When I was a little boy, my cousin came to live with us for a bit. One Christmas Eve I was in bed but still awake, anxious for Santa to come. I heard someone walking by on their way to the bathroom so I pretended to be asleep. The bathroom door closed so I looked up, only to see my cousin smiling at me. I was tricked! But also amused — it’s funny how such minor interactions can endear someone to us.
He would lift weights in our garage, and when I was a little older and he no longer lived with us, I lifted weights in the garage. One Christmas he gave me a few sets of used books, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and The Once and Future King — I was a bit young to appreciate what a thoughtful and significant gift it was.
Later on I would even hear from an acquaintance that my cousin would occasionally attend my high school sporting events and how he’d speak highly of me. My cousin was well-liked in town, he worked at a local restaurant and was always considered a good kid. But life wasn’t kind to my cousin, his and his family’s paths were each tragic and each concluded abruptly.
What choice did these people have in the outcomes of their lives? Not much at all it seems, as the cruelties of life became too much to bear. Yet how do we reconcile such bitter ends? We must convince ourselves that a negative interpretation of life is untenable. And we must not dwell on the acts of desperation, but focus on the smiles and kindness existing amidst the suffering.
Last Thanksgiving I accidentally stabbed my thumb with a large kitchen knife while putting it away. It was a deep cut and there’s a relatively large scar and a permanent loss of sensation from the scar to the tip of the thumb, must have severed a nerve.
That was last Thanksgiving, this Thanksgiving I’m writing by candlelight, alone in a cold electricity-free house. I’m dressed in three to four layers, so not uncomfortable — plus I ran a small propane heater earlier.
But no mashed potatoes with seasoned poultry, no homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of spice, no homemade blueberry pie, no homemade apple pie, nope none of it. It’s a frivolous complaint of course, but geez what’s up with Thanksgiving.
I don’t think I’ll be looking forward to next year’s. Maybe I’ll sneak attack and celebrate early. Even more frustrating, the electricity blipped on for a few minutes at three different times today — gets your hopes up, then serves up a whole lotta nothing pie.
[Update: the electricity is finally on and house is warmer, but too late for dinner and now spending the night as a party of one.]
It was a sunny summery day. I asked mom to drive me and my friend down to the harbor to launch our 2-person inflatable kayak. We were stylin’ in our sunglasses and bright yellow life-jackets — so off we went. Upon arriving at the harbor’s small beach, we unpacked, pumped up the kayak, and said “see ya” to my mom who left for home.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the harbor was calm and inactive, it seemed as if we had it all to ourselves. We paddled all the way to the opening of the harbor, but were somewhat cautious of the larger body of water which laid beyond, so we remained inside and paddled around the perimeter, then around a couple small islands in the center. It was a good time with plenty of exercise.
While in the middle of the harbor, away from any land, the sky suddenly darkened. Blackish-grey clouds loomed overhead — then the waves came. Whether it rained I don’t remember, “TURN INTO THE WAVES!”, I shouted. If struck on our side, I had the feeling we’d topple, so into the onslaught we drove, hard as we could, but a treadmill of turbulence kept us from progressing forward.
Crash after crash, the waves struck as we paddled fervently to keep our nose pointed straight ahead. I looked around wondering if a rescue boat might come, but we remained the only vessel in sight. And as suddenly as it came, it left, the sky was blue again, the water calm, we paddled to shore. My mother was driving up as we landed. It seemed odd she wasn’t concerned, but she had no knowledge of the “storm” that descended upon us — as far as she knew, it had been sunny the entire day.
(Actual photo from the day, a decade ago. Photographer: mom)
We can sway our attitude only so much amidst a dauntless onslaught of stimulation. But such savage stressors placed upon our mortal frames are brief, stinging more in memories. And so it is in the remembrance of such events, that our consciousness may adjust focus and perspective. Thoughts of the past, their maintenance and interpretation, fall under the auspices of the observing mind.
What is life, but a collection of memories, or rather cute little stories we tell ourselves. In the past, I would have painted a much bleaker picture of life. It’s the same life, just described differently. But why focus on faults over that which elicits amusement? Happiness is just that, fond remembrance of life.
Mom, can you drive me into the city to meet someone I met online? It was an odd request, but she said yes. I was to finally see the person I met in a text-based chatroom nine months earlier. It was late summer and my friend was coming from out-of-state to attend college orientation. We were to meet within a particular building, but nothing more specific than that. Having only ever seen a childhood photo, I stood in the large open area of that building and waited, scanning the students walking by.
Finally, after some initial testing was complete, classrooms started opening up, more students were filing out. Wearing jeans with what appeared to be thin racing stripes running down the legs, was someone that looked kinda familiar. This person walked over to what appeared to be parents, spoke briefly, then proceeded alone down a hallway, possibly to the bathroom. The chase was on!
I followed, and when I got close enough, called out a name. It’s me, I said. A smile. It was exactly who I was looking for. We chatted briefly, but I don’t know about what. The father came around the corner and seemed slightly agitated and said to hurry up. My friend and I parted, but I was excited, happy. I went down the stairs and found my mother in the parking garage and we went home.
It wasn’t too long before college started and my friend came back to move into an apartment. Having spent hours and hours chatting and phoning, we were finally together, face-to-face. The couple of weeks before school started, we were inseparable, even spending one night in the car. We’d walk hand-in-hand on the beach at sunrise and get bagels at the nearby Dunkin Donuts.
As a child, I had acquaintances through osmosis — gradually built casual friendships with classmates that only lasted within the confines of school. Weekends and summers might have been a bit lonesome, but I had my TV pals. So when I entered college, with its quicker pace, these casual relationships never formed, making for an isolated experience.
But during college, the Internet started to become popular. It was the days of 28.8 dial-up with its modem squeals and squawks. And there were free trials galore to the various online services: Prodigy, Compuserve, and America Online. A primary component of these services included “chat rooms” — real-time text-based chat amongst twenty or so people from all over the country. And part of chatting included the ability to privately chat with another individual.
For someone unable to initiate face-to-face friendships, it was an amazing experience. I was free to say (or type) whatever I wanted. I could experiment, be outgoing, and if it didn’t pan out, I could change rooms or pick a new person to chat with. I could instigate lively conversation amongst entire rooms of people, then chat one-on-one with whomever I chose, delving deeply into their thoughts. I had a way with typed words that I didn’t have with spoken words.
So it’s no surprise that it was by this method I sought the love of my life. I had an urge for close companionship, a best friend, someone to spend my life with. And so it was, on the night of a full moon, I stumbled into a chatroom and someone’s words caught my attention, I followed up in private chat. We emailed, we phoned, mailed letters, nine months went by. Back then, photos were mostly sent through the actual mail — and only after many months did I even see a glimpse: a photo of a small child at Christmas — that was it. That’s all I ever saw until the day we met face-to-face in the hallway of a university.