Confused and Spiraling Forth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A memoir about the memory and death of my father and how I reacted and coped through drinking, writing, art, etc. Written for the Tree House Writing Gang "Family Memoirs" meeting.

Submitted: January 06, 2011

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Submitted: January 06, 2011

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It was a picture that he remembered. Colors skewed and muted in the way old photographs are, squared with a white edge.  A man on a porch and a boy by his side a third his size.  Leather pouches hung from their hips with large hammers holstered like pistols.  The man, standing amongst posts and lumber soon to become a porch, looked serious.  Concerned with his work, his home, his family.  His hair swept from his face, thin and light brown, peppered with sawdust.  Eyes cutting to the heart of the frame. The boy, weighed down by his belt is sheepish, with a confused smile.  His hand raised and covering his eyes.  His head downturned.  All this lies in a photobook, nondescript from the other photobooks it associates itself within a cabinet far from the place of the photo’s origin. 
A place—a house that had been in the family for at least two generations, built on an Indian reservation, where in the summer the boy would roam in the woods to stumble by foundations of old and stop and listen to the wind in the leaves and branches that rustled in waves upon waves more thoughtful than silence as the trees swung like ancient things demanding some sort of recompense, and the water trickled in the creek and out subterranean tunnels frothing and turning in pools that cut that seemingly abandoned territory in which he waited by the rocks of an old schoolhouse, or by the corrugated black and rusted shell of an old wood stove with its bent flue-pipe reaching towards the sky, waiting for the ghosts of the past to show themselves, which they never did.  And running back. Back to that house to take refuge under the deck his father had built, a deck where the stars were pointed to and assigned names by his father as they whirled overhead recklessly, and where father and son sat in ink black cut with fireflies and watched the approach of a storm, lighting balls spiraling in jagged curls accompanied by low rumbles and his father laughed and yelled Shazam, he crouched in the wormy earth below it among bricks that reminded him of tombstones, the boy afraid, and hearing his father’s boot falls above.
The loss of that place, that neighborhood, house, and deck, is somehow intertwined with the loss of his father.  That neighborhood with its hills and houses of varying architecture and reputation, where old gargantuan trees sat stark in the ground, seemingly forever. That neighborhood where his family had staked a claim, built things and raised people, created a history. The place was torn down, turned to a skeleton, entrails dragged out by scavengers that came in cars full of black-blue exhaust, headlights strapped on by tape. At night, in his new house, he dreamt of that neighborhood in cloudy blasts of surreal darkness and primary colors—of it still being there, a Brigadoon waiting, existing inside some shimmery shell or nestled in hills and woods like some backward country straight out of Lovecraft.  He would awake to look out the skylight that hung over his bed feeling forlorn and of loss and see the summer triangle mocking him, spiraling forth in the greater cosmos.  Later, these were replaced by dreams of his father, appearing with a misshapen head, like some alien deformed and enlarged, appearing admitting his absence, that he went away to live another life elsewhere and now was back, his father mentally slow so that the boy had to take care of him, watch him in a reversal of time-honored roles. Or once, his father as a woman on another side of a fence he could not cross in a land that looked like a cliché old photo of Paris.
In his middle school years he was frightened of death and kept a radio on while he tried to settle for sleep, lest his thoughts totter in that direction.  His fears of life eternal, of vengeful gods and devils, of pain and fire, insanity, damnation, caused him to turn and cry until he learned to care no longer.  Until he felt, he deserved to die rather than live in a strange inverse of his dilemma. Self-obsessed and sad he carried on his teenage years scolding his every move and seeking silent times where he would stare off in tremulous thoughts.  He scratched the deep underbelly of this brain-chatter in bad poems claiming t
he reapers hand is a deadly hold. he comes for me on this devil’s night and wintry paradise, slow death, snow and glitter, in every breath and refuse me, lose me, you do not care. my heart grows painful,and my eyes go blind, lightning strikes behind the line. each side cold and maddened with fear. the shots still ring in my ear...I can’t sleep and I weep thinking of the days thatmy true self died. 
He asked his father while riding with him in an auto, what if there is just nothing, nothing after death, just darkness, unfeelingness. 
Well, I suppose, his father answered waiting for the left turn light to blink green, I suppose it is just like before you were born.  You didn’t worry or know the world then, and you won’t when you die. 
This seemed a revelation to the boy, and he never forgot the man’s words recalling them often when he found them repeated frequently in the world at large.  His fear waned.  Although, he dreamed of falling off cliffs and of spears that impaled him from black mailed and masked riders and of fire that burned him from a trenchcoated flamethrower yet he stayed dreaming and no longer woke to stare at the sky. He considered this some kind of existentialist success and dreamed of further deaths and demons understanding that he had been usurped from the black milk of nothingness and was bound as we all are to return again.
After years of carpentry that lead to framing and building three houses on top of a hill in their hometown, his father became a contractor for a big building company. He built schools and drove three hours to work some mornings to an air force base in a neighboring state coming home with tales of bullets and planes. His father managed other workers, and they did the building, and his head was full of plans and architectural designs and measurements—blueprints in which his father begin to see the world by, simulacra's that came to stand for the buildings themselves. When driving, his father would point at a box among the other boxes among the suburban commerce and say I helped build that, and the boy would nod not knowing which box it was but proud all the same. His father's body became flabbier the layers of hard-labor muscle atrophying and sinking in hanging flesh.  And though he never talked about this directly, he mentioned praise for the exercise the boy was involved in for various sports with a wistful look in his eye. He drank diet cola. He drank and loved beer, but only one or two at a time, and the boy never witnessed his father drunk. 
 
It was a brain tumor that was his undoing. The years of worrying about the heart-attack he feared would come, that the extra weight would bring, caused a shot-gun blast of corrupted cells that formed and wrapped tendrils around his Broca's area like some kraken raised from the depths of the human brain to cause a slow laborious death of months. His father had been swallowing weight-loss pills with an affinity for brain tumors, hiding them in cabinets and secret spots where they were found long afterwards. Silences fell at family gatherings when his father in mid-sentence could not continue, grasping in the left side of his brain to find the word that matched the image of the thing in his mind’s eye, the thing he meant to say but couldn't, frustration crunching his face, all those in attendance at a loss. At the boy's graduation he had a patch that covered his scalp, a white bandage that radiated on one side of his cranium. A picture stored on a hard drive describes a different front porch in which the bright green and purples of the flowers in the background suggest a reality that was not.  The boy smug in his cap and gown, tassel flowing down his face, black enshrouding down his body like Charon on the river Styx, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of each of his upbringers.  His mother to the left of him, business professional in black and white and glasses. His father to the right with a warm yellow shirt and a wise countenance cracked by a slight smile, the top right side of his head wrapped by the white bandage like a giant leech, his father's curling hairs falling on his forehead and dark curious eyes and mustache pretending it is not there, that it doesn't exist—as they all did in those days.
His father was often tired and slept in a chair watching the travel channel. Watching places he would never go. Places he went to, perhaps, when he himself was young in life and he flew about the world with his own father, a graduation present from the ol’ man who worked for the airlines. The boy's father was a pilot, had a license, but never broke forth from the bonds that kept him landing at the same airports, always returning to the same home, the same family. 
This family up in a room, his sister's room, one night in summer. We must prepare ourselves, the boy's mother said. It was clear what she meant, but both children played dumb. 
What do you mean?  His sister asked. 
We have to be ready for afterwards. What we will do. They nodded. The boy was about to say something when his father entered the room. 
What are you all doing in here?  The conspiring family members with an air of guilt from the clandestine meeting looked about the room, anywhere and everywhere but his father's eyes, which the boy was sure understood all.
The father sat in the sun, absorbing the last rays he could get, photons that spent their eight minutes drifting forth through interstellar dust and the cold void to enter Earth’s atmosphere and shine on the dying man’s skin. Doctor’s called it an effort to help vitamin D transfer calcium absorption. This is how the last summer was spent. The first week of the boy's entry to college, his father passed away at the beginning of chemotherapy.
The night he died the boy dreamt. He woke from the dream as if surfacing in water, his face breaking into consciousness with a smile and feeling of peace. His sister woke him crying, explaining that their father had died while comatose around the same time he got up every morning to go to work. Whose last dreams in the moments before death perhaps coincided with saws and the hammering and planing of cherry and maple.
The hospital moments haunted him his whole life. Entering a room full of family waiting, sobbing, milling to the windows, to the doors and back. His father's body lying on the bed attended to by his mother. A heaviness in the air, something palpable and thick, the sun from the windows glowing in it as if it was translucent.  And the blue icepack--inescapable in the memory of the event. Inescapable in the memory of his father, a beacon perched atop his memory glowing in a baby-blue throughout his past, with streaks of incandescent cobalt extending to the present. In his writing he could not escape it, writing A lumpy blue icepack covered the body’s eyes. It was lit up electric in all that sunlight, a cold hard blue. Its chill entered John. His fist pumped a gripping motion. He wanted to thrash about. He wanted to take a machine and chuck it out the building. To follow it to a hard nash upon the sidewalk.  A painting that never seemed right followed. Other failed attempts to explain the experience. His mother offered for him to take her place at his father's side. He sat and held on to the hand. It was hard and cold, the tendons and arteries frozen in place. He looked at his father. An emptiness filled his body, a confusion that spiraled inside him, how he has felt before and will feel again in the presence of the dead. A vertigo reeled in the stillness of that hospital room and he sat and tears fell but he felt he was the one who was lifeless, not his father.
 
_________________
 
Oppressiveness followed. The already large house became larger, and his mother ambled through it rifling through drawers and dragging out obscure paraphernalia that she attached wild meanings to, and this she did with all she saw and heard. Songs reaching over the crackle of distant radio waves became enigmas from the dead, a communication from the crypt to heal her woes. The funeral whirled by in a abundance of distant faces and hands, as the carpet saw the feet of many as it did every day, carrying the mourners of this life past the coffin and into the city of the dead outside. He became estranged from others, from his mother, in his room miles from everyone up all night and sleeping all day. Wishing to stay asleep always, in the womb of his subconscious, a camera obscura of fantastic images and darkness. 
Laying in his waddled bedclothes, the boy went over everything he had done wrong, adding more and more weight to such woes and growing more and more distant. He thought about cosmic forces and wished he could have gambled his life for the life of his father, as if such things were possible. He expressed a hatred for life. And in confidence he told friends this, as if it were an adversary and he was vain enough to stand in front of it demanding and threatening it to unleash all its secrets on the floor like a stream of urine. His father loved life, and the boy reeled insanely from the unfairness of this while drinking an entire bottle of gin in a matter of minutes. Found in bed with bile bespattering the wall and pooled clumpy within the folds of his sheets, the smell heavy in the room. He drank more and often, considering all the times he disappointed his father, disappointed himself. He wrote confused rants that claimed all I can think of is the time I went outside on a summer night, when I was ten or younger, with a baseball bat and swung it smacking lightning bugs that flew aimlessly and brought beauty to the summer nights. Words that acted as a confession addressed to nobody. He lamented that he told his father without any truth or care to his words, that he would help him put siding on a house for a carpentry job his father was doing. The boy did not remember what he had done or where he had been, but pictures a small box-like house with some siding attached and strewn about the ground around it and the words “Tyvek” peaking out of the uncovered penumbra. Under an overcast sky, his father works with a set face. Occasionally looking at his watch and gazing at the land about him, then going back to work.
 
In a graveyard, stones topple over each other separated by narrow rows of gravel or black tar. The boy stands next to his father’s truck watching the cracks in a ceiling of clouds rush by darkly. Somewhere nearby a shrouded figure crumbles to the ground next to a stone, body language of aching and pain, flowers sprouting from the outstretched hands. The boy gawks at this, then turns to the grave. He mumbles at the thing, ugly in its cuteness. Two hearts straddling one another in cement-pink. His mother’s name and incomplete chronology on one heart. Marks of an oracle, a place of rest for the undead. His father’s name and the time measured in strands in the other heart. Time measuring the clouds rushing forth and the wind in the trees and the boy’s mumbling that ends as abruptly as it begun. The boy moves around the stone to study the poem on the back of the stone.  A poem he himself wrote. A poem full of inquiries to the nature of mortality and other concern’s plaguing mourners throughout and he wonders at the meaninglessness of each question mark, each curled indentation that spirals down to the dot. He thinks about the corpse decomposing in an airtight tomb beneath the soil, his father’s remains being ravished by a measurement—a drawer within it where pictures, objects, and the last book his father was reading were placed. Is that the book he wanted to take to his grave? Another question. His grandparents lay nearby, and other ancestors rot about the unorganized stones that tilt and sway in the muted yard. He looks up and the man is gone, no car, just wiped away into the wind. He begins to leave, starting his father’s truck, turning it around in the narrow lane, turning off a gravel path onto the bumpy black tar. The truck is jostled and he feels an odd thump, a squealing banshee gathering pitch behind him. He stops and gets out, peering underneath the rear axle. The spare tire that resided below the truck be has worked its way loose and lodged itself beneath the axle. A long dark smudge trails over the black surface of the road. He looks at his father’s truck—the front window is spider-webbed and the back window is busted out, the cab smells musty and sour from snow thaws and maggots that had devoured a piece of fruit behind the seats. He bends down and tugs at the tire, but it is wedged tightly in its confinement. A few fierce drops of rain. The boy gets back in the truck, driving backward away from the now dislodged tire. He stops for a moment, then turns down a different path and heads on as we all do, the dark clouds above stalking as he goes.


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