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Rated: E · Essay · Death · #2321862
From a large family that has begun losing members, this is my narrative of that process.
         I have come to find that I have a terrible time with releasing grief. It tends to consume me to a degree. I must force myself to not see the most horrible things that I have ever seen. People I love leaving. I must busy my hands to stop the reoccurring nightmare of loss. But time does march on, and I do cry less and less. In that analogy, I also know that the tears will never be spent until I am spent. The grief has become part of my life until it also ends. These complicated human beings that I have known all my life leaving is the hardest part of my personal trip around the sun.
         Is there ever an easy way to explain or derive an understanding of these people who share my DNA? After all, when they are gone, they can’t “speak” for themselves. They can only rely on the accuracy of someone else’s memory of them. Then when you mix in the diagnosis of Schizophrenia, the waters muddy even more. Because not only is the third person narrative inaccurate, but the main character of the script is an unsure resource to gather information from as well.
         The life of Andy started in February of 1963, when he was born to his young parents, as their third child. His end would come at the age of 61, in a different decade a different century, even a different millennium. He would bear no known children in his lifetime. Although his mind would narrate the existence of children. His brothers would also reiterate that they suspicioned he may have fathered children. The rabbit warrens of his diseased mind may have contributed to a mother keeping a secret. But if there was a child, then they were kept from knowing one of the most beautiful people this world has ever known.
         There was a normal time frame between my birth and his. The interesting thing. There was a birth between us. Start with my father, a devout Catholic, then add in my mother, a convert by marriage; then mix in the time before oral contraceptives. The perfect storm that created 6 children in the span of 7 calendar years. On April 17, 1960, on our mother’s 20th birthday, on an Easter Sunday, she would give birth to her first child. The last would enter this world in June 1967. Between there came 4 others. I firmly believe that the sheer magnitude and condensing of our births resulted in a uniquely bonded tribe of siblings that most humans miss out on.
         Then you mix in a move in the early 1970s to an eighty-acre farm in the middle of southeastern Iowa. For many, that would be defined as the middle of nowhere. To us at the time, it was paradise. Then toss us together with the menagerie of both wild and domesticated animals. Add in unbelievable years of snowfall, and hot summers spent running the countryside. There was skinny dipping and frog gigging. The momentous July 4th celebrations with lady fingers, illegal M80s and unlicensed fireworks that our dad took us to Missouri to buy. Crossing over state lines with our illegal contraband was exhilaratingly fun.
         Then add in our friends, the cousins to seal the deal. Sledding accidents, snowball fights and games of ice hockey. Human chains used as whips on ice, along with games of tag on a frozen pond lovingly referred to as Fox and Chicken. Card games of Pig that Pat yelled himself hoarse playing. Poker games where Dad won back all his pennies. Holiday traditions of Shanghai Rummy where those same friends the cousins always wailed on our branch of the family. This children’s paradise where the game of baseball was modified to only 5 players. croquet was a contact sport and Lawn Darts was warfare. Not to leave out the Horse Weed spears, tree climbing, crawdad hunting and many more experience too numerous to mention.
         Hedge trees were cut down and turned into a freestanding ladder. Where a long length of rope dangled, tied to the tree. A large knot at the bottom to fit your toes perfectly, as you launched yourself off into the murky waters of the farm pond on hot summer days. Caterpillars were placed in jars to watch the metamorphosis of Monarchs. These same jars trapped fireflies, that were a literal sea of twinkling bugs adorning the grass and ditches of our youth, like twinkle lights on a Christmas tree. Grass-stained jeans covering scraped up knees and scabbed over mosquito bites. Sun browned skin that knew nothing of sunscreen or bug spray. Nighttime forays, even in the winter, directed by our intellectual sister to watch the cosmos as meteorites burned through the atmosphere. Long bus rides to and from school. We grew huge followings of friends who spent endless days and night flourishing in our parent’s home.
         Discipline was handed out in spankings and profanity. Where we all learned early to curse like sailors, which then taught us what a bar of soap tasted like. Causing us to question why the same rules didn’t apply to those governing us. Which gave us a weirdly fierce sense of loyalty. Learning to stick to a story to protect the others or taking the blame so we could get up from our seats of shame and return to our mischief and mayhem. We proved to be a challenge for our parents. There was not a police station in the country as well versed as our parental unit at splitting up the accused and trying to crack the case. Our youth’s most glaring mar was the overuse of corporal punishment, which would dampen the spirits of anyone it was issued upon. Was it right? No. Was is maliciously done? Not at all. One tends to parent as they were parented. The adage of spare the rod and spoil the child still haunts children to this day. In defense of the failures at parenting also stands the truly stellar examples of long evening rides in the back of pick-up trucks to cool us off on hot summer nights, root beer floats, watermelon eaten right off the rind. Story time’s and family gathering that speak to a love that came from the right place, even if it were handed out sometimes in the wrong manner.
         Massive plates of food, raised sometimes through the labor force of children who were not the best gardeners or animal tenders. Apple and cherry pies from the orchard. Many meals were from the hunting expeditions of young men with only one bullet between them. Because parents lived in fear of one child shooting the other while they traipsed high and low over cornfields and through timberlines. This brought about some good marksmen. Your aim is more deadly if you had to walk miles back to the house for ammunition. We all huddled around a huge trestle table, giving thanks for our food. Bowls and platters passed from the left to the right. Portions watched closely so that everyone had equal access to food. Multiple pitchers of Kool-Aid and iced tea. An average of three gallons of milk a day. The beverage of choice: the always cold well water pumped to the surface by small human hands at the back door. Sipped from the tin cup that hung there. Often it was slurped from cascading water as it splashed on you, cooling down sunbaked bodies during the heat of summer. When winter blew in, there were the warm cups of homemade cocoa sipped by the fireplace. Following those long hours spent in the frigid cold, doing what children do best. Playing and building memories that bonded us together for a lifetime.
         It is unclear to me when his mind started to misinform him. For years he was just one of the boys. Their glossy, thick black hair and their dashingly handsome chiseled profiles. Always quick with a smile. The other boys probably can more clearly pinpoint when the changes started. Hindsight sees the dabbling in alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. It is not uncommon for the young to make choices that affect their whole life. Most escape the tomfoolery of youth without a scrape. Any of us, glancing back into our youth, know of someone who sustained an unlucky outcome during their formative years. Some even glance back sadly at the death of someone we held dear, long before we were even clear as to what death really meant. But somewhere in these last days of our youth, his mind began to change.
         He would bring up memories that none of us remembered. He would accuse people of wrongs that were never done. He grew suspicious of some and overly protective of others. He would disappear for days at a time. Sometimes embarrassing, sometimes terrifying, he morphed into someone none of us recognized anymore. The hindsight of this all, through the looking glass of photography, shows a glowing human being who smiled charismatically. Someone who stands frozen in photographs sporting a lit cigarette and draped in a persona of height and dazzling good looks. An image that speaks to our minds of pride and of sadness.
         This crystal-clear image of what Should have been. As opposed to the beginning of a long, painful, lonely journey through a lifetime scarred by mental illness. Stories of murder and unforgiveable injustices. Of disloyalty where there was none and suspicious beliefs in some who loved him dearly. A mind that spiraled into poetry and songs that were scratched across paper with misspellings and atrocious grammar. Alcoholic binges and drug induced periods of sleeplessness that would stretch on for days. Playing music so loudly to drowned out the voices in his head. All well-known traits that mental health professionals now refer to as self-medicating behaviors. The endless cups of coffee slopped all over furniture and carpeting. The mutterings of a mad man who we all continued to love, even though we did not understand.
         He stood at the fringes of all our adult lives and the lives of our children. Poignantly captured as a quote by one of my brother’s children: “Hi Uncle Andy, whatcha doin’? Smokin’?” We gave birth to children who loved him merely because he was ours. An adult life that had him on the cusp of society. His childhood friends disappearing into the woodwork of the past. His relationships failing. His ability to hold a job being impaired. Through it all, he maintained a glorious ability to still be one of the nicest people alive.
         He may have thought others were out to get him, but he never adopted a negative outlook, nor did he ever seek revenge. He never stopped loving even those he voices that made him suspect that others had stopped loving him. Did he thrive, not completely. But did he succeed? Yes, he did. He succeeded better than most. Because he never lost the ability to see past his illness. He never forgot how to love.
         He succumbed to cancer, most definitely helped along by his long-standing addiction to cigarettes. But kudos must even be given even here. He decided in his thirties that he would stop smoking and he did. Just abruptly put down his last cigarette and never picked up another one. This admirable trait served him well. He also accomplished walking away from alcohol and drugs. He feared addiction once he reached sobriety. He didn’t want to be around others when they drank. He could no longer stomach the smell of tobacco. He worried about becoming dependent on his much-needed pain medications. But alas the damage was done. Lung cancer would cause his early exit. The tall standing man would exit life just attached to an oxygen tank, his life narrowed to the four walls that housed him. But even in that context, it was a joyous thing to be riding beside him in a car, as he made fun of my driving. I would glance at him in the passenger seat. His body bloated by illness and his hands grasping the oxygen that kept him alive.
         But there, just out of the corner of his eye, when he glanced at me, with a devilish grin on his face would be Andy. Standing completely confident in himself, astride the highest point of Faulkner’s bridge, looking every inch the Coen boy, frozen at least for my lifetime as a memory of who he was.
         No one can every strip me of that. No one except for the sands of time. And when the breeze lifts my ashes on a gentle breeze, while they settle into the same Mississippi waters that now cradle him and my dad. I am sure that same young man will be grinning at me, beside that short, stocky man, while my sister gathers stardust and rainbows in the galaxy of time. For energy never ceases to exist and out of this universe’s chaos blooms some of the greatest beauty ever seen.
         In this knowledge, I know that somewhere they are still here, unseen by my human eye, but easily grasp where they are held, in the recesses of my mind.

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