Dawn was breaking over the Hudson. The giant grey brown snake that slithers between the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the Palisades of New Jersey was shedding its night skin and transforming itself into the golden beast of opportunity and new hope each dawn offered. Off in the distance he could see the palisades being framed in the startling yellow of the new day, revealing a mosaic of houses, cars and trees on the far shore. In the foreground, were the twisted girders of the old ferry docks where trains from New Jersey used to be transferred to New York before the tunnels had been built. The original owners had left them to rot and the city when it had decided to rehab the waterfront many years later had left them as their wreckage had become a landmark and at this hour of morning a beautiful piece of modern art. Other than the clink clank sound of the occasional car running across a seam in the nearby West Side Highway it was quiet enough to hear the lapping of the river against the shore.
Daniel sat on a bench that was on a small bluff just above the river. It was surrounded by freshly planted indigenous grasses that the Parks Department thought more beautiful and easier to maintain than a traditional lawn. He could not agree more. When he had discovered the place almost a year before he had been drawn to it because of its dichotomy of being both in the city and of nature at the same time. It is where he went when he was seeking refuge from the city he both loved and hated. It is where he went when he was seeking refuge from himself.
This morning he had come for both reasons.
Last night he had only been asleep for a short time when a recurring nightmare had awakened him screaming in a terror that was just beyond his grasp. Mia, his girlfriend of many years had barely stirred in the bed next to him yet he was breathless and his heart pounding. Knowing that he would not fall asleep soon he got him from the bed, put on the sweats he just taken off and made his way to the living room and the comfortable chair he liked to work in. But instead of writing as he often did at times likes these he just gazed in the darkness and tried to make sense of why this dream that had been dormant for so long had suddenly reawakened.
In the dream his father and he were walking along a pathway made of yellow white rock that he knew to be Jerusalem Stone. The day was bright and the reflection off the white stone made him squint in spite of the dark sunglasses he was wearing. The path was leading them to what looked like the entrance to a cave underneath a grassy hillock. The opening in the hill was surrounded by small pillars made of the same stone that lined the pathway. Daniel knew where they were. They were at Yad Vashem, the hand of god, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem and were walking up to memorial that been created to honor and commemorate the 1.5 innocent children who were murdered by the Nazi’s. Daniel froze in his tracks. He did not want to enter the structure. He was afraid. But his father called to him urging him on telling him they had to go in. They needed to honor the children who would never know a future. He told his father to go on ahead of him but he would have none of that. Instead his father grabbed his hand and pulled him inside the mouth of the cave.
It took his eyes awhile to adjust to the sudden darkness of the room after the blinding light of the Jerusalem afternoon. When his vision had adjusted enough to see it appeared that he was standing in the middle of the firmament surrounded by a universe of stars. As he could see more clearly he realized that they were not stars at all, but memorial candles, the traditional way Jews honor the dead, reflected infinitely in a series of mirror that had been cleverly placed by the designers. His father pulled at his arm and began to walk him through the memorial. In the background he could hear a voice slowly calling out the name of the dead. “Uziel Spiegel, Age 2.5, Auschwitz, Yitzah Diamansky, Age 1, Treblinka, Rachel Hess, Age 4, Bergen Belsen.”
They had paused for a second to listen to the names and to stare at the infinite candles when they heard “Baby Boy Damroche, never born, Lenox Hill Hospital.” Daniel’s heart stopped. How had they known? He turned to explain but his father dropped his hand and pushed his way past people to get to the exit. Daniel ran after him. The light blinded him when he got outside but he could see that his father had made his way over to a stone bench that overlooked the memorial. He was hunched over, head in hands and Daniel could tell by the convulsions of his back that he was crying. Daniel walks over to him and kneels in front of him “Pops, I can explain….”
When his father looked up his face was flush and there were tear tracks his cheeks. “How could you Daniel…how could you dishonor those who died…how could you deny our family its legacy…how could you have forgotten….how could my son do this to his family.”
The dream shifts. Jerusalem disappears.
A young man is standing in front of him, staring. He is 18 years old and wearing the uniform of the young: blue jeans tattered at the factory, ; a t-shirt that looks like it has been stored in a closet since the 70’s, a pair of mustard colored Puma’s that look more like slippers than they do sneakers. He has no tattoo’s and no apparent piercings.
He is tall, well over six foot and has light brown hair that is curly that he has cut short. He has a swimmers build, narrow in the hip with large broad shoulders that are rounded forward like he is about to leap from the starting block. It is father’s build with a hint of his mother’s athleticism.
His eyes are large, green with brown and yellow flecks, expressive, and intelligent. Their gaze is intense and unblinking. Equal part loathe and love, resentment and understanding. It is knowledgeable without a bit of forgiveness and it chills him so her stares back.
His jaw is square and solid, and his mouth looks like it was meant to smile but he is not smiling. Instead his lips are drawn tight and pursed. It is the same look this mans grandfather would adopt for punishing his father.
He is a handsome young man in whom you can sense the capacity for great things. The world could be his oyster if he so chooses. But you can also see a great heartbreak. A sorrow so deep that it seems to stain his soul.
Daniel senses his need for compassion, so he walks over to the young, his arms out as if to embrace and the young man disappears. He looks as if he needs to be comforted so I reach out to him and he disappears.
The dream shifts again.
It is a bright August day and Daniel and his wife are at an apartment that they have rented at the Jersey Shore for the summer. The window was open to catch the breeze coming off the ocean. The sounds of the beach is coming through the window: Waves breaking, radios playing, people laughing, airplanes flying overhead towing signs. They are arguing which is not unusual. They have known each other a long time and they have turned into one of those couples who communicate via sparring. However this is not like the arguments they normally have. It is far more heated. Both of them are doing their best imitations of heavyweight fighters and are literally going toe to toe.
Daniel’s wife has just told him that she is pregnant. They have been married for less than a year practicing birth control and she is with child. He is freaking out not only because it is too soon but because he has realized almost from the beginning that their marriage was a mistake. Daniel is not behaving well. He is feeling very betrayed as if this pregnancy was something that she had planned secretly behind his back. He demands that she tell him how this could have happened. She responds by lying to him and saying that these things sometimes just happen knowing full well that she had stopped taking the pill months before.
Daniel paces around the room. He tells her that he doesn’t feel ready to have a family yet. That they don’t have enough money in the bank, that they are too much debt, they have not been married long enough. He doesn’t tell her, because he lacks the intestinal fortitude, that he knows this marriage is not going to last and that the last thing he really wants to do is bring a child into a marriage that will not survive.
She tells him that she wants to have this child. That she is ready for the burden. That money doesn’t matter. That debt does not matter. That our marriage may be young but we have known each other forever. This child will make our marriage stronger.
Daniel continues to pace and preach sturm and drang. He tells her that he doesn’t think that having a child will help their relationship. The stress that this child would produce would blow them apart. He repeats over and over again his feeling of betrayal and how he feels that she had decided this whole thing on her own and is presenting it to him as if it were a fait d’acompli. Daniel feels that his world is about to get very small and he is scared.
She counter punches with what Daniel has reminded her all too often. How much he wants to make his father a grandfather. How he wants to have a son for him to begin to rebuild our family all but wiped out in the camps. How he has often imagined what it would be like to place a baby in his father’s arms and tell him his name: Marcus….his fathers fathers name. It would be the greatest gift that he could give his father and this child would be the beginning of that dream.
Daniel says he knows what she has said is true but still he doesn’t know if it is enough. He lets her know that he worries that if he brings a child into this world this way the resentment he would feel would last a lifetime. That he fears that those feelings would affect how he feel about the child and about her. Daniel argues with passion about this even though he has a feeling in the pit of his stomach that they may be making a decision he will regret. She senses his fear and asks “Do you think that you will ever get over the resentment.” Daniel tell her no, he doesn’t think he will.
It is September and Daniel is walking down E 76th St. in Manhattan. The air is crisp and you can sense that before too long the trees will begin to turn color. The summer seems far away.
No one except Daniels wife knows where he is. His boss believes that he is having a medical procedure done today and will not be in. His parents believe he is traveling for business. He is on my way to Lenox Hill Hospital to meet his wife. Daniel has bullied his wife into having an abortion.
When they meet at the front entrance they go inside and take the elevator up the clinic. They hold hands and wait for their name to be called. Eventually, a nurse comes to take her down the hall for the procedure and they hug before he watches her disappear behind the double doors that lead to the surgery.
The waiting room is mostly empty. Those who are there do their best to avoid looking at each other. There is no doubt in Daniels mind that no one here feels good at about what we are doing. He does his best to try and convince himself that they are doing the right thing. They are not ready for children. They don’t have enough money. They don’t own a home…They don’t whether the marriage will last…..He goes through the litany of reasons over and over again….But as he sits in the quiet of the waiting room where no one looks at each other he is beset with doubts as well…Are they taking a life…Is this a sin against God…Is this his only chance to have a child… is she okay…Will she ever be able to have baby…Can they find any happiness after this.
The nurse calls Daniels and takes him to his wife. She is lying in a bed in the recovery room, her face pale, her eyes closed. She looks uncomfortable. He strokes her cheek with the back of palm and says “Hey, how are you?” She says she is fine but wants to sleep a while and so he sits next to her while she dozes. He leans over to kiss her on the cheek. She holds him next to her and whispers in his ear “It was a boy.”
The young man is back. He stares at Daniel in silence, with neither making an effort to break it. After an interminable time, he smiles and says “You look like you have seen a ghost.” He has a sense of humor if not irony.
“I bet you are wondering what I am doing here. Been a long time.”
“No. I knew you would show up one day. It was really just a matter of time. You never are that far away.”
He shakes his head, and with downcast eyes he asks “Would you do it all over again?”
Daniel knew this question was coming. It was one he asked himself often. “We were very young….we weren’t ready…We weren’t in love…you would have witnessed a lot of unhappiness and then separation and divorce. It would have put a lot on you.”
“And, if I had to do it all over again….I would change everything. I would have accepted the pregnancy. I would have suffered through the challenges of raising a baby on no money and I would have tried to build a life….even though I knew that at some point along the way separation and divorce were inevitable and the difficulty of custody and all of it…. divorce just to have you.”
“Because you are the great regret of my life…You were the child I was supposed to have.” I am crying now. “I was too stupid, and selfish back then to realize what to do when a butterfly lands on my shoulder. Because I didn’t realize then that life is likely to play funny tricks on you…that if you don’t seize every moment like it is your last you are denying yourself the joy the world has to offer.”
“And now my greatest heartbreak in life is not having any children…not having you.”
“Aren’t you ever going to have any children?”
“It is too late.”
“And it breaks my heart.”
Outside the windows of his apartment the streets begin to stir. He can hear the bass notes of the bus passing by and the whine and crash of a garbage truck collecting its stock and trade. Pretty soon it will be dawn and the new day begun. Daniel knows that he needs to write down the emotions that he is feeling. That he needs to examine what he is feeling so that do not force themselves out in other ways that would be far more destructive. He needs to figure out these feelings so that he could move on.
He picks up the computer and lets it power on. As it is in perpetual stand-by mode it boots quickly. Daniel opens the file named bbbanks for baby boy Banks. It contains photographs that have been taken of the newest addition to the Damroche clan, Zachary Arron Banks born just a week ago. BZ Bee, as Daniel has taken to calling him is the first male born into the family in nearly 50 years and the look on his fathers face when he held his grandson for the first time –a look of love combined with awe shaped with the satisfaction of finally fulfilling a long held goal- almost drove him from the room. He stayed and watched as his big bear of father was turned into a cooing machine by this 7lb 1oz miracle. It brought back to him all the things that could have been and never were but then again those thoughts were never farther away than the sounds of children playing. But he was pretty sure that the birth of his nephew alone would cause his nightmare to reappear after an absence of so many years.
The first picture in the file was a close up of the baby’s face while being held by his sister. The baby’s cap was a little askance but you could clearly see the Damroche family features on his face, the serious brow, the strong nose, and cupid like lips. In other baby Zack was a pre-shrunk version of his father. He smiled but the picture also brought back memories of yet another time in his life.
It was early February 2002 and Daniel had been watching the sun set over lower Manhattan and New Jersey from his offices his 27th Floor office at Sports.com. The sky was alight in pink, purples and grays and he could tell by the thin white strips of clouds in the sky that it was both cold and windy outside. He looked south and saw the empty sky where the towers used to be. Just a few months before he had watched as that nightmare had unfolded. He had heard the first jet as it flew over head. He had seen the second jet slam into the south tower. He had watched with unbelieving eyes the collapse of the first and then the second tower. Then the nightmare of a walk home in a city so quiet you could hear your fellow refugees’ foot steps. He remembered walking through Central Park and seeing clusters of people sitting on the grass in a circle around a radio while fighter jets screamed across the sky. He recalled that someone had placed a single rose on the “Imagine” mosaic in Strawberry Fields.
Like most New Yorkers let alone most Americans that day had really rocked him. Ground that was once solid now quivered. Values once closely held were now re-examined more closely and the conviction that tomorrow was another day replaced with the certainty that none of us is owed anything beyond the present.
It was not unusual for Daniel to awaken at 3AM and be unable to fall asleep as his mind raced. “What was he doing with his life? What thing of value had he contributed to anyone but himself? What would be left of him after he was gone? Would he die alone? Is there something after this? Would anyone ever care he existed? What is it we truly leave behind when we go? Aren’t children the only real contribution most of make to society? Would Mia ever relent and have children…..” These sessions of self doubt, insignificance, and fear would usually result with him climbing out of bed at 5:30 in the morning and heading for the gym for a run before work. His eyes had developed deep circles and the feeling of warmth and safety that he usually felt at home had morphed into a sense of being shut in and trapped.
Tonight those emotions were front and center. Daniel could not bear the thoughts of walking through the dark, cold and brownstone lined streets of the upper west side. They seemed so noir and foreboding. The idea of an evening in his apartment alone eating take out food and watching the Discovery Channel made him feel like a character in a Dickens’s or an O’Henry story….a person who had no life and no legacy…An individual in every worse sense of that word. It made him yearn for a family of his own.
Daniel sat down at his desk and picked up the phone and dialed his sister Marisol’s phone number. 10 years his junior she was the sibling that he never knew that he wanted and while he was a kid he had done almost everything in the world that he could to do to torment her. But that had all changed when he had returned home from college. The baby 8 year old he had left behind had been transformed in a wonderful and charming young lady. Their relationship changed. She became one his best friends and he tried to do all that he could to spoil her and make up for the years that he had tormented her.
Luckily she was home and even more fortunate she had no dinner plans. Oliver, her husband, was away on a business trip and the plans she had made had fallen through. The hard part was picking a place to eat. She was a foodie in the truest sense of the word while he was jaded after many years of expense account meals. The good news is that they were both in the mood for the same time of place. They wanted a restaurant that had both warmth and style, where the food tended to be simple and real not precious. They want a place that had a conviviality that was palpable from the moment you walked in the door. They eventually decided on a restaurant called Tonic. Located on a side street in Chelsea, it was a converted turn of the century saloon that had two distinct areas. The dining room which offered elegant dining in 19th century style including, high ceilings, gas lamps and huge sprays of flowers and the lovingly restored saloon with brass fixtures, dark wood banquets, and a white tile floor. The food served was best described as comfort food. It was the only place Daniel had ever ordered Pot Roast from the menu.
His glasses fogged the minute he walked into the restaurant. After he had wiped them off he could see that he and Marisol were not the only ones who didn’t want to be at home tonight. The bar was tightly packed with a mixture of neighborhood people and business folk. As he searched for his sister he could hear people laughing and see men and women conduct the mating dance that was quite particular to bars in New York City. He was happy to see it. For months after 9-11 people had hunkered down and nested and while that might be good for other parts of the country it was oddly unsettling in the city that never sleeps. He thought “Pretty soon people will stop being so nice to each other and the city can get back to normal.” The thought made him smile. Only in New York would someone wish for a return to what some people might mistake for rudeness but he had always thought of as being the direct and honest expression of feelings.
He made his way through the crowd at the bar and saw that Marisol was waiting for him at Maitre Ds Podium. She was chatting up the hostess, no doubt trying to get them a choice table. He walked up to her and they hugged and it was all he could do to keep himself from crying. The emotion had snuck up on him but he was not completely surprised by it. The last few months had made him reexamine his life and as a consequence his emotions were never too far from the surface. But it was also more than that. It was seeing his sister and realizing not for the first time how well she lived up to the meaning of her name “sunlit sea.” She made him feel like he was a part of something bigger than himself and that he was valued and loved and no matter what road he decided to follow with his life she would be with him unconditionally.
Marisol’s work on the hostess paid off. They were given one of the few old style dark wood banquets that lined one wall of the tavern part of the restaurant. The table of the banquet was rough hewn wood that you used to see in bars in college towns with initials scratched in them. These had no messages scrawled into them but the texture and look of the wood brought him back to far more innocent and simple time in his life and he was grateful for it.
“Danny, you are the beverage maven. What should we be drinking this evening.”
“Are you thinking of having wine?”
“Doesn’t go with the Mac and Cheese I am planning on having tonight.”
“Ok. Hmmm. It’s cold out. This place makes me feel like we are back in the days of Tammany Hall and we are going to have food that is solidly all American so it has to be Bourbon.”
“Mamma bourbon” replied Marisol doing her best impression of Homer Simpson. “Now what kind?”
This made Daniel smile. He knew when he was being played. Marisol had been adept at manipulating the men of her family practically from the time she sprung from the womb. He could remember observing her interact with their father after he had returned from college and saw how she wrapped him around her finger by just always asking him questions and listening as if he was the anointed one. She was doing that to him now and he really didn’t care. He loved the fact that she sensed that he needed tender loving care and was providing it to him without him having to ask.
“Why don’t we have some Bookers Noe. It is bottled at full strength, 120 proof, so you have to be careful to mix in a decent amount of water, but it is a single cask whiskey and the distiller is the great grandson of Jack Daniels himself so it is wonderfully warm and chewey.”
When their drinks arrived Daniel toasted his sister “To my sister, and my friend, thanks for coming out with me tonight. I needed to be with someone and I can’t think of a person that I would rather be with than you.”
They clinked glasses, sipped their bourbon, and made small talk as the brown liquid slowly worked its magic. They ordered dinner and another round of drinks when Danny saw that Marisol was looking at him a little oddly. “What.”
“You are my brother and I love you and I am a little drunk so I can say this.”
“You look like shit. You have been circles under your eyes. You are slouching. You look grey and you don’t have any spark. You look like shit and I want to know why.”
So Daniel explained about the sleepless nights. The questions that had been plaguing him since the Twin Towers had fallen. How each night he lay in bed tossing and turning trying to figure how to navigate this river of life…that he was looking for meaning and finding little and how lost that made him feel. Worse than that he thought he knew at least some of the answers to the questions but felt powerless to reach them.
“Like having a family. Like having children. These late night sessions have reminded me that all I have wanted all my life is a home…a wife to adore and be adored by…children to love and cherish. I am 44 fucking years old and the only thing of value in life just seems beyond my reach.”
“What about Mia?”
“What about her?”
“Does she want a family…does she want to have children.”
“That is such a complicated answer I don’t know even know where to begin. A good part of the time I don’t even know is she wants to have a relationship. Not because she doesn’t love me. I know that she does but because she has so many walls that she puts up and every time I think that I have scaled the last one she seems to erect another that is higher and more difficult to climb. It is as if I have to constantly prove my devotion and love even though I provide mine unconditionally.”
“But does she want to have a family?
“I don’t know. It is hard enough to get her to commit to the relationship….she says that she is open to anything but that she has serious reservations about having children. She says that she is probably too old to have them….probably too old to change her life style around to accommodate children.”
“What did you say to her when she said that to you?”
“I asked her if she didn’t feel like there was something missing from her life because she didn’t have children. And she replied that she had lots of nieces and nephews, that she was godmother to more, and that she felt that was enough. And then I asked doesn’t it feel like something is missing from her life and she no.”
“So she really did give you an answer then didn’t she?”
“Yeah, she did but she also held the door open for me to change her mind.”
“Do you think that you will.”
“Change her mind?”
Daniel thought for a second, then took a sip of his Bourbon, looked Marisol in the eyes and said “No.” They were quiet for a while… Daniel trying to figure out what to do with the understandings that this conversation had produced, and Marisol trying to figure out what to say to both comfort and guide her brother.
“Marisol can I ask you a question that I have never asked because I thought it was rude and intrusive but I have always wondered about it and I need to know the answer tonight more than ever.”
When she nodded her head he asked “Are you and Oliver going to have Babies.”
She smiled and replied “We are trying Danny. You never know what is going to happen but we are trying.”
Daniel looked down at the the table trying to hide the emotions that were just under the surface. “Can I be there favorite Uncle….the one who takes them to cool places and spoils them rotten. The one they call when they are getting on with Mom and Dad. The one whose Christmas present they always want to open up first but save for last because they know it is going to be so much fun. If I never have babies, and even I do can I treat yours like they are my own?”
Marisol watched the tears rolling his face and said “Danny my children will your children.”
Daniel blinked back the tears that the recollection of that evening had produced. Marisol had proven good to her word. When his niece Emily had been born she had made sure that Daniel was a part of her life and a very special bond had been created between them. Anyone who had heard him speak of his niece, or saw them together, knew that their relationship was special. He wondered what shape his relationship with baby Zach would take. He knew it would be good but would it be as special as it was Emily?
He heard the sound of a comforter rustling in the other room. It was followed by the pad of footsteps out of the bedroom and into bathroom. After a flush the foot steps returned, followed by the sound of the bed creaking and the comforter being moved again. Mia had not even noticed that he wasn’t in bed and that made him both sad and angry. Angry because it hurt his ego and pride that not being in bed would go without notice. He knew that if the shoe had been on the other foot that he would have gone looking for her. People had different styles and personalities and that was fine but he really thought of it as being more symbolic of a bigger truth.
It was the bigger truth that made him sad. Would she miss him if he wasn’t around any longer? His suspicion for sometime had been that he was not really her partner. Partners are missed and there loss mourned. But he wasn’t her partner and despite his efforts to create the relationship of equals he sought he was beginning to see that this would never be. He had often mused that he was more like an accessory. One that generally spiced up the outfit, made it complete, and presented a good image to the outside world but an accessory none the less. And what happened to accessories when they are lost or lose their charm? They are either put into a drawer never to be seen again or there loss mourned until a ready replacement found.
He had no desire to live a sad, angry, and replaceable life. It was not in his nature. He was determined to find a path that led him to peace and happiness, no matter how fleeting they may be. No matter if that path to them was lined with loneliness and heartbreak. He felt he owed to himself. He also felt he owed to his relatives who not had a chance at a life, whose life had been cut short because of anger and hate to live a life of joy and renewal.
He thought he owed himself and his family love. Did he love Mia? He knew that on many levels he did. She was a kind decent woman moreover she had a heart that was generally in the right place. But was that enough? Her desire to live a life without the burden of children had demonstrated certain selfishness about her that he had not seen before. Not the petty type of egocentricity that children demonstrate when they don’t want to share their toys but a self centeredness that resided far closer to the soul and while not evil was insidious none the less.
The blare of a fire engine’s siren broke his concentration. Since 9-11, a day of endless sirens, he always looked to see the trucks go by and wish them men on board “Gods speed.” The fire engine had stopped in front of the building across the street, its flashing red lights reflecting off the windows in the pre-dawn light. The firemen were rushing off the truck into the apartment house. He hoped that everyone was okay. That there were no injuries and the firefighters could leave this place without harm. His second thought was that his three year old niece would think this as neat as can be and he would have to remember her all about it when he called her later that day.
As he sat back down in his chair, he ruminated on the thought that the first person that he wanted to tell about the excitement outside his window was Emily. It reminded him of a conversation that he had with mother many years before.
He was in his off and had been to his embarrassment quietly crying for awhile. Normally he did not indulge in feeling sorry for himself. To him it was a waste of time. What was, was. Your job in life was to press on, to find a way out of whatever mess you happen to be in, and run and catch happiness if you could. He also knew that he was human. He realized that there were times that no matter how disciplined one was in searching for the bright side that one found darkness instead. When those moments happened he knew that the best way to get beyond it was to experience it for a while and then use the anger and frustration that these feeling are sure to generate to climb above it.
This day had been one of those days where no matter how hard he had tried he could not seem to find the sunlight. He had a conversation with his soon to be ex-wife over their property settlement. They did not really have a lot of things to split but he thought he had taken great care to be fair to divide up their possessions in a way that gave them both what they had wanted. However she had not seen that way. She had wanted a number of items that she had loved but were keepsakes from his family. He knew that she was really negotiating for something else that she really wanted but had lost his temper anyway. Not as much because of what she had said but more because of what they had become. They were once a couple who had cared if not loved each other immensely. Now they were arguing over petty things and doing so in petty ways. And while the seeds of destruction of their marriage were brought by both of them, he had been the one to germinate them.
What frustrated him more and scared him more was the fact that he had no idea how he gotten here. How could something like love that seemed so simple to other people be so difficult to him? Why he couldn’t find the one thing in life that he really wanted: a soul mate? What was it about him that kept him from finding the dreams he was looking for? Did he even understand what love was? Was he somehow missing the point?
Each question, each piece of self doubt seemed to drive him deeper and deeper into despair. He knew that this could not continue. That this darkness would take him to places he did not want to visit and more immediately he needed to get back to work unless he wanted to turn his life into a true nightmare. Daniel wondered who he could talk to help him through to the other side. He picked up the phone and dialed the only number he could think to dial at the time.
“Hey baby, how are you?”
“Bad day Mom. I feel like some one has unscrewed the top of my skull and poured dirt inside my head and started stirring it was a dirty stick. I am just so frustrated that everything I seem to touch right now is turning to shit.”
“What do you think set you off.”
“Well, Abby and I are trying to figure out the property settlement. It turns out she wants one of Aunt Helene’s paintings and she also wants some of Grandma’s furniture. She claims that she needs them to start a new life but I think she is really trying for something else even though I can’t figure out quite what she wants.”
“So why is that so frustrating to you Danny. You have never been that into things per se.”
“It is not the things. Even though those our families things if it was just them I would let her have them in an instant. It’s really more what has become of her and me. I mean for Christ sakes we used to love each other and now we are finding over things that are just not that important to either one of us. “
“So what is frustrating you.”
“I am frustrated because I never want to get myself in this mess again and this whole incident just serves as a reminder of that. I am frustrated because I have no idea what love is and I am frightened that if I don’t find out that I will just keep reliving this nightmare.”
Danny started to cry and his mother waited for his sobbing to stop. When he caught his breath he said “Mom, do you know what love is. I mean can you help me figure out what it is”
There is a long pause on the other end of the phone. “Danny I don’t know if I can help you much. I don’t really know any really good definitions of love. What I can tell you is something’s my father once said to me that while not defining love at least allows you to know when you are in the right ball park”
“The first test of love he said was if you were walking down the street and you saw something that caught your eye, not even something big, but just something that amused you, who would be the first person you would want to tell? The person that you most often want to share these things with is the person whom you love. The second test of love, is who makes you smile on the inside…like you have a secret that no one else knows…who whenever you think of them you can help but smile. The third test is who are the first person you think of in the morning, and the last person at night. Whoever that person is that is the person you love. And the final test is this. Imagine yourself with only a few minutes left in life, whose hand you want to be holding because that is the person whom you love.”
“Didn’t Grandpa die holding Grandma’s hand?”
“So he lived what he preached.”
“Yes. And you don’t have to ask the next question. You know the answer….
“So with two such fine examples how did I manage to fuck it up so badly.”
“You didn’t fuck up Daniel. You just made a mistake and now are the time to accept it and move on.”
“I know but sometimes the mountain just seems so steep and the mountain top is no where in sight…
“You will find your way Daniel. You will find the energy to get to the mountaintop.”
“That is why I am here. I love you…”
Daniel sat in the big chair in his living room the memory of the conversation lingering like the morning mist over water. That conversation had been a turn around point for him and the tests that his mother had given him that day had at least helped him to build a framework. He thought about the checklists and then he thought about Mia and suddenly the apartment seemed too small. He grabbed his keys and was out the door.
There was a light breeze coming off the river. The air smelled sweet today with only hint of brine. Birds still clattered in the trees near his bench and the clink clank of the cars on the Westside Highway had become more frequent. On the path near his bench a woman elegantly attired in a Puma jogging suit and wearing in-line skates flew by being pulled by her German Shepherd Dog. He smiled to himself, amused by sight but amazed about how effortlessly some people seem to live their lives.
The deep bass tones of a ships horn came from the river. He turned to see a black and blue tug pushing a barge downstream, its progress slowed by the incoming tide. He stared at the boat and the slow but steady progress on its path downriver. Daniel smirked. He knew that boat. It was not the fastest ship on the river and even though it was headed in the right direction, he suspected that it spent a lot of its time pushing against the current. He was pretty sure that the boat had sounded its horn not out of warning but out of frustration about not making as much progress as he ought to and he knew that the ship would eventually make port no matter what its struggle.
Daniel watched the ceaseless flow of the river. Like life it just kept moving along whether we wanted it to our not. Sometimes you had to go with the tide to reach your destination and sometimes you need to fight it. Either way it was up to you to pick your destination.
Daniel got up to leave just as the woman on rollers blades came flying by. Totally out of control. No control whatsoever. And yet there was huge smile on her face. ‘Well that’s another way he thought. Although…not for me. I am too scared of skinned knees or worse.
Taking a look back at the river he saw that the tug had made a little progress against the current. He knew he had to as well. It was time to tell Mia which direction he was heading.