Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Endings

Beginnings are, for the most part, easy to spot. First something isn't, and then it is. You really do know that something has begun. I'll concede this isn't always the case, but usually, it is. Of course, there is the rare example where something has begun, and you don't know it until you take a moment to look back, and realize, well, there it is; that was the beginning. It may be a happy thing, or a sad thing, or even a nothing thing. But its begun just the same.

When I was a kid, my folks used to take us camping on summer vacations in some campground upstate NY, or out east on Long Island. On one of these vacations, my brother and I met up with a couple of kids, a brother and sister, while we were fishing for sunnys. Their names were Erik and Elena. Ah, Elena. I was young, but at that turning-point age where I certainly noticed girls. Now at first I treated Elena like I would any other new kid we met while fishing. Just a cool kid who liked to fish, could catch a sunny with a pencil float just as good as the next guy. But Elena was not a guy. All the social skills I'd honed from hanging out with my friends failed me miserably in this situation.

Over the two week vacation, we fished, hung around, and just did what we always did. But I started to feel something when I wasn't around Elena. I actually had a pang, or a hurt in my chest. It was an odd feeling. I came to realize, that I liked Elena. You know what I mean, I don't mean liked, I mean liked. Elena and I soon became inseparable, and it was pretty apparent that she felt the same for me. We even held hands when no one was looking. Alright, it was puppy love, I was a kid, but it was amazing to me. I felt so good when we were together. And when we were apart, oh, I actually cherished the aching in my heart because I felt alive. I cherished even more, the anticipation of seeing her the next time. Elena would change everything for me. My first love. I'll admit that was a beginning I didn't see coming, didn't realize it was even happening, but looking back, its pretty clear. *Poof* A beginning.

Now endings. Those are tricky buggers. As with beginnings, let's dispense with the obvious endings that are easy to spot. Again, I concede those. But what of the endings that sneak up on us? The last time I saw Elena, I knew, obviously it was an ending. We made the obligatory good-byes, I'll see you here next summers, and I'll write you's. Our mouths were the paint brushes and our words the paint. Our every breath put the final strokes on the portrait of our relationship that I would hang proudly, and fondly, in the gallery of my youth. We did write, and stay in touch, for quite a few years. What I didn't realize was that was the last time I'd ever see Elena. She lived far away, and we never did go to that campground on the same two weeks in the summer. She was my Sandy and I was her Danny. We were worlds apart, but there was no end of school carnival for us at Rydell High. It wasn't just an ending, it was the ending.

This takes me to my point. Yes, I got here in a rather round-about way, but its my blog, so suffer with it, or scurry along for some other instant gratification. Beginnings are like Christmas mornings: packed with dozens of unopened gifts, their contents may be good, or bad, but certainly interesting. Certainly unknown. Endings hurt. Especially the ones, you don't see, or that pass by unnoticed for quite some time. Then, when you realize you missed a moment, it's too late to savor it, to take that last look, to hold hands one last time. All that's left is the "I wish I's" or the "I should have's". That, and angst. Even endings to the happiest things, always have a sense of sadness to them.

I grew-up in the same home that my parents brought me to after I was born. I lived there for 22 years, learned how to ride a bike, play catch, climb trees, skin my knees, and all sorts of things. Always in the same home. I moved out when I got married, and always took for granted that the home would be there. We visited my folks for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and assorted other special, and not so special occasions.

My folks grew older, they both retired, and decided it was time to sell the house and move away. Their house was vacant for a few weeks in-between their moving and selling, and they asked me to stop by and check on it every now and then. I did this at least a couple of times. What I didn't realize, or the connection I didn't make, was that the last time I stopped in, would be the last time. It didn't really occur to me until I passed by the house almost a year or so later. I slowed to see what the new people had done to the place. Then it hit me. I couldn't go in there any more. I could see the sidewalk along the house, leading up to the steps. The same sidewalk where I'd ridden my bike hundreds, maybe thousands of times. I could still see the images, the ghosts of my brother and me and our friends, playing happily and carelessly. Those familiar cracks in the concrete, that house, the room I called mine, the basement where my brother and I had fantastical adventures during rain storms were all relegated to my memory now. Never to be seen or touched by me again. Only to be remembered. Another portrait on another wall in the gallery of my life.

An ending, the finality of which I didn't see. I had a small hurt inside, that felt suspiciously like the way I felt when I said good-bye to Elena. What made it even worse, was there was nothing I could do about it. The ending came of its own volition, like an uninvited apparition in the middle of the night. Close my eyes though I might, muster all the will and wherewithal I could to stand against it, the ending came just the same.

Endings, are indeed, tricky things.

Kinoini.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What Defines A Life?

What defines a life? Not the biology definition, I’ll leave that up to the scientists. I mean, what defines a life, what is its value? How did I become the man I am? Nature, nurture? Genetics? Fate?

I can look back at my life, at the thousands of days, tens of thousands of hours, and much of it is a blur. I can’t tell you what I ate, or did, or watched on TV on any particular day. I can’t tell you if it rained, or if I was sick, sad, happy. But there are times, that it seems that life slowed, came sharply into focus, and I remember those things. Some of my older memories are so out of context, I can’t remember how old I was, or even what month it was, but I remember. Are these things, these crystal clear snapshots, what build the foundation, the walls, the structure of my character?

When I was young, very young, my brother and I had a tree fort. It was actually two: one in each set of trees a few feet apart from each other. I climbed into one, and could see into the other. I saw a huge spider in the other tree fort. It was huge to me, and since I was little, probably not that big today. But there it was. I was scared to death, but also fascinated. I carefully laid out a plan in my head, so as to avoid being captured or bitten by said tree-fort-invading-monstrous-spider. I picked up a stick and slowly climbed up to peer into the fort.

Here’s where my memory fractures, like trying to look at my own reflection in a broken mirror; different angles of the same image, but I can’t quite make sense of what I see. The spider was in fact a dried paper-like body. When I poked it with the stick it just crackled like paper, and broke. I tried a few times and ended up making a mess of the whole thing. Here’s the thing that stands out in my mind. I felt enormous relief that the monster-spider was dead, and couldn’t harm me. But almost flush with relief came a moment of sheer terror. What if the spider had shed its too-small skin, and was lurking nearby? Maybe sick, or hurt…or hungry? The hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I was paralyzed with fear. Fear. I never did found out what it was. Maybe my brother was playing a trick on me. He doesn’t remember.

When I told my Mom, she didn’t believe me. She thought I was mistaking a toy for this monster. My memory fades off here. I don’t remember if I showed her the proof, or even if there was any proof left. I actually can’t remember anything after that.

The point is, its there. Among all the days, and weeks, there it is, this piece of driftwood on the sandy beachscape of my memory. To me it’s obvious, that I’m a collection of memories, meaning, that I function, because I remember, collectively, all the things that have gone before. I remember not to touch the stove, I remember my phone number, who my mom is, and how much I love my wife. Everything I do, feel, say, think are contingent on that collection of memories.

But is that me? Is that my life, this pixelized canvas. Would I be the same if that spider memory wasn’t there? Or maybe another was missing? How much of who I am, is me, my soul, my personality? Or would anybody, with the same memories plugged-in, turn out to be me? I guess philosophers and psychologists have tackled this question, long before my time, and will continue to do so long after I’m gone. After the ocean of time has eroded away my little patch of beach, and my pieces of driftwood.

So will I have mattered? Do I matter now? See where I’m going with this? If something so small, this tiny memory might (let’s agree, for simplicity sake it does) impact the totality of my consciousness, then do I impact the totality of humankind? Where do I fit in? What is the value of my life?

Do I matter?

Kinoini

I Think I Lost My Glasses

In the midst of all the mayhem and chaos, I realized I’d lost my glasses. It was an odd moment to think about something so minor, what with the woman screaming in the background, the emergency vehicle lights flashing like obscene holiday decorations, and the cop barking orders for me to fill out the accident report. It was then that I’d realized that I lost my glasses. Silly, huh?

Just about 10 minutes before this delightful moment, I was driving with my son after having picked him up from his mother’s house, and we were talking about going to the driving range the next day. It was a warm September evening; the Sunday night before Labor day. Why golf? Just about a month earlier, some co-workers, and dare I say “buddies”, had asked me to join them at the driving range after work. I use the term “buddies” loosely because they were “moment buddies”: the moment they stopped being my co-workers, they stopped being buddies. Got it? Jolly old friends and all, keep in touch, good luck, say hi to Martha and the kids, break a leg. Poof. Who was the guy that sat there last year? Anyway, these buddies had talked me into going. I despised golf, but they convinced me that we would have a few laughs, and mock each other about how poorly we’d just hit the unsuspecting little golf ball.

So I went. I picked up a club for the first time since my chubby little fingers had wrapped around a plastic Fisher Price golf club from the set my parents bought me when I was too young to remember how young I was. I whacked the hell out of the ball. Perfect. Since I suck at most sports, this excited me. With the irresistible force of a gambler hitting twenty-one on the first hand he’s dealt, I was hooked. Another slobbering idiot patting himself on the back for the one shot out of a hundred that doesn’t slice so bad that it comes around like a boomerang in the Australian out back, hitting a fellow golfer squarely in the back of the head.

So here I was, talking to my son about going to the driving range. The light ahead was green for us as we headed into the intersection, which had recently been re-designed to make things safer and smoother. Making things safer and smoother meant painting an inordinately large amount of lines on the pavement to direct us as to where we should be when we’re making turns, going straight, or whatever course we’re so choosing to take, up to and including some kid running a red light and smashing into us head on. But I digress. Seriously, there are more lines on the pavement in this intersection than there are on the face of an alcoholic, chain-smoking school teacher, who’s retired to Florida, and spends way too much time sitting in the sun whining to her friends about whether or not her daughter, Pansy, will be visiting this summer with her no good husband and bratty two kids. Yep, that’s a lot of lines.

But that’s not what caused the accident, or so I think. I actually have no idea what was in the mind of the other driver that night. I saw the headlights coming at me from the other way, and thought nothing of it. I had the green, so if the car was making a left, there would be no problem because they had the red. So we talked about golf, right up until she smashed into me, head on. All I remember is talking golf, headlights, brake, boom, lots of things flying in slow motion inside the car, airbag, then quiet. Somewhere in there, I honestly remember thinking its been a nice life, but you can’t win ‘em all. Instinct took over and I tried to steer the car so the driver’s front side took the hit in order to protect my son. As it turns out, we weren’t physically hurt. Well, except for bruises from the seat belt, and friction burns on my arms from the air bags. Mentally, though, I’d be changed forever. That’s another story.

I checked my son out, he was fine, but scared shitless. So was I. I walked over to other car and all I could see was that driver was dazed and apparently in distress. I asked the passenger if they were ok, and she said, “Let’s just let the lawyers work it out.” Umm, ok. I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, but I knew that didn’t bode well. So I walked away, called 911, my fiancĂ©, then my son’s mother.

So I’m standing there, talking to the cop, my fiance’ on one side, my ex-wife on the other, and the other driver screaming in the distance with injuries unknown, when I reached up to take off my glasses, and realized they weren’t there. I know I had them on, but they were gone.

I think I lost my glasses. We never found them.

Kinoini