I didn’t ask The Daily News photographer to take such a perfect picture of me. Really.
Bone hasn’t gotten the words yet. Was hoping that he would be early as I have to work on my book tomorrow and have a life at night. Can’t even think of a title or know if the story will work if I don’t edit to three words I don’t know yet. Well, I’m sure they’re in my vocabulary, but–let me stop–I get silly at night++
Anissa needed a theme. The search for themes to life in song lyrics and magnets was futile. While many spoke to her and some gave her signs, none said exactly what she needed. Not even the ones written specifically for her. Or about her. Especially those.
Ophelia, the daughter she had named because the song was playing at the moment of conception–a woman knows–and at the moment her water broke, was looking for mental institutions or nursing homes to put her in.
She feared for Ophelia. A woman could get by on her looks for 40-50 years, 60 if she was extraordinary, then she needed a sense of humor. Had she been so busy looking for a unifying theme to her life that she neglected her most important parental duty? Nurturing Ophelia’s sense of humor? It did take an infanthood, toddler years, pre-K through forever.
School, friends, a sense of compassion, all of that was second nature to Ophelia. She was only doing the pretend nursing home things because her friends all did. They had been looking for institutions for their parents since they could first read. A few had learned to read by looking at Internet lists of institutions and nursing homes.
But Ophelia had never really gotten the joke. She was literal. She thought people really wanted to put their parents away and had been mortified by that as a child. Now that her friends did it as second nature and a true joke, Ophelia thought of it as a job. Anissa’s search for a theme was an obsession of Ophelia’s.
Mother, lives don’t have themes. There are roles you play at different stages in life and in different areas.
Ophelia, honey*, I’m the one with the graduate education in sociology. My teaching, my books have given you the means to live in luxury with all your designer clothes and bags. If I want to look for themes….
Daddy is super rich. Your looking for signs gave me the name Ophelia.
Would you have preferred Chastity?
How do you think Savannah feels because you’re convinced she was conceived in Savannah? Savannah might like it because she’s so hippie-dippy like you, but mine hasn’t been an easy life. Yes, because of my mother. The person who is acting like a total idiot and thinks she’s funny.
Ophelia, honey, a good mother embarrasses her children. Savannah is constantly embarrassed by me. If my daughters would only talk to each other.
Mother will you quit saying honey like it’s part of my name….
For the tenth zillionth time it’s your true middle name. Your father only consented to Ophelia if Suki was your middle name.
Yes, I know. That’s how I became Ophelia Suki Sussman. Will you quit throwing me off track and let me be angry at you.
Ophelia, you don’t do anger properly. How can I not let you do something you can’t do?
How can I not do anger properly? You’re always saying that I’m pouting.
Pouting isn’t anger. Anger is ranting. Anger is reaching for your dark side and showing it….
Ophelia walked away. Anissa lived for the day Ophelia would complete a conversation. At 22 and in law school, Ophelia was still unformed. Savannah would get into it. They would scream, yell, and begin to laugh like two ten year olds telling each other a dirty story. She didn’t worry about Savannah. At nineteen, Savannah Skye Sussman was destined for greatness. Or to follow in her footsteps. If Ophelia wanted to be a trial lawyer, she really had to learn to argue. Savannah went to Brown and took classes in gilding at RISD. Anissa knew deep inside Ophelia had the soul of an artist. She had no idea what art form. By 22 Ophelia should have found something in the arts that called to her. Anissa considered her own love for critiquing post modern poetry an art form. Really she wanted Ophelia to love one thing that wasn’t practical.
Scott walked in. It sometimes galled Anissa that she was still married to her first husband. Their parents had thought they were way too young to get married at nineteen. Scott’s parents had divorced five years later. Her father died fifteen years ago. Scott and Anissa were married 37 years. She knew Scott would get married again if anything happened to her, she had even prepared an instruction booklet, but she wasn’t sure that she would marry again.
The trial separation five years after they were married had been fun. A bit too much fun. It wasn’t supposed to have been fun at all. Anissa had discovered she liked sleeping with other men. They were supposed to remain separated for two years but Scott kept begging. They barely lasted eleven months.
The events leading to the separation hadn’t been fun. Maggie, their first borne had died at two. Suddenly. Irrevocably. Tragically. Molested then killed. Anissa and Scott had been so overwhelmed with grief they leaned on each other until both felt they were going to collapse.
Scott was a studio musician. He let his guitar wail so fiercely, he began doing solos and singing his white boy bluer than midnight blue voice. His voice was honey gritted with tar. It no longer belonged to Anissa alone. When they were separated it didn’t belong to her at all.
Anissa was getting her doctorate at Columbia in sociology. She had mastered the art of studying at The West End Cafe, and when Scott’s voice came on the jukebox she would want to scream:
That’s my husband! Scott Sussman of The Scott Sussman Blues Band is mine. Or was.
Anissa never did of course. When “Anissa” would come on the radio people would jokingly ask if she had changed her name for a song that was fast becoming an anthem. She would laugh as laughing was her way of dealing with anything, and tell them that no way would she change her name for a song.
Anissa had changed her concentration and thesis to focus on child molestation and how it affected the families. Her work is still considered seminal. Nobody had thought of these things before, or nobody cared to study it. Anissa believed that until you learned every possible thing about a subject you couldn’t understand it. As all is never possible to learn, there was always something new to learn.
Maybe she wasn’t fair to Ophelia and Savannah. They grew up with the ghost of Maggie, and their parents unexpected successes. Maggie Leah Sussman, dead at two, threw a long shadow. But damn, she and Scott had made sure that the girls had a happy childhood. Of course there were pictures of Maggie. They explained who the pictures were of to the girls since they were infants. They didn’t give the details then and made sure the girls knew that kids rarely died, but sometimes….
Yes, Anissa was looking for a theme to her life. She refused to make Maggie, death and molestation the center of her life. When she became pregnant with Ophelia she began studying families who had children after the violent or sudden death of a first and only child. Working with those families, lecturing and writing about them had become her life’s work. But it wasn’t the central theme of her life.
Nor could her life’s theme be Scott Sussman’s, king of white boy blues, wife. Or Ophelia Suki and Savannah Skye’s mother. There had to be something more. Something not involving a higher power or an after life. This life was exciting enough.
Her mother would say, had said, that looking for a central theme was an idle woman’s curiosity getting the better of her. Anissa wasn’t idle. Counseling and writing were two full time jobs. Teaching a half time one. Motherhood–there weren’t enough hours in the day. It was even more difficult than being a wife to an idol to many.
Though she hated Szecheun the others loved it. They had eaten hours earlier when Anissa was giving a lecture at the JCC. Anissa’s table setting was made up with the fortune cookie on what’s usually the bread plate.
She opened her fortune cookie and mindlessly threw the cookie out. The fortune said:
A theme is but many memories yet to be made
She laughed. For somebody who made his living writing and singing edgy blues, Scott could be so weirdly straight as in corny. Anissa looked to see if there were any other unopened fortune cookies. She had found her engagement ring in a box of Cheerios. A diamond necklace had been in Ophelia and Savannah’s Mother Day card to her when they were too little to do anything but scribble. The rights to the royalities from “Anissa” had been in a slice of chocolate mud pie. She who needed an answer to everything, and a unifying theme was married to a hopeless romantic.
She loved him for that, she did. Or she loved him despite that. It all depended on her mood. Whatever. She was hopelessly in love with the first man she had ever slept with.
In Tenth Grade to a circle of friends they pledged their eternal love to each other, and pledged to make the world a better place. 40 years ago they had their first and true wedding. Then they went to a more private part in the woods and made love until morning. The wedding four years later had been for their parents, and was a great party. But that night in the woods….She hoped her daughters would have a love story to equal or surpass hers. Somehow love being a central theme to life felt like cheating. She knew others would die for it, but as a theme to life it was too banal.
Someday much later when Anissa held Ophelia’s granddaughter for the first time, she would understand what themes were all about
*The “official” lyrics only use the word “honey.” The lyrics in the version I like best also uses “darling,” a word I prefer. But I will go with the “official”
“Ophelia” is one of my all time favorite songs. The melody is so joyous. The lyrics are about a girl who left…If you only listen to the music and not the lyrics, you’re missing sheer beauty. I prefer the Levon Helms solo to The Band, but that’s just me.
Boards on the window
Mail by the door
Why would anybody leave so quickly for
Where have you gone?
The old neighborhood
Just ain’t the same
Nobody knows just
What became of
Tell me what went wrong
Was it somethin’ that somebody said?
Mama, I know we broke the rule
Was somebody up against the law?
Honey, you know
I’d die for you
Ashes of laughter
The coast is clear
Why do the best things always disappear?
Please drop through my door
Was it somethin’ that somebody said?
Honey, you know we broke the rule
Was somebody up against the law?
Honey you know
I’d die for you
They got your number
Scared and runnin’
But I’m just waitin’
For the second comin’
Come back home