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This is our last dance together,
Tonight soon will be long ago.
And in our moment of parting,
This is all I want you to know...

I remember my mother used to love this one old 1943 Nat King Cole record. It was the only one she owned, as far as I know. She played a song called "There Will Never Be Another You" all the time; I think it was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was one of the sappiest songs I ever heard. I never understood why she liked it so much. But she loved it.

Our house was always immaculately clean when I was growing up. But give my mom even the simplest task--washing a few dishes or something like that--and she'd take about three times longer to get it done than almost anybody else. I used to think it was just her way of avoiding having to listen to my Dad complain about things, but the older I got, the more I began to notice that she didn't really do anything else with her days. She got up, made breakfast, then set about her tasks.

There will be many other nights like this,
And I'll be standing here with someone new.
There will be other songs to sing,
Another fall...another spring...
But there will never be another you.

I remember she used to have a few shots of whiskey after my dad went to bed, then she'd play that record over and over, until she got this dreamy look on her face, sitting there in her chair and listening to that song and pretending she wasn't who she was. Sometimes I could see it in her face, that wish. She was someone else and the song wasn't on a record, it was being sung to her by some handsome lover come to court her, to ask for her hand and take her away to a better life than the one she had.

There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won't thrill me,
Like yours used to do.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be another you?

I used to sneak downstairs and watch her do this, and I'd laugh to myself, you know? I'd laugh at her because I knew that my life was going to turn out differently. I'd never be so stupid as to wind up marrying a man who didn't really love me like a husband should but I stayed with him anyway because that's what the Church told me I was supposed to do. I'd never do that.

I'd never spend my days working around the house, doing the dishes and the laundry and the dusting, having no life of my own, no hobbies, no interests. I'd never spend half the afternoon fixing dinner, then half the evening cleaning up afterward, only finding time for myself after everyone went to bed so I could sip my whiskey and play a goddamn record by Nat King Cole about there never being another me.

I mean, I was eight, I was just a kid in grade school, and even though Mom was only thirty-seven she seemed old and used-up and kind of funny at those times.

But now it's twenty-five years later and here I am. I don't know if my husband still loves me; all I've got now is my work. Instead of whiskey and Nat King Cole I have two weak cocktails on Friday night after work and Jane Eyre or well-thumbed collections of poetry or a ton of videotapes, most of them romantic comedies.

She had no real life, except the one she found in her shot of whiskey and listening to that song, and I realized all of this way too late. All she had was this one little dream of some imaginary lover singing a sappy love song to her, and she spent the entire day anticipating it. That's why she took so long to get her work done; looking forward to her fantasy, to this dream she knew in her heart could never be, it was all she really had for herself.

She's gone now, but here I am, just like her.

Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be...
Another you?


Italicized lyrics © 1943 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon

It Is Christmas Morning

            Mom is very good at wrapping gifts and arranging them beneath the Christmas tree. Many pine needles have fallen from it is branches, but you'd never know that, because there are so many boxes and bags that they are totally covered up. Mom isn't with us in the living room, where we are all sitting on the floor around the presents. She is standing on the tiled kitchen floor, just a foot or two beyond the edge of the living room's carpet.

            My girlfriend is sitting right next to me, and both of us are leaning on our knees with our calves folded under us. We started dating almost a whole year ago, while she was still a senior at Winterbrook School. That's the high school we went to, were we first met. It feels like I meet her again every few months. We are constantly changing, becoming different people. We even look different. This happens to everyone. But we notice it more, because we have been growing together, and I mean that in both senses.

            Mom is looking at us all in a very detached way, as though she is gazing at the air in front of her. But through that air, she sees her husband and their two sons. And of course, she sees the girlfriend that one of those sons tried to have sex with on a very strange day.

Paint has a Smell that is Unforgettable

            During my first two years at the Winterbrook, I took a lot of art classes. I've always been a little good at a lot of things. For a few months I thought that it would be nice to become an illustrator after I graduated from college.

            There was a thick white paint that we used to brush onto canvases after we stretched them. The coat needed to be totally even for when we painted over it. Everyone's hair was always painted into everyone's canvas. Our class had seven people in it. That was a small enough number that we could recognize each others' curls or strands or little buzz clippings beneath the endless bright fabric. And knowing whose hair it was made the whole ordeal something for one girl to giggle at and all the guys to shrug, even the boys without confidence, whose shoulders were made of rubber.

            It was like a canvas freshly primed white. Art classes at Winterbrook are twice as long as all of the other classes.

            I am a small person.

            I have long weak fingers like a Daddy Long Legs and rubber shoulders that weigh down my whole spine.

            A boy with a very large head was the first person I ever called my best friend.

That's Why I Don't Answer the Phone When You Call Me

            You always see a person before you meet them, unless you are blind, or unless you slam into each other while running round a street corner in opposite directions.

            It takes effort to not see a person before you meet them, because it takes haste, and hasting takes effort.

            Sometimes you see a person right before you meet them, because they are approaching you, and they very prepared to introduce themselves. On the other hand, I am never prepared to introduce myself. That's why I don't answer the phone when you call me.

That's Why I Never Answer the Phone When You Call Me

            Dad was sitting on his calves looking into the kitchen. Our phone has a little display that tells you exactly who is calling. That's why I never pick up the phone. Because the people whose names show up are always people that I don't know, or people that my parents don't like. That's why I never answer the phone when you call me.

            My Dad might have asked who was calling. He knew she read the display because she waiting until it had rung three times. Mom picked up the phone. Then Dad had that blank canvas face. We didn't know what was going on.

            That blank canvas face is the most vulnerable face in the world. A little curl will always get stuck in the paint before it's done drying.

            I would have cried if one of my classmates flicked a streak of their oil paint onto my canvas while it was still drying.

            I didn't cry. You could hear it in Mom's voice that something was going on. She sounded very assured. Mom was very confident speaking into the phone, because what she heard confirmed what she had anticipated.

Passing of Time

            When Mom's brother died, she received the news over the phone. She walked out of the living room into the kitchen, and Dad kept watching where she walked as she disappeared around a corner to pick up the receiver. His face was like a blank.

            Mom didn't introduce herself when she received the news that her brother had died. That's because she read the little screen that told her who was calling.             And that's why she waited.

            Waiting for a person to pass on from their last pains always reminds me of passing time. You can keep putting on shows for yourself and then you will forget that you are waiting for something. But something that is scheduled always happens right when it is supposed to. That's why Mom listened to the phone ring three times before she answered it.

            I used to talk to my ex-girlfriend on the phone for hours. They were short hours, though. They were the shortest hours I have ever lived.

            The short hours that I spent talking to my ex-girlfriend were much longer than the hours Mom spent next to Grandpa's bed in the hospital.

Three Crocodiles

            In almost one entire year, I will drive home from Smith College. Mom will tell me that I must go visit Nanny at the nursing home because I won't have seen her through the whole summer. Mom will tell me that Nanny might not remember who I am, and I will ask why. It's because she will have Alzheimer's. Nobody will tell me this until I come home for December. I think that Mom and Dad are keeping this from me because then they can pretend that they won't have to face it so soon.

            I knew another woman with Alzheimer's, and I thought that I would never see her again. Then I did see her again, and I asked my girlfriend to take pictures of her. My girlfriend is an photographer.

            Once I saw a crocodile at an exhibit, but he was behind bars and covered in old pennies that visitors had thrown on him for good luck.

            It is disgusting to imagine a person with no past living in a place full of people whose grown children believe have no future.

            Nanny has always been stubborn and unpredictable. But come December, she will be happy.

Right Thing To Do

            I have never cried over hearing the news that a person had died. I believe that there is something beautiful in it.

            Once Grandpa, that's Mom's dad, was in the hospital. I was very young. On day, I went to my friend's house after school to play. I was there for a long time, even after it became dark outside and my friend went to bed. Then, his mother drove me home, even though we lived only two houses apart. The kitchen light was off but the light in the hall ways on and that was unusual. Dad told me that Mom's dad had died and started crying and gave me a big hug that lasted a long time, and it was like a gorilla had fallen asleep on me for a little while.

            My arms couldn't reach all the way around my dad's back but I knew the right thing to do was to pat him like he was a big gorilla baby.

On Gratitude

            One day, my ex-girlfriend led me down the highway to go to a bowling alley a few blocks from her mom's apartment. My shoe was untied and so she bent down to tie it. A police car pulled next to us and spoke to us in this horrible way. It was comforting to have my shoe tied on the side of the highway. Then we got off the road and pushed through the stickers and brambles that grow just beside it.

            And my ex-girlfriend told me a secret she kept with the sticker bushes. It was a very sad secret, but I loved her, and I was so thankful that someone would share their sad secrets with me.

Two Thresholds

            Mom isn't around the corner anymore. Now she is standing just where the carpet in the living room meets the tile in the kitchen. She is looking at all of us at once. She is looking at Dad, me, my girlfriend, and my brother. She is probably looking at the Christmas tree, too.

            I am very bad at reacting to things in an appropriate manner. Mom's face is red like a pomegranate.

            “My brother's on total life support” and I do not know how write the way that she is saying it.

 



 

When I Hear That Sound, Part I

            Next Christmas, my own brother is trying to teach himself violin. He is not a very gentle person and drinks like an Austrian tippler.

            One day, my brother will snap all of the velvet hairs on his violin bow. They will pull themselves loose over the highest string. The violin will whistle as the bridge is pulled off-center. And the strings will not bear the tension as they are pulled in every direction, and they will all crack at once.

Two Good People

            Mom's voice sounds like the violin and it sounds like the trees.

            Mom is wearing her nightgown because she is okay with that.

            Mom is going to give my girlfriend the most remarkably thoughtful presents in the whole world.

            Mom thinks that my girlfriend is truly a good person.

            I think they are truly good people.

            My Dad and my uncle were very different people. I will tell you one thing that they shared in common. I can not speak honestly to my dad and I could not speak at all to my uncle.

Sex and Carrot Juice, Part I

            The first day that my girlfriend and I decided to have sex was a very strange day. A man had come into the store that morning and he was very angry. Whenever we bottled carrot juice we would have to leave a bit of headroom at the top because the juice would foam up and needed to settle. The man was very angry because he thought that we were trying to rob him.

Sex and Carrot Juice, Part II

            The store that I bottled carrot juice at was owned by a very Italian family with very Italian names. There were three brothers that owned it, and they had a frumpy mother named Eileen, who also owned it. The brothers were all very big men with very rough words. But they were all good people.

            My coworker was panicking because the very angry man was confronting her about the carrot juice. He did this every time he bought carrot juice so my coworker and I took turns ringing him up. But on that strange day he was red as a pomegranate.

            The man who screams at a girl over carrot juice is a very small man indeed.

That's Why I Never Answer the Phone When You Call Me, II

            One single minute ago, I had no idea that my uncle has been ill, and right now, I do not know what it means to be on total life support.

            I hate myself because I never act appropriately.

            A man was crying over carrot juice and it would be nice to know that I could have prevented that.

            The first day that my girlfriend and I decided to have sex it didn't work.

My coworker had called our boss and let the very angry man talk to her and

“Fuck you” the very angry man screamed at her.

            While taking a shower we decided to have sex.

            He screamed himself hoarse in two words.

            The belly of a broken violin is just as beauty as the belly of a person.

            The phone was above the cash register and the very angry man reached right past my coworker's head as he slammed the phone onto its hook.

            That is why you shouldn't be hasty. That is why I was nervous. That is why all the buttons on the receiver flashed at once. That is why I never answer the phone when you call me.

            Now, I will never know how to speak to my uncle.

Three Compromises

            You're supposed to prime a canvas with a special mixture called gesso. But Winterbrook couldn't afford the real thing. When I think of gesso I remember the smell  of plastic poster paint.

            I was worried because wrestling an alligator slathered in oil would have been much easier than making that canvas.

            To me, a belly is the second most beautiful thing in the entire world. Rounded bottles with in a macrame net, violin soundboards firmed down by their strings. My family used to go camping. My brother and I would catch toads, and they have pale bellies that look like marshmellows.

I Even Hear Differently

            Almost one whole month ago the phone rang and I answered it. It was my uncle. He knew that I didn't recognize his voice because we only speak every couple of years and I am always changing into different a different person. I even hear differently. He asked my Mom was home and she was not.

            My uncle told me that he wanted to wish my family a happy Thanksgiving. I will always have trouble believing that he had nothing else to say. In a few months, I will tell him in my dreams how much Mom misses him.

            In over one whole year from now, I will write this. In over one whole year, I will realize that all of the people my mother grew up with are now gone. I will have written many songs about my uncle's passing.

That One Voice

            When Grandpa died, my uncle embraced my mother because he did not need a wheelchair yet and he the said to her

            “Daddy's dead” and he sounded like the violin and the trees.

            I especially did not know how to talk to him then because I was so little that my fingers weren't long Daddy Long Legs yet. They were just fingers.

            My uncle's voice was not like Mom's. He spoke in a completely different way. But there is one voice that everyone shares, and that voice sounds like the violin and it sounds like the trees.

            There are many beautiful things in my life. The most beautiful thing in my life sounds like the violin and sounds like the trees.

            As Dad gave me his big sad gorilla hug, I wondered where Mom was.


Two Realizations

            In over one whole year from now, I will write this. In over one whole year, I will realize that my mother's family consists of three boys, and that I am one of them. I think that Mom realized a very long time ago that this is all that will matter for the rest of her life.

            The most beautiful thing in my life is a sound, and when I hear that sound, I am assured that someone knew a very deep love.

Stronger with a Broken Heart

            This afternoon, my mother will be preparing for Christmas dinner, and I will ask if there is anything that I can do for her, and she will tell me with syrupy tears in her throat,

            “No, I just need to keep busy.”

            Mom is stronger with a broken heart than I am with a whole one.


For my mom. It isn't done now, maybe it will never be completed, but it's been a year since I wrote it and two since that Christmas and I've less to lose now that ever in my life.

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