[Maybe a bit dramatic, but I am feeling a bit dramatic today.]

Protect your queen.

I’m not sure if it was from a movie or a television show. The West Wing? The master against the amateur. A flurry of moves with pieces being taken from the chess board. Protect your queen, with fewer and fewer pieces, fewer and fewer tools. Once the queen is gone, the game is over.

That is what I remember from my childhood, my oldest memories, how I was taught to be a son. Forget childhood: protect your queen.

I’m not sure if it was from the micro culture of SW Philly or the old country culture of my family, or some splicing of my unformed character with my environment, but a mother was the queen, the matriarch. I remember my grandmother being something more than human and my uncles and older cousins being more than men. They were soldiers, warriors, the queen’s guard.

And there I was, with my tiny sword and shield, with my own queen, unsuited to the task at hand. Sometimes part of the queen’s guard. Sometimes the only queen’s guard.

Protect your queen.

I learned anger. It is a powerful tool, both sword and shield. You really haven’t lived until you have felt that primal rage coursing through your body. It was all that I had. The only coping strategy, the only recourse, the only defense. And so I used it, made it a part of me.

Protect her. Against any and all. Protect her from herself, from the manic depression, from the insults and slights, from people and neighbors and friends and family. And from myself. –I was never allowed to turn that anger on her and so I never figured out a way to release it. I was only a little boy.

There is this cute little meme going around Facebook, something about the approaching storm, and the warrior responding, “I am the storm.” Yeah, buddy, you have no friggin’ idea.

The storm came upon me in my earliest childhood, and I sometimes feel as if I have spent my entire life on that battlefield. Warrior and soldier, field medic, hero, craven and deserter trying to find a way off that damn field. But the storm would continue to rage and I would always make my way back to the middle of the field, the highest ground, to see what else could be thrown at me, to see what else I could stand against, to see what else what could beat me and rip at me.

Without anger, where would I have been? How do you survive something like that, how do you maintain a grip on sanity, without anger?

Protect your queen.

So, yeah, I lived my life pissed off at a lot of people. First and foremost: myself, and the conflict to live my life versus doing my duty. Second on the list is my mother, and the fundamental conflict that particular relationship brought to the storm. But nobody and nothing escaped it. Dad, brother and sister, cousins, aunts and uncles. Doctors, illnesses, episodes, surgeries and pretty much everybody and everything.

I know: I shouldn’t have been angry at anybody, especially myself. But tell that to the little boy that doesn’t want to see his mommy hurt.

I once set my anger against the manic depression. Not a flanking maneuver, not a rear guard action or surgical strike, but a full frontal assault. I was no little boy anymore. I was a man grown, with intelligence and abilities, and with a will and determination probably unmatched by anything you have ever seen or experienced. The anger coursed through me and I embraced a powerful arrogance, a terrible strength that would allow me to set my will against the illness that had ravaged my mother’s life, my life.

In that apartment, with the turn of the century approaching, with almost 30 years of dancing in the storm, I called the lighting. I shoved that lighting rod in the ground at my feet as a banner, and challenged it.

The lightning came. It kicked my ass. It was brutal. Defeat does not even come close to explain what happened to me there. A total shredding of everything that I was, had been, would be. There were so few pieces of me left, that I did not think I could ever put myself back together. There was not even a shred of anger left to help me repair myself, defend myself. The aftershocks of that defeat battered a defenseless spirit.

Protect your queen.

The hell with the queen. I turned from that battlefield and quit. I had nothing left. And I retreated to Florida. It was a turning point for me. A climatic ending or a climatic beginning. It was neither, just a segue into the next battle. A smaller battle formed, as they will on battlefronts, a micro battle. The battle became against myself, as I tried to figure out what to do with this anger.

I’m thinking now that all of the progress that I thought I had made was only an illusion. I never left the storm, the battle. I could ignore it from time to time, push it aside and live myself. Become a man. Become a husband and father, a business owner and homeowner, a friend and acquaintance and maybe even a writer. But there is still that angry little boy.

Protect your queen.

I cannot.

It’s cancer. Like manic depression but totally unlike it. An illness with an inevitable conclusion. I have no tools to deal with this. But the anger returns, with the should haves and could have beens. And I dread the passing of the storm. The event that will herald the passing of the queen will also herald the passing of the storm and I will finally be able to drop this sword and shield? What do I do next?

Protect the little boy.