Deuel_Nathan

Was it really that bad?

Fuck off.

 

Y’know, being a dad…wife in the war, Middle East, etc.

It was a fairly constant struggle for me: The fact that it wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, many times—a lot of the time—it was quite excellent. I can’t really adequately describe what it’s like to get rip-roaring drunk by yourself, as the bats fly overhead, wife in Baghdad, with the sound of the call to prayer ringing out over Istanbul, the moon coming up, and you light an illicit cigarette and the hum of the earth is loud and…A grilled fish lunch at an old cantina in a secluded cove north of Beirut, with the table literally in the water, catching up with an old friend from Riyadh, the waves licking up over the table cloth, sea froth kissing the food with salt water, cold bottles of beer…Or to have Christmas in Erbil, in northern Iraq, the odd situation of your wife agreeing to watch the kid while you put on a suit that doesn’t quite fit, so you can get in a taxi and try to track down Christians who fled Baghdad, in the wake of a bombing at a church that killed dozens, to find a woman who will speak to you, in the middle of the street, on Christmas day, with the taxi idling, getting a good enough quote to go back to the house, so you can file a story, so you can sing “Jingle Bells” and squint in the sun of northern Iraq, and later that night, toast it all with a bottle of duty-free scotch.

Out of Focus

By Paula Younger

Memoir

Two years after my wedding I stood behind bulletproof glass searching evidence tables piled with pictures of smiling brides and grooms.  Jenny, the police officer assigned to photo viewing day, led me to the Misc. box, a cardboard beast overflowing with pictures and negatives.  She warned, “This might take a while.”  A blond woman flanked by her husband and her parents said, “Can you believe we have to do this?”  She rifled through boxes for a glimpse of the dress she had so carefully picked out, her husband’s smile, photos of friends and family.  I was looking for those things too.  But I was also looking for something else.  In that police basement I was searching for the last pictures ever taken of my mother and me.

It seems as though everyone is talking about Michael Kimball and his new newly released novel, US.  Sam Lipsyte calls Kimball a “Hero of contemporary fiction.”  Blake Butler says US is one of only two books that ever made him cry.  And Gary Lutz says that Kimball is “One of our most supremely gifted and virtuosic renderers of the human predicament.” 

US might break your heart, but it’s a good kind of break-the kind that reminds you how nice it is to be alive.

Falling

By Angela Tung

Memoir

It’s Friday night, and like every Friday night, we go to see Joe’s parents.

On the drive over, Joe calls: “What do you guys want for dinner?” Usually it’s Korean take-out, or occasionally Chinese, though that’s too salty. “Chinese people don’t know how to make rice,” says my father-in-law, no matter how many times I say that restaurant rice isn’t authentic. Tonight it’s Korean.

We lay the food on the table. I set up Joe’s mother’s bowl: duk mandu gook, dumpling soup, over rice. At this time, she can still feed herself, though she’s a bit messy. We don’t care that she’s messy, but Joe’s father fusses over every dropped grain of rice, every dribble of soup.

After dinner, we clear the table and do the dishes. Joe’s parents go up to their bedroom. Joe and I go down to the basement living room.  Joe’s parents don’t have cable so there’s not much to watch though Joe always manages to find some sports game. After an hour, I get sleepy.

In Joe’s old room, I change into my pajamas. There’s little of Joe’s childhood here. Some yearbooks, a few pictures. Mostly it’s his parents’ stuff. The room, like most of the house, feels crowded. His parents like to collect things. Jewelery, pocket watches, fountain pens. Vases, china, grandfather clocks. As the years pass, they collect more and more, and yet their house gets no bigger.

Soon Joe comes upstairs and climbs into bed with me. There are only twin beds in Joe and Billy’s old rooms. I try to sleep but I can’t. I’m squashed. I rise to go to the other room.

“You can’t take one night?” Joe says. He thinks that a husband and wife should always sleep in one bed, no matter how uncomfortable, the way he thinks of many things, that there is only one right way.

“Sorry,” I whisper, and steal down the hall. I stretch out on the empty twin. Outside a brook gurgles; somewhere a clock ticks. I sleep.




Joe’s father runs an acupuncture clinic on Saturdays. Some weekends, he has clients at the house. Once I met one, the daughter of his friends.

“What do you do?” I asked her before remembering she had been a trader on Wall Street before having a stroke at 35.

She bristled.  “I stay home with my daughter,” she said.

“That’s great!” I said. I’m not one of them, I wanted to say. I don’t care what you do.

By the time we’re awake, Joe’s father is already out the door. At Joe’s parents’, everyone showers and dresses immediately upon waking, even on the weekends. At my parents’, we lounge in our pajamas, drinking coffee and chatting, till almost noon.

While Joe picks up breakfast, I help his mother shower. I used to be afraid to be alone with her. I didn’t know how to hold her, and was nervous she’d fall. But now I know.

First, I take her feet from the bed and turn them to the floor. Next I take her by her left arm and hand, and lift her up to sitting. I shift my hand to her armpit, and help her stand. Then we walk.

When you walk, you don’t realize how you move. You don’t know you lift one foot while pushing off with the other, then again with the opposite foot, then again, and again. People with Parkinson’s disease get stuck, like cars revving in mud.

Joe’s mother is stuck now.  “C’mon, Mom!” I say. “One, two, three!”

She tenses. I know she’s trying. “Right foot,” I say instead, like a drill sergeant. “Right foot, left.”

Still nothing. She begins to drool.

“C’mon, Mom.” I nudge at the backs of her ankles, but she’s rooted. Instead of lifting, she pushes, digging deeper into the floor. All of her socks have holes in the same places.

I get in front and take her by both hands, the way Billy does.  Joe doesn’t like it. “She’ll fall like that,” he says, although Billy is a physician and knows these things. But Billy isn’t here now.

In front isn’t working. I inch her forward, but her lower half doesn’t move, which means she’ll fall. The last resort. I get behind her, line up our legs, and stick my arms under her hers. Then I walk her like a giant puppet. She doesn’t like this, embarrassed by the proximity of our bodies, though by that point I wonder how either of us can feel embarrassed about anything.

In the bathroom I attach her hands to the towel rack while I pull down her sweatpants and underwear. Then I sit her on the toilet. While she goes, I pull off her sweatshirt, undershirt, sweatpants, underwear, and socks. The whole time I keep my eyes averted. Her medicine had taken away her appetite so that she’s mostly bones. Her legs are broomsticks, her spine like dinosaur scales. Only her stomach is fleshy, a wrinkled yellow paunch.

When the water’s ready, I stand her up and get her in the shower. There’s always a moment of panic as she steps over the metal threshold. I’m always afraid her ankle will catch and she’ll cut herself, or worse, she’ll trip and, slippery and out of my reach, I won’t be able to stop her from falling. She doesn’t fall. She steps over the threshold, turns herself, and sits on her plastic chair.

At this time she can still wash herself. Later she won’t be able to. Later she’ll get so bad, she won’t be able to feed herself so that one of us will have to cut up her food, put it in her mouth, wait for her to chew, to swallow, give her a sip of water, then start again.

If this is what it’s like to have a child, I’ll think, then I don’t want one.



After the water shuts off, I return to the bathroom. I dry her off and get her dressed. I comb her hair. You can always tell who’s taken care of her by the way her hair is combed. The caretakers and I let it fall into its natural part and cowlicks. Joe and her husband part it severely and slick it back. Billy takes the time to blow it dry.

I bring her to the sink. She holds onto the edge while I brace my body against hers. My hands free, I can ready her toothbrush. I hand it to her and she brushes her teeth.

“Take your time,” I tell her. The longer she takes, the more time passes, and the closer we are to leaving. In the walls of my mind are taped the hours of the day. Twelve, eleven, ten, nine. In my mind I cross out each one. She spits and rinses many times.  Parkinson’s hinders swallowing so that her mouth is always full of saliva and phlegm. I wait.

I walk her back into the bedroom and onto her bed, easier now that her muscles have warmed.  I smooth moisturizer on her face, over and around, like a facial. I put lotion on her hands. I rub Ben Gay into her bad leg. Billy says this is no use. There’s no muscle there, only bone, but she says it helps. I wash my hands for a long time, the Ben Gay tingling the webs of my fingers.

I’ve bought a book on Parkinson’s disease. There are exercises to help keep limbs loose and supple, and I perform these on Joe’s mother after her shower.

“You should do these on your own,” I tell her, bending one of her knees, then the other. “You should get Wanda to help you.” Wanda is her caretaker during the week.

She shrugs, and I know she won’t, though she appreciates my efforts.

Joe comes home then.  I smell fresh coffee and fried potatoes. “Your wife practices damned good medicine,” she tells him. “My doctor said he could tell someone has been exercising me.”

I smile. But then Joe says to his mother, “You should have been exercising this whole time.” He returns downstairs.



I help her take her medicine. Joe thinks she takes too much. “You were a physician,” he says, “and you pop Sinemet like candy.” Sinemet is for stiffness. She does seem to take a lot, but sometimes she takes only half. Then again I don’t know what she takes when I’m not there.

Joe and his father are especially afraid she’ll take too much Valium, which is for extreme stiffness.  “I’m freezing,” she says moments before an attack.

“You’re not freezing,” Joe always corrects her, although that’s what my book calls akinesia. “Freezing is very cold. You’re just stiff.”

I recognize many symptoms from the book. There’s ataxia, or loss of balance. Dysphagia, difficulty in swallowing. There’s dyskinesia, that extra, involuntary movement from too much dopamine, such as that found in Sinemet. There’s the resting tremor I see in her chin right before akinesia. I often know that freezing is coming before she does. I can try to calm her down before she starts to panic.

They keep the Valium where she can’t reach it – in my father-in-law’s study, on the top shelf.  Usually I give in, figuring five mgs is so little. But sometimes I resist.

“Wait five minutes,” I tell her. “Let me watch this show till a commercial, and then I’ll get your pill.” For the next five minutes, she moans. Sometimes she cries.

I don’t think I’m being cruel.

For now though she’s not freezing and doesn’t need her Valium.  I bring her downstairs.




Joe has already cut up his mother’s eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns. He studies the box scores intently as he eats his own breakfast.

I close my eyes and sip my coffee.  Soon I’ll feel better.  “If you feel like going out,” I tell Joe, “go ahead.”

Sometimes he buys groceries for his parents, or hits a few golf balls, or goes to an aquarium store. We can manage without him, and when he returns, he’s more relaxed and less angry. Besides, he comes to his parents’ again on Sunday, although his dad is around, and I do not.

“Maybe,” he says.

After he finishes eating, he stands and stretches.  “Maybe I will go hit a few golf balls,”

I nod.

When Joe is gone, his mother and I sit in the kitchen and finish our coffee. She often tells the same stories over and over, how people have wronged her – her siblings, her husband, her mother-in-law. When she’s clear, she makes sense. But sometimes she tells the stories in circles. She reaches a point, then says the same point again and again, like her foot digging into the floor.

Other symptoms I know about now are hallucinations, delusions, and dementia.  Before this, I believed everything she said, like how as a girl she often visited a beautiful garden, where once a strange woman gave her a red coat. Or how at her medical school graduation the same woman appeared, bearing a white rose, the woman who is supposedly her real mother, not the woman who raised her, several years’ dead, but a woman who gave her up during the war, wealthy beyond our imaginations, living in nearby Connecticut, ignoring her daughter while she’s been sick for some unimaginable reason.

I believed my mother-in-law when she said this woman called her one day out of nowhere, after years of no contact, to ask if she wanted to get together for a cup of tea. When she said she pulled up to their house in a limo in the middle of the night.

“Your father-in-law told me,” she said, and pointed at the window. “He was standing right there. He said, ‘Your mother’s here.‘”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “It wasn’t a dream?”

She was crying. “It was real.”

I wanted to believe her.  It seemed possible, not like probing aliens or talking dogs.  Later I found out for sure.

“Do you know what she said?” said my father-in-law one night at dinner. “That her mother came here, in a limo! And that I was the one who told her!”

She glanced at me. I didn’t know if her look meant she’d been caught, or see, her husband was in on it too.

“You’re like my daughter,” she says now.  “You’re like me.”

I don’t answer.




We finish our coffee and return upstairs. I turn on the TV and find a cartoon we both like. Next we’ll watch a cooking show, and then maybe Antiques Roadshow, her favorite.

“That’s our cake platter!” she’ll cry, pointing a wavering hand at the screen. “That’s my ring!” In her mind, her wealth grows.

To keep my hands busy, I darn the holes in her socks. She falls asleep, and Joe returns with lunch.  I bring his mother down; we eat.  I bring his mother upstairs; we watch more TV.  She sleeps again.  I fold laundry.  She wakes up, chin trembling, and panics till I give her Valium.

Three o’clock.  Four.  When will Joe’s father come home?  We don’t know.  He never calls.  He doesn’t feel he has to.

Five, and it’s getting dark.  “Stay for dinner,” Joe’s mother says.

I feel the walls of my head closing in. I want to leave, to breathe, to be in my house with my husband.

“I don’t know,” I say.

Finally, Joe’s father walks in.



By the time we get home it’s almost eight.  I’m exhausted.

“I feel like going gambling,” Joe says.  He’s looser now.  We’ve put in our time at his parents’, and he can, at least for now, release his guilt.  “Wanna go?”

I don’t gamble.  “I’ll be bored,” I say.

“I’ll get us a room at the hotel,” he says.  “I have enough points.”

He knows that if I go, I’ll want to say at the casino hotel.  That way, I can wander the gambling floor and head up to the room whenever I want.  That way, I know he’s right nearby.

“You’re sure?” I ask.

He picks up his phone.  He’s smiling now, humming a tune.  In a few moments we have a free room.  “A deluxe corner,” he says.

I feel myself getting excited.  I’ll eat some bad food, watch TV, take a bath.  Maybe Joe will win some money, and we can go shopping the next day.

We throw together an overnight bag, and head down to the car.  As we get in, he says, “I love you, honey, I really do.”  He turns on the motor and we’re off.

This is why I stay.


Excerpted from the author’s memoir, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl.

How are you?

By Mary Hendrie

Letters

Hey John,

Thanks for the note on my wall. Your exuberant “hello” was heartening like good soup on a bad day, which isn’t to say yesterday was bad. It was a good day. I heard from you, after all, and work went pretty well. Aside from the hour I spent looking through photos of friends I no longer speak to, I’d say the overall experience for the day was net positive.

But it’s a funny thing when people write on your wall and want to know, “How are you?” It’s a more sincere question than the passing-in-the-grocery-store variety, but it’s loaded, and it can’t really be answered via wall post.

How am I? Well, I’m alive, but somewhat disillusioned. I miss the slow, easy life of our hometown, but I don’t miss the ignorance of some of the people. I quit smoking since we last spoke, and sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

I live near DC, where the air quality is toxic, and I know because they tell me every day on the radio about the air quality — code orange, which means we should all avoid strenuous outdoor activity. I’d like to lose a little weight, but that’s hard to do with all these codes to follow.

Every day, I drive home and scan the radio for familiar songs to fight off the particular loneliness that breeds in my car, and when Morrisey comes on, I belt out all the words, right or wrong.

I have a good job in a boring city, a great husband, and a normal sex life, I think (but I don’t know what’s normal). Oh, and I wrote a book of sorts, but actually it was my grad school thesis, and I can’t bring myself to look at the thing for editing purposes or to print copies to send to agents, so it’s just sitting on my shelf now. Some of it is pretty good.

To tell the truth, when I look at all our old friends on Facebook, the people who are outrageous and fabulous and those whose lives are quiet and generic, I feel I’ve lost something. I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.

I have not yet joined the ranks of lonely folks who teach their pet birds to sing pop songs, but I have lost a couple cats. Anyway, I guess birds do it for some people. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t like birds much.

The truth is, I keep waiting, John. I keep thinking something amazing will happen, and then I’ll feel right. Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be. Like my ship has come in, right? But until then … until then …

Well, I took a bike ride after work, and I went down to the grocery store just to see if I could do it. I wanted to go inside and buy some squash to cook for dinner, but I didn’t know what to do with my bike while I went inside, so I just turned around and rode back home. It was fun, anyway.

And tonight, we’ll celebrate my husband’s birthday with a few friends at the house. Our house. Did I tell you I own a house now? We’ll eat crabs and drink beer on the back deck. We have a lot of trees, which are pretty, and a nice view of a little creek. After dinner, we’ll watch a movie. It’ll be fun. Maybe before the night is over someone will end up naked, but most of our friends have outgrown that.

I was about to say life ain’t half bad, but maybe it is, John. But even if it is, 50% is better than some presidents get. And the truth is, at least I have people, ya know? At least I love someone and go outside sometimes. Code orange be damned, right?

So, how are you?

On the way home from my father’s funeral, I stopped to fill the gas tank and use the bathroom before getting on the road. The knob on the bathroom door was broken. Everything was filthy and stank to high heaven. Somehow, I managed to hover above the toilet perched on one high heel while the other foot held the door closed, all while holding my breath. When I was finished, I didn’t bother to force the door shut while I washed my hands. Just as I was making my way out to (blessed) fresh air, the door swung open. An old black man with a cane stood in front of me. Few times in my life have I seen a look of such utter terror.

He quickly diverted his eyes to the floor, scurried backwards, bowed in my direction and repeated, as if in prayer, “I’m sorry ma’am. Excuse me ma’am. Please forgive me ma’am.” I was startled but completely understood his mistake of opening the door with me still in there. I tried to explain that the doorknob was broken, but he just kept scurrying, bowing, and ma’am-ing me. I was dumbfounded. After all, he was probably older than my parents. He had a cane for god’s sake. I should have been referring to him as sir, not him to me as ma’am. And what the heck was all the bowing about?

My father and I hadn’t spoken for nine years when he died. I was hard-pressed to go to his hometown even when we were on speaking terms, so I certainly hadn’t been around those parts when we weren’t. The Civil Rights movement had made little progress there in the 1970’s of my childhood. And apparently the world had continued to move forward around it since then, rather like Jim Crow Brigadoon.

When I got back to the car, I told my mother what happened. She’d been gone from that place since she divorced my dad in the 70s, but even she knew the dynamic. She looked at me with both love and pity that the old man’s perspective on the situation had completely escaped me. She patiently explained that he was undoubtedly scared shitless that my husband or father was going to show up at his house that night and beat the hell out of him for walking in on me.

Nah, I thought. It’s nearly the twenty-first century. Could this place really still be so backward? I thought about going back into the store to explain to the man that I understood that it was an accident and that I had no husband or father. Even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t let them harm him for an honest mistake. And then the man walked out of the store. Our eyes met, and he scurried off as fast as his cane would allow.

It’s been twelve years since that experience, but it still haunts me. I always thought it was because I wondered what horrible experiences in that old man’s life left him so terrorized. That’s true, but there was something else, too. As a feminist and person doing my best to face my role in racial inequity, I don’t expect a man to commit any violent act or intimidation in my name. That said, sitting in that gas station parking lot, having just seen my father buried, was the first time that I had to admit that it was no longer in my power to refuse my father’s ridiculously antiquated and twisted version of chivalry. He would no longer offer it. He was gone.

I sit in my white Reem Acra duchess satin gown in a room on the second floor of The Metropolitan Club with everyone I know just downstairs waiting for me, the bride.

Down those great big stairs is Jay, my future husband.  My mother flutters about.  I am sure waiters are about to trip and spill green apple martinis all over me and ruin 13 months of planning.  I take a breath. 

My father is not by my side, not here to give me away.  He is dead.  A suicide when I was four.  This is the fact of my life I expect people to know about me instantly.  My defining layer.

Then there is Stanley, sitting right next to me, our knees almost touching, like a protector from errant waiters, his tuxedo jacket almost like a superhero’s cape.  He was once my step-father, now my adopted father.  I still feel a little like a liar, like alarms will blare and the truth police will arrive when I refer to him as my “father” though.

I first met Stanley when I was about nine at Kennedy airport.  He came to pick us up after a trip.  There he was down the long hallway along with everyone else’s someone special.  My mother seemed to know him as evidenced by the hugs and kisses.  But I was unsure.  I couldn’t sleep in my mother’s bed anymore.  He encouraged me to make my own friends and not hover by my mother’s side.  I found him suspicious.

Now twenty three years later here we are at my wedding.  This man by my side.

Is it okay to admit that I recognize how important a father is at a daughter’s wedding?  Is it okay to admit I still mourn for a man I barely knew?  Is it okay to admit I still expect him to show up?

“This is everything I’ve ever wanted,” I say to Stanley.  My voice cracks and I can feel the tears.  I feel as if I am the only person to have ever done such a thing before.  He looks at me as if, perhaps, I may just be the first bride ever. 

 

When Jay and I went for our marriage license, I had all the proper papers with me.  Passport.  Birth Certificates.  Driver’s license.  We filled out all the forms.  I was overwhelmed and surprised that there was a space for my new name.  New name?  That is the hardest part of all.  No one in my family when I was growing up had my name, since my mother remarried.  I want my children to share my name, that means taking Jay’s, giving up my father’s.  I didn’t know I had to do it then.  I thought I could think about it, ease into it.

I had thought about changing my name once before.  Stanley and I sat in some judge’s chambers finalizing the adoption.  I was about 19.  I wanted to speak up, declare I wanted his name.  I wanted to please him so, but something kept me quiet. 

“Don’t do it then, just leave it,” Jay said.

I filled the space in the form.  Rachel Schinderman.  I took it as an option.  I hated that part of it.  A claiming of.  But was I upset because I wouldn’t be claimed as my father’s anymore?  My father who I go out of my way to remember and to celebrate.  My father who left me.

I handed over all of my papers.  The woman was perplexed when she saw I had two men listed under father.  I handed her both birth certificates.  I was issued a new one after the adoption with Stanley’s name.  She looked at me as if no other person had ever come before her window with such a situation.  I found that impossible.  She went deep within her area and conferred with others.  They looked over at me with that’s her in their eyes. 

She came back and declared, as if she were the ultimate authority in New York State, that since I had the same name as one of them, Jeffrey Zients, that that was who would be listed.  Fine.

She turned to her computer.  “How do you spell Jeffrey?”

“J-e-f-f…”  Was it an e or an r, Jeffrey or Jeffery.  I picked up the birth certificate to check.  “J-e-f-f-r-e-y.”

Jay took my hand.  He could see that I was upset, that I didn’t know off the top of my head how to spell my father’s name with no uncertainty.

Even at the City Clerk’s Office, he was with me.  I tried to shake him off.  As we waited in the next line, I leaned into Jay’s arm.  I was so sorry I was crying.  This was a happy time.


My mother, Stanley and I take our place in the hall before the stairs, the stairs I have worried about for almost a year.  The club’s coordinator gets the go-ahead on his walkie-talkie and signals us to go.  The string quartet below begins to play Over The Rainbow.  We come into view for all below to see. 

My dress is more difficult to manage than I had thought.  My mother holds my arm securely.  We are already almost halfway down.  Stanley isn’t holding me, just standing by my side and grasping the railing on the other.  He won’t even come near me.  I must have been too vocal about not making me trip down the stairs – or is he just moving from spot to spot, playing this role, making his way through?  Is he my “father,” getting to walk me down the aisle because he pays for the wedding?  What does this mean to him?

“I need you to hold me,” I whisper in his ear. 

He looks surprised at my request for help, as if to say all you had to do was ask, like he didn’t want to intrude on me.  He takes my arm solidly in his and we continue down even further.

I kiss my parents and Jay greets them.  As I let them go and take my place next to Jay, I am suddenly calm, even giggly.

Jay turns to me and makes his promises, his vows.  I hear bits.  Pieces.  I can feel my body curl in, taking him and the moment into me.

Then I make my vows to him.  “…And when I need to cry, as I sometimes do, you never say, ‘just get over it.’”

I see the rabbi lean back, surprised by the thought, taking it in.

I dab my tears and we smile at each other, grasping the other’s hand.  Hard part’s over.

Jay steps on the glass.  We kiss.  And everyone yells, “Mazel Tov!”  Then we hurry back down the aisle together, married.

I am thirty-two, almost eight months into being thirty-two.  My father was thirty-two, just over seven months when he died.  I have made it past the length of his life.  This is a good way to mark it.

When we all settle and sit at our tables, Stanley rises and heads to the microphone.  I sit up a little higher in my chair, ready for this moment, a father’s toast to a daughter.  I really get one.  Will this actually count as a father’s toast?  I don’t know what he will say.  A stepfather’s?  I hope it is more than just “Welcome and please have a good time.”

“First of all, thank you very much for coming here tonight and simply joining us.”  Adopted father’s?  “I think there is just a bit of a void that should be addressed and I would like to address it.  And I would like to say a few words on behalf of someone who is not here tonight.  And I guess I’m speaking to all of you, but I’m really speaking directly to Rachel.”

I look for my mother.  Her face reads stunned.  She didn’t know this is what he was going to do.  I look back for Stanley in the center of the big dance floor, holding the microphone, tiny in his tuxedo.  I remind myself to pay great attention.  Do not get lost to the emotion.  Is this really what he’s doing?

“I would like to say a few words for Jeff Zients.”

Yes, it is and I couldn’t have imagined it, couldn’t have dared to dream it.  I didn’t know it was just what I wanted.

“I think if Jeff Zients were here, he would tell Rachel certain things.  I think he would tell Rachel that he marvels at how a four year old has developed and turned into a wonderful, truly wonderful young human being.  And Rachel is marvelous, I think Jeff would say in many ways, not the least of which I think is her respect for tradition, for family, and, maybe most of all, her respect for respect itself.  And I think Jeff would tell Rachel he loves her very much because of that.”

Hearing his name, Jeff, over and over, is a sound that is strange but lovely.  I can feel it enter me each time.

“I think, however, most of all, what Jeff would say is that I love you because you are my daughter and you will always be my daughter and for eternity you will be my daughter…I think Jeff would have said those things, and if I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I’m right, it is not too late for it to be said appropriately.  For myself, I think I would only like to say one thing, if in fact what I believe Jeff would have said, he would have said, ‘Rachel my love, he is speaking for me also.’  We love you.  Thank you.”

There is a silence in the air.  I go straight to Stanley, hug him and am at a loss.  This is more than I ever could have imagined.  A true fatherly moment.  I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by Stanley.  But I wear my father’s death as a badge, a shield.  Have I kept him at an arm’s length?  Fatherless is how I identify myself.

 

There is always a little broken place.  That little broken place reminds me that such events do not go away all wrapped up pretty in a box, but rather need tending to, and when tended to properly, they sleep and rest and allow you to tend to other things.

I know my history will not all be gone after today, but I do not care.  I have a husband.  A mother.  A father.  High above in this ballroom that puts us dancing on the same level as the tips of the trees in Central Park, we dance jumping high off the ground, up toward the sky, through the tall city buildings, into the night.  Pounding and thumping the dance floor each time we come back down. 

Jump!  Jump!   

Then up again we go, up, up we jump. 

Jump!  Jump! 

Jumping for joy.

For on this day I became one man’s wife and another man’s daughter.