It was the shortest moment. Maybe not even a real moment. Just a beat between breaths in the light of morning falling through the skylights.

I simply paused in front of your marine blue eyes and thought, I know these eyes. And I remember the first time I saw them at the top of 3 flights of New York stairs in a hempy haze of moxie stick burned by your acupuncturist who you later told me saved your life.

Maybe then I didn’t know how much was there for me, how far you’d take me and allow me to go, still, yes, I thought I know you still, 19 years later: I still touch that place I found in the doorway there.

Better yet, I looked into those iris’s that have really seen me and I felt known by you.

And I did not blanch at being seen.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been walking around in my old life while I await something new.

Not everyone knows where I’m going. Or that I’m leaving.

But those that do greet me with a hollowness and a question: Why are you still here?

Or maybe it’s just me, pushing my own ideas out onto them.

Either way, there is nothing to do except be uncomfortable and inhabit this space as I can.

I will move carefully. Slowly. There is no reason to break anything on the way out.

The sun throws shadows from steel ribs that hold the glass ceiling in place: the shadows gives the sense of birds in flight, turning slowly with the earth’s rotation. Craning my neck up I recall the conversations I had here with my Dad.

They were among my first days at a new job in an unfamiliar industry; they were among his last days in this life. We both knew it, but we talked anyway of things that were unimportant.

He’d laugh and I’d feel good. Or he’d pause thoughtfully before offering advice and I’d nod carefully, really letting it sink in. But I don’t remember anything specific about those talks. Just that they happened and in retrospect feel as thorough and true now as they did then: full of presence not portent; now, not tomorrow.

They’ve remodeled that atrium since then. New shops line its walls. Walnut benches dot its center. The tile is crisper, whiter. But its lines are still the same. The light still comes down in shafts.

So I think of him when I walk through it: I stop and hear his voice, the fabric of it. It feels good. And I think of birds in flight.

Sometimes, when you tell people what you are, they pause and try to take it in. I watch the wheels turn in them, going through the rolodex of their lives they may have described with the word I just used. Fathers, brothers, sisters, distant aunts, mothers, janitors who inhabit strangely warm furnace rooms, pock-marked women on the street corner carrying their lives in plastic bags.

The frightened but more aware ones think about themselves, counting drinks, going through their mornings. Is he thinking I’m like him, they are asking themselves.

Others smile broadly, show teeth. Oh, that’s so great, they say. I’m so glad for you. Congratulations. They seem to think they know what it all means, have some feeling for the road. I always wonder what sits at the core of that, if it’s just a skin to hide the lack of true knowledge.

But it’s the ones who are quiet I worry about the most. I wonder if my naming the dragon for myself is too close to putting a name to theirs. And I look for the lizard eye to blink from within at me, pause to feel the body constrict a little as it rustles with the brush of truth.

I met my therapist through work. I’d been having trouble in my family life because of long hours and taking on too much responsibility. I’d been put in charge of people who didn’t want to be led. I’d been asked to do more than someone really could without doing it myself. I’d become rigid and difficult. I’d stopped laughing at my problems before I went to sleep.

The thought about how nice it would be to have a drink to get some relief had crossed my mind at least once. It scared me.

Something had to change (me) and so, desperate, I called the EAP line and they assigned me a counsellor, E. I was surprised to learn she actually held sessions in the office two days a week. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She used a combination of mindful practices and CBT in her approach to patients. More importantly, and improbably, she specialized in substance abuse and had a deep knowledge of 12 step programs.

In the time I met with her, I learned a lot about myself. I came to value those weekly conversations as the place where I could actually be met by someone completely — in part because there was no “her” in the picture — and so the only thing that mattered was what I saying and feeling.

There was nothing I needed to take care of in her. No emotional requirement other than be as much myself as possible.

She was not a perfect blank slate, either. (Who could be?) In fact, her direct knowledge of the program impressed me on the one hand, but its depth occasionally had me wondering about its source.

That was one of the reasons why, when it came time to move off the EAP deal and the question came up about whether or not I would continue, I asked if she was taking patients.

I was glad she took me on, particularly at the prospect of not having to start over again again with someone new.

Nothing seemed unusual except that she still had office hours at the company and every once in a while I’d run into her in the lobby or around the building. The first time was a few blocks from the office. I was on my way to an edit and she ran by me in a blue jogging suit, earplugs in, absorbed in where she was going.

Another time, I saw her having trouble with her badge at the gates.

Then one day, I crossed paths with her on the way back from lunch. I said hello and we shared an elevator up. There was chit chat over the plastic container of salad she held. “How’s your day?” “Good. And yours?” “Good.” “Do you work in the building?” etc.

It was short. Nondescript. Unmemorable except that I was thinking: I wonder if she’s thinking about all the shit I tell her that no-one else in this building knows, and that I don’t want anybody to know.

Then there was the day in the cafe on 27. I was editing something in the studios on the floor around the corner and she was at the tech bar. I said hello. She said hello back. And I couldn’t help but feel she was rolling her eyes at me like, “Oh, no, not Malachy again.”

We talked about it in the session afterword. I got a short course on transference and counter-transference and an explanation that she’d only acknowledge me if I acknowledged her first.

It was very cut and dried, I was to understand, but the whole thing made me feel strange and curious about her. I started to really wonder about how she’d come to know the AA program so well. I wondered if she had a private practice in addition to the work at the company. Who else at the company did she see? What were their problems like? Did any of them mention me?

I wondered what she really thought. And I started to avoid places where I might see her outside of our appointments.

I was successful at that until one day, while taking the long way around the building to avoid the lobby where I might see her, she appeared walking down the sidewalk, badge in hand.

I looked the other way.

And even though we talked about it later (she is a very conscientious counselor, very hygienic when it comes to her practice), it is maybe the one singular thing I regret in my relationship with her: a public denial of who I really I am.

Passing by a bar, I had a momentary pang of jealousy watching people pick up that cold amber liquid that somehow let them put down the worries of their days.

Once I was like that, or so I thought.

But then I never put the glass down for long. Afternoons of escape would become weekends craziness and regret.

Eventually, I found a way to put it down for good. I did not know what that would take, but today I see that it means I feel it all without relief and need to find other ways to deal the hammers and pulleys that never relax. I have to talk it all through until I can see the part of me that I am responsible for — and the part the world has that I can do nothing about.

It isn’t easy. It’s not always fun.

Yet the regrets are fewer and the possibilities bigger.

And so I hope I always find myself passing by the bar. And passing and passing and passing.

Yes is such a better word than no.

Three little letters that open doors and smiles and eyes and ears.

A sweet sound that draws you up and out and helps you find the tips of your fingers at the end of your arms like a joyful jump into the sky.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes I say yes to yes because all the best things that have come to me have come to me after I’ve said it. Kisses and kids and you.

A dog that whines when the ball is trapped under the credenza.

A house that is full of noise from kids who get up too early when I want to sleep late with you.

Afternoons of ice cream and Boston floats just because it’s hot and a boy with big blue eyes says, “I’m bored.”

An apartment in NY that seemed too small for one, but was big enough for us both.

Yes, even when my mouth is lying, it sits better in my heart which opens just a little bit when I hear it. Like that one time you asked me if I wanted to drive up to Fort Bragg and I said Yes when I really felt No and we discovered a traveling family circus out on the bluff and watched trapeze artists catch each other in the glowing tent under the big silver moon.

Yes, I love you with all my everything, even the parts you think no one can. Even the parts that make me angry because I’m thinking about myself when they knock on the door and ask for help and I don’t stop to look up and really look at what you are asking for.

Just yes in every way.

Every once in a while you look at me and say, “I”m guilty of a rookie parent move.”

It makes me wonder if you think I have another set of kids somewhere that I tried all this out with first.

For the record: I don’t..

I came in late to back to school night and had to stand along the wall with the other late Dads. She was not hard to spot. Her body was tilted forward with listening as the teacher went on about the grades and participation requirements. There was a pause in the speech and she turned her head ever so… and her eye caught me and she winked. She winked at me with a broad smile and a little star light.

And it made me feel the way I did the first time she opened a door in NY to show me, her prospective sublease tenant, her tiny one room apartment, saying, “Welcome. Come on in.”

I was working on Wall Street on the Over-the-Counter markets when it happened. I went out with Coonie and Andrew and drank dark and light beers at McSorley’s until it got dark. Then I went around the corner to the place that had no name under the stairs on St. Mark’s and drank some more.

I staggered to the last train with a paper bag in my hand. I remember the sick yellow light of the car as it lurched out of the station and then the next thing I knew the conductor was calling “Dover! Last stop!”

Dover? I don’t want to be in Dover I thought. But it was the last train and I’d missed the place where I needed to change trains.

I called Mom.

I’m not coming to Dover for you. You figure out what you’re doing.

So I wandered around in the dark and growing summer cold until I found a park and laid down to sleep.

When I woke up I found myself in gravestone mason’s yard, surrounded by blank tombstones.

And that’s what it was like. I was falling asleep and missing all the stops in life that mattered, waking up instead at the end of the line in front of a tombstone with nothing on it.

It took another 15 years to realize that I didn’t want to live that way.

Driving home, I realized that yelling at my children is like screaming at flowers. Except that when you raise your voice to flower, it simply moves in the wind, unaffected by your voice. But children—they wilt from within.

I was having breakfast with a Dr. who was talking about some of his patients who had cancer for which there was no turning back.

My father had been a patient like that for some other doctor, so I understood a little of what he was saying. I could imagine what it was like for him.

Eventually the subject changed. We moved on to something more glib and easy. Our kids. Movies we’d seen recently. The greatness of “Catastrophe.”

I don’t know how, but somewhere, in the middle of a laugh, I said, “Well, it’s not like we won’t be doing this again.” Meaning the breakfast that had just arrived.

He laughed too, but said, “Actually, even if we do have breakfast again, this will be not just the last time, but the only time, we have this one.”

It made every blueberry I had that morning sweeter than ever.

It’s early. But something has awakened me. I try to wait, but the darkness won’t fold back in and my mind starts a gentle gallop. So I get dressed. I gather up my paperwork. I kiss H goodbye.

Today, I’m meeting D in the park. I’m doing my 4th step.

It’s all “I don’t wanna” and “I hate this” and “I never asked for this” when it’s time for music lessons.

I know I’m ruining their lives. I'm destroying their Saturdays. I'm forcing them to do something they don't want.

I hope some day, when they're pacing in a home they don't own yet with a head full of insomnia and worry about things that will be forgotten by morning; someday when they're trying to tell someone (maybe even themselves) about the ache they have or the pure joy that needs to jump out and dance; someday when they are walking through the late evening light of a grocery store parking lot and the girls sitting on the bumper of a Buick Skylark (or its future equivalent) beg to hear "The Rain Song" – they won't find themselves wishing and mute, but simply pick up the guitar and open up to what they have inside, a thing that these music lessons let them unlock at will.

Of course, it's just as likely that none of that will happen.

Yes, it's just as likely they'll hold court at a party instead about how their old man made them play. Or connect with a stranger in a diner with resentment over what their dad made them do for 30 minutes each week without regard to their real needs and wants.

Still, the way I figure it, either way, they have something worthwhile.

But, in the meantime, I’ll have to live with it.

And so will they.

Every thirty minutes, it’s something new and the experience is increasingly like riding across a jagged and unpredictable terrain.

From difficult personal problems, to ego stomping fits of rage, to fixing errors, to reading long emails with a larger point buried between the lines, to triple booked calendar requests, to executive demands made at the last minute, to thoughts in my own head about unworthiness and being found out and “they’re out to get me”, to elevators that are slow and staircases that are long and lonely…

And so I just want to yell, FUCK YOU, I’M JUST A HUMAN BEING TRYING TO BE HAPPY IN THIS WORLD, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be “appropriate” so, if you’re me, you yell at the version of yourself that’s been hiding in your mind, the one in the closet who is lonely and afraid of what’s on the other side of the door and is trying to forget by pretending to be Captain Kirk (the first one) which just makes you feel sadder than sad, a feeling you are powerless to stop.

And then you breathe and badge in at the elevator and hope you’re not too late for the next meeting.

And, if you’re me you wonder, has it always been this way and I’m just noticing now? Am I spiritually fit for this? Or really, anything at all?

Where does your lap go when you stand up?

Where does your fist go when you open your hand?

All things include no things.

“I’m lying” can never be true if it is true.

You can never catch your breath. You can never hold your breath.

A line that never touches is a curve.

To know you are thoughtless is to have a thought.

Your mind is not your brain, but without your brain, you have no mind.

Your future and past only exist in the present.

Dana, naked, is alone in a narrow light against the night sky.

As she speaks, the stars grow dim and the narrow light becomes brighter, more intense.

DANA

I thought, thought that even that would go and there would be nothing left at all. No shadow, no imprint, no... just... But still I lay there, on the hot salt caked earth and tried to be still. Absolutely still and watched the sun through my eyelids until there was this buzzing. This buzzing in my ear. Buzzing. And then I felt something on my lips. Something. And I, for the first time, I wanted to speak, speak: Richard, Richard, is that you? Is that... and I tried to kiss it. My lips – the only movement I made – to kiss, connect and then, only a little, only, and and and this pain came, this sharp biting pain and I thought Jesus Christ, Jesus and I opened my eyes to the sound of the buzzing heat and I saw that they were there, they were there in a black swarm, around me, flies, bellies as big as thumbs, trying to get into me. Inside of me. Flying at my eyes. Into my mouth and nose. Trying to get into my head through my ear. Flying up the cuffs of my pants to try to get into me... to... And I was blinded, blinded by the buzzing. The buzzing heat. The buzzing light. The buzzing that was everyhere on me and over me and I didn’t know where to turn and I was calling to Richard. Where are you? Where... When I felt his hand on me, grabbing me at the hip and there was a sudden darkness and the buzzing became muffled and I could smell Richard next to me. His sweat like pencil shavings, up close. It smelled good after the stinging... after... and he pulled me further beneath the blanket he’d thrown over me, pulled me into the car and out of the heat. Jesus. Jesus he said. Jesus. And he shut the door and there we were in the little car with the doors locked and the windows rolled up and air conditioning on, sitting in the car on the desert basin floor and he took the blanket off me and looked at my bitten bleeding face and kissed me. He... he... kissed me. And then I noticed we had escaped except, except for the sound of a single fly, a single fly buzzing in the car with us.

Beat.

DANA

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I. love you.

She looks at her hands: They are stained black.

I’ve spent a week in 2600 square feet trying to figure out if the dog is depressed. She’s been moping while you and the kids are in Los Angeles. I throw the ball for her and she runs with excitement. But I know it’s a put-on because when we get inside the house she does not trot, she walks. Worse, she walks to our bed and jumps up to curl in the space where your head would be. She looks at me with sad eyes.

I put pictures up in the boys’ rooms.

G has framed copies of the US Constitution and the Gettysburg Address and has leaned them up on the wall where he wants them to hang. I find his love for these things odd and charming. He is definitely a history boy. But I miss the days when it was all about Buzz Lightyear and Woody. The days when he did Lego “set ups” and told the stories of pirates who had parrots that could speak Chinese.

In L’s room, I find a picture of my dad and put it up near his bed. Lately he has said he is sad that he had not met his grandpa. Though in truth dad came out to meet him just a few months after he was born, there is only a photo of dad holding L while sitting on the couch. Dad smiles with L in his arms, unaware that in 7 months a doctor will tell him he only has 3 months to live. I think L does not understand death but one day, when he cries uncontrollably in the car over this loss of what he never had, I realize I am the one who doesn’t understand.

I hang the picture near his bed: A shot of dad eating an egg in the kitchen he and my mom shared. In the frame he is looking down at L’s bed, watchful.

Then I go back downstairs and wait, reading a book about a therapist who sees a therapist.

I look at the empty side of the bed. You have spent the last few weeks in our old stomping grounds: the Grove where we bought a couch; the place on Wilshire where we argued in the Mini-Cooper about when to have kids; Crescent and Sunset where our apartment sat next to the parking lot that was once the Paradise Hotel. And now you are on your way back from Los Angeles, traveling down through the Grapevine in the dark to me with two sleeping boys in the back who will be men sooner than I know.

Come home safe to me. I miss you.

This morning on the way to the gym, the word “purpose” floats through my mind in big blue neon letters. Followed by “meaning.” Then “matters.”

I talk through a whole dialog about whether any of these things can be known. I remember telling the therapist once, early on, that I believed all writers put pen to paper to prove they mattered. Even the most trivial story told was a shot at trying to show that the slightest of life’s details, theirs particularly, was worthy and meaningful, despite knowing, in the long run, no one will remember anything at all. Whatever ripples their words make in the water, the pond will eventually become smooth and still again. Like glass.

At the time the therapist looked at me like there might be other reasons for writing and story telling. But I casually ignored her. Thinking back on it, I wonder what those reasons could be… Connection? Understanding? Exploration?

Those all seem like forms of seeking meaning and purpose to me. But then, maybe they are just part of being a sentient being with a brain brimming with language that can turn in on itself too cleverly.

Then it occurs to me that there more than a few horrible people who were certain of how much they mattered, what their meaning was, what purpose they had. Hitler comes to mind and I pretend to know that he died quite sure of himself.

I think, maybe it’s better not know any of those things. And that just because you can’t know doesn’t mean you don’t have any of those things.

I wonder what the therapist thinks.

When I pull into the parking lot and get out of the car, I leave the conversation behind.

It’s time to jump on a stationary bike for 30 minutes.

He said: Dad, you know we never really touch?

I said: What do you mean?

He said: We’re just clouds of atoms. What you feel as touching is just our clouds mixing up.

I said: Really?

He said: We are clouds living inside clouds. Our spirits are like magnets for the atoms.

Oh, I said.

And I thought: This 8 year old child has just told me more about the universe and the wonder of us than all the books I have ever read.