Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Acquainted With The Night

I too, Robert, have been acquainted with the night.

I lost something I loved very much not long after I got married, when I was around 25.   For the first couple of years I ignored that loss and said nothing of it.  I buried it in the back of my mind and just moved on as if it had never happened.  Later on it re-emerged and I sort of went off the rails.  I acted erratically and unpredictably. I focused heavily on my work and became very quiet and introspective. I drank a lot.  My wife never knew when I was coming home.  It got bad enough that my father came into the city to talk to me about it.  Nothing helped.

I used to walk home late from work through the alleys of my neighborhood with nothing to keep me company but the lonely bragging of my heart, that said “I am…I am. I am what?  She is gone and I’m alone without her.”

On one such stormy, rainy evening early in the spring, coming home from the village tap, I found a man in the alley. He was sitting in a wheelchair parked facing a closed garage door. He wore a baseball cap that indicated he was a veteran, and athletic socks over his hands like mittens.  His chin was down, touching his chest so that the drops of water from the rain rolled down off the brim of his hat, past his face, and on to the cement.

I ran to him and I asked, “Are you alright?” I touched his arm. “Do you need help?”

He looked up at me through such sad and bleary eyes. His face shined ruddy red in the bright light of the security lamps. “I don’t need help; I’m okay,” he said, and looked away. “Just let me be, please.”

I squatted down beside him. “Are you hurt?” I asked. “Can I call someone?”

“No, I’m fine” he said, still staring at his feet. “Please just go and let me be.”

I didn’t know what to do. I said, “I can get you down to my garage and open it so you have a place to sit.”

He again emphatically said “I am fine, please just leave me alone.” And so like so many do, I left him alone and continued on.

I went home to my wife, who had a meal for me in the oven.  I told her about what happened and before she went to bed she said, “Thomas I appreciate what you were trying to do, but you can’t save everyone.  Besides, maybe you need to think about some other things.” She went to bed.  I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and went to sit by the kitchen window to watch the rain, write, and smoke.

I have always been a chronic insomniac since I was a kid.  It was not uncommon for my mother to wake up in the middle of the night and find me scribbling at our dining room table at four in the morning.  The night I encountered the man in the alley, I stayed up very late.  Normally when I write I get lost in things, but that night I could not stop thinking about him. 

At one point I put on my hooded anorak jacket and went to see if he was still there.  He was gone.  I looked around the neighborhood but I couldn’t find him. When I got home my wife was sitting on the flying staircase that led from our living room up where our bedrooms were.  She asked quietly, “Where have you been, Thomas?” She always called me, Thomas.

“I went to see if I could find him. I wanted to see if maybe there was a chance I could help him.”

“Did you find him?”

“No, and that makes me sad.”

She said “I’m sorry.  I appreciate what you were trying to do.” I went and hugged her.  She sighed, rubbed her eyes, and she said, “I know you’re lost right now, but you have to focus on some other things.”

I started getting a bit testy. “Like what?”

She still didn’t let go of me. “You need to focus on the positive things you have, and not on what you lost.  You have a pretty house, a really good job, friends and family, a woman who loves you.  Your mother would not like seeing you like this.  She appreciated all of the blessings in her life.  Tonight might a good night for you to start focusing on your blessings.”  

“It’s hard. I don’t know what to do. I miss her so bad.”

“I know you do.  I think you just need to take some time to grieve, which you never have. Then you need to come out of that dark place that you put yourself into and enjoy the light. That’s what your mom would want.”  She held me for awhile and then kissed me on the head.   She asked, “Are you ready to sleep?”  I shook my head and she said, “I understand.”  She kissed me again and went upstairs to bed. I went into the kitchen, got a beer and went back to my spot by the window.  I lit up a cigarette and started scribbling in my notebook again until it was very late in the early morning.

After that night, I did take some time off and worked through the grieving process, which was a good thing to do.  I kept looking for the man in the wheelchair but never saw him again.  

When I lost my father and when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s I again went pretty heavily through the grieving process…one time for him and one time for me.  During those times it was not so hard because it was nearly 25 years later, and by that time I had gone through it so often for other family and friends, I knew how it worked.

I still remain acquainted with the night, but we have only a passing acquaintance now.  Nowhere near how Robert Frost described it and I identified with it after my mother died.  I think it’s unfortunate that there are people out there who are still fully acquainted with the night. I wish that wasn’t true.

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Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night. 

~ Robert Frost