We look at the calendar today and know or understand that we are at the end of another year, the end of another demarcated segment of the passing of time, the end of an illusion of something that we have created to guide or note the passing of our lives, and others’. It is the end of a period, a mini-eon, a turning of the earth on its axis around its star, an exhaustion of common moments and days and weeks and months that share our contrived labels.
I took-down our Christmas tree and the other decorations yesterday, marking the official (?) end of the holiday in our household. Our home is now as bare of this seasonal celebration as it was the day before it started. The Christmas CD’s have been returned to their storage place, the strings of lights and garlands and hand-chosen hand-made and picked-just-for-you ornaments and stockings and wreath and ceramic hand-made Christmas tree with the birds as lights resting in the branches and the little teddy-bears that were crocheted and stuffed into the red plastic cups that were also stuffed into the also crocheted stocking boot things, one for each child of Yesterday’s Christmases, all packed back into their storage crates and returned to the garage where they will sit and wait for the end of the non-Christmas season when they will be resurrected, brought back to their temporal lives out of hiding or hibernation or nothingness to once again adorn, decorate, and symbolically remind us of their importance or taken-for-granted-ness that they do as only they can do. Many of our neighbors still have their Christmas lights up and lit and making the outsides of their homes sparkle in the afterglow of that esteemed-as-blessed day that is now part of the past. I think they look lonely, somehow. They are pretty in their own way, of course, but they shine for something that has passed and is past…something that has ended…and something that will be back in the cycle of time, like most things.
The football season is in its final weeks; the playoffs will commence very soon and then end in that glorious display of something that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes good, and sometimes not worth near anything that has been spent on it…not even the moments we took out of our lives to observe it or think about it. I remember watching the final game of this year’s World Series, the one that put the 27th notch on the victory belt of the New York Yankees, the one that kind of seemed like another ho-hum moment in sports history…all those grown and pin-striped men bouncing on the infield in a big group-hug of arms around each other or raised with fists or fingers up and triumphant, jumping up and down in unison with plastic smiles of perceived wonderfulness and greatness…the entire image of which somehow reminds me of a dog humping someone’s leg. Anyway, that was the end of the baseball season, the end of summer…the end of the other team’s dream, their fans’ dreams…of something.
The end of dreaming, our sleep, with waking, facing our lives in their cycles of beginnings and endings, startings and stoppings, commencements and completions…the joy of picking-up a new book and opening it, smelling and feeling the smoothness of its pages and sensing the tiny and barely perceptible ridge of each line of script, and noting the crispness of the binding, the essence of its newness, unread, untraveled, untried, unfelt, and unlived…and a few hours or days or weeks later, when we have finished it, turned the last page and come to the end of the last thought and image of the last sentence of the last paragraph and that final period of the book, we set it aside, return it to the shelf where it was waiting for us those hours or days or weeks ago, beckoning to us for a visit, a journey, a co-existence and a shared life. Its pages are now familiar to us, some marked, some words underlined, some pages dog-eared or crumpled, maybe spotted with a fingerprint or drop of coffee, the story read, felt, and lived, and our lives are different. We have another perspective, another view of another’s view, another experience or life lived from within those pages…and it’s over.
Our children’s Christmas vacation, or winter break, will soon be over, our staff assignments and current work rotation will also end soon, the computers at work and home will mark the hour and date with a final ‘2009;’ we will open and post our new calendars with that ‘2010’ on our kitchen and bathroom walls, work walls, desks, partitions, and may open new journals, pocket and purse-sized weekly or monthly calendars…and make errors on our checks, payroll forms, and the other assorted papers in our lives where we leave our dated signatures to mark the significance of our passing.
While the actual physical substance of matter can neither be created nor destroyed and we understand that it only changes form with its constituent parts and components being rearranged in other forms, we do measure the end of physical items or objects as they move through our lives in their insignificant and momentous states. It is nothing, to us in our everyday lives, to finish a bottle of laundry detergent, a bar of soap, a package of napkins, a roll of toilet-paper, a package of frozen taquitos, a box of cereal, a tank of gas, a ream of paper, a package of razor-blades, a box of dog biscuits, a carton of eggs, a bottle of soda or can of beer, a package of CDs, or a cartridge for the plug-in air freshener…but it does mean something to note the end of a life, a relationship, or other significant existence. In this year that has almost passed, our friends and family members and pets have died, sometimes unexpectedly in tragedy, sometimes after long illnesses, sometimes in almost expected circumstances as they were young soldiers fighting in old men’s wars, and sometimes they passed when they were two months or eight months along and had yet to draw a breath of their own….
Sometimes the things that end are not lives but significant relationships or things or measures of accomplishments or adornments of our lives or homes that come to their expected or unexpected ends. The cottonwood tree that has been the symbolic guardian and watchful eye of our backyard and family events, celebrations, pool-parties, hushed conversations and confessions, and carefree afternoons and evenings is nigh unto death as its top half to two-thirds has withered and died after 17 years. That once beautiful mass of trunk and leaf and branch that would bend sideways in monsoon storms and was so tall that it could be seen from several streets away and housed numerous birds and bugs and offered dense shade in the summer and a golden wash and blanket of leaves to the yard in the fall and winter has passed into its own December…where it awaits its executioner on some unknown and approaching date…and my in-laws’ garage and workshop and hangar passed into a charred and skeletal nothingness on a fiery desert evening that consumed hand-made airplanes and a life-time’s accumulation of tools and lived dreams and celebrated accomplishments…and friendships and relationships and reputations were marred and lost over misunderstandings, deceptions, ill-spoken words, rekindled affirmations of differences in philosophies and world-views, too-personal revelations and fear, self-disclosures meant to validate and encourage that shook foundations of confidence and intimacy with the past.
These things and people and situations have gone away from us in their familiar and everyday forms, but they still exist in our minds and as substance that we might not readily perceive or recognize. Our loved-ones and accomplishments live in our memories and in the pictures on our walls, the stories we tell across the fire-pit in the backyard, around the dining-room table, or in the living and remembering ‘living’ and ‘family’ rooms of our gentle homes…they become the standards against which we measure love and closeness and commitment and desire, the benchmarks for future accomplishments and lived-dreams, the substance for the stories that we have to tell so that we can live and endure our sometimes harsh and un-tender lives. The cottonwood will continue to nourish the grass and other shrubs and bushes in the yard, as well as whatever tree we plant in its stead, as its monstrous roots decompose and reform in their mineral elements as nutrients and sustenance and the other stuff of life.
Some things end and some things continue on their circuits, cycles, repetitions, re-happenings, and re-constitutions…hopes and dreams that expired can be grieved and mourned and reborn…lives and relationships hurt or lost can be gleaned-from and cherished with lessons learned and priorities re-evaluated and commitments recommitted and memories relived in the expanse of eternity in the retellings and re-livings and the passing-on of his mother’s eyes to his baby boy…and it’s another moment and another day and another year that we celebrate and another opportunity to do those things that we didn’t do in the many yesterdays of the past year, to accomplish those minor and major goals and dreams that populate our sleeping and waking moments…and to tell those we love that we love them…that we love them…and we go on….
Innocence smiles large as the boys rescue The Cube and ride their motorized scooter and roller-blades about the cul-de-sac, announcing to me in passing that they are on their way to destroy Megatron. Hood up on his sweatshirt jacket, my little one is on the roller-blades and moves awkwardly about, wheel-walking, not rolling, strange dance of plastic and clatter rushing off to secure some imagined zone.
The December sky is gray with fat and heavy clouds; an occasional breeze or gust of wind ripples the overgrown palm fronds and the garbage truck is making its Tuesday afternoon rounds in the neighborhood a couple streets in the distance. My grandson is on the motorized scooter and is wearing orange, star-shaped sunglasses to shield him against the glare of battle in his efforts to defeat the Transformers’ foes. My little one’s enthusiasm for the game is waning as a little trio of afternoon walkers enter and make a circuit of the cul-de-sac – a young mother-girl pushing her baby in a stroller as grandmother walks with her Down’s Syndrome old-man of a son in a straw cowboy hat who marvels at the Samoyed who is sticking his nose and white head through the hole at the bottom of the neighbor’s backyard wall. The cling-cling of the bicycle bell and the metallic crash as the bike crunches into the sidewalk and the garbage truck is still a few streets away.
“Can we go in now?”
“Don’t you want to play two-player on the Nintendo?” he says, as he kneels in the rocks and examines a pigeon feather, “Don’t you want to?”
“No, not really.”
“Dad, can we go inside in 15 minutes?”
He likes to orient things and events and know when they are going to happen. It helps him predict his world. He’s happier and less anxious that way. It settles his mind as the blanket of gray clouds part and roll into white balls with gray bottoms and a mini-bike just ripped and popped down the street behind us, throwing angry and irritating ripples and waves through the neighborhood air.
“How long has it been, Dad?”
I’m reading my new book, The Good Soldiers, between glances up and into the cul-de-sac and at the Transformer warrior-children and vehicles entering for deliveries or exiting for errands and whatnot.
“How much longer?”
“The post is loose on the scooter, Grandpa,” as he sucks the winter snot back into his nose and as the little one, his uncle, my youngest, talks to his dog through the side-yard gate….
“Hi Wilson,” sing-song, puppy-talk, baby-talk, talking-to-my-dog-through-the-gate-talk, sing-song “Hi buddy!”
Crunching gravel, walking scuffing, scraping, and dragging shoes through the landscaping stones. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! A piece of gravel rock on the basketball pole. Ping! Ping! Ping!
“How much longer, Papa? How mucho longa?”
I’m on page 27…For now, no one touched the tape dispenser. Eventually, Cummings would begin swatting flies just hard enough to stun them, stick them to a piece of tape, and drop them alive into his trash can, which would be something that did have an effect. “I hate flies,” he would say each time he did this. What?
“Is it time yet?”
Did you park your bike and scoot it all the way over so Mom can open her door after she’s parked the car?
“Are you done Blakie? Hey!”
“Do you want to go in now?”
Cling! Cling! Cling! “Beep beep!”
“There’s a warning.”
“There’s a warning.”
What kind of warning?
“There was a rain drop.”
And the garbage truck is getting nearer and the little one is dragging his toes across the driveway and he’s got a Kool-aid moustache as he grins at me and says “What?”
“How many more minutes? Dad?” as he stands on the apache-red boulder rock in his one-legged pose with his arms raised like a stork’s wings…from The Karate Kid…and a game of chicken in the roadway as my grandson comes at him on the motorized scooter…and repeated “Yaaaaah!” screams and “How much longer?” asked with a Pink Panther French accent this time.
“Hhow mush longherre?”
“Ok……Blakie!! It’s time to go in!”
I had stood beneath the streetlamp and watched the yellow glow bounce from the crystal frost on the roof of my truck like the moonlight on a tessellating sea…and as I moved my eyes, the painted ice caught the light and reflected back to me a million sparkling stars…ones that would later melt from the truck’s roof and flow down my back window like a springtime rain. As I pondered the frost and my breath’s vapor in the wintry air, I noted the quiet of the pre-dawn Christmas morning and wondered what the day would hold for me and the call-takers and dispatchers at work. I was off on Christmas Eve, but yesterday, Christmas, Friday, was the Monday of my work week…so I was moving in that direction…but slowly…I still had to stand there for a minute in my shirtsleeves…relishing the cold…blowing more vapor clouds into the dark sky of my morning and watching the crystal moonlight yellow streetlight dancing on the rooftop frosted sea of my truck…before deciding to go back into the house for my jacket and then heading downtown to work.
The ride to work was uneventful, as were the first several hours in the call-center. After we had determined that all the dispatch positions were covered and the call-takers were all nestled down at their consoles, waiting for calls of Santa Claus committing armed robberies and home invasions, three of the staff went about preparing the much longed-for Christmas morning potluck. Calls came-in and were handled in their routine fashion as our coworkers scrambled eggs, fried bacon and sausage, warmed-up the French-toast ‘casserole,’ arranged and stirred the ingredients in a crock-pot for Joy’s highly esteemed dip, and scavenged in the shift manager’s office for paper plates, cups, and other sundries. The other home-prepared foods were laid-out for us and an hour or so later, the charge was given to commence in the feasting. A couple people were allowed off the phones at a time to prepare their plates and participate in the away-from-home, 9-1-1 Christmas breakfast. The operators and supervisors assigned to first-shift (daytime hours) had to have the seniority to bid into positions on days, so they have been around long enough to know what to expect, or what can and usually does happen on Christmas and other holidays. Emergency services, especially 9-1-1 call-centers, get no breaks. They operate 24 hours a day every single day of the year…Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, Hanukah, The Fourth of July…all of them…when you need us we’re there.
So we answered the phones between bites of eggs and pancakes and sent police officers to domestic violence and fight calls after putting-down our cups of orange juice…ornamented Christmas trees with lights and presents adorned our call-center, and many of our normally uniform-clad operators and dispatchers were in their holiday-finest clothes and felt really damn nice about it. People were happier, cheery, and enjoying their jobs more because they were released from the standard black shirts and pants and boots and thick leather belts…they were moms and dads and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters answering the calls of our citizens on this Christmas morning.
Amazingly, there were no armed robberies yesterday…no hot-calls for thefts of carloads of presents…only one stolen-bicycle call…and a nice collection of domestic violence calls, both physical and verbal, over some damn thing or another…and too many boyfriends were the perpetrators…and too many kids witnessed their separated families coming together for the required child-exchange…and too many dads’ new wives had to call us when the children reported what their drunk mom and her boyfriend had done to them on this Christmas morning. We had a bunch of minor thefts…mostly multiple 18-packs of Budlight or individual 40′s of some other brand…someone stole a jug of milk from a Circle K convenience store…someone else stole some kind or other kind of Christmas morning candy…and some modern Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread…and my co-worker supervisor drove around yesterday morning…to four different convenience stores looking for dish-soap to be used in our post-breakfast clean-up at 9-1-1…he returned empty-handed…not as the victorious suspect of a soap-run who made a ‘clean get-away’ from the nearby corner-store.
Death visited us only twice during our shift yesterday…one old-guy passed-away in his extended-care facility and one not-so-old guy passed away in the lobby of the local alcohol recovery center, on Christmas morn’. We sent police to shoo-away trespassers who were begging/panhandling for money…to accidents involving people who were rushing to their masses or other worship services for the new-born savior…and to search for an 83yo man who wandered away from his elder-care facility…and he’s still missing today…at the end of today, a day later…he’s still missing.
We sat in our chairs at our consoles and watched the eternal scroll or marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS, and while I couldn’t hear any of the lines with all of our televisions on mute, I think I may have seen every scene four or five times yesterday morning…the kid being rushed upstairs after hurting his eye with his new air-rifle…the same kid rushing upstairs to put-on some damn bunny outfit…the sexist father with his new lamp of a burlesque dancer’s leg as his wife blushed and covered her face with her hair in the living room window as the dad stood on the sidewalk across the street with the other neighborhood men as the dad motioned to the mom to move the lamp this way and that to center it in the window…you know what I mean.
And…a friend of mine sat in his wife’s hospital room on Christmas Eve, waiting for her to wake up after having surgery to fix a botched-up surgery that she had a couple months ago…thoughts of this friend and his wife swirled in my mind as I answered my phones and watched the operators fill their plates and laugh at their stories with their pretty Christmas shirts and hairdos on…. This friend of mine, Jason, also has a blog (listed in the blog-roll in the side-bar to the right of this article) and he shared his reflections on this Christmas morning. Jason mentioned that a few weeks ago another coworker suggested that he write something on the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas…and he thought about it and then wrote a posting on the Twelve Days of Christmas: 9-1-1 Style…Jason is rather witty, so it’s a fun read. After he went home yesterday morning from being with his wife in the hospital, Jason wrote another blog…he had his opportunity to reflect on what might be the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas. He was touched by his love for his wife, his esteem for his co-worker who left her kids on Christmas Eve to come to work for him so he could be at the hospital with his wife…he thought about his other friends who had sent him text messages encouraging him, uplifting his spirits…and he thought of his friend from across the country who sent flowers to his wife in the hospital…even though he had never met her. I saw Jason this morning at work…with his tired and gentle eyes…hurting, thoughtful, grateful…and ready to go home. He captured the essence of Christmas in his blog…it was pure…a challenge and a reminder…for all of us. A reminder for all of us that life happens…to all of us…and we should be thankful for what we have, the people in our lives, our friends…those trusted ones who love us through thick and thin…as we answer the phones ‘9-1-1, where is your emergency?’
We did that yesterday, all day, we answered the 9-1-1 phones…sometimes it was little stuff and sometimes it was real…the substance of 9-1-1…when life happens. You might have seen some of it on the news today…a five year-old girl was kidnapped by a stranger as she and her sisters were playing in the common area of their apartment complex…just snatched her and ran…crashed into another vehicle as he was leaving…and was spotted about seven hours later by one of our canine-officers…(the little one was recovered and returned to her family…you can find the rest of it in the news)… on Christmas Day….
And it was Christmas Morning and Christmas Day in our 9-1-1 call-center yesterday…happiness was there amid the memories of lost friends and coworkers…a card was still on our supervisors’ desk for everyone to sign for the highway patrol officer that was killed last week…many of us are reading books with our places saved by bookmarks that were made in memory of our friend Pazzie who passed away just over a week ago…and as we watch the clock and answer our calls and dispatch our officers and wait for our shift to be over, we wonder at the Christmas mornings that were shared by that officer’s and Pazzie’s families yesterday….
And, so this was Christmas….
Winter finally arrived in our desert valley the other day, bringing cold and wind and rain and a crispness in the mornings that has been uncommon in our easy-bake-oven existence here and about. The day’s early sky was still rippled with clouds of gray and white amid the blue background and aimless sun. When I dropped-off my little one at school, the teachers stood around shivering and smiling and talking about the upcoming holidays and mid-word stopped to blow a whistle to tell the kids to get off the ball-field…you know better than that…the grass was covered in frost and the dirt of the infield was darker with a dew that didn’t freeze. It was the first morning of the year when there was real frost on my windshield that I had to scrape off…so unusual…bordering on strange, for here anyway. My little one commented that the ground would be covered with snow if we were up in Utah…a subject of some contention in the household and family of late…to go or not to go…to be or not to be here or there…to throw caution to the proverbial wind and step out on another risk…a risk-taking in a risky time…but we’re not going…we’re here…and another Christmas season is upon us already. It seems that the kids just started school a little while ago and it’s back again. The lights are up throughout the neighborhoods and the stores are crammed with people who are usually doing other things when I happen to frequent the place…more cars in the parking lot, more cashiers at their stands, more people in the aisles, and more stuff and stuff in the air. I put-up our tree that afternoon and got-out the Christmas CDs and still had them turning on the stereo when I wrote this…Jim Brickman, Josh Groban, and three others making the rounds over and again, shedding their spirit and making me wonder again at this person Jesus who is said to have been born in a manger and all of the rest of it. I think this might have been my favorite time of the year when I was a Christian, a believer, a person of eternal hope and non-thought…someone treading in the footsteps laid ahead for me…pulled along by the ring in the nose…non-thought…anyway, I’m not going down that pathway right now, just wanted to say that if I were still a Christian, I would love the words of the music and the thoughts of the season. As it is, I listen to mostly instrumental music and hear only the tunes while the words echo on their own in my mind….resounding symbols of a previous life. It would be so nice to be able to believe that it was all true because it sounds so beautiful in this one month of the year…so comforting, reassuring, or something…but empty…and even sad…sad at the loss of that wrongly-conceived comfort, and sad with memories of being welfare-poor when our kids were little and not being able to provide them with the tangible Christmas gifts that we thought we should be able to provide…and sad with the memories of being a child and feeling that I didn’t deserve the presents…I wondered on several occasions how I could possibly have anything under the tree, thinking the gifts were supposed to be a representation of the love that was being rewarded in substance for my behavior during the rest of the year…and I knew that I had gotten my ass beaten several times, too many times, innumerable times for shit I did wrong and for lies that I told so that I might avoid the ass-beating…and how could they then give me presents for Christmas…and the gall they had that one year to give me the presents I had found while snooping through my father’s dresser drawers and stealing some of his Lifesavers…he had said he was throwing everything away…and he did throw away most of my toys and all the posters and things I had on my walls and on the top of my dresser…all my special things, trophies, souvenirs, mementoes…every damn thing…the things that comforted me when I was in my room and away from him…and I had discovered a poster of a horse in his drawer…and it was under the tree…like I wasn’t going to remember the yelling, cursing, hateful brown eyes glaring, piercing, stabbing into my soul whenever I saw the poster? Merry fucking Christmas…. And it’s always sad in spite of the good times with all the kids over and the tons of presents for everyone…it just is…too many memories that reach beyond the present and cannot be exorcised even with the passing of time…the shit is still in there with painful gashes that are trying to heal…and making tears run with sad joy at remembering my Thanksgiving morning when my littlest one greeted me first thing with “Happy Thanksgiving, Papa.” He calls me Papa when he’s being tender…when he’s being precious, gentle, loving…. “Papa.” I never had a word like that for my father…and my heart is touched.
Not so many years ago, the evening television was on and I sat with our little one, noticing the characteristics of his face and body and was struck by the differences between our hands, his and mine. The size and shape and color and texture and complexion and strength and the lives that each represented were alarming in their dissimilarities.
His tender innocence was spoken of in the smooth, plump whiteness and delicacy of grasp. Those little fingers have never known an agony or pain, either physical or emotional. Oh, I suppose there have been times when he has awoken in the night when Mommy or I have been away and he might have known fear or alarm at being alone in his little world. But, the unscarred and unblemished hands attest to an ignorance of heartache and trauma. They have caused no pain or misery of whatever scale. They have only touched in love and exploration and learning, in discovering their world. The slobbery, chubby fingers have only reached out to Mommy’s or Daddy’s face or hands and arms, or brothers’ or sisters’ and known love and wonder. They have not been stabbed with the thorns of life and involvement; have not known betrayal or deceit in shadowed seclusion. His baby’s hands are pure. And mine are not. What defilement they cannot imagine and renderings unknown have yet to be. No scorn has caused them to sweep aside the glances of hurt loved-ones’ eyes, no condescension revealed in a thumping knock or troubling grasp.
Darkened and swollen with work, scarred and abused, only knowing tenderness with their increasing age, appreciation, and maybe even a little wisdom; knowing regret and forgiveness, my hands seek his face and cradle it with love. His eyes fix to mine for a moment as my creased and thickened hands frame his innocent countenance, gently pressing his baby cheeks to envelop their softness.
Swirling beneath the surface or deeply embedded within the spoken word is yet another meaning, an additional understanding or interpretation that is dependent upon the receiver’s frame of mind or point of reference in accepting that word. The paths that the person has traveled in his life will have an impact on the message’s content as well. Often, trusting that the speaker has the same state of mind or set of references that he does, the receiver will take the word for its surface value, not thinking to look into the current that carried the speaker into giving it…or not.
Those additional meanings could also exist because those spoken words were wrought in deception as a ruse, to mislead, to cover wrong-doings and hidden or veiled thoughts. They were presented to protect others or the self or bring unjust scrutiny where it is not needed, diverting inspection from where it is due. Gossip, lies, and rumors bred to undermine, to make others feel secure in their own estimation…to shake foundations and crumble established ways of thinking, perceptions, and values. Visible or imagined circumstances are mated with ill-conceived thoughts and a new ‘truth’ is born. It breathes with a life of its own, spread and passed-along as righteousness…contextual and circumstantial truths that reek in filth and deception until they are discovered and ripped apart with the knife of examination, eviscerated under the light of explanation and detail…but the damage is still done, the seed was planted and doubt has grown, sprouted and thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’
How many of our lives’ courses have been steered aside by a single phrase or the circumstantial pairing of words? What lashes across the back have been felt because of either ill-spoken words or ones that were found to be false? What taste of blood was brought to mouth because of an offense, a broken bone or ringing of ears caused by a violence that spews from hands evil with wrongdoing; might over weakness, forcefulness over fearfulness; the victims’ souls splayed open by the sharp tongue. How many lives and reputations in past and present have been sullied by murmured falsehoods and contrived deeds?
But words also nurture and bind and comfort and heal and uplift and encourage and inspire and lead many from sickness to health and from self-doubt to greatness and success…love-spoken words can be salves that heal our wounds and reveal truths that wash-away the scourge and disease of the bitter tongue…that fortify, that vanquish evil and doubt and failure…and stir to a greatness unimagined. And sometimes, too, these soothing and healing and uplifting and inspiring words are lies bound in sweet hope that they will be believed and acted-upon and taken to magnificent ends…causing the receiver to believe the words and dig into themselves to make them true because the speaker said they were true so they must be true and that makes them become true…and that lie has become truth…and then.
And other times the utterances become opiates that relax our diligence and dull our senses, calmly deceiving and betraying us with Delilah’s alluring promises before robbing us of our strength or resolve, seducing us, leading us into temptation and delivering us unto evil where we ransom our souls and happiness and futures and eternities for ideas and notions and feelings and…in other times and circumstances we escape with and through them, these words, into our fantasies and beliefs, conjuring imaginings and hopes, falling prey to our lusts and desires…whispered in sinful darkness they feed our longings…and we covet what we have not…we resolve to tell stories of deeds done and then, twisted mysteries that complicate and turn like worms in our guts when trying to remember what happened or not as we weave that tangled web. Their partial truths and half-lies stringing us along and telling us in bits what we need to know…in power and ruse against us, controlling and subordinating and enslaving or making us free, causing us to rise indifferent to blood and ties.
Skillfully spoken with temper and might, those spoken symbols can cause us to rise-up in defiance against our natural selves and believe ghastly things about others, to strike-out with deadly consequence or they can inspire us to love and nurture others at the cost of our own lives, can lead us to unbelievable heights and lengths to sacrifice ourselves and others for a cause, sometimes just and sometimes not and so…and someone said that someone said that He said “I am that I am.”
Between friends they are casual, words of comfort and ease, gentle conversation about anything or nothing, rambling and disjointed wonderings and plans and hopes and disappointments and promises to do better and live stronger and try instead of not…and they know the sacred and the secret, the hallowed and irreverent…jingling jangling juggling jumbling jabbering and tossing about in the mixing of anything and nothing and sometimes the learned stumble for a lack of the right one and the not-so-learned has it in picture form and simple and more beautiful and from the earth or the tugging inside the heart and in the hum of nature and in the tick and tock of the silent passing on the pendulum’s path and so…to speak in word form.
What aspect of our being hasn’t been touched by the spoken word? Is there a single step in this labyrinthine effort that is a stranger to the audible thoughts and contrivances of verbal communication? I dare to offer that near every color of life’s prism has been and is painted by and with every manner of uttering by the human tongue – those simple expulsions of breath, twisted and rolled, compressed and urged through the vocal cords, throat, teeth, and lips to become the shouts and screams and soothing whispers and encouragements or curses that propel us through our collective existence.
The day is spent and only the night-time remains of this clock’s ticking and calendar’s spot…just a few more hours and how spent? Marginally full of meaning or productive things, chores finished and then. The house is quiet save the motor of the fan, the music on the computer and my keys tap tap tapping these words and thoughts and wonderings and such. My little one went to karate tonight and was embarrassed and knew his body wasn’t working the way everyone else’s was, the way he wanted his to work…his little face turning red and his breathing fast and his fingers tingling as he near hyperventilated…and my bride got her first call from a client and things are meaningful now and we need to get to the office and hang her pictures, as it’s soon going to be occupied by people and not just mail-order furniture and a diploma that says she endured and learned something from hours and months and years and her life and ours. Racquetball was played and I got there late. Not too many people were there and the competition of the night was scarce. Some games were almost fun and then not. And home now and the little one is going down for the night and his mom is reading to him and then listening to his music with him as she rubs his back and scratches his head until he’s asleep in that wherever-land of no thought and rest. The Christmas tree is lit and golden and red and blue and green sparkles ride and dance along the wires in adornment among the ornaments of yesterday and now…and the dogs are curled here and away and the cats wherever they lay…. I’m on my second glass of wine and the music is stirring me and sadness is and was in the words I read on some of the blogs that I visited…some so sad and no entries since the middle of November and I wonder what it means…and other ones, the magic of words were dropped like snowflakes in their tenderness and purity and pristine-ness to lay among each other and fill and contend and simply exist in their temporal life that cold endears and warmth threatens…and one of my blog friends said that the trees were hibernating like the bears and she wonders if they might not be cold, like when we leave the windows open on a wintry night and try to sleep in the cold, before it’s too cold and the clouds are rising with the cello notes and touching the higher places in my mind making me wonder if they’re clouds or just fog. And Pazzie died the other day after months of fighting and failing and fighting some more and I still remember the pride in her eyes as I looked at the pictures of her daughter dancing at one of her competitions…so beautiful…her gracefulness captured in the frozen mixing and blending of colors and chemicals…living there forever, or as long as the papers and their images lasts…but they are there in my mind that way…and a smile that comes from her soul, her mom’s smile, and I wonder if she will still dance. I hope so.
Where do you live? Where do you find yourself being completed as a person, as an individual, as a soul, as yourself? Are you consumed by your work, by your home life with spouse and kids, or is it school, pursuing that higher education that may or may not bring you a measure of happiness or accomplishment or higher paying job or satisfaction with yourself? Maybe it’s your hobbies or sports that fill your time and your thoughts and take your monies and weekends, or maybe it’s your religion. Maybe you have placed your god in the forefront of your life and all your pursuits, thoughts, time, and energy surround him or her, or maybe it’s simply being outdoors, you work so you can earn the cash to spend your free-time outside, camping, hiking, bike-riding, running marathons, vacationing across the country and taking photos of the natural splendor in all those outdoorsy kind of locations that are so stirring when we behold them. Or maybe you work as much as you can, over-time, and more work, on this shift and that shift, so that you can pay for your child to dance…for your beautiful daughter to dance beautifully…and that fulfills your life, completes you, gives you a reason to go on and on and on…when life is fading away….
I’ve examined my life and desires and yearnings and then compared them to other people’s and have wondered at the passions that they have…the things that drive them, consume their energies, efforts, and resources…and I wonder. How is it that some are born with these drives and passions and others aren’t? I wonder if it’s related somehow to our exposure to things or events in our childhoods…somehow. The little girl whose heart was touched at seeing other children picked-on and who knows how ‘different’ feels may grow into a person who is driven to become someone who can advocate for kids, and doing so, tries to heal her own childhood injuries and bruises. The little boy who visits a museum and becomes fascinated by the dioramas and exhibits of native peoples may have that interest sharpened and supported by loving parents who encourage his passions and ensure that he continues to have opportunities for exposure to, or participation in activities that harness and stimulate this interest…one day becoming a renowned scholar and icon himself in certain realms. Another child grows-up in utter depravity and only finds escape in reading anything and everything that he can find. This boy grows into a man who is consumed with learning and wants to be a teacher, someone who can gently educate and lead other children to find happiness in learning or seeking knowledge. Still other people find a calling when they have a child born with a particular challenge or disability, or if their mother or favorite aunt develops a certain type of cancer…or if they return from a war and see all of their buddies struggling in their civilian lives to deal with the effects of seeing and enduring untold horrors or injuries…they may be consumed to help however they can, sometimes going to school while working part-time at a VA facility, graduating and coming back full-time to spend their lives developing and leading programs to help and heal their friends and others from their earlier warrior lives and pursuits…or a child who sees her family and loved ones fall victim to disease and starvation and chooses a life in medicine so she can save other children and parents from similar tragedies, symbolically saving her own loved-ones as an adult when she couldn’t do so as a child.
How do these people decide they are going to live their lives in such a manner? What thing or something was indelibly stamped on their beings, their core, or yes, their soul that they could become so possessed to live for and through their pursuits? And if someone wasn’t born with or didn’t acquire this stamp early in their lives, or at some other point, how do they get it? How do the otherwise unimpassioned develop a passion…by exposure to different things, different people, different places, experiences, reading, watching the Discovery Channel on television, going to school, having a family member born with a certain condition or disease, or killed in a certain manner, or…what? Or are some people destined to just float along on the sea of life, going with the currents wherever they’re taken, experiencing whatever their new or different or the same surroundings ‘offer’ them? Are some people ‘meant’ to simply exist? And do they know they just exist, or is that a judgment to even suggest it? Maybe they think they’re really ‘living’ in their daily grind, or maybe not.
And then what does this even mean, to be living? How is it that you live? What does it mean when you say that falling through the sky after jumping out of an airplane makes you feel so alive? How does that translate somehow into rewarding or satisfying, or great and inspiring? What is ok, or mediocre, or lousy? What really sucks or is horrible? What clicks inside of us or inside of some other people when they/we decide that we’re not going to live a certain way anymore? How do we suddenly get fed-up with the crap and decide to do something different? And how exactly do our crap-thresholds change? We lived a certain way for years and now we don’t want to…and we might take drastic steps to live differently. How does passion change? How does one develop that emotion or drive when it didn’t exist yesterday, or even five minutes ago? Was it an accumulation of things or an instantaneous thing?
How can some people do the same job at the same place with mostly the same people for 20 and 30 and 40 years and keep getting up each morning to do it all over again? If it’s not a passion that drives us, how do we do it? Did we simply resign ourselves to do so…did we sacrifice ourselves on some altar somewhere to become content with what we have, to be content with the daily grind, with the same bullshit day-in and day-out? Is it really and completely all about perspective and trade-offs? Stocking shelves and moving boxes in the warehouse is better than digging ditches; rolling burritos or flipping burgers is better than cleaning someone else’s toilets every day; taking a significant pay-cut to be a police-aide with the mounted equine-unit is more rewarding than being a police-dispatcher and 9-1-1 operator if you really love horses; or you get out of the rank and file of military life halfway through the tenure needed to collect retirement benefits so you can live as a civilian for the first time in your life; or you stay at your job that isn’t very fulfilling or challenging, but pays well and has great benefits and your family is in town, or you can choose to leave town and your grown kids and the secure job to go and live somewhere else just because you want to live there and maybe want to change careers again…and you’re caught in a dilemma, to go or stay, to stay or go? Do you give up your wishes for someone else or a group of precious someone elses…and then look to other pursuits for satisfaction, stimulation, fulfillment…?
Do you follow your head or your heart when choosing how to live your life; do you intellectually choose the risk and the excitement of the unknown or do you choose the continuing rewards of the known and the precious and dear and relish in those people and things and then bring meaning to the other parts of your life as you are able? Trade-offs, perspective, rewards, love, companionship, sharing of life and lives…what and who we live our lives for, and sometimes through…compromise, sacrifice, love…surrender…what we worship or hold dear…those loved ones who become our god or gods…to whom we give and dedicate our all…on the altar of love….
Yes…we work and live and love and give, whatever that means…so she can dance beautifully.
Thank you, Pazzie…they are worth every bit of it…and so much more….
The frightened kittens’ whiskers flicked and then their ears laid back against their heads as the leaves on the trees overhead held more still than one thought possible in the angered wind and the shadow was heard to pass and nearer it came with its untold talons poised to grasp what no-one knew was waiting and it only passed and left undone the things that made its doing so terrible because it was alone and the mama cat moved against the shadow’s passing and fought the enigmatic thing that wrestled between them still and she was calm and the babies’ ears stood upright again for they were as they should be and safe when she found them again and they were not alone – and their whiskers flicked again and they were not afraid –
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
And how could we not see its fleeing?
There were baby hugs
And finger paints
Sand in her tennies
And potted beans on the windowsill
Pound-puppies and princess’s ponies
And bubble gum and pig-tails
Now she wants to drive
And her iPod is in her backpack
With her cell phone at her ear
Long curly hair ironed flat in the mirror
And she’s ready for the prom
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
When we were young, we noticed that it took forever for special days to get here; whether they were birthdays, Christmases, the last days of school, etc…they took an eternity, as marked by our child’s minds that registered time’s passing by those ultra-special days coming and going. Now that the years have gathered, so many more things mark time…payday Fridays, her birthday, your birthday, her mom’s birthday, vacation, the first day of school, early-release every third Thursday, progress reports, report cards, the annual re-bid at work, a trainee for five weeks, the boss is gone for two, the weekend stand-by form on every Thursday, monitor each employee every month, we just checked your messages, it’s Thanksgiving and now it’s New Years and another move or not, and Christmas or winter break is passed and past, and one more semester until it’s done, and this process takes four weeks and that one takes seven, and the puppy needs his next set of shots and three more months until that movie comes out, another week to read the book, pay this bill on the 15th and that one on the first, and pay it again on the 15th, and the other one again on the first, and next month there are three paychecks for you and for me, so we look forward to yours and to mine and we pay extra on this one and it’s time to trim the bushes again, and the bug-guy is here again, and it’s time to change your oil and rotate the tires again, and it’s her birthday again then mine and her mom’s and my mom’s and school’s out again for the year and then she’s 21 weeks along and they can do the ultra-sound and see if it’s a boy or a girl, and which type of paint and trim do we get and we’ll know pretty soon…it does seem to rush by, unbidden, just passing with speed beyond belief, sometimes like tempests and torn in the way, and images of youth and what used to be has gone in the swirling of leaves and thought and remembrance, our encumbered spirits and minds loose (not lose) those things of yesterday and try to gather them back again before they are ungraspable in their passing, gone in that spirit of has-been and collected somewhere up in the ether where lost thoughts and radio waves linger unhitched for evermore. We used to think that our grandparents and parents were old or getting that way and now we find ourselves noticing the little lines by our eyes…and the ones that run down into our cheeks or spread like the sun’s rays from the corners of our mouths…we find that the singular gray hairs have multiplied into a profusion that creeps into our vision until it’s time to dye them again…or not…and the moustache had a couple and the chin several more and it’s no longer possible to trim that one or pluck it away as before…they aren’t going away…our memories hold when our bodies won’t…and our children are getting older…the lines on the door frame that used to be fun to mark once or twice a year are slowly catching-up with our chin and eye-level reaches…and we wonder where it’s gone…we wonder how it not only learned to sprint and spring away but to indeed flee and leave us watching…making yet more notes of its passing…she was only 11 months-old when we saw her the first time and she just turned 13 years-old…another was captured in a picture at almost three years-old with her arm in a cast and now she’s 26 years-old…and the first-born is crowing at 28 years…and those in between with babies and lives and house-payments and then…and my friend, Byron, whose gentle soul found the words that title this writing, noticed in awe the beauty and unbelievable 16 years of his daughter as he took her to school one day last week…it struck him how she’s not that little girl anymore who used to crawl into his lap with a favorite book or doll and sit there playing with his chin…time has fled with that little one and brought a beautiful young lady to take her place…unbeknownst to anyone watching…suddenly she is here…and we wonder again…where did the clock find the wind to sprint like this?
Thank you, Byron.
Really, what does it mean that you and I are friends, or you and anybody else, or me and the same or different anybody else? What does it mean? Does it mean that we happened to be in the same class together and thought the same joke was funny and laughed at the same time, and then we laughed again, or rolled our eyes at the same thing later in the day or week or semester or whatever? Does it mean that we started working at the same place on the same day or within the same week and formed something like a ‘traumatic bond’ after enduring the same experiences as ‘the new guys?’ Does it mean that we just happened to find ourselves in the same circumstances and discovered something similar in each other that we liked and have taken that something similar and made it grow by talking, sharing, and otherwise finding more and more similar things that we liked, enjoyed, disliked, or hated? We found some commonality and enjoyed it in the other person…something like that? Maybe it’s indistinct…maybe it just happened; we don’t know when, but it did. Maybe it’s like what author James Boswell said – “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” It just happened.
And then it starts to grow…that germinal moment or instance of something similar begins to grow in our sharing and time together. Not only do we share experiences, but as time wears on, maybe we share emotions and dreams, hopes and disappointments. Maybe our lives become more similar as we spend more time together and our experiences become shared, and our thoughts become shared, and our emotions, our reactions, our wants, dreams, likes and dislikes, and finally our spirits…our spirits that join somehow in the sharing of those many things and others. We begin to possess such similar thoughts that we can finish each other’s sentences and ideas for the other…our homes might become more familiar to each other, our cars, our children’s backpacks, and our coffee mugs…we are becoming, or have become part of each other. If we’re females, older girls or women, maybe our monthly cycles have even adjusted to the same schedule…and consequently, we’re impatient at the same time, sad, bloated, hungry, not hungry, intolerant, more emotional…or none of those things, but in sync with each other nonetheless. If we’re males, maybe we experience something similar with our biological rhythms the same way women do with their cycles, maybe.
What if we’re different? What if it was the things that were not the same that brought us together, what if they were our opposite characteristics? Some people say that opposites attract…people of different backgrounds and circumstances or personality traits, finding themselves together, whatever the event or situation, may feel a drawing together that is based on sharing what they don’t have in common. People who are suddenly working elbow to elbow, brainstorming on projects, plans, or whatever, their differences pique an interest in the other and they begin sharing and sharing…and maybe even finding things in common that weren’t at first apparent…and friendship blooms. Their differences become complementary, not ‘complimentary,’ as in “Hey, I like your shoes,” but ‘complementary,’ in that one’s strength enhances what might be a weakness or emptiness in the other…like in the movie Jerry Maguire, “you complete me.” The one makes the other a whole person…they are or become what the other was missing in their life…in friendship or love.
So what does it mean that we’re friends? We’ve already become friends and now we are friends, still, after all we’ve been through…whatever that can and/or might be. As Aristotle suggested, have we become two bodies sharing one soul…or two seeds of the same or different types of plants that came to grow in the same spot of earth…two hearts growing as one? In our backyard, we have a fan palm and a date palm that have been growing together in the same pot for upwards of 15 years. I obtained the date palm from a friend’s back yard and put it in a container with dirt from the friend’s yard and brought it home and placed it in my yard and watered it and kind of ‘forgot’ about it. The plant was in the spray-range of one of the sprinklers, so it got the water it needed and continued to grow without much effort or assistance from me. There was a fan palm seed in the dirt from my friend’s yard that sprouted and began to grow in the pot that the date palm was in…and it’s been so many years and I never separated the plants…they grew larger than the plastic pot, split its sides and bored their roots into the ground, joining, intertwining…becoming one living rooted mass with their trunks and branches upwards of 15 and 20 feet in height. To separate them would likely kill or severely damage at least one or both of them…they are two distinct plants but share an intricately woven root system…like people who have been friends for a long time…or brothers, sisters, lovers, spouses, mates…maybe…. These people’s lives have become enmeshed, intertwined, and/or overlapping…maybe they really have become one. Or…maybe our friendships haven’t become this involved and serve different purposes and fulfill other needs.
Some of our friendships can be and are more compartmentalized, as they exist in particular places or arenas of our lives and not in others, either intentionally or because that’s just the way they’ve existed…so far anyway. They are enriching and sustaining in specific contexts and don’t overlap with the other areas, except where they permeate our thoughts or people the stories we share. We might have friends who are family members, our children or parents, maybe; friends of other family members, like our children’s or parents’ friends; work friends that are co-workers, or subordinates, or even our boss, or none of these; gym friends; child-hood friends; military or war-buddies; college friends who were classmates or professors; chess-playing friends from the internet or the city park; blogging friends or writing-group friends; dog-park friends; grocery-store friends; next-door-neighbor friends; and soft-ball or bowling-team friends, or racquetball friends. Some of these relationships can be or might be more intimate or close than others and some might extend from one realm into another as they become closer and more involved in the whole of their lives…work friends become family friends – or even family members, gym friends become girl-friends, wives, and mothers of our children, next-door-neighbor friends might become family friends and in-laws… and then some of our child-hood or college friends might become the best friends in our long lives. An old professor and friendly acquaintance of mine once explained that people sometimes enter our lives for a while and then go away just as freely or casually as they entered them. These friends or significant people join our paths for a time, share wonderful events and experiences with us, learn and grow together, and then slowly fade apart…and then they go away – the relationship doesn’t end badly, it just ends, inexplicably…somehow. They add flavor to our lives for a season, as we do to theirs, and then we each go our separate ways. The substance of the friendship didn’t have to be enduring, and it wasn’t.
For those relationships that are more than temporal, that last through the ages in their varied contexts, what makes them do so? What is the substance, the basis, the explainable part of why we’re friends? As I mentioned above, is it because we endured a hardship together, were baptized by the same fire, got our sea-legs together, fell into a carpool together, started class at the same time…and whatever else…and began to share of ourselves, finding pleasant similarities or intriguing differences along the way? And now that we’re friends – again – what does that mean? I think it means that we probably trust each other, look forward to seeing each other, miss each other when one is away, help each other in random or specific ways, use each other as a sounding-board, feel free enough to vent our deepest angers and frustrations, help each other in times of crisis, cry on each other’s shoulders, celebrate in joy at the successes, encourage each other in the challenging times, admonish each other when we’re out of line, we accept each other to the point that our differences are as binding to each other as are our similarities; they have become part of the glue that keeps us together, we cause each other to think about things we wouldn’t normally be concerned with, force each other’s minds to consider other perspectives, validate the other’s concerns, we mean it with the entirety of our souls when we say “I’ve got your back,” and with everything that entails. We depend on each other and we take each other for granted sometimes too and we understand the other’s manner of speaking and we’re comfortable being silent together and we can share a glance or moment of eye contact and understand the words that don’t need to be spoken and we can touch the other’s hand or offer an easy hug or handshake and those moments of contact are dear and speak from the soul, from me to you and then.
When we say that we are friends – you and I, or you and anybody else, or me and the same or different anybody else, it means that we have connected somehow, in some context or another, and that we enjoy and want to nurture and maintain that connection, that relationship – that friendship…somehow it enriches our lives…or completes us.
After leaving the apartments, I drove to the jail to have a chat with the guy. My job required that I interview him and try to get more contact-information…disease intervention stuff. While that was my reason for going to the jail, officially, I also wanted to see what kind of person this Carlos was. I wanted to see, for myself, what the textbooks and psychologists have been talking about all these years when they discussed ‘anti-social personality-disorder,’ or ‘psychopath,’ or ‘sociopath.’ It was just my opinion, of course, but what else could he be to conduct himself the way he had during these recent events?
The buildings and other vehicles passed thru my periphery in something of a blur as I drove from the neighborhood of West Pierce and into downtown Phoenix where I would find the Madison jail, and inside – this guy, or man, or Black man, or 20-some-year-old male, or person, or living-breathing human organism, or creature, or thing, or whatever he was, who would try to rape a 73 year-old woman. What type of being would do that? What type of person could do that and then go home, kiss and hug his mother, and then ask her about her day, or if her knees have been bothering her, or if she went to the doctor like she said she was going to do last week? How could he pick-up his three year-old niece and nephew, toss them into the air, catch them, and then smother them with whiskery kisses and tell them that he loves them? Is that possible? Is it possible, too, that this type of person could have, earlier in the day, lain down with his girlfriend and made tender, passionate love, gently caressing her skin, body, and soul, tenderly moving the long strands of black hair out of her face so he could look into her eyes at that one, terminating moment? Would he be capable of something as gentle, or tender, or as humanly passionate as that? I doubt it.
It’s more likely that he went home and asked his mom for money, opened the fridge and pulled several, deep swigs of milk directly out of the jug, asked his mom for money again, and then pushed the nephew out of his way and picked up the niece and set her on the table – getting her out of his way, too, as he went to the cabinet and rummaged through whatever dry goods he hadn’t pilfered the week before. “You know my check don’t go very far, Carlos.” No, it doesn’t, not with the twins (his niece and nephew), their mother (his 19 year-old sister), and her own nine and ten year-old boys (his half-brothers) – all living off of her one income and the little that AFDC gives her. “Well don’ you have nothin’ left from it? I need some money.” His mom’s face twists about as she tries to keep herself from starting-in on him again. “He hates it when I do that,” she thinks to herself. “Then why don’t you get a job, boy? Quit smokin’ that rock ever’ day n’ night, n’ get a damn job!” – words that echoed in her mind alone.
And making love with his girlfriend – no, there was no love made that afternoon. One person got satisfied, that’s all. There was no tenderness to speak of – unless ‘tenderness’ means that he didn’t’ rip her clothes this time. They were removed without passion, and after a few quick squeezes of her breasts, he pushed her onto the bed and mounted her. She wasn’t ready, of course, so it hurt while he was moving on top of her, and then it burned when he was done. “So quick,” she thought, and was glad when he rolled off of her and went into the bathroom. “Gotta take a quick piss so no female burns me,” he said with an almost benign chuckle, standing there at the bowl, waiting for the muscles to relax enough for the stream to flow, “can’t trust anyone, know what I’m sayin?” “Yeah,” she thought, “I know what you’re sayin’. I noticed a rash last week, Bastard – bumps and spots starting to grow on my shit down there. What’s that mean, Mother Fucker?”
The blood had already been drawn when I got to the jail, so I didn’t have the opportunity to jab the needle into his arm myself.
“Been looking for you, Carlos.”
“Why’s that, man?”
“You been messin’ with someone and caught syphilis.”
“Who told you that?”
“I spoke to someone who’s being treated for syphilis and they said they mess with you. So, we don’t know if she gave it to you, or if you were doin’ someone else and caught it, and then gave it to the person I talked with.”
“Okay, so who’d you talk to? Some female?”
“You mess with guys?”
“Alright then, it was ‘some female.’”
“Yeah, but which one?”
“I can’t tell you who it was. I’m not allowed to. We got rules, you know. Like you and your lawyer, your public defender. You guys can talk and he can’t tell anyone what you said, right? Well it’s the same with us. Medical confidentiality. It’s the law and I can’t say anything that’s gonna make you know who it is. But, that person asked me to get in touch with you to make sure you get treated. That way, they won’t catch it back from you when you get out of here. You know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yeah, but that’s fucked-up, man. People be sayin’ shit about me and I can’t know who it is.”
“Nobody’s talkin’ shit about you, Carlos. The person had syphilis. I read the chart and saw the blood-test results. They just wanna make sure you get cured.”
“Whatever, man. I still say it’s fucked-up.”
“Okay, so it’s fucked-up. What else is fucked-up, Carlos? Why are you in here?”
“Had some problems with some dudes, you know what I’m sayin’? They said I stole some of their shit and then the cops were lookin’ for me. This shit happened a long time ago. I don’ know why they’re still after me. So then I was at these apartments last week and BAM!, there they were. And now I’m here. I told you man, it’s fucked-up, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“That’s why you’re here?”
“Yeah, it’s fucked-up.”
I already knew the truth, so when my anger and disgust for him overwhelmed my sense of responsibility for the job, I didn’t care anymore. I went ahead and took a chance at fucking-up the rest of the interview. I had already decided that he wasn’t going to give me shit anyway, so to hell with it. It was unlikely that he had, or was going to have sex with anyone I knew, so I thought, “What the hell. This wouldn’t be my first bust-interview and it wouldn’t be my last.” Sometimes the job just didn’t get done the way it was supposed to, and usually it wasn’t my fault. Today, I didn’t care that it was, or would be.
“Well, that’s not what I heard. When I was out on the street looking for you, someone told me you beat-up some old lady, really kicked her ass. What’s that about? They said you really beat on her, punched her in the face, ripped her pants off, tried to fuck her, and then stole a bunch of her shit. Is that what it’s about? Is that why you’re here, ‘cause you tried to rape some old lady and then stole her cell phone an’ shit?”
He didn’t care – didn’t give a flyin’ fuck what I thought he’d done. He stopped shuffling about the room in his flip-flopped feet and fixed his dead, empty eyes on mine and said, “Fuck that, man. You got it all wrong.”
Unimpressed, and still operating outside of my normal realm, I stared back with contemptuous, angry eyes. “Really?”
After a moment, he broke away, and turned to shuffle back and forth, again, on his side of the exam table. And now, with less conviction, “It’s not like that at all, man. I was over to the apartments and this old lady starts throwin’ my shit at me, you know what I’m sayin’, gittin’ in my face an’ shit. So I hit her, BAM! Told her to get the fuck out of my face, you know what I’m sayin’, an’ then I hit her, once. An’ the rest of that shit, like tryin’ to rape her an’ shit, that’s fucked. I got all the pussy I want, man. Wouldn’t try gittin’ it from some old lady. Someone’s lyin’ to your ass.”
“Is that right? Old lady’s got her head busted open, choke marks on her neck, bruises all up and down her thighs – someone seen you doin’ it, they called the cops who came and arrested you, an’ now your ass is sitting here in jail saying it’s not you. Okay. Right. Whatever. Anyway, had to get that shit squared away in my own mind before we went any further.”
“Naw, it ain’t me, man. Not all that shit. I got my own female to mess with. I don’ need to fuck that ol’ bitch.”
“Right. Like I said, I just needed to get that shit squared away in my own head before I do the rest of my job here. So…who else you mess with? You’re usually around 21st Avenue and Van Buren, or Adams, right? Who’d you mess with around there? I already have you named by three or four females, so I need you to tell me your side of the story.” And then, for effect, I added, “So I can make sure people aren’t just talkin’ shit about you.” He responded with a quick, sideways glance. I couldn’t help smiling as I said, “You know what I’m sayin’?”
And it went from there. I didn’t screw things up too badly. He still talked to me. Before the interview, I only had his one contact, the young pregnant girl who was the original patient. By the time the investigation was closed, there were three other cases related to Carlos. Unfortunately, there were too many unknown contacts from the five cases, and we couldn’t take the investigation any further. This is not uncommon, considering the area and the traffic it gets – transients, prostitutes, drug dealers, child-stealers, passers-by…anyone who comes to West Pierce Street.
There was a Thursday-morning kind of glow to the sky that could be explained in only one way – it was a Thursday morning. The air was different than it was on the other days of the week and the slight sense of expectation was at once tangible and reassuring. You could say with a certainty that the week was almost over and today would have to be conducted seriously. Whatever things you had slacked on during the week had to be made up for today, because you knew, you just knew that you weren’t going to put any kind of conviction-based effort into whatever you might encounter tomorrow, Friday. The reason for that being, of course, that so many supervisors take Friday off as part of their flex-schedule, combining to give them a three-day weekend, every other weekend. And, again – of course, every other Friday is payday, and although the stipend is small, it is enough to throw many into fiesta-type frenzies, causing them to splurge on donuts for everyone in the office, or to spend a few dollars more on lunch than they did earlier in the week. So, again, the Thursday morning sun was making its way across the eastern sky, providing any onlooker with what I knew was a special hue and a certain something else that meant I should conduct myself diligently in the task that I had before me.
You could enter the neighborhood through any one of the many side roads or thoroughfares and eventually find yourself heading toward Pierce Street. There was nothing remarkable about it from my perspective and if you would sample the people who might pass along your same path, you would probably find that it wasn’t too inspiring to them either. Yes, you might encounter the one or two souls who have lived there for most or all of their lives, and sometimes run across another person or two whose family was born and raised in the neighborhood, but all in all, it was just another one of the central city streets named after a former president and has come to represent a poorer, or more disadvantaged part of town. Without much effort, you can find prostitutes and drug abusers, transients, drunks, and incorrigible juveniles running, or walking, or pacing, or stumbling along the street. Come back in the darker hours and you might encounter the drug dealers, gang-bangers, auto thieves, murderers, suicides, and prostitutes who were too busy sleeping or working their day jobs to have been running around earlier.
Two streets west of Willow Park, another haven of the un-blessed and a favorite spot of the Public Health Clinic’s disease investigators and Terros out-reach workers trying to stop the spread of some of society’s plagues, the passerby will encounter two sets of white, almost ramshackle apartments that run lengthwise from the street back. There are two or more buildings, actually as many as several buildings spreading almost diaspora-like from the small curb-front property-line. The individual property seems to just keep going farther and farther back as you walk north from the curb. And, of course, the farther back you go, the more hovels you will encounter in the various stages of disrepair and decrepitude that are not uncommon for the area. And yes, you will encounter the little bungalow-like homestead amidst the ruin where flowers have been planted or in some other way adorned in life-like representations of multicolored plastic leaves and nearly natural-looking flowers, stuffed or placed gently, gingerly into dust inviting, brown or whitewashed baskets that cannot help but be remindful of Easter Sundays gone by. There are sometimes little, freshly-scrubbed children peering out from behind Windex-streaked panes or standing in open doorways whose breeze-enhancing currents are touched with the healthy aromas of Pine-Sol or Mr. Clean. The dens are often dirty as hell, but the occupants have tried to transform them into clean, sweet smelling Home Sweet Homes, something that is admirable and honorable from any perspective.
On this particular Thursday morning, I was looking for a guy named Carlos Bur… something or other. Earlier in the week, I had spoken to one of his lady-friends who told me that I might find him here. The girl was, at the time, wearing black and white striped, baggy clothes that resembled operating-room scrubs or jail attire. The latter was correct in this case. Michelle, a Hispanic-looking Native American mix with Black type of young lady was in jail for criminal trespass, prostitution, and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Her medical record said that she was twenty-three, but the little waif in front of me appeared to be just pushing sixteen or seventeen – possibly even fourteen. She sounded like she was eleven or twelve, and excepting the basketball-sized belly that she was sporting, someone might be tempted to say that she was one of the more innocent inmates that they’d seen in the jail. I don’t know. There was an immediate sense of pity, confusion, paternalistic hopefulness, and then from somewhere else – there was that something that reminded me of the reason I was there – the rash on her face and arms, which was also on her chest and back. I had to interview her and determine, or at least begin the investigation and hopefully, later determine where she had acquired her syphilis infection. The innocent, soft-spoken, little girl slowly told me about her boyfriend, Carlos, whom she had been hanging-out with for the last several months. No, he wasn’t the alleged father of her very soon to be delivered baby, but he was already “in love with him” and promised to take care of the child like it was his own. I have heard these words before, from not so dissimilar looking and sounding young girls or women in the same jail.
Michelle told me that I could locate Carlos at any of several of the apartments that I found this morning on West Pierce Street. I immediately went to the specific apartment where they had been staying before she was locked-up and found that it was occupied by three Hispanic males who spoke only Spanish – even when I tried to converse with them in their own language, they held fast to the ‘no speak English’ phrase of their hiding. Usually they put up a front, denying even the possibility that they could speak English when someone looking almost professional, and white, approaches them and asks questions about certain somebodies’ whereabouts. Yes, that statement is probably tinged with a bit of stereotype, but it occurs often enough to give me reason to mention it – and besides, stereotypes can be true. Anyway, the guys told me, in Spanish, that they did know Carlos, a young, heavily tattooed, Black male, not Hispanic, though he was light-skinned enough to pass as such from a distance. He was recently taken to jail and might still be there if I would hurry up and leave their apartment and go look for him – there – in the jail. One of the guys nodded to another apartment, the one in which Carlos had actually been arrested, and told me to look for the manager/owner of the property, an older woman named Linda Kalinowski, or Calaminski, or some other name that began with ‘Cal’ and ended in ‘ski.’ The man said she was very old and drove an equally old and beat-up white pick-up truck.
I did find Linda, in that other apartment, cleaning up what looked like the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. Actually, I heard her before I saw her, yelling and swearing at near the top of her lungs at the destruction that she was wading through as she walked about the apartment.
“Goddamned filthy pigs! What the hell’s the matter with people nowadays? Can’t they clean up their own shit when they leave – look at this mess! What? Who are you?”
She looked more used than old, the poor lady did; dark-golden, leathered, wrinkled, and veined skin covered her face and arms. Linda was 73 years-old, by her own report, and was getting “goddamned sick and tired of cleaning up other people’s shit.” She stood about 5’9” and might have weighed 125 pounds if her jeans were wet. Her shoulder-length, white hair was thin and I could see the rosy pink of her scalp when she removed her San Francisco Giant’s baseball-cap. Her glasses weren’t too far out of style, but the lenses were so scratched that I couldn’t see her eyes clearly. As the fiery oaths spilled from her quickly moving jaw, I could see that the years of smoking and drinking coffee had left their mark in the yellow hue of her teeth and fleeing gum-line.
“Good morning! Linda?” – I greeted her. “My name is Scott and I work with the County Health Department.” In my hand, at the end of my outstretched arm, was an official looking badge, with a picture that resembled me in my just-out-of-the-Air-Force street innocence of nine years ago, that would have confirmed what I just said…if she had cared to look at it.
“Well, it’s about time you guys got out here! Do you see this mess? Can you believe people actually live in this shit? And you think it’s bad right now? You should have seen it when I first got here this morning. I’ve already loaded-up my truck two times and hauled some of the crap to the dump. Who called you anyway?”
“Actually, nobody called me,” I said, “I’m not here because of the mess in the apartments. I was hoping you could help me find someone. I was told that you know Carlos and might be able to tell me where to locate him.”
“Well you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the bastard! That son-of-a-bitch tried to rape me last week. That’s right! Called the cops on him, I did, and they got here right quick and hauled his ass away! Talk about a piece of shit! He punched me in the face, slammed my head into the doorjamb, dragged me down to the floor, and then was ripping my pants off. Look at my neck and the side of my head!” I had already noticed the stitched laceration near her right temple and the finger-mark bruising around her throat. “Look at me! I’m 73 years old! What’s he doing trying to rape me? I’ve seen the girls he goes around with, and besides them, all he has to do is go out to the street and they’re giving the stuff away – so why mess with me?”
“I’m…not sure Linda. Maybe it has to do with power…like he’s trying to show you who’s in charge around here. You said you’d already 86’d him from the property…so maybe he was trying to get back at you…I…I don’t know.” Who the hell knows? And, goddamn!
Before I left the apartments, I learned that Linda has two sons in California. One is a doctor of some type and the other is a consultant with a computer software company. They have begged her repeatedly to sell her properties in Phoenix and move out to California to be with them. She said they were concerned with her getting so old and having to put up with the constant problems from her tenants. Linda confessed that she never tells them what’s happening in her little corner of the world…doesn’t want to add to their worries. “I don’t do this for the money…I’ve got plenty of that. I just do it to keep me going. My other old-lady friends have all died off, just sitting around the house or going to the country club, playing cards, and going to art shows. No thanks.”
No, instead you get to deal with the likes of Carlos.
To be continued….
Sometimes you just can’t help but smile….
Sergeant Rob Travers went to make contact with an apartment party at 1900 West Blakely Court based on a loud-noise disturbance call that was not yet dispatched. When one of the party attendees opened the door for Sergant Travers with a marijuana cigarette in hand, he immediately fled out the back arcadia door and jumped off the second-floor balcony. Within minutes, a burglary call was dispatched at an address across the street from the noise disturbance call. As other units began to arrive in the area, the subject who had initially fled the party returned to the apartment proclaiming that he had been shot. It was later learned that the suspect fled the party to avoid the marijuana arrest, broke into a resident’s home to seek cover from police, and was shot by the home owner before returning to the original scene where he was then arrested. Injuries are non-life threatening. Suspect and homeowner accounts of the incident are somewhat inconsistent.
Who said smoking a little pot never hurt anybody?
What do we really mean when we say ‘I hope so?’ Do we use the word ‘hope’ so casually that we have diminished its fullest meaning, or is it another one of those enigmatic things like love, that defy definition and measure, even though we find it clearly described in dictionaries? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb form of ‘hope’ as: “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; trust; to expect and desire.” We hope we make it to the gas station before we run out of gas; we hope we win the lottery in tonight’s drawing; we hope our sick dog is soon restored to full health; we hope we can keep our same days-off at work in our annual shift re-bid; we hope our adult children can be happy in their new relationships; we hope our kids’ chicken-pox sores heal before they have their school pictures taken; we hope our wives or husbands get their businesses up and running and that all the years of work and sacrifice pay-off and that our collective dreams finally come true; we hope so many other things that would make our temporal lives or circumstances however much better…we hope….
And then…a new cancer treatment gives hope to those suffering from likely terminal conditions where nothing else works; we hope that we can rescue victims instead of recovering bodies from the mine collapse or plane crash; we hope our co-worker and friend gets back to Kansas City before her father passes-away; collective prayer among believers and a favorite passage or two or ten from their holy text gives them hope when facing the end of their biological lives that they will continue to exist in the hereafter…even when there is no scientific or empirical evidence to even suggest that such places exist, be they heaven or hell or something in between or beyond; and we hope so many other things that are coming to a final or terminal end.
When we hope against hope, we are hoping for something even though there is little or no chance of our wish being fulfilled; we are hoping with little reason or justification. Yet, we hope…again, for that eternal resting place above and beyond the stars with our Savior and family members and other loved ones and pets (really, pets?)…we hope beyond hope that a lifetime of unhealthy living and destruction of our own bodies will be bettered by technology and medical ‘miracles’ and that our loved ones’ bodies will continue to persist against the abuses that they have wrought against themselves…and when they live or die – and ‘whether’ they live or die, it’s somehow seen as ‘God’s will’ regardless of our hopes. Well then, in that overly broad context, isn’t every single possible thing boiled-down to His will? That’s kind of lame when there’s no differentiation between what is/was His will and what is or wasn’t. It sounds rather like a cop-out or an easy resignation because either way it happens, you say that it’s His will. Why not just call it fate then…just give-up any connection with the Big Guy whatsoever…just bring it down to what it really is…shit happens…good happens…stuff happens…life just freaking happens, whether we surrounded ourselves with prayer or didn’t…stuff just happens, and depending on one’s mindset, I guess, we can give all the credit to a meddling God who isn’t too busy with all the shit that’s happening in the universe, actually in the millions of universes out there…really big stuff, like keeping all those planets and stars stuck up there in their orbits or stellar placements, preventing all the black-holes from vacuuming every damn thing into themselves, keeping the planets, in our lifetimes anyway, from continuing in their expansions away from their stars at an even faster pace that would cause our little speck of dirt and water from freezing its inhabitants to death…we can give all the credit to that meddling God for the things that He does and doesn’t do in our little insignificant lives…or…we can accept that we are just another organism that managed to survive and reproduce and evolve/change into something that could withstand the environmental pressures and struggles long enough to get to where we are today…and whose continued existence is dependent upon what miseries and poisons and precautions or preventions that we manage to bring to and upon ourselves. In the billions of years of the universe’s existence and in the lesser billions of years in which life has existed on our planet and in the millions to hundreds of thousands of years in which bi-pedal type homo species have existed, our lives as the general type and specific species that we have become isn’t squat compared to the numbers of species that have come and gone in the eons before us…we’re just another bug in a jar…but our arrogance causes us to devise such quantities of illogical hope for something so far beyond our biology…just face it…we’re bags of bones and dirt and minerals and star-dust…that’s probably the closest we’re going to get to heaven…it was in our celestial origins that our ‘stellar’ elements combined to ‘create’ life as it exists here on our floating, orbiting, chunk of rock and water…and still we hope; we hope against hope and ask God to hit the ‘pause’ button on the laws of the universe, that some believe He created/devised, so that He can answer our prayers and make the sun stand still (pre-Galilean understanding of the cosmos), make disease-ridden bodies suddenly free of pathogens and associated damage, and cure the addict’s arrested brain chemistry and change him/her into a mature contributing member of society, etc. We somehow hope against all the laws of nature that God will hear our prayers…that’s rather arrogant of us, isn’t it? Doesn’t that speak of a specialness or consideration that isn’t warranted by our measly human insignificance in the broader context of all of our universes’ lifetimes and existences, that we should hope for such things and that they be granted by our God above? While “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things” (according to Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption) that might help us endure some shitty circumstances, ‘hopefully’ temporal ones, shouldn’t we be more reasonable in our hopes? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves within the scope of our existence? I would hope so….
The boy, John, sat beneath the aged, black-barked mesquite tree and pressed his knees together to keep from pissing himself. Burning cramps tore into his bladder as he fought with determination to stem the flow of hot urine. Tears streamed down his dirt-smudged face and carved miniature riverbeds through the powdered clay. He spied a tiny black ant crawling up his tattered shin and flicked it away. Bloodied eyes sought the thing in the sand, looking yet to snub its life. “Six legs and three body parts of thin plastic,” he thought, “they kinda smell like…crushed ants”…acrid taste when he licked his fingers. More ants scurried about smelling the stink of one of their own dead. He picked-up another and used his pocket knife to slice off its head. The ant’s jaws’ opening and closing stopped a few seconds after the legs ceased in their final crawl into the dark unknown. Mesquite pods lay around the boy, snapping in the heat, revealing black-brown beans. Sweat mingled with tears, angry teeth grated enamel, fillings, and stolen raisins. Beating wings, doves and pigeons fleeing his thrown rocks, splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat.
In the house, the drunken man looked absently at the marks that John’s teeth had left on his knuckles. The sodden eyes twitched unsteadily as one red gash blurred into three and then one and then two. He shook his head violently and shoved his curled fist in front of his eyes and used his other hand to steady the shifting one so that he might better analyze the damage. “Lil’l fucker,” he slurred. “Lil’l FUCK! Where’r you? Where’r you, godDAMit?”
Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody can do anything. There is nobody. Fat bastard beats his face every day…kicks his ass. Fucking ribs are torn from their moorings and his goddam wrist must be broken again. He cried in a pain that echoed off his thoughts of murder and death. What he wouldn’t do to kill that fucker! Damn pickle bucket cut his cheek today. The coffee-can is gone. An evil beats in his head like a foul pulse coming from a putrescent heart. He can only see a haze as he wonders if it can be stopped in time. A scourge is teeming on an unknown edge as he contemplates faraway sounds. The dirt smells like rust, metallic blood, ocher. Hate.
Anger breathed into itself, a prominent, forceful being whose dictates reigned. None other stirred or dared to resist its call. He spoke as king in his court, an unruly sovereign who spread grief and malice with every uttering; strife. No thought but for the self.
Seconds and minutes wound into each other as he listened to the bean-pods snap in the heat and…he wondered where he would be if he could crawl inside the tick of a passing second. How far inside a second could he crawl if one of them would stand still and allow him inside? And in that small space, where would he get in? “Is there some kind of door or a squiggly mirror kind of thing that I’d have to step through to get inside? And is it really a ‘tick’?” he thought. Was there some real thing that kept one second separate from another one?
Would anyone care to look for him? If they discovered what he’d done, they’d have to rewind all the hours and minutes and seconds that had passed around him and then find the one second that he crawled into. Then they’d have to figure out how to open it like he did. And once they were inside, they’d stumble around in its eternal dark, searching blindly for the clues of his passing.
The boy, John, slowly drove the knife blade into his wrist, piercing skin and vein and tendon and scraping sideways against the bone, he pressed down and in and pulled up and sideways along…eyes closed and jaws clamped shut, squinting against the pain and rush and then. “Let me go,” he thought. “All I need is the right second, and I’ll be gone.” One passed, and then another, and another…. His aching bladder relaxed as those and his seconds and minutes passed…and his urine flowed hot and fast and slow and gone and darkened his pants and soaked the dust and dirt and shadows…. “Just let me in,” he whispered, “Please…just let me in….”
The ants’ tiny feet were red and sticky and caught the dust and sand as they walked to and fro under the shade of the ancient, black-barked Mesquite tree…among the heat-burst bean pods…as the sun beat down on the splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat. The pigeons and doves returned and then…skittering, bobbing…wings flapping and away and back…and settling the dust and the ants walking to and fro….