They never even got close to fame. It didn’t help that they never really named their group. They were called The Gospel Quartet. It was like naming a funk band The Funk Band.
With time to waste, I pulled out my notebook and tried to work out exactly what I expected to find at May Rose’s grave. Nothing is missing from my life. I love my job and my wife and my family, the aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides. But still, I find myself longing to hold on to heirlooms and stories about my father and to nurture and grow my family’s connection to Scotland. It doesn’t make much sense, logically, but the desire remains real. Before he died, my dad became obsessed with completing a family genealogy. I never understood why he spent so much time doing that. I still don’t, but I find myself with the same urges, wanting to make sure nothing about our past is forgotten. Maybe it’s the sense of mortality that every person wakes up one day and feels, and maybe it’s a karmic down payment, a prayer that some future generation will do the same for me.
She tells me that when the family got home from the funeral, her two eldest siblings, both in high school, were scheduled to attend a weekly sock-hop. My grandparents urged them to go, saying, “You have to move on with your life.” For years, her parents rarely spoke of Mary. My mother would learn in her adult life that they had spent three years of nights privately crying in the dark.
My mom was seven, learning that grief did not involve sadness. You die, then a hole closes around where you were, perhaps leaving a small scar, and then the survivors continue with the business of mortality. Her parents fought, perhaps, the most difficult battle of their lives in silence in order to not burden their children with even a small share of grief.
…Then she tells me, her youngest son, what I never thought to ask. “I really tried hard to be the best person I could be. So that if I died it mattered.”
Between the heat and the heartbreak, the move was not my favorite. Trapped in the suburbs, I began to notice that the mother I’d largely ignored in Hong Kong was interesting — so long as she was talking about me.
…Every morning when the bus would come to pick us up while it was still dark out, I could see her slight backlit frame outlined in our blinds as she watched us drive away. A senior on the bus once asked if my mom knew that we could all totally see her. I told that kid to go fuck himself and to quit looking at my mom. To this day, I still can’t watch her watch us leave.
About once a year he would decide to stop, but it was rare he could go a full day without a ”puff” and as long as he was sneaking puffs, the abyss of total regression was only a black mood away. He tried to keep his failures a secret, even allowing us to congratulate him for having gone two days or a week without smoking, when in fact the campaign had ended within hours, as I realise now with adulthood’s slightly less gullible eye: the long walks, “to relax”, from which he would come back chewing gum, or the thing he would be stuffing into his pocket as he left the store. Sooner or later he would tire of the effort involved in these shams and simply pull out a pack while we sat in the living room, all of us, and there would be a moment, which grew familiar over time, when we would be watching him sidelong, looks of disappointment barely contained in our faces, and he would be staring ahead at the television, a look of shame barely contained in his, and then, just as the tension neared the point of someone speaking, he would light the cigarette and that would be it. We would go back to our books.
…We were not estranged; in fact, we probably talked more often than most fathers and sons. It was just that I put him in the position of always being the one to make the effort. It was punishment – for his refusal to change his ways, for his fuck-ups, for the way he preferred being my friend to being my father, no matter how plainly I needed the latter, for the fact that you could never bring up his effect on the world around him, even on his own family, without driving him back into a hostile silence.
MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.
BLVR: Is the problem with e-books partly a problem of color?
MS: Yes. Picture books depend on color, largely. And they haven’t perfected the color in those machines. But it’s not that. It’s giving up a form that is so beautiful. A book is really like a lover. It arranges itself in your life in a way that is beautiful. Even as a kid, my sister, who was the eldest, brought books home for me, and I think I spent more time sniffing and touching them than reading. I just remember the joy of the book; the beauty of the binding. The smelling of the interior. Happy.
BLVR: Are you happy now?
MS: [Sighs] My friends are all dying. They have to die. I know that. I have to die. But two friends died last week. I was completely broken by it. One was a publisher in Zurich. I loved him and his wife. It’s the loneliness that’s very bad. They’re doing what is natural. If I was doing what was natural I would be gone, like they are. I just miss them, terribly........I felt certain that my mother did not like me. A lot of parents don’t like their kids. It’s a terrible thing. I think people should take a test: you should or shouldn’t have a child.
BLVR: What would the criteria be?
MS: Well, you should be as sane as possible. You should have had a childhood that was as decent as possible. A mother and father who cared about you. If you don’t have those components of compassion and love and curiosity, don’t do it.
BLVR: Did you have a sense of being American-plus?
MS: Yes. I was very happy to be an American. I loved being here. I loved not being dead when I was a kid. And whenever a kid died, when I was a kid, it was a very big thing; it reflected back on the fact that my being here was arbitrary. My father coming here was arbitrary. He didn’t have to come here. He came because he was chasing a girl who had committed herself to every living human male in the village.
BLVR: Did your family know they were crazy?
MS: No. But they led desperate lives. I remember when my brother was dying, he looked at me, and his eyes were all teary. And he said, “Why were we so unkind to Mama?” And I said, “Don’t do that. We were kids, we didn’t understand. We didn’t know she was crazy.” When I asked my best friend, Martin, to have lunch at my house, and my mother walked through the room furiously—she was always furious—he said, “Who’s that?” And I said, “We had to hire somebody.” I would not admit it was my mother. And that shame has lasted all my life. That I didn’t have the nerve to say, “That’s my mother; that’s how she is.”
BLVR: Because they’ll come second?
MS: Of course. Or if they come first, your art will come second. So what are you going to do? There’s a young artist in this town who’s remarkably gifted, and I’ve been tutoring him on the side. And he had this marvelous girlfriend, and I saw what was happening. And I said, “Look, don’t marry. Happily you can live together without any stench.” And they married and within eight minutes she was pregnant. And now they have a child, and all they do is complain about not having time and having to get a job. Fuck you! Why didn’t you listen to me? We don’t need that baby.
I slump onto a cement car stop in a parking lot and listen to the details, dig in my purse for a pen, turn the phone away from the wind, write down the hospital’s name and the room number, watch people walk down Polk Street on their way home or to happy hour, thinking how normal they all look, how careless they act while my mother is in a coma. Her friend says she’s not sure how bad it is. I try to figure out how to phrase my question correctly, politely: “You mean she might die?” but I can’t think of how it’s supposed to be said, how a person asks this of a near-stranger regarding her own mother, so I don’t ask it.
Families try to live up to the ideal of family life while struggling with an often disappointing reality. The aim, much of the time, is to stock up good memories: to leave all family members with snapshots of happiness that they can look back on after the family ceases to exist. When the kids leave home, the family effectively dissolves, even in cases where the parents are still alive and together. That means parents have only just over a decade to create happy memories: from the time the kids are about five, and have any memories at all, until they are in their late teens and heading for the exit. Family holidays are the parents’ best shot at creating those memories.
Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Forced Into Adulthood by an Aging Parent - Sarah Khan - Health - The Atlantic
At 30, my mom was responsible for two young lives other than hers and her husband’s. At 30, my main obligation was purchasing toilet paper on time, and I had a very happy roommate indeed on the rare occasions I accomplished this…. …I texted the one person I know who would understand the unfamiliar emotions that left me so unsettled. “Being a grown-up sucks. I don’t think I like it,” I wrote to my brother. “No one does, Beany,” he replied. “No one does.”
WHAT ABOUT THE OIL PIPELINE???
i actually did a pretty good job this holiday convincing my great uncle and uncle that none of the republican presidential candidates could win.
man, joe’s just the best.