There is a certain numbness that comes over us. Maybe this is a state of disbelief. We hear things as if the news is not real yet, we know this is real. We know what’s happening but somehow, the news is like a funnel of water and we lose to it like the water loses to the drain. At best, all we can do is surrender.
I was numb. I was in a state of total disbelief. I had flashes of memory and tiny ones at that. I had pictures in my mind that came from times when The Old Man and I were on a fishing trip or walking the beach on New Year’s Day. I was able to remember the times when we played golf together. I was never very good and The Old Man used to ride me about lifting my head when I’d take my swing. But still, these were the best of times.
There was a time in spring during the opening day of baseball season. My uniform was too big for my little body. My head swam inside of my baseball hat. My buck teeth were clear and so were the freckles on my nose.
I could recall the vision of my Old Man tossing a baseball in slow motion and teaching me how to catch. I can remember him teaching me how to hold the baseball and learning to throw.
I remember the way his wrist snapped when tossing the ball, which is what I tried to do. I thought about the memories we shared and the lack thereof, due to the split in our personalities.
I thought about the rifts and the arguments and whether we tried hard enough or not at all, the tension between us was too much to overcome. It wasn’t always like this. No, there was a time when all I wanted was his approval and attention. It had been so long since he was proud of me that I forgot what it felt like to hear The Old Man tell me so.
I was only 17.
This means that I only had him for 17 years. This meant whatever memories I had or whatever times we shared, this was it. We had 17 years to make our relationship work but 17 years just wasn’t long enough. I wanted more but who could I ask?
I packed my things and boarded a van from the farm. There was a strange silence in the ride over to the bus station. I remember this clearly.
John was a person who only knew me for a short while. He was a counselor but more, he was decent to me. He didn’t promise me anything. Least of all, John never offered the common words that most people say in times like this. He never said, “Everything is going to be okay.”
John . . .
He was a hero on this day.
I cannot begin to describe how meaningful his time was with me. I cannot begin to accurately define how comforting he was. He simply knew that I was a young boy. He knew that I was about to become a man and that I was hurting.
I can recall looking out of the window as John drove us down Route 17. The snowfall was beautiful. The sky was gray and quiet. I couldn’t believe the beauty of the moment nor could I understand how things like this happen. How does the world keep turning in spite of news like this?
The Old Man had worked his entire life. He had moments of success but his real success came towards the end. And this was it. This was the end. This was the moment that no one expects yet, this was something that all of us face: The Final Goodbye.
My Mother used to tell me that death is part of living. She used to tell me that this is part of life and whether we like it or not, we only get one shot at this world. I never listened to Mom very much. Then again, I had different priorities at the time.
The following event was something that I will never forget or un-see. Also, the following event is an analogy and used in this text as a symbol, which I am sure you will understand.
While at the station, I had to go to the bathroom before my departure. As a representative of the farm, John went over to the window to buy my bus ticket. I explained that I was heading to the restroom.
“Try to make it fast,” John said.
“The bus is leaving in a few minutes.
I recall entering through the restroom door. I remember the sinks at the wall in front of me and the large mirror that reached from the countertop to the ceiling. I remember looking into the eyes of my reflection, still in total disbelief. I stood to do my business quickly at the urinal when suddenly, I heard a voice cry out.
The voice was the sound of an old man. He was as humbled as could be and stuck in one of the stalls with a messy predicament.
“Help me!” he cried out again.
The sound of his voice was the true sound of helplessness.
“Help me,” he shouted. “I made a mess.”
His wife was outside screaming for him.
“Help me,” he said. “I made a mess!”
I opened the stall without a second of hesitation. I could hear the elderly man’s wife screaming from outside the door. She was shouting that the bus was about to leave.
But all the old man could do was scream, “I made a mess!”
There were no paper towels in his stall and hardly enough toilet paper to appropriately clean him up. I ran to the dispenser and gathered as many paper towels as I could. I wet some of them so that he could clean himself and his shorts.
I ran back and forth and at one point, Dear God! I swore I’d have cleaned him up myself because dammit all to hell, NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO FEEL SO HUMBLED. No one should feel that helpless and weak. In fact, I knew what it felt like. I knew what it felt like to be so powerless and helpless. I knew that life could be cruel and there, in my presence, this was a view of how unfair life could be.
Maybe I was doing this as a trade. Maybe I saw the elderly man the same way I saw my Father. Perhaps he was once strong and young and capable too. But now age crept up and left him humble.
John came into the bathroom to rush me out to the bus. I told him what I was doing. And all I can see, even now with more than decades between now and then, was this white haired man, little and old, beaten and tired, and totally helpless. He made a mess and all I wanted to do was help him.
John ran out to comfort the elderly woman who kept shouting at the men’s room door. Then John ran over to stop their bus (and mine) and explained about the emergency.
John . . .
I swear he was a hero.
Would I have done the same thing if I wasn’t going through a loss myself? Would I have done the same thing if I didn’t understand what it meant to feel totally and completely vulnerable?
I don’t know . . .
What I do know is that at the time, I showed compassion. At the time, I showed that I could be human. I could be a person.
Me, someone who was called a junkie. Me, someone who was picked to be most likely to be dead or in jail. Me, someone who never thought anything about me was good or helpful or meaningful. Me, a person who never considered anyone but myself. I never knew anything but hatred and evil. However, the saying goes: In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
I don’t know if I was being kind –
I think I was just trying to be “The Real” me for a change.
By the way, I eventually got on the bus. The trip was long and dark. I remember leaning my head against the window in a window seat on an otherwise empty bus. The heat was on high and the bus was warm. I couldn’t sleep. I had nothing to occupy my thoughts.
So, I decided to make a deal.
I was never sure about God or the real presence of God. Plus, I know what I have done and, if there was a God, there would be no way that he would help someone like me.
I was never one for prayer. I knew plenty about foxhole prayers. I knew about the times I swore that I’d never do something again. “Just get me out of this one and I swear that I’ll never do it again.” I suppose never isn’t a very long time in foxhole prayers.
At this point, I was willing to try anything.
I talked to God and told him that I would go in my Father’s place. I explained that I was never good. I caused too much trouble. I hurt people. I robbed and I stole and I cheated and I lied. I gave doses to people, just to hook them on the same things as me. This way I had someone around, always on the grind and always looking for a bag just so I never had to go at it alone.
I saw things that no kid should see. I did things that no kid should do. I had things happen to me that shouldn’t happen to anyone as a young boy yet, whether these things should or shouldn’t have happened to me – either way, they still did.
I explained to God that I was no good. All I knew how to do was create damage and destroy. I ruined my family’s life. I publicly humiliated them in the newspapers when a helicopter chased me through my town.
“Take me,” I said to God.
“My Father helps people learn to speak English. He gives people jobs and helps them feed their family.”
“I never dared to help anyone but me.”
I told God that I’d go. No fuss. No carrying on.
“Take me. Not him.”
I arrived at the bus station after a long drive. I was late. Messages must have been mixed because there was no one there to take me to the hospital. Fortunately, the farm gave me a few dollars, just in case I needed it.
(And I did.)
The funny part about this is the bus station was around the block from a drug spot that I used to know of. I could have been high in less than two minutes. But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is I never considered drugs as an option. I had business to tend to. I had my Old Man to see.
I can recall him in the Coronary Care Unit. The Old Man was alone. I didn’t know it at the time, but my Mother and Brother Dave were out looking for me.
The Old Man was awake and looking at the ceiling. I assume he was making his own deals at the time.
And then he saw me.
“Nothin much, Pop.”
“What about you?”
It’s so strange to talk to someone when you know what’s coming. He knew this was the end. I suppose I did too. But what do you say at a time like this?
Sorry that we never got along?
Sorry about the heroin?
But literally none of that came up.
We talked for a while. I listened for a bit.
The next part of the conversation is not limited to me. I am sure there were others who had similar ideas. I even saw something like this in a movie once.
I asked The Old Man, “Do you remember when you told me you couldn’t stand liars?”
“Sure,” said The Old Man.
“I can’t stand liars.”
“So, then you would never lie to me. Would you?”
“Of course not,” he said. “You’re my son.”
“I would never lie to you.”
“And if you gave me your word, you would keep it, right?”
“Of course, I would,” said The Old Man.
“Okay, so then I’m going to ask you a question and then you’ll tell me the truth, right?”
“Ask me anything,” he said.
I started crying.
I started crying like a little boy. I cried as a plea that hopefully my deal was heard and accepted. I wept like a small boy afraid of the dark; afraid of losing the chance to be a son; afraid that none of my hopes that we could somehow right the wrongs between us would ever come true.
I tried to gather myself as best as I could.
“I’m going to ask you if you’re going to be okay.”
My eyes were leaking water.
“And when I ask you this, you’re going to tell me ‘Yes’ and then you’ll be okay.”
“I’m gonna ask and you’ll just tell me you’ll be okay because you would never lie to me. Right?”
“Are you going to be okay, Pop?”
“Don’t worry about me, son. I’m gonna be okay.”
This was one time The Old Man didn’t keep his word.
Then again, I don’t know if he kept his word or not. Maybe he was (and is) okay.
Maybe he kept his world or maybe, like me, The Old Man made a deal and said, “I’ll go. Just let my son be okay.”
One of the last things my Old Man told me was “Stay this way.”
He pointed at me. “Stay the way you are.”
He meant clean.
I remember hearing someone read, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have the light of life.”
God never took my deal, which to me means that my Father so loved his son that he gave up his own life, just so that I could have mine.
We are towards the end of this and I’m sorry for the sentiment. But hold on with me for a few more days. I promise to end this journal with something meaningful.
You have my word on it . . .