These nights, they always begin in this similar way, follow this familiar pattern that I’ve come to recognize immediately. I come to and my eyes are already open, I’m disoriented, I can’t move and I’m staring into a well of darkness with no idea how long I’ve been awake. It’s as if my eyes have been waiting patiently for my lagging consciousness and upon it’s arrival I’m greeted with the quiet stillness of the hour. I lie still a moment longer, giving my eyes time to adjust and my head time to clear, time to recall where I’m at and who is here with me. Familiar shapes emerge from the darkness, the details of my room developing like a Polaroid. The corner of my nightstand, the bookshelf against the wall with the books haphazard, spines pointing in all directions. The fan oscillating in the corner generating the white noise that suddenly fills up the room. Slowly and methodically I work the paralysis from my limbs, awaken one appendage at a time until my full range of motion has been restored, then I roll onto my back and wipe the sleep from my eyes. My wife Audrey’s shape is in my peripheral, her silhouette highlighted by the green glow of the alarm clock on the night stand. I prop myself up on my elbows to peer at the time over her sleeping body, it’s just after 2AM. Honestly, I’m not sure why I bother to look anymore. With a sigh, I lower my head to the pillow and settle comfortably back into the impression of my body that’s formed on my side of the mattress. I close my eyes again and try to will myself back to sleep but I know it’s pointless. When I was a kid I didn’t pay attention to the time, it wasn’t until I was older and time had become important that I realized I’d been waking up at 2AM most every night. I suffered this insomnia consistently throughout my youth but in recent years it has become less frequent. As an adult my mind is so consumed by the present, so overwhelmed with work and family that on most nights I go to bed exhausted and sleep soundly through the night, waking only when the alarm signals that it’s time to get up and do it again. For short periods of time I can keep the past tucked neatly away in some unexplored corner of my mind, but eventually something will jar it loose again, a conversation or a story in the news, some subtle reminder of the events that have shaped my life and like a dam breach it will all come flooding back to me.
These old Memories they come to me in flashes now, like bits and pieces from a dream I’d had in another life, hazy patch works of fact and fantasy that drip into my head like a leaky roof filling up a bucket (in a rain storm), my brain soaking them in like a sponge.
The source of this insomnia is my brother Marty. We had navigated the world together for a short time before his disappearance, when I was six and Marty was twelve. He was my protector then, the lighthouse that steered my ship from the rocky shores. We’d been placed with a foster family, these hazy figures in my memory, that oscillate between good samaritans doing the lord’s work and negligent reprobates bilking the system for the benefits. Not that it really matters now. Marty and I had shared this big double bed I think, or I ended up there on most nights and while the rest of the house was sleeping we were wide awake and whispering to each other. We would take turns tracing letters on each others backs and guessing the words we were spelling out or we would imagine that our bed was a spaceship that we could control by twisting and turning the loose knobs and dowels on the headboard. We would make-up these stories, fantasies about our future adventures, about finding our parents and living as a family. Our parents-these theoretical humans that loved us, but had been forced to give us up against their will-had embarked on some urgent perilous mission. They were spies or secret agents or fugitives on the run. We would lie in bed at night and formulate our plan to find them and join them on whatever adventure they were on. We were just kids, little boys, and the line between fantasy and reality was blurry at best. At first, it seemed, this plan was just another game like the back tracing or the bed spaceship, but as time went on it evolved into something different. It grew and consumed us until eventually it would cross over into reality when we began filling up a backpack we kept hidden in our closet with the supplies that Marty would need on his journey, things we would sneak from the house one item at a time, careful not to raise suspicion. It would culminate one night in Marty climbing out our window and me passing that backpack through to him on other side. I’ve wondered over the years if there was something I could have said or done to stop him from leaving that night, if the fantasy had simply gone too far and maybe both of us were just waiting for the other to give in, neither really wanting to follow through. Maybe Marty was waiting for me to call out to him as he walked away, to beg him to come back and when I didn’t he just kept walking to prideful to turn back.
Apart from these fleeting moments, I remember little from that time in my life. Just a collage of brief images and snippets of conversation that float around in my head, changing and evolving with time. At times I’ve even wondered if Marty himself had really existed or if he was just some character I’d invented out of loneliness.
I have this image of him walking away from me through a halo of house lights, his red windbreaker whispering against his backpack, he looks back my direction one last time with hazel eyes and a shock of dark curly hair before the darkness swallows him up and he disappears forever. That would be the last time that I would ever see him. The foster family would discover Marty gone the next morning, but wouldn’t report him missing until the following day, either hoping that he would turn up or terrified he wouldn’t and afraid of the repercussions. At the time, I was just fine with that, in my mind it gave Marty a little more time to gain some distance. Of course, there was a part of me that wanted him caught and brought back to me, but another part believed wholeheartedly that he would do exactly what he said he would do. He would find our parents and together, they would come back for me. If anyone could do it Marty could. There was an alert put out in the area, a hap hazard search party formed, but we were poor and we were orphans, so the effort was weak and short lived. The days turned into weeks and without parents or loving family members to lead the charge the case quickly went cold. This is when I first started to wake like this in the night. I was an optimistic little boy and to me Marty was a superhero, so rarely did I dwell on the grim possibilities. My mind was drawn to something grander, like the stories Marty and I would create on those sleepless nights. I would picture that final glimpse of him walking away like I had snapped a photograph just before he faded into the night and then I would continue along with him on his journey hovering over him, looking down from above.
Over the hill and into the tree line at the edge of the muddy pasture I follow him deeper into the forest. The sound of twigs snapping and a vision of his flashlight beam dancing around in the trees as he navigates ravines and fallen logs. I can almost smell the damp dank odor of organic decay that surrounds him as he hikes through the the night before finally emerging at some desolate highway at the edge of town.
Shortly after that I was removed from that foster home and was shuffled around in the system for some years, alone and invisible, I moved through the world like a ghost, walking around with little effect on my surroundings and no control over what was happening to me.
I’m always amazed by the power of the mind. The way my body reacts to what goes on in my head. It feels chemical. A factory pumping cortisol and adrenaline. It’s outside of my control. The dull ache that rises up in the muscles of my neck and shoulders The muted anxiety that spreads out from a pit in my chest and buzzes across the surface of my skin. Comfort is a puzzle I can’t seem to solve. I toss and turn, try to configure my limbs in different ways searching for the elusive combination, like tumblers in lock that won’t quite fall into place. My concern with waking Audrey only adds to my restlessness, the details of each movement carefully thought out in advance so it can be executed as gently as possible. Finally I turn on to my side and draw my knees up into my body, a position that provides some momentary relief.
I think about my mother, first introduced to me as Mrs. Jennings my 5th grade teacher. I was living in this group home in the Pacific Northwest and starting at my 3rd school in as many years. It was so long ago now that I struggle to remember how she looked back then, my re-creation an amalgam of memories and old photographs. Her crooked smile, her dark hair curled out at the bottom, her pale translucent skin and the over-sized glasses that she wore. Her classroom was arranged in rows and columns, my desk situated on the outer edge along a bank of tall windows and outside there was a vacant lot of fir trees and scotch broom. I was fidgety and distracted at that age, forced into those desks with the chairs attached, hard and unforgiving like medieval torture devices. I would search for any excuse to get up and relieve the coiled up tension in my restless limbs, always with the promise of an immediate return from the bathroom or the pencil sharpener. But, inevitably, I’d be discovered wandering aimlessly, flipping through a book at the back of the room or bent over whispering to the class guinea pig through his wire cage, my name added to the blackboard as I‘m corralled and prodded back to my desk. Demerits seemed to be the agreed upon disciplinary system in the grade schools of the 1970’s. A first offense got your name written in the bottom corner of the blackboard and a check mark would be added for each subsequent offense. Three checkmarks and you were held in during recess or after school. Talking out of turn, getting out of your seat without permission, failing to complete assignments in the time allotted, I was a habitual offender, my name a permanent fixture on the blackboard and, more often than not, while my classmates were out releasing pent-up energy I was left behind to languish in the silence of the empty classroom, just me and Mrs. Jennings. She would grade papers and work on lesson plans while I scratched away on some partially completed worksheet with my chewed-up nub of a pencil. The occasional rustling of paper and the hum of warm air forced through duct work the only other sounds. To break the awkward silence I would sigh or exhale loudly or blurt out something random like, “I don’t get it” or “this is too hard”, She would reply, say things like, “you have so much potential, Danny” and ” if you would only apply yourself…”. platitudes that I would hear from teachers for most of my life. Sensing an opening I would start rattling off some story about my chaotic life at the home. Like the time Fat Patty was so upset she climbed the maple tree in the backyard- she refused come down for two days-and the counselors had to take turns sleeping in a deck chair at the bottom until they could coax her down. Or how Mikey Turner, this nervous kid that slept in the bunk below me, would pick at his face to soothe himself to sleep and I could always tell which pillowcases belonged to Mikey on laundry day because they were polka-dotted with blood stains. She would listen intently, wait patiently for me to finish and then tactfully direct me back to my worksheets. It was a scene that we would act out daily, like reading the dialogue from a script, a cathartic performance that I would look forward to. Gradually my behavior improved and even when I hadn’t been punished I would loiter around the classroom, lingering inside during recess and after school to offer my help or to do my homework, it made me feel wanted, special. But as that year grew to a close I began to regress again, looking back now I’m certain that I was just angry that yet another short period of stability in my life was about to come to an end.
The next time I would see Mrs. Jennings, she would be seated with Mr. Jennings in the front office of the group home where I lived. We were crowded around this big oak desk with Mr. Foley, the balding pear shaped director of the orphanage and a cadre of social workers I didn’t recognize. I shifted uneasily in my chair and searched my mind for what I had done to cause this intervention. Nervously I studied the expressions on the faces in the room for clues. I have an image of my Dad, Mr. Jennings then, meeting my gaze with a wink and a crooked smile to put me at ease. We had gotten to know each other over the year, he would show up in the classroom after school while I loitered there, reluctant to leave, he’d say hello and ask me how I was doing, he called me kiddo and sport. Then Mr. Foley made eye contact with me and he was saying something I can’t quite remember. He spoke slow and deliberate, using words like proposal and opportunity. There was some eye contact and nodding among the other adults in the room and then it was my Mom’s turn to talk.
She explained that she and Dad had never had kids of their own “not because we didn’t want them” she said, “but, because Bill and I didn’t find each other until later in life and, unfortunately, it had been too late”. She said they had considered adoption many times over the years but they could never seem to find the right fit, “and then you came along” she said “and we couldn’t help but notice the synchronicity in our situations, like two pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly”. She said, “we can start slow” and “there’s no pressure” and that if I was willing they would like to become my foster parents. “Maybe we could give it a try”, she said, “ and see how it goes?”
I remember feeling nervous and confused, surrounded by those adults hanging on my every word, I think I said “sure” my voice rising up nonchalantly with the shrug of my shoulders. I think someone asked if that was a yes, as if I’d had some kind of choice in the matter. I just nodded my head in agreement and they laughed nervously as if I didn’t understand the gravity of what was happening. How could I? Living with my teacher seemed a little strange, but also good. I was apprehensive, having been shuffled in out of foster homes, my short life had been full of disappointments and I had little reason to believe that this would be any different, but of course it would be.
I left them there in that office and was guided back to the room I shared with Mikey Turner for the last time. I packed up everything I owned in a single suitcase and went home with them that afternoon. A week turned into a month and a month would turn into a year, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings became Bill and Martha and eventually mom and dad and they would officially adopt me in my freshman year of high School.
I shudder now to think what my life might have been like without them.
The impact of a moment is impossible to know while you’re in the midst of it, sometimes it feels like you just glide through it in a daze leaving it all to fate or happenstance. Looking back now it seems so obvious, every twist and turn lain out like a map that leads to this very spot. These moments, they harden and set with time, like clay fired in life’s kiln they shape who we are and who we will become. They manifest themselves into wives and mothers, husbands and fathers and new humans, new balls of clay. I can see it so clearly now, how the past predicts the future. Sometimes In this space between sleep and awake I almost feel high.
It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Marty, the story, as real to me now as any of my memories. It’s as if I’d been there with him walking that fictitious stretch of highway, with an orchestra of crickets emanating from the forest and the odor of tar mixed with motor oil wafting up from the asphalt. The distant hum of an oncoming car driving Marty into the tree line to crouch down motionless until it’s taillight’s are safely in the distance and then he’s back on the road, gripping tight to the straps of his backpack, each breath a puff of steam. Eventually he hears the distinct baritone rattle of a big diesel engine approaching, headlights like flickering stars in the distance getting brighter and the engine getting louder as it rumbles closer. “This could be my chance”, Marty thinks, “a long-haul trucker with some far off destination”. He digs a white tee-shirt from his pack and he waves it overhead, signaling distress or surrender, he’s not sure which. The driver downshifts and the big rig jerks and groans, the brakes squeal and then hiss as the beast reluctantly slows to a stop. Marty maneuvers himself to the passenger side of what looks, to him, like a giant dragon made of steel and chrome radiating heat and diesel fumes.
I’ve played out this story so many times that the characters are like old friends to me now. The old trucker that leans over to unlatch the passenger door-activating the overhead light, illuminating the truck’s interior- greets Marty and-with smiling eyes beneath a bushy brow and the misshapen bill of a grease stained cap-he extends a hand inviting him to climb up and into the warm cab. The old mutt that emerges from the sleeper cabin and slobbers on Marty’s cheek as he hoists himself up into the passenger seat and then plants himself firmly on Marty’s lap.
Marty pulls the door shut and the cab goes dark, they introduce themselves with their faces bathed in the dashboards lights, Marty animated and gesturing with his hands as he relays the story of his brother Danny and the abusive foster home. He’s begging this old trucker not to turn him in because they’d just take him back and his only hope is to find his real parents so they can go back and rescue his little brother and all live together.
I would revisit this scene night after night, picking up right where I’d left off, each night going a little further than the night before. Some nights I was content to imagine Marty just sitting quietly all night long as he barreled down the highway with country music playing on the radio, gazing out the window, his face fading in and out view with the passing of the highway lamps.
Occasionally I might change up the narrative for a night or two and instead of making it to the highway I’d imagine Marty made it to some railroad tracks or got turned around in the woods and headed deeper into the forest. I might imagine him hopping a freight train and making friends with a group of migrant workers headed south on their winter migration or I might visualize him living off the land in some abandoned hunters cabin he’d found up in the mountains.
As I aged I’d try to imagine the Marty of these stories older too. I’d picture him long haired and bearded, decked out in buckskin like grizzly Adams or grizzled and sun baked, a charter boat captain chasing marlin and swordfish around the gulf of Mexico. But regardless of how I dressed him up his face would remain smooth and youthful like the boy he was when he left me. Forever my big brother, but forever just twelve years old.
Those detours were brief, however, and soon Marty was back on the highway with that trucker crisscrossing the country, from Seattle to New York, from Canada down to the Mexican border. In every town, at every stop he would search for our parents, but to no avail. He would travel the country for years and that old trucker would become like a father to him. Eventually that trucker would disappear from my lucid dreams without explanation and Marty would take over that rig himself.
From time to time, I’ll still imagine Marty driving from coast to coast. I’ve wanted to believe that story so badly that even now after all these years I’ll catch myself searching the faces of passing truck drivers, looking for some familiar clue, and peering up at them I might give a little wave and an inaudible “hey Marty” as I pass them by on the highway. For years these stories have given me comfort, they’ve eased my anxiety and allowed me to drift back to sleep at night, they’ve allowed me to keep moving forward.
Audrey stirs, breaths in deeply, she exhales and rolls over, pulling on the covers. I freeze and tense up, glancing over at the shifting mound of bedding to my left, I hold my breath and wait for it to resettle, wait for that distinct rhythm of sleep to return before I can relax again. Then I look around the room and try to estimate the time. It’s not as dark as when I first woke, the furniture casting shadows now on the walls, maybe my eyes have adjusted or maybe it’s the first signs of morning approaching. Unsure, I raise myself up again to check the time, it’s a quarter to four. “If I go to sleep now”, I think, “I can still get a few good hours before work”. So, I lower myself down again and roll to my side, reposition myself, try consciously to relax my body and dismiss my lament at the fast approaching alarm and the prospect of an exhausted day. I try these meditative breathing exercises that I read about online. They never seem to work but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I clear my mind and try to create a barrier that will push out those all consuming thoughts, but I can feel them still there on the edge of my mind, fluttering like a moth around a light bulb. They have a way of seeping back in without me even noticing and before long my mind, again, is lost to them.
I’m thinking about the house I grew up in now, this nondescript brown rambler on the corner of a dog legged cul-de-sac. I can visualize each house on that street and recall the names of the families that lived in them. The Klingenberg’s, the Mangan’s, the Dolan’s, the Meyer’s, the Bernstein’s, the Anderson’s and the Miller’s. Each with a varying age range of kid’s and in the summer we’d build forts in the woods and play wiffle ball or kick the can in the street. Our parents were government employees – cops and teachers and firemen, with some military sprinkled in. It was a small pocket of simulated middle class suburbia wedged in between cow pastures and trailer parks, a forty-five minute drive to the nearest “town”, just a cluster of strip malls and gas stations and used car lots.
It was the middle of my sophomore year when Audrey appeared, a fresh face among the usual collection of misfits at the bus stop. She had this asymmetrical hair, wore big hoop earrings and had a band of sun-kissed freckles that spread across the bridge of her nose. She wore t-shirts from bands we’d never heard of, like Depeche Mode and the Thompson Twins. It was as if a little piece of California had been transported to rural, unincorporated, Spanaway, Washington. That first morning she stood off to the side while the rest of us clustered together for warmth, but by the ride home that afternoon she was huddled in the back of the bus chatting it up with the other neighborhood girls like old friends. I watched from afar as she navigated the unfamiliar social landscape, settling for stolen glances and the occasional eye contact. Eventually I would gather the courage to speak to her, something transparent and obvious like, “Aren’t you in my science class?” We made awkward small talk until we reached the end of my driveway and then went our separate ways. On the mornings that followed I would peer through the blinds of my bedroom window, waiting to catch a glimpse of her before leaving the house, timing it just right, so I’d meet her at the corner. I’d say goofy things like “fancy meeting you here” or “going my way?” hoping to elicit a smile. It was on these walks to the bus stop in the morning and then home again in the afternoon that we would tell each other our stories. She referred to herself as a army brat, having lived on bases in three states and in two countries. I listened fascinated with places I’d never heard of.
But she shrugged it off like it was no big deal. “They’re all the same”, she said, “if you’ve seen one army base you’ve seen them all, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are”.
She told me that I was the lucky one. “You have this place where people know you”, she said “you have friends and everything’s familiar.”
“It hasn’t always been that way.” I replied, “I know what it’s like to always be the new kid.”
She told me about her mom leaving and I told her about my early years in the system, in and out of foster homes. She told me about taking care of her brother while her father was working the swing shift and feeling more like his parent than a sibling and I told her about my brother Marty something I rarely told anyone. We bonded on those walks as outsiders, like veterans of the same war and although we had fought in different battles our wounds and scars were the same. I can’t remember if I ever formerly asked her to be my girlfriend or if it was ever even discussed, after a while, I think it was just understood. We went to football games together and school dances. We had a tight knit group of friends, most of them couples like us, pretending to be older and more experienced than we really were. We were so eager then to become adults and, for the life of me now, I can’t remember why. After graduation, we went to a community college in Tacoma and eventually found a one room studio in the North End. When Audrey became pregnant with Max we took a quarter off to get married, fully intending to go back, but other than a class here and there, it would never happen. Audrey would get a job as a receptionist for a doctor’s office and I would pick up whatever I could to make ends meet.
We both believed strongly that Max should have a sibling, so a few years later we would have Evie. We do our best to right the wrongs we felt were done to us throughout our childhoods, showering our kids with constant love and affection much more then they want or probably need, suffocating them in the process, surely giving them plenty to discuss with their therapist in adulthood. It’s impossible not to fuck them up in one way or another, too much or not enough, I’ve yet to meet anyone with the perfect formula.
By the time Evie was born I was working construction, a grunt, working the shit jobs, but, I had a good work ethic and what I lacked in knowledge and skill I made for with effort. At least that’s the story I like to tell myself, mostly I think, I was just lucky. I ended up working for a contractor whose own son had shunned the family business to go to college and escape from beneath the shadow of his overbearing father and there I was a willing and capable stand in ready to play his role. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was the only other white guy working for him, which I admit to feeling guilty about from time to time. Over the years I’ve worked my way up. In a short period of time I became a foreman and by my early forties I was managing large commercial projects for the city. Which brings to mind the light rail station project that I’m currently working out near the airport. The job site I will arrive at tomorrow sleep deprived and exhausted. I’m not without regrets, of course, I’ve wondered from time to time what could have been had I not had to make sacrifices, but those regrets are pointless. I have a good life and I wouldn’t change a thing about the past if it meant my present was any different.
My eyes are again open trying to regain their focus, the furniture casting longer shadows now along the bedroom walls. I glance at the clock one last time having given up hope of any meaningful sleep.
As I’ve aged the naive optimism of my youth has slowly eroded away and the fear and anxiety that I’m left with has forced me to consider a grimmer possibility.
Instead of coming to that desolate highway I can imagine Marty exits the tree line and steps out into a clearing. The night is brisk and clear and the moon and stars are bright. He breathes in the thick night air and exhales it like smoke. He crosses over a threshold of hard-pan to a rocky slope, a chorus of crickets giving way to the static hum of rushing water. Gingerly he navigates the shifting scree to a river’s edge and then paces back and forth along the bank contemplating his next move. For a brief moment, he considers giving up and heading back, but he’s come too far now and he’s determined to keep moving. An image flashes in his head of a line of soldiers fording a fast-moving river, their packs raised high above their heads-a scene from a movie he’d seen or a book that he’d read-providing a dangerous boost of misguided confidence and suddenly he believes wholeheartedly that he can cross. He believes that he’s indestructible just like I did back then. But, I can see Marty now for what he is, or what he was, just a boy, vulnerable and gangly and slight. He twists out of his pack, hoist it above his head and steps into the black water, the moon cutting a sparkling swath down it’s center, he takes another step and sinks to his knees, the rocks below slick and the icy water white hot against his confused skin. He takes one more step and the bottom disappears. He loses his grip on his pack and his head is submerged. He tries frantically to regain his footing, but he’s swept away by the current. He’s struggling to keep his head above the surface-the river bank a blur- but his muscles are seizing up in the subzero temperature. His face contorts as the reality of his situation sets in and I can feel his terror for only so long before summoning a rapid to suck him into a hole and a boulder to knock him mercifully unconscious. Marty’s body emerges from the other side of the rapid as limp now as an autumn leaf floating on the surface of the river, floating until the fingerlike tentacles of an exposed root ball along the eroded river bank grab hold of his lifeless body and the current pushes him below the surface where he will stay for longer than I care to imagine.
Deep down I think I’ve always known this more likely reality of Marty’s fate and as I’ve gotten older researching missing persons cases has become somewhat of a hobby of mine. I scour through stacks of newspapers-most of them local, a few from neighboring states-looking for john doe’s, unidentified remains that have been discovered, men of varying ages or children that were about Marty’s age when he left me. Sometimes I’ll even travel to another city to visit a police station and meet with some detective working on a cold case I’d read about. I’ll hole up in some cheap hotel nearby waiting for DNA results, both hoping it will be Marty so I can finally have some “closure” and hoping it won’t so I can keep my childhood stories alive. Each time I leave with nothing but a renewed feeling of disappointment or relief depending on how I choose to frame it.
Occasionally, in my research, I will come across a story about some decades old cold case that had been solved. Some bones that’d been discovered by hunters or hikers or kids playing in the forest, bones unearthed from a shallow grave or scattered around in a dried-out riverbed, bones that had sat in some medical examiner’s office for years before finally getting tested and identified by dental records or DNA, technology non-existent at the time of death.
Inevitably they’ll include quotes in these articles from the families of the missing, people like me, brothers and sisters and parents, tortured souls, left to wonder for decades who or what it was that had robbed them of their real lives, the lives they were suppose to have. I try to imagine what it would be like to get news like that. To wake up one day and discover I’d been dreaming about a ghost all these years, just a box of bleached-out bones stuck up on a shelf somewhere, my lifelong fantasies quashed in a single moment.
A call from some young detective, his detached voice nervous and rehearsed, words scripted as if he has spoken them before.
He’ll tell me about a small number of bones found in a river bed-next to tattered swatches from an old wind breaker now more of a washed-out pink-in the wilderness out near Mt. Rainier. A young boy that through miracles of modern forensics has been identified as Martin Collins. It appears that he had not been the victim of a violent crime as they had first thought but of exposure to the elements. It’s been determined that he had most likely died just hours after his younger brother Danny had given him a foothold to climb up and out of his bedroom window more than half a century ago. My stories had lasted for decades but it seemed Marty’s was short and had ended just after we said our final goodbyes.
“What would I do with news like that?” I think “Would I say a melancholy farewell to my versions of Marty, thank them for the comfort they provided and then fall peacefully to sleep, never again to wake at 2am?, Somehow I doubt it”.
I’ve lived so long without him now that I’ve long since grown accustomed to his absence and it’s the people that never existed that I seem to mourn more often now. My sister in law, my wife’s close friend and confidant. My nieces and nephews, the cousins of my children, now just empty place holders for people that will never exist. I’m not quite sure what it is that I’ve been looking for all these years, maybe it’s closure, a ceremony, a burial and a marker, something other than this faulty failing memory of mine to prove that Marty existed. But if closure means the end of possibilities maybe it’s not what I want at all.
For now I can choose my own reality, the grandness or the grimness, whatever will get me back to sleep on a given night.
Outside birds are chirping and the first sounds of early morning traffic audible in the distance. Suddenly I’m exhausted and I can’t keep my eyes open. I pull the covers up around my face and with my mind finally clear I drift off to sleep.
Peter lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.
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