Thursday, January 24, 2013

While Your Wife Is at a Memorial Service

She’ll be gone a good hour, perhaps two. You’re happy, of course, to watch the kids while she pays respects. Don’t think, obviously; nothing good can come of that. Try to make yourself useful instead. Maybe look for the long blue spatula, the one good for flipping hash browns for The Boy. It was a friend of hers, younger than you both. We’re getting to that age, I suppose, where such things shock but no longer surprise. Keeps them crispy to flip them all at once. The hash browns. Funny phrase “paying respects,” as if respect was a kind of currency, with death calling for an exchange. Also “paying attention,” though the expense of that seems to make more sense somehow. What language has us do. Also, the pencil sharpeners probably need emptying of their dust. Q will always be up for a game of Crazy 8s or Go Fish, played, if she has her way, with the novelty deck from the Boot Hill gift shop, the one with the neat hole in the middle pretending to be from a bullet. She can beat you now without your help, and the game will provide a good fence for your thoughts. The spatula should be in the drawer by the stove, like always. She had two children, both boys, one very young, not yet able to remember. You won’t be able to decide at which age it’s better to begin not having a mother. You will be sore tomorrow from those pushups for sure. Now is not a time to make promises to yourself. Better to see if anyone needs a snack. The Boy — these days you can almost see his cells busy doubling themselves — will undoubtedly want something. Not you, though; you have to protect yourself from your body. Drink more coffee instead. Now they say that it’s good for the brain and the liver, that you can never have too much, and you can have too much of so many things. Don’t imagine her never coming home, the house full of her things suddenly become the only bits of her you’re allowed to hold. Don’t think about how you would tell the kids about her but, without her to help you remember, how you would come to doubt whether she actually liked the opera or balsamic vinaigrette. Did the babysitter melt the handle on a hot pan lip and throw it out? The shorthand you share, the rich narrative that collects your lives into a tractable story, would soon require a translator, then likely lapse into an idiolect so unfamiliar that you would struggle to recognize it as a language at all. She’ll call soon, and you can all meet her out to eat. Maybe a new place; you should pick where. Not so much the worry of having to carry on alone with the kids, of losing her help with the vast effort of life, whether short-sleeves or long or pancakes again for breakfast, all that oppressive banality of choice, though that’s worrisome, too. It’s your dependence upon the division of linguistic labor. She keeps much of the meaning in the house, helps keep the house meaningful. So many sentences would be left unfinished, their ends ragged. Thoughts with unfillable gaps, half yours but no one else’s.

That spatula was here and now it’s not. How can a thing just disappear?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Q recently got her ears pierced. Several of her friends have had earrings for a while now (some pretty much since birth, as one and another cultural tradition dictates), but she has usually opted otherwise. When two friends went through the procedure recently, though, she thought it was time.
Finding a place to have holes punched in her head turned out to be a little more difficult than we expected. New York has a famously vibrant and inventive piercing industry, of course; a walk through the East and Greenwich Villages or a Google search for “ear piercing near me” will make that clear. But however good of a story that might make, we thought we should leave Q to put herself in the (probably filthy) hands of those places on her own in her twenties. We heard from friends that pediatricians, or at least the one we currently use, stopped doing this kind of thing before we discovered that they once did this kind of thing. We also learned that plastic surgeons will pierce ears — even prescribing numbing cream in advance, too — but we thought we might first try to find an alternative with a narrower expertise and smaller price point. Unfortunately, the few jewelry shops in our neighborhood don’t look particularly trustworthy with needles. What we really needed was a mall.
NYC is fairly light on malls, so we settled for Claire’s Accessories in Chelsea.* My lovely wife took her while The Boy and I stayed home and (among other things) thought male thoughts.** I was willing to go and to make The Boy come along, but a bigger audience usually makes the show bigger, and I didn’t want to give Q more people to pretend not to be nervous for.
When Q’s turn arrived, she didn’t shy, didn’t need talking in or out of it, didn’t cry. My wife said she did shake noticeably just before, something Q explained away on the sidewalk after the store as her shivering because of the cold. She can be a little too tough sometimes.
The Boy and I met them back downtown to choose a Christmas tree. Q had her hair braided out of the way, and as we approached she turned her head slightly to ease our noticing, in the last of the day’s light, the new tiny gold balls. We made sure that Q noticed our noticing. Together, we settled on a tree, an eight-foot Douglas fir with needles like rabbit hair, and took it home to the corner that The Boy and I had cleared for it, the same corner as last year.
A thought lit always lights up a string of others. Q’s first earrings are for other girls and for herself — not yet ornaments of attraction — but this will change, of course. Each year as we take out the dry tree, I see how sap has sealed the trunk, how the pine has healed itself to death. A lesson there. The Boy will turn 10 in about six months, an age that, after his sudden arrival, we didn’t permit ourselves to imagine. Now our imaginations give out before he does.
We had most of the lights and decorations up on the tree in no time, The Boy and Q in Santa hats moving things around until just so, my wife taking great photos that showed us how to properly see it. All as usual. The Boy has gotten tall, but not as tall as he wanted to be to hang the disco ball ornament we’ve had longer than the kids. I picked him up to let him reach the top himself, something, given his age and mine, I won’t be doing much more of, either out of necessity or possibility. Q asked for a boost, too. Her mom had picked up a pair of matching blue snowflakes for the tree. Their resemblance to earrings was not lost on Q, and she wanted to loop their gold threads on either side of the disco ball. Unlike her brother, she’s still no real struggle for me to lift, but as she sat on my folded arms I noticed that her toes somehow brushed my knees.

I like this time of year because our Christmas and New Year’s traditions reveal themselves as a kind of logic, a structure designed to preserve truth and to provide generously for its expression. To get at the point another way, I like that we keep traditions and that they’re never exactly the same:  in the new lies the old, and the old leaves room for the the new. This-year’s tree will come down; the new ornaments will be boxed with the old and slid onto the hall-closet shelf next to the suitcases until next year. And next year, whether in the same corner or somewhere altogether different, we will together make a Christmas tree. Q and The Boy will be taller, a little more themselves, but ornaments will still need to be hung in the usual places. The gifts will change, but the giving will not. I will get older and maybe a little wiser, but not much of either.  That sort of thing.
The calendar has again come around to 1. Let’s see what we can make of this year, and what we can keep.

Happy & Merry, everyone.

*Which, if you think about it, is like a whole mall distilled to a single store.
**Okay, quickly: Male thoughts presumably consist of how we can use our bodies to hurt things, including other bodies. I presume that female thoughts involve how a body will hurt on behalf of others. (I’m probably kidding.)