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How To Keep Your House Clean With Kids
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He Broke All the Rules
A little background to set the stage...
When Michele and I moved back from Vermont in 2002 the economy sucked. It was three months after 9/11 and there were no jobs. I looked and looked, and found nothing in the fields that appealed to me. On a whim I answered a notice from one of the local job sites - something about computers, children and West Point. Well, WP is only a mile from my house so I thought what the hell.
Well I got the job.
What it entailed basically, was I worked for the DoD on the installation of West Point in the Department of Community and Family Activities, within the confounds of building 500 under direction from the higher ups in building 681. The plain and simple of it - we were operating an after-school program for army brats - and I was the "tech guy." They all called me "Mr. Mike" and when another Mr. Mike started in the program next door I was "Mr. Mike 1.0" - they other dude was 2.0 cause frankly, I was smarter. I digress.
I was in this position for two years. We did Digital Photo Projects, made movies, played computer games, followed senseless calendars and played more computer games. I was a big kid myself so teaching things to kids who had just spent all day in school seemed pointless - they were kids, worse yet, they were Army kids - their life was confusing and stressful as it was - no need to make it worse. Well, this was a fact that my bosses refused to grasp. Well, they were too worried about themselves to care anyway.
So, in comes Ray. Ray was an outsider, trying like hell to be an insider. He and his sister were adopted by an Army family on post - his step-father played an instrument in the West Point band. It was a sweet gig and it enabled Ray to have a stable life on post - when a lot of other kids were being continually uprooted due to deployment and reassignments. Ray had been a local fixture for most of his life, and all of the adults on post knew him - for better or worse.
Ray's family lived just across the road from the Youth Center so he was always there until late in the evening - messing around with new programs, playing games, sitting on the other side of my desk asking "Mr. Mike - why won't they let us play America's Army?" "Cause it's violent Ray." "But Mr. Mike, it was made right down the road - and isn't the Army violent..." To which I would usually point towards the door and he would go grab a soda and come back in 5.
What Ray was most (in)famous for was his music ability. He would mix techno tracks on the computer that were really top-notch incredible. But the thing that made him really special was his guitar playing. For a time we had another guy working with us named Adam. He was a very good guitar player/vocalist and a veteran of Bosnia. Anyway, he encouraged Ray to bring his guitar in and play with him. Over the months Ray got better and better, and louder and louder. Eventually, Adam left for greener pastures but Ray kept on chugging along playing Stairway to Heaven 24/7 on his small amp.
Pretty soon everyone in the building began to take notice of Ray and his guitar. Sadly, a few of those that noticed were the Director and his Assistant who began to complain about the decibel level of his music and how it interfered with their internet surfing - I mean "work." Who knew watching your Yahoo Stock Portfolio could be a full time job and include the title Director. I digress.
And so one day Ray and I had it out.
"you have to turn it down Ray - it's too loud"
"your too old"
"wha what...screw that, turn it down."
"I thought this was a place for kids to have fun..."
"well learn some new songs...go down the hallway, learn some new ones and practice"
"I don't know any other songs?"
"There are like a million songs - you can't think of one you would like to play?"
So this is when I made everyone's life in that building infinitely more irritating. As a joke I pulled up AC/DC on the computer. I played him "Hell's Bells" and instantly he stared playing along with the rhythm. Same with "Back and Black." This kid is amazing I thought. Then I brought up "Thunderstruck" and his eyes lit up - "omg that's not possible he said."
Well for the next weeks and months he must have went home and practiced that guitar intro over and over and over - because everyday he made it a little cleaner, a little farther - until he played it all the way through.
And, I can still remember the day that he did it, sitting in the study area behind my desk, focused on the stem of the guitar...later when everyone was hanging out in the public area he went down the hall to his practice space, plugged into his amp and rocked out - only to be kicked out for once again breaking the rules.
Some people just don't get it.
day 18 - 365
i wanted to do each of these 365 shots with a commentary. but to write,i have to feel. and honestly, i am all 'felt' out right now. roger and i both are. unbelievably, it's been almost two weeks since his father died but we're still in a kind of recovery room for grievers. i've been through this and i knew (generally) what to expect. after the loss itself takes place, there is a kind of numbness that sets in. everything is surreal like the most vivid and believable dream you've ever lain your head down to. we even mentioned that to one another using that word, 'surreal'. it's almost as though your brain releases some kind of chemical to soothe you, take the edge off, at least until the time comes when you HAVE to deal with it.
you don't HAVE to deal with it the first few days. there's that flurry of activity that has to take place, the 'occupiers' of making arrangements, the buying of a casket and vault (in dad's case, mom & roger took care of that a couple weeks ago), the picking out of the last set of clothing they will ever wear, the obituaries, where to put all the food coming in, the inanity of keeping the house clean and taking showers and getting a nice suit and scarves & gloves since it was 2 degrees fahrenheit, fixing the broken toilets. all of us were there and we kept each other on task. we worked like a love machine together. in this time of communal disaster, we pulled together and drew on our strengths to get through it while only occasionally allowing our weakness to pour over. we were numbed.
then the visitation and the funeral. mom did well at the visitation. all her friends, the people she loved, seeing how many came out to honor her and dad...this kept mom going. it balanced out any feeling of aloneness with the joy that she is important to, and needed by, a great many people.
the funeral was hard. the last goodbye. like standing up from your seat at the end of a 52 year long movie, good or bad or both. your legs are locked in that certain positioin. you've forgotten how it feels to use your legs. or your mouth. or your brain, at least outside of the context of watching the movie and sitting in that seat. disoriented. i literally felt helpless beyond measure when at mom's side. she was numb, quiet, not steady on her feet. she appeared to have shrunk a few inches overnight and i just wanted to sit down with her and hold her through the entire event.
roger was in robot mode. i recognize it immediately. loss, the kind he feels, the kind i feel for him...there is no way to help that. i don't say much because there is nothing i can say that will mean anything at all today. only silence has meaning now. and the catching, and holding, of each other's eyes now and then, and as always...the holding of hands.
they wanted me to take photos in the chapel. these will be photos that no one will see but me, i believe. early on the day of the funeral, they opened up early just for roger and me. we had to hurry. years ago, i thought this type of thing gaudy and some kind of backwoods bizarre ritual that only survived in places like where i grew up. that morning, it seemed like the most profound and meaningful task i could ever perform for dad, for mom. for the whole family. we were all with dad, touching him, encouraging him when he left us. we sat with his body and with each other after he was gone. roger and his mom bathed him. roger held his body while mom made the bed. dad was loved. he was cherished. up to death and through the door of death and even into the afterwards where only dad knows what awaits. this is the ultimate honor for me to take the very last portraits of dad on this earth. the room where his family and many, many friends bid him farewell. unlike my mother's death and funeral, sitting in a mental hospital lobby in a wheelchair alone and then a nightmarish parade of people who didn't love her, resented her, tolerated her, didn't even know her...well.
i was just moved by the intensity of love, the involvement, the drawing-together rather than the rending apart.
this is the hard part. this is where you start to think, to concentrate on the 'gone-ness'. this is where you start to contemplate how life changes. for everone. the hardest part are the days after the people go. all of us go through it but mom, most of all. she is all we think about right now. 75 times a day, i wonder if she's crying or lonely. i feel it so intensely that my shoulders pull up against my ears and i squeeze my eyes shut to turn it off. even when i talk to her and she sounds fine, assures me that she is strong and is coping just fine, that she had a productive day, i think she's hiding her pain. i can't even imagine how roger feels inside. He had a complicated relationship with his dad when he was younger, as many of us do with parents, and even though the last few years were good, nay WONDERFUL, i know from experience he's dealing with guilt
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