Belts are great. They hold up your pants. Especially for men like me who have nothing to hold up their pants without one. There is a particular belt I own that means the world to me, twice over. It’s the twice over part that gets me.
You see, when I took this belt that I am talking about; from my grandfather’s corpse. I expected to hold on to it for the rest of my life. It’s a symbol to me, at that very moment it became one. The Model-T on that belt buckle is like my “S” insignia, it became hope.
If you have been following my writing for some time I am sure you have read about my cousin, Paul. Paul was the little brother I never had. He looked up to me with these eyes. Eyes I have only been able to enjoy again since my nieces and nephews began to use them. He was also my best friend at the same time — because we were exactly two years apart. So it flipped between the two, but more often than not he would look at me with such admiration. He did it more as I got older, and I still miss it dearly.
It’s this reason why no matter what anyone tells me, I feel a particular guilt about his loss.
I know he had plenty other influences around him, and I saw him but maybe twice a year for most of our lives after our early childhood — but damn do so many of those times define me. I want to think they did him too.
I remember before he was even smoking cigarettes — riding bicycles to town so I could go buy some. He would ask to have one and I would oblige, knowing full well if he wanted to no one was going to stop him anyways. It’s not the sharing that sticks out to me, it’s the bicycle ride.
Just like my friend Alex, so much of the time I spent with Paul was purely with him. Just him. We didn’t need or want anything else, and so many memories I have of him are like titanium encrusted across my brain. So a lot of the things I said and did, I feel like they stuck with him.
Like I wrote, I know there were a multitude of other influences and I was far from the largest. But I still did then and now feel a modicum guilt for the path he went down and ended at. Paul made his own choices, but I think with any loss we feel like there is more we could have done.
This is going to be about what I did do, though. I gave him the belt.
It’s funny, thinking on it — I didn’t even physically hand it to him. I believe I gave it to my Mom and she gave it to my Aunt Mary to give to him. That titanium memory though is from Megan and I’s wedding. May 4th, 2013. Just over four years ago now.
The wedding was over. The reception was over. It was the after party. I can’t remember which relative’s room we were in, but it was facing on the starboard side of the hotel. There were two beds, most likely queen — it was in the Boulderado in Boulder, CO, which is a historic and old place. You know the deal, shiny whites and golds, filigree, encrusted and rimmed mirrors, don’t forget the pretty chandeliers. This room wasn’t filled with all those things, but there were two windows on the far side facing as you walked in.
Paul and I stood amongst the room that was so loud we got called in on a few times. We were center, in front of the beds. Center again, in the gap between the door and the windows. Center. In a world of our own. We just stood there and talked. It’s one of those conversations I only got to have with him once and I was looking forward to checking in on it a few years later to see how things progressed.
It started with him telling me he did not like my now wife until that very day.
Something he saw in her, in me, in us that day. It made him realize something about growing up. How he didn’t exactly know everything. He apologized for it and we had a great heart to heart about him getting to know Megan better.
There was alcohol involved, but I know we both remembered this whole conversation clear as day. Since he had already broached serious subjects I decided that it was the perfect time for me to have yet another talk about his health, and making the right decisions — not putting his body in danger by making bad ones. I was well within my recovery at this time. I was not off probation, but I was on emails only at that point.
I said to him, after probing questions about what his plans were over the next couple years,
“Paul, I’m going to give you Grandpa’s belt. Understand something. If you fuck up again I am going to take it back. I don’t want it back, you don’t want to give it back. It’s Grandpa’s belt.”
He was over the moon about it. I remember him calling me after he got it and being concerned about needing to put a hole in it.
“Paul, Grandpa had a fatter waist than me, I put a hole in it. No worries, wear the thing.”
I really, truly, never wanted that belt back. I am not going to lie, I missed it sometimes. When I would see him and he wasn’t wearing it, I got bummed out — but I know he wore it. From my own recollection, family’s… and how worn that new hole is.
This is why I say the belt means the world twice over to me. I took it off my Grandfather, I hoped to inspire my cousin, and now I keep them alive inside and on me with that belt. I think about them both every day. I have them with me every day.
What I wouldn’t give, though. To be bummed about him not wearing that belt when he could be.
Thank you for reading.