When I looked back on childhood, most of the time I feel a loss. I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea which direction my life is going. I don't know what I want to be when I ever supposedly grow to the point of productivity. Life is an everyday battle and when I look to the faces that I use to take comfort in, there are few that remain from years past. Where ever I go is my journey. Home is just a visiting place on a list of dots upon a map that leads me on to yet another day. The clearest vision or direction I want my existence to head in is driven by a rage to find the youthful innocence we all lost along our way. The moment we see our first sunset till the time we stare into the starlit night, it is pure and real. The trivial race we find ourselves immersed in everyday turns out to be a lie. The only salvation we will receive is when we make peace with our unknown individual troubles that haunt us the most.
When I was a child, I had a dear friend by the name of Jeremy. Jeremy wasn't a very big kid, kind of short and skinny, if you asked me, but a good guy none-the-less. Jeremy lived down the block and around the corner from me, so, we would meet up and make our way to school everyday. It was simple. Even the care-free feeling of skipping school and heading to Jeremy's house to play video games and just be kids. We didn't stop to watch the world change around us. But faster and faster, the world sort of changed our lives on its own. The first time to feel as though you are living, though -- the times where the moments are so fresh you drown in it all: if I could revert my life back to the expectations I had when I was young, the world as it exists now would be a different place
Time flies by you like a redneck trucker, and before you know it, you've grown older and the look on your face in the morning mirror seems to differ from the image you've had scratched into you head from day one. I was a sophomore in high school when I initially lost a part of my life.
Many of my classes were with Jeremy. There were only a few parts of the day when he wasn't around. Coming up on about half way through the year, I noticed Jeremy was taking more time off of school than he normally did. He would occasionally tell me about being sick and feeling awkward, but I just dismissed it as childhood sickness syndrome, a gift to many children who grimaced at the thought of wasting all of the valuable time spent at school. But the situation was getting ridiculous. And now retarded by the years of booze and resin clouding my lungs and mind, I only get vivid images of exact days as the many weeks passed by. But one day in November would remain a day I would always remember.
The trees were long vacant from autumn's chilling breeze and soon, it would be Christmas. I remember that day, walking to Jeremy's house after school to give him homework. Soon, I thought, snow would blanket the ground and the daily walk would be just that much more horrible. I reached the steps to Jeremy's house and saw him standing out in the cold breeze with just a t-shirt on.
Before I could make fun of the kid, he said to me, "I have cancer."
I stood there and I couldn't do anything. I dropped my books and just stood there and thought about the kid I knew all of my life dying. But he just stood there too, scanning the neighborhood without an expression on his face; just standing there like he was a king. And in my vision too, he became the biggest person I knew.
It was hard heading into December. Christmas was near and as I walked down the festive streets, jolly fat Santa Clauses howled their joy into the cold air. I couldn't deny the joy that was there, but, I was conflicted with the happiness accompanied with the thought of my friend dying. Not just leaving, but walking the path that only a grown man should walk. He had figured out more things about life that I had not even started realizing about my own life. He had dreams. He never said he wanted to be something, he always said that he would be something one day. But now, he was shadowed by time that I could not give him. Jeremy and I decided to get away just for a night. We wound up stealing some vodka from my parents. Jeremy had the tent and blankets. Away down to an open field we went. We spread the tent on the ground, wrapped ourselves in blankets and began to drink. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be. The wind that night had died down and it seemed silence filled the surrounding air. It seemed for just a moment, that we returned to a time when we were younger. And though we were feeling good, occasionally our conversation would turn back to Jeremy's situation.
I asked about his parents and he told me that sometimes late at night when they thought he was sleeping, they would come in and sit at his side. His mother would sit and run her fingers through his hair. And he told me that he could hear them cry at night when they would go to bed. He said his mother wished she had him back in his crib again. Back when it was just her and her baby boy in her arms, but things were different now. It kind of shook me up a little to think about that because I had moved further away from my parents as I grew older. I would dream myself the child in my mothers arms at night. It was so simple to remember the love that was there, and for me, it was lost, in a way. For Jeremy, it slipped from his grasp. Life does that when we aren't looking. I asked about how his girlfriend was doing and he replied in a murmur. I guess she hadn't been doing so well, but, she was the kind of person that looked out for herself. I never really liked her and I never really knew what Jeremy saw in her, but I also didn't care. He was happy to be around her and I guess to me, that was good enough. Most of the time, that's what counts.
As we talked into the night and finished our bottle, I sat back and looked at the stars. Before me was the universe as it poured itself out across the sky. I was nothing compared to its millions of lies of creation and a void of darkness it carried with it. I looked to Jeremy, and asked him if he would miss it all. He looked at me and then he smiled. And when he looked to the sky and told me, he said that he would miss life but he understood that life ran in cycles. We look to the spring to bring new life, the summer to live in warm bliss, the fall to end all of life's little ends and the winter to reminisce. He told me that most of the time, it's all an illusion. And that is when he spoke of the stars. To us, they have been there forever. Their light takes years to reach us. The light that reaches us was sent when our fore fathers walked this land. It is our history coming back to us, as will our light come back to somebody thousands of years from now. they won't know our individual stories, but they will know we were here. In the day when the stars don't reveal themselves to us, we think that they have moved on, but they are still there. We are just blinded for a moment, but it all comes back to us again. Somewhere in the midnight air on that cold December evening, the whole world slowed for us, stopped and came into tune.
I remember going for a walk on Christmas Eve. The streets were all filled with the last-minute morons who frantically grabbed for their last gifts. I was done with shopping and just wanted to get out. Unfortunately, peace wasn't what I had found. I made my way home to dinner and as we sat there, I remembered Christmases past. It seemed that they were happier times. It was a good meal that night, probably the best that I had in years. I watched some television and went to my room to listen to music. Around nine o'clock, the phone rang and it was Jeremy. I could tell in his voice that there was something wrong. He was crying and he told me that his girlfriend had just broken up with him. The first thing that I thought about was going to strangle the bitch myself, but I was breaking in and out of thought and conversation at the same time. There my friend sat on the phone and I couldn't comfort him on a horrible Christmas Eve. And that is when he said what I still fear today.
He said, "It's over man, it's all over."
I knew what he had meant. Without even hanging up the phone, I was out the door in slippers, running down a snow filled street to his house. As I turned the block, I heard a faint gunshot go off. It froze me there in my spot. I didn't know what to think or do.
Later reports would lay out that Jeremy went to his father's drawer and gotten his forty-five. He put one bullet in the chamber and disappeared into destiny that night.
I stood in the street a moment, let what I knew set in, and returned to my house. Tears ran down my face and froze in the winter air. I needed something to get me out, get me away from these feelings.
I came back home and grabbed a bottle from the cupboard. I breezed in some warm cloths and headed downtown. I don't remember much of that night. Mostly the horror filled with knowing my friend lay dead in his room. And it must have been hours, but it seemed like eternal minutes and the bottle was damn near empty. I stopped in front of a church and stared up at the statue of Jesus. Below him was the manger scene. I walked onto the grass and the bottle dropped from my hand. Getting closer, I began to cry again. I fell to the ground in front of the baby Jesus and just stayed there. As I was drifting between the real and the not so real, something special began to happen. Beside me, the baby Jesus lay. Above me he was there as a man. In the sky, the stars gleamed like diamonds and that's when it was clear to me again. Everything was still the same. In the distance, I heard carolers singing "Silent Night" and at that moment, when I sat beneath my God as what he was, and I sat beneath the universe that spun further into the night, I felt it was there I made my peace.
I could have given up more, and died, too, in time with self pity
and a lack of understanding, but I would have to refuse to dream. And
on a cold December night, lonely, I decided to endure life for what it
© 2000 Ryan W. Ball, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
Place yourself at distance from your work. Observe it as though you are a classic painter, and for the first time, you have stood back and set your eyes upon David and God together. Absorb it as though its presence will make one more moment of living that much better. And even when your teachers and friend have forsaken you, and the coliseum director shouts obscenities at the top of his lungs, demanding your work must stop, drive on. Don't give in until the divine beauty that flows from your creative pores rushes forth no more. And as always, disown the world if what you have got isn't good enough for it.
Scream your beauty into the night on tenement roofs and go as low as the subway passages. Perhaps you will be perceived as crazy. But maybe you are within an ear's distance from the person that will change your life as far as creativity and conveying your message to a larger crowd can go.