One Foot (and a Whole Heart) Still in Childhood

 

My youngest son, Evan, is now a freshmen in a local high school.  He was anxious about going because he’d heard the rumors that every rising ninth grader hears: the upper classmen target you; in fact, they will target YOU specifically especially if you are short.

All summer he has been measuring himself against me, having grown about five inches in the last year.  I now look at his chin.  But this doesn’t mean he is tall yet.

The men in our family are average height. . .not short, not tall.  They tend to range between 5’10” and 6”, if you leave out a set of cousins whose Dad was 6’5”.  The man was not a blood uncle, so my sons can forget that gene pool.

My youngest was born an average length and a solid weight of 8 lbs. 4 oz.  But he has been below the curve of average size most of his life.  Some of this is heredity; some the fault of the ADD meds he has had to take which curb his appetite. But no matter what I do to circumvent these effects, my boy is simply built like his Dad in bone-skinny, and me in height-short.

I am certain he will catch up to his peers soon since he is still hovering on the child side of puberty, while many have gone far beyond.  And having taught high school for years, I know a growth spurt when I see one coming on.  I’ve watched countless boys 5 foot and some odd inches leave ninth grade and come back men in the fall of their tenth grade year, or even the eleventh. . .or twelfth.

No big deal.

To me.

But to him, he knows that there are ADULT males at the school: seventeen and eighteen year olds who weigh 250 pounds and roam the halls looking for kids like him to carry around by the hair.    Good thing Evan is witty.  And he tries very hard to hide these superstitions, too, posturing as older and wiser than that.

But here’s the thing that makes my tears well.  My youngest is still the youngest of not just my family, but of his peers in terms of maturity, and I’m watching him struggle with leaving childhood behind.  He shifts between being stoic and manly, and whiny and emotional, between knowing things he shouldn’t yet, or oddly innocent of common knowledge.

A few weeks ago, he did express this fear of these giant upper classmen and their possible hazing of the freshmen.  I comforted him by saying, “That’s mostly rumor and lies.  Seniors and Juniors are far too busy just living their lives, dating, working, applying to colleges.  The tenth graders are the ones to worry about. . .”

“Whaaat?”

“I’m just kidding.  Sort of.”

We smiled, but we both knew it was simply one of those rites of passage he’d have to face, just like the inevitable teasing he and his buddies have gone through as their voices began to squeak and squawk into something deeper. (His is still wavering up and down.)

Then toward the end of the week, I had to get a document notarized.  As we waited for the UPS store to open, he said, “How am I going to handle being an adult?  I hardly know anything.  Like Notary. What the heck is a Notary? There’s so much I don’t know.” He listed a few things from the previous week that were news to him.

I said, “Relax.  No ninth grader knows what a notary is.  I’m sure I didn’t at your age.” And then  I explained their duties.

But he’s right.  There is so much Evan doesn’t know that I or his brother did know at his age.  My youngest, because of his dysgraphia, is not a reader, and readers are filled with information, even if much of it is useless.

“Well, you know how you fix that. .Read more, watch more news, get out of the house and do more stuff. . .” I said, mentioning how he had been attached to the same pajama bottoms day in and out all summer.  “The more you experience. . .the more you know.”

Luckily, this is our son who loves to travel with us, and he does love new experiences, so his fear of being an adult ignoramus is somewhat baseless.  But I knew I was listening to a child face his future as a man who had to “know stuff.”

Then this past weekend. . .after snapchatting or tweeting or whatever young teens are doing now, with a girl who might or might not be his girlfriend. . .he came downstairs and asked if we could watch Harry Potter together.  After thirty minutes of digging, we located our DVD collection.  We hadn’t touched them in probably four years or more.

Tony and I sat with Evan, inside on a sunny Sunday afternoon, while we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, for the Brits.)  At the moment Harry enters Olivander’s store to get fitted for his wand, my youngest raced upstairs looking for his two wands that we had bought the year Universal opened its version of Diagon Alley.  Again, I had to help poke around to find where the toys were.

And my boy, who just a few days before was yucking it up with me as we viewed a particularly adult version of Key and Peele, spent the rest of The Sorcerer’s Stone watching with a wand in both hand.

Yesterday was Evan’s first day of high school.

And many of you might know, there is a vast mental age gap between middle school and high school.  Students go from being led in a formal and silent line down the hall to the cafeteria, to near autonomy at lunch time.  Their lockers in middle school are usually inside their homerooms and assigned to them.  In high school, they buy them if there are any left over, and rarely see the little closets all year.  He’s moved from a school with 1300 pupils, to one with 3400.  He has more teachers, more subjects, and more strangers in his life than ever before.

He came home exhausted.  We went over his homework, and organized his new notebooks to his teachers’ liking.  I fed him pancakes and bacon, a special breakfast-for-dinner occasion.  He asked to watch Chamber of Secrets, another Harry Potter, this time without the wands.  And my child, beat from getting up at 5 a.m. and navigating pending adulthood, went upstairs to go to bed early.

When I came up to kiss him good night, I found him already sleeping.  But not in his room. . .instead, he was curled up in my bed, on my pillow, soundly out.  How many years has it been since he stopped climbing into our bed at night?

And I can’t tell which made me more weepy: the joy or the pain that both come from watching him cling to his childhood, or from knowing this would be probably one the last few moments I could baby him.

In a few weeks, he won’t even remember how uncomfortable starting high school was.  He will be fine.

 

Thinking of Love: Nonverbally

I recently had an epiphany about romantic, expressive men.  And for a bonus, I also got the elusive relationship closure that so many of us seek.  It was a surprise gift from the universe. . .and my unsuspecting husband, Tony.

On New Year’s Day, I ran into a lover from my deep, dark past.  He, his grown daughter, my husband and I sat for about thirty minutes socializing, very quickly catching up. Meanwhile, Former Lover kept, as they say, making eyes at me.

This was not an affair that had ended well.  But it had ended so long ago, I no longer hurt to see him or speak with him.  We are both plumper, a tad greyer, and definitely more lined, but it felt like we had just seen each other the last week.  We chatted and joked briefly, and then my husband and I climbed into our minivan and sped away.

That was not the closure.  Former Lover had been a man who, met years after I lost my virginity, had actually woken my sex drive.  Our connection, though doomed, was immediate and ridiculously hard to define.

He was a musician and an artist.  No matter what time of day or night, he had some instrument of creation in his hands, a drum stick, a worn nub of charcoal, a guitar, maybe even a teapot.  It was not the Art or the Music that seduced me as is cliche; instead, his sheer joy while lost in his work and play was impossibly attractive. Oh, and he was.  . .is British, for all you Anglophiles out there.  I know, a sexual awakening, creative Brit?  Aren’t they supposed to be uptight and cold?  He wasn’t. Former Lover was prone to saying things about his heart beating faster or not being able to think straight when I was near.  And when words failed him, his body never did.

Much later, a short year into my relationship with my husband,  I was uncomfortable and feeling insecure.  I knew he loved me; he tells me so every day, in those exact words..  But. . .something was missing.  We had more than a few conflicts over the fact that he doesn’t give physical compliments very often.  And if he does, they come across as forced or awkward.  “Uh, well, don’t you look cute. . .”  At first, I just thought he was not verbal.  But, no, he was voted most talkative in his high school.  He can articulate. In fact, he fully compliments my cooking or my intelligence all the time. And one of his greatest assets his how much we talk, late into the night.

I then suspected that maybe, though attached to me, he didn’t really find me sexy or even pretty.  I figured, he was a practical man who had made a practical choice and had married the smart, talkative, nurturer, instead of the empty, distant model.  He would get perturbed, annoyed and then angry with me for voicing these thoughts.  But I periodically have had trouble shaking this sinking feeling.

I said to him, “There have been men in love with me before, a number of them who wanted to marry me. I KNOW what it feels like to have a man want me.”  And this wasn’t it.

I reflected back on the men who had loved me, some of whom I had loved in return.  All of them had been expressive about their love and their desire.  They would tell me how gorgeous my eyes were when they gazed longingly into them.  One man used to sigh into my then long, curly hair and go on and on about how he wanted to one day die in it.  (Not as creepy as it sounds when you are in the middle of being loved.)   One used to tell me I had the most delightful ass on the planet. Another, as I mentioned, described how pit-pattery he felt.  I believed every single word from these men. It was the passion they exuded, the eyes that seemed only for me, that made their musings true.  They openly and verbally reacted to my attempts to look nice when I dressed up, to my natural appearance, and my very smell.

NO, I am not a raving beauty.  But these were men who knew how to make me feel like I was.

And my husband isn’t one of those men.  Yet, that expressive passion I enjoyed from former beaus, even my ex-husband and Former Lover, is how I have always felt about my man. Tony.  He drives me insane with desire: His smarts, his goodness, his love making, his very being.  (To gain a picture, he somewhat resembles Clint Eastwood from the early Dirty Harry days. In fact, I had never found Clint a sex symbol until I fell in love with my husband.)  Whatever this former lover awakened in me, my husband puts to bed in the very best way.  He is the sort of lover every woman wants-gentle at times, considerate, but with just the right amount of manhandling to get his way.  I compliment him all the time.  I’d finally come to believe that inside, My husband feels the same way, when once, frustrated at my insecurities, he shouted, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Enough Said.

So. . .a few weeks after this reunion, you might suspect how I’d react to receiving an effusive email from Former Lover.  (He knows people who know me.)   In it, he expressed how much he was still feeling toward me, and easily tossed out these words:  “My relationship with you was the most honest, intelligent, intuitive, erotic, and fulfilling of my life.  You got into my psyche more deeply than anyone ever did.”  He went on to express how he wished we had married all those years ago, issues be damned, and gone and lived the last two decades together.  In less than so many words, he was secretly seeing if I was “available.”

Nice to hear 20 years later, eh?  Do you wonder if I was tempted?  He was off to Central America in a few weeks.  I could easily jump on a plane and restart my life all over again.

I was stunned.  Angry a little at the tardy sentiment.  Envious of once again hearing such fine words. Irritated that he thought it appropriate to interfere in my love cocoon.  But also tickled pink. Tickled, tickled, tickled.

Though Former Lover hoped I’d keep all this hush-hush, I immediately told my husband, full transparency.  I was uncertain how he’d take it.

In stride. His first comment: “See, you still got it, Baby.”  Well, hmmm. Okay, yes. After how many gained lines and pounds?  “This guy sees you after 20 years and thinks to himself, ‘I want some more of her. I made a grave mistake all those years ago.’”

I also told my husband how sometime earlier last year I had written an amends to this Former Lover-we both owed one to the other for blowing up quite a lot of our world when we imploded as lovers.  I had tried writing before years before, but now, in Al-Anon and working a 12 step program, I felt the need to do so, with full responsibility. I’d written a heartfelt note, but suddenly my computer frizzed as it can do.  My words of contrition all disappeared.  I saw this as a sign to keep my mouth shut and mind my business.

Tony tells me this:  “Making an amends is for you.  God knows you did so with good intent, and cleared your mind. It doesn’t matter that the guy didn’t receive it. That this guy surfaces only months later, we run into him accidently, and now he is ‘resmitten’ with you, gives you a sense that what had happened years ago was real, true emotions on both sides.  Doesn’t that feel good to know now?”

There’s the closure, especially since I can respond with an amends now.

Here’s the epiphany:  All the men who have loved me in the past have been EXPRESSERS in various ways, artists, writers, musicians, even a stand-up comic.  They dealt daily in the world of sharing what was inside their hearts and souls.  I had veered away from men like Tony-business and math-minded, practical, relatively conservative.  In college, those practical guys had been the ones who seemed too preppy, they peed in the ice machines, and date-raped women in their fraternity houses. (How’s that for a childish generalization.) I stayed away from them.  But somewhere in my middle age, I got sick of the liberally slanted men.  Getting a divorce from my son’s Dad, an artist who had taken over a decade to figure out a career where he could actually contribute money to the household had left me cold.  And all my other boyfriends-even this Former Lover in question- had spent their lives stumbling  along, too, leaving all the heavy lifting to their wives or girlfriends.

Opening my mind, once I was single again, I found this trustworthy, practical, dependable Man, Tony,( . . .and yes, a former frat boy,) who has trouble verbalizing his attraction and his love for me in more words than “I love you, Baby.”

I had sacrificed the oh, so easy sway of big, fat words, for the strength of a solid man’s man.  And I’ve only benefited.

Those loving words in the former lover’s email were very pretty.  But also extremely simple to say, and not do for that guy.  My husband finds it much easier to do than say.  He understands commitment in a way no one else in my world ever has- takes care of his part of our world and then spoons me to sleep.  He also stands in the greeting card aisle for hours, reading all the cards to find one that says what he cannot.

The other night, my oldest son met his Dad for a movie.  After the film, en-route to somewhere else, he had a crappy flat tire on a major highway, and couldn’t get the spare loose.  Whom did he call?  Not his artsy-emotional Dad whom he had just left, but his step-Dad, Tony who quickly gave him directions to wait in the car safely till he got there.

This stoic man is the love of my life; I’m his, and we both know it.

Brooklyn, The Real Cat-Dog

Brooklyn CompileBrooklyn, named for where he was found sixteen, maybe even seventeen years ago. . .by a dear friend, one half of a couple, married spiritually long before marriage was a debatable topic between gays.They rescued cats as volunteers, named them for places they loved, Savannah, Sante Fe, Cozumel, Brooklyn.

He was really annoying to them, for they didn’t sit still that long, and he was a true lap kitty.  A meower.  A sock stealer (letting you know loudly that he had a kill for you). But they adored him still, and our friend gave him to us only when HIV disallowed him the chance to care for so many love bugs.  Cat boxes are, after all, festooned with bacteria.

So my then future husband took over Brooklyn, with visitation from his former Dad.

Brooklyn loved everyone, wanted to check in with all, but he loved Tony most.  He did what we called the flop at least once a day: Tony sat on the sofa, Brooklyn’s hind legs planted on Tony’s thighs, front paws on Tony’s chest. He would gaze into Tony’s eyes, head butt Tony’s chin several times in the classic cat kiss, and then suddenly do a full body flop to Tony’s left, rolling off his lap, if Tony didn’t strategically block his fall with his arm.  From there, Brooklyn would lie curved snuggly against Tony’s side watching hours of football each weekend, purring the whole time. He didn’t care how often Tony wasn’t fast enough to catch the flop.  Sheepishly flicking his ears when he rolled off lap, and sometimes sofa, he’d get back up and give Tony another chance.

My chest kept him from ever getting a good flop going, but he’d try.  Instead, to make sure I wasn’t left out, he’d move  into full arm-curl position on Tony’s side, tilt his head back, give me that upside down gaze, and demurely meow at me, asking me to scoot over and scratch his forehead. . . expecting such until he dropped off to sleep. I always complied.

He even became pivotal in Tony’s marriage proposal on Valentine’s years ago. (Don’t groan.  I don’t care how many of you think it’s a greeting card holiday.  I love my husband and my engagement story.)  I arrived at Tony’s house, late for the play we ended up missing. Brooklyn was wearing a wide red ribbon around his neck with bow. .  Yes, he didn’t care about those things.  He was the only cat I knew who wore a studded collar proudly.  I did think to myself, huh, so I am in love with a guy who dresses his cat up for Valentine’s.  It didn’t occur to me to say, how come he didn’t get a Christmas ribbon at Christmas?  Or even, who the hell ARE you, man?  That previous Christmas, I was more concerned that Brooklyn opened more presents than I did from Tony. . .far more. . .so it made sense that, though he was a typical manly, sports-minded, somewhat chauvinistic, stoic guy, he’d dress up his cat.

It took me an hour to notice  that ring.  The poor animal kept trying to go out for his evening prowl, but Tony wouldn’t allow it.  Why can’t he go out, I demanded, ignorant that there was no way Tony was letting my diamond venture the neighborhood. So poor Brooklyn had to wait until I eventually discovered it  under his chin.

Once we were married, (Tony is my second and last husband) Brooklyn accepted my sons, my dogs,  AND my cats. Frankly, Brooklyn was an alpha kitty, and very few things ruffled his fur. He always greeted us at the door along with the dogs while the other cats barely noted our return.  We used to say he was part dog. My older son can swear this is true: Brooklyn this past year woofed twice at  a sock he was hunting.

Many cats don’t like young children. I worried that Brooklyn was part rag doll, those cats that seem boneless, when my youngest would grab him and carry him around, which often occurred before a long  visit to the bathroom.  (Our youngest liked company if he had to be in there for any longish amount of time.) We began to worry that our son wouldn’t be able to pooh if anything happened to Brooklyn, the cat had to accompany him so often. And he did so without a peep, draped over our son’s arms.

Brooklyn taught one of our feral rescue kitties to love us.  Moon, our overly shy boy, had for years before meeting Brooklyn, never let us pet him, let alone hold him.  In fact when I had to take him for shots before we all moved in together,  I almost lost an eye, and got a nice scorching face full  of that putrid brown liquid they shoot out of their rear glands when highly stressed.  But once Tony and I married and we blended our families, Moon soon worshipped his old man, Brooklyn.  He would sit near him while Brooklyn slept, watching over him like a Shakespearean night man. He’d do a few driveby’s a day, run in front of Brooklyn, saying lookie, lookie, lookie, rubbing Brooklyn’s face with his shoulders. He’d copy his cat.  If Brooklyn curled up, Moon curled up, too, not haphazardly.  But in the same pattern exactly.  If Brooklyn gazed out of the window, Moon followed up.

But most of all, Moon began to sit near us, let us pet him.  He discovered that he loved being rubbed anywhere, tummy, ears, back, toes. . .but he just couldn’t bring himself to sit on us, or even too near us for too long.  Still, Brooklyn had changed Moon for the better and had taught him that we had some attractive qualities as Human beings.

Then, last week, we had to put our best kitty ever down.  Brooklyn had tongue cancer, which is awful for anyone, but for a cat, it’s the end.  They cannot lap, groom, eat.  He had biopsies in Summer; he improved, but the tumors returned, and slowly he withered in size. We saw it coming, and we did everything we could to prolong his life, but not prolong his pain, but as you all know, all the effort never lightens the mourning of losing someone you love.

We gave him forbidden milk, and tuna juice, and whipped liver his last days.  He could barely get any of it in, but he still purred as if he were a king, even as we each hugged and missed our goodbye’s to him.  We brought his body home from the vet,  and ceremoniously buried him on the second to the last day of 2013; one of our dogs lay quietly nearby.  A sad close to the year for a cat that made us laugh,  whom we adored.

After, he was gone, this week,  Moon has suddenly  begun sitting on my lap.  Yes, he really has.  At first, he had to just put his front toes on me, but leave his rear safely perched on the arm of my chair.  Finally, he has climbed all the way on my lap, and gone to sleep while I scratch his back.  It is the best tribute he could give our beloved Brooklyn.  In fact, he is here sitting next to me as I write now.  Now tell me that animals don’t love the way we do.

I was worried about how to tell our friend about the cat he loved so much, too . .in fact, our friend had created a web page devoted to all-things-Brooklyn years ago that may still be somewhere in cyber space.  It is is well and good that HIV has not come close to claiming him and that he outlived Brooklyn, but somehow it is a cruel trick of nature to make our beloved pets have such brief lives compared to our own.  Our friend’s response was simply that Brooklyn brought so much joy to so many lives, he would enjoy a good rest. Well-put.  And thank-you, friend, for sharing him with us, he did bring us great joy.