Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

Archive for the category “Three Guys”

Doing really well… NOT

TUESDAY, August 31 – He’s enjoying life at the top of his voice. He goes around the house singing, baking cookies for everyone, and playing the piano. This has been going on for days. ‘Come and sit down for a minute, son,’ I tell Sander. ‘How are you doing?’

Pretty well, apparently. But I try to explain that I find his uninhibited cheerfulness a bit worrying. That it wouldn’t surprise me if one of these days he had a relapse. That’s only normal and I wanted him to know that if that happened, I’d be there for him.

‘I had a bad moment today.’

This surprises me. ‘Really? I didn’t notice anything.’

It happened while he was on the way to the Conservatory. He was on his bike and had to stop for a traffic light, when all of a sudden he started swearing. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Just plain mad. Because Mom was gone. Because he had to go to his music lesson for the first time since Summer vacation and because everything seemed so ordinary.

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ I say.

Now it was his turn to look surprised.

‘I’d be really worried if you didn’t have moments like that, Sander. It’s only been ten months.’

‘That’s a pretty long time.’

‘We’ve got a much longer way to go, Sander. No matter what happens with you, with us, with C and her children, what our lives are like, and where we finally end up, just remember that I’ll be there for you.’

He still looked slightly surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have made such an issue of it, but it was for my own peace of mind, as well. I still have to pinch myself and the children every once in a while. Just to make sure we’re not dreaming.

“It’s okay if you get married”

MONDAY, August 9 – Night has fallen, but we’re wide awake and restless. In the moonlight the waters of Lake George continue to roll restlessly. On the small pier in front of the hotel we see three comfortable chairs and we accept the invitation.

We realize that we’re tired and ready to call it a day – to leave the country we still regard as our fatherland, but Amsterdam is our home, even though we speak English there.  Her and their native language. Even I find it easier to express my emotions in this language.

‘I smile a lot more,’ Eamonn says, as we attempt to draw up the balance. Things are improving. It’s not all good, but it’s better. A lot better, in fact. I remind Eamonn of the moment when he declared that he would never be able to have fun again.  ‘So things actually can get better,’ I say.

Sander agrees. ‘Things feel right. We’re starting to get over it.’

I have no desire to undermine, qualify or feed his optimism. I leave it at that. Sitting here, on the pier, we can take on the whole world.

‘You know what, Papa?  I’d understand if you and C got married.’

Whoa.

‘Watch what you’re saying,’ I laugh.

‘No, I mean in a year or so. That would be all right.’

‘Thank you, Sander.’

Eamonn has something to say, and requests the floor.

But first: ‘Papa, you mustn’t put this in your book. Not yet.’

I give him my word.

Then he tells us what he’s planning to do in a little over two months, what he wanted to do last May, but couldn’t.  What he’ll do later. Sander and I are deeply impressed. On one condition, he says: that we do it together. Sounds like a great plan.

And one thing is clear:  We’re doing well. Very well, indeed.

Tipping tips from Mom

SUNDAY, August 8 – Breakfast on the hotel porch.  The boys walk back and forth. Omelet, Fruit Loops, bagels, toast, bacon, sausages, orange juice, coffee, watermelon, bananas. Boys love buffets.  There’s nothing for the waitress to do, but I still give her a big tip. It’s a great morning and her smile is worth it.

‘Papa, do you have to tip? Sander asks.

‘If the waitress ignores us, makes one mistake after the other, brings us something we didn’t order and then says it’s our fault,’ I say, and it’s happened to me more than once, ‘then I don’t have to give her a tip.’

‘But here we serve ourselves. Why does she get a tip?’

‘Because she brought the coffee and put the cutlery on the table, and she didn’t charge us for Eamonn’s breakfast. And besides, she has such a lovely smile.

‘And what if you hadn’t given her a tip?’

‘If Mom had been here, she would have boxed my ears.’

The boys laugh.

I explain how it works. If she does her work properly, she gets 15 percent, and if she’s very good and obviously enjoys her work, she gets 20 percent. Jenn worked as a waitress for years. She hated it, but she perfected the professional smile.

With his iPod Sander chases a tiny beetle under the napkin.

‘Don’t you dare kill that animal,’ I warn him.

‘It isn’t an animal. It’s an insect.’

‘Yes,’ I maintain. ‘But it’s also an animal. And in any case, a living creature. So you’d better be careful maybe it’s Mom, reincarnated into a beetle.’

Great hilarity.

‘No, I don’t believe that,’ says Eamonn.

‘Why not?’

‘Mom was much better than some beetle.’

‘Well, what do you think she turned into?’

Without a moment’s hesitation, he said ‘a llama’.

‘A llama?  Why a llama?’

‘That was her favorite animal.’

Eamonn pulls his mouth as wide open as he can and makes smacking noises. We laugh. The waitress comes over to our table. She smiles, too, without knowing why.

‘Was everything satisfactory?’

‘More than that,’ I say. ‘More than that.’

She stank. Oh yeah, she did

SATURDAY, August 7 – The boys are curious about the sort of things I’ve written in my diary. Almost every morning during this vacation I’ve set the alarm for five o’clock so I can type out the notes I took during the first few months and rework the text. I give them the month of November.

While I continue with the month of January, Sander reads the first few weeks. We’re lying on our hotel bed. He keeps laughing out loud. He finds the passage recorded on November 7th hilarious – the one when we invented the ‘taking-a-shit theory’. He’s somewhat amazed that I dared to write that down since even just the word ‘shit’ is pretty daring. After the first sentence containing the F word, he knows what to expect. We call this artistic freedom of speech.

Eamonn joins in the laughter. He’s playing a game on the computer, but he’s also listening to Sander’s comments on my diary entries during those first few weeks.

‘I’d already forgotten a lot of things,’ says Sander. The shit theory was one of them.  ‘And what just occurred to me,’ he adds, ‘but don’t write this down is that Mom always stank after she pooped.’

Eamonn giggles. ‘Yeah, she did.’

I write this down and read the passage out loud.

‘Oh, no,’ Sander says. ‘I told you not to write that down!’

Eamonn laughs even harder and I join in. In the end, so does Sander. He throws a pillow at my head. I dodge it. He returns to reading my diary and I go on typing undisturbed.

Veggie Mom and her bacon

FRIDAY, August 6 – And the parenting goes on. We get an early start on our way to Cooperstown, a picturesque town in upstate New York and the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jennifer had often told Eamonn how she’d love to take him to the museum one day.

Today we’re making this stop in her name. Jennifer and I had been there together years ago. She had reminisced, then, about the time that she had visited the site as a little girl with her parents and brothers. Everyone in the Nolan family was, and is, crazy about baseball and their favorite team are the New York Mets, well represented in this Valhalla of baseball greats.

Just as on Ellis Island, I take on Jennifer’s role as history guide, talking a mile a minute about this quintessentially American attraction. Eamonn-the-baseball-player can’t believe his eyes. At first Sander turns up his adolescent nose, but our enthusiasm is contagious. I pretend that Jennifer and I are walking hand-in-hand through the exhibitions.

Over lunch we chat not about ‘Mom and baseball’ but about ‘Mom and bacon’. That strip of bacon on Sander’s hamburger smells so good and I recall how Jennifer, a confirmed vegetarian, admitted that her mouth began to water whenever she smelled bacon. The boys enjoyed the anecdote.

‘You can tell that one to your children when you’re old,’ I say with a smile.

Moments later we’re talking about ‘Mom and Grandma’. Eamonn says he can’t imagine Mom as a grandmother. I find that an interesting remark and ask him why.

He can’t explain it.  ‘It’s like I can’t picture her that old. But I don’t have any trouble seeing you as a grandfather, Papa.’

And Sander says that he can, too. Then the two of them start to fantasize about Papa Tim as the grandfather of their children. In a word: ‘someone who’ll let them get away with murder’.  I grin, but there’s a storm raging in my head. Jennifer and I had resigned ourselves to my suspicion that I would not live to a ripe old age, but that she would. She even said that she looked forward to being an old granny.

I decide not to share this with the boys. 

Inspiration from Green Day

THURSDAY, August 5 – We’re on our way to the concert by punk-rock band Green Day.  This is what brought us to Buffalo. It was Eamonn’s idea and I was immediately in favor: a trip to the far west of the state was an opportunity for the three of us to experience new things.

The truth was that I knew little or nothing about Green Day’s music; but, that’s why we have iTunes and Wikipedia. Sander took care of downloading the latest album and their all-time hits. I did some research on the members of the band, and stumbled across an interesting detail.

‘Hey, guys,’ I began casually.  ‘Do you know who the Green Day singer is?

They didn’t.

‘His name is Billie Joe Armstrong,’ I continued.

No bells rang.

‘Did you know that he was ten years old when his father died?

The boys shifted slightly on their chairs.

‘How do you know?’

I revealed my source. And then I told them how as a boy Billie Joe thoroughly disliked the man his mother married shortly afterwards and that he took refuge in music, locking himself in his room and writing songs. The boys listened raptly.

‘Do you remember the number Wake Me Up When September Ends?’  I asked.

Of course.

‘That’s what Mom wrote on her Facebook wall on September 30th last year,’ Sander immediately remembered. Which means that she must have been a big fan of Green Day, but we couldn’t really say for sure.

‘That number also has a special meaning for Billie Joe,’ I added, savoring the boys’ full attention.

Eamonn:  ‘And what was that?’

‘It’s about his father. It’s a tribute.’

On the spot we declared ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ our all-time favorite Green Day song.

            Summer has come and passed                                

            The innocent can never last

            Wake me up when September ends

            Like my father’s come to pass

            Seven years has gone so fast

            Wake me up when September ends

            Here comes the rain again

            Falling from the stars

            Drench in my pain again

            Becoming who we are

            As my memory rests

            But never forgets what I lost

            Wake me up when September ends

“My wife isn’t. She was”

WEDNESDAY, August 4 – ‘Hey, guys, did you brush your teeth?’  Okay, we’re off. A last mental check before we leave the hotel room and head for Niagara Falls.  We’re going to visit this miracle of nature from the Canadian side, so we’ll need more than wallet and car keys.

It’s really hot out, so there’s sunscreen  in the backpack. Also the passports, mine Dutch, theirs American. We’ll be crossing the border only a few hundred yards away. More important yet are the death certificate, birth certificates, and our marriage certificate. I know all the horror stories about the American immigration service, but all our documents are in order. No sweat.

This is the downside of traveling with children who bear their mother’s name. Border guards are extra alert with the risk of kidnapping always in the back of their minds. Entering Canada wasn’t a problem. The woman wanted to know if the children were mine. Yep. And that was that.  ‘Have a nice day, Sir.’ Jennifer loved Canada, the people being so nice.

Getting back into the States, via the famous Rainbow Bridge over the falls, was a bit more complicated. A couple of obvious questions about my tourist visa and the date of our trip back to Holland.  And then the identity of the children: they dutifully answered the questions, stating in turn:  ‘I’m Dutch-American’.

The woman gave all three of us a searching look. ‘I assume that your wife is an American citizen.’

I reply: ‘She was.’

No doubt my eyes tell the whole story. Almost immediately she hands me the passports. ‘And have a nice day.’

Sander takes the passports and says, ‘Good thing you corrected her.’

Combing his hair. Like Mom

TUESDAY, August 3 – My beloved youngest son, you’re looking out the window of our hotel room on the fifth floor and scrunching up your eyes. Not because of the setting sun, behind the modest skyscrapers of downtown Buffalo, but because I’m combing your hair and that always hurts. I do a few strands at a time because I don’t have your mother’s patience.

You screw up your eyes, but you don’t say anything. You know I’m doing my best to get all the snarls out. I’m careful but not nearly as gentle as your mother. She had very long hair as a girl and she knew that it took a while before the comb would glide smoothly through your hair.

The ordeal is over and you open your eyes. Large brown irises, just like your mother. I run the comb through your hair one last time, try to make a part and comb your straight wisps back.  For a second our eyes meet. Your eyes are just like your mother’s. I narrow my eyes and gaze out the window at the buildings in the background. Your familiar gaze brings on my tears.

You don’t see them and indignantly you rumple up your hair, the way boys will do.

Can you still see the ring?

MONDAY, August 2 – Time to put it to the test, since I’m starting to have doubts. ‘Eamonn, can you come here for a minute?’  He swims over to me at a leisurely pace. Sitting on the side of the pool, I hold out both hands and spread my fingers.  ‘On which finger did I wear my wedding ring?’

He looks once, then again, and points to the correct hand but the wrong finger: my forefinger. No go.

I bring my left hand closer, and ask: ‘Can’t you tell that that’s where I used to wear my wedding ring?’

He can’t.

‘Take another look.’

‘Well, maybe.’ He says it without conviction. Am I the only one who can see it?  Later on, to be on the safe side, I check with Sander.  He immediately points to the right finger.  ‘You can still see it,’ he says.

In that same pool we run into former neighbors who ask where Jennifer is. Eamonn starts pulling on my hand when I go into too much detail, but I can’t very well dash by shouting that Jennifer is dead and then do a cannonball into the pool. Although, I’m tempted.

Whoa, plans for the future!

SUNDAY, July 25 – The advantage of a road trip is that you’re bound to get into some good conversations. Music has a way of postponing talk, while there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of silence. But a trip that lasts longer than three hours, inevitably invites confidences… that verbal connection. The golden moments.

Sander began, after it had become clear that the line of traffic in the direction of the beach was going to keep us together for some time. He talked about wanting to open up a restaurant. Didn’t Papa have a catering diploma, which meant that we could start up a business right away? Yes, but I’d also need a retailer’s diploma. Well, can’t you hurry up and get one, so we can start up a business together.

‘Yeah,’ said Eamonn, ‘and what’s unique about our restaurant is that children will work as waiters and waitresses.’ Our fantasy knows no bounds. What kind of music would we play? And would customers get free refills? And what kind of food would we serve? And would C and her children want to join in? There in the car, we put together a menu, an interior, a workforce, and customers, together with ambitions and a plan for the future.

Until Sander suddenly raised a question: ‘Would Mom have liked the idea, too? Would she have joined in?’  And then he added in the same breath that ‘it really isn’t important what Mom would have wanted, because she’s gone’. I let that colossal statement pass and sink in. At the end of the day I still hadn’t come up with a satisfactory analysis.  Let’s call it healthy progress.

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