I don't have any other way of looking at it.
I can't pretend to see myself through the eyes of a woman or a Chinese person or a black person or a gay person or my mom or my brother or some dog or a bald eagle in a tree in the narrows or even some God in the sky.
God, cracking his big hairy knuckles as he shifts around on his barstool up there on a puffy cloud called Heaven: his fat ass flabbing down off the duck-taped red vinyl of a throne that has seen better days, man: God on his stool in the Dew Drop Inn, drunk off his face, a pickled pig's foot on a cocktail napkin sat there by his two fingers of Old Crow/Weezer on the CD jukebox for the second time this morning/'Holiday'/girders of sunlight ramming through the glass block window/ smoky light/ holy light/Def Leppard/'Hysteria'/it's so loud/too loud for 10am/but it's no fun being God or even pretending to be him/and there you go.
How can I know what the hell anyone sees in me?
Or what anyone sees when they look at me?
I can't. That's exhausting to even think about it. I only know what I see. In the mirror. In the rearview. In the quick reflection as I'm walking into the Sheetz. In the demonic shapes my breath takes on these cold-ass January days when all I want sometimes is step off a cliff, and to never have to listen to someone else's fucking CD jukebox cuts again.
Charlie is in his snow suit on the kitchen floor wrestling a boot onto the wrong foot. He gets pissed off at the thing refusing to cooperate. I look down at him and smile. I like watching him get frustrated because I understand that feeling. I can relate to that quick fire rising up from his heart and blowing through his system. Our blood is the same and so is our heat. You can't ever know a person any better than that, I don't think. If you watch your own kid tugging at his boot and then getting ready to hurl it across the room because it won't slide on because:
a) it's probably a little small and no one with any money has bothered to buy you a new pair yet
b) you're trying to force it onto the wrong foot
...and you feel wildly connected to the cheap rage that is overtaking him as his frustration mounts, then you are probably- right then and there- as in tune with another human being as you will ever be in this life. I believe that.
I watch my boy, my youngest, my three-year-old fight a smallish boot on his wrong foot and I feel smug and whiskey warm. This is love, I think. Real love. I tap the bottom of his boot with the steel toe of one of mine and he looks up at me like he wants to bite into my throat.
But it works.
His boot slides up onto the wrong foot and we both feel it happen at the same exact time.
It is one of the best feelings I have ever felt. It could have easily gone haywire; my plan could have very well failed and my little taps could have made him cry and then it would have been a whole other thing we'd both be dealing with. But it didn't. The boot went home. I made it happen. I feel like a badass. In the middle of all these dark winter blues, I swipe the frost off my windows, see clear for a second or two and that feels so good.
It feels so good to do something right when it could have gone wrong. It feels so good to gently kick a kid's boot onto his little goddamn beautiful foot. It feels so good and and so it never happens enough.
I feel cheated. I get very lost. This is how we fade away, I think. This is how it starts.
I'm looking straight at you.
Once in a while I end up out on the back porch now, but not as much as before. I stopped with the cigarettes three weeks ago and that's what used to get me out there. Isn't that funny? I knew my back porch because of smoking but now that I'm not doing that, I don't ever get out there to just stand around for a few minutes. I used to just sit there on my block of wood and stare at the sky, at the swing sets, at the snow on the bbq I never drug into the garage. But now I don't see it like that anymore. I step out there on my way to the car. I step up there on my way back in the house.
The days and nights go by and I hardly stop by at all.
I'm doing it for me, I tell myself. And for the kids. Maybe they won't even remember me with a Marlboro Light dangling from my lips. That's such a ravishing thought to me now. They may not remember me when I smoked. They're young enough to forget it all.
But then, what else will they forget.
What the fuck. All these nine years, Violet? These past seven years, Henry? Charlie, almost four years of living- me and you together- and I remember so much of it. But wait, you're gonna forget it all so far, huh?
You will forget every single second of all of it.
Except maybe some random shit. Like the ripe waft of the oozing earthworm guts on your finger one June morning at the lake. Or the way a certain leaf felt as it rubbed your cheek one day when we were raking our piles, running and jumping. You won't even recall the piles, the leaves, nothing. Just the rough edge of a dead leaf on your warm young cheek.
Fuck. This is how it happens. Am I right? This is how we fade away. I remember all these days that simply fall away from you.
Crescent moons and rough waves and cans of root beer and cardinals in trees staring at our car as we drove by on the way to get you a new pair of cheap sneaks at the Walmart again and seagulls screaming at us and the way you spilt your milk so effortlessly, as if it was a natural extension of your marzipan arm, the movement and the bump and the spill and the new white lake expanding so beautifully across our kitchen island, pooling all around the TV remotes, dripping down onto the floor.
Things you won't remember. Then things you'll remember that I'll never get to see. No wonder I'm a shit show now and then, Chief. I wanted us to share everything. Now I'm hearing my own voice swearing that we can't.
What a racket.
Over at the park the snow is coming down steady again. Charlie is in Henry's seat because he always bugs me about that if Henry is at school like he is today.
"Can I ride in Henry's seat?"
"Okay," I tell him. "We're not going far. Hop up in there."
We wander out across the ground, out past the slide and the volleyball court.
"See the dog tracks, man?" I say as we come up on some.
"Yeah! And look, Dad! These are peeeeeeple tracks! This dog and his owner!"
I smile. That's enough for him. He smiles too and stomps onward through the couple inches on the ground. It's peaceful the way falling snow always is. You can't hear the world. The phone isn't ringing/I left it in the car. I don't want to take his picture. I don't want to check my email. I don't want to mess with the slight chance that maybe he remembers this someday.
Us. In the snow. No one else around. Rabbit tracks. Dog tracks. And his owner's tracks. We walk over to the stream and the water is high and looks cold. There are deep pockets of greenish blue, flat and dark, The trout are there, I bet. I tell Charlie that if I was a trout that's where I'd be today: down in the slow slow groove.
"If I was a trout do you know where I'd be, Dad?" he asks me.
I already know the answer.
"Where?" I say.
"In your butthole."
He laughs and laughs.
I knew he was going to say that.
I laugh too. I hope this it. Hope against hope/I hope this is his first memory. I hope he remembers saying butthole to me as we stood by the stream, snow settling down onto the silent planet, boots on the wrong feet, a long long time ago.
Down past Frogtown, past the old shuttered-up luncheonette, on the road to the creek I see myself getting there. I make it. I end up okay again. It's a sunny afternoon. It's May. The trees are green and the fields are lush and the woods are so alive now with wild turkeys and squirrels and whitetail does eating for two. I listen to the whoosh of the breeze as I wonder to myself what flies I will start with.
I want to stand alone beside that fallen tree in the current. I want to sneak up on it and watch trout splashing at the surface just on the other side. I want to know in the marrow of my bones that what they're eating are caddis flies. And I want to feel my fingers shaking/my heart pounding/my eyes going blurry/ all in the name of feeling so alive right now. For once. For a change. Here we go.
I don't suppose I'll necessarily hook one of those fish slapping away at flies right out front of me. I don't assume to be able to fool the trout in the creek anymore. I'm just not that guy. I don't have all the magic in me that it takes to fool wild trout on a regular basis.
What I do have though is different magic. And that's what it is that brings me back here, returning time and time again, rolling down through Frogtown, smiling at the mountain ridge I'm kind of aimed at, very very high on the hits of this exceptional ability to somehow keep on stepping off cliffs in my head but never with my feet.
I'm too afraid to leave/ even when I wonder deeply at times why anyone would ever wish to remain. Down in me, dude, there is a coal oven door, hot to the touch. It keeps swinging open too. And I keep flinging shovel-full after shovel-full at the raging fire. I curse myself out for the repetition. The days haven't changed all that much. Ambition rolls off me now like the shadow of some flying bird that will never cross my path again.
But I hurl coal at this thing like I was born to do it.
Which maybe I was. Maybe the whole point of me was to just feed a fire that moves a train that makes no sense at all.
I did it.
Charlie will forget almost everything we've done so far.
That jolts me back.
It spins me round.
I head for home.
I catch some trout, I don't catch all the rest. And there's a trillion of them right there by that log, I swear to you, but it doesn't matter; I am beyond all that now.
We are hot on the trail of a man and his dog and they're not too far up ahead of us. They can't be. This blanket of snow is fresh. Everything has just happened. Time has gone by- true true true- but not too much. Not too much.
We have to hurry, Charlie.
They're maybe right up ahead.
You go first, okay?
You go first and tell me what you see, man.