Like Not a Day had Passed

Until recently, it had been more than two decades since I dreamed of him. I think it was in that hazy week or two after his funeral that I woke knowing that we’d spent time together while I slept, but I couldn’t remember what we talked about. I was a year older than him, and we were best friends from about three and four years old until high school. He never went to college. He never had children. He was married briefly. After the accident, I went to see him in the nursing home once. His smile was relentless, so I didn’t know if he was glad to see me. I didn’t even know if he recognized me.

We grew up next door to one another, and my earliest memory of Wayne is playing Hot Wheels on the orange double-track with the loop-to-loop. I had a red Chevelle and he had a blue Mustang. I do not remember how the cars were powered, but they seemed to move at the speed of light. The crashes were extraordinary. We designed crashes more than we raced cars. 

I lost touch with Wayne in high school. We moved in different circles. I took honors classes, and he was in the technical classes. He was destined for mechanical labor, and I was headed toward more than a decade of college and post-graduate studies. I was a reader, and he wasn’t. But in summers, we always found one another, bored out of our minds, looking for something to do. It seems cliché to say it, but when we got together, it felt like not a day had passed.

The summer after I got my license, we would go to the Kentucky Theater to watch the Friday midnight shows. Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same. The Who’s The Kids are Alright. Monty Python’s Holy Grail.  Jack Nicholson in One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.There were other movies that made less of an impression. Once, I wore my brother’s army jacket and brought a six pack of beer in the deep pockets. I remember the metallic sound of the empty cans rolling on the sticky concrete toward the front of the theater. My older brother bought the beer, I think. Or maybe Wayne stole it from his dad’s fridge. 

Wayne’s dad unknowingly provided us with a childhood supply of hidden Playboys and Hustlers. We raided his bourbon and gin, as well. That’s when we were fourteen and fifteen. There’s a rumor that we smoked pretzels and Cheetos, but I will deny this to my death (I will not explain it, so do not ask). I can’t remember where his parents were, but all I can think is that they must have taken his little brother, Ricky, to the lake and left Wayne home to fend for himself. It was a different time then, though.

Wayne was traveling home after midnight from Cynthia where his girlfriend lived when he ran off the road into a horse fence. I imagine the post rising fifteen or twenty feet in the air, turning end over end in slow motion before gravity captured it and slung it through his windshield. In my mind, it’s as if an angry god had thrown a spear. When I saw him in the nursing home, it was difficult to not stare at the misshapen forehead. He was thirty-three then. He passed when he was thirty-four. Has it really been twenty years?

I see his little brother occasionally, not just at funerals. His father’s first. Then his mother’s. Ricky has a good factory job, and he spends his weekends on the lake with women that remind me of his mom. I see pictures of them on Facebook. Last time I saw Ricky, I asked if he remembered chasing Wayne and me around our front yards with balls of shit he’d scooped from his diaper. We evaded the missiles, but my mother made us clean the shit up off the driveway before my dad got home from work. Ricky didn’t remember.

I’ve been remembering Wayne since Covid hit. He’s been in my dreams twice, and there is some urgency in his voice, but I cannot remember what he’s telling me, only that it’s important.

I can’t get out of my mind that when we were eleven, we rode our bikes twenty miles to Paris on the dirt trails along the railroad tracks that bordered our neighborhood. We passed beneath I-75 and across acres and acres of farmland, but at least it was flat. There was a feeling of freedom you can only get when doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. I don’t believe there was a destination in mind, just to ride as far as we could, and now as I write this, I think: Shouldn’t life be more like that? We stopped at a country store in Paris and bought bottled cokes, bags of chips, and candy bars. We sat on a bench eating and drinking, not realizing that time moved on. Did we even believe the day could end? One of us must have realized that it was getting late and we would be in trouble if we didn’t race back home. I remember peddling like our lives depended on it and the feeling of panic, but for the life of me, I do not know if we made it home before our parents. My memory fails me lately. My childhood is no longer the movie it once was, only fading impressions and emotions.

After the first dream, I drove by our parents’ houses. Ricky owns both now, and he lives in the house I grew up in. Before going into the military, Ricky’s son lived in the one he and Wayne grew up in. I slowed down but didn’t stop. Should I have stopped and been forced into an uncomfortable conversation?

When I was fourteen, I told Wayne I wanted to be a writer, and he let me read a few pages of my first novel out loud, maybe even a chapter. I never finished the novel, which was about a small Kentucky town whose sheriff had died. I didn’t find out what killed the sheriff.

I hardly saw Wayne once I started college, maybe at Christmas once or twice, and waving at one another across the yard when we visited our parents. Did we have a conversation after that? We were nothing alike, but we at least shared a childhood.

At the nursing home, I could only stay a few minutes, not because I had anywhere else to be. I didn’t. I was desperate to escape my friend who’d become half of himself. Looking into his dull eyes was a reminder that I had gone off to be who I was destined to be, and I never once looked back to my friend to find out what he was doing. I never called him. I didn’t go to his wedding and may have not been invited. I didn’t invite him to my wedding. He died before my kids were born. Without giving it any thought, I moved on from him and lost part of my childhood forever.

Why in the time of Covid, am I dreaming of my childhood friend? The dreams have stirred these waning, sepia-toned memories, and this has brought great joy. But with every memory, there is a judgment, and it’s all on me. I ask myself this: Had Wayne survived, would I be able talk to him like not a day had passed?

Do Not Go Gently into the Day

[Originally published on this website in 2015 and then published in 2016 by the now defunct Chicago Literati, this is one of those pieces I find myself re-reading so I can rage against indifference and the blase.]

To make sense of what’s on my mind, I’ll start with the simple fact that the Universe is mostly void. It’s a desolate place. Think of this: Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and it takes 8.3 minutes for the sun’s light to travel to Earth and about 17 hours for light to escape our solar system. To reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star, takes 4.3 years traveling at the speed of light. If you wanted to leave the galaxy, you’d have to travel the speed of light for 81,500 years. There are 100,000,000,000 galaxies that make up our Universe. Space is vast. When we look up at night, we see a sky filled with stars, tens of thousands of them, but it’s what we don’t see that I’m interested in.

Think of stars as those moments in life so great or miserable that memories are imprinted in our brains. Now think of all the space in the Universe as the mundane, tedious, day in day out, monotony we suffer through to get to the stars.

What do we remember? The good and the bad. Marriages. Births. Deaths. Vacations. Dismissals. Surgeries. Rejections. Those big moments in life that don’t happen just every day. Firsts and lasts. First love. First kiss. First date. First base. Our kids’ first words, first steps, first lost tooth, first day of school. Lasts hold a spot in our brain until we do that something again. Last roller coaster. Last ingrown toenail. Last lover. Last key lime pie. Recent memories mutate like a snake losing its skin. The passage of time causes recent memory to fade, as though it’s a match that can burn for only so long. And none of us can explain why random memories grab hold and stick in our brain. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the subconscious rooting in to create sustenance for dreams.

So, our minds create memories for various reasons, and whether these memories are road maps or landmines doesn’t really matter. They exist, for better or worse. We don’t want to own every memory, and yet we must.  It happened and there’s no way to unstick that memory now that it’s stuck. The brightest memory in my mind is also the worst, the one that I wished had never happened. My youngest child at nine months old had a blockage of her bowel, an intussusception, and spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. What I carry close to my heart is holding her all that first night before surgery as she tried to climb up and out of my arms to escape her pain. I held onto my fear like it was lightning, and I tried to assume her pain. She survived, and is a happy, healthy eleven-year-old now, but that memory continues to haunt me, as it should. It makes me who I am today.

As do all my memories. All the stars in the sky.

But my thoughts right now are on the time in our lives when memories are not created as time passes, or all that space in the Universe between the stars.  We know that life is filled with the same dance, day in day out, and we push forward because we have no choice. We climb out of bed at unreasonable times in the morning to go to work or take our kids to school. Even if we could stay in bed or lay on the couch all day to watch mindless television, most of us wouldn’t. Our minds are programmed to move forward, get work done, finish A, B, and C on the to-do list. We’re not hunter and gatherers anymore, but cogs and gears in the great machine that never stops. So we put one foot forward, then the other, and so on, all because we have our roles to play.

And we wait for the next moment that will form into a memory. But is that any way to live? It becomes a life filled with lost moments expecting something to happen. We don’t have to be like that. Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to make a memory, like molecules of hydrogen and helium igniting to burn so bright they become a star. If we treat every moment like it’s significant, then it is.

That we’ve become part of the machine doesn’t mean we have to be in a slow march to death like everyone else. Some days it feels like that, a constant barrage of weight pulling us down, and we succumb to it. We give in.  Tomorrow will be just like today, so why struggle with what was, what is, and what shall ever be? Except we don’t have to be numbed by the unfailing sameness of life. We don’t have to be participants in the norm. The constant. The usual. Life is not a railroad with predetermined destinations. We can go anywhere, do anything, be anybody, if we’ve got the guts to do so.

We shouldn’t live with the anticipation of memories. We should make memories. We should jump up and down, have a fit, smile in the face of normality, just so today will be different. We can say we seized the day, took it by the horns, and threw it to the ground. Will it make a memory? Maybe. But if not, as least we didn’t participate in passive acceptance.

Do not go gently into the day, for our hearts and minds should burn and rave from morning to evening. We should rage, rage against the indifferent, the blasé, the common, the everyday. Do not go gentle into the day. Makes memories. Be someone else’s memory. Don’t be passive. That’s what was on my mind. I hope I’ve created a memory.

Lucinda

My family used to take an annual trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. We would park our car at the rented house or condo on North Forest Beach Drive and not move it the rest of the week. To eat or shop, we rode bikes, either on the beach or the walking paths that crisscross the island.

One afternoon, after lunch at Steamers in Coligny Circle, my oldest daughter pedaled behind me on the tag-a-long bike. We always had a running conversation when we biked. She was seven or eight and was filled with questions. She was the Energizer Bunny of questions, although I would never say that her questions were tiresome. Never.

The bike path ran along North Forest Beach Drive, although there were certain parts of the path that cut through an empty, forested lot, with palm trees, big oak trees, a few pines, all with Spanish moss hanging. We called it the jungle, and occasionally saw tigers, lions, snakes, opossums, and other wildlife. At that age, kids have a larger imagination than we do. She saw the animals. This day, she was quiet as we went through the forest. When we were back into the bright South Carolina sunshine, I looked back and asked, “Did you see the ghost back there?”

Her eyes got big, and she asked me the ghost’s name. I told her Bob. She asked why Bob the ghost was in the jungle on the path. I explained he lived on the beach, and he was wandering looking for his family who had left him after he died on the island. She wanted to know why his family left him. “His family couldn’t see him,” I answered.

“But we can!” she said.

She continued with her questions throughout the day. Where’s he from? How old is he? How’d he die? On and on. For the rest of the vacation, Bob stayed close. We ate our meals with him. We built sandcastles and flew kites with him. He shopped with us. We waved at him as we passed by on our bikes.

We left the island four or five days later, but the ghost and a little girl who asked him questions stayed in my thoughts. You could say Bob haunted me, but I was less interested in Bob, than I was the little girl he watched build sandcastles. She was nine in my mind, maybe a year or two older than my daughter. I realized she was troubled, and she needed saving, and Bob the Ghost was there to save her. When I sat down to write the story, months later, this was all I knew about Lucinda. It was enough of a spark to carry me forward.

I do not remember how long it took me to finish Lucinda’s Ghost or how many drafts I did. When I published it on December 3, 2012, I had a sense of urgency. I saw this novel as a path for writing to be my day job. My only job. But the story wasn’t ready. There were flaws. Lucinda was not really nine, and her brother was not three. They acted older than they were. I had done my own copyediting, and there were obvious errors. The most unfortunate was that Bob was a high school English teacher at one point, but then a history teacher. After a year, I pulled the novel from Amazon, and I put it aside. I was not really embarrassed by my effort, only disappointed. I still believed in the story. Others believed in Lucinda’s Ghost as well, and many gave Lucinda love for which I am grateful. Editorial comments were provided by a few, and those were set aside for later, as a beginning point.

When I opened Lucinda’s Ghost eighteen months ago, I read it with fresh eyes, and I found the flaws to be minor. In my first post-publication edit, I aged Lucinda to eleven, and her brother, Woodrow, to five. I added an important chapter and epilogue. A friend referred me to Bob Nailor. He edited certain idiosyncrasies of my writing and gave the story a renewed life. He especially liked that Bob the ghost was his namesake.

Lucinda’s Ghost is a kid book meant to be read by adults, and an adult book meant to be read by kids. It’s hard to market to eleven-year-olds, so the only way for Lucinda’s Ghost to really blossom is for parents to read it and want their kids or nieces and nephews to read it. It’s an easy read, but I believe it will take your mind off your difficult day for a bit.

Lucinda’s Ghost is live on Amazon, available as a paperback here and as an e-book for Kindle or the Kindle app here. I’ve poured my heart and soul into these words. I hope you enjoy.

Prattling About

I’m back…Well, I’m coming back. Soon. Just screwing with the website while I put the finishing touches on Lucinda’s Ghost, which will be self-published on Amazon in the not-too-distant future. I can’t spend too much time here, because I have work to do. Mostly, I had the need to put this picture out into the world again…

Lucinda’s Ghost was published on December 3, 2012 as a Kindle book on Amazon and removed from Amazon on December 3, 2013. She needed work and some love, and I have given both. Since I first published Lucinda, I have written four novels and a slew of short stories, and I am still exactly where I was the day I hit the publish button, except I have a greater understanding of what I want to do and what I can do. I haven’t scaled back my dreams. I’ve made the canvas larger to fit all my dreams. Lucinda’s Ghost was the first step in the marathon I’m running, and I’m a lot closer, just now getting my second wind.

The website is here for me the prattle about, nothing more. I have no illusions that I’m creating art. Just one voice talking about myself and what I see in my world. If someone finds something I have written interesting, maybe he or she will end up here and get some benefit or comfort from my words. Nothing written here will be life altering. Perhaps there will be insight into my mind (God help us). I will keep adding details over the next month so that it is a proper writer’s website, and I will post when I have a date Lucinda’s Ghost will be sent out into the world. Maybe, I will re-post some of my favorite blogs.

Until then, be kind. Be good.