With fists, with words, with kindness
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As it has been six and a half years since you died, we have a lot to catch up on: marriages, births, deaths, graduations; all kinds of news, good and bad. Your little namesake started high school in September, and just a couple of weeks ago your pal Leon Katz died. I so wanted to call you to discuss it and reminisce about the old days. Maybe you could have told me things you couldn’t when I was a child. I would love to hear some fifty-year-old gossip.
The past seems to be getting more and more fragile, as does your sister, who called to tell me about Leon. She was stunned by how quickly we could find his obituary from the Asbury Park Press on the Internet. It was sweet to read, reminding me of his carpet store, his pedal-boat ride at the boardwalk, his kids, his dogs, and his menschy face — that curly hair, those rectangular glasses.
I tried to call Leon’s wife, Diane, but I got her machine. Another voice of my childhood, so long unheard. All your friends are locked up in my head somewhere, as if at a cocktail party in a hotel room on a floor where the elevator doesn’t stop anymore: Shirley Vegosen, Dutch Unterberg, Rainee Weinstein, Morty Silver. Meanwhile the future shows up in the lobby hot and solid every minute; everyone in it is named Tyler or Justin or Brittany.
Here’s a tidbit we could really gnash our teeth over: One of my kids ran into an acquaintance of yours in the city a while back, and she proposed that the reason Nancy and I are so messed up is that you were too busy playing golf to raise us properly. To my son she says this? Is she nuts? When I called Nancy to report the outrage, her reaction was: “How did she know?”
Whenever a friend of mine loses his or her mother (as one just has), I think, Welcome to the club, you poor thing. Welcome to the sad, bad club you can never get out of. People aren’t exaggerating when they say they miss their mothers every day of their lives — even if, like me, they moved away from home at seventeen. Your mother is there even when she is not there, and this continues after her death, but without the phone calls, the worry, the attentive ear for news that interests no one else. I imagine my own kids having to join this terrible club one day, and I hate it.
Even current events seem to lack something without your take on them. Would you be concerned that the Ebola virus is on its way to New Jersey, or would you be sure it’s all hysteria — or, most likely, would you be concerned about its effect on the Dow? I won’t even tell you about the Middle East, or the way Joan Rivers died.
So many of your old belongings have merged with mine: a bottle of Perry Ellis perfume; the thin-lipped coffee mug you preferred; a rhinestone dragonfly lapel pin, which for some reason is in the cup holder in my car. Your navy-and-camel geometric rug is on my floor under a glass-topped table. I never thought I would have a glass table, or a biweekly cleaning lady. I have photos of you all over the house and a laminated clipping from The New York Times propped up in the kitchen: “Jane Fisch Engaged to Marine Sergeant.” Sometimes I actually kiss it when I walk by.
I see your pale, poochy tummy several times a day, because I have that, too. All I need is a dozen pairs of those nylon, waist-high undies you had a drawerful of, and the picture would be complete. What was it with those awful panties? Yet I, too, wear the underwear of my youth: sturdy cotton bikinis, no newfangled boy shorts or lacy thongs for me.
Lately I have been trying to write a novel, and my main character has a mom who is a lot like you. Her name is Mona Greengrass, and I greatly enjoy writing her dialogue and imagining her golf games and trips to Florida. But Mona Greengrass can’t tell me one more time the story of how you met my father, and when a reader asks how the heck two Jewish kids from New Jersey ended up at Indiana University in 1947, I have no idea.
In my story Mona Greengrass lives right next door to her daughter. Mona is in her sixties and has a snazzy boyfriend, as you should have had. I consider what it was like for you, being single for twenty-five years after Daddy died. This is another thing I would like to discuss, since it looks like I might be getting that from you, too, along with the tummy and the ridged fingernails.
Oh, Mom. That is the silent password of the sad, bad club, the simple phrase we never get to say.