You are 3,000 miles away and I can only offer my voice to you. Inside it, I hope you find the life line that will help you out of the well you have fallen into, but you are despondent. You are in a place I have never seen you in. And I am too far away.

Oh, I love you. But it is not enough.

You pad around the house in the small hours looking for the kid’s clothes and I am crazy for you in your t-shirt and underwear and bare feet. You sit in the afternoon light at the kitchen table working at something on the computer, and I am crazy for you as you look over your glasses at me and smile. You sit next to me watching television and I am crazy for you with even just a glance. I wander between offices in a building of glass and my mind flashes on your marine blue eyes and sweet freckles and I am crazy for you.

It is the kind of crazy that holds the heat of the first embers of us that were once a fire. I know you felt it too, once, but now I am not sure. Sometimes I fall down a well of wondering if I have simply made it up. I just don’t know. But it is certainly still hot for me.

Sometimes you seem to show annoyance at it, but I am not sure. There are kids and dogs and people coming to trim the trees; lunches to be made and auditions to go to and mom’s to take care of; sleepless nights that make me tired and grumpy and hard to deal with; school events with social drama that is pointless. There is so much that I can understand it is hard to fit this craziness in. I buy flowers and set up dates to breakthrough the world’s concerns and find the ember together again as we once did in the beginning, but it’s too often like trying to hold back the tidal wave on the beach by holding my hand up.

it is alive in me and I am trying to keep tight on it and so I wonder, Are you?

The question makes me shy and I think it is better not to wave at that wall of water that is coming down, but then I feel impotent and alone. And I’m lost for a moment searching for your hand, grasping at air where I hope to find you.

I remember once a play written by a friend where the husband confessed to his wife that even after all the years of marriage his desire for her was still deep. He had thought it would wear off, but it hadn’t at all and now he was alone because she had grown to stand apart, full and complete. What for him was a need, for her was a choice.

It might have always been that way, but the romance he’d felt in the beginning had bitten him and never let go.

It made him a sad and pathetic character. Too much.

I am alone in the hotel I was supposed to share with you.

I watch the Game of Thrones where the dead chase the living through dark castles. I think about the resentment I had about you not coming when our littlest hurt himself on a trampoline at a birthday party. I reflect on the realization that you would not be coming when, a day later, he slammed his finger in the kitchen door and I took him to the ER.

Our time would be his time. I would not be reunited with you and so reunited with someone who was me years ago, before I was called Dad.

But in the hotel room that is just a room that is not home, I find I am the person I need to be. A parent. Because this what I need to be for a kid who broke an ankle, and smashed a finger.

What I need to be for you. And me.

And this is what I need to be in this moment.

If you really want to know who you are, what you are made of; to see each and every husk of yourself nested like onion skins within each other; discover the contours of the faces of the Russian Dolls of your true self — get married and have a couple of kids and pay close attention to yourself in the waiting areas of emergency rooms and the stands of Little League games; listen to your whispering heart at birthday parties and car rides to Oregon; watch closely your twitching mouth during quiet kisses with your wife who is thinking of the yelling that is happening over the iPad in the room next door; sit quietly with the joy that jangles and dances with laughter over fart jokes you’re not supposed to hear or like; remember carefully the moments when you wish something else was true but are accepting of the truth before you.

Then you will see who you truly are.

And if you are good to yourself, you will forgive all your faults of love and expectation to let the ones who are are showing you who you are… be themselves.

My mother is driving a Range Rover and she says suddenly that we’re gonna take the back roads. She doesn’t say to where, but just swerves the hulking metal vehicle off the pavement toward the cane fields.

Then the grass parts and the wheels are bouncing like crazy across an ancient lava bed where molten rock has hardened in black ripples. They are thick and tall and make me think of mangrove roots.

This isn’t a back road, one of the other kids yells, it’s off road.

She sort of laughs and I can see she’s nervous about how little control she has at the wheel. You think? She says sarcastically.

And then the lava field is suddenly a red rock ramp up from the bottom of a ravine. Big flat ocra colored stones lay perfectly fitted together as if placed there by some cosmic mason in pre-history.

The landscape becomes lunar and southwestern with dead scrub running up the canyon walls.

When we crest, we are suddenly on a wide horizonless plateau and there are rivers and water everywhere. It is like a natural water park, with falls and greenery.

We’re in Denver, mom says.

But I’ve been to Denver and this is nothing like it.

The kitchen had a faux red brick linoleum tile floor. In the dim light, between dishes coming in and out of the oven, she paused and saw I was upset. It was my birthday and I’d been given a shirt from the cousins that was brown like burlap that I didn’t like but had had pretended to appreciate. But with all the people moving in and out like bees in a hive, I felt unnoticed. Except, in that moment, to her. And I remember that tenderness.

I still think about how much I learned to like that shirt. I wore it forever and a day until it nearly fell off me in rags.

She becomes stock still. He recomposes himself.

IAN:

I’m sorry. I… but… Jesus. I mean… I can’t… I can’t… take this really anymore… I feel… I feel… so frustrated. I mean just… completely… You know? (she nods) Oh, this is so hard but I can’t just… Oh, honey… Aren’t you… I mean, aren’t you… just… I want to make love to you, you know. Love. And… and… and… and… I, I want you… I want you to want to make love to me. But you look at me like… like… I don’t know. Like… you don’t know me. Like you don’t… and then, you know, I kiss you and you know, I can tell. I can feel it. Right through the lips. Right through. It comes through. And I think, maybe, maybe like if I just keep trying this and maybe if I do that that that that maybe something will change and but you… in the dark I see your teeth, oh my god, your teeth, it’s so… I mean, white like in the dark, like Jesus-good… the briefest little thing of a thing and I am, I am there, I am totally 100% really there, and I think maybe you are too, maybe, but then I’m up against you and I don’t know and I love you but I love you but and I’m doing things, things I don’t like, doing things… (to himself) STUPID things… (back to her) mixing salad with my fingers, you know, throwing Raisinettes on the theatre floor and well, things that just aren’t… me… aren’t… I mean, because I want to see your teeth in the dark, or anything, just see you, you know and then I am coming, coming… and I open my eyes and there you are with those exquisite white teeth, so perfect so… but still and I’m…

They are quiet a moment together. She looks out like a zombie.

ANNE

So you’re not… going to Paris with me?

At my mom’s house I look at all the pictures of us, myself, from ages ago: I smile happily from beneath the brow a Yankees cap that is still new as I lean back on the couch.

In my head, I still look like this 35 year-old guy. Bright and ready. Confident. But I know my head is a liar, because my shoulder aches and when I woke this morning plantar fasciitis had me limping to the bathroom like a cowboy with a broken hip.

I also think about what I believed then — more often than I'd like to acknowledge (yet, not all the time) — that I was ugly and damaged and needed to struggle to prove myself. All for reasons that happened decades before the camera's shutter caught the image I see today.

I close the picture album hoping I can help my boys see themselves without the kinds of distortion I brought to myself and curved my life invisibly.

I want them to see themselves as they are: beautiful and good and worthy.

I start by getting up and finding the baseball gloves: Hey, guys, want to toss the ball around?

Somewhere in college, basketball sneakers with velcro snaps got hot.

I bought a pair and the first morning I was putting them on, my dad saw me in the kitchen adjusting the adhesive bands.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I wish you wouldn’t wear them.” His voice was flat, dull.

Just like, Dad, I thought. Never likes anything I do.

Then he said: “It reminds me of my Dad after his stroke. He couldn’t tie his shoes so they made him wear shoes like that.”

I glanced at him and saw a son with his face turned away. And I had a vision of him as a young man helping his father with braces and shoes at the bedside. I felt him aching with the yearning-to-be-understood-babble of the man who’d once painted and talked and charmed with the terrible beauty the Irish were known for. I felt the loss behind the curtain that this now man, my father, kept shut away from me, and maybe himself, so successfully that I did not even know it was there until those words.

It was the most personal thing he’d ever told me.

I wrapped the shoes up in tissue and put them back in the box. I returned them the next day.

I listened in the dark as she told me about the time she played Cassandra in a small town production of Troilus and Cressida. A roomful of men listened with arms crossed and “I gotta see this” faces. Then she tilted her head back and took the burning sword in her mouth, swallowing the blue flame like an easy cupcake.

She couldn’t see me, but I know she felt it: My incredible wonder that I was laying in bed with such beauty and power and courage.

The first time, I heard a man tell 500 people in a church basement about how he broke his teeth on a cement step and didn’t go see a dentist right away because he had no insurance. Instead, he superglued his teeth back into his mouth and every few days, when they fell out again, he’s squeezed that tube of bondo and put them back in place.

Then one day, there was nothing doing and he finally went to the free clinic where a dental student said, in genuine wonder, “What’s going on here?’

Even that didn’t wake him up.

The room roared with every word.

It was, for sure, tragic and funny. But it was also hopeful, because there he stood behind a microphone telling us about who he had been, and living proof that change could be had.

It didn’t sound anything like my story. Or anything I knew. But standing there in the suit I had donned to prove I didn’t belong, I recognized the despair I had woken up from the morning before. In the loneliness he shared, I felt my own loneliness and knew that I had found the place where I had to be.

And that was my first time.

There was excitement in the morning when dad was gone before dawn.

“He’s gone sailing with SC’s dad,” Mom explained from the kitchen door. “He’ll be back late today.”

SC was a slightly older girl in the neighborhood who read comic books forbidden by my mom. The boat in their drive made the house look small.

I imagined dad in his Navy dress whites captaining on the whitecaps of Lake Michigan. Where would he go? What would the find?

I couldn’t wait to hear the story.

When he got back he was wordless and lay down on the couch in the front room under the window in the late light of the day. His lanky body stretched limply across the brown cushions. He didn't even take his shoes off. He just closed his eyes and turned his sunburned face away.

He had gotten drunk on the trip and while it turned out to be a rare moment (I can count the times I’ve seen him drunk since on one hand), this was the first.

I never heard about the adventure.

A few years later SC’s dad committed suicide and they moved away.

The winter light was hard. Unforgiving.

It made her look all the more frail, weeping in a fur coat: Irish eyes helpless with what had happened.

Her sister had died and my dad was taking her back to the Villa Adolorada where she lived and would die herself a few years later.

“My sister is gone,” I heard her say. “Helen’s gone. I’m all alone.”

My dad hugged her. “I know,” I remember him saying. “I know.”

He looked around in his top coat, uncertain about this place where the world had put him with his mother.

It was the only time I ever saw my grandmother, Mary Kay, cry.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye as I passed from one room to the next, all of 4 seconds some 40 years ago.

And it was forever.

When the woman in the dark suit asked if anyone wanted to speak, I did not go up. I felt I hadn’t known T as an adult well enough. I didn't have any funny anecdotes. Or perfectly preserved memories. Seven years my junior and my cousin, our family spent many a Christmas and Thanksgiving with his family. We’d hung spoons from our noses at the kids’ tables. We’d fidgeted among the kids as we all waited for his father to spool the super 8 film of “The Night Before Christmas” through the projector every December 24th. We’d run through the grass together on humid summer midwestern nights.

And so he was important to me in his own right.

And I loved his family — his mom and dad and two sisters — and him, despite the separate worlds adulthood had taken us. Now he lay in the dark wood coffin at the top of the room, frozen in forever at 48.

But I did not go up when the open call was made. Instead, I thought of the moment my sister had called a few days before to tell me he had died suddenly of heart attack.

What?! The response was immediate and short. It was a small word for a full and huge question that asked for an answer bigger than the universe could deliver because the answer was whole universe itself.

What?! I said again. I walked down the hall with my sister’s voice in my ear, and suddenly felt myself pushing up against a gray wall that was like a solid but synthetic fog in front of me. My face leaned into and stretched it across my lips, my nose, my eyes . What was beyond? Nothing? I didn't know. Yet I was familiar with it.

I had seen it before, when the wheels fell off early on in therapy. Talking to a paid ear, it had appeared in front of me like a sheet, not against me (as it was now with my whole being pushing into it, trying to reach through it). As quickly as it appeared to me in the office, it was gone. But the office not the same as before. It was more alive and vibrant and all the sounds of it made a silence that was full of more life than ever before.

I thought of it again after I’d help lay the casket down in the cold of the graveyard with six others and the mother of his daughter stepped up and read from The Lord of the Rings:

PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn't

Shivering, it struck me that I didn’t need to wait for the grey rain-curtain to roll back. That I could peel it back at any time. The far green country is always here and now if you are willing.

In flash, I was glad I was there with everyone in the cold, listening with everything I have to go home and smile at my kids and kiss my wife furiously.

I am not thinking about how I am myself and the world is the world when I lay down as a sack of bones.

I am not thinking about how I am separate from the universe, an organic machine with its own soul that must master it all to show its existence is worthwhile, when she asks: How has the week been? Is the shoulder better?

I am not thinking of how I can not see myself with my own eyes and yet I think I know how I look to others, as I tell her “It’s better, but not there yet” and flex to feel the knot in my back that I want undone.

She puts a hand under my chin and asks “Here?” and then goes to my ankle and says, “So here.”

She sinks the needle midway down my shin and like that a relaxation comes into my shoulder.

And I see that a rock turning round a star on the edge of galaxy turning in a universe of universes is as connected to everything as everything.

The center of everything is everywhere.

That is why my right shoulder feels better when a needle pierces my left calf.

It’s sort of insane. In a good way.

And I wonder, would I feel even better if an asteroid swung two feet to the left of the star on Orion’s hip?

You run after time until you’re out of breath and bent over heaving.

And you run some more.

You ask over the phone, “Is your refrigerator running?” and the voice says back, “Yes,” and you say back, “You better go catch it before it gets away.” And collapse in laughter.

And you pick up your shoes and run some more.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking, which is a stolen thought direct from Roger Waters, but perfectly captures that sense of time getting away.

Like the refrigerator.

And you run some more.

From meeting to meeting, from house to house, from girl to girl, from baseball game to swim meets, to marriages and therapy appointments.

You run between breaths with your eyes closed.

You run in your sleep and wake up in a sweat thinking this is gotta end, but hoping it never does. (But it does.)

Yeah, you run. From baby to toddler to kid to teenager to someone who runs blindly to middle age until you land in a bed that is your last place. But even there you are running.

Running out to White Hen. Because that’s where you run when you run out of anything.

Run run run.

DMC. Run.

Just run.

Run when you sit and you stand and you kneel. Run when you run around the track.

You just run. Until at least you break through and see it for a moment and realize it was there all along and that you could never catch it because it’s uncatchable.

Completely, 100%, uncatchable.

And that’s alright you think as you catch your breath and feel the sun.

When I was a boy, I was a sucker for girls with books.

So nowadays I’m used to coming across books in my library with inscriptions in them — dusty words from ghosts.

A little while ago, when I picked one up, I remembered reading it in Z’s apartment. The loneliness of her world made bearable by the words she’d given me, bound in a wood spine. The story was like a prayer Z wanted me to know.

Z was not nice to me, ultimately — though I’m sure she felt the same about me.

But one thing’s for sure, the world she put in my hands — and that I poured into my mind while sitting on a purple couch as she slept alone in a room not more than 10 feet away — that world still lives in me. And sometimes I think that that whole relationship was worth it just to get that.

It was about the heart and love and the world that tried to leash these powers down and keep them under control. And the tragedy that so often follows such restrictions.

It was called “The God of Small Things” but there was nothing small about it at all.

In the dream, we’re in a farm field with our couples counselor, M. The field is carpeted with a rich deep green grass, dark with rain, and bending down into a hollow. There’s a red clay wall at its center where you stand as others from a short line look at pictures of you from when you were a kid and confront you with what they see. I watch someone being told by strangers how they see his past. His shoulders slump a little. His head falls. It’s all part of an exercise that M has concocted. We’ve agreed to try, but I am frightened by it now.

I turn. I’m at a curving red diner booth with you at the edge of the field. M is there to tell us what she has learned. Somehow our oldest is there too. He knocks a glass of milk off the table and it shatters on the floor under the booth. I look down. A big crescent shard of sharp glass wobbles in the milk near a rusting chair leg. As I focus on it, I feel your anger and frustration at the interruption. You won’t get the chance to hear what M found out.

Then we are in a truck going along a green road, just me and you and the kids, to do something else M has asked. We turn up a muddy track to find a place. We pass an old beaten tract home with a low cinder block wall around the back and a rusting swing set. It’s up on a little hill and we briefly think to stop and knock on the door but we don’t.

We drive another 500 yards to where the wire fence ends and park to climb to the top of a small knoll. We start the exercise M has set out for us. The house we passed to get here glows in the distance.

Suddenly the owner of the house is out driving wildly around us. He is Ernest Borgnine and he is crazy angry. We’re on his property. We’re disturbing him. Get off! Now!

We yell we didn’t know. We say we are almost done. Who knows if Ernest Borgnine hears us through the open window of his old pickup truck?

Then he is gone. I re-assure you that it’s okay if we finish what we are doing (whatever it is). It’s unnerving but I feign confidence and we continue until I am pelted by a paint ball. I know it’s come a long way because it doesn’t hurt when it hits me. I look to the house. It’s Ernest Borgnine‘s kids shooting at us.

I yell again. We’re almost done. We’re about to leave. Stop. We have kids with us.

They don’t care. I start to get angry.

Suddenly, the shooter is there. He is big and broad shouldered in a football jersey that’s torn at the midriff. He tries to intimidate us. We’re scared and angry. We tackle him and attack. Then I realize what’s happening. Wait, I say. This is wrong. We can’t hurt him.

We step away from him laying face down on the wet grass.

In a flash the scene changes and I’m in someone else’s body that is also mine. I’m heavily tattooed with dark tribal patterns. I am standing in a narrow hallway leading to the stage. I feel exhilarated and naked; strong and aware.

I am also wearing a cheerleader outfit. It is a joke, a Britney Spears pastiche, but it is weird.

Someone is trying out for the band. It is the kid from the house who intimidated us in the field. He wants to be the drummer.

The dark patterns on my skin hide me from him. He passes me without realizing he knows me from before. I can also tell he is afraid. He thinks we are tough so he is tough. He does not realize that our inked shells are just masks we look through, protective signs of our inner tenderness.

A test for the try-out appears in my mind. I begin to weep and my band mates — who know me as even I do not know myself — begin to cry with me. I twist in the cheerleader uniform and go to each band mate with a pink balloon that I blow up myself and give them in place of my heart. Each takes it protectively in acknowledgment of what I am feeling.

I bend to offer it to the boy who does not recognize me. He is more afraid and unsure than ever.

Will he take it?

I wake before finding out and scramble to write it all down before it evaporates in the rising light of morning.

The old bookseller used to say, “Don’t just look at your books. Touch your books!” When I asked why he said simply, “Because when you do they synaptically register in your mind and when someone asks for one a complete picture of exactly where you saw it will appear to you and you will go to it without the slightest hesitation.”

And he was right.

I get home and you don’t look like the person I remembered. You are hard and angry. You make no effort to be anything else.

You think I blame you but I don’t.

I just see you as you are. And I reflect back what I see. Hard anger without any romance. Frustration. Disappointment.

You ask if I’m upset with you. How can I tell you? Do you really want to know?

I’m not sure I understand the point at the moment and just say I’m reading. But the ink and paper is useless on my mind and I go to sleep. And later when I find you sleeping on the couch and ask you back, I think maybe this is a restart.

It’s not. We just go back to sleep. Except I can’t sleep.

I’m here in the dark, writing this, while everyone sleeps.

And I’ve only been away two days.