Dear readers (all six of you) I beg your forbearance as I approach this matter. As a garden variety writer I love to joke, to poke at the bees nest once in a while, and of course I have a long and deep sentimental streak. The vast preponderance of said readers – at last four – have asked for me to “come clean” on a topic I have only alluded to in my earlier “body of work”. My response is “not so easy, not so fast”
It’s ironic and surprising that a situation, an era, a dynamic, a person has lingered near the surface of my emotional self for so many years, yet never have I addressed the matter directly. Oh, I have expressed some anger, some derision, some lazy sarcasm, some “let me tell you about this incident” conversations, yet to look directly into the heart of the matter I have never. Am I making too much of all this? Let’s look together and decide for ourselves.
I’m guessing each of us occasionally reflect on our life moments that ring most powerfully, the ones that wake our slumbering existence even after many years have passed. An example: I remember the time I was “lost”. It was a moment most memorable not because I was afraid; rather it was a celebration for my senses to realize that my whole world – family and friends – were anxiously pursuing the one question: “Where’s little Tommy”. It was the start of a privileged existence that colors my view always. My family can attest.
Another time I was hitching rides to go see my girlfriend, one who exemplified the old saw “farmer’s daughter”. I was only beginning to understand the notion of romantic love and this girl, to this day, is very special in my mind. My learning was coming fast and furious; relationships, success, sex, separation; it was a heady time. On that particular day I chose not to follow the dirt roads that lead up in the hills to her house. Instead I set off on the diagonal out across the meadows and woods towards what the day would bring with an untold exuberance in my heart.
What inspired me, I don’t recollect. I simply began to take off my clothes. Yes, I was walking naked through the scrub grass and trees with the bright sun reflecting off my shimmering white teenage body. The moment was soon over and I have shared that story very seldom. What is most remarkable for me is that I think it reveals something essential about who I was at seventeen and most certainly who I am to this day. Make of it what you will but I know its part of my internal code.
When my son was born he was a remarkable boon to both me and his mother. We fell in love with him in a way that changed our lives. On Saturday when he was small his mom often worked at the hospital and I would take my sweet boy to the public market for food and sport. It was great fun until one day. It must have been warm weather because the stalls were teeming with shoppers, theirs bulging bags and carts. After finishing a transaction for a mushrooms or tomatoes I turned to grab Aaron’s hand. He was gone! I took ten steps toward one end of the open barn with tentative shouts then quickly 20 steps opposite, my voice rising louder and louder. I began begging strangers for information they didn’t have. My panic was rising to a pitch. I pushed my way through the stunned crowd rudely demanding help. My heart and my head were exploding.
I was almost to the end of the shed with no little hand to grab. How could this be? My life was on the brink. Inexplicably my mind’s eye said “look left”. There, between the wheels of gouda, near the loafs of fresh mozzarella but in front of the man with a stained apron was a boy. My boy! Transformative and part of my essential self.
My dad, a businessman, would sometimes slip into the back of church on his walk home for lunch. Why I walked into that cool dark chapel one day and saw him kneeled in quiet petition is a mystery. I only know that from that moment forward I internalized that his DNA was the same as some swimming around in my evolutionary matrix. Despite my heresy and blasphemy of later years my being was already defined.
These moments, these themes, these powerful currents push me, like yours have pushed you. Some we can still see clearly in our minds, feel palpably in our hearts; we can measure the words, feel the warm sun, relive the danger. We delineate the contours and pointy spikes of our lives as they have driven us ahead or pulled us back. And down.
There was a man. He was present from my earliest day; usually not in person because he was an infrequent visitor. Instead his presence was more cosmic, more overarching, more villainous. His life ended in a heap wrapped in the clothes of latter-day shaman at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t push him. He didn’t need my help. The story of him and me is far more tangled than the ones I have already related. I think there are few facts to be revealed but I think to work to know the story might be like removing a crown of thorns.