When I asked him in June how he seemed to spontaneously recover overnight he smiled and said two things: “Prayers and you moved back in.”
I wish I could tell you that but I can’t.
I started drinking what I call ‘canoe beer’ by the crates during the week. Hamms, Schlitz, Old Stye, Old Milwaukee. Crates of PBR. Called canoe beer because it was cheap beer you would see your grandfather drink while going on a canoe outing in the boundary waters. I would escort Uncle Mike to Krogers in Madison park, leaving the side door to his vehicle purposefully unlocked even though we were parking in ghetto terra ferma and while he was checking out which brats to buy for the Sunday outing skulk next door to seedy liquor store and stock up.
I wish I could tell you that I did things differently the second time I was blessed to crash with Uncle Mike again in this lifetime.
Two days after the accident I went into his room to give him back rub. I had been writing and drinking out in the woods. In the two years since I had moved back in with Uncle Mike I had grown adept into smuggling bushels of beer cans out of the house, the majority littered in the Nuclear woods like a chrome escalator descending into the gravel swath and graffiti’d hieroglyphics of dry run creek. Perhaps he was snorkeling in the ether. Perhaps he was wading between the breath of both worlds. I still harbored the belief that Mike would snap out and I would find him one morning after work cooking, being his ornery self.
I knew what he was alluding to but I still retorted with the perfunctory what.
“The problem that you have been dealing with. Have you taken care of that yet?”
I knew Mike was talking about my drinking. For a second I thought about how I told myself when I first moved in with Mike I would be attending an AA meeting a day for ninety days and instead I went out and partied and ended up in the hospital.
Yes,” I said to Uncle Mike. Lying. Kneading my fist into the stiff dip of his lower back.
I went into Mike’s bedroom and grabbed his thoroughly tattered Baha’i prayer book. I then went into the living room and, with talisman, a mystical lump of copper given to me years early by someone I love more than life, someone I had met through Mike, dropped down to both knees as if being knighted and began to prayer. Began to sob. Having known Mike for just under a pinch of a decade I knew there was one prayer he would pray over and over. He would break out and recite it at firesides. Whenever we passed a cemetery on one of our long drives.
I squeezed his pillow. I wanted to smell like him. I wanted the old man musk to envelope my entire body as I squeezed the pillow and drifted into the slumbering snow banks of winter peace.
O my God! O Thou forgiver of sins, bestower of gifts, dispeller of afflictions!
Verily, I beseech thee to forgive the sins of such as have abandoned the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world.
O my Lord! Purify them from trespasses, dispel their sorrows, and change their darkness into light. Cause them to enter the garden of happiness, cleanse them with the most pure water, and grant them to behold Thy splendors on the loftiest mount.
After Uncle Mike’s demise I was still working 70 hours a week and I just wasn’t sleeping and I’m so indebted to my sister Beth and my mom (as well as Gary and Mark Anderson) for coming to the hospital that night. I’m grateful to the outpouring of love from the local Baha'is and thx to Richard McClelland. Thirty years ago Richard had a sibling who died and Uncle Mike paid for the tombstone. Though he lives in Portland Richard paid for Mike’s tombstone and paid to have Uncle Mike’s obituary on-line ad infinitum. Justin Martin came all the way down from Duluth Minnesota and drove us down to Southern Illinois (riding the glacial surf of the worst snow storm to hammer central Illinois in 25 years. I can’t thank my brother David Hale for traveling down to the funeral with me or the local Baha’is for calling and checking up on me. My brothers’ (and now roommate) Kyle Devalk came down to Peoria with (the great) Roxy Reno came down and we gave an epic poetry reading. A week later my brother J moved in with me for the remainder of my time spent on the cusp of the Nuclear woods. Technically we were squatters, but I was so grateful for his presence and can’t thank everyone enough for really being there when I needed a friend in a time of dire need.
Three months after the funeral I moved out of Howard’s end a bevy of local hipsters moved in. They hosted crazy partied and always posted their pics on facebook ( I kinda feel that I christened it for them). Occasionally I would saunter into one at the Owl’s Nest and inquire about the house. There was at least five people living there and every time I inquired they replied that no, they never went into the woods.
Uncle Mike has been gone for three years now. I continue to write and continue to drink perhaps more than I should at times. For a while I was burdened with the inevitable ‘if I had only come home minutes earlier he would still be here today’ bromide. But I feel Uncle Mike, in all his Gandalfian insight, just knew it was time for the narrative tracks ferrying the freight train of his life to proceed to its next port. That the last months when his spirit was in a shamanic haze he was anticipating with vigor the inscrutable wonder the moment consciousness dips out of, as he always referred to it, this coat of flesh that is this body, peeling off layers of our prehensile and ontological perception orienting our limited periphery of this world to wade into the shallow end of the kiddie pool on splashes of what is to come. In an extremely anthologized collegiate commencement address delivered shortly before he died the late David Foster Wallace states that, “None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death.”