Kitchen Light

I’ve been doing a lot of work on my novel, “I Don’t Know Why.”  Here’s a brief excerpt that I wrote tonight)

I turned right on 14th Street, under the glow of the corner streetlight. It was about five o’clock, and some of the houses were beginning to light up, early risers assigned to various morning shifts who’d go to work and unlock and open up the day, preparing the world for the sunlit landscape of the living and sending the ghosts that inhabit the night to hide in the dusty corners of darkened closets and shadowy hallways that the daylight couldn’t reach. And I thought of the ghosts that haunted me – Matt Pollard, Kelly, Gerald, even Sam Richter – and it occurred to me that their exorcism was finally within my reach.

It was still dark out when I turned off of Vicksburg Avenue onto our driveway and walked thru the yellow glow of the yard light and onto the lit-up front porch. I lifted the welcome mat and found the spare key to the front door that my dad always hid there, the subject of one of my mom and dad’s most frequent and ridiculous arguments.

“It’s such a cliché,” my mom would say. “Leaving a key under the front porch matt. It’s so obvious.”

“Exactly,” my dad would reply.

“Exactly what?”

“Tell me, would you hide the spare key under the matt?”

“No! That’s what I’m saying, it’s too obvious of a place.”

“And that’s exactly why it’s the perfect place. Any criminal looking to break in would think like you do, that it’s too obvious a place to hide a key, and they’d look anywhere else. I rest my case.”

“It’s about time,” she’d reply.  “Because your case is pretty tired.”

“You see,” he’d say, pointing at his head, “you’ve got to learn to think outside of the box.”

“So that’s where you’ve been doing your thinking,” she’d say. “I think your box must have been left out in the rain too long.”

I unlocked and opened the front door.  The light over the kitchen sink was left on for me, and it struck me that this is what parents do for their children when they’ve grown up: they leave lights on.  It seemed like a feeble and insubstantial effort to retain some semblance of authority or control over a life that time had stolen control away from.  At the same time, I was genuinely moved by the warmth generated by those lights, by the simple caring evident in the gesture that said, we may no longer be able to protect you from the darkness of the larger outside world, but here, inside our home, inside your home, we can make sure it’s bright and warm and welcoming. I entered and shut the front door behind me and looked across the living room and the dining room and in the dim light from the kitchen, I could see, in the half-light of memory, the three of us, mom and dad in their bathrobes and me, in my two piece pajamas, on a long ago Christmas morning, and at the same time I could see my unconscious twenty year old body stretched out on the floor with mom kneeling at my side, crying, and dad standing over us with the phone in his hand, calling an ambulance. I realized, for the first time, the real cost of my attempted suicide.  It was more, much more than almost ending my life.  It was an unforgivable transgression against the holy covenant of home as a safe harbor that the three of us had spent our lives together forging.

A Happy Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my heart bypass surgery.

I am fully recovered and have made significant changes to my diet and lifestyle. I’m maintaining my weight at about twenty pounds less than before the surgery, and I’m exercising every day.  I’m feeling well enough that without calendars to remind me, I forget that I ever had the procedure.

When one of those significant dates arise, I look back on the events with a vague sense of detachment, like they happened to somebody else, and I have to work hard to remember what it was like falling asleep in the hospital bed the night before, with a nagging fear of never seeing my home or my family again playing in my head.

There are so many important things that we see, feel or touch every day that we don’t appreciate the value of until we are confronted with the real possibility that we may never experience them again.  The night before, when I thought of the things that the last time might have already come and gone for, it quickly became overwhelming.  From the helicopter seeds that take flight from the big maple tree just outside my back door to the sound and smell of bacon frying to the shadows at the end of the hallway that remain just beyond the reach of the midday sunlight, it didn’t take me long to realize that there were far too many things for me to list.

Now I am back to taking all of these things for granted again.  There are so many things that as I was experiencing them I swore I’d never forget that now, only a year later, I’ve already forgotten. And while I lament the loss of the heightened awareness I experienced through my little ordeal, part of me also celebrates the return of preoccupation and blindness to these things, because they are symptomatic of living. To be alive, in the present, is to not have time for such contemplation of the miraculous beauty that is always within our grasp.

Daily routine, the marrow of everyday living, seems trite and trivial compared to the revelatory truths that define the universe until they are taken away from us.  Only then can we see that the mundane is the most profound, and that the mechanics of living a life, the forces that prod us to go to work, to make out grocery lists, to even brush our fucking teeth, are the real things that matter. These are the things that keep a life alive, where dignity and truth reside.

I am so happy and grateful to be alive, for the opportunity to once again obsess over the trivial.