When I was in my late teens and early twenties I spent a lot of time at my best friend Charla's house, which meant I spent a lot of time around her dad, Alan. Alan passed away about six years ago. I've found myself thinking about him a lot recently. There's a reason for this, which I will get to later.
Since I've been thinking about him, I figured it would be a good idea to share of these thoughts. Writing is my favorite way to process things. Go figure. I like to share thoughts on people I've lost on public forums because it keeps them alive. It lets other people who them know that their loved ones aren't forgotten. These are the things that make us immortal.
Alan is on my list of most quirky, fun, unique,I'm-glad-to-have-had-the-pleasure-of-having-known people. This is not a tangible list with a finite number of people on it or anything. I suppose that would be weird. There are just people who I think of that fall into that category. Alan is one of them. He might even be at the top, but I suppose who is at the top changes based on what criteria I'm using at a certain time.
Alan had an interesting life. To say the least. He liked to talk. A lot. That may have been in part because--at least when I knew him--he wasn't working and didn't always have someone to talk to, except for the pets. Sometimes I listened when he talked and sometimes I didn't. In retrospect I feel bad about this, but I was a teenager and selfish (to put it bluntly). He liked to read a lot--the good stuff, mostly science fiction. He had an imagination and was a lot smarter than he came across, especially when he got older because a lot of his issues made him seem more out of it than he actually was. And he liked coffee, which is something I appreciate. He smoked a lot, which I can't blame him for, because I used to do that too.
He had lots of quirks, but the one I remember the most had to do with food. As he got older and got in more pain his appetite got more sporadic, so he went through phases where he liked only a few things at a time. One day Charla and I were at the store and we decided to buy a black forest cake--these are the chocolate ones with the cherry filling and some sort of vanilla cream frosting. Alan liked the cake but not the cherry part. He liked it so much that he had to order more. And more, and more. They only made the black forest, so he had to special order it without the cherry filling--I think he had them replace it with cream filling. He would get several at a time. Now, you would think it would be great to have cake in the house all the time, but it really wasn't. We couldn't just eat it whenever we wanted to, because the cake was all Alan was eating, so we had to make sure he had enough for every meal. There was so much of it that it was taking up space in the refrigerator and freezer (yeah, the freezer). If he was too tired to go to the store, we'd have to run out on a whim to pick up the cake. In retrospect though, taking the 5-10 minute drive to pick up a cake for a man who was giving me a roof over my head doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but did I mention that I was young and my life revolved around myself?
The cake thing went on for several months. Either before or after the cake (I can't remember the order of these phases) came the grape cool-aid popsicles. Yep, that's right. At first he just liked to drink the grape kool-aid, but then he decided he liked it frozen better. I can't remember why, maybe it was summer? So he would make it and freeze it into water bottles. This isn't too weird, right? We all did this when we were kids. Except, just like the cake, he had to do it excessively. There were so many bottles in the freezer at one time that we'd open it and they'd come falling on our heads.
The weirdest "food" phase was cherry fun dip powder. You all remember fun dip, right? The little packets of flavored sugar powder with the sticks? I loved that stuff. (My mom wouldn't let us eat it in the house.) Alan didn't want the dipping sticks or even the other flavors. Just the cherry powder. He found other brands too, like pixie sticks and stuff. I don't even know where he found this stuff. I think he just drove around to random gas stations to see what they had.
Also in the food phases were corn flakes (probably the most normal) and Arby's roast beef sandwiches. And there might be some others in there that I just don't remember.
The reason that Alan no longer worked when I knew him was because he'd hurt his back at work, had a surgery that went badly, and then wound up having six subsequent surgeries after that, which resulted in really horrible chronic back pain. I always knew it was bad, because he said it was bad, and it looked bad, and just the thought of back pain is bad. But I guess I didn't really know how bad it was, probably because I didn't have a whole lot of empathy in that time of my life and because that magnitude of pain is just simply hard to imagine. I do remember one particular day when he was talking about the monster. That's what he called it, at least sometimes. It was kind of terrifying, because it seemed to have such a hold on so many aspects of his life. I think he drew a picture, but I'm not sure if he actually drew a picture or if he just talked about it so vividly that I remember a picture. He talked about the monster of pain and how it was sitting on his back and taking over. I think it was black and red and very ugly and I think that was the only thing that let me know how real and how horrible it was. I remember thinking, "how does he deal with this?"
So now I've come full circle. The chronic pain is one of the reasons why he's popping into my head a lot more lately, and also that particular memory about the monster--since I've been dealing with chronic pain myself (also from a work injury), which I don't really talk about, because who really wants to talk about this stuff? I still don't know what he was feeling, but I guess I can understand it more. It sucks to be in pain all the time. It's a strange coincidence and I find myself wondering what he would think if he knew my situation and I suppose the short answer is he would be sad about it. I now understand the monster picture, and I understand why he thought of his pain that way. I'm not going to think of my pain as a monster, though it's bad enough that it could be. It's a horrible burning crushing pain that doesn't really go away or change, but it isn't a monster because that would make it its own entity and that kind of thinking is dangerous. I think it leads to making our problems bigger than ourselves and therefore unmanageable and I can't go there, not that I blame Alan for going there.
I wish I'd visited Alan more after I'd moved out. I only visited him a few times in about five years. I wish I'd thanked him for the things he did for me, but I never did. I can't change the past, but I can learn from my mistakes. I can do look at my life now and make choices about the people in it and think about what I may or may not regret and that is what I've done. I've learned and grown and I can honestly say that I'm not nearly as stupid or as selfish as I used to be. So that's something.