tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: sorrow

graceful exit

i’m writing to you. if you decide to read this, then you’ll know i’m for reals. at least i’m for reals right now. sometimes, i’m full of shit. but this is important to me and i know the ones who know me also know that sometimes i dig in a little. so yeah, i’m diggin’.

rewind to yesterday. i left a crew of friends, i pulled a semi-secret exit, in other words about half the people knew i was leaving. i like leaving like that, i call it a french exit but i don’t know why it’s called that. i hope it’s not something racist but i don’t think it is. i just figured maybe the french don’t love a ton of goodbyes so they just leave when they’re ready. i’m not french, at least mom and dad never said anything about frenchness in my background, but i like french exits. french kisses too, but that’s off track.

so yeah, i left the tiny party and pedaled my bike back toward point loma where johnny lives. it’s 8 miles. as i rode through the dark (i forgot my light) i began to push myself. i ain’t sure why, but i was racing some other version of myself, maybe the younger, stronger tobias, or maybe the older, smarter one. i was going hard. on the bridge over the bay i began to picture my heart inside me. i pictured it glowing orange, suspended in black. i was carrying the engine of my life and it, in turn, was giving me blood to carry it. in my mind, there were exhaust towers that were pumping out massive amounts of steam. legs burning, mouth open, my avatar shadow screaming past me and stretching and fading at each street lamp. i was going to win against my other self…hell yeah, i was gonna win.

rewind again. three days ago. i was in the park by the beach. a tree had grown up and around a pole on a fence. at some point someone had simply cut the pole on both sides and the tree held the piece of metal as if it had been impaled.  of course, it wasn’t a part of the tree but the tree was carrying this odd chunk of metal in it’s body until, well, until whenever.  we do this. i do it.  there are things that i grow around. things i take in, that become a part of me. sometimes i don’t even want them but my heart wraps around them anyway and i’ll be damned if i don’t just carry them away.

so far i’m all over the map. i know you’re wondering if i’m gonna ever get to the point. maybe i will, if you know me, you know i can ramble…i ain’t worried, some of ya’ll will finish this out with me. you’ll get it.

after the bike ride, you know, after my imaginary race, i got to johnny’s and i was burning up. i stripped down in the dark and showered under the hose in the front yard. naked in point loma, stars overhead, heart crashing, i thought about the ones who would understand this if they could see me. the ones who know what has brought me to be here and to be who i am. no excuses. the raw dog deal of whatever it is i’ve become. several names came to mind, but they were easy because they are close, like brothers and sisters. surprisingly one name stood out. phillip.

i don’t know when phillip was born. he’s old. i met him through my buddy dave mayville. dave, i’m quite sure is the offspring of a demi-god or something. he was born wild, is wild and will die wild. his body can barely keep up with the pace his spirit sets for him. dave told me that phillip, all 6 foot 5 of him, was one of his mentors. naturally i wanted to know what phillip was like because i’ve climbed with dave for years and never met anyone quite like him. the fact that dave had a mentor made me want to see what this guy might be like.  i needed to see what was up with phillip.

description of phillip: tall and thin. long pure white hair. dressed wonderfully, usually with a bandana tied in a knot, turned to the side of his neck. please note that these are all physical descriptions so in no way can truly describe the man. how do we explain a soul? how do we describe the light that is burning in the eyes of the ones that get it?

i hope i’m not losing you.  this is the important part, it’s not about me or any of my smarty pants comments, this is about phillip and it’s goddamn important.

i sat down with him. we chatted several times for at least 2 hours. we expressed the desire to swap books. he wouldn’t talk about oldness or youngness. he believed our existence to be now and so age was negated. when i first knew him, i was with a lover. he saw the happiness that rolled before me like a steam engine and his smile was curly. when next i saw him i was broken hearted from the loss of that lover. i mean, like i was ugly…45 year old broken hearted ugly.  oh man, did he ever step up. he was exactly what i needed. like when you’re weak and you think you need a candy bar but someone hands you rice and beans and cilantro and  sour cream with some hot sauce, it was like that.  he listened to my ridiculous flurries of self pity. he lifted me up and shed light on the dark spots in my head. i kinda wanted to just hang out with phillip, the fella who would not let me fall down too far.

after that, i saw him time and again. sometimes for minutes and sometimes for a good spell. i left town and did what i do so well. i’m not the world’s best contact guy. i suck at it. i don’t like phones and, when i’m out in the deep blue-green world, i am wonderfully lost in that place. i was away for a while.

a year. then two.

a week ago i was in joshua tree. it was hot. i mean, really hot. i was heading out of town and i looked over and saw the tallest of thin men getting in his car. i yanked the wheel to the curb and jumped out running. i caught ol’ phillip as he was pulling away from the empty, summertime parking lot. his skin was so thin, i could see the pulsing of the blood in the beautiful blue veins in his neck.  his bandana was perfect. he went straight for my heart and checked on it. “it looks like you’re healed, tobias.” yeah, yeah, you know i danced my little dance and he read my every move. he knows the dances. i asked, sincerely, about him and his heart.

“i’ve been doing some work, tobias. i am thinking much on the mis-deeds of my youth and some of the things i would rather not have done. sometimes i lied to get what i wanted from ladies, and that bothers me.” these words from phillip, a most gentle man, stopped me in my tracks. i thought of my own mis-deeds. i thought of my lies and my tricks and my petty lusts. i tried, quite clumsily, to excuse my noble friend but he was light years ahead of me and already smiling at the words i might have said. so i simply told him that i held him in the dearest part of my heart and that i was his friend. “i know that, tobias. i most certainly do.”

we planned on coffee. i took his phone, under his instructions, and put my number into it. he called me and i told him it was me. ‘yes, yes, we will have some coffee, ” he said.

i’ve gone long this time with this essay. i usually try and say what i want to say with less words. after all, we don’t have time, do we? so i’ll end. i saw a missed call on my phone this afternoon at about 6pm.  i noticed that it was a joshua tree number.  i called it back. it was dave mayville’s girlfriend, jill. she sweetly told me that phillip was gone.

today it rained. i swam out over the green, squiggly seaweed about a half mile off the cliffs. at 5 something a.m. a big gray hawk landed in the eucalyptus tree in the  backyard. johnny, as he often does with me, nodded without speaking to point out the bird. i looked. it dropped it’s head, spread it’s checkerboard wings that remind me strangely of a houndstooth jacket, and laced it’s path, perfectly down the canyon.

phillip up and left us.  french exit, man. come to find out he was dying of cancer all along. i’ll be damned if i don’t miss him already.

and how do those wings lift such an enormous soul? how will the world replace such a magnificent heart?

carry on, phillip, i’ll see you in the stars, i’m sure.


this life, if nothing else, is an honor.

the lines in my brother’s face

i’m sick. so’s my kid brother. i probably caught it from him because i worked on his neck and shoulders the last couple days. he’s close to my dna. we’re close.

the line of thinking was easy tonight in the garage. i was drawing dresses for my 6 year old friend, ruby. my brother was lining out work for his crew tomorrow on the construction site. these two things are not so different; we’re both good at what we do and we both take it seriously. so, as i draw a pink party dress with matching shoes, josh is telling his boys what time to show and what inspections are coming. he’ll be there at 5 a.m. and i’ll have had coffee with him come morning time.

while he sits across from me, he is my kid brother. at 38. he is still my kid brother. the lines show. he is looking down at his hands and they are thick and tough. his beard is long. when he looks up at me, i see the blue behind the hazel and i see the distance and the time we have traveled to be here, in his garage. his boys are in the next room. i am saying things to him and he listens…he really does. we are best friends.

i recently wrote down the names of my mom and dad’s moms and dads. i also wrote down their moms and dads. i don’t know why, but it bothers me not to know who they were. i don’t like forgetting where i came from. my dad’s mom’s dad was named charles. i said this to my brother, who didn’t know that, and he said, “so dad’s named after him?”  i said yes. he nodded and sipped his beer. i sipped some tea and whiskey. then my brother remembered back. he said, “i remember when grandma was dying, she spoke to dad and called him chucky.” josh was only 5 or so and i was surprised to hear that he could remember this. i said yeah, she did.

here i am, at the tail end of another day. my ma is visiting my grandma betty who is turning 90. ( and i love to say “turning 90” because it means that the world is moving around the sun…it is in it’s turning. and the turning is what we all do, whether we like it or not ) mama will say good and true things to my grandma and they will laugh. i spoke to the lady who is my grandma, who is turning 90…i spoke to her on the phone. she sounded sharp and strong and ready for forever. she still sings in her choir, she believes in her voice. i was humbled under the light of her being.

i am lying down. i’m coughing, like my brother in the next room. tonight, we spoke of the folks who made us. i looked at him in his mortal skin. here we go, as worlds are turning.

have you ever heard the migrating geese in that early light between the night and the sun? it holds a sad and lovely quality. it is life.  and i love it in it’s blueish greyness.

love proof

words jump around.

the same word can mean very different things.

i used to play a game with someone while we drove across the country. it was kind of a homonym game but i would always cheat and twist words to sound like other words. like i would say, ” i got one, inanimate.” and then i would give examples, “that rock is inanimate,” and then, “i’ll be out… “in-a-minute.””she would laugh a little and tell me no, no, no, you can’t make that shit up like that.

in context, the game we played was proof of a certain kind of love. love of company and time spent. love of travel. love of sky and distance. love of love. i mostly avoid thinking of all that now, but somehow those times re-conjure themselves in the night. things that were then, become now. it’s like a trick that life plays on the sad and the sleepy. i think about heartache sometimes and i try to send it on down the river. i try to let it go, but damn, them old thoughts are strong swimmers. they can come back up stream like salmon. so it becomes a ritual; each day, sometimes more than once, i let ’em go. now i look at it more like letting the dogs out for a run…i know they’ll be back, but at least they won’t bother me for a bit. and in the interim, maybe i’ll fill the space. maybe one of these days, they won’t have room to stay and they’ll just go somewhere else.

if proof is a noun, it means to give something legitimacy or make it true. proof, as an adjective, is resistance. water-proof, bullet-proof, or whatever-proof.  i wonder about love; applied, it is probably our most worthy aspect. if it weren’t for love, i don’t know that we would have anything that sets us apart and gives us a good enough reason to be on this planet; however, it brings with it the possibility of evil. where there is something so powerful as love, there will always be a way to abuse it. it comes in the form of feigned affection. fake love, man, that shit is wicked. it can topple the powerful and crush the determined. what’s worse is that everyone is likely to experience it. some will be the dealers and some will be dealt. oh my, these tricky hearts!

if they made a love-proof jacket, i don’t know if i’d buy one, but i certainly would check to see if they had it in my size.

rubber dog

when i was a senior in high school my dad brought a puppy home from the reservation he had just visited. he looked quite a bit like the dog from the t.v. show The Little Rascals, he had a big black spot on his back and a half black, half pink nose. if you rolled him on his back, which he loved, you would see that his belly was as pink as a rose. because of that pink color, and the fact that he would let us kids pick him up from any limb (kids are so bad about mauling puppies) he earned the nick-name rubber dog. his real name was brewster, but in a family with five kids there seems to be an endless flow of name shortenings. brew, brewskie,ski, and on and on…he answered to them all, with a wagging tail. he grew into a 90 pound staffordshire terrier and was muscle from ear to caboose. my mom was his favorite in the family and i know why, she simply loved him so much.

let me break off and tell you about my mama. maybe everyone feels this way about their ma, i don’t know, but i have never met a better human. she has always had the ability to absorb all my bad, and love me just the same. i know dozens of hard-case marines that i’ve taken to meet my ma, many of them have returned just to stop in and eat pie and have coffee…even when i ain’t there! she has a way.

once i took my buddy, Christian, home for christmas. we were leaving on a long trip together and we stopped in to put our gear into order. christian slept in the guest bedroom that had a lacy bedspread and frilly pillows and my ma teased him appropriately. two weeks later my ma was seeing us off on a journey that would last 8 months and cover most of south america. it was the last time my ma would see christian. i guess we never know these things…they seem too unfathomable until they happen. christian would fly back to the states, take the job as a fireman that he had waited on for months, be stationed on the brooklyn side of the brooklyn bridge, ride a firetruck to the base of the twin towers, run in with 4 other men, and be turned to dust.  i went to NYC, i think it was a day or two later…i don’t really remember. i was awestruck by the grief. i felt the hot, terrible sadness as i realized that i would not find christian in a hospital or under a piece of rubble. the big maybe was too big. they never found a trace of my buddy, not a smidgeon. i stayed for his funeral…but i hadn’t called my mom. i was afraid to call her. i wasn’t sure if i would be able to hear her voice and not break apart into little pieces of myself. when i did call, it was her voice that made the damn break free…just the words, “oh, tobe…”. i never did completely come back from that one. i still have some trouble when my mom mentions ol’ boy christian.

it’s that kind of love that makes someone shine a little brighter than others. it’s why rubber dog sighed and posted up with his nose to the crack under the door anytime he was locked out of a room that ma was in; and my, my, did he make here laugh. he was terrified of spiders, rubber bands(i’m sure that’s because us kids shot him once or twice), and the dark. he loved to lay in the sun on his back with his pink stomach to the sky. one day we noticed a patch of angry skin on his belly…it was cancer. rubber dog died within a year. my ma never wanted another dog. i think brewster’s death hurt my ma more that she ever let on. it’s difficult to explain our human attachment to other hearts.

love.  that thumping heart, hurried breath, furrowed brow, kind of thing that comes from losing another being. everyone has their own opinion about souls and eternity. i lean toward the simple…love with all your might and without excuse. love till the stars fall from the sky and the earth cracks into pieces. love most the things that love you back and be careful not to waste it on the trivial. love relentlessly like a river. love…aw hell, love like my mother.