Trapped. At least it feels that way with a Life Partner, three dogs, two cats, a gerbil and an ant farm. Two of the dogs, both of the cats, the gerbil and the ant farm being looked after while the Kid hitchhikes around the globe on a journey of self-discovery. The Life Partner and I not speaking at the moment due to the continuing argument over who needs to feed what animals at whatever specific feeding times that were dictated by the Kid before she left for worlds-to-be-discovered. The one dog the Life Partner and I share eats whenever he feels like it. So, when the virus hit and we were ordered to shelter in place, things got dicey. And the Kid is quarantined in Peru.
I’ve heard that resilience is an indicator of good mental health. Well, that might be true. But it’s awfully difficult to be resilient when constantly nagged to pick up dog poop, clean out the cat box, and put fresh newspaper…torn into “not-too-wide and not-too-thin” strips…in the gerbil cage. Fortunately, the ant farm is low maintenance. I gave up responsibility for the shared dog several years ago. Resilience…better yet, recovery…seem to be a distant dream.
Then the Kid called. Finally. The Life Partner and I were sitting in the living room reading, the shared dog curled at my feet, and listening to the gerbil spinning away in its cage when my cell phone rang. I knew it was the Kid because of the distinctive ring tone she had installed. “Wild thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything groovy,” was the portion of the Troggs 60’s anthem that our twenty-three-year-old daughter thought an appropriate way of alerting us to her availability.
“Daddy, is the Life Partner there?”
“Are you okay? What do you need?”
“I need to talk to the Life Partner.”
The Kid calls me on my phone, not the Life Partner’s, to talk to her mother. Typical.
The Life Partner talks with the Kid for a few minutes, mostly listening with verbal nods, “Uh huh. Yes. I understand. I’ll tell him.” I watch and listen trying to decipher what sort of plot they are designing against me. The Life Partner hands the phone to me and says with a serious and somewhat caring tone, “She needs to talk to you. Please, listen and count to five before responding.”
Count to five? Now I’m beginning to worry. The Life Partner only asks me to count to five when really difficult issues are raised. There was the time when the Kid, who was her high school valedictorian, announced that she wasn’t going to college. She didn’t see the point. Although she had been accepted to three Ivy League colleges and offered scholarships that would almost entirely pay for a world-class degree, she didn’t see the point. At one time, she talked about becoming a doctor specializing in tropical diseases and working in third world countries, but then didn’t see the point. She was turning into a raving existentialist and I was preparing to give the fatherly lecture of a lifetime, but the Life Partner said, “listen and count to five before responding.” Too often I don’t see the point.
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
The Kid was never scared. She was fearless. She never backed down when facing a challenge. When she was eight and we were visiting the zoo, she practically begged to get into the lion enclosure. “I want to tame a lion.” In middle school she finished Algebra in sixth grade and demanded to take geometry at the high school. Without telling us, she strode confidently into the principal’s office and told the Big Boss…her name for the principal…., “You need to arrange for me to take geometry at the high school. It’s your responsibility to make sure I get a good education.”
“Kid, what’s wrong?” Even though her name is Samantha, and her friends and other family members called her Sam, we always called her Kid and referred to her as the Kid. When she was a newborn, I turned to Phyllis and said, “We’ve made a kid.” And from that moment on, we both called her Kid. One of her aunts tried calling her Kid, but she quickly rebuffed that effort with, “Only Mom and Dad get to call me Kid.” It was about that time that she also decided that Phyllis would be called the Life Partner. I continued to be Daddy. Life Partner stuck.
“I feel trapped. I’m stuck in a hotel room. I can’t leave for any reason. Meals are delivered and left outside my door. I’ve been told that I could be arrested if I try to leave. Everyone is afraid of the virus, and I’m feeling scared and alone and wanting to come home. Are you and the Life Partner okay.”
“We’re on a bit of a verbal hiatus at the moment. It seems that we can’t agree on how to take care of so many pets.”
“How is George, Daddy?” George the Gerbil was the only one of the Kid’s pets with a proper name. The others went by Dog One, Dog Two, Cat One, Cat Two, and Ant Relatives in a See-Through World.
“Oh, George is just spinning away and pooping in paper.”
“I want to come home.”
I could hear the tension in her voice; tiny breaks in what was always a clear and assertive tone. I looked over at the Life Partner and could read concern in her eyes. I wish I could reach through the phone connection, grab the Kid, and pull her home. “We want you here, but there’s little we can do at the moment. It’s just good to hear your voice. What are you doing in your cooped-up state?”
“I’ve got my computer and I’m able to do some design work. Money isn’t a problem.” The Kid was a self-taught graphic designer and web guru. She made plenty of money, which afforded her the luxury of continuous travel. “How are you and the Life Partner doing?”
“We’re confined to home, too. We have groceries and other essentials delivered. The Life Partner just signed a pretty hefty book contract, and I had a poem published in another obscure journal.” My wife has been a successful mystery writer for over thirty years. I’ve taught creative writing at the local community college and from time to time have had stories and poems published. So far, I’ve not received a single cent for anything I’ve written. The Life Partner inherited the successful writer’s gene from her father. I inherited the frustrated artist’s gene from my mother.
“That’s great Daddy! One of these days you’ll get the respect you deserve as a poet.”
I hoped that “one of these days” didn’t mean posthumously. “Well, at least nobody can criticize my poetry when it’s published in an obscure journal that only obscure poets read. Your mother is the writer in the family. Her imagination takes others to unpredictable and engaging worlds. My poetry seems to reside within me with little access by others.”
“Daddy, you are my poet.”
“Kid, the Life Partner and I really want to help. What can we do?”
“Just listen. Be there for me. I’ll get home eventually. And do me a favor.”
“End the hiatus with the Life Partner. She likes your poetry.”
She always complained about certain endings. “How in the world could the writer…or director…end the story…or movie…without a satisfying resolution. It’s just wrong!” The latest grievance came after we had seen a collection of Oscar-nominated short films. Of the five we saw, three had complex endings requiring the viewer to speculate. “I don’t want to be put in the position of completing the story! I want to know what the filmmaker intended!”
As we walked down Main Street, I listened to Sara while looking down at my five-foot, 95-pound wife from my six-foot ten-inch, 300-pound lumbering hulk of a body. We met one day in Golden Gate Park while she was sitting on a blanket with her sister, both of them knitting hats, when I lunged for an errant frisbee and crashed into her. After pulling a knitting needle out of her hair and making sure she was okay, I apologized and introduced myself. I was immediately smitten by her smile and emerald eyes. Her sister began chastising me for my clumsiness and almost putting out her sister’s eye with a knitting needle. Fortunately, Sarah cut her off with, “I’m fine. And you are?”
Sara and I quickly became a serious couple in spite of her sister’s ongoing commentary, “Well, it’s a good thing you’ve found something you like about each other because you really don’t make for an attractive couple.” We married one year later. Sara doesn’t knit anymore, and I don’t play frisbee. We work long hours. I’ve found success as an artist creating kinetic sculptors and specializing in large installations. Sara makes much more money in a high-tech job that only she can explain, and I can try unsuccessfully to understand. Sara is the reason we can live comfortably in The City in a high-rise condominium with sweeping San Francisco Bay views.
“What I don’t understand, Sara, is how you can like my sculptors, which ask the viewer to interpret what they see, but find books or movies that ask for speculation so difficult to appreciate.” Sara said she enjoyed my sculptor’s colors, shapes and movements, and that was all she needed to understand. As she put it, “I like the will and the whim of moving air.” She was rarely so poetic.
One day Sara asked if she we might collaborate on one of my projects. She suggested she could motorize a sculpture using tiny motors utilizing wireless technology. “Although I do appreciate the random nature of air currents moving your constructions, it might be fun to be more intentional using technology.” I thought we could give it a try. I was working on a large piece that was going to fill an immense atrium in a new hotel in Santa Clara. It had a wingspan of almost thirty feet and a height of about twelve feet. I made it out of fiberglass and aluminum to keep it lightweight. It was a stack of five colorful propellers meant to evoke images of the nearby San Jose International Airport. Each propeller’s edge was honed sharp as a sword and made to spin silently. Sara had developed a smartphone program allowing for the propellers to be spun at various speeds and in multiple directions. She also built in a safety feature that would keep the blades in alignment and from spinning too fast. The sculpture was designed to move languorously while creating almost hypnotic attention.
It was installed on a Wednesday just before the hotel’s grand opening. After testing and slight adjustments, I thought it was one of my finer constructions. I valued the working partnership Sara and I had formed, and the creativity it added to my work and our relationship. As we stood together gazing up at our creation, Sara remarked, “It looks like the colorful blades of a blender moving in slow motion.” I thought that was an interesting observation.
The hotel opened to rave reviews, and “Propellers to Space” was featured in several architectural and art’s publications. Every critic had a different interpretation of the mechanized sculpture. Some said the obvious, “colorful propellers as a tribute to the city’s airport.” Others took it a bit further, “colorful propellers meant to evoke the diverse, inclusive, and on-the-move nature of the region’s technology.” One critic described it as “a symbol of lifting spirits.”
It was about two years after the hotel had opened when a significant earthquake shook the entire Bay Area, with its epicenter just a few miles from the hotel. At that precise moment, several dozen guests were admiring “Propellers to Space” when the earth shook, and the propellers began pick up speed and spin out of control. The increasing speed of the sharpened blades along with the gyrations from misalignment caused the entire structure to violently break apart.
In the end, two hotel patrons were decapitated, six severely injured, and a dozen or so treated at the scene by paramedics before being released. The ensuing investigation revealed that the smartphone app wasn’t so smart after all. When we were informed of the tragedy, Sara fell sobbing into my arms. I held her. It was all I could think of doing. It was the one and only time we worked together on a piece of art.