You Can’t Unring the Bell

Short Story:
Fiction/Non-Fiction/Alternative Rock

I can tell you that indoors the weather is just fine. Perfect even. Outside though, it’s a soppy, dingy dish rag that sporadically drips into a mop bucket full of beetle-colored water. The yard a soupy mess. Rain becomes so droopy without wind to accompany it, so forgetful without the boom of thunder to remind the constant tick tock of water to slow or quicken or mix things up. No punctuation. No gusts or light shows. Despite the vertical, straight march of precipitation, a stillness encapsulates my little world into one whole thimble, and I find it hard to believe it’s not raining in China. Or somewhere across the world that apparently exists.

The flat, cheerless sky has hardly faded from two or three shades of a trendy-kitchen grey since morning to now, night. Almost night. The humanity!  Do you know what unchanging, murky tones can do to a life like mine! But the sky isn’t listening. It doesn’t want to fight. Or talk right now. It’s too busy emptying a stream of many forms of consciousness, of prayer and disruption and quiet and mirrors, most of all, so we can see. So we can see each other, the sky finally relents. I wore her down. So we can see what we’re doing to one another, and this aquatic ritual to restore balance, maybe it might help us look. No dummy, not at yourself. (I had tried to find my reflection in a dim puddle, a reflective twin of its sky) At the others. At what your lack of looking has cost these “others.” I forget a mirror is a plane, a device, where I can see other things besides myself. Other, dare I say, dimensions?! I dare not say. Not because I don’t love a good dare, but because I didn’t look. I don’t look yet. I know that once I look, I won’t be able to un-see. Once I know, the bell will be rung. You can’t squeeze the toothpaste back in the tube. So I continue not to look and my ego agrees with this decision, but my innards do not. 

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Monty, the dog, he never even hesitated whether to look. He’s the reason I’m outside at all. He’d seen all along and it wouldn’t take a smoky sky and day of dirty dishwater drizzling filled with absolutely stupid feelings of nostalgia about an ex-boyfriend who no longer exists on this plane, for Monty to even consider the choice to see. He would never even have dithered or delayed. Think of people who are kind but who don’t have to try hard. They simply breathe and even their breath is kind. As opposed to those who put forth a lot of effort, noticeable effort, who are being good because they know it’s right to be good, but it doesn’t come easy to them. And they enjoy (prefer) a lot of accolade for it. I fear I can have this tendency too often. How else would I know this person exists, if he weren’t inside me somehow? Too different from Monty, from my dad, who never seemed to try so hard but had to saddle with the same choices we all do. They just didn’t grapple with what to do and they were happy when given the chance to do something kind and valuable. Me, I have to get all existential about doing the damn dishes. Eye roll. A person made of genuine good converses on the street, smiles when they see trash in the gutter, pick it up, and dispose of it while continuing their joke about where cows go on dates. To the moooooooovies. 

A person made of too much ego would first, never tell this joke. Secondly, they’re absolutely disgusted at the sight of this same trash. They pick it up with a crab face and a secret pride that they’ve braved touching and holding le garbage, even if they are carrying it eight inches away with an angry stiff arm like a strangers dirty underwear. Then they angrily stuff it in a can while interrupting their own story, but of course their own story is about why the youth are a disaster as well as weather, frogs and politics, don’t get him started, and throwing away this trash is just proof that a disaster is just what the world is. Unlike an earlier time when there was simple decency that just doesn’t exist anymore. I fear a lot about living like this latter person. I guess the most I can say is I’m trying, and my insides tell me Hey, that’s something. The result is the same, right? The trash finds its way to the proper receptacle, but one of those people is clearly sad about getting old. I want to get happier that older I become and the more I know, which is very little now. 

Watching Monty in those puddles makes me want to be good but keep quiet about it. Never have I seen even a moment of blurred consciousness in him. Or questionable kindness. Where is his ego? I wonder this as he splashes into a huge puddle and flecks of overjoyed water bullets burst out from under him and rise and fall, absorb into the earth. He saw every color reflected in that puddle, in every tiny droplet that exploded out from under the soft but protected pads of his feet, and still nothing but glee emits from his every move. How could he exist in such an effortless joy of Being? Did he forget to remember that we used to do this with someone else? Someone no longer around? How could he behold both truths and still be at such ease with the knowledge? That dog is roaring to go, bursting at the seams, to go anywhere—the mailbox—do anything, awake at all times, and yet he can count. He can remember. Still, every day is the best day of his life.

He knew about the way things once were. Who used to be here. How many days he has left, if you were to demand those kinds of numbers and answers from him. But once you knew, once you’d looked, as I was still certainly not doing, it would be absolutely silly, and stupid, not unlike the nostalgia over an ex-boyfriend, to calculate days left. To play the mental movie over and over of people gone and being wronged and things lost all along the way. The questions would hardly even compute, actually. Those kinds of calculations lose meaning in the way we interpret them—they lose their heaviness, their value, as does “losing” the people and things we love. Once you’ve looked, you would never use the word lost or lose. The whole metric changes. It would be like asking, “How much purple is in the sunset?” 

I close my eyes a moment and listen to the sky busied at her nearly impossible task, pouring love that has to consist of a main ingredient truth, and thus pain, because this is how we’ve decided to handle truth: insulting instead of informational. It pelts the glass at my window and the lights on inside seem to inhabit the living room as though someone were in there. But we’re outside, not looking, and the dog seeing it all. 

A sadness comes over me, knowing what the sky has to do. Wake all of us up, in a defiantly chosen, solid sleep with our fingers in our ears and our devices producing nature sounds. The pettiest of things distracting us even from idle, filler dinner conversation. If only zombies weren’t so trendy! Not looking. Not listening. Crossing the street anyway. And yet we curse her when we do harm to one another. Manipulate, kill, lie, take advantage. Deny a person their humanity. What do we do? Where do we look? Up. We look to the sky, angry, demanding answers to our violent curiosity: Why?How could you? This is why she offers the rain. And the rain offers a reflection. A way in. To see. Will any of us feel the fear stirring and jump anyway? Never go back to sleep again? Most of us only glimpse this possibility, and most of us won’t take the leap. It would mean never able to tell a lie again, not without knowing the untruth within us, and relying on ignorance is often very helpful. 

She has many tasks, and waking the unconscious from their dream, their million year-maze of thoughts, is no cakewalk, I can assume. She can only try to show us what’s already there, but ultimately the dreamer has to want to aim his sight higher, at least want to wade through the stickiness of his psyche and open even one eye and see, if not awaken altogether. So many are too afraid of what they’ll lose, and in this instant of stillness, space—the gap— I see that I am one of them. I harm myself, and others sometimes, then I ask the sky how it could be so cruel.

Some part of me that I don’t very much like, doesn’t want to know, no matter how much in a conscious manner I can claim to want all the answers with a ferocity I don’t come across much in myself. That part of me that’s always there, the gatekeeper that doesn’t know the difference between stories and reality, no doubt finds the option to see as an ultimately punitive experience. Think what is means, it whispers in my forehead, where a mental playground of emotions, mundane observations, good and bad assumptions, real and false interpretations of reality all flow in and out like a river, all water of the same source, indiscernible when it comes to water that matters and water that’s muddied and wrong. We can agree this makes him a pretty bad gatekeeper. It means that our choices may be all our own, and not the intricate plans of an angry sky. That there may mean no answer for pain and struggle, even if we might actually be able to harness value from it. A good reality wouldn’t require us suffering to see or act. The voice becomes entangled in a web of sounds and rushing water and it’s hard to make it out anymore. It’s just so easy to hear the rain as a lullaby instead of some alarm. 

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I open my eyes and temporarily, the heaviness lifts. The tasks disappear. My to-do list seems strangely laughable. It melts as if held over a flame, the edges darkening and curling. Monty is still jumping in puddles of rain and mud. In the puddles, the flecks of flying water in various shapes, I see myself from the outside. I see just how many choices were mine that I’d somehow attributed to unfairness or plain chance. In my night terrors I know when I am dreaming but I can’t wake up, and I wonder if ever I’ll be able to use the power that’s been given to get myself out. But I only get glimpses. Things around me dissolve like they’ve spontaneously turned to fine sand and dropped as a choreographed fall to a bottomless ground.  Then they return in nearly the same moment. Reality becomes a solid. Things are regaining their importance. My to-do list resumes it’s urgency, reassembles in perfect form. The phone beeps at me, prying, crying for attention to matters of total inconsequence. What will you do, Mary? Pretend you never signed up for this stumbling of life? Ignore that moment you knew and signed the contract anyway? I chose to come here, some time ago. What am I doing crying about the end, an end I seemed to comprehend with that flick of my pen, but now feels like a puzzle that can easily turn pain worthless, and that’s the problem with forgetting. So the sky, she tried. 

Sleep. Wake up. Jump. See. The space, the still, calm waters in the back of my head, the reflection to the foreground of my consciousness, whispers that the leaves of the tallest tree rustling at me every night are in fact my dad saying hello, and it’s OK to sound crazy when you write that out loud. And the crumbled dead leaves shaped like hearts on the dirty ground, that when I came across as a kid made me smile and cry because I knew they were him reaching back at me. Little tiny reminders, all of them. They go far far back to a dream I cannot remember, nor do I have the words to get right.  The conscious waters splash and say it’s OK to take my time.  “But we could really use you. No pressure.” That place is the gap—the space between thoughts—just like Tolle taught. But the gap is low in numbers. Too many sleepers.  

The sky grumbles with thunder, like a disgruntled old man picking up a mess that isn’t his. The wind picks up. The drizzle elevates into a downpour and I sense the greatness of the sky, separate from my body and yet capable of removing its weight, able to reckon the things we always thought of as separate. Monty jumps in another puddle but I call him in, weary and limp-limbed, head pounding, words swirling in my forehead I still can’t make out. He trots, tail wagging, nearly a prance. He is so happy to be here; alive and at peace. The fact that he has never caused harm, that he wouldn’t know how to makes me feel like crying, which I feel pretty stupid about and so I cry some more. These thoughts do no good and worst of all lack total creativity. The gatekeeper fails. When will I believe the obvious whispers? The glimpses I catch. Something illuminates then leaves with barely any time to remember, and my memory of it is so far from the form it took while it was here. Like a dream there is no language for. But the clarity while you had it, stiff as the second you drive under a bridge in the rain and the quiet gets in. Then I lose the grip. 

I have not been there but peeked in on that place of truth just on the other side of this one. Wakefulness animates everything residing there. People tell jokes and look each other in the eye. All their brothers keeper. No devices in the way of our eyes. Egos can try, but when they get even close to too large they pop like a balloon. At the bottom level it sounds like popcorn at one minute 20 seconds. I cannot wait for the grand relief of being there again. Of having the courage to see and stay there. Falling asleep here and choosing the illuminated reality there, where nothing hides, nothing lies. The folly of all our burdens gone. The great weight lifted. 

*This “short story” or whatever it is probably belongs in the poetry section of this blog even though it’s far from poetry either, but I couldn’t figure out how to post there, so here it is. It’d been blinking at me on my screen for too long, so it was time to set it free like a dead persons ashes in the ocean. Sorry, morbid. Health and happiness :)

 

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You Don’t Have to Understand It (I Don’t)

About a month ago, my dad appeared at the doorway to my bedroom. He was smiling like usual, wearing his favorite striped terry-cloth robe. It’s still hanging in my closet. I was happy to see him; I’d been struggling with something and whether it was with words or a hug, his presence is always a help to me. He entered the room quietly and sat on the edge of my bed. I began speaking and started to cry. The grin he was wearing didn’t waver at all, he he waited and listened with total attentiveness, the kind you rarely find. His calm demeanor and ease despite my tears comforted me, as though he knew something that I could not. When I paused he said “Be strong Mary,” like some kind of Indian warrior, but less warrior-like. He continued to smile as he spoke and reminded me, “You want to make sure you’re loved for the right reasons.” This felt like both a question and an answer. It sounds a little vague, but I could feel distinctly that I was heard and he understood me. His words were minimal but powerful; they gave me what I needed. I felt lucky to have him. Then, it was over.

The brash sunlight in my bedroom bursted in through my blinking eyes as I left one world and awoke firmly in this one. It’s bizarre but it usually happens the same way: In the first moments of consciousness, the dream plays out in its entirety in reverse, in maybe one or two seconds. But this recollection doesn’t seem to happen in my mind. It’s as though it comes from the center; my gut or chest. Then, it arrives in non sequitur bits and pieces and my mind immediately begins to reassemble them in order. In those first moments of wakefulness, the experience feels so entirely tangible and fresh, so within reach, I’m convinced if I close my eyes tight enough it will all come back to me. But most of the time there’s no going back. While the dream itself is sacred, there is something Holy in waking from it too. I have felt God there. It’s as though dreams give access into the eternal, and in those first blinking moments, the human mind hasn’t caught up yet. In this little pocket is where we can sit with the phenomenal before our thoughts flood in and diminish it into something digestible; something that makes sense.

The dream visit is like the Cadillac of post-death interaction. It’s a chance to see and hear and feel someone that you don’t have physical access to anymore. I feel extremely grateful when I have dreams with my dad. Beyond the refresher for my senses, there is power in them. I was given advice and comforted yes, but I felt actual love through that dream. I drew strength from it and I’ll treasure it among the other great memories I have of my dad. And that had me thinking. I’m always hearing people say that dreams “aren’t real” or shouldn’t be examined because they’re just imagination or a meaningless summation of random events and mostly just aren’t true. Of course, this has roots in pragmatism. A dream that your best friend is living in your refridgerator doesn’t mean that they are, hopefully. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately of dreams I’ve had with my dad, especially this most recent one. I’ve been recalling it, as though it were a real memory. And I’ve been trying to discern what the difference is between an actual conversation like this and the one we had in my dream. Didn’t it really happen? Isn’t it now a real memory? When you read the first paragraph, did you have reason to think it wasn’t real? It did happen. Not in our dimension but in some dimension. However unorthodox, there is still meaningful interaction between us. I don’t pretend to understand how it all works, but I know it is true. It feels as real as a phone call with my brother last week, or the heat of the sun burning on my neck.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated his 67th birthday. We always cook his favorite meal and group-text photos of the food like a bunch of nerds. We caption them with the funny things and phrases he always said. It’s happy. It’s a chance to remember him and hear his stories and the awesome things he did or the weird songs he sang on his guitar. It’s all an opportunity not just to celebrate but to know him better, which I’m perpetually trying to do. For a long time I didn’t allow that to happen. Since I didn’t truly grieve him until college, I entered my twenties still knowing and remembering him as my 12-year-old self. There was a chunk of time when I shied away from talking or hearing about him, afraid it would make me cry which I hated to do in front of other people. It pained me to see other people cry over him too. Grief was something I had to learn, it didn’t come naturally. And whether I had cut myself off intentionally or was just too young to process it all, I had also cut myself off from getting to know him further. I unknowingly stunted our relationship, which I assumed was something that couldn’t grow once he was gone anyway. I was wrong, as it were, and so occasions and stories were just reminders he was gone.

It wasn’t until after facing and enduring the big parts of grief that things changed in a big way. I could finally begin to know my dad as my older self, not as a 12-year-old. I began understanding and appreciating him in new ways, and my love for him grew. It was then that our relationship began to evolve past sentiment and allowed for interaction. He existed as more than just memory, which was so fulfilling in my life. I found myself looking forward to any occasion regarding my dad. I love(d) to hear peoples stories about him and the wide open way he loved and lived. New stories and photographs all offer another glimpse into his life and who he was. I’m still putting the pieces together. Even the stories I’d heard before took on new meaning, because unsurprisingly, you process a story or memory much differently as an adult. I allowed other peoples sadness and I allowed my own because I knew it meant we loved him well, and that was in itself a comfort. A connection. All of it, including the dream, reminded me that he was still my dad and some part of him wasn’t gone, he or it was still there somewhere, maybe in that pocket between life and the dream.

I know that enduring the pain of losing him and reaching out to him again as though he could still hear me is what opened up our “line” where things like the dream happen. But truthfully the contact is not always so blatant.  Most of the time I have to look in the minute, the subtle, in things that are easy to dismiss. And I find him there. In heart shaped leaves. In a fly that won’t leave. In being so unconditionally loved and taken in by my family, including my stepdad, who my mom says my dad helped arrange. I find him in my nieces and seeing my brothers as fathers. In the morning. In rain. He loved the rain and was always reminding us that it was a sign of balance. Since his death he has continually shown up to special occasions with rain, if even a two minute shower. It’s raining now.

Getting to know my dad so many years after his death is a surprisingly positive and treasured experience for me. It’s been a privilege, really. Death is mostly talked about in hushed tones and at the risk of sounding morbid, which I’ve been accused of once or twice. But my dad has made death feel less serious, somehow.  When someone dies we label it as “bad” and when someone young dies we call it unfair. And while losing someone you love is one the hardest experiences in life, grief is not stagnant. Nothing stays the same, including the pain. And when you endure it, you also open the door for incredible things to happen. You’re brought intimately close to the lifecycle and there’s a sacredness there too. I don’t think it’s over when it’s over. I also don’t think people die and stick around to play with light switches. But I do think the line of communication is still there. It just involves reaching for it and experiencing someone using a new kind of language. It means being open to things you don’t completely understand.

I’ve always been aggressively curious and sometimes the weight of life and the worlds mysteries become too heavy and I get discouraged. Even mad sometimes. But getting to know my dad after his death and developing our relationship and talking with him while he sits on the edge of my bed…it superseded the comprehensible a while ago. It left me with far more questions. It’s made me an implicit part of something I don’t fully understand and for that I am so grateful. Because that’s most of life, anyway. We don’t actually know why we’re here or what happens to us when we’re not, but we go after it and love people and try to have a good time anyway. Knowing him has been a humble reminder that life and love and the infinite universe unfold despite our human comprehension. It reminds me that we don’t always need the answers in order to experience the fullness of life. Sometimes we get so caught up with thought, intent on answers and knowing that we limit ourselves from the phenomenal. Some things are beyond the realm of understanding, beyond words and category, and these are all but reasons not to embrace and cherish them as the miraculous treasures they turn out to be. I am looking forward to more. The rain has stopped now.

Happy Birthday to my Dad: THE ORIGINAL HIPSTER!
Happy Birthday to my Dad: THE ORIGINAL HIPSTER

This post is many weeks late. Chronic tardiness was my beloved dads only vice and he passed that on to me. So I’m sorry dad, but also I blame you. -Love, Rudy

Health, Happiness, Happy Birthday!