There was something comforting in his garage, something honest and sincere.
He turned on the light; the first switch was rigged to the workbench, the second switch to the overhead, and the third was for both, and he even installed a dimmer switch. It was during the Time Life books phase of his life. He got a new book each month with details on how to do a different aspect of home improvement. Electrical was amazing; easy and complicated at the same time, dangerous and thrilling when it was finished right. He liked the electrical stuff. That was, ‘87, ‘88, a long time before cable tv made working on you home a source of entertainment. He kind of resented the television lately, he kind of resented the fact that the American flag and National Anthem doesn’t play and the television never signs off. It was unnatural in a way. He remembered coming home from 'Nam, and waiting to see the test pattern. It was one of those things he imagined before he went to sleep overseas, one of the images he longed for, knowing that when he saw it he would be home.
The world was different from the moment he got on the plane; his life was cut and pasted and shredded, all because of that one ride on a plane. He spent the remainder of his life trying to forget those three years. Somehow, when he least expected it, a shadow of those days would sneak into his mind, sneak into the California sunsets, and women he was attracted to, and early mornings when he surfed before anyone else in the world was awake. The jungle: The rapid pulse of automatic weapons rattling overhead, days knee deep in mud and nowhere to sleep, flies and mosquitoes, daily death, the heat, the orange moon. It would all sneak into the mind and cast its shadow, interrupt his life.
Claim his life, it wasn’t fair, he didn’t relive the first years of his marriage to that beautiful sweetheart with the curly red hair and beautiful skin; those memories of touching and laughing never snuck in his mind like that. The memories of his dad and mom and visits to the Italian coast, they didn’t pervade his mind; in fact he had to force the memories that were good, because they were fading, fading and blending and losing their power.
But not the third year, no, not Hell. Hell only gains power; it keeps you from loving, making commitments, keeps you from enjoying your children's birthdays because right there in the back yard you start to weep like a woman, knowing your friend Jimmy would never see his kid and remembering him passing you the picture of his wife and baby in the pouring rain. Precious cargo, that picture. Remembering taking it off, with body in flight and leaving him there empty-eyed, and running with his picture in hand and not thinking that... that “minute” in your life would never leave you and make you resent your own kids and “why him and not me,” and you have to go for a long drive that your wife doesn’t understand and fight about it later, because you can’t explain what is the matter.
You spend years trying not to think about the days when you were 19 and you couldn’t sleep and had to walk and walk and walk, and started to see things because you were so tired, and those sleepless ghouls, those demons in the trees under moonlight…they never leave. They crop up 'round blind corners of grocery stores, and late nights leaving bars and in between women’s legs when your going down…but you want to forget and you get limp because those images prevent you from living and the bitch gets angry and you can’t focus because you’re haunted and no one gets your silence. Your fleeing your non-response at times, ”Is not about them. It’s not about them at all, its not even about you. It’s about those fucking three years in Hell, it's about your minds power, your memory’s power, the snapshot, video camera in your brain.”
He loved his garage, his craftsman tools, his American made craftsman tools, always steel, made to last forever, made to do the job right. His miter saw, jig saw, plainer, dremmel, band width, hand sanders, finish sander, palm, rack and racks of shellac, stain, wood dye, rust remover, strippers, shelf’s of sandpaper, 50 grit, 100 grit, 150.
The sawdust curled in tiny pieces sitting on the counter. The smell of paint, varnish, wood and solvents, and the wall of tools, each piece of steel that willed to life, tables, chairs, shelves, handles, and ornate music boxes for nieces, and daughters and grand daughters.
Here he could sit on his chair and listen to Mozart or Miles Davis and think about the wood's grain, and angle of the cut, and plain the edges. Here the sound of the saw rising above the violins, or base, or voice on the recorder gave him so many things to focus on he could not be found. His mind would be harnessed, aware of each second and not aware of any moments, the task at hand made him part of the life of the immediate.
His hair was white now. He kept busy. He was thinking about that girl he met with the dark eyes that laughed too much and told him she wanted to die when she was sixty, and sixty wasn’t far off from him, just a couple of years and it made him want to reach over a slap her cocky face. She didn’t know what that meant. To die.
She went on and on telling him how she was so mad at this one person that she could kill them. She had no idea. She had not seen death in all its fury, in all its random whims, come and take, like a savage beast. He no longer wanted to have anything to do with her. He just wanted to get away from this flippant disrespect for life. He thought about how women could be so self-centered, and callous, the gentler sex? Right?
As he walked to his work bench he thought about her laugh, and how silly females could be and how she was too old to act like that, and how much her dark skin made him want to touch it. And how he hated her now.
And why he kept running.
Why couldn’t he just tell her, tell her that she made him angry?
Why couldn’t he tell anyone what he wanted, or didn’t want, and why was his mouth permanently fused closed when things mattered. Why? Because no one gets it, no one.
And he turned on his tape and let Mozart began his evening. He sat at his bench and pulled out a piece of wood, and looked at the drawing – and got comfort in the distraction.