Tag Archives: a prayer

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

If it snowed on New Year’s, it would have to mean good luck.  That’s what the old folks said.  Or, so my motha told me.

To me, it would just mean magic:  That no matter how dry the winter promised to be, we could wake up to an already sleepy town, with mellow women and hungover men; and we would move ever so slowly — ever so gently, for a change — through a brand new sheet of snow.  It would mean a clean slate.  A promise of a new beginning.  A hidden prayer — for a better year.

The only citizens of the town still giddy from the night before would be the children.  For us, the first of every year meant gifts under the sparkling pine trees in the living-room.  And it meant truce, for all of us:  for the tired adults, tortured by survival; for unhappily married parents; for the intrusive force of poverty, uncertainly and chaos. Truce, on just that one day.  Truce.

The preparations for the celebration at midnight would be in full swing, in almost every household.  Motha would prepare for it, weeks before.  She’d start with a new haircut, and possibly new color on her nails.  Regardless the tight budget affected daily by inflation, she’d manage to whip out a new outfit for herself.

The hunt for foods would begin several weeks before the holiday.  Things would be preserved.  Money — borrowed, portioned out.  And just a couple days before the actual Eve, the cooking would begin.

School, of course, would be out for me; and I was expected to help out in the kitchen for that week.  Nothing crucially important though:  Peeling of potatoes or scaling of pickled fish.  I would boil eggs and root vegetables for the layered Russian salads.  I’d roast parts of chicken or grind the meat for the stuffing of cabbage parcels.  I would battle with pots of rice that took forever to get soft, and then would burn immediately.

Some days, I would be trapped inside while watching pots of stews or motha’s reinvented borscht.  And as I tended to the burners, I studied the darkening sky for any promises of snow.  Because, despite the obvious presence of poverty and chaos in our lives, snow on the Eve would still mean magic — if not some better luck.

On the last day of preparations, motha would be chaotic.  All day long, she would run out in her leather, high-heeled boots:  to get her hair done, to pick-up a missing spice from a girlfriend across town; to drop off a gift to a high rank bureaucrat at the City Hall.  But mostly, she’d keep picking-up “deficits”, all over town:  produce, not necessarily delicacies, that we normally would not indulge in, any other time during the year.

Victorious, she would return:

“Hey, little one!  Look at this here!” she’d holler me out of my bedroom.

Just by the sound of her voice, I knew she was in a good mood.  I would emerge, with Tolstoy under my armpit, and find her beautiful flushed face in the hallway.  She’d have her make-up done, and for New Year’s, it would always entail sparkles.  The smell of crispy frost would intertwine with her perfume.

“So beautiful!” I’d think, and with my father’s eyes I’d understand the power of that woman’s witchcraft.

And then, I’d see the fox fur collar of her coat glistening with tiny drops of moisture.

“Is it snowing yet?” I’d say while motha, still in boots, would begin passing to me the tiniest jars of caviar or cans of smoked anchovies.

“I think it’s about to,” motha would respond, flirting.  (So beautiful!)

And for the first time in weeks, she’d suddenly remember that I was still a child.  And children only need magic, for survival.  Not wads of cash, or cans of “deficit”.  Not banners of protesting citizens against the old demagogues or the faces of the newest heros.  We do not need untimely compassion toward the vices of our parents.  We wish to know no gossip and no strife.

Just truce, if only on one day for every year.  Just the simple magic — of truce.

Motha would retreat into the kitchen and immediately start banging metals.  I’d brace myself for more work.

“Hey, little one!” she’d holler.

Here we go!

“You should check out that snow, outside!”

I would run out, in an unbuttoned coat.  On every flight of stairs, new smells would smack my nose from every household.  To call upon my friends would be useless on that last day of the year.  Like me, my girlfriends grew up way too quickly and would be cooking in the kitchen until the arrival of their guests.  But in magic, I rarely needed company.

I wouldn’t even go very far:  Just to the lawn in front of our apartment building.  I’d watch the waltz of snowflakes against the darkening sky.  They would catch the light of egg yolk foam colored street lights and descend onto my mittens of rabbit fur.  There would be not enough snow on the ground to make braided patterns with me feet yet.  But just the sight of a new beginning — would be magical enough.

Before heading back home, I’d look up to our window and often see my motha’s face.

“So beautiful!” I’d think and understand the magic of truce, if only once a year.

“Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up! Up!”

I had a dream about you, baby tall.

Last night, in the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — we stood in between two slow snowfalls; and you were suddenly taken.  It’s the way I had seen too many fall for my city — not your city — when all that grime and mess and neuroses had been covered by the endless, fresh sheets of snow; suddenly making life seem not so hard.  Not so bad.  (It would happen a lot, in my city, unless those in the midst of it had arrived with some stubborn arrogance in tow.  But if they hadn’t made up their mind, most of the time they would fall, for my city.)

In a nook of a miniature park, in the cove between two high-rises, the air was warm, windless:  It was waiting for the next fall.  Generally, it had been true, about my city:  It never failed to give it a rest, but not until one was hopelessly fed up; on the verge of losing one’s mind.  And then the city would let up a little, for long enough to grant a breather.  Just as we were now:

In a nook of a miniature park, you and I — were in the midst of a breather, in between two slow snowfalls.

You always stood so tall:  more of my son than any others that came before you.  Sometimes, I would catch your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something I could not have known.  (A life?  A love?  A dream, a game, a sport.)  You’d see me looking up and you’d wink:  Busted, baby tall.  So very much busted.  I did look up this time, again, but at the heavy clouds patching up the night sky — little foam baths for shiny stars:

“How long is the breather?” I wondered.  “How long can we have, here?”

But you always stood so tall, so there you were:  Right above me, winking.  And suddenly, all that manhood that someone had taught you to put on — the control, the knowledge, the groove I had always secretly worshiped in you — all that fell away.  Two step was all it took for you to make it over to a hilly flowerbed (because you always stood and walked so tall); and before I could say, “Love?” — you were on the ground, awkwardly for your height, but still, very much my son.  Your long limbs began to swing around, as if swimming in a giant pool; and you began to laugh in a way I had never heard, in the midst of our breathers:  abundantly and out of control, as if no damage had ever happened to your child.

“What are you up to, over there?” I asked, chuckling; and I felt my tear ducts kick-in.

“So good!” you answered, “Really:  So good!”  It’s what you’d always say when you wanted my participation.  And back into the giant pool of your laughter you dove in.  Out of control.

It would take my slow descent onto the patch of snow underneath my feet; for I was always older than you, flaunting those years as aging big cats do when teaching their cubs how to hunt.  I was wearing that same black coat from college, but it now sat a couple of sizes too big on my tauter, more disciplined body.  So, it asked for some maneuvering to land onto my back.  I spread the bottom of of the coat like a giant tail and reluctantly began replicating your strange, unlikely behavior.

“Oh,” I said — I finally got it — and looked over at your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something.  “Is baby tall making snow angels?”

“Yep.”

But then, you stopped laughing, back in control — in the knowledge, in the groove of all that manhood someone had taught you to put on.

In the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — I thought:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

It has been my toast to every morning since I’ve learned to wake up without you.  It has become my prayer, my chronic chant as I continue to flaunt my years in front of other cubs that have happened since you.  They can’t hang, can’t groove, can’t hunt; and they definitely don’t know how to follow an older woman’s lead.  And so they leave, soon enough, for younger, simpler loves.  And I don’t even itch with resistance:  I let them go.

“Here is — to NOT happening,” I think.

Sometimes, a love story is not a go-to novel, pregnant with favorite quotations, that rests on a bookshelf dusty everywhere else but in its vicinity.  Sometimes, it’s just a vignette:  a pretty design on the spine of someone’s history.  A short story.  A lovely fable.  A melancholic lullaby.  And so fearful we are, sometimes, of our own mortality — of our irrelevance — so stubbornly arrogant, we leap into a sad habit of making a mess out of our break-ups and departures.  And we just can’t let it go.

But not this time, baby tall.  Not with this aging big cat.  Because you were more of my son than any others that came before you; and because my age had asked me for much slower maneuvering in that tauter, more disciplined body of mine.

So many had come before you, and they had taken so much; I am still surprised at how easily I am ready to love.  But even if they have vanished entirely, after our messy break-ups and departures, I am too wise to dismiss them.  They are still — my lovely fables.  My melancholic lullabies.  And no matter how long the healing, with the next magnificent love, I inevitably have come to know:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

Oh, but it’s a good thing, my baby tall:  to not have happened!  “Really:  So good!”

So, here is — to this breather, in between our falls, in between our dreams.  And yes, here is — to the next magnificent love, or the next vignette.