I saw an interview with Mike Tyson recently where he spoke honestly about his feelings after the 2009 death of his young daughter. At one point the Champ abruptly says to his interviewer “You have to go. You understand right? Thank you.”
And with that he rose and left the room.
The interviewer caught up with him and asked a weeping Mike if he was okay, at which point he said one of the saddest things I have ever heard.
“I gotta grow up…its tough…I have to be a man and stop crying…”
No you don’t Mike your little girl is gone. Cry all you want.
Forward to 10:40 to hear Mike’s thoughts process after his daughter’s passing.
Tomorrow will mark one year since twenty-six babies and six adults were massacred in Newtown, CT while doing the most routine thing possible, being in school. I’ll admit, I had zero intentions of writing anything about it, like most of America I’ve been trying to forget it.
A year ago I sat in a client’s office working, wondering about Christmas, if my brother and his family were flying in from Arizona, should I try to hit the mall after work to get some gifts for the family and wondering how bad the Holland Tunnel traffic was. Then, I got a text, opened my web browser and everything changed.
I felt horrible, and like the President, had tears in my eyes when I thought of it. After the Newtown massacre I couldn’t stop thinking about how it must feel like to hug and kiss your baby in the morning and then later realize that that was the last hug, the last kiss. I was sorrowful but it didn’t hit home, not really. Then, I saw an interview with a Newtown father who, just that morning made plans with his little boy to decorate their tree the next day. There are no words to convey the depth of loss and pain in that man’s face. I wanted to get up and walk across the room and get the remote and change the channel then watch something mindless or do something mindless or eat something to distract myself from internalizing his pain but I couldn’t move. Then, when the interview was done, I cried for that dad and twenty-five other families that would never spend another day with their loved ones.
That’s when it hit home for me. After that I couldn’t sleep for days. I silently panicked every time I dropped my daughter off at school. To this day, even a year later I put my hand on my daughter’s head every single day she leaves for school and pray for her safe return home.
God, please protect her, I pray. Or, God, thank you for protecting her, I pray. Or, God, if someone has to go please take me. Please.
As I write this my chest is tight and my eyes burn and the panicked feeling that I felt whenever she left for school is coming back.
I wish I could write eloquently about gun control and gun violence and the need for better health care for the mentally ill. I’ve done the research and tried to put the ideas together but I just can’t. All I think about are babies here one second, gone the next, dying in terror at the whims of a madman. I think that despite babies being killed almost nothing has been done about guns in this country. Then I get angry and I have to calm down and pray, along with just about every other parent in America, that a madman with weapons and a grudge never walks through the door.
Yesterday was a pretty busy day. I woke up early, fought the traffic to New York, then ran from downtown to midtown to SoHo to Brooklyn. Then, I fought the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge then the Holland Tunnel, arrived home, fed my daughter, took her to dance class then back home again then put her to bed.
Not a great day, but not a bad one either, just busy.
I fell asleep early but my sleep was restless. Finally, something woke me up at around 11:00pm and I couldn’t go back to sleep until around 2:00am.
I don’t know why. I searched my mind for the source of my restlessness but couldn’t find anything. Nothing overwhelming was going on, just the usual. Thinking about work, about the things I wrote that day and what I wanted to write the next day, the design of my new website and where I was going to find the Elf on a Shelf my daughter was sure was going to magically show up in her bedroom the next day. A lot of things to be sure but nothing overwhelming or anything I was particularly worried about.
Finally, exhausted, I fell asleep until my alarm woke me up. I was hoping I’d wake up sans that restless feeling but there it was, like an apparition that you feel but only see out of the corner of your eye.
I shuffled into my daughter’s room to wake her up for school. She was curled into an S under the beautiful pink blanket her mother crocheted for her when she was only a bunch of cells dividing in the womb. It took a minute but she finally woke up, stood up on her bed and threw her arms around me.
Every single day, I say the same thing to my daughter in the morning. It’s the first thing I said to her minutes after she was born. “I’m so happy to see you today.”
This morning my daughter beat me to it. She must have somehow sensed I had this restlessness inside me because she said “Hi Daddy, I’m so happy to see you today.”
Doesn’t seem like much, does it? But, like magic, the spirit of restlessness was gone. Whatever discontent I was feeling was no match for a seven year-olds sincere love and appreciation for her dad.
“I’m happy to see you today honey,” I said. I meant it.
A lot has been happening lately. Things that were lost are found again and some things I thought were permanent are slowly fading. Luckily, some things will never fade and I am finding that these are things I must hold onto and cherish. I watched a Sermon by Joel Osteen the other day called Remembering the Good. Part of what he said was that sometimes we get down, not playing the good times in our minds but the bad. That’s my plan, to remember the good, so that when next the spirit of restlessness visits me, as it visits us all, I won’t fight it. I’ll invite it in and hang out with it for a while, remembering the good. Then, after a while I’ll show it the door and move on as we all must.
I haven’t spoken with my father much lately. A few weeks ago we spoke about the past. I chose to tell him how I saw things. He chose to not talk to me anymore.
That’s the risk you run when you share your truth.
The other day, stressed and tired, I snapped at my daughter. She didn’t deserve it and a few minutes later I sat next to her on the floor and apologized. Without a moment’s hesitation my sweet, wonderful child threw her arms around her flawed and imperfect father and said, “it’s okay Dad, I forgive you.
Then she ran to get her backpack to get the picture that she’d drawn for me, and we talked about the good times we had in the summer.
It took a six year old to teach her father about forgiveness.
Still, I haven’t made the call I know I should make. Maybe my truth is the truth and making the call would be tantamount to denying it. Maybe, there’s a part of me that knows that I should have kept my mouth shut and allowed my father to have his reality, and not knock down the walls he’s built around the truth. Maybe I’m sick and tired of being the one expected to make the peace.
So, what will happen if history repeats itself? How will it feel if I am on the receiving end of the quiet anger from my grown child who’s too tired, too stressed and too damn weary to give much of a damn what her old man thinks? I hope that I’ll have the strength to admit my failures. I hope something of the little girl who threw her arms around her dad remains and that she can forgive me once again.
I hope she remembers that I took her to the beach, and that we went to Coney Island and we had fun.
Once upon a time, my dad took me to the beach. He took me to Coney Island. We had fun too.
One minute I’m staring up at the ceiling, listening to the creaks and shudders of a house settling down for the night and wishing, hoping praying that just for once I could fall asleep like a normal person, then the next I’m in a frantic dreamland fun house occupied by every bogeyman I’ve ever been afraid of. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about loss, so my dreams are saturated with sad goodbyes that translate, when I wake up, into a fog of emotion that should burn away in the sunlight but never does. The worst ones involve my daughter and her walking away to a far-away building. She enters and some hazy form is just inside the doorway, someone I feel I should know but don’t. She embraces him/her then shuts the door without looking back. She is gone, and I know without anyone telling me that I won’t ever see her again.
Maybe it’s the season. Maybe it’s me coming to terms with things I should have a long time ago. Or maybe, as a friend told me, I’m mourning, finally.
“Daddy,” she said. “It’s the song we danced to at the father-daughter dance. Remember, at the recital?”
I did remember. The father-daughter dance is usually the last number at her dance recitals and last year the song was Dance with Cinderella, the kind of song about a father and daughter I might have made fun of in another life. Now that I am a father, with a daughter, the song about a dad watching his little girl grow up and get married gets me every single time. During rehearsals the song played over and over and over, and over and over a roomful of men, tough resilient men, men of all races and ages linked by the common thread of our love of our little girls, wiped their eyes and pretended not to see the emotion welling in one another as we danced with our beautiful daughters.
I felt the emotion again and began to think about the dream I had the night before and how the song fit perfectly into my fears of losing what I loved. Then…
“Dance with me Daddy.”
I stood up and tried to remember the steps and for the next three minutes we danced, me trying not to step on her feet, she trying to get in as many twirls and spins as one gorgeous six-year old ballerina could in so short a time. When the song was over we danced some more to another song, then another, then another.
It wasn’t until later, after I’d kissed her good night, that I realized I’d missed the point of the song, of my dreams, of life. Stop worrying about what may come and enjoy what is. I wasted time agonizing about the future when the present is here to be lived. I still don’t know what my dreams meant, or why I was having them but now it doesn’t seem as important.
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone…
“How you doing there, buddy? You okay? I just came by to tell you something. Maybe you know it already. But I wanna make sure. I’m gonna kill ya.”
Elmore Leonard – Mr. Majestyk
My friends thought I snuck into my parents’ room for the magazines. Sometimes I did. My father kept a collection of Playboys, Hustlers and the odd Swank or Penthouse “hidden” in his nightstand.
“Put them nasty magazines away, don’t let the boys see them,” I heard my mother say to him on more than one occasion. She didn’t approve of them, and she wouldn’t approve of me looking at them, of that I was sure. I wasn’t opposed to seeing naked women, what twelve year-old boy is, but the truth of it was, today I wasn’t there for skin, I was there for the books.
My friends and I had tried to fit a week’s worth of summer fun in only a few hours. Summer vacation had just begun and we were like colts in a field, running around, testing our legs and wearing ourselves out. It was only around noon, but already we’d gone fishing, swimming, and played multiple games of soccer and table tennis. Out of sheer boredom I’d tormented the Nichols girls across the street but that got old quickly and now here I was, bully beef sandwich in one hand, glass of lemonade in the other, sneaking into my parents room.
The nightstand with the magazines and books, the treasure chest, as my buddy Joel called it, was on my father’s side of the bed and I sat on the floor next to it, my back against the cool concrete wall. As I took a bite of my sandwich, a big green and red lizard scurried in through the louvered window, looking for a place to ride out the heat of the hot Jamaican afternoon. If my mother was around, she would have chased the lizard out with a broom, but I didn’t mind sharing the room with him. It was hot and there was room enough for both of us.
I finished my lunch, wiped my hands on a napkin, and opened the nightstand doors, releasing the rich scent of my father’s Benson and Hedges cigarettes and revealing the familiar stack of girlie magazines and the paperbacks stacked neatly next to them. I knew each title by heart and it only took a quick glance to see that there was nothing new, just the same collection of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner books, two of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft novels and a Tom Clancy.
I’d read them all at least twice, some more than that. I had no context for the violence in those books, we had no Internet, no DVD’s or even VCR’s. The Jamaica Broadcasting Company was the only channel and they signed on at 6pm and signed off promptly at midnight. Books were my outlet and what I lacked in context I more than made up for in love of words. I loved the language the heroes used, the exotic motherfuckers and cocksuckers and sonofabitches. I loved the tough women who hated the hero at first but soon ended up in bed with him. I loved the exotic locales like Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, L.A., Entebbe and Rio de Janero. I loved the tough guy dialogue, how behind every word was a threat, and I loved that the characters sometimes did bad things for good reasons.
I closed the nightstand up again, frustrated, tempted to re-read one of Shaft books but I knew them practically by heart. The afternoon stretched out ahead of me like a hazy desert road, and I sighed and started to rise. Maybe I would go ride my bike or find my buddies and aimlessly wander through the neighborhood until some entertainment presented itself. I was almost out of the room when I remembered the empty glass and soiled napkin I’d left behind. My mother would forgive a lot, but not eating in her bedroom, so I went back for the evidence, relieved that I’d remembered. I bent over to pick them up spotted something under the bed, and reached for it. It was a new paperback but one very different from my dad’s usual fare. This one didn’t have a muscular hero on the cover, guns blazing as he stormed a Mob stronghold. There was no huge-breasted woman draped over the hero like a cheap coat. There were no cars or fighter jets streaking to deliver a payload on some desert encampment. No, just some kind of abstract scene, a man looking into the distance the title Mr. Majestyk and the name of the author, Elmore Leonard.
I lay on my parents’ bedroom floor, opened the book, and began to read. If the lizard was disappointed that he wouldn’t have the room to himself, he didn’t say a word. I hurriedly put the book away a few hours later when I heard my father’s car in the driveway, then spent the night wishing morning would come and my parents would go to work so I could read the rest.
[pullquote position=”right”]“I spent most of my dough on booze, broads and boats and the rest I wasted.”~ Elmore Leonard, LaBrava[/pullquote]
I finished the book the next day and lay there for a while trying to understand what had just happened. I knew I loved the language. I knew I was haunted by the book in a way I couldn’t yet understand. Eventually I put it away and forgot about Mr. Leonard until years later. I was in the airport in Portland, Oregon where my brother and I had spent the summer with my mom and her new husband. My brother and I were going to New York to meet my dad and start our new life in America. We were two kids who’d left the country we grew up in and were moving to strange new place. A much bigger and faster place, where the people didn’t speak like us didn’t look like us. We were scared.
We got on the plane, found our seats, and sat without speaking. Then, shortly after the flight took off, I found two abandoned Elmore Leonard paperbacks in the seat pocket in front of me. I opened the first one and began reading. Mr. Leonard’s style hadn’t changed and it took me back to the day only a couple of years before when my family was intact, when my mother and father loved one another, and where the only thing I had to think about was whether we would go for a swim before or after our soccer game.
The flight was five hours long and I read both books through. When I was done, I started the first one again and got halfway before the pilot announced we were over New York City. My brother and I looked out at the city that was to be our home with wide eyes. I was still scared, I still missed my mother and I still wanted to go home but I had those Elmore Leonard books. I had worlds to disappear into. I had good guys and bad guys and questionable women. I had fiction, and I knew I would be okay.
Mr. Leonard was my writing hero. I fantasied about meeting him and telling him how he gave a scared kid courage, how he was and remains an inspiration. I wanted to ask him how he said so much while saying so little and I wanted to pick his brain about his characters. Chances are that would have never happened but it was nice to fantasize.