Monday, February 21, 2011

Steven R. Stewart—Go Home and Be With Your Families

The day before my eighth grade graduation, I found out my best friend John and his brother Daniel had been hit by a semi and killed on their way home from the arcade. My parents came into my room very early in the morning and told me, standing on either side of my bed--in my memory, they look like doctors bent over an operating table--and I can remember pulling my blanket over my head and staying under it for a long time. I thought about John, about sitting under a tree with him and proofreading the love letters he had written to a girl he liked. I thought about all the dirty jokes I had heard him tell, and about the times we had knelt together at the altar during church camp. I thought about how he had been here, and now he was just gone. Just like that.

I didn't come out from under that blanket the same. Death became a real thing to me that day, and in a way, I have carried it with me ever since. If I waste a day watching TV instead of getting my writing done, percentages pop into my head, and I start making guesses about how much of my life I am likely to waste if I keep going at the current rate. I kiss my wife goodnight and think, "We've been together seven years. If we live to have our fiftieth anniversary, that means we only have forty-three years left. Forty-three Christmases and summers and tax returns." Following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion can drive you nuts. Even if human kind escapes earth before our sun expands and bakes us all to death, eventually the Milky Way will collide with Andromeda. The whole universe will expand to the point that it tears itself apart. (The joke's on you, vampires. Immortal my ass.) How is a guy supposed to cope with that?

"Go Home, and Be With Your Families" is my attempt to answer that question for myself. On the surface, the story is about Herb's inability to commit, his depression, his alcoholism (seriously, he's drinking in almost every scene), his struggle to be what he needs to be for his daughter, and (oh yeah) alien television. But the biggest issue is death, how to deal with it, and how to live in spite of its looming presence. The answer I kept coming back to was deceptively simple: Live. Just live. Be a human. Make some babies with a girl (or guy) that you love, get your genetics out there for what it's worth, and be with those babies and that girl (or guy) for however much time you get. Let go of the cosmic significance of everything (it’s still okay to ponder this every now and then, but don’t obsess) and let things be what they are, right down in your little everyday world with the people you love. And when bad shit happens (and it will), steel yourself and take the hit. It will never feel good, but after a while you'll learn to take a punch. Writing helps with that, I've found.

One last thing: I hope you'll all give Herb the benefit of the doubt. The guy is kind of sensitive, and probably more talented than he is smart. Sometimes it takes guys like that a while to figure things out.

--Steven R. Stewart

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