divorce · favorites · sex · wife

Day 130: Papers

“And why are you holding on to those…carrying them around so long?” and Alex, she gestures to my satchel, which is discarded against the armrest across from me. A ‘First Class’ delivered envelope, 8 1X2” by 11” is, by now, dog-eared and protruding from the haversack. It is bordered with green triangles somehow signifying its importance. It remains unopened.

I pause. The room smells of some essential oil—surely a eucalyptus blend—and, unlike other therapist offices I have resided in, Alex’s is more cluttered, less…hygienic. There no bland inoffensive abstracts on the wall, no damask. Certainly, the walls are the typical Taupe no. 11—maybe ‘Cordova Cream’ or ‘Tomayo’. The couch is a dangerous white above which hangs a wood print: ‘It’s OK to Not Feel OK’.  I feel ok, at the moment at least. I’ve been able to sustain some joie de vivre, and to me that’s problematic. I shouldn’t be feeling ok; fuck happiness. It was supposed to have left October 13th when the door closed on the Hygge home forever and Jenny left me cadaverous in the orange leather chair. An otherwise blithe spirit dispirited. No, joie is not what I should be feeling. I’m stuck on ‘should’ as in ‘I should be miserable’, ‘I should make use of these rocks in my pocket and just walk into the river.’ ‘I should exeunt.’ I should, I should, I should.   I instead feel ok, which is blasphemous right now, and I learn to shower every other day and God forbid bake cakes.

Light the candles, it’s my goddamn re-birthday.

“I don’t know Alex,” and forever the poet, I seek the right metaphor. To use words to describe other words. I’m in once-remove.

I go pedestrian. “Well, it’s not like I won the fucking Publisher’s Clearing House or something. I’m not endorsing a check. I mean, to just SIGN on the line—I can’t do it. This is an existential receipt, not a Point of Sale.” I pause. “Ever see Sideways, or read the book?”

Alex gives a pursed lip smile in apology and shakes her head. Her face is fairly unlined. I’m suddenly aware of her age without her usual COVID mask. My beard, it is white.

“Well, the protagonist—Miles—he’s a frustrated author. Lovelorn. Giamatti plays him. Typical suffering artist, but he’s also a wine aficionado. In his possession—” and I remember this—“Is a 1960-something Chateau Cheval Blanc. He aims to drink it only when the time and place is appropriate. When the time is right. Like when he finally lands a book deal or gets married to Maya—she’s played by Virginia Madsen—or something.” I trust Alex is understanding where I’m going with this, but I choose another example as a slight detour.

“Look, it’s like the meme I saw the other day with a miserable woman sunk in a heart-shaped bathtub. It goes: ‘I listen to the same sad song on repeat to ensure it does enough damage’.”

Alex doesn’t break eye contact but says, “You’re punishing yourself.” She says it blandly. I can’t tell if it’s a question. I look at the satchel. I scan the room. There’s a photograph of a toddling child on the wall and she’s maybe two. Alex is off next week; she’s probably going on vacation with su hija. The papers, there they are. And WE used to vacation.

I raise my eyebrows, then lower them just as quickly.

“Sure,” I acquiesce. “Like a ritual. Needs ceremony.” This is not uncommon. There are purification rites: walking on knives; piercing one’s corpus with skewers, being dragged by chariots. Having a bleeding heart ripped out of one’s chest like in ‘Temple of Doom’. The bleeding heart one–that sounds about right.

“Let’s call it that. Rite of purification. Or incorporation. Something. I dunno—ask Margaret Mead.”

We’re off topic. We were supposed to be stuck doing origin work, as in: “Tell me again about Hermann Kafka leaving Franz out on the balcony? You know, tell me about your father, your mother. Tell me where this fuckery all started.

“Tell me again how your Mom told the 5yo you that you would one day hurt your wife. Tell me. Here’s some bilateral stim.”

But I’m talking about Jenny, and now Alex has diverted me to the papers. I placate her to change the subject: “I’m probably gonna sign them today anyway. I have a plan”, which is genuine and I have my favorite Sakura Micropigment 01 pen in my pocket to prove it. Alex and I—we go back to origin stories.

(It is true: I hurt my wife. Fuck if my mom wasn’t right. Just 40 years too soon and because I was throwing a fit over a Lego design gone awry. But I digress).

I walk home. Amethyst is about two miles distant from where ‘It’s OK to Not Feel OK’, and I have a stop to make on the way. A place to feel decidedly un-OK, which I’m masochistically looking forward to. Kinduv like the other week when I read authors’ suicide notes to feel better. Anne Sexton’s “I am like a watercolor. I wash off’ was my platitude of the week and it lent me some gorgeous pain. (They say misery loves company but I do a fine enough job when left to my own devices. My Curriculum Vitae includes ‘advanced degree in Ruminative Studies’. I get the job every time).  I have my phone queued to Jens Lekman because the devil’s in the details; I feel rather than hear the near-soporific swell of strings, which begin the song:

There will be no kisses tonight

There will be no holding hands tonight

Cause what is now wasn’t there before

And should not be.

There’s the ‘should’ again, its requisite twin ‘should not’ and I should not be thinking as I do, with the bougainvillea blossoming purple about the Girl from the City of Twelve Bridges who decorated the cakes at our wedding with blue and purple sepals—I should not be thinking about that, it’ll ruin the delicious dour—and I remember instead my last kiss with Jenny outside the Park Blvd. farmer’s market, and how I even texted her a ‘thank you’, that I would cherish it like I cherished kissing her and loosing the freesia from her hair in our wedding night suite. She was in a drawn bath and I was kissing her, her and her sunburn, which was in the shape of the bridal dress; I remember our almost-first-kiss—more fondly even than the actual first—when we leaned against each other on the Grape St. Suspension Bridge, lovers swaying eighty feet up in the air then, this before the suspenders would snap, heads touching in fond affection.

<The tom-toms rise>

And I will never kiss anyone

Unless it burns me like the sun

But I remember every kiss

Like my first kiss

Like my first kiss

Every first kiss—and I’ve had less than ten—has been something of helios, much like Jenny’s wedding day blister, red and raw, hot and shiny. And every first kiss has a place emblazoned in memory, its own sensorial address. To wit: the patch of gravel in the pitch-black cul-de-sac, too much lipstick; chlorine blossoms and wide mouths in the sauna; back supine on the beach, pushed down with breath-taking force, oh Jesus fuck; tobacco and wine, a single crowded barstool, the husband watching; lips sweet and wet like broken fruit, sweet and wet, eyelids closed to it all and that sacral warmth, Svadhisthana omigod.

I know I’ve broken hearts I understand

Some firecrackers blow up in your hand

This is torturous thinking. I relish it. I’m a half-mile to home and the streets have crossed Avenues, all the tree-named streets in a row—Quince and Redwood and Spruce—traversing Fifth and Sixth. A building towers upward and this is the edge of Balboa Park, a nondescript senior living residence like some extinguished lighthouse above Uptown. Balboa Park sprawls southward for the most part, eucalyptus like the fragrance of Alex’s office, groves of it down the length of Sixth. Also, the mismatched conifers—firs mainly–and you would think the hydrangeas would bloom pink beneath them in this, the acid soil, but—no—the hydrangeas are purple like Jenn’s wedding bouquet and like the sepals that garnished the cakes the Girl from the City of Twelve Bridges had hand-decorated.  The sepals are vibrant. It is March, the blossoms haven’t yet faded or been overtaken with hoarfrost. Purple, too bright to be a bruise, the bruise is my heart.

I could’ve gone many places, really, but Alex is right: I’m punishing myself and why not the mother lode? I’m interested in the main vein, not the subsidiary offshoots, like the Cliffs: that was an option, the bluffs high above Black’s Beach where the sedge grows in the winter, sharp enough to cut your hand, and where softer things grow in the spring. Fireburst aloe and sea fig and shoulder-high grass. “There will be lots of memories here,” my friend Ryan said when I introduced him to this spot near thirty years ago and, indeed, along the fingerling ravines, the sandstone and basalt, the panoramic vistas of the Pacific, Jenny and I spent our moonlight days here, half-clothed above the ocean spray in deep embrace, making fervent love a hundred feet above the beach. Across the way a palladium of a house, torch lit, and it was Barbara Streisand’s, can you believe it. Talk about misty water-colored memories, the way we were, and how we would pile back into the car with sex-warmed cheeks, hair tousled with smiles white in the moonglow. We would drive past the UCSD campus, where I went to school; I had the art studio code and there were nighttime walks here, too, beneath the creaking eucalyptus trees threatening to drop their limbs, and we would sneak into the painting room and lay on the floor among the half-finished canvases, pretending cinema in a tangle of discarded coats. Something sfumato like the charcoal sketches and conte drawings, our bodies gradually shading into one another.

This, though—all of this—the Cliffs and art studio, the foot lit tree we named Margaret at Cliffs’ egress, these are capillary places and things our bodies visited in halcyon days, before Jenny’s mother died, before we were wed, before my family dissolved when my brother was arrested one August night. These are capillary places and things, not venal. No, not venal; I want to open my fucking wrist.

“There’s something deeper here,” Alex says, “We need to go back.” And Alex has disrupted me from talking about Jenny again—about a recent argument we had over these goddamn papers—and I sigh.

“These are recent things, which is why you feel more inclined to go there—the memory is fresh.”

Of course, Alex is right. I am momentarily frustrated, but one must visit the origins. Thing is, I’ve had twenty-six years with Jenny, and that to me seems origin enough—twenty-six years ago when I really began, when Jenny, prim hostess of her bedroom kingdom, introduced me into her life. Being codependent as fuck, I am stuck to that silly girl who drinks pink tea, the girl with the thrift store A-lines, and burgundy hair. Also, her blonde-headed ‘now’, my new Bohemian; everything else seems momentarily irrelevant. I’m immutably her, or she’s immutably me, or something; but, yes, let’s talk about my mother.

“Sorry. Just devouring the hurt.” I’m eating my pain and I’ve forgotten the aperitif. I’m suckling at the wrong breast. I’m milk-drunk on Jenny’s tit.

“Thing is, Alex,” I return to the subject of my childhood, “You ask me to rate my traumas—give them a numerical score.” This is classic EMDR method, and I’ll be palming a bilateral stimulant any session now, I’m sure. Using both sides of the brain, which I already thought I did. “You ask me to rate them, and nothing seems to register the 7-10 like you specified. I mean, I HATE getting in trouble—why as an adult child I’m repulsed by authority—” I emphasize ‘repulsed’ while meanwhile hating people who are not to blame. “Every time I’ve been in trouble, it rates the same as when—I dunno—like we talked about: that my mom predicted me hurting Jenny before I even fucking MET Jenny. All those times I was lectured in Sunday School—when I’d ostensibly black out mid-reprimand–those times I projected my wrongdoings on to some other fucking kid: they’re all, like, the same.”

 I’ve failed my homework. Apparently, I’m a malfunction. Shit, authority really screwed me to the wall, but I could be eating crow as easily as pheasant here. I don’t taste much of anything. Except that I’m not OK in the grand scheme of things besides feeling okay now, among the ‘Cordova Cream’ and white pillow cushions.  I think to later. I’m gonna make another re-birthday cake tonight. Olive-oil scented buttercream. Chiffon. Meyer lemon. Wait—what?

Alex: “You may not find the moment just yet, and let’s make it sooner than later—” no pressure—“Because that will help you diminish the Negative Belief you have of yourself.” Alex is textbook here and I again remark the evenness of her face. I think, cynically: “there’s nothing an old soul hates more than a new soul acting on borrowed wisdom.’ I wrote that once. About Jenny. How sneer. Maybe now about Alex, too; perhaps I’m a dick.

I nod while looking at Alex’s shoulder. I know we’re racing for the prize here because I’ve intimated enough about the rocks in my pocket, and that’s how Virginia Woolf went in her mortal swim. I nod twice. I feel the Sakura Micron stab my side momentarily as I readjust on the couch. I need to affix a signature. I need to find the mother lode.

It’s 12:30pm and I’ve stopped at the senior residence, that concrete observatory, at Balboa Park’s entrance. In the leeward side of the tower is Eighth Avenue and there are Irving Gill numbers here, Requas and Drydens: I know my San Diego architecture well. I light a cigarette before going further.

And I will never kiss anyone

Unless it burns me like the sun

But I remember every kiss

Jens sings while I meter my draws. You’re not allowed to smoke inside of Balboa Park. It’s ordinance and I’m not looking to break laws, just break my heart. Upas is the tributary into Eighth and I remember driving it that June day, partially cloudy, in Ryan’s parents’ Tiger roadster. It was a tony detail—that roadster—me in a wedding suit with hydrangea-purple tie, sprawled in the cockpit while Ryan confidently drove. “Lookit you, so fucking cool,” Ryan remarked, “Totally relaxed.” My hands dangled in my lap, the cockpit had my legs outstretched and riding low. I WAS relaxed. I had the assuredness of a man completed, or about to be, and I was in want of nothing, not at the moment. A man waits his life for this; I was a quarter-century old and the preterite tense would be benumbed in lieu of a forever present.  Jenny and I would exist instead in the ‘will’, the future perfect. As in: we will retire to a shared park bench at the age of 102. As in, ‘we will always be in love.’ We were already sfumato, having fucked on the studio floor among the unfinished paintings; we were already and also chiaroscuro, a complement of light and dark, she ebullient and me her shadowed other. Yin-yang. Ouroboros. I was relaxed, so certain, and I never doubted a thing driving the short segue of Upas. All we needed was a rite of incorporation; we needed to affix signatures. Like I need to affix one now. I extinguish a cigarette, the preterite unwelcomely present.

(“I think I love you more than you love me,” I iterated an argument for Alex. “And Jenny, she says, ‘I think you’re right.’”

“That’s a ‘ten’. Alex. That’s a fucking ‘ten’.”)

The Marston House sits at Balboa Park’s north-most extremity. It has an Eighth Avenue address. The House is a classic Craftsman, steep-roofed and gabled, just more of a celebrity than the other Craftsmans north of Marston Hills. It features a formal English garden, a serpent-mouthed fountain. There are trees lining the eastern border, some of which bear fruit, and in the modern day they serve to block the coursing traffic of the 163. There is a low thrum regardless, an insinuation of cars, but otherwise the acreage is quiet, idyllic even. This is where on June 9th, 2002, Jenny and I wed. This is the mother lode.

 I am increasingly aware of the Sakura Micropigment ‘01’ in my inside breast pocket; it’s just above my heart.

“Alex, you know what?” I am talking about ‘Sideways’ again. “Thing about Miles: he winds up opening that bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc, just in a fast-food restaurant. Some fucking McDonald’s or other with yellow plastic benches He’s got the wine bottle brown-bagged and he’s pouring into a red plastic cup beneath the table. I mean, his book deal fell through, Maya’s essentially told him to ‘piss off’, but *this* is the moment he chooses.  That’s why I carry the papers. Who knows: I may wind up in a Jack in the Box somewhere. I may break my sobriety, sign the scrip, drink a fifth or something! Hell, that’s what got me here, right? (That and my charming milieu of mental offences, plain fuckery I tell you). That—that–is why I carry the papers.”

Except Marston is not the Jack in the Box unless the residence has exchanged its historical status for a business permit. Cheeseburgers al fresco in the English garden, pommes frites for everyone.  No, Marston remains Marston, and I am not Miles today. I’m Thomas Daniel Hofman—that’ll be my Hancock—and I’m here to hurt.

Jens is replaced by David Byrne. Our song: ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’. On our first Christmas, Jenny gifted me with the ‘Stop Making Sense’ CD featuring this tune. We celebrated a humble holiday, our diminutive tree stretching to its tallest height by virtue of an available end table—it was maybe all of five feet this tree, makeshift stand and all—and we exchanged few presents. I remember Black Oaxacan figurines of birds from the Mingei. The CD. Maybe one or two other niceties. We kissed though bereft of mistletoe and listened to The Heads sing:

Home is where I want to be

But I guess I’m already there

I come home, she lifted up her wings

I guess that this must be the place.

It could have been our wedding song—that would later belong to ‘In My Life’, which now never ceases to underwhelm me. It just doesn’t hold the weight of Naïve Melody, the latter’s image of a winged woman singing into a man’s open and receiving mouth something of simple gorgeousness. Jenny, she wore wings; my lips, they were parted. I received it all.

These days, though welcoming and invitingly orange, Amethyst is not my home. I have no home. Jenny’s not there. We don’t share the same space. She’s not next to me, we’re not holding down the mattress with our paired weight, she’s not underneath me in the throes (how I miss making love—I haven’t so much as touched myself in five months); her wings are neatly folded in between her shoulder blades, at rest for now and I am loathe to think they will unfold again for someone new. It is my least favorite thought, though I know it an eventuality, and I hold a double standard: I’d fuck anything that moves to pretend being whole again. I need le petit mort to parry the bigger death. I need to take myself to the point of release and shiver spasmodically into someone. The Girl from the City of Twelve Bridges, I knew her halfway, and I’m halfway to contrition.

I’m just an animal looking for a home, you understand. I’m sorry.

The Marston House is in view and I remark firstly the giant firs which stand sentinel at the parcel’s entrance. I have a photograph, the large one you have blown up when purchasing wedding pictures, and it sits at the foot of my bed at Amethyst. In the photo, I am insouciantly leaning back against a tree, cradling Jenn’s forearms as we share a kiss. Her bouquet is in hand (the day’s welcome trespasser had been a lady beetle, which’d found home among the sepals) and—the camera caught this perfectly—there is a light from the morning sun, our heads enveloped in some Byzantine corona. We are a gold leaf fresco, something Justinian. We are a contrapposto. She leans into me and I accept. I accept, and in remembering, I touch the available fir, which is reddish and scaly; I turn my back to lean against it, just like in the photo. The space is empty in front of me—I see the expanse of Marston’s front lawn where we had also taken pictures: Jenny in the grass, then me pretending handsome with hair cut too short. I remember the photographer vaguely: we wound up on her gallery wall, and she cried during our ceremony alongside her husband, her assistant. Love was in the air, a contagion, a stubborn lady beetle descending and holding onto the day’s floral offerings. I remember this. Jenny’s dress had hand-embroidered butterflies; we released Monarchs like spent and gilded leaves. We had such a lovely day.

Something is wrong here. I take pictures of the empty fir with my phone, with my eyes, which are stubbornly dry. I feel okay. I feel okay: that’s what’s wrong. I want to feel ‘not okay’ and immediately. I want instant gratification, an instant DISsatisfaction. I want to be empty, I want to be a room without furniture; I want my heart to know its hollow. My Cheval Blanc needs to be opened and I want a fifth of New Amsterdam, rather I want to want one. I am in the cathedral after all. I’m paying my tithes and I have been penitent this whole time, these past six months, so why is it I feel nothing? Make my re-birthday cake mean something tonight. Olive oil buttercream will be nice. I’ll use the fancy Oleamea. I’ll light a votive. Fuck.

“Alex,” I am telling her something original, “My best friend died when I was young—I was thirteen, remember?—and you ask me what does my adolescent self feel.

“Jason—you know I talked to him the day he died. Well, actually, I talked to his mother Judy. And she said Jason was receiving morphine. That they were making him comfortable. He was on the living room sofa—I can picture this—with his one remaining leg, one stupid leg left. And I hear Jason in the background, right? I hear him. He says, “I love you, Thom,” and he can’t muster the exclamation point, but it’s there. I was fucking thirteen. I used to explore the sewers with him, play Dungeons&Dragons all night. We never said, ‘I love you.’ I mean, we were too young for that and we were too busy—I dunno—doing Boy stuff. Girls and spiders and RC cars. I certainly didn’t know how—it wasn’t said at our house. I hung up the phone and I didn’t say, ‘I love you’ back. I didn’t say it back.” I pause.

“Anyway I sat in the back of the car later that day—my parents were grocery shopping and I was in the Nissan Stanza with my brother. I was playing with some cassette tapes my mom and dad bought for me that day—this consolation prize—and my brother, he says, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be sad or something?’ I remember putting on a frowny face—I tried to look all sullen and shit. But it was fake. I mean, two cassettes! Score! Alex: I didn’t know,” and I gesture with an errant hand, “I didn’t know. This was all too big for me. Like staring at the night sky and feeling afraid because you know it goes on forever, and I didn’t want to think of Heaven or Jesus or eternity—all these things scared me. I just didn’t know.” I repeat: “I didn’t say ‘I love you’ back. You know?”

And you love me till my heart stops

Love me till I’m dead

“Jenny.” I whisper her name to the fir. This is affect. I’m trying to conjure something. The memories are intact, but the feelings attached are once-removed. I am staring from six inches within my skull. Perhaps deeper into the cathedral. That may work. In the meantime, it’s not okay to feel okay; I wish for the opposite, because the haversack is surprisingly light and my pockets are empty of stones. “Oh, Jenny,” I repeat her name as I’ve done the past six months, sometimes upon awakening. Where is the accompanying somber, that palpable feeling of loss? Is this my consolation prize, my two cassettes in the form of a comfortable numbness, a lightness even? I don’t want it. I want something venal; I want to leave a red handprint on the tree. I want more than anything to cry at least. ‘I’m not okay’, I try and convince myself. I can’t be, I say, walking deeper into the Marston lot. I haven’t been. Two weeks ago, I was searching for some miracle of magnanimity from anyone, from Jenny even, when the feelings were so low as to be mortal. And now I want them back. I need to affix a signature.

I’m beneath the gable, and this is where Jenny and I had our first dance. Again, it was ‘In My Life’ and it’s not worth even changing the song playing over the headphones. I remember not remembering the song as it played that June day. We had a cantankerous and diminutive guitarist, hair like a toupee, unnecessarily feathered with a classical guitar near half his size. At last minute, we had asked him to perform ‘Autumn Leaves’ instead, but he flatly refused claiming lack of advance notice. So Beatles it was. There IS the line ‘I loved you more.’ I think to that. I think to that godawful exchange:

“I think I love you more than you love me!”

“I think you’re right.”

 And I hurled a book across the room out of sheer impotence–‘The Language of Letting Go’ maybe, how appropriate would that have been—a kinetic act to direct something, if for a second. Something smashed and it was also my heart. I threw a book because an old soul hates nothing more than a new soul guided by borrowed wisdom.

 I’ve told Alex this story; I tell myself now. Jenny was Isolde to my Tristan, but then there was the proof of inequity and I feared abandonment in a way that pitted my core.

(“A ten, Alex. It was a fucking ten”).

Except I don’t feel a ten now. I’m benumbed. I pragmatically take pictures, for there are details I remember:

  1. The old window awnings, red and white striped, sagging swaths of canvas above pebbled glass panes.
  2. The supporting walls and their stone templates, the overhanging soffits,
  3. The brick inlaid porch beneath our feet as we danced cheek to cheek, eyes closed.
  4. The window formed by the supports, the place people stood as we shuffled our embrace—people I did not even notice until coming to after the last chord was played.

I may as well be inspecting the house for termites, photographing the slow decay; the act of photographing is just an exercise and I’m like a crime scene photographer, shooting door knobs and corpses and spent shells. I am documenting a static thing and there is no inner movement. I’m as dumb as the support beams, six feet of corpus, and hollow. I move on.

Lastly the garden, an Imperial affair beset with rows of rosebushes. In June they would have been deadheaded, I don’t remember. I just remember orange flowers, which the Monarchs took to upon release and the chevron of hedgerows which Jenny and I navigated together to reach the aisle. We marched arm in arm, we were inseparable and there was no pomp of groom walking first, bride walking last. We held hands as we stared straight ahead toward the mouth of the serpent fountain, the wall inlay that served as altar. We walked slow, and I retrace the steps now, just as purposefully. Surely this will loose something, my chest is tight and wanting of release. Spring forth flowers of romance, all your dying petals and incumbent thorns!  Explode my chest, turn me inside-out. I stop at a large urn planted mid-lawn. It overflows with tendriling flowers, yellow-orange, and Jenny and I had paused here, too. To separate hands would have been ill omen, but we had our protective spell at the disposal: “Bread and butter, bread and butter,” we whispered. Bread and butter never separate—there was the fact of us and, even with fingers trailing either side of the urn, momentarily unlinked, we were inseparable. Forever would be.

“Bread and butter,” I whisper now. “Bread and butter, bread and.” I don’t say the last ‘butter’. I pass the urn into the mouth of the serpent; I stand where I stood that June day, in view of the gardener’s house and its archway. I could pass through it, but I think—I think– I’m done. I feel nothing. My Sakura is capped, will remain so for now, and rests close to my unmoved heart. Fuckit, I’m okay.

Postscript: I write this on March 26, 2022. I am in Jenny’s apartment tending to the Boys while Jenny vacations in Idylewild. She will be gone for three days; meanwhile I sleep on our old couch, rather I do not sleep. I write. Jenny has sent me a photo of her atop Idlewyld Mountain this morning and I inexplicably cry. I have just written the words ‘bread and.’ No ‘butter.’ I cry, and text Jenny as much. There is no reply, but she doesn’t know I’m writing this. She doesn’t know this is in fact the mother lode, the Chateau Cheval Blanc. I miss her. I sob, but quietly, so as not to alert Cayde. I’ve baked a cake. Happy re-birthday. I uncap my pen.

Six months from today, Jenny and I will be divorced. She probably doesn’t remember this, but I first told Jenny I was going to marry her on March 30th, 2000. We’ve been together for 26 years. Bread and butter, bread and butter.

Bread and.

Cayden · parenting · sex

Shut Your Eyes (Doe je Ogen Dicht)

“Doe je ogen dicht,” my mother invariably said whenever a breast came onscreen, even cruise_mcgillisif silhouetted; she’d say it, as well, when a Hollywood kiss languored for two seconds too long.

Dutch for: “Shut your eyes.” And obediently I would.

Except that I always peeked. Having been already exposed to a bikini-clad Princess Leia; also the long-legged Gillette model that, at every General Hospital advertisement break sank sighingly into a bathtub of shaving cream; my libido was already and irreversibly informed before graduating first grade.

This wasn’t, mind you, warning of any precocious or untoward sexuality, rather proof of a normal one.

Regardless, I did get into trouble once with the playground aide. She blew a whistle on my particular wrapped-leg negotiation of the monkey bars, and she glared at me with an aspersive contempt generally reserved for vicars and Victorians. victoria_4I was banned to the classroom for the remainder of recess, and I was confused for years as to what crime I’d committed, why my head was assigned to the desk.

“Doe je ogen dicht.”

Sexuality is a long-formed identity, not a swift and overnight maturation. Science class had us watching time-lapse films of seeds erupting into germinal tender, then flowers, then back to seed. It was all bad metaphor and precursor to the later conversations we would have about sex, that puberty blossomed as eruptively and quickly as the fast-forward flower on a science reel, that it needed be addressed as such.

Sex-ed was hidden beneath the innocuous term ‘Family Studies’, a pronouncedly sixth grade thing. It was a class to explain the suddenly sprouted hairs and the sudden need for hygienic pads, a week-long discussion only.

One week, then we’d return to the regularly scheduled program of dissecting frog bellies and discussing transitive properties. It was The Talk, school-sponsored, parental signature of approval necessary.

I remember my principal, Windsor-knotted and blazer unshed, responding to a group of playground-sweaty kids. He pulled pieces of paper from the lottery of anonymous questions.

“How does sex feel? Well, it’s nice actually,” he intoned.

The principal used the words ‘wave’ and ‘pleasure’ with little elaboration, unenthusiastically, even; he cleared his throat, then wandered rhetorically back to the idea of ‘responsibility’ before pulling a second question from the lottery. It was about puberty. He seemed more comfortable with the second question: scientific, anatomical, a do-able. Meantime, though, there were kids burgeoning adolescence, wondering, “What do these combined things mean?”

Birds and bees could’ve buzzed the room and landed in the rafters. Meanwhile, we just learned sex was pretty ok and that menses had to do with uteri. There was also something about Eve.

‘Take the Talk Home’ was the suggestion, in which case my dad unearthed his college textbooks and laid them out on the dining-room table every night after dinner. I got The Talk.

The textbooks, they were gross-anatomy textbooks. At the age of nine, and in eye-opening detail, I learned well before most nineteen year olds–the sweaty and unversed drive-in breast-petters–where exactly everything is located. There were glossy and colored diagrams, lines pointing to the mons, all the majoras and minoras, frenula and deferens. femaleanatomyI knew all this years before ever seeing a tri-fold spread. My dad took The Talk seriously. Brass tacks, learn the Grey’s version of things, black and white, before the bees began buzzing too loudly in errant bee-direction.

He was beyond clinical though. It’s something I’ve held onto all these years and where I’ve always been hugely impressed with my dad. Over the cracked textbooks, my dad talked about sex as practice; as an expansive and loving act; not just a curiosity or an anatomic locking of A into B. We talked about sex as function, sex as expression, sex as technique. Imagine Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ paired with an instruction manual.

My dad did beyond well. He could have an emeritus in Family Studies.

I vowed I would do this, too—This Talk—with my own and eldest son. I was nine when I was allowed to open my eyes and understand that blossoming happens in slo-motion, that tender shoots need informative direction well before bolt and bloom. I have sons, not daughters—just like my dad—and I was prepared to pass on my dad’s wisdom.

Except I didn’t get the first chance.

My wife was driving, and my son was eight. From the backseat, and while Mama was navigating the roads, my son described something his friend had shown him. It wasn’t as if the boys had discovered a musty cache´of National Geographics in an attic somewhere, had tittered nervously over the photographs of tribal breasts, or milk-feeding women in Scandinavia–natural, beautiful anthropological pictures, women with mammaries, not ‘tits.’ They had found an internet cache´ instead, involving derogatory terms, crude hashtags, explicit video.

It’s how you as a parent fear so much easy access. What do you say, when The Talk seems usurped by broadband? The trick is—and it’s not a trick—you keep talking. You talk talk talk.

My wife was driving, so the conversation was necessarily obstructed by means of a headrest.

“That’s not exactly Love, Sweetie. That’s fake,” and my wife had to look into the rear-view to make her point, worried, and with hands gripping the wheel all the more tightly.

“That’s people pretending they’re in love.”

I tell Cayde later, “It’s ok. There’s a lot to learn. We’ll keep talking.”

I have to tell him sometimes: “That’s to yourself,” and I never chastise him, though now he knows how babies are made and his bath-time is his.

At the Home Depot, Cayde plays a game of ‘Hot Lava’, and he occasionally hurls himself onto a pile of fertilizer, the concrete floor something imaginarily magma. There are rows of plants, perennials and annuals, and I explain the difference.

“The perennials seed but keep living; the annuals don’t.”

He sits on a bag of compost.

“I never choose annuals, Kid. I don’t like ripping out dead flowers. The annuals only last a few months.”

“This,” and I finger a bladed Strelitzia, “This lives, right?” When you tap the purple on a Bird of Paradise, the seeds get exposed.

“Seeds, Dude.”

He smiles.

“These make more flowers, Kid.”

He nods; he literally sits on manure, but his feet are clear of lava.

“You and me, Kid, let’s pick out some more plants.”

He runs off.

“Hey! The ones that haven’t blossomed just yet!,” and I roll my fingers to rid the seeds and they drop on the concrete.

He picks a flower–a phaelonopssis–with a stalwart stamen and a bit something Georgia O’Keefe. The Talk, then, must continue. orchid

There is an incredible online resource now with videos that aid in The Talk: amaze.org. Great and accessible videos, which can help you with what is, always, a difficult conversation. You can follow the Amaze parents for #MoreInfoLessWeird on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AMAZEparents/ I have been compensated for this post, but all the views are my own, particularly the admiration I have for my father in doing The Talk well, and in hopes of continuing the same conversation with my sons.