Posted by: David Weimer | February 10, 2010

Born to Wonder — upcoming book excerpt

When I got to the bottom of the escalator at the airport in Detroit, Gino’s dad, who never spoke much to me at all except in short, few-word, broken English phrases from around hand-rolled cigarettes, and who intimidated the hell out of me, took a step forward and grabbed me in a bear hug.  I stood there.  After a moment, I tried to back away, but he kept me in that tough, no words embrace.  He looked me in the eyes intensely and then did that.  He didn’t say anything.  I didn’t say anything either.  That’s what I remember about coming back for the funeral.

I had always been a dreamer.  As a kid, I used to stare at the sky at night and yearn to be taken away to other galaxies by UFO’s.  I would broadcast myself with all my might, Take me!  Come on down.  Let’s go—I’m ready! I probably would have stayed that way, curious about things and dreaming about things. Dad’s dying changed what might have happened.  Everything changed, ultimately.  But one thing changed for sure.  Something inside of me broke and, like a car with the wheel jammed and broken, steering to the left, I veered off in another direction.  I talked to my mom about getting a hardship discharge from the Army instead of going on to Germany where I was to be stationed.  She stated adamantly that my dad would have wanted me to go.  I don’t know if he would have or not.  But I listened to her.  I wish I had stayed home, sometimes, when I think about what they went through with me gone across the Atlantic.  But then again, none of us would be where we are now, maybe.  So I ended up in Germany for two years and I remember that time as a dark time where I was unable to turn in any direction other than inward.

I read books, like always, to escape this world, but I was walking constantly through a nightscape.  My natural bent for curiosity, mystery and wonder was turned in a darker direction.  I would ride my ten-speed that I bought in a bike shop in Erlensee, the small town outside Fliegerhorst Kaserne where I was stationed.  The Germans have terrific wooded paths going everywhere.  I would ride my bike the on weekends around Hanau, armed with cigarettes and a book.  I’d stop and read or smoke.  A lot of times I’d be staring at something, or nothing, while sitting on a bench or a stump somewhere along a bike path.  My mind would be turned in that empty direction.  This marks my course change towards an existential search for an answer.  Dad’s death was a shot that set off an avalanche in me.  I didn’t decide to look for an answer; the need for one was selbstverständlich as the Germans say—self-evident.  Nothing else was important.  This was my underlying condition.  I didn’t make a declaration of monk-hood.  But I was changed and not at all the same person I would have been, were I free from concern.  I guess I grew up.  I, at least, became more serious.

At the funeral, I was in a daze—like anybody, I suppose, who has something happen to them like an unexpected family death.  Well, at the time, at the memorial, I didn’t feel that going to the front to see Dad was important.  He was gone.  The fact that there was a coffin and a body and the funeral was enough.  Maybe if they’d never found him in that Lake Superior water by Marquette I would have felt a longing to see him, or just to see his body once again.  For me, he was up there at the front of the room, just dead.  And that was enough.

Mom wouldn’t let me alone until I went up and looked at him lying there.  The striking thing I saw was that he was empty.  The body lying there was clearly related to my dad, but it was like a noise with no echo—none at all.  The one thing I did, for a while there, was to look at his chest.  I swear that it was moving.  I could have sworn that it moved a little bit.  I kept looking to make sure.  Of course, he wasn’t breathing, but there was a hell of an impression of it.  I guess I’d never seen my dad dead before.

I remember few things from that day.  I remember standing outside in the parking lot in my Class A uniform, smoking a cigarette.  The fulfilling of the nicotine craving was satisfying, but not enough to allow me to escape, even momentarily, into the brief satisfaction.  There was no escape from this nightmare.  The world had lowered down to settle onto the top of my head.  It was a weight.  And it really didn’t let up for about ten years.  Probably because I didn’t find someone to talk to about my grief and loss.  How I really felt.  I kept waiting for someone to tell, but it never happened.  A nice, warm, female type, unrelated to me, listening to me and patting my arm.  Where I could really let loose and cry.  But I didn’t do that.  Not for about ten years.  It almost drove me crazy, that held back thing.

My friend Gino came outside to talk to me.  It was August, and hot.  He said a few things that I don’t remember.  He was trying to do small talk but I wasn’t able to.  The other things that I remember about Dad’s funeral day was the incredible weight of the coffin as six of us carried it down the steps in front of the funeral home to the waiting hearse.  I remember lowering him into the ground.  Jesus.  Memory is a funny thing.  Sometimes it’s like a dream you remember having.  Really.

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Responses

  1. David, this is so well written and lets me know who you are. Congratulations on a job well done.


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