Is Anyone Home?

by David Meischen

Somewhere during the bleak gray days of January, an invitation arrived, return address a restored Victorian in Austin’s Hyde Park, home of an urbane gay couple who’d had us over, who’d sat at our table a time or two. February 12, 1992, the card said. Cocktails, appetizers, banter. RSVP. Karen checked her schedule and discovered a conflict; she would be in the Rio Grande Valley doing some important research. Polite regrets seemed appropriate. I’d been gloomy as the weather of late, immersed in the low-grade misery of a marriage that felt unhappy more often than not. Odds I’d make good company: not auspicious. But I was desperate to get out of the house.

On the evening of the gathering, my sons, ages eleven and nine, piled into our mini-van with me, and we drove across town to pick up one of my students, who had volunteered to spend the evening with them. I drove the three of them back home and headed for the cocktail party.

Where I encountered a house full of strangers—gay couples mixing with straight couples mixing with singles—mingling, of course, because though I knew only the hosts, their other guests were clearly acquainted. I might have welcomed the challenge, but I grew up—small town, big family—knowing people. I’d not developed a knack for going solo in new settings, so I skulked along the fringes, feeling sorry for myself. Until a face, a voice, a body type came into the foreground—an impish silver-haired man clearly flirting with me. Not overtly, though as he approached it was clear I’d been singled out. His voice told me so, syllables moving fluidly up and down, vowels carrying the imprint of Corpus Christi, which, as it turned out, is where he was from.

Willis Hartman woke me; I owe him that. He hotwired my sex drive, mostly dormant for the three years we’d lived in Austin, erratic for more years than I would have cared to admit. Looking at the fireworks in his eyes, the flush heartbeat and adrenaline made of his complexion, I knew that he knew that I knew how we made each other feel just standing there.

Doing what bodies seem born knowing, we moved our flirtation to the yard, the walkway flanked by roses setting buds so tightly wound I could almost hear their need to blossom. The night was intoxicating—darkness eddying, streetlights glowing, a breeze just this side of warm. What came out of our mouths was beside the point, inconsequential. Until Willis made a simple comment on the weather. It was so nice, he said, so much like spring. “Wouldn’t it be nice to go for a walk?”

My wife was in the Valley; my sons were home with a parental stand-in. It was time to take up that mantle—drive home, drive my student home, get Karl and Jack to bed. The fetching stranger standing here among the roses wasn’t inviting me to linger. His comment was purely hypothetical, a vacuous comment on the weather.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

I don’t remember the words I assembled by way of reply. What I remember is that I could hear myself thinking, loud as the voices that had surrounded us indoors:

I could go for a walk with you and not come back.

*       *       *

I begin here, at this moment in a rose-budded yard with a man I’d known scarcely an hour, because I knew in the instant that I was in trouble and the trouble was in me—a threat to my sons, my wife, the family life we’d built together.

Afterward, on the drive home, I was still a father, a husband, navigating familiar streets, lights along them looking harsher than before, turning the sleepy homes I passed into a mask of domesticity I felt that I was seeing through—to the urges roiling beneath. My sense of myself as I related to my sons and my wife had been so shaken that I scarcely knew where I was headed. Slowly, incrementally over the past half dozen years, I had come to accept that my marriage might not last. Still, I pictured myself slogging onward; I saw Karen as the one who would end things. Deeply saddened, it seemed to me, by the lack at the center of us, she would pack the car someday and drive away, leaving me to finish raising our sons. I utterly misread this woman—misread her commitment to the pact we’d made—and failed ruinously to understand myself.

Imagining the day I’d be suddenly alone, with two sons and no wife, I daydreamed my grand college love into the picture. The available romantic tropes of my formative years had been exclusively heterosexual. If I was going to crash, I wanted to reboot in safe mode. I would substitute one nominally heterosexual relationship for another and soldier on as the father of my sons.

My own father subscribed to a cynical country aphorism that applies here. You wanta dance, you gotta pay the fiddler. What he didn’t know is that I’d racked up an impressive debt—twenty-five years’ worth of peculiar choices, delayed choices, feints and deceptions, a history, too, of misdirected anger, of giving myself permission to behave badly and not owning up, acting as if my outbursts, the corrosive resentments that fed them, originated elsewhere, in a doppelgänger who could be denied. Perhaps, at last, my payment was coming due.

*       *       *

Measured in hours, my time with Willis Hartman shrinks to insignificance. For several weeks following our garden tête-á-tête, we had lunch each Thursday on the patio at a quaint Mexican restaurant in East Austin, playing footsie beneath an umbrellaed table. In lieu of one lunch engagement, we managed a quickie in the cramped bathroom of a tiny apartment rife with cat hair and sadness. Our grappling was furtive, it was paltry, it was not what I wanted. Still, for months after meeting Willis, even after we’d quit seeing each other, I was a preoccupied father, a distracted husband, wanting a life that wasn’t mine and not fully present in the one I claimed

As for the man I pined over. Willis had a partner of ten years he hadn’t mentioned the evening we met, dropping the fact of him casually over our first lunch—after I’d let myself be smitten. The back-story—related to me over a plate of enchiladas—was a cautionary tale that even I had sense to heed. Willis had stumbled into his current relationship by stepping out on his first long-term partner, also of ten years, when the sexual chemistry began to wane. He was clearly looking for someone to save him from lover-companion number two while I—no rescuing knight—was back-pedaling as fast as I could.

And having a talk with myself—about my sons, my life, my marriage. Karl was finishing sixth grade, Jack fourth. They were rapidly approaching twelve and ten. I could not imagine moving out of the house we lived in, taking myself out of meals, homework, piano lessons (Karl), martial arts training (Jack), bedtime reading. The four of us had been immersed in movies since the purchase of our first VHS player. Favorites were repeated. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Home Alone, the Star Wars trilogy. We spent so much time in Ferris Bueller’s irreverent company that Karl and Jack had whole chunks of dialogue down by heart.

The challenge lay in a simple word. Homosexual. Privately, rubbing fog from my shaving mirror, fastening on the eyes looking back at me, eyes that seemed to be mine, I thought about claiming this word. Stepping up to the mirror in the faculty men’s room, I asked myself: Who is this man? What does it mean that a stranger looked at him and changed the way his heart beats? And what about ambivalence? Was it losing its power to convince? Could I shape myself into a suitable husband again—and do so without straying? This last was the clincher. I didn’t want frivolous sex with some hunky hairy dude who meant nothing to me. If, on the other hand, I let emotions intrude, I wouldn’t be present at home with Karen, Karl, and Jack.

*       *       *

My consciousness shifted, then, but little else. I slipped back into the old habit of being physically available to those I loved and utterly disengaged. It’s not that I was thinking other thoughts, running some kind of fantasy while I sat at the kitchen table, with pans on the stovetop waiting to be cleared, dishes cluttering the countertop. When I stood there washing up, looking out the window at the Chinese tallow trees, how they trembled in the breeze, my body was in the room. My ears, my eyes still functioned. But for long stretches, the engine was idling, gear shift set in neutral, driver dozing.

At the same time, I extend some credit to the Mitty-esque father. He was a conscientious teacher, devoted to his students, a consistent provider, writing monthly checks for mortgage, utilities, clothing, sundries. He did most of the grocery shopping, much of the cooking, the lion’s share of dishes and cleanup after meals. He kept a beautiful yard, a garden that supplied the kitchen with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, basil.

Another factor played a role here as well—a predisposition to daydreaming that my sons inherited from me. Or learned in the way children absorb parental foibles. Without number were the times I found myself behind the wheel, driving one of them to school, to a friend’s house, to the family farm—moving along on autopilot. Beside me, a voice says, “Dad? Is anyone home?” I return to the moment; my son and I banter about the maze of bunny trails my mind wanders. Also, the reverse. Again behind the wheel, I make an idle comment to the son beside me, my words spilling into an unresponsive silence. I pitch my voice into a parody of confusion, say, “Hello? Is anyone home?” Beneath the vacant look, a person returning, a knowing smile.

*       *       *

I remember, too, the many hours of vivid presence.

When Karl was born, Karen and I had lived in California for two years. I was achingly nostalgic for the South Texas of my youth, for country dancing. When he was six weeks old, one evening as I approached a chair where I could rock him to sleep, I tried Johnny Paycheck instead, two-stepping all over the living room with my son cradled at my shoulder. He fell blissfully asleep. And that was it. For the next couple of years, the only way Karl would go to sleep at night was on Dad’s shoulder dancing to George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris, Ernest Tubb.

Early on, Jack evinced a tendency to upper respiratory distress. When he was three, he woke late one night with what looked like an asthma attack. I drove him to the nearest emergency room—four miles down an eerily empty freeway, lit like a science fiction movie about the day after. In the ER, with Jack flat on his back, the medical team proffered a mask emitting some kind of fog they said would ease his breathing. Seeing my son’s fear, I leaned down where the mask hovered above his face. Babbling encouragement, I took deep breaths to show him he could do this, so Jack inhaled with me. The fog was laced with epinephrine, though if anyone had mentioned this key ingredient, I missed it. Jack’s breathing eased, and we headed home. It was well past midnight, but the epinephrine didn’t know that.

“When we get home,” Jack said, “I’m gonna play Legos!”

“Me too!” I said, wired like my son—and happy that he could breathe with ease again.

Shortly before Halloween the fall Jack turned four, he came down with a severe chest cold. Evenings were chilly; he simply couldn’t go outside for trick-or-treating. It’s a silly thing, I suppose, but I have always been proud of my solution. Late afternoon on October 31, I hid Halloween candies all over our house. Then, as darkness approached, Karl went trick-or-treating with his mother while I supervised the Halloween equivalent of an Easter Egg Hunt.

Oh, and the nicknames. I went wild with nicknames during Karl’s first year: Karly, Karlito, Dinky Doodle, Sweet Dinkums, and others long since slipped from memory. Jack was a bruiser of a toddler—huge appetite, thick build. A friend of mine said not to worry, said my son would grow up to be a halfback, said give him a name to help point in that direction. His recommendation: Moose. Jack was not quite two at the time. I dubbed him Moosey and called him that for years.

Richard Rodriguez has written eloquently about the relationship between private language and intimacy, between the sounds we make surrounded by family and the feeling of connection that can live inside these sounds. When my sons were little guys, my language around them was rich with improvisations that said love in as many ways as my goofy imagination could encompass.

*       *       *

But I was not a patient man; I’d been on familiar terms with anger pretty much from the womb. Several years ago, my sister and I had a long talk about this issue, about our personal struggles—six plus decades into the life we’ve been given—to let go of certain patterns we learned growing up. At a gap in the conversation, a tone of quiet wonder in her voice, Judi said, “Can you imagine what it would have been like to be raised by patient parents?” The suggestion was so far outside my ken I went mute. And then laughed out loud. Judi did too. Our parents kept themselves and their children on a short leash. They were quick to anger, though not explosively. They had no time for patience, for the niceties of child rearing. We were expected to do as we were told—or else. We became much the same as adults. I’ve heard Judi say she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As a parent, too often I didn’t suffer children gladly.

Once when Karl was in first grade, I was asked to accompany his class on an ice-skating excursion. I arrived at the rink carrying assumptions about fathers and sons long ingrained in my tissues. My father expected his sons to master their tasks with minimal training or practice—how to handle a hoe, for example, a posthole digger, the controls on a notched disk by which one could raise and lower the sweeps on a four-row planter. Daddy expected us to listen and then do what he’d said. On occasion, he forgot to explain what was to be done next, and when the next thing didn’t happen, it was clear he’d expected the unspoken to be intuited.

The word yank most aptly applies to Daddy’s response. He might yank the hoe out of my hands and angrily demonstrate the pull-and-scrape motion he wanted me to use for hoeing the yard, as opposed to the raise-and-chop motion I’d learned for thinning cotton. He might yank me by the arm, thereby separating me from the posthole digger I was too short, too slight to handle, then yank it from the ground where it had fallen and attack the spot where a post was needed, jerky as the motions in a farm documentary circa 1910.

At thirty-eight, my age when Karl was in first grade, I did not think of myself as a yanker—that is, I made a distinction between yanking things and yanking children. I’d spent a lifetime yanking at recalcitrant chairs, vacuum cleaners, carriage returns on manual typewriters, ink cartridges in the portable electrics that replaced them—inanimate things that were supposed to do what was expected of them. Sometimes I fumed at these things. I could rage over a checkbook that had strayed where I’d dropped and forgotten it instead of employing magic to get back where it belonged. Early in my marriage, Karen told me more than once that my anger at such moments frightened her. I was mystified. And said so. These are things, I told her. I never treat people this way.

And then I stepped onto the ice, holding the hand of my six-year-old son, who had never been on skates before. I might have reminded myself how my legs disappeared from beneath me the first time I ventured onto a roller rink floor, might have remembered that even when I achieved a modicum of balance, I kept falling down and then down and then down again—until my mother, seeing my mistake, told me that rink traffic moves counterclockwise. I was skating head-on. It would have made sense, stepping onto the ice with Karl, to remember how difficult these first steps can be, to remember that I was present as a parent. To help.

Before we’d taken more than a step, Karl’s skates went out from under him and all of him went with them—except for the hand I held. And here’s the part that, all these years later, makes me writhe with shame. I was embarrassed to be seen holding the hand of a son who couldn’t skate. I was doing the one crushing thing my father sometimes did to me when I was a child. I looked at Karl as if he were a public insult to my stature.

Telling myself to do the right thing, I got down on my knees and spoke to Karl; I showed him what to do. And more than once as he tried and fell, tried and fell again, I yanked on his arm to raise him up. This is what happens to a boy who assumes he’s immune to his father’s imperfections. The boy grows into a man; he grows into a flawed father—as had I, blind to my own inexcusable impatience, blaming a six-year-old for the sin of not doing a difficult thing competently the first time.

*       *       *

Change came to me—in me—much later. And by increments, momentary flashes of insight. By the time I reached my mid-fifties, I was able to look back with detachment. Which is not to say without caring, but with enough distance to study the puzzle of David Meischen. Who is this man? I’d ask myself. What makes him tick? Why does he do the things he does? As if the self I contemplated was someone else entirely—certainly not me.

The nightmare of this looking back is that the man I study never changes—like opening Ibsen to the final act and watching Torvald Helmer dismantle the underpinnings of his marriage—again, again—disintegration replicating itself. Sometimes in recent years, when I grasp that the man I was then and the man I confront when I look in a mirror to shave—when it sinks in that we are one and the same—I want to reach inside and tear some essential something out of me—whatever, wherever it is—the source of the hurt I inflicted.

*       *       *

The diversion with Willis receded. By late summer of 1993, my days felt routine. On August 22, Karen turned forty-one. My day calendar tells me she flew in from elsewhere that day—likely a work trip to the West Coast. This kind of thing was standard for us—Karen’s travel overlapping with an important household date. On September 2, I took Karl to his orthodontist for a tooth extraction; on September 27, four more extractions. His permanent teeth overlapped egregiously—no room for all of them. For the first of these sessions, Karl had been told he could bring headphones and music—to pass the time after anesthesia had been administered. I have not forgotten what Karl said to me on the drive home. “Daddy, the colors! The colors were so pretty!” After the extractions—and before installing braces—the orthodontist put in a palatal expander, with a Lilliputian jack screw that made me feel like an agent of the Inquisition each time I gave it another turn.

As summer moved toward fall, I can’t say that I thought of my marriage as a happy one, but I was no longer fatalistic about it, as I had been before meeting Willis shook my lethargy loose. I remember weeks that were marked by low-grade pain. But I did what I’d been doing since the day I married, moving through my days as if they were pre-ordained, a succession, one after the other, as the marriage vows had said. I settled in, aware that I had passed through danger. I was on the other side now. My wife, my sons, and I—we were safe.

*       *       *

A year later, Karen and I consulted an attorney who specialized in divorce mediation. Custody was the thorniest issue we confronted in our sessions with her. We knew it was possible that Karen would remarry, that she might relocate out of state. I cannot say why Karen was considering a second marriage, even before our divorce was final. I didn’t ask. And as with other omissions in the life I navigate here, I want to say that my ex-wife’s marriage to her second husband is not my story. It is hers.

Still, it complicated the mediation process. Whatever distance might separate Karen from me after the split, we needed to consider where our sons would live. With whom. When this issue arose, as at other junctures in the mediation process, the two of us bristled. Each time this happened, our mediator sat back and listened while she let us vent and then intervened, summing up what she’d heard first from one party and then from the other. Then she’d suggest a compromise of some kind—and remind us that persistent disagreement could lead to a prolonged and expensive breakup.

Our divorce papers include legal language to this effect—that Karen would decide Jack’s primary residence, I would decide Karl’s. In hindsight, one of these clauses makes sense to me. Karen and Jack had a close bond. I remember remarking at one point, that if she relocated to Mars, our younger son would board the space ship with her. But why split up our sons? Why have Jack go with Karen and Karl with me? I don’t have an answer, except to say that it seemed to make sense at the time. I want to say that Karl and I had energy levels, personality traits in common, that living with me was a better choice for him.

On occasion, I’ve heard mention of something called an easy divorce. There’s no such thing is what I say. And no such thing as surviving divorce undamaged. In our case, six months after the divorce was final, Karen did remarry—to a man who lived in the Seattle area. She took Jack and moved away to be with her new husband. Karl stayed with me. The split was double—two thousand miles between our sons, two thousand miles between each of them and a parent. These were difficult years for Karl and Jack.

*       *       *

More than once, I was the source of difficulty. During the split itself, as Karl and I were moving out of one house and into another, my firstborn and I had a difference of opinion about the evening ahead. We agreed on grabbing a meal somewhere. I assumed Jack would be included; Karl didn’t want him. Or so it seemed to me. I will grant myself this: I was exhausted. Over a weekend only days before, I’d driven to South Texas to be with my mother. This was to be the last time I saw her before she slipped into a coma. I didn’t know her days were so briefly numbered; I did know she was dying. What I’m trying to say is that I was dangerously low on fatherly resources. And as so often before, I failed utterly to understand my son, a mistake I compounded when I didn’t say to myself:

Stop. Sit down. Breathe. Ask him what’s going on.

No. I made a snap judgment. Five years later, in phone calls from Karl, well into adulthood, I learned the truth: In the moment, he was thinking about the magnitude of our move—that he and I would be sharing a house together. Just us. Then, when he wanted me to himself, wanted time for us, I insisted Jack be brought into the picture.

When I missed the point, ever his father’s son, Karl resorted to hurtful words. I did the same. Our words got really blunt, and then I let my temper off its leash. Of myself I will say that though I did not hit my son, I put my hands on him and held him so he could not get away; I put my face against his and hammered him with words that can never be unsaid. Yes, I can apologize. I have apologized—many times—for this and other episodes where I let myself behave toward my sons as a father never should. I loved my sons. But if love is what you do, apparently there were times when I did not.

*       *       *

My last major flare up came two years later, during a summer visit from Jack. A new love had arrived in my life, Scott Wiggerman by name. A new house was in the works, another move. This was Jack’s chance to spend time with me. And that’s what he wanted—time for just the two of us, more time than I was giving. Though I failed to see the obvious, my new relationship was unsettling for Jack. When he responded with flashes of the anger Meischen males have been learning from their fathers for generations, I was high-handed and dismissive. Late one afternoon, with Karl and the man I loved as stunned witnesses, I turned myself loose. Here again, shame keeps details off the page. For half a minute, though, I was so loud, so wild that Scott said later he was genuinely frightened, said he thought perhaps he should have called the police. Again, I’d failed everyone caught in the house with me. Karl had felt the brunt of my anger; he needed to see persistent effort toward calm. Jack deserved the same. And Scott deserved a partner worth the commitment he was making.

I promised Jack—and swore an oath to myself—that I would never behave this way again. To date I have kept my word. The scene with Jack was the last time I unleashed my temper and let it wreak havoc. This is not to say that anger has disappeared from the occasions I share with my sons. I have been known to sputter. I have allowed myself a raised voice, sharp words, as from a civilized adult, feeling friction when he least expects it—and with those he loves most. This is what I have pledged: to live my love for my sons by letting go of anger.

*       *       *

Scott sold his house. I sold mine. Karl and I moved into the new house with Scott. In the days that followed the move, I witnessed a change in Karl—a gift that will never stop earning my thanks. He had resisted the move—stubbornly—then accepted it, though fatalistically, as something that could not be helped. Coincidental with the move, he had secured his first job, bagging groceries a short walk from our new address. I’m convinced that part-timing encouraged a change in him. Earning his own money, spending time in the company of others who worked for their keep—these improved the way he felt about himself.

And then, unilaterally, Karl initiated a change between us. He didn’t say a word about it, but quietly, he set aside the bitterness he’d been carrying, his role in our confrontational stance. His posture, his facial expressions relaxed. He spoke as if we occupied neutral territory. Together. I could see the transformation happening, my son turning into an adult, opening a door between us that has not closed. He gave us room simply to share the same space—to breathe, to feel at home together—gave me space to rearrange some of my own habits. None of this was easy. Human nature being what it is, my son and I could not set ourselves aside. There was much work to be done—each of us alone, both of us together. Still is. This is the lesson of a life—that as long as you’re breathing, there’s still work to do.

*       *       *

Nine months after the move, Karl graduated from high school and, after a summer with us, moved to San Francisco. His first year there signaled another change in my relationship with my sons. Jack and I had been communicating primarily by phone for three years already, but something changed dramatically when Karl began calling from the West Coast. It might have been the distance, the frictionless safety of the phone connection, but Karl started confiding in me, telling me about his life, his first serious relationship, the evolution of his band the Greening, formed and named by Karl and the best friend he met just weeks after moving. He asked questions, sounded out new ideas, puzzled his way into adulthood with me as witness.

After testing the waters and finding me amenable, he talked at length about his childhood and adolescence, trying to make sense of the difficulties he’d encountered with me during the first seventeen years of our tenure as son and father. More than once, he spoke of the day when, as we were moving into our house together, I lost my temper. More than once, this question: “Dad, what were you thinking?”

One afternoon, after an especially long, especially personal conversation, Scott walked into our living room looking stunned. He’d not been eavesdropping, but I am loud. He’d heard much of what I’d been saying. Two things had struck Scott. The first was that, in the decades he’d been an adult son, he had never had a conversation of this length with his own father. The second was that he could not imagine such an intensely personal discussion with the man he calls Dad.

*       *       *

Jack is thirty-eight as I write. He has lived several states away since shortly before he turned thirteen. Karl is forty; he has lived in San Francisco for more than half his life. The phone has been our lifeline, but over the years my sons and I have arranged numerous visits. One evening years ago, Scott and I found ourselves at a dining table in Stockton, California. We’d driven inland from San Francisco with Karl and a woman friend for an evening hosted by Karen and her husband Paul, who had moved there from the Seattle area. In June of 2012, Scott and I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, with Judi and her husband Raymond, to attend Jack’s wedding. I have enjoyed social occasions of this kind, but when I think of my sons as adults, I remember first and foremost the one-on-one occasions.

During the years when Jack lived in the Pacific Northwest, we had several adventures in that part of the country—including Sunday brunch at Paradise Lodge on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, an August hike among snowdrifts outside the lodge, a ferry ride through the San Juan Islands, and dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Victoria, where, seated on tatami mats and chuckling at each other, we fumbled through an all but failed experiment with chopsticks. In May of 2005 we walked the streets of Vilnius when our train stopped en route from St. Petersburg to Prague.

Over the years, too, I’ve made regular solo trips to San Francisco. Karl and I have walked the city together, chatting as we go, stopping at neighborhood eateries the years have unveiled to him. We’ve toured the wine country together, driven the river road to Sacramento. I’ve had the delicious pleasure of seeing him onstage with his band. The first time—Karl would have been in his early twenties—I was in San Francisco when the Greening played at Grant and Green. The place was loud before the music started—packed with drinkers and music fans. It was louder still when the band started up—impossible for me to distinguish the lyrics. But the energy was inescapable. Infectious, too, witnessing the wild enthusiasm of Karl’s movements, hearing his voice at the mike.

*       *       *

Sometimes, all these years later, I still cringe pondering the mess I made in my forties. In the grip of personal anguish, more than once I told myself to suck it up, to behave like a man of my father’s generation, to live out the choices I had made as father, as husband. What I tend to discount is the fear that gripped me as I dismantled my life, watching myself fail. Fear was stronger, finally, than the voice saying stay.

Fear. Panic. The impulse to save myself first.

Only after did I look to Karl and Jack, to myself as a father. I wake grateful every morning now—that whatever binds my sons to me, their father to them—whatever binds us helped us make it through, make us stronger. I love you, one of us says, when a talk on the phone has come to an end. Sometimes I say it first, sometimes Karl or Jack on the other end. Then a quick reply before the line clicks off: I love you, too.

A Pushcart honoree, with a personal essay in Pushcart Prize XLII, David Meischen is the author of Anyone’s Son, winner of Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, he lives in Albuquerque with husband and co-publisher Scott Wiggerman.