Fiction

9/25/2017: Grams’ best friend

Grams doesn’t remember telling me the story of how her and Granddaddy met. She doesn’t even remember Granddaddy anymore.

Mama told me he flew to heaven six years ago before I was born, and now Grams lives alone but I visit her every weekend and she tells me stories. My favorite was the one where she met Granddaddy a long time ago. She tells me about their life together. But now she lives in the hospital, and I asked her to tell me the story of how they met again… but she said she couldn’t remember that one.

Mama said that’s because her memory is fading. She told me Grams won’t be here much longer with us, and that made me sad… but then Mama told me Grams will get to see Granddaddy again in heaven when she leaves us.

I told Grams I’d tell her the story instead since I remember the whole thing. I still like it better when she tells it because she smiles the whole time and plays with the ring that Granddaddy gave her when they got married, except now she can’t remember as good as me.

 

He was your best friend, Grams. You always told me that. Granddaddy was your very best friend forever and ever no matter what. You met him in the Summer of ’54 in Georgia. You were just 22 and he was the most handsome man who had ever given you flowers. Lots of boys had given you flowers, but you liked Granddaddy the best because his smile made you smile. And he told the best jokes. You always laughed when you were with him, especially on your fifth date when he made you pee your pants. Remember that, Grams? He made you laugh so hard that you peed yourself at the dinner table! You got so embarrassed that you ran to his bathroom, but he followed you in there and gave you a pair of his pajamas. You said you were so humiliated, but then he grabbed you and kissed you. And looked in your eyes to tell you he was falling in love. He didn’t care that you drank a bunch of water and lost control of your bladder or that the water exploded out of your mouth onto his face when he dropped the punchline, or that you turned tomato red as you waddled to his bathroom. He said that the only thing he’ll remember when he’s old is the lovely way you laughed and how pretty you looked that night.

Grams, you always say that the best feeling you ever had was standing in Granddaddy’s bathroom back in Georgia in your pee-soaked pants because that was the moment you fell in love too. It was a moment that took you to a different place and it had been the truest life had ever felt for you.

He made you so happy. And I think he still makes you happy even though he’s not here anymore.

He bought you a red dress to wear on your first anniversary, and it fit you perfectly. You still have it, I think, Grams! Because that’s the night he asked you to marry him. He got down on one knee to propose, and told you that nothing would make him happier than to have you for a wife, to have you for his life. Of course, you said YES.

You spent every day together. He worked during the day and sometimes even during the night in order to save up money to buy a house for the two of you. And, by the Winter of ’57, he had made that dream come true. You thought the house was perfect. It was small and needed a lot of work, but it was the only place you wanted to live with him. And, soon enough, it would be 3 of you in the house because a little baby was on the way. You and Granddaddy were so excited for this next adventure together. That’s what he called it… an adventure!

You told me Granddaddy never really cried or got mad, but the day you found out you lost the baby, he cried for days. He even punched a hole in the living room wall because he was upset that he didn’t get to be a daddy. But you hugged him and told him this dream would come true one day too.

You were right, because the next year you got pregnant with Mama. And Granddaddy was so happy. He built a nursery for the baby and took care of you every day, Grams. You said he was going to be the best father because he cared more about you and the baby than he did for himself. He would protect you and make you both feel safe, and would make your house one of joy and laughter and songs. Granddaddy never let you down, he kept his promise.

He was Mama’s hero. You loved to watch him play with her because he was gentle and caring and always made Mama laugh as a baby too. She even peed her pants a couple times like you! Except she wore diapers and didn’t really seem to get embarrassed.

You lived a happy life with Granddaddy. Even when things got difficult, you were strong because you had each other.

You both made sure Mama grew up in a safe, loving home. And you were both sad when she left for college, but there was still so much love that filled the air in that house.

And when Granddaddy got sick, you never left his side. You told him that he was always strong for you and Mama, and now it was your turn to be strong for him. You both fought his sickness off for a long time, but eventually he had to go. It was the saddest day of your life, you said. But he wasn’t gone forever because you’d see him again one day.

The next week Mama shared the news that she was going to have a baby. Me! And you told Mama that you knew Granddaddy heard the exciting news from heaven, too. Granddaddy would have wanted to meet me because his next dream was to be a grandpa, but Grams told me that he still is one even though he can’t really play with me or teach me how to ride a bike.

He still loves all of us from far away. And he’s still your best friend, Grams. Forever and ever no matter what.

 

Me and Mama held Grams’ hand as she lay in her hospital bed, and she whispered, “I love you both so much, but it’s time I fly off to be with my best friend now.”

 

9/7/2017: h80

When I’m 80, I’ll probably hate you. You’ll most likely annoy the fuck out of me when I’m at Denny’s even though I tried to avoid you by going to dinner at 4 p.m., and you’ll probably even let your yappy dog shit on my lawn every morning and then never pick it up. Come to think of it, I already hate you and I’m only 28. I blame this premature hatred on all the shitty people the waitress has sat me next to at Denny’s and all my neighbors who don’t pick up after their dogs.

Most of my friends say I’m way too young to think and behave this way. Eric told me I should be positive about old age and Leslie told me that people don’t try to annoy me on purpose so I should give them a break. My friends are clowns. And they just made the list early. So far it reads: 1) loud Denny’s customers, 2) dogs who shit on my lawn, 3) asshole neighbors who let their dogs shit on my lawn, 4) Eric, and 5) Leslie. I expect this list to grow exponentially over the years.

I have a lot of pent-up anger about people, so I became a stand-up comedian a few years ago when I finished school. It was the only way I could think to release my unhealthy amounts of rage straight to your face without you throwing things at me… because they’re just “jokes.” And you even have to pay me $20 to sit there while I stand up on stage and explain to you all the reasons why I hate you. Idiots…

Last year, after one of my shows, this woman from the audience came up to me and asked why I acted like such a bitter old man.

“Because people suck,” I told her. “Because I’m tired of picking up dog shit when I don’t even have a dog.”

That answer usually doesn’t satisfy people’s curiosity. I guess it’s not a good enough reason for me to actively practice such widespread hatred of the human population. Which is precisely why I’m excited to be 80. By that age, my bad attitude about life will be well-deserved; I will have lived long enough to be annoyed by all kinds of crap and my hostility will finally be justified. As I hear you annoying teenagers say these days, it’s going to be fucking lit.

Speaking of teenagers, I definitely hate all of you. Somehow your generation managed to invent a new language and I’m not sure whether or not to be impressed by this communication epidemic. Mostly I’m bothered by it, though, because I have no idea what any of you are saying. I’m not even that much older, but somehow half the stuff you say goes over my head. What makes it worse is that new words are constantly coming into play and then they’re considered outdated within a few months. That’s not how a language should work, people! Even slang stays relevant longer than the crap you come up with.

Do any of you even know the origin of all the words you start to use? Like what makes your eyebrows “on fleek” anyways? One time I asked this stock boy at the market if there was any more whole grain bread in the back and he replied with “Hundo p, my man” before flying off to fetch it. Like what the fuck. This guy left me in the dust not knowing if that meant “yes” or “no.”

And I’ve also noticed there’s an acronym for everything now. Apparently, life’s too short to say “very insane” or “pretty cool” – you must say “v insane” and “p cool” instead. Not to mention “af” that’s tacked onto the end of every sentence. I don’t have the energy to “stay woke, fam.” I’m v sorry.

Note to self: add 6) teenagers (especially hipsters) to list.

I haven’t been living under a rock or anything either, but it’s honestly too much work to keep up with all these new phrases that keep popping up. My solution to this language barrier is simple: Don’t fraternize with the enemy. If I don’t talk to you, you can’t confuse me. Works like a charm most days.

Sometimes I agree with people when they tell me I shouldn’t feel so old at 28, but people make it difficult to feel young and relevant. I can’t keep up with all you fitness fanatics or spend a million hours perfecting an Instagram post or go on those extreme raw juice detox cleanses that are supposed to rejuvenate your soul or whatever. It’s time-consuming enough just to keep on top of the newly developing technology.

When did staying youthful become so fashionable? I’ve seen some 55-year-old women whose faces and bodies look like a 30-year-olds. But you can’t fool me — I see the old age in your eyes and the exhaustion of trying to remain young in the way you walk… as if you wish you had a cane to help stabilize yourself but know it would destroy your street cred if you bought one. Give it up already, Wendy, because soon enough the years will catch up with you and you’ll regret all those cane-free steps you took fearing the next one would land you on the ground and all those disgusting wheat grass shots you pounded back in your sad attempt to defy your skin’s natural aging process.

Personally, I think it’s a smarter investment to embrace old age. It feels more instinctual than trying to stay young-looking forever.

I’ll admit it can be nice to stay in touch with a youthful and positive outlook on life… sunshine and rainbows and what not… and maybe even nice to retain the capacity to utilize your body’s ability to move around on its own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m looking forward to the day when I become immobile, rather simply excited for the day when people understand that I’m too old to give a rat’s ass.

You can’t get me to drink kale smoothies because it’s “healthy for me” or because “it keeps you looking and feeling fresh.” It tastes like death — I tried it once just to make sure the woman who suggested it was a moron. She was.

Note to self: add 7) Deborah (and anyone else who serves and/or drinks kale smoothies) to list.

With every wrinkle and age spot comes a life story. And I’m not trying to cover those up with kale like you. So the more I resemble a prune when I’m older, the better.

 

9/1/2017: Dirty Bum

It wasn’t so bad, not having a home. I never particularly enjoyed staying confined to one place anyways. But I can’t say I’ve gotten used to the pitiful stares people direct my way when they pass me on the street. Little kids won’t even come near me when they see me. They think I’m some sort of crouching beast waiting to pounce on them when they approach the sidewalk to enter the store, or a dark lurking creature they see hidden in an alleyway. And their parents aren’t any better.

Sure, I looked pretty dirty and didn’t smell very pleasant either… but I was nothing to be afraid of. Not all homeless people fit the stereotype. Regardless of whatever preconceived notions you may have of the homeless population before actually bothering to get to know them individually, we’re not all dangerous psychos who yell profanities and act indecent. We’re not all living on the street because we’re lazy and stupid. For some of us, life just took a bad turn. Some of us are college-educated. Some of us were business owners. Some of us actually prefer to live this way, believe it or not.

Being homeless doesn’t mean I don’t understand English or that I can’t participate in an intellectually stimulating conversation, and it doesn’t give you an excuse to reduce me to a worthless animal that you can abuse. Just because I look like garbage doesn’t mean you can treat me like it. I am not inferior simply because I don’t live like you or according to your standards.

I wish you didn’t automatically affix that sympathetic look on your face when you make eye contact with me. Don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault this is the only place I have to go. You have no idea what happened in my life to land me here, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t really care so don’t pretend you do.

You should probably also know that I don’t wish I was in your shoes instead, or that I even had shoes for that matter. I don’t wish for anything anymore.

I keep to myself out here on the edge of town so I don’t burden you. Far be it for my presence to remind you that your life could just as easily take a bad turn, too. Anyways, I sleep better at night out here knowing that you don’t have to bother contemplating whether or not I look like I’m worth giving some pocket change to when you pass by.

Being homeless is basically everything you’d assume it is – it’s lonely and sad and unhygienic and frightening. However, in my case, it also felt liberating.

I hadn’t showered, shaved, or eaten an actual meal in six months, and I hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone since I found myself in this predicament back in September.

Most days I catch myself thinking that I didn’t really need anyone else anyways. Yes, I felt lonely a lot, but then I always remembered I was the only person who could ever be responsible for my own happiness. Growing up, the only person I could ever count on was myself… so I never let other people get close to me because they just kept letting me down.

At a young age, I learned I was alone in this life. I know, it sounds pretty heartbreaking for a child to have to discover, but learning that lesson early on in life always made me feel superior to other kids – because I knew something they didn’t yet. Still I wonder when most people discover that revolutionizing truth for themselves. Probably once it’s too late, I’m assuming.

At night, sometimes I wake up screaming because even on a deep subconscious level I knew I actually couldn’t count on myself anymore… and that was scary. I lost my job, and as a result, I lost my home, possessions, and what little family contact I had left. How could I rely on myself now when I let my life spiral out of control like that so quickly?

I’m living on the street now because I couldn’t keep myself financially afloat. I’m the only thing I have left, and sometimes that sad truth gives me nightmares.

But at least the only person left to disappoint me is me. And I’m okay with that, because the element of surprise is no longer a factor.

I lost my job because the company I worked for went bankrupt and then I lost my home because I really had no money saved up yet. At only 24 years-old, there hadn’t been much time or opportunity to start saving. I worked hard and was responsible, but it wasn’t enough. I still had always lived paycheck to paycheck and could barely scrape together enough money to make ends meet each month even when I did have a job, so there was literally nothing to cushion my fall when I was no longer employed. Things started to unravel quickly and there was no one to help me.

I was never close with my family, so they weren’t an option I could depend on when my life started to fall apart after unemployment hit. In fact, I didn’t even have any friends because I knew I couldn’t trust them.

And, thinking back, I swear it feels like everything fell apart within a matter of a couple of weeks. There was no time to save myself or my home. Once I had no source of income, I couldn’t afford to pay for anything. I remember getting phone calls and emails every day reminding me that I had overdue bill payments for everything. I couldn’t even buy myself groceries, so how was I supposed to pay for luxuries like shelter or transportation?

And then things eventually went quiet; the phone calls and emails stopped because I didn’t have money to pay the phone bill so they shut off my service, and I had to sell my computer for what little money it was even worth so I could pay for food.

I remember thinking the silence was nice, actually.

Soon enough, my credit cards were cut off, my bank account was depleted, and my car was repossessed. I think I had $4 cash in my wallet. Financially speaking, I was worth nothing.

My life was in shambles, but at least there was no one left to bother me and constantly remind me that I was a failure.

Might sound crazy, but I remember feeling as if a peaceful wave washed over me for a moment and that brief feeling allowed me to accept what was happening.

And the next week my landlord finally kicked me out. I packed only what I could carry because I had nowhere else to store my belongings, and I left.

I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I walked until I found myself nearing the wooded outskirts of the town I used to call my home. I laid a thin blanket down in a grass field where it seemed nobody would ever find me, and I slept. I slept for what felt like days. When I woke up, the first thing I thought was that I really had nothing to do. For the first time in ages, I had nowhere I needed to be, no one who was counting on me to be on time or to even show up at all.

There was nothing. And I was nothing.

It was a little scary to think about this life as my new reality, but I knew I’d be okay. Growing up, I basically raised myself and I think I turned out just fine. Well, maybe not in your opinion. But “fine” is a subjective term. You may not think I’m fine – mentally or physically or emotionally speaking – but I’ll make this new lifestyle work for me for as long as I need to.

Most people probably think that once you’re homeless there’s no going back, that there’s no redemption or hope. I’m not sure if I believe that, though. No one will probably ever want to hire me or give me a chance when I look like this – when I look homeless – but I could find a shower somewhere one day and fix my outward appearance to adhere to your expectations.

And I’m not crazy… yet. I think the loneliness creeps up on you when you become homeless. We start talking to ourselves because there’s no one else, and eventually we start to live in a make-believe world of our own. Our mental faculties deteriorate from lack of use, and it’s all downhill from there. I try to keep myself sharp, though, so you don’t pity me as much.

It hasn’t been that long since I lost everything I never truly cared about in the first place. And already I don’t recognize myself. My old self, that is.

If I just cleaned up, I could fool you into thinking I was my old self again. But I’m not, because now I’m no one. The man I was before is gone. Thank God.

I have what I need out here. You might not think so because I don’t really have money or shelter or healthcare or food, but I’m surviving just the same.

Being homeless has allowed me to experience my own freedom from constraint. I’m free to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and do whatever I want.

If I need to sleep outside in the cold and scavenge around for food, then so be it. Because for the first time in a long time, I feel like the heavy weight of a stressful life has been lifted off my shoulders.

I feel lighter and happier now that I have “nothing” than I ever felt when I had “everything.”

Maybe one day I’ll be like you again, but you’re probably not as content or carefree as I am. So, on second thought, I think I’ll just keep living as a dirty bum.

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