Living and dying, growing up and growing old, trailer parks and haunted houses, plus the occasional alien invasion… all a part of my childhood, all a part of me growing older.
All a part of me dying,
Childhood dreams, first love and serial killers… also a part of me growing up, growing older, and regretting the past.
Decisions not made… promises not kept,
I was sixteen when Stacie died. She was the love of my life, blond hair and blue-eyed; the most amazing smile ever. Stacie changed my life, made me the man I am today, taught me how to love- until the day Crowley, lunatic and serial killer, found her and stole her away from me- from the world.
Until the day I died! They say that love can reach from beyond the grave; can evil do the same?
The year is 1963. John Fitzgerald and Robert “Bobby’ Kennedy are still alive.
Martin Luther King Jr., standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and feeling prophetic, would stand and deliver his seminal “I have a dream” speech. That same year, the Los Angeles Dodgers, seemingly against all odds, would win the World Series by defeating the New York Yankees four games to none.
On a much larger stage, America was about to stumble into conflict with the small Southeast Asia nation of Vietnam, however, in the spring and summer of ’63 it hadn’t been labeled a war yet, but a Police Action. Kent State, Woodstock, long-haired hippies, and the peace sign were still a long ways off.
On the home front or at least as close to home as I was concerned, my mother had gotten pregnant for the second time. Her first experience at motherhood had been a few years earlier, and had ended rather abruptly in a miscarriage. (Oh, how she wanted a baby, but as luck, fate or the universe would have it, such was not to be, at least not the first time around.) And though she’d bounced back from grief, as it were, (with but minor scaring to her heart and soul) this second birth would test her in ways she would be unprepared for. Like ’63 itself, the year and her pregnancy, would end on a bad note. By mid-November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be dead, his legacy and life faltering, before finally failing, on some operating table in Dallas Texas. Two weeks later my mother would suffer a similar fate, on a similar table in a similar hospital, though this one would be north of Dallas by over five hundred miles, and instead of life ending, she would be giving birth to a son. Though at the time and according to everything the nurses and doctors in attendance would later repeat, the child would enter the world in a bad way, still and blue, and seemingly on the very same journey as the late, soon to be great, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
~William Faulkner, 1951, Requiem for a Nun
The lighthouse has always been here; if not physically, then most assuredly spiritually, its long shadow casting out over my soul reminding me that all our journeys have a beginning and an end.
This is just how my story ended.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
~Traditional Folk song
Isn’t it though, a dream.
Or at least life seems that way at times.
Life can also be a nightmare, an endless trek through a forbidden wasteland where everything seems to be either dead or dying.
I have no memory of how I got here; but I do know that I am here. It’s a start.
Dying is the easiest thing in the world. It was the living that was hard.
Dying was like jumping off the end of a pier or a boat dock, that or falling downstairs. All you have to do is throw yourself out in the air and allow nature and gravity to take over, everything after that simply happens. Dying is also like springtime, full of soft golden light and long drowsy evenings.
Living, on the other hand, is like climbing a mountain or swimming upstream… trying to solve the riddle of life. All are difficult and nearly impossible to achieve. Living is also going against the current of the world, clambering over sharp rocks and scaling cliff-like walls.
Living is climbing Mount Everest in the middle of a snow storm… and then there is summer, the hardest season of them all; that long stretch in-between birth death and rebirth.
I hate summer.
Mid-August in Missouri- literally hell on earth, an orange-hot inferno filled with locust’s screams and dogs panting, nature baking beneath an endless steel-blue sky. Vegetation, which only weeks before had been vibrant and green, now burnt so crisp and brown that it actually crunches underfoot like broken glass. In the dead of summer, there is usually not a breeze to be bought or a spot of shade to be had, not even for all the rice in China.
Wouldn’t you know it, despite the obvious impossibilities; here I am, alive when I should be dead, smack-dab in the middle of it.
Horizon to horizon, for as far as I can see, nothing but gun-metal skies and endless fields of waist-high grass. No fences to screen, no cattle to low, only endless rows of identical- cast-in-silhouette -telephone poles fading off into the distance, their raggedy-drawn power lines hanging heavy and low.
They reminded me of scarecrows holding hands.
Hammered out in a swath before and after me are two strips of dark, sun-blistered asphalt, in some spots faded, other spots cracked, all times watery in the noon-day sun.
Row, row, row your boat…
Again, I shouldn’t be here. I’m supposed to be dead. I can clearly remember dying. And yet, for all my disbelief and evidence to the contrary, the world- this world -remained.
You would think I would have found it strange, that my only other memory, besides of living ‘my before life’, was of this place, standing in the middle of what could have been either Kansas or Nebraska.
Without warning the world tilts, before up righting once again. (This would be the first of many such occurrences, where I would become off-kilter, widdershins to the world. When it seemed as if my particular version of reality was about to be pulled out from under me like a ratty threadbare rug.)
What I needed, more than anything, was to get a grip, on reality, on anything.
Make sense of it all.
I needed all this ‘whatever it was that was happening around and to me’, to clarify itself.
There’s a word for you, clarify- to become clear, to not be so damnably confusing.
Instead, all I got was another flashback, to a time when I could not have been more than six or seven year’s old-
It is the middle of the night. I’m setting in the car with Mom. We’ve just pulled up outside a little no-name diner in the middle of what could have been anywhere.
The stars in the sky are diamond-cut bright.
The only sources of light I can see are a pair of jaundiced streetlights that seem to hug the darkened highway like a mother cradles her babe. Their globes swarmed with clouds of insects, mosquitos, June-bugs and gnats.
Directly in front of us is the back door of the diner. (I think the diners closed for the night, because the parking lot is completely empty.)
After a moment or two we get out of the car. I’m holding Mom’s hand because I’m too little to be by myself. (Mom’s all dressed up, smelling great and is pretty much the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.) Without a word spoken between us, we walk towards the long portal of light being cast by the diner’s rear door. It’s a wash of yellow and light.
A clatter of pans spill out across the night.
Once we get to the door we stop, silent as two church mice during Sunday morning choir practice. As we stand there, hand in hand, we watch Dad; he’s wearing faded blue jeans, a white tee-shirt with rolled-up sleeves (of course) and one of those dorky paper cooks hats. There’s a hand-rolled cigarette tucked up behind his left ear and he’s elbow deep in a big stainless-steel sink full of suds, soap and water all around.
We stand there for what seems an eternity, but is probably no more than thirty whole seconds.
The entire time I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ Dad’s busy as a bee, sweat running down his forehead and his nose, and his forearms are slick with suds, soap and water; and I can tell right away he’s in a hurry. Want to know why, because we’re here, and the last thing he has on his mind is to be working. More than anything he wants to dry off and rush outside to hold Mom, probably end up kissing her on the cheek and lips. (Yuck!) After that they’ll laugh together and he’ll whisper secrets in her ear and she’ll turn all red and glance my way, acting as if he’s somehow totally offended her, but inwardly loving every minute of it. After a moment or more of this she’ll turn back my way and wink, as if me and her, not him and her, were sharing the deepest and darkest of secrets.
The weirdest thing about all this, other than I’m telling it to you, is that even now I have no real memory of how the night ends, this little rendezvous, of Mom and me meeting Dad outside his place of work late one hot summer’s eve.
Years later I would ask her about this night, right after he had died of a heart-attack.
I’m already changed, from my funeral best to a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, mainly because I’m ready to go outside, ready to go on with my life.
Ready to not be dead like my dad
Instead of running outside to play however, I find myself walking into my mom and dad’s bedroom, that’s where I find her sitting on their bed.
She’s pale now, older by far, having just buried her husband of sixteen years. She’s got this old, ratty shoebox out and she’s rooting through it, digging amongst old letters and postcards like an archeologist seeking hidden treasure, turning photographs over and over all black and white (some color) all curled from age. All the while, she’s reading the backsides of them, all the lines of chicken-scratch in pencil and ink.
Trying to make conversation, I ask her what she’s doing.
She sniffs a bit, wipes at her face and eyes with a couple of wadded up Kleenex’s she’s had since the funeral, a good three hours prior, and tells me that she’s just ‘reliving some old memories of dad’.
For some reason, in the back of my mind, that night at the diner comes up, and since in my mind, it seemed to be one heck of a night, with her and him all laughing and giggling, the three of us as a family sharing a moment, I decide to bring it up, our meeting Dad, how pretty she looked that night with her hair cascading in long amber curls way past her shoulders, the way her dress seems to whisper against her legs as she sways from side to side walking and waiting to meet him. How she reminds me, even then, of a young girl- her future so incredibly bright, heading towards her rendezvous with destiny.
As I recollect these memories, give them a voice, she gets this look in her eyes; her lips draw pale and thin, the lines at the corner of her mouth hard and serious. I stop right there of course… well, more like I stumble to a halt amidst all my jumbled words.
“What in the world are you talking about?” she demands.
“Me and you meeting Dad,” I reply, hands all sweaty, heart pounding away like a big bass drum. Why do you always make me feel this way… so nervous when I talk to you? “Why…?”
“You know damn well why,” she states, her sorrow gone, replaced by something else… fear, anger, perhaps a heavy dose of both. “Who told you about that night, anyway? Was it my mother? Was she the one who told you? You tell me right now young man!”
She has that tone now, the one I hate so much. The one that makes feel small and insignificant, like a bug about to be squished.
And all I can think about is, ‘Why would your mother, my grandmother, tell me anything? She hates kids, grandkids especially!’ I’m also confused, because she’s staring at me with this look in her eyes, the same look she gave me and my brother the time we accidentally burned down our neighbor’s hay bales. (At the time we lied to her about the incident. We were too afraid to tell her the truth, how my brother and I, playing in the fire and burning plastic milk jugs, watching the melting plastic it go zoom-zoom while she was taking a nap, had carelessly laid a burning mop head up against one of the neighbors hay bales. Why exactly did we do this? Because we were young and dumb, that’s why.)
Taken aback by her sudden mood, I once again reiterate the events of that night. I stress the point of our arrival at the diner, our meeting him outside of his work-
Again she interrupts me. This time she questions me about the car she was driving, its model, type and brand. She asks me about the dress she was wearing, the time of night that it was. And finally, after all this, she asks me to describe my father, what he was wearing… what he said to her, pretty much everything she could think of about that night.
The entire time I’m thinking, she’s lost her mind, I know she has; her grief over his dying must run deep.
Maybe she’s just forgotten…
But no, she gets all defensive, her tone and face angrier, harsher by the minute, until I finally give up altogether and ask her the obvious question.
“Why are you so angry with me, Mother? I’m sorry I even brought it up. I just thought it would be nice to relive some of the more pleasant memories of you and Dad together.”
“I’m just trying to figure out why you’re making all this up.” She replies, like she never even heard me- like she’s paying me no mind.
As I begin to mumble something about how, “’I’m not making it up. That I was there that night and I should know,” she cuts me off again.
“There is no way in heaven you could have remembered that night,” she says like her minds made up. I could see the denial written in big black letters across her forehead.
“But you don’t understand,” I began, “I can remember everything, down to the last, the way your hand felt, how hot it was, how the light seemed to spill from the screen door… like liquid gold.
Shaking her head, she continues as if I hadn’t spoken a word. “Son, I don’t know where all this is coming from, but I can guarantee you one hundred percent that there is absolutely no way you could have known anything about that night. What you are describing is the first time I ever met your father… it was our first date. I’d just met him earlier that morning and promised him, if he was lucky, that I’d stop by at the end of his shift so we could talk.”
As you can imagine, by this time I’m more confused than ever. However, before I can argue any further, she jumps back in and delivers the coup-de-grace.
“What I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time, is that there is absolutely no way you could have been there that night, sweetie. You weren’t even born yet!”
In fact, you weren’t even a twinkle in your old man’s eye!
And just like that I’m back on the highway. The flashback fades, and with it the sound of my mother’s voice.
How peculiar, to be standing on your feet and still moving through the world.
The sun is beating down, and it’s still hotter than all get out.
Oh, yeah, and for some godforsaken reason I’m still alive- for the second time.
Coming January 2015- A stand-alone, novel about life, death and coming-of-age.
What makes up a life?
Is it how you live it, what you do in the middle, or how you leave it behind?
Stacie, sixteen going on forever, never got a chance to find out. Her life, much like her childhood, would be cut short by a monster named Crowley. That’s where I come in- though sixty years too late. I loved Stacie from the start, from the very beginning, from the moment I first laid eyes on her. I just never got a chance to see what might have been. Like Stacie’s life… Crowley got there first.
Then again, what dies may not always stay dead.
If I had to do it all over again I would have never let her go, I would have never left her behind. If I had it all to do over again I would have killed Crowley, saved the girl and lived happily ever after.
Dying is the easy part; it’s the living that’s always been hard.
In celebration and appreciation of Book 2.5- Kaeylnn’s Tale release in November 2014, I have posted the entire novel, Heir of Nostalgia, A Gathering Darkness Book One, on this website. Simply click HERE to start reading, or click on the link across the top of this page.