I will find you (repost)
When I was in college, every break when I was home, I kept a white board on my bedroom wall filled with ideas for inventions. I was searching for the thing that I would invent that would simultaneously help humanity and, in so doing, make me wealthy. I would pick my mother’s brain daily for weeks on end asking, what do people need? One of my more humanitarian ideas was an inexpensive pill that when placed in water would make it clean enough to drink. My favorite plan was for a transport system that would decrease ground traffic…with flying vehicles. I’ve always liked the idea of flying. So has my dad.
I don’t think I’m any different than most when I say, I didn’t realize my parents were old until reality punched me in the face with an illness only other people’s grandparents might get. Only thing is, they weren’t really old. They still almost looked like we could be siblings rather than parents and child. The illness, however, was real.
I researched it to death. I went to all the doctor’s appointments with them. I brought questions. I was consistently frustrated by the doctor’s answers…or non-answers. I shared with my dad the possible dietary adjustments I discovered. His responses also consistently frustrated me. I don’t understand not doing everything in your power to stave off illness – even if that means not eating your favorite foods for the next 30 or 40 years – if it might allow you to have another 30 or 40 years.
He did make some efforts, though. We played ping pong every work day to help maintain some semblance of the incredible reflexes he’d always had. And he ran every day of the week regardless of the weather since the “well, we don’t really know” doctor said that exercise is the only thing that has been shown to slow the progression of his disease.
He used to tell people that the disease had been a blessing in a way. That it made him a better person. It helped to teach him patience and acceptance – qualities that perhaps he didn’t always have. Although for a while he lost his contagious love of life, with acceptance of his illness, it returned ten-fold.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, the illness began to steal more of him from us every day.
He started to forget things. We all do, it’s true, but he also started to remember things that never happened; argue false details to the point that my mother and I just agreed and let it go. Six months ago, he walked home from the barber forgetting that he had driven the car there. As he walked with my panicked mother to the police department (right behind our home) to report the car stolen, she asked when was the last time he saw the car (so that they would have a time frame to offer to the police). At that point, he stopped walking and said, when I went to the barbershop. He smiled sheepishly and said, I left the car there and walked home.
As a once in a lifetime thing, not so bad, kind of funny even, but similar (and worse) incidents began to occur. It took him 6 hours to get home from work about four months ago. It’s a half hour drive. My mother was frantic. Calling me (to find out if we worked late or if there was some work-related dinner with a client he had neglected to tell her about – not unusual), calling him (phone going straight to voicemail), watching the news for accidents in the local area... When he finally strolled in the house at 11 pm, he said he went for a drive. My mother very quickly got the truth out of him, however: He had driven to Philadelphia where they lived when they first got married. Twenty-eight years ago. He had forgotten where home was.
Two months ago, when he got to work he looked at me for a moment as if baffled, then he smiled an “aha” kind of smile and said my name, pulling me in for a hug so tight you would think we had not seen each other the day before in the office.
And, for him, perhaps we had not.
We have not seen him since that day.
We put out a silver alert for him. We called every hospital between New York and Pennsylvania. We tried tracking his phone, but it appears the battery had died before we thought of it. The police have all but given up. We have not. I have not. I took out my old white board.
I’ve started working on one of my inventions. It’s a mechanism to track individuals in time and space using a variety of technologies – DNA, GPS, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. The idea is that using old nail clippings, hair from a comb or brush, even spit on a toothbrush, the user will be able to find a missing person (via DNA, GPS, robotics and nanotechnology), in particular a person with dementia, wherever he or she might be, insert itself into the body via the ear, find the neurological problem and fix it; or, that being impossible, provide the person with enough information via the AI technology in the mechanism that they will be able find their way back (via GPS technology) to those awaiting them. It will also send out a notification (smart phone) once the person is found. Eventually, I will be able to find him…but what I really would like is to find him before the illness struck so I am also working on a version that incorporates time travel. I would like to spend a little more time with him before…to appreciate him as he was before… If I am lucky, a cure for his illness will precede mine and I can bring it back with me… Of course, that might be a little complicated judging from all the time travel movies I’ve ever seen.
But, I have to try.
Last night, I dreamed I was able to travel 30 years into the future. Looking around, I realized I was on the street where I grew up. My house was bigger than before, taller with more floors, but dilapidated. The police station that used to be behind it was closed, and the fence and trees that used to shield our backyard were gone. The house looked abandoned, but I could see a big Bernese Mountain dog looking my way from the back porch. A second dog was looking outside through a half-boarded window that I knew used to be my room.
I felt a pang of sorrow, thinking my parents were gone from my childhood home… but then I saw a figure walk towards my old window. My sorrow turned to great excitement as ran toward the house, using my full body to wave at my mom. She smiled back.
“I knew you would return.” She mustn’t have spoken louder than a whisper, but I could understand the words as if she were speaking in my ear.
A moment later, she said, “Is Baba with you?”
My heart sank. I shook my head and then woke up crying for the first time since I was child but with this firm conviction:
I will find him.
the thing about loss is that sometimes
you don't even notice it's there.
i was nine or eight when my aunt passed.
she quietly hung herself in a motel room.
it would have taken ages for them to find her
if it hadn't been for the wailing of her newborn daughter.
but none of this meant anything to me, then.
i was more concerned about pokemon.
i didn't know anything beyond the fact
that she was gone, and couldn't come back.
my mom, on the other hand
wept, and wept, and wept.
for weeks it seemed to last, the crying from her
room seemed to crash along the walls
and filled our house with nothing but sorrow.
for weeks and weeks and weeks,
because she couldn't go to the funeral.
because she wasn't there for her.
although this didn't register with me at the time.
i only knew my mom was sad and i'm
rather oblivious at eight or nine.
i wish i had known what it meant for my aunt to die.
maybe then i'd know to cry.
I should’ve known
Maybe some part of me was always waiting for you to leave me just like everyone else,
but I thought I knew you better than that.
And I didn't think you could ever hurt me that much.
But maybe I didn't really know you.
there he was,
alive at one moment
in the blink of an eye.
it was almost as if
he never was really there at all —
the house was given away
and his cat had run off,
all his belongings sold.
and yet my heart still weeps
when i think about him
pushing me on the swings,
or building me a playground
because he just wanted to see me happy.
i could almost imagine
that my uncle never existed,
and yet his face
is burned into my eyelids.
i remember the late night talks
as we looked upwards towards the stars
and him building a mini zipline
in his backyard,
watching me giggle
as i zipped around and around.
i remember his gentle touch
as he pushed me up the tree
to reach it,
and the moments
where we would talk.
and so when i heard the news
of a motercycle wreck
i locked myself in my room and i cried.
recognize me if i visited,
and yet i wondered if it
would bring comfort if i did.
i wish that i was able to see him
one last time
and yet i'm glad my last memory
was a good one.
for weeks afterwards
everywhere i looked,
i saw him smiling with
and now as i'm older,
i've forgotten the sound of his laugh
or the depth of his gray eyes.
i lost him
when i was only seven,
and yet he lingers with me
i miss him sometimes,
the only comfort i had,
but other times i wonder if he's happy.
i can't revisit
his place anymore,
or look at old photos
because they're gone.
and so i live my life
with my uncle by my side
in memory and longing
for the rest of my days.
i may have forgotten his smile
and his haircut,
but i'll always remember
the beauty we shared,
the laughter inside of our souls.
Will To Live
If the world would just listen
They’d hear the Heavy breath
Of a generation so tired of living
They don’t want to know what comes next.
Tall Tales and Big Bill
His eyes stared back at me from a black and white photograph atop Granny’s bureau for as long as I can remember. I was always a little reserved when I wandered into their view, sensing an impossible expectation in them that I must one day meet. The eyes belonged to a strapping, twenty something year old with thick, perfectly combed hair and a winsome face showing just the slightest hint of a smile. The young man was adorned in an expensive suit with a dark necktie which had three small diamonds stitched into it, but the eyes were the striking thing. The eyes held a bright lustre, a luster filled with a clarity and confidence that outshone the diamonds on the necktie, and almost hid the touch of deviltry in their set... almost.
But the man in the photograph was not the “Big Bill” that I can remember.
Big Bill died in 1969. I was three years old, he was sixty-two. The only physical memory I have of him is one of an ever smiling, hulk of a man who was nearing his end. Whiskey, cigarettes, and southern fried food had plied their seperate hells on him, but I can happily recall a booming laugh like Santa’s as he waved a ham-like arm reminiscent of John Wayne storming Iwo Jima while bellowing, “Come on, boy” so loudly that Granny’s knick-knacks rattled the glass shelves in their curio-cabinets. His given name was Charles Herman, but for some unknown reason he went by Bill. After my father was born everyone called him Big Bill, because that’s what he told them to call him. He would be Big Bill, his son Little Bill. Like many Southern boys with older sisters, “Little Bill” soon became “Bubba”, but the name Big Bill fit the big man, so it stuck. Besides all of that, he wanted to be called Big Bill, and he was not a man that people argued with.
Big Bill was a hometown legend. While my physical memories of Big Bill are few, I have an imprinted photo album in my mind filled with his adventures. Mississippians are natural born story tellers, and Big Bill’s doings fueled every tongue. Ever since I was that three year old boy tagging along after him I have been regaled with his tales, tales that people rejoiced in telling as though they were afraid to let them die, tales whose telling widened the eyes of those listening, tales that I could never get enough of. My family only made it back to my father’s boyhood home once or twice a year, but those visits were filled with stories of glory days past, and of a giant that lived and walked through them.
Big Bill grew up in economically depressed times. He paid his way through college by carrying 100 lb. sacks of concrete up wooden ramps and stacking them onto railroad cars by hand. He was a three year letterman for his Southern Conference football team, playing on both the offensive and defensive lines. He was one of the last men in the newly formed SEC to play without a helmet, and there are pictures to prove it. He was also a catcher on the baseball team, and never allowed a “passed ball error.” I believe that after college he was contacted by a pro team, but football was not a respectable profession in those days, so he declined, and instead bought the concrete company for which he had loaded all those railroad cars.
My grandmother’s name was Dorothea. Dot, they called her. Granny was at a “speak-easy” the first time she saw him. When prohibition ended most of the Deep South, or Bible Belt, remained dry. Their “bar” was a log cabin set back in the deep woods. Dot and her friends would come out on Saturday afternoons, leaving before it “got rough” after dark. It was improper for women to go inside so they would gather in the shade of the trees, away from the hot delta sun while they waited for some courteous, hopeful young man to carry out their whiskey-totties. Inside were only hard country men elbowed up to a crowded, plywood bar which offered only three options... real bottled whiskey, home-made jug whiskey, or a warm bottle of beer. No one drank the beer.
A stranger walked up to Dot’s group under the trees on one particular Saturday, a drunk stranger hunting trouble. One of the boys told the stranger that if it was trouble he was hunting, there was a packet of it toting a shock of blond hair standing directly inside, and bellied-up to the bar. “Go on in and try him on for size!” The trouble hunter headed that way. Dot didn’t see what happened, not being allowed inside, but word spread that with no warning whatever, that stranger shattered a whiskey bottle over the back of “Bill’s” head just prior to “Bill” beating the hell out of him. Granny maintained throughout her life that she didn’t know at the time who “Bill” was, but everyone else who was there that afternoon seemed to know him, as they began telling her all about him, so that her curiosity about him grew.
The next day Granny was at the hospital seeing after her invalid mother when she passed by a room where a large, nicely dressed young man knelt by the bed of a bruised, and patched-up rounder.
She wanted there to be no mistake that she knew what Bill had done, and that she disapproved. “It’s good of you to come pray for him after what you did to him yesterday.”
”Miss.” He told her. “Don’t you get the wrong idea. I don’t care much either way what happens to this S.O.B., I’m just praying he lives so I won’t spend the rest of my life weeding cotton over at Parchman Prison.”
She knelt down beside him, joining in his prayers, praying both for the stranger and for this man Bill, who certainly needed a prayer.
The stranger lived, and Bill won the girl, but this is only one of a ton of Big Bill stories I have heard over the years, many when I was very young that have grown misty with time. Many had surely been stretched before they were told to me, and many have probably grown after.
Here are some of my other favorites:
A man Big Bill didn’t like came looking for a job at Bill’s concrete company. When Bill said no, the man drove by his house later that same afternoon and shot Old Timer, Big Bill’s best hunting dog. Big Bill took up his pistol, drove to the man’s house, and demanded through the locked door that his wife send her husband out so he could shoot him for killing his dog. She insisted that her husband wasn’t home, so Big Bill sat down on the steps to wait for him to either come out, or come home, whichever the case called for. The woman called the sheriff, who drove right over and told Bill that you couldn’t shoot a man for shooting his dog. Big Bill pointed to a step and told the sheriff to sit down, because he was fixin’ to prove to him that you damned sure could. Not knowing what else to do, and knowing Bill, the sheriff drove off, only to return thirty minutes later with two bottles of whiskey. In what was surely a case of top-notch police work, the sheriff got Big Bill so drunk he was able to somehow pour him into the squad car and drive him home. Today we would call that a “dedicated driver.”
In high school Big Bill and some school mates took the School Principal’s Ford Model “T” apart and reassembled it on the auditorium’s roof.
Some boys from a rival school picked up some Mississippi girls and took them back to Alabama to a dance. Big Bill and some friends saw it happen, followed them across the state lines, and for a “joke” used their trucks to pull the rival schoolhouse right off of it’s floodwater stilts... during the dance... with everyone still inside.
Granny had to start cooking every morning as soon as she woke up, because every day Big Bill would stop at the railroad yard on his way home for lunch to pick up every hobo who was hungry. She never knew how many would be at her table, so she just cooked a lot. When I was a boy it never occurred to me why my dad was so popular at the train yard, or why he so liked to go over there, but now I can see that those men must have had a soft spot for “Little Bill,” having watched him grow up as they gathered around Big Bill and Granny’s table.
Big Bill hated funerals because he always cried aloud at them, embarrassing him. When his aunt died she was in her front porch rocker. Her body had stiffened up in a sitting position so that they had to strap her down to keep her in her casket for the funeral. When a strap came loose and dead Aunt Edna sat up during the service, Big Bill jumped from his seat and ran all the way home, never to attend a funeral again as long as he lived. My father swears to this day that Big Bill wasn’t really afraid, he just saw an excuse to get out of going to any more funerals, but Granny, in her polite Southern twang only said, “he‘d better not have done it!”
Bill suffered from narcolepsy, and would fall asleep while driving. He would stick his arm out the window with an upward crook, so that when it fell it would wake him up. There were many close calls, but he never crashed that I know of.
He bought a motorcycle and drove it over gravel and dirt roads from Memphis to Baton Rouge to see an Ole Miss - LSU football game. He was so exhausted when finally he got there he had no intention of riding the old Indian back, so he sold the motorcycle for half his purchase price and bought a train ticket home.
He was fifty-three years old, a steady smoker and drinker, and already leaning toward the heavy end of the scale when my dad (his son) was quarter-backing for his high school football team. Big Bill challenged, and then whooped Little Bill in a quarter mile foot race just so Little Bill wouldn’t get too full of himself. (Don’t tell my dad I said it, but the lesson never took.)
... and my personal favorite!
I was in my late thirties when a crinkled up, copper skinned old man with snowy white hair, a collared shirt and tie under light blue cover-all’s, and steely gray eyes which surveyed me as if I would never measure up approached me at my Granny’s funeral and shared this with me. The old man might have been bent with age, but his step was quick and sure, and there was still power in his grip. He must have been quite a man when he was younger.
”They tell me you’re Bubba’s (my father’s nickname that stuck) boy?”
“Then Big Bill was your grandfather?”
”Were you old enough to know him?”
The old man’s eyes misted over at that. “Well, that’s too bad. Big Bill Morris was the finest man I ever knew. I ain’t too proud to say it, neither. He was really somethin’. I sure wish’t you could have knowed him.”
”I’ve heard some stories.”
He gave me an angry look. ”You ain’t heard the-half, boy, and shouldn’t pretend to. Bill Morris was a man!”
And away he tramped, his boots dropping clods of red clay on the carpet. I never did know who he was, but I believe he was right.
Big Bill Morris was a man, and I am lucky to have known him, even if only through the eyes and voices of those who loved him.
(Sidenote: This story is mostly fact with a whole lot of fiction. Some names were changed, but few were innocent. Only one animal was injured in the writing of this story, and he deserved it for continually begging for his supper while I was “in my writing zone.”)
What have I lost.
No... what have we lost.
We have lost so much, and I wish I could say that we will always remeber.
But we won't.
Because over time, our memory fades, and so does every other living thing.
We may have pictures or little trinkets of them to remind us.
But pictures and little trinkets get lost too.
On some days,
I stare at my name,
and think to myself -
‘what must have crossed your mind to name me that; how did you even come up with it?’
Was it an intuitive nudge;
or did you read it somewhere?
Did you meet someone with the
or did you hear it on the radio?
I’ll always wonder.
Thank you, Mother.
How am I supposed to go on now?
Sometimes I wake up and forget that you’re gone
I make breakfast with my old energy back
until your absense hits me like a truck and
the whiplash leaves me heaving up the emptiness.
She slipped through my fingers and shattered on the ground, and teary-eyed, I tried to throw her away instead of fixing her. Putting the remains of something precious in a plastic bag, I kept searching for mechanics and engineers and scientists to reengineer her, make her better. Adding screws, hammering nails, I saw the new holes and gossamer cracks as progress, and kept insisting that someone else heal her, correct her, restore her to who I once recognized and loved. They tried their best, but their sharp piercing tools just made blood gush from the seams and tears outline her armor.
She needed me and I was too busy overlooking her, wedging myself into the next project, the next story, the next problem, the next app that will let me become someone else. Despite knowing I should love her, I shook her blue fingers from my ankles and tried desperately to run from her as if we were not connected by heartstrings. I'd assure her someone would fix her eventually as I grabbed my toolbelt and went to sodder someone else together. I wondered how she felt, watching me leave again, feeling me stomp on her again and again. Lonely, she crawled into a forgotten recess of my mind and died.
There were no words or feelings between us in years. When the light at the end of the tunnel would shine through, I would catch a glimpse of the fading silhouette and think briefly of her. Yet, as soon as that light turned into a train, I was too busy fighting for my sanity and my existence to give a damn about her. I knew I needed her, that she was as much a part of me as my skin or my blood, but I was too busy saving them from myself to ever think about her. She went from being someone I knew like the back of my hand to a half-eaten, half decayed doorstop.
It was a few years ago when I went off the rails and went searching for something I was unable to connect with through acts of kindness and (quite literally) tearing myself apart. She was there, long forgotten, gripping to life. I wept when I saw her there, practically a skeleton with everything I hate about myself exaggerated. My heart was suddenly full of melancholy and surprise that I had even found her, and I knew everything I had been shoving myself into had taken me further from her. I took her and put her on life support, cried, screamed, and even prayed a bit.
When she opened her eyes after months of trying in any way I could to nourish her, I could see clearly again. I threw the mounds of activist buttons away, cut off all of the friends I had made who only talked to me when they needed something, and sheared away at my life until I had what was important. Yet, it was too late. I still feel her emotions despite our reunion. I still cry in the middle of the night from being abandoned. I still feel the scratches on my wrist and neck any time I feel as though I am incompetent. I still have to fight to feel worthy of anything and force myself to do anything even remotely like self-care. Some parts of me go into old habits, following the self-care routines of others and nonstop comparing myself to them and what they are doing, but she pulls me off of the tracks before the train comes and pushes me off course again.
At times, I look at her and don't recognize her, and I can see she feels the same. Even though we are the same person, we never functioned as one. After the time apart, I thought we would always be disjointed and off-kilter. Yet, the hajj seems to be ending and the pride in succeeding overtakes the pain and anguish I have felt through my body and soul through my whole pilgrimage. Though, as I get closer to the finish line, I find myself stopping to think what will happen when we are truly united again, have nothing holding us apart, and have to deal with the joys and pitfalls of being successful. I wonder what I have lost on this journey and if I will ever see it again. I ponder things that I would never think of before and try to prepare for whatever the future holds, yet I know that confidence was one of the first things to go, and I wonder how I will continue this journey without it.