My father told me the other day that he had to be in Brooklyn for a wedding Easter weekend. Highly unusual to have him come to NYC, especially along with his wife and daughter. His daughter is ten years old, two days younger than my son.
My father and his wife have been together for 30 years, ever since she cut short her freshman year of college and came to live with us in Provincetown. They met when she was a student of his at an alternative high school in Vermont. He was the headmaster. The school was forced to close and a year or two later my father was in Provincetown, working odd jobs and trying to write a book. I got kicked out of my prep school, on purpose, so I could join my beloved Dad in Provincetown. I didn’t stay too long after she arrived, maybe six more months? I was in all kinds of trouble, protesting the fact that I felt like a third wheel. They were a couple and I could not compete. My father was the same age then that I am now.
Is that what this crawl is? Is that what I am still protesting? No. Wait. It goes back even further. On my hands and knees in HIS suit? Am I protesting my father leaving our family when I was six years old? Am I still trying to get him to finally SEE his broken hearted little boy? And if he really saw him—what? He would come back? He would never leave? What’s done is done. But here I am again. There’s got to be an easier way.
I am shaken as I sit here and write these words. This is not some re-heated, over processed insight. This is a fresh kill! I suppose it is plain as day to an outsider, but for some reason I had to have my father see me crawling, in the flesh, to get my hands on this new truth.
And there are truths that flow from this new one. Like this beautiful damn suit of his—he had it made for himself, for his body, right around the time he moved out of our house. It could be the suit he was wearing the afternoon he came out into the back yard and told me he was leaving. Or maybe it is the very suit he wore when he seduced a woman who was not my mother. None of this occurred to me when I started this project.
Am I trying to shame him? Make him proud? Honor him? It is hard to do all those things at once. Our lives are, among other things, a reaction to our parents. Forgiveness can be punishing. Our choices color our lives. He did what he had to do. Maybe he was saving himself.
My father has been wildly enthusiastic and supportive of the crawl since I began. We’ve talked and laughed and riffed on it weekly. He excitedly warned me early on that it might become huge. Have I proved him wrong?
I never planned on crawling back into the cave of myself to re-examine these bones. I’m a grown ass man! I laugh easily. My heart is not broken. But the bones in the cave are blue.
My head is swimming right now. My little brother says I shouldn’t spend too much time on this stuff. “It’s a lot,” he says to me from his Smart car in California as I walk my dog over by the graveyard.
Where was I? …. yesterday, right. Easter Sunday. We meet at 6:00 at 103rd. I decided I needed to crawl for my family. I organized it, told people where and when to meet.
It was time for my wife and son to see this thing live. Last week preparing to crawl alone was easy compared to the lead up to crawling in front of my wife and son and father.
I need them all to know how real it is. I want to share. I want my wife to…what? Experience shock and awe and to be struck dumb with love? To celebrate me? She already does that. To pity me? I hope not.
I want my son to be inspired and to respect the mystery that makes people do these things. But do I really want my son to see me crawl?
I choose to crawl. I can show him the choice. Nobody is forcing me. That’s something he needs to know.
I feel some shame welling up before I start. My son’s face makes me feel better. He is excited to take pictures and be my wingman, we’ve talked about it and we’ve made it a thing, a mission. My wife could use the rest at home as she is fighting a sore throat and flying to L.A. first thing next morning. But she would not miss this new piece of life theatre I have arranged. She is my one-woman army. Our love runs long and deep.
The crawl itself is short. Seven blocks. My father is early to the starting point but his wife and daughter are still en route. I am feeling antsy, grim and filled with purpose. My pads and gloves are on. I announce that I will wait no longer and I drop to my knees and start crawling. At 105th the others join us. I keep my head down and I hear a few snippets of conversation among my group, but I stay silent and let the exertion be my ballast. The blocks go by quickly and the occasional voices of my wife, father and son float just out of reach.
When I am done I stand up, face slick with sweat and I hug and thank each person for coming. It is sort of awkward. I have not just given a performance, but then again I have. People have a natural impulse to joke but I am not feeling funny.
Sitting in the restaurant it strikes me that witnessing the crawl was not particularly shocking or moving for my family at all. We all make small talk about things other than the crawl. I wait sort of hoping my father will ask me how it felt to crawl in front of him. Or maybe someone might ask my son what it was like for him. I wait for someone to initiate a conversation about a crawl related topic. I don’t want to be the one to say, “So how was that for everybody?”
I have a brief general conversation with my father’s wife about it. She is sitting directly across from me at dinner. She is a doctor now and a serious artist and I appreciate the respect she’s given to the crawl. But I am agitated that nobody talks about what just happened. What just went down! There is a mention of how strangers were less inclined to engage, tipped off by my obvious “entourage” but that is pretty much it. I’m not fishing for praise or attention, but I do want my crawling to take us to a different place.
I get up abruptly, and leave, alone, before everyone is done. I need to be outside and walk around the block. I need air. I want to run right off the face of the earth.
I want to be done crawling. This project suddenly feels like it is pushing me backwards into places I thought I’d left behind. Again.
And then I recall my son at my side as I crawled. Such a gentle, kind presence. So calm with me as I made my way along. He never said a word to me and I never spoke to him. But we were together. At one point I heard a stranger ask him what I was doing and he answered quietly like we were in a church, or maybe just a library.
“He’s crawling up Broadway…it’s an art project.”
I meet back up with my group as they get dessert next door to the restaurant. My son is nearly dancing down the street, glowing, loopy and licking an ice cream cone. He is proud to be my wingman and to see members of his tribe, to be with blood beyond our home triangle.
In the cab home up Riverside Drive the afterglow of sunset lights the sky, the color of easter eggs over the Hudson. I am struggling inside. Blair and I look at each other, exchanging information with our eyes, the shorthand of a quarter century. There will be much to talk about as I process this latest move. No need to get into it now. Mason takes in the sunset for a moment and then, voice filled with light, he declares, “That was a very pleasant time.”
And so it was.