Today, I was reading a Men’s Health mag in which a writer says in an article that life is long, all I can say is “really?” I remember as a teen being told that I had my whole life ahead of me, well, ahead seems to have arrived. Not that I am anywhere near my end but the fact that here I sit, closer to my mid-sixties then those long ago teen years does force me to reflect on where I am and where I am going. Retirement is on the horizon but what does that really mean, for me, for my wife and family? Lately I have been thinking a lot about those past generations of Lomas and Roberts, my paternal and maternal sides. In doing a little geneaology I have discovered things I knew nothing about and some old family stories that were not just some kind of urban legend but were in fact true. I guess that aging brings us to a point where we want to know more about ouselves, where we come from, the various ingredients that make us who we are and what this all means. For myself, and I can only speak for myself, I want to discover the hidden parts of who I am and bring it out into the light. Maybe that’s why I want to write, not just my memoirs but also my reflections and maybe try a little more fiction. I’m not the greatest writer, I know that I am, at times, a hack. Throwing words out that don’t make much sense, even to me, but the trying is so much better than the not trying. Going ahead, taking the risk, being vulnerable to the critics, well that’s what any creative endeavor requires. I like today’s tweet from Anne Lamott, “Writing workshop–yes on mess, shitty drafts. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. Beckett; “Ever tried, ever fail. Fail better.” I’m not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. I am no great author preparing to craft the next great American novel. All I can do is continue throwing out words and see where they fall, afterall I can only “fail better” with each piece.
Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip. Why come back to the States? All he had experienced since he disembarked from his flight were cold stares. It began as soon as he arrived home at the airport, dressed in his newly issued greens and wearing the ribbons that marked him as a veteran of Vietnam, facing vocal advocates chanting for an end to the war. A pretty, young woman, with flowers in her hair, flashing the peace sign, approached him with a huge smile and that vacant look of one who had smoked just a bit too much pot, a look he was very familiar with himself. Coming right up to him he caught the scent of plumeria mixed with that of the marijuana, as she stood there looking into his eyes,
“Go flee to Canada, get away from those who would send you to your death,” Saying this as she pressed a card into his hand.
As she walked away he glanced down at the card that gave a hotline number to some lawyer who helped soldiers to get away. It was too little too late, he had already completed his tour and was now discharged.
Now he was back home, back to those familiar streets of his childhood. Passing old man Johnson’s drug store, where you could still get a real, ice cream soda. Seeing the old cinema, that continued to operate even though folks now went out to the the sprawling, multi screen cineplex by that new mall on Route 9. Yet, even with all of the familiarity, he felt like a stranger. People walked by, heads down not looking at him in the eye, as if he carried some kind of ancient, deadly disease. Even if they did look, it was one of hostility, that by being in uniform he represented all that was wrong or worse, that he was one of those crazed vets, who at any moment would go off like a grenade with a hair trigger.
In his mind all he wanted was to get home, see his parents, his brother and sister and maybe just find some peace. He wanted to shed his uniform like a snake sheds its old skin so that a new one could start to grow, a new life he could begin. Yet, deep down he also knew that just removing the outer clothing was not going to be enough, that war had ground deep within his very being. He had spent a year with other men whom he grew closer to than anyone else, even his old high school buddies. He had faced perils and dangers, flying bullets and long lonely nights, with those guys. They would share everything, their desires and fears. Pictures of girlfriends, wives and families and the stories would be told. He always thought it amazing that when faced with the possibility that the next bullet might have your name on it, how freely one would talk about themselves.
Now he was alone. An orphan of sorts, a victim of a senseless time and it would take more than just a quick change of clothes. Chris grabbed his head, he wanted to just explode, to yell, to tell the all of those who stared and walked by that he was still a person, he didn’t cause this war. All he did was just go, following the example of those great American heroes he grew up admiring, the Davy Crocketts, Daniel Boones, and John Waynes. Those men of integrity, and staunch individualism without whom, without whom what, he thought. They were part of a different time, a different America, and he began to wonder if he even belonged anymore.
Chris flagged down a cab, “Where to buddy?” the cabby asked. “148 Pleasant Street.” Chris replied, “my home.”
It is the start of another Lenten season, a time for repentance, self examination and the reminder that we are but dust, mortal beings trying so desperately to live immortal lives. If anything, these past few weeks have taught me that my own illusion of control is just that, an illusion. A blizzard followed by several more winter storms have dropped record snow onto our area. That, along with the wicked cold has caused problems all over the place. Narrow roads, snow banks so high that even Andre the Giant wouldn’t be able to see over them. Driving becomes an exercise in seeing how far I can stretch my neck in order to look for any oncoming traffic before I pull out. Then, there are the ice dams, more like ice damn. That build up of ice on the roof near the gutters that has grown solid and immovable. Unfortunately, these ice dams allow the water to seep in under the shingles and voila, we have leakage in the house. This was the worst week, leaking so bad in the mud room that it turned everything back there into a frozen mess. When you have to use your ice chopper just to get into the house, then you know that there is a problem. Once the water starts to leak in then your treated to natures version of the Chinese water torture. The constant dripping of water into a bucket, the plunk, plunk that never varies. The sounds worms its way into your head until all you hear is that plunking sound. Paranoia creeps in and every nook and cranny of the house becomes another potential leak. Is this how craziness, you know that Jack Nicholson in The Shining kind of craziness, gets started? All the while my mantra continues, I am but dust and to dust I shall return. Not that I am in any rush for the returning part.