Sunday, November 17, 2013
When I was a college kid some of my buddies and I went to one of the guy's family hunting cabin in the backest, darkest woods of West Virginia for Spring break. I guess it was well before anyone thought to spend thousands of their parents dollars to go to Florida or Mexico, I'm sure some folks did, but, not my crowd.
Honestly, I can't say how many of us went, I want to say six, but it might of been more. (You know, it's funny, I think all but one of those guys has read my blog at least once here on the good old innerwebs.) It had been a long trip (winky guy) getting there and we'd been nearly lost and the van we'd procured was a wild ride to say the least.
Our relief and joy at finally getting to the old cabin was palpable. In a frenzy of activity, we unloaded the van and picked bunks and opened windows and gathered wood and, well, put a lot of beer in mesh bags into the nearby creek to get it cold... a lot of beer. We were laughing and carrying on and hootin' and hollerin', guitars were being plucked, other cabins explored, I think we made sandwiches and, eventually we seemed settled in.
The dark that only deep country woods can offer came on the camp, we made a fire in the grand old fireplace, settled in to the mish-mash of old chairs and rockers, and, in what I would guess was the first actual moment of silence since we arrived, someone asked, "who's missing?" Another voice said it, too, and in the early throws of drunken silliness we all accounted for ourselves, assuring ourselves in humorous and clever ways that all were present.
But, for the whole weekend, none of us could shake the feeling that someone was missing. It became a sort of joke, the kind of running joke you use to assuage a feeling of unease. It was funny, but, late nights, after uncountabble trips to the creek, when the honesty of good friends and not-so-good beer unfiltered the conversation, each one of us admitted to be a bit shaken by the feeling. We all felt that someone was missing, that we'd forgotten someone, and, oddly, we all felt bad about it. A few of the guys thought we were probably just missing some of our other buddies who hadn't come along. There was talk of ghosts and hauntings. Some even had more philosophic and existential explanations, sophomoric at best, but, at least an attempt to understand the feeling was made.
I have forgotten more about that trip than I have remembered. I'm not actually sure how many guys went, which ones were on that particular trip - there ended up being several - or any of the smaller details about the sleeping or eating or guitar-playing arrangements, but, I can recall that feeling of an unnamed thing displaced, that awareness of a spot reserved but empty, a missing piece.
It's four o'clock in the morning right now, I woke up in the quiet house to the wind blowing through the trees outside, shaken awake by a dream in which an old dear friend, a guy from that trip, was desperately trying to tell me something. I can't get back to sleep so I'll tell you a story.
It is night, and the boys are settling down under their big, comfy red blankets and I am reading in my room across the hall. The door silently opens, and a little boy/man stands in the doorway, blinking against the brightness of my reading lamp, a limp, beloved, somehow sickly looking bear hanging stoically in his tired hands.
"What's wrong, Zacky?"
"I dunno... I'm tired but I can't sleep."
I lift my blanket, the universal sign of offering a snuggle to a child. He perks up a bit, shuffles over and spoons his bear as I spoon him.
"Is something bothering you," I ask again.
"What do you think it might be?"
He mumbles something a bit unintelligible, which he does when he has something to say, but, either doesn't want to say it, or doesn't know how to say. I do the same thing.
I try to prompt him by telling him that it doesn't have to be perfect, if he could just tell me a word or two, then maybe we could work it out together.
Quiet and warm, he sort of breathes a sad sigh. I wait, the bear sniffles, or was it the child?
"I just ... oh, I don't know. It's just that..."
"Go on," I whisper.
"Well, sometimes, it just seems like... no, it just feels like something's missing."
My heart cracks a little and I try not to cry because I feel that everyday, in truth, it could be my motto.
All I can't think to say is "I know, buddy, I know." And we hug a little tighter, the bear sniffles again and I try to think of the right things to say - to him, to myself, to the quiet room, to God, but the warmth of a solitary tear is all I can seem to offer him. He turns, looks me in the eye, and says: "I know, Daddy, I know."
Somehow unburdened a bit, he hugs me one last time and shuffles off to bed, dragging his sniffly bear by the arm and he is gone.
But, that statement echoed through the corridors of my mind all last night, it careened through my dreams I think and is still echoing this morning, keeping me from sleep.
Sometimes, it does feel like something is missing. Sometimes it is a missing friend, a loved one, maybe a lost pet or opportunity. But, sometimes, well, sometimes you just don't know.
In my pocket I carry a St. Joseph medallion. It is on an old, ugly-brown piece of yarn, once a necklace and was made at church school and offered to me from one of my sons. There were two once, but the other is lost to the madness that is a closet full of odds and ends.
On my wrist I wear a braided bracelet, given me by the other boy, I don't know where he got it but, I like the way it hugs my wrist, and, when I see it I think of them, those boys, my heart.
I draw comfort from these and sometimes I think they are what I am missing... nope.
How can I tell an eight-year-old that that feeling might never go away? It never has with me...
I don't know what Marci's been posting about the boys on FB lately, I haven't been on there except to post a link to here. I have been trying to listen for some funny stuff on my own but I never seem to write them down. Forgive me?
I did hear N say this, from behind the bathroom door as he sat on the pot:
"There is a light above my stove..."
I cannot even imagine a context in which that could make sense...
Thanks for stopping by. I write in the basement immediately below the room the boys sleep in and I can begin to hear shufflings and coughs, I know a boy will be up and looking for me and, I want to be there so he doesn't feel like something's missing...