California has worn me quite thin...
Too much travel, too many time zones, too much dang working. The folks I've met have been great; and I've met a few ladies (civie and among our sisters) that I will do my best to stay in touch with, and hopefully see again; but this hundred hours a week thing is just too much for an old guy. Got to pull over soon and get a little rest.
Come July 6, I'll be heading back to where I belong. I can hear Carolina calling, and the first place I'm going is Charleston, where my favorite beach is...
Can you say jet lag?
Visiting hours didn't start until nine, and my daughter had never been in this part of the country before. Country people get up early; so does an old warhorse like me. It was pretty much light when I woke up at 5, so I got dressed, made some coffee (or carburetor cleaner?) and went and banged on the door to her room and told her let's go see some nature.
I was amazed that this suggestion met with no resistance. My youngest really wanted to see her big brother. She didn't give a hoot about what type of shape he might be in, or whether he would ever even know she'd been there. She would know. And that was the only thing that counted.
Time to kill, so we went for a walk and looked at the Mountains. These are bigger hills than the ones closest to home; smaller than the ones an hour away. They're different in color and vegetation than either.
I'm a fan of mountains. Vast expanses of level land leave me feeling disoriented. It's like a lens with no focal point. The light has no direction, and the resulting sameness of it all overwhelms me.
It's much different than that here. Among the hills are lots of valleys with subtle differences. One valley features a great stand of trees, the next a stream, the next farmland with cattle grazing. All have the same features, but the emphasis changes from one open spot to the next. It reminds both of us of home in the best of ways. Then the alarm on my cell phone beeps, signaling it's time to go back and get ready for the point of this whole visit.
My son will be 24 at the end of August. When he was 22, he was, or seemed to be, the perfect specimen of the young male. He was cocky to a fault, competitive as a wolverine, and constantly horny. Would any one of us aging boys deny we were the same at that age? Then he met a little lady that got control of both his heads and took him for a ride. That ride broke him on many levels, but the primary breakage appears to be to his mind. It may also be the result of the three weeks he spent drinking a quart of liquor a day. That binge was in mourning for his lost love. Pick your poison; dealer's choice. Emotional or physiological, the root cause is not clear. But the attempted suicide happened.
It wasn't all that serious, physically speaking. It was a short stay in the hospital, and then came the mandatory two weeks observation in the psychiatric ward. During the observation phase he withdrew to the point that he stopped responding the way a "normal" human being responds to its surroundings.
The mandatory two weeks had not yet expired, and the law was clear about the next step. He was transferred to the county psychiatric facility. They started with the latest round of drugs to bring him out of his unresponsive state. It worked, in a way; he swung from mildly catatonic to berserk. They played with dosages and combinations until they had him sedated to their satisfaction. Then they simply made sure he didn't hurt himself in any way.
During this time his sister and I were 24/7 on the internet trying to find a place to help him. We were looking for a place that could deal with either root cause with a responsible combination of therapy and chemical rebalancing. We found one. He's been with them a long time now.
So we're at the front gate at 8:45 and in the waiting room by 8:50. My youngest is everywhere; at the magazines, at the nurse's station, Ricochet Rabbit moved slower. When 9 finally came, my son walked into the visiting area, hugged his sister, and stuck out his hand to me in a man-to-man gesture. He didn't flinch when I brushed it aside and threw my arms around him. Shake hands, hell.
I was frankly amazed by the changes. But when I looked into his eyes I noticed his smile never quite reaches them. He's holding onto something he needs to let go of. At least that was my thought, so I opened a conversation about things. Nothing specific, just some topics that would encourage him to participate. His sister joined in, and gradually we worked it around to his one true love. He looked at me and told me he was embarrassed to talk about it with me. Because he'd made such a huge mistake over a woman, and I could never make a mistake like that, and so on. I had to swallow a laugh, because I knew if I didn't he would think I was laughing at him. Where did he get such an absurd idea? I wouldn't do anything stupid over a woman? Saints preserve us.
This bubble had to be popped. So I suggested we all get drinks and find a comfortable spot, dear old Dad had a story to tell. And when we were comfortable, that's just what Dad did. All of it, straight out, with no editing for the younger crowd.
My youngest chimed in with her own admission of humanity. I knew the story, but it took her brother as much by surprise as learning his old man was just as stupid as any man born. And he started talking about his own "failure", not straight-on, all around the edges; but a start just the same. He was talking.
Suddenly it was lunchtime. He's been a dependable sort lately, so we could take our lunch outside. He didn't want to talk about his love anymore, and we didn't want to push too hard, so we talked about other things, and ate some really good institutional food.
Then we went for a walk with more aimless talk. It was so good to hear him speaking I would have talked about making bubbles in the bathtub if that's what it took to keep him going.
Time to leave came too soon. Another brother-sister hug. This time goodbye. When my turn came we skipped the whole handshake thing and went right to the hug. When he let go, I stepped back and looked in his eyes, and was delighted to see that I had fallen from perfect grace. Yes, son, I'm as human as you.
We finished our goodbyes and everyone waved and smiled. The smile didn't reach his eyes, but I thought that just maybe he looked a little less alone. Or was it just the hope that two people caring could make a difference?
I choose A.
I changed my plans yesterday. I was sitting out back of the plant with the boys, waiting for the bean counters to arrive and admiring another corn desert dawn. It occurred to me that I hadn't been home in six weeks. It occurred to me that driving home not only required fourteen hours, but also involved passing through some countryside that had recently been, and might still be, under water.
Most of the time I hate my cell phone; it rings at inconvenient times, often has irate people on the other end, and if you believe the doomsayers, will ultimately cause me cancer of the brain. But sometimes it's a very useful item, always ready when a change of plans becomes attractive. I made three calls. One to my travel people to get an airplane home, one to Hertz so they could tally my drop-off fee, and one to my youngest child, so that she'd have time to clear the house of her assorted boyfriends and pick up the old fossil at the airport.
Two out of three were more than happy to take my money; the third call got a delighted squeal and a lot of really fast talk about how she'd have to go to the store, much cooking to be done, people to invite, and so on. I'm a chronically foolish man; I tried to talk her out of her plans, pleading exhaustion and a desire to see just her. I can make a machine do dang near anything, but the women in my life have always run over me like a tank. There would be a party and I'd just as well adjust to that fact.
The bean counters arrived, the correct funds changed hands, I endured the usual coffee and cake send off, and I was gone.
I drove up to O'Hare and went through the inherent hassles that large airports hold in store. But I didn't let it faze me, I was going home. Delays and alibis followed as always, but eventually I was airborne, then in Atlanta, then in my own neck of the woods.
As I was walking through the gate, I heard the sound I've always treasured. A high-pitched shriek of "Daddy!" and then my daughter was in my arms. Home. The old road warrior was finally home.
She was chirping away about the party she'd planned and all the people that were there and all the fixin's she'd worked on all day. I let her drive so I could look at her and marvel once again how much of her mother was there. A little taller, hair a little browner than auburn, but the same basic shape, the same eyes, and the same smile. Butch always complained about having to clean his shotgun on the porch every night. One look at the woman my little girl has become made me understand why he felt it was necessary.
When we got home it looked like the scene of an accident. All the lights were burning, people were everywhere, and the stereo was loud enough to hear from the bottom of the mountain. There were no strangers there, just the folks from close by, and the moonshine my neighbor makes had already taken its toll. Drinking raw shine is not on my approved list, so I stuck with red wine and amused myself dancing with the neighbor ladies.
The party lasted until dawn. At that point I was out back, propped up in a chair on the deck with my feet up on the rail, facing east and waiting for sunrise. I had good coffee in my cup, I'm not allowed to make it at home, and my youngest was telling me about her latest dream. She wants to be a chef. She's enrolled in a school down in Charleston that will start her on her way. It's a good dream and if I were betting on the outcome I'd have to put my money on her.
We're going to Albany, NY tonight, to see my broken boy. He never recovered from redneck Barbie; he took sharp objects to himself and tried to stop the pain. I didn't understand at the time. But I've learned a little more about women and pain since then and I've got a better handle on what made him reach for the razor. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps the force that many refer to as God was trying to create some common ground, a place where understanding could grow.
I don't know. I only know that I love him, and if I can help him with his pain I'm back to doing my real job. The one with the short title. Dad.
On the road again
My original plan was to accept my current customer's kind offer to let me coast this week until Thursday and use Friday as a travel day. I find my conscience won't let me do that. Just hanging around and applying little tweaks to things that are running very well feels like larceny. The Jesuit Fathers and the Sisters of the Stainless Steel Ruler would be very disappointed if I continued on this path; it's time to close shop and get on the road. But I'm leaving on a good note both professionally and personally.
After months of dancing with the boys up Chicago way, I checked my bank account today and was very pleased to find that I had finally been reimbursed for my invoices. All of them. Finally I can pay for Butch's last hospital stay, for his funeral, for my son's therapy, and for my daughter's tuition in the chef school she's starting down in Charleston. After scraping by on pickup jobs and promises of payment, all balances are healed, plus a little bit more that I can leave in the sock. Being in the black makes me feel whole again. Owing is not a comfortable place when you haven't been there for a long time. It was frightening in many ways, and I'm damn glad that chapter has come to a close. Never again will I let someone string me along with promises. Cash on the barrelhead or show them my back. I am not a charity.
I'm thinking about two people right now, my son in upstate New York, and my daughter. I've been neglecting my core responsibilities chasing things that really didn't matter and weren't even real. I feel that I've incurred a karmic debt for my stupidity, and am not anxious to receive the bill. I've got to make things right again. It's time to focus and stop being a grasshopper.
How does it go again? May the road rise to meet your feet...