The Story of Tom and Monica:
A San Francisco Serial Memoir
Part 13

This story is written as a series: you can start here

Tom goofing around with his newly arrived-at-the-studio computer. Photo by Maria Villarreal

I spoke to Tom this week. Idel, one of the amazing women who takes care of Tom in my stead called to tell me that she and Maria thought it was time. He’s been focusing on Oakland a lot, calling friends and asking them to drive him “home”. Calling me several times a day and leaving messages that he wants to come back. One day he cancelled his appointment at Steppingstone, telling them that he had plans to be in Oakland that day.

I still don’t know who I’m protecting. I’ve always hated confrontation, can hardly stand the idea of hurting somebody, and especially Tom. The thought of him suffering anymore than he already has feels like the slow turn of a knife somewhere between my heart and lungs. My breath feels shallow, I feel like I can’t take in enough air, it’s existential, as if I might vanish. Like I said, who am I protecting?

Of course, love lesson number one has got to be that avoiding pain usually ends up hurting a lot worse than the quick rip. I guess it’s lucky for me that my lessons are coming fast and furious. On the receiving end of said lessons, I’ve had the mad crush or two in the last year. Its inevitable, I suppose, that after years of being bottled up, years of storing my heart and passions away in a dark cellar that I would approach dating with something less than measured. Caution’s never been my style, anyway.

“You’re all or nothing” says my friend and on-the road-roommate, Renee. She knows me well. I’m all or nothing. So, after years of nothing I’ve been a little too much “all’ and gotten a couple of gentle or not so gentle metaphorical raps on the knuckles. They hurt, yes, but probably not as much as they could have. I should be grateful for the learned men, these accidental teachers. I’m sure I will be, soon enough.

I drove over to Tom’s studio on Saturday with his computer in my car. I don’t know why I hadn’t taken it before. It’s not just him that’s having a hard time with the transition. But anyway, his old office is cleaned out and everything is packed and stored. It’s just an empty space now.

Idel was there with him, cooking him dinner and playing Scrabble. She knew why I had come, so she gave me her place at the Scrabble table and I continued the game with Tom. Luckily Idel and Maria both love to play Scrabble, as well as Vera at Steppingstone and friends like Laura and Peter. I like it for about 20 minutes and then get completely bored. Tom can’t get enough. For all the things he can’t remember, he always remembers who won at Scrabble and what the score was.

When we finished (I won, but I can’t remember the score) I asked him to come sit outside on the back steps with me. I sat one step down from him, leaning my shoulders and head against his knees. After a few words and a rush of tears that I couldn’t hold back, he asked, incredulous, “You’re not breaking up with me, are you?” And I could see that I had broken through something in him — broken through a sort of fictitious barrier that keeps him safe and happy, and suddenly I wanted to undo what I had just said, to take it back, to stop the breaking and to stop the hard reality. But I didn’t.

In a few minutes the curtain seemed to come down again and he was joking with me, “this is because I became a lesbian, isn’t it?”, he said, referring to an old joke. And then, later, he put his arm around me and said, “You’re going to be fine Monica, don’t worry”.

Christmas Day, 1997 in Salt Lake City, Monica and her father, Walter, photo by Tom Erikson

When we arrived at the big corner house on 8th Avenue in Salt Lake City, the same house where I had come to live the day after I was born, it was dark and snowy, but the front railing, the banister and the windows were all covered with Christmas lights. We let Morty out of the car and he immediately started leaping and rolling around in the deep snow that covered the neighbor’s grassy slope. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so probably had called from the hotel that morning to give a general arrival time. It was around 8, but that’s still earlier than dinner time at my parents’ house, a very spanish home stuck in the middle of conservative Salt Lake City.

I was nervous. My relationship with my father was not easy. As a child I had adored him, worshiped him, and I think that of all the children I was the one he related to most. His “best in any girl”, he used to call me. We were both musicians and we were idea people. We loved to discuss politics and world affairs and philosophy and, of course, we shared a love of music, of Chopin, Brahms and Shubert — though his favorite was Mozart and my favorite was Bach. He also loved women singer-songwriters, and here I was, I had gone from classical pianist to political science major to singer-songwriter…as I said earlier, it doesn’t take Freud to figure some things out.

But that was one side of him. He was also a volatile and angry man. He had been sick for years and I felt he had given up. His moods controlled everything and everyone around him. My mother, who was powerfully coming into her own as an artist, was also exhausted, beset upon, worn down by his constant demands, his anger and just the sheer size of him. Almost a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than she, he nevertheless leaned on her constantly, literally, to move from one room to another. It was as if his anger and her will were the two things that kept him alive and I resented it, resented the way her life was controlled by his. And what was it, anyway? Not quite a life, this angry existence. In my self-centered daughter way I blamed him, I thought he was choosing to give up, choosing illness over life. What did I know, so young, so sure of myself?

And Tom? Well, Tom was never intimidated by anybody. He walked into that complicated house on 8th Avenue and within minutes had the whole family mesmerized — like a magician or a hypnotist, he knew how to dazzle our DNA.


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