Absolute Beginners, my parents became so right out of high school. Barely. Art and Judy Palotta, their names a perfect match, to added young Gerald in 19. We lived in Meriden, Connecticut. I grew up there.
Complicated, my least favorite word in the English language. No good has ever come from complications. The best songs, the best literature, the best films, the best TV shows have always been deceptively simple. Crisp, clear, easy to comprehend. Pretense is a tense best left unused. Complicated is an ugly, fettered, fetid, flea-bitten, flimsy excuse of a term. A cop out. A crutch. It’s why you weren’t , it’s why When you get a toy, “It’s Christmas.” When you get a smack, “It’s ‘Cause I love you, and want you to grow up right.” But when your father leaves, “It’s complicated.” I wanted to know when he was coming back
Easily Fooled, I believed her. Every night before sleeping I would place a necklace of bells (stolen from a stuffed reindeer) on my doorknob, assuming that the first thing he would do would be to come and kiss me and I could know the second he came back. The bells never rang. On holidays– well, Christmas at least, and once my birthday– we would receive a brown paper package with no return address. Inside of which would be a toy, usually more age appropriate for the six year old boy he left behind than the 7, 8, 9, or 10 year old I became. After missing five years, we got one last package about two months after I turned 16. The box– still absent a second address– was dinged and damaged, dotted with redirects delineating the route it required to reach our new home. Inside, wrapped in the same roll of Christmas paper I remembered from past gifts, was a pair of tan leather driving gloves. I still wear them to this day.
Grew Up Hard? Hardly. My mom soon remarried– about a year or two after dad’s departure. Her husband, my stepfather, was a perfectly amiable and absolutely acceptable gent. 13 years older, but without the immaturity that a 37-24 year gap usually entails, Kenneth was as decent a man as you could hope for. Though I never thought of him as my father, after a somewhat rough settling-in period, I only had positive feelings about the guy. He provided for both my mom and me, as well as the two half-sisters I was soon blessed with.3 No, I was a sheltered Siddhartha until I hit high school. Until I met Juliet Katherine Leschowitz. Juliet
I Thought I’d Write to Juliet. It felt almost pathetic– here I was, now 13 years later much-lauded, [Canterbury Award winning] (and newly wealthy) writer at the peak of his powers , and instead of taking advantage of the, ahem, [opportunities at my disposal], I’m penning (secretly, even!) love letters to my high school/college sweetheart. but there was one big obstacle blocking my path to being her Romeo– Romeo. Yes, Romeo[–Romeo] Alfa, inventor of the Alfa Romeo, whom Juliet had been seeing since the previous summer. (The man, not the car).4 He was, not surprisingly, a pompous, arrogant man. To her credit, Juliet was aware of this, but she found his machismo amusing and assured me that for all his bluster he was a ‘mewling kitten’ in private. If anything, she confessed, she wished he would be more [pompous and arrogant] when they were alone, as his slavish devotion and surfeit of coos and cuddles and other soft attention were growing wearisome. This was indisputably a sign. Unfortunately, I was (once again) too eager, too effusive, too… eediotic to take appropriate, slow, tactical advantage. I immediately stuffed an envelope with a dozen alphabets– each cataloguing the ways I feel, times we shared, her looks I still remember…
Kentucky Cocktail, Southern Mash, , I turned to bourbon to drown my heartbreak. I drank Mint Julep after Mint Julep, just because it sounded like her name.5 She’d not written back for three months since. Even two days after I’d spent all day staring at the mailbox. Wondering after a week if she was ok, I called [Alice?] to see if anything had happened. Something had happened, alright, she said, the twist in her voice confirming she’d at least received it. Or so I thought. As with most outwardly confident, secretly smothering boyfriends, Romeo Alfa wasn’t the trusting kind. Suspecting something was different, he’d taken to opening Juliet’s mail. To be fair, Romeo wasn’t wrong. I had been up to something. [Still, that doesn’t justify felonious behavior!]
But why hadn’t she written back? I asked Alice, and she replied with me least favorite word in the English language. “It’s Complicated.” And thus [the levees broke/began my bender/ ]
My Home Town: Meriden, Connecticut. This is where we would see each other for the first time in over a decade. Having drank, and spent, and otherwise misbehaved myself broke and broken and friendless, I decided that now was as good a time as any to finally return home.
Of Pressure you know not until you’ve sat waiting both to pop the question, and then to hear its response. Exponentially so, as I was skipping all the normal steps, hoping our history was enough. If I was wrong I would be wrong knowing there was no other way I could have been. Still, it was stupid and impetuous, and displayed all the maturity that I had yet to gain. It reinforced every opinion she’d had about me when we were in High School, revealing the shocking lack of growth I’d undergone since. It was foolish, And it worked.
Q. It’s generally one of the hardest letters to write for. X would be harder if not for the fact that people X-pected you to improvise your way around it. Ditto Z. J can be tough, and since no one thinks about how hard it can be, you don’t have the advantage of the previously mentioned ’empathy benefit’. Depending on the subject,6 J can definitely be harder than Q. Luckily, in life, I have my Juliet. I’d already alphabetized her exquisite qualities[properties], all our private jokes and precious moments, so many birthdays, and even my proposal– the old bag of tricks wouldn’t do this time. I had to come up with something special, something better.
[in [year], I married [name] [my third and final wife]. It was a small [Quiet] ceremony but a ceremony nonetheless [no wedding so far?]. Our only [expenditure] fancy flourish a string Quintet These were those vows:]
Rainbows. When I look into her face, a crimson
outline in which I place all [orange][-x][ginger]
yearns, [all] delicate delight[s]: a golden
grail, a guiding
b agave? Cerulean?
I darkest denim? Some monastic/monastery mood?
v[aricose] light and hum? Royal hue?
rainbows (when I look into her face). [a string quintet / quiet]
When I look into her face, a crimson
outline in which I place all ginger
yearns, each delicate delight: a golden
grail, that guides me right.
because/but when I [ ], and [ ] fall into a
I lapse into some deep monastic mood
verily I return to [light, and hum a] royal hue
rainbows, when I see her face A string quintet
Two Of Us, for all eternity, ‘[un]til death
[tu Two of Us, for the rest of eternity, then bound
X Or Y? It didn’t matter. Just the idea that we might not be able to have a child was more awful than any thought I would care to imagine. And yet when the results came back, our worst fears were confirmed. Juliet was
Now I’ll be brutally honest with you– noting only that my mind has turned 180 degrees since– the notion of adoption always seemed like nonsense to me. Not morally wrong, not by any means, nothing could be nobler. But I had my doubts about the whole process, with very strong doubts about the concept. The idea that you could genuinely love a child that was not actually your own in the same way (or anywhere near) that you could love a kid that you yourself created seemed absurd to me. Nice– a very useful and utopian self-deception, but ultimately unbelievable.
Yue Er Wan Zhao Jiu Zhou [was playing when we deplaned in Beijing [footnote: double cop-out here, both re-using the letter Y and using the title of the song as a song straight up– but it figures importantly into the story]].
1True in the sense that I truly just made it up. Or that his aim was true? No. Then I would have to re-mix.
2I ditched this when, checking the internet to confirm what little facts I actually used (is his name Jerry Palotta (close: Jerry Pallotta); he was the alphabet book one, right? (yes)), I found that he wasn’t the New England-based Childrens’ Book Author who was born in Meriden. It was (instead) Tomie dePaola aka “The Strega Nona Guy”. So I stopped.
In addition to this, although mostly moot after the Meriden rug got pulled out from underneath me, I got too attached to the song titles I chose without checking to see if the songs were worth a damn/sounded good together. They did not sound good together (or at least were inappropriate). So I stopped even more.
There are a few chapters missing and a lot of words. Eh.
3Emily and Daphne, sweethearts both.
4Although, unsurprisingly, he did drive one– so I guess you could say both were true.
5A nasty drink. Death is that much less a mystery now, now that I know what embalming fluid must taste like. However much I love mint, it has no place being the dominant mix in an alcoholic beverage. I don’t know how those [white-suited] equesters and their floppy-headed wives do it. I really don’t.
6When you don’t have a Jellyfish, Jaguar, or Japanese Beetle to fall back on…