Can we go to Palms Springs for Memorial Day, my 15 year old younger son asked a few weeks ago? I truly did not know the answer to that question. Frankly it frightened me. We had not gone for two years now. Not since his father’s 65th birthday. It marked both a milestone and an end to the one place we pretended to be an actual family for years. Or at least I did. Why now I wondered, did my son want to go again when he knew his father would not accompany us? He knows that even though his father still resides with us, the documents to end his parents as a unit are freshly filed. I wondered how it would be emotionally for him to go. At first I myself surely didn’t want to have to face those ghosts so early in their demise. But then I thought, why not? Why not go differently. Did my son need some revisiting of the place in a different way perhaps? Did he need the balm this childhood memory would provide to his unsure and unsteady heart these days? And so we went. We took his Uncle, who had accompanied us all those times for all those years. That part must remain in tact for my sons. He was a surrogate father through the worst of medical times, grandfather, friend and uncle all rolled into one in the best of times. They cherish him.
Can I bring a friend he said? I thought of the times when that was asked a few years ago and how my stock answer was always no. There were precious few moments of forging a bond as a family in the lives of these children that I never wanted any straying from that singular moment when it baked well for us in the desert. This time it was different and only right that he bring a friend at the age when a boy or girl’s friends matter the most. I think on those days as the connections I make and break occur so frequently these days. I think on the days when your friends meant the world to you and your world did revolve around them. The days before boyfriends and wives and kids and chaos interjected. And so of course I said yes. His selection of who to bring took longer than it should have I thought. My younger son has many, many friends but I wonder at his ability to truly keep them sometimes. I wonder if the years spent watching me in silent unknowing rage, which severed most connections outside the immediate and necessary familial ones will harm his attachments as he grows into adulthood. An incident with a little girl in middle school a few years ago brought home to me my own struggles in this area. It was discovered she was taking her own money and some of her father’s as well and bringing it to school and bestowing it on all the boys and girls she wanted to be her friend. My son apparently was at the top of the monetary list. I was horrified and more than I should be because it was like looking into a long ago mirror of me. I explained to my son how wrong this was to give people money to be your friend or lover or wife or husband or anything else. He said, why? It works. I am her best friend now. No you most certainly aren’t. Although we did tease my son’s friend who got like ten bucks mercilessly about how he needs to up his game I called the parents to return the money and asked if I could speak to their daughter privately. And they agreed and I did. I hope I did some good. Not sure I will ever know but I needed to tell her and consequently my very young self some things. I was that little girl many years ago and I wonder if sometimes I still am given the wrong set of circumstances. I had a best friend growing up since I was 4 years old on the block. When I was 9 and she was 10, a new girl moved on the block and as girls often do with their need for paring up rather than group sport like boys, they became instant friends to the exclusion of yours truly. It was 1966 and the Monkees were all the rage and was our favorite group after the Beatles of course, and the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits and, and. Multiple digressions!! I like it. Back to the story. I had my mother take me to the Catholic Rosary bead and mass card store and buy the brand new Monkees album. I then came home and put the album cover right in the front window of my room which faced the street. This way my best friend could see what I had and would instantly like me better than the new girl who was sans the new Monkee album. Did it work? Who knows? We all did become good friends again and my friend and I are still friends today although on separate coasts. The new girl? Not a clue really where she is. I don’t think I ever told anyone this story until last year. My friend said why don’t you write about that instead of just crazy concert capers? Because I prefer not to open a vein every time I put pen to paper, I answered. So there it is and sometimes I still ask myself in a situation if I am putting a Monkee album in the window on this one.
My older son now 20, chose not to come with us for the very reason that his friendships run much smaller and deeper than either I or his brother are capable of. A best friend since childhood was returning from school in Oregon to celebrate his 21st birthday and so it was fitting that he not come to Palm Desert with us, although I appreciated the fact he considered it at all.
I drove the new car I did not need or want at this moment in time but circumstances made it necessary to take. I called our Mr. Nello, the wonderful golf pro I discovered years ago along with the awesome British lady who we rented homes from when we went. The first time we rented a house from Mr. Nello, the winds blew lots of palms and pods into the pool. I went looking for a non-existent skimmer that Mr. Nello swore was there. I looked up the closest pool supply store and bought him one, compliments of his new tenants. Ever since that day, we get terrific rental deals. Kindness born of necessity sometimes reaps its own rewards. Kindness born with no thought to rewards reaps the best rewards of all.
This place he gave us at the last minute was a wonderful condo on a beautiful golf course. We were used to having houses to ourselves so this was a departure first looked upon with suspicion by my son as a private pool is what they liked when it became obvious years ago that renting a house was cheaper than several hotel rooms and much more efficient. I made it a short visit this time, Saturday to Monday since when one visits ghosts you never know how welcoming they will be. No roomy ride in their father’s van this time, where I was always able to walk around in it if needed to attend my little boys on long trips. No Moe Moe our dog along. No arguing over the way to go or disagreements over things of little or massive importance. I continued to look around the halls of my sons’ most precious memories. The year we stayed in our first non-hotel condo at Desert Princess in Cathedral City before we met the British lady (who none of us can remember her name at the moment) or Mr. Nello. The ducks that constantly pooped in the pool and walked up to greet us each morning. Then the houses and the fireworks. There were years we spent every summer holiday there beginning with the birthday of their father at Memorial Day and ending with the birthday of their Uncle on Labor Day with 4th of July thrown in for good measure and company for several years. The Palm Springs zoo when very young. The arcades when older. The dinners, the midnight swims, the laughter, the water footballs bought each year for running and catching in the pool. They all floated past for two days at random times like a marquee announcing the passage of our family’s days in the desert and anywhere else. The houses we liked best and the pools we liked worst; we were fortunate to have many of the former and only one or two of the latter. My sons being thrown up in the air by their uncle or father. Me holding them before me as they floated or their tiny arms wrapped around my neck as I floated with them. I cannot in good conscience and reporting say they made me sad, a little wistful perhaps but not sad at all. These were great memories for our kids. This is where we were able to put aside the silence and the fits of anger that sometimes broke that silence. It was a welcome respite for our family during their years of growing up. It enabled us to give them brief bouts of normalcy and love and fun that most children get on a more frequent basis when their parents are united properly. So I do not regret those memories. On the contrary. They give me hope that more but different ones can still be made within the context of the new parental framework that we are struggling to build right now. I say often that my younger son is the one that often leads the way for me and not vice versa. I think the desert balm he sought this weekend was just what we needed actually.