Just as the World Wide Web was beginning there was active experimentation in treating computer communications as an artistic medium. The following was perhaps the last of a small group of absurdists who wrote short stories, person-by-person and paragraph-by-paragraph, built around a central theme. And, interestingly, I don’t recall this one at all:
Recollections of Lady Liberty and the Joy of being an American XVI
“Did you really love her daddy?” My daughter’s scratchy voice squiggles
its way through the telephone line and plants itself in my ear.
“It was the kind of love that wraps itself around your heart and
squeezes like a snake… I know its too much to ask your forgiveness
but I’ll tell you my side of the story if you’ll listen”
“Ok, daddy, I’ll listen”
“Well, meeting your mom was an epiphany for me. At the time, let’s
see… how old are you now?”
“Eight, Daddy!” she giggled. She knew that I knew how old she was.
“Oh yeah, well, it was nine years ago now when I first saw your mom.
It was my first trip to New York, and I’d made a promise to your
grandma to go see the Statue of Liberty. The day was gorgeous,
sparkling, bustling. I had tickets to the 2 o’clock tour, and I showed
up a little early.”
“There were hundreds of people, tourists, milling about. And in the
center of them all was a beautiful young woman dressed in one of those
horrid green park service uniforms. Can you imagine it?!”
“Yes, Daddy! Keep going!”
Now and again, when the coffee boils over and she’s not there to pass
me the squeegee, I do indeed think back to my wife, my child’s
mother…and the great green lady who brought us together. It is
always with a certain gloomy nostalgia, a certain gnawing sensation
and not a little fear. How could I ever tell my sweet eight-year-old
about the passion that for her and I had been the defining
characteristic of our love, an envelope and force field that we
nutured with the fluids of our animal beings? And how could I ever
explain about the secret, that dark nodule of baroque pain which she
held apart, and the promise that she made me keep?
I look down at youth, smiles and perfect innocence, and smile.
“When I met your mother, my feet got so sweaty that they started
sliding around in my shoes and I fell down.”
“She came over and helped me up, abandoning her group of tourists
like a lioness abandoning a herd of swamp rhinos”
“Oh daddy, please spare me your lousy metaphors”
“Honey, when you use like its a simile not a metaphor”
I wondered briefly if I was wasting my money on private school.
“Okay, daddy. Please spare me your lousy similes.”
“Sorry, kiddo. Anyway, it was love at first sight. Your mom was very
beautiful, you know…”
“I know, daddy” my daughter squealed. “Keep going!”
“Okay. well, then she did the most amazing thing. She lifted her green
phillips-head-screwdriver-with-a-brim park ranger hat from her
gorgeous head and, wordlessly and gently, placed it on my head… and
she patted it down, just to make sure that it stayed there.”
“…and then you barfed.”
“No, no…hmmmm…the barfing came later, on the observation deck.
Vertigo, you know.”
There was a snotty little asshole of an academic (aren’t they all) I
had met at a haute couture “little get-together” on a houseboat
in Vermont a year back. He was in black turtleneck, tweed sportcoat,
tanned cow loafers–all the desiderata of hocus-pocus Brandeis flakes
with an agenda for supplicating co-eds–cherry smoke vapor cloud,
salt-and-pepper beard. Pedoanthroculturalist. Author of the theory
that no child is well-adjusted.
Kid’s turned cynical, obviously needs help. Possibly
“You’re so cute, cuddle-ums. The barfing came much later.”
I didn’t tell her about the sex, of course, that also came later.
Slipping and sliding along Lady Liberty’s crown, in the smoky New
York night. A fragment of thought has slipped away perhaps it’ll
return. In my present state it was hard to imagine having sex at all
. . .
“So there I was. Looked like a green toadstool with that hat on. And
your mom was grinning like the cheshire cat.”
“Then what? Then what, daddy?”
Yes, then what. Heroism was called for here. The kind of
lighthearted heroics where the bad guys are pie-faced at the end. The
good ones reunited. The images danced like candle-cast shadows
through the recollections of that day. They were terrorists. They
were ideologically supple, cruel in the intelligent, ruthless way.
Looking out from under that mushroom cap of a hat brim, I thought
nothing of the yellow yacht with GeoMag stenciled on the prow or the
Ray Bans fixed on the near nothing everywhere in the crowd.
“Well, we looked into each other’s eyes, then. And you know, that’s
hard for people… that’s hard for adults to do, especially when they
first meet. But there we were, staring deeply into each other’s eyes,
and I was lost. I mean, to me we were just two specks in a very
pointedly three-dimensional space. I had no concept of time at all. I
saw only the twin supernovae of your mother’s green eyes.”
“Like I said, though, that’s pretty awkward. And your mom, well, she
had a job to do; I mean, she had to run that tour and all. But the way
she turned her eyes away to get on with her tour, that was what really
did it for me. In moments like that, when you’re looking at someone
like that and everything’s new and exciting, well, you’re very
vulnerable. And if you see in that other person’s eyes the slightest
inkling that something is wrong, the barest hint that they don’t want
to be at this place and this time looking back into your eyes, even if
they want to be and they just CAN’T for some reason, then it does
something irrevocable to the relationship. It’s like you’ve started to
build a magnificent building, and some unseen hand sweeps away a huge
chunk of scaffolding and you can never get it back. And from then on,
you have to just build a skinnier building, maybe not so magnificent
anymore. It’s sad, in a way, because it doesn’t even have to be
intentional to be permanently damaging. But your mom, when she turned
away as she knew she had to (but as I had completely forgotten she had
to), she turned away without seeming to turn away. No quickening of
the eye movement, no fidgeting. She just turned up the corners of her
mouth and held out her hand, which I took gratefully, and led me back
to the gathering throng of people. She turned away, but her eyes
stayed in right in front of me.”
“What do you mean “cripes,” kiddo?”
“Well, you’re depending too much on my suspension of disbelief! If two
people love each other, you can’t undermine that with an eye twitch!”
I wanted to tell her that that just wasn’t true. I wanted to tell her
that when her mother and I met, we fell hopelessly in love with each
other, consummated that love in the most holy of copper-clad places,
and then were fated to live and love forever together, amen. But I
couldn’t do that, could I? So bald a lie, to tell it to this child
would be blasphemous at best.
“You’re right, honey. When your mom and I met, we fell hopelessy in
love with each other, we consum…., uh, and we were, uhm…uhm.”
“Daddy,” she said. And there it was, sitting there, that lie I knew I
could never tell her. The lie betrayed by the simple fact that her mom
wasn’t there with us, and the tears in her throat telling me how deep
words can cut.
I think back to that moment when the zydeco rhythms fell out of my
daughter’s mother’s voice. When she stopped staring in my eyes and
looked guiltily into New York Harbor. When she told me that she was
“I love him, too, believe it or not, and I can’t leave him. This is,
has been, so wonderful, but I must go back . . . my husband is a
wonderful man and I could never betray him . . . My husband is out of
the country, but when he returns I must be there . . . I will be at
the airport to pick him up and you . . . you must nurture our
child alone, love the person we created in Love and Liberty”
Raising my daughter was a distraction that eased the pain. In time
the despair eased into a dull ache. But so often I look into my
daughter’s big green eyes and I see her mother there, sometimes I
can’t look into her eyes at all.
Sometimes my daughter asks about her mother as if she knows about the
lie that wriggles in my heart, caged behind my ancient promise.
“Honey, the rest you know, the spontaneous combustion, little flaming
pieces of mommy flesh drifting to the ground like so much mucky New
York snow . . . don’t make daddy talk about that, please”
A long silence.
This is the first time she has called me ‘dad’ instead of ‘daddy.’
“Well, *dad* thinks it is time for his princess to sleep. Next week
is our annual pilgrimage to the Lady herself, you didn’t forget
“Course not Daddy, silly.” My daughter giggles.
“Love you, bye babe”
I hear a click as my daughter hangs up the phone.