Everyone knows there is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything. We know this but nothing ever prepares us for that last goodbye. Nothing ever helps the realization that this might be the last time we see each other. And we hurt and we weep. We mourn and we lose and still, the world turns. The clock ticks and the eventual or inevitable countdown never stops. This never changes speed and never allows us to pause because there is no pause. There is only life and its brief course in a short span of time.
I used to head to this noontime meeting near Madison Square Garden on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was another meeting up the block on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, which was good for me at the time. I made these meetings because I was told this is what I needed to do. I was told about the 12-steps and how to work them. I was told about a program and the need to come to an understanding with a higher power. And I took the suggestions. I showed up early and I helped set up the tables and chairs. I agreed to go under protest, but I still went and stayed out of trouble (for the most part).
I helped set up the literature and put the signs up on the wall. I did this as a routine to help in my acclimation to life without the use of mind altering substances.
I met some people who were helpful to me. Then again, I met some people who weren’t helpful to me.
I struggled with the concepts of the meetings because while I supported the routines and practices that helped people stop drinking or use mind altering substances, my depression was very real. My experiences and post traumatic stress were not something that could be handled with a simple, “Let go, Let God,” or prayerful motto. I had other clinical challenges that made it difficult to weave through my daily life.
In fairness, please do not take this as sad or desperate but instead, I offer this as a sense of accurate information. My depression and my chemical reaction to my state of emotions, which were malleable and shaped due to the direction of my thinking, were something I had lived with from a young age.
(Enter the rough part of the news.)
I suppose trying to understand life has been a lifelong journey for me. I suppose my relation to life or the spirit of life has been challenged since I was small and that by recollection, my first identification with suicide or suicidal thinking came to me when I was very young. I have memories from when I was only six and an attempt that occurred when I was only eight. So yes, at a time when I was supposed to be playing with action figures and thinking about games, I faced an ultimate challenge and tried to end my life. This would prove to be a long struggle for me.
I have shared this news in different presentations regarding suicide and depression and almost every time that I report my first attempt was when I was eight, I hear people react with a loud and aghast inhale, which is to define the tragic state of disbelief. And if most people are honest, we see that there are times when nearly everyone finds themselves at their wit’s end. We see that thoughts are common. However, our attachments and direction of our thoughts are what impacts our beliefs and our behaviors. My attachment to my depressive thinking was deadly to me.
There are different versions of this quote and sure, I bet there are different speakers who claim ownership. However, there is a simple quote from Lao Tzu that says: “If you are depressed then you are living in the past. If you are anxious then you are living in the future. If you are at peace then you are living in the present.”
I will take this idea and break this quote down as it relates to me. I agree that looking back was never something that helped me. Looking ahead and being caught in the discomforts of my projections was anxious for me. I agree that the deception of my perception was also part of my thinking errors. I lived and believed as I thought. And I struggled with the concepts of growth or improvement because my beliefs were so deep that nothing could or would ever improve; hence, this was all I could ever be.
With this being explained, I go back to the Tuesday and Thursday meetings where I’d go early to help set up. There was another person who came early as well. This person was kind and friendly but more, this person was nonjudgmental, which made our conversations easier to have.
This person used to write quotes on the board, which in hindsight; perhaps this was my first introduction to mindfulness.
There was a famous Sanskrit poem. I saw this only once but remembered it somehow because I was there when my new friend was writing this on the blackboard. We were in the basement classroom of a church on 31st Street. I can still see my friend writing this poem on the board.
The poem by Kalidasa talked about life and the importance of one day; that this is life, and that today, well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
I never dared to do that before.
I was a young man in a suit and tie and working a job that was not right for me. I was lost and I was angry. I was uncomfortable with who I was and socially awkward, plus, I was insecure because I thought I was so painfully different.
I was caught in the stages of grief. I mourned the loss of things from my childhood. I mourned the lack of connection with my Father, The Old Man. I mourned the loss and the fact that The Old Man had passed away before we had a chance to settle our past.
I mourned the loss of the very substances and the drinks, which could have killed me. And ah, but at least I was numb for a while. Now there was only life. There was no numbness, but only rawness. There was only growth. There was the pressure of people and the need to perform and compete and do and be and somehow, I had to keep going. But how? How does one protect themselves without a mask or an image to hide behind.
I struggled with intimate relationships. I never dated very well. I never felt truly comfortable. To the best of my assumptions, maybe there was something irreversibly wrong with me. Maybe I was supposed to be this way – maybe I was meant to be alone, to be forever awkward, misfitting or misshapen with a distorted or deformed sense of perpetual discomfort.
I thought that I would live this way forever. And maybe this was supposed to happen. Maybe I had to see this side of life before I could experience anything else.
I thought that I would mourn forever. And not just the loss of my father or the loss of my youth, which was forfeited to a string of tragedies and bad decisions. I needed to think and feel differently but I didn’t know how. I needed to understand life and loss differently but all I knew was right or wrong, good or bad, pass or fail. There was nothing else in-between.
There was a time when I was quick to fight and argue. I thought everything was an insult. I thought my image and my ego needed to be this strong-centered person but inside, I was weak and scared, no different from when I was a child, molested by an older, trusted person and humiliated into a filthy idea that somehow, this was all my fault.
I had this fear that would never go away; plus, I had the fear of humiliating exposure. I thought that I would always be the one who was last to get the joke and worse, I was always afraid to find out the joke was on me.
Years had passed and though I struggled, I managed to put on at least a semblance of a show. I was able to appear that I was okay and getting by. But again, life hit me.
This time it was my Cousin Robbie.
I cannot say that I was exceptionally close with Robbie. I can’t even say that I knew Robbie well. All I can say is that I knew of him and that I knew stories about Robbie. And like me, Robbie had his own challenges.
What I remember most about Robbie was not about the stories and the so-called trouble. No. What I remember most were his hugs. I remember the last time I hugged him.
This is when I was at the hospital and The Old Man was dying. Robbie came in and he hugged me.
He smiled at me and for the moment, it was as if nothing was wrong.
I have to say that out of the millions of hugs I’ve experienced or seen, this hug is the most memorable of all. I grade it this way because, for the moment, that hug from Robbie was something that helped me tolerate an intolerable moment in my life.
I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to repay Robbie for the love and the kindness that he showed me.
Robbie was sick with “The Big C.” It was cancer and there was no turning back.
I remember showing up at the hospital. Robbie had not seen me for a few years. I suppose to Robbie, I would always be a kid. And that’s how he’d always remember me.
A young doctor came into the room. Robbie was asking questions.
However, the doctor was trying to be funny.
Robbie wasn’t laughing.
Robbie said, “Doc, I’m dying.”
The doctor chose to take this conversation in a poorly chosen direction.
I could see Robbie was getting more upset by the minute.
I thought about that memory in my head.
I thought about the way Robbie came into a hospital waiting room and hugged me like a hero.
I decided that this was the time to jump in.
Now was the time to repay his kindness.
I excused my way into the conversation. I explained to the doctor that Robbie is a very important person to me. I explained that this man who means so much to me is uncomfortable, which was making me uncomfortable; AND, the more uncomfortable Robbie gets would mean the more uncomfortable I would get, which I then chose to assure the doctor with a few details. So, in a helpfully suggestive manner, I explained to the doctor that it would not be beneficial for him if I were any more uncomfortable and said, “So pretty please, with sugar on top, ANSWER HIS FUCKING QUESTIONS!”
My way with words was very different back then . . .
I can still see the look in Robbie’s eyes. But first, I want to explain what it feels like to never have anyone stick up for you. I want to explain what it feels like to be bullied or put down and never have someone step in and say, “No. That’s not happening.” I want to explain what stigma leads people to treat others as and how there are those who had a tough time.
See, I know how this feels. And so did Robbie.
I know how it feels to be meek and powerless and need the strength of someone else. I also know how important it is to feel honored when someone else is treating you with the lack thereof. And that’s what I was there to do.
The doctor answered Robbie’s questions and changed his attitude.
The doctor left the room.
Robbie looked over at me and sad “Wow, fuckin’ Benny grew up!”
I don’t care much to brag about violence or the “Tough guy” nature; however, this was not about that. No, this was about me showing someone who could relate to feeling loveless and to let him know that he was not alone. I was so grateful for this moment because this gave worth to a person whom I loved and cared for. This gave value to a man and showed that above all, Robbie was both influential to me and important to our family.
Now, I promised you a story about a bus.
And here it goes without apology.
I went to see Robbie the next morning. I was the first to show up that morning. Robbie told me about a dream he had the night before. He said he dreamt that my Father came to see him on a bus. “He looked clean,” Robbie said. “He looked healthy and happy.” Robbie said our Grandmother was on the bus too and so was our Grandfather. All of whom were people that passed away. Robbie said The Old Man told him not to worry.
He said, “Your Father pulled up in this bus. He told me not to worry and that when I was ready, he would come back and I could get on the bus and go with them.”
I don’t know what Robbie envisioned. I only know what my interpretation was. I imagined this at a bus depot where there were palm trees. I saw a vision of old Miami Beach and I compared this to a picture from when I was a kid.
The Old Man dressed in a while linen outfit. He was probably tanned and relaxed. The tension from the Old Man’s brow was gone. I assumed this is what Robbie saw.
Robbie was sick as ever. He was on a morphine drip. He was tired and couldn’t rest. My Uncle Alan came shortly after. Robbie and Uncle Alan were Father and Son. They had their struggles too but on this day, all disputes were settled.
Robbie told his Father about the dream.
He said, “I think I’m going to go get on that bus, Pop.”
Uncle Alan told Robbie, “It’s okay.”
This was a Father giving permission to his son to say goodbye.
Uncle Alan told him, “Get on the bus.”
I cannot begin to imagine what this felt like for either of them.
All I can do is record what it was like to be a witness to this.
Robbie passed later that day.
That bus has been something in my heart for a long time. I made this connection when my cousin Christine died. She was beautiful. I made this connection with the bus when Uncle Alan died and Aunt Sondra, Aunt Peggy, Aunt Lil, Harry, Stanley, and then of course, Mom.
There are others too.
I know there are friends of mine who I’ve lost. There were people who I only knew in brief intervals of time. I hope they had a bus. I hope I do too (someday).
I believe in this bus.
I believe, not because I have to. I believe in this bus because I want to. I like the idea that people who loved me are still in my corner. I want to believe because I want the love I feel to never sway or falter. I use this as strength now. And strength helps.
I was told that which is of the flesh is of the flesh and that which is of the spirit is of the spirit. Now, I am not here to get into a religious debate or talk about the bible. No, the intention of this journal was to document the different systems of my life and to report the worth of my relationships and the value of my interactions. All are priceless.
I am hoping that this is relatable. I hope that there is a bus for me so that when my time comes, I can see The Old Man and Mom and the bus depot with the palm trees. I like this idea because it settles the fears that I am imperfect and therefore unacceptable.
I report this as a person with flaws and defects and a past. But more, I report this honestly and as a person with a heart that beats in my chest and with hopes and dreams.
Life does not make sense. There are times when it hurts. I know this all too well. And I know that nobody ever promised me a rose garden. Mom used to tell me this all the time. But Mom also said that it can’t rain forever. And Moms always know best.
There’s one more entry to this journal, which means I will end this journal tomorrow. And then I’ll start a new one the very next day. It’s almost New Year’s.
Tomorrow means the world to me.
But I’ll save that story for then . . .