June 16, 2017
At forty-nine, my father decided it was all bullshit. Work, family, affairs. None of it mattered. So, he became the family gardner. I remember him on his knees, shirtless in the ninety-five percent humidity that helped boil the New Jersey summers of my youth, digging violently with his little flinting silvery spade, sweat soaking with grey-brown and rather thick chest hair that wrapped around his still ripped V-shaped barrel chest like a varsity letterman’s sweater from the University Of I-Wish-I-Was-Frank-Sinatra-But-I’m-Not.
Hours an hours he would dig and sweat and plant and mutter at times in non-linear streams of consciousness about the most random topics of his life ranging from innocent childhood games of hide and seek right up to taking a bayonet in the neck during The Battle Of The Bulge during World War Two. Leaving the house atop my trusty Schwin Stingray one Saturday morning, I bid him adieu and as I peddled by I wondered….was he digging graves for all of us one little violent scoop at a time, for himself, who? Could the flowers in front of him, waiting patiently in the shade of a mighty spruce tree and aligned neatly side by side like tiny soldiers ready and perfect for whatever was to come, absolve him?
Like a narcotic they went quietly into the vein of the earth as my addict of a father made their little beds smooth and precise. So, instead of returning home to find him having eaten all the flowers. mud sliding down his chin, petals pasted on his now dried and stubbled cheek, seated back against the house and dazed between two ficus, I would find him showered, bathrobe-d, reeking of Old Spice and Cutty Sark and staring out the bay windows of our almost lime green carpeted den, the book shelves lined with all the great literary works our and another other time. Even a thin book of Cavafy love poems (given to my mother by the one retaliation affair she’d managed in response to Frank’s harem…a dentist of some note in the area and a high school contemporary, he had taken her to Paris for a two week tryst. She returned numb, with a crook in her neck. Ses la vie), napped next to ‘A Farewell To Arms’, basking in it’s machismo snore as if this baby lamb of a book had found a gorilla to protect it for the afternoon.
The den had become crowded…Father, the books glowering down like ancient Homeric owls and me. He didn’t notice me. He rarely did. I wasn’t a flower or a piece of stunning prose or, mostly importantly, a bottle of Cutty. How did he end in South Jersey, four kids in, fifteen broken affairs, a thousand cases of booze and an aunt in Connecticut taking far too long to bite the big one in order that he might cash out. And what of me, dear father? Would the cruel an inevitable strands of nucleic acids force me to my pale, pointed knees, yearning for earth, for flowers, to plant myself in a garden so beautiful with soil so rich that worms would rise to the surface in drunken pairs, in love, and after a breathe dive back down like dolphins in the wild Molokai sea? No, I did not make it to the promised land but instead raided the den book shelves that evening finding a one-way ticket to Charleville and I used it again and again and again. I was thus delivered by a power so great neither time nor space seemed relevant any longer, and like some accelerating magnet did I get sucked rather willingly into the army of the damned, our silvery spades at the ready, our shoulder-length hair burning at the tips, our hearts pounding like a still-alive and arrowed elk bleeding with desperation and ready to kill, cloaking ourselves in monstrous, ear-splitting rage none of knew we had, seething with the poison of our father’s jealousy. Like scorpions we scattered into the desert of black space, impregnating stars, digging with our spades, planting our seed then moving on to the next.
This is what one did at fifteen. According to the book shelf there was historical precedent. If fey little Cavafy was safe then I would be fine. The book shelf would lead me in the right direction.
I knocked up a thousand stars that summer, engorged with the blood of the Poets, and put to rest this creeping notion that mesmerizes all boys passing through the burning, idiot fields of youth, that infamy married rebellion and gave birth to the slavish thoughts of the bourgeoise. I felt none of it for I was cleansed in the radiant, electrified waters of the alchemist. His blessing was my awakening.
My faith, once thrilling now calming, morphed into the ticking time bomb of self-actualization that would leave me shoeless at the top of the Caucus Range.
There is nothing more sobering than watching ones guide lumber away on a broken down mule with all of ones possessions……
Nikki bounded down the outer stairs and when she got to the bottom, turned “You can sit in the back with me.”
We were off