“I have no definite talent or trade, and how I stay alive is largely a matter of magic.”
— Charles Bukowski
The passing years have left me with more memories than I can ever remember. Some I like, others I’d just as soon forget. As is the case with many though, I have forgotten far more than I will ever recall. That’s not unusual; most of life goes unrecorded by us; real time is always the wind / and every random stretch of sky is always everything else. We stare at the moment, the moment passes before our eyes. The moment is gone, never to return.
The inevitable reality, this collective agreement among the living that- as far as we humans can comprehend- we are born upon a ticking clock that will one day stop for us, keep going for others, is the definitive anchor to an otherwise runaway ghost ship. Just think of what life would be if we weren’t so intensely, so obnoxiously watched by Death and all his minions. When I was young, I was invincible, and the shadow of my ultimate fate made no attempt to ever connect with me as far as I can recall. Life seemed everywhere, especially inside of me, and the sun and the stars: I could taste them in the tepid dust of any afternoon unfolding. Or in the cool thin cracks of any evening coming down.
But death was nowhere to me right from the start. Having never witnessed a dead person with my own eyes, I might have been sheltered or shielded by my mom so as to never see a corpse. I don’t know exactly.
I’m not at all convinced it matters that much to me either.
Especially now, here and now in this day and age as I’m a month away from 52, halfway to 104. I keep looking back for the harbor where I set out from long ago, but it’s gone, man. Gone, gone gone. There’s nothing but sea out here. And when I spot some land again, then I’ll know what that means.
The end is nigh, motherfucker.
Everything is so weird isn’t it?
The wars, the killing.
The movie stars all on TV, the movie theaters empty.
My hearing is going from all the nights on all the stages. I never wore protection. Others did but not me. I’d scoff at the idea of it. I wanted to feel the bottom in my butt crack. I wanted to have the drums pounding away at the nape of my neck in a way that felt like I was crawled inside a jet engine space/ immersed in violence/ drowning in heat and volume and power. On stage, I wanted to feel like I was being born out of the womb once again/ being pushed out from First Dead into Life/ seeing the streaks of light/ hearing the rising voices/ blinded by the mass confusion/ dragged out, in a sense I suppose, by the strangers who wanted me/ needed me/ were curious about me/ or maybe even were just simply amused by me on a night when they were tired/ worn out/ looking to maybe get lucky/ or just going out for a couple beers so they could remind themselves why they were still alive.
Now my hearing is damaged. It’s my fault and I know it. I don’t complain about it. What would be the use? Lots of people lose their hearing as they grow older. But most of them didn’t lose it in the belly of the roaring beast like I did, you know? It’s a price I pay to sometimes recall the red lights bleeding down on a shot of whiskey. Tuesday night in some C level market. 22 paid. Not so bad compared to last Tuesday in Oklahoma City. Or last night in Omaha.
There is an essence of the past always caught in the now.
It’s a single red hair somehow tied to the front of the box fan by my bed. When did she lose it? How did it end up there, blowing straight and hard like a hurricane flag? The fans used to be louder. I could hear them as I fell asleep in strange rooms that were not my home. Now they are so muted/ me falling asleep with some wine in my veins/ the once decent roar reduced to a fragmentary wheeze.
Last night, in bed, I watched two fingers of pale moonlight tickling at my venetians. It was a tease, a mess-around. I held my breath, too terrified to scream. But at the same time I was also curious. Little old me, still young enough to snarl at death, eyeing the eyes peeking in.
Locking gazes with the future.
Unafraid, smirking a little, not in a stupid way, but more like Matt Dillon when he was young on the town.
Looking at Jack Frost/ snarling at a couple killers outside.
Charlie is in bed with us because it’s his new thing. He wants me to crash in his bed with him or he wants to come sleep in our room with us. I’ve done his bed and it’s okay but honestly: it’s too small for both of us to do much but elbow each other all night long. Throw a dog who wants to be in on the party into the mix and the whole night is like sleeping in a coffin.
So, we do it in our room. Piper in the middle next to Arle, Charlie in the middle next to me. I put rain sounds on the YouTube and they don’t even last long, either kid. They pass out fast. It astounds me how quickly sometimes. One moment they are talking and carrying on and then they are out cold. I take it to heart. I take it to mean that they are so comfortable, feeling so completely safe and sound that their young bodies seem to slip into some kind of deep slumber state with no resistance at all.
I watch Charlie as he goes.
His breath, I do lines of it falling from his lips. It’s warm and slightly stinky, like hot dogs dipped in supermarket chive dip. In each exhalation I don’t pretend that there is magic or some kind of beautiful power moving through my face and down into my soul. I don’t pretend it because I know it’s really happening. I know that it’s all so very real. Each small inaudible breath he sets free, I must collect it. I position myself just right and let them slip out of his lungs/ up his pipes/ down through his mouth/ his chappy kid lips/ one sacred monolith after another coming up out of this pipsqueak kid/ and I collect them all as if it’s all I can do to stay alive.
His hair is down in his eyes, dirty blonde cowlicks tumbling this way and that way, a whole head of smooth dusty branches that melt in your fingertips. It is a dreamer’s head, I tell myself. A bowl of lovely brains that has been pecked by the sun, licked by the moon.
Watching your own kids sleeping is no original fodder. I know that. Writing about your own children is a slippery slope even at the best of times. Other people want your kids to be okay, but to be honest, they kind of see right through them to. It’s almost like your kids have fucking clear skin, dude. Like they’re translucent or something/ and people you know do you the kindness of grinning down at them and maybe tossing a few throwaway lines at them back by the bbq:
How’s school going?
How’s your summer so far?
What are you into these days?
But it’s all bullshit.
Adults only really want to hear about your kids if your kids are fucking up big time. Like WAY worse than their own kids. Or at least AS bad if it has to be that. There is something solid, some kind of solidarity in knowing that you both share the humbling hobbling that comes with a kid projectile pissing all over their own future with a fuck-it attitude or a psychological roadblock or whatever else from the list of all the ways a kid can bring you the grief you find yourself dealing with. We hide that shit away mostly. We take it in our hands and put it under the pillow like a gun or a bag of gummies. And if we do whip it out: other people only give a shit if your kids shit makes them feel better about their own kids shit. Especially if your kids shit is worse.
It doesn’t really matter though because you know why?
It’s because parents don’t give a fuck.
Tried and true people with kids, they snort long country lines of their kid’s sleeping breath that smells like a squirrel’s ass because it gets them so fucking high that their heart begins to rattle and their blood begins to sing.
I put my front top teeth on Charlie’s soft forehead as he is sleeping and I can hear Piper over there kid snoring and, beyond that, Arle, my woman/ my person/ my jam/ and she’s quiet with her back at me. At us. She will do her lines later, I assume. Later, in the dark of night, while the venetians are parted and the silverish fingers are writing my name in the light frost not far from my gruesome drooling sleep face, I assume that Piper’s mom will discover him again/ lying there in the dark/ and she will lean in to inhale his scent into her skull with a madness of love the likes of which have never been recorded prior to that moment in the long history of the world.
I press in a little with my choppers, debate whether I want to protect this kid so much that I have to eat his face in order to do it right, and decide, in the very last millisecond, that I ought not to.
I back my teeth off, and turn it into a kiss.
He stirs slightly, sighs like an elf.
I make a fist.
I would punch a hole in all of space just to prove my soul.
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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.