Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 12

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normnewt1201

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.

normnewt1209

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.

normnewt1202

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.

normnewt1208

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.

normnewt1205

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.

normnewt1210

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.

normnewt1213

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.

normnewt1215

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.

normnewt1222

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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Forgotten Art: Norm – Newt 11

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normnewt1108

Newt:

Yes, I’m still writing you.

Yes, it’s a surprise to me. When you find out what I found out–oh, wait. You already know. I guess you’re surprised, too.

OK, I really don’t know what to say.

normnewt1105

Still don’t.

normnewt1107

Dammit, fool–just write the letter!

That’s me talking to me, not to you.

normnewt1106

Right. So here’s what happened. The other day, Ira and I stopped by Meadow’s place. There were all these kids there, and Ira stayed outside talking to them.

normnewt1104

I went in. I was happy. I love watching Ira with kids. She’s like a big kid herself, and seeing her with them just makes me smile.

I started painting at one of Meadow’s easels. She’s got the best light in the foyer of her place. And she has these casein paints I’ve always wanted to try.

While I was painting, she came and stood by me. She was wearing her sister look.

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If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean.

She started talking.

“I’ve got big news! Like–apocalypse-size news! I mean, get ready. Are you ready?” she said. She talks really fast when she’s excited.

normnewt1103

I set down my palette and brush.

“We gotta sit down for this,” she said.

I followed her into the living room, and while we sat there, once everyone else had cleared the room, she dropped the bomb.

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The bomb is this: Your soon-to-be ex-wife is my sister’s penpal.

Well, OK. It’s not a bomb to you. Or maybe it was and it already exploded. What I mean is, you know this.

But I didn’t know it. It was a big bomb.

If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean. All my life, I’ve made it my mission to keep my sister away from guys like… away from anyone who could hurt her. That has seriously been Objective Number One with me since the day Meadow was born. You’d know, if you were a big brother. Imagine how you feel about your daughter. It’s the same thing. You’d do anything to keep her safe.

So, the first thing I wanted to do was to beat you up. Or maybe shoot you. I know I shouldn’t tell you this–but it’s just that the feeling was strong. It was instinct. Yeah, that’s what it was. This huge protection instinct reared up, and I told Meadow she couldn’t write to your soon-to-be ex anymore. We were cutting the two of you off. Like that. But not before I wrote a letter filled with four-letters–the same four letters over and over, followed by “you.”

I know. I shouldn’t tell you all this. But look. We’re friends. Yes, we’re still friends. And I had to work through all these rages. If we were friends who met for a beer, rather than pen pals, you’d know how I was feeling. I wouldn’t be able to hide it. And I’d probably take a swing or five at you, and then kick you in the gut. That is, before I worked out my rage.

But I’m feeling better now.

I talked to Jasper. Jasper said this, “So, now you have a face to the other, and you see that the other is connected to you, through your sister. And now she becomes more than an other. She becomes a person, just like you. What was she before? Was she not someone’s friend? The friend of someone’s sister? What makes it different now that you trace her back to yourself? Does she become more valuable being now within your sphere?”

Yes, my uncle really talks like that. Like he’s some guru. But the thing is, he makes a lot of sense.

I thought out what he said. I realize that it’s no different–you’re no different. It doesn’t change things that there’s this other connection. You’re still Newt, even if your ex is someone close to my sister.

It doesn’t change that you’re my friend.

It doesn’t change that you’re the reason I’m with Ira, that you’re the reason I’m trying so hard to be a good “Primary Care-giver” to Aari.

It doesn’t change that we’re still penpals, and I’m still writing to you.

You can think of this letter as my punching you out–or trying to–and us getting over it and sitting down to share a beer.

Man. I thought Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was just a game. I didn’t realize it was true-to-life.

normnewt1109

Well, Normal Newt, it sounds like you’re doing well with your new girlfriend, setting up your new career, and moving to a new town. You’re doing a lot to set your life right, and I admire you for that.

Hope you forgive my outburst. I just needed to clear the air.

Your pal,

Neutronic Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norm – Newt 10

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normnewt1001

Hey, Newt!

Every time I think about your letter, I smile. I know, I know! It’s been ages since I’ve written! But it’s been a long time for good reasons, not bad. Things are finally coming together with the business.

I’ve been smiling because your last letter was just so normal. It cracks me up. When we started writing each other, we were so opposite. I mean, yeah. We both ran our fathers’ companies and felt like we were living someone else’s life. But I didn’t have any women in my life (except my sister, but you know what I mean). You had plenty.

Now, I’m finally turning around the business so it feels like my business, run the way I want it to be run. You’re getting your life together. I’ve got Ira. And you’ve got Janet.

Now, we’re just two normal successful guys. Happy, boring people.

I kind of always wanted to be a happy boring person. It looked so good from the outside.

It feels pretty good from the inside, too.

normpix12

This’ll  be a short letter. For one thing, I don’t have much to say. Life’s boring! It’s actually really good. No drama. Everything’s working out OK.

For another, I’ve got a little girl who’s waiting for me to read her a bedtime story.  She’s in the kitchen right now, having cereal for desert. We let her eat the junky kind, loaded with food coloring and all those sweets, but we don’t tell her that the food coloring is natural (beets and carrots and blueberries and stuff) or that the sweetener is malt syrup and honey. She likes it. It’s colorful. That’s what counts. It only matters to me and Ira that it’s healthy, too.

normpix13

I was glad to hear that your cousin is OK. It’s been a while since you wrote, so I hope his recovery is still progressing well.

Hope things are going well with you and Janet, too. How’d your Christmas trip to see your aunt go?

It’s a funny thing. When I was young, I always took family for granted. They were there–they were the people who were in the home, always there. Then my mom died and my dad died not long after, and I was out in the world, running Dad’s business, and family were the ghosts who filled the empty corners of my empty house. I don’t know how Meadow kept on, after Mom and Dad died. She leaned on me. She leaned on our uncle Jasper. She disappeared into her books and studies. But mostly, for me at that time, family was the ache around my heart. I tried not to think of them.

It’s so different now. Now family is the chatter in the kitchen. Family is the jokes at the end of the day. Family is that warm feeling of not being alone when I’m home.

normpix15

It’s like it was when I was a kid, except I don’t take it for granted anymore.

I liked that sense I got from your last letter that you don’t take it for granted anymore, either. It sounds like Janet really means something to you. Heck, you two are taking it slow! That’s a change!

I know from experience when you’ve got a good woman, she’s worth waiting for.

Whenever Ira takes a long time getting ready to go out, or is late coming home, or keeps us waiting for supper, I always tell her it’s no big deal. I’d wait forever for her.

But I got a sleepy little girl who won’t wait forever for me, and tomorrow’s a school day. I’d better wrap this up and find that sleepy-head so we can read tonight’s installment of Treasure Island.

normpix11

Take care, Newt! Maybe next time, I’ll have something more exciting to share. But truthfully? I hope not. I like the boring life just fine.

Be happy,

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 9

A reply to: A letter from Newt

normpix05

Hey, Newt.

Hope you don’t mind me writing you long-hand. It was Aari’s idea. Apparently, we’ve got to do everything together now. Ha! That kid.

Well, I am sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.

I hope you didn’t give up on me.

Life’s been taking pieces of me lately, and the biggest pieces deal with time and energy.

We just came out of a tough situation at work.

normpix02

I think I explained how we were switching from wind to solar. Our financial team and I had it all planned out: how we could cover everyone’s salary during the switchover so we wouldn’t have to lay anyone off.

Then, it turns out that the company we contracted with to build the resonating bowls (I think I explained about those, right? Solar panels constructed on the theoretical basis of Tibetan singing bows?)–anyway, it turns out that company was using substandard materials, so there was NO way their units would produce the volume of energy needed to serve our community and clients. It was a bust.

[Hang on a sec–Aari’s getting ready to have a melt-down…. ]

normpix08

[OK. I’m back. She’s OK. It was just long division.]

So, long story short and a dozen meetings with attorneys later, we’ve contracted with a new company and we’re eighteen months behind production schedule.

It’s not a total disaster. Many of the employees volunteered for a one-third reduction in salary during the interim. I can’t accept it. It would mean a hardship for some of our families, and if some of the company takes it, and some don’t, then that erodes morale. I’ve got savings to put back in the company. My sister and uncle said they’d re-invest to tide us through. We’ll make it without having to reduce payroll. I sort of made a promise to myself that we would make this change without laying off anybody or making anyone go without pay.

[Oh, God! Aari just said, “Last problem. Finally! Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?” Oh, that kid cracks me up!]

normpix04

Anyway, financially, what with the business complications and all, it’s tight for us. But it’s worth it.

If you see one of those singing bowls–Man! A piece of beauty! That’s the future, Newt.

How are things with you?

It’s been a long time since I wrote–I’m sorry, again. I’ve been thinking about you, though.

Fill me in!

[OK. Aari just finished her homework, and I promised her that once she was done I’d watch the puppet show she wrote. She’s been practicing all week. So I’d better start wrapping this up…]

normpix06

Aside from trying to resuscitate our flailing business, I’ve been a family man.

Yes. That’s right. Me. Solitary Norm. Windenburg’s most eligible… no more.

Aari came home from school one day and declared me her “Primary Care-giver.”

“What about your mom?” I asked.

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“My mom’s my mom, silly!” she replied. “‘Primary Care-giver’ is for the person who’s not your mom and not your dad but who takes the best care of you–that’s what ‘prime’ is for–that can be! And that’s you!”

Funny kid.

She asked me the other day for career advice. The only thing is, her chosen career is ninja.

normpix01

“Um… try to develop your hiding skills?” I told her.

Wrong advice!

Now, we need to allot an extra half-hour before school, supper, and bed-time so we can find her.

Things are pretty sweet with Ira. I mean, they just keep getting better. I felt a little worried when I had to direct so much attention to the business for the past few months. And then I felt nervous she might be jealous or something, with Aari laying claim to me.

But she seems pretty happy. And, like I keep saying, when she’s happy, I’m happy.

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Hope it’s all going OK with you, Newt. Remember: Life doesn’t have to be great to be good. Just hanging in there, getting through a day, and then a next, sometimes, that’s the most important work that can be done.

I’d better get out there and watch that puppet show. It’s called “One Thousand Reasons Not to Cry–And if You Don’t Believe Me, I’ll Beat You Up.” It’s gonna be a classic.

Wishing you the best,

Norm

p.s. I’ll try to reply quicker next time!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 8

A reply to: A letter from Newt

Hey, Newt.

So, read your letter. And I’m writing back.

While I was reading, I kept flashing on this story my uncle told me when we were hiking at the bluffs.

newt712

It’s about the charnel ground. Have you heard of that?

It’s a burial site. But for Buddhists. It’s also a literal place for transformation. Figurative, too.

See, according to my uncle, that’s where the bodies would be left–above ground, so that vultures and jackals could feed on them and all the flesh and stuff would decay and then the sun would bleach the bones. So when the process is done, all that’s left are clean white sun-bleached bones. But the way there stinks.

My uncle had way too much fun describing it:

“Vultures descending, tearing the sinews, gulping down eyeball. Entrails stretching across the plain. Jackals sneaking in after dark, howling with their strange laughs that sound like a child’s cry, grabbing the muscles, gobbling the rotting fat. Hair, loose, dry, brittle hair, flowing everywhere.”

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My uncle is strange. I never know what he’s trying to say. Growing up, I called him “Uncle Obtuse.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the point of the story. So I asked him.

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He shrugged. “Life is messy,” he said.

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At one of the first group sessions I went to at HoH, they showed a film. The purpose of the film was to show how PTSD is PTSD, no matter from what or experienced by whom. So, they interviewed war vets. They interviewed witnesses of 9/11. They interviewed people who experienced domestic violence. They interviewed refugees.

Afterwards, the group talked about how they felt watching the film.

When it was my turn, I started analyzing the camera angles, which were generally really low, looking up at the person, or really high, looking down, and so the effect was one of disassociation, and then I started analyzing the lighting, which was weirdly bright, and then I started talking about the effects of digital film vs. celluloid. Everyone listened. I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then the group counselor asked, “What did you feel watching the film, Norman? What do you feel now?”

“I don’t do emotions,” I replied.

One woman spoke up, “If you don’t do emotions, emotions do you.”

I stopped doing emotions when I was was a kid. It was a day that started out as the best day of my life, and ended up as the day I stopped doing emotions.

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My dad took my sister and me out to see the wind turbines.  It was a big day–Dad was featured in all these articles for bringing wind power to Windenburg, and he was making a name for himself.

At the time, I kept half an eye on the sky. I was a big fan of raptors and other birds of prey. When we reached the field below the turbines, I spotted an osprey. At the time, they were my favorites. I had this idea they were lucky. I watched it soar. I was about to point it out to Meadow when it flew too close to the wind-blades. There was a white explosion of feathers. And then–nothing. Not even a trace.

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I didn’t know how to respond. Dad and Meadow were talking, facing the other way. I didn’t know how to tell them what had happened.

I decided to not say anything. I stacked the emotions. I didn’t know what else to do. My dad was my hero. He was this big environmental leader guy. And his big project that was getting all the attention was killing birds of prey. The dissonance was too much.

When I took over his business, I still had my emotions shelved. I knew ethically that I wanted us to find a way to do wind power without killing birds. Did you know that some years up to 250 birds of prey were killed? That’s owls, osprey, falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures, and raptors of all kinds.

After I met Ira, I decided I had to do something. That’s why we switched to solar. It’s gonna cost us. It’ll cost the business big-time. If we encounter any delays or set-backs, we’ll probably have to issue bonds to see the project through. But even if it bankrupts us, it’ll be worth it. I can get a job as a chemist.

newt713

We’ve been learning in group about the ways that trauma and stress change the brain. It’s true that if you don’t do emotions, emotions do you. Something got split off in me when I turned away from what happened to that osprey. That’s what allowed me to run the company for so many years.

We’ve also been learning that the heart has its own mind, and just like our brain can influence our heart, our heart can influence our brain. It’s a two-way path.

newt701

Ira, Aari, and me, we each learned the same exercise in our groups. It’s called “heart breathing.” For a slow count of five, breathe into your heart. Hold it and rest. Breathe out for five. Pause. As you do this, start breathing from your heart, as if it is your heart breathing in, breathing out.

Don’t think about how it doesn’t make sense. Just do it.

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Aari does it when she starts getting mad. Pretty soon, she’s laughing again.

The trick is to remember to do it.

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I took Meadow up to the hills the other day. I wanted us to look out and see what it was like without the turbines.

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Yeah, I shut the turbines off two weeks ago. They’ve been dismantled.

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I looked at the sun. That sky stretched. Next time I see a falcon or osprey cross that sky, I won’t have to turn away. It’s safe. I can let myself feel the thrill of watching those wings spread.

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So, here I am writing. Newt, I think it’s probably best if you don’t count on me to help. I honestly don’t know how. I am not the kind of guy who helps other people or who even knows how to be helpful, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings.

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You’ve got your therapist for that, thank God.

I’m a friend. I stick. Maybe you can share with me what you learn about doing emotions. I got a lot to learn in that area.

Keep writing, buddy! Keep hanging in there through messy life.

–Norm

newt704

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 6

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt616

Salut, Newt!

Sorry it’s taken me time to write back. I had no idea having a kid around would keep me so busy. No surprise to you, I’m sure.

The latest thing Aari wanted me to do was to make her a puppet theater. I took an old chest of drawers, sawed it up, put it back together, and now we’ve got a theater good enough for Punch and Judy. And I’ve got splinters to show for it.

Man, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. I think I read about him in the Gazette. A real hero. Our company has a hero’s fund, so if he needs any help with medical expenses, or even paying mortgage or rent when he gets out, just let me know. I can pass on the word to the foundation president.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about me being in denial about my feelings.

In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

When I think, I turn to art. I guess I never mentioned to you that I’m an artist in my spare time, did I? Maybe I did.

newt608

I haven’t just been thinking about Ira. I’ve been thinking about work, too.

Soon, Windenburg Wind and Sun is going to become Windenburg Sun. In fact, we’re going to do it before raptor breeding season. I’ve decided I can’t have another osprey, eagle, hawk, or falcon on my conscience. Even if it means losing money. A lot of money.

I’ve been thinking over the records and plans, over and over. We can do it. We’ve got enough in savings and investments to tide us through for a few years, to cover salaries and expenses, while we complete the conversion. I’ve worked out negotiations with power collectives in other areas to take up the slack until we’re back up to capacity. It’s going to be tough. But it’s also going to be really good.

I wish I could tell you what’s going to make it so good, but we might be going public. You don’t want to get caught up in insider trading scandals. Neither do I. Let me just say this: Imagine Tibetan singing bowls. Now dream big.

So, the other day, business was on my mind. And Ira was on my mind. And I was stuck between the end of the legacy of wind power and the beginning of something really big.

You know how they say some things are worth waiting for? I figure they’re right.

newt601

So I did what I always do when my mind is stuck and I need inspiration–I turned to art. I went to the art center in the city where my sister’s art group meets. Ira’s in that group, too, but she wasn’t there that day. She had to go to a parent-teacher conference. Something about Aari “acting out.”

I tell you, that kid has a mean streak. I love it. To me, it signifies strength. There is no way that what happened to her mom will happen to her. It’s the other guy we got to watch out for. Aari is not going to end up in a shelter for abused women, but anybody who tries anything with her might just end up with broken nose.

newt603

I found my sister in the studio. Class had just ended.

She could tell I was deep in it.

“How’s the painting feeling?” she asked.

newt602

It felt all right. Kinda twisted, actually. I chose all the wrong colors: blacks, grays, and red.

“Here,” she said. She handed me some clay she’d been working. “Don’t look at it. Just feel it.”

newt604

I pounded that clay for a while. I started loosening up. My mind got quiet. You should try it sometime, next time you’re stuck in the thoughts.  Grab a lump of clay and pound it!

I was starting to relax when one of Ira’s friends came up to me. She’s also in Meadow’s art group.

“You’re Norm,” she said. “You know, you should really talk to her.”

newt605

We sat down. She told me that Ira talks about me all the time.

“I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she said. “I mean, you two live together, right?”

newt606

I told her I didn’t want to ruin a good thing.

She said there was a fine line between not ruining something and spoiling it.

“You know,” she said, “the Rose Petal Festival is tonight. You should ask her. I’ll watch Aari.”

“You’d do that?”

“Certainly,” she said.

newt607

So I called up Ira, and when her friend got to our house, Ira caught the speed rail and met me at the festival.

It had this really hip vibe. Everybody was feeling it.

newt609

Ira and I headed into the karaoke joint across the way. She walked right up to the stage, as if she were some rock star, and started singing.

The way she moved her hips. I’ll tell you. That Ira is something.

newt610

I sat at a table and watched her finish her song. When she joined me, I told her I’d never seen anyone so hot before.

I was feeling it.

She looked at me, and she went white. The whole mood changed, just like that.

“I can’t do this,” she said. “Not yet. I’m just not ready.”

newt611

Now she’s never told me what happened that caused her and Aari to end up at that shelter. I’ve never asked.

Once, I saw the scars on her lower back when she was getting out of the shower. She covered up real quick, and I turned away and didn’t say anything.

I don’t know how to ask about that.

I can understand that she’s not ready to go there. It hurts.

I also know that some things are worth waiting for, and I decided right then that will wait forever for Ira. I decided I would wait as long as it took.

I headed across the way to the festival. I found the easels they had set up for the public art event, and I painted, just so I could release some of these feelings.

newt612

As I was finishing up, Ira joined me.

Pardon moi, monsieur,” she said. “‘Ave you zeen mon petit chat?

It’s our running joke. I realize it doesn’t sound funny at all when I write it. But it cracks us up every time.

newt613

The tension dissolved. We ordered some phở from the vendor and poured ourselves some tea from the festival tea house.

And we started to feel pretty good.

newt614

It got late really quickly and we had to catch the speed rail home.

I slept on the couch that night. I wanted to give her space so she would feel safe. If that’s what she needs, that’s what I give. She’s worth it. Like I said, I’d wait forever for her.

The next morning, we had breakfast together in the study while Aari played math games on the computer.

Ira was full of stories and jokes. It was like she was a different person from that white-faced ghost that sat next to me at the table in the karaoke joint.

newt615

When we finished eating, I did the dishes and then helped Aari with her homework. She’s already doing elementary chemistry, and I get such a kick out of helping her work out equations and formulas.

newt617

When Aari went out to play with her new puppet theater, I joined Ira in the living room.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You’re amazing.”

I’m not making this up, Newt. She actually said that to me. I guess the little things make a difference. Things I don’t even think twice about, like making the puppet theater, scrambling eggs for breakfast, doing dishes, helping Aari with her homework–even sleeping on the couch the night before–those things actually mean something to Ira.

newt618

I felt a little weird when she told me how much those things meant.

“Cupcake,” I said, “I don’t do those things to make you think good about me. I don’t do them because I’m trying to get physical with you, if you know what I mean.”

She took my hands then. “I know that, Norm,” she said. “And that’s what makes them special.”

newt619

She told me then that when she’d said that she needed time, I’d given her time. And now, she didn’t need anymore time. Now she was ready.

Woot!

newt620

She was ready.

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I tell you. I gotta tell you. Some things are worth waiting for. And I would still wait forever for this woman.

newt622

Newt, you gave me the courage to talk to her. It blew up in my face. And then once the smoke died down, there she was, smiling crooked at me.

I’ve got a feeling my smiles will never stop. I got you to thank for it. You’ve been here all through that awkward time when I first met her. I’m no lonely bachelor anymore. I’m somebody’s boyfriend. It was a long haul to get her, but with you on my “support team,” as my sister would say, it’s worked out great.

Thanks, pal.

Now: What can I do for you?

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 5

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt501

Hey, Newt!

I am so glad you understand me about the appeal of collectibles. I was getting worried we’d have this area of miscomprehension. But you get it! Yeah! It’s just like collecting trading cards.

My latest acquisition is something really special: It’s an original Spanish-rubber rubber ducky made from 100% organic, fair trade rubber.

Right. Now that I write that out it sounds a little… OK. Hold the innuendos. It’s not what you think

I’ve been looking for more natural rubber products. The company needs to make some investments, and I’ve been pushing for the natural rubber industry. It’s more eco-friendly.

The antique collectible cat that Ira collects, Mistress Mew-Meow, is made from natural volcanized rubber. It’s a fascinating process, developed in the 1840s–it was patented in the U.S. in 1844 by none other than Charles Goodyear–you’ve heard of him–so, this process involves adding sulfur to the rubber to form cross-links between the polymers, thereby rendering the structure more durable and firm.

Chemistry lesson for the day–at no charge, I might add!

Anyway, the llamacorn that I collect is also made from vulcanized rubber, which is why it’s so hard. (Not so the rubber ducky, which remains a soft, pliable rubber.)

The other day, Ira and I were out for a walk in the neighborhood when a teen tourist tried to buy my pink and purple vintage Lollicorn–the one I told you was so rare.

I made a show of asking Lolly, “So would you like to have a new home with this nice young lady?”

But Ira was all like, “No. Get real. The vintage pink and purple Lollicorn is NOT for sale. Do you KNOW how rare these things are?”

newt502

Man, did I tell you? She’s an awesome woman.

We had so much fun the other day. As soon as her daughter ran off to school, Ira turned to me and said, “Babe! We’re free!”

GeekCon was in the city, so we hopped the speed rail and got there in time to enter the Ultimate Gaming Contest.

newt503

We didn’t win. I was distracted because I kept looking over at Ira. She looked amazing in that gaming rig. And she said she was distracted by my jokes.

I can’t help it. I can’t seem to stop cracking jokes when she’s around.

We were hungry and thirsty so we headed over to the bar across the street, and we ran into my sister.

newt505

She and Ira go way back.

Smooth, my sister is not.

“So are you two like a couple now?” she asked.

Ira IS smooth.

“Well, I’m not sure we’re together together,” she replied. But then she went on to talk about how we’re best friends and how she and Aaradhya moved in. I kept thinking that labels mean nothing–except for maybe the label of “best friends,” which, for some reason means a lot to me.

And all the time, I had this raging grin.

newt506

My sister looked at me, smiling, too.

“That’s so nice, Normie,” she said. Ah! I just wanted to pull her hair like I did when she was a bratty twelve-year-old! I settled for laughing with her.

“You’re laughing with me,” I told her, “not AT me.”

“Right,” she replied, laughing all the harder.

newt507

Look, I tell you: things are just about perfect.

I’m not sure I know what you mean or even believe you when you say you weren’t in love with your wife. I mean, you had kids. What does “in lust” even mean? Can you separate the two?

I’m not so sure I can.

I guess it makes me a dweeb to admit that. But hell. I’m a dweeb. I’ve been called worse.

So, you asked, “Maybe if you are in love with Ira, you can tell me what it’s like.”

I’m not really in touch with my feelings, so I can’t tell you what it feels like.

But all I know is that I’m smiling all the time.

newt508

I guess that’s what it feels like. It feels like a smile that starts with an irrepressible grin and spreads inside until I laugh at the stupidest things.

Like algebra. Who the heck laughs at algebra?

But last night, Ira was explaining to Aari what “solve for x” meant, and I couldn’t stop laughing. “X.” What the heck is so funny about that? “Solve for x.” Even now, it makes me laugh. It must have to do with Ira’s delivery.

newt509

I’m in touch with my thoughts, Newt, even if I’m clueless about my feelings.

And my thoughts seem to be all wrapped up in Ira and Aari. I want what’s best for them. I want them safe, happy, healthy. For me, I want them to live here, but if Ira were to tell me tomorrow that she got a great job in Timbuktu, and they had to move, I’d be happy for her. Of course, I might sell Windenburg Wind and Sun and move with her, but the point is, if she’s happy, I’m happy.

newt510

Thinking about her happiness has become like my number one mental pursuit these days.

I know it’s whacked, but the thing is, it makes me happy.

newt511

And I think it’s doing something good for her, too.

Did you know that people can laugh in their sleep?

newt512

Well, this letter was all about me. Sorry about that, man. I guess maybe that’s a sign of being in love. I’ve always heard that there’s no one more self-absorbed than new lovebirds.

It’s a disease, man, but it’s a smiling disease, and I’m not really interested in the cure.

I’m sure I’ll be over it the next time you write, and then I’ll be able to be a better pal.

For now, maybe you can just overlook that I’m a dweeb and a sap and chalk it up to a rash case of raging grin infatuation.

Stay cool, Newt.

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 3

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

kaitlin308

Dear Kaitlin,

I’m sorry it’s taken me a little while to write back. You see, there was something in your last letter that I wasn’t sure how–or even if–to respond to.

Maybe it’s just coincidence and maybe there’s nothing to it.

You see, I appreciate you and our correspondence so much. And I don’t want to put it in jeopardy by bringing up something I shouldn’t. But even more, I don’t want to endanger it–or you–by not bringing up something if I should. So, I’ve decided to mention it, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

I remember reading in your profile that you were trying to stay “under the radar” so your husband can’t find you.

Please know that I keep everything you write confidential. I mean, I do that with all my pen pals. My uncle and my brother know I have pen pals, but I haven’t told them any of your names or anything that has been expressed in your letters. Believe me, I honor the confidentiality of the pen-pal relationship! No one in my life knows who I’m corresponding with except the person I write to.

I felt it was important to tell you that before I go on.

My brother Norman doesn’t hold the same respect for confidentiality. When he saw how much my uncle and I were enjoying the pen pal project, he decided to join. I try to discourage him from talking about the letters he gets and writes. But if you knew my brother, you’d know that trying to keep him from talking is like trying to dissuade the Santa Ana winds from blowing in September.

He’s a big talker.

The thing is. Well, the thing is this: you wrote that your husband’s name was Newt.

Newt is the name of one of my brother’s pen pals.

It’s not a very common name, is it?

Norman says that Newt is his “relationship coach.” He’s teaching him how to “make a move” on his best friend, Ira. (Ira’s a woman–a friend of mine, actually.)

I guess it’s not all bad for Norman, since Newt’s coaching gave him enough confidence to ask Ira and her daughter to move in with him. They were living at a shelter. I guess they had some hardship, and there’s no dad in the picture right now. Ira’s got a great attitude so I’m hoping now that she and her daughter have a save place to live, they’ll bounce back.

But for you! Isn’t it a weird coincidence that your husband would be writing to my brother? If it even is your husband. Do you think it is?

If so, will you still be able to write to me? I hope so!

I can understand if you have to stop. I mean, your safety comes first. And if you were trying to keep your husband from finding you and the kids, and then it turns out that he’s in touch with your pen pal’s brother…  I’ll do whatever you need to and respect your decision.

It’s just that I hope we can keep writing. Your letters–and you–mean so much to me! I keep your letters locked up in my desk and your emails in a password protected folder. Norm’s got his own account on my computer, so when he uses it, he logs in as him. He doesn’t know my passwords.

Since I’m not sure you’ll still feel like you can write, I’ll make this a long letter and tell you everything!

I’m enclosing some pictures of Jena, just like you asked. Isn’t she a little nut?

kittypics

Her face is so expressive. I can always tell just what she’s thinking and feeling. I hope she keeps that quality all her life. I love a face that reveals all! (You know I’m bad at secrets!)

We had family day at my uncle’s on Sunday.

When we got there, Jena was in such a mood.

kaitlin303

Even when she’s grumpy, she tries to be polite. We sat together in the living room, and she folded her little hands in her lap.

“What’s the matter, Cat?” I asked her.

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“Stupid noisy train!” she said. We had taken the Rapid Transit into the city.

She really dislikes loud noises, and I think she dislikes crowds. Kaitlin, do you think toddlers can have PTSD? Sometimes, she seems shook up after we’ve been around lots of people, and I don’t know if this is normal over-stimulation for a sensitive child or if the trauma she experienced in the camp gets triggered.

To help her calm down, I got her a snack, put a Haydn  string quartet on my uncle’s stereo system, and gave her a little time alone.

kaitlin302

Half an hour later, she was happy and laughing with Norman.

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I know I tease Norman a lot, and he probably doesn’t come off that well in all my letters. It’s not fair to him! He really is an awesome guy. He’s my big brother!

kaitlin304

And he’s Jena’s uncle. I feel so happy that she’ll get to grow up with a cool, funny, and smart uncle, just like I did.

kaitlin305

Oh, Kaitlin! Norman’s got such a good heart, if he can just find his way from his head so he can feel it!

Maybe, if he is writing Newt-your-husband, some of his goodness might possibly maybe rub off on Newt, just like Newt’s confidence has rubbed off on Norman. What if? What if something good comes from this for both of them?

kaitlin306

I know. You probably think I’m foolishly optimistic, like my uncle. Jasper thinks every painting is a masterpiece! And I think every person has a heart of gold, if only they can find their way to it.

kaitlin309

Oh, I got so carried away with my letter that I forgot I hadn’t answered all your questions!  About a significant other: Your guess is right. I’m single. I’ll share a secret: I’ve never had a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, either. I’m just not sure I think that way–or at least, not yet, anyway. I remind myself of a character in a Mary Wilkins Freeman story–very oriented towards family and home, but more content to take care of someone else’s child than to have my own, and much happier to have my rooms and my books and my thoughts to myself than to have to share them with someone who feels he’s due them, at the end of the day.

It’s not lonely for me. It’s my choice. It’s free.

Hailey’s father sounds wonderful–and I hear such love in your words when you write about him. I hope the complications in your situation find resolution. It can happen! Or at least, in novels it always does. Maybe in life, too?

I feel so bad when you write that I’m your support system because what if Norman’s Newt is your husband Newt and that comes between us? Oh, I hope nothing stops us! I hope you can still feel safe enough to keep writing! I want to be able to keep hearing about you and your beautiful children, and I want to be able to cheer when you write me that letter telling me that you and Hailey’s dad worked it all out and he’s moving in! Or whatever you decide to do. I’m sure it will be wonderful.

Oh, before I go, I just wanted to tell you to have hope. I guess that’s something I learned from Jena. I mean, to come from something as terrible as she experienced, and now to be a smart, thriving, opinionated little kid–that’s a miracle that fills me with hope. It’s love that did that. And you: your whole being is so full of love! I know only the best will happen for you and that you’ll make it through this challenge and you’ll be so strong that all the love in your heart will be super-charged with Super You Power!

I sound like my crazy brother when I write like that. He really is a good guy, even if he’s got a big mouth.

Take care, please! I hope you feel you can still write.

Be safe.

Lots and lots and lots of love,

Meadow

p.s. We don’t have any pets. We haven’t been able to find any! We tried adopting a pigeon that wandered through the field, but that didn’t work out. Maybe one day we’ll have a cat? We’re hoping!

p.p.s. Sorry I had to share that weird news. I hope you can still write! And maybe it’s not even the same Newt?

p.p.p.s. But of course I understand if you can’t keep writing.

p.p.p.p.s. Bye! Or… until next time! And thank you so much! Thinking good thoughts!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 4

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt406

Hey, Newt.

Ugh. You can’t tell from my keystrokes that the tips of my ears are bright red, can you?

Don’t worry. I waited to write. I wanted to make sure I got my cool back. Wouldn’t want you to know I was embarrassed out of my skin.

Dude! Where did you grow up? Antarctica? Didn’t you watch the Lambastic Legends of Llamacorns when you were a kid?

A Llamacorn, my friend, is a cross between a unicorn and a llama, and the vintage Llolicorn edition issues are special and very rare.

newt405

You have no idea how sought-after Llamacorn action figures are today. I’m talking triple–sometimes even quadruple-digits. Those things are keen, especially the Lollicorn editions.

Look ’em up online. And if you happen to notice the gold and blue one for sale anywhere, let me know. I need it to round out my collection.

newt404

That’s something Ira and I have in common. We both collect antique toys. Though she happens to prefer Mistress Mew-Meow.

Stop, Newt. Don’t even go there. It’s not what you’re thinking.

newt411

Ok. Now my ears are red again.

What was I even going to write?

Oh, yeah. My homework. Well. I blew it. Failed the course. It’s not for lack of effort. It just hasn’t been right yet.

Ira came over right after I got your letter. I was ready to do just what you instructed: “When you’re sitting next to her, yawn and let your arm stay around her shoulders.”

The thing is, she sits next to me, but not next to me. I’m in the love seat. She’s in the chair. Adjacent. Next, but not next.

newt403

She’s my best friend, man. I don’t want to blow it with her. Besides, once we get talking, I have so much fun, I forget about everything else.

Still. I gotta admit. She makes me feel… you know. Like, very much so.

newt401

We did almost have a moment the other day. We were playing Party Frenzy on the console. Somehow, our arms got tangled up. Like interlaced. Like linked. Arm-in-arm. I was so into the game, I sort of didn’t notice. I just felt kinda warm on one side.

“Um, Norm?” Ira said. “My arm? I can’t get my guy to the dance floor!”

We were on the dance floor level of the game.

newt412

I apologized and let her go.

I’m kind of not worried, though. I think I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to get close to her.

newt410

You see, I kind of asked her to move in.

Now, don’t go yelling at me about being too fast! Or putting the cart before the horse. Actually. I guess I put the horse in the barn before I even got the cart out. Or. Whatever. Don’t go there.

The thing is, she needed a place.

I asked her one day, “So we always meet up here. Let’s go to your place one day! How about tomorrow?”

“There’s just one thing,” she said. “I don’t have a place.”

newt409

Turns out, she’d been staying in some shelter, all this time. That’s why she always wore the same black outfit. That’s why her shoes are these old canvas worn-out things. Here I am, one of the guys with the most resources in town, and my best friend, the person I care most about, is half a step away from being homeless, living in a shelter for women and children.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention? She’s got a kid. A cute, spunky little girl named Aaradhya.

newt413

Well, they don’t live in a shelter anymore.

That’s right. I asked them to move in.

newt408

So, maybe I haven’t made my move yet, but Ira made her move–she moved right in with me!

I tell you, Newt. I’m starting to understand your feelings about being a family man. I may not yet have even gotten to first base with Ira, but she’s made it to home with me already: literally and figuratively. She’s sharing my home, and she’s planted herself right smack square in the hearth of my heart.

I never thought I had it in me to love this deep.

And I haven’t even yet started to tell you about my new sorta, kinda, maybe-one-day daughter.

newt407

I owe it all to you, man. I never would’ve had the guts to ask her to move in if you hadn’t inspired me to speak up for what matters. If I didn’t know how much a guy like you could have a soft spot for family and a good woman he loved, I probably would have let her go right on living there in the shelter and wished her well. Maybe I would have written the shelter a check from “an anonymous benefactor” and designated the funds for her. But it wouldn’t have brought near the joy that opening my home has.

Thanks, man. I only hope that you get to regain some of the happiness you lost. I owe you, big time.

Your flunking student, who’s learning more than you can know…

Norm

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 2

A reply to: A letter from Newt

newt207

Hey, Newt! You wrote back! Guess that means we’re pen pals.

So, how do we go about this sort of thing? I tell you about my boring life, and you tell me about your exciting one?

newt206

Hmm. I’m wondering if I didn’t get the right “How to Be the Boss” manual, because my experience heading up the company doesn’t include one-on-ones with any good-looking women, unless they’re the chemists and engineers in R & D, and then we’re talking formula and design, not dinner at five.

I guess I still follow my dad’s rule: no dating members of the team. Sort of had it drilled into me.

You asked if I could some use moves or pick-up lines.

Will you totally not respect me if I say yes? Because, yes. I could.

I was at the café the other night with my sister and uncle, and I saw the cutest woman in braids and a black barista’s outfit. I’ve always had a thing for baristas.

newt201

I stood at the end of the line, like a moron, trying to think of something witty to say.

Meadow, my sister, was no help. She had her nose in a book.

Finally, I came up with, “I hear dark roast is higher in caffeine, but lighter in acid. Smooth, you might say.” Then I was going to ask her what she was drinking.

But she was gone.

My uncle, Jasper, was there. “What’ll you have, Norm?” he asked.

“A hot cup of plum,” I said. And my uncle ordered me Chinese plum tea.

newt202

My sister was in a total good mood. “We should do this more often,” she said.

Maybe it cramps my style to go out with my uncle and little sis.

What do you think?

I do it because it’s fun, and they’re good company.

newt203

I try to act cool, but I am such a dork.

If you go to a party, and you see a guy in the center of the room, talking to all the cuties, that guy’s not me.

I’m the guy at the bookshelf, reading up on mycelium. I’m the guy standing on the back porch, looking up at Venus in the arms of the crescent moon.

newt208

I guess that’s why I love hanging with my sister so much.

She must be a bigger dork than me because she thinks I’m cool.

newt205

I’ve been thinking about your advice on working out. I run. But maybe I’ll hit the gym. I got myself a cool jersey from my favorite team.

Yeah, I’m a big Raging Llama fan. Are you?

newt204

All right. You’ll probably want to stop writing once you learn how clueless I am.

But hey–you could be my mentor!

That’s an even exchange, right? You teach me how to get to know a few nice women, boost my cool factor, and I’ll help you check off that therapy homework.

newt209

Take care, man.

Norm

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