A dismal hum; that was how this story should begin: there was a dismal hum, the droning sounds of machines working hard to keep simple things from stopping. It’s hind of a harsh way to start a story, but everything begins with the end; that’s the way my father taught me to do it, and that’s the way I’m going to do it. But I won’t digress anymore.
That humming, it was always in the background. Imagine lying in a field of sunflowers, or out on a baseball field late at night watching the clouds pass underneath the moon’s watchful gaze, or running through some crazy park covered head to toe with tulips, each feeding into pleasant beehive after pleasant beehive. Yet, that humming was always there. We’d talk about family, he’d tell stories, and all we could do was our best to hear his old voice singing over that hum.
There was laughter, that was what most mingled with the hums, then of course was the beeping and the knocking and the whispering, but those were on an even lower level of audibility. That humming rang in our ears for a long time, but was unlike any ambient sound we’d ever heard, because we always heard it. It wasn’t like the house at the Cape, the waves at high tide after night, or the flat in New York ringing with Broadway traffic and Broadway noise, or anywhere else we lived because all those noises went away.
But that humming was a constant reminder. Until one morning, it was just him and I. And that humming stopped. When it was finally quiet, long after the moment had passed, I could hear it echoing, he was quoting Frost: “and I have promises left to keep, and I have miles to go before I sleep.” And then the humming was gone.
A young man is sitting in front of what seems to him, like a thousand faces, all begging to be closer, to see him. There’s no way, no chance in hell this...this mob is here for me. “We love your new book.” It’s my only book; I’m going to kill my publisher. A book signing? Damn it. Damn it all. The young man fidgeted, he was in his early twenties, wearing a brown blazer, wearing a dark blue polo underneath, completing the look with tan slacks and a pair of Converse All Stars. “He’s wearing his brown shoes today.” The crowd moved closer and closer to the table and the books piled like walls around him disappeared quite fast. He looked over desperately at a knock-out blonde standing over in the corner with the book store’s manager. Well she’s just having a royal laughing fit, I’ll show her! Lost in his thoughts, Anthony DeGenaro autographed book after book, a collection of poetry for the fleets of admirers.
“We’re going to make a killing today,” the manager said to the blonde, “Krista, this is unbelievable.”
“Dennis, what’s unbelievable is how I can still tell he thinks the collection is, how would he say...”
They together at the same time mouth “rubbish” and laugh.
“I don’t think he expected anything like this so early, I mean, the Village Voice and the NYU Hatchet, and something like every liberal arts magazine on the east coast wanted his poems, but...”
“Krista, its incredible. God I hope Border’s doesn’t drop his publishing company. We’re going to make a killing.”
Dennis trailed off counting figures on book sales and double and triple sales percentages crowded his head. Krista glanced lovingly over at the poor, attention overloaded poet surrounded by a million post-grad students looking for something to show off to their psychology major roommates, and strolled out of the reading room and towards the Starbucks on the third floor. It was like walking into a different environment. There’s nobody up here, I’m so proud of him. She thought trying to pick out an iced mocha off the seemingly endless wall, he’s going to be so mad tonight. She couldn’t resist a chuckle while handing the cashier the change.
She smiled warmly while drinking the coffee; Krista’s entire life was a collection of adverbs: warmly, lovingly, sweetly, adoringly, completely. They were the perfect pair, married straight out of college from their liberal arts university that happened to foster Tony’s English curriculum, her Theater studies, and their love. Some would have called it rushing, but the moment their three year engagement was over, anyone could tell how happy Tony and Krista were; no more days of cross state commutes by (at the end of their last summer apart) every means of public transportation and finally Tony’s run down car. They stole off, so to speak, to a gorgeous flat in the East Village on Manhattan Island, where in the fall, Tony began his graduate studies towards his PHD.
One of Krista’s adverbs was luckily; luckily, their landlord didn’t mind if rent came in one or three months late; luckily, when Tony’s computer crashed just the day before he sent the document to Krista to read because she was feeling a little ill; luckily, Krista met Dominique Gurrez on the street reading Tony’s second poem in the Village Voice when he dropped his hand bag and screamed “I must have you!” to which first earned him a violent slap across the face but later a leading actress in his series of plays showing in every indie theater on the island. This is where the adverbs change, and finally, Krista is cast in her first Broadway show, during the first year of Tony’s thesis. His paper was Kerouac’s America: Here to There and Krista’s show was a new run of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a show for which she knew some of the minor lines, but ultimately had to rehearse the more prominent ones (for Coset, for any fans out there).
It was in this way of methodic enchantment and fortune that Krista, Tony and their dog, a terrier mutt mix named Rufus lived out the first years of a very happy marriage. It was those days leading up to Tony finally completing that master work, his own personal Wasteland.
And she smiled warmly, as the clock struck six, and the ushers started pushing out all the hipsters, intellectuals, poetry buffs and kids geeking out over their first celebrity. Finally, Dennis was walking Tony towards her, locked in a hand shake lasting from one side of the room to another.
“Tony, can I call you Tony? Yes, its fantastic stuff really, really appropriate for the times, cutting stuff...”
“Thanks Dennis,” Tony sounded exhausted. And looked it: the bags under his eyes were darker then ever, quite the contrast of his currently bright blue eyes. His hair was a mess, long and as his mother would call it, a mop dripping because of the sweat some three hundred and forty five people, according to Dennis’ original count, would bring to one’s forehead.
“Say Tony, what are you doing next Friday?” Dennis asked flipping thorough his pocket book, finally disengaging the handshake.
“Nothing that I can think....” Shit, he thought, shit.
“How about a reading? We’d pay you a percent of book sales.” Dennis and Rufus had a lot in common. Tony couldn’t really say no.
“Sure, but I have to go home or I think I’m going to die.”
Krista, operating on what Tony jokingly called perfect wife syndrome marched over, scooped Tony out of the wolf’s mouth and led him to the door. Dennis called over, “It was a great event. So successful...”
Krista hailed a cab, turned and placed a delicate red kiss on Tony’s cheek, “You looked wonderful.”
“Thanks for the rescue,” he mumbled, “Let’s get dinner, Thai?”
“Sure,” and she told the driver the best route to their favorite place to get curry, she was in a curry mood. He just glanced at her, too tired form the long day of “To Janet, to Daryl with pride, to Stef, Greg loves you, to little Billy from one poet to another,’s” to really think about much. But he always had the energy to admire his young wife’s hair: he would describe it in a poem as a “brilliantly cascading waterfall of daffodil yellows and sun bleached sand on a quite Cape beach,” but in this cab cruising through Times Square, he could only say pretty.
She had this smile, it was as quiet as a whisper and the cab driver couldn’t avoid but notice, it was so full of care and love, and she shot it right at him. “That went pretty well,” he said to her, as her hands covered his, which were still shaking. Damn anxiety, Tony thought, I can’t stand a crowd, and she knows it.
“Tony, you’re still shaking,” she said smiling even more warmly.
“I’d say it’s because of you, but you’d laugh it off,” he said smirking, “you know all my tricks these days.”
“I didn’t know half of New York loved your work!”
“Yeah, well, you’re turn’s coming soon; when is that audition?” He asked, aggravated at himself for forgetting again.
“Thrusday, today is Tuesday,” she giggled, she was teasing him as usual.
If they didn’t visit the restaurant so much they’d of laughed at each other until the cab drive stopped and threw them out in Yonkers.
Two young kids are lying on their backs looking at the roof of an old park atrium. One leans over to the other and says, you have to die first. I don’t want you to live a day without me. I can’t leave you alone. That’s a promise.
They swear on it with pinkies and its Mom’s favorite memory.
The apartment is exactly as the couple left it: tidy. A lot of Tony’s anxieties disappeared slowly the more time he spent with Krista, but some things would never change. They called it organized chaos, but don’t be fooled, pots and pans were stacked in ascending order for them to cook any number of favorite recipes or the books were alphabetized and color coded. Tony had promised himself he’d never let his place become messy.
He was very good with keeping promises.
“Tony!” Krista yells from their bedroom, “Come here!”
Tony goes booking off into the bedroom expecting his Salinger collection to have disappeared like the old man himself, “What?”
“I just wanted to lie down together.”
Thursday morning was hectic: Rufus was skittering all kinds of crazy around the apartment, Krista was applying last minuet make up and Tony was finishing a late night at his computer working on his next big hit. God I hope she does okay today, he thinks while his keystrokes meander from some drama he was drawing up and he began to type my litle star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star
“Tony?” She calls out to him quietly from the bedroom.
“Yeah?” He says walking to the oak door, “What’s up?”
“Are you going to walk me down to Empire?” She’s making those eyes again. She wants me to say no, but I can’t let her walk down to Broadway alone, not today.
Not any day, she thinks.
“Of course I am.”
“Then put on some shoes, I’m ready!” And in a flurry she has scooped up her scripts and head shots, kissed his cheek and bounded out the door. Tony, somewhat taken aback from the whirlwind of activity takes his time lacing up white Converse to go against his blue jeans, white t shirt and blue cardigan.
The fall air is perfect, dry leaves from Central Park are on the air; it’s cold enough to warrant Krista’s white trench. Tony laughs, always cold she was.
“So tell me about this theater. Empire? Is this going to be it’s first show?”
“That’s right boo, and I might be in it!” She is smiling, she has never been this excited for an audition before. I can’t decide wether to be excited or nervous, Tony thinks.
“That’s exciting!” He says making up his mind over that smile of hers.
“Tell me how we met.”
It’s a question they both often visit, but for some reason on that morning that would arguably make or break Krista’s acting career and shape the rest of their lives, this question was strange. Almost disarming.
“Well, it was in the winter of our freshman year. I walked up to you after that class we had together and reminded you how single I was. It was horrific.”
“I think it’s cute.”
“You tease me every day about it.” Its true, she did.
“What happened next?”
“Well, a few weeks later I tricked you into going to dinner with me, we talked, went back to your room and talked more. You gave me a copy of your headshot, which I left on your desk, on purpose-”
“I did. Anyways, I went and stood outside of your building, and then called you, and asked for what I had left. You knew exactly what I was talking about, the picture, and you brought it right down to me, but were freezing. I was soaking in my peacoat. So I offered you the coat, well, I offered to hug you in the coat. Next thing I know you’re kissing me.”
“It wasn’t so bad...”
“You had me on my toes, I didn’t know what I was saying.”
She giggled. She found it charming how nervous I could still get over it, Tony thought. Then he really began to remember how those first few months went.
“A few weeks later I was walking past your building later on in the evening, and I saw your window was open and shouted for you. You looked a little perplexed, to have some idiot kid shouting up to your window.”
“You weren’t some idiot kid,” she squeezed his hand.
“And I yelled, ‘I’m in love with you,’ and you came running down and we went to see if the bleachers were unlocked so I could show you Columbus from the tops, but they were locked. So we walked down to the park, and up into the atrium. I had all my computer stuff from my radio work I was doing earlier, so I told you to shut your eyes and put on Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” and we danced, for what seemed like the best hours of my life. Then you looked into my eyes and told me what I had waited the few weeks we’d been dating to hear: I love you.”
The ticket booth of the Empire was in front of them, and although Tony would never admit it, he seemed to have mastered timing when telling stoires.
“Go knock ‘em dead, you already got the part, they just need to do the paper work.”
“How many times have you told me that?” Krista asks him smiling.
“How many shows have you done since freshman year?” He said smiling brighter.
“I’ll see you soon boo. I love you,” and she turned to walk into the theater.
“I love you too Krista, my little star,” but it was an hushed comment said maybe only for Tony’s own anxious benefit. There was nothing he loved more then seeing her on stage, but nothing he hated left then the disappointment she tried so hard to hide from him. The nature of both their businesses was disappointment and rejection. Tony felt guilty for the acclaim over his book, but knew she was supportive. How couldn’t she be? It had been this perfect since the beginning, since that skinny legged kid fumbled through his French vocabulary to ask her to go steady with him in some kind of Clark Gable fashion.
She laughed the whole way to “yes,” and then gave him the warmest hug he’d ever felt.
All these thoughts chased Tony all the way back to the Village and to his desk: my little star a big star my little star a big star and a blinking cursor. Tony, instead of erasing his page, simply started on a new blank screen. He was working on his next big thing: a collection of short essays, critical and reflective. Tentatively titled, “Short Stories for Long Drives,” it was yet another subtle nod to his life with Krista, dedicated to all the story ideas he had while making the twelve hour commute to Connecticut. So far, he had three critical essays and a finished draft of his award winning piece he started in college, “Why I Write.”
This was how a lot of Tony DeGenaro’s days were spent; in front of the computer. It could have been rehearsal, auditions, any number of errands Krista was running (but Tony always insisted they grocery shop together) that left Tony and his writing to themselves. Her key in the door would perk him up in ways that even Rufus couldn’t match with excitement on most days. They were as much in love in New York as they were at college. Their relationship was something to be envied by anyone.
It was her dream. And It came true. That was another of Mom’s favorite memories. Which one? Could have been any really.
“Is Krista DeGenaro there?” A dull, artisan voice asked through the telephone.
“No she’s out this is Anthony, who is this?” Tony asked with a false gruff.
“Wait. Anthony DeGenaro the author Anthony DeGenaro?”
“The very one. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I just have a date I need your wife to mark in her schedule.”
“July 5th, full cast meeting at the Empire.”
“Does that mean?”
An apple spilled from the bag of groceries dropped when he told her. Tony had been waiting all day for Krista to get back, to share the good news. He cleaned the apartment, twice. He put on their favorite record to dance too, and he fancied up his usual dress to a little fancier. She screamed, she dropped the groceries; it didn’t matter, Tony would take her out to dinner every night for the rest of her life for this.
“I got the part!?” She shouted somewhat in disbelief.
“The very part! Your dream role!”
They shouted and jumped and hugged and kissed and danced and it worked out because even before they had met had both loved “The Phantom of the Opera,” and it was just what the director was looking for, the Krista kind of talent that he wanted to portray Christine, the lead role. They danced all night and fell asleep on the couch trying to catch the sun rising that morning. They feel asleep at 7:43 AM. Farmer’s Almanac’s for that day claimed the sun rose at 8:03 AM. This seemed to be a habit for the two.
Dad got her something like one hundred dozen roses, so many they ended up just lining the streets with them
Sophie, I think that is one of the stories they exaggerated for you when you were younger.
Maybe. It’s still nice. Even if it was the usual one dozen roses.
After a year long run of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Krista was a wildly praised actress and the two ended up having no choice but to pursue more of their dreams. Los Angeles was so close to the western fantasies Tony always had that he couldn’t resist sticking to his word of going where ever Krista needed to. She’d gotten several movie offers and it was time to act, no pun intended.
It was only a few weeks after they settled into a new apartment in a new city that Tony began teaching Creative Writing at UCLA. It was a poetry focus course, the Dean wouldn’t have him doing anything else. But secretly, Tony admitted to liking the intro level and one hundred level courses.
“I just like the students when they are fresh,” he once said to Krista over some toast and oatmeal on a chilly December morning.
“Why’s that boo?” She asked in between bites full of blueberry jam.
“Well, the poetry kids already think they can write it; that’s why they took the course. The intro kids either don’t care or care enough to take entry level and learn from the bottom up. I like that.”
“You like kids that don’t care?”
“No, but I like the challenge.” Tony said grinning.
“Here’s a challenge: stop snoring.”
“Always the wit; what are you doing today?”
“Buying you groceries and making dinner.”
“Because we’ve been married for three years now.” Krista said smiling as wide as her rosy lips could.
“Which reminds me...”
“Oh no, what did you do this year?”
Tony began to giggle. She is completely oblivious! He thought.
Krista was on the edge or her seat, completely ignoring the toast and jam that had so captivated her moments earlier.
“You hate the beach, wait, which island?”
“All of ‘em.” Tony said with a triumphant grin.
The squeal of delight was like music to their ears. Even Tony couldn’t help but admit he was excited to be going to the tropics, for if any reason, it made her happy and would give him something worth while to write about.
They danced around the new apartment just like in New York, but with less cockroaches and a much more impressive view from their eighty-seventh story penthouse provided by Miramax for her film. That old dusty Bright Eyes record was so far from being scratched though, it was as if the vinyl Tony had picked up at a concert once would last longer then they would.
“I love you so much Tony, happy anniversary.” She whispered through giggles, tears and finally, a kiss.
“I love you too Krista.”
After their exotic beach getaway Tony produced another collection of poetry (“Island Things,”) and a novel (“Maggie Fynn”) and Krista had one more summer blockbuster under her belt before the two moved back to the east coast. It was the east coast, they agreed, where I would be raised, and then later Sophie too. We were in New York, Connecticut and parts of Ohio for a few years depending on which university dad could deal with the longest. A gap in the story falls right around here because this is not my story, this is not Lennon’s or Sophie’s time; but my father’s.
I was off to Brown studying theater and Sophie was abroad for a semester in London studying when they moved back west. Tony had finally won the Arizona argument.
Cactus. Cacti. Everywhere. I can get used to this, Tony thought while surveying the Tucson desert one night a few months after he and Krista settled down yet again. Their nights were often spent in chairs on the balcony, but more so with Krista falling asleep while Tony read some novel or criticism. I love falling asleep while he works, she would always think, I can almost hear him reading, the words sinking in eliot was a proficient figure in the modernist movement but I can feel him waiting for me to fall asleep.
“Tony, how do I wake up in bed every morning? We fall asleep out here so often.” She asked him, tearing out of her thoughts.
“Well, I carry you to bed, tickle you wildly, you wake up and pull my hear, and then fall right back asleep.”
“I’d remember that.”
“Maybe part of that is just something I’ve always wanted to do.” Tony says grinning. He’s still got that charm even this late in the game. His grey hair would not do good under the strain of pulling, and tickling; that might end in a bad coughing fit.
But that night, and that night alone, they overstep all adversity to act like kids again. After all, the love between has only gotten stronger; otherwise they still were kids at heart.
“Now, as much as I love to get sunburns on my way to work, I have bad news class.”
Aww, what prof-
“What did I say about calling me professor?”
It makes you feel old prof. Mr. D.
“Much better. Now, my bad news, if you’ll so kindly allow me. This is my last week here in Arizona. We’re moving back to the east coast.”
Whyyyyyy? The students endlessly cried, thinking of the adjunct professor that would in no way match their great teacher Tony DeGenaro.
“My mother’s cooking is better then all these damned tacos I’ve been eating. That’s it.”
The real reason was a lung complication that Tony would only trust his old doctor dealing with.
Everybody was together, all of us. The humming, not as loud this time. Sophie and I had to leave, but mom stayed the whole time. Even after the doctors said he’d be fine. She would lay in bed with him, hold him, cry for him.
This is not me dying, Tony would tell himself every day as he nervously eyeballed the IV’s sticking out of his arm. She would kiss his eyes knowing he was looking at the needles, that even in his older age bothered him so. The doctors determined that it was in no way lung cancer, no cancer. Just asthma taking it’s long term toll; a quick fix, a few drugs, inhaler as needed, and Tony would be back on his feet.
One night when things were far worse off, Krista was trying hard no to cry. She was petrified. “Tony?”
“I love you.” She whispered trying so hard to hold back.
“You’re worried,” he said.
“Of course,” she looked about to slap him, “Of course I’m worried about you!”
“I made you a promise. This isn’t it.”
Call him stubborn, but it wasn’t. Pretty soon he was back with her in a nice house in New England. Tony admitted it was the perfect place to launch books. Four poetry collections, two novels, a collected letters (all to Krista) and one play later; he only liked Cape Cod for the weather.
Some years after their fiftieth wedding anniversary, they were both officially retired. Tony would mail me and Sophie poems every now and then and Krista gloated to have quite the growing collection, but nothing that brought him any more acclaim. They were getting old; very old. The only thing that seemed to change between the two was their bodies. The love, the passion, the fun, none of that ever had a chance at diminishing.
They would go out and play in the water, sit in the sun, read, talk and hold each other on those colder nights. This is how forever goes, both would frequently think, imagining themselves younger, more full of energy determined to fight to get back to this moment of tranquility. This lasted for years
“Perfect,” Tony told her one day, “is being able to change your existence but choosing not to.”
Krista took his wrinkled hand in hers, “This is perfect.”
This lasted their lives.
my little star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star my little star a big star
It was years later that Anthony DeGenaro realized the irony of his pet name for the love of his life, he turned it into a rhyme that ended in my little star in heaven.
He would poke through his library in his empty house, and read his various about the author pages.
“Tony DeGenaro is happy and in love with you Krista.”
“Tony DeGenaro is a graduate student at New York University studying both literature and creative writing. He has been writing poetry his “whole life” and is popular on the beatnik club reading scenes in the East Village, where he lives with his wife and “muse,” Krista.”
“Anthony DeGenaro is the critically acclaimed author of Collected Essays, Beatnik Prayer and Maggie Fynn and several other collections and novels. He lives in Tucson with his wife Krista, who is a famous actress in several feature films today.
“Anthony DeGenaro is a PhD professor and author of several imporant literary works of the last few decades. He is father of two and husband of one, living in Cape Cod.”
“Tony is sad. Krista is gone.”
It was anything to pass the time. Days became weeks and weeks, months, months years and so on. Tony wrote a little bit, traveled a little bit, did a little bit of everything. He had loved Krista with all his heart, and as unprepared for how he was for her death, he knew he had done right by being the one to endure this loss. Better me then her be miserable, after all, I told that kid in that crazy park back where we danced, I would do this so she never missed a day with me, he thought.
I’m an old fool.
A few more years went by with a few accomplishments to each, and he rose to each with pride. He had always talked about beautiful things he saw, things in life that were just passed by usually. He loved to share them with us, with Krista, when he was still writing the world. With this spare time he would discover all the things he had left to see, and he would go back to Wethersfield and tell her all about them.
He was always a big talker; they would chat through dark, cold, snow and rain. Sometimes all night. But it was never too dark, she was always covered with roses. And he always thought of when they were young, still counting days when they would be reunited from summer vacation, winter recess, anything. He thought a lot about those days.
How happy, how in love. Nothing had changed as far as he was concerned.
And here we are now, three years later. Each breath he took, he was said
“Krista, I’m breathing for you,”
but eventually it became too hard to live for two. He wrote that he didn’t mind, for obvious reasons, that his life had been full of love, that it had been good enough for us. We couldn’t agree more. His lungs were crippled, there was no avoiding the fact that soon, Anthony DeGenaro would die.
There was a dismal hum, as we talked. The ambient noise of a man much needing rest. As I learned some hard lessons I began to understand some happy ones. The fist day of my life was playing on a raspy vinyl like he has requested. they were spreading blankets on the beach, yours was the first face that i saw, i think i was blind before i met you, don’t know where i am don’t know what i can, but i know where i want to go
So he went exactly there. And he took a slip of paper he’d typed years ago on his Stenhouser Typewriter, instructing to place it in his breast pocket.
There are a lot of things people can say about my father; he was a great man, and I’m proud to say I am his son. To be Lennon, to walk in his tremendous shadow.
I revisit what he said, his final whisper amidst the humming in the hospital. “I have promises left to keep, and I have miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Before any other noises happened, I quietly told him: “You kept your promise dad, to all of us, to mom. You can sleep now.” He was tired, but complacent. He had done exactly what he set out to do with his life. Every story he had written, the ones he was still writing, I understood. It was all for Mom. He was a great father to us, to me and Sophie; he gave his life to us, but he never forgot his promise to Mom.
Their love is a model for my sister and I. Sophie and I will do our best to honor him, and we thank you for listening to our story, or tribute; a remarkable story of love. And that is the only way to end his story, right where it begins. Only one way to end my father, Anthony Thomas DeGenaro’s eulogy. With a song.
my little star is a big star my little star is a big star my little star is a big star up in heaven and i am a big dipper. my little star and the big dipper little star big spoon