the zeitgeist that fueled our candy red tercel with sweet dreams for the future, heralding us all the way down route 66.
"slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball..."
[that and $1.15 a gallon for gas.]
like oasis, we lived and breathed infectious energy back in '95, until we choked. it's not that the city doesn't live up to its moniker. it's just angels vanish in the smog, when you live and breathe it too long.
so i arrived for my weekly visitation with my fur daughter.
wagging tail. check. bum sniff. check. "where-have-you-been?" squeal. check.
but, it was checkmate for my not-so-sexy-looking, not-yet-ex.
"are you ok?".
"my back really hurts.".
a man who may very well have a fractured disc (mri pending), stood before me, all dressed up with no place to pipe.
for the last 12 years, k. has been playing pipes at a birthday party for "peaches". this is not a code word. i don't think k. even knows her name. but i don't think "peaches" will be online surfing, accidentally stumbling upon my blog. "peaches" is 94. her daughter, l., hit on k. at a cemetery after he played a funeral, introduced herself, explained how much her "mother" adores the bagpipes, and k. being k., has played at "peaches" birthday party ever since.
but k. being k., who, for all intents and purposes, bit down on a stick for a week after having a kidney ripped from his guts, had not taken a pain pill. and looked it.
"do you want me to drive you?".
i'm not sure what was more surprising. me agreeing to drive him to simi valley, thereby sacrificing my floor exercise routine with maggie, or k. agreeing that he needed help. either way, it was a milestone moment in the ivanans-mcintyre household.
yum. the irony was delicious. i would have licked my fingers, but i was too busy adjusting my chauffeur cap and gloves.
there we were. the mirror image of the way we were. in the role of barbra, i drove, with a crystal clear view of kevin's past; defogged. petal to the metal, this legal eagle flew, under the speed limit now. no bugs to smear my vista, no drugs to steal my soul. i glanced over at k. in the role of robert, bob to his friends, and in my mind's eye i gently pushed back a lock of hair as he slept. i leaned over to turn on the radio,
"someday you will find me, caught beneath the landslide..."
his silence directly proportional to his pain level, i was soon privy to buzzy musings about l.'s devotion to her mother, her hard-knock-life and the party that usually included subway sandwiches, faithful friends and care workers, all topped by a champagne cake.
you know, these are things you just don't think about until you get sober.
and soon enough all i was thinking about staying sober.
l. was definitely one of the reasons why, if someone had asked me a year ago at a party, "can i get you something to drink?", i would have rapidly, and most assuredly responded, "yes, PLEASE. a big FAT vodka soda with extra lime."
but this was a party that didn't even serve alcohol. god. no wonder they had a champagne cake.
l. was a lovely hostess. a gracious hostess. and i guess l. was trying to make up for the fact that "peaches" doesn't talk at all.
l. was very concerned that her minor leg operation become the topic of conversation. the physio she was enduring! the horrible ignorance of doctors! all before the front door clicked shut. never mind the double-transplanted woman standing before her whom, "she'd heard so much about, and was finally meeting!". meanwhile, the double-transplanted woman felt her protective, albeit separated, wifely fur-coat hackle sharply, vibrate in high c.; screaming for the quiet soldier beside her. her man in uniform; suited up, doped up, quietly grinning and bearing-backing his load as only k. can.
but, it takes one to know one, right?
this kindergarden certified chatty-cathy, ("henriette shows great intelligence, but is a little chatterbox.") thawed to l.'s siberian insecurities; initially isolating, but upon exploration, a vast, uncharted resource. l. was lovely, if not subtle, delegating marching orders to every member of the party, while constantly reminding us there were more a-listers on call.
but, at long last, the pipes called.
"your husband! he's so talented! you must be so proud!"
they clamored around the little red-haired girl, while k., with mastered flexibility, snapped photos with his right hand, cradled his pipes under his left shoulder, and balanced the entire act with the smooth, comedic timing of a highly-rated neilsen sitcom. and with the deft deflection of the token quirky/overweight/gay/politically incorrect character, she quipped, "what was the third thing you did at k.'s wedding?", completely blanking as to the trifecta of talents he had perfected at his sister's wedding.
"sing!", k. called over his shoulder, on his way back out to strike up.
"oh, yes! k. sang, took pictures and played the pipes at his sister's wedding!", she proclaimed, hands clasped in front of her chest.
[i will not insert a joke about low self-esteem. i will not insert a joke about low self-esteem. i will not...]
and just to button up that "veryspecialblossom" episode, l. hovered over us, breezily reminiscing as to the time and place she met k.. then her sharp denoument, the moment she realized he had a wife.
"...then you pulled a business card out of your wallet, and i saw this stunning woman on it, and when you said she was your wife, i thought, geez, what a beautiful, perfect couple..."
and it just hung there.
the truth. the truth that only we knew. and we smothered it quick with a blanket of soft chuckles, sidelong glances and awkward kicks towards a dying fire.
and through it all sat "peaches". through the party, the piping, the pursuit of perfection.
she reminded me of a mall santa with her chubby, jolly presence, so pretty in pink, silently soaking up each moment; distractingly dense with peace and joy.
and she reminded me of bedstemor. sunny, simple, smiling bedstemor, who was "just" a homemaker, and "just" a mom, but when she smiled, everyone felt it in their cheekbones.
their ability to unearth joy from grim rot.
["how to eat fried worms", indeed.]
bedstemor with a cancer-riddled spine; morphine-coated throat, straining only for my self-preservation, self-respect.
and "peaches", a decade without breath for words or walk. but, for not one second does she need them.
there we sat. side by side. slices of cake passed overhead. my polite decline either unheard or ignored. and so it landed. and i stared. my favorite. the slice with grainy, neon-pink flower. innocuous rose. symbolic sin. just one bite. one sip. one pill. maybe not today, tomorrow, but suddenly, shockingly, you are begging, crying, dumpster-diving; shoving anyone who stands in the way into the current that is taking you down...
it was a simple gesture. surgically precise and quick. in and out.
i blinked. and blinked again.
in the silent seconds k. had ravaged his fluffy slice, i had daydreamed about the room, frozen stare; smile. and in a curt, covert action, worthy of insertion into an opening sequence of a daniel-craig-bond-flick, k. had sliced my piece in half, manoeuvred it onto his plate, and wolfed a reasonable portion thereof, before squishing the remainder to look like he was appropriately stuffed and sated with sugary sweetness.
it was the door slam heard around the world.
or for those not up on their ibsen, my world got a little bit brighter.
[my champagne supernova.]
whenever that song shocks onto the waves, we bolt into the past, and k. invariably comments, in a way that only a wife, ex-or-not, can find endearing, how the song reminds him of the time when we moved to l.a.
[initially a fantastic explosion, that ejects most of its mass.]
after the smoke and mirrors are packed away, what lies beneath is the truth.
and sometimes the truth is a half-eaten piece of cake; words don't matter.
champagne stops flowing and supernovas burn out.
"but you and i will never die, the world's still spinning 'round, we don't know why..."
love never dies.
[happy birthday, "peaches".]