One night, a couple years back, my mom and I danced barefoot in the backyard of the home where I grew up in Richfield. She had been dead for over 25 years, and appropriately wore a black dress for the occasion. But I found her smile rather macabre. I kept thinking ‘You’re dead. Why are you scaring me?’
We never spoke during our waltz. I remember being a little frightened by her, and as I became aware that I was in fact frightened, she backed away from me and turned to join a group of people dressed in black. These were people from my childhood who had died over the years, and who stood together in a cluster about twenty feet away from us, holding black umbrellas above their heads.
Evidently, this was one of the few dreams I had been able to have, as my wife, while we were awake, but still lying in bed one morning, tells me I snored really loud the night before. Not just my normal loud irregular snoring, either. This time, she tells me, she thinks I am actually going to die.
“Why?” I asked.
“You stopped breathing.” She said.
I stop breathing and look her in the eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I looked over at you- you were on your back. And you were completely still.”
“So what were you doing up in the middle of the night?” I asked.
“I couldn’t sleep. I had a nightmare.”
“About being alone.” She said.
“What do you mean?”
“About Jack (our then seven year old son) and our new baby all grown up and gone, and you gone as well.”
“Where did I go?”
“You died.” She said.
I felt a small palpitation in my chest. Then a big THUMP.
“How?” I asked.
“I didn’t dream that part. You were just dead by the time the dream started. Then I woke up and called the Psychic Hotline to see if anything was going to happen to you.”
“Psychic Hotline?” I asked.
I was annoyed. That meant she just racked up $6.99 per minute, and knowing her, about 20 minutes, on our bank account.
“Sorry.” She says.
She knew how I felt.
“So what’d they say?” I asked.
“The psychic lady told me not to worry, I wouldn’t be alone.”
What did that mean? But I was annoyed at her for more than just that.
“So how long did it take the Psychic lady to tell you that?” I asked, hoping for a low number, in minutes.
“Well, first she had to ask me a bunch of questions.”
“My childhood. You know, c’mon! They can’t just tap in. You gotta give them information first.”
“How long did it take for them to get all your information so they could “tap” in?”
I said, with an emphasis on tap.
“I don’t know. You’re making fun of it when you say ‘tap’ like that aren’t
you?” she asked.
“I don’t remember.” She said.
“You think?” I say.
“So let me finish.” She says. “After I got back up here I lay down in bed and couldn’t sleep so I turned to my side to watch you.”
“Just a second.” I say as I get up and go downstairs to where we keep our family computer.
I log into our bank account. There is a charge for $180.00 from a place named K Intl. I learn later the company name is Karma Industries International.
I go back upstairs and crawl back into bed. I stare at my wife with a disapproving, shameful look.
The kind my dad used to give me when I would ask him the difference between a Phillips and a socket screwdriver.
So, I digress here, but when I was sixteen I remember my dad made one last attempt to see if I was really his son, so to speak.
Like, would I ever help him work on the family cars?
I remember sitting on a stool out in the garage with my dad one night. He had his head under the hood of our station wagon. I think he was trying to adjust the carbeurator. I was staring at his back. He had on another one of his white tee shirts with grease and oil stains on it.
The only reason I was out there was because my mom told me to go out there. I had been watching a television show. My mom came in the livingroom.
“Why don’t you go out to the garage to see what your dad is doing?” she said. It was like a question, but she was kind of telling me to get out of the livingroom.
“Why?” I asked her, lying in a bean bag chair, eating pretzel sticks out of a blue box. I was watching The Brady Bunch. Not a rerun – the first airing of an episode. That’s how old I am.
“Because I want to watch Merv Griffin.” She said.
“Can’t I just finish my show?” I asked.
“No. Go out and see what your dad is doing.”
“He’s working on the car.” I said.
“You need to get outside more. You’ve been in the house all day watching TV.”
True. It was a Friday night, at the beginning of summer. In the morning my day began with Bewitched, my afternoon with Dark Shadows followed by a couple game shows and then Gilligans Island, The Flintstones, followed by the Time Tunnel and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, interrupted only by supper.
“So.” I said.
“So you’re starting to get rings under your eyes. It’s not healthy.” She said.
I thought –
‘no, what’s not healthy is the rubbery chicken experiment you made for supper tonite with the cream of mushroom soup and minute rice’.
I said – nothing.
Suddenly, in one move, she grabbed the remote control out of my hand, grabbed my box of pretzels, turned the channel to The Merv Griffin Show, plopped her somewhat larger-than-when- it-was-when-she-married-my-dad body, and started eating. She turned her head to look at me, and repeated- “Go outside to see what your dad is doing.”
As I got up to leave the room I noticed this woman named Charo on Merv Griffin. She was talking with a thick Spanish accent and going “cuchi-cuchi” or something.
Okay, so then I’m outside sitting on a stool while my dad is working on one of the cars we owned. I don’t know what he’s doing. Well, I kind of do. He’s blowing me off.
All of a sudden, he hollers out “Hey! Give me a screwdriver!”
I am startled into reality – I had zoned out and was thinking about whether Greg Brady was really hurt in the surfing accident, and why don’t they get rid of that Amulet – for God’s Sake its bad luck!
“Okay.” I say. I start looking around his work bench.
“Phillips.” He barks.
“Whose?” I asked, trying to think of who Phillip was and wondered what screwdriver he gave my dad.
He was always loud. My mom said it was because he worked so close to jet engines. I figured he was pissed off all the time. We were both right. I was more right, though, I think.
I started looking around the workbench, and looked at his screwdrivers – lying all over his workbench, checking if any one of them had the name “Phillip” taped or scratched into the handle. No luck.
“I can’t find one.” I say.
“Huh?” he barked (again-barked. Like a an angry dog).
He gets out from under the hood and turns to face me. I am standing right next to a Phillips screwdriver, which he sees, grabs, and then gives me that shame look I was talking about.
Now, back to the bedroom conversation I am having with my wife-
“I already know you’re mad about the Psychic Hotline.” My wife says while I give her the shame look she has managed to inoculate herself against. “So will you let me finish?”
“Yeah, sorry dad.” I say.
“What?” she asks.
“Huh?” I ask back.
“You just said sorry, dad” she says.
Then she shakes it off.
“You made me forget what I was going to say!” she gives me her shame- angry look. It’s like the one my dad gave me. I have not inoculated myself from it.
“Sorry.” I said, remembering not to call her my dad.
“Oh, ok, now I know.” She continues. “The psychic said you need to get a sleep
”Really?” I was incredulous. “You know our medical deductible is six thousand dollars, right?”
“She also said you could die, and not be there for your new son.”
“We’re kind of trying to save for your maternity leave, you know that, right?” I asked.
“Did you hear what I said?” she asked, amping up her voice, making it very easy to hear what she said.
“Yes, I did.” I answered. “But I’m not going to get a sleep study because a psychic quack told you to tell me to get a sleep study.”
“Oh…Okay.” She says, rolling her eyes. “Then hear this. When I was watching you last night-“
“Sleeping.” I said.
“No, I wouldn’t call it that.” She says. “You were spastic. You were on your back, you would stop breathing for a few seconds, then you’d choke, gasp for breathe, snore a couple of times, and then you stopped breathing for like a whole minute.”
That got my attention. A whole minute?
….you catch my drift.
“Have I ever done that before?” I ask.
“I don’t know.” She says. “But now that we’re having a second child….your SON-“ she leans into me for emphasis, adjusting and jabbing me with her elbow while moving closer. I think it is on purpose, and it kind of hurts. “- you need to make sure you stay safe. I need you here with your child. With our children. They need their father.”
I think she is getting a little dramatic.
“I am not being dramatic!” she says.
My wife has always claimed to be psychic, and I believe it.
“Pete!” she says.
“You need to get a sleep study. Promise me you’ll schedule one tomorrow.”
“Sure.” I say. I’m getting tired; the Sominex tablets I took about an hour earlier are kicking in.
“I know what that means. It means you aren’t going to do it.” She said.
“I’m going to do it.” I say, adjusting my position and closing my eyes.
“PETE!” she says. “You’re forty seven.”
I feel her hot peanut butter breath on me. She has adjusted herself so that her face is right above mine. Right before bed she had celery sticks dipped in peanut butter while watching a Bravo reality show about some salon that was being taken over by a chef. Anyway, the intensity of her eyes burns my skin a little. And her elbow digs a little deeper into my ribcage.
“Ow!” I say.
“You’re going to be forty eight when Dylan is born. Did you hear me? FORTY EIGHT!”
I heard her loud and clear. I was going to be “Grampa-Dad”. You know, the guy at his kids beginning soccer fundamentals class with the hearing aid, leaning on his cane.
I am too old to be a new dad, I thought. I am already gray in some spots. On many mornings when I dare to look at myself in the mirror, and I mean really look at myself, I look old. Under my eyes my skin is a dark brown, maybe purplish with a slight yellowing, and I sometimes consider putting on some of my wife’s “concealer” – I had to ask her what it was called, because once I asked her if I could use it, referring to it as eyeliner, and when she got done laughing she asked me if I was going through my Boy George phase (and not in a complimentary way). The rest of the day, and once after that, she hummed the chorus to “Karma Chameleon”.
I am the ending picture of Dorian Gray.
As Alec Guiness says at the end of the movie ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ just when he realizes his ignorance at insisting the bridge be completed on time –
What have I done?
I have calculated by the time this new addition to our family is eighteen, I will be sixty six years old. That feels a little old to me. If I make it, even.
I have seen all the books and magazines in the bookstore about how to age with grace, dignity, and spirit. There’s usually a picture of some hot forty something woman on the cover. She is usually standing next to some hot forty something abs of steel guy, with some gray streaks, both smiling, shiny straight white teeth (Photoshop), and an implied message to make me want to be old.
There’s nothing hot or sexy about being strapped to a bunch of medical equipment, a cold bowl of mush on the hospital tray sitting on your lap. And there’s no lust behind that drool rolling off your chin and onto your bib.
Embrace age, they say. Everything gets better as you age. Old is the new young.
Inside the magazines are articles like “Sexy at seventy!” or “Healthy, Wealthy, Older, Wise – and Hot!”
And Term Life Insurance ads.
As well as pharmaceutical ads. The kind where two old people are in a clawfoot bathtub, smiling at each other. They are drinking wine, and the bath tub is on the sea shore. They watch the sunset from their clawfoot bathtub.
They are naked, or so the ad would lead us to believe.
And I think ‘Is there no tide to worry about?’
I remember an article I read in a DIY magazine about old claw foot bathtubs. And how they have incredibly high amounts of lead in them. And how according to the Mayo Clinic website, exposure to lead over a long period of time causes infertility. As well as erectile dysfunction.
So why are they in there?
But here’s what else I keep thinking. If forty is the new thirty, then why do I have to bring frozen “samples” to the doctor’s office for some lab analysis. I didn’t do that when I was thirty.
And why do my physicals take longer now than they did when I was really thirty. And why is it that now, when I complain of pains, whether it is chest, legs, ribs (see above, wife’s elbow), or anything else, they end up scheduling me for an MRI. They never used to do that either.
I’m a hypochondriac. I used to ask myself who I had to kill to get doctors to pay attention to me. Now, I’m actually afraid to talk about any of my symptoms.
By the way, I have panic disorder and depression.
Which brings me back to becoming a new dad at age forty eight.
Kids make you young again, they say. I think they make you tired, based on my observations and experience with just one boy. And he’s a pretty mellow boy at that.
Why didn’t I just pull out?
Anyway, I have a vision of where I am wheeled in to my second son’s seventh grade Christmas program. They park me in the back, next to the garbage bin, where all the paper plates with pizza stains on them and all the juice boxes have been thrown. I am actually parked right underneath one of the ventilation fans, so a steady blast of cool air is blowing right on me.
I am frail, and wrapped in a blue blanket. Sewn in white letters are the words “Super Dad!” but because I am so thin and frail, the folds of the blanket to the outside observer, read “Sad!”
My hands are gloved inside overly large blue checkered mittens. My hair is long and white, I have a thick mustache, and my wire spectacles give me the look of a retired puppet maker. Kind of like Gepetto look, but more of a feeb.
The play starts, and while the children are singing “Silver Bells” I begin drooling. Some people notice, and one person, I think he is the school custodian, wipes my face with a blue rag he pulls out from the back of his blue jeans. It has grease stains on it and smells like gasoline (in the future, we are still dependant on foreign oil, so this doesn’t surprise me). I don’t notice much, because I am asleep. And just at the beginning of my sons solo, during a reprise of the verse beginning with “City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks-“ I snore so loud and irregular, because that’s what I do, per my wife, that everyone stops and turns to look in the back. I am choking on my own drool, and I wake up and shout out “Yo Adrian” but nobody can really understand me anyway.
My son is embarrassed beyond belief. He tells everyone he doesn’t know me. Even though they saw him wheel me in.
I am wheeled out of the auditorium. My son is okay with it, and a girl he has a crush on is consoling him, shaking her head back and forth while stroking his hair. I am oblivious to all of this because I am so old.
The custodian now, he is dressed in a formal black suit, black tie, and white button down oxford shirt.
He is wheeling me.
I am brought outside where there is a hearse. The back door opens, my wife steps out, she looks the same as now, except angrier, and she shouts out to me-
I wake up, look over at her. She is staring at me. I must have fallen asleep while she was asking me to schedule a sleep study. I find it ironic. I have a flash about the Psychic Hotline, how much was charged on our bank card, but decide not to pursue it, and I fall back to sleep.
My wife – did I mention this yet? is a very loud snorer. It sounds like she is polishing a bag of rocks when she sleeps.