Chris Writes

My life in real time

In Peace

I wondered what it would be like to be him.  He was dying.  Things like cars and houses and bills and next month no longer had any value.  You drift between anxiety and fear and regret.  You don’t have any more time to right all the wrongs you’ve done.  You are surrounded by the one’s you love the most.  So you can say i’m sorry for what i’ve done to you in this life.  Yet, life is long and overwhelming and filled with mistakes.  So that is where you leave it.

He died in stages.  In the week before he passed, he looked at his life.  He told me he had trouble sleeping.  His mind was filled with all the events of his life.  All the mistakes.  All the love.  All the memories.  It was a flood that kept him alert and awake.  Then there was the decision to leave.  How does someone decide it is time?  Suffering and pain over long months, over a couple of years.  The gradual taking away of old age and failing organs.  He had a good week about two months before.  He was like his old self, waking up early and doing yard work.  It almost made me believe I had my dad back.  He bought about ten new plants and filled his back porch his favorite flowers.  Then he got sick again and we were back to normal.  Maybe it was this time that broke him.  To feel good, just for a few days, and have that taken away once again.  It broke his heart.

Maybe he saw it as a gift.  One last offering of life.

On those sleepless nights he decided.  I didn’t realize it until the day he died.  There was a lightness.  He was smiling and his body seemed to be floating.  He used few words.  He had little energy but he mustered all of it in this moment.  When he looked at us one last time, as a father.  I felt this energy.  He only had to say one word.  Goodbye.  It was the look he gave that crushed me because I knew this was the last one.

They turned all the machines off.  The only thing left was the pain medications to keep him comfortable.  It was hard, the waiting.  It was necessary.  If not his children to watch, then who?  His heart rate gradually fell.  It fell so low and immediately collapsed.

The nurse came in, pushed the stethoscope to his chest, and shut off the machines.  He was finally with his mommy again.

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In Death

I see the texts on my phone.  One stream is from my mother.  She is rapid and seemingly without focus.  A rattling off of events in real time, as she is experiencing them.  I read it like a code, trying to decipher what is happening.  Is he dying in a month or a week?  Did the doctor say he had 2 days or 2 weeks?  I can’t figure it out when pushed through her jaundiced filter.

She keeps asking me to come see him.  It doesn’t matter if I work or if I have a child to protect from this.  She is like a bright homing beacon, perpetually turning, beckoning me to come.  Every day if I would.  If I don’t come then she uses guilt.  Swings it at me.  At my brother.

My father is a good man.  That’s what most believe.  I have reason to hate him.  To want him to die.  To ignore him.

I saw his frail, emaciated body turned sideways on his bed.  There was dried vomit on his gown.  It led into a blue bag.  His stomach bulged, filled with fluid his diseased liver refused to filter.  His face was shriveled over his skull.  Eye sockets sunken in.  Both arms were painted in purple and brown bruises.  Four bags of medication were pumping into his system.  Keeping him alive.

There comes a point in our lives when mom and dad are here, then they aren’t.  I don’t know that experience will change me.  When the conduit closes forever.  Death is hard.  I find it hard to stay here in my present moment.  I wonder what am I doing?  Dealing with this or waiting or numbing myself into non-existence?

I am looking for a hiding place.  From all the beckoning.  In my dream I ask mom, “Do you know why I don’t want to come?  Do you know about dad?  Would you ask me to be there if I told you?”

I was vulnerable once.

Waiting

I got the text early in the morning.  I wasn’t sure what she thought I could do.  He was in the hospital again.  He hadn’t woken up in the past day and was still asleep.  When I came in he was on his side, a stream of dried saliva crusted down the side of his mouth.  He kept kicking his legs out.  His body jerked spastically.  It wasn’t a seizure.  He grunted periodically.  Those were bowel movements.  He had tubes running through every orifice.

Mom urged me to talk to him, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  She pulled her chair closer and  grabbed his arm, saying “it’s okay, it’s okay.”

The doctor came in and told us we’d need to wait and see if he woke up.  Should I have spoken to him sooner?  What if he doesn’t wake up?  Mom cries.  She tells me that he always called her in the morning.  He didn’t call.  I can’t remember the last time I saw her this honest with her feelings.  Then she shuffles in her chair and the guard goes up again.

I don’t know how to wait on things like this.  Wait for it all to end.  The most horrible kind of waiting.  Things are going to change.  One minute you are sitting in a nice old house.  Then they are swinging through the drywall with bats and hammers.  Now it’s just a shell, this house.  Yet, it’s not over yet.  So you sit and watch a little more drift away.  A little more.  At some point it will feel like its gone.  Who knows when we reach that point.  So we wait.

On The Road

 

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Childhood = climbing rock

I have these memories of nature.  The precious few times.  How my body ached from sleeping on the ground. Waking up to cool air, matted hair stuck to my face. The light so brilliant outside that I had to check my watch.  We were meant to wake up early.  I got lost in the woods and the adults didn’t seem to care so much.  An entire day was devoted to building a dam across a creek.  I decided to dam a river and the water swept me a half mile downriver.  My body never recovered from the shock of cold glacier water.  I could hear thousands of crickets in the darkness.

The campfires were centers of my religion. The flame and the crackle, buffered by a chorus of sound from the night creatures.  It gets in you and never leaves.

We told scary stories and funny stories.We made our own jokes.  It was amazing the things we could come up with. I looked down at my uniform, bright yellow patches reflecting the light. I was 10 years old. It was my birthday. My daughter leaned over and asked me to make her another S’More. We ate many.

The next day my mother made a surprise appearance. She had a large white and blue cake, enough to feed the entire troop. I had this horrible migraine headache. It was from spinning around in circles and making myself dizzy, over and over again.  We never thought about consequences.

I boiled some water and started pouring it into the coffee filter. Heat tendrils drifted into my nose. My daughter came out of the tent in her brightly colored house robe. I told her ten minutes and she quickly disappeared amongst the rock formations up the hill.

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The Feathers in the back

She reappeared from behind a rock and waved at me. I waved back. Then she went a little further, looked back, and waved again. Just a little further away she goes.

Me and some of the other boys started climbing a tree. We were so high that the thin trunk swung with the breeze. I could see tents spread out below. A boy below waited for me to come down, but I didn’t. So he left. I straddled the trunk, closed my eyes, and put my arms out. The breeze felt so good on my face.

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Tents far below

We scrambled to the top of a rock formation and looked down on the campgrounds. She carefully picked a small bouquet of wildflowers and handed me the most beautiful one’s. I told her not to step into bushes. There were rattlesnakes out here. We downclimbed carefully back down a steep gully. A fall here would be serious.

 

She walked over to the boy in the other tent and said goodbye.  Soon we were back on the highway. She leaned over to me and said, “I already miss it.”

Me too.

Eyes of My Father

I like to think I am just like her.  That I can turn it on. The joy of being here now.  The acceptance of just doing this simple thing. Tomorrow doesn’t exist.  The next moment doesn’t.  Life plays like a VHS tape, only picking up the tape that runs between the reader.  Wedged and bottlenecked and with no foresight.

I am only frustrated.  Worried about the world.  My job.  It is raining now and we should be climbing dry rock.  We walk from shop to shop.  What i’ve done hundreds of times.  The space lived in her only now.

What else should I be doing?  I check the weather report, but I know it already.

Then we climb, but she is too distracted.  There is too much happening now to climb, to be driven up broken granite by dissatisfaction.  It fuels my limbs, reminding me when I am hampered by my range of motion.  42 year old body willing the spirit of a teenager.

She moves like the child that she is, I was.  We move to a different song.  We move together, sharing this day in different ways.

The climbing is not important.  It symbolizes the passing of knowledge, of passion, of finding barriers, of passing ourselves existing only seconds ago.  She is so much like her mother.  There is a desperation to leave something of myself in the dirt here.  This pile of rope.  Our clasping of chalked hands.

The climbing.  The looking down to see it far below.  The fear in us resonates in our belly, our jelly arms.  It makes us numb.

Five times she says let me down daddy.  Five times we speak of it.  She carries it, in this moment.  Five times she says I release you.  Only one time does she stand at the top of the climb.  It is only then that I see something in her.  I see the eyes of her father.

I release you father.

I release you.
I release you.
I release you.

 

Strikes

There’s a room in my basement.  It’s the best place to hear the raindrops fall.  I lay down on the small guest bed and look up at the high window.  I can hear every pitter, like in a tent. A thousand little strikes. Every second.  The water lurches down from the gutter system, draining into the soil.  I see beautiful purple flowers swaying, absorbing the shock of each droplet.  They were made to do this.

Yet if I dumped a bucket filled with water over top they get washed away.  They don’t bounce back.  The petals are flattened against concrete.  They are violently pulled away by sheer force.  Washed away.

They are no longer beautiful.  No longer even one living thing, but many little dead things.

They are strong and fragile.  They rely on Sun, air, soil, and rain.  All in moderation.

I look up through my basement window.  Their stems are firm.  The flowers are upright and proud.  They brace themselves against the wind, then settle to their former place.

How does one find it’s way back to it’s former place?  Are there former places or just new one’s?  Washed away.  Eventually coming to a halt.  In a new field.  With new soil.  Waiting for thousands of little strikes to make us whole.

Old Relics

Capture

I find a coffee shop because I need people around me.  I need movement, talking, and indirect interaction.  Then I put on my headphones and go back inward.  I look over to the other tables and see at least 10 other people playing the same game as me.

From as long as I can remember I have felt my loneliness in a room full of people.  I’ve been in remote areas of Alaska, 10 miles from the nearest road and probably 20 miles from the nearest human being, and felt so alive.

Isolation has nothing to do with the proximity of people.

I logged into Gmail and pulled up an old piece of writing.  It felt familiar and distant.  Before love or fatherhood.  Who was that person?  Why was he always so sad?

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”                                       – Stephen King

I pulled up 50 old essays, clicked on Select All, and the finger hovered over Delete.  My body had this tingling feeling, as if I had already done it.

Then I see the emails.  I still have our entire interaction.  This long email.  It was the end of our relationship.  It was horrific.  You wheeling your luggage down one of those steep Seattle hills.  I got in front of you, trying to reason,  trying to stop gravity from taking you away.  I didn’t succeed that day.  This one stays in the archive.  A reminder that all could’ve been lost.  Can still be.

I’ve been sick for the past few days.  This is must how my father feels.  I saved this attachment, a picture.  It was the moment I left him.  He cried.  He never cries.  The death of boyhood.  Now he cries again, for real deaths.  They are all real though.

I haven’t cried yet.  Maybe I will later.

I found this old email from a guy named Joe.  He was abused throughout his childhood.  This was decades ago.  This was the first time he told anyone about it.  I see that I started to reply to him, but I never sent it.  It was too difficult to tread those muddy waters again and again.

I hope Joe found peace, good health, and someone worthy to receive his darkest secret.  His imeasurable moment.

I take the email, place it into the stream and it drifts away.  I release you.

 

 

 

What We Carry

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I was supposed to be in the mountains today.

It may seem odd to say, but snow scares me.  I had an accident many years ago that has stayed with me.  I fell down a steep snowy embankment, picking up speed.  Like a rolling pin, I impacted a ledge which hurtled me into the air.  My body went across an exposed slope of loose rock, like a banana slide.  It was so quick.  I did not know if I was going to die but I had enough time to consider it.  I didn’t.  The worst part was left to the end.  I loosed a cascade of rocks high above me.  I lay there in shock as volleyball-sized rocks came down on me.

When rock falls the instinct is always to look up, which I did.  It was in that moment that a rock the size of a canteloupe struck me just above my right eye.  I got into a sitting position.  I looked down at this stream of blood dropping into my lap.  I reached up to the loose flap of skin of my eyebrow.  I couldn’t see.  I had lost my eyeglasses.  I really couldn’t see.

I was not alone that day.  Ed was waiting at the base of the long slope when he heard me, then saw me.  Later he told me it would take a long time for him to get that image out of his head.  My body hurtling down hard snow and ice.

Ed came up to me.  Asked me if I was alright.  All I could say was yeah, I think.  The adrenaline in my veins disguised any injury, at least for the moment.

He reached over for some webbing to bind my wound, then hesitated.  He pulled out his camera instead and told me, “You’re going to want a picture of this.”

I laughed.  Ed, always the photographer.  Always looking for the perfect picture.  He bound my head so tight my head throbbed.  Then he slowly led me down the mountain.  I was blind without my glasses.  Everything a blur.

Ed was one of my first climbing partners.  Many years later he disappeared off a ridge on Mt. Forbidden.  I was told he fell, just like me.

I told them that I wouldn’t be climbing the mountain today.  I made up an excuse.

It may seem ironic.  A climber who is too afraid to climb.  It happens.  Trauma is something we carry with us.  It doesn’t heal.  When we are strong we may not even remember that it is there.  Then it reminds us.

We are not always strong.  If I don’t think about it, my body remembers.  The feeling of helplessness right before the fall.  I remember looking down the slope at Ed right before I fell.  It was like he was in another universe and I couldn’t get there.  I knew I was going to fall.  I was too scared, too anxious, too panicky.  I had received no training for a moment like that.  I fell over 10 years ago, but I still remember.

I was not supposed to be in the mountains today.  So I didn’t go.

Do Not Disturb

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“Chris, you are very clear about what you want, but you are horrible about conveying it to others.”

I go to text messaging.  I click on “Do No Disturb”.  I do this three times.  Then I compose an email.

“Hey all, I won’t be seeing any future texts.  If you want to contact me call me on the phone or send an email.”

Then I turn my phone off.  I log off Facebook.  I begin organizing my emails.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  All newspapers are cancelled with the exception of New York Times and The Atlantic.

I take a few days off from work.  I contemplate my current social circle, residing largely online.  I wonder how I can rebuild my network in a more meaningful way.  An offline way.  Tethered in real-time, but in a physical world.  An existence curated for self-preservation.  Not opened up to any stray trending item in a feed.  Feeds are troughs filled with grain.  Pigs line up side-by-side to feed on it.  Are we all pigs lined up at the trough?  Feeding.

“So what you are saying is you are repulsed and disgusted and you have very little control.”

It hurts to see him in pain.  A father crying in front of son.  He never did.  He pleads with me for help.  I have very little influence.  Now I know that.  I am angry and filled with mixed-emotions, but I see that these words I speak can’t move the needle in the right direction.

I go back to texts and fingers hover over one last “Do Not Disturb.”  Mom.  All of these things converging at once.  Dying.  Grieving.  Old sibling discontent bleeding over for decades.  My own realization that I have given myself over to others, waiting for them to judge me, accept me, reject me, or ignore me.  I carry the weight and it is heavy.  My child and wife don’t see me because I am not there.  Squinting, shoulders compressed under it.  I look vacant.  I feel so exhaustibly tired and miserable without knowing why.

I press it.  Then I look my child in the eyes again.

 

One Is Enough

Sometimes I feel like a sick child being force fed my black soup.

I woke up this morning and opened up the laptop.  On Safari, I had a great article on how to eat in remote alpine environments.  There was three articles discussing today’s repeal and replace debacle.  Another article on Trump’s continued fascination with everything Putin.  Then there was my Facebook account, feeding me today’s trending articles at a rapid clip.  My last screen was an empty blog post on my WordPress account.  Just tempting me to write something.

My eyes glazed over the articles, reading a paragraph here and there.  I tossed the laptop in my bag and took the bus to work.  On the ride, I listened to an excellent Sam Harris podcast focused on how the rest of the world is perceiving this surreal reality that is America today.

At work, I pulled out the latest edition of The Atlantic and Harpers and set it aside for my lunch break.  The covers of both figured prominently many articles about Trump.

Meanwhile, all I could think about was that empty blog post waiting for me.  Then I thought about Thoreau.

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

-HR

Our world is so drastically faster.  Our hungers too.  Yet, we want to move backward to a simpler time.  A time, not too long ago, where we didn’t have instant access devices.  We could disconnect and we would.

How few opportunities we have to just be present.  I met my wife over the internet.  One of the funny things we do is sit together in front of our laptops making snide comments about each other on Facebook.  We are so wired in.  I am so wired in and sometimes I can barely move.

It isn’t how I want my daughter to experience her childhood.  I got a chance to run around in wild places, to get lost, and imagine my own worlds.  There was no visuals guiding me.  There was no Lord of The Rings movies.  We only had the books and what we imagined each character to be.  We exercised our creativity always.

On an ordinary day, I spend at least 7 hours at work on the computer.  I go home and burn a few more on my laptop or watching television.  Yet, all I ever want to do is drive to Yosemite and stay there for a month.  I have these guidebooks to places like the Bugaboos.  Otherworldly places I have yet to visit.  Beautiful places I have been meaning to come back to.  The Cordillera Blanca in Peru.  The High Sierra.  I see pictures on Facebook from my favorite climbers.  They are in these places now.  These places feel so far away from a laptop screen in Seattle.

We are always forgetting to let fresh air in.  To save our capacities for the meaningful things.  There is so much going on in this world and we try so hard to keep up.  I guess I don’t ask myself what is it all for?  Why do I need to know so much about what’s going on in the world?  How is all of it contributing positively to my life?  If I am unable to filter the information, should I just turn my back on it completely?

I feel that I am well acquainted with the principle.  Is that not enough?