Saturday, July 4, 2015

Growing Up



























When I lost my dad, I lost the privilege of ever being able to be the child again. My father was my safe place, the grown-up I could turn to when I didn’t know the answer, or needed help, or advice.

When I was in high school, I got pregnant. When my mother found out, she handled it in her typical manner — by physically backing me into a corner and screaming in my face. Fortunately, she then called my father, who’s first words to me were “Are you okay?” And though I wasn’t, he made it ok.

In San Francisco many years later, David stepped on a dirty hypodermic needle and we found ourselves in the Emergency Room at 2am to get him on AZT. Once we were home and David was asleep, I spent the next few hours curled up on the floor of the bathroom crying because I thought my husband was going to die. At first light I called my Dad. I don’t remember what he said, just how much I needed him then and how relieved I felt to be able to talk to him then.

Years later still, David had to travel abroad for work just a few months after Anna was born. I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed. In the middle of the night the all of the smoke detectors in the house, which were connected electrically and could not be disabled, started their high-pitched beep every 60 seconds. Between a baby who was nursing every 2-3 hours and the stress of the shrill noise, I was a mess. Around 4am I emailed Dad telling him I was losing my mind. I can still feel the profound relief I felt when he called first thing that morning and said he was on his way.

And, of course, there’s a flip side to this. Not only can he not comfort me, but there’s no one to be proud of me. To feel nachas when I succeed at something. My father doesn’t know I paint, or that his granddaughter is everything he would have hoped. He doesn’t know that everything is turning out ok. 

Maybe this is a part of growing up that everyone experiences. I know that many of my friends’ parents are going through both physical and mental declines, and that the children are becoming the parents more and more. And, of course, eventually we all lose our parents.


Eight years ago today I was sitting on my couch holding a sick 2-year-old when the phone rang. David answered and then came to me and said it was bad news. I asked what kind of bad news, and he answered “the worst.” I have spent the past eight years avoiding July 4th. We have spent at least four of these years in other countries on that date, in part to get away from the celebration. But today is different. Today I am ready to spend the day with friends and family, barbecuing in our backyard. I will make a toast to Dad, thanking him for giving me all that he did for the 39 years I had with him. It still hurts, but I’m used to being the grown-up now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another birthday

























Christmas, 2006: the last Christmas we spent with my dad.

Usually I have so much to say when I write these posts, but today I find myself at a loss. I just wish my dad was here, as always. I miss him.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Friday, July 4, 2014

Magic Man



























How is it that I've never told the story of the purple room here?

When I was a kid, my dad was a magic man. I think lots of people felt this way about him, but I have proof. I have the stories.

Sometime around 1978 my father moved to a small, Oregon town called Pleasant Hill. He found a 5-bedroom log cabin on a few acres of land, the gravel driveway a mile long. The first time I visited the Pleasant Hill house, the room that would be mine was empty save for a hideous, wall-to-wall, red shag carpet. Also living in this house were my dad's then-girlfriend; her ancient, very hostile cat; and a lesbian couple running a graphic design business called Laughing Giraffe. For reasons that will always remain a mystery, the red shag carpet in my room was where the cat chose to shit.

While spending that first weekend in the house, my father asked me one of his “blue-sky” questions. Those questions turned out to be a constant part of our relationship over the years, but I didn't know that then. “What would your dream bedroom look like?” “Purple,” I told him.

Throughout my childhood I flew between my parents every 6-weeks, or whenever there was a school holiday, whichever came first. The next time I visited my dad, the first question out of my mouth was “Did you have a chance to do anything to my room?" And in perfect Steven fashion he explained that yes, in fact, he had. He went on to describe how he'd had a clear, plastic mat laid down over the entire carpet so that while you could still see the shit, you wouldn't step in it. Ever wonder where I learned to be such a damn smart-ass?

When we arrived at the house, my bedroom door was closed. Opening it, I cried tears of happiness for the first time in my life. A tricolor purple carpet replaced the ugly, red one. A white canopy bed had a beautiful dark purple spread, with a gauzy lavender canopy covered in tiny purple flowers. The sliding-glass doors were covered by curtains made of the same fabric. All the bedding had been handmade by a local woman who seemed to be to be 100 years old (she also made the amazing, quailed hippie vests and skirts that my dad bought me over the years). The walls were painted lavender and sitting in front of one of them was an unfinished, wooden dollhouse for me to paint.

There are so many stories like this about my dad and I want to be clear — this is not about money. It wasn't that he spent money to give me this room. It was that he heard me. He paid attention to the things I told him about myself and he did what he could to make my (and many other people's) blue-sky dreams a little closer to reality. That was the magic.

I love you, Dad. Thank you.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec. 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007


Note: Sadly, there are no photos of the purple room. The above photo was taken in the Pleasant Hill house around the same time as this story takes place. We are shown here dressed in our finest 1970s polyester and corduroy. 





Monday, February 17, 2014

For Papa
























When I was a little girl, I would climb into my grandfather’s lap, get right in his face, and say “I love you, Papa Artie”. He was a man’s man: a card-playing, Sinatra-singing, tough guy with a heart of gold. Inside he was a pussycat, but not many people called him out in that way.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And he’d grumble something under his breath and give me a punch in the arm, or a slap on the back.

Many years ago I was visiting my grandparents in New York. We were walking around in the City, my grandparents side-by-side. For some reason I noticed my grandfather drop back one step and cut around to the other side of my grandmother. It wasn’t until after he had done that that I noticed the guys standing on the corner up ahead. My grandfather had silently put himself between her and them. I don’t know if she ever even noticed, but I did and it stayed with me.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And over time he’d say, “Me too.”

When my grandfather turned 75, my grandmother threw him a surprise party. There were loads of old friends and family, all gathered in their home. This was in the late nineties, years before tragedy struck and robbed them of everything. During the party I went into their guest room to get something from my suitcase, and I saw an envelope tucked in the side, not meant to be found until I’d gotten back home. In it was a note from my grandfather saying that even with all his old friends there, what meant the most to him was that David and I had come.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And finally he’d say, “I love you, too.”

A few days ago my grandfather fell, hit his head, and never regained consciousness. I was there for one of his first bad falls, over 10 years ago now.There have been many falls since then; many heartbreaks; too many indignities to count. Time hasn’t been kind to my grandparents. I wasn’t there this time; in fact, I didn’t even know about it until a few days later when I was told he was being moved to hospice care. Each day, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone. I told him stories of our life together; of when he taught me to dive, or when he sang to me at my wedding (an amazing, a cappella version of Because God Made Thee Mine that brought the house down). And then I sang to him; High Hopes, many first verses of Beatles songs, lullabies. I’m told that on the last day of his life, when his breathing was shallow and fast, it slowed from 28 beats-per-minute to 22 while I was on the phone with him.

By the time I was in my 30s, my grandfather had gotten so used to saying I love you to me that sometimes he’d even say it first.

These past few days I’ve had a lot of time to think, and what I’ve come to is this: I loved my grandfather completely and he knew it. And he loved me right back. We knew exactly who we were to each other, and that is an amazing gift. 





















Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thirteen (for Dad)

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

—Leonard Cohen

Weird how things show up in your life just when you're in the right place to receive them.

I've been thinking the past few days about this blog post, the 13th in remembrance of my dad since he died (every December 5 and July 4 since 2007). I've been feeling pissed off at him. Pissed that he's not here, seeing my beautiful daughter grow up. Pissed that he's not here, seeing me rediscover myself as a artist. Pissed that he's not here.

And then tonight, as Anna was practicing piano on Dad's keyboard underneath his gold record, I looked at her fingers and remembered how he looked at her fingers after she was born and noted with pride that they were long. Good piano-playing fingers.

And then within the hour, I saw this quote online. I'm not a big Leonard Cohen fan and I'd never heard the song, but I saw the quote and immediately knew it was speaking to me of Dad. I knew it was again time to see the cracks for what they are, the way to let the light back in.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Irony

Many, many moons ago, sometime around 1989, I was standing in the parking lot of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. It was chilly out, and I was dressed in a miniskirt, bra and blazer because you know, why not? I was with a friend, waiting to go in to the club, and I said I was cold. Just then two guys walked by and heard my complaint. With no hesitation one of them offered the following bit of advice: "Then put some clothes on!"

Honestly, I thought that wasn't an unreasonable suggestion and I also thought he was a total dweeb because, really, who in their right mind would tell me to put some clothes on?!

The irony is not lost on me then, that as I watched the Miley Cyrus video for “Wrecking Ball” I turned to David and said “She's sad because she forgot her pants.” I'm not a Miley fan — until last night I'd honestly never heard her music —but I had heard about the fuss over the video (in which she rides naked on a wrecking ball and licks hammers and shit).

Anyway, I could go into a whole thing about my take on the video and my delight at this spot-on parody, but really, that's not why I'm writing this.

I guess I'm writing this because I've finally realized that growing up means knowing when to keep your clothes on (and, of course, when to take them off).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pont du Gard

IMG_5098

IMG_5107

For our last little adventure this summer we took a day trip to Pont du Gard. Built in the 1st century AD, Pont du Gard is the highest Roman aqueduct bridge and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. All summer long the various Roman sites we've seen have just boggled my mind. Honestly, I don't know enough about engineering to know how one would go about constructing an aqueduct today, but the thought that it was being done with the resources available 2000 years ago floors me. It's worth checking out the Wikipedia page on this if you're interested.

There were several bonuses at this site, including an indoor area for kids to learn a bit about archaeology, water collection and disbursement, and life in Roman times. An additional bonus, which we knew about ahead of time, was that you can swim in the Gardon River, just below the aqueduct. The water is frigid, but it feels great after hiking up and down the surrounding hills. And like all good Roman sites, there was ice cream available.

A side note: I do believe I've eaten more ice cream this summer than in the previous few years combined. I know that Anna's eaten more than she's had in the rest of her life! It's amazing how certain practices go out the window when the temperature is above 90. Every. Single. Day.

IMG_5026

IMG_5028

IMG_5037

IMG_5045

IMG_5032

IMG_5058

IMG_5051

IMG_5091

IMG_5064

IMG_5079

IMG_5080