What She Said (My Best Weekend Ever)

Feb 2, 1945 to Jan 4, 2013

I’ve been blessed with a strange memory.

If I’m paying attention, I can remember almost exactly what someone tells me. That being said, there are a lot of fuckers out there that I ignore so my talents aren’t always recognized.

I spent the weekend looking after my mother who is dying of cancer.

It sounds so stupid now but I was afraid to go up there and look after her. What if something happened and I couldn’t help?

So just for grins, of all the things my mother told me over those 3 days, these are my favorites.

“I knew when you really loved a girl because you would become quiet and reserved around her. You’d stop trying to entertain.”

This is true. I just have this need to completely soak up everything they are saying, doing, wearing etc. So I get quiet. I observe. This tends to, well, annoy the fuck out of the person I’m totally digging. But if they understood this, then, well, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as annoying? I don’t know… modern love is confusing.

There is a huge collection of stuffed animals piling up in the living room. I think she gets roughly two a week sent to her from all kinds of people. Seriously, kids that sat in her kindergarten class 25 years ago are writing her get well notes. Not emails. Not Facebook shit. Actual hand written notes with gifts.

“I had no idea that people would send stuffed animals to a geriatric woman.”

For the record, she’s only 66-years-old. That’s hardly geriatric.

We spent a lot of time watching the birds at her feeder. My mother’s favorite bird is the Cardinal. My favorite bird is the beautiful, loud and crazy as hell Blue Jay.

“They are bossy things but you go ahead and like your Blue Jays.”

We both agreed the Mocking Bird is probably the most annoying bird of all and we lamented that it is the state bird of Texas.

My soft spoken, always thoughtful and sociology trained and eventual “kindergarten teacher to the gifted” mother is, surprisingly, a master at the art of firearms. In fact, as a teen she acheieved the rank of “Distinguished Expert” by the National Rifle Association. It is their highest possible ranking.

“I was quite the star”

She confessed that the rifle instructor at camp was a bit “nerdy” and that she was drawn to the sailing instructor.

“So unlike me. He had uncombed, sandy hair and a wild look in his eye.”

She’s having a hard time with her balance and asked me to change her bed sheets for her.

“Leave a lot more bed sheet on your father’s side so it will cover his stomach.”

Speaking of my father…

We talked about how despite being a chemical engineer, a passionate amateur astronomer, an expert on European and American history… he knows very little about some surprising subjects.

“Your father thinks that if he sweats just enough that it actually removes any dirt or bacteria from his body but I tell him that he is wrong.”

And then things started to get weepy…

There were a lot of sad discussions that centered around her impending death and what it was like when her own mother and father died.

I told her that I have a hard time talking to people about things that are important to me. Anything serious or anything I am worried about, I try to keep to myself. I told her that when she goes, I’ll feel all alone because she’s the only one that really knows and understands who I am.

“Well, I’ve known you longer than anyone else. I knew you before you were even born.”

Then I broke down, after thinking about it all day, and finally told her.

“I know this chemotherapy is hard for you, but I’m glad you are trying. If it gets to be too much you can stop at any time. I’ll understand.”

“Thank you.”

“No, I want to thank you. This might sound selfish but I’m so glad to just have you all to myself this weekend.”

“I love you and I’m sorry that I wasn’t always a perfect mother but I tried to be.”

“No, mom. You were the best mother a boy could ever had. You were perfect. Don’t ever think differently.”

And that was about it. My best weekend ever.

She died seven months after being diagnosed.

My last real exchange with her was on December 10, 2012. She looked so small in her hospital bed. My eyes were filled with tears and I said:

“I love you so much. More than anything.”

She rolled her big brown eyes, fluttered her eye lashes and said, “What’s not to love?”

I love her and will miss her forever.

Rattling Around and Bumping Into Everything

There are some things you do your best to forget.

You push them deep into the back of your mind and then they eventually work themselves free and you are stuck with them rattling around and tainting your usual sense of normalcy.

Some people get hung up on an ex lover. Other people can’t ever forget a game winning shot that falls flat or a piece of financial information they failed to act upon.

It happens to all of us.

For me today it happened at the train station. Just as a train came barreling past I thought of him.

The kid was in high school. He was dealing with high school things. Bad grades. Bad complexion. Bad friends. Bad home life.

But when you’re young you don’t see how things can change. Maybe you blossom in college. Maybe you meet someone special that reassures you that you are loved and matter.

Instead, youth, with its infinite possibilities, tends to get trapped in the immediate present. Years fly by when you’re 60. Just a couple of months can grind you into splinters when you’re 17.

It was spring. It was a nice morning. He should have been walking to school and thinking about the summer or trying to make plans to meet girls down town.

Instead, he went to the Burlington Northern train tracks. I have no idea if he even thought about what he was doing. No one ever will. Did he chicken out before at the last minute? How many times had he watched an express train blaze past before he knew today was his day? Did he realize the permanence?

He stepped in front.

What ever it was that brought him to the tracks, it was over now.

These things happen. They shouldn’t, but they do.

I’ve written up dozens of stories about people killing themselves. I’ve known a few friends who have taken their own lives either on accident or on purpose.

But this one was brutal.

You see, his father worked for the rail road. It was his father’s job to investigate all the train accidents. He was the first on the scene from the rail road.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t know it was his son’s body he would be looking at until he got there. I’m know his son knew what would happen. It had to have been planned that way.

It took me awhile to figure out the connection. The last name was common. But the reaction from the other guys at the scene tipped me off that something unusual happened.

I remember an older, heavy set man with a gin blossom nose and tears running down his face pulling me aside and telling me. His father was just sitting in the back of white Ford Taurus, staring blankly out the window.

When I got back to the office I wrote the story two ways. The first version high lighted the connection to the rail road. The second one didn’t mention it.

I went to lunch. I sat on it all day. I knew if I mentioned the father/son connection they would want it high up in the story. It would probably be in the second paragraph. Other papers would pick it up off the AP wire. The televsion guys would talk about it for days. People would want me to interview his family simply because some other asshole wanted to interview his family.

You see this a lot. Tragedy hits. Victims are interviewed. Normally private lives are made public. The media chase the story until they run out of painful, embarassing details to keep a sick minded public’s attention.

But I can’t live that way. I don’t see the point in piling on more misery when someone hits the lowest point they will ever see.

So I never mentioned it to anyone, until now.

I hadn’t thought about for years until today.

I was simply standing there at the Newark Airport station trying to catch a plane back to Houston and waiting for a phone call.

Now it’s just rattling around again. It’s bumped into most everything I’ve done from 12:47 EST onwards.

It will fade again. But it will never really leave. These things have a way of popping back up.