Unchanging

She sat with her back to a cypress tree,
Her front to the river and to the six children,
fanned in front like a peacock’s tail.
They stood and watched her blankly, not speaking.
Her knees were drawn to her chest, her
Shoulders jerking up and down, her
Hands covering her face, her
Palms pressing the images of the six
Into her memory,
Her present,
The future.

The river frothed behind the six, the whitewater relentlessly and mercilessly crashing against rocks smoothed by destruction over thousands of years and leading inexorably to the waterfall fifty yards downstream.

She said something through her hands to a girl of 14 and a boy of 12,
Who both turned
Away and walked back along the water’s edge down the
Brown dirt path from which they’d come.
Their pencil-like bodies grew smaller and
Smaller as a girl of 3 watched them instead of watching
Her mother. Their slender figures disappeared around a bend where

The whitewater frothed, moving toward the four children and

The woman. The children were silent
Before her.

The roiling water gurgled and hissed, its bubbles’ bursts and popping drowned by the roar downstream, its uninhibited dance on the rocks calling for attention, like a pot of milk overflowing on a stovetop and fizzing on the gas burners.

The woman took her hands away from
Her face, which was red and
Shiny.
Across the river was a cliff, and there was a squirrel
Scrambling down the crumbling rock face, looking for food or perhaps
trying to escape a predator.
She looked over the heads of the four children and
Noticed
The leaves of a madrone tree, its fiery bark like dried
Blood against the ancient gray of the cliff.
A raven sat on a branch and watched.

The water behind the four young children boiled and hissed and cascaded over rocks, their surfaces pounded mercilessly for hundreds and maybe thousands of years in unchanging agreement between tormentor and slave. The waterfall groaned and howled, its receiving maw at the bottom swallowing and regurgitating all that flowed over its lips. Never satisfied.

She looked at her 3-year-old daughter.
The woman’s eyes were bloodshot.
She heard the raven CAW!—a loud, wounded plea for its mate and for
Food.
The whitewater beyond the girl hissed.
The waterfall groaned and howled.
The squirrel stumbled and somersaulted into
the pitch of a hollow.
The cliff was like a wave,
A wall trembling and
Poised to crash on all five of them
On the riverbank.

The woman heard a small voice.

She ignored it.

She stared at her 3-year-old.
The whitewater hissed behind the toddler, only ten feet behind
Her.
The waterfall howled, its mouth still open,
Waiting.
The cliff trembled,
Waiting.

Again she heard the voice.

The woman listened to the raven—CAW! CAW!—and the
Water—its bubbling and its dance, now silver with
Light shining off the spray as the
Waves splashed on the smooth, round rocks. A male
Cicada above her sang his mating song to an unknown lover.

The 3-year-old now yelled, “Mommy!”

The mother, her face wet and shiny and red, as if slapped, saw her toddler, dressed in an aquamarine one-piece swimsuit. She exhaled hard, as if trying to touch her daughter with her breath.

“What.”

“I’m hungry.”

The mother looked at her and at the faces of the three other children. Their cheeks were sunburned, their hair dried haphazardly. Derek was scratching the mosquito bite on his right shin. Mary was staring down at her barrette, snapping and unsnapping it. Casey had her hands on her knees and was bent over, looking at an ant making its way around an apple core browned and shriveling in the August heat. Laney repeated her plea, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”

The mother stood up and, taking her under her armpits, hiked the little girl to her hip. The water was an iron gray, crashing and roiling against rocks that had been smoothed over thousands of years in an unchanging agreement of tormentor and captive. The mother walked closer to the water, and Laney wiped some hair that had blown over her right eye from the rushing wind coming down the river. She looked at her mother, her cheeks red from the sun, her hair dried haphazardly.

“Laney, have I ever told you that I was a camper here when I was Derek’s age?”

The toddler was watching the silver water dance along smooth rocks and a big black bird fly down toward them from a reddish-brown tree across the river.

“No, Mommy.”

“Well, I was. I came here as a camper for eight years and then was a counselor. I wanted all of you to see this place. It’s very special to me.” She paused to listen. “If you’d like, when you’re a few years older, perhaps you could come to the kids camp.” She paused. “They have horseback riding and archery and many more things than we’ve had this week. Would you like that?”

The little girl nodded, as if dreaming about silver water and big birds and horses and being a princess. “I’m hungry, Mommy.” And she put her head against the mother’s sunburned shoulder.

“C’mon y’all,” she said, turning her eyes to the others. “I think the dining hall’s still serving lunch.”

The mother of six carried Laney on her hip with the twins and the 5-year-old trailing her. The older two would have reached the cabin by now and would be picking up their clothes. The whitewater hissed, the waterfall groaned, and the cliff trembled, forever poised to crash on the riverbank. The raven flew overhead and passed them, its silent flight an empty shadow of the chatter now beginning below. The family walked together along the dirt path, their slim figures disappearing around a bend.

photo: psd

Cleopatra-style hair and cigarettes

Since I liked the number 17, I scanned the list of sponsors’ names and found the seventeenth:  “Ray W.”  The list was written in various inks and in pencil on poster board and tacked with thumbnails to the paneled wall over the water fountain.  I wrote down Ray W.’s phone number, sat through the hour-long Open Meeting at Clayton House in Jonesboro, Georgia, and drove back to my room, which I rented from a Mormon couple about three miles away.

 

030809-petraAA is supposed to be anonymous, but in this small community, most people knew each others’ last names, where they worked, which Waffle House we all congregated at.  Eddy started with a hair salon, though he branched out into tanning, and I helped him procure his first tanning bed in Griffin, a town about 25 miles south along Tara Boulevard.  Tom worked at the phone company, and his live-in girlfriend Phyllis had magenta-colored Cleopatra style hair.  They both smoked incessantly yet had brilliant teeth.  (Pretty much everyone at Clayton House smoked but me.)  I went over to their house once with a few others.  Clean laundry was falling out of the dryer, which was in the kitchen, and they all smoked cigarettes as we drank cokes or lemonade or sweet tea.  The collective laughter and in-jokes were the music we all listened to, its tones and rising pitches wafting across the room with the blue-grey smoke.  Sandra was there, a woman in her late 30s, natural blonde, who still to this day typifies to me what serenity – as opposed to mere sobriety – is like.  Woody had a dog grooming shop, and his trimmed beard and shoulder-length fine black hair, always combed, made him look like an afghan, except for his diminutive height.

 

Joe and Frieda were the first Mormon couple I had ever become friends with.  They had a daughter in college and a college-bound son, who listened to the Grateful Dead most waking hours, and Joe seemed to have a gift for fixing the washing machine with parts that he extracted from their 15-year-old Dodge Caravan.  As I recall, I paid them somewhere around $200 per month for my 10’ square room, and I had bathroom cleaning duties.

 

I used their phone to call Ray W.

 

At the time, I had not met Ray face to face.  When I finally did, his appearance was underwhelming.  He was 6’2”, thin and bent like a homeless man, and had dark black skin and graying and aging clothes.  He wore dark glasses, and I can’t say I ever saw the whites of his eyes.  When you don’t see the whites of someone’s eyes, you wonder if they even know you or think about you when they’re addressing you.  At least I did.

 

And yet, when you get to a certain point in your life, when the misery is great enough, you do what someone tells you to do, especially if their names happens to fall under lucky number 17 on a list, a criterion as good as any to pick a sponsor.  Ray told me to call him every night at 7:30 to check in.  I did.  He told me to go to a meeting every day.  I did.  (At least one.)  He told me many other things as well, including insisting that I come to the Thursday night Spiritual Recovery Group at Southwest Christian Church in East Point.

 

It was on Thursday nights I met people like Bill and Julie.  Bill worked for Delta Airlines, and they lived in Peachtree City.  Bill and Julie, and many of their friends from SWCC in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, were the kind of people I had always assumed spent the better part of the day counting their blessings that they were not heroin addicts.  But there we sat, in a room adjacent to the sanctuary (no smoking allowed, however), and one by one we went around the room, introducing ourselves by first name.  There were maybe sixty of us.

 

“My name is Jerry, and I’m an addict.”  Hi, Jerry!

 

“My name is Howard, and I’m an alcoholic.”  Same refrain.

 

“My name is Julie, and I’m a sinner.”

 

A “sinner.”

 

Now, at this point, I think a disclaimer is in order.  I read recently in a NY Times article, one of many in recent years, about the supposed overlap and equation of “addiction” and “sinfulness.”  That’s not what I’m getting to here.  I’m writing about how a person who recognizes that he is broken by alcohol or cocaine, and how a person who recognizes that she is broken by sin, sit in the same room and talk about what Jesus did for them.  The same Jesus, and the same deliverance.  In fact, I noticed that the people who had been in this group for some time, people with substance abuse issues like me, would often introduce themselves as, “Shawana, a crack addict and sinner.”  Sin was at the bottom, not addiction, even though addiction often paraded around on the campgrounds that sin had the permit to.

 

And so this is how I met Bill and Julie, and Ray W. and Jim Dyer (the founding pastor of the church, and founder of this group), and Joe O. and Hendu and Cheryl and so many others, most of whom I can remember faces of if not names.

 

Ray W. told me what to do, and I did it.  I did it half out of fear for what would happen if I didn’t, and half out of certainty that he knew what he was talking about.  Ray was supervisor in a halfway house called S.O.A.R., a ministry that SWCC founded and funded.  A lot of the guys I met in Clayton House were living there and would get jobs at a Waffle House or gas station, wherever they could walk to, since their driver licenses had been revoked.

 

 

photo:  :petra:

Bootless cries

I cried out to God this morning and was surprised to hear not a thunderous response, nor a stern rebuke, nor a gentle cooing, but rather a velvet hush.  No, “hush” is too soothing, and “velvet” is too luxuriant.  It was more like a Mona-Lisa-smile of a sound.  No judgment, one way or the other.  Ambivalent.  Not uncertain but, rather, indiscernible.  Known by the other, hidden from the viewer.  Or perhaps it was like the sound of a kindly older relative, tapping her finger on the armrest of an oak rocking chair.  Not clearly directed at her audience, perhaps in response to some other thought, or memory, or hope, she happens to be considering at that same moment.  Not negligent in the strict sense.  Just otherwise engaged.

 

This made me quite angry.

 

I kept praying, waiting for something…anything.  I was in pain and I thought I had come to my Father in heaven and would get…comfort? ease?  lightness of spirit?  peace?  Yes, peace.  Peace is what I see promised all over Scripture.  And I also read about how if we come near to God, he will come near to us.  And how Jesus stands at the door knocking and if we answer he will come in and dine with us.  Sit down at the table and feast, convivially, joyfully.

 

But here I experienced none of that.

 

Rather, I completed my time, pried away from where I sat by the clock and not sated by any consummation, feeling like the writer of the 88th psalm, in which the closing line reads “…and darkness is my closest friend.”  This is actually one of my favorite psalms if not my favorite, since it aptly describes these times best, when after all my pleading and crying and begging, I face only…that ambivalent stare, that finger-tapping, from heaven.  It also reminds me that I’m not completely crazy.  Someone else – yes, even if it’s only one other human in history, who happened to have pen and paper – experienced what I am experiencing.

 

Shakespeare once lamented that he would “trouble deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries.”  I don’t claim heaven – or God – is deaf.  No, but on days like today it becomes even more painful to know that God hears – God hears, knows, sees everything; of that I have no doubt – and does not answer me clearly.  How dare he.  He owes me something.  Anything.  He owes me, his child, an answer.  Or so this mad rage reasons in my mind.

 

Usually the tears themselves are cleansing.

 

But this morning, they were just the precursor to the tapping, the stare.  I wept and wept for a few minutes, feeling like my tears themselves would melt his heart, that certainly now I would have some answer that eluded me moments before.  After all, didn’t my own sons get results when they turned on the waterworks and asked for dessert?…another two minutes at video games?…to stay up five minutes longer before lights out?  (And the truth is, to my shame, they too often do get results this way.)

 

I wanted a word…anything.  A simple word.

 

And there, in the tapping, I didn’t get a word but rather a reminder.  The writer of Psalm 88 acknowledges at the beginning that the Lord is the “God who saves” him.

 

The psalmist gave me the vine that was draped over the edge of the cliff I felt I was hanging from.  There was no doubt in there being a cliff, or that I was hanging, or that if I let go, I would fall.  But the vine was rooted in something I could trust.  The vine would hold, whether I believed it would or not.  So long as I held on to it, it would hold me up.

 

This God, who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it…this God who was silent before me, by his own choosing, expressed his Being-ness to me.  His certainty.  His absolute reality.

 

This was the great “I AM” who held me up.  Here was the greatest of all realities, who created all the realities I trusted implicitly around me – air, carpet, coffee and pajamas – and who was pointing to his presence as enough for me.  And by no means was it a ponderous wave of knowledge that came over me.  It was more like a stubborn fact.

 

In that moment and the moments following, even to the moment now as I write, he did not give me a word but rather gave me himself to rely on.  The faith he was calling me to have as I wiped useless tears from my cheeks was to believe in him as enough, his reality as true, his completeness and his goodness and his ultimate control, as sufficient to carry me through.  No word about me or for me, no gentle breeze blowing in my ear with a reminder about some verse or doctrine, no vague sense of peace and well-being.  Only a pointer to himself.  A picture of One who is.  One who is, regardless of my belief or doubt in his Is-ness.

 

There is much more to say about him – what he gave up because of his love for me and others – but that’s not what’s in question here.  His love is not in question, his love is not on trial.

 

I was looking for an answer, a response, a sign, a signal, a knowing look, a comforting…feeling.  What I received was:  I AM.

 

It was enough for today.

 

 

photo:  Myles Smith; Clickr Clickr

“Such a river”

It sounded almost like a wedding march and, in a sense, it was.  The organ in church this past Sunday at Point O’ Woods piped the first notes of “Glorious things of thee are spoken,” and in your mind you could see a bride walking down the aisle, smiling, her life-mate before her, beaming back.  Two of them in a Chagall painting eye-lock.  It was a wedding march, of sorts, yet it was years late, and misplaced, for me.

 

And as the congregation started to sing the opening line – Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God! my throat constricted, my eyes watered, my voice weakened and ultimately failed.  I could not sing.  I was being beckoned to wed a place, this place, this community, in which I had effectively grown up, though it was just during summers, yet summers where life is lived and hopes are created and young romances are kindled and then replaced by other young romances like freshly pressed doilies on a dresser.  Life, where friendships are forged and never forgotten, where parents are seen in their relaxed state, away from the din of New York and the press of subway-sweaty flesh, now clad in seersucker and sporting bronze skin from white sand beach laughter.  I was being asked to spiritually locate my soul in this place, this place where I have more memories than I do of the City – the City where I spent 11 of 12 months each year, and to which God continually calls me back from wherever I have moved, as He has done recently.

 

Yet, I couldn’t do it.

 

He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode.

 

As we sang the second line I – wanting to sing in parts, which I so love and which the organist Mary had trained me to do from my youth up through the adult choir – I had to sing the melody.  I couldn’t let my voice go free with the tune or the lyric.  It was Sunday morning, 36 hours after I had arrived on Friday night, my first visit to Fire Island and to POW since 2002, six years ago, our last summer in the house, the summer after Mom died, the summer when Karen spruced up the downstairs and made it airy and delightful and fun, which ultimately helped it sell in the fall.  My in-laws came for a visit that summer and later, after the house sold, my father-in-law spoke for us all when he said that he never would have left if he knew he wasn’t going to return.

 

I didn’t return.  Not that I didn’t want to.

 

That fall, 2002, I went back to pick up personal items from the house and take the Bunger longboard over to Dave K’s.  My plan had been to stay over a Friday night and then drive back to New England Saturday morning.  My stay was in fact less than three hours.  I walked into the house and felt that the life had been sucked out like from a halved grapefruit whose juice is all gone and what is left is the rind and the sad, drying pulp.  I couldn’t see myself sleeping in my – the new owners’ – bed and then rising on the weekend morning, when Mom and Dad would be dancing around each other in the kitchen, he letting his tea steep with the leaves perched in an aluminum strainer over a chipped plain white cup in a non-matching saucer, she busy like a bee with too many flowers and not enough time, smiling at you when you came around the corner of the staircase that descended between the kitchen and the living room, crying out, “Morning, lovey!”  Her voice, always greeting, yet now silent, not even echoing through these rooms which belonged to another.  The living room floor, deep with the stain that Mom applied after hours of removing linoleum tiles in the off-season and throughout a summer, now was a silent mourner, waiting for new feet and new voices.

 

I couldn’t stay.

 

So I left on the late evening boat and probably cried behind dark glasses or something like that.  I drove the five hours home, probably cried some more.  I don’t remember.  All I know is that after that visit to the owners’ new home that fall, I didn’t go back to Point O’ Woods until this past weekend, at the invitation of my childhood friend Jon and his wife.

 

I arrived, and there were Jon and Nancy, and Dave B., and Kinsey, and others, looking as young and vivacious as ever.  They, and the place, had not changed.  This is a cliché that runs throughout our narrative:  the unchanging nature of Point O’ Woods.

 

“There’s surf,” Jon said.  “I think we’re going to get an evening session in.”  It was 7:45 p.m., and by the time we got in, we’d have another 45 minutes or so of surfable skylight.  Which we did.  And there were waves all weekend; I surfed four times for a total of almost seven hours.  (Karen and boys were in Texas.)

 

Saturday night was the Lobster Party, with Dave K’s dad leading the Dixieland Band that has played there since I was a kid and perhaps before that.

 

On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

 

I still couldn’t sing, my mind reviewing the events of the weekend behind me:  seeing Al and Sandy and Jenny, learning of Jen’s daughter’s diagnosis of Type-1 diabetes – I had missed this in their lives.  Missed it because I wasn’t around.  Lexie wasn’t out this weekend, but I had also missed being near her when her father passed away from a sudden heart attack.  There were other life events that I had heard about through email or a call one night from Dave K – “Dave C has committed suicide” he said through heaving sobs.  Where was I?  Where was Dave C’s brother Al?  How was Al – I wasn’t there for him.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love;
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Slowly, I got my voice.  I stood there, next to Jon and his 6-year-old son Evan.  Jon: who might have been thinking about the words to the hymn or might have been thinking about his tennis doubles final in about 90 minutes, a match that he had played and replayed with his brother as partner for the last five years, which all of my friends were aware of and perhaps had seen.  Except for me.

 

I sang parts for the second verse.  It came, and I sang about the streams of living waters, the supply they gave the Lord’s sons and daughters, the thirst that was assuaged.  This thirst of mine – the thirst for connection, this thirst for memory, for reunion, for fellowship of a human and divine nature – this thirst for something more than a shell of a house which will turn to dust one day, the thirst for something imperishable and immutable, this thirst was being assuaged as I sang.

 

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.

 

I realized that I was no longer an owner at Point O’ Woods.  I was not an owner in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, nor even a citizen of New York.  My citizenship, my inhabitation, was elsewhere.  These people around me that Sunday morning were my friends.  They would always be my friends.

Savior, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

photo:  clikchick

Grecian burger deluxe

Teak, who is 5, was beginning to feel the press of a long prayer (The “Prayers of the People”) at church, and it didn’t help that I, at the other end of the row, could hear him shout in a whisper, “But this is taking too LOOOONG!” which meant that people in front and behind could hear quite easily.  Ah.  How spiritually motivating.  And then, as I took him out to class during Announcements, before the Scripture was to be read, he starts to freak, so I pick him up, he freaks some 033008clivec.jpgmore, and while I try to put him down he claws my face like a cat with attitude and with as much animal kingdom loyalty to elders as a feline might have, and so we walk out the back of the sanctuary, which holds 800 people, and I smile as if to say, “Yes, this is my son and, yes, I am in a senior management position at this church…everything is under control.  The 5-year-old Will Pay.”  The fault lied, actually, with our rushing the kids to get ready for church and Carter zipping up a part of his body that still hurt hours later.  Guys, all together now:  OUCH.  But we ended the evening throwing the wild animals a bone – a dinner at Big Nick’s on 77th and Broadway.  Teak was happy, even though his food came last.  Teak was happy, and so, therefore, was I.

photo:  clivec

“Urban Haute Bourgeoisie”

My colleague was telling another colleague about “Metropolitan,” Whit Stillman’s 1990 true film about the upper crust independent school scene in New York City, in which I grew up but in which I was the protagonist in real life, the proverbial red-headed boy in a sea of tow-headed trustafarians, the one whose modest background remained largely hidden – the one who never told his friends that we bought our toothpaste from Korvette’s department store and whose primary and secondary education Mommy’s rich daddy bought for me and my brother and that my own dad probably put up a public fight over but secretly acquiesced gladly to because he was all for Korvette brand toothpaste – and which I attempted to hide by intricately weaving myself into the drug/drinking/promiscuous party lifestyle.  I gained access only through my success in this endeavor.

On Saturday nights, we could be often found at Pedro’s (listed in the once widely-circulated and obsessively adhered 030208leroys.jpgto Preppie Handbook), literally a 25-foot square room that accommodated what seemed to be hundreds of yuppies and high school kids with fake IDs, all drinking Spaten from 16-ounce steins or putting back “tidal waves,” a concoction of vodka, Southern Comfort, orange juice, grenadine and Rose’s lime juice.

My high school classmate Michael, whose middle name Ashley became his nom de guerre during college, could basically open his throat and pour a stein of Spaten down in less than two seconds.  We timed him.  Seriously.  It was inhuman.  He didn’t have an esophagus; he had a PVC tube running down to his stomach.

One night during college, when I went to Pedro’s during Christmas break with my friends, I returned home sometime between midnight and 5:00 a.m. – can’t be more specific than that – and I saw a homeless guy sitting on the front step of a locked residential building about a block away from my house at 96th and Madison.  It was maybe 20 degrees out, if you were under a streetlight.  I had pity, and I took off my scarf and wrapped it around his neck.  He looked up with as much gratitude as I had rationality.  I thought this act of mine atoned for the previous eight hours at Pedro’s.

Of course, it didn’t.

Only one act could.

And that act wasn’t up to me.  And I wasn’t up to it.

photo:  leroys

Promise at the end of rain

“We’re probably the only Starbucks in the United States,” she started to tell the customer with unusual emphasis on our country’s name, “that doesn’t have wireless….”  She continued to explain what they were doing to deal with that, but I tuned out.

Last summer I learned that this Starbucks, in Kerrville, Texas, heart of the Hill Country, didn’t have wireless because of Starbucks’ exclusive arrangement to provide same through t-mobile, which doesn’t have towers here.  I read recently, though, since Howard Schultz came back on board that Starbucks is going to offer wireless now also through AT&T.  This may bring relief to the customer in the first sentence.  As for me, I purchased a wireless card (Verizon) last summer and I have no problems getting signals throughout the Hill Country.

I must say also, as a momentary digression, that Starbucks’ CEO has finally brought nominy (opposite of “ignominy”) to the name Howard, which has sat on the front of my surname for almost 45 years like a mustard stain on the lapel of a blue blazer.  Howard Cosell, Howard Stern, Howard the Duck (which my future brother-in-law invoked when he first heard the Lovely K was dating a man with this name).  It’s not like any of them are axe-022008bjearwicke.jpgmurderers, but I wasn’t convinced it was a name that I wanted to pass along to my progeny.  My father went by Frank, his and my middle name.  So did his father, I believe.  The madness had to stop with my first born son, Carter, whom my mother wanted K and me to name Howard Frank F—– the fifth (V), and nickname him Quint.

“No, mom, I think we’re going with Carter.”

“Well I’m calling him Quint anyway.”

OK.

Mom was born during the Depression, lived through a hurricane that almost killed her mother and younger sister when a brick wall collapsed on their car while it was parked in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, killing another passenger; saw her father try to kill himself; saw her husband succeed in doing so; and she damn well would do what she wanted thank you very much.

She didn’t call him Quint; she called him Carter, but that was by choice, I’m sure.  Carter, at age 14 months, nicknamed her “Mina.”  How he got that, we don’t know.  How do any kids come up with the names and words that they do.  They derive them from some magical database of fantastical and lyrical letter-patterns, the same imaginary place from which Adam drew out words like “hippopotamus,” “tulip,” and “banana.”  K taught him sign language when he was less than a year.  He knew how to say, “more,” “up,” “food,” and “video/TV”.  What more could a one-year-old need?

Bennett was around 11 months old when we visited Mina in her New York City apartment; we were living in Massachusetts at the time.  He crawled on her bed as she lay there with less than three months before the brain cancer killed her.  She seemed a little put out with the infant’s behavior, but that was probably half the disease talking and half her Brahmin sensibilities.  Teak never met her, neither of course did he meet my father.  Now, he spends time around Grandaddy and Memaw and knows them and can laugh and dance in their house here in Kerrville.  My parents are photos to him and to Bennett, and increasingly to Carter, whose memories of them will never be refreshed with new ones to underscore the older ones.  Mom’s and Dad’s personalities are static, two-dimensional and fading like the color on the photos themselves.  I find myself not telling stories about those years to the boys.  It has little to do with my parents and everything to do with me.

It is more that my memory of life in those years – while fine and safe and punctuated by laughter – was a grey day that passed slowly, leading to the sunlight of now.  Why go into detail about how overcast the sky is, how it looks like rain, how it rained yesterday, how perhaps it will rain today.  Maybe, maybe not.  How it looks like rain tomorrow.  Maybe just a drizzle, but bring your umbrella.  The clouds were always present, and I didn’t know it until the sun broke through and exposed what needed to be purified in the rays from that heavenly body.

Now.  Now there is sun and there is no need for umbrellas, even when it pours, because the rain is like a balm that washes and cleanses.  It does not oppress as it did before.  Before, the world was a grey treeless street like the photos of Communist East Germany; now it is an English garden after a summer shower.  Colors burst, and music is implicit.

There is a sun, a morning star, which was always there before but which I couldn’t see for the clouds and rain.  Now I can see the sun – this morning star – because it has appeared, much to my surprise.  So how can I go back?  And why would I?  Regardless of how seemingly joyful things might have been, how can I long for memories from before then, before the sun, before that morning star?  It was all grey then.  It is all color now.

Always.  Even when it rains.

photo:  bjearwicke