There’s a classic Bill Cosby routine from my childhood that’s worth a listen. $75 Car. It contains this prophetic piece of dialogue I’ve remembered to this day:
“…And I hit a tree. PIEUM!!! As soon as I hit the tree I remembered, I’m in trouble ‘cuz in my glove compartment I’ve got ten old moving violation tickets, which are like savings bonds. The longer you keep ’em, the greater they mature…”
Hold that thought.
Last year had its full share of trauma. Afar and close by. Boston, north of Waco, China. Not to mention public figures and the well-known that seemingly drop off like flies every year. Those at a distance. A memorial for a widower, the good man that was my neighbor for the last few years, coming up on its one year anniversary. Not to mention another ceremony, for my brother’s in-laws who passed away within two days of each other that’ll strike chords for those marking time nearby.
Then, there was that certain 35th anniversary in 2013, which remains the fulcrum for much more.
Thereby bringing up the following. An uncaring attitude once was my silver bullet for getting through the funeral of the woman that bore me. Didn’t stop loving her. No, simply buried those emotions deep, and the shock to the system, so I could place my mother six feet under. Offhand, I’m sure there’s psych term for the ploy. Just fell back on a competency I learned as a four year-old. Thinking back to when dear ol’ dad deserted mom and her sons after her diagnosis/hospitalization with RA. Stashing the unfathomable into some cubbyhole worked then. Somehow.
“The longer you keep ’em, the greater they mature…”
Fooled myself into believing mom would have been proud. “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” Got it done. Don’t exactly know how my brother pulled through, but somehow he did. No help from me. Through to the day we both carried her casket up that hill, to her grave and laid her to rest. The same one visited a year ago. Kept it all tamped down back then. Of course… l-y-i-n-g to myself, ultimately. Not everyone, though. Especially my grandmother. The mother of my mom, who saw passed her own grief, to warn me of such folly. In spanish, no less.
Twenty-three year olds don’t listen to such things.
Postponing felt permanent. Avoid sorrow at all costs. Which, within hours of the burial, claimed me like some hapless victim in a horror flick. Y’know, when the idiot miraculously thinks he’s gotten away from his dreadful, pitch-black fate. The audience watching him edge along the ground, a palpable relief etched across the fool’s face. Hands outstretched, groping for purchase… only to register wide-eyed shock when the monster’s cold clasp seizes his leg at the last possible moment. The snatched-screaming-down-into-a-ghastly-hell-hole scene. Cliché, I know.
And it felt utterly like that.
Oh, sure. This corpse still functioned. Even resumed work, for what good it did. Little else in the weeks that followed as I merely went through the motions. Macho fits here, I think. Perhaps its only good, masking the inky depression from onlookers, be they family or friends. Every day going deeper into the black. Getting the highest return on the grief stuffed in that glove box of mine. Bloomed to a ripe maturity, alright. Roadkill walking. One who dreamt the bitterest of beauty, scarcely prepared to handle the dead that visited each night thereafter.
Wishing to hell and gone it’d all end.
Lights will guide you home…
Deborah would have none of it. Not Debra, and definitely not Deb. Mind you, Deborah. Had to be a woman. Even my wife reading this would have to admit that, years before we chanced upon one another. Just a friend I met in some forgotten college course a year before, and she’s why I’m here, I reckon. I liked her. A fierce personality that instantly appealed. Smart, without an inkling to dumb down any for those she met. Especially the men she attracted. Just like the woman I married. Without pity, also. And for some inane reason, she liked me.
Besides, she wouldn’t let it go. Had to put me back in the world, dammit. Even if she’d have to drag me out from under to do it. Definitely didn’t treat me like some glass-boned cripple, either. Got me out of the house and into company. Where the survivors trekked about. Even talking, in the bargain. Admitting the guilt that tore at me in this wretched, if entirely normal, rite of passage. To this day, I don’t know if she literally saved my life. May have snapped out of it myself down the line — insert ego talking here. But, I think she did accomplish something more.
A kindness, overlooked.
Thinking back, this was what I remember of those clear, empathetic moments. She didn’t have to, and I wasn’t asking. Did it any-damn-way. Armageddon and Deep Impact bizarrely come to mind here, dropping back on my standby. The cinematic equivalence (I have no shame). Most tasked with studying asteroid impact avoidance subscribe to the deflection theory. The inverse of the masculine, blow-shit-up route. That of nudging an object early enough in their path to avoid an extinction-level event from ever coming about.
I’ve come to believe Deborah accomplished exactly that with the klutz she befriended, and pulled out of misery. For all I know, even prodding me in a direction that claimed eventual orbit with the love of my life. Took ten more rocky years to get there, I’d add. But complete the circuit I would.
To my everlasting regret, I never directly expressed gratitude to the one who reached down. To the woman, sardonically named after a biblical prophet, for the cold-eyed kindness she discharged in ’78. My debt for leaving friendships to die on the vine, as many often do. Till growing up, that is. It’s still there. Admittedly, I can be a selfish individual — my lovely and patient wife would agree, clearly. A shared trait. My father’s son, for sure. Still have a lot to make up for. A “… the tyranny of evil men”-kind-of-thing. No doubt whatsoever in my mind.
My mother’s child, as well, since I can finish the Jules Winnfield quote from Pulp Fiction by heart because she’d find meaning in it:
“… But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”
So, like a message in a bottle, I throw this out into the ether. Wherever she is, maybe one day she comes across and reads this wordy, movie-tinged, and hopefully not too late expression of a heartfelt thank you. Another of the small down payments I owe her, the cosmos, and whatever life I’ve left.