Bent Words

Bent Words

October 12, 2011

Are You My Mother?

It's a children's book my mother read to me when I was little.

It's about a baby bird that has lost its mother.

It asks a cat, it asks a dog, it asks a cow and it asks a car.

"Are you my mother?"

Silly baby bird.

It asks a boat and it asks a plane.

"Are you my mother?"

Finally, it comes across a "Snort." A front end loader. A giant machine compared to that little baby bird. A giant machine made for moving rubble, made for digging holes, made for destroying buildings.

I can recall the pictures in that book as though it were yesterday.

And today, as ridiculous as it may sound, it's all I could think of...

As I drove past my old home, the giant Snort reaching toward my apartment, its first target in resolving its goal of total destruction, my heart sank. I went from thinking about laundry and dishes on my drive home to thinking about that burned and bruised building waiting for its death. Walking from my car to my new apartment, I looked down to see my hands trembling. My knees ached, my stomach tumbled and my heart raced. But my feet were steady. They marched me up my steps and into my apartment and they marched me right back out again.

I literally did not think twice.

And before I could even begin to breathe, I began to walk.

Straight to my old building.

I've tread upon this route a hundred -- maybe a thousand -- times before. From the streets on Main to my home on North. And back again. In the middle of the night, during the brilliance of the afternoon, in the dead of winter and while the hot sun begged me to slow down. On weekends when the streets were crowded with wandering pedestrians and during snow storms when no one dared to leave the comfort of home. When the leaves crunched beneath my feet and when the last signs of frost were fading. When I should not have been walking alone and when I had someone to walk home with. Past the clock that never held the right time, on the cobblestone path that joggers abused, through cobwebs formed from the busy work of a thousand spiders, beyond the bridge that was the subject of at least a dozen photos, over the river that froze once or twice in ten years but overflowed every spring I can recall, across the parking lot that never filled, just after the fire department that never seemed so very busy... I walked. Whether I was bored or headed out for an evening full of familiar faces, needed to clear my head or had a game of darts in mind. Whether it was to watch a football game or simply get some exercise. I always had a purpose to tread across this familiar landscape.

But never have I before been so pointed, so purposeful. Though I've walked this way a thousand times before. Today it was different. Today it was as though my soul led the way.

And I know I've never marched like this.

The sun was so powerful that I could barely see the newly installed fence guarding the lining of my old apartment building's property. I slowed then, walking the sidewalk with caution. To my left was the barrier. To my left was the concrete steps I used to climb. The sketchy driveway I managed to maneuver, with questionable tread or brand new rubber, in January. The window I looked out of every single morning and every single night. To my left was the building I lived in for more than a decade. My home (though it took me so long to truly call it that).

My life.

My things. My stories. My pens that only my father can garner. My pictures. The stuff I came home to. My kitchen table I spent months researching and hours assembling. My clothes, with motorcycle emblems and a lot of history (for shopping is the bane of my existence). My great grandmother's mirror and matching dresser. My hard drive. My back up hard drive. My music and my unfinished plays. The pan rack I loved so much that my parents gave to me one Christmas. My crazy, wonderful dinnerware. My kitchen sink. The toilet I fixed, the closet I remodeled, the entertainment center I never used. The stacks of New Perspective Carroll College newspapers I contributed to or copy-edited. How many books? My comfy shoes, my pearl necklace that my mother gave to me which my sister-in-law wore on her wedding day. My perfectly sized bathroom rug. All my cameras and a telephoto lens. The comforter I finally got right less than a month before the flames took it away. My "all seeing, all protecting eye" above my front door...

My father's dog tags which I dusted once a week, my mother's leather coat she had lent to me for a play, my squeaky computer chair that I spun around on for a video just before my last class at Carroll, my dragonfly collection, my brother's coffee table. A superfluous TV and a much used PC. My grandfather's tape measurer and treasure box, my brother's letters from the Marine Corp. in a box. The ring my grandmother was wearing the day she died, the scrap books I assembled over time. The stuffed animals I grew up with. The letters from old lovers. The picture frames which were my treat each time I ventured out shopping -- carefully hung upon my hallway walls. Boxes of old photos I never scanned in, handwritten vacation logs from Paris, my calenders (dictating every milestone) that I never threw away, the rose my grandmother gave me from my grandfather's funeral. Diaries from when I was ten years old to thirty. The pencil mugs I purchased with care, the computer desk that was slightly damaged in the rain, the book shelf I bought at Target to hold my favorite author's words upon.

Each item has a story because I rarely housed an item I did not use or did not love with my whole heart. I was frugal and I was picky and I was blessed with some of the most perfect gifts from my family.

I just wanted to "hug" all my things good-bye. Touch them with my memory one last time. Lay my mind upon them in true recognition of that which can never be again. I wanted to see them as they were, in their place just as usual when I returned home or woke in the morning.

In all of this, I saw my hallway closet door, untouched, just seconds before the Snort dove in and destroyed. The gold doorknob glistened in the sun. How many times had I touched that door knob? I could hear the door -- the way it sounded -- creaking, when it closed. The AMA Superbike poster on the outside, gone. The things inside, demolished. Christmas decorations, towels, spare sheets, my brother's clothing iron with his name carved upon it...

It took one man to burn the place down and just one man in his machine to tear it to the ground.

And not only tear it to the ground but repeatedly smash the giant bucket of the machine against the rubble to compact the mess. My kitchen table, my family photos, my hard drive, my dishes, my jewelry box. Smashed. Crushed. Destroyed. Gone.


The Snort pushed gently on what were walls and produced a pile of burnt red bricks. I watched each one tumble into a mass of what was. Window frames were suddenly transformed into... nothing. The Snort moved pipes that once brought water to thirty apartments as though they were toothpicks. Mattresses, some charred and some new, bounced to the ground noiselessly. End tables, perfectly intact, were shredded by the tines of the steal bucket. A brown and black flannel shirt clung lifelessly to the giant arm of the Snort as it made its ascent upward.

"Is that mine?"

And the colors. Brilliant reds, perfectly kept yellows, sky blues, deep reds... So many articles of clothing spilled out into the afternoon that one had to wonder what was REALLY destroyed and what was just sacrificed.

"That's my green Victoria Secret robe," I thought. Shane bought it for me eight years ago and, look at how perfectly well I took care of it, it seems so new! Now it dangles from an unsympathetic dirt hauler, waiting to become another piece of worthless trash. Mangled by smoke and water and weather and carelessness.

Well, Ryan Pike, thank you. Thank you for making my indecision to move much easier. Thank you for making the load of life I had to transport to my new home smaller -- much smaller. Thank you for not pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911 or alerting a single soul before dashing out of the building unannounced in a fit of drugged up guilt. Thank you for driving away while we all scrambled and ducked and crawled and choked to avoid the lethal black smoke. Thank you for your absolution in selfishness.

Thank you for taking away what I have worked for and what my family has worked for and what we all held as treasures in our meager surroundings every single day. Thank you for that. I cannot wait to watch you, over a year later, in court, be judged in front a jury of your peers. It doesn't matter the sentence -- you have been charged in my mind with the knowledge of what you've taken from each of us. And even if you do not realize it (based on your obvious and overwhelming propensity for bad decision making skills in the past), that's okay. Someone like you could never know what it was to stand there, for hours, in front of everything you held dear, and watch it burn maliciously and endlessly before your eyes. For you have never loved like I have. You have never cherished as I do. You never looked upon that imperfection with adoration and completeness as I have. Perhaps you don't have the capacity.

And that's really the saddest part of it all.

Guilt free, blameless -- I was able to genuinely (and finally) cry gorgeous tears for the beautiful things I've always appreciated, held dear, wondered over in this life. I was able to see the worth of my life and the impact I've had upon it and the impact it has had upon me.

That's why I wouldn't take a second of this experience, as hard and as heart wrenching as it has been, back.

You showed me what I am capable of. How brilliant I am. How much I care. How precious a moment of time really is. How a person's instinct can be as good as gold. How a person's life can be qualified by their every day decisions. How many things we sometimes don't see -- I saw them. I see them. You made me realize that I have been doing things excellently. Not perfectly, I know, pretty damned good.

You verified my heart, my strength and my capacity.

I didn't need a fire to know all of this. I didn't need terror and destruction to feel it. I didn't need the cries of a mother and her child, lost in the black smoke, to know how precious life is. Or to know how much of a trooper I am. I didn't need fear to drive me to understanding and compassion -- I already owned all these things without an ounce of travail or destruction.

I did not need this experience -- putting my life back together in a matter of weeks, relying on friends and family as I've refused or not needed to rely on them before, worrying over every little thing I purchase now as I've never worried before -- to know how precious life's cultivation, survival, happiness is.

I've always had it.

And that's why you can't rule me with anger or regret. That's why the fire doesn't keep sleepless at night as it does our ex-building manager, Susan. That's why the destruction of the building and all the tears it incurred was a good thing. I have been blessed with a few grand people and their beautiful attributes and intense knowledge to overcome whatever it is in life that you bring. You may have destroyed some people, Ryan, and you may have taken all my things, but you did not take my good standing and appreciation of life. You did not take my joy or my hope or my intensity or my heart.

My father taught me to be prepared. My mother taught me to never give up and never stop loving. My brother taught me that you can overcome any struggle, no matter how desperate it may seem. They all taught me how to take charge, to speak eloquently, to rule genuinely, to live excellently, to be yourself no matter what. I taught myself, through quite a few hard lessons, to accept the things I cannot change, offer up ZERO regret and love despite the moments I want to the least. And while you could have taken that, you didn't. You couldn't.

And I suppose that's why I am saying thank you.

Because THE MOST important things in my life are still right here, you little punk.

Me and my family.

And that's all I need.

It took a day of destruction in the foundation of my past existence to really FEEL it again and to let it all out but that's okay. For, "to each his own," "it takes all kinds" and "such is life."

Some say that life has long waiting lines. Some say that life has dark clouds resting over a sunny day. Some say that you'll never have a week without Mondays. There's a light at the end of the dark tunnel...

I say it's true.

It's how you handle waiting lines and dark clouds and long Mondays and never-ending dark tunnels and total-destruction fires that counts.

Just like the children's book, "Are You My Mother?" in that it might sound silly to quote... And yet, here's another;

"You whine like a mule, but you're still alive."

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

Written at 7:09 p.m.