ah, good night!

by tobias crabtree

i can sing like my dad, not nearly as good but good enough to make my brothers and sisters laugh. i know his changes in cadence and expression.  my pop sings a lot and he sings damn well. he is a preacher and he will break into song whenever the spirit leads. he’s a wonder.

when my dad is surprised, he never cusses. he uses one expression more than any others. he say’s, with a little pause prior, “good night!” i have friends who’ve never met my old man that use this expression because i’ve talked about it so much. i love it. i love him. i have the tendency to falter into a litany of four-letter expletives that would make a sailors neck turn red. i’m nowhere near as eloquent, nor as disciplined as my father. he’s a man of God. i’m less. 

in my experience, it’s what i don’t say that usually makes the difference. like, the more i’m willing to listen and think and refrain, the more help i can be. i’m mostly scratching my head because i just don’t know or i’m thinking and probably won’t know after i’m done doing that. if i’m comfortable, i might start giving my opinion, then we’re all in trouble. my opinion is mixed with experiences that make little sense to me. what i dreamed life would turn me into has resulted in my present person. this ain’t what i expected. i thought maybe it’d be a little more heroic or something. the guy i am is, umm, is, how should i say this without sounding pathetic, is…less. now, i know there’s ways to cope with this; whiskey and long distance running and cold water swimming and blogging (oh my, the last is so damn pathetic i can hardly stand it) but whatever, i gotta write it somewhere and napkins are just too damn flimsy.

wanna know something? i’ll tell you. “good night” is a perfect expression.  it helps set thing aright. somehow, my dad found a way to affect me even through all our differences. he wasn’t there in the ocean when my buddies and i were being thrashed and february was proving that 28 days can be a long, long time. he wasn’t surface swimming with me in the middle east toward failaka island with my recon team while the submarines cruised like nuclear whales below us. he wasn’t with me when christian and i came down in the winds that were crashing against the aleta del tiburon in the french valley. he couldn’t stop my world from turning in it’s course as time ticked off seconds and september 11th approached. (and christian left me in patagonia to take his job as a new firefighter right there across the brooklyn bridge from the world trade center.  i came back a couple weeks later and went to climb in yosemite. while i was 1000 feet off the ground i was told that the towers fell in new york city.) my dad, couldn’t help my relentless heart as i drove toward the city where i was convinced i was going to find my dear brother and he would be safe and he would be full of stories, because no way could he have died; i knew him too well.  i knew that he had found a strong-hold where he and the folks he would save were going to be found. and when i needed help, as i sat in a truck stop and watched, for the first time, the towers fall and turn to powder, there was nothing my old man could do. he couldn’t stop my changing life, as much as he would have liked. i was falling. 

can i tell you? i know everyone has their story. my hurt wasn’t more, it was just mine. i watched my buddy, brian, crawl out of my car and cry. you see, brian loved christian too. let me tell you something, brian doesn’t cry. i watched new york city cry like brian. i sat on the subway and cried like brian. and when nothing of christian was ever found, i conjured his face in the stories i told in the bars i began to haunt and his firefighter fellows raised their whiskeys and their wild irish hearts. i watched the cuban girl cry as she took my money in the breakfast joint on the upper west side. on the train, i watched the jewish woman hold the thick-necked black man whose wife worked in tower 1. and we all cried, man, we all cried. a day before i left nyc, i went to central park and sat on a bench. broken is an understatement, i was shattered from that event. i lost one of the most significant people in my life when christian regenhard burned. he was a powerhouse; he was a raging, dancing-on-the-bar, carrying the-light, fighting-the-man, towing-the-line, i-gotcher-back kinda guy. so, as i sat on the bench, i wondered if what my buddy dave said was true, that i might never stop crying…and so what? a woman with a little dog sat down on the bench next to me. she said, after a minute or two, “darling, you’ll get better. life is made for this. your heart will heal.” well, i put my long-haired head on her little shoulder and crumbled down to nothin’. and you know what? she was right. life keeps on plugging away. since then i’ve been broken down a few times, loves have been lost…and so have keys and wallets, and i’m godamn fine.

like my old man says, “good night.” and good night is right, christian, love you man. i’m carrying your fire.