I wrote this for a friend of mine who recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary.
Forty years is a long time to believe in anything, but if you’re going to believe in anything, it might as well be love. Love, what a strange and unreasonable concept. We promise to love people and things as if they’ll always remain the same. Maybe love has nothing to do with those things. When love grows old and uncomfortably comfortable——- is when it is the most real. After the sex is gone, after the sweet Hallmark Cards have all been sent, signed and delivered with their cursory hearts and X’s and O’s. After all is said and done, there’s only you and that fool-hearted promise that you’d give your love to someone forever—it’s truly hard to love anything or anyone forever. Commitments and promises belong to fools, dreamers and those who know the gift of a miracle. Love is a miracle. If ya wanna be loved, then ya gotta be lovable—–its the receptacle law of give and take. There are some who never “get it”.
Lately I’ve been having this awful feeling that I’m forgetting something, or missing something. I get this overwhelming feeling of loss. I feel like life is going too fast and I can’t catch up, or worse yet, I’m wasting time going in the wrong direction. So many forks in the road. I’m so damn sentimental, I hate letting go of people and things. The Buddhist believe that all suffering is due to the attachment of people and things—–And then there’s the physicists who say change is the only constant.
Sorry I can’t make it to your mothers Celebration of Life event. This will be my final installment to Jeanne’s letter writing project. I hope she enjoyed the previous eight letters I sent to her while she was in the rest home. I hope they comforted her and made her laugh or perhaps cry—- my stories and words were intended to help her relive some of those good ole days we shared on Briar Lane. I can’t be there to tell my story in person, but if there is a place where pictures and such are being displayed, perhaps you can post this letter.
I’m going back, I’m going way back in time. Back to the 70’s. Back to when classic rock wasn’t something you now hear being played in the produce department of Safeway. There is something unsettling about listening to Van Halen “You Really Got Me” on the store sound-system as I watch an elderly woman examine the firmness of a zucchini.
No, I’m going back to when rock and roll was still rebellious and social networking was hollering out your car window at girls in their cars—I can still recall those hot summer Yuba City nights and that distinctive scent of rotten peaches lingering in the stale night air. It’s the end of August and another summer is slipping away. The sound of crickets, bullfrogs and a lone barking dog make up the evenings chorus. Thoughts of returning to school leaves me feeling flat and uninspired. This is the stuff that keeps a small agriculture town like Yuba City forever tucked away at the edges of my memories. We all carry pieces of our hometowns within us. Rainy days playing monopoly, making jokes to hide our insecurities, experiencing an awkward first kiss, playing baseball in a weed strewn field, climbing the levee for a swim in the the river——and coming to appreciate the value of being part of our Briar Lane gang——-where we made friendships to last us a life time.
Back then, on our block we played outside until it got dark or someone’s mom hollered “Supper time”. Yeah, “those were the days”. That’s what old farts use to say to me when I was a kid. I thought that was a bunch of nonsense, but now that I’m an old fart, I find myself muttering “Those were the days”. I suppose, ya don’t know somethings, until you’re ready to know them. Sometimes it’s too late——- and there’s nothing worse than being too late. Too late to share a morning walk, too late to share an evening sunset. Too late to share all those seemingly insignificant moments that comprise a lifetime. Too late to say the things you always intended to say. Things like, thanks for always being on my side, thanks for believing in me when no one else did——thanks for loving me—-cause that ain’t always such an easy thing to do——just ask my wife.
So there you lay and here I stand. Although you no longer inhabit your body and it no longer imprisons you——-I will always carry your voice and memory within me. Somethings are immortal. Somethings never die.
Jeanne——mother, wife, friend, neighbor, teacher, counselor, life learner, strong and courages, gone but never forgotten.And to you I proudly say—— “I love you”.
I remember my first apartment. It never felt like home, it was sparse and empty. It smelled of stale cigarets and flat beer. But I needed to go there and find things out for myself. I had to rid myself of parents and daily routines of doing chores——that draining feeling of being someones child, being someones pride and burden. It’s an awful feeling of being young and realizing that you’re going nowhere fast. Failure is a brutal teacher.
I thought it was going to be a lot different. I dreamt that there’d be girls, all kinds of girls. Girls dancing with me in the dark, spending their nights in my ramshackle pad. I thought there’d be late night parties, beer for breakfast and never having to make my bed or mow my dad’s lawn. But mainly, it ended up being me and a couple of buddies sitting on my broken down couch, smoking pot and drinking the cheapest beer we could find.
We found out the hard way that the girls wanted boys with fancy cars and college bound incomes. They went for the boys who were going to Cabo for Spring Break and living off the money their parents gave to them freely.
Me and my buddies spent long nights hanging out in my dimly lit apartment. Our big plans veiled the fear that our dreams were like all those pretty girls, untouchable, just out of reach. And it ached deep down to watch them walk by, hand in hand with their privileged preppies. They left a trail of republican stench in their wake.
As for us, we were never going to comprises and end up working for “the man”. We were going to travel, see the world, have grand adventures and yes, we’d find carefree girls too. But we found out that everything had a price, everything cost money.The fast-food jobs sucked, and the jobs working at the Canneries were tedious, heartless and grueling. We were constantly being fired for showing up late, or being hungover and not showing up at all. We wereexpendable to “the man”. Our only refuge was the broken down apartment where we could exchange big ideas and plot out our untested futures.
But, this world is designed to castrate young men and squeeze every last drop of life out of them. They wanted us to be content working at their mindless, meaningless, soul sucking jobs that were designed to make us feel insignificant, replicable. Replaceable like a worn out part or broken piece of machinery. They enjoyed watching us fight each other over the table scraps they tossed us.
There would be a string of rundown apartments, quicksand jobs and that sound of silent screams of someone under water, someone suffocating. The American Dream was a con, a lost cause, a carrot dangling just out of reach, but close enough to keep us plodding along like dimwitted plow horses.
So, one day I woke up and I stopped trying to be something or somebody. I stopped, shook my head and walked away from it all, from the city and its constant drone of nothingness. Along with its horde of brainwashed proletariat working stiffs, who’s only purpose was to make the rich richer. They worked at dreadful jobs to pay the mortgage on houses they left empty so that they could go to work and pay their mortgage. They got loans to buy cars that they drove from home to work and from work to home in a vicious circle. It all seemed so senseless to me. There was nothing there for me. I had no use for that world that once left me feeling insignificant. I moved to the mountains and never looked back. I found purpose hiking in the woods and sharing sunsets and sunrises with fellow pariahs.
Like I said “I had to find things out for myself”.
This piece is dedicated to a good friend and talented teacher—-Roberta
A complete education teaches critical thinking, non conformity, risk taking and personal accountability. It teaches students to think for themselves and to follow facts not opinions. This requires students to become well rounded in their quest for knowledge and truth. What good is it if a student studies nuclear physics but has no appreciation for the frailties of humanity. What good is it to study philosophy but to not be given the tools to decipher right from wrong. What good it is to study history if you can’t apply it to solving todays social issues. As the saying goes, “Those that fail to learn from history are destine to repeat it”. An education should prepare students to answer the most difficult questions. This includes questions regarding morality, social justice, racism, global warming, political ideals and religion—-to only name a few.
The core purpose of education is not to receive a piece of paper that states a student has completed a series of classes and successfully passed a list of required tests. Education should provide students with the tools and skills to become contributing members of their communities. Compassion and empathy should be a common thread that runs through the curriculum of all subjects and disciplines. This is more true today than ever before.
I’ve dedicated over twenty years of my life to serve as an educator. It’s been an honor to have touched so many lives. I’ve always prided myself in being a motivator and mentor who sought to help each and every one of my students reach their highest potential. I’ll always carry with me the memories of my high achieving students but in some ways, I’ll remember the students who had to struggle and fight to meet their goals even more so. Sometimes what they needed more than anything was for someone to believe in them. That is something not taught in books, but rather given as a gift. These fond memories put a smile on my face. No one can ever take that from me.
So, I leave here with a cardboard box of mementoes. Some silly knick knacks, a coffee cup and twenty years of student pictures, poems and old flyers advertising plays and concerts. I even have a couple of plaques that recognized me for a job well done. Such a bitter sweet feeling. I’m acutely aware of the sound of my footsteps as they echo down the deserted hall for the finale time. I slowly turn around and whisper, “Farewell old friend”.
With a tone of scorn and eyes conveying pity I’ve been called “sensitive”. I hate the term sensitive, it brings to mind weakness and vulnerability. To write a poem requires guts. To paint a picture requires vision. To play the blues is to open up ones soul and expose a heart callused and gnarled. To put pen to paper and write is fool hearted and as brave as taking off all your clothes and running down main street bare-ass naked. We’re all awkward and sensitive when naked. Most will point and snicker, but few will understand.
I suppose the opposite of sensitive would be insensitive, indifferent and selfish. Imagine being described as a sweet fellow——-but so terribly insensitive, indifferent and selfish. The worlds full of bleached out souls afraid to air their feelings. These are the ones who lean on trite “Hallmark Cards” to express their orphaned emotions.
I ain’t sensitive, I’m the underdog in a prize fight. I’m the guy that’s willing to take a hundred punches so I can get one in of my own. I’m not particularly fast or talented, but I can take a punch. I’ll weave and bob my way into the face of any dumb ass critique. I’ll shove them against the ropes and whisper in their ear “Is that all ya got?”. My eyes might be swollen shut and my nose may be bloodied, but you’ll have to take me out in a stretcher before I’ll give up. I’ve done my work in the gym. I’ve done my early morning roadwork. I’ve pounded that heavy bag until my fists bled. I’ve hit that speed bag until it became a blur. I’ve earned this chance. I’ve been patient. I’ve waited for my opening. I’m one dangerous motherfucker, I’m one of those with nothing left to lose. I’ll hit that son of a bitch right on the jaw with a right hook.I’ll watchhim crumble like a sheet of bad poetry headed for the waste basket.
People don’t drown cause they can’t swim, they drown cause they can’t hold their breath long enough.And brother, I can go forever on one breath.
Our noble experiment in democracy has begun to fracture and crumble. It seems all the mechanism and systems our forefathers created as checks and balances are failing due to the love of power. The two party system is in gridlock. Compromise is a dirty word. The majority of wealth is held by a minority of individuals. The peaceful exchange of power is no longer abided by. Big lies and fake news outlets such as Fox have made a mockery out of facts and truth.Angry internet sites and inflammatory pod casts encourage violence over civil discussions. Big money and special interests have replaced majority rules. What has become of all the good men and women who once treated our system of democracy as something sacred—-something that was paid for with the blood of thousands of perished soldiers. Our better angels have flown….Shame on us.