by Rick shaw
Reflecting on the events of 2014 brought me to a depressive conclusion. The year had to be the lowest point of my miserable life. I turned 50 years old, a milestone of loss, knowing Youth had passed me by.
Life can be a roller coaster of good times and bad. Living in the moment, unconcerned about the future probably didn’t help. My creative financing led me straight to bankruptcy. That had been only a matter of time. I had come close, over the years, so the embarrassing hearing shouldn’t have been a surprise.
“Maybe if I had been better with money, I would have been there for mom at the end,” I cussed myself.
Memories of the last time we actually talked flooded me. Mom had been sick and confined to her bed during the fall of 2013. I had made it a point to be with her every available minute I could. Driving over the road and taking every dispatched mile available didn’t make that easy. Then again, maybe I should have been more concerned about her and less about me.
I made Mom lunch that day. One of the simple pleasures she still could enjoy. I wasn’t a world-class chef, but I have to admit mom enjoying the simple fare I prepared, made me proud.
“This is so good.” She beamed. “I love how you learned a recipe from me and made it better.”
“No Mom, I’ll never cook as well as you.”
“Honey, you took this recipe and made it your own. This is different than mine.”
“Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree then.”
Mom’s face turned somber. She had a recent doctor’s appointment during the previous week. I didn’t want to know the results and her confession chilled me.
“I have to tell you, Honey, I have about two months left.”
A tear trickled down my cheek. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what I could say. After carefully moving the bed tray, I just hugged her. We stayed that way, taking the time to compose ourselves.
Mom and I had been very close. Over the years, we had become best of friends, beyond mother and son. We had our shared secrets like I could hide anything from her anyway. Mom had been my primary parent. My dad had no interest in his kids’ upbringing. That led to a tumultuous estranged relationship with me.
Dad had disparagingly tagged me as “momma’s boy”. In time, I came to understand dad felt jealous. I never came between them, and Dad never understood alcohol was the wedge. I wore the title pride, as I got older. I wasn’t ashamed that mom and I were close.
My sister had found her way, in life; she was a successful researcher with a doctorate. More importantly, she was happily married and had given mom grandchildren. Meanwhile, I had floundered through two unsuccessful marriages, neither blessed with children.
“That just isn’t a measure that you need to be held to.” Mom had told me.
She knew of my lonely times, though. How could she not? We talked.
“I wish I would get to meet Ms. Right.” Mom sighed. “She just hasn’t come along for you, though.”
I knew Mom didn’t hold me accountable, but I still felt I was a failure. I had lived closer to Mom but was still one hundred miles away. My sister’s career path had moved her to the west coast. I decided to relocate back to the area of my youth. Most people saw that as a noble sacrifice. I was moving closer to my parents during my mom’s declining health. The reality was, I needed a place to live where my landlord was more understanding of my financial difficulties. Mom and my stepdad became my landlord when I moved into an empty rental property they owned.
From the moment of Mom’s announcement, I suffered watching her decline. My sister came home, about a month before mom’s end in early January. She acted the true noble child, never leaving mom’s side until she passed. My sister was able to put her life on hold. I wasn’t able to do that. I stepped back into a passive role. I wasn’t as strong as she was. I couldn’t deal with the pain of watching Mom.
“Hang in there, mom. Don’t go,” my sister encouraged her.
I could see in my sister’s eyes, that she felt me heartless. What she didn’t understand was mom and I had accepted mom’s fate. I only wanted Mom to be comfortable and pass on painlessly. It hurt me to watch, I couldn’t handle seeing the pain mom endured, fighting to her last breath.
Maybe my sister resented me for not being there like she had been. I felt sorry that my sister had come too late. Mom was no longer coherent when my sister arrived home. I knew in my heart mom was only a lingering shell. I had more opportunities to see her spirit before it left her withering body.
On a cold January night, Mom took her final breath. I was too late to see it. I missed it by moments. Accidentally, I did see the body bag being zipped closed. There is a finality to that sight.
I stirred from the memories, back to the present.
“The sight of the body bag closing was not something to repeat,” I mumbled. “I came close a second time though.”
My thoughts wandered again. After many years of self-imposed separation, my dad and I were finally on a track of tolerance. To be fair, the relationship was more an acceptance, and we did grow closer. I had never forgiven his abusive actions. Maturity had mellowed me. Life is too short for holding grudges. We had rebounded over common shared interests.
After we reunited, the strain in our relationship wasn’t caused by either of us. The undoing was created by my dad’s willingness to forgive his good-for-nothing brother. He had taken the worthless man in when no one else would. I remember dad asking my opinion on the new roommate. I didn’t trust my uncle. I applauded Dad for his Christian behavior, but I also advised him to hide his silver. Little did we realize; that I had shared profound wisdom.
The brothers fought constantly. My uncle wasn’t carrying his fair share of responsibilities. It was later discovered he had been stealing money from Dad. My uncle continually did everything to drive a wedge between my father and me. My uncle would continually tell me of Dad’s nasty remarks directed at me. I found out later, he was fueling the fire, He had been using the same tactics with my father.
After confronting my dad about why he didn’t want to be close with me anymore, dad admitted that he was being abused, by my uncle. He didn’t want to be around his brother and used me as relief. He enjoyed time with me but enjoyed being separated from my uncle more. I tried to get them to separate living accommodations. My family can be stubborn though. They tried a different living situation in a different house, against my best advice. It didn’t work.
Finally, in August, my uncle called me early one Monday morning. The events that followed triggered one of the strangest days.
We had spent the Sunday evening together, It had been one of the better times. The brothers didn’t fight, and I had gone home after a pleasant visit. My uncle had been acting strangely, but my guard had been down. Later in the evening, my dad tried to telephone me. I had ignored the call thinking I had just talked to him an hour ago. To this day, I regret not answering until the next day.
“Your dad is gone,” my uncle shared, almost nonchalantly.
I was getting ready to leave for work. I was too impatient to talk trivial nonsense. Little did I realize…
“Okay, gone where? The bank? Having breakfast with friends?”
Dad had a habit of doing errands, he was capable of that. If he had left his brother behind to enjoy peace, I was happy for him.
My uncle let out an expatriate sigh. “No, he’s dead.”
“Did you call 911?” I asked excitedly.
“Why?” he asked as if I was stupid. “What good is that? He’s dead.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I hung up on him and I called 911. I was shocked and appalled that my uncle was so nonchalant and stupid. The scene I discovered became a surreal blur. I do remember seeing the coroner preparing my dad’s body. Supposedly my dad passed of natural reasons. Stupidly, that was never pursued further. My uncle acted suspiciously. Deep down in my gut, I felt my uncle had killed my father.
Scattered thoughts continued to cascade from my memory, as I paced around my kitchen. I peered out the worn smudged glass. The bleak winter weather outside did nothing to encourage happiness.
This year sucks, I thought to myself. Life couldn’t be any worse.
The gun lay on the kitchen table. It was a Taurus 40 caliber pistol, inherited from my dad. My finger felt the rough texture of the matte metal. The metal was as cold as my heart. A squat highball glass sat next to the gun. It contained an inch of amber liquid chilled by two ice cubes. The irony of the combination made me grimly chuckle. Alcohol and Firearms could be deadly. The question was—would it be now?
“I’ve had it,” I told myself “I can’t deal with the pain.”
I picked up the gun. The weight and balance felt comfortable in my hand. Examining the weapon closer, I stroked the gun barrel. The gesture was almost a loving caress. I had been to this point before, sometimes going further. This wasn’t a new act.
The gun was gently laid back on the table, the highball glass replaced it. I swirled the contents, watching the caramel-colored mixture move lazily in a counterclockwise rotation. The scotch left a filmy residue on the glass. It was a good scotch. Johnny Walker had that reputation. My finances didn’t really allow the frivolous luxury, but booze numbed my senses.
I brought the glass to my lips and took a large sip, almost more of a gulp. The harsh alcohol didn’t burn dryly going down and make me shiver, anymore. It used to, but lately, I felt nothing. I already felt dead, the gun would make it official.
Was I a coward? Or was I being brave for not putting the end of the gun in my mouth and pulling the trigger? I had that debate so many times that year. The pistol’s deadly cavern had been directed in a fatal position before. I had envisioned the final outcome, but I doubted I’d truly know. Once I had come to that final outcome, would there be no return? If there was an afterlife, I wouldn’t see Heaven. Not that I totally believed that. If there was a God, he wasn’t benevolent. Maybe this mental anguish was meant to be my tithe.
I moved to the bedroom, sitting down on the quilt my mother had custom-made. Toying with the gun, I fingered it, contemplating.
A familiar voice asked me, “Are you really going to taint the loving memory of that quilt with blood and brain matter?”
I looked up, shocked, to see my mother standing in the bedroom doorway. Scowling, with arms crossed, she shook her head. Before she continued, I interrupted her.
I shook my head and looked again. My mother was standing there. “You can’t be-You’re-You’re-” I stammered.
In answer, she came to me and embraced me. The feel of her touch, the warmth, the smell was as I remembered it before she had become ill. I looked into her eyes. The same warm eyes of my mom.
“You can’t be real!” I exclaimed. “How can you be here?”
Mom drew away from me. She looked sternly toward me and directed a finger toward the gun laying on the bed.
“That’s not the answer,” she scolded. “You still have great things ahead of you. You’ll never discover that until you move forward.”
I reached down, to the gun and picked it up. With renewed resolve, I quietly moved to the drawer and secreted it away.
“That’s better, now move on with life and stop this self-pity,” Mom told me “It’s not your time.”
“I will,” I sighed “You’re righ—”
I turned to face Mom, but she was gone. Had she really been with me? A familiar scent lingered, to remove any doubt.
I look back at that point in my life now that a few years have passed. My situation has greatly improved. I manage my money more wisely. I am a homeowner. That wasn’t a goal I ever would have imagined possible. I have good friends that I’m close to and I’m happy again. I’m stronger, but still weather tragedy. Life isn’t always rosy.
Mom always nurtured my sister and me to embrace the arts. She had been an artist, creating quilts and making dolls. I come from a family of artists, mom’s sister paints. My sister, cousin, and I played musical instruments. I have been dabbling in writing since I was young. My mom and aunt gave their gifts to the world. I managed to bring forth my art. My first novel was published recently. The book dedication is simply two words “For mom”. I would never have discovered my writing talent had I taken my life.