I could still see
The liquid, blackness
Of the activated charcoal
When she smiled
An ephemeral reminder
That I was simply
I could still see
The liquid, blackness
Of the activated charcoal
When she smiled
An ephemeral reminder
That I was simply
It’s in the valleys and the coolness of the shadows that I’m held like an infant to breast, nestled in the crook of an arm. The colors are bled to grays but the air is thick and damp. The smell of decomposing leaves and pine needles is a long remembered lullaby that ushers me off to a torpor only found in the middle of a fairy ring. Don’t despair for me, though…my friend. As I do, on occasion, climb my way out of these valleys. And when I do summit the peak, surveying the landscape about me, I see the colors of the world in a depth of saturation few are privy to. The emerald green of the canopy and the azure of the midday sky taste like mint and saffron on the tongue, while the sunlit clouds hum an aria whispered by angels. Alas, I can’t exist long on the mountain’s thin air, having become accustomed to the valley floor, so even the most wondrous ascents come to an end with the setting sun. Even weeks after returning to my valley and it’s muted colors, I can taste the sky and canopy on the tip of my tongue. This carries me through.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
In the matter of a week and a half two friends, former coworkers, had taken their lives; a ripple of sadness passed through what used to be a close-knit family, one that has been cast to the four winds, nomads, since they closed the plant a couple years ago; Facebook is all a flutter, as everyone is trying to make sense of this tragedy and offering to be a sympathetic ear for those in need; and I’m just crying; when “Bob” committed suicide about two weeks ago there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it; as he had recently gotten a better job and appeared to be happy; well…he always appeared to be happy; he was the guy that you never felt the urge to avoid, that you always had a nice conversation with, as he was soft-spoken and was rarely ever without his smile; though rumor has it he has fought periodic depression for quite some time; he has been in an on-again-off-again relationship with another friend/former coworker that he has a daughter with, but whatever the reason(s) he had he found it necessary to hang himself with copper wire in his garage; and I found myself wanting, no needing to know what was going through his mind as he stood at the abyss’ edge; I don’t know if this need stems from morbid curiosity, the writer and student of human behavior that resides within or because I have been near the abyss’ edge before and needed to know just how far down this rabbit-hole goes–how much worse can it get before one takes action; whatever the reason the idea was always lurking there like the shadow behind every sunny-day thought; then a few days later my wife called me while I was on the return trip from North Carolina and told me that “Mark” had killed himself; as I was with my father-in-law and sister-in-law I bottled and buried all reaction to this news; but once I was home it started to hit me harder and harder in waves and I began going back over all of Mark’s Facebook posts; it was as if each one was a scream for help; the most recent post had seemed darkly poetic, as it spoke of the woman he lost; she held him in her arms; his cheek against her chest; lips pressed together; his need to be with her is paramount; his eyes grow heavy; he is sorry; I had lumped this post in with all of the other dark/depressing/vengeful/lamenting/antagonistic posts he had made forever, but with 20/20 hindsight it couldn’t have been any clearer to me; a captioned picture of him laying with his dog on the couch, “at least someone cares about me,” and another post asking all of his contacts to tell him something good about him; a one sentence response to Bob after his passing, “I feel you but you could’ve called me bro,” and the more I read and re-read these posts the more I despised myself for not seeing the signs before it was too late; where I once needed to know what Bob had been thinking, I found myself overcome with the raw pain of hopelessness and loneliness I knew Mark must have felt at the end; I was there at the abyss’ edge with the ghost of a friend and the familiarity of the abyss washed over me; I had to shake it but I couldn’t; we had babysat his now four fatherless children; I had given him rides when his car was broke down; I had told him in an IM when he looked for validation on Facebook that he was a good man and that I had a great amount of respect for him; it took me two days to get to the point where I wouldn’t just break down crying at the mere thought of him or at the latest Facebook posts; I had gotten closer to the abyss’ edge than I ever had before, but I learned a valuable lesson, that I remain unbroken…perhaps even stronger having faced those demons; the deep lows and the amazing highs give me the breadth of reference that not only makes me who I am, but allows me to bleed upon these pages unabashedly; life goes on;
An empty shell
Devoid of family warmth
No tv glow
No snuggling on the couch
No home-cooked meal aromas carried on the breeze
You haven’t had family in you for years
A for sale sign, a cry of loneliness
Uncut grass, like an unkempt beard
I feel your depression like a burlap cloak
Where are the little children’s feet, padding across your hardwood floors?
The peals of laughter, do they still echo in your empty rooms?
You still feel the vibrations, the resonance, don’t you?
Oh, I see…life breathes in you still…
Groundhogs have made your front porch their home
Pigeons roost in your attic, cooing out their greetings to you
Is this consolation?
Are you happy?
When we grow old, solitary, with wild hair and wilder ideas, mumbling to ourselves…
with only our thoughts, our pigeons in the attic, to keep us company…are we you?
Are you labeled crazy by the other houses for not wanting to be inhabited?
Are we, humans, crazy for the same reasons?
Or…are we both just waiting for someone to turn the key?
“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” Author Unknown
During the summer of 1990, shortly after graduating high school, I got the opportunity to take a road trip across the U.S., from NY to Montana to Arizona to Georgia and back again. I got to see Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Canyon and a bunch of other sights. It really does give you a better perspective on how vast and varying our country is.
I’m not going to get into a great deal of detail on this trip, but am going to focus on one time period. Shortly after leaving New York, having gone through Pennsylvania and then up through Michigan, an occasional motorcycle would pass by. Now I probably didn’t even really take note at the time, except maybe to notice how loud they were, but probably immediately forgotten. Now, no one in my immediate family owned a motorcycle, so I didn’t have any reference to go by, like…oh, that’s a pan head or knuckle head. So they passed with little notice.
The farther along on this trip I went, the more motorcycles seem to pass by. By the time I was halfway through Minnesota, lines of motorcycles a quarter mile long would pass by me. There was no way not to notice them at this point. When I tell this to someone who rides, they immediately recognize the fact that I must’ve been nearing the Sturgis Rally…which I had been. Completely coincidental, I ended up at Sturgis AND found a room on the 50th anniversary of the rally! Most do not believe that part, but it is true.
Now, why did I centered on this particular time period? It reminded me of growing old. I’m 43, now I wasn’t sure if I should’ve put ‘only’ in front of that or not, but 43 sometimes feels young and sometimes not. I’ve often thought about what it means to grow old and what it all entails. The quote, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many,” by an unknown author, surfaces more than most. My initial feeling on the quote was the differences in healthcare from third world nations to places like the U.S., but lately, with the passing of my father and father-in-law, I find a sense of Irony with the quote.
Now when you’re young, as long as it isn’t someone from your immediate family, you probably barely register the passing of fellow human beings, unless they make a lot of “noise” when they pass. However, when we get older these happen more and more frequently…until we can’t help but notice—especially, of course, when it is someone we are close to. I feel like the word ‘privilege’ seems odd, as we, that remain behind, get to see more and more of those we know and love pass. The closer we get to that final destination ourselves, the more it would seem like a never-ending procession passing by. Is this our privilege? To witness this procession?
What are your thoughts?
“Dad…you don’t look any better. You’re wasting away. You should just go back to the hospital. Make something up, so they take you seriously, like you’ve been having chest pains, or something.”
[I haven’t been on here in a while and I want to apologize for that, as its been like 9 months—long enough to be born anew. I originally thought I might take a month or so off, so that I could acclimate to the new job, which is going well—much better than the last job. However, between there and here I lost someone very important to me…my dad. This post is about him and, by extension, myself.]
My earliest memory of my dad (I was around 6 at the time and very precocious) is one where he gave me a Hess truck. He and my mother had split up before I can even remember, and the details of their break up are a haze of he-said, she-said snippets I’ve accumulated over my lifetime. What I’ve come to know about my dad, is that I’m not the first child that he’s walked away from or been pushed away from. I have a half-sister somewhere in Florida, that he never really talked about, and I never really questioned him about. Knowing my father as I do…I think that he always assumed that a child is much better off with their mother and, being the most non-confrontational person I know, he would simply walk away. However, now that I am a father, and I know that I would walk through the fires of hell to be with my son…I’m left a little saddened that my father didn’t. The Hess truck took batteries and my dad said was a collectible—something that becomes more valuable the longer you hold onto it. As young as I was, I remember thinking that it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday, but he has this present just sitting there…waiting…on the off chance that I might come for a visit; my father, who I had no memory of until that very day. Maybe, I thought, him and my mom had conversations that I didn’t know about, that my mom knew this whole time how to get a hold of him, where he lived and that he was just a short car ride away, but it was on this nondescript day that I met the man my mother said was my father and that I learned inanimate objects grew in value because most would be mistreated or thrown away, so those kept and taken good care of became rarer and more precious.
The next time I remember seeing him I was around 8. It was night and he had come to my house for a short visit. I remember it being night because he jokingly said that two motorcycles were coming up the road and that I should stand in the middle of the road, between the motorcycles. I knew that it was a car, but I slowly walked towards the road anyway, trusting this man, my father, would stop me out of some undefined bond we shared. He did stop me, then he promised to visit me the following week for a longer period, and that following week I ended up sitting outside on my plastic three-wheeler, by myself, until the streetlights came on and my mom dragged me into the house. I think at some point during that day of waiting, my mom talked to him on the phone and yelled at him within earshot, and I worried she would scare him off entirely, but I knew that he must have had good reason to not come and see me…he must.
Fast forward, again what felt like years, and my dad is staying at my cousin’s house on weekends. He worked up north, wearing a Tyvek suit and scrubbing agent orange out of ceilings, and on the weekends he was ours. My cousin was more like a brother and he lost his father to a drunk driver when he was almost too young to remember, so we shared my dad. My cousin has pointed out that my dad served as an anchor for us during turbulent times. You see, most of the adults around us were dealing with what life had thrown at them by self-medicating, and the drug of choice, more often then not, was alcohol. The time we spent with my dad was even keeled. We’d go to arcades, movies, or just sit around his room and play Dungeons and Dragons. He gave me the book Dream Park and though it took me a year to read, it was the spark that got me to be a lifelong reader and aspiring author. It was funny, that his first parental action was to limit my soda intake, which at that time was pretty high. I was at once caught between wondering how he could expect me to listen to him since he was never there and happy that he cared about my well-being. I was around ten years old at the time.
These days seemed to go on forever, as the summer vacations of our youth often do. Nothing stays the same and he eventually moved out and at one point lived in the YMCA and with friends at another point in time. The chronology is foggy at best. I never really visited him when he was at the ‘Y’ and he acted uneasy about the place when it was brought up, but me and my cousin visited him regularly when he lived with his friends, continuing the tradition of arcades and D&D. In fact, it was my introduction to D&D and the resulting increase in my vocabulary that got me tested for and admitted into the Gifted and Talented program in the 5th grade. The best thing to come out of being in the G&T program was knowing that I’m not the only goofball/weirdo/nerd out there, and the worst was never feeling like I’d accomplished what I should’ve.
I moved out of the city to live with my cousin and his wife, as I was going down a dark path in high school and probably wouldn’t have graduated. Years later my dad would end up moving out to the piece of land I was on, out in the country, in the trailer out back. We shared common interests like movies, books and photography. He was a much more prolific reader than myself, but never attempted to do any creative writing. I went to college and majored in English Writing Arts and Psychology and I usually follow that up with the joke, “Now I can write stories and know just how fucked up I am for having written it.” He was always my biggest fan and encouraged me to keep writing, which was why it was so hard to get back in the swing after he passed. Every time I write I think about him and how he will never see my son, his grandson, grow up. He loved living out in the country, as going to a nearby nature center, with walking paths, so he could take pictures was his favorite thing to do. We spent many a warm, sunny afternoon playing hacky sack. He always held to the idea that just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to act like it. He was truly young at heart.
I ended up moving in with my then girlfriend, who is now my wife, and my dad and my uncle moved halfway towards where they worked—a drug store warehouse. This house he moved into was condemned and they moved back to the city of Syracuse. The house that was condemned was eventually demolished. It also happens to be on my route to my new job. It serves as almost a daily reminder of my loss. I work 2nd shift, so many times I find myself driving home late at night with tear-filled eyes.
Near the end he was losing his breath very easily, and having a great deal of cramps in his legs while trying to sleep. Then he started losing weight. He came up for a visit and he had me touch in between his shoulder and neck and there was no muscle…just a hollow impression. He went to the hospital due to his difficulty breathing and didn’t tell me, not wanting me to worry. I happened to call while he was at the hospital and he said they’re running him through tests.
Later on he said that his lungs were clear and his heart was fine, which was what he was worried about most. His doctor ended up diagnosing him with Myasthenia Gravis. He said that it was caught early enough that a treatment program would work well. The last time he visited me, when he was standing out in the driveway, getting ready to go back home, he said that he was proud of me. Now we always hugged when he left, but for some reason, probably his weakened state, he slid into his car. I was standing behind him with my arms raised thinking we would hug, but figured he was tired out from walking outside. We exchanged ‘I love yous’ and he drove away. A couple weeks later my uncle called me, voice trembling, and told me that my dad had collapsed on the bathroom floor from a massive heart attack. I cried so hard and for so long that my eyes dried up and felt like sandpaper. He was cremated and sprinkled at his favorite nature center. I’m trying to strengthen my relationship with my uncle, who is kind of a recluse. My uncle gave me my dad’s laptop and I’m writing this post with it. He also gave me his Nook color, and I have begun reading the books that my dad has read. For me they’re like a trail of breadcrumbs or a treasure map that will lead me closer to him. With every sentence I read, that he has read, I will be making neural connections that he had, shaping my mind a little more like his. He was always loving, humble and young at heart…despite having had a shitty childhood where his mother left him and his father remarried a prototypical wicked stepmother who denied him the very joy of reading the comic books she would buy—his favorite thing. It seems his not being there will serve as bookends for my life, but I’m reading him into my mind and soul.
I opened this post with an imagined conversation that I’d wished I’d had with him the last time I spent time with him. It plays out in my head over and over. “Dad…you don’t look any better. You’re wasting away. You should just go back to the hospital. Make something up, so they take you seriously, like you’ve been having chest pains, or something.”
I’m forever wounded but have healed enough to begin writing again. It is what he would have wanted.
I love you dad.