A post showed up on my Reader today that in a purely coincidental way helped mark the remembrance of what would become one of the most important days of my life. It was almost five decades ago and it was yesterday.
Our sister blogger Kelz finds herself in the same catbird seat as my friend Jimmy found himself seventeen thousand one-hundred sixty-five days ago.
Tomorrow, March 31st, marks the forty-seventh anniversary of my mother’s death. Battled cancer for a year, and after having watched that it was honestly, actually and tragically somewhat of a relief when she left us. I was sixteen. Living on pure confusion, fragile ego and raging testosterone, and my Mom died.
Trying to figure out who I was and what I was and where I wanted to go with all of that, trying to keep from getting beat up behind the stands on the football field behind school (that’s the Colonists’ version of “football”, not the real one. We just liked the name and decided to keep it. We’re like that about a lot of things.), trying to determine how far into my forties I would most assuredly be before I finally had a fighting chance of getting laid…
and my Mom died.
Family friends, family “friends”, “family friends”, family, “family”, relatives, all the gossipy ladies from the Temple, neighbors, and a seeming flotilla of “who-the-fuck-is-that’s” as far as my cognitively-cross-eyed baby blues could see… … and sure, I appreciated their concern, their worry, their comfort, their encouragement, or (more frequently) their shell-shocked, doe-in-the-headlights, confused and panic-stricken attempt at providing me with the above. It was suffocating.
Then my buddy showed up. My “mate”, my buddy, my friend, my “big brother”.
Jimmy made it up to my bedroom in the corner of the third floor, knocked, maybe he heard me say to come in, maybe he didn’t, wouldn’t make a difference, and there he was sitting beside me as I sat at the foot my bed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him glancing at whatever it was I had been staring at. Guess he couldn’t see it. Looked my way, lowering his head, and said exactly what I needed to hear:
Jimmy was there and things would be fine. Better than fine. They’d be cool. I wasn’t going to have to deal with the Tom Wolfe / Phillip Roth / Lewis Carroll narrative of the previous eighteen hours. Our friend Marty had called him earlier, barely into the A.M., and told him all he needed to know: “Harris’ mom died.”
Three words and he knew what to do, then he was there to do it and to do it in his own inimitable way. We had met like this numerous times during the previous troublesome year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both of us recognized that all of those talks were just…
… practice. According to structure we had unofficially agreed upon, the conversation would go wherever I wanted it to, for as long and as far and as deep as I cared for it to go. I might cry, I might laugh my ass off. There will be an occasional outburst of bone-crushing silence during which I will be waiting for your guidance in moving on to my next point.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
We can call for a pizza later.
Hope you brought some Butterfield to listen to.
Made it easy on me, not much of a challenge for him. He just had to sit there and be Jimmy. After a very, very short while even the sound of his breathing brought things down a notch. The sounds of the nearly subsonic, guttural grunts and the barely audible, futilely incomprehensible mumbles he used selectively as verbal punctuation marks offered me more stability than any trusted family member or some histrionically hysterical blue-haired stranger had even hinted at having in their psycho-therapeutic bag of tricks. “What’s up?”, meaning to say –
“Jesus jumped up jitterbuggin’, I knew it was coming, bro’, but I just couldn’t see it. Already, it’s like nothing is the same. It’s always gonna be different. She left a part of her with you, took a part of you with her. “It changes the world around you, the structure, the dynamics. It changes your life and it is going to change things from here on in no matter how hard you fight it, and at the same time, bro’…
“… at the same time, you can’t fight it. Can’t let yourself. It has become more a part of you than your first kiss – you have? Haven’t you? – or your polio vaccination. ”
(Sohaweedoon… gortzaflem… muzzubinum spargelfarz bromoseltzer gardy-looooooooo!!!! Heh heh heh …)
“It doesn’t have to change you. You’re doin’ fine on your own, but it will change how you look at things and see things, how you think about things.
“You can’t help what you’re thinking right now. Not ever. Your thoughts are a by-product of your past experiences. Can’t change the way you feel. They’re the knee-jerk reaction to those thoughts you just can’t help.
“But after a while, you don’t have to change any of that. You kind of evaluate and adjust, you re-group, you come back with a whole new way to look at things. The old way just leaves.
“Given time you’ll know how to process it all. What it all means, how it all fits, how you just might have to let it all fit, ’cause you can’t force the pieces into place. Find it a refuge where you’ll always have it close by but it won’t easily get in your way. Even if it’s a little sloppy or disorganized, everything will actually fall into place, and it will do so in such a way that it lightens the load.
“Your time. However much you need. Whenever and wherever you need to take it. You, brother, you have never gone through this before, so there’s no timetable anybody else can drum up that you gotta stick to.
“And you need something and I’m just a little slow on the pick-up? Let me know. I’m always ready to jump in The Fortress, fire her up, top off the tank and take a drive deep into upper New York state at two in the morning any time the urge hits. ”
(Ehhhhhhh, hmmmrrrphhh, gezzats awlahgaht.)
“So… a rabbi, a priest and Officer Judy walk into a bar….”
Okay, maybe he didn’t say it in so many words. Actually, it only took precisely two words, but I could hear the rest of it in his eyes. Could feel it in the smile he let through just enough. He did for me the same thing he always did for me. Why would or should it have been any different? I’ve tried to do that for people I’ve known who have suffered such a loss and for some reason or another seem to be open to my company.
Jimmy didn’t say a single damned thing that went without saying, and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that I can actually put it all into words, and even if they aren’t his words, or weren’t, they were what I needed to hear. They were in what he otherwise conveyed in the moment. He wasn’t there to do anything other than to be there, because he knew the next step would be up to me and he knew of no other way to do that but to be himself.
Someone needs you… they need you. Be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone or anything other than whatever comes flying out of the chute. That’s what you’re there for. It’s what you were put there for.
Might be the reason you were put there from the very start. Who knows?
Ehhhhhhh, hmmmrrrphhh, gezzats awlahgaht.
If you’re ever wandering through Austin, TX, maybe hangin’ out in a blues club or at some Highlands Games and you see my ol’ notebendin’ bro’ Jimmy? Give him a hug for me. Tell him I said “What’s up?”
I actually don’t have any pictures of my Mom. My wife, my Mom’s grandchildren, her great-grandson … never seen a picture of her. I haven’t seen one in over forty-five years. My sister kept all the family heirlooms, memorabilia and personal effects. Couldn’t find anything to send me. My memories start to grow foggy every now and then. I can see her at precise moments in my life, but it’s never quite as sharp as the memories of the feelings. I remember a whole bunch of her friends saying she looked like Norma Shearer, a movie star of their teens-into-twenties years. So… no picture to share, really. Maybe this’ll do.
… and 17,366 days later I’m gonna need to pass on the blessing I got from Jimmy.