For a couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do anything. My exhaustion goes all the way to the 90-mile horizon and back. I’m getting plenty of sleep but still want more. Understandable, perhaps, in light of the end of the year-long effort to empty and sell two mobile homes 600 miles away filled with furniture, coupons, family treasures, and crap.
But it’s more than that. You know it is.
I’ve been tensed up forever, just like my old man. Even when he “relaxed,” it made you nervous. He looked out for us, but approval had conditions, and I often wondered where I stood. Sometimes he felt oppressed by fate or circumstances. While the Air Force and his family meant lot to him, he also wanted things he must have thought he couldn’t have. (More rank, respect, another life, another woman?) When I went to college in the ‘60s and declared the rules were obsolete, it hurt him in a fundamental way. One Christmas my sister hit him with astrology on top of going on about the war and scared him half to death. Either would have done it, frankly. When I supported her, he looked at us as if he thought we ought to be committed.
Believe it or not, my parents later sort of tried. They sanctioned lying and abuse from a family shrink to get me to change the way I looked—and presumably believed—even after I was 23 and married. The idiot thought every longhair was a repressed homosexual. His own son committed suicide! He meddled with my draft board and employer (a junior college). There was no one I could turn to.
Emotionally, I had to live like I was on the fucking lam. I got divorced. I ran away to Austin every weekend. My stash was buried by a rock beside the highway 20 miles outside of where I lived, so I could pick it up and drop it off on every trip. I can’t believe they never caught me, zooming down the back roads in my VW bus. The damn past, rising like a mist down in the holler after sunset.
He died at 67, lung cancer raging in his chest—got the news at Christmas, gone by April 10th in 1987. I buried the ashes by myself. My mother lived for 25 more years. We locked her up a year ago until she died on April 3rd. Her ashes are in my pickup truck, but not for long. I’ll tuck the box in the storage unit until I can drive us back to Maryland and dig another hole, underneath the pine tree, where the big stone that says “FARR” lies covered in bird poop and sap.
But it’s over now, all of it. Everything I fought against and ran from. All the shit I had to shovel, all the good times, too. OVER. Sanctified by the ritual of the last 12 months. And none of them can hurt me any more, to state it plainly. This is quite the feeling. On top of that, I feel virtuous as hell, since I also did the hero-good-son thing and cleaned the whole mess up. Physically and administratively, I mean. I was perfect for the role, even the blood on the floor—as if this was why they had me. Imagine that. And now, completely on its own, some unseen business straightens its shoulders and begins to work. This is not at my direction. What does that tell you about the world?
I don’t know why I remembered my father this time. Credit the unseen business. But I feel good. My wife cracked what we can call a “test joke” yesterday and was astonished that I laughed. She needn’t be, but this is what I mean: I can’t believe that I’m still here. I can’t believe there isn’t any test to pass. I can’t believe I’ve never rested, either, without feeling guilty, so no wonder I’m exhausted.
I just can’t believe that everything’s all right.
‘I just can’t believe that everything’s all right.’
“I can’t believe there isn’t any test to pass.”
Don’t believe it! It’s a sweet dream – but it ain’t Life, at least as humans live it, that great tester and trier of souls.
Really amazing post, John. You’ve given me much to ponder.
I’m trying to express something here that can’t really be described but only felt. If it resonates, I’ve done my job.
Again, John, I am astonished by our parallel paths…….
That’s a terrific story, Jim! (I urge anyone who stops by here to read it…)
Johnny – I can’t believe how well you express yourself. I could do without the expletives (I think that is the right word – you know what I mean). It is amazing to me how we, the children can suffer from things our parents said or didn’t say, when all they did was try to love and take care of us the best they could under all the circumstances they lived with. It is in every generation. I see it in my own little family. We all mean well and try but everyone sees and takes things differently. I read somewhere that men see things through blue lenses and women through pink- no wonder we have trouble understanding each other. I am glad your long ordeal is over and you can live the rest of your life peacefully as possible. When I am writing this I see you in my mind as a little boy that we used to look forward to visiting us. Hope to see you when you come to Maryland. We will get together. Just let us know when you are coming. Cousin Linda
The fathers of our generation had a lot in common – this code of manliness even in the face of failure and disappointment, this unwillingness to verbalize, this harshness of exterior demeanour. I think being tensed up went with that territory. These guys had a lot to be tense about. They imposed on themselves obligations that were difficult to fulfill. And they didn’t like to complain – they just bled internally. Sometimes that internal hurt led to external external eruptions that weren’t pretty, of the sort that both of you describe. I could say the same about my own father.
But how much of this, I ask, is peculiar to individuals or to generaltions and how much is baked in to the difficult condition of fatherhood? My sons would have something to say about this. I hope they’ll cut me some slack and try to understand the exigencies of our own case. I try to do that for my father, at least at this stage of my life, after he’s long gone. I no longer have any issues, only some regrets.
Life isn’t easy for any of us at any time. If it was, we wouldn’t value it. I reckon the raising of sons is one of the harder parts of our condition. Sons are so flammable, so prone to danger, so fragile.
My own son now has a son 3 years old. He’s proud as can be. He’s changed some diapers, but the heavy lifting hasn’t yet begun. Pride is a dangerous emotion, though a good one. This linkage of fathers and sons through the generations is the richest emotional terrain a writer could ever hope to bring to the page. Both of you, John and Jim, have done a hell of a good job at it. John, I don’t think you’ve completely told the tale of you and your own old man, and I look forward to more.