Since my first death (we undergo several of these within our lifetimes as they forcefully usher us into maturity), I no longer saw my substitutions as a measure for survival. It seemed as though the act of surviving suggested a leverage over chaos, as if it had been an option. That choice was made for you, be it by a higher being or a peer. We only have as much common sense as we paid for, and it’s a self-service gas pump. It was a measure that disciplined me into prevailing. I wasn’t so much a survivalist as I was a prevailist.I was on the road and wouldn’t get off it lest blown-out tires or piss stops. I had plenty of sense in my tank to keep me on the road for a far as I could. My old man was to thank for the first death when he tried to drown me in the fourth grade; much was learned from his failure.
I won’t bore you with the details surrounding the drowning, so I’ll skip that part. I wasn’t taught something so silly like, “never give up,” with the intention to “fix” me with a fearlessness in life. It was more like the drowning had asphyxiated me with a fearlessness of death. That’s something one learns to come to terms with when one nears eighty years of age. Not a deluging baptism by your father with a can of cardinal red in his hand bequeathed to him by the king of beers at the age of eight. I wasn’t taught to fight the injustices that befall me, nor did I believe flapping and flailing would help -fighting, flapping, flailing most likely end in failure for everyone anyway, given they have the sensibility to fight only in fights where victory is feasible. I’ve outsmarted a few bullies in my reign on the playground and blackmailed a few employers… been doing that since I was eight. Another thing I learned from the deluge was how to embrace death with open arms. Death doesn’t play favorites, and even he gets ennui. I didn’t have any older role models or older wiser relatives to teach me otherwise. I saved myself from drowning and walked out of that stupid swimming pool myself. I never liked pool parties after that.
There was one relative I did have that was technically disqualified because she wasn’t related by blood. That’s not to say a relative must be related by blood. Incidentally, she was just the only one that came close to fitting in the bill. It was my grandmother, of whom I referred to as Gramma. She was the woman that raised my father, and she wasn’t genetically related to him either. She was related by chaos.
Gramma had been hospitalized from a simultaneous stroke and aneurysm the led to a full right-side paralysis of her body. Her memory was permanently impaired as her short-term memory bank had been completely robbed. The precious moments of her life were insured up to a year after the adoption of my father which meant all the transaction records of my brother’s, mother’s and my deposits into Gramma’s memory bank had been discarded. She had trouble retaining new memories. Lost them within days. My own memories said nothing else aside from Gramma having been a strong dedicated woman whom loved us very much.
She walked us (me, and my baby brother, Morris) to and from school, bought us pizza with what little money she had most every night -I had many memories of her and shared them with no one. Not once. I was suspected to have been too young to remember. Keeping them to myself wasn’t a choice. I’d wondered many times, in fact, whether divulging this information would resuscitate the Smolensk family. Then attempted it during one of our ever-silent dinners when I was 10. I was 10 years old the last time my family ate at the dinner table together. We remained hopelessly content with having to introduce ourselves to half of Gramma upon each visit. There existed cruel, eventful bags of poo that were never to be fully cleaned up the moment they’re ignited on our porches. These bad-mannered poos were forever wedged into the trenches of our soles to walk with us until our last step. The meaning of family stuck beneath the shoes of the Smolensk’s.
Gramma found my father on the streets in Czechoslovakia in his 13th year and forced to disavow her wealthy and insensate husband and snobbish children. She was 48 when offered a choice between her family or the second option, which she had chosen. She moved to Davenport, Iowa, as an old woman with a penniless name to raise my teenage father. The mysterious motives that empowered her justification to make such a manic decision will eternally elude my understanding. My father subserviently maintained bimonthly visits to her hospice since the doublefucked-up accident. During my visits, of which were numbered few, Gramma’s inability to recognize me remained adamant. This also led to her conviction of my having been a beautiful and healthy young lady, which was discovered when she verbally complimented me, and would remain her belief until I spoke. On several occasions this happened. Sometimes I neglected to speak at all and never accused of being rude for doing because upon hearing my voice, she became both appalled and ecstatic. She believed she had heard my father’s voice coming out of a young woman.
That comparison wasn’t the reason my visitations had ceased, despite my wishes for it. It’d have been easier. Nor was it the deleted files she no longer had of me. And it certainly wasn’t her calling me a beautiful young woman because I’d already been learned in tolerance of misogyny since grade school. It was her having no memory beyond my father’s 14th year, and was never able to recognize the man next to her bed as my father, despite the frequency of his visits.
He told her about his life, his girlfriend and their kids (mum and dad never married), her grandchildren, -the same story upon each bimonthly visit, sometimes more, as far as the story could go, for 14 years. I couldn’t watch that. As unfavorable as he was, I could see then, that his love I hardly saw transpired into this halved woman that raised him. I stopped going because I didn’t want to give him amnesty. Not for half a person. But I had a keen sense of empathy I picked up along the way. More so when I spent 2 years and 11 months dying. He’d been dying for 14 years. This kind of demise makes you take your soul back from the Lord and give him store credit. That kind of feverish demise that gives you the kind of pain that tempers the mightiest mettle.
A slow churning burn, perpetuating a kind of compressed incineration. The kind only intended to leave a forest charred of chlorophyl, so blackened, even the light must humanely avert their gaze as was left to the mercy of the taunting kiss of the wind. It singed inside your heart, the walls constantly lacerated then cauterized, and the love you have for this person was the taunting fuel supply. You let it burn you because you’re afraid this person would be extinguished, despite your knowing that to be illogical, but you’ve forgotten how to feel everything else besides the pain that was here, now, hoping, foolishly hoping you could be the one exception in time. A love that burns, and does nothing else. Day and night and day and night and day and night and repeat until you see a change. Until something changes. Or wait. For 3 years, knowing nothing could change, for as long as the burning continues to burn …until it doesn’t. You can stand no more, you listen no more to the crackling embers of your mettle and hear your thoughts coughing. “A love that continues to burn me down with despair, or the home of those that warm me up with hope?” You ask yourself. Because you realize there’s no one else there that could ask you, there’s no one else in that fire. You must ask yourself to demystify the motives to make your choice. My father chose to stay engulfed in despair for 14 years. He chose to see his mother than to see anyone else.
I could never distinguish whether that decision was indicative of his strength or stupidity, but a decision that damaged more people than necessary could only be selfish. A blind devotion to something that keeps people apart was a devotion that kept everyone apart. My devotion to substitutions like Autumn and whatever else, taught me be a part of everyone. I may not have had any dependable living relatives, but my Gramma didn’t need to have those memories she lost of me anymore as I would forever remember them for her, embodied within the annual visit of Autumn. I knew very early on that any chances of my growing up as a regular boy had been drowned when I was eight.