Rock saw himself killing the man. He watched his right hand lift the marble-based golfing trophy off the credenza display and he felt the heft of it as he swept the point of the little golfer’s head in a wide arch that ended at the upper edge of his boss’s left temple. And that’s when the chills of anxiety rose across the top of Rock’s own head and the light in his boss’s office slowly became too bright to bear. Alive and as of yet unhurt, Rock’s boss shifted position in his chair and tapped a pencil, waiting for Rock to speak.
Why oh why did Rock have to think of these things? And why did he have to envision them so clearly after first flashing on the notion? Why, as gentle as he was otherwise, could he not see that these thoughts were the release mechanism of a healthy mind in a stressful place? Why couldn’t he just let these ideas come and go, effortlessly, like most other men he knew? Guys he worked with and jerked around with could sit out on the plaza at lunch or lean over a two dollar draft on a Tuesday night and talk about horrible things without any emotional consequences. These guys could think up the most heinous of actions, talk about how their own bosses had pissed them off and how they’d like to see the inhuman bastards and frozen bitches they worked for meet an especially rotten end (meaning that that these guys themselves had fantasized about murder). Then these same guys could drain their mugs or crumble up their greasy sandwich wrappers and continue merrily on as if they had just mulled over how they might this weekend plant a flower garden of daisies. To Rock, it seemed that only he remained afraid when thoughts such as these rose to overheat his brain.
The boss and why he had called Rock into his office were actually inconsequential now that the anxiety had surfaced. Yes, Rock had failed to meet the expected outcome of some initiative or other - blah, blaah, blaaah, blaaaa . . . it was all noise now flat-lining in Rock’s head to a single tone like a phone receiver fallen out of its cradle as his boss thumped up and down in his gas-filled desk chair talking about personal commitment and attention to detail. Rock’s anxiety might soon begin to wane, but still he would not be able to keep his mind on anything his boss was saying.
What Rock did have on his mind were questions. More questions about why he was as he was. How had he become this person whose dark thoughts raced even though many a shrink had told him that dark thoughts were normal in a normal life? Why could he not clear his head of this overgrowth of weedy thoughts that threatened to choke off his daylight and oxygen? And the questions didn’t stop there; they just opened more doors out of which tumbled more questions. Why was he obsessed with neatness – a desk that had to be ordered like a battle plan before he could go home, a closet where the clothes and shoes needed to be nearly alphabetical to be correct in his head? And why did he have to hold back tears every time he heard a child sing (never mind what a children’s choir could do to him)? And what about his avoidance of crowded places, and what about the little tick he had where his eyebrows twitched when he was sexually aroused. And then there was his innate intelligence and a desire for more and more education among a family where completing high school was thought to be excessive; what about that? And what about the deep almost spiritual joy he felt when his dog put her head on his lap. Yes some of the questions were quieter and simpler but still Rock wondered endlessly that day - as his boss finished with him - about who and where all this had come from.
Though there were some ways in which he was like other members of his family, Rock could not see how any of his deeper more personal torments, ticks and traits were part of anyone from whom he had sprung. Rock would never be compared to his uncomplicated, engaging mother nor was he his father’s or his grandfather’s son – that was for sure. His father never seemed to have an emotional moment, never a second thought after any deed was done – he was built roughly, and he never spoke when he could get by without speaking; the man could sleep the peaceful sleep of the truly and blessedly ignorant at any time in any place. And his grandfather seemed to be the prototype that his father came from. The old man was Rock’s and Rock’s father’s namesake, Rocco III, the third in a long line of Roccos, and he went as far back on the horizon of personal history as Rock could see, whereupon Rock could not see anything in his grandfather that spoke to Rock’s own personality, only the quirkiness of a hard-edged laborer who drank wine like water and had hands which could crush walnuts between the shims he pulled from an oaken barrel. These men who Rock came from seemed to be stone walls. And that was the biggest, cruelest joke of all – these men from whom Rock had gotten his name were themselves actually as hard as rocks while Rock, though he had inherited the name, had gotten none of the brute and stolid strength of their bodies or their minds.
Question as he might, Rock would never know where it all came from – the wincing thoughts of violence, the fixations, the intelligence and the hair trigger sympathies he had for all things weaker or voiceless. As it is for a billion of us on the planet - a million of which might at this very moment be leaving their bosses offices after having been lectured and humiliated by a man three quarters their age - there was a barrier a thousand miles high that Rock could never rise far enough or live long enough to see over and altogether understand who it was in the distant past that had made him as he was. Better that Rocco V and the rest of us looked to the stars – to the traveling lights of night now centuries along on the journey - to find clues about why we are as we are.
Better still that he stop asking questions, Rock thought, for beyond a certain point the past was closed to all of us, and the only answer that Rock would ever come away with from these questions was that he was for now and forever alone in the star field . . .
Rocco closed his eyes and finished killing the animal with a knife up the belly and across the throat. When he heard the breathing stop and felt the heart go quiet he split open his own eyes and, as soon as the moon and star light made clear the sight of ruptured organs and rivers of blood, Rocco turned his head away and rocked back shivering onto the seat of his breeches. Killing was everywhere around Rocco. It was what a man did to live – this goat had to die or Rocco and family would not eat. But Rocco felt sick and frightened each time he had to do it. Rocco knew that there was something wrong with him – pure and simple. He was convinced of it. Killing the goat at night seemed kinder to Rocco but even that appeared to backfire in superstitious panic: if the sleeping goat could not see Rocco sneaking up to him at night that still meant that God and the Virgin could, and Rocco knew that they thought him cowardly and had cursed him with this feeling of dread because he was less than a man. Rocco believed deeply that this was why chills of fear all out of proportion were raking his back and scalp, why sweat poured from him after killing even though summer in Ortona had begun long ago.
Other men laughed at Rocco. Even Rocco’s own grown son, now 25 plus years with a young son of his own, chuckled about his father’s quirks and sensitivities. This man that Rocco had sired and this grandson that would keep the generations marching toward a great grandson and beyond seemed to have come from another man who was not Rocco. Neither Rocco the Second nor Rocco the Third were anything like Rocco the Patriarch. Already Rocco III at five years old could hold onto a rope that held a dog twice his size while the poor dog dug a rut with his back leg trying to pull away from the little, forged grip of the child. And like his father before him the boy would never cry, even upon being beaten by his mother. Likewise he could take the hottest sunshine in the field and stay beside his father for hours without whining. Rocco’s son and grandson were truly like the rocks they were named after – not what you would call thinking or smart creatures but creatures that were impervious to strain and sweat and pain all the same. Whereas Rocco (no matter that he was the rock from which his son and grandson were chiseled) was looked down on and ridiculed for his softness, for his love of the ancient poetry he found in the sacristy of the church, for the tears that he could not hold back as the children’s choir sang on feast days, for the way he yawned and his eyebrows twitched when pushed toward a man’s pursuits – hunting or killing or fighting or sex with the whores who had been banished to shacks at the outskirts of the village.
Still Rocco stood up as a man and did for his family. And he was proud that he could somehow struggle to farm and build and kill so that they would never have to starve or beg or go homeless. But at night, tired not really from hard work but from the strain of fitting himself into a mold made for other men, Rocco would stare across the waves of heat coming from the wood stove as he watched his wife feed and cradle his children and grandchildren, and Rocco would wish he could be her. Even more than this, Rocco longed for another man or boy with whom he could share his gentle soul. His grandson, Rocco III, would not be that boy and this would likely be the farthest into the future that Rocco would ever see. But oh the sweetness in the thought that somewhere out there after Rocco was gone would be a boy with finer traits, a boy who would also fear killing and who would yearn for the order and poetry of god’s universe. Rocco and this boy would never know each other and yet they would be closer than any two men could ever be. If he could hold this boy now he would let down his barriers and whisper softly to tell the boy that feeling and thinking deeply were gifts that a man should cherish and of which he should never be ashamed. And the boy would be Rocco’s gift and Rocco would be both the boy and the man fused into one across the generations.
But Rocco saw that this would never come to pass and that the future was closed to him and so he would shut his eyes for another night as the stove flickered and he would dream the restless dreams of a man disquieted by his desire to make sense of himself . . .
Rock awoke suddenly from a dream. His grandfather had been holding him by the hand. They were traveling somewhere, but Rock could not see where. Rubbing away the fear that came from waking abruptly in the night, focusing on the flickering digits of the alarm clock, the dream came back to Rock. Rock remembered that his grandfather had actually been pulling him forward with one hand as he reached out with the other. It was as if Rocco III was reaching for someone else’s hand. But Rock did not know whose hand it was. For the life of him, Rock just could not see who it was that his grandfather was trying to pull into his dream.