The rain is coming down in sheets. As I turn the corner by the church down the street from the house, I see this young mom with an umbrella in one hand and a toddler in her other. She is moving briskly toward the doors. I lift off the gas a sec just to watch them trying to make it. The kid is all bundled up in winter crap. I can’t even see if it’s a boy or a girl or what. But I recognize something that makes me smile.
The kid has the slouch of a 3-year-old who is just digging the ride. Sensing Mom’s despair a little, I suspect, the kid is entertained. The kid is curious as to what will transpire. The rain dampens the sound of living, tamps it down into a muted white noise that lulls the sleepy and bores the spry. Kids in this state: they let their arms dangle free and loose like a couple gas station night crawlers slipping down out of that styrofoam hellhole. Young eyes sparkle when the chips are half down; little kids pick up on their parent’s aura and what transpires, invisibly, remarkably, is this kind of reading of the essences. I don’t know how it works, man. I don’t know how snot-nosed booger-crust post-Christmas helpless humans who can’t even tie a shoe or piss in the toilet yet can manage to raise their weak-ass nectarine fists to the high voltage wires that connect their mom or dad’s human force with the much grander collective flow of harmony/disharmony fighting it out in the streets, but they can. Wherever we go, wherever we end up, the kids can feel us more than we can feel them.
It is a gift, I guess. A skill, I suppose, but more like a gift, I would say. Because it allows young guns to peer shamelessly into a parent’s mind and heart and central nervous system with only a biologically simple, but powerful, understanding of what they are in fact looking at when they do it.
And that alone causes most kids at that age (2-4ish) to lean back like a gangsta being carried by a Godzilla, in order to take in, with calm slightly outlaw-y eyes, whatever the hell is about to unfold right before them as a result of the fact that: for example: it’s pissing down rain on a gloomy Tuesday morning powered by an unseasonable balminess. The whole thing wraps around my throat and squeezes slightly. I like it. You know I like it rough like that. I like it when things happen out of nowhere; I feel so brought back to life on those unexpected mornings when I turn a corner and I see a mom carrying a kid and an umbrella and the rain is tapping my windshield and my wipers are moving back and forth/ back and forth/ back and forth/ murrrrp/ marrrrp/ murrrp/ marrrp/ murrrp/ marrrp and I gather/ intrinsically/ instantly/ what the scene is about. How it ought to look on the stage (exactly like this/ with real fake rain pummeling the floorboards).
And maybe who wrote the damn thing.
Because it was probably me. In my head. Long ago. Millions and millions of years ago. Before I was ever Serge Dadbod, before I was jammed into this shit costume of a shit poet wandering around a small hunk of the Earth, searching for average greatness.
I could have written this tiny beautiful play. Isn’t that something? Isn’t it??!! I mean, look, a lot of us could have, but this is me now, in my car, washed backwards up the River of Time where you are forbidden by force to ever go again once you’ve passed through it.
But here we go.
There she went.
Here I am.
My kids went here. It’s been years now. How did that happen?
Daddy-O stood out there in the daycare parking lot/ standing in for this stranger, for this mom I’ve never even seen before/ weather cupping it’s palms around my ears/ hearing only the tender crackle of the lullaby rain/ lifted up out of the morning itself and placed gently down into this alternative universe/ that looks the same/ but which now surrounds her/me and the kid and she/I just know everything is shifting/ changing/ atmospherically watching her/watching me/ cheering us on/ teasing the kid/ egging the kid on to sit up and watch/ there in the carseat/ before we head in/ the universe ready for her/me to put my fingers to my spit/ press it down into the child’s hair/ tame a rogue lock/ silence a twisted heretic/ finger a cowlick made of plump star leather and let it rush back up into her tired loving face and my pounding coffee chest with all the ramshackle sauce of a new world taking hold just moments after the last one claimed it’s hard-fought short-lived victory.
Frozen. I am frozen in time, I guess. Watching this mom and her kid. Watching them on the same parking lot where I once stood as a familiar sight, but where I would now probably attract the cops.
I’ve no business here. I am just passing by. My kids are older. They laugh at the fact that they once laid down in this building attached to the church. Laid their sleepy heads down on foamy mats (in rainbow colors). After lunch. After the chaos. The cheese sandwiches. The apple juice pouches. The Goldfish. So many Goldfish. Always swimming into the darkness of a tiny innocent little shit, those Goldfish deserve a closer look, I’d say. All the kids run on Goldfish, dude.
In the moment I am dragged back up stream and it exhausts me and I slip into this kind of catatonic state. I float then, on the heft of something ages old and yet intensely familiar to me. This sort of lulling gentleness rises up out of the rainy isolation/ the peculiar closeness of it all/ this feeling of being secured by certain walls made up of trees perhaps/ dark wet figures on the perimeter of the parking lot.
I open my eyes briefly and feel the rushing river and I see myself from above (like I’m a hawk and yet I’m also this, like, catatonic Daddy-O operating a 2011 Honda CRV, slow-rolling past the theater doors open and this play going down and staring at a mom carrying her kid into a church daycare center ) and then there I am. Back in the day. The hush of the rain. Husky long-haired Serge Bielanko (Jane’s Addiction shirt) smoking a cig before homeroom outside the high school, standing with some other gentle stoners in a red brick cove by the cafeteria.
I am in awe then. Knives thrusting into my body and it feels so good. Like the rudeness of each mad jab and the slitting of the skin and the sharp endless violence of the sting being born and then swiftly growing out of control like fire pain is all there to remind me, like a bitch slap from the galaxy herself, that I am moving forward. Moving away. Moving from a time of Earthly experience to a silent rainy heaviness so compounded by infinity that even me daring to imagine what will ever happen to me when I fade out is offensive to the very part of me that worries about it to begin with.
The defroster is on high like I usually have it in January. The river topples out of my fingers and with it I fall from the sky where it was ripping me apart into timeless shreds of teenage pothead. I land in the Honda, obviously. I mean, if I didn’t — and I suppose some people don’t, you know? — well, then, what would happen in that instance? People falling out of the sky in the middle of something like this, it’s not likely that great of an idea, I guess. Evocative woolgathering when you’re driving around town, or maybe flying a plane, or when you are out there in the world hitting the start button on a big old machine at the factory or on your keyboard at the office at the same exact time that you are trancing out because some bell has been rung and the ringing is a bird and you are riding that son-of-a-bitch back in time/ or maybe forward, who the hell can say/ like some Pony Express rider long ago/ killing one beast by murdering it’s heart to save another beast with just words.
I am left stunned. Anybody probably would be. India. China. Greece or Botswana. The Netherlands. New Mexico. South Philly or South Australia. Close your eyes, people of these dirty dying plains, and remember what it felt like to be young. To be alive.
To hold life up to your eyeball and watch it rush towards the backdoors of a beat-up joint where kids eat paste right in your face.
The train will stop here for a time for some. But then the station will dissolve into nothingness. One dark night, as the rain beats the village, the crayons all dipped in virus and snot will evaporate in an empty room. Construction paper angels will sing low and pretty. Abandoned sippy cups will bow their heads and go.
Goodbyes will be unheard, although the mood is blue. Tiny blue flag flapping faint in the night like baby ghost natural gas. Some cold bulb shining off some far-off barn. Distance, it would happen, is neither near nor far, revealing itself to be both at once. There aren’t any witnesses at these kinds of events, you know. The passing of the Random Forgottens, these momentary reminders of your long gone heavy, lovely, sad, sad, hard, hard days, they get conquered without any fight at all. All of the time, man. Time and time again. Made weak by your moving on, even if you had no choice, each frame is birdseed kicked off the feeder by the next jittery frame landing.
I see a kid in their mom’s arms and the rain is coming down like an impenetrable forest. I was driving around after taking the kids to school. I was driving around this one-horse town trying to think of something to write about. Then I saw them and I was reminded of things I have known that are gone. Days. Moments. Faces. Voices. Moods and flavors I will never know again. The scent of long lost instants ganging up on me in dreams.
What can I say?
What the hell can I write?
I don’t know. There’s nothing. I’m drawing a blank. New Year and all, but what can I say that no one else is saying?
Go west, young man.
Go west, old boy.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.