That we live lifetimes within lifetimes is a recurrent theme o' mine. Probably because life is so recurrent. It happens over and over, day after day, world without end, Amen. Things have sped up so much even since I was a little kid - to find support for this fact all you need to do is turn on the TV to watch commercials featuring harried parents scrambling onto trains with their cell phones in hand trying not to be late for their kids' talent shows and thanking God for that app that lets them book their ticket last minute online, can you guess what product is being pushed down your throat? I thought technology was to make life easier and more laid back. But the time and frustration it takes me to punch a message into another person's phone (because I do not own one) proves to me that so many gadgets make life more complicated and less serene, at least for me. Yes, times are a'changing, and things are getting faster every year, let alone compared to the prior generation. I mean my parents.
I was in my mother's room vacuuming yesterday and I stopped before her dresser. On it she had three framed photographs of my father and her. The first was around the time they got married, in 1969. Before my dad's mustache, and long before they conceived me, their first born, in 1973. They were at some cocktail party, in dinner attire. My dad looking dapper in a natty suit, and my mom in white gazing up at her man adoringly. Those were the days, is what I bet my father would say.
The second picture was taken in or around 1982. My dad had his mustache, my mom's bouffant sixties hairdo had expanded to become a halo encircling her whole head. And they still looked lovely, and in love. Both were well-dressed and smiling, although in this picture my mom was staring straight ahead. They had their three boys, ages 9,8 and 4. What more could a couple wish for?
The last of the three pictures was taken in 2005. This was the last time we came together as a family for dinner. The setting was Electric Lotus in Hollywood. The occasion my mom's 60th birthday. By this time my brother Justin had passed away, my parents had separated, and my father was on the verge of remarriage. After which my parents would hardly speak for another half-a-dozen years. In this third picture, they were still smiling for the camera, but as individuals, not as a couple. The phrase posing for a picture is what comes to mind. The love was still there, but it had gone from passion and worship through a steady glow to a smoldering ember.
But the ember will always live on. It has in my dad's heart now that my mother is gone, and in me, and in my brother, GT. I saw their whole relationship represented in those three pictures, so many images flashed before my eyes. It happened so fast. But the past is always fast, because it's already done.
My mom had only had two steady boyfriends before meeting my dad at the age of 21, and she never remarried after their 30 years together, never even dated. My dad was married when they met, and though I haven't asked him I'd be willing to wager that before my mom he hadn't had sex with more than 4 women, including his first wife! I on the other hand had already had sex with four girls by the time I was hardly out of high school.
My mom would often tell me the story of how she met my father - she worked as a manicurist on Sunset Blvd and he would come in to Cosmos to get a shave and his nails done, and the first time she worked on him he squeezed her hand - she'd recount the details as though it were the greatest love story in the world. Because it was. It was hers. It was really her only love story. I on the other hand have had so many love stories, and not just in California where both my parents have lived most of their lives, but on both sides of the continental US, in the Caribbean, even in South America! While I'm no pick-up artist, I have met sweethearts at the market, while bar-tending, while driving, while running, at the car wash, library, over drinks at nightclubs and at friends' parties. And once at a strip club. Each one was a beautiful love story that I cherish, and if I had married any of those sweet gals whom I no longer know, it would be the love story I'd tell the kids we would surely have, since that's what couples do. But nowadays there is so much opportunity, variety, novelty, that the beautiful love story gets lost in the rabble. It's diamond in the rough syndrome. Or diamonds in a jewelry store is more like it, since every woman shines in my eyes.
I was recently browsing a dating site and would you believe who I came across? My old girlfriend Shannon. Shannon was one of those bright diamonds for sure. We met while working at a restaurant not 5 miles from my house, fittingly called, given my father's penchant for facial hair, The Moustache Cafe. We lived together for a time, almost had a baby too! But then we went our separate ways. I enrolled in medical school and remained married to medicine for the next several years, while Shannon married her high school sweetheart, had three kids and subsequently divorced. Our paths diverged and took such wildly different courses, and here I am lying in bed staring at her lovely face like it was just the other day - on the screen, that is.
Dear sweet Shannon, swinging the bat again. I dreamt of her a week ago. We hugged and I became emotional and I said I knew we'd one day reunite. But that was a dream. Not dream as in desire of mine, but as in unreal. Imagine me raising three kids! Haha. It's funny. When my dad was my age, in fact exactly when that second of three framed pictures was taken, back in 1982, his kids (I mean me and my brothers) were the ages of Shannon's little darlings today. I'd be jumping into my father's shoes overnight! The universe works in mysterious ways. I am after all a big believer in signs.
Speaking of which... Not too long ago my Aunt Laura, who is my mom's sister, brought up her step-son, Tom. She often mentions Tom's name when she and I converse. Because Tom and I have a few things in common. We both have high IQs as determined by standardized tests, and we both have higher degrees and have written books that nobody reads. We both are sometimes judged by our failure to conform to society's standards (read have a 9 to 5 and 2.4 kids, plus a mortgage and maybe alimony already). But Tom has recently decided to conform, in his own way - and much to my auntie's dismay. She told me he reconnected with a college sweetheart, who was married and is divorced and has three kids, and he is moving in with her to raise them! Tom who though in his late 40s has never been married and has no kids, Tom who is a big kid himself. Aunt Laura thought this was a terrible idea and wouldn't last, but she did applaud him for going for it. And now here I am on the precipice of following in Tom's footsteps, or would if I shacked up with Shannon.
I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out had Shannon and I got married when "we got pregnant." Had we tied the knot as we briefly discussed back when I was 29 and she was 26, that would have been our love story, the one we'd tell our kids. How we met and when she lived with me for a time and I with her and we together, and how we studied astrology and did drugs and how she read my work and I went with her to apply to grad school, of the times we helped each other move. When she bleached my hair and I fixed her ingrown toenail and checked to see if she had hemorrhoids (not at the same time, of course) and she put a Band-Aid on my finger when I cut it practically to the bone. How touched I was by that bit of tender solicitude! How I always got along well with her family, even with her mother who passed away and she with my dear mother who followed hers to the grave, also courtesy of cancer. How we were a pretty good height disparity, almost perfect for cuddling. And the sex was...
Okay back to the present. In which I almost feel like that scene at the end of the movie LaLa Land, when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone don't wind up together, and she has gotten married and had a child, and he is still pounding away on the piano, but they imagine what life would have been like had they stayed together, imagine in a brief flash that starts with a kiss and ends in her walking out of his restaurant and his life forever, hand in hand with her husband. But they were great friends while it lasted, and helped one another grow in ways only true friends can. If it is true that we are together for a reason a season or a lifetime, as my dad's lovely wife Sylvia likes to tell, then the reason the stars got together changed their life forever, as did Shannon and my reason for being a couple, and also growing apart. Is getting back together really in the cards? This is my dreaming while awake.
But life's hard knocks have made a realist out of me. One who knows that the fruit never really falls too far from the tree, and children of broken homes are more likely to divorce themselves. (Shannon's parents divorced, like mine.) I suppose that had we just gone for it, by now I'd have my own set of framed photos commemorating our love gone by, just like my mom. As it is I have so many photos, which I recently went through for the purpose of making an album (to me - is that too self-absorbed?). And I came across so many photographs of Shannon and me in our two plus years as lovebirds. The good times stopped then. And had we stayed together, they'd have continued at least for a time. We really were best friends. I wonder if friendship is enough in love. It wasn't back then. Obviously, because we broke up. "There's no going back to Ixtlan," my dad likes to say, quoting the author Carlos Castaneda. Shannon tried to go back when she got back with her high school squeeze, and look how that turned out. If she got back together with me, we'd risk the same fate, as in fatality.
I am a big believer in signs, and in warnings. And so I think I'll keep it light and friendly if Shannon and I ever correspond again. Not that we'll likely see each other. I doubt that Shannon would even have me. She's a busy and fulfilled psychologist. My brief foray into doctoring aside, I'm still the aspiring writer she knew 15 years ago. Ryan Gosling still pounding out tunes on the proverbial piano, as I like to see it. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Still, life's pretty amazing. There is so much wonder in the world, waiting to be seen. But you have to really notice. Because there's a miracle waiting for you around every corner. So stop and smell the roses. Or just surf a dating site and see whose pic pops up.
I wonder who was better off, my mom with her slim pickins (she did however prior to meeting my dad go through a brief period of having "three dates a day," so maybe the pickin' wasn't so slim, and since most of those dates were over food or drinks, maybe she wasn't either) - but I wonder who is better off, my mom with her love story, or me with all my opportunities and varieties and memories. I who am alone. But in the end my mom was alone, as in unmarried. But she still had me. Who do I have? My dog Max, who is the best pooch in the world if a little bit of a moody touch freak and as all dogs stuck at the mental age of a 3-year-old for the rest of his life. Yes I have Max, and my memories of good times. I don't mind, except sometimes. Like right now, when I miss my mom.
On another note, I cut my hair (did it myself). Because the more things stay the same...