Somewhere In Heaven
(Author’s note: I’ve always kept journals. I read them from time to time and wonder. I’ve continued to wonder about Toby).
Journal entry December 8, 2008, 11 p.m.
At the beach cabin by myself. Just woke up a little while ago from having fallen asleep in the chair. The drive, two beers, a meal, and watching the waves have done me in. I stopped for dinner, ate at “Reds.” Just as I was pulling off the highway, Kathy called me wondering if the storm had cleared and if I could see Venus and Jupiter in the northwest – over the ocean. “They won’t appear to be this large or bright again until 2052. She had heard about it on the news, wanted me to know. I think she wishes that she would have come with me.
From the restaurant’s parking lot I could see the two planets well above the wide, precise line of the horizon. The sight of them so huge and brilliant made me feel like something was about to happen. Cavemen must have looked into the events of the firmament and felt this way. I pointed the planets out to the waiter – Toby – who greeted me. He was a young man, maybe in his late twenties, good looking, casual and seemingly confident, the kind of man wallowing in a youth that makes me, without any other information, more and more envious as I age.
He said, “Incredible, I can’t wait to show this to my boys. Sit anywhere you like, business is so bad with people out of work and this housing collapse that no one is eating out.”
I’ve always thought that winters at the beach are probably difficult for the businesses and people who work in them, dependent as they are upon tourists. There are more empty shops and for lease and for sale signs in town this year than I have ever seen.”
Anyway the sky has…” (Beach journal entry continued below)
After Toby brought my sandwich that evening, he stood at the table and made several comments about the weather of the past few days – there had been a storm – and then he asked me if I knew much about astronomy. In the absence of customers we were thrown into the intimacy of economic castaways. I said ‘not a lot’ and then something about how odd it felt to be the only one in the restaurant. He repeated “business is bad,” and then added, “Things are bad for people….” Toby then glanced towards the kitchen and then quickly back towards the window while continuing “…especially for those without decent health insurance.”
In that he turned from looking toward the kitchen and back toward the window when he said this, I thought at first that maybe he was musing to himself. Then I realized that it was his way of saying, “You tell me about the celestial events, I give you a glimpse of life here on earth.”
Toby pulled at the back of the chair across from me, hesitated briefly and asked if it was “okay.” I nodded and he sat down. The boundaries of our relationship now erased by the lack of customers, Toby threw his personal life into his shift.
“Sorry….don’t mean to sound so negative but just before you walked in I was talking to my mom on the phone about a doctor bill that she said came in the mail today. One of my sons broke his arm on a swing at school and they’re saying that the insurance company won’t pay for it because it was a work related accident. He’s in kindergarten. Figure that. Insurance companies treat you really bad.” He paused and looked out of the window again – toward the planets that remained motionless as together, Toby and I began to plunge through space. A brief silence – I chewed on my sandwich, picked up my beer.
“My wife had leukemia.”
He had known she was ill when they were dating as teenagers. Hoping that in having used the word “had” he was suggesting that she was now healthy, I asked how’s she was doing now. Turning back from the planets he said that she had died when their sons were seven and three and that the insurance they finally were able to get wouldn’t pay for her hospitalization because she had grown up having leukemia. The insurance company called her leukemia a pre-existing condition. He said that he thought that funny in a way since her pre-existing condition hadn’t prevented him from wanting to marry her or made them hesitant to have children.
Toby and his wife had to sell their business to pay for her hospital bills and health care but there hadn’t been enough money left over to pay the IRS, and then his wife died.
“My youngest – when he’s tired and like when he broke his arm – still asks where she is sometimes. His grandmother tells him she’s somewhere in Heaven, but I don’t know if he understands that for an answer.”
“Do you want some more fires?” Toby startled me back into an awareness of my food as quickly as he had made me forget it. “We have plenty tonight – always extra fries. I take them home to the boys.”
Toby continued, said he now works a lot of hours, and still pays the IRS monthly payments. While he is at work his parents take care of his sons. Dirk, another waiter wearing a name badge, joined us briefly. He brought me another beer that I hadn’t asked for and said, “compliments” and patted my waiter on the back while saying, “Toby stayed up all night in the storm fixing our generators. We call him our waiter slash mechanic. Didn’t get to go home last night. Even donated blood yesterday morning. It’s been a long two days for him”.
Dirk patted Toby on the back again and after having explained Toby to me, went back into the kitchen. Toby watched him walk away and as he did he said that he had been so mad at the insurance company and the IRS and so depressed that he had considered killing himself but things were better now – “a lot better” and he had his boys to think of – the boys at his parent’s house – the ones I now pictured asleep while he worked on the generator all night, the generator that must have been used to supplement- during the storm – the lack of light from Venus and Jupiter. A couple arrived at the front of the restaurant and Toby needing to seat them, got up tapped the table with a hand that was still wearing a wedding ring and said, “Hey thanks for listening. I’m fine really, thanks for pointing out those planets. I’ll show them to my boys when I get home tonight – if the lights stay on here and I don’t have to work on them anymore. Toby turned and walked youthfully confidently away from the table.
Journal entry – December 8, 2008 continued:
“…stayed clear the entire night. I’ve made some tea and I’m sitting here writing and imagining that Toby has gotten home from work by now and while standing on a cold dark porch with two sleepy eyed sons, that he is stuffing the medical bill that he told me had arrived today into his back pocket with the hand on which he is still wearing a wedding ring, and that with the other hand he is pointing out across the dunes, confidently and upwards toward the sky and the planets, towards “somewhere in Heaven” – even if he himself does not yet understand that as an answer.