***I’ve been taking MasterClasses for the last few weeks. Often, there are assignments given out. This one was to write about the saddest moment in your life. One other note, I allowed ten minutes for writing, so the essay might seem short for such a heavy prompt. Here it is…

The Rental

Honesty in sadness is a tough one to write about. Trying to find the saddest moment of a life seems so disrespectful to all of the sad moments a person experiences. For me, the end of February 1998 had to be about the worst. There was a confluence of events that took me away from being happy and culminated in somber dash to get rid of a rental car.

My grandfather died that month in Texas. We were all together for his funeral. We learned things about him that are only things you learn when someone dies. That weekend was tough because of my grandfather’s passing, but it was not unexpected. He had been sick for a long time.

Two weeks later the shock hit. My brother was gone. We had just been together for my grandfather’s funeral and everything seemed fine with my brother. It wasn’t and I had missed whatever clues he was giving out.

Before I had gone to Texas, I was renting a car because mine had been smashed by a kid driving on ice. His car had gone full on bobsled and crashed into mine. The rental had some problems and when I returned from Texas, I made arrangements to exchange the car.

Then the phone call came that my brother had ended his life.

I felt a shock that I cannot explain. By nature, I am a problem solver. In stressful moments, I just get on with the business of moving through the situation. I rarely take time to grieve and if I do, I’d prefer to be alone. The morning after the phone call, I had to drive across our county, about an hour long drive, to change the car. While I was driving, I had to fight back the tears, but somewhere over on Route 100, I lost it at a stoplight. I cried about as hard as I could. When I looked to my left, there were kids in their car laughing at me as I wailed.

I felt nothing for them. My brother was gone.

Twenty or so minutes later, I had changed out the car. The new car smell of the next rental was more of a cherry bomb scent, cheap and hurried. The rest of the drive home was a blur.

I spent the last hour raging,
Letting anger out about some bullshit,
An effing health club,
A place that should bring joy,
And then my friend texted me,

It was out of sorts for him,
Code for something is wrong,
Sappy, sentimental, vulnerable
Everything my anything but humble goat herding brother
Brings to our friendship.

It’s not that we are emotionally detached,
But we live in an old-school bro code
Where feelings are hard to express,
But age has a way of bringing life to a halt,
Making the bullshit seem a whole lot less important.

So the text was inviting, I inquired,
Two of our classmates died,
Sisters, two weeks apart,
One I knew super well,
Pearl Jam was playing, “Last Kiss” in my headphones.

My old friend, our basketball manager,
All around loudmouth who kept us straight,
Super sure that she knew she was always right
And I knew better than to question because
Sherri was Sherri. Today, she left.

Her sister passed two-weeks ago,
I imagine Sherri was heartbroken,
I don’t know what happened, I just know
I’m sad, sad for their family, sad that their energy is gone,
Sad that I won’t get that bear hug at homecoming next year.

This distancing, this aging, this whole mess,
An opportunity to reach out to those you know,
The people you might have lost touch with,
The ones you don’t talk to enough.
Do it.

Went running this afternoon,
The lady down the street was walking her dog,
It was barking as it always does,
That high pitched yelp
Like the toy store mutts.
I rounded the corner into Watership Down
Where a rabbit must have been hit by a car
The vultures had not gotten to it, yet,
A little further up the hill,
A field mouse of some sort had not bad it, either,
The worms everywhere
Since the rain has pushed them out of the ground.

I just kept going,
The few miles I had planned
Passing at a snail’s pace.
The death that is around,
The uncertainty of life,
The fear of getting sick,
It all is taking a toll.
That’s why I get out,
To get away, to find some peace in nature,
To not be bothered by infection rates,
Body counts, or right-wing blabber.
I suppose this one didn’t do its job.

There was a character in a James Bond movie,
He felt no pain,
It was a great source of anguish for the guy,
He hurt all the time.

Death has a way of sobering up a day,
Just something about it,
Such a great source of pain,
The loss so much for some.

I’ve had my share of loss,
Sudden, life-altering deaths,
Family, friends, each layering on scars
Somehow shielding my soul from death.

I’ve grown to accept that death will come,
Grabbing someone,
Maybe another relative, maybe a friend,
I hope neither. Me, either.

I worry that I’m that character,
Not able to feel the sadness when people die,
Maybe because the ache from my family’s loses
Have jaded my outlook on grief.

Move on, go forward,
“Get busy living, Red.”
Too sober some might think, although,
Others might realize I’m drunk with life.

So how is it, that I don’t belly up to the grieving bar,
I don’t know, not cold-hearted, just accepting of the end,
Saddened by the losses, not saddled by death.
My time will come and I hope people say a toast and move on.

That would be enough,
No grieving,
Accepting,
Simple.

There are too many things to think about
There are too many ways I dream to be

-Michael Bruner, Cartoons Are My Life

It seems selfish to talk about my hardships
They are so insignificant
Bullets rain from the sky killing too many,
The government fails to act on common sense measures
To facilitate a safer planet, and we wait for the next one.

On a different scale, Tom Petty wrestles with life,
Pretty much telling whatever stopped his heart
That he won’t back down.
All I can think is that he meant so much to me growing up and
How much greater his loss will be for his family.

When I dream of where I am,
Lost in the clouds of doubt, boredom, or plain old bitchiness,
I need to take a moment to realize that someone, somewhere,
Is dealing with much worse than I’ve ever known.
Be well Vegas. Be well Petty family. Be well, everyone.

Many years ago
I made a move to teach
At a high school.
After elementary school and middle school,
I figured I had seen just about everything.

I hadn’t.

Besides the normal school stuff,
I got to learn a whole new faculty.
One man was a longtime teacher
Who was nearing retirement.
I only knew him in passing, but he was always around.

He ran the hallways during his planning.
His choppy steps were quiet
And he always listened to something
Loud enough on his headphones
To bypass his downgraded hearing ability.

After he retired,
He stuck around.
Using his guile and experience
From teaching the hardest of students
To manage the toughest of all teaching jobs, the substitute.

And he ran.

After a quick Clark Kent change,
He was out of his bow tie
Making his way around the building
With a pace perfect
For memorizing his lines in the script he carried.

I never knew he was an actor,
But he was great,
Never letting on that he had cancer,
Never suggesting that he could not beat it.
His anger seemed manageable as he reasoned with his struggle.

Yet, he remained upbeat
Running as much as possible,
Reading during quiet moments between classes,
Standing through the rigors of standardized testing,
Acting as if he was on the mend.

We last spoke about two weeks ago.
He did some quiet judging of education,
How we are missing the importance of what we are
By focusing so much time on testing
For he had been a man of relationships, no matter how difficult the student.

Word came today that Kirk passed away.
Cancer took a good man away from us all too soon.
He lived with a dignity and honesty
Few will ever approach.
So long, Mr. Fetters…