Note: Dear readers, after almost a decade, this will be my last Daddy Needs A Drink column for SFR. Instead of writing a goodbye letter, I’ve decided to end the way I started: with a love letter to my child and to a town I’ve lived in for almost a quarter century. Thanks for your support, RW.
Summers in Santa Fe are beautiful. Afternoons cool off with the clouds rolling in from the Sangre de Cristos and the light changes from purple to pink as the sun sets. It can feel—dare I say it?—magical. My son London and I enjoy walking around my neighborhood, stopping to shoot hoops at a neighbor’s, or riding our bikes around the Railyard. During the heart of the summer, we were invited to my friend Janey’s for a barbecue, so London and I grabbed a football and walked past the empty house next door and through the alley behind our own little adobe toward the shindig a few streets away.
When we arrived at the party, a few women had already gathered in the kitchen, engrossed in animated conversation. London and I greeted Janey and then huddled near the stove, wondering what exactly to do next. We shared that awkward feeling you get when you arrive at a gathering too early, even though these folks seemed perfectly friendly.
“We’re all doing transformation,” one woman said to her circle.
“I’m in the workshop, getting my license,” another added.
“Everybody’s transforming,” a third one concurred.
London has an expressive face, and I could tell that he wondered what exactly I had gotten him into. Where were the superheroes, the trampolines, the water balloons? As an antidote to our uneasiness I asked, “Wanna go throw the football?” He nodded eagerly.
Maybe it’s primal, dating back to when cavemen threw spears, or perhaps it’s our limited relationship with speech and abstract thought, but hurling an object back and forth is awfully satisfying for displaced men. I have an older male friend who looks forward to vigorously tossing a baseball with London every time we come over for chicken stew. My son and I have spent countless hours in swimming pools across the country chucking a water-soaked orb back and forth, creating elaborate games with complex scoring systems and simple names.
After some time trying not to ding cars or have the pigskin end up in the cactus patch lining the road, we headed back to the party. More people had arrived, so we filled our plates with the kale salad and quinoa required by Santa Fe law and wandered to the backyard toward the smell of meat smoke. Janey had asked me to bring some sort of animal protein, so I’d marinated a pork tenderloin, and I could see it had found its way onto the charcoal grill, manned by a guy who looked like an Afghani Johnny Depp. He was struggling a bit with the heat and the smoke, so London and I found seats upwind and in the shade of a fruit tree. I paused for a moment, noticing the distinct lack of children for London to hang with and the arrival of a group of adults balancing paper plates and plastic cups in their hands. Everyone said hello, and just after we learned each other’s names, one of the women froze, pointed and said, “That’s my cat.”
London stopped chewing and located a black and white adult feline near a small casita in the back of the yard. I could see my son trying to process both the content and intonation of the adult’s statement. Then he looked at me, and I felt compelled to try to clarify.
“How can you tell?” I asked the woman.
“I would recognize that cat from a mile away,” she said as if I had asked her the color of the sky.
To me (and I’m guessing to London, too), the mouser looked ordinary: black and white fur, whiskers, slight belly, standard cat fare. But to the woman, the felid was unmistakable—a dear friend from a few years back. Dressed in a sundress that exposed a round tattoo on her shoulder, she rushed over and sprawled on the brick patio with her former companion.
“That was your cat?” I asked, sounding stupid even to myself. I’m sure London had a feeling that most adults were indeed stupid or weird or both.
She told a meandering tale about old boyfriends, old jobs, old friends, leaving town and someone who lived in that casita but was currently travelling. London gave up somewhere in the middle of the story, pulling the brim down on his baseball cap as if to shelter his eyes from the strange scene and confusing narrative. I, on the other hand, was dumbstruck at the joy she was feeling and the rather odd reunion. I’d seen couples reunite at the airport, parents and children reconnect after time away from each other, and long lost siblings put together again to make damn fine reality television. But I’d never witnessed an accidental pet/owner rejoining. People often say, “Only in Santa Fe” about things that could easily happen in Sedona, Portland, or sometimes even Detroit. But watching a massage therapist coo and stroke a long-lost domesticated mammal in the backyard of an adobe under the shade of a fruit tree as the sky turned the color of red coral seemed pretty unique and (almost) magical. As for London, he seemed happy to eat the pork when it was cooked through, take a few bites from a fruit tart, and then go home, tossing a football with his dad along the way.