AFTER STARTING ANEW
Rose closed the well-thumbed copy of her Ladies Home Journal magazine and pushed her empty coffee cup to the center of the table. She leaned back against the hard kitchen chair and let her arms dangle at her side. It wasnít often that she was alone like this and it was wonderful to savor the moment. The silence of the big old house washed over her and she was filled with a bittersweet feeling. It was the end of the school year and Frank was the first one to come home. He had completed his first year of college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and his grades had preceded him home. Two Cís and two Dís. Not much to show in the way of scholarship. And the first semester had been even worse. Those marginal grades had now put him on academic probation. The future of his college career was skidding along on very thin ice. It was too bad that the teachers in grade school had allowed him to skip one whole year. It wasnít that he had been that bright, but rather more precocious than the third grade teacher could handle just before her retirement. So off went eight year old Frank to fourth grade, his attention span lacking what it took to absorb the more difficult material and his maturity level not matching his peers. Somehow he managed to slide through on his charming ways alone. Frank was always chosen to be class president or on the student council because of his smooth talking and lovable smile. Because of that he slipped through the cracks as a student that really needed help. And that just helped his failures even more along the way.
When he recovered from his bouts of childhood asthma, he had wanted to show the world that he was no sissy. Rose cringed when she thought of the daredevil stunts he had pulled. Finally when he had been thrown from the back of a carís bumper on an icy street one winter and landed in bed with a concussion he had calmed down a bit.
She sometimes felt that even Frank did not know who he was himself. Rose shook her head, wondering what would become of this confused child of theirs. He seemed unable and uninterested in talking about his problems. Frank just seemed to sail through life, unanchored and unfocused. She knew he loved his family and had spent hours entertaining Cora last year when she had been sick. But Rose wondered if he even loved himself as much. He often made remarks making fun of his lack of intellectual abilities and clowned around as a cover-up for his problems.
When he learned of his grades earlier today, he had just shrugged his shoulders and laughed bitterly. But his silence at dinner told Rose how truly unhappy he was. He had gone out after their meal to sulk, but more likely to find his old friends. She only hoped that he was not getting into more trouble with them.
Rose stood up and moved to the sink, mindlessly rinsing her cup in some soapy water. The twins would both be home tomorrow afternoon. Edy had a break between the regular semester and summer school. She was struggling hard to obtain a double major, one in education and one in history. Her stellar academic record would not help Frankís mood. That was for certain. Molly, who also was in the top quarter of her nursing school class, had a long weekend off between semesters and so tomorrow the house would be filled with the constant commotion caused by her three oldest children. Things had improved with Cora over the year and she was no longer embarrassed to go places or afraid of looking different. She still had a bad day here and there, but by and large, she was once again the cheerful girl she had been before last summer. The election of the polio afflicted President Roosevelt had been a big boost to her morale and now she worked hard to keep up with her friends. Tonight about ten of them had walked to the movies. And Rose was quite sure that Cora in her wheelchair was probably the first in line.
With Jack off at a meeting, only Patrick remained at home and he was in bed asleep, or so Rose hoped. Only last week the seven-year-old had climbed out of his window and jumped to the porch below where he spent the night in a makeshift sleeping bag. He had awakened covered with mosquito bites and chilled to the bone, but not at all deterred from having yet another wild adventure. There was no telling what he was going to be up to next. He looked as innocent as a baby, but Rose knew that his mind was plotting constant mischief.
A huge yawned escaped her and she covered her mouth in a lifelong habit of politeness. She was tired, but a quick look at the wall clock told her that Jack would be home in an hour. So she decided to wait up for him. It was only 9:30 after all. Thinking that maybe a breath of fresh air would wake her up, Rose called for Clancy to go out.
"Come on, Clancy. Letís go out in the yard." She listened for the jingling of his tags and the sound of his feet, as she stood waiting by the screen door. It was quiet outside and even though Rose never really liked the nighttime, she did love the moonlight strolls she and Jack often took. A small quarter moon struggled to be seen behind a bank of foggy clouds. It cast an eerie shadow on the lawn, sending a shiver up Roseís spine. "Clancy, come on," she called once more.
The predictable "click, click" of the dogís claws on the wooden floor announced the arrival of their beloved pet. She motioned with her hand for him to go out the door first and Rose followed, standing on the porch. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she made out the form of a person in the corner of the yard. She squinted to try and see better, but the person seemed to have disappeared into the shadows. Only a slight crunching of underbrush told her that someone was there at all. Thankfully the dog was with her and would scare off the intruder, but Clancy showed no interest at all in moving to that side of the yard.
Rose detected a slight smell of tobacco in the air and decided that it must be coming from the mysterious visitor. Getting up her nerve and grabbing Clancyís collar and walking with him at her side, she marched closer to see for herself what was going on. "Hello, whoís there?" Her voice was shrill with fear. "Who are you?" She stopped a few feet from where the figure had appeared and waited. Clancy sniffed in the bushes a few feet away unconcerned with Roseís fear.
"Itís me, Mom. Frank."
Rose recognized the sound of her sonís voice, and took a sigh of relief, but was still puzzled as to why he was hiding in the back garden. She dug her hands into the pocket of the apron she still wore and stepped closer to her son. The light from the neighborís garage illuminated his profile that was so like Jackís. But his stance now reminded her of when he had been naughty as a child. His shoulders were slightly hunched over and looked like his father had at the same age, his hair tumbling around his face. She came face to face with the boy, her mouth curving downward in disapproval as she saw the cigarette between his fingers. Rose had never allowed anyone to smoke in the house and she had not known until now that Frank had adopted the habit. The last time she had seen Jack with a cigarette was the night they met. Frank was almost nineteen and she hated to pick at him about his life. He must have sensed her disapproval though, and in a heart tugging moment, he lifted his head, tossed his hair aside and held up the cigarette hesitantly, ready to toss it away. "Guess you donít approve, eh Mom?" Frank looked around for a safe place to dispose of the cigarette, before finally settling on the damp grass under his feet where he stamped it out. He could see the look on his motherís face. Frank doubted she would tell tales to his father. That was the last thing he needed tonight, but her disappointed expression told him of how she felt. It was probably how both his parents thought of him tonight. Another failed experiment. "Frank, what is it? Itís more than the grades, isnít it?" Rose stepped out of the shadows and placed an encouraging hand on Frankís arm. The profound sadness in his eyes brought to her mind the way he had been as a small child. She wanted to comfort him now as he had once comforted her. When she had come home from the disastrous visit with Jack at the end of the war, Frank had come up to her and sat on her lap. In his most serious four-year-old voice he had told her that he would take care of her until his daddy came home. It had taken all of her self-control to hold back the flood of tears that were to come later in the night.
His impassive face and eyes showed a young man far more troubled than she had realized. She was sure that he had something serious on his mind and that his bold and lighthearted quips were only hiding the real issues.
The wind picked up and whipped the apron around Roseís dress. Frankís hair blew into his eyes. He leaned against the wooden fence, thinking about how to explain to his mother just how he felt. Frank knew he was fortunate to come from such a loving family. His father had never laid a hand on him and his mother had never embarrassed him in public. For all that he was grateful, but he knew deep inside that he was not living up to their expectations. They had never said anything, but he knew that inside their heads, they were displeased with their oldest son.
Rose reached for his hand just as she had when he was a young boy. She brushed her hand through his hair and led him to the picnic table in the center of the yard. Clancy wiggled his way under the table and chewed on a stick.
"Frank, tell me. Please. Maybe I can help?"
Frank studied his mother who still was so youthful and pretty even at age thirty-eight. He was always impressed that when he saw her with the twins, how much they all looked like sisters instead of mother and daughters. Her eyes were watching him with a hopeful expression and she sat breathing quietly, waiting he knew for him to speak.
Finally he just banged both of his hands down on the wooden surface and blurted out what really troubled him. "Do have any idea, Mom, just how hard it is to be the son of Mr. Perfect Jack Dawson? I mean, I love Dad. Heís great. But every time I mess up I see the fingers of everyone in town pointing and whispering about why I canít be like my father. Iím sure that even you and Dad think the same thing. How can I even hold my head up when he is so perfect and Iím such a disaster?"
Rose sat stunned when she heard what her son had to say. "Frank, thatís not what we think. You know that." How could he believe that they were always comparing him to his father? "Youíre your own person. We donít expect you to be perfect. No one is." She took a deep breath, trying to make some sense out of what he had said. "Maybe you donít mean to compare, but Iíve seen you look at me when Iíve messed up. Youíre disappointed." Now his eyes took on more of an accusing look. "I mean, how can I even hope to measure up in your eyes to someone that this family reveres as some kind of god. Did Dad ever get drunk? No. Did he ever have this awful vice of smoking? No. Iíll bet he never played poker. And did he ever get a girl in trouble? Sure as hell not."
Rose put her hand over her heart at the last remark. She could handle the answer to the first three questions, but the last one? It was enough for now that Edy and Molly and everyone else assumed they had been born early because they were twins. As her thoughts went back to Frank, her jaw dropped and she stared at her son. Was that the source of all this? Had he gotten a girl pregnant? "Frank, are you trying to tell me thatÖ"
Frank waved his hands in front of himself, hoping to reassure his mother that was not the case. "No, Mom. I didnít do that. But Iím just saying that Dad is so perfect. I canít be like that."
Visions of Jack on those nights on Titanic floated before her eyes. She certainly knew that while Jack was a gentleman, he was and had been far from perfect. The only thing now was what should she tell her son. Rose almost wished that Frank had taken this up with Jack himself. She knew that Jack and Frank got along pretty well which was something for a father and a somewhat rebellious eighteen-year-old. She wanted to choose her words carefully so as not to destroy the relationship they had.
Rose studied her hands and then twisted them back and forth as she sorted out her thoughts. Slowly she began to relive the story of the young Jack. "Frank, your father, whom I adore, has his faults and was not quite the innocent, young man that you imagine him to be. When I met him he had spent some time in Paris and knew quite a bit about life. If you understand what I am saying."
Rose saw the confusion on Frankís face as she continued her story. "And the night we first met, he had spent the evening chain-smoking on the deck. When he came to talk to me, I saw him throw his last cigarette over the railing. So you see he once had that vice. And I know of two occasions when he was very drunk. So very drunk that he was sick. One I witnessed myself shortly after we were married and the other happened when he first left home after yourÖyour grandparents died." She always had a hard time considering Jackís dead parents as grandparents, but that is what they were to these children.
"So he gave all this up? For you?" Frank seriously wondered if he could give up anything for a girl. But maybe he had not found the right person yet. "Anything else?" he asked not quite sure if his mother was going to answer the third question about his father.
"If you think about it Frank, maybe some of what happened was just because you thought your father was perfect and you had to prove a point. That you were not like him. You know the stunts that got you kicked off the football team, the cheating on the math tests," she reminded him, watching the shameful look in his eyes.
Frank hung his head sheepishly realizing how much his mother remembered. He would love to go back and erase certain parts of his life. Perhaps she was right. Maybe the showing off was more for his father, to prove that he was different.
She put her hands over Frankís and tried to get him to understand himself. "Maybe you have not been happy with what you were studying. Perhaps this pre-law program is not for you. Maybe you are going to college just to please us. Perhaps if you took a couple of years off, worked a little, tried to find your own niche in life. You might feel differently about yourself." Frank twisted his mouth to the side digesting what his mother was suggesting and what she had told him about his father. As he sat thinking, she had a few more things to say.
"Jack, well your father, has a temper that he has learned to control. And sometimes he talks before he thinks. But he is a good man, Frank. And you know what?" She saw Frank raise his eyes to hers. "I think he would be insulted if he found out you thought he was so perfect. Itís no fun to be perfect."
Frank saw the twinkle in his motherís eyes and the soft smile on her face. Maybe this was all in his own mind and was just an excuse for his behavior. He knew that he lacked the maturity that his father must have had at this age. The wedding picture he had seen of his mother and father showed a young man with a look of love and determination about him that Frank knew for certain he did not yet possess.
"I guess Iím just not ready to be the man Dad was at the same age. Maybe you are right. Maybe I should take time off from school, maybe even transfer somewhere else, change my major. I just feel so mixed up right now; I donít know what to think. I just keep looking back to when Dad tried to get me interested in art and I failed to do that. Since then, Iíve felt I have been disappointing him."
"There is no shame in any of that. And you must understand, that none of us in the family think that you should be like your father, just because you look like him. You know that does not hold true for the twins. They have their own individual personalities," said Rose honestly. She felt so sorry for Frank, as he misinterpreted everyoneís opinion. And Jack most of all would have been appalled to know that his son perceived him as such an impossibly faultless role model. Wholesome yes, but far from perfect.
Frank looked up at the cloudy night sky imagining what it must have been like that night in the cold Atlantic Ocean, the night that his parents barely escaped with their lives. He didnít even know why the thought came to him now, but suddenly he wondered if he would have had the same courage they must have had. He had first learned about their experience in 1925, when he was eleven, not in any great detail, but enough to know his parents and his grandmother had survived the most famous shipwreck in history. He never knew the real details of their meeting, only that they met on the ship. And that every April 15, they disappeared in the early morning hours for a long walk. When they returned, there was a sober expression on their faces and they were less than talkative at breakfast. Now that he had his mother alone he wondered if she would tell him anymore about the experience.
"Mom, Iíll think about what you said. You know, taking time from school and all that." He stopped, thinking twice about bringing up the Titanic subject. It was just that he was so curious. "Mom, I know this is a little off the subject," he hesitated before going on. "But could you tell me a little more about you and Dad on the Titanic? Like where on the ship you met? That is if you want to." Frank watched as she sighed and then rubbed her hands over her eyes. Now he was hoping that he had done the right thing in asking. "Mom?"
Rose looked up and stared at the sky, a warm hazy sky that was very different from that awful bone chilling night. Of course her son had a right to know some things. So much of this had been hidden within her and Jack for so many years. What difference would it make now? She glanced over at Frank and nodded. "All right, Iíll tell you a few things."
Frank listened awestruck as his mother explained her precarious position not only as the unhappy fiancťe of Cal, but also how she hung onto the rail at the back of the ship as she attempted to end her life. He understood now how their lives had become instantly intertwined as they came to depend on each other to get from one ordeal to another. Perhaps that is what had made them so mature. They both had each other to focus on. That must be what made the difference to them. He still had not met a special someone and when that happened, maybe his life would turn around. Rose stared at her hands that rested on the table. She had been lost in her thoughts of that tragic experience, when she remembered that not one tangible article remained with them from that night. She sat up straight and looked right at her son as she suddenly realized this. "You know, Frank, there is nothing left of that night. Your fatherís drawings, my beautiful paintingsÖnothing. It is as if it never happened. My clothes must have been taken away at the hospital and your father said that someone had made him throw his out. Even that would have been something. To have the dress that I woreÖ" Roseís voice trailed off and she shook her head back to reality. She had been lost in reminiscing now about Titanic for a while. If she did not stop now, it would almost certainly mean a sleepless night. She pulled her hands back and swung her legs from under the table. "I think that is enough for tonight, Frank. Iím really very tired." She smiled wistfully at her son, hoping that their talk tonight would help him see that all he really needed to do to change was to be himself. Rose walked over to the side of the table where Frank sat and placed her hands on his shoulders. "Just take some time to think about what we talked about, all right? I hope I was able to help you a little." She affectionately ruffled his hair and she felt his head bob under her touch. "Do you remember when your father was away in the war?" Frank nodded, not having been aware of too much at that time. "You came to me one day and told me that you would take care of me until your daddy came back. Iíll never forget that. How much that helped me." Rose stood up straight and headed back to the house. She stopped as if remembering something and turned to him. "Frank," Rose waited until she had his attention. "You might want to know that your father won his ticket on Titanic in a poker game. Just thought that might be of interest to you. Good night." Stunned, Frank watched his mother as she moved across the yard. His mind tumbled with the thought of his father winning a hand of poker and the results of that game. It meant that just by a stroke of fate was he even here on this planet. What an unbelievable series of events had lead to the existence of his secure family. He thought of his motherís words on how he had once helped her. With a lump in his throat he thought of himself as a small boy in his motherís lap. He had no recollection of that day, but obviously it had touched her deeply. At this moment, he felt closer to her than he had in his whole life. He stared almost unseeing as she climbed the back porch stairs as gracefully as a young girl. He was glad now that heíd been able to speak to her, not only about the weight he carried on his shoulders as he tried to be Jack Dawson number two, but it had been fascinating to hear more about his parentís remarkable meeting on the doomed ship.
"Mom even answered those questions about Dad for me. If he ever drank or smoked, played cards or if he ever gotÖwait." Frank now remembered that odd look on his motherís face when he had mentioned the part of his father getting a girl in trouble. She had never really answered that. Well, he knew that he and Cora and Patrick had been born long after his parentís marriage and Edy and Molly too. Even though they had been early. Frank looked up at the light in the bedroom window and thought of all the times he and his siblings had come into the kitchen at dinner to find his mother and father locked in a romantic embrace. For no reason he could think of, he started counting the months forward from April 14, 1912. That was nine months and a couple of days to the date that his sisters had been born. And he thought he remembered his grandmother making a comment once about how big the twins had been at birth. Now he wonderedÖhe put his hand thoughtfully on his chin. Had his parents been together like that on the ship? Well, he guessed he would never really know the answer for sure, but the idea was certainly thought provoking. And with the way his mother smiled at his father sometimes, Frank wondered if maybe it was the other way around. The girl getting the boy in trouble.
He took the package of cigarettes out of his pocket and dumped them in the garbage on his way into the house. Frank shook his head knowingly and chuckled to himself as he heard his father call out his motherís name from the front hall. "So much for perfect parents."