Barry Burns has just finished a comforting chat, about whatever came to mind between the two of them, with his good old friend, Louis Brown, on the landline today, the whole way to the big city, from way down in the unfamiliar country. It’s raining good and proper up there, in Louis’ area, while down here, we enjoy some good, old fashioned, honest-to-goodness sunshine.
It’s an ordinary day here, with plenty of comfort available at the ritzy assisted living home where Burns has the privilege of living, for our old man to enjoy himself fully, as he reposes luxuriously in his elder years, writing to what he hopes will be an audience eventually, assuming with enthusiasm, his work will find its way into the hearts of many.
Burns knows no relationship of more significance than Brown at the moment, so he lies, and says he doesn’t miss what he doesn’t have. His intuition is confounded, and he ventures to tell Brown he’s already been a bachelor long enough, though he’s far from young. Burns maintains it’s probably expeditious to maintain the status quot.
Louis, the ever spiritual friend, recommends he hope in the Lord.
There have been enough changes in Burns’ life recently. He doesn’t need any more changes to adjust to just now. His psyche has proven frail enough in this process, after suffering so much deprivation and whatnot, and his hardships are familiar enough to him. Burns has his reasons for staying as he is. What he doesn’t realize is, his caution is about to expire.
“You could stand to focus on taking care of yourself,” says Louis.
Louis’ relationship with Burns was actually informal, and the older man was really only practicing his own listening skills, for spiritual purposes, but Burns desperately needed to do some talking to someone or other. This was the substance of their relationship. Burns talks, Brown listens, and interjects things on occasion. It is very comfortable to Burns.
“Not to worry. Take it easy, Barry,” says Brown.
For a man with a chemical imbalance, he has to be careful with, what circumstances he fabricates for himself, in order to keep his circumstances on an even keel, as well as he can. It’s a part of the man’s responsibility to his health. So far, he’s had to go to a psych ward twice in the past two years. Not bad. Burns is not interested in having a third go around, anytime soon.
We’re not saying the ole man has no friends where he recently moved. On the contrary, Burns has established quite a few friendships in the little more than a year he’s lived in his new digs. It’s just that he is bemoaning his lack of an intimate companionship, to write home about, if there did happen to be anyone to address such a letter to, at this late juncture in his fleeting life.
Let’s face it, Barry Burns is lonely.
There are times a person feels like crowing, about the things they enjoy. One finds a good day for a positive mood like this particular one, every now and again. There’s just no reason for the burnout to complain about anything being wrong with this day. What a wonderful feeling this is to experience. Burns has been down recently, and is trying hard to rally.
This is a time of being hopeful and faithful in what remains of a life, and it has been fleshed out for Burns, for quite some time now. He has succeeded in everything he has addressed, with sufficient energy and purpose, for several years running, and the man has emphatically noticed his success. His euphoria has not been squandered on someone else’s windmills.
His euphoria has been his own.
Burns has been down and out, living in dives in the city, starving in a dark past of regrettable living, and he’s forever grateful to have anything at all to eat, besides daily tuna fish and peanut butter. As far as Barry’s concerned, he’s eating like royalty now. His only other fare then, was in a state hospital situation, and assisted living is several times better than that sort of thing.
Since his aunt sent the man packing, his problems were with recreational chemicals and inadequate nutrition, above all else. Since then, the burnout managed to gain entry into another institutional setting, and he finally begins to recover. Burns was floundering for a lifetime, ever since the toxic psychosis he suffered, like many of his peers, in a foolish youth.
Burns took his recreational chemistry just a step too far for his capacity, and almost ended up in a potter’s field outright. He certainly had his taste of the gutter for a time. He kept returning to the same state hospital, until they wouldn’t take him any longer, and at that point, he manipulated his way into another such establishment. Barry Burns’ youth was a catastrophe.
He was an emotional wreck, frequently nothing more than a basket case, and couldn’t seem to take hold and manage much of anything facing him. It was that final emergency hospitalization, in that other state hospital, which succeeded in pulling Burns out of that downhill spiral he was in. It was a powerful experience, and surreal to the man for quite some time.
Burns sports a full head of dark brown hair, and a relatively full beard. The other men in the assisted living home, have either gray hair, or no hair at all, but Burns, at the tender young age of 61, has no balding, and no gray whatever, except little gray highlights in his beard, which he never shaves. People here are generally older than Burns, in this old folk’s home where he lives.
As his final attempt to let his freak flag fly, Burns sports a neatly trimmed beard. There was a time of shoulder length hair, then hair on down his back, until his elders hassled him too much, taunting the younger Burns with sewing scissors and earnest please, every few days, it seemed. He eventually yielded, and those brown locks began to fall, similar to the account of Sampson.
The man was hoping to get a little commerce underway, with a craft or avocation of one sort or another, but he’s gotten a lot more orders, than he has paying customers, here at the old folk’s home. People agree to a price, but have all sorts of excuses why they can’t pay. The venture proved itself a futility, like all of Burns’ tentative ventures, and his avocations just keep him occupied.
The man has always been rather creative, initiating various avocations, one after another, but none of them have ever proven themselves to be particularly lucrative to pursue. The institutional settings he’s been a part of over the years, have never overwhelmed him, because he’s always known some way to keep himself busy, in spite of all the obstacles inherent in his place.
Burns managed to have a close friend, whom he met in the state hospital environment, but the years went by, and the two lost track. It turned out that Matthews had returned to Upstate, to be closer to family. When he found he couldn’t manage with his parents right there, Matthews returned to a hospitalization, closer to his family, but in a separate environment.
Burns heard of Mathews’ origins in Upstate, when the two were associating at that other place altogether. The concept of time got away from both of them, Burns began to miss his friend, and set out to the nationwide directory at his disposal, to at least find Matthews’ parents, who would have news of the missing friend. The news turned out to be disappointing, but not incomprehensible.
Matthews was an earlier listener of Burns’, in that year of long term they shared in a state hospital setting, and Matthews, who had done a lot, to help Burns connect the dots, while Burns was definitely a confused individual, and he was not far from Burns’ thoughts. Missing much of the recent news of his friend, Burns made an uncertain phone call, to people he’d never met.
He heard of his friend’s passing, and accepted an invitation to the Matthews’ home Upstate, to visit the parents of his late friend. To this day, Matthews’ mother, even with the passing of her husband, continues to be an acquaintance of Burns long distance. She’s gone out west, but maintains contact with her late son’s friend. Their infrequent calls are reassuring to Burns.
Burns was resting in a chair, letting his mind wander. Suddenly, he had a thought which was not his. In a dream state, he was talking to the late Matthews, and Matthews told him, “It’s alright. It’s fine really. It’s like we talked about, only better.” Burns thought about that statement for a long time after the experience. The discussion had been about the nature of an imagined heaven.
For the longest time after that, Burns couldn’t remember what the two of them said.
Then it came to him.
Suppose your energy is born into a world at a later time, posthumously, but it’s not this world exactly, it’s a better one, because you lived your previous life rather well. You died, rowing on the river of forever, and going through the tunnel of forget. You are then reborn to a marvelous place, like this world in many respects. Suppose being born again is literal, and not rhetorical.
At such a point in a discussion, Matthews would enigmatically thank Burns for allowing him to smell his smoke, as though he always enjoyed it. Matthews never smoked. There was an imperative in Burns’ need to use words. Writing would almost completely usurp Burns’ need to talk compulsively. It became a more direct way for him to examine things.
Burns was a man of many words, Matthews a man of few.
They were known on the state hospital campus as the Odd Couple, and Lord knows what was said of them, out of earshot?
Louis has been friends with Burns since those days.
Burns has always found his way out of his own woods, with his words. The two share time, conversing regularly. They’ve practiced this for a long time. Louis a listener, who never judges. Burns craves a forum for examining thought. In many respects, it was like the Odd Couple set up with Burns and Matthews. This has been the state of affairs for better than a quarter of a century.
The two of them met at a church function, back toward the beginning of the 80’s, and enjoying interacting. Time passes, and the two did not part company, as Burns and Matthews had.
Louis was always a loner, and Burns had a lot to sort out again.
The two found a spirit of friendship in the mix. They just kept on, keeping on. They are a good match, since Burns is somewhat of a recluse, as is Louis. To have someone to call on, who treats him well, is a bonus for Burns, for a long time now. One might think the arrangement would get old for a listener, but he also gets things out of their conversations.
The man is not squandering time, by his own estimation.
Years ago, Louis shared, he was in a fragile state, as he had not shared before. The silence was deafening. The major activity he was given then, was to babysit an infant granddaughter, so her parents would be free to pursue independent careers, and gather their resources, while the baby was taken care of by loving hands, sheltered safely within the family.
Burns remembers those days, when Louis took care of the baby girl. Burns has never met the girl face to face, but in some sense, he feels he knows her. Recently, the family celebrated the graduation from college, of the young lady, all grown up now, a full 21 years of age. The two old men have shared much time, and longer than she’s been alive.
The society of the ole burnout is not so sparse, now is it? The man has made friends among many, who continue to be so, as he moves on with life, expanding his environment. The man has friends all over, by this time in his life. People keep the man company in many ways, by many forms of interacting, the way the world is, with all the communicating available these days.
With Burns’ mind clearing, so also are his friendships.
He’s running out of time to do anymore writing tonight. This happens frequently. Burns no sooner gets up a good head of steam, and the “boiler overheats” for the night, so to speak. He needs to be taking his meds within the hour, to unwinding for a night’s rest, to prepare himself for another day. The med tech just brings meds and leaves them with the man.
He’s gotten some good work done today. Burns has the better part of another story already laid out on his laptop. He’s enjoying confidence in his work, and is doing the writing of a Barry Burns. Ole Burns was a major burnout in the 70s, who gave up a whole host of chemicals, to look for a life in a state of maturity. It finally occurred to him to write more and talk less.
Burns had a couple of times since maturity, where his ability to speak and write were greatly hampered by problems with his health. At first it was aphasia, then speech arrest. His access to language, in his thinking, had become an issue with him. There was a girl once, who told Burns he’d better start talking, or he would die. Burns was only twenty-four then.
But by the time he was in his 50s, he couldn’t talk.
There were a couple of times, when the man was mature, when he could not speak or write for himself at all. He was relieved of his wits at that time, and could not retain his possessions. Burns has an enthusiasm for writing, so he can tell stories digitally, to preserve them now. Whenever the world gets ready to read what he’s writing, they’ll be available.
The act of creating was the same with his writing music
Burns wrote his own, doing the work to be doing it. He was creating a body of work because he thought he could. Those works have gone nowhere, as far as the man can tell, the way things look in the world. He’s lost his originals and as well as his recordings. But there did exist a body of work, from when Burns went thru with that thrust of creativity, when he was young.
It was a time of maximum communication skills.
There is a need Burns feels, to confess his early recreational use of chemicals, when he had to self-medicate, before the man ever knew much about his disorder. He was a lamb to the slaughter, with pot sellers and shy-locks, who did their best to keep him separate from his money. The fact his maker gave him the choice to give up that life and go on, is nothing less than miraculous.
“If I don’t praise Him the rocks gonna cry out,” as the song says.
The man remembers that day with joy. Burns was doing someone a big favor by drinking with him. He was expected to count his beers, but counting was trivial to him. Burns was getting as drunk as humanly possible. He owed it to himself. The thought came to him, which was not his thought, “Take one more swig off that beer and you’re a dead man.”
Burns’ chances of survival during a whole period, were not worth a plug nickel, but his maker helped him nonetheless. There were tests and offers to be addressed and conquered, until Burns finally established himself as a sober citizen, living a respectable life among decent people. There’s no shame in being needy. His maker has provided him with the means to afford a comfortable living.
The man is busy making hay while the sun shines. He creates as a daily, spiritual exercise. As long as it’s available for him, Burns sets his mind and energy, to focus his natural creativity. The results amount to an amazing prolifery. He is humbled. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. But it’s likely to be something else good.
Burns no longer has to dread what he’ll do to keep body and soul together, in that old act of scraping pennies together, to buy a bottle of Mad Dog, with a meager bight of cheese and stale bread, to live on, until he found another way to get to a state hospital, was the way he used to live. That whole way of life he barely survived, is all over and done with, for an older Burns.
His God has given him a new way to live, with more healthy ways than Burns ever imagined, until he began to abstain. Burns has found a new way of life.
Engrossed in his work, Burns is not at all interested in retiring for the evening, even though he’s taken his night times, and it’s well after midnight. His major concept is, the time is to be grasped. His stream of consciousness flows, and the man is curious how far it will lead, before the meds take over and make him too groggy to focus. That moment is fast approaching.
The man is tempted to crack open a soda, as opposed to former habits, and sip on some of that rich vanilla, just to amuse himself, but that would mean putting down the laptop to get the plunder from the frig, and it’s the writing that’s the thing, at this fleeting moment. Burns has a unique focus that keeps him going, from thought to thought, as the night hurries on.
He’s been laying down the bones of this narrative with some alacrity, and he’s a little leery of making a false move toward the idea of giving up, before he’s got the better part of the work laid to rest on the virtual page. He’s more concerned with the work, than with himself. The work still comes, until he’s got some considerable writing to be claimed, of his own.
So here we are. The thoughts are coming to Burns, the hippie, flower child, aging child he happens to be. It seems no one is writing about flower children, while a whole generation has come into their own, with the latter part of middle age setting in, to lend a fresh perspective on beliefs and practices of the baby boomers, that Burns was so much a part of.
We have needed a champion, the aging children of a lost generation. At a time when people were always talking about our generation, we needed a focus. Everyone was young, strong and smoking wacko tobacco. So many long hairs lived long enough to repent of their hair, to work and afford to buy food for themselves and for their progeny.
Giving up whatever our vainglorious idea of a cause
for social change in those days, when we were young and high, besides getting our troops out of the rice paddies of Vietnam, nobody seems to have any idea. We know vaguely, the young people’s revolution of our times has long since failed. Mr Kennedy would have been disappointed with the lot of us.
But there’s another war going on, as if America has ever been short on wars, or enemies either. The propaganda ministry doesn’t ever seem short of reasons to fight. Baby boomers do not have substance for outrage to focus on, to mobilize an antiwar campaign, since we succeeded in getting our boys out of Vietnam. Propaganda has taken the lead out of our pencil.
In some ways, withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan are ideas that don’t seem to have much heart now, the way withdrawal from Vietnam was, to the baby boomer generation. There are no benefits for vets anymore, either. They don’t offer the kids any deals with substance to them. Put your life on the line, for principles you heard in assembly elementary school.
On the home front, he’s been watching his P’s and Q’s about things in general. Not much slips by the vigil. She’s got the home team game on, in the background, but Burns is the one who has her attention. She’s crazy about him. They both worked hard to establish a good, strong bond between them, built on mutual trust and love. It’s a strong foundation for success.
It’s been better than a ago year, since she deftly rolled up to him, in her electric wheelchair, and stole his heart away. She invited him to do something or other. He forgot what, now. But he had a thought he did not originate. “Go with her, and do as she asks.” He had never had a woman invoked for him before. It is powerful. He was head over heals in no time.
They spent their first months of courtship, putting each other through a testing of sorts. It was more like a dance or a game they must accomplish, in a thorough exactitude. Madam was listening and talking, so was Burns. They poured their hearts out in guarded, blatant, words before there was any other risk taken. This Eve was an amazing creation. The first woman.
It was a while before she intimated much of her one history to this verbose charmer, with sparkling eyes. There was a depth to him which was a curiosity. He had a disorder, which she could almost diagnose without research, but there was a mind there, which she enjoyed. She could not resist falling for him, because he knew the an entire nuance of her secret dance.
It was something his grandma used to tell Barry, a fairytale to a child. Each person has their own, secret dance, and there is only one other dancer, who knows that personal dance, to be done with a secret heart. No one else will ever know your dance, until that special person performs it without your prompting. It is a token you will be given, so you will know.
His grandma would talk to the child, as though he understood every word of what she had to say. But it was his memory she spoke to, not his immediate understanding. Her words had a way of growing on the man, as he matured with adjusting to a chemical imbalance. Issues were to be addressed, and problems there to be solved, and then there was Eve.
By a certain time in their lives, Barry and Eve were separately old and seasoned, in the ways of the world. They had both resigned themselves to being alone indefinitely. It was impossible, but firmly planted in her wheelchair, with legs which could not move, Eve danced Barry’s secret dance with his most secret heart that evening, and both knew neither was alone.
At first, they turned toward the gazebo or garden walkway, weather being favorable, but they couldn’t help but gravitate toward more out-of-the-way places soon enough, seeking privacy for some serious discourse of good, old fashioned discussion and language. Seriously, the only reason mankind ever invented language, in the first place, was to better win a fair lady.
She devised a meeting place, which was as public and as it was private, at the moment, and Eve called it, “her porch,” where she could roll up to him, in her wheelchair. She even arranged to have a chair brought to her “porch,” as well as one to her suite. Barry did his best to apply to, and be considerate of, Eve’s wishes, as they grew close.
The gravity between the two became apparent, soon enough to indicate their mutual humanity, and there we have a tale of old fashioned courtship, in a group home. Play by play commentary on most sports events is down right tedious, to say the least. If you cannot imagine an old, second hand car in a corn field, you have no business reading this.
Been there, done that.
They are, in a word, disabled seniors. She had a reaction to an inoculation in childhood, which left her paraplegic. She addressed life with an inspiring courage, which he could never hold a candle to. It wasn’t her fault, anymore than his genetic disorder was his. Nor could either claim to have a lack of handicap in this world, or refuse to rise above one.
Eve was the thrust in Barry’s sails. The man hungered for inspiration in everything. She seemed incredulous, at every turn of events between them, until she could finally fathom the reality of Barry’s love for her. Eve would audibly marvel, there was a man interested in her. She had, as he had, almost given up on being a part of that segment of humanity.
Eventually, there was a most amazing romantic storm the two had ever known in their lives. They conjectured they’d been chosen for a blessing, because of a faithfulness. Eve loved all things living, all her life, Barry took on absolute abstinence. They ended up doing ordinary things, like sitting chatting, or she might read a book, while he wrote.
The storm had abated.
They liked to talk about storms. Wind and rain was the only bit of nature available to them, other than a few trees and shrubs, here and there. Eve liked to feel the rain enter her clothing, as she proceeded to get wet. There were people storms, and conversation storms, and the two usually happened by surprise, disrupting a golden moment.
They had such moments, especially when Barry’s disorder overwhelmed him, which it would do once in a while, but their love grew and endured through it. They developed a sense of devotion to each other, along with their devotion to their maker. There was a spirit of blessing about their relationship, which was unmistakeable.
Others acclaimed it.
The couple’s world was small enough. There was the group home, their two suites, the grounds, and the few shops they’d occasion. She had a daughter, and he had a brother, who were close. With handicaps, it was more comfortable to stay closer to home. Friends were in-house, and there was the group home providing their needs.
The home had a census of 52 residents, and everyone knew everyone, at least, someone you knew, knew someone you didn’t know. The most challenging moments were at communal meals, which were seldom appreciated by very many of the diners. Tensions mounted, and anxieties about individual issues were vented in the process of being fed.
There was to be no public display of affection between them, anywhere in their world. There was no hand holding, no kissing, nothing. This policy was absolute, and preserved their reputation as a couple. They enjoyed a respect from their community. What happens in private is nobody’s business, and that is a liberty to be respected and guarded carefully.
If two do private things in public, they don’t have privacy anymore. Those things are no longer secret, but known. Those things would be shared, one to everyone, and embellished, becoming elaborate fictions convicting of the known couple, since that’s any society. It is conducive to distrust and disrespect, therefore: present mystery to a public.
It’s not so much his physical actions getting him in trouble these days, as it is his verbal behavior, which seems to be the crux of the social problem Burns is having to face. When considering some of the things he’s already said, the ladies at the dinner table were up in arms, in a somewhat formal setting. He marvels at how crude he must seem to others.
The alarming thing, from his own perspective, is a lack of alarm at his own choices. It takes concentration for him to edit his comments effectively, before voicing them at the table, or making a choice there, to leave them unsaid. Others don’t seem to have similar fascinations and orientations he has with workings of language, and he teeters on the brink of sanctions against him.
Concentrating on the content of his remarks, at some of their subsequent meals, Barry does differentiate the nature of one possible comment from another, and successfully edits his speech. Eve is no longer embarrassed. He can’t help but sense the instabilities involved in being off to the races of accomplishing what is positively demanded of him in his central social circle.
Ray’s parties, and Barry’s date, come to mind for some reason. If Barry had ever been in a socially restricting situation, surely those highbrow parties at Ray’s were the thing. Barry marveled then, how easily he gained both acceptance and respect, from not only his host and hostess, but his date, as well. Barry, the revolutionary, enjoyed a moment of acceptability.
Ray’s party seemed an impossible task for him to accomplish, but Barry pulled it off quite without thinking. Where had the maverick in him disappeared to at that point? The formal setting, with coat and tie, was not shattered by anything shocking, and Barry skated the whole way through. Additionally, it seems his content in writing is not unreasonably shocking either.
Writing is such a magical medium to work in, where there lies a redemption to an otherwise misunderstanding and forgiving for an unintentional affront.
Let us examine the semantics of this and the alliteration of that. Where the hand of man has not set foot. The lawyer can’t make coffee without the grounds for it. Such things remain an unequaled cleverness to him.
The damages done with awkward comments, do take their toll, but life does go on, after all. One must remember, time wounds all heels. What’s comforting is to have someone who is fully mature, who does not take to her heels at the slightest provocation. Each of us strays from our way, and one never does witness the literal lost sheep in the passing, any longer.
There was a simpler, less complicated time.
One wonders where such occupations as shepherd have gone, in this time of technology. It would seem a sacrilege for one to repose, as one of the major acts of employment. The principle task of children was once to supervise ants, of watching the grass grow, relegated to elders. There exists book markers, to facilitate the measure of what we’ve lost.
Author: George Geisinger
All Right Reserved 2019
Ray Of Thought