- Current Music:placebo - post blue
we're in a spiritual winter
and I long for the one who is
fire - amongst the dreamers
you are in my heart
long lost meaning to the story, story
that defined an ancient wisdom
how could it be that you've graced my nights
like a pardon from the governor
like a transplant from the donor
like a gift from the one who is
fire - amongst the dreamers
you are...in my heart.
They put me up in my father’s bedroom. I don’t know if that was by design, or if it was just the only bedroom available. I doubted the lack of space, since the first two floors of the house were expansive and there was still a floor above me that I hadn’t seen. Not to mention the fact that Aunt Nikki said I was alone on this floor. Melinda and her family were on the ground floor, and only Grandma Patty was on the third floor.
Despite the fact that the whole floor had been empty before my arrival, the temperature was comfortable and the rooms were spotless. When she escorted me upstairs, Aunt Nikki had clearly thought I was going to be emotional about seeing my father’s personal space – she put her hand on my forearm with a little squeeze and said, “I’ll just give you a little time to get settled.” Five minutes to shake the wrinkles out of the five pairs of underwear and two pairs of jeans I brought? Might be more than I need.
I never knew my father in this place, I never knew the person who inhabited these rooms, this town, or even this life. I still don’t even know why I’m here. What I felt when I walked in his room was certainly not anything to do with the grieving process.
It may be 2012 outside, but it is 1986 in this room.
Twelve hours later, I would swear I was on a different continent.
Well, not really, but you know what I mean. Compared to everything I grew up with, this place was a Tiny little town. With a capital T, possibly preceded by “Teeny”. Petite. Miniature. I would have bet money there were only a handful of stoplights in town and that they started flashing after ten pm. I think that a lot of my impressions were coming straight from movies, or possibly television. Happy Days? I thought I saw Andy Griffith and Ron Howard walking hand in hand across the street. The resemblance, of course, faded when the kid started rolling away on those hide-a-wheel sneakers.
Five seconds later he ate shit, so I quickly turned and walked to the door before his father could see me giggling.
Now my aunts sat across the kitchen island from me. (I think that’s what it’s called – it’s a counter in the middle of the room with barstools around it. I have seen them in movies. I notice this phrase is coming to my mind an awful lot. I saw it in a movie once.) In my head I am trying to decide if that makes me sad or more awesome. I decide on awesome, since it’s more optimistic and I am such an “up” person.
Technically, they are staring at me, my two “aunts” - but not in an unkind way. They were very interested in me. There was the appropriate amount of concern and consolation in both faces. They both had my father’s green-grey eyes. They both had my father’s almost-black hair. It was even streaked with silver in the same sort of percentage. They cradled teacups in both hands, to keep the stray hand from becoming idle and fidgety. They both had a touch of a sympathetic, encouraging smile. If this were anything like the books I read, something would jump from the walk-in pantry (also something I have only seen in movies) and machete the room to bits. So yes, I’m sitting here in front of my two aunts, imaging them being decapitated by a guy in that scary movie mask. I might have inappropriate reactions to serious situations, but as I said, it makes me more awesome.
“So, who was the oldest?” This falls into the ‘I don’t really care’ category, but I got to get things moving on the conversation front, or this will be a painful couple of weeks. I tried hard not to think of Jesse, football, and takeout.
Their eyes both widened ever so slightly at the question and they glanced at each other with a sly smile on each mouth. Clearly, I was missing something.
“Oh, well, your father was the oldest, but not by much. We were both born within an hour after he was.” Aunt Number One says through a large, beaming grin. (Well, one of them is Melinda and the other is Nicole and I’ve known them for all of fifteen minutes – and they sort of look-alike-ish…so I’m just not sure which is which. Don’t judge me; I’ve never been good with names.)
“Triplets?” I try to wrap my head around that one. That’s one of those details that makes me slightly mad at him. One of those details that someone close to you should know. I talk myself out of it. I mean, if he had told me, I would have bugged him about it, relentlessly. I understood why he didn’t tell me, even if it irked me just a tad. Okay, more than a tad. When you are really close to someone and you find out something like that, it stings like not being trusted. I think...no, I KNOW (my inner self yells) that my dad trusted me. Really, I do. What are the other options? Protecting me? Protecting himself? From what? The Betty Crocker brigade here?
“You look a lot like him.” Says Aunt Number Two. “Your eyes are very warm, just like his. Same shape, too, but it’s really the warmth that I see.” She gets a little glassy-eyed at that point and looks down into her cup. I hope that the “Something’s weird here” thought I am having isn’t plastered on my face. They both look exceedingly sympathetic and emotional, so I think I’m in the clear.
I try to imagine them as children, but I think I need some visual aids for that to round out.
“Thank you. You both resemble him too, in a way, ”
Is it my rosy-your-dad-just-died-colored glasses that were telling me that he was so much younger looking than they were? Dad didn’t look this old. Right?
They grinned at each other, pleased with the comparison. “So…when was the last time you spoke to him?” I was trying to not sound like a police investigator and I think I was failing – and relying heavily on the sympathy vote, but really, who the hell are these people?
“Well, let me think. Melly, was it the graduation party?” Aunt Nicole (Ha! See! I pay attention!) looked imploringly at her sister, clearly not firm on the details. She bit her lip as she was turning her head to ask the question – it was a gesture so completely familiar to me that, for a second, I didn’t feel like a total stranger here. Dad used to make that face when he was doing the crossword. The thought made me smile a bit, as these two siblings bantered with me like we had all known each other forever…like we were family.
“No, it was about a week after that. He and Mary…I mean, well after it was all over he packed up and left in the middle of the night. I suppose it was several months after his high school graduation. He called for a bit, but never came back.” I don’t think I was imagining it, but Melinda looked a little less upset about the whole situation than Nicole did. Not cold, just...calm. Warm. If this were an episode of a heartwarming family television drama, I would dare to call it normal. She just looks to be taking it all in stride.
Of course, this is not to say that Auntie Nicole is a blubbering mess, either. Other than the misty eyed half-choke back of a single tear, she hasn’t really been a fount of emotion, either. I’m having a hard time imagining my father being related to either of these ice cubes, quite frankly. My father, who cries at the end of Disney movies. My father, who cannot be trusted to set foot in a pet store, lest we come home with a flock of new furry friends? (This is not an exaggeration – we bought four kittens once because the store clerk only hinted that they were getting too big to sell and were going to a shelter.) My father, who gets – got, sorry - more weepy over each and every high school milestone I crossed than his combined sisters can muster for his death. I am in the wrong damn house and these people are deranged.
Only they’re not. At the door I was greeted affectionately, smiles and hugs, as if they had known me my whole life. There were small children playing in several rooms; they came in occasionally to ask their respective mothers for a snack, a kiss on a boo-boo, or help assembling a toy. They were hugged, smiled at, spoken to in soft, affectionate tones, and sent on their happy way. The house was decorated in warm earth tones, the furniture was soft and plump, and the lighting was subdued. The decor was homey but not hokey – it was not a style I would have chosen for myself, but the overall effect was…warm. In the future, when I would tell this story to others, that word would just keep coming up. So I apologize in advance if it gets overused. There are only so many words for warm, in the way that I mean it. I mean…the air that hit you as you came in from the outside snap of cold smelled of cinnamon and clove. Honestly, the whole house felt like it was an apple pie baking, and I’m not even sure I know what that means.
While I’m being all honest and forthcoming, the whole scene simultaneously stabbed and tugged at my heart, and I found my cynical self looking for flaws in this backdrop, because I am a shitty human being.
“Let’s just say it has been a long time, but it didn’t seem like so long. One minute he was here, the next…” she actually glances down to her lap, in an almost undetectable display of emotion (I’m guessing loss? Forgetfulness...is there laundry in the dryer? Who knows, maybe her sister passed gas.) “We expected to hear word, but there was nothing after the first year. No letters, no calls. We had no way to get ahold of him. So we just waited. And we waited a while longer. We never heard anything bad; we just never heard anything at all until the lawyer called a couple weeks ago. We figured that if he needed us, he would call. So few people leave here, we didn’t really know what how to react.”
This last statement sounded like the sort of thing that would be accompanied by a sinister piece of leading music – and my eyes narrowed just a tiny bit in hearing it.
“No one leaves here? That sounds a little...” I didn’t want to say ‘creepy’ – I mean, I just got here. I attempted to make my eyes a bit less squinty and suspicious. (Because surely, if I look suspicious they will kidnap me and throw me in a basement dungeon to keep me quiet. I am now gauging the distance to the front door. Would I be able to get out before they got me? Dad was right; I watch too much television.) Not sure of the overall effect, I snuck a glance at my reflection in the china cabinet. I looked like someone was taking my temperature the old-fashioned way. Deep breaths needed to be taken. Why is this incredibly happy home with these nice people making slightly nervous?
Aunt Nikki smiled in a knowing way, like she was a freaky damn mind reader, which wasn't helping things one bit.
“Oh, I don’t mean to make it sound that way. This is just one of the best places to live and raise a family. People are born here and they live here til the day they die. Everyone knows everyone; everyone takes care of each other. There’s just no other place like it. Even the university is just a ten minute bus ride away. It’s not that we make anyone stay or anything, it’s just that most people have no reason to leave.”
Except me. This whole place is making me uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why. I agreed to stay through the holiday, though, so I have ten days. Is there alcohol? I suppose I should wait until at least noon. Oh my god, change the subject.
“So, who lives here, exactly? There are so many kids it’s hard to tell who belongs to whom.”
The aunts glanced briefly at each other, obviously only to confirm who was going to speak – they seemed to share a mind and have that crazy voodoo silent conversation thing going on. Maybe it was a triplet thing. If my dad were here, perhaps he could act as translator.
“You don’t even know these people.”
“Well, yeah, Jesse. That’s the point, you know? I’ve never had any family other than my dad. Never even knew they existed.” I was holding a duffel bag in each hand, trying to determine the likelihood that I would be able to do laundry, so I could bring less stuff. Fuck it, if I can’t I’ll find a Laundromat. Or buy new ones. I chose the smaller one and started sorting through the least worn underwear. (No one takes the old underwear when they travel. If someone were to break into your suitcase, they must think that your underwear is all new, all the time.)
I’ve heard that crossed arms - like the ones he’s got pointed at me -are a sign of being in an inflexible state of mind. See also: stubbornness, unwillingness to bend. If I had free hands he’d be getting them back, in spades. Body language is fascinating.
“I could pretend that I don’t care, but you know that’s not like me. “ At least, I think you know that. The truth is that I never really thought to wonder about where my dad came from when I was younger. I don’t know, do kids ever really think about things like that? I mean, I remember noticing that my family wasn’t big like this friends…that my holidays weren’t such a big deal as everyone else’s. I suppose I was a little jealous of an experience that I never really experienced from the inside, but my dad was enough for me. He was extraordinary. He wanted so much for me, and for his life, it was hard not to think I was the luckiest girl in the world. We had each other – and we were all the “family unit” we needed. We had each other, in a very family sitcom kind of way.
Maybe Jesse has a point? Why would I want to do anything to change the image of my father, even a little – now that he can do nothing to fill in the gaps? What if I forever change the way I think about him. There’s no going back from this. Even if staying here and pretending those people don’t exist is a huge, hairy lie that I know I would never be able to follow through on, I at least contemplated it. For all of twenty minutes.
Also, I once spent a thanksgiving at my best friend Crys’ house, with her whole, extended, drunken family…and, for lack of a better term, that shit was fucked up. I think it made me feel better to see that “normal” families were totally overrated. However, I have to admit that when my father’s lawyer called me to ask if I was interested in meeting my dad’s family, I was relieved. I wasn’t as alone as I felt. Yeah, I’m also a little girl missing her daddy.
“What am I supposed to do? We had plans.” The arms were still in place, and had been joined by a look that might be described as “pouty”.
“Jesse, we decided to stay home in our pajamas, watch football, and eat takeout. That’s not “plans” You actually have a family. Your mother has called four times this week to see if you’re coming to their Thanksgiving. Go, please – and make your mom happy. She already thinks I don’t let you out to play with the other kids.” His arms dropped and he looked at his feet. Ha-ha, someone was caught not wanting to talk to their mother.
“Yeah. Okay.” He looked back up, clearly trying to remember that he was mad. “I bet they just want your dad’s money. Why else…after all this time?”
I sighed audibly. “The lawyer said that they’re pretty well off people; they practically own this little town they live in. He also said that my father’s will is very clear and that his assets are well protected, but I appreciate the concern. Besides, apparently he did leave them something. Lawyer already went out there to talk to them and have some paperwork signed.”
“Did they know about you?”
“You know, I’m not even sure. I guess that would depend on when he left there. It sounds like he never spoke to them after he left, so I guess that it’s possible they didn’t.” I had tried to do some math in my head, but I didn’t really know when he left home, so it was pretty pointless.
“What if they’re dicks? I mean, your dad left them – apparently without a single glance back. Your dad was a good guy…he must have had his reasons.”
Years later - clarity dawned, the hurtful, rebellious, fickle youth was exorcised. I may not know exactly what I want but I'm within 1/100th of a percent with it.
I can close my eyes and imagine a life.
The colors, the books, the smiles, the feeling of comfort and warmth that goes so much farther than the physical.
It doesn't exist.
You don't exist.
Some people fall in love & find quicksand.
I hover somewhere in between I swear
I can't make up my mind.
- Current Music:incubus - quicksand
"My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
- Current Mood: hopeful