I like waking to different days. Routine kills me. Too much of the same and I drink vodka earlier each day. Too much making ends meet and I scroll channels long after my family finds peace in sleep and dream, and I end up eating bean and cheese burritos, with the dog next to me, sighing, as she waits for me to put her to bed.
Self-destruction helps, but is rarely prescribed. Sure, I sleep little. Fight to lose the weight. Forget whatever it was I said to or heard from my wife yesterday, the day before, five minutes ago, but it’s cyclical and necessary. My routine for breaking routine.
A late night devoted to slowing the synapses leads to a reset that usually yields a morning of perspective. A new day, like this morning. My brother-in-law with fresh trout. He fished all day, all night, and was willing to share his bounty. His experience.
And as I cut giant fillets into individual portions, I tried to remember being a man in a boat, floating over waves, happy, because I was unaware of the possibilities above and below me.
I heard a voice tonight. The kids were in pajamas. We had just said our family prayer and were playing tic, tac, toe, hit me high, hit me low, hit me three times in a row, buddy got hit by a UFO and what I heard was ROCK and so I played rock and I crushed all of their scissors and we walked up the stairs of this big old house and shared hugs and kisses and good solid intentions of seeing one another in the morning.
As I walked downstairs to the box of wine that helps me unwind most nights, I thought about my boy so nervous this morning before his big fourth-grade, year-end race. He was pacing, sticking close to me and SB while his buddies wrestled and threw around a ball and he told us that bubbles were popping in his guts and he wanted to know why it felt like he had to go to the bathroom even though he knew in his heart that he didn’t have to go.
“It’s nerves,” I said.
And he ran away to the bathroom in the school to empty whatever he could that was building inside.
Three minutes later, he was at the starting line, jockeying for position and I heard a voice say, “He’s got it wrapped up. Just watch and enjoy.”
He ran a mile in seven minutes and four seconds and beat out every other kid in his grade. The volunteer parents were impressed. They had been keeping track of the races all day. Our boy was the fourth fastest in school, just seconds behind the studs of fifth grade.
He took the victory in stride. He was humble. He knows that it is only a race and that running doesn’t last forever. That there is much more to come. And none of it can be known until we know it.
“He’s gonna be a star,” a voice said. And there was nothing I could do but believe it.
Poem’s audio below…honey, I even got a little throat clearing in for you at the end.;-)
I don’t post as much as some people do. That’s for good reason. There are too many dummies doing so already. People posting too much shit that is selfish, mean, hurtful, and downright stupid. For instance, I am happy that so-and-so helped a homeless person today, or saved a duck, or paid it forward in some way or the other, but the point of doing good deeds is to simply do them and not draw recognition to oneself. And yet, everyone is look at me. You, S.B., are not like that. Even at our wedding you insisted that all eyes NOT be on you. You just wanted to get married, to be together, and for everyone to have a good time. And that’s why sometimes you’ll catch me just looking at you. I’m amazed.
And then there are the religious geniuses—most of them blinded instead of enlightened—damning people because they are different, spewing evil, nastiness and ignorance. God hates this type of person. This group is going to hell. I follow my husband blindly. I am obedient. His servant. Blah, blah, blah. If they had any inkling of what it’s like to live a good life, they’d be living like you, S.B. You are the definition of kindness. You bring hope. You are the embodiment of strength and independence. And you make me and our kids believe that there are much greater things going on behind the scenes than what we engage on the surface. If people were as selfless and sensible as you are, they’d take more time out of their day to focus on others. The world would be a better place if it followed you.
There are the sickies, always posting how miserable they feel. I saw you give birth to a child, naturally, without shedding a tear. When you are sick, we never know it. You may take an ibuprofen if the pain starts to slow you down. But you’re never asking for attention. Posting about your sniffles or ever mentioning an ache.
There are the titsies—women that apparently can’t refrain from showing their cleavage. Oh, look at the new toaster I got with their boobies all squished together and most likely sharing their best set of duck lips. You, S.B., draw a crowd with your beautiful wide smile, your confidence, and warmth.
And finally, though there are more I could mention, there are the political gurus. We don’t have to go much into that, I suppose. I think most of us should probably follow your politics. Treat people with respect. Help everyone. Act, every day, as if there is an end that’s fast approaching. And that when it’s all said and done every single deed and every word we’ve ever written or spoken—good and bad—will be judged. Maybe not by God, but by everyone we’ve known. And that the tiny ripples of our life make big, big waves.
In summation, Happy Birthday, S.B. I thought I should post this and put it on your page because in the whole scheme of things maybe one person’s love for another will help balance out, and even defeat the shit—all the selfish, mean, hurtful, and downright stupid things—that so many others are putting into this world wide tangled web.
Monday morning. Drinking coffee while sunlight breaks through the tall leaded windows of this old house and I’m happy to say I’m writing. This is where I am meant to be.
In a great marriage that surprises me more each day—I never knew it was possible to develop such a deep friendship. S.B. is my rock, my artist, my motivator, my guide. She has brought color and depth and fun to the world. Life is better when we are together.
Parenting a son and a daughter. Watching each of them develop unique personalities—a process that is educational, entertaining, and makes me believe in important things, like Yetis, forest fairies, ghosts, and God.
And writing two books. One of poetry/non-fiction that is rooted in feelings and thoughts that emerged from journaling and blogging. And a novel that is literary, but unlike anything I’ve written before. It is time to stop thinking so much about what to write and to simply share what I know. Not lessons or advice. But everything—even those dark, nasty moments—that we are afraid to show.
Until then, when I’ve finally put the pages to rest between covers, I shamelessly encourage you to purchase and read my other works. My writing has not yet been tainted by the corporate need for sales dollars and meeting a bottom line. It is still just a man at the keys, pounding away, day after day in hopes of reaching you. Your support is appreciated.
It should be handwritten. Inked to paper. Set aside. Left for them to read—if they ever choose to read and learn to know how it used to be—but it has been a long time, another great distance, and when mood and moment synch there is often no other way than this.
Trying key after key.
Hunting and pecking until the letters meet, relate, make some sense, and push us.
The next moment. So we are clean and clear. Interested in this time.
Our small existence. In this small town. Where we live a life so simple and rich, so free and connected to the earth, that there is nothing about it that can be believed.
My kids are healthy. Happy. And they make me see that I am important. Somebody. I am the strongest. The smartest. The fastest. And there is nobody that can hug or help or love like me. Except Mommy. And she, I’ll admit, is better than me.
The artful act of pure joy.
And because she has given them to me—our boy and our girl—it seems there is nothing I’ll ever be able to do to make her know how much she means to me.
I cannot birth babies.
Keep the faith.
Bring as much good to the world as she does.
And still, she loves me.
To know this, to experience it, is amazing.
I have come a long way in a short while. I am lucky to be alive. The fists, the fights, the self-imposed, self-destructive nights after nights after nights have somehow landed me here. Home. Deep into the place I never knew I could be.
So worthy of words.
Handwritten. Inked to paper. And set aside. For when my endurance has run out and I am only stacks of pages left for you to read. Letter strung to letter. Key meeting key. So that you will know how it used to be.
Tomorrow she’ll be one. Already, she has given us a lifetime. What they say about kids and marriage and parenting and love—all of it—is true. It is the hardest work you will ever do. It is not for those seeking instant gratification. It is not for those unwilling to give more than they have. It is not for those that need constant applause. Family life—good family life—is not for the weak or for the selfish. Family life, I think, is for those of us seeking more. Call it God. Call it “making it.” Call it hitting the sweet spot. Call it Truth. Whatever it is, you cannot know it until you are in the thick of it. Smack dab in the middle of shitty diapers, tantrums, saying hurtful things to your wife. And struggling to make ends meet. Those times—the ones when you want to cut ties, say fuck it, and leave—those are the ones that test the gut. Punch you with perspective. Kick you square in the nuts and make you, somehow, want more.
And goddammit, I want more.
I want two hundred more of my daughter’s birthdays. I want a million more fishing trips with my son. I want to hug my wife until my arms work no more. But I know better. And I know what waits.
It is not a happy ending. It is not where I’ll want to be.
But fading to black is something we practice at the end of each day. And so tonight, I’ll think long and hard about the end. Finishing up. Giving way to whatever else comes. Everything or nothing. A bright light or constant dream. And I’ll know that if I die in a car wreck tomorrow, everything is as beautiful and true as it should be.
But there’ll be no wrecking.
Like Amanda Davis in a plane.
Plath and the oven.
Hemingway cleaning his shotgun.
I’m not good enough for that. And I don’t want to be.
If I had my choice, I’d always be not good enough and write sentences too plain to make good stories if it meant I’d never die. That tomorrow would always come.
Because my daughter turns one tomorrow. My son is itching to go fishing. And watching my wife makes me realize I’ve married up. That I’m in a better place than I deserve. And that even though we are only pilgrims keeping at the keepin’ on, what we are doing is important and big and lasting. And when it is time to turn the final page, we will be satisfied with what we’ve done.
He’s angry at work because customer orders are going late again and again.
She’s mad because the waitress brought her a fork instead of a spoon.
Every moment, the scale moves to and fro. Negativity. Positivity. Evil and good. An unbearable state of grey. And every day we move closer to the grave. That big, secret ending working its way toward us with each step we do or do not take.
None of us get out alive. That’s what the cynics say. The realists. The smart, sometimes condescending people that don’t need faith or love or God or hope—not anything at all—because they’ve got it all figured out. Everyone is stupid. Plain and simple. Easy to wrap it up nice and tidy and forget that where we’ve come from and where we’re going is magical. Something only kids seem to understand.
As I write this, my daughter appears. She’s made me a drawing.
To dad fum Oogie, it says.
There is a sun at the bottom of the page and a sun at the top. There is a flower growing out of the sky and a flower growing out of the ground. In the middle of the page is a giant, smiling frog.
For about fifteen minutes tonight, my little girl sat on her bed thinking of nothing else but making something nice for someone else. Her dad.
What did I do for even five minutes today that made that much difference in the world?
What did you do?
It’s hard to believe that a dead baby was found in a dumpster today.
That there was a double-homicide just fifteen miles away.
That a man climbed a giant TV tower to freefall through the sky only to discover his parachute wouldn’t open.
It is chaos, not God, they’ll say. All randomness and nothingness and science and facts and proof and theories and psychology and whatever else they can come up with to make themselves feel like that’ve got a handle on life. That they’re in control.
And tomorrow, they’ll be angry again.
Frustrated because equipment was delivered to the wrong dock.
Disgusted because the cashier at the counter was chewing gum.
But the magic will continue. As it always does. In mysterious ways.
A girl will paint a picture. A boy will share his lunch. Children will keep trying, again and again, to overcome the bad, the evil, the negativity with nothing but innocence and good.
When I was a kid, just seven or eight, and it was bitter cold like this—the wind killing our cheeks, icing our eyes, and easing through even the most solid surfaces of our double wide—I woke every morning to the sound of Dad crumpling and rolling newspapers to light a fire two hours before the rest of us were up so that when we finally got out of our warm beds we wouldn’t be shocked by the cold.
After he lit the fire, he’d pack his lunch. I’d hear the delicate clink of a knife against the butter dish. The cap of the horseradish jar coming off, a spoon rattling around the glass, then the cap screwed back on. The clunk of the lunch meat drawer in the fridge. The rattle of a paper sack. Then the long pour of coffee into his tall gray thermos.
After he scribbled notes for all of us—mine was typically a list of chores: KJ, empty the ash drawer, feed and water the dogs, bring in kindling, bring in firewood, straighten your bed, and shovel the porch—he cranked the old Chevy Nova to life, scraped the windows, then roared away to Besser Company. The place he’ll go to tonight. Forty-three years later. To work a midnight shift.
It’s hard to find loyalty like that today.
And hard hands.
And a strong back.
And shoulders like iron from caring for a wife, three sons, and carrying loads and loads of silence—the heaviest thing a man will ever handle. Because good advice is given quietly and without judgment even when you see your sons making the same mistakes you made over and over and over again.
They don’t make men like Dad anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. So tonight, I showed my boy the art of crumpling and rolling newspapers to start a fire. The importance of proper spacing between kindling and logs, and that sometimes to keep a fire going it just takes time. And as my son ate his apple sauce and watched my every move, I remembered to say nothing because actions speak louder than words.