THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD

I always remember that dream-vision of a long cold country road stretching out straight in front of me and going on, disappearing into the blurred infinity of the horizon.

I feel that I’ve been on this road all my life and yet every time I see it again in my dreams it’s from the same viewpoint and I realise I’ve made no noticeable headway.  That’s when I feel weary and have to sit a spell and ponder it all. The only traffic passing me on this lonely road are the memories of my life flashing by like a huge over-loaded truck.

A truck thunders past and in the ensuing mist of dust I see my mum and dad. The haze clears and there they are. Unchanged. Smiling at me from across the road, and then gone. It makes me miss them so much I ache. Perhaps they were the only two people who ever really understood me. And loved me without agenda for what I was, and not what I was later perceived to be. All I know is, I’ve had to come a long way on my own. And that makes you strong. But every thing comes at a price and sometimes I wonder whether too much strength can make you as hard as a rock. And just as cold.

Another truck and I glimpse my first wife. Still beautiful and young and spirited. She too smiles at me but it’s different from the past. Her smile now exudes understanding, and empathy. Perhaps sympathic that I have been stuck here on this road for so long. She got away. And now knows the peace, wisdom and sunshine of the other side. I yell out, “We were too young, that’s all. And too poor. Nobody’s fault!” But she is gone in a mist of dust as another truck of memories flashes by and all I’m left with is her smile of warmth.

Why do I only see the dead on this road? Are they trying to entice me over to the other side? Sometimes I get so tempted I stand but at the last moment always remember something that compels me to sit again. And wait.

More deafening noise and dust. Then, there’s my Uncle Horrie who was never acknowledged by my family. An outcast for things beyond his control. I always liked him and felt sorry for his pain. He smiles at me and waves too. He seems so much more confident and at peace. Perhaps he is now sorry for me?

He yells out to me, “It doesn’t matter what they say about you. Over here, there’s only one truth. And it’s so clear to everyone there’s no need for words”. 

I stand again. Wanting to cross and escape all those who’ve knifed me in the back. The pain doesn’t come from the knife wounds but the realisation that friends would betray you. And that pain doesn’t ever heal. Some were bought by money. Some by fame. Some, just to see you fall.

I sit again.

Another truck passes and I’m distracted by the rumble and dust again. As it clears, I see my smiling Grandma as she nods to acknowledge my existence. She yells out, “You don’t talk to me enough, y’know?…You were the apple of my eye. And still are. I gave you your name. Frank by name, frank by nature. Keep telling the truth, no matter how much they hate it. And smile. They hate that too. Bye baby. See you soon”. 

I stand and walk a few paces onto the road, but an approaching truck forces me back.

When the dust clears I see a group of people but it’s my heart that’s the first to recognise them as it warms my entire body. I see my Uncle Frank, whom I was named after, who died before I was born. His sensitive nature taken by a war he had no right to be dragged into. But here he is, looking as young as he did in all those framed photographs my mother cherished until her dying day.  Then there is Uncle Bill who was always the beacon of integrity; Auntie Gladys; Uncle Arthur; Uncle Jack, Auntie Dagma; Uncle Alf and Auntie Daphne, Johnny Wheeler (still yelling out boxing tips to me and that I need a haircut); Brian Hickey (my first manager who believed in me); and Big Bill Stephenson (my boyhood football hero). They all look so pleased to see me and are yelling out things but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Too many voices and too much to catch up on. I smile back with a joy that makes my cheeks ache, as I wave like an excited child. The warmth that fills my body tells me I’m home.

I take a few steps onto the road, towards them, all reaching out with open arms to embrace me. Suddenly I see everything with such a heightened clarity it fills me with a deep sadness at all the mistakes I have made in my life. Seeing where I let someone down; seeing those I befriended who were never my friends to begin with; those I trusted who ultimately worked against me; all the times I was weak instead of strong; the times I was strong when I needed to be flexible; seeing the women who were lovely but all wrong, who would take me from my work and all the people I loved; and all the times I said “Yes” when I meant “No“.

I am so lost in these painful remembrances, that the next thing I remember I am back, sitting on my side of the road, and looking into that faraway horizon that may very well be just a theatrical backdrop for all it means to me.

I am weary from surviving too many life shattering jolts, too close together. Jolts that would’ve killed some, that have killed some, and yet I go on. Why? Must I continue on my way feeling that I have taken 12 rounds of the best Muhammad Ali could give at his peak? Why? In the dying words of my mother, “What’s the use?” And yet, still the jolts continue. What is the use?

Then I am crying, my head in my hands in case someone sees. Seconds later looking like I am wiping the dust from my eyes because, as Marc Jordan says “That’s how men cry”.

So here I am. Back at the beginning of this recurring dream. Weary but wise. Lost but found. Aching but hopeful. Waiting for God to begin the play-off music and not to blow my cue. When you gotta go, you gotta go, y’know?

Why am I still here and so many are gone?

Maybe it’s true that God calls home first those he loves the most.

A dear friend of mine who has a connection to the spirit world tells me, “You’re here a bit longer to complete a few more projects, and receive some praise, but most importantly, to save someone’s life”. 

Now, wouldn’t that be something worthwhile to cross to the other side of the road with?

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

 

Photograph by Vanessa Allan.

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