When You Know It’s Love

Part of being creative for me means having an overactive imagination. When I was a child I was terrified of the dark. I hated horror movies, because the images stuck with me, and I believed Michael Meyers would spring from the bushes to kill me or that Jaws would erupt from the drain in the local swimming pool. As an adult, I watched the Blair Witch Project and was chilled to the core. Part of my overactive imagination also involves having vivid dreams, in color, where I can feel textures and smell odors.

Recently my best friend and I were at a scrap-booking retreat sharing stories about people who’d pissed us off, especially during pregnancy and post-partum depression, and how we’d contemplated murder. While we laughed, “Stacy” sorted the piles of photos of her pale-haired, hazel-eyed son who was born prematurely. I was embellishing a page on my scrapbook of my father the cobbler, who had thick brown hair and a large nose, like an Italian Dustin Hoffman.

That evening, I dreamt I was a serial killer. There was no rhyme or reason to my killing, and each murder was clean and quick. I propped the dead body in a wheelchair and hid them in a bathroom stall. (The retreat was at an old ski lodge). My last kill was none other than Dustin Hoffman. (For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the Freudian implications.)

So far, I had not been caught, and I was trying to pin the murders on a squeaky clean friend. In the dream, I was suddenly back at my house with the friend and no evidence to convict him. Cops were on their way, and I knew I was going to jail.

My two daughters were in the other room. My son was at his father’s house. My lab/pit bull was nowhere to be found. I turned to my Black lab/newfie Gus and said, “Momma has to go away for a long time, Gussy.” I patted down his ears. “I love you.”

When I woke at the lodge the next morning, I told Stacy about my dream. Then I told her sister and her mother and our friends. Everyone shook their heads. I said, “It has to be all that talk about murder and the barrage of photos of my father.” But what got me was my going to Gus–the first dog I’ve ever owned. Not my two daughters. It must be love.

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The Deep End of the Pool

When talking to people, I’m not interested in staying in the shallow end of the pool. Blame it on the writer in me, but I am intensely curious–fascinated–by other people’s lives. I also am happy to share experiences from my own life as a way to connect with others. From time to time, however, I have found that sharing my experiences, especially the less than pleasant ones, leaves people feeling uncomfortable and not knowing quite what to say. Recently, I was reminded of some phrases that get under my skin.

1.”I must be lucky because…” As in, I am not in the crappy personal situation that you confided in me, which sounds way worse than my own, which I might even be hiding from you because I don’t want to be judged, so instead I’ll say how blessed I am and not share anything.

If you’re a parent, you probably recognize number one. You can’t sit near other parents without hearing about how unique, amazing and intelligent their kids are. And if you say, “Wow, I wish Janie got along better with her kindergarten teacher,” or “Thomas hasn’t been bringing home his homework,” more than likely you’ll get, “I must be lucky because Arthur and Amy love all their teachers and have straight As.” Back to the shallow end

2.”You must be really strong…” As in, I could never survive if I lost my brother, or husband, or father. I would just kill myself. Gosh. How do you even wake up every day and laugh and smile?

Losing a loved one is not a choice. Telling someone, “I would kill myself,” is insulting at best. Don’t say it. Just hug your friend. Ask them if there’s anything you can do. And please, please, don’t say, “I must be lucky. I have never lost anyone close to me.”

3.”I don’t know how you do it…” As in, I could never be a single parent. My husband is wonderful, and I just couldn’t get by without him.

This is a kiss through a veil, a back-handed compliment. It’s as though the person making the comment is waving their Happily Married banner right in my face. And, just to be clear: my ex-husband and I share custody of our son, and just like a couple who are still together, we talk, negotiate and sometimes argue. We live five-minutes from each other. We attend basketball games and parent conferences together. And when things get tense between us (since our divorce was less than friendly) we call a time-out and discuss things in private. We may be single-parents, but we collaborate as a unit, because we can. We have a choice.

I think kindness goes a long way. And if you don’t know what to say to someone who makes you uncomfortable, why not admit it?

 

What I Learned From My Hippie/Business Owner Father

My father was 22 when I was born. Soon after he opened The Leather Shoe Shop, a shoe and leather repair store in a plaza in upstate New York. My older brother Tony and I went to work with my father Monday through Saturday nine to nine. My mother had left us, and my father sought full custody. (Tony Danza has nothing on this guy.)

My father had shoulder-length black hair, and wore denim shirts, leather vests, flared pants, and leather zip-up boots. He smiled and laughed a lot, and was well-liked by his customers for his honesty and kindness. The Leather Shoe Shop stood among businesses, owned by 1st and 2nd generation immigrants like my father, places like Mario’s Pizza, Kaplan’s kosher deli, Haim’s barber shop, and the Gondola Restaurant, where food and services were traded for shoe repair, and deals were sealed with a handshake.

A set of wind chimes hung on the door to the shop, so my father always knew when a customer entered. He told me that was so he could worry less about shoplifters. When he sat in the workshop to take a bite of pizza, or toast dipped in coffee, or went to use the bathroom, the chimes went “brrrrring,” and he’d go running into the storefront. I tried to wait on customers for him, but I was a tomboy with ratty brown hair, and no adults took me seriously.

Mostly my brother and I hung out in the back, stamping wet hides with brass tools to make key chains and name plates. At the end of the night, my father took us to Sharkey’s Tavern where we ate fried clams or turkey on a stick, and drank Cokes to our hearts’ delight. Then, in our dingy apartment, my brother and I crawled into the bed we shared without bathing or brushing our teeth. In the morning, our father woke us up to do it all over again.

In those early days of the business, we were broke. We had a gas stove, and one month when my father couldn’t pay the bill, the company shut off the gas. My father called and told them he had two small kids at home, but they refused to turn it back on. So, he took a hibachi into our front yard, threw in some charcoal briquettes and started a small fire. Right there in the yard he put up a large sign that read, “Gas Strike.” My father cooked bacon and eggs on the hibachi. After a while, a rep from the gas company showed up in a work truck. “Take the sign down,” he said. My father told him to turn on the gas. The rep said, “No.” My father smiled and kept cooking. “Come on, buddy,” the rep said. “You can’t have that sign in the yard.” My father ignored him. By the end of the day, the gas company relented.

What I learned from my father was this: Family comes first. You work to support your family. Handshakes are as binding as legal documents. The written word can make change. Never be afraid to question authority.