It’s Friday again, somehow, and thankfully…and I simply do not want to get started on my work-day, even though it technically started about half an hour and more ago. I’ve been looking at a photography blog that contains photos taken in Colorado, outdoor shots of people and nature, and it was so easy to stay there and not attend to the stack of papers on my desk that represent people and infections and stories and trying to be nice as I listen to their unconcern, panic, or whatever their names and phone numbers hold for me today. I marveled at the pictures of scenery and nature that so resemble the area of my new home and the beauty of Fall and her changing seasons.
As I was driving to work this morning, I couldn’t help notice the orange and yellow and pink and red of the leaves on the trees and sidewalks in our downtown and nearby residential areas. It reminded me again of the walk/hike I took at this time last year through Memory Park and City Creek Canyon. Upon further reflection, it dawned on me that I went there exactly one year ago next week, so even the stars and planets are similarly aligned, as the trees and everything were the same…as I looked again at the pictures I had taken and posted on Facebook.
The office is now waking and my co-workers are talking on their phones with their own patients and infections and the computer keys are tapping in their fast and slow paces and the piano music is still talking to my heart from my computer’s speakers and the cars and trucks pass silently and loudly on the street below our eastern-facing windows, as the boss is gone today and it’s Friday, again, and the pen feels so good in my hand as its tip scratches the paper and I can still smell the wood-smoke and feel the chill in my ears and nose as I remember my walk from last evening…as the echoes of my little one’s boisterousness rang in my ears and reverberated still with flashes and snapshot images of his silly and smiling eyes and clownish grin. So I think I’ll take him and his brother/nephew out to City Creek Canyon and see if they enjoy the colors of the falling leaves and the crisp morning air as much as I do and will…and maybe I’ll snap some beautiful photos to post here, too…of people and nature, and people, too.
Very simply, KOA-789 was the call-sign, or call-letters, of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station – very similar to what you would hear the DJs or commercial radio station announcers say over the air, or the way you would even refer to the radio station itself, like KSLX, KDKB, or KJZZ, KNIX, etc. While it may sound odd that a police department would have a radio station, it helps to understand that the FCC considers the collective of radio frequencies, or radio system, that a police, fire, or other public safety agency uses for communication purposes, to be a “station.”
When I said that KOA-789 were the call-letters, I meant that they used to be and technically no longer are. Several years ago, Phoenix Police upgraded their radio system to an 800MHz technology, no longer using the antiquated UHF radio-frequency system that is still in use by many smaller agencies across the country. The 800MHz system is digital and has many advantages over the older system. It also automatically sends a signal broadcasting its own unique digital marker, or call-letters, over the air.
The FCC has rules that require radio stations to announce the call letters and time on the hour and half-hour marks. In specific regard to Phoenix Police, and likely other police agencies, as well, when they were operating with the older radio system, dispatchers used to announce the time and radio station call-letters according to FCC regulations. It was often in conjunction with dispatching a call, during the broadcast of some other pertinent radio traffic, or when the dispatcher from one precinct’s frequency had finished giving information on another precinct’s frequency, as in - ”the frequency’s clear at twenty-three-forty-six-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.” During the late hours of the night or very early hours of the morning when the radio was quiet, meaning that no officers were clearing the dispatcher or each other, the dispatcher would simply announce the time and call-letters - ”It’s zero-three-hundred-hours, K-O-A-seven-eighty-nine.”
Over the years, the call-letters somehow morphed into a symbol or a trademark of the department, so that whenever one saw or heard the letters, the meaning was well-known or understood – at least by officers and dispatchers, as they were the ones commonly using the call-letters. At some point, license plate frames were made and distributed (sold to employees) with “Phoenix KOA-789″ on them, so that the vehicle owner/driver could tell other drivers, and police officers specifically, that they were part of the Phoenix Police family. Other police agencies would have their own call-letters for their radio “stations” that were in a similar form, which meant that their officers would recognize the license plate frame information and consider that the driver was a police employee. On a trip to California, I happened to see a frame on a vehicle that said “Los Angeles KOA-XXX.” I don’t remember the specific numbers that came after the KOA, but I was surprised to see that LAPD had their own license plate frames.
Again, KOA-789 used to be the call-letters of the Phoenix Police Department’s radio station. With the advent of the 800MHz technology, the dispatchers were instructed to stop broadcasting the letters with the time on the hour and half-hour marks during their shift; they were told that it was actually prohibited. That change in radio systems, however, doesn’t prevent police employees from putting the “slogan” on their cars or saying it among themselves, or even tagging the letters onto the end of a story, the recounting of a sentimental or nostalgic memory about a former employee, or even a recollection of how things were “in the good ol’ days.” The use of the letters is not likely so common among the newer officers and dispatchers, but to remove it from the veterans’ vernacular would be akin to removing it from the department’s coat of arms or family crest, for it remains a symbol of belonging, comraderie, and family among those who work for the department (or used to).
This article was written in response to several people finding their way to my blog, somehow, when checking the internet with search queries of “what does KOA-789 stand for?” or “what is KOA-789.” While some of the technical information might not be 100% accurate, it represents my understanding of the history of the call-letters from having been a police 9-1-1 operator, dispatcher, and communications supervisor with the Phoenix Police Department for over 10 years. Please feel free to submit your corrections or additions to the information…at zero-nine-hundred-hours, K-O-A -seven-eighty-nine….
Liberty Park is about a mile from my workplace in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s roughly a quarter of a mile wide and a half mile long, so it makes for an excellent lunch-time routine, walking there, making one circuit of the paved perimeter, and then walking back…it takes just under an hour. The first time I went to the park, which was in probably September of last year, I found the trees almost mesmerizing me with their huge trunks and canopies of leaves as I tried walking around the track. I don’t know that I had ever seen trees so tall, especially in the middle of the city. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to take some photos of the trees to share here, and even though they are still bare from the continuing winter weather, I find them beautiful and alluring…maybe even awe-inspiring.
Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
My ears are still ringing and my head is still buzzing or humming from the road-wind and travel and my arms and legs can still feel the pulling and turning and little bumps in the roadway that have embedded themselves into the corporeal memory of my day and afternoon. We have traveled, I and me, from the south to here again and have resumed the new habits and routine that have become mine in these last days and week. I have returned to here from there, from my home and home to this place of preparation and waiting. The long road and miles took me back to that place that has been mine and ours for these many years, that place of rest and sanctuary from the world and its assailing us and me. I have found myself here again after being there for only a couple days and my mind is still there as these keys type and start and stop and wonder at the words as they come and go and form and don’t and retype themselves as the clothes tumble in the dryer and I wonder at who’s sleeping and not. I wonder at who has cried today and not. I wonder at the quiet here and the eyes in the pictures and the empty pillow and the couch that used to be there in our bedroom and is now here in my living room. It’s tall and large and greenish golden brown and fit in that first and intended place and is now huge in its occupying of space and then. It looks like it belongs somewhere else as I think of tomorrow and the people who will be in mine and the other people’s tomorrows in which I will not be in substance and form.
Words came to me in the turning of the wheels and the passing of the wind and sahuaros and stands of shoulder-high sunflowers in their patchiness and grounded and monster junipers with their blue-berried cones all jumping and a-gaggle in their hodge-podge placement and positioning on the hills and passing landscape with the prickled-pears and cow-tongued cacti that clung neatly and a-jumbled along the side of the carven hillsides that bound and bordered that twisting ribbon of concrete and asphalt for those many miles from there to here. Those many miles that spoke in sundry tongues and painted images with their palate of words and thoughts that fled in happenstance at and in their impermanence, their scattered thoughts and round again and between glimpses at the guardrail and the mountains that command in their presence, Do come and stay and make anew that home and home and prepare the way for those to follow like the earlier pioneers who made their trails and forded streams and were the first and first as they went away.
I pondered the thought of this not being home yet and the gentle pressing of keys that told of hating the place where lonely lives, that ghosted realm of things and people gone from where they used to be, gone from where they’ve always been and not within reach or touch or the distance of a cross-room glance, but gone…and it lives alone there and waits the knocking door, the familiar step, the simple look, and the…rolling tears and the empty chair.
And the images of faces known and voices left behind, those Sunday mornings of yesterday and what they held and laughter and friends and none await me yet and the past is full and the present bare and the mountains beckon me and tell me that they will be my first friend here, as I think of my first friend there and my last one, too, and note the passing of time that was short and the leaving soon…and here we are, wondering at what tomorrow will bring.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you might remember the posts Daydream, To go Away, The Remove, The Stuff of Life and…maybe not. I suppose it doesn’t matter, either you’ve read them or you haven’t, either you know me or you don’t, and that probably doesn’t matter either. Run, run, run away….
Life is moving hard and fast in the direction of great change. I am on the brink of leaving what I have known for ten and twenty years and starting all over again somewhere else, returning to a slightly familiar place where I will no longer be a visitor and returning to an occupation that I have once loved and hope to fully embrace again. I will not be a novice this time around, but things will be so different and in such a different place that my experience will only be a foundation for new learning.
The excitement of the past few weeks and the anticipation they held have been tucked under the emotional costs that I will soon pay for making the change. Rather, the excitement has been tucked under the “realization” or “coming to fullness” in acknowledging that cost, naming the faces that I will be leaving behind for good. Yes, I will be leaving my spouse and children for a time, but I will see them at intervals over the next few months, and the expectation is only that we’ll be separated for six months at most…but given the realities of life as I leave a part of it behind me and the circuits in which the loved ones travel, there is a strong likelihood that the six months will become only three or four and we will be joined again in our family fullness. The others, though, the friends and co-workers who have become special over the past years will likely be left behind in those worlds of our collective past where we existed together. Sure, we’ll see each other on Facebook and in occasional or seasonal emails and cards, but the truth and reality of life will probably dictate that we are going to exist more as memories than participants in our continuing lives. That is what the past tells me, anyway, those other laps around the proverbial block.
A week or so ago I went to dinner with two old and dear friends from a previous time in my life. The occasion for the dinner was to have one last get-together before I launched out into that other city and state that will likely be my home until I am no more. We had a nice couple of hours together, eating chips and enchiladas and drinking beer while we shared new stories from our lives since we parted and recounted memories from our time together. And when the evening was done and we all drove away in our different directions to our separate sides of town, it struck me that we had already parted. We had already made that divide of hearts and emotions and this new parting wasn’t sad, which at first struck me as sad in itself, but then just left me feeling a little empty somehow, like maybe anticlimactic, or post-climactic, if that’s an appropriate word. In truth, I guess that’s what it was. We had already parted; we had really already said goodbye. We had shed our tears eleven years earlier when I had first left them in our common workplace and had gone on to my new one. Even though we met probably half a dozen times or more in these past years, the hurt of the leaving had already been felt, we have already mourned; it’s done already…and it’s time for that whole experience to happen again with another group of people…another group of friends. We are cutting the cords, the ties that have bound us to each other for these past and passing years. I suppose I am cutting the cords and ties. It is my action, again, that is doing this, and then goodbye…. You have peopled my world, tugged on my heart, and will now live on in my memories and occasional contacts. I miss you already.
In that solitude there will be quiet and pain and the tinkling of only one spoon in the cup, one plate on the table, and only one head on the pillow. Shared voices will be found only on the telephone or in the crisp letters that travel through space and time and appear on a computer screen in an email at home and back and on the tiny text page of the phone. The nuances of expression will be gone and nobody else will wake with my stirring. The sounds of breathing will be my own and the thoughts abounding will all sound familiar.
And I am here and finally and up in the great northern place to which I have been yearning for all these months and weeks and days. I found myself here yesterday afternoon after only four hours’ sleep and about ten hours driving and the wind was blowing and the sky clouded with the salt plumes from the northern part of the landed city. I was hungry and tired and actually worn-out with what I had just done and I wondered what the hell I had actually done. I wondered if things were a mistake and I hadn’t even started the adventure. I’ll correct that…I have begun the adventure, as I have left family and friends and have stepped into the great and wide unknown that is up Here.
The wind has ceased in its craziness and is now just a strong breeze. The morning was quite chilly as I waited for the guy to arrive and connect the cable and internet services. I had the door open in waiting for him, along with the windows to create a cross-breeze that would do better at cooling the apartment than the central air-conditioning. And the day is now in its winding-down stages, coming to an end with only the evening remaining. My “house” is now as furnished as it needs to be to sustain me for these months, minus a chair-side table to hold my drink or remote, but otherwise, operational and looking something like a home, as it is known in the common sense.
I am feeling further out of sorts in my new surroundings. “Discombobulated” is a good word, I think. I know where I am, know why I am here, know where everyone else in my family is, and know when they will be joining me, but even with the familiar things in my little apartment home, the great outside is so different, the apartment is different, there are no pets, no kids, no wife, no backyard and no pool, and no police radio echoing in the background of my mind as I sit here in my late Sunday afternoon. I am feeling disjointed and un-centered…out of whack, out of sorts, half a bubble off plumb (in my life orientation, not my sanity), and maybe even like a ship without a rudder. I think that might speak to more serious problems than I really have going for me at the time, but it almost fits. I feel off. My bride told me that I should go for a drive or a hike to remind myself of the wonderful things that are here for me despite the aloneness I mentioned to her when we wrote each other earlier. So I did that…I went for a drive…down to Smith’s…where I had been so off kilter earlier that I left part of my groceries and other items there when I walked out of the store. I kept going, afterward, of course…drove southward down State Avenue to its end…some two or three towns south of my current home…my home away from home, my new home in transition from my old home…the home that I will call mine until my family gets up here in a few or several months…and then.
And later…I am in that strange and other place now and have left behind those I love and hold dear in different ways. It is a strange place and kind to my previous desert-dwelling soul, with morning kisses of chilly and promising breezes. My new home is only temporary, but it is and shall be my lodging and launching point as I head out into the wild beyond that shall nourish and sustain me until loved ones arrive in their time. There are familiar things here in this new and quiet place: my chair and music and pots and pans, the loving faces on the wall that have followed me and smile into my eyes as they will.
The quiet here is familiar, yet new and thick; there are no voices in the place, no cats to meow; only my thoughts populate these several walls. I should allow here that there are now voices and sounds, however, but they belong to people I haven’t met or seen; they only walk past my opened windows and talk as they get into the vehicles with the slamming doors and drive away to places I don’t know. The footsteps and sounds of a bath above me are from strangers, too. They are not of my children or kin and they exist as sounds only in this new world of my making.
Tomorrow will dawn and direct and urge me into another familiar unknown place and occupation. It will present new strangers to me and introduce new worlds that are waiting to be born. Time in its marching, plodding, and shuffling-along will open other doors, reveal new or different pathways, and bring experiences and lessons and stories of different shapes and hues.
Yes, I spoke of you when the scratching of pen and the tapping of keys were my voice. I called on our histories and the unborn worlds that became ours when we became what we did in the friendships of our time, the friendships of our time in the workaday part of our lives, the part of our singular and collective existences that formed when we joined in that common purpose of answering the call and sending help as we did and then.
I did speak of you as I recalled the image of you standing on the flight deck of your floating city and felt the peace of your First-Mover in the Pacific sunset, as I recounted the shaded and glimmering crystals sent from that wayfaring soul to your shared and beloved tree-hugging figure-skater, my noble mariner friend with a heart reaching ever outward from your chosen desert home toward that “known region where nature’s god kisses and nurtures its inhabitants with a clean respect and calmness and ease of simpler life amid the beauty that consoles an aching heart.” I spoke of you when I shared those thoughts of hope and dreams and inspiration and risk and the cost of pursuing those things that rile and soothe the heart and soul, when I weighed the future against the present and sought determination and resolve, those words echoed in my mind about seeking the success in those things, for nobody sets out on a venture to fail, you said, they strive and make things happen in as much as they are able. Thank you, my friend. I spoke of you….
I spoke of you, too, who guided me in my learning, and told me to just say “10-4” when six-thirty-four-king told me that he was “ten-seventeen to six-hundred for one-oh-five with a ten-forty-two and had ten-thirty-one to complete before going ten-seven…” or something like that. “Roll Fire,” you said, “Do this, do that, stop thinking about what they said and just repeat it before I hit you with this parrot. Check your messages, answer the phone, type and talk and don’t say that number again or I’ll smack you, you know I will, and yes, you heard him correctly, clear for his sergeant like he asked, get a dog and the air-craft and send a message to the Radio supervisor and quit thinking, you do fine when you just do….” And, god, did I ever tell you “thank you?” Did I ever thank you for your mentoring that allowed me to achieve and advance and reflect again on life and responsibility and accountability for self and others? Did I ever tell you how you were there for me in the dark night of my soul, those rough days and long weeks of wondering and how? Thank you, dear friend, from my beating heart to yours.
We were and are members of a menagerie of faces and eyes and paths walked together and then, as we sat for hours and became part of each other’s existences, our forevers. Our friendship spilled-over one day, yours and mine, in the sharing of words, the sharing of a sentiment from an unexpected source. I looked at you in your hazel eyes and wondered at the depth of your question on that August day, those months and months after the changing of courses in your life and mine and others, too, our babies in a same and similar place with one left behind…and I wondered at the depth of your question, I did, when you said, “But how are You?” I was touched then as I am now, again. That was the drop that pushed this over. That was the day that I looked at you anew. Please thank your mom, again, my friend, for those Christmas cookies…and cheesecake…and you. Yes, I spoke of you.
And you, too, with the blueberry muffins on a Saturday morning in a frightening time where peace was found in words and phrases and reflections and then, I spoke of you.
I saw the end of a particular time drawing nigh and wondered why, in this passing life, that our various paths didn’t cross and intertwine outside of our workplace, why life was so busy and busy and we remained contextual friends. We never walked the back-nine together, never had that soda together on a Thursday afternoon that was the only afternoon in our uncommon weekend days, never traded mock and practiced blows in a dojo on your side of town, or met for coffee or pasta at your favorite north-side café…we never herded our collective mass of kids to a playground or park and watched the birds dart and dive in the light of the waning sun, never sat in our favorite bookstore over a cup of Joe, and never took the city’s train together to the museum or ballpark or…we remained as we were in the confines of our own gothic and cinder-blocked fortress of a workplace and laughed as we would laugh, poked fun and commiserated, and mourned our collective and individual losses that mounted in the passing years. There were rare hugs and frequent jabs, smiling barbs hurled with gentle hands and eyes that earnestly watched to make sure they weren’t too rough.
And time has passed as it does and will and we come to these moments that are fewer in number and falling down…and what didn’t happen didn’t and won’t, and distance will grow between us and our laughter will resound in our memories only, and sometimes they will be cut short by tightened throats and misty eyes and we will wonder at ourselves and each other and the falling sand. We will wonder how we might cherish the remaining moments so they will be sweeter in their detail in the tomorrow of our tomorrows where they will linger like a sweet perfume that is heady and strong in the first reckoning and then fails with the continued ticking of the clock…like a passion, hard and urgent, that wanes with a changing thought or an unexpected breeze.
I spoke of you, my preacher friend, when I wondered at the purpose of friendship, when I marveled at your tender father-soul and felt my own heart breaking in vicarious love for your grown baby who is fleeing in time with the clock’s wind, up and away from you. I cheered and cried for you and your quivering chin when you thought nobody was watching, and I relished in the magic of words and inspiration. I spoke of you when I understood that we are friends only because we are, and our spirits are made deeper by that connection and then, by that fibrous reaching across time and space and experience and lived lives and we are not so different and we are…as your gentle heart chastens and encourages me.
And I spoke of you on that November Sunday morning when “I was just sitting there reading something on the computer or studying the board to make the proper chess move and a friend walked in and gave me a Bavarian crème donut…and the smell was rich and beyond my morning grasp of words…rich sugary and warm with chocolate icing and then…wrapped in waxed paper and held with simple paper towels from the work kitchen dispenser…and it was so simple…so real…an emotion and a donut.” Those other moments we shared in heated conversation about things being right and not, about how contradictions flow with an inordinate ease in bureaucracies of might, and how one person gets something that another person can’t get and we have to be careful in our caring and our pressing that might go too far and your gentle innocence and quaking heart compelled me in new directions, caused different words to be uttered up a chain and out into the ether where they were wasted and gone and consoled nobody…and I tried…and spoke of you on a Sunday morning.
I spoke of you when sparked and fiery brands fell from the covered sky onto your tormented soul and the barbs sunk deep and your misery was wrought in twisted words from angered minds. My heart stumbled in memories of vermillion pathways and sought solace and strength in those hedges and byways. I spoke of you when I uttered that “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 is thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’” So, I thought of you when I found the regal words from an uncivil time about how we forget the words of our enemies and remember the silence of our friends…so I spoke for you. And I wonder what glorious shades and rainbow hues will show forth on your wings as they unfurl from your chrysalis-like hideaway? What new spirit lives with resolve and unconcern for those dropping barbs and stumbling blocks of chatter and sway?
And now I speak of you, of one and all, named here or not, and reflect upon our unchangeable past and unknown futures, the beating of our hearts that separate and move in different directions now that things are done. I embrace you in my heart of hearts and thank you for enabling all of those other worlds to be born in mine, those multiple universes of thought and emotion that only came with your bidding, that only came with your bringing them to exist within me and the lives that we have shared. These words are few, yet weighted with a love and emotion that knows no name other than “friendship,” and I thank you for who and what you’ve been to me in our times passed and passing.
“Goodbye brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas with a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.” – Joseph Conrad
“Here lies my past. Goodbye I have kissed it; Thank you kids. I wouldn’t have missed it.” – Ogden Nash
“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” – Robert Southey
“Can miles truly separate you from friends…. If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there? – Richard Bach
“Not to understand a treasure’s worth till time has stole away the slightest good, is cause of half the poverty we feel, and makes the world the wilderness it is.” – William Cowper
“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” - George Eliot
“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.” – Nicholas Sparks
“You and I will meet again - when we’re least expecting it – one day in some far off place – I will recognize your face – I can’t say goodbye my friend – for you and I will meet again.” – Tom Petty
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” – Flavia Weedn
“As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.” – Alcibiades
“Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.” – Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” – Kahlil Gibran
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel
“Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the parting sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart.” – Washington Irving
“If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden.” – Claudia Ghandi
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard to do.” – Carol Sobieski & Thomas Meehan
That most precious friend of mine said that she felt like she was a centipede…like some little shit of a kid had captured her and was slowly pulling her legs off, one at a time.
Her life was crazy and she was being pulled a hundred different ways and her sanity and resolve were leaking out of the hundred little holes in her life. Work pulled and sucked the life from her soul on so many fronts that it was almost like fighting that mythological serpent, Hydra – she takes care of one project or chore and another five or six rear their ugly heads and demand that much more of her.
Family life is great, but also draining, consuming, and pulling her this way and that and running her hither and yon…and it is only going to get worse or more complicated in the next several weeks and months to come. This child needs this, another child needs that, and yet another child or two needs yet other things and it feels like the well is going to run dry.
Is there really a limit to how much we can care or love or do or control or provide or accomplish or resolve or fix or…? Does a heart have limits? There is probably a breaking point somewhere, but it’s probably not too defined…and if it were to be defined, the one defining it would have to allow for all the mitigating circumstances or conditions that would effect that breaking point and redefine it, or readjust it, or move it further down the timeline…or closer.
I suppose in attempting to handle the Hydra that is our lives, we can attempt to prioritize the demands and handle them in order of importance, or even in respect or regard to whether or not there is even anything that can be done about them…whatever they are. Yes, there is probably that breaking point out there somewhere, but there’s also a point or a place in which you have to let go of some of the things that are bothering or consuming you…the things that you really can’t control. Sometimes you have to prepare as best as you can and then go with the flow; ride the waves and try to steer yourself when you can…and just hang on when you can’t.
In the age-old conversation about work and life, are you one of those lucky or fortunate ones who stumbled upon or pursued and captured the job that drives your passions, or is driven by your passions? Did you have that childhood dream become a reality, and now, in your adulthood, you wake each day and can’t wait to get to your job because you just absolutely love it…because it so fulfills you, rewards you, or gives you the satisfaction at the end of the day in knowing that you participated in something that was so much bigger than yourself, or that you touched at least one life in a way that will be felt positively by that one life for their life’s duration? Or did you wake in the night and rise to embrace your creative dream and not stop until you were famished and your strength gone as you beheld the object of your creation and were able to say “Yes, I did that, I made that, I created that…and the world, or my own corner of it anyway, is all the better because I did so”? Is that you? Is that me? Or are we in the middle of a muddle where we just get up everyday and go to our jobs, walk the walk, go through the motions and maybe even have moments where we actually care about what we’re doing, maybe only to be rewarded every other Friday with a few more bones, or many more bones in our checking account? Or worse, are you in a job or place that you can’t stand, but you’re too numbed by your personally dissociated indifference to do anything about it? Is your job killing your sense of who you are or want to be? Have you resigned yourself to the daily grind and live only for the paydays that finance your weekends and postponed or neglected dreams? How do you live then? How do you do that? How do you surrender yourself so completely to someone else’s bidding? For the money only? Are we whores, then, when we resign ourselves to such a life, sacrificing our bodies, health, our minds, dreams, or our very souls, for that paycheck? What would we trade or willingly sacrifice, to have a job that we love, so that it is no longer work, but actively living and flourishing in ourselves and our dreams as we participate in that “making a living?” What would we sacrifice so that we don’t have to surrender…and what do we become if we don’t?
It’s not that sacred December season, but I could not help but make the connection with all the mayhem that is and has befallen our city in the last evening and early morning hours. I realize this is another somber and distressing post, but I think my cup is full and the meniscus of sadness is about to overflow, as its already feeble boundary or edge of fragile instability sways and quakes in the beating of my heart and tightness in my throat.
I sat there with my headset on and waited for what might come through the phone and happened to look up at the clock and noticed that it was 9:06 a.m. on our Sunday morning at work. In our police radio talk, in our city anyway, “9-0-6” means that we are to send help quickly. When we hear it on the radio, we know someone is either getting their ass kicked or they are about to. It’s not as bad as “9-9-9,” but it means that there is serious trouble and the officer needs help right now, this instant, this moment, immediately…a second ago, please. It’s appropriate now, I think. We need help. Or maybe it’s just me.
I could not help but be affected by my dispatcher’s quivering chin as she fought back the tears after working a suicide call that involved an officer from a neighboring city. “It’s so sad,” this little one said, as she voiced her distress and concern at what might have been so bad in the guy’s life that he wanted to end it all as he did. He had left a note at his computer on the desk in his office, giving his wife very specific instructions as to what she should do. He told her to call 9-1-1 and then take their daughter out front to wait for the police. She called us and said that she found the note and was scared to search the house for him or to go into the garage. She didn’t want to find his body. My dispatcher entered the responding officers’ radio traffic into the call, typing a narrative of what the on-scene officers said, noting the officers’ identifying call-sign, and then what they said. The Air Unit was overhead and did a search of the property after patrol units had arrived and checked the inside of the house. The sergeant said to keep the wife and child out front and to block off the road from passing traffic. The Air Unit’s observer then told the officers standing with the wife to turn-down their radios so she wouldn’t hear what he had to say. He then told the dispatcher and the other listening units, and me, that the officer was sitting on the swing in the northeast corner of his back yard. He said that it looked like a gun lying on the ground by the man’s left foot and it appeared that he had shot himself. The observer said that the guy wasn’t moving and then told us to stand-by; he was going to get lower and check to make sure. A couple seconds later, the Air Unit observer told us that the man was definitely shot. The patrol supervisor told the units to secure the dog in the backyard, and then to secure the handgun and to roll Fire. We don’t leave officers dead in their backyards for hours while we investigate what happened. Roll Fire – get the guy to a hospital, away from the house, from the family, from the swing-set in the backyard.
I wonder what that means, the symbolism in the man taking his life on his six year-old daughter’s swing-set in her backyard? Does it mean anything or nothing? The possibilities of freighted meanings are too much to contemplate.
My dispatcher’s eyes were sad and her voice was calm as she said thank-you as I got her a relief to sit there as she went down the hall for a few minutes after she finished the call. She was back on the radio then, half an hour or so later, and was giving the details of another hot call she was working with a hit-and-run accident victim who was chasing or following the suspect vehicle as it left the scene. She’s ok. She handled everything fine. She copied and repeated what the officers told her and she got it all typed into the call.
And so we go on. “9-1-1, Where is the emergency?”
This was only the second “serious” call of the morning. An hour earlier someone called to tell us that there was a dead transient in our city’s downtown “Heritage Square.” Another hour or so later, a son called to report that he found his 70 year-old father cold and blue in his bed on the west side of town. Another couple hours later, an off-duty fire-fighter and paramedic called to tell us that he found a deceased transient lying against the back wall of a dollar-store on the city’s south side. And almost finally, just before the end of shift, a young man called to tell us that he was hiking at one of the city’s mountain parks and found what appeared to be a 55 year-old man who had been shot in the chest…just laying there in the middle of the hiking path. Officers responded quickly with their lights and sirens and did, indeed, find the man lying there…and with a gun nearby. As I was about to step off the pod at the very end of my work-day, I noticed a message on my computer’s screen notifying me of another injured-person call…a two year-old was found floating in the family’s pool. The message had been there for a minute or two, so by the time I looked at it, the operator had added a couple more lines to the call. The last line said that the baby was awake and responsive…crying. “Code-4, clear it.”
And I’m 10-7, goodnight.
No TV tonight…no cop-shows…no news…and hopefully, no dreams about work….
I wonder what kind of day it would have been if it didn’t start with reading about a five year-old who died in her sleep…if I didn’t have to wonder if it was just a biological failing of her body, given that she was on a feeding-tube and had serious medical issues to begin with…or if maybe the caretaker, parent, mom, or whomever, had used a pillow during the child’s sleep to make sure she didn’t wake again. The fire department transported her, with a police car following…and then the officer stood-by to relay the status update to his sergeant…so we would know if they needed to roll homicide detectives…just in case. I wonder what kind of day it would have been if the next notification I received wasn’t that some adult child found their parent dead in their bedroom with their body wedged between the bed and the night-stand…or if another message that I received hadn’t told me about the dead body that the city’s building inspector found when he was making a visit to one of the apartment complexes in town…or that one of the fire department’s truck-crews was on its way to the grocery store to buy their shift’s food for the day and found a dead body laying somewhere…just laying there, out in the freaking middle of the day on a sidewalk or in the greenbelt between the lanes of traffic…or if the dispatcher hadn’t needed to tell me that an officer was assaulted by some guy he had pulled-over for blowing through a school zone….
I wonder what kind of day it would have been if another dispatcher hadn’t told me that there was a “real” unknown-trouble hot call being worked on the central tactical frequency…the caller, of which, had reported that he found a Navigator in the parking lot that had blood all over the driver-side door and steering wheel and seat. Oh yeah, and about an hour ago he had seen a 50-some year-old white guy walking behind the buildings carrying a bloody bed comforter. What kind of day would it have been if we didn’t end-up finding that 50-some year-old white guy with seven bullet holes in his chest…and then sent officers to the Navigator’s registered-owner’s house in another city to talk with the man’s wife…to check on her and then ask about her shot husband…. “He left for work a couple hours ago…maybe a little later than usual…yeah, he works around such-and-such an area.” The officers thanked her for her time and then made some phone calls back to our dispatcher and patrol supervisors. A little while later, the officers went back to the man’s house and asked his wife if they could come in and take a look around. “Sure…come on in.” They found blood and…. What kind of day would it have been, if when the medical center called the woman to come down to identify her husband’s body…it hadn’t taken her two hours to get down there…to learn that her husband had been shot seven times and taken two bullets directly in the heart…and then managed to drive from his home in that other city to his work-place in the middle of our city…what kind of day would it have been?
When a different neighboring city’s dispatchers called us and asked that we check a certain vehicle leaving their city and coming into our city with four or five people inside who didn’t want to be inside, but were being driven against their will out and around and wherever…and we broadcast the information and an officer thought he was behind the vehicle and many more officers arrived to watch and follow and help when and how they could…and somehow that vehicle turned in front of or behind and into an alley or neighborhood and parked in some dark invisible place and we lost them and didn’t know where they could be…but those four or five people had dark skin and said they had been kidnapped…what kind of day would it have been if that hadn’t happened?
Later that afternoon, what kind of day would it have been if we hadn’t come across a drop-house, a den or lair of human coyotes who steal and smuggle and rape and kill and extort and abuse people who trusted them to bring them to a better life across a river and imaginary boundary that exists on maps and in minds…and officers set an inner and outer perimeter to catch all of the fleeing coyotes when they ran…and we caught four bad-guys and rescued four good guys and gals and called ICE to come and get “their” people….
And what kind of day would it have been if a caller hadn’t found that little two year-old wandering the street in his diaper and striped tennis-shoes…hadn’t called us and said “Please come get this baby…yes, I’ll stay here until you get here, I couldn’t just drive by and not stop”…like so many people do sometimes.
What kind of day would it have been if the young man hadn’t called to tell us that his friend was going to kill himself…had a gun and was going to do it…and was going to leave the apartment door unlocked for us…what kind of day would it have been if he hadn’t refused to come out of the apartment when we got there…if he would have just come out on his own…but no, we had to call it a barricade and call-out the dogs and the SWAT guys and restrict the channel so the dispatcher didn’t have to work any other traffic…just listen to me…to us, as we work this mess…all for a guy who wanted to die, but was too chicken or too undecided to do it after telling everyone that he was going to…and we set-up our police camp and command-post outside his door and around the corner and pretended that there was a real boogey-man inside who was a threat to himself and others and we were coming to protect the “others” from him in case he decided not to hurt himself, but them. What kind of day would it have been if we had packed our shit and just walked and driven away from that guy who didn’t want to come out…?
What kind of day would it have been if the mom or dad or aunt or grown cousin of that little diaper and tennis-shoe clad two year-old had come looking for him so we didn’t have to place him with Child Protective Services…if they had even noticed he was gone?
What kind of day would it have been if that other neighbor hadn’t called us to tell us that a woman was chasing her eight year-old son through the apartment complex holding a knife in one hand and a belt in the other…running and yelling “Get back here, you little shit-head…I’m gonna beat yo ass!” What kind of day would it have been? “I don’t think she’s right in the head,” the caller told the 9-1-1 operator. She had left her one year-old and six year-old kids in the apartment as she ran and chased her older son. An officer cleared after a bit and asked that we roll the counselor/crisis-team van from the fire department to take care of the other kids.
And what kind of day would it have been if there weren’t constant and insistent messages flashing on my computer screen all fucking day long about police needing to come to this school and that, this hospital and that hospital or this aunt’s house or grandmother’s house or CPS worker’s office to take this report and that report about some loved one or trusted one or some stranger or some assistant coach hitting or bruising or fondling or fucking some child who was just going about their days and lives trying to be a kid over the weekend or last week and he’s still got bruises…and the 16 year-old girl woke-up this morning and she was naked and groggy and it was burning and hurting between her legs and she doesn’t know what happened or how she got where she was and she just called her mom and she called us…and the Spanish-speaking father called us to say that his 14 year-old son was walking home from the store and a truck full of Mexicans had pulled-over and grabbed him into the truck and then stole his cell phone and wallet and had beat him and touched him “down there” and…what kind of day would it have been if another dad hadn’t called to report that he found text-messages on his 17 year-old son’s cell phone talking about how he was having sex with the dad’s 26 year-old girlfriend…what kind of day would it have been?
And those were just some of the things that happened in only eight hours of a single Monday at 9-1-1 and police dispatch…just one shift…in the fifth or sixth largest city in the country….
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….
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.
Staring at the red-eyed ass-end of cars and trucks and jeeps and other sundry motored craft with my eyes all a glimmer with the reflections from those little white and yellow reflector type thingies that line and border the roadway and guide me along my Monday morning crush and rush to that famed and beloved workplace those many twenty and some miles away…gum wrappers and stop signs and don’t stop in front of the fire-station exit and the shiny vest with reflector stripes on the weebly-wobbly guy who’s walking up to the bus-stop catches my eye as I approach and cross the reflector marked railings along the canal and floodway passage that has mated with the bike route that goes from here to forever when you’re riding it against the wind that whips through its tunnels wafting the transients’ urine smell gust-like up your nose in shadow form and passing…. And the one fire-control-systems truck that just had to launch from the stoplight like a hot-rod on a summer night, young driver aflame with the passions of his pursuits to impress whomever might be watching and then took his foot off the gas and dropped immediately to just below cruising speed at 40+ mph…needed or not…with the vroom of my engine and sideways glance and just make up your mind, drive or don’t, but get out of the way…and we’re just driving to work.
This Sunday morning, today, a simple morning, I was just sitting there reading something on the computer or studying the board to make the proper chess move and a friend walked in and gave me a Bavarian crème donut…and the smell was rich and beyond my morning grasp of words…rich sugary and warm with chocolate icing and then…wrapped in waxed paper and held with simple paper towels from the work kitchen dispenser…and it was so simple…so real…an emotion and a donut…if there had only been freshly perked coffee and a crisp wind blowing through the door and scattered yellow and orange and gold leaves lying about…but our winter spring is here and there was nothing to be had as such…eighty or so degrees on a middle-ish November day and our desert sun shone bright and fair…phones rang and people laughed and officers went running to their hot calls and chasing people who bailed-out of stolen vehicles and we heard their emotion and shortness of breath and heard the other people in the background as other officers and people were there to watch and help and one was at gun-point and hold your traffic and the radio was quiet…. And they were only seconds not minutes that passed and it was code-four, one in custody and the room was loud again as they tossed the Sunday paper to each other to search the ads and watch cartoons and it was Sponge-Bob and his friends and someone changed the channel quickly past the man in the robe beseeching someone and others to look to the highest for redemption and the news replaced him and it was boring too, so they turned it to Sports Center or some other random thing and they dispatched their trespassing calls, got officers going for the suicide and later told me about the five year-old in a wheel-chair that had been missing for over an hour…his 15 year-old sister left him out front talking with a friend and came back an hour later to find him gone and nobody knew where he was and called 9-1-1…what is your emergency…and popcorn was popped and yogurt eaten as people came and went and an American officer with a Baltic name and accent asked for an ear-piece for his radio and there’s none to be had today and so…and I met with the two remaining trainees and congratulated them on their successes and wished them more as they left my charge and passed-along to the next phase…they work almost alone now but still need a guide and a listener as they ask about emergencies and say with somber voices “9-1-1, where is the emergency?” They’re young and new and liking their jobs and want to help and have open and eager minds and they can see the seriousness in our eyes and know our voices are confident as they are still trying theirs on for size and it’s getting easier and thank you and I’ll try to wake when the alarm goes off from now on and no I don’t want to be fired…and can I stay late to make-up the missed time…the morning and afternoon passed and it was one-something and then three and we left the fortress-like building and entered our cars and began our journeys home or wherever our journeys would go and we became our citizen selves and then…the cat won’t eat her food because it’s a day old and she wants a new can and the kids are over and having fun on the trampoline and I don’t know if I want Taco Bell again…seems like common fare…common like not unusual, not like ‘common.’ The day is now passed and past and the evening is upon us and our teams won and lost and we had a little success with the right kind of DVD thingamabob and tomorrow is going to be busy again and I’d love some Bailey’s thank you…and that donut was so sweet this morning…the outer cake was slightly crisp and soft and I could smell the sugar and crème and chocolate and had to lick the last bit off my fingers as it was too good to just wipe off and throw away…and thank you my friend…for a great way to start a Sunday at work.
Two years ago, I came to your country looking for a new life. It was my desire to make things better for my family, for my children. In these two years, I have learned many things about people, yours and mine, and about living, or trying to live, in your country. These things have not been easy for me, but I have learned them, and I will not forget them. You see, I have read your newspapers and I know that some of you despise me and my people. I know that you do not want us here, in your country. I know that you are angry, for I can feel your hateful stares; and while I respect your feelings, I must ignore them. I must look beyond your intimidating glances and keep my mind’s eye on what my dreams hold for me and my family.
My name is Isabel María Hernandez and I came here from a river-town outside of Juchipila, which is near the middle of the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, roughly six hundred miles south of your Texas border. I was born into a very poor family, one that had nothing. My father was a farmer of corn, but the land was not his, so he had to give most of the money from the corn to the dueño. After my father paid the landowner, he would give the remaining money to my mother. She would then go to the mercado and buy what food and supplies we would need for the next several months. If you saw her walking, every time she went there, you would see my mother’s lips moving; nothing could be heard from her mouth, but you would see her lips moving, silently praying with each step that there would be enough money to buy what we needed; but there never was, and somehow, that did not keep her from praying the same prayer each time she went there. So, we had nothing.
We were only four children with my mother and father. I had learned from my tia, my mother’s sister, that there used to be three more children, but they had died before I was born. A fever had gone through our village and had taken many children with it when it left. This made my mother very sad. It was said that she did not speak for almost one year after they were gone, and I think she was still sad, even when she had the rest of us. You know, my mother’s sadness, her despair and emptiness, it was like the fever. It spread from house to house in the village. It touched everyone’s hearts and lives. Echoes of her misery were heard everywhere, even across the river where the Ocotillo had made their forest. We thought that the land itself held my mother’s sorrow.
When I was seventeen, I met Juaquin Gutierrez, the man who would begin the change in my life. He came to town with the rest of his family, all of them crammed into an overloaded pickup truck. They were heading north, going to the United States, where, if they worked hard and proved themselves diligent to their task, they would find a new life. Juaquin said there was work for the asking, and supposedly, they paid well. Even if it was not well by their standards over there, it was probably much better than it was in my hometown.
I wanted to leave our valley. I wanted to leave because it was filled with the sadness. There was no life there, only sadness and the remaining shadows of death. Can you blame me for wanting to leave? Can you blame me for wanting to escape the history of nothingness, for trying to start anew, for desiring to forge a new shape to my life and the lives of the children I would someday bear? Do you blame me?
If you are a mother and you dream for your children, do you dream that they will become corn farmers who know only hard times and unhappiness – or do you dream of better things? If you see a chance to take hold of a possibility for a better life – do you not reach out and pluck the opportunity before it flees, not knowing when or if it will return? I think you would. Then you ask me, “What about your country, your history and traditions, why do you leave them behind; why do you forsake them?” And now I ask the same thing of you: ‘What about them?’ Do you want to go there? Do you want to take your children with you and try to live? Are you willing to give up your comfort, no matter how temporal or long lasting it is, to go live where I have lived – where I was born? I do not think you would go.
Some of your newspapers and opinion polls say that we do not work in your country. They say that we only come here to bite into your system and see what we can get out of it without putting anything back. You say that we are taking your benefits and public assistance dollars when your own people do not get them. Have you never taken time from your very busy and important lives to see that, yes, we do work? Have you never seen that my people do the jobs that your people do not want to do? Do you remember the men who built the wall around your yard, the men who built the walls around all of the yards in your neighborhood? What about the men who bent the metal bars that now hold your swimming pool together? They were of my people. Did they have to beat-up someone to get those jobs? No. You say that there are laws that make your companies hire some of my people – so their quotas can be met. Very well, maybe there are some laws like that. But, I can tell you, there were no long lines of your people trying to get a job when the companies hired us to plant your vegetables or to harvest them and deliver them to your markets for you. We did not have to shove people out of line to empty the garbage cans in your hospitals or office buildings. Maybe you are too good to pull the weeds from your beautiful hotel gardens. Maybe you are too proud to wash the dishes from which your own people eat. Can you not wash out your own toilets or vacuum your own office floors? Or what about that nice little restaurant where you eat lunch with your friends every other week, talking about your new car or pool while my brother, not yours, scrapes your half-eaten meal into a garbage can? What about all of this?
Can you remove your eyes from staring down your noses long enough to see that your own people abuse your system the same way that you accuse my people of doing it? Can you see that? They did not risk their lives on troubled, dangerous highways to get here; they did not spend many sleepless nights wandering the desert trying to find the right path to take them to their dreams. These people were born here. These people just decided to take a ride on your system of benefits – they have taken the benefits – when a better life is all around them for the making.
My people and I are not asking for very much, we only desire a little help. If we are allowed some assistance, you will see that we will end up helping you and your rich country. You will have our children, my children, when they are older. They will help your country grow – become richer. Our children will serve in your armies and help defend your right to live where you want to live.
What do you dream for your children, that they will go to college and become big lawyers or doctors; become presidents of corporations or mayors of your cities? These are wonderful dreams. You are comfortable in your houses, dreaming these dreams. I am trying to become comfortable too, living in my home, dreaming much simpler dreams for my children. I dream that they have enough food to eat every day, and that they will be able to wear clothes and shoes that fit. It is my hope that they will be able to have enough food for their children when they grow up. I want them to be happy. When they have these things, then maybe I will be able to share your dreams, maybe then I will be able to see our children together, becoming doctors and astronauts and such.
Years ago, your country was built by people who were not born here. Ships used to dock in your harbors, full of people whose nationalities and languages would reach the hundreds in diversity. You, yourself, are probably born from a family who came from one of those ships. Yes, you say, but that was a time when the industry and commerce needed the immigrants to work in the factories and peddle the goods in the streets. Those people, your ancestors, you say, were responsible; they learned the language and contributed to society. So, now, years later, you see the benefits of those people coming here. If you will but give them time, you will see the same of my people.
Things are different now. Your country may not need my people, but we have been coming here in recent years because things have gotten worse in our homeland. Your ‘high-tech’industry and inventions have allowed us to know what better lives we could have in your country, the place that is still the land of opportunity; the one nation that still offers a better life, where my children can grow, can better themselves and our people as a whole. Your own Declaration of Independence says that all people are created equal and all are blessed by their creator with certain rights that must not be denied them. These rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These things are available in your country – they are not so available in mine. When I was studying about your country, I read of your statue, The Statue of Liberty, and the poem that is written at its feet. The last verse of the poem says:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I cried when I read those words because they so described me and my family…and I cried because I wondered where the people had gone who felt this way about my people. Are the words of this poem still true? Are we still welcome here, in your country, to breathe free, to find a home where dreams can be fulfilled, where our children can grow strong and live? Are we not welcome here? If you turn us away, where will we go, where will we make a better life? Where will my children be able to have a blessed life of opportunity…like your children?
In despair…despair…dispair…despear…deaspear…dispare…disappear…disappare…disappear…dead-spear…die-sphere…dead sphere.
I lay there with sparkling glass all about me. The sun could blind a living eye with this glaring prism of light that is alive itself. Concrete is warm as leather-soled shoes stop on the sidewalk across the street. Cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and spent leaves lay around me. A paper cup with orange and yellow flowers sealed beneath cracking wax is blown against the curb under his paused foot. The wing-tip is untied and has a hole in the great toe. A white sock peeks out, surveying the air. A lost pebble under the ball of his foot nears him to craziness. No briefcase to put down before he sits to the curb. No hat to tamp against gravity before he leans over to remove the stone. My eyes see him but my brain just lets him be. The metal taste in my mouth is like a penny hidden under the tongue. I can’t spit it out. He looks at me like he’s done something wrong. Hair flutters in his eye, then mine. And mine. Sand from the concrete presses into my cheek as he examines his sock. His mother doesn’t know where he is. Mine thinks I’m at work. Of course, she’s thought the same thing for years, or weeks on end; at day’s end. Days end. For that’s where I was. When I was. When I was there, the world spun as it does now. It still spins. The world spins still; it spins not moving, still. If you can know something like that, I guess that’s what it was doing, when I was, and doing. A feather, still. His old tweed jacket has holes in its holes. Cigarette burns in the arms with the lining appearing without. My ears still ring; the blood yet flows through the tiny capillaries near the surface of my skin; it is still warm. It tingles when a car drives by. A truck makes it louder. And, he sits, not knowing what to do. The wheels on the chair spun for only a few seconds. They were startled, too. And the glass, it was whole and unnoticed when it was clean. Now it’s lost its pane and its absence draws a crowd. It is scared, fallen to pieces, broken near into sand. Lost. He sees the people looking down to the street. He sees the clouds crawl past the horizon. The building leans toward him so he rises and looks about. Not away. She thinks I’m at work. He saw me fall silently to the street. That pain is gone. That pain has severed the feelings that had been severed so long ago. Happiness fled itself. And drawn away. It screamed as I walked past, “Come here!” Don’t leave. Go away. The grit in the street crunched beneath his foot as the siren’s car approached. It left whole for another place, its tail following behind. The tiny hairs picking up the static dust. The lint and fiber of nonsense. Nonsence. Nonsents. Non-scents. Non-cents, he went bankrupt. Fell out of life. I fell to the street. He just fell out of life. And went away. They are lost. Do you look around? Does it sparkle in other places too? The clouds are lowering a story at a time. Birds flew past the ledges without second thinking. They dropped their things in flight and landed in other places. We’re not the same. The chair flew out and took me with it. Anger seized, seized, seized, seased, ceased, teased, teized, seized me. In a rage the clouds swept me up. They tossed me higher and crashed me harder than clouds should. So friendly when viewed from the park grass. They threaten nobody there. So soft, like cotton candy – over-used simile. In the end. His split finger-nails had been chewed down to the quick. Dirty fingers housed the nails and brushed the hair out of my face. The flattened side of my head didn’t feel flat; it didn’t ache either. I saw ants on the sidewalk, undisturbed they were. Undisturbed they were before I saw them, too. I had hidden in the bathroom, sat there so long that my legs had nightmares. The fan overhead drowned-out the speakers on the wall. The walls heard the speakers, but they didn’t listen. They kept on standing there, fastened, undisturbed, too. As dust falls, it sees its friends lying about, keeping a place for anybody else who might happen to drop in. They collect, one by one. Slowly there is a film of their bodies, covering whatever they touch. Are they happy? Water washes them away. They’re weak. The chair just took me like I was weak too. I only meant to hurl it at the window; then it grabbed my tight, angry fingers. White knuckles tensed the blood away. The weight just took me like I was weak, too. I smell vinegar from the mustard on his fingers. There is some yellow, too. The breeze replaces my hair. The breeze misplaces my hair. Our moms ought to get together. His doesn’t know where he is, mine thinks I’m at work. I succeeded today. Now I’ll nev