If you’re not laughing you’re dying.
Sometimes people will tell me, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”
And I think, That makes me happy.
A 3 month old baby’s hospital room, the dead of night. Hell has white sterile walls. All the specialists, feeding tubes, and monitors can’t put their baby back together again. They’ve only managed to resuscitate him after coding blue on day seven. Mom and dad haven’t seen their son since then. Bone weary and soul numb, dad dozed off. He awoke…”it’s not a dream.” He turned toward her – at least he has her. But she wasn’t there. He stumbled through the horror and got on his knees next to his young wife curled up tight in the corner on the cold hard floor. He placed his trembling helplessness on her side. She was shaking, but made no sound; he knew what she was thinking: I can’t do this…I’ve already buried one son and miscarried two more.
Slumped in the chair his thoughts
“Don’t take her too.”
Following is an example of a flash memoir written by my wife. It was written to capture a moment the day our son Chase Able Martin died: March 4th, 1990.
Brad and I got home later that day from the Emergency Room.
Cody and Caleb, were glued to the TV.
I stumbled to the couch, sat down and stared blankly at the singing figures.
People were all around me. People I knew. People I didn’t know.
People were talking.
Talking to me.
Talking about me.
Telling me to eat.
Trying to console me.
Telling me about meals.
Telling me I should go to bed.
Telling me to take a pill.
Telling me I looked tired.
Trying to love me.
Telling me what I should do.
Telling me that I was gonna make it.
I stared at the TV and Dorothy.
Dorothy and her special ruby slippers.
And I wished the Wizard would give me a pair.
So what do you want a monologue for? You runnin’ short on judgment and need to catch up? Let’s face it, anything I say can and will be held against me in the court of dad. But you’re still going to wonder tomorrow or sometime why I don’t talk to you. You float that “son you can tell me anything” crap out there and wait for me to take the bait, but maybe I’m not as dumb as you think.
You really don’t get it do you, you want me to feel free to come out in the open and you don’t understand how I feel about that – probably like Middle Easterners feel about “peace-time.” They aren’t fooled, they know the Patriot Missiles are still close by.
What really gets me is the difference between how you view you and how you view me. I wish I had the guts to call you on it the next time you tell one of your high school stories. You know the ones when you “got away with it” or didn’t. What is obvious is that what you did is somehow different than what I’ve done or might do. You are aware you laugh at your “sins” right? But I’m sure that’s different, just like everything between us.
Sometimes I wonder if you have ever had a moment of appreciation for me that you didn’t chase with a “but…” It’s just too much to swallow me like I am. You always have to chase it with what I may or may not become or what I could have done better.
Do you even see me? I’m not really a disappointment you know – I’m a person. And from your stories, one pretty much like you. I can’t believe you’ve let me talk this long without “setting me straight on a few things.”
Now I’m listening.
I remember when I was eleven living on Livingston Road in Coosa. I loved everything about the middle of nowhere, and I was so proud to be a country boy with creeks and trails and horses and friends.
I remember a little city boy who moved in across the street. “What are those?” he asked, having never seen a cow patty. “It’s chocolate ice cream,” I said, “You ain’t never seen no ice cream field before?” And he hadn’t. My brother and I pretended to eat it, so he scooped a steamy handful (rather greedily) and filled his mouth…and then he exploded.
There was this tree fort we built by cutting down small pine trees with an ax. I saw my first naked girl in there. She liked me and took off all her clothes and stood in front of me and my friend. Seeing her there seemed like nothing and everything. My heart pounded and my next thought was, “Hey let’s build the fort higher.”
I would sneak around and listen to the transistor radio I kept hidden under my bed. We were christians so we couldn’t listen to secular music, which made me want to listen to secular music real bad. I would hold that radio and wait for WGN from Chicago to play Rod Stewart’s, “You’re In My Heart.” I didn’t know why, but I waited every time to hear him sing the words “big bosom lady.” Now I know.
Fishing and hunting and finding stuff to eat in the woods was powerful stuff. “I am a man,” I would think as I skinned a squirrel. I felt even more like a man with Jacob. Some little girl was getting this amazing red quarter horse named Jacob, and I worked for the horse farm that was breaking him. I fell in love with Jacob and worked with him every day. He would buck, filling me with rodeo starness. Then Christmas came and I was told to say goodbye – the owners were coming to get him and give him to the little girl for Christmas. I hated her. Christmas morning came and it was terrible. All I could think about was how much I wanted a horse and how few gifts I had been given as we finished opening presents. My dad told me to get some wood for the fireplace. “But there is plenty of wood already,” I answered. “Boy, do what I said,” he demanded. He could be such a mean man. I stomped outside and was shocked…Jacob was standing in the front yard. “Merry Christmas son,” I heard my wonderful dad say.
I remember camping alone at such a young age, far, far from home in the back yard. I lay there in the dark terrified and thrilled – “I ain’t scared,” I would whisper as the fear choked me.
I remember walking through the living room at Ricky Terry’s house right as his drunk dad said, “This is it!” I turned to look at the old black and white TV as Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate. He swung and my mouth dropped as he broke the home run record with number 715. Suddenly, we all ran out to go play baseball.
But mostly I remember my mom bringing the pb&j sandwiches and Koolaid out onto the porch. I was as big as her, but she didn’t take nuthin’ off nobody. Sometimes we would beg to come in as she stepped inside and locked the screen door. “No, you can’t come in,” she’d say, “you have to stay outside when it’s good weather.” Right then she seemed so mean…tonight I will call her and say, “Thanks mom…for the memories.”
P.S. While I sat outside on the porch editing this, next door I heard my oldest son’s wife shout at my grandchildren, “No! You are not coming in this house!”
When I was seven, I walked onto a football field for the very first time to play in the game. It changed my life. It was half-time when they sent in the third string to play. This would be the very first play of any sport for me, and life, for good and bad, has been much like a competition ever since. I can still imagine the moment as the commentator calls the game:
“It’s third and eight for the Coosa Eagles on their opponent’s thirty yard line. Number 28, Brad Martin is being sent in from the bench. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen him before. This third string, 42 lb. 7 year old is running out onto the field under the Boys Club stadium lights to snap his chin strap for the first time ever in a game. The Eagles leave the huddle. Martin seems to be staring at the goal posts as he gets down in a three point stance. He bites down hard on the mouthpiece hearing nothing but his own breathing – he’s in the zone! There’s the snap, the force of cleats against the turf, and the hand off…he crosses the twenty-five…the twenty…fifteen…ten…this kids running for daylight! TOUCHDOWN COOSA! Striped arms raise the sign to the tune of sacred butt slaps and helmet-to-helmets. Martin races toward the sidelines wiping the sweat as a new baby halfback tastes it for the very first time – THE THRILL OF VICTORY!”
Waking the Beast
By Brad Martin
Yesterday the pipe bird sang.
Haven’t heard her since May.
Mid October breathed a cool sigh –
thirtysomethin’ at dark thirty.
Outside came in uninvited,
while absent quilts don’t care
and the sun won’t hurry.
“Wake the beast and warm the maiden.”
She’s been asleep since March,
but pine and oak berries do the trick –
in her mouth on Dominoes boxes.
I gave her a quick strike and cleared the area.
creaking, dinging, and crackling
she slowly shakes her slumber
and opens her eye.
Sitting close in a mid century rocker,
I smiled to be the first to welcome the creature
who helps me pass the gray days to come.
Ten minutes peering
through the window of her soul
we warmed and waited,
ready for the inevitable.