I am 8 years old, looking at the stars through my bedroom window.
They attracted my attention. No, not attracted — demanded.
The top bunk is mine. I don’t remember fighting over to get it. I was simply the oldest. I have the top bunk.
This is ageism.
(Or maybe it is my brother’s habit of puking in the middle of the night. Perhaps my parents are trying to avoid the waterfall effect.)
Our house is a log cabin 10 minutes from town. The field to my east — now unfettered by the highway which would demolish the grass 3 years later — waves serenely in the moonlight.
The hardwood floors are silent. Mom and Dad have long gone to sleep. Ian has turned of the flashlight he uses to read.
And I dream wide awake.
— — —
I am 16 years old, looking out at the stars through the back of a Ford Explorer.
The girls asked that I go with them. No, not asked — demanded.
It is a testament to either my mother’s trust or naiveté that she releases her barely pubescent son the care of two senior, giggly, developed young women.
“So, where do you want to go?”
The girls smile at me, glowing from the front seats. They are untouchable, godlike. How I ended up in their vehicle is a mystery. She is in control. Her fingernails choke my libido. Her pupils, chain my attention. Her perfume, arrests my consciousness.
We drive to dinner.
Later, they drop me off.
And nothing happens.
— — —
I am 18 years old, looking at the stars through thick fumes of a campfire
My friends suggested I come to the overnight. No, not suggested — demanded.
They are smoking. Smoking is bad. Very bad. This is what I’ve been told. In the glow of the campfire they suck the stuff into their lungs. Aside from me, two others in the circle have never smoked before. One of them laughs and reaches for the pipe, eager or pressured to learn.
The other friend looks at me, his eyebrow raised. I quietly shake my head.
“Nope.” I think. “Not for me.”
He moves his head a fraction of an inch as well. I hear his thoughts:
“No, me neither.”
It is an unexpected bond of abstinence. In one shocking instant, I learn the power of unity.
Ten years later, that friend suffers a massive cardiac event (read: heart attack). The attack causes a traumatic brain injury. It takes him several months to learn how to speak again.
And I am somehow unscathed.
— — —
I am 28 years old, looking at the stars through a smudged window.
Death has taken her. No, not taken — demanded her.
I have deleted the paragraph where I describe the last weeks. The hustling in of hospital equipment. The rigorous schedule of medications to manage pain. The anvil of realization: she really is going to die.
Further details of those 15 days are omitted in respect to her mother.
Here’s what you should know. We are glued to the tracks starting down a black train with no brakes.
Deep night is the worst. She lies there, moaning in pain we are powerless to ease. We take shifts, sleeping for a few hours or minutes at a time. For months she refused our help as the disease spread. Now she needs us. 3 A.M. is reserved for screaming and crying. These activities are not limited to our patient.
Nightmares will follow me for weeks. Now those are gone.
But the memories linger when I wake up.
— — —
Lately, my friends have gotten me into keyword research.
“If you do this, you can find a larger audience.”
Which sounds nice. I want a nicer audience. I want to reach more people. I want to be known. I want to be seen. I want to be heard.
One popular keyword I found the topics I write on:
“What should creative people do?”
I don’t know what you should do.
Here’s what I do — tell the truth. I tell is as clearly as possible. I tell it when it hurts. I tell it when the raw memory makes me cry. I tell it through whatever medium I see fit.
I tell it because there is a chance, however slim, of a person reading this and understanding life sometimes feels like a hell hole because sometimes life is a hell hole.
My muse suggests I do this. No, not suggests.
Much love as always,
— Todd B
This article first appeared on Medium.