The Benny Poda Years
26 - Milwaukee
I don't know just where I went wrong, but if I had it to do all over again, I doubt I'd do any better. I know this because I don't do any better NOW. That's small consolation, but it's the only one I've got.
I was exhausted, and Milwaukee didn't make it any better. The entire place was a dump. Or maybe it was just me. I was years too old to live like there was no tomorrow.
Because there IS a tomorrow, even if it's not mine. And in all those years, I only really cried once. And that's when I did it.
I wanted to hang my cue on a rack in a bar somewhere and turn away and just walk out. And get a day job somewhere, live in a cabin somewhere in New England. Well, you want something, soon enough you'll get it. Or at least that's what they say. Actually, what you get is just a shadow of your desire, and you take your Years with you. We are all always and forever the same, no matter what clothes we're sporting.
But I knew I had to tie it all up. Before I put down my cue and found some different way to destroy the soul in the Rest of my Life. I wanted to see my son.
Sally looked tired and her sparks were gone. The honey'd middle of the night had become the harsh light of a northern winter sunrise. But she had a resigned, domestic glow. That which I wanted but could never have. That's when I realized my sparks were gone, too.
He was so much bigger than I'd pictured him. I pictured him as an infant, suckling at her breast. The way he was when I first thought of him. No one is the way you first thought of them. Life feeding on itself.
And with all those people who had once been there and known me and who were still around, I was in a hostile environment too, because even though she'd WANTED me to walk away, I'd walked away. What people say is bullshit, and what they want even THEY don't know, until the sun comes up. But I'd walked away. I have ALWAYS walked away. And I will walk away again. Until I can't walk, and then I'll crawl.
I do not know what a relationship is. I don't think I ever had one with Sally. Maybe I have never had one with myself. Or maybe this book IS the relationship I have with myself, and that's why I wrote it.
We never really know why we do or don't do anything. I wish I didn't know that.
She was chain-smoking Winstons and sipping beer. She was very quiet. She was looking away. Her body was no longer her own. And my son looked exactly like me. He looked at me as if he didn't know me, which of course he didn't, but I thought my heart was breaking. Well, your heart is ALWAYS breaking. So was his. And so would it again when, in his own Years, he DID come to know me, in himself. And not like what he saw.
Guiding me into her in the dark, the quick intakes of breath. The way I used to cry. The way I still do.
A wiser man would end it right there, but I am not nor have I ever been such a man. And neither have you. I looked at him there in the linoleum kitchen and kept hearing myself softly singing songs to him cradled in his infancy, violent ones, about field mice and boppin' 'em on the head and mice getting their tales cut off with carving knives and existentialist spiders and wee-wee-wee, all the way to Hell. What trash we are when we try to Love.
Blond hair. Cries of pain or pleasure in the sacral youth-fed dark. At a christening. At Loss. She wanted to be buried with me, she said. Well, nobody wants to get buried with anybody.
So what did I say? Well so what did you CARE? It's all the same once you've already said it. Timeworn Milwaukees are rift of expression. I want something to Save me from my Self.
How do we get through the pastures of Wisconsin without resentment, bitterness? Against us, others, America and everyone we've ever known? Do we pray, meditate, play sports, drink, use, have sex, fight, call a hotline, kill ourselves, kill others, run, hide, do the Jitterbug, the Charleston, the Georgia Crawl, make failed amends, grow Orchids make money or move, move, move?
In Those Years, I did them all. But the answer is simple. We get older and we get tired. When you become bored and exhausted with all you have tried to achieve and with your failures lined up like ducks you failed to shoot away, all those other things will become unimportant as well. "But then, face to face." This is the terrible beauty of tomorrow's hidden sunrise.
And suddenly, I became very still. I heard nothing. I felt my heart rip like the lightning that called up the world or the temple veil's renting at the death of Christ.
And everything else followed with dead certainty. As had my Life. As has yours. Sally's. My son's.
But while I Could, I Did, and while I Can, I Will. What we have to do now is embrace it. Beaches, landing grounds, in the air. Surrender? Oh, you will. Don't worry. Walk away? Well, you have. But what I have to do now is KICK, just one more time. And after that, there was someone I had never met out there in the world that I had to go find.
And I bet you can guess just Who that is.