WAKING UP DEAD
Gil Van Wagner
Waking Up Dead
There are no alarm clocks in heaven. Proof positive that prayers are heard and answered. Made me smile each day here. Five days since I arrived and each day just began. On schedule. It’s schedule. My schedule. Some schedule. I woke up exactly on time, opened my eyes, and smiled the day in. Heaven felt like heaven. It just looked like my home in Utah.
Left the warm bed and headed up the stairs. Same stairs, same house, and same me. Except I was dead. Woke up that way and have been that way ever since. Headed for some breakfast.
I knew the house would be empty. Just me and all that I knew as home back when life was for the living. Tried to understand why the fact that everyone I knew was somewhere else didn’t bother me. How could I be on this side of life and not miss the ones that made my life worth living? Hmmmm. Should hurt like a motherfucker but it didn’t. Must be one of those heavenly lessons I will learn one of these days. It would wait. Time for coffee right now.
At the top of the stairs, I was dressed. Showered, shaved, and dressed. Didn’t actually do the shaving, showering, etc. but it was done. Morning breath was not allowed in this heaven. Magic came in all sizes and me being fully dressed in clothes that were exactly right was presto in the best form. Heaven really had lots of cool stuff happening.
The smell of coffee led the way to the kitchen. Just like home but the refrigerator here had a icemaker. Wanted one of them back in life and got one now. As for the coffee, the elves made a damn good cup of Joe. I tried to picture angels making the java while I slept but that didn’t stick. It became elves that looked more like garden gnomes in my head. They were barristers extraordinaire. Talented rascals.
Condensed milk was right where it belonged. A gloop, a stir, and my morning kiss was ready. Headed to the porch and snagged a banana along the way. Breakfast would be quick this morning. A visitor was due. My first one. He would arrive just after breakfast, take his coffee black, and have answers for me. How did I know? Hey, this is heaven. That much I knew. The coffee really was that good.
I headed to the door before he knocked. He knocked anyway. He smiled and I knew him right away. Thomas. In his khaki’s, print shirt, loafers with tassels, and a warm smile. Our first time meeting and it was old friendship.
The handshake felt like a hug. We headed to the porch and coffee talk. Much can be accomplished over coffee. He took his coffee black.
We chatted. Easy talk. Then it was time to get to business. He waited for me to rise above bantering.
“What’s next, Thomas?”
Uncharted territory. My question of questions. Death was behind me. What was ahead?
He smiled. “In what way?”
Damn it. “In what’s next way. I’m dead. Figured that out. Turned out not to be that big a deal. I think it is a big deal and there’s stuff to do. Stuff besides having great coffee and easy days. I feel like I am who I was only on the best of days. No aches. No pains. No stress. Everyday is Saturday and all things are right with the world. I am alone but not lonely. Things thought presto into being. It is like, well, heaven.”
I matched it. Coffee sips filled the void. I looked out my Wendy’s windows at the mountains. A lot closer, or so it seemed. A crisp fall day. Wasn’t it summer yesterday here? Yesterday was fuzzy. Today was crisp and cool with a hint of rain.
“Come on, Thomas. What’s next?”
“What do you want to be next?”
Questions are not answers to questions. He knew that. He knew I knew that. Dammit. “I want answers.”
“Answers to what?”
My smile was bigger than my sigh. “Death stuff. Life stuff. Here and now stuff. Is this it? How did I end up here? Is there anyone else? Can I see others? Mom? Dad? Uncle Larry? JoJo?”
Thomas smiled at the mention of JoJo. My dog. We each have one. JoJo was mine. If there was a dog in my heaven, he is JoJo.
“You can see anyone you want in life. Anyone you saw in life that is. In fact, you will see them. All of them that meant so much to you. Those here. Those not here. Those not here yet. All of them. That is why you are here…” he paused and smiled, “…and you thought I only answered questions with questions.”
I laughed. We both did. We finished our coffee and sat for a few moments. As comfortable in silence as married friends. He rose.
“Come on. Let’s get started.”
Geography in heaven knows no bounds. Thomas let me know that as we exited the heavenly version of my home in Utah and walked around to my Zen garden. That patch of land outside the porch that I cleared to dirt and watched for over a year until deciding to rock it. Rock it, mulch it, bridge it, and turn it into a Zen place that passers-by noticed and enjoyed. It was one of the most creative things of my time on earth, yard wise. It was there in heaven but the sight of it now was clearly earthbound.
There were several clues. Pinecones in the rock river. Mulch escaped from its boundaries and laying in the pea gravel. Not too much but not the standard that heaven maintained. There was another sign this was not heaven. Me. As I knew me from life. The other me. Yesterday’s me. A lifetime ago me. That was the most obvious clue.
The other me was on the bench. Thinking. One stop short of Rodin and a few above Doobie Gillis. I knew that pose. From the inside. Based on the shaved head, goatee, and Zen garden, this was sometime around when I was fifty-one or so.
It was strange to truly see me as others did for the first time. Mirrors do not capture what we really look like. We look at what we see and see what we look for looking back at us. I knew me but seeing me for the first time really opened my eyes. Me from the outside. Familiar but…..well, him.
Thomas stood and watched. Let me watch the other me as the other me sat and pondered things. The mood was light but inquisitive. Just on the edge of deep. Things were changing in life at that point and the unknowns intrigued but gnawed a bit at the human me. He ached. Just a bit lonely. No one was in the house. Sharon was somewhere else with someone else. The kids were all in their own lives. The other me was alone and thinking. Well, maybe not as alone as he thought he was.
“Can he see me?”
Thomas smiled a smile I felt rather than saw. “What do you think?”
“No. He can’t see me. Can he sense me?”
Thomas paused before replying. A fill in the blank moment. “Think about it. You were there. Can he sense you?”
Some answers ease from unknowing peacefully. This was one of those. “Sometimes.”
Thomas kept smiling. “Exactly.” He eased his hand onto my shoulder and guided me closer to the other me. It was strange to be there and see the body that was home for all those years. So close. So familiar. So different. Thomas guided my hand and placed it on the shoulder of the man on the bench. Very gently.
“Be. Just be.” Almost a whisper.
So I was. Evidently, again. His feelings were as real to me now as they were to me then and were to him now. Each emotion and every thought. Felt and understood with dispassionate insight that awed me. Re-reading a book and knowing exactly what was coming. To be or not to be was not a question now. I lived this once and tasted it again. New and improved Déjà vu.
“Tell me what he feels right now.”. Thomas’ voice startled me a bit.
“He is a little lonely. A little scared. A little apprehensive. Things are stressful at work. The home front is changing. He keeps asking those big questions of himself. He feels like it will all work out but questions more than he wants to.”
Thomas stood for a while and let me read. Let me feel. He spoke softly. A wisp of a voice in my ear. “Why are you here right now?”
That gave me pause. For a minute, the feelings of the other me so enraptured I almost answered as the man on the bench. It was an effort to detach and be what I was now rather than who I was then. The answer came from the place where instinct and inspiration mate. “I am here to guide him”.
Thomas was still there but not. My entire being was linked to the other me. Everything else was somewhere else. The wind on his face cooled mine. His itchy foot tickled mine. His mood became mine. When Thomas did speak, it was from afar. A voice from the heavens. This time, literally. “Guide him how?”
The answer was easy. Routine yet virginal. “To let him know things will work out for the better. He could go either way right now. I need to nudge him in the right direction.”
I looked down at the man on the bench and eased into his mind. Said in his voice to him, “It will be alright. Just be…..”
The “….lieve” never made it. A bolt of energy just below nuclear mega-jolted me. Thomas caught me but even he staggered at the impact. My reaction was as human as anything felt since arriving in heaven. “What the ?????”
An Acquired Taste
We do not bruise in heaven. Was grateful for that immediately. The impact shook me but didn’t do any damage. Thomas held me in his arms as long as it took and I moved away when able. Shaking off the shock as if human. As if having licked a light socket and discovered my body was all tongue.
“What the heck was that, Thomas???”
He merely smiled and let me pace while the other me rose from the bench and headed inside the house.
“Is it always like that? The connection. Is it always that powerful?”
Thomas chuckled. That was the first time I heard him chuckle. He had a nice chuckle.
“What do you think?”
I choked back the curse since this was heaven and contemplated the learning. That power was unlike anything imaginable. It did not hurt yet it overpowered. Energy so strong it threw me from the other me. “I think it is always that powerful.”
“Right you are.”
“Right again”, said Thomas. “Do you think you reached him? Did you guide him as you planned?”
The other me was out of sight. Most likely on the computer. I knew the other me well. “Yes, I did.”
“Yes, you did indeed. That was pretty normal for first touch.”
First touch. I thought of Star Trek and First Contact. Rules were different in this bold new land. We were supposed to change them. Star Fleet Academy would have to change their curriculum.
“I have to work pretty hard to get used to this.”
Thomas placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me around to the front of house. “You do. Fear not. You will. We all do.”
Then he added something that would likely surface in my thoughts later. “At least, most of us do.”
Thomas bantered the subject to something new and I followed his linguistic sleight of hand. The shell-shocked made me a pretty easy audience. An emotional high of connecting with the other me and the adrenaline rush of some whole new level of existence…quite the combination. The next few days would be about processing. So I settled in. Read a few books, listened to some music, and sat on the porch watching sunrises and sunsets. Time passed in eternity.
Every walk is a lesson in heaven. Only three days since Thomas’s visit so I went for a walk. A purposeful one. To see things. My Tilley was on the desk where it was meant to be. The door was exactly where and how it was supposed to be. Closed and locked. Locked from what? Made me wonder.
The grass looked better than ever. Guess that made sense. This was heaven. The streets were clean. Birds chirped. Life out there. My feet ate cement faster and faster and the route that was my morning walk each A.M. in life became a morning walk in heaven.
The place around the corner was cleaned up. That bozo had a couch in his front yard, sheets for curtains, dirty windows, grass more jungle than lawn, a yappy dog that bothered passers by, a piece of shit auto sitting on what should be inflated tires on what should be yard, and a half assed modification that was a unpainted plywood wall with a crooked door where a garage used to be. House Beautiful not so much.
Now it looked nice. Not just the garage but the yard, the house, the car, and all of it. No yappy dog. The windows were cleaned and had curtains. Real curtains. I bet the sheets were where they were supposed to be. On the beds. I bet the dog was friendly, if the dog was at all.
I paused. Had not knocked on any doors in heaven yet. Had not Avon’d to see if anyone else was home. So today would be it. I walked up the sidewalk to what used to be one of the crappiest houses in the neighborhood and ding-dong’d.
The dog did not yap. The door did not open. Nothing. So I knock-knocked again. Nothing. The birds still chirped. There was even an owl or two out there asking who’s who. No one answered the door to the house that was so much better now, albeit empty.
I moved to the picture window to see if anything would develop. The living room was middle class but clean. Generic furniture on a wood grain floor masked by a Sears throw rug. One of the braided kind. Multi colored. Oval. Just like Sharon and I had years ago. There were pictures on the wall, too. Not people pictures. Places pictures. The duck pond type pictures. A mountain scene. This may be heaven but it was Utah based so mountain scenes seemed fitting.
The picture on the wall furthest from view caught my attention. It was right from my past. Ducks walking passed a farmhouse. Three ducks. One larger and walking purposefully. Two smaller and dawdling. The fence was the same. The mailbox was the same. It was the picture from the story pillow of years ago.
The pillow began as a couch pillow. It was not purchased as a story pillow. It went over a year as a mere couch pillow. It was during Sharon’s country period. Country everything. Kitchen plates. Cups. Pictures. Knick-knacks. She was on the country kick and the rest of us were along for the ride. It was a good ride though. Made the house homey. The duck pillow was usually on the couch and became the story pillow.
The kids were bored and there was, in their words and my mind, nothing good on TV. I was holding the pillow and trying to determine how to keep them busy. Seemed a shame they thought they had to have TV to keep busy but they did. The rain helped ruin their ambition and my patience. So I began one of what my kids would later call a lecture.
The old you do not need TV to be entertained spiel. The “what did people do before TV” spiel. Things that made me sound like my father even though I tried, as any child does, not to sound like him. The pillow was in my hand and I said even a pillow could tell a story. So I let it tell me the story and shared it with the kids.
When Sharon walked in the room later, she saw three kids sitting on the floor and me reading them a story from the pillow. About the ducks. The pond. The farmhouse in the distance. How the first duck was still mad about being snubbed by the farmer’s daughter yesterday and would not slow down because she wanted to pass the place with the snobby child who thought her ducks were “better”. The other ducks did not care but had to keep up. The first duck was the mother.
Sharon smiled and enjoyed what was the first of many tales from the story pillow. Now the ducks from the story pillow were on a picture in an empty house in my part of heaven. Interesting stuff. The seemingly empty house felt warm and cozy.
I moved to other windows of the house and saw bits of the home. Went to the backyard and looked into the kitchen. Was never in the backyard of this house while alive and now checked it out freely. My hand reached for the doorknob and confirmed what I already knew. The door was locked.
I was alone for sure it seemed. Not lonely but alone. Would it always be like that? Headed home with thoughts of a duck pillow that crossed over and ended up as a picture on a wall in someone else’s improved house in heaven.
There are no flags in heaven. I first noticed it that morning when I noticed the flagpole in my front yard from life did not make it across into heaven. The island was there. Nicely maintained just like on my best yard days from earth. But no flagpole. No flagpole although it meant so much to the other me. Hand picked. Installed on a crisp, cool fall day that stuck in my memory like a Polaroid on the refrigerator of my mind. I honored the flag protocols to the letter for the reminder of my days. Fly at night only if lit. Half-mast meant all the way up and then back down. No short cuts. A tatter meant retire the flag. Even had a burning ceremony one evening for five worn banners. Just me, the charcoal grill, and one less than a half dozen really Old Glories. Flag stuff was big stuff. Evidently not in heaven though since there were no flags here. I instinctively understood why and mulled over the irony as I walked.
Walks in heaven, just like their counterparts in life, made for great mulling times. This one was no exception. My feet did their thing and my mind did likewise. Race to answers. Thanks to a formerly prized pole complete with truck and lanyards. Flags were not just something flapping in the breeze for the earthly me. They were part of my career path, at least the first career. The military one. Two years short of three decades in uniform and a second in heaven broke through all of it. Pierced the shield. Let the light in. Flags were wonderful things to military and non-military alike. It said we were Americans. It said we were whatever country we were. It let us fly a piece of cloth that had history for all to see and most to understand. Red, White, and Blue. We sang of it. We wore it. We saluted it. We paraded it. We told tales of it standing tall in battles.
I smiled and my pace quickened. Thoughts of 4ths of July and fireworks warmed me. The connection with history and people and one nation under God was there on that mid-summers day. That holiday always felt great. Connected to a great country with a noble history. I felt it in life when on bases around the globe. A banner declaring this wedge of land as an American Base. In Germany. England. Turkey. Iceland. It did not matter. See the flag? We are here. We are Americans.
The Turks loved their flag even more. Made it illegal to deface it. Disclaim it or Ataturk and you were going to jail. They were fervent about their flag. Many in the world were. Some not. Most were. People liked flags. Especially their own.
I turned the corner and headed back to the house. Flags drew me for I needed to capture this thought or train of thought. Tell of flags and why they were not in heaven. The good of flags got lost on earth and anchored them there. The connection with history did not overcome the down side. Flags made us Americans. Or Canadians. Or English. Flags separated. Flags made us national. Not global.
We built borders to protect them and what they symbolized. We checked papers to ensure who was and who was not. To see who was or was not bound under the same banner arranged in the correct colors. We flew them from our weapons of destruction. We stuck them in burnt and charred earth to declare victory. We marched behind them proudly as we laid waste to people with others flags. Wrong flags. Enemy flags. As youth we captured flags. Once we caught them, they never let go. Flags separated. Flags divided. They made us less than we should have been. We were not Americans. We were humans.
I knew now I would go forth and plant that seed in the other me. Realized what made the other me do something seemingly silly back in life. I touched him, at least would, at around twenty-four when he was transitioning from stripes to bars in the United States Air Force. A proud American. Although not sure what day it would be, I would step back there and plant the seed of question in his mind. Flag driven but even bigger. Flags separated artificially. They linked a nation and made it an island on the globe. An island surrounded by others. An island unto itself. Flags divided.
There were enough things in life that made us different without adding another. Skin color. Gender. All things that screamed different could and sadly did separate in life. Even our history separated. I was less than a block from home and picked up the pace to ensure I captured these thoughts.
Even our backgrounds separated. Irish Americans flew the Orange and Green and held on to what made them Irish and never became pure Americans. So did other people from other nationalities. We held on and celebrated our separateness. We never became part of the larger separation. Even if we did, we limited ourselves to think of ourselves as Americans. Here in heaven, I was something more. Human. My smile was broad at that thought. Had to die to realize I was human? Shame on me. The other me needed to think beyond stars in a sea of blue. The other me had to think bigger. He had to be human in more than name. In action.
Tomorrow, or someday soon, I would plant a thought in the other me. A thought that race was not something to track and report. For x percentage of them meant they were different. Less if minority. More if majority. But them. Not us. So the other me would answer the question of race on any form with what he thought was tongue in cheek but would know it felt just right. Human. That was his race. It was mine. It was all of ours.
I headed into the house and shot straight to the porch. No drink. No coffee. Purpose drove me for the thought train linked to the next sequence. No flags in heaven but that was not the only thing that did not make the transition.
Has Anyone Seen My Cross?
There were no crosses in heaven. I had not looked but I knew. The cross I knew made me Catholic. Others knew it and headed for Baptist Water. Some did not know the cross but had the Star. Others spit on the cross. I had Jesus on my side. They had someone else on their side. The light of insight blazed suddenly and it drove me to the porch and the laptop.
My laptop in heaven was heavenly. No power source. It just worked. The keyboard was just like of old, that is from earth, but it embraced my fingers as if directly connected to my mind. I merely wiggled my fingers and the thoughts shot out. So I sat and typed. Just like on earth, with a hell of a lot less typos. Some of my best times back there were at the keyboard. Legacy for the making. Walks often generated thoughts and resulted with me at the keyboard uber alles. Grass unmowed. Windows longing to be cleaned. Food waiting to be processed to less desirable things. All things on hold while captured thoughts freed during walks risked running away if not penned.
So I wrote of flags and then moved on to crosses. There would not be any in heaven. Saw it clearly and quickly. Crosses begat religions. Religions begat meetings. Meetings begat structure. Structure begat rules. Rules begat hierarchies. Hierarchies begat people in charge. People in charge begat self-service. Self service begat separation. Separation begat wars, prejudice, isolationism, bigotry, and ignorance. All linked to a good thing. A good thing gone awry.
I liked crosses for what they meant to me. They meant someone cared enough to die for me. Someone set a standard of living that meant do unto others as they would do unto you. Live in peace. Love one another. All of you. Sit. Break bread with me. Fear not for I am just a messenger. Heal each other. Get along. Kill me if you must but I forgive you for you know not what you do. For I am son of man. I came here for you and will be here for you. That is what crosses meant to me.
I typed like crazy. Separation in the name of anything was the root of all-evil. Be not American. Be human and be humane in the process. Be not Catholic. Be Christian. Be not Christian. Be human and love one another. Substitute any country for the great old United States of America and the message was the same. The world was our home. Pick a religion, any religion, and the theme held. Take all the good stuff and drop the rest. Kumbaya a bit with anyone.
I stopped typing and reflected flashing images. A breakthrough of sorts and it took time to digest. I was not wrong in life to be a Catholic. That was inside of me as I sat there. There was good from that religion with Popes and priests and pagan babies. I was not wrong to be an American. Land that I love. Land of my birth. It’s just that it meant that we were of our religion and of our country before we were of our humanity. We cupped our hands in set fashion or placed our hand over our hearts in allegiance and embraced a subset of the whole. Missed the entirety of the message in the process. Whew. That was an eye opener. Heaven sure made a guy think.
I headed for the recliner and a pensive nap. The chair embraced my rear. I reached for a book to read a bit. My hand was surprised at the object on top of the book on the table. My rosary. The one from my pick-up truck. The one that began each commute with a decade of prayer. Seems there were crosses in heaven. Just ones that we held to ourselves as we prayed for all humans.
The wood was the same. The few errant beads were no longer amongst the missing. So I held the cross in my hand and thought.
Heaven is a great place. A magical place. That cross was alive with energy. No pondering. No meditation. No Zen music in the background. The energy pulsed in my hand as sure as an soft electrical charge. It warmed and comforted. I struggled to put the feelings into one word. It took a while but it came. It felt like love.
I saw Jesus then. At least His presence. He was in the neighborhood. So were those other prophets I did not bother with on earth. They were all in the neighborhood. Happy that we knew them back when it was harder to get through. I smiled. Sleep came. Dreams did too. Heavenly ones. Answers floating in marshmallow skies for the taking.
The next week or so, I just hung out. Haunted my previous life. Woke in my new home and headed for my old home just to be around the people I love. Imagined this would draw me to the big days, the events. Instead, it was routine that brought the greatest peace.
Sitting in the room as the other me read. Everyday comings and goings of family and friends. Grandkid time. Quiet moments. The days when I was there and then a few afterwards as people adjusted to my death. Watched as they went about the business of life. Shopped for groceries with them, sat at the table as they paid bills, put my hand on their shoulder when they cried, and was just there. Just for them. One by one. Group hugs. Did I go where I needed to be? Did they call me somehow? Likely a mix. Spent more time with them than thinking about who asked who and why. Sometimes, they sensed me. Most times, they did not. It didn’t really matter. It just was.
The focus was being with them. Just me and them. Arrived just in time for Thanksgiving one day. The parade hor d’oeuvres. Arrivals in bits and floods. Feast time. Hovered near the table as they passed plates, ate food, and loved. My hand on the shoulder of the other me nudged him to feel the moment. To drink it all in. He did. Felt each one of them. A snapshot of a moment he knew was just then and forever. Blessings at the table flooded him with gratitude. Faces. Names. Souls. Family. Those gathered here. Those gathered in this way years prior and for all the days to come. I rested my hand on his shoulder and cried sweet tears that he felt. In heaven, everyday is Thanksgiving. Heaven is everyday we are thankful. They came for dinner. They left loved. Well-nourished souls.
Days passed. What passed for days, that is. Spent time in my yesterdays but spent just as much in my present. In this heaven. Perhaps it was just short of heaven. The place between where we were and where we go. The place of adjustment. Transition. Going up? Going down? “Here comes the judge” place. Docket full today. Limbo. Purgatory. Please wait here. Now serving number ‘quite a few before your turn’ place. Stand by to stand by. Here…..take your time.
So I explored and learned. Answered questions beyond catechism from Baltimore, Rome, Mecca, or Sears and Roebucks Wish book. What is heaven?
It is joy. Perfect days strung together as far the heart can see. Woke up happy in a clean house with everything in its place. New socks. Every single day. Just right condensed milk. Fresh squeezed Orange juice. Sunrises. Ocean Sounds. Mountain air so pure I drank it, ran in it, and wanted to share it with the world. No chores but things to do.
When I needed to mow the lawn, it needed mowing. Other days, it was perfect with wildflowers and welcomed dandelions. The Garden invited me to tend it and water it and I welcomed the call. Cleaned my soul in the dirt.
Dinner, lunch, and breakfast came off the menu in my mind. Jersey tomatoes any season. Fresh cut salad, warm rolls, and ice cream for dessert. Manna, oh manna.
Even my physicality. No aches. No pains. No bruises. A just short of washboard stomach. Shaved head, having stopped praying for hair long ago. My beard made the transition to the afterlife, trimmed and full without that bulk feeling. Still shaved on some days here, just because. Then to a shower……with divine water pressure. Fresh towels. A brand new bar of soap. An endless roll of toilet paper always over the roll. Indestructible shoe laces on comfortable shoes New sheets every night. Books and music on demand.
Days free flowed into each other refusing names, boxes, or numbers. It was spring and then summer for a few days and then snow came. Utah Snow. Shoveled, snow angled, and then headed for soup and a warm fire. Thomas was there when I came in. Seemed like forever since he was here. Maybe it had been. Perhaps he was here all along.
Thomas was good company. I enjoyed a nice cup of soup as sometimes he talked, most times he listened, and all times he comforted. He was pleased with the learning and smiled knowingly with encouraging grins. My sharing was erratic. A burst of frantic stories mixed with pensive pauses of essential silence.
Night came and it didn’t matter. Good company is like that. Bed called to me and Thomas overheard.
“You have done well.”
My silence felt like the right answer.
“Tomorrow, you begin some of the work.”
My mouth tried to voice the questions. Didn’t succeed.
“You will know what to do when you wake up. Get a good night’s sleep”.
I am sure he left and sure I walked him to door and did all the get ready for bed things. Sure because that was the how going from what he said to being in bed asleep worked. Didn’t really matter though. Tomorrow arrived right on time….only it was right into one of my yesterdays.
Island of Lost Soul
I woke up with questions and that was different. The dawn normally arrived with smiles and eagerness and anticipation. To taste the morning dew of pondering was quite a change. In life, questions gnawed and bothered. Unclear targets in the distance yearning for bull’s-eyes but unsure of the weapon, the distance, or even the shooter. The questions this day tasted great. Questions with answers just inside the cookie. Good fortunes to be had with the flick of a wrist. So I headed upstairs to answers.
The questions were of solitude and sanctuary. Superman flew to the North just to be alone. He grabbed that big key and opened the door that took him away from the world. His fortress. The Man of Steel stole away. People did as well. In the mountains with packs on their backs. Into the sea with air where apples were in the mountains. In bed for long hours with skin on sheets. In hot tubs with only bubbles for company. In drugs that brought issues back from the solitude with them. All ways for people to run and hide.
I opened the door to my own journey of discovery and walked into a day of refuge from the past. A day of a hike to handle grief. A day of saying good-bye. A day the other me woke in pain deep in his soul.
Antelope Island looked just as I remember it. Beautifully desolate. The other me drove the causeway. Six miles of flat stink over the Sea of little life we called the Great Salt Lake. Home to brine shrimp and little else. At least, it was salty, water, and large. The Jersey boy mind in the man driving always pictured it as Sandy Hook without the river on the other side and the waves of the Atlantic. For a few minutes between the island and the banks of Weber County, it was ocean. That was almost always the case back in life.
The other me did not feel it as he drove on his today. This was the day after a year of missing Mom. A year of the phone being still at 9 AM on Sunday mornings. Emptiness in the instrument cradled rather than reaching out. A year of yearning and pain. Mom and I were close. Mother-Son close. We talked each week and saw each other several times a year. It did not matter if I was on one side of the globe and she the other. We were connected. More than Ma Bell could even do. It was an energy link. Umbilicaled forever. Then she, like all us damn humans did, up and died.
The other me kidded myself that it was just part of life for over a year. But the other me was listless. A melancholy baby missing mommy. Workers noticed but it passed since work was still completed. Family members noticed and insightfully gave space sometimes and hugs others. The sails of my life hung without wind and I drifted with the tide. Moved forward by the sheer momentum of what was put in motion by 40 plus years of having her around. Work that was out of bed, go do, and then go home, repeat as necessary. Weekends that were put things in motion via lawnmowers or the seasonal equivalent shovel. Movies that were viewed but not seen. Holidays with scheduled smiles. Square filling life. Existence.
The other me did not notice the faux ocean as the pickup truck handled the causeway. The other me was headed for a hike. A hike of vengeance. Nine miles of brutal focus to burn away scars of loneliness. The other me decided enough was enough and to get over it. That was the plan. That was why I was here to be with the longing, alone, and lonely other me. Not because other people on earth did not care. Because the other me could not care back. The other me hid from the emptiness where Mom used to be.
So the hike was planned and the plans were about to be altered. I smiled since I knew the coming day The other me parked the vehicle with tears just about to spill and walked to the gates to begin a nine mile hike with no break to ensure that the tears would. The other me found the gate locked and broke down, inside out.
I watched. The kicks. The curses. The utter frustration as the other me wailed the fence that blocked the path to comfort. I merely watched as the fence withstood kicks and remained closed. The other me walked to the truck for the emotional exit as dirt arched from spinning tires. A driver with unexplained tears in his eyes. Tears at a path denied. Tears at plans gone awry. Tears of angst. Tears of a year of being walking wounded more than man.
The truck rushed from something as well as to something and ended up just where I knew it would. Up the hill at another hiking path that turned out more butte than path. A dead end of sorts on a hike planned to end dead pain. The other me paced like a caged animal. Fifty yards one-way and bumpered back again. The backpack dumped to increase the pace to nowhere but peace. A pad of paper at the ready to capture thoughts. I urged the other me on.
“Think. The answers are there. She is gone but lives in the mirror. She is gone but lives in the kids. Think, damn it, think!”
My thoughts became the other me’s words. My thoughts pushed through his pain and into a healing process. Tears flowed. A sad and lonely man paced to and fro at a maniacal pace. The beast of pain broken and saddled with hope for healing. I watched and listened to the other me. Words of apology for having to let her go but she had to go. She had to be dead. It was time to live. To stop hurting. To be free to enjoy the memories as well as the moments. To live.
It took a while but the other me walked to the truck with resolve. With a lightness long missing. With a burden eased. I stayed with me across the causeway. Headed home to what was my house and would be my house in heaven. Bye, Mom. Loved you. Miss you. Gotta live now.
The house in heaven was just as it should be. Quiet. Peaceful. I headed for the porch and watched the sunset. It was not a great sunset. Rain was on the way. The sun oozed from the sky with little fanfare and the dark brought the wet with it. Cleansing wet. The thump of rain on the roof drummed me to sleep. I stayed in the chair and sensed the other me home mending.
Ghost of Christmas Past
Woke cold the next morning. Put on my bathrobe and went upstairs to fire up the heat on the porch. Had it ever been this cold here? Flipped on the coffee on the way to the porch, shivered as the gas fireplace began its work, and headed for some warm clothes. The house was decorated for Christmas and even that beauty didn’t pierce this chill.
Shaved slowly with hands aching for gloves, fire, or anything to warm them, showered in the hottest water possible, and dressed in a winter attire even though inside. Back on the porch, it was slightly warmer and the coffee eased some of that hunched-over feeling. The shivers lessened only slightly despite my best efforts.
The house was as beautiful as ever. Lights welcomed. Santas adorned the front room. Sat with the coffee and enjoyed the tree. Felt it in my soul. All the usual ornaments that meant so much. Sentiments from across the years. Heirlooms. Memories unboxed and celebrated annually. The brass bell from my childhood. First ornament placed on the tree each year. So many stories about so many Christmas’. My hand reached to give an angel wings. The bell was silent. That was when I realized which Christmas this was. The other me was not home. He was with his grandchild that arrived on Christmas Eve and left before he had a chance to stay. This was Luke’s Christmas.
Lucas Wood…..arrived stillborn in Christmas Eve that year and changed life forever. Closed my eyes and felt for the other me. Needed to be with him. More than he knew. More than I knew. Reached into him and stayed with him as he moved through this day and several to come.
This was a pain inside of the other me I did not understand at the time. The pain of helplessness. His little girl suffered a loss beyond his comprehension. The loss of her child. He was in shock. Shock that such a thing could happen. Primal pain fired his questions. Why? Cursed and screamed WHY? He tore at God and screamed in his face…”How can you? How DARE you?” as he damned the Almighty. This was his child. His to love and protect and keep safe from all harm. Here the ultimate pain arrived in her life and he could not do anything that would matter. A father that could not do anything to make it better. It was the ultimate frustration. He tore at his soul and questioned the injustice at life that would have his child afflicted with such a burden.
The hunger to make it right bubbled to the surface. I held his rage at bay. Did my best to cool the volcano of indignation at his own uselessness to help his daughter, son-in-law, wife, grandkids, and immediate angel. He wanted to save the world. To fix it. To understand. I could only hold his emotions at bay and feed him one thought. One thread of hope. A thread beyond his understanding and even beyond his belief at the moment. Yet the thread that would be the one thing that would keep him from unraveling as his world did.
“There is some big learning here. Some big lesson.”
It became his mantra. In his tears. In his silence. In his pain. He mantraed to himself through holding the bundle of broken dreams, until a box tombed joy for so many, and beyond. I felt his sadness anew, having lived it when I was him. Did not realize how deep it went at the time. Just knew the only thing that kept me sane was a belief that there was some big learning in this. Some big lesson.
Years would pass. Pain would lessen. Hope and healing would arrive. With red hair. For now, it would have to do to give something to hang onto in the torrent of pain delivered with Luke and each rainbow baby.
Luke would touch dozens through his mother and family in the days to come. That would not balance the scales of justice. Some things are just not right no matter how much good comes from them. No matter how important the learning or lessons are, some things are just not right.
I headed back home after what felt like a month lived in one day that lasted forever. Still cold. At least now, I understood why. Maybe tomorrow will be warm.
Laid in bed feeling the drain of the last few days. Did not want to get up. If there was a call in sick day, this was it. Sadness weighed my heart. Just me and Sisyphus at the bottom of the hill. Neither of us wanted to rock on. So what if there was coffee at the top of the staircase? There was also work. Hard work. Stuff I barely survived in life and now had to revisit, re-feel, and re-deal? Screw that. Maybe this wasn’t heaven after all. Maybe the coffee was a joke and it was time to stand on my head again in this shit pool.
Lasted a whole hour that felt like more so upstairs I went. Morning breath came and stunk up the place. Shaved, showered, and dressed, reduced in rank to mere human today. Drudgery. Walked back downstairs naked and found my own clothes. Would anyone notice or care if the Emperor of this pile of dirt was naked? Did it matter? Made a half-hearted cup of coffee and headed for the porch.
Thomas was there. Maybe he was the reason I dressed. As if that really matter. Naked is naked no matter what we wear. I greeted him with the other half of my heart and clocked in. Like the song in Annie said………..we are never really dressed without a smile.
Not so Heavenly Host
The smile was a struggle. Small talk even more. Was not in the mood for any of this and did my best not to take it out on Thomas. Part of me wanted to though because that part knew he understood exactly how hard the previous days were. He felt smug and I wanted to curse a bit in complaint. Chose instead to sip the coffee and let the emotions go somewhere else. Somewhere not here. Anywhere not here.
We talked on and off, mostly off. What was said unimportant and immediately forgotten. Yet there was comfort in that. What we don’t talk about is important. Too important to mention.
Soon, it was lunchtime so we ate. I think it was good. Just knew it helped. Pretty soon, yesterdays were that and today was alright. Was it the company? The food? Something else? Does it matter?
Thomas said something that made me laugh. The afternoon moved to evening. No clock in sight. Time was on our hands and our schedule in this reality. About fifteen minutes before five my companion, guide, whatever stood up and said the first thing that mattered today.
“Come on. It’s almost dinner time.” He headed out the front door and I followed. Just across the street to a house that wasn’t there yesterday. Not here, that is. It was very much there yesterday only there was New Jersey and the house stood on the corner of Maple and Main in Keansburg. Yesterday moved in across the street from my today’s. Time to visit the neighbors. Time to go home. Dinner would be on the table soon and we would eat as soon as Dad got home from work. So I picked up the pace……because being late for supper was not an option…..ever.
I thought I remembered. Remembered how dinner time felt with those people. Sis and the other me set the table, Mom checked the chicken, and Dad turned the corner and pulled the Buick into the driveway. Moments that happened hundreds of times over the decades. This was just about one of them. Dinner time. A week night. Winter, Fall, or sometime between. Based on shadows, half past September and approaching what do you want for Christmas. Just a few minutes before five and dinner was in motion. Felt the same. Just more.
More smells. Chicken cooking in the oven smells. Aroma from boiled potatoes mixed with fresh from a can vegetables cooking away. Succotash. Complete with don’t pick them out, just eat them lima beans. The dinner crew moved in motions with mindless efficiency. Dad came in, put away his jacket and stuff, and headed to the table.
Pass this. Pass that. Sis got a leg and a wing as did me…….well, the other me. This me was vegetarian yet knew white meat was for grown ups. Learned that lesson at this table over the years.
There was small talk. Yet I only heard murmurs. Garbled music more hum than words. Some learning in that. It would wait.
There was the oilcloth table cover. Easy to clean, durable. Everyday reality. Remembered the feel of it during dinner…..and after……cleaned with the hope that it was not sticky. Sometimes successful. Pointed out with “who the hell didn’t clean this tablecloth??” when not. More than oilcloth. More altar cloth than table cover. It adorned family central. The gathering spot second only to beds on the time spent ranking of household furniture.
Homework spot. Cutting bags into book covers on it. Sorting Halloween booty. The mail doesn’t go here, it goes on the sideboard place. Get this shit off the table and put it away area. Rolling coins, more pennies than nickels, more nickels than dimes, and holy shit, a quarter, into rolls because we were lucky we have this, go to the bank and bring home the cash we need it. place. All on the magic oilcloth. Dad flipping it up as he attached the grinder for his patented hash of any sort from any meat when he got the urge and remembered before the “shit, too late to use this. Kay, why didn’t you remind me about the “fill in blank”?”
Four at the table meant Jack was off in the wild blue yonder. The other me didn’t have any homework tonight. His mind was on Fort Apache and Superman, in equal doses. My hand on his shoulder felt how blissfully unaware he was at all of this. Safety. Love. Belonging. Accountability. Trust. All of those things just were. He ate in character and just was. Home.
Mom looked so young. A bit tired from the day. Yet so very young. Her whole life ahead of her. In front of her. All around her. I wanted to let her know how well things would turn out. Ached to thank and reassure this woman who carried me her whole life.
Dad looked like he always did. I said old my whole life and now saw what he really was. Adult. The man of the house even though he had little to no say other than Mister came before Mrs. and bluster even he barely believed. He looked old to me his whole life. Tonight, he looked adult. Responsible. Doing his best and wondering. Like grown ups do. Wanted to thank him for the example of fathering.
Sis was just a kid. I saw her daughters and even granddaughters in her from the vantage point of all my tomorrows. Felt all that would come. Saw her in this house decades from this night and her amazing light in this refuge from life’s storms in this place so many would call home. Felt this night and the string of nights and days to come.
Felt the tears long after they arrived. They flowed as dinner finished. Mom and Dad headed for the couch and the evening news. I sat with them while Sis and the other me did the dishes. Didn’t watch the news. Watched more important things. Two people who fed me love this night and every night. Cried. Dinner was perfect. Just what my soul needed.
A Week’s Worth Of Forever
Spent dinner with the family across the street each night for the next week. Maybe it was longer. In fact, it was. Some hungers take a while to quench. Headed over each day at 4:30. Prep time. The get your butts down here, kids, and set the table, Dad will be home in a bit and dinner will be on the table moments. Then Dad was home and dinner was indeed on the table.Each dinner was the same. Yes, the food varied a bit although it was meat in some form, potatoes in some form, and vegetables from a can. Meatloaf. Chicken. Mom made scalloped potatoes one night. White potatoes from the can for convenience. Other nights, Sis and I peeled potatoes. At the dining room table, of course. Newspaper spread on the oilcloth to catch the peels. We had milk to drink. No options. No input. Shut up and drink your milk. Kids didn’t place any orders for the food either. This wasn’t some restaurant. This was home. Want it your way? Grow up, get a job, and you can have what you like when you like. Until then, take some of the red cabbage and eat it. Sauerkraut, too. There are starving kids in Africa that would be happy to have it so just eat it.
I knew it was Friday by the fish sticks and spaghetti. Franco-American, the orange colored everything. Mom and Dad didn’t buy Franco-American spaghetti with meatballs because in their expert opinion those meatballs tasted like shit and they wouldn’t feed them to a dog.
One night, Dad remembered how much he liked breakfast for dinner so we had that. Breakfast for dinner popped into Dad’s head each time as if a brand new idea. A bold new discovery. “Hey, I have an idea!” He rubbed his hands together with eager anticipation and headed to the kitchen with eureka face. Eggs. Bacon. For dinner! Viola! A long lost treasure discovered. Serendipity. Dad loved breakfast for dinner and that was the topic of conversation each of the four or so times a year he remembered the vast appeal of such a devil-may-care approach to suppertime.
Conversations were routine. So very routine. About school. Homework. What else was up with us kids. It was 80 percent about us, a bit about neighbors, and even less about the work my parents did. It was cookie cutter predicable. Like a ritual. Church at its best. Communion. Me, mine, and ours Eucharist.
After dinner, there were dishes to do, news to watch, and if you have homework, you had better get it done moments. There was no dessert in this home. Dessert was on Leave It to Beaver and fancy restaurants. We did occasionally get popcorn when Dad said he felt like it and either Sis or I popped it and washed the dishes afterward. “Nothing worst than the smell of old popcorn oil in the pan. Hurry up and finish up there. It’s past your bedtime.”
I was there the night of legend when Mom and Dad made Sis and I head out on a dark, cold winter night to get them a pint of ice cream from Manny’s. She and I bundled up and headed off to the pool hall, just short of dangerous place, that also hand packed ice cream. “Excuse me, Myrtle, may we have a pint of ice cream, half chocolate and half butter pecan, please?”
The night really was as cold as told hundreds of times in the years to come. We really did get the ice cream, dish it out, and then clean the dishes. “Hurry up. Nothing worse that dirty dishes in the sink first thing in the morning. Hurry up and finish up there. It’s past your bedtime.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that the other me really did lick the bowls. Ice Cream is, after all, Ice Cream.
That night lived on many times over the years as children and then grandchildren gathered and said “no way!”. Yes, way. A good way actually. It sounded cruel and might even look cruel. I felt the other me. He wanted ice cream and somehow knew he would have all he wanted and more someday. He would savor it. It would be earned. Maybe that is why I held his hand for the entire walk that particular night. A forever moment that said love is more important than ice cream of any flavor. It’s just better with ice cream of any flavor. As long as we are grateful and the other me would be and I was, and am, and always will be.
Gone With The Wind
I woke up the next morning inside my own brilliance. Eager eyes popped into the day. Knew exactly what today was. A field trip! The other me went on an all too rare outing with Saint Ann’s School. Students more parolees bussed all the way to Red Bank to see “Gone with the Wind”. My smile was sweet because the other me did not care about the movie. Didn’t get why the heck anyone would want to go see something so old……something called “Classic”, a synonym for yuck in kid land, but was glad to be on the road and to see any movie in the middle of any school day ever.
Red Bank. Birthplace for the other me. An upscale town in comparison to the Burg. I rode the bus with him and loved every single moment. Every single face. It was marvelous for me and would be him, too. Well, at least in the long run. Today was the day that Gone With The Wind linked everything about storytelling magic for the other me. It was my job to make sure he got it.
Not just the movie. The music. The theme song he would hear and think, “Hey, that’s the theme from the Million Dollar Movie on WPIX” because it was that for him before it was actually that other thing for that movie he didn’t really care to see. The movie caught his attention quickly. Superman was in it before he was Superman. He looked different without his glasses but the other me knew him right away. The battles were bloody and war wasn’t pretty or even heroic. Both sides lost more than anyone won and he was sad. It wasn’t blue and grey. Not even black and white. It was just sad.
Rhett confused him. Was he a good guy? Clark Kent not quite Clark Kent yet. Clark Gable not quite Clark Kent not quite Lex Luthor not quite Superman. Scarlett as snotty not-so lady and then the man of the family and then as you are on your own, bitch? No pegs fit any hole that day. Good and bad dissolved before his eyes in the town of his birth and the day was far from over for the adventurer. He just didn’t know it. He was busy being stunned by some old movie.
Right towards the end of the movie…….as the credits rolled before his wide open eyes. it was my job to whisper something to him. Waited for the exact moment when the magic words……..”Based upon….” popped into his view. Whispered to him in his voice and added just right hint of wonder. “It’s a book, too???”
Yesssss. He headed to the library that very afternoon. Then it was my job to mask his eyes so he had to ask for help. Had to go the big desk with the lady that shushed and watched kids with equal vigor. He approached her and asked for the book by whoever about the movie he saw that day. The librarian said that book might be too big for him and steered him into another direction. She missed that day and forever…..but taught him instead about the limits and dangers of censorship. That was the last day anyone steered him away from just about anything. He would read whatever he wanted whenever he wanted from that day forth.
More importantly, everything linked that day. Songs from one place that became something else and then even more when the story behind the song was heard. Old movies that kissed fresh and virginal for new lovers. Books that begat shows on large and small screens. Matinees in print and on demand. This was the day when awareness and imagination exploded and changed his world.
Back in heaven that night, I had a taste for popcorn and time with Owen Meany. Maybe it was more about Wheelwright. More likely about Irving all along. Truth be told, it was all about me and that other me and all the stories ever written, ever told, in every movie house, and on every channel. I was the character in all of them when they took my hand and guided me on those adventures. The only things ever truly Gone with the Wind are things we keep to ourselves.
I followed myself to Glen’s house and walked with the two of them and the Kelly’s dog, King, towards the winter beach. Immediately knew why this day at this time. The day they fished the second grade me from the Raritan Bay. Articles in the newspaper. Mention on the radio. Medicine in little red bottles shaped like an astronaut, called a space man by then me.
This was that winter’s day. The now me looked across the bay to the world famous skyline and saw the two buildings not there yet and already gone. Empty Sky.
Sighed and returned to other reasons and feelings of this special day. Watched the clueless of what was coming me. So innocent. Innocently ignoring rules and common sense. Innocently invulnerable. Knew what I would do now to almost kill myself then. Dots connected quickly as Glenny and Gil headed to see the frozen to the beach, siren calling, garbage barge.
King was once the Van Wagner’s dog I heard. Now it made sense. He had to know me. Remember me. So he would come to the barge when I called him away from the two boys. He did and I petted him and bid him stay on the cast iron would be boat. The two adventurers continued their explorations on, how fitting, thinner and thinner ice.
Soon Glen responded to King’s barks and headed to help his seemingly confused pet. Places, everyone. All things right on time. Glen did not feel me as he passed. He did not feel my touch of thanks, love, and more. He would someday and that was enough that day, today, and on all my tomorrows. It had to be enough.
Two safe and one ready for a cold dose of reality.
I eased into the water where the you have no idea what is coming me would sit to test the thinner ice between the flows. It was iced cold. Odd to feel how cold. Was surprised that surprised me. Had to remember the chills for real I guess. Wanted out, even now. A dead person that didn’t like near-death experiences. Go figure. Yet I stayed. Learning in a cold day’s sea. Waited until he sat close to the edge and pulled him in. He would remember it as a push for the rest of his life. Accurate in its way.
Felt his fears and held him in them.
Calmed his panic and held him through it.
Kept him under to taste no way out and held him.
I cried at the importance of all of this and rooted for this almost dead child. Knew somehow I could fail myself and die this day in ways more important than breathing. So I swam all the harder. Swam for my life to come. Swam with my heart and soul for the little boy almost lost. Had to save him to learn all the lessons that wrapped back around to today.
He went limp. Under too long. I moved his almost lifeless hand to the edge of the ice and cupped my hand over his. Gripped. Pushed my life into his hand. To hold onto that ice. To hold onto life. To grab and pull and rise. Pushed my light into him as hard as I could and cried more when his tiny hand throbbed.
“ Hold damn it!”, I screamed to only my ears. “There will be grandkids older than you now when it is time. It is not time now. Hold damn it!”
Hope feels a lot like a little hand reaching for life. Hope is warm and strong and I felt hope that day as his hand grabbed. Then it really grabbed. Holy Shit, what the fuck have I done, get me out of here now grip. He rose from the waters and returned to life. Screaming.
His friend and his friend’s dog heard the screams. His sister, Karen, two blocks away somehow knowing to look on the beach for her wayward sibling heard the screams. Passers-by heard them that day and he heard them in dreams later. It was music to my ears. Primal, youthful, and full of fear. I smiled, held him, and swam in the cold water with the trembling body as Glen returned to save his friend and touch hints of his own light.
The instant Glen pulled his companion from the bay, I was warm. Warm and safe and headed to Doctor Berman’s for another important lesson that day.
Many healing hands gathered around the boy fished from the bay. Hands of a Doctor that still made house calls and knew his patients’ names. Hands of volunteers that ached to matter and did that day and would again and again. Good hands. Warm and loving hands.
Except two. A man with issues touched a helpless boy from a place of weakness inside the man. I knew he would and knew to let him for the sake of the boy as well as myself. Watched as he slid to private parts and violated his own wish to be better. Saw him smile down at the boy as if only he and the boy would ever know. Should ever know.
I knew the depth of that touch and that the boy would feel the call of darkness and learning in darkness the man refused to face. Realized the man would struggle greatly. So I went to him. Touched him. In forgiveness. In hope. With love and light. Hoped he would find the strength to face the demons and hold his hand at bay someday.
In that moment of forgiveness, my other hand was on myself and the boy there would, for a while, forget about the violation. When he remembered, he would wonder why he forgot and, even more so, why he got over it so fast. I know now and he will again someday when this day closes upon itself once more and the icy waters of Raritan Bay teach about death, touch, miracles. and forgiveness.
As for the touching man, his path was not mine to see that day or even this day on the return visit. Forgiveness would lighten my load in the days and years of life to come. Only he could lighten his.
The Pea Incident
Dinnertime was not exactly enjoyable this visit. For the then me nor the now me. Take Canned Green peas, put them in front of a kid determined not to have any, add in a mother equally determined to be in charge of the dinner table and the family, and you have a recipe for dinner drama and soap opera acting.
I remember this evening vividly. It was a well-watched rerun and I knew the words before they were spoken. Mom telling the other me to eat his vegetables and him doing anything but that. As with most dramas, it started off small and escalated to ultimatums and showdowns. Settled in for the show and then remembered the hell of this heaven. There was a lesson here. What was the learning of this night?
The learning then was that Mom was really stubborn. She went from telling to screaming to quiet. Quiet was the most dangerous. She quietly sat that other me’s ass in the kitchen long after dinner and let him wallow. Quiet that she was going about her night as was Dad, Sis, and the rest of the world and he would indeed do exactly what she told him gently at first. He would eat those peas.
Meanwhile, his heels dug in. It became a war. Ah, the memories. Memories of some new weapons. Heretofore unused things in the getting my way arsenal. Well, perhaps they were not so new. Not so unused. Fake gagging at the repulsive, now cold, barely more than mush, green demons. Pouts. Cries. Banging of hands on the table. Volcanic meltdown….red, about to pop, face included.
She calmed and laughed as the kid in the kitchen went nuclear and no one cared. Sis left and went anywhere but near the war zone. Dad was Switzerland and watched the news. It was the small rebel army against a more experienced occupation force with a vast array of resources.
The other me was outgunned before firing a shot yet battered tiny fists against the first of hundreds of Sherman Tanks that was just the first wave of Mom’s Army of One.
Yet I knew all that for the rest of my life and even now in death. So why? Why the revisit?
Then I saw my face, the other me’s face, and saw my grandson Will. A grandson that knew not to pull any of his pouting, crying, the world is against me crap with his Pop-Pop because it was ineffective except to aggravate and in that it was very effective. Saw my other Grandkids sent to their room sans furniture and toys because they continued resistance to change and would until they learned about irresistible forces and immovable objects. Then the night of the peas made sense.
I didn’t like the brat me. Not at all. Not then. Not when I saw it in my kids, my grandkids, the spoiled kid in Aisle 6 that got the Coco Puffs because his Mom was tired and just didn’t want any of his shit right now, or in politicians that slowed everything because they wanted their way. Brats. Throwing tantrums about self with callous disregard to anyone and everyone else. Brats. Spoiled brats. Hey, look at me and how I get my way this time and next time and anytime. Look at me! Look at me! Give me MY WAY! I saw me in them and felt it the night of the peas. Brats sicken me because I was one at times and that night became all about me. Me not doing something and determined not to do it. It was selfish and wrong and I didn’t like it others because I didn’t like it in me.
I don’t like Canned Green Peas. Didn’t eat them as an adult. Don’t like them now. That night wasn’t about green peas. It was about brats. I was one and that was not the best thing at dinner or any time. My family deserved better. The world deserved better. I deserved better.
Walked back to my house that night smiling. The then me would not have dessert that night. Well, not any night really but that was beside the point right now. I could have any dessert on the planet tonight. Earned that right. Was grateful for that right. Would not though. Sometimes we just don’t deserve dessert.
The blue Cadillac pulled into the driveway across the street. Something between a bat stop and where the hell did you learn to drive parking job. A four wheeled yesterday with a little old driver not so lively and quick. Ah, it was one of those nights. A night to visit one of my fathers. The dark one just came home. Buddy, the Drunk. Might have been day two of the binge or closer to the tail end of the darkness but that didn’t really matter. He was in the drunk. In the disease. Then he came home and sucked everyone else in to keep him company in the forever alone.
His yesterdays collided this night with mine. Judgment bubbled just short of puke in my throat as he stumble-bummed from vehicle to house. Sad mixed with anger in me. This was one of those nights. Distaste on the menu.
Those nights were dreaded. More by me and everyone else than Buddy at the time. He was many drinks beyond dread and full speed ahead to more. The dread those nights was mine. Dread he would not come home. Dread he would and then would want time with me. His version of father son time to tell me about the people and the sweat off the balls they would not give you. The any aged me hoped he would just come home and go to bed. Prayed he would not call me down to talk.
Sometimes the then me was lucky and he went to sleep and left me alone. My window of today looked right into those windows those days, this was not one of the lucky nights. He sat at his chair and waited for the about fourteen year old me to keep him company. I headed over. A third witness to the crime scene.
Sat across the table from myself and settled in. Settled in to learn. To understand stuff I already knew and needed to know better. This visit was about me. It was not about the boy I was. Not this time. He was right there doing what he needed to do. Listening to his drunken father. He looked his father right in the eyes, it was requirement. Proof of listening according to both fathers. The drunken one there this day and too many others. The sober one a few days away and there less days than anyone in his life wanted…..him included. This was my day to watch then me and connect all the dots over all my life about the lessons of addiction and darkness.
Watched him. The drunk. Tried to see the other father. The good man. The one that passed the potatoes and pushed his food together in a pile now and then and said “Hey, it’s all going to the same place.” The one that tried to fix things, usually failed, but was so damn sincere in the doing. The lovable one. The one that had the who the heck are all these people funeral. The loved one. That father was so strong, people forgave him…over and over. Forgave the hurt and pain….mostly because they knew it was from hurt and pain. Buddy meant no harm. Harm none. Well, none except self. That is the insidious nature of it all. Buddy and drunks and addicts of every shape and size meant no harm. Yet the pain is so great they try to dull it. Hide from it. In the hiding, it grows and hurts them and everything they touch or that touches them.
Felt the negotiation between Buddy’s Jekyll and his Hyde. Alright Hyde, three weddings for you. Make your children proud that you put them before booze on their Wedding Day. Jekyll….you get any payday on a full moon. Howl loud and proud and for as long your body can stand it those days. In between, go to your neutral corners and wait your turn. Hyde….you enjoy dinner times, TV, time with Kay, and live knowing Hyde will come and you will disappear when he does. Jekyll….for you it is the energy burst…..the intensity of the booze. Fuck the world. Fuck the shit of life. Fuck you. Fuck Me. Fuck the job and anyone that says anything cross-eyed to me. Burn hot and flame out. Weeks…..maybe months in stasis. Hyde waits and then you drop the other shoe . Then the drunken beast arrives, throws the shoes through the window, gives the world both middle fingers and runs off into the night. Ding. Let the games begin.
My hand rubbed the oilcloth on the table and I cried. It felt so safe. So right. Oilcloth. Cleaned after every meal. Centered and then re-centered. A slippery balance. The place we fed. The drunk sat in his chair with his leg curled under. A cigarette sucked until it could only light the next one. He spit his philosophy into the face of a captive audience. An audience of one that asked a silenced question that would fuel writing, step work, recovery, sponsorship, and darkness for years to come.
“What did you do with my father?”
Then I looked at the man. The beast present. I looked now. Now that he was dead and I was too. Looked to see the man that was my father inside….safe from the beast. Then I saw him. Buddy. After twelve steps. In recovery. The Dead Drunk risen and the Good Man shining. My father was in there all along. I couldn’t see him at the time. Mostly because he couldn’t see himself when blind and in the disease. Only he could cage that beast. I am glad I was part of that recovery. Recovery after death. That is the power of healing. We will do the work in this life or we will do it later. We must recover. We must.
I touched the lesser Buddy on the shoulder with a message. Touched the then me with the same one. Headed off into my own unknown tomorrow knowing the message they will learn in time. Each on their own. Each in their own way.
“Things will work out.”
Right Hook of Passage
There are no excuses in heaven. Feel lazy, be lazy. Guiltless. Something I did not do on earth. Back there, lazy was a bad thing. Here lazy was sweet reward. I woke with nothing to do and all the time to do it. The day welcomed me and I returned the welcome.
The tree out front was seasonally festooned. Spring decorations of dewdrops inched to be ground water. Dangled on the edge of what they were and what they were meant to be. I stood and looked for a long time. Like a kid at an anthill. Just enjoyed. Then I headed for my old house at Maple and whatever today’s yesterday held.
Right across the street. What was across from what is. Convenient. The house still had screens so it was before they gapped the teeth that were screens in the summer and windows in the winter. Somewhere around my teens by the feel of it all. Youth. Pre-driving. Now. Where was I?
Tireless ruts in the driveway. Summer here but spring in Utah-heaven. Message? Perhaps. Highly likely. Messages abound in heaven. I saw the other me and smiled to myself at myself. Fifteen. On top of the world. Life evolved around transportation and girls. Actually the lack of and quest for both. The other me headed out into the evening and I went along.
The walk up Main Street was the same. I knew well the bumps and grinds of our town’s main strip. My buddy, Pat, came from the other direction and we headed off for the Boardwalk.
I linked with the other me to sense the moment even more fully. Light. Friendly. Broke. Horny. Happy. Fifteen. Nice feeling. The link let me taste the summer air and savor the sounds. Sounds carried on the soft breeze of Raritan Bay. People on porches with sandy feet and tired bodies. Beer drinkers just this side of one too many. TVs on for little more than noise. An openness. A hanging out, see how happy I am and you are, thing unique to beach towns in the summer. Keansburg at its best. It’s lightest. It’s realist.
I severed the link and just walked. Nice to be here but not sure what the lesson was. Followed a re-run movie with a new plot.
The Boardwalk featured places with storms ahead they would not survive but tonight the weather was perfect. French Fries, a hot dog, and a lemonade but few answers. The other me hung and talk and lived. Pat and I headed East from the Boardwalk towards Seeley Avenue and the long way home. No rush. It was summer. Fifteen meant no car and no girl but also no curfew. Small freedoms.
Then I saw the Cadillac by the Marina Bar and knew what night this was. The night my father attacked me. A dark night. Not upbeat. Not Leave It To Be Beaver. Not good. This was today’s yesterday in heaven? Why? Followed along more curious and less pleased. Some nights are better left behind. It replayed anyway.
The “hey, let’s stop in the bar and ask Buddy for some cash” moment. I linked to feel it. It was as remembered. Knowledge of the easy touch. Surety of some money for whatever after some slurred talk and a connection only drunks and their family understood. It was all there as Pat and the other me entered the now thank God it’s gone Marina Bar.
Dad was there. The other Dad. Lesser Buddy. Didn’t I just touch him on the shoulder and let him know “things will work out”? Well, things hadn’t worked out yet.
The other me talked with the other Dad and I kept the link. Heard the question of spying for Mom. Of why are you here. The sense of intrusion and alienation lingered like bad milk in my mouth. The other Dad gave the order to wait in the car and the other me ignored it, wrongly confident he would forget. The night repeated with Dad looking for the other me and then waiting for the other me to get home.
It was all there. The confrontation. The pushing and shoving. The ride to the Beachfront. I rode with them in the car that is no longer to a place that is something else now. The other me exited the vehicle and saw the cars parked. Cars filled with people with love of the flesh in mind while this new car intruded with emotions far more negative. A father ready to attack a son in full view of wanna be lovers previously enthralled in skin and sweat.
I pondered the lesson in this. A bad day. A bad dad fueled by alcohol. A son embarrassed and resistant. I linked again but then stopped. The link was not required. This night and those feelings stayed with the other me and piggybacked into heaven in my heart. Building anger and embarrassment. Sureness of the explosion when it came. The other me grabbed my father, pinned him to the fence, and cocked a heretofore fledgling fist. “Cut it out!” Déjà vu. Ding. The lesson was not in that knowing.
Instead I watched. Not the other me for I knew that inside out. Not the onlookers who watched with pity as well as amusement. Instead I watched the man who brought a boy to the beach to punish and push him and left with a man who fought against the very hand that raised him and was raised to him that night. Therein was the lesson.
A split second look was all it took. From the man I knew as father deep inside the drunk that tried to father that night. The better man arrived just in time, even if he was there for just a moment. A gleam that flashed and went. A realization the job was done. The boy would and could fight back. Not just against a drunken father but against wrong. Fight against things when pushed. The father tested the son and the son passed the test.
We rode home in silence I heard clearly. Silence of roles changed. Protector retired. Offspring sprung loose on a summer night with a cocked fist and a bullshit meter fully intact.
The tree in the front yard of Utah Heaven still had dewdrops on it when I returned. A few less but most were still there. Spring was in the air. Time of change. Rebirth. Resurrection. Time for a father to look at a son and see a man. The guard changed that summer night with a drunk pinned against the fence by a boy watered by the sweat and tears of two fathers.
Woke the next day determined to just be. Heaven turned out to be a lot of work. Needed some downtime. A day for doing nothing. On earth, it was hard for the other me to do nothing. Something in my nature back in the days. Busy even when at rest like so many humans. Could not just be, had to do. I was human in that regard.
Nothing is hard to do. At least it was. At this very moment in heaven it was not. I sat. The rain entertained and soothed. The coffee warmed inside and out. It was a sweater day for sure. Sweater days were comforting days. So I sat and watched today’s clouds but thought of yesterday. Yesterday was not the reason for the reflection. Still, yesterday filled my nothing today. Right up until something drew me back into my yesterdays on my way to whatever tomorrow in heaven meant. I man-upped and walked across the street to the house of my youth sooner than expected but likely right on time.
The old house looked the same. The other me was at the old house on Maple but this time as a visitor. This time home as the grown son with a family and a career. Visiting what had been home and was about to change forever on this day. This day was the day my father died. I watched with knowledge of that past future. I went with the other me as he drove to the hospital to visit the man who would exit far too soon to his own heaven.
The hospital that templated all medical facilities. Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey. The place the other me began life. A place that collected family tumors of many shapes, sizes, and locales over the years. A place where the woman we called Mom entered one time more than we wanted. But this yesterday she was with the other me for her exit was a few decades of yesterdays in their future. This was Widow’s Eve.
Dad looked as I remembered him when the other me entered the room. Old at fifty-nine. Body riddled with cancer and the answer to the riddle was not to be found. Dad was dying and all knew it. Him included. A somber day for the other me not masked by the put-on brave face. Words of denial about Dad coming to visit in a few months to see the baby not yet born who grew without ever meeting her Pop-Pop back on earth. Words of bravery and victory neither the speaker nor the listeners believed but all clung to in the gossamer comfort of false hope.
As he bent to kiss his father good bye forever, I was in the mind and felt the stubble of the sick man’s beard when the man more boy kissed the man more spirit farewell. I knew now why I was here at this point in my earth life. I reached into the mind of the other me and gave him strength. Strength to smile with glassy eyes and leave the room. The other walked down a luckily lonely hallway. Thirty steps of strength to the corner by the elevator and then I nudged him. To tears. Tears he fought to withhold but that I made water. He needed them. He needed them quick and real. Sobs stifled but then the pouring began. Tears came. The man in the room down the hall would soon not breathe and the other me knew and had to go on. Alone. The man of the family now.
It was then I let the other me learn the lesson that seemed so cruel when I first read it in life. A man is not truly a man until his father dies. Someone said that. Some author. Hemingway. Dickens. Twain. I never did really know but it registered with the other me in a subliminal way and it was time for me to let the other me know it was true. With the death down the hall there would be birth as well. Birth of a boy into a man as the mantle of responsibility passed to new shoulders.
I severed the link as Mom came to the other me but I did not leave. It was important to watch as she reached to comfort the son who sobbed. Then I noticed. It was subtle but it was there. She reached and he stood and smiled bravely. She saw it. He would be alright. He was a man. Dad did well. The measure of success was there for her to see. The dying man sired a new man with the strength not just for himself but also for others. Family. Blood and otherwise.
The other me and his mother entered the elevator and left my sight at this encounter. As I drifted back home to heaven, thoughts of the days ahead of them flickered in my mind like an old movie. The call that evening from the father to the son that would be the verbal goodbye for both. The call later that confirmed the man in the hospital would not be calling again. The funeral where the other me rarely if even left the new widow’s side. The other me was there for her and for all to see, as the man in the hospital became the body in the box and then the thing in the ground. It was not easy on the other me. The other me missed him. The other me lost him earlier in life than many sons lost their fathers. The other me sometimes needed a break from being the man of the family but that would not be until the mantel was passed with exiting breath. Things passed to me and passed on in the rights and wrongs of passage.
From my heavenly seat, the rain became tears. Mine. Others. All of ours. Tears across time and souls that cleansed, watered growth, and nourished. I smiled and sipped a damn fine cup of coffee. Glad I nudged the other me to cry. Followed along and said goodbye again all by myself. Just me and the rain.
I needed a break and knew it. Wasn’t the only one who knew it. Thomas knocked on my door the next morning as bright and as early as the sun. “Come on. Let’s get going.” Off we went.
Right to the first of what turned out to be several stops the insightful guide mapped for the day, the Keansburg Boardwalk, circa 1969. Specifically, The Kiddie Park, on Nickel day. Half price magic drew a crowd each summer Tuesday and, based on the gentle frenzy that greeted us, today was par for that sweet course. Mostly kids and Moms this early afternoon. My ears fell in love with the sounds all over again. The calliope of youthful eagerness fully present on one ride, half way to next, three quarters beyond each of we have to get to all of them and then do them over again, can I have hot dog and french-fries and play “Kill the Cats”, can I, Mom, can I, pleeeeeeeeeessssssssseeee? Pretty please, Mom. Pretty, pretty please. The quest to seize it all with gusto, must go, come on, me next, over here, look over here. A world bracketed by a root beer stand, the Raritan Bay beach, and the most important train in my life, the blue with yellow strip Keansburg Express.
My brother drove the train when I rode it as a child. It was my turn to engineer in my teens when the passengers included nieces and nephews riding on untaken tickets. Part of me was disappointed that the other me was not piloting the mini-diesel today. Disappointment overcome seeing it was Pat, my best friend at the time, best man, and my son’s namesake. My face was all smile as the cherub faced young Mister O’Herron choo-chooed around the rails.
Thomas touched my shoulder and guided me just a few yards down and waited for me to see why he brought me here today. There I was. The other me. On duty at Keansburg version of a Roller Coaster. Almost child proof, it clanged and clunked more dangerously than it really ever was. Three times around for two tickets and my job was to slow via highly sophisticated not so much brakes that squeezed the wheels to slow the cars when it came through the station. Seemed even smaller now yet bigger in important ways.
My guide let me look for a while.
“Alright. Now, we are ready to go.”
I looked with wordless question on my face.
“We didn’t come here for this. This ain’t a Roller Coaster……”, and he touched my shoulder.
Magic. Keansburg became Lake Hopatcong and there it was in all its glory. The first wooden roller coaster for me………the gauge for all that followed. Thomas and I were in line, actually at the head of the line, as he handed the tickets to the taker, and headed for the front car with a stunned me in tow.
“THIS is a Roller Coaster”. Off, we went.
A dozen times? Easily. Front car. Last car. Middle cars. We ran the gambit and just kept running it. Just as I had on grammar school trips with Saint Ann’s kids to Bertrand’s Island Amusement Park.
The oddity of busing kids from a town with a beach and an amusement park in-land to a town with a lake and an amusement park never entered my mind back in the day. Lake Hopatcong had different rides, paddle boats on the fresh water lake, and an honest to goodness, big, wooden roller coaster. I rode it eagerly and happily then and again now with Thomas where Dennis Shaun, Glen Kelly, or Tommy Moran use to sit. Noise, food, and ride after ride after ride made for magic times at any age. The school outings were once a year, forever memories things more magical than any roller coaster. Somewhere between the fifth and twenty-fifth coaster ride, I saw Sister Roland and realized this one of those outings and the other me and all his classmates were in the park.
Sister Roland was on patrol. An away game today but she knew the score. It was her job to ensure the Holy Ghost kept boys and girls in their neutral corners. One of the hormonal challenges for the third member of the Roman Catholic trifecta came in the form of the, I never really did remember its name, ride that was part tunnel of love and part log flume before the first log flume ride ever appeared anywhere else in my decade plus old world. Thomas followed wordlessly and we moved one ride over and watched the other me in line.
Laughing. Goofing. Rough-housing. Boys being boys with one eye on the female of the species for reasons more instinctive than knowing. The ride was a perfect mix at this age. A slow, meandering ride in eight-seat, unmanned would be gondola. Susie Croken and Kathy Langan were in the front of the very boat with the much younger yours truly. The Holy Ghost either answered my then prayers or was about to call in backup. I may as well have been invisible. The other me had his focus on the precious cargo in front of the boat as he sailed into wishes and dreams. The waters took him out of sight yet I saw him clearly.
His jokes would be in hope to catch feminine attention and his heartbeat would accelerate at even the hint of eye contact. Innocent lust rode slow waters in dark tunnels that late spring day. Luckily for all concerned, the ride’s finale had the boat pulled up a small hill to splash down in the same waters that cooled down the passengers, some much more heated than others.
Amusement Parks are important places with deep, sweet waters, twists and turns, and steep drops that take your breath away as you defy gravity and laugh in the face of danger. Plus, there are rides.
The other me headed off to wherever the girls were going and I let him. He wouldn’t know what to do if he caught one but he would learn. Thomas tapped me on the shoulder gently and we ended up in Virginia…with another Susie and her first time riding the Big, Bad Wolf.
Busch Garden’s then signature ride dangled below the rails, dove towards the water and arched out with each twist and turn. It also intimated my daughter Susan for several seasons. Until this season. This night. There she was as the adult older me, hair still in place and runner’s body thinner than I remember, encouraged her as the two got closer to the actual ride. Her nervousness was obvious. Her first ever roller coaster ride was mere moments away.
Sharon, Kris, and Pat showed their support with smiles and waves. The young Dad me offered comfort and company as the already pale daughter braved herself forward. The wait was long and painful and far too short for her liking. The two of them strapped in.
Thomas and I were two cars back. Truth be told, I don’t remember the ride. At least mine. Her’s is clear as a bell. Pale got paler and then the questions hit the wall of its too late now. Just after the second drop, she believed she would survive. That was the high point of this ride. Survival was the victory. It was her face that filled my eyes the entire ride. Felt like I would see me sitting behind her if my eyes shifted focus there. Instead, she was the center of all my attention.
She did not bounce off the ride and want to run right back onto it. It was more emerging from battle victorious and drained. Susie slayed a dragon that day called the Big, Bad Wolf and I witnessed it. Again. Coming of age comes in many forms and it is good to have support and a safety harness when you can. Nice to see Susie had both that day.
Next stop, another Roller Coaster landmark. Thomas had a tour schedule and I was along for the rides. A nanosecond was all it took to know this was the day I was not allowed to ride THE Cyclone in the one and only Palisades Amusement Park.
Freddie “Boom-Boom” Cannon sang its praises. The commercials tantalized with catchy jingle. “Palisades has the rides. Palisades has the fun. Come on over……Palisades Amusement Park, swings all day and after dark…..ride the Coaster, get cool in the waves in the pool………come…on….over.” As a kid, I ached to come on over. Palisades was about an hour away from Keansburg and Dad and Mom took Sis and me there a grand total of once. Once would be enough. My time there was all about riding the Cyclone.
It was ten times as big as any coaster I have ever ridden, at that point the Keansburg Kiddies one and the wooden real one at Lake Hopatcong, yet there was no doubt. This was meant to be. I was destined and determined to ride the greatest coaster in the known universe. We arrived early that day, parked the car within sight of the struts and hills of the iconic landmark, and waited in the bar across the street for the Park to open. An eternity later, the Park opened and the adventure began with the first stop being the main attraction itself, the Roller Coaster.
We were here. It was real. The very ride from the commercials on WPIX between Captain Jack Smith showing Popeye and Office Joe Boulton introducing The Three Stooges shorts. Dad and Sis and I would ride and Mom would watch. Up to the walkway itself and right into one of life’s disappointments. In the world of must be this tall to ride, I wasn’t. The attendant waved me off.
Pleading began. Standing on tippy-toes was not enough. Tears of utter rejection failed to find the will to waiver in the heartless guardian that stood between me and my right to ride The Cyclone and brag about it forever.
Dad and Sis went on the ride and Mom was left to comfort the broken mass that was once a proud and excited boy. That is when Thomas and I arrived on the scene. With the Roller Coaster behind me, it was time to follow the shattered me to a ride that would be the compromise so less than adequate at the time.
The Tunnel of Love. Really? A ride on an adult sounding thing because I was too small to get on the really adult Roller Coaster itself. Really? Mom eased the other me into the boat and off we went….sobs still audible. Right up until the first whatever it was jumped out and scared the heck out of Mom. Laughter replaced tears. Mom did not know the Tunnel of Love was a floating Spook House. That was way funny. To the other me, to the me sitting two seats back, and to Thomas as well. Mom heard our laughter at her screams and turned her head. She showed her childhood, womanhood, and so much more. So very happy. So very young. I fell in love all over again.
Beauty comes in many forms. There are things more important than Roller Coasters. Scrap them all and give me this moment any time. In life, Love is worth the price of admission all by itself.
I didn’t ride the Cyclone this day either. Seems it just wasn’t meant to be. Headed back home with the best souvenirs ever.
Meteoric Outing. Metaphoric Day. The Roller Coaster I ran, another I rode, someone else’ first, and the one that didn’t happen. Sometimes it is about the ride. Most times, the best of times, it is the ride of our life. Our everyday roller coaster in the Tunnel of Love between birth and death.
Woke the next morning much better. Calmer. Sometimes we need to have fun. Need to indulge. Especially after really hard labors and this whole peeling back life thing that called itself heaven clearly qualified. Learning is work. Lots of work. So I drank my coffee and felt younger. Lighter. The previous days, maybe weeks or even months, were hard. Didn’t realize how hard until yesterday. Literally a Roller Coaster day.
Yet there was just as much learning that day. Just as many emotions. Maybe even more of both. So why was I so refreshed? Why did yesterday seem easier? Sweeter?
Amusement Parks? Was that it? I poured a second cup of sweet nectar and knew it was more complex than that. Happiness is not a place. It is anyplace. It is being alone and being with others. Such sweetness is anytime and anywhere.
So I pondered the days and weeks that led up to yesterday. All were needed to make yesterday what it was and to build to today. Perhaps that was it. Yesterday was the fruits of the labor in the fields of my yesterdays. Yesterday pulled it all together.
Right into today. A sweet day. More energy day. Ready to tend more fields day. Yes indeed. We need a break now and then even when the break is really just work of a different sort. Every day is ours to plants seeds, tend fields, and celebrate the fruits of our labors.
Headed across the street. To the big house on the corner of Maple and Main right across from my home in Utah that was now my home in heaven. The smile on my face was love of life, even though life as I knew it was yesterday. Life today was amazing. The spring in my step matched the spring in my heart.
Noticed the big, white house on the corner had a new neighbor. A smaller white structure more shack than house. Familiar yet out of place, Jersey wise. This shotgun shack was from the Carolinas. Spring Lake, just outside of Pope Air Force Base next to Fort Bragg and dwarfed by Fayetteville on the maps, North Carolina specifically. My yesterdays had a new address today. Seemed my destination of the day just changed.
Spent the next three days at that first home that was not the big white house on the corner. Not to figure out why I was there. That was obvious on day one. Needed the time to see how much we forget even the best-remembered things. The second time around time allowed me the luxury of insight. The depth of change as family was redefined and the journey from son to man began in earnest. Suddenly, the other me was half of a new whole and had a new address. As with most such beginnings, the other me and his new significant other were busy playing grown-up and doing things not in the back seat of cars with gusto. Legal lust burns hot and fast. Even when bills came even quicker.
This was virgin paycheck-to-paycheck time. Two kids thought themselves adult, got married, and pretended to have a clue what they were doing. A too expensive car, first time ever really on their own, and innocent naivety combined for fun in ways underestimated at the time.
Dinner was too often some version of Hamburger Helper, there were routinely three if not more people at the dinner table, and they laughed and sang almost every night. Songs from the 50s and 60s sung with and more often without the record. They had little of anything and loved life with gusto. What they had they shared and what they didn’t they did without. The nights were full of laughter and love.
I hadn’t remembered it well enough. It was far more magical. Far more fun. They didn’t realize how much they did not have. They just made it all work. It was my turn to witness and respect. Egg Noodles and vegetables for dinner three days before payday and then again two days before payday and they laughed about it. They were grateful.
When they did the bills, the wonder on their faces said it all. No idea how to make things stretch far enough. Then one would hold the other and both would be alright. One would hold the other and all would be alright. The best recipes are simple. Magic times.
Christmas came right on schedule and it would be the first one as him and her for these children. Each brought every prior Christmas’ with them in their minds and in their hearts. Nothing boxed. On the first of the month, the bills doused them with a Grinch of a reality. Not enough money for the holiday. One paycheck before Santa was to appear and it was spent before it arrived. No savings, padding, credit, or flexibility for a tree no matter how small, ornaments of any kind, nor presents. The two looked at each other and sadly accepted Christmas wasn’t coming this year.
Fifteen days until the paycheck that was spent and another ten to Merry wish I had something for you, there they sat. Broke, not broken. In the harsh reality of doing without, they shared their Hamburger Helper and sang songs that now included festive holiday standards with full knowledge that stockings would be non-existent rather than just bare.
Nobility. I met the Who’s in Whoville first hand and they ate cheap food and sang out of key.
On the 15th of the month, it was my turn to give them a gift. An overpayment in their mid month paycheck. Just enough that there would be a tree, ornaments, a cardboard fireplace, and priceless cheap gifts. They pulled into the dirt driveway in a what the hell were you thinking Buick and gallows-walked to the mailbox. Forlorn fingers opened the envelope and the eyes flashed to life at extra cash to be had. Cash both knew would be re-balanced from the next paycheck. Cash both knew meant there would be a holiday.
It was a winning lottery ticket and the two danced, jumped up and down, and screamed in delight on the front stoop of the crooked floor, heat on or off, shanty she turned into home sweet home. Christmas was coming. Maybe it was there all along.
Days passed. Yesterdays. Those beginning days as the young couple became more one than two. I hung out and enjoyed the show. The firsts. Good firsts. The first togethers of holidays and everyd ays. Ups and downs with more ups than downs and the downs somehow being less down because two can do that stuff better. We is better than me when all is said and done when the we is the right we.
These were easy times and that was my truest learning in heaven. The two of them made ends meet and lived life. It was a grand show of days sweeter witnessed in knowing hindsight than in the doing. So I touched the other me a lot on the shoulder when he questioned and worried. A quick get over it, let it go, reassurance that diverted him from the stuff that diverted him from the important stuff. The good stuff of laughter, love, and sharing.
Walked across the street each day happily. Stepped into life unblemished by bills, wishes for tomorrows, and questions about basically anything. Was not surprised to see the house next door to the first house when it transitioned from North Carolina to heaven one morning. The couple moved from the shotgun shack with the rolling hill floor to the house right next door. Slightly more rent, lots more house. Carpeting! Thermostat controlled heat! Air conditioning courtesy on a window unit in the living room and another in one of the bedrooms! They were moving on up.
Almost Dead Drunk
The pattern showed itself. A grand design for the neighborhood revealed. Three houses now with the houses I lived in over the years of my life to follow. Heaven showed me the blueprint and it felt nice. Spent time with the young couple in the bigger house in North Carolina and days later, maybe it was weeks while it felt more like seconds, the basement apartment in Germany showed. Franz and Elizabeth and the Bruckner boys were in the neighborhood. I like this neighborhood and all the homes coming soon to a heaven near me.
The younger than he knew me did the things that younger than we know we are people do. Including a night when he headed to a car and drove himself and a soon to be mother home while three sheets to the wind. A weekday. After work. Plans for a movie with a friend that went south over beer and stayed off course the rest of the night. “Let’s go here” and “Here, try this” moments that fools share and sometimes survive. Too drunk to walk, he decided he was the more sober one to drive home. She crawled into the passenger seat and fell into a drunken coma. He fell into the driver’s seat and defied logic, law, and death and drove.
Actually, he did not. I did. There were children and grandchildren yet to be born and he would have stopped all of that without help from someplace bigger than life. So I handled the wheel while he drifted in and out of lanes and consciousness. Sometimes we need a good hit upside of the head in life. He needed a few dozen that night and I delivered them. Such stupidity.
He made it home. It was, quite frankly, a miracle. I didn’t do it for him. It was for the lives he risked all around himself that night and for the future things that almost did not come to be.
My anger was very real. Disappointment in self. Shock at how close none of it came to be. Less than a year after that night, a daughter would be born. The other me would fall in love when the crown of her head made its first appearance and life would change forever. The idiot almost missed that moment and so did everyone and everything that followed because he was drunk. Out of his mind, stupid, falling down drunk. So drunk that he almost killed himself, his wife, and all of his tomorrows. Quite frankly, that night, he deserved it. Sometimes, drunks are protected….from themselves….not because of them….but because of the ones that love them.
Soon, the porch windows looked out on my life. All the days of it. Everything and everywhere. Homes across the years moved right across the street.
Tapoco Drive complete with dirt sand castles. Del Rio homes with more time on stage than on the couch. Ent Drive with Big Wheels and bikes to step over each day. One child became two and two became three and those three soon showed up in the faces of nine others. Four boys, four girls, and one angel all in the blink that was my life. All touched again because love survives. It created us and then lets us see how much love we created in life.
Yesterdays became today’s forever. Highs and lows. Bigs and littles. Rights and wrongs. Just me and everything I ever did. Eternal? Nanosecond? Felt like both. Wasn’t really either. Infinity is time to do it all and then do it over until it really is done.
Funerals were easier the second time around. Weddings sweeter. Birthdays shorter. Any days better. Good and deep cries. Alone. With others. Laughter shared. Again. Quiet times really seeing the people in my life. Even quieter times really seeing myself. I fell in love. Deep, rich forever love. With myself and the amazing life that was mine because of all the love others gave. In life, I was loved. More than I knew. At times, more than I deserved. So many people really cared. Everything I ever needed was right there in life and now was right here in heaven. In death, I loved all of that even more.
The circle of my life looped back around to where living ended and heaven began. I sat and watched more than visiting and then realized Thomas would be popping by for a visit. We can only keep ourselves company for so long and then we need a friend.
One Last Dish
Thomas knocked and I yelled him in.
He greeted with me with the beginning of this end. “You ready?’
He knew the answer. Conversation was more courtesy than requirement. The questions were answered before asked now. Just a few more dishes to dry and all would be done.
My coffee cup. The one that began my days and kept me company more than a few evenings. Coffee with my mother’s milk, my family’s company, and the warmth of solitude as well as connection. I held it in my hand and drank in the feel of it.
So much sweetness over life. Bitter tastes long forgotten. My smile was about my mother and that she had a craving way back when I was fetus and she was world. Coffee. The smell of the grinds. It began with her opening the can for that first whiff. In time, she licked her finger and coated it with ground pleasure to feed the growing hunger inside. By third trimester, it was spooned to the baby she somehow knew was a boy and would be both her and Buddy with some new kind of energy. Some caffeinated knowing. Before I entered the world, coffee was all around me. Mother’s magic milk beans.
I put the cup in its place and all was right with this after world.
There were no words. Thomas and I headed out. Left the door open. Closing doors is such a human thing.
Doors should be open at all times.