dijous, de gener 04, 2007

Una Cosecha de 1999 (English)

Tonight, instead of beer, I choose a bottle of wine. I pulled out the dustiest bottle from my rack, and it turned out to be a Merlot from the Columbia River Valley, a 1999 harvest. As I sit sipping a product of 1999, I'm forced to remember, to think on the many events which have transpired since then. I don't know why for sure such a pattern of thinking came to my head, as it did not when only months ago I pulled a vintage 1995 from the same shelf and served it to my guests for dinner. Perhaps, encumbered by my company, it did not occur to me to dwell on the past.

Tonight it did. I thought to myself, where I had been since 1999, what had transpired in my life since then, 8 years ago?

In 1999 I went to work at the College, a bright eyed, red faced 27 year old who was cocksure, quite possibly arrogant (according to eye-witnesses alive at the time), and even more sure that this small community college in the back-ass-end of nowhere was not where I would be stopping. I was frequently confused by my colleagues for a student.

In 1999 I made friends with my colleague in the office next door, Bill B. He, like me, was enamoured of arcane objects and ideas which did not always please the rest of the world. Unlike me, Bill still clung to the shadows of the world. He had a few friends, but was not very social. Still, he impressed those whom he met, for when he died in the following year, his impact on the College and his friends and acquaintances was clear. It was the summer of 2000, and he perished while he was at his home in New Jersey with his parents. There was a terrible automobile accident, and Bill, who was riding in the back seat of his parents' car, was killed instantly, beheaded when the larger vehicle behind collided with the small Honda he was riding in. His father later died of injuries sustained in the accident. His mother was left alone to bury them both.

I was in the flat on Park Place in Schenectady at the time, just moving in. It was July, and the summer sun was bright, though gentle for that time of year. I was painting the living room, the Celtic Twilight Blue I had found by chance and fell in love with for its hue and symbolism, when Sue, one of our secretaries, called to tell me the news. I would soon receive other bad news. My father was hospitalized for pneumonia. My mother had struggled to get him to the hospital, even as he cursed her when she found him barely conscious in the bathroom where he had fallen, claiming that if she called the ambulance and sent him to the hospital, if he lived, he would leave her. She had no choice; she could not lift him on her own. My father hated hospitals. To be fair to him, we had all seen to much of those places. Instead of healing hands, there we had more often than not witnessed a human Roach Motel.

She called 911, and he went to Pocono Medical Center, where, as if he had been prescient, he died. He was eight days in Intensive Care. I was called to the hospital in his early days there because the doctors said that he would not live. On the eighth day my father rested forever in the eternal hand of the Unknown. His condition had improved vastly. Still fraught with pneumonia, his kidneys, which had failed only days before, had begun working again, miraculously. It was a bright August day on the cusp of the new millennium. My father, who had become a Corporal during the Vietnam Conflict while stationed in Haiti, who had carried my mother's father's dead body from the stream where he had suffered a fatal heart attack while they were fishing, who had suffered a sad childhood of loneliness and privation at the hands of drunken and thoughtless parents, who had had one sibling who was born twisted and misshapen, that same man was alert and smiling on that sunny summer day, joking with the nurses, quite possibly flirting with them to my mother's chagrin. They were to move him to a regular room, out of the ICU.

They said he was smiling when he died. He was in a cheerful mood.

A blood clot moved from somewhere in his body and caused an occlusion in an artery to his heart. He died instantly. They told us he probably felt nothing at all.

That same August I collected my father's ashes with my mother and brother and we kept them in the house for a short time. My mother didn't know what to do with the ashes. She did not want to keep them in the house, for she is afraid of ghosts, and she was afraid that my father would return to haunt her in the house because she had called the ambulance. Finally, my brother and I convinced her that we should scatted the ashes in the woods behind the house, on our family's land, on my father's land, where he had toiled many long years collecting wood for us to burn in the wood stoves, which for many years had been our only source of heat in the winter.

My brother and I took the small black, plastic box that containing his cremated remains to the woods behind the house, up over the stonewall to a place where the trees were still young because recently he had cleared some. We opened the lid and pulled open the plastic bag, and my brother watched, as I, the older sibling, emptied the contents onto the earth where my father's remains would rest. His dog tags were in the box as well, and I handed them to my brother to keep.

Later we would go a Memorial Service, to which his coworkers from the brush factory came. So many came to me, now the man of the family, as I sat in the big chair, the most important place in the row of the places d'honneur at a Protestant funeral. They all said such nice things about my father. He was a different man to them than to us. To us he was garrulous, coarse, rude and unkind. To them he was witty, kind, loving - he could choose them, we were inflicted upon him. I wept then. I knew then that I was now fatherless, that after my mother, I was next in line to meet the Question Mark, and, perhaps even more, I realized I never knew who my father really was. He kept himself from us for nearly 30 years, and now, a pile of ash and bone fragments in the woods on the hill behind our meagre cottage, I would never know him; even though as I scattered his remains, cremated human remains are so light, some of the dust rose and sank into the fibres of my shoes and socks and clung to my bare legs.

I remember two times when he told me he loved me. He was drunk both of them.

In the years that followed, I would change my mind about the College. I can't say that I came to love it, but love comes hard anyways these days, too many ashes about my legs. I wouldn't just leave the place though. It's been very, very good to me. I've buried a few more people, and I've spent so many lovely moments with my friends, and, heaven help me, the few of my family left alive. There have been salacious hours with lovers and rose moments with those who've found their ways into my heart and near to its periphery. It hasn't always been the brightest of years, but I learned a long time ago, there are no rose moments without the black ones.