We sit at the table as the sun shines into a realm of adulthood that we’ve never shared before. The window is clear, trimmed with white. Outside there is nothing much but a car park for the staff and a few garden boxes filled with weedy herbs, grass creeping up against the gravel, the dark green trees toward the back of the yard hiding the eons of suburbia that loom out there. Inside, everyone is white and middle class and generally fat. A blonde woman in an enormous grey jumper shoves scones with jam into her mouth and I watch, cautiously, working hard to suspend my judgment. Her husband reads the paper.
The table between you and me is made of white marble and the illumination of the sun into that moment makes it shine up in our memories already, before we’ve even digested it, and I knew before you said anything that I would write about it. You hate it when you can predict what I think. You think it makes you smaller, as if, in any way, you think like me. You want to be better than me because that’s what evolution asks of you.
When you were in your early teens you played me the songs of Jeffrey Lewis. I mostly remember the line in ‘Avenue A, Shanghai, Hollywood’ that talks about their safe arrival on the island of the middle class. I look around me in the cafe and I know I’m there, on that island. I’ve finally achieved some sort of fiscal security that makes me belong here, among the grey hairs and the grey sweaters and the eggs on bread with spinach and fetta and the distance across the table between us is vast. You have everything in front of you. I have everything behind me.
Outside, earlier, I had spread my arms out to fly upon the cold grey air. I will go further. I will enter into the unknown territory of my new life where I want to be a writer and yet I carry with me the mourning of the life I left behind. I used to have a career, one where people knew me and respected me, but I took a plunge out into this cold world of obscurity of nothingness that I now inhabit. It has with it safety and security and fear and uncertainty, all mixed together with blessings and anxiety making some sort of horrible soup that’s gone cold in its loneliness.
I’ll be alright.
You ride the wave of your own intellectuality. You wear badges of proof – they say Proust and de Botton and Kant and Dillon – and I wallow in enormous pride because we saw you through all the efforts that the world made to shape you into mediocrity and you outbid them with your curiosity.
Go forth, kid who’s now an adult. It’s quite possible that you’ll never make it to the island that I inhabit and somehow that’s what I wish for you. Be desolate. Be bohemian. Be quotable.
Do all of that first.
There’s a Jane’s Addiction song that I wanted to play for you, it’s called Classic Girl and it says:
They may say, "Those were the days..., " but in a way, you know, for us these are the days.
I wasn’t much older than you are now when I was obsessed with Jane’s Addiction, and I knew at the time that for us those were the days. I have some memories that I can’t share with you because I’m supposed to set a good example and I cherish those memories now, now that I’m here in grey sweater land. I have every certainty that you’ll make memories of a similar kind, only deeper and with greater perception. Inside you there’s some combination of your father’s intellect and my rebellion that will make you extraordinary. Kiddo, you’ll be a better writer than me. I’m already jealous. But it is as it’s meant to be. It’s that beckoning of evolution.
Once I was at a party in somebody’s kitchen in the north of London and I said: “I want to make so much more of my life than my parents did,” and someone said: “Sorry to piss on your parade but that’s not gonna happen,” or something similarly derogatory and I think all I meant at the time was don’t let me end up on that island.
The only way out for me now is through the imagination. The words become the cord that pulls me forward, and for now it doesn’t even matter what they say, or if anybody reads them. It just matters that I write them.
But tell us little stories till we feel more good
Tell us little stories just like Hollywood
Tell us little stories so the hours pass
As we row to reach the island of the middle class
You put your hand up to shade your eyes from the sun. You squint at me with such knowingness. This is that light at the end of the tunnel. People told me about this place. They said parenting would get easier. But they didn’t tell me it would break my heart. In letting go of you I am letting go of me and it seems that I need to take a good look around and accept my place in the scheme of things.
On the table there are yellow chips but we are too full to keep dipping them into the tomato sauce. Glasses with ice and yummy mango smoothies bring with them sweetness and tanginess and a touch of some distant, future summer.
The sun dips behind a cloud and the light on the table fades. It tells me that it’s time to go, for both of us to leave the moment and plunge back into whatever waits for us, armed with songs and words and philosophy.
Best wishes my child. May your light shine bright.