On Fire (Part I)


On Fire

            I meditate now.  I pray.  Eat healthy.  Don’t smoke.  This is my way of life now, I suppose.  I’ve been taking yoga classes at a place around the corner from my apartment.  I like it.  It gets me outta my head.  I sweat.  I sleep better.  I’m dreaming again.  At the end of the session, we all lay down flat on our backs, usually exhausted with chests heaving up and down listening to the sweat suction between our skin and the bumpy plastic mats beneath us.  They call it the “final savasana” or “corpse pose.”  I lay on my back with my hands and feet apart and try to free my mind of everything.  Try it.  Right now.  Think nothing.  It’s not that easy is it?  Starting out, my mind will fill with everything horrible, my faults, my shame, my anxieties.  I would see my dead body with crusty eyes and arms crossed, and I would forget to breath and my eyes would open.  I would see my own shame projected on my father’s face.  I would try so hard to “think nothing,” but there was just too much.  My goal of a weightless mind was always dragged down by the gravity of thought.  So I sink deep.  I delve.

            While most of my life I’ve been afraid of fire, my father has yielded it like the Greek god Prometheus. 

            When I was five or six my father used to take me out on our concrete slab of a back-porch and present me with fire.  I would sit in a lawn chair as he produced his leather horn of “magic-powder.”  The pouch was shining and sturdy (not the kind of synthetic pouch one might see today, manufactured and dismal).  He would yield it like a lion-tamer, conveying an ever-conscious vigilance to the power bestowed within, lest it attack.  I would watch as he loosened the cork and handed it to me.  I remember picking away pieces of it, rolling it around in my hand, and watching it gracefully fall to the ground and bounce away. He would pour the grey dust into his hand, cupping it, making sure not to spill a drop, as that would have been a catastrophe clearly.  He’d then produce a wooden match from one of the red and white boxes that were always lying around the house.  He smoked a pipe back then.  In my memories of childhood now, I can only see him with one of those pipes.  He’d always have it sticking out of his face, gripping it with his teeth.  This bestowed on him an air of Douglas MacArthur, or one of those long dead presidents.  You don’t see many pipe-smokers nowadays do you?  I guess that’s what happens when something is finally linked to death so concretely; but every-time I see someone puffing on one and smell that sweet-cherry rich tobacco, I think of him.  He would strike the match, and I brace myself, the smell of eggy sulfur hitting my nostrils.  He would throw the powder up into the air and hoist the match up into its midst creating the greatest of fireballs.  I would “ooh and aww” and ask for him to do it again.  He would.  He always would.  I see now I was that dissipating fireball—big and gone.

            I delve.  I’m trying to control my burn.  I am a fizzling cinder.

            My father has always been a structured man.  I, on the other hand, am not.  He would get up in the dark early mornings, and run for what seemed like hours preparing for one of his many pending marathons.  I couldn’t run to safe my life, let alone get out of bed before the sun-rise.

            I am falling fast, embers peeling off in flakes.

            My father has always been close and connected, meeting with same group of guys for coffee, at the same greasy-spoon diner, the Wheel Inn, for almost thirty years or so now (the guys are starting to slowly disappear, and the diner has undergone new management – this sadly causes me to dwell on my own death).  I am an isolationist.  I have it down to an art-form.  I’ll make plans with friends, and filled with dread and obligation I’ll cancel at the last moment – “Sorry, one of my dogs might have cancer.”

            I am chained to my rock.  Doomed.  Daily eaten.

            My father has always been a moral man.  When he was “laid-off” from the insurance company that he worked at for most of my life, and subsequently sued when many of his clients went off with him; he didn’t have an unkind word to say about them.

 My mother always says, “You’re father is really a good man Hans.”

            “Yah I know that. Of course I know that,” I’d respond.  My morality slips in and out, much like my sobriety over the last ten years.  I’d steal, I’d be cheap, I’d be a spend-thrift, I’d forget to feed the dogs, I’d spend weekends in strange hotels, I’d lie, I’d terrorize my girlfriend, I’d terrorize my home, and I’d tell my father everything was all right.

            “How’s it going out there, son,” he’d inquire in his quick Midwestern-modest calls.

            “Hanging in there dad, but I just don’t know,” was one of my stock-answers.

            “Well you’re on an adventure kiddo.  You’re a braver man than I.”  He’s always been encouraging.  A champion of mine, I suppose.

            I must be around three years old as I sit on the kitchen floor in my earliest memory.  My mother has always said that my memory was incredible.  “I’m amazed you don’t remember your birth, kiddo.”  Thank the gods I didn’t, as if my life could get any more Oedipal, could handle another complex. One has to be careful when delving into one’s own complexes.  I’ve done so to my detriment on numerous occasions.  Dangerous self-diagnosis, which can lead to a doctor and a “real” diagnosis.  My neurosis would lead me to a therapist who would recommend a psychiatrist, whom would recommend a cocktail of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. 

“What I think you’re suffering from is what we call ‘hypo-bipolar,” he says.

            “Christ!  I knew it!  I knew it! What is it?” I respond (the idiot I am).

            “Well, you go through periods of heightened elation, which seem to be accompanied by extended periods of mild depression.” He begins thumbing through a manual he’s plopped on his lap.

            “So I’m happy sometimes, and other times I’m sad?  Isn’t that normal?”  I ask.

            “Well that’s the ‘hypo’ aspect of your condition.  It’s a mild version.”  He’s thumbing.

            “So what comes next?” I inquire.

            “Lamotrigine™.”  He hands me the book and my “disease.”

                “Ah, yes, a pill,” I thought.  “Thank God, now I can finally feel fixed,” I thought.  Those pills would char me up for another year, another ingredient in the cocktail, another log on the fire.  Yes, one has to be careful when delving into one’s own neurosis.  It can burn a person up.