This world is so confusing most of the time. You putzed around through your days/sneaking smokes under the metal bleachers/playing with yourself before you fell asleep to the fat cricket's song of another oozing August night. Your days were baseball and chicks. Sunburst guitars and meatloaf. You were gonna get a motorcyle, ride it straight into the dusk of some dream-like horizon. You were just living your life. Then, in a 3AM rice paddy, with the dark kettle drum booms of your young heart echoing off into the sky, past treetops filled with beat-up jungle birds and off into the ether of twinkling stars, you took one more earthly step and were gone forever. Back in your room, far far away, your old catcher's mitt lay under your empty bed: a small house spider shitting out eggs into the broke-in pocket where the fastballs used to pop.
Now, you sit on the side of a river of wine by mountains made of cloud, waiting for other dudes your age to come wandering downstream. Their faces are scared/awkward. You talk to them calmly. You hand 'em smokes that can't hurt and a Zippo. What was so confusing back there, you tell them, will all make sense to you real soon, buddy.
Finally, after a while, they smile at you, all jittery.
Come on, you say. I'll show ya' around. You're gonna like it here, fella, you say.
And they follow you down easy trails, to take a gander at the kingdom.
I remember vividly the babbling brook between me and the first deer I ever shot. It was a just a trickle, with smooth rocks the size of cannonballs. My ears were still ringing with the thunderous silence that comes after an old scopeless Remington erupts next to your skull. I walked through the water. Or on top of it. In my cheap Fayva workboots I ran to my deer; the icy pure water washing over the splatter stains on the fronts of the leather; slashing away at the month-old remnants of a vicious puke I'd earned from swallowing snuff spit so I could keep talking to a girl on the phone: a girl who was way out of my sixteen year old league. My husky body forged the stream, winter water soaking my wool socks, and I arrived at the deer's side pink and panting. The woods were still. There was no movement in the world.
He was a spike buck. Undernourished and not all that big. A Pennsylvania mountain deer. A moss eater.
His eyeball was open. There was a glaze on it. A vapid empty stare like one of the guys in Oasis. Within seconds, I knew that I hated him. I hated his stupid ass for standing there a hundred yards from the goddamn parking lot when I was on my way out of the hollow in the final moments before dark. I hated him for letting me shoot at him. And for letting me hit him. I wanted to wrap my arms under his belly guts and heave him upright and drag him around until he started kicking again. Until he ran off back into the winter evening woods where he belonged. Instead, he just layed there motionless on the grey carpet of sad idiot leaves. I still hate him for leaving me there like that. And I guess I always will.
And no I'm not sorry because that's not the point at all, is it.
I used to think that it was imposssible to die. Everything took so fucking long that there was just no way I was ever going to see the end of all these Italian hoagies and these eighth ounce bags of Christmas Tree Bud. I would sit in my 11th grade Algebra or Chemistry and stare at a clock that simply did not know how to work. Time moved so slowly. I was a frozen lamb in a frozen pasture and at night I could get baked and watch Arsenio Hall after my mom had said goodnight and went to bed. I could swish microwave-melted mint chocolate chip around in my mouth as if it were refreshing wind trapped in a cave. On the couch made of burlap, I could untie my Nikes and let 'em fall to the ground knowing damn right well that I would be back down there tomorrow, in the morning of the day, to put them on again. Nice and tight.
We went into a small-ass room yesterday with a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who had a kindly way. He seemed advanced in his gentleness, as if he didn't have to think about being gentle or overkill it with too much nice. He was just an easy-going guy and after a minute or two watching him rub jelly on my wife's belly I decided that I liked him a lot and was glad he was around.
He told us one good thing after another. The spine looks good. The amniotic fluid looks real good. See that? That's urine being produced, so that's very good. There's a hand. With fingers. That looks good.
Everything looked good. I liked this guy. Life Man, I call him. Looking at our unborn kid on the TV screen, pumping us full of excitement and promise. Giving us life. Life Man.
At the end, with a sweet build-up that I could tell he loved doing, he finally revealed to us that we would be having a little boy.
What else can I say? We're having a son. It's so good. We're gonna have a son.
I picked a dried autumn booger out of my daughter's nostril today while I was making her watch the baseball on TV with me. She let me do it. It didn't phase her, really. She was more into trying to escape my clutch, to get away from the boredom. I wiped it on my pants. No biggie. When it's your kid you wanna do stuff like that; you wanna show the ghosts and the angels and whatever else is floating around the room invisible, taking notes about if you're worth it or not, you wanna show them that you love your babies with insane love. With powerful outer space love. If someone else were to wipe a boogie on my pants I would take a hacksaw and start cutting at the seams of their lips until I peeled off the top two-thirds of their head, you know? But when it's your kid, it's different. You get in there and you pick their fucking noses and you genuinely enjoy it just as much, if not more, than you would enjoy a nice steak and a baked potato, some red wine.
And then later, like today, you start thinking it isn't enough, just to clean up their crusty noses and their dried snots and stuff. You start getting irrational with your love. Super hero shit. Like maybe if I start doing sit-ups right now, and keep doing them for five months straight/non-stop until my baby boy is born, well, maybe my abs and my skin and my muscles will get so tight that I will become bullet-proof. For serious. And then, if I just walk in front of the lad every moment for the rest of his life, if a gun goes off and a bullet flies at him, it'll just hit me and ping off my sit-ups body and fly into a tree or something.
That's how much love it is possible to dabble in. Bullet Proof Nose Picker Love. Unfuckingreal.
A Tennessee kid would have turned nineteen today. I never met him but I feel like I did. I've stared at him in pictures, his handsome face framed by a shock of thick dark hair, his thin frame usually wrapped up around his acoustic. He was the son of someone me and my wife met recently, someone who we like a lot. I cannot begin to understand her loss. No one can unless you've been there. Here's hoping you haven't.
Still, when I hear the tales of young men dying I think of that river somewhere way out there beyond the known sky. After the great big storm cloud of life melts away, after the whizzing bullets and the hydroplaning muscle cars and the dirty needles and the fistfights and the pills and the shitty cancers and leukemias and the bedroom nooses, all of it, after all of that slips away on the edge of a crisp afternoon breeze, what is left is this:
A young guy walking downstream, uncertainty in his gleaming eyes, headed right into the gaze of a kid who came before him. A good kid who's been waiting to show a newbie around.
For Henry. We'll play guitars someday.