Archive for the ‘family’ Tag

R.I.P UNCLE B   4 comments

 gold-cloud1

Some people say that psychic connections between people are the stuff of foolish talk; some kind of ethereal sensibility tossed down through the ages from folklore and near-death experiences that became the stuff of legend.

For me, its pretty real.

I talk to my parents pretty often, but when I’m busy and time lags, there are the occasional spans of weeks that may pass without a real conversation. Two days ago, I felt a pressing need to speak to my father. I felt that something was wrong, and that I needed to chat with him. Something was tickling my subconscious, even though I don’t necessarily sit and giggle on the phone with my father for any length of time.

Tonight, after coming home from a long day, I noticed a funky smell wafting through the air. An annoying rodent apparently, had met its demise in my roommate’s room. I spoke to her about the logistics of removing the rodent (she was in the bathroom preparing to head out) and then my phone buzzed. It was home calling.

I flipped open the phone and said hello, immediately forgetting the smelly situation. It was my mother, and her voice sounded calmer, and little more subdued than normal. I usually receive a chirpy, “Hey Marcus, how are yah!” in a tone of voice that could fit any female motivational speaker.

I flopped on the bed in my room and we spoke about the simple things, the day and so forth. She told me that she received my message (I had left a message on the phone saying I wanted to talk to my father). Then, she said.

“Did I tell you that uncle B had gone into the hospital recently?’ she asked

“Hospital?” No, I replied.

“Well, he went into the hospital last week… and he didn’t make it.” She said.

“Wow.” I replied. “Wow.”

Whenever I think of my Uncle B, affectionately called “Uncle Boysie”, my first memory of him is being described as a world traveler. As a child I gleefully touched the large scars on his arms, each one marking a different vaccination from a different part of the world. “Do you know who Atlas is?” Was one of the first questions he asked me. “Atlas, “ he said, “Is the man who holds the world on his shoulders.” He had said with a laugh.

He had a short stature, but a strong resounding voice, the kind with an English inflection from thirty-odd years of living in England, which still had the gentlest touch of his original Jamaican accent. Like my Grandfather, who passed away a few years ago, he is one of the few people I have never seen angry, never seen curse. There was always a smile on his face, and candies in his suitcase for myself and my sisters when he would arrive from England.

In my last conversation with him, he congratulated me on graduating from University, and wished me all the best in my future endeavours in life.

When my mother said the words, “he didn’t make it”, I didn’t feel a crunching sadness envelope me. Like my Grandfather, he was a man that had lived. I have endless memories of his laughter, traveling to the country with him as he told stories from his youth and watching his eyes gleam with pride as he saw how well his family was doing.

As 2008 turned into 2009, I felt as if I wouldn’t have the need to write much anymore. I had unofficially retired this blog. There are many things deep inside me that I have struggled with to overcome. Some I can control, and some I cannot. But I have an intimate relationship with death, and I appreciate what it means. When people around you die, you learn to treasure the moments you had. You treasure the laughs, the smiles and their idosycrasies. You learn to treasure something about yourself as well.

You treasure the things and people you’ve lost, and you try to regret less and do more. Today, I’m feeling that way again.

As he grew older, my Uncle B traveled less because of illness. But whenever he was healthy enough, he would come straight to Jamaica, and spend a few days at my house before departing to the country, where my Aunt built a house in the area she grew up.

I feel it for my father, because he was one of his closest and most beloved friends. January seems to ring with a particular tone of death for him, as his parents and now uncle, have all died in the month of January.

Whatever echo from the cosmos sent a signal to me while I was going about my day in Washington DC, reminds me of that deep intrinsic connection we share. I felt as if my father needed something, some words, a touch, a conversation. At the time, I didn’t know why, but when my mother told me the news, I understood it. My inkling of a feeling, the sense that my father might not be completely happy, had weight attached to it. Many times these things might happen to us and we ignore them as coincidences or trite circumstances. We feel that our lives are completely governed by the steps we take, that we are completely individual.

But are we?

I will always remember your laughs Uncle B, and the time you grabbed a machete and chased a large rat out of the guestroom. I will savor the memory of the taste of those English candies, and I will make sure to kiss your picture the next time I’m in Jamaica. I know you lived a full and prosperous life, with your family and friends always behind you. I hope that I too, can live a life like that. With more to love than to regret, with more to look forward to than to fear.

Safe travels Uncle B, wherever you are.

 

 

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Losing Christmas….   2 comments

rainydaycentralpark

Its raining outside, and somewhere my family is looking up at sunny skies, sharing smiles and eating a delicious breakfast. I won’t be with them anytime soon.

I’ve lost Chrstmas.

I don’t know how much people know about the stilted lives of those who aren’t American living in the U.S, but let’s just say, its not always pleasant. Details of why I’m forced to remain in lovely ol’ DC for the rest of the year are irrelevant.
I’ve lost this time with my family and a few friends, but I feel I lost Christmas a long time ago.
Tomorrow will be the fourth year anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I can’t even believe it, it still feels like yesterday, like the way I feel when I forget my keys as I’m stepping out of the house, or the way I feel when I have something to do that’s on the tip of my tongue. It feels close, as if it’s a breath away, an arm’s length. But its not. Four whole years have passed since I visited the quiet hospital room with its green, ugly walls, where everyday I would greet my Grandfather with a smile and hug, feeling his bones press into my skin because he had lost so much weight. The staff loved him—he’s just that kind of guy—and I followed suit. Even though he was at the last stages of being eaten by cancer, he never showed much pain or anger. He would always entertain conversation if he could manage it. He was always laughing with the staff and telling me: “Mr. Marcus, good to see you.”
I only had two weeks to spend with him, and there were nights that I was falling asleep after spending the day there with him, and he would tell me to go out and have fun.
It’s hard watching someone with one lung breathe. The day before he died, one of his lungs collapsed, and watching him was heartbreaking. When you have one lung you are forced to exert all your efforts into breathing. Sucking in life-giving air is no longer something you do effortlessly awake or asleep, it becomes frightfully real. I watched him heave awkwardly for hours on end, while nurses stood by, their faces dark brown masks of death.
On the day he died, we were all standing around him, most of his immediate family, and we were there to see him go. His last words with his arms outstretched were “Sing for me”. Sing we did. His pastor was there, singing a quiet hymnal, and we stood by, our eyes filled with tears and our hearts in our mouths. As soon as he said those words, he wilted, and we knew he was gone. My mother grabbed us and rushed us beside him. “Tell him goodbye.” She said between breaths.

Tell him goodbye.

That was four years ago, and tomorrow a gathering will take place at my Grandmother’s house in Jamaica. People will play dominoes, eat Christmas cake and drink Sorrel (a yearly drink we brew) and talk about good times. I will be here in DC, watching rain pour from the sky like tears from my eyes four years ago.

In a way, I lost Christmas then.

A year later, I was in love. The worst kind you can be in, the unrequited kind. That Christmas I was unable to sleep, and I lost my appetite. The days went by in a blur, and all I could think of was a person I couldn’t see or touch. I couldn’t hear her voice or smell her hair, but at least, I had my family. I had the kind, consoling words of my Grandmother. She with her powerful hugs and sweet kisses. She calls me Marks. Then there were the outings with my father, the endless stream of Heinekens and staying out at bars until the sky becomes a purplish blue. I get to hear my father say, “This is my big son. Marcus.” To numerous people I’ve never met. Then there are the idle conversations with my sisters; joking about esoteric things you learn over twenty odd years of living with each other. The jokes that only you will ever find funny, the ones that pop up from the recesses of your memory in the same way your name does when a stranger asks you what your name is. You immediately go back in time, and you are ten and she is five, and you are both sitting with skinny arms and legs, calmly watching a Disney movie on the brand new VCR. I didn’t have love, but at least I had that. I had those memories around me to stymie the effects of my loss.

The next year, I lost a friend.

This also changed Christmas. No longer would I run to his house and laugh and recap the year, or traipse about Kingston, laughing at how well we were dressed, or more esoteric jokes. No more would we reminisce about riding through the hills during the summertime on our bikes; no more playing video games and crashing on couches. These memories were gone, wilted away like the moment my Grandfather left this Earth. We might think life is mundane and often empty; that the little things around us are the things we dislike the most. The little things family and friends might say to annoy us, the meals we used to hate, the little trips we didn’t like taking. But when those are gone, we are left with nothing but silence, a cavernous raging silence that we can’t escape. It stares at us from the heavens, drowning us in its malevolent laughter.

Treasure the moments.

A year after this one, I made sure to make Christmas what it should be. I relished the moment, hungrily went to all the parties, I went to all the dinners and I laughed at all the jokes. Losing love, family and friends makes you do that. It turns you into a leech for good emotion. Dammit, if I have three weeks out of a sad year to feel good, I will use them like an addict’s last hit of coke before rehab.
Today, that’s changed.

There is no love twittering about in my heart, no painful memories of someone nearby. There is no friend to call and laugh about esoteric jokes. There is no family nearby to hug and giggle with, no sisters around to laugh about old Disney movies and catfights when we were kids. All I have is the rain around me, the humming of my space heater to keep me company, and my thoughts.
It is said that we die alone, that when we exit this Earth, we do so the same way we came. I think this is true, but I also think we live alone. We may occasionally see people and go to places were others dwell, but in our minds we are forever by ourselves. We never completely open up to those around us, and our reality is uniquely our own. Time might pass and we might love and lose it, get married or have children, but in some way, people never truly know us. We spend most of our lives being trained not to tell people about ourselves, and then worry as we get older and experience states of undesirable disconnect. Thus, if we die alone, and we live alone, is dying like living? Are they one and the same?
I don’t know. But as I head out into another rainy evening and the wet drops soften my hair, mix with the salt on my skin and burn my eyes, I might have my answer.

Hello DC: CHASING DESTINY…   1 comment

Today was the furthest I believe I have ever run in my life.

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about my running habits (here), and I explained the manic nature of how I run.
It is a complex emotional affair, rooted in stuff from the past, thoughts about the future, or maybe the frightening present that fuels me.
Columbus Day is the day I decided to run. I was sitting in my room, listening to music, when I felt very bored. I didn’t feel like running yesterday, but I ran about five miles on Saturday evening.
As always, I started out on first street northwest. Running through the Shaw Howard area, I passed Hospitals, seven elevens and streets filled with light traffic. I wore a visor today, an old Von Dutch hat I bought a few years ago. When I run, night or day, after a while the stream of sweat that gets in my eyes is the most trying aspect of it all. This time I had no such problem.
I had planned a quick two mile run to Dupont Circle. As I ran on the road, running along side moving traffic, I felt a vague sense of quietness around me. There was the noise of the city, but somewhere within me was a blanketed silence. I can’t describe it exactly. I can’t say it was loneliness, or any of the isolated emotions that people are privy to feeling, but it was something.
I didn’t feel like I would be able to run very far. My left calf felt very tight, and my left instep throbbed with each step I took. A few pedestrians looked at me interestedly as I ran past. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think it was the visor I was wearing. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a runner in DC with a visor. Headband? Yes. Baseball Cap? Maybe. Visor? Never.
After reaching Dupont circle, I did a few light stretches. I didn’t look at anyone around me, but in my peripheral vision I could make out dozens of people sitting on benches, in the grass and generally enjoying the relatively warm day. I was warm and sweaty now, and my mediocre ipod headphones weren’t doing justice to my carefully selected trance playlist I made minutes before heading out. At this point, I decide to run to Embassy Row.
I’ve been to the Embassy area twice before, to get passports to go to Spain and France respectively. I head north away from the circle, and take a left by a bus stop that I believe leads to where the French Embassy is.
I’ll stop at the Embassy, I say to myself. I run down a few streets filled with healthy trees. It is a relaxing atmosphere. I’m at Twenty-seventh Street now, and I realize I’m near Georgetown. The embassy was further north; I think I was heading East.
I run across a bridge and I swear I see Mel Gibson. The man is tall, with a long scraggly head of hair. “Sorry buddy.” He says to me as I run past, even though he wasn’t really in my way. A few feet away from him are people with film equipment. If he was Mel Gibson, Mr. Gibson, is really REALLY tall. I’m tempted to turn around and ask him if he is who I think he is, but I keep running. I take a left turn on twenty-fifth street and start running up an incline.
I’m running on a road I’ve been on before. One night a few months ago, I visited a girl somewhere around here. We ordered Thai food and talked about books. I had met her at a bar, and we had made a connection. She was doing preparations for some hardcore financial exam, but she wanted to see me in the evening. I think it was Sunday. Either way, we talked and talked, and I realized I didn’t want to do anything with her. She said she wanted to “sample” me. I didn’t’ like it.
I run past her apartment, and head further up towards Georgetown.
I’m passing the Tudor house, and I’m tempted to stop there. I wanted to walk through the large gardens, touch the leaves and breathe in the air as I sit in a shadow space, but I keep going.
I’m on Connecticut now, (I think ) and I wonder if I should run to Georgetown’s campus and then circle back, and end my run. I look down the road, looking at the line of shops I’m quite familiar with. I decide to run to the waterfront.
I run past the Commander Salamander, a pizza place I used to frequent, and the Georgetown mall. I amuse myself briefly by out running another person running in front of me, a short blonde girl.
I reach the waterfront, and I am taken by the vista in front of me. The sky is a stark blue with sparse clouds, and the water is a silky golden green. I run to the waterfront and look into the distance. I see a large bridge. Is it the Arlington Memorial bridge? I ask my self. I decide to run there.
I run past a few hundred people dining on the outdoor patios of a waterfront eatery, narrowly dodge a few cyclists, while occasionally looking at people kayaking on the water. During this whole time, I’m not even sure of what is keeping me going. My thoughts of late have been awkward. Sometimes I think about a project I’m working on, sometimes I wonder about the present, and how well I can enjoy it, but mostly, I’m wondering if I’ll see someone.
I wonder if someone driving by will see me running, tall and sweaty, and beep their car horn. Will I get a facebook message saying, “Hey, I saw you running through Georgetown yesterday! Good job man!” That I think, was on my mind the most. But one hundred percent of the time, I never see someone when I’m running.
I run past a place where people can rent Kayaks, and I get a flash of memory of my first time there. I turn away from that establishment and follow a short path that leads to the main road. I go briefly through a light patch of thick foliage. There is dirt on the ground, and it feels good under my feet. Then, the road opens up and an asphalt path with grass on either side stretches for a good bit. I run past a family of six, a few cyclists, and a few other runners. Like me, all the runners I see are intensely focused. They are looking directly ahead, covered in light sweat, and they all have headphones.
The path curves out towards the water, and then I’m running on smoother ground, beside a rib-high wall. The bridge I want to reach is much closer now, and I’ve almost reached my goal. Then, I see the Arlington Memorial Bridge in the distance. It is another mile or two away. Across the water, I can see Virginia. It is a postcard quality picture, with large billowy trees and grass that seems hand-painted. Sunlight dances off everything, and it is glowing. Looking at the sight makes me want to walk amongst those trees, to touch the grass, and sit there.
I decide to run to Virginia.
I reach the first bridge and run under it. The acoustics under the bridge make a strange echoing noise in my ears for a minute or so, then I’m back outside. Now, I’m running down a well-paved path. In the distance, I can see the Lincoln memorial, and the shiny glint of the massive Statues at the entrance of the bridge. They look close, but they are far, far away.
At this point I’ve probably run ten miles, and I’m wondering why I’m running. Why am I running so far? I ask myself. The way I feel isn’t euphoric, and whenever I run I don’t feel relaxed or relieved in some way. Maybe I’m just running for running’s sake, to get away from the contiguous existence of living in a row house, or trying to escape the memories of DC for an hour or so.
I’m getting near Arlington Memorial bridge now, and I see people running up the steps, lounging like lizards in the sun and looking out at the water. I go under a small under pass and I see the large statues looming in front of me. Underneath one, a small lady in gray shorts is taking a picture.
I breathe deeply and hit the bridge. As I step on it, I feel a sense of power envelop me. I have always wanted to run along this bridge during the day, and this—this felt good in some way. The bridge is very long, and my goal was in sight. Good old Virginia loomed ahead with its green pastures and beautiful trees, and I wasn’t about to stop now.
To my left and right, is the Potomac, and I watch boats go to and fro, but mostly I look directly ahead, feeling my body wet with sweat, and lick my dry lips with my tongue. I only have three dollars on me, and I hope that I’ll be able to find water nearby. I don’t’ feel the least bit fatigued, but I briefly fantasize that I’ll keel over in a few seconds, and the lady approaching me will call an ambulance and I’ll wake up in the hospital with a beautiful nurse looking at me, and I’ll smile at her, then we’ll have some fantastic love story about me pushing myself too hard, and she’ll talk about almost leaving early that day.
I don’t faint.
In another few minutes, I’ve reached Virginia and I run down a beaten path towards the water. There, I finally stop and look out at the river in front of me. As if signaling the greatness of my achievement, a huge fish leaps out of the river at the precise moment I stop at the end of the path. I do some more stretches, and then stand for a minute. I’m not even breathing heavily, but I sense I am more mentally tired than physically. I have been exercising a lot lately, almost too much. But no matter how much exercise I do, or how far I run, I never feel completely relaxed or centered when I am finished. I feel like I need to run farther, to climb higher and do more.
Maybe I’ll travel to Antarctica, and walk through the frozen tundra for a few months and see what that tells me about myself. Maybe I’ll go mountain climbing and see if I can survive a mountain that has killed thousands before me. Or maybe I’ll take up some weird martial art, paint, or a dozen other little things to see if each of them can give me little insights into things about myself.
I want to feel the world around me. I want to taste it again.
I take off my shirt and close my eyes, raising them in the air and breathing in and out. I focus on the moment; the grass around me, the beautiful day and the river water rippling quietly in front of me. I try to release the strain of negative thoughts that have been plaguing me of late, and I try to just feel good in the moment. I tell myself, Good job Marcus, you ran like a bazillion miles. Feel good about that.
In a small way, I feel okay. I never thought I would run from DC to Virginia. I’m guessing I ran about nine or ten miles give or take. I walk to the National mall after crossing the bridge again and leisurely go back home. For the entire day, I’ve walked and run twenty miles.
When I reach inside my apartment, I sit down for a moment and sip on some water. Some part of me feels accomplished, but there are still little pockets of emptiness rippling about. I feel like running some more, but I’m too tired. I Toss my clothes into the laundry hamper and hop into the shower. As the water beats on my skin, I imagine myself somewhere else, swimming in a river, far, far away.

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