“Digging up bones, I’m digging up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone. I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone. Tonight I’m sitting alone digging up bones.”
The familiar and warm crooning of Randy Travis filled my ears. My sister and I buckled into the backseat of my father’s dark blue Peugeot station wagon speeding through the streets of New York City. My father quickly switched lanes and I slid into my sister. Our voices young and pure, “Digging up bones,” singing the chorus in unison, songs etched in our little minds.
My father met my gaze in the back seat. Michael had the habit of telling a story while driving, taking his eyes off the road and actually looking at you. It was terrifying and surprising that he never got in accidents. None of his kids dared tell him to focus on the road or remind him that he was driving and there were other cars on the road, instead we all suffered a terrified excitement as we drove with him. “A city driver,” he always said, one aspect of his larger than life persona.
It was our Wednesday to have dinner with him. He drove us across town, crossing from the Upper West Side to his studio bachelor pad on the Upper East Side. It had become our Wednesday ritual, Matthew would be waiting at Michael’s apartment and we would walk the two blocks to Mumbles, a restaurant with a green awning nearby. Each Wednesday we passed the same homeless man on the corner who would ask us for change, “No Man, I don’t have anything,” my father would say, his words and vernacular shifting to a street talk I only heard him use with friends or other men on the street. Then sometimes, to my surprise, he would drop a Five Dollar bill into the man’s hat and tell him to grab a burger. We’d fantasize that the homeless man on the street actually had a penthouse on Park Avenue, “you never know,” my father would say.
As we’d get to the restaurant our booth would be waiting for us. My dad’s diet coke sitting in its position, my sister’s ginger ale, my sprite, and my brother’s coke, each drink and meal laid out in its appropriate spot. They knew where we sat and what we ate and drank each Wednesday. This was our family’s new normal, our version of the traditional family dinner. His best friend John would often meet us at the restaurant. He had an expletive tattoo on the inside of his lip that my sister, brother, and I found hilarious. He appeared normal, strikingly normal for a friend of my father’s, but when he pulled his lip down and we saw the F—- Y—, I learned that looks could be deceiving. He would laugh and tease us, Uncle Mo, we called him.
My dad had colorful friends. His friends didn’t look like my friends from schools parents. Michael’s friends were people that as I got older I may have been scared of if they had approached me in a dark alley, but as a child I recognized their gentle souls and had no fear. One had tattoos that covered every inch of his body up to his face. My sister and I analyzed each image until we found our favorites. We sat outside our loft on the hot and dirty pavement, trying to determine which one was the best. He’d smile and laugh listening to our serious commentary. These friends of my fathers had stories that memorized us. Later I learned that these were friends found in a new found sobriety, a family of support in their recovery, vibrant lives stitched across all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Colorful characters with lives that were even more dramatic than I knew.
We walked back to his apartment passing the same man, begging for change, who this time wished us a goodnight. My brother would accompany my Dad to an AA meeting, listening to men and women tell their stories of mistakes made and recoveries found in the basement of the church a couple of blocks away. I was jealous that only he got to hear the stories. He would then spend the night in my dad’s studio on a mattress on the floor. He ran up the steps to Michael’s apartment to do homework as Elizabeth and I piled into the back of the dark station wagon, the old leather seats cracking and sticking to my legs. Michael lit a cigarette and pressed play on the cassette player and Randy Travis’s voice blared from the backseat speakers.
The three of us, barreling through the city, belting out, “I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever amen,” as buildings and city life sped by in a blur outside of our windows.
“Oh, I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever, amen.”
Excuse the lack of editing, the girls are awake. I’m preparing for my Dad’s funeral next week and digging up the good memories. Today I am happily putting on my rose colored glasses and remembering good times. Thanks for reading and again please excuse the quick edit.