Wednesday, February 1, 2012

the old cigar man.

i don’t understand most things.

really, i don’t. and i truly consider myself an intelligent human being (i mean, all those years of nerdy-ness had to amount to something right?)

hooked-on-phonics baby.

but even with all those hundreds of books that i devoured--and after the seemingly endless years of school that i completed.

most things, yes truly most things--i do not understand.

like why in the hell driving up the five in that old truck felt like coming home.

or why seeing those familiar eyes and feeling the sting of that guarded grin will always make me want to sing those lyrics by the byrds.

i was so much older then. i’m younger than that now.

why that song?

no idea.

why those bizarre feelings that i somehow can’t seem to forget? seriously, why darling?

help me out here.

cursed with some spell that i hate with some sort of pent-up loathing. but honestly don’t desire to be rid of.

such confusion leaves me thinking about choice. agency. consequence. the whole cycle of being human. being imperfect. having perfect moments. the reasons that we all end up where we do.

like the choice to board that plane. that will take you to a place--take you away. for a while at least. so you make that choice.

maybe because you’re hoping to find yourself. or some answer to some question. and you’re not really sure what the answer should be, let alone what the actual question was.

like embarking on the first step of a scavenger hunt--realizing you don’t yet have the first clue.

so you start taking steps. hoping for some red-light green-light action. remember that game? telling you to stop and go? and you’d run as fast as you could until the person turned around and said stop. that game was boss when i was like eight-years-old. (red-rover on the other hand--not so hot on that one. everytime i played i would dread being called up to battle. see, up until high school, i was always a good head shorter than my classmates--and much smaller too. there was no way in hell i was breaking through any of those red-rover lines. and you better believe--i never once did. i was the ‘weak-link’. the one they would holler on over too. everyone knew it was a cheap shot, but if thats the way they played, there wasn’t much you could do about it.)

steps. choices. without any real thought as to what the consequences may be.

and then, there was him.

the 'him' of the story. what about him? what choice did he make?

unable to get on the earlier 4:05 flight, he finds himself on the 7:05. taking a seat right next to you. and did he have to take that seat next to you on an open-seating southwest commuter flight.

there were other seats open. there were other choices that could have been made. and then, two and a half hours later you walk away with a little piece of them--now yours for forever. or for as long as you choose.

and whether you ever see that person again in your life, will probably just be another matter of action and consequence. and maybe--ten years from now--you will pass by the window of barnes and noble. and you will see their book.

the book you told him you would buy.

who knows, maybe you will.

and then you step off that plane into a world so familiar and yet, all so new.

you see those same antiqued paintings, that seem to be glued permanently into their designated positions onto those old walls--coated with an array of floral wallpaper.

you remember staring at those oil paintings when you were a child. finding them peculiar and enticing. wondering why someone would paint a picture of an odd-looking man in a top hat and ragged coat, with a cigar in his mouth.

signed in the corner--the name ‘mila’. a cursive type, that could accurately be described as femininely playful and slightly childish. mila, your papa’s sister.

the one your nana so-lovingly pins with--"yes, there was definitely only one mila. no one else was quite like her.”

somehow, that makes you love her more.

the precise reason you always knew you’d name one of your children after her. that--and--the pictures you stumbled across of her in her 1920’s boyish-figured flapper dresses and faux fur won your heart instantaneously.

the sketch of your papa in his navy uniform hangs over his desk. regal as ever.

that always sparked a small amount of pride.

listening to your nana talk about his life--about his accomplishments. such fondness in her voice.

you chat about the time that he tried to get out the rotary machine--and how upset at him she was. she laughs at how she chewed him out for attempting such a thing when he knew he was to weak.

her laugh is mnemonic.

and yet, almost as if he was right out that screen door--gardening as we reminisced.

her hand trembles as she picks up her steaming cup of coffee.

you step away for a moment. opening the refrigerator. brushing the tear from your eye as you reach for a soda--that you really didn’t need. just a reason to hide your weakness.

such love could be felt--something you had needed to feel so desperately. maybe this was the answer to that question that you never knew in the first place.

a peace in knowing that such beautiful things exist. an emotion you hadn’t felt for quite some time.

faith, maybe?

re-kindled faith.

and then, you watched her hike up the side of that cemetery hill. jug of water in one hand--a scrub brush in the other. there she knelt. scrubbing the dust and dirt from his headstone. pulling the small weeds growing around the outskirts--the ones even too small for the lawn mower to cut down.

laughing as she exclaimed, “he’s probably up there saying--oh no, here she is again! it’s clean enough dear!”

you can't help but grin. that really does sound like something he’d say.

papa was a quiet man.

kept to himself. loved observing his surroundings. but brilliant--and quite comically astute. shocking, almost. the sarcastic comments he’d pull out of nowhere sometimes tripped me out. i loved it.

funny, isn’t it? the things we remember and hold onto from our childhood.

and now--standing there over papa’s headstone.

you. pretending to be an adult.

realizing things you had never realized before. like all your life you’ve been working on some sort of jigsaw puzzle--holding on to all these little pieces as you go...and you’re now just starting to get all the edges together.

like that damn painting of that crazy old-leprechaun-man in the beat up coat--and his stupid cigar--finally mean something.

because that right there--this scene you are witnessing in front of you--that’s real love.

real, honest, “i will love you forever” love.

its what this world is really about. why god has us here in the first place.

and now, papa--a man of principle, of ethics, of impeccably strong-family values--can look back at the legacy he left and the family he taught so well.

and he can see his successful children. with beautiful lives. now grandparents to their children's children.

all united in one beautiful cause--family.

what more could a diligent man like himself ask for? a wife that will love him through all time--until love itself ceases to exist. a family. unions of beautiful people--making their marriages work on a daily basis. raising their children the best they can--working their days away just trying to make life a little bit better.

and then--there’s you.

still that single one. still slowly putting together that freaking jigsaw puzzle.


the granddaughter that he once made fun of for an entire trip. saying you had finally lost all your ‘baby fat’ and your cheekbones were finally showing. the one that always loved to pick his oranges. and has ridiculously similar physical features to his wife.

the one with blonde hair--who once died it platinum during her senior year of high school and never heard the end of it from him.

the one who is stubborn and selfish. but tries on a daily basis to be kind and understanding.

his granddaughter. who would drive him crazy whenever she popped her knuckles.

yes, that’s you.

and all you can think about--is how you hope you are making him proud. how you hope--that one day you can be like your other beautiful cousins who you idolize.

...and raise beautiful children of your own and have a husband who adores you.

they know who they are. and they know why they are here. and maybe--just maybe--you can find that too.

that’s what would make papa proud.

it's 6 a.m.

you wake up from a dream.

back home again, in your own familiar bed. you look around, no cigar-man on the wall anymore. no smell of fresh coffee. just an empty water glass and a pile of clothes that needs to be put away.

and you smile.

your dream dances through your head. you're infatuated with its beauty.

as a little-blonde-haired mila in light pink ballet flats walks down some whimsical path of deep red bricks and the most heavenly trees you've ever seen.

holding the hand of a man. playfully telling her to not step on the cracks in the walkway.

her great-grandpapa.

oh-how-i-hope he will be proud.


  1. Love this! I just lost my grandfather a couple months ago and I think about this constantly. Will I be able to live up to strength of the family him and my grandmother worked and loved so much to create. Maybe it is when you are standing over the gravestone that you vision is for a second entirely clear. That you realize when the day in and day out stuff is all about. And when you realize your future is not about you. It's about the little ones. So gracefully put keen. P.S. I watched this documentary the other day called 'The other F word'. It's about all these punk rockers and their transition into fatherhood. I definitely recommend watching it when you get a chance.

  2. This is really beautifully written.

  3. you are such a talented writer! this is beautifully written. i really enjoy reading your blog. keep up the great work:)

  4. Aaron, I'm so glad you can relate! And I'm so going to check out that documentary--sounds super interesting!

    Jessi, thanks so much girl! I appreciate you taking the time to read it :) Always means a lot!


from keen.