Tony Webster CC
What I trust is the cold. It doesn’t lie. It will kill you if you let it and it will show no mercy. I take it like a narcotic or a reward that I think I deserve. I take it after sex, either rolling over afterwards toward a window draft, or getting out of bed and lighting out for other spaces.
I tend to enjoy the cold alone, allowing myself to unwind, get lost and stay lost. It’s winter now, January, and I’m sipping a beer on the back porch of my parent’s house. They’re in Hawaii visiting my brother. I’m housesitting for them. I’ve never been to Hawaii. Not interested. It’s not cold enough there. I prefer shivering in my sweatpants under the stars, letting the air dimple my skin.
Out on the ol’ back deck, the one my brother Frank built the summer before he enlisted in the Coast Guard – more solid now since I’ve spent the last week re-enforcing its support posts. Been a long time since I’ve seen Frank. He liked the cold, as well, spent a lot of time in faraway spaces such as Newfoundland until frostbite ate at his fingers once too often and he developed a degenerative skin disease that can only be mitigated by living in a warm climate. So, he moved to Florida. Not the place for me. Not hardly.
The deck is littered now with plastic children’s toys. More junk made in China. America’s drug of choice. My folks love being grandparents and can’t do enough for the new little ones, all of them adorable. Are my brothers’ wives sisters-in law, or sister-in-laws?
Who knows? Who cares? Well, I do. I should look this up once and for all.
I let the cold heal me of dread. I’m glad to be alone and I feel the night in a proper way – glacially with no connections to anything – my ghosts aren’t returning with baskets full of thoughts that a clear-headed morning might bring.
My ghosts and a little faith has served me well. Not as much, though, as my family has. I’d be nowhere without them. If God should love anyone for their diligent self-sacrifice, it’s both of my parents. I know this, but does God? I wonder if my parents do. I’m glad they’ve gotten away, for a change. Glad to be the only one still single and around more often, able to help out.
I suppose as one of their sons with all my inconsistent luck, I prove to them that preparation only gets one so far. Luck makes a difference. And who you know. I heard this from my parents constantly while growing up. I’m living it now and prone to explaining my situation by sharing with them what they already know. Laughable really, but I suspect all part of the journey that’s parenthood.
I met an old friend today and as I sit in the cold I start recalling how he told me that after getting deployed in Iraq he knew God, and he’d lived a charmed life as an Army mining engineer – his title – and he’d poked and prodded, done his job, and he’d found an IUD or two fighting for Uncle Sam. He’d had his share of close calls, but he’d made it home. He didn’t rank that high, but he still had, as he said, “His nuts and all his limbs.”
I was pleased to witness he was fully intact, though the look in his eyes suggested a few screws had come loose. Maybe they’ll tighten up now that he’s a civilian again. I don’t know what he was fighting for. I mean, I wish I knew, and I appreciate his sacrifice, but I don’t feel any more or less safer, though I’m sure plenty of Iraqis are pissed off that some foreign power occupied their country and blew an ancient city like Baghdad to smithereens. I wonder if historians will make sure we remember President Bush on TV calling it a “shock and awe” campaign. God must love a bullshit artist too.
So, why am I still alive? What have I ever done for others?
I don’t have answers. Wars will continue. I can trust these two points as much as I trust the cold.
Earlier, I was looking at a photo of my youngest brother, Joseph, the first of us five boys to marry. He’s already divorced, though he has three daughters and is still fighting a prolonged battle for custody and the house. All rather ugly thanks to his ex’s ability to find the cruelest bitch on the planet as a lawyer.
In the photo, it’s clear at that time Joseph loved his wife and his newest baby daughter. He’s holding that daughter high in one arm and he’s beaming as she kisses him all over his face.
Maybe the only thing to trust more than the cold is a child’s unconditional love. It’s a comfort to think this, but I’m rational, a doubter and I expect no guarantees.
I close my eyes and imagine my niece’s tiny hands pawing at my brother’s face. She has the same blue seas in her eyes as Daddy does. It’s simple, I suppose. Be there with children, support your own kin, make yourself happy. Yet even when I feel happy, I feel like I don’t deserve it. As if I’ve done nothing special and have no right.
Blowing a sigh, staring at the stars. Shivering in the cold. Stress, nervousness about the future, but I like being out here. I love the silence. I savor the adrenalin as it churns, my body temperature plummeting.
Each day is a form of deliverance, a chance to awaken and face who I am and to improve – to draw back the barriers curtains of imagined and impossible equivocations. Nothing is complete or fully realized. Imperfection defines us in the cold. Money. Distractions. All of it tedious, mostly. Maybe I’ll join the French Foreign Legion. Nah, too much sun. Besides, it’s all behind me, all that adventuring about. Time to settle in and keep it dull for a while.
I’ve been dating these women, spending all my money on them. None really want me, it seems. I have to force my good graces on them. Have to work too hard. I need to find one who likes the cold. I’m tired of the ones I’ve met, and there have been many, of late, with their opinions and diets and pretentious designer-label fashion choices. Some of them, and this isn’t a gender thing though maybe it’s an American thing, have struck me as crybabies who’ve never gone a day without enough grub to shovel down their gullets.
I do like women, though. I will marry one day, I’m sure of this. I dream of her. She comes to my, my wife, an answered prayer, a friend. Maybe she’s just not an American girl.
It’s right, I think, to trust all links to the Almighty. I haven’t always felt this way. I suspect time has been working its charms on me in a baffling unique way. It’s opened me the way it’s opened my old man, my Pop, my father so proud of his sons. None of us has become locked into a Cain and Abel relationship. As brothers, we get along with each other and this pleases the old man, who never had a brother of his own.
Sure, he doesn’t care to talk too much and he gets turned off whenever I start ranting on about global villages and international imperatives and feeling betrayed by government. This comes from my mother’s side of the argumentative beast inside of me. I just come right out and say it. Though my father did like when I told him I couldn’t condone any political system that would punish those with initiative. He also told me in his indirect way that he was more than disappointed, that he sometimes despised the military action in Iraq as much as he despised what he called the corrupting influence of the country’s growing welfare state.
Yeah, my old man is old-school guarded and complicated, the opposite of my mother, who gets injured so often because she tends to remain open. Before they left for Hawaii, we were talking politics and I told them over dinner, “The bastards say what they want. They lie. There’s absolutely no more shame or accountability. Frankly, I don’t know why people put up with it.”
What is a parent supposed to say to that?
They’re both insightful, so they think first, long and hard, before venturing to say a word. In my father’s case, as if he’s far away on another coast, he often says nothing. My mother might respond, in private, but she’ll defer to my father and remark that I should probably take up political issues with him when it’s just the two of us.
They’ve been married nearly fifty years. I wonder if during all that time they ever worried about or considered a divorce. It’s not a topic I’ve ever discussed with them. I wouldn’t know how, wouldn’t feel right doing so. They’re not a perfect couple, but they’re my folks – like a solid, impregnable fortress that as a boy I could go to as a place to hide from all the pain the outside world had inflicted on me. It was the only place where I sure of my allegiances. A stable element in my life, a marriage of sorts, with Mom on one shoulder and the old man on another.
Amen. Yet nothing is stable. A man gets lucky if he meets a good woman. She’ll open him. But not me. Not this night, anyway. I’m icy and want to stay this way. I have the cold the way I like it – with no suggestion of any buzzing or ripples. The stars like talons that scratch at me from the inside out, ripping away the igloo walls that hold captive all my memories.
Sure, I can love someone. It’s possible. I can be a father to the shining source of great gladness in life, though I’m not really sure I can love or trust another person after seeing so many of their faces in the sand of my dreams, knowing they’re all strangers, holding that carnivorous look that rarely softens. Those faces, my ghosts, the dead and living that define what lives and rots frozen inside.
I’ve seen too much so quickly that it’s as if I’ve seen nothing at all. Time. Sort it out and heal and expect no promise the sorting will amount to anything other than more derangement. Still, I won’t sleep with a gun under my pillow. Let them come, either from April springs or in Jeeps that have been rolling days over distant horizons. If I’m not one then I’m two, telling my other selves where I’m going or if I’m coming back. It’s never too late for innocence, mercy, forgiveness and patience, but the rest of it – at least for now and maybe forever – it might all be too late for.
Have to laugh. I feel like one of the chosen few, though I don’t what that means. I sleep in the nude and wake from nightmares just like anyone else. I continue to live without ever fully understanding my own fears and conflicted identity.
The sky, it’s like an opened fridge on a hot day and I’m sweating as I reach in to get myself a beer. I must let life happen, just I let the cold of night become the place I’ve dreamt of as a home.
I hug myself. Pins and needs shingle up the sweat of my back and my ears begin to ring.
Basil Rosa also writes as John Michael Flynn. His first book of essays, How The Quiet Breathes, was published in spring 2020 by New Meridian Arts. His published story collections include Dreaming Rodin, from Publerati, and his most recent, Off To The Next Wherever, from Fomite Books (www.fomitepress.com). Visit him at www.basilrosa.com.
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