With the arrival of Covid-19, our lives, as we once knew them, have abruptly ceased to exist. Homes have been turned into schools and offices (for those of us lucky enough to still have jobs), simple nights out on the town to grab a bite to eat are now a distant memory, and the vast majority of us here in NY have not seen friends or family for well over a month. Concerts, Broadway shows, and celebrations are all cancelled until further notice, and Zoom meetings have now become the new “norm.” Even wearing a face mask in public, illegal in NYC only a few short months ago, has now become a statewide mandate. To say life has been “turned upside down” would be a complete and utter understatement.
Living in the time of Corona, I, like so many others, have been pining for simpler, happier days, and lately odd, random, extremely-detailed memories have been popping into my head like mad. For instance, I recently saw a photo of a friend’s poodle, which prompted my brain to go into overdrive, taking me back to time spent with my mother’s boyfriend Ed’s parents’ dog, Misty (who was also a poodle). It was not just a fleeting thought; I could remember every minute detail—how soft her coat was, how her curls felt between my fingers as I petted her with my small, open hand, the scent of her skin when I would hug and nuzzle her neck. Memories like this one have been rushing back like a dam opened too abruptly. Once they start flowing, I find myself completely immersed in them, and while I have always had an excellent memory, lately it’s like my memories have taken steroids.
Ed had been my mother’s first serious boyfriend after my parents separated. I think they started dating when I was around three or four. I had no previous recollection of my parents being married, and Ed was the only man I could remember my mother ever being with. They had met at my grandfather and great-uncle’s bar in Freeport where my mother was a barmaid. Frankie and Johnny’s was an old-man dive bar and by no means an “upscale” establishment, but I do remember it fondly.
To say that Ed came to be like a father figure to me is not an overstatement. He was that and so much more—having him was like having my very own “superhero.” He was my protector, quiet yet strong, loving and reserved, all at the same time. Where my mother was more like a bundle of erratic, raw, emotional baggage, Ed was always calm, cool, and steady. I guess you could say he was the yin to her yang. From day one he treated me as if I was his own, and if he ever resented having to deal with someone else’s snot-nosed kid, he never once showed it.
Ed was one of the only consistently “good” things that I can remember about my childhood. There were so many wonderful times with him—holidays, birthdays, him teaching me to read my first book, Green Eggs and Ham, and taking me to Disney World (for the first and only time I would ever go). I remember waiting in line to get onto Space Mountain like it was yesterday. When we finally made it to the front of the line the attendant said I was too small to go on the ride, but Ed convinced him to let me on anyway. There were trips to Montauk, like the time his dog Puppy found a dead deer on the beach (my tiny brain could not reconcile that a deer could actually be on a beach). Weekends were spent at the Demolition Derby where I once lost my favorite Dr. Scholl’s underneath the bleachers; and of course, Ed saved the day, searching for it until it was found. However, my all-time favorite memories were by far the Sunday dinners with his parents, Jack and Mary. Mary made the best meatballs that were legendary in their own right. My mother often tried to recreate them for me but was never successful. I can’t recall exactly how many years my mom and Ed were together, but if your formative years are 0-8, then he was there for almost all of mine.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that both Ed and my mother were only in their twenties during their time together. When you are a child you view people in two categories, adults and children, but the more we mature the more we realize that we will probably never view ourselves as adults—at forty-seven I still mentally feel like sixteen. There’s an unrealistic expectation that adults somehow have all the answers and that they have life figured out, while most kids have the luxury of going through their childhoods oblivious to anything different. I had no such luxury.
I don’t want to get into the details of their break-up, but I will say that in typical “Liz fashion,” she really stuck the knife in and proceeded to twist it slowly. Their break-up seemed to be the catalyst for her alcoholism (although I am quite sure the alcoholism was always there). My mom went careening off the rails and never really seemed to find her way back. It was also the first time I remember her attempting suicide. After she slit her wrists, she was put in the psyche ward at Smithtown General (where my grandmother worked), and I was sent off to my dad and step-mother’s in upstate NY.
I was never given the opportunity to say good-bye to Ed or to tell him how much I loved him, which always left me wondering if he ever really loved me. Not soon after their break-up, I found out he had moved on (my jackass uncle told me so while driving in his truck). It was a traumatizing thing—so traumatizing, that I remember the exact moment and exact place (Lawrence Ave) that I learned Ed was having a child of his own. What I also knew was that it was now my job to be the caretaker and protector of my mother, who was an extremely damaged woman. My childhood ended when Ed left. This is not me being dramatic for the sake of drama, this is merely fact.
To say that I have thought about him often over the years would be an understatement. My mother, who was eventually able to say his name out loud, would always refer to him as the love of her life. Sure she had a long-term boyfriend after Ed, but Ed always remained the measure of every man for both of us, and none could ever hold a candle to him. Looking back, when she finally got sober a few years before she died, I really wish we had spoken about him. Ed was like an open wound that neither of us were ever brave enough to deal with—that is, until the Corona virus.
After that vivid memory came up, I was compelled to reach out to Ed’s sister on Facebook. He has a very uncommon last name, so finding her was not hard. I just wanted to let her know how much the kindness of their family meant to me, even after all of these years. I was shocked when I got a response from her the very next day, thanking me for the message and telling me that Ed wanted me to reach out to him. Years of built-up tears immediately started flowing, along with ALL of the memories. It was over forty years since he left, but it could have been yesterday.
That night he sent me so many pictures, and with each one, new feelings bubbled to the surface. Pictures of my mom, of me, and my most favorite of all, one of Ed and myself, him wearing his signature hat. In that picture I am looking at him like he is what I always said he was, a superhero. These were not just photos that he sent, they were validation. Validation that all the emotions I felt over the years were reciprocated, that he did in fact think of me, and that leaving me behind wasn’t easy for him, either.
The next day, my heart racing, I waited for the phone to ring. When it finally did, I cannot express how good it felt to just hear his voice. We spent under an hour catching up with each other’s lives and sharing our fondest memories…as well as the not so good ones. I cried when he told me that he had always wanted to reach out but thought that I hated him for abandoning me. It was all very heavy but beautiful at once. We have a plan to get together for dinner once this is all over. He wants us to stay in touch, and I could not be happier about that. It still feels surreal to me that we have finally reconnected after all these years.
Would I have ever reached out to Ed’s sister if it weren’t for these extremely strange days that we are all currently going through? I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that, chances are, I would not have experienced such a vivid memory if this virus hadn’t forced my brain to slow down, allowing me the space for deep reflection. It may be hard to see right now, but there is light in this time of darkness, even if at times we are called upon to create it for ourselves. I would encourage everyone, if faced with the choice of “playing it safe” or “taking a chance,” to “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride.” It may feel mentally overwhelming at first, but I promise you—it will be worth it.
Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org