Heap

The memory of that tricycle, abandoned on a grassy hill. For days on end, it lay in a red blanketed tumble. A perfect heap, its wheels fluttering in a lonesome song whose lyrics dreamed of painting the ground in a million years worth of someone’s childhood. Pristine in its sculpted image, nestled in between the living and the dead.

And then one day I passed that grassy hill and found the tricycle bent and broken. Its entrails spewed across the earth, its melody stolen. And I remember thinking it a tragedy of the highest order, and blaming the whole world and Jesus Christ.

I might have approached it, before it became too late. I could have turned it on its wheels and taken it home to my little sister. But then the lesson, and that image I carry to this very day would not have come along with me. Because when I remember back to that broken tricycle, I remember everything else.

They said it was a bad thing. To remember. To tuck myself into those horrible bed time stories. But I do not believe they were right. It is a gift wrapped inside a curse; A talisman whose resonance speaks to me from shallow graves and long lost stars. It helps me to understand the horrors and the beauty of this world are interwoven scriptures. I will neither concede nor abide to its testimony, but I must respect it.

The memories become a hum in the fading moonlight, a flicker in the stained glass sun. Reminding me of the yesterdays that sleep as if sunken vessels in the deep blue sea. Provoking me to close my eyes and heed the torturous lessons risen from the proverbs of Francisco Goya while Canaan sends me postcards, wishing I was there. I embrace the darkness and the light because to run from either one is to succumb to the villainy of both.

That tricycle was an angel, fallen into a new born snow. The memories are a bleeding horizon of lost and found places, whispering in the breeze from all the way back to that twisted wreck up on the grassy hill.

Promising forever, until the wolves came home.

Sunday Morning Post (A Prompt Challenge)

Happy Sunday kids. I’ve got a prompt post that was issued by yours truly. I shared it with the two other members of the Holy Trinity, The Notorious Q at A Dalectable Life and KC Sunshine at Table For One, so’s they could join in the fun if they feel like it. It’s simple as Simon, really. Take yourself back to the year 1985 (Yes, it’s a hat tip to Zemeckis) and explain to someone from that time what 2018 looks like. My post went in an entirely different direction than I was expecting it to go, so there’s not as much in the way of details as I imagined there might be. This post became about perspective, and how valuable a thing it truly is. 

I’m speaking on the particulars with my old friend Danny, who was taken from the world in the summer of 1985. It was much too soon for him. It was much too soon for all of us. Life always seems to steal the people you can least afford to live without, and now I find myself picking up the pieces of years that never happened and piecing them back together again as if a mosaic. Thirty three years that feel like a smoky mist.

“It’s been so long . . ” I say.

“Well . . I don’t understand time the same way you do. This is eternity, the shit lasts forever . . like velcro,”

“Yeah, how does that work anyways?”

“Velcro?” Danny asks with a sly grin.

“No . . . asshole,”

Danny laughs before tapping open a box of Reds. He wrist shots his Zippo torch and takes an elaborate tug as he ponders my question.

“What? You smoke now?”

“It can’t kill me,” Danny laughs.

“Hey, remember the time . . .”

Yeah I do,” Danny says, cutting me off at the pass. “I was never so sick in my life!”

“You never forgave Joanne for that shit,”

“She gave this impressionable young pup the run of her Daddy’s wet bar and her pack of smokes. That girl was bad news, but you wouldn’t listen,”

“Hey man, that was your fucking lesson to learn. The dude who never smokes or drinks, decides Hey why not do both in the same night because I don’t know any of the girls here and maybe vomiting all over myself will make me look more appealing,

“Screw . . . you, man!” Danny laughs so hard that he spits.

“I can’t believe Patti asked about you after that,” I say.

“Marc . . it’s like this. The bad boys appealed to her, but she was in need of a good man,”

“Well played!” I say, clapping my hands exaggeratedly as Danny takes his bows.

“So . . did Patti take it hard? Me dying and all?”

“We all did,”

“I’m talking about Patti here,”

“She never married. She became a nun,”

“You serious?”

“Of course I’m not fucking serious!” I laugh.

“No respect for the dead, tell you what,” Danny smiles.

“Things went from horrible to worse after you died. There was a grand jury investigation. Me and Matt went off the deep end there for a while and Shereen moved to Florida. I followed her there for a quick minute,”

“It’s all frying pans and fires with you!” Danny says.

“Name of my game, and I’m the one to blame,”

“Okay, since I’ve been lousy with the details since I left, seeing as how they don’t matter any longer . . what’s say you give me some dope on the state of the world. Was Orwell right?”

“Yes and no. Technology is a high wire act in 2018. We use it for everything while hoping we never reach the point where it starts using us. That old Tandy computer you had . . it done made babies. There’s a thing called the internet, and now you can chat with people from around the world. And it’s all about mobility now . . we carry our computers with us and they fit in a small bag. Not that we need ’em all the time, since our phones do everything,”

“You carry your phones?”

“Landlines are antiques. Water fountains too since everyone uses bottled water now. Newspapers and magazines and pizza delivery . . you get it on your mobile devices. We even have Dick Tracy watches!”

“Who’s the President?”

“Trump,”

“Huh,”

“Yanno . . that doesn’t sound nearly as ridiculous to you as it truly is. Okay . . lemme try harder. America’s Dad, Bill Cosby is a convicted rapist serving time. Joe Paterno, turns out . . wasn’t a Saint. He was taken down in a child rape cover-up at the school.  Communism died, and then it came back as something even scarier. Terrorist attacks are happening all over the world, all the time. Kids don’t fight after school anymore, they just brings guns in and kill other kids,”

“Alright . . shit. Sorry I asked,”

“The world’s in a very shitty place, Danny boy,”

“Nah. The world’s just fine, Marc. It’s just some of the people in it who rearrange the furniture and mess up the entire living space,”

“Fucking stardust has game! You were never this philosophical on the A side of things,”

“That’s what eternity will do to a guy,”

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good. We had a black President. The internet has made the world smaller, and for the most part, warmer. And while Prince, Bowie and Freddie Mercury went much too soon, their music is still kicking,”

“See? Good shit happens if you take the time to look for it,”

“You’ve got perspective,”

“Well, I remember all the good times. There’s this one night, we were heading home. We had summer jobs waiting on us in the morning and Marianne decides that going into town is the greatest idea ever. It was closing in on midnight and it was breaking the rules, and nothing made more sense in that moment”

“Shit, I forgot all about that . .”

“I think about it all the time. Going over the Queensboro and the city was just getting down to business, and we were listening to Queen and screaming our lungs out and chasing forever and it didn’t matter that we were never gonna catch it. All that mattered was the try,”

I don’t have the heart to tell him that the city he remembers ain’t there anymore. And it doesn’t matter, now. All that matters is the moment he’s holding onto, and all I know is this.

I want in.

 

 

 

 

The shape of angels

He immersed himself in small fascinations because they possessed the quality of cosmic slingshots; they traversed the narrow passages of ordinary days with mighty catapults whose earnest plead wed dreams to the hopeless places.

He learned to understand life beyond his years out of necessity. And as such he learned that to entertain lost causes was to profit on the flaws of humanity and in so doing, to live inside truths whose divinity provided the most grand and boundless of sanctuaries. Which is why he conspired to steal away on certain afternoons to Maribel’s house, running as quickly as his first grade legs could carry him. Maribel was a cross-grained old woman who lived across the street, catercorner to his family’s rancher.

The neighborhood kids had stitched together vicious rumors about Maribel, out of ignorance and spite. The portrait they painted was of a crazy cat lady who stole little kids and practiced Santeria. She was sentenced to this unfortunate reputation for having chased them off her property when they tried stealing mangoes or her morning paper.

He had avoided such an adversarial relationship when he brought her a kitten he’d found rummaging in some hedges one day. It’s how we won her over in quicksilver fashion. After which she recruited him to help her with chores whenever he borrowed enough time with which to do so.

Inside the give or take of his free time, he would help Maribel with basic tasks such as watering her plants, taking out the garbage, cleaning up or feeding her daily herd of assorted stray cats from the neighborhood. He was amazed at how she kept them all straight; from names she’d coined for them to their respective dinner preferences to the tiniest roam of a habit attached to their street smart tails. And then she shared with him the reason for such a studious dedication to her extended family.

“If you take these creatures seriously, God listens.”

As time wore him down in all the ways of a too mean world, he came to love that simple piece of Zen. The years added a patina to his memories, and the lessons learned gained the weight of purpose and inviolable truths. To abide by the tenets was to purchase a hard earned peace of mind. And so it was that the old woman in shuffling slippers and a frayed pink house coat with the perpetual ash of a Benson and Hedges hanging from her lips taught him lessons without trying.

He crouched down onto the grass and criss-crossed his legs and let his newest friend King fall into his arms. Here was a first rate mutt who didn’t give a fig for the flat earth quality of purebreds. The bric-a-brac DNA that coursed through his veins told better stories, after all. With mastiff jowls that swung like a pendulum to his eager terrier clench to the clumsy pit bull puppy wanting to be all grown up . . King was a brilliant harmony of imperfection.

He wrapped his arms around King and then he looked into his eyes and he could see that house across the street, catercorner from his family’s rancher in Miami. And from that other lifetime ago, the moments stretched into a million different truths and he took each and every one of them seriously.

God was listening.

 

And so it goes

There wasn’t enough time.

Zeke was fifty three years old when his heart gave out and the rest of his life stopped happening. The news came to me in a phone call from my Aunt. She sped through the details in Spanish, going on for several minutes before she stopped to ask me what language she was speaking in. I told her it was alright, that I understood.

It’s just that, the most important part of this story is the part I will never understand. Because we never can, we’re not allowed to. Life is a horribly wretched circumstance, and it’s one to which we hold to dearly. And it always happens this way, always.

We hadn’t been close for too many years, disconnected by the miles and different lives and familial misunderstandings. None of it was personal, and yet I can’t help thinking that it becomes all too personal after it’s too damned late to do anything about the silence that existed between us.

I never called him after the separation from my cousin. Not even a simple text to let him know that I was there if he ever needed to talk. Then again, I became quite good at not being there for that side of my family, so really . . why would he have been immune?

It doesn’t matter a wit, not compared to the two beautiful children he left behind. Grown now, they possess the depth and passion of their father. And if nothing else can be retrieved for me, their lives become something I might understand with more familiarity now. Before something else becomes too late.

Me and the kids spent Saturday with this side of the family. We attended a celebration of his life. So many people shared their stories. He was loved for his quirks, his humor and his passions. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word. He loved music and math, friends and family and Kurt Vonnegut too.

I remember things about him that have no blessed Shakespeare to them. They are simple things that have loosed themselves inside my mind over the last couple weeks, since I first received the news of his death. Things like his love of the Talking Heads and Devo. And the ad he did for Absolut vodka. And how he was an avowed liberal who loved debating; not yelling or screaming, but actual discussion. And how he just didn’t get sports, at all. And how he got books, and loved them. And how he had theories . . on everything. And how he folded his arms and gave you his undivided attention when he spoke to you. And his hugs. God, I can close my eyes right now and I can feel his hugs.

And if I could be granted five minutes with the man, I might ask that it be one long hug.

The memory that keeps prevailing over the last couple weeks, it’s twenty eight years removed. It was the day Zeke married my cousin Yvette. They wed in a nondenominational church near the Trade Center. Eleven years later, Zeke was in those Towers when the first plane hit. He made it downstairs and watched as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. And then he ran like hell, as fast and as far as his legs could take him.

But he never made it out of there, I don’t believe. He lost his job when the company he worked for folded after the attacks. He busted his ass to get back, but he never really could get back what was lost. Mentally and spiritually, I think he struggled even more.

Maybe that’s why I think back to his wedding day. The bride, so beautiful in white, and Zeke with his trademark black suit and tie. Two beautiful kids who were going to live forever, in a city that was always going to be the magical iteration of Runyon and Warhol and pride dressed in the cursive of stardust.

And so it goes . . .

There is no I in acceptance

I remember the time I almost went mad in the middle of a beautiful day.

Everything went quiet, as if my brain was busy spinning the sounds into a dull series of thuds whose trespass became increasingly indecipherable to me. Simple conversations required a herculean effort. Words became pin pricks, sentences became wildly rampaging herds.

As far as anxiety attacks go, this fucker was ambitious, It went on this way for several hours with no real let up. There were ebbs, but it was mostly just a long and rolling flow of my heart beating out of my chest, my legs shaking as I walked, sweating as if I’d just gone for a run and shallow breathing.

I was working, which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been home alone. So there I was, going just a little bit insane, in the middle of a beautiful day.

And nobody saw a thing.

That was my last serious anxiety attack, and it’s been three years since that day. Almost. I say this with a cautious respect for the goings on inside my brain. Because I know how things can change, in an instant. I know how a beautiful day can turn into a struggle not to drown. I am humbled, but I am also hopeful. Both.

When you learn yourself, truly learn yourself . . that’s when you grow. You can’t lie about it though. There’s no cheating to the process, hells no. You have to be bluntly honest in your appraisal. And then you have to do one of the hardest things known to man, woman and sometimes beast. It’s called acceptance. This is the sticky part of the label for a lot of peeps, because they confuse acceptance with resignation. And lemme tell you, the one ain’t the other. Being resigned to something is like wearing concrete boots, whereas accepting something is akin to running barefoot in a meadow. One is limiting, the other limitless.

You become you when you begin to see the character in your warts and the medals in your scars. You will find there is an extraordinary quality to just being who you are. You’ll find that your spirit becomes the same thing as water in that it finds a way. It’s all about moving in the direction of that little voice inside you; the sensible sounding voice . . not the one who sounds just like Keith Richards.

I find Zen in the passionate embrace of words, being there for a friend in need and volunteering my time to a cause I love. I find rhythm in a smile and a laugh and a kiss. I find music in the warble of restaurant conversations whose waves crash robustly on top of each other before dying in the mysterious foam. I find peace in climbing rock walls, long runs and carving black diamonds.

The flip side is a low down dirty shame who has ridden off into many a tenuously sublime sunset. I’ve laughed with the sinners when I didn’t feel like crying with the saints no more. Because the truth of it is, for every positive and healthy choice I’ve made over the course of my life, I’ve followed through on some really bad ideas.  I somehow managed to survive catastrophes of all shapes and sizes and flavors.

So that’s the thing right there. To not hold it against myself just because my cerebral cortex has been sweet talked into just as many bad ideas as good ones. Being true to yourself is a diet for the soul. It demands that you be accountable, disciplined and infinitely patient. When you rise up, be grateful. When you fall, learn from it.

Understand yourself as that old Tennessee Williams quote that goes, If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels. I remember that one every time I think back to that beautiful day, three years ago.

Almost.