– “Flicker,” Atmosphere (2014)
I’ve been on a bit of a writing kick lately. It’s nice to have something to say.
Maybe it’s the endless travel; maybe it’s Heidi and I crossing like ships in the wind. I arrive, she goes. She arrives, I go. The kids getting shuttled between intermediaries in the gaps.
The lonely nights, the solitary cocktails, give you time to think, to reflect. And so my mind, with no one else to talk to, has spoken to the screen.
It’s been nice to hear from so many of you – friends from different times and places – weighing in on these late-night missives. Concern, encouragement, bewilderment. All of it is taken to heart.
But you have to know, I hope you know, it’s not always so dark up there between the eye sockets.
Quite the contrary.
The me you see is mostly the me you see. Generally happy, optimistic, always ready – when time allows – to have some (lots of) fun.
And always moved by the unexpected.
Today, in the midst of a particularly good day, I got the normal stream of texts from Beckett as he walked home.
“Leaving” – when he left school.
“Crossed Broadway.” – when he crossed the scary four-lane mega road that separates the neighborhood his school is in from the one our home is in.
“Arrived” – when he got through the front door of our home.
But then, as I cranked the music back up at work, popped in the headphones, and set to wireframing a four-page registration webform for an upcoming event, I got this from him.
Keep in mind he’s 12. (And he wasn’t looking for anything – any favor, any item.)
(Punctuation and grammar as sent.)
“Hey dad I know I say this a lot to you, but I really really love you, I mean this so much. I know you say that you are not always the perfect dad, but trust me you are. You do so much for me and Brody and I and we will never stop thanking you. I really mean this, you are my best friend. Love you dad.”
I damn near started bawling at my desk. He’s never written anything like this before.
I responded: “Oh my gosh, Beckett. You’re going to make me cry. Thank you for saying that.”
He replied: “When I come from home from a bad day at school, it makes me so happy to see you (smiley face).”
Later that night, after he got home from baseball practice and I had picked up Brody from a friend’s house where she was being watched, Beckett bragged to her while they were sitting on the living room couch.
“I almost made dad cry!” Beck exclaimed.
“How?” Brody asked.
“With a text,” he said.
“I wanna’ see,” Brody declared. “Show me the text, daddy.”
So I showed her.
She read it.
“Daddy, that’s how I feel, too,” she said.
That’s how you win the day.
* * *
Tomorrow, I leave for a trip that’s become an annual milestone in my life – a five-day gathering with my father-in-law, his brothers, their kids and a few friends of mine – that’s known among the group simply as “Man Weekend.”
I’ve done some amazing things with these guys – whitewater rafted the middle fork of the American River as it shoots out of the Sierra Nevadas; soared over canyons tethered only by California’s majestic redwood forests on ziplines; gone deep into the red rocks of Sedona on ATVs.
The trip has mellowed out through the years. We’ve learned the excursions are nice, but it’s the company we enjoy the most. And so now we mostly gather – alternating years on my uncle’s ranch in Sonoma County and at Heidi’s family’s mountain home on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim – and play it by ear.
We hike, we play games, I cook. We drink at night and tell stories. And then we go our separate ways.
It always makes me happy. And despite the inconvenience of the timing, I always make sure to go. With all the surprises in life, I don’t want to die thinking I missed the last one – or one of the annual participants’ last ones.
Without fail, I do something stupid every year. One year, messing with his camera, I erased every photo from my uncle’s family trip to Hawai’i. Another, I drove a scooter at full speed at his house, missed the break handle, and jumped it onto his brand new front patio, breaking the tile and wrecking the front door.
There’s cursing, and yelling, and chaos. But we always survive, and come out a tighter unit on the end, with better stories to tell.
That’s what families do. We gather. We laugh. We mess up. We forgive. And we end up better, and closer, for it.
* * *
I took a break from these first two sections I wrote. Stepped outside and enjoyed the rapidly shifting desert weather. The 100-degree July nights have given way to 80-degree late September nights.
The air is pleasant and soft. It’s easy to sit out there, beer in hand, and get lost in day(night?)dreams. I do that a lot.
Maybe there’s nothing more to say, I think. Maybe this doesn’t have to drag on.
I could tell you about my son’s realization today that he has career dreams. I could tell you about my daughter waxing poetic this evening about her love of her theater conservatory class. I could tell you about Heidi, calling at 11 p.m. from St. Louis, to the delight of the kids, merely to say goodnight.
I could elaborate on all of those things.
But for once, the devil really isn’t in the details.
It’s in merely saying, sometimes the things we elaborate on don’t convey the whole picture.
Sometimes, man, we just want to let others know: everything’s okay.
But it’s more than that.
It’s more than that.
It’s something about thinking where you want to go. Seeing that place. Playing that idea in your mind every day until you get there.
It’s messy – this process of documenting.
Sometimes there’s no neat conclusion.
No answer yet as to where you’re going.
But you think it over and over …
… and before you know it, you arrive.
* * *
That’s what I tell myself.
I’ve not arrived yet; but I’m thinking it. Laying the foundation.
And in between the lunchtime ping pong, a midday conversation with a close friend, and the goofy texts you shoot off with contacts – and the unexpected ones from an offspring – you reflect: this is what it’s all about. The daily stories you take to bed. The ones you never tell.
I can’t find the next line, but I know it’s there waiting.
Someday the truth will unfold.
But today there is this – a snippet – to something I’m reaching for.
Today, this is enough.