“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Philly” Chapter 100
By Bruce Williams
For this, my one hundredth essay, I considered writing a thank you note to all the folks that have read, shared, commented, laughed, cried, mocked, found distasteful or politely pretended to have skimmed. To thank Paul and Eli Sports for giving me a shot and a format, along with the bravery to just let me run with it unabashedly down whatever rabbit hole the contents of my mind would lead me.
I had a whole mock up of “Notes From Philadelphia”—another in the travel installment series…this one ripe with observations—like the guy at SeaTac in all camo (including backpack) that smiled at me in the TSA wrap-around line a little unnervingly, only to then subsequently get wafted by his fart (he the obvious culprit) as we lingered in his befouled, abandoned culdesac. About all the usual absurdities we’d encounter from our trip out east to see my daughter Olivia’s old pal Lily (as well as some local flavor) and how it would turn out.
No, this is going to be a tale of childhood heartbreak instead, of friends moved away, of how quickly those three-years-gone-by torches can be picked up in a heartbeat as the two now lanky gazelles rolled around in the dry grass like littermates picking up that old familiar scent. Of sleepovers and sugar and giggles and secrets. Of new-found moodiness and a need for parental separation. Of bare midriffs and short shorts and uncomfortable mothers. A story of a dad looking at his daughter’s picture taken in the sunset and suddenly realizing for the first time her beauty while simultaneously fearing the world and its men. A telling of how quickly kids can settle into a familiar beat that trumps their separation.
I tended to think that maybe the three years the girls had been apart would’ve made them too different now to pick up where they’d left off. They had changed—Lily now the much more demonstrative of the two, our Olivia (Lou) somewhat demure in comparison. But they chose matching outfits and slinked around like an 8-limbed beast with matching beach hats. When it was time to go home, I figured Lou—obsessed with our two dogs Mavis & Clark—would be ready after five days…all five of which she spent sleeping over at her friend’s house instead of holed up on a rollaway in her parents’ hotel room. But as the two friends hugged goodbye and held on to it, tightening their grip, I could see the little redhead openly weeping. I looked up at her mamma who was full waterworks now and felt my eyes begin to glisten. What was happening here? I’d been ready to get home since we got up…the packing, checkout, turning in the rental car, check-in, find the gate, eat, long flight, baggage carousel, ride home, unpack, start the laundry, put on fresh sheets, check the mail, pay bills, then shower off the travel before going to bed. Suddenly I was gazing down amidst all those thoughts and seeing small hearts getting broken right before my eyes.
In the rented Explorer on the way to the airport Lou just let it flow, sniffling and sobbing as her own mom held back the pain of seeing her hurt so much. Outside of Enterprise Lou looked lost, so I pulled her into my side and she collapsed again like a clam to its shell, fresh lament seeping out of every pore. I could feel the heat coming off of her head as I kissed it. At this age we no longer have as much physical contact as we did when she was little (as it should be), so I savored the closeness as she released her grief.
Sure she’ll get over it in a bit, but it reminded me of those little heartbreaks as a kid that seemed so insurmountable at the time, only to ebb later and wedge themselves somewhere deeply in our psyches. She ate a whole wrap and then a bag of peanut M&M’s before falling asleep in her window seat. It’ll pass, I thought.
Michelle remarked at the airport about the large tongues on my Nike sneakers, and as I gave her the international symbol for KISS’ “Lick It Up” she cautioned me, “Don’t you dare…” as she nervously glanced around the gate terminal to see if anyone witnessed the two or three tongue flicks I’d flashed her. I was laughing and she joined me (after she deemed the coast was clear)—a needed moment of irreverent levity.
Only Philly can mesh Rocky with Rembrandt, use “wudder” as a stand-in for “water” and have uniformly terrible drivers and polluted rivers and still get love from me. Well done, City of Brotherly Love, well done.
So this one hundredth is special for a lot of reasons. There’s thankfulness, there’s apprehension, there’s the beauty in grief. There’s always a place for laughter and a bigger place for love. There’s the realization that I might not have another hundred of these in me, so this, too, shall eventually pass. But for now here we are together—might we all dare to show the one’s we love how much we really care for them—no matter what it’s cost or what the distance might be.