When I was 8 years old and my dad had a heart attack the world around me exploded. Everyone came to our little grubby house to visit, helped clean, brought endless anemic offerings in dingy Tupperware bowls and spent hour after hour driving my mom to and from the hospital.
I played in my perfectly square room. I played under the bed with my flashlights and my GI Joe just like I did when my dad was home,
in my stiff blue Toughskins and my red sneakers like every other child in the 70's. I played in my room like I was supposed to. I missed my dad, but I knew he would come home and we would all just go back to being the way we were before he clawed at his chest and throat, dropped the pruning shears and fell off the ladder into the camellia bush.
He came home, and just like I thought, he joined me and GI Joe and all was well.
When my Grandmother had a stroke, when I was 19 years old, I went to the hospital for a few hours and looked at her. She was a small woman with a harsh face. I knew she loved me, but I didn't always feel it. The day she got so cold and tried to call for help while her body trembled I was in the woods behind my house smoking hash in the pony shed. We were neighbors, and I was supposed to go play cards with her that afternoon, but somehow it just seemed like a much better idea to get stoned and think about how hard it was to be around her.
She squeezed my hand as they pushed the stretcher into the clean, white ambulance. That was the last conscious interaction we had. I wanted to read her my poems as I stood at her bedside later, but was afraid she wouldn't like them. She was in a coma, but I knew she could hear me. I just held her hand while she sighed into a thicket of tubes and drip bags.
A few days later my grandmother died while I unbuttoned my girlfriend’s jeans under a bridge in a park. We smoked cigarettes, naked in her olive green sleeping bag and listened to the thunder rumble through the empty belly of the late May sky.
While one of my friends was dying, I absent mindedly sucked oysters from the shell and swished lukewarm champagne across my teeth near by. Happy Birthday to me.
When another painted his prized record collection with bits of his beautiful, stormy brain I tinkered with the rusty lawn mower in my backyard.
Somehow I have never been there when I needed to be. I just missed it.
I was present to help deliver my daughter into the world. This I did correctly, I hope. She spent her first hours sleeping on my chest after poor, tired wife drifted off after a brief, painful labor.
Now my own mother struggles against her body, against age. Against the effects of her stroke. Now I have fatherhood, marriage and work to shield me from the rawness of letting go of someone. Of surrendering part of my love to the hungry, dark mouth of faith.
Faith is the thing that I have hidden my hands from, under bridges, against a warm breast, an unfamiliar heartbeat. Racing in secret, behind the sharp, sweet smell of a small stone pipe, adrift in the perfect sea-green of a half empty empty bottle or falling into a palm full of perfect pink pills. Escaping into the hollows and constant loneliness of strange cities, creased postcards and one cigarette after another, while the voices of pigeons whispered the names of everyone I had ever failed. Cooing away to me in the rusty arms of an underpass while a tide of cars washed overhead.
Buried in the emptiness of my own words, the sad radiance of old photographs, of dozens of lit candles in my garden on The Day of The Dead. The sound of my Mother's slurred speech. The image of my Father walking slowly to the mailbox, almost deaf now, the sun warming the top of his balding head.
I have spent so much of my life trying to escape the eyes of faith, the eclipse of believing that tomorrow is coming.
But the sound of my home, the sound of my wife and my child sleeping in the next room overpowers me now.