Father-daughter flashback

I watched Oklahoma on TV the other night. It was a time machine that brought me back to 1966 when my father took me to see the play. What I recalled most vividly was Daddy hallucinating while John Raitt belted out a song.

My father had been mentally ill for years, since before I was born. While Raitt sang, Daddy muttered loudly to someone in his head and twitched in his seat, and people around us began to complain. Sounds of sshhhhhh!! and quiet!! surrounded me. I don’t remember what happened, whether we were asked to leave or Daddy settled down and we stayed to the end.

I was 20, in the glow of youth and blooming sexuality and glittering hopes and dreams. And I was mortified. Before Daddy’s meltdown, I had loved the way I dressed and secretly admired myself in the mirror, silk-blend suit and high heels and all. I felt I looked perfect for the Circle Star, then a classy theater venue in the Bay Area.

But I was edgy beneath all the excitement, because my father’s behavior was unpredictable. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

How differently I see that day now, and my father. Back then I was just growing into womanhood, half confident, half painfully self-conscious. I wondered why I couldn’t have a “normal” father I could be proud of, instead of Daddy with his rumpled clothes, nicotine-stained fingers and Thorazine-induced trembling hands. Subconsciously I was angry at him for being an embarrassment, a failure, a constant worry.

He committed suicide a year after we saw Oklahoma, at 50. I’ve survived well enough, had a career, friends, raised my daughter through college, but I really never recovered from the trauma. I drank alcoholically—though functionally—until my daughter was three and have ongoing anxiety disorder. I made many mistakes with my daughter that alienated her. We are now estranged, to my great sadness.

I’ve blamed and punished and judged myself for years. But since remembering Daddy and Oklahoma, I see things in a different light. I’m no longer a 20-year-old with expectations of Daddy, wanting to go to a glamorous play with a suave and handsome father. Now I understand that for some unknown reason Daddy couldn’t help it. He had a profound problem he was unable to overcome. But he did the best he could. He tried so hard to give his little-girl-turning-woman a special gala evening. Having made my own mistakes and unintentionally hurt people I love, I don’t blame Daddy now. And I’m working on not blaming myself. Daddy’s little girl is growing up.

Believe

One day my minister saw his beloved Maine Coon cat, Marcus, staring out the window intently. Wildlife sometimes wanders close to their apartment building, at the foot of a range of hills.  Marcus was meowing and agitated. Dr. Jay went over to look out the window and saw a feral cat in the process of patiently moving four kittens, one at a time, that were hidden under shrubbery. She returned after moving the second one and then left the yard with the third one in her mouth. She never came back.

Straightaway, Dr. Jay went downstairs to the bushes from his second-story apartment, and carefully picked up the tiny kitten. Mewing, eyes still closed and ears still folded, it fit in the palm of his hand. Holding it gently, he started up the stairs.

He had no idea what he was going to do with it. He had never taken care of a newborn kitten. He mentally took inventory. He had some milk in the apartment, and possibly a dropper around, somewhere, to feed it with. He wondered how he could get the kitten fed often enough. He remembered vaguely, from some conversation somewhere, a schedule of every two hours. It would be a challenge with his busy life. But those were details. He knew he would figure it all out.

Then he saw a young couple who lived a few doors from his apartment coming down the stairs. “What have you got?” the young woman asked. Dr. Jay told her the story and held the kitten up closer to her. 

“Oh,” she exclaimed, delighted. “Can we have it? We know what to do, we’ve taken care of feral kittens for shelters. We have all the supplies.”

“Sure,” Dr. Jay said. They tenderly exchanged the precious cargo and the young couple turned around to go back home and begin caring for their little lump of new life. Dr. Jay returned, alone, to Marcus.

My friends and I think this story is incredible. What an amazing and miraculous coincidence, we all agree. But Dr. Jay doesn’t see anything unusual about it at all. He has the most confident, unshakable faith I’ve ever witnessed.

He simply knows that if you expect good to happen, it will.

Main Coon

Story of a foundling cat

There was no hope. Hope was lost—our cat Hope. Our loving and lovable foundling cat leaped over the back fence one morning like she always did when I let her out. But she didn’t come home.

We were heartbroken. My daughter had found Hope outside of a friend’s house. Leaving a party, Michele heard faint, tiny peeps and followed them to a bush. Underneath was a little pile of fur no larger around than a hamburger bun, peeping like a baby bird. Michele took it in the house, they fixed up a shoebox for it, and she brought it home.

We named her Hope because she was near death when Michele found her. White gunk oozed from her eyes so I took her to the vet, who said it was from a bad respiratory infection. We went home with antibiotics and kitten formula. Michele and I fed her with a bottle for a few weeks, until she bit the nipple off one morning.

She got cuter and cuter.

We all fell deeply in love with her, her tenderness and sweetness and her love for us. She loved to snuggle under my husband’s chin and suck on his beard. It must have reminded her of her mother. We cheered and clapped when she appropriately used the tiny containers of kitty litter we put out for her.

When she was old and big enough, I let her out in the backyard every morning. She usually stayed close by and always came back by early evening. Until the evening that she didn’t. I called and called that night. I went out and called some more early next morning, when all of a sudden it began to pour, a very, very cold rain. I began to sob uncontrollably, thinking of sweet, tender Hope out there in the bitter cold.

She didn’t come home the next day or the next. We walked the neighborhood, called her, put up posters, passed them out door to door.   

Hope was nowhere.

Then, after a week, a woman around the corner called. She had our poster. “I think your cat is under our house,” she said. Frank and I rushed over. She led us to a room where the removable floor board to her crawl space was laid aside, and saw two vivid yellow eyes staring up at us from the darkness. Hope! The woman had noticed her dog acting strangely outside, in front of an unscreened vent, and she peered in and saw Hope and called us. Something must have startled Hope, maybe the same dog, to make her leap through the open vent to under the house. But she couldn’t get back out.

It was a joyous homecoming. Hope walked around everywhere, with her tail as tight and straight as a flagpole and vibrating so fast you could almost hear it. She ravenously gobbled her wet food, she rubbed up against us.  

I know now that not everything that seems negative is negative. That cold rain that made me burst out crying very possibly helped Hope survive. She was under that house for a solid week, yet when we found her she was plump and healthy. I believe the rain that flowed through the vent to Hope’s dark cave kept her hydrated. It might have saved her health, if not her life.

Remember, even when things look relentlessly bleak…there’s always Hope.

Memories of Premarital Tennis

I have fond memories of playing tennis with my husband before we were married. I have not-so-fond memories of playing tennis after we got married. Marriage changes everything, even tennis.

I’ve talked with girlfriends who play tennis, or used to play tennis, and they’ve had similar experiences after getting married. Who knows why things change like this? Let’s not even go there.  They just do.

Frank and I met in a tennis club for singles. Frank was very chivalrous when we were dating, and that extended to tennis. He was much better than me, rated Men’s-A tournament level in our club. I was a Women’s-C. We only played together informally, with friends. Back then Frank was unconcerned about whether we won or lost. We just had fun.

Then we got married, and things changed. After we lost a match he would say things like “You need to work on your serve” or “You need to practice your volley” or “You’ve got a weak slam.” We’d go out during the week and he’d feed me volleys to return as slams, or coach me on my serve, or feed me fast and corner balls to return. We drilled and drilled. He wanted to win his doubles matches.

With the pressure on, tennis became just one more stress on top of my busy life as a working mother. Eventually I quit playing. Frank practiced some weekday evenings and played every Sunday. I alternated between hiking and going to movies on Sunday. On movie days I went to a little theatre that was next to a coffee shop, and after the movie I’d treat myself to a guilty pleasure—espresso and a luscious gelato. In solitary splendor, I enjoyed myself immensely.  

Then Frank broke his metatarsal bone running down a tennis ball, when he was 65. It was quite painful and he wore a big knee-high boot for two months and did physical therapy for a long time after that. He never went back to tennis. He felt the foot was a weak link and susceptible to re-injury at his age. He gave his huge bag of beat-up practice balls to a friend who has a lovable Yorkshire terrier named Maggie.

Now Frank and I go to the movies nearly every Sunday. We both enjoy them. No one competes, no one loses, no one screws up. We laugh and we cry. We have animated, enjoyable discussions of the film afterwards over a nice dinner. We both win. So far the score is Love-Love. Actually, Love-Love-Love. Maggie adores her tennis balls.

Running Away from Home

I love my husband but I need to get away from him now and then. I do short getaways, like staying in Monterey with a friend or two for a couple days of eating, shopping, and walking on the beach, followed by more eating and shopping. Or I’ll go overnight with friends to experience the fog and the culture in San Francisco. There’s a wealth of things to do close to our home in Silicon Valley.

The getaways are good for me and our marriage. We appreciate each other more when I get back. The passion gets fanned a bit, the flame reignites. It’s a kind of marriage makeover.

I’m always the one who has to run away from home. Frank is exceptionally stable. He worked for the city for 30 years, and bought the house we live in nearly 40 years ago, 20 years before we even met. His 1970 Camaro is older than his house. And he’s a diehard homebody. He never travels except when we go together. He’s stable to a fault.

Once in a while I muse about what it would be like if Frank took a trip and I stayed home. Home alone! Wow, what would it feel like? The whole house would be my oyster. The first thing that comes to mind is the excitement of having control of the remote. That’s been a lifelong—or marriage-long—dream of mine. I could change channels, turn the volume up or down, turn the TV off and back on at will. I’d be drunk with the feeling of power it would give me.

I could have my girlfriends over for wine and Chinese takeout. And more wine. We’d laugh loudly and watch chick flicks and tell off-color jokes. Maybe even get really wild and watch Forty Shades of Grey. Or is it Fifty? I haven’t seen it. And ice cream for dessert, Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. Yum, gooey cookie dough chunks. I’d get a lot so when the girls leave I can finish whatever’s left. Ice cream is a no-no when Frank’s home. He’s a healthy eater and watches my weight for me.

I could indulge openly in my secret addiction and buy a bunch of lottery scratch cards. Then I’d scratch them off right out in the open, at the kitchen table. I can’t do that either when Frank’s home. He disapproves of gambling almost more than ice cream.

I have a long list of more home-alone pleasures. My at-home getaway sounds great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Frank’s not showing any signs of restlessness or wanderlust. He’s happy just driving to a movie or to senior drop-in doubles at the city tennis courts. So I’ll just keep my sense of adventure and my suitcase at the ready. It’s for a good cause.   

Bumpy rides on Valentine’s Day

I love Valentine’s Day. But I didn’t always. I had a tragic love affair when I was ten, with Mike Devlin, a boy in my class. He had blue eyes, freckles, and an adorable cowlick. We lived in the same apartment building and hung out together after school. One day, on a patch of grass behind the apartment, he gave me my first kiss. I was in heaven. I knew we’d be together forever. With Valentine’s Day coming up I was sure I’d get a big fancy card from him when the cards all of us brought to class were passed out. But all I got was a little flat one like he gave everyone else.

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Be my valentine, doggone it.

I was cynical about love after that. It took me a long time to grow up about Valentine’s Day. I was self-conscious and shy and introverted, especially in high school, and the big day usually found me dateless, flowerless, and candyless. It was a difficult time. I became more outgoing in college and dated a bit more but also became deeply interested in my journalism studies and didn’t worry about Valentine’s Day so much. When I graduated and began working, sometimes I had a significant other on the big day and got goodies. I always hoped a box of See’s Chocolate would be in the mix.

Sometimes I was on my own and then I bought my own Valentine gifts for my own bad self. I had gotten smart. And I didn’t fool around either.  Nice things like suits for work (even a Chanel once, in my salad days), opal earrings, the best my money could buy. Sometimes I’d even wrap them for myself, when I was really into it. Or I got together with those indispensable, essential companions in my life: girlfriends. We’d have a Valentine potluck and drink wine and give each other nice stuff and laugh about having a better time than we would on a date.

At thirty-five I gave birth to my daughter and the true spirit of Valentine’s Day sprang to life for me. When Michele was five, she wanted a Care Bears backpack for school. Valentine’s Day was coming up so I bought one, and gave it to her as her first Valentine gift. When she opened it she shrieked and jumped around and wore it all day and evening. I gently pulled it off when she was asleep. That’s when I learned the true meaning of Valentine’s Day—the deep joy found in giving joy to someone you love. Michele’s desires back then were so charmingly simple. A new Ginny doll, going to a movie in a theater, a Little Mermaid umbrella. Her joy was spontaneous and unrestrained and beautiful when she opened her gifts.  

I don’t get too caught up in the romantic hype of Valentine’s Day. I have my memories of those days with Michele to keep me warm, and now I have my young niece and nephew. My husband, believe it or not, forgets Valentine’s Day occasionally. I don’t understand how it’s even possible for him to do that in the face of all the incredible nonstop blasting media hype, but I don’t get upset. I know he loves me. Okay, I lied. I get a little upset when he forgets. I like it when he remembers and brings me candy. I may have moved beyond the commercialized sentimentality that is so attached to Valentine’s Day, but I haven’t moved beyond chocolate. And make that See’s, please.

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Another kind of chocolate – better than See’s!