The rough riders, tearing up the streets, just like old times.
This old bus is a warrior, Frank. I have tried to kill her, but she will not die.
I have a great respect for that.
Tom Wall - Bringing Out the Dead
An elderly man sits in front of a cold television set, the house is warm, but silent this day. There are plenty of homemade meals, frozen and put carefully away and labeled, things his daughter made for him, on hand. But tonight, he just wanted some canned chicken soup and a generous drop of amber liquid, something familiar and warm for his soul.
Outside the wind blows, new spring leaves clinging to still bare branchess as fiercely as flags. Inside, the phone rings, it's the neighbors, a couple of "kids in their 60's", as he calls them, calling to check up on him across the little white brick fence. For they'd not seen anyone leave the house for a walk in a couple of days. Beyond the simple expression of Christian caring, they were concerned. He was fine.
He was glad they noticed.
Tonight, his son is gone and his wheels are silent. He's alone with his thoughts and the past, hoping the phone will ring. It would be his daughter, who lives so far away, who checks on him daily and visits when she has days off that allow for a quick flight out there and back.
He thinks of her, not as a grown woman, but always as that little auburn haired child who would sit on the couch for hours. Her companions were the books she coveted, books that she did not so much simply love, but crave like an addict, the fire that flowed from the writers mind through fingertips to be burnt upon the page, then doused with the water of laughter or tears, and wrung out again. He always said there was no interrupting her when she was like that, the house could burn down around her as she embraced the words among the flames. She remembers him saying "She'll love everything that hard. That will be both her blessing and her curse". She wonders why she remembers it now.
He settles down as he waits for her call.
So someone always checks on him and she has had more than one call when his curtains weren't opened or the dog was barking, only to find he'd simply fallen asleep in the chair. Apologies were made but she would dismiss them, for better to be concerned and have it be a false alarm when look away from someone is in need of dire help.
It wasn't always this way. In my Dad's time, a nation attacked us without warning and we dropped a very large atomic bomb on them. Today, we apologize profusely to those who wish to kill us, closing the shutters so we don't see rogue nations continue to build their nuclear capability. We close our mouths, stopping our protests before they become sound.
Off work for a few hours, I go for a short run in sweatpants and a beloved dark blue Citadel sweatshirt, trying to work off ten pounds that set up base camp after my brother's death, the need to get out in the wind briefly stilled. With the bad knee it is a work in progress, moving always, finding the composition of lift and motion that will propel me forward, help me get past pain that is more than a knee, scanning the horizon for anything unusual, gun on my hip under my shirt
The place I live in when working is in a little town some miles from the city but close enough we have to be vigilant. It's relatively quiet, with some nice houses, a young neighbor I recognize walking a lab, his wife, pushing a stroller. But there are still a few homes that look like the only lab that have is of the meth variety. I see an older neighbor and stop and ask her about her grandchild, she asks about my family and tells me she misses seeing Barkley. I thank her, small connections, small reassurances.
I see someone on the bike trail that goes past my road. I recognize her, a city clerk, another volunteer at the food kitchen, we chat briefly and wave goodbye. As I head out into the open area that's part of a nature preserve. I see a movement off in the brush. Dog? Coyote? Now I knew I was in no danger from the coyote or his brethren, as there were many walkers about, but I was in his world. To my eyes, his world was dark, every noise I make a threat or a promise. Where he could see, I was blind, where he could smell, my senses were mute. What he could hear eluded me completely. What drew him in, was as old as time and as uncaring. While I had intellect and size he had the grimness of infallibility, instincts honed through generations of survival in an ever dangerous land.
Despite the scientific part of my brain telling me that logically I was in no danger there are primal forebodings that stir softly in our blood. Times, despite logic, that cause a less than subliminal sense of something lurking, watching. Something that stalks quietly, closer to our world than we want.
As I headed back towards my garage,I see a young man I don't recognize, coming from the direction of town I tend to avoid. His eyes are binge drinking slits, downcast, his hands in his pockets, his whole movement, one of coiled tension and anger, at his parents, at life, who knows. I clear my throat and make eye contact and move across the street towards the gleam of a light in a window, walking head up, hand ready, determined in my movements, even if I still have a bit of a limp when I'm tired. He moves away and past, paying as little attention to me as he does his own grooming, not knowing that had he moved with the intention of harm, I would have dropped the whole world on him.
I care, for people, for friends, even for strangers who, having lived lives of work and honor, just need a little support. And, as Dad surmised, I love deeply. But I have a limited capacity for empathy for scavengers and predators, having seen in my travels around the world, some absolute realities beyond the billboard of illusion that the socially and politically naive never imagine.
I go inside my little crash pad, setting down on the table my own sword; one in the form of a large caliber firearm, dropping the badge in my coat pocket on the table; my shield, one that grants access to grief but does not protect me from sorrow. For sometimes you think you can fly, only to be destined to drown.
For years, I did all I could to protect not just my physical form, but my heart-- doing what people the world over do when they are hurt. I pushed everyone away. I also pushed my boundaries, sometimes hanging up high in the air, the g-forces on my body a distraction from the pain, the air parting like the Red Sea, my only need to move on at maximum risk to my body, and minimum risk to my soul.
I wanted nothing from the world but the ability to push through it without being touched. I talked little to people but much to the sky, whispering to it my regrets as I rolled through 40 degrees of bank, taking counsel with that great blue solitude.
You think that cheating death like that would make me feel alive but for a time, it was a battle without passion, grey and colorless, with neither the urge to win, or the fear to lose, played out before an arena with no audience. I came within a few knots of a final pronouncement more than once, and found that I had nothing left to say.
The only sound was the wings cleaving the air, a sound that is like all other sounds of profound mystery, the lap of a wave upon a shore, the echo of taps, the whispers of a voice that speaks to you in dreams from an eternity away, heard but not comprehensible.
There were a lot of good times, there were a lot of good memories wasted as more than once I said "should have" or "would have" Those are words in all of our hearts, at least once. We recall much of a life as each year passes, candles on another cake, warm breath against the flames. But what do you remember most - the best day of your life or your last regret?
The difference is profound.
Sometimes it's pride, sometimes it's hurt. Sometimes it's history. Often it's the fear of being judged, or even rejected. The safety stays on, the mouth stays closed and while we think we are protecting ourselves, we're merely closing a door on life, one that can be as fixed as one of a prison. In doing so sometimes we lose a friend, we lose an opportunity or we lose on love- that improbable, inexplicable and sometimes bewildering thing that binds us together despite our blood, or through it.
I look at my Dad, and when my brothers name is mentioned he gets this look of profound grief on his face, even as I've learned to get through the day as a stoic. He is a man who is not Time's trinket and for him, my brothers collapse and death on Good Friday was if it was yesterday.
But he'd not have given up the experience of adopting and raising him, both of us, for any happier ending. As I make my plans to call both he and my husband tonight - that's what I will remember.
Back home out West, someone is knocking on my Dad's door, with food, with care, making sure he's not alone tonight. He looks through the peephole, unlocks the door and opens his home and his heart, all that is left to him. In his closet is a military uniform, on his porch an American flag, and within his reach, until he was too frail to handle it, a shotgun that had fed and protected him for over 75 years. On the table, a photo of a tiny spitfire of a woman, years before her bones shrank inwardly, her mind and her flesh growing sparse in those last days that he never ever, left her side.
We love with great depth, we defend with great pride, we protect with a generation's honor, even as we always keep our guard up, our eyes open equally to worry and wonder.