Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Easter Story by The Lawyer

It’s funny how I remember the dreams better than the times we shared awake and living in the world.  Steve appeared out of nowhere.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know where ‘where’ was in the dream, but all of a sudden, there he was.
“Steve,” I said.  
“Hey, man.”
I asked, “So, what’s it like to be dead?”  
“It’s not so bad,” he said, possessed, with a contented and calm smile.
It was the morning after a ripping bender out on town.  The night before, a bunch of us loaded up in Steve’s old muscle car, a fixer-upper in progress.  A cooler was in the back seat with a case of beer sloshing around in the ice.  After a few bars we
ended up  in an old warehouse downtown that some guy had converted into a semi-inhabitable apartment.
We drank until the wee hours of the morning.  How I came to wake up in my own bed the next morning is still a bit of a mystery to me.  
It was back in the days, before kids, and other pressing responsibilities, when I still could get away with staying up that
late, drinking to my heart’s content, and spend a wasted day nurturing a hangover until it eventually went away.  Or, as was the case on that morning, I would kick the hangover with sweat.  
I called Steve.  “Dude, I am so fucking hungover.”
“Me too,” he said.
“Let’s go sweat it off.” 
“My thoughts exactly,” he said.
For a month, or so, Steve had not been acting right.  Steve was a talented defender on the soccer field; tall, fast and fearless.  He showed up to the match without shin guards.  To not wear shin guards was not an option and against the rules.  Steve knew that.  Everyone knew that.  But on that day he protested his rights not to wear shin guards with the referee to the point that all of us there thought a physical altercation would break out between them.  
A couple of us stepped in and calmed Steve down.  Pushing and pulling him away from the referee, Steve sputtered, “Fuck him, fuck him,” over and over.  
“Hey man, you have to wear shin guards,” some one said.  “Just go buy some real quick and come back,” some one else said.  “Calm down,” I said, or some one else said, or maybe I just thought it.
Steve drove off, and headed for a Walmart close by.  “What in the hell is wrong with him?” I was asked.  I didn’t know, and shrugged.
Steve returned with these ridiculous little cheap shin guards for a six year-old that were not up to the task, but they were good enough for the referee to allow him onto the field.  
This was an adult men’s league.  No one was being paid to play.  There was no trophy at stake, and the spectators mostly consisted of other players on other teams waiting for our match to end, and for theirs to begin.  Slide tackling was frowned upon and would eventually get you a red card.  Steve knew that.  Everyone knew that.
He played that day like a man possessed with fury.  When a benign shoulder tackle would do, he would come sprinting up, take flight, cleats out, clear the ball away and take the opponent’s feat clear out from under him.  More than once he would end up in a cloud of dust with a midfielder or forward from the other team toppling down to the ground on and around him.  He was red carded, and left the field, while strongly suggesting to anyone who wanted to listen that they could go and fuck themselves.  
“What in the hell is wrong with your friend?” a teammate asked me after the match.
I didn’t know.  He had always had a bit of a fiery disposition, but this was something else.  It was too violent.
There was another time, a week before the beer drenched night out on the town, and the horrible next day.  Steve was parked out in front of our house as I pulled up arriving back from the office and another day’s work.  Steve got out of his car, slammed the door.  His shirt was torn, and he was mad with rage.  The way he explained it, and the way I remember it, was that he had gone to a convenient store close by to fuel up his car.  He wasn’t sure how it happened, or maybe it was that he didn’t know how to explain it.  He had gotten in a fist fight with a total stranger and didn’t know why.
I sensed that there was more than rage boiling in him.  He was equally scared and confused; not all his normal self.   “Why did you get in a fight with the guy?” I asked more than once.  He could not give a good answer.  He had beaten a man up for reasons that couldn’t be understood or explained.  Eventually he calmed down over a few beers on the front porch.
Steve had been on his own since he was a teenager, supporting himself working odd jobs , dealing marijuana, and renting apartments.  He was born into the unfortunate circumstance of being an intelligent, free spirit to authoritarian parents.  He didn’t fit the role they intended for him, and whoever’s choice it was it wouldn’t do for him to live under the same roof as his parents.
He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome.  I was always envious of his talent for walking into a party, or a bar, and pretty much pick and choose which girl he would get in bed with that night.  
I knew him in high school, but was reacquainted in Norman where he was putting himself through college and I was attending law school.  We began hanging out a little and eventually became close friends.  Good conversations and lots of laughs, combined with confiding in each other life’s irritations and mysteries made us like brothers.  
He introduced me to my future wife, to whom I would be married, and who would be pregnant with our first daughter at his funeral.  
There have been other dreams and other people.  One that comes to mind is when Jerry, my mentor in law practice, appeared in my dream.  It was night time, and we walked along a paved path together for a while, talking about life in general.  Suddenly there was a house in front of us.  “That looks like a nice place to live,” I said.
“If you want it, then it is all yours, boy,” he said and then slapped me on the back which sent me stumbling forward and caused the contents of my pockets to empty in front of me.  And he was gone.
The next morning I got the call that Jerry had been found dead on his front porch,  with a hand full of files scattered around him, and his dog Danny lying next to him licking Jerry’s hand.  Either he was just leaving or returning when he dropped dead of a heart attack.
The dream I had about Nanny was the most livid and lucid.  I had no doubt that I was dreaming as I walked through a dusty ranch style house and found her lying in bed in a nicotine yellow room.  The light streaming through the window illuminated a column of dust floating through it.  
Nanny was my great grandmother.  She had died of emphysema.  We still joke about how in her last days she would unwind the hose to her oxygen tank so that she had enough length in it to go outside and have a cigarette.  
Nanny was fond of saying to me, “You’re my favorite little shit.”  It’s one of the perks that come with being the first born of a generation.  It was always good and comfortable being with her, because I could feel that she loved me.  
The weird thing, I remember thinking, was that the dusty ranch style house was not hers.  I had never seen it before.  But there she was, sitting up in bed as I came in.  “But, you’re dead,” I said.
“Why weren’t you at my funeral?” she asked.
“I couldn’t do it,” I explained.  “I was scared to see your body.”
We talked for a while.  Eventually she grabbed my wrist and pulled me to her.  “I’ve got to go,” she said.  She looked at me, completely serious, and said, “Learn, learn, learn, and never quit learning.”  
I walked down to the field with my soccer bag slung over my shoulder.  Steve was sitting on the front row of aluminum bleachers at the side of the field with his back to me, probably lacing up his cleats, I thought.  I sat down beside him, opened my bag, pulled out my cleats and started to put them on.  
“My head is killing me,” I said.  “It’s a nice day though, maybe a little hot.”  Steve did not respond.  “How long have you been here?” I asked.  No response.  
I looked at Steve for the first time since I had sat down.  He only had one cleat on with the strings resting untied on either side of his foot as he looked out across the field in front of him.  “Steve,” I said.  “Are you okay?”  He slowly turned and looked at me, his head kind of swiveling like he had been spun in circles and couldn’t keep it all straight and focused in front him.  “Steve, what in the hell is wrong?”  His eyes rolled back into his head and he lightly fell on his side towards me.  I caught him and gently eased him down to the ground.  He vomited yellow bile on my cleats.  I rummaged in his bag, found his cell phone and dialed 911.  
It was a stroke.  Twenty-seven years old and hit with a massive stroke, out of fucking no where.  “What drugs is he on?” asked the gruff, gray-headed emergency responder, while others lifted the gurney and rolled Steve into the back of the ambulance.  “Come on!” said the responder.   “You need to tell me.  What drugs is your friend on?”
“He smokes a lot of pot,” I said.  “That’s it, and he drinks, too.  We were out here to play soccer, not to get fucked up, damn it.”
While in the hospital his eyes had gone from brown to silver.  He couldn’t talk.  He could raise his arms to gesture exasperation, doubt and ignorance at anything he was asked.  He was in a helpless and hopeless place and didn’t seem to know how he got there.
Two weeks later I got the word.  He died at the hospital after a second surgery.
That was thirteen years ago, almost to the day.  It was Easter weekend. 

I’m forty now, and am becoming acquainted with middle age; the usual stuff, like waking up sore for no reason.  My hairline is receding.  I’m not easily outraged by things like politics and injustice like I was thirteen years ago when I was full of righteous indignation and principle.  
I am a dad of two girls, a husband, a lawyer, a writer, a seeker.  I am also a whole lot of other things that I can intuit from time to time; things that I have a dreamy but distant sense of, like seeing a form in a thick haze that is just out of sight and out of touch, but there, more than my physical self, and more than can be adequately explained in language--much more.  
The best thing about growing older for me is that I have lost my fear of death.  It’s not some horrible specter that needs to be covered up with all kinds of tricks of the psyche that make people weird and paranoid.  Death is going to happen eventually, but in the meantime I enjoy being alive and in the world, watching the people around me being alive and in the world.  
I often wonder what Steve would be like at forty, and whether he would be married with kids, or divorced and working on his third marriage, and his forth career, or a perennial bachelor.  I wonder how the serious business of having to work for a living might have affected him.  Would life have made him bitter and harsh, insipid and uninspired, or profound and wise.  What choices would he have made?
Steve appeared out of no where.  It was like we were in a different place, not here.  I sensed a certain serenity in him--a peaceful calmness that had not been there in such abundance before, the raw edginess, gone.  
“Steve,” I said.  
“Hey, man.”
And I asked, “So, what’s it like to be dead?”  
“It’s not so bad,” he said, possessed, with a contented and calm smile.

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