They say I’m old. But they don’t know what old is. They break it down into a simple math equation. They take my birthdate as the starting point, then they take the current date and add up the years between the two dates They’ll say that number is my age, they’ll say that’s how old I am. But they don’t understand that I’m not the sum of the years I’ve lived, but rather, I’m all my ages——-all the time.
Who I am, is all the things I’ve ever been. I’m the little girl playing with dolls and having a tea party. I’m the young girl learning how to dance. I’m the teen in the party dress nervously hoping some boy will ask me to dance. I’m the one discovering that indescribable passion of a first love. In me, is the youthful college graduate filled with tenacity and anxious to chase down her dreams. I’m the beautiful woman in that old photo dressed in a white wedding dress. I’m the first time mother gently cradling her baby. I’m the strong willed and determined career woman earning her respect in a man’s world. I’m the proud grandparent braiding her granddaughters hair. I’m the retired woman meeting her long time friends for lunch. I’m the matriarch giving my time and counsel to the young ones who are on their journey. Can’t you see, I’m all these things at once. So for god sake, please don’t call me old——call me experienced. I’m like a pair of broken in hiking boots, a little worn but comfortable and a good fit for all seasons.
Sure, I have those aches and pains that come with age. I move a little slower. I might forget a thing or two. My hair is graying and my hearing isn’t what it use to be. But inside, I swear, I feel much younger than I appear (Well, at least that’s true most days). Sometimes I sit in my chair and run all my favorite memories back like old movies being screened in a darkened theater. Yes, those were the days of my life and no one can take them from me. Life is bitter sweet, but mostly sweet. I enjoy the small things now. I enjoy sitting outside and listening to the birds, visiting with my family, slipping into a warm bed——-and of course——-having a good ole bowel movement.
If I could be young for one day I’d do some wild crazy things. I’d ride my bicycle down to the beach, peal off my clothes and go skinny dipping in that Pacific ocean. I’d have myself a slice of triple layer chocolate cake and wash it down with champagne. I’d challenge all those loudmouthed bullies to an arm wrestle. I’d beat their asses then tell them to fuck off. I’d go through the karma-sutra and try all the positions once, and the ones I liked, I’d do twice. I’d turn my speakers up to ten, then sing and dance to all my favorite songs. I’d make a point of calling everyone I love and tell them how they made my life joyful, memorable and worth living.
I’d hold your hand and look you in the eye as if I’d never have to let go or say goodbye. But life is like juggling, catching and then letting go—-catching then letting go. But there are parts of me you’re stuck with—— you’ve involuntarily inherited my funny quirks and crazy idiosyncrasy, my good parts and my not so good parts, my headstrong ways, my strong will, my soft heart, my love of a good laugh, my desire for deep late night conversations and my lust for travel and adventure. Ah, this life is such a beautiful gift——thanks for being such an important part of it.
And you see my love, through all these things I shall live on.
There are words I wish I’d said. But I always told myself there’d be time for words, 26 letters assembled into some future confession of love. But tomorrow is never guaranteed——-the future is a theory, an algebra problem where x doesn’t always equal y——a law of physics that can’t explain the speed of loneliness. But it takes courage to say what’s often left out because it’s so much easier to comment on the weather. Why is “I love you” a secret tattoo hidden beneath your long sleeved heart. I tell myself, “Oh it’s obvious, they already know how I feel.” But that’s bullshit I feed myself. Do you ever check to see if your emotional Fitbit has reached your quota of kind words required in a day? Why is it that anger and petty complaints come so much easier than kindness and compassion? These emotions are stuck on mute in a movie with no subtitles. It’s easy to mistake a deep kiss for a vampires siphon, like that feeling you get from someone who’s always taking, but never giving back. But then, without warning, there are those who’s humanity walks me back from the edge. Things I wished I’d said, “Jackie Gleason was right, baby you’re the greatest.” “I’m so fortunate to have you in my life”. “You make me laugh, cause you’re the only other person I know who’s favorite movie is ‘Herold and Maude’”. “Thanks for ‘getting me’.” “You make ‘goodbye’ the saddest of all words.” “Thank you, thank you, thank you for being you.”
Don’t let anyone tell you that poetry is ‘nice’, because it’s not, it’s a clumsy coping mechanism to escape the chains of depression. It storms the tower and breaches the walls of isolation. It doesn’t make everything okay, but it makes the darkest hours of the soul tolerable. Tolerable?—–Thinking too hard, feeling too deeply, is a road leading to a cliff just beyond the horizon. I put my thumb over your wrist until I feel your pulse match mine, we gradually fall into a comfortable rhythm. The heart is a muscle because it takes so much strength to reach out to another. Things I wish I’d said, “I choose you.” “If I had to be quarantined for the rest of my life, I’d want to spend it with you.” “You make me wish I were a piano, cause your touch makes me feel like music.” “You make me believe everything is gonna be okay, one moment at a time”. “You’ve always been there for me and I’ll always be there for you.” “You stood up for me when the ones who I thought would give a shit just couldn’t be bothered.” “My heart will always be your 7-11, a bit shabby but open day or night for you.”
Love isn’t like a pair of flip flops that claims one size fits all. I’ve tried on the wrong size only to be left with painful blisters. Sometimes love is something you struggle to squeeze into because it no longer fits comfortably. Sometimes it’s all false bravado and make believe——it takes trust to be allowed inside another’s world——-Be careful who you share you world with, it may leave you with painful blisters and a bad case of athletes foot—-one size doesn’t fit all. I know this because, I have small feet and a big heart. In all this chaos that makes up a life, finding a true friend is a rare and beautiful thing. Things I wish I’d said,“ ”You and I are a good fit”. “I desire you”. “In this world of 7 billion people, I’d always choose you to be my partner”. ”After all the meanness this world can dish out, you somehow make it worthwhile.”. “When my day has been shitty, you have a way of making me feel better”. You taste like spicy chili on a snowy January night, you’re my comfort food.” “You smell like a July afternoon at the beach, a blend of Sea and Ski suntan lotion and a salty sea breeze—-you’re the sun on my face”. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” “You make me laugh in a world constructed of bullshit and lost promises”.
There are those who will tell you that you have all the time in the world, but that’s a lie. Time is a Salvador Dali clock slowly sliding off the shelf of your life. But we pretend we are immortals, that we can transcend life and death with a foreverness, but forever is like trying to comprehend a blackhole where at its center time stands still. If I could, I’d pull you in beyond the event horizon and give you a forever kiss. And who say’s “Theoretical Physics” can’t be romantic? When I think of these impossible thoughts for too long, I scare myself. My emotions are like the lone hitchhiker on a dark stretch of a deserted highway. Should I stop and pick this stranger up or just keep moving on? You can never be sure who or what you’re letting in. It might be a stranded depression, a deserted memory, or an abandoned truth. Or, perhaps emotions are more like Jenga? You just never know what will happen by pulling out a single block from the tower of teetering blocks. And, if it all comes down, do I have the time to put it all back together? It takes a lot longer to build something than it is to tear it down. Time is a rogue wave, you never see it coming until its crashed on you and swept you out to sea. Things I wish I’d said, “If you were drowning, I’d dive in and save you.” “I feel better just knowing you are out there”. “Thanks for listening.” “Thanks for making me feel like I belong.” “Lets you and I take a walk in the woods.” “When I was ready to take the ten count——When everyone was screaming for me to just stay down, you gave me the strength to get back up, you are my second wind.”
We must have a long talk on all these things, even though there is no answer at the end of the stammering and good intentioned pledges. We’ll just walk and talk never knowing where it’s all leading. We’ll open up, share a laugh and resurrect our forlorn secrets about first loves, ——-lost loves—— and those forbidden loves that don’t stand a chance——-these loves are always the deepest of the deep. I put up with the day to day bullshit, with all its tedium and pain, if only to have another teaspoon of her. The kiss intended for her is now covered in dust. But, if that kiss were ever reclaimed from the janitors lost and found closet, it would be tainted with the taste of Lysol and Bleach. And perhaps that explains why the smell of cleansers make me horny.
I measure my worth by the longevity of my friendships, and you are unmistakably one of the remaining few. I scare most off with my “unconventional ways”——-which is a nice way of saying I’m “weird”—— too intense, awkward, strange, vulnerable, unpredictable, complex, infuriating, difficult, opinionated and hard to get close too. And my list of bad qualities is the flip side of societies constrained definition of normality. I’d rather be a freak—–instead of another sheep.
Let’s take a “trust walk” back to that street where we grew up, back to those hard learned lessons. Where we first discovered we were different from the rest. We told the bullies to fuck off, cause we’re proud motha-fuckas, not needing anyones approval or acceptance. Lonely people sacrifice their true identity to find companionship—-but I’ve never been lonely. In fact, being around people usually leaves me feeling fatigued and ironically alone. Hung across the door of my soul is a sign that reads “No Soliciting”. I observe, I wonder and then I write shit down. Fiction, non fiction, they’re just stories we tell ourselves. Fuck it! Smile for the camera. Perhaps, today will someday be our “good ole days?” Our “Camelot”. But for now, meaning is slippery, truth malleable and love overrated except for movies, songs and wet dreams. Forbidden fantasies is all that holds my evaporating life together.
It’s another late afternoon, filled with a Sunday sadness, those long summer shadows overtaking my half written poems and one sided prayers. This time of day inspires nothing, but rather leaves me feeling all but forgotten, like a silent scream underwater. I want to light my words on fire, but my words like you, are out of reach——-as distant as dry lightening, like the space between what is, what use to be or what could have been?——- I’v grown weary of trying to bridge these ever expanding gaps. This life has become a Rubik’s cube in the hands of a blind man.
When does hope trade places with apathy and love become a panhandling beggar? I’m not sorry, if the things I say no longer reach you. My words like a dull blade run across your jugular, scarlet ribbons running down my hands….
Words, words, words——they twist and turn in the wind—-they can be so vague and misleading, but when used with skill and art-fullness, they can sing with such eloquence that they cut straight to the heart bypassing our clever minds. Some think in words, some feel in words——but words are flawed representations, sometimes it’s all cold left overs and truth scraps.
Michael behind the wheel driving back home for the holidays. HIs wife Lyne is in the passenger seat. The radio is playing “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”.
Michael, “Why do they have to start playing Christmas music two days before Thanksgiving? Can’t we just enjoy each holiday and celebration before the next one is being shoved down our throats.”
Lyne, “It’s what they call a business plan. Some people like to get their Christmas shopping done before August. Maybe it’s an Amazon or Walmart conspiracy.”
Michael, “Christmas suppose to be a sacred holiday. I swear, I think it’s a capitalist conspiracy to keep us in a constant state of unfulfilled desire. Always wanting the next thing, the new iPhone, that new gadget or gizmo that’s gonna make you complete. (Spoken with sarcasm) Its gonna make life easier. I swear, Alexa and Siri know more about me than god does. Everyone’s chasing trends and the next big thing. Definitely not living in the present.”
Lyne, “I didn’t know that you felt Christmas was such a spiritual celebration. You use to tell me how you and your buddies would play poker and get drunk on Christmas eve and then all head off to midnight mass. (Sarcasm) How Catholic of you and the boys. Now that does’t sound so holy or Christian like.”
Michael, “Maybe it wasn’t the mass as much as a tradition. I miss having traditions. I remember after mass walking across the frozen field back to my mom’s house. The December air was crisp and the stars seemed to be burning brighter than normal. The Milky Way Galaxy making me feel small, yet alive and grateful. Just glad for no particular reason. That’s the best kind of happiness, nothing attached to it. Me and my buddies just goofing and laughing. It was a god-felt moment in time.” (Shakes his head). Traditions, good times.”
Lyne, “Maybe we can start our own traditions.”
Michael, “I’m a middle age white guy. I don’t belong to a shared culture with ancient traditions and heroic struggles. Black guys have that whole slavery thing to bond over. And the Mexicans, well they invented taco’s. The Irish got their drunken pub songs, while drinking Genies and Jameson. I tried that “ancestory.com” thing in the hopes of finding my roots. I was hoping to discover a proud heritage, maybe I was a distant relative of President Lincoln. Fat chance, it turns out that my ancestors were potato farmers——-share croppers who lost everything in the great dust bowl. They were Okies, desperate dreamers who believed California would be their promised land.”
Lyne, “They must have been tough, a proud clan of hard workers.”
Michael, “I didn’t get the hard worker gene, I got their dreamer gene. I was thinking about last Christmas. I can’t even remember one gift I received. It’s kind of ridiculous. We run around in a mad frenzy buying gifts no-one needs, wants, or will even remember. I definitely think it’s a capitalist conspiracy. They, the man, the one percenters, they keep us working at jobs we hate so we have money to buy shiny distractions we don’t need. QVC, Amazon, consume, consume. What kind of tradition is that?”
Lyne, “We can start whatever tradition we like. We can bake fruitcakes, take turns making toasts at the dinner table, create unreasonable new years-eve resolutions.”
Michael, “I got to find my tribe, something to belong too.”
Lyne, “Well, we’re headed back to your hometown, you’ll be seeing old friends and family. That’s your tribe, your people——-right?”
Michael, “I have mixed feelings about going back home. I get this weird nostalgic feeling, a kind of dream like melancholy. It’s like visiting places and things I can never get back. When I drive by the old ballfields, the high school or a house I once lived in, it’s like visiting an old friend who’s now a stranger. It’s like I left little pieces of me in these once familiar placers. As I drive by these old haunts I pick up younger version of myself. I end up with a carload of ‘use to be’s’ and ‘what might have beens’.”
Lyne, “You’re sure being awfully depressing. Maybe you ought to see a therapist, get an antidepressant prescription. You can never enjoy yourself, you’re constantly over thinking stuff.”
Michael, “Nobody wants to be melancholy or sad, or sentimental anymore. They equate it as being weak and treat it as if it’s some kind of sickness, or an illness. Here, take a pill and feel better. I want to feel melancholy sometimes, even sad sometimes. I’m not depressed, I’m just old fashioned sad. Life can be sad and also happy, you can’t have one without the other. Yen and the Yang, sweet and sour. I hate phony smiles and all that ‘happy happy’ bullshit. (Sarcastic) ‘Have nice day’. I’ll have whatever kind of freakin day I want.”
Lyne, “You’re too sensitive. Get over it, move on with life.”
Michael, “Yeah right, fuck it. Sorry I told you how I feel. Why do you always have to say I’m sensitive and shit like that. I swear, after all these years, you don’t really know me.”
Lyne, (Uncomfortable silence). You don’t ‘get me’ either. Let’s just get through the holidays. It’s stressful enough as it is. (Spoken with an irritable tone) You’re driving awfully fast. And, did you turn down the heater before leaving the house? (She absent-mindfully rattles on) I should have made a hair appointment. Does my hair look okay? Don’t drink too much tonight at the party. You aren’t listening to me are you?”
Michael, “Yes I am. (Pause) I’m sorry, what did you say again?”
Lyne, (Takes a deep breath). “Whatever.” (Turns up ‘Silent Night’ playing on the radio).
Living room with eight people chatting while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and drinks. There is a knock at the door. Michael’s sister Matty answers the door.
Matty, “Hey, look who we have here. Come on in, let me take your coats. Get yourselves a drink and have something to eat.”
(Michael makes his way to the buffet table and fixes himself a drink. Shawn walks up behind Michael and pats him on the shoulder).
Shawn, “Look what the cat drug in.” ( They give each other a hug). “It’s been a few years. How the hell are you doing?”
Michael, “Doing good, doing just fine. How bout you?”
Shawn, “Yeah, life is good here too. Time is going by too fast.”
Michael, “I’m fixing a Jameson Ginger ale, can I make you one?”
Shawn, “Thanks but I had to give it up. Traded my garage beer fridge in for a treadmill and a set of weights.”
Michael, “Good for you. As for me, I’ve been drinking more but enjoying it less. If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to give it up?”
Shawn, “I use to drink as a kind of coping mechanism, but then it went from stress relief to a way to cover up all the shit building up inside me. I could only stuff my anger and frustration down so much before it started to back up and come out in unhealthy ways. Alcohol was only making things worse.”
Michael, “It’s easier to be mad rather than honest.”
Shawn, (Laughs) “Got to the age where I realized I wasn’t going to get that promotion I’d been waiting on and working for. I started getting passed over by younger guys. Me and the wife had lost any sense of intimacy. I kind of found myself in a dark place. All the things that once mattered or made me happy was gone. My life was getting harder to manage, and the hangovers seem to get worse. The pain out weighed the pleasure. It doesn’t hardly seem fair, you only got one life to get it right. When I was young I thought I had forever, but you start getting older and the options seem to close in on you.”
Michael, “Getting old is hard. You end up with fewer options, fewer folks you can hangout with or count on. You have more to lose but less it matters. I guess alcohol is like a lot of things, It works until it stops working. Fuck it! I’m gonna go out on the back deck and smoke a bowl. Do you still smoke a little weed?”
Shawn, “Well, not really, but I think tonight I can make an exception. Did you see Marlena? Man, she’s still hot. Didn’t you and her once have a thing?”
Michael, (Lights his pipe and takes a big hit) “Yeah, we did, a long time ago. It’s funny, When you’re younger you go chasing the next shiny thing. You always think you can do better. Then you wake up one day and you’re middle aged and realize that all the things you were running from were probably the best things you ever had. Yeah, it’s true, It don’t hardly seem fair. You only got one life to get it this shit right.”
Shawn, (Takes a hit off the pipe) “So much of life is boring details; minutia. You wake up one day and you’re old. Where the fuck did the time go. Did I make the right decisions, right choices? Maybe I should have stayed at that job teaching scuba diving at the resort. Can you imagine spending all day with hot chicks in skimpy bikinis——drinking beer and getting laid left and right. But, I went off to college and got my MBA and became a financial adviser. A fucking financial advisor. My job consists of making old fat white guys, richer and fatter. I should have stayed being a scuba instructor. I’m a tie dye guy wearing a suite and tie every day. And that neck tie gets a little bit tighter every day. (Hands the pipe to Michael) That’s some good shit. How are you and Lyne doing?”
Michael, (Takes a hit) “I guess fair. Probably as good as any couple who’ve been together for what feels like eternity. Marital bliss——-now that’s a fucking oxymoron. (Shakes his head). Sometimes before we hang up on the phone she’ll say ‘I love you’——- I swear it takes every once of strength to respond with ‘Love you too’.” I know that sounds shitty and pathetic, but I can’t help it. Marriage counseling, now that was a waste of time and money. Paying a stranger sixty bucks an hour to try and fix something that’s beyond repair. Her fault, my fault? It doesn’t matter. I swear, sometimes I can’t breathe.”
Shawn, “Hell, it’s a lot easier to un-love someone than it is to re-love them. All it takes is a small hole below the waterline to sink a luxury liner.”
Michael, “Do you think it’s ever too late to love someone again?”
Shawn, “It’s like this. This is my curdled milk theory. You wake up one morning and go to the fridge and pour yourself a glass of ice cold milk, right? You take a big swig and immediately spit it out cause it’s gone sour. The very next day you go back to the fridge and pour yourself another glass of milk——guess what, It’s still fucking sour. Maybe love has an expiration date. Some loves may last a month while another may last fifty years. But once that shit begins to curdle, well you better try churning it and hope it can be transformed into butter.” (Laughs) “Did you ever consider divorce?”
Michael, “Yeah, I did the math and it ain’t a pleasant scenario. We’d have to split up all of our shit, sell the house and cash in our 401k’s. She’d get half of my pension. I’d end up like one of those poor old fuckers having to go back to work. Probably end up swabbing down tables at Starbucks and taking coffee orders from spoiled-ass ‘twenty somethings’. Kids these days don’t even have the courtesy to look up and say ‘thank you’. Instead, they’re be incessantly scrolling through their goddamn cell phones or laptops. Then there’d be the proverbial pimply faced shift supervisor who’s prodding me to pick up the pace and smile more.” (Takes another hit). “Trade one hell for another hell.”
Shawn, “Yep, if I were your financial advisor I’d probably tell you to stay married, adopt a rescue dog for companionship and find a pro for sex, ya know, a skilled call girl. It’s cheaper than the alternative. Well, while we’re swopping confessions, I’ve been having my own struggles. Penny and I don’t really argue anymore, we avoid that, we share meals and a house but we kind of live like roommates. We’ve become courteous strangers, polite acquaintances. I never thought we’d end up like those old couples you see at restaurants eating entire meals without saying a word to one another. Everything that needs to be said, I suppose has already been said. We’ve learned to avoid pressing each others buttons—- it only lead to the same stupid arguments and hard feelings.”
Michael, “I suppose if it works, at least it’s better than arguing and saying mean shit you can’t take back. I mean, after all these years you still don’t want to hurt each other.”
Shawn, “Is anger deferred better than just being honest? (Snickers) Man, I’m getting some of those cool stoned thoughts.”
Michael, “I guess sometimes it’s easier to stay silently mad rather than come out and admit you’re wrong. Remember how when we were in high school and we’d get high and go down to the park at night and talk about life, dreams, god, girls and aliens . Anything and everything was on the table. As for girls, I still don’t understand them.” (Laughter).
Shawn, “I don’t have anyone to talk this shit over with anymore. Do you mind if I keep talking about love or lovelessness, cause another stoned weird thought just popped into my head?”
Michael, (Getting excited) Yeah, yeah—-tell me, go ahead man.”
Shawn, “There’s this chick at work who’s got this thing that I can’t explain. She’s in her early thirties, not what I’d call classically beautiful, but there’s something really hot and sexy about her. Just watching her put a scrunchy in her hair is sexy—-When she looks me directly in the eye I’m overcome with this uncontrollable magnetism. I feel electricity shooting through my body. I don’t know if it’s love or pure animalistic sexual arousal. Man, sometimes I just want to lean over and kiss her sweet mouth.”
Michael, “So, what are you going to do?”
Shawn, “Fuck, I don’t know, but at this stage of the game, this might be my last chance to have something special in my life. She has sex appeal and she knows how to use it. It’s dirty, it’s nasty, she can turn the mundane into magic.”
Michael, (Fires up the pipe). “Dude, you got it bad, but that’s good. Or, you got it good and that’s bad—-man I’m high. My advice, don’t marry a woman cause she’s pretty. Get a woman who knows how to flirt, knows how to be a freak in bed. Someone who’s fun, smart, has a good sense of humor. It’s all an illusion anyway. Only a few women know how to sustain the illusion, know how to make you do crazy shit. I’ve only been in love one time. I mean real love. The kind that makes you wanna do stupid shit, like write poetry, or hold her hand when walking down the street.”
Shawn, “I suppose that one time wasn’t with Lyne?”
Michael, “Nope. She’s practical. No nonsense. She still does’t appreciate my humor——she thinks anything other than missionary position is kinky. I need someone to turn my my mundane into magic.”
Shawn, “You ought to go say hello to Malena. Maybe there’s still a little magic hidden there.”
Michael, “What am I gonna say?”
Shawn, “What do I got to lose, that I haven’t already lost.”
Michael, (He heads back into the house. He stares directly at Melina. She responds with a flirtatious wink. He points to his drink and nods for her to meet him at the liquor table).
Melina, (They hug). “You smell good, you smell familiar.”
Michael, “Your hug feels familiar. Somethings I suppose never change. I was hoping you’d show up here.”
Malena, “Part of me wanted to not come, but something or someone drew me back.” (Offers a heartfelt smile). I see the whole gangs here.”
Michael, “I’m sorry to hear about Jesse. He was a great guy. He was a hell of a guitar player too. We use have a blast playing all those little bars and coffee houses.”
Melina, “He made a killing in the stock market, but I think he would have traded all the money, cars and fancy trips to just be a guy who played gigs at the pizza parlor. Happiness and success are hard things to measure. Circumstances may change, but at some level we are who we are. Jesse was unique, in a world where everyone is trying to follow trends and be the same, he was brave and unafraid to be different. I loved him for that.”
Michael, “Yeah, and if you try and be something you’re not, it will eat you alive. The best kind of friends are the ones that let you be yourself. Some people want to put you in a box and that is stifling.”
Melina, “I miss Jesse. What I really miss is the Jesse I knew when we were younger and not constrained by all the bullshit that comes with growing up. You trade little pieces of yourself away for security and possessions. Instead of you owning them, they end up owning you. You think you’re buying security, but what you’re really doing is bargaining away your passion, your freedom, your sense of wonder. I must sound like some old hippy chick.” (They both laugh).
Michael, “Here, let me get you a glass of chardonnay.” (Pours a glass of wine and hands it to Melina).
Melina, “Time goes by fast and it’s easy to lose the people and things that matter the most to you. (Pauses) When Jesse and I first met, travel was our thing. We’d be in a strange country and all we had was each other. It brought us together, made us closer. We went to Europe, China, Brazil, and it was exciting and fun. But something happened. I don’t even know how and or when it happened. Our traveling felt more like a search for something we lost, rather than sharing a new adventure. It was if we could find that special vacation place again, it would bring us back to that feeling of closeness. But it wasn’t the place or time, it was something dreadful that followed us wherever we traveled. We’d lost our connection. We became strangers in strange lands. And knowing what real love felt like, made it even harder when we tried to fake it or manufacture it.”
Michael, “I know that feeling. There’s no faking love. It’s either there or it’s not. And to watch it slowly slip away is excruciating. It’s hard to try and love someone——cause love isn’t a thing you have to try to do.”
Melina, “Jesse didn’t do anything wrong, it was (Pause) I don’t exactly know what it was. I think as he got older he became more cautious. Ironically, the thing that attracted me to him was his risk taking, his carefreeness. I think he regretted having to grow up and become a responsible adult, but his minister father ingrained in him that scarfing ones self is next to godliness. He started delaying gratification, putting money away in 401K’s, working long hours. It was like he was trying to earn his way into heaven, or at least please his folks. We were always making plans to go to Italy and rent a little house in Tuscany. I don’t know if once that feeling is gone if there’s anyway to rekindle it. Maybe that’s why we never went, maybe it wouldn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. Maybe it would confirm what we already knew. Maybe the chasm had grown too wide, the distance between us was too far to reach one another. And then after all the putting off of pleasure he gets cancer and fucking dies. Maybe cancer was only a symptom of a worse disease, losing faith, losing your self. Life can be fucking cruel”
Michael, “Yeah, a lasting love is illusive. Sorry about Jesse, (Pause) sorry about (Pause) the death of a love too.”
Melina, (Put her hand on Michaels shoulder) “Oh, wait. I almost forgot. I brought something special for you. It’s in my car, come on.”
Melina, (Melina is the the drivers seat and Michael in the passenger seat.) “Close your eyes.” (She reaches into the backseat). “Okay, open your eyes.” (She hands him a guitar).
Michael, “What the (Pause). This is Jesse’s Martin guitar. This was like a part of his body. I have so many great memories of him playing this guitar at parties, jam sessions and in dark living rooms On Sunday afternoons we’d hangout at San Brannon Park drinking Ripple and playing music. Are you sure you want to give me this? This is a huge part of his legacy.”
Melina, “He’d want you to have it. He wouldn’t want anyone else to play it but you. He always said that guitars were shaped like a woman’s body. And, that’s what made him want to hold his guitar in his arms and caress it. He was romantic that way. I use to keep it on a stand in my living room, but (Pause) but it was like holding on to something or someone that was never coming back. I finally put it in its case and slid it under my bed. It was like sleeping with a ghost. Go ahead and exercise those old ghosts, give it light, give it life again, hold it, love it——let it make beautiful music.”
Michael, “I was pissed at Jesse for a long time. I blamed him for taking you away from me.”
Melina, “He didn’t take me away from you. You left me to go to LA and become a rockstar. You said you had a record deal and you’d probably be going on the road and you needed some space so you could get your music career going.”
Michael, (Shakes his head as he reflexes on the past).“I never got a record deal. The Record company said I’d have to go on the road and build up a following before they’d risk putting money into me. I ended up doing gigs in shitty little bars from Southern California to nowheres-ville Arkansas. I thought touring would be glamorous and exciting. There’s nothing further from the truth. You can only play ‘Johnny Be Good’ so many times and put your heart and soul into it. The last gig I played was at a Veterans of Foreign War hall for a bunch of drunk bikers. A big fight broke out with some opposing biker club. I heard a gun go off so I picked up my gear and ran for the door. That was it, I was through with my rock and roll dream. After that, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost. I probably wrote you a dozen letters, but I couldn’t find the right words to say. I tried calling but I guess your number had changed. I messed up. And what hurt the most is knowing it was my ego that cost me my future with you.”
Melina, “I’ve often wondered what life would be like if things had turned out differently. But, I guess things worked out alright for you. You have Lyne and you have a good life.”
Michael, “Like I said, when I came back home I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I got a job framing houses for Lyne’s dad and he kind of took me under his wing. He introduced me to his daughter and we started dating. I got my contractors license and the next logical step was marriage. Love and logic are two opposing ways of approaching life. Logic is using your brain, love is following your heart. I think I should have followed my heart.”
Melina, “I wasn’t sure if I should give this back to you.” (She reaches back into the backseat). “You left this flannel shirt at my apartment a million years ago.”
Michael, “I use to call that my lucky shirt. I was wearing it when I first met you.”
Melina, “This is kind of weird to say, but when you first left, I use to wear it to bed. It was soft and warm and it smelled like you.”
Michael, “And what do I smell like?”
Melinda, “You smell like the woods, like a forest. It’s a scent of pine needles, a tad bit of desert sagebrush and fresh rain on earthy mud.”
Michael, “Hum, I smell like earthy mud? That doesn’t sound too appealing. I suppose it’s better than sweat and grime.” (Both laugh).
Melina, “Well having a piece of someones clothing is kind of an intimate thing. It’s holding something that was once against their skin. Their body movements leave wrinkles imprinted on the cloth, the fabric still carries their scent. Sorry if that sounds crazy to you.”
Michael, “It’s a funny thing, I came back home after all these years and everything and everyone seems strange and different. The only thing that feels familiar to me is you. (There’s a reflective pause) I think I’ve always loved you and alway will. You’ve had a hold on me. Through the years I’ve fantasized about you a thousand times. Sorry if that sounds weird or creepy.————.”
Melina, (Puts on a devilish smile). “I guess I’ll take that as a complement.”
Michael, “I suppose, once you distance yourself from a place, a time or a person you realize a lot of things. Sometimes the long way is the only way home.———(Silence) Do you have the case I can put the guitar in?” (They both reach back at the same time and their heads slightly bump into one another’s).
Melina, (They both laugh at the awkwardness of the situation. There’s an emotionally charged silence.) “You can touch me if you want.”
Michael, (Slowly leans into Melina to give her a kiss. Theres an abrupt tapping on the fogged window).
Lyne, “What are you guys doing out here? It’s freezing out here.”
Michael, (Shakes his head in frustration as he rolls down the window). “Melina and I were sharing some old memories. She wants to give me Jesse’s Martin.”
Lyne, “Why don’t you bring it in the house and everyone can jam.”
Michael, “Yeah, sure.”
They come back in the house. Michael sits down and starts to tune the guitar. Everyone is feeling buzzed. The guests begin to clammer, “Play something, come on, play something for us.”
Michael, (Smiles) “Shawn, give me a beat on that cajon.” (Shawn sits on the cajon and starts playing a medium groove. Michael starts playing the guitar and singing ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. The guests sing along. Michael can feel Melina’s eyes on him. Song ends, everyone applauds while hooting and hollering).
Michael, “Let me get a drink and then we’ll do another one.” (Makes his way over to the liquor table where Shawn is standing).
Shawn, “Nice jam bro. Isn’t that Jesse’s old Martin?”
Michael, “ Yeah, Melina gave it to me. She said Jesse would have wanted it that way. It’s almost like I can feel him when I play it. There’s worn marks on the fretboard where his fingers once played. It has a few nicks and scratches, but don’t all old things have a few scars.”
Shawn, “For sure.”
Michael, “You won’t believe what almost happened. Melina took me out to her car to get the guitar and we started talking and stuff. Something just happened. It wasn’t planned or like some kind of drunken hookup. I felt this thing I haven’t felt for a long time. I haven’t felt it sense I was with Melina all those years ago. It a feeling I forgot even exists. We were almost gonna kiss and Lyne came wrapping on the car window. It’s as if she knew something was up. I swear she has some kind of radar that tracks my every freakin move.”
Shawn, (Smiles and shakes his head). “Dude, that kind of soulmate energy permeates a room. Everyone’s buzzed and having a good time, no ones gonna say anything. But, I think everyone can kind of pick up on that thing between you two; even Lyne.”
Michael, “Man, I’m so sick of pretending and doing without. It’s fucking exhausting. I just want to feel that feeling again. I want to fucking feel alive again, to feel understood, loved——-to have real sex with someone who enjoys it. Is that fucking asking too much?”
Shawn, “I don’t know man. I think most of the dudes I know would love to have a ‘do over’. Life without compromises is a young man’s game. Ya gotta ask yourself, when does the hug become a choke hold.”
Lyne, (Approaches Shawn and Michael). “We need to leave soon, I have a nail appointment first thing in the morning.”
Michael, “Hey, we’re having some fun for once. Let’s just hangout for a little while longer.”
Lyne, (Looks over towards Melina). Yeah ‘we’re’——- or should I say you, are having a lot of fun. In a half hour I’m leaving. If you don’t want to come home, then get a ride with one of your (Spoken with sarcasm) friends.” (She turns and walks away).
Michael, “Goddamn ultimatums. It’s taking every single fiber of my being to not just say fuck it, fine——I’m going home with Melina.”
Shawn, “Loves a powerful drug bro. It’s done in many a good man. Like you said, It’s really not fair that you only get one chance to get this life right. What are you gonna do?”
Michael, “I don’t know man. But I know one thing, true love never dies. It’s a hard thing to explain. There’s something about the way she talks——the tone of her voice sets me at ease. I could listen to her voice for hours. I would never be afraid to tell her anything, cause I know she’d understand. There’s something familiar in her laugh. I like how her body moves through space. Graceful, like a dancer who needs no music.”
Shawn, “Regrets a hard thing to have to live with. Lookout bro, here she comes.”
Melina, “I’m gonna be leaving. It was really great to see you again. (She gives Michael a hug). “Oh, I left the guitar case in the back bedroom where they put everyone’s coats. I miss you.”
Michael, “I miss you too.”
Lyne, (She’s wearing a stern look on her face). “Get our coats and let’s go. I’m cold, I’m tired and I’ve got a headache.”
Michael, “You’re always cold, tired and have a headache.”
(He heads to the back bedroom. He opens the guitar case to put up the guitar. He picks up a note that was left in the case). ‘Michael, I left you a little something to remember me by. Something that’s been close to my body and against my skin. I hope I smell like the things I know you love, peppermint ice cream, Jameson Irish whiskey and second chances. P.S. Damn, it’s gonna be a bit cold driving home commando style, Ha Ha.”
(Michael retrieves a pair of red panties from the guitar case. He puts them to his face and inhales deeply. He shakes his head in disbelief and starts to laugh. He then says out loud). “Second Chances?”
The song “In Spite Of Ourselves” by John Prine begins to play.
Where have all our good morning gone
Where have our goodnights gone
We sleep on our assigned side of the bed at night—-separated by long lost pleading desires
And we fuss and fight over the nothings that slowly evaporate a love
What’s happened here, what of all those brave forever words spoken all those years ago—till death do us part—–Who’d of known that forever could lose it’s grip like oil sliding through ones desperate hands
You can live with someone you no longer love,
But you can’t live with someone you no longer like
Missed opportunities, living without, so quiet, like bodies that go untouched for years
Mornings and nighttimes, consume what’s left of this fleeting life
The first snow, of another, coldest of seasons—- on this divided journey
Sometimes it’s better to say nothing, rather than to be wrongly accused or predictably misunderstood, I’ll need to scrape the ice from my frosty windshield
morning coffee, in my favorite worn out slippers
my cat asleep in a sunbeam, the clock ticks at me
my favorite part of this trip is having nowhere to go
And nothing to do, it takes courage to own your days
I’m no longer sorry, I’m not even mad
Now I’m only sad for our poor excuse
of what we’ve come to agree upon
as to what’s love
Her voice sounds like a stranger
such an angry tone of someone I no longer know
My heart bleeds
Time is short, lifetimes pass quickly
Such a waste, what a waste
My lazy cat yawns
I’ve come to understand him
So at peace in his solitude
I have few regrets, but I sometimes feel a sadness when I think how you and I were never able to connect or understand one-another. Perhaps Freud was right, that we become who we are at a very early age and we find ourselves locked into a fixed script. And sometimes this makes it difficult to express the things that go unsaid. So, I want to say this, having you as my son has been and always will be the finest of gifts. My favorite memories is the time spent doing little everyday things with you and your sister. It’s funny, how it’s all the small things that comprise a full life. I try my best to remember this in each draining moment.
I see pieces of me in you and I wonder if you see parts of you in me. These days, I just carry little pieces of you from a distant past. There are memories of that little baby I once held. Then there’s the little boy whose hand I’d hold on walks in the woods. I carry the memory of teaching you how to tie your shoes and how to ride a bicycle. Summer drives in grandpa’s truck down country roads lined with peach tree’s and blossoming almond orchards. Sharing holiday dinners at Nana’s old wooden dinner table. Goofy face photographs. Days at the beach and neon lite nights at the boardwalk, the smell of fried corndogs and sticky cotton candy. Waking up to a snow day with no school and skiing on fresh powder. Hikes in the Sierras and the scent of campfire smoke, musty tents, penny ante poker, Monopoly and watching the family dog sleep next to you. And, then there was a teen boy in a hurry to go out and challenge the boundaries of his world. When I turn down all the outside noise, I find myself asking, where has all the time gone?
As hard as one may try, you can never bring your children home again. They have their own dreams and troubles that they must navigate. So, I fight the current of time and want to try to make right the things that I may have missed or failed to do. The middle years of a man’s life can often times be wasted worrying about careers, bills and trying to make something of himself through hollow achievements. Such deceptive mirages we foolishly chase.
It’s a strange thing, me and my dad never really saw eye to eye. We were just different in ways neither could explain. But, I knew he loved me and would do anything for me. He made sacrifices for me and my sisters that I never understood until I was much older. In spite of it all, and buried beneath it all, we had a love that only a family can share. I feel this love towards you and wanted you to know that. And that’s the simple truth.
I remember when my mom passed away, and how at some weird level I was relieved. This thought left me feeling guilty. I vacillated between anger and a morose acquiescence as she became weak and frail. She never complained even though she was in a huge amount of pain and relying on morphine to stave off the misery. I should have been braver and held her hand. I should have told her how much I loved her and that she was the best mother I could ever of had. I should have told her that if she needed to go, I understood and that she would always be missed. I should have told her not to worry about me and that her family would be fine. But I hid behind my fear, believing she must already know these things, pretending I’d still have time to say the things that needed to be said——-how fucking stupid was that.
I apologize if this letter comes off awkward and overly forthright. I suppose I wrote it as much for you, as for myself———You see, this letter is an exercise in trying to find ways to be more courageous with my love.
“All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” Ecclesiastes 3:20
What kind of holy book explains life and death in such a flippant manner? I don’t understand.
I climb into my faithful old Tacoma pickup and head west. You can tell a lot about a man by the truck he drives. The cab smells of rag weed, muddy boots and fresh orange peels. I drive past the fields, the farms and the redundant strip malls. I eye pretty small town girls with odd names like Galenda or Karla. Their perfume scented skin I won’t stick around to touch. These places and girls belonged to other boys with their Friday night hot spots and their Sunday morning houses of worship,——— a community of suburban anchored hearts. I’ve tried to fit into such places, but never could.
I drive til I come to the ocean. I check into a cheap motel that wears the odors of mold and a thousand forgotten summer vacations. I wonder how many have made love on this tolerant mattress, or how many have cried themselves to sleep within the walls of this soul suffocating room. The walls are knotty pine with a bathroom sink that drip, drip, drips. Outside my gray skied window the pavement smells of early morning rain, the sun rises with a memory of how small her hands looked when she touched me. Once again I find myself at the edge of this sad stained continent. There’s a damp coldness blowing off the water that chills me to the bone. January is my favorite month to revisit this rundown seaside town. The boardwalk is empty and quiet except for the rusty Farris Wheel squeaking and moaning under the strain of a gusting wind. I pull my knit cap tightly over my numb ears.
All my once hip friends are now vengeful Republicans, need I say more? Out of nowhere I find myself singing “Into the Mystic”——I take a shot of Jameson with a beer back. “And when that fog horn blows you know I’ll be coming home——-I wanna hear it, I don’t have to fear it”.
The bed-stand clock glows with its red digital numbers, the sound from the dripping faucet warns me of time passing by. How do I carry on? Where do I go from here? Am I too old to start over again? Have I squandered too many chances. I’ve moved to new cites, I’ve found new jobs and I’ve broken promises to the few who might of cared for me. I’ve never been one to reinvent myself or attempt to tame my faults or bad habits——I’m all that’s left of my best mistakes.
I sit on a carved up and pigeon stained bench at the end of the pier. A wrinkled asian man is standing as still as a statue as he waits for a fish to bite his line——I suppose we’re all waiting at the other end of one kind of fishing line or another. A young kid with chin stubble and unkempt hair takes a seat next to me. He asks if I have a light. He helps me cup a flickering flame from my Bic lighter. He squints as he stares intensely out at the foggy horizon. I know that look, I know this kid. He speaks “You got a wife?” “Yeah, I’ve had a couple of them.” He continues his interrogation “You got a job?” “Yeah, I’ve had a few those too.” “Did you get everything you wanted?” “Like most, I suppose I got what I deserved and a few things I didn’t expect. Sometimes it isn’t what you get, but more importantly, it’s being happy with what you’ve been given——-gratitude is the scale on which to weigh a balanced life.”
An older me talking to a younger me, what a gift. “Take good care of yourself dude.” I grab his cigarette, then take a hit off it before stomping it out. “Look after your health kid, you’ll wish you did when you get older——-and yes, we all do get older, that is, if you’re lucky.” He pushes his shaggy hair back “Do you ever think about your parents?” “Everyday I do. You won’t understand the sacrifices your parents made for you until you become one yourself. You’ll look at your children and be amazed at how parts of you became their flesh and blood. The best of times will be the time spent with your kids. Remember to give your weary parents the love and respect they deserve. The kids grow up too fast and our parents grow old and frail too soon. Once they’ve passed on, they’re gone for good. Time moves in one direction, forward. Regret is the child of missed opportunities.”
“Many acquaintances will come and go, but few will be elevated to the position of trusted friend. Choose your friends carefully, because they’re the only ones who’ll enjoy your ridiculous humor, tolerate your irritating idiosyncrasies and stand up for you when this world leaves you feeling insignificant, irrelevant and unworthy of love. They’ll embark on crazy adventures with you and provide you with the sweetest of memories. Your friends and family are your tribe and their unconditional love is the only thing that will sustain you through the good times as well as the bad.”
“I know that at your age you won’t believe me, but this life is tragically short. Don’t squander the time you’ve been given being bored or angry. Monies a fleeting vapor, a job that doesn’t suite you is a snare, pleasure without sacrifice is quickly forgotten. Look for true love and nothing less. You’ll know it’s true love because she’ll bring out the best in you. She’ll make you feel things you never felt and it will cause you to do things like hold her hand when she’s frightened. She’ll bear your children and cook you your favorite meals. For her, you’ll fix the things that break, mow the lawn on hot July afternoons and snowplow the driveway on cold January mornings. All these seemingly insignificant small things will comprise a full life. Keep your priorities straight and you’ll enjoy each day as it unfolds.”
The kid offers up a grin. “When I grow up, I wanna be like you.” “Take your time kid, being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to being.” I climb in my truck and head back home as I give a glance in my rear view mirror.
I want to write “I miss you” on a stone and throw it to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again, or remembered. May my demons be your delight. At midnight, in bed, I remember it all to well, and I die a little bit inside. It’s always the small things——-those restive eyes, the scent of campfire smoke in your hair, rainy day drives in the country, as the radio played one perfect song after another——- me writing you lousy lovestruck poems, cool sheets, warm skin, that one naive moment in time when we believed the outside world could do us no harm….Cause we had the temerity to carve out our own world.
Together we discovered hidden record stores, secret rundown coffee houses, dusty used bookstores—-places that belonged to a different time and place, places best suited for leper romantic’s.
For a while, we escaped a world that spurned the likes of us. By providence we found one another, someone to belong to——-something to believe in——-we wandered into that indescribable web of love——-my chest filled with hallelujah-
We turned ratty taverns into Parisian Salons, there, we’d engage one another in extraordinary conversations about life, death and purpose, sharing stories from our childhoods, expressing beauty and pain, prayers, promises, finding our breath in the words of the other.
Buzzed and giggling we fell up those stairs leading to that old hotel room. I swear we both could have died right then and there. Nightbirds sang outside the open window, the old neon sign hummed, laughter and music filtered from the streets below, our shadows on the wall becoming one, intertwined in the dark humid air————- Down there, in the streets, it was just another ordinary evening, with ordinary people doing ordinary things. With you, life was anything but ordinary. How were we to know that everything would unfold as if it were a Shakespearean play——our tragic comedy.