The Postponed Sun
It was a Tuesday, when my brother called to tell me he was, after half a life of substance abuse, finally sober. “Five months clean,” he said. A portrait of his six-year-old self my father kept on his nightstand bloomed, curly-headed and pale, in my memory, lending some hope. But like all good things, within one breathless sentence, all hope vanished, just like that, and I heard myself saying, “Too soon to be asking for money.” Silent disappointment was felt through the shared workings of our DNA. “You know, I’m getting my shit together,” his blood said inside mine. “I know,” stirred mine—and then my mouth started to move.
“Glad things are looking up, man.”
He said, “Me too,” and sighed.
“I love you,” I said.
We hung up our ends.
A few months before, he’d nodded off at our father’s funeral, then after, while I was holding a little urn, my brother said, “You’ll have to give me a spoonful of pops. I want to mix him with some ink and get a tattoo.”
Rachael, my wife, looked over in disbelief, laughing, only able to muster, “Really, John?”
I walked into the parking lot of the church, rage rippling my tongue. Out there, I smoked amongst Mormons and veterans and family, all of them there to memorialize a man they’d hardly ever known, same as me. Turns out you only get around to knowing folks when they’re gone—when it’s too late, as they say. But maybe too late is exactly the distance you need to feel some closeness, some love.
My aunt and uncle were there. We all stayed with my mother. It was weird not having my dad around. But the things I learned from those two, it made things easier. I hadn’t seen them in years. Seems like estrangement is a common clause in our network—so is trauma. And so is fetishizing that trauma. Everything about my father made more sense through those two, his brother and sister, his blood, and it all worked itself slowly into me out there in the desert.
I could stare at the lizards on the fence for hours, wondering if they reminded my father of jungle lizards (there are such things, aren’t there?), and if their presence brought back terrible memories of Vietnam, or if it all was so caged inside him, those feelings, he didn’t know what or how to feel, if feel anything at all—and how stupid it all is, how it didn’t matter anymore because he was dead and would never have to live it again, anyway.
I’m often reminded of ghosts because I’m named after one—my mother’s cousin, a drowned three-year-old from the nineteen-fifties. Sometimes his body floats above mine when I sleep. It doesn’t comfort me, but my mother says I shouldn’t be afraid. And I’m not, I’m only reminded. There is a void that awaits all life on earth, both now and when, and knowing that never finds me any sleep, when sleep sometimes seems like the only comfort left behind.
On the airplane, coming back to Kansas, I dreamt of needles and mountain tops, the intersection of external beauty and internal feeling, the deceit that is sworn to you at birth, rendering your thoughts incompatible regarding your blood and who shares it.
In another dream, I threw up maggots. Eventually they grew into people, became my friends, my lovers—and then all was a ghost above me, a ceiling, blank, white, and my eyelids closed suddenly onto nothingness, and it was briefly beautiful to be alive.