Those days were an iron wagon loaded with rocks that we dragged through muddy fields with our teeth.
You were a magnificent burning boat that would not sink.
We were as prepared as anyone could be who was facing a long night like that. We had, at any rate, been preparing for it for decades. There had been tests --test after test, many of them grueling and sprung on us almost completely unawares-- and drills and close calls and false alarms.
We were all familiar --achingly familiar-- with that urgent walk through the darkness and humidity of nights just like that one, from which we'd finally emerge, perpetually stunned and blinking, into those long hallways of brutal light and blinding white walls, into the maze of that place, a maze that seemed constantly to be shifting and expanding and spiraling ever higher.
On nights like that, that building, that complex, would feel as vast and silent as a library in the worst and most inscrutable sort of nightmare, yet there were reminders everywhere of what the place was up to and how crowded it was with battered pilgrims in all manner of distress.
It was always astonishing to me how a place so full of suffering could be so hushed. The rising and falling of helicopters was a dull thrumming that you felt mostly in your feet. The hallways were zealously lacquered to such a sheen that you'd find yourself almost tip-toeing like a cat burglar to avoid the squeak of rubber or the clatter of heels.
Sometimes, like that night, that morning, it felt like a holy place. There were saints everywhere, plaster mostly, with disturbingly abject or imploring looks on their faces. The image of Jesus strung up on the cross repeated itself again and again; again and again you encountered the grief of Mary.
Most of the sufferers, hidden away behind white doors with whispering pneumatic releases, were in the hands of the most reprehensibly competent sort of unbelievers.
That night, that morning, you were somewhere in that maze, wired and plumbed like a man who was going to be electrocuted and saved in the same instant.
We knew when we once again retraced our steps that morning that this time we would not be coming back for you. We knew that you were ready –even if we were not—for a long journey, a journey for which you would require no shoes, no wallet or driver's license, no comb, razor, or shaving cream, none of the things, in fact, that we would carry away with us in plastic bags.
You and I had driven across the country together, east and west, and across Canada. We once drove a thousand miles with an eight-track of Lou Reed's The Blue Mask stuck in the deck and endlessly looping, and the entire time I waited for a protest from you that never came. We'd sat in the bleachers at spring training ballparks. You were always so happy, so eager, so utterly prepared to be amazed.
Now that's a pretty swing.
That is one beautiful bird.
Isn't that something?
We stood together one night on a dark beach in Florida, where astronauts had recently been blown from the sky. We saw the lights of boats in the distance, trolling still for wreckage. You shook your head and said, "It's hard to even imagine," but you were already a marked man, and the way you said it I could tell that it wasn't, in fact, so hard for you to imagine at all.
If you could see me now --and I like to think that you can-- you'd know that I've already lost so much of what you gave me.
And you'd know --I know you know-- that I'm going to get it all back.
I hope that your voyage, wherever it has taken you and whatever it has entailed, has been as eventful and full of wonder as the life you lived, and that the muffled clanging of that battered bell you lugged around, rattling behind your ribcage all those years, is now just a receding memory. I like to imagine you've seen some astonishing things, and that you are living now in some version of one of the old comfortable stories that you believed in so passionately.
It gives me pleasure to think that you are at peace, and even greater pleasure to know that you lived, so fiercely, so gently, and that you were mine and ours, and that I belong to you still, and always.
By the time you were my age you had four children and a literally broken heart.
You did what you could.
You taught wonder.
I used to sense you coiled like a discus hurler behind every one of my best intentions.
Your blood was the blood that called me back to this world each time I crawled away disgusted.
Yours were the words of forgiveness I was always surprised to find crouched at the back of my tongue. The tenderness, unexpected, that seized me when I was in the presence of suffering or helplessness, that also was you feeling through me.
My biggest dreams were yours.
You pointed out the stars, and taught me to appreciate the gorgeous example of upholstery that is a baseball mitt. The short trigger, the hatred of condescension, the intolerance of cruelty, your compassion and affection for the little guy and the underdog, all those things you gave me.
You could not, unfortunately, give me your unbridled optimism, your undying faith in human goodness, your stiff upper lip, or your genuine willingness to just let the world be the world.
But your capacity for love, your sense of loyalty, your appreciation for a good road trip, the easy way you laughed, and your eagerness to play the fool --What can I say? I am your boy.
You showed me again and again how to live.
So often lately I've sat up in the middle of the night, half expecting you to knock on my door.