A Whisper Wants a Name (I)

And not this book, if it ever turns out that way; one hundred years from now, no one’s going to remember my name, what I did, who I loved, who loved me. If I’m lucky, maybe my children’s children will tell stories about Grandpa- or Great-Grandpa Ben who lived at the turn of the millennium. Maybe they’ll talk around a campfire or in a nuclearly-heated apartment about the things I did, the men and women I met on my own journey. I won’t be around to correct them. I’d turn 127 that year; even if science finds some way to keep we humans alive and well for that length of time, I don’t know I’d want them to do so for me, for most people I’d loved or lost would be figments of a quickly-fading memory, her name or his face etched on a leaf falling quickly to the ground.

No, this is about my father, born in the middle of this past century into a lower-middle class home in Rockford, Illinois. His family name proudly borne by me and a sibling about whom you’ve heard. I don’t know what Rockford will be like in one hundred years. I’d like to think optimistic and prosperous, benefiting from its proximity to Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee by helping to success the next generation of engineers, manufacturers and researchers. That would be nice. I think, however, far more likely would be the seemingly inevitable seepage of what talent there resides in Rockford (and there’s no shortage of it; I will say that about my hometown) to the more promising shores of Lake Michigan and the Atlantic. That’s okay with me; this isn’t a book I intend to see published in my lifetime, and were it to be, my defense of my hometown would be heartfelt and long. Rockford doesn’t have an Art Institute or a Dartmouth College and likely never will, no French Laundry, so subway, no Arsenal, no Cubs, no Bulls. A dead and dying reminder of the world of the past, a star that would wink when it felt it could but always faded beyond the horizon. But it does have a character to its people that’s all its own. I don’t regret growing up in Rockford or staying in Rockford in my 20s when my substance-abuse and mental health issues left me with no option, and when my parents were generous enough of spirit to allow me to return here. But this isn’t a book about Rockford or about me.

Were I a painter (and I’m decidedly not) I could paint for you exactly what I could see from my bedroom window in September in the dusk, in August in view of a pregnant moon, or in April, rain streaming down that cheaply-done glass. I could probably tell you the exact dimensions of the neighbors’ pines, how the squirrels would fall and play along the slats of their roof, how as a young man I could see the girls and boys I’d kissed appear for a second in the window and then vanish — as they always do — into mist on the grass.

But it’s not about me or how that rain smelled the day after your first kiss, how it felt to go roaring along Spring Creek Road after getting your license or sitting by yourself at Swanson Stadium while everything and everyone else zoomed so fast beyond you. I’ll talk about me because I like doing it — and if you’ve noticed, can be damn charming when doing so. It’s about my father, or at least my memories of him and his life, and what an incredible joy it was to know him. Writing this now it seems almost comic: a 27-year old unemployed derelict son writing an encomium to the memory of a father whom I could go downstairs to rain bits of bread or unwashed socks or empty whiskey bottles on in less time than it would take to finish writing this sentence. I won’t do any of those things, of course, but happily my parents are alive and well. It’s just me who’s taken too long to try to understand them.

I almost wanted to write right there to title this “A Biography of an Absence,” but didn’t; well, because my father was never an absence and I was just happy with the phrase. It’s a lovely phrase really; reminds one of some lecture by some foreign prof about Derrida. Pleasure to actually type too, but if I’m going to write about my father, I have to be truthful. I’ll tell readers anything about my own life, typically something that’s trying to be funny or clever, as I’m so divorced from my own life that it’s hard to think about anyone’s as anything other than a world of fiction, and writing about life lived as fiction is far easier than writing about life as actually lived, no? Actual life requires people rather than characters, “girlfriends” or “wives” rather than “lovers,” actual loss even.

So this book is about my father, and don’t worry, I won’t do any of those things, but he’s right there, as hale and hearty as I’ve ever known him, likely sitting in an armchair in a position to which I’ve grown quite accustomed: facing the television, close enough to the couch my mother chooses to rest in after a day’s work to hear her (he’s gone a bit deaf at 64, but not enough to require a hearing aid) and to capture the light but close enough to be able to drop the current pet (an overweight Beagle I’ll call “Blunderbuss” just because it brings a grin to my face came first and coexisted for a short time and was succeeded by an adopted German Shepherd mutt who was the great love of my mother’s life and finally the current occupant of that distinguished position, a mongrel cat who howled his way into my mother’s heart, was offered mercy when he was hungry parking outside of our back door and subsequently became the primary occupant of yours truly’s heart while going through a life crisis, breaking up with fiancée and life crisis. Did I mention the life crisis?

~ by Benji on September 15, 2012.

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