So April came in like a bull with its horns in my nuts. I started this post on April 5th, but I just deleted everything except the first line and am starting over. Why ? Because time + tragedy might equal comedy, but time + time, for me, = glad. Joyce needed Trieste to write about Dublin, and I need at least a week to write about any of the shit that means anything to me. A righteously pissed-off letter to some half-wit enemy, a poem memorializing a still-transcendent roll in the hay, a fresh take on a script or a story after seeing a film — I’ve fired them off countless times, and every time it was a bad idea.
April 4th was my mother’s birthday. My brother and I drove up to join them for dinner. Join who ? My mother shares her home with her full-time caregiver, Maria, who cooks cleans and drives her to her hair dresser every week. She also collects stuffed frogs and overfeeds the birds so much the back patio looks like a tiny guano mine, but over the years, Maria has become family to us, and so have her two sons and a daughter, all great and kind people, who Maria dotes on and worries about much the way she does on my mother. She is a Filipina, and the agency who found her for us is run by a jovial Filipino couple. So for her 77th birthday, my mother had dinner at a faux-French bistro in a strip mall surrounded by Maria and her children, the agency couple, Teresa her hair dresser and her husband and their kids, and my brother and me.
All of these people love my mother, despite her sometime short fuse and her weak body. When she was younger, she stood nearly six feet tall because she never went out without heels. She didn’t talk to you, she spoke at you, and God help you if you didn’t listen. My father sold her his half of the company they owned when they divorced, and she grew it ten fold in a decade. She traveled the world, ran charities, and yet now she seems almost like a plush toy of herself : soft, short, a little crumpled. But she is still the sharpest mind in the room, and she seems to have an almost infinite capacity to treat my brother and me like princes.
For her birthday, I gave her a gift that almost killed her. For some reason I can’t seem to remember she has become wildly allergic to wool, but luckily my brother looked at the Danish Hay blanket before she handled it. I gave her another wool blanket three years ago for Christmas. Peter is dumbfounded that I can’t remember, but not so fast, Pete. Maybe I am keeping the best version of her in my memory, Roberta in her prime. That sounds right, but the truth is I’ve never actually seen her swell up and beg for an Epipen, and I am suspicious of allergies in general. That’s something I can work on in the future. Anyway, We narrowly avoided adding an EMT team to our already crowded celebration, and I more than made up for scaring an old woman by bringing a carrot cake decorated with musical notes for no reason.
If I had written about her birthday the next morning, I might have blathered about how fat and sugar are the new porn, how our lust for it dooms us to mediocrity, and then I’d try to wring little bit of beauty out of some pedestrian detail, like a bunch of disparate people standing together sharing cake. What a blowhard. I’ll just say that my mother has some fine friends and she earns them. Her world has gotten smaller and stranger, but it’s as good as any other.
The next day, I had two offers for my loft. I had been trying to sell it since January, and I had begun to resign myself to the idea that I would have to wait until much later in the year. By Saturday night it was sold. Just like that. Oskar was with me, so I didn’t go out to have a celebratory drink. I called a few friends but nobody was home, so after he went to bed, I poured myself two fingers of rye whisky and let it sink in.
I’ve lived here longer than any other place since I left home. I moved here as my second marriage fell apart, my addiction bloomed, and my career disintegrated. The first year is a complete wash. I obliterated the place with neglect and cocaine. After that ended, it was hard to feel like this was home, because I was unsettled, foggy, up and down, sleepless. It didn’t help that in those days, my neighborhood was dangerous day and night. The kind of place where you had to make friends with some of random homeless dudes so they wouldn’t jump you at night, where if you heard shots, you better duck, because they are closer than you think, where if you step out on your stoop at night, a car is likely to stop and someone will ask you how much for some crack.
But things got better, inside and outside my home, and over the years I’ve made some amazing friends and I’ve become very comfortable here. My son Hunter planted this palm tree when it was in a one gallon pot, and now it’s over eight feet all.
I always cottoned to the line in Heat, when DeNiro says “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat.” I don’t like setting down roots. I don’t like possessions, which is ironic considering how much crap I own. But most of my stuff is meaningless to me. I could move away from here and leave everything behind (except my bike, my dog, and my photos). But I will miss the space, the place, the sense of belonging to a place. I know what the light is like in the early mornings in the spring and where it will come through the windows onto my desk. I know when it’s time to replace the filters on the furnace, and I know which stairs will creak when I walk down to the kitchen, and when I open my eyes in the early morning, I know what the sunrise will look like.
It’s the first time I’ve felt bad about leaving somewhere I live. I’ve had great homes, I’ve had a lot of money, and I’ve always treated these things with contempt. Not indifference — contempt. I worked hard for these things and then threw them away or let them slip away with a sneer. If I wrote this the day after I sold the house, I would have once again excoriated myself and my mistakes ; I would have milked pity from the dry teat of my shame and called myself a jackass, while making sure to treat the lessons I’ve learned like turds on the rug. More contempt. But, thanks to time + time, I’m glad. I’m glad I don’t want to leave this place. I’m glad that I’m ashamed that I am broke. I’m glad that I value what I have enough to wish I hadn’t made so many mistakes.