When it comes time in our lives to make a break with the past, we don’t need to know what is going to happen next. We do however need to be damn clear on what is not going to happen again.
When it comes time in our lives to make a break with the past, we don’t need to know what is going to happen next. We do however need to be damn clear on what is not going to happen again.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity. Humanity, consisting primarily of me. Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about. Ugh, so embarrassing! Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right? No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time. However, if we do our best, well done us! That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece. To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable. Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent. Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons. I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.” Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself. Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.” I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add. Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered. Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor. Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities. I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times. Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true. Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best. As for my misread on the choice of life partners? Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct. All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family. What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance? Could we have done better? Certainly. The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again. No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family. With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live. “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked. My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance. Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance. Distance allows perspective. Perspective provides the chance for healing. Healing allows courage to blossom. Courage creates the possibility of change. Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze. It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled. Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad! I now see clearly that you did the very best you could. Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.
A salesman came to the door yesterday. I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock. We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me. I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa. Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise. There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth. Think he was checking the state of his breath.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.
“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”
“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.
“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you. Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,” he said with unwavering confidence.
“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.
“May I come in?”
“I suppose,” I said. My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace. Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.
“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room. My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties.
“And how would you like to be called?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Your name?” He nodded.
“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said. Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”
“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.
I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard.
“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”
“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”
“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow. “Will Earl Grey do?”
“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.
I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’ What had I gotten myself into?
As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?” “Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?” My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”
I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.
“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.
“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.” He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.” He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.
“I see,” I said. “And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.
“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.
I stared at him. No words formed.
“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.” He offered, “In short supply and little known on the open market.”
My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”
“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?” He asked.
“Do what all over again?” I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind. A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace. Which for me is saying something.
“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.
“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.
He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke. “I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.
“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.
“Very simply actually. You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”
I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.
“Poof!” I stammered. “What exactly do you mean by poof?”
“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go. Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth? Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!” He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.
“What about this life?” I thought to myself. “I love this life.” I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.
“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about? How the hell would that work and why should it? More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.
“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely. “I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate. Please take a moment to sit with it. May I refill my tea? The kitchen is just through there yes?”
I nodded. Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading. I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee. Not my habit.
“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought. But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his. I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!
Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one? Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment? Was it a test? I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret. Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again. I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else. I sipped the now cold coffee.
There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret. There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate. Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with. Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen. Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow? And there was the answer. Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh. Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.
“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”
“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”
“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected
“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,” I said with a new found smile.
“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed. That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity. An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.” I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.
“I see,” he said. “Understood, understood. Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here. Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?” He asked.
“Yes, I am,” I said. Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster. He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door. I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.
“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.” I offered.
“Have I?” He smiled. “Excellent!” He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.