Archive for the ‘Getting Old is Stupid’ Category
They say it is a rare disease, but it feels more like a common condition, as in my plans are in constant flux depending on the condition thereof. It has to do with my stomach and the deterioration of the muscles in my esophagus. It has to do with coughing and choking, and going to bed each night convinced that it will be the very last time I ever do so.
I cannot sleep, and when I do I wake up in sudden panics, covered in the remains of the day and a gasp for breath like so many fish out of water. My wife makes me sleep in the guest room. I am exhausted.
It is not life-threatening, but it is life-restrictive. I cannot keep most meals down and I am in a constant tango with dehydration. Every ounce out I put two back in, and then we dip. Then we dance.
The past few months have been spent in various layers of mourning—one death after another, paired by book sales that should be better, a new job built heavy on promise, my only current source of income repackaged as “an exciting new opportunity” that no longer provides said income, sporadic fitness training that my body can’t handle, a home gutted of wall and floor thanks to water damage, and the tubes, the doctors, the procedures.
I have had my insides stretched by balloons and pumped full of Botox. I have had my insides land quickly upon my lap while sitting on the highway with no shoulders there to speak of.
Life of late has been one punch in the gut after another against a gut that punches back. I do not know if it makes me stronger, but it makes me think that I would like to be. It makes me appreciate the strength I feel around me.
I am fully aware that this is not the most adversity that one can face, in fact, it pales in comparison, but it is my adversity, and I am doing my best to own it.
I am doing my best to keep it down.
He was seven for a minute and the long moments between. When he was seven he did new things and learned the unknown. He played. He laughed. He ran. He loved.
He loved. He cried. He knows.
Now he is eight, and it won’t last. Somewhere in the distance a nine is waiting, and then the numbers we don’t write out.
There is no hurry. Eight is here, and we are happy to have it.
He wears it well.
And he is loved. Greatly.
The stain was deep and red, and the wood of the cutting board, having absorbed the drainage from the day, was fat and full. The room was ripe with sudden decay, and it lingered heavy in the air just south of sweetness. I took a wet cloth and tried to erase the damage. It didn’t budge beneath the lackadaisical layers of elbow grease, and the strawberries were too far gone to care about much of anything.
The fruit had been fine just hours before. It had arrived freshly bought, clutched firmly in the hands of a houseguest, and served as an important part of a nutritious breakfast. Then, about the time that the morning coffee layer began its burning off, the berries were left sitting in a plastic crate, forgotten to the moment amid the plans of promise and intention.
The benefit of our doubt was spent on the theories of bright-eyed optimists; for instance, time is long and winding, and it isn’t going anywhere. But time is full of surprises.
Like most things taken for granted the fruit did what we never expected, growing soft, gray mold in the sunlight beaming between the bites we had and those never taken.
When you stand before an open window it is large and wide, the endless everything starts in the twinkle off your cheekbone and spreads equally in all directions. However, when taken from a distance the window is nothing more than a small, framed square of wonderful opportunity. Ours is to reach it while open is an option.
The thing about windows is that they are often prone to closing.
That is where the fruit was lost, somewhere in the afternoon lull when it was over being wanted and not quite ready to be thought of again, it let time have its way. Then it bled out across the countertop, and all that ever could have been was left for anyone to wonder—the possibilities both endless and ended.
From a distance the frames fill the world like a patchwork of homemade quilts and gently swaying fields, each one a window shutting slowly on the quick turn of fruit, and the bigger moments fading.
“A boy in my grade was kicked out of school today,” said my 8-year-old son. He was bundled in a coat much too warm for the moment and carrying a thick binder with a thick strap over his thin left shoulder. He wore a backpack for overflow on the other.
Normally I have to pry the occurrences of the day from him, piecing together a timeline from the promising lips of a potential politician already adapt in avoidance and plausible deniability. A typical walk to the park goes something like this:
“What did you do today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you go to the computer lab?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Should we stop for some ice cream?”
All the while his 6-year-old little brother provides the color commentary in the pauses between, bouncing around us like a cartoon version of himself drawn slightly off scale:
“What did you do today?”
“I don’t know.”
“He played dodgeball! I saw his class on the playground. They always play dodgeball!”
“Did you go to the computer lab?”
“I can’t remember.”
“He had library today! I had computer lab! He always has library on the days that I have computer lab! I saw his class in the hall!”
“Should we stop for some ice cream?”
This time was different. There was dirt, and dirt requires the shoveling of it. I stood there waiting like the proverbial pail. He had the strangest gleam in his eyes. It was distant and heavy and missing some pieces—holes in the blues where he used to blink innocence.
“What do you mean a boy was kicked out of school?” I asked, letting my mind wander down a list of ignoble infractions pulled from headlines and a personal history of assorted shenanigans.
“He told another student that he had…” he looked around to make sure that we were alone. His brother was chasing butterflies, bored with our conversation. “He told another student that he had s-e-x in the shower.”
I actually hadn’t expected that one.
“Oh,” I said. We watched as the youngest, his head in the sky, felt the sidewalk turn to grass beneath his feet. He launched his staggered skips into a swirling sprint and the butterflies teased him into the comfort of the park. I looked at my oldest boy with the holes in his eyes, and said, “Oh.”
“He said he had s-e-x with a girl in the class. He said he had s-e-x in the shower.”
“What did the other student do when the kid told him?” I asked.
“He told the teacher,” he replied. “And then the boy was kicked out.”
“The other student did the right thing,” I told him. We had been spending a lot of time trying to define the lines between reporting bad behavior and being a tattletale. Sometimes things are a little bit blurry, but this was not one of them. “That is something you should tell a teacher right away,” I said.
We talked more about it. We talked about the little girl and how it must have made her feel to hear someone say such things. We talked about how it was that he had come to hear the sordid details and what the playground consensus was on the matter. We talked about the things people do for attention.
We talked about everything until I couldn’t avoid the question any longer.
“Do you know what s-e-x is?” I asked.
He looked around, leaned close, and whispered, “Sex.”
“Yes. It’s okay to say it. It’s not a bad word. Do you know what sex is?”
“No,” he admitted. “But you have to be naked.”
“Sex is something for grown-ups,” I said. “Grown-ups that care about each other. It’s not a bad word and it is not a bad thing, but it is not for kids. It is for grown-ups. Grown-ups that care about each other. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” he said.
“There is going to come a time when we sit down and talk about this more, about sex, and that time is going to be a lot sooner than I care to admit, but you are 8-years-old, and frankly, I’m not ready to have that conversation yet… unless you are.”
His eyes were filling with tears. That is something that he gets from me. He leaned into my arms and got lost in a hug.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want to be a grown-up yet.”
“Okay,” I whispered, “but if you have any questions I want you to come to me. Don’t ever be afraid to come to me. You know that, right?”
He was quiet for a moment, sitting awkward against a cement bench that offered rest in lieu of comfort, and watching nothing in particular.
“What did you learn?” I asked him, unsure of what I’d taught—unsure if I had taught anything.
“S-e-x is for grown-ups that care about each other. It’s not bad, but it’s not for kids.”
He looked me in the eyes. Mine were tired and heavy, his were blue and sparkling against fading wetness. His tears had fallen like a soft spring rain, and I could see fresh innocence growing in the corners.
“And I can tell you anything,” he said.
I couldn’t see the butterflies. The distance had grown too great. But I could see the space between small feet and cool grass. The sun was brightest there.
“Should we stop for some ice cream?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then go and get your brother.”
Image by Ben Workman, used with permission
This post is sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and I hope you enjoy it.
The summers of my Arizona childhood were long and hot, stretching sideways in both directions and embracing the unsuspecting months of spring and fall with sweaty, sunburned arms. It was the lazy hug of a friend that had overstayed his welcome while pretending to be oblivious about it. Summer dragged itself across the desert, and it pulled each of us along for the ride. We soaked up every moment.
Our station wagon had folding seats in the back that faced each other, and once opened the empty space filled with the activities of going somewhere—license plate games and bingo on billboards. We were going on a camping trip and we were taking everything we had ever heard of. We packed it all in alphabetical order.
We were surrounded by windows, one an open frame outlining the belly of the car and those that sat within it, and the other three of glass that magnified the sun and left us squirming for the world to see like unschooled fish in a traveling aquarium, flopping in the dry heat and gasping for breath.
Whenever possible I rode my bike. The roads were tired dust storms of dirt and gravel, spanning miles between the dots of trees that connected where we were to where we were going and making pictures for space like dull, green stars in reverse. I had a Walkman and cassette tapes, a canteen full of tap water, and my Wayfarers on. The 80s were sewn across my pocket.
Miami Vice was a lifestyle choice:
The summer that I turned fifteen I took a job working maintenance at the local waterpark and rode my bike there more often than not. Sometimes people would offer me a ride and I would throw my bike in the trunk or truck bed while trying to spin the weather into polite conversation. Other times they would fly right by, and the sweat of my skin would catch the clouds of their dust, leaving me to cough and experiment with curse words as I watched them drive into the distance.
Sometimes, when my eyes locked on the faces of children flushed against the mouth-stained fog of their backseat windows, I felt like a pawn in somebody else’s game—I was bingo, and they were taking me on their camping trip. We would stare at each other until the clouds rolled in, and I would cough while I wondered where the hell we were going.
I was uncomfortably tall, awkwardly skinny, and I had a perm where a hat should be. My shorts were shorter and made of corduroy. I was as insecure as I was invincible.
My coworkers filled a bag of stereotypes, and being the youngest among them I idolized each accordingly. The guys on the crew were either stoned or hungover. The lifeguards were pants-stirringly pretty and college girl mean. The manager was a cartoon wrapped in bright, red flesh and he left his mouth open so the attitude could get out. After the last guest had left for the day he would put Judas Priest on the PA system, recline in a lounge chair with a beer and his shotgun, and shoot unsuspecting doves as they flew between the cotton fields that surrounded us. His dogs, apparently unable to read the stenciled warnings against it, would dive into the silent wave pool and fetch feathers with their teeth.
I was on the water slide, golden tan, and laughing loudly over three sips of lukewarm Budweiser.
By the end of summer I was well-versed in the ways to kiss a girl, and my perm had melted into curling locks that covered my ears and kept them from burning. I thought of the days ahead, which are now long since passed, and I reflected on those that had already gone by.
The next year would bring a divorce to my parents and a different job to my summer. My visits to the waterpark became few and far between. The station wagon was replaced with a car so crappy that it quickly became mine, and the rest of my youth was spent driving it from here to there, lured by smiles and the lips that made them.
Those memories, despite their distance, have returned bright and clear, but the truth is I haven’t thought about them in a very long time. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time those days crossed my mind, and if not for a recent screening of The Way, Way Back they would probably be forgotten still. I’m glad they’re back. The timing could not be better.
These days I have two young boys of my own, and I can’t help but wonder how their respective stories will be written. What will be their way, way back? What are the moments that will mold them? I can’t wait to watch, and I am in no hurry to get there.
Growing up is a long, muddy ride through the metaphors of summer, and it is worth every damn pedal.
From Fox Searchlight Pictures: THE WAY, WAY BACK is the funny and poignant coming of age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up to and begins to finally find his place in the world – all during a summer he will never forget.
The Way, Way Back opens in theaters on July 5.