Friday, November 7, 2008

Notes From a Seven Year Old Boy

I remember my brother with an asthma inhaler wedged deep into one striped tube sock. Playing left field in Little League. Way, way, way left field. I remember my brother hucking rotten plums at my window when we were little, the Rush poster on his wall when we were not so little. I remember when I was six and I pushed down as hard as I could on a pen to write FUCK YOU ANDY but the d was backwards so it really read ANBY, how I folded and folded and folded up the paper to hide underneath his bed. I remember how he let me sleep on his floor when I was scared, up until I was sixteen. I remember the first time I knew we would be friends. But what I do not remember is the first time I realized he is fearless, the boy with the asthma inhaler in his tube sock. Because he is. Always has been. He writes and directs screenplays, as well as directs commercials. Because he can. He is good and he is fearless and he is my friend and if he still lived in the room next door I'd probably still be sleeping on his floor. Introducing my brother, Andrews:

That's him on the bottom right with the whiskers. I'm the evil child in the middle wearing the pinafore and a grimace.

Memories are not what you think.
Or rather, what you think is not your memories.
After serious study and countless corrections, it would seem to me that the only accurate thing you take away from history is a feeling.
Ever been asked about an early childhood memory? So vivid in your mind. But then your parents chime in, No, no, that was actually Uncle so-and-so. That was really Christmas at blah de blah’s.
Your memory seems so strong. You know it so personally. But think about what that memory is. Is it a time or place filled with facts?
Or is it more specific in a less specific way?
If we un-think about it for a moment, memory is fairly fluid. Our childhood memory even more so. People often remember an event but when questioned the places, the people, the color, the time, the details of a memory are more often filled-in blanks than cold hard facts.
So what’s the filling?
Not facts or figures. More like shades of sensations: warmth, love, protection, fear, wonder.

And scale? How wondrous! To be a woodland child in the immense forest of towering Redwood adults.
Irrelevant details? Magical! I can tell you more about the space beneath my father’s roll-top desk than the man who owned it for longer than I had been alive.
And feelings? Those are the priceless collector’s first edition notes we send to ourselves. From a 7-year old me to the adult I am today.
Today I’d like to read to you from the biggest book in the library of little me. It’s a great work called: Mom v. Fear. (I know this is a blog post, so my Homeric epic will be the abridged version. Don’t worry, I’ve got excellent Cliff’s notes.)
In Chapter I – My Mom sits a very young me down and tells me she is going to magically make my favorite freckle on the back of my hand disappear. (Yes, I had and have a favorite freckle.) Abracadabra, 1, 2, 3... with a wave over the hand, I disappear thee. Gone! Holy crap it’s gone! (more like internal dialogue) A witch! A God! All powerful and VERY scary! I want my freckle back!!!
And seeing I’m clearly upset, she immediately makes it come back. Ah, nothing to fear, she says and the magic is undone.
Later editions footnote this chapter by adding the protagonist used skin concealer make-up to make my freckle disappear. Regardless, the moral of the story becomes a major plot point: Nothing to fear and anything is possible.
Chapter II- Three very large leather-clad bullies linger on a street corner. NYC. The mean streets. The movie “The Warriors” is still in theaters. Oh, this is bad. Very bad. Bad bad bad. I won’t ever walk past this corner. These guys are dark angels of hell. Hell’s Angels! Maybe literally, yes, I'm seven, I know.
Mom sees this, me, them. Senses my fear like only a mother can and employs her super-power Southern genetic gift for gab.
Will we gain passage past the evil Tri-leather-clad-clops?
Hey, watchya guys doing? Yeah? That’s cool...
More of this, more of that. Gab. Gab. Gab. Soon those big guys are all laughing and telling us the way to the David Copperfield show on Broadway.
Magic! Poof. Or an act of illusion? History reveals the antagonists may have been more like “The Village People,” their evil biker leathers more like ass-less chaps. But the plot point?
Stunning! Fearless! You can walk up and disarm an entire street gang with easy-going banter? Brilliant!
Chapter III (Then time for bed, young man) – Evil corporate giant goes toe-to-toe with my mom. Battle royale.
The details are sketchy because almost no one survived to tell the tale, but this eyewitness recalls a small boy playing with a toy inside a massive multi-national corporate giant’s headquarters only to be lambasted by the CEO of said company. Authority incarnate vs. the little guy. Hurt and humiliated, I tell my mom.
And what does she do? She goes AFTER the evil corporate giant! How dare you scold a little boy for playing with the toys. This is ‘Toy World’ after all!
The nuanced logic may have been lost on me at the time, but the essence wasn’t.

Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your rights! (SING IT!!!)
I was never more proud. My mom defeats authoritarian fear itself!
The moral of the story? Honestly? The moral is: the book of my memory is a bad read because the details and accounts are sketchy at best. I took scant notes for this book report, yet somehow the meaning has been fused to my soul. And to this day, those memories are the sole notes I’ve sent to my adult self.
Be fearless.
And when in doubt, use concealor. Fake it 'til you make it. I remember. And I am: fearless. And with an overly heroic sense of self, I’ll throw myself into anything. Without fear. Why not? There’s nothing false about bravado! I learned from the best. My mom. She wrote the book.
And that’s a perfectly accurate memory as far as I’m concerned.
You see, the “real” facts only trivialize the story. They aren’t important. The better editors of our imagination cross them out with red ink. History may be made by those who write it. But reality is made by those who feel it.
So, for today’s Petunia Face guest blog I humbly ask my sister’s readers to take one moment to look at their child. Right now. And try to imagine... What are they remembering from this very same moment?
It’s probably not what you think. And exactly how they feel.
These are the notes they’ll send to themselves in the future.
And this is your chance to be a Ghostwriter.


Heather, said...

damn, you are both gifted writers! xo

Misplaced Country Girl said...

Holiday gatherings must be amazing with your family!

That was really beautiful.

Aartee said...

Seriously the talent most definitely runs in the family!

Judy said...

If a heart could actually burst with pride, then someone should definitely be calling 911 right now as I type through tear-misted eyes. My Andy Boy....WOW!

I could go on forever (and most of you know that's not only true but almost a given) and never be able to describe the amazing and magical child-now man, our Son is.

Andy writes of Mom vs Fear and I am so very, very glad that he has these memories. But let me tell you of one of MY most definitive Andy memories which, ironically, have everything to do with FEAR...and how my Boy deals with it.

Back in 1982 I was happily and fearlessly driving along 101S to see a patient in a near-by town. It was a beautiful day...until. The "Until" changed me, changed my life forever. In the space between getting onto the exit ramp and the intersection at its end, I was ambushed by the worst thing that has ever happened to me...the one thing that brought me to my knees and humbled me as nothing before or after ever has....a Panic Attack so overwhelming that, even though I knew what it was, it still crippled me almost completely. I don't know how many times I tried to keep going to my original destination, knowing that if I didn't, I would lose a battle I hadn't even known I was engaging in. I didn't make it to the patient's and I still don't know how I made it home to my bed, the bed in a darkedned bedroom that became, for weeks, the only safe place in the world to me. I do know that my ego couldn't admit that my MIND was disabling me. In the 20 minutes or so it took me to get home that day, I convinced myself that I had the Flu.I lay there in bed "having the Flu". I was more wretched and hopeless and helpless than I'd ever been in my life, more so than my imagination could ever have conjured up. Deep down I knew I didn't have the Flu. I only knew that suddenly I was fatally flawed and I didn't have a clue as to what to do next. I was letting down everyone I loved and that was not an acceptable option. Death would have been a relief but I couldn't leave my children, my family.

One day Andy, 12 years old, came and lay down beside me and this is almost exactly what he said to me and he cuddled against me stroking my arm soothingly,

"Mom, you know you don't have the Flu don't you? You know you're just really scared. Do you want me to take you to the Doctor's so you can get better? I love you and I want you to be O.K. again."

THAT was the beginning of my recovery, the first tiny sliver of hope; because suddenly I knew that if I was scared out of my wits, how terrified must my children have been, my husband. Yet here was a tiny but very wise boy, MY Boy, not just laying it out there but offering to help me get back from the land of Nowhere But Despair.

I don't think I have ever told you, Andy Boy, what you did for me that day. And, while it's true that I had little fear of THINGS/PEOPLE/SITUATIONS and would have faced off with a rabid Bear or CEO if they messed with my children; until you slipped into my bed that day, I was paralyzed with such overwhelming amorphous FEAR of myself that there just wasn't much else that existed but the unending circle of fear of panic-panic-fear-blur-FEAR.

Thank you for the beautiful words. More than anything in the world, I am glad that you have memories like those. But as to who taught whom about fearlessness and the concept that anything is possible....well, my memory says that when I was as down as I've ever been, it was YOUR hand that I first saw to grab onto and YOUR fearlessness that guarded me to that first step up and out of the pit.

What an incredible man you are. (And, yes, Folks, the writing gene in this family most definitely follows the fraternal line.) Your post was overwhelmingly magnificent. I love you so much more than I can say.....Like A Rock!

Anonymous said...

Such a great post. It brought back a ton of memories for me!

The Lil Bee said...

Wow, I didn't realize this was you at first, I thought it was Suzannah! Such a neat trip down memory lane. I loved it. And how many siblings do you guys have, anyway!?

Robin said...

Wow! One. Talented. Family.

Kwana said...


Petunia Face said...

Hi all,
Just to clarify--that motley assortment of kids in the photo is most definitely NOT all relatives. In fact, I only recognize a few of the kids there. I just love the photo for how ragamuffin we all look.

As far as siblings, it's just my bro and me. And as you can see, I hit the jackpot with that one!


Visual Vamp said...

What a great fabulous jag you guys are on...
xo xo

karey m. said...

i know you're busy and all...

but, umm. start a blog, will you?

thank you in advance.

{seriously. this changed my moment. totally. thank you.}

Erin said...

I love this post! Thanks for the reminder, Andy. I'm looking at the world through my son's eyes today. And, yes, the talent gene runs rampant in the J family.

Anonymous said...

It's been a particularly challenging day with my toddler boy. And despite my efforts to stay calm and cool, I know I was anything but at times.
I read this after putting his sister and him to bed for the night... relishing a moment or two of adult time to myself.

When I read this post, though, I shut the computer and crept back up the stairs, into their room where she was sawing logs and he was lying there thumb in mouth and reflecting on who knows what.

I crawled in beside him to snuggle, to tell stories, to talk about our day and what's in store tomorrow.

When I asked if he knew how much I loved him, he said, " da moon 'n' back."

I hope that thought carried him off to sleep. And and I hope that one day, when he might miss me, and I undoubtedly missing him, he'll look up at the moon and know my love and then some.

Thank you for the nudge.

flutter said...

This is absolutely gorgeous

Emily McKhann said...

Wow, what an amazing start to my day to read Andrews' wonderfull post!!!!! What a duo you two are!!!!! The post is so beautifully written, evocative, and inspiring, and I'm thinking differently about my 8 and 6 year olds today, and also, remembering back to my feelings around my earliest memories. Thank you so much both of you!

Megan said...

Spectacular read, you guys have it all wrapped up. The S.A. version of the Coppolas!

I *Heart* You said...

um, amazing post. and that face your sister is making in the picture is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

...I've got the very best idea ever! Okay penicillin and champagne were both probably way better ideas, but still. This is pretty good. :)

We've all been so moved and amazed by these recent posts from you and your family. What if you all wrote One Book - separately, yet together...the way you've done here?? You are each individually amazing, brilliant, funny, loving, talented people that make an even more special collective.

Reading what you wrote was something so unique. The separate experiences, paths crossing and uncrossing, memories of date/time revealing themselves differently, yet with common ground, each voice adding additional depth and meaning to each individual's story - all culminating to the Here and PFG :), and to who knows what else, but I'm sure it will all be good!

I, for one, would really really love this book.

Just a thought! Whatever you do, I hope you keep writing, and especially, keep writing to us. I feel really lucky to be a part of this community, albeit it a relatively new one. I wouldn't be sending this anonymously, but since I'm new to all this am sans-clue about how to become A Real Person out here (technology-love/hate/etc.) :)

Oh Brother! said...

Hello all,

What an amazing group of peeps my sister calls her Petunia Faced friends!

I'm very pleased to meet you all and thanks for the read. I believe "Blam" (ah yes, that'd be her nickname... another "PT" exclusive), has more planned for ya'll.

You are all too kind in this neck of the cyber woods. It's honestly been my pleasure.

Wasn't my Dad's post a seriously good mega-ton post? Wow. I loved it.

So, just wanted to stop in and pay my respects. In the words of Petunia Faced girl herself... "Thankyouverymuch!"