Twenty-twelve, like for most of us, flew by for me in a blur of a fifty hour minimum work weeks, happy hours, birthdays, political debates, manuscripts, photo portraits, a sublet in Midtown Manhattan for Springtime, and dinners out in my residential city of Philadelphia, as well as countless trips to the other great cities on both coast where jets landed me for business and pleasure. Autumn brought my annual visit to Virginia for opera, fine wine, and a much needed slower pace. At one point, when the cherry blossoms were in full Heaven, I was drunk at a private party in the basement of the National Cathedral in all its earthquake-damaged glory. Hey, you only live once. Yet in the rush of the twelve months that have now become in tweets, Instagrams, and diary entries, I did not travel home to Cincinnati, Ohio where all of my family live, including my three year old niece, whom this year was diagnosed as Autistic. This has been the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family and it has weighed greatly on my heart and health. I’ve realized this year that untreated homesickness can lead to a crippling depression when you are as close to your mother and siblings as I am.
Despite the bustle of this year I’ve managed to read a few books, mostly poetry, though the novella “Shine”, the 19th century memoir “Twelve Years A Slave”, and the novel “The Stranger’s Child” stand-out prominently. One of those poetry books was the recently released sophomore collection by everyone’s favorite publisher, Bryan Borland. His power punch, Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems From The First Year Without My Father arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago. While this isn’t a formal review, the book is a tear-jerking page-turner and an instant classic. Part love letter, part memoir, part obituary about Bryan’s father and Bryan’s life after his father died suddenly in a 2009 car crash just days after donating one thousand dollars to start Sibling Rivalry Press—which three years on has become a powerhouse in queer publishing and small press publishing in general.
While I was reading Pirates I connected to the story rather well, even though I’ve never experienced such a tragic family death. They’ve all been from cancers. Yet, Bryan is a true master of poetry, and he engages his readers to deliver a connection strong and deep.
Yesterday I went in for a Friday afternoon haircut. Dreading the wait (I’m not much of an appointment maker, or keeper), it turned out to be just the hairstylist and myself. A new girl to the salon I’ve been visiting since Bryan was living that first year without his father. She looked like Gwenyth Paltrow. Instantly friendly and someone you’d want in your hybrid circle of close friends and party friends, she had plenty of questions for me as she worked her magic on my thinning mane.
“What are you doing for the holidays?” she asked. I immediately began telling her how I was flying home to see my family, that I hadn’t been home all year and that it was the longest I’ve gone without seeing them; that despite many trips across the country I somehow failed to touchdown in Cincinnati and that my mother, rightfully so, was probably mad at me for that. I told her that I would probably run through the airport to get to my mother’s hug quicker.
She listened, asked more questions, and we laughed while she pampered me to the nines (think Dorothy at the Oz Spa and there I am!). She lip-sync’d each pop-rock Christmas ballad that came on the radio. But as she was wrapping up the miracle of making this pig look like a prince I realized, despite it being my nature to immediately change the subject from me to you, that I hadn’t asked her what she was doing for Christmas, so I inquired. And that’s when it all hit.
Her voice became monotone. A very different lady emerged; a little girl appeared in her eyes, eyes which I had noticed had a touch of infinite melancholy to them. “Well, I live with my sister,” she began “so we’ll spend it together. Our parents were killed when we were kids so it’s just us. We’re all each other have.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” I say to her, and I was because I had read Bryan’s book and learned what a child goes through with a parental loss. I connected albeit via poetry with an experience I’ve yet to have to go through. I knew what she had experienced. Poetry had, once again, given me something in life. She smiled at me in the mirror.
A couple seconds later she bear-hugged me around my neck, her personality switching back to prom queen gone wild. She said that I had made her day, as she had mine. “Good,” I replied, “because it’s at least five hours until happy hour.”