Damn Near Full

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To my son Cade on his recent graduation:

 

I’m so sorry.

I’m sorry that I haven’t prepared you for the future that’s ahead of you. For the years when I will no longer be around. For the lessons I attempted but just couldn’t teach you. For the many ways that I failed miserably as a parent. 

Love,

Dad

 

Day in and day out I struggle. I struggle knowing that no matter how hard I try my son will never be independent.

“What could I have done differently?” I ask myself.

I’m fifty-one. In many ways my life is half over. If I’m lucky, that is.

“What could I have done differently?” Despair consumes my very soul.

It’s Friday night in New Orleans. Cade spent the past month at my sister’s house and I’ll be picking him up to go home with me to North Carolina tomorrow. Summertime with Nana 2019 has sadly come to an end. Lost somewhere within the darkness of my mind, I drift into a bar. My best friend Ryan is at my side.

Ryan is twenty-one, a younger version of myself. An artist, a dreamer, a person that will do anything in the world for my son. Like a shadow in a spotlight, the two of us have become inseparable. In many ways his life has just begun. If he’s lucky that is. Guiding me through the darkness within my mind, he too enters the bar.

Aside from the bartender, only three people remain in the dimly lit saloon. Only three people among a crowd of many, that is. It’s Friday night in New Orleans. A packed house is a quintessential part of any weekend in the Big Easy. Together, the three of us sit alongside the battered yet majestic wooden bar: Ryan, me and some dude staring at a random collection of bottles and glasses spread atop the counter before him. With a slightly crooked smile, the dude chuckles to himself.

“Would you look at that?” I hear the dude question.

“Look at what?” I lean towards him and ask.

“Oh….. nothing,”the dude replies. “I was just talking to myself. I do that quite a bit”

“No worries,” I tell him. “Me too.”

The bartender scuffles about catering to the many patrons surrounding us. He had just poured Ryan one of their signature cocktails and the smell of absinthe is whirling throughout the air. The small watering hole, still writhing with spectators, is carefree and alive. Everyone in the joint is accompanied by their close friends and loved ones. Everyone but the dude, that is. Sadly, the dude is alone.

“Would you look at that?” Again I hear the dude question.

“Look at what?” Ryan and I both chime in.

“All this good stuff that people are just throwing away.”

The dude’s slightly crooked smile reappears and then he lifts a random glass in cheers.

“Scotch,” says the dude as he knocks his glass back. “I like Scotch. What are you drinking?”

“Vodka,” I tell him.

“Vodka?” States the dude with a question. “Wait a minute…..” Lifting another glass he continues,”I think I have some vodka right here.”

I tap my glass against his and together we share a toast. “To vodka,” I declare.

“To vodka,” he agrees and we knock back one more. “Wait a minute…..,” he pauses and continues. “That was gin.”

Combing over his collection of random glasses, the dude picks up another one. “I think this is vodka… Not much to it… Maybe just a swallow.” Knocking it back, he acknowledges. “Yep… That was vodka.”

“Man I’m sorry you didn’t have a full shot of vodka to truly appreciate our last toast,” I tell him.

“No problem.” Giving me a fist bump he exclaims, “I got that Henny!”

“Hell yeah!” Ryan joins in on the fist bump. “Hell yeah!”

“I mean it’s just a lil bit.” He swallows and continues. “But I didn’t have to pay for it. Besides, who the fuck throws away Hennessy?”

Over the course of the next forty-five minutes or so, Ryan, the dude and I share life’s stories. Still down on myself for being an ill-prepared parent, I take another swig of vodka. My life is half over. If I’m lucky, that is. My son has just graduated high school and I’m lost not knowing what comes next for him.

“To the life of a parent of a kid with disabilities.” Surrendering to sorrow, I silently and woefully toast to myself.

“HOLY SHITBALLS FUCK!!! Would you look at that?”

“Oh look at what?” Slowly I lift my head and roll my eyes towards the dude.

“Somebody left a bottle of beer behind….. And it’s damn near full!”

“Damn near full?” I stare at the dude contemplating what he said. My eyes drift to the containers remaining before him. What I see as half-empty, he sees as half-full.

Glancing around the room, the dude grabs the bottle of beer, takes a sip and leans in a little bit closer. “Damn near full,” he repeats and then pats me on the shoulder.

In that moment, the noise from the crowd is abruptly suspended. I look towards Ryan and grin. I’m sitting at a bar in a city that I cherish with my best friend in the whole world and a homeless dude with a kickass attitude. I scan my eyes from side to side and suddenly I see the music. Again I look around the room and I can actually hear the happiness. I see the laughter and hear the smiles. Maybe it’s the vodka in me but my senses have just gone haywire.

“It was great talking to you,” says the dude as he walks towards the door. “You know, I never noticed this while sitting next to you. But you have a big head and you look like Johnny Bravo.”

Laughing out loud, Ryan and I bid the dude farewell. “Great talking to you as well,” we tell him. “And good luck with your new job that you start on Monday.”

I sit back on my bar stool and think about the great things that result in our moments of despair.

 

  • I think about how losing our home and community to a major hurricane led us to a new home filled with new and amazing people. A new community where Cade was able to receive the education that I now dread him graduating.
  • I think about how Cade’s out of control violence in his early teenage years led me to quit my banking job and be a stay at home dad for a few years. A few years where I got him off the medications that were at the root of his violent behavior. A few years where we saved my son from being a menace to society. A few years where I rekindled my modeling and acting aspirations and met some very important people in my life.
  • I think about Ryan and the shitty things going on in his life that brought us closer together. How helping a friend in need created a lifelong bond. A bond that made him a part of my family. A part that I can’t imagine life without.

 

I’m fifty-one. In many ways my life is half over. If I’m lucky, that is.

 

  • I have a son that graduated high school
  • A sister that spoils him rotten
  • A supportive wife that cooks a mean etouffee 
  • A best friend that makes me laugh

 

I’m fifty-one. In many ways my life is DAMN NEAR FULL!

 

Join us Saturday November 16 when my dude Ryan Wilson and I will be producing a fashion show at Discovery Place in Uptown Charlotte. The entire bottom floor has been reserved. The show is designed to highlight individuals with disabilities and bring out their inner badasses. Why? Because I am sick and tired of treating these amazing people like puppies and unicorns. They are more than cute. They are stylish. They are cool. They are fun. And they are totally badass.   

Kelly Jude Melerine