Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Introduction of ... Barbara!! Part 20 of "Miracle Boy”

Congratulations!  You're one of about 400 people who come to this spot every month.

A silent minority, I suppose, since I rarely get feedback.  Still, keep coming, please, and tell your friends  ... and coworkers ... and enemies ... I'm not picky.

Meanwhile, a couple of points toward my marketing campaign emerged this week:

First, NPR is taking another commentary of mine, possibly two. Yay! 

Second, my editor there thinks it's likely I'll be invited for an author interview if and when this book is ever completed.

Is all this the kind of publicity publishers are looking for? Stay tuned.

In the weeks and months afterward, I regret drawing attention to my pitifulness. The effect it has scares me a little. So I revert to type—moderately cheerful, humorously cynical, heroic.

Outwardly, my parents' separation hits Alec harder than me. The Sunday after his bar mitzvah he throws a huge tantrum when Dad has to go to Barbara's niece's First Communion, on Long Island, instead of taking us to Adventureland. "But it's my bar mitzvah weekend!" Alec keeps saying.

I go with Dad. Alec stays home with Mom, who cancels her own plans for his sake.

As for Barbara, part of the problem might be Dad introduced me to her first, before Alec. Only about three weeks into the separation, on a sticky, sweltering Saturday in late-June while Alec's away at sleepover summer camp, Dad takes me to Coney Island, and she's there—tall and thin in a yellow T-shirt and blue-jeans skirt that shows her knees, with long straight brown hair that hangs down like drapes, unadorned, on either side of her head, no makeup, and round glasses. Very 1972. She's twenty-six, a dozen years younger than Mom and nearly nineteen years younger than Dad. He presents her coyly, "my friend from the office." I like her right away, not realizing her part in all that's going on.

Late in the afternoon I ask where she lives. Dad grins. "Can't you guess? Isn't it obvious?" It isn't, to me. "With me," he continues. "We're sharing an apartment in Brooklyn." I confess to a confused sensation of shock and betrayal. A joke? I wonder.

Gradually my disbelief turns to fascination, especially when I visit their brownstone. I've never been in a brownstone before. Dad has to take me up two flights of steps.

Sure, Barbara's different from other adults Alec and I are used to. She's a lapsed Catholic, for one thing. Which is not necessarily bad. Later that year we have our first real Christmas tree!

For me, the biggest adjustment is I no longer have Dad to wash and dress me every morning. He only takes care of me on alternate weekends and holidays. Mom tries to fill in but soon finds the task too onerous. So my parents join forces to hire babysitter types—mostly rough black women from the Islands. I'm not happy about the new hired help. Evenings and weekends, when they're gone, Alec and I make fun of them. He does a hilarious imitation of fat Ena, who's from Trinidad: he waddles around our apartment muttering about "De Ba-bull! De Ba-bull!" Ena is succeeded by Elizabeth, from "Bwiddush Guyana," who hates winter. "Oh Behn! I's col' ou'side. So col' col' col'," I mimic to Alec's paroxysms of wheezy laughter.

It works off the stress of having these foreign invaders.

Relying on hired helpers is a difficult transformation, but it'll prove key to my achieving a greater degree of independence.

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