2016 Whisky Wind-down, 15: You Had to be There


Today’s dram: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Wait, what? How did this get on my list? Or into my bar, for that matter? Is it even whisky?

Yes. 

Also, no. 

Per its manufacturer, Fireball is made from a base of Canadian whisky, aged (no statement on how long) in used bourbon barrels with natural cinnamon sticks. 

Of course, it doesn’t drink like whisky at all. It drinks like liquified cinnamon candy. 

So why the hell am I including it? It’s all the dragon-born sorcerer’s fault. 

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned earlier, I have been a gamer for a long time. Recently, The Empress of Whisky and I joined a Fifth Edition D&D game. We played today, actually. (It’s partly why this entry is late.)

At one point in today’s session, our entire party was captured, disarmed, and chained up. We managed to escape, but as we were attempting a stealthy exit, our dragon-born sorcerer made the iminently unwise decision to start a fight. As a magic-wielding, naturally fire-breathing badass it never occurred to him that it might be a bad idea to start a fight by throwing  fire at guards in the middle of an otherwise quiet camp at night. His completely unarmed companions might have preferred another option. 

The fact his player was drinking Fireball at the time is just a funny coincidence. 

Today’s in-joke to be appreciated by at most six other people from another gaming group altogether: We later had to go back to the place where we had been captured. It was the first time we had been there since the last time we were there. 

Today’s toast: To players who always stay in character, damn the consequences: Fire away!

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.