My mother loved to watch, Gone With The Wind. It was her favorite movie. I can’t say that I ever understood what it meant to her. That was my failing as the perennial ‘late bloomer’. When I have seen it as of late it seems so blatantly obvious now. The frivolous nature of a young desirable girl. A seen of love based upon a foolish seen of infatuation. The fear of being left vulnerable and alone. The building of an inner resolve as a maturing woman to steel herself against any challenge. The opportunity that life provides her to prove her abilities and worth again all odds. Making her own way int he world despite the criticism of society. Discovering the true nature of love and friendship even if it seems too late in the game. And the value of home and the legacy of family that one has come from. All these qualities having their effect upon a young girl looking forward to the transition into womanhood.
She was nineteen when it appeared in theaters in 1940. I have to wonder if she viewed it first in the last preeminent movie palace still extent in the midst of the loop in Chicago? What disappointments and discoveries that lay ahead of her one might wonder if she expected? A world where war stole the possibility of finding a lasting love. The rise of career seeming to interject itself betwixt the chance for finding a home and raising a family. A brief and incidental marriage to a selfish boy that pretended to be a man leading to the disappointment and despair of never achieving the goal of harmony in motherhood. The tragic death of her mother and the subsequent loss of her father due to his grief and despair. And of course my father who in so many ways was a fit stand in for the real man in O’Selznick’s passion play. That special someone who had all the faults but at the core of it loved her and held her as the center of his universe. The most significant big budget extravaganza of her coming of age predicting in so many ways what became the challenges that she faced in the subsequent progress of her later life. How she must have viewed herself against the foil of the drama’s lead character at those many decisive junctures of her existence?
To view the film now is to catch sight of her at that tender age in the flickering darkness of the audience. A sight one rarely finds as a child of a woman that to them seemed the eternal archaic goddess known as ‘mother’. “January 17th, 1940.” To think of the date that she may have stepped into the lobby of some baroque movie palace fresh with anticipation to encounter the fresh celluloid telling her the tale of her future and destiny. How clever in hindsight for the doyens of Hollywood to fashion their plans to come within such clever intrigue. To show how a well-planned world conflict would affect the aspirations of the then contemporary iteration society coming of age and hint at how it would soon be transfigured. And in considering the subsequent ‘strum und drang‘ of this current time deposed. The players in the drama provided with both highs and lows and revealed as heroes or villains by their building legacy of reactions. The controversial aspect of the social incarceration of one and the effect of their inescapable lot in life ever-present as both tool and warning.
I have to wonder at the double edge sword the genius and the diabolical nature of those that power society so frivolously without the art form of painting the prospective progression of human life upon a screen? And then hangs it over the heads of the viewer by a thread for the rest of their existence. The audience aligning their lives to a mass hysterical narrative as opposed to finding their own way unassisted through the tangle wood of everyday chaos? Sitting here alone within the fading limelight of my own passing existence being the sole keeper of the long but now extinct narrative of my own kin I can only wonder further what the true natures of my own local players were? Their true identities reflected by the unspoken hopes and dreams that never were revealed . And somehow remained elusive never to come to pass! And how I might somehow in some small way further get to know them as they really once were.
Like many things that are touched by human hands the most noble of sentiments somehow eventually end up mishandled. End up much farther afield than what was initially intended. Perhaps no concept is portrayed in more of a fallacious manner than the popular movie version of that strange anomaly of nature known as the hero. To see the entity that had grown up in the long evolution of celluloid one would summon to mind images of one ever confident in the immediacy of action magically stepping forth without any hesitation into the worst of circumstances dealing in kind blow for blow with any adversary overfly large or diabolically clever. Someone who seems to have an inexhaustible level of willpower to go easily far beyond their own limited capacities in mortal strength and withstand a level of punishment that would wither those twice their size. All these qualities plus more expected in the midst of public discourse and in relating the qualities of this rare breed on individual that we all seem humbled by in mere proximity of our own measure seemingly so lacking in comparison.
Yet, no fanfare of massed trumpets and celebratory showers of rose petals can hope to offer fit homage to so many that would choose to step away from the spotlight and remain silent of those things that needed to be done and resolved themselves to commit to because there was no one else there to fulfill them. The last man standing who could have retreated but chose instead to seek out a fellow incapacitated or perhaps beyond saving. Someone who was challenged by what seemed an insurmountable fear and held fast despite to face it squarely not yielding to the impulse to run. Someone who has suffered the torments of Hell but is resolved to continue on without any hope of a better outcome because it was up to them or no one. Those who could find satisfaction in humble fare and be thankful for it despite its lack. Anonymous individuals not prone to marching rank and file shoulder to shoulder on a specific holiday. Not out of any sense of shame but in knowing that with any society the time for peace must ever outweigh those times regretfully spent in giving battle. Those are the natural inclinations of true heroes. Not the cardboard movie poster cutouts beneath marquees or the cold slippery plastic of effigies molded into the shape of fictional characters that have never existed save within the minds of infants. But in those true veterans that have raised us, loved us, and sacrificed mightily to protect us. God bless them all!
To some there is one day when bygone spirits return to their own haunts. For many others the spectral remains ever present. The real world as I once knew it stopped long ago. Now I sit within the quiet and darkness as my only true refuge. So many times I have looked about this same room at the very same visages peering forth from picture frames. The artifacts that defined them in close proximity. A storehouse of mixed memories that slowly grows stale. When this house was full it was small and I confined myself to a tiny bedroom alone. Spending time by myself. withholding myself from those other two that more rightfully belonged here. So much wasted time between now and then that I heartily regret. Could I now begin to bear the fact of their longing they had for my company? How much can a guilty heart take? So much back and forth of the what and the why and the reasons as empty as they finally became. An unwanted rivalry I suppose for the hand of one over the hands of the other. Cold hands they would be. Not without feeling but with anticipation for the warmth that I could bring to them. That I seemed to always try to withhold. How I miss them now. Two big mitts placed upon my face with a laugh. The key in the door. Recollections traveling in reverse. Another pair of smaller hands that had care for me all my life. Their combination being so often all that I had to shelter my world. How much I turned away from that would have made all the difference for all of our worlds together as one. Yet when I think back further farther back in my life it seems defined by constant loss? So many different disappointments. Unable to be happy with that which had been set out for me in the here and the now. Spoiled! Too used to getting my way on all those little material things that seemed to ever matter. But meant nothing! Now all these things are simply stacked up blocking the entry to a road back to in gracious incident of meaningless attainment. A substitute for anything that really mattered. I am a keeper in a museum of items I dare not touch.
Penitent sack cloth of my own device. Clothes over worn to shreds as if I thought they might never age. We all have our times of glory and then decline. How foolish and unkind to deny my own? To confound the best ally I could have ever had. The ruthlessness of youth! The arrogance! An ingrate to a simple man that could not understand why his accomplishments counted for naught within my narrowed eyes. Someone who tried everything to ensnare me with the beauty his vision for the sake of giving me the gift of his insights. If I wish to recall his voice I need now only hear my own. His lessons have come back to haunt. While my own vain glories have long since crashed and burned. I see the reflection of my face with his own that is inscribed deep within it. I can no longer imagine better ventures. I look at my own physical form and note that it has begun a slow decline to fatal atrophy. Yet, I can no longer feel fear about what is in store. I have seen the worse. Felt it. This earthly world is locked away from me now. And I am nothing to it. An Autumn leaf that has gone brown and crispy curled. I have nothing anymore to give to it . Just this same old chorus September song. My ghosts as audience.
It was a terrible thing to realize much less dream. Your own kith and kin demoted to a throw away. Maybe for a stranger it seemed an incidental in a care less uncaring world where the emotions of another were simply a doormat to be tread without a second thought. But it meant something to me. Something most significant . More significant than all the cares of all the people in the world. That sad little melancholy almost trembling voice resigned to insignificance of eternity to be forgotten as if by social necessity of arbitrary standard procedure served up to accommodate the many/ But in the process, satisfy none. I don’t know how such an absurdity could come to pass but I found myself led into a public room in some common space. A ‘jungle Jim’ rudely constructed to hold the various components of disembodied spirit in many pieces that like some university reactor under the stands of a football stadium was a matter of spacing and juxtaposition of different elements. Its overall structure designed to do something greater than its individual pieces. Something made up of the lingering souls of the past. It hurt me to see my mother’s entity divided up into a series of small brown polyethylene waste basket. The most pathetic of which held her quavering voice which called out to me in trembling irresolution, “I’m OK!” Buried underneath the three dimensional crossword puzzle space from of sticks and slats and similar containers. I looked down and felt her pain crease my own heart taking up the pathetic bygone receptacle. Ashamed and embarrassed that it had come to this. That she had been demoted to this. I carried her to my own room through the quiet of the hallway. Looking down into its emptiness and noticing a tear in its side. Determined to give whatever awkward solace to this last remaining portion of her. Wondering all the way how life’s mystery could be so cruel to someone, that in my own estimation, had deserved so much more.
There is a silent dialogue of lives and incidents both minor and otherwise that makes up the sum total of every life. Artifacts that are kept having special meaning. Random items that often times outlast their owners. The combination of same speaking to those who listen what they were all about. Impossible to decipher in the silence of emptiness that their absence leaves. Muted speech that could tell so much about things for too long neglected to ask. The solution to all the family mysteries of love and life and so many disappointments endured and surpassed. These flickering moments on screen do not do the long lost reality justice. But they do capture a glimpse. And perhaps we should be grateful for that? You can read from that old unexpected volume of schoolgirl fiction and wonder how it inspired? That old lacquer box with the Chinese characters that seem so exotic. But merely state that it is merely an old lacquered box. What wonders and memories were sequestered within that past along with its owner? Such joys and bliss that could fill an ocean. How amazing to look at that small space and wonder how it had held so much for so long? A time capsule of lost youth. The moment by moment journal of daily life. A compendium of those subsequent experiences one has congealed into age. Like dried up perfume casting a subtle hint of what was once contained within. The instant of recognition of something that one would have ever expected from within that person that one always though they had known. A freshness lurking within something too long passed up as just having always been. Like the sudden passing scent in the air of roses. But then, one finds, that they had never sought to know. Gone. But yet so wonderfully eternal. The essence of those one had the pleasure to have known.
“Give me an analogy that I can deal with!“, said Perkins. That wasn’t much to go on by any means he stated to the surrounding throng who had about as much of the eighty year old upstart as any small enclave could withstand. “If you didn’t talk so damn much about it you damned fool!“, said the black lady named Betsy, “Then you wouldn’t notice it so much at all!” Perkins pulled in his head a bit like a tortoise and looked around the room of the wheelchair bound. “I don’t belong here!”, he groused in a low tone not meant to be audible. The others in his vicinity turned away. With some violence Perkins grabbed the outside railing of his wheels and did a vigorous 180 turn with the destination in mind of his own room down the hall from the day lounge. The analogy that Perkins was trying to conjugate was now elusive. The heat of his out burst a minute before was still hot but the thought behind it had sailed off. His lower arms and shoulder blades hurt from the sudden release of energy. “Seventy-six years old is no joke!“, had started off the conversation with a groan. The room full of octogenarians were not buying it. Perkins never liked the nineteen-fifties anyhow. Most of these old clowns had been born just before the war. He could still recall the darkness and and squalor of an old bars in Streeterville One that he had happened to visit on an infrequent trips along with his father as his little ‘monkey‘. The grimace on that old man’s face sitting by the bar in back that everyone called, “Frankenstein“. His father had a habit of taking his little boy on sales trips to keep him company. Perkins could recall many an hour alone in the back seat of his father’s auto biding his time watching out for traffic cops and counting the type of hats on passing pedestrians. The thought of it seemed like someone else’s life now. Not his own.
The big lanky male Filipino attendant came up to him as he tried to turn into his room. “You not feeling so fine, Mr. P?“, the tall man in nurse’s pajamas drawled in a discernible approximation of English. Perkins turned abruptly distracted and the wheelchair glanced into the door and bounced a bit. The impact jarring the catheter that was stuck up his penis so that he could feel its dourness yet again. The nurse instinctively grabbing the handles of the two wheeled chair and wheeling it to the nearest of two beds. The one by the window occupied by a horizontal form deposed to what barely passed for sleep in the midst of a constant wheezing noise. The attendant now bent over checking around the slippered feet of the chair’s rider checking the clear plastic lead and half filled bag of urine attached to it. “You got ways to go on these one!”, the man stated as he hung the flabby moist container of accrued urine on the hook off the side of the bottom of the bed that Perkins sat across from. “Ya needs some help!“, the man’s blank face mouthed not waiting for a reply but indifferently grabbing hold of the arm of the chair’s inmate. “Don’t run away with that chair Mr. Brown“, quipped Perkins testily. “You suppose ta be using deez walker!?”, the tall figure replied as he quickly wheeled it to the corner by the door out of reach. The man exiting as Perkin’s purloined convince loosely tilted slowly back a foot out of position from a tilt in the floor. “The whole damn place is so out of true its worse off than I am!“, Perkins spat under his breath. The saw tone melody of labored breath rising and falling in mostly regular intervals. “You still alive in their Danny!” The long low sloping hill beneath the covering of a cotton ruff blanket didn’t stir. “Fucking great!“, his equally ambulatory companion thought as he sat inert on the bed’s edge.
Perkins felt around under his left thigh tugging at the plastic lead that he was half sitting on. “Could things be any worse?“, he thought. Sequestered in this dank musty little corner of mostly forgotten Hell. The world outside seemed an equal fiction to that of his childhood. He could recall that it had begun to slide away from ten years before when the edema was merely a briefly lasting impression of the fore finger into the side of his ankle. “The family curse.”, he thought resignedly. “A gift from the old man.”, he mechanically mouthed to himself without thinking. “The ‘old man’.“, his mind digested the phrase. “HE was the old man now!“, he thought as his white stubble peppered jaw slowly dropped. His hand rising up to cup and rub his chin and cheek in absent minded solace. Life squeezed out of his ailing frame like an old toothpaste tube. He stared upwards at the top of the far window at some lingering cobwebs. A blank distant stare into a long accustomed void awaiting his drift. The world in the mist beyond it a strange familiar thing that had the trappings of places and things not in familiar reach for what must have been several decades. The trip he had taken to Europe that time he got the award from the magazine in Milan Italy for his computer driven artwork. That old worn out apartment on the second floor furnished half in ‘early American alley‘. The myriads of half-finished dusty articles of his female friend’s loft across town. His mother fussing about the small galley sized kitchen of the family condo some fifteen minutes north in the next bordering town. A thousand equally nondescript recalls in minor details a mundane unnoteworthy everyday existence. That hint of success that always seemed to lurk nearby threatening to move things forward from where they had slowed down to a crawl sometime in the past. How had it come to this? It was as if he was somewhere in a dream waiting to awaken back there once again. That point some several decades before when he still had friends and the hope that one of the opportunities he had hoped for would finally come through. “Hope?“, he mused. “What in the Hell was that to him at this point?”
The wheezing beside Perkins had settled down into a whisper. The bent figure of something approximating human lay inert upon the ancient bailey. Perhaps an offering to some immortal indifferent god that hadn’t got around as of yet to collect it. Perkins reached the catheter kid his legs as he weightily swung his aching waterlogged swollen limbs on the bed. He lay back upon the rumpled pillows that were shoved up against the mattress that was canted up on a slight angle. The solitary spot on the ceiling where the plaster had been chipped off was still there. A small hold that that had several cracks radiating out from it into solid ceiling. The fissure so many times explored in the boredom before another fitful episode of dreaming. “What wonders lurked just beyond its mystery?“, he pondered. Something to escape to? Something not old and tired and used up but wholly undiscovered? The voice from an old movie sprang up automatically. “A new life in the colonies awaits where you can start again!” it boomed in its far off echo. His mind sailing past spinning gas planets and bright nebula. Himself in the chair of a pilot’s cabin of some gigantic space transport hurtling at a tremendous rate of speed. The feeling of unbounded power of the ship and its increasing speed coursing through him. The vistas speeding past vibrant in color and electricity. “It’s time for your pills Mr. P!” a stocky female voice rang out. Perkins opened his eyes and looked over at the obese black nurse holding a small tray mostly covered with small paper cups. Without waiting for him to make a move she took one of them and handed it towards him mechanically. The room smelled of farts. The woman’s nose slightly wrinkled in a mild form of perpetual discontent stared blankly at Perkins as he resignedly reached over to take the cup and bring it towards his mouth. “You need some water with that?” she said holding out a second slightly larger cup. He slowly shook his head closing his eyes as he did so and swallowed hoping inside that it was somehow a mis-apportioned dose of arsenic. He resumed his stare focusing his eyes skyward back up at the ceiling. The ship that he had been piloting was now was far beyond his reach outside of the galaxy. He would have to wait for the next one. If indeed one ever showed up again.
Taking the long suburban road back to the ‘house’ that in reality has become a much smaller apartment through the emptiness of a semi arid landscape escorting my mother. One that is too far, knowing too late that we should have driven. Why we did not was a matter of forgetting for a while that the path back over open terrain always seems shorter than it in fact ever turns out to be. One’s age averaged and divided is occasionally put aside as a factor and the fiction of youthful endurance assumes a greater palpable fiction. A chain restaurant a block or two off the gravel path due east gleams quartz white as if it has just recently been built. A Disney castle mirage in the deep darkness of the mind. Salivation for the hopeful fantasy of plenty and tasty inside crosses the space between my ears within my own empty divide. I have grown up in the postwar age of advertising. The mental Utopia that the worship of everything new and improved allows you temporary entrance within. To conjure the mental picture is more immediate than to test the waters with your tongue and pocketbook. That is the actual realm of scant financial resources and the specter of starvation. The great kings and dukes of old along with their subsequent more modern social warrior imitators having forged a great mental trauma genetically passed on by too often playing too dangerously with the ship of state and so often running it aground. One remains ever mindful of their next meal hoping that if it be one’s last then at least it might be memorably distinctive as the best so far. This is progress.
Ron, the father, ends up on Johnny Carson as a guest. A failed entertainer from the ‘get go’ in his own mind. He rises up from the audience to follow the expected patterns of behavior on stage. His greatest secret dream. To be recognized as talented and out of the ordinary, and loved. What can any self-made man hope to find after he has found a knock off copy of the Philosopher’s stone and a deck of playing cards to gain a sufficient amount of ready cash? Money and all that it can buy is never enough. The ritual of an audience locked in their seats facing East towards the refresh of a hopeful morning Sun of the television is all too seductive. A crowning gift to the man who initially came up from nothing but for whom this persistent sense of the inescapable present provides never ever enough. this is the curse and blessing of his most formative era.
The two of us having wandered, end up waylaid behind a big strip mall on the bank of what is rapidly turning into a raging river rising up. The silt scraped from the bottom being thrown into the air like the froth of a chocolate milk shake. The building flood overwhelming the back access of truck supply lanes subsuming the loading docks. This apocalyptic chaos transforming dazzling cinder blocks from their intended task of securing items within to serve as a retaining wall protecting this unready location. The terror of the unexpected show of force of nature underestimated. A might deluge instantaneously conjured without a single drop of rain. Surely a figment of one’s pernicious imagination?
The awakening of these fictions in that other world of one’s former life precariously rewoven since the night before? Never to be believed but for the hint of a solutions that they pretend to offer? Should one play the gullible fool and volunteer their belief?
This quiet surrounding realm of framed photographs serving as dusty headstones embalming the past. Now long silenced.