I remember riding in the car with Zane, thinking what a fantastic gift it would be to have him as a father.
With his bright blue eyes, receded hairline and prominent mustache, he looked plucked from the very ether of the 70s. I’ve never met a man since with such a distinct combination of quick wit and sure fists. His tongue could cut your mind into pieces, and if that didn’t dissuade you from whatever crime you were committing against him, Zane wasn’t afraid to take it outside and settle it the old fashioned way.
He would teach his sons how to box, how to play basketball, chop wood, work on cars. But there was a balance to him as well—he also taught them how to garden, and how to cook simple meals. He would share his love of gardening with confidence, in such a way that you could tell his words were an invitation, a more subtle way to stick his chin out, daring any to take a swing at his masculinity. If they did, he’d be sure to challenge them on their notion of manliness.
In that way, as well as others more generic, he was rather progressive. I loved him for that. I felt as if my small world was safer when Zane was in it. I imagine many felt that way, even his sons who had experienced Zane’s darker side.
Certainly with so much anger, even one so gentle and balanced as Zane had to have some issues. He would get wound up in his rightness. So confident he knew how his children should be spending their time, such that their disobeying, their rebellious teen nature…well. His tongue did not suffice. He knew no other recourse beyond his fists.
Soon though, his sons became strong. He had taught them as much. I remember one day, John telling me how he had fought his father and this time had won. There was a mix of unease and relief about him as he relayed this to me. Finally, that much of his nightmare was over. As much as he respected his father, and as much strength Zane had instilled within him, there was that darkness. When it crept up, it would leave him scared and in pain.
People like John and Zane don’t like to be made to feel helpless. It can be said that no one enjoys that, which is certain. But these two had no coping mechanism. Especially John, only ever brought down by the one man who taught him to never be brought down.
John would call me when he was scared. He would only ever cry over the phone if he could help it. Maybe he didn’t hold me in as high regard as I held him at the time, but there was a trust there. A knowledge that I had been through enough to help him process these emotions. Enough to be able to confidently tell him that it would be okay. Maybe not right away and maybe only in a way that is slightly less violent, but it would be okay, and a greater light was waiting for us beyond the confines of our familial entrapment.
I enjoyed when he trusted me in that way. He only ever had to reach out further when it was explicitly clear he needed to share with someone who had abusive father issues. It was difficult for me to relate with that in more concrete terms of shared pain, since my father took a more long distance approach to his neglect.
I asked Zane about his day. Trying to glean anything I could from such a brilliant man. (Forgive my younger self, for abuse was all he knew. The terrible acts of this man were no different than, I assumed, those of every adult.)
Zane was upset. He told me he had a court case to go to, because he had fought with a referee at a basketball game and charges had been pressed. He knew it was foolish and that he had to stop acting like a child. He had kids and a wife, he has a teaching job. People depended on him, and he couldn’t get himself thrown in jail at 47 for fighting over a bad call.
What is it with men and sports?
I remember that moment almost as well as Zane housing me, yelling about how he was going to beat the shit out of Bob for hurting my mom. Such an array of emotions I felt. Yearning for that fight to occur, the ecstasy I would feel when that piece of shit I lived with finally got his. Anger at myself for not being strong enough to do it on my own. Sadness that, deep down, it was all talk either way. No one ever did anything.
Three men threatened to do something to Bob throughout my teens and three men did nothing. Even when I called the police when it got too terrible, too violent, my mom and I had already fled the scene. Even when I prayed for Bob to die in his sleep, old fucker that he was, nothing happened. I was trapped forever in this eternity of anxiety and fear and sadness, and no being would lift a finger to make it stop.
I remember listening to Zane talk about his failing, in that voice of weakness and self-hatred. I remember thinking that, just because he was stronger and more confident with better hand-eye coordination, it didn’t mean he was someone to aspire to be.
I felt lost in that moment, but also glad. I knew I could never really be a Zane and it became more clear why in that moment. I thought too much. I thought about the consequences of killing Bob. I thought about how he would get more violent if I jumped into the fray, and would cower in angry fear if I called the police instead. I thought that I was weak, but really I was just an abuse survivor, doing the only thing I knew how to do—survive.
Last I heard of Zane, he had beaten cancer, and continued to teach history at my old high school. That was years ago. Since then the closest I’ve been to him was my falling out with John, who drunkenly revealed his racism and wanted to fight when called out on it. Instead of driving 50 miles to fist fight someone from high school, I ended our friendship.
Naturally, this inadvertently cut off the closest thing I had to a father during my teens, which is probably a good thing.
James couldn’t stop pacing, couldn’t resist viciously attacked his right arm with his left hand, rubbing it vigorously as his breath came in and out through anxiously gritted teeth. Too stricken to sob, he merely repeated “no, no, no,” over and over again.
Everything had gone wrong. There was no way he could salvage a single ounce of happiness from this life. His money, his family, even his fucking dog…all torn away from him, faster than he could react.
He had to do something, but all he could manage was this. The pacing. The frantic panic. He needed something real to latch onto, something peacefully normal, anything, anyone. If he could just—
His phone rang. He paused mid-stride, breath catching in his throat.
He reached into his pocket and pulled the device forth. An unknown number. Still, it could be him, reaching out at long last…
“Hi there! I apologize for that pause, is Randal available to speak?”
James took a half breath. “Uh, sorry this is his phone but, I’m not him…”
It helped so much to speak at all. He could feel himself unwinding, little by little. If he could just listen to this person’s awful sales pitch, maybe he could—
“Ah! Our deepest apologies. Well it’s nothing important, we can try back another time. Thank you!”
That sound. That empty sound of immediate abandonment.
As James replayed the sound over and over in his head, he withdrew back into himself, and crumpled. He slowly sank down onto the pavement, his hopelessness giving way to violent, wracking sobs.
Bernard walked, delighted.
He had finally secured a job. All the years of being an utter disappointment, finally behind him.
That interview had gone far too well for there to be any other reasonable outcome, at least. That interviewer LOVED him! They were joking around by the end of it.
He had even joked they way overly-confident people do, “so, I’ll see ya Monday morning?”
She had laughed at that, assuring him he would definitely be receiving a call back.
Definitely. Bernard liked that word. Grizzled middle-aged fool that he was, it was about time he started investing his time into things that were “definite”. “Secure”. “For the long-haul.”
He sighed and smiled, looking up towards the clear, blue, endless sky.
“As definite as the sun above,” he mused aloud.
Suddenly, his phone rang. He reached into his pocket excitedly and…
Working on Saturday is sort of like "working". Much less noise on the roads, far more in the buildings. I can see the cold mist of 7am, draped over the autumn infused trees, few obstacles between my eyes and the distant suburban forest.
I'm feeling better than I was. I'm not entirely sure of how much that's worth. Then again, I'm probably still emotionally reeling from recent events. Personal as well as national. What else is new?
It sucks when people close tell you they are proud of what you've done, how far you've come, and you feel anger. Does that happen to anyone else? I don't feel I've done anything worthy of praise, which is fine with me as a rule. I am an improvement on who I was. I think better thoughts. I'm much, much better at managing anger. Sadness not so much but hey I'll take what I can get. I'm more active, both physically and politically. I'm doing what I can to build a person who is helpful to those with far less privilege.
A hornet chased me away from the bench at the bus stop. "No rest," they kept saying, circling the nearby trash can. "No rest," they repeated, lost. Far from their friends. Their home.
Every moment I allow myself to relax I feel guilt. I know I should always strive to do more. I'm hoping I'm working my way up to that amount of activism, that this isn't just some blip on my journey, where I go right back to being ruled solely by my addictive personality.
Still. Good things. I'm in a better headspace than I was this time last year, the entirety of last year, the beginning of this one.
It feels sort of like a much simpler version of depression. Usually it comes in bursts, and I am incapacitated by the illness for days at a time. I'm much more functional recently, but I feel it always there. Like that mist, over the autumn trees. I see, I hear, I feel beauty all around me and around most of my actions. I feel the new vigor in the love I pour into what I do and how I interact with people. Still, the mist. Nothing is perfectly clear, still and wonderful. The mist is light, translucent.
Why do anything about it? It's nice. I get to be helpful in small ways, I use my mind to assist in the fight for equality when I am able. That's who I want to be. I just want to help. It's not a huge deal if there's a pall of sadness and lack of self worth that doesn't affect anyone else. Except in the case that it escalates–but I mean, I'm better at recognizing when I'm worse. Managing. Taking steps to deal. Working myself through it mentally.
It seems awfully tragic and overly white knight-like. "Wow what a martyr, sacrifices his happiness for the betterment of others wow so cool" like…fine. I know it sounds that way and I don't care. All that matters is I'm being even a little helpful, I have the potential to be more helpful, and all I have to do to keep it up is live with a mist.
I've always had poor vision anyway. You see a single rabbit spring into the brush, another, smaller, following. I squint, wishing I'd seen it, pretending I had, imagining how nice it was. It's almost as good.
"All in all it's been okay–I've lived well."
Jhene Aiko is pretty corny sometimes, especially in her latest album. But Eternal Sunshine keeps me going. It says, "it's okay. Everything is okay. Not perfect, maybe not great. But it's good, it's alright, I've lived well and I should never stop appreciating that."
So that's how I'm feeling these days. Fairly happy with a constant pall of depression. Maybe it comes with the territory of activism against systems you yourself are complicit in. Maybe it was bound to happen regardless. My current strength of belief in hard determinism would agree with that last.
I'll just keep rolling with it. This path presently sucks for my self worth, like a lot. I don't feel very good about myself or very important. But it's much better for the world, and a continued trajectory has the potential to result in actual…well, results.
It is my hope that this will eventually bring me out of it. When I feel as if I have brought about real change, even in a small way, I might love myself? That'd be just the best.
The mist clears as the dawn turns into day. I'm hoping my sun continues to rise as well.