Remember, Remember …

Everyday is everything.

If today isn’t a holiday where you live, it might very well be in someone else’s part of the world. And even if it isn’t a proper, the-banks-are-closed, light-some-fireworks occasion, you can bet there are still a dozen smaller observances, in honor of cats, or tacos, or a type of cancer.

It’s always someone’s birthday, and someone always dies.

Here in the States, November 11 is Veterans Day. Since 1954, anyway. Prior to that, it was Armistice Day, which was kinda like Veterans Day but with a name like that, veterans of wars other than WWI felt left out. Prior to 1918 and the formal end of the War to End All Wars, November 11 was, I guess, just a nice early autumn day.

On November 11, 1991, this date ceased to be anything for me but heartache.

My mother’s mother’s brother — great-uncle to me — was a month past sixty when he died that day, at home, alone in the house he had lived in most of his life. He had been my babysitter, my daycare, and my after-school watcher, a grandfather in all but name to a boy who had none.

He was my moral pole star, though I don’t recall realizing that before he died.

Certainly I loved him. He was the relative I said I’d go live with when my parents or my little sister got on my last nerve and I threatened to run away. He was who I was excited to talk to about my day at school, or my newest action figure, or my plans for this year’s Halloween costume.

If I had wanted to grow up, he probably would have been who I wanted to grow up to be.

Everyone loves and everyone loses people they love, and any day can be a sad day when the pain wells up and the memories comfort you but also make you just a little angry because the world is cruel and the only fair thing about life is that it ends for everyone.

Any day can be a dark day, but I can’t avoid November 11.

I had stayed home sick that day in 1991, and I remember standing at the bathroom sink that evening, a wet washcloth growing cold in my hand, when my parents told me about the call from a concerned neighbor, and asked me to watch my little sister while they went to make sure everything was okay.

I knew then what they weren’t telling me, and the funeral followed three days later.

I can no longer distinctly remember 1992 or 1993. They blur together. I was home sick from school on one of them, and I walked through the day in a fog on the other, and on both I visited the cemetery in the evening and spent time at his grave.

By 1994, I was two hours away at college, the day fell on a Friday, and I drove home after my last class, in time to reach the cemetery by dusk because it mattered very much to me that I be there, that I see the cold gravel six feet over his bones, that I whisper a few words, as though the dead have ears.

I drove back that night, having not stopped to see my living family, or even tell them I had been there.

Through the rest of college, I responsibly kept to my school commitments and made no further pilgrimages, instead making it my habit that day to decline dinner or game night invitations, to be alone, to walk a wooded trail, to sit and listen at nature, to ponder the dead.

Over the years that followed, I sometimes walked alone in woods or through a cemetery near where I lived at the time, I visited his grave the brief years I lived back home, I never left my bed the years I got sick, and I loved my wife for leaving me to myself every November 11 of our marriage.

Once I assembled a desk, just to occupy my mind with a simple task.

Last year, I cooked a meal he used to make, following his techniques as best I remembered, down to cooking in cast iron and brewing teeth-achingly sweet tea to wash it down. I have since learned this is a custom on the Day of the Dead, and that unintended similarity is pleasing.

This year I write.

For the first time, I am able to put twenty-five years of mourning into perspective, by putting it into words, then putting those words into the world.

Every year is different, except every year I wonder whether this is the last time I will feel this.

A hundred people die every minute of every day. I can find no statistics on how many leave echoes, or how long those echoes persist, or whether it is my particular madness that every year I make myself listen for the echoes of November 11, 1991.

Quiet, now; I am concentrating.

My Dog Died

Buffalo Bill ’s
defunct
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
                                                                  stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                                                                     Jesus

he was a handsome man 
                                                  and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

e.e. cummings

—–

My dog died.

I was eight? Nine? Somewhere in there.

Actually, it was my mom’s dog. The family pet, though. A poodle mix. Old, nearly completely blind. Lovable. Sandy.

Sandy was hit by a car, and while I don’t really want to dwell on the details, I was arriving home with my mom and my younger sister when we saw her still body in the driveway.

I can clearly remember the grief and the anguish of the discovery, the hard hours that followed, and, again, I don’t want to dwell on those details.

What’s on my mind is how I slept that night.

I’m sure, earlier in my childhood — and later, for that matter — I had rough nights, but this is the first one I remember, and it is the one I clearly remember.

I never really slept, though I drifted, in and out, not quite waking, not quite dreaming, in that weird nether-place that Neil Gaiman probably has a name and a mythology for.

And in that nether-place, with its weird time dilation, I dwelled for long hours that might have felt like days but also those days followed one after another bangbangbang justlikethat and maybe, just maybe I dreamed I talked to God or Mister Death, or maybe I wasn’t dreaming at all but in that nether-place, the Gaiman Place, and it didn’t really matter because everything was real and nothing, too, and oh, so, all I had to do was time waking up for just after the dream when Sandy’s death was just dream.

Last night, post-election, I slept about two hours, all of them back there, and Jesus (who was not a handsome man) I could do without every visiting again.

A Trappist Toast

Today would have been my maternal grandmother’s 89th birthday. 

My mom and my younger sister, who still live in our hometown, usually visit her grave, and, since the timing is right, use this as the occasion to put out the holiday poinsettias at the family plot. 

My sister plays Roy Orbison songs because he was my grandmother’s favorite.

I’m never quite sure what to do with myself. 


I don’t live close enough to visit the cemetery, and I don’t have the same connection to the music as my sister. 

Usually I spend some time thinking of her, remembering, wondering, imagining the things I would talk to her about if I she were here, as though she’d just been away for a while. 

Today, I decided to go try a new Trappist beer. 

I don’t recall her ever drinking beer, and I don’t know what opinions she might have had about Trappist monks. She died well before I took an interest in either, so her take on these subjects shall remain a mystery to me, a couple more items on the long list of things I wonder about when I think of her and all the years she’s been gone. 


I imagine she’d tell me to enjoy myself, and probably chide me to behave and not overdo it, and I’d assure her that drinking Trappist beer is a religious experience, not an intoxicating one. 

And she’d get the joke, which would elicit that disapproving-yet-loving scowl of hers, and she’d tell me to come closer, which I would do despite knowing what was coming. 

What was coming would be a grandmotherly swat on the backside and her wagging a finger and telling me to be nice or the Devil would get me. 

And I would nod, and agree, and never tell her I’m agnostic. 

Then she would tell me I need to write more, and I would promise that I’m working on it, and I would mean it, because no one breaks promises to Nanny. 

So the end of the day would find me savoring the beer, blinking my watery eyes, and keeping the promise. 

Blind and Toothless

Lawrence Russell Brewer was one of three men convicted of killing a man by dragging him behind a pickup — a heinous, senseless murder.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of killing a police officer by shooting him three times — a heinous, senseless murder.

Last night, in Texas, the state administered lethal substances to Brewer while he was under restraint — a clinical, legal murder.

Shortly afterward, in Georgia, the state administered lethal substances to Davis while he was under restraint — a clinical, legal murder.

In Texas, there was very little uproar as an almost certainly guilty man went more or less quietly to his demise.

In Georgia, supporters fought and protested until the very end to save the life of a man who was very probably not guilty.

Brewer will be forgotten, his guilt assumed, his name a footnote of justice.

Davis will be remembered, his guilt questioned, his name a headline of doubt.

Both will remain dead.

Drums for Troy Davis

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw a picture of a vigil held for a condemned man.

I do remember wondering about those people in that picture, the ones who stood outside from evening into night, holding hands, singing, waving their candles, crying, until the midnight moment when the switch was thrown, then fading away to wherever such people dwelt when justice wasn’t being served.

It was a long time before I went from wondering why people would bother holding a vigil for a condemned man to wondering why the man had been condemned. After a longer time still, I wondered after justice itself, what it is and how it comes to be.

I wonder still, today, while I sit and listen as justice takes place within earshot.

I work in Atlanta, capitol of Georgia, in which state this morning a five-person panel decides whether Troy Davis shall die two days hence or, for the fourth time, be granted a reprieve from death for a crime of which he has maintained his innocence for 22 years.

Outside, people are chanting in the name of this condemned man, and they have brought drums, and the sounds of their drums echo off the buildings around the capitol, among them mine, where I sit and question my personal moral arc while several floors below me, five people will bring theirs to bear for keeps.

If I did not know otherwise, I might be made to believe that the sound outside is nothing more than a pep rally, just another band of fans, rallying their underdog team before the big game, and, in a way, I would even be right.

Not everyone loves an underdog, and for every voice raised in support of Troy Davis, there are a thousand silent in approval, apathy, or ambivalence.

There are those who look upon this rally, look on everything around it and leading up to it, with the same sense of befuddlement as I, a child, once looked upon that vigil photo; they cannot help but wonder why anyone would object to justice.

They hear the drums, but they perceive only a beat for the headsman, the staccato rhythm that will build until the appointed moment.

The drums beat for Troy Davis, and I am afraid to hear them stop.