Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Voice Through A Chained Door

In "Downtown: My Manhattan", the great Pete Hamill wrote, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man is short." I am reminded of that this morning. This day - had he lived to see it - would have been my father's 87th birthday. He did not. He died two hundred and two days short of his 58th.

I know not how it is for anyone else although given the decidedly ordinary trajectory of my life to date I suppose it is much the same in other households as it was in mine when I was a boy in my early teens. Mine was a household in which Dad and I spent quite a bit of time in one another's company - but little to no time together. As the youngest of a tribe of six I had watched the metamorphosis in terms of the relationship he had with certain of my older siblings as they transitioned through their teenage years. There is enough of a gap in age between Bill and I (he graduated Rutgers the year I was in kindergarten.......for the first time) that I was not present to witness his relationship with Dad as anything other than adult-to-adult. I had full possession of my faculties however by the time it was Kel's turn to run the gauntlet and I probably did - as younger siblings (particularly those of the same gender) do - went to school a bit on what worked and what did not.

When I was a little kid I was certainly among the apples of Dad's eye. It reached the point where it was embarrassingly so - and as the youngest and (at that time at least) the smallest - I did not grow taller than Evan or Jill until I was at least eleven or twelve - not always the best thing for my health. Suffice it to say that when I was in elementary school and Kel was in high school, the extent of my horse racing knowledge was that according to my older brother, "Charlie Horse" was the answer to the question, "Who won the Kentucky Derby?" Oddly, there is never any mention of the mythical Charlie Horse during the pre-race coverage of the Derby every May and not one word was spoken of him on-screen in Secretariat. Hmm......

The bruises I received as a child were well-earned, I assure you. I milked my status as "the baby" of the family for all it was worth vis-a-vis Dad. And then, much like everything else, it all changed. Perhaps it was when we moved into the house in Neshanic Station that Mom and Dad built ("This is where we are going to retire" was the first lie they told to one another as they watched it being built, knowing that my father would retire upon death and not a minute sooner), which had but three bedrooms. It symbolized the shrinking - if not the emptying of the nest - and further symbolized that none of the chicks still left in it was actually a baby. We were simply not quite ready to take off on our own.

We moved to Neshanic Station several years before Dad died - at some point in early 1978 if memory serves me correctly. Mom sold the house in the Summer of '85 immediately after I graduated from high school. A woman in her mid-fifties living alone, as Mom was then, had little need or use for a 3-bedroom ranch house with a basement dropped smack dab in the middle of a 3+ acre plot of land that was located in what could only fairly be described as the outskirts of nowhere - for it was far too desolate to be considered nowhere's heart or its middle. By the Summer of '85 there were most assuredly no babies left in the house. It had been built to be lived in forever only to discover that "forever" is a unit of time measured on a sliding scale.

I turned forty-three in February of this year. I am the age now that my father was when I was born. I wonder if he had any inkling, any suspicion at all that the arrival of his sixth and final child heralded the arrival of the final quarter of his life. This time two years ago, I could not run from here to the end of this sentence without stopping for oxygen and water. This time last year, while I could make it from this point to sentence's end without stopping, no rest breaks between here and the end of the paragraph would have been more of a hope than an expectation. For the past twelve months or so I have been like a man possessed. And in the process I have dragged my long-suffering bride to places close and not so close on an almost weekly basis (actually from the week before Labor Day until the week before Thanksgiving it was on a weekly basis) so that I can run in a race. 2011 shall bring less insanity in that regard. It simply has to.

The same corner of my brain that once craved vodka as ferociously as it craved oxygen now has been ignited by the need to run. My sister Jill - who is the one who initially got me interested in running - when I told her of my somewhat late-in-the-day realization that I have been more than slightly obsessive this year, told me to consider my answer to a question I had never bothered to ask myself. Jill said to me that everyone who runs is either running towards something or running from something and I needed to engage in a bit of self-examination as to which I was doing and why.

And then it struck me. I am now the age that my father was when I arrived here. And only fourteen years after my arrival, he was dead. Fourteen years may seem like a long time. Fourteen years may seem like a short time. For Dad and me, it was both - and it was something more as well. It was a lifetime.

I have much hope that I have not in fact started the final quarter of my life. I know not one way or the other - much as I suspect my father did not know when he was the age that I am now. But I know that there are things I can do to try to ensure that it is not. Things that for reasons known only to him Dad made no effort to do. I run towards something. I run towards 58 and towards the years beyond it.....

.....towards that beacon shining across this dark highway.

-AK

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