Thursday, February 12, 2015

Living With Ghosts

Section 8, Block 10 Lot 80-s, Grave 6

It didn't seem right to be there much less snap a picture of the grave marker. It was weather-worn and untended with weeds growing out it where the lawn mower couldn't get close enough to trim.

There weren't any flowers or signs that anyone had visited in a long while. It registered his name, his date of birth and date of death. It added "Beloved Son." There were hundreds, maybe scores, of markers like his, all young, all forgotten.

August 28, 1970

I saw him a few weeks before he died. He was sitting on the steps of a school facing it's playground while his sister bounced a ball off of a wall. I was walking across the playground with a friend. Our eyes met. He looked away and so did I. That's how I'll always remember him.

"Its a mad mission under difficult conditions and not everybody makes it to the loving cup."

His locker was adjacent to mine when were in the 9th grade. While the rest of us were blossoming into man hood he was still prepubescent and he paid the price. His voice was still high pitched, he hadn't lost his baby fat and when we showered after gym class you could tell........... well you could tell.

"They gotta secret they're getting ready to tell. It's fallin from the sky. It's calling from the graves." 

He was teased without mercy. They'd break into his locker and stack his books up so they'd fall out on him when he opened it. They pushed him and tripped him. He ate lunch by himself, walked to the bus stop alone and looked out the window until it reached his stop.

Yeah, I know 14 year-olds are cruel. They are mean. They are merciless.

His name was Eugene. Eugene Wanta

The boys would walk by him in the showers, look at him and say "Wanta-Blow-Me" They'd goad an attractive girl into talking to him for a few minutes and then she'd yell "Wanta-Eat-Me" as she ran away giggling.I remained silent. The cool kids ignored me (Thank God.) I wasn't about to play John the Baptist and offer my head on a platter to them. Let Eugene fend for himself. Survival of the fittest and all that rot. 

"You know you're coming to some kind of understanding when every dream you've dreamed has passed and you're left still standing."

There were days when they terrorized him that he'd look over at me and his eyes begged for assistance. I'd look away, grab my lunch and scoot. He went on to a different school the next year and until that day on the playground I hadn't ever given him any thought.
He looked alone and he looked vulnerable. That' s how I'll remember him - alone and vulnerable.

It's been 45 years. There are nights he haunts me.

I had one last opportunity that August afternoon to stop and recognize him, acknowledge him and the most painful of all ghosts, apologize to him. I didn't. I could have told him, on the cusp of our senior year in high school, that I should have told those other kids to leave him alone and that "Hey Eugene, it's okay."

I've tried to crawl inside of his head all these year and tried to figure out why, on the 28th of August, just a week before we'd start our senior year of high school that he'd throw a rope over a beam in his basement and hang himself. I always get the same answer.

Like the guards at Buchenwald and Auschwitz, I stood silently by while other people pushed and prodded him towards that noose on that August afternoon
In his mind there was no hope, no faith, just sitting on those steps and watching his sister bounce a ball off the school wall and live with an emotional pain so deep that it caused him physical pain. It was, for him, the end of the line.

Somewhere inside of me there is a flame burning, some days not too very brightly, but burning none-the-less. It encourages me. There are times I have felt someone with me, someone just out of my field of vision or ear shot and when I need it most reassurance.

When I began this post I wasn't sure where it was going. It's taken close to 4 hours to write. I keep stopping and staring out the window. sometimes I've sat for as long as 20 minutes and silently cried, wishing I could turn the clock backwards. I'm not even sure why I began but as I prepare to wrap it up I understand.

I may not be your brand, tribe or niche. I never have been nor will I ever be one of the cool kids. I don't sparkle or sprinkle fairy dust or turn every moment into a positive platitude. I'm awkward and uncoordinated at best. (Who else falls in the parking lot of a health food store and breaks his back.) I'm sincere, enthusiastic and very loud at times.

I got your back

My brand is compassion. My niche are the forgotten, the lost, the challenged and the people who want to be like us ad don't know how to get there. They are bright, creative and maybe they don't always fit in with everyone else. They will never make me rich. I dont know if they are on oe in social media, Google+ or Facebook. 

"Ain't a soul on this entire earth ain't got a burden to carry he don't understand, you ain't alone in that... But you been carryin' this one long enough... Time to go on... lay it down... Bagger Vance"

I paused for a moment and closed my eyes. 

Somewhere I could hear my accountant, my lawyer, my social media consultant and my family murmuring "What are you doing!?!  People will thing you are crazy."

Being real. 

And then, like out of nowhere, I saw Eugene sitting on the steps looking out at the playground. He turned his head for a moment, he winked and then he smiled and then he left. 

"Don't blame you for leavin' here baby. It's cold here living with ghosts."

Take care of each other

All quotes in this posting are from songs written by Ms Patty Griffin on her 1995 album Living With Ghosts, with the exception of the quote attributed to Bagger Vance from the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance