By Donnie Casto II
Many people would surely be able to sympathize with the change of fortune that life had brought to Thomas Barnes. Fewer, it seemed, would genuinely be able to empathize with it. A series of grave and unfortunate events found him recently taking on the task he had often dreamed of, but the trade-off came at an expense Thomas Barnes couldn’t have imagined. On the day he got custody of his oldest son Oscar, the factory that kept the paychecks coming had laid him off.
He still kept pushing forward in the writing department and while he was told by so many how well he wrote, he often privately wondered what use it was if it merited no means to survive or provide for Oscar. The battle for Gabriel and Aurora still remained and would present another set of challenges itself.
With not a care or concern on his face when he smiled, he imagined mentally and emotionally that Chuck Wepner felt the same trying to knockout Muhammad Ali in 1975. No matter how hard or fast Thomas bobbed and weaved or how clean the hooks, jabs, and uppercuts Thomas Barnes gave, with a blooded face, swollen eyes, and a broken heart both him and the heavyweight champ called ‘life’ seemed to look at each other in this ring and say to each other “Is that the best you got?”
Somewhere deep down inside his mind or maybe perhaps in a lone voice in the breeze that blew outside the maple and dogwood trees at the home he was faced with losing, the words of a bearded, weathered rum-stenched man spoke “One must endure young man, one MUST endure!”
Despite his best to maintain a cool exterior, which Thomas Barnes often in word and deed tried to communicate in sailing the ship of one’s being through the hurricanes of life, even in the high tower that the young intelligent prince Oscar had been, it seemed he could feel the breeze becoming a gale force wind.
“Dad, are we going to lose our home? Are we going to be living and sleeping on the streets?” It was then Thomas Barnes recalled all the points in his life, which he felt crushed him the hardest. Sure, many things had cracked him. Constantly moving, always proving himself as the new kid, who was then called ‘nerd’ because of his love for reading. The catcalls in the grade school hallway of “Norman” because of the Buddy Holly style 50’s glasses he wore kind of hurt after a while. Even having the equivalent of the high school Kelly Bundy from Married with Children say she’d rather die and do a broom handle before “being seen with that skinny nerd Thomas Barnes” at the homecoming dance. But nothing, nothing in life hurt him or crushed him as badly as the evident reality that his little Oscar had to adapt to the often cold reality of the world. Maybe Aurora was right, “There is no happily ever after in life Dad.”
Thomas Barnes shook his head, smiled his best smile. “No son, we’ll manage.” Taking Oscar’s face into his large hands, he looked at him in those deep pools of ocean blue eyes and said “Always remember Oscar, tough times never last, but tough people do son!” It then hit him maybe it’s the lies we tell others that aren’t the greatest sin in life, maybe just maybe it’s the lies we tell ourselves. “Surely, if God does keep account of our shortcomings and failures in the white lie department, he’ll forgive me this one.” Then again, he thought “Maybe I should I burn a candle to St. Jude to pray for my forgiveness?”
Thomas probably would have, had he been born a Catholic. But even then, after a divorce and a mess of hellfire and brimstone that had rained on and off of him for the past nine years, he was convinced that this couldn’t be Hell as the Good Book preached or that ‘Hell’ couldn’t possibly be as bad as the Purgatory he currently found himself steering through with his faithful First Mate, Oscar.
What Thomas Barnes had wanted to do in that moment of reality crashing down on him was to just grab hold of Oscar and hold him in an embrace that would shield the arrows of life from his son. He wanted to bawl and cry and let the mad flood torrent of emotions pour out of him and weep “Son, I’m actually scared! I’m scared as hell and I don’t what to do or who to talk to or even who to reach out to just to really take some time to listen. Son I’m so sorry because for one of many times in my life, I don’t know the answer to fix it!” But there would be no use or peace of mind to be gained from it. In that instant, a voice from the past began to scream in the core of Thomas Barnes’ soul “Grab hold of yourself goddamn it, grab hold of yourself Thomas and man up! Dig in closer to the goddamn plate and swing away when the curveball doesn’t curve you bastard!” Thomas could hear his old coach and friend Carter screaming in his ear like the angel on his shoulder.
“No sympathy for the path you were headed, no empathy either unless they’ve walked it themselves, that’s why you MUST endure!” the voice of that old rummyed out writer said to him in that warm breeze.
“Dad?”. . . “Dad?” the soft voice of Oscar Barnes shook Thomas out of his zoned-out stupor, refocused him to the present moment of what currently was. “Dad, are you ok?” Thomas shook his head with a nod. “I’m fine son.” Deep down Thomas knew he really was anything but fine, but in this instance he needed to be and he wanted to be fine. Duty dictated Thomas Barnes had to be fine.
“What would be fine?” he wondered to himself as Oscar went to his nightly ritual of a hot soak in the bath, which he swore was the best gift heaven could give a man or woman who needed to ‘get away from it all. Fine, Thomas Barnes said to himself, would be a nice house on the beach in Key West or a cabin home out in Idaho.
There would be the lure of the ocean, searching for seashells and sand dollars with the sunset over the horizon and trips on a deep-sea fishing boat with a crew of good men to keep the kids busy while Thomas would go back and forth between writing and the boat. Fine would be a hunting trip in Idaho or cold stream fishing for trout which he knew Gabriel and Oscar would love and perhaps a massive family of snowmen and snowball fights with a kettle of hot chocolate and marshmallows waiting inside a warm cabin which Aurora would try to run as an efficient drill sergeant. There would be a window where Thomas Barnes could look over the hills and mountains and see some game. He could teach Gabriel the finer points of marksmanship and he knew Gabe would gladly hug his waist tight as they would trek on a snowmobile to gut and skin their first kill of that late fall or early winter.
Fine might even be settling down with a good woman, having Key West along with Idaho. A woman who would love him and his kids, warts and all as it were. Someone who was okay with all the little mundane things writers often forget because they sit in a ritual church service documenting all the important things that everyday human beings pass by. He did once love a blue-eyed beauty, he once loved the raven haired editor, he even once loved the red headed shrink that didn’t involve his old counseling of Jack Daniels whiskey, and he thought he loved the elusive Latina beauty who once told him “Beauty is the first illusion Thomas Barnes.” Thomas could only chuckle at what might have been, could have been, and should have been in his life.
Then again, fine could be much worse. And in that moment of sublime reality, the reflection of nature in its death and dying and departing seeds of hope and potential, gave something to Thomas Barnes as he laid Oscar down, tucked him, kissed him goodnight and sat on the front porch by the dogwood trees under the stars.
Believing something was indeed fine. What it was, he wasn’t sure, but he knew for at least tonight, this day, despite everything, was good.