Saturday, November 26, 2011

"I'm impossible to forget, but I'm hard to remember." -Claire (Elizabethtown)

You might know a girl like her. Maybe you don’t, though. Because girls like her come walking through your life about as often as a white Christmas down here.

You say she drinks a little too heavy.

Talks a little too rough.

Laughs a little too loud.

Flirts a little too much.

Dances a little too offbeat.

She is not the prettiest one. She is not the funniest one. She is not the smartest one. She is not the richest one. Yet, you can’t help but stare. Something about her makes you feel uneasy, and you can’t put your finger on it. But it’s something to do with the fact that you thought of her last night, and even though she can make your face burn with embarrassment just watching her antics, the thought of her stirred something inside of you. You pictured her and smiled.

Sometimes, she slips right out of your mind when she’s not around. You might forget to call her to come out with the group. You might not remember to remind her about that big party next weekend. You might promise to call and talk awhile, but something else will come up and she will fade from mind like a distant memory.

She will notice. She won’t say anything, but she will notice. It’s not that she doesn’t care. She does. She wants to be remembered just as much as the next person. She just knows better. She knows she isn’t the kind of girl that stays on your mind and consumes you. She’s different.

When she is around, you feel a bit caught off guard but also, you feel special. She looks you straight in the eye. And it’s a little uncomfortable, but only because no one else has ever seen inside of you before. Not like she does. The worst of you and the best of you. She really sees you and either loves you because of it or in spite of it.

In a glance, she can look and see that the insult you just threw out at an old friend is really just a cover up, your defense against getting hurt again.

In a moment, she can look and see that the all the bragging you’re doing is only to hide the insecurity you feel at being surrounded by all these people looking up to you.

In a second, she can look and see that, even though those arms are crossed and you’re staring off into space, you’re hearing every word they’re all saying around you. And she knows you’re building up a wall to protect yourself.

She can look and see. All of it. Straight through. And she knows because she is wise. She’s been you. And you. And you. Her sixth sense is understanding. She’s been through the ringer and lived to understand why people are the ways they are.

So she sees you. And loves you anyway.

And she might slip your mind for awhile. But she’s okay with that because she knows it’s not forever.

A moment will come. When the return insult hits too hard or the bragging fails or the wall falls down and you’re standing alone and vulnerable, you will remember her. And you will wish she was there.

You won’t know why because you really don’t know her at all. You will think about her and realize that she is a perfect stranger, even if you’ve spent all the time in the world together. She knows so much about you. You probably told her your childhood stories and your biggest fears and your dreams for the future at some point, and you have no idea why you did that because you don’t know anything about her, really.

That’s how she prefers it. She already knows why she is here. Her purpose. To make you feel special. To make you feel important. She wants you to know that you do matter. And it’s hard to make someone feel that way about themselves if they know too much. So she sees you and knows you and puts you on top of the world for a moment with a single glance, and you don’t even know she does it, until you need it again and she isn’t there.

She drinks a little too heavy.

Talks a little too rough.

Laughs a little too loud.

Flirts a little too much.

Dances a little too offbeat.

She does it all so that you will look at her instead of looking inside of her. So that she can see you. So that you will remember her later, when it really matters.

She isn’t the kind of girl to disrupt your life for awhile and leave. The kind you think you love but forget about down the line.

She is a shooting star, flying through your life and making you feel significant in this big world.

She is a life force, a breath of fresh air when your lungs want to give out.

At your worst, you will need uplifting. You will need to smile.

And then, you will see her.

You will remember how she made you feel.

And you will know you matter.

She sees souls. She knows people. She will touch you. In this way, she is making herself immortal. She will live on as long as you do because she may be hard to remember but she is impossible to forget.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An open letter to the man in Mayflower.

The scene.

You walk out of the bathroom of a popular, crowded restaurant. It’s a small town and chances are, a few of the other patrons will recognize you in your church garb, so you raise your voice a little, hoping to be seen. Wanting to be heard. Wishing to be noticed.

Someone needs to do something about that, you remark loudly.

Others who have come from the bathroom know what you’re talking about. Especially that little boy who’s hand you’re holding. The one who is looking up to you, trying to figure out how to feel about what he just witnessed.

An old man. He’s shit himself. His eyes are glassy and washed out. His face is sunken in. And he’s stumbling around the bathroom like a drunk on the side of Maple Avenue. He’s shit his fucking pants and you’re in your church clothes trying to have Sunday lunch. You’re disgusted just to be in the same bathroom as him, and you want everyone to know it.

And they do. Some of them walked out muttering the same sentiments you just expressed. Some of them laughed. Some of them eww’d uncomfortably. They can relate. You all see what has happened to this old man. He’s ruining your happy, perfect, Southern USA Sunday lunch. And you all meet eyes and shake your heads in agreement and disgust.

Well, fuck you mister. Fuck you and your Sunday lunch. Fuck you and your church clothes. Fuck you and your prayers and your appearances and your holier-than-thou outlook.

That old man is my grandfather.

He is eighty years old.

He served our country, first as a veteran of the United States military, and then as a psychiatrist helping rehabilitate some of the most mentally unstable citizens in our society.

He is a father to three. He once leaped across a river to save his preteen daughters from being bullied and assaulted by some older neighborhood boys.

He rescues stray kittens. No, really. Like a damn cat whisperer. And he used to have the meanest horse on earth in his backyard, but that horse loved him. So did his pet goat. And babies love him, too.

And so do I.

He’s never raised his voice to me. Although, once, when he had taken in my mother, my sister, and I after my parents divorced, I didn’t clean my room like my mom asked, and he told me he was disappointed in me. My mom was going through a hard time, he said, and with her working full time, all she asked of me was a clean room. He said this calmly, while sitting down next to me, eye level, like I was an adult. No, he didn’t raise his voice at me. But that was the harshest punishment I’ve ever received. He is the only person on this earth who I would ever care about disappointing.

He has this laugh that’s famous in our family. It’s more of a chuckle, really. And it doesn’t show up much anymore, but every once in awhile, when we least expect it, one of those famous chuckles escapes and his eyes twinkle a little, and everyone’s day has been made. We fight each other to say the funniest things, to try and make him chuckle. It’s like a prize, an award, a gift on Christmas day, that laugh is.

And he’s pretty funny, himself. He has these one liners that get everyone going. Just the other day, he was at his first physical therapy appointment since he’s recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. And someone made a comment about how his pants were sagging and he said he used to wear suspenders but he didn’t anymore. Those suspenders got suspended, he said. And the therapist thought it was the most hilarious thing that had ever been said.

My grandfather is a good man. He pays his taxes. He donates to charities.

He has watched his wife battle cancer three times, and now he is watching her die from it. He has seen one of his daughters suffer physical abuse by the hands of a violent man, one of his daughters lose the one man she truly loved, and his only son go through a divorce and depression. He has witnessed more pain than you could ever know.

He has held grandbabies and great-grandbabies. He has kissed boo-boos and taken temperatures and made soup and dressed wounds on all of us. He is super grandaddy.

His eyes are glassy. You’re right, mister. But he’s not glazed over with liquor. He’s suffered through two lasic eye surgeries to try and correct the glaucoma that has stolen his vision from him. But those surgeries didn’t work very well and he still can’t see for shit. He used to be able to shoot a bullseye target with a pistol from fifty yards away. It kills him that he can’t even see to drive his own truck anymore.

And he stumbles. Just like that drunk on Maple. Except, he’s got a balance disorder that also comes from the Parkinson’s. He might have a glass of wine once a week. But he stumbles every second of every day. That same man, the one who once leapt over a river, now can’t get out of his armchair without the fear of falling on his face.

And his stomach issues. He’s struggled with them for over ten years now. And the doctor’s don’t know what’s wrong. They’ve tried for ten years to fix him and they can’t. They almost killed him once though, with a misdiagnosis. They didn’t realize his gallbladder was completely gangrene and he would’ve died except for a nurse named Sean who saved him (I’ll never forget you, Sean, as long as I live).

That old man is my grandfather. I’ve looked up to him my entire life. And he is deteriorating in front of my eyes, and I know it and he knows it and everyone else knows it, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it except watch as it happens.

Maybe he should’ve stayed home. Maybe he shouldn’t have come out that Sunday. Except, he never goes out anywhere anymore. He goes to doctor’s appointments and Sunday lunches with his family. That’s it.

Your Sunday lunch is ruined because that old man in there is stumbling around and he’s shit himself and you had to look at him.

Newsflash. His Sunday lunch is ruined, too. And now, thanks to you, sir, so is any bit of dignity he ever had left. He doesn’t have his vision. He doesn’t have his balance. He doesn’t have control over any part of his body. And now, he has no pride. You’ve stolen the one thing from him that matters to a man more than anything else.

How hard would it have been to offer help? A kind word? To say, sir, stay here and let me find out if there’s anything I can do. Let me talk to your family. Let me help you stand back up.

How hard would it have been to just stay quiet? To avoid shouting out, loud enough for him and everyone else to hear your disgust?

How hard would it have been to show your young son what a true Christian really looks like?

You just came from church. You’re looking dapper in your suit. Fresh. Young. I’m sure you just prayed with the congregation, said your Our Fathers, sang the hymns, shook hands with the preacher, and came in here feeling real good about yourself.

None of it matters.

Nothing you say or pray or wear or do will ever matter as much as what you just took from my grandfather. And what you just put on your young, impressionable son. Now he knows, when he sees someone who is embarrassed and unable to help themselves and may need lifting up, that he can make fun of them. And as long as everyone else agrees, then he can sleep at night.

It’s a cruel punishment from God, growing old is. I hope you are handed a better set of cards to play with than my grandfather has been given. God forbid you ever need the kindness of a stranger.

But, thank you, sir. For teaching me a lesson. I am kinder because of you. I will say less, look more. React less, help more. And should you ever find yourself in a situation like the one you just witnessed? And should I be there to see it happen? I will offer you my hand, sir.

In honor of that old man, my grandfather, the greatest man I’ve ever known, I will offer you my hand.