Song of the Red-Legged Birds: Chapter 9: Oh, come on
a little story about Jack and Diane
Last week, in chapter 8, Holly, Triscuit, and Seamus saw more than they wished for
Chapter 9: Oh, come on
Mountains aren’t born overnight, and rivers don’t appear when you blink. Great societies, traditions, and the environment change almost imperceptibly, like trying to catch the paint on your walls fading, cracking, and flaking off. It was in this way that most of the world’s religions declined.
It took a long time for them to fall out of favor, with no singular event or moment that could be attributed to it. One day, you noticed that few people went to church anymore. Few talked about religion at all. It wasn’t taboo, just a little odd. Smoking used to be very popular, then suddenly, it was almost shocking to see someone doing it. You might think, “When did that happen? When did I stop seeing people smoking?” So went religion.
Holly wasn’t born in the Boston area or even on the East Coast. She was raised in Menlo Park, in the heart of technology country, or what was left of it. Her grandfather had been a coder. A techie nerd is what her mother called him. He had critical roles in many social media monstrosities of the day. From Vainprop to UberSkype, his hands were in the code of the big players in the Valley, and he was paid well for his services.
Holly’s father, Jack, was a workin man by any standard. He was a firefighter who enjoyed helping people and didn’t care about computers or technology, except when using it to read books during downtime in the firehouse, mainly Russian classics. Jack’s father always thought his success had pushed his son away from a tech career. In truth, that wasn’t a far reach. Jack was intimidated by his father’s fortune and frightened by the amount of time he spent working. It seemed to his young mind that that was what Daddy did. Daddy works. He works all the time. And he might physically be home, but he wasn’t really there. Jack learned that at a young age, standing near his father’s desk holding a model, waiting for a crumb of attention - until he walked away.
Jack’s father never said much. Hugs, communication, and consistent expressions of caring were frequently missing. As far as Jack was concerned, it was the computer’s fault. His destiny to not be a code jockey was sealed.
Jack’s mother wasn’t much comfort, more of a ghost in the house who drank too much to create distance from loneliness. She was a living widow to her husband’s drive for success. So Jack’s career choice wasn’t all that shocking. He wanted to save people, help people, and care for those who needed it.
He also thought that girls liked firefighters. It turns out they do.
Jack met Diane, his bride-to-be in his first year as a firefighter. And before you ask, they knew and loved the old John Cougar Mellencamp song of the same name. Long after they had become a couple, Jack and Diane’s favorite pastime was making up tales of him saving her.
“He tossed me over his shoulder and walked right through the flames like in a movie!” Diane would exclaim at a dinner party.
“I wasn’t going to let her die on me, not on that day!” Jack would add with a knowing smirk.
The truth was that Diane had called the fire department because she thought she smelled gas in her apartment. Firefighters had lumbered in, couldn’t find anything wrong, and left with annoyance. But Jack took her aside and said she should open the windows to let the place ventilate and crash at a friend’s house if possible. To be safe. Diane did that, and the next day her landlord called to tell her that they found a gas leak in a different part of the building.
Diane soon found herself strolling past the local firehouse. She went out of her way to and from her apartment several times a day. Until one day, she coincidentally bumped into Jack, who was cleaning hoses in front of the station. Jack was getting a lot of compliments and then some concern from his firefighting colleagues for how often he cleaned them. The day he bumped into Diane was the last time the hoses were so well maintained.
Jack and Diane never married but were inseparable after that day at the firehouse.
Diane was an elementary school teacher who embodied a retro hippie vibe from the late 1960s. It was most identifiable by the literal flowers in her hair and an air of inexplicable natural joy in her being.
Whereas Jack had a strained relationship with his father, Diane got along well with the aging techie. Jack’s father was quite taken with her, more so after his wife passed, and he was left to live on his own. She would drop by his home after school when she could, often bringing a treat like slices of lemon meringue pie from the corner diner. They’d eat, and Jack’s father would regale Diane with his exploits and adventures in tech. He told these stories like a cowboy over a campfire relating how the west was won. He loved to teach, and although somewhat apprehensive at first, Diane became a student at the hands of a master. She learned basic programming skills and soon developed more in-depth ones in advanced topics. It was never her passion, but she enjoyed his company and desperately hoped it would help Jack reconnect with his father.
At first, Jack seemed bothered by their relationship, but he knew it was jealousy. It touched an unnourished part of him. He saw Diane’s ability to connect with his father when he couldn’t and felt ashamed. But Jack put that away. A turn of phrase he’d use when he talked about things that needed a new perspective because the old view didn’t make for a happy life. In time, he saw the joy in his father and Diane’s relationship and embraced it.
A fact not lost on anyone is that firefighters have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Diane always worried that she might lose Jack on the job someday. She counted her blessings every night when he walked through the door.
Then there was the night that he didn’t.
She got the call from the firehouse Chief; Jack had been in an accident on the way home from work. In true Jack fashion, he pulled over on the highway to help a woman who had her emergency lights on and was standing and staring at the flat tire on her giant SUV. She had two children with her, whom she collected outside the vehicle while Jack worked on the tire. In what she later described as less than an instant, one of her children had run out towards the traffic, right near where Jack was working on the flattened rear tire. She screamed for her child, and Jack whipped around fast enough to snag him in one arm and push him back off the shoulder. As he did this, he accidentally kicked the car jack with just enough force to set it in motion backward. The bumper knocked him down, and the colossal vehicle dropped on his back.
The woman recounted that Jack’s last words were, “Oh, come on.”
And he was gone.
Diane was devastated, although the realistic part of her was prepared for something awful to happen to Jack for years. Jack’s father, whom she had taken to calling Dad, was there for support. They spent many nights talking about Jack, recounting stories, and confessing things done and undone. Tears, anger, resentment, and laughter mixed in an emotional stew. There was now an unfillable void. The familiar kind left when someone dies. An emptiness that you know, one day, will partially be filled again, and you want that and hate that with the same breath. Diane had barely two weeks to grieve when the next shockwave hit her.
She was pregnant.
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Next week in Chapter 10, “Chimera” Takeda takes notes