My buddy aric1 posted this quote the other day, and it reminded me how much I love GBS. I remember graduating from college and starting in on his complete works, around the time I first began having recurring dreams about being injured in the left leg (whatever that means). I’d take out a volume at a time, but I gave up shortly around “Man and Superman.” Even so, to this day, I tend to forget to insert apostrophes within contractions, in deference to a passionate defense he raised about the uselessness of the apostrophe.
But the quote didn’t simply strike my fancy due to idle hero worship. It also summed up Sunday’s adventures fairly nicely, too.
The Real story: Mama Told Me Not to Come
I spent the evening at the homestead on Saturday night, following Annie’s 18th birthday celebration. It was a nice evening, filled with pizza, Buffy, some terrific cheesecake brownies, and a tournament-style game of Trashcan at the end (Trashcan was the game of the weekend. We played it all three nights.)
I woke up at nine the next morning, snug in my cocoon and comforted in stereo by the sleeping forms of Annie and Tiger on either side. I could have stayed like that for a while, but my cell phone went off, and I dragged my hairy legs out of the blankets to answer the call of cellular nature. It was my sister Kerrie, letting me know that my sister-in-law Mal had gone into labor.
I discovered Annie in the kitchen, looking cute in her green D’Angelos shirt with black bolero pants, even though she was busy slamming drawers and banging opening cabinets.
I was kind of surprised to see her around, because I remembered that she had told me she had to be in work early that morning, around 8:30. This couldn't be anything good.
“What’s going on?” I asked as soon as I was done with the phone.
“Do you know if we have a can of that fix-it tire stuff?” she said, using that low monotone she only assumes when she’s totally disgusted.
“Why would you need that?”
“My car’s got a flat.”
“How can it?” I asked, stupidly. “You just bought it a month ago.”
She located the fix-it behind a pile of board games. “There you go,” she said, tapped me on the head on the can, and started to leave.
Somehow I knew that the fix-it wasn’t going to fix it, but I also knew that I wanted a few more minutes of sleep. Which is about what I got. Annie came storming back in the house, clearly frustrated, and I groaned and dragged my hairy legs back out one more time.
“The fix it can broke!” she said, running a hand through the sliver of a bang she likes to let droop down upon her forehead, her eyes filled with tears. “And I’m supposed to be at work, but I just left for five minutes because I noticed my car was flat, but this is going to be way more than five minutes, and now Vincent’s all alone, and it’s Superbowl Sunday, and there’s going to be a crowd and...”
“Okay, well, let’s try to help you out,” I said, trying to sound soothing, even though I knew I was way out of my league, and hoping to God I wasn’t going to be forced to fix a flat. Where would I start? When it comes to auto mechanics, this guy is no siegeengine. Oh, Lordy, please don’t let it be a flat... “Um, ah, why don’t we start by, um...”
“Do we have another bottle of tire fix-it stuff?” Annie interjected.
“Um, good question. But I don’t really know. Your mother! Your Mom might...wait... hold on...” And with that, I started to call Josie, who had pulled an all-nighter at work, but had told me she was going to drop by and see her Mom after that.
There was no answer on her cell, so I considered calling her mother directly.
Quite frankly, the thought concerned me a bit. I hadn’t spoken a word to her mother since Josie had told her everything following the Tiger incident two weeks ago. And the words I had received from Josie weren’t encouraging. Last night, in fact, Josie had mentioned to me that she had spoken to her mom about whether she would accept me into the house again, and how much I would missed it, and had asked whether I could go with her and the kids to eat dinner. Her answer had been a cryptic, “I’ll leave that one up to you.”
Well, it might be a good idea to test the waters. I started to dial her up on the phone.
She answered the phone after one ring. “Hello?”
“Hey, this is Ted.”
“Is Josie there?”
“No.” And that was it. End of conversation.
I could sense a cold chill on the phone, and I hated it. But I couldn’t worry about it, I had a car to help Annie fix.
“Let’s take a look at this car of yours,” I said, and started to slip into my shoes.
We moved outside so I could take a look at the flat. Even with my limited automotive knowledge, I could tell it was, at best, a slow leak, and that we might be able to fix it for now simply by going to a gas station and filling it full of air using that air filler-upper thingy.
The problem was, how to drive Annie to the gas station without leaving the young ‘uns at home? But that problem was solved when the cavalry came home and Josie’s dad drove down the road to lend a helping hand.
I truly do like Josie’s dad, who has been handicapped for the past twenty years following brain surgery. Before that, I’ve heard he did wonderful things in the area of alcohol counseling. I’ve only really known him post-surgery, with his left on in a sling and a slight limp. Even so, he has a wonderful quirky sense of humor and a sly smile, and I’ve always felt a common bond. The bond that broken men share.
I talked him into looking after the kids and then drove off to help out Annie.
I returned home to find him in a really chatty mood, hanging around for far longer than he normally does. “We saw a great movie last night,” he said, “The Pianist.' You should come over today and see it.”
Oh, man. Now I was really on the spot, wasn’t I? From what I could see, I only had three options. I could pretend that I was busy and couldn’t make it, or just say yes and go there blindly, not knowing where Josie’s mother stood, or how I’d be treated. Or, I could take hold of the situation and tackle the issue head on.
Which is what I did, after Josie’s dad left. I went upstairs, and called her on the phone. I just had to know.
She picked up on the first ring once again. “Hello?”
“It’s Ted again.”
“Yes?” And there was that coldness again.
“Look, I just wanted to call you because...well, your husband was just over, and he asked me to come over with Josie to eat dinner, and I know that she’s spoken to you about things, and I just wanted to know...well, I just wanted to know where you stood, because I wanted to figure out whether I’d be welcomed, because I...well, I mean...” And I started to choke up. “I guess that I’d miss it. Going over. Because, the thing is, I really do love you and...”
I choked up. Funny, all the years I spent being catty about Josie’s mom. Making fun of her odd taste in presents—like the year she gave me about ten of her husband’s old ties as a Christmas present—complete with cigarette burns in them. Or her habit of being a pack rat and cramming her house full of all sorts of stuff. I had never called her ‘Mom,’ all those years. I had always argued I had one mom, that was it. And yet, there I was, talking to her on the phone, and the thought of that coldness was tearing me up inside.
“Ted,” she said, and I could hear a crack in the iceberg, just a bit. “It’s not that I’m judging you, or that I think any less of you. I can’t even imagine the pain that you’re going through.”
“Because I am, you know.”
“But you’ve got to understand. I see Josie taking on a lot more responsibility for the house, and I see what this is doing to the kids. And they are being affected by it, you know. I think of Ashley, with all her problems, and TJ, and how this is hurting him...”
“I see it, too.” I said, barely able to manage a whisper. “I see it every day.”
“But I also know what Josie is going through, and I can understand why she made the decision that she made, and it can’t be easy for her, Ted...”
“I know,” I whispered.
“But Ted, you never have to worry about being welcomed in my house. You always will be, and I’ll always love you.”
And then she waited a beat.
“Unless you do something really, really stupid.”
Well, I had to laugh. It was an entirely sensible response. And they were exactly the words that I had so desperately wished to hear.
Anyway, we went over to her house, and had a meal of chicken and potatoes and stuffing and cranberry juice and cream soda and a birthday cake for Annie and it was all of it delicious. And after supper Josie’s father pulled me aside and we sat down to watch The Pianist, and the cynical, Irish side of me started to draw parallels between the plight of the Jews living in Poland, of their progressive loss of rights and privileges and their slow, systematic loss of all that it is to be human. Because sometimes that’s what it feels like, that every day that goes by, I’m losing another piece of my life, and I sometimes wonder whether every dinner, every game of Trashcan, every moment shared as a family, will be the last.
But there’s another way to way to look at things, I realize, and it’s actually the road that we’ve been traveling down these many months, despite some bumps. We’ve taken our circumstances—the cards that life has dealt us—and we’ve chosen to play that hand and be thankful for the cards that we were dealt. Instead of folding, we’ve elected to change the rules to suit our situation and create a winning hand.
And for the effort, we’re so much better off, despite our problems. I look at guys like me—my friend Chris, for example, who’s in a similar situation, trying to raise his daughter, working his butt off, trying to do right, and being kicked out of his parents’ home just for being who he is, and forced to sleep in a car at nights. Or I look at my friend Ted at work, whose wife changed the lock on their door and is threatening to move the kids to another state.
Somewhere down the line, I started to forget that. I started to dwell on the negative. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we’re the exception, not the rule. We’re taking our circumstances and going against the grain. We’re trying to chart our own destiny, one that involves a happy ending and a soft landing for all of us. And as long as we continue to treat each other with dignity and respect, and most of all, love, I have to think we’re going to be okay.
That’s the vision of our future that I have. That’s the destiny I desire. That’s the goal that’s in our reach.
Years of more laughter and sitting around the table, eating Sunday dinners, and small talk. Years of looking out for each other. Years of being a family, even if we’re not husband and wife.
Years of celebrating our circumstances. Years of celebrating each other, and whomever we bring into our lives.
That’s the future. That’s what I want.