Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 12

A reply to: A letter from Newt

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Newt,

Man. I am so sorry I blew it. Meadow tells me that I should have worked through my feelings first, and then written you. She says it’s OK to write, “Hey, I felt angry when blah-blah-blah,” but that should be written after the anger has been dealt with and dispatched, not in the heat of all the messy feelings.  She said I what I did was “unskilled,” but that’s really her code word for acting like a jerk.

I’m sorry. I’m new at this emotions stuff.

Let’s just put it past us, if we can, and move on.

Congratulations on proposing to Janet. Even bigger congratulations that she accepted! Ha! (Just kidding!)

Also, good move on getting your business plans together! Buying that bar sounds like a really smart decision. Finally, you’ll get out of your dad’s business and do something for you. Makes me happy that we’re both able to rework our careers into something that makes sense for us, rather than simply following our fathers’ plans for us.

I told Ira that you were getting married again.

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I thought it might make her upset, you know, given her past experience with her ex.

She got thoughtful and quiet for a while.

Then, over the next few days, I noticed she became more affectionate than usual. She started telling me what a good thing it was for her and Aari to live here. How she wanted it to be permanent-like. I told her she was a permanent fixture in my heart–there was no getting rid of her. I have become very corny; I’m the first to admit it.

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I noticed her and Aari having a lot of really serious conversations. Once, I overheard her say, “How would you like him as a real dad?”

I got the impression they were talking about me.

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She started dropping hints. Nothing too subtle, because, you know. I’m a guy. Subtle doesn’t work too well on me.

But they were subtle enough that I could pretend it was my idea without getting scared about getting rejected. Ira’s smart that way.

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So I thought about it.

I guess when I learned about Ira’s past, I pretty much kissed any dreams of being legit goodbye. It wasn’t that important to me. Her feeling safe and happy, Aari having a good home–those were the things that mattered to me. And I know, there all sorts of ways to make a family.

But, Newt–I gotta admit! The more I thought about it, the more it brought a smile to my face.

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I realized I should probably talk to Aari first, since it involved her, too. I mean, she and I had a pretty good deal worked out, with me being her designated “PCG” (primary care-giver). I didn’t want to mess that up, and I knew she had all sorts of conflicted feelings about her birth dad.

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But she gave me the green light.

“I know it won’t change anything for bad,” she told me. “Besides, I already think of you as my papa in my head.”

I can’t even express how proud that made me feel.

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Next, I had to be certain that I was sure. Was this really what I wanted for me, or was I just doing it for her, because she’d been dropping those hints?

So I talked it over with an old friend who’s a good listener.

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I realized that it was Ira who’d made me happy all this time. It wasn’t just me, making her feel safe. It was her, and all her magic, making me feel alive.

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I thought of Aari, filling our home with the spunk of a brave and sassy kid, and I can’t imagine this house without her.

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I made up my mind. I’d do it. If you can do it, I can do it.

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Finally, I decided the right moment had arrived.

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I called Aari in to join us. You see, since it involves her, too, I wanted her to be there for the big moment. That way, she’d know I was really taking the whole family, her included, and she wouldn’t feel like she was in the way.

She knew what was up and started giggling like a maniac.

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I got cold feet. Could I really go through with this?

What if it changed everything?

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The old Norm would have left it alone. He would have chickened out and rationalized, “Why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

But the new me thought about what his coach, Newt Murdoch, would say. You’re the guy who encouraged and inspired me to make a change in our business so that it fits me and my ethics, not just my dad’s. You’re the guy who inspired me to get together with Ira in the first place, back when Windenburg’s Most Eligible seemed perennially destined to remain a bachelor.

Heck. I would do it. I thought of you, and I felt brave. Or at least, brave enough.

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I walked back into the living room, and I went the whole nine yards.

I even got down on one knee.

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I made a crazy speech, about collecting toys, collecting hearts, being big kids, being fools. Who knows what I said?

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All I know is that Ira’s eyes went soft and she let out this little noise like a purr, while all along, Aari sat and chuckled quietly.

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I don’t know if it was romantic. It was us. It was goofy and family and so over-brimming full of love, and my heart must have burst about a million times.

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“Catch her, Papa!” Aari yelled, as Ira leapt into my arms, just about knocking me off my feet.

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It wasn’t graceful. It wasn’t smooth.

But it was very, very endearing.

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And pretty silly, too. And so, yes. She did say yes. We haven’t fixed the date yet, but we are engaged. Ira, beautiful, strong, spunky, magical Ira, is going to be my wife, and she is going to let me be her husband.

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Ira told me it was because of you and Janet, moving on and moving past it, that she found the courage to give marriage another try. If the two of you could do it, we could, too.

Newt, can you even think back to our first letter, when both felt like we were living someone else’s life that had been handed to us with a note that said, “Take this, or else?”

Well, my friend, we have kicked those fake lives to the curb. I will say that now, for both of us, we have our lives. Thank you for being my hero, Newt. This is all because of you. You have no idea what a good life coach you are.

Thanks for it all. More than words.

Your soon-to-be-married pal,

Norm

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Shift 47: Celebrate

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I graduated.

The next morning, I went for a long run on the treadmill. With every pace, I thought of Tracy and how she gave me the gift of form. I’m not running like a hungry, scrawny teenager anymore. I’m running like a miler on the USM track team.

After the run, I prepared breakfast for everybody at YOTO. I knew it was one of the last meals I’d be preparing as a resident. But I promised Marquis and Luiza, who’ll be around for another year or so, that I’ll come back on weekends when I’ve got a chance and make pancakes for breakfast and tofu tacos for lunch.

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Deon threw a party for all the YOTO kids and staff.

He said he wanted to celebrate all of us–those who were graduating and those who had another year or two to go.

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I was alone in the kitchen while I was pouring lemonade for everyone, and I listened to the voices and the laughter from the living room.

I don’t know when I’ve heard such happiness. I felt a feeling like family, and it felt so amazing I had to soak in it.

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When I brought the tray of lemonade out to everyone, I found Aadhya standing alone.

“You feeling OK?” I asked her. She’d been having dizzy spells and headaches. Her acupuncturist said he thought it was nothing serious–low sodium levels, that’s all. But she seemed to be looking sad and thoughtful more than usual.

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She shook her head, took a deep breath, and smiled.

“Of course I’m OK!” she replied. “It just hits me sometimes, all these life shifts. You’ll move out so soon, dear one! I can’t help but feel a little sad with all this joy and pride I feel, too.”

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I promised, for the millionth time, that I’d keep in touch. San Myshuno is still only separated from YOTO by a short ride on the RT. I’ll be over so often! I keep telling myself, and Aadhya, too, that I’m not leaving. Moving out doesn’t mean leaving.

But of course, it’s a change. That we can’t deny.

I took my guitar out to the porch. Karim was talking to a friend of his.

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Pretty soon, Luiza,  Adriene, Clara’s husband, and Emiliano joined us.

They were listening to me play. I made up a song, taking snatches of other tunes I’d heard here and there, and stitching them together the best I could to make something whole.

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I played my best.

Marquis and Nadja came out to listen. Britney was there, too. Every note I played blended with what came before, and I tried to put all the feelings of life into that song.

At that moment, I wasn’t alone. None of us were.

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Then earlier tonight was my Mentors’ Dinner. Every graduating YOTO kid has one. The kid invites the six adults who’ve helped the most–the ones that, if it weren’t for them, there’d be no graduation.

Of course Deon was the first on my list. I invited Ted, too, but he was in the back country. Aadhya came, and Britney, and Clara Bjergsen, and Nancy Landgraab. I mostly invited Nancy because I felt a sort of connection to her, after we went through that grief experience together. She always tells me that I really helped her. I don’t think I did–but I think that by her saying that, she helped me. I started seeing myself as someone strong who can help other people, thanks to her. And I’ve got a feeling this is a good way for me to see myself.

We held the dinner at the fancy restaurant I like across from YOTO. I’m sort of addicted to their stuffed bamboo rolls.

After we ate, the waiter brought out a birthday cake.

“What is this?” I asked. “My birthday’s not for a month and a half!”

Deon shook his head. “I knew you’d think it was silly.”

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Clara said, “There’s nothing silly about it! It’s your re-birth day! And we’re all celebrating!”

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Britney spun the noise-makers, and Aadhya began to sing the happy birthday song, and I felt so many tears behind my smiles. No one has sung that song for me in four years.  She even sung my gran’s version, “¡Feliz cumpleaños!”

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We danced after cake.

While I was dancing with Clara and Deon, I didn’t feel like a kid anymore.

I felt like I was taking my place with them.

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I made it. I had so much help. And I had to rely so much on my own self. And that combination of help and self makes me feel like I can sail through any storm, and, if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll be able to pass it forward someday, too, just like Deon did for me.

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The party ended.

I took the RT to San Myshuno, the whole time, feeling with my fingers the outline of the key in my pocket. My own key to my own place.

And now, here I am on the balcony of the flat I’m sharing with the violinist in San Myshuno, looking out over the world as the east begins to signal that dawn is coming soon, and I’m ready for the rest of my life to start.

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Author’s note: This is the end of “Shift.” Thank you so much to all of you who read along. This story turned out to be meaningful to me–I’m not sure why, but I’m grateful that it was. And I’m grateful, too, to all of you who shared it with me. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments. May you, too, find that the combination of Help and Self allows you to accomplish great things, even if those great things are simply moving with grace through the shift of life.

Wonder 34

Charlie

3401

Miranda dropped by in the morning, looking like the world was ending.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You’re moving,” she replied.

“But that’s a good thing!” I said. “I’ll be living on the island! You can take the ferry when you come visit!”

We headed inside. I had a little bit of time before morning ferry left.

“You’ll see,” Tia Berry said. “Not that much will be changing.”

“Everything’s changing,” said Miranda.

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“You’re forgetting about the club,” said Tia Berry. “It’ll be like old times, only better. We’ll take the ferry to the island and do yoga under the pines!”

“You think we’ll still meet?” asked Miranda.

“Of course!” said Tia Berry.

“Of course!” I agreed. “The club goes on!”

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I left them smiling. I walked down to the ferry terminal myself. Mãe thought it would be easier if we didn’t make a big deal out of the goodbye. I didn’t have much to carry–a violin case, a guitar case, a backpack full of clothes.

On the ferry, I didn’t look back. I turned towards the island and let the mainland recede. I was heading towards something.

The island air brought back so many happy memories, all those afternoons running free through the meadows while the avós were in the cottage.

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And now, the cottage is my home.

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It smelled so good–like lemon floor wax.

My cousins had taken all the furniture. Avô‘s work became even more desirable after his passing, and since I got the house, they got the furnishings. Monetarily, they got the better deal. But I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

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The only piece of furniture was the bed that avô had crafted for me, left up in the loft where I always slept every time I stayed over.

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I took a nap, and when I woke up, I heard a girl’s voice calling, “Hello? Welcome? Anyone home?”

I looked out the front window to find a young blonde woman standing before the house holding a plate of fruit cake. We love fruit cake in our family!

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I smiled when I saw her. Her eyes were the same color as her sweater–a blue exactly the shade of the clear water in the bay.

“We heard you were moving into Papa Carlos and Bella-Bella’s house,” she said. “We’re your neighbors.”

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Her older sister joined us.

“You knew meus avós?” I asked.

Sofia, the older sister, laughed. “Sure! They were like grandparents to me and Elsa! We came over every day after school.”

“Your grandma was teaching me to sing,” said Elsa.

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I had a weird moment. Somehow, I’d always thought of meus avós as mine. I mean, I know I shared them with my cousins, but the cousins were nearly grown when I was a little kid, and they hardly saw the avós. These girls were my age! They grew up next door to meus avós. They probably had known them better than I had–or at least they saw them more often.

My friend Max joined us. He’s a neighbor now, too.

“Moving day, huh, Charlie?” he asked.

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I’d turned to head inside, when Elsa began to sing. It was that aria minha avó loved to sing to me, “Quando m’en vo!” Though Elsa’s voice was thinner–more like a reed–than the rich velvet voice of minha avó, I recognized the phrasing that minha avó loved to use. In this girl, this neighbor, something of minha avó will live on.

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My new and old friends–my new neighbors–followed me inside.

“Hey, there’s no furniture!” Max said.

“It feels kind of empty,” said Sofia.

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Sofia looked around the empty room.

“The piano’s gone,” she said. “I can still smell cinnamon, though. Can you? I loved your grandma’s cookies.”

Her face fell.

I’m not the only one to miss meus avós. My feelings must have shown, for Sofia walked across the room and wrapped me in a big hug.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she whispered. Her voice caught a few times, and it grew thick as it moved past stifled tears. “It’s like the house still has a piece of them. You look like them, you know.”

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When my friends and neighbors left, I grabbed a slice of the only food in the house–Elsa’s fruit cake–and sat on the only piece of furniture in the house–my old craftsman bed.

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I called Mãe after I ate. I’d never had a night in my life where I hadn’t said good-night to her. Even when I stayed over here, I’d always call minha mãe before bed.

“Oh, Spud, I didn’t think you’d call!” she said.

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We talked for so long. I filled her in on the neighbors and told her about how a piece of minha avó continues on in Elsa’s singing. I told her how my heart felt wobbly when I saw how much Elsa and Sofia missed meus avós. She told me about how Berry was going through the house talking to each painting and drawing I’d made.

“Put minha tia on the phone,” I said.

Tia Berry told me a story about two pigeons keeping guard along the top of the fence, and something about the way she told it, the voices she used for the sergeant pigeon, struck me as so funny, I was still laughing when I hung up the phone.

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And then, the house was silent.

I could hear the foghorn in the bay. I could hear the waves rolling over the pebbles. I could hear the house creak as the timber shifted in the cool night air.

I went downstairs and turned on my old boom box.

While I danced in the empty house, I thought about Mãe and Tia Berry, falling asleep in the room they shared, knowing that when they woke, I wouldn’t be there with breakfast waiting for us.

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I thought about the emptiness of this house.

I listened for echos of the voice of minha avó and the chisel of meu avô.

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I heard the wind in the pines. I heard the distant foghorn. I heard the music on the boom box, an old recording of “Quando m’en vo!”, the aria minha avó always sung, the one that Elsa sang today.

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