18

A young man walks along a path in a small town cemetery. In his right hand is a paper bag, the open end folded shut. He wears a pare of black Converse sneakers with his initials printed on the heel end, and blue jeans, ones with holes that run up and down both legs. His hair is a little long and there is stubble on his face. It’s young stubble, the type that only males in that in-between stage of life of being a kid and becoming an adult can grow. He is seventeen and he has made this same walk every year since he can remember.

He parked his car outside the rusted steel gates of the graveyard, preferring to walk the distance to the marker he intends to visit. It’s that walk that allows him to prepare him for his emotions, the ones surely to come on this day. 

The young man veers off the path and across the lush green lawn. In some places, the grass hasn’t been cut and it grows higher than in others. But where he walks today, the lawn may not be freshly cut, but someone had gone over it in the last week or two. Though the morning was a little warmer than most for this time of year, there is still a little dew left on the grass that hasn’t burned off with the rise of the sun, or in this case, the hiding of the sun behind tinted gray clouds. 

He lifts his arm and looks at the watch on his wrist. 

10:20.

He nods and continues along the headstones of the deceased, paying no attention to the names or the years of life etched in them, or the epitaphs so eloquently written by loved ones who no longer visit those they wish to never forget. There is a lump in his throat and every breath he takes is a little shaky and getting shakier as he goes. 

No, he’s not sick or afraid or running from anything. This young man is going forward, running toward something, facing a truth. 

A bird lands on the ground fifteen feet in front of him, cocks its head to the side and looks at him with its curiously beady black eyes. It flaps its wings once, twice, then flies away. He continues forward, the lump in his throat seemingly getting larger, his breaths harder to take. He looks back at his watch.

10:24.

Then the young man stops in front of a headstone that is nothing special in shape or size or expense, but it is everything special to him, for who it belongs to. He opens the bag and pulls out a Mountain Dew and a Snickers candy bar. He set the bag down and reaches into his back pocket for the folded piece of paper there.

His watch now reads 10:26.

The young man sits down in front of the stone. He reads the name there, reads the date of birth, and more importantly, the date of death: 9-11-2001. The lump in his throat is a heavy rock and the tears he had held back now begin to flow. His breaths are raspy and his hands shake as he unfolds the paper and sets it on the ground in front of him. He then opens one end of the candy bar and follows that by popping the top on his soda and sets them both on the ground. 

He glances at his watch one final time.

10:28.

He picks up the letter. It is short and written in his stick-like scrawl. With the grief of a child who lost a parent, he reads the words he wrote.

Dear Dad,

Eighteen years ago today you died. You never got to hold me. You never even got to meet me. Mom gave birth to me three days later as she mourned you—as the nation mourned. 

He takes a deep breath, releases it and tries hard not to think about the truth his mother told him about his father, that he’s not buried there, that his body is not in the ground where he sits, that only one shoe—a black Converse with his initials on the back—was ever found in the rubble of the collapsed building he had been in that day.

He swallows hard, trying to get the lump in his throat to go away, then reads more of his letter.

I never got to throw a baseball with you. We never got to have father and son time. You never got to tell me dirty jokes and I’ll never be able to ask you for advice about women. 

He wipes his eyes with the palm of one hand, then continues.

Though I never knew you, I love you. Mom has told me a lot about you and I know you would have been a great father, just as you were a great husband to her. I hope I can be half the man you were, and I hope, wherever you are, you are proud of me. 

As tears stream down his face, the young man, soon to be eighteen years of age, says the final words of his letter.

I love you, Dad. I love you. 

  

I love you.

The young man sets the letter on the ground and puts his face in his hands. He sobs, letting the grief of a love never felt from a man he never met, flow from him. After several minutes, he wipes his eyes again, then his nose. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, lets it go and picks up the candy bar—his dad’s favorite—pulls the wrapper completely off and takes a bite of it. Then he raises the Mountain Dew—his dad’s favorite drink—to the air and taps the headstone with it. He only drinks a couple of sips, then sets the drink and the half eaten candy bar on his father’s headstone.

Heart broken, the young man picks up the paper bag and the candy wrapper and stands. He walks away, leaving the letter by the marker, his head down. Tomorrow will be better, but today … today will always be difficult.

AJB

9/11/2019

18

The Creative Blessing… and Its Curse

Being a writer you have to be somewhat creative. You have to see things in your head, even if those things aren’t necessarily there. You have to connect the dots from A to B all the way to Z and then some.

You get it–you have to be creative.

For me, having a creative mind is both a blessing and a curse. Obviously it is a blessing when I write. It gives me the ability to create scenes and characters and scenarios. But it’s also a bane in other areas, especially reading. I am a notoriously slow reader simply because every word I read is pictured.

Take for instance this quote by Stephen King:

I watched Titanic when I got back home from the hospital, and cried. I knew that my IQ had been damaged.

When I read that, my mind went to work. Picture this:

A man sitting in a recliner. Say he has a beer in one hand and a bag of chips in his lap. Oh and let’s just say he’s wearing a pair of gray shorts. Black socks cover his feet and he just happens to be one of those guys who like to wear those socks with his sandals on. A white T-shirt is stained with brown spots near his slightly pooched out belly. He just came from the hospital–at least in my mind he did–so let’s put a cast on one of his legs and a brown ACE bandage wrapped around the other knee. There is a walker standing near the recliner, rubber stoppers on its legs. Maybe the guy has a patch on his forehead (after all, he was in the hospital and most folks who follow King know about when he was hit by that van that almost killed him).

For giggles let’s just say he is in his living room and there is a couch off to his left, a coffee table in front of it. To his right is a small end table, the remote sitting on top of it. Beneath the remote are a couple of magazines, a Sports Illustrated on top. The light is off and the white glow from the television illuminates a rectangular portion of the room, while other parts of it are shrouded in shadows.

Do you see all that?

Now imagine that he’s watching Titanic on his forty inch flat screen television. Maybe the scene where Rose releases Jack into the water after the luxury liner sank just ended. Do you see Jack sinking into the water? I do. Now the man is crying. He probably even lifts the tail end of his shirt and wipes his nose. His eyes are rimmed red, the lids puffy. He sniffles a few times.

All of that appeared in my head after reading that one statement. This is how my mind works.

There is more.

My daughter likes to read to me. She, like her mother, is a very fast reader. The other day she came to me.

“Daddy, can I read to you?”

“Sure,” I said.

She had some vampire book in her hand (no, it wasn’t Twilight. Thankfully). She sat down to read, but before she could get started I said:

“Chloe, don’t read fast. Read so I can understand you.”

And so my daughter read the first two chapters of this book and she read them a lot slower than she normally would because I needed to be able to picture the story as it unfolded. When she reads fast the images become jumbled and I don’t remember anything she says. When she reads slowly, the details form in my mind and the characters become realistic enough for me to become engaged in them.

I read the way King writes: One word at a time.

But there’s still more to this. Recently in my home state a man came up missing. My wife asked me about it as we walked around the baseball park (Do you see the image of two people walking along the outside of a baseball field? There was a black crow in the outfield that day.).

“What do you think?” she asked.

Honestly, I didn’t have many thoughts about it at first, but as I pondered it, I began to picture the man–I had seen posters of him plastered around downtown (he worked less than two blocks from where I work)–and the possible scenarios. I ticked them off for her.

Maybe he just got tired of his life and wanted something new.

Maybe he angered someone (with his position it was possible) and they kidnapped him and killed him.

Maybe he was having an affair and left with the women.

Then I said:

“I bet there’s money involved. Or a woman. Or both. I wouldn’t be surprised if money comes up missing or if he had an affair and he decided to leave before he got into trouble. Maybe he left a note behind or something. It could be a bunch of different things.”

It turns out the man did leave a note and that there was money and a woman involved (though to what extent or if there was an affair has not come out yet). It also turns out that, yes, this man was dead, but he hadn’t been murdered. He had taken his own life.

All of this information came out about a week after my wife and I had that little talk as we walked around the baseball diamond, the crow in the outfield.

For me, all of what I just wrote has its images. Everything is there in my head, though I haven’t seen any of the events unfold. However, in my mind–that creative stream–I saw everything. I saw the shame of what happened on his face. I saw the way his eyes became distant, the way he stared at the wall or the way his hand shook as he wrote the letter explaining why he was going to take his life. I could see him smoking a cigarette as he walked away from his office, a 9mm gun stashed in his waistband, his suit jacket buttoned to conceal it. I could see how unsteady his steps were, how nervous he was. He was going to die and this scared him. Or so that’s what my mind said. I saw him lock himself in a room and sit down on the floor. He contemplated the gun for a while, trying to figure out if this was really something he wanted to do. His thoughts were a cacophony of screams.

Don’t do this.
I have nothing to live for.
This is suicide.
Think about your family and friends. Think about how this will affect them.
I am.
This isn’t so bad. You don’t have to do this.
It’s the only way out.

I imagined there were tears in his eyes before he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. I won’t tell you anything else I saw about the scene. I think you can figure it out for yourselves.

If this were a story I was writing, there would be a lot more details to it, a lot more of the man struggling with himself on whether or not to do what he did. Why? Because that’s the way my mind works. It sees events in full digital color and in Dolby Surround Sound.

A writer’s mind doesn’t need all the details to fill in the gaps of information that’s not there. Their minds fills in everything else for them. It’s our creative side, the part of us that we have trained by hours and hours and hours of writing and trying to figure out scenes and how a character should act in certain situations. It’s putting life into words and seeing what’s not there. For me, it’s the only way to write, the only way to read.

It’s both a blessing and a curse.

It’s why I write the way I do, with details and descriptions and character emotions. I want to bring you, the reader, the most vivid reading experience that I can. I hope I succeed more than I fail and I hope you see what it is I write.

Until we meet again, my friends…