I whispered, “It’s the sweetest thing, so I have been told. But my love has all the value of dirt where only crooked things seem to grow.”
Then you turned to me and said, “My dear, to those who dwell in deserts fertile soil is worth more than gold.”
But how could I hear you when I wasn’t ready to learn? I was back amidst the arid lands you dared to speak of; as if that alabaster skin ever knew what it was like to burn.
As I drowned in the frozen waves of those dying dunes yearning for a shore they will never touch, your hands reached out to bring me back to you. Your faltering fingers only certain that they pointed towards the truth.
But I recoiled, protecting soft spots as if you were trying to sink your teeth into my throat. I will never forget that look on your face. How those eyes quaked so loudly they damn near spoke, “I will never again see you the same.” And no map on Earth would ever lead me back to the treasure of that sacred place.
In my wild youth these eyes were all but blind. Your gifts came in unfamiliar shapes wrapped in colors I didn’t recognize. You tried to teach me there was nothing left to fight, but I was raised on savage sands to take what is mine; and what am I without my knives? You saw how my skin was burned from the desert I barely survived. When you offered me the shelter of your sacred shade my instincts could only scream at me to take flight. I mistook your love for the all the dangers that used to come for me in the night.
I wanted to compile this as I have gotten a lot of requests for movies to watch during this period of imposed isolation. In the event you may you have missed these films, most of them starring Brad Pitt, and weren’t a latchkey kid who was raised in a blockbuster, please enjoy these musings on some of my favorites.
click for info Alien – Horror – Ridley Scott, 1979: There are few directors who do movies as consistently cinematically groundbreaking the way Scott has. After watching this for the first time last Halloween I realized just how much this film changed the course of sci-fi and how nothing before it really existed. HR Giger, who won an Oscar for his designs in this film, was absolutely fucked in the head; but his creature designs were spectacular.
tinidazole (tindamax) over the counter American History X – Drama – Tony Kaye, 1998: My step dad sat me and my brother down when we were kids and told us we were watching this movie as a form of education. Needless to say those lessons stuck with me. Also shredded Ed Norton… Shred Norton.
visit Annihilation – Horror – Alex Garland, 2018: Cosmic Horror that focuses on an all female cast approaching an anomaly that has blanketed the wilds where the rules of nature as we know them no longer seem to apply. This film was a beautiful DMT nightmare, the visuals of which will haunt your dreams. It’s terrifying at times but shot so beautifully you cannot look away.here are the findings Arrival – SciFi – Denis Villenuve, 2016: A linguistics professor is contracted by the military to help make contact with extraterrestrials that have stationed their ships in Earth’s atmosphere. Read absolutely nothing else about this film; just go into and experience it as it’s meant to be experienced.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Western / Biopic – Andrew Dominik, 2007: Thus begins our first entry into why Brad Pitt is best. Overall as a western biopic, I feel this is honestly better than Tombstone, overall. The score is haunting, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are just superb.
Blade Runner – Action / Sci-Fi – Ridley Scott, 1982: This Cyberpunk Detective Noir film pretty much influenced every bit of dystopian sci-fi to follow it. The sequel, Blade Runner: 2049 directed by Denis Villeneuve, was a fantastic spiritual successor as well.
Blow – Gangsta – Ted Demme, 2001: A biopic on George Jung, the American drug dealer responsible for most of the cocaine that entered the States in the 70’s. It’s long hair Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, don’t know why you haven’t already seen this. Depp actually interviewed Carl Jung in prison, and the director died with coke in his system like a year after the film’s release; so you know–cocaine is a helluva drug.
Cabin in the Woods – Horror – Drew Goddard, 2002 – This is my favorite horror film. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard; it’s a complete meta commentary on the entire genre.
Chasing Amy – Dramedy – Kevin Smith, 1997: A comic book writer falls in love with a lesbian collegue, disaster ensues. I just have a thing for romances in the 90’s, it just seemed…simpler then. Anyway, Kevin Smith holds a very special place in my heart. I highly recommend all of his comedies; Clerks trilogy, Dogma, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob, but especially Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It deserves its own spot on here as it’s probably my favorite Rom/ Com but I am getting tired.
Cloud Atlas – Drama – Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski, 2012:“An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.” Lana Wachowski has made me cry more than any woman in my life, she just portrays humanity in such a vulnerable and honest way with no judgements.
Crash – Drama – Paul Haggis, 2004: “Los Angeles citizens with vastly separate lives collide in interweaving stories of race, loss and redemption.” Watch this when you need some empathy in your life.
Dead Poet’s Society – Drama – Peter Weir, 1989: Robin Williams plays a teacher at an all boys prep school and teaches them the magic of poetry. If you have any affinity at all for literature you will love this, and undoubtedly cry.
Drive – Action / Drama – Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011: Ryan Gosling plays a mechanic/ stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway drive. If you’re a car guy, remotely into 80s synthwave and how beautiful Carey Mulligan is, this is your flick.
Ex Machina – SciFi – Alex Garland, 2014: The best black mirror episode you will ever see and probably the best film to tackle the subject of A.I.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Drama – Michael Gondry, 2004: In the wake of a break up Jim Carrey opts for an experimental procedure that would wipe his ex completely from his memory. The original concept of this came to Gondry in the form of him asking the question, “You receive a card in the mail, ‘Someone you know has just erased you from their memory’.” Simon says this is a movie you watch when you’re having a really good day and you want that to END.
Fight Club – Drama – David Fincher, 1999: Now this is a movie that all too often gets dismissed as Bro Porn the same way the Joker gets categorized into edgy incel subculture. Quite the opposite of “Bro Porn”, the book and the film are both some of the only pieces that observe the issues that plague modern masculinity that I have seen. It is eastern philosophy meeting western sentimentality. Also Brad Pitt is half naked for the majority of this, fun for the whole family!
Fury – World War II – David Ayer, 2014: I try to get a film from every genre in this list (mainly starring Brad, of course) and this is unequivocally my favorite movie that deals with war; as David Ayer does not shy away the ugliness of it and how it affects the men of this tank battalion as they trudge through a war-torn 1945 Germany. Shia LeBeouf and Jon Berenthal bring the fucking ruckus in this. If you dig this, David Ayer loves to tackle the effects of PTSD set usually against Los Angeles. See also these films; Training Day, Harsh Times, and End of Watch, do NOT see Suicide Squad.
Get Out – Horror – Jordan Peele, 2017: Jordan Peele is 2 for 2 with Get Out and US (if you missed either remedy this immediately). Leave it to a comedian to write some of the best cerebral horror with his honest observations about race relations and classism.
Ghost in the Shell – Animation/ SciFi – Mamoru Oshii,1995: Ghost in the Shell’s influence can be seen in so many films. In a future where people’s consciousness (called Ghosts) can be transferred between cybernetic bodies a cyborg police officer is tasked with tracking down a hacker called the Puppet Master, who has the ability to hack into ghosts. This film was just so ahead of its time. I caught this at a re-release in theaters with my brother stoned out of our minds and I will never forget that screening.
Gladiator – Action / Drama – Ridley Scott, 2000: Ridley Scott did his thing again here. A Roman general (Russel Crowe) is betrayed by the son of the Emperor (Joaquin Phoenix) and after a failed assassination plot becomes sold into slavery, where he begins to make a name for himself as a Gladiator. Even as a kid I remember seeing this and thinking; there are no movies like this.
Good Will Hunting – Drama – Gus Van Sant 1997: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote this together when they were nobodies in college. It’s about an undiscovered math genius (Damon) who cleans the toilets at Hahvahd. He writes some gibberish on a white board and upon being discovered is urged to see a psychologist (Robin Williams) to cope with his origins. Williams won an Oscar for best supporting actor in this and next to The Fisher King is probably my favorite film of his.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson is his own genre, 2014: I had a hard go picking which Wes Anderson film to choose. I feel like this film, in no small part thanks to the brilliance of Ralph Fiennes, is contagiously charming.
Heat – Crime / Drama – Michael Mann, 1995: Robert De Niro leads a gang of experienced bank robbers on a final score where a crucial piece of evidence is left for Detective Al Pacino to pick up the trail. Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro facing off in this film is fantastic; and it has one of the best firefights ever filmed.
Her – Drama / SciFi – Spike Jonze, 2013: In a nearby future, a writer (Joaquin Phoenix) develops a relationship with his sexy ASMR phone operating system (Scarlett Johansson). Spike Jonze made this film in the wake of his divorce from Sophia Coppola; who directed Lost in Translation in the same fashion. I believe both these films mirror each other beautifully, each telling a different side of separation.
Hot Fuzz – Comedy – Edgar Wright, 2007: A highly effective metropolitan police officer (Simon Pegg) is transferred to a quiet british village with a dark secret. Of all of Edgar Wright’s fantastic films, this one makes me laugh the most and the cast is incredible. If you missed any of his works; Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim, Shawn of the Dead, or the World’s End–do yourself a favor. He is a master at using editing for comedy.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople -Adventure / Comedy – Taika Waititi, 2016: A bad boy (Julain Denisson) is fostered by two country folk in the New Zealand bush. After his foster mother dies; Hector (Sam Neill) must look after the boy. Taika won the Oscar for best screenplay with Jojo Rabbit, a film you also must see, and I am ecstatic to see him getting the notoriety he deserves. His comedy and charm seem utterly inhuman and it comes across all his films.
Interview with a Vampire – Goth Porn – Neil Jordan, 1994: Honestly, to no one’s surprise, I was a major Anne Rice fan growing up, and this is only film that ever did the Vampire Chronicles any justice. I can watch Brad Pitt as a homoerotic, sadboye vampire still clutching to the last vestiges of his humanity any day of the week. That being said it’s some of the best child acting I have ever seen (Kirsten Dunst) and we love crazy Cruise.
The Iron Giant – Animation – Brad Bird, 1999: JUST in case your childhood absolutely sucked and your parents didn’t love you enough to rent this movie; it’s about an eccentric boy in the 50s who discovers a giant mechanical Vin Diesel. Brad, Bird not Pitt, was inspired to create this story after the murder of his sister, Susan, who died of gun violence. His pitch was, “What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?”
Knives Out – Who Done It Mystery – Rian Johnson, 2019: Mystery Murder Party, the movie. This movie is just fucking fun and ensemble is excellent. I don’t want to say it (yes, I do), but if Rian makes more films like this and less films like the Last Jedi I will support them everytime. Don’t touch Star Wars again, please.
The Last of the Mohicans – Historical Drama -:Michael Mann, 1993: Three Trappers, two of the Mohican Tribe and one an adopted son (Daniel Day Lewis), escort a British Officer’s daughters through the Colonial Frontier during the French and Indian War. Daniel Day Lewis is one of the few people alive who knows how to run and load a musket rifle and it’s score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman is one of the most praised works in modern film scores.
The Last Samurai – War / Action –Edward Zwick, 2003: Some people would have you dismiss this film as another White Savior movie. It is true, unfortunately for him, Tom Cruise is extremely white. In this film a cavalryman (white Tom Cruise) is taken hostage by a Japanese samurai clan still loyal to an Emperor pressured to adopt to Western Culture. The samurai’s village resides deep in the mountains and their ways of life introduce a stillness which forces this caucasian demon to reflect and confront the horrors of his past. The exchanges between Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe alone are worth the price of entry (free on Netflix).
The Legends of the Fall – Drama – Edward Zwick, 1994: Set in rural Montana (that’s redundant, all of Montana is rural.) during WW1, it focuses on a retired U.S Cavalry Colonel (Anthony Hopkins) who, after experiencing the horrors his government committed against the Native American people, tries to raise his family away from the madness of the world; only to see his sons go head first into it. This is Brad Pitt at his most beautiful and honestly, maybe my favorite film?
Leon: The Professional – Action / Drama – Luc Besson, 1994: – A young girl (Natalie Portman) in New York becomes an adopted ward to a professional assassin (Jean Reno) and wishes to learn the ways of his trade to avenge her murdered family. Everyone is fantastic in this film. Everyone, you ask? EVERYONEEEEE.
Ahh, you’ll get it later.
The Matrix – Action / Sci Fi – The Wachowski’s, 1999: The Wachowski’s changed the face of action with this film and everything about it holds up to this day. Say what you will about the studio pushed sequels, but this film was absolute genius and is the crown jewel in the renaissance of the great 90’s films. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go back to it. It aged magnificently.
Meet Joe Black – Dramedy – Martin Brest, 1998: Look, Brad Pitt is the best thing the 90’s gave us and I will die on this hill. Speaking of death, in this movie Death takes on the form of Brad Pitt and has sex and eats an unhealthy amount of peanut butter. Two of my favorite things!
Road to Perdition – Crime / Drama – Sam Mendes, 2002: This gangstar movie set in the Great Depression is a story about fathers and sons. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) must flee from the life they know after his son witnesses a murder. To my knowledge, other than Cloud Atlas, this is the only film I can recall where Tom Hanks plays a fairly dark character and it makes his performance in this all the more amplified. Like, damn did Forrest Gump really just shoot a dude in the face?
Parasite – Drama – Bong Joon Ho, 2019: This film won best picture for a reason. This South Korean director LOVES making movies that FUCK YOU UP about Classism. Also, check out Snowpiercer, undoubtedly it’s Chris Evan’s best performance. Also, Trump had the audacity to insult this film. Bong responded to the failed reality star’s criticism by saying that Trump dismissed this film simply because he can’t read. So, we all need to support this mans.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – (French) Historical Drama – Celine Sciamma, 2019: A female painter is tasked with painting a wedding portrait of a young woman on the coast of Brittany in the 18th Century. I am still at a loss of words to describe how this movie moved me; hopefully that’s enough of a review.
Princess Mononoke – Animation – Hayao Miyazaki, 1997: I am not going to list all of Miyzakai’s works on here, as they are all fantastic in their own ways, but this one is special. It’s a film about set in a feudal Japan emerging into Industrialism. It’s about environmentalism, and the role everyone plays in it. There are no villains, only perspectives. Also, Gillian Anderson is a giant wolf goddess. Joe Hisaishi’s brilliance as a composer flourishes in this film. Of all Miyazaki’s works, this one I feel represents everything he has always tried to say.
The Prestige – Christopher Nolan is also it’s own genre now – Chissy Nono’s, 2006: I know we all love some Nolan but this film I feel barely gets mentioned when discussing his works and it’s SO damn good. It’s Christian Bale and Wolverine trying to out magic the fuck out of the other in 19th century London and it’s wonderful. Also David Bowie plays Nikolai Tesla, spoilers!
The Raid: Redemption – Martial Arts – Gareth Evans, 2011: I have a long list of martial arts must-sees but I am trying not to crowd the list. Iko Urais is a Muay Thai fucking animal in this. It’s literally just a gauntlet of a film and the action choreography is impeccable.
The Shape of Water – Drama / SciFi – Guillermo del Toro, 2017: “Does the lady fuck the fish?” Honestly, I feel this film did not warrant the Oscar for Best Picture, but the subtle commentaries on loneliness in combination with an absolutely heartbreaking score really moved me, maybe because I watched it alone in a theater on Christmas? It really does feel like a modern fairytale and goddamn is Michael Shannon a force in this.
Snatch – Comedy / Gangster – Guy Ritchie, 2000: No, this is not a Porno. This story ties together different narratives across the British Crime world. This is Guy Ritchie with an Edgar Wright editing touch. In response to his critics giving his freshman debut “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” grief for having incomprehensible dialog, Ritchie had Brad Pitt speak in a dialect neither the audience nor the characters could understand. I have lost count of how many times I have seen this; it’s perfect. Especially if you like dags.
Super – Comedy – James Gunn, 2010: A very mentally unwell Dwight from the Office plays at being a superhero after his wife passes. Yo, straight up, this movie is WILD and when James Gunn isn’t on Disney’s leash he goes HARD. Still not down for Slither though, that looks messed up.
The 13th Warrior – Action / Horror – John McTiernan, 1999: Based on the novel ‘Eaters of the Dead’ by Michael Crichton, this story follows a Muslim (Antonio “Puss in Boots” Banderas) who got exiled for getting busy with a Sultan’s daughter, or wife, both? He is traveling with a group of Vikings, when they are set upon by the resurgence of an old legend that terrorizes a northern settlement. I don’t get why this movie has such bad reviews; it’s Vikings vs Cannibals? We don’t have enough Viking movies…
Tombstone – Autobiography / Western / Drama– Kevin Jarre, 1993 – This is the 15th biopic of Wyatt Earp (it’s not but seriously, there are a LOT). Anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet is bad and should feel bad, but you’re a daisy if you do.
Trainspotting – Dramedy – Danny Boyle, 1996: Based on the novel by Scottish author Irvine Welsh, this film follows Renton (Ewan McGregor), a junkie living in Edinburgh trying to claw his way out of addiction and “choose life”.
Treasure Planet – Animation – Ron Clements, 2002 – The Disney animated version of Treasure Island. While this film is one of my favorites of Disney’s, it’s commercial failure is one of biggest contributions to Disney no longer pushing out 2D hand drawn animation. This film’s production cycle took TEN TEARS to make, but man does it show.
The Truman Show – Dramedy – Peter Weir, 1998: A salesman (Jim Carrey) slowly begins to discover his whole life has actually been the number one reality show in the world. I don’t think there has ever been a film that an actor starred in like this that mirrored their life so completely. This is undoubtedly top 3 for me.
Unbreakable – Drama / Thriller – M. Night Shyamalan, 2000: A security guard (Bruce Willis) discovers newfound abilities after surviving a catastrophic accident. I say this, as a massive MCU fan, this is how you make a realistic “comic book hero” movie. M. Night tried to make this into a series, but he was about ten years too late.
Vanilla Sky – Drama – Cameron Crowe, 2001: A wealthy magnate (Tom Cruise) is in prison regaling how he got there to a police psychologist (Kurt Russel). His playboy life spins out of control after he gets into a car accident with an unhinged lover. It goes off the deep end from there and you will enjoy the swim, I promise.
Walk the Line – Biopic / Drama – James Mangold, 2005: If you missed Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon playing Johnny and June Cash you missed the best musical biopic film ever made next to 50 Cents Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
The Watchmen – Action – Zack Snyder, 2005: Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, “In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated.” Zack Snyder’s loving and borderline obsessive attention to detail in recreating the novel almost page for page in this film is extraordinary. Highly recommend both the film and the comic, if you haven’t had the pleasure.
What Dreams May Come – Drama – Vincent Ward, 1998: A man dies and enters heaven expecting to be reunited with his family; only to discover his wife had committed suicide and he must embark on a descent to hell to find her soul. I put this down because of one scene in particular and Robin Williams LITERALLY says my name in this. 10/10.
Young Frankenstein – Comedy – Mel Brooks, 1974: This film is very dear to me, as is Gene Wilder. I think it’s the first film I can remember bringing my whole family together and bringing them to tears in fits of laughter. I learned the importance of film and comedy from Mel Books. Really, every single one of his titles right now would bring some much needed merriment; see also Spaceballs, Robinhood: Men in Tights, and Blazing Saddles. Preferably high. Honestly if you’re doing any of this sober my hat is off to you, friend.
I hope you enjoyed this list of movies that I definitely did not spend three days on and after this you can also agree that Brad Pitt is Best. Thank you, stay safe. <3 Ian
The bar was littered with a few weary souls scattered about on stools supporting light heads and heavy shoulders. Ceiling fans swung lazily overhead, propelling a slight stagnant breeze onto the thirsty mouths below. Mouths on hard faces parched from the burden of their day, hidden behind various shapes of glass like distorted masks. The lights were dimmed, providing an illusion of perpetual dusk to help ease the minds of the vagrant drunks into forgetfulness that light still dwelt outside. The air randomly cackled from a thunderous break at the pool table. The ancient flickering jukebox stood lonely in the corner, playing whatever it pleased bereft of change. An old man held a solitary position on a stool at the center of the bar. Everything else seemed to orbit around him; a sun unto his own frontier universe. He hunched over the counter as if it were a crutch to support his aging body. He sat for hours on that stool. Contemplating everything and nothing as he marveled at the cascading colors of bottles in front of him. The come hither allure of the emerald greens found in the bottles of whiskey, the warm fires that seemed to glow red hot inside of the imported rum, the cool refreshing blue hues of vodka; an aurora of flashing lights culling him into warm inebriation and blissful nothingness. The bar was his home, or rather his haunt, and he played the role of its imperishable ghost to a silent applause. Few souls knew the name of this spirit of consumption, and fewer still knew how old he really was, let alone how long he had been haunting this place. To him, it was all one long blur of a seemingly infinitesimal night. It didn’t matter to the old man what anyone thought of him. He had lived a long time, longer than he had probably ever cared to, and old age had purchased for him an air of great indifference. He was a fierce feline of the alleys that had all but used up nine of his lives. Nine lives fostering a hundred stories that housed thousands of memories. Memories, perhaps, he no longer felt the need to carry. His head was much too full of his past. It left little room for thoughts of a future. The door opened and hot light flooded the atmosphere, breaking the spell of the man made dusk. The old man lifted his hand to shield his wrinkled eyes from the sudden sunburst as a silhouette of a man walked in. As the creaking door slowly closed and darkness took the space again, he noticed the figure walking in wasn’t actually yet a man, but also no longer a child; it was somewhere between that maleable transition where one undergoes their trials by fire and becomes transformed from the inevitable mistakes that scorch them so. The boy sank into a seat a stool away from the old man. He ordered a beer in an almost inaudible voice and stared at the counter, his face devoid of all expression. When the beer arrived the unsavory paleness of it told the old man it was something cheap and tasteless. Like most young men he had observed, this boy had no taste. He decided right then and there not to bother with him and attended to his drink. Before the boy could even wrap his hand around his glass a song began to play from within his pockets so loud it overpowered the bar’s own jukebox. It was “Friday, I am in Love” by the Cure. It’d been years since the old man had heard it, but he knew it well. The song transported his senses back to a time of neon and adrenaline fueled rails off the bathroom stall in this very bar. The boy took out his phone and stared blankly at the screen. The song went on, Robert Smith sang of a profound love in D Major, and the boy did not answer. He just continued staring at it. Before the old man could voice his annoyance, the boy dropped his still ringing phone into his full glass of beer, where it bubbled and sank until it hit the bottom of the glass. The picture of a woman’s face flashed on the screen and her name was seen in brilliant white letters for a moment. Then there was nothing. “Excuse me?” the boy asked. “Could I get another beer? There seems to be something in my glass.” A solitary and involuntary chuckle escaped from the old man’s chapped lips but the bartender did not share in the same amusement; the boy was not brought another beer. The old man hoped that the boy would have had the good sense to leave, but apparently the boy seemed senseless. Gazing again at the counter with a face that seemed not just expressionless, but rather one that simply did not know what it was supposed to be expressing. He had an energy about him that made the old man uncomfortable, and comfort was something he felt entitled to in his old age. “So what’s up yer ass?” the old man asked loudly. The boy did not answer. He merely sat there, playing deaf to his neighbor’s inquisition. His eyes were now frozen towards what was now the corpse of his phone, as if at any moment he expected it would come back to life. The old man had no more patience left in him to harbor an insult as heavy as being ignored and the drink was strong in his blood by now. You could say it was the whiskey that caused his hand to slam in front of the boy, as much as it was the old man himself. “I asked you a question, boy?!” His breath, as hot as his temper, stank like a bottle left out in summer. If it was one thing in this world he hated, it was not being acknowledged. He had suffered enough judgment at the hands of people who thought themselves his betters his whole nine lives and the cat had tasted rejection for so long that whiskey seemed to be the only way to wash the taste from out of its mouth. It stirred in him an ancient anger he had carried with him as he long as he could carry himself. It was certainly not the first fight he’d been in under this roof, nor would it be the last. But when the boy’s eyes finally met his, he withdrew his hand and his anger went with it. Staring back at him now was a look he had seen once upon another life. A memory once thought drowned and forgotten, swam up resurfaced to the front of his mind like worms in the rain. He saw his own eyes staring back at him in a mirror. In that memory they wore barely a wrinkle and were filled with searing tears that flew down his face warm and unbidden. He recalled the pain he’d felt in his chest as he held her letter of farewell, hurt that throbbed like a knife in his back he was helpless to pull out. He remembered shattering that mirror into pieces and how after a dozen different sad, distorted manifestations of himself had stared back at him with that same broken gaze. How could he have forgotten the bleeding mirror? The poetic irony he found in the way the glass shards embedded in his knuckles like so many diamonds, engaged as he was then to his despair. Had the medicine he’d long since sought finally accomplished what he set out to do? Had he finally managed to forget? He stared deep into the boy’s eyes now. His eyes were as a green sea suffering a red tide. He’d been crying. He’d been crying for a long time. The old man studied the boy’s eyes for a second, then two, and looked away. He could not suffer the intensity in his gaze. Those eyes that seemed to shoot a challenge to the old man, or were they imploring him? Leave me be. His own eyes found the bartender then, “Martha, two Makers, doubles. Neat.” The barmaid took her time walking over to the old man with a slight exaggerated swagger in her stride. “You could at least say please, you old fuck.” she said with a chastising smile. “I love you, Marty.” She brought the drinks, and laid them out in front of them. Bending over far more than she actually needed to. The old man picked up a glass and raised it over his head towards the boy in a gesture of salutations and apology. The boy returned the gesture in kind. The old man threw the drink back and let it settle on his tongue. He savored the burn then swallowed the fire. The boy coughed. “Thank you,” he said softly as he collected himself. Acknowledging the apology and cloaking, as best he could, his embarrassment. A few moments went by in respective silence as the old man studied the boy he had accosted from a peripheral glance. He was handsome. Beautiful in a way he had never been. Completely unaware of the looks he was drawing to himself for, in his depression, he hid well what vanity he must have surely possessed. A thick head of auburn curls fell about his face to hide the current shame in his eyes. The old man felt he should say something to him, but what could he say? What did men do in times like these but mend the pain from both sides in contemplative silence? He bought him a drink to nurse his wounds. It was more than most people had ever done for him. Wasn’t that enough? “Heartsick, huh?” the old man asked with a forced laugh of congeniality. He didn’t know why he had opened his mouth and felt he was going to regret ever having done so to some baby boy fresh off the street. But then the boy laughed too. One of those sad, defeated kinds of laughs that ends with a sigh. “I am sorry.” he answered once again in a quiet, soft spoken tone. One of those sensitive types, thought the old man. But there was still a bit of fight left to him, an edge that could still cut. “Forgive me for being so fucking obvious.” The old man sneered then dramatically sniffed the air, “Oh, I know that smell. You reek of that love sting. Still, you smell better than most of us in here, pretty boy.” Then came a real, honest good laugh. It erupted from the pit of the boy’s stomach, where the whiskey had no doubt made its impact. He had a surprisingly fantastic laugh; infectious and completely unrestrained. It shook the bar and sang high over the speakers as his hair fell into his face again. He brushed it back with one hand and took a drink with the other in one graceful, fluid motion. He had forgotten himself for a moment with that sudden outburst, until he opened his eyes again and remembered where he was. Upon this sobering realization his shoulders sunk and moved forward until he hung over what was now an empty glass. His posture spoke louder than anything he could ever say, but still he spoke, “When does it stop?” The old man said nothing at first. He instead gestured for another round, feeling that more of this medicine would be the best remedy for the boy’s palpable sickness. He watched Martha come and go with their prizes with weary, sunken eyes. His head was somewhere else now; far from sex and his drink and the dull pulse of the bar’s slow tempo heart. He wondered what to say to the boy, if anything. He knew the boy was still soft clay and impressionable. He could lead him astray with but a few wrong words. For men in dire straits seemed always quick to grab hold any word that might validate their current positions. And what the hell did he know about anything anyway? “I don’t know, kid. Some hurts, they just stay with ya. Most of life is learning how to carry that.” the old man said as he handed the boy another drink. “Pain, it’s always gonna be there. Waiting to walk in through the same door that love walks out of. I think it was Cormac McCarthy who once wrote, ‘The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy.’ As if to say, eventually, joy will be stripped by sorrow. To that I say, ‘Well fuck you, Cormac!’ Learn how to block the blow, man.” He looked at the boy then, expecting to see that his antics might have purchased a smile. Instead he saw those green oceans in his eyes had begun to swell, and the old man did not care to see them overflow. As a man whose form was sculpted by far rougher times than the boy would likely ever see, he felt ashamed for him and his presumed weakness. Even a hint of disgust at his audacity to shed his pain in such a public fashion. But as a human being who contained within himself far more empathy then he would ever admit, he could not help but watch in some twisted sense of fascination as a solitary tear fell from the boy’s face and onto the bar, mixing in with a pool of water acummulating below a perspiring glass. “Some hurts just stay with ya?” the boy repeated as he made no move to wipe away the tears from his face. As if he were not ashamed at all for conveying what he, as a man, was conditioned to feel shamed for doing. His hands stayed true to his glass. “I don’t see this one going anywhere…Fuck it!” he spat and took a drink from his glass. “At least I found out she was capable of fucking around on me before I did something real stupid.” The boy did not sob. Nor did his voice betray his convictions with the slightest quiver. His only course now seemed to be to reinforce his beliefs with words he did not really seem to believe. He had been running over the scenarios of his recent love’s denouement no doubt a thousand times already. Traveling absent of mind miles in any given direction. Far from the scene of the crime till the street brought him here to this place to self medicate the wound. A subconscious, yet conditioned, response yearning for anything to fill the empty space within him that, until recently, had housed an extraordinary kind of love. Now he searched the barest of vacancies to fill the void. The old man had heard these kinds of stories in the corner of this bar alone dozens, perhaps even hundreds of times. He knew what the boy was going to say before he could even say it. But for some reason, he was still listening. He hung on the boy’s every word, though he couldn’t understand why he even gave a damn. They shared camaraderie in heartbreak and nothing more. They were men born from different times who lived entirely different lives. The only bond connecting them now was the bottle their whiskey came from. The boy was still very naive in his youth, where the old man was a grizzled veteran of a long fought campaign. The lad was pretty and soft, whereas he was calloused and the years had been anything but kind to him. But in spite of the tremendous amount of evidence that brought to light the boy’s foolishness, the old man decided he would keep listening. For had he too not been a great fool once himself? The boy heaved a great and heavy sigh, “I give up. I just fucking give up.” “What are you giving up?” asked the old man, gently challenging him. “People!” barked the boy. “Ya give ’em what they say they want and then they just want more! It’s never enough. People just want to take. I am running out of things to give…” “We are all wired that way, it’s human nature. You can’t give up on people. After that, it’s only a matter of time before you give up on yourself.” “I just don’t understand–how could she do that?” the boy’s voice quivered again. “The more I try to understand the less I know. It just doesn’t make sense…” “You should be goddamn grateful it doesn’t.” said the old man thumbing the rim of his glass. “Be thankful you aren’t like those people; that even the notion of commiting such an act is utterly alien to you. But you should know by now, no one makes it this far in one piece, kid. You gotta give people the space to be…human. We all have our demons. Some of them we don’t even want to exorcise. They can become a part of you, or you them if you carry them too long. With people you let inside, you gotta let in their demons too. All or nothin’, brother. See if their devils dance with yours. Otherwise, you ain’t really in love you’re just, well, you’re dressing up and playin’ house.” “Why dress up at all?” the boy implored. “Why are we so afraid of being real?” The old man froze with his glass just before his lips as they quivered slightly in anticipation. He didn’t know how to answer him. Had he ever even asked himself that question? But, suddenly his tongue ran away with him. “To be real is to be seen. For most of us, we have gotten so used to hiding maybe we don’t even know what part of us is real anymore? We go off of blueprints handed down to us from somewhere. We base our love off the love we have seen and how we should act to get that love. And some people didn’t get shown too much love, some got none at all, and others couldn’t have possibly gotten anymore. That’s life, and it’s never fair. But we have to look for this. We look and keep looking because, goddammit, it’s what we are.” “That pain a lot of people feel, I think that’s us trying to force ourselves when we don’t fit. Two different puzzles that spilled out onto the same floor. Or it’s us leaving those pieces we just simply cannot fit into. We hurt each other when we hold on too tight. We hurt each other when we lessen the grip. It’s too much and then, it’s not enough. You want it. You get it. Then, it turns out it’s not what you wanted, so you let it go. Then, you want it back because it’s gone…” The old man still held the drink before his face. Stirring it in his hand, fascinated by the way the liquid caught the light and distorted the world around him. ”We all just want what we have seen in the movies, really. What we have been conditioned by art to feel. We want to be spouting that poetry to beautiful, perfectly imperfect souls like we see on that magical silver screen. Those goddamn films have killed us with their impossible walking contradictions. The poets handed us loaded guns and the writers are holding queue cards to pull the trigger. Filling our heads with dreams we try endlessly to recreate.” He took a long, hard drink from his patient glass and waited for his words to really hit the boy while the whiskey hit him. He felt then, in that moment of silent reflection, as though he had become a conduit. As if someone else was speaking through him, for his words did not seem his own. The spirit of the bottle, perhaps? He couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much to anyone. It wasn’t so bad. His throat was beginning to become sore and the whiskey was making his voice sound harsher than he meant for it to sound. It masked his sympathy and hid his sincerity. “Have you ever been in love with someone?” asked the boy. “Of course I have loved someone. Many someones!” the old man laughed. They came and went; transient affections. How long is forever anyway, really? A few months, a couple years? Eternity is surprisingly short, in my experience. Then again, it can happen…who knows? For me, most of them turned out to be no more than passing seasons. And now, in the winter of my years I see that all those eternities I was promised, all of those forever and infinities, however much time they really gave me, they were all worth it in their own way. I harbor no real regrets, who has the fucking time? Hell, I don’t even regret the bad ones–especially the bad ones!” “Those bad ones show you how good those good ones really were that you let go of so you can hold on next time around–if you are that lucky.” He paused to gather his thoughts, though the words flowed out of him in one long river as if he were a dam burst. “So many girls but ah, so few women! So few real women who know when to stoke the flame and when to douse it. I guess you could say that about men too. How many girls lost their faith in men because of some boy’s false religion? It’s as if people have forgotten how to be–how to be happy, how to be loved. There is no real soul to anything it seems anymore. It’s all made on the cheap. All this knowledge and no wisdom. It’s all just sex, instinct without passion. You’re all in heat, but that ain’t fire. Those embers won’t keep you warm the way a soul’s gotta stay warm. You’ll find bodies, sure. But you gotta dig for that kind of real fire kid, really dig. And you’ll know when you find it because then, you won’t even have to ask yourself. Then, you are going to burn something awful.” Somewhere behind them a man cursed aloud and threw his pool cue on the table. The boy looked back and glanced around the place as the old man attended to what was left of his drink. He saw men and women smiling at each other in the darkness, betrayed by the whites of their smiles and the glaze in their narrowed eyes. He overheard their conversations out of sheer curiosity and then laughed softly to himself, but he didn’t really know why. It was then that Martha came back around with two fresh glasses, “These are on the house boys!” “See,” said the old man, “Now this is a good woman! I can try and set you guys up if you like?!” And for the first time in the entirety of their evening together the boy heard the old man laugh. He was glad to have been an audience to it. “Tell your boyfriend to come back when he has some hair on his damn chest!” said Martha as she left the boy with a wink. The boy joined in on the laughter and together their sudden uproar drew the attention of everyone in the bar. They were both dismissed as drunken fools and were convicted on both counts. He felt much lighter than before, stronger somehow. As if the great weight of his despair had been suddenly lifted by the laughter of his transient companion. That illusion of invincibility found in the drink was coursing through his veins now, pumping out the sickness that had sought to claim him. It was too early to even consider a retreat. Instead, he would surrender himself again to the old man and leave himself at the mercy of his words. The boy smiled another one of those sad smiles from beneath his hair, “The writers really have damned us all, haven’t they?” “Who knows?” the old man shrugged. “Maybe they haven’t damned us at all. Maybe they have just been trying to save us?” “From what?” asked the boy with a tilt of his head. “Life…The life we find now in front of us. They are trying to save us, help us escape. Maybe in their scenes and pages they are just giving us a map–” “–to get out of where we feel the need to escape from.” “To lead us home, precisely! To save us and help us forget!” The old man stood up straighter in his stool, levitating almost, on sheer excitement alone. He felt something then, something he refused to call faith. More like bravery, a kind of greater hope. “Forget about our debts and dead ends! Death and taxes and the state and our goddamn religions! The wives and ex wives and their lousy head and their lousier, stinking husbands! Advertising, television, the pigs and the threat of cages…they want us to forget all of that. How could we damn them for wanting to paint a better picture for us that we didn’t have the balls to paint ourselves?” The old man hunched down and leaned in close and the boy couldn’t help but think there was a fire in his eyes. “Let’s not damn the movies or the writers. What if all they are trying to give us is hope? Hope that there is more to this life than all this phony bullshit we have built for ourselves. Just because you haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I will drink to that. I will believe in that, if nothing else.” The boy smiled, “You’ll believe in fiction then?” “And who is to say we can’t make fiction real? I think people could use a bit more imagination and magic in their lives. Let them succumb be allowed to believe again. Let em’ fuckin’ burn! I feel for those poor souls who never even start; afraid of the fire. I did my dance. And I danced with some lovely creatures. But your song is just starting.” The old man’s drunkenness was reigned in for a moment. “This thing you are going through, hell you know it’s temporary. Time is the dog that licks all wounds. You’ll mend this like you’ve sutured a thousand other wounds you’ve already forgotten about and go on. That’s the thing about life, son; it goes on.” The boy had never felt so foolish and yet so wise in all of his waxing years. His soul was made lighter by all the spirits he’d imbibed. His heart was still wounded, but that wound would soon bring to him a new kind of strength. This old soul had truly saved him, if only for a night. The boy stood up for the first time in what felt like days to him. Almost forgetting he even had legs, he wondered if he had always been this tall, as he found the floor to be quite problematic at first. He took out some crumpled bills from his pocket and threw them on the table. It was far more than what the bill would have been, but in his mind he was paying for a priceless lesson. “Thanks.” said the boy as he placed his hand gently with a reassuring pat on the old man’s shoulder. He let it linger there for a while. The old man made no motion to remove himself, even placing his own wrinkled hand gently upon the boy’s fingers and squeezed them softly. No more words from him. He had given all he could spare. The boy finally found his feet, possessing once again the body that now felt so foreign to him, and walked back out to the street from which he came. Outside the night had come as quickly as the day had gone. The door closed behind him shutting out all the sounds of the atmosphere he flew out of, leaving him to suffer the silence of the night alone. And what a lonely night it was. The streets were empty and their lights flickered like so many fireflies. He was fantastically drunk but still fully aware of himself. It hurt a little less now, though the wound was still fresh. It would take time. Time is the dog that licks all wounds. A cold breeze caught his face and filled his nose with a sweet nocturnal perfume. He looked up from the cracks in the sidewalk and found a tilted crescent moon shining bright above him in an almost starless sky. He smiled, and the night seemed to smile with him.
I look back at all you and I sewed together. How all we could make then with hands only taught to shape fists was a tattered tapestry that barely warmed either of us. Even huddled together we still froze. United only by the cold, we told each other love was simply the act of suffering the storm. So I did not waver against your hurricanes and you screamed louder than my thunder ever could. Until our tempest shattered us both with a force no mountain could have withstood. Scattered to a distance only fathomable in dreams; our hands still grasping tight the cloth as we ripped it apart at the seams.
You’ve come back to me again under clearer skies to make me gaze upon what remains of the work we made. After all these years still clutching your half of the fabric like some treasured memory. And I am wrought with shame that I was ever capable of making such a thing. For though these hands had to be broken to undo their teachings; I am armed now with stronger bones. If only I could show you how to unfurl your fingers and finally let go. But still you hold fast to what warmth it brings.
Death decorates the dunes with trinkets bleached white and gifts rings of bones to it’s eternal bride. Here, under the bluest of skies, life only survives. Nothing is offered, there is only the taking by those with knives. Soft eyes unsinged by the savage sun call this cruelty, for they have never known the fight. I look to the creatures birthed to these merciless sands and call them my kind. The engine roars and devours the divides of the highway to escape the land so blessed but oh, so cursed.
You may leave this place, but those born to deserts never forget the thirst.
There was once a time when I lived for whatever moments I could steal with you. I became the greatest of thieves. Hoarding memories like riches, precious metals that now seem such a curse to hold. Currency from a civilization now all but dust. Like all careless outlaws, my crimes caught up to me. In this cell, I tell myself I gladly pay the sentence for these gifts I have stolen. Though as the tallies on the walls grow longer to mark the passing of days, I am certain that regret will visit me with temptations I cannot refuse.
No one held a candle to the flame you lit in me. I told you that once. I see now, I kept myself in a dark room and gave you the only key; any light would have been blinding when that door opened. My eyes grown dim so used to the black.
I didn’t know how to do this without you. Such is the wake of separation. No longer will we be crutches for each other, we told ourselves. In the letters I will never send I wrote, “I have rubbed my body red and raw trying to wash you off my skin, but you’re a bullet buried in my spine. To take you out would leave me paralyzed.”
I can’t recall who fired the gun. With whiskey, distance, and long days poured over the entry point I performed the surgery and hung the shrapnel as a trophy. Static limbs that languished in atrophy will soon give way and crawl. One day I will walk, and even run without you. I am uncertain if that will just bring a new kind of pain; I only know life goes on. Time is the dog that licks all wounds and I now count you among the greatest of my many scars.
I held a vacancy in me that dared to dream that I’d read these letters to you aloud someday in some far off summer. Sleep was the only thing that brought you back to me. It’s that part of me, the part that dreams that needs to wither away someplace far below the surface; like an old mongrel that seeks its end beneath the boards of a house, alone. This boiled over and spilled into every floor of my life. A life that creaks and groans with so many other leaks in all it’s chambers that I feel as if I’d drown were I not so adept at keeping my head above water.
You became this pillar in my life that held up something that was more than just a shelter. In that place you taught me so many things that I thought myself truly incapable; I can never thank you enough for exposing me as the great liar I had become. But now, that column has collapsed; the roof has caved in. It is winter and I am cold, and I can never again go to you for warmth.
So I retreat deep within the halls of myself, to the room I kept for you. To find the embers I kept barely alive to find your way back to me. I snuff the last wick in a place that once blinded me with lights. It is dark now, as it always should have been. I lock the door with singed fingers.
I got home just before midnight. In spite of the time, my mother was awake, still tending to all the duties of a homemaker. I sat with her in the kitchen as I tried to hide my drunkenness under the Christmas lights still strewn about the place. The cat stirred at the sound of my voice, walked up, and collapsed at my feet. I make her dance lightly on her paws while we began to speak of all the things we had learned from the passing year. The early morning hours waning on as the cat silently resigned to her fate as an unwilling marionette.
We speak of gratitude. How the practice of giving thanks fully eclipses what we feel we are lacking when we’ve conditioned ourselves to be grateful for all the things we do have. The things often overlooked, taken for granted, or held to a standard of expectations; when these things we should hold in daily gratitude are anything but a standard–they are a duty to be continually committed to. And it is the commitment to these duties that is the spine of real love; all else is just brittle infatuation and would snap in twain under the slightest weight.
Finally, I let the cat escape. I tell my mother I look forward to the future with optimistic and keen vision. Her face is swollen and beaming with the countenance of a proud parent. I realize right then how much more I want to strive to put that look on her face. I look into her watery eyes as they shimmer red and green from the holiday glow and tell her I am proud of myself too. Going so far as to claim I know what I am worth, because I have come to love myself.
She pauses. The maternal pride that was there only moments before suddenly stricken from her face and I have no idea how to get it back. “Son,” she says stoically, searching for the words. “You cannot say you truly value yourself when you…drink the way you do. That is NOT loving yourself. If you loved yourself, you wouldn’t keep doing this to you. You’ve seen how addiction hits this family. People have drank themselves to death, and others are still doing the same thing, right now, in spite of all of that…”
She had her words now, “You HAVE to be HERE. I don’t want to see you go anywhere.”
I could only nod. I was unable to look at her, because she was truth and I was still full of so many lies. The eyes of mothers, how they see everything in spite of our best efforts.
I don’t know how long I was unable to answer, but sometime between the then and now she asked if she could hug me. Something about my face must have said I wanted anything but to be touched and I still have no idea how to take that goddamn mask off. I nod behind the veneer I hide behind.
“You are amazing,” she says into my shoulder as her arms wrap around me. “And so, so loved. Please know that.”
“I know,” I stammered as I returned her embrace. “I will be better. I will.”
This is my duty. To be better. To be here. For her and the others whom I love. I thanked my mother, because I was grateful. Suddenly, I was aware that I lacked nothing.
It’s New Years Day. Blinding light leaks in through the blinds and I am much too afraid to check the time. I don’t dare to get up to feel just how bad my hangover is. I stay where I am, awkwardly collapsed on a familiar couch. Flashes of last night flood my memory. There was a lot of love orbiting around the room and so many times I truly felt like the Sun. There was also a lot of residual pain strewn about the space–gravity seemed so much denser among the banners and shimmering balloons, as we took our last glances back at what was quite a harrowing year for many of us.
It’s New Years Eve. My friend is telling me how thankful he is for me. How, in spite of this year trying to break him at almost every possible turn, I was a part of so much good. It’s hours before midnight and already in his arms I know that this coming year will be a time of bonds and promises kept. I have found my place. I thank him for giving me a sense of home for the first time in a long, long while.
So we lift our glasses in an attempt to lift our spirits. But still, I feel an air of somberness to the celebration. As if a great battle had been won, but at a terrible price none of us were prepared to pay. Perhaps this was a projection I was painting on their faces, more than a sense of empathy. It’s true, I get so often confused between the two.
Sometimes, life demands these tolls and we call it ‘loss’. To not pay them, arrests you in arrears. There are debts to be paid, and the levees are inescapable; such is the cost of living. This is simply the way of things. It’s neither inherently bad, nor is it altogether completely devoid of goodness–it just is.
I wonder how many times I have said this to people? Too much and not enough.
I have taken great solace in a poem in the ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”
Throughout the evening I kept finding myself saying that I will not count this last year as a loss, but rather a time of lessons learned. Lessons that will spare me from repeating mistake after mistake at the cost of time; the only true currency and that, in itself, is a construct I suppose. I am rambling again. I hope there is coffee somewhere…I check the time, and I wish I hadn’t.
I have said pain has been my greatest professor. There is no gain without sacrifice. My pain has made me wise, but I paid for this wisdom. I am slowly turning grey digesting in the voracious belly of time. I have to count the exchange as equivalent; I must. The purpose and perspective must be assigned. There has to be a point, and the point is yours to make and keep sharp, to throw at the heart of some terrible and great beast. The heartbreak, the loss, the innumerable times I strayed far from my path knowing full well I was getting lost on purpose, have all indeed weathered myself weary and took things from me I will never get back. And this is simply the way of things.
It just is.
I am hollowed out by knives. I am as a canyon, pour your rivers into me. Make of me a container for all the love I have since denied.
Because I have paid the cost a thousand times over. I am here to collect. I have won this love. I deserve this and I am so tired of hearing anyone say anything to the contrary. I am so damn worthy. We are so damn worthy of this.
Long did I linger in the crater of collapse. I made shelter amidst the scorched earth and haunted the place I learned to call home. A spirit that languished in a past it could not move pass. Cursed to relive all the minutes in the many hours that made me what I am.
I took my time like it was something owed to me. Licking wounds so compulsively the very act of healing kept injuries from ever closing. What was one more scar among an already flagellated body? I was made to believe I was my wounds. That all I suffered, was all I had to offer; thus I was valueless. Unloved, to be discarded. Someone else’s lies became my truths and I called myself an honest man.
I was a ghost passing straight through the things I yearned to touch. People slipped between my fingers like water and dripped out of my life into polluted rivers of memory, only to be forgotten by a heartless sea. These hands never taught to hold, there was only the act of letting go. Such was my purgatory. Neither saved, nor damned, just a phantom to be forgotten. Until I saw my future in that place, and found that there was none.
So I took my body and possessed myself again. Bringing new life back into atrophied limbs, reminding them the strength of their grip as I lifted the burdened boulder of existence willingly up this mountain that knows no peak. Aware there may never be a period of peace. I may always be at war against this, but what greater fight is there?
Rise and rise and rise again and again, in a baptism of ashes.
I forgive what there is to be forgiven, for I must travel light. I pardon those who have wronged me, for they too were once children of God. Embraced, not in grace, but marked and broken in their Father’s image before the age of reason. Thus traumas transcend time, like chains linked from their beginnings to ours in forges whose fires are kept bright and burning generation after generation in hatred and anger. So I came to love my legacy. I inherited these rusted irons and melted them down into armor. My daughters will have their shield and my sons hands will be bound no more.
The words I used to curse myself, they were never mine. I thought myself damned and made that hell so loud I heard nothing else but my own fire for a lifetime. Until someone showed me all those lies I thought were true. How they wore my face but spoke in my father’s voice. I had to learn how to speak all over again until those voices belonged to me. Kindness was once a foreign language, now my tongue is fluent and it has tasted salvation. Ever since then, it has finally been quiet. Life grows anew among the blackened soil and soon, it will be green again.
I awoke that day to the familiar patter of footsteps pacing the hardwood floors. But that morning, the steps were hurried and palpably manic. I opened my door to find my friend pacing the house with a phone to her ear and tears on her cheeks.
“Larry just died,” she said.
Larry. Her mother’s partner. An old oak of a man whose main method of communication was a series of grunts, scoffs, and dismissive waves. Visibly racked with a pain only a dying man can feel, no one ever questioned the brevity of his speech. He dwelled in a space of solitary that young people reserve for the old; kept at a respectable distance for to be any closer would remind them of the fate that awaits their spry joints and quick limbs.
“Larry is dead…”
The words washed over me with little sensation. A breeze through an open door, subtle and fleeting. I didn’t know him. He was but a fixture in a house to me. Someone I didn’t sit near or speak to besides whatever cheap courtesies I could afford. A nod. Hello. Goodbye.
He gave up the ghost a little after dawn. And in that sunrise I learned that you never really know when your last goodbye is for good.
As I watched my friend crumble before me, my male mind raced with solutions on how to fix a problem I’d never solve. In the wake of my helplessness I knew only that I should be there for her. So when she finally got in the car, I got in the fucking car too.
Her mother’s house was not the home I remembered. It was stirring with an unsettling static in the atmosphere, like something had been sucked out of the walls. The yelling, the barking, the screaming, all the laughter, that chorus clamor of an affectionately dysfunctional family…it wasn’t there. The music of the house had dwindled to a mumbled lament. Not even the dogs made a sound. For the first time, I entered that house and was greeted by a stranger named Silence.
My friend walked up to her mother, whose face immediately swelled with tears like a dry wood that touches water. They held each other and their grief. I stood in the doorway and felt the pressure of something I didn’t know how to articulate then. I touched their shoulders in quiet consolation as they shook under the weight of their sobbing. I left them to their mourning without a word.
I walked down the long hall. My feet moved, driven with a purpose all their own. I had been down that hall I don’t know many times before; ushered by screaming children chased by panting dogs. Walking alone then, the hall suddenly felt so much wider than I remembered. I found my feet in front of his door. Beyond was a place I had never been, in every sense of what that could mean. I didn’t know what was on the other side but my body took me there, and I followed.
Larry’s bedroom was a simple and quiet place. A fine reflection of what I had seen of his character. The walls were completely unadorned, save for a few scattered photographs. Strange and familiar faces inside of small frames. Another family. Another life. A solitary window faced the street where the early morning sunlight began creeping in.
The light and I found him, sitting in a chair in the corner of the cold room; his head resting in his chest. His hands curled atop his lap where a blanket lay falling off his legs. The old man looked like he was just sleeping.
Almost like a spotlight, the sun stole into the room. The rays caused the naked white walls to shine brilliantly as they touched the atrophied limbs of the body in front of me. Almost heavenly, in a way–if, after all this time, you still believed in such things.
I had never seen a dead body before. It’s something your eyes see, plain as sunlight, but your mind struggles to grasp the concept. This person is gone; even with their body right in front of you, somehow you know they aren’t here anymore.
And yet, his peaceful countenance stirred in me a sense of disbelief. What if he is just sleeping? What if he isn’t dead?
With a steady hand I placed my fingers upon the life vein in his throat, searching for a semblance of a pulse. His body had already begun to atrophy and grow stiff. It felt as if human skin had been stretched across the bark of a tree. His pulse answered me as a statue would. I felt his chest for a heart beat but it’s measure was over. No breath. No movement behind the closed veils of his eyes.
In the hallway, I could hear the women he left behind crying. Sadness was in the walls and the house seemed to creak in response. I found his bed without any real thought and slowly sat down. I don’t know how long I stared at him. I can only tell you I could not look away. Neither fascinated nor disturbed. Not afraid nor really brave. I only felt this great sense of…nothing.
I felt nothing.
“Where’d you go, old man?” I asked him as I smiled to myself. Realizing then what a great joke this had just become. I just said more to this man in death than I think ever had in life. That distance I kept him at, would that I have closed the gap.
”I want to believe you went somewhere. Somewhere better, I do…” Conflicted with my own beliefs of the existence of an afterlife, talking to what was left of that old tree named Larry, I felt something then. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I could only tell you it was there.
I remember hearing once that when stars die they collapse under the weight of their own gravity. The star erupts, and when the dust settles what remains of the star and its energy coalesces around it’s former orbit to form a nebula. In that room I felt a pressure then, of a star that had gone out in a tiny universe with four white walls. And there is poetry there that I will forever struggle to properly articulate.
As I stared at the body of what used to be a husband, a son, a father, I noticed he had drool slowly falling from his mouth down the side of his great wrinkled face. It made him look particularly infantile. Regressed in death, to the stage of his birth. I took a rag and gently wiped away the spit. I took his blanket and covered him up to his neck. He didn’t seem so frail then. Just a man lost to a forever kind of dream.
And then I left him. To be mourned and seen by what people knew him. One by one his people began to visit the house to pay their respects and be there for one and another in their own way. They all began to regale stories of the old oak. His grumpiness was comical to most and to my surprise, he was quite a rambunctious soul. Had you only took the time to know him, he’d have talked to you. He might have even made you laugh. Scoffed at your youth and then, perhaps, shared some wisdom purchased at the cost of all his years.
And you couldn’t help but wonder, who will be there when my body is found? Will I make it to old age? Will I be so lucky, to pass quietly into that good night? Will they speak as fondly of me? You can only hope and strive to be that for people; a source of fond remembrance. In that crowded room in our wake, I couldn’t help but think that in the face of death, you can only live in spite of it. In truth, is that not life’s greatest rebellion?
As the house began to fill, I took a seat next to a friend, the youngest daughter of the now widowed Mother. She was holding in her arms her newborn niece, Mary Anne, swathed in a blanket and clutched at her breast. I sat next to these two beautiful creatures and my weary eyes just rested a while in their innocent countenance. Little Mary Anne, being fawned and awed by a love struck teenager.
Such life existed now in this house where, only moments ago, was only a vacuum of sorrow. Our own little rebellion, if we had anything to say about it. I edged closer to them and dove into Mary’s eyes. These great blue pools of curiosity teeming with wonder and contemplation. Searching the room until they found you. And then you just drown in there. You really do.
I reached out and touched her soft, porcelain hands and she grabbed my finger with a strength I didn’t know an infant could possess. In that moment, I can tell you, I felt something; love. This sudden unwavering desire for nothing but all the good of the world to befall this creature.
That feeling, it grips me as tight as her hold on my finger and does not let go. As I am swimming in her eyes, I see her begin to drool a bit. Her spittle falling gracefully over her face, I grab some napkins and wipe it all away from the cherub ever so softly. I wipe until her face is clean and ready to be admired. And then, I laughed. I didn’t know what else I could possibly do but laugh.