This is when it usually falls apart for me, when things in my life are fucked up on so many levels and I’d rather stay high on my green or rum, holed up in The Man Cave listening to my music or hitting my congas until my arms feel like they’ll fall off and my hands bleed. Or riding the hell out of my bike. Or just sleeping my depression away.
This past week I buried one of my best friends from college, a despicable man of the highest order assumed the presidency of the country, and my son, who survived a massive cardiac arrest a year ago that week, home for winter break, went back to his life at college.
Yeah, this is where it usually falls apart for me.
I’m happy that there are no constraints to write now, I’ve given myself permission to really write drunk and not give that much of a fuck about the sober editing process. If I’m pulling layers off to get to my authentic voice why edit/censor myself anymore than checking that proper nouns are spelled correctly, sentence syntax is clear, and there’s cogency. I mean I don’t want too many worries wandering around in my head and heart aimlessly. There are enough voices in there already.
This week’s installment is not quite what I’d call an essay, more like a list poem, more like a compilation of those things that I’m forced to recall to ward off the dark clouds of my friend’s funeral and the dark dive my country’s politics started this week. My intent here is to reclaim a title a coaching colleague and mentor, and great friend gave me. To her and a group of fellow class participants I was known as “the Minister of Joy”.
I am reclaiming that title.
So, reflecting on the loss of my friend, I told someone the other day that I don’t have a lot of guy friends. The ones I do have managed to crack through my shell over the years. My college friend Cliff took me into his orbit instantaneously and, to an extent, helped smooth my rough edges. Even then, my frat name was “Wild Thing” and I can’t say I didn’t deserve it. We roomed together our second year and he helped me understand that although I was a quick learner and processed information very quickly I could be a better student if I worked more judiciously. If I allowed my nerd side to be more front and center than my wild side I might actually accomplish something solid.
So I knuckled down and over the next two years I was a Dean’s List student, the president of the History Club, the English Club, and the Pan Hellenic council, a member of the Student Life committee, and a founding member of the Black Awareness Movement. (Oh, and for some strange reason I was elected chaplain of my fraternity chapter too. Ah, the sixties…) What’s interesting though, even now when I talk to any of my chapter brothers from those years I’m still “Wild Thing”!
All of that to say that Cliff was a major influence on me. And the sad part, other than him dying at 70 years of age and leaving his mother (Aunt Lil is 95!!!), wife, daughter, and grand daughter, is that while we kept in contact over the years I only spent time with him once in real life after graduation. Those “Chuck, that’s bullshit” conversations can’t take place any more, except in my imagination.
But that’s the joy part. I can hear him talk shit to me in my imagination. I’ve heard that having voices in your head means you’re either insane or a writer, certainly it means you’re never bored, right? Sitting here putting words down, feeling hurt, happy, perplexed, grieving, thoughtful…remembering the warm voice of a friend.
Okay, my kid Robert. I’ve recounted his journey from near death to full recovery this past year. You want to catch up start here , but let’s just talk about how fast children grow up and move from under your roof. One minute you’re reaching down to hold their hand while you walk around the neighborhood, telling stories about crows going to bed and the next minute you’re helping him pack his compact utility vehicle and watching him pulling out your driveway, driving up the street, turning the corner to the rest of his life.
You hope the internship he gets next summer is in Philadelphia or Boston because that way you’re pretty much guaranteed to see at least a little of him before he starts his junior year. You miss his “don’t tell mom” conversations, you know, those first man to man talks fathers have with their teenage sons. You miss those long bike rides with him, and how much he loves some of the same things you love…fuck it, it’s getting hard to type…you don’t feel at all ashamed at the tears you cry from just missing his company watching the chick flicks you both love and him calling you ‘cry-baby’ while he wipes his own cheeks at some emotional scene.
While he has been here for the last month or so I’ve been entertained by listening to him tell his stories, his versions of living here with us, with his friends that have come over to visit him, and us. We always wanted to be the house where kids felt they could come and hang out. We got our wish. Listening to him talk is one of my great joys. Reminiscing about life with him is bittersweet, but ain’t that what parenthood is all about. Another one chalked up to “joy”!
And for him, this sentiment,
“I hope you go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
So I sit here in my Man Cave and recount what my week has been. I’m finding a lot to think about in it. There’s a ton of joy in that for me and it holds me from tipping over into breakdown. And the writing: Not caring so much for being perfect, that usually present feeling of having each word be in the right place. Or worse, not writing anything I’d want anyone else to see, just relieving whatever depressing or angry thoughts I might have. It is what it is and I can’t care that much about it and be happy, joyful about seeing stuff getting written in a place other than my journal.
After my friend’s funeral I met with someone I want to work with, someone who will help me slow down and watch the thoughts that cross my mind. He’s someone who went out of his way to meet me, to sit and talk with me, share his life stories with me.
A new friend, how joyful indeed!