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Brian MacDonald and Robert Haydon Jones

MacDonald_Jones_RE

Brian MacDonald
Created using Robert Haydon Jones’s story (below) as inspiration

Warm Up
By Robert Haydon Jones

“I’ve had the most fantastic idea for a new business for us,” Michael Muldoon said to Jimmy O’Hara, the moment he answered the phone. “We’ll record each of us saying, ‘WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’

First you, then me – or in any order we please, doesn’t matter. Back and forth for three minutes or so. ‘ WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’ again and again.”

That was the start of a conversation that meandered between them for several minutes giving each man natural cover and surprising each of them with genuine laughter neither expected.

They wondered how many downloads they would get on iTunes. Then they decided they should offer more of the old standards they had developed during their years in the rooms – and do an album:

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
I’LL SHOW YOU – I’LL HURT MYSELF!
ISOLATION IS A PROVEN CURE FOR LONELINESS.

And O’Hara’s favorite, I’M PROUD OF MY HUMILITY – IT IS SECOND TO NONE!

“Jesus, Jimmy, “Muldoon said, “What a blessing it is to laugh. Thanks old friend. I thought I knew it all about the powerless stuff but this has got me to a place I’ve never been before, drunk or sober.”

O’Hara kept silent.

“Here it is, two days on, five since he went into the hospice and just a few minutes ago, I told Marge that I keep hoping this will be over soon so Dermot and I can get on the phone and talk about it.

At the end, I was there holding his hand. They say, ‘ took his last breath’ – but actually that’s wrong. There’s a last exhale and no return. That’s the way of it.”

“I never thought of it like that,” said O’Hara.

“I miss my brother,” Muldoon said.

“ I miss my brother, ” O’Hara said.

“Oh, I know you do dear friend. I thought I knew it two years back when you lost George – but I didn’t really know, did I? Now I do. Now I’ve lost my brother and there you are for me. I don’t have to explain anything.”

“No, you don’t. But you should talk to me. “

“That I will,” said Muldoon. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

O’Hara laughed. They talked a while longer. Right before they finished, O’Hara cautioned Muldoon, “Don’t be looking at the old photos for a while. They can really blind-side you.”

“Thanks for that, Jimmy. That’s good advice. Stay safe.”
And then he was gone.

Maybe five minutes later O’Hara got blindsided as he sorted through a stack of CD’s looking for some Mozart to play during dinner. Stuck between two plain crystal blocks next to the CD player was a shot of him arm-in-arm with George.

George was smiling as usual but even now O’Hara was startled to see his kid brother, the famous Rugby fullback, so frail and wan. What had it been… just two months or so before George would die in the hospice?

George’s wife, Mary, had insisted on taking the shot. “Never enough coverage of the O’Hara brothers”, she joked. “One of us is a legend in his own mind,” George said.

O’Hara looked hard at the photo – now that he was looking at it. He remembered a line by some good mystery writer that the eyes of people in photos changed after they died.

When he had first read the line, he knew it was so good it had to be true even if it wasn’t. And it was true. George’s eyes were different now then they were when O’Hara had first seen the shot when his wife poked it in between the blocks shortly after they returned from visiting George.

The next time O’Hara saw George was in the hospice. O’Hara realized now as he looked at the photo that during the four days of hospice vigil he had kept wishing things would resolve soon so he could call George and talk about it.

O’Hara looked at himself in the photo. Older than George, but not frail and wan. Definitely not frail. Definitely not wan. Burly. Tough. Weathered. Happy in his own skin. A legend in his own dim mind.

O’Hara felt a surge of shame. He could feel himself blushing. How could he be so dim?

At dawn on his next to last day, George asked the nurses to prop him up so he could see the sun rise. At dawn the next morning, the hospice called and said to come quick. O’Hara got dressed quick but he paused and wolfed down the hotel’s hearty breakfast special. When he got to the hospice the family was huddled. George was gone.

How could he be so dim?

Jimmy O’Hara knew the answer. He understood it now – finally. That was a blessing – the fruit of years of valiant labor with inspired, courageous, steadfast guides.

He had been dim for the same reason that when all hell was breaking loose and there was terror everywhere — he was icy cold. Years later men would tell O’Hara that when they would look back or flash back on the terror, they would see O’Hara very calmly taking care of business.

They would ask him how he did it. And he would tell them it was no big deal. Because terror really was no big deal for O’Hara. You might say he had been there and done that.

A year after George died, O’Hara took his wife out for dinner and told her that he loved her – and that he wanted to do a better job of loving her – and that he thought he could – now that he finally had some recovery.

She nodded. He had been in the rooms for more than twenty years.“I don’t mean my recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol,” O’Hara said. “I mean from stuff that goes way before that. I mean all the trauma I went through as a child.“

She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “I’ve seen you changing these last years, Jimmy, she said. “You’ve always been a good guy – but you never seemed to know it.

Plus you had that chronic wariness about you. I don’t know anyone else who’s married to a man who sleeps propped up on one arm – like he’s ready to jump up in a second.

You’re not doing that so much any more – and when someone says something nice to you, you let it go – you always used to act angry about a compliment. So, I’ve seen a big change. It’s been a nice surprise. I was afraid to say anything.”

O’Hara felt a surge of shame. He could feel himself blushing.

“Thanks, Anne,” he said. “ Sorry to put you through it so long.”

“You’re the one who’s been through it so long, Jimmy. I don’t know everything that happened when you were little – but I know a lot. It makes me angry they put such a blight on your life.”

A blight on his life! The shame surge came on again accompanied by his old friend Rosy Blush.

It was true. He had never thought of it as blight though – he had thought of it as a kind of immunity. He had lived most of his life behind a sort of “as if” insulation. He was real lonely behind it. But he was safe.

The insights that had come with recent recovery didn’t stop the shame surges – but now he could ride them out – and allow himself to be okay. So he had been dim about George. That was okay. George would have been the first to understand – in fact he did understand.

George had always given Jimmy permission to be. He loved Jimmy. Same parents and grandparents, same house, same family, and George knew all about love. Amazing!

O’Hara had no idea about love then – although he sure liked the idea.God, blight was the word. Blight and frost.

He put the Mozart on.

Had he always been dead cold? It was hard to think about. Had he never known? He wondered about it.

Yesterday he had read the obituary of a legendary female porn star.

From O’Hara’s home town but a lot younger. Janice had been a famous child model. She was 18 or 19 when she married Dave Jenkins, one of O’Hara’s friends from High School.

A couple of weeks after their honeymoon, Dave Jenkins threw a tailgate party at a Yale football game. O’Hara came with a girl. They all sat on blankets and ate sandwiches and drank beer. Janice was coming on strong with all the men. The men flirted back. Their women were visibly angry.

When she turned it on with O’Hara, he just noted it like a taxidermist would with an unusual specimen. There was a wild gleam in her eyes. Not so much lust, O’Hara thought, but something feral and savage.

Think ferret teeth.

He saw her see his detachment. Her eyes changed for an instant as if they had bumped into something. Then they gleamed again and she threw her head back and laughed. It was a short, unpleasant, guttural sound — like a bark.

A few days later Dave Jenkins told O’Hara that he was desperate about Janice running around. “We’re going to LA,” he said. “ Janice says she wants to be in the movies. I love her. I’m going to give it a try.”

Her iconic porn film opened three years later. It grossed $50 million.

O’Hara headed on to the dining room. Janice had made him for what he was in a heartbeat. And in that heartbeat, O’Hara realized now, he had seen himself too. And then quickly looked away.

She had me at the first, ‘no thanks’, he thought. He felt fearful. But he could deal with it. He wondered idly if he had any old photos of Janice. If he did, he would check out the eyes.

——————————————————-

MacDonald_Jones_INSP

Brian MacDonald
Inspiration piece provided to Robert Haydon Jones

Wild Thing
By Robert Haydon Jones

If you had said the phrase, “Innocent Bystanders”, to Jimmy O’Hara back in the day, he might have come back at you with some talk about the ghastly feelings that pervade in the ghastly aftermath of an air strike that went a tad wrong.

Or he might have talked of children from dysfunctional families – children of alcoholics, addicts, workaholics, abusers, criminals and crazies. In fact, to this day, Jimmy O’Hara often says, “Alcoholism is a disease that specializes in innocent bystanders.”

But love? Lightning bolt, wham, love? No way, right?

Look, people remember different ways. Let me ask you: Were you ever an “innocent bystander?” Did you get over it? Some times people do. No, I don’t know what the percentage is. Yes, I know a lot of people don’t get over it. I guess it just depends.

Jimmy O’Hara was an unhappy married man and father of three boys, when he met Anne, an unhappy married woman, mother of a girl and two boys. It was like the movies. Neither one of them was expecting anything. They met by accident and immediately they were crazy for each other. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. (I sincerely hope you know exactly what I’m talking about here from personal experience.) They didn’t know what to do – but after a while (way too long for both of them) they got divorced.

Jimmy moved in with Anne. (She lived in the same suburban town.) His former wife remained with his children in his former house. So he saw his children a lot. They would come over after school on the bus – and they often stayed weekends. Anne’s house was a rambling Victorian on the river – so there was plenty of room. The kids got along real well. It was a happy story.

On the first February vacation, Jimmy took everyone to Jamaica and they all had a blast. The kids had their own rooms. In the mornings, Jimmy and Anne would see two or three waiters staggering along with enormous breakfast trays to the kid’s rooms. So, it is a happy story. (Jimmy and Anne continue to be crazy for each other. They argue a lot (and makeup) – and Jimmy has rehabs in his future — but they crazy love each other.) So, it is definitely a very happy story.

Except, of course, it is also a very sad story for the innocent bystanders. Jimmy and Anne are not even a little bit aware of the reality. To be fair about it, Jimmy and Anne had been so unhappy before – and now they are so happy together, they just assume the kids are doing okay. In fact, they figure they must be doing a lot better than before.

Plus, the kids aren’t giving much away. Jimmy’s boys are 16, 13 and 10 – Anne’s girl, is 12; her boys are 10 and 8. Fights at school, bad marks, other act outs – you could have chalked them up to the times. That’s what Anne and Jimmy did. Things weren’t that bad – Anne and Jimmy went to all the “back to school” nights and most of the teachers said the kids were doing okay.

The fact is maybe Jimmy never would have known about the sad part if he had some experience being a Father (or Step-Father) to a girl. But he didn’t. Anne’s girl, his new Stepdaughter, Melody, was a complete mystery to him. He wanted to be a real good Step for her – but he didn’t know what to do. With the boys, it was easy. He coached sports; he took them to pro games; he wrestled with them; he showed them his old gear and some selected souvenirs from his time in the Marines.

He didn’t know what to do with Melody, so he just did his best to act in a friendly way to her while he tried to figure out what to do. He would sit in the quiet room with her and read while she worked on her homework. Some times, he would help her do the dishes. He accompanied her when she walked Sparkle, Anne’s wirehair terrier, who never seemed to get enough walking. O’Hara and Melody were together for hours and hours on those walks.

Usually, they would drive up to the park and then walk Sparkle about a mile into the park, to a bench with a nice view. They would stop and let Sparkle run and schmooze with his dog buddies. They didn’t talk much – they would just sit there and look out at the beautiful view. Sitting there was very peaceful and relaxing.

But this is where and when Jimmy first saw the sadness. Melody wasn’t saying anything – she was very, very quiet. At 12, she was already an exotic beauty — people looked twice. Think Ava Gardner, with a dash of Carly Simon. O’Hara was sitting with her on the bench and Sparkle was yap, yap yapping and taking on all comers – and suddenly O’Hara was aware that as Melody looked out down the hill with her black almond shaped eyes — she was pulsing quiet steady grief.

It was wordless, but it was very visceral. In fact, when O’Hara first felt it, he almost put up his hands in front of her to stop it. He had to restrain himself. My God, he said to himself, what’s wrong? Why is she in such anguish?

He immediately knew the answer – and felt twice the fool that he had missed it for so long. How could he have been so blind? And Anne. She was a wonderful mother. But she had been blind on this.

And anguish was the word. Now that he had seen it, there was no denying it. Anguish. Steady, heartbeat pulses of quiet anguish. He sort of peeked at the other children. They were hurting too! Maybe not as much as Melody — but they were definitely hurting big time.

Aftermath. Two happy families. Well, maybe not happy – but intact. And suddenly there’s a new arrangement – where the fathers don’t live with their kids any more – and the mother and father who triggered the new arrangement – they live together and are so happy they are totally positive this must be so good for the kids – that actually all the kids are supposed to like not living with their father any more.

Innocent bystander aftermath. Found scattered along the track after the Love Train tooted on through. O’Hara hated, no, he despised, the burning guilt and shame he was feeling. He had always wanted to be a good father…now six kids were messed up because of him. Now, the beautiful story, Jimmy and Anne Fall in Crazy Love, was all messed up. The Happy Ending was gone.

He never told Anne. She was tougher than he was…more real world. Maybe she had some kid sorrow in the equation all along. But had she figured on this anguish thing? No way. O’Hara didn’t want her to know.

So for months, he struggled to think of something he could do — or he and Anne – or all four parents – some way to make things right. O’Hara booked three sessions with a famous family therapist from Yale. When he told her about Melody’s unspoken steady pulses of anguish, she said she understood and that she also understood how hard it was to know you had caused such pain.

She told O’Hara to keep loving the kids – she told him it was good he and Anne were still in crazy love and that the other parents loved the kids. At the end of their last session, she told him, “You can’t change the past – you can’t un-ring this bell – just give time, time. “

Jimmy felt like telling her he had heard all these clichés before, but he nodded and wrote out the check. “I wish you and your family all the best, Mr. O’Hara,” she said. “Time is on your side. So is the energy of life itself. If you get a chance, I suggest you read a short poem by Carl Sandburg, called, Happiness”.

Jimmy read Happiness that night. He liked it all right. But it was a long way away from what he was dealing with. So, nothing changed for months and months. He just did his best to love all the kids, Melody in particular.

One day she asked him to drive her to a friend’s house. The friend had just gotten a big trampoline that was set up in her backyard. It was equipped with bungee cords on each side and a safety harness so you could bounce and bounce higher and higher.

Melody was on the gymnastics team, so O’Hara hung around for a while to see how she would do. She was spectacular. Her friends were squealing with delight. O’Hara watched her soar – but her back was to him and so he walked over for a view from the front.

Melody was soaring higher and higher — her face was radiant – lit up by a dazzling smile of total glee. Up, up, up, then down and up, up, up, soaring and soaring with that wild gleeful smile at full throttle. O’Hara thought, “My heart is singing! My heart is singing! ‘Wild Thing! You make my heart sing! You make everything groovy!’”

From that moment on, O’Hara stopped worrying. He knew Melody and the kids would be okay. Without fully intending it, he started to give time, time. He never did become an expert father of a girl – he just kept on with the steady love – but although the anguish pulses continued intermittently — in time, there really was a mostly Happy Ending.

In fact, time washed out most of the sad part of the story from O’Hara’s memory. That’s what time can do sometimes right? The truth is over the years O’Hara forgot almost all of the sad part. Then one day he started to work on an unusual writing project. The assignment was to write a story based on a photo an art director would send him.

When the jpeg came, Jimmy printed it out and showed it to Anne. “What is this?” she said. “A shot from the back of a girl jumping off a trampoline with bungee cords? They expect you to write a story about this?”

——————————————————-

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7 comments

  1. Lovely. Double Lovely the second one. Clearly subject the author should write about more.


  2. Both pieces hit home..almost like a “lightening bolt”! Love the banter of the brothers. Reminded me of someone or somebodies who “know who they are”…..If no one else does! Thanks


  3. These stories go to places were souls are torn and hurt the most. Somehow, unspeakable pain is given words. Somehow, faith is inspired — faith that healing is possible. Eloquent and sublime, Mr. Jones is a gifted writer; and when he shares his gift, I’m gifted, too. Telling stories is sacred service, and I’m grateful Mr. Jones is willing to tell his. Please keep writing…thanks.


  4. Bob: So many powerful lines:

    O’Hara looked hard at the photo – now that he was looking at it.

    When he had first read the line, he knew it was so good it had to be true even if it wasn’t. And it was true.

    A legend in his own dim mind.

    Had he never known? He wondered about it.

    Let me ask you: Were you ever an “innocent bystander?” Did you get over it?

    I also love the idea of Sparkle running and schmoozing with his dog buddies.

    Brian, the pictures are great. I love the shadows and vivid colors in the second one, and the face reflected in the eye of the first one is both beautiful and unsettling.

    Lisa


  5. What a blessing to read this tale of healing. Thanks so much for telling me about it! Merry Christmas to you and yours Mr. Jones. Melody from Harry & David.


  6. you have a gift. your words speak to the heart. nice job.


  7. Beautiful!!!



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