Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Fernandos - November 2006

"Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love.” – Che Guevara

One evening several weeks ago Scott, Martin, Colin, and I arrived home from another great dinner at Suzuki Sushi in Rockland to find our answering machine blinking. As I barked commands like “JAMMIES!” and “Right to bed! No fiddling around!” I walked over and hit the message button.

For a moment there was dead air and then out of the silence a plaintive male voice sang a pop tune I’d hoped never to hear again:

“There was something in the air that night,The stars were bright, Fernando…” Then a pause, before

“MAKE IT STOP!!!!” he shouted and hung up.


The first time I saw Dave was one evening early in September 1981 as I clambered through a window of a boys’ dorm. Because we went to a Christian college, you could only visit an opposite gender floor two nights a week and on Sunday afternoons…with the door open. But during freshman orientation, the rules were marginally relaxed. That evening I was looking for Scott, then my boyfriend, to no avail. Finally I thought to walk around the outside of his dorm and look in the first floor window of our friends Keith and Jim’s room. Bingo. Scott, Keith, Jim and a tall, skinny fellow I didn’t know were sitting around talking. I knocked on the window and gestured for them to let me in. Though it was strictly taboo (Jim, on orientation staff, balked a bit), I hauled myself over the window frame, jumped down and kissed Scott hello.

He and I had spent the summer on campus. I worked as a short order cook at a coffee shop in Rockport, Massachusetts. Scott had an internship at a recording studio. We’d had a very cozy summer and were deeply attached to one another. I think at the time we referred to it as love, but there’s something about the passage of 25 years, two kids, thousands of shared meals, and millions of words – a truly remarkable number of them genial - that cause me to think that what we shared that summer was something sweet, but not quite love.

The guys introduced me to Dave, a freshman from outside Philadelphia. He seemed a little shocked by my blatant disregard for everything he had just learned in orientation about “Open Dorm” and the punishments awaiting blatant disregarders.

“Ah, this is what upperclassmen do?” I recall him asking. I was mostly struck that as an sophomore I didn’t feel so upperclass.

So we all became friends. Dave, it turned out, after emerging from his initial freshman goofiness, was one smart boy, one scary smart boy. We all enjoyed a little playful intellectual sparring, but Dave had the ability to raise the level of discourse to an uncomfortably high level. Not only was he smart, but he was also a tall, handsome guitar player who played in a band with Scott. Our Davey broke many hearts.

Except for a few years when he was in grad school in Canada, we’ve never been out of touch. Once he and Scott were messing around in our living room in Bluefield, West Virginia, and Dave cut his elbow on the sharp corner of a car stereo which for some reason was sitting on our new white carpet. After the initial yelp, the three of us looked in silence at the inch long wound gaping open on his arm. After a second, with wisdom and compassion, I cried, “Don’t bleed on my rug!” Many years later he was standing in my kitchen eating an English muffin when I came home from the ultrasound that told Scott and me that we were going to have twins. Dave is the only man I’ve ever shown my c-section scar to, (though, as I think of it, he’s the only one who’s ever asked to see it.) For the last ten years, since the advent of email, he’s made it his regular practice to send a note with the subject line “word.” In the text is difficult word and I am expected to write back a fabulously clever sentence using the word that is both erudite and funny. Some times it takes me a couple of hours to make the grade.

When our boys were babies, it was Dave who picked up a tiny Martin from his car seat at Shaw’s Fish and Lobster Wharf and held him aloft over the wooden table. “This is Martin,” he said in a deep voice, “Destroyer of Worlds.” As they learned to talk we taught the boys to call him Uncle No.

One afternoon a few years ago, before Dave moved from New Haven to Miami, we met him at a funeral home in Newport, Rhode Island. Our friend Jim had lost his mother and we wanted to be with him. After the calling hours were over, Jim, Dave, Scott and I went to dinner. The sweetness of that meal, at such a tender time in the life of one among us and in the company of these three men with whom I’ve shared my adult life, remains a remarkable gift.

When we got Dave’s “Fernando” message earlier this fall, Scott went right upstairs to his office to call him in Miami. When a dear friend has the tune of a dreadful ABBA song stuck in his head, the only right thing to do is to intervene immediately. As I commandeered the boys into bed, I could hear Scott talking and laughing on the phone. On impulse, I walked to our bedroom and picked up the extension. “So are you coming for Thanksgiving or not?” I interrupted. The prospect of inviting him had not yet emerged, so my challenge was a surprise to all three of us.

“Maybe,” said the eternally free agent, “maybe not.” When he called a week or so later to say that he was $500 poorer because of me, I must admit I was surprised he’d called my bluff.

“Terrific,” I said. “wunderbar! magnifique!”

Last Wednesday the boys and I went to the airport in Portland to fetch Dave. Because we were a little late, I sent Martin to intercept him while Colin and I parked. We walked in to see them at the top of escalator. Dave was smiling at Martin, incredulous, I knew, at how much a child can change in two years. Martin and Colin were thrilled with the visit because Dave figures so largely into so many of their Dad’s best stories. I was happy because this brilliant, lanky, handsome man walking down the airport stairs, my beloved son wrapped in the crook of his arm, knows all about me and loves me still.

For five days, when he wasn’t watching stupid guy movies with my husband and sons, we talked non-stop. We barely left the house and no one in the entire household felt a huge compulsion to change out of their jammies. We drank coffee and ate Thanksgiving leftovers and talked some more.

On Sunday night Scott and Colin, who were both coming down with colds, turned in early. Martin, Dave and I stayed up talking about who knows what. After awhile though I realized it was a school night and started turning off lights. Martin took his book to bed, and I went in to brush my teeth and take out my contacts. As I stepped out of the bathroom and turned to the boys’ room to say goodnight, I stopped as I turned the corner. Dave was sitting in the comfy chair between the boys’ beds where I sit to read to them. Relaxed, legs crossed and speaking quietly, Dave was intent upon Martin. Our boy, on his side and leaning up on his elbow, was listening. It was a private moment: a boy with his Uncle No – a cool, funny non-parental type taking him, this boy on the cusp of 13, seriously. That’s a gift Scott and I can’t give our sons no matter how much we love them.

I turned away from the door and clambered into my own bed. Scott was doing one of those fiendishly hard Sudoku puzzles that I can’t do. He does them to taunt me. When he finishes one he shakes the book in my face and cries, “Ha HA! Another victory!” But just now, he said, “I think Davey-dave has had a good time with us, don’t you, wifely?”

“Yeah,” I said, picking up my book and putting a pair of cheapie drugstore reading glasses over the front of my regular glasses, my latest bifocal prevention strategy. Down the hall I heard the tinkle of Martin’s laugh. “Yeah, I think he did.”

Scott turned to look at me as I spoke and got aload of my eyewear.

“Don’t. Say. A. Word.”

This afternoon I am sitting on the porch reading the Sixth District Court column in the Lincoln County News (Each week I keep hoping for second report of unlawful Viagra possession, but I fear such a delicious news item comes around only once in life. Today it is mostly speeding, OUIs and possession of undersized clams.) I hear a noise in the mudroom and Martin walks to the porch to say the Fed Ex guy has left a package. I figure it is something Scott has ordered but am surprised to see the long narrow box addressed to me.

At the kitchen counter, Martin and I open the package to discover 18 roses in white, coral and shades of pink. They’re beautiful, but I still can’t imagine what to think. Who would send roses to me?

I ask Martin, “Martin, who would send roses to me?” He shrugs and gives me a puzzled look that says he really, really, really can’t imagine someone doing such a thing. As I open the card, though, it all comes clear.

“There is only love.. Fernando”

As I place them in a vase, I look out the kitchen window. At this time of year in Maine, the days are very short. But even though it is almost dark, already the stars are bright.

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