When I was a kid, my Dad would sometimes get up early on a Saturday to stand in line at the Conshohocken Bakery for the rolls. Ridiculous, no? Why line up for bread that you have to pay for--with real money? Yet, every Saturday people would queue up regardless of the weather as if they were waiting for Mike Schmidt's autograph.
I'm not begrudging any culture their own ways with yeast and flour but, seriously, the bread in Philly is friggin' amazing--crusty and chewy and just the right amount of salty. T, Army brat and citizen of the world, has assured me that my opinion isn't just warped hometown pride. He thinks it may have something to do with the fact that we have 'wuhder' here instead of water.
Once Dad waited on line for hours only to discover that all of the rolls were gone by the time he reached the front and he was forced to switch to loaves of Italian bread. He wasn't disappointed though. The lady behind the counter handed him the queen mother of them all--a ridiculously huge hunk of bread. He was buying for our extended family so he took a couple more average-sized loaves too. My aunt and grandmother were slightly appalled by the size disparity between their loaves and his yet, not surprised that he would keep the largest one for himself.
When he got home and presented my Mom with the colossal loaf they laughed and laughed at their good luck...until they cut it open and realized that the inside was mostly empty.
A couple of weeks ago I passed the 20th anniversary of my first date.
I regularly forget my wedding anniversary, my mother's birthday, pretty much every date that's important for the significant people in my life. Every Feb. 23, however, I seem to remember my first night out on the town with "Lloyd."
After weeks of after school negotiations and one Valentine's Day note that could have scorched the attached red carnation, I agreed to go out with him. It was a Friday night. We went to see "The Silence of the Lambs." I was so terrified about being in a dark theater with a boy that I forgot to be freaked out by a movie about a cannibal and lady-skin-coat wearing serial killer. When he dropped me off at the foot of my driveway, I darted out of his Malibu as if it had burst into flames.
We dated off and on for the next 18 months despite the fact that we really had nothing in common aside from location and above-average physical fitness.
Lloyd's family was a disaster. His parents divorced when he was around 5 and his dad moved to a town maybe 10 miles to the west. Lloyd's mom remarried a few years later and had two more kids--the family she had always envisioned. At the ripe old age of 10, Lloyd, recognizing that he was now persona non grata, packed his belongings into a paper bag and rode his bike up the shoulder of the turnpike to his dad's house. His dad fed him a hot dog and sent him back to his mom. Lloyd had an endless supply of similar, miserable stories.
My family bore more than a passing resemblance to his mom's 2.0 version--two parents, two kids (big brother and little sister), a four bedroom house in the 'burbs. My Dad and Lloyd's stepdad probably could have had a support group for men who wished Lloyd would disappear.
Looking back on the whole thing it seems as though Lloyd was on some sort of mission to uncover the inner workings of a happy family. He'd hopped over the fence and was ready to sample the sweet, green grass on the other side. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointment. I can't remember all of the details now but I have the faint impression that he broke up with me because I was a boring know-it-all.
We're having a bit of a time in these parts. T's dad has passed the point of treatment for his cancer. My eternally spry grandfather seems to have started the fast march toward infirmity. T's aunt was hospitalized last week and is likely in the end stages of emphysema.
I feel I'm experiencing all of it from some remote location. Family members call on the phone all adither with the bad news and it's like the noise disappears inside me where there's nothing to catch the vibration.
In the storage compartment where I once kept fear and sadness, there are only angry questions.
How can any of R's relatives still be afraid of death?
How can any of them grieve the loss of a life that spanned multiple decades?
Have they forgotten my girl?
I suspect that everything they're saying is perfectly normal but grief for a terminally-ill senior citizen still seems like a luxury item to me.
After Lloyd and I broke up we never spoke again. We didn't have any common friends and we were on decidedly different trajectories. We just went back to being strangers. I have a box of Lloyd-related mementos in my Mom's attic that I haven't looked at in years. For all I know he doesn't even remember my name or my face. He probably just has a passing memory of a girl who made a big deal out of small problems.
A quick googling tells me that Lloyd escaped his parents. It looks like he made his way to NYC and spent some time in a band. The cursory FB profile doesn't reveal whether he's happy.
Twenty years ago I didn't have any appreciation for Lloyd's perspective. I had no idea what it felt like to lose or to want. The obstacles I encountered in my life were tiny things I could step over without even a running start.
Right before we broke up, his parents threw him out for the final time. He called me and I went to pick him up at the park near his house so I could take him to a friend's house.. He didn't even have a bag packed. I remember being annoyed by the inconvenience of his homeless status.
I wish I could redo that moment. I want grab both of those kids and tell them that all of it--success, failure, happiness, misery--it's just dumb luck. A wake-up call for the girl who had it all figured out. Some relief for the boy who couldn't even understand the question.
We just take what we're given.
Cut it open and you'll find that there's nothing inside.
Happy anniversary, Lloyd...wherever you may be.