There was a still life on Billy's bedside table--two pills, an ashtray with three lipstick-stained cigarettes in it, one cigarette still burning, and a glass of water. The water was dead. So it goes. Air was trying to get out of that dead water. Bubbles were clinging to the walls of the glass, too weak to climb out.
The cigarettes belonged to Billy's chain-smoking mother. She had sought the ladies' room, which was off the ward for WACS and WAVES and SPARS and WAFS who had gone bananas. She would be back at any moment.
Billy covered his head with his blanket again. He always covered his head when his mother came to see him in the mental ward--always got much sicker until she went away. It wasn't that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly nice, standard-issue, brown-haired white woman with a high-school education.
She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn't really like life at all.
Billy is one lucky bastard. He isn't shot by the German soldiers. He doesn't die on the train ride to his first prison camp. Doesn't die in the delousing showers. Later, he survives the firebombing of Dresden. People are dying all around him, and yet Billy survives. But he doesn't like life. At all.
I have been in Billy's shoes once or twice. When my sister was dying in a hospital bed in my parents' living room, I didn't like life very much. Many years ago, when my wife was in the grips of her addiction and living with another man in another town, I didn't like life very much. When my brother recently had his second heart attack, I didn't like life very much.
Tonight, I went to a graduation party. It was for the son of one of my best friends. There were school pictures lining the front sidewalk of my friend's house. Hotdogs were on the barbecue. People were playing games on the lawn. Dogs were running around, trying to get some table scraps. Everyone was laughing and talking.
My friend's son was making the rounds, talking to the guests. Thanking them for coming. At one point, just as my wife and I were leaving, he came up to us and said, "I don't think I've had the chance to say 'hello' and thank you for coming." And it sounded sincere. It wasn't just a social obligation. He seemed genuinely grateful for our presence.
That graduation party--a young person moving into adulthood, so happy and hopeful--reminded me that life really is good, despite the heartbreaks and heart attacks that come along the way. Life is good. Can I get an "amen" on that?
Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for barbecued hot dogs.