Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Can Judge

William Cullen Bryant
You can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's staring right back

- Dawes, "When My Time Comes"

* * *

The fucked are forever in their dying. They die each day instead of dying but once. It wounds their pride that life should affront them with setbacks, infirmities, unfairness, unforced losses, calamity and catastrophe. They never move past the obvious to find life still moving without them. It is no loss to life, the universe and everything if you sit on your hands and bemoan the fate you think you were given (when in fact it is the fate you created). Do nothing and life will be just fine. It is you who will be fucked.

Nice way to spend a lifetime.

* * *

He was a wreck of a man - an alcoholic, a garbage picker - who lived alone in a one room basement apartment and had several run-ins with the police and had, in fact, served time in the penitentiary. And I loved him with all I was capable of. His name was Stanley Raduus. He'd been a parolee of my grandfather, Paddy Deegan, and Stanley attached himself to my family for the love he had of my grandfather.

When he was sober Stanley worked at McNulty's Boiler Works on Halsted. When he worked up a stake he'd go on a months long bender. When the money ran out he'd sober up and do it all again. I remember him sifting through the ashtrays in my grandmother's car to find cigarettes that might still have a puff or two left on them - the fire engine red lipstick simply the modest cost to find a bit of free tobacco.

Stanley was weedy, thin, always looking like he could be snapped in two by a stiff wind, but he was more iron than weed and his strength always took me by surprise. One day Stanley had migrated out to our house in the south suburbs. He'd hitched rides or walked form 47th and Western to 106th and Harlem. He had a gift for me. He'd been going through the alleys picking through the trash when he came across a book, The Poems of William Cullen Bryant, that he thought I should have. It was published in the late 1890's after Cullen's death and became the foundational object of my attempt to build a personal library.

When he arrived at the house he was soaked through with sweat and in need of a drink. I was alone at the time and had been told many times to not let him drink. He knew the same and took the water I gave him without question. I asked him why he'd come so far to bring me the book. His answer was this: "When I saw it sittin in the trash I thought that was the wrong place for a book and I knew how you liked to read so I figured I had to bring it to you."

I had never found out why Stanley was in prison. I never knew why he left his wife. I had no knowledge of why he drank, only that he did and it got him trouble every time. I was 14 years old and I wanted to ask all of that, but didn't. We were sitting in the kitchen together. I made him a sandwich and we just sat together not saying anything and then Stanley just started to cry and he said, "Do you forgive me, Mark? Can you forgive me? I done everything wrong. Do you forgive me?" It was his refrain. Every time we talked on the phone he'd ask that question and every time I said, "Sure, Stanley. I forgive you." But him sitting there made it more real, he wasn't just a disembodied drunk voice. He was flesh and bone and he was lost. I told him, "Always, Stan. Always."

He wrapped his wiry arms around me like bands of steel and I could smell the sticky sweet/sour of his sweat and he held me for a second and then let me go. "That's all I needed, Mark." And he walked out and headed back to 47th and Western.

* * *

Each of us are wounded simply by the act of living. Our losses are tides pulling us back and forth and sometimes pulling us apart. And so it goes. Stanley was pulled apart by some loss he never revealed. He stitched himself together with alcohol and the sometimes grudging patience and love of my family. When he died it was a one car funeral. We were all he had. If it is true that the last shall be first, then Stan is at the head of the line. He could not unfuck himself. He'd let the pain become part of his bone, but even through the fog of alcohol and his disheveled life he didn't want it to be that way. He'd traveled on foot on a hot summer day with the excuse of delivering a book in order to be forgiven by a 14 year old boy.

Always, Stan. Always.

* * *

Who will forgive you?


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