Stinkin’ Thinkin’

When I was a teenager and my depressive cycle started, my sister would tell me,

That’s stinkin’ thinkin’, stop it

She and her husband ran a sales office and motivation was their game. Positive thinking would drive a man to enter a strange place and do something completely out of character, and after that the money was addictive.

I always tried, for her, goddamn I worshipped her. She had always seen good in me, and told me.

That’s important, that you tell people good things you see in them. Not everyone can see good in themselves.

……

So my depression isn’t a constant. I have cycles that don’t run on a clock or a schedule. Most of the time I’m just normal depressed, and I’ve learned some good coping mechanisms for that.

I write, I focus on my children and wife, I watch funny movies or I play games and try to get out of my head.

It works for me.

Then comes the darkness… I never know when it’s going to happen but once it starts I can feel it

Suddenly there’s less to say

There’s a growing weight on my eyes, my shoulders start to slump

It gets hard to laugh

My mind goes numb

and for a week or two or a month

Watching The Princess Bride doesn’t fill me with nostalgia and laughter

I have to avoid most of the songs I love because they’ll send me into uncontrollable fits of sobbing

Stray thoughts float around and if I pull the thread

I’ll find death at the other end of the line

Ol’ Grim doesn’t give up…

As patient as death, is that a thing?

……….

When it passes, it does so like an Iowa summer thunderstorm. Rip through, make a lot of noise and leave a quiet sunny day in its wake.

I’ve felt it leave often enough that now I just ride it out, hoping it goes quickly.

I can tell my wife it’s starting and she loves me a little louder. As I fall into myself she holds my hand and won’t let me fall alone.

The second day (the one I’m on as I write this) is when the numbness dissipates and the memories flood my mind.

Standing up and speaking for the dead. I remember the words coming out of other’s mouths, telling me

She’s gone

He’s dead

Or I’ll be not thinking about anything in particular and suddenly I’m reliving some awful shit from my childhood

Sneaky fingers sneaky toes

Keep the secret no-one knows

And I can’t find my grown-up strength, I can’t find my walls, my mechanisms are seized up and nothing will help

….

Until it passes

I have to be very careful with

Stinkin’ thinkin’

Because the wrong thought has almost done Ol’ Grim’s work, before

Like the night I was in the bedroom closet with my knife and my wife, my savior, my angel,

Wrestled it out of my hands and damn near cut her thumb off

And I can try to make excuses to myself but I can’t look into her eyes and say words that are less than true

So I ride the darkness

and wait for the light.

I know it’s coming.

Reaching Back

I saw him.

He held a razor to his wrist, tears streaming freely down his cheeks.

He kept whispering, “Just do it. Just do it. Just do it.”

I saw him, trying to convince himself to cut his life off, and I had no idea how to stop him, or if I should try.

When animals are suffering, we kill them, and call it humane. Wasn’t he an animal? Aren’t we all? How could I tell him to prolong his suffering?

What could I say which would be honest enough to be accepted, and change his mind about life?

He lowered the razor to his wrist, prepared to cut open his veins, vertically, so there wouldn’t be time to save him, if they found him before he died.

He had a plastic bag, spread open below him, trying to be considerate, not wanting to leave too big a mess, for the unlucky soul which would find his body. An open bottle of aspirin lay on the counter, he had taken it to thin his blood. He had thought this through, maybe for years.

I could see him, but he didn’t see me, yet. I watched him deliberate his existence, and my heart broke for him. I could see that the perspective I had gained through life’s experience had not been revealed to him. He was fighting a battle which he was bound to lose, searching for meaning in a meaningless life. His pain was palpable as he swam back and forth through the waters of depression, and all I wanted was to throw him a line, help him back to shore, give him some way to make sense of it all.

Over and over he lowered the razor, then pulled it away, shaking his head, face twisted with pain and sadness. He was dancing with demons, first leading, and then being led. The agonizing march was tapping its way toward oblivion.

I resolved to cut in on his dance, and I made my move cautiously.

Trying not to startle him, I softly whispered, “Don’t do it.”

He looked up, finally seeing me. A brief recognition crossed his face, then the storm clouds crossed his sight again, and he asked, “Who are you?” I shook my head slightly, responding, “You’ll find out. What’s more important is who you are, and who you might be.”

Anger flashed as he caught my eyes, shaking his head violently, and said, “This life is too cruel, for me. I have tried to be happy. I have tried to be true. The two mix like oil and fire. Humanity spends all its energy trying to destroy each other, and greed is the law of the land. Because I’m young, they tell me I don’t understand, but I understand better than they do. This life is wrong. For me, for everyone. We are not animals, we are a virus, an infection. I won’t be a party to it, anymore. I will go, on my own terms. Now.”

He once again lowered the blade, this time touching the soft, thin skin at his wrist, piercing his skin and drawing blood. A look of determination had fixed upon his youthful features, and a small grin peeked out between his teeth.

Mind racing, desperate, I cried weakly, “Please, don’t do this.”
He looked up from his bloody wrist and stared into my eyes again. He angrily spat at me, “Nobody loves me. Not the real me. They don’t know me, and they don’t want to know me. Nobody will even take the time to find out who I am, what I need. They have no time for anything but their selfish pursuits, and I won’t feed their egos nor wallets. They don’t care to know me.”

I tried to send all of the love I possessed into his eyes as I whispered, “I do.”

Laughing angrily, caught off guard but unwilling to concede a single inch of battled-for ground, he walked toward me a step and thrust his face toward mine. The rage flew out of his eyes and his voice shook as he yelled, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!”

His point was valid. I nodded agreement, and put my hands up to show my surrender to his fury. I said, “I want to know you. If you die today, I never will.”

Shocked by my statement, he stepped away, looking down at his bleeding forearm. A crimson pool was collecting on the plastic below him, as his blood dripped down his fingers. He looked at me, then back at his arm. He started to speak, and his voice cracked.

Tears started flowing again, and he shook his head side-to-side. Shoulders slumping, he pointed his bloody hand at me, again tried to speak, but could only issue a mournful groan as the sobs ripped their way out of his throat. His anger faded, and he crumbled, limply collapsing, sobbing, to the floor.

I let him cry, speaking softly.

“You have only just begun. You will find your way to people who see you, understand you, and love the real you. You have more to be. You are needed. Your life has hurt you, and if you stick around, life will hurt you more. But you will grow strong. You have a purpose. There are people not yet born who need to know you. Would you leave them to their hurt, without your help? Without your love? Who will help them, if not you? Who can help the next young person to see their place in this life? The cruelty and suffering you see is real. You may be the only thing standing between someone and their grave. Someone will need you, and someone will love you. If you are here, breathing, living, fighting against the sorrow, the cruelty. To that person, to those people, you are already their life. Somewhere, someone is drowning in their own misunderstood sea…you have to be the driftwood to which they cling. You have to let them be saved, by your presence. If not you, there will be none. No rescuer, no lifeline, no hand reaching back to their flailing grasp. Your pain will not cease, but without you, they will never learn how to carry their own weight.”

When I finished speaking, a look of understanding was on his face. He stood, put the razor down, and looked me in the eyes.
“You’re right. I don’t know who they are, yet, but I need to be here, to be there for them.”

He picked up the plastic and placed it in the trashcan. Looking at me again, he said, “thank you”, and walked away from the mirror.

Lasting First

In the time before the life I know

there was, basically,

everything that has ever been.

Life is long, so long it seems impossible. The first day of life is perfectly terrible and a lot of boulders roll down slopes after.

I know right here you’re expecting that I’ll tell you how short life is, that it moves too fast and you can’t get back your time and everyone you know will die before you do, maybe, if you’re lucky you might have enough time to do all you want.

But that sentiment has been shared ad infinitum and I think it’s bullshit.

Life is long, so amazingly and insanely long that there’s time to do everything. Every day is 23 hours and 56 minutes long, each of those minutes has time for me to live a minute, to torture myself for some pain I caused twenty-six years ago, to live in a memory of passionate lust and desire that went away seventeen years ago. One minute in so many days and what do I do with these minutes…

I’ve just spent three writing that paragraph. Considering the words and how I want to make my point, to cast the hook and see if I can get you to bite.

If you’re reading this sentence I’d guess that you’re interested enough to get to my point.

Life isn’t short. Even for a baby that dies on her second day, life is not immediate. Awareness creates perception which in turn creates a clock ticking, this breath and that heartbeat.

When Matt Wafer flew out of the rolling SUV and died as a nineteen year old kid, his life wasn’t short. He made it through about 7200 days full of minutes and seconds and thoughts and hopes and laughter and love.

When Ethan Eayre, great big goofy kid wrapped in the sins of his father, his mother, his older brother, died from a simple infection that became the descriptive and fun-to-remember labels “morbidly obese” when he lived and died, he still does, I’m in that moment now, telling my mother in the lobby that, yes,

She can do this.

She can say goodbye to her youngest son, she can carry herself through that moment, because he lived all of his days as a loving and confusingly decent person, a fluffy and smiling friendly-bear going around making people happy, mostly… In part. He lived a life as he could, and it is over, so, Mother, you won’t freak out

you’ll go in there and cry for him, cry for yourself, you’ll give his life the respect which is due.

The time we live is not short.

I live those days every day…and more.

That night in 2001 I walked into a room and was claimed by grey eyes that want to see me, the smile that needs to kiss me, the mind that needs my mind and my time, I’ve lived that moment a thousand times in the seventeen years and a few months since… I can still feel the first kiss,

it’s still the first kiss every time.

That moment has lasted all of these years and been added to all of the eternal and looping events I’ve seen and touched, I could try to forget what it was

but those pains and joys matter so much, I’ve lived those days with my grandmother, I’ve laughed with the boys and wrestled my brother, I’ve had parties and road trips and I’ve been to weddings and my own,

my own wedding has never ended,

she just walked out into the sun, and

my head got funny.

In a swirl of heat and love and pressure building inside a dynamite keg, she was there, looking just like the only thing that has ever been real.

I’m in that moment, right now.

And the backyard when we were kids.

I’m driving through mountains with her and the kids and we’ve pulled over to a rest stop without lights,

13,000 feet above sea level

and we can see the galaxy,

we’re watching the spin of infinite depths of time and light, in our little remote spot

I looked up as we held hands for a moment and I almost disappeared.

I’ve lived those moments,

Every day.

So don’t tell me that life is short,

because people died and you got to keep living, you get to keep living those laughs and smiles and hugs and tears, those days with calendar stars, the days that got pinned to the pages of a photo album, you get to live those every day until you go.

Life is long, incredibly and depressingly long. Life is longer than everything else.

You’ll never do anything that lasts longer than life.

The trick is making it through each moment and remembering.

Through A Mist

I will not see your face with my eyes, nor touch your hands with my own.

I will never hear your voice outside of my dreams, I cannot watch you live.

A life is not made of time.

Supposing I knew you, I weep in secrecy for what I might have known.

I can tell the story of what may have been and what was, I can interpret my intuitive emotions into language and create a space for you in the hearts that might understand.

When I was twelve I had a kitten, he ran away before he was two months old.

When I was nineteen I had a crush on a girl that didn’t return the favor.

When I was thirty-two I forced life to my will and captured love and family.

When you were-

When you were-

You weren’t.

Perhaps I didn’t do it right, maybe a mistake on my part left you on the other side of the veil. It could be that I wish it was my fault, I’ve always been more comfortable wearing blame than my own face. It could be that random chance left me an unintended consequence.

When you were… No.

You were not, you were almost.

I will never forget your name, the sound that means my smile. I will never let go of your possibility. I will be what is, I will be your life. You exist in me.

I will hold your image, bouncing curls and sad eyes over a glowing, crooked smile.

I will say your name in privacy, I will call your name through the mist of what might have been until my lungs stop drawing breath and my mind can finally let go.

There is at least a small chance, still, that this life is my dream and one day I will wake to find that nothing was lost.

In Pieces or Whole

I had a dream that I was sitting with my dead sister and my dead brother

and I was describing to them the way that Dennis the Menace park in Monterey had been dismantled, destroyed and abandoned

which was strange because the park hasn’t been, it’s still there and functional

but I told them in detail the way that the train had been melted down 

and the big slide ripped out

and the tables were burned

and as I told them, in my dream, it never occurred to me that they were dead

or that I was describing an important part of my childhood that was gone

and when I woke I felt the pieces come together and the picture fell apart

because somewhere between a group of kids playing at the park and an almost-forty-year-old man having a dream 

some dreams were lost, some dreamers woke, some nightmares came true

and I massaged my temples for at least twenty minutes while my wife slept and the darkness changed to dawn, my head and neck and shoulders aching and refusing my request to slip back into sleep

when we were kids we would play and laugh and it never mattered if we got hurt because we were going to live forever

and the secrets behind the daytime smiles were never told

In loving memory of Ruane Richardson and Ethan Eayre

Unicorn Poop

   

When I started sharing the things I write, I had a lot to say. I would write four or seven or nine pieces a day, and at least three times a week I was discovering new parts of myself. 

I haven’t been writing as much since my sister died. 

I’ve been contemplating the balance of life. My sister was so many things to me, and so many parts of my memory are wrapped around her. In a lot of ways I worshiped her, as boys worship their mother. She was the protector, the teacher, the nurturing presence in my life. 

In a lot of ways I was angry at her, I still am. She had so much that others never get and she threw it away. She was capable of so much more than she did. She killed a lot of dreams, mostly her own. 

I saw her as a unicorn. Magical, impossible to capture, perfect. 

I was blind to the way she saw herself. 

There are lots of differing opinions about self-image. Some say that the way one perceives their self is irrelevant, some say it’s everything. 

I say that self-image can be heaven or hell, and it can change at any time. 

My sister was horribly abused and it twisted her life. My sister was wonderfully gifted and it was beautiful. 

She was a unicorn. She also had flaws. 

I married the love of my life. It was not easy, it wasn’t fated. I had to make it happen, she had to make it happen. We spent a long time apart before we were lucky enough to get it right. 

We each turned down other opportunities, we each tried other paths. We had lives apart and we have histories, separately. 

My wife is a unicorn. I am a unicorn. 

We have flaws. We have magic. We have damage. We have healing. We are devoted to our WE. We are human and we have wandering minds… We’ve both held fantasies that bring jealousy, territorialism into play. 

Balance in life doesn’t mean equality, justice, it doesn’t mean everything works out for everyone. 

Balance is the eye of the storm. All of life rages, all of life has pain or healing. All of humanity has the capability to be awful or amazing. 

I had some of the best parts of my sister. 

I saw some of the worst parts of her. 

I have most of the best parts of my wife. 

She has most of the best parts of me. 

What I have come to realize, about my sister, my wife, myself, all of the pieces of glorious magical humanity that live in my view, is that unicorns shit. 

Magical, perfect fairytale beings, out there making miracles, shitting just like other animals. 

Worship as you will, see the magic. 

Understand that flaws are present in every person. Don’t just say that you accept the flaws. Understand. Know that you have magic and you have flaws. 

My sister is dead, my wife is a person, I am a jerk sometimes. 

Balance is the eye of the storm, and remembering the wind. 

This Is What You’ll Say

I am three months and a week from my fortieth birthday and I miss my mom. 

I am the father of three crazy, beautiful, intelligent boys and I miss my grandmother. 

I am living a love story with a girl I met when I was eight years old and I miss my sister. 

I am working on being able to reconnect with my daughter and I miss my daughter. 

The other night I was talking with my wife about dying. It’s not unusual to do this, we have had rough lives and her mom died a month ago. She and I have a deep understanding of the temporary state of life and, honestly, sometimes life is rough enough for us that we each consider that it would be easier to end. 

I’m not going to kill myself. My wife isn’t going to kill herself. 

We talk. We argue. We cry together, sometimes. We care about each other, and because we each have some self-loathing we usually care more about each other than we do for ourselves. 

Sorry… I get sidetracked. 

So we’re talking, lying in bed, and I ask, 

“What will you say to the kids if I die?” 

She starts to say that she’ll tell them I loved them and they’ll get through it, and they-

“No.” I said, “What will you say to Aidan?”

Aidan is our six-year-old hurricane. He is overly emotional (like me), he is overly intellectual for his age (like I was), he is and has been over-the-top expressive and reactive to everything, all the time (like me). 

I am the only one he will listen to. I am the lifeline that pulls him in when he is flailing. I am his hope, because he knows I understand him. I am his, and he is mine and we both know that we need each other. 

So I asked my wife, “What will you tell Aidan?” 

She doesn’t know. She made me promise not to kill myself, she’s convinced that if I died she will wither up like a tomato plant in Fresno during August (it’s hot).

She doesn’t know how to get through Aidan’s maze. He doesn’t know how to interact with her. She loves him as fiercely as she can, and he loves her as insanely as any boy has loved his mother, and they clash. Two storms fighting for control, and they usually both end up very upset. 

Sorry… I digress. 

What would she say to him? 

Daddy died and now you have to figure things out yourself. All the chaotic emotion raging through your mind are now yours alone, the only one that knows the way through is gone. 

So here I am, just in case. 

Aidan, if it’s time for you to read this, then I’m not coming home. I’m sorry. 

I need you to know so many things that I didn’t get a chance to tell you. I have all of these dreams for you, so many hopes and ideas of how you will live. 

I can’t start telling you those, for two reasons. First, if I start, I’ll never stop. Second, my dreams for you aren’t big enough for you. 

You’re going to make mistakes. You will do things the wrong way. This is a necessity. Doing things the right way doesn’t teach you much, if anything at all. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. You will get stronger, smarter, better because you won’t want to do things wrong over and over. Do your best when you can. Just do… Don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying. 

I don’t regret anything I’ve done. My only regrets are things I didn’t do. Things I didn’t say. Chances I was too scared to take. Be better than that. 

Don’t let anger be your go-to reaction. Your emotions make you angry, not getting your way makes you angry, being sad or being tired or being hungry or being bored or being ignored or embarrassed or basically everything except music and candy make you angry and I’m telling you in absolute terms, this is going to hurt you. Learn to let anger slide past while your other emotions load up. If your reaction is sadness, be sad. If you’re embarrassed, smile and laugh because it makes embarrassment go away. If you’re going to be angry all of the time, you will make your life so much harder than it needs to be. 

Enjoy the little things, and chase the big things. Little joys are where happiness lives. Eat the cookie. Play the game. Laugh at the stupid joke. You can’t focus only on the big Happy. 

Set goals and work for them. You need a direction and it needs to be your choice. Find the thing that makes your heart beat faster, the thing that makes your brain feel like fire, and just do that. Act, sing, dance, create, do whatever makes you, you. Don’t get so caught up in comfortable happiness that you lose track of your path. 

Be prepared for things to hurt you but don’t worry about the hurt before it comes. You will always recover and the things that hurt deserve to hurt. 

When you love someone, all you can do is give that person your love and hope. You can’t make them into what you want them to be, you don’t get to choose who they are or how they will love you. You can decide what you will allow but you cannot make people give you what you need. 

Sleep when you’re tired, and when you wake up, get up. Don’t lay around doing nothing. It makes your mind stagnant. 

Eat when you’re hungry and when you feel you’ve had enough, stop. 

When you miss me, remember me. Think of the times we shared. Think about my smile, my laugh, my voice talking to you. Think about the way we connected. Remember the things about me that make you feel good, loved, special.

Because you are good. 

Because you are loved. 

Because you are special. 

Don’t ever, not for one moment, believe that I am gone. I am right here, thinking of you. You’re asleep and your brothers and Mom are sleeping, and it’s quiet. I’m thinking of you, and my heart is wrapped around you, and I will always be right here in this moment. 

Can you see me, son? I’m smiling, and loving you, and I will be, 

always.