I know it would be just as easy for me to sit here and say the words out loud, or better still, kneel down and pray, but here at the keyboard I can do both. I feel for you at times like this and I can only imagine all those night you spent in the hospital where those deep hours were just you and your thoughts.
I know you lost your father young, just like I lost you, and years later, your mother. Despite being surrounded by those you held most dear in your life, did you still feel alone? It’s a hard sensation to describe, but when the rest of the world sleeps, the memories and thoughts in your head just won’t be silent.
An old legend says if you can’t sleep it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream. I have no clue if there is any truth to that but the veil between the spirit world feels a lot thinner this time of night. Maybe my wife or one of my kids is dreaming, but whatever the case, I hear the voices of you and Mom a lot more often these days.
I honestly thought after I left the plant and wasn’t forced to be sleep deprived that much of this would fade, but in the effort to make life a little less hectic or stressful, the voices come calling more often it seems. Maybe it’s because on my new job I keep coming in contact with older people that remind of you in subtle ways, and I can’t help wondering what you would have been like had you lived to old age.
The flip side of that coin also haunts me sometime, wondering if the specter of unknown disease will rear its head without warning, slapping a blatant finish line to life when you least expect it, or just when dreams might be in sight. I have very clear memories of the tears wept by both you and Mom when those days were on the doorstep.
Every time I spend a few hours enjoying a drive in my convertible, I inevitably wander down a rural two lane road, passing mile after mile of farmland. Never have I done so without the thought of you crossing my mind, picturing an unknown memory of North Carolina tobacco fields during the Great Depression.
I remember how often you were away at work, passing the long hours earning a living to provide for us back home. Those memories became my own life as countless days and years of overtime passed by under the relentless hands of the clock. It was a humbling education, and so often then I felt the same odd isolation. There you were, in the dead of night, rolling away the miles behind the wheel of a bus, and even though it was filled with people, it remained a solitary experience.
You told me once there must be sixteen yards of bitterness for every inch of sweet, and that math has certainly held true. After many hours of work I return home, I see my wife, hear the caring tone of her voice and hold her close for what always seems far too brief a moment. In those moments, life has purpose and all else falls into place and priority. I look around at the pictures on the walls and I see the path behind me with all its forks in the road. I see the legacy of my life in my kids and how their lives are marching in their own direction.
Did you ever question what great purpose or responsibility there was left to accomplish? Are these the words you breathe to me through the quiet voice in my head? Those voices only seem to have volume in the limbo of fatigue that lives before my brain finally gives up and shuts down for a few hours?
I find it odd that my job these days is to help other people get a good night’s sleep. Yet I often wonder, will there ever be a mattress that can calm the brain enough to let the body rest. Maybe that’s why I hear you now in ways I never did before. You shed the mortal bonds that held you here and made you suffer, and in doing so, opened doors to speak in ways you couldn’t do in life. I know there was part of you that cared deeply for us, and other parts that made communicating those things much more difficult.
Maybe it’s high time we both got some rest. I’ve said it many times but I’ll write it here for the records that may one day survive us both. I know you had your flaws, just as I have mine, but I forgive you for anything that may haunt you from your past life. I know you did what you thought best under the circumstances, and even then we still manage to fall on our noses more than once.
While I certainly remember the things I disliked, I also remember all the things you taught me that were good, the things that have continued to be of golden value every day, and for those gifts I am forever grateful. Yes, I was a “Momma’s Boy,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t live and breathe parts of you every day of my life.
Be at peace, Dad, for your mighty efforts, for better or worse, were not in vain. More each day I realize what a monumental task it is to be a father, to be a man, and to be a husband. None are easy, but they were never meant to be, and none will ever be finished until the last mile is behind us. Now it’s me in that driver’s seat, and the bus is filled with those I love, but in the wee hours it’s still a quiet, solitary job.
But I was well trained.
Good night, Dad. I’ve got the wheel.
T. August Green