I’m like that old faucet: the gaskets holding back the pressure of my grief are worn and brittle. Little rivers of pain now leak out of the weak spots. I am powerless to stop them until I find a way to remove and reinstall the whole darn thing. I can’t half-fix me like I did the faucet; I need to rip out all of the old parts and put in new defenses against failure. Then, I’ll be the man I want to be— the man God intends for me to be.
The handle on the old pot is loose again. We’ve had that thing forever— I think that pot originally belonged to Grammy (your mother’s mother that Alex knew but couldn’t possibly remember). Somehow it was bequeathed to your mom about the time we first moved in together. We used to make sweet tea in it, but we don’t anymore. Three big tea bags—five of the little ones— and two-thirds of a cup of sugar; it was a caffeinated, sugary brew that no doubt made our pancreases scream in horror. We left that beverage behind some years ago when we decided to become healthy. Now I’m boiling plain water in it for your mother’s peppermint tea. She has a headache.
Being healthy seems laughably stupid now. That thought comes from the wine and wine helps me feel numb. I know I’m drinking more than I should. I need to stop. If I could just focus I could fix all of this, including that damn pot. Alex tried to tighten the stripped out screw and got the handle turned upside-down. It looks ridiculous but it is somewhat functional, which is more than I can say about me right now.
An interruption. Mary Ellen just ran downstairs to ask me if I was going to be O.K. Reflexively I replied, “I hope so.” She immediately ran back upstairs to report my response to your mother, who will no doubt give me hell whenever it is I decide to go to bed. That is deserved. I don’t have much of a filter these days, and for that I am very sorry.
The kitchen faucet still leaks, this time from the base. It is old, but I had thought that the faucet was leaking because of a worn out cartridge. I took the whole thing apart, only to find that the shut-offs were both completely worn out so water shot from the now dismantled faucet like a geyser. I hurriedly shut off the main to the house and embarked on a trip to two big-box hardware stores to buy both shut-offs and a new cartridge. It turns out that the faucet is so old that no one carries a cartridge for it except for a supply shop in Chino, California. So, I installed new shut-offs and we waited five days for a new cartridge to arrive.
By the way, if you are looking for plumbing supplies, Home Depot is much better than Lowes. Thank me later, all you do-it-yourselfers.
Anyway, I got the new cartridge and I put the faucet back together and it worked and it didn’t leak and I was full of myself because I had done a manly thing. Then came this morning: It turns out when a kid puts some pressure on the faucet in just the right manner water shoots out from the base. That isn’t my fault; the 17-year-old rubber gaskets are as tired as I am right now. But I was grumpy and tired and angry and depressed so I completely blew up right in front of both of you girls. Like I told the therapist today, I just needed a win. I needed a win so desperately badly.
Once again, I wasn’t enough. I have never been enough.
I’m pretty sure that is where all of this comes from. I’ve never been enough, at least in my eyes. I’ve never been a good dad, or a good husband, or a good gardener, or a good son, or a good Christian. I’ve really never been an adequate replacement for the dead father whose shoes I’ve been trying to fill for 42 years. I never measured up to the Marine Corps Sergeant, the kindly man who gave a trumpet to an orphan and bought a boy a dog and stood between his drunk father and his mother who cowered in the corner. No, I was never any good at any of that. Instead, I flew away: I wrapped myself in the airplane and focused on physics and procedures and being a happy Captain that everyone could depend on. Or, at least they could depend on me until now. I’m not very dependable for much of anything at the moment.
“You are always so dependable in a crisis!” Someone recently said when I told them what was going on. It was all a damn lie. An act. A thirty-some-odd year play in which I was the lead actor, chief propagandist and appointed liar. People never knew how afraid I was much of the time; not of my job, but of life in general.
Mostly, I was never any good at taking care of myself. Now, I’m like that old faucet: the gaskets holding back the pressure of my grief are worn and brittle. Little rivers of pain now leak out of the weak spots. I am powerless to stop them until I find a way to remove and reinstall the whole darn thing. I can’t half-fix me like I did the faucet; I need to rip out all of the old parts and put in new defenses against failure. Then, I’ll be the man I want to be— the man God intends for me to be.
I know I should be thankful for this. I should be. But dear Lord, it hurts like hell.
Mary Ellen, who needs to understand all things in order to simply breathe, asked me what was wrong. I explained it like this:
“Mary Ellen, let just pretend for a moment that monsters are real. They aren’t, but let’s just pretend.
“Let’s name the monster ‘Fanger,’ because he is made up of fear and anger. Monsters are scary, so we don’t let them out. We can control them for a while by locking them up in a little closet that is deep inside our heart.
“Fanger is hungry little sucker. He gets fat on the anger and fear—he eats the bad feelings you don’t let out. Pretty soon, he gets too fat for the closet you built for him in your heart. Now he needs a shed.
“Fanger never stops wanting to eat things that you are angry about or afraid of. If you keep feeding him, he outgrows the shed. Then you build him a house. After a long time, you’ll need to build him a shopping mall. Now, there is no room left in your heart for feeling good. Fanger has taken all the room up to live in and has made your whole heart his home. Since he now has no shelter that can hold him in, he comes out and makes you say and do hurtful things.
“If you do the right thing and let stuff you are angry about or scared of out, Fanger has nothing to eat. He stays small. He doesn’t bother you much. Maybe he leaves entirely and goes and lives someplace else with more to eat.”
Mary Ellen wisely remarked that I must have given Fanger quite a feast.
I certainly did, little one. I certainly did indeed.