Can we go to Palm Desert for Memorial Day, my 15 year-old younger son asked? I had no clear answer. 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. Or at least I did. I wondered why my son wanted to go, 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 about his emotional cost to visit there now. At first, I thought, I 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 somehow need the revisiting of this place? 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 before. That part must remain in tact for my sons. He was a surrogate father through the worst of medical times. He was grandfather and uncle all rolled into one, in the best of times. They cherish him.
Can I bring a friend, he asked? I thought of the times when that was asked in the past and 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. It was right that he brings a friend, at the age when a boy’s friends matter most. I think on those days, as the connections I make and break occur so frequently now. I think on the days when your world revolved around your friends. The days before boyfriends, wives, kids and chaos interjected. This time I said yes. His selection of who to bring took longer than it should have. My younger son has many, many friends, but I wonder at his ability to 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 he had with a classmate in middle school 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 and bestowing it on all the students she wanted to befriend. My son, apparently, was at the top of that monetary list. I was horrified more than I should be, because it was like looking into a long-ago mirror of me. I explained to my son how wrong it 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 are not. I called the parents to return the money and asked if I could speak to their daughter privately. They agreed. I needed to tell her and, consequently, my very young self, some things.
I was that girl many years ago and I wonder if sometimes I still am, given the wrong set of circumstances. I had a best friend on my block since I was four years old. When I was nine, a new girl moved in. As girls are more apt to pair up, rather than roam in groups like boys, they became instant friends to the exclusion of yours truly. The Monkees were our favorite band at the time and I so I hatched a plan that if I had the new album, my friend would instantly come back to me. I had my mother take me to the Catholic rosary bead and mass card store to buy it. I put the album cover in the front window of our house so my friend could see it as she walked by. Did it work? No, but we all did become good friends eventually. She and I are still friends today, although on separate coasts. The new girl? Not a clue where she is today. There are times still, in certain situations, when I ask myself if I am “putting a Monkees album in the window.” I understood exactly what my son’s young friend was doing, albeit with a lot more currency than a record album. I hope my story helped her.
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 with us, although I appreciated the fact, he considered it at all. I made a last-minute call to the golf pro I discovered years ago. Replacing a pool skimmer for him gratis on our first stay at one of his houses cemented the best rental deals for all our future forays. Kindness born of necessity sometimes reaps its own rewards. Kindness born with no thought of rewards reaps the best rewards of all.
The place he had available was a condo on a beautiful golf course. We were used to having houses to ourselves with private pools, so this was a departure looked upon with suspicion by my son. I made it a short visit this time. When one visits ghosts, one never knows how welcoming they will be. No roomy ride in their father’s van this time, where I was able to walk around to attend my little boys if needed. 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 the Desert Princess. The ducks that constantly pooped in the pool and walked up to greet us each morning. There were years we spent every summer holiday there, beginning with the Memorial Day birthday of their father and ending with the Labor Day birthday of their uncle, with 4th of July often thrown in for good measure. The Living Desert Zoo when very young. The arcades when older. The midnight swims, the laughter, the water footballs bought each year for catching in the pool. 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. These memories all floated past, like a marquee announcing the passage of our family’s days in the desert and anywhere else. I cannot say they made me sad, a little wistful perhaps, but not sad at all. They are 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 formative years. It enabled us to give them brief bouts of normalcy that most children get on a more frequent basis when their parents are properly united. I do not regret these 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 we are struggling to build right now. My younger son is the one that often leads the way for me and not the other way around. I think the desert balm he sought that weekend was just what we all needed.