I stumbled today just as my father started stumbling when he was about my age—64. He was also in pain everyday, although he never talked about where the pain was or what it felt like; he just groaned, grimaced, and threw tantrums. Another thing he did was that if someone asked him how he was, he would say, “Not good,” 100% of the time, but then he would change the subject. He drank to keep the pain under control, and that might have increased his stumbling, but not by much.

Not many remodelers walk around the job site with a can of Miller High Life sticking out of their striped overall pocket, but he did, and his employers kept rehiring us, so I guess they didn’t object too much. We worked for everyone from teetotalers to hardcore alcoholics, and I liked them all. I remember one of the alcoholics saying that he had pretty much traded eating for drinking. Before I knew what lushes he and his wife were, I thought she was simply the friendliest person I had ever known, and I became angry when my father suggested otherwise, but he was right, and I was naïve.

When I wanted to say something nice to my father, I would tell him that he could work as hard as a man half his age. It was a bit of an exaggeration, although he was able to work nearly full-time until he was his mid-seventies. I had no idea how devastating age and pain could be, and therefore no idea how remarkable he really was. Now that I spend a fair amount of time trying to remember what it was like to not hurt every minute of everyday, I often recall that he still had ten working years ahead of him when he was my age. I’m not even optimistic that I’ll be alive in ten years.

I don’t know if my father starting drinking more in his sixties in order to quiet the pain in his body or the pain in his mind. Now, I wonder the same about me in regard to drugs because they just don’t help that much unless I take enough to pass out, but drugs are what I know to do, and I would be hard-put without them, although, along with pain and age, they isolate me. Just yesterday, I realized that I no longer have a single friend other than those whom Peggy and I see together and who, I suspect, tolerate me for her sake.

Dad was 73 and mixing concrete at the time of the photo. That’s me in the bellbottoms.

Abigail Bysie

Needing a jacket in late June freaks me out, but I stay so freaked-out anyway that it’s not much of change. For instance, I was outside digging a foundation for a deck just now, and I suddenly thought:

“Wait a minute; this isn’t right. What happened to 1955? I’m six-years-old and living with my parents, my Granny, and my year-old-sister in an unpainted shack in the south Mississippi heat.” “But, no,” I thought, “that’s not right either. This is a different century; I’m growing old; I live in Eugene, Oregon; my parents and Granny are dead, and I haven’t spoken to my sister in 19 years. What's more, I’m cold, and being cold scares me, especially in summer.”

When old people used to tell me that life would seem shorter and shorter, and time would move faster and faster the older I got; they weren’t kidding. Life not only seems short; it seems like it didn’t happen. Like last night when I couldn’t tell if I was lying in bed awake, or if I was dreaming that I was lying in bed awake. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? I used to think I knew, but now I think that maybe I wasn’t asking the questions deeply enough because the more deeply I am able to ask them, the more it seems to me that our lives are built upon so little that that little is indistinguishable from nothing, yet it is this that we stand upon. I expected the opposite. I expected that a prolonged contemplation of life would lead to a certainty that would become solider and solider until I found myself atop an unshakable foundation, but no, my certainty is that nothing is solid. We live within the abyss and the abyss lives within us and all else is illusion.

Would I prefer an optimistic outlook? No! I want to know the truth, and I think I do. Maybe an unyielding desire for truth represents a threat to my species’ survival, but if my species needs lies to survive, why should it? What good are we anyway?

The fish is the abyss; its mouth is death; its teeth are time; and its light is illusion. The abyss is our common destiny whether we accept or deny the illusion.