Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 6

A reply to: A letter from Mel

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Dear Mel,

First, an apology. I am sorry I haven’t written sooner. I wanted to write to tell you the good news, but life got busy.

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In your last letter, you wrote:

“I see that you now refer to Aari as your stepdaughter. Is it what I believe it means, or would my celebration be premature?”

Well, truth is, in my last letter, I referred to her that way as a type of short-hand. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe, some combination of both.

But by now, and this is part of the reason for me writing so late, she is, officially, my stepdaughter.

Yup, her mom and I got married.

And, your premature celebration was right on time! You always have been good luck for me. Thank you, Mel.

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It was a real wedding, with Ira looking story-book, and all our friends and family in attendance. Well, almost all. My uncle Jasper was coming down with a flu and didn’t want to spread the germs, so he stayed home.

Everybody there had a great time. Everyone except my sister, that is.

She wore her grumpiest face throughout the ceremony and even during the party after.

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Ira said she cornered her before the reception to ask philosophical questions about the institution of marriage, like, “Isn’t it a patriarchal relic?” And how does she reconcile it with her feminism?

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But Ira was too happy to let Meadow’s cultural analysis stifle her mood.

We danced til dark.

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After all the guests left, Ira insisted on doing the clean-up herself.

“We can hire someone to do this tomorrow,” I said.

But she wouldn’t hear of it.

“But is this how you want to spend your wedding night?” I asked.

“I want to get us off on the right start,” she insisted, “and leave nothing undone. Besides, this won’t be how I spend the whole night. This is just the opener.”

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I never saw a more glorious dishwasher. Of course, I stayed up with her to dry and put the dishes away.

I’ve seen her face first thing when I wake for many a morning. But now, it feels different. It feels permanent, somehow, and like maybe, it’s a step towards undoing–or at least getting past–all the bad things that happened to her and all the lonely selfish days of my own youth. We’re a couple now, official-like.

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I was happy to hear about your horse. I hope both your boys are healthy and that Gari’s ear infection cleared up OK.

In other news, the family business is going well. We’ve got more investors than we need now. I guess solar energy is all the rage these days, and I’m busy. All the staff we kept are working hard, and we’re even hiring new folks. We are, even after our previous set-back, ahead of schedule.

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I got a lot to be thankful for, Mel. Sometimes, I stop and think about who I was when we first started writing–a lonely guy, struggling with my business, struggling to find connections, struggling to do right.

Now, I’ve got the business on track, in good shape financially and, more important to me, in line with my environmental ethics. No more windmill raptor deaths in the Windenburg hills! Solar power firing up our town.

My home life is on track, too, more full than I ever imagined it could be.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for writing in the busy future. Each day seems more full than the next. Aari has said that she would like to write to you, so if you’re able to write back, maybe you would have the patience to read a letter from her. Or maybe she could write to your boys, and you could read over their shoulder to learn what’s up with us.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how to thank you for being a friend and bringing me good fortune. But I bet that you can see into my heart, so look close. All this shining rose color? That’s for you. Thank you.

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Wishing you lasting happiness, good health to you, your boys, and your horse, and…

Love always,

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 5

A reply to: A letter from Mel

normpix21

Dear Mel,

I’m glad the package arrived safely, and even more glad that Zee loved the cat. You know, that is also Ira’s favorite collectible.

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I’m happy, too, that you found one of the ducks that you liked. I admit: Those ducks are pretty cute. We’ve got them all over the house!

Gari sounds like an interesting child. I’ve noticed through getting to know my step-daughter Aari and my niece Jena that not all kids think alike. Aari definitely has an inquisitive approach to life.

Lately, she’s become obsessed with being a ninja. She keeps asking me ninja questions. For example, “What do ninjas eat for supper?” “Do ninjas need long division?” And my favorite, “Why do ninjas wear masks? Is it because they’re afraid their noses will get cold when they go out at night?”

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I’m glad you’re still painting. We’ve always got easels set up with works in progress, it seems, what with me and Ira both being painters.

I’m glad you’re meeting neighbors, too, especially the kids, and finding ways to sign with them. Ira’s been teaching me that communication can happen with more than words.

You asked how life’s been going with me. Well, it’s been busy and stressful, if I’m perfectly honest. That’s why it’s taken me so long to write back. Sorry about that.

I think I mentioned that we’re trying something new with the business. It’s been one complication after another. I think we’ve finally got everything back on track. We’re behind schedule, but we’ll come out all right. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

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I’m also becoming Mr. Dad, it seems. Actually, Mr. Primary Care-giver. That’s Aari’s term for what I am. Her mom is her mom, and I’m the PCG.

Maybe you can help me with one of the challenges of being the PCG. Aari asks tough questions, and I don’t always know how to answer them.

In addition to asking about ninjas, which at least I can bluff my way to answer, she asks about life.

“I think I figured out the solution!” she said the other day. “If we got poverty and hunger and not enough water because there’s too many people on the planet, then why don’t people just stop having babies? That’ll solve it, won’t it?”

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I did not know how to answer that one. What would you say?

She also asks about why we have to have foods like cereal and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Why can’t we have them for supper?

I said, “Because those foods taste good in the morning.”

She said that was a dumb answer. I think she’s right. I honestly can’t think of a better answer, can you?

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Her mom seems to score better at the answer game. Before bed the other day, Aari asked why she had to go to sleep at eight.

“But I want to stay up until midnight!” she protested. “For ninja training! How will I ever be a good ninja if I don’t have midnight experience?”

“It’s a time-honored tradition!” Ira answered. “Ninjas always stay up to the hour that’s one less than their age! So. You’re nine now. That means you go to bed at eight. When you’re ten, you go to bed at nine.”

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“That stinks,” Aari said. “That means I won’t get to stay up to midnight until I’m thirteen!”

“Don’t worry,” replied Ira. “Minimum age for ninjas is fifteen, so you’ll have two years of midnight practice under your belt by the time you’re official!”

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Even if I can’t get the answers right, there are some things that Aari says I do OK at. Like jumping, for example. She likes it when I say, “You say jump, and I say how high.”

Then she says, “As high as me!”

I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there! Maybe with a little more practice.

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I’ve got to tell you, Mel, even with life being so busy, there are still moments. Ira makes sure of that.

You ever have moments where time stops, and silence sweeps you up, and, just for the space between a breath, life feels very, very sweet?

Ira brings moments like that into my life.

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I never had those kinds of moments before I met her.

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Well, I’m wishing you and your boys all kinds of happiness. I hope it doesn’t take me so long before I write the next letter.

When you write back, please let me know all that’s going on with you and yours. What kind of questions do your boys ask, and what do you answer back?

I don’t know why it’s so hard to end this letter. I somehow don’t want to say good-bye.

Take care, Mel. Is it weird to miss you when we’ve never even met?

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 4

A reply to: A letter from Mel

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Dear Mel,

I’ve boxed up a treat for Gari and Zee and sent it in the mail. No need to wait for the birthday, though! These little guys will want to get out as soon as they arrive! I selected four: two ducks, one Bubba bear, and one cat. All but the cat are made of soft rubber. The cat’s made of vulcanized rubber. The ears feel good to bite on–not that I’ve ever bitten vulcanized rubber ears, I’m just saying.

They’re all from that organic, fair-trade toy company, so the rubber is natural, and even the dye is organic and biodegradable. Everything’s eco-this, eco-that. Get ready for fun.

I want to thank you for writing me back so quickly. Your timing was perfect.

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I got your letter right around the time I had a really tough letter to write. I mean, maybe the toughest letter I’ve ever written.

Before I wrote back, I talked with Ira. I sat with Aari. I talked with my uncle Jasper. I did some research, and I thought a lot. Then I got your letter, and I knew I could write my reply. I knew I could level up, take the high road, and write the letter that had to be written.

Now that I’ve sent it, I feel relieved. I don’t know if I said the right words, and I don’t know if my letter will help. But I stepped up as a friend to a guy who’s in a tough spot after doing some bad things.

Ira says she would’ve understood either way: writing him back or not writing him back.  Then she said some things about what it’s like to have me as a friend that made me feel pretty good. I’ve never thought of myself as anybody who had anything to offer anyone. I’ve got to admit: It feels good knowing at least one person is happy to have me in her life. And it feels even better knowing it’s the person who makes me happiest of all. That would be Ira.

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You mentioned you’re curious about her, her daughter Aaradhya, my sister Meadow, and my uncle Jasper. I will love to tell you about them! Of course it’s not crossing a line.

I think of you as something bright and positive in my life–you make everything better, like a new dishwasher. That sounds… not so exciting. But for me, an engineer who’s always looking for eco-this, eco-that, my new water-saving, low-electricity-usage dishwasher is the best thing next to my popcorn maker!

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Point is: You’re this bright spot in my life that makes everything better. Of course I’ll love to tell you about the people in my life. I just hope I don’t bore you to sleep doing so! I know I’ll go on and on.

Aari is something wonderful. She is very smart. She loves doing math equations. I’ve started showing her simple algebra, and she takes to it naturally. She’s got a logical mind.

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I wish you could see her smile. I swear: the room gets brighter.

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She gets a little sad sometimes. She had a rough few years before her mom took her and left her dad. Ira told me that Aari’s dad never hit Aari. But Ira has scars from what he did to her. I imagine that things like that scar a kid on the inside.

Sometimes when she’s sad, she likes to sit with me. We don’t say much. We just sit until she feels better.

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Now and then, she has a tough time at school, when the noise and other kids’ yelling gets to be too much for her. She lashes out sometimes. We’re working on it.

The main thing, from what I’m learning at this support group I go to for partners of people who’ve experienced domestic violence, is to hang in there with the person. Don’t take their words or actions personally when they’re triggered. Just be there. Don’t give up on them.

It comes easy to me so far. I’d do anything for Ira and Aari. I’ve decided that even if it gets tough, I’ll level up, best I can. They’re worth it. I’m lucky I’ve got this group, my uncle, and my sister. And I’m so lucky I’ve got them.

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My sister Meadow, by the way, has just decided to go back to grad school. She’s already got a PhD, but she wants a practical degree. Her other one’s in folklore. I think I mentioned that. Anyway, my sister started volunteering at the transition home that Ira and Aari used to live at. It was Ira’s suggestion. So, Meadow’s been leading art classes. And now, she wants to be become an art therapist, combining art and folklore.

My sister has always been about helping other people make their lives better. That’s why she adopted Jena. My niece Jena is smart, and she loves to talk about super heroes. Huh. I just realized that Aari is Jena’s cousin, in a way. Maybe we’ll make it official sometime.

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My uncle Jasper is a character. He’s an old hippie, beatnik, retired college professor. He’s read just about everything and synthesized it all into his own version of the meaning of life. I don’t mind. I listen. It’s the questions he asks that’ll get you.

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I saved the best for last: Ira.

What’s there to say about her? She’s everything. She listens. She questions. She encourages.

She worked as a barista when I first met her. But she stopped that job. She’s thinking about becoming a teacher. She’d make a great one.

She’s got the gift of making you feel like you matter. It’s not just with me: She does this for everyone.

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The best thing is she makes me happy. She seems pretty happy herself, too.

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So how’s it all going in your life? Zee and Gari doing OK? Have you tried anymore painting? Ira and I both love to paint.

And how about your neighbors? Are they acting more neighborly?

Anybody who knows you is lucky to know you.

And I’m grateful to be your pen pal.

Take care–and let me know what the kids think of their package!

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norm – Mel 3

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Dear Mel–can I use your full name? Semper Ad Meliora,

Always onwards towards better things!

That’s what my life has become since we started writing.

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Did I tell you that my sister is a folklorist? Not just by training and profession, but naturally. She taught me how to listen to a story to hear it true.

It’s with half an ear and a whole heart, that’s what Meadow says.

That’s how I read your story.

Meadow always told me, “Truth comes through. Trust the story.”

She’s right.

I know she’s right because your story hit me that way. I see the difference in my life since I began receiving your letters.

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Do you remember how lonely I was when I filled out my profile?

I wonder if that’s why you chose to write me.

It was after you wrote that my life started always onward towards getting better.

That’s when I met Ira. She’s my best friend, and more. She lives here now, with her daughter Aaradhya.

Yesterday, at homework time, Aari griped, “Why do I gotta do algebra again?”

“Always strive for improvement!” Ira replied, half-hearted with tongue firmly in cheek.

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But Aari laughed. “OK, Mom!”

“No, she’s right!” I said. “That’s it! Always getting better! That’s life!”

I thought of you, though, Mel.

I don’t even consider your sister–I mean, why? When the other force is this–this movement towards improvement–why even give an ounce of attention to the other possibility?

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I am not a lonely guy, anymore. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

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And my best friend Ira has a home now.

And so does Aari.

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Do you know what sounds my house used to be full of? Crickets.

Now, my home is full of laughter.

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I’ve never been religious. Are you religious? Are you made of faith or based on faith?

I’ve never had much truck with faith.

I had science. I had business. I had the bottom line.

But now, I’ve got gratitude. And it makes everything else feel like a pale substitute for life.

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The funny thing: I don’t feel like I did anything to deserve this.

I filled out the pen pal profile. You wrote me. I wrote back. My life changed.

It’s like I’ve been playing a video game. (Well, actually, I have. Ira and I play all the time.) But it’s like I have actually been playing my life like a video game. One move. The next. It starts coming at you quick, quicker, you just respond–level up.

Always level up, that’s what it’s like, Mel.

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Always leveling up.

Thank you,

Norm

P.S. When are Zee and Gari’s birthdays? I can see if I can find you llamacorns–or maybe even something better! Aari’s got these sweet rubber ducks made of natural rubber and to squeeze one! I know it sounds weird, but truly. You haven’t lived until you’ve squeezed one of the eco-friendly, fair-trade, Spanish-natural-rubber ducks.

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