Jake Skibba 1979-2016
Only the Memories
Oh, how tiny you were.
You couldn't latch on,
refused to perform
for gentle neo-natal nurses.
Warm soy milk.
How mottled you were.
When at last I brought you home
your grandmother wondered
how I could care for one so small.
How I'd walk with you, wide-eyed
in your yellow umbrella stroller.
I showed you the new bridge and
the Sugar Bowl cafe coming down.
Dust and noise.
How you were mistaken for a girl.
It was my fault, of course.
I couldn't bear to cut your hair
after the spot they shaved grew back.
How we visited the library
and borrowed puzzles,
but all you wanted to do
was put the pieces in a frying pan.
How you had to be coaxed into
eating breakfast before school.
I'd make a “happy plate,”
arranging your food like a picture.
How you loved those stories
about a badger named Frances
(with her smug disposition)
and a mischievous child named Hattie.
“Hattie be quiet. Hattie be good”
you'd pretend to read aloud,
enunciating the double T's,
and exhaling with your H's.
No baby talk.
How you beamed in first grade,
darting from your room that day,
exclaiming “I can read! I can read!
Mom, I can read!”
Think light bulb.
How you loved my sticky notes.
You put one on the ironing board
that said “I need a hog.” When discovered,
I indulged you with a loving hug instead.
Mistakes don't matter.
How you loved collecting things.
Erasers of every shape and color
appeared at our feet, arranged like careful mosaics,
blocking doorways, gracing halls.
Fine art, I said.
How you never fussed about wearing
glasses at the ripe old age of eight.
“They emphasize your intellect,” I said,
and you never took them off.
Smug little nerd.
How you ran to me with a tiny cut
I'd cover with a band-aid, careful not
to touch the sticky part until affixed to you.
“Only moms do it that way,” you said.
When Band-aids did the job.
How you found yourself in Catholic school –
new town, new school, new 8-year olds.
You sat quietly for morning mass
when all the others knelt or stood.
How, on the last day of fifth grade,
you taped a note to my bedroom door.
“I really want to move back home,”
you begged, “I want to live with Dad.”
How you cooperated with my need
to see you every weekend then,
traveling half the way with Dad
and half the way with me.
Parking lot exchange.
How you saved your money all year long
to light the sky and blow things up
on the fourth day of July –
an annual show for friends, for family.
Your own tradition.
How you delivered the news on roller blades,
so swift, so sure – self-satisfied.
Newsprint photo on page one. It's you,
with a story to make a mom proud.
Below the fold.
How we loved to try to catch the other
with some crazy made-up story.
Like the night I told you stop signs
weren't meant to be obeyed after midnight.
How you memorized your favorite lines
from movies that you loved,
and delivered them with perfect timing.
Someone else's words to fill the void between us.
How you moved across the stage,
the class of '97.
I watched you, in slow motion,
as you took that turning point with honors.
4.0 gold tassel.
How you insisted on a private room
in the freshman dorm that fall,
your need for solitude no mystery.
And when we left, you quickly closed the door.
How, that first semester, you met the devil
whose name was Calculus.
His vulgar voice inside your head played on and on,
“You're not so smart, this pond is large, young man.”
Not like high school.
How you let that devil ruin you.
How quickly you gave up.
“How's it feel in that big pond, little fish?”
The only voice you heard, the only one that mattered.
Big fish abound.
How then you turned to music, with
classical guitar, your major.
And next you thought “a pastry chef, the culinary arts.”
Or architectural landscape since you liked to mow the lawn.
Out of focus.
How you took a job, short-order cook.
Who could know the sway of kitchen staff,
the drugs, the alcohol,
would take you on that dangerous ride?
How you floundered that next decade.
In school, out of school, this job, that –
Nothing ever satisfied
that drive you had to be the best.
How you lived with a woman who cheated
on you – six long tumultuous years.
Then three more years would come and go
before I learned that secret and the pain it put you through.
Afraid to try again.
How you pulled yourself together then –
Good job, a mortgage, your best-friend dog.
You fenced your yard and
in the spring your neighbors loved your rhubarb.
A house not home.
How the house you bought was old,
rundown, and needed everything.
You thought you'd fix it up,
but all you did was tear up every room.
Not a fix-it-yourself kinda' guy.
How we took a spade along
to walk your dog on public trails
and stole the tiny maple trees
still standing, alone now, in your yard.
How you loved all manner of music
and copied library CDs.
The perfect illegal hobby for a single guy
with student loans, car payments, and a long commute.
How the more you regretted buying
your humble property,
the higher grew the weeds
and your tools, left out, now rusted.
How the lack of garbage pick-up
meant you hauled your own detritus, paid a fee.
So your car gave up the garage
to bags and bags of that which wouldn't burn.
How you had less, and less, and less to say --
to me . . . or anyone.
The times we spent together, all the empty space
you'd try to fill by showing me your best-loved tv shows.
How you kept your problems from me.
Addictions, loneliness, regrets.
I thought it meant you felt more settled,
and perhaps with age, you'd mellowed.
Little did I know.
How you took the future into your own hands,
choosing to leave us all bewildered.
With an email note apologizing
for any inconvenience you may have caused.
Braided, yellow rope.