The Last Sunset
The wonders of life. A new baby born at this moment might live for 100 years, or the poor thing may never take that first breath. Any number on the roulette wheel of time. A game of chance. No rules, no guarantees, just odds and averages.
Let me tell you about Blaine. I remember him from his Boy Scout days, he and my brother Corey were pretty tight by then. I imagine they knew each other from school, or baseball, or fishing beforehand. Our world was smaller back then, there weren’t many strangers. Corey and Blaine reminded me of Scooby and Shaggy, working together to solve life’s mysteries while providing reels of cartoonish comedy.
Everything was so different. A police scanner was an important media outlet. When the busybody up the road would call my Mom to inform her that my brother’s name had just breached the airways, Blaine’s name would usually be part of the same bulletin. By sundown, everyone would know. Mom would wear a sober face for a few days, wishing nobody knew, but knowing better. The small town network. If there was some sort of car accident, even though each were excellent drivers, they would both share bumps and bruises. They were a team.
Smiling, all the while. They’d meet French girls down at the beach, and make several jaunts to Canada. One trip comes to mind where Blaine had a beat up old Chevy, El Camino I think. When he showed up at our house his front wheel was loose and wobbly, ready to fall off. The wheel studs were all stripped, or broken, I was able to patch it up with stock car parts. Off they went, Quebec bound, not a care or much mechanical aptitude between them. Dumb luck would usually be with them, like a protective older sister. Corey was refused at the border on one of the adventures, and got in the old fashioned way. Through the woods. I like to imagine what the border guards might have thought, as it played out in real time. Where’s your buddy, boys?
As the cool little brother, who could fix cars, I was always welcome. In the club. As I got older, I had a few memorable times with Blaine. I remember pooling money as we sat in front of Plummer’s, buying a pack of smokes and a single mountain dew, to share amongst a carful.
I remember sitting outside a sandwich shop while a friendly local fellow may or may not have made an unauthorized alcohol purchase. He handed us the bag, saying, “Now be sure and tell your Dad they was out of longnecks, I had to get him pounders instead.” Like I said, it was a different world.
One sunset found me on my trusty Schwinn Varsity ten speed, headed to a high school soccer game. Before football found our district, in the dark ages. I ran into Blaine, and Dave Jordan, and may or may not have witnessed the ‘beers for my Dad’ scenario. I can’t recall, with certainty. I remember chaining my bike to a dumpster, and I’m pretty sure I had a blast. My red Schwinn vanished, stolen, while I was off gallivanting. I never saw that bike again, and I had really loved her, we’d been through a lot.
There’s a whole bunch of lessons in there somewhere, but I’d probably play it the same way, if I got another shot. Sunrise found me walking, with a pounding headache, and a nasty taste in my mouth. Like a dirty ashtray.
I was included on a winter hike, up Doublehead Mountain, in New Hampshire. Corey, Blaine, and Jamie Young, on a last minute loosely planned mission. Fairly prepared, but not really. We would have flunked any kind of pre-hike inspection. Sunset found us pulling into a trailhead parking lot, fairly certain that we had the right one. Struggling on borrowed snowshoes, fighting with tiny buckles and cold leather bindings. Snowing, of course, as we scrambled up a steep narrow trail. It was rough, with lots of stops, sharing a crappy red plastic eveready flashlight that needed a whack about every 5 seconds. We saw a tiny wooden shelter holding a rescue toboggan, in the longest, hardest part of our trek. We took a timely breather as we joked about the bad omen. How many rescues take place before they just leave a stretcher here? Someone mentioned propping the sled against the shelter, and huddling under the makeshift canopy. Not much room, but we were all quiet for a moment, as we considered the idea.
It was tough going. We fought on, in single file, like we were conquering Everest herself. We finally made the cabin, and got a fire going. A short celebration, we were all exhausted, but booze flowed.
My best memory is waking early, making crude coffee, and venturing out with Blaine, to watch the sunrise over the snowy valley. The others wanted no part of this, cinching up their sleeping bag drawstrings to hide their faces. Peaceful, with the silence of cold, we shared a nasty cigarette, before he belted out a line from a Black Sabbath song, shattering the stillness.
NO MORE WAR PIGS HAVE THE POWER!!!
The song will always hold a spot in my personal jukebox. B-9.
Another New Hampshire trip, just Blaine and I, this time. Better weather, we had planned a summer hike. Safer. Corey had backed out at the last minute, and he was supposed to provide the wheels.
We ended up sweet talking my mother into letting Blaine drive her Opel wagon to the mountains.
She was wary, as any intelligent mother would be, but I begged, and she caved. Off we went. We made the mountains all right but ended up goofing off, behind schedule. Sunset found us sitting in a parking lot behind the big yellow arches in North Conway. We gabbed and joked and carried on, sharing a day of a life, and a pile of laughs. Sunrise would find us cramped up and squinty-eyed, waking up in that same parking lot, in the yellow Opel. Some hiking trip. Like all of these memories, I’d do it again.
I took a job on the road for a while, so I missed a lot, but Corey and Blaine remained tight. They both settled down a bit, and started families. My nephews are named Corey and Blaine. That’s tight.
Life is hard, family dynamics change rapidly. Both men would struggle, but did their best to get along.
Corey later married, and we were all in the party, both Coreys and both Blaines. I remember getting a rapid tour around Peaks Island, with a new in-law older gent at the wheel. Big Blaine rode shotgun, and talked him up for the whole voyage, while brother Ed and I chuckled heartily from the back seat. Blaine even looked like Shaggy, that night. Shaggy in a tux.
We lost Big Corey not long after that, and everything changed. I never really grieved with Blaine, but it left a big hole in both of us, it had to be pretty hard on him. Had to be. You don’t just get over it.
I’d see Blaine, quite often at Plummer’s grocery store. He’d always smile and ask about my Mom, and mention that he’d seen her at a yard sale the weekend before. Solid manners, and he meant it. He would wrap up with reminding me to be sure and say hello to Mom, for him. Every single time.
He would bring her fresh parsnips from his garden, and she would catch up, while he was there. Both had to be flushed with memories of better days, with damp eyes and dry throats. It had to be hard.
I’d see Blaine from time to time, usually alone, and I’d always picture that happy Boy Scout, from the old days. I saw him one day, riding behind a petite blonde on a big old Harley. She was wobbling and chugging the clutch as they pulled out, and he lurched backward, holding on for dear life. He had that same old Shaggy grin, as they sputtered off. The one I remember.
His grin had lost some luster, pain will eat at you. Our relationship would suffer. I had helped him out by fixing a couple appliances for him, and I wouldn’t take his money, I was glad to visit for a few minutes. To reminisce. I found out later that he had taken it personally, and he’d never again call me for help.
Some things you can’t fix. I still didn’t want his money. He’d always talk to me, and be polite, but the old light was fading fast, the happy Boy Scout was far behind. Still, he’d never forget to have me say hi to Mom.
I had to stop and see Mom today, to give her the news. Blaine says Hi, but he’s in the hospital, and they’re just trying to keep him comfortable, now. His body is letting him down, at just 56.
I could see it hurting Mom while I was still saying it. Like it’s hurting me right now, to type it.
It’s just so damn sad. I hate being the one to tell her, bringing her the damp eyes and a lumpy throat, time after time. Aging her.
I’m sorry for his family, and circle of friends. It isn’t fair, by any means.
I’m sad for you, Blaine, and for every bit of pain and darkness that you’ve ever had to choke down. I hope you get to where you’re going without much fuss, and my brother better be there waiting for you. Punch him. Then tell him I said Hi.
I’m sure hoping that’s how it all works.
Time is heartless, there’s no schedule, no promise. Build a life that makes you happy. It’s never too late.
The mighty Oaks are still green, holding all of their color until the very end, while sunset finds the pretty Maple dropping the last of her leaves. The Oak will catch up eventually, but not today, or tomorrow.
We will all face our final sunset, whether we realize, or even suspect it to be.
Let it find you Living