When I was growing up in the 1970's, the Kingdom of Adults seemed so enchanted and wonderful.
Standing down around my parents knees I watched as my dad blew carefree cigarette smoke into the sky while my mom twirled around in the back yard, spinning and smiling to the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen To the Music' on the Kmart radio laying beside the still hot burger fat bbq.
Life was beautiful back then, for a couple of minutes anyway. My dad snapped the pull-away tab off of another warm can of Pabst and I sighed at a butterfly dancing on a thermal. My mom smiled down at me and my heart was lifted up by chains tied directly to the sun and the moon and the stars.
I was 7 or 8, a little kid standing on the half-dead summer grass of some suburban backyard not much bigger than two station wagons, and I think I remember beautiful waves of safety rolling through my young body. They were talking breezes, hushed Stevie Nicks sexy witch voices whispering to me that our family had so much love that we would probably never even be able to use it all up; not in this lifetime and probably not in the next one either.
You know how these things go though. Ever since the goddamn Cotton Gin and the locomotive changed everything, especially love/from farm love to factory love, there is always some catch, some loophole; there is constantly something terrible and swift swishing around in the kiddie piss just a football field away from the fat sausage pillars of this crowded happy beach.
Divorce came along and my world exploded and I saw my dad a few times after that and then I never saw him again for like 25 years. There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it either. All I could do was stand in the dugout at Little League practice and watch the other dads who had showed up to coach or holler at the umps.
Looking back now, what a fool I was. I was just a dumb kid, still sniffing around the dried-up shit turds of a once powerful, awesome creature that was long gone by then. Love, the love I had been born into, the kind of unshakable forever family love that I thought I had been born into, the kind we all deserve to be born into, that kind of love was so far from me by the time I was ten that I'd stand there chewing on some gnawed-up strand of rawhide lace dangling off of my mitt, breathing in the soft menthol smoke that had just been dilly-dallying around down in the mines of some other daddy's lungs, and for whatever reason it would remind me of my own dad, right there in the middle of the stupid idiotic game.
I was ten and someone else's cigs were tugging at my heartstrings.
I didn't ask for any of that.
I hated my mom so much then: for letting my dad go, for letting him run away from her, from us.
And I hated my dad for picking the booze, for letting it run over him like a steamroller that just appeared at our back gate that summer afternoon three decades ago and plowed us all down into nothing but ghosts of who we'd been.
And this whole mess sliding down out of the bright blue innocent sky before that dumbass Doobie Brothers song was even over.
That same song came on the satellite radio the other day while I was out driving around, trying to fight the urge to buy a pack of cigarettes. I haven't smoked in almost a year which might not mean much to you, but to me it's pretty big deal. I've felt better. I always laughed when people would say that, but it's kind of true I guess. Maybe that's why they say it to begin with. Anyway, the song reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, something old and good but lost to me now that I'm older.
Pink sun slithering, I was heading due west down the country road not far from where I live and the moment that the tune came on I felt something hot shoot up through me like dope in my blood.
I wanted to smoke really bad in the moments right before it came on, but then as soon as it started playing, I didn't care anymore about any of that. I lost the urge, just like that. Weird, huh?
That's how we get through life, I guess. One second you are sure you are done for and then boom: you pull yourself together somehow.
Or you don't.
I have a son on the way.
He's my third child and I love him so much already that I get straight-up belly sick thinking certain things and overpowered by thinking others. He's not even born yet and still there's so much stuff I just don't know,so much stuff that me and his mom don't know together.
I don't know if he will be born into a family whose love is strong and forever, and by 'forever' I mean it in the old school way: breathing tubes and artificial gasps and squeezing a still warm, age-speckled ham fist under the hospital halogen lights, fighting back the tears that only can only ever come and hurt so righteously when two people have been inseparable all along, through all the awful shit water you have to wade through to get out to where it's all just one last peaceful winding-down firefly evening.
I know, I know, at least three or four people out there in the world would probably whisper that that's fool's talk coming from someone like me, a guy who has always pretended that he knew how to do things, how to live right, when really certain people are starting to doubt if I ever did.
But what can I do, right?
What can I say now, to slip old words back into their sheaths and let them rust away to nothingness. If I could go back in time, I'd have ripped my tongue out with a hunk of Pepsi can long ago. Back when I was like 20. But I missed that chance and I kept my tongue and I swung it around like a boss. Looking back, I think I thought that I could treat new love just like I treated old love. I think I thought that I could look it straight in the eyes and challenge it to not stick with me for ever and ever and ever.
I think I tasted salt on my lips and was fucking sure that it was there to add a little flavor to all the love I was gorging myself on. But I got that one all wrong, too. Because, hey/look, I'd been body slammed by love way back in the 70's and I'm still bleeding out of my earholes.
Turns out that the salt was just old scuzzy blood I've been too preoccupied to feel and too lazy to wipe away.
After everything that has happened, after all of the empires and kingdoms, after all of the battles and the wars, after each and every little rinky-dink story up until now has been told over and over and over again, has been thumped into our marshmallow skulls so that we might learn at least a little bit about how to make things better along the way, after all of that history and living has come down, it turns out that it's me. Me. I'm 42 next week, waiting on a brand new heart and trying to stop a wounded one from gushing itself silly and it's actually me: I'm the lucky son-of-a-bitch in charge of love and marriage and whatever it all is morphing into these days outside, all sprawled across these December streets.
Oh my God.
I want to blame the whole fucking world/I need to blame myself/And to be perfectly honest, I don't think I was ready for any of this at all.
And no, dude. I didn't buy the stupid smokes if that was all you've been sticking around to find out.