17 July 2007

Childlike Quality: A Birthday Vignette

There won’t be much about Teresa Stratas in these pages, despite the important role she’s played in my life. She’s said, again and again, that she’ll never tell her story, and I’m not about to presume to tell her story for her. I told her that once.

“Honey,” she replied, “some of those stories are yours. I just happen to be in them.”

What follows isn't even a story.

Not long ago, Teresa wrapped up one of our too-rare phone conversations with an exhortation to “hold onto that childlike quality of yours.” This was unexpected, not only because my forty-sixth birthday was looming like a gallows, but also because my mother had used precisely the same words in a phone conversation a few weeks earlier.

At various times in New York, Teresa served as a surrogate mother, picking me up after psychic dustups, kissing my spiritual boo-boos and making them better, in loco parentis. Apart from this, and the accident of history that separates their birthdays by a mere two years, she and my real mother resemble each other not at all. Yet the coincidence of the two women’s words suggested a truth I must not try to avoid. Between them, they know me pretty well.

While it’s true I still call myself a “boy,” the justifications for doing so have begun to elude me. I clung to the designation for a long time, not least because I arrived at it so late: in my cultural tastes, in my timorous behavior, in my prudish mores, I was a little old lady until well into my twenties. I had to work hard to become a boy, and I got to be rather good at it, and I’m reluctant to move onto the next phase. If both Teresa and my mother approve — so be it.

And soon enough I’ll be wearing diapers again, and my childlike quality will take care of itself.