What’s Everything?

We always looked forward to visiting the Savings and Trust. Our family had a safety deposit box there. We would go as a family; I didn’t really know what was going on back then. My older brother was always excited as a kid, running up ahead of us and jumping up at the teller behind the booth, giggling and smiling. Our father would smile too; he was there to either deposit or withdraw something valuable. I walked with my mother, a few paces behind them, watching everyone.

They all looked like children to me. For some reason, the establishment looked like a backyard social club. The walls were made of pressed sheet metal, and the vault was a crawl space with specifically-labeled racks and trays.

My father showed me what money was. It was a bundle of transparent bills, laser-inscribed with “10 X 10 Thousand” on it. The bundle was worth a hundred thousand dollars, and it looked like a malleable slice of Plexiglas. There were several of them in the box. The rest of the box was filled with baseball cards, comic books, and other indescribable trinkets from former lives I’ll never understand.

The “10 X 10 Thousand” would always resonate with me.

My father was a smart man, a man made by the fruits of his labors. He was always considerate and rational, not erratic and foolhardy. He wore a collared shirt and tie, pressed pants, and wire-frame glasses. He had a receding hairline that crept past his forehead with a waxing horseshoe pattern. He was always smiling, even when I realized it tired him so much at times.

We especially looked forward to the Savings and Trust today. Our family was making a withdrawal. We were all excited, even I was. I was older now, and knew the value of money. Knowing we had money in this imperfect world was a comfort to us all. We all had plans.

My father let me get the box; I knew what it looked like by now. It was uncovered. It didn’t look right, but it had our label on it. As I pulled the tray out of its unprofessional rack, a woman came over, and as if scolding a child, said “no, that’s not yours,” and helped me put it back. I was confused. The label I often remembered was no longer unique to our family, and I went back to my father empty-handed.

He went and talked to the teller. He and the teller went behind the counter to talk in private. I could see my father holding a sheet of paper in his hand, and his eyes affixed to its print. He removed his wire-frame glasses and scratched the brim of his nose between his eyes. There wasn’t enough space between us for me not to hear the teller say “you’re past due on the safety deposit box fee” and “we got rid of your contents.” I heard my father say “that was most of our life savings” with a half-shocked, half-indifferent tone. Did they actually throw out all the “10 X 10 Thousand” bundles, all the trinkets, and all the memories of a hard life’s work?

There was no interlude. The scene changed, and we no longer knew of the small, cramped Savings and Trust. We were outside, in an open field, with millions of other people. We sat on a picnic blanket and talked together, like a family.

My father was different after that. He was no longer wearing collared shirts and ties and pressed pants and wire-frame glasses. He was youthful, more casual, but he still had a receding hairline. He was carefree, and he smiled unrestrained. Music came on over a loudspeaker somewhere, playing Jefferson Airplane’s “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon,” and my father, sitting there on the picnic blanket among millions of other people, began to dance in place with his head and his hands. He raised his arms and banged on invisible drums, singing along to the lyrics. A few other people his age sat around us and joined him in song. He smiled, and we joined him, dancing in place while countless others lived around us.

In this moment, I never felt closer to my family. We embraced my father’s new-found attitude on life, and simply made the most of having nothing else to show for it. The lost articles of our family’s safety deposit box were meaningless now.

“What are we going to do?”

“Now is a great time for me to tell you about my million dollar idea.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“What is?”

Nobody answered. We got up and walked away from the scene altogether. The Rolling Stones were playing “Wild Horses” somewhere, and somehow we all knew things would be alright. My brother and mother were ahead of me, walking into the distance. My father, his arm around my shoulder, asked me, “You know that drawing you did of the coastline a while back?”

“What drawing?” I never really showed him any of my drawings.

“The one of the lighthouse, with the path alongside it, and the ocean in the distance? I think it’s one of the best drawings I’ve ever seen.”

I instantly knew which one he was referring to, and my heart filled with such warmth that it made my eyes tear.  He always cared, even when I didn’t realize it.

When I First Experienced Death

I was first exposed to the concept of death when I was between four and six years old. The backyard of my home was the battleground for my education. The lawn was large and green and full of life. Frogs, toads, and little animals and bugs ran free in the lawn, keeping the place natural and healthy-looking. It was beautiful. The flowers and plants were a nirvana for most of the small animals, including myself. You could truly feel the positive glow of it all.

I used to help my father mow the lawn. Imagine the horror that these little creatures beneath the grass felt, seeing a massive metallic blade spin overhead, sucking everything into its path. I didn’t realize the scope and grandeur of our work on the lawn until I sat there one day, on the newly cut grass, enjoying the smell and feel of it. To my right I noticed a frog hopping with difficulty. He was a victim of the blades. He was bleeding a greenish yellow puss from under its belly, and its eyes were wide and blank.

I didn’t want to pick it up; it was gross. I simply watched it from above. I was so young, and ignorant of the truth. I didn’t see it die. I saw it give up. Its breathing was labored; it was trying to keep its motion fluid and find solace in the trees nearby. Wouldn’t you want to lay your body down in the comfort of the forest when you realize your life is ending? But it stopped, and it just laid there, within arm reach of me, among the clover patch and freshly trimmed grass. I crawled over it and watched it lay there. It was such an innocent situation to witness – a little boy on his hands and knees, head hanging below his shoulders, looking at something on the ground, waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened. I looked at his face for signs, but saw nothing. That was the first encounter.