Mario Lanclos Jr., a dear friend, would write and send his thoughts to me during the beginning of his grieving process after his father recently passed. I was so moved by the beauty of his words that I asked him if he would allow me to share his words with you–as most of us have lost someone that we love. Mario generously agreed.
I remember sliding across the front seat….
I’m from the era where your moms right arm provided all protection any child would ever need in he event of an accident. Front “seat.” Singular. Bench. He’d always drop me off too late on Sunday. Always. Well after the sun had left the sky and long after all the other kids my age were finished dinner. I remember the frustration. The lectures. And I knew the following Sunday, I’d be just as late, if not later. That’s who he was. You couldn’t tell him what to do. You couldn’t make him do anything. He’d go out of his way to do the opposite of any request just so you understood the pecking order. He was huge to me. A towering figure @5′ 11″ with a barrel chest and arms like tree trunks. Not just any tree trunks either, mahogany. The good stuff. Those arms were rarely ever not exposed to the Caribbean sun. The parable about the apple not falling far from the tree comes to mind. He could whistle so loud dogs would tuck their tails. I can whistle, but you’d have to be within five feet to hear. Women loooooooved him. His go do the thing you want attitude towards life. His complexion. His “cooley” hair. The way he spoke. How safe they must have felt when they were with him. He was born in boxing gloves. The result of his uncle owning a boxing gym. He received a medal from the Pan American games. He was the Alpha. No matter the room, no matter the setting. He’d live in HR today. Like he’d never leave. He once told a man the only reason I’m not going to kick your azz is because my son is with me. That man thanked me.
The things we remember. Bad Medicine. He named his cars. Weird names. Chugga. Tomato Red. Bertha. Midnight. But Bad Medicine, she spoke to me the most. She had a devil stirring a caldron on her hood. She was blue. She was fast. I’d sit in the stands unsupervised while he raced. Sometimes I’d have popcorn or some other snack to eat. But mostly I was always by myself unless a random acquaintance came to watch him race as well. He worked on Bad Medicine with every free moment available. The goal to make her faster and then faster still. Bad Medicine got all of my time. But no one comes to a race track to see a seven year old boy. I don’t care how cute he thinks he is. He smoked. In order to get close, you had to be willing to get burned. I got burned everyday. He called me monkey, short for grease monkey. On track day win or lose he’d drive me home and I’d try me best not to fall asleep immediately. No small task when all you’ve eaten all day is popcorn and snacks. He’d take right turns as hard as possible so I’d slide into him. That’s what I remember the most. Sliding across the front seat and that slide ending with me hugging him/holding on for dear life. Four hard right turns by my count. I rarely made all four. My eyes usually got too heavy. But that was the highlight of my day. The thing I’d give anything to do just one last time. He was flawed. He exposed me to language and things no child should ever see or partake. But I do miss sliding across the front seat. Him. Bad Medicine. Me sliding across the front seat. If I could, I’d make all four hard rights. My eyes wouldn’t get too heavy. And on turn four, when I slid, I’d hold on for dear life and never let go…
I walk in and place my order, just like I did when I was a kid. Ordered the same thing in the same fashion, just like I did when I was a kid. I’m telling on myself, but Popeyes chicken wasn’t always a worldwide and national chain on every single street corner. There was a time, if you wanted Popeyes chicken, you had no choice but to drive to the state of Louisiana. So we did that, my dad and I. We drove from Texas…for more than two hours…to a completely different state…for chicken. We got out. Ate. Bought a 20 piece for the ride home, then we got back in the car and drove back home to Texas. This was my mission. This is why I drove here instead of flew. To re-create a few seismic events from my childhood. Things that moved the needle. Things that moved me. Things that have stayed with me decades later. Things that should have long since transferred from my pre-frontal lobe via my hippocampus. I know now that I have erred. My formula was faulty. I didn’t account for growth. Literally and metaphorically. So today, even though I walk in and place my order, just like I did when I was a kid. And even though I ordered the same thing in the same fashion, just like I did when I was a kid. Nothing tastes the same. And it’s not just Popeyes in the state of Louisiana. I visited them all. All of my old childhood haunts. Jack In The Box, Burger King, Whattaburger. The only thing I haven’t done is found Mello Yellow in the bottle and have a quick drink gun fight in the middle of a 7-11 parking lot. Yes, that was a real thing, look it up. Something tells me I’d probably drop the bottle or it’d be too sweet or I’d get brain freeze or something. I didn’t account for growth. True story. I hate fast food now. I let my kids eat it, but it rarely passes my lips. Now I’m wondering why I hate it so much. Is it because I ate it almost everyday for three straight summers? I don’t know. All I know is it tastes awful to me now. It’s too salty. And too greasy. And too buttery. And knowing what I know about fitness, too bad for me. I tried. I wanted to have one last great memory of my father that wasn’t three decades old. But my formula was faulty. I didn’t account for growth. And the thing about growth is, once you grow, you cannot fit where you easily once did. I didn’t account for growth and I didn’t account for sadness that would overcome me with every single bite…
So we go to church. The church is tiny and sits atop a hill. We’re late. We enter through a door at the rear side of the church and wait patiently in a small hallway. There’s a break in the service. Mo opens the door and we enter. We’re in front. Like way in the front. Behind the pulpit. Next to the drummer and the organist. Mo tells me I can go sit with the congregation if I’d like. I realize that’s we’re sitting where the choir sits. I count the congregation. Including me there are 19 people in attendance. 19. That includes the pastor, the pastors wife, the drummer, the organist and the three ushers. I go sit in the pews. Second row. The side that’s the emptiest and with the least amount of people. My brother Mo is the choir. Not a typo. My brother Mo is not “in” the choir. My. Brother. Mo. Is. The. Only. Person. Singing. Mo is finished his unintentional solo. By the way. Mo can BLOOOOOOOW!!! I had no idea. Mo and his family leave the choir and come sit behind me. We stand to say a prayer and officially begin the service. I’m guessing the resemblance and the fact that my face is the only unknown of the 19 in attendance prompts the pastor to ask before he begins his sermon “Maurice, is that your brother?” Maurice replies yes. Then he jokingly says I didn’t even have to tell him where to sit. I’m confused. Mutters from the other 15 people not in the conversation. The pastor says “You’re sitting in the exact same spot your dad sat every Sunday for the past two years.” I start crying. Like crying. Saw the body yesterday. Nothing. Today, a stranger letting me know that I unwitting did something, I have to excuse myself.
I don’t hate him
I just don’t like the way he made me feel when he left.
I remember the time that he left that hurt the most, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was 12. And I had just had the best summer any 12 yr old had ever had in the history of summers and every single 12 yr olds before me. It was the best summer ever. No…seriously. Best! Summer! Ever! The thing about anything that good though is it has to come to an end eventually. So that’s where I’ll start, at the end. We’re in the airport crying. Me in a suit. Him in a crew neck white t-shirt with a pack of Benson and Hedges rolled up in one sleeve. I said we. Me “AND” him. I’m making promises I won’t keep so I can stay. He tells me… repeatedly…why he can’t make it work. I tell him to call my mom again. Explain how hard it is for me to not have him in my life everyday. I tell him to come up with a better explanation, since he says he wants me to stay too. He tells me he can’t and then falls silent. He hasn’t mastered words like a 12 year old who gets books as presents and is often told to read when he asks to go outside and play. So there we remain. Silently. For what seems like an hour. Him on his knees, me doing my level best to make his shoulder and the fabric atop it appear wet t-shirt contest ready. The stewardess (flight attendant these days) is nice. And patient. She referred to our congress with comments like awwwww and that’s so sweet. She lets me cry as long as I need to. My behavior, or lack thereof, would later earn me wings and a trip to the pilots cockpit. He gets the stewardesses phone number, you know…just in case something happened to me…wink wink. I walked down the jetway. And I only looked back once. I called myself being strong. I didn’t know that day that I’d only see you twice in the next six years. Once to introduce me to your new wife for the third time. And again when I graduated high school. Twice. By my count, two times, in about two thousand seventy days. I need to believe that you didn’t hate me. I need to believe that you just hated the way you felt when I left. Because we were never the same after that. Me now to old for your tutelage. You preoccupied with raising my new brother and your burgeoning marriage. I learned most of my lessons the hard way and without you. But I learned. I’m still learning. I learned recently that I don’t hate you. I just hate the way you made me feel when you left. You’ve left me for good this time. It’s been three weeks and I still can’t completely wrap my head around the fact that you’re not coming back…that you’ve left me again, and for good this time. But I have to move forward. And I’m choosing to do so not completely understanding your love for me. I’ve asked you for two things in the last 25 years. I’m going to ask you for a third. If we do meet again, don’t leave. I hate the way it makes me feel…