REFLECTIONS AT STOKES

In a quiet cabin in New Jersey’s Stokes State Forest my mind can unclench and breathe. This year has been the most grueling one for me in many years. However, lest you think I am on the pity-pot, think again. When one begins to break free of the emotional bruising of betrayal, and proceeds to fracture the grip some of the greedy have had on his (or her) life, a welcome sense of freedom and possibility emerges.



This sense of freedom and possibility is an independence reborn. In the magic place linked so powerfully to my father, I can sit and watch the flames dance in the wood stove and let my mind, heart, and soul, relax, breathe, ponder the possibilities. And there are many.

I am rethinking all my connections and relationships in life. I think I remain linked to some more out of habit and ritual than need and desire. I don’t know how this process will tease itself out, but it’s just a matter of time before it does.



I am starting with those things I know for sure. The realities that are, for me, the non-negotiables. Realities I will not relinquish and, in some cases, defend with my life.



My friendship with Michael Sulsona along with his sons Vincent and Philip will never end. We are all more than friends. Michael and I refer to each other as brothers from time to time and the boys have grown up calling me Uncle Peter. And they are, in my heart, my nephews.



There are others in my life who I love very much too. But those who know me well and know me deep, know that Michael and his boys have a place in my heart and soul like no one else. Why? We are, in the real heart-meaning of the word, family.



There are other non-negotiables as well. An obvious one would be this; I will give up my sobriety for no one. Moreover, I will, with all my might continue to work against our society’s addiction to violence as well as the right every person has to be who they are fully and safely in the world. In other words, I will not set aside my penchant for working against the unhealthy forces of bigotry. I can tell you that I am taking a look at how best to do that.



Anyway, enough for now. I’ll talk to you more soon, in the meantime, be well, take care of yourselves…and remember to live.



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BACK TO STOKES

This Wednesday I return to a cabin in New Jersey’s Stokes State Forest for four nights. Lest any of you who have been following this blog find yourself thinking, Why is he doing that when he has no money and things are so horribly tight, the cabin was booked and paid for last April.



I stayed in the cabin in the picture last October.


It will good to go back. While I love where I live more than anywhere I have ever lived since my father died in 1969, there is something wonderfully special and cleansing about being in a spartan and rustic environment. These cabins are powerfully built and are not luxurious. They are cabins, cabins in the best sense of the word. One main room with a wood stove, table, two benches, two Adirondack chairs, a bunk bed, two single beds, a small kitchen off the main room and a small half-bath. There is electricity but no phone and no TV. Thank you God.


As I write I have quite a bit of my packing already done: food, books (three novels, a dictionary and thesaurus, along with Steinbeck’s Life in Letters), journals, books on tape and CD (I am bringing a tape/cd player), music CDs, a desk lamp for the table, and folding chair that gives my butt more mercy than the hard surface of an Adirondack chair.



I am bringing all of the memoir: the polished section of close to 150 pages at this point and the remaining 200 or so pages to be polished. I am bringing a ream of lovely blue typing paper to write on. A friend of mine, Dan, told me once that writing on a blue background is easy on the eyes and he was right. I use a pale blue background when writing on my PC and, whenever possible, plain blue paper for longhand.


I will not be posting anything on the blog while I am away but, I suspect, there will be a flurry of posts when I return. It’s funny, while I know some of you personally, the large majority of you who read this blog regularly I don’t know. Yet, in a way I feel like I do, and so let me say I’ll miss all of you and look forward to “seeing” you all when I get back.


In the meantime, take care of yourselves and remember to live.


Peter

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STOKES FOREST JOURNAL: EXCERPT #3

Note to reader: Some of us who live with a brain injury are sound sensitive. I am. And when I am tired, my sound sensitivity increases. This should explain the first sentence in this journal excerpt.

Sept. 29 – 10:24 p.m.

There is a cricket right by the window making so much noise I’d like to blow his fucking head off.

Midnight

I started to go to sleep and then I heard branches breaking outside and grew suspicious and frightened. Everything is okay.

It dawned on me earlier this evening that other than hotels, where I am surrounded by people, this is the first time I have spent the night completely alone (since I was shot). Always, if not people, my dogs (have been with me). It makes sense that this night would be in a place powerfully linked to my father. Once again he is helping me reach a summit. In a very real way he is giving me a present for my 55th birthday.

Sept. 30, 2008 1:05 a.m.

Having a hard time sleeping. Now there’s a surprise. It’s cool enough to start a fire now but I don’t think I will. I think there is a cricket in the cabin and if I had a shotgun I’d point it in the direction of the sound and fire away. Leave it to me to get pissed off at a cricket.

7:33 a.m.

The lake is covered by a mist and again my Dad’s “voice” helped me. I wanted to listen to Imus a bit to see what was on the news and hear some humor but of course I got on my back (thinking), Silent retreat, Peter. Silent retreat, you must go through with this. Then, my Dad saying, Pete, listen to the news. Do what you want. Listen to Imus. It’s okay.

There are beautiful sounds outside as the world continues to wake up. I am living in a fairy tale.

Oct. 1, 2008 6:55 p.m.

And so here we are, Dad. The home stretch (to my 55th birthday on October 2). In a way it is like waiting for a child to be born. He is due just past midnight. He’ll be a burly little fellow, delightfully animated, and filled with an ample supply of piss and vinegar. He’s gonna need it. We will be his guardian angels you and I. His guardian angels. I will watch out for him from here, you’ll watch out for him from there.

I love you Dad with so much of my heart you are my heart. Maybe it is this very heart that will be freedom born just past midnight. This time he will enter world a mighty heart. He will be seasoned, finely tuned, prescient, and keep of his own blood flow. We will watch him carefully as we loose him on the world. He will not have as much time as you and I had at 55 – but perhaps between us we can guard his freedom to be. If he can be the mighty heart he is, it will be redemption for the two of us. Then, finally, we can rest in peace knowing we have squared the deal.

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STOKES FOREST JOURNAL: EXCERPT #2

Sept.29. – evening

I believe this will be a good place for me to rest. Someone I love very much introduced me to Buddhism. The idea of learning to be present in the now, be in the quiet, is both scary and delicious to me. I remember when I would go camping I would just sleep peacefully for much of the day in the woods. Sometimes on day hikes, I would (and do) lay down somewhere warm off the trail and go to sleep. Something embraces me when I am in nature.

Later

I can hear (my father’s) voice at times in my heart. My stomach got a little queasy a short while ago after taking my meds. Usually I will have a piece of bread or an English muffing, something to absorb whatever troubles my stomach. All I have here is a Danish ring I’m saving for birthday morning. But I can hear Dad saying, “Pete, have a piece. It’s okay.” And I did and I feel a little better, which is what he would want – though he would want me to feel all better.

This is a beautiful night. And I am sleeping in the lower bunk! I don’t have a fire going. It’s not cold enough. Okay by me. I’m happy just to be here.

8:07 p.m.

Damned if I don’t get WBGO (a jazz station) here. Nice jazz for the background. Not bad. Just read some of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. The man wrote a universe.

8:52 p.m.

My pen grows still when I think about how to write my love for my father. No words on earth can ever come close. I could say to a passerby, Look at me! Do you see? I am feeling all my love for my father. Don’t you see me glowing? You must!

Were there a just God he would let him come back to me, even if just for my time here (at Stokes). Why would that be so bad? I would promise not to tell. What is the point of death? What purpose does it serve? I suppose the answer is to make way for the new. Yes, we would run out of room eventually if no one died. But if there is an afterlife, if there is an existence beyond this one, why can’t there be communication, contact between those on both sides of the border?

Am I expected to be satisfied that my father helped me get up off the ground (after being shot) and without him in that moment, I would have died? I am not satisfied. I am deeply grateful, but I am not at all satisfied. I want to sit and talk with him. I want to hug him while he is wearing one of his flannel shirts. While I can’t describe it, I can remember his smell. His was the smell of love and safety – the scent itself cannot be expressed in words. What the hell would be the harm in giving us a little more time together? Time for us to go for a walk. I could talk to him about how things are going – and thank him for all he has done for me before and after his death. I don’t know what God’s game plan is, but I don’t like it one bit.
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STOKES FOREST JOURNAL: EXCERPT #1

Note to the reader: I celebrated my 55th birthday this October 2 in a cabin in New Jersey’s Stokes State Forest. My father and I went there when I was a boy. I arrived on September 29. His 55th birthday was his last birthday, so it seemed fitting that I spend mine in a place where he and I shared precious time. I will put some excerpts of my journal writing here in the blog. Before I end this note to you, let me say one more thing. If you love someone, don’t forget to tell them. And, if you love someone and find yourself afraid, don’t let the fear scare you. Love them anyway.

Sept. 29 – 5:24 p.m.

In cabin 6 at Stokes.

I am arrived. The cabin is small and beautiful….As I unpacked the car I had several bursts of handclapping. I was overwhelmed with joy – and proud. As I settled in, I realized that coming to a place like this is something my mother never would have done. This tells me very clearly that there was a part of my father she was unable to know. Very likely several parts.

As any reasonable reader might guess, you can’t come on a trip like this without forgetting something. I forgot a pillow and I could care less. It is the quiet I want to encounter, the quiet I want to learn from. It’s interesting how my instinct is to run from it, drown it out if you will. But if I do that, I am, in a very real way, running from the relationship the real me has with the world as it was intended. If there is a God, I doubt very much he intended us to develop television and video games so that we might more thoroughly fulfill his hopes for us, that’s for sure.

7:27 p.m.

I am getting glimpses of what I hope for here. Moments ago, I thought of ghosts and if they were real and I hoped beyond measure that my Dad’s ghost would appear. Then, as I entered the main room from the kitchen after having these thoughts, it hit me. I am trying to bring him back. I come here to bring him back. I do not think me silly for this; I think me a son.

There are moments beyond words, beyond the reach of thought. Moments where what to do is to be. I am blessed to have made it to 55. Given the shooting, homelessness and probably more close calls than I realize and remember, I am blessed to be here in Stokes Forest with my father.
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