I have spent the day with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The chorus singing Ode to Joy has always moved me. It lightens my spirit. I like listening to powerful music. Beethoven or Led Zeppelin—it matters not.
Listening to Beethoven’s symphonies, I think of his deafness, and how he worked on in spite of it. Then, remember my step-dad who suffered the same malady, most of his hearing blown away by big guns at Iwo Jima. With him it had a different affect. It turned him away from things worthwhile, and toward booze and meanness. He used them to salve his despair, I guess. My mother finally became fed up and left him in 1969, moving back to her hometown on the other side of the state. He lived out the rest of his days alone, successfully drinking himself to death. I sometimes wonder why he married my mother and why he took me under his wing—best he could, in the first place. In all the decades of my life, I have not found the answer.
I too have an ear problem. Tinnitus. A constant and loud ringing inside my head. Loud enough to hear over Ode to Joy played at 100dB. A lifetime souvenir from my twenty-plus year career as an instrument of our government’s foreign policy. It did not turn me to alcohol and meanness. Other things did. The same things that delivered me two failed marriages, and a daughter who despises me in the same way I despised my dad. Life is a merry-go-round—so it seems.
I have lived most of my time on the edge of a sword blade, a single micron from the impending disaster that resides on either side. It seems almost genetic. Almost. I grew up telling myself I would never be like Dad. Then, blamed him because I became a carbon copy. I have lived with that irony through thirty-plus years of sobriety.
Dad died at the VA Hospital in Seattle, having blown up his lungs and liver. A month later, without ceremonial side-boys or the trilling sound of a boatswain pipe, the Navy carted me off to Long Beach Naval Hospital to dry out. Their instructions were simple. Do it. There were no alternatives. Well—there were, but all were well beyond reasonable consideration. They kept me confined for eight-and-a-half weeks. An unusually long stay. I arrived shortly after Betty Ford departed. She stayed the standard six weeks, then, went on to start a clinic for repairing junkies like herself.
My stay at Long Beach was unremarkable. I went through the usual tantrums. Pounded my fists bloody against the suicide fence. Lied. Left at the end promising to mind my p’s and q’s, never intending to follow through. Same as everybody else.
I attended meetings in beautiful downtown Oxnard. There, I met a wizened old ex pug named Gus. He irritated me to no end. Lived in an apartment at the Lemon Tree Hotel, a flop house that sat behind the pawn shops on the boulevard, but has since been demolished. Had a sign on his door that read: The Bullshit Stops Here. He became the exact thing I needed in my life. When he passed, more than a hundred people showed up for his funeral. All of us contributed to the cost of the coffin I helped carry. One of the few time in my life I have cried. I did not cry for my parents when they died, but feel tears at the corners of my eyes right now just thinking of him. Well, hell… Life goes on—so they say.
I do not know if there is a point or purpose to this letter. It just came behind the feelings after listening to the 9th symphony of Beethoven. It came from hope, and from the second chance I have been given. Most of all, it came from remembrances of an annoying old fart named Gus.
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