tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: dad

Go Love

My truest living is when I’m loving.

It is the love of the early morning in all it’s pearliness and solitude. It is the love of my memories, both tragic and wondrous. It is that perfect descending call of the canyon wren. It is the smell of saw grass. It is the form of my lover beneath the giant junipers. It is sky. It is the long lashes of my little buddy, Abe. It is my Mother and Father as they are.

Life is defined by love. Real love, the kind I’m talking about, comes from the way-down-deep-inside part of the heart. That place kept secret from the schemers and the haters. It is the hidden place. It is the most of you.

And no matter how careful you are, if you love, you will suffer. Because with love there is always loss. Whether it is choice or tragedy, all things pass. So to live is to love is to suffer. This allows me clarity, this thought: Since I love to live, and since I know I will suffer, I might as well love with all my might.

And so I aim to suffer gracefully, to love mightily, and live like a wave rolling towards the rocks in that unflinching way that waves do. So that when I’m done, I’m broken apart, atomized and splintered and spread out with nothing left. Back to the basics.

I remember the highway in Kansas. The storm had been brewing all morning and the plains swallowed the distance in such a way that we seemed afloat in a sea of grass and wind. My dad saw the tornado drop down about a mile away and he hollered over the sound of the BMW 750 motorcycle. I came out of my daydream. I was 12years old. The sky was from the Wizard of OZ and the storm had closed in on all sides. We turned down a dirt road and stood in a flimsy shed with a huge oak bending to the ground just out the open air window. The clouds were dark and dark and the lightning danced crazily in every direction, and they danced and connected the fields to the belly of the sky. I remember being afraid and alive. I remember the strong look on my dad’s face. I remember loving my dad and thinking that there wasn’t a tornado big enough to pull me from his grip. 

–we are lightning, we are lightning, here we are, dancing on the belly of the sky.

Now, go love.

Mark’s Diner

A line of reasoning. This usually amounts to a bunch of your own opinions all crammed together in order to make sense of something. I’ve used it and had mixed results. Usually my line of reasoning has some kind of something in it that betrays me, sometimes it sends me flailing off like a fool with my arms waving over my head, whatever cool I might have collected scattered to the winds. So I’m careful with my line of reasoning. Often, it stays in one of the half empty cupboards in my head. I might share it with ya now and then, but I try to put it out there with a disclaimer — same as if I’m cooking a dish for the first time and I think it might suck.

Of course, a line of reasoning might be referring to something a tad more literal, maybe it’s what you call them wrinkles on your face from reasoning too much. Wrinkles. Lines of reasoning. If that’s the case, I got a solid collection going, although I’ll admit they ain’t all from reasoning. I’ve managed to put a few up from any assortment of my emotions. I could name them off, but why waste your time with that shit? You know. Well, if you’re human you know, and if you’re not human, I’m actually quite surprised you’re reading this. Hell, I’m surprised if anyone’s reading this. If you’re a whale and you’re reading this, I have something to say, I’m sorry for messing with your ocean. also: Thank you for being so amazing. Tell your babies to be careful and that I hope I meet them. I mean I doubt a whale would be reading this, but I like to be sure about that kind of thing. But if you’re an extra-terrestrial and you’re reading this, I have something for you too, I’m sorry that we don’t believe in you, well, not all of us, I do. I just don’t say so all that often because people stop listening whenever I say I believe in bigger things. Things way out beyond what we see and have listed in our science books and our religious books, like the mysterious stuff. Like you. But don’t judge us too harshly, we have our moments. We really can love things we’ve never seen; like people we’ve never met or forests that need to be protected or stars who’s light hasn’t reached earth yet or the tiny butterflies on some little chain of islands or even beings from far away who maybe travel at the speed of thought! We can do a lot of things with love, it’s just that we’re easy to distract. But if you want a human to study, I’m your huckleberry. I’m relatively healthy and I’ve been wanting to practice traveling by thought…sooo, just come get me I guess. And be gentle with the probes, although that might be something I just picked up from the movies, maybe you don’t need to do that at all.  Chances are that this writing won’t be read by that broad of an audience, it’s not like I’m giving Melville a run for his money here.

Supposedly there’s a kind of coherence to good writing, which is where I bounce off the proverbial road and into the literary ditch. The only thing cohesive about my stories and essays is that they all do come from between my ears, after that I have trouble explaining  how any of this is gonna line up. It’s a bit like controlling a spill — sometimes it looks like something, (you know, like you’ll see Abe Lincoln’s face in the spilt milk) and sometimes it’s just a mess.

A few days ago I stumbled across my birthday. I neither love nor hate my birthday, I guess that means I’m ambivalent towards it. ( That’s my $4.00 word of the day, and I use a word like that to show that I’m getting a little smarter each year. not a lot smarter, just a little ). So I had my little birthday, just like you did not that long ago, right? Because the last birthday is never more than a year ago. Yeah, I had it and it went like i like them to: I stayed alive. I tried something new by jumping into a river at the exact moment I was born, 7:44 a.m. I played a guitar poorly, but with a lot of passion…but by myself so I felt like it sounded cooler than it probably was. I road my bike and ate a chocolate croissant. I laughed with Jason Arbetter about imaginary scenarios in which we did the things that we sometimes want to do but we don’t because we’re not that mean (especially Jason, who’s not only not mean, but may be the nicest person alive). I drew a couple drawings in my picture book. I had a drink at a bar, and then another drink, and then wished I hadn’t had the second. I rode my bike to Safeway on the way home and stopped for coffee supplies. It was 11:30 p.m. and I was closing out my day. I saw some old timer in a wheel chair out by the entrance to the parking lot. I’ve seen him before, the ground around him always has remnants of smokes and drinks and food. He’s hard put, my guess is that he won’t last much longer but who knows? It was the last few minutes of the day that I was born. The day I got to start being here on this planet, in this world of feeling and color and smells and coffee and songs and babies and pretty girls. The day that my Mama supported my head and held me tight while my Dad looked at me like I was the coolest thing ever. The day that somehow has become a day when we might expect things but really should be a day of unrelenting gratitude for having breaths and heartbeats and loves and dreams and, yes, even losses. So I walked over to Mark,  his name is Mark because he told me so, and I asked him if he wanted something to eat. Mark was slouched heavily and his beard was piled on his chest. I heard him say, Yeah.  What do you want?

Whatever they got.

It’s a grocery store, Mark.

Yeah.

So I bought him a roasted chicken, nice and hot. And a can of Modelo against my better judgement. And a bottle of water to offset the beer. And a Milkyway candy bar for desert.

Mark barely moved as I put his meal in front of him on the curb. God bless, he said. And I rode back to my Toyota Dolphin. This was my day on that day in the long line of days since my very first day and it was a good one. When I look at it in the past, it makes less sense. It’s just a bunch of things crammed together that only belonged to me as I lived in them, then they were gone. This is life, at least as far as I know.

I follow a fairly swervy line.

jawbone

feats of strength. i grew up around them. my dad is an old school strong man. he hung out with some of the original strong men. dudes like paul anderson, who looked like a human bowling ball, were pretty commonplace around my neck of the woods. i saw paul blow a hot water bottle up with his mouth and pick up a table with 8 men sitting on it. my dad did stuff too, like, he did a handstand on a plank that was anchored to the top of a 15 foot ladder. and once he walked down the entire flight of 20-some stairs on his hands, all the while talking to a chuckling congregation about the strength of samson, the nazarite, one of god’s judges. i wouldn’t have said it, but i was bored during most church services as a kid. i just wasn’t cut out to sit through a shit ton of messages all talking about how much i was gonna pay for sinning. but you mention some strong guy (a tarzan of the bible) and i was all ears. that one story about samson getting all worked up and snatching up the jawbone of an ass and laying waste to hundreds of men was awesome. i mean, that was my fix, i didn’t even need to use my imagination for that.

time. time is the measurement we use to tell how long we’ve been kickin’ and how much longer we’ll go for.  time has passed since those days in church with my old man yucking it up. i always couldn’t wait to grow up and be strong like my dad. i was really gonna go to the gym and crank off some reps with several hundred pounds over my head.

never happened. my body is lean. my dad’s a barrel. i must’a caught some of them older genes way back in the choctaw strain. i’m a small dude and i don’t fool myself about pushing heavy weights anymore. i run and move through the upper branches of trees and don’t leave much of a mark in the wet sand even on my heavy days. in some ways, though, i’m still affiliated with them strong men of that other age.

today is january 17.  strong man, brian foster, was born on this day about 38 years ago.  i doubt i’ll ever meet someone tougher than foster. i’ve had a chance to add him up through the years. we’ve done miles of swimming together. we’ve walked hundreds of miles for sure. when he started his mixed martial arts career, i sat in the basement of some building and watched him exchange fisticuffs with big angry men that made me wonder about things like brain damage. foster didn’t fight so he could carry around a trophy, he would say that he was just curious. i’m not joking. i always worried some, but then he’d look at me and smirk right as he stepped in the cage and he’d say something like, “life is so good, ain’t it tobe?” damn, that just amazed me. and through the years i’ve seen him mark his face up. when the injuries from all the wars began to wear on him, he stopped. no big deal. nothing to prove. his jaw is about as thick as a brick and his forehead makes me believe that neanderthal’s probably did inter-breed with homo sapiens. his blonde hair is cropped close to his skull and his skull holds the mind that causes his squinty, blue eyes to shine. and man, they shine. we laugh at one another when we are hurting. our lives have run pretty damn parallel with equal amounts of crashing and burning. neither of us hear well anymore, probably from lying next to one another, crackin’ off shots, as we sited in our m40’s. we learned to count on one another in sniper school and it has lasted a lifetime. sure wasn’t like the movies though, more like real life, i’d say. not a lot of folks have tested their friendships by lying still in a cold mud hole for 24 hours, but we did more than once. we also laughed a good bit, which is cool because the other stuff sucked.

i was running under the big ol’ cypress trees in golden gate park today. i was running to the sea. now and then my body feels like i haven’t aged a day since i was in my 20’s, of course, it’s not a true report. i have aged. but today was one of the good ones. i tacked on a couple more miles and pitched my body up another of the winding paths. in a little clearing i saw the wag of a redtail hawk in the top of a big ol’ ponderosa. i slowed a bit and watched the big bird drop from it’s perch, wings folded, and down and down. i even saw him turn his wondrous head and thread between branches and then wings open and then go into a long, low swing. he was just overhead as he passed me, so easy. i saw his feathers and the white and the speckling grey, the burnt orange to red. i saw the auburn glint from those eyes. for just that second i saw the black center of his hawking eye turn onto me. and he looked at my eyes and i looked into his. and i know that he could see like i can’t even imagine so i wonder how far into me he looked and maybe he looked clean through today and saw the moments that hang suspended in tomorrow. maybe he saw far enough to see the suns that will shine on the last of me. and he eased on past, all feathered and taloned and beaked, then up into the top of another of those awesome trees. so i ran on down. and i felt my heart clunking with the rhythm of my feet. and this old heart of mine is amazingly fine, with all it’s brokenness and all it’s wastedness.

i don’t want to dread what’s left of this life. i don’t want to fear the things to come. i see the ones that fight the passage of time. the men who don’t accept the loss of strength. the women who try to buy back the vigor of youth. all that bullshit  face stretching and pulling. the plumping of lips. all sexes at odds with the implacability of time. we are vain little creatures, us humans. our vanity cries out wickedly. to me it sounds like dragging brush from the back of a pickup truck. the sadness lies in the fact that while we scratch and claw to stay young, the wonder of life is rolling past. the answer lies in the living. the grandest of all is available to us throughout life, not just in our weird little pretty youth.

and so, i run. i run with time. and there is a slowing in the movements that are not so unlike a floating hawk or a cruising shark; neither fast nor slow, but perfect in the midst. and i clench my old jawbone and i lengthen my stride. bring on the rest…let’s run.

a list…and some other stuff

i dreamt that my sister came to me in the night. there was that old look that i know so well because i’ve seen it on my own face, it’s like certain things expressed in the genes but that you can’t quite put your finger on. some stuff we can hide, some stuff we can’t. anyway, my sis’ wasn’t trying to hide a thing. there was broken-heartedness spilling out all around her. i invited her in the camper and pulled open a drawer that was full of tiny records, about the size of a silver dollar. i picked one out that was labeled “for the broken-hearted” and put it on the player. we sat and listened to perfect words that i cannot recollect and looked out at a moon-filled world. she sat and drank tea. i drank coffee. we both looked out the big picture window in the back and the view was from the top of some high-rise in downtown manhattan, and i felt the dream seamlessly blend the real and the other. malia, me and my camper, looking out over the lights of millions of other hearts, some happy, some broken, some deciding whether to stay or to go, some loving, some losing, some never thinking past the money. i don’t know what really happened after that, but i remember that things were kinda starting to be ok.

life really is just a continuous series of feelings. it’ll run off and be pretty damn selfish if you don’t pay it proper attention. that’s where the soul comes into play. way out there on the end of it’s tether, close to the stars and the circling birds, the soul is outside of races and species and dictionaries and languages. it can’t be accurately weighed and measured and timed, even though we try. it ain’t science. it fills us up.

and life is the result, with it’s sweet, little goods and nasty,stumbling bads.

walking along minding your own business and running headlong into a painful yesterday. creosote in the sandy washes. the tiniest vireo. the smell of rain against the monzonite. the quick tracks of the coyote and the pearly light that hides the bobcat, the huntress, at dawn. the barn owl that peeks at me from deep in that one cave (yes, you know who you are, tyto alba, in your lair above the rest of us). my elbow, clicking and hurting. the sky that holds the moon, much as that cave holds the owl. and that moon in her death throws, here at the end of her cycle, running before the sun with the last of her light…the last of her light. and my coffee that’s strong and cooling. and dad with his thoughts as he lies there next to my mama. and mama with her thoughts lying by my dad. and the rocks on the slopes that hold the recordings from the beginnings. and the puma in the wash with her twins. and the nolina that stands 20 feet tall where the lightning struck the pinon and the pinon crushed the oak. and that heartbeat that sometimes flutters and reminds me that, no matter how healthful i am, no matter how much turmeric i ingest, no matter my meditations on the spirit, i will someday drop deader than a pair of worn out socks. the words that i arrange to say what i mean in varied degrees of success. the cities that hold humans close. the cicada waiting in hiding for that 7th year. the wonderful song that is in the heart of the one who has not yet lost the love of her life but will and who has not yet begun to sing…but will. the colony of pill-bugs beneath the old plastic bag at the end of the road. the abandoned roadrunner nest above the door to the chicken coop. the old man that puts more sugar in his cup than coffee, and who does’t have teeth, and who seems like he’ll live forever anyway. the shack where david lives. the way ruby sings when you play an A-flat. the saddest book i’ve ever read, that i can’t talk about.  my younger brother josh, who i wanna grow up and be like. the distance that i worship because it holds everything including what is near, because what is near is far when you move away. the ocean and her need for us to be more careful and love her more and also to love her heart, which is every beast in her belly. the thoughts of kenneally as he walks toward mindfulness with the wildest of smiles. old photos when my belly was round and my mama had my brother cory in her belly, so her belly was rounder. memories of swimming with guns and radios and men who could use them. twisting lenga trees on the bench where the wind will blow the skin from your bones. barefootedness. openheartedness. the lone and honest sun, who, if you let him, will bleach out your faults, like old bones, until they are lighter and easier to carry. the winding down and the end, which is as perfect as birth but not nearly as popular. this breathing which is now, and doesn’t need to be labeled or claimed…it is simple and should be left that way.

this is what i think is, this and all the other stuff i missed. a collection of sorts.

life.

ah, good night!

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.