Staring at the red-eyed ass-end of cars and trucks and jeeps and other sundry motored craft with my eyes all a glimmer with the reflections from those little white and yellow reflector type thingies that line and border the roadway and guide me along my Monday morning crush and rush to that famed and beloved workplace those many twenty and some miles away…gum wrappers and stop signs and don’t stop in front of the fire-station exit and the shiny vest with reflector stripes on the weebly-wobbly guy who’s walking up to the bus-stop catches my eye as I approach and cross the reflector marked railings along the canal and floodway passage that has mated with the bike route that goes from here to forever when you’re riding it against the wind that whips through its tunnels wafting the transients’ urine smell gust-like up your nose in shadow form and passing…. And the one fire-control-systems truck that just had to launch from the stoplight like a hot-rod on a summer night, young driver aflame with the passions of his pursuits to impress whomever might be watching and then took his foot off the gas and dropped immediately to just below cruising speed at 40+ mph…needed or not…with the vroom of my engine and sideways glance and just make up your mind, drive or don’t, but get out of the way…and we’re just driving to work.
It is Thanksgiving morning and I alone am awake in the house…well, me and the two cats, the one whining for her can of food and the other sitting there politely waiting for her few teaspoons of milk. The smell is still in the house from the pecan pies that I baked last night and there are a couple pans still that have dried overnight on a towel on the counter by the coffee maker. I’ve managed to make it down the creaking stairs without waking the little one and his eight years. He told his mom the other day that now that he’s eight, he’s a man. His sudden adultness hasn’t gone any further than that conversation, but it was strange or cute that it went there anyway. The coffee-maker did its thing and the brown brew is sitting there waiting for me. My fingers are slow as I work-out their night-time stiffness on these keys and slowly-forming words.
I haven’t stepped outside yet, but I will do so here in a few minutes, as I want to feel some sort of crispness in the air on a Thanksgiving Day that will reach temperatures in the high seventies to eighties. Yes, we love the warmer temperatures in our Arizona winters and springs, but the holidays need to be laced with even a minimal amount of chilliness in order to have and bring the full emotional weight that they should or can possess. I mentioned to my wife the other day that the media shouldn’t show holiday or Christmas commercials on TV that have snow-covered content or whatevers in our desert land…it just isn’t right. They’re a tease to those of us who miss it and completely out of context for our holiday lives here with the sand and cacti and palm trees and shimmering pools in our backyards.
This is my quiet for the day and I won’t have it again until late in the night after everyone has gone home and the little one is put to bed. All of our grown children will be coming over today, some several hours before the festivities begin and others as the day proceeds and when they get off of work. The little ones will be and are here. Mom and Dad are also coming up from Tucson, but they will likely arrive later in the afternoon for the four pm dinner. Grandchildren and my children and the quiet will be vanquished to the extreme times. Hopefully there won’t be any meltdowns or breakdowns or tantrums or overwhelming situations that raise the roof…hopefully.
And the kitchen will be my haven, my working and hiding place from whatever else goes on during the day. Turkey and stuffing and ham and potatoes and corn and cranberries and yams and biscuits and beans and gravy and pies and and then….
I went outside to test my senses and feel the breaking day as I might and found it cool but not cold and quiet but not silent…there were a few lone drivers on the road whose tires spoke to the day and at least one dog who also had something to say…not telling any news but sharing that he too was awake…and someone’s heater kicked-in and the ringing was in my ears and shattering whatever might have been quieter…and someone was doing their laundry already at six-thirty, for the smell of fabric softener was in the air…and I spied someone’s newspaper lying in their driveway, so the paper-guy has already been through the neighborhood…maybe he got a later start today, or not…usually he zooms into and out of the cul-de-sac around four-forty or so…and he’s been here and gone…the leaves/fronds on the palm trees were still and the bougainvillea sat silently, not moving in the slightest…and the street light still shone as the sky was still too gray to turn it off.
And I am thankful today for my wife and children and their wives and children and my other family and friends and the good life that I have. It seems that things and life are sometimes or often too tight or too busy or too mundane or too trying or too whatever and again…and today, my life is good…today is carefree with only the dinner schedule to maintain…let happiness reign.
Officers from Mid-City Precinct responded to Sweet Friend of Jesus Hospital for a domestic-violence victim that had been beaten two days ago by her husband. He had used a two-foot-long board with exposed nails to repeatedly strike the victim, resulting in significant puncture wounds and associated trauma. In an unrelated incident, officers from South-City Precinct responded to a burglary call at the home of the above-mentioned domestic-violence suspect’s mother who made statements that her son had put his wife in the hospital in a domestic-violence-related incident. South-City Precinct officers confirmed with Mid-City Precinct officers that there was probable cause to arrest the suspect, and conducted follow up at an address provided by the suspect’s mother. The suspect was contacted, a fight ensued, and the suspect was eventually tased by arresting officers. He was booked on felony domestic-violence charges and resisting arrest. Night detectives were called and followed-up with search warrants, etc.
Oh, how I love you, let me count the ways….
We joke sometimes, maybe not so jokingly, that sometimes people just need to be beaten…some people and in some circumstances…they simply need it, deserve it, have it coming, or whatever…but I cannot imagine the rage and stupidity and non-thinking that would compel a person/man to grab a board with nails poking out of it and use it to assault his wife…his wife…not a prostitute that just robbed him, not a person he just caught breaking into his truck or house, not a person who he just learned molested his daughter, not a person who tortured his cat…but his wife…
Do you, Mr. Domestic-Violence Suspect, take Miss Domestic-Violence Victim, to be your wedded wife to live together in marriage? Do you promise to love, comfort, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her so long as you both shall live? And if things go badly, do you think you might take a board to her when she’s out of line or if you’ve had too much to drink and your favorite team loses again?
Well shit-damn…the things people do….
This Sunday morning, today, a simple morning, I was just sitting there reading something on the computer or studying the board to make the proper chess move and a friend walked in and gave me a Bavarian crème donut…and the smell was rich and beyond my morning grasp of words…rich sugary and warm with chocolate icing and then…wrapped in waxed paper and held with simple paper towels from the work kitchen dispenser…and it was so simple…so real…an emotion and a donut…if there had only been freshly perked coffee and a crisp wind blowing through the door and scattered yellow and orange and gold leaves lying about…but our winter spring is here and there was nothing to be had as such…eighty or so degrees on a middle-ish November day and our desert sun shone bright and fair…phones rang and people laughed and officers went running to their hot calls and chasing people who bailed-out of stolen vehicles and we heard their emotion and shortness of breath and heard the other people in the background as other officers and people were there to watch and help and one was at gun-point and hold your traffic and the radio was quiet…. And they were only seconds not minutes that passed and it was code-four, one in custody and the room was loud again as they tossed the Sunday paper to each other to search the ads and watch cartoons and it was Sponge-Bob and his friends and someone changed the channel quickly past the man in the robe beseeching someone and others to look to the highest for redemption and the news replaced him and it was boring too, so they turned it to Sports Center or some other random thing and they dispatched their trespassing calls, got officers going for the suicide and later told me about the five year-old in a wheel-chair that had been missing for over an hour…his 15 year-old sister left him out front talking with a friend and came back an hour later to find him gone and nobody knew where he was and called 9-1-1…what is your emergency…and popcorn was popped and yogurt eaten as people came and went and an American officer with a Baltic name and accent asked for an ear-piece for his radio and there’s none to be had today and so…and I met with the two remaining trainees and congratulated them on their successes and wished them more as they left my charge and passed-along to the next phase…they work almost alone now but still need a guide and a listener as they ask about emergencies and say with somber voices “9-1-1, where is the emergency?” They’re young and new and liking their jobs and want to help and have open and eager minds and they can see the seriousness in our eyes and know our voices are confident as they are still trying theirs on for size and it’s getting easier and thank you and I’ll try to wake when the alarm goes off from now on and no I don’t want to be fired…and can I stay late to make-up the missed time…the morning and afternoon passed and it was one-something and then three and we left the fortress-like building and entered our cars and began our journeys home or wherever our journeys would go and we became our citizen selves and then…the cat won’t eat her food because it’s a day old and she wants a new can and the kids are over and having fun on the trampoline and I don’t know if I want Taco Bell again…seems like common fare…common like not unusual, not like ‘common.’ The day is now passed and past and the evening is upon us and our teams won and lost and we had a little success with the right kind of DVD thingamabob and tomorrow is going to be busy again and I’d love some Bailey’s thank you…and that donut was so sweet this morning…the outer cake was slightly crisp and soft and I could smell the sugar and crème and chocolate and had to lick the last bit off my fingers as it was too good to just wipe off and throw away…and thank you my friend…for a great way to start a Sunday at work.
i danced across the angry sand
your lips pressed into the
i hurled my self against the
blasting fire spikes that raked
suspecting skin of my
What is the self that is not explored, a half-lived life, unknown, abhorred.
The chastening call of reflection -
I am unknown. There is
You know what I mean -
You’ve been there too.
Behold the guise behind which lies
The hidden part that seeks its not self.
You are unknown. Behind my face -
There is me. I am mixed.
It’s a loathsome hideaway.
Repentance made – there is no God to forgive.
The soul is the self all connected -
To one not me inside of another.
You flee. I am found.
Dark wing flies to the hidden shore
Of remembrance held, gone not away.
Be not still in your finding.
Long nights of trees and lost beginning.
Where did he hide the newling that was
Not yet? Don’t ask for it’s not had.
Where is the newling not yet?
Ask around the place she could have
Been made. How Past.
What strange thing. The fog uncovered in its
Thinning. The shadow shape unmisted, ungone.
You are weird. You are that I find. To see
Two ways. Unbecoming, am.
We don’t know how it happens, most of us, but when the buttons are depressed, it doesn’t matter. All we know is that help is supposed to arrive on the other end of the line. What is amazing, is that it does. No, I haven’t yet witnessed the serious misplay of signals and heard the agonizing death or continued battering that was yearning for my help, but in time I know it may happen. A nearly perpetual un-ease as the tone sounds in my ear; an equally perpetual wondering if this is going to be the one that may change my life forever. It can change things like that, I know it. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that disaster, but it must come, for life knows no way of stopping the things that have been set in motion. No amount of prayer or forethought is going to prevent the inevitability in life. It just happens. Frantic voices and then ones of grogged sleep and substance induced stupors, lucid memories of the things that used to be there and the distressed sighs of the aged ones who just can’t remember. Were they going to come this Tuesday or next Tuesday? Why haven’t they shown up yet? They were only coming from across town and it seems they should have been here hours ago and I lost my cell phone and need a report number for the insurance and the man next door refuses to turn down his stereo and my babies are trying to sleep and I just got done seeing patients until three this morning and I would so like to get some sleep before I have to start the day again and don’t you know that damned dog just won’t shut up and the man just kept hitting her and she was crying, screaming for help and I had to call and now I’m taking my babies downstairs to my daddy’s apartment so they won’t be upstairs where all of that stuff is happening and the one Indian guy was grabbing the lady around the throat and smashing her head into the lamp post and I didn’t know what else to do and you’ve got to send help quick…. And so we do our best to get the numbers in the right places and depress the right keys so that help can be sent with the speed of an electronic beep to rescue the perishing. God rest ye, merry gentlemen.
“You don’t pray before you send your kids out there into the world? How can you know that they’re going to be safe?” You don’t know, I can’t know, and neither can you. Shall I pray to Peter Pan? Will Prince Charming rescue me like the risen savior? Isn’t it all the same thing? Who can know? How can you ask that of someone so believing of the stories they’ve heard? How can you dare to ask such a thing of someone like that? I don’t ask it, I just wonder it.
I left behind friends and security to gain trepidation and a few dollars more an hour and the prospect of earning even more as time proceeds onward. Probation for a year and who knows what’s going to happen in that year. I keep telling myself to relax. Just relax and answer the phone. Almost one hundred and sixty times today I just answered the phone and tried to just answer questions or just send help on the way.
“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”
I returned to my bunk, sliding my pink flip-flops across the black- speckled, white, linoleum floor and sat down to the accompaniment of the complaining bedsprings. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms, pausing mentally to process his words and formulate my response. There would have been a certain pleasure in unleashing my rabid thoughts like a crazed hound and letting them bite the old guy…hoping that they would infect him with my disillusion and disgust for the God that he apparently loved.
Still leaning, almost haughtily, against the yellowed wall, I responded, “You know something, Reverend…I don’t think you and I know each other well enough for you to broach the subject of God in the context of my life and the situation that I’m in…it just doesn’t seem right…I mean…in this regard, you don’t even know me, and it’s presumptuous of you to assume that we’re on the same page where God is concerned….” I paused again to let the words hang there like loosed dog-hair in a faltering breeze.
Thinking this was an opening, he started, “But I thought….”
I wasn’t ready for what he thought, and this was one topic that I didn’t need to discuss with someone who was nearly a stranger to me…angry at everything, I didn’t want to listen…it was still my turn…the acid thoughts that I had been brewing for the last several months still needed airing…I didn’t have any patience…so I interrupted…after looking up at the mismatched fluorescent light tubes in the ceiling, I leaned over and grabbed my ankles, trying to hold-on to myself, trying to keep my confined, yet racing mind under control; and then, with my chest pressing against my legs and my hands, white-knuckled, squeezing my ankles, I elbowed my way into his words…it was unexpected…I was embarrassed and scared of myself, but I couldn’t stop…red faced and with my pulse pounding in my temples, I nearly growled, “What if I told you that GOD had commanded me to kill that man…that mother-fucker…what would you think about that?” Staring at the black speck in the floor that was directly in front of his left shoe, I rushed on…“Or what would you think if I told you that your God is DEAD and that’s evident by how fucked-up the world is…what would you say THEN?!” I yelled… “WHAT WOULD YOU FUCKING SAY THEN?!” The words echoed, and bounced, and ripped through the air, thrashing the currents of rage and inconsideration and pretence and posturing and falsehood and all the other evil and imagined shadows and ghosts that plundered and dashed in the black silence between us. The taste of algal mold flashed in my mind as my aching jaw and lips pressed together, restraining my urgent, pulsing tongue…baby flesh coated in verdant bubbles and slime and his diaper soggy with green water that was running across the dirty pool-deck…making little rivers of thickly flowing mud that redirected themselves around beer cans and the dirty tennis-shoes of the man standing there…. “Yeah,” I growled through clamped teeth, “you thought we had talked before so I must be ok with God and all of that, right? Well…I’m not.” My raging, fiery-brown, tear-filled eyes slung themselves back up at him, daring him to respond…I whispered, “So, do you really want to talk, Reverend?”
His huge eyes were staring at me and I could see the delicate tip of his fat, pink tongue running back and forth across the edges of his top and then bottom teeth. The light glistened on his scalp through his thinning hair and I noticed again the bulge that hung over his belt. The minister had his hands resting in his lap and the middle finger and thumb of his right hand absently spun the gold ring that was on his left hand. He swallowed hard and licked the thick cotton from the corners of his mouth and looked around the room like he had forgotten where he’d put the iced-tea that he didn’t have but desperately wanted at that moment. He cleared his dry throat and hesitantly began, “But…but you’ve got to think about God…” he said unsteadily, “you’ve killed a man…and…things aren’t going to be the same…never again.” His bewildered eyes sought the remote ends of the ceiling, and then the bedpost, and then the wall behind me, and finally, reached nervously over to my own eyes. The man swallowed again, then licked the corners of his mouth again, with his eyes still timidly on mine…waiting….
“You’re right, Reverend,” I leaned forward again, “they aren’t ever going to be the same. So what?” I snapped, “We’ll all go on living. You’ll live your life and I’ll live mine. I’ll deal with whatever comes my way and you’ll deal with whatever comes your way.”
“But what about your soul?” His words stumbled as he swallowed thickly, still spinning the ring on his left hand, “What about your eternity?” he asked urgently. “Aren’t you concerned with that?” Now I was looking around the room like I’d lost something. I know I had thrown the words out there…they were still echoing in my own ears.
Exasperated, I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me?” I looked sideways, eyes wide with searching, first one way and then the other, like the words might have landed somewhere on the floor, or maybe on the bed or nightstand, and I could pick them up and throw them at him again. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? LISTEN! I don’t believe in your God, therefore, there’s no SOUL to consider and my ETERNITY is going to consist of rotting in the ground…you know…worm food, just like YOU!”
Again the silence became tangible in the cell. The minister sat there on his red chair, looking at me and then looking away. His eyes sought the corners of the ceiling again, as though they could provide him some sort of comfort…or maybe he was looking up there to find reassurance from his God, I don’t know…but after several long moments, when I thought he was going to excuse himself, possibly offering to return at some later date, he stood and walked the two steps over to the night-stand and picked up one of the books.
“You know anything about Cormack McCarthy?” he asked, looking sideways at me. Not waiting for a response, he continued…looking at the back of the book, “Mostly western stuff, huh? You like his work?”
“I do like his work,” I said, leaning back into the wall, trying to decompress a little, “and, no, it’s not all ‘western stuff.’ His stories are beautiful written, and violent, and real to life, yet they help me disengage from my own life for a while, that’s all.”
Turning to me again, he offered, “And become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life, huh?”
A little smile touched his mouth and I wondered for an instant if he had been putting on an act earlier…there was a little too much intelligence in his eye as it caught mine in that smile’s moment.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes, not wanting to start-up with him again. “Yeah, you could say that,” I answered into my hands, “I can become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life without actually becoming involved. It’s safer that way” I mumbled, while pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes.
Replacing the book on the night-stand, he turned to me, “What’d ya say? ‘Bout bein’ safer?”
I removed my hands from my face and said, “It’s safer that way…becoming involved in someone’s life without actually becoming involved. Stars swirled in my eyes as I turned to look at the man. The department insignia on his shirt was dancing with the stars in my brain and I had to close my eyes to answer him. “You can care about what happens and know that you don’t have to do anything about it because it’s just a story. It’s from inside someone’s imagination. Yeah, I can read about their shitty life and then put the book down and they go away. It’s that easy,” I said, almost choking, wiping my blurring, tear-filled eyes, “…it’s that safe…inside the book.”
To be continued….
The cold eyes of the courtroom cameras didn’t blink or flinch in alarm as I un-holstered my department-issued sidearm, rose from my seat and emptied the magazine into the chest of the man on the witness stand. The spectators and court officials, silently watching in absolute confusion and disbelief, sprang from their seats and respective positions and either ran from the room, hit the floor looking for cover, or did what their official duties required of them. Two of the sheriff’s deputies tackled me from behind as I stood there like the crucified Christ with my arms outstretched and my head thrown back looking into a heaven that I no longer believed in. My knees were jammed into the floor as I felt the deputy’s shoulder crash into the small of my back. My head slammed into a dark, wooden bench and stars burst into my eyes like nighttime sparklers on the Fourth of July. The gun that had been dangling from my right hand had fallen to the carpeted floor and lay there, spent and empty and trembling in my eyes as if it were the violent beast itself who had executed this tragedy. “It’s Code 4!” I yelled into the carpet. Blood and lint and dust found my tongue as I yelled again “It’s Code 4!” The burning and peeling of scraped-off skin from my cheek was numbed by the pressure the other deputy applied to my back as he drove his knee into my spine and pushed my head into the floor as his partner pulled my arms behind my back and grabbed my own hand-cuffs from the black leather pouch attached to my utility belt and secured my trembling hands…. “It’s Code 4,” I whispered to the floor, “It’s Code 4….”
No doubt you’ve heard reports or watched the news and seen stories about people who have just snapped and gone ballistic on someone. It is usually a complete surprise, otherwise the person wouldn’t have been said to have ‘snapped.’ The people around me that day might have believed that I snapped. If there had been someone privy to my thoughts for the past several months, they would have seen this as completely premeditated, calculated, and intentional. But there were no such people. There was no other person who knew what had been mulling over in my mind since March of last year. They were thoughts that I tried to hide even from myself. I was embarrassed when I looked in the mirror. It was difficult to meet my own eye. Other times, I just ignored the storm that was brewing inside and tried to conduct myself as normally as possible. I caught my wife looking at me a few times with an almost puzzled look on her face. She said that I looked like I was somewhere else and the looks on my face kept changing, contorting as I had whatever imaginary conversation with myself. I would quickly smile and ask her what was wrong and she would give some bland answer like, “I thought you said something,” or “Are you alright?” This only happened a few times in these months, so I think the recent events probably caught her off guard too.
I’ve seen three psychologists and a couple psychiatrists since the shooting. It was kind of bland psycho-talk, asking questions about my childhood, my parents, the job, my marriage, and the relationship I have with my kids, etc. They concluded, somehow, that I must have broken-down from the pressure of the job and the disparity of life…and on and on. The last psychologist said that a condition of temporary insanity was definitely a strong defense…again – he went on and on.
And, of course, there was the department chaplain. Reverend Ron, as everyone called him, came to see me and offer his counsel, words of wisdom, prayers, understanding…or whatever. He and I had talked in the past so he must have thought we had some commonality of thought or experience and that I would enjoy talking with him, or be able to derive some kind of peace from the words and testimony that he would share with me. He came to see me after I’d been in jail for about a week…had to see me in my cell because they didn’t want to let me out of PC, or Protective Custody; an officer who was now a prisoner wasn’t safe among the general population.
Reverend Ron had entered my cell with a less-than-confident look on his face; it was almost sheepish, somehow. The dark blue polo-shirt with the Department emblem over his heart was stretched tight across his over-sized belly and he had to adjust his belt as he sighed and sat across from me on one of the red plastic chairs that had been brought in from the control room. I had stood as he entered and greeted me, and then sat again on the metal-framed bunk that was bolted to the wall on the far side of my cell. There were a few awkward seconds in which we both looked at our surroundings and wondered if we could each feel more uncomfortable in the others’ presence.
“Ya doin’ ok in here, Matt…are they treatin’ ya alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing alright, Reverend, and aside from the occasional green bologna, I don’t think the food is any worse than I was used to eating before I came in here.” After a brief chuckle, I added, “It could definitely be worse, though…I mean…I could have a big, hairy cell-mate who thought I was cute, or something, heh, heh, heh….”
The older man just smiled, and looking at my crisply made bed and the gray, metal nightstand, he said, “Ya got anything good to read in here?”
“Got a couple magazines, some Cormack McCarthy, Tim O’Brien…and a Bible…of course.”
“Ya doin’ any reading in that Bible?” he asked me, with hope, raising his shaggy eyebrows.
Shifting a little on the bunk, I responded, “No…not much…can’t seem to get into it lately. Somehow the material doesn’t go with my environment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand. Your mind’s kinda boggled-up with everything that’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah…kinda boggled-up,” I mimicked, smiling at his country tone.
“Well, that’s kinda what I come up here to talk with ya about, Matt. Thought ya might want to just open-up…ya know…kinda like purgin’ yourself of what’s inside. Ya know what I mean?”
“Oh…I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know that I should be talking with anybody about what’s goin’-on inside my mind. I already talked to the psychologists and psychiatrists…they came to see me within the first couple days…said things would probably be rather unsettled for a while…you know…adjusting to my situation and the new surroundings.”
Reverend Ron sat there, nodding his large head…looking at one side of the cell, and then the other, finally looking at me again, “Yeah, I figured they’d a been here already, that’s kinda why I waited as long as I did to come and see ya.” Leaning forward now, the older man effected a genuine look of compassion and said, “And how are ya really doin,’ Matt? How are ya doin’ way deep inside…ya know what I mean…way down in that quiet, private place that we don’t often go?”
I stood and turned away from the man, faced the glossy, yellow-white of the brick wall and responded, “I’m doin’ just shitty, if you really want to know.”
The older man sighed and adjusted his belt. “Oh…I imagine ya are…and have ya talked to God at all while you’ve been in here?” I turned to meet his beckoning eyes, and with a quizzical, sardonic lilt to my voice, I said, “Have I talked with God?” Piercing his eyes now… “Yeah, I talked to God…but…” pausing, wondering for a moment if I should embark on this endless train ride… “but I don’t know what the hell good it would do. He’s not going to answer me….”
And now, near angrily, I said, “Because I’ve tried talking with Him before and He didn’t have anything to say back to me…that’s why.”
The guy leaned forward and, donning his practiced, sympathetic air, he countered, “I know it’s probably hard to see through any of this right now…probably hard to hear Him talkin’ with ya…but He’s there… just waitin’ for ya.” He leaned back again and gave me his yearning, thoughtful attention; now it was him, and not his God ‘just waitin’ for me.
To be continued….
What are we really saying when we offer that ‘everything happens for a reason?’ Are we suggesting that our lives and the lives of those around us have been pre-programmed in every possible way so that absolutely everything that happens in our singular and collective lives happens because it was ordained or determined to happen as such? Or does it mean that once something has happened, we can take a retrospective glance or study of the event or happening and see that it might have been caused by a combination of events that came together in the moment of whatever it was that happened? ‘This’ plus ‘this’ led to ‘this,’ and then when ‘this’ happened, it led to ‘this,’ and then when ‘that’ happened it led to ‘thus and such,’ and then ‘those things’ combined to cause ‘this and that’ to happen, which led to this person doing ‘this particular thing,’ or led to ‘this particular something’ happening to ‘this specific person?’ Is that what it means?
In my ‘quest’ to discover some possible meanings for this rather commonplace saying, I found another blog that mentions the book Everything Happens for a Reason: Finding the True Meaning of the Events in our Lives, by psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum. When I followed the link to Amazon.com, I read what Publishers Weekly had to say about the book –
If you believe that “everything happens for a reason,” you might find solace in this well-written self-help guide by psychotherapist Kirshenbaum. Her premise is that “that no matter what happens to you, not only does something valuable come out of it, but it’s just what you need.” Kirshenbaum details…10 possible life lessons one might learn from unhappy life events, ranging from self-acceptance, feeling at home in the world and letting go of fear to finding true love or your hidden talents…Kirshenbaum is careful to note that what you learn doesn’t make up for what you have lost…If you don’t believe there is comfort to be found in life’s worst events, this book isn’t for you. But if you’ve undergone a tragedy and are desperate to find meaning in it, Kirshenbaum’s smooth, comforting tone may give you some direction. (Underlining added)
The “10 possible life lessons one might learn from unhappy life events” are listed in the blog as:
1. To help you feel at home in the world
2. To help you totally accept yourself
3. To show you that you can let go of fear
4. To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness
5. To help you uncover your hidden talent
6. To give you what you need to find true love
7. To help you become stronger
8. To help you discover the play in life
9. To show you how to live with a sense of mission
10. To help you become a truly good person
Another reviewer, Gavin de Becker, the bestselling author of The Gift of Fear, said that, “In a loving universe, everything does happen for a reason, and in Mira Kirshenbaum’s book we are persuaded that the universe always has our best interests at heart – even in our darkest moments.” I’ve got some comments to make about that statement, but it will have to wait a bit.
While I haven’t read the book (yet?) and will concede that neither the blog nor the book reviews could possibly do the book every justice or injustice that it might deserve, it appears that the author is suggesting that a retrospective look at the events of our lives can be analyzed and suggested to fit into one or more of her above-named categories. But having said that, it appears that she is also saying, in her premise anyway, that no matter what happens to you/us, something good is going to come from it…and that something is going to be just what we need…which means, to me anyway, that someone or something is directing the events and circumstances in our lives…in essence, good and bad things are brought to us by the universe (God?) because we need them.
Let’s run with that for a second…we got a good job after working shit jobs for 15 years building our resume while going to school…and we didn’t earn or acquire that ourselves…the universe brought it to us? Our in-laws were killed in a car crash when some drunk crossed the line and plowed into their vehicle head-on…and he lived…and the universe brought that to us for some good reason? Or did that happen so that we could learn to live our lives with a sense of mission? Our client’s three and four year-old daughters were raped in their private parts, bottom, and mouth…both of them were raped in all three places…and the universe brought that to the client and the little girls for their own good? Or did that happen so the mother could be brought to the place where she can feel forgiveness? We finally won the lottery after spending $20 twice a week every week for 23 years…and the universe brought that to us? Our son or daughter joined the military to fight against some fabricated threat somewhere across the world and got killed while trying to save the people who don’t want us there from themselves…and the universe brought that to us for our own good? Please tell those 3,600-plus families who lost their loved ones in the events of September 11th that the universe brought them that experience for their own good…for a particular and specific reason…because the universe is a loving universe and only gives us what we need…please tell them and me how that could be true….
In my searching for other possible meanings or examples of this saying that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ I came across some other ‘comforting’ words from the Christian scriptures -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says that:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which was planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
So, there’s right time for a four year-old to be sexually abused by some monster of a person? There’s a right time for people to be killed by a drunk driver and have the drunk live? There’s a right time for planes to fly into buildings and kill thousands of people? There’s a right time for crazed white people to hang black people from trees? There’s a right time for hurricanes and tidal waves and volcanoes and plagues to wipe-out thousands upon thousands of people? There’s a right time for carbon monoxide leaks to kill entire families as they sleep? There’s a right time for mothers suffering from post-partum depression to drown their children in their bathtubs? There’s a right time for one tribe of people to massacre another tribe of people because they believe in different spirits and gods? There’s a right time for men and fathers to cut the labia off of their daughters’ vaginal openings so they don’t experience any pleasure in the sex act? Everything happens for a reason? There’s a right time for freeway snipers to shoot unsuspecting people as they went about the mundane tasks and routines of their lives, or for a disgruntled mate to barge into city council chambers and start shooting employees, or for a disenchanted veteran to load a rental truck full of explosives and kill 168 people because he didn’t like the way the government handled certain incidents…there’s a right time for all of that? There’s a right time for 50yo men to ‘marry’ 14yo girls to have them as second and third and fourth and fifth wives? There is a right time for a US Army major to open fire and kill 12 people and wound 31 others on a US Army base in the middle of the United States? All of those things happened because the loving universe brought them to people and to us for our own good and theirs, Gavin de Becker? What?
Or this, from AOL News:
A British hospital wants to remove a 1-year-old boy born with a rare neuromuscular condition from life support, but the child’s father is fighting to keep him alive.
The baby’s mother agrees with hospital officials, who sought High Court permission Monday to remove the boy from the ventilator that allows him to breathe, British media reported.
“RB’s mother has sat by her son’s bedside every day since he was born,” her lawyer, Anthony Fairweather, said in a statement, according to Sky News. “In her mind the intolerable suffering experienced by her son must outweigh her own personal grief should she lose her child.”
The infant, known only as “Baby RB,” was born with congenital myasthenic syndrome, a muscle weakness that limits the movement of his limbs and his ability to breathe on his own. He has been in the hospital since birth.
Doctors treating the baby say he has such poor quality of life that it’s not in his best interests to keep him alive. But lawyers for the father argue that the child’s brain is not affected by the condition and that Baby RB can see, hear, feel, recognize his parents and even play with toys.
“This is a tragic case. The father feels very strongly that Baby RB has a quality of life that demands the trust should continue to provide life-sustaining treatment. The father clearly adores his son and hopes to demonstrate to the court that the trust’s application should be rejected,” Christopher Cuddihee, a lawyer representing the father, told the Sunday Telegraph.
The parents are separated, but both have been living in a special dedicated family accommodation near the hospital since Baby RB’s birth. Their identities were withheld for legal reasons.
If the hospital’s application is granted, it will be the first time a British court has gone against the wishes of a parent and ruled that life support can be discontinued or withdrawn from a child who does not have brain damage, the Guardian newspaper said.
Congenital myasthenic syndrome is the result of a rare gene abnormality that affects the link between the nerve and muscle, destroying the “signal” between the two when the nerve wants the muscle to contract.
Only 300 people in the United Kingdom are believed to have CMS, and they are affected with varying degrees of severity.
Please tell the mother and father in the article above that this all happened for a reason. Tell them and me that the universe was looking out for this baby, this mom and this dad, and that it is all coming together for some good purpose…for a reason and one that will benefit everyone involved, because that’s how the universe is…it just is, right? Please tell the mother and father in the article above, Mira Kirshenbaum, that not only will “something valuable come out of” this situation with their little baby…but that it will be “just what [they] need;” I fucking dare you.
Forgive me, but the universe doesn’t give a shit about us. We’re life forms that happened to have survived the thousands of thousands of years and have managed to do so despite what we’ve done to ourselves as cultures and as a species…the universe doesn’t bring anything, things just happen. Genetic mutations occur and people die…just like other animals do out in ‘nature.’ This mom wants her baby to be taken off the respirator so he can stop suffering physically, so his body will cease to live and he will pass away…and his father wants him to continue to exist physically because his brain is aware and present…and is aware that he is hurting as his body is fighting against itself and that some of the people who love him want him to continue to be in this state…shit…love him and let him go.
Everything happens for a reason? I don’t think so. Good happens and shit happens and that’s just the way it is.
Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart. As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards. I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not. I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving. I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave. I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis. I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic…and I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad…and my car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then. I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business…or I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff, I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables and then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes…and the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what? When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back…and now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday…and I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom…and the older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua…and I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS but she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know…and I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….but somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the ‘hood rat’ who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
For almost six years, my family and I lived in the near shadow of the Rocky Mountains. I was stationed at the Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs, which is right up next to the eastern face where the mountains lean down and meet the plains that stretch east into Nebraska and beyond. When we stepped out of the back door of our house and looked to the north, our horizon was a jumble of mountain slopes and peaks and rocks and pine forest and wonder. Mule deer walked through and grazed in the communal areas between the houses and wandered to and from the forested areas of the base and back into their natural homes of those woods and hills that surrounded us. Brown or black bears also lived nearby and would occasionally be seen moseying along the ridges and hillsides along the Academy’s northern boundary. Pike’s Peak was further south along the mountain chain, and then north and beyond what we could see from our back door hidden among the other peaks and valleys was Rampart Reservoir; somewhere back there and away…I’d never been there but had heard about it from my hunting and fishing co-workers and friends.
The elevation of the Air Force Academy was between 7,000 and 7,500 feet depending on where the measure was taken and the housing area in which we lived was closer to the 7,000 mark. The particular mountain that was directly outside our back door (by a few miles, but very prominent in the view) was called ‘Blodgett Peak’ and was listed at an elevation of around 9,200 feet on the topographical maps that I had access to with my job. Blodgett Peak was mesmerizing in the summer with its beautiful rocks and pine forest blanket and near dazzling in the winter when it was covered with snow…even on the darker days of winter when the sky was heavy with clouds and impending storms. The white of the snow and the contrasting darkness of the rocks and trees combined to be both inviting and foreboding when one considered venturing outdoors for a simple walk or a hike.
Living as near to the mountains as we did, it was hard not to develop a longing to be even closer. The raw nature was compelling. In fair weather I would take my dog, Zack, and my kids for hikes, sometimes ranging through the foothills and other times wandering more in the forested areas along the snow-melt creeks or in the seams of the valleys between the minor hills of the lower mountain areas. The kids were young at the time and their smaller legs would have a difficult time going very far, so on most occasions it was just me and the dog. We would follow the game trails along the sides of the hills or wander along the streams, watching the brook or rainbow trout glide along the sparkling waterways among the pebbles and rocks, fallen trees, branches, and other scrubby vegetation. We would encounter mule deer and squirrels and hawks and an occasional horned owl as we walked through the forest and out onto the slopes. It was unusual to encounter another person out in the woods, so the quiet of nature was more profound and alive than it would have been with others out on the trails causing a human disturbance with their speech or simple presence.
I can’t say for sure when the idea came to me or when I might have first taken it seriously, but the mountain mass of Blodgett’s Peak and its ascending slopes and neighboring minor peaks became an attractive and alluring force, one that I couldn’t ignore, especially given its proximity to my daily life there at its base. I believe it was January, but it might have been sometime in March of maybe our fourth of fifth year at the Academy that the attraction became almost an obsession and I knew that I ‘had’ to climb it. After discussing the adventure with a neighbor of mine, Dennis, we decided to drive as close to the mountain as we could and then hike around the base with the topographical map, trying to figure out which slope would be the best place to start. It appeared that regardless of our starting point, most of the ascent would be at angles of 45 to 65 degrees, sometimes in the shaded and still snow-covered areas of the northern spines, and other times in the more clear and rocky areas where the sun had reached and touched enough to melt the snow and provide an easier passage.
The day finally arrived and Dennis and I prepared our snacks and lunches and canteens of water and stowed them in our backpacks, tightened our hiking boots, grabbed our jackets and gloves and Dennis’s rifle (for bears?), loaded our gear and dogs into my car, and headed toward our launching point. Fifteen or so minutes later we were at the end of the forest or service road and found ourselves at the base of the mountain. We unloaded the dogs and everything else, locked the car, secured the keys in a side pocket on my cargo-style jeans so they wouldn’t get lost on the mountain, hefted our backpacks, and found the side of the one ridge where we would begin our ascent.
The snow had melted on the front of the ridge where we started, but we were soon up past our ankles and then close to our knees in the white stuff as we climbed higher. The dogs bound ahead and often came back to check on us as we moved a little slower than they did, even with the constant sniffing, sampling, and surveying that they conducted on their way. Neither Dennis nor I were really prepared for the steep climb that we had undertaken, but we were essentially in-shape and had the stamina of our relative youth to propel us up the mountainside. I don’t remember the first two-thirds of our climb as being particularly difficult, but as we embarked upon the last third, it seems that we had to stop every few steps to catch our breath and rest our burning legs and pounding hearts. We were sweating profusely as our bodies were working so hard to move us upward, tapping our energy reserves after having used-up the calories of the snacks we consumed while hiking or on our breaks. During the march up the mountain, we were constantly looking upward, hoping that as we topped each rise we would be at the summit. But as one would guess or imagine, no sooner did we make substantial progress and reach that next rise, we would see more rock and mountain ahead of us, defying our tired and miserable wishes that we would be done with the upward climb.
The view as we ascended the mountain was mostly blocked by the tall pine trees and other ridges that were around us. While that might not have been much to look at, we were still surrounded by a splendor that is now foreign to my desert-dwelling self. The pine trees and scrub oak and other vegetation were snow-covered or not, and nestled in and among or towering above the black and gray rocks that were beside, beneath, and still above us. Pine needles and the fallen leaves from the scrub oak and whatever other bushes were around us were a cushion over the rocky ground when we sat to rest, while the white of the patchy snow accented the granite colors of the rocks and the green of the pines. We would come to clearings every now and then, or find ourselves on the spine of a ridge that was no longer behind another ridge where we could see back out onto the Academy/base or, looking northward, we could see other mountain ridges and peaks that we had never known existed other than on the maps that we had studied while planning the hike. The air was still chilly and burned our lungs as we strained up the mountain, but it was pure and the sky was clear. The sun was out and added to the heat that our bodies were producing, encouraging us to remove our jackets and unbutton our flannel shirts to let some of the heat out. There wasn’t a risk of getting too cold, even in the shade of the trees, as our bodies were still working too hard for that to happen. When we paused to rest, the only sounds we heard were our breathing and the dogs panting and running around. There were no noises of the civilization we had left at the foot of the mountain. We could hear the breeze or light wind in the pine needles and leaves and branches above us sometimes, but other than that and our own breathing and our hearts pounding in our ears, it was unusually quiet…beautifully, but so unnatural in our everyday lives.
Finally, after what must have been three or more hours of hard climbing (I honestly don’t remember how long it took), we topped the final rise of our trek and found ourselves at the literal top of Blodgett Peak. The summit was probably no more than 200 square feet (20×10) and was covered in some type of wild grass or weeds, scrub bushes, and the gray and black rocks that were characteristic of the mountain itself. The sky, again, was bright blue and had puffy clouds out in the distance. We could see the entirety of the Academy, out into Colorado Springs proper, and turning around to look at the mountain ridges and pine forests to the north of us, we could see Rampart Reservoir and some other smaller lake in the distance. The breeze or wind was stronger up there than it was down in between and on the spines of the ridges and we quickly cooled-off as we sat and looked out at the magnificence around us. When we had turned to look north at the Reservoir, we suddenly heard a loud ‘whoosh,’ and turning quickly back toward the front of the peak, we saw one of the Academy’s yellow gliders sweeping past us. It was probably less than 30 feet away from us, as we could see the cadet pilot actually smiling at us and waving as we made eye-contact. What a trip! We had seen the gliders on and from the ground innumerable times in our years at Academy, but what a rush to be eye to eye with the pilot as he was sixteen or seventeen-hundred feet up in the air! Aside from the ‘victory’ of having ‘conquered’ the mountain in making it to the top, seeing the glider so close from the top of the mountain was the highlight of the adventure.
As one could imagine, the trip down the mountain went much more quickly than the ascent. Dennis and I had miscalculated the downward slope of the ridge opposite of the ridge that we had taken to arrive at the summit and ended-up going down the near front slope of the mountain instead of one of the ridges. After we rounded the summit and began the descent, we quickly learned that we were going down a slope that was much more severe than the one we climbed up. We were easily going down a 65 to 70-degree grade and it was difficult to keep our feet under us as we slid and plunged down the face of the slope. The dogs had an easier time of it with their four legs and no backpacks or rifle to occupy their paws/hands like we did. We were jumping and hopping and grabbing at branches and trees as we flew down the mountain. It felt like our arms were going to be torn from their sockets a few times as we were hurtling downward so fast and had to reach out and grab at anything to keep ourselves upright and not tumbling like wayward boulders down the rocky mountain. It seems like there was very little stopping to rest during the whole descent and I cannot accurately remember anything resembling the minutes or hour that it might have taken to reach the level ground again. Given our speed of descent, there was also no sight-seeing or admiring of the brush and rocks and snow and wildlife as we catapulted in a blur from tree trunk to bush to branch and rock in our downward flight, but we did make it down the mountain without major bodily injuries and thanked the powers in the universe that we made it without broken ankles, legs, and/or dislocated shoulders. When we reached the bottom of the final slope, we found a soft spot near a fallen tree and sat to rest. Our trembling legs and scraped hands and forearms told us that we had been through quite an ordeal and we turned to look back up at the peak more than once to marvel at what we had just accomplished – both the climb up and the slide down from Blodgett Peak.
Dennis and I and the dogs had a final drink from our canteens before we found the road and made the slow walk back to my car. The drive to the housing area was only about 15 minutes, so we were soon returned to the comfort of our homes where we recounted to our wives and my kids the details of the hike up the mountain, the harrowing descent, how well the dogs did, the glider swooping down near us, the view, and all of the other marvelous experiences of our little adventure.
From that afternoon onward, it was impossible to gaze or look upon Blodgett Peak again with the same measure of simple appreciation as we did before we had climbed it. We now had a near intimate admiration and respect and awe for what we saw in that massive chunk of gray and black rock and pine forest. Dennis and I could now recollect and envision ourselves up at the summit looking down on the part of our known world that was in our purview that day; we could look at the one northern slope and recall the trudging ascent in ankle and knee-deep snow and then look a little south of that ridge and wonder again at our fortune or good luck in making it down the severe slope in one piece. We now looked at Blodgett Peak and claimed it as ours…at least I did, anyway.