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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Our Retinentia (Part I)

Wanna hear something funny? My mother is losing her mind. Oh Sorry, that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that the more I experience her mind slipping away, the more I realize mine is slipping away too.

It could be that when I am around her the assuring positive way in which she commits to what she believes to be true is so often adamantly proposed that I find myself doubting what I really know. The other day my sister, Jeannie, messaged me while I was sitting at my computer to say,

“John, was Paige with you when you came to visit last week? Mom thinks Paige was with you?”

And I found myself asking myself, “Was she?”
Even though I knew she wasn’t. At the time my girlfriend Paige wasn’t even in the same country. But was she there?

I know my mom. She raised me. She is the one who raised all 5 of us by herself. It made her a bit crazy, but in a way that was grounded, solid. She kept us alive. There must be a logic to her recollection. I can’t believe it was based in nothing. She experienced something.

So with my fingers frozen on the computer keyboard, I made myself recall that day, all that we had talked about… saving the world, Japan, the history of my friendships, video games… Then, I took my fingers off the keyboard and said, out loud, to myself, “Oh, Paige WAS kinda’ there.” I realized that my mother and I had been talking about Paige, about her growing fame in the video game community. I showed Mom a video on youtube, and at that exact moment, Paige called me on the phone, and I relayed questions and answers back and forth between them. "Ah, she was there."

I put my fingers back on the keyboard and typed to my sister, “Well it is more complicated than if she was there or not.” Then I told Jeannie the information above and she said, “So Paige was there but wasn’t. I get it.”

The other funny not so funny part is that my mother is in the midst of nursing my father’s first wife who has Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, my father’s FIRST wife, my father had four wives, my mother being the second and longest. As the story goes, one day, these two divorcees, my mother and my father’s first wife, met for coffee, commiserated and became good friends. My half sister Nancy was a big part of our life, and that made that relationship easier. My half sister Nancy died during the tight grip of Alzheimers on her mother, and now this mother does not even remember that her only daughter is dead. My mom has gone to visit her constantly and has had to make the hard decision to put her in a care facility. This ex-wife now, after months and maybe years of this, barely remembers my mother, but knows that she is the woman that has always been there for her. This woman will ask, many times over and over, “Where is Nancy?” And my mother, who hates to lie, has to tell her that she plans on coming later. But Nancy is never coming. And soon this woman will remember nothing, and then nothing will remember her.

I don’t know if you can catch dementia, actually I know you can’t, but I would like to think that maybe my mother is just tired, and if we make her sleep enough and drink enough tea, she’ll get better. She’ll become younger, and she’ll fly to Florida, alone, forget that we exist, sit on the beach in a young woman’s bikini, calm, maybe a little smile in the corner of her mouth, catching a tan; like she liked to do but never did. It’s been a hard life, she would deserve that, and that’s why it should be possible.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tender Demon


“You looked like Steven Seagal with your stupid long hair pulled back into a ponytail, I wanted to fucking hate you, but you’re alright Johnny.” That was one of the first things Peter said to me when we finally got past him being my boss at the bookstore. He was the assistant manager at Crown Books back in 1991. There was many things we liked about each other, but I think he thought he knew something about me that most others didn’t. I am aware enough of myself to know that I am perceived as a standoffish yet kind fellow. But as close friends know I have a deviousness that lurks underneath, and sometimes not so underneath. I can lash you with my tongue, often without you even understanding the level to which I struck back. He said I was a tender demon. I am a precarious balance between father and mother.
My mother has always been kind, even in her old crotchety age, she still has a gleam in her eye that makes you want to hold her tight. She is a wonderful slice of humanity. She will drive back to the grocery store if she discovers too late that the cashier had accidentally given her too much change back, even just a few cents. 
Peter loved the beat poets, their writing, indistinguishable from their life style, was a very personal matter for him. The love of literature was a selfish but infectious part of his personality. His opinions about the meanings of things needed to be fought for and shared. I was not a big fan of the Beats and this did not please Peter. One day after work, traveling back home on the bus, I reached into my back pack and found a pristine, new, copy of the book Dharma Bums by Kerouac. On the front cover was a post-it note that just said, “Read This!” It was a touching gift but, I too felt I knew Peter pretty well. He did not pay for that book. He had snuck it into my bag so that I would have to unknowing steal my own gift. But you see? I could have returned it. I didn’t.

I have been thinking about Peter a lot while preparing for my character in ONCE, The Musical. He was an incredible musician, with an Irish heart that bled buckets. He was soaked in beer and whiskey, and he sang like he would die if he didn’t. Some people say I had a man crush on Peter, I don’t know about that but I sure did love him. But the thing about loving hims so much is that this is what has allowed me to hate him as much as I do too. I hate him for many reasons but mostly for taking his own life and leaving us all behind with an empty Peter-shape clawed out of our lives.