Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
That’s a question that i’ll never hear myself ask the man who will always be my anti-hero. The most flawed man i have ever looked up to, my dad was the human being I wanted to be loved by so badly that i became him, or at he very least, a poor (if not ambitious) facsimile of him before i became the human i am today.
My dad lived his life as if there was an hourglass hidden somewhere tirelessly using gravity to pull sand, grain by grain, from the top chamber to the bottom one. And when the last grain fell and landed silently it would toll some bell signaling his life’s end. To call him an addict would be anti-hyperbole to the nth degree. His was a personality that found a thing and then obsessed it with perfection. Any casual observer of his way of life could learn many lessons in moderation from my hero. His behavior was clearly a cautionary tale that i misread somehow and used as inspiration on how to live my own life.
Have you ever had someone tell you to ‘do as i say not as i do’? My hero tried that once when i happened to be scoring a bag of cocaine from him. We were sitting in the basement behind the ticking furnace and the rusting water heater. There were burnt and bent spoons, a king edwards cigar box full of random paraphernelia, and that sweet stench of musk, nicotine, piss and despair you’ll find in any junkie’s den. Then as my my dad, this hero of mine, took a deep toke off his crack pipe right after he had slowly plunged heroin into his well used veins he admonished me in a way that still blows my mind, “never smoke crack or shoot smack Danny…i know you, you’ll like them too much.” Then he handed me the eight-ball I just paid for and shooed me away before his wife came home and saw me there. The thing is…he really did know me and this was one of the rare times that i did what he said and not what he did.
My dad had a way with words that was more than somewhat hypnotic. You have never heard someone big fish, embellish or one-up a story quite like he could. I recall reading somewhere that the art of oral storytelling was in its death throes but if you had ever sat around playing with your hot wheels while pretending not to listen to grown folks talking as my dad and his friends/audience wove one another’s stories around each other’s you would have realized that the art of storytelling was alive and well, that aesop’s fables had a Brothers Grimm version and that ‘innappropriate’ works on a sliding scale.
This storytelling thing became a thing i emulated with alacrity at an early age, mesmerizing my friends with the kind of stories that all the R-rated movies we couldnt see were made of. My granddawg’s nudie magazines lying partially opened with the hirsute muffins completely forgotten on a milk crate in our kerosene heated garage as i told my fellow six graders tales about vacations to Murder beach and swinger parties on Fire Island. I might be the only kid in history that was suspended from school because of a story i told during show and tell. I had no choice of whether to tell the story or not…I was double-dog dared after all! and for the record; i didnt embellish or one up said story either…Who needs to big fish a story about a clam?
My hero loved and wanted to be loved so intensely, and so fervently that it fractured him into two equal parts: compassionate misogynist on one side and empathetic sociopath on the other. Which makes no damn sense…i know. But if you could see how deeply he cared for, loved and provided for the women he beat, berated and cheated on maybe you could comprehend the real world application of his oxymoronic existence. And then wonder as i did if he was really as shocked as he appeared to be whenever these women reached escape velocity, running the moment they broke free of his gravity and charismatic toxicity.
I know that i was never that surprised when the woman i loved exactly how my hero taught me to left in the middle of the day, filling her rented orange striped truck in the brightest hour of the day with the help of all the friends and family i had isolated her from in the darkness of our relationship. And while not surprised, i was disturbed in the most peculiar way to discover that i was doing all the things i despised seeing done to the women i called mom.
His theory about the hourglass apparently had merit. He left us a couple years back when that last grain of sand finally fell. which is why I’ll never hear myself ask him, “Did you know that ou’re my hero?” But his death wasnt a surprise all of us who loved him and looked up to him knew that it was imminent.
He and i had one of those weird macho, mans man, father son relationships or maybe we were more friends than family. but one of the odd things was that we never said “I love you” it was an unspoken thing between us or maybe we were just too uncomfortable saying such a phrase to another man…i really dont know why this was a truth between us but it was. And i have always been able to say things to people in my poetry that i didnt have the balls to say face to face. I could hide in my poetry so as he lay on his death bed and the time i had left to say the things i wanted to say to him grew shorter and shorter i rushed to write him a poem. to tell him i love him without saying I loved him.
I wrote the poem below as i sat in line for two hours waiting to get on a prison pay-phone to call my dad on my sisiter’s cellphone. I read it to him, overcome with emotion as i said good-bye to my dad for the final time and when i finished i could hear the emotion in his voice as he said, “I love you too Danny…” After that call i walked back to my cell with tears falling freely and unashamedly, a weight had been lifted from my spirit and i cared less whether or not anyone around me saw me weeping.Tough guy persona be damned.
I never revised or rewrote the poem i wrote for him. It will forever remain the version that i shared with him that night. I share it with you in the hopes that you always take the opportunity to say what you want to those that mean the most to you…to never leave anything unsaid.
Before you go.
I’ve only ever loved one man in my life. The blue of his eyes, the set of his chin. The silver of his tongue and the dark circles his eyes sit in. I’ve only ever loved one man in my life.
Long before his smile met mine i loved this man, this legend, this myth and the way his name, spoken only in hushed tones, lit up the face of the first woman i loved. I won’t ever forget the first time i remember me and him meeting, nor will i forget the last time he left. boh times filled with uncetainty, regret and yet in my heart he will always remain. A sanctuary i’ll hold so he can go home and finally rest.
The father, the son, the man i wish to be…I’ve only ever loved one man in my life…
and it isnt me.
Rock on and Drive Safe
Daniel J. Royston