School’s over. This is my last letter to you.
Donnie and Rhett are in the other room waiting for me. After I finish this letter, I’ll mail it on our way to the marina. They both assume I’m gonna jump. Off the marina, I mean.
We start from the shore. We swim about a hundred feet out to a ladder. You’ve got to wear shoes, says Rhett, or when you jump, hitting the water hurts your feet. And climbing the ladder does, too. The ladder goes all the way up from the water. The bottom part —the part that dips below high tide—is all covered with seaweed and barnacles, like wood on a shipwreck. The ladder gets cleaner as it goes up. The top rungs are bleached and cracked by the sun.
We climb the rungs all the way to the top. Then we just stand close to the edge of the roof and jump.
Rhett says there’s nothing to it. You just step off and fall.
I suppose I should say goodbye Dad, but I think you’re beyond goodbyes now. Beyond letters. Beyond words.
All that’s left is for me to step into air.
So that’s what I’ll do.
You’re really gone, aren’t you? You’re never gonna write me back.
Just to let you know, I’ll probably keep checking the mailbox for a while to make sure.
I went in to Mrs. Henry’s class at lunch today to talk to her about you. She was writing in a notebook with a pencil, but stopped when I came in. She looked up and smiled at me with all her wrinkles. I sure like those wrinkles.
“What can I do for you, Trevor?” I just stood there. Mrs. Henry is one of my favorite adults, but it’s still hard for me to talk to her. Then again, all adults are hard for me to talk to. Even Mom. Sometime in the future, I need to write letters to Mom and apologize for not talking much.
I told Mrs. Henry I didn’t really need anything. I just wanted to say hi and tell her about some stuff. She set down her pencil, then picked it up again and tapped the desk with it.
“What kind of stuff?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Other stuff?” She smiled again. I knew what she meant. I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. We sat there like that for 20 seconds. Then she said, “You know, Trevor, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Some things aren’t meant to be shared. Maybe this is one of those things you just want to keep. For yourself.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I might have sighed a little right then, either in relief or disappointment.
She said, “Can I ask one question? Did things turn out—OK?”
“I think so.”
“You think so? You’re not sure? Well then, Trevor, I guess you’ll just have to get used to not knowing.”
“That sucks,” I said. I meant it.
“I suppose it does. But there’s something exciting about the not-knowable-ness of it. It means you’ve got a secret—a mystery—that’s still waiting to be solved. There’s not many of those left. Seems like you’ve got a good one. Right up there with Bigfoot.”
I thought the Bigfoot comment was pretty stupid. But I pretended it was funny, then told Mrs. Henry to have a good summer and left.
Not knowing totally blows. I’d rather know, Dad. Where are you?
It’s been more than a week since you got on the boat. You did get on the boat, didn’t you? I hate not knowing. I want to know for sure. At least I think I do.
I’m pretty certain you’re gone for good. So why am I still writing? I’ve got no reason that makes sense, other than sometimes you get into a pattern and you just keep doing it because it’s what you do. I’ll probably stop when school gets out, because I try not to do anything that even smells like school in the summer. Except reading, I guess. I still read. But I try to read only trashy books, full of lots of violence and maybe even a little sex, but not so much mom would think I’m reading porn or anything weird like that.
Donnie is supposed to come over after school on Friday. Our plan is to stay up super late then sleep in practically all day on Saturday. Which means Donnie will stay up super late and I’ll probably fall asleep by 10. 11 if I drink lots of Coke. And I can’t sleep in to save my life, so I’ll be up early playing video games with the volume down.
I told Donnie that Rhett wants me to jump off the marina after we get home from school. Donnie said, “Can I come? I’ve always wanted to jump off that thing.”
Sometimes I hate my friends.
Anyway, tomorrow is really like the last day of school, even thought we have to go on Friday, too. Friday is only half a day. The cool teachers have parties in their classes and the other ones make you clean out your desk and review stuff. I think they should all have parties, because that will be the last thing you remember about them. But some teachers want you to remember how hard their classes were, I guess.
I’m gonna try to talk to Mrs. Henry tomorrow to maybe tell her about what happened between you and me. I figure she was a key person in the whole deal, so she deserves to know. If I don’t tell her tomorrow, I probably never will, because I won’t have her for a teacher next year.
I know that, because I got my list of classes for 8th grade. All new teachers. I don’t know any of them. I hope they don’t think I’m a hood, because of the whole cookie thing. I figure they all heard the story. Maybe Mrs. Henry will put in a good word for me. Maybe I’ll ask her that tomorrow.
If you were writing back to me, this is where you’d say, “You’re not a hood, Trevor. You’re a good kid. I believe in you. Blah blah blah.” I wouldn’t mind having someone say that to me right now.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, letter, marina, middle school, summer vacation, writing | Comment (0)
Things I’ll never be able to talk to you about:
- What kind of job I should get when I’m a grown-up. Right now I have no idea, but I think it would be fun to do something with writing. You talked about wishing you’d done that, right?
- Where I should go to college. I don’t really care about this one, but it seems like the kind of thing we should talk about.
- Any kind of advice about sex. I mean, not that I would necessarily ask you or anything, but it would be nice to have the option, because there’s no way I’m gonna ask Mom. And if I ask Rhett, he’ll just call me a dork.
- How to drive a car. This one I’m definitely gonna miss. Right now, I’m thinking about getting an old jeep. I wish you could tell me if this would be a good idea. I don’t really have any money saved or anything, but I think it would be a cool choice and still basically practical. Jeeps are pretty reliable, aren’t they? I mean, if they weren’t reliable, it doesn’t seem like you’d drive one in the desert or in a war. I wouldn’t want an unreliable car in either of those places.
- Kids and stuff. I mean, someday, if I got married and had kids, that is. I basically plan to. And I plan to take them to the beach and teach them how to skim board and throw seaweed at them and play card games with them when it’s late and they should be in bed. I figure if you were here, you could probably tell me how not to screw them up. Then sometimes I wonder if the reason I’m not screwed up is because you died. Since you were dead, my parents never fought. And I pretty much thought my dad was perfect until we started writing letters. Now I know better. Nothing personal or anything. Besides, I think real is better than perfect.
That’s enough for today. It’s really sunny out. After I mail this letter, I’m going down to the beach with Barry, Rhonda and Tess. I’ll probably even go swimming, even though the water’s so cold it makes it hard to breathe.
Sometimes, that’s just the feeling you want.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, letter, middle school, writing | Comment (0)
The second hardest day to go to school all year long is the last Monday before summer break. You know that summer is almost here and you get a weekend of great weather to give you a little taste of it—just enough to drive you insane. Then you have to get up early and go back to school for a whole other week. Barf.
The hardest day to go to school is the day after you’re suspended for poisoning the teachers with Ex-Lax.
It’s the beginning of the final week. Then summer. And Rhett told me that after school on Friday, he’s gonna make me jump off the marina whether I like it or not.
Maybe that’s what bugs me—him pushing me so hard. Maybe if I felt like it was my decision to jump, I’d be happier about it.
But who would ever decide to do such a stupid thing? Even at high tide, the roof is at least 40 feet above the water. From that height, the water is like concrete. If you land wrong you’re dead. Or you’re paralyzed from the waist down and you’ll never walk again and kids will stare at you in the mall. You just spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Maybe if you’re really lucky, you do a talk show on PBS or something dorky like that.
Should I jump? I guess I’ve gotta figure this one out on my own, because you’re no help. You’re beyond dead.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, letter, marina, middle school, writing | Comment (0)
Things I miss, now that your letters have stopped:
- Hearing stories about when you were alive, like when you made that trailer from the Popular Mechanics plans.
- Hearing you worry about me. It sucks to worry, but it’s nice to be worried about.
- Learning about boxing. Knees bent, hands up, elbows in, fists relaxed.
- Thinking that maybe I was like you, after all, and being OK with that.
- Gordon’s weird Latin quotes. E pluribus cuckoo.
- Knowing that I was the only kid getting letters from you.
- Descriptions of Sung-Hee’s crappy coffee. I don’t want to drink it. I just want to hear about it.
I wish you’d write back.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, letter, middle school, writing | Comment (0)
Still no letter from you. I think you may be gone for good. Then again, I thought you were gone when you went into the woods, then you came back. But you said no one ever comes back on the boat except the bloody captain. The boat goes out full and comes back empty.
I know I should be glad, right? Because this probably means you made it to heaven. Or somewhere. You’ve moved on at least. That’s good, right? I really am glad for you, if it makes sense to be glad.
By the way, if the postman or Sung-Hee or Gordon or someone else is reading this letter right now, I’m OK with that. But you don’t need to write back to me. I don’t want to start getting a bunch of letters from dead people I don’t know.
It was super sunny today. It made it really hard to keep my mind on school. After today, only six days to go and then school is done. I’m glad summer is here to take my mind off your being gone. The only thing that worries me about summer is the marina. I know Rhett is gonna bug me to jump off it. I don’t know what Rhett’s problem is.
I was trying to think if there was a question I wished I asked you before you got on the boat. Here’s a simple one: What should I do about the marina?
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, middle school, school, summer vacation, writing | Comment (0)
I didn’t get a letter from you today. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I think you may be gone. Again. I’m sort of getting used to it.
I’m trying to picture where you are. Are you still on the boat, just riding over the waves, with the salt spray dripping from your face? Did you get somewhere yet? Where? Heaven?
It’s June here now. School’s close enough to being out that no one cares about it—not the students or the teachers. Mr. Schick seems as uninterested in all the other students as he is in me. He gave us worksheets and then stared out the window toward where his crappy car is parked. I think his longing for the year to be over is even stronger than his anger about the cookies.
Even Mrs. Henry seems ready to go. I feel like I should tell her what’s really been happening between you and me. I don’t think she’d be surprised much.
I was thinking that maybe now that you’ve left me again, maybe I could start talking to Mrs. Henry. I was thinking maybe I could sit in her classroom and talk to her during lunch a couple of days a week, to hold me over until I hear from you again. Then I realized that it’s almost summer and she’ll be gone, too.
Everybody will be gone but me.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, middle school, summer vacation, writing | Comment (0)
I’m not sure what happened in your last letter. I think you just got on the boat. Is that true? Are you gone?
What happens now? How will I know?
It figures that yesterday was Memorial Day. Mom picked a bunch of flowers from the yard – big, red rhododendron blooms and tiny little lime green flowers and I think lilies and some other stuff. We went to Washington Memorial and visited Meredith’s grave and your grave. We scrubbed your tombstone with copper cleaner. I think we’ve probably been scrubbing it a little too much over the years, because it’s looking kind of worn through around the letters. Then Mom put her flowers in the little metal can that’s sunk in the grass and we dumped some water in there. It’s kind of cool, because we decorate your grave, even though there’s no one to see it. It’s kind of like Mom thinks maybe you’re looking down or God is. Maybe it’s just for us.
It was weird being there with Rhonda and my brothers, who were working away with the copper cleaner and making jokes and stuff, while I was mainly thinking about our letters. Visiting your tombstone felt different to me this year, because now it’s there for someone I know. I mean, before we started writing to each other, Memorial Day was kind of about the idea of ancestors, not about real people. Now you’ve become real, just in time to leave.
Our timing is off again, because you’ll probably never read this.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, cemetery, death, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, memorial day, middle school, writing | Comment (0)
I know you need me, but I am beyond apologies.
I write this leter at the Laughing Gull. Ezra sits next to me, tapping his fingers on the table. Tap tap tap.
The boat pulls in. The woman captain is dressed in her best blood. “Why is she like that?” I think to myself. Or maybe I say it out loud, because Ezra answers.
“Who knows what g—got her to that point. A bill—billion little things. That’s like me asking you wh—why you look the way you do.”
“Why do I what? Look like this? This is who I am. Or who I’ve become. I’ve looked better.”
“Ah. And this is the best she’s l—looked so far. Like she’s dressed for a wedding. Don’t you think she looks lovely in h—her wedding clothes?
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but she looks just rough enough to get me where I need to go.”
“I’m coming.” My heart pounds as I say the words. “I’ve just got to mail a letter.”
“Even so, come quickly,” says Ezra.
I will finish this line, stuff this note in an envelope and hand it to Sung-Hee. I’ve gotta run, Trevor.
HughFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, death, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, middle school, purgatory, writing | Comment (0)
Dang it, this whole advice-by-mail thing totally sucks. I come home from school after trying to hide my black eye all day, after trying not to talk about it, after getting called a wussy-boy by Mudgett. Then I open a letter from you that says, “Don’t hide your black eye. Tell everyone how you got it.”
Our timing stinks.
I talked to my English teacher, Mrs. Henry, today. I’m not sure she believed me when I told her I got the black eye boxing with my brother. I think half the school figures that Mudgett creamed me in a fight. Heck, he hasn’t even fought me yet and most people already figure I’ve lost.
Mrs. Henry tried not to stare at my eye when we talked, but she failed on that one. She was having a conversation only with that corner of my face. My black eye has its own gravitational pull.
“If you were trying to learn about life aboard a ship, I’d have you read Melville or Jack London,” she said. “If you were trying to learn about, oh, I don’t know, bullfighting, then I suppose Hemingway would be your man. But what you’re talking about, Trevor, is The Other. It’s Heaven and Hell and God territory. There’s only one kind of writer for that—a theologian—which is literally someone who studies God. Unfortunately, very few theologians died, came back from the dead and wrote about it. Lucky for us, some of them were smart enough to speculate. To try to fill in the gaps with both logic and intuition.”
The Other—that’s what Mrs. Henry calls everything religious. She talks about it like it’s science fiction. In The Other, there are laws that control how things happen. And, according to Mrs. Henry, these laws are on a higher level than our regular laws.
“I know space and time don’t matter to God,” said Mrs. Henry. “if they do, he’s not much of a god, is he? When we pray for others, we pray that God will intervene in their lives the next day, or in a different place. We pray to a single God, asking him to insert himself into our lives, knowing that a few other million people around the globe are asking the same of him. God could only answer these requests if space and time do not matter to him. If he lives outside of it. In The Other. And if he does, then past, present, future, are all the same to him. So are heaven, hell and earth.
“Death? Well, that shouldn’t matter either, because God conquered death a few thousand years ago.”
I was going along with Mrs. Henry. And all she said sounded pretty encouraging to me, until she sucked all the air out of my tires with just a couple of sentences.
“Before we go farther down this road, Trevor, we need to be completely clear on something. This is speculation on my part. This is conjecture. I don’t begin to pretend to know what happens when we die. Those who do claim to know are almost certainly wrong.”
I protested. She just got done talking about how clear everything looked. How logically laws operated in The Other. She said that she’d be getting input from the smartest guys who’d ever lived. Then she says that even they don’t know. So what’s the point?
“There are only a few tiny things I know for sure,” Mrs. Henry said. “I can tell you those with utmost certainty. Those are the things that matter. These other things—how was the world made? What happens after we die?—we can only make educated guesses. And that’s OK, Trevor. We don’t have to know everything.”
“I’m not asking to know everything,” I said. “I just want to know about my dad. Can he help me or not?”
“Ahh,” she said.
I hated that “ahh.” Even Mrs. Henry could be annoying sometimes. That “ahh” meant, “I have just figured you out.”
But she hadn’t. Not a chance. I walked out.
By the way, tomorrow is thanksgiving.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, heaven, hell, junior high school, letter, middle school, purgatory, teacher, theologian | Comment (0)
Yeah, Mom sold the lots. I don’t think they give us much money, but I suppose every little bit helps.
I always figured we’d be richer if you hadn’t died. Probably better not to think about that too much.
I did talk to Mrs. Henry today. I said, “Can I ask you a really weird question?” When she said yes, I said, “If someone were dead, but you know, still alive. Like up in heaven or wherever, would they be able to do anything to help people here on earth?”
She smiled and raised an eyebrow at me, but she didn’t laugh or call me an idiot. She said, “Why did you choose to ask me?” I told her I didn’t really know, but I figured she was just smarter than other grown-ups. She seemed to like that. “I’m not smarter,” she said, “just better read.”
Then she explained that when she has questions she doesn’t know the answers to, she goes to others to get her advice. “Like who?” I asked. “I consult the great thinkers—Shakespeare, Dante, Plato, Cervantes, —oh, there are dozens more.”
“You mean books?” I asked. Of course she meant books. And she threw in a couple of the Bible writers then as well. She explained that when it came to most questions, these great thinkers usually disagreed. For example, she said, Plato seemed to think of the Underworld as an actual place. Shakespeare, James and others seemed happy to believe in ghosts. Chesterton and Lewis believed in some form of heaven and hell. While others, such as Hemingway and Twain, seemed sure that God, heaven and hell were pure fiction.
She sure knows about a lot of writers.
“So how do you figure out what the truth is?” I asked.
“That’s the fun part,” she said. “You find out what others—particularly others smarter than you—have to say on the subject. Then you do something remarkable. You use your brain.”
It was a pretty cool conversation. It almost made me forget Mudgett. Almost. Except for the fact that he showed me his taekwando outfit in his backpack, then he said, “You know what I do everyday after school, wussy-boy? I go to the Y and take lessons in kicking your butt.”
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, death, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, middle school, purgatory | Comment (0)
What can I do for you from here? So little. I can’t fight your fights for you. I can’t take you to the doctor. I’ve never felt as dead as I feel right now, realizing how separate from you I am.
I think that’s what death is more than anything else: separation.
As far as I can tell, I still have matter. My body, for what it’s worth, still is made of something. I can see it and feel it, although it does not feel as solid as the body I recall on Earth.
You’ve gone swimming in the Sound, right? You know how you feel when you come shivering out of that cold water and you can barely feel the rocks beneath your feet? Someone wraps a rough towel around you, but it barely feels scratchy, because your skin is so numb. That’s close to how I feel up here. Feeling acts more as a point of reference than an experience.
It’s hard to hear from you down there, unwilling to go to class because of Will Mudgett. It’s hard to know you’re suffering and that I can do nothing but write you a letter. Hell, by now you may have gotten into a boxing match with the kid while our letters are crossing in the mail.
I hope you talk to Mrs. Henry again. I like her. I wish you’d tell her about me, but maybe that’s just my ego talking. Maybe I just long to be included. I’ve always longed so. Who hasn’t?
Here’s the thing, Trevor. You may think me irresponsible, but boys like Mudgett rarely stab people. I know what you’re thinking: It could happen. Boys pulled out guns in that high school in Colorado back when you were a toddler and I when was still alive. So you’re right. It could happen. But it almost never does. Your fear is not completely unreasonable, but what you are afraid of is unlikely.
You could also tell a teacher that the boy is threatening you. If schools continued changing like they appeared to be doing when I was still alive, just the threat of a knife at school is enough to get a kid yanked.
Perhaps that’s what you could do: Perhaps you could write out a pros and cons list of all the options you have. They seem to be this:
- Continue trying to avoid Will Mudgett.
- Face him and fight him.
- Tell a teacher about his threatening you.
If you do this, I’d like to see the results.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, bullying, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, puget sound, purgatory | Comment (0)
I don’t know if I’ve ever had anybody want to kill me. I never saw any action when I was in the military. My longest stretch in one place was when I was stationed on this tiny South Pacific base called Johnson Island, which was about as exotic as you’d expect a place named Johnson to be.
You want to know the real fighting that happened in your family? It was between Steffan and Keith. Keith was a thorn in Steffan’s side from the moment he appeared in his crib. As soon as Keith was old enough to stand up, Steffan was happy to knock him down. By the time Keith was three, he was tough enough to knock Steffan down, too.
Here’s the thing: You talk a lot about what great athletes Steffan and Keith are. I never thought it was because they were particularly gifted. It was because neither one could stand to let the other win. It didn’t matter what the sport was—football, baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, waterskiing, hiking. As long as it wasn’t academic, they were at each other like two cats with their tails tied together. Rhett was always happy to sit back and watch. Maybe that explains why, as you say, he’s not all that good at soccer. There’s no one he’s trying to overshadow. Contentedness is bad for athletics.
I got in a few tussles when I was a kid, but mostly just playground dust-ups, where the worst you could expect was a bloody nose or a fat lip. It was more like kittens fighting with each other–more about learning to be a man than any kind of deep hatred anyone had for each other.
Being a Griffiths, I was always skinny as a rail and never exactly a big kid. I could hold my own, I suppose, mostly because Uncle Gwyd taught me and Floyd how to box. And for Gwyd, boxing meant more coal miner rules than Queensbury. Below the belt, above the belt, thumb in the eye—it was all OK with Gwyd.
One time, when I was about eight years old, Uncle Gwyd and Uncle Joe came in the house after dark and pulled me out into the front yard. There were two other young men out there and a boy a few years older than me. I never knew his name. All I remember about him was that he had this mop of black hair on his head that fell over one eye.
I was waiting for someone to tell me why we were all standing there, when the black-haired kid took a swing at me. Gwyd and Joe started yelling at me. “Come on, Hugh! Knock him out!” The kid hit me in the cheek, almost knocking me down and I finally realized I was supposed to fight him. So I started swinging back, hitting him in the stomach and on the arms. The four men were all yelling and cheering. I was landing a few decent hits when all of a sudden the black-haired kid slipped a right cross through and hit me right in the Adam’s apple. I started choking and coughing. Gwyd and Joe just stood there, grumbling. “Awww, Hugh! What’d you stop for? You had him!” I couldn’t breathe and for half a minute, I thought I might die.
But I didn’t die. That’s the point, this time. I didn’t die. I just got beat up for the stupidest reason in the world.
I thought there’d be some helpful advice in there. Maybe I was wrong.
DadFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, bpxing, bullying, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, purgatory | Comment (0)
Oh, poor Will Mudgett. I’ve been on the end of one of those smiles. What I’m wondering is how you know what it meant.
Are there creatures other than girls who smile like that? Maybe crocodiles, but when they rip your heart out, they don’t hand it back in that gentle, bloody way. I’m not saying that boys—or men—are any better. We’re all just as cruel. But men, I think, are more direct in their cruelty. Women are more polite. More sweet, as they murder you.
When Frances Wilkson kissed me, I thought that meant we were in love. I figured she was my girl and pictured her decorating my side when I walked into a room. The next weekend, I asked her to go with me to our school baseball game. I didn’t so much as ask, as tell her that was what I’d scheduled for us. I pictured myself walking into the bleachers with that velvety-dressed girl at my side. She’d be there, just as sure as shoes would be on my feet or a collar would be on my shirt. It was an inevitability.
But she didn’t come with me. When I asked her, she gave me one of those smiles. Actually, she worked her way up to that smile, first with a downward glance, a wringing of her hands, a tucking of her red hair behind one ear. Then she looked up from beneath her bangs and stabbed me with that smile, right in the eyes.
“I’m sorry, Hugh,” she said to me, through her upturned lips, “but I can’t go with you. Howard Castle asked me to go with him and I’m afraid I’ve already said yes.” Then, when she saw the look on my face, she went in for the kill. “I hope you didn’t think I was your girlfriend, just because I kissed you.” I think she said some other words after that, but by then all I heard was ringing.
I didn’t go to that game. In fact, I don’t think I went to a single baseball game for the rest of that year. I knew if I went, I’d see Frances sitting next to some boy who wasn’t me. And I knew she’d smile at me as if I was there. That smile would tear open the wound.
But here I am, making you afraid of girls. And I don’t want that. I want you to be one of those rare people who is not petrified by the opposite sex. I want you to be one of those people who can walk up to anyone–stranger, girl, president, king—and strike up a conversation without fear. There are such people, or so it appears.
My secret belief is that they are just as afraid as the rest of us. Fear is a universal experience, I think. Perhaps fear is even a friend. Perhaps we just have to get to know it better.
DadFiled under Uncategorized | Tags: crocodile tears, cruelty, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, opposite sex, purgatory, rejection | Comments (2)
I’m not certain what the term “Rhino” means, but I don’t care much for this Mr. Schick, so I wouldn’t assume it’s complimentary.
Excuse my dishonesty. I do know what he means. I’m done with any courtesies that require lies to accompany them. He’s calling you a rhino, because you’re charging the ball to hard. Do you blow past attackers? Don’t. Square off with them. Play on your toes. Wait for the attacker to make a mistake.
When I was alive, I thought that when I died that games and hobbies would reveal themselves as irrelevant. I was wrong. Every moment is relevant. I long for a run on a soccer pitch as much as I long for a child being born. At every moment, I wish I’d gone for it. Do you know what I mean?
I’m not trying to sound like a coach—do your best and all that. I’m trying to say that my hope for you is that you suck every bit of juice out of every moment of life. If you are playing soccer, be aware of every blade of grass under your cleats. If you are slacking off, revel in the glorious idiocy of the game. Feel every bit of the sting when a drop of sweat rolls into your eye. If the other guy beats you, go ahead and feel humiliated. The fact that you’re feeling means you’re in the game. You’re a player, not an observer. I think that may be all that matters. That you play. That you jump in.
Meanwhile, I sit on my porch and watch. Others get off the train and wander off into the woods. A few get on the bloody boat.
You asked about the woods. Let me describe them to you. The edges are full of brambles and shrubs, but once you get under the trees, the ground is mostly clear. The trees are huge—mostly firs and cedars, if I guess correctly. Huge ones. Reminds me of a place on Mount Rainier. I don’t remember the name, but your mom loved it. Huge old trees. Boardwalks to keep the tourists off the ground.
These trees are even bigger. My guess is that the constant fog makes them grow like that. Under trees that huge, the forest is always dark. Almost none of the dim light that we get around here makes it down to ground level in the woods. The dirt there is spongy from the countless inches of needles.
There’s not much else to tell. I’ve never gone in very far. I’ve never heard a bird or seen any creatures in there. It’s all trunks and shadows. If I can get a bit of gumption, I’ll try to explore further. Maybe I’ll take a bit of paper and a pencil with me and write you a letter while I’m there.
As far as Mr. Schick being disappointed in you for chewing gum, don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re right. You were only chewing gum. He’s trying to use guilt as a motivator and he has no right. He is not God. He does not sound like a worthwhile role model. He does not sound like a just judge.
Nice drawing of him, by the way.
God, I fear, is a just judge. I fear that’s why I’m stuck here. I’ve done far worse than you, Trevor. I hope you’ll never bear the shame I bear.
It’s one of the few hopes I have left.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, purgatory, soccer, trees, woods | Comment (1)
I don’t think you should get on that boat, if that’s what going onward means. It seems like that boat must be going to hell.
I would like to hear more about the woods. You make them sound scary, which is weird to me, because of all the stories Mom tells me about hiking trips you took my brothers on, I can’t ever imagine you being scared to go into the woods. What are you afraid of?
We had our fifth soccer game yesterday, so the season is half over. We’ve won four games and lost one. I’m still playing on defense, which I like, because I get to see the ball coming before it gets to me, so I have time to think about what I should do. I don’t think I’m the greatest player or anything. I don’t start. But I think I’m OK. I’m pretty fast. Keith thinks Mr. Schick should play me as a midfielder and says Mr. Schick doesn’t know how to make use of my speed.
Mr. Schick calls me Rhino. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. Do you think it’s good? Is that some kind of soccer term I don’t understand? Mr. Schick is also my Bible teacher. Today in class I was chewing gum. He was talking about the prophet Samuel choosing David to be the king of Israel, then he stopped all of a sudden and looked at me.
“Trevor, are you chewing gum?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. I could feel my face getting hot.
Mr. Schick just stood there and stared at me without saying anything for about 15 seconds. The whole class got really quiet. Then he said, in kind of a whisper, “I’m very disappointed in you, Trevor.”
Geez! What a total dork! “I’m very disappointed in you, Trevor.” For chewing gum? He spoke as if I’d just shot up heroin or murdered his wife. All I did was chew a piece of Hubba Bubba.
I bet his wife is a hag. And not a sea hag. Just a regular, unhappy hag who never gets to chew gum.
But the thing that bugs me most of all is that I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, Mr. Schick really is a dork. His hair is always greasy and he’s mostly bald anyway and he wears these glasses that ride way up on his nose. But if all it takes to be disappointed in me is for me to chew a piece of gum, what hope do I have?
I included a drawing of Mr. Schick. Ick. I’ve got to stop writing now. More tomorrow.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: Add new tag, adolescence, afterlife, fathers and sons, heaven, junior high school, letter, purgatory, teacher | Comment (0)
Do I have dreams? Not in the sense you think of them, as that would require me to sleep. I don’t sleep. If I recall correctly, I rarely slept well when I was where you are, but I loved the feeling of a good nap.
There is night here. It never gets fully dark, just as the foggy days never seem to get bright. The nights here remind me of the summer I spent in Alaska as a young man, where the sun seemed to tease the horizon more than dip below it. I have an old couch in my cabin, and when it gets too dark to sit out on the porch, I go inside and lie on the couch. Sometimes I close my eyes. Sometimes I lie awake and stare at the ceiling.
Gordon says that nights are hardest for him, as the quiet and dark make him long for his pipe and some decent tobacco. Once I picked up a pack of cigarettes from the store, but I’ve never opened them. I still recall the pain and loss that came from the cancer that took me from you. I had to give up cigarettes along the way and whether it was that act or the fact of coming here, I’ve lost all taste for them. It’s strange, but I still desire to have the desire for them. I long to long for a cigarette. Funny.
I do imagine and I do remember. I’m not certain dreaming is much different than that, although dreams seem to happen much faster than waking thoughts. I can vaguely recall dreams that seemed to last a lifetime, although I know they happened during the nine minutes between snooze alarms.
What do I think about? That’s more to your question, I suppose. I think about you more and more, as your letters have given order to my shiftless life. I have become the envy of all the residents in my little town. I think about how much I wish I was there to guide you through this part of your life. I think about how I missed the chance to raise your brothers. I wonder about how they turned out—what kind of young men they are. I think about your sister and how I’ll miss meeting any of her boyfriends for the first time. That was something I always wanted to do—to make a boyfriend wait nervously on our porch.
I think about your mother. I wonder if she was heartbroken when I left. I hope she was, I suppose, selfish as that sounds. I think about my brother, your Uncle Floyd. I wish I could tell him how he should be living, but I doubt it would make a difference, even if I rose out of the grave to speak.
I think about food in the same way I think about cigarettes. I’m not sure what I long for more, a great, thick steak or the hunger for one. I would love to feel hungry and then I would love to eat something savory to smother that hunger. I’m never hungry here.
More than anything else, I think about the boat and the woods. Those are the two ways out of this town that I can see. Most newcomers seem to go into the woods. I’ve tipped my toe into those shadows from time to time, but haven’t seen much that draws me further. Fear and not much else at all—except maybe the post office and your letters—holds me back.
Should I stay? Or should I go “onward.” That black woman Crazy said that’s where the boat goes. Onward. If I go into the woods, does that count as going onward, too?
All my thoughts seem to be questions.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, fathers and sons, food, heaven, hunger, letter, mother, purgatory, smoking | Comment (0)
How do I feel about Misty Lee? Definitely not heartbroken. I guess I feel mostly confused and ripped off. I feel like a jerk for ever having asked her to go with me. I think she takes the whole thing about as seriously as choosing which TV show to watch. And I think Rick Jarvis is a jerk for asking her to go with him on the same day, but I guess he doesn’t take any of it seriously either.
I wish someone down here would take something seriously.
The one feeling that stays with me are the little hairs on her stomach.
And I now return to my original opinion: Misty Lee is not that cute.
What pisses me off even more are my friends, who sat by and watched the whole thing like it was some kind of show.
I guess I don’t have to worry about Will Mudgett trying to kill me anymore. I’m assuming he won’t want to kill me now. He’s hardly ever at school these days.
The whole world here is just one fake after another. No one means what they say, except my teachers, who say they’re going to give me bad grades and then do it. I’m almost grateful to them.
By the way, I stayed home from school again today. I told Mom I didn’t feel good. Rhonda and Rhett think I’m faking it. They’re right. But why should I go back?
Rhett said, “You’re scared of something. That’s why you’re staying home. You’re just being a pansy. Just like when you wouldn’t jump off the marina.”
I wish he would stop bringing that up.
Drew called again to tell me he is still working on answers to my questions. That’s all. He’s a pretty nice guy.
I felt sick to my stomach reading your description of the woman captain. She sounds like something out of a horror movie. I don’t think I would go and see her each time if she is so awful to look at. But I guess you always wonder about her. Does she have a name?
You stopped talking about her so that you wouldn’t give me nightmares, which made me wonder—do you have dreams? If so, what about?
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, break-up, bullying, death, dreams, fear, heaven, purgatory | Comment (0)
I like your drawing. Where’d you learn to do that? Definitely not from your mother. I loved that woman, but she was never very artistic. One of these days I’ll try to draw a sketch of what it looks like from my porch swing.
It’s so easy to give advice from up here, where life is now something I just read about in your letters every day. It’s easy for me to tell you that you should not stay home from school, that you should work hard on your math and do your best. It’s easy for me to say you should not let Will Mudgett push you around. But who am I to talk? What do I do, other than sit on the porch and look out into the fog?
Visiting the silent postman every day to check on your letters is the most exciting part of my day. Martin, the city councilman and Sung-Hee, the waitress at the Laughing Gull, both ask me every day if they can read your letters. I tell them, no, it’s between a father and a son. Sung-Hee says she’s not surprised that I don’t share.
“Why should I expect any joy in my life?” she asks. “There’s never been any before, so why should it change now?”
Martin, a very fat man with a flattop haircut, complains that his own kids—twin boys—have never written him since he came here. “I put them both through that snooty Jesuit college,” he says. “You’d think the least they could do is write a frickin’ letter.” He says frickin’ all the time. Everything is frickin’. Frickin’ cheap cocktail sauce. Frickin’ fog. Frickin’ librarian. I expect better swear words from a politician.
A new group of travelers came into town today. They come in by train from the airport. Did I mention we have a train station, too? We’re the terminus. The other terminus is the airport, which is only a few miles away, and the trains don’t take passengers that direction. Anyway, a couple of dozen people came in today. This happens about once a week. I don’t know where most of them go. They walk along the shore or wander off into the woods behind the cabins and you never see most of them again. Of course, there’s always a few that get on the boat. The Crazies. That’s what we call them.
I always walk down to the train station to watch them unload. Nearly all of them step off in a daze, unsure of where they’re supposed to go. Only the Crazies seem to have any sense of purpose and that is clearly a misguided one. There’s always others that follow them down to the dock, because the Crazies walk like they know where they’re going. The others watch them get on the boat, but once they see the old scow and the woman who runs it, nearly all of them give up on that idea.
If any of them ask me if they should get on the boat, I always give them the same advice. “What’s your hurry? Why make a rash decision? There’s no shortage of time here and the boat comes in every week.” I suppose my secret hope is that one or two will stick around in town and give me someone new to talk to and swap stories with. Goodness knows we could do with a few new stories here, or at least a new person to listen to our tired old tales.
My next door neighbor, Gordon, was one of those folks I talked into waiting. Gordon came here a couple of years ago. He was a college professor down in your area. In fact, he taught at Seattle University, my old alma mater. Taught the classics, Greek and Roman stuff. He loves to spout off old Latin phrases that I’ll admit are a little annoying, but sound so pretty that I put up with them. I suppose I’m a bit jealous of his education. Gordon has bad teeth and wishes like mad that someone in town sold tobacco for his pipe. That’s his biggest complaint. No pipe tobacco. The little store only sells one brand of cigarettes and according to Gordon, they are not good.
Gordon was just about to step onto the boat, but he hesitated for a second when he saw the lady captain and the condition the boat was in. I talked him back onto the dock and eventually into the cabin next to mine. Now we sit on our porches and look out into the fog together.
Gordon is what your mother would call a double-minded man. One day, he’ll watch the tug come in and say, ‘veritas odit moras,’ which he tells me means ‘truth hates delay.’ He’ll get up off his porch and run down to the dock like he’s ready to climb aboard. But once he’s there and once he sees the boat up close, he’ll mumble, ‘de omnibus dubitandum,’ which he says is an old Karl Marx quote. It means, ‘be suspicious of everything.’ Then he’ll buy me a cup of coffee at the Laughing Gull and point out the fact that the boat always goes out with passengers and always comes back empty.
“Where do they go?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I answer. “Some say heaven.”
“Ignotus,” he says, which simply means “unknown.”
There is so much we can’t know. So much you can’t know. But we still have to get up every morning. So you might as well go to school.
DadFiled under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, fathers and sons, heaven, letter, purgatory | Comment (0)
I’m proud of you for going back to school and facing your fears—at least one of them. The other one is still to come, I suppose.
The first time I kissed a girl was in 8th grade, when I was a year older than you are now. My dad died that year, you know, when I was 14. It seems we’re both cursed with fathers who left us when we were young.
The girl I kissed was named Frances Wilkson. Her dad owned the Buick dealership in Renton. Frances had glorious red hair, clear skin with just a few freckles high on her cheeks and seemed to always wear these green, velvety dresses to school. She was lovely and knew it. I was the first boy she kissed, too, but she only kissed me once and then quickly moved on to older boys who had money or popularity or were good at sports. I was her training ground, I think, just to make sure she could do it. She could. I can almost still feel that kiss today. I can feel the velvet of her green dress crushing beneath my fingertips as I help her close. I feel the memory of it more than I feel anything here, in this foggy, uncertain place.
Writing these few letters to you and reading about your days in junior high school bring up all sorts of other memories for me—both of my own childhood and of the childhoods of your brothers. Your brother Steffan was 14 when I came to this place—when I died, I suppose you would say. It makes no sense to me, thinking that I am dead. I can’t see it. I am bored, certainly, but dead?
On one hand, I have not been reduced to nothingness. On the other, my body has not been glorified. I am not burning in hell or rejoicing in heaven. I am certainly not reincarnated as a gazelle. I’m still my same, old, five-foot-eight-inches of grizzled self. I still get dressed and undressed. I still eat and crap and eat and crap, although I doubt the amount I eat would keep me alive where you are. I still have to shave every morning. There is no barber here, so Carl, the other realtor, and I cut each other’s hair with a pair of kitchen shears we borrow from the restaurant.
There is nothing here to dread, yet nothing to look forward to. Again, I say to you, don’t squander your life. Your moments there on earth are rare and remarkable. Magical even, you might say. I wish I could promise you had more to look forward to after you’re done there. I can only tell you to cherish every moment.
Filed under Dad Letters | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, cute girl, heaven, junior high school, kiss, letter | Comment (0)
I hope you’re glad to know that I went back to school. Will Mudgett wasn’t there. It seems he was gone yesterday, too. Mr. Anders said he was home sick. I wonder if he was as scared as I was. Man, was I relieved.
Misty Lee was there, though. We stayed after school together and went to the girl’s soccer game. She sat next to me. I had my hands in the pockets of my jacket and she slipped her hand in next to mine. We held hands like that. My hand got really sweaty and I wondered if she thought that was gross. It was kind of cool, I guess.
At halftime, I followed Misty Lee, Rick Jarvis and Sharon King behind the school. They all walked around a corner of the classroom building. I followed. As soon as I turned the corner, Misty Lee grabbed my face with both hands and kissed me right on the lips for about ten seconds. I just kind of stood there with my hands at my side. My first thought was that it was so much wetter and sloppier than I expected. My second was that Misty Lee has a really big mouth. I think I pretty much did it all wrong, because her mouth was opened and mine was closed. I was afraid that if I opened mine, she might stick her tongue in it. She probably thinks I’m a dork who has never kissed anyone before. I guess she’d be right.
Anyway, I got that over with. But as soon as she was done, she smiled at me and said, “If you liked that, there’s more where that came from.” I don’t think I said anything. And I’m not really sure if I liked it or not.
I thought that kissing a girl would make me feel old—more grown-up, I mean—but it mostly made me feel really young. I bet it made Misty Lee feel more grown up.
I’m hoping and praying that Will Mudgett somehow never comes back to school.
I really want to know more about where you are, Dad. I mean, there is not a lot of information about life after death down here. Down here? Is that right? Are you up somewhere? Are you up in the clouds or in space? Or somewhere under the earth? How long have you been there? Have you seen other dead people you know? Is Grandma Griffiths up there, too?
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: afterlife, bullying, heaven, junior high school, kiss, letter | Comment (0)
The poor postman only just met me yesterday and by the way he frowns when I come in the door, he is already tired of me. I pestered him all day today, waiting for the mail to come. He never says a word—just shakes his head and scowls. But now I sit writing on the little bench right outside his door, with your letter tucked safely away in my hip pocket. It is such a treasure to me.
I will try my best to answer your questions about this place, but I first must say that I hope you do not wait at home for letters from me. You should go back to school. You should kiss the girl. You should fight the boy, if it comes to that. Do not spend your life waiting for things. Go to school, even if the things there fill you with so much worry they make you sick. As soon as you get this letter from me, take a vow to go back to school and face your fears.
OK, that’s enough fatherly advice for one day. I don’t know if I have earned the right to advise you at all, having only known you for five brief years before I left. And I fear that I spent far too little time with you during those years. The memories I have are some of my most cherished, but they are fading. I hope you can help me recall them.
Where am I? Not hell, certainly, but likely not heaven, either. Some of my neighbors disagree with me and claim it is one or the other. I’ll sit over a plate of fish and chips at the Laughing Gull with my two neighbors. Martin, who was a city councilman, will claim we’re in heaven. Carl, who was a realtor like me, is sure we’re in hell. My vote is neither. Meanwhile we’re all in the same place and all eating the same food.
It’s not a bad place, I suppose. We’re on the water—either a sound or a bay. There are a couple of shops—two restaurants, a general store, a small library and a post office. There’s a fishing pier that juts out over the water, but no one fishes there, so I’m suspicious of its real purpose.
I stay in a small cabin set about a quarter mile back from the shore. When I arrived here, the cabin lay empty and no one stopped me from moving in, so I did. The cabin has a single large room and a bathroom with a toilet and a shower. It has a covered porch with a porch swing, which is where I spend most of my day. From the swing, I can look out over the center of town and over the water. It’s very foggy here much of the time and you have to keep an eye out if you want a view of anything. So that’s what I do most of the time. I swing in my swing and look out toward the water. It probably sounds very boring to you, but it gets me from morning to night.
And no, I can’t see you from up here. I can’t see much of anything, except the tide coming in and going out, twice a day if it’s not too foggy. I suppose it goes in and out even if it is foggy, but then I can’t see it. I wish I could see you. I think about you and your sister and your brothers and your mother more than anything else, worrying about how you all are doing without me. I have so many questions that I want to ask you.
The first time I went into the post office, the postman looked at me suspiciously when he handed me your batch of letters. I’m guessing he doesn’t get many letters from your side of things. But he didn’t say anything. Matter of fact, I’ve never heard him say a single word. I don’t know if he can even speak.
I can tell you more about this place. Not a lot. But I’ll save that for another day.
DadFiled under Uncategorized | Tags: adolescence, afterlife, fatherhood, heaven, hell, junior high school, letter, mail | Comment (0)
I got your letter in the mail today! I stayed home from school again and when I saw the mailman come, I went out to check the mail and there it was, in this plain white envelope!
I don’t even know what to say, except that I really hope this is really you, and not some prankster or do-gooder down at the post office. And I hope it’s not Mom writing, just to help me cope.
I want to know where you are and what it’s like. Are you in heaven? Are the streets really paved with gold? Is there a house with many mansions? Do you have wings? Does it hurt to be dead or are all your tears really washed away?
I’m assuming you’re not in hell, because I just can’t picture a post office in hell.
I was surprised your letter wasn’t written in gold ink or that it didn’t come floating down from the clouds or something. It was just sitting in the mailbox, resting on top of the latest issue of Readers’ Digest.
I don’t know what else to write! Please write back, Dad!
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: afterlife, dead, father, fatherhood, heaven, junior high school, letter, son | Comment (0)
Kiss the girl and fight the boy. Is this good advice? I don’t know. But I do know that I miss the pain of a bloody nose almost as much as I miss the wet and tender press of a pretty girl’s lips on mine. And there’s nothing else I miss more than that.
In case this letter disappears and all you ever hear from me are those lines, I want you to hear them. I filled a house with children and loved your mother more than I loved anyone, but I still feel I squandered most of my life. Don’t do it. Go back to school. Kiss the girl and fight the boy.
P.S. There is a post office here. I’ve never gone there before today, when I just happened to wander in. I discovered all your letters there, in a post office box with my name on it. There is even a postman.
I hope you keep writing. There isn’t much to do here, and I’ve enjoyed every word on every letter. As soon as I send this off, I plan on reading them all again.Filed under Dad Letters | Tags: afterlife, bullying, dead, fatherhood, fight, heaven, junior high school, kiss, letter, purgatory | Comments (4)
Mr. Schick announced the starters and captain for our first soccer game. Guess what? I am NOT the team captain! And guess what again? I am NOT a starter.
I don’t blame you for not coaching me when I was younger, like you did with Steffan and Keith. You weren’t here. Not your fault, except in the sense that you smoked and then died from cancer. But Uncle Felix smokes at least two packs a day and he’s still alive and he’s way older than you. And he’s super fat, too, so by all rights he should be dead and you should be alive, smoking or not.
Here’s a question: How do I know if I have the right address on these letters? Or the right amount of postage? This will be the ninth one I sent and I have yet to get one back. I figured at least one would be sent back by the mailman by now. I keep waiting for Mom to walk all teary-eyed into my bedroom with a return-to-sender letter in my hand, asking me if I want to talk.
For your address, I’ve kept it simple. It says:
Hugh E. Griffiths, Jr., deceased.
Why didn’t I address it to heaven? No offense, but I’m not 100% certain you made it in. Mom is. She says you asked Jesus into your heart and that you’re definitely there. But she says it a bit like she’s trying to convince herself. I really hope Mom doesn’t read this, because she would definitely start crying about that sentence.
I’m only using one first-class stamp, because I figure that if that’s not enough, the letter will come back with one of those insufficient postage marks on it.
I wonder, if in all the history of the world, anyone has ever tried to mail a letter to heaven. Or wherever. Or gotten a reply back.
Skip Hendrickson is the captain of our soccer team. I like Skip. Everyone likes Skip. Teachers loooove him. His dad is a doctor who did the physicals for all the team players for free, which is good because I don’t think we have medical insurance right now, because Mom’s job is kind of lame and you didn’t exactly leave us with loads of money.
Skip’s mom is the school nurse. Skip’s a straight-A student and is good at sports, but his hair looks like a Brillo pad is sitting on the top of his head, and sometimes he has a booger hanging out of his nose and no one tells him. If it was Larry Melding with the booger, he’d get pounded for it. But with Skip, people just pretend the booger isn’t there.
I guess if you’re as wonderful as Skip is, people don’t mind overlooking something like a booger.
TrevorFiled under Letters from Son | Tags: afterlife, dead, heaven, junior high school, letter, soccer | Comment (0)