…it does not surrender
I remember for years that I used to say, Wish me a Happy Birthday, alla you bastards that read me and never say anything.
The last time I said that was 2014, before everything went to hell.
This year, I pour out my soul to you with a simple admission: After Alison died, three words kept ringing in my addled head over-and-over again: The Guard dies.
The Guard dies.
The Guard dies.
The Guard dies.
I said those three words to myself
hundreds thousands of times after she died. I would fall asleep to those words in my head and wake up to them as well.
I plotted for months on how to do it the right way, if there could ever be such a thing.
Because, I promised her parents and you that I would keep her safe. And I failed.
I failed you. I failed her parents. And, most unbearably of all, I failed her.
Failure has a price and I’ve always been driven to pay my debts.
There’s an apocryphal story about the Old French Guard during the Battle of Waterloo when the Middle Guard turned and ran, a solider from the Old Guard asked the general if they should run as well.
The general replied, La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas.
The Guard dies, it does not surrender.
In my drug/alcohol/grief/anger-fueled haze, I only remembered the first part.
Alison was my charge and I failed her so it was only fitting that I follow her. Because, wherever she went, I was always close behind.
It’s remarkably selfish and self-centered, I know. I wasn’t thinking clearly then.
But, due to a number of interesting bureaucratic twists and people like my mother-in-law, my father, Daisy, Gradgirl, and – of course – the Gymgirl, the fog slowly lifted.
And I remembered the boy. I am so ashamed to say that I forgot him in my grief.
Well, more appropriately – in my head – he was better off with people that were functioning, and I was clearly not functioning.
Moreover, I was so focused on Alison needing me that I didn’t really consider that he needed me.
Interestingly, the thing that really pulled me out of this mindset was a conversation with my mother-in-law one day. She said that I needed to raise the boy and that she would help but that he was my responsibility. I suspect she had some idea where my mind was.
In any case, that triggered a memory of a conversation that Alison and I once had: She told me that, if we were ever in an accident and I was given the option to save her or the child, she would never forgive me if I saved her.
And that, in turn, caused me to remember the rest of the quote: … it does not surrender. That’s when I realized that leaving would be surrender, not staying.
I lost my charge. But she had a charge too, one that she cared about more than herself: The boy. So, even if he weren’t my son, he would still be my charge because he was Alison’s.
Because she loved him more than anything, including her own life.
The boy’s given me something as well: A chance for me to redeem myself and my failure.
Essentially, the general was saying that the Guard does not run or surrender to overwhelming odds. It either does its job or dies trying. Like Alison did.
I’m 46 today. If ever there was an Old Guard, it’s me.
And the Old Guard does not surrender.
Him: Will you come get me today? From school?
Me: Of course. What am I gonna do, leave you there? That’d be silly.
Him: (laughs) That’d be silly! You’re silly, papa.
Me: (nodding) Yes.
Location: this afternoon, my blue bathroom, thinking of my possible pasts
Music: I’ve lost my place. I’m close behind
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