Home safely. Damn, what a long, energy sapping, soul-sucking drive! Traffic on the Grapevine was straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Worse than that was the trip home itself. I hate it. It’s no wonder that I only make it twice a year. The dust and clutter in dad’s house is bad, but the sediments of his battle with depression fills me with the deepest sadness, second only to the sadness I felt when mom died.
We had grown closer in the last phases of her illness, and it was truly heartbreaking for her to pass on without that last touching of the fingertips. I was reaching across the chasm, and she was reaching back, but those last few feet of distance remains, and will remain with me until I die. I hope you don’t take such memories into the grave for both my mom’s sake and my own.
Dad, on the other hand, is always there to touch. It’s a different kind of anxiety with him as it seems that he is already partially in the grave. In the beginning, after mom left me, my dad, and my brother Brenden, Dad tried to go venture out on his own and start up a new life, but he eventually got tired of it and one day went and got a shovel out of the tool shed and started digging a grave.
Now that it’s been dug (metaphorically, at least), it’s like he has taken off his shoes and started dangling his feet inside of the hole to test the waters so to speak. When I reach for his hand, it is always with the attention of pulling him to his feet, shaking him briskly, and then making him put his damn shoes back on. I wished he realized just how hard for it is for me to take his hand and to peer into that void behind his eyes.
He’s also taken to reading the Russians, and I think that this is a bad sign. Them guys are serious as heart attack. They should have a warning printed on the covers that reading them might lead to “ Seriously doubting the purpose of existence.” Dad even told me that Tolstoy had to hide things like guns and ropes from himself for fear that might trigger him to commit suicide.
Yeah, like I want my Dad to be reading that shit! I keep telling him to get his head out of those fucking books long enough to see a therapist, but he just argues that his reading is his therapy. I shouted back at him, “Dostoevsky needed a fucking therapist too!”
He just looks at me with that stupid grin of his and shouts back, "Yeah, but if he had seen a therapist, he would have only written the Twilight series." Then later when he noticed I wasn't laughing, he would say softly, "I know, I'm trying....I'll try harder. I know I have to do better."
Who else has to talk to their dad like that?
I have always thought of him as being a wise man, but lately, He's been more of a wise ass. I want him to come back to life, to emerge butterfly like and open up colorful wings. My brother and I need him to be stronger.
Ironically, that was what my mom needed too.
Peter Jordan- thoughts while driving 12/27/2018
I know I worry the kids, and I wish it wasn’t this way. Lacy told me I need to get therapy again, and I know she’s probably right, but I also know that I will probably never do it. I don’t completely understand why, I just know it probably ain’t going to happen.
I figure it has something to do with knowing that the human race has gotten by for thousands of years without it. Life just went on with paths and actions determined by lessons learned. I really don’t know if we are actually in a better place because of all the progress and advances we have supposedly made. Life sucks a lot and knowing the hidden causes of why it sucks a lot doesn’t magically make it un-suck.
There is also something inside of me that stubbornly insists the key is in perseverance and learning how to live from the mistakes you make in living. I mean I learned at an early age that it’s a big mistake to mix beer and wine. Seems trivial, but I no longer mix beer and wine. Add enough of these little life lessons together and they add up, and they are no longer trivial; they change behavior and help determine future action.
When you get older the lessons become a lot more important, a lot harder, and a lot more expensive. It's no longer a free education. The student loan comes due, and you have to pay up front for future courses. You'll say, "OK, I'm fine right here with my high school diploma," but you are not. Besides every level of old age requires an advanced degree. You either continue with your education, or you die prematurely.
My dad lost his home, his mom, and his sister at an early age, but he always laughed, and he made people around him smile. My grandfather was placed on trial for the murder of a man who showed up and testified on the last day of the trial. He lost everything he had built because of a false accusation. My mom said he was one of the nicest men she ever met.
They didn’t learn to laugh and be kind by going to therapy. They learned because life had reached out, grabbed them by their collars, and literally slapped the living shit right of them. Before they did anything else, they had to learn to get over that initial Slap-down, and then once they got back on their feet, they got slapped down again. Life is a slapper downer, and it doesn't seem to like people being excessively happy.
They also learned that they only had two choices, to stand there sniveling and wiping the snot from their noses with their sleeves while their hearts hardened into stone, or to stand and defy gravity every step of the fucking way. It’s an insane choice, utterly devoid of reason, yet it seems to be the only choice that can put a smile on your face despite the often immense sadness of being.
You don’t go to therapy to learn to defy reason. I know that many people need therapy because they have fallen hard and are incapable of standing back up without help. It’s just not for me. At least, not yet.
This is also what every great author, philosopher, or religious leader has ever said. Persevere! Stand up in the face of the fact that life has been designed to suck a lot. Evidently there is something that we need to learn from the situation. I mean like whatever it is, it’s gotta be worth more than picking up a few scientific tricks on learning how to deal with shit.
The Bible says that God sent Abraham on a three-day journey to Mt. Moriah. That’s a long time to stare into the abyss, an even longer time to contemplate on the anguish that he faced. Three days! They make my last three years look like child’s play. I just need a little time to get back my feet under me. I just prefer reading to pretty much everything else, that is except eating. I like to eat.
I still have a lot of hope. The world doesn’t become a true hell until all hope is lost and hope, by its very nature, is always around somewhere. You might have to look under a rock sometimes, or peer into a dark closet, but it’s there hidden. You might find an old seashell tucked away in a box that reminds you of a day you once spent at the beach, and when you put it to your ear, you see yourself in a mirror and laugh.
I wish though, for my children’s sake, my house wasn’t as dusty and my coffee table wasn't all covered with books; I wish my mind wasn’t so cluttered, and that I didn't have such a need to know what life is all about.
I wish that I was a master chef whose specialty was blending just the right amounts of material ingredients with the perfect dash of the spiritual . I wish that I could build a house from scratch and turn lead into gold. I wish I could play the lead guitar on Pride and Joy and sing the solo on Bohemian Rhapsody all while laying down new hardwood floors in the kitchen.
I also wish, for my children’s sake, that I was a lot stronger. Ironically, it’s the same thing I wished for my wife’s sake too.
Brendan- email to Lacy - 12/31/2018
Damn Lacy, he makes me so mad sometimes. On Christmas Eve, I found a picture of mom. She had written on the back of it that the cure for homosexuality is ceaseless prayer. I posted it on Facebook with some angry remarks about so-called Christians and their hateful beliefs, and Dad saw it. He asked me politely to take it down. We argued. He defended Mom as usual. He was in his "be a bridge mode", and it made me angry. Told him that sometimes I just need to shout. He said that it was okay to shout, just do it quietly. I yelled that he needs to shout too. He smiled and said, "I do." I hate it when he tries to go all Buddha on me. Brad and I finally picked a date. It's going to be San Diego in June. Dad said he would be there. Sorry I didn't tell you Christmas, but I was mad that Brad had to go to his home without me. Love #1
Peter Jordan - Journal writing from 1/1/2019
Today's Reading: War and Peace (pgs. 532-556), Electric Kool-aid Acid Test (pgs.-100-127)
Thoughts on Reading: Damn, Natasha dodged a bullet. No thanks to her own actions. I wonder what The Dude was trying to say there. It had me sweating like a school girl watching The Hunger Games. The Wolfe book stirred up some old memories, and I went to sleep a little agitated.
Personal Thoughts: I'm going to try writing in this journal that Lacy gave me for Christmas. She seems to think it will help me get stuff out in the open and force me to deal with whatever's troubling me. I'll try it for awhile; can't hurt I guess. I don't know why they're all in hurry for me to be over grieving. Lacy seems to think that I have been fighting depression for over 12 years. I think she's got the wrong diagnosis. I was hurt when her mom left, and I had gotten over a lot of it, the family break-up and starting over part. Then Jenny died right after my dad died. I am grieving still. Grief is not a thing you rush. I tried that with Dad, and it came back on me. Hell, it's been two years, and I've barely gone back to using the road that runs by the cemetery. Lacey's frustrated with me, and Brenden's marrying Brad. God keep them safe and allow them as much happiness as they can have without making the Olympians jealous. I only wish...
The audience roared. They always did. They were all drunk of course, stupendously, gloriously drunk. Champagne flowed freely at the Rue de Namur, the swanky, hidden night club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Manette, the female puppet in the act, would ask, “What do they call a paraplegic trying to swim.”
Then the Great Gustave, self-proclaimed world’s greatest marionette artist, would subtly pull on one of Little Billy’s strings so that the puppet would demurely utter, “Bob.” The audience would roar. By the time, Gustave took the stage, the audience was usually well into a drunken reverie where jokes making fun of the handicapped, the poor, the crippled, and the outcast seemed hilarious.
It was quite a macabre scene with all the ladies and gents dressed in all their finery but starting to fray a bit at the edges with a diamond tiara out of kilter here, a strand of gray hair sticking out there, a wet spot or two on a tuxedo vest. The showroom was dark with only the stage lights and a few wall mounted lamps for illumination. The red velvet lined walls cast the whole room in eerie, diabolical hellish glow. The alcohol-fueled conversations were far too loud as was the laughter. These were people who were tired, tired of life, tired of rules, tired of genteel behavior.
From that point on, the jokes got ever more outrageous and risqué, and the act usually ended, as it did this night, with the Great Gustave getting a standing ovation as he exited the stage headed straight to the bar with Fat Mary, his traveling companion who was also the ventriloquist who handled the female puppet Manette. They left their assistant Lillie behind to pack the marionettes and transport them to the van outside.
Lillie, a twenty-five-year-old Honduran immigrant, loved the marionettes and would carefully wipe them off before she placed them back into their cases. They reminded her of the two children Manuela and Jimmy that she had left back home in Honduras.
A young beauty with luminous brown eyes and long black hair, she had made the mistake of walking outside her village just as the local drug kingpin was driving by. He had her husband Carlos murdered at a local soccer game and then quickly made his intentions known as a suitor.
It was hard decision, a heart wrenching decision, but she left her children with her widowed aunt and her grandmother and made her way North. The plan was to work and save, buy a house, and then send for the children, but each day made it easier to drown in the oblivion of what her life had become.
She had been working as a dishwasher at the Rio Plato restaurant in Brooklyn when she had made the chance connection with the Great Gustave. He had stormed into the kitchen complaining about the quality of the food when he locked eyes on Lillie up to her elbows in suds. He offered her a job on the spot.
She might have rejected the offer had it not been for the fact that he offered twice what she was making washing dishes. Lillie knew she was taking a risk but acted on the simplest of arithmetic, more money equals less time away from her children.
At night, she would often caress and polish the marionettes and untangle their strings while whispering soft phrases in her broken English as if she were exorcizing away the evil of the words that Gustave and Maria had forced them to speak on the stage.
One time Gustave had overheard her, and he became enraged. His large brown eyes nearly bugged out of his head and his thick red lips glistened in the light of a single overhead bulb. “Who are you to criticize my act you ungrateful cunt!” he had screamed with flecks of spit spraying Lillie. “It pays your wages, you stupid bitch. If it wasn’t for me you would be still be washing dishes at that cheap restaurant in Brooklyn. From now on, you are forbidden to talk to the marionettes. Do you hear me? Put dem in dere cases and no more talk!”
Trembling, Lillie apologized profusely. She still talked to the marionettes but quietly and only in secret. Sometimes though, when she knew for certain that Gustave would gone for a great while, she would take them out and enact little vignettes about love complete with dancing, singing, and kissing.
The act itself kept getting increasingly vulgar. The more Gustave drank, and he drank quite often, the more it would spur his sinister, depraved creativity. The more cynical and depraved the act became, the more popular and in demand it became. One night in Chicago, the standing patrons of O’Meara’s began to shower the stage with $100 bills. Gustave and Fat Mary drank well into the morning after that show.
It was quite a sight, Gustave with his arms outstretched accepting the worshipping crowd, Fat Mary behind him with tiny line of sweat on upper lip wanting to push him aside but knowing better. Gustave secretly hated them all; he despised the rich.
They made him think of all the people his mom had cleaned houses for over the years. He remembered the stories about how the rich men she had worked for tried to take advantage of the young maid. He thought of the hand me down clothing that the matrons had given his mother, and he remembered his mother bent with arthritis dying before her time. It made him happy to think that his act was contributing to their moral ruin and ultimate decay.
Gustave’s real name was Avidis. When he was younger, it was his mother who had sent him to study in a nearby seminary. It was there that he met a crippled young priest named Johan, a wood carver, who had taught Avidis how to carve out marionettes. Every week the priest would go into a village and train young people on how to carve wood, and Avidis would often accompany him.
One day, Avidis saw the young daughter of a local merchant peeking out from the window of her father’s cobblers shop. Her name was Anusha and she was tall and lithe and had thick curly golden hair and large green eyes. Later, Anusha would help Avidis put on puppet shows for the younger village children.
And what shows they were, stories about heroes and young maidens, mythological monsters, and stories from the Bible. The village children loved them and would beg their mama’s to let them forego their chores and run into the village square where they would sit with their companions and giggle and sing and shout. Avidis and Anusha would come on Saturday mornings regularly as clockwork and find their audience already assembled.
And then one day, he went to collect Anusha, and as he passed under the vine covered trellis that led to her cottage he saw that everyone at her house was crying. Her distant cousin Aram, who was staying with her family for a few weeks, had choked the life from her for refusing his drunken advances. The cousin had just returned from France where he had made a fortune in the import business. Aram had offered to take Anusha back to France and employ her in his business. Her mother had turned the offer down as she regarded her daughter as too young.
That night, he had returned from a night of heavy drinking and gambling with some friends. He quietly crept into Anusha’s room, fell down upon his knees beside her bed, earnestly professed his love and tried to kiss her. As she pushed him away, she laughed. It was the laugh, he said later, that caused him to put her hands around her neck and squeeze.
Aram had a lot of money and was able to grease a few wheels and beat the charges in court. Three years later, Avidis was standing at a crossroads where one road led into the village and the other road led into another small village. A car drove by slowly and then stopped. A window was rolled down and Avidis saw the face of Aram looking out at him before the window closed again.
When Gustave stood before the members of the audience while basking in the glow of their adoration, he always envisioned them as corpses. This was what he was really thinking when he smiled and bowed. It aroused him. Then he would have to satisfy his lust with a visit to Fat Mary’s room. He tried to force his way upon Lillie once, but she had punched him in the nose. He decided that he would bide her time with her.
When Gustave and Fat Mary returned to their lodgings on the night of the hundred-dollar shower, a huge row broke out over who deserved the greater share of the bills. Gustave had only given Fat Mary two of the hundred dollar notes and that after he had crawled off of her in her bed. He headed for the bedroom door to escape her wrath, and she jumped out of bed as quickly as a jungle cat and followed, carrying the argument into the front room where Lillie was sleeping on a dusty old sofa.
At the end of the argument, Gustave had thrown a large, leather bound book at Fat Mary, and the book had struck the corner of her eye making a small red mark. Fat Mary picked up a heavy, half filled brandy glass and dumped the contents over Gustave. She then broke the glass by hurling it against the wall.
She ran to a table, picked up the case with Manette, grabbed her coat, and scurried out of the room before the stunned Gustave had a chance to react. Realizing what would happen without her part of the act, he drunkenly lurched out of the room in pursuit.
Lillie noticed then that Little Billy had been taken from his case and was lying in a jumbled mess in corner of the room. She hurried to pick the puppet up and untangle its strings. She was carefully wiping off its face when the enraged and frustrated Gustave returned. A hideous look of anger distorted his fleshy face.
“Wha I tell you about dat?”
“About what?” she answered confused.
“ About filling my puppets wit dat baby talk.”
“ I was just wiping the brandy from his face.”
“Yes. She must have got some on him when she spilled the drink.”
Gustave didn’t reply immediately but threw himself down into an easy chair and sat there brooding for a while. A tense minute later he finally mumbled, “ She’s gone. I gotta write her out of the act. Just me an Billy from now on.”
He slid back into his thoughts for a while before he noticed that Lilly was still standing there. “ I thought I told you to put that Goddamn puppet away.”
“ I was going to, but I noticed that his face was wet again.” She wiped the puppet’s face again and sat it gently back into the blue velvet of the case.
“You creep me out da way you do dat.”
“ The way you handle them so gently as if dey are little children.”
“ It’s just respect, signor. As you say, it is how I make my living.”
“ Well, no more. When we get back to New York, I am going to find a new partner. I might as well find a new assistant too.”
Lillie wanted to cry but did not want to give Monsieur Gustave the pleasure of seeing the tears. She silently closed the clasps of the puppet’s carrying case and slowly left the room.
The next morning, a matronly hotel maid with a bad limp unlocked the red door to room 409 and carefully dragged her vacuum cleaner behind her. She went back into the hallway and got two clean towels and hand towel. She reentered the room and started screaming at the top of her lungs.
Mr. Gustave was lying on the bed in pool of his own blood. A pair of large scissors had been plunged deep into his throat. His purple tongue filled his mouth hole, and his lifeless eyes bulged in silent terror. Lilly was nowhere to be found having checked out early that morning.
When the police came to investigate, their thorough search found nothing with which to incriminate a suspect. The pile of hundred dollar bills was on table next to the bed. Gustave's grandfather’s gold watch, the one his mother had smuggled out of Turkey, was clutched in his right hand. There were no fingerprints on the scissors or the puppet.
There was nothing else out of the ordinary, except for the marionette Little Billy. Strangely, the puppet’s strings had been cut and were lying on the blue velvet lining of the opened case, all except one string.That string had been used to fashion the noose which had been tied around the puppet's neck and from which Little Billy was found hanging from a coat hook on the back of the closet door of the hotel room.