There is always beauty.
That is all that is left.
So many times in my life, I thought I had come to the end of me.
So many times, I thought I had broken myself, into pieces too brittle and infinitesimal, to ever believe that I could put myself back together again.
So many times I thought I had broken those I loved, those who loved me.
So many times I felt the cold hollow cave made of stone and frost and filled with a chill wind that blew eternal in the pit of my stomach, the sum total of all the lies I told, of all the hearts I broke, of all the oaths I abandoned.
So many times.
But that last, that last was worst of all …
Lost to the dark.
Alone, in a ball, in a hole, in a wall, in the deepest darkest crack I could slither in, and crawl.
So many times.
So many times.
And then …
A glimmer …
A glimpse …
I would open my eyes.
Dry, burning, bloodshot, blurry, and red.
And I would look up.
And the height, the height of just where I fell from.
It was so high.
I had fallen so far.
All that trust built.
Smashed to bits with a single action, a cruel word.
But I would get up, like I had all those countless times before and my spine felt so weak and all I felt inside cold wind and hollow.
And I would get up.
My stomach would spasm reflexively from all the ragged crying and my eyes burned.
And I would get on my knees, scarred and pitted from gravel digging in, from years of gravel digging in, digging all the way into my cartilage.
I would wait there, gasping, until that pain was too much, and I would reach out and grasp that first rock again, with cracked hands that split from countless cold December nights when my hands were soaked wet from bleach and piss and mop water and Fabuloso and Murphy’s Oil Soap, from countless nights of cleaning and wiping and scrubbing, and I would begin the slow climb, back up to the top, back up, to the light.
And so I would grab another.
So many falls.
And so many climbs.
So many promises made.
So many promises broken.
So many scars, from within, from without.
Holding the hand of the one whose heart I broke.
What else could I do?
I couldn’t stay down there.
Not when I was needed up here.
Not when, if I couldn’t make us better, if I couldn’t heal us and make us whole, I could at least help you.
Help you get through.
At least I could do that.
So I did.
And those whose hearts I’d hurt, saw that I did my best to heal.
I left, but I did my best to heal.
I left, and I hoped that they had healed.
And to my surprise, they did.
As sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as day follows night.
As raw and red and as certain as the dawn, or a healing wound.
And time would pass, just as sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as sunshine follows rain.
And, with that passing left the pain.
And those who I made cry, I now made laugh.
I repaired what I could, and now, gray-bearded and older, I keep my vigil.
I watch and I care and I protect.
But I stay away.
And I marvel that in the passing, the pain fades away, like shadows melt away at dawn, and with that growing dawn light, in that shining sunlight, only the beauty is left revealed.
And nights, dark and dim they may be, are now just nights, because now I have the knowledge that the sun still shines on the other side of the world.
Nights reveal starlight, and moonshine, and the reflective glimmer of cats’ eyes.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt people, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt myself, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
And I know this, and I will never forget – I have managed my depression.
I have named my demon and I have locked it within a faux-gold-covered wooden box.
And I will never open it up.
For I know this – with time and work and the healing-fevered pain of resetting bones, all the bad fades away.
Fades away, but does not dissipate.
It is always an ever-present reminder.
But what comes to the foreground, what comes into focus?
The pain, the dark fades away.
All that’s left is beauty.
The dying bee landed on my chest.
It fell seemingly from nowhere.
At first I didn’t know that it was a bee. Nor did know that it was dying – yet.
A cloud of flies and mosquitoes skimmed and buzzed about me as I lay on our outdoor patio sofa as if I was an Imperial Cruiser under attack from Rebellion fighters. They didn’t really bother me. I didn’t really feel anything. I was numb and drowsy from the day, from pipe tobacco smoke, from dragon smoke. My mind wandered far afield.
About two weeks ago, during a lull between the constant rain showers that came with the hurricane storm systems from the Texas Gulf, I took advantage of the semi-fair weather and brought out the sofa cushions to laze about on my Saturday afternoon.
The mosquitoes and flies had the same idea, apparently.
I did feel the small but substantial thump on my chest.
I did see the small insect bounce off my chest and arc down onto the patio concrete.
My senses weren’t so completely numb to make me believe that it was a huge fly.
It took me a second to register that what I had saw and felt was a bee.
I looked down from the sofa. The bee crawled around the cracked concrete of the patio. Something was wrong with it. One of it’s wings was opening and closing slowly, out of sync with the other.
You know that cliché about staggering drunkenly? That’s exactly what the bee was doing, in circles, and leaning to one side. I reached down and as gingerly as I could try to help right itself with my index finger. It didn’t help.
You see, I had held bees before.
Many bees had entered my classroom, and being a teacher of children, their reaction, after shrieking in fright or delight, is always to swat it or crush it. But I don’t want to encourage that in my students. I want to encourage them to have a healthy respect for all living things. So I would just quickly but calmly reach for it, and let it land on my hand, let roam about. I would explain to them that bees only sting when they feel threatened, which they do anytime anyone projects their fear and shrieks.
I would show them how harmless they could be if they were treated gently and with respect, then I would open my classroom door and then open the door that led outside ( I’ve been lucky to have a classroom right by the hallway exit) and release it.
I don’t like killing living creatures – even insects. If they look dangerous, and are in my house, then I do, because I don’t want to risk my mother being bitten by something poisonous. Call it guilt-ridden anxiety. But bees are fine.
Except this particular bee was obviously not, however.
The bee flipped upside down. My own buzz was just making it worse. I tried to calm myself and focus – I didn’t want to damage it’s wings. After a few more attempts I sat up and reached down with both hands. I was finally able to get the bee onto my hand.
I studied it, sadly. It was dying. The thumping landing on my chest made sense now.
A thought occurred to me then.
My older brother had had a really bad weekend a week prior to this. He and his partner had moved back down to Laredo from San Antonio three years ago to help care for my father who had been diagnosed with terminal gall bladder and liver cancer, and they have stayed ever since. But like any couple moving from their own home in which they lived alone for years back into the home of a parent, their space has become limited.
I’d been in that situation before – my ex-wife and I had to share living spaces with her mother and their family many times over the eighteen-year period we were married. Those times were at best, manageable. So the cabin-fever brought on by days of rain culminated that weekend prior.
Then there was the squirrel.
Later that week my brother had told me that the tipping point for that weekend was a squirrel. He had found a dead squirrel out in the front of our house. He had found something to wrap it in and placed it in our trash bin outside.
Later the thought had occurred to me why he hadn’t buried it – I would’ve gladly helped – but in retrospect the idea of burying the poor creature would have been too much for him. After dad, the aspects and realities of death and dying affected all of our family in varying and unexpected ways.
I laid the bee gently down on the blue seat cushion, where my ashtray, pipe, and pipe tobacco rested, making sure it was placed so that it would not fall off again. I thought of my brother and his weekend from Hell before. I hesitated a moment. Then I texted him to come outside quickly.
This felt right.
He came outside to the backyard. I held the bee out towards him in my hand, showing him, and I told him. It’s dying, help me place it somewhere safe so it will die in peace, without fear of being eaten.
Where, he asked.
I looked about our backyard – and I saw one of the bushes growing lush with bright yellow bell blossoms, the wells inside of which would keep it well-hidden from predators or from falling back onto the unforgiving lawn.
I handed him the bee. Place it in there, I told him. With both hands out, he took it. We walked over to the bush, found an upright bell with a sturdy stem. My brother placed it gently inside. There you go, he said softly. The bee slid gently into the well.
There, I said, a fine place for a bee to rest. Then I hugged my brother. Karma, I told him, a little light to drive away the dark. A little positive energy to counter the negative.
The moment passed. We stepped apart to let the space of the world back in. I told him that I was still going to hang out here and smoke for awhile longer. He said okay. He went back inside.
I love my older brother.
We clash, of course. We wouldn’t be brothers otherwise. But he’s been both father and mother to me countless times, when my parents couldn’t. He’s been my sounding board ever since he moved back and I had to admit to him my weaknesses that my Major Depression and ADHD brought about – even when medicated. He’s been the voice of reason in my head the few times I stood too close to the edge, and brought me back.
We’re ten years apart. He’s now fifty-three while I’m forty-three – the oldest and the youngest in our family.
He still looks out after me.
The least I can do help his spirit when it sinks.
The least I can do is remind him that there is still some magic in this world, faded though it is.
The least I can do is look after him for all the times he’s looked out after me.
I always will.
He’s my brother.
What I’m listening to:
Human Qualities by Explosions in the Sky.