Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Six months down and a life time to go

The thing about writing is that you're always looking for a new way to say the same thing. Why is that? It's because over time, our common thoughts turn into ready-to-use phrases. These phrases get used because they're so perfect for a time--and then they get used too much, and eventually become cliche. The cliche loses its strength, sort of like expired medicine or last year's nail polish color. Okay, not exactly, but we simply have to search for fresh ways to use words every day. Don't we?

Reading books translated from foreign languages can help. The French would say "Tu parles Francais comme une vache Espagnol." It translates to "You speak French like a Spanish cow." Not something you'd say to an American with lousy French, I'm sure--but isn't it funny to know their common expression. I guess we'd say, "He sounds like he's just off the boat," or some such. I remember when I lived in France, I once had my haircut by an Italian man. After that I knew how to say, "Now I'm going to cut your hair," in French, but with an Italian accent. That cracked me up. More poignant, I suppose, was the fact that many of the domestics living in France were Portuguese. I learned to recognize that accent (the Portuguese accent in French) as well. Words, words, words. They're the bomb.

Today I woke up knowing that tomorrow marks six months from the day my dad died in Udaipur, that crazy little town in India with the palaces in the middle of the big lake--the "Venice of India." Where the movie Octopussy was shot, they say. The Venice of India is not such a good place to get sick, by the way. So as you can imagine--I cried a lot this morning as I tried to collect memories of that day. We had a great flight, but then the disappointment at arriving at a hotel that seemed dilapidated and depressing, and sort of walled in. There was our ride in the tuktuk that felt more like a refurbished mo-ped from 1976, than something three grownups should be riding around the "Venice of India" in. We finally saw the lake and the palaces we'd read about, and even a camel or two on the side of the road. We stopped at a beautiful garden--an ancient royal garden of some sort. That's where I took the photo of my dad with all the jokers--a group of sophisticated teenage Indian tourists wearing sunglasses. They were just my dad's type. There was an enormous fountain filled up with lily pads, and then we saw a beautiful curvy woman in a yellow sari, and we said that was the Indian version of my mom. He told me his last joke there, and we gave some change to a very poor woman and her toddler.

When Henry woke up at 7:15 this morning, he came in my room. When I told him to look out the window at the shivering tree, that today would be chilly unlike yesterday, he made a "brrr" sound, and climbed into our bed. I looked at his little bronzed face and told him I'd spent the morning crying. I told him that tomorrow was the six month anniversary of Oompah. He looked at me in total sympathy, his eyes welled up, and he smiled. "Oompah was the best joke teller." That's what he said. I can see my dad shaking his head. He just loved Henry.

So my head and my heart were heavy (but open) all morning as I re-wrote a satisfying sibling fight scene in the draft of the book I will someday share, and Eric left with the boys. Yet I couldn't stay in bed with my beautiful new laptop all day (Thanks, MOM!) I had to go out into the world to see the dermatologist. Going out into the world--that's when things happen. Fifty-eighth and Sutton Place may not sound so bad to you, but to us, it may as well be Minneapolis or Timbuktu. I threw the apartment back together, put on a dress that matched my beautiful brown Repetto ballet flats (Thanks, Shela!) and wrapped myself in one of the big hand-woven scarves my dad and I picked out at Harry's, the store in South Bombay where he bought two rugs for my mom. I cracked myself up, saying: "Did you ever get the feeling that the scarf you're wearing is really a table runner?" I imagined him laughing, too. I think it actually might be a table runner. How does one know? Well, I'm always imagining him laughing. Maybe that's when I miss him the most. That's always when I realize how much I miss his voice. He had so many of them (voices) but several of them were just so gentle. For a guy with a raspy voice, he really was able to sound like a pussy cat.
So I'd made my way to the Middle-East of Manhattan, and there I was--right at the on-ramp of the Queensboro Bridge. God in heaven! Who wants to cross that? But I guess my old Pop was watching, because as the light turned red for the ramp, I heard a familiar sound. It went something like this" "Sh-boom, Sh-boom. Ya da da da da da DA da da da da Sh-boom Sh-boom." Now, this is not the typical song you hear coming out of a car window in Manhattan. This is a song from around 1954. So I turned my head to the right, to see where on earth it could be coming from--and there sitting in a big old SUV with a giant YANKEES sticker on it, was an old happy fat guy with shiny greased back gray hair, just singing along to the Chords. I looked straight at his face, and he caught my eye. I sang a long for a few bars, and then I gave the guy the old thumbs up. He smiled. And as I walked away, I talked to my Dad--who I guess was trying to tell me he was okay. "Dad," I said to him. "I'm so glad you're doing okay now. Because you weren't so good the last time I saw you."

So I won't go on and on about how weepy I got. (I'm starting to feel like Holden Caulfied, walking around New York observing old people.) But the whole day has been like that. So I'll just try and wrap up with two thoughts. First, I decided that instead of thinking of tomorrow as the six month anniversary of the day we lost you, Dad, I'll think of today as the six month anniversary of the last time you taught, and I'll just say to those students at the American School in Bombay: You guys were really, really lucky.

And I'll finish by making sure Dad, that you know I didn't just sit around and cry all day. Like I said, I went to the dermatologist (something we always did together) and then I went to a thrift shop and bought a pair of really cute shoes for ten bucks and a pair of black silk capris (also $10)--just like the ones Mary Tyler Moore used to wear on the Dick Van Dyke show. (I know you loved her.) Oh yeah, then I bought some yellow Freesia and made a little shrine on the living room table instead of getting one of those depressing candles that Jews use. I know the flowers would probably make you sneeze. Not once, but about sixty five times. So God bless you.

Love you dad. I hope you know how much.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your day!

  2. Jill, this is gorgeous. Thank you for posting it. Thinking of you!