Living With Ghosts

Section 8, Block 10 Lot 80-s, Grave 6

It didn’t seem right to be there. The grave marker was weather-worn and untended with weeds growing out it where the lawn mower couldn’t get close enough to trim.

There weren’t any flowers or signs that anyone had visited in a long while. It registered his name, his date of birth and date of death. It added “Beloved Son.”

August 28, 1970

I saw him a few weeks before he died. He was sitting on the steps of a school facing it’s playground while his sister bounced a ball off of a wall. I was walking across the playground with a friend. Our eyes met. He looked away and so did I.

“Its a mad mission under difficult conditions and not everybody makes it to the loving cup.”

His locker was adjacent to mine when were in the 9th grade. While the rest of us were blossoming into man hood he was still prepubescent and he paid a cruel price. His voice was still high pitched, he hadn’t lost his baby fat and when we showered after gym class you could tell that……….. Well you could tell.

“They gotta secret they’re getting ready to tell. It’s fallin from the sky. It’s calling from the graves.” 

He was teased without mercy. They’d break into his locker and stack his books up so they’d fall out on him when he opened it. They pushed him and tripped him. He ate lunch by himself, walked to the bus stop alone and looked out the window until it reached his stop.

His name was Eugene. Eugene Wanta

The boys would walk by him in the showers, look at him and say “Wanta-Blow-Me” They’d goad an attractive girl into talking to him for a few minutes and then she’d yell “Wanta-Eat-Me” as she ran away giggling.

I remained silent.

The cool kids ignored me (Thank God.) I wasn’t about to play John the Baptist and offer my head on a platter to them. Let Eugene fend for himself. Survival of the fittest and all that rot.

“You know you’re coming to some kind of understanding when every dream you’ve dreamed has passed and you’re left still standing.”

There were days when they terrorized him and he’d look over at me and his eyes begged for assistance. I’d look away, grab my lunch and scoot. He went on to a different school the next year and until that day on the playground I hadn’t ever given him any thought.

He looked alone that day and he looked vulnerable. That’ s how I’ll remember him – alone and vulnerable. It’s been 45 years. There are nights he haunts me, that snapshot of him looking out as if some horizon was to appear and from it would emanate relief from his suffering

I had one last opportunity that August afternoon to stop and recognize him, acknowledge him and the most painful of all ghosts, apologize to him. I didn’t. I could have told him, on the cusp of our senior year in high school, that I should have told those other kids to leave him alone and I was sorry I hadn’t done so.

Like the guards at Buchenwald and Auschwitz, I stood by while other people pushed and prodded and teased him.

On the 28th of August, just a week before we’d start our senior year of high school that he threw a rope over a beam in his basement and hung himself.

In his mind there was no hope, no faith,. He was just sitting on those steps  watching his sister bounce a ball off the school wall and living with an emotional pain so deep that it caused him physical pain.

I kept looking down at his grave marker feeling smaller by the moment. It took me a long time to show up and a tragic, wasteful death to realize that whats important right here and right now is the person in front of you or beside you and they may be struggling and they may not have a voice to protest.

“Ain’t a soul on this entire earth ain’t got a burden to carry he don’t understand, you ain’t alone in that… But you been carryin’ this one long enough… Time to go on… lay it down… Bagger Vance”

Somewhere inside of me there is a flame burning, some days not too very brightly, but burning none-the-less. It encourages me. There are times I have felt someone with me, someone just out of my field of vision or ear shot and when I need it most reassurance. I paused for a moment and closed my eyes.

Can you be that voice? Can I?
I wiped a few tears away and looked up from his grave. It may have been my clouded vision or the
afternoon sun, but I thought I saw him, sitting on those school steps again. This time he turned his
head towards me. He looked into my eyes and winked, smiled a quick smile and then he was gone.

Take care of each other.

All quotes in this posting are from songs written by Ms Patty Griffin on her 1995 album Living With Ghosts, with the exception of the quote attributed to Bagger Vance from the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance

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