I don’t have the right to feel this hollow and distraught.
What constitutes a family?
Is it genetics?
Is it legality?
Or is it all the above?
I don’t know what does or doesn’t make a family I just know a family when I see it. I have a large extended family on my mother’s side and a moderately sized family on my father’s side. When I was younger, read before the age of twelve, I was somewhat close with most of my family on both sides, but as I was going through the traumatic growth we all go through as we are thrust through the grist mill of puberty I realized I was related to a lot of… well, let’s call them not so nice people.
I won’t say more on the subject because let’s face it, ain’t nobody got time for that.
When I was on the cusp of fourteen, I moved in with my father and spent the first year there trying to find my way in a setting where my previous failures were unknown, and I had a black canvas to work with. Looking back I believe I made good use of the opportunity. At the end of the first year, I’d become acquainted with, but not yet friends with one William Shaffer.
Bill was, and is, one of the unique and genuine people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Even at the age of fourteen he was generous to a fault and would give a person his last dollar if it meant they’d have something for lunch that day.
Of course, my first introduction to Bill was less than enjoyable. We had freshman biology together, and I was a bookworm who spent every free second reading which lead to Bill’s daily question of, “Is that a good book?” It irritated the ever-living fuck out of me, and he knew it.
Which, of course, was why he thought it was funny.
That’s how I met the man I would come to consider my best friend and my brother. About nine years ago I wrote a poem about this, and I’d like to share it here if you’ll indulge me.
Is That A Good Book?
“Is that a good book?” He asked me the first time I met him
It was annoying because I was trying to read
“Is that a good book?” he asked me the second time I met him
It was even more annoying because I was still trying to read
“Is that a good book?” he asked me the third time I met him
I wanted to kick him in the shins because I was just getting to the good part
“No, it is not a good book!” I snapped at him the fourth time we met
He laughed and asked why not
For a month or more we danced this dance, the dance of the Good Book and the science class
It was The Rowland that bonded us
He of the open bathroom door and finger in the sauce
It was the game that made us friends
Rolled dice and the cheers from the worlds of fantasy that were so real to us then, and I believe may be even more real to us now
When I moved two towns over he would come and retrieve me every day till I owned my own steed
He who was the master of the Mighty Egg Plant with the old man’s head
At sixteen my life almost ended, not through acts from the gods but stupidity of my own
His friendship never wavered, and his laughter always buoyed me
At eighteen I was forced from my castle and exiled from my homeland
He braved the dangers of the journey many times, both to see me and to retrieve me
At twenty I became a father and laughed and said it would make me merry
Secretly I worried that he feared he would never have that joy
Over the years he always stood ready to draw swords at my back and defend our extended family from the darkness that always threatened drag us down
I believe he would have given his life for me and mine, and I would have done the same for him and his
We are men now, no longer the children we were
But still, he gladdens my heart with his words and his laughter
Not long after I became school friends with Bill, I met his family. His mother (Chris) and his little sister (Kari) welcomed me into their home and at that moment my teenage years, and truly my entire life changed forever. I’m not sure how it happened, but by the middle of my sophomore year, I was sending more time in the Shaffer house than I was in my own. I was always welcome, and there was always place for me on the couch and at the kitchen table.
They’d become the family I never knew I needed.
For awhile Bill and I were co-workers and more often than not roommates. Then I moved two towns over, and it became harder for us to spend our evenings and weekends together. But Bill made the major effort to make sure we stayed in each other’s lives. Before I had my own car, he’d pick me up at the drop of a hat, and we’d be off on adventures involving movies, comic books, and the hunt for the elusive prized action figures.
At the end of senior year, I was forced by circumstances to make the move back to Dayton. I was certain I’d lose all the friends I’d made through high school. My worries never came to fruition. Bill made time to come and see me and to bring me back to Michigan on a regular basis. When back home I stayed at the Shaffer household, and it always felt like I’d never left. They were my family.
As the years passed I married and had children but the Shaffer clan was always there for me. There were ups and downs as with any family, but things always returned to normal. When Bill had personal problems, I did the best I could to be there for him despite my own issues and when I had my nervous breakdown, and my life fell apart he was there for me. The Shaffer family has always supported me in my endeavors and been there to catch me when I fell.
I need to put this forward. Bill has been a much better friend to me than I’ve ever been to him. He has forgiven me for transgressions most people might have cut ties over. I never intended to be a bad friend but until I admitted I had serious issues with depression and anxiety I didn’t have the tools to be a good friend. I’m not saying I didn’t realize I was a bad friend because I did. I just didn’t know how to correct it. But despite all that Bill supported m because he loves me. Because he’s my brother.
This morning I was awoken by a text message at five thirty. The message was from Bill’s wife Jessi, also one of my best friends, and it was heart-shattering. In the early hours of the morning, Bill’s mother passed away in her sleep. She’d been in a temporary rehab facility recovering from open heart surgery. Her death, I’m told, was quick and painless.
I’m not sure I deserve to feel the heartache I feel.
Everyone called her Chief, but I always called her Mom. Not because I thought I was special but because I didn’t think I deserved to call her Chief. She was one of my favorite people in the world, and I loved her like she was my own mother but, in the end, I didn’t believe I was good enough. It didn’t matter that she treated me like one of her own and called me one of her other children.
I’m bereft and heartbroken. I wish I’d been able to see her one more time before the end. I feel like I’ve lost something important. All these things are weighing on me but what’s really bothering me is that I’m not there with my family. I’m not there with my brother (Bill) and my sisters (Kari and Jessi) to help them through this. This is going to be a hard couple of weeks, maybe months, for everyone but I know a few things.
I love mom.
I miss mom.
I’m worried about my family.
- Josh (4-13-2018)