May 2014

How We Endure

Brett Ashmun

 

While it was still dark in her two-bedroom apartment, my mom would wake me up, wake my brother up, and then return to wake me up again. The three of us would walk out to the frigid apartment carport in our pajamas and parkas, and along with the car, start defrosting. For two months, while I was just beginning my teenage years, my mom drove my brother and me three miles to drop us off at my dad’s new residence—our grandparent’s house. My favorite part of leaving my familiar bed in order to lay on a light and dark grey sectional at three thirty in the morning was the blanket I clutched until I could fall back asleep.

It was a white Major League Baseball comforter bordered in two inches of red satin. One side was covered with a complicated pattern that included all twenty-eight team logos, and the opposite side was pure white.

I could find the San Diego Padres’ logo immediately. It stood out because I was born in San Diego, and when we lived in southern California, my family was all under one roof. My parents met in El Cajon, a ten-minute drive east of San Diego on highway eight. They met at Perry’s, a coffee shop my mom, Cathy, worked at and my dad just happened to frequent. Rick, my dad, was ten years older than the young lady he was flirting with, but age was not a factor for my dad. His family and friends knew him as “Simon the Likeable” because even after a break-up, his exes would stay friends with him. Much like the San Diego weather, he was easy-going and consistent. His days mainly consisted of drinking coffee in the morning, working out in his garage, body surfing down at Ocean Beach, working on one of his cars (it seems like he has had every car ever made), helping his father down at the family-owned Vacuum and Sewing Machine Repair Shop, and drinking some Miller Lite at night. Nobody was able to stay upset with him.

My mom took to him because she had a similar personality, but much more… bohemian. The best example I can give to explain her bohemian personality is when we look at old pictures of our family and my uncle’s family at the beach. My uncle’s three girls (ages 1, 3, and 4) always wore bathing suits. My brother and I (ages 17 and 19, just kidding. Ages 2 and 4) always ran around the beach without inhibitions. My mom’s response to anyone who had a problem, “It’s not like you’ve never seen one before.” In one of my favorite pictures of my mom, a black and white picture I see when a family member moves to a new house, my mom is shining her love on a crowd with her smile. She is leaning over a glass partition as the original Shamu is giving her a kiss on her cheek. Her straight blonde hair is the longest I have ever seen it, and if she was born sooner, the sun-kissed dirty blonde shade could have been the passion behind James Maxwell’s first color photograph. In San Diego, she always seemed happy. She would let me shift her Toyota SR5 Hatchback when we would drive anywhere—it didn’t matter the situation, she would wind the car high with RPM’s and push the clutch to the floor and wait. Once I learned to listen for that forced momentum in need of another gear, we stopped pissing other drivers off. She would take my brother and me to empty parking lots and let us practice actual driving (I won’t disclose our age at that time, but we were far from a learner’s permit). On the way back from one of our “driving lessons” my mom stopped and bought us ice cream cones. On the last straight away until our apartment, my mom glanced up in her rear view mirror and saw me about to take a bite out of my McDonalds’ vanilla ice cream. In front of her was the only speed bump on our street. She timed it perfectly, and before I knew it the car was full of laughter, and I was wearing that ice cream cone.

The San Francisco Giants’ logo also stood out on the blanket, but for all the wrong reasons. If the San Diego design was like a first love with whom you shared endless nights laughing, learning, and relaxing, then the San Francisco logo was the rebound relationship that you hoped for so much out of, but invested little, and eventually spent a good portion of your formidable years trying to get away from.

My mom’s family lived in northern California. My mom, having her own family, naturally wanted to be closer to her parents. After many trips up and down highway ninety-nine, our family eventually decided to move north. I loved San Diego, but I knew I would eventually come to love Modesto. Wherever my family moved, we always had each other. Plus, now I had time to spend with my new family—my mom’s side.

In the beginning, my mom, brother, and I all stayed in Modesto while my dad tied up loose ends in San Diego (as an adult looking back, I can’t imagine how difficult this was for him). For my dad, the move to Modesto was founded on a lie. One weekend during the fall, my mom, brother, aunt, and I all went looking for houses to buy or rent. We were striking out at every house we visited. Then my aunt told my mom to just tell Rick that you found the perfect house, it is within our budget, and to hurry up north to see it.

Needless to say, the arguing between my parents started the first day they were both in Modesto. The moment my dad found out there was not a house, that it was a lie, marked the beginning of a spiraling effect downward like a deciduous leaf falling off a Modesto Ash branch.

Once we were all settled in Modesto, the arguments continued. My mom would leave and not tell my dad where she was going. My dad would refuse to go anywhere other than work, the baseball field, and the coffee shop. When my mom could get him to go to a dinner with her family, the dispute would continue in the ride over to my grandparents. Once there, my dad would spend as much time as he could away from the dinner table. To avoid conversation with my grandfather, a successful social worker and minister, and my grandmother, an accomplished attorney, my dad would clear the plates as soon as the last bite was taken and spent the rest of his time in the kitchen doing dishes. After the fake smiles, handshakes, and hugs ended on the way out the front door, the arguing resumed until I escaped the two of them and reached for my bedroom door.

From the beginning of April until the end of September, my grandparents spent every weekend in San Francisco. They would drive to Candlestick RV Park for Friday’s night game and stay through Sunday’s day game before heading back to Modesto. Since my grandparents were huge San Francisco Giants’ fans, my mom would eventually become a Giants’ fan. My brother, dad, and I stayed loyal to our San Diego Padres. My mom began to spend weekends in San Francisco with her parents, and eventually, leaving my dad home alone, my brother and I started enjoying the baseball weekends also.

My mom was different during those weekends.

She laughed on the Friday night drive in the RV up to San Francisco. During the games on Saturday night she embraced my brother and me to protect us from the bone-chilling wind swirling inside Candlestick. She spent Sundays reflecting in an orange stadium seat with her northern California white legs stretched out on the seat in front of her. She was the woman that my dad first fell in love with.

On the drive back Sunday night, she prepared for her workweek as a phlebotomist and as a wife.

Two-inches of red satin bordered the loud blanket. This had to be the color both of my parents felt when they were beginning their courtship.

Red must have controlled her hurried heartbeat when, in the parking lot of the coffee shop she was a hostess at, my mom watched as my dad would step out of his ’67 fastback Mustang and change into a clean shirt.

Red colored the passion that influenced my dad’s constant need to make my brother and me sick when he would sneak up behind my mom in front of the kitchen sink, grab her hips, and kiss her behind her lifted ear.

Red was the color both of them saw when heated arguments took place in the Toyota SR5, 4Runner, and the Tercel. The shade of the red became darker during silent arguments that took place at baseball games and pizza parlors.

Red must have burnt deep inside my father when my brother and I told him our mom was going out on a date. My dad made a decision early on in the divorce to not date until my brother and I were eighteen. His main focus until then was his boys, and nothing else.

Red concerned my brother’s junior high art teacher to the point that my parents had to be called in to speak with school staff. Once my brother was unable to act out in school, he used a red sharpie to write a note to my mom that he skewered on her bedroom door, “You are no longer an Ashmun. Stop using the Ashmun name!”
The shine of the two-inches of red bordering the blanket was similar in sheen as the ribbon of a first place baseball medal my parents placed around my neck. My dad was coaching my brother’s traveling pony league all-star team, and, for the summer, I had to take the back seat to fifteen of my dad’s newly acquired boys, my brother’s achievements, and my mom’s task of having to handle all the stress that comes with being a baseball mom. The night before the championship game, I was feeling like an ice-cube on the bottom of a freezer full of ice trays. My bitter cold quickly melted away when I heard my parents discussing how my dad would present me with his championship medal if they won the next day. After they won, my dad made a speech thanking me for being supportive throughout the summer and explained to the crowd that I was essential to the team’s championship. The shine of that two-inch border was prevalent in the gleam of pride emanating from my smile, it was clear in the whites just below my brother’s rolling brown eyes, it was obvious in the medal on my dad’s boastful chest, and that shine was rolling down my mom’s cheeks as she grinned and shook her head at me.

With SportsCenter at a whisper in the background, I was embraced in that blanket at four in the morning. The only parts of me left uncovered were my feet (just like my dad), and my eyes would stay open until I saw my brother fall asleep (just like my mom). I learned recently that the average time it takes someone to fall asleep is fourteen minutes. During my parent’s divorce, I was above average. I would sometimes stay awake until the sun rose above my grandparent’s back fence, and sometimes I would doze off for twenty or thirty minutes. But every once in a while, when I could situate the Padres’ logo near my heart, close my eyes long enough to not see the Giants’ logo and the passion-filled red border, I was able to only feel the calming satin against my neck. On those quiet mornings, I slept like someone else.
I slept like a child.

 

 

Brett Ashmun earned his B.A. in English in the Fall of 2013 and is currently a rhetoric and composition graduate student at California State University, Stanislaus. He resides in Modesto, California with his best friend and fiancee, Annie Banke. He enjoys reading articles on writing and teaching, playing with his black labrador, Rivers, and spending quiet (sometimes talkative) evenings/mornings in his backyard with family. Once he graduates, he plans on teaching writing (and saving the world) at the local community college, Modesto Junior College. He is humbled by having his work published, and hopes his piece provides readers with moments of laughter, sadness, and contemplation.

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2 thoughts on “May 2014

  1. Holy shit man! Pardon the language but damn. That is great man. I’m glad you have found something in life that you are passionate about other than baseball. Congratulations on getting this published and on your bachelors. You just kept chugging along. It might not mean much but I’m proud of you and happy that I can call you a friend.

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