The End…

The cryo-pods gave off a barely perceptible hum their soft blue light not bright enough to cast any shadows – “what will it be like,” Maggie whispers a serene smile tugs at the corners of her mouth as the sedative worms its way through her system.


“Paradise honey, it will be paradise…” he replies hoping she doesn’t sense the underlying melancholy he is unable mask as he bends to give her a last kiss, “love you honey bunny…”


He had charmed her with stories of a distant future, a future in which the earth had been healed and swept clean of the pestilence mankind had become. She had believed it of course, she believed everything he told her and he hadn’t been able to come up with a good reason to tell her the truth. There wasn’t going to be any magical renewal, no waking up to huge forests and clear springs untouched by man for hundreds of years – the stories of a fantasy future were just that.


He sits on the edge of his pod, trying to squash a survival instinct he didn’t know existed till this moment, it’s little late he thinks grimly finally settling in shifting to get comfortable, as if that mattered at all, wishing he had taken the sedative. He had decided against it though, wanting to be clearheaded when it was time to activate the master switch that would slide the clear glass covers over them and initiate the cryogenic process, he still hadn’t managed to push the green button though as he studies the ceiling.

Three years earlier the Icarus Initiative had sent thousands of unmanned probes to the sun ostensibly to study the unexplained increase in solar energy and flares that were bombarding the earth accelerating the depletion of the ozone layer and beginning to overwhelm the earth’s protective magnetic fields. It had been a lie of course, another impotent demonstration of man’s inability to solve a problem that had been staring humanity in the face for a hundred years. By the time science had overwhelmed nationalistic greed it was too late and it turned out science didn’t have any answers anyway.


Cryo-pods had been around for almost twenty years, medicine’s answer to “we don’t know how to cure that yet…” They had watched the late-night infomercials together, Maggie asking if he thought maybe they should get one, he had nodded stoically not having the words to explain the pointlessness of cryogenics in the face of melting polar ice caps and the continuous EMP waves that were already starting to take the earth’s power grid offline. At least it would be peaceful he had tried to convince himself, but it had been her childish smile and the warm squeeze of her hand that toppled his indecision. He simply couldn’t bear to watch her suffer as she tried to process the indescribable horror hurtling toward them, so he had smiled and purchased two top-of-the-line pods.


The glass silently glides closed sealing the pod before he realizes he has pressed the green button; there’s a moment of panic and he can feel the acid in his stomach rising. The liquid nitrogen erases any further flicker of consciousness as he and Maggie peacefully await the end…

The 2019 Castagno Rant

I thought I would have a go at this “RANT” thing again, this the 25th or 26th one – hard to say, the early archives are incomplete,and does it really matter anyway? You would think after that many years I would run out of things to rant about, and in some respects you would be right. 

 

The early rants were filled with tales of children and the joys of parenting – followed by those perilous teenage years – I go back and read those just to remind myself how lucky I am to be here.  Times have mellowed though: grandkids, Starbucks, politics, texting, and general stupidity seemed to have taken center stage – some even accuse me of getting soft and losing my acerbic sarcasm – I invite them to come over and help me plant roses – no takers yet, strangely enough.

 

But now what? Another regurgitation of the year’s events, grandbaby drool stories, the horror of modern-day travel, drive-thru frustrations, why morons continue to text and drivewould that bring a smile to your face and have you nodding in sympathetic understanding? Ahh the comfort of tried and true rant material… 

 

Or would you rather hear how a text notified me at 35K feet that my older sister had suddenly passed – you know “passed” cause it’s so much nicer than died – maybe some details on her decades fighting opioid addiction until her body simply succumbed in a bathroom alone. Would it help to understand how it felt standing in her empty kitchen spooning her ashes from one big box to a number of smaller ones; the memories cascading like so many fine particles? No, I’m guessing not…  

 

So, by now a few of you are like… “holy shit he’s completely unhinged this year…” Well no actually but sooner or later we come to the realization that the accumulation of life experience forces a certain clarity. The sharp pinprick of this present reality if you will… The young have the pleasure of rushing headlong into that blurry and distant place those of us that have some years already inhabit, but once you’re here – if you haven’t started, it’s time to pay attention. 

 

It struck me on a night drive – Tammy and I take a drive every evening, grab a coffee, cruise around the lake, and catch-up on the day; something we’ve been doing for years – anyway, I realized I had started measuring things by how much time I might have left. Freaked me out a little I have to say – I have always kept a “list” of things I wanted to accomplish in life and ticked a few off here and there… we all have one and sure it matures with time and experience, but I had never really considered there might be an expiration date on some of it; sobering to say the least. I am pretty sure we all have these moments: the loss of a loved one or a friend, catastrophic events like 9/11 or a school shooting – all are milestone reminders… it’s the paying attention that’s important however. 

 

I am okay with the running out of time part  I am not okay with running out of experiences. It’s not as simple or cliché as living without regrets or the common refrain of “leave it all out there…” I want to make sure I love deeply enough; touch not only the hearts of my children, but their minds and spirits as well. Help strangers where I can, stand for what is right without regard for personal cost, and embody what it means to be a true friend. I want to breathe in clear cold mountain air, and feel the warm sun on my head as waves break against the shore… and I want to share all of this with as many as I can.  I used to believe life was about fulfilling some list of material accomplishments: job, money, stuff… but the longer I live the more I understand life is about the living. 

 

So, what does all that mean, you might be asking… and uhh not really a rant dude… I hear you, and don’t worry I still get irritated by the ass in the Prius that doesn’t know how to order at Starbucks – by the way have you tried the Peppermint Brownie cake pop? Oh my God! Or the fool that thinks it’s okay to pick out each individual donut in their two-dozen order at the Dunkin’ drive-thru. What about service animals that are not really service animals on planes, do I really need to go into this? Millennials with beards… not a good look young lady… How about not vaccinating all the little bio-terrorists running around, or making medicine you can’t live without unaffordable for most folks. You get the point, there is still plenty to rant about, plenty to make you shake your head and say $%@#$%@# (you know what that means right?). 

 

Admittedly, I still do most of those, but I have had some experiences this year, some realizations, and come to some conclusions that lead me to believe maybe all that really isn’t as important as I thought; and I may even be questioning the overall level of my response to these situations cause is that really how I want to use my time, my experiences… probably not. 

 

Unbelievable, simply unbelievable… dude just ordered a soy decaf peppermint mocha latte with two shots of espresso, extra whip and chocolate drizzle… I don’t care if he is driving an F250 that’s a bullshit order – get the F’ out of my drivethru moron!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays… and oh by the way – the middle part is the important part… 

 

Joe

 

Mortality

My mortality weighs heavy
every breath
every moment 
 
My mortality weighs heavy
Every note
Every word
 
Every joy sweeter
Every pain deeper
Oh my mortality weighs heavy
 
Every kiss lingers
Every tear stings
Oh my mortality weighs heavy

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty, relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe

Two Vases

A good friend was telling me a story about an abandoned home where the folks had left their “parents” or maybe “grandparents” cremated remains behind… that seemed incredibly sad and lonely to me… I imagine a conversation something like this…

Two Vases

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

I feel you near me dear
Do you remember my kiss
Now it’s just the two of us

Long passed are our days in the sun
The sand soft beneath us
The kids playing in the surf

I remember the stars above
The singing of a mountain stream
Marshmallows by the fire

It seemed so long I waited
Now you sit beside me
Matching vases in the shadows

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

Misty Eyes

With misty eyes
Yesterdays parade by
Dear faces departed
Their wisdom imparted

children now grown
the nest have flown
empty rooms & halls
awaiting their calls

The mistakes of youth
The source of truth
Now ours to share
But do they care

With misty eyes
Yesterdays parade by
Dear faces departed
Their wisdom imparted

You didn’t know…

You were runnin fast… did you know it couldn’t last
What would you say… would it have changed your day

Its fucked up, but you didn’t know… it was your time to go
Yeah its fucked up but you didn’t know…

Played your last game… last flash of fame
Dancin to the beat… man that thing looked sweet

Its fucked up, but you didn’t know… it was your time to go
Yeah its fucked up, but you didn’t know…

Get your last kiss… your last wish
As that ‘stang starts to roll… its your final curtain call

Its fucked up, but you didn’t know… it was your time to go
Yeah its fucked up, but you didn’t know…

They say you were drinkin… what were you thinkin
So are ya feelin bad… lyin on that slab

Its fucked up, but you didn’t know… it was your time to go
Yeah its fucked up, but you didn’t know…

Hey you didn’t know… it was your time to go
Yeah it was your time to go

Author’s Note:
I wrote this while my children were still in high school – a young man they knew believed to fervently in his own immortality – life’s lessons are harsh and unforgiving, he died one night losing control of his car – driving to fast – drinking – indulging in his invincibility…