Creative Writing – Why?


W. James Jonas III

June 2006

I cannot say I was absolutely sure it would be this way, but in some ways, it seems logical that looking back would be possible.  Given, I am told, we cannot return, it is hard to understand what is gained by this retrospective ability.  Perhaps, the reason why it is possible is to remind us why our departure is nothing to regret.  Looking back, for me, has been disappointing and frustrating, so far, but the understanding that we are on a journey makes me hopeful that things can change.  If they only stopped asking the question “Why?”, the journey would have less angst and those left behind would seem less pitiful.

It is hard to imagine he is gone, we saw him as more than a friend; he was a resource – part of my routine … have a cup of coffee and check in with David.  He was in the middle of so many important projects.  The fact he decided to take his own life is perhaps merely confirmation of how screwed up he was, but messed up or not, we all depended on him.

David was our king.  In college, he was our leader, a party animal, smart but unconsumed with ambition, and in many ways he was everything the rest of us wanted to be but seemed to lack the courage.  While very few of us wanted to follow him in any exact fashion, we always wanted to know what he was doing and what he thought of our next steps.

About a month ago, he had finally decided to move in to the cabin below my family house where he would stay between trips.  He was going to begin an extensive re-modeling of the place.  In a way, this was to compensate for the fact he was not paying rent.  In another way, he had volunteered to do the remodeling, not because he was a gifted carpenter, because he knew I wanted to improve the property and his involvement with that small building would inspire us to begin fixing up the surrounding grounds and buildings that had not been repaired for several years.  He was obsessed with inspiring action in others.

He had just bought a very expensive table saw for this project.  What kind of person spends hundreds of dollars on a piece of he equipment when he knows he is going to end it all in the next few days?  He had to be planning on leaving us for some time; he always planned things well in advance.  In a moment of dark humor, some of those closest to him looked around for the list, not for a note, but a list.  We all had our version: 1. go to the hardware store, 2. purchase rope, 3. go down to the river, 4. climb the large cypress tree, … While we all laughed and cried, we could never quite take the dark joke to its completion.

His girlfriend seems to be taking it ok.  In a way, she seems to have been expecting it.  Still, she is a kid – almost an orphan.  She knew David … but only for a few months – according to her, almost a year.  The rest of us had known him since college or before, so when she tells us that David was sad and unhappy in a quite sort of way, our response is “of course – that is the way David has always been.”

David was always unhappy in a private sort of way, some of us might have never had sex with him were it not for that quite torment that can be so charming in a young person when the night gets late and the wine and weed had been plentiful.  Those in our circle that had been intimate with David was not an extraordinarily large number in those days (herpes was not even discussed).  Many in our circle had grown-up, then close, then apart, then close to another.  That was the nature of our circle and our outlook; just in David’s case, his quite torment had always been the attraction and we never imagined it for a path to self destruction.  It was the facet that made him an artist, if he was an artist.

I wish they could use their imagination.  Perhaps that would be easier if they were not always thinking of themselves .. or sex … or sex with themselves.  All the distractions keep them from seeing what I was really doing … what they could be doing or how they need to spend the next precious years.

The fact he would hang himself, over the river no less, has really made it hard for us to think of him.  We thought he loved the river.  Drowning might have made sense, but finding a way to die three feet away from the water he loved is too twisted for words.  We have kept the children away from the area by promising a surprise next Sunday.  Perhaps by that time one of us will have the guts to cut that terrible rope out of that innocent tree.  The tree and the rope seem to be accomplices to David’s death; it is as if they were murders.  Two of us almost cut the tree down the day after we found him and the police had cleared out.

We just wanted to clear the landscape and make the earth look different so that this place could never remind us what happened.

Why must they focus on the way I departed?  They keep missing the point.  What they can be doing now is more important than what they think about me.  This is the part of my existence, now, that confirms I am not in paradise.  I have this screaming urge to shake them and get them to understand what really happened.

The kids wanted a rope swing over the river.  I knew it was dark and wet, and no one would mistake me for the children’s best pal.  Still, joy in others has always been the only way to find joy in myself.  The irritating, yet genuine, squeals of joy the rug rats were sure to spew when they awoke to a new way to enter and enjoy the cool waters of the river was my only goal.  I wanted to surprise the kids with something they would enjoy.  Trying to build and install the swing myself was probably a mistake (some might say definitely a mistake given the outcome), but that was the logical path for me that night.

We have been so busy laughing and crying and trying to keep the children away from the adult discussions that we lost track of them … until we heard the screaming down at the river.  Not since we were escaping from an apartment to avoid a drug bust have we all moved so fast.  Only about half of us have children with us, but they are precious to us all.  The screams, we know, are the sounds of tragedy.  We all are hating ourselves for not paying better attention.  We have no idea who is hurt or what has caused the screaming, but we all feel responsible.  The sense of dread is worse because the sounds are coming from the exact place we found David.

The first of us to get to the river start screaming the children’s names before looking down to the river to actually see what is happening or has happened.  The next few of us do the same thing.  It is only after five or so of us are screaming like crazy people do the children stop their play (yes play) and look back up at us; but then they ignore us and go back to their version of important work.  They know they were doing nothing wrong, and they know they were having great fun.  It took that long for our brains to react to the scene our eyes were taking in.  At that moment, our horror lessened, somewhat, and our panic vanished.

These children, the same ones who claim they cannot make their own beds, had found a plank of wood with hole in the center and attached it to the rope over the river.  Having no idea of the recent history of that location and that rope, they were performing all sorts of splashes and dives safely and with the spirit of carefree children.  It was very safe, the rope was only a few feet above the water; it was in the ideal location for the play of these little ones.

The children did not speak to us until a group of us got down to the river’s edge.  Then, the two oldest looked at us and said “Look what we built.”  A couple of the adults tried to get their children away and start explaining the true history of the rope, but others of us were able to restrain them.  There was no reason to enlighten these children.  Let them have their fantasy.  It is our job to allow these kids to avoid hard realities for another few years.  We all knew this would be ok with David.  He was not a big fan of kids, but he did speak of how children were our future.  In fact, he would probably see some humor in the fact that his “prop” for exiting was now a toy.

I might have known.  The kids figured it out.  It really doesn’t matter what these adults think.  It is good to be moving on.


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