As quietly and calmly as I had driven myself from the airport to the home of my unknown host three weeks earlier I drove myself to the airport in Minneapolis on the night I left. It had been a going away for Mike the Ozzie, who had been working on the campaign since September. I got lost on the way there and in an uncharacteristic move panicked a little and called Carl before finding my own way anyway. The airport felt cold and impersonal, I slept all four hours of the flight to return home with my parents by midnight. Suddenly I knew why I had to come home before taking off on the next leg, to have a glass of scotch and talk politics with my parents around the counter until two am. My dad’s deep hearty laugh, my brother’s sarcasm, Grace coming down to lick my hand and look at me with her soulful eyes, my mother’s southern politeness mixed with her fiery eyes and tongue. I went to bed after them and woke up Friday morning to a 80 degree sun that both exhausted and disoriented me. Took a look at the garden still growing and the grave flattening out, and the blue sky, and headed out to start exploring the shelters for a new dog for our family. Poor Grace is no good at being left alone and has taken to bolting out the front door, and even more escapist tendencies since Rudy isn’t there to anchor her. Poor love, she was so scared at the shelters, I half think she thought we were going to leave her there. But we couldn’t leave her at home either. So many sweet looking dogs who just want you to love them and take them home.
So, my family enjoys the culture of alcohol. No one is a drunk, save perhaps my wino grandfather who still doesn’t really qualify, just likes his wine. But family gatherings are always cause for celebration and good scotch, martini’s, wine and or beer. Around the large wooden farm table that looks out of glass doors into the back yard sits my parents, brother, remaining grandparents (3), my aunt, cousin, brother’s friend and girlfriend. There is uproarious laughter coming from my brother and his friends, there are some candles lit on the table, and my mom has made a Brazilian bean soup and fresh biscuits with salad. She loves to cook for this kind of thing. Joe Pass and Zoot Sims are playing in the background and we get on to the subject of local politics. My dad is a lawyer and knows the old DA and is telling a story about his awful toupee and a woman attempting to straighten it out nonchalantly while he’s speaking on television and he is clearly enjoying making large swooping motions around his head to explain the look of it.
The back door is open and because of the heat the weather is perfect for having an evening breeze without getting cold. My mom mentions that her avocado’s are ripening. She gave me a painting she made of Rudy for my birthday and I just cried, but not like how I did before. This time was less, less painful, less long. She told me she had put flowers on his grave and miraculously they had lasted, they were still fresh out there and she wondered if they had waited for me to come home. I went out to see him and she was excited to show me the miracle flowers. They looked faded to me but I agreed with her assessment, sometimes people just need to see affirmation of what they feel is right. I sat out there underneath the pepper tree looking at the mound of dirt and remembering that day two weeks ago when sitting and looking over Saint Anthony Falls I had felt so alone, and all that had come and changed in the last few weeks. It’s not a sad like I wished it hadn’t happened, it’s a real experience of the depth and complexity of emotion that can be contained in an event. Just like the sound of laughing and crying melting into one that Siddhartha hears by the river, joy and sorrow are cut from the same cloth. We experience joy only to know again that we will be separated from all the things we love eventually; until we rejoin with that from which all of these things spring.
We’ve seen so much of this the last few years, so much death in our family and in our friends it is hard to not have these thoughts lingering in my mind in spite of all we have to celebrate. My mind groups these losses together so as, I suppose, to try and make some sense out of the event of death, perhaps standing them all next to each other a pattern will emerge and here is where I laugh at myself because the most obvious pattern of all emerges; all things living must die, and fairness or justness has nothing to do with when. But also that some of these deaths aren’t sad. Some, the untimely ones, are awful and leave our loved ones reeling for years. Others, like Rudy and my grandfather, were not untimely. They had led long happy fulfilling lives. Why this is on my mind tonight when I should be packing? I don’t know. I’m missing Minneapolis. I’m missing the rush of purpose and unknown. I’m missing drinking scotch in the park. I’m missing the cold and the Mississippi river, the yellow yellow leaves in piles thick in gutters and on cars, I’m missing the camaraderie and sense of unified purpose.
We sit around the table trading stories and sipping wine, I know I have to leave in 20 minutes but for now the easy night air and familiar voices, jazz, and warm lighting is all that really matters. There is an art to enjoying a moment. What simple pleasures can be lost when we worry about the future or lament the present’s passing while it is still here. This morning very early I boarded a school bus to head to camp Roberts, an army national guard base in the middle of California surrounded by dry but beautiful hills and old oak trees. I half froze on the bus in spite of all the warm clothing I draped my self with. Driving on to the base I can’t help but wonder what in the hell I am doing here. This program has meant a lot to me, but the reality is that what it holds for me now is simply an opportunity to give back to that legacy. I’m starting to get to know the kids better and that is already making this trip feel more worth it.
Have you ever stayed in military barracks? Let me tell you, the strange springy and creaky cots are not the worst of it. Sbeydeh and I take one of the two private rooms reserved for officers while the girls are out in the main room where there is no privacy. We get into our room and put our stuff down, everything is stained, there is not one surface that does not have mystery spots on it. Scrawled on the wall it says “I had sex in this bed with two women. 2.12.08” there is an arrow pointing down at the bed that Sbeydeh is going to sleep in, I can tell that she is pleased. She says to me with a smile it would be hard for three people to fit in one of these beds. Settling in I notice that our room has been named. In all caps, stenciled green letters in a semblance of a line reads “LOVE GROTTO” big enough that each word spans the door, across the hall the other room is called “SHOT O WHISKY.” The walls literally have yellowish splotches of something thick that hardened without dripping too much, and I really, really, don’t…want to know what it is. It’s like camping they say…but this time it seems more like camping in the part of a teenage boy’s brain that you’d rather know was there. I’m sorry if this sounds prudish, I know it goes on, it’s just weird to be sleeping in the midst of it. Perhaps especially because of the actual presence of the national guard on the base, walking around with m-16s on their arms and occasionally leering at the high school girls. There are areas where troops are staying that we have to walk around, that are in between where the girl’s dorms are and the dining halls and auditorium. It’s a little intimidating.
The showers feel like a gas chamber. I say this in sincerity, not with irreverence. Twelve foot ceilings, floor to ceiling metal, very industrial fixtures, no windows, no curtains, just metal pipes, concrete, and metal walls. Floors and walls are disintegrating, noticeably, and the best part of all; when we leave we will have to scrub this place with mops and sponges for hours. I think the reason the Army likes to have us here is that we clean the place for free, and it’s probably the only cleaning it gets. So I’m leaving the “love grotto” now for what I can only hope will be called the “food grotto.” Awesome!