Tag: Writing

Down to Zero

In the weeks that have past, my mind has kept up a proper intake of words from Toni Morrison and Tara Westover, the words of other writers, but none that wanted to come out of me.

I’m relearning, yet again that the path is never straight. And at the start of the week of June 3rd, last, four days before the end of school, a text came in to remind me. I picked up the vibrating phone from the coffee table around 10:30 p.m. and I read the words through sleep crushed eyes.

Then I reread them.

My brain rebooted.

I blinked. Hard.

However, the copy read the same; a mom friend of mine, my very first new Mom friend at Julia’s school had lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.

He was 55.

After a series texts, followed up by a midnight phone call, I finished up by sending a text stating that she should “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” By that afternoon, around 1 p.m., Jackie identified something I could help her with:

“I’m sending you Noah’s obit, if you have time, please review it and get it back to me by 5 p.m.”

My girlfriend isn’t Jewish. Her husband was, which means, the funeral would be held, by tradition, the following day; forty-eight hours after Noah took his last breath.

I stared at the word doc icon attached to the email, as a deep rumbling fear, built and bounded up into my stomach.  I feared clicking the doc open, afraid I’d make a difficult time for someone I cared for, even more laborious.

I texted a friend to ask what to do. “I’m sure Jackie would understand why you couldn’t do it,” she replied. So ,the real challenge was, could I forgive myself.  Rising to this writing needed to be an act I could do for my friend during a supremely difficult time.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 3.32.44 PM
A fair representation of creative writing for me in  2019

I clicked on, the word doc, I peered at the first paragraph, on my computer screen.

SCHEINFELD-Dr. Noah Simeon, 55, of New York City, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on June 3rd, 2019. Beloved husband of Jacqueline Marie Didier. Devoted father to Maximilian and Thomas. Son of the late Ellen (Rothstein) and David Scheinfeld, brother to Joshua (Lizzie) and Moses (Rivka), as well as uncle to eleven nieces and nephews.

Then it hit me. The last real writing I’d done was for my mother’s obituary. Moreover, I would now reenter Obit Land. This work wasn’t just creative writing; this was service. Perhaps it could even be a little cathartic for me.

As the only writer in the group of five asked to review the details of a life, the value of making a  narrative smooth, I sought a specific truth. As I read through Noah’s achievements, Harvard Medical, Yale Law school, Columbia U. undergrad, I could feel the pull of the words on the page, not the labor of them. I felt a strong need to put thought, ideas, details, in the proper place, in the appropriate order, at least what I considered proper to be.

One of my mom’s favorite quotes is, “Nothing beats a try.” So, for my friend, I tried my very best to make her husband’s obit sing off the page before they lowered his remains into the ground. As a deleted, transposed and crafted new words, I felt like an epaulette shark, a creature that is a not only a capable swimmer it can use its fins, during low tides, like legs. My writing legs hurt from the long stretch to reach the good.

Nothing in death is wasted, so says science; fallen trees become nourishment for new growth in the forest; mushrooms spring from invisible microbe; roadkill becomes a feast for neighboring birds of prey. It seems death is providing a compost foundation to get me back to the thing I so love, writing. Maybe it’s the call to help a friend that also calls me back to life, in a way.

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Red, Morgan Freedman’s character in Shawshank Redemption, announces once he decided to find his way out in the real world, instead of ending his own life.

Maybe those are the words the dead whispering to me. And they’ve sent hints. A few weeks back, while watching Jane Pauley, the host of CBS This Morning,  serve up a broadcast from Florence, I froze my tracks. Once I knew Florence intimately, every street, every café on both sides of the Arno River. Seeing my old friend, embraced by another, from the Pizza de Michelangelo, I wept small tears into my morning cappuccino.

“Mommy, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Julia asked, her little face full of concern.

I miss my friend.

“What friend, Mommy?

“Italy.”

Mommy’s Magical Mystery Tour

 

“You haven’t written anything on your blog in a long time,” Renita said through the Memorial Day heat.

“Been trying to fit it in, but I’ve been busy,” I said then ran through my lists of must-dos-and-get-it-dones: Julia’s chess tournaments, Julia’s first grade graduation, Julia’s ballet and tennis classes, every Saturday, all the moving parts of my single mommy hamster wheel.

Since Julia I and were only in Detroit for the long weekend, Renita got right to the point, something she’s done since we were in the 5th grade:

“I was thinking that you can write about how your mom and Julia are getting older, at the same time, in different ways…and how, at this point in your life… you’re watching those two things happen at once.”

It’s always funny when non-writers give writing prompts. Sometimes I discount them, into the-been-done-seen-it-before category. But more often than not, some ideas work their way back into my brain, like a great old tune I can’t keep off rotation spin.

And so, it did. And so, I did.

At the moment I stand at the intersection of lack and overflow, of a mother who is shutting down her vocabulary, paired with a daughter ripping the throttle open up on hers, each coming by it from her nature. Yet when I spot people in their nineties still chatting away and cruising through Central Park, in movie lines, at Trader Joe’s, seniors with more than ten years on my mom, I slam into the unfairness of it all. But when I think of my friends that have already lost their mothers, some before my friends reached adulthood, one that lost her mom and her step mom to cancer, all before my girlfriend reached the age of 25, then my pity-party-whine-a-thon shuts down. Sometimes, to ease the sadness in my heart of my mostly silent mom, I allow the wave of words that spring from Julia the moment she opens her eyes, carry me.

*

“Do you know when I go to sleep away camp, that’ll be the longest time we’ve ever been apart?” Julia said as we slid stacks of clothes into her purple roller case at crack of dawn Saturday morning.

Sure, I’d thought of it. I just wasn’t sure she thought of it.

“Yeah, that’s true Jules, but I’ll be here when you get back. Plus, you are going to have a ton of fun at camp.”

For the final month leading up to this milestone Julia quizzed me on my kid camp experienced. I told her about the marshmallow roasting, the bellicose singing that took place on overnight hikes, of seeing a darken sky so jammed with stars my eyes darted around in wonder identify constellations, patterns, beauty unseen in the city of Detroit.

Julia nodded and then said. “Okay, so what did you do on the second day?”

As I gathered the last of Julia’s things she bounced some much off the walls, so hard, I had to banish her from the apartment. “Go downstairs and wait for RPs parents, wait with the doorman!”

She happily bolted. If allowed she would have run all the way to Connecticut. By the time I came downstairs hauling one last pair of swim goggles, water shoes, and an errant backpack, the sea green SUV was packed tight with luggage, kids and RP’s parents. One space left for me. I tucked in. And we took off for I-95.

Two and half hours later, I settled Julia into her bunk, tucking the sheets and blanket on to her bed with the help of the camp counselor.

Julia, was already embroiled in a game of Go Fish.

CARDS

I stood in awe of knowing that through the recommendation of my friends I had made a good choice for my daughter. This would be her best summer ever. We said our good-byes. I hugged Julia tight. From the corner of my cracked eye, I saw three small heads, one in braids, one blonde, one brown curled, pulling a Sheryl Sandburg, leaning in, heavy. As my arms unfolded and released my daughter, a small hand reached in and grabbed Julia’s wrist.

“C’mon Julia we’ll show you the woods!”

And the threesome vanished.

I skipped down the steps of the bunk, took a right turn through the woods and headed down the paved path, sending a text to RPs mom along the way.

“All done, headed to the car.” I felt good leaving Julia in a place where she’d already made friends, where it was so green and lush.

TREES

As the road sloped down, I admired the light though a thick stand of trees. I heard a small voice rise up behind me, “Mommmmmyyyyyy….”
I froze. I turned. There was my spud of a girl, gaining on me.

“Mommmmmyyyyyy….,” she yelled with a mix of longing and love.

“Hey, Julia!”

She ran up, arms and braids flying. “Mommy, why are you still here?”
I let out a snort from shock and hilarity, then said, “Jules, I’m walking as fast as I can back to the car.”

“Okay,” she said and skipped off.

As I neared the parking lot I met a couple that described pealing their kid off them to leave, I felt doubly grateful for my happy girl.

And that gratitude would extend further, 45 minutes later into our drive back to the city, on the outskirts of New Canaan, on a sleepy road, when RPs Dad’s car malfunctioned. I won’t go into the details here. I’ll want to do a deeper dive on this event later. But suffice to say that when the tow truck driver later surmised that it was a “Good thing we weren’t going 65 miles an hour when it happened because you guys would have flipped over,” his words held whole heap of weight.

That night, even after servings of medicinal wine, I dreamt about how the whole thing could’ve gone bad in so many ways. At breakfast, I dined with the ghost of that event, too.

“Not your time,” my friend Joi texted.

But what I heard in my head was Julia’s words:

“Mommy, why are you still here?”

Sure, raising Julia to adulthood is high on the list. And I need to get my daughter ready for school on a different level of work next semester. But beyond sending writing projects out into the world that I’ve hung on to, I know there’s other stuff that I need to tend to. But what?

Since that transformative experience on the Merritt Parkway I’ve made it my mission to catch up with old friends. I’ve been to Brooklyn twice in one week which is a record for me. I’ve had extraordinarily good time reconnecting, even running into an old friend I haven’t seen in three years, randomly, in a restaurant, while on a catch-up dinner. I haven’t eaten out this much in my own town, since like, never.

But I know it’s time to focus.

“Mommy, why are you still here?”

All I can think of to do is listen.

Mostly I hear silence. It reminds me of my mom. She seems attentive some days and some days not. But she’s still here, her mission complete. For more than 25 years in the Detroit Public School System her goal was to free as many Special Ed. Kids as she could through attentive, focused education, to get them back into mainstream classrooms. She filed her retirement papers three times. And twice new parents came to her classroom and begged her to wait until their kid passed through her classroom.

“We hear your goal is to get kids back into regular classrooms.”

And twice my mom pulled those papers back.

“You can’t save all those kids,” my dad told her again and again over, at times, tense dinner table discussions.

My mom’s response was always the same, “Well, John I’m going to save as many as I can.”

And she did.

My friend Jenny had a take on the stating of things: “Your mom did everything she wanted to do and saw that you and your brothers, and your kids are in a good place. Now maybe she just wants to eat what she wants and talk when she wants. She’s done so much for all of you.”

I heard Jenny all the way from Boston. And her edict will have to do because it gives me something else to think about other than hoe much I miss the sound of my mother’s voice. Now maybe I just need to listen. Then move my feet in the right direction. Whatever the heck that direction is.

Plenty of single moms have made, culture-altering achievements: J K Rollings created the character Harry Potter entertaining and delighting the world. Bette Nesmith Graham invented liquid paper saving typist tons of time and making herself wealthy enough to fund other single moms and artist. (If you haven’t read her bio check out at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/11/obituaries/bette-nesmith-graham-liquid-paper.html

I just hope God doesn’t tell me to move to India and open up a writing school for girls or something, at least not until Julia’s in college. Her school is just too good for us to leave just now.

 

 

 

Good News, Bad News

Good News.(G.N.) Julia and Mommy are fine, high and dry on the Upper West Side, on day one of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, Julia decides to done her spare Bumble Bee costume. And Mommy learns the power of play in the tough, emergency situation, an unprecedented event in New York City. Grandma calls three times before noon.

At least Julia’s having a great time through these stormy days.

Bad News. (B.N) Thousands of fellow New Yorkers and many of our friends can not say the same regarding their situation. While Julia naps Mommy sends out text messages. Few come back below from friends and loved ones who live below 30th Street. The Dark Zone.  Mommy remembers Eddie, a co-worker who lives on the water with his family.
G.N. Julia enjoys having Mommy home for days at a time, wondering where the Mommy who runs out of the door each morning has gone.
B.N. Mommy turns off a Baby Einstein video to check the news and tears start to crest in her eyes.

G.N. Julia looks at the same news reports and with each sight of crushed homes in water, broken boats in water, broken people standing in knee-high water, she points to the TV screen and shouts ” Agua! Agua!”

“Yes, lots of agua,” Mommy says and clicks off the tv screen. Then looks out of the living room window at the dancing trees.

While Julia naps, Mommy has a phone conference with her grad school professor regarding Mommy’s thesis, and Mommy remembers she is a writer.

Day one, after Sandy dropped by

Day 2.

B.N. Mommy got cabin fever and she and Julia leave the house.

G.N. Once outside, Mommy  recalls she and Julia are high and dry on the Upper Westside, tons of people are out walking, jogging, sipping Starbucks coffee from clean paper cups with belly bands, chatting like the day was just a normal one in the queue. Almost.

B.N. This street view reminds Mommy of the days after 9/11 when life on the Upper Westside continued on, even with the odor of death riding the air. This time destruction carries the smell of salt water.

GN. Julia enjoys the walk about. When we return we call the nanny and sing Happy Birthday, together, over the phone. Afterwards, Angie’s voice cracks, knowing we remember her important day. Mommy reads The Very Busy Spider for the 49th time, this time acting out all the voices of the animals.

Julia takes her stroller for spin while her conditioner goes to work.

Day 3.

GN. Mommy and Julia have a morning of beauty. Julia, a shampoo and deep conditioner. Mommy applies a Clarins moisturizing masque to her face that she hasn’t used in a year and tries to remember what occupied her mind so much last week, before the storm came. She can not recall.