Monday, August 15, 2011

In the Dark, As Always

I'm often in the dark. People don't imagine that, I suppose, because of the way I carry myself. But I'm often in the dark. Particularly with Chepa. You know, just when I think I know, she turns the world on its head. Last week, after the kids told me she was going to Indiana and on to Michigan--to visit her boyfriend, and then to take the kids to see their ailing grandpa--all was good. Then on maybe last Wednesday, the day before she was to leave, she asked me to make dinner for everybody and then set the menu. I was fine with it as it was lime-chicken with veggies, fresh corn and I forget what else. So when dinner time came around and she wasn't there, I called. She said she'd be right over. Cool. I started the chicken. Soon after, Marco showed up with the girls, Sierra and Alexa, and my granddaughter Taylor Rain.
Seems mom was not coming over: She'd forgotten to mention that her boyfriend was coming into town and that she'd really asked me to make dinner so that I could babysit while they had some private time.
Okay. Didn't like that but did like seeing the kids.
Then Chepa showed up, said she was starving, and proceeded to eat. I went out for a smoke. Then Chepa left. Then I went back inside to do dishes: nearly all the chicken was gone. Seems she'd made a to-go plate for the boyfriend.
I was in the dark. See what I'm talking about? Just when you think you got it figured, you wind up babysitting and cooking for the boyfriend. What the heck?
I'll mention it to her when she returns from Michigan. Provided she returns. For all I know they've all flown off to live in Morocco or Bali by now. I wouldn't know. No one has turned on a light.
Right now I'm in the dark again.
I'm reading a major study as the starting point for a cover story for my local alternative weekly. The study, several hundred pages long, was written purposely to keep people like myself from understanding anything in it. I know that, which is why I know it will be a good story. If I can decipher it. Right now, I'm in the dark. I've got to learn a whole new language of sorts just to begin to get it. Then I'll have to go to the experts to interpret what I can glean. I know the people who did the study are dirty; I know their short form conclusion will not be what's actually written in the study. I also know that they know that few people will bother trying to understand the whole several hundred pages. So I'm in the dark.
And I'm in the dark with Madeleina these days too. Pretty much ever since we've come back from Peru she's challenged me on things every day. She'll ask me if I've signed certain papers yet and I'll say "no, not yet, darling." And then she'll get exasperated and say, "Dad, they have to be signed and you have to sign them now!"
"When are they due?"
"I think next week."
"Well, then I've got time."
"No, dad. They have to be signed now..."
Anyway, the first several times she did that I wound up screaming or wanting to scream. So I asked the powers that be for a little insight, a little light to be shed on my darkness.
And the powers that be were nice enough to do it. They told me, or let me see, or however it happens, an answer. And the next time Madeleina started in on something, rather than responding negatively, I said: "You know that you and I have been arguing for the first time in your life lately..."
"I know, dad. That's because you're stupid sometimes..."
I bit my tongue.
"I know I'm sometimes stupid. But here's the thing: Until the last couple of months you didn't know that. Plus, until we came back from Peru, for your whole life, you just gave me your papers and I took care of them. You didn't even read them. But now you're 14 and you're reading the papers and you're freaking out and imagining that I'm so stupid that if you don't get on me things won't get done. But here's the thing, Madeleina: You've got to think back to the first 13 years. Did you get fed? Did I remember to go to the store to buy food, remember to cook it, remember to ask you for input on what we ought to eat? Did I get all your school books--I mean along with mom, of course--and get you to school and remember to make you good lunches? Did I get all the paperwork done on time?"
"Am I supposed to answer that?"
"Yes as a matter of fact."
"Well, okay, so you didn't mess up..."
"So why are you so suddenly sure I am going to mess up now? Why do you think you won't have the dress for the quinceniera or won't get your band stuff paid for or won't get the medical papers filled out? Have I gotten so old so quickly that if you don't yell at me I won't remember anything?"
She started to laugh. "You might have Alzheimers, dad. You never can be too careful...."
"Don't wish that on me, girl,"
"I'm not. I'm just saying, maybe all that pot you used to smoke burned out your brain...."
"Not hardly, baby. I think the truth of the matter is that you're suddenly becoming a grown up and want to challenge me. Cause if you're grown up, then I must be old, and if I'm old, I won't remember anything, so you have to save me..."
"Something like that."
"Well, forget about it. You're welcome to be smart as you like, and you're welcome to fill out any paperwork you like, but it's gonna be a long time before I lose my edge. So have a little faith, eh?"
It was a nice moment of light in the darkness.
This morning she got up while I was working on the computer and came into the office/living room and crashed out on the couch behind me. She was so beautiful. She was just my little girl again for a little while.
And then she woke and remembered that she had to read Dickens' Tale of Two Cities and burst into tears. She doesn't understand a word of it. Not surprising: His writing is as complicated for her to understand as the report I'm reading is to me.
So I asked her to bring me the book--after I fed her scrambled eggs with cheese, cantaloupe and a juice made of fresh strawberries, a banana, orange juice, spring water and a little milk--and I began to read it to her. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."
It took us nearly an hour to get through the first three page chapter. She simply has no context. So when we were done she yelled in frustration: "So why didn't he just write that it was 1775 and in England and France everything was freaking chaos and the only people who didn't know it were the kings and queens of those countries? That's it. Then end. First chapter done."
Actually, I don't know why he didn't write that. He really does write beautifully, but it's pretty incoherent for kids who've grown up with computers and who say things like RTFM as if it's English (it means Read the Fucking Manual).
I guess everybody around here is in the dark sometimes, eh?

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