Sunday, December 20, 2015

Roman Numeral Seven

Star Wars was my childhood. That's not an overstatement. I was born in 1978 (in Kenya), and from the time I can remember remembering, everything was Star Wars-related: R2D2 birthday cakes; toys; role playing with childhood friends, using invisible lightsabers and trying to replicate the sound they make, and using random pieces of wood as blasters.

My mother always reminds me that, when I was three years old, she took me to a double feature of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. I still remember that, vaguely. Yoda was scary. Then he wasn't.

I grew up with Star Wars.

And then I grew out of Star Wars. The Phantom Menace is cinematic dog shit. I liked a lot of things in Attack of the Clones, but overall it's a bad movie. Revenge of the Sith is...

You know what? I'm going to stop being negative about the prequels. Been there, done that.

Because The Force Awakens is an honest-to-god Star Wars movie, and I'd like to focus on the future rather than reflect negatively on the past.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I think about my past: places I've been, friends I had. Those are fond memories I'd like to see over and over again, like photographs in a family album.

I paradoxically want to go back and continue on. So, yeah, The Force Awakens is a magic trick I've seen before, a remix of Episode IV. But it has so much genuine soul, such well-written characters, and so many good moments (it's the funniest film in the franchise), that I don't give a shit if it's the same story told in a different way.

Because it's the same story told in a great way.

And BB-8 is my motherfucker.

Friday, December 11, 2015

On Shadow Mountain, Playing the Piano

My father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when he was fifty-eight years old. He died the day before his fifty-ninth birthday. The doctors couldn't say for sure when the tumor had metastasized, but my mother thinks it was when he started exhibiting strange behavior three years prior to his diagnosis. That's only her guess, though. I was away at college then, and my sister, Nancy, was living with her boyfriend in Sault Ste. Marie, so neither of the Cookston siblings ever witnessed what Mom described first as "odd stuff," like Dad getting up in the middle of the night to scribble pencil drawings of large, menacing faces on the drafting paper in his office, and then later as our father -- who was theretofore the gentlest man I'd ever known -- became increasingly violent, initially to inanimate objects like TV remotes and framed pictures, and then to Mom and, finally, himself.

You learn a lot of things about your parents as you grow up, the first thing being that they're not the perfect guardians you once thought them to be; and some unfortunate sons and daughters learn this more quickly than their peers. But while my parents' marriage wasn't as solid as, say, the Waltons' or the Reagans', I knew, and still know now, that my mother and father were always in love with each other. From the time I developed an understanding of such a concept to the day my father was taken off of his life-support system, I could see that.

I flew back home after winter exams in January, 1999. I hadn't heard from Mom in three weeks, and while I will never blame her for my lack of focus during the weeks preceding, I was continually haunted while studying by the last thing she said after she called me at my dorm one night. We talked regular family stuff -- emphasizing the good (excellent lobster dinner at the church), casually mentioning the bad (broken water main on Brant St. during the Super Bowl) -- for about thirty minutes or so; but as I was about to hang up and call it a night, she said, "I think your father is slowly going insane."

"Dad? How?"

"Let's talk about it when you're home, dear." My mom never called me "dear," but that's the only endearing word I can use to describe the fear, pain, and love in her voice.

I booked a flight home for January 3, 2000.


I mean no offense to persons named Janelle or persons of Swiss nationality (it's a pretty name, and a beautiful country, respectively), but that flight home, on a shoebox of a plane, with drunk international college students ("Janelle, look! The wing just fell of the plane!" "Janelle, do you think we're all going to die here?") was trying. The flight was forty minutes, but it felt like forty days. I knew I was in Canada because no one chastised these obnoxious assholes, but everyone had the furrowed-brow visage of fury." People travel for pleasure, yes, but a lot of people travel, especially by air, because bad things have happened, or might happen.


I took a taxi from the airport to my parents' place. When I walked in, I didn't hear a sound.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Anyone home?"


I left my luggage at the door and walked down the hallway to the kitchen. The television was at full volume in another room. It was early afternoon, a sunny day, but every light in the house was on. I turned right to walk into the family room (or "the TV room," as it once was called) and saw my father. He was sleeping, snoring, with a near-empty bottle of Jack Daniels on top of his chest, undulating up and down as he breathed. He was wearing a gray pair of Jockey underwear and nothing else. There were cigarette ashes all over the carpet, and my folks didn't smoke.

"Dad?" I said, trying to rouse him. That didn't work. But when I took away the bottle of JD and carefully placed it on the coffee table, he stirred, sat up, and spoke the most haunting words I've ever heard.

"It would have been easy to kill you when you were a baby. I always wanted to do that. You were so little and shitting and pissing everywhere. What a burden you were. I would have strangled you with a curtain cord in your crib when you were a baby if I could have gotten away with it, you fuck. Your face might look like mine, you might have inherited my big dick and smart brain, but you are just a small minnow swimming in a pool of piss on the sidewalk. You're only breathing because I didn't have the money to pay for an abortion when your mother was pregnant with you. So you should thank me. I'm your god. Pray to me!"

I stood, not in awe, but in horror of the man my father had become.

"Your mother is downstairs in the basement. I tried to drown her in the laundry basin. I think it worked, but I might have heard some sounds down there a short time ago. Coughing and gurgling and stuff. Maybe that was her blood clogging up the drain.

My gun is upstairs in the bedroom. The bedroom I used to fuck your mother in, way before your time. You were adopted. From Cambodia!

What do you figure, Ace? You think you can go rescue your mother before I go and get my gun and kill you both?


I didn't learn much from college. I'll never be a scholar or a professor. But logically I knew how to take care of the situation.

I strangled my father until he passed out and then called 911. My mother was bleeding and was taken away by ambulance. Spoilers: she's just fine. She made brownies yesterday. They tasted like love.

My dad is somewhere, trying to be alive again.

I'd like to meet him when he gets back to normal.

Saturday, December 05, 2015


I want to go swimming. In a pool, or in a lake, or in an ocean.

I want to be wet, from head to toe, water encapsulating me.

I don't care where. Saltwater or freshwater; I just want to swim.

The water could be cold or hot.

I don't care.

I just want to swim.