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Just How Many Are We Talkin'?
I never realized just how long my father's list of "dead friends" was until I grew the nerve to ask.
I mean, I've heard the stories, some of them anyways: how his friend murdered his girlfriend; how his prom date and best friend were killed in a motorcycle accident on graduation night; all the suicides, the accidents, all the tragedies.
Funny thing is, I've mostly heard theres stories from Papa, my grandfather. Asking him about my father's past, his childhood, didn't feel so odd, so perplexing, as when I would ask my father. On those rare occasions that I do, it is as though I'm walking on cracked ice, the freezing water resting below, waiting patiently to pull me under. And so I try to avoid it.
But, as they say, curiosity killed the cat and those icy waters devoured me whole.
See, Papa has this way of telling stories. It can be seen in his eyes and smile. He'd always tell them smiling, no matter how terrible and tragic they are. When he tells them, it's almost like he's actually there, watching the event unfold around him. The same terrors over and over again. You can see it. And yet he smiles; I never really understood it. Perhaps it's a way to remind him that the stories could be worse, or maybe it's to completly disregard their significance; to convince him that they are nothing but stories, made to be forgotten.
But because he told those stories as such, I found them to be enjoyable and fun to listen too. It was like a rollercoaster for you ears, you'd always want to hear them once more, just for the thrill of it. And the more and more I listened, the more I wanted to hear, to know about the past. They way Papa told these stories made my father's childhood seem so interesting! Words cannot describe how much I wanted a childhood like his.
So when we somehow stumbled across those stories, sitting in a booth at Zendejas eating burritos at eleven in the morning, I thought it would be okay to later ask my father about them. After all, I convinced myself, he was my father and he knew more about those stories than even Papa did.
After finishing my burrito breakfast/lunch, and after I spent the entire day with Papa and Grandma Sandy, my father picked me up later that night.
We didn't talk much on the way back home. It was quiet except fo the wind blowing through the open windows of his car, and the chirping of the crickets. It was dark out too, the only light coming from the passing cars and dimming streetlights. Those moments driving up Ramona Avenue to Upland felt like those in a movie: my hand was out the the window and the small houses with chain linked fences around them stood as still as stone. Hell, even time felt frozen in those moements. It felt peaceful.
And I just had to ruin it.
I started off the conversation subtly: "Papa told me some stories about you and your brothers today."
"Oh no!" My father replied, "What exactly did he tell you?"
I thought about it for a minute, carefully choosing which story I should share, "The one where your brothers, a cousin of yours--Matthew maybe?--and a friend, were drunk driving at the top of Safire in Mount Baldy. And--"
"The Toyota Land Cruiser tumbled down the hill. I remember that. I almost went too, but they didn't have anymore room." I looked at him; his smile was gone. The same look that was in Papa's eyes was now in his. He was there, in that moment. "Yeah, the car went tumbling and your Uncles and Matthew flew out the windows. Adam lost his shoes, and just them!" He kept driving, and was silent for awhile. "There were helicopters flying all over and above that mountain, just searching for them. I remember looking at the 'copters, thinking 'What the hell is going on up there?!' I didn't know it was my brothers."
Giggling, I interrupted, "I wonder if anyone thought 'What did those boys get themselves into now?" I had meant that as a joke. He didn't laugh.
"You know, the only one wearing a seatbelt that day was the only one killed. Yeah, he was the one driving, too. The car started tumbling and... well he died. Thomas was his name. Good kid, too! Better than the rest of us. Adam went missing, just trying to find help, without shoes. He walked and walked until he found the first house he could find. Banged on the door. They tried to help Thomas, but... He was Matthew's best friend, too. Good kid. Good kid." There was a reoccurring theme in each one of these stories: all the good ones die, while the bad were just left with the memories.
Just the way he told it reminded me of a quote that I read. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, we were reading it in class. In the book, Joe, the father figure in the story, says how "life is made of ever so many partings welded together." And that really stuck with me, especially that night. My father's life was made up of so many partings, so many goodbyes and non-goodbyes that were just left standing alone in time. Non-goodbyes with no closure. And I thought about how many partings he had to go through, how many he still has left. I wondered how many people I have to say goodbye too? How many people will I leave with no closure? No official ending? How many will leave me?
I'm told it's life, that that's how it works. And I'm over it now because, truth is, I don't really know how many goodbyes I'll say. I'll face those questions head on when the time comes and move on with my life, just as my father did. That night, I realized I really don't want a childhood like my father's. Though, I also realized I want to learn to move on and let life take me wherever it wants to go without restraint. Just as my father has.