I’ll often say I lived my childhood like an only child, and it’s pretty close to being true. My younger sister, Tracy, was born three-and-a-half after I was, and while we sometimes played together and had a good time, we often fought, and are very different people in a lot of ways. I could be, frankly, abusive toward her. I didn’t know that then, but I see that now, and I honestly feel bad about a lot of the shit I pulled. Even as adults, we really didn’t have much of a relationship, until last year, until my mother died.
I think neither of us really knew how to talk to the other and because we didn’t have a lot in common, we didn’t try hard. Especially me, the big brother. So when Mom died, we suddenly had one huge, massive thing in common. And it brought us closer. I wish I believed in an afterlife so I could believe that Mom sees how Tracy and I have grown closer. Tracy believes in an afterlife and believes my mother does see us and is happy.
This isn’t about any of that heartwarming stuff. This about two times that I got under Tracy’s nerves that I don’t consider mean, and that make us laugh now. They were good.
When we were kids, Tracy got into wrestling. I mean, she loved that shit. Me? I kinda hated wrestling from the get-go. Our older cousin, Cindy, enjoyed it and watched it and because what she said, went, we would watch it if we were sleeping over my grandmother’s. And because Tracy watched it all the time, I got to know the characters. Tracy had saved up money from birthdays and holidays and had a couple of hundred dollars put away, unlike me, who never met a penny I wanted to hold onto for too long. Well, Tracy went through that money on wrestling events. Wrestlemania, Summer Slam, Oily October, Enema Everyday, whatever the were. She’d have my mother order them on Pay Per View and watch those things. Fucking family members would come over and watch them, and because that’s where the action often was, I often watched them. I didn’t know it completely then, but now I do. I was gaining knowledge, knowledge that I could use.
I’d started suffering from insomnia around the age of nine. By the time I was 12, I was up late on Fridays and Saturdays because my parents allowed me to. These were grand times. The late-1980s, when horror TV shows were, everyone had a late night talk show (even that sponge, Pat Sajak!) and I loved it. Sometimes, though, when there weren’t horror movies or softcore porn flicks on Cinemax to watch (those last were ones I’d “sneak,” and the quotes meant I thought I was sneaking them but realize that my parents knew exactly what I was doing), I’d flip through the channels to find something. I learned a lot this way. One night, I happened upon wrestling.
Here’s the set-up: In one of those events a few months before, the Ultimate Warrior fought Hulk Hogan and won. Now, this was a Big Deal for wrestling fans. The Ultimate Roidier–er…Warrier–had defeated Hulk Hogan so badly, that the Hulk left the WWF!! Tracy got really upset when I pointed out that maybe it wasn’t because Hogan got hurt so badly but rather was off shooting a movie in his umpteenth attempt to get a film career (John Cena and Dwayne Johnson must really fry his frijoles!) and she’d cry and Dad would tell me to leave my sister alone.
Anyway, here I was, flipping through the channels, there he was, all oiled up, bleached hair, asthmatic breathing, bright yellow clothing, talking to Mean Jean Okerland (was that his name?). This was the moment Tracy had been waiting for. She’d even mentioned she thought Hulk Hogan was coming back. The thing was, she watched the show on Saturday mornings. Here it was, late-Friday night, early-Saturday morning. And Hulk Hogan said the words that have been stuck in my brain for about 30 years now.
He said, with all the seriousness and heart that only a professional wrestler can summon, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!”
It was like Shakespeare. I was moved to tears. Tears of laughter. “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!” Oh, shit, this was gold. And a plan formed. I shouldn’t be proud of the plan. It wasn’t nice. But it wasn’t terrible, either, and we can laugh about it now, so fuck it.
The next morning, I watched TV or read in the living room or some shit like that until Tracy wanted the TV. Saved By the Bell followed by what my Mémé referred to “wrasslin’.” This was often my cue to leave the room. Not this Saturday morning, oh no.
Wrestling started and I had to sit through what felt like four decades of it until the moment came. I can’t remember what she’d done, but Tracy had pissed me off earlier that morning, and I knew just what to do. The segment started and before Hulk’s intro, I turned to her and said, “Here he comes!” She looked at me, her crystal blue eyes and mouth all o’s. Then her face quickly turned to panic.
I stood up and began doing the Hulk Hogan twirling my hand and listening to the audience.
“Stop it!” she yelled. “Shut up!”
He was introduced. “Daaaaddy! Billy’s being stupid!”
From the other room: “Leave your sister alone.”
Mom was working. That’s fine.
I sat down and Tracy leaned close to the TV. Hulk Hogan had survived his fight with the Ultimate Warrior, and as he spoke to Mean Gene about how he’d had a crisis in faith, I began laughing. I couldn’t stop it.
“Shut up!” Tracy said. “Daa-aaaddd!”
“Call Dad one more time and I’ll tell you what he says.”
Tracy looked horrified.
“You see,” I said, standing up, doing an okay impression of Hulk Hogan.
And right on cue, Hulk Hogan and I said, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother!”
Then I started laughing so hard, I cried. Tracy skipped the former and went to the latter. She cried for Dad and he came to the living room door, exasperated. He yelled at me, I’m sure, but I was laughing and crying. And for years, if I wanted to get a rise of Tracy (which is something older brothers often enjoy doing with younger sister’s), I’d say in my best Hulk Hogan impersonation, “I’m a born-again Hulkamaniac, brother.”
That’s all I’ve got in me right now. But I’ll be back soon with the other big thing I did, that was really a stroke of genius if you ask me.
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Yesterday afternoon, Friday, February 22nd, 2019, Patricia Ann Gauthier, Pat to her friends and loved ones, Mom to me and my sister, and Mémé to my two daughters, died. She was 68 years old, two weeks away from 69. I was there, holding her hand, at the end. My father had just come in from bringing a much-despised aunt home and my younger sister, Tracy, had stepped out for something. The nurses came in to do something and Dad and I stepped out into the hallway. They came out and let us know that we should go back in. The end was arriving. I texted Tracy and Mom died before Tracy got there. That was Mom. Wait for her Sweetie, my Dad, and save Tracy from seeing what she wouldn’t want to see. And me? Well, she knew I’d be there. I’d been there all day. I acted as her voice, sometimes pissing people off, but that’s all right. I’m used to it. She’s gone and, in the end, well, I hope I did good.
Death is ugly. In the movies, someone lies on their bed, says something dramatic, and fades away, as though they are sleeping. I’m sure there are deaths like that. Not this one. My mother was gone, for all intents and purposes, Thursday morning. She never really responded to me, though I was told that she could hear me and even responded in her own way at that point, and I’ll hold onto that, and feel bad about that, and everything else. You know, the regular human emotions. Mom made me her healthcare proxy because she knew I could, and would, make the decisions she wanted. I have to say, that when it was left up to me, the last few days went mostly well. There were hiccups, yes, because death is ugly, but she was a force of nature, and I had to learn to be at times.
Death is ugly not just in what happens as a person dies (Mom would appreciate that the writer in me found the process fascinating and logged it all–it’s my curse, my cross to bear) but in how the survivors behave around death. Grief and anger are the ugliness of these. I know I have alienated family members, and I’m all right with that. First, I haven’t seen most of them for a decade or so, so I was already somewhat alienated; and second, I called out bullshit and while I could’ve (should’ve?) handled it better, my mother was dying. Another time a family member that my mother did not want to be there forced herself in, getting to my father, who actually brought her there (see the “much-despised aunt” from above) and then needed to bring her fat ass home. She actually had the gall to ask if he’d stop for bread for her! I gave her the cold-shoulder almost the entire time she was there, and not subtly, either. When she came to a place where Dad, my sister, and I were standing, I walked away, down the hall and out of sight. She is a relation by marriage. She was Dad’s sister-in-law, married to his brother, who died two years ago. She hated me growing up. Mom didn’t want her there. Neither did I. The decision was made when I wasn’t around.
Mom was the first person to encourage my talents. She loved art and storytelling. She was a daydreamer. She was so smart and had wanted so badly to go to college when she was a girl, but was told by a guidance counselor in 9th grade (back then, junior high was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades) that she was a welfare brat and would never be able to afford college, that she should take the business track at high school. My mother could be stubborn, but sometimes she could bend too far, too. Instead of telling the guidance counselor to get stuffed, she followed his advice. When I first went to college in 1995, she was more excited than I was. When I left at the end of 1997 for the birth of my first daughter, she was devastated. She never told me that, but I knew. When I went back in 2003 and earned my B.A. in 2005, she was very happy. I was the first college graduate in the family. When I got my Master’s last spring, she was so proud. By then, though, she was sick. Sicker than we knew, I guess. Still, she got to see me get my Master’s.
That’s what I use to help me through this right now. She was proud of me. She had copies of my books that she would haul out and show whoever came over. More than once in the last few years I grinned and felt strange as my mother introduced me to nurses as her son, the teacher and writer. “He had a story in a book with Stephen King!” she would say, with a smile on her face. I know she’d tell them about how my students generally tend to love me as a teacher, and she thrilled in stories I would relate when I’d drive her to Boston for her first round of cancer back in 2016. Some students made a video thank-you for me that I showed her and she cried tears of pride during it.
She was proud of my girls. Courtney, who will be 21 in April and is in art school in Boston, and G, who is six and in kindergarten, were both very important to her. She loved them with a radiance that burned like a sun. Courtney was living my mother’s dream, going to art school in the hopes of doing art professionally. G was the little granddaughter she loved to talk to and hear stories about. She had such hopes for G, and knew she would go on to great things. We’ll see, but I think she may be right.
Mom was proud of me for my second marriage. She loved Pamela, and knew Pamela could put up with my crap but wouldn’t take it, kind of like Mom.
My parents hardly ever fought, and certainly didn’t shout or swear at each other. I never saw them do this. Neither of my girls are as fortunate with their father, but Mom and Dad loved each other with a love that was unreal. They had nothing in common, but they loved each other ridiculously. Together 45/46 years, and they were still gaga for each other. Yeah, they got on each other’s nerves, but their love was truly something.
Mom could be a pain in the ass. She knew how to push buttons and sometimes, I suspect, did so somewhat happily. We weren’t as close when I was an adult as when I was growing up, and part of that was her ability to push my buttons. Others saw it, too, so I know it’s not paranoia, but at the end, I tried to be there as much as possible, calling as often as I could. Mom could be frustrating in her stubbornness, something we’ll be dealing with for the foreseeable future, as we go through her things and find hidden food, unopened items from a variety of sources. She could be a child sometimes, during the last decade. She had no filter, never did. That could be fun. When I was growing up, she at least had tact most of the time. But she ran us around. A quote of hers was, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It was funny and said in jest, but I always felt she really meant it. She would say what came to her head, and was born before political correctness was really a thing. She said things that would make your jaw drop, but there was never really any malice in it. As my older girl, Courtney, would say, “Oh, Mémé.”
Mom was funny. She loved dirty jokes. She told us all to watch out when we stepped off the sidewalk because we might step on her mind. I learned of things at a young age that most kids don’t learn until high school amongst friends, because of her humor. She let me watch R-rated movies at nine because she knew I was sneaking up after everyone was in bed and watching them on HBO and Cinemax, anyway. It’s because of her that I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at nine. She trusted me.
We would sometimes lie in her bed and talk for hours. When I was bullied in school, she would listen and give advice. When I was sad, she would listen and tell me stories. She told me lots of stories of her youth. It wasn’t a particularly happy one, but she told me stories that weren’t terrible. She would listen as I talked about anything, even if she wasn’t interested. We would have good talks. I could always go to her when I was a kid.
When I was an adult, I found out she’d been sexually abused by a stepfather when she was in her teens. It helped fit some of the puzzle pieces together. She never really did get the mental health help she should have, despite my suggestions that she do so. Mom had a pretty crappy life until 1973. Her mother and father weren’t happy. Her father left the family and started a new one. Mom’s older sister was a ne’er do well with a terrible disposition. Mom’s younger brother was the typical hellion, a regular Dennis the Menace. His name was Billy. My grandmother would have two more daughters, one born nine years after Mom, and the last, Donna, was born with Down Syndrome and severe mental retardation. My grandmother was an alcoholic. My older aunt got pregnant and left the family as soon as she could. Mom raised Billy and the two younger girls. When Mom was 17, two weeks before Billy’s 12th birthday, he died unexpectedly from a brain tumor. Her last words to him were, “Oh, don’t be stupid.” She carried that with her to the end. She vowed to name her first boy after him. That’s where I get my name from. Sometime during this, as she had to call various bars to find her mother, as she had to get a secretarial job in high school, as he became addicted to cigarettes and food–and spending–she was molested by the stepfather.
In 1973, she met Dad. His friends told him he should go talk to the blonde at the bar. He went to a blonde, not the right one. Their relationship ended yesterday with her death. Dad turned Mom’s life around. She told me once that she could’ve been on a very bad path before meeting Dad. He saved her. Divorced and untrusting, he was wary to remarry. But in 1974, they eloped to New Hampshire.
There’s so much more I could write about Mom. She always had sayings and colloquialisms, most of which I’ve forgotten, but she had them all. She had a chip on her shoulder to anyone who she thought tried to be better than her. She loved dancing and music, oh, did she love dancing and music. She could dance! When she began suffering from chronic pain around 2005, not being able to dance hurt her so much. She was in too much pain to dance at my wedding to Pamela in 2009, and it hurt her so much. It hurt all of us, because we knew she’d be out there all day if she could’ve. She loved movies and reading and drawing and art and cooking and jokes and animals and her family and….
And she’s gone now. Her suffering and pain are gone. I still can hardly believe it. I don’t want to believe it. I wait for her to tell us that the last ten years was all part of some crazy, ill-conceived joke. But she wouldn’t. She didn’t like practical jokes.
G asked me if Mémé went to heaven. She learned about heaven at daycare. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I stole a Bruce Springsteen line and told her that Mémé’s heaven is in our hearts. I told her that Mémé will always be in our hearts and minds, we’ll always remember her. For me, she will be constant. I will always wonder if I’m making her proud. I know I’ll fall short, but I also know she’ll always be proud of me.
Mom knew she was dying Wednesday night. She said her goodbyes. Her and I laughed and cried, and we hugged and kissed, and I held her hand, and she yelled at me when I rubbed it too hard (my Dad, too), and she said that she was afraid of going to sleep because she might not wake up. Dad and I told her not to be afraid, that she needed her sleep. I don’t know if Dad’s advice was simple advice, but mine wasn’t. I wanted her to know that I was all right if she needed sleep, for the night or eternally. I wanted her to know that we loved her and that we’d be all right. I wanted her to know that while I wasn’t always there, I would always be there.
My universe lost a bright, bright star. A star that shined brighter than many stars. I feel a little lost, now, but that’s normal, I guess. I hope she knew I tried my best, I always tried my best. Yeah, she knew. I am going to miss that woman.
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
I may be exaggerating a bit. I don’t know that’s it’s a regular flu, never mind a superflu, but I know that we’ve all been sick since roughly 1971. The two-year-old began with a runny nose last Saturday (January 10th, for those keeping records)(and if you’re keeping records, just stop. That’s creepy). Then she had a fever. A low-grade fever, but a fever nonetheless. Then Pamela began feeling gross. I’ve been fighting some sort of cold/sick off since before the holidays so it didn’t surprise me that I began getting it. Hell, even the teenager, who technically resides with her mother but whom I see every day, has been sick since the New Year.
Now I write this between coughs, nose drips, and with a voice that’s barely existent. Pamela stayed home with G all week until Friday, when I was finally too sick to go to work (not to mention that I had little-to-no voice).
Why am I telling you this? Because the work, the writing, stalled. I was doing so great. January 1st through the 7th are all X’d out on the chain calendar. I must’ve felt too tired or drained on the 8th, but I was there for the 9th. After that, blank boxes until this Friday, the 16th, when I had a little perk that night. A perk that left in the wee hours of the morning, when the mucous in my head came alive and tried to take over.
Anyway, I’ve edited for the last three nights.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I feel like I need to answer to somebody. Because no matter what the pro’s sometimes say, the Day Job, the one that pays the bills, sometimes has to come first. Luckily, I enjoy my day job and feel like I’m doing Good Work with it, just as I do with my writing, so it doesn’t feel like a trade-off. But I wanted you to know that as soon as I felt a leeeetle better, I grabbed the ol’ lap desk, grabbed the novel, and did some low-intensity work.
And you should, too.
Lastly, happy birthday to my awesome, wonderful, amazing wife. I often don’t feel like I deserve her. I can be such a fuck-up and asshole at times, but she puts me in my place and everything gets better.
I love you, babe.
On April 20th, my mother sent me and my sister, Tracy, the following message on Facebook:
Got some bad news a little while ago. Uncle Pete found out last week that he has lung cancer. He’ll be getting more tests and chemo starting this week. Auntie Pat said he’s having a hard time breathing. Dad’s going to visit them this week & if I feel up to it, I’ll go too. We’ll keep you guys posted, if you want us to.
I didn’t respond to it because I didn’t feel it was proper to do so in a message to both me and my sister. The reason why I didn’t feel it proper was because my reaction was, That’s sad, but I have no relationship with the man, so….
I know that’s cold. I know that’s probably not the appropriate response, but it was the honest response. I am not close to my family. My mother and father, yes. My sister, somewhat. Everyone else? Not really. Especially on my father’s side.
My father is nine years older than my mother. Born in 1941, he’s the youngest of three children. Growing up, Sundays were the day we went to his parents’ house. We called them Mémé and Pépé; my mother’s parents (long divorced before I was born) were Grandma and Grandpa (or, truth be told, Gramma and Grampa). Sundays at Mémé and Pépé’s meant playing in their spacious yard on a nice suburban street, and then having supper and dessert. Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat were often there. The whole place felt old. There were no other kids. My mother is my father’s second wife and my sister and I were the babies of the family. The house was decorated in a 1950s/1960s hybrid. They didn’t have cable TV. When music was played, it was always old, boring music. Uncle Pete liked us, and I faintly remember playing with him when I was very small. My sister was his and my aunt’s goddaughter, and I guess they kinda took it seriously…?
Auntie Pat pretty much hated me. At least it seemed that way. She’d often walk in on me when I was in the bathroom when I was little. After this happened a few times, I locked the door and was promptly yelled at. I was a kid who yelled back, which made me even more popular. She’d bestow gifts (mostly lame ones) on my sister and ignore me, except to yell. We have it on videotape. Uncle Pete was meek, quiet. He’d ask me general questions but didn’t seem very interested. A nice man, yes, but….
I remember when I was around 12 or 13, we went to Mémé and Pépé’s (which was really just Mémé’s now, because Pépé died when I was 11), and Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat had moved in (Uncle Pete actually owned the house). They’d bought a riding lawnmower. He let my sister, who’s four-and-a-half years younger than I am, ride the mower in his lap. I wanted to ride the mower. I wanted to so bad.
“Uncle Pete!” I called. “Can I ride the mower? Uncle Pete!”
This went on as my sister got her ride. I never got an answer. I was never even looked at.
It’s amazing the shit that stays with you, huh?
Anyway, contact between me and my uncle and aunt grew far less. When Mémé died (I was 16), I saw them. When my father’s sister, the eldest child, Auntie Juliet, died of breast cancer (I was 17), I saw them. I think they were at my first wedding in 2000. I saw them at least one time after that, Courtney was pretty small. Other than that, I didn’t see them. I didn’t care to.
I didn’t know my father’s side of the family well. The old school Canadian-French, Catholic family just didn’t talk. They didn’t tell stories. Even my father didn’t say much in terms of his family or growing up. Really, most of the stories I heard from my father when I was growing up had to do with the prices of things then versus now. My Auntie Juliet and I never really had a relationship. My Pépé adored me but he had his first stroke when I was 8 and died when I was 11. I don’t really remember him well. Mémé loved me but she didn’t tell much in terms of stories. And considering Auntie Pat, who is a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed woman, from the bad side of town (my mother’s side of town, truth be told), hated me, Uncle Pete and I really had no relationship.
So why respond with negative feelings?
About a month later, my mother told me that the cancer was bad and Uncle Pete might not have long to live. He asked my father to see “the kids and grandkids.” My first reaction was, Fuck that shit.
But I thought about my father. The only family he has left that’s not my mother, me, or my sister is Uncle Pete. And I knew that Dad, meek, mild, devoted Dad, would like me to go. I couldn’t bring Courtney, she didn’t remember Uncle Pete and I wouldn’t want to bring her into that—to me—unknown situation. I wouldn’t bring Genevieve. At 19-months-old, she would be a handful. It so happens that my sister and her fiancée and her fiancée’s daughters were coming up from Florida this week and so plans were made to pay Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat a visit. What will most likely be our last visit.
I wasn’t looking forward to it. To face a dying man I hadn’t seen in, possibly, ten years, who I wasn’t close to; to face a woman I pretty much despised (have I told you she gave me a free sample of Avon’s Musk for Men deodorant as a Christmas present when I was 12?); sounded like a nightmare. But I love my father. I knew it would mean a lot to him.
To solidify plans, I called Wednesday night to confirm that Thursday we would go. As I spoke to my mother, Dad was in the background saying something.
“Daddy says you don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Mom said. “He doesn’t want you to feel like you have to go and he knows you’re not good in these kinds of situations.”
My social anxiety is well-known in my family. I stopped having birthday parties when I was six.
I told her I would go. I’d go for him. I’d go so my sister wasn’t the only one going. I’d go because I’m an adult and should go.
So yesterday morning, my sister and I climbed into Dad’s minivan and he drove us to Mémé and Pépé’s—er…Uncle Pete’s and Auntie Pat’s—house.
Auntie Pat greeted us. She’s old now. Shorter than I remember. Still big, though. She hugged Tracy and then hugged me. Uncle Pete sat at the kitchen table, in the kitchen I ate in so many times as a boy. The house looked different, of course. But the layout hadn’t changed. He didn’t get up, but hugged Tracy and shook my hand. Old school.
He asked how I liked teaching. I said I loved it. It allowed me to be creative and to play, and I left a mark. Nothing was mentioned about writing. That was fine.
Soon, I sat at the table with him, brought out the iPad, and showed him pictures and videos of Courtney and Genevieve. He hasn’t met Pamela. He saw her now, too. Uncle Pete is still quiet. Auntie Pat still loud. My Dad actually began reminiscing with him, and Tracy and I heard stories we’d never heard before. One story made me laugh so hard I almost cried. We talked.
We didn’t visit long, only about an hour. But something happened in that time. I saw the love and happiness in Uncle Pete’s eyes. Auntie Pat wasn’t a bitch anymore, she was an eccentric old lady, and I am fascinated by eccentric old people. The discomfort I felt at first went away and I was happy to be there. Not just for Dad, anymore, but for Uncle Pete and Auntie Pat.
It was a good visit. Uncle Pete didn’t look or seem sick until the very end, when we were about to leave. He stood up for the first time and he had trouble, obvious pain. He hugged my sister, held out his hand to me to be shaken, and I shook, and then I hugged him. It surprised him but he hugged me back, hard.
Soon were in the minivan and drove away, goodbyes said.
Uncle Pete might have another year or two, apparently this round of chemo seems to be doing something. But he may have another month or so. Or less.
I can’t say that I am now going to go around and visit other family members, because that’s not true. I’ve never really fit in, and I really don’t have much to say to anyone. But I’m glad I went. I’m glad to hear the stories that the Gauthier brothers told.
And I’m happy that my father and my uncle were able to be together with me and Tracy one last time, laughing, happy.
Back in July, I posted my feelings about trying to get the baby to take a nap on her own and listening to her cry. Having her Cry It Out was breaking my heart but I did what I thought was right and was steadfast and, eventually, Genevieve fell asleep. She slept an hour or two. I was happy. When she woke up, she was smiling and in a good mood. But I noticed something odd: Her head was tilted to the right.
I took her out of the playpen and changed her diaper. She was sitting up pretty well by this time and I sat her on the floor. Her head was still tilted. I hesitantly touched her neck, applying just enough pressure to see if the muscles felt tight. They did not. When I lifted her head, she made no sound, showed no indication of pain or discomfort. She was her normal, happy self. But her head tilted.
Oh no, I thought. I broke the baby. Pamela is gonna kill me.
For half an hour, G’s head stayed tilted. Finally, I called the doctor’s office. By now the office was closed so the answering service picked up. I explained the problem and they said they’d call back. Soon they called and told me to bring G in to see the on-call doctor. I was getting her packed in her car seat when Pamela got home from work. Imagine coming home to find your husband packing up your baby to take her to the doctor. Yeah.
So we went, and the doctor looked at G, and nothing was found. Because she wasn’t in pain, because she was behaving normally, they decided it was probably a crick in her neck and it would pass. If we wanted to take her to the ER, we could.
We went home and by bedtime, her head was almost upright, and by the next morning she was holding her head up again. All was well.
It happened again in September or October. It only lasted an hour or so. Again, no pain, no discomfort. By now, G was crawling like a mad person—ZIP!!–and the tilted head made her lose her balance a little. But it went away quickly so we did nothing.
Well, not entirely nothing. Ever since the first time G’s head tilted I’d watch her when she got up from a nap. She was always fine, though.
On New Year’s Day, it happened again.
Because of the first incident, I’d gone back to rocking her to sleep and allowing her to nap on me. It was inconvenient but the tilted head was terrifying. So on New Year’s Day, Pamela was rocking the baby to take a nap around 2:30. The baby decided she didn’t want to nap so we put her down. It wasn’t really her naptime and no big deal. When she was put on the floor, G’s head tilted. She’s walking now. She’s not 100% yet, but she’s predominantly walking to get around. She tried standing and fell down, obviously unbalanced. Naturally, we parents were concerned.
G soon decided she did want a nap and fell asleep. She slept for nearly two hours. When she awoke around 4:15, she wanted to play. Her head was still tilted. She was having trouble crawling and walking but was trying. She wasn’t quitting. She wanted to play and Pamela and I were discussing what to do—call the doctor? Take her to the ER?—when G rested her head on my knee, looked up at me, and threw up.
At the ER she was checked out. She was normal in every way, typical Genevieve, except that her head was tilted. She was waving at the doctors, nurses, and people who passed by our cubby. A CT scan came up with nothing, which was a huge relief. A few days later we took her to her doctor, who made us appointments at Boston Children’s Hospital. One for an ear and throat specialist, one for a neurologist.
Last Tuesday, we went to the ear specialist. She had hearing tests and everything looked fine. So now we were nervous about the next specialist because, well…you know.
Friday we were at the neurology offices. After hearing our story, and double-checking the CT scans, we were told that it was benign paroxysmal vertigo. Essentially, she gets dizzy sometimes. It may never happen again. Or it may. The one thing the doctor was certain about is that she’ll outgrow it. The only possible side effect is that she may be more prone to migraines when she gets older.
Relief. The following day was Pamela’s birthday so we went and celebrated at our favorite Chinese restaurant.
As a father of a 15-year-old, I know that things can and/or will happen that puts us on edge. You want to make sure the children are safe and well, and that they’ll lead happy, healthy lives. When we waited with the 1-year-old in the waiting rooms, it was brought home to us how lucky we have it. As we left that last appointment, even more so.
We have a healthy, intelligent, and beautiful baby-soon-to-be-toddler. My teenager is also healthy, intelligent, and beautiful. I will enjoy them in a way that only a proud, happy, and amazed father can.
The title may be a bit misleading. I’m not actually planning on writing about Genevieve’s entire first year. But it does weigh heavily on me. Last week was her birthday and yesterday was her birthday party. Not everyone I would’ve liked to be there was because of space and situations. It was mostly Pamela’s family and friends. My 15-year-old was there, representin’ the Gauthiers because my sister lives in Florida and my mother is unable to leave her apartment. Still, fun was had by all. The baby made out like a bandit (sorry for the cliché, I’m tired), everyone loved the cake (thanks to Cravings Café & Cakery), and the baby had a great time.
Still, the passage of time is felt. One year becomes fifteen real fast. All I needed to do was look at Courtney and Genevieve together.
One year becomes fifteen in a heartbeat, it seems. I know that’s not true. A lot has happened in fifteen years. My life changed, and changed again, and changed at least three more times. The lives of those around me also changed. The world has changed. Fifteen years ago as I write this, I would’ve been using my first computer, a gift from my parents. It wasn’t connected to the Internet just yet, and wouldn’t be for another month or two. And when it was finally connected, it was with America Online, dial-up. Now I sit at my fourth computer, a notebook computer, typing on a blog via wireless broadband. That’s but one change.
So to see that the baby is already one is a little disconcerting. There will be lots of adventures in her future. Lots of firsts. I look forward to them, and I fear them. But I mostly look forward to them. Just as I look forward to the firsts that my teenager still has to encounter, as my wife will encounter, as I will encounter.
So now that I’ve finally gotten through the Friday in Gautham essays (or essays on the Friday the 13th movies) I’m left feeling the same sense of fatigue that the previous movie series left me feeling. I had planned on jumping straight into the next series, but find I just don’t have it in me right now, not with the novel to work on.
But that’s okay, because I will do another one, and probably another, as long as readers seem interested.
So, the Genevieve turned one this past week and her 1st birthday party is this Sunday. It’s a three-day weekend that won’t feel much like a weekend. That’s probably the most difficulty I’m having as a new father this time around: losing so much alone time.
I had friends growing up, but not many. Given a choice between playing with a group of kids or playing with my action figures, the action figures always won out. This led naturally to the writing lifestyle of hours alone in a make-believe world. I like that alone time. Thrive on it. So to have my alone time so diminished is pretty frustrating.
That said, I’m extremely lucky to have lost so much alone time due to people I love. Of course, the Day Job’s squelching of my alone time is an entirely different matter, though at least my students are great and, often, inspiring. So it makes the loss of time worth it.
That said, I should get back to work. I just wanted to let you know I’m here and will be trying to post more.
Last week Pamela and I were sitting on the floor watching Genevieve play. In case you’re slow on the uptake, Genevieve is the baby, not the teenager (who is named Courtney). The teenager was at her mom’s house. As I sat there, I’d stack some blocks up and Pamela would put the Fisher-Price rings on the stand. The baby would roll (she seems to be bypassing crawling, like her sister did) to one of our nice new stacks and knock it over. Take the rings from their stand and then roll away, destruction in her wake. It was then that we realized that she’d silently decreed that There Will Be No Stacking.
Now we run into trouble. Because what’s stacking? To you and I, rational adults, stacking is placing one thing on top of the other:
But we’re not dealing with a rational adult, oh no. This is a very smart, but very rascally, baby. So to her, not only is this a stack:
And this, and this:
But so is this:
And even this:
Now, granted, that last is kind of a stack. I mean, the bottles, stupidphone, remote controls, and glass bowl are all on the coffee table which makes it kind of stacking. I think it would be admissible in court should we ever have to sue her for damages. What really worries me is what happens when she starts walking next week?
But, Bill, I hear you say to your smartphone, tablet, or (ha!) computer screen. How, pray tell, can you know that she’ll be walking next week?
Because she’s just like that. Last Friday (July 12th), she couldn’t sit up without help. By Monday she was sitting up like a pro. And pulling herself up on the side of her playpen. I also know that she’ll be walking next week because her mother and I aren’t ready for it. Look at that last picture. Besides the stupidphone, bottles, remote controls, glass coasters, and expensive glass bowl, you can see: a couch with lots of cushions; an end table with another glass bowl, the baby monitor, a picture of Courtney, and a lamp; and a plant on (out of frame) a stone pedestal that could easily cause damage to anyone it falls on. Never mind the TV, the drawers, everything on the floor (technically, stacked on the Earth)(and she’s strong), the building we live in…. Where will it end?
It’s blurry because she’s quick. Gone! Just like that.
Not happy with just knocking the blocks down, she decided to eat/make-out with a plastic frog. Will she know any bounds?!
Well…I guess that stack isn’t so bad to knock down.
The decree has been issued, the law laid. There will be no stacking. Of anything. For a long, long time.
A memory came back to me last week. Let me share.
Growing up, I was my generation’s Dennis the Menace. Bart Simpson was a kindred spirit. I was the proverbial little shit. I was (too) smart (for my own good), I didn’t do what I was told, I was imaginative, and I had a temper. That said, it’s amazing how much I got bullied. But this isn’t about the bullies. At least, not straight up. This is about friends. Or one friend in particular. And his family.
There were several kids around my age in the neighborhood I grew up in, but it was rare that we all got together. There was Kurt (three-four years older than me), Scott (one year older), Eric (one year younger), Jimmy (one year younger), Chrissy (three-four years older), and several children who would be closer in age to my younger sister. Scott and Eric were brothers. Jimmy and Chrissy were siblings, too. I met Jimmy and Chrissy when I was about 6 and they were friends until they moved away when I was 12 or so. However, they weren’t around much. Eventually, Eric and I became best friends. Even though we’d known each other for nearly our entire lives, we really didn’t start being close until I was around 8. Eric and Scott’s mother was very by-the-book. She once told my mother that my overactive imagination was a bad thing that would probably get me in trouble one day. Anyway, once we were both able to go outside by ourselves, Eric and I became best friends.
I think Eric liked me because I always had something to do. We could play with action figures or, better yet, we could role play. That’s what I did a lot outside. I’d be Batman. Or Luke Skywalker. Or Axel Foley. Or Freddy Krueger. Or Marty McFly. Or—most likely—a character I’d made up. And when I played—just as I did with my action figures—I didn’t just play an endless stream of make-believe until I petered out, oh no, I played movies. I gave them titles, and ratings, and had a beginning, middle, and ending. I was also like Bart the Menace—I did what I wanted. I defied my parents. When there were no grown-ups around I swore. I did what I wanted. And we had a good time. When I was 8 and 9 years old, Eric and I had a blast.
Except…Eric would sometimes take those bad habits home, I guess. Or at least, that’s what was always implied. Eric, who was the second child, Eric, who was the lesser child, was trouble, so said his mom. He wasn’t, really—he was just a typical little boy, into mischief, curious. Unlike his older brother (who would also be a close friend for a period of time in the years that followed), Eric wasn’t perfect (so sayeth his mom). So, Eric would get punished.
Eric, unlike me, couldn’t get out of punishments. Eric was rational and could be reasoned with. He became a scientist as an adult. It was there all along. So when Mom and Dad said he was punished, he was punished. And his mother’s favorite punishment for Eric? You can’t play outside with Billy.
He could go outside. He could play outside with his brother and Kurt (who became the closest friend of all of them, and for the longest period of time)—fuck, he could play outside with whole goddamn neighborhood, except if I came around. He couldn’t play with me.
At that time, I wasn’t friends with anyone else in the neighborhood. Or if I was, they weren’t around. So for Eric’s punishment, I would sit in the window and watch him laugh and play with Scott, and Kurt, and the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Fellowship of the Ring, and Cirque du Soleil, and…. That was some punishment he had. I wonder if he learned his lesson.
My mother was appalled and called his mother, who was (and still is) her friend, and asked how could this be punishment for Eric? Billy’s sitting in the window watching his best friend playing with everyone on the planet but isn’t allowed to play with him.
And Eric’s mother responded, “I read that to punish a child you should take away his favorite thing, so since his favorite thing to do is play with Billy, I took that away.”
As a kid I didn’t think that was fair. At 35, I still don’t see how that’s something a sane person would do. If we lived across town, okay. But to make it so Eric and I couldn’t hang out but Eric could still run around with everyone else—who at the time did not like me—is punishing the person she outright saw as the cause for her son’s insubordination.
The memory came to me out of nowhere last week. And it saddened me. And angered me. And made me shake my head. No wonder I am the way I am.
The senior girl has been coming to me during the day with her college essay and I’ve been helping her edit it. She’s really bright and she has the idealistic dreams a high school senior should have. Today she brought me the fourth draft. We went over it. I sent her away with instructions for draft five. She thanked me profusely.
Students stayed after school with me yesterday to talk about this year’s school magazine. Their ideas and ambition energized me.
A group of freshmen who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days crowded my desk and bombarded me with questions and listened to me.
I have three books published by small presses under my belt. Work of mine has appeared alongside work by bestselling writers. I’ve been contacted by other genre legends and writers I admire.
My 14-year-old is one of the most intelligent kids I’ve met. She amazes me constantly. Born to young parents with little money, the odds were against her. She’s not only surpassing those odds, but have blown the motherfuckers away.
My wife is amazing. We laugh all the time. In bed before sleep falls. In the morning. We have so many in-jokes it’s hard to keep track of them all. I’m extremely lucky.
Another daughter is due a month and a half from now.
I have more work to do and many, many stories to tell.
I have lives to help shape who have not come into mine yet.
I will continue to do things…my way.
I brought my 14-year-old to visit my parents today. I owed them a visit because, while I live relatively close to them, I don’t see them a lot. I can give my reasons but it boils down to that I’m an asshole. Not in a mean way, but in an honest way.* I also wanted to bring my daughter there because they love their granddaughter and she’s been in Florida with my sister and her family for over a month. While we were there discussing the end of summer and the beginning of school, my father said to me, “You haven’t been doing much writing lately, huh? You haven’t had much published in a while.”
My response was the normal one that someone who works real hard to produce quality product gives. I’ve been working on this one project and it’s difficult and blah blah blahblahblah… Bottom line: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is fiction.
It took several hours and some alone time to realize: He’s right. Yes, I have spent nearly every day this summer working on the current novel–editing, revising, rewriting, re-rewriting, more editing, etc. Yes, I have several ideas and other projects in various beginning stages. But what does any of that matter? For you, the reader, only really cares about what’s in hand right now.
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King (duh…). I own every commercial book he’s produced. I have read them all, several of them multiple times. I’m excited that he has the Hard Case Crime novel Joyland as well as Dr. Sleep, which is the sequel to The Shining, coming out next year. And while I’m thankful that he continues to work and is probably revising both projects as I write this, I just can’t wait for the books to fall into my grubby little hands.
I also love Harlan Ellison’s work. Despite owning quite a bit of it, there’s plenty I don’t own, of those things I own, there’s plenty I have yet to read. So for me, he doesn’t have to publish anything new right now, I have plenty to go back to.
Same with Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, John Steinbeck, Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, John Little, and many others. I have catching up to do. If their working, or are dead and can no longer work, what is it to me? As long as I can get my paws on those books. But once I’m caught up…gimme dat ting!
So even though I spend more time in this desk chair than is probably healthy. Even though I work at least 2 hours a day writing, the readers don’t care. They only care about what they can get their hands on. Which is why I have a blog. It’s a little something, anyway. And it’s why I’m doing my damndest to get this goddamn novel finished this year. I want it in your hands. I also want to go and work on the ever-growing list of other stories I want to tell. So those can appear in your hands.
So thank you, Dad, for helping me see the light better than anyone else could have.
* The main reason is that I lose track of time. I’m horrible with time, which is why I wear watches and have clocks and calendars everywhere. What feels like a week to me may actually be a month. This can be bad when communicating with people. I mean to return a message only to realize three weeks have passed since I received it but it only feels to my like a week, week-and-a-half. Like I said, I’m an asshole. About time in this instance.