Pastoral Genocide

It’s Sort Of Alright.
June 10, 2008, 4:42 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags:

We don’t talk anymore, you know? Not like we used to. She seems distant. I’m probably distant, too. Who knows why it’s like this. 31 years is a long time. I look back at the past 31 years – 34 if you count before we were married – and it’s like I can’t imagine myself without her. She’s part of me. So it’s hard, not talking. We say the same empty things to each other every day, we talk about the weather or the war on TV. She asks me for help when she’s doing her crossword puzzle every morning and I try to oblige. I peck her on the cheek on my way out the door every morning. The American dream, right? But we don’t really seem to say anything to each other. I don’t get it. I wish I did, I really wish I got it. But I don’t and it bothers me.

Maybe we’re just getting old. Maybe this is part of the entire process. Find someone you love. Get married. Have kids. Raise those kids. Watch them grow up and leave, go to college and then move somewhere 3,000 miles away. Watch them not need you anymore and pretend to be happy about it. Realize that you’re old and largely useless and you’ve nothing to look forward to except grandchildren and maybe death.

The problem is, you see, she and I don’t talk about these things. I miss talking to her. I remember on our honeymoon – we went to Hawaii – sitting on the beach next to her and talking. Really talking. Talking about love, books, children, the way the south pacific is beautiful and alive and like nothing we’d ever seen before.

I remember bringing her home after we – well, she- had our first kid. We’ve got this tiny little baby, this helpless little human that’s fat and pink and a mixture of beautiful and ugly. I’m holding him and sitting in the living room. She’s sitting next to me. He won’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do, what to say. He just won’t stop crying. And she just keeps saying, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright. It sent chills up my spine, you know? A wife, a kid, a house. I’m a father, she’s a mother. Unbelievable in a completely believable way. Later that night, when the baby had finally stopped crying and fallen asleep, I remember talking to her. Really talking. We were laying in bed, next to each other. I had my arms wrapped around her and I told her that I’d never been this happy. She told me that besides being a little sore, she was happy, too. Happier than she’d ever thought she’d be.

We had another kid. We got a bigger house. Life became about working overtime to buy a nicer car and refinish the basement, PTA meetings, little kid’s basketball games, all that shit. I liked it. We were always busy, and it was good that way. Life went by so fast. Now that I think about it, maybe too fast. We never got a chance to just sit down and breathe. You know, hold hands and talk. Really talk.

I don’t know how long it’s been since we last talked about anything. We call our son who lives on the west coast – I’m always on the line in the kitchen, she’s always on the line in the bedroom – and we listen to him, tell him to eat well, tell him that we love him, all that parental-type shit, even though we know he doesn’t need it from us anymore. He’s grown up, you know? We did a good job raising him, all things considered, and he just doesn’t need us anymore. After we hang up, we say the same things to each other, like I hope’s he doing alright, he sounds good. You know, meaningless, hollow stuff like that.

We don’t talk to our other son because he’s dead. He died from cancer when he was 17. It was sad. But I won’t, can’t use that as a crutch to explain why she and I don’t talk anymore. It was hard when it happened, but it’s been 14 years. 14 years is a long time. I’m sad that it happened, she’s sad that it happened. We’ll both always be sad that it happened. But even when it was happening, even when we knew that there was no hope, no way out, we still talked. We talked about being young and hopeless and having to stare your own mortality in the eyes. We talked about how dark that must be. We talked about broken hearts, how we couldn’t believe that this was happening that we couldn’t understand why this was happening, and how we wished more than anything that this wasn’t happening. I remember the day of the funeral. It was raining. The funeral was huge. It seemed like all the people from his high school were there. Son #1, the one with cancer, told me this would happen. He told me that he probably wouldn’t like half the people there. He said he was the cause-celeb of Big Miami High School. He said that it was sort of like a bandwagon thing. Let’s rally around the kid with cancer. God, that kid was smart. I miss him, I really do. I wish I got the chance to see him grow up. He also told me that he played the cancer card to get laid. I patted him on the back. I was happy for him, you know? No one wants to die a virgin.

Anyway, we’re at his funeral. It’s raining outside, a warm, gray spring day. The perfect day for a funeral, really. All these people with somber looks on their faces. Everywhere you look, people looking downcast and downtrodden. I didn’t know a lot of the people there. I guess I was glad they came, though. I’m sitting there, in the front row of this cavernous church. My wife is crying and I’m trying as hard as I can not to. I grab her around the shoulders and tell her that I love her. She doesn’t respond. I feel helpless as I listen to her sobs punctuate the air and bounce resoundingly off the church’s stained glass windows. It feels weird, you know? Like I’m in this church surrounded by literally everyone I know in this world – and a lot of people I don’t – and I feel more alone and empty than I’ve ever felt in my life.

So this young priest guy with a crew cut gets up in front of everyone and starts talking. About God and plans and joyous reunions in heaven. Typical bullshit, you know? And all I can think about is when we brought him home from the hospital and he wouldn’t stop crying. And how my wife patted him on the head and just kept repeating it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright. I still get goose bumps when I think about it.

And then I think about my life now. About how sad I am. I mean, the love of my life, the mother of my children, my better half is sitting next to me and crying. She has just lost her son, our first born. She’s crying uncontrollably and I just want to somehow tell her that it’s alright. But I can’t, I just can’t. I realize this and it kills me. But what can I do?

After the funeral, after that day, life was rough. We had a kid and ourselves to take care of, we had a house and bills and jobs to obsess over. We still talked, though.  We went to meetings together, where professionals told us how to deal with grief. About how it seemed dark right now but just over the horizon, there was sunshine and happiness. A bunch of flowery, metaphorical nonsense. I never really bought into it, you know? If these people were as smart and as worthwhile as they claimed to be, why in the hell do they have to peddle their services to the hopelessly inconsolable? I mean, speaking from experience, the grief-stricken pretty easy-going consumers. Case in point, right after my son died, I bought a new car. Not because I wanted a new car or needed a new car, but because I thought maybe it would make me feel alive again. You know, go out into the world and spend a lot of money on something you don’t need. But it didn’t really work. I just felt like a guy with a new car and a dead kid.

But, as usually is the case, life moved on. And we still talked, her and I. We got through it the best we could, you know? I tried my best and she tried her best. We went out to dinner a lot, took some vacations. Started having sex again. We tried to replace the gaping hole in both our hearts by loving each other even more. It worked for awhile.

When our other son moved out to go to college, it was a shock. Not the way that son #1’s departure was a shock, but still, a shock. The house felt so empty. The funny thing is, the more time we had together, the less we talked. Life started to become so routine. So goddamn routine. We still went out to dinner. We rarely had sex, though. Menopause or some lady issue like that. I never really made her explain it to me, you know? I feel like she earned the right to no longer have sex with me, after more than 25 years of enduring my awkward lovemaking and pale, sweating body. Plus, we’re getting old, and frankly, erections don’t come to me like they used to. Who’d of thought? I remember being 18 and I having to tuck the goddamn thing into my belt on account of the good-looking blond that sat across from me in freshman English.

Anyway, we got old. Gradually, and then suddenly, it become hard to talk to each other. I guess I just never really had anything to say. And she didn’t either. She knows I love her more than anything in the world and vice-versa. Maybe when you’ve been together for so long, you just don’t have anything left to say. I don’t know. We’ve been through a lot in our lives. Being young and dirt poor, fighting and scratching to make a place in this world. Making it, starting a family. Having kids and loving those kids immeasurably. Watching our first born pass away, watching our second born become a man. Watching ourselves get old and grey and slightly useless. We went through all of this together. I mean, I know what she’s thinking and she knows what I’m thinking. What’s there to say? But, I wish we had something to say, I really do.

Last week, it was the 16th anniversary of son #1 dying. Like always, we go to this giant, mega-graveyard on the west side of town where he’s buried. This place is something else. It’s like 45 acres of dead bodies. The mausoleum is this contemporary slash brooding marble temple that they built 10 or so years ago. I don’t get it, honestly. Another thing I don’t get about this graveyard is the monthly newsletter they send. I mean, Jesus Christ. I’m not really concerned about the monthly happenings at the White Crane Cemetery. I called once, and told them to stop sending the goddamn things. But they still come.

So, we’re at this cemetery. She brought some flowers. She always brings flowers. I guess to say that even though our son has been dead for a long time, he’s still loved. I personally wouldn’t bring flowers, but I don’t blame her for bringing flowers. It’s a nice gesture, you know? We stand there for awhile. She cries. I put my arm around her shoulder. I’ve been done crying for a long time. It’s a blue sky day, bright and warm and its spring and you can hear birds in the trees and the air smells nice. And I start thinking, thinking about how we don’t really talk anymore. It’s killing me, it really is. I’m funny like that. I guess I knew for a long time that we stopped talking but I never really thought about it until that moment. It immediately bothered me. Why don’t we talk anymore? Really talk? I wish I knew. Really, I do.

We stand by the grave for a little while and then get into the car. The drive home is pretty much silent until she says that she’s hungry. I agree with her, I’m hungry too. We stop at this little restaurant by our house. We eat here a lot, I guess. The food is ok and it’s cheap and clean, so I don’t mind it. After we eat, we drink coffee- decaf for her – and I pay the bill and we go home. I sit down on the couch and watch television. A basketball game is on. Pro ball, Denver at Los Angeles. I don’t really care for either of these teams as I’m more of a Eastern Conference type of guy. But still, I watch. She is in the kitchen, doing something. I hear her banging around.

Later that night, we’re laying in bed. My leg is crossed over hers. I’m still annoyed that we don’t talk, really talk, like we used to. I’m trying really hard to think of why we don’t talk anymore, trying to come up with a good explanation. I can’t. I know that some people would take the easy route and blame it on the dead son or the other son that lives 3,000 miles away and won’t give us the time of day besides a phone call every couple weeks. But I’m not those people. Yeah, we’re old. But I can’t imagine myself without her. Like I said, she’s a part of me. And she’s smart. I’ve always loved that about her, how smart she is. She used to say things that would just blow me away. It kills me that we don’t talk anymore.

I don’t sleep well that night or any of the nights for the rest of the week. The whole “we don’t talk anymore” thing is really bothering me. It’s making me look at the past 34 years in a way I’d never thought I’d look at them, you know? I’m really and totally sad, it’s making me go crazy on the inside. So finally, after a week of not sleeping and not eating, I get the courage to talk to her about it. This is big, this is important. This could be the most important conversation that I have before I die. It’s that important. I miss talking to her, I really do. It eats me up that we don’t talk. What happened?

We’re sitting at the kitchen table, reading different sections of the newspaper. I tell her that there’s something I want to talk to her about. It’s funny, you know? I’m trying to have our first real conversation in God knows how long and I have to start it out with the phrase “there’s something we’ve got to talk about.” Like I’m 15 years old . She looks up at me. I start talking. I start from the beginning, how we never really talk. How it bothers me. How I remember being so young and so in love. About our honeymoon and the magic blue of the endless pacific. About bringing son #1 home and how he wouldn’t stop crying and she just kept saying that its alright, its alright, its alright. About funerals and emptiness and wanting to just start talking, really talking, again. And suddenly, I’m crying. A 55 year old man, sitting at the kitchen table, crying. And I can’t stop. I haven’t cried in years. I wish I wasn’t crying now. I’m talking in circles, not really making any sense. I’ve got a lot of things to say, but I’m not saying anything. I’ve bottled all this real talk up inside for so long and now its just pouring out me. So I’m talking and crying and not making any sense whatsoever. And I look across the table and see that she’s crying, too. This makes me cry more. I think she understands, I hope she understands, really, I do.

And then she starts talking. It’s beautiful, in a way. We’re both crying and talking about the past 31 – or 34 if you count before we were married – years. And neither of us are really saying anything, but we both understand, I think. I reach across the table and grab her wrist and look into the familiarity of her eyes. It’s comfortable, knowing someone as well as I know her.

Then she stands up and walks over to me. She stands behind me and reaches her arms down around my chest and whispers in my ear that it’s alright, it’s alright.

It’s alright, she says, over and over.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great writing. Really connected with me. I will be checking your other stories out. Thanks.

Comment by riverdeep

this about made me cry.

Comment by ben

Incredible stuff, Toby.

Comment by Lo-Res Viscera

I’m a little late on this, but damn that’s some good stuff

Comment by dex

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