Back on the farm, the time was beginning to move a little differently. I was still not sure if I believed in anything differently from before.
I wasn’t buying into their ideas of a totally abstinent drug free life nor was I buying into their religious outlook.
I had always believed in God to some degree. Yet, at the same time, there were other times when I reached out to God, personally, and found that my prayers were unanswered. I did not like religion, let alone my religion. My background and culture was different from the popular norm.
I grew up in a Jewish household. I grew up with racism and Antisemitism and bullies and beatings and with all the bullshit that went on around me, with the drug epidemic and people dying off the way they do, with the world the way it was, the wars, the common cruelties, the massive heartaches and tragedies, and with the insurmountable hatred amongst people in general, if there was a God in Heaven above, how could he let the world go on this way?
No, I was not sold. I was not sold on clean living or the idea that I would have to live a certain way for the rest of my life. I was angry about my circumstances. I was angry that I was uncomfortable and afraid all the time.
I was angry that I was never a regular kid or had the things that regular kids have. I never had a real girlfriend.
Sure, I had sex a bunch of times. But I never knew what it meant or what it felt like to look at a girl and be totally blown away.
I never dared to feel so much for someone else that I would allow myself to be humble, to let down my guard to the point that I would give her everything.
I never did love very well nor did I date very well. I never went to a prom. I never went to a real high school. No, I was thrown out. I was a reject. I was on work crews in a barn, sent up for the crimes I committed and held somewhere, far away from my hometown life and hometown friends (If I had any real friends, that is.) But more than anything, I was pissed about the fact that I did this to myself.
On the other hand, admittedly, there was something to the farm that was helpful. There was no need to be the cool kid in class anymore.
I was never bullied or picked on. I was treated well, so long as I behaved well. More to the point, I was part of something, which is all I ever wanted.
I always wanted to be a part of something, to have meaning, and to have a purpose. I always wanted to fit in —and socially rejected or not, eventually, my focus began to turn away from the old ideas of my so-called friends and what they were probably doing back home.
There were others on the farm that thought the way I did. There were others that felt the same as me too. We were a family, dysfunctional, yes. And crazy? Sure, perhaps, we were that too. We were people from all over, mostly kids, but there were some adults on the farm as well. We had similar problems and similar situations. We came from different backgrounds, different belief systems, but we all found ourselves living with with same problem.
We were moving into the holiday season and there was a sense of Christmas spirit. The powers that be had us decorate the main house, which was nice. I liked this.
There was a tree. There were candy canes and tinsel. There were lights and red bows and presents, which we picked out for each other in a secret Santa basket.
They even took us to the mall so we could buy gifts for one another. The gifts were mainly inexpensive, but still, the idea was fun.
We were two weeks away from Christmas. It was Saturday morning and we were all sat at the table in the dining room for breakfast. Someone came to get me. I will name him Brian.
Brian was my mentor at the time. He was my sponsor and a senior member. I liked him. He was not the type of person I would have befriended on the outside, but then again, I was not someone he would be friends with either.
Brian pulled me from the table and took me into the stairwell. He explained that I had to get my things together because I was going home.
Brian explained my Father had a heart attack.
Enter father Anthony (AKA Father A).
Since the house was run on Franciscan beliefs, there was a priest that lived with us. Father A was a good man. He was a kind man. He was gentle and decent to us all. I was grateful for him.
I ran down the stairs after hearing the news. I reacted in such away that I’m not sure why, but either way, I punched the wall—I suppose this is something my trained behavior told me to do.
And I did it. I punched a hole in the wall.
Brian ran down the stairs and came up behind me.
He asked, “Who are you trying to intimidate?”
Brian told me, “You’re Father is still sick. You have to get yourself together. Punching the wall isn’t going to help you. It just means we have something else to fix.”
For the record, I never punched a wall out of anger again—
Father A took me home with Brian. He drove me home, and this time, being home was eerie. It was strange to be at the house my father built for us, and yet, The Old Man wasn’t there.
Brian and I went over to the hospital with Mom. I was scared to see him. I was scared to see my Father this way, weak, and gray.
I was scared to feel the things I knew I would feel, but either way, there was no way to avoid this.
The Old Man was the strongest man alive. At least, he was to me. He could fix anything, build anything, and he knew about everything.
This was my Old Man. He was smart. He was strong. Above all things, he was the one that I wanted to approve of me most.
I was always trying to gain his approval. I wanted him to love me and be proud. He was my hero and now he was sick. How could I look up to God now and believe in him?
The Old Man was sitting quietly in his room. He looked so weak but his spirits were good. He was happy to see me. He was happy to see me looking well. I was not sick and I had put on a little more than 30lbs.
I was eating, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, and aside from this, I was speaking clearly and not like I just came off a bender.
The Old Man said, “You look good, kid!”
He said he was proud. Can you believe that?
“I’ve always been proud of you.”
He told me, “I just couldn’t stand watching you do that to yourself.”
He said, “I’m sure you could have a beer or two, but that other stuff was killing you.”
Brian interjected, which I hated.
“No beer,” he said. “No drinking,” said Brian.
“That just leads him back to other things.”
The Old Man looked at me with accepting eyes and simply said, “Okay.”
Put simply, he just wanted his son back, by any means necessary. This was fine with me because I wanted my Father back.
But what now? What if he dies?
What do I do then?
We went back to the farm the next day. I was told the Old Man was going to be okay. However, the news of my Father’s health beat me into submission and left me in a state of awe.
I listened like a good boy when I went back to the farm. I did what I was told. I followed the rules. I prayed when they told me to pray and I believed what they told me to believe.
Maybe if I listened and did what I was told, maybe God would give me and the Old Man a pass on this one and let him hang around for a while.
Two weeks passed. It was Christmas Eve and there was snow on the farm. The sky was gray. It was beautiful to be honest.
There was a little pond in front of the main house. We used to play games of dodge-ball on the ice when the pond froze over.
I suppose the love and kindness I received from my housemates at the time was enough to distract me from the ideas about my Father.
E.J. was a counselor there. I hated him.
He was a dick!
Of all people to tell me anything, I hated to hear anything from E.J. let alone the news that I had to come up from the pond and go up to the house.
“Why,” I asked him.
E.J. told me, “Tony and Betty want to talk to you.”
(Tony and Betty owned the farm).
“What did I do wrong,” I asked
“Nothing,” said E.J. “You just have to go upstairs.”
I argued, “No. Tell me what I did first.”
“You didn’t do anything.”
Then I defied, “Then why do I have to go upstairs?”
E.J. paused and showed compassion.
“Just come with me,” he said.
I followed E.J. into the kitchen upstairs. He offered me coffee, which was against the rules because coffee was only allowed at meals or at coffee time.
I shouted at E.J.
“No, I don’t want your coffee. Besides, it’s not coffee time.”
E.J. offered again, kindly, and told me to have a cup.
“Why are you being nice to me?” I asked
“You’re never nice to me!”
See, the thing is I wanted there to be a problem, I wanted to be in trouble.
I wanted to hear that the courts were looking for me about another charge.
I wanted to hear the state police were coming to shackle me and take me to prison.
I would have taken this. I would have taken any punishment that they handed to me just, please God —Please don’t take my father from me.
Tony and Betty had me sent to the bus at Monticello. The Old Man had another heart attack. This one was bad.
I was told he was on the mend. He was in a regular room too. I was told he was getting better but something must have happened and The Old Man took a turn for the worse.
Along the way to the bus station from Hancock, I tried to make a deal with God. I was thinking to God, and asking Him to make a trade.
I was thinking that since my Father was a good man and he helped people; he taught people how to read and how to speak English, he helped people work and create a living for themselves and their family, maybe I could take The Old Man’s place.
I offered a plea up to God. “Take me instead of him.”
All I knew was how to destroy. All I knew was how to lie and cheat and steal. I was stupid, a waste, and I never saw my value in me before, so why bother now?
I asked God to take me instead. It seemed like a fair trade. Besides, I spent much of my life, struggling with suicide and so much anxiety—it only seemed right to me. Death was no my enemy. Life was.
I arrived at the bus station and went into the bathroom. Upon washing my hands, I heard a weak voice of an elderly man that was shouting from one of the stalls in the restroom. He was shouting the words, “Help, help,” repeatedly.
“Help, help,” he said, over and over again.
He shouted this painfully, in such a way that he was literally humiliated.
I asked what was wrong.
“I made a mess in my pants,” he told me.
I opened the stall door to see the white haired man with his walker in front of him. He was slightly portly, dressed in casual wear with tan orthopedic shoes.
There was no toilet paper in the stalls. There was nothing for him to clean himself. He was elderly and humbled and he looked exactly as I felt—which is weak and helpless.
I managed to get the man some wet paper towels to clean himself. His wife was outside, screaming at the door to hurry up because the bus was leaving. I recall her voice. It was unpleasant and screeching.
My driver from the farm was a man by the name of John. I use his real name because he is a man of note. He was a good man. He was my counselor and friend, and in a time like this, John was my savior.
John came in to see what I was doing. My bus was about to leave as well. I explained what happened and John ran out to tell the bus driver about the restroom. Both drivers agreed to wait.
I swear I would have done anything to help that little old man in the stall. I’d have cleaned him myself, if I had to. I did what I could though.
Maybe God would have given me and The Old Man a pass for that one —
The bus ride home was long and slow. I sat in a window seat, watching the gray skies, watching the land move, and waiting to get home to see The Old Man.
There must have been some mix up with the times because no one was there to pick me up at the station.
Meanwhile, the bus stop was around the block from a crack spot that I used to know, which was strange to me because the understanding was there —I knew where I was, but no matter where I was, I wasn’t even thinking about getting high.
Instead, I sat in a small cab stand. The walls were dirty and the carpet was dirtier. There was a tiny little plastic Christmas tree with three or four, large colored Christmas lights sitting on top of the television. There was something on, I can’t remember exactly, but whatever the show was, it was about Jesus or Christmas or something like that.
I took a cab to the hospital. And no one was there. I suppose they were out there looking for me.
Meanwhile I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I went to Hempstead General and up to the I.C.U.
There he was, my father, the Old Man. He was weak and gray. He was sitting up in his bed, leaning back against a pillow. There was a light over him. It hurt to see my Father this way, looking up as if to make his peace with God.
This hurt because the one thing that I was hopeful for was about to be taken away. I just wanted to have a relationship with him. We never had the chance to do this —no blame, no fault, just fact. We never had the relationship that either of us wanted.
I walked up and said hello.
“Whadaya say, Pop?”
“Hey, Kid! When did you get here?”
“A little while ago. They put me on a bus this morning.”
I remember the quietness of the unit. It was nighttime. All else was dark and most were sleeping, if not moaning in their beds.
Nurses were doing nurse things and the sounds of the unit beeped and rang like frightening little echoes anyone could imagine of a hospital. There were Christmas decorations throughout the place, which were beautiful yet, somber, yet fitting, yet sad.
He was tied to machines that were beeping and blinking.
I felt like a little weak boy.
The following conversation was as real as they come. The details of these events are true; however, I am more than sure I am not the only one that has had this conversation with their parent at a time like this.
In fact, I even saw something like this in a movie, years later with Meg Ryan
“You know how you told me you don’t like liars?”
“I can’t stand them,” he said.
“So that means you would never lie to me, right?”
“No, I would never lie to you. You’re my son.”
I looked at him.
“Then I’m just gonna ask you a question.”
“I’m gonna ask you something, and you’ll tell me the truth, right?”
“Of course,” said The Old Man. You’re my Son!”
“So then I’m just going to ask you if you’re going to be okay. And you’ll just say yes. And if you say yes then I know you’ll be okay because you would never lie to me, right?
I looked at him, my hero, and I asked him.
“Pop, are you gonna be okay?”
He nodded at me.
“Don’t worry about me, kid. I’m gonna be okay.”
That was the only time The Old Man was allowed to lie to me.
There was something I thought about years later. I thought about the deal I tried to make with God. I thought about me asking to take my father’s place.
I believe with all my heart the Old man had a few words with God too. With all my heart, I believe he made a deal. I believe he agreed to go but he just asked God to make sure I was okay.
In the Church they say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that whomsoever shall believe in Him will have the light of life.”
In my heart I believe my Father did the same thing; that he so loved his son that he gave his own life so I could have mine. And I believe it because this is where my real change began.