Fire and Rain

Every year at this time, I hear drums in my mind. They start distant, but as I draw nearer to the day that changed everything, they get louder.

Not war drums or a funky drum beat.

The kind of drum beat they play during execution scenes in the movies.

July always feels like a slow march to the noose.

It’s been almost seven years now. Seven years since the man who held me together fell to the floor and breathed his last.

I have written about this more than anything else, by far. But I can’t help rehashing it in my mind over and over. If I had been home, would it have been different? If he hadn’t put off going to the doctor for so long, would things have played out the same way?

The pointless, circular questions float in and out of my mind for days on end. Sleep eludes me more and more. My soul feels like it is holding its breath, awaiting some impact or collision. The tension builds for two straight weeks. July is a stressful sonuvabitch.

I know my sister’s feel the same. We never talk about this feeling. We just see it in each other, and nod sadly. It is a shared loneliness, like being in prison cells next to one another; close enough to know our shared fate, but still somehow apart.

Seven years. It still aches. I still feel lost. I still wish I could sleep through and wake up on the 17th.

Sure, we’ve healed. We are functional people. It’s not the debilitating injury it once was. Now it’s more of a deep scar that makes itself known when the weather changes.

Still gotta carry it around though. Still gotta live with it. It’s worse some days than others. Most days we’re fine. Now and then, though…jeez, it can really put you out of commission.

And the worst part…

He’s not here to teach us how to live with it. We had to find that road in the dark on our own.

I’d say we’re better, stronger people for it, but damn.

Sometimes, most times, all the time, I’d rather be weaker and still have my dad. Screw progress and personal growth. I’ll take my father back eleven times out of ten.

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Two Lost Souls Swimming in a Fish Bowl

Here we are again, Old Man. This day is tough. From now on, though, it’s bittersweet. I got a boy of my own now. I get to see every day what you somehow saw in me. Ironically, I also get to see a lot of you, too. The twinkle in his eye, man…that’s all you. I look at him now, asleep next to me, and I see my past, my present, and my future. My whole existence is bundled up in a diaper.

He was dressed, I swear. He just made such a mess during dinner.

Do you remember those nights, over twenty years ago now, where it was just you and me and a couple bowls of spaghetti? Or the times we’d wrestle until we couldn’t breathe we were laughing so hard?

Do you remember the time I stuffed the VCR with homemade jam?

Or when I lit your favorite chair on fire and nearly burned the apartment down?

I do.

I wonder how mine is gonna be when he’s older. I know he’s gonna get into everything. Hell, he already does. After all, he’s one of us. The men in our family never could leave well enough alone.

But you’re not here.

You weren’t here to clap me on the back and smile as we both pretended not to cry when we brought him home from the hospital.

You weren’t here to laugh when I had to put him in the sink and hose him down after a particularly rough diaper change.

Or to tell me that I’d survive when I hadn’t slept in three days, and everyone in the house was down with the flu.

You’re not here for my first Father’s Day.

You won’t be here for our birthdays…he’s only six days after you!

I have to store up these memories and talk about them with the cool night air over a dozen cigarettes and a few dozen tears. But that’s how we would have done it anyway. You just would have had a lot more to say than you do now.

I just wanna be as good at this as you were.

No, strike that. I wanna be better.

And now I have to figure out how to do that on my own.

But I suppose you put it all together without your daddy, and you did a bang up job.

So maybe it will be okay.

Still wish you were here, though.

You’re a dick for leaving, you know…but I guess I’ll get by. You’d expect nothing less.

Turn, Turn, Turn…

Life is a fickle thing. The unseen energy that connects you from your last breath to your next is a terrifyingly fragile thread. People die, move away, break up, drift apart…the nihilist in me wants to say the only thing we ever truly are is alone.

But f*** that noise.

Loneliness only defines you if you let it. Sure, people come and go. We can spend our lives fretting and regretting, but what you’re not getting back is the time you spent indebting yourself to the past and the what-could-have-beens.

Life sucks something fierce sometimes. And it’s monotonous more that it is memorable. But those succulent, precious moments that make you feel alive and bring water to your soul…they wash away a lot of the hurt that comes with loss, loneliness, and distance.

A balance must be struck, then, between the darker shades of life and the brighter ones. Too much light and you begin to live in a fantasy world of daisies and gumdrop buttons. Too much black ink and you blind yourself to the vibrancy of the daylight.

Neither is inherently bad or evil. Darkness has its place, as does light. Loneliness and being alone have their purpose, as do community and friendship. To focus too heavily on one is to abandon the good the other has to offer. So as you walk through the mundanity of life, carry both your joy and your anguish in equal measure. It’s good for your soul.

Comfortable Misery for Artistic Integrity

I’ve never seen a study about the correlation between mental health issues and artistic inclinations, but if there hasn’t been one, there should be. The parallel lines of depression, bi-polarism, schizophrenia, anxiety, and a whole host of other conditions and the various arts are hard to ignore.

One thing that is easy to ignore is the fact that, in a satisfyingly sick way, artists like being tortured. They like being unhinged, to some degree or another, and being in some level of pain.

Creative types, in my experience, are this way for two primary reasons, although, admittedly, there are exponentially more individual reasons. On the whole, people who create, imagine, and design have something that haunts them. Be it mental illness, hurt in their past, addiction/recovery, or some unfortunate cocktail of them all, they have their demons.

These demons become comfortable enemies, things that, while unbearable at times, their constant presence provides a sense of stability in a world of constant change. It is an ironic truth that an unstable mind can feel like the only stable truth in the universe some days.

It can almost feel like being in a billowing snowstorm, and the only thing you can see to hang on to is a razor wire fence. It hurts like hell, but it’s all you’ve got until things clear up.

That familiar pain is also a bottomless well of inspiration. It drives the imagination and the logical mind alike, constructing a perspective that would be nigh on impossible otherwise. Whether consciously or not, many creative types realize this, hold onto this, feed off it even. When things come along that could potentially slow the stream of inspiration, things like a steady job, a good relationship or friendship, or a therapist who just gets you, we have a habit of…pushing those things away.

We’re afraid. Afraid that the “improvements” will come with a catch. Afraid that the changes won’t last. And most embarrassing, afraid that we wont be able to create anymore. Our source becomes our crutch, so much so that we are unsure if we can draw inspiration from the world without it. This shadow that follows us around has become such an influential part of us that we don’t know if we would be who we are without it.

And perhaps we wouldn’t. Perhaps the world would be bereft of many artistic joys without the pain of the tortured artist.

Thinking that this is a tragedy is both arrogant and true.

The cost must be weighed.

Would the world be a better place with less pain and less creativity, or is the beauty worth the hurt?

Get to Steppin

A step in the right direction is just that. A step. It can feel like nothing sometimes. And at the same time, it can be difficult. It is easier to stay in motion than it is to start moving. It feels so tough, and so insignificant, but no journey can begin without that first step. So push yourself. Push past the frustration of feeling like you’re in the same place. Push through the weariness that wills you to stay put. And then do it again. And again. And again. Because if you take enough steps, you’ll arrive where you wanted to be. Possibly even better, you’ll find that when you arrive, there is a spot on the horizon you want to explore. That begrudging, painful first step can eventually give way to high stepping on through the end zone. So get to steppin.