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Super-hero Grampa, a.k.a. Fast Frankie

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I grew up with a super-hero.  Well, mostly we just wrote letters and saw each other over summer vacation, but still, there he was.  My own super-hero.  His name was Frank.

Fast Frank.

The owner of Frankie’s House of Ale Repute.

My grampa.

This was a man who I could sit in a boat with for hours, trolling along the lake, hoping for a fish to bite.  I’m sure we talked, but mostly I remember being quiet, and being comfortable with the silence.  It was like fishing with Buddah.  I know, that’s a bit of an oxymoronic thing to say.  Buddah would have kissed the fish and put them back in the lake, we ate them.  But we ate them with love in our bellies. Does that count?

When we lived over seas, we were pen pals.  He would write my sister and I, diligently.  He was the best letter writer of them all.  After he died, we found a box of love letters that he had written to my gramma, and I thought that she must’ve been the luckiest woman in the world to have such a romantic pursuing her.  In the summertime, we would go back to Washington State and play in the sunshine (yes.  Another ironic statement, I know) and the lake.  He bought an ancient motor boat to teach us how to water ski.  He found us an old-fashioned surf board for us to play on.  He built a fire pit and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows religiously.  Since we always missed the Fourth of July in the U.S., he would buy us mass supplies of illegal fireworks, and we’d shoot them off, driving the neighbors crazy, in the middle of August.

He called me Blondie.  He called me Liver Lip.  He called me Bubble Head.

He loved to tease me about my obsession with Michael Jackson.  While my sister and I poured over Star Magazine, laying out in the sun on the lake, he’d whip up chocolate coladas for my parents and anyone who was stopping by to visit.  He always had friends, and best stories you’ve ever heard.  He was a creative, optimistic fella.

He only made me cry twice.

One day, we were walking in the woods.  I was in college.  He told me he didn’t want to be old.  He felt like in his mind he was still only twenty-one.  But his damn body was not keeping up.  I didn’t know what to say.  His radiant blue eyes were sad.  I wanted to tell him to live forever and to keep loving me because I couldn’t imagine a planet without him on it.  He was a giver of unconditional love, and I didn’t want to ever be without it.

The next time he made me cry was when he died.  Do you remember a time when not everyone had a cell phone?  But business people and cool people and drug dealers had PAGERS.  That seemed like the wave of the future.  Maybe they were right.  With the texting we all do now, we could have probably done just that with a $25 pager.  Hmmmm.  Anyway, I was not a drug dealer, but I did have a thing for being cool.  Nah.  I was a business owner, running my wee massage practice.  I had a pager, and absolutely no one ever paged me.  So, I never had it with me.  I left it in my car when I went to see Titanic with Kate and Leo.  Ah, the cheese ball Celine Dion song.  “I’m the King of the WORLD!”  The iceberg.  It was an emotional roller coaster, for sure.  I dragged my weary ass out of my movie seat and walked through the snow back to my car.  I had fifteen pages.

My grampa had suffered a massive stroke.  He was still alive.  I hated that movie. I hated my pager.  I bought an overpriced ticket and my sister and I flew back to Washington.  I hated Washington.

We arrived at SeaTac and looked for my parents.  They had just flown in from Saudi Arabia.  We found a rental car and wouldn’t you know it, it was snowing like mad – in Washington!  It hardly ever snows in Seattle.  Of course, this wasn’t a light snow either.  There was about 6 inches and we had to find this hospital on a steep Seattle hill.   Once we had slid around and parked the car in a precarious location, wondering if it would slide into Puget Sound while were inside, we ran in to see my grampa. He was still talking, but he wasn’t opening his eyes.  I put my hand on his head and it was the hottest head I had ever felt in my life.  Not even super-heroes burn that hot.

This was not going improve, I knew it right then.

While everyone else was chatting, he said to me, “I don’t want to die yet.  I’m not ready to die.”  I was trying not to cry because I didn’t want to make him feel worse and I just said, “Well, maybe you don’t have to.”  It was a stupid thing to say, but it was all that would come out.  I just kept holding on to his hand.  I wanted to see those baby blues again, but he just didn’t have the strength.  We all told him we loved him and we’d see him in the morning.  The doctors talked about options for survival, and care, and what part of his brain had been affected.  We pretended to play with those ideas, building them up like claymation people in our heads about what this new direction of living would look like.

I wish we had stayed.  Just to have that whole night in his presence would have given me ten more hours of Frankie.  I would love to have ten more hours with my super-hero.

I slept with my sister, like we were kids again and not married people.  We giggled like we did fifteen years before, both of us nervous and uncomfortable with what was happening and what we couldn’t stop.  We slept with our contacts in, ready to go at a moments notice.  As we thought, 7 a.m. we were on the road because he had taken a turn for the worse during the night.  They kept him alive while we drove there.  My sister hit some sort of speed vortex and we made it from Bremerton to Seattle in less than 45 minutes (in rush hour).  This is an impossibility, so I know she’s magic.

Pure magic, that girl.

We arrived and stood vigil around his bed.  It was our family and my uncle.  We all touched him somewhere.  I was back at his head when I realized my dad didn’t seem to know what to do.  We made him stand there, and I held onto his feet. As they turned off the machines that were helping him breathe, we all held on and told him we loved him and it was okay for him to leave, because we would always remember him.  But, it wasn’t okay.  Who was going to love me with such pure goodness?  I wanted to be a kid again and throw a tantrum, but I didn’t.   I looked over at one point and realized that at another bed were two teenagers saying goodbye to their dad.  I realized I was being so selfish.  I had him in my life for so long.  But, if you met Frankie, you would see.  Those blue eyes of his had the power to warm the coldest toes.

His body was much smaller once he was gone.  That is not a myth.  He shrunk. Without that big personality inside of his body, I realized he was a pretty little guy.

Who would’a thunk that those superheroes were just humans.

I missed that unconditional love for so long, other than the sweetness of my doggies.  Then I had a baby.  I had a baby that has my grampa’s barrel chest.  She has his slightly shorter than average arms.  She has my nose.  She had her daddy’s chin.  And she loves me with the ferocity of a child.  Only a child can do that.  Or a grampa.

I did get a few more minutes with him, years ago.  I had a dream that we were all together to celebrate his birthday.   I knew he wouldn’t be there long.  I cried and hugged him and cried some more.  I told him how much I love him.  I think that was a second chance to say goodbye.  Everyday without him, my eyes get a bit bluer.  The more I see, the more they look like his.

I miss you Fast Frankie.  I wish you could meet this kid who reminds me so much of you.

life in the gutter

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Who stole my sunshine?

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I went to college in Washington State, for a couple of years.  Tacoma, Washington, to be precise.  A city where Cops is filmed on a regular basis.

Tacoma was a hotbed of gang activity.  There were warnings about owning blue or red cars.   You didn’t make eye contact with anyone at the mall for fear of being shot.  In the midst of this gangland, was a high-end college.  The girls in my dorm had never been away from home.  They had never consumed alcohol that wasn’t in wine cooler form (unlike myself, who was a connoisseur of super cheap vodka).  They wore pure white Keds and had shrines devoted to their high school boyfriends.  Barf.  Ooops.  That may have been the vodka coming back up.

I had a roommate.  She smelled.  But she did not smell as bad as her hippy boyfriend. Together, they smelled like an old pair of socks.  They were always stuck together like an old pair of socks too.  I think their cumulative brain power was about equal to a pair of socks.  So, the socks took over my dorm room.   Every time I came back to it, there they were.  Stuck together.  Stinking up the place.

I’d grown up with stories about high school being hard.  I had no idea that college would be worse.  At least I had dated in high school.  In college, suddenly all the fish in the sea had dried up and joined fraternities (or smelled like socks… or both).  What was going on here?  I was swimming every morning, and every afternoon. I wasn’t sleeping at night because I had a bone-headed frat boy above me who liked to bounce his basketball while he drank.  All night long. The girl swimmers there were dead serious.  There was a rule of absolutely no drinking during the season.  And everyone showered together after practice!  How was I supposed to do that if I wasn’t drinking?  Oh my god, I’m in hell!!!

My dorm was across the street from the pool, so I chose to shower there.   That made me happy, until one of the senior girls asked me what my problem was.

“Why don’t you just shower here?  It’s not like we’re all lesbians or something.”

Actually, I do believe that she was a lesbian.  But that was not my problem.   I was, and always have been, totally uncomfortable with nudity – ESPECIALLY IN A GROUP SHOWER. I mumbled and retreated to my stupid dorm, with stupid college kids, planning stupid parties, that I was stupidly jealous of not being invited to.

Somehow children borne to the same parents, often turn out to have completely and utterly opposite personalities.   My sister loved this school.  My parents wondered what was wrong with me.  They wondered if I was becoming an alcoholic (borderline, but only for two years).  They wondered why I couldn’t just enjoy it, like my sister.  Maybe you should join her sorority.  Me?  Sorority?

If you want a laugh, you should picture ME going through Rush.  What a complete mess.  I had to wear nice clothes, brush my hair, and smile constantly.  My face actually hurt from smiling so much.  There was one African American girl in the whole lot of us.  That was IT!  She made it two days and quit.  She was sooooo much smarter than me.  I made it through, suffering only one nervous breakdown during a Rush party.  I had quit the swim team (the sober group showering had broken me) just prior to the party.   When asked how I was enjoying school, my eyes betrayed my plastic smile and started pouring tears.   Against my better judgment, my nose started expelling snot.  Even the gasping, suffocating sounds of true pent up sadness came tumbling out.

Funny.  They dropped me from their list immediately.

The only “house” that didn’t drop me was the one my sister was in.  They were hurting for members.  I fit the bill.  I joined a sorority.

Was my life instantly better?  Were boys falling at my feet? No.  Nothing had really changed except that I had rid myself of the group shower experience and introduced myself to the group sleeping experience. ACK.  We had “sleeping chambers” which fit four bunk beds.  We were constantly sick, so the windows were always opened in an futile attempt to cleanse our putrid, viral air.  Tacoma was once a town with an active paper mill and a pickle factory.  These are two smells that should never be combined.  In fact, the closest comparison I have is skunk.  We slept in our chamber, breathing in the “clean” skunky air, alone, still without boyfriends.   Then the screaming began.

There was a girl in our “chamber” who suffered from night terrors.  That means there were eight of us in that chamber suffering from night terrors.  Okay.  I thought the swim team was hell.  I was wrong.  To finally fall asleep in a place where melatonin never kicks in because the sun never shines and your body has no sense of day and night only to be awoken by a screaming college student, is just a brutal thing (well, that’s what a spoiled college student thinks.  Little did I know what motherhood would bring).

I tried to make the most of it by rebelling.  I got drunk and sang “watermelon” over and over when our sorority went to serenade the fraternities (are these the rantings of a crazy person?  perhaps.  BUT, if you mouth the word “watermelon” while singing, it looks like you know all the words.  this is in the same vein as whispering “olive oil” instead of “I love you” – invaluable knowledge, eh?).  I stole a Red Hot Chili Peppers cd from a dance.  I felt the frat boys weren’t worthy of such great, funky music.  I know, such a serious rebel.  You’re scared, aren’t you?

Go figure, becoming a sorority girl a) did not make me any happier, and b) did not suit me at all.   But, I did learn more about myself.  I learned that I am a woman who brushes her teeth daily, but maybe not her hair.  I don’t see the value in serenading frat boys, especially sober.   I like the sun.   I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  And I REALLY like showering ALONE.

My sister loved this school, as I said.  Now, we both love Colorado (where the sun shines almost every day! And it only smells like skunks when there is a skunk).  She married one of the frat boys who we serenaded with “watermelon.”

Maybe it was his cd I stole.

I still feel worthy of those funky Chili Peppers tunes, because in my bubble I am funky. Not smelly sock funky, but funky like a monkey.  Like a funky monkey, eating bananas, in her sun-shiny pink bubble of happiness.