Good morning, birthday buddy
56. It’s just a number. But, man, did that number fuck with me this year. There is only a couple people I confide in to let them know why. Those few have watched me descend into some weird place these past 8-10 months.
Big John, my dad, a man I never knew, was born in ’19 and died in ’74 at the age of 55. Or so I am told. I was 7, so I didn’t have a lot of awareness. I had a feeling. It was a feeling of dread and panic. I didn’t know it then, but that feeling was to stay with me, to varying degrees, my whole life.
So, about 8-10 months ago I started noticing an increase in intrusive thoughts, doubts and fears mixed to create a nasty potpourri of anxiety that I have had a very difficult time shaking. I began doubting whether I was going to make it to this day or not, to 56. I didn’t just contemplate those thoughts. They grew oftentimes into panic. My chest would heave and ho and leave me in a state not unlike the 7-year-old that watched the big black Cadillac roll away on that dark December day, that 7-year-old witnessed it, and that kid still resides in me.
I have been measuring myself against an invisible person. And when I say invisible, I mean not only was my measuring tool already dead, but the man I was using to measure myself against was nothing more than a metaphor. Italians (like many cultures I’m sure) will never speak ill of the dead. So, stitching together any kind of honest narrative about the mythical man I was trying to measure up to was a fool’s errand. It made no logical sense. You know, because I didn’t know him.
But here is why else it has made no sense.
All I have of the man I never knew is a couple of photographs of him (could have been some random dude for all I would know). A bible encased in a cedar box dedicated from the Knights of Columbus on the occasion of his death in ’74. And finally, tucked inside that box, a copy of a death certificate. Cirrhosis of the Liver. He imploded, or exploded. I’m no doctor, so I cannot say for sure what happened. I am aware though that Alcoholics die a long, painful, and hideous death. And he worked on his for about twenty years or so. I don’t even drink. I smoke the occasional joint when I am at a Mother Hips show, but most of the time I am a teetotaler.
So, there really is no logical reason for me to measure myself against the standard of this man. There is no logical or rational reason for me to feel the dread of impending death for the past 8 months. But we are totally NOT rational creatures, are we? Well, it seems I am not. And no amount of logic has been able to calm my fears.
I woke up this morning. Made my mushroom coffee. Opened my email and read a piece by Diane Ravitch about how the wealthy are using vouchers to siphon money away from public education to subsidize their private and religious school aspirations. Nobody minds welfare for the wealthy. Finished my coffee and headed out for work, My morning routine.
My oldest friend texted me a happy birthday message. My daughter came out to do the same and give me a hug. I sorted through a couple of birthday emails from people who want to sell me stuff. And then it hit me, an epiphany so simple, so innocent. I wonder now as I type this if it came from the seven-year-old.
I made it. You made it, dude. 56. Farther than Big John. For the seven-year-old, or maybe for the 55-year-old who has traveled a life Big John never knew anything about. Maybe both. Either way, I breathed this morning a sigh of relief and (for the moment at any rate) let big John’s ghost float away on the morning breeze. The conversation is over. You never made it this far and therefore you have nothing more to say to me. Au revoir, sir.
I suppose this letter is pretty morbid to some. Whatever. It is actually the closest thing to an honest celebration of life, my own, that I have known in a very long time. I have never been one for ceremony and all the pomp and circumstance. A few years ago, my friends combined to throw a Halloween/50th soiree where I was singled out. It was nice. But this one. Whew. This one is the one I have had mentally marked for the past 365 days.
It’s the little things that make life worth living. It’s the little things and not expectations. This morning the expectations from a mythical metaphorical man I never knew are lifted and my responsibility to that metaphor has reached an end. And I couldn’t ask for a better birthday wish.
“I been freed from the past, a prison I did not know that I was in till I was out.” Tim Bluhm