Coming home is a hard thing to accomplish. Unlike the coming of age. Sometimes, however, the threads that make up the fabric of your life will interweave in a way previously unimaginable, leaving you with nothing but a questionmark at the end, burned into your mind and engraved into your soul.
I came home the other day, already with a feeling of ambiguity as I saw that the elevator was out of order. I took the stairs to the tenth floor, where I call slightly more than six hundred square feet my home and my castle. The darkness within myself turned out to be an interesting contrast to the well-lit staircase. Thank Heavens I'm still rather young, so I had time to philosophise about things like that on my way up. Thirty years from now I'll be more concerned with blood pressure and heart-rates when facing a three-figure number of steps between the here and there.
The here is commonly known as New York City, where I've been living for half a decade now, and, surprisingly, I still don't regret my decision to move into the rotten core of the Big Apple. I grew up in Fairfield CT, a place rather unspectacular if you want to hear the truth. It's Suburbia right out of a mediocre soap-opera, slightly upper middle-class as the mostly affluent locals would call it with their big cars and even bigger lies, but at the end of the day it's nothing more than a grain of sand on the outer rim of this Black Hole with its relentless gravitation.
I was - am - the product of a failed marriage, and some self-proclaimed experts say that the traumatic experience of your parents' love officially coming to an end will leave a mark on you which you will display, willing or not, for the rest of your life. That may be true or not, but at least the first flight of stairs was behind and beneath me now. Looking at the next challenger in front of me I realised that although I had been denied my father's love for the better part of my youth I hadn't been denied a father's love.
Substitute fathers are more and more the rule than the exception, and I can't help but think that the arguments of those who warn against the corrosive effects this development of family organisation has on society indeed have merit. Not that my mother wasn't a good mum. She was, considering the circumstances. Businesspeople don't have much time for anything other than their work as it is, but being a female CEO in the climate of the Reagan years was ten times worse. For a good part of my childhood Angela Bower was an invisible whirlwind in the morning and an invisible voice on the phone for the rest of the day. Other than that, she was just invisible. It's fair to say that I was preparing to raise myself, when some day in 83 or 84 the doorbell rang. My mother, calling from upstairs, asked me to look who it was. I did, reluctantly. You know how kids are.
Another flight of stairs. The number on the exit door said "2". Somehow that sounded like a K.O. count to me.
Tony Micelli was my substitute father. I think as a male role model he stank, but as a father he was A-list material. Yes, for all intents and purposes he was my father. It's liberating to think of it that way. I could never see it this way, prior to that day in the staircase. Why it became clear to me at that precise moment only, between floors two and three I don't know. Perhaps the unique atmosphere of being alone in a small space within a moloch of ten million people allowed the doors of my inner sanctum to open slightly - for just a moment.
However, I still have no idea what it was that made Tony and me connect instantly. We are quite different in character, to say the least. He's Italian, and I'm not. He's emotional, and I'm not. He's outspoken, and I'm not.
On the other hand, I'm rather disillusioned about the beauty of life. And he never was.
Every which way one may look at it, you'd never guess that I was raised for a good part by the man my mother had hired to clean up after me, herself, and my grandmother who, some time later, decided to live with us. Still, I can't help but feel that a lot of him is in me, and I'm displaying it to people with eyes to see and hearts to know, willing or not.
I miss him. Yes, here, in front of the exit door of floor number three, I was doing something I hadn't done in quite a while: cherishing the loving memory of Mr Anthony Micelli, of Brooklyn, New York.
What happened wasn't his fault. What happened wasn't my mother's fault.
What happened was true.
They were in love from moment one. Even I, an innocent child, could see that. My grandmother, as was her way, continuously teased the two of them about it. I never underdstood what the big deal was. Two people, one widower, one divorcée - makes perfect sense, doesn't it ? At least give it a try, folks, that's what I was thinking when I was in puberty. They had been courting each other so dysfunctionally it had almost reached the state of a real-life satire. I mean, we're talking seven or eight years of almost constantly keeping your foot on the brakes. Talk about marks left on your soul. After such a long time of nolimetangere it was clear even to me, an immature youth, that once all those emotions had been released expectations would have been too high to ever be fulfilled. Which is exactly what happened.
And there we were at floor number four. No rhyme intended, said the gangsta rapper.
They should have talked about it before releasing their emotions, releasing the beast, as my mother likes to call it now. Instead they stepped off the brakes, then were a couple from one day to the next. No way in hell that would have worked, even if circumstances had been much more in their favour. Love isn't part of a triathlon, you can't just jump out of the waters of a professional relationship, climb a bike and ride off into the glorious sunset of love everafter.
What were they thinking...
On my way up I was thinking that floor number five should appear at any moment. I didn't immediately see it, so I did what I usually do when I'm lost in thought. I continued to look down, in this case onto concrete stairs.
Upon hearing the news I went to the hospital. It had been quite a while since I had set foot on the grounds of my home state. Connecticut Welcomes You, said the sign by the road. Which was appropriate, because I felt like a stranger indeed. It didn't feel like coming home. Already I'd been assimilated by the one and only New York City. Resistance is futile.
Mum was alright. Still out of it, but she was going to be okay. Nothing else mattered. Seeing her lying in that bed, eyes closed, so terribly sad while at the same time so full of grace made me uncomfortable. Do I look like that when I'm asleep, I was wondering. People tell me I look a lot like my mother. I presume they base such a flattering yet somewhat bold statement on our appearance in the waking state.
I took her hand which, as always, was rather warm. Mine are usually cold. I told her that she was going to be okay, and that I love her. I told her again - two hours later when she woke up and started crying bitterly. I had never seen my mother in such a state of utter despair. She had lost the man she loved, had lost him forever, and she was convinced that ultimately it was all her fault.
Growing up is easy. Being a grown-up isn't.
I looked up, because on the edge of my consciousness the number "6" had appeared. And indeed, I had reached floor number six. My muscles still felt fairly decent, although I'm pretty sure I hadn't stopped using them for a while. I thought that's a good sign. I should continue to use the staircase instead of the elevator, even if the latter has been repaired by now. It's cheaper than paying for the gym three times a week and, if anything, an even better workout than the torture chamber.
Seattle is an entire continent away. But it was the opportunity of a lifetime for Tony. That's how I always saw it. So I guess my assessment of the situation is more or less identical with the one my mother originally made. The one that set it all in motion, everything that happened after it. It's hard to reject the conclusion that the moment my mother decided Tony had to take the job at that A-list college in the Evergreen State his fate had been sealed. Everything after that happened more or less inevitably.
It's equally hard to reject the notion that what mum did was exactly the right thing to do. There was no way out, it was what Tony had been working for. To be his own person, and not Mr Angela Bower. Mum, on the other hand, never wanted to be Mrs Tony Micelli. She wanted a relationship that left her enough room to be CEO Angela Bower. He wanted a wife. She was a successful businesswoman building a career. He was a teacher who had been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
What options did that leave them ? Am I missing something here ?
I looked back down behind me. On yet another exit door a large number "7" was waving me good-bye, thanks for dropping by.
I wasn't a part of all that. I had decided to move to New York when I was on the home stretch of my college career. My reasons for moving out weren't economical or even personal. I wasn't rebellious or anything. Nothing so mundane. It was logical, as Mr Spock would say. Tony and my mother needed time to work things out, and I was of the opinion that everything which distracted them from dealing with each other had to clear the field.
My grandmother wouldn't hear any of it. Mrs Sigmund Freud was convinced I was making a terrible mistake, that Angela's life depended on the continued influence of that generational sandwich of her parent and her child.
I didn't even find that funny, which I interpreted as further proof of my growing-up. As a child I found everything funny my grandmother did and said. Gradually that attitude has shifted. Very much so.
When I arrived in Manhattan, closing the door of my apartment behind me for the first time, I went to the big panoramic window in the den and enjoyed the view of the park. Somewhere in the distance a police siren was blaring. Welcome home, I thought.
Who's welcoming me home when I open the door ? That's what I was asking myself passing floor number eight. I could feel something waiting for me up there. Come to me, it was calling seductively. I obeyed, still amazed at the stamina of my leg muscles.
Moving into a new town is like gambling. Of course, in New York City there are always new kids on every block. It's not so much a stable community as a constant flux of people moving in and out, like blood in a heart. And the beat goes on.
I don't regret my decision. I'm an adult and so are they. We are responsible for the consequences of our actions, and that responsibility is the price we have to pay for our independence. Parents have to let go, children have to learn what it means to be a grown-up. That process is painful sometimes, yes, but nevertheless necessary. Everything else is just suicide.
I knew the time had come to face the wind when Tony and my mother were seriously considering marriage for the second time. Again, everything else would have been suicide.
And I wasn't the only one to see it that way. There was someone else who strongly supported my course of action.
Floor number nine. I was almost there. Journey's end, no more philosophy, sorry, we're closed. Stretching my legs, peace and quiet. My life.
Where did I get this habit of philosophising, anyway, I ask myself. I guess it's my mother. Again. Tony isn't - sorry, wasn't - much of a philosopher.
As I was preparing myself to walk up to the tenth floor I remembered my roommate and the fight we'd had a couple of hours previously. It was preposterous. We hadn't yelled at each other in years. This time a lot of frustration that had been building up under our skins had found its way to the surface. It was one of those senseless yelling duels that lack as much valid argument as they contain volume. Now I was ready to forgive her, and I had a shrewd suspicion she'd be willing to do the same, even if the subject under discussion had been a very sensitive one: her late father and my mother.
Just as I was coming around the corner towards that final flight of stairs I saw her. She was sitting there on the steps, beautiful as always, a stunning sight, even in her obvious state of emotional desolation. She didn't say anything as I walked up to her, just kept looking at me, her face still tear-stained, with those tears reflecting the cold white light of the staircase. As I reached the top of the stairs I walked past her. I sighed, then turned around to face her. I asked her if she wanted to get up. She only said, "Help me".
I offered her my hand. She took it, then got up.
I looked at the exit door. It said "10". It didn't feel like a K.O. count anymore. While Samantha was crying in my arms, I realised that our lives have been inextricably woven together. Perhaps that is the true legacy of the story of Mr Tony Micelli and Mrs Angela Bower.