“That trespass call has been holding for four minutes already. You need to broadcast it even if you don’t have any available units.”
Available units casting on your broad ass…blah, blah, blah….
“I know…I was getting ready to do that. I was just making sure the status-list reflected five-fifteen-bravo’s accurate location.”
“That’s fine, but you need to broadcast the call…didn’t Andrea tell you that you had to do that within five minutes of receiving all priority-two calls?”
No shit! Didn’t Andrea tell you….
“Of course she told me that. I’m in my ninth week of training. That’s something we covered in the first two days…and if you’d notice, I’ve been doing other things in the four minutes since I received that call.”
“I know you were…but you need to broadcast the call, too.”
Why’d she have to go on vacation now, when we’re so close to the end? And who the hell does Rachel think she is telling me all this crap?
He pushed the pedal with his gray and blue striped Adidas and said, “Any unit for a four-eighteen-tom at one-thousand-one-north-sixteenth-street?”
“Five-twenty-three-david, ten-four. Our complainant, Tom, inside the Circle K, says there’s a white-male in a blue-denim shirt and blue jeans carrying a black back-pack who’s been bothering the customers by asking them for money and he’d like him removed from the property…the subject is about five ten, a hundred sixty pounds and has short black hair and is acting very three-ninety…at thirteen-fourteen hours, is there a unit for back-up?”
Are you happy now? Not only did I broadcast it, but I also got someone to go out on it….
“That was fine…but you didn’t give the frequency call-sign after you said the time.”
Why don’t you just sit there on the other side of the console and mind your own goddamned business? I don’t have to say the call-sign every time I say the time, you friggin’ bitch….
“I have the understanding that we need to say the call-sign when we’re close to the hour…either right before or right after the hour.”
“Well…technically, that’s right….but I like to say it whenever I say the time…it sounds more professional that way.”
R i i i i g h t…like you’d know professional if it walked up to you and pulled the hair out of that mole on your chin…and while you’re at it, why don’t you put away the Soap Opera Digest you’re looking at, Dimwit…you know you’re not supposed to be reading anything while you’re training someone….
The older, heavy-set woman pushed herself back from the console and reached into her blue Wal-Mart bag and got out a package of Planters honey-roasted peanuts and started to eat them.
“Did you notify the supervisor that you have four priority-three calls that have been holding for more than an hour?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“And did you annotate the calls stating that you notified the radio-supervisor that they were holding for so long?”
Yes I did…and if you’d lick the salt off your fingers and click on your little mouse to look at the call, you’d see that I already did that….
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you remember how long Andrea said she was going to be gone?”
Yeah…too friggin’ long if I’m gonna have to sit with your ass every day….
they dripped from my panama sky as their planes droned onward…cotton canopies…nylon nets…strangling…satiny shadows sprouted
from the clouds…they hummed.
tilled earth…humid…rich…cushioned fall…in leathered boots…crunch…broken grass…leaves rent…slap…click…drone…mind…groan…manure
the lost wind swept clear the drop-zone…it has angles…and knives…rent…glide
prayed before he jumped…snatched back upward…god said to stay in the air…don’t fall
i said it…i was that god
get out of my sky!
get back in the plane where you belong, you red, white, and blue bastard
round whirling in his canvas cloud
bullet’s song went pop….shards of memories…corn harvest…soda…lips parted…motor droned…pink tongue…glisten…downy fuzz at the small of her back…red blotchy earth…it rained
he passed flowers…lady bugs dried from the sun…yellow-green smell of broken stems…unyielding rock…sinew stretched…slipped…snapped…surprised…screamed…bone
burned tortillas…charred flour…shard of flower…on the roof…it was hot inside…the motors droned…not the sky…smoke and burned hair…cotton…plastic
the oil spilled…it was warm between my legs
occipital bone…flesh…lead…hair…corn harvest…lullaby…blue-green coca cola bottle…puppy’s breath…flannel pajamas…dura-matter inside the bullet’s song
i didn’t like the raisins in the pudding…they were all swollen and tasted like a rotten something…or rum
corks floating…the labels are stamped through the burgundy…mine got caught in a whirlpool by the cracked mossy rock…his swam past…riding through the sunblast…gone down the…and fade…
“Your mom is dead!”
Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.
“I said your mom is dead.”
In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead. My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach. Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind. They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.
How could she know that my mom was dead? Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone? Why? Yes, my mom was sick. She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die. The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body. It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere. So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.
I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.
“What…what did you say?”
“Your mom is dead. You know…from your call.”
Oh…not my mom…the one from my call. The call I had taken 15 minutes ago. The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.
One beep at a time. We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?” The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.
A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning. In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling…. “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom. He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.” The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.
The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around. The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her. When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”
My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and…. I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.
“Radio,” she answered. “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694. We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122…. The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”
“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way. Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is? Do they know where he might have taken their mom? Do they remember what he was wearing? Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives? Can you ask the girls….”
…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them….
I was gone. I was lost. There was nobody else in the call-center. The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console. There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS. The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute. The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light. Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough. My mind couldn’t think fast enough. My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone. The lady was brave for them. Her strained voice rose and fell. I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them. My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks. I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own. My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.
Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else….
My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone. I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city. The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls. The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness. I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me. My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.
I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work. Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever. Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released. And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.
I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!” I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom. I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.
But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.
There are hideaways in this desert world. They must be searched out or stumbled upon by chance, but they are there. Sequestered locales against time and her demands are tucked away amidst the crush of life, safe havens to cushion our occasional fall. Quietude and rest after a storm, the breeze laced with a fine scent of creosote. The air, now pure from her cleansing, is free from the residue of our modern advances. Gone are the particles and emissions of our progress.
The primary element of our being and the nest of our origin, offering and return, withdrawal and offer again. Standing on this littoral plain, I feel the tugging on my soul; my being is drawn nearer to the mother of life. Filling my ears are the whispers and stirrings of her core. In her arms there is peace.
All that flies against me in every day is gone, with only her stirring presence around me. Crashing waves and the gentle tide, purging the shore and offering her rest. Salty mists are her kisses, the waves are her liquid embrace, all consuming, touching everywhere, a healing salve to my weary soul.
Although I had known of the guy for about two years, I had never seen him. That didn’t matter, though, when he walked into the room to sit before our foster-care review board. There was no one else he could be, and the fact that he was there was at once disgusting and disturbing. If he was here, that meant that he was out of jail. And if he was out of jail, after all this time, that meant that he must be out, as in released, and free. I was suddenly filled with revulsion. For these past two years, I had only known his name and the relationship that he had with other names, a couple of which did have faces. And now he has a face. My hatred could now become tangible, for it was no longer attached to a simple thought. It was something real, for the name, the idea that had, up until now, been the mere combination of letters, or symbols that were so aligned to cause me to understand that the entity was just, and only an entity, a notion, an idea, a concept, and now a thing. Literally, a thing. Not a person who was capable of human feelings of compassion, sadness, desire, love, tenderness, appreciation, consideration, or even respect – as it might apply to another being aside from his own. The murdering bastard was finally flesh. The evil something that I had only read about for the past two years, when considering what would be best for the murderer’s son, was now a breathing entity whose physical substance demanded consideration.
So, he entered the room following the case manager, approached the table, and following the case manager’s lead, pulled out one of the rolling chairs and sat down. The look of arrogance, real or defensive, was worthy of a slap in the face. The way he looked around the room like we were waiting for him, wanting to speak to him, or listen to him, was unsettling. How dare he present himself to our board? How dare he breath the air that moves freely about the atmosphere, take up any of the sun’s rays, be nourished by human concern or thoughts. How dare his heart beat. How dare he demand respect as a human being, in his appearing before us today. Goddamn and curse him into nonexistence! May he rot in the worm-ridden eternity of nothingness that is the most far below acknowledgement. He doesn’t deserve a thought.
Ernie, the man before us, murdered his stepson two years ago. That isn’t true. He murdered his girlfriend’s three-year-old baby. Again, the boyfriend murdered the girlfriend’s child. Are we so little removed from the wild that we have to wipe out the previous male’s genes so that ours can thrive? Is this yet another argument for the strong forces of nature that are still within our souls, our bodies, and our existence? Can this be? Can we forget that we have become civilized, ‘higher’ thinking…yes, thinking, aware, conscious organisms…can we forget that and revert to the animal that lurks inside us? Are we supposed to expect that what he did is ok just because he is, after-all just another animal? No!
Of course not. Of course not – it was criminal what he did. It was an abhorrent act. He should be strung up by his balls and stabbed with a screwdriver until he dies. I’d like to be the one who….
He walked into the room, as I said, following the case manager, and took a seat in front of us. He is about twenty-three or twenty-four, Hispanic, about 5’10”, maybe 165lbs, maybe more. His shiny, black hair is cut short on top and then combed back. The sides are shaved to a military closeness. Reddened acne-spots mar his otherwise pale skin. He has a slight mustache and goatee, slight because his age and breeding won’t allow it to come-in any fuller at present. His front teeth are slightly bucked so he has to consciously close his lips over their belligerent protrusion. He has very dark, brown eyes, possibly even nearing the color of black. His eyes never met mine so I can’t say for sure. And in saying that, I might add that the reason the meeting didn’t occur was not because my eyes were timid in their sockets, choosing to remain on his apparel or to flee to the corners of the ceiling whenever his might walk toward mine, hand out in greeting, while strolling across the plane between us. No, it wasn’t because of me. Maybe they didn’t meet because he felt the piercing darts that fired themselves from my unbelieving, hateful eyes, arch-like from across the table where eons of evolutionary time separated our souls. His eyes were haughty, though, and the eyebrows above them had that slight wrinkle that belied his feigned concern. That’s what I saw anyway.
Ernie was wearing a brown, crème, and rust colored acrylic sweater that had a gold zipper at the neck. The zipper head had a small chain with a loop at the end to facilitate in pulling the zipper up and down. The slightly baggy sleeves were cuffed in elastic that allowed them to catch at his wrists, where they could gracefully adorn the pale, olive skin which revealed blue veins and couldn’t, for a moment, distract the viewer with any amount of success from pulling their eyes away from his short, grease tainted fingernails. I don’t remember a ring, but I do recall that he had a gold bracelet of medium-sized links, with a typical slide-ring clasp, worn on his right hand.
Ernie is the biological father of Christian. Christian is also the son of Jane – a Philippina/Hispanic looking, very skinny, tall twenty-three year-old woman. Her affect is as flat as the boardroom table that separates us from Ernie. “I know she’s on something,” John said, those two years ago. “She is too out of it not to be.” But then again, her responses to our questions were also flat, which made us wonder how far her elevator went up to begin with. Jane’s sister, Angela, who is a couple years older, resembles her physically, but differs from her greatly in that she has a personality. Even in the simplest answers and statements, her tone and face are animated enough to reveal to us that there is a person inside the body.
Christian, Jane, and Angela are not here today. It’s only Ernie and the case manager, and by telephone – his newly appointed counsel from the public defender’s office in one of the tall, multi-storied, brownstones downtown. Gail, Angela, Chuck, and I occupy my side of the table. Alexander had to leave for an appointment somewhere. He missed Ernie. He didn’t get to look at the empty eyes of the person who caused the death of Christian’s older brother. He didn’t get to look at the hands that must have viciously grabbed the tiny arm, and squeezed the tender, baby skin against the soft muscles as he threw him against the wall, or smashed his little head against the edge of the table, causing the terrible damage that made his brain and heart stop working. Alexander didn’t get to see Ernie’s nervous, murdering fingers twitching and rolling and rubbing and flicking one another as he sat there, haughtily expecting our attention, waiting for us to ask him a question or tell him what we were going to do for him so he could get his son back. Alexander, a twenty-six year veteran of the police department, didn’t get to look into the eyes of another rotten-scumbag-mother-fucking baby killer.
Two years ago, I came to your country looking for a new life. It was my desire to make things better for my family, for my children. In these two years, I have learned many things about people, yours and mine, and about living, or trying to live, in your country. These things have not been easy for me, but I have learned them, and I will not forget them. You see, I have read your newspapers and I know that some of you despise me and my people. I know that you do not want us here, in your country. I know that you are angry, for I can feel your hateful stares; and while I respect your feelings, I must ignore them. I must look beyond your intimidating glances and keep my mind’s eye on what my dreams hold for me and my family.
My name is Isabel María Hernandez and I came here from a river-town outside of Juchipila, which is near the middle of the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, roughly six hundred miles south of your Texas border. I was born into a very poor family, one that had nothing. My father was a farmer of corn, but the land was not his, so he had to give most of the money from the corn to the dueño. After my father paid the landowner, he would give the remaining money to my mother. She would then go to the mercado and buy what food and supplies we would need for the next several months. If you saw her walking, every time she went there, you would see my mother’s lips moving; nothing could be heard from her mouth, but you would see her lips moving, silently praying with each step that there would be enough money to buy what we needed; but there never was, and somehow, that did not keep her from praying the same prayer each time she went there. So, we had nothing.
We were only four children with my mother and father. I had learned from my tia, my mother’s sister, that there used to be three more children, but they had died before I was born. A fever had gone through our village and had taken many children with it when it left. This made my mother very sad. It was said that she did not speak for almost one year after they were gone, and I think she was still sad, even when she had the rest of us. You know, my mother’s sadness, her despair and emptiness, it was like the fever. It spread from house to house in the village. It touched everyone’s hearts and lives. Echoes of her misery were heard everywhere, even across the river where the Ocotillo had made their forest. We thought that the land itself held my mother’s sorrow.
When I was seventeen, I met Juaquin Gutierrez, the man who would begin the change in my life. He came to town with the rest of his family, all of them crammed into an overloaded pickup truck. They were heading north, going to the United States, where, if they worked hard and proved themselves diligent to their task, they would find a new life. Juaquin said there was work for the asking, and supposedly, they paid well. Even if it was not well by their standards over there, it was probably much better than it was in my hometown.
I wanted to leave our valley. I wanted to leave because it was filled with the sadness. There was no life there, only sadness and the remaining shadows of death. Can you blame me for wanting to leave? Can you blame me for wanting to escape the history of nothingness, for trying to start anew, for desiring to forge a new shape to my life and the lives of the children I would someday bear? Do you blame me?
If you are a mother and you dream for your children, do you dream that they will become corn farmers who know only hard times and unhappiness – or do you dream of better things? If you see a chance to take hold of a possibility for a better life – do you not reach out and pluck the opportunity before it flees, not knowing when or if it will return? I think you would. Then you ask me, “What about your country, your history and traditions, why do you leave them behind; why do you forsake them?” And now I ask the same thing of you: ‘What about them?’ Do you want to go there? Do you want to take your children with you and try to live? Are you willing to give up your comfort, no matter how temporal or long lasting it is, to go live where I have lived – where I was born? I do not think you would go.
Some of your newspapers and opinion polls say that we do not work in your country. They say that we only come here to bite into your system and see what we can get out of it without putting anything back. You say that we are taking your benefits and public assistance dollars when your own people do not get them. Have you never taken time from your very busy and important lives to see that, yes, we do work? Have you never seen that my people do the jobs that your people do not want to do? Do you remember the men who built the wall around your yard, the men who built the walls around all of the yards in your neighborhood? What about the men who bent the metal bars that now hold your swimming pool together? They were of my people. Did they have to beat-up someone to get those jobs? No. You say that there are laws that make your companies hire some of my people – so their quotas can be met. Very well, maybe there are some laws like that. But, I can tell you, there were no long lines of your people trying to get a job when the companies hired us to plant your vegetables or to harvest them and deliver them to your markets for you. We did not have to shove people out of line to empty the garbage cans in your hospitals or office buildings. Maybe you are too good to pull the weeds from your beautiful hotel gardens. Maybe you are too proud to wash the dishes from which your own people eat. Can you not wash out your own toilets or vacuum your own office floors? Or what about that nice little restaurant where you eat lunch with your friends every other week, talking about your new car or pool while my brother, not yours, scrapes your half-eaten meal into a garbage can? What about all of this?
Can you remove your eyes from staring down your noses long enough to see that your own people abuse your system the same way that you accuse my people of doing it? Can you see that? They did not risk their lives on troubled, dangerous highways to get here; they did not spend many sleepless nights wandering the desert trying to find the right path to take them to their dreams. These people were born here. These people just decided to take a ride on your system of benefits – they have taken the benefits – when a better life is all around them for the making.
My people and I are not asking for very much, we only desire a little help. If we are allowed some assistance, you will see that we will end up helping you and your rich country. You will have our children, my children, when they are older. They will help your country grow – become richer. Our children will serve in your armies and help defend your right to live where you want to live.
What do you dream for your children, that they will go to college and become big lawyers or doctors; become presidents of corporations or mayors of your cities? These are wonderful dreams. You are comfortable in your houses, dreaming these dreams. I am trying to become comfortable too, living in my home, dreaming much simpler dreams for my children. I dream that they have enough food to eat every day, and that they will be able to wear clothes and shoes that fit. It is my hope that they will be able to have enough food for their children when they grow up. I want them to be happy. When they have these things, then maybe I will be able to share your dreams, maybe then I will be able to see our children together, becoming doctors and astronauts and such.
Years ago, your country was built by people who were not born here. Ships used to dock in your harbors, full of people whose nationalities and languages would reach the hundreds in diversity. You, yourself, are probably born from a family who came from one of those ships. Yes, you say, but that was a time when the industry and commerce needed the immigrants to work in the factories and peddle the goods in the streets. Those people, your ancestors, you say, were responsible; they learned the language and contributed to society. So, now, years later, you see the benefits of those people coming here. If you will but give them time, you will see the same of my people.
Things are different now. Your country may not need my people, but we have been coming here in recent years because things have gotten worse in our homeland. Your ‘high-tech’industry and inventions have allowed us to know what better lives we could have in your country, the place that is still the land of opportunity; the one nation that still offers a better life, where my children can grow, can better themselves and our people as a whole. Your own Declaration of Independence says that all people are created equal and all are blessed by their creator with certain rights that must not be denied them. These rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These things are available in your country – they are not so available in mine. When I was studying about your country, I read of your statue, The Statue of Liberty, and the poem that is written at its feet. The last verse of the poem says:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I cried when I read those words because they so described me and my family…and I cried because I wondered where the people had gone who felt this way about my people. Are the words of this poem still true? Are we still welcome here, in your country, to breathe free, to find a home where dreams can be fulfilled, where our children can grow strong and live? Are we not welcome here? If you turn us away, where will we go, where will we make a better life? Where will my children be able to have a blessed life of opportunity…like your children?
How do you know that you’re loved? What tangible something can you label as being a sign or indication that someone loves you? Or is it not tangible? It’s a feeling, right? Is it that knowing or sensing what the other feels for you? Is it the comprehending of their appreciation, your importance, their need for you, what you know in your homecoming, what you sense in your going-away, or their homecoming or their going away? Is it real? How enduring is it? What things or events or forgetting or betrayals can damage that love beyond all repair or healing? How temporal is it? How can one/we say it will last forever? Will it be the same in its enduring? How will it change with the passing of days and months and years? How will the love of today resemble the love that you/one had a decade or more ago? What trials actually make it stronger or weaker? What little ‘nothings’ or ‘somethings’ will make it stronger? How does it fade when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it grow when there are no trials or challenges to it? How does it stay the same or remain constant when there are no trials or challenges to it? How do celebrations make it stronger? How does participating in others’ love make yours stronger? How does participating in a second love make your primary love stronger or weaker? How does loving your spouse make your love for your children stronger? How does your parents’ display of love make your own love stronger, both as a spouse and as a parent? Does an atheist sense and feel love the same way as someone who believes in God, or a god? Does an atheist sense or feel love more on a gut or human level and a believer more on a supernatural level? Does a Christian experience love the same was a Muslim does, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, or a believer of any other religion or belief-system? If a Christian and an atheist fall in love with each other, does the Christian love the atheist more than the atheist loves the Christian? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker? Does the love of a potential God make any and all of your loves stronger or weaker than the loves that you would experience if God didn’t/doesn’t exist? How does the possibility of suffering in Hell make one’s love for God stronger? How do you actually ‘love’ a god who threatens you with an eternity of suffering in Hell if you choose not to believe in and ‘love’ him/her/it? How do we choose to believe or love? We can decide to be ‘committed’ to someone or something, but how do we decide to actually ‘love’ someone or something? Doesn’t love either happen or it doesn’t? If one has a poor relationship with one’s parents, or father in particular, how does that really affect one’s ability or willingness to accept and love a potential heavenly father? How do you know when your parents love you? How can you tell that your mother, mom, mommy, or ma loves you? How can you tell that your father, dad, daddy, papa, or pa loves you? And your siblings, how can you feel their love? If you’ve been estranged or moderately distant from your siblings for the majority or entirety of your adult life, do you really still love them? Do they really still love you? You don’t know each other, so how can you say that you ‘love’ each other? Does having a shared set of parents and childhood mean that you’re ‘supposed’ to love each other? What does it mean if you don’t ‘feel’ that love? Is the love you might/do feel from your siblings different than the love you might/do feel from your best friend? Is the love you feel from your siblings different than the love you feel from your best female or male friend, when you’re a male, or when you’re a female? Do you feel love differently when you’re a guy or a girl? Isn’t infatuation really the same as love? Can love grow out of infatuation if it’s not the same thing? Can love grow out of hate? Is there really, or actually a fine line between love and hate? Are they actually so closely related emotionally? Do you feel love differently when you’re a man or a woman? Do you feel your mom’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your father’s love greater when you’re a boy child or a girl child? Do you feel your mom’s love more than you feel your dad’s? When you’re an adult, do you still feel the love that you might have felt as a child from your parents as strongly as you did when you where younger? How do your adult experiences as a parent affect the love that you remember feeling for your parents when you were a child? How do your adult feelings of love for your parents affect the love that you have for your young or adult children? Do we dare love our in-laws in the same way or more than our own parents? Is it ever okay to identify more with them than with our own parents, or is that a betrayal? If we think we love our in-laws more than we love our own parents, does that say more about ourselves or about our parents? What if we can’t stand our spouse’s parents? What if we can’t imagine how they could possibly love their parents? How do you measure the love that your spouse says they have for their parents against the strength of love that they say they have for you? How do we claim to ‘love’ people when we don’t really like them? How can we say that we actually love someone when we don’t like them? How can we not like someone when we say that we actually love them? Is it even possible to love someone if we don’t like them? Is love like belief? Do we love the idea of love without actually loving the way some people believe in belief without actually believing? Is it possible to love someone without them knowing that we love them? Or, can we love them without letting them know? Is it possible to be loved or to feel loved without knowing who’s actually loving you? Rather, do we feel or know it if someone loves us but leaves no outward indication of that love? Does love leave a mark or a track somehow? Is there some type of electromagnetically-spiritually-staticky-kind-of-powersurge-kind-of-chemical-something-or-other that one can sense or know when in the presence of someone who loves them? When we ‘feel’ that someone loves us, what are we actually feeling? Is it love or desire or lust or infatuation or like or compassion or similarity or dependency or co-dependency or co-survivorship or co-spirituality or oneness? Is it possible to be co-spiritual or ‘one’ with someone and not love them or be loved by them? Can you share ‘soul-mate’ status with someone and not love them or be loved by them? If you love your same-gendered soul-mate does that mean
you’re gay? Do gay people love as intensely or as deeply as straight people? If you’re straight and come to love a person who is gay, does that make you gay, too? Isn’t it possible to want someone so strongly, or intensely, physically that we think we love them? Or isn’t it possible to be so intensely wanted by someone physically that we think they love us? If someone treats us like shit, how can we still love them? If someone kills, abuses, or treats our child or children poorly, how can we still love them? How can we even like them? Does a parent who leaves with their children to prevent/stop physical or emotional abuse of themselves and/or their children by their spouse/partner love their children more than the parent who doesn’t leave to prevent/stop the same abuse by their spouse/partner? Will the children of the parent who left with them love more strongly than the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? Will the children of the parent who left with them love their parent more strongly than do the children of the parent who didn’t leave with their children? If we were abused or neglected as children and missed-out on something like ‘true-parental-love,’ is our measure of any kind of love ever accurate following our childhoods, or will it only be experienced in the extremes? Do foster children love the same way biological children love? Does a foster child who gets adopted feel love the same way a biological child feels love? Does a foster child who ages-out (turns 18yo) of the system without having been adopted understand love the same way another foster child does who did get adopted? Will the love of the aged-out foster child be as strong or as enduring as it would have been if they had been adopted at some time? Do the adoptive parents love the adopted child the same way they love their biological children? Do adopted children love their adoptive parents more than their adoptive parents’ biological children love them? Do people who cannot reproduce biologically and adopt children love their adopted children the same way parents do who were able to biologically reproduce? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they love one of their children more or less than they love another or the rest of their children? Should parents admit, even to themselves, that they like one of their children more or less than they like another or the rest of their children? If we had a crappy childhood, but had a dog or cat that we loved and felt loved by, will that pet-love be a reliable or appropriate measure to compare other non-pet loves to if and when they occur? If we had a relationship that started with both of us ‘loving’ the other and things went sour along the line somewhere and our love came to nothing or came to be something so far removed from what we had at first understood to be love, how does that tainted ‘love’ effect any subsequent loves that we might come to know? Will the subsequent love be more real or pure than the first one was, even though, at its inception, that other love was understood to be real and pure? Do we measure our friends’ love for us against what we know of love as a child or as a sibling? When there are social power differentials between the people in a relationship, does one actually love the other more? Does the lesser-powered person love the higher-powered person more than the reverse? Is this like a child-parent love, but twisted somehow into whatever it is? Does a preacher love his congregation more than the members of his congregation love him? Does a child love a teacher more than the teacher loves the child? Does a priest love God more than his God loves him? Does God love Satan and his fallen angels? Do Satan and his fallen angels actually love anybody? Can an evil person love other people? Can an evil person feel love from another person? Do the answers to these two questions depend on the definition of this particular ‘evil’ and the context in which it exists? Did Hitler actually love anybody? Did he sense Eva Braun’s love for him? Did she actually ‘love’ him? Did she know everything about him and still love him? Did the serial-killer ‘Son of Sam’ actually love someone? Did he sense anyone’s love for him? While a psychopath doesn’t or can’t empathize with others, are they capable of sensing love for themselves? Did Adam love Eve even though he didn’t get to choose her? Did Eve love Adam even though she was formed or brought to substance from one of his ribs…and didn’t get to choose him as her mate? Did Adam and Eve still love Cain after he killed his brother, Abel? Did Cain and Abel love their wives the same way Adam loved their mother, Eve? (Don’t ask me where Cain and Abel got their wives; that’s another essay.) Did Adam and Eve love God, even after he had them chased out of the Garden of Eden? When our babies look at us while they’re nursing or being fed a bottle, can we know their love for us when we’re looking into their eyes? Are they capable of loving us or knowing that we love them…or is this pre-verbal state or place where love actually begins and is undefined and is pure and has no measure? If Abraham really loved his son, how could he put him on the altar and be prepared to sacrifice him for God? Is it right to love God more than we love our children? Is it right to follow the rules that our church has established, to love our church, more than we love our children? If our church tells us to stop ‘fellowshipping’ with our child because they no longer believe the things that the church teaches, should we choose our church over our child? Does love allow us to dis-fellowship our children, or should this be a sign that we should dis-fellowship our church from ourselves because we love our children more? Would God’s love for Himself demand that we turn our backs on the children we love if they no longer love or believe in Him? Does God still love a person who was brought-up in the church and got ‘saved’ when he/she was a child, and then reaffirmed his/her love for God and rededicated himself/herself to God and his service when he/she was an adult and then slowly came to doubt and no longer believe in God and His word, but instead believes that the notion of God/god is a myth, does God, if He really does exist, still love that person? And does God, if He exists, love that person as much as He loves a person who never questioned or doubted His existence, but lived and ‘loved’ Him faithfully? Do Christian parents love their Christian children more or less or the same as they love their atheist children? If we perceive that we are loved by a certain person, but that person doesn’t actually love us, are we still loved because we perceive or feel that we are loved by them? And if someone actually does love us but we perceive that they don’t, are we still loved? Does a person who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which wasn’t horrible, love the person as much as someone else who loves another person in spite of knowing the worst thing about them, which was
horrible? Does a serial-killer’s mom love her serial-killer son as much as another mom loves her son who isn’t a serial killer? Should a serial-killer’s mom still love him? Should anybody still love him? Does he deserve love? Given that people often don’t get what they deserve and just as often get things that they don’t deserve, should the serial-killer be loved? Should/does Jesus still love the serial-killer? Should God forgive the serial-killer? Should/does Jesus still love people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Should God forgive that person who murdered his girlfriend’s children? Was Jesus’ blood shed to wash-away the sins of serial-killers and people who murder their girlfriend’s children? Really? Is that the ultimate in love, to be God/Jesus and have your blood shed, or to give your life to wash-away the sins of people who have done absolutely horrible and disgusting things and that if they believe in you and the cleansing power of your love, they will be forgiven and join you and the other believers in your eternal heaven or paradise? Really? Does the horrible sinner who has a lot to be forgiven love God more than the average sinner who has only an average amount of sin to be forgiven? And does that super-sinner then know or sense a greater love from God than the average sinner? Does God love the super-sinner more than He loves the average sinner, given that He’s forgiven/forgiving more of the super-sinner’s transgressions? Does God love the prodigal more than He loves the one who never left? If you fell in love with someone forty years ago and then split apart and married someone else, and that someone else died or left you somehow and you reconnected again with that first someone with whom you had fallen in love and fell in love again, would this second ‘being in love’ be as strong as it was those forty years ago? Would this second time really even be falling in love, or would it be falling in love with the totality of the memory of having earlier fallen in love? Does a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, experience a different intensity of love than he did before he went to war? Do the children of a soldier returning from a war in which he killed people, up close or from afar, love him/her as intensely as children love their soldier parent who didn’t go to war or aren’t soldiers? Do prostitutes love their children less than people who are not prostitutes love their children? Do prostitutes who later get married experience a different intensity of love than do people who were never prostitutes and get married? Does marrying someone mean that you love them more than if you didn’t marry them but lived with them for the rest of your life? Do parents of an only-child love their child more than parents who have multiple children? Does an only-child love his/her parents with a greater intensity than do children from multiple-child families? Does an only-child love his friends more or less intensely than do children from multiple-child families? Does an adult who was an only-child love his children any differently than a parent does who came from a multiple-child family? Do only-children feel cheated by their parents from experiencing sibling-love? Do single-sons feel cheated by their parents from experiencing true brotherly love, or do single-daughters feel cheated from experiencing true sisterly love? Is love the same to me as it is to you? Does my feeling of love feel the same as your feeling of love? Can I know love the same way that you can know love? Will or does the list of questions about love ever end?
Gerilynn would avow, maybe, that the quality of life is determined by whether or not one of the attendants brought her carrots after she so slyly positioned herself in front of the dining-room table. She would avow that there were not many things in life that were more worthwhile than that little treat – the sound and feel of hard, orange pieces of vegetable being crunched in her mouth. Are the crunches and mashing of carrots as loud in her ears as they are in mine? After she chews so many of them, does she find it a little hard to swallow, like I do? While she seems to give it no attention, does Gerilynn even notice the leather harness that holds her in the wheelchair? I know it’s necessary, but it unsettles me. The strap seems unkind, somehow; like a device from a less civilized age.
The stare is almost empty, the eye-glaze is almost complete as the look from her soft eyes drives itself carelessly into my awareness. Tufts of hair are smoothed by the attendant.
“Oh, she can’t talk.”
Oh, I think, Gerilynn can’t talk. She sits there, belted into her wheelchair, has her hair smoothed, near caressed, sways a bit to herself, and then pedals slowly into the other room.
Oh, she can’t talk.
From a different room, not too far down the little hallway, comes a wailing – something like the sustained bleating of a lost, frightened lamb. It pierces the otherwise quiet night, causing me to wonder at the possible circumstances which might have given rise to this “noise.” I come to understand that Judy is in the shower, and she hates it – she doesn’t like the water hitting her uncovered body, making her cold. Her cries…making me cold.
“It’s all done now! It’s all over! You can stop crying. See, you’re dry now!”
I am still cold. Does she think that, too, with those same words? The bleating continues….
Where does responsibility begin? Where does it end? What is empathy, sympathy, pity? What is the seed of consciousness, or awareness? Quality of life? Living? Life?
Jerry has beautifully colored pictures on his bedroom walls.
“Jerry, You have company!”
Hey, how are you? Did you do all of those?
“Hello,” with a warm, soft hand. “Yes those are mine. Look at the mermaid.”
My daughter likes the mermaid, too.
“See, I did that one over there today.”
Splendid works of art, they are. Honestly. Markers, colored pencils, and crayons. The room was dark as we entered – he was just sitting there in his bed.
“I’m waiting for my TV show.”
The television wasn’t on, but his show would be, soon. And he stayed within the lines; lots of orange and red.
It was nice to meet you, Jerry.
“He goes to dances sometimes on Friday nights….”
Does he have a girlfriend? Does he have any ‘behaviors?’
“No, I don’t want to work in a home where there are behaviors. Everything is pretty quiet here. They like to go bowling and have pizza parties.”
Clean tile leads from one room to the next.
“Do you have to go pee?”
I am shielded by the attendant as Lowell’s tubby, white, naked body glides past us, scampering from his room to the john. It’s bedtime and the pajamas are on the footboard of the bed.
Sal is curled into a ball – thin, small frame just barely causing a ripple in the bedspread.
“He’s kinda sick right now, Aren’t you, Sal?”
He’s the oldest resident, in both senses. A sterile room.
Bye, Sal. I hope you get to feeling better.
Lowell is done in the bathroom and returns to his softly-lit room. Pointing to the end of the hallway, the attendant says, “That’s the girls’ room.”
The girls’ room. A bed, and a mattress on the floor. She can’t hurt herself if she falls out of bed, I think. No leather strap holding her in at night? The girls’ bedroom curtains are pink, if I remember correctly. The bleating has stopped. Gerilynn is in the dining-room, at the table, still waiting for a snack that she’s already had.
“I’ve been here two years, and she’s been with the company for almost what, seven months, a year?”
The third attendant was at the grocery store, shopping.
The kitchen is clean, all of the dishes are done and in their places.
And Lowell does his own laundry. It even says so in the thin, black binder that bears his name. His ‘plan.’
The washing machine is making a god-awful noise -
“I think it’s not balanced.”
Jerry has a thin, black binder, too. His says that he’s not supposed to watch too much TV. His was off. The pictures had lots of orange and red.
“Jerry used to have a girlfriend. They held hands at the dances.”
The washing machine is still unbalanced.
What kind of training do you get from the company; training that prepares you to work here?
“Oh, we do CPR, basic first-aid, you know, that kind of stuff.”
And what else?
“Oh, most of the rest of it you learn, here, you know, on the job.”
And what else?
“If one of them has a seizure that lasts for more than five minutes we’re supposed to call a supervisor.”
And what else?
“We give out meds.”
No, I mean what other training did you receive?
“Oh, I don’t know. Like I said, most of it is, like, on the job training, you know. You have to get to know the clients and then you know how to re-direct them.”
Lowell and I watched Melrose Place. The attendants watched it with us. Lowell had seen it before; I hadn’t. The state pays for Lowell to watch TV in the family room of his home. The state also pays for prisoners to watch TV in the prisons. What do we do with a population which is housed by the state? If the state begins to run out of money, which population do they stop paying for? Which population should the state ‘kick-out’ of their ‘home?’
As Lowell and I watched the show on TV, I tried to engage him in a conversation. In doing so, I looked at the note-pad that he was talking about, commenting on the numbers and letters that he had written. I then glanced down at the note-pad that I was carrying and remembered that there were things I needed to learn, or discover in my visit to the home. My notes were something like this:
‘Work’ – is it meaningful?
Are work related activities productive?
Etc. . . .
I looked at Lowell again and wondered what he would think of my notes. Would he want to be involved in anything that we consider ‘normal?’ And what would that mean anyway? Look at Melrose Place, is that normal? Look at me, thirty-some year old college student with car payments, four kids, and a second mortgage, is that normal? Or what about one of the attendants, a young person with her tongue pierced, is that normal? Who is wanting developmentally disabled persons to become, or to be normal? And why is that wished for, so we don’t feel bad ourselves? Do these individuals even know that they aren’t ‘normal?’
Should we see if you can change a tire? If we can get you a part-time job in a garage, or at a tire-store, will that mean anything to you, Lowell? Will you feel that you are contributing to society, or in some other way being ‘productive?’
If I take you home for the holidays, will that make you feel like a part of society? If you work at Taco Bell and have a savings account, will you feel normal, or will it make me feel that you’re normal?
I will offer that my experience with developmentally disabled individuals is severely limited. And, realizing that disabilities run the full spectrum from completely disabled to nearly fully-functioning, it would be improper to suggest that we should just keep the folks home where they are safe. I wonder, though, how ‘normalized’ an individual like Lowell is going to feel just because he can do his own laundry. Furthermore, does he even know what he is doing? Can he appreciate the concept of his clothes being ‘dirty’ and in need of washing? Or is this just something that will keep him occupied? I don’t know. If my experience with developmentally disabled individuals was more complete, that answer might be more clear to me.
Gerilynn was still waiting for her carrots; Jerry was still waiting for his TV program; Sal was still sick, curled-up like a ball in his bed – with blue curtains on the bedroom windows; Judy had ceased her plaintive crying and was asleep – dreaming? Lowell was still watching Melrose Place with the attendants when I finished my visit.
“Goodbye. Say ‘Goodbye,’ Lowell. Thanks for stopping by.
And I drove away.
Several years ago, I visited a neighbor’s house where one of the people had a ‘social disease.’ During those few minutes in the neighborhood, I noticed a house with a wheelchair-van in the driveway. I didn’t know the house was R-1 with AZTEC, a group-home for the developmentally disabled. Now I do.
Darkness has blotted out the monitor and the last of the rum and ice have mingled together in the swirling of the glass, and they two are now one, gliding down the passage toward my stomach. In short they will be coursing together forever, passing enjoined through the capillaries in my stomach and into the blood where they will course through my body and finally into my kidneys where they will be filtered and excreted through the ureters into the bladder, and presto – into the porcelain bowl and beyond. Together, forever, like so many ill sought friendships, relationships, marriages, and connivings, they start out with the best of intent and end-up pissed away with nothing to show for their former existence.
The snifter fell to the floor that night, rendered into pieces by natural physics; even leaded glass fails against fire hardened tiles that were made to withstand the drumming of horses hooves. Somewhere in the origins of these thoughts are the seeds of yet other thoughts that have been left dry for want of a humid air upon my roasted skin. I am ill. My brain feels afire and refuses to think clearly…so I will sleep….
Mist covered islands of shimmering green faded in and out of my wandering mind. These many miles of sand and seclusion started out as peace would, engendering uninterrupted retrospection. My too-busy mind is now slowed and occupied only with the means of escaping this peace and regaining a semblance of normalcy in my life.
I don’t know if I shall ever return to the life I had before descending to this station. I had scouted the parameters of my functioning well before leaving my former position, and to be honest, I am quite alarmed that I had missed something so essentially simple as the one flaw that has brought me here. I didn’t know the individuals with whom I was traveling. I had sought out a skilled land crew and somehow neglected the other travelers. My undoing. Now, between the sand and the fiery orb that is blistering the skin upon my back, I am here, prostrate upon the shimmering earth. The mirage is my constant companion. She never fails me – always there like a faithful hound. At evening, when the sun has rounded the curve of this bleak plain, I can still feel the heat in the sand. The moving air is cool to my fiery skin and with bittersweet emotions, I greet the dark. Last night a sand-snake slithered too near my imagination and, I fear that I must confess, I almost soiled myself in the excitement. I believe it was a sand-snake. I cannot imagine what other godless creature would be shaped as that vile thing was. I could almost hear the snickering from its cold skin as it passed me. “Yes, I remember Eve!” I shouted to the devil himself. I remember her well. I am without all else in the world and find myself oriented only to the past and the existing moments that I am faced with at present. “To endure the moment is to secure the next,” I tell myself through the sand gritting between my finely polished teeth. The damn dentist put so much wax on the things that I could hail a passing aircraft with their shine alone. If, per chance, one might pass me during the coming days.
I live yet. Unbeknownst to me is the reason for this fate. The other travelers perished in the wreck, and the one who moaned still with the propeller against his face, why, he was going to perish soon anyway…. There was no sense trying to carry his burden with my own. Let him find his peace where he may. I am now afforded this lot. To go on or to stay here, resting with my head upon my burned arm, is the dilemma. Go or stay? Which would benefit me the most? To be home in Orleans would suit me fine if the truth were to be known. Even in this ghastly state, memories of the ladies on Canal Street cause a stirring in my loins. Ancestry and inbreeding combined to make me something less than the best socially functioning individual, but my cerebral processes are unmatched. So the wind and the swiftly approaching stars urge to tell no one within their particular earshot.
The trees weep for me tonight for they know that I shall not be there to walk among them in the morning. I have failed them for a week and three days now. They wonder where their master has gone. The house staff should probably be aware of at least the initial news of the accident. Hopefully they know that not all perished in the plane’s foundering. My brother will likely seize what control he may of the business in my absence. Maybe Wallace, the shrew that he is, will prevent a complete takeover and ultimate destruction if my return is delayed for much longer. The darkened pool, long black from the accumulated leaves, has hidden more than one secret in its time. Soon it may hold yet another. The boy had better not wreck things completely or he might find himself not exactly liking his new, eternal home. Robert spoke of his guests to me once in a dream. He cried about the murkiness of his hiding place and that someone kept scratching at him with long, bony fingers. He realized, too late, what would happen to him if he found my ire, and now, too late again, he cries to gain my pleasure.
The plane circled the wreckage for near unto a quarter of an hour before deciding that nothing was stirring there and needing of attention. I believed that was their intent when they left, to not return, as all was quiet there. Within hours, however, a rumbling was heard coming from the western plains, if they can be called that. Somewhere out beyond what I knew was the west of my several horizons, I heard a truck-like rumbling. My patient, near numb mind could discern the movement even though the image of my eye’s transporting was little more than clouded haze. Sandpaper would have been less cruel to my eyes if that were possible. I felt like a sun-dried tomato waiting to be dumped into a stew pot and rehydrated. I longed for the wet of even a boiling pot of water. I longed to rid my nails of the sand’s dust beneath them. The gash on my head was itching more after each night. I could feel something moving up there while I sat motionless. Motionless. Swaying with a weakened constitution. Lacking the law and wherewithal to rouse from the heat-fired stupor. Damnable itching. Even more cursed are the little worms that stick to my fingers as I withdraw them from the wound. Blood and worms, scratching, sandpapered eyes. I feared for what they might find if they drained the pool…but that wouldn’t happen if things went well. In a few weeks I should be sound enough to add more of the trees’ leaves to the living grave just beyond the back-yard garden.
Interminable time did not pass, nor did the humming become louder in any soon approaching moment. Flies huddled among my matted hairs deciding which would copulate with which other one and then lay even more eggs in my bashed noggin. It must have been a helicopter beetle that flew into my ear just then for I heard the loudest ‘whoop whoop’ sound that can be imagined, then screaming and pulsations of some beating against my head. My own fist got lost in the melee, splitting my ear and reopening the wound on my forehead until more blood leaked down my battered face. It was my own voice that I recognized as the screamer. Where did I come from, and why would I be yelling so? A helicopter beetle with wings of fifteen meters when held in one place, left un-spinning just in my one ear. The humming ceased and only tiny feet could be felt, or fingers, pulling or crawling forward, deeper into that waxen canal. Goddam! Stop with that crawling! Who might hear my wretched scream? Who might save the leaves from toppling in against me, more and more. Another basketful is what is needed. Two or three per fall season is what I toss in there. Yes, it stinks for a time, but with rotting cats and opossum in the background, what is one more odiferous sniff to a fine, cultured nose? I think there really is a truck on the horizon now. I think the green shimmering is the forgotten oasis that turned into an army-green colored truck that is surely coming to rescue my poor self. If the drumming were what a diesel would drum, or hum. Robert said that he has never been so alone and scared. Considering that we used to swim in the pool together as kids, I don’t know why he is so uncomfortable down there now. We used to dive for pennies or brass washers that we had stolen from Timothy’s work shed. It couldn’t be anything less than a comfortable place to spend what he’s got left of eternity. Last Easter one of the neighborhood children was caught throwing his colored eggs into the hideous pond and nearly wet himself when I picked him up and offered to join him with his errant treasures. I explained that his scream was from nearly falling into the pool – his hysterical mother liked to have tattooed my face with her hand when I handed her back the nosy brat. “Teach him to stay out of other people’s gardens then, you homely bitch.” I never was fond of houseguests. They always were too nosy, nearly discovering what made the bumps in the nights.
No manna fell from the desert skies during the night. Morning found me quaking with hunger and thirst as I dared to open my eyes, almost fearful for what I might behold. There was nothing more than the sand and its cousins. Last night Robert visited my sanity uninvited. He was pulling and tugging at it as if to drag me into an abyss of nothingness. He was bluer than I remembered seeing him when last we parted. The pool was a good place, but I am now, in my delirium, having second thoughts. I could have smoked him and then turned him into mulch to be spread in the fields. That would have been fine except that Timothy checks the fires every day and I couldn’t have kept him locked out of the smokehouse for the weeks that it would have taken to get Robert well smoked.
The scratching and crawling in my ear stopped during the night. I think my screaming either killed the burrowing beast, or it finally made it to my brain and is now playing polo up there with one of my loosed marbles. The absent sun spared me some grief, but the night held no rest. I tried to circle back to where the wreckage was and decided, halfway there, that I should have stayed with it from the outset. Searchers would look for the wreck and hope to find the survivors there, or at least not too far away. I wish I had some rum. I wish I had something wet aside from my own blood to drink. Refresh my parched mouth even though it be with the green and black- scummed water from our garden pool.
Like the layers of soft mush coming loose from a bar of soap that was lost in a deep, bubbled bathtub, Robert’s flesh, after weeks of soaking in the fetid pool, began to fall free from its bone and sinew moorings. Flakes and filaments of tissue floated away, plankton-like in the dark storm of the pool. We only needed a spark of lightning to cause new life to form where the old had perished; rather, where the old rested from its perishing. Ever resting, like the sand in my eye-sockets, gritting, scratching and forming abscess-like pockets of gristly tissue that sought to both hold and repulse the orbs of my eyes.
I would that there was a God to strike my slithering form into an eternal lake of fire at this moment. I would that something could remove me from the arid waste of a meaningless existence. Before the tumble through empty sky and final end here in this desert, my life was something to be envied by those around me. At least I felt so. I felt so. Who wouldn’t want to be me? An icicled heart, absolutely sterile of emotion, now, here in the baking sun and unrelenting heat, I am virtually an emotional meniscus, waiting for the slightest breeze or bump of feeling to send me into an uncontrollable weeping frenzy. Thank God there is nobody near enough to hear my baby-like sobbings, though Robert does visit me regularly in my sleep, so he must be near enough.
The threads are gone and the light is out and I can’t see where the stitch went awry.
Every now and then, we do something that we end up regretting later. We may deplore our actions or performance because it was not the best we could do. It is ‘just our luck,’ sometimes, to have our hindsight end up being better than our foresight. At times, we would like to erase certain events because they have caused damage to ourselves or someone else. If we are lucky, the injury was not too severe and we can make reparations. Occasionally, life forgives the mistake and allows us to go on without too much of a scar. And then there are times when nothing will change the results of our actions. What has been done is done. No matter how much we repent, no matter how many times we swear that we will never do that again, the damage is done and we will not be forgiven.
* * * * * * * * *
Jennie’s life was not unlike the lives of many people we might have known. Her origins were probably similar even to those of our own. Her family life was just a touch out of the ordinary, but not too uncommon. At twenty years of age, she was still living with her aunt and uncle, in a respectable, middle-class neighborhood in northwest Phoenix. She was old enough to be out on her own, but just hadn’t quite made the final break; she wasn’t completely ready to take that first, big, fluttering attempt to launch out of the safe nest of home.
Shortly before Christmas, Jennie started hanging around with a different crowd. She met a guy named Todd, who had a bunch of friends on the south side of town. They were new people, unlike the ones with whom she had previously surrounded herself. These folks had a certain twist to their lives. There was something peculiar or almost ‘naughty’ about them. They lived outside of the norm, and to her, this was exciting. At first, it bothered her that her aunt and uncle didn’t like them, but after a while, that didn’t matter. Jennie started staying out later and spending more time with Todd and his friends. They became more appealing to her. These other people were somehow more alluring than when she first met them.
Right after the New Year, Jennie went down to Broadway and Seventh Street with Todd. He introduced her to some more people and showed her what good friends they were. At first, the parties she attended included only alcohol and marijuana. When the people began to trust her, however, they reincorporated their normal fare into the party course – cocaine and crystal-methamphetamine. They either smoked it or shot it. The needles were a trip; they were so scary that they were immediately exciting. She held her breath, closed her eyes, felt the little stick in the skin, the tingling in her arm and then it was there – - the feeling Todd had told her about – a rush and a blast – she thought it was wonderful.
The one thing Jennie didn’t consider was that she might become entirely wrapped up in this other world. She thought she was just going to a really long party and would be home in a few days, but months went by before she realized how much time had passed. Was that possible? She partied every night for a week, slept for two or three days, ate like a starving maniac when she finally woke up, and then…she repeated the cycle over and over for four months – four months of getting high and having indiscriminate sex. Having sex just for the pure pleasure of the animalistic rut. The crystal made her desire so intense, she literally ached for the sex. So, there it was – a group of young males and one or two equally young, willing and high females, who desperately wanted to have sex.
There was never the thought of consequence. It hadn’t really entered Jennie’s mind that something bad might come of this. A half-thought or premonition was there at one time, but it never materialized into a complete, solid idea. The substances she was using numbed her conscience and intellect. As they wore off, she only wanted more – more cocaine and more crystal.
Sometimes, rational thought comes back to us in the middle of our folly. It seems to burst through the clouds of delusion like a ray of sunlight, almost blinding us with the sudden recognition of our errors and then leading us back to our sensibilities. Jennie was struck with the stark realization of her mistake on the last Sunday in April. She woke up at about noon, lying on a beer and urine stained mattress. Crumpled next to her were the bodies of other people, some partially clothed and some not. During the night, someone had vomited in the corner of the room and had then passed-out with the side of his face lying in the puddle. On the other side of the room was another mattress covered with more half-clad bodies, all dead asleep. Full daylight shone through the broken-glass rimmed window frames, lighting this hellhole she had called home for the past four months. “My God!” she thought, “What am I doing here?” The linoleum had been ripped from the floor years ago and the bare plywood was coming apart from the rain and sun that had streamed in through the broken windows. Every manner of dirt and filth littered the floor. Through the door to her right, she could smell the human excrement that had been smeared on the bathroom floor. The last visitor had missed the full, broken toilet and had then stepped in his mess while stumbling back to the main room. Flies were buzzing everywhere. Cobwebs had strung themselves across the ceiling rafters with reckless design. Gaping holes stared blankly from the walls where the plaster had been punched and kicked.
Jennie pushed herself off the mattress and followed the tide of filth and destruction that spilled down the hallway and into the back bedroom. This room’s outer walls had been stripped from the outside and light shone in through holes where the electrical outlets had been. On the floor of the closet, she found a shard of mirror. Without hesitation, she picked it up and shoved it before her face. She gasped aloud when she saw her reflection. Facing her was a stranger; a shadow of the person she had been when she arrived there in January. Jennie had lost forty pounds in the past four months. While the one hand held the fractured mirror, her other hand absently held up her soiled and stained pants. How had she not noticed her clothes hanging from her bony shoulders and hips? Her hair was crusted with some kind of dried food that had been forgotten on the mattress. Stringy, filthy, blonde, tangled mess. Dark rings circled her once bright, blue eyes and a road map of burning veins pulsed through the sclera.
Right then, at that exact moment, Jennie knew that she had to get out of there. She had to leave. This was all wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to her. Clenched jaws prevented her from screaming “Get me out of here!”
Somehow, Jennie made it home. She made the seventeen-mile trek in about four hours, mostly on foot and the rest by hitching a ride with whomever would stop for her. Her aunt and uncle were not home when she got there, so she climbed the wall and tried getting into the house from the back yard. After checking all of the windows and doors and finding none of them unlocked, she sat down in a patio chair and waited. She must have still been incredibly tired because she fell asleep within minutes. Several hours later, her aunt shook her awake and took her into the house. There was no celebration or joyous reunion, but her aunt was relieved to have her home, alive and in one piece.
The next three weeks was a time of healing for Jennie. Her body began to mend from the abuse it had suffered and her mind began to become whole again. There were still the urges to feel the rush from the chemicals she had been using, but now she had the mental capacity to withstand the temptations and get past them. Her aunt and uncle were wonderful in the care they provided her, basically nursing her along in her recovery. Very little was said about the past four months. When she would mention a certain event or talk about specific people, they would listen attentively, but not offer much in response. They had been crushed by her absence and still couldn’t understand why she had left.
Toward the end of May, Jennie was back to her normal self. One could almost have said that the past four months hadn’t even happened. She had gained back a portion of the weight she had lost. Her hair once again had a healthy shine and her eyes were bright and beautiful, full of hope and appreciation for life.
With her new outlook, Jennie began to plan for her future. First, she went to several local restaurants and department stores and completed applications for work. Then, her aunt took her to the community college and helped her complete the forms for registration and financial aid. Life was good again. Jennie and her aunt became closer than they had ever been before she left. They would spend hours talking about dreams and possibilities, hopes and aspirations. It would be grand to finish school, get a great paying job and succeed in life. Jennie’s hope was to meet the man of her dreams, settle down, make a few babies and then live the full life – with all of the best – even the white picket-fence.
Part of Jennie’s response to her new perspective on life was taking responsibility for herself. She realized that if she would become anything, it would be by her own making. Along with this realization, was the new awareness she had of her health. The one drawback was that she had no health insurance. Her aunt and uncle couldn’t carry her on their plan because they were not her legal guardians. Her biological parents couldn’t do anything for her because she was no longer a minor and she was not yet a full-time student. So, what could she do?
Jennie’s aunt checked with some of her friends and learned of the free clinic on Sixteenth Street. They didn’t perform complete physicals there, but they could at least detect whether or not she had a sexually transmitted disease. This was a significant concern of Jennie’s because of the number and type of people with whom she had had sex in the past four months.
Sometime in the second week of June, Jennie went to the clinic and had a checkup. While she was there, she spoke to one of the counselors who suggested that she also get a test for HIV. “Sure, why not. I’m down here anyway, so I might as well. I don’t think I have it, but it can’t hurt to get it done, right?” The counselor assured her that it was probably the best thing to do. Considering the high-risk activities of her recent past, it would almost be negligent not to have the test.
A week later, the counselor called to inform her that she had tested positive for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Jennie still had to wait another week for the HIV results. She wasn’t concerned, though; she had hardly given it a second thought. For some reason, it hadn’t really occurred to her that she might be positive.
When another week had passed, she went to the clinic to get her test results. The same counselor greeted her and then asked for her copy of the lab slip. He compared the numbers to make sure he was giving the results to the proper person, and then told her in a calm, slightly wavering voice, that she tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A minute went by, and then another. Jennie just sat there. Her mouth was literally hanging open and those blue eyes were like saucers, staring, wide with disbelief. “Are you sure?” He placed the two lab slips side by side and showed her the numbers. They were identical. He then pointed to the results: POSITIVE.
“Oh shit! Oh my God! I’m only twenty years old and I’ve fucked-up my life!”
That single line seemed to bounce from wall to wall in the small counseling room. It held such finality. It wrapped up the whole situation in one statement. Sure, there was supposed to be hope. This wasn’t supposed to be the end of the world. But…it was. At that point in time, there was not a cure. The odds were against the positive patients in that they would probably get sick; and then, they would die. It was only a matter of time.
The counselor just sat there, waiting for the echo of her words to fade away. Training and practice were designed to almost skirt the emotions and face the altered truth that it really was not the end of the world and there really was hope. But…how could one refute the truth in Jennie’s pronouncement of doom? Would one be correct to dismiss the blatant reality of her words? Carefully, the counselor validated her feelings and tried to steer her toward a more optimistic view. He told her that her life would certainly be different, but there were things that she could do to help postpone the end. It was in her control. If she lived a healthy lifestyle, she could possibly achieve some of her dreams….
* * * * * * * * *
And then there are times when nothing will change the results of our actions. What has been done is done. No matter how much we repent, no matter how many times we swear that we will never do that again; the damage is done and we will not be forgiven.
One of my last calls on a particular Labor Day morning before leaving work for my weekend was one in which a woman was being assaulted, and as the call and the minutes progressed in which the officers were driving to the location of the distress, the man ended-up raping the woman. I cannot express how bizarre it was to listen to the play-by-play commentary by the caller as he told us what the man was doing to the woman. He was really thrashing her, and then he had her down on the ground, and then he was lying on top of her and was appearing to strangle her, and then the caller said that he was moving up and down on top of her. And the caller just kept on talking, letting us know what was happening. I wonder how a person could be an observer to an act of this nature and not jump in to stop the man from continuing his assault. I cannot imagine just standing there watching it occur. It is beyond me how an able bodied person could allow it.
I couldn’t stop my tears or rid myself from the choking feeling in my throat as I recounted the call details to my wife that afternoon. The hopelessness that I felt was in a way overwhelming. The observer did his part (?) by letting us know what was happening in that quiet morning parking lot of those apartments. He did, in fact, dial 9-1-1 and start the help that would eventually interrupt the bastard and bring the 15-year-old victim to that state of having been rescued. It took too long though. When I put out the call to the Cactus Park Precinct, or 900 area, there was no reason for me to have picked up the Maryvale Precinct, or 800 area as well. The location was an easy mile from the precinct boundary, so I couldn’t have been found at fault for not requesting more aid initially. The 900 units were coming from the station, but there was no way of knowing if that meant that they had already fueled and loaded their cars or if they were just answering for the call from the actual inside of the station. To me, all it meant was that they were coming from at least six, and maybe seven miles away while this girl was getting beaten and eventually raped. It meant that we got to listen to the caller tell us how the man was continuing to strike and choke her while she continued to scream and fight back in that secluded parking lot that was a bit too unpopulated on that Monday, holiday morning. After about five or several minutes, I went back out on 800 and asked if there was anybody closer than the 900 units who were coming from their station. I explained in urgent radio-ese that the woman was being raped and we needed someone to get there soon. “Anyone responding, switch to Channel One, frequency clear at zero-six-forty-eight hours.” My status list suddenly had three extra units from the 800 area, along with the four units who had initially answered from 900 and were coming from the station.
I drove past the apartments on my way home after the shift was over. I thought it was strange that only 45 minutes to an hour earlier it was the scene of a violent assault and rape. At the particular hour that I was there, roughly 7:45 to 8:00 in the morning, it was a very quiet little place. It was the kind of apartment complex parking lot that was tucked in between a small cluster of buildings that were adorned or accented with more than a few plants, bushes, and trees, or whatever they were. The morning’s sun was still pretty low in the sky, so there was that delicate softness that the trees and the low apartment buildings affected by shutting out part of the sun. It would have been a nice place to sit and read the paper on that morning. It would have been an ideal place to leisurely stroll with one’s dog, or to sit in the grass and play with the neighborhood’s stray cat. But instead, it was the perfect place to first beat and then subdue and rape a young girl.
Nine-fifteen-David, the first unit on scene, initially cleared on the radio and said to roll Fire for a possible 261, or rape. Within minutes of that coming over the air, he asked for his supervisor to respond because it was a valid 261. After a few minutes more, he cleared again saying that the scene was secure with one in-custody and that we could go ahead and clear Chase, which we did. “Nine-fifteen-David is advising that we have one in-custody and it’s Code-4 at 3734 West Camelback and Chase is clear of the traffic at zero-six-fifty-seven hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.” And then I unplugged my headset, tucked it into its black corduroy bag with the little ducks embroidered on the front, and then placed into my workbag. I turned to my relief who was also my Chase or Tactical-channel partner, said ‘Good Night,’ and then headed down the hall and out the building…with the caller’s voice in my ear and the computer screen showing the call and incident details in my mind. And it was all over. “Code four, clear it.”