Sunday, May 18, 2014

Temporary Beauty

Satur-days I am in Chelsea.  Way west, toward Chelsea Piers, the gentrification is extreme.  Commercial square footage is among the priciest in the city now, and the extravagance of the mandatory volume requirements (i.e., vast empty space) in these galleries and occasional fashion boutiques flaunts money.  But for me, it's a proverbial walk in the park-- especially at 11 AM, before the crowds.

Most of the art these days is predictable or pretentious.  The best of it is studenty and overpriced.  Something must pay these rents.  That means you, Mr. 21st century trendy collector with the decorator and the art advisor with the birkins and Balenciaga and absolutely no sense of 'context' or taste.  There used to be a benchmark.  Go to any estate sale at an auction house these days--- there are the 'A' level works of art-- the eccentric furniture and porcelain objects, like an inanimate 'menagerie'-- lush carpets, jewelry… some hideosities and mistakes--but the sense of a personality--- the sense of passion and a point of view.  Of things cherished and used-- of a life.  Not so these days:  apartments look cold and excessively under-decorated.  Furnishing priorities are design, status and then comfort. The paintings are awkward and uncomfortable in their environment--- like they are waiting to be resold.   Like the exhibitions, these works of art have the permanent vibe of the Temporary.

Whatever.  Among the 'shoppers' and tourists in Chelsea there are also the rich young dwellers of these overpriced apartments and loft-like condos which are selling like caviar hotcakes in a city where one million dollars no longer 'cuts it'.  They are buyers or renters of this transient art which has become the biggest status symbol of all.  On Saturday mornings the young handsome fathers are out with their kids--- with the scooters and the bikes and the painted skateboards and the designer hoodies and hats.  They look slightly hung over and exhausted--- yesterday's club kids having to get up on the nanny's day off and 'feel' fatherly.  Many of them have dogs-- these distract and lighten their load with the kids who are often annoying and cranky.  This is their 'day'.  All week they have to follow pre-school rules and vie for their nanny's approval.  But all bets are off today.  They are going to milk their exhausted Dad for everything.  Of course there is always shopping-- a new toy or a $9 cupcake pacifies for long minutes… but nothing compares to a meltdown or a tantrum outside of Comme des Garcons.

Yesterday one of these Dads was lighting up against a 22nd St. wall.  He was boyish and handsome, his shirttails out… his hair uncombed, his face unshaven in that charming way.  His 5-year old daughter was poised perfectly on her Razor, designer helmet on, blond hair cascading down, shiny and smooth… but his 3-year old… was laid out on the sidewalk--- screaming, pounding.  Ohhh yeah, I am thinking, as the father actually pleads with me-- Help.  What do I do now?  I note the absence of a wedding ring.  This, I don't say, is what you get for cheating on your wife.  She has stuck it to you now.  No more weekends… your youth is going to be eaten up with tantrums and toilet training and teachers whining about your lack of participation and manipulative teenage drama.  And not only that.  He is thinking---we had this baby--- this perfect little angel, here.  Magazine-ready.  Looks great in clothes-- sings like a young Beyonce.  So… we go for another.  This is the Manhattan baby competition.  And the second one--- colicky, cries all the time, has sensitive skin, constant diaper issues-- up all night… all the ingredients of a potential high-school nerd.  You go for cocktails after work… you flirt with your co-workers, come home.  Weekends you feel guilty that you 'love' one child more than the other.  And you-- you're the Dad… the girls go shopping, you're stuck with the baby boy.  He doesn't like you either.  He prefers the nanny.  So do you.  Your wife's best friend hints about it… and now you've got 2 pricey apartments, and no more free Saturdays.  You're even losing your urge because it's no longer a quickie and a cheat, it's another potential baby craver.

Yeah, I had one of those husbands.  I mean--- I could smell it on him-- the okay, now I have everything I ever wanted---the wife I craved, the baby…and now… for my next….  And the thing is--- I felt this too.  I felt the 'what now' claustrophobia and restless malaise.  So I left.  I let the guy off the hook.  And I took the child with me.  I didn't want my baby boy to have tired cranky Saturdays with a father who craved a bottle in the same way his son needed one.

The Chelsea father joined me on my art jaunt.  I carried the 3-year old.  He just needed a little bit of love.  A cookie.  His mother.  His Grandma.  I could do this…I was going home, going to a gig… no kids, no nagging wife, no parental angst-- not these days.  Sure--I have plenty of guilt.  I'm sure my son could tell tales about his deprived youth, although that is unlike him…and I did not actually have the second, less magical child.  I did have a pregnancy-- a daughter-- with a young lover who wanted me but not really the child.  We didn't plan it, but this is a consequence of love and passion, as every teenager knows.  And once you have an actual child, the act of terminating becomes more weighted.  Besides, I wanted a daughter so much… maybe in a selfish way-- the sister I never related to,  my alter ego-- my companion in female crime, my kitchen helper, my fashion consultant, my back-up singer… There I was, Ms. cool single Mom with the sexy young boyfriend, 4 months pregnant still wearing my tight yellow and black checked vintage pants and jumping around with my bass onstage… and it went on and on--- my young lover didn't want to share me, but he couldn't leave… the pregnancy goes on… miraculously-- has its own life---you are radiant and curvy and ripe, and those biological conversations you have with your unborn child-- like no intimacy you will ever experience with any man or person…

Months passed… and after a strange accident on the subway, and a few days of worry, everything seemed fine--- until an early labor pang… and I found I had to give birth to a perfect little girl who was too perfect for my world.  It is an unbearable loss.  I never had a funeral, or a service, and standing there with this father on Saturday, holding this strange miserable little boy-- I relived my dilemma.  Maybe I felt I didn't deserve closure.  How could I celebrate my grief, when I failed this baby in the way that this father was failing his son… somehow--- I was so cavalier and took things for granted--- my adorable son.. and now he would have this perfect sister-- little Edie was her name-- she would have braids and a rag doll… I could see her in the sonogram, sucking her little elegant fourth finger, just the way I did… she was graceful and talented… and now she was a loss, a failure--- an angel, a provider of perfect little organs for other newborns, a giver… and I was the loser, the mourner, the lady in black.

The father asked me for my number.  I gave him a look… he needed a mother, too.  A friend.  I don't have a phone, I said.  I'm not letting him off the hook, even though I'd like to… even though I let my husband off the hook because I couldn't bear having him look at his son with this utter disappointment which wrecks kids.  And my little Edie…  who never disappointed me;  it was I who disappointed her.  Still, after all these years, I pray every day that her little rag doll spirit has been born into some island culture where children aren't competitive possessions and eating disorders and plastic surgery and Coachella is not on the agenda.  As for me--- I have a newborn-shaped hole in my heart which is quite permanent, at least in the temporary context of my so-called life.


Billy said...

Every time I hear that story I want to cry...
Very powerful...

Ludovica said...

I fell pregnant at seventeen and had an abortion. There was never any question about it. My sister fell pregnant at eighteen and had the baby adopted, but I am certain she would have had an abortion too if it had been known about in time.
Teenage daughters of branch managers at the local bank didn’t have illegitimate children back in those days and I’m not sure they do (officially) even now. I suppose if it had been 10 or 20 years earlier we would have been safely married off to our boyfriends due to pressure from both families, when I was at school 1970-81 I didn’t know anyone who didn’t have a married mum and dad but times they were a changing for our generation and within another 10 years, illegitimacy had become normal and accepted even if it was in hissed, hushed tones.
There’s no doubt it was the right thing to do. I now have a 20 year old daughter and have known for 7 years that I don’t like being a parent much, or that I don’t like teenagers or something, but either way, one thing is for sure. Children eat your life.
Knowing this I am glad that at 17 I had more sense than I had at 29, and while I appreciate that everyone’s experience of having kids is different, and no matter how much I love my daughter (and I do) It’s not something I needed to do twice.
I think of my great grandmother Jane who bore and raised eight sons and two daughters, but who, at the end of her life was begging her children to let her have a room for her to live out her days. What a terrible way to end, at the mercy of your children.
I suppose this is our fate. I wonder what these hard faced materialistic kids will do when faced by a clingy needy parent.
I look at my siblings and I feel like I barely know them. They’re loud and boorish and terribly clever, always right, always talking about themselves and making a joke of my mother’s memory or her eyesight or hearing. I think how horrible it would be for her if either of them undertook her care in her final days. I’m sure they will fight for the right to do it too, seeing it as of importance that they do the right thing.
But it will be my task, my duty and ultimately my honor, I hope, because I believe that’s what my mum would prefer. It’s not a duty I want. I’d still like to find a life partner, I’d like to travel, make music, feel special, and have a life, as I sure haven’t had one yet. Maybe that’s just not my fate though. Maybe this is how I have to pay for that disregarded life when I was a child myself.
My passing will go unnoticed by the world. When I think of all the things I wanted to be when I was seventeen, and how important it seemed then to become famous or at least loved by a huge group of people. I had a child. I replaced myself. That is the sum total of my achievements, my only lasting legacy. The child I didn’t have would have been 32 by now, maybe with children of his own. I feel sure that it was a boy, although I don’t know. I have always thought of him as “Kyle Jonathan” I don’t remember why. I wish now that I had known him and wonder what sort of person he would have been and freely admit that he ate up exactly as much of my life as he would had he been born as he should have. I wonder how different life would have been too and maybe that child was destined to be the one who would have cared for me when I need help.