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No Corona, No Lime... Only Lemons

Sick and Tired of Lemonade

By C. Rommial ButlerPublished 2 years ago 7 min read


My father died yesterday. Because of the quarantine measures taken on account of the COVID-19 scare, he died in the hospital with no one there to hold his hand. His wife, Barb, had promised to be there. She was torn apart by the realization that she was not able to keep her word. We knew he was approaching his end. He knew best of all. The night before, he called his brothers and sisters to tell them the end was approaching—to say goodbye. We had thought we would be able to get him home before the end, but he didn't make it. I got the call from Barb around seven in the morning. Weeping, she told me he was gone.

I felt relief for my father. He fought for years with heart trouble, diabetes, and finally leukemia. He never contracted the corona virus, and he was certainly tested frequently enough for us to have known. I felt great pain for his wife, who I have come to know and love just as much as I do my father in the eight years they were together.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way, she said.

How often does life live up to our expectations? So rarely has it done so for me that I stopped having expectations long ago.

Life is a river

whose currents

are too strong to navigate.

I am merely flotsam

floating aimlessly

towards some unknown fate.

Poetry was always a way for me to represent this flotsam back to myself, to make sense of the wreckage of my own life.

Who am I? Catatonic bravado, mostly. Or so it seems. My natural reflex, when trial too quickly follows trial, has been to fall into the cycle of feigning indifference so that I can pretend it doesn't hurt.

I don't know how to stop because there is too much pain. My fate seems to be as strange as it is unknown. Perhaps it is as such for us all, but others are simply wise enough to impose their own imaginary symbols over the wreckage, to create meaning where none before existed, to haunt the ruins of fortune with the ghosts of their childhood fantasies. Thus populated, a ruin may become a home, all the world a stage, destiny the child of our dreams, conceived in joy, rather than the raging monster that stomps through the landscape of our most profound, heartfelt wishes.

But the knower cannot become wise because there is always more to know. The unknown becomes his mistress; also, a wrathful goddess. The knower must be a spiritual masochist, after all, to endure the suffering that results from refusing to automate consciousness. The knower wants to see it all no matter how often it blows up in his face, but he takes so much shrapnel that he is sometimes incapacitated or rendered dysfunctional in the aftermath.

The thing, among many things, which I always loved most about my father was that he would not tell me what I wanted to hear to spare my feelings. I learned so much more from him than anyone else in my life because he always told me the truth and he never sugar coated it; yet somehow, it never went down rough. I think this is because it was coming from a man I respected, who showed me by example what it meant to be a man. Had I not had this wonderful man as my teacher in life, I have no doubt that I would not have endured the adversity which has been my lot. As to where I got the intrepid curiosity that makes me so passionately lean into life's intellectual cluster bombs, I can't blame that on my father. He was by no means unintelligent, but he didn't care much for hypercritical thinking. He was very down to earth and dependable, which was, I think, the root of his blunt but helpful nature.

My brother Bert and I went to the hospital to see his body. We were mystified and angry at the idea that we could congregate here now, in the aftermath of his death, but were not allowed to sit with him when even he knew he was dying. I don't blame the doctors and nurses on the floor. These are tough times and tough decisions are made; yet I can't help but think that there is a coterie of corporate lawyers and bureaucrats who ultimately decide on such policies, and their interest was not saving my father's life or seeing that he passed from it in peace, but only to assess and curtail liability for their establishment.

When we got to his room, Barb was sitting next to him, holding his right hand. We hugged her as one of the nurses brought in chairs for us. My brother sat and held his left hand, while I sat next to Barb. We talked about the circumstances, the last time each of us spoke to him, what he wanted—he wanted to be cremated and to have a celebration of life, rather than a funeral.

Sometimes Barb would put her head down on his arm and weep. At one point she had to go lay on the couch, so I took his hand in her stead. It didn't seem right that someone shouldn't hold her place. When she returned I relinquished that place again. These little instinctive acts happen at a distance for me. I have over the years come to suspect that other people experience their lives very intimately within themselves. I seem to be watching myself, watching the world, assimilating its values. There is a void inside me, and in that void is an eye that tries to take account of everything in some objective way.

What am I trying to calculate? I don't know, and I am unsure if it will ever matter. The mechanism sputters out into a silent eternity. All I can do is let it roll and roll with it too.

My father's corpse looked peaceful. I like to think this an indication that he passed peacefully, oblivious to any pain as he parted ways with this harrowing life, which he lived so well, with so much dignity, decency, and honor.

Bert and I left the hospital room, where Barb still kept vigil at my father's side. We hung out for a while at my place. At one point, we were streaming music and Bert played Alan Jackson's Remember When, which was Dad's favorite song. As it played, I closed my eyes and had a vivid flash of memory. Myself, a child, playing in the living room while Dad jammed out to the record player as he cleaned. I wept.

In my memory, that particular song was playing, but I looked it up. Remember When didn't come out until 2003, and I grew up in the 1980s. I suppose I made a composite of the song and the genuine memory of my dad jamming tunes as he took care of his home, which was a common occurrence during my childhood. He would sing along, play air guitar, and I would laugh at his antics. Sometimes the other people in our life are like characters in a beloved movie, frozen and immortalized in our memories like light burns images onto film.

We are forever exposed.

My father was larger than life, and he will always be there, in the theater of my mind, as a cherished memory that never gets old, never dies, never stops being worth a visit on a Sunday afternoon. Chili cooking, football queued up on the TV, ribald conversation and shenanigans around the kitchen table.

I weep.

I weep as I write this.

But I cannot despair, for the time for despair has passed. If I learned anything from my father, it is to keep my head up and keep moving forward, because life doesn't wait for us to catch up, and eventually, even when we manage to get ahead, life catches up to us. What else can we do?

The old saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade; but sometimes there are so many lemons we can't use them all, and who doesn't get sick of eating the same thing over and over? Sometimes we must leave the lemons to rot beneath the tree, for the creatures of the plains and forest, who will make better use of them before they give the rinds and seeds back to the earth.

We are like fruit whose rind has softened and peeled away. Our lives are the seeds of the present that plant themselves in the soil of the future. It goes on and on. My father took the seed of a boy and grew from it a man. He did it with care and sincerity. For this I will be forever grateful, as I know everyone is not so fortunate.

My mother also passed from a terminal illness, just a little over seven years before my father. I was fortunate enough to have had two good parents in my life, unfortunate enough to lose them too soon; but then, it would always feel like it was too soon, wouldn't it?

Therefore must I count my blessings, and push forward on the path set before me—a path I must make on my own—leaving the excess lemons to the creatures of the plains and forest.

That is, after all, what Dad would have wanted me to do.

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About the Creator

C. Rommial Butler

C. Rommial Butler is a writer, musician and philosopher from Indianapolis, IN. His works can be found online through multiple streaming services and booksellers.

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  • Sarah G.2 years ago

    This brought me to tears. You did a fantastic job of articulating those inarticulable things about grief, self-awareness, and relationships. I'm going to be chewing on this line for a while, "Sometimes we must leave the lemons to rot beneath the tree, for the creatures of the plains and forest, who will make better use of them before they give the rinds and seeds back to the earth."

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