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The Armstrong Family Circus

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We eventually reach the end of the pier and find ourselves too tired to try and go back

Monday June 13th 2011

by Paul Armstrong
 

Half a truck and some junk that is blurry in the background (sorry, I mean

 

It starts off the same. It's starts off with excitement and enthusiasm and wide open horizons. A little optimism and naivety about things being different, or better. A swift pace toward a simple goal. There's no desire for a slow decline, that stumbling forward and paused caution, for quiet dispondency. And before we're aware of how it happened, we've stopped; out of breath, tired and worn out.

 

 

We all eventually reach the end of the pier, and find ourselves too tired to try and go back. We look around and wonder how we got here. How our gleeful step eroded into a weary burden. When catching your breath means laying down those wayward dreams on the side of the road, and being out of step with those walking with you. At some point you're alone, unable or unwilling, but the sunset, the sunset is so enticing. 

 

The ice maker churns a few more cubes to disrupt the quiet in this room. The clock ticks. A whir from the fans of the air conditioning units behind me to the right. I can hear a few kids laughing somewhere — on the beach or on a deck. I'm on a couch by a window, my back to the ocean as I'm watching my mom stare at a list. The same list. She mutters over and over "get a card, get a card, she's 8." She'll then ask me about my haircut, did I get a birthday card from her yet, if she's supposed to use hot or cold on the pain in her back. This will be repeated regularly on the quarter hour. I've given her lunch of butter and turkey and she eats and goes back to her list. Mumbling. Repeating. She'll forget if she got a card after she's gotten it. She'll ask again about her back and my haircut and my work. I'll stay here and say I'm working, even though I'm here — away from my own kids at the beach — babysitting her. And it's ok. The condition, whatever the doctors wish to call it (I call it "age-forgetty-ness"), it's there and I either just move on or I stop and see too much of where I am and fall apart.

 

It's hard, if not impossible, not to look at your parents and think you see you're own future. The good or bad. The failing memory. The exhaustion that drives you away from your marriage. I can't help but see myself doomed to either be a man who cannot remember, who will need the help of every family member or friend. Or I'll be a man who cannot stay in love, who gets so weary of doing and giving that he decides to make a few mistakes, break the mold of his character, make right decisions through wrong choices.

 

The thing is that your parents aren't you're inevitable future. They aren't a mirror of who you will be. They aren't you. Their lives are a lesson for you. A class in life. A textbook of what to throw away and what to carry. What to emulate and what to avoid. The story you're living is for you — the setting, the plot, the characters are all yours. Every decision and conflict, turn and detour, every villain and protagonist are written for you and by you. I cannot travel forward if I'm constantly riding on the back of someone elses journey.

 

She's settling down for a nap now. I've eaten a cold, leftover hamburger; reassured her several times that I did get my birthday card (though I didn't, but I don't need one more thing to have to answer, which is truly the gift) that, yes, you use COLD for her back, and that Taylor is spelled T-A-Y-L-O-R. This is my life, and this is what is happening, but this is not my story or my fate; my story yet to be written

 

 

 

Comments for "We eventually reach the end of the pier and find ourselves too tired to try and go back"

You've made me think. I wrestle with fate in a drunken sort of way; rolling to the least uncomfortable position whenever it pokes at me. With one grandfather who lost his mind in middle age, another who died from complications of Parkinson's, a grandmother with Alzheimer's (but who died from an aneurism), an uncle who died indirectly as the result of alcoholism, and a father with cancer, Parkinson's, diabetes, and spinal degenerative disease, and me being nearly 40 and childless, times like this I often wonder...

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