Monday, November 23, 2015

Dad's Dad

my father, Ernest Varga
My father just told me a story about his father, and how on this day in 1956 he died. My mother added details to the story that my father no longer remembered and hearing their combined recollection only cemented my understanding that death is just a transitive stage, a moment that leads us from this life to the next. It holds no more importance than that because it is the constant in all of our lives, the end which we should be prepared for, the final act that instills in us the necessary human characteristic of compassion.

It was a cerebral hemorrhage.Dad remembers that while he was at his bedside, his father's breathing was shallow and he could not speak or open his eyes. He did, however, do one thing that meant the world to my dad. It was there in that moment that dad's dad squeezed his son's hand for the last time. A hand squeeze can mean so much, but in this particular moment, as the 56 year old dying father touched the hand of his 28 year old son, he fulfilled my father's greatest desire.

My grandmother and grandfather, on my father's side, met in Chicago, having both emigrated from Austria to escape the stifling economic recession brought about in Europe after the end of the First World War. He, a day laborer, and she, a chamber maid, set out to earn their American dream, or at least I'd like to think that's what they did. The truth is I don't know. Neither does my dad, who now at age 87 has few warm memories of his family at that time to share. Listening to him talk about his childhood in the States is like listening to a timeline being read aloud. July 13, 1928, he is born, followed by his sister two-and-one-half years later. A half year after that, his mother took her children back to Austria, without their father who remained in Chicago for reasons unknown but based on the story my father told me today, it was in all probability so he could live the life of a bachelor again without a wife complaining about his drinking.

After leaving Chicago, dad had no contact with his father, a man whom his mother constantly reminded was very close with his son for the three years of his life before they left. As strange as it seems to consider a father who is very close to his son letting him slip away like that, another three years later my father would be abandoned by his mother as well when she returned to Chicago, leaving her two children to be raised by their aunt and uncle in a land that would soon host the Second World War. My father still cries when he remembers going to the train station with his mother and aunt and sister, and pleading with her to let him come along. He is six years old in that moment, has had to learn two languages, and both parents have said goodbye to him. Seeing how withdrawn he becomes from the relating of these events, I can only conclude they come from an empty place within him where he keeps his indescribable pain.

It is here that his life ceases to be the annotations of hash marks on a time line and becomes warm and rich with memories he shares. He and his cousin were very close, almost like brothers, and enjoyed the benefits of life. As they grew, they not only ran and played and challenged and fought as all boys do, but they also watched changes that would redefine human history. With chalk they would mark with crude swastikas the siding of houses where secret meetings of the burgeoning Nazi party members in their village met. They waved goodbye to the Gypsy families from outside their village as they were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. They hurried home from school on the eve of the Anschluss to help make the requisite red flag with white circle and black swastika that all houses were required to display the next morning.

As an American citizen he could not join the Hitler Youth along with his friends, but he did receive a Red Cross care package every month which contained useful items in a country starved by a two-front war. He was forced at gunpoint to dig graves for Russian soldiers killed in fighting around his village, and was sent to live with other family members in Vienna when his citizenship status and proximity to ground fighting brought suspicions about his loyalty. While in the capitol city, he cowered one evening in the basement of an apartment building whose walls were shaken by the thunderous drone of Allied bombers, right before one of their bombs struck the building abutted to the one he was in. Through the darkened and dusty air, he assisted evacuating survivors from that other building through a hole was broken out of the shared foundation wall, pausing briefly to take note of a medic on the other side euthanizing a man who was too badly injured to be saved. And all of these things over all those years took place without a mother or father to rely on for comfort.

After the Second World War ended, my father and his sister returned to the United States to live with their parents together for the first time in 14 years. At age 17, my father was not only excited about going to America, he was especially keen to see his father, the man whom he was told once shared a close relationship with him. He did  meet the man, but not the father he dreamed of meeting. He was not close to him at all and their relationship never recovered. His father remained simply a working man. And with that perspective, to have this man on the last day of his life in 1956, reach out to his son whom he was reunited with eleven years previous, and finally squeeze his hand, was nothing short of a miracle.

Last night I had my mother and father over for an early thanksgiving supper with my family. This pre-festival is our tradition as my son from my first marriage spends the holiday with his mom. He is now 17, as was my father was when he came back to America. Diner was warm and cheerful, my wife was beautiful, our youngest son drew a picture for his grandparents. Mom corrected dad and dad watched over a portion of his family. The evening was wonderful and afterward my son and I talked about a good number of things, from American history, to dating girls, and whether or not his truck's brakes needed work. So simple, yet so satisfying.

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I think you already know.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The final thoughts of Lt. Joseph "G.I. Joe" Gliniewicz after he went too far.

Aside from the names and events described, what follows is an entirely fictional story inspired by journalistic depictions from news media of the events of September 1, 2015, and the subsequent revelations and allegations of misconduct. No disrespect is meant to anyone, especially the Gliniewicz family, the Village of Fox Lake, Law Enforcement agencies, or youth outreach programs, nor is the story intended to tarnish the nearly 30 years of service that Lt. Gliniewicz provided to his community.

Hold on Joe, just hold on. Calm down... Think! think. It's not... I just need to think. Man did I fuck this up. Just hang on. Where's my gun? Dammit! Okay, think... It's gonna be fine, you just need to figure this out. You can do this. They never... they came close but you always came out on top... smelling like a fucking rose, man... None of 'em. Nobody figured it out yet. They got nothing on me. That scrawny bitch. She won't take me down. None of 'em will. I never stole nothing in my life, nothing I didn't deserve. Man, I just need to breathe. Come on, Joe. Breathe man! You got help on the way. Remember the story. Just stick to the story. Line of duty injury. That bitch. Man, fuck her. She's gonna take away what I earned? Fuck no. Christ this hurts. Move your arm, man. Come on, just move your arm. Move something... Come on. Move, man. Not much longer now. Help's coming. You're gonna retire. That party... I'm retiring sweetheart, no one's gonna find out, come on, just the tip... Air conditioning in there, man. Nice and cool. Fucking EMT's get air conditioning where they work... I'm sweating my balls off... Stay here. Just stay. Move something, man. A toe, anything. Something's wrong. Where's my gun? Scared the shit outta me when it went off... What happened, I know what I was doing. It just, I must have... too low. That's it. John fucking McClane did it. Clean, through and through. Hero time... I was just protecting the citizens... I'm a fucking hero. I do the job... thirty fucking years I did it. Fuck the Village Administrator and her whole fucking office... What the fuck is that. What gives her the right? Money? That's nothing. I'm here, sweating... Scared the shit outta me. Where's my gun? Man is it hot. Christ... if I could just move a little. It'll come back... I'll be back. Just breathe, Joe. Come on. Where's my backup? If my gun's under me that'll ruin it. I can't be on my gun. They took it from me and dropped it. So hot. Summertime on the Chain. Next time you shoot yourself... just a breeze would be nice. Come on, God. A little breeze. I'll make it right. It'll be okay.... You want me to say I'm sorry? Fuck yea, I'm sorry. Sorry I fucked this up. Fucking gun scared the shit outta me. Too soon, bitch. I wasn't ready. Just this last one. One more time, then I'm straight. No more. I got nothing more than what they owed me. That's all. Just a loaf of bread... if my kids was starving... just a loaf... it's fine, I'll be fine. I'm just bleeding... my fucking thumb... I musta let go. The round launched it off me. Good, good. My gun's over there, not next to me, perfect... Never shoot a gun with your thumb on the trigger. John McClane, man, he could do it. Right through the shoulder. Sure to miss, don't hit anything important. Christ... it went too deep. The vest. I shoulda thought about that. The vest was in the way. Next time. Loosen the Velcro. The muzzle... That's what did it. Thumb on the trigger... I couldn't balance it... no meeting for you Anne. I'm a hero. I got shot. When I get out I'll be retired. Stop worrying about the money I took, worry about finding my pension in the budget. The kids. I'll tell the kids what I did. They'll fucking build a statue... I squeezed too hard... damnit... how else? My vest. Shoulda taken it off. The vest wouldn't move away. How'm I gonna shoot myself in the fucking shoulder with the top of the vest in the way? ... I tried to push it out of the way. Damnit Joe! Take the vest off. You rushed it. Stuck the barrel in... tried to line the shot up... the collar bone, man. Shoot there... just like Die Hard. You squeezed the trigger asshole. What the fuck? Fucking idiot, man. Come on backup. I need you. Finally, a fucking breeze. Yea man, we're okay now. Nice and cool...too cool... Your dad's a hero, D.J.... Punks tried to shoot him... you can't kill G.I. Joe, man... he's lost a lotta blood but he's a fighter. You'll see. Your old man's a hero. That bullet went deep. Fuck man, that fucking bullet. Never put your thumb on the trigger and never use your pistol to pry your vest off your shoulder... Fucked up, man, I fucked up. Come on, man, open your eyes... No texts for you Anne. Can't make the meeting, I'm in the hospital. Leave him alone, he took a bullet for Fox Lake. He's a hero. He was here before you and he'll be here after you're just a bad memory. Just let him be. He's a hero. That bullet went too deep... Fuck me... No way I'm dying here. No fucking way. Where's my gun? Shit... I can't feel it. It was in my hand. No way I'm dying. I'm a hero. Clean up my stuff, man. I'd do it for you. Clean it up, throw it away. I'm dying, fuck I'm dying, I can't... I can't hear... no sirens man, I need backup! What's going on? It's almost done... Just get me home, I'll be fine. Just come get me... I'm sorry man, I fucked up. Don't let me... I'm just wounded. Don't leave me here. Come on, it's just money God. Don't let me die for that. I paid for it, man, I'm just doin' my job. Don't call my wife. I just need some time to figure this out. Just breathe man, just take it easy. A week from now you'll be sleeping in every day, Joe. All you gotta do is figure this out. I need to move... come on, Joe. You've been worse off... just a shoulder wound, maybe a little more. Get the mother fuckers that shot me. Remember the story man, stick to the story. You got shot in the line of duty, Fuck man, too late, you fuckers! Come get me! Where are you? I can't... I can't... I'm a hero... I'm a hero... Why now? Just money... Come on, man, breathe, why can't you breathe? Never use your thumb to shoot yourself. Tell the explorers... remember kids, not the thumb. Don't... loosen your vest first, kids, loosen your vest first so you can feel your collar bone. The EMT's are gonna take it off you anyway... no one will know you loosened it first... Just a clean shot... Yea, it's gonna hurt but getting pinched hurts worse... no one's gonna tell me to be in a meeting when I've been shot... I'm a hero... I'm a hero...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

tell us a little about yourself

I recently submitted a picture book manuscript to a publisher that uses an on-line submission form that's a clearing house for several publishers. To make my submission, first I had to create a profile, which required filling in lots and lots of answers to questions that were at the same time vague, yet needless. One of those questions asked for a third person biography statement explaining what events in your life were influential in becoming a writer.

That's a question deserving of a good answer, if you're a good writer.

"Whenever he looks back at his childhood, Edward can't help but bite his lip in anguish. So many wasted days redefining the phrase 'latchkey kid' while nursing on whatever was in the refrigerator and watching whatever was on the television. Mentally gifted, as evidenced by standardized tests, he grows larger while his true intelligence is masked by an apathy for school work. He is the third and last child in his family, the enormous baby of the litter, ignored by a brother and sister already set loose on the world, and by parents too busy with their own careers to have dinner with him at night. It was here in this emotional prison of abandonment where he begins to tell himself stories to make himself smile, and laugh, and shutter with excitement. Now is his time, today is his day, when the world will find out what he was doing with himself when he should have been playing baseball and taking piano lessons. You see, Edward has become a writer."

That's some serious Joker shit right there, leading to the next question, "Why so serious?"