I met a man to love, but I don’t love him. He is singular and sparkling and complementary and inspiring and he is young, a little too young still, but the world is better because he exists, and my life is better because he floated through.
As you lay dying I didn’t want to trouble you, to pile on. But she gave me away, and when I came to your side, you let me hold your hand. “You would have always had to lead,” you recognized. I’d been guilty I’d just worry you more, but yours was a cognizant benediction. Who saw me more clearly than you?
I love me, and so would not trade having you for the universe and its spoils. I wouldn’t trade you for enlightenment or transcendent romance. I love you with every colliding fucking atom and all the freedom, the peace of knowing my cells just won’t stop smashing up on each other. And my whole waking life, fron two years old, from when I was a wee bubby fitting four to a bathtub, I have held your leg, your hand, your shoulder; to heel, to guard, to close your eyes while you descended to Hades. I have never been awake without knowing you’d be gone. And so your love instilled in me some taciturn despair and #YOLOjoy and steely Fuck You that has drawn in every cop and would-be-assaulter and charming skinny nerd whom I’ve been to ignorant to notice.
We’re ten days into Lent (seems early this year). Last Sunday, the Dean emphasized that Lent is not about guilt or repentance, but instead exists to help us recognize the world on its own terms. I still don’t know what “irony” means (thanks, Alanis), but maybe something about focusing on the “world” in a space devoted to the heavens and eternity is it; or maybe here the “world” means all spaces; and to me, “world” means both what we’re in – what is seen – and how we view it – through what is seen and unseen.
What I do know is that when I remind myself to be generous with those who test my patience, or when I am brash and make fart jokes, or when I fart, or when I feel my 135 pounds shift from my left foot to my right, to my ankles forward to my toes and through my leg and my spine and into my delts and out my phalanges for a tight spiral, you’re as present as if you were just sitting in your chair, reading Larry McMurtry while I felt out some Bach, or as if you had pitched me a baseball I smacked right to your eighty-two-year-old groin, or as if I had driven 500 miles home to accompany you around the block and kick away stray sticks while using my right hand to balance you upright in your walker.
I met a man to love: one I name a “man,” which might mean that I finally think of myself, too, as “woman.” We are everything alike and somewhat not. He is bright and catalytic and handsome and honorable and fascinating, and I don’t love him, and I don’t regret him, and I don’t pine for him, and I know everything is better because he was there and I was there and I was gone and we were gone.
You and I love Bob Dylan’s autobiography, and so does this man. But I am indignant at the thesis that we drive Salinger and Dylan and whomever else underground. I find these men weak, despite the art I love so much. I understand that it could be terrifying to be adored and overanalyzed, and I appreciate that withdrawal is a wholly human response; but to gloss over their own neuroses’ responsibility for their public disappearances is to romanticize their lives for our own self-martyrdom. We didn’t make J.D. Salinger go hide in the woods. He did. And it’s absolutely okay that he did. But he wasn’t pulling no fucking Thoreau.
For decades I was terrified of everything. I don’t think people knew it. “Fake it ’til you make it,” that’s my mantra; and it works, and I keep making it. But for the past couple of years, I hardly ever feel scared anymore. For seven years, a man was beside me nearly ever single night; and then I broke free. I was still afraid of heights, so I say my best friend inspired me to start rock climbing. I was still afraid of being sawed apart, so I elected for local anesthesia when that doctor sliced up my face. I was afraid of scary movies, so I cowered into Devin’s chastity pillow when the Nazi zombies bleated their way across the Swedish tundra. And then I didn’t know what else there was to be afraid of; so I keep adventuring, and frankly, probably have been too irresponsible, ridden too many buses, tripped through too many foreign tongues, set off on too many solitary hikes, goated up too many cliffs, to satisfy my duty as my mother’s only child.
The last time we talked (the last time I tapped out some drivel to proffer up to the nonexistent heavens, your unlistening non-ears, your unseeing re-dusted eyes), I doubted the possibility of just war. And for years I’ve been angry that we – people like me – we don’t sign up. And it bugs and bugs and bugs, and it keeps me up at night – it keeps me up when I hold Nap, and it keeps me up when there’re Catholic-built men slumbering gently beside me, and it keeps me up when I’m failing to sleep on planes, and it keeps me up when I try to savasana in class.
And so when the Dean suggests we see the world on its own terms, I see that I am still scared, and that my fear cries, GO! And that in 1998, I didn’t know I had a match – but in 2013, I see that I can serve after all.
And so, Dad, I’m here on earth to do that one thing that would’ve changed your mind about Iraq. I am happy and lucky and interested and will Gatsby the shit out of biglaw. And I will do what’s right, and stick my money where my mouth is, and stand up for my boys, for the students I couldn’t help enough; for those friends I left behind when I deployed my straight teeth and my bouncy hair and my SAT scores and my servant leadership; for you and your friends, those boys in grayscale who had no choice – I will do my part, and I will join if they’ll have me, and I won’t be such a fucking hypocrite. Or at least, one tiny aspect of my life will be less hypocritical. And I won’t cast my mother as her proverbial skirt, behind which I hide.
Today, you are ninety-six years old. I’m unsure if you’d be happy or sad that I’m alone while I tap this out, sprawled in my cavernous bed. But I’m happy, I’m ecstatic, I’m in love with this life, so I know we’re okay. I love you with everything, forever, or at least until the med students start flinging my innards across their lab. And until then, I’ll keep trying to live better than you did: to actually apply intellect; to extend charm to benefit others; and to not just accept, but to cherish, human fault.
Happy Birthday, Daddy! Amo amas amat amamus amatis amant