Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Way We Were

The Way We Were is on TCM tonight.

Has there ever been a more beautiful man onscreen than Robert Redford in this movie? Brad Pitt has come close, I think, in the sailboat scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but there's really no contest. Hubbell Gardner is the ultimate of all the things you think you'd want from the romantic lead in your life.

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mom started letting me know anytime The Way We Were was on TV. I'd come in from playing outside with my friends (or, more likely, put down whatever book I was currently reading) so I could watch it.

If it's on now, twenty-plus years later, I still can't resist watching it. I always start crying at the same part. Every single time. It's the part when Hubbell is on the sailboat and answering the question "Best year?"

I just lied.

Sometimes I start crying during the opening credits.


One of the things I always think about when I watch The Way We Were is the question of what we remember about the past. We remember all the wonderful things and we remember the horrible things and then we have to ask ourselves, ultimately, which things have more weight? We have to ask ourselves if what we are remembering is the full truth. (Spoiler: It really never is.)

I ask myself this a lot because I have some horrible things that I carry around. Those horrible things are part of someone I loved. I still love him, for my own sake and for our two children. I want them to always love him, too. I want to tell them stories that make them laugh. I want them to remember things that make them happy.

Sometimes I think about the number of memories I have from when I was 9 years old. I think about my daughter losing her father at 9 years old, and I think about how few memories she will have of the years when he was alive compared to the rest of her life. I think about when I was 13, like Jacob was when Charles died, and I search through my mind for those 13 years' worth of memories.

Tomorrow is Father's Day.  For three years now, I have cried on Father's Day.

Thirteen years of Father's Day celebrations. Less than nine years of saying, "Happy Father's Day, Daddy."  That doesn't seem like very many, does it? Those seem like tragically tiny numbers.

They are tiny. Small numbers in some tragic math problem.

The other day, Kate and I stood in Rite-Aid and we picked out cards for my dad and for Charles's dad, who has always been an amazing father-in-law, loving and generous. He says to me, "If I could have picked anyone to be the mother of my grandchildren, it would be you." He says it more than once. He calls me and, magically, says it just when I need to hear it. One day, only weeks after Charles had died, when I introduced him to someone as my ex-father-in-law, he said to me, "I'm your father-in-law. I always will be."

I want this Sunday in June to go by without the kids really knowing what day it is. While other people take their dads out to dinner, when they have cookouts, when they wrap silly ties and coffee mugs and books by James Patterson in golf-themed wrapping paper, I want my kids to think it's just another Sunday.

I don't know if that's wrong or right.

Should we instead tie a note to the string of a red balloon and send it into the sky? A note that reads "I love you. I miss you. I think about you. I remember you."

What will they remember? I really want it to be all the good things. There is a bad thing that I will carry for them. If only I can, I will take the full weight of that particular bad thing.

There's this scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford have broken up and she calls him. She's crying and missing him.

"See? I can't sleep, Hubbell. It would help me so much if I had someone to talk to, if I had a best friend or something to talk about it with. Only you're my best friend. Isn't that dumb? So dumb.

"I have to talk to my best friend about someone we both know."

Tomorrow, I will think about my friend and how he's not here to get useless presents and silly cards. He's not here to know all the things that will be true tomorrow and the next day and the day after. He's not here to know that his son is tall and broad-shouldered and amazing. He's not here to see that his daughter is beautiful and full of life and so very strong.

Does he exist somewhere still? Somewhere where he can miss us, where he can know what he is missing?

He exists in my mind.

This absence, this hole in the fabric of his children's lives, is not something any of us can really understand. We can live with it certainly. We can carry it. We can lay it down on one side of an old-fashioned scale and we can put all the good memories of the way we were on the other side. This matters, too, the laughter and love and silliness, the side that is light against the darkness. We can remember that.

We can tie a note to the string of a balloon filled with helium and we can send it into the sky.

I miss you. I think about you. I remember you.



  1. I've no relevant comment to post, but I have read this six times now. The last few reads occurred while listening to "A Whiter Shade of Pale," and that's all I know to say.

    1. That song is perfect. It makes me want to listen to The Big Chill soundtrack.

  2. Nothing so horrible should have ever happened to you and your kids. I'm vastly sorry that it did. But your voice and way of bringing meaning to that tragedy is astoundingly beautiful and pierced with the kind of universal understanding every writer wants and mostly fails to achieve. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy. That means so much to me!

  3. Thinking of you and your family today. You seem like such a great mom and friend to them. They are blessed to have you.


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