Bowling for Fireflies

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Bowling for Fireflies

Dad looked cool as hell throwing his first strike, shocking absolutely no one. I expected no different as I tried emulating his movements during my turn. I got a split and left a pin on the spare.

Then it was Lil Phil’s turn.

The lightest ball they had seemed to weigh more than his tiny ass. We watched him struggle, wind up, throw the bowling ball like a shot put, and fall flat on his ass. The ball sounded like it would go through the floor when it landed about a foot from Phil’s Pocket-Herculean toss, before creeping towards the pins at an obscenely leisurely pace.

 

spring becomes summer

sunlight stretched to horizon

I shall keep this day

 

Dad and I fell over each other laughing hysterically in spite of ourselves. After a moment, Phil started laughing too. The ball was almost halfway to the pins as we helped the little guy to his feet. Phil was grinning; always with that grin that seemed to know where mom hid the last of the cookies. Dad reassured Phil that one day he would be bigger and strong enough to handle a bowling ball instead of it handling him. The ball was nearing the end of its journey as I playfully ruffled his hair.

Then we all turned our attention to Phil’s ball as it slowly, painstakingly nudged each and every pin out of its way; an uncanny microcosm of Phil’s unhurried, determined, free-spirited personal philosophy.

My brother had thrown a strike. The heavy ball made a mockery of him, but per usual, Phil got the last laugh.

 

starlight blinks awake

they salute the setting sun

gently, fades the dusk

 

We laughed even harder at the absurd luck as we all high-fived.

I’m certain we had other moments, but I will cherish that instant forever as my favorite mental snapshot; the three Dawson men just kickin’ it in the bowling alley, smiling, laughing, and politely debating whether rap music was actually music (Phil and I were absolutely hooked, but Dad held back, thinking it was just another fad, like disco.) We genuinely enjoyed ourselves and each other in a transcendent night at the bowling alley.

A little over one and a half score later finds Lil Phil a grown man, a devoted husband, amazing father, and wise far beyond his 38 years. But in many ways, he’s still that determined little guy throwing strikes with a grin while laughing at the idiocy of fate.

 

fireflies dance with stars

I cup them with my mind’s hands

captured memories

***

big Phil

Big Phil with his son, my nephew, “Thundercat”

Happy birthday, Big Phil, my plucky little brother.

Day 17 – Maritime Confrontation

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Image source: Unsplash.com

Maritime Confrontation

“Be careful,” my Workcenter Supervisor cautioned me before removing the cover to the seawater strainer. Training had begun on what was to be a monthly task in maintaining the ship radar’s heat-exchanger. Steve was stepping me through the process for the first time, cautioning me against the possibility of a poisonous sea snake popping out the strainer, biting me, liquifying my heart, making my blood boil, and writing a swastika on my lifeless forehead. (I may have imagined a few sea snake tendencies.) After I undid the last bolt, Steve slowly removed the lid. “Oh cool!” he exclaimed. “A tiny crab! Look, Barry!” On-cue, out popped a four-inch crab, claws brandished aggressively.

Fear is my lifelong companion. I don’t overcome it as much as I learn to live with it. My earliest memories involve being afraid. Of the dark. Of being different. Of being the same. Afraid of being teased for being afraid. Of the inevitable violence married to racism. Of getting my ass whupped over bad report cards. Afraid of dad beating mom. Of mom nearly killing dad. Of dad leaving and never coming back. Of mom nearly killing me. Of nearly being killed in gang-fight crossfire. Of mom nearly killing my brother. Of possibly being killed during nearly every pointless police shakedown for “fitting the description”. Afraid of failing. Of not trying. Of not being strong enough for Navy boot camp. Of drowning. Afraid of possibly becoming an addict like dad. Of possibly being a schizophrenic like mom. Of failing my wife and kids. Afraid of being exposed as a pointless muthaphucka with nothing substantial in my soul worth sharing.

But none of my fears prepared me for squaring off against a four-inch crab angrily defending his new saltwater strainer home.

“Aw HELLLLLLL naw!!!” I wailed, wheeling around, tearing through the hatch, through the junior-officer jungle, my slipstream waking the ensigns, narrowly avoiding turning my division officer into a speedbump, out the exit hatch, trying to control my rapid breathing, hearing my bemused Div-O ask Steve, “What the fuck was that all about?!?” which, after a beat, was followed by uproarious laughter.

The navy trained me to rely on my training when confronting fear, but my hilarious fight-or-flight antics must’ve hit Steve square in his empathy chip. He never even tried to assign me strainer duty again after that. And hell naw, I sure as shit never brought it up.

And crabs are delicious. Except for when they’re alive. And bite-sized.

the sea gently rocks

I breathe in her promises

centered and focused

** *

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: The only thing we have to fear… hosted by Toni Spencer (kanzensakura, hayesspencer). Drop by and check out everyone’s contributions to this prompt.

 

Day 11 – Pills

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Pills

I’m sitting in your bathroom with a bottle of your pills. I fished them from your medicine cabinet. I didn’t read the bottle. It’s the only way I know how to get your attention. I am desperate to win you back from him. I don’t care if he’s smarter than me or better looking. I don’t care that he’s on-track to become our high school valedictorian. It doesn’t matter that he can discuss the finer points of Germany’s unification with your mom while I sit silently, thinking about Optimus Prime dunking on Megatron. I don’t even care that he’s your ex-boyfriend and you think your feelings have reawakened. I don’t give a shit about any of that. He can’t possibly love you like I do. No fucking way. That’s why I’m sitting on the windowsill in your bathroom, waiting for you to come in here to witness how much more I love you than he does. I probably won’t take them, but you need to see that my life isn’t worth living if you’re not with me.

 

soft amber streetlight

wash out most of the starlight

man’s constellations

 

I’m startled as you throw open the bathroom door. I search your eyes for any sign of warmth, fishing for any semblance of our summer of holding hands and making out; of dreamy I-love-you’s or nothing-can-come-between-us’. I find nothing but midnight frost in them. You demand the pills, and I give them to you, still mining your eyes for the heart that once beat for me. Those eyes I quested were examining the pill bottle like a scientist coldly working a math formula in her head. You deduce out-loud to no one in particular that no more than seven pills should kill an adult male. When you tossed the pills back to me, I barely had time to catch them before hearing the door close behind you. And I’m alone again with the pills.

 

crisp, windy twilight

litter twirls and loops the night

I watch it falling

 

I stand, facing the bathroom mirror, trying and failing to fully contemplate my insignificance, not just in your world, but within my own. I had never actually considered taking the pills at first, but the way you coolly dismissed me shook me; had me looking at our universe – and my place in it – differently. I stared at myself, wondering what a fish saw when staring up at its own reflection instead of the planets, stars, and galaxies I saw when I stared up at the night sky. I was a small, pointless fish in an infinite pond with a vial of pills.

 

Venus outshines man

piercing our light pollution

curved in crescent form

 

A fish’s perception of reality is bound. Unlike a fish, my view is unbound. But in that bathroom, I was a fish, crippled by my own vision, staring at myself, failing to see our future together when the future valedictorian would dump you for a second time, compelling you to crawl back to me, compelling me to gladly take you back due to my poor self-esteem, leading to our ill-advised marriage and our dysfunctional decade-long dance of codependence that would end with me refusing to heed your pleas to hold our sham together a moment longer, leading me to love, loss, and mending in the arms of others until I would finally meet a woman willing to sit with me and stare up at the night sky together in wonder.

Like a fish, I am limited by my reality and cannot see my future, but I also couldn’t see any future in those pills. I place the pills on the sink and walk out of your bathroom, past your indifferent eyes, out of your door, leaving you to call our future valedictorian. Leaving you to our past. Leaving you to our future.

 

vapor clouds forming

crystalizing my exhales

chill cuts through my bones

** *

You’re not alone. Confidential help is available for free.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

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Elegy of Laughing Duets

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Image source: Unsplash.com

Elegy of Laughing Duets

The officer smirked, trying not to laugh. After admonishing dad for speeding, he walked back to his vehicle with a funny story for his coworkers; a tale of my dad slyly lying about the urgency of momma’s baby, due to deliver my brother two months from now, and of momma over-selling the shit out of her non-labor, as I, a terrified six-year-old, observed in saucer-eyed, horrified silence.

We must’ve been quite the sight; dad explaining his urgency to the cop with a softness that matched the long shadows just after the sun dipped below the spring-sprinkled horizon; momma – unprompted, on-cue, and with a scenery-chewing overacting exhibition to make Shatner wince – unsuccessfully selling the urgency dad had just lied about with the authenticity of a wildlife film narrator; me in the back seat, wide-eyed and instinctively quiet, taking it all in; the patrolman’s flashlight, an impromptu stage spotlight for our three-person routine (four if you’re counting my brother, but the cop didn’t buy it, so let’s just go with the trio.)

After a beat of silence, our eyes finally adjusted from the shock of the cop’s harsh halogen giving way to soft shades of amber, dad shook his head, a grin growing on his darkened face. He looked back at me. “You cool, B.J.?”

I nodded, and squeaked out a, “Yeah.”

“Yeaaaaah?” he repeated, mimicking me.

“I mean… yes,” I corrected myself with a smile, relieved that dad sounded like dad again.

We didn’t have a term for code-switching back then. It just felt like Dad was bilingual and was training me to be too. I knew that whenever he broke out the Wildlife Film Narrator voice that shit just got real. He always used it when white people were involved, and always when those white people were in positions of authority.

I instinctively knew to get my shit together whenever he used it.

If anyone heard his everyday-people vernacular, they’d have a hard time reconciling the fact that both voices were his. When dad was being dad, he always reminded me of Shaft-meets-Sho’nuff-the-Shogun-of-Harlem; brassy, cocky, and cool-as-hell. I admired both voices, knowing that Sho’nuff was dad’s native tongue. Both were authentic in a way; Sho’nuff was my dad, the Film Narrator was the long shadow cast by dad.

Momma code-switched too, but it never sounded as jarring as when dad did it. Mom’s tone was always a hairsbreadth lower than frantic; it was like she was barely holding things together in her head. But momma always sounded like momma, even when she was performing. Her professional voice reminded me of how folks talked on Dynasty before someone dipped in diamonds got their face slapped; unnecessarily British and whatnot.

Dad shot an incredulous glare at momma. “Really, Terri?” he crooned sarcastically, firmly back in Shogun form. “Nooo, officerrr… I’m not in dayyyneger of laaabor, but it HUUUUUURRRTS!” Dad mimicked momma’s impromptu histrionics perfectly.

“Oh hush, Barry! I was just tryin’ to help,” mom shot back between giggles. “You didn’t get the ticket, did you?”

Together, their gallows-laughter was the greatest musical duet I’ve ever heard. My parents loved comedy. Our bad days were terrible, but our good days could wring sunshine from a rainy evening dusk just like it did that spring evening. Dad’s laugh sounded like a chorus of good-humored seagulls. Mom’s laugh was carbonated; starting low, and then bubbling higher, eventually meeting dad’s seagulls high in the atmosphere. Though I’ll never hear either of their laughs again, it just occurred to me that they are always with me. Whenever I’m trying to make people laugh, all I’m really doing is trying to recapture this moment, if only for a moment.

sunset ignites clouds

terrain perfumed by rainclouds

inhale deep, smiling

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All four of us! (Mom is pregnant with my younger brother in this photo.)

** *

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 3 prompt, an elegy. I was also inspired by dVerse’s Haibun Monday: The Shadow Knows, hosted by Hayesspencer. I didn’t share it on dVerse though, as this isn’t a traditional Japanese Haibun. I did enjoy writing it though. There were some laughs and tears during the writing process.

Want to see how traditional Haibun are supposed to be crafted? Go here.