Old Jon stands by the trash heap
This is where I am:
An old man dying from cancer, but still vital and bemused by the intensity of life, is walking on a dark path that runs behind an old house down the hill to the rundown apartment building he lives in.
The little patch of woods is the byproduct of a geological quirk. Millenniums ago, a glacier took a left turn here and sloughed off big hunks of prehistoric rock and wore them to the unfathomably fine grains of sand that sifted through the swamps that had once sat where the town is now. The rend in the stone face was left behind, and the dirt that settled in its cracked side made a little nest for stubborn trees.
His name is Old Jon. He’s just watched his oncologist run over a dog in the rain. He’s just left a young woman who’s going through chemotherapy at the same time. She has ovarian cancer. She’s in terrible pain. His wife Alice is at home, not waiting for him now, but always waiting for the end that has been promised but hasn’t come.
Old Jon is walking by the place where people throw old things that won’t rot, like broken freezers and loose pipe and baby mattresses. In the heap is an old stove that he put there 20 years ago, when his son graduated from college, something that Old Jon couldn’t imagine and didn’t understand but felt proud of. That was his only son and he died later, before Old Jon was ready.
I’m there with Old Jon, right at the start of the story, and I’m seeing the heap of trash and the dim light of the buildings through the wood. I’m hearing the rain on the leaves and the gears of the buses grinding as they go up the hill by the cemetery. I feel the ache in his bones, the pain that floats outside his head, the general distaste, the tiredness and the urgency. I see all of the memories come floating up from the trash heap like spirits on a gloomy midsummer’s eve.
We are trapped there, Old Jon and I. Life is immense and never-ending. We’re adrift. The feeling can’t be expressed. He’s in the midst of his entire life; he feels everything that he ever felt, but nothing feels real.
The story might never get told. I can’t break the spell.