A lot happens in 30 years.
I was awake last night, asking myself about the things I have done and the places I’ve been to since this day back in 1989. I was only a kid then. I thought about the people and the places I’ve seen and how I swore that I would never see them again, but yet, fate does what fate does. Suffice to say that life has its own rhythm. Suffice to say that so do I and so do you. Life is funny down here on Project Earth.
I was thinking about this. Thirty years and where have I been?
Well, I’ve been out east on the island several times. I’ve seen the beaches at Montauk and watched the boats head out to sea. I’ve fished offshore in my own boat and made it out to the canyon a few times. I saw some good trips out there. I saw some rough seas out there as well, and I mean this metaphorically too.
I’ve been to the restaurant Salivar’s once or twice as well. Ever hear of it? Of course you have. Wasn’t it you that told me the head of the great white shark that’s hung on the wall at Salivar’s was the same head they used for the great white shark in the movie Jaws?
I took a ride out there once. To Montauk, I mean. (Not just to Salivar’s.) It was just me and no one else. It was this day too, the 29th of December which is a date of memory for me. The ride itself was quiet. I don’t remember thinking anything specifically, but yet, I was probably thinking about everything — most of all, I was thinking about you.
I was probably wondering what you would say or what you would think about silly things, like maybe gas prices for example.
I was probably wondering what you would tell me about the things I was doing.
I was most likely thinking about the stories I used to hear about you, growing up, and your life in the Bronx before the war or the time you joined the Army Air-Corps at the end of WWII.
There was so much I never knew about you. And sometimes I wish I knew more. Other times, I suppose its best that we don’t know everything about our parents. I suppose as kids, we fail to recognize that our parents are only human, complete with mistakes and faults and all. We never consider our parents’ life before we were born or what their dreams were like (or disappointments).
See, like, I never knew much about your insecurity. I never knew much about your life before Mom. I only knew about the stories you told me, which were limited because, well, I suppose you had your reasons.
You were quiet sometimes, which was hard to understand. Then again, one of your famous things to tell me is that I was too young to understand, which, in fairness, I suppose I was. You would say, “You’ll understand when you get older,” and you were right about that. I do understand more. I learned a lot in 30 years. I learned about life. I learned about me. I learned what happens when we settle for less. I learned what happens when we give up on our dreams. I also learned what happens when we compromise our worth, just to get something instead of fearing we’d have nothing.
You used to try and tell me things but it was hard for me to listen. You used to warn me about my friendships but I never understood the reasons why. Perhaps, this is because you were speaking from experience. Maybe this was you projecting fears but at the same time, this was you offering me valid advice. You used to always tell me, “If you sleep with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.” Well, to be honest, after years of scratching, I had to make some adjustments with my surroundings.
I’ve earned and I’ve lost throughout the years. I’ve fallen quite a few times and I’ve learned to get back up just the same.
I’ve worked different jobs. I’ve been different people and lived in a few different places. I’ve lived with money and without it.
I’ve always made sure to keep our New Year’s tradition sacred.
The beach at Point Lookout has changed quite a bit—but the place still means everything to me. And the Jones Inlet, and the ships, the long-liner fishing boats, the commercial draggers and the scallop boats, do remember them? I do.
I remember watching them head out in the cold morning, first of January to brave the white-caps in the sea. The men on those boats work hard for their money—just like you did, Pop.
Sometimes I feel like taking that drive again. Maybe not to Montauk or anyplace like it — but sometimes, I think about getting in my car and just driving to a place, like anywhere, just far from here. This is not for good, just a trip. Know what I mean? I could find a place with a little diner. I’d order a bowl of soup or maybe try a piece of their peach cobbler, or something like that. I think about driving far away from the mainstream world to a small town where people in the town say the craziest things like, “Hi,” or “Hello” and they’d talk to total strangers like long lost friends that hadn’t met yet.
Do you remember the last time we ate at that burger place on Merrick? It was late and it was hot. I wanted to go home because we worked all day. I was dirty and sweaty. I wanted to take a shower in the worst way possible. I didn’t want anyone to see me that way, filthy like I was, but you insisted. Aside from the point that I didn’t want to be seen this way, with black soot all over my face, my hair all matted after being curled up and cleaning oil-burners, I never really liked the burgers from that place — but again, you insisted. We went in and we ordered. I never saw this the way you did. I never realized what you were trying to do. I was thinking about my pride. And yet, so were you. But you were thinking about pride from a different perspective.
See, we used to argue quite a bit so I never knew how to connect the dots very well. I only knew how to see things from my point of view, which only goes to show that you were right — I’d have to wait to get older before I could understand.
We were a father and son, eating together, after a long, hard honest day’s work. You were proud of this. More accurately, you were proud of me. I suppose I didn’t know how to see this back then — and I can see us there now, sitting together, both of us filthy after a long day’s work. We sat quietly and ate heartily. I wish I could have acknowledged this back then. Fortunately, at least I can acknowledge this now. At least I have this vision and my memories to keep us connected.
To be honest, it’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since you’ve been gone. Yet, at the same time it feels like you were only a dream, like you were never here — you were just part of my history, like an old movie that I saw a million times over, but yet, I never live in it. I know this is not so but still, this is the way it seems sometimes. I can hear your voice when I think really hard about it. I can remember the way you told me, “Hey, kid!” the last time you said hello to me.
A lot happens in 30 years. I eventually earned my high school diploma. Aunt Sondra had me go back. She told me I had to. She was right. I did have to. I remember the day I received my results in the mail. Of course, I thought I failed. In fact, I swore I failed. I was sitting in Aunt Sondra’s living room on her blue recliner next to the fish tank. I had the envelope in my hand but I was too afraid to open it. As it was, I already believed I was stupid — why in the world would I want to open up an envelope and read something that confirmed what I already believed about myself? Turns out, I was wrong. I passed. I was stuck in a belief system that taught me inaccurate ideas about my ability.
I’ve learned a lot about myself since you’ve been gone. I’ve also learned how to talk to you and how to forgive us for the things we couldn’t control. I’ve had to learn how to listen better, which is not always easy for me.
I know I don’t visit the grave very often. I’m sorry about this but I just can’t, Pop. That’s where dead people live.
Me, I’d rather go to the ocean and watch the ships heading out to sea. I’d rather go here because to me, this is where you live, somewhere out there, captaining your own ship, sitting happily in your wheelhouse with a captain’s hat on and a cable knit turtleneck sweater, dressed warmly for the cold winds.
In the summer, I always think about the snappers in the bay and the time we stood in the waters, fishing, like father and son. I remember the sun beating down on you. I remember your salt and pepper hair blowing in the wind. That’s why I never go to the cemetery, Pop. What for? I’d rather close my eyes and see you as I’d prefer to see you, enjoying the ocean like we used to do back when I was a kid.
Today is Sunday, December 29, and it’s 30 years to the date. I’m on my way over to one of the nearby county jails to run an empowerment program of mine. See, the reason I do this is because you and I already had to pay for our lack of communication. I guess my hopes are to help others so they don’t lose out like we did on more father and son things.
Gotta go now, Pop.
I will write again soon. Send my best to Mom and tell her not to worry. Everything will be okay. I’m just learning more about my dreams and how to reach them.
I know I ask this a lot, but before I end this note, I’d like to ask you to stop by if you can. Send me a message somehow and let me know you can hear me. I’m tired of other people telling me you’re proud. It would just mean a lot more to me if I could hear it from you. Just once.
I miss you, Pop.