Dinner & A Movie
Friday morning, 7 a.m.
I am standing at the kitchen
counter, packing our lunches for work. So far it's been slow-going.
The pickings are usually pretty slim on Fridays: by the end of the week
we're scraping the bottom of the barrel, lunch-material-wise. Rubbery
baby carrots. Brown bananas. Moldy nut bread. A couple of ancient
tangelos, tough and spongy as tennis balls. I've got a supply of
emergency Luna Bars and a Tupperware container of dried fruit in my
bottom desk drawer at the office, so I know I'm probably going to be
OK, even in a pinch. But I'm worried about what I'm going to send with
David today. I know that Fridays are crazy at the newspaper, and I want
to make sure he's got plenty of stuff to graze on throughout the day.
I'm about to ask him how he feels about a baggie of dry Cheerios -- the
poor man's granola -- when my eyes land on a fat manila envelope,
sitting on top of the refrigerator next to the cereal. The package
bears a TicTac postmark ... and a distintive hickory aroma.
Holy cow! The beef jerky!
I'd completely forgotten about
the package of homemade beef jerky my ex-husband sent to us earlier
this week, fresh out of his Old Smokey 2000. David and I came home
from work on Wednesday night, exhausted and hungry, and there was the
package propped against our front door, waiting for us. I swear you
could smell the peppery/spicy/woodsmokey aroma a mile away ... even
through multiple layers of paper and plastic and aluminum foil. At that
moment we were on our way back out the door to do laundry, so
I tossed the package on top of the fridge, figuring we could snack on
it before dinner. But then I promptly forgot all about it until just
Two or three pieces of homemade
beef jerky will make perfect midafternoon fuel for David.
I rip open the manila envelope
and pull out a quart-sized Ziploc bag stuffed full of meticulously
hand-cured beef strips. On the front of the Ziploc bag, my ex-husband
has written -- with typical economy of expression -- "A
little dry but good." (It's the exact same thing he says about
every batch he sends us.) All I have to do
is pick out a couple of good-sized strips, wrap them in foil, toss them
into David's bag, and voilà. Lunch. Then I can go back
into the bedroom and catch a little Matt Lauer while I finish the Daily
But hold the phone. There's
something else in the package, besides the bag of beef jerky.
Surprised, I reach into the
bottom of the package and pull out a video cassette. Whut the hell?
has no cover or label. There is no note of explanation accompanying it.
There are no identifying markings of any kind, as a matter of fact.
It's just a plain black VHS cassette -- a very old VHS
cassette, from the looks of it -- stuck into the bottom of the manila
envelope. "This is weird," I say. Why is my ex-husband sending me a
video? Is it old Pro Bowling footage? An EdKaz!
video, inadvertently left behind when I ran away from home? An unmarked
copy of "Tremors?" Mystified, I carry the cassette into the bedroom
with me, along with a second cup of coffee and a stick of beef jerky,
and I pop the cassette into the VCR, without rewinding, and push play.
The video flipflops violently a
couple of times, and then it straightens itself out and begins to play.
To my complete astonishment, all of a sudden I am looking at The Tots
-- all three of The Tots, Daughters #1 and #2 and Son #Only --
clustered together on the sofa in my ex-husband's living room. Except
that these aren't the hulking, husky-voiced, grown-up Tots I know and
love and regularly subsidize with rental deposits and expensive
electronics and CDNow Gift Certificates.
These are The Tots, circa 1991.
Back when they were ... well ... actual Tots.
Ten-year-old Jaymi, in her
leggings and her Paula Abdul hair. Kacie, eight years old, with crooked
bangs and birthday cake frosting on her face. A kindergarten-aged Kyle,
pink and sweet-cheeked and missing several *key* front teeth. The
volume on the VCR is turned all the way down so I can't hear what
they're saying: it's like watching a silent movie starring three of my
favorite people on the planet. "Oh my god," I shriek, once I realize
exactly what it is I'm looking at.
It's The Christmas Video.
The Christmas Video was a
special gift from my dad and stepmother, back in the early 90's: a
loosely-edited collection of family get-togethers, mostly Christmas
Eves and birthdays, that my dad shot with his (then) brand-new
camcorder. It is also, as far as I know, the only existing video record
of all three of my children together during their early growing-up
years. I remember that I was thrilled
speechless when dad gave me The Christmas Video -- at last, I had The
Tots documented on video for all time! -- and equally devastated when
the video disappeared, almost as soon as we got it. I think we watched
it once or twice, before it mysteriously vanished. I've been mourning
its loss ever since.
David, hearing the commotion,
comes running into the bedroom. "Are you OK?" he asks, looking
panic-stricken. "What happened?"
Wordlessly, I point at the TV.
He takes one look at the video -- at these flickering images of his
stepchildren, ten years before he'll meet them -- and even with the
sound turned off he immediately understands what is happening here.
"Ray sent you a tape of the kids," he says.
I nod. I haven't started to cry
yet, but tears are definitely blooming on the horizon. God
... they look so young.
"May I make a suggestion?"
David says, with great tenderness. "I suggest that you not
watch the tape right now, while you're trying to put on eye makeup for
work" -- here he hands me a Kleenex, just in time to catch the first
raindrop of Maybelline -- "but that we wait until we get home from work
tonight, and then we'll watch it together. How about that?"
I agree. This sounds like a
Obediently, I stop the video
and pull it out of the VCR. "We'll have to be very careful not to
record over this," I say to David worriedly. Without any sort of label,
I'm afraid The Christmas Video might accidentally get mixed up with the
everyday VHS tapes we use to record stuff like "Survivor" and "CSI" and
"The Bachelorette Chooses The Wrong Damn Guy." But David merely takes
the video out of my hand and snaps off the little plastic tab from the
back. ("There," he says. "Problem solved.") I tuck the tape into a
spare cardboard holder -- I'll label it later, when I have more time --
and I set it next to the TV, for viewing later tonight. I have no idea
where the tape has been, all these years, or how the ex managed to
locate it. I don't know what prompted him to toss it into the beef
jerky package. And to tell you the truth, I don't even remember exactly
what's on the tape: it's going to be a little bit
like watching it for the first time. But I do know this: the first
thing I'm going to do when I get home from work tonight is crawl into
bed, with a great big bag of beef jerky and an even bigger box of
Kleenex ... and watch The Christmas Video.
thing I'm going to do is call the ex and thank him. It's not often that
he treats me to dinner and a movie.