By Brad Garber
A writer friend, a guy I met a couple of times, once said in response to a question about how to overcome “writer’s block,” that being faced with an external imposed deadline was the key. Good advice, well taken. After contemplating his advice, I have come to the realization that the end of my life is such a deadline, and that I’d better start writing. Maybe I will get this thing finished on time.
We have all heard that anecdote about the person who survived a leap off the Golden Gate Bridge and reported that, on the way down, their entire life “flashed” before their eyes. Time was slowed, memories cleared. All was peaceful.
I am falling.
Having just leapt, I remember the tub of water full of wriggling tadpoles that a friend of my father, a fellow medical student at Ohio State in Columbus, brought to the duplex my family lived in so I could watch them grow, their stout tails absorbing, over days, into their bodies. At about two or three years of age, I was fascinated and watched the process until, one day, the tub was empty. Then there was the old lady, across the alley, who had a “Lassie” dog, with long luxurious hair, that let me pet it. She would invite me into her house and give me treats. Then, there was the kid who lived in the other half of the duplex who, after a spoken “my head is harder than your head,” threw a tin can at me and sliced my scalp open. I think I needed stitches.
Finally, there was the motor vehicle accident in the old Chevy, my mother plowing into a mailbox, allegedly to avoid another driver who had run a stop sign. I say “allegedly” because, at age 3, I was in no position to make judgments about the skills involve in driving a car and, years later, I wonder about the presence of another driver in the intersection. The Chevy, however, had no seatbelts, in 1957, and I was standing on the passenger seat when it struck the mailbox. The sturdy steel dashboard made sure my tiny bottom teeth lacerated my bottom lip. That was the end of Columbus.
The family, now consisting of a father, mother, daughter and son is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Their faces flash before me. Father in medical residency for a spell. There I am, walking to kindergarten in the old red brick schoolhouse, two or three blocks away. Sometimes, a couple of older neighbor boys walked with me. In the winter, I would take a running start and slide on the sidewalk ice under a thin coating of snow. My sister won first prize at a school Halloween contest, in a head-to-toe witch hat constructed by my mother. I seem to remember, however, that my sister could not collect her prize because she peed her pants. There was the new bicycle, a black Schwinn “Spitfire.” I had a chance to sit on the seat and try to ride it, on the sidewalk in front of our house, before getting loaded in my grandfather’s car to make the ten-hour trip from Eau Claire to the family cabin, in Redditt, Ontario. Once there, I would spend a couple of weeks with my grandparents, picking blueberries, fishing for “Northerns,” eating pancakes, doggie paddling in the cool lake and swatting mosquitoes. The summer trip with the grandparents became an annual tradition. My family experiences in Eau Claire were short-lived, although I vaguely recall a trip to a ballpark, to watch my father play some baseball.
In 1963, when I was 9 years old, things started to happen. My dad’s medical residency ended and the family moved to a small dairy farming community in Wisconsin. My dad moved everyone there after securing a promise from the residents that they would raise money for a hospital. Bake sales ensued. In the meantime, dad worked out of a clinic in a converted bank building in the center of town, “town” consisting of two city blocks with three taverns, a post office and a pharmacy.
The family moved into a dumpy two-story, three-bedroom, house on a corner at the edge of town. The front yard was small; the backyard abutted a field that disappeared into the wooded distance. Large oak trees flanked the property and jack pine crowded the field. From the move to Osseo, the sequence of memories flows into a stew that boils through another ten years. It includes a golden retriever named “Buck,” monarch butterfly caterpillars and their gold-dotted chrysalises, serial guinea pigs. It includes a brush with a bouncing tornado, Friday fish fries at the golf club, first exposure to pornography, washing dishes, boiling hot popcorn oil on my leg, the death of a best friend to leukemia.
Then, in about 1965, we moved about 200 yards into the woods, into a custom house. The hospital was being built and my dad had staked out his territory. I crawled on the floor joists, as the house was being built, anxious for the end product. The house ended up nice, with blue semi-shag carpet in a spacious living room bordered by an artistically-constructed floor-to-ceiling granite fireplace and sliding glass picture windows that opened a view to a lazy creek below. My walnut-paneled bedroom was in the basement of the house and I had a queen-size bed that I shared with golden retriever dogs, through the years. Photos of John, Paul, George & Ringo on the wall.
This is where things seem to speed up (although terminal velocity has been attained)…
We’re talking dogs, snakes, girlfriends, trumpet-playing, track, plays, trout fishing, bike rides, girlfriends, golf, hunting, a backyard drowning, mallard ducks, Yahtze with Mom, dairy farms, wild asparagus, guitar-playing, singing, snowmobiles, sewing, gas station, lumberyard, girlfriends, on to college, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, Elton John, Three Dog Night, Hawaiian Gold, stages, recordings, Nashville, Wyoming, Oregon, marriages, a child…
This deluge of images is, now, a river of mental molasses and I start seeing faces mixed into the atmosphere, floating/dancing/running through the current, exciting/frightening/taunting me. Some dead, some alive, some perhaps never truly a part of my life – just simply imagined, bit players in the movie. I begin to think I may never hit the water.
Short-term memory might be the first to go because, just before I hit the beautiful beckoning surface, I cannot remember why I jumped.
Brad Garber has degrees in biology, chemistry and law. He writes, paints, draws, photographs, hunts for rocks, mushrooms and snakes, and dreams in the Great Northwest. Since 1991, he has published poetry, essays and weird stuff in such publications as Edge Literary Journal, Pure Slush, Burningword Literary Journal, Sugar Mule, Third Wednesday, Barrow Street, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Barzakh Magazine, Ginosko Journal, Junto Magazine, Slab, Panoplyzine, Split Rock Review, Smoky Blue Literary Magazine, The Offbeat and other quality publications. 2011, 2013 & 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee.