A Late Night Chat

My son, who’s in the later half of his third year of life, is pretty good about sleeping through the night in his own room at this point. Most nights, I don’t hear anything from him till the sun comes up, and he usually comes to wake us up for water or bathroom or if he’s really hot or cold in his room or something like that.

Last night was an exception.

He kept waking up crying, and my wife went to see him and would come back frustrated, she couldn’t make out what he was saying or why he was up. This happened two or three times, and eventually her patience broke. The next time he woke up, I went to see him – it was about midnight, and he was crying a bit.

Some pointed questioning and interrogation ensued and he eventually settled on complaining about his night-time water cup. “It’s too small,” he said, as if the reason was self-evident, and I was the child that needed to be educated on the matter. There are fights worth having and this wasn’t one of them. Rather than argue about the value of various cup sizes and the importance of a closed top versus an open one, I shrugged and swapped the small cup out with a larger one that we use during dinner, and he was content with it after a long drink.

Since he was already awake and sleep didn’t sleep likely to come anytime soon, I hung out with him. We were both sitting on his bed, and he kept talking to me about the kinds of stuff that three-year-olds find interesting. The alphabet, whether he was still thirsty or not, what he’d be doing this weekend, the imminent arrival of his baby brother, what was that sound, could I keep the cat out of room somehow, and I listened to him and answered what questions I could between yawns.

Among the exchanges, I had a moment when I realized I was hanging out with my son and we were talking, and I wasn’t mad about being up, and he wasn’t being cranky and sleepless, he just wanted to hang out with me. We chatted for about 15 – 20 minutes and then I asked him if he ready to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, he found a comfortable spot (he’s still getting used to his new bunk bed) and I patted his back for a while before heading to my room.

It reminded me of when he was very young, less than 6 months, and one night he just couldn’t fall asleep. He kept crying, and my wife gave up eventually. I went in to hold and rock him to sleep, and he was just so uncomfortable, or cranky from being tired, or whatever it was, that he just squeezed his little eyes shut and wept and wept and wept. But a half hour of rocking and walking and singing later, he quieted, put his head down, and eventually fell asleep.

Another 15 minutes later, I put him down in his crib and sneaked out. I’ll never forget that night, something about it just really shook me up, and I kept tearing up afterward, as if I had never felt quite so much emotion before. The powerlessness of the situation combined with the desire to help him get to sleep made for an incredible cocktail of emotion.

I’m sure all parents have had a moment like that, over something simple like this, or seeing their kid sick and feeling so helpless and useless, when the most you can do is hold them and give them medicine and comfort them through their pain.

But this was a different kind of interaction, it would have been easy to go in, tell him to go back to bed and leave no room for discussion. There are nights where I have done exactly that, if I thought he was just being a brat. But last night, I think he wasn’t being a brat. He was just… confused and tired and and maybe he just wanted a friend for a little while to chat with to help him get back to sleep.

It was the kind of interaction I’d never had with my dad. He was very distant and aloof. When I had my kid, I was worried I’d be like that. I’m also the primary disciplinarian in our home, so he sees me as a sort of ogre sometimes, and is quick to obey me but is definitely his mother’s son.

Sharing a moment like this meant so much to me in more ways than just connecting with my son. It gave me hope that maybe I’m not a terrible dad, and maybe I’ll have a better relationship with him than I had with my own dad.

Of course, we got hit with a major thunderstorm last night with bright sheet-lightning and booming thunder, so he wound up in our room anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

Old Man at a Metal Show

I enjoy live music, so much so that before my son was born, it wasn’t unusual for me to see maybe as many as 2 or 3 shows in certain months. Many of the shows I attended were small, relatively underground metal bands in small venues. As a man in my mid twenties, the shows were ideally suited for the sort of intellectual pleasure one can take in supporting a hobby that feels like it’s well-south of mainstream media and well-north of the line between commercialism and art.

In other words, seeing what I called then (and I suppose, what I still call) serious, underground metal, noise and post-hardcore bands gave me a feeling of inclusion in a small yet important art scene. The audience was primarily made up of a mixture of mature metal fans, hipsters, and even some older people with seriously broad musical taste.

As the years rolled on, I found the gap between my age and the audience attending the shows widen to a point where the twenty-four year old version of me who first saw Isis play Panopticon at the now-defunct Avalon back in 2004 would call me The Old Guy standing in the back, still wearing work clothes, sipping a cocktail and talking to his friend instead of standing pressed against the front of the stage soaking up every note of music. I would wonder why he was even there, if he wasn’t really interested in the music. Maybe he was trying to relive his youth or something. A mild irritation would flood me at the moment, as if his presence was diluting the sanctity of the scene.

But time changes perspective, and my transition from the front of the venue toward the back has been a subtle one – I remember the first time I saw a band and thought – well, maybe I’d better just stand to one side tonight, because it’s going to get pretty rough. When the prospect of injury caused me to stay further back or to the side and miss out on the frontal-assault of bass-drum-thump that pummels the chest. I also remember when I went from being excited that a band was continuing to play past 2am to irritably checking my watch as the hour ticked closer to midnight, wondering when the show will finish as I do have to be up at 6:30am with my son, and I do have a meeting at 9:30am that I still need to prep in the morning. Now, the best shows are when the band finishes up by eleven.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the time in spend inside the venue – most shows have at least a couple of openers and a decade ago, I showed up to see every band, I didn’t relinquish my position and I certainly didn’t drink at the venue – for one, I was too poor to afford Manhattan prices at the time, but for another, drinking would require a biological function and that meant you would give up the choice spot earned through early attendance. Also, the four, five, and on some occasions even six or seven hours of standing through all the bands required a stamina I no longer have. I once stood for 7 straight hours in the Brooklyn Masonic Temple to see Iron EaglePelican, Earth, and Sunn O))) play from 8pm till 3am. One of the best nights of my life but I doubt I could ever duplicate that feat again. My feet begin to ache after three or four hours, and I begin to wonder if a taxi might be a better option than the walk to the subway and then the walk home from there. And really, I’d rather miss the first opener (unless it’s someone really good, like, say, Decapitated who opened for Meshuggah), just hang out at a bar and get a late dinner before getting to the show just in time for the main act or the second opener.

Now, when I see the twenty-three year old with a four days of scruff, bleary eyes from sleepless nights spent chasing other shows this week, wearing clothes that are wrinkled, scowling at the stage as the band wraps up early, I think, yes, that was me eleven years ago. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, my kids will come with me to a show like this, standing embarrassed by my presence, just a few feet away to put some distance so my age won’t reflect badly on them.

Last night, as we left a sweaty and body-odor filled space of packed bodies and crossed a urine-soaked hallway from overflowing toilets after a Mastodon show, I looked at my friend and said, “What was the last time we saw someone quiet?” He couldn’t remember, and we thought, well, maybe Mazzy Star was touring again. Slowdive is on tour across Europe, and didn’t Mogwai just play the city a few weeks ago? We must have missed it. Will have to keep our eyes open.

For now, I’m still there, once every couple of months, watching bands new and old, tear up the stage with immense riffs and pummeling the audience with massive beats. Except I’m just the guy standing further back, out of the crowds, checking my phone and hoping for an early night.

And that’s okay.

It Never Goes Away

The fact that I suffer from Depression is a pretty important aspect of my life, personality, and day-to-day existence. It begins in the morning when I take my pills every day, it continues when I have my weekly therapy session and it interrupts every day activities when I’m catching myself in the gap between thought and reaction, to prevent a collapse down a dark and self-damaging road.

Things are not as bad as they were before I started treatment, every day was a mystery, would it involve crushing anxiety, or overwhelming feelings of loneliness and depression? Perhaps a blinding and impotent rage would down the monotony of gray days in a red blur. My life was unpredictable, but along with it came a deep and endless well of inspiration, my emotions were always so raw and exposed, the hurt always sitting on the skin, that I needed to bandage the wounds all the time, and writing was that salve. I poured myself into my stories, and when I read them now, they’re dark, creepy things swimming with all the negativity and self-loathing I could cull from my being and transform them into words.

I know correlation does not imply causation, but it’s pretty difficult not to look at the pills I take every morning as a block, a chemical neutering of my creative instinct. Blaming the round white pills is easier than admitting that maybe I have nothing to say. Blaming the pills is easier than admitting that maybe what came easily before requires more effort now, and what used to be a gift plucked from trees might now need to be dug out of ugly and gnarled roots in dirty, rocky earth.

But what never goes away, is the unpredictable attack of this anxiety, this loneliness, and they come out of nowhere, even surrounded by friends and family in a room, suddenly you’re the only person there and everyone else might as well be a cardboard cutout. Their voices fade away and the room becomes a dull and dim picture where you see nobody and nobody sees you.

Years pass, countless pills pass through your body, endless words pour out of your mouth in therapy, and one day, late at night, the feelings return and nestle back into seats as if they never left.

It never goes away.

Graduate School

I took some time off from work yesterday to attend a graduate seminar at the City University downtown, to kind of see what was going on, what was offered, and talk a bit to the various schools. There are a dozen or so City University schools spread throughout the boroughs, and each of them had something different to offer, the nuances of which are lost in virtual research. It’s one thing to read about schools and their programs and another to hear about it directly from the admissions people working the various desks.

Having reached ripe middle age, and stagnating a bit in my career, I feel the need to further my education in order to further my career, particularly with two kids who will demand a small fortune in gold doubloons to pursue their own education. Well, perhaps there is a selfish streak in me to, I don’t know, pursue my own ambition a bit, but I think I’ll let myself slide on that count, if it’s all the same to you. The question, however, is to study what exactly, and what the end-goal of any study might be.

Of course, the romantic in me wants to throw caution to the wind and enroll into a creative writing MFA program, and daydream away the worries in a wouldn’t-it-be-nice sequence straight from a black-and-white film about how all you need is a spot of derring-do to risk it all for a swing across the planks  of doubt onto the banister of triumph. Alas, the realist in me frowns, taps his sensible ball-point pen onto a chart of budgets, retirement planning, school costs, and the income of writers and I find the billowing swashbuckling costume melting away to reveal an off-white shirt constricting my turgid form.

So, it comes down to career expectations – Computer Science or something called a Masters in Data Analytics. The former is actually of interest to me, and it would let me add on more academic/science based work to my career, even if as an adjunct or something. I don’t hold out too much hope at this point to actually move into hardcore engineering as I’ve missed out on too much work, but who can say. The other path though, is directly related to what I’ve been doing with my work the last 10 years and would be a very big boost into pushing me forward in my current path.

I wish I knew more serious computer science type people in my life, to be able to talk to them and see what exactly they’re doing at a higher level of education and what they’ve been able to get out of this work, as it’s something of a mystery to me. And I don’t really know if I’m actually the kind of person who’d enjoy research for a very long time in some esoteric corner by myself – I’m more of a project person, I like to attack specific problems directly and solve them.

One path leads me to an expanded world and opens up far more possibilities, and the other keeps me in familiar grounds but elevates my view to let me see further. Assuming I can actually get accepted into any of these programs, in the first place. I haven’t seen the inside of a class room in over 10 years.

I imagine quite a bit of hemming and hawing will commence, presently – I’ll spare you the gory details.

A Stream of Consciousness Regarding True Detective

This won’t be very linear, and if things sound like a mixture of voices rising from different corners of the room, well, that’s kind of how the show made me feel. I liked this story from start to end. You can poke holes in the most perfect structure, and this one isn’t immune to criticism by any stretch and writers far better than me have already performed far more telling autopsies.

Some of these autopsies have been less than kind and I feel they miss not just the point of a genre show, but in their eagerness for political correctness or in their bitterness at misreading the red herrings, loose the value of what’s at hand. But there is also sound and just criticism at hand, so let’s get the worst of it out of the way early.

True Detective isn’t kind to women, not in the show, not in the reality of casting or roles, and not in terms of screen time. Maggie starts out as and remains the only woman with anything real to do on the show, and even her presence is a fleeting ghost touch. All other women serve as mutilated MacGuffins, deceased props, or an artificial source of comfort or conquest for the men who exclusively attack the narrative. There is no forgiveness or excuse to be made for it, and much like the director, all I can say is that while I acknowledge this, the story called me strongly enough that I could do little more than shrug at this regretfully and move on. I might note that the show isn’t much kinder than minorities, but I think that’s stating the obvious.

Anyway.

Visually, there is stark beauty here beyond what I’ve seen in a long time in a genre show. There are moments of sheer, absolute awe and horror. Consider the wide angle helicopter shots of sprawling Louisiana countryside, where every single pixel is in perfect depth-of-field frame from one edge of the HD screen to the other, while a yellow sun cooks the vegetation and kudzu vines hanging like ropes from sagging trees, or setting-sun blaze that sets fields of green shimmering like an otherworldly landscape draped in living skin. Look at the way the camera roll in a languid, low sweep around Rust as he gets out of the car at Childress’ house separating focus from the thick, green leaves and trees in the background and Rust, and then as the camera stops, the focus inverts immediately snapping the background into a blur and Rust into crisp focus. Look, also, at the confrontation between Childress and Rust – when the killer stabs Rust and lifts him off the ground. Does he actually commit the physical act or is that how Rust feels, like he is being torn by his own body weight?

These things imply, hint, and suggest at the world of the show. A visual medium must use visual metaphors and similes to extend the story. There is some wonderful writing out there about the use of framing shots and the way the first three episodes use the medium-framing of Rust and Martin to build audience trust that makes their unreliable narration that much more unnerving as it begins to unravel.

The dialog is similarly rich – it works for me but it has also received some criticism – when Rust talks about towns and places that feel like they’re not real, just someone’s idea of places, he’s not just talking about the physical space. He’s implicating all of civilization, that this illusion of security and sanity is just a thin filter that we’re forcing around a savage and meaningless world. We’ll come back to this point later, I think.

Besides, he’s not wrong within the context of the show, and if he takes liberty with language and speaks with a hint of baroque eloquence (or, perhaps, a misguided attempt at lyrical language depending on your taste), well, I bare him no ill will to that end. I find my own way of speaking to be more convoluted than necessary, but then, I find it’s the precise lack of necessity that gives things pleasure.

So, writing, past the point of necessity, can be a pure joy if executed correctly. I’m still trying to find that balance, myself.

Anyway. Focus. Right.

Let’s talking endings, intent and the insidious nature of fiction.

The last episode has served up a considerable amount of consternation, particularly among those who’ve concocted a private narrative and concluded a path they wanted the story to take rather than waiting to listen to the writer – and that is both the genius and weakness of the writing. It sketches a world so rich, convoluted, and expansive that it cannot possibly be all of the things it evokes in its audience. That is part of the problem with works this good – they are brilliant until the mystery is solved.

Look at Twin Peaks for an example of something that worked until it didn’t and quite suddenly, it plummets from zeitgeist to cultural waste bin – once the mystery is solved. David Lynch, a man who understands the nature of mystery like few others, has said many times that mysteries aren’t meant to be solved within the story, or rather what he means, or what I take him to mean, is that they aren’t meant to be solved for the audience. That there is deep work that the audience must do along with the narrative.

I think True Detective is very clever about the way it solves the mystery, and the way it leaves it untouched at the same time. It tells a story, and hints that the truth seen, heard or implied is not the complete truth, regardless of what the characters, the episodes, the actors, the writer or the director have to say about it. That last part is important, I think, and perhaps not even a deliberate choice.

I suggest that the story in insidious enough to infect reality.

Consider, this is a show that repeatedly hammers home the fact that the narrative structure is unreliable, that the lead characters are not truthful, one commits infidelity, another has lived years lying about his own identity. The circumstances surrounding the mystery itself are shrouded in conspiracy and deceit, and even minor characters are repeatedly shown to be lying, secretive people, shrouded in layers of mystery. And yet. When the story gives us a conclusion, when the narrative provides us with a neatly tied up package, when the writer and director claims the same, that the answers are all provided for, we accept their word. The cleverest trick the Devil ever pulled, they say, was to tell the truth.

Whether Carcosa, or the King in Yellow exist is irrelevant, there is hard evidence in the show that proves some level of conspiracy, whether Rust is involved in it or not (I think not, but there is little evidence for that other than the actual ending monologue (see below)). It’s also clearly evident that the writer sketched out a world far bigger than he intended to tackle.

Because if you boil it down, if you take away all the conspiracy stuff and just look at what these eight hours are about, it’s not about the supernatural or the video tape or the King in Yellow or the Tuttle family or anything bigger than a single woman’s murder. That’s what Rust and Martin are hunting, the man they’re after is Dora Lang’s killer, nothing more.

So, yes, I can go on and on about the other men in the video tape, the spiraling birds or the vision of stars that Rust experiences, the hard evidence of the photographs and video tape that Rust claims to find in a Tuttle home – any small part of that hints at a much bigger story, at secrets that would make for compelling storytelling and a wider arc than the eight hours allowed, or could hope to accommodate, but that doesn’t diminish their influence on the story that was actually told.

These dark, unsolved secrets act as clouds hanging over a landscape, a storm with vast and ranging reach but we ourselves can only shelter and secure ourselves from its damage against us, cowering as it passes us by. The local damage in this case, is Dora Lang’s murder (and, by extension, Childress’ other victims). We submit to a force of Nature that we can’t control despite all illusions about exactly how much control we exert on reality.

Every time a storm rips across a community – named storms, hurricanes, repeatedly mentioned in the show, by the by – we manage to be surprised. Why is that?

Because the storm brewing in the show, the conspiracy, the horsemen, the Tuttles, whatever, that black and ominous cloud, that suggested horror waiting in the wings with unseen scope and scale is what the Yellow King is. That’s the horror, that’s the darkness, because all we can do is protect ourselves from the smallest personal damage possible. And that’s the truth that forces Rust to embrace the illusion he struggled against for so long.

Anyway.

Of course, there is weakness in the last episode, the final clue is classic deus ex machina of the weakest sort, and there are a couple of lines that made me roll my eyes after seven perfect episodes, but the actual conclusion hangs together because it solves the smallest mystery it needed to solve. That was the contract the show made with the audience at the beginning and it fulfills that deal, it made no deal regarding any of the other, grander, darker things hinted at.

Look at how the murderer turns out to be no more than a mentally ill, simple man with a cruel, sadistic streak – that, the story suggests, is the true face of evil. No grand spiritual meaning, just plain, every day cruel, misguided, dumb, meaningless sadism I prefer to think that the grand designs hinted at in the wings of the show (as above) carry more weight, and by leaving those things hidden, that weight will, forever, remain, and the characters, the places, the mysteries and the show will live on in my mind.

That’s good writing.

To me, anyway.

91 Years

On the morning of Friday the 14th of March, my mother’s father, my grandfather, Syed Moinuddin, passed away. He was 91 at the time of his death.

In 1923, he was born into an India that was held by an imperial foreign power. King George V of Britain claimed to rule a land he visited but twice, and that was enough to brand my grandfather a British subject. The Mughal dynasty had faded away long ago, and along with it, the last barrier to foreign rule. The last Muslim ruler – Bahadur Shah Zafar – died in 1857, exiled in Burma, denied the right to be buried in his own homeland.

India was very different in 1923, stretching from the Hindukush in the west, buttressed against Afghanistan and to the east against China, in the north against Russia and Mongolia, it stretched to the south all the way to the very tip, standing on one foot on the rock of Sri Lanka. There was no Pakistan, no Bangladesh, just India. But India was not really Indian anymore.

My great-grandfather, it’s said, was a man of wealth and means, and my grandfather received a princely upbringing and a fine education. There is a legend I heard as a child from my grandmother. Whether it’s about my great-grandfather or not, I don’t remember.

Once upon a time, she said, a rich and powerful land lord with great swaths of land and villages to his name had no children. He lived in a manor surrounded by great orchards, where peacocks would preen and show off their feathers and the family gathered on the high veranda surrounding the house to look out over their vast properties. Traveling between villages in his carriage one day, the land lord came across a beggar walking in the road. For whatever reason, he offered the beggar a ride, and gave him the two pomegranate seeds that he had remaining to eat. Reaching the village, the beggar stepped off the carriage and smiled at the land lord, “May Allah grant you as many sons as the seeds you have given me.” Two sons were born then, to the land lord.

My grandfather had one brother who died in the late 80s, I think. It doesn’t matter if the story is true in fact, it’s true in other, more important ways. It was the story I told my son the night he was born, while my wife slept, and I walked him in the dark of the hospital room, trying to shush his crying. He listened attentively once I  began speaking in Urdu, blinking his new-born eyes at me, and then fell asleep. The next day, my grandfather came, and held him.

I visited those ancestral lands once, twenty years ago, and all I remember is a warm clear blue sky, fields of golden corn, orchards hanging low with mangoes and guava, and a thin blue stream bubbling down to the Ganges somewhere to the west. An old, peeling, one-room brick mosque stood among the trees, with small minarets, graves behind the prayer wall, names fading on the tombstone. Who knows if any of that still exists.

And, I know, these aren’t the true ancestral homelands, that would be the water-starved town of Gardez in Afghanistan, or before that, maybe even the deserts of Arabia. Who knows, really, and how greedy can you be with cultural appropriation? Indian, Afghan, Arab…

70 years after he was born, in the mid 90’s, he visits me in my college dorms and tells me of his hazing in college. “They made me stand up on a chair and recite poetry.”

His love for Urdu poetry and writing was, I think, his great personal joy. He wrote in Urdu, and kept his long handwritten notes in a cupboard in the living room, and sometimes I looked through them but never quite understood the twisting, convoluted truth that writhe in Urdu poetry. Words with double purpose, phrases that turn on each other, devouring meaning but illuminating revelation. It was far above my head.

Sometimes I wonder if my own doubt and shyness about my writing isn’t inherited from him, why I write and put away things instead of showing them to other people. A few years ago, my uncle collected my grandfather’s materials and printed a collection of his poetry in India under the name my grandfather assumed for his poetry. My grandfather was so happy to hold the book in his hands, hear the poems read aloud.

His appreciation for English literature was also a deep and passionate thing, one he passed on to me. He frequently read Charles Dickens and Walter Scott; Great Expectations and Ivanhoe being the books he read me the most often when I was little. I think while he appreciated the Victorian novel, he loved the medieval stories best, stories and poems of knights and battles in far away lands he never saw. My son Samir is quite blond and when they met, my grandfather – his great-grandfather – called him Sir Samir. “You look like a knight,” he said. It’s easy to picture the kid’s shaggy blond hair in a suit of armor atop a horse with lance in hand. They shook hands with great solemnity.

Last year, his eyesight was too far gone to make out words on a page and so I read aloud the Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Tennyson. I don’t think I did it any justice, but he smiled to hear it anyway.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward…

In 1947, after the freedom and during the partition of India, he was living in North India. He was married with one son. The country was violently tearing itself apart as Pakistan split off. They lost everything – the lands, the villages, the mansions, the wealth (if it ever really existed), all reclaimed by the Indian socialist government from those they considered to be British collaborators. The family broke in two in a desperate bid for survival, his younger brother went to Pakistan and he moved south to the city of Hyderabad.  In that city, three year later, my mother was born. Three other children followed and 27 years after my mother, I was born.

My brother and I grew up in the modest house my grandparents had built for their children. It was a lovely place, surrounded by walls with doors into neighbors yards and fruit trees, vegetables and herbs in the back. The bougainvillea bushes covered the front wall with purple flowers alongside tall trees that I can see but can’t remember the names of. There, he taught me to read and write in English, Urdu and Arabic, he helped me memorize long Arabic passages for prayer, passages I still remember, though I seldom if ever put those memories to use anymore. The house is gone now, sold to a land developer who knocked it down, and built condos where where… well. So much happened. The house was called Jamey Gulshand.

When my grandfather died a week ago, it was after a long, bitter, cold, and cruel illness that left him a shadow of the active, energetic, passionate person I knew. The man who laughed frequently, and would lie in bed, singing Urdu ghazals to himself in a deep tone, occasionally he would speak in Farsi and my grandmother would laugh, asking me if I knew what he said, a man who would rather walk than take a bus, no matter the distance or the heat.

That man was long gone, and the one left behind was a pale, pale ghost. I was grateful for the end to his suffering. He never had many possessions but in the end, he had very few belongings left to him. Among them was a small ball of dried mud that he would hold sometimes, mud collected from the Ganges delta, the river that gave life to the verdant valley of his youth. I wonder what he remembered when he held that ball of dirt in his hand.

Well.

He was born an English subject in a rural, occupied India and died a celebrated patriarch with 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren in his son’s home in America. He was buried the next day in a foreign land but alongside his wife of 65 years. He was a man who prayed 5 times every day even when I hated the thought of him bowing to a god who would allow him to be in so much pain. His faith was absolute, while mine dissolved and ran like water colors into the gutter of disbelief. Even so, he never begrudged me anything, never asked me why. I loved him for that.

Now with both my grandparents gone, it feels like the most decent, honest, humble, good people I’ve ever known are now lost and I’ll never know anyone like them again. It feels like the end of something big. Though my parents are both here, I can’t help feeling like an orphan. A piece of history ended last week.

Quada-hafiz, Abba.

The Re-spawning

At the height of our mutual dislike, in the midst of chasing each other, eager for a fight, over some perceived and forgotten slight, my brother and I found ourselves in a neighborhood far from home. Suddenly we were surrounded by kids we did not know who saw two boys separated from their pack of friends and were hungry for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

I had been running after my brother who was on his bike. As the other boys surrounded me, I saw my brother take off, pedaling with furious speed, a feral grin on his face. It made sense, I didn’t begrudge him. I had been chasing him to administer a thrashing, and the fact that I in turn should be surrounded served as poetic justice. I put on a brave front, preparing to take my lumps, while my heart raced and my hands shook in fear of the Cricket equipment they carried, hoping to make it out without broken bones.

Their leader was a big boy, cruel, and he indulged himself, shoving me around, mocking my name, my bone-thin frame, my brother who had just abandoned me while his friends laughed. I retaliated with weak retorts and a quickly fading voice from a drying throat. Five minutes passed, and I had barely suffered a few bruises when I saw a bike come around the corner of the street.

It was my brother, that same feral grin on his face, as he sped up to me. Following after him were a half dozen of my friends.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well. After a perfectly normal 20 week anatomy scan on Monday, my dear wife announced her pregnancy on Facebook.

This unexpected occupation by an unannounced tenant in her body is a source of both relief and worry. We hadn’t planned for this, nor allowed for its eventuality in our long term plans, but the surprise is not unpleasant. Our first child is a human male, and since that worked out quite well for us, our genes decided to play things safe and produced a sequel.

As evidenced above, I grew up with a younger brother myself, and while we were relatively close until I hit puberty, we reversed polar for the next ten years. Much of it had to do with things that are far too complicated to get into here, but sometime in my mid-twenties, we began to reconcile and the last ten years have been significantly improved, the sometimes-cold, sometimes-hot war had been replaced with a peace treaty and bricks from the wall of separation between us have been used to build bridges instead. Problems, of course, remain, but they seem less intractable.

When I tried to think about my son without me and my wife in the picture, it often left me feeling sad and anxious. The idea of being completely alone in the world is the greatest source of agitation and stress for me. As someone with a small but intensely loyal group of friends that is something of a chosen family, I don’t devalue their contribution to my life. Certainly, they have been the reason I was able to get through the difficult steps necessary to become who I am now.

But I like to imagine that there is some value to be had in family as well. Coming from a culture of intense familial closeness in my psychic infancy, I value relations of blood quite highly. The fact that I remain more or less segregated from the vast breadth of my own blood family for whatever reason (lack of faith, or difference in age, or geographical distance, or cultural incompatibility) is a constant source of consternation and regret. I’m grateful now that my partner and I will parent two children, my son will share blood companionship beyond just his elders. And that he will be part of a family beyond his own, in his later life.

Rather coincidentally, I recently played a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – which is probably the finest example of art, emotion and storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game. I’ll write about it on its own once I have some perspective, but it left me feeling incredibly grateful for this happy turn of events.

Briefly, the game follows two brothers in search of a cure for their ailing father, and must work together to overcome obstacles. The older brother is stronger, the younger more agile and able to squeeze through openings too small for his elder sibling. This elegant set-up allows for incredible depth of storytelling and emotion, and it very accurately depicts the relationship between two brothers as I experienced it.

It made my heart yearn for the sort of adventures I had with my brother when I was young. And it made me heartsick and grateful to imagine that my sons might have such adventures as well, together. Stories I’ll never hear, but with fallout I’ll see, whether in bruised limbs and torn clothes, angry words or desperate misdirections from truths that might anger or worry. I know there will be arguments, fights, and I’ll see their lives through a veil, obscuring much, whether by design or accident.

But I hope – hope for them to be friends, like my brother and I turned out to be, after our time in the desert, after years when our hatred for each other was so intense that it seemed like we might be pleased to see each other murdered.

I hold on to the fact that in the worst depths of our loathing for each other, my brother raced to fetch me help, when he saw I was surrounded, despite himself and our differences. He came to my rescue.

My son seems quite excited by the possibility of becoming a big brother, and announces it with glee to everyone he meets. I’m grateful for the changes we’ve made to our house recently – and that we made the move to a house from an apartment at all! – making it more permanent, and further adjustments will be essential, but for now, this pregnancy has put to rest an anxiety that I never even bothered to acknowledged, because it had seemed uncontrollable before.

It’s funny how far this is from how I imagined life ten years ago, and how glad I am to experience this bounty of new and unexpected experiences. I’m excited to see my new son in a few months time, and introduce him to his brother.