Thursday, June 7, 2012

Epitaph 2008


He had always been the voice on the other side of the telephone.

In a way then, it was fitting how we found out. My mother picked up. She spoke her half into the line. My brother and I listened intently from the next room over. Each of us,  still and silent.  Each word she said was frozen and unmoving within me, just like her black shoes on the red tiled linoleum floor. If she had only been moving, then everything would have been alright. 

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“He died” 

Some peoples’ grandparents send them letters in the mail. He had sent me thirty-two snowy owls. Probably cut from any and every issue of National Geographic lying in the chaos of his apartment. A few crumpled bills - matching the way Tardive Dyskinesia had crumpled his scrawls. 'Share this with your brother' said the note. Matt could have the money, I would keep the birds. 

Keep the fragments of his voice. 

Keep the poetry,

Keep the lingering taste of chocolate covered bananas on my lips,

Hold onto to the feeling of wetness and the smell of the air on the Santa Monica Pier,

The hallucinations and the arguments,

The silence of a blocked call, that even without a ringing, you knew was incoming at four p.m. precisely each day. 

There was always a call. Until there wasn’t. 

But the problem with birds, and the voices in your head is that they both have a tendency to fly away; to dissipate into thin air.

All I have left of Arthur Goldberg is a memory of the voice on the other side of the phone,

And thirty-two impeccably white owls.  

*A note to the reader: My grandfather had schizophrenia, but had by the time I was older stopped taking medication for the disease.  He used to call us almost every day. As a child I didn’t understand that some of things he talked about, the ‘stories’ and ‘poetry’ were hallucinations. I still don’t know what was real for him and what wasn’t. It was just as I was getting to the point of understanding his illness when I was in in fifth grade. That year he had a bout of hallucinations that led him to lock himself in his apartment for 3 days, without food or water. By the time they found him, he was in critical condition and they couldn’t save his life. 

He was the crazy guy that you see all the time – perhaps wearing nothing but underwear on a street corner. He did that once. But that crazy guy may mean a lot, to a lot of people. He may have been a great artist and dashing gentleman in his youth, who continues to inspire his grandchildren to think and create. It’s just a different perspective. He was messed up in a lot of ways, but I love/d him. Sometimes it’s hard to see past a disease and the stigma of it, especially when it’s mental illness. But knowing my grandfather, talking to him, he was much larger of a personality than can be summed up by a single word from the DSM.

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