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Twisting all the bad things into good

Dec 24, 2012

Last Words. CHAPT 30




Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

Scarlet Begonias, Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter


         "Go on – get out. 
         Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
         Last words of Karl Marx.


       MONDAY. 9/13/10

     The words get harder as the end gets nearer.

     When the only person standing does not have to say another word, then you know it's over.

     The word is "acknowledgement".

     I knew what it meant.
       
     1. The act of admitting or owning to something: confession
     2. Recognition of another's existence, validity, authority, or right
     3. an expression of gratitude
     4. a statement, especially at the beginning of a book, in which the writer expresses thanks to the people who have helped

     I knew how to use it in a sentence.

     "Acknowledgement.
     The whole class cheered when he beat out the "smart" girl to win the 5th grade spelling bee, but when he stood on stage in front of the whole school, he became more concerned with what they were seeing than seeing his word in his head, so he did not take his time spelling "A-C-H-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E-M-E-N-T" before being told to sit and watch the "smartest" kid in the school, an 8th grader, receive the applause of every teacher and every kid in every grade, none of them aware that the "smartest kid" in the school was really the kid who finished 2nd, a 5th grader, a self conscious coward who would avoid the stage from that day on.
     Acknowledgement."

     I just couldn't spell it.

     "H", as in "hell".

     It's "AC".
     Then it's "knowledge", with a "k".
     After that, it's easy.
     It should have all been easy.

     But nothing is easy when you're so self conscious. You feel like there is always somebody looking, and you begin to live like they are. You avoid taking risks. If you don't try, you can't fail. You don't ask, because rejection would be harder to take than the sword from the stone.
     Then one day, you can't even take the bus.


        
    "James," someone called from the tech counter.

     Sounds like my driver has arrived.

     Time to say goodbye and good luck to everyone.

     Time to acknowledge my supporting cast in my LifeTime Movie of the last week. I'd call it I Know My First Name Is James if I knew that a guy who knows his first name is Steven would not sue me for copyright infringement. 
      It doesn't matter what it was called.

      It was big speech time.

      Someone was on the verge of a breakthrough.


     "I'd like to thank my fellow patients, as well as the staff, for making these last few days easier than they should have been. It seemed like it had been forever since I smiled, laughed, and wiped from my eyes tears not of sadness or regret.
     Before I leave, I'd like to apologize. I should have talked less, and listened more. As far back as I can remember, it was all about me. This was my first delusion. Now I get it. This did not all start with the ants. I know that now. It all started long before the ants. The line of ants was the finish line. If you've ever run track, if you've ever watched a race where the drivers never make a right turn, then you already know. The starting line, the finish line, they're the same line. The exit. The entrance. Same door.
     As sure as I am that I could outspell the hell out of everyone in South County, staff included, I was still wrong for thinking I was better than you, for assuming I was the only one who did not belong in a place like this. Nobody's better than anyone, we're all just different. We're all special, not just me. The world does not revolve around me. It revolves around all of us. I've got no delusions left, just a few words. I hope I get them right. It's been a long time since I did anything right. It's been a long time since I did anything. I'm gonna stop wasting our time now."

     If it weren't about a guy who'd rather take Trazadone than the bus, The Humbling might be a fitting title.
     Too bad Lifetime producers would say it was too short. They'd make some corny suggestion, something overly melodramatic, I don't know, maybe like The Patron Saint of ....whatever. 

    
     "Excuse me."
     
     With the group's eyes turned on me and the television turned off, an absence of drama left a void in the rec room, and it filled fast with silence.

     "I'm sorry to interrupt."

     I looked around the table.
     Monica. 
     Loretta. 
     Mikale.
     Filip.
     Alex.
     Ken.
     Jesus AKA Reggie.
     Viv AKA The Voice.

     DJ was already gone.
     Earlier in the day, a spot opened up for her at a sober living home for women. 
     She did not say goodbye or good luck.
     No last words.
     She just passed away. 

    As for everyone else, staff included, they had a life expectancy of however long it would be until the door closed behind me. As soon as it locked, they would all turn to ghosts, and they'll remain here forever, haunting this room until the day I die.

     "Are you leaving us now, James?" asked Maria.
   
     None of them will ever get any older than they are right now, and I'll never be younger.
     That's the downside of making it out alive.
     And I hope it's the only one.
     But I doubt it.

     There are worse things to take than the bus. 
    
     "Yeah, my ride's here, and, I didn't wanna just get up and walk out without saying anything, so..."

     I knew all the words.
     I knew what they all meant.
     I even knew how to spell them.
     I just didn't know how to use them in a sentence.

     It didn't matter. 
     They're just words.
     25 years from now, they won't be remembered.
     Stop thinking so much.
     It's not big speech time.
     Nobody's looking.
     Get it right this time.
     It's only a word.
       
     Acknowledgement.

     A.
     C.

     This is the part that matters most.

     K.
       
     All that fear.
     All that stage fright. 
     All because of one letter.
     All that it might have cost me.
     Maybe. I. Could. Have. Been. A. Movie. Star. If.

     N.
     O.
     W.

     I've got nothing to lose, nothing to be afraid of.
 
     L.
     E.
     D.
     G.
     E.
        
     The rest is easy.

     M. 
     E. 
     N.
     T. 


     I was the only person in the room standing.

         
     "I just wanted to say goodbye and....I really do wish everyone the best of luck with everything."

     The names I knew and voices I'd heard all spoke their last words at the same time.
     They either said goodbye or good luck, nothing deserving of the last line in someone else's story.
      
     I turned to Brian.

     One of the rules was no contact of any kind permitted between patients.
     So I shook his hand.
     If he were not still sitting on the couch, I would have hugged him. 
     I wonder how long it had been since someone hugged him.
     Probably a long time.
 
     I wonder when was the last time someone told him he made their life better just by being there. 
     Probably never. 
     And they probably never will.
    
     Without Brian, South County would not have felt like being away at summer camp.
     It probably would have felt more like being locked away in a mental health facility.

     I would have stayed miserable. Maybe even silent.
    
     It felt wrong saying goodbye to someone I cared about so much without at least promising to keep in touch. 
     I just didn't know how to make it feel right. 

     You don't ask a man in his fifties who lives in a tent, even if he owns it, if he is on FaceBook. I was not going to embarrass him by asking for the number to a phone he didn't have. 

     I knew I would never see him again. 

     As sincere as my goodbye and good luck to the group had been, Brian deserved more than the sentimental equivalent of an autoresponder.
     I wanted him to know how glad I was that we became friends, and that I would never forget him.
     I just couldn't find the words. 
     I wanted to say something before I let go of his hand, so that if he could not hear it in my voice, maybe he'd feel in my handshake, and see in my eyes, what my words would not express, but that whatever I was going to say, I meant it.

     "Brian, God bless, bro."

     I'm not sure why I said that. 
     Maybe it was because if I still prayed, I would pray for Brian.
     It was not a conscious decision.
     We talked about a lot of things, personal things, things we did not talk about when the girls were around, things we made sure nobody else heard us discuss.
     God was never mentioned.
     
    
     Brian said, "We had fun, didn't we?"
     "Yeah, we did. How crazy is that?"
     "Take care of yourself, James."  
     
     This time, when I heard my father's name, the same name he and my mother gave me back when I could've become anything, I knew there was nothing left to say, so I turned and walked to the door. I heard it unlock.

     "Hey, James", Brian called out.
     I turned and saw him lounging back on the couch with his arms outstretched. He gave me an ornery look.
     Whatever he was gonna say, I was going to let him have the last line. It was all I had to give him. And after he said what he was going to say, with a nod and a smile, I'd show him the sincerity my blessing lacked, and then I would turn and walk out the door, and I would not forget.
 

     When I think about him now, it's not in a "Man, I wonder how Ol' Sparky's doing?" kind of way.
     It's in a "Man, I wonder if Brian is still alive" kind of way.
     I like to think he is.
     But I doubt it.

      
     "When you're a famous writer someday, don't forget about Old Sparky", were Brian's last words.

      The next thing I heard was a door lock behind me.

      And a rec room became a ghost town. 
    
        

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