He returns to the alley too often. It is not a gravestone, after all, but close enough and all he has. Sometimes he sits on the cold concrete, recalling the night they met – though he sits on the far side, never beneath the darkened streetlight. Most times he just paces back and forth as he lights, smokes, and discards cigarette after cigarette. Their burnt ends litter the cement, are ground beneath his shoes and grow soggy in rain puddles. He hopes some shred of fate still lingers here. He hopes he will catch his lover’s tragedy, be infected with whatever curse or punishment took the man from him so he can experience the same pain, the same misery, the same slow death. In this place where everything started, he seeks the beginning of the end. It is the only way left for him to feel close to his beloved. He hopes he will die here; living is a betrayal he cannot bear much longer.
It’s been ten years. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days. In that time, three years of college; three of Americorps; three with a ‘real’ job. Two degrees and one diploma. Four years with the woman I love, who you will never meet. Forty-two foster kittens. Some hundred thousand miles on my car. One car accident, zero broken bones. Two trips to Washington DC, one to Yosemite, one to Switzerland. One new Jurassic Park movie, which you’ll never watch with me, and too many Tremors sequels. Three tattoos, going on four. One wedding to plan and one to attend. Three times a bridesmaid and once a bride. Zero fathers to walk me down the aisle. Zero dads to dance with. Zero you but countless dreams and too many things I’ll never get to share with you.
“You Would Have Been 70”
In 2007, I missed telling you about my history classes.
In 2008, I missed you helping me buy gear for my fieldwork on Mount Rainier.
In 2009, I missed showing you the rock samples I collected in New Mexico.
In 2010, I missed seeing you at my college graduation.
In 2011, I missed introducing you to my new favorite band.
In 2012, I missed hiking in Yosemite with you.
In 2013, I missed introducing you to my girlfriend.
In 2014, I missed you helping me move into my first official apartment.
In 2015, I missed discussing Ray Bradbury with you.
In 2016, I missed showing you my engagement ring.
In 2017, I will miss you walking me down the aisle.
amid a small town
a rusting iron fence;
amid fading gravestones
dried flowers and pine needles;
amid a broken wind chime
a porcelain unicorn;
amid the red carnations
a date range carved in marble;
amid the living’s thoughts
a little girl long lost
(rest in peace, little one, whoever you were)
“Aren’t you going to tell me not to do anything drastic when you’re gone?”, I asked him once. He had shrugged and said, “I won’t give a shit what you do then.” I wonder if that’s true, though. Do you give a shit now? Can you, wherever you are? And if so, are you disappointed in me? I know I am. I used to wonder what I’d do after you were gone, whether I’d pick something flashy like jumping from the roof or something classic like hanging. Turns out I just went back to what I did best before I met you: killing myself slowly with alcohol and painkillers. Not really flashy or classic, I guess, so much as just pathetic. There’s no urge to do anything else, though, you know? I don’t have the energy to climb up to the roof. I don’t have the desire to decide which tie would make the best noose. I don’t even feel moved enough to take the whole bottle of pills and wash them down with a tumbler of Crown. I just keep getting drunk, getting high, getting lost, waiting for the morning I finally don’t wake up. Does that disappoint you? Were you secretly hoping I’d make some grand final gesture, or at least that I’d find it impossible to slip back into my old life so easily? Or do you still, even now, not give a shit what I do or how I do it?
When will the dawning break? Oh endless night
Sleepless I dream of the day when you were by my side
Guiding my path; Father, I can’t find the way
You promised you’d be there whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name you’re not anywhere
I’m trying to hold on, just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do to end this nightmare
Sometimes I feel like I’m overflowing with all the things I want to tell you. They’ve accumulated over the years, you know? Eight years of stories, questions, secrets, interesting facts and finds. I want to tell you about Rose’s Pawn Shop; I think you’d get a kick out of the fact that my favorite band is a bluegrass band. I want to tell you I ended up majoring in Geoscience and History, not English; would that surprise you, or not? I want to tell you about this Roger Zelazny short story I read – it has the Mary Celeste and the Flying Dutchman in it! I want to tell you about field work in New Mexico, climbing to the base of the Nisqually glacier, studying Japanese biological warfare, and the crazy, wonderful professors who made that all possible. I want to tell you about trying to explain recycling to immigrants from Sudan, Vietnam, Ukraine; I want to tell you about teaching emergency preparedness to children and teenagers and adults. I want to make you see Jurassic World with me, even though we both know it will be awful. I want us to go see Jaws in theaters for its 40th anniversary. I want to tell you I remember the first time we watched that movie, and every movie you ever showed me. I want to tell you I discovered the magic and power of Bradbury too late to discuss him with you, and I’ll always regret that. I want to tell you I’ve finally fallen in love, and I know you’d like her, and I know you’d be happy for us. I want to tell you I look at time differently now, and relationships, and life. I want to tell you we’re okay, but we miss you terribly, and things can’t ever be the same.
I know that the night must end
And that the sun will rise, and that the sun will rise
I know that the clouds must clear
And that the sun will shine, and that the sun will shine
I know that the night must end
I know that the sun will rise
And I’ll hear your voice deep inside
There’s a part of me that will never accept there isn’t a spell to bring you back. That part of me will always wonder at the words, the ingredients, the timing. Maybe it’s possible, it will argue. Maybe you just need the right combination of Bradbury and Zelazny, Irish Rovers and Bob Seger, a circle of beach sand sprinkled with Guinness and in the center an eagle feather laid atop a Harley Davidson t-shirt; maybe if you just keep searching you’ll find enough little memories to place at the foot of that weathered stone until one day “No Regrets” won’t make your heart twist to read. And I hate that part of me, but I can’t stand to snuff it out, because what if it’s right?