Walking Distance

When I was 9 years old I had a favorite paperback book called “Stories from the Twilight Zone”, a book of short stories based on the skin and bones for sketches produced on the TV program of the same name.
I had a favorite called “Walking Distance”, the story of a tired middle aged business man that leaves the big city one weekend and simply drives in an effort to get away from his job and the Rat Race in general.
His car breaks down and he gets towed to a local garage for repairs when he sees a road sign for the town he grew up in years ago.
He asks how far it is to the town and is told, “It’s walking distance.”
He enters the Twilight Zone and walks into his hometown of 40 years ago where his mother and father are still alive.

It’s funny that I was falling for these kinds of tender stories when I was ten.
Yeah, I was a weird kid, huh?
Much of my writing loosely falls into the same sentimental category. Go figure.
I started thinking about the last good day I had with my mother and father, sadly the memory has vanished deep into the recesses of my own scattered mind.
The ‘moment’ did happen though when I came to a realization that I could never get those moments back; accepting the idea was painfully difficult but I knew it had to be done.
It occurred to me that I began saying goodbye to the individual pieces of both of them, various facets of their personalities, phrases they often used and the stories they loved to tell.

I remember fruitlessly trying to pull my mother back into my world with my “remember when” queries that all too quickly lost their magical powers.
If I’ve learned anything at all from their tragic situation it’s that life is about seizing moments, grabbing them by whatever means possible and never ever letting them go.
I only wish I’d realized that fifteen years ago, wish I’d accepted their fates sooner, if that makes sense.
But I’m only human and I desperately wanted to believe otherwise.
If I could have several more hours with both of them it would be spent on the back deck of the Goodbye House’.
It would be a warm but comfortable summer night with nothing but a cricket soundtrack and a deep, orange creamsicle sunset off to the West.
My father would be standing by the grill wearing his signature wrinkled Bermuda shorts (or were they seersucker? God forbid), sans shirt with his pot belly exposed to the world with a can of Busch beer in his hand as he flipped burgers and hot dogs.
My mother would be flitting around the kitchen like some culinary Tasmanian devil putting the finishing touches on one of her ‘signature’ desserts.
We wouldn’t be talking about anything in particular; it would just be like it once was.
But it would be different to me because I would mentally file away and lock every smile, every laugh, and every taste and smell living inside that one bittersweet summer evening.
And I would remember all of it again, if I had one more chance.
Maybe the truth of the matter is that those memories are never very far away; in fact they’re easily accessible because wherever I am, ‘home’ is always close by.
Actually, it’s walking distance . . .

~m

Clinker

Most of the time I’m able to let the daily bullshit and banter sift through the cranial grates inside my cue ball noggin but on occasion I get a difficult clinker that won’t pass through.
I have to take it out and look at it and figure out why I can’t mentally digest it.
Case in point: the other night I was surfing the net for the latest in the way of books on Alzheimer’s disease; a simple and innocent task, right?
Imagine my surprise (and horror) to find a book titled “Alzheimer’s for Dummies”.
Needless to say, my searching was over for the night.
I’d found a seriously incongruous clinker that fueled my rage against the literary machine.
I was livid.
This was a subject much too close to home for me and to see it reduced to a ‘manual for dummies’ format personally devastated me.

“Dummies” manuals cover a range of topics: Chess, Poker, MSWord, Windows Vista and Grammar, to name but a few.
But Alzheimer’s disease?
Personally, it was unthinkable.

Why not “Breast Cancer for Dummies”?
How would that go over?
Believe me, I know.
I’ve lost too many friends to the disease and I would be outraged at the total lack of compassion and sensitivity used in publishing such a book.

Never mind.
What the hell is going on here?
I must be losing my mind.

I’ve checked out the contents of the AFD book and I’ve no doubt the author’s intentions were good.
But . . .
So this is what’s it’s come to?
Christ in a sidecar, I’m almost speechless here.
File this one under “roll up that manual and insert forcefully into your keester, sideways“.
But maybe there’s a “Dummies” guide for that as well.
Hey, if ICHC can get a book deal, why the hell not these buttmonkeys?
IMHO, those suffering from this disease deserve an apology from these inconsiderate ‘Dummie’ assholes.
Do I know what I’m talking about here?
Yes, I think I do.
All too well . . .

~m

Iced Calligraphy

Tomorrow morning I’m going to pick up a gift; a wonderful gift.
A while back I wrote something called “the Frozen Man” and I had no idea it would evoke the kind of response that it did.
I received numerous emails regarding its origin and inspiration and to be honest, it took me by surprise.
I’m not used to that kind of attention.
One email was from my dear friend Yvonne.
She is an incredibly creative spirit and does some incredible calligraphy and she asked if she could create a piece of art using “the Frozen Man” as the centerpiece.
I was thrilled and gave her my blessing knowing my words were in very capable hands.
When I checked my Gmail this morning I opened an email from her saying the piece was done. How cool is that?
To say I’m moved is a severe understatement.
Seeing an artistic impression of my work in this light has touched my very soul.
I called Yvonne after seeing it and told her I thought it was beautiful.
Being the humble soul that she is, she thanked me and said I was far too kind and that I was making much more out of it than I needed to.
I had to disagree. In a major way.
Check out the actual piece below.
If only my father could appreciate it.
Yvonne, a sincere thank you from my heart to yours . . .

~m

*ps – Yvonne does calligraphy professionally.
I already know of one other piece of writing that I’d love to see done.
Maybe you have something as well.
Visit www.yvonneelizabeth.com for more info
or email handlettering@yahoo.com

A Beautiful Goodbye

It was in this post that I mentioned a moment of clarity that I’d experienced with my mother when she was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
I like to think that there are times in our lives when, for whatever the reason, we are deserving of a small gift of the soul; something that catches us off guard and lifts the spirit; an experience that simply says, ‘carry on’.
If you’ve visited Smoke and Mirrors before and have read any of my writing, you could conceivably finish this post for me.
I think.

Lately, I have been keeping close tabs on my father (my sister, as well) for reasons I have chosen to keep private.
That said, I visited him last Sunday around noontime to feed him lunch.
He tends to eat well whenever my sister and I feed him simply because we’re able to be patient. It’s a wonderful feeling to know he’ll nap the afternoon away with a belly full of food and that we had a small part in it.

He ate well for me on Sunday: pot roast, mashed potatoes w/gravy, vegetables and the softest dinner roll I’ve ever held in my hand.
I wasn’t sure if he would even finish his dessert but the bastard ate all the Banana Cream Pie and didn’t even ask if I wanted any.
(I tried it and yes, it was very good)

I cleaned him up and we sat by the window in his room.
A slice of winter sunshine found him and I think he enjoyed the warmth of it.
I spoke with a few of the nurses on the floor who told me that he’d had a very good night.

“Walter? Oh, no problems with him. Sweet man.”

With my questions answered and my father fed, I went back to his room and bent down so we were face-to-face, and kissed his forehead.

“I love you, Dad.”

He just stared at me.

“I know, I know,” I said, “You love me too, right?”

He lifted his tired hand, smiled and gently stroked my cheek.
No words were exchanged but no words were really necessary.
For a brief second, my father was really ‘there‘.

When moments like this happen you have to soak them in because they’re oh, so rare.
It’s the stuff of the soul.
Small gifts, my sister said.
Maybe they’re not quite as small as I’d originally thought.
I walked out of the nursing home and felt the winter sun on my face and I smiled because it felt a bit warmer than it usually does.
Maybe that was a gift as well . . .

~m

the Frozen Man

His soul sleeps,
buried far beneath a long forgotten vertical landscape,
yearning for home . . .
it dreams of places remembered; warm places, complete and innocently raw

The perpetual journey through a cobwebbed labyrinth remains a stygian quest at best,
an unanswered prayer, a dimly lit votive, a quiet cry in the dark
the clouds thicken, the earth cools and a winter of the mind settles in

Rolling waves of emotion yield snowflakes of blue
that fall like sleet, slicing the spirit into oh, so many unrecognizable pieces of what used to be a life; where nothing fits or belongs but must somehow remain

still . . .

Who knows when, this sadly shattered thing will end
Only God knows when it started,
But it’s wearing pretty thin, as the winter settles in, covering the frozen man . . .

~m

the memory of Him

I realized something unsettling and bit surprising after the last visit with my father.

I’m having some difficulty in loving what’s left of him.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold his worn and trembling hands, maybe rub his back if the situation allows but inside I feel almost nothing. And it bothers me, and hurts the soul.

Everything I loved about my father was on the inside – I understand that, but in some ways, I feel hypocritical and shallow for going through motions that seemingly resemble love. But for now, I love the “memory” of him.
I used to love the way he signed his name: Walter Murphy – clear, precise, orderly; bold black hand-written lines that typified his organizational mind, his once brilliant mind.
Even when my mother would guilt him into making a tossed salad for a camp cook-out, you could tell by the way it was put together that my father had made it.
I love the fact that he was a man that loved his family passionately, though we were only shown glimpses of that paternal love.
He used to laugh so hard sometimes that tears would trickle down his cheeks, affecting my mother in such a way that she would usually pee her pants from watching him laugh. They were made for each other, I think.
Living inside a disease like Alzheimer’s has as many advantages as disadvantages; life goes on and you subconsciously forget about the pain.
But like the snow in the winter and the falling leaves of autumn, time doesn’t forget.
It taps you on the shoulder in subtle ways, maybe to help us remember what once was.
I visited Moonbeam’s blog last night and was incredibly moved by this post.
I understood its content and felt its bittersweet sorrow.

Unlike Moonbeam’s post, this one wasn’t difficult to write because it was written many years ago.
I think I’ve edited the damn thing ad nauseum. On the inside . . .
Sometimes it just takes a tap on the shoulder to put it down on paper.
Thanks for the tap, Moonbeam.
And Dad?
Maybe I’ll see you in my dreams tonight . . .

~michael