If you love having nothing to do, then you’d love it here. That’s my every day.
I guess that’s partly why the boat has such an impact on me. It comes stinking of death and life in a world without smell. When it leaves, it is a relief, but then this world seems o so much more empty than it did before.
We still have a couple of newcomers in town. The woman with the unkempt hair is named Julia. She’s been occupying a table at Sung-Hee’s since she arrived. When Sung-Hee closes at night, Julia sits on the bench outside, waiting for her to open again.
It’s hard to get much information out of Julia, as she still seems shell-shocked by the whole experience of arriving here. But based on her stuttering conversation, she was a high school guidance counselor. She was driving home from Christmas shopping for her stepchildren—at least I think it was for her stepchildren—when she hit a patch of ice on the road. Next thing she knew, she was coming off a plane and climbing onto a train.
Deep down, I’m pretty sure she knows she’s dead, but she’s not willing to say it out loud. I’ve tried to get her to move into one of the cabins, as there are a few available. Not so much for her sake, as the cabins don’t provide much more comfort than her bench and table, but it’s mildly annoying to see her sitting there all day. I wish she would at least comb her hair. She could be kind of pretty if she would put in a little effort.
Gordon has hit an all-time low. He hasn’t said a single word to me since the boat pulled out. He went into his cabin and hasn’t come out. He won’t answer my knock and I’m not willing to barge in on him uninvited.
Quite the thrilling time.
It’s the Monday after Christmas. I’m still stuck thinking about that boat captain of yours. Why did Gordon want to go on that boat in the first place? You couldn’t pay me to get on something like that. And why wouldn’t they let him take his suitcase. I’m sure they could have found room for it if they wanted to.
I wish you would check out the woods a little more. Seems like plenty of people go that direction just fine.
Christmas weekend was pretty lovely. I got a BB gun from mom. On Christmas Eve, Rhett and I went down to the beach to try it out after we opened presents. It was pitch black out, so we brought a flashlight. We tried to shoot sand fleas with it. It’s pretty cool. I used it a bunch yesterday, too. It will go through both sides of a coke can, no problem.
I’ve still got a week off of school, so I’m happy. I love having nothing to do.
The boat came and went today. I’m still here. I can’t get on it.
Gordon was sitting with me on my porch, running his fingers through his longish, gray hair, when we heard the sound of the train. He jerked rigid, then grabbed my leg. “You hear it, too, don’t you? That means she’s coming. That means I have a choice to make. It is time to act. Time for the experimentum crucis.”
“The crucial experiment. Literally, the experiment of the cross.”
I followed Gordon to the train depot, where we could already see the old train screeching to a halt. A minute later, the door opened and the newcomers started stepping off, about a dozen in total. Like always there were three basic types. Some climbed off the train and wandered directly into the woods, as if the trip was an orchestrated camping trip. These ones never said much. A young blonde woman—probably 25—walked by me on her way toward the trees. She looked like she’d just stepped out of a college lecture, with her brow still furrowed from a debate.
“Where are you going?” I asked her. She turned toward me, startled a bit by the sound, but when she saw me, she shook her head. I mean she shook it as if she were clearing out cobwebs. She frowned even more and walked past me toward the trees. When she reached the nearest one—a rough-barked Douglas fir, she put her hand on it and stopped there, as if catching her breath. She stroked the bark, looked back my way for the briefest of seconds, then stepped past the Doug fir into the shadows.
The second type were the wanderers. The people like me. They look completely baffled by the experience. A woman with unkempt hair and bright red lipstick almost asked me a question, but all she could manage was, “Do you?” She turned a bit frantically away and followed the rest of the wandering crowd. As she walked, she kept trying to smooth down her hair.
As always, there were a few Crazies who led the way. The wanderers always follow them right down to the dock. I always follow them, too.
There were three Crazies this time—a fat Hispanic man in a freshly pressed white shirt, a thin-faced old woman with straight, steel-grey hair that fell to her shoulders, and a young man with rectangular glasses and a huge smile. This young man—I’d put him at about 25, too—led the way today. He shouted a laugh when he stepped off the train and practically ran for the dock. Gordon huffed along behind him with the others. I followed, farther back. It’s funny how people follow someone who is sure of himself, even if they have no idea where he is going. That young man would have made an incredible salesman. He sold his destination.
When we reached the dock, the boat had not yet arrived.
Gordon had a small, ratty suitcase with him. “Going somewhere?” I asked him. He smiled grimly without looking my direction. He was staring with everyone else, out into the fog. “What’s in the bag?” I asked.
“Very little,” he said to the fog. “Mostly just scribbles. A few pencil stubs.” He paused. “Am I the only one with luggage?”
I didn’t answer, because the boat arrived.
I know I complain about how little my five senses work in this half land, but when that boat came in, I wished I could have cut them off completely. The sight of all that blood, the smell of all that blood—I wanted to run back to my little cabin and climb under the covers.
The woman captain looked through her beaten, puffy eyes as she eased that wreck of a boat alongside the dock. The young man with rectangular glasses grabbed a line from the dock and tossed it expertly around a cleat on the boat’s deck. With a few quick spins of his wrist, the boat was tied off. He jumped from the dock to the deck without hesitation.
“Here I go,” whispered Gordon. He moved with the crazies toward the boat. When it was his turn, the young man smiled at Gordon’s little suitcase and said, “Can’t bring that, Uncle. Toss it away and climb aboard.”
“Ahh, it’s just a few tiny things.”
“A few tiny things that can’t come with you. Hurry and toss it. I want to get going!”
I rushed up to Gordon’s side. “Going where?” I asked. I think I sounded a bit desperate.
“You know!” the young man shouted. “Everyone knows! Every tongue declares our destination! Now climb aboard or cast off.”
Gordon moved to step on. The young man blocked his way, nodding at Gordon’s bag. When Gordon hesitated, the young man yanked the line from the cleat and threw it back onto the dock. The woman captain looked at me. I could not hold her gaze. It was so terrible. She was so beaten, so bruised, so swollen everywhere.
I turned and ran—yes, I ran—into the Laughing Gull. Sung-Hee had coffee waiting. She was ready for the confused crowd. I grabbed a napkin and, using the coffee, painted this portrait of the captain’s battered, feminine face.
This is my terrible Christmas gift to you.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, blood, boat, boat captain, fatherhood, illustration, luggage, purgatory | Comment (0)
I remember that stupid Play-Doh toy! I have no idea if I ever played with it or not. Boy, do I ever remember that feeling of guilt. I thought it was Mom who caught me. It was you? I guess one authority figure is as good as another when you’re four.
We have a couple of Christmas photos that you and I are both in. I’m wearing pajamas and I’m so little in them that I guess it makes sense that I don’t remember you.
I talked to Mom about taekwando lessons. We already have a Y membership, and she said if it doesn’t cost extra and I can get a ride that she supposes I can do it. She said I need to figure out about any extra costs. Mom says that things that sound free always end up costing her a bunch of money. I think it’s hard to be Mom. I bet she puts up with all sorts of stress that I don’t know about, money-wise. Anyway, I’m planning on catching a ride with Mudgett’s mom after school. Hope it’s not too weird.
If that boat comes in tomorrow, I wish you would draw a picture of it. Maybe I can look at the picture and help you figure out what the boat is for. There’s got to be some way to figure out where it goes and what happens to the people who get on it.
It’s the day before Christmas Eve down here. Christmas Eve Eve, as Rhett calls it. I’m just kind of hanging out. I got up early this morning, before anyone else, and went into the living room and lied on the couch under a blanket. I turned on the Christmas tree lights. I like the way they turn the room all warm looking, even when it’s freezing cold. I like to blur my eyes a little bit—you know, by squinting—so that all the colors kind of fuzz together.
I’ve got to wrap everyone’s presents today. Want to know what I got them? I got Mom this picture frame with a photograph of a sunset in it. I took the photo from our deck. It’s pretty cool. And the frame is round. I think she’ll like it. I got Steffan a license plate holder for his truck that says, “Old Chevys Never Die.” Rhett helped me pick that one out. I got Keith this thing you put a soccer ball in. It has a string on it. You hold the string and then kick the ball. The package says it’s “The Ultimate Training Tool.” I got Rhett a used White Stripes CD called Elephant. He used to have it, then he lost it. It was only $4.99. And I got Rhonda a pair of gloves. Rhonda’s hard to shop for, because she’s a girl, but not a girly girl.
I just realized I didn’t get you anything. Is there something you’d like? Oh, and if I forget to write you on Christmas, Merry Christmas, Dad.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, blood, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (0)
Nothing. No boat. Just more waiting.
The fog has been particularly thick lately. I can barely see the end of the dock. I think when that bloody boat does come in, it will appear instantly, as if cutting through a gray sheet.
Maybe it won’t come anymore. Maybe what we have here, right now, is what we will always have. I don’t think I’ll be able to stand that. All this waiting with no payoff.
It must be almost Christmas where you are. Your mother always loved Christmas. She would start playing Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving. She knew most of them by heart and would sing harmonies along with the CDs. Your mom had a pretty solid alto.
I have a Christmas memory of you: You were four years old. The last Christmas I spent with all of you. I was still feeling pretty healthy in those days. You’d found this toy you wanted in a Target flyer. Or maybe you saw it on TV. It was some sort of Play-Doh set where you’d put a glob of Play-Doh in one end, squeeze a lever, and watch Play-Doh hair grow out of a little plastic man at the other end. You told everyone you could think of that you wanted that thing. Your brothers and sister, the neighbors, the mall Santa, mom and me. You even told the mailman when he came to the door one day. Maybe you thought he had an “in” with Santa.
A few days before Christmas, Mom and a kid or two were in the dining room wrapping presents. You’d been told specifically to stay the heck out. But you were dying to know if they might, just possibly, be wrapping the Play-Doh gift of your dreams. So you crept alongside the green chair and peeked around. You were all crouched down like some sort of jungle commando.
You gave a gasp, then covered your mouth with one hand. You pulled back out of sight and turned around. I was standing there, where I’d been watching you the whole time. You practically jumped out of your skin. “What are you doing, you little rat?” I said, in a voice I hoped was playful and forgiving. I laughed and picked you up, but you had this look of such overwhelming guilt on your face. You didn’t say a word. I think you were waiting for my wrath, which never came, of course. I don’t remember much else.
Gordon came over to my porch to watch with me. I have a better view of the dock. And I’m closer to the train tracks. From my porch, I can see the boat come in and hear the train.
“I may just get on that thing tomorrow,” Gordon told me. He’s said the same thing many times before.
“How do you know it’s coming tomorrow?” I asked.
“Don’t,” he said, “but it seems overdue. My God. All that blood.”
“And you’re really getting on it this time?”
“My God! I don’t know! Magna est vis consuetudinis.”
“What’s that one mean?”
“Great is the power of habit. How true that is, eh? This is a hard place to leave.”
“Especially when the only way out is on that bloody boat.”
“There’s always the woods.”
“Like you said, this is a hard place to leave.”
We stared into the fog a while longer. I’m not sure if I hope the boat arrives tomorrow or not.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (0)
It’s weird how good I feel today. And I do think you had something to do with it. You took on my fear. You taught me how to box.
Guess who called today? Mudgett. Rhonda answered the phone and came and got me with this holy-crap look on her face. “It’s Mudgett!” she said. I shrugged.
“So I guess we’re square then.”
“And I guess you’re not a wuss.”
“So I guess that’s it.”
“I guess so.” I was about to hang up when I thought of something. “Hey, Mudgett—I mean, Will.”
“Where do you take taekwando lessons again?”
“Because, well, because I was thinking of seeing if my mom would let me take them.”
Then we started talking about the Y and how Mudgett goes there right after school a couple of days a week and how I could probably get a ride with him. I asked him what his mom said about the whole thing. He said that she freaked and wanted to call the school, but that he’d convinced her the whole thing was under control. “I still look pretty bad, though.”
“Yeah, that Gilman is huge.”
“You knocked him down.”
“I got lucky.”
“Where’d you learn to fight like that?”
“My dad taught me.”
He started to say, “I thought your dad was—“ but he caught himself and said, “OK.”
We said goodbye and hung up. Rhonda waited for the call to end. She gave me what-the-heck look.
“What?” I said.
“So is he your buddy now?”
“Mudgett? No way.”
“He sounded like he was your buddy.”
He’s not my buddy.
Let me know if the boat comes in tomorrow.
TomFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: afterlife, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (0)
You are an astonishing son. An amazing son. A man, perhaps, at least for a few moments.
What can I say to you? You are as good as any man and better than most. If I could sleep, I would dream that in some small way, I helped. Even the possibility that I helped is enough to get me through today.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow, I think the boat is coming. That awful boat, covered in blood.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, blood, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (0)
Mudgett gave me a serious bloody nose. Then Mudgett got the crap beat out of him, but not by me.
Earlier, in social studies, I said, “You still feel the need to fight me?”
“I ain’t no wussy boy like you,” Mudgett said.
I didn’t see him again until after school. At three o’clock, the last bell rang. Science class ended and I walked toward the back of the gym. Donnie Joad asked me where I was going. “No place,” I said. He asked if Mudgett was going there, too. I didn’t answer and two seconds later, Donnie went running away from me to spread the news. He can’t help himself, I guess.
By the time I got to the back of the gym, Mudgett was already there. He’d put his taekwando jacket on, but still wore jeans. He looked pretty cool, for a dork. I wondered if Mom would pay for me to take taekwando lessons.
“You ready to get your butt whipped, wussy boy?”
“If you’d just stop calling me that, we wouldn’t have to fight,” I said.
“Oh, we’re gonna fight. I’m gonna show all the ladies just what a wussy boy you are.” He pronounced it, “lay-dees.” He got into his taekwando pose. He looked like he was ready to break a board.
I got into my boxing pose. The problem with boxing lessons through the mail is that it’s like following instructions. I mean, I still have to think about all the stuff you said. I made sure my left foot was forward. I bent my knees. I thought about my back being straight. I looked down to make sure I was on my toes. I looked up and pow! Mudgett whopped me right in the nose. Blood started spurting everywhere. In about five seconds it made a red path down the front of my shirt. I think it freaked out Mudgett more than me.
A bunch of people started coming around the corner of the gym. Donnie, Brian Haase, Misty Lee and some other girls, that jerk David Gilman and his stupid friend, Jordan Sackett. Once a crowd formed, Mudgett got all agitated and started jumping around. “Hey, wussy boy!” he yelled at me. “You’re a bleeder!”
I got into my stance again. Left foot and shoulder forward, on my toes, knees bent, hands up, elbows in, fists relaxed. The blood running down the back of my throat didn’t bother me much. You were right. I didn’t die or anything. I started sliding toward Mudgett. He came at me again with his fist, but I was ready this time. I blocked it and jabbed him in the chin. He stepped back, almost into the crowd. Then he tried this big roundhouse kick and completely missed me. He spun around and totally nailed David Gilman right in the nuts.
Gilman let out a big groan and bent over. The whole crowd let out this huge gasp, then started laughing. In only a couple seconds, Gilman stood back up and all the laughter stopped. It was the first time I’d ever seen him without that stupid grin on his face. He marched up to Mudgett. He must have been eight inches taller and a good hundred pounds heavier. Mudgett backed away until he ran into the gym wall. Gilman said something to him I couldn’t quite hear. His voice didn’t sound quite right. Mudgett started muttering and shaking his head back and forth. Gilman grabbed him and bounced him off the gym wall hard. I could hear the back of Mudgett’s head crack against the concrete blocks. As Mudgett bounced forward, Gilman drove his fist into Mudgett’s face and bounced him off the wall again. Gilman hit him again and Mudgett crumpled to the ground. Gilman fell on him then and started pounding on him. In the face, on the body, wherever. Gilman was beating the snot out of him.
That’s about when I realized that I was screaming at Gilman to stop. I grabbed him around the throat until he gagged. Gilman tumbled over and rolled to his feet, coming at me in a crouch, like a wrestler. I fell into my stance, without thinking about it that time.
I could tell the crowd was yelling stuff at us, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. My ears were full of a buzzing, pounding sound.
I jabbed with my left. Gilman slapped it away with a big paw and circled around me. I turned to face him and jabbed with my left again. I grazed his chin. I popped back into position. He swung his big fist around toward my head. I blocked his fist with my hand, but I didn’t stop it. The blow to my head was hard enough to knock me to the ground.
As I was standing back up, he hit me again and knocked me down again. I stood up and backed away, getting back into my stance. Left forward. On my toes. I went in with a jab. Then another quick one. Each time I jabbed, his head would swing away from my left hand.
I jabbed him again. Hard. Then followed even harder with my right cross. One-two. Pow. I hit his chin with my center knuckle so hard it felt like I broke my finger. Gilman’s chin snapped up. I could hear his teeth click together. He looked at the sky, then fell straight over backwards.
I was a mess. Mudgett was a worse mess, all blood and dirt and broken skin. I grabbed Donnie and Brian and we helped Mudgett to his feet and ran around the far side of the gym.
“Can you walk?” I asked him.
“Barely.” He was hard to understand. I bet his mouth was full of blood. Maybe even a busted tooth.
“We better get out of here.” I watched him stumble to his mom’s car, wondering how he was going to explain his face to her. I ran out to the parking lot, where Rhett and Rhonda were waiting for me in Rhett’s crappy car.
“What happened to you?” asked Rhonda.
“Fight.” I said.
“Mudgett. Then Gilman.”
“Holy crap. How’d you do?”
“I think I lost to Mudgett. But I think maybe I beat Gilman.”
When we got home, Rhonda helped me clean up before mom got off of work. Mom will probably hear about it from some teacher and then I’ll hear about it. But right now, as I write this letter, I feel OK. And that was the last day of school before Christmas break!
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, blood, boxing, bullying, fatherhood, fight, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (1)
My stomach is doing flip-flops. I don’t think it’s accurate to say I’m afraid of Mudgett. I’m just nervous for you. It’s the most I’ve felt about anything since I’ve been up here.
I walked down to The Laughing Gull to get an order of Sung-Hee’s fish and chips. I had to do something while I was waiting, to settle my nerves. So I made a paintbrush out of a scrunched-up napkin and used Sung-Hee’s awful coffee as paint. On the back of your own envelope, you now are the proud owner of The Laughing Gull, an original architectural painting by yours truly. Not as good as your work, but I have the excuse of limited art supplies.
I paid and left before Sung-Hee arrived with my order. I wasn’t hungry anyway and once I finished my, ahem, painting, I couldn’t stand to sit around and wait. I walked out to the end of the fishing pier and stared out into the fog. Then I walked over to the train station and stared down the tracks. Nothing.
It gets very quiet around here just before the newcomers arrive. It’s quiet now.
I went over to Carl’s cabin and told him about your upcoming showdown. I don’t usually share my news of you with anyone. I think I caught him off guard. He looked at me with squinty eyes, as if I was trying to trick him.
“This other kid any good?” he asked.
“No idea. Takes taekwando lessons.”
“Then you should have told your boy to avoid clinches,” he said.
“Too late,” I said.
I thought talking to Carl would settle my nerves, but he became more nervous than me. That made me nervous. He kept drilling me on my instructions to you. “Is his stance as flat-footed as yours? You tell him to keep his chin tucked in? How’s his left hook?”
“I didn’t tell him about a left hook.”
“What? A left hook should follow a right cross! Whyn’t you tell him about a left hook?”
“I thought it would be too complicated.”
Carl pursed his lips and nodded quickly. “Maybe you’re right. Yes. Best to keep it simple. Jab and a right cross. That could do it, if he’s lucky. Is he lucky?”
“Well, his dad’s dead. But he lives in a house on the beach.”
“Seems like a fair trade to me.” Carl barked out an abrupt laugh, then grew instantly quiet.
Now all I do is wait. By the time you get this one, it will all be over.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, boxing, bullying, fatherhood, fear, fight, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory | Comment (0)
I saw Mudgett today. Huh. It’s weird to even write it, because I feel so different about it now. I saw Mudgett today. Big deal. I even said hi to him. He gave me one of those dark-eyed stares of his. It made me frown, because I still don’t really get his beef with me.
“Wussy boy.” It was all he could think of to say.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Why do you have to answer that way? Why can’t you just stop acting like a jerk?”
“Why can’t you stop being such a wussy boy. I’ll kick your butt all over this school.”
“No. You won’t.”
“Yeah. You’re such a wussy boy, you’ll probably keep running away from me.”
“I’m not running. Stop calling me that.”
“You ready to fight me then?”
“If that’s what it’s gonna take, then yes. How about tomorrow? Behind the gym right after school.”
I caught him off guard with that one. It’s hard for me to tell if it freaked him out or not, because Mudgett is really good at keeping that stare going. He said, “I’m taking taekwando, you know.”
“I know. So how about tomorrow?”
“You’re gonna get your ass kicked, wussy boy.”
“Whatever. As long as I get it over with.”
“What makes you think it’s gonna end?”
It wasn’t exactly a joy-filled conversation. I wasn’t afraid of him, but I don’t really want to fight him. I sure don’t want to lose, which is why I hit the heavy bag as soon as I got home, working on my combinations.
But I think the bargain thing might have worked. I didn’t really feel afraid of him. Stay tuned.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, boxing, bullying, fatherhood, fight, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, The Other, writing | Comment (0)
Our bargain is done. I’ve taken on your fear of Mudgett. I could be mistaken, but I think I actually felt it come upon me, in a strange sort of way. I have no feeling of dread, just a slight acknowledgement of a new presence.
I don’t fear Mudgett any more than I did before. Why should I? He can’t do anything to me. This place I reside in may have a million drawbacks, but Mudgett’s presence is not one of them. And I believe I would relish a good dust-up with the little punk.
It makes sense, when you think about it. Just because I took on your fear of him doesn’t mean it should weigh as heavily on me as it weighed on you. He can do nothing to me. “Bear each other’s burdens.” Genius. It’s easy for me to bear your burden. That’s why God told us to do it. That old Bible really gets it right sometimes.
You may not yet agree with this, but I can’t wait for you to meet Mudgett again.
You asked what you owe me in return. I don’t know. For now, how about if you just file away an IOU? Once I figure out what you can do for me, I promise I’ll cash it in.
Keep me posted.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, bullying, fatherhood, God, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, substitutional love, The Other, writing | Comment (0)
This seems like insanity to me. It feels a bit like witchcraft. No, that’s totally the wrong word. I don’t want anything evil-sounding mixed up in your proposal. But it sounds like magic.
But what the heck. I’ll try it. What have I got to lose? So here it goes: I pledge, with God as my witness, to let my dad, who happens to be dead as a doornail, take on my fear of Will Mudgett, the creepy, geeky, knife-carrying, taekwando-outfit-wearing kid who sits next to me in social studies. I don’t want the fear. And my dad asked to have it. So he can have it.
Should I say amen? Or abracadabra? I guess I’ll just stop there.
I think Mrs. Henry would approve. I’m not sure if God will, but I guess we’ll find out soon.
One question: If a bargain is an exchange of goods or services, don’t I need to give you something in return?
TomFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, junior high school, middle school, purgatory, The Other, writing | Comment (1)
A bargain. “An oath of The Other.” That’s what your Mrs. Henry called it. Let’s make a bargain, Trevor. Let’s do something that makes a difference in your life. Let’s solve this problem of Will Mudgett—of your fear of him. Is it possible? Is it mystical nonsense? Is it true religion or just wishful thinking on my own, impotent part? What the hell. Let’s find out.
With God as my witness, Trevor, here is my bargain with you. I will take your fear of Will Mudgett. I will bear the fear for you. With God as my witness, I am willing to be the bearer of your fear. When you next see Mudgett, I want you to remember that your fear of him is no longer your own. I’m taking on that fear, so you can’t have it. It is no longer your property or your burden. It is mine. I pledge this to you, Trevor, in clear view of God Almighty, should he actually prove to exist.
“Bear each other’s burdens,” Trevor. That’s what the Bible says, right? Let’s try it.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, book blog, bullying, fatherhood, God, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, The Other, writing | Comment (0)
I talked to Mrs. Henry again today, but I’m starting to think she is kind of a nut. Here’s a drawing of her I did in class when I should have been reading. I like it. I worked on it some more when I got home. Can you tell what I mean about her kind of ex-hippie style?
Mrs. Henry really believes this stuff about The Other and all her other kooky crap. I think she’s one of those people who probably thinks ghosts and angels and all that sort of thing are real.
Then again, who am I to talk? I’m writing letters to my dead dad.
I asked her if she’d tell me more about this idea of what she meant by a bargain. What kind of bargain could I make with a dead person that, like she said, God would honor?
“You’re a writer, aren’t you, Trevor?”
“You are. You’re someone who values words. Few people do, you know. We say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes without thinking what the words mean. Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain. We pray at dinner. We say, “Bless this food to our bodies,” but if someone asked us what we meant, we wouldn’t know how to answer them. Our words might as well be grunts. But what if you made a real agreement—a verbal contract? What if you made an oath before God, say, to keep your room clean for a month? Would you do it?”
“I guess I would.”
“Would you or wouldn’t you?”
“Well, because I made a promise in front of God.”
“And God would hold you to it. God takes such oaths seriously. It is an oath of The Other. Such oaths transcend time and space. And such bargains are never to be entered into lightly.”
Mrs. Henry stared at me for a minute. I think she was wishing I would fall down in amazement at the brilliance of her words. I think teachers wish that a lot. I guess I was kind of amazed, though.
“But what do you mean by a bargain?”
“Oh, that part is simple. A bargain is simply an exchange of goods or services at a price. You get something in exchange for payment.
I still don’t really know what she meant, and Mrs. Henry wasn’t going to spell everything out for me. But there was something there. I could tell.
A little help here would be great, Dad. Any ideas?
TomFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, book, fatherhood, God, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, teacher, The Other, writing | Comment (0)
I like your drawing of David Gilman. I wonder if he realizes he is a jerk.
It’s strange to hear about your minute-by-minute struggles via letter. This medium takes the most active parts of your life—the mud kicked up from an attacker’s soccer cleats, the sour smell of a bus full of players, the balls and threats flying around from seat to seat—and turns them into black words on a piece of thin white paper.
When I was your age, I always felt so trapped by the close-up view I had of my own life. At least I think I felt that way. I wanted to know where I would go, what turn my life would take. And I wanted to know on a day-to-day basis. What would happen after school? What would happen tomorrow?
As you grow older, Trevor, you’ll see that perspective just comes. You start to get less concerned about tomorrow, simply because you’ll have lived through so many tomorrows that you’ll have a pretty good idea what will happen. One week is pretty much like any other week. I don’t mean this to sound depressing. Every week will have surprises. Even the most predictable of things, like seasons of the year or Daylight Savings Time, always seem to come bursting unexpectedly around a corner. But you’ll even come to expect the surprises. Fall will come. The sugar maples will turn a red so bright you can barely stand to look at them. You’ll love both the beauty of that moment and the predictability of its arrival.
I wish you could have my perspective on your struggle, Trev. I wish you could see what I see—that your conflict with Mudgett is only a tiny little eyelash twitch in your life. I wish you could see that the planets and stars do not revolve around Mudgett and you, waiting to see what will happen.
Carl and I have a bet going on when the newcomers will arrive. I say tomorrow. He says the next day. We argued halfheartedly about what to bet. I suggested that if I win, Carl would have to clean my cabin for a month, but we both realized that my cabin never gets dirty and that neither of us would have any idea how long a month lasts. Carl suggested that the loser has to go on a coffee run down to the Laughing Gull, but we both hate the coffee there.
Finally, we just agreed to make a gentleman’s bet, even though neither of us are gentlemen. If I win, I am declared a winner. I suppose that’s something.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, bet, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, soccer | Comment (0)
Today was our last soccer game. We lost two to one. It was tied up when some super fast guy on the other team came right at me. Someone on his team passed the ball and Super Fast Guy blazed past me.
I’m pretty sure he was offsides.
Anyway, Super Fast Guy scored. We lost. The season is over. Nobody hassled me about it at the game. I mean, it wasn’t like I was the only defender on the field. Last time I checked, soccer was still a team sport. And Super Fast Guy’s shot wasn’t all that great, but our goalie, Rick Jarvis, didn’t stop it.
The bus ride back to the school was going fine, considering we lost. Then it got real quiet, you know, like it does sometimes for no reason, and Donnie Joad said, “Trevor, you shouldn’t feel bad for letting that guy score.”
I think Donnie Joad was trying to be nice, but sometimes it’s really hard to tell. It got even more quiet after that, until David Gilman said, “Yeah, wussy boy, don’t feel bad for losing the game for us.”
“Quit calling him ‘wussy boy,’” said Donnie. “Why you wanna side with Mudgett?”
“I ain’t siding with Mudgett,” said David Gilman. “Mudgett’s a fag. And Trevor’s a wussy boy.”
Then somebody called Gilman a jerk and people started pounding on each other, then laughing, Then everything suddenly melted back to normal, while I sat there in a haze. All the talking and noise kind of swirled around me while I just heard a buzzing sound.
I’m pretty sick of this whole thing. I want to go back to elementary school.
P.S. I included a drawing of what Gilman looks like, sort of, on the bus after a soccer game.Filed under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, bullying, fatherhood, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, soccer | Comment (0)
Don’t worry about David Gilman and his “wussy boy” comment. He’s one of those guys who says whatever sounds cool that day. Tomorrow he’ll be making fun of his best friend if he hears someone doing that.
David Gilman is the stupidest kind of bully. He is not worth considering. Your Mrs. Henry, however, is a different matter. She is certainly worth a study.
I think I understand what she is saying with her theories. If God is more than bunk, than time and space and life and death have to be meaningless to him. Otherwise, what would the point be of praying for your brother to have a safe trip. You’re praying that God will somehow go with him into the future, in another location, and impact the surface of the road he drives on and keep other cars from running into him. Would it be possible, Mrs. Henry is postulating, to pray for something that also happened in the past? Would it be possible to make an oath with someone, with God as your witness, who was on the other side of the world or even, dare I say it, dead? I have an idea or two on how we might test her theory, but it would be great to hear more from Mrs. Henry.
Boxing has become a bit of a hobby with Carl and me. We wrapped our fists in a couple of Sung-Hee’s dish cloths and punched a sack of beach sand and rags. It doesn’t have the heft of your heavy bag, but then again, either do my punches. I can’t seem to hit the bag hard enough to tire out my hands. Carl derides me for my weak arms, but his don’t seem to hit any harder.
We tried a little sparring as well. Carl slipped a hard jab through and hit me right in the nose. I expected blood to come out and kept touching my nostrils with my rag-wrapped hands, but no blood.
The only blood to be found in this place seems to be on the boat and its bloody woman captain. As far as I can recall, the boat hasn’t been here in a while, which means we should be seeing it any day. I long for and dread its appearance, as well as the appearance of newcomers. Believe me, any diversion is precious, but each newcomer who arrives and then leaves is another painful reminder that I am still here.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, blood, boxing, fatherhood, God, jab, letter, prayer, purgatory, sparring, The Other | Comment (0)
An eighth grader called me “wussy boy” today. Will Mudgett has successfully branded me as a wussy.
David Gilman, this big kid with spiky red hair bumped into me in the hallway when I was opening my locker. “Oops. Sorry, wussy boy,” he said, winking like a dork at his friend, Jordan Sackett. Gilman is a doofus, but man, is he ever big. He must weigh 250 pounds. He looks like a grown man, except for the doofus grin that’s always on his face. If you told Gilman that his whole family died in a plane crash, he’d just stand there looking at you, grinning. This time he was grinning at me.
Gilman is a jerk. He’s a defender on my soccer team, like me. He’s always trying to give the seventh graders titty twisters on the way to games. When Gilman called me a wussy boy, I should have one-two punched him right in his stupid grin.
I talked to Mrs. Henry after her class today. “So what do you know for sure?” I said.
“What do you know for sure? You said there were only a few things you know for sure. What are they?”
Mrs. Henry looked really serious all of a sudden, by which I mean her smile lines went completely horizontal. But only for a second or two. Then they curved back into place.
“Humm. I know—I know for sure that Fisherman’s Friends throat lozenges are the best throat lozenges. I know for sure that the best meal I ever had was a loaf of crusty bread, a wedge of ripe brie and a bowl of Washington strawberries. And I know God for sure.”
I knew she’d sneak God in there somehow.
“There are different kinds of truths, Trevor. There’s the Fisherman’s-Friends truths and strawberries-are-good truths and two-plus-two-equals-four truths. The factual kind. That kind of truth is valuable and there’s less of it around than you may think. It reassures us. Gives us that pause, when we can exhale and get our feet back under ourselves.
“Then there’s the kind of truth you can know. The rarest of all truths. I mean that you can know it the same way you know me and I know you. You can relate to it. You can relationship with it. You can have it over for coffee, so to speak. That truth is called God. God is truth and you can know him. It’s not always a reassuring kind of truth. Sometimes it’s damn unsettling. But it’s truth. He’s truth.”
I just stared at her.
“You had another question for me the last time we talked,” Mrs. Henry said, “about whether people who are dead can help you.”
“Death, it seems to me, is a change in the physical state. The physical state does not have much to do with the state of The Other. God’s laws—the laws of The Other—don’t pay much attention to death, time or space.
“Let me pose a theory to you,” Mrs. Henry said, as she doodled on a scrap of paper with her well-chewed pencil. “First of all, let’s agree that God lives outside of what we think of as time and space. Let’s agree that God lives—or perhaps lives isn’t the right word. Let’s say he exists—on another plane where time and space are irrelevant. OK? If you made a bargain of The Other—an agreement that God would honor—then it wouldn’t matter to God if the bargain were made between two people standing together in the same room or if they were two people on opposite sides of the earth, right? Is it also possible that it wouldn’t matter if they lived 100 years apart? Is it possible that it wouldn’t matter if one was alive and one was dead?”
“What kind of bargain are you talking about?” I asked. But the bell rang. Mrs. Henry smiled and told me we’d have to talk another time.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, bullying, fatherhood, fishermans friends, letter, middle school, purgatory, The Other, truth | Comment (0)
While I was waiting for your letter I visited Gordon. Gordon is one of my neighbors—the classics professor. His cabin is smaller than mine and looks like it was made of old signboards. Gordon says it’s so drafty that he can never get warm at night. I sat tenderly on his railing and asked him if he knew anything for certain.
“I am quite certain that one cannot obtain a decent tobacco in the afterlife,” he replied.
“I’m serious, Gordon.”
“So am I. Quite.”
“But what do you really know for certain?”
He thought for a moment, cleared his throat, and said,
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.”
He cleared his throat again. “Yeats. Not exactly my bailiwick, but always been fond of the fellow.” He mumbled a few things, then went inside his cabin, shut the door and didn’t come out the rest of the day.
I didn’t mean to send old Gordon into a funk, but I get what he was saying. A good tobacco is something one can know. Wine is something one can know. Looking at a beautiful woman is something one can know. And, as Yeats said, that’s all we shall know for truth.
That’s what Gordon believes. I wish there was something more that I could know, for certain. But maybe Gordon is ahead of me, with his simple approach. If he’s right, why does he seem so depressed about it?
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, cabin, fatherhood, letter, love, purgatory, tobacco, wine, yeats | Comment (0)
My arms feel like rubber. I can barely hold the pencil in my right hand, and my left is even more tired. It feels good.
I spent an hour and a half hitting the heavy bag today. Rhonda came down and watched me do it. She kept giving me advice: “You should grunt when you hit like the kung fu guys do. It helps you focus your chi.” “Don’t dance around so much. You’re just gonna tire yourself out.” “Quit hitting like a girl.”
Rhonda’s a girl. If I could hit as hard as she does, I’d be fearless. She’s always been good at giving out advice. I never know if she actually knows what she’s talking about or not. She’s really convincing.
I remember reading this old book of Peanuts comics, and Linus asks his sister, Lucy, if farmers always bring dairy cows in at night. “Of course, you blockhead,” Lucy yells. “If they leave them out overnight they get pasteurized. Linus says something like, “I didn’t know that. I guess I’d make a lousy farmer.”
I’m Linus. Rhonda is Lucy. She has an answer to every question and she’s really good at focusing her chi. I don’t think Rhonda has ever been picked on in her life. At least outside of her house. Steffan and Keith used to wail on her pretty good.
When I was in second grade, this freckly-faced kid named Jim McMicken smashed my lunchbox on the second day of school. It was a brand new lunchbox. SpongeBob. I loved it. Jim McMicken was in Jan’s class—two years older than me. He kicked the lunchbox out of my hand as I was leaving the building at the end of the day. He shouted, “Hi-ya!” then brought his heal down and mashed a big dent into the box. I guess he was good at focusing his chi, too.
Rhonda came out of the building right after that, when I was probably crying or something. Jim McMicken was still glorying in his karate kick. Rhonda shouted, “Hey!” He turned pale and turned around. She walked up to him and tore open his backpack.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for my brother’s lunchbox.”
“It’s right there,” he said, pointing to the ground.
“That’s his old lunchbox. His new one is…right…here.” She pulled a cd player out of Jim McMicken’s backpack and handed it to me.
“That’s not a lunchbox!” protested Jim.
“Close enough. Don’t ever touch my brother again.”
Jim McMicken walked away. Rhonda tried to knock the dent out of my lunchbox. It didn’t really work. Mom made me use it the rest of the year anyway. But I still have the CD player and it still works.
I’ll talk to Mrs. Henry again tomorrow. Thanks for the boxing lessons.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, bullying, chi, fathers and sons, junior high school, lunchbox, middle school, purgatory, rhonda, sister | Comment (0)