Something lost in the sunlight

The following is part of a 20 day challenge to get into a better habit of blogging. Each day presents a new prompt. Today’s prompt was “lost.” This particular entry is part one of three prompts on the subject that will come up over the course of the challenge. It is a work of mostly fiction.


Awakened Sunlight; Morgendliches Sonnenlicht (Courtesy  Mark Michaelis/ Flickr Creative Commons)

Awakened Sunlight; Morgendliches Sonnenlicht
(Courtesy Mark Michaelis/ Flickr Creative Commons)

I awoke to the bright late August sunlight streaming through the small second story window of my grandparents house. My little sister lie snoring gently next to me in the double bed. My mother sat on its edge. This was the bed she slept in when she was a child. This had been her room. It was large, with speckled linoleum floors, a yellow Chester drawer  and a slanted plaster ceiling with hairline cracks. My grandparents’ shotgun style house built in 1919 was old. It was ancient in the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. For the most part the house always felt warm and inviting. My mom’s old room though felt slightly haunted for some reason.

That morning, with the diffused sunlight and my mom’s kindly stare, everything felt surreal. I looked at my sister, still sleeping and then back at her. A moment passed as I weighed whether I was dreaming. I decided I was not when I looked into my mother’s eyes. They were tired eyes, skin slightly swollen below the lids. She had recently been crying. Before she could say it, I knew why.

“Your grandfather passed away last night,” she said, her hand gently pressed against my cheek.

A rush of conflicting emotions swelled inside of me. Sadness. A sense of something lost. A sense of something found. And, unexpectedly, a sense of relief immediately followed by a twinge of guilt. The last was perhaps the first true adult emotion I had. I thought I might cry, but I could not. Instead I laid my head on my mom’s shoulder and let her rub my hair.

“He’d been sick for so long,” she said, almost more to herself than me. “He only let go after I told him it was OK and said goodbye.”

My mother had been pretty open through this whole process of my grandfather dying. He found out he had prostate cancer on my birthday last year. The man was larger than life as I grew up. Visiting him and my grandmother on summer breaks was my favorite thing to do. He would take me up in his single engine airplane. We’d fly from one small airport to the other. He’d take me to corner pubs and prop me up on a stool. I’d sip Coke while he drank his tiny beers and filled out racing forms. I would have  a school year’s worth of stories to share after two weeks.

Seeing him after surgeries and radiation treatments though, I watched that man, my hero, shrink until he appeared my size.

“Do you think I will die?” he asked one time as we both watched a baseball game on TV in his bedroom.

He was wrapped in a blanket, frail, thin arms draped across his lap. I paused long enough to give him the truth no one else was willing to say. I started to say something, a lie, when he stopped me by saying, “It’s OK. It’s OK.”

A certain relief came over his face. At that moment, he needed the truth from someone too young to easily lie, just like he would later need my mom to be OK, to say the words “goodbye” before he left. We transitioned into talking about my Tops baseball cards and pitching strategies and the chance for post-season playoffs. Upon reflection, the latter was an event he would not live to see.

My head was still on my mom’s shoulder when I heard the sniffling behind me. My sister was not so asleep. She heard and began to cry. I made room as my mom motioned her toward her lap. We all sat together on that bed, that little bed where my grandfather tucked my mother in as a little girl, and we all mourned together.

The days ahead were full of motion. My mother and grandmother emptying out the hospice room where my grandfather spent his last days, doped up on morphine and in agonizing pain. Half understood conversations about funeral arrangements. My sister and I shuttled between family friends and relatives. The momentary breakdown of my mother as she went through photos or shared a story with a cousin or family friend. Then there was the funeral. I wore a starched-collared button down white shirt and blue tie, awkwardly met relatives I hardly knew before visitation.

Eventually, I found myself holding my mother and grandmother’s hands as they walked me into the parlor, a quiet place dressed for what felt like a false calm and claustrophobic contemplation. There was an absence of natural light. The room brimmed with flowers, and there between the vases and rows of chairs I saw my grandfather’s casket, open. As we approached, I saw what was left of him. He looked healthier than what I remembered from the last time I saw him. His cheeks were fuller. I also noticed he wore make up.

“It’s OK,” my grandmother said to me as she guided me closer to the casket. “If you kiss his forehead you will have nothing but good dreams about him,” she added.

My grandmother, her own mother an immigrant, was always full of such statements. At that moment, I remembered her once telling me that when it rained and the sun shined at the same time the devil was getting married. Considering the circumstance, I thought the saying completely inappropriate to even contemplate. Then I found myself kissing my grandfather’s bald head. It was cold and had no smell. I shivered slightly and then sat down.

After the burial, family and friends came back to my grandmother’s house. Sandwiches were eaten. People spoke. My sister and I, along with a couple of cousins, played the Atari game system my dad hooked up to the old wood-paneled TV. The evening sun shone through a window. Something in that late summer sunshine had forever shifted as I sat and played games.


Three songs (plus a couple more)

One of the first songs I can ever remember truly loving is ‘I Am Superman’ by R.E.M.

I discovered it the summer of my freshman year of high school when I became a lifeguard at a swim club. I worked with a bunch of people who I did not go to high school with. I couldn’t drive yet, but a few of my new work friends could. We’d spend long nights out, sneaking into the swim club after hours and just generally being teenagers.

One guard, we’ll call her Sarah for this story, was the sweetest, cutest girl I ever met. She really paid attention to me when we spoke. I was a strange, awkward kid, but I felt comfortable and accepted with her. (I am a strange adult) My conversations with Sarah turned into my first real crush. (I am a late bloomer as well) Problem was, I could never express my feelings for her. Doing that was too revealing and dangerous. Instead I was her constant confidant at the pool. I might have pulled her pig tails and put bubble gum in her hair as well. Well, not that, but you get what I mean.

R.E.M._-_Lifes_Rich_PageantThat summer, as luck would have it, she also really started dating. At first it was a friend and co-worker, then an older soccer player at her high school. At the same time, I stumbled across R.E.M.’s Life Rich Pageant album. On it, the “hidden track” was ‘I Am Superman.’ For a couple of summers during those high school years the song kind of became my mantra whenever I was around Sarah. I knew we belonged together. We got along so well that lyrics such as “I am, I am Superman . . . Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart” seemed written specifically for us.

I used to have the entire song, not really that long or complex, memorized. I’ve forgotten bits and pieces of it over the years. Sarah and I never became an item. One day she said something, the summer of our senior years I think, that suggested she grew frustrated with me because I never took action. And as silly as it sounds, there is still a bit of sting there. It’s a reminder of one of my greatest character defects, an inability to just leap into action.

Other songs never really took on as much meaning throughout my youth.

I now have an embarrassing song that I use to inspire me while I run. Again, it falls back onto the superhero motif. Whenever I’m lagging and looking for a quick pick-me-up on a long run I will listen to John Williams’ Superman Theme from the 1979 Superman the Movie soundtrack. I always fear someone will hear the song blaring from my ear buds as I run. It too probably says something about my innate and often frustrating desire to rise above my normal status and be someone spectacular.

After that, as far as a third song goes? I wouldn’t necessarily say a song as much as an artist. Whenever I’m truly down, which I sometimes get with my mildly depressive personality, I like to listen to the Eels. The Eels is actually one man, Mark Oliver Everett. Mark is an eclectic musician who has experienced a stunning amount of loss and tragedy. I can’t speak for him as a creator, but I think his losses inform his music that goes from morose, to upbeat, to sad, to realistic. Not all of it, but some of it strikes a hopeful, or at least ironic, tone in its approach.

Right now, one of my favorite songs of his, is “Hey, Man (Now You Are Really Living).” It’s an upbeat song about heart breaks, excesses, failures and small successes, you know, the general hallmarks of the living, as the title suggests.

Some might recognize the Eels for one song in the 1990s, ‘Novocaine for the Soul,’ but honestly Everett’s work is so much more and he’s done some pretty incredible work since then.

I actually didn’t rediscover the Eels until a few years ago as I sat in a car with another coworker who was having a shitty day. She’d bought the latest double album released by the Eels at the time. We bitched about work and listened to some songs for a few minutes before heading off to lunch. I’ve been hooked ever since.