Cream Rinse

About a year ago, maybe more, a thought flashed through my head as I stood in the shower, musing over the packaging of my conditioner bottle.  As I stared at the bottle in my hand, pondering the choice of fonts, color, language, a new thought just smacked into me, filling me instantly with a vague sense of sadness, longing, nostalgia… Whatever happened to ‘cream rinse’?

Hmm, as I looked back I couldn’t quite put my finger on when it might have disappeared from use… The mid 70s maybe? The end of the 70s, when the world was just beginning to morph into horizontal stripes and vertical hair? Strange, how did this happen? Whose decision was it to make this big, forward-striding change? Nowadays companies are constantly tweaking their silly labels, adding tag lines that offer just a teensy bit more value in this particular bottle, trying new container shapes and sizes… But back then, things were constant and unchanging. And I found comfort in that. The sound of a tin band-aid box opening, and the crisp, sterile plastic-y smell that rose from it was a calming precursor to the relief the strip itself provided. That familiar carboard box with the round metal lid that Nestle’s Quik came in. I haven’t bought it in years (my kid’s never been a chocolate milk type) but I’m gonna guess that little round lid is made of plastic these days. Oh yeah, and it’s not ‘Quik’ anymore. It’s ‘Nesquik’. Nuff said.

Amused but not much inspired to investigate my thoughts on all this, I had long ago laid the ideas to rest in my mind’s closet for future introspection, when just the other day I was broadsided by another powerful link to my past. (Also in the shower.) This time, however, my memory was triggered by a scent. The scent of my less-than-$2-a-bottle Suave shampoo. I had acquired it on a recent toiletry run to the local Family Dollar with my 83 year old dad. And thanks to the constantly changing mini campaigns of Suaves’ product and development team, this bottle of shampoo was now being offered in a ‘new’ scent; mint and rosemary. The plan worked; whether it was the appealing green of the bottle, the botanical images of the plants themselves or the assurance that the shampoo included 100% natural mint and rosemary, I bought their product. Although it wasn’t quite it – its scent reminded me of something. I paused to consider what it was, then it came to me. Yes. Clairol’s Herbal Essence. In that tall, clear, round-shouldered bottle with the dark green cap and the drawing of a young woman cloaked in a swirling design of her own hair. If I remember correctly, she had a finger outstretched on which sat a butterfly. Or a bird. The scent brought me back to camp. A cabin in the New Hampshire woods for two weeks each and every summer of my girlhood. The feeling of water stuck in your ear after swim class. The squeak of the hinges on the latrine doors. And the smell of freshly showered hair. Yup. Herbal Essence. The drawing of the girl on the label was what every 70s girl aspired to – natural, long, thick and flowing locks to compliment her groovy, natural appeal. And the scent was quite nice. Appropriate for the natural surroundings.

My mind wanders around a corner… Oh! Yes! I remember a bottle of lemon shampoo too… its top was an actual plastic lemon. I remember how accurate it was, dimples and all. (What a lot of plastic, ugh, wonder if it’s part of that floating island of plastic in the pacific right now.) What was it called? – there were bold, sans-serif letters running sideways up its length – LEMON-UP! Yes! Lemon up. Wow. Is there even a lemon-scented shampoo on the shelves these days? Man, so many choices – too  many – yet I can’t recall a lemon shampoo. Maybe I’ve passed over it because it’s more than $2 a bottle. Hmm. Isn’t lemon supposed to be good at stripping away oil and dirt? Maybe too good… hmm. Wonder if I can find a bottle on ebay…

So, cream rinse. I remember it changing at some time into ‘creme rinse’. May even have been an accent over that first e. Sexy upgrade. And I remember some commercial about ‘the clean-rinse creme rinse’. So when did ‘creme rinse’ become ‘conditioner’? Perhaps the harshness of the Aqua Net era left us hungry for a more nourishing way in which to treat our post-shampoo hair. I guess. It makes sense. Geez, my hairdos would sometimes extend a good 6 vertical inches above my head, if not more. I was playing in a bunch of bands at the time for which I needed huge hair and I can remember when I got into my boxy little Toyota Corolla and my hair touched the roof, I knew I was stylin. Lookin good. Done up right. Can you imagine? So. My hair saw a lot of abuse, which might have appeared less harmful if I were to apply something like ‘conditioner’ to it. I didn’t need more ‘stuff’ ie, ‘cream’, but rather a nurturing, restorative aid for my hair. Ok. I’ve made my own case for the transition to conditioner. I’m good. I can move on to other ruminations now. There’s so much to be nostalgic about and there are enough vintage shops to cover all that backward longing.

For now, I’m rinsed clean.

Creation, Correction

When I compose one of these entries it usually takes about an hour or two. Depending. First I write the body of the text in one sitting, getting down the gist of what’s on my mind. Then I take a break. I go have a glass of seltzer water, play the piano, collect eggs or do something non-computer related so that I can be better refreshed when I next sit down to pluck and prune. My second go-round is about editing, essentially. I admit, I’ve never given much thought to what and editor really does – it seems the job is implicit in it’s title – but I’ve always suspected there was a world of real-life processes involved that I could never imagine. Just how does one edit successfully? I, now a hobbyist in the field, have a vague idea. This is the more tedious part of my process. I guess the beauty of having someone else edit your work is that they see with outside eyes, the very sort of vision I’m trying to achieve by collecting eggs before I sit down to edit. I would welcome that; just last night I passed over a redundant “in” despite several read-throughs (and having hit the publish button) which another might have found right away. For me, the text had overpowered the extra preposition. I was a little too inside the story. After I’ve nipped and tucked, and read through a time or two more for last minute fixes, I push the publish button. And it feels good. Like when all the laundry is not only folded – but put away, too. A nice feeling of completion.

Last night I must have been too inside the story. I missed something that my night-wandering mind pointed out to me. I’d said that my father in law sleeps on a desk in a windowless office. True, for years he did, but I realized that he’s spent the last few years in a new hideaway. In an effort to portray things as honestly and accurately as possible, and inspired in part by my near ex’s nasty threats about removing names and untruths from my posts, I feel I must amend last night’s entry.

My father in law owns a beautiful but dilapidated nineteenth century building on Chicago’s near west side. Once the home of some unionesque, fraternal organization (my memory says Upholsterer’s Union, but I can’t be sure that’s true) among its many rooms and hallways it has a theater on the top level and a mysterious padded room which carries the legend of being the place where straying union members would be “convinced” to behave better. (Perhaps it was just a showroom for the handiwork and craftsmanship of the group’s members.?) It’s a big structure, and it was once filled to the ceilings with obsolete computers and laboratory equipment which my father in law had culled from the university’s throw away piles in the hopes of once more putting them to good use. One could call this hording, yet I do know that he managed to find a new life for some of the items. Just not all of them. With the help of his Mexican laborers, I understand he’s managed to tidy the place up a bit, moving things around to make hallways passable and rooms more spacious. Somewhere in this labyrinth he has an office. And somewhere in the vicinity of his office, he has his camp, his nook. For the past few years this is where he’s retired to in the evenings, after seeing his wife safely to her garden apartment miles to the north in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. I’m guessing he has more of an apartment-like setup here. There’s plenty of room, plenty of refrigeration, likely a kitchen, and certainly a bathroom. It seems that this is his primary residence these days. So that brings my story up to snuff. Now I can put it to rest knowing I’ve presented the truth to the best of my knowledge, and done so in as matter a fact a way as possible. Just trying to minimize potential fallout, ya know?

So now the correction is complete. And this is where I rest, unless the story just finished evokes another yet untold. If there’s more emerging, it’s off for another cup of coffee and a pass at the piano, then it’s back to creation once again.

Bad Apple

Apparently my near ex finds this blog an unhealthy mess. A forum for self-pity in which I exploit my child, as well as his other three.  Threatens to take legal action of some sort if I don’t retract certain things. Gotta say, that doesn’t feel great. But today I am rather done with being bullied. The self-righteous way in which he wields his power seems the unhealthy mess here.

I have had some revelations in my solitude. For nearly the past quarter century I’ve been too enmeshed in this person’s life to gain any meaningful perspective. Lately, it’s occurred to me (only lately?, some might wonder) that given the way in which my near ex was raised, his behavior is not entirely shocking. When our news became known to folks, quite a few felt the freedom to finally express their true feelings on the man. There is a consensus among these opinions; he is a talented motherfucker, a hard worker, and he can appear as sweet as you please – yet there’s a frighteningly chilly side to this worldly, successful musician that shows up real quick when you no longer serve his agenda.  Was he fired from his last band as he pleads in his divorce statements in order to show hardship, or did he quit in order to boldly strike out on his own, as he purports to the Chicago Tribune? Two stories, one narrator. He amends his story as needed. Yes, he’s a whole bunch of stuff, but he’s not stupid.

My near ex is an only child and has never wanted for much. He’s enjoyed the world on his own terms for all of his life. His parents have enjoyed the same. Immigrants of the 50s who came here to attend college, their story is at first romantic and inspiring. They created wealth and success in their new adoptive country. They had one child, and brought him up in a household of culture, learning, travel – and top-shelf dysfunction. I oughta know.

To this day his father sleeps on top of a desk in a windowless basement office in a cement-block building on the outskirts of the campus from which he is a retired professor. His amenities include a hotplate and a dorm-sized fridge. Don’t know how or where he performs his toilet. We always used to wonder. He virtually lives in his overcoat – something which has appeared endearing at times – yet it does smack of a certain cluelessness. However he lives or dresses, this man has certainly accomplished a lot in his life, and honestly, there’s no other person I know who has the magic touch as he does when it comes to acquiring permits or having bank fees waived. He’s got a certain thing – I will handily give him that. But that he owns property which might afford him a fine standard of living, yet he lives like a homeless stowaway – that I’ve never really understood. In the end it never really mattered. He was always there for his son – and til now, his daughter in law. He coached, offered advice – and he was never, ever without a solution. I can hear him now, in his soft Pakistani accent, “Elizabeth, one could simply just….” Every problem was met with a “one could simply just ____” Easy to say when you have several Mexican laborers living in your basement and ready to jump at any task for $7 an hour. Yeah, if I had that resource there are a lot of things I could “simply just”. !

Last year he and my mother in law came here to visit us in New York. He told me he had a “mystery” he needed to solve and that he needed to put on his “Sherlock Holmes hat”. He leaned in, as if to whisper to me, and said in an almost rhetorical tone “I cannot figure out why you would want to move here, to New York“. We had just ended an awkward, yet somewhat sweet visit with both of them and my parents (after all we’d all been family for twenty years in spite of the crazy events), and I thought it was rather evident why I was here, and especially so because my parents lived right next door to me. Regardless of how obvious it all seemed, I spelled it out for him. In retrospect, I wish I’d played the teacher card and turned it around: “I don’t know, why do you think I moved to New York?”. That I had to answer – that the question was even in his mind – proved that he was only able to see the world from his private epicenter. His son is much the same. In their eyes, I left Dekalb for selfish reasons. (If self-preservation equals selfish, well then, I agree.)

My mother in law is another character whose personal description might fill an entire post. She is well past 80 and continues to dye her hair a fire engine red using ‘congo red’, a laboratory stain she gets through her husband’s business. It saves her the cost of box color. Years ago she was diagnosed with a latent form of what doctors term “high-functioning schizophrenia”. When the stress in her life reaches a critical level, her symptoms begin to manifest. And I tell you, life has a dreamlike quality to it when you’re searching under the floorboards in her basement apartment bathroom (no, they don’t live together and haven’t in twenty years) for gobs of bills and gold stored in ziplock bags and must retrieve them for her silently, stealthily, so as not to be picked up on the cameras which were placed inside her home by the government.

I know a number of folks with schizophrenia, some whose lives have been horribly changed, some not so much. It’s nothing to joke about, yet it’s also not something to deny and avoid. And yet we all did, for two decades. We’d dance around her, her temper, her stress threshold, with her husband confiding in me every few years that this time he was serving her with divorce papers, but I was not to tell anyone. Time and time again he would end our talks: “Elizabeth, this conversation never happened.” I was jockeyed about between all three of them, keeping lies, disclosing what was advantageous for a currently needed solution – oh I was knee-deep in crap. I played the game right along with em. But it was how we all lived. There my husband was, adored and revered in public, but privately he was twisted up in a tangle of half-truths and intimate deception.

And I guess I didn’t do much to stop it. Sometimes I tried. When I did, I was told not to rock the boat. If we wanted their help. And with that big Evanston home, we needed help. So I admit, I found it easier to shut up and deal with it than to expose the dysfunction and point to the huge elephant sitting in our living room. What good would it have done? We had our home, and they were living as they chose. We each had our thing in place. They always had drama, and we always had to dance around it. It was a drag of a way to live, but it worked. They greased the wheel, so we kept on rolling…

I don’t want to deny my parents in law all the wonderful things they’ve given me. I’ve traveled the world with them, learned about other cultures from the inside, learned how to cook new kinds of food, learned things from the metaphysical to the mundane. I have truly learned a lot from them, and for this I give them my love and my gratitude. But no more will I give them my deference.

I had thought perhaps, in this new era of babies, families and moving on that it might be time to lay our cards down and reassess our old methods. Perhaps it was time for truth. This is in part why I began to write this blog – I was exhausted from keeping so much in and for so many years.  I recently wrote a letter to all three – mother, father, son, in which I did indeed point out the enormous and unrecognized guest in the room. I laid it all out. My near ex claims it has had the opposite affect of the one I intended. Well, maybe not. I’m kinda screwed here no matter what. I just meant to get shit out in the open so I could finally breathe free and clear. I guess I’d thought they would rally to my aid in some way given the blatant inequity of the situation, that my father in law would take up his “one could simply just” mantra, but no. He hasn’t even responded to my emails. That’s never happened before. Clearly, the sides are chosen, the era of my compliance has ended, and with it, my membership in the club.

It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Two Apart

My son is in Dekalb visiting his father this week. I’m getting a lot done. I’ve made good use of my time, and am finally getting to things I should have done months ago. Yet strangely, I find all the ideas I’ve had swimming around in my head keeping me awake for the past week are now suddenly absent. I can’t seem to write. And this is unusual. I know a writer should be able to write regardless of her surroundings, regardless of what’s going on in her life. But then again, I aint gettin paid, and there are no deadlines to meet.

It occurred to me that since Elihu left, so has my desire to write. Tonight, when he called, I expressed this to him. I told him that without him here, without his energy in the house it just felt different. I had no ideas. They just weren’t coming. I told him I thought it was because it helped to have him around. “Me too” he said quietly. “I just don’t feel like doing anything when I’m away from you.” That wasn’t entirely true, as he’s had a few nice outings since he’s been there, and I do know he’s having a good time. But his voice sounded tiny, so much softer than usual. He went on, “without you it’s like I’m just stuck inside this dark body and I can’t see.” I waited for him to explain. “No one really hears me when I’m stuck in the dark”. Dear boy. What can I say but to tell him again that I love him, that my heart is always with him?

Are we too dependent upon each other? I don’t know. But I do know that life is a bit different when we’re apart.

Of Mice and Money

How much to guard? How much to reveal? This very public forum has me second guessing things I’d probably once have written about without pause. Well, I have some new plans which feel pretty good, and as I’ve no support whatsoever from my husband nor his family, I’m going ahead with it. I’m filing for bankruptcy.

I’ve learned that the legal firms who now handle my debts can attach the money in my checking account. Once they’ve done their legal thing and followed the proper procedure, they are entitled to make the next step towards recovering the debt. Not that I wouldn’t pay the debt if I had an income, or the means, but I simply don’t. And I need the little I have to keep the electric on. So here we go…

I’m surprised at how matter-of-fact this all feels. I feel slightly detached, as if I were gliding through a dream. What the hell is real anyhow? I’m not doing so well economically for the time being, true, but I live comfortably, and surrounded by beauty. So am I truly poor? (Often, when I remark to Elihu that we’re lucky in many ways, citing our ownership of the land on which we live as proof – make that my parent’s ownership of the land on which we live – my son will correct me. He reminds me that people do not own land. We agree to leave each other to enjoy our own little pieces of it in our own ways, but, he reiterates, we do not own the land. Ok. He’s right, I know, but still it buoys the spirit to think we have ownership of something.) My ego-driven self really wants to know I still have something to show for myself here, yet in the end I do know that nothing is truly ours, and despite our best efforts everything will change form and cease being what it once was. I offer my beloved Aerosoles mid-heel slip-ons, frayed at the edges by gnawing mice as example. Looks like Jesus was right. All our stuff is going the way of rust, mice and moths at some point. So perhaps wealth – or at least the perception of  having stuff – is rather a shifting mirage.

So here I go. I’m starting over. I can only buy things that I have cash in hand for. Thankfully, that’s not really a new challenge; I’ve been living like that for nearly three years now. My needs are fairly modest, and I’m good at being frugal. Who knew? This is a reality I would never have dreamed of three years ago this time. I admit I get to feeling sorry for myself when I pass the patrons seated on the sidewalks in front of the wonderful Saratoga restaurants – I covet their elegant-looking salads and thin-stemmed wine glasses, but hey, I’ve been there, done that.

Not to worry, I’ll taste the arugula again.

City Stage, Historic Field

My head is brimming with images from the weekend as I sit at my desk contemplating the weekday’s tasks. An enormous bowl of fragrant rose petals sits on my piano, telling me that the Saturday when my nature boy was enthusiastically collecting them in his plastic grocery bag was not so long ago as it now seems. Somehow, at the beginning of a week, the past two days feel to be a month ago rather than mere hours.

Elihu participated in his first official talent show in Schenectady on Saturday as part of the 11th annual Juneteenth celebration at the city’s grand municipal park. Having learned that the holiday commemorates the end of slavery in America, at first I doubted the appropriateness of his performing there. Then I reconsidered the bigger picture and the benefits of his experiencing what it is to be the only white person in a black event. I thought back to my days playing in R&B groups on Chicago’s west side; I remember being the only white person among thousands of black people and at the time thinking how lucky I was, as a white girl, to know this experience. I wished all white people in America could have this experience just once. For one teeny moment in time, I could see through that window and feel what it was to be the only one ‘of my kind’ in a crowd. I wasn’t sure this would even register to Elihu, and while I didn’t want to make it an issue, I did have hopes that this opportunity might get him thinking.

As we sat in the wings waiting for his turn, he told me his heart was beating fast. “Feel it” he insisted, taking my hand and placing it on his chest. I took it to mean his joyful, unselfconscious days were coming to a close; he was now aware that he was going to perform in front of hundreds and he was getting nervous for the first time. He’d been a little nervous before, but this seemed different. Without a list to refer to, we sat waiting for the MC to call his name. The nice twist here was that, in this world of foreign-sounding, black-culture names, his was not met with an uncomfortable pause. Instead, the huge man announcing the contestants gave the name his best shot, got it right, and then politely and with good humor inquired if his pronunciation of it was indeed correct. “Yeah” I thought. This was a nice start.

Elihu picked up his djembe and walked briskly to the stage, where he sat down to play. He’d sat with the monitors downstage of him, as a smart performing boy should; those are the speakers you hear yourself in. However, with him being so little, and the stage so big, the MC asked him to move all the way to the front so as to be seen. I hoped this didn’t throw him off his game. He moved, took no time to compose himself (oh-oh) and began. He started his groove a little too fast I thought. I remembered my mother gasping under her breath when my father, at the harpsichord, would sometimes start a Scarlatti sonata at a gate that she feared he could not safely execute. I too felt that concern, but no matter, he would make it work. He got going and just when he had momentum, threw in a false stop. (Good boy, just like mama told you.) Then he resumed in the smattering of applause resulting from the fake-out and threw in some of his quarter note triplets. It all felt good. A little fast, but good. He knew the right time to stop, and I was proud. He even remembered to bow just before he left the stage, inspiring a third wave of applause. Good little man.

The competition had a table of judges on stage, and although they were just about to offer their critiques and opinions, Elihu fell apart when he walked back to me. “I want to go now! I’m tired! Please, let’s GO!” Having the video going, and wanting to hear the remarks, I managed to quiet him long enough to record it all. We ended up staying for the young girl who sang after him, as Elihu was now curious to see what kind of competition he was up against. The 16 year old girl sang her own song to a track she’d produced herself. When she started, Elihu whispered “I give her a 10”. But as the track got longer and showed little variation in arrangement, and as her pitch got funkier, he leaned in and amended his score “I give her a seven”. Somewhat invested, we stayed to hear her results. Surprisingly, she scored a perfect 40. ? I guess it was impressive that she did it all herself. Execution and editing will come with time. We decided to take a break and come back later for the final scores.

It was refreshing to see so many black, asian and indian faces at the festival.  Since leaving Chicago I’ve been disappointed to find myself living in such a homogenized, white world. This summer festival lifted my mood. Elihu and I passed some time at the duck pond while we listened to the competition ringing out from the amphitheater over the large city park. Near its conclusion, we walked back to learn that he had placed second, and two acts tied for first, the young gal we’d heard after him being one of the winners. With no farewell save a quick swap of business cards with the MC, we made our way back to the car to head out of the tangle of roads that traversed the lush greens and ponds.

Nearing the exit we discovered the largest, most gorgeous rose garden I have ever seen in person. Elihu, nearly as infatuated with flowers as with birds, agreed whole-heartedly that we stop and see it for ourselves. Not five minutes inside, he discovered that many of the thousands of blooms were fairly falling off the stems as they had gone by. He begged I find a bag somewhere as he meant to collect them. Slowly we made our way through the grassy aisles, smelling and oohing over each and every variety. What we’d thought would net a few handfuls of petals became the next hour’s obsession, and as we left Elihu had a bag full to bursting of fragrant petals in every color. During our visit to the garden I offered to take photos of couples who tag-teamed solo pictures of each other, and I had them do the same for us. (I have so very few pictures of Elihu and me together – is it not always the mom absent in the bulk of family photo albums?) A wedding party was also there taking pictures. It was hot and humid and the young tuxedoed men mopped their brows while their dates giggled.

An ice cream truck pulled up beside the garden and sounded its mechanical tune over and over, calling everyone to line up. Elihu had never heard an ice cream truck before, nor was he aware of ever having seen one. I explained that it was a thing, and that he had to take part – even if he didn’t like ice cream (he’s his mama’s boy, we choose salt over sweet any day of the week, and ice cream is not a temptation to either of us). We stood in line with the well-dressed wedding party and enjoyed the playful vibe as they teased each other about the silly names of the treats they were getting. I decided on our confections quickly – with so many waiting behind us there wasn’t the time to explain the choices. Elihu was surprised that it wasn’t actually ‘real’ ice cream, but rather an ice cream-like thing on a stick in a gooey wrapper. I explained that this was also part of the experience, and that in towns and cities all across America this was actually a beloved part of summer.  So we gave it the old college try, trying to stay ahead of the sticky drips as we sat eating our whatever-they-were treats on a stick, sitting on a bench in the rose garden. Ok, got it. Done. We tossed our treats long before they melted to resume our tour. After a nice chat with some nuns from a nearby Catholic church (and also taking a couple of group photos for them) we returned to the car to head for home.

We took the long way back. Since we are reading a historical novel set around the battle of Saratoga in the Revolutionary War, we ended up making our way north via some landmarks we’d read about in the story. Starting in the tiny town of Stillwater on the Hudson river, we then went north toward the sight of the battle we were reading about; the famous surrender of General Burgoyne to our Generals Gates and Arnold. Not even realizing the serendipitous nature of our mistake, we ended up entering the service entrance to the battle field in an effort to perhaps hear some meadow birds. A vast field, sweeping towards the sky beckoned. We pulled over, got out, and prepared for a walk.

Only the horizon and sky could be seen at the end of this lovely, gravel road which cut through the tall grass. As we walked nearer the summit, I could now see we were exactly in the middle of the very battle field we’d been reading about! Ahead was the small, restored cabin where the generals had studied their maps and made their strategies. Once atop the hill, the view towards the east, Hudson river less than a mile away in that direction, was stunning, windswept and vast. The foothills on the other side of the river were distinct and easily seen – I could make out silos and barns, fields and hamlets within the dark cover of forest. Beyond were the mountains of Vermont. Truly a stunning sight, made even more exhilarating by the huge breadth of the great lawn on which we stood. Even Elihu got it. Although through his eyes the mountains were no more than a bumpy, fuzzy horizon, the sheer expanse was still evident to him. Plus, there were more birds singing in this spot than we could ever recall hearing in one place. We two lingered there, as the sun began to set, with no need to leave, to return home, to close this moment. We unlatched the shutters to the small cabin and peered inside to see the desk, quill pen and spectacles laid atop an ancient map. We stood on the porch of the cabin, wind in our faces, and tried to imagine this place, so different, so hectic and busy and important all those years ago.

As we began to walk back down the hill through the tall field, we heard more birds still. Elihu’s frustration at not seeing the Snipe was finally too much, and he burst out angrily that it wasn’t fair that he, of all people, should not be able to see the bird when he knew so well what it looked like. But, God bless that kid, he didn’t dwell on it, as he easily could have – at least it would be entirely understandable if he did – and soon he was in joy again at his luck to have at least heard this bird for the first time.

In the car, we resumed our drive home – one we’d chosen to match as carefully as possible the route that our heroine took in the novel – and managed to make only one impromptu stop in order to smooch some cows as they were given their last meal of the day. I had a short conversation with the farmer, a tall, German-born fellow whose accent made it difficult for me to learn much more than that these gals were for breeding and not for milk. Pulling Elihu away, we got on the road and once again made for Saratoga.

As a means to more fully understand what it was to travel nearly 300 years ago through the woods at the pace of a horse, we took one final detour through Yaddo, an artists’ retreat on a lovely, wooded property just outside of town. Once inside the gates, we rolled all the windows down and merely idled. “This is as fast as she could go?” Elihu was going for complete accuracy. “Yup, just about”. After five minutes of this, we both got the picture. Mosquitoes came in the car, the humidity of the outside world closed in, and we were glad for our horseless carriage with the power of several hundred. Finally, we headed home.

The day was such a complete buffet of experiences. We’d started in the city, and ended back here putting our chickens in for the night. We both fully felt our good fortune and the magnificence of the day. We were in a fine mood as we sat to dinner Saturday night. I recounted our day, and in particular wanted to know more about his experience at the talent show. “So you were nervous for the first time, huh?” I asked, dreading his confession. “No! – I was excited! I couldn’t wait to play!” he protested. Wow. I was so thrilled. Good for him, good for him.

With our first-hand visions of the story’s setting freshly imprinted in our brains, we settled into bed eager to finish the final chapters of our historical novel. Some days it seems we’re writing a novel of our own, and this day had been a particularly enjoyable chapter to be sure.

Switching Channels

An uncomfortable volley of emails. Angry action taken on both sides. I am tired. He is tired. We can find no agreement. How is it possible? How on earth did I get here?

I have refused to sign and return our joint tax papers until I can be assured the $8K refund will go to my son and me, as my husband offered. Now he says he must use the money for property taxes, else the property will go into foreclosure. I can’t be much worse off than I currently am, so I refuse. I can see no other card, save the precious child card. Til now I’ve adamantly refused to take that path. My son loves his father, and he needs him. I cannot remove his dad from his life. Barely out of bed, today I am fairly exhausted.

We’ve all seen those inspiring, tear-inducing spots on you tube of down-trodden people who’ve risen up against huge challenges to become shining examples of possibility. Against the backdrop of the world’s population my circumstances do not look bad. And truly, thanks to the welfare system of this country, I am not hungry. Yes, I have been without food and heat, but never to the point of abject poverty. I drive a CRV (can’t afford tires or routine service, but it’s paid for nontheless, and it serves me well). I live in a house. I have a computer and internet access. I have all four limbs and my health. And usually, a sense of humor. Today I am trying to measure the quality of my life against the bulk of the people with whom I share this planet, in order that I might take a breath and step back for a moment.

Today, I will put aside the divorce drama and instead focus fully on The Studio. The community arts center which lives primarily in my dreams at present. I must give less energy to the dark concerns that tug at me daily, hourly. Somehow I must keep the hopeful vision of The Studio alive and fully animated in my thoughts. I must imagine the sounds of happy children’s laughs ringing out within the Studio walls, I must imagine the gorgeous sounds of Baroque music which will fill the concert hall this July. I must keep these images lively and dancing in my awareness at all times. How in hell I’ll glean an income from an arts center, I have no idea. I’m a musician, not an administrator. But today, I will trust. I will just trust, that where my attention goes, my energy flows and results will manifest. I admit, I spend most of my energy dwelling on the hopelessness of my situation, and I see only more of the same.

Today I will change the channels. I will participate in my future vision instead of the current reality. I’ll see if the world looks any different tomorrow.  (My attorney seems to have no problem with letting 24 hours pass without attention to this case – maybe it’s time I tried it too!) Pass me the remote…

New Bird

“Forty-three species”. Those were Elihu’s first words early this morning when I went to his bedside to wake him for the day.  He rolled over to face me, and he was all grin. He had added a new bird to his list.

A week ago or so we’d counted forty-two species of wild birds that he’d seen so far here in New York. Just last night he’d shrieked with joy at seeing a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak at the feeder for the very first time. While I didn’t see it myself, and was fairly skeptical, I kept the possibility open. Months ago he’d told me we had a Raven. He’d heard it, he explained; it was distinct and much different from a Crow. I placated him, told him perhaps, but thought it not likely as Ravens are usually not in this area – they’re more common down south. He defended his stance. One day he heard a guttural croaking sound from down the hill and came to get me just in time to hear it too. Still, my own ears could not convince me. Then just a few weeks ago, as I drove the winding uphill road to my home, I saw an enormous black bird fly overhead and land in a tree just above me. I slowed to stare as my mouth fell open. I simply could not believe it. This bird was no Crow. It wore a ruff around its neck, its beak was much thicker than that of a Crow, and man, this thing was fucking huge. Really. It’s a good thing I had a friend in the car beside me whose father is a professional birder – else I’d probably not have believed my own eyes. So, that day I had to apologize to Elihu for not quite believing him. We did, in fact, have a Raven about.

Yesterday, as I tended to the chickens, I thought I heard a Robin’s song. Without thinking much about it, my heart registered the hopeful feeling that the song has always inspired in me, and so I began to listen with more intent. It sounded very much like a Robin, but just perhaps it wasn’t… could it be the similar tune of Elihu’s Grosbeak? My heart lifted with hope and anticipation.

Once a new species visits, it takes a week or so for it to return and to convince others to join him at the feeder. And so, we will wait for the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.  Elihu has spotted many birds at our feeder long before they became regulars; the Red Bellied Woodpeckers, the Starlings, the Grackles and more. He’s heard the Wood Thrush, Woodcock and other birds I could not pick out for myself. I must learn to trust my little nature boy.

And I should probably get ready to eat some crow.

Birth and Baptism

It was three years ago today when my husband saw his second son born. My husband’s pregnant girlfriend was due to deliver their baby sometime around the middle of June, so I’d made plans for Elihu and me to be out of town during that time. The wait was over.

As my husband had not officially moved out of our house, and as the couple had no place other than that of her parents, I had begun to make peace with the idea of starting over far across the country, closer to my own family, and leaving our marital home to the two of them and their new baby. Just a few years before I’d left my beloved Evanston, just outside of Chicago and moved to the rural town of Dekalb so that Fareed, Elihu and I might start our life anew. Now, without my husband, I had no reason to stay in that small town. I packed for a week’s vacation and took Elihu to the place that would soon be our new home. My son and I were far away when Charlie was born, three years ago today.

A friend had insisted we come and enjoy her family’s beautiful pond anytime we cared; they were all away and busy during the daytime, we would have the dock and water all to ourselves. On that sunny, warm June 12th, 2008, I took Elihu to the pond for an afternoon of pollywogs and distraction. While he had little idea how his own life was changing, I did, and that day was heavy with a strange, sick brew of feelings. It seemed I was living in a dream. My husband was about to have a new child. The child that had blown the lid off of everything.

My comprehension about it all was primitive. I could still not understand this. I’d lived through nine months with Fareed still living in our home; each day I was dreading the event that he himself awaited with great excitement. Such a queer mix of things, I could do no more to keep myself sane than to leave town and come back after the babe had been born. Here I was now, with my son, on a hot summer’s day, toes dangling off the dock in the cool water of a country pond while almost a thousand miles to the west something was changing. Here, my son was busy with nets and buckets, scooping up pond life, unaware of how his own life was changing in that very moment.

The sun and sparkling water gave me some relief. Elihu had taken an interest in the fishing gear there and for a time my energy was spent helping him bait and cast, and making sure that he didn’t hurt himself accidentally on the hooks. I was on vigilant watch against mishaps for a half hour until he lost interest and contented himself again with the net. I sat back in the Adirondack chair and looked out over the white pines that rimmed the water. I watched my son play, and thought to myself that in spite of our having been a family til now, Fareed had shared very little time with the two of us.

Most of my memories around Elihu did not include his father. Instead my memories were mostly just the two of us. Walking around our Evanston neighborhood, riding the bike on the lakefront, visiting friends, together at rehearsals, radio shows, performances. I had Elihu with me all the time, everywhere. I’d always felt this was a time of waiting. Waiting for our new life. A life in which I would set aside my gigs and projects to raise a family. A life in which Fareed would tour less, stay home more, enjoy our company. Now, it seemed, it might be just Elihu and me, alone, forever. My heart couldn’t bear this.

Here Fareed was, embarking on the familial journey with someone else instead of us, his real family. How could this be happening? We’d moved to Dekalb just two years ago in order to start over, but not like this! I tried to drink in my surroundings, to buffer myself against the constant barrage of thoughts. I needed to breathe, to separate myself from the pain. It felt like nature, water, air and light were the only things that could help me. The lakeside day was so bright and hopeful, it was oblivious to our loss. It was a day of contrasts that I could not comprehend.

My thoughts were interrupted by a huge splash. I needed not an instant to think, but sprang from my chair. The pond water was a dark amber, tinted by the tannin of leaves, and it obscured even bright objects only inches below the surface. As I looked down I saw the top of my son’s head descending through the water, its shape disappearing in the dark. I threw myself down into that darkness, grabbing blindly for my baby, finding him as fast as I could, then pushing him upward, my legs sinking to the knees in the silty bottom. If I’d been rescuing anyone other than my only child, I don’t know how I’d have gotten purchase enough on the ground to push him into the air….

But this was my son, my life, my everything. Somehow I lifted him above the water and again another foot upwards to the dock. I myself sank back down again after I’d set him on the platform, but in a rush of adrenaline I lifted myself up and onto the dock beside my Elihu, who was scared, but thank God, crying and alive. I held him against my body, I rocked him, I tried to soothe him. I held him as I’d never held him before.

We sat for awhile, waiting for our hearts to stop pounding. The horrifying image of the dark water closing in over my son played again and again in my head. He might well have died. Yet he didn’t, I had saved him from that. I’d given birth to him once, and today in some way, I’d given birth to him again. He was alive, I was alive, it was ok. And once again, it was just the two of us. It seemed the universe had demonstrated in the most acute way that we two were starting over. We had emerged from the water somehow changed.

As I drove up to my parents’ house my cell phone rang. Fareed’s tone was matter-of-fact. While he was not overtly rejoicing in his news, his mood was light and upbeat, different from the somber tone he’d used all those months as we waited for this day. I could hear in his voice a guarded excitement about his new life. His new son had been born about forty-five minutes earlier and he had just wanted me to know.

But then he went on to tell me details about the delivery – things I didn’t want to know, couldn’t possibly share delight in – while I sat in my car, still wet from the pond, dazed, trying to integrate what had just happened here with what had just happened there. As Fareed continued to talk, my mind began to piece together the last hour. It seemed that nearly the moment the new baby was born, my son was tumbling into the water. As the newborn took his first breath of air, my son struggled for the same. I sat, unmoving, stunned by the metaphor that had been placed so clearly in my path. This was a day of emergence and change. It was a day of cleansing and rebirth.

And if I’d not been entirely convinced before, I was then. We had been washed clean of our old life – and a new one had just begun.