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The Fantastic Frank Holden

Frank & Tavish, 2018

There’s a scene from Elf where Will Ferrell repeats the name Francisco, after learning it for the first time, declaring, “That’s a fun name! Fran-cisco, Fran-cisco, Fraaan-cisco.” Like most of Will Ferrell’s movies, it was stupid, but funny. When Mom started dating Frank, Shea and I were delighted to quote this line from the film often. If not Francisco, “Francis” was pretty fun by itself, but eventually “Francis Marcalarius” became the go to. If not, “Francois” was an adequate substitute.

I remember coming home to Clydesdale Ave after Aikido one night. I must have been twelve. My Dad was the one who took us to and from the dojo in Methuen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This night, Mom was not home when we arrived. There were flowers on the table. I was suspicious. Not long after, Mom returned home. I don’t seem to recall that Frank was there with her. Either way, we met him soon enough. He was really nice. I could tell he made my mom happy, which was like a breath of fresh air, five breaths, fifty breaths of fresh air. As a Yoga teacher, Mom was usually able to find her Zen, but she struggled with stress and anxiety, especially during that time, when my parents were getting divorced. At this point, it was year three of litigation in what would become a four-year legal drama. When Frank came into the picture, and I felt the effect he had Mom, I was thankful.

My Dad had already started dating Corinna, the woman who would eventually become my stepmom. He was happy, and I wanted my mom to be happy too. Parents want their kids to be happy, sure, but kids need their parents to be happy. If they’re not, life seems bleak. At the time, their happiness was all I really wanted. With Corinna and Frank in the picture, now, I felt like things would be alright. I guess I thought that romance was the key to happiness. (Now that I’m older, I know that’s not true, but I was thankful all the same.)

Mams and Pops, my grandparents, met Frank, as did my Aunt Becky and Uncle Jeff. They all liked him. Although he was not as quick as my Mom’s side of the family, who had reputation for banter, wit, and repartee, he fit right in. We met Frank’s family and his children too, Chris and Alissa. They were older than me and I thought they were really cool. Chris was a tattoo artist. He dropped out of college and was kind of a party animal; a rebel without a cause. Alissa was an artist too, but she preferred paint, charcoal, and crafts. She was chill. Maybe the most chill person I had ever met. In fact, she introduced to me to the word “chill.” It was the new cool. I wanted to be like her for a long time. She was political, earthy-crunchy, and didn’t give a fuck. My mom didn’t see these qualities as… commendable, but you know what? She wasn’t chill.

Frank, it turned out, was not divorced. His first wife died of cancer. Her name was Tanna. When I moved out, I inherited a few of her things: a tiny, blue, stained-glass wall hanging of New Hampshire, a tropical lamp with two elephants on it, a sewing kit, little things like that. They carried memories from a person I never met, but I felt through her things, and through Alissa, that I got a feel for her.

Mom and Frank met through Tanna. Tanna was one of my Mom’s yoga students. I remember, a few years before I met Frank, Mom was crying in the kitchen. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me one of her friends had died. I knew someone was sick, but I didn’t know it was going badly. I think it was the first time I saw my mother mourn a loss. It was certainly the first time I remember.

After Tanna, Frank became my Mom’s student, having met previously at one of her corporate classes. On an intake form at her yoga studio, there was a section asking students what they hoped to get out of the class. Frank wrote, “a date with the teacher.” “Wow,” I thought, that was smooth, if not incredibly bold, and it worked.

Within a year, Frank decided to propose to Mom. He told me and Shea of his intentions first. I really appreciated that. As I’m writing this, my eyes are tearing up. He came by our house, early in the morning to wake Mom up and ask her to marry him. We were there. We were “in on it” and we got to watch. She was smiling, confused, and happy. She said, “yes.”

Later, I had a little ceremony for Frank. I bought him a lightsaber, one of those collapsible plastic toys that kids fight each other with. It was blue, a replica of the one Obi-Wan gave to Luke. I told Frank to get on one knee and I dubbed him like a queen would dub a knight or like Yoda would dub Anakin. He kept that lightsaber in his office cubicle. I felt like it was important for him to know that I approved of him, especially if he wanted to become a member of our family. As a little nerdy boy, this was the best way that I knew how.

Mom and Dad sold our house. Frank sold his. We moved into our Aunt’s old house in Newton, New Hampshire. Then, Mom and Frank eloped.

They liked going on hikes and being in nature. We often went with them, but they had plenty of getaways by themselves. On one such getaway, they met another couple, an older couple, who they really liked. The man officiated a little impromptu wedding and the woman was their witness, wrapping their hands in ribbon.

I was a little pissed that they got married without us. I had never been to a wedding, and it would be another ten years before I was invited to one. What’s worse, they got married and didn’t tell us for two whole weeks! One day, they decided to break the news. “Hey, we’re married now.” What the hell?

I laugh about it now. I understand wanting to elope. I could see myself doing it, actually. It was the two weeks of secrecy that I did not understand. Oh, well.

We went on a cruise to celebrate. I had my first drink. It was some tropical, slushy thing called “A Kiss on the Lips.” Oulala. I also saw the Caribbean for the first time. I cried at how blue, beautiful, and clear the water was. We ate amazing food every day. It was my first time out of the country. It was fun and I had never thought I would experience something like that. We saw dolphins. In Belize, I got my long hair done in cornrows. I cringe at in now, but at the time… you know what? I also cringed because that Belizean woman from the market felt like she was ripping my hair out of my tender body -- not to downplay the cultural appropriation, but my god. In St. Thomas, I got one of my favorite souvenirs ever: the three monkeys: see not, hear not, speak not. Although they had nothing to do with the Caribbean because they’re Japanese, ostensibly they were made from fishbone, so that was good enough for me. I still cherish those monkeys. They guard things I consider special.

Life was good in our new home, especially the first few years. Towards the end of high school, though, Frank started to get sick. He was tested for everything. To this day, no one has been able to offer a concrete diagnosis. All we know is that it’s a chronic neuromuscular condition. Sometimes life really sucks.

He was in constant pain and got horrible migraines. He had to cut back on his work as an electrical engineer. Eventually, he left on disability and retired. It was really sad and extremely painful, particularly for my mother, who would become his caretaker. This man ran the Boston marathon, multiple times. He worked out everyday and had a six pack. My high school friends called him a silver fox. He was the healthiest person I ever met. He’s still a good looking guy, but he used to be in shape, and active, and not disabled. Now, things had changed.

What I love about Frank, more than anything, is his attitude. He is fiercely kind and optimistic. He’s a problem solver and approaches, just about everything, in a way that’s levelheaded and with an open heart. I’ve only met a handful of people with this quality, but none of them are quite like Frank. Even though he was sick, he didn’t change, not in the ways that mattered.

Throughout high school, Frank supported me in every single endeavor. I never wanted for anything, but he always offered whatever he could anyway. Sometimes, I would feel guilty or bashful for how freely he offered me help, but looking back, I only feel grateful. If there is a sadness I feel, it’s that other people don’t have a Frank, and that they shouldn’t need a Frank, to be able to do what they love and follow their dreams. Money, as we know, makes things complicated. Collectively, it erodes our humanity, and it also makes things happen.

Frank made a lot of things happen for me. We went on vacations. He helped me to go to Poland to teach English when I was 17 and 18. He paid for my undergraduate tuition. He paid for me to attend theatre festivals. He and my mom helped me get a car – twice. I realize how extraordinarily lucky and privileged I am to have been offered those resources without a repayment plan. I could never repay Frank, literally or figuratively. It wasn’t the money that moved me though. It was his dogged belief in who I could be and his willingness to see me as his son. Frank has always offered me the affirmations that I needed as a young man and as a twenty-something too. He came to all my high school events. He was unwavering in his encouragement. Sometimes, I was suspicious, doubtful, just because I didn’t understand how someone could be so damn hopeful all the time. I still don’t, to be honest, but I have come to believe that he was and is being honest about what is in his heart. When Myles and I broke up, he said “Tavish, you walk into a room and people’s faces light up.” I don’t remember most of the affirmations that he’s offered me over the years, but I’ll never forget that one. It was what I needed hear and sometimes still need to remind myself of.

In 2018, Mom and Frank sold our house. They decided that they could no longer maintain it, given Frank’s illness. They moved to a nice 55 and up community in Dracut. It’s weird visiting them because that house does not feel like my home, and their dynamic has changed a lot, but I guess that’s a part of getting older.

That same year, I got Frank a Christmas present for an eight-week meditation class. I knew he was interested in alternative forms of healing as way to manage his pain. He had already been practicing mindfulness and, of course, he met my mom doing yoga. He said it was the best gift he had ever gotten. He ended up joining that Buddhist community and meditation became a part of his daily practice. “Repayment” is a gross word. I think it objectifies relationships, but I also felt that I had managed to repay Frank for a least a fraction of the love and kindness that he showed me.

Francis Marcalarius, thank you being my second dad. I am beyond lucky. There is no exaggeration when I say, I have no idea who I would be without you.

This article is part of a series called "A Month of Gratitude," about the people, places, and things that I am grateful for. You can read the first post here and all other posts here.

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