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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

songs to make you cry I

I tell people I taught you everything you know.

When you were young and ate the sour apples from the tree outside my house, and trimmed my hedge, did my odd jobs, and sold lemonade door to door, I watched over you and told you how to climb the tree to reach the higher, sweeter fruit, how to get the lemonade mix just right. You dawdled outside my house one afternoon with a bloody nose, you lost a fight in school. It was the hardest thing not to just go right up and punch that kid in return, and instead tell you something about punching back yourself.

When you were grown I asked you to come and work with me. You wanted to be a pilot or a farmer, but I convinced you. We put on the overralls together, walked the halls together, ate in the cafeteria often. I always said that the company was there to provide, and not just the electricity to the punters in the faraway city, but to all of us living in the area, working our twelve hour shifts. I wanted it to provide for us all. I never listened to a bad word about the company. I never would accept anything but the company way.

Our schedules rotated out of sync, but we still met at break times and change over times. You exceeded me in every respect. Amongst my friends, my shift mates, and our seniors, you were no longer the protege, you were yourself. I was never prouder but on two occasions: the day you replaced me, and the day you took over my department. You married your high school sweetheart after years of waiting. I attended the wedding, and nearly cried when you said, he was like a father to me.

I'm so proud of you and I always say I taught you everything you know, but what I never say is the truth, that it is you who taught me everything. You are my whole family. I was a lonely shrivelled up old man till you fell from the low branch trying to reach those apples and I comforted you. I ate meals at my desk at work and never knew how to be proud of another person's success. I was a no better than a robot, thanks to you I learned how to have a heart. I knew this when we sipped tea in your new house and your son rested his head in the crook of my arm and mistook me for his grandfather.

And if this were a movie, this is where the music starts. I am old, but not useless. I retired not long after your wedding, but I have forgotten nothing. I am walking down the old hallway, I am opening the old familiar doors, and I will, for only the seventh time, put on the radiation suit and seal the helmet.

I heard that you are going into the sealed off zone. I heard that you were called and did not refuse. You are going to go in, leaving behind your wife and son and the small tidy house which amazingly survived the disastrous crash, and follow orders, maybe sort out this stricken mess. And maybe never come back.

I can't let you do that. I can't let you go and risk everything for a plot of earth and a letter of thanks to your familiy, or cancer over twenty years. I got you into this. I can't let your whole future disappear in a plume of smoke that already erupted on the day of the meltdown.

I am going to walk down the hallway, I have it all planned. I am going to the space in front of the metal airlocked door where you all have gathered. When the bell rings for standing up and calling numbers and entering through the door, I am going to pull you aside. Our colleagues are ready to change your name to mine on the register. They will pull you back, as I go in. The entry supervisor will call your number, but my name, to enter. I can do your job, which was mine before, still. I will make sure the door closes behind the last man, and seal it tight so that you can't enter.

Death is not a stranger to an old man, and I am even older now. It is correct that I am here in the airlock, not you. My life was empty anyway, until you came along. You should still be around to give to others, like you unknowingly gave to me.

I can't let your future disappear. It'll be my future too.





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