Where Do I Begin?
All of this stuff happened pretty much as I have written it, except the bits that never happened at all. That which did happen, was always going to have happened, and there was no stopping that.
You may not remember it, hell, your parents may not even remember it, but your grandparents will … or would have if not for the hydrogen bombs. Truth is, I’m not sure who I am writing this to, or why. I just am. There is nothing else to do around here, without Elvis, my golden retriever, rest his soul. Notice I didn’t say, “God rest his soul”? This is for the simple fact that God doesn’t come this far south anymore. He left Florida on October 22, 1962, along with all the people. He might even have left a little earlier… that was just the first time I went looking for him and found him not there. He left no forwarding address.
My father, rest his soul, had a way with words. He was calloused from too much long-ago death, fighting alongside the British in the Second World War. Killing Nazis with bravado, and so forth. Or at least that’s what he’d have you believe. What had really happened was that he had gone into combat for a short period and had seen the death of all his squad and their English-speaking counterparts and German-speaking doppelgangers, most of whom were just children, really, and had hidden himself under a pile of still-warm corpses until he could escape. He had left the war terrified, and remained terrified until his death some 20 years later. He wasn’t one of the World War II veterans fortunate enough to have been lobotomized by the government as a way to repair the shell shock, so he had to deal with all that mortality on his own.
He often recited the first line of a limerick when faced with the news of someone’s passing; he was deflecting. I sort of adopted it along the way; I was deflecting, too.
When I mentioned my dog had died, he would’ve said, “Here lies old Gus.”
And if the dog was named Gus, it would make sense to everyone, but since no one was named Gus anymore, it seemed to only have meaning to the two of us.
In other situations, such as conversations with old war buddies or bar flies from the VFW club, he would refer vaguely to the limerick. The limerick was one about a man named Gus, who’d been horrible to his spouse. On the day of his death, his wife’s only emotion was joy that she had mailed his insurance check on time each month. It goes like this:
Here lies old Gus, a miserable cheat,
Survived only by the wife that he beat.
She’s got no one now,
And she’s big as a cow,
But his insurance paid through the teeth!
“Did you hear Charlie Webber blew his head off last week?” his buddy might ask, to which Father would undoubtedly reply, “I hope his insurance was paid!”
His buddy, Henry Fortenberry, when presented with the specific way someone had bought the farm would say, “That’s one way to do it,” implying that death was little more than an option or a means to an end. Incidentally, Charlie Webber’s insurance hadn’t paid a dime. Apparently, suicide wasn’t a good way to do it.
We all say stupid things when people die, I suppose.
When I lost my dog, Elvis, I said, “Here lies Elvis.” because his name wasn’t Gus.
Boy, do I miss him … the dog, that is. I don’t really miss my father anymore, and I never liked Henry Fortenberry. Besides, they’re both dead now. Heart failure for dad. That’s one way to do it. Fortenberry let the car run in the garage until he went to sleep. That’s another. If he would’ve had a wife, she would have been disappointed about his insurance not paying, either.
None of it matters, anyway.
I used to have faith; maybe I will again one day, but I doubt it. Not after what I’ve seen.
You think my father was jaded? Not even. I’ve been hidden under a lot more bodies than he ever was.