Sometimes a loss is not what it seems.
|Men are not machines, most men anyway, but like machines they are built of parts. I've lost enough parts along the road to construct a serviceable human. Some I really regret losing and would like to have back, others I had to throw away several times before they stayed gone, like the trouble garbage bear they keep trapping and hauling off to some remote bush area, but he makes his way back to the dump before the trappers .
Some of these parts are so integral that, if one goes missing and can't be found again, it is possible that the machine may never function the same way again. Such a part was missing when I awoke one dreary late winter morning long ago on the far edge of childhood, after a night spent in a poor approximation of sleep. The part in question had really packed its bags and swept out the room the day before, but only in the cold, private dark of the morning did I realize it had left me as I slept. It didn't help that I could only feel its loss; I had no name for it.
I was disoriented and confused on first awakening, groggy and half-aware. My little brother was asleep beside me. Unusual. He had his own room; he never slept with me. There was the low rumble of voices downstairs, and the sound of sobbing. I remembered then what I would never forget. My father had passed away late last night. We had been alone in the room together when he was attacked by his heart, and he did not survive the battle.
I was a child. I wasn't the classic carefree lad, but I had never before suffered a loss that couldn't be quickly mended by an ice cream cone or a fancy new toy truck or a meccano set or a comforting hug. This type of loss was not to be repaired. I remember saying to my little brother that morning in a shaky voice, "We have no dad now. What do we do?" He was six; he had no advice for me. I hadn't yet begun to imagine what was next, other than bottomless tears. I couldn't foresee the rage, the feelings of impotence, betrayal, unfairness, self-hate, helplessness, and rebellion that would brew up as our lives changed.
Neighbors, relatives, and priests all told me, "You're the man of the house now." They had no idea what that meant to a thirteen year old mind. I wasn't sure either; I didn't know what a man was, other than one of the adults who took care of the world and its children, like my dad. I see all this in retrospect now, which is a much less intimidating viewpoint. Then it was as real as the cold rain in my face. Until that morning every event in my life had involved my father, teaching me how to cope and learn, walking me through the rough spots, shielding me from the impossible spots, encouraging me when I was timid. Of course I wasn't aware that he was preparing me to be a man.
Now suddenly the rank of "Man" was thrust on me. The world was in my face; it expected me to perform and gave me no clues, no dress rehearsals, no safety net. I was not ready and fell frequently. I crawled more than I walked. I slid back more than I inched forward. I trod some unfortunate paths and wrote myself into some stories better left unmentioned. I was a slow learner, but in the usual course of human things, I got back up on my hind legs and walked like a man. I earned my rank.
This is a true story, but it happened 45 years ago. Lest you think I've worn the weight as an anvil around my neck all these years, I'm happy to say the rage, impotence, betrayal, unfairness, self-hate, helplessness, and rebellion have all been accounted for, though my wife, were she allowed to comment here, would possibly offer some qualifying remarks. Sadly, the innocence that was rudely stripped from me that day has vanished without a trace, perhaps holed up with D. B. Cooper in a cabin in the wilds of Washington . Childhood innocence is only the protective seed covering; a plant will never grow without it, but it will also never grow until it breaks through to seek out its own life in the earth. To quote one of my favorite crusty old men, now departed, "So it goes."