From the archives: December 2011.
Pain of the past in its pastness. Today I’m thinking about…I don’t know what. Nothing really. In the car with my son sleeping in the backseat and inside the apartment (a few feet away) my wife and the organizer lady, Erin, just a couple years out of college, are getting the place ready for deleading. I miss my parents. My mom is nine years dead. My dad is old, alive, warm, slowing down, far away, a good man I’ve never known quite how to emulate. He feels in a language I don’t know. Mystery to me since I was young though I’ve long known I was meant (meant!) to come up like him, good and strong and sure. A straight-backed man bent only by time and care. He hasn’t lied or wormed his way around, ever. Nothing to hide. He is a good man and I worry that we’ve never understood each other; or not worry: I mourn. Early to be mourning. He is a living man and good and true, wants nothing but love for his sons. But I fall into the solecism — or I mean solipsism, I guess — of mourning.
Meanwhile we’re all sick. I feel old. But small and young — old, I mean, before my time, unearned. Which is to say weak. I mean I’m sorry I’ve never undertaken to make myself into the strong straightforward man I was to have been. Wheels spinning against inner wheels. I have to go indirect to get to things. To what I think I want (am ‘meant’) to say.
I got a fine education but I suppose it’s done now, in the formal sense. Though learning continues thank god. My brother asked me, back in middle school or high school, to exchange books with him. I suggested ‘Dune’ and he gave me ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ More than 15 years ago. And I never did read it. Never did read a single word of Dickens in my whole life.
All the ways I’ve hidden from my family. Meeting them always far less than halfway.
Hitchens died at the Anderson center in Houston. My mom went there for examinations when she first found out — was finding out? was living with the discovery that? — she had cancer. Today we go to a bed & breakfast up the street where we’ll stay for a few days. Then to see my in-laws near Denver. The apartment will be full of poison dust for a few days. I wrote maybe 47,000 words worth of a new manuscript in November. I had to stop writing just before the 30th, and haven’t taken it up since.
I’m never able to talk about my family, or death, or my friends, or even just time’s passage, without talking too about writing.
It is not my job, I realize. It’s how I think. Wasn’t always but there you have it.
I don’t know what I did before I wrote.
I might have a job for spring semester after all. Then we’ll be able to afford day care for my son. I’m unusually well-suited to this job and would be happy to have it. All the more reason for things not to work out: I haven’t earned that kind of happiness, have I? It’s a ‘writing job’: actually, I’d be teaching writing to bright technically-minded college students. Almost a dream.
I am preoccupied with the people I’ve been.
I never say ‘men.’
Well what sort of man am I. Sitting here in the car sickly and my boy is sleeping in the backseat. I don’t know that I respect myself. I used to piss in the kitchen sink so as not to wake our son walking up the stairs. After a while it stopped being a problem — walking noise I mean — but I took a while longer to stop pissing in the sink. I’d gotten used to it. So much easier than going all the way to the bathroom upstairs. Now we live in a one-story apartment and the floor outside the bedroom is squeaky all over again, but I’ve unlearned my shortcut. I thought of it as generous. But I walk on by him now and feel civilized pissing in the toilet. I didn’t used to think of it as any big thing. Maybe that’s a small win. For me, I guess? Or Western civilization?
I quite like it, you know. The West. Absolutely devastating to authentic self-knowledge, but it’s alright.
This week my brother finally disposed of a gigantic sombrero he bought in Texas. He took a long train trip with my mom. I was in college, or maybe grad school. Perhaps they were going to the Anderson center even then. Maybe she was given a schedule at that time, pertaining to the order in which her internal organs would be crippled and destroyed by cancer. First your DNA turns against you, as I understand it, babbling in a new language, mutated — apoptosis undone too — so that the logomaniacal babble can no longer be stopped even by death; and your immortal cells band together and grow into a tight-knit community which eats you. Maybe they put the schedule on a nicely-formatted spreadsheet for my mom to peruse while she died by degrees. Your colon, charmingly, to begin; and later on your lungs. Quiet your beautiful voice and steal your cultured appetite. All your learning. No sleep and no rest. Forget how to read. Here is a sombrero for your boy to wear at the train station while carrying all the suitcases. He looks so small surrounded by those bags and you will die long before your time.
Your eldest son will not watch every moment of your collapse and disintegration because he will be ‘living it up’ in Boston. Too far to quickly drive. Please do not again ask what he plans to do with his graduate degree in video games. He will later fly home on a ‘bereavement fare,’ though, saving a substantial amount of money on that one-way plane ticket. The world revolves around a dying star. He isn’t thrifty but he’s not the fool he seems. He’ll know he’s failed.
If I could only tell you how much I hate myself for not being part of my mom’s last years on earth, for not working to preserve and restore and join our shared family body. If I could quiet down long enough to breathe in simple facts like All Things Pass.
The first time I meditated I nearly cried at the realization that I wasn’t alone in the office building where I sat. Think of that so tiny thing. That it could mean so much to a man. Not to be alone in a city of millions!
I could be a better friend to my brother. Really I could. We disagree on so much. I told him to ‘piss off’ two days ago on the phone and he hung up on me. No talking since.
I guess I’m saying this to him. Hello Come back. Or to her, I guess. Come back hello I love you in spite of myself.