The news came and I could not move. Time took on a strange appeal. I was frozen somehow, moving in slow motion, but yet, time was quickly ticking away from me.
I was young at the time. I was only 17 years-old but stunted in a way—like a child, or more accurately, I was stunned and child-like, almost like an infant’s pause before the pain strikes and the cry begins.
It was December and I was away in a place that was very foreign to me. I was on The Farm in lieu of jail, which would have been a sentence of one year, plus 90 days.
This meant I would have to serve close to one year in a place where I could neither physically nor mentally compete. I pulled a trick though. Or should I say my attorney pulled a trick. He landed me in a program called T.A.S.K. which was an acronym for something that helps young, first-time offenders with a youthful offender stipulation that would eventually falls from the records of past.
I was clean now. But I was clean in name only and certainly not in attitude. I was out of my element. I was off drugs, no drinking or cigarettes, confused, uncomfortable, and trying to navigate my way back to a previously familiar life.
However, life was changing on me. I was cruising through now. I was fine—or so I thought.
I was fine enough to do my 28 days in an adult treatment facility. If asked, I’d have said this was good enough for me. But no, the courts had other ideas.
I completed 42 days in an adolescent facility, which was less than stellar and far from helpful. Still, I swore this was good enough for me. But no, the courts and the justice system had other plans.
After several appearances before the judge, I received my sentence after a plea deal. On top of my three year stint with probation, I was remanded to long-term treatment facility (aka The Farm) until completion of program which could be no less than 18 months.
I was not happy about this and did not like my choices but 18 months on The Farm was still easier than a bullet, plus 90 in the county.
(A bullet is slang for a one year jail term.)
I was cruising though. I bought me some time or so I thought. I learned the lingo and how to do and say the right things to keep the counselors off my back.
I learned to keep myself out of trouble and gain some trust, which was undeserving because in all honesty, I had no intentions of changing whatsoever.
But then again, there I was, round two, heading back home to face a new reality and watching my world take on the shape of a new norm.
There was a strange lull in time. The Old Man was coming around. He and I were connecting, which was something I had always wanted to do.
He wasn’t mad anymore. He told me so himself. The Old Man was proud of me. He said so, which are words that were foreign yet, they were so longed to be heard that they literally stalled my rebellion into a state of quiet submission.
“Maybe there’s something to this sobriety thing,” I thought to myself.
Two weeks prior to this, I was in a hospital called Hempstead General. The Old Man had his first heart attack. Suddenly, life became real to me. Everything became so painfully real, including mortality.
Again, I say I was stunned. I say I was pushed into submission. I was oddly quiet and subservient. I was obedient and did as I was told like a child admonished or punished for bad behavior.
More accurately, I was stuck in a fear of loss. I was stuck in my fearful understanding that life is more than what I believed. And sadly, I was about to learn how wrong I was about nearly everything I believed.
The Old Man was the strongest man I knew. He was my hero. The Old Man knew it all. He knew everything. This man was my Father. He was my introduction to the definition of manhood. Faults and character flaws aside, I admired him. I loved him but I was about to lose him.
Had I not been where I was or had I not been clean or at least cleansed of my habit; perhaps, I might not have been moved. Maybe I would have been stuck in my hateful resentment. Maybe i would have been stuck in the unsure feeling of imposterism, which is what i felt as nearly everyone came to speak with me.
Why be fake, I thought.
Why act like we are all so close?
Meanwhile, no one really ever spoke to me. Then again, I was never around to speak with. And even if I was around, I was never mentally there. Either way, this was not about personal difference. This was about the fact that The Old Man was about to leave us. Period. End of sentence!
I was angry and yet numb. I was afraid and yet, I felt nothing. I cried but I was unsure why. There were too many thoughts at once. I was resentful because I could never be the son he wanted to me to be and more so, I was resentful because he was never the Father I wanted to have.
We both wanted to get along. We just didn’t know how—and there it was Christmas Eve, 1989. We only had a few days left
I was sitting in the passenger seat of a van driven by my counselor, mentor, sponsor, and senior member of The farm. His name was John. He was a trusted member on The Farm and an employee.
Same as me, John went through the ranks. He came in a young degenerate, punk, angry as ever, defiant, and rebellious like the rest of us.
John was reformed here. He changed. He found his calling as a counselor. But me, I was just a kid trying to process the news which hung over and surrounded me like a heavy cloak of stillness.
I remember John was mainly quiet. He was supportive though and saying whatever anyone would say to a kid about to lose his Dad.
John did not force the conversation or say anything pushy, which is unlike most people in times like this.
Most people offer advice instead of love. But no, John offered love and support, which was huge to me.
John understood words mean nothing in times like this. I learned the greatest lesson from John on this day. I learned that when someone is living through tragedy it is best to be there and say little. Words can be an unnecessary thing sometimes. John new this.
I recall our drive to the bus station. I recall looking out at the world through the passenger side window. We drove along the quiet upstate highways. The mountains were snowy. The sky was gray but the snowfall had stopped. It was cold but I felt nothing. I was still. I was beaten. I was stuck in a way that I had never felt before. Tragedy; it does this sort of thing to us. Kicks us around a bit.
I wondered to myself, “How could this happen?”
Is this what life really is?
Everything was so real or raw and painful to the touch. I was sad for The Old Man. I was sad for our relationship, which never fit what either of us needed.
I was sad that my chance to try again was about to be taken away. More accurately, I suppose I was just a boy, sad and about to miss his Dad because he hadn’t even gone yet and I kissed him already.
We pulled into the bus station and John accompanied me to the ticket window. The station was like any small upstate bus station. It was a small building. My mind blocks this memory but I can recall brown walls. Brick, as in concrete cinderblocks, painted over layer upon layer. I recall the bathroom; however, and this place I could see clearly.
I went in to relieve myself before getting on the bus. Upon entry, I heard the sound of an old man’s voice, crying out in all his humility.
“Help,” said the old man. “Help me,” he said. “I made a mess. The Old man was pale as ever, round and overweight, white-haired and blue-eyed. The door to the stall was either open or not there—I’m not quite sure—however, in my mind’s eye, all I can remember was the man, humbled by his failure to reach the toilet on time.
“I made a mess,” he screamed.
His voice was painful to hear.
His scream was sad and proving to the idea that age can be cruel. He was in mess for sure. There were no towels near him to clean himself. There was no toilet paper in the stall where he sat.
The room smelled awful but I did not care or notice. Instead, I ran around wetting paper towels for the old man, getting him toilet paper.
In all honesty, I would have cleaned this man myself if it meant I could rid myself and him of this feeling of helplessness.
Maybe I was trying to buy points from God. Maybe I just didn’t like seeing someone feel old or limited. Maybe he looked as I felt, stuck in a shitty position, and helpless. Decades have passed and I can still see this so clearly
John came in the bathroom to see what took me so long. I could hear the humbled old man’s wife screaming from the doorway. “We’re gonna miss the bus!” She was screaming to him and he was screaming to her. “I made a mess,” she shouted. This went back and forth in a stressful banter, which i could not stop. Instead, I could only endure and continue my mission to clean the portly old man. He could not stand up from the toilet. His pants were at the his ankles and in a messy predicament, we tried our best t get him clean.
God, why is the world so cruel sometimes? Why are we so humbled? Why is life so real and why do broken heats exist? Why? Why goddammit, why?
I tried to clean him up. I tried to remove the feeling of helplessness. I hated the loss of dignity. I hated this because I never knew what it was like to feel dignified.
Then again, I never dared to give a shit or selflessly complete a dignifying act of my own (until now.)
Maybe this is why I am the way I am now—maybe I hate that feeling of helplessness and this is why I choose to empower people. Maybe I feel too much. Maybe I think too much. Whatever it is . . .
I hate feeling helpless
I informed John when he came in to retrieve me. John ran out to alert the bus driver that the poor old man was in a bad way. The bus waited and the man received the attention he deserved. And me, I still had to go home and face my Father. I had to see the strongest man in my world be weak and humbled. I hated this. I hated age. I hated the way life was. More importantly, I hated the fact that no matter how I tried or how good I promised to be—The Old Man was about to pass away.
Although this was painful; had this never happened in the order it did, I would never be the man I am . . .
I tell you this because I did a presentation yesterday. This was different from my usual routines and my time was limited. I had to leave this part of my story out, which was fine because I am comfortable in what I do and confident enough to call my speech impactful. As I see it nothing impacts life like real emotion from a true life story. This is what helps us inspire one another.
I met some truly wonderful people yesterday. I was different from what they usually have in their corporate settings. I admittedly misjudged this because of my own childish insecurities. But I moved passed this as soon as I took the stage.
I forgot that suit and tie, white collar or blue, we are all just a bunch kids trying to find our place on the playground. We’re all afraid to be old, to lose, or feel helpless.
That’s where the real help begins