway. Then, they went back to pummeling each other.
Again, not stage 4 cancer. Not a fire. Everyone is alive. And I love these people.
I was coiled up. Relentlessly so.
And then David came home from work.
“Let’s get in bed and watch TV.”
I didn’t cook dinner. We didn’t even tell the kids what we were doing. I made tequilas, doubles, with lime. And a platter of brie and Soppressata. We got under the covers. We watched Narcos. Two whole episodes. It wasn’t some super-romance, I mean, there were pugs in the bed, wrestling, and kids came in and asked for chargers for their Ipads, and occasionally we discussed the Sandinistas, but there was enough romance, you know what I mean, enough skin on skin, enough arms and legs overlapping, enough dumb TV, enough of us for my brain to untangle, for the tightness of the anxiety coil to loosen.
He is able to untangle me.
Then, we agreed, after a time, that I would re-enter life and we would do parental things. Lucy read to David. Edie did back walk overs. I made fried catfish for the kids, and three completely different sauces, as if I was trying to make up for absence, even when they didn’t care I was even in the bedroom. I overhead them explaining to David about how I was laying face down on the pillow, and this made them laugh, because it was funny, but I heard a little worry. Just on the sides.
They understood. They didn’t understand. Didn’t matter.
I was uncoiled. I was better.
August 12, 2015
The whole idea for writing this piece happens while standing in front of the open door of the fridge, here in an AirBNB in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m barefoot and in panties and a big sweater, my hair piled up on my head in a banana clip. I’m pretty much alone, standing with my head inside the open lions mouth of the fridge. The kids are in bed, although probably not asleep, and playing Minecraft, thinking they are putting one over on me, but I don’t care. They are quiet and happy and it’s summer and we are in Europe, I won’t quibble the details. But I don’t feel like being in bed. I’m trolling now, looking for some action. I grab little fistfuls of spinach leaves from a half bag of loose spinach. Nice. I eye the spinach like its a pin up queen. In the voice of Elvis, my brain says, I want you, baby. God, in my head I’m such a cornball. I take some spinach in my fingers, this could look piggish, but I’m actually pretty graceful, I’m pushing these little bundles of leaves into a mug of blue cheese dressing I made on the fly for Edie, because the AirBNB people left the tiniest, most unsubstantial drop of ketchup in the bottle in the fridge, creating the illusion there was ketchup, when there really wasn’t, and this tail-spinned Edie into a place where she had to conjure up a world where small children are forced to eat their fish sticks without ketchup, which seems like some gray steam punk dystopian netherworld of doom. As a consolation, I mix some Roquefort with mayo, sour cream, lime and salt, and call it blue cheese, which it is, gave it to her with her fish. Cheese and fish, what the hell am I thinking? It’s the flavor pairing from hell. But she loved, like totally LOVED, it. But there is a whole mug of it left, and I keep looking at it. I can see the little bumps of cheese popping through the mayo, welling up in the cup, and it makes me think of David, who is out at his show here at the Fringe Festival, which is the whole purpose of us being in Scotland. The blue cheese reminds me of him because he loves this salad I make for him for lunch sometimes. It’s spinach and little chunks of hot bacon, smothered in home-made blue cheese. My face smiles inside the fridge because I think about how much he loves that salad, and also how he makes such a big production of everything I make, like he always shouts,” Wow! Look at this, girls!” as I put a plate down on the table, as if I had deboned a duck for dinner every night. I think about how I’ve come to expect that, and how I love that, and how I feel all warm and glowy because he likes this stupid salad and a lot of other stuff I do. Inexplicably. Despite me. This makes me start thinking about his chest hair, because I remember noticing his chest hair the first night we met, well not his chest hair exactly, but that little patch of skin that is visible just above where his shirt is unbuttoned and that also involves chest hair, and how that was enough to make me imagine us, and when I imagined us I couldn’t stop imagining us. I wish he was here right now, because his chest hair, and the rest of him, would be here too. But he’s not, and all I have is this mug of blue cheese and a half-eaten bag of wilty spinach, and a pound of uncooked bacon. English bacon, which is a little too much like Canadian bacon for my tastes. Not real bacon. Imposter bacon. More ham than bacon. So not what bacon is about. How do the British not understand this? Rashers. Embrace the rashers. Not that I’m going to cook it anyway. I’m feeling lazy. I don’t want to wash dishes, or make a big show of the food. I just want to eat. Also, the bowls are very far away, like I’d have to push my left arm up to the left, and slide two steps in that direction and stick my arm into the cupboard to get a bowl, maybe on tip toes, which seems exhausting, and just too much. I pick up another fistful of leaves and smash them into the mug of blue cheese, and again, with my fingers because fridge eating requires, even demands, no utensils, and this allows me to get just the right amount of blue cheese on the spinach, not so much that I’m eating only dressing, not so little that I’m eating only vegetable, its a delicate balance. I taste a mouthful of the salad and I wonder if I washed the spinach, I can’t remember, probably because I’m well into my second gin and tonic, so I think about salmonella, and puking in a Scottish emergency room, I wonder what Scottish emergency rooms are like, and I remember a mad cow outbreak happening in Italy, and what the symptoms are for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and how my hand gets super-tingly a lot, and how the kids would be crushed if I got mad cow disease, and why did we eat that fucking carpaccio in Naples? Then the cheese hits my tongue, and jolts me back to the present. I get that spark of blue cheese, some funk in my mouth, and then the creaminess, and its all cream and funk and cream and funk and my mouth is like the cast of Glee singing a mash-up of cream and funk, it’s good, so very fucking good, and I realize it wouldn’t have tasted this good had I put it in a bowl or eaten it with a fork or waited for the imposter bacon to cook up into something. And eating it at a table with a napkin in my lap would have killed the whole point, the urgency of it, the improvisation, the sneakiness, the things we do alone, and things we do hoping to get caught, not get caught, the shame of being found with blue cheese smeared across our lips, and a mouthful of leaves, all that slow chewing while trying to explain yourself with blue cheese fingers, the sheer thrill of having this one minute alone with food, and to make all the decisions about food, and be completely indelicate and irreverent with food, how wicked and thrilling that is. I close the door, the kitchen is super-dark. I am a thief. I come in the night. My secret life. I hear my feet on the floor. I’m taking the rest of my gin and tonic to bed. I consider going back to the fridge, there’s a bit more blue cheese in the bottom of the mug, but I don’t. It was enough of a good thing. Anyway, it will be right there waiting for me at breakfast.
PS: And it was there waiting for me at breakfast! Or really lunch. We got up at 10, ate at noon, and I made David this salad with blue cheese (I added more to the meager smudge I had left behind), properly fried bacon (not nearly as good as rashers), and arugula, (a sorry excuse for the spinach I finished the night before). I even let him use a bowl and fork.
August 6th, 2015
Can we go home?
We are in Rome, Italy. In the Colosseum.
It’s hot, stinking humid. I’ve got sweat leaking down the small of my back into my ass crack.
The crying starts. Edie.
David puts her on his shoulders. This is way nicer than I can be. I have a middle-aged womans aversion to heat. I want nothing and no one to touch me while I boil.
The tour guide is showing us where the wild animals entered the Colosseum before they were slayed, some 5,000 tigers, lions and bears, any wild animals they could get their hands on, a day.
Sometimes they fed prisoners and criminals to the lions for sport, she tells us.
And everyone cheered!
She looks at the children and smiles.
Lucy is appalled.
Are you sure this is age appropriate? Lucy asks me.
I watch everyone fill up their water bottles at a tap, and David and I realize we forgot the water bottles. We give each other the look parents give each other when they realized they have royally fucked their day.
Lucy solves this by drinking out of the tap like it’s a water fountain. Edie stands and looks at the running water, crying.
It is obvious we are the weak links in the tour group. When they move onto the Forum and Pallantine Hills, we mercifully cut them loose.
We take our kids to a restaurant to get sparkling water, gelato, relief from heat, relief from walking and from all things historical. We had been to this restaurant before and this makes Lucy pout.
This restaurant again?
Yes, this ivy-covered, gelato palace in the center of Rome? Yes, this one. Again.
Edie is miffed because the waiter is not delivering the sparkling water to the table fast enough, and she explains, between great choking breaths, that if we had just gone to a shop and bought a bottle of water for her, her life would be 1000x improved.
She weeps silently at the table.
The water, gelato, (and ice cold beers, for us, because we need them) come and there is a moderate increase in happiness, but there is a fear we might make them see another ancient building. They are guarded.
But we are benevolent parent dictators and we take them to a store called “Accessorize” (think the British version of “Claire’s”)
This perks them up.
Until we politely refuse to buy Edie 20-euros worth of Italian strawberry lip balm and a new purse for Lucy. This is the last straw of injustices heaped upon them since the Colesseum.
There is pouting, and stomping across cobblestones on the way home.
David sees a mens clothing store he is interested in. He has been talking about checking it out. Edie refuses to enter, and stands in the alley, until I say I will stand in the alley with her, so she isn’t killed by traffic or abducted into a sex slavery ring. All so David can look around a bit. But he can’t really look around, and we know that, because we are being held hostage by cranky children. So he gives up.
But then I see a store with lovely leather bags in the window and I have been wanting one. I almost never buy myself extravagant things, but maybe this one time.
Oh thanks…yes, I got it in Rome.
The bag is dark brown, soft leather, the kind that feels like crushed up tissue paper in your hands. It matches my favorite boots. It looks very high end, and it’s big enough to hold my children’s chewing gum wrappers and bathing suits and snacks and rocks and Ipads.
I will look good carrying this bag.
Even though it will be filled with rubbish.
It’s on sale.
We pop inside and Edie sits on the steps outside, again, and Lucy whines that she is the one who needs a bag, not me, (which strikes me as nuts since I carry everyone’s shit everywhere) and then keeps “accidentally” stepping on our feet, while the sales person does a deep sales pitch on the bag.
But I can’t look around. Can’t focus on what she is saying about the quality of the leather and how the price is ridiculously low for the quality, and its the ultimate Italian hand bag, and it’s so….blah blah blah. The sulking and misbehavior are too much.
We leave the store – bagless – all of us angry.
We silently clomp down side streets and alleys, like bitchy horses, the children mumble about how they didn’t get anything for themselves, and how terrible we are….
How could you be so mean?
And then something happens. It’s weird.
I start crying. Like really crying, not just tears in my eyes. But a full on wall of tears, while walking down this little street in Rome. I can’t hold it back.
My children are sociopaths, I think. Or those odd people who can’t take social cues and keep talking even though everyone wants to run away and they have no idea.
We take our children to Europe and they are bitching about bags and lip balm.
Are they so entitled and given so much they can’t see how lucky they are? Or can’t even be grateful? Or nice?
Maybe I’m just hot and ornery…
But when was the last time I bought a nice bag for myself? Or any bag? Or any thing?
God, are our kids selfish? Like in the bad sense of the word?
I cry harder. Edie tenses. She looks terrified. I don’t come undone that often.
You’ve made your mother cry, David says. He’s pissed.
When I get emotional, he is a bit of a blow torch.
We’ve turned some kind of corner now, and our kids rarely feel the heat as hot as this. They are freaked out.
We get to the apartment. Edie is crying because I’m crying. If I’m undone, she’s undone. Lucy closes up, like an oyster in a shell. Clamped shut, her anger is her fortress. We sit in four different places in the tiny flat.
The kids go for the Ipads, but David cuts them off.
No Ipads until discussions and apologies.
Edie is the first to buckle. As always. She cries in my arms. She cannot handle any unsettled territory between us. She apologizes, but I know she doesn’t know what she is apologizing for. She just wants everything to rewind.
I call her on it.
This makes her fall into tiny ripped up pieces. We know her deal. She switches the focus, her saddness takes center stage, then, we console her and forget why we are upset.
You hurt mummy, David says. He won’t let her off the hook. Won’t let her dwell on herself.
We talk about leather bags, and lip balm. And standing in the street alone in a foreign city. We talk about how much grown-up work has to be done to give them big gifts and little gifts, and we talk about tantrums and anger and self-control. We talk about what we have and what we don’t have, and we take the measurements of these things.
We talk about patience, and faith that the things they need will be provided. But not everything they want. There is a difference, we tell them. We talk about what we don’t do for ourselves, so we can do for them. We talk about when to be selfish and when to be generous, and we tell her we know its not always easy to know when and how much of both is needed, but both are important. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.
There are make-up kisses and hugs for me and David.
But Lucy is harder to crack.
She doesn’t crumble into our approval. Although she wants it, she will not walk down the path to get it.
She sits in the loft and pouts and mutters to herself.
She will not apologize. She is not ready to talk.
We let her be.
Finally, she comes down from the loft and plunks herself into the big leather easy chair, near us. She’s ready.
She tells us we don’t listen to her. That she was trying to tell us something, but all we cared about was the bag. And the walls of the fortress crack, they are jagged pieces of shell now. She is exposed. I see her. She cries. She won’t hug us or come to us, so we go to her. We pile into the deep chair, which smushes us all together, like a soggy sandwich. It’s uncomfortable, but she doesn’t fight us. This is how I know she needs us.
We hold her, even though she won’t hold us back.
We listen to her talk for a long time, and we tell her that we hear her a lot, but she has a lot of ideas and things going on in her head, so sometimes we need to listen to other people, like the woman showing us the bags. And we talk about patience, and taking stock of other people, reading people, knowing when to talk and when to listen. We tell her there are right ways and wrong ways to get people’s attention. We tell her she is worth hearing, but people will tune her out if she doesn’t find the right way. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.
We wait for her to tell us how she feels, and her apology.
It comes hard, but it comes, with tears and hugs and smiles.
There is snuggling. Finally.
We are all exhausted.
We are done.
We need a break from Rome.
Rome needs a friggin’ break from us.
We lay around the tiny apartment eating proscuitto, cheese and speck. We read quietly. We open the door into the alley and let in the Roman air, the sounds of people eating together at open air restaurants, and tourists hustling by. We hear someone playing an accordian. Of course there is an accordian – out there is beautiful Italy.
But soon we ignore the beautiful, and all of us flop onto the big bed and watch “Shark Tank” on the computer, maybe because it reminds us of home, maybe because it doesn’t have the weight of an ancient stadium, with all its meaning and significance.
Maybe there is no weight at all. And that is what we need.
We are tiny feet draped across big feet, heads laying on chests, big fingers entwined in little fingers. A mess of a family.
We are in Naples.
Distressed, crumbling buildings, graffiti on every statue, every church, every inch of every building. There is nothing sacred in this city.
This is what I think when we first get here.
Naples feels like it is actively, ferociously decaying, just falling apart or being torn apart, piece by piece.
Graffiti is on every conceivable public surface. Not exaggerating.
I like graffitti, the art behind it, the rebellion, the way it is a voice for the voiceless, but this is different. It is uncontrolled, unruly, messy, the words scrawled there without much artistic engine.
It’s almost the first thing you notice. It’s like the city lets people run wild, like tradition is of no importance, like no cathedral, no ruin, no church is so important it can’t be a place to scrawl out your name in paint. Garbage heaves from everywhere. Parks are un-mown, un-happy places, statues are obliterated by spray paint, bottles, cans and wrappers are left everywhere in the grass.
Naples is crazy different. And not what I think it will be.
It’s Tuesday night when we get there, 10pm and the streets are chock full of people in shorts and sandals hanging out drinking wine and beer, some sit at tables on the jammed sidewalk in big boisterous groups, eating, drinking, laughing, clinking goblets of vino. Others clump into groups in the street, many have babies on their laps, in their arms. Everyone has their phone out on the table next to their plates, but no one is looking at them or snapping photos. They are loud and brimming over in the middle of a work week.
I wish we lived in a place this social, I hear myself saying.
Cobblestone alleys and streets run like wild, breaking cracks and fissures running through the city. Motorcycles whiz by, cars go bumper to bumper, and right up the asses of pedestrians. There is no right of way. It’s dangerous and bizarre and we remind the kids to always be super-aware when they step out in the street. They will be on their own, no one else will mind them. No one gives a rats ass.
Just because it’s an alley does not mean a motorcycle will not run you down, we feel we have to tell the kids.
Eyes open. Do not be sleepy in Naples.
I see a kid Lucy’s age peeling through the alleys driving a motorcycle, his friends piled on the back. I see four people crammed onto a bike, screaming and laughing at a group of friends on another bike, they ride tandem down a crack of a road, flying past pedestrians who barely look up. I see babies on the back of bikes, no helmets, screaming past me, their little faces stretching back in the wind. Our cab cuts off a car, leaving about an inch between them, and no one is pissed off and shaking a fist.
It’s full on in Naples. This is how it is.
We visit a book store. With a bar.
Isn’t this the ultimate? I think. Books and booze. Yes.
A place of calm during the day, but a bubbling mecca at night. Doors wide open. A band sets up outside the shop and plays, people gather, drink, buy books, dance on cobblestones and when the band takes a break, they stand inside and outside the shop, and listen as a poet reads from her book. They pump her voice outside so everyone can hear, even passersby.
Poetry, accessible to everyone. Nice, Naples.
Every space here is packed tight. It’s so the opposite of Vegas, which is wide and low and the blank spaces are huge, open gaps. Naples is condensed. I notice the windows of the buildings are long, like in the movies, old huge wooden shutters that open out into the air. Everyone, I mean everyone, has a tiny balcony to hang laundry, and on which they put pots of herbs, and step out for a smoke. This city is vertical and stacked.
We notice a few things: Italians serve you fries without ketchup – much to Edie’s dismay and confusion – and calamari without tomato sauce, salad without dressing.
Why? Why would they do that? she asks me, bewildered.
It’s the ultimate cultural divide. I think this might make Edie actually hate Italy.
Italians do not want to hide the flavor of the food, I tell her.
She is baffled. Why? Covering is good….
This makes me think: Do I use sauces to hide the real flavors of the food I cook? Not sure. I have to toss that one around a little.
In Naples, boys in Speedos and girls in bikinis jump off the walls of an ancient castle into the Mediteranean, and I think this would never happen in the US. There would be people telling us to stop. Stern, uniformed people would yell at us and demand we be respectful of history, of the past.
And people make-out everywhere. Teenagers tuck into the corners of castle turrets. On the street. In alleys. In restaurants. On trains. Love is here in Naples. Sex is here in Naples. You either join them or scoff at them, like a cranky old person.
Naples inspires me to kiss my husband more, no matter who is around.
We eat at a lovely little restaurant. I tell the owner the food is simple and beautiful, the way I like it, and he grabs me kisses me full force on the cheek and leads me into the kitchen, where I and the kids, meet his wife, the chef, and she stops cooking and we hug and talk about food in broken phrases.
Such an intimate exchange between strangers. Naples, so nakedly impulsive.
Everyone is fearless. No one tells you to stop. Go have sex. Go kiss your man hard in the street. Drive your motorcycle like a crazy person through the streets, what could happen? Use the walls of the centuries-old castle as your diving board. Go tag that statue of Dante. Tag the shit out of it.
Who the hell cares about Dante anyway, when there is grilled squid, your friends, hot, endless summer nights, long kisses, and bottles of rose?
Do what you love.
Naples will love you for it, without judgment.
June 17, 2015
It started with my hand falling asleep at night.
Night after night I felt the tingling. I tried to ignore it.
Then, it throbbed, and felt weak. Not pain exactly. But I couldn’t grasp a glass and I couldn’t pick up anything heavier than a ball of socks.
What the hell?
I Googled ALS some more. Actually, a lot.
Earliest symptoms. First signs. Hand weakness. That’s the first sign.
Holy shit, I say to myself. I have ALS.
And just by saying it inside my brain – I have ALS – the idea takes hold. It grows roots. Fuck, I have ALS. This is bad. I look at more symptoms, tripping and falling.
Yes, yes, I tripped and fell while taking out the compost the other day.
God, ALS. I’m so young.
How will I tell the girls? And David? He’ll be crushed. They all will be. I will turn their worlds upside down. But I don’t want that, so I spend about 20 minutes in my head figuring out how to manage my deteriorating body while making their life easier and better.
That’s when I write the letters – still in my head – to the girls. I tell them everything they need to know about the world – what to do when a guy gets unnecessarily “handsy” and how to put in a tampon, stuff like that. I also tell them how loved they are and I enter into this vortex of saying goodbye to them and how Edie will beg me not to go, and crumble into a heap, and Lucy will try to be strong, but she’ll buckle. It will be awful to say goodbye.
It will be so much worse than when our dog, Ramen, died.
God, fucking awful.
I read the Google machine some more, and I discover I have a few years, maybe even up to a decade. Not enough to see them have babies and find their true loves, but enough to maybe get them through high school. If the disease doesn’t progress too fast.
I decide to see a doctor. I’m going to be tough and face this thing, not at all like the fragile snowflake I really am.
Then, David comes home. I tell him what’s happening. Not the ALS part, this would be too shocking, because at this point I’ve pictured David and the kids standing on the edge of Sydney Harbor, throwing my ashes and handfuls of dying rose petals into the wind.
No. He’s not there yet.
My hand is killing me now. Searing pain. I move it and I want to scream. Is that supposed to happen with ALS? Does it escalate this quickly?
Damn, ALS. You move in fast.
David is at the computer, punching keys.
“It’s carpal tunnel syndrome,” he tells me.
“You need a sleep brace from Walgreen’s and you should start taking B6 and Magnesium.”
“I think I have ALS. I fell taking out the compost.”
“This happens with you. A lot actually.”
“Maybe I’ve been in decline for years….”
“You have carpal tunnel. Go to Walgreens.”
That was the day before yesterday. This morning, I can pick up a glass. The screaming pain is gone. The night brace and the day brace have made all the difference. I dutifully take my B6 and Magnesium.
I don’t have ALS. Thank God. At least not that I know of.
But I’ll keep checking Dr. Google just in case.
May 22, 2015
This morning I made, like, the best packed lunch of all lunches for my kids.
It was the Everest of lunches.
No peanut butter and jelly, or ham and swiss sandwiches.
No. This was the real shit.
Leftover Honk Kong noodles, pork dumplings, shrimp shumai, little chunks of chicken rolled in potato starch and deep fried, bottles of icy lemon water, wedges of manchego and crackers, fresh cut raspberries and strawberries.
I had pots and pans going, steam wafting out of the kitchen, smells and bells. All before 7 am.
I was ON FRIGGIN FIRE.
And when it was over, and the little dumplings had been arranged and packed and put carefully into their lunch bags, all with my undying love and purest devotion, I wanted to turn around and get the standing friggin’ ovation I deserved.
I waited for it.
Hands in the air.
Looking for my high five.
The pats on the back.
The “You rock, Mom! Wooot!”
Instead I stood alone in the kitchen, a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. A smear of oil on the counter. No one noticing my great accomplishment. How I had traversed the mountain of bad lunch-making, only to reach the summit, and prevailed.
No ovation. No beers and war stories from my fellow lunch-making dudes. No recognition that I had KICKED SOME MOTHER LOVING ASS.
Just the realization that I have to come up with 8 more of these Everests before the end of the school year.
I hate making lunches.