Introduction

A couple of years ago, I ventured into to the self-exploratory exercise of “Memoirism.” I realize I just made that word up, but that’s kind of what I do. I make stuff up. I’m an ad guy.

Anyway, there were a lot of things happening in my life at the time that led me to look back and try to figure out “where all of this is coming from.” I started to write about my family: Mother, Father, Brothers, Sister and friends, in the only way I new how. I started telling stories.

A funny thing happened, too. It worked. I began to remember things – some big, some small – that allowed “all of this” to make sense. Memories started bouncing in and out of my heart and head that had – to that point – been locked away somewhere deep. I began to realize that my story was writing itself, and it had been all along.

It’s still being written today. And that’s why I’m putting this stuff here.

Several of the aforementioned family and friends have asked that I share more of the story. It seems most of them find a kind of calm, nostalgia and/or humor by reliving with me the ways and means by which I got... here.

I am not a narcissist. I am not even all that proud. I do not in any way think that my stories will change lives or make a difference. But that's not why I write. And that's not why I want to share this stuff with you. This is therapy.

That said, it is important to know going in that a lot of what's going to be written here is written from the perspective of how I see it or saw it... not how it really is. Perspectives change and rearrange and reinvent themselves through the experiences we have with them. It is also important to know going in that I do not distinguish what is real and what is or was real to me...

This is just a simple story about a kid who is growing up by looking back. It’s about a father and a son and a son becoming a father. This is my story. And some of it is actually true. Remember, I'm an ad guy.

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. —Aeschylus

Silly Songs

Where were you the first time someone you loved died? I was on the sofa. Sleeping. Have you ever thought about what happens to the human body when it quits? Is there a sound? Kaput! Or is there just nothingness to the point of "dead"? I didn't hear anything. No Kaput! No nothingness. I was just on the sofa, and then he died.

We used to sing songs together, he and I. Silly songs like "On Top of Spaghetti" and "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal." We'd sing and laugh and laugh and laugh... "But I'm gonna be a diamond some day..."

He got married to the first girl he ever had sex with. One look at her - one touch, and all of his resolutions changed. He had wanted to be a Methodist minister, but that night he was just like everybody else. He fell in love.

*****

Her father was a minister. Oh, the irony of it all. He preached the Gospel to death row inmates before they went Kaput! He would "save them," and then he would say it was time to kill them... in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

I call him The Executioner.

She had been raised to believe that everything was wrong. Rock n' Roll: wrong. Poetry: wrong. Mascara and short-pants and hair barrettes and chewing gum: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

And then she found sex. And then he found her.

I am the product of that clumsy, sticky, misguided lust. I'm proud of this for some reason. I guess I've just come to realize that I very well could have been replaced by a seductive piece of Juicy Fruit or "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog."

And I thank the good Lord every day that she never read Robert Lowell.

Bygones.

The Executioner - her father - did not allow caffeine or watching football on Sunday afternoons, but he loved to watch people die.

"When one of these killers or rapists or Satan worshipers dies in the chair," he'd explain, "their bodies convulse so hard it breaks their backs. They usually bite off their tongues and their teeth turn to powder. The flesh burns and blisters and oozes with pink boiling liquid. I once saw a pedophile's head explode."

Kaput! In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Thank God for sex. Who knows where she might have ended up?

*****

So, what's the difference between dead and deceased, anyway? Or my favorite: passed on? Why must we sugarcoat the obvious? I once told a complete stranger that my father had just gone Kaput! You should have seen the look on his face. It was as though my head was on fire and I had just informed him that I was sleeping with his wife.

I wasn’t sleeping with his wife.

*****

Father died on a Monday. I was on the sofa. He was in the chair. The congestion and wheezing prohibited him from lying on his back. So, he slept... sitting up. I slept on the couch. I had no wheezing and no congestion keeping me from the comfort of my bedroom. But I wanted to endure. I needed to.

I was sick once. I was 15. The doctors and nurses flashed plastic smiles as they entered the room: "And how are we today, young man?"They always asked that. Every time I saw them it was,"And how are we feeling today? How are we doing? Are we feeling better? Did we sleep well last night?"

We?Well, I don't know about you, doc, but my ass hurts. The last diarrhea I had felt like hot razor blades. The Jell-O they sent me tastes like wet cardboard. I'm getting bedsores. I can't sleep because I'm scared I might not wake up. I have developed drop-foot. And the good-looking, blond nurse just had to stick a tube up my dingaling. WEare doing just dandy...

*****

But he sat with me. For three months he sat, held my hand, laughed with me, cried with me, told me stories... We would sing: "On top of spaghetti... all covered with cheese... I lost my poor meatball... when somebody sneezed..."

Day and night, he sat with me.

Attitude is Everything

When I was 13, I was determined to be a great baseball player. I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. Dale Murphy was my hero. Even though I had grown up Southern Baptist and he was a Mormon, I still thought he was the cat's pajamas.

I got that phrase from my Grandmother - the wife of The Executioner.

*****

I was seven years old when my father gave me my first Rawlings baseball mit. I remember rubbing leather oil on its surface and along its fingers for hours and hours. That night - before I went to bed - my father and I put a brand new baseball in the center pocket and proceeded to wrap shoestrings around its outside. Tee-ball practice was to begin the next morning, and I was to have the most glorious glove on the team.

I remember riding in father's black, Jeep Wrangler and listening to Kenny Rogers sing: You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille... on the AM radio. We were both smiling, but neither of us said a word. We were going to baseball practice.

Bygones.

*****

I wasn't a very good baseball player. One time in tee-ball, I struck out fourteen times in a row. Tee-ball, for cripes sakes! But I was committed. I thought that I would become a better player if I could memorize statistics: Did you know that in 1983 Dale Murphy had 121 RBI's and 36 Home Runs?It wasn't his best year, but that's the same year we found out Father was sick. I guess it just stuck with me.

I was the worst, most knowledgeable thirteen-year old baseball player in the entire county. In Seventh Grade, I tried out for my junior high-school team. For two weeks I bobbled fly balls, overthrew first base, got thrown out attempting to steal and I even hit the coach with my bat... twice.

"Sorry, Coach. But did you know that Carl Yastremski once sent his first base coach to the hospital after his bat slipped out of his hands..."

He wasn't impressed.

I didn't make the team that year, and I was humiliated. Upon my arrival home after a grueling bus ride through our subtle southern town, Norman, the mailman, greeted me. Norman fought in the Vietnam War. He was a Green Beret.

The story goes that Infantry Sergeant Norman Ulysses Brandon killed more than 30 "gooks" with his bare hands. He was a master of Kaput! After being honorably discharged from the military, Norman became a mailman.

Oh, the irony of it all.

"I heard you got booted from the baseball team," he said. "I never was any good at sports either. Shake it off."

Oh, joy! Perhaps I'll just give up on baseball and maybe I, too, can become a servant of the federal government delivering coupons and gas bills and worthless sweepstakes letters to the unassuming public. Thank you, God. And thank you, Sergeant Brandon... I feel much better.

"There's a letter for you in here. Looks like it's from New York. I think it's from your daddy."

Father had been in New York for several weeks on business. The letter read:

Dear Greyhound,

I'm sorry I can't be there for tryouts. You'll do fine. And I know that if you do your best, Coach Compton will see that you'd be a great addition to the team. But if things don't work out for you, just remember, that you are still very young. The best for you is still to come. You are a Greyhound. When Greyhounds are born they are pitiful looking dogs. Shaky on their feet. Skinny and awkward. But when Greyhounds grow up, they are the strongest and fastest dogs in the world. They are the best of the best, and all the other dogs want to be a Greyhound. Remember that. And remember that I love you and I am very proud of who you are and who you will become.

Attitude is everything. But today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.

I love you, my son. I miss you,

Dad.

P.S. I went to the top of the Empire State Building today. I thought of you.

The Greyhound, the Butterfly, and the Iron Horse

Built during the Depression, the Empire State Building was the center of a competition between Walter Chrysler (kaput!) and John Jakob Raskob - the creator of General Motors (kaput!) - to see who could build the tallest building.

Located at 350 Fifth Avenue, The Empire State Building is 1,454 feet tall with 102 floors. I found out only last year, after a visit to New York with my sister, that Father hadn't been to the top after all. The observatory is on the 86th floor.

Bygones.

*****

I was seven when she was born. She was a preemie. You've never seen a smaller human being. 3 pounds 7 ounces. I had nightmares for months from the sight of her. All shriveled and bony. Tubes and wires sticking out of every orifice. Her eyes were covered with gauze, and she was kept warm by a red lamp, suspended above her plastic cage. It was nauseating.

Mother wanted to name her Debra. Father wanted another son. I wanted to throw up.

For six weeks Debbie remained "hooked up" in that plastic cage. I refused to visit her in the hospital. Even after she was allowed home I hesitated looking in her direction for fear I might turn to stone or something.

Father fell madly in love with Debra. He called her his "little miracle." I was a Greyhound. Shewas a miracle.

A butterfly.

Last year I accompanied Debra to the Ford Models building on Greene Street in New York City. She was to be featured in an upcoming Mademoiselle Magazine.

Incidentally, an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard appeared in this issue. Kurt Vonnegut is a genius. And my sister is beautiful.

*****

The 86th floor of the Empire State Building is plenty high. We went there and thought of our Dad. The Greyhound and the Butterfly.

In the 34th Street lobby, there are illuminated color panels by artist Roy Sparkia (kaput!) and his wife Renee Nemerov (kaput!) who interpreted the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and an Eighth Wonder from the modern world, the Empire State Building. Father's favorite was the Tomb of King Mausolus (kaput!). I still carry a postcard copy in my wallet.

*****

My sister and I are not the only descendants of The Executioner's daughter and my Father. There are two other sons. Scott is a musician. Joshua is a baseball player.

A baseball player. Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

My father was a great athlete. He was an All-American Tight End at Vanderbilt. They weren't very good back then, either. But he evidently shined. He was also an avid runner. Check that, he was a marathonrunner. He was training for his sixth when Dale Murphy was working on those 121 RBI's.

Being an exceptional athlete made this particular diagnosis especially cruel. The doctor gave my Dad a pre-race, routine physical and said that he was in great shape. "But you might want to see about the twitching in your arm."

Why not?Within days, several tests had been run and now he sat there half-listening to the litany of sobering results.

"Okay, bottom line doc. Can I run in the race or not?"

"I don't think you understand... You have a progressive neurological disorder... It's called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis... You have Lou Gehrig's Disease."

Lou Gehrig...He thought. Interesting.

My Dad found something almost complimentary about both the challenge and the nature of his death sentence. Lou Gehrig was the "Iron Horse." He played in over 2,000 consecutive games. Almost 15 years without missing a single turn at bat.

Lou Gehrig was a national icon... (kaput!)

The Beatles and Good Country People

My Dad loved the Beatles. He used to say that he was the first person in the United States to listen to them. I believed him. A couple of days before he died, he told me: "The Beatles grabbed a hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964, and never let go for the next six years." He said that John Lennon (kaput!) "synthesized all that was good about early rock and roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting."

We listened to his favorite song: "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window." On Abbey Road, it is linked with four other songs without pause, creating an eleven-minute medley of what Father called "musical bliss."

Eleven minutes.

It's a funny thing, about time. The essence of time is that it cannot be recaptured for substance. It may very well be imperfectly recanted through the illusion of memory, but each second -- once realized -- is gone, leaving only pieces of joy, reflection or decay. Perhaps it takes looking through the eyes of a dying man to realize how precious our time really is... Because pretty soon, it's gone.

After "bliss," we listened to the Mac Davis tune, "Oh, Lord it's Hard to be Humble (When You're Perfect in Every Way)".

Oh, the irony of it all.

  • ****

My father's father grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia. The author, Flannery O'Conner (kaput!), lived there, too. They were friends. My grandfather was the town's doctor (like his father and his father's father) and Flannery O'Conner was the town's fiction writer. It's been said that the character of Mrs. Freeman from "Good Country People" is based on my father's aunt, Emily. I have no evidence that this is true except for the fact that my great aunt was indeed a good, country person (kaput!).

I do know that when Flannery O'Conner died in 1964, my father went to her funeral. He was a high school senior. He sat next to Kurt Vonnegut, and he had no idea.

Bygones.

  • ****

Soon thereafter, my grandfather moved the family to Atlanta where he became a very successful business man. Like me, he was a Democrat. My father was a staunch Republican. In fact, the only two faults I ever saw in my father were the fact that he had no idea who Kurt Vonnegut was, and that he voted against Jimmy Carter in 1976.

  • ****

I've been to Milledgeville twice in my lifetime. The first time was to see my Great Grandfather (kaput!). We arrived at his house on Mildred Street a little after lunchtime. As we pulled down the gravel drive canopied by Kudzu-covered Pines, I remember feeling like I was in a movie. Maybe I was Paul Newman in "Hud." There I was riding in the back of that pink Cadillac thinking, "...you know, buddyro? You just can't get out of life alive."

And then I saw him: Julian Cannon. He stood about 5 feet-2 inches tall. He was dressed in a starched, white Sunday shirt and gray flannel pants held up by bright orange suspenders. He had a head full of silver hair and his cigar rested confidently between his pearl-white teeth. He waved to us from the roof.

He was on the roof. He was 92-years-old, and he was on the roof.

"Would you look at that beauty," he yelled. "Spent all morning on her. I liked to never get the goddamned thing painted. But just look at the way she shines..."

Julian had, that very morning, painted his car. He painted it black, with a 4" Ace Hardware paintbrush that he picked up at, well, Ace Hardware... and an old roller he found in the shed that half-stood behind his house. He climbed to his roof to get a better look at her. He said he needed "a new perspective." He was no longer a doctor. He was an artiste.

The only other time I visited Milledgeville was to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Julian Cannon Memorial Library just a few years ago. I couldn't understand - I still can't - why they named a library after an old, senile doctor; and all Flannery O'Conner got was the side street connected to Third Avenue beside her old house.

Oh, the irony of it all.

Julian did, however, love to read. His favorite book was The Grapes of Wrath. It seems he could relate, or something.

Poetry and Sunshine

In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (kaput!) shows the lives of ordinary people striving to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation. When the Joad's lose their farm in Oklahoma, they join thousands of others and wander towards California and the "American dream." At its core, The Grapes of Wrathcaptures the horrors of the Great Depression as it probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America.

Julian Cannon used to confess to being a black man in a white man's body. "I love working too much not to have the spirit of a nigger," he'd say. All of his friends, aside from Flannery O'Conner and the owner of the drugstore downtown, were black. There he was, the wealthiest man in Milledgeville, getting his hair cut by the black barber. Eating with the "coloreds" in the town's diner. He even helped them pick cotton in spring and peaches in the summertime.

The story goes that my Great Grandfather once killed a man because he spit in the face of a little black boy. Well, it's not like he shot him or hung him from a tree; he was the town's doctor, after all. He simply prescribed the wrong drug to a gentleman suffering from Pneumonia (kaput!).

Tom Joad would've been proud.

*****

I was nineteen the first time I ever drank alcohol. It was beer. Cheap, freshman-in-college beer. It didn't take. I didn't know I was supposed to "feel anything," so I didn't. But I sincerely liked it. I've heard people say that alcohol is an "acquired taste."

It seems I acquired my taste from Julian Cannon. Have I mentioned that although he was a well-respected doctor, he was also a drunk? It's true. He loved his "firewater."

My father wouldn't touch the stuff. Surely there was the occasional frat party or social function where a few beers or a glass of Merlot seemed appropriate, but I can't recall ever seeing him take a single drop. And Mother, well let's just say that "thou shalt not partake of the devil's juice," is just about the only thing her father ever said that stuck with her. She despises alcohol and what it can do to those who are "entranced by Her seductive prowess."

*****

I used to write poetry when I was drinking. I have closets full of poems. Here goes:

The Temple:
The smoke lifts slowly, rising high, and the ashes' glow turns black
The addiction seems to be ablaze, but the source is not in tact.
He grins with pain as the pouring rain rolls off his aching back.
Genesis. The morning sun. This blaze, it too, will fade
The burning, burning sticky-hot returns with each new day.
Revelation. Turning red, a Love that always stays.
Heaven and earth, above and below, full of love and light.
The hours grow shorter: A breath in time. The days go by and bye.
The addiction returns. The love it burns... consumes in mind and sight.
The Temple is burning. The man, he is yearning. The soul is dead and gone.
Guilty of committing crimes of the heart. The battle is yet to be won.
Light it up with a grin and a tear, get on your knees and speak to the Son.
"Father, take care of me... Please, no more therapy... Put me together again."
A stinging. The burning: The Temple is burning, despite the falling rain.

*****

My Mother is beautiful. She always has been. She was Miss Fulton County, Georgia in 1962. Aside from a few sags and a couple of gray hairs, she looks the same today as she did that glorious Sunday night my father lost his virginity. She is 5 feet-5 inches tall, and weighed about 105 pounds the night they met. Her hair was blond as the day is long (whatever that means). Her skin was tanned from the many hours spent each day "saving lives" at the Martin Luther King, Jr. (kaput!) Community Swimming Pool.

Mother's favorite color is yellow. It is not often that she doesn't have something yellow on her person -- whether it is a handkerchief or a silly bow in her hair. She says yellow reminds her of sunshine. Father used to call her "Sunshine."

He said that she was his Sun and he, her Jupiter.

The Sun is a star around which the Earth and the other components of the solar system revolve. It is the dominant body of the system, constituting more than 99 percent of its entire mass.

Jupiter contains the rest.

Popcorn, Wresting, and Fiddler on the Roof

The night the Sun met Jupiter, she was getting ready for Bible study. He was at an upstairs apartment pre-party. He and the right Defensive Tackle and second string Wing Back from the Vanderbilt University football team were watching a Mohammad Ali fight when they heard a knock at the door.

Jupiter answered the door with a mouthful of popcorn. Without looking him in the eye, my mother asked that he and the other jocks please keep the noise down because she was expecting her Bible-study-friends in a matter of minutes. The story goes that Jupiter dropped the bowl of corn kernels and almost choked to death the moment he saw her...

I won't go into the entire story, but I will tell you that four and one-half hours later there was chewing gum and rock and roll involved.

Bygones.

*****

When I was nine, I walked in on my parents making love. From what I remember, it was a Saturday morning and it had just begun to rain. I know it was raining because I had -- earlier that morning -- ventured to the neighbors' to go swimming. The dark clouds overhead prompted B.J.s overweight mother to send me home.

B.J. Langford (kaput!) was the very first "best friend" I ever had. He was buck-toothed and queer as the day is long. Even at nine years old, I remember B.J. wanting to, "see what is under those shorts." Bradley Jefferson Lagford died of immune deficiency something or other in 1997. He was 29 years old.

Upon my return home, I don't necessarily remember seeing "naked," but now, looking back, I recall the horrified look of terror, shame and undeniable joy on my father's face. I quickly turned down the orange, shag-carpeted hallway and proceeded to wonder if mother actually enjoyedwrestling.

*****

My brother, the musician, is going to be a rock and roll star. He started playing the drums a few weeks after our father died. “This is a prime example of displaced anger, aggression and confusion manifesting itself in a very normal progression,” said the counselor. “Scott is simply looking for creative ways to express his insecurities.”

Years later, when asked by a local reporter why he started out playing drums, my brother simply stated, “I guess I just wanted to beat the hell out of something.”

Well put, Scott.

He would teach himself to play guitar, piano, mandolin and harmonica... among other things. But, it wasn’t until he appeared in his high-school presentation of Fiddler on the Roof that we—including him—realized he could carry a tune. He was Perchick, the student from Kiev:

“I used to tell myself that I had everything... But that was only half-true... I had an aim in life... And that was everything... But now I even have yoouuuuuu...”

Fiddler on the Roof, based on the short story "Tevye and His Daughters" by Sholom Aleichem, was one of the first musicals to defy Broadway's established rules of commercial success. Set in 1905, the story takes place in Anatevka, a small Jewish village in Russia. The plot revolves around a dairyman, Tevye, and his attempts to preserve his family's traditions in the face of a changing world.

An actor by the name of Paul Michael Glaser played the role of Perchick in the film version of the story. Glaser’s real-life wife gave immune deficiency something or other to her kids after a blood transfusion went awry (kaput!) (kaput!) (kaput!).

Ah, the circle of life!

Scotty didn’t care about the historical and political significance of Fiddler on the Roof, or even the tragic plight of the Glaser family… he simply wanted to sing.

*****

Mother got spayed after Scott was born. As it turns out, he was an “oops! baby,” and my parents wanted to make sure something like that never happened again.

Joshua, the baseball player, is adopted. He was born in a trailer near Orange County, Florida, almost two years before father went (kaput!) Josh’s birth mother was my age when he was conceived. She had a baby, and I didn’t even have hair under my arms.

Bygones.

"Something we want to run by you guys..."

The story goes that Angela Riggins got knocked up in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly. They never caught the S.O.B. who attacked her, but he must have been an attractive S.O.B. Josh is a good-looking kid.

Two weeks after he stopped breathing amniotic fluid instead of oxygen, the Sunshine and Jupiter brought Josh home on a 747. I was at the airport when the three of them exited the terminal gate. Father had been crying. Mother held the baby in her left arm. She was supporting father with her right.

The next year and a half were probably the most jointly happy and painful days of my early existence...

*****
The Eighth Grade was miserable all around. Father quit his Executive VP position and sold his stock in the company. He relocated the family to Nashville from Atlanta. His old banking buddy wanted to start a marketing firm for banks and financial institutions.

Father was always up for a good challenge… Especially if it was a potential money-maker. He thought his friend was on to something, so we loaded two Bekins trucks to the tippy-top and headed North, to the Music City. As we pulled out of our driveway and onto Kinnett Drive for the very last time, Father whistled On the Road Again. Mother smiled. Debra cried. Scott and Joshua slept. And I daydreamed about meeting Willie Nelson.

Bygones.

*****

My sister and I were placed in a very hoity-toity private, Christian school. It was Mother’s idea.

The first day of class was also my first day of Junior-High football practice. I missed the previous week of two-a-day-run-‘till-you-throw-up-or-pass-out-summer-practices because of the move, and that just pissed some of the guys right off. Especially the big ones—they had it in for me from my very first “hut-hut”.

I was five-feet, four inches tall, weighing in at nearly 160 pounds. I ran a 6.9 40-yard dash. And I didn’t know a Tight End from a dump truck. I was placed at the Center position, and it didn’t take long before the team commenced to bruising me—from the top of my head, where the helmet didn’t fit quite right, to the end of the toenail on my right foot that turned black from the stomp-stomp-stomping of "Bubba."

This guy's name was Bubba. Not Michael or Sam or Nathan or Rick. Not James or Alan or Robert. His name was Bubba, and he was the largest person I had seen in my life. I wanted to die. Bubba wanted the same.

Bygones.

*****

“Everyone! Come into the living room, please...”Mother called to us from our downstairs foyer of suburbia. I was in my bedroom licking my wounds when I heard Father echo, “Kids, let’s come on now. Your mother and I have something we want to run by you guys.”

“... something we want to run by you guys.” That’s what he said. I was expecting to hear news of a new family station wagon, or that we had finally decided to give a name to the stray cat that had been hanging around our back porch.

We gathered in the family room. I was sitting on an ottoman, facing the fireplace. “Daddy’s got something called ALS,”he said. “It’s a progressive neurological disorder that might cause some of my muscles to get weak... The doctor says I should be OK, though... for a while.”

A progresso-what the hell did he just say? I was 15. I understood words like “banana,” and “cat,” and “boobies.” What’s a neurological disorder?

I have a concrete memory of Mother sitting on the love seat in the far left corner of the den, legs crossed, ladylike. She had an embroidered sunshine on her sweatshirt, and she was wiping her tired eyes with a tissue. I remember focusing on a fern that hung from the ceiling above her head. It desperately needed to be watered. I was wearing blue-and-green-checked boxer shorts and an Atlanta Braves T-shirt. I remember all of that very clearly...

But I had no idea what Father was “running by me.”

Disney, Laughter, and Heaven

Joshua started crying from his crib in the adjacent room, so that was it. I never heard my Father speak of his illness again. Ever.

Instead, we went to football games and movies. We traveled to see family members in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia and Sylacauga, Alabama. We went to Hawaii and to the Grand Canyon and to Disney World... twice.

The Sun absolutely loved Disney. All of it: Snow White, Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, Donald... the whole lot of ‘em.

Walter Elias Disney (kaput!) was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1901. In 1928, he introduced the world to Mickey Mouse through the very first sound-synchronized animation ever, called: “Steamboat Willie“.

In 1955, Walt Disney Productions opened an amusement park called “Disneyland” in Anaheim, California. Featuring historical reconstructions, displays, rides and lots of larger than life-sized cartoon characters, it quickly became a famous tourist attraction. Disney World opened near Orlando, Florida, in 1971.

That’s where we went. Orlando.

*****

Greyhound:

You are going to have a great day. It's yours, and you can make it anything you want it to be. If the weather calls for rain, decide now that you will enjoy getting wet. If the test score is low, make up your mind that 'it can only get better from here.' If punished unfairly for something, just smile for the many things you've not been caught for... Attitude is everything. Today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.

Dad.

I woke up one morning to that note taped to the outside of my bedroom door. My dad wrote it some time in the middle of the night… said he was just thinking about me and how hard it must be to be a eighth-grader.

Father was right-handed.

He made mention to me on several occasions – while we were playing ball or throwing rocks into a lake – that he’d always wished he was ambidextrous. He said most great athletes “could go both ways.”

Father was not ambidextrous, but as it turned out, he got to write that note with his left hand. It had been several weeks since the last twitch took his good arm from him.

Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

My father was a good man. He did good things. Thought good thoughts. He was a self-described Christian—believed that Jesus Christ lived thousands of years ago and came to live among men for the sole purpose of dying for our sins. “Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to,” he’d say.

I guess that makes sense. But what does it mean to be “good”? I mean, if you are being “good” in order to receive some sort of reward— for instance, to get into heaven — then you’re not really being good, right? I mean, the only truly moral act is one that is done solely because it is the right thing to do. Right?If you’re looking for acceptance or forgiveness or - heaven forbid - everlasting life, then that’s not a moral act; that’s a quid pro quo.

But there's a difference. Father was innately good. I know, I know, he was fallen and depraved and wicked once, too, but he was good because he knew there was more to life than living. He didn’t teach us to “do unto others because you want them to do unto you,” because he knew — like I know — that that’s bunk. That’s diplomacy… not morality.

Flannery O’Conner once said that, “religion is middle-class insurance.” I certainly don't agree with her, but I like to imagine she and my Grandfather sitting on his front porch, drinking Scotch and contemplating the morals and meanings and inner-workings of “god,” the Church and the fall of man. More than likely, when the two of them conversed, it was about more simple things: the weather, the new stop sign on the corner of Euclid Avenue, or perhaps the price of eggs in China. Whatever that means.

My father was the most soundly faithful and spiritual person I have ever known. There’s a difference. Christianity has so very much more collective wisdom about finding God than father, or me, or the Executioner or even Flannery O’Conner could ever have alone. Regardless, I remember my father as a very good and decent human being. And I'm more sure than I am about the fact that I'm sitting here that he is in heaven.

Bygones.

JerryBob, Honduras, and Pig @#*!

Gerald Eckhart is another good man. He’s rich, too. He has the kind of money that can only be measured by stock portfolios and offshore, oil tanker rigs. He pays guys to pay other guys to count and then buy things with his cash.

Jerry and my father grew up together, separated by just three houses on Heatherdown Road in Decatur, Georgia. As teenagers, they once tried to start a folk-rock band called “Jerrybob and the Rooftop Wailers.” The story goes that my grandmother would not allow the boys to play their instruments inside the house, so they would climb to the roof of the garage and make up songs...

Loser, Thy Name Is Mud
Just like a cow
That chews her ugly cud
I’m a loser now
Methinks my name is mud.

Just like a bat
That drinks her dinners’ blood
I wish I weren’t begat
Methinks my name is mud.

Just like a flower
That blooms from her bud
I lose in every hour
Methinks my name is mud.

No one ever claimed they were very good... Father blew in and out on a harmonica. Jerry strummed a guitar. A boy named Thomas Flowers bounced drumsticks off of the roof shingles. And Dennis Bryson just sat there and hummed along. He was their “manager." According to Jerry, all four of the boys traded verses when it came time to sing.

Jerry and my father did everything together. Baseball, football, homework, summer jobs, double dates... they even applied to the same colleges together. The memories that these two men shared could have made Tom and Huck wish for a better author.

They were the best of friends... ‘till death did them part.

*****

A few years after I woke up on the sofa to find father slumped over the side of his La-Z-Boy, Jerry invited me to work for a while on his ranch in Honduras: El Rancho Paraiso.

A recent "business deal" had resulted in almost 2,000 acres of land just outside of San Esteban, Olancho, Honduras. He was given the choice between yet another chalet' in Park City, Utah, or an entire valley in Central America.

Jerry doesn't snow ski.

It seems that Honduras is the second largest country in Central America, with one of the world’s highest concentrations of infant mortality and poverty. 68 of 1,000 children will die before reaching age five, and the annual median rural family income is less than $400.

So, Jerry started something called Honduras Outreach. It’s a ministry of sorts, incorporating people of many faiths, working in partnership with native Hondurans to improve the quality of life in the Agalta Valley.

And so on. And so on. And so on.

*****

I went there on a Tuesday. I left behind everything that I thought mattered, and set off to “save that poor country.” When I arrived on the property, I couldn’t help but to notice the stars. The 8-hour van ride from the airport had been so uncomfortable; it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. But now we were at the ranch, and I looked up. There were no light bulbs within about 90 miles, so the stars looked like incandescent golf balls, and I suddenly realized that David Crosby was right...

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way…

I had been there for about 7 hours when Jose Mondragon woke me with a gust of cigar smoke and a quick kick from his snakeskin boot. “Vamanos, Cabron!.. Let’s go, a-hole,” he grumbled. His voice was not deep, but definitely that of a cowboy. He looked 9-feet tall from my perspective on the dirt floor of my so-called house. Jose is a mere 5-foot, 4, and my “house” was made of dirt, rocks, water, straw and pig poop.

Perspectives change.

My father used to recount a Peanuts cartoon at parties and family reunions where in it Charlie Brown and Lucy are lying on a grassy knoll and Charlie Brown asks Lucy, “Lucy? What do you see when you look at the clouds?” She responds,“Oh, Charlie, I’m glad you asked... Over there I see the Sistine Chapel, where in 1508, Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint his masterpiece. And that cloud over there looks like the Pennsylvania State House where, in 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. What do you see, Charlie Brown? What do you see when you look up at the clouds?”A puzzled-looking Charlie responds, “Well, I was gonna say a ducky and a horsey, but I’m not sure anymore.”

Perspectives change, indeed.

*****

39 Days with Pepe

Jose stood over me looking as if he either wanted to kill me, or kiss me... I couldn't tell. Either way, I was terrified, and I shot up like a boot-camp soldier in the presence of a Colonel.

In broken English, Jose sputtered: "There are two very important things you must remember while in Honduras. Number one: do not try to fit in. You are here because you are different. Do not try to be like me. Do not try to make friends with the villagers. Be yourself. As an American, you will be respected. As someone who wants to be Honduran, you will surely die."

"What's the second thing?" I asked.

"Numero dos: If you are bitten by what you think is a Brown Honduran Pit Viper, go ahead and lay down... because you will die.

"How exciting." I said. "Maybe you can point one of those bad boys out to me, so I'll know which snakes I can keep as pets, and which ones might make me dead." I sounded like a character from a very bad “B movie”. I think I wanted to.

Jose’s lips closed around the cigar, and blue-gray smoke shot from his nostrils. "How long will you be our guest a la Rancho Paraiso?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. As long as it takes, I guess."

"Como? As long as whattakes?"

"Dunno yet, but you'll be the first to know, I’m sure."

My sarcasm fell on frustrated ears, but my words meant nothing to Jose Mondragon. He quickly mumbled a very rude-sounding Spanish phrase, and then said, "Get in the truck, Gringo."

And so I did.

*****

We pulled into a village called San Miguel just before sundown. Jose “The Dragon” Mondragon, three others... and me. My mouth was dry and the inside of my throat felt like flypaper. The saliva I could muster with every other swallow just seemed to stick to the lining of my esophagus, and I was beginning to pray for a quick and easy death: “Mis Dios, por favor... morte mio... andele, andele.” Or something like that.

We stayed in San Miguel for 51 days. I ate tortillas and eggs, and drank brown water from the river that had been boiled over a campfire. We built 11 latrines—holes, 9 to 12 feet deep, covered with a concrete slab. Erected 3 “houses.” Those, too, had a dense consistency of pig feces. And we gave fluoride treatments and Malaria medication to most of the children.

For 51 days.

*****
After the 39th day, I decided to bathe. My hair was beginning to dred-lock, and my beard was becoming matted with all sorts of interesting things. I once found a lady bug buried in there.

I had an ingrown hair on the left side of my chin that desperately needed tending to.

The 20-something-minute walk to the river was as peaceful a journey as I’ve ever taken. The trees in Honduras are just like those in Georgia or Alabama. The pastures are reminiscent of those from my hometown in Tennessee. The rocks are the same. The breeze is just breeze. And the birds all sing the same songs. But that day, there was something distinctly different. Something... Providential.

I remember thinking to myself that maybe I should “stop and smell the roses.” There were no roses for 100-miles around, but I knew what I meant.

I stripped nude. The water was cold, but perfect. I was completely comfortable. I was completely alone. I was… uninhibited. I started to laugh as the current of the river carried my filth to unsuspecting fishes and crawdads and little old women washing their family’s clothes far, far away.

Starting with my hair, I scrubbed and scrubbed. My face. My ears. The back and front of my neck. Blood and puss oozed from my chin. I washed the clumps of dirt and dried deodorant from under my arms. I must have spent a half hour scrubbing my navel. I marveled as my stomach turned from dark brown to tan.

It’s amazing, really. I never knew how much pubic hair I had before that day. I began washing and scrubbing and trying to remove all of the dirt, when suddenly...

“Oh, great! Another ingrown hair.” I had about a nickel-sized “bump” at the base of my... my, you know... “thing.” Upon further inspection, I realized that the bump seemed to have legs. It was a tick.

Just a tick.

Ticks are harmless, right? But, there was a tick at the base of my “thing”!

“Great Christ! There’s a tick burrowing into my thing!” I yelled as if someone were there. As if they would understand me if they actually were.

Never before has anyone run faster. My boxer shorts just barely made the now 8-minute trip back to the village. My shoes and shirt and soap and hat and my dignity did not.

*****
The makeshift clinic was a bright-blue tarp suspended above a tiny wooden table. The nurse was a Honduran who had studied Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Help! Help me!” I screamed as I ran up the hill to the clinic. Louisa rushed to meet me. I must have sounded as if I’d just seen someone knifed to death, or worse. Perhaps I had just uncovered an inch-long parasite on my manhood.

There was sincere concern in her voice as she inquired: “Como? Como? Que es? Por favor... que es la problema?”

“Louisa, for once, please try to understand me when I tell you that there is a mutant tick on my penis...”

“Que?” she asked.

“Louisa... please... I think I have a problem.”

“Una problema? A donde?”

“Aqui!” I screamed, as I pointed to my crotch.

“Ahhhh... Dios, mi!”

Finally, I yanked down my boxers to show her my new friend. She immediately began to laugh. Mortified, I tried to explain how very, very cold the water in the river had been, but I couldn’t seem to get through. Louisa’s roar could be heard throughout that great valley and perhaps it reached the shores of America. I still do not know what, exactly, sweet Louisa found so funny; the tick, or his companion, “Pepe”. To this day, I’m quite sure the children of san Miguel continue to tell the story of “Pepe y su amigo.”

Bygones. I think.

*****

Sightseeing and No Name Maddox

During my time in Central America, I thought about a lot of things. I thought about God. I thought about death. I thought about life and living. I thought about going back to school. Getting married. “What in the world am I gonna do when I get back?” I’d ask myself. I thought about how my family needed to see and experience what I was seeing and experiencing... How much father would’ve enjoyed something like this. How my friends wouldn’t understand.

On the night before I was to make the 8-hour drive-hike-walk-hitchhike to an awaiting twin-engine passenger plane in Tegucigalpa, I made one last stroll to the waterfall just off the Paraiso line.

To this day, it’s the most beautiful place I have ever been. The water was loud—the kind of loud that’s almost silent. Like how silence can be deafening, I guess. I never knew what that meant ‘til then.

This is the place I would go when I was homesick. I’d go there when I was so hungry, I couldn't eat. I’d go to the waterfall to sing and act like I knew how to play the harmonica. I’d talk to God, right out loud as if He were standing directly in front of me. It’s funny; if ever He’s been in front of me, it was at that waterfall.

I stepped to the third rock from the center of the ideal vantage point. One time, I composed a poem on that rock. I didn’t write it down and do not remember how it goes.

I was terrified as I started to fall. And then I fell. I could no longer hear the roar of the water, but I could see the stars on my way down. I think I was smiling, believe it or not.

*****

Jose blew smoke rings from his chair in the corner of the room. I taught him that. I’ve never been a smoker, per se, but I love to blow rings and act like a silent film star like Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.

The smoke smelled good—refreshing. My head hurt. My leg hurt. It felt like someone was pouring hot wax on my shoulder and back.

“Como esta, Usted?”

Jose had never added the respectful “Usted” at the end of his greeting to me.

“Fine. What happened, here?” I asked. “And why are you looking at me like that?”

“Nosotros lo encontramos en las piedras. Usted cayó una manera larga. Todos lo pensaron era muerto, gringo.”

“Oh, for the love of God, Jose. Speak English!”

I had been in Honduras for more than 5 months, and still couldn’t understand when The Dragon spoke. He sounded like an intoxicated auctioneer, and it infuriated me.

“We found you on the rocks,” he said. “Why did you jump?”

*****

Why did you jump? “Oh! The waterfall! Oh, my god… My harmonica! Wait… what did you just say?”

They honestly thought I was trying to end my life... Thought I was taking the never-ending swan dive to (kaput!) Instead, I found myself in traction, on a pee-stained bed, in a roach infested room for three and a half weeks. I had broken my leg and shoulder and torn most of the flesh from my back.

When I finally arrived at the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport, I was 40 pounds lighter, and walking with a cane. I looked like a young Charlie Manson—what with my long hair and beard.

*****

Charles Manson was born in Kentucky in 1934 as "No Name Maddox”—The unwanted child of a prostitute. He spent his youth in foster homes. He was a small, sickly boy exposed to alcohol, prostitution, and excessive abuse. In 1967 he moved to San Francisco where he led a cult following of 20 runaways and petty criminals… mostly women. The “Family,” as they were called, killed people—including actress Sharon Tate—for fun and because Charles told them to:

(kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput! kaput!)

And so on and so on and so on…

Anyway, I looked like him.

Bygones.

My mother burst into tears as I exited Terminal C-13. It was the first I’d seen her cry since the funeral.

The Funeral, Sex on the Beach, and Sex

Editor's Note: I am going to skip ahead a little now and not publish a couple of chapters from the original story. Regardless of how many times I  preface the reading of this memoir with the fact that "a lot of what is written is how I experienced it, not necessarily how things actually happened," some people still get a little panty-twisted, so it's not really worth it.

That said, when those people die, it’s game on.

*****

The funeral. Now that was a day!

The Sun asked the executioner to do the ceremony. I guess that’s what you’d call it, “a ceremony.” It was more like a sermon, really. My grandfather talked about “everlasting life,” and how “you can’t get There from here.” He wore a button on the lapel of his tan, cotton suit that read, “Pray, or the Devil will get you.“ He said that my father was looking down on us, smiling at the sight of friends and family coming together to honor the way he’d lived his life. I remember smirking, even then, at the ridiculous notion that my father was “up There” looking “down here.” I mean, really… He could be staring into the Face of Jesus, or Flannery O’Conner, or John Lennon… or Lou freaking Gehrig, but no… he’s up There, looking down here.

Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

I sat next to my mother. Her hand trembled in mine as her father took advantage of this captive audience. I saw the tears run down her face, and I decided at that moment to try and be a better son.

A picture of our family sat upon the casket in the front of the sanctuary: Father, Mother, the butterfly, the musician, the baseball player... and me. I thought back to the day it was taken... An impromptu pose on a friend’s farm two Thanksgivings ago.

We were all very happy…

*****

Well, guess what? I got married to the first girl I ever had sex with. We had sex. And then we got married. And then I started drinking.

Here goes:

A broken heart is an open door
To receive less and to give back more
The question stands—still—within my heart
When did it end? Did it ever start?

Of course it did...

We met on a Thursday night. I was mixing drinks. She was drinking them—never even hinting that she'd pay. She liked Cosmopolitans, and her brow lowered as she whispered, "Do you know how to make Sex on the Beach?"

A Sex on the Beach consists of 1 or more ounces of Vodka, 1/2 ounce of Melon Liqueur, 1 Tablespoon of Grenadine and a splash of orange juice. A Cosmopolitan, for the record, is a Vodka Martini with a splash cranberry juice and a lime twist.

*****

She grew up in a very small town in Alabama—"the County Seat." She always made sure to point that out. Her parents grew up there, as did her parents' parents and so on, and so forth. One might think that such a girl would be homely and sheltered and a bit overwhelmed by city life. On the contrary...

She wore a short, black skirt and a gray knit sweater the night we met. Her oaken hair was exactly how it should have been – just above her shoulders, tucked neatly behind her ears. I didn't actually notice her clothes until the next morning as I watched her walk through my apartment colonnade. But I did notice her eyes. I couldn't help it. My God, she could still melt glass with those things. Blue as the day is long… whatever that means.

She made her way through the bar like Moses (kaput!)... People just seemed to get out of her way.

Her confidence made me feel like a schoolboy—excited, but terrified at what being called to the blackboard might expose. A mutual friend lagged a few steps behind, but finally introduced her... "Hey there... this is your future wife," she said.

Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

Today's fight had to do with towels. I put them on the wrong side of the cabinet. She used to give me sex because I put them up at all. Now we fight because they aren't folded correctly, or— heaven forbid—they're placed where the washcloths are predestined to go. I wonder sometimes if my father, Kurt Vonnegut or Lou Gehrig ever did such grotesquely idiotic things. Something tells me it didn't matter...

Still doesn't. Bygones.
*****

I wish she could have met my father. He would have liked her "spunk." But I'm not sure if she could have gotten passed the fact that I loved him so much.

I've tried telling her about the morning I found him. She just sits there... staring at me, or at nothing at all. I'm not sure if she simply doesn't care, or if she's just incapable of showing the kind of emotion it takes to be a good listener.

*****

"I woke up at 7:11 that morning" I said. "I know what time it was because our grandfather clock stood against the wall near dad's blue, La-Z-Boy hydraulic chair... Have you ever seen one of those?" I asked. "They're pretty neat. You see, there's this button on the side of the..."

"I need to go check the laundry," she said.

And that was it.

In her defense, she's heard me tell the story before. So, it's not as if she's completely obtuse. Just bored, I guess.

Bygones.

I love my wife more than I could ever describe on paper or act out in a thousand lifetimes. There are no words to describe her. It seems she's beyond vocabulary. She cannot be captured in a sentence, or even a paragraph—not mine anyway. I see her much the same as I see God: She has no boundaries. And I blame her for everything.

Faith, hope and love. She's all of these. Happiness. Sadness. Pain. Ecstasy. It's all her fault.

My gong is resounding, and my cymbals clang on and on and on.

The test, and a Mountain Out of A Mole Hill

I returned from an evening out with friends at around 11:30 on the night she changed the memory I have of my father. Until that night, I could only remember the 19 months he was ill. She helped make him healthy again.

"We need to talk about some things," she said.

"But you hate talking," I said. Half-hoping she'd get mad and leave. I was tired and wanted to go to bed.

"But now I need to talk," she said, "and I'm afraid you're going to have to listen... I took the test."

"What test, sweetheart?"

"THE test," she chortled—convulsing and breathing and laughing at the same time. "You're going to be a dad."

Interesting choice of words, now that I think about it. She didn't say, "father." She said, "You're going to be a dad."

There's something sweet about that word: Daddy.

I hugged her instinctively, and she stopped moving. Her eyes met mine, and with a look I'd never seen in her before, she kissed me... hard.

We went to sleep almost immediately. The next morning, Wednesday, I woke her with a kiss and a question: "Will you be my wife?" I asked.

Gong. Gong. Clang. Clang.

Four days, seven hours and about 35 minutes later, she said "yes."

*****

I was in Hawaii on my twelfth birthday. Not too many kids can say that. Probably more than I give credit, but I like to think that I am one of a very select few.

Father took the entire family to Waikiki the week before the Honolulu Marathon. There are, more than likely, even fewer kids who can claim that their father ran in five marathons. I guess that made this vacation extra special...

Bygones.

We have somewhat of a tradition in my family. We celebrate birthdays by allowing the honoree to choose the restaurant at which we all dine for the day.

I chose Burger King. I was 12.

Father and I left the Hawaii Prince Hotel at around six-thirty in the morning. We strolled down Holomoana Street towards the Burger King to retrieve breakfast croissants for the Sunshine and the butterfly, still sleeping in their rooms.

"Why don't you and I go down to the water after we eat... we'll let your mom and Deb sleep a little while longer."

We ate my birthday breakfast on the move. We were but a few hundred feet from the beach, and it seemed that Father was on a mission. I remember thinking that the sausage, egg and cheese croissant and large Coca-Cola was not on his "marathon diet." He ate it in one breath—inhaled it, so to speak.

"I was your age the first time I ever realized I had an erection," he said.

"Wah...?! Gross!" I exclaimed.

I wasn't the brightest kid in the world, but I had known what the word erection meant for quite a while. 6 months—give or take about 13 days—before this trip, I overheard the sunshine—in all her glory—discuss with Jupiter how she'd found me in the bathtub, "rubbing on his erection," she said.

I don't recall ever hearing the word used, other than to describe tall buildings before that moment, but I knew exactly what she'd seen me rubbing in the bathtub.

*****
"Who cares, Dad? I don't want to hear about that!"

"I was with Becky Tomlinson at the 6th Grade formal. We were slow dancing, and then all the sudden: Boom!"

"Boom?" I asked aloud.

Suddenly I wasn't so sure my mother hadn't simply seen me trying to pop a zit.

He continued: "Yeah, there it was for all the world to see. My penis was sticking out so far it made my sport coat fly open."

Nope. Not a zit.

There I was, in arguably the most beautiful place in the world, looking out over the blue water... a light breeze gently wisped through my hair... no one and nothing but early morning joggers and dedicated surfers to obscure my view. But I didn't "see" any of it. Instead I choked down what was left of my bacon and cheese French pastry and focused on NOT picturing my father's first hard-on.

To this day, I do not remember my reaction to the "sport coat comment," but I do recall quickly turning the discussion to parasailing and our impending climb up Diamond Head Mountain the next day.

*****
Diamond Head is not a "mountain," after all... It's a volcanic crater.

Oh, the irony of it all.

Diamond Head is located on the South-east Coast of Oahu at the end of Waikiki. It was originally named "Laeahi" by the ancient Hawaiians. The name meant "brow of the tuna," and looking at the silhouette of the crater from the beach, you can see the resemblance.

The current name was given to the crater by British sailors in the 1800's. When they first saw the crater from sea, the calcite crystals in the lava rock appeared to glimmer in the sunlight. The sailors thought there must be diamonds in the soil.

There were no diamonds in the soil. Anyway, the volcano has been extinct for 150,000 years, and we went there the day after my birthday.

Bygones.

A Sticky Situation and Bazooka Bubble Gum

My wife and I are actually very happy, despite my more-often-times-than-not cynical nature. According to everything we hear, read and watch; we're "normal." We're just like everyone else our age... in our "situation."

But to say that we're in a situation implies that something's wrong, does it not? I mean, that word is not very readily used to describe things in a positive light. When you hear, "we have a situation here," that usually means someone on a plane somewhere has a bomb strapped to his chest. Crisis negotiators talk people OUT of "situations" every day.  Situations are peculiar. Situations are tough. Situations are usually difficult. Welcome to marriage.

But, alas, my situation is a happy one. I think because there is love involved. If we didn't have love... that'd be a "sticky situation."

*****

It took a long time for her to say "I Love You." For me, it was easy. I'm just that kind of guy. I jump head-first into things before knowing what waits for me at the bottom. Plus, she's pretty. Really pretty. And, therein lies her reluctance, I think. She's been pretty all her life. She's never really HAD to say the words.

Pretty people are a different breed. Charmed? Maybe. More like afflicted, I think. Maybe that's just something I tell myself to get over being so very "average." Pretty people are always teachers' pets—the kids who get called on for all the easy questions... "What's 2 times 2?"

I was the average guy in the back... "What's 369 times 7?" The answer, damn you, Mrs. Harper, is 2,583.

"Pretties" are always the first children chosen for school plays. My wife played "Mary" in her 4th grade theatrical presentation of The First Christmas. 268 miles away, I was in the same play. I was a goat.

Bygones.

Pretty people—the poor things—find it difficult to "feel." They don't have to. They don't get the chance. They’re pulled in every-which-direction imaginable. Strangers come up to them in shopping malls, at swimming pools, museums, restaurants and bars. They never get to start a conversation... unless they are playing a game... "Do you know how to make Sex on the Beach?"

She wins.

But average people love ALL pretty people. “Pretties” get to choose. I think the mere fact that I'm only OK-looking, and I've always been simply adequate at just about everything I've done has made me the blubbering "feeler" I am today.

But it took her a while.

*****

There are certain things at certain times that have a certain appeal to certain people in not-so-certain ways. These “things” are indescribable, but we all have them. For some, it’s the smell of cut grass. That flirtatious glance from a co-worker. The feeling you get when you walk into a Cathedral for the first time. Wildflowers on the side of the interstate. The taste of Bazooka Bubble Gum. Even the sound of a doorbell or a beep from the microwave. Some might call it a sort of déjà vu. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s something that takes you some place else… if only for a split second.

Father’s “thing” was the first day of any college football season. It happened every year—He’d lock himself in the playroom or basement and go “there” all alone. After a while, we’d watch together: Vanderbilt v.s Ole Miss. Tennessee v.s Wyoming. North East Missouri State v.s Po-dunk Community Technical College for the Criminally Insane. It didn’t matter. That was HIS “thing.”

My “thing” is music. Not all music, mind you, but there’s something about a guitar or a piano and a voice, and the feeling I sometimes get when the two compliment one another just right…

I think each of us has something that can somehow speak straight to our hearts—as if that's the language that our heart understands better than any other. For me, it’s music: Bob Dylan. John Denver (kaput!). Joni Mitchell. David Wilcox. John Hiatt. Eddie Vedder. Allison Krauss. Paul Simon. John Lennon (kaput!). Neil Young. Shawn Colvin. Stevie Wonder. The Indigo Girls. Bono. Eric Clapton. John Lee Hooker (kaput!). Eva Cassidy (kaput!). Ben Harper. Sting. Leadbelly (kaput!). Jimi Hendrix (kaput!). Nanci Griffith. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Ray Charles (kaput!). Willie Nelson. John Gorka. Muddy Waters (kaput!). Stevie Ray Vaughan (kaput!). Hank Williams, Sr. (kaput!).

Even Neil Diamond takes me “there” on occasion.

Bygones.

*****

When I noticed father’s health declining for the first time, John Denver was playing “This Old Guitar” on the AM radio of father’s Jeep. The top was down, and we were both singing at the top of our lungs: “This old guitar taught me to siiiiiiiing a love song…”

I looked over at father—seeking the words to the next verse—and saw his left hand resting, lifeless, in his lap. It took the form of an Orangutan’s mitt… large, crooked and frozen in time:“…taught me how to laugh… and how to cryyyy.” He continued singing, alone.

That song will forever take me “there.” My point is that everyone has that “thing.” However silly or irrelevant or embarrassing it may be. We’ve all been “there.”

Except for my wife. She has no “thing,” and she cannot think of a single instance when she’s been taken “there.” I am not certain of whether or not this is true… Perhaps she’s just forgotten about the taste of Bazooka. I can’t be sure. But I don’t blame this on the fact that she’s pretty.

It does, however, explain a little about why she had a hard time saying “I Love You”.

But she did. And she does. And I love her back—with every ounce of my heart and every breath of my every day.

Joy Follows Sorrow

She gave me a daughter exactly six months and one day after we exchanged our “I Do’s” in her uncle’s back yard. Located in the County Seat—directly across the street from her childhood home—Uncle Dee Jay has a very impressive landscape. The perfect setting for a shotgun wedding.

My daughter has proven to me that there is indeed life after death. Her name is Anna, and she is my undeniable proof that joy most definitely follows sorrow…

Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

I’ve come to realize that what happens to the human body when it quits is not simply a single sound (kaput!). And there is not just nothingness to the point of dead. On the contrary, there are lots of sounds and a whole heck of a lot of somethings: beeps, whistles, inhale, exhale, buzz, bangs, laughter, tears, sobs, tantrums, fevers… The complex molecules, which make up your body tissue, decay into smaller, simpler molecules like ammonia, carbon dioxide and water. Nearly all the complex molecules decay into simpler molecules... without a controlled input of energy.

I’ve seen it – in all its glory, up close and personal. I have been eye to eye with it. I’ve held its hand and rubbed its swollen head. I’ve reminisced with it while it just sat there, unable to move or respond or listen. I’ve cried on top of it and I’ve beaten the hell out of it with my fists.

I’ve been beaten by it. Again.

Joshua died. The baseball player. The illegitimate son of a legitimate rape victim.  An innocent little boy, conceived in a grocery store parking lot in Orange County, Florida. He’s dead (kaput!). He got hit by a car on Jenkins Road in Fayette County, Georgia. I was at work, working, when I got the call: “Your brother was hit by a car. We don’t think he’s gonna wake up.”

*****
He got an intra cranial hematoma. Those things cause swelling of the brain, and because the brain is enclosed in the skull, it does not have room to swell, and that causes  pressure within the skull to increase (this is called "intra cranial pressure"), and this stops blood flow to the brain, and that kills brain cells, and that causes herniating of the brain – which pushes the brain outside of its allotted space, and when brain cells die they do not grow back, and that causes big-time damage, and that is permanent and irreversible, and that’s when people die.

Did you know that a person's heart can still go on beating even after all of that?

Oh, the irony of it all.

Because of the ventilator and medications helping to keep blood pressure normal, people can go on “living”. They can also go into cardiac arrest and start to convulse and sweat and shake and bleed and ooze and blister. Their insides can begin to boil, literally, because of fever.

The Executioner knew all about this a long time ago. He tried to warn us.

The human body is an amazing thing. It never just quits, and there is never just nothingness to the point of dead. A part of it – even a big part, like the brain for Christ’s sakes – can all but disintegrate, and the body just keeps on fighting. Fighting. Burning. Bleeding. Burning. Fight. Fight. Fight!

“Oh, just pull the goddamn plug already! Can’t you see he’s gone?”

*****

He was a neat kid. He had been known to play up to 6-hour long games of Tetris on his ‘Gameboy.’ He thought about and talked about and read about and ate about and slept about and breathed about sex and boobies and French kisses. He studied the Victoria’s Secret catalog like it was a dissertation on the human genome project. He liked strange music and Japanese cartoons. He loved America, and hoped to defend Her one day.

He was the sweetest, most sincere, truthful, kind-hearted and annoying teenager I’ve ever known. He was a seventeen-year-old little boy. And now he’s gone. (kaput!). Dead. Deceased. No longer with us. Passed on…

Bygones.

*****
Twenty-seven hours after we put Joshua in the ground, my wife gave me a son. His name is Ben.

Sorrow. Joy.

Oh, the irony of it all.

I am a Greyhound.

I am a Greyhound. At least that's what father said. He deemed me a "champion" on the heels of my first remembered defeat almost 20 years ago.

"... when Greyhounds grow up, they are the strongest and fastest dogs in the world. They are the best of the best, and all the other dogs want to be a Greyhound."

He wanted the best for me. He hoped for me. Prayed for me. Wished for me things he'd never even dreamed for himself. He loved me. He was my father. I am his son.

I am still “…skinny and awkward. Shaky on my feet.”But I am growing up by looking back.

*****

The only problem with looking back is that your vision sometimes blurs. Except for the scars, yesterday is never very clear. I have enjoyed my life thus far. I have the scars to prove it. The best parts are still a bit out of focus, but they're coming back to me. Every day. Looking forward, filling it with laughter.

Oh, the irony of it all.

*****

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease," is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS victims eventually lead to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Yet, through it all, for the vast majority of people, their minds remain unaffected.

*****

This story is about me. I am not sick. I do not have ALS, nor do I show a single symptom of the disease. I am a happy, healthy father of four living in Birmingham, Alabama. But my father had it. For nineteen months, he battled the disease named after one of his heroes.

And he lost. Bygones.