All Balls Itch

Another girl pretending to be a guy so she can write freely. And not get fired. Or divorced. Or lose friends.

and that’s how hard it was

on July 4, 2012

They call me Uncle Tom. Oreo. Coconut.

Wannabe. Tryanbe.  Neverbe.

A fake. A sellout. A shame.

I call me Me.

With no pretense or plan.  No aspirations for capitalized title. A moniker.  An also known as.  I just wanted calm. Peace. Stability.  Only I was looking for clouds with a metal detector– thinking every beep and light signaled that I was going in the right direction. It took me until now to realize not every sign and sound is indicative of divine intervention. Sometimes a noise is just a noise.

But these are things people learn in stable homes, right? Or at least that’s the plan. That two people come together and cultivate a person that is more than themselves.  A person who will know from creation what it took these two decades of stubbed toes and bruised parts to know is true—that confidence is everything.  So the parents tell kids things that make them believe they are special and smart and loved.  Parental units establish a practice community through sleepovers, AYSO, the scouts; so progeny learn life’s lessons before scars set up residence permanently. So that your kid can look danger, heartbreak, solace, and challenge square in the eye with a smirk that raises only one side of their mouths and says, “Bring it, asshole.”

I know these lives exist because I (un)consciously surround myself with them. I have a homing beacon for the stable and I hitch myself to their trajectories like a stubborn sea barnacle. Every friend I had growing up (and they were few) exuded confidence as though it was their given right.  As though it never occurred to them there was any other way to be. They were the type of people everyone called by both names. The Jake Ryans. The Ferris Buellers. Whereas I, in all of my awkward and confusion, was just Duckie. The Freshman. The Basketcase.

From what I can cobble together from years of overshares about their marriage, my parents had no business being together. Only neither of them knew it at the time.  Had it existed 40 years ago, eHarmony would have referred them to ePickSomeoneElseFool.  Like a dream pair of shoes that don’t go with anything in your closet, but you know that if you brought them home you’d find some way to make them go.  Yeah, that was them.  Only my dad is all flannel and polyester and NOTHING goes with that.  But they were bright and young with promising futures and they made sense on paper.  My dad had little family and my mom, who’s parents both remarried (white people, ironically, but more on that later), had tons.  Unfortunately, my dad had a plan for how he wanted his family constructed that he either didn’t communicate with my mom or it was one she thought he was kidding about.  Mainly because it deviated from their dating life so drastically.  My dad wanted to go from dancing in clubs to the wee hours, smoking stuff I was told not to, weekends in the Poconos playing spades with their couple-friends; to coming home to a hot meal prepared by his voluntarily unemployed housewife and 2 happy young girls who couldn’t wait to hand daddy the remote so they could all watch the Jets game together.  My mom’s version conjures images of a tanned Al Bundy with a better job and no dog.

They separated when I was 2.

For a time, my mom raised my sister and I in a Brooklyn high rise and I recall constant visits with my dad.  Puppet shows, amusement parks, movies, weekends at the Connecticut hotel where we swam until we looked like pink bathing suited prunes.  People muse that I learned to swim so young, but today his teaching “method” would be called to question. Had anyone seen my giant father in his sadly tropical trunks drop his infant child off the high dive, they would have called Child Protective Services. I, literally, had to sink or swim.  But I think about that time with a mix of unbridled love and cynicism. This huge man carting around 2 girls, with a 7-year age gap, could not have been easy. What do a 5 year old and a 12 year old both find entertaining? What’s with all the pink? Why do they cry so easily?  But we managed…. with some assistance from The Girlfriends.  Oh, the girlfriends.

In retrospect, I get that my dad must’ve been this major catch.  Great job, loving and supportive of his children, can fix anything, loves to eat out, likes nice things, and generous.  Hugh Hefner meets Bill Cosby meets Bob The Builder.  But The Girlfriends were a United Colors of Benetton ad with Rosie Perez accents.  Short, tall, skinny, fat, kids, no kids, international, domestic.  When I was small, I loved The Girlfriends because they doted the hell on me.  My sister was a harder nut to crack, because my adult eyes now tell me she saw through their thinly veiled plan.  They knew they couldn’t get to him through her, so they all went through me. The weak one in the pack.  My affection would be bought and sold with candy, clothes and Barbies.  “Daddy, when are we going to The Girlfriend #1s house?”  “Not now, we’re going to Girlfriend #3. And don’t say a word about us spending the light at Girlfriend #2s house!”.  When I mention this to him now, he says “What? I wasn’t married!”

My bad.

Eventually Brooklyn and the Bronx felt far too close and my mother relocated us to Southern California when I was 6.  No Kramer vs. Kramer moment. No tearful “I promise to write you every day” departure. Just one day I lived in snow and the next I lived in sunshine.

And that’s how hard that was.


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