"...we are all real people, and none of us is innocent."
I used to dream I'd own a house with a wood-floored living room and a big grand piano. And I'd play songs to my wife and babies. Things I'd write about loving them and being happy.
But that never happened.
Instead, my houses have been small. And I've had to rock my children to keep them from crying, and whispered songs as they came to me to get them to sleep.
I remember sitting on the promenade deck of an ocean liner, talking to my mother in the sea breeze, the Caribbean slipping under us, pina colada goblets summer sweating, the sky blue-green like an eternal morning.
She told me about burning the roast, filling their first apartment with smoke, twenty-years old and pregnant with me when my father burst in panting from having bolted up the seven flights to the Bronx apartment, scared to death she'd set the place on fire.
He was selling encyclopedias door-to-door then. A freshly minted Fordham graduate with a degree in sociology and a James Dean attitude that drew her to him.
Her eyes glazed, she pulled a balled up paper tissue from her purse and wiped at her nose.
She said, "We didn't know..."
My father is dead now, so I didn't ask her what.
Because when I was young and full of ideas that only made sense to me I married the girl I'd been seeing since high school. We bought a house with money we borrowed from my parents and never paid back. Junked a car and went into hock buying a Volkswagen Rabbit that might have been old the day we got it.
We both drove an hour each way to our jobs that combined, paid just about enough to cover the mortgage and the car payments.
We argued about buying a book we would both like when between us we only had enough spare change for one.
We ate at Denny's. Went to matinees because we couldn't afford the evening ticket prices, adopted a dog from the animal shelter and fed it the remnants of our breakfast cereal because we spent the dog food money on the electric bill.
I had to learn to be a plumber when the pipes froze in winter. Spent spare highway toll change on lottery tickets that never paid.
All I wanted in those days was to escape that life. Freedom, money would bring. I was sure we were enduring a hell that would be an investment in a comfortable future. It was a life to be tolerated until, eventually, we'd be happy.
One day in a fit of insanity I bought an expensive personal computer. Spent a month's salary and made my young wife cry. Wondered if I'd done something that would starve our new baby.
Over a twelve-hundred baud phone line I got onto a bulletin board system for people looking for new jobs. It was well past midnight and the only sound in our tiny home was breathing. Our infant's puppy-like panting. My wife's slow, rhythmic exhalations. Me in the blue white glow of the nine-inch screen.
I couldn't write about getting a new job. I was too afraid of my life then. What would happen to us? What had I done?
So I wrote about my family sleeping. I wrote about dark and how things seem insurmountable in the night.
And someone wrote back. A woman from Teaneck.
Tiny black letters on the silent CRT. "That's beautiful," couldn't help me.
My wife will never see what I wrote. And my children won't know how afraid I was I'd fall holding them. How little I knew about everything, wishing for just about everything.
Twenty-eight and shirtless, mowing the lawn. Stuffing armloads of clippings into plastic bags while sweat poured from my eyebrows. My wife interrupted, baby on her hip, glass of lemonade sweating in the humidity.
I drank it down to the ice. Handed her back the glass, cubes rattling. Wiped my arm against my forehead. Told her that there would be a day, and I'd never mow the lawn again. I swore.
She remembered before we had a lawn and a baby and a car that leaked in the driveway we spent our time wishing.
One day I was promoted at work.
On another, I was almost fired, reassigned to an inconsequential job.
Some days I was so sick the world shrunk to the size of my bed,
After the funerals, I cried in my sleep so no one would see.
At the weddings, I tried not to catch the garter.
All around me people fell in love. And one day, I did, too. All around me, people died, reminding me that some day, I would, too. I don't know why. No one explained. If they did, I didn't listen.
She doesn't believe me. No reason she should. But I'm sure. When I close my eyes I can still hear her, twenty-one and sweating in the Bronx summer heat, rocking, whispering a lullabye she makes up as it comes to her.
Singing her song about love and being happy.
To her baby.