The Weight of Platinum

Andrew Sarewitz

- The Weight of Platinum -

 

I hadn’t considered the weight of platinum.  I knew it was valuable above gold and relative to a diamond over other stones in strength.  My mother wore two platinum wedding bands on her left ring finger.  One was a thin metal sphere, etched with tiny bevels that my father’s step mother (my Grandma Annie) had given her.  Since my parents were married in 1944, while my father was in the army and earned no measurable income, I am guessing it was considered a wedding gift.  The other ring was a classic diamond-embedded Tiffany band, one eighth of an inch in width.  I don't remember the story or year my father gave it to my mother, but in my lifetime, she wore both.  

 

On the morning my mother died, I came to her home and saw the two rings resting flat on a piece of notebook paper on the dining room table, looking more like discarded washers.  My brother Dan saw them and asked, “what are these?”  I said, “they’re Mom’s wedding rings.  She told me I could have them.”  It sounded as stupid then as it reads now.  

 

My ability to forgive myself for the verbal snap rests on my mother having just passed away.  My brother didn’t care about the rings — he just hadn’t recognized what they were.  I may have been thinking that my sister and three nieces presumed that any jewelry would be passed down to women in the family.  In the moment, I had a fear that if I didn't take them right then, I might have to fight for or never see the rings again.  Since our family is not petty that way, it seems funny in retrospect.  There were no arguments over objects.  When more than one of us liked a token equally, it was settled amicably.

 

The truth is, these were the only keepsakes I asked for and wanted from my mother.  I wear a ring my father had worn, passed to him by his father.  When I was very young and didn’t understand death, I had asked Dad if I could have it one day.  It’s a man’s diamond ring from the 1920’s;  a square Art Deco setting in fourteen karat gold.  It stays on the middle finger of my right hand.  I later discovered my grandfather wearing the ring in a vintage photograph my oldest brother had rescued. It was on Granda Jake’s wedding ring finger. 

 

I picked up Mother’s wedding rings and without forethought, slipped them both onto the pinky of my right hand where they fit perfectly, as if they had always been there.  That was March 31, 2014.  I have never taken them off.  By comparison to others, platinum may be a heavy metal, but on my hand, they lay weightless.   

 

My mother was not sentimental by nature.  Occasionally some nostalgic history evoked visible emotion, but it was rare and uncharacteristic.  Sometimes she suffered with depression; sometimes she was my Achilles’ heal; sometimes she was generous and openhearted as her religion.  I have many objects from our family home that take me back, filling my periphery with an archive of memories, precious to simple clutter.  But as with my father’s ring, what I wanted was something of my mother’s to tangibly attach to me.  We were a pair, she and I.  And like it or not Mother, I am sentimental.


 

- Brian -

 

A favorite photograph taken of me a few years ago was recently transferred from paper to computer image.  I don’t like having my picture taken: an unreasonable trait of mine that drove my mother to flippant anger.  And not because I am shy.  Because I am vain and not photogenic.  So when I find a picture that I consider flattering, it usually means I look more handsome than I think I am.  I’m not fishing.

 

In 1997, Brian Poole, a friend for eighteen years, died of AIDS.  He hid his illness from me for a long while, only confessing when he was approaching the end.  Brian and I had had an incredible past, but now, nearly two decades after our introduction, the sustained friendship seemed closer to genuine but distant family affection.  

 

Near the time of his death, Brian finally allowed me to visit him.  When I entered his house, I was met by a skeleton covered with pale white skin.  I only recognized his blue eyes.  One of the oddest experiences in my lifetime took place while sitting with Brian on his living room couch that day.  We talked about our illustrious and fantastic past in gay bars and nightclubs, with sex, with music, with drugs, while his parents sat on either side of us, well within ear shot, reading their magazines or doing something inane as if this was a perfectly average conversation.  

 

In November, when Brian’s mother, Dorothy, called to tell me he had died, I already knew.  The phone rang at 7:30 in the morning.  I answered.  

 

“Hello?”  

 

A woman’s voice asked, “May I speak to Della Reese?”  

 

Even in my waking haze I recognized it was Brian’s mother.  I said, “Dot?  It’s Andy.”  

 

She started to cry when she realized she was talking with me.  

 

After we reminisced and wept, I asked, “didn’t you think it was strange calling Della Reese?”  

 

Dot responded, “not really. I just got off the phone with Hedda Lettuce.”  

 

For reasons I won’t embellish, Brian had my phone number listed in his Rolodex under the name “Della Reese.”  

 

Dot invited me to Brian’s apartment ten days after his death.  She wanted me to have something to remember him by.  When I got there, I saw that his parents had already taken the artwork Brian had purchased through me.  

 

He had an impressive collection of 12 inch disco vinyl from the era of Ice Palace 57 and The Saint.  Brian had wanted me to take the records.  By 1997, I no longer owned a turntable, so I passed.  There was an ashtray of an angel’s wing in a gold patina that always sat on his coffee table, permanently stained by cigarette ash.  I asked if I could have that.  And then I saw his red and black leather jacket.  This was not from our early days of alcohol and dancing.  It was a more contemporary recall of how I visualized him.  It was too large on me but if she would allow it, that was what I wanted.  Dot said to me, “please take it.  When you miss Brian you can wrap yourself in his memory.”

 

The jacket stayed in hibernation for a decade.  One winter night, I unfolded it and finally tried it on.  

 

Now with more than twenty years passed (and sleeves too long for me), I still wear Brian’s jacket.   I’m wearing it in the photograph I like, unbuttoned and casual, over a vintage grey t-shirt I bought for six dollars.  



 

- City of Chappaquiddick -

 

Across the harbor from Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, is a small sand and forest island, Chappaquiddick. Made notorious by Ted Kennedy and the accidental drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, that’s not the Chappaquiddick I knew and loved.  Mine is the Cinemascope horizon of youth.  For a month almost every August until I turned thirteen, we rented a house or cottage on Chappaquiddick from a native islander, Tony Bettencourt.   For the better part of the early years, we stayed in an odd, flat roofed house built deep into a cliff with two side-by-side apartments connected by a communal glassed-in porch that ran the width of the house, overlooking Caleb’s Pond.  Sunrises were spectacular.  Friends of my parent’s since they were all in their twenties, Clarice and Don Olinger, took the neighboring quarters with their five children.  At full capacity, we were four parents, nine children, two black dogs, one calico cat, two American station wagons, two day-sailing sloops, one dinghy, and a baby sitter, often in tears.    

 

What stands out are hyperbolic feelings: memories I can return to and sustain.  Whether based on truth, panoramic highlights or an innocence of family at its best, this abstract joy isn’t something I challenge by investigating the raw history.  I’m sure there was everything from sibling antagonism to poison ivy.   But there were also beaches, dunes, cliffs, sea glass, tall ships, swimming, clamming, fishing, sailing, story telling, music.  Looking back: there was one month every summer called Chappaquiddick.  It is irreplaceable.  

 

In order to get to the Vineyard, we took a ferry, hollow to carry cars, called The Islander.  It cruised from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven.  Then we’d drive our station wagon, sailboat in tow, across the length of the island to Edgartown.  From there, we boarded a two-car ferry to the lip of Chappaquiddick.  This mobile, wooden barge with propellers was called the On Time.  Since I estimate the voyage to have taken three minutes coast to coast, the name seems appropriate.  

 

This wasn’t the first ferry to carry automobiles to Chappy.  Bettencourt, the inventor of the motorized raft as well as our landlord, had bridged that access decades earlier.  The first ferry was christened, City of Chappaquiddick.  

 

Years before our family took summer refuge on the island, there had been a fire raging one night on Chappaquiddick.  Rushing to extinguish the flames, a fire engine rolled onto Tony’s barge to make the crossing.  The ferry launched, heeled port side, and sank.  I don’t know if the fire truck is still on the floor of Edgartown Harbor, but the ferry was rescued.  Subsequently, a fire house was built on Chappy.  The original City of Chappaquiddick stayed anchored in the harbor for the years we were there, dormant but museumed as the original.  

 

Following the On Time, came the On Time II.  After we stopped vacationing on the Vineyard, a larger, three car ferry was built.  I want to say it was named the On Time III.  What came beyond that, I don’t know.  

 

In the early 1970’s, my parents chose to buy property in Southern Vermont.  I believe most of the family were very happy with the decision.  I saw it as mutiny.  All evidence says it was the right thing to do.  The traveling was not only closer and more accessible from our home in New Jersey, it was a second home year round; as beautiful in winter as it was in summer.  We never returned to Chappaquiddick.

 

As children, my brother Dan and I shared a bedroom in the converted attic at our home in New Jersey.   The decorative art Dan hung included a 1960’s poster of Jane Fonda, naked with arms crossed, sitting on a beach.  Being gay, I hold that poster responsible for a few additional weeks of my early sexual confusion.  Dan also had an old, peeling plaque hanging across from the shellacked bannister that read, “City of Chappaquiddick.”  This is the sign from the original ferry captained by Tony Bettencourt.  In the mid-1960’s, while cleaning out the garage below our rented house on Caleb’s Pond, Tony pulled the sign from the trash bin and gave it to Dan.  

 

When my parents prepared to sell their home of nearly 40 years in New Jersey, the City of Chappaquiddick sign was still in the vacant third floor bedroom.  Dan allowed me to borrow it.  I’m hoping it’s on permanent loan.  

 

If I could only take one thing from my object-crowded apartment, it would be that decaying shipwreck sign.  A touchstone in black and white.  Discarded and priceless.    

 

 

- Memory in Objects -

 

My father died in the summer of 2006.  Nearly a year later, my mother was finally prepared to empty the nightstand on his side of their bed.  As she pulled objects from the drawer, she handed them to me for consideration.  

 

“This is an old address book,” she said.  “Here’s a pen, reading glasses, a little photo album, a penlight, a handkerchief.  And here’s a piece of tile from Hitler’s bathroom…”

 

“Wait — WHAT?”  I asked.

 

“You know,” Mom said.  “Hitler’s bathroom tile.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about?  Are you serious?”

 

I began to laugh uncontrollably.  

 

Feigning innocence, Mother started laughing and responded, “whaaa…?”  

 

When conscripted toward the end of the Second World War, my father never had to leave the United States, thank God.  During the Korean War, as a doctor, he was sent to Germany.  I’d call that great luck.  

 

As I remember the story — my siblings may have clearer details — my parents drove to the village of  Berchtesgaden while Dad was posted in Germany in the 1950’s.  They visited Hitler’s nearby mountaintop chalet in the Bavarian Alps infamously called “The Eagle’s Nest.”  While there, it seems renovations were taking place.  My father went to use the “Nest’s” bathroom.  After washing his hands, Dad casually picked up a piece of broken white tile and put it in his pocket.  

 

“Can I have this?”  I asked.

 

I am not a well schooled person.  As a selective autodidact, I am obsessed with twentieth century European history, particularly the two world wars.  I am fascinated with the sociology of hate, genocide, subhuman cruelty, against the brave character of unintended heroes.  I step outside myself when reading and watching films.  It catches up to me through nightmares.    

 

In a gift box that originally displayed a Donald Trump tie from Macy’s (a “Secret Santa” present), rests a white tile chip measuring about two inches in circumference.  It may not be monetarily precious or visually special, but it’s a connection between my father and I that allows me to laugh at a horrific time in modern history.   Among my books, art and collectibles, this Jewish boy has a piece of tile from Adolf Hitler’s bathroom.  Donald Trump’s tie I gave to the Salvation Army.  

About the Author

Andrew has written several short stories (links to published work at www.andrewsarewitz.com) as well as scripts for various media. His play, Madame Andrèe received an Honorable Mention from both the 2018 Writers Digest Competition, Play/Screenplay Division, and the 2018 New Works of Merit Contest (Loyola University, New Orleans), as well as garnering First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival series in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition.

Published and Award Winning Short Stories

The Wholly Separate Sides: BigCityLit Magazine, New York, NY, to be published summer, 2020
Tim to Fifty Ninth: Soliloquies Anthology, Montreal, Quebec, publication, Jun 23, 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen, Cher: Punctuate Magazine, Columbia Literary Magazines, Chicago, IL, publication, May 16, 2020
Corona Entry; Prometheus Dreaming, Los Angeles, CA, publication, April 4, 2020
The Other Side of the Coin: Prometheus Dreaming, Los Angeles, CA, publication, January 24, 2020
Then the Tidal Wave: Prometheus Dreaming, Los Angeles, CA, publication December 20, 2019
Lady Vanessa: BigCityLit Magazine, New York, NY, publication November 24, 2019
A Woman Named Samantha: Bangalore Review, India, publication August 21, 2019
Miss Marcia: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, issue 21, publication August 8, 2019
Stands a Boxer: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication July 11, 2019
Harold and Al, All Covered in Fur: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication June 12, 2019
Blue Roses and Diane: Second Place Prose Award, Havik, Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature, Livermore, CA, publication May, 2019
Color, in Black and White: Trilogy Award Nonfiction Finalist, Hidden River Arts, Philadelphia, PA, May, 2019; Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication October 26, 2019
The Wholly Separate Sides: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication May 20, 2019
The Big Sneeze: Jenny Magazine, YSU Student Literary Arts Association, Youngstown University, Ohio, publication November 15, 2018
...And into the Fire: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication June 27, 2018
The Banquet: Yes + No Magazine, London, UK, Page 58, Autumn Issue, 2017
The Tale of the Sisters Landau: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, publication July 19, 2017
In the First Person: Chelsea Station Magazine, New York, NY, publication July 5, 2017
Stephen was...: Plenitude Magazine, British Columbia, Canada, published June 8, 2016
Contributed essay to "A Giant of 20th Century Russian Art, Vladimir Nemuhkin;" published by ArtDaily, June 6, 2016
Project Gus: publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2013
My Father: publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2011