For Brian and Diana Gray, as he will never be forgotten and she will never need.
The Bite of Life
The morning, only one month away from the horror of the anniversary of September 11th, I heard the terrible news about Robin Williams this year, I was drinking a cup of coffee, staring into the glare of the iMac at his lonely depression-filled face the unemotional media saturated the public virtually emphasising as to why he left us so early on his own accord without saying a word. I couldn’t believe what I was reading about the man and his engulfed soul. This wasn’t comedic at all.
I finished reading and was getting up when I noticed a note, a sticky note, hung by one corner to the lower corner of the monitor. Written across the yellow paper was two words, ‘Please Read’.
“Read what?” I asked aloud and alone as the first thing that came to my mind was the horrible story about Mr. Williams. “I already did that,” again speaking my thoughts as I pulled the note loose.
I looked over the desk for any sign of a note or paper but there was none. She had headed out the door earlier to work and said, “I love you,” as she stood next to my disheveled and sleeping snoring body on the comfortable bed.
The icon for Word was alive and bouncing on the Mac dock and I knew there was something and altering just waiting for me when I opened it. I closed the news screen and clicked on Word. In a blink of an eye of a full-page of type lit up the screen and I knew then it was about our last three days of constant bickering. We usually have a couple of those a year and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit maybe that there had been three or even four.
This year was especially tough for us. Two bad PSA tests and the biopsies that follow, one badly broken arm with three days in the hospital, one hypertensive retinal occlusion, laymen call it a stroke, so do I, and one heart surgery made it tougher than usual. Oh the torture of worry.
You would think all that sickening waiting and wondering would bind people together better and they wouldn’t bicker or argue about the trivial things. But we did at least four times this year now that I think of it.
Her note blasted into pixels on the page and I stopped and stood up, “This is going to take another cup.”
I sat down after getting another steamy K-Cup and started in, noticing the title of the piece was bolded and larger than the rest of the print. I took in a deep inviting breath and began the love note.
I need you to know:
‘I want you to feel you are always #1 even when I’m busy or out with the kids. I want us to continue to enjoy fully our most intimate times together. Just you and me.
I want you to feel there’s no one I would rather share my life with. I want to feel excited to come home and see you. I want to look forward to our future. I want to know than you care about yourself to do the things that will make our later years the best like: eat, exercise a little and moderation on things that could hurt your mind, memory and motivation.
“She’s after my martinis again with the moderation mention,” I whispered through the wizard-like of my life’s collaborator.
I want you to know, I respect what and who you are and all your ideas and talents. I want you to know I am always proud of you! I want to know that you will reach out and just touch base with your kids just to let them know you love them and just want to know how they are doing. I don’t expect you to fix their problems or give advice but it’s so that they know you are thinking about them.
Your Daughter needs to hear from you every week, whether it’s a text to say, ‘Hi’. or a small message left on her phone. You and I are so blessed to have great kids and our Daughter, as a girl, needs you even if she doesn’t reach out to you. It’s important for you to do it.
I promise when you’re old and tired of being in the bite, you will be glad you did this. She is blessed and cursed to be so much like you and me.’ she continued. . .
I paused, “The bite? How does she even understand the bite?” I asked myself in thought.
The dumb bump on the back of my head tingled.
As long as I can remember, I knew what the bite was. When a horse would lunge at me as I walked down the shed row with Dad, he would grab my shoulder and put me on the outside of the path so he was nearest the horse. He was the shield of his children as I am today.
“Stay out of the bite, Billy.” Meaning the space where one of the rogue-biters could reach your arm and snip out a small section a boy skin along with the frayed flannel of a new plaid shirt.
—– Time Travel Time —–
I left the track life and started a newer and just as exciting one with my young wife. I worked a couple of jobs, trying out my own business as an owner of a landscape business, then grinding guided missile lens to perfection leaving that and becoming a pressman at a cardboard box plant watching thousands of finished cardboard boxes shoot out of my press with the words ‘Up’ printed perfectly on each one.
Boredom could not get any better. Swish, swish, swish, the cardboard boxes scraping across each other as it poured from my press ten thousand times a day. Fierce cutting sounds from the machine called, ‘The Slitter’, it’s the machine that puts the crease or ‘score’ along with the ‘slit’ or cut between the flaps.
I can only describe the sounds as, ‘fewt, fewt, wheee, fewt as the sound of the bundle-tying machine-made the handleable squares of completed boxes with the ending ‘thump’ as a co-worker placed the sellable boxes on a pallet and tied them down when they stood almost six feet high. Then, to my dismay, here comes Roy, the crazy-assed 70-year-old dirty-clothed truck driver, smoking a cigarette on the propane-spewing forklift to get his load of corrugated board for the day’s delivery.
All very scientific. That’s why I went to making cardboard boxes from grinding and polishing front biastatic reflective polarized lenses for guided missiles. Circular polarization just wasn’t a challenge anymore. I needed more stimulus someway plus the pay the rent by going up fifty cents an hour.
“Get the ‘F’ out of the bite!” Roy would yell the fornication form of the adjective as I stood too close to where the 4 tons of cardboard boxes would land if it fell from the truck as it was being loaded. I was so skinny in those days the grease mark the tonnage would have left after it flattened me into the black top, wouldn’t be enough to fry an egg sunny-side up.
“Holy shit, ya dumb ass!” he yells causing the long ash of his Camel gasper to shake loose and re-stain his already oily shirt right where the sew-on label reading ‘Roy’ causing it to be even grayer.
‘I hope he catches on fire.’ I said quietly not knowing he was giving me a gift of life. Even though Roy has to be dead now, unless he’s 130 and still smoking, I still need to say thanks.
As newlyweds, we moved to an apartment near Indian School Road and each and every work day I would fire up the ’64 pickup and head to work near the FedMart on Grand Avenue to transform cardboard into a box. My life was moving forward faster than a World War II pigeon-guided missile with a perfectly ground and smoothed lens in its head.
We moved in with the sister and brother-in-law and put a down on a house at the outskirts of Phoenix. A small house but cozy. Met some new friends and enemies. Bickered all the time. I moved out of the house and made breakfast for myself for a while without my wife, all the time shuffling cardboard out the back of the press. I was totally depressed and at a very young age. Life was not feeding my ‘A’ personality with anything but grief.
Almost a year goes by and all of a sudden things are back to normal on one night. I can’t believe what is happening to me. I had stepped into the bite of life and stepped back out of it and into safety. We lived together for another year but the bickering continued. Now it wasn’t about the future but just about the past. Then my best friend Tony, got a new job. He had been a tile layer forever and he too had found little challenges in the work.
He prodded, “Just go down and apply. I’m going to be a Lineman.”
“WTF is a Lineman? I’m not big enough to play football.”
“No ya dumbass. Electricity. You know, the big guys in the big trucks that would come out and take off the bicycle chain we’d throw over the wires so the lights would go out on the block. You remember? The sparks were incredible.”
“Oh, those dudes. They’re called Lineman?
“Cool. I’ll be a Lineman tomorrow. The old lady will like that. You sure they don’t play football? My skinny ass can’t play football anymore unless it’s flag football.”
“Dude, I’m sure.”
Tony was right. The job to get started to be a Lineman was there waiting for me. I just didn’t know how many years it would take and how hard it would be. I can’t imagine today, yeah I can, how hard it is for those young men to align their lives and home life to become a member of such an admiring trade. No one will know unless they’ve done it. Just the idea of wanting to be one, puts you in the bite of life. I and my dear life’s friend, Tony knows. We know for sure.
My co-workers and I worked many years, a lifetime, and constantly found ourselves in the physical bite of life just by putting our lives and our future family’s lives in serious jeopardy by just working in our trade. Electricity is so unforgiving. Jim, a friend for life, lost his knees just by being in the bite of two wires looped on the ground and when they came tight and ready to be raised in position, found he had stepped into the trapping oval of loosened wire lying on the ground had suddenly tightened around his trapped legs unforgivingly breaking them forever. His life changed forever physically as did mine emotionally.
—– Time Travel Time —–
40 years goes by like it was only the first 365 days of my life. I can remember those who, in my trade, got into the bite either physically or mentally and didn’t survive. Several friends come to mind. Everyday I hear the verbal reminder from some co-worker to stay or get out of the bite.
So let’s talk about a newborn and bore you to death for a couple of sentences. The first day, they live and will feel like this is the longest day of their life. All following days should seem shorter relative then the first day because of the ratio. All they can do is poop. No reasoning in their heads and for sure they are not wanting to be a lens grinder or a Lineman.
If you and I use a day or week as our lifetime measurement, we could debate that in our working years, some days or weeks seem to be longer than others. This varies based on how busy you are, or if you are under stress. Ask yourself this, “How much has the, ‘Bite of Life’ affecting me today?
—– Time Travel Time —–
So here I am, drinking a K-Cup coffee and pondering what the smartest person. Kim, my wife today, speaking about life I know has just written. I’m not knowing anything as being fact and truly not trying to being significant yet what I do know is my ‘Dumb Bump’ has been activated. The night before cocktails have dissipated and are gone. I can feel it trembling and coming alive underneath the hair on the back of my head.
I start reading again but not before remembering my favorite Mr. Williams comedic quote when making fun of the ballet dudes,
“Men wearing pants so tight you can tell what religion they are.”
Man, I will sure miss that humor.
She continues. . .
What I think will get us to this is we both need to:
Respect each other even when things are tough, treat each other with kindness knowing that any day could be our last. Trust each other to know that we can discuss or talk about concerns and to know that if one hurts the other it is out of frustration but never from “pay back mode” or not caring. Don’t bully each other, ask the other to do things or try things in a manner that isn’t harsh or full of guilt.
To trust we don’t manipulate each other but make the other feel safe and happy enough that each of us can do or try things that give them pleasure together or a part for a short time: from writing all day, being engulfed in a project for a short while, to hang with friends, shopping, painting, exercising.
Some of these we both like, and other things we don’t, so we should always be able to pursue things that give us pleasure or happiness even if the other doesn’t feel in the mood to do it.
I need to do the things you ask me and those I ask of you such as not ignore questions or certain acts you want to do. We always address them.
Don’t lecture but talk calmly to you. Listen not just hear you. Never cuss at you again. Think out things, use common sense. Never put either of us in the proverbial back seat.
Consider your feelings and wants and not assume you know what I am thinking or manipulate you to do things or in situations.
My oath: I promise I will try with all my might to do these things
I want us to be the best and get better, have tons of fun, enjoy our kids and grandkids, travel, enjoy our ground and never regret we’re together growing old.
Love you so much and want us to always be on the same page and have a very good weekend. 🙂
‘Have a very good week with a smiley face?’ I smiled just thinking how the profound note ended. Just right in my book.
—– Time Travel Time —–
Later in the day, we spoke.
“Hey Babe, did you hear about Robin Williams?” she asked.
“I did. That was terrible to read about. It made me think.”
“I got busy at work and I just heard about it.”
That’s when her engagement note hit me across my chin like a 90 mile fast ball. Purposeful chin music and its not from iTunes.
My partner in life who knew I could always, since childhood recognize the ‘physical’ bite of life, understood then that she has always been able to see the ’emotional’ bite of life. Those two things, as opposite of the poles of a magnet, are still the binding that glues us together.
It hit me how she was the one who told not to send angry emails and wait 24 hours before replying. She was the one who taught me to think about my reactions to the neighbor who I had problems with. She said to think before I spoke and to watch my tone and I was the one who taught her to see trouble. She spent special times helping me to be a Dad and not an enforcer.
I helped her to stay safe and to see ahead of any danger. I was the one to show her how to believe in me. I showed her how if it doesn’t change your life in a year, don’t worry about it.
She and I are trying and doing our oath every day. To stay out of the bite yet be able to get into our life, especially with the years we have left together as a crew. No more bites we decided. We are doing well.
I interrupted, “Just like my Dad and the great Linemen who are and will be my family always said? Stay out of the bite.”
She stopped me, “Yeah! Stay out!”
Together at that one moment in our life that we shared together, we realized how important it was for us together to stay out of both bites, the dangerous physical and the all so tiring emotional bites.
She added as she knew we both understood.
“Those bites, are the kind of bites that will take a chunk from your life.”
“What kind is that,” I asked.
“Those bites out of your life you’ll never get back,” she whispered.
She knew I knew, “Brian understood.”