I lead an unexpected life, a life I never imagined for myself. As a child, growing up in the trailer park, I lived life by the episode. Rushing home from school to see the next installment of Dark Shadows, or later, as a teenager, the daytime drama of All My Children — would Luke and Laura ever work it all out? The only TV drama I follow these days is Grey’s Anatomy — will Drs. McDreamy and Grey ever work it all out?
But it seems I still live life by the episodes, only now it’s the next installment on my life that I’m paying attention too. Will she ever work it all out?
I don’t know. I can only say that I’m trying.
I came to the FayObserver on a prompting. I was not actively seeking a job and in fact, turned them down when they came calling this past spring. But then Sister Tater came for a visit and we went to DC together for the Memorial Day Services. Then she went to visit a friend in Knoxville and I drove over to Crossville to visit with Gordon and Pam. I remember when the prompting came. I was in the bedroom, packing up some things, when I felt that quickening and heard that inner voice that said, “Pay attention. Take this job.” I paused and cocked my head and said, “You sure?” And the quickening came again. It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t the voice of God. It wasn’t a voice at all. It was just a knowing. A glimpse that this would be the next episode, so stay tuned.
When I came here in August, the plan was for me to work the job for a year and then do an assessment. Should we move the household south, as I have been wont to do for so long? If the answer was yes, Tim would apply for law school at UNC and we’d start a new chapter. That was the plan.
But I’m not the one writing this script. I’m only a small-time consultant on this screenplay. Rarely do I get to read a day or two ahead.
Take last night for instance. I called Pam, late. She told me that Gordon was alert. That was hard for me to believe given the condition I’d seen him in over the weekend. He lies in a hospital bed in the sunroom throughout the day and night. He is swollen like a balloon about to burst. The lymphoma has caused ulcerating wounds in his thighs and groin. His left hand lays limp at his side, his right hand clutching the tops of the covers or a hand that’s offered. His eyes do not focus but stare beyond whoever is leaning over the bed. The Gordon I know and love has vacated the house.
Or so it seemed.
But last night Pam held the phone up to Gordon’s ear and I told him, “Hey Gordon, I lost my job. I’m leaving the paper.”
“Well,” he said. “How come?”
“Budget cuts. It’s this bad economy.”
“I hate that for you,” he said.
Gordon had loved Fayetteville, loved coming to visit the town when Eddie was in Airborne school. He’d been so excited when I took the job.
“I bet you wish you were planting tomatoes,” I said.
“I hate that you’re in that sick bed.”
“It’s crazy,” he said.
“I know it is, buddy.”
“I don’t like it much.”
“I know you don’t. I hate that this has happened to you.”
“Me, too,” he said.
“I love you, Gordon.”
Pam took the phone back and we visited some. We talked about the clarity Gordon was displaying last night.
“If it weren’t so late, I’d call the kids to let them talk to Gordon,” she said.
It’s both a blessing and a curse to have had him be so lucid. A blessing for those of us in the wings, watching, praying, hoping. A curse for him, the knowing of how sick he really is. Just how long that knowing lasts, none of us are sure. He had lucid moments like last night and then drifting moments where he seems far off yonder someplace.
When I was at Gordon’s this weekend, I leaned over the bed and told him about Lucky the chicken. I read to him a chapter from Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? — the story of a man I call the Ambassador. I don’t know if Gordon understood any of the stories or not. He kept his eyes open but he never said a word.
But Pam? She laughed herself silly over both stories.
The things I miss most about Gordon are the stories he used to tell me. The ones that left me breathless from laughing. I have yet to meet a better storyteller than Charles “Flash” Wofford.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about the demise of newspapers. She is one of my most conservative friends. Someone who likely considers journalists part of that liberal biased bunch. I was trying to put into words the value of newspapers and journalists. But words failed me. I could not articulate the value of newspapers to a society.
But I woke this morning with clarity of thought and I knew.
Newspapers are the heartbeat of a community.
They keep track of the pulse of a society.
Right now that pulse is like Gordon’s — strong one minute — but fading fast.
I don’t even want to imagine a world absent that heartbeat.
That world will be filled with a deadly silence.