Thursday, September 25, 2003

I'm awed by the lengths to which the mind will go in its need to protect the psyche ...

Playing against the rhythm and patterns of today's events was this incessant gentle drumbeat of what appears on the surface to be a deceptively simple little nonsense rhyme. In the effort to reconstruct its place in my life -- since I can't seem to recapture all of the lines -- this would have to do. And "do" it "did."

Awoke in the night to the memory of little girl Betty -- standing timidly but proudly at the front of Mrs. Reiniger's 4th grade class reciting this little poem. On the bulletin board behind me is a chart with the names of the children -- little gold stars in rows extending from the names. This represents lines learned, and mine has the most gold stars. In the remembering last night (though only in fragments) Eugene Field's "...the gingham dog and the calico cat side by side on the table sat," and Alfred Noyes, "...into the valley of death rode the six hundred!"

Sat up in bed in the dark ... again -- that haunting fragment,

"...sailed off to sea in a beautiful pea green boat...".

It was another birthday -- this time in September of 1999.

The dreaded call that every mother fears. It seems that I'd been waiting for it over a lifetime.

"Ma'am, we haven't seen your son for about three weeks, and we were wondering ..." It was the voice of Rick's landlord.

Then a little later later, " sorry, ma'am, he was a nice person. A hurried call to my youngest son, David, sent him and the police in to learn the awful truth.



...and his body had lain undiscovered -- crumpled on his bathroom floor for nearly a month.
For reasons that defy understanding, I know that he died on August 17th of that year. I know that without question, though his death certificate places the time of death as "unknown.

I see Rick and his long time partner, Gordon, standing against the sky on the deck of the Red Oak Victory as she's being towed from the mothballed fleet at Mare Island in Vallejo. It was to take its place on the Richmond shoreline as a part of the new national park. She was a gift from the Navy to the Richmond Museum Society. She would be restored as a labor of love by volunteers -- some who had helped to build her, and veterans who'd sailed her throughout the South Pacific theater, supplying munitions and cargo during the Great War. Gordon received those much-coveted invitations that placed us among the several hundred celebrants by virtue of being a museum volunteer.

We were accompanied by three fireboats -- spraying their welcome high into the warm air while a squadron of restored World War II fighter planes soared and danced against the sky! It was glorious!

It's my last memory of them. Gordon died shortly thereafter of lung cancer, with Rick following him into oblivion relatively months later, from sheer loneliness. Both eventually succumbed to complications from a lifetime of rejection, loneliness, and alcoholism. For all its power, love wasn't enough to save him. And I did so love him... .

It was within a few days of that year's birthday (yes!) on another exquisite day -- when we scattered Rick's ashes from the deck of the Red Oak Victory. I'd brought a bouquet of perfect scarlet roses -- and in a ritual born of the occasion ... gathered up a rose, a handful of my son's remains -- and let them drift from my fingers, together, into the dark waters far below -- repeating the process until he was gone. No wake upon the waters, only stillness and the rustling of the wings of an inquisitive gull witnessing this rite of passage.
"...the owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat."

p.s:  And, yes, the poet was neither James Whitcomb Riley nor Eugene Field, but England's Edward Lear.

No comments: