You were thin.
Now you feed.
You were intriguing.
Now you bore.
You were tight.
Now you sag.
You were come-hither.
Now you f&ck.
You were all.
Now, you were.
I opened the door, and there he was. Always the one never to listen, always coming back. Just . . . standing. I knew he'd be back for this. His mother would have called him.
"Hi, Dad," he said quietly. I looked down at my boots. Years back, that would be the first swing. "Hi, Dad. How's it going, Dad. What's up, Dad." He always swung first, playing the offspring card. It worked with his mother, but I didn't have the connection they did. Shit, when he was a kid, I'd come home some days and find them under a blanket on the couch, reading or playing some game she'd made up. Not a lick to be had for dinner, but I didn't begrudge her being a momma. But for every "Dad," I never gave in. Not a one.
As he got older, I seen it coming. I'd finish a weld, push my helmet up and catch the guys in the end of a joke or a saying. They said making a big to-do about it was the rage, so I knew what we had to do to hold our heads up. His mother wouldn't have any of it at first, but we talked it out, talked it at church, talked it with her sister. Talked it until it was clear what to do. I mean, Christ, this was our town. In the city, he could just be "away."
"Dad. Can I come in?" I gave him a look, then back down at my boot tops. He had her eyes. Those eyes got me through every lost job, every unpaid weld, every broken tractor coupling. Her eyes that would never open again. I looked at the dust on my boots, the burns from welding sparks, the fresh scuff from getting her down the stairs. I had some hard years on these boots. I moved my eyes across the threshold, looked at his shoes. City shoes. Shoes you bought because they'd go with a job, a date, a funeral. His were thin soled. Hard years of a different sort.
I looked at him. The sun was setting, blowing the leaves I'd not had time to rake across the lawn. Over his shoulder by the curb, I saw a shadow in his car. A man. I saw a leaf flutter down, and a light rain began to patter. The light was fast dropping off. I looked down again, standing inside the doorway, searching through the years in the leather. I'd been so smart pushing him out. No boy; no problem; no questions.
It first hit me in a question. Where were all them who'd talked us through it? Told us it was the righteous path. Her sister was long dead. If I had any comfort in her passing, it was she'd never know how few of them had shown their faces. Or how quick the service had been. In the end, they were rushing to just shut door.
The questions kept on. Who was that here with him? No doubt some brave sumbuck, knowing what he was getting into. I was grateful he'd had the grace to wait in the car. The more I let it in, the more trouble I had breathing. As I stood there in the night, in my mind, the boy and his mother of years ago looked out at me from the couch with those eyes of theirs, books scattered on the floor in their happiness. How many years had I denied?
The first drop spattered on my boot top. The rest just rolled down as I looked back at him. I reached up for him, and I held him.
A Tiny Grain
Why you? It's more like why not you, pet. Well, not true, completely. It was going to be someone. It was always going to be someone. It just happened to be you. Now sit down, my rose. Of course on the floor, in the dirt, in the wet, wherever you like. Just sit.
Well, if you'd asked me, say, last year, I'd have balked. Looked you right in the eye and said you were crazy. But, I knew. I have known. Deep down. I've known for a while now every step was just another piece leading up to right now. Here we are.
Do you feel special it has come down to you, my sparrow? No? Poor thing. You're not really cold. It is damp, but your problem is fear, not cold. Buck up, buttercup. You must speak up.
That's poignant. You like romances, yes? I used to think that, too, you see. I used to tell myself that. "I'm not like that." I did. And for a while I believed it. But no matter how hard I tried, it would keep coming back. I was young.
Don't ask again. You don't want to make me angry, do you? You never know, this might all be a joke. This might not be what you think it is, but if you anger me ...
So, onward. When I was older, more mature, I told myself I was a pearl. You know pearls, sweet pea. And you know how pearls are made. What do they teach in school? Do you own pearls? You do. Shiny, aren't they? So shiny. Lustrous is the word, I believe. Well, they don't start out that way. Really, you should know this. Yes, a grain of sand. And it does irritate the oyster. So the oyster coats it with enamel, and it grows to a shiny, shiny, lustrous pearl. Can you say that? Lustrous? Good. Most are bright like you. Some are deep shiny blue like this. From the tropics, I think. See how it catches the light from outside? That color. Oh, do be a sport. I liked it better when you were asking me the desperate questions. This really is what you think it is.
And so, I told myself I was a pearl, and, if I tried, I could cover my sand with beauty, and I too would be beautiful. Shiny. Loved. But of course, I was wrong. My pearl kept breaking back to sand. Everything I did, that irritating little grain would come back. And one night it came to me. I was the grain. I am the heart of the pearl, you see, pumpkin? Stop with the noise. Stop.
There's more where that came from, but suffering is not on the menu tonight. This is a conversation, we are having. I am telling you a story, and it is impolite to interrupt me. Or did they neglect to teach you that as well while you were growing up? Spare me. Of course you will be missed. You have so much to offer. The world is indeed in front of you. What's the idiom? Very good. But your problem, dear heart, is that I did not bring you down here to discuss your oyster. We are discussing mine.
Now, let's review, shall we, darling? Pearls. Where do they come from? Good. And after they are coated? Then what? Think. Are you stalling? So very quaint. You are taking the fun out of this, sweetheart. They are harvested. The oyster is pulled by a diver from the deep, cut open, and voila. The pearl. Do you see, dearness? Look up at me, I can't hear you. Yes, it is cold down here. Cold and dark. Like the ocean floor? How nice of you to play along. That, that was touching. But, alas, let's continue.
Do you see my problem now? I have made the pearl. Year after year, I have grated and grated inside my oyster, and now I am ready. How do I coax my diver down to pluck me and open me to the world? You haven't been listening. My pearl kept turning to sand. Until. Until I accepted the responsibility to grow the pearl. And now to harvest. Lights out, dearest.
"Remember the eggs," she said. I could still see her as I left out the door this morning. Seems so long ago. A far off opening scene from a play about to end. During intermission, the other called, cryptically insisting we meet for lunch. Not good. Never good.
Act II opened with my stomach hollow, my adrenals drained from an afternoon spent at my desk sitting motionless, staring off, swimming against alternating waves of panic then despair. You two-bit punk. Cooler aisle back of the store. You stupe. Pardon me, ma'am. How could you be so foolish? You knew better
There's no room in the aisles with all this crap. It's not even Thanksgiving yet. And how will you afford this, mate? Why not just keep this junk up all year round? Forget affording it. What's she going to say when you finally tell all, confess everything? How will she finally see you?
You'll need a place to sleep. A place to put your clothes. She'll see you for the louse you are. Right through you. Were they jumbo? And you know what, you deserve it.
And god help you if you lose your job. Wait. Did I send the draft? Christ, compartmentalize, remember? One on this side, her on the other ide, and hope the two never meet. Oh, you were such a clever boy. Master of the universe, weren't you? Or did she want brown?
Here, I can get that for you. Yeah, I've got one of my own at home. She's nice. Bet no one's broken her heart. You foolish, foolish man. How could you? Extra large? How about jumbo, extra large brown? Jesus. Free range, cage free, hormone free. I. just. need. eggs. I can't call her. I need to do something right and proper with my life. Our life. Now that's funny. You think there's going to be an "our"? You know what, it doesn't matter what eggs.
She won't remember the eggs.
A word, please?
Today you will go out for eggs, milk, toilet paper.
When you come home, you will talk.
It will hit you midsentence that it is all a scam.
Do not run.
Over your shoulder there is an exit sign.
Walk through the door beneath it.
You've got to trust me here.
Grab a cocktail, stop at the edge.
Don't believe a word they say.
Here's the trick.
You never touch bottom.
As long as I live, I will have that connection to you. I remember the moment. I relive the aftermath still. Once, it permeated. You hijacking my consciousness, my existence. You are kinder now, waking me only every so often in the darkness. Surrounded by quiet sleep, I am alone with you. Over and over I play it out. Just us, together, young. Without fail, our train wrecks, and I yearn to relive that point in time with wisdom. But time and wisdom rarely coincide, and I cannot beg forgiveness there. With an exhausted sleep or sunrise coffee, I will pack us away. Each day I know our lives move forward in parallel, until you steal away to remind me when it was.
"We are a 501(c)(3), and while our taxes are non-existent, our expenses are not," he replied.
"Yes, but..." the chairman paused, "how can we validate our contribution?"
He sat there, pondering the question, poised but relaxed in his suit and tie, fresh off what even I had to admit was a stunner of a speech. He wowed them, tapped into their Christian guilt, juiced their First World altruism, and now he sat with the Board closing the deal. He was across the conference table from us, sitting back in the stuffed leather chair. One hand rested in his lap, the other on the table, clicking a ball point every so often. In the plush cool of the boardroom, the fluorescent lights above hummed ever so slightly.
"Gene, Isaiah 4:4. Trust in the Lord to wash away the filth of the women... All I can show you is these photos, our video. You can see we have touched lives for the better. I have no better testament than that." He leaned forward looking intently at the boss while tapping ever so slightly on the paper. "We are there doing His work. Look, you are welcome to come visit any time. Any time." He sat back.
Easy for him to say. He kicks junk, starts a 501(c)(3) in Africa, and probably drops these open invitations to donors like candy. I studied him from my seat across the table and wondered who shows up. Probably no one, so he's free to do what he wants, when and how he wants. The boss shifted in his seat and shot me a sideways look. The question was mine, and I made him ask it. I had to. His proclivity for writing checks to charities is directly proportional to his advancing age. This one stood to be the biggest yet, but all we had were glossy brochures, a slick, well-produced video, and the naked word of a benevolent rock star with a great back story.
In some small way, I wanted to respect him. It's not easy to kick. I'd been on it way back when, and but for the boss, who knows where I'd be. Usually, there is a bond, an energy, between us former users. An understanding. We know we are different, and we bond together for the strength not to go back. But I didn't have that with this one. I knew his flash all right, the pitch, the con. The cold, desperate sell. I wanted this to work, but how could we know.
The boss leaned forward. "Randy, I trust in the Lord, and I trust you. Those gracious to the poor lend to the Lord, after all."
The chairman signed, and passed the paper across the table. He smiled back, easily, languidly. His stance relaxed ever so slightly. The deal was done. He clicked the ball point with his hand one more time, leaned forward and steadied the paper with the other. That hand, now in the open, was more reddish than the other, puffier. He'd missed the vein. We'd been had.
"There never was an us."
How I am
No zigs, no zags, no bumps, no jerks...steady.
They awakened. Colder, lonelier, farther apart.