As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, June 18, 2017.
Paul Simon is known for the chart-topping singles “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” as well as numerous other hits. But deeper cuts from his catalog can be equally rewarding.
“Rewrite,” from the 2011 album “So Beautiful or So What,” is one such tune. In it, Simon sings about a father who has to leave his family, though “he really meant no harm.” The dad in the song says he’s going to change the ending of his story, substituting a car chase and a race across the rooftops, “when the father saves the children and he holds them in his arms.”
After repeated listens, the insight of Simon’s lyrics resonated with me: Nearly all of us would like to rewrite at least a part of our past.
I was 9 years old when my parents separated and my father moved out of our house in Providence. The break-up unleashed a riot of emotions inside me, most of which I did everything I could to quell.
There was an upholstered rocking chair in our living room where I often sat and, in my mind, rewrote the story of my parents’ separation. The biggest change was transforming it into a reconciliation, but there were many others. Things were always better in the rewrite.
However, the reality was that my father now came to see my two brothers and me on Saturdays while Mom was at work.
On the first of these new Saturdays, he took us to Southwick Wild Animal Farm in Mendon, Massachusetts. It felt like a holiday. Mom had bought us new clothes to wear, and my dad took photos.
It would be years before I appreciated the efforts my parents each made to gracefully navigate those early post-breakup days – and how heart-wrenching it must have been for them.
When my father arrived at our house the following Saturday, I greeted him with anticipation.
“Where are we going today?” I asked.
“Nowhere,” he replied, a little curtly, and I immediately wished I could take back my words. I can only imagine the feelings I had unwittingly stirred up.
On a Saturday several years later, under threatening skies, my father and I did go somewhere – down to Narragansett to cut the grass at our beach house. Once a place where our family enjoyed summer vacations, the yellow cottage was now rented out. On weekends, Dad took care of any work that needed to be done there.
Light rain began to fall just as he and I finished mowing the lawn; we drove in his maroon Chevelle to Giro’s Spaghetti House in Peace Dale for a quick bite. My father had a couple of beers, but no whiskey. That was good.
It was pouring when we left the restaurant and started making our way north. On Route 95, a gust of wind slammed our car, and I grabbed the passenger-side door handle as we lurched out of our lane. My father turned off the radio. The windshield wipers beat like frantic metronomes, but they were no match for the storm. A proliferation of blurred brake lights ahead indicated what must have been a serious accident.
“I’m going to pull off,” Dad said. Gripping the steering wheel with both hands, he guided us down the next exit ramp.
We were in Warwick. Rain pounded the car as we crept along, but at least we weren’t on the highway anymore. I saw a sign for Providence.
“Don’t worry,” my father said. “We’ll make it back OK.” He offered me a roll of peppermint Life Savers, and I let go of the door handle to unwrap one.
It was still raining when Dad dropped me off at our red house on River Avenue. As he drove away, I headed for the rocking chair in the living room. But unlike in days past and days soon to come, no rewrite was required on this afternoon.
My dad had gotten me home. He was happy and so was I.