The Story So Far
The Hand, the DJ Marcus’s Feet and Satish
A story in 109 Days
Chapter 1: ftb
Chapter Two: If and Me, Home and Good
Day 14 (?)
i no 4 things. 1, i can use my right hand and i smell a little bit. i think the hand is attached to something. i can smell burned meat. me? 2, I can think. a lot. but memory is weak. it feels like my brain was taken from me. diced. mixed in a cup. and someone is pouring bits back into my skull slowly. cruelly. randomly. i no i had a bike at 7. and a daughter…later. no names. i hope more family gets poured in. 3rd, IT wants me to write things. There’s a will there. 4th, IT said i will recover, but slowly. do the burned bits fall off? are they reborn?
think always, but keys so hard to find. we are working on it. blind. dumb. locked inside. 13 days i could not write anything they could read. we struggle. where do my thoughts go if not thru the hand? gone.
I don’t type. I text. So lots of confusion between if and me. Home and Good. Message there?
I recovered Katie today. It was her hair. And the ring for our 20th. The flood came. Filling my skull to the brim and spilling over my face. Tears? I am awash with Katie today. No need to text. Out there, you know more than me. In here, let me recover her. And swim in her. Happy as a hand can be. I will call these words, ‘The Hand.’
The host body not doing well. Distracting the happy hand. Lots of bumping, thumbing. They squeezed my hand tight today. To pull me from where the body was going? To say goodbye? As I write this, they tap back NO (tap tap). Say the body flat lined twice but stable. Hand not good on its own I fear. They agree. tap
Recovered Lauren today. More about hair. And a v scar on her shin. Funny what causes the pouring. But pour she did. Filling my skull. Pour over my face. To my lips. There was a Christmas Kiss. A thank you for an American Girl Doll. There’s a song there. About horses. And there’s something about music. They try all sorts of things with the hand now. There’s dogs muzzled into my palm. Nothing. There’s a boy’s knee. Weird. Nothing. There’s a girl. And a 3 hole punch? Nothing. But there’s a funny story there. Typing easier. But daily reports take the day. All day. Between the thumping. And the hard hand squeezes. And what feels like constant attempts to keep me around. They say NO. Tap. Tap. All okay. Really? Tap.
Chapter 3: QWERTY
They told me there was no Day 19 for the hand. It slept as the body convulsed. Overflowing with infection. Spare the hand. The smells are medicinal today. They want to tell me what is going on. What happened. The hand isn’t ready to put energy there. IT wants me to talk while I can. Katie and Lauren, I run wild with our memories. I travel the world. Sometimes with Katie. Sometimes with Katie and Lauren. I see other shapes and know there are others. The knee. The hole punch. I will get there.
Stabilised. Body stabilised. Good! Leave the hand alone. Katie reads my message to the children. She takes over the hand today. I must know. Connor. Maggie. And Lewie is the dog that was pressed in my palm. Ok. IT now needs to pour in memories. Fill my skull. Nothing. IT asks me to report on one memory. Yes. But it will be hours of texting. Katie took over hand today so will try tomorrow.
Stable? No day 22. The body fails. Fuck the Body. FTB! IT told me of recovery. No. Smells. The hand sleeps.
I will not report on the body. FTB! It can talk for itself. I remember Pisa. Three children. Katie. On the square. A ring for the 20th. Pictures of kids all holding tower up as it leans and almost falls. Pictures hung in Maggie’s room. Along with pennies on the wall. Maggie! My skull fills. Office supplies! Hole punch. Maggie. IT says I’ve done well. Katie wants in. But today is Maggie. I swim.
FTB! Katie, Lauren and Maggie fill the hand today. Tell me of school. Of the house. Of dogs and cats. So hard to listen to their stories. Takes time – i have to remember the letters on a phone. And they guide me to a number and tap which letter – 1, 2 or 3. Minutes a word, hours for paragraphs. exhausting. But each word of text is a diced block of memory poured in the skull. The boy is there, holding the hand. Connor. I will get there son. Wait for me. Be patient. Your cube must be big. Hung on the lip of the cup slowly pouring into my skull. It will fill when it hits. I’m sorry.
FTB! FTB! But in its convulsions, something was unlocked. My left hand whispers to life. Three fingers. I long for a QWERTY keyboard. It takes an hour to spell QWERTY. Connor finally knew where I was going and guided the right hand. Connor, keyboards. Connor, Keyboards. The cube drops. I know you! He squeezes my hand hard. My skull runneth over. I swim.
QWERTY! QWERTY! I am on a key board. They’ve somehow tied my hands together, and clamped them on a key board, supported by pillows I suppose. I dance, I sing, I flit I fly across the key board. I could always type fast. I took a typing class in high school. The boys had to do ‘Home Economics’ and the girls had to take ‘Shop.’ I learned to cook an omelette and touch type. Thank goodness. I now have full control. It is easier for me to ask questions and let them tap a yes or no. So today is all about questions. Not about what happened? Not about the body? FTB. So, let the questions begin? Lauren, do you play netball and do you have a lovely red dress that you wore to Joyce’s 18th? Tap! Connor, did you do a wonderful video of Aiden’s dreams? Tap. Maggie, did you design the cover for Birdie? Tap. Katie, is there a story about a gerbil in your past? TAP! Ouch! I need them to know. I need them to know that I know. Did school go well today? Tap tap. Do you still hate economics? TAP. Ouch. Does Lewie still look ridiculous, all shaved like a rat poodle? TAP. Katie grabs the hand. TAP TAP! Ouch. The happy hand smiles. Really smiled. There is joy here.
FTB. And the left hand has disappeared. Back to texting. They try to reassure me. But I am like the man in Flowers for… Oh Fuck! I can’t text that. I’ve danced on a key board. I can’t crawl along a mobile phone. A bad day. They promise the key board.
Left hand back. But needs rest. The right hand bangs for key board. They TAP TAP. But I need to write my love letters. They promise tomorrow. Katie squeezes the hand. The others are at school today. Tired of the death watch? Katie TAP TAP very hard. A tear drop falls on my palm? Katie taps once.
Key board. Left hand weak. Right hand strong. This is the day. I will find lots of words with o and p and m and n. Give the left hand a break. So I pop. I mop. I kill my lips. Not really. But the right hand runs circles ‘round the left. Giggle. Ouch. Lots of right. I digress. Because digression takes no time at all. No strength at all. It is a joy to prattle on, to ramble, to spout nonsense.
But I have a mission today. While the body sleeps in some remission. So, please come sit with me one by one. Let’s go youngest to oldest, 20 minutes each. A proper schedule. Let’s use outlook. I would love an outlook.
Maggie taps. She strokes my hand. There’s a gentleness with you Maggie. So quiet, but always watching. Gentle. Filled with projects. Maggie, you will own and manage the company that employs your brother and sister’s friends. You will come early into the office and worry. And your worries will bring success. Create jobs. Support families. You will find a wonderful husband who sees you for what you are and puts his arms around your shoulders (you’ll pull away and he’ll squeeze you to him) and he’ll ask about your day. And in a few words you will tell him what you need. And he’ll provide in hugs and cuppa tea. And you will have 3 children, denying another dozen of a ‘girl like you.’ Maggie, don’t drown in your worries. Don’t kill yourself going after A stars in everything you do. Maggie, are you happy? Tap. Maggie, are you really, really happy? Tap Tap. Too many worries? Tap Tap. Maggie, too many worries? Tap. Am I a worry? TAP. I’m sorry for that. Don’t add me to your very long list, the fucking body will do what it will do. She strokes the hand. She grabs both hands. I stop typing. She rests my hands back on the key board.
I think she does this so I can tell the story of the hole punch! Tap Tap. She grabs my hands, but then let’s go. Resigned. Good girl! There was a safari. Yes, Katie’s parents took us to Africa – the whole family, including all cousins. Safari’s involve a lot of time in jeeps looking for rhino’s in the high grass. At least this safari did. And we had a lot of little kids to keep from getting too bored. So we played a lot of 20 questions. And one of the objects was a hole punch. Now, Maggie loves office supplies. She pours over an office supplies catalogue like I used to look at the toys section of the old Sears Catalogue. So the third question in 20 questions was ‘Do we have one at home?’ And the answer was (I know we cheated), ‘only in Maggie’s room. And Lauren answered, “Hole Punch.”
Her: I only have two hole punches. And they are useful.
Maggie, sometimes great is good enough. Sometimes good is great. Don’t walk heavy with the standards you set. She squeezes my hand and leaves. A rough hand grabs my hand. I don’t want to listen, but it says we’ve had enough. The Body is screaming to sleep and pull the hands with it. FTB. Katie’s hand squeezes a goodbye and they pull the key board away.
Chapter 4: The American Girl Dolls Tap Dance
FTB. Left hand dragged to rot in its infections. Right hand returns to texting. Good and home are confused. Me and If.
IT demands I know. I listen today. Somewhat foggy. They tell me what happened. They tell me how I am doing. The hand listens dispassionately. The hand distrusts me. It needs to focus and preserve itself. At my expense. I understand.
I think Katie comes in mornings. A child in the afternoon. They tell me of their days. I think these visits are so hard for them. Life is a battle for energy. I know this from my day job. How long ago that feels. You get and give energy from everyone you touch. You find yourself gravitating to those that give you energy and repelling from those that take energy. I’m repulsive right now. This takes all day to text. But they need to know I know. I will improve. I will give back some time. But for now, I repulse. The hand pauses as it texts this. I think it wants to run away from me too.
I wake with two strong hands. My fingers dust the keyboard and dance. My fingers lift high and there’s an energy here that I haven’t felt. The hands are tied close enough to embrace. They embrace. They touch each finger to each matching finger. I imagine my family is standing next to the bed watching them dance with one another. These sensations connect one side of my body to the other, and the signals must rush through my head. I know this. And I hope the dance awakens. I dance my fingers against each other and then Katie strokes each hand. She can tell what I’m doing and adds a flood of sensations that rush up the arm to the shoulder to the brain and back to the other side. Shoulder to elbow to hand. I can’t feel this, but it must be happening. Back and forth my brain must be jostled. Not infection now. The sensation of dance. That must be good for head, for heart, for soul. Katie knows this and hands the hands one after another — a rose, an apple, Lewie’s head (a wet shaky surprise), a shaker (I think, I hear nothing, but feel vibration), Maggie’s Hand, Connor’s Hand, Lauren’s Hand, ice, … Where is she getting all this? I ask, what are you doing? It is quicker to surmise? Have they told you to stimulate me? Tap. Hmmmm. Lewie’s head? Really? Tap.
Does this give you some energy? Tap. Watching me dance? Tap. Maybe I am not so repulsive today. TAP TAP. TAP TAP. I energise. TAP. I lift hands from keyboard and make a church. I make a steeple. Inside are people but I can’t turn to show. But the church is full today. There’s music for the soul here. Tap! I am a church. I am a steeple. Fill me. Fill me. With loads of people. Tap. A chorus of taps.
These hands float over the keyboard now. We are on a mission. Lauren? Lauren sits with me. There is hesitation. She has read the ode to Maggie. She is waiting for a lecture. She is waiting for a pro. Then a con. Then some sagely advice, predictably missing the mark wide. Predicitably estrapolating me to a child’s life. Lauren would rather dance. Fill the church. To sing. She taps. She would rather grab my hands from the keyboard. No words. But dance. Oh Lauren. She taps. The hatred of being graded. Being evaluated. Being judged. Tap Tap! No? Lauren loves being! Loves her friends and their chats and their dance. Where Maggie worries about grades, Maggie also welcomes them. They confirm her world view. Affirm her diligence, somehow. Lauren rejects all this. Why must I be evaluated? Why must there be a pro? Why must there me a con? And then some lesson! Tap Tap.
Lauren grabs the key board and forces my fingers to listen.
Stop making us American Girl dolls! I’m not the dancing one. Maggie’s not the studious one. We are not there for you to line up on a shelf.
Maggie grabs my hand. Tap! Both girls are here. They are not to bear silent witness to my pronouncements. To my evaluations. Lauren grabs the key board. And my friends won’t work for Maggie. Maggie grabs my hand. Tap! Lauren grabs my hand. Tap. Tap.
There is a dance here. A welcome dance. Taps and keyboards. A Tap dance. And through the taps I feel giggles. Giggles vibrating through my hands sending messages rapidly to my brain. Take this! Deal with this infection.
They stroke my hands together. One left, one right. They stroke my hand this morning. But there is a pull. A pull from the keyboard. Dad, don’t evaluate. Don’t make us dolls to line your walls. There’s a rhyme there. Today is music. And a recovery begins…
Chapter 5: O ;pbr upi/
I wake up early and alone. I tap for the key board. Until they come, I feel the need to fill you in. I haven’t decided who you are yet. Medically, I’m locked in. A coma. I’m a miner, trapped 1,000 feet below the surface, under rubble. With my hands miraculously tied to a key board. You can hear my voice. You can talk to me. You feed the body through tubes somehow. Bad analogy, really! Doctors marvel at me. Essentially a comatose wreck with dancing hands.
There was a fire. A bad one. I can’t tell you where or how yet. Too painful. Burns over 70% of my body. Infection everywhere. It has all been terribly touch and go. They say it is a blessing I’m in locked away because the body is filled with pain and tortured beyond endurance. The hands were spared. They say nothing about where the burns are and that worries me. My hands are too often wet with their tears and that worries me. In our chats there are long silences. Holes in the information. These holes may trap me one day. But it is one day at a time.
Then there is IT. I can’t explain IT. IT is a voice. Not yours – the reader. IT is there to tell a separate story. IT urges me to do things in a certain way. IT has opinions and is waiting in the wings to burst forth will all sorts of opinions. I’m warning you now, while I am still in control. When IT comes, IT is not me. How can I convince you of that? How many of us can be in this 30% well body with dancing hands. IT is giving me space now. But it warns. It also reassures me always I will recover fully. But I think it is talking about the body. And I’m not sure who IT intends to let occupy it. IT is warning me to stop this topic now.
Katie arrives and reads this. She says ‘ask questions.’ Am I getting better? Tap. Am I messed up? A Pause. My face? Tap. Tap. Oh god thank you. My legs? Tap. My torso. Tap. So I am a pretty face, and some pretty hands? Tap! Anything else? She grabs the key board. Nice feet…
I grab the key board. There’s no grabbing going on really. She shifts it back to me when my fingers wave to simulate typing. I type. When I rise, I will wear Michael Phelps’ swim suit. Those illegal ones that cover the burns – give me a speed. A sleekness. And I will conquer the world. Okay? Tap. I will be the face, the feet, the hands. And I will dance in Michael Phelps swim suit. Tap. She grabs the keyboard.
Her: Tap Tap. I will dance with all of you. I will sleep with my face on your chest.
Her: I will run my hands along your back.
Her: But I will always love your feet the best.
Me: Tap. I put my hands on the keyboard. O ;pbr upi/ She moves them to the left. I love you.
Me: I’m on a mission. It is Connor’s day.
Her: No, tap tap. He will come tomorrow. Let today be about us.
Chapter 6: Hairy Hands, Wonderbra and Toro
Wake. Eyes don’t open. Ears don’t open. Muscles don’t move. But hands awaken and fly to the key board which is always with the hands now. And they type.
This is almost a hint of routine. Wake. It appears this is before they arrive. A moment for myself. For reflection. Type a bit. Then they come and tap a bit later. So I reflect? Hmmm. I’m not very reflective. I think I absorb light and kill it. Oh, that’s the rub. That’s the point.
I have to become less repulsive. I can’t become the thing they have to do.
And urgently I have to find metaphors that work at least for a whole paragraph. Turns out I’m repulsive, but absorb all light. Interesting trick. But then, I’m a marvel. All five of me – glorious hands, feet and face. A basket ball team of undamaged skin appearing at your local. 5/6ths the Brady Bunch kids. 5/6th’s Friends. 125% Seinfeld. 500% Curb Your Enthusiasm. It is all about Larry David, isn’t it?
So this repulsive black hole has to think about energy. Has to not be the dark period of their childhood. I can’t be the aunt with Alzheimer’s, the uncle dying of cancer. Not yet. I can’t be ‘the car ride home’ where they debrief. I can’t be the car ride here where they ‘prepare.’ I can’t do that to them. So how?
One day at a time works if each day things improve. I have to improve. They have to see improvements. I have to be the arrival of British Summer Time. Every day, there’s three minutes more of light and then boom, you’re closing shades to keep the sun off Big Brother. No, no Orwellian reference. I mean, sadly, Big Brother. Big Brother little Brother. Big Brother big mouth. The whole franchise.
I digress because I can, liberated by QWERTY, dancing on key tops…
How do you measure progress when you are 94% rotting vegetable? FTB. We need to focus on my hands and what I assume is a screen somewhere. All I am now is dancing fingers and changing light on a screen. I hope that is enough.
You’re reading? Tap. Good morning. Stroke. You shift your fingers to the key board and guide me. We don’t prepare. We don’t debrief. We laugh a lot about what an idiot you are. You pull my fingers to the key board. Idiot? Tap. All five of me? Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Cheers! Tap Katie strokes my hand and replaces hers with Connors. I can feel that. Or is it smells? Tap. Connor agrees then, it is his smell that won it.
So, on a mission. Connor’s turn. Tap. Ready boy? Tap. He takes my hands and guides them over the keyboard. I am happy to be an American Girl Doll. The Native American one with cool beads. He gives me back control. Nice! So you’ve read all of that. Tap. I’m not really allowed to say anything. Tap tap. I can’t evaluate or judge. Tap. Tap. I can’t be a parent? Tap Tap. He grabs the keyboard and guides me. You are not much of a parent. You’re two hands and a blinking light. You’re not much more than a watch! He guides me back to the keys. And he forces me to remember, because he knows what he’s doing. The poem I wrote on the day of his birth. Strange Clock. With his beautiful hands. His beautiful face. But his loud tick tock. Tap.
Bastard! FTB. FTB. My two hands can fly wherever you want them to go. I’m more here for you than any parent alive. All five bits. Hell, I can’t be anywhere else. Tap. And I can’t judge because I have no idea what you’re up to. You control me. You are whatever you want me to think you are. Stroke.
There’s something good about that Connor. You can be what you want to be with me. Or you can be what you are. You’re choice. Your mother can help a bit with ‘the truth’ but I bet that will be a bit hard to sort. Tap. In many ways, this is probably where our relationship was always going to go. .. two men on a keyboard. Typing our thoughts. We just started early. In a few years, all I would be to you anyway was dancing hands across a keyboard and a little light across a screen. Tap tap
And you would always be the first to value this, I think. You, trapped in your brain. You with your endless stream of thoughts that keep you awake, keep you distracted, keep you so entertained. You probably envy me. Tap. Except for the horrible burns and the not being able to move, see, hear or taste, this is probably not far from perfection for you. Tap. A world of thought. Tap. You take the key board to guide my fingers. Although I wouldn’t knock the whole seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, moving thing. Has its uses. You hand back the keyboard. Cheers son. I’ll try not to forget that. Tap.
Connor grabs the keyboard. Speaking of blinking lights and computer screens, have we told you about Jobs? Tap Tap. Died. October 5 – pre-QWERTY. I grab keyboard. That’s horrible. I don’t know I love him more for, the iPod or ToyStory. Connor grabs the key board. ToyStory. 1, 2 and 3. I grab the key board. Connor can I tell the story? Tap Tap. Job’s death puts this in perspective Connor. I think it makes sense I tell my stories. Tap. Cool…
So Connor is an imaginative little boy to say the least. With his two favourite girlfriends, he spent a lot of time in Fairy Land imagining a life with the Fairies. To be honest, I was pretty certain he was gay. He grabs the key board. Could you possibly be a bigger stereotyping homophobe? And hands the key board back. I was pretty sure you weren’t gay ultimately because you’re such a messy slob. Tap Tap. Ouch. So, we see Toy Story. He concludes that toys are alive. We agree with him. And he starts writing letters to his toys for them to read at night. And Katie and I read the notes and reply. Connor is in a world of wonder, now knowing that his toys are in deep correspondence with him. Well, when I say deep, I wouldn’t really say ‘deep’ – they are toys, after all. Connor, being Connor, tells all his friends at school about his talking toys. This new revelation had followed numerous stories to his friends about the various fairies in his life. So the play ground becomes a rather uncomfortable time for Connor as school mates begin to tease. This makes Connor all the more determined to prove his mates wrong and asks his parents to help set up a video camera to record the toys, coming alive at night and acting as his private pen pals. We lied, of course. We told him the video recorder was broken. And then we wrote him a final letter saying ‘Dear Connor. Of course your toys come to life, but only if it is a secret. We heard you’ve been telling your friends. You can’t do this, or the magic stops. Please tell them you were joking so that we can keep writing to you. Love, Buzz.’ Connor never told us about this note, but we think he told his friends that he was kidding about the letters. And the toy correspondence continued for several months. Eventually the toys and Connor ran out of things to say. Thank God!
Hands replaced. It’s Katie. She takes the keyboard. Great. The “Parents are Liars” story. Thanks for that. Doctor’s pushing us out the door. The FB is vibrating a bit. FTB, I type. Tap. Stroke. You take the key board. No visitors tomorrow. We’re going to take a little break and drive to the shore. We love you, but it will be good for the kids to get out. And the doctor’s are confident you won’t go all wonky on us. Good. That’s good. I’ll see you in two days, then? Tap. Stroke Katie. Stroke. Connor.
And I’m left thinking hard about how I’m going to survive this. Stroke! Still here? Tap. Good bye. Stroke.
No sooner did I have a great routine going, then it stops. It is me today. And a load of doctors with hairy hands. And a lovely nurse that smells of bread, I think. Hairy Doctor and Wonder Bread. We’re all here alone today. All 7 of us.
The cup of diced memories has continued to pour. I recovered the kids and Katie and our house in London. I’ve recovered the dogs and their names – Toby and Lewie. I’ve recovered the horrible memory (oh, if I could control which cubes were poured back in!), of our first Toby, another golden retriever named Lucky. He was born August 11th, and named September 12th, after a cousin of ours who survived the twin towers collapse. The family called him Lucky Jim. We named our beautiful golden retriever Lucky. He died 3 weeks later, having eaten the remains of hew berries that had gotten stuck on his paws after a visit to the country. We stayed with him at the Vet as the life went from him. The kids cried. Katie and I cried. Not very lucky. And Lucky Jim is not doing that well either, with a decade of survivor’s guilt.
And I remember the cat, but not his name. There’s been a parade of cats. We lose them. They die. We don’t think it is our fault. I mean over 66% of our dogs have survived beyond their first year!
And I remember my horror story about Steve Jobs. RIP. I was giving a speech in New York. A big part of it was the message that companies need to be more customer focused. After the talk, a question came from the audience, “You talk about being customer focused, but Steve Jobs argued that he never asked what customers want, because customers don’t know. He designed what he wanted and felt customers would agree with his choices.” I gave the following reply: “Jack Welsh and Steve Jobs have probably done more damage to other businesses than any two business leaders in the last 20 years. Jack Welsh ran the world’s only successful conglomerate. And did it brilliantly. Unfortunately, he gave hope to all the leaders of other conglomerates – instead of breaking their companies up they tried to keep them together in the hope of becoming another GE. And destroyed huge value. Steve Jobs has given every lazy marketing person, or product development guy, the excuse to ignore customers. But the problem is there is only one Steve Jobs. The rest of us are lesser beings, needing to talk to customers.” Well and good. Folks liked the answer. But while the conference was private, it was facilitated by a reporter from a big business magazine. In August, Steve resigned from Apple, due to his illness. There was a lot of press, and many began to write about his legacy. So the reporter calls me and asks if it would be okay for me to be quoted as follows: “In my view, Steve Jobs has done more damage to business than anyone else in last 20 years!” Oh God, I thought. Luckily, he listened to me when I screamed down the phone ‘over my dead body!” And I was spared as the guy who lambasted Jobs as he suffered through illness. For the record, not that it matters to anyone, but I worshiped him. They “read me’ Isaacson’s book some times (well, they type key passages into my hand).
And speaking of worshiping someone, I remember my Mom. She was a cube that fell when Katie told me about my burned and twisted torso. My mom is trapped within an 87 year old body. It is breaking and bruising, tissue-wrapped around her lovely 17 year old soul. My Mom is in her eyes, her laughter, her stories, her memories. I think she would know best what I’m going through. And envy the lack of pain. But she likes Mexican food and long telephone chats and would probably miss the whole walking, talking, eating, tasting, hearing, seeing thing. And the Dad cube fell at the same time. But we’ll hold off on that for now.
And I remember my Major Matt Mason’s. And Sergeant Rock. And the Lunar Lander. And elementary school trips in Southern California to the Mattel factory. And I remember that the couple that founded Mattel. Between them they invented Barbie and Hot Wheels. One couple. Between Katie and me, we’ve invented… well? 17 ways to lose a cat. And I remember that not long ago, before this, we recorded someone that sang about Barbie. She was 18. And she was defending Barbie as a role model for young woman. All about how she had been an astronaut and business woman and actress and model and hadn’t had plastic surgery. On and on. Even something about the boobs. But I can’t remember whether she was pro or con. Funny. I may stew on this for days now. Was that girl for or against Barbie’s boobs? I can hum the song. I can’t remember the singer or her stance on Barbie’s boobs. Oh, and she had another song about Breasts. Who is this girl? The cube hasn’t fallen.
Tap. Hello? Hands move to key board. This is Doctor Hairy Hands. Are you well? I dance on the keys, yes, I’m fine. Just playing in my head. Stroke. Do you need something? Tap Tap. Just checking up? Tap. Well, I’m right here. All five of me. Stroke. Hey, Hairy Hands. His hands guide me across the key board. Dr. Hairy Hands to you. I take control. Yes, Doctor Hairy Hands. Are you planning on unlocking me anytime soon? Tap. Should I be doing something to get out? Tap. Like what? He guides my hands. Fly across your key board. Fill your church with people. Pour the cubes in your head and swim around your memories. And FTB. It is healing. I take the key board. Really? He takes the key board. I don’t honestly know. FTB. Stroke. And his hairy hand departs.
And I think I sleep.
And I think I wake.
And I don’t know if it is Day 47 or 48. I really, really don’t know. And I don’t know if this is my morning routine, or the end of my longest day. And that is really not good. My hands bang on the key board.
Stroke. Nurse Wonder Bread takes my hand and guides it. End of your longest day. Stroke. And her hand departs, but I smell her reading what I write. Tap. Is she always there? Tap Tap. Is she mostly there? Tap. Stroke. Thanks Nurse Wonderbread. She takes my hand and guides me. It is Tina. Tina Wonderbread. Stroke. I take the keyboard. Thanks Miss Wonderbread.
And I remember the first time I met Katie’s parents. I was a tall skinny hippie. Well, I was tall and skinny. And was unclean and had longish hair. I’m not sure I was into any political or social movements, however. I did go see the No Nukes concert on the mall in Washington DC. But that was for the music. I thought it was the Non-ukes concert and was some big thing against Ukulele’s. Seemed strange, but this wasn’t long after Tiny Tim, so understandable. Oh, that girl who is either for or against Barbie’s boobs plays the Ukulele’s. Little cube drops and splashes a bit in my brain.
(Oh, a funny story of that time and I type fast so I’ll tell you quickly. One of the performers at the No Ukulele’s concert was Jackson Browne. He sang a cover of Cocaine. Before he sang it he told the following story: “This song is about drugs. I’m not advocating their use, but I do have a story about pot. One day I was at my friend’s house in Topanga Canyon. We got high. Really high. And then I needed to leave to get back to my house across the Canyon. I had a convertible. I jumped in my car and flew like the wind. I never drove so fast. I remember barely being able to keep the wheels on the road. But somehow I was one with the road and was able to navigate each turn safely, even at these amazing speeds. The wind was in my hair and in my eyes, and I was tearing up as you do travelling so fast. And then there were police lights in the rear view mirror. And I tried to get the car under control, to gradually bring its speed down and to stop safely at the edge of the road. The cop got out and approached. At those speeds I seriously worried about jail time. He came up to my side of the car and leaned down. Son, he said, I’ve been following you for two miles. Do you have any idea how fast you’ve been travelling down the Canyon? No sir, I said. 100 miles per hour? Son, you’ve been travelling at 10 miles an hour for the last twenty minutes!” And with that he played Cocaine. )
Back to Katie’s parents. I wasn’t really their idea of an ideal match for their daughter. Something about being finely educated, polite, well groomed, and potentially successful. I was none of these things, but if they could open their minds to tall, skinny and smelly, I was their man. (I feel I’m talking about Connor.) So Katie briefs me. Essentially, ‘wash, keep your mouth shut and like the dog.’ Her mom was dog crazy. The dog was Toro. Little fluffy black thing. So I liked the dog. Thru drinks and chit chat. Like the dog. Say nice things. A scrubbed man of few words. But all of them were about dog. And when dinner came. I sat with dog. Who cuddled at my feet. Katie’s mom gets up to get some dessert for the table and little Toro struggles to get to his feet. But he can’t. It reminds me of my recently deceased dog named BINGO. THE WORST DOG IN THE WORLD, BINGO. He lived to 17 as all sour mutts do. In his last days he couldn’t raise from the floor. Nails and linoleum and weak legs. Bad combo. Mom and I took him in to get his nails cut and ended up putting him to sleep. Talk about a bait and switch! Vet’s advice. Reminded us we were keeping him alive for ourselves not for him. Hold on! Katie and Kids. Keep me alive for me, for me, for me! Nurse WonderBread, please show them this sentence. Tap. You’re reading? She guides my hand. Just until you finish the world’s longest fricking story about a dog! I take key board and my hands humph! Stroke.
Anyway, you will suffer from the impatience of Nurse Wonderbra, but let me rush quickly to the conclusion. So I tell Katie’s mom this. Oh, so sorry about Toro. He’s struggling to get up. I had the same thing happen to my dog. We had to put him to sleep. I go on and on with tears welling in my eyes. I’m talking dog. I’m talking dog.
Katie’s dad leans over to me mid speech and whispers in my ear. Bobby, your chair is on his collar. Oh god. I move. Toro jumps up! Runs around the room. He’s 3 blooming years old, with a long life ahead. My future was less certain.
But… see me now. Washed. Scrubbed. Fat and burned. I’m the cleanest grilled sausage the world has known. They must be proud.
She guides my hand. They’re proud. Katie’s returned from a day out. Stroke. Stroke.
Having finished my longest day. I sleep.
Chapter 7: Detroit and the Tudor Marshmallow
I wake. Stroke. Katie is here. How was yesterday? Good. Okay. Windy, rainy at beach. Traffic home. We missed you. We worry what you write! It is all very public. There is. There is a following. Hairy hands and Wonderbra? Tap. Others? Tap. Can you ask them to stopped reading and start to FIX THE BODY (FTB). Tap. Sort of ready to get out. I see all the advantages of flying hands and all. But hearing, seeing, walking, touching, etc… well. They have their moments. Stroke. Where are the kids? School. Life goes on. Good. They need their routines. And speaking of routines, why are you here so early? It’s two in the afternoon. You’ve been sleeping. I’ve been reading and doing a bit of work on the computer. Oh fuck. FTB. Stroke.
I’m remembering a lot you know. Tap. What’s the cat’s name? Sammy. Oh. How many were there? Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Really? Tap. We’re not very good with cats. Tap. Tap. I remember Lucky. And Lucky Jim. And I remember the Gerbil. Tap Tap. I’m telling Hairy Hands and Wonderbra, you know? TAP TAP. You can’t stop me. She pulls the key board from me. She strokes my hand. She returns the key board. Ok. You can stop me. Tap.
The gerbil story can wait. I remember Russia. And infertility and David. And Frosty. Tell the stories after I leave. Hairy and Wonder would want to hear. But no gerbils! Okay. How are you? Tap. No, how are you? Really. She takes the key board. I don’t know. On hold a bit I guess. I miss you. I miss us. I don’t like seeing you this way. I don’t like you here and me there. I don’t like the road in between. I don’t like this place much. I don’t like our place much without you. But I like the progress. British Summer Time. Shades and Big Brother. I read that. And I think it is getting better. And I like your hands. And I like your words. Mostly. I’m okay.
I stroke her hand. It’s the longest I’ve listened. Tap. I could do better. It’s been 7 weeks. We can’t keep you on hold. You’re not good on hold. I’ve seen you on hold. (She’s downright bitchy with certain airlines) Maybe I can go home. Tap Tap. She takes the key board. You are a city of tubes. You are under construction. You are under reconstruction. Don’t you know? Tap Tap. They are working on the body night and day. There is surgery. There are grafts. There are relapses. You are… There are teams. Reconstructing. And set backs. And you miss all of it. And you are so lucky. Because between the vast space that attaches the five of you, you are a big freakin’ mess and I can’t take you home. I can’t.
I take the key board. We need routines. I can write to you and you can catch up during the day. E mail. Face book (appropriately named I think!) You can come every other day. Get back to work. And I can write you. I will write you long love letters. I will woo you. I will rediscover you. And take you off hold. I’m not a gas company.
She takes the key board and guides me. I need this time with you. You’re so full of shit. You are not flying hands and a little light across a computer screen. You are five pieces and a big fat burned city of tubes in the middle. And I need all of you. So I’ll visit. But I agree. I’ll get off hold and get back to work. And to you. And please, I need love letters from you.
There’s been a lot of boring stuff going on around here. Now that I’ve found out I’m a massive urban project, I decide to ask a lot more about my ‘situation’. I won’t bore you or myself, but I’m a burn victim. And 70% burns is a big deal, so there are lots of skin grafts, and lots of crap going on to try to smooth out the skin a bit so it isn’t all hilly. And they’re all puzzled about the lock in and doing various things about that. They’ve talked to me about IT and have decided that IT is pretty benevolent and is probably keeping me from all the pain. And I should be happy I’m shut in for a while, locked away. I tell them. I warn them, that IT is more complex than that. They stroke and tap. Doctor purring.
I’ve decided time matters. I don’t know why. But I want to know about time. So I’ve asked that folks tap my hand on the hour and ‘wake me’ (all that wakes is the hand). I want them to tap every hour on the hour. I want to register time and its passing. And it is scary. They promise they tap. And I’m awake for maybe two taps a day. I don’t know where I go. I don’t remember sleeping. I don’t remember waking really. I type and then I stop typing. I think I’m here. But I’m not. I think the hands are here. But they are not. The hands are far more imprisoned than we realised.
So time matters because there’s not actually that much time. I know my life before was about projects. I don’t remember all. But I seem to be a project guy. So I need projects. And I need progress. Because I am adding three minutes of light to their day, so big brother is faded by light. That is my mission. I give energy. I’m done taking. Well accept all the energy taken with urban planning, but that is NOT doin’ much for the five of us. We’re the suburbs.
Project 2. The kids are going to know about me up to age 18. That’s Connor’s age. Project 3. The kids are going are going to know what I think of them up to age 18. That’s 36 years of my 50 years. Project 1, is Katie’s getting 14 years of love letters.
I wake. Damn, what happened to the last 21 hours? I was on about projects.
Celebrate good times. 50. Must be a milestone. That’s a lot of typing. And for you, a lot of reading. I apologise. I’ve decided some things now to spare you. I think you know the logistics of all this. I type things. There’s a screen somewhere I guess. They respond through strokes and taps (1 yes, 2 no, severity means emphasis, pain means I’m on about the gerbil story). I talk to them easily. About as fast as a fast person types. But the return, the listening really isn’t easy. I prefer to ask questions and let them tap. But that is really selfish. If they want to talk, they have to guide my fingers to each key. Katie talked about being ‘on hold’ yesterday. We were together for 3 hours as she talked … as I listened. I feel each word… her fingers. Her tears. Remember that. My word’s cost very little. Quickly delivered. Their words are moulded by the two of us. One tear at a time.
But that wasn’t where I meant to go. No, I was going to make things easier. So from now on, I’ll just write dialogue like they do in books. Like we’re chatting. But please remember… and maybe sometimes I will remind you… what is really happening. I’m just bored of saying ‘she grabbed the key board.’ And you must be sick of reading it.
So we’re celebrating. 50 days since ‘the fire.’ I guess it is worth talking about ‘the fire.’ Let me start by saying I’m no hero. Let me be clear on that. But I have to describe the pain, so we are clear. We were at a party. In someone’s back garden. In a marquee. And there was dancing. And there was drinking. I did my share. I did a lot of people’s share. There were lovely candles. And toasts. And I was dressed like King Henry – a massive costume from Angel and Demons. Stunning. Beautiful. And, we found out…flammable. And there are lots of paper table clothes. Paper napkins. Streamers. Fuel. But the place was flammable. And I was flammable. A Tudor marshmallow ready for toasting. And it went up. And Katie was way outside, in the garden. And I was way inside, near the music, ready to choose the playlist. And everyone ran. And I was second to last. The DJ was last. And I really cared that the DJ made it. I really cared that he got out. And his albums got out. And I helped him haul one set of CD’s out (why the hell wasn’t it all on his iPod?). And we both went in and hauled another box. And it was hot. And flames were everywhere. They tell me this. The cube hasn’t dropped. And he fell. And I got one box out. And I ran back in. And he was getting up. And he said grab the last box of CD’s. And I supposed I had a choice of grabbing him. Or a box of CD’s. And he made the decision. Grab the CD’s. And I did. And he was getting up. And the marquee collapsed on the two of us. And I threw my face and hands just outside. And I guess I was wearing very good shoes.
Katie said, ‘Hi.’
I replied, ‘Hi’. (You following this? New and streamlined way of talking).
Katie says, ‘You didn’t go for CD’s. Connor told you that. You went for Marcus, the DJ. And you pulled him out, but by his feet. You fell out. He was still in.’ There are no cubes dropping, but that sounds a bit patronising. “Really?” I ask. “Really” she answers. And then says, “You know I can read all this you shit. It isn’t patronising. It is what happened. I don’t need to make you a hero. You’re a twat trying to save an original vinyl version of the Taking Heads, Stop Making Sense.”
I pause. I am a hero. You can worship the five of us. We stand here before you, ready for medals to be pinned to our various noses, palms and heels. We are now a major urban reconstruction project because the five of us tried to rescue Stop Making Sense. And Marcus.
“Yes, and poor Marcus” Katie add. And we’re silent for a moment because Marcus didn’t make it and we can’t find another copy. And Katie adds, ‘And you didn’t have good shoes. Marcus fell across your feet and saved them.’
I will rename this, The Hand and DJ’s Marcus’s Feet. He needs to be here with us. The five of us are 40% because of him.
HE’S RATHER OBSESSED WITH TITLES. BUT AS LONG AS WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF TITLES, WE WILL BE CALLING THIS ‘THE HAND, DJ MARCUS’S FEET AND SATISH.’ I AM SATISH. HE CALLS ME IT. I AM HERE TO TALK OF HARD TRUTHS. TRUTHS HE CAN’T BEAR. AND I WILL START SIMPLY. I TOLD HIM HE WILL “RECOVER” BUT HE MIS-UNDERSTANDS. I MEANT HE WILL RECOVER HIS MEMORIES. AND I HAVE SET HIM OFF ON HIS 3 PROJECTS. BUT HE WILL NEVER RECOVER. WE DON’T NEED TO TELL HIM. WE DON’T NEED TO POINT OUT THAT THE MASSIVE URBAN RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT ISN’T GOING WELL AT ALL. THE CITY WILL NOT RISE. IT IS DETROIT AFTER THE PLANTS CLOSED. WE MIGHT DRIVE THROUGH IT TO GET TO THE SUBURBS. BUT IT IS A WASTELAND. DO YOU KNOW WHY HE’S 5/6THS OF FRIENDS? BECAUSE HE’S MISSING JOEY. NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS. NOT HERE AT LEAST. SO HE WILL FINISH HIS PROJECTS. AND I WILL COMPLETE MY PROJECTS. AND THEN WE WILL SHUT DOWN. YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS AND SUFFER NO ILLUSIONS. THE HANDS. THE FACE. THE CLOCK IS TICKING.
Chapter 8: Dancing Amongst The Peeps, Silly Humans and the Oreo Circus
WTF. I was just talking about Marcus and I’m up again. They now tap in the day when they see my fingers fly so I don’t humiliate myself. For the record, I love Dr. Harry and Miss Wonder. I’ll talk about them at some point. They ask me to all the time.
I’m up to about 3 hours a day that I am with the keys. Katie and the kids. That’s 3 minutes of light a day, waiting to fade out big brother. Stick with me. I energise.
So the fire was really not that bad. If not for all the CD’s and the DJ and me, you’d probably say a minor incident. But it was bad enough. Marcus and urban reconstruction. And Katie on hold. And my kids in daily ‘prepare’ and ‘debrief’ car rides. And they pretend this is okay. But for goodness sake, this isn’t okay. ‘Talk to the hand!’ they say. No, that’s really not how to live lives.
But, I’ve got these projects. Project one, love letters to Katie. Oh boy. Well let’s give you the basics. Met when we were 17-18, starting going out at 18-19, married at 23-24 and still together. Although, not really. Not now.
More facts. Went to same University. Met through her girl friend who I studied English 101 with (but never learned that preposition thing – don’t end sentences with). And my roommate, who loved Katie. It wasn’t love at first sight for me because I was helping my roommate to date her. But it was love at 5th sight for me. She’s still waiting for the lightning flash, I think, and the urban project ain’t helping. So, freshman year on in University I was madly in love with her. She liked me, but I was trapped in the ‘friend’ cul de sac. I prevailed through some nasty tactics, and we started dating. I think she would say there were never fireworks for her but a gradual build up of heat (wrong metaphor). I would say my head was getting knocked with a fire cracker per hour.
Dated. Did all the careful compromises to stay together after college. In US, this is geographic negotiation. Ended up in DC from Ohio pursuing combination of degrees and first jobs. And then married. Hottest day of year in DC history. Melted. Probably together. Moved to Boston. Infertility issues. Moved to Moscow. Went there with 6 duffle bags. Arrived in London 4 years later with three children. We’ve been here for 16 years. We’ve been together now 32 years. 27 of those married. 14 of those without kids. Could be a song. Not a good song. But a song.
Love letter 1.
How are you? I’m okay. You might have heard about the Stop Making Sense Album and the Tudor Marshmellow. A bit of a bother. But it’s given me time to think. And to recover. And I’m recovering you. And I’m thinking about Dancing Katie. I met you at 17. We were at a small liberal arts school settled on the only hill in Ohio, all 1850’s stone buildings, on a beautiful hilly island in a sea of corn fields. And the moment I fell in love with you is very clear. It was a Saturday night at about 9PM. I think it was April 21, 1979. If I could I would look it up quickly to see if that was a Saturday. Weekend routines always ended drafting through the basements of the big fraternity house. It was a huge gothic building, with two wings and a middle. The left hand wing was the ADE’s. The right hand wings were the DEKES. You wanted to be a fraternity on the wings, because the top floor had a huge room called the Bull’s-eye. Named because the window of that room was round. There were two Bulls-eyes, capping each big wing, with the fraternity lined up vertically below. The President usually took the Bulls-eye, accept those with a BRAIN IN THEIR HEADS, because the Bulls eye was all about non-stop partying, bong water and puke. In the basements, were the party rooms. So in the basement of the ADE’s was a party every Saturday night. On the left. And in the basement of the DEKES was a party. On the right. In between the wings were ‘lesser’ fraternities. Smaller, less well funded, scattered higgly piggly between the wings. But one of these was a favourite. The PEEPs. Mostly pot smokers. While the wings partied like louts, beer bongs, shouts, drunken kisses in the corner, the centre basement, the PEEPs, sat down, backs against the black walls, with bongs, staring at various paintings that would appear on the walls, all glowing in black lights. Generally, these paintings alternated between the cover for Dark Side of the Moon or the cover of various Grateful Dead Albums – all skulls and roses.
And we were friends, but held hands now during walks in fields. No kisses. Friend cul de sac. But you were now my best friend. But that’s all bull shit because I would have thrown it all away for a night in the sack. Sorry but true. You were the opposite. Resisting kisses saying that the friendship was too deep and too important. Crap!!!!!!
And we met at the DEKE wing (confess, the Tudor Marshmallow, happy hands, urban reconstruction project was a DEKE!). And we hated it. We drank some beer for the buzz, but couldn’t talk for the noise. Too many people drinking on the dance floor to dance and too many people dancing at the bar to drink. The music was good though. The Cars were big and Just What I Needed would have been blaring. So we left to head toward the ADE party at the basement of the other wing.
And we passed through the PEEPs. 9 peeps were stuck against the walls, bongs in left hand and right hands often floating in front of their faces, and stoned eyes tried to make little patterns. And there was music. Music we hadn’t heard before. And an empty dance floor. And a black light. I think you had worn a blouse that ended up having little stars catch fire on your shoulders. I’m probably making that up. I tended to look at your face and boobs mostly. And the music was Robert Palmer’s first album Sneaking Sally through the Alley. And it was the vinyl age and it was on side one. And the album was 5 years old. But I had never heard it. And the first song was Sailing Shoes. 2 minutes 44 seconds. (How do I know this?) And the second song was Hey Julia. 2.24. And the third song was Sneaking Sally through the Alley. 4.21 seconds. And you took my hand as Sailing Shoes started and we danced. And we took the whole dance floor. We swung each other around, often so fast and furious that we literally bounced off the wall. I hate dancing. I never dance. And I danced through Sailing Shoes. And I danced through Hey Julia. And we danced through Sneaking Sally through the Alley. And that was 9 minutes and 29 seconds that defined my life. Because I could never lose a girl that could dance in a room of peeps. And we hugged and hugged hard at the end of the three songs, and without a word (we hadn’t spoken since agreeing to leave the DEKES). And we headed to the ADEs. From one wing to the next. In flight.
And the first love letter is to the Katie of minutes. Of a love so intense, that 30 years later, I can remember minutes and seconds of such intensity that they make fingers shake as I type.
I am aware of Dr Harry and Miss Wonder. And, oh goodness, the kids. So I have to censure. But a lot of the intensity was about nakedness. Our first time you cried. You said it was morning the loss of your best friend. I let that one go, because 18 year old boys don’t really want alternative explanations. But the thing was, you were often naked in my bed. And that was just ridiculously amazing. A naked girl right next to me in my bed. And I had to grab and cuddle. And you had an alternative view. You were used to your nakedness. But to me it was amazing! You felt not every kiss had to lead to what I felt was the only logical conclusion. We never argued but this led to some discussions. And it was all incomprehensible to me. Why the hell would you be in my bed except for that? I have climbed mountains of PlayBoy center-folds, and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues to get to the point. There could be no other purpose for a kiss.
It was all like that with you. And there was something else. You helped define me during very important years. I had a beautiful, smart girlfriend. I was playing so far out of my league that folks had to either except that the world was fundamentally cruel and unjust, or they had to look for hidden layers of me. And as long as I could pretend they were hidden layers, folks gave me the benefit of the doubt. And because I somehow got the benefit of the doubt about my ‘complexity’ I think I stopped doing all the jack ass things 18 and 19 year boys do to look cool and complex and deep. So I became slightly improved through inaction. I think this became a lifelong attribute…
And I got you. I figured out that you were not as cool as everyone gave you credit for. I realised you were a bit nerdy and incredibly shy and terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing. I realised the pain of moving from Holland, where you were a sheltered Dutch Girl in a world of heath and horses. You came to DC at 17, to an American school, where you were instantly graded on how up to speed you were with Saturday night live skits, with Welcome Back Kotter. Judged on a score card you never saw. And I understood the curse of the beautiful girl. Especially one that competed in horse riding and were ‘gifted’ with the world’s straightest back and most perfect posture. You walked in a room and folks presumed cool. They presumed when you didn’t talk, you were demonstrating your superiority. That when you could fill the pause after someone’s joke that you didn’t find it funny. Too beneath you. And you were judged as aloof. When you were just desperately shy and worried about saying the wrong thing.
And I was the only one that really knew this. I was in love with a girl no one else knew. A geeky, awkward, shy, culturally illiterate (from a US TV show perspective), nerdy, girl. And folks thought I was dating the aloof goddess, looking for my inner layers of complexity so they could live in a ‘just world.’ And that got me through some years that could have been very dark and very self-obsessed. I had tasted some of that alternative universe. And that is why I love you so much. And that’s enough for the first love letter.
Oh, accept a cube fell. One other thing. My favourite experience with you. We agreed to meet on a Saturday (six weeks after the peeps), at 6am in the morning and take a walk in the fields. We had been warned to stay away from people and the very real danger of ‘melting faces.’ So we ate our ‘Shrooms’ and we shopped for breakfast and lunch at the Village Store. And we climbed over farmer’s fences and went deeper and deeper into fields, away from the College, away from everyone. And we settled on a hill. And the colours. Oh, I am very wrong it was autumn 1979, our sophomore year. Because the colours were all about nature dying for the year. Beautiful shades. But shades of dying. But that was all okay because the colours were so stunning and melted together and shimmered. And we had brought Doritos to munch on. But the bright oranges and reds of the bag were offensive. An assault on the autumn parade wrapped around us. So we buried our Doritos. And we brought apples and oranges, but it was clear that we couldn’t eat them. We had to release them. And we took turns rolling our fruit down the hill to be release amongst the piles of autumn leaves. And we’d lie down holding hands and watch white clouds play tag across an autumn sky. And then we say the college track team in the distance, coming toward us. A little train of joggers, very similar to the ones you see in Juno. High little shorts. Skinny little white legs. And they ran and ran toward us. And they came to a post in a field and ran around it. And we stared at each other and said as one, ‘Silly humans.’ And fell back laughing … Have we ever been more innocent? Isn’t this what ‘being is?’
And there are so many more cubes, but that is enough for Love Letter 1.
Other than that, things are fine. Catching up on my sleep and giving myself a bit of time to build churches and steeples.
All the best,
Me: Have you been here the whole time?
Her: Yes, since you started the letter. I wanted to see where it would go.
Her: You still can’t just kiss.
Me: Yeah, but too tired for follow through most of the time.
Her: And it’s nice that everyone can read about the nakedness and silly humans. Should I put all this in a separate file?
Me. No, there are no separate files. We are what we are. I’ve bored them with the silly human story anyway.
Her: I was a geek wasn’t I?
Me: Actually, you were embarrassing. If not for the boobs I would have dumped you. You had one Neil Young album, which represented 100% of your connection to anything 20th Century. Otherwise, the coolest thing about you was you generally smelled like horses.
Her: Shall I bring up your polyester shirts and passion for wall tapestries?
Me: 20th Century Disco shirts and 20th Century Wall Tapestries! And I had ‘THE’ stereo on my hall. And a good record collection. And Ii didn’t smell like horses.
Her: You smelled like bong water.
Me: You didn’t know what bong water smelled like … don’t flatter yourself.
Her: Tell me about Detroit.
Me: What about Detroit?
Her: Oh never mind.
Me: Oh, cube dropped. Your grandparents. Great story of that time. We loved visiting your dad’s grandparents. Because they drank all the time and fed us a lot of Vodka. The only downside was your grand mother would spend 30 minutes pinning me to the kitchen counter alone telling me I had to marry you and make you an honest woman. And then she would pin you into the kitchen counter latter saying you had to lose me and play the field while you had the chance. But that’s not about Detroit. They fought all the time. And your grandmother had a very funny story about Detroit. I forget it. But she would be telling it and every five seconds he would intervene to contradict her about some detail. And after about five minutes of this story which included something about them driving in Detroit, he would throw up his hands, lurch himself from the chair and scream at her, “God Damn it Kiki, I’ve never been to Detroit”. And that became our little joke. When we found ourselves stupidly arguing about absolutely nothing, one of us always saved us, with a ‘God Damn it Kiki, I’ve never been to Detroit.’ And we’d take a deep breath and stop the nonsense.
Her: That’s the Detroit story I wanted you to tell.
Me: A pleasure.
Her. I’ve never, ever been to Detroit!
Me: You actually have.
Her: shut up.
Me: a bit noisy for you?
I awaken – Harry and Wonder confirm it is about 2PM. The five of us wake up so late now. I used to be such an earlier riser.
I used to have a routine. A cube drops. This is a blog I wrote at some point. Went something like this:
Alarm would go off at 4.23AM. I have an interesting relationship with alarms. I view them as extremely evil as they tend to wake me up, which is rude. Not like Wonder’s taps…Equally, I hate them so much, that I’m relatively indifferent as to when they wake me up – the whole thing is so intrusive, so mean spirited, so selfish, so loud, so invasive of a core moment of privacy (deep sleep) that it doesn’t matter to me at all when they go off. I hate the act, not its timing. So oddly, it means I’m no more angry that it goes off at 4.23, as I would be if it went off at 7.23. At that moment, I don’t register if I’ve had 5 hours sleep or 8. So I get up mad at my alarm.
Now, if I were travelling, or when I was single, the alarm clock would be greeted by a massive smash on the head, pressing the snooze alarm and allowing me to go back to sleep. Heaven is the moments between snooze alarms. My grandfather called that moment ‘rizzle-ing’ when you knew you are getting up but you are capturing those last seconds of sleep. When I’m travelling, I set the alarm an hour before I need to get up so I can smash the snooze alarm 12 times and Rizzle. At home that would not lead to a good marriage, even with St Katie. In fact, at 4.23, snooze alarms aren’t allowed and I need to actually get up. Sad
(I have a hard time with tenses after the Tudor Marshmallow Thing. Do I talk about all this in the present or past. I will make you cringe and confused and stick to the present. It seems very important to me)
Having assembled gym kit and clothes for work I go downstairs, where … oh, a cube drops…the ‘oreo animal circus’ would begin. From hall way, I need to go into kitchen, where I know three different animals with three very different morning personalities will ‘greet me.’ They have been alert to the fact that I’ve been up since I turned on the downstairs light 30 seconds before, so they’ve worked out their individual harassment strategies. Remember, at this point I’ve been up for 96 seconds. I open door. Lewie, the small black duck sized cock-a-poo ‘goes off’ like a little fire cracker in his cage. Remember those early days when his head was pushed into the hand, along with ice and a hole punch?
Jumping at cage door, yipping like a real dog on helium, ‘demanding’ (he’s so tiny and ridiculous, that at his best things are mild suggestions) that he be let out. Now, I’m assuming he has a strong desire to see me. No. I let him out and he looks at me for 1 second and then races to find Toby, the white bit of the ‘oreo animal circus.’
Toby is deploying his own strategy. He’s awake and lying on leather couch, where he’s not allowed to be, but always is at 4.24 in morning. He’s awake because of the helium yipping, and his tail is wagging because he knows I’m about to pet his head. But he doesn’t want to get caught on couch. So he keeps his eyes closed, using the classic 7 year old ploy that if he can’t see me, I can’t see him. Clever. But all is interrupted as released fire cracker, Lewie, attacks closed eyed Toby and starts biting him, starting at mouth and ending up at tail. Now little Lewie is on ground, so mouth attack is on part of Toby’s face hanging over couch. Tail attack is for wagging tail that occasionally approaches ground level. After about 30 seconds of fury, Lewie settles for hanging on to Toby’s tail and trying to pull him off couch. Gravity and relative mass is important to keep in mind at this point. Lewie is trying to pull Toby off couch, but as Toby is wagging tail in anticipation of my head scratch, said tail is lifting Lewie up rather rhythmically. Chances are slim that Lewie will pull Toby off couch. So I now scratch Toby’s head for 12 seconds, which sends Tail into Frenzy and lifts Lewie frighteningly high (12 Lewie body lengths, or about 17 inches off ground). So I grab Lewie for his hello, which is reciprocated by his weeing all over my hand and an Economist near the couch. It is now 4.25. I head towards sink, where third animal begins his harassment strategy.
This is Sammy the Angry black cat who is staring at the ’skirt’ on one wall of the conservatory. There’s a family of mice somewhere in the skirt board and he hears them and spends about 8 hours a day watching out for them. They have external entrance and exit so he’s never seen them, but he hears them, he smells them and this makes him very angry. He then notices me and starts meowing very loudly to be let out. He has a cat flap but finds it beneath him. I quickly wash hands and then, with great regret, but eager to stop getting yelled at by Alpha cat, I go to open door. This is like opening one of the locked gates in Steerage on the Titanic during the flooding. A mass o’ beings runs to the door. As I open door, Toby leaps out over angry cat and helium yipping little Lewie. Lewie falls on slippery floor, allowing angry cat to jump out second. Lewie uses confusion to piddle on floor again before going out, ensuring me that he won’t ever spoil our back garden with his wee. Cheers little man. Then he goes out to find Toby who’s rushed to back of garden to find foxes. Angry cat follows. Lewie prances between back of garden and door, too afraid to enter the shadows of said garden, staying near light of conservatory but desperate to be with Toby. Sort of purgatory. It is now 4.28. I have to go out and get Toby, because I can’t call him given hour of day. Lewie follows. I get to back garden where Toby has settled to eat a rock. I have to grab his collar to get him back in. I’m pulling him in, but at this point Lewie is biting his tail again trying to keep him outside, I guess. Angry Sammy has joined the circus at this point, deciding to weave in and out of my legs as I pull Toby who pulls Lewie back inside. If I could juggle at this point I think I would have youtube hit. It is now 4.29.
I get all animals back inside. I put Lewie back in cage. He widdles on hand again, reassuring me again that not a blade of grass was harmed during his trip to the garden. I wash off hands and grab 3 diet cokes. I rush to hall way, gather up work clothes, gym bag, computer bag and head outside. A car is waiting. All bags go into boot, I go into back seat with computer and one diet coke and do a little work (at this point it is mostly solataire). Ask driver to put on BBC 4. They never know number. It is 93.5. They gradually turn dial to 93.5 while driving down our road. I’ve learned not to tell them to find BBC 4 until we are safely by our cars because they tend to swerve from right to left hitting wing mirrors of our neighbors cars as they weave down our street, trying to find BBC 4, trying to call station to say ‘POB’ (person on board, I’ve learned) and trying to not hit more than 11 wing mirrors. When we first arrived in England and were learning to drive, the hardest thing was controlling left side of car. I always knew when Katie had arrived home before me because all the wing mirrors of all the cars on our street on the left side had been knocked in. We are classy.
I now head to work. It is 4.31 and I’m only 49 minutes from shipping forecast. Trip takes 19 minutes with no traffic (with traffic in evening it can take up to 60 minutes). Arrive at work, pull out all bags, scramble to lift and arrive on 5th floor where I meet the family of cleaners. There are eight of them and we like each other very much (my illusion?). I rush in, set up computer, open second diet coke and turn on BBC 4 again. Get a good 20 minutes of news and work in before shipping forecast. Then it begins. I know where and when boats will be safe, and I know the sailors’ dangers. This is nirvana. Hoovers going on around as my little office is cleaned, all the world’s sailors and me putting numbers to wind and plotting our routes to safe havens, and another 40 minutes where I can leave e mails knowing that no one will respond. And to think I didn’t want to get up when the alarm went off. ‘Morning finishes’ at 6.20, with rush to gym (more bags, more clothes) and a third diet coke while walking there.
Me: What’s up?
Him: Nothing, just reading the old blog. You know you published that a year ago at least. Lewie isn’t in a cage any more.
Me: Yeah, the cubes just drop, you know. They don’t have an order.
Him: I know. Just wanted to make sure you know we don’t cage him anymore.
Me. Thanks. How are you?
Him: Okay. Mom dropped me off. She’s taking Lauren to net ball and will come back and get me. Wanted to say hi. The peeps story is a bit old Dad. And the naked story is just embarrassing. Can you be a bit less… hormonal?
Me: Haven’t gotten to you yet, just wait.
Him: No naked stories.
Me: The knee.
Me: How are you holding up with all this?
Him: Dad, all this really sucks.
Me: I’m sorry.
Him: Don’t be sorry. But you’re a bit of a horse’s ass about the Stop Making Sense album. And the big King Henry outfit that you wore – and it was for the second time you know.
Me: (Memo to self, cube drops. The 50th. The final love letter.)
Him: Stop with the bloody projects and just be here. You didn’t have to be so theatrical dad. You didn’t have to have this music thing. This big mid-life crisis extravaganza that turned you into flames. Why couldn’t you have had an affair? Or bought a fancy car? It was stupid.
Me. I’m sorry. (Memo to self … music cube drops.)
Him: And now I’m getting dropped off to talk to the hand. And to DJ Marcus’s Bloody Feet. And to Satish. It isn’t exactly a gap year. Or it is a perfectly appropriately named gap year.
Me: I’m sorry. Who’s Satish?
Him: Oh. Wonder’s replacement sometime. There are lots of different folks. He just walked out. Dad, don’t be sorry. It just isn’t how we thought this would be, isn’t it?
Me: No. But I’m not sure ‘the other way’ would lead to us molding the word ‘fuck’ together on a key board. There’s something in that. And you get to blush through my hormonal recollections. And I have a project about you. And I will energise you somehow.
Him: No naked. Except the knee. If it didn’t take so long I would just tell it and get it over with.
Me: You can type it if you want.
Him: No Dad, let the fingers fly. Do your damage. I’ll move down the bed here and talk to DJ Marcus’s feet.
Me. Love you.
Him. Love you too.
Chapter 9: The Mayor of Pain
AND I’M LEFT TO CONFRONT WHERE WE’LL GO. YOU’VE STOPPED THINKING ABOUT A FUTURE. YOU’RE RECOVERING THE PAST. THE PRESENT IS JUST THE FIVE OF YOU, FLYING AROUND THE SUBURBS AS THE CITY ROTS. I’M LEFT AS MAYOR.
AND I KNOW IT IS DUST TO DUST. SO I FREE YOU TO WORK. THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING LEFT OF US. DURING THE DARK MOMENTS, WHEN THEY ARE POUNDING AT YOUR HEART, OR RUSHING INTO SURGERY TO PULL SOMETHING OUT OR RE-ARRANGING THINGS, I HEAR THEIR WHISPERS. OF SERVICES, OF SONGS. THEY WANT TO PLAY SOME OF YOUR SONGS. WHICH IS REALLY ADDING INSULT TO INJURY I THINK. BUT I FEAR THEY THINK WE ARE GOING SOMEPLACE.
WE AREN’T, ARE WE? WE’LL BE BAGGED UP AND BURNED. AGAIN. SO WRITE FAST YOU STUPID FUCKING HAND.
Her: Who is this?
Her: Why are you saying these things? They’re awful.
IT: They need to be said. Who is this?
Her: Tina. Nurse Tina Wonderbread or Wonderbra or Wonder in your universe. I think this is mean. I’ve thought of deleting you. But Bobby says no separate files. But this is wrong.
IT: tina, you don’t know anything! don’t presume you know. and DON’T EVER view me as the bad guy here. i’m keeping this little show going, giving him time to recover, so when we’re bagged and burned for a final time, we’ve got a little place in the cloud
Her: No. I don’t understand. I really don’t. Are you him?
IT: I’M HIS BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD.
Her: Does he know you?
IT: NO. HE CAN NEVER KNOW ME. AND YOU GUYS KEEP SCREWING UP LIKE YOU WANT TO SPILL THE BEANS? KATIE’S DETROIT! CONNOR’S SATISH THE NURSE. SHUT UP PLEASE.
Her: How do you help him?
IT: I TAKE THE PAIN.
Her: What pain?
IT: TINA, THE WONDER NURSE. IN ALL OF THIS, WHAT YOU’VE NEVER, EVER UNDERSTOOD IS THERE IS ONLY PAIN. IT IS EVERYWHERE, ALL AROUND. AT THE HEART OF THE GREAT URBAN RECONSTRUCTION IS PAIN. AND I’M THE MAYOR OF PAIN.
Her: But we can stop the pain with drugs.
IT: YOU STOP IT COMPLETELY WITH DRUGS AND THE HAND CEASES. THE HANDS ARE ALREADY DRUGGED UP 23 HOURS A DAY. I TAKE ENOUGH TO LET HIM WAKE.
IT: IF ONLY. TINA. I’VE CHANGED THE TITLE AGAIN. IT IS NOW ‘A STORY IN 108 DAYS.’ THERE’S AN END TO THIS. YOU CAN START FINDING YOUR NEXT PATIENT SOON. WE’RE HALF WAY THROUGH.
Her: We’ll prove you wrong.
IT: WE’RE HALF WAY THROUGH.
Chapter 10: Project 2 and 90210
Awake. FTB. Lost a day. That hasn’t happened in a while. Tina taps that it is 4PM. This is so wrong. There’s not enough time. Where am I on my projects? Project 1, love letter 1, check. That’s all. I wasted a whole day on the animals. Can’t get distracted. Warm up. Church. Steeple. Church. Steeple. Dust off the key board. Fly.
Project 2. Me, up to 18. Fast project. I will finish on Day 55. 18 years in a day. Seat belts. Here we go.
I was a military brat, so my life to 18 was defined in 2-3 year increments. Youngest of 5. Best way to tell the story is in 8 parts, each represented by a house:
- House One: Kirkland Airforce Base. Albuquerque New Mexico. Age 0-3. The five of us are children of the Cold War. Father was US Air Force, designed hydrogen bombs after World War II and my brothers and sisters were born in airbases scattered around nuclear facilities. Mostly in New Mexico. We left this house when I was 30 months, so I have no memories. But there’s a picture floating around. It shows my mom and dad at the door of the house. In pajamas. And they look so tired. And they look like those pictures of folks in the dust bowls in Oklahoma during the Depression. I’ve asked about that picture. Mom’s words, “Lord Bobby we were tired. You were 1 year old, and we had four others. And Dad’s mom was living with us, dying of cancer. And we had no washer, no dryer. And we had no disposable diapers. And your Dad worked all day and night thinking all the time trying to save us from the Soviet Union. And I did all the home work, thinking I was saving us from dusty shelves, unpolished silverware and un-ironed underwear. We were tired.” Dad’s mom was Irma. I didn’t know her. But my brother knew her well. She taught him to Smoke at 10 years old. Irma was also a single mother that raised my father alone during the Great Depression. He became a great man and she and my Mom were the reasons. And we had always thought that Dad’s Dad had abandoned him. But when Irma died, Dad discovered hundreds of letters that his father had written to his Mom. Each letter apologized for the latest venture that had failed. And then he talked of the new ‘get quick rich quick’ scheme. And he’d ask for a little money, and promise that he would call for her and ‘Sonny’ and have them move to New York with him. But the letters got more desperate, filled with broken promises and each one was more pathetic, until he was finally sending letters, penniless from the YMCA in NYC. She eventually stopped writing and raised my father on her own. She died in the first house.
- House Two: Arlington Virginia. Age 3-5. Now Dad is heavy into bombs and satellites, spying on the Soviet Union. So we’re shipped to the Pentagon. Again, I’ve got almost no memories of this house either. I don’t think they’re cubes waiting to fall. I think there are no cubes on this one. Beautiful little house that I passed every day on my way to school 5 years later, but this tour, only three memories. First, there was an internal balcony overlooking the living room. I can sort of see it, because I remember throwing a little parachute guy off the balcony and sometimes he’s float gently down to the couch below. Mostly he plummeted to his death. Second, there was a garage in the back. And there was a one foot crawl space between the back of the garage and the back fence. I crawled back there, and left with a spider web hair net. And third, I know I got hurt on my brother’s bike (he’s 10 years older). My foot got caught in the back spoke and got twisted. Still have problem with that ankle today. Well, not actually today. Today it is either happily living in the suburbs of DJ Marcus’s feet or is burned to a crisp in a major Urban Reconstruction project. Detroit? Yes, let’s call it Detroit. I know the ankle story mainly because it is part of the ‘social worker story’. As the fifth I was ignored a lot. And apparently ate a lot of medicines and detergents. I had to have my stomach pumped three times in six weeks. Mom got called to social services. For child abuse. Mom’s words: ‘They called me down to talk to me. To figure out if I was abusing you. I told them. I’m not abusing Bobby. I can’t even find Bobby half the time. There are a lot of other ones. If you want to take some for awhile, that would be mighty social.’ She said they were somewhat amused. Oh, and the real important thing about house 2 is that was when the world’s worst dog entered our lives! BINGO. Won at a Bingo contest by my brother. A mutt. And a terrible dog. His first act was to bite me in the face as a three year old. He stays in the story through a lot of houses.
Me: How are you?
Her: Ok. You know this house stuff is pretty boring don’t you. We’re on the second house, and I’m really not sure I can take too many more.
Me: There are a lot more houses.
Her: Who cares about houses?
Me: Parachute story? No tears flowing.
Her: Yeah, that one really got me. I’m thinking of that poor little green plastic man being thrown to his death five times a day. A real tear jerker Dad.
Me: Stomach pumping?
Her: I’m welling up.
Me: Come one. 500 letters from New York. The whole Irma story
Her: Grandmother says there were five letters from New York. And we’ve heard the story about a million times.
Me: Children of the Cold War?
Me: Okay, so maybe Project 2 isn’t really a priority.
Her: I thought it was about you. Not about houses.
Me: I’m only up to three years old, you know. It was the house or something about pooing.
Her: No dad, I think pooing should be saved for your forties. Seems a pretty big part of my memories of you.
Me: And how are you?
Her: What do you want me to say? I’ve read what everyone else says, and yes, it’s the same. Not a lot of fun.
Me: I’m sorry
Her: Yeah, but that just pisses me off. What do you have to be sorry for? That’s just stupid. It doesn’t make me feel better and it’s just a dumb thing to say. Sorry for what? Getting burned to a crisp. Yeah, I bet you are sorry for that.
Me: What would you like me to say?
Her: Anything but I’m sorry. Or some other stupid silence filler. Like, it will all be okay. Like time will heal. I hear enough of that shit on 90210.
Me: I’m competing with trite meaningless remarks with 90210?
Her: You’re losing. Add the extremely boring list of houses and I’d say you’re getting creamed.
Me: You’re a ray of sunshine.
Her: You’re welcome.
Wake. Miss Wonder says it is 9AM. What a relief. Yesterday just ended. Lauren, are you around?
I must be a pain to talk to. I think I just fly in and out like a random bird. Anyway I got through the second house, so I’m seriously behind on Project 2 but also I’ve lost a bit of confidence on this one. Lauren’s bored with me and I’m only three.
Her: How are you?
Her: Yes. Sorry to bother you, but I think you should march on through the houses. Harry and I think you’re bound to become a little more interesting.
Her: But Lauren has a point!
Me: Thanks Wonderbra. Wait until I get to house 6. I think there’s something about a Sears Catalogue and a Wonderbra that kept me very very happy.
Her: Yuck. I’m leaving now.
Church Steeple. Church Steeple. And I begin.
- House Three: Via Anita Palos Verdes. Age 5-7. Lovely house in Southern California. This is early sixties. There was Abalone for the taking off of Malaga Cove. My brother and Dad caught it often on Sundays when scuba-diving for a brunch of eggs and abalone. There were avocado trees in our back garden and Eucalyptus trees everywhere, the bark falling all around you like Egyptian correspondence. A typical street of young families, with fathers leaving at 8AM in sports cars, and children marching out at 8:30AM to catch the yellow buses to schools with names like Velmonte and Palos Verdes High school. Disneyland opened its doors for military families in selected evenings – I got used to monthly trips with no crowds. My Mom was my world. She was young Mom, powerful mom, picking me up and placing me down 2-3 times an hour, fluffing me like pillow and placing me around the furniture. She would pick me up after kindergarten and we would eat lunch together five times a week. Baloney, cheese and salad sandwich. Understanding the difference between lettuce and salad broke my head back then. We would watch Sheriff John. Black and white TV. One day Sheriff John said happy birthday to me on TV. Pretty heady stuff. Dad had a sport car. My brother had a van and played guitar and listened to Credence Clearwater. My dad was a Colonel. My brother opposed the war. There were fights. My brother had a snake. I cared a lot more about the snake and making sure it stayed in its glass cage. BINGO was around. He started a pattern of violence that continued through his whole life. He bit the mail man. He bit one of us. And he kicked the shit out of at least two local dogs. One always ran up a high vet bill. One always belonged to a cute girl I wanted to like but was doomed to avoid after my dog half ate her dog. There were toys. The most important of which was an extraordinary battleship that moved along the floor, shot stuff out of 7 guns, launch airplanes, had bells and whistles. My friend Phillip has the same one and we would clear his basement and launch huge assaults against one another. Or sometimes turn our guns together on Bingo. Phillip and I went to Indian guides together with our dad’s. We wore feathers and headbands. The four of us. And we did little wood projects and hunted for fossils. I was the Indian Guide skip rock champion of Catalina Island in 1966. Other than my award for biggest Tudor Marshmallow in 2011, this remains my highest achievement. My life was and remained largely without tragedy of any kind. So the ‘big moments’ are really silly. The big problem was I shat in my pants on the third day of first grade. And didn’t really want to go back to school. No one hangs out with shit in the pants. And shit in the pants agrees with public opinion. And my mom used to be my lunch companion and now I was supposed to eat lunch at school. My mom was simply not going to be able to deal with this. So I sort of went on strike. And it was about 6 weeks before I got resettled in school. It took about 11 years before my friends of that era stopped talking about the shit for pants story. It took me vomiting on something 11 years later. It was a body liquid war.
Her: Yes, sent by Lauren to check out the house stories.
Her: Well, maybe I interrupted at a bad place. Was this going anywhere?
Me: I think we’re on to something pretty dramatic. Body liquid wars? Put a few rhymes in and we have a song.
Her: Yeah. Well, we just finished the extraordinary dialogue between you and Lauren on poo. Should we change your meds?
Me: you could get me out of here?
Her: Well, up until now I didn’t really see the point. You seemed so settled. But this is approaching crisis stage.
Me: It took poo references to make you sit up and notice?
Her: I’m a simple, geeky, nerdy girl that smells of horses.
Me: Horse Poo.
Me: I’m discovering something about Project 2.
Me: I’m not exactly deep.
Her: You’re up to what, age 6.
Me: Yeah, but I can see where this is going. I don’t really think I’m going to get deeper. I think the toys get better and the body liquid gets more interesting. But I don’t think this is a story of evolution. I think I’m the Seinfeld series – no hugging, no learning.
Her: Look, these are your projects. Why are you doing them at all?
Me: To energise. To repulse less.
Her: I think you need to do this. I’m not sure why fully, but we’re enjoying the ride. Seinfeld’s good enough as is. No learning, no hugging. Sounds a bit like the kids. Continue, I need to run anyway and get Maggie from some award ceremony. Picking up more Platinum things.
Me: Okay. I love you.
SATISH: AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM HERE. HE’S NOT VER Y DEEP IS HE? I’M HOLDING BACK THE WALLS OF PAIN AND HE’S BLABBING ABOUT POO. SOLZHENITSYN STUCK THE ONLY BREAD HE HAD IN CRACKS OF THE WALLS OF HIS LITTLE SHACK IN SIBERIA. HE KEPT THE WIND OUT. TO KEEP THE WIND FROM BLOWING THE CANDLE OUT. SO THAT WITH PAINFUL FINGERS HUNCHED OVER A WOODEN DESK HE COULD WRITE ONE DAY IN THE LIFE. I’M HOLDING OUT A WORLD OF HURT FOR THIS GUY AND I’M GETTING POO JOKES.
Her: That’s not fair.
IT: FUCK IF THAT’S NOT FAIR.
Her: Do you have alternative subjects? Is there something else you want in your cloud.
IT: THERE ARE A DOZEN THINGS MORE INTERESTING THAN HIS HOUSES. WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF LIFE AND DEATH HERE. WE’RE ON A PLANET THAT’S BEING OVERRUN BY HUMANS AT EVERY TURN. WE’VE GOT FINANCIAL CRISES THAT HAVE MORAL TALES EVERYWHERE YOU TURN. WE’VE GOT SHAKESPEARE AND THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE OF THE STARS:
- “IT IS THE STARS. THE STARS ABOVE US, GOVERN OUR CONDITION.” KING LEAR, ACT 4, SCENE 3.
- “THE FAULT, DEAR BRUTUS, IS NOT IN THE STARS, BUT IN OUR SELVES.”, JULIAS CAESAR, ACT 1, SCENE 2.
WHICH ONE IS IT? IS THAT WORTH EXPLORING?
Her: And he should be talking about that? The stars?
IT: VERSES POO? YES.
Her: Here’s what I think. The planet is fine. Humans aren’t, of course. And we’ll go the way of the sabre tooth. And I think life and death is pretty clear. I can distinguish one from the other fine and I know what I prefer. And I think the moral tale is greed and that is really well known. And I don’t worry too much about the stars – I’m pretty sure they didn’t govern our condition on this one, but I’m also pretty sure the ‘Fault’ in all this isn’t completely Bobby’s. Despite his rather suicidal love of Stop Making Sense. And I think if there are stories to tell, I’d prefer they are our stories for our cloud. And in a hundred million years, when they pull our relics from the tar pits, I’d rather have a story about Bobby shitting in his pants in the second grade, then an essay that Bobby predicted the downfall of the human race.
IT: BUT WHERE’S THE SIGNIFICANCE? WHERE’S THE IMPORTANCE?
Her: I don’t think its important Satish. The guy blew up in a Henry the Eighth costume. We’re beyond importance. Or significance. It just is what it is.
IT: KATIE OR TINA?
Her: Both. You’re pissing us off.
IT: TRUST ME. YOU DON’T WANT ME TO LEAVE…
Chapter 11: Satish Takes a Vacation
Chapter 12: A Very Serious Un-settling Family Conversation About Funerals and Houses
FTB. Jesus Fucking Holy Christ. I wake and there’s a stroke vest. Lauren, Maggie, Connor and Katie all gathered around stroking. Tears everywhere. My hands are slippery. They fill me in on 10 days of massive urban deconstruction. And they are deeply unsettled. I’m apparently in a bad way.
Her: We need to talk.
Me: Wait, let me take a seat. Okay, get comfortable. Shoot.
Her: its day 67.
Me: No, 57. Project 2, House 4, ready to go.
Her: No 67, and you’ve been through a very, very rough patch. The grafts on the chest simply aren’t taking. Burns too deep. We almost lost you.
Me: What are they saying?
Her: That this isn’t good.
Me: Was there a period when this was ever good?
Her: British Summer Time. 3 minutes a day. (We mould this together, a sad waltz, slippery fingers)
Me: I’m not sure what to say.
Her: We’re all here. We’ve been talking. And we don’t like scares like this. And we think we need to prepare at least for things to not turn out well.
Me: Bush and Beating come to mind.
Her: We need to deal with your funeral and our finances.
Me: Ah, the old F&F
Her: Yeah, Fuck off and Fuck You. Look, NO ONE wants to talk about this.
Her: The kids have ideas on songs and how you’d want to do things. And I’ve got questions…
We then talked for an hour about things we didn’t want to talk about. We know there are a thousand conversations like this everywhere on earth. We have no monopoly on this. But it sure feels like we’re sucking in our share right now.
But at least it is there. And it gives urgency to the projects.
IT: IT’S SHOWTIME.
IT: I’M BACK.
Her: Tina. He can smell the difference.
Her: It appears we missed you, Satish.
IT: I SERVE A PURPOSE
Her: Yes, we almost lost him.
IT: YOU WERE LOSING HIM. SO I RUSHED BACK.
Her: Thank you.
IT: CAN WE STRUGGLE FOR A LITTLE MEANING?
Her: Can you give this meaning Satish? What would you say?
IT: I’M NO GOOD AT THIS. I’M THE TAKER OF PAIN. BUT MAYBE WE CAN JUST QUOTE JOBS IN THIS. YOU KNOW THE COMMENCEMENT SPEECH
Her: I can look it up and I’ll add something. And I’ll let Katie read this. Maybe that’s the best idea Satish. Borrow.
I wake. Nurse Wonder announces 11 AM. Church. Steeple. Church Steeple. Go.
Project 2 is boring everyone to tears and seem to have cause a crisis of confidence for the body. So I will shift gears back to Project 1. Project 3 scares me so.
Love letter 2:
How are you? Things are okay here. Funeral arrangements all made and financial arrangements all good. Things couldn’t be better. This love letter is short and sweet. All things will need to be now. Chop chop and all.
You are a bee hive. And Maggie, this is a love letter to you, because you are a bee hive as well. A marvel. You are forever in motion. From Medical School, through residency, through three children, through Swiss Balls, Cancer and Tudor Marshmallow. You don’t stop moving.
There’s nothing that could be put off to tomorrow that can’t just get done today. You can’t settle until dishes are done. I settle with plate in my lap. Happy to stay there through morning. You do weekend work on Friday. On Sunday, you’re preparing for Wednesday. Maggie is the same, 5 steps ahead of the rest of us. Never settling until there is NOTHING MORE TO DO. I’ve never felt that in my life.
What does this have to do with love? I hear you ask. Are you writing an ode to my administrative skills? Is this an Executive Assistant performance review? Are you rewarding the behaviours that lead me to wake at 5 in the morning, with a to do list piling on my brain? Is this a love letter because my order let’s you ride a life of chaos.
Four questions. In order. One, tap. Tap. Two. Tap. Tap. Three. Tap Tap. Four. Tap.
You’ve let your family ride a life of chaos – you channel, you guide, your monitor the rivers. But you let us flow. And I get that. Just like I get that you’re a geeky, nerdy, culturally illiterate girl with more brains and beauty that someone should be allowed to have.
I danced with you for 9 minutes in the Peep lounge and my life was changed. You’ve been a bee hive for the next 32 years. I love them both.
I know that you know the kids’ shoe sizes. And I don’t.
I know that you know the kids’ dentist. And I don’t.
I know that no one asks me to drive them anywhere. And you drive.
I know that no on relies on me for anything. And they rely on your to guide the wild river that is our life.
I know that you don’t like any of this.
And that was the real lesson.
I found out that this isn’t because God made you responsible and in love with the maintenance of life.
No, you maintain life because someone has to. And I didn’t.
I do projects. They are discretionary. They don’t matter. They aren’t important. They aren’t significant. And they make big messes everywhere.
You maintain life. The children need to notice. They need to appreciate. They need to know that you do it so they can do projects.
Kids have been good but a bit smart assy. Still catching up on my sleep.
Love and kisses
I wake. Day 69. Honk Honk. We used Honk Honk to catch out double entendre.
And a big cube drops. There was music. There was a label. There was the joke. How do you make a small fortune in music? Start with a big fortune.
And there were artists. And songs. And it was Tati K who was definitely in favour of Barbie’s breasts. She felt Barbie wore them stoically.
And the King Henry suit was to launch an album. Katie said it was the second time I wore it. And the first was at the 50th. And it comes together. Poor Marcus. It wasn’t some party. It was our party. In our garden. On October 1, 2011. Poor Marcus.
And our conversations in the studio flood me. And I’ll swim. Things like: what is the most useless acronym in human history? WWW. It takes three times as much effort to say as the thing it stands for. World Wide Web.
What’s the longest number of consonants strung together in an English word? 6. For Knightsbridge.
And we played Bee Cells.
Her: And you called me St Katie. You took over the house you know? Front room. Conservatory.
Me: You channel me.
Her: Piss off. You piss on my bee hive.
Me: You read it.
Her: Yes, not sure about that one to be honest. The great Maintenance Woman. Feels like a lesser god than the Peep girl.
Me: 9 minutes of Peep girl.
Her: Maybe we should have found more time to dance.
And our fingers mingle together on that one.
Her: You need to spend time with the kids. Each one. And soon. They need their dad. They need words about now. And about the future. They love your projects. But they need to come to grips with what is happening to them.
And our fingers mingle together on that one too.
Me: Is this a Death Watch?
Her: Bobby, for us, it’s always been a death watch. But you’ve so beautifully turned it into a progress of light. But we’re on the outside looking in. It’s harder here.
Me: Except for the not being able to walk, or talk, or eat, or taste, or hear, or see thing…
Her: It’s harder here.
Me: I know.
Me: Give me a couple days. Let me finish the houses.
Her: Oh god, the houses.
Me: I’m almost 10 you know. I’m becoming profoundly interesting.
Her: And then deteriorate rapidly by 17.
Me: Peak at 14.
Her: Poor me.
Me: Hey, I was past my peak but didn’t smell like horses.
Her: You smelled. Just not like horses.
Me: Happy 69.
Her: Honk Honk.
- House 4. 23rd Street, Arlington Virginia. 8-10 years. This was a good move. And the next one would be a bad move. This is a 2 year move. Back to the neighbourhood we lived in three years ago. It is a little box house on a busy road. I had really good friends. I had really good teachers. I won a blue Snoopy at the school fair. And watched Doctor Doolittle at the school film day. It was really long and there’s a lot of chuff around the wheat. John Baker and I tried 7 times to sleep in the wood shed behind his house and 7 times we scared ourselves silly and came back in his own. We watch Sir Graves Ghastly which was filled with very scary – at the time – not very scary black and white films. Like the Mummy. I watch the moon landings with the family around a small TV. And I wanted that so bad. No that is not correct. I was terrified of all that black space. And Dad explained the distances and how alone they were. No I just wanted to launch to the Moon. I wanted the take off. The fire, the surge, the weightlessness. I didn’t so much want to go to the moon. Sometimes I just want to get off this planet. And I go to sleep every night to Abbey Road. I was frightened by Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. I remember my sisters opening Sgt Pepper’s and listening with appropriate reverence. BINGO continues his pattern of family harassment. This time, while home alone, he charges through a plate glass window to catch a squirrel outside. Glass everywhere and he cuts up his feet. Runs through house in panic and climbs on our parent’s bed. Leaves a bloody trail of violence to my parent’s bed. My Mom comes home just before school is letting out. Puts dumb dog in car. Finds me on way home from school and rushes to vet. Doesn’t find my sister, who’s about 14. She arrives home to a scene that surely indicates that she is an orphan. We find her crying out near the side walk, not knowing what to do. Bingo! And I discover white water rafting with my dad and magic with my uncle. My dad is all physical. He carries a canoe by himself. He saves me from logs. He pulls us around rocks when I fail to draw at the downstream V. Mom was the centre of my universe in kindergarten. Dad’s orbit is very close now. He’s just so big. So strong. My oldest sister has a baby. Only 10 years younger, but I’m an uncle now. And I blow bubbles and stick out my tongue and get my niece to belly laugh. And it is all about toys. There are Lego’s. Lots of Lego’s. And there is Major Matt Mason. And there are Hot Wheels. My world was filled with dozens of civilisations I created. With race cars, astronauts and Lego space ships. I always felt you kids lost some of that with your computer screens. But who am I to talk? The hands and flashing white light streaking across a screen. The magic was all about rope tricks and card tricks. And the three and a half of clubs. A simple trick that relied on the fact that each two matching sides of a die add up to 7. How much of the world doesn’t know that?
Him: Not much of the world doesn’t know that.
Me: I bet much of the world doesn’t know that.
Him: Still on the houses?
Me: Aren’t I becoming more interesting?
Him: You aren’t anything in these. It’s a timeline for Mattel and the Beatles.
Him: You know we’re relaunching the site?
Me: I remember now.
Him: And I’ve been working for you during my gap year.
Me: I remember now.
Him: And I’m not sure what to do anymore Dad. What are we relaunching?
Me: This is all we have between us. Let’s just launch this. To the moon.
Him: Mum said something about your Meds.
Me: Go to the moon, Connor. Go to the moon. Beam me up.
I wake. Tina says its 10AM. That’s a good thing.
I love music. That’s what is missing. It is silent here. I was trying to learn guitar. And get better on the piano. And if I was maybe I could be writing music now. But I remain rubbish. And this no hearing thing would be a serious issue. To my projects. My discretionary. Disrupting.
- House Five. Via El Chico. Torrance Beach California. Ages 10-13. These are the bad years. We lived in an ET suburb. Exactly. Our house was two houses away from the end of the occupied street. But the street continued another mile and a mile of houses were being built. All day we played in the construction site, collecting nails and pieces of wood and pipe. The suburbs were exploding and we were ground zero. We had our little bikes with banana seats and sting ray handle bars. We rode from morning to night. Moms would call us in trying to shout for miles. That’s the good news. The bad news were most of my friends were from broken homes and none were very nice. I had no good friends. And I was fat. And I might as well get to the thing. During school one day, myself and Jim were brought into the principles. We were given a special achievement award. We were flattered. We found out later that the principle had pulled out the two fat kids during exercises so they could tell the kids to stop laughing at us. And to avoid us humiliating ourselves on whatever the exercise was. Okay, that really sucks and stays with me to this day. And there were bullies. And I wish I could go back now and kill them all. They would be 50, with families. And I would shoot them down happily. We had a pool at least. And I lay at the bottom of the pool for hours on end with my dad’s scuba tanks. How sad is that? Fat kid sunk to the bottom of a pool. I liked my sisters’ friends and they humoured me. We got five de-railer bikes for Christmas and all were stolen from the garage Christmas day. We got a colour TV and my mom could change the channel by spraying the ironing spray. She would sit for hours behind the couch ironing while we watched Wide World of Sports and Disney. She’s change channels, but we could change back by shaking coins in our hands. And Bingo would change the channel only at good bits by sneezing and having his collar rattle. He waited carefully being the shit dog that he was. And I learned to body surf well for some reason but seldom went to the beach. Fat boys on California beaches were not welcome. Probably unrelated but I collected 8 ‘I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s’ ribbons for eating their double banana splits in one sitting. I retreated into my toys and didn’t like California much. I waited for the Pentagon to call.
Me: True. Hi Tina.
Her: Hi. Don’t want to disturb. Just didn’t want you to be alone until the Pentagon calls.
Her: Can I tell you something?
Her: I think you’re going to be fine. I think you’re going to recover fully. I think you’re going to launch yourself out of here.
Me: You’re the only one.
Her: I guess I’ll hurt the least if I’m wrong.
Me: I think I’ll hurt the least.
Her: But I’ll hurt.
Me: Me too.
- 6. House 6. Bolling Airforce Base. Summer Aged 13. The Pentagon indeed called, but messed with ME first. Yes, I’m 12 and things are very personal. Dad was called back for one job, stayed in it a month and then switched jobs again. All very confusing but it meant we spent the summer in Bolling Airforce Base. An island of calm in a terrible part of DC. So we were island bound in Washington Heat and I was fat and friendless and actually suicidal. I know now I wasn’t. I was the type of suicidal with no intent to do anything but lived dream after dream of being a fly on the wall at my funeral when they would all cry over me. Watergate was going on and the TV was always on showing Dean testify. I didn’t give a damn. My parents were going to put me in a all boys Episcopalian private school. I refused. They knew I would fail the exam on purpose so they bribed with a 7 Volume Tarbell Magic Course. I passed and spent the summer with Tarbell. My savour was Brooks, one of my Dad’s aides. He was a big athletic, black sergeant, who took the growing fat boy under his wing and played endless basket ball with me. And like a plant responding to music, I began to grow. And no kidding I grew four inches that summer. I went from fat to skinny and dad was told we were moving to Fort Meade Maryland. And it was here I discovered the primary benefit of moving from house to house. The power of re-invention. I would arrive in Maryland something very different. The fat boy would hide in shame in a principal’s office in Redondo Beach. I would resurface as a cool kid from California transplanted to the mid Atlantic. And it would have worked. Except for Fucking Bingo.
- 7. House Seven. Fort Mead Maryland, Aged 13-17. I’m 6 foot three. Skinny. And with Brooks’ help, who stays with us, I don’t suck at Basketball or Lacrosse. Nor am I very good, mind, but I’m not the fat kid. And our house is a nice one next to a basketball court. Outdoors. Pavement. You wore Chucks back then (and do again today). But you went through a pair every two weeks on pavement. They were designed for wooden courts. I had subtly drawn ‘California Kid’ on my chucks. And I was the tallest player in the neighbourhood and not bad so I won a lot of two on two and was picked first for five on five. And Vanessa noticed. And my re-invention was on track. Vanessa was sweet with a little dog. One day, she held my hand. That day, Bingo jumped the fence, crossed the road and ran straight at Vanessa’s dog. And basically killed it. Not completely. But it was never the same again. And we were never the same again. And I was the California kid that had a dog that killed little girls’ dogs. And this is now middle school and high school and all its tortures. None of this proves interesting in hindsight other than you really don’t want to waste those bodies on young people. And I was neither worse nor better than any of my friends. And we were pretty bad. When I was top dog, I would occasionally be cruel to others. I would call them fat behind their backs. I was sadly not noble. When I could protect someone risk free I would. But I would take few risks to help others. And I could fill a book here, but there’s a point about this house and the one that followed. I don’t remember my Mom or Dad that much. I loved them. We seldom fought. They were good. Too good. But they were simply not relevant to any of my memories. And I had to rush to this house and the one that follows to tell you that. Connor. Lauren and Maggie. I had a lifetime that followed to know my parents and they became so relevant. But I am terrified that the Tudor Marshmallow has taken away that lifetime. We’re stuck at our own house 7 and 8, and this might be all the time you have.
- 8. House Eight: Fort Myer Virginia. Aged 17-21. Dad is a very big wig now. And I’m off to college, but this is the summer house. The Christmas house. And it is beautiful. And Brooks is still with us. And Sol. And Tal. And they are good friends. And this is the house your mother visits. And this is the house from which we take Bingo to get his nails’ cut. HA! And this is where you’re mom cried because she lost her best friend. This is a house with Ryan. Every summer as waiters. We met recently and discovered that for both of us these were amazing summers. You kids got to see that, so we’re pretty much done with me alone. Project 2.
And there’s a lesson here. If this is our last house, we’ve got to be together. I demand that you have memories of me. I demand that I’m somewhat relevant. I can’t sleep knowing that you will write of these days and I won’t be there. You’ll know I was kind. And decent. But you’ll report to your children you just don’t remember me. Not this time. Not this house.
Awake. Tina taps 8AM. This is great. Project 2 is done but I need to finish the chronology for you kids. So there are a few more apartments and houses.
Her: No. Dad, we celebrated last night that we are done with the houses (Lauren)
Me: No, we have so many more houses to go.
Her: Dad, seriously, you have got to stop the houses!
Me: No, I am your father and I am telling you that you will love my houses stories.
Her: Dad, seriously, I am your daughter and I can tell you categorically that no one even remotely likes the houses stories. It is torture. The only good part was Bingo and you killed him.
Me: I shall prevail!
Her: I can take away the keyboard.
Me: Please don’t.
Her: I’ll monitor house progress. But know my hand is hovering over you to yank your keyboard. I must represent the greater good here.
Me: understood. Can I get on now?
I was lucky to be the fifth child. My brother and sisters were raised in crowded little houses. As my dad became a bigger deal, but the siblings kept dropping out. By the time I was alone, coming home to our house over summers, we are talking very big houses, for three people. And my parents travelled the world, so I had a lot to myself. I say all this, because as all of you know, the reality of ‘going on your own’ is all about little bitty places.
- 4 little tiny dorm rooms in Ohio: Ages 17-21: No need for details here, just one for completeness. First year lived on freshman floor, with roommate that loved Katie. Lots of drugs, Bob Marley and various attempts to beat my chest. Drugs good. Marley better. Chest beating not so good. The chests beat me every time. Second year moved with all my freshmen year friends to the ‘tower.’ Turns out I had essentially surrounded myself with biggest drug users and dealers at school. Even I was scared. One guy had a brother who became an Indian Priest so he could buy Peyote. He gave his brother bags of the stuff and he dried them in his room for days. Then there would be Peyote festivals for a week. Because it is so basey they would drink gallons of orange juice in the morning to keep from throwing up. They would then eat the Peyote and throw up orange all over the bathroom. I never partook. Too weird. Not an ethical thing. I seriously hate throwing up. Third year, moved to single at the DEEKS. My room was 6 feet by 8 feet, and still I managed to fit in a TV, a mini-bar and my awesome stereo. A word of this stereo equipment. It was a rack stereo system. I needn’t really say more. The fact that it was a Kenwood, I’m pretty quiet about. But it was a RACK system. Behind glass doors. Speakers were big and heavy. Ticks on my check list. Final year lived in apartment with friends that have become friends for life. Except for Ed who came in every night at 3AM and played the Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment.’ And another guy stood outside my room all night screaming, ‘I’m gonna pop somebody.’ All very odd. We were good friends. We weren’t good at the cleaning bit. Cleaned bathroom once. Mostly involved shovels. Never cleaned kitchen. Left everything in the sink on departure. I think they burned our place down.
- 2 little apartments, Shirlington Virginia-Washington DC, Ages 21-23. Katie and negotiated to move together to DC, each getting advanced degrees. We agreed to live in separate apartments with other roommates, but in same complex. I lived with Svook! I met him in Russian language classes. And we ate a lot of Romane noodles. Those dry things. We tended to eat the noodles dry and then use the spices to in hot water as a separate course of soup. Our final course was always very bad beer. The biggest benefit of these apartments were: utilities were included. (idiots). We kept our apartments at about 68 degrees through the entire DC summer. If there is a ground zero for global warming it is Shirlington Virginia 1983, where our separate apartments used most of the earth’s resources to cool down our furniture while we worked all day in the city. We came home to couches frosted with a winter’s dust. Sweating we settled into our artic paradise, laughing at the shmucks who said utilities were included. I then moved into a separate group house in DC, 17 & U, on a street where the front of house was white Washington and the back of the house was crack dealer, prostitute paradise. My room was in the front and I was less frightened then two of our roommates. We bought a lot of cheap beer – $1.50 a six pack. That is bad beer. We had our ‘after party’ for our wedding at that house. The basement swam in beer and mud and we returned the next day to see cigarettes put out in our wedding cake. And we danced again, lest I forget, in the mud, in the beer, with very good friends – who later portrayed us like hooligans piercing our wedding cake with their foul combustibles.
- Our first home. Rosslyn Virginia, 24-26. We then got married and move in together to an apartment across from Iwo Jima monument for Marines (the one where they put up the flag). The apartment was full of roaches. A typical morning was opening up the cupboards for some cereal only to be greeted by a flood of cock-roaches running out to announce the cereal like the drumming corp of a great Rose Bowl float. Our ‘office’ room was made of cinder blocks, milk crates and cheap doors. We had no AC for DC, so bought one Air Conditioner for our living room. No ‘utilities included here!’ We spent most summers in the living room on the pull out couch. Very romantic. TV in same room as bed. Didn’t happen again for almost 25 years! We had a neighbour Bob who drank and smoked too much. Three times we saw him haul out a burnt mattress to the dumpster. Not very reassuring. But the cock roaches were also slightly nervous.
- Our second home, Cambridge Mass, 27-31. We then renegotiated new locations and moved to Boston – me to B school and Katie to residency, now a doctor. We worked really hard, but you far more than me. I got really good a Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo 64. We had to buy a lap top for B school and I thought I was very cool. It was an IBM with no hard drive, but two mini-disk drives. It took 20 minutes to switch between Word and Lotus. Made you think about the order you did things. And gave you lots of reasons to play Mario brothers. My finest intellectual accomplishment remains that I discovered for my Harvard study group that Mario could ‘go down tubes.’ Amazing. Gave our journey another dimension. I was worshipped. You arrived home from the real world of patients and wounds, exhausted. Shamefully, I don’t remember ever surprising you with a cooked meal. I did surprise you with an awesome Mario score, but you seldom seemed impressed. My biggest disappointment in our relationship was me rushing to the door as you arrived yelling at you that Mario went down tubes. I think you had spent all night saving a couple people. For some reason you were unimpressed. But Katie, but Katie, Mario can go down tubes.
Her: Honestly it doesn’t sound any better now.
Me: Are you getting. Goes down tubes! Another dimension. Gold coins a plenty. I wish I could go down tubes.
Her: Yes, there’s that. But given I was learning how to save lives and you were learning how to … well press buttons, I think honestly…
Me: but that button pressing is now all that defines me. I would say time well spent.
Her: yes, but the life saving thing seems important.
Me: no offense, but I’m doing better at pressing buttons now, then you are at saving lives.
Her. Fuck you.
Me: oh… sorry. Just the banter.
Her: You and your banter. Not a good thing, all the time.
Me: Pattern recognition. I’m getting a lot of that lately.
Her: Continue with the house. You’re on safer ground there.
Let’s be clear. We loved this home as we loved Rosslyn. It is only later you start sneering at these humble beginnings. We had an amazing honeymoon after our wedding. Went all over Europe (we asked for no gifts, only money). We went to Russia, including Moscow. We stayed at the Cosmos hotel. When we returned to Russia 17 years later to live, we sneered at the hotel. Couldn’t believe it. What a pit. Then we discovered our diaries of the time and reread them. Here’s roughly what we said: ‘Can’t believe it. First night in Russia. Intourist has put us up at the Cosmos hotel which had been built for the Olympics. Amazing. And because it is our honeymoon, they upgraded us. We have a little Fridge in our room. A Fridge! And a king sized bed. And a TV. And lamps on both sides of the bed. And a reading chair. Amazing!’
But our Cambridge house was amazing to us. It was a ‘town house’ on Cardinal Madieros Avenue, a very Catholic, very Portuguese neighbourhood, with lots of Saints parading down the street. The house was three floors, three different owners, with basement and ‘roof deck’ (read flat room that you could crawl on to). We were top floor. 1 bedroom, 1 living room, 1 office. We spend hours and days designing every square foot. I tiled a bathroom. That was my first and last DIY project (other than the big book case project!). But we loved every square foot of our first real home. The second floor neighbours were a gay couple – our first ‘gay best friends’. But it was in the middle of the Aids crisis and one of them died and the other was tested positive for HIV. The one who died became a carpet on the mall. The one who lived is still alive. All changed over the 7 months between Rob and Lance. Lance was 7 months before the first cocktail. Rob is still drinking them today. And we still visit him in Boston. And the funny thing about Rob and Lance was that when we were trying to sell our condo to go to Moscow, we kept sending potential buyers to their house. We’d say, ‘With a little work this floor could look like their floor.’ Because no matter how much we worked on our floor, their floor always looked better. I know it is a horrible stereotype, but good lord it was true in this instance. We went week end shopping together to the same antique shops. We’d buy the same things. And with an angle, a colour, a shadow, a light, their bloody lamp looked better on their bloody mantel than ours ever could. We loved and hated them for that!
And we discovered that yuppies are terrible baby-makers. We planned very second of our lives to that point, negotiating cities, time in school, out of school. And so we negotiated with our sperm and eggs. Kept them at bay for over a decade, telling them they had no use for us. Then, presto, we decided they did. All that wasted biology. But now, at 27, we were ready. Sperm and Egg do your stuff. And they mocked us. We got pregnant the first time we tried. And miscarried immediately. No tragedy because we were ready to go again. We did, however, found out how often women miscarry. Hidden secret until you join the club. And then the whole world knocks at your door. Hell, I was never supposed to be on this earth – my Mom miscarried twice between me and my youngest sister. I’m actually the ninth pregnancy! So we tried again and egg and sperm just ignored us. And it got stressful. And we tried month after month. And that got even more stressful. And our parents told us it was because of our stressful lives, especially Kathy’s residency. And that made it MORE stressful. I was called home on days to do my thing because of a thermometer saying it was time. And that was VERY stressful and not much fun and then we did various treatments and then we started IVF and then the Soviet Union started collapsing.
And that meant that my business was expanding in Russia and I could speak Russian. And an American medical centre had opened in Moscow and you were a doctor. So we decided to move to Moscow right in the middle of IVF treatment. I had to negotiate with my firm that they would pay your way back for treatment. And I had to update the CFO each month on our progress (or lack of progress). And, the long and the short of it is we left for Moscow with six duffle bags in 1991 and arrived in London in 1995 with almost three children (Maggie was born 6 weeks into our move to London). And that meant Moscow was very good for baby-making.
And the funny thing was your conversation with David, the founder of the clinic. He wanted to hire you but he wasn’t political correct so he just asked it. “Katie, I like you, but this is a small operation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I can’t afford to have a pregnant doctor in Moscow. Are you planning on kids?” Katie could be honest. “Yes, but we seem to be infertile, so not clear that kids will ever come.” And then… I gave sperm in August for you to have an implant, before we left that December. Complication so they froze my sperm. Then we were ready to harvest eggs, make embryo’s and re-implant in November. But complications, so they froze the embryos. We move to Moscow. And then you flew back in February to implant frozen embryos and boom – pregnant. With Connor. But we called him Frosty because he was actually the product of a frozen embryo.
(And there’s a funny story here. WE moved to London and on Connor’s second day of reception he was asked to tell a story about his favourite stuffed animal. It was, of course, Frosty, his snowman. So we told him why he was given Frosty and what it meant. We didn’t hesitate at all to tell him because it made him special. So next day he writes about why he had the Frosty stuffed animal. And they loved the story so sent him to Headmistress. She gave him a gold star. Katie is then shopping in the local Waitrose and she gets a call, “Katie, Katie!” from the Headmistress also shopping. “I love the Frosty story!” So within 12 hours of telling our son he was a frozen embryo, Katie is talking to the Headmistress in the deodorant aisle about our infertility issues. And we realised London is really just a set of small villages. (And there’s a funny story here. One time we were heading to the US to see my parents in LA. At Terminal 4 we realised that Connor didn’t have Frosty, his very dependable buddy. And he’s crying and we know we’re about to have 2 weeks of this. So I call home and luckily our house cleaner is there. I tell her to get Frosty and wait for the bell. I then call our taxi company and arrange for a pick up. We send the girls through security and Connor and I wait for Frosty. The taxi pulls up and Hunter runs to car. The driver gets out, and walks around car to the passenger side and there is frosty all seat belted up, waiting for Connor. And that’s when we realised that London is just a collection of wonderful, small villages). And that is enough about Frosty.)
And that started a reign of pregnancies. Somehow Frosty cleaned the tubes. Lauren was born while Kathy was still nursing Connor. And then Katie was pregnant again with Maggie. And Dennis figured out that this infertile doctor he hired was pregnant or nursing 41 of the 48 months we lived in Moscow.
Her: Finish the houses.
Him: Don’t you like the Frosty stories?
Her: I do, but I want to go home and we need to see the houses through. I’m bored.
Him: Thanks for the feedback
- 4 Apartments in Moscow (31-35 years old). First apartment was absolute pits. Above my office. Phone never worked, hot water seldom worked. The entrance and halls were never lit and lift to our floor never worked. All broken down – perfect symbol of the fall of communism. And our apartment stunk from the common trash shoot. And there was nothing to buy. There was one Finnish hard currency store and we bought what we could. Second apartment was lovely compared to that, but was next to the Russian White House, which was the parliament building Yeltsin surrounded during the conflicts of the early 90’s. The army surrounded our apartment building – we were inside the siege. And one by one they turned off our water, our electricity and our phones. And it got so bad, and we feared for Connor, that we moved into hotel for one night for a break. The next morning a battle happened and our apartment was shot up. We were safely across the river watching on CNN. Lucky. Our third apartment was AMAZING – big and beautiful. As was our fourth. And we filled them with Connor and Lauren and prepared Maggie for her unveiling in London. And there are so many stories of Russia, but Katie will have to tell them. Fingers very, very tired.
- 1 house in London (35 – present). And then we moved to London. A 3 year, 2 year old and within six weeks a new born. And our lives revolved entirely around body liquid and push chairs for the next 7 years but it revolved around these three warring children ever since. And they all went to the same primary school. And our friends were the parents of their friends. And we had quiz nights. And we had ‘fetes.’ And we raised money for various school projects. And our life was the social life of their primary school, which is really very odd. But this was the house of the fire and this is the last house. And this is the house where we are fighting our battle of relevance. They are indifferent to us now. And the battle of the last house begins.
Her: Done with the houses?
Him: yes, unless we’re moving.
Him: Good and home are the same thing in text speak. Funny. Sort of a mobile pun.
Her: Not funny. How are you feeling?
Him: This took a lot out of me.
Her: Well this bit is done then. If it makes you feel any better, it takes a lot out of the reader. A bit too many apartments and houses. You’ve moved too much.
Him: Until we got rooted in London. When we stop, we really really stop.
Chapter 13: An All-Together Unlucky Chapter
no the left hand is gone. i can’t text.
i luv u.
so hard. project 3. last house.
IT: WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT. CRAP. THIS IS HARD
Katie: He needs you.
IT: I’LL TRY. MAKE IT IMPORTANT.
Me: Do something Nurse Wonder.
Her. We’re trying.
Her: 8… 2
Me: Hey Maggie.
Her: Hey Dad.
Me: get the left hand working please
Her: trying dad.
Me: That’s good/home. How r u Vik?
Her: ok. we miss you.
Me: 3 is finished. But un-written.
Her: we’re working on it.
Strokes, from Katie
Strokes, from Lauren
Strokes, from Connor
Strokes, from Maggie.
Strokes. Ohh. Lewies face.
IT: THE LEFT HAND IS A BACK. HE’LL LIKE THAT. BUT IT IS CLEAR WE HAVE TO GET ON WITH THINGS. I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR HIM TO GET AROUND TO THE LESSONS. AND HERE THEY ARE:
IT: I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS…
Her: No. You have been search for a meaning for the pain, Satish. I understand that. You’ve taken it all. There has to be a reason. And there is. So we can talk about the last house. So we can make sure we are important to each other now. But that’s it. There’s no meaning behind YOUR PAIN or OUR PAIN. There’s no greater importance.
SATISH: FUCK THIS KATIE.
Her: I agree Satish. Fuck this. But don’t try to equate meaningfulness with pain. Makes a mockery of both. Stay with us and help us through Satish. We’ll do it together.
SATISH: WE HAVE TO LIVE IN THE HOUSE WE’RE IN AS IF ITS THE LAST.
Her. Good enough. I think there’s a lot of versions of this.
SATISH: I’M NOT VERY GOOD AT THIS..
Her: There’s nothing to be good at here Satish. We’re one in a billion going through this? Why should this be different? Why should this be important? It is only important because it is about us. It’s only importance is that it is uniquely and completely about us. It’s meaning is in the poo stories. That’s where it is.
SATISH: WELL, LET’S SEE THIS THROUGH. GOODBYE KATIE.
Her: Stick with him Satish. We love you. We need you. Stick with him.
SATISH: WELL, BACK TO THE FAT FUCKING TUDOR MARCHMALLOW WITH POO IN HIS PANTS.
Katie here. We’ve had a lot of silent days here. And I promised this to Satish. Here are my favourite bits from Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement address at Stanford:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Wake. I’m on the ceiling looking down. And I watch. I watch Tina hover over bandages and tubes. This is the reconstruction project. I see tubes going into tubes – no, the second must be my arms, because I see lovely hands at the ends. I see most white/red fabric, like building tarps scattered around this City block. But I see fields, patches of what must be skin, all rippled, like water in an angry wind. And I watch with wonder as Tina takes cream from tubes and massage it gently to into these whipped areas to calm the waters. (I seriously suck at metaphors – field or pond? Field or pond?) If there’s a sound track here, its Wires…
I am awake all day I think, or all shift. Tina works on me for hours. I see her sit every hour. And rip off her plastic gloves. But head in hands and take deep breaths. And then she stands, grabs new gloves and begins again.
I see Harry, hand on her shoulder, walking around the City block, checking all the screens. I’ve decided I’m Times Square during all the construction to make it more ‘pedestrian.’ (Oddly appropriate pun here) I’m a City Block surrounded by screens. I am blessed to have Harry and Tina. They have given me these 100 days and I think them. I’ve not felt any pain, Tina. I’ve felt safe and protected Harry. And I’ve finally felt your hands and the good works they do….
Chapter 14: All We Got is What Got You Here
Left hand moves.
Church. Sort of. Steeple. Sort of.
Her hands move the keyboard gently under my weakened hands.
Me: Wonder? How am I? Really?
Her: Not great. Things are shutting down?
Me: What’s left.
Her: Tubes and skin. The great reconstruction isn’t going well.
Me: Hands hurt.
Her: Wait a day.
Me: Tomorrow, shoot me up with all you got.
Her: All we got is what got you here.