I drive to work, the morning of the 17th, but in my head I am longer in the car but rather I stand on a stage, with four of my best friends behind me. My brother settles his massive frame into a seat behind a drum kit. Brian grins at me as he slips a bass guitar on up over his shoulder. Over in the corner, my old buddy Bob stands in behind a keyboard set-up. My boy Dan strolls out with his guitar in hand. I look out into bright lights, practically blinded, but I can see a mass of several hundred people assembled in front of us, happy, eager, drunk, ready to rock and roll just as the clock strikes midnight.
I step up to the mic.
"You folks ready fer some tunes?" I ask, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The crowd roars back at us. I take one last long swig on an ice-cold sixteen ounce can of Rolling Rock and turn to my boys and give them the go signal. Brian starts thumping on the bass, Dan plinks out a rhythmic high-pitched riff. I close my eyes and start singing,
"There was that whole weird thing with the horses..."
OK, I think, get ahold of yourself; you're singing to an audience of one. Forty-six years old with four kids, a wife, a job as a desk jockey, and clinging desperately to the liferafts they've thrown out to drowning middle class. Rock-and-roll fantasies are so passe kids don't even have them anymore, do they, and even if they do, it's unbecoming of old guys to construct those daydreams, right?
Then again, perhaps we're never too old for make-believe. Actually, and I have no hard scientific evidence backing me up here, but, sometimes I think we need more and more make-believe the older we get. The truth gets uglier the longer we live, our eyes open wider, the aches and pains and the slings and arrows and heartbreaks pile up; people you love get sick and die, YOU get sick and die, and the wholesale suffering of the human race gets harder and harder to shout down.
I watch the news, footage of bombs going off, of factories exploding. I hear about people in intensive care, and, selfishly I suppose, whenever I hear the words "intensive care," even six years on, I first think of a west-facing room in a hospital in Albany, New York, I think of my first wife lying in that room, her long auburn hair long gone, shaved down to a crew cut, tubes running in and out of her brain and her mouth, who she was once was buried behind the beeping machines that kept her alive, barely. I think of a sign above her bed that read something along the lines of, "no left skull plate."
Then again, maybe it's not selfishness, but empathy. Yeah, my mind goes back to my own experiences when I see death thunder down upon the unsuspecting, but my heart goes out to the victims and the ones they leave behind, because I know all too well what they are in for, having made the lonely walk through the hard rain of deep grief myself.
"I remember the OTB,
the five second delivery..."
I drive on, not caring whether or not I sound foolish, I keep on singing, with my people kicking in behind me, and we sound loud, flinty, and full of wisdom, we sound like we know what the fuck we're talking about when we talk about life.
None of us know, of course, and I suppose that's why some of us go back to living in our heads. Things can seem a little clearer there. The unexpected gets beaten back, we defeat it in our heads, we keep winning; the losing only happens to some vague other. The flimsy assumptions that give us the strength to follow through with our daily rotines get challenged only occasionally, and only when we know we have the answers we need to put those challenges in their places.
It's the morning of the 17th.
I drive to work.
In my head, it's the 17th alright. The 17th of April, 1993.
I pop a CD into the car's player, a record with immense sentimental value, not the one I sing in front of a crowd in my head. "Goodbye Jumbo" from World Party.
Damn, but the past, even the distant past, sometimes seems close enough to taste sometimes. I suppose Faulkner nailed it when he said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." I play my favorite song from the album, "When The Rainbow Comes," and I'm back there, in my old bedroom in apartment four at 176 Chestnut Street, the 17th, 1993, the sun breaking in through the wooden shutters that didn't quite fit the long, tall windows.
Saturday, April 17th, 1993. My father would turn fifty the next day. My mother had a party that Saturday to mark the occasion. She made spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parm. Some family, some friends invited to celebrate. I unveiled Lauren to the family that evening. She was nervous. I told her to relax, that they'd love her, which they did. I told her my Dad never talked. That night he talked non-stop, regaling the audience with tales, some funny, some sad, from his crazy childhood.
"I thought your Dad never talked," she said to me on the way back to my place.
"I don't know what got into him. I guess turning fifty made him think or something."
I'll be turning forty-seven myself next month; almost as old as my Dad was that night twenty years ago.
On Friday, my mother had a party in his honor; his seventieth. A few weeks ago he found out he has cancer. Curable and treatable he kept telling me, and I'll believe that until I have reason not to. But who knows. Lauren went into the hospital for an operation and they said she'd come home in a week; four weeks later she came out in a hearse.
My father seemed pleased as his children and grandchildren filled his house with talk and laughter and noise. He talked, but not as much as he did when we celebrated his fiftieth. He turned the TV on so he could watch the cops in Boston try to catch the marathon bomber. I was eating a piece of cake with ice cream when I heard him say, "they got the guy. He's alive. Didn't think they'd get him alive."
And now it's Sunday night coming down, the weekend down to a few barely-burning embers visible only to the dead-enders like myself who refuse to let go. Seven hours from now the alarm will ring in a new week, the routine will start again, and I'll be glad for it; these days the routine consists of a decent job, a house full of happy and healthy children that I share with a woman I love. The routine is underrated sometimes, I think; I've seen what happens when it disappears suddenly, without warning.
Disaster, always a breath away, seems not to be looking for me tonight, and I feel grateful. But for some reason, though I should get to bed, I can't sleep, and I don't even want to. I'm not singing, but listening to someone else sing through headphones, listening to someone sing, "everything dies baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies, some day comes back."
In love with the present but haunted by the past and by the future, I rise to put on my shoes and my jacket. The moon hangs bright and the air hangs still and cold. I will walk for a bit, and hang onto to what lies in my head. Sleep can wait: I am restless.