[ this end up ]

>On Three Coversations.

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2006 at 1 pm

>Oddly, I wrote the first two conversations down the night they happened. Something felt important and connected about the two, and now, with news of Dad, I can’t shake the idea that they all three connect. Maybe, not though. But when you actually write something the next logical step is sharing it, so, here on el Blog is el wordsos for el masses. I’m considering sharing more of this experience, but, in deference to the privacy of my family I think I’d rather not.

In the days before everything changed I had three memorable conversations.

The first was with Dad as he drove me north to Tampa International. Thanksgiving in Florida complete and return to Oregon imminent.
    We speak in terse, unreturned sentences, the silence doing most the speaking as it seemingly always has. At some point the dreaded career talk begins with some comment like I have too good an education and too much talent to not aggressively pursue a career.
    Well, Pop, if I’m that good, the way I figure it is they should be aggressively pursuing me.
    You have a future to think about.
    Ah, the future. The problem is, Dad, is that I can’t much wrap my head around next month, let alone next year. The career you speak so lovingly about isn’t exactly the future I had in mind either. I want to build a clubhouse for my kids, complete with pulley basket and slide pole. I want to make Her smile, when she see’s me, real and imagined, when she feels me, body and mind, when she wakes, when she sleeps, I want to make Her smile. And, quite frankly outside of watching the Redskins on Sunday and strumming my guitar lamentably when they lose, that’s the only future I’m sure I want.
    Now I reach a feverish, mad pace, the words coming out eloquently and with obvious genius.
    And really the future is a pretty abstract concept to me anyway. Anything can happen or anything can’t. Not one extra breath is guaranteed. Dad, I’ve come to believe that you shouldn’t confuse stability with certainty, and here I sit guilty of confusing complacency with comfort. I’m searching for something to complete me, Dad, and I just don’t think a serious career is it just yet.
    And lacking the courage to actually respond to Dad’s initial comment, I continue this imaginary messianic tirade within my head, within the silence of the car, right up until we pull to the terminal.
    We park and I hug the man, gripping his surprisingly gaunt shoulders I say, ‘I’m proud you’re going to the doctor, Dad, good luck. I love you.’ and with it join millions of others who’ve said last words, never intended as such.

The second conversation was had at 30,000 feet and change, with an 84 year old named Armand.
    I think old people have verbal triggers, some phrase or subject that brings from them some over-used, long perfected adage or joke. I’m not sure what it was with Armand but he said to me amidst small talk “and make sure you laugh at yourself, everyone else is,” and thusly debased, we become friends.
    We speak about The War and about football. He tells many funny stories, one about trying to procure a purple heart after gashing his finger with a bottle opener; another involving meeting a 100 year old man at church. It goes: The man sits down and begins to chat. Armand tries to quiet the man, it being church and all, but he keeps going. He tells Armand he’s recently buried his fourth wife and he’s come to church to look for number five. Armand, intrigued, asks, “For companionship in your old age?” To which the man laughs, “Hell no, I’m trying to get some action man!” We both laugh at this, I call bullshit but he swears it to be true and adds a reason never to remarry, the answer being a colorful description of an elderly woman’s lotus flower.
    Mostly though, in the close quarters of the metallic bird, he tells me about life and how to live it. He says that he lived long enough to bury his wife and now he can die at peace. He talks of having a positive outlook on things, never fretting over the details that distract from your true desires and intentions. I tell of my Dad a bit, the way I worry about him being too stressed, about him missing the best of life while neglecting the toll dealing daily with the worst has on his health. He nods his head in understanding, his old eyes familiar with this in many men. “That’s a shame,” he says. And it is. He talks more about life, about his mistakes and regrets, he talks and talks and damned if, like most old people, he doesn’t stop talking through the entire 4 hour flight, disturbing the quiet milieu of the airplane cabin around us. As we land he says he thinks I’ll do well and he wishes me luck. He also prays out loud, “J.C., if this plane crashes, please take me instead of Eric,” and it’s deeply meaningful to me, for some reason, that he would offer to pay such a cost with such lighthearted zeal. If more men live like Armand, more men shall live.

The third conversation was actually the third part of two other brief talks, all three with Mom.
    The first; Eric, the doctor is cautiously optimistic about your Dad, she took some blood just to be safe, but thinks he’s just feeling the results of heavy stress.
    The second; Eric, there was a problem with the bloodwork. Your Dad has to go into the hospital. They don’t know what but something is very wrong.
    The third comes as Richard and I settle before our plates of all you can eat breakfast at a local sports bar. College football on the tube, nothing on my mind. The call comes and I remember suddenly my Dad’s results. My heart beats intense as I slowly walk outside, casually opening the phone as if my leisure could alter the seriousness of the call.
    Much was said eventually, but the first few lines say it all. Slowly, with a wavering voice.
    Eric…can you get a flight…to come home in the next few days?
    …and I ask if it’s that bad. And it is. He’s dying.
    I walk home to fly home where it will never be the same. I take that walk with the weight of a thousand words occupying my throat and my eyes heavy with the saline they’re failing to suppress. I try hard to look at all the beauty around me on the street, because I know that with the searing heat of painful emotion comes a hard, deep etching of that moment, perfect, and constantly available to project across the softest, most tender parts of the mind. And I’ll need this beauty one day, certainly, in this vast vacuity I must again have beauty.

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