A voice mail from a man whose name and number don’t show up on the caller ID. He says he’s been reading my blog with great interest and that if I need legal help to call him. His message is hard to plumb – his voice is polite, friendly, but also not frank and casual. You can tell he’s not showing all his cards. I save his message.
A friend says she’ll call a local journalist. She thinks the ashram’s threat is newsworthy.
Jonathan emails at 7 a.m., advising me to tell the agent who’s looking at my submission about the threat. He thinks it’ll help.
Part of me wants to fold up the drama into a tiny wad of paper, make it disappear and me along with it. Not most of me wants this, but I feel the strong urge to shrink back into the shadows, an urge that for a long time seemed like something good people, pious people, would follow. Let me stand in the shadows until someone peers into the darkness and notices me. That’s what I must wait for. Anything else would be unseemly. Now I push back against that urge to disappear and pretend I am not here.
It reminds me of my mother.
Lots of things remind me of my mother.
The way I worry about money, how even when I have it I am thinking that it won’t last.
My father went bankrupt. First, he spent a lot of money. Mostly in the life he had when he wasn’t at home. He had two lives and he liked the one that was separate from us better. in some ways. But he liked to come back to the house to rest and recoup.
He brought a leather handbag home once. He tried to use it for a little while. It was the seventies and I think there was a brief fashion attempt to get men to carry handbags.
He decided to call up one of those companies that publishes your book for you. He didn’t try to find an agent. I think he submitted it perhaps to one contact, someone his doctor knew and when that didn’t work there was no way he was going to go through the humiliating process of trucking that manuscript around. He’d do it himself.
He gave himself a party at the Waldorf Astoria and invited about fifty people to dinner where he stood and gave a talk about his book from behind a lectern.
And that was about it.
His book was about economics.
You talk to my dad for five minutes and you’ll get maybe a couple minutes of his actual attention and then he will pull the plug and start to talk about how they never should have moved away from the gold standard after World War 2.
My mother, in the years before the bankruptcy, my last three years of high school, split pennies, bought hot dogs, said one sweater is all you need and finally started answering ads in the Pennysaver to take care of invalids and old people.
I remember when she started doing that. It was strange. It had an independence to it, but also a giving up, a giving in as if all along there had been a voice in her head that who did she think she was, she wasn’t worth more than an hourly wage to clean up someone’s puke.
She wore a dress then, a narrow belt at the waist, the top like a button-down short-sleeved shirt, the skirt loose, past her knees – white cottony fabric with a pale red pattern. She’d gotten it from a catalog. Her slip showed beneath it sometimes. She didn’t look pretty anymore. I could see she had given up on that too.
And then my father on weekends running out to the fancy bakery before the guests arrive. Buying new wine glasses hours before the guests arrive. Credit cards.
“Going bankrupt was the easiest $50,000 I ever made,” he said to me, laughing as if it were funny but knowing it wasn’t.
They sold the house. That was the other part of the solution, the house he’d bought in 1960 for $10,000 and held onto for just over twenty years – proud of that house he was.
My youngest sister has a framed photo of that house on the wall in the ranch house on the cul-de-sac in Siloicon Valley that she and her husband bought about twelve years ago. When they bought that house I thought of it as two young kids buying a house so they had a place to sleep not too far from the office. It took me a w long time to realize that no, they actually chose that house. Two adults who wanted to live there. I thought I knew my sister, but I knew her only as a family member, not as an adult.
My father has the same photo of the Armonk house framed too.
I don’t. I dream about that house pretty often. And I drive by it every year or so though it has become something I don’t recognize anymore, dolled up to match the neighborhood.
I spoke to my father on the phone a couple of weeks ago. He said my mother had told him I had published a book and he wanted to read it. “It’s just on the Internet,” I explain, wondering why my mother mentioned it to him. “It’s not a real book yet.” My mother knows that my father wants to read anything I write and she has already told me that my book isn’t “tactful” enough, that I have “ruffled people’s feathers.” Why would she want to draw my father into it when it’s so easy to keep him in the dark?
“Send me your book,” my father says, with forced cheer, as if this is a happy simple thing. “I want to read it so much.” I say that I will.
And then my father almost begins to cry. “Life is short,” he says. “It’s over before you know it.”