My first efforts at incorporating photos in this blog medium…pictures from springtime in the desert world of our west-valley region of metropolitan Phoenix…. These were taken along Skunk Creek a few days ago…which is/was about three to four weeks after the wonderful and record-breaking winter/spring rains….
On a certain Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, Tracy G. called the police department and asked for officers to meet her at a certain location so they could review a restraining-order that had been served to her. Tracy was on her way to her husband’s funeral with her three small children. The day after her husband died, two police officers had served her with the restraining-order that had been obtained by her dead husband’s mother…her mother-in-law. Tracy told the operator that her husband’s funeral was supposed to start in half an hour and she wanted an officer to read the order to make sure that she was allowed to be there. She said that the last thing she wanted was for her children to see her get arrested and taken to jail while she was with them at their father’s funeral…the day was going to be hard enough as it was.
Tracy told the operator that she called her precinct yesterday and was told by one of the patrol sergeants that there shouldn’t be a problem. He told her to make sure she didn’t interact with or confront the other woman, “don’t cause any problems…don’t commit any crimes while you’re at the funeral…and there shouldn’t be a problem…but call for an officer to check the order just to be safe.” The operator asked Tracy several more questions to make sure the officers could find her at the location where she said she would wait. He asked for her full name, her birth date, phone number, vehicle description, and the name of the business whose parking lot she would be waiting in on the south-east corner of a given intersection. “How long will it take?” she asked. “I’m not sure,” the operator told her, “but I’ve entered it as a priority call, so hopefully it won’t take too long.”
Someone in dispatch asked a supervisor about the call because it was unusual in nature. They’re used to processing priority calls to serve the restraining orders, but it was strange to process one as a priority to just have the orders “reviewed.” As the supervisor came over to the operator and asked him about the call, another dispatcher/operator overheard the conversation and offered that she had coincidentally spoken with both Tracy and her dead husband’s mother yesterday. She had directed Tracy to the precinct to speak with the sergeant…and had later listened to her dead husband’s mother rant about how she just knew that her son’s wife was going to show-up at the funeral and cause problems. The witch’s voice still echoed in her ears, that other dispatcher/operator said, as she couldn’t imagine being caught-up in such a situation where the grieving family members couldn’t even gather together peaceably to remember a loved-one who had just passed.
On a bright almost-springtime morning, Tracy G. was taking her three little kids to their dad’s funeral…and she was hoping she wouldn’t get arrested for doing so…in a family divided…for whatever reason.
I finished my shopping, paid for the coming week’s food supplies and other staples and then passed through the automatic doors and walked out of the store and into the waiting parking lot. As I turned the corner from the entryway, I passed an alcove or recess in the building’s architecture and was surprised to see a small woman-girl tucked into it. I was caught off guard, naturally, as I wasn’t expecting to encounter someone hiding there.
She was a smiling, brown-eyed version of that hauntingly beautiful, green-eyed girl from that National Geographic magazine cover those many years ago…and had a sort of soft falsetto type voice that somehow reminded me of the one used by a certain dead pop-star when he talked to the media and tried to be so convincing of his innocence.
It’s hard not to respond to someone’s greeting when it’s something that you normally do, even when alarmed out of your reverie or processing of thoughts about your day or whatever.
I wondered if she was going to step-out and ask for money…just enough to buy some milk for her kid or gas for the car…but her eyes were too bright and the skin on her face was too clear…and still, the “Hello sir” wasn’t empty. It felt like there was something more coming…as I kept walking away, pushing my cart. No footsteps followed, not another sound, just the rattle of the cart’s wheels over the cobbles and into the parking lot.
I turned to look back and found her still there, tucked into that small spot, hugging herself into the slight corner of the building, wrapped in her brown or black or whatever colored jacket or hooded sweatshirt or whatever. I kept walking to my truck, pushing my cart ahead of me, and then turned to look again and saw that she had left. I didn’t see her walking anywhere and assumed…I don’t know what I assumed. I figured she was just gone.
I beeped the remote on my keychain to unlock the truck and then opened the front passenger door to load the groceries. I looked again through the other window, and through the palo-verde trees in the parking-lot medians, and back at the entrance to the store. She wasn’t there, by the store…she was in the backseat of my truck, just sitting there, smiling with her medium dark eyes imbedded in their pure whiteness and further enveloped in her slightly darker skin. She might have been 13 or 21 years old, I couldn’t tell. She smiled an easy smile.
“What are you doing in my truck?”
I’m just sitting here.
“I can see that. Why? Who said you could get in?”
You left the door open.
“I unlocked the truck so I could put my groceries inside and then get in myself and leave. I didn’t open the…I didn’t unlock the door for you.”
Well you must have left it open then. It was open when I approached your truck.
“You just got in on your own. Now…what do you want? Who are you…what are you doing here?”
What do you want?
“I don’t want anything.”
“Yes, really, I don’t want anything.”
How can that be…that you don’t want anything?
She leaned forward a little and slowly slid her hand into her jacket and held it flat against her chest…looking at me with that little smile, white teeth peeking out from between her full brown lips.
“I have what I want…so I don’t want anything. Now get out of my truck.”
Why were you at the store this morning? Didn’t you want something, didn’t you came here to get it?
“No…I needed some things. My family needed some things, so I came here to buy them.”
And you didn’t get anything that you simply wanted and didn’t need? You needed everything that you bought today?
“No. I bought a couple things that we didn’t absolutely need, but that I decided to get anyway…or I wanted them, yes. Wait. Do I know you? Who are you? What…why are you here?”
She leaned back into the seat and turned to look out the window and toward the front of the store again. I was still standing outside of the passenger front door and slowly placed one and then another bag of groceries on the front seat. She turned back and met my eyes again.
What else do you want?
“I want you to answer my questions…why are you in my truck and what are you doing here?”
I’m here to see if you want anything…to see if you have any desires…in life. That’s why.
“Who are you? I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you before. You need to leave. Go on. Get out of here.”
You’re just uncomfortable talking about things you want…and you don’t want to confront yourself and your personal issues.
“Look…my personal issues? I don’t know you, ok. You followed me out to my truck and then got in without my asking, without my permission, and now you’re asking me about what I want, about my desires. I don’t know you. I don’t talk about those things with most of the other people in my life who I do know, so I’m certainly not going to talk about them with you…or…. Oh, I gotcha…you were talking about other wants and desires?”
She smiled and turned her head away again. She pulled her hand out of her jacket and started to reach for the door handle, hesitated, and then put her hand down into her lap where it found its mate.
Maybe I’m an opportunity…or a challenge? Aren’t you looking for a challenge…something to test you?
“Or to tempt me? Are you looking for a date or something? Trying to pick-up older guys in the parking lot of a store…so they can take you home or to a hotel somewhere and abuse you or share some of their own forsaken love with you, give you some money and then you go away and look for another person, another victim?”
Is that what you think, really…that I followed you out here to proposition you? You think I’m…a prostitute?
“I don’t know what you are, but I’ve seen it before. I’ve talked with young women or girls like you, or girls who conducted themselves like you just did, so…yeah, I guess that’s what I was thinking. You’re someone who needed some money and wanted to trade for it. I already asked you who you are and what you want and all you did was ask me what I wanted. You’re playing word games…like you’re trying to get me to ask you for something…all innocent-like.”
I’m just asking a question. What do you want? Is that so hard to answer?
“Are you in the habit of following strangers from a store and then climbing into their vehicles uninvited, simply to ask them what they want? That seems rather odd to me. Seems wrong, fake, misleading…certainly not on the up-and-up.”
“Yeah, like you’re up to no-good, trying to cause trouble…trying to get something…money for drugs or something. Or food, maybe, I don’t know.”
I had loaded all the groceries into the front-seat of the truck and still stood outside of it, talking to her through the open door. It started to drizzle again and the water drops were beginning to land on the inside of my glasses, blurring my vision of the little girl-woman sitting in the backseat. I couldn’t see if she was smiling or even looking at me, though her head was still turned in my direction.
You don’t know what you want, do you? You have no idea. You’ve got your nice life, your family, probably a couple nice kids and a good job that you might not even like anymore…and you don’t know what you want. You’re stuck and you don’t have a clue.
“What are you, my conscience…my soul…some undreamed dream or a ghost from a previous life…a guardian angel or an apparition from the future…coming back to save me from my own destruction or something?”
Maybe I’m you. Maybe I’m the question that you don’t ask yourself every morning when you look in the mirror…that question that haunts you as you sit in the nighttime darkness and wonder what you’re going to do with yourself…that quiet voice inside your heart or head that asks what you’re going to do with the next 20 years of your work-life…your career…and the other 30 or 40 years of your non-work life…maybe I’m your future. So…what do you want?
I was standing with one hand on the open door and the other on the edge of the door-frame near the top of the truck, kind of bowing my head to look into the truck at her. I looked down at the ground and kicked one of the pieces of landscaping rock or gravel that had gotten knocked out of the median.
She didn’t say anything, just kind of adjusted herself in the seat…maybe leaned forward a little.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe in this kind of shit.”
Again, she didn’t say anything. After a few seconds I looked up and she was gone. She hadn’t opened and closed the door, hadn’t made a sound…no smoke or vapor, no lingering scent, and no residue or smudges on the back-seat or window…she was just gone. I leaned into the truck and looked through the driver side front window toward the front of the store again, but she wasn’t there. I un-leaned myself from the truck, stepped backward and closed the door, and then walked around to the other side of the truck, looking out and through the parking lot, turned around a couple times and scanned the full distance of the store’s property that I could see…but nothing. She was gone.
I got in my truck and drove home. The store was less than a mile from the house, so the drive only took a couple minutes, even as I drove slowly and scanned the sidewalks and neighborhood looking for the girl.
After I put the groceries and other items away, I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took off my glasses and brought my face closer…and looked into my eyes, one and then the other…looking…searching…the brown was different than hers…the whites not as white…not as young.
“What do you want?”
I couldn’t answer her…couldn’t answer myself….
One of the defining characteristics of the human animal is that of self-awareness, being able to understand the notion that we are an individual entity, a separate person, and are different and exist apart from other individual people and animals, or other given entities…we have a sense of “me” or “I,” and are likewise able to name “you” and “they” and “other.” When we look at those others and others who populate our lives, who accompany us in our temporal existences, we see and understand those others in the roles they play and the contexts in which they abide, sometimes as a continuous presence, and other times as singular or occasional appearances or presentations. We identify people and sometimes think of them only within the contexts that they appear in our lives. We forget that the mail-carrier is a mom or dad, sibling, child, or college class-mate of other people. They aren’t just the people who drive around in those little ass-backward steering-wheeled white jeep-type-truck things that deliver our bills and catalogues and letters and junk-mail…they are people who exist as we do, getting up in the morning, showering and shaving (?), making or buying coffee to drink on the way to work, rushing home or to the day-care provider to pick-up their child after work, buying groceries on their day-off…all those things, just like us…but we usually see them only in the roles they play. It makes us pause for a second to see the mail-carrier or postal employee who we normally only see behind the counter at the post office walking down the aisle in the grocery store in non-postal-worker clothes. They catch our eye and we search our brains for a second and then realize who they are…and we wonder for a second second if it’s weird that the postal employee buys Mountain Dew.
How often do we think about ourselves in relation to the others in our lives? How often do we see ourselves or examine ourselves as our siblings’ sibling, our parents’ child, our supervisor’s employee, or our employees’ supervisor, our child’s mom or dad, our neighbor’s neighbor, our professor’s student? When we do actually do that, though, what do we see? Who are we or what are we like as that “other” person in another person’s life? If we were to look outwardly from within their eyes, what and who would we see when we looked at ourselves? What things or aspects of ourselves would we still find appealing…what things would we suddenly not like…could we stand to be around ourselves if we were actually someone else watching us or living as a family member or co-worker of ourselves? How would we describe ourselves through that other person’s eyes? And then, how have we acted in the past to make them see us as they do…? What would they identify as our strengths and weaknesses? Where would they say we need improvement? Where would we say we needed improvement if we looked at ourselves, if we watched our interactions with others through those others’ eyes? Could we stand ourselves? Would we call ourselves a phony, a two-faced bitch, a back-stabber…or someone who was genuine, dependable, sincere, and respectful…all while being real?
What about when we look at ourselves through our own eyes? Who are we when we examine ourselves in the roles that we play? Who is that person who exists behind the façade of “Dad,” or “brother,” or “spouse or husband,” or “employee,” or “friend,” or “coworker”? How much of our true selves do we reveal to the other people in our lives? Do the characteristics that combine to make us “Dad” or “Mom” show themselves when we are in settings that demand that we conduct ourselves as “employee” or “boss” or “neighbor” or “student” or “bank-customer” or “citizen who got pulled-over by a cop for doing 45 in a 30”? Does our real persona show itself in all the social contexts in which we move and exist? When a person looks at us in one role, are they able to see or know how we behave or exist in one or all of the other contexts of our lives? Are we shallow in some settings and deep in others; are we obtuse or dense in crowded public settings and witty and intelligent in more private settings; are we tough and strong in one place and weak and needing protection in another; are we confident and fearless at work and meek and doubtful at home; or are we arrogant and cock-sure in front of our friends or at work in front of our employees and coworkers, but really a “fraidy-cat” when we’re home and among our intimates where we can let-down our guard? Are we really unsure of ourselves, unconfident, unfocused, unbalanced, lost and wandering in our deepest soul, but we put-on the opposite face and appearance when we’re out with anyone else and everyone else who crosses our path, intimates, familiars, or strangers?
So, who are you when the world looks away and you are only accountable to yourself? When the day is done and the house is quiet and you are alone with your thoughts and reflections, examinations and recriminations…who are you as you sit there in the dark and wonder at the faces on the wall, the family portraits and school pictures whose members’ faces are staring at you and the beyond…who are you? What ghosts come loose from their hiding places and moorings and remind you of the dreams that you put on hold or forsook for whatever reason? What pieces of yourself that you sacrificed along the way come out in the dark and dance and wave their hands and banners of “What about Me?” and ask where you went; where did you hide the promises you made to yourself about the things you’d do when…? And what injured child of yourself crawls into your lap and wonders what you learned since you were your own little self…and asks you why you didn’t do things differently?
Who did you turn-into as you were becoming who you have become? Who are you?
There was a certain feeling of nakedness and vulnerability that came with being the only visible white person within several blocks…who was also standing on the second-floor landing of an outside staircase in front of a faded and worn, black security door and having an invisible dark-brown voice coming out from somewhere on the other side of the door telling me that I needed to leave…telling me that I needed to go, to be gone, to be absent, to be somewhere else…anywhere else…and away.
It was full daylight on a bright desert weekday in some kind of month when the sun was making my face run with sweat, smack-dab in the middle of the neighborhood at 15th Avenue and Buckeye, easily within the perimeter of the inner to mid-city boundaries of central Phoenix. The address used to be 1502 West Buckeye Road, but the two-building, two-storied, and L-shaped apartment “complex” has gone the way of urban-renewal and no longer exists. It was deemed to be part of the blight in that particular city-council precinct. The corner was now home to just a traffic-signal pole and an empty and graveled lot that sparkled with the detritus and glass of a Mad-Dog and beer-bottle graveyard. People parked there sometimes when they were visiting the tent-revival meetings at the “church” on the south-side of the street and a little east of there…other people parked their taco-wagons and multi-colored, plastic patio chairs there and sold those spring and summer-time evening tacos and birria (goat-meat) burritos to passers-by with a middle-loud to real-loud loud-speaker playing various folk-tunes from south of the border. If you’ve heard them before, you know what I mean when I describe them as sounding like they come from a Bavarian Oktoberfest celebration with the polka-accordion-esque tunes that seem foreign and absurd in their central Phoenix surroundings.
As I said, there was a certain feeling of vulnerability, standing there, elevated as I was, on the back-side of the complex on that four-by-six foot metal platform at the top of the stairs. There was nothing to hide behind and no porch-cover overhead, no posts or poles to hold an awning or sun-shade that no longer existed. It was just my tall-assed, white-male self standing there beneath the sun with that soft dark voice talking to me through the security door. I didn’t even have to knock –
“Hey,” I said, as I was held-up my ID tag. “I’m with the health department….”
What do you want?
I work at the clinic and I’m looking for So-and-so….
I know who you are, he interrupted, put that thing down.
“Oh…ok…. Well, I need to talk with So-and-so. Is she here?”
I said you need to put that thing down…really…you need to leave, man.
“Ok…it’s really important that I talk with her….”
I know that, man, but you need to leave…please.
Yes, he really said “please.” He was articulate and warm and kind and sounded like he didn’t belong there, either.
I almost whispered, “Alright, can I leave a card for her?” as I was pulling-out a card and envelope and pen and turning sideways to look back and around and into the neighborhood.
No, man, you have to leave, and don’t be turning around like that.
His voice was urgent, yet gentle…like it was coming from someone who was almost my friend…someone who, if he was in a different place, would be my friend, big brother, or mentor. It felt like he was trying to protect me…to urge me away and back into some kind of safety where I belonged.
I tried to hand him my business card, not the one that I would have had to stand there longer to write on, but just my card.
Put that down, man. Don’t try to give me anything. Just go. I’ll tell her. Go on now.
So…I left. I walked back down the sun-faded and shiny and greasy and dirty staircase and out through the alley and toward my car. I fought against the urge to turn and look back at the door I had just left, so I occupied my mind and eyes with slowly panning side to side, searching for other people and eyes that might be looking in my direction. Maybe they were inside other houses or buildings and sitting behind the partially closed mini-blinds that faced the sunward side of the alley and street where I walked…maybe they were in the truck or van that drove down the street and turned away and gone.
What was there? What was going to happen or might have happened…what did I walk into…or away from on that long desert day in that whatever month where the sun was hot and bright on my face?
…you need to leave…please….
My work didn’t hold anything real exciting for me that day…April 7, 1993. I needed to check-up on some near forgotten pieces of paper. They, the pieces of paper, represented people that I’d never seen or known. Up till then, they were just hand-writing images of maladies and locations and the people who owned them.
I went to see Mary…for the fourth or fifth time in the space of a month or so. She lived in a small trailer court that looked like old people lived there…43rd Avenue and Maryland or Missouri, something like that. Gene, her boyfriend, was sort of old, I guessed – late 50’s to 60’s – gray hair on his head and body – spots and scabs all over his arms and legs from the scabies that his prostitute girlfriend brought home to him. She, too, looked old…bad old – even though she was only six to eight years older than I was, her body was thin and weary, her teeth were gone – some “date” that went bad – all beat out of her ragged, road-map wrinkled face.
On that particular morning, Gene greeted me at the door in his underwear and tossed hair. The day’s light was making his eyes squint by themselves – “Mary is in the back in bed” – he told me to come in and go talk to her. I squeezed my way between the couch and chair that was blocking the sliding door. The trailer was stuffy and smelled like warm sleeping bodies. Not dirty, just very warm – so much so that you could smell the oil from their skin. Mary’s face was all wrinkly and shiny from sleep – she stumbled out of the door – skinny body bumping into the door jamb.
Mary said that she knew she needed treatment but hadn’t had the transportation to get there – she smiled and confided that “at least I haven’t been out spreading it.” I gave her a card and told her to come see us – very soon. She glanced at the time and told Gene that “we can come down in the afternoon, see….” I nodded my approval and watched Gene scratch his belly.
My senses were aware of the stillness in the trailer – the warm stuffiness – Mary slid open the window on the back door to let it out and I heard mourning doves in the mulberry trees outside. Sounds that soothed me as I watched an old worn-out prostitute wake-up and realized the day was half over – to me – and just beginning for her.
As I drove to the park, I remembered Mary’s daughter from the last time I came to visit. A younger version of Mary – already tall with long straight brown hair – not a lot of meat on her body – sunken cheeks, small breasts, long white legs, clean thin arms that hadn’t seen hundreds of needles and hot pipes. Little Mary’s eyes were questioning and untrusting as I asked for her mom – “Who are you?” was her answer. How intelligent already, looking out for her mom. “Where does she stay when she’s not here?” I asked. A small smile and a single lifted eye-brow belied the knowledge of what a girl shouldn’t have to know about her mom. I hoped I wouldn’t get papers on Little Mary someday. Maybe she was learning what she didn’t want to become when she grew-up. “She doesn’t have another permanent address when she’s not here.” Of course not…a street corner or drug store parking lot or stretch of road couldn’t really be called a permanent address.
There at the park, sitting in my non-air-conditioned Tercel, parked under the shadiest tree I could find, I listened to the familiar sounds of children playing on the merry-go-round, roller blades rolling and clacking on the sidewalk, wind blowing and moving through the leaves in the branches overhead, and doves coo-cooing in the mulberry across the way. Two years earlier, Mary told me that she shared a shack with Little Mary behind some friend’s house just north of the street where she would work. “She knows that I have to do things so we can eat sometimes and have new clothes for school. I always come home when I can and my friend is almost always there in the front if Little Mary needs something.” Instead of roller blades on the sidewalk, it was the sound of Mary sobbing about being beat-up, thrown out of the van and losing her teeth. Instead of mourning doves in the trees over there, it was mice and other scurrying, scavenging, living things under the bed and outside that you could sometimes see through the chinks in the wall.
Were the miles traveled by Mary going to strengthen her daughter’s resolve not to travel the same road, or were they going to condemn her to the same journey? Did Mary learn this road from someone close to her, or did she stumble onto it by herself? What destructive, violent, self-losing act started this? Would it ever end, or would it only continue to repeat itself? I didn’t know; I still don’t.
Like I had said earlier, it wasn’t going to be too exciting that day, only full – full of every thing and emotion and experience. They were all out there and I would only get to see a glimpse of it that day, any day. I got to feel it, though, and smell it…and sometimes only sense it. That was part of why I loved my job; I got to touch the essence of being alive, of being a human struggling to live.
And it continued…as things did and do…January 13, 1997…and on this day, this one particular day, came the final news about Mary. That inevitable end had come. Eugene, or Gene, came to the clinic because he was named as a contact to syphilis again. “Again” was the third time in the seven years that I had been there at the health department doing that type of investigative work. Gene spoke with my partner, Gilbert, and revealed that Mary had been found dead on West Van Buren about four months earlier. She was just found dead – that’s all. The incompleteness of that answer, the pure lack of substance found therein was nearly as sad as the death itself. “Oh, I don’t know. She was just found dead.” That’s all? That’s all he could tell us, this man who slept with the woman for five or more years? She was just found dead? I wondered…and wonder. I did and do. Mary died in August or September of 1996. While we were all bustling about getting ready to begin the school year, trying on new clothes, getting sports physicals for the fall league, setting about to do whatever we were going to do for that particular Labor Day weekend, Mary died on West Van Buren. Was she shot? Did some bastard date pull a hunting knife on her and slit her throat like the guy did to one of her prostitute friends four years earlier? Did he stick the knife into her belly just above the pubic bone and peel open the skin clear up to her chest like he did to the girl with the cut throat? As skinny as Mary was, it would not be difficult to imagine that she had AIDS and was killed by some vengeful date who thought she had given it to him. That was the rumor then, that dates were killing some of the prostitutes they believed have AIDS. That was the rumor, then….
So, Mary was dead, possibly from an overdose of heroin, a bad grade of cocaine or batch of crack. Maybe even by a sour date. I didn’t know and don’t know, and further, I didn’t know if I would be able to find out. It was too late to contact the Medical Examiner’s Office…too late then…and now. And what about Little Mary…where was she living with her mom gone? Where was she the day she died? Was she at school, at work…on the street…looking for her mom? Was she still living there in the stuffy trailer with her mom and Gene, or was that living arrangement as much a part of the past as the rest of it? With as much time as had gone by, she might have been out on her own already. She might have been in school somewhere, living out-of-state somewhere with her grandparents or an aunt. She could have been in as many places or situations as my imagination could have offered or created. It was possible, too, in recognition of life and the reality that exists therein, that Little Mary was on the street herself…working. Her virgin soul might have already been tormented and abused and raped by the same shit that snuffed-out her mother’s life. Time would tell…maybe. I don’t know….
Mary had a little lamb…I wonder where she is now….
The ages-old expression of “forgive and forget” is so hackneyed and overused and overextended that it is nigh unto empty in substance and possibility, me thinks. It might have meant something those many years ago when it was first uttered, but it seems to have lost its pizzazz as something that might have even the potential to mean anything today. Essentially, it offers that once we have forgiven someone for an offense, we no longer even remember it to hold it against them…or we disallow the sentiment of “being-hurt” from any and all situations or interactions with the person from that moment of “forgiveness” onward. Tell me how true that might be, really.
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2008), forgive means “1) to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon 2) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook 3) to cancel or remit (a debt).” Forgiveness means “1) a forgiving or being forgiven; pardon 2) inclination to forgive or pardon.” And for this record, pardon means “1) to release (a person) from further punishment for a crime 2) to cancel or not exact penalty for (an offense); forgive 3a) to excuse or forgive (a person) for some minor fault, discourtesy, etc. b) to overlook (a discourtesy, etc.).” And finally, forget means “1) to lose (facts, knowledge, etc.) from the mind; fail to recall; be unable to remember 2) to fail to do, bring, etc. as because of carelessness; overlook, omit, or neglect unintentionally 3) to overlook, omit, or neglect intentionally.”
We have all done things that we shouldn’t have done, some on purpose and some by accident. The ones that we did on purpose must have had a rather compelling or selfish reason to lead us into that spot of knowingly doing something that was wrong, inappropriate, or would bring hurt, shame, or embarrassment to someone else…yet we did it. And then the errors that we committed accidentally likely came from acting out of ignorance (not being stupid, just not knowing), as in miscommunication of one manner or another, or misunderstanding of a person or of the rules or of a situation, or something else of that nature, and sometimes because we didn’t have the skill or weren’t otherwise prepared to handle the situation correctly or in the best manner.
When we intentionally do something wrong, how serious can our confession and request for forgiveness be when our mindset was or is, “I got mine, and the rest be damned.” How much contrition can exist in the aftermath of that intentionally wrought situation? What are we actually sorry for…the damage and hurt that was done…or the fact that we got caught or identified as the one who committed the offending act?
I have wondered in my wondering at forgiveness and the passing of time. How do we really forgive someone or ourselves for the transgressions and/or sins that we have had committed against us or have cast upon those others in our lives. Does forgiveness actually occur, or does the sting of the offense just weaken with time and no longer affect us as strongly or as deeply as it once did? And if forgiveness actually does happen, where does it come from; when there is no God, what is its origin, or where does it lie in its hiding place within us? Further, is forgiveness simply a socially constructed notion, or do we find it necessary as a species in order to continue our corporeal existence? Part of me thinks it falls into the altruism debate arena – we do things for the group that help the individual survive…while that individual’s survival efforts also keeps him from forgetting what was done so he can keep a watchful eye for further transgressions that may threaten his emotional or physical survival. I wonder….
We say we forgive others and we tell others that we have forgiven them and we know inside ourselves that to be forgiven, sometimes, to actually feel the forgiveness that others have offered to us, we have to first forgive ourselves for those sins and crimes and wrong-doings and shortcomings and offenses and then…but does it really happen and can it really happen? When we observe a certain body movement of someone else or ourselves, or an averted eye and the hang of the hair or the non-remark that combines with a lamp’s glow or the sun’s reflection or a numbered day of a calendar’s month…or even just the inarticulate soul’s corporeal memory…to remind you or me of the moment of a committed or revealed sin…it seems that forgiveness is gone again in that stormed memory from the hinterland of our recollection…it has come to the forefront of that battleground, that place of unease and fright and hate and…we hang ourselves again on the cross of our making, not as martyrs, but as self-convicted vagabonds, and we bleed again in our fury at ourselves for the committed act or touch or spoken word or neglect or look or printed offense or whatever…and we are un-forgiven again.
When we catch the reflection of ourselves or our deeds in the literal mirrors of our life or in the figurative ones of recollection and we see again that someone in the eyes of ourselves and our Selves and we’re reminded of that other person who reminds us of another person who reminds us of the act or deed or injurious word, the stripes break open again and bleed in their viscous fluids of remorse and shame…we see that black-breathed monster of guilt, again, leaning on and into our shoulders, driving its fiery talons into and through the muscle and sinew and substance of our souls. We don’t want to live in the past, but this is about forgiveness and moving-on…but the wounds don’t really heal completely…the tissues that have started to heal in their forming of scars are still tender and easily inflamed and torn anew…they simply are.
I watch my children and reflect on the father that I was to them, the young ones and older ones. I reflect upon what I was and wasn’t in their young and tender lives and I evaluate how I’m what I am to them today because of what I was and wasn’t to them in the past, my older ones, and I wonder if the difficulties they have in relationships with each other and others are a result of the difficulties that we had, that I had, when they were younger, when they were under my direct hand and influence…under my wrath and disregard. I wonder how their lives would have been different, how they would be different, if my hands and words were as gentle then as they mostly are with my younger ones today. I wonder, here, at forgiveness and how it can truly exist. How it can exist from me to my parents, my father, when I see things in my adult children that seem to reflect the way I treated them when they were kids…and those things that are being repeated unto their children, or not. And when I gaze at my older ones and feel the absence of what I missed with them, but found for my younger ones…it becomes hard to forgive myself again, it becomes hard to forgive my parents again, my father again. I ponder the words of “We did the best we could,” or “I did the best I could,” and wonder at the lameness of those words. I wonder at their lameness when I imagine myself saying them to my kids today or down the road and when I compare my uttering them to my hearing them from my parents…and I know that they are lame. They suck ass…they are weak and fraught with excuse and displaced blame, deflection of responsibility…and shame. I would like to blame them. I would like to lay the burdens from that part of my life down at their feet, and at their parents’ feet and say that it’s not my fault, it’s theirs…and sometimes I do. Sometimes I give them the responsibility for harm and disease and poisonous parenting…and I know that I learned it from them, from their modeling, behaving, their hard hands and words…but I’m still the one who did it to my own kids. I’m the one who didn’t cherish and adore them when they were little, the older ones. And regret is harsh, and forgiveness tries to come to me in their embraces of today and greetings of “I love you” with their piercing or averted eyes and special occasion cards…and it makes me feel more guilty and undeserving and loathsome and un-forgiving of myself and my parents and….
So…from whence cometh forgiveness, today and then…?
The Angel sleeps in the lighted room, peacefully unaware that the sun is as bright here as it was in the out-of-doors where she spent the afternoon playing. Looking at her sleep, I am captured by the essence of a baby completely at rest. The tiny curls at the back of her neck are slightly wet and somewhat darker than the rest of her not so long crowning glory. Lying on her belly with the two middle fingers of her left hand motionless now, still from their suckling, she is oblivious to my presence and adoring eyes. Her feet are bare, thanks to her own playfulness; you know she is proud that she removed the socks, smiling with her eyes almost closed to slits…she sleeps. Tousled hair and tiny ears adorn her face and perfectly shaped head. Her right arm is thrown forward and up where it rests on her favorite blanket; miniature lungs cause her little back to rise and fall with sustaining breath; sleep my Little One. Rest safely for another day. Sleep at your ease. When she is gone, my chest will be empty where my heart now beats. I never knew I could love like this. I never cherished holding a tiny form as I do now when I hold her. I was reborn too late. My soul is miserable for not knowing how to love my own then, as I do her, now. Those ticks of the clock have ceased even their echoing. I hope they will forgive me.
The sun’s light has faded and gone with its setting more than two hours ago. The star of stars ended its daily cycle behind our valley’s western mountains as it has done every evening now for what must be the past several million years. Now, left in the twilight created by the nearly concealed bathroom light around the corner from where I sit, my eyes perceive this bedroom-world in hues of light and dark. Only gray, black, and lighter gray can be divined by my night-adjusted eyes. In focusing upon the slowly closing eyes of my little loved-one, they disappear with my concentration, but if I look to either side, I can see them clearly, rather, as clearly as the suffused light will allow. My baby’s purple dinosaur pajamas are only a darker gray than the blackened, navy sweat-shorts that I am wearing. ‘I love you’ is being sung in her fifteen-month-old’s dialect as she fights the valiant efforts of the Sandman. Holding her on my lap, I can smell the fragrance of her baby-shampooed hair, just as she, maybe, can smell the scent of ground weeds and back-yard vegetation that lingers on my hands as I caress her ever soft cheeks and jaw line. The contest is finished, and that enchanter of sleep, Mr. Sandman, is victor yet again. His wooings are too much for the protestations of my little one. She has succumbed to the calling of sleep, where, hopefully, she will rest the night through – so that my bride and I can do the same. Good night, Fair One. Sleep well and know that you are loved.
When I was a child and participating in “Field Day” events at school, it was usually a full-day event and took place sometime during the last several weeks of class. The races were timed, the distances jumped were measured, etc, and when it was all done and over, some people were awarded prize ribbons and certificates for their accomplished feats. Field Day appears to be different today, at least different in measurements of distance and time…for the first and second-graders, anyway. Maybe it’s still a competitive process in the higher grades, as it was when I was a child, and as it was when my older kids were participating in this annual event in the recollections of my memory, but today, as my little one partook of this pre-springtime event, there were no markings of time and distance…those things or notions were replaced with a lot of jumping up and down and handclapping and high-fives. I guess everyone won…except in the tug-of-war. It was double-elimination and the victors were celebrated as the “best” of second-grade. They wore green shirts and appeared to be larger and were comprised of more bodies than the other second-grade classes were…and they won three times and didn’t lose once, so they were the best.
My little one asked me yesterday if I would be able to attend his Field Day events today. I hadn’t been prepared to do so, given my normal middle-of-the-week-days-off routine that I try to maintain, but given that none of the routinely done things were of supreme importance, and given that this was not going to be a full-day event, I thought I could find an hour or so to spend at the little one’s school with him…an hour or so out of a two-hour event. Ok.
I stopped at the corner convenience store to get a bottle of water for my family’s Field Day participant and then parked in front of his school and walked around to the rear of the property where I had earlier seen groups of kids with similarly colored shirts running around or jumping in some organized and supervised fashion, as compared to lunch-time recess periods where there is no semblance of patterned behavior. Anyway, I spied my little one on the enclosed tennis court riding a miniature skateboard type contrivance…on his knee, scooting about in his red shirt, away from the event participants…on his own…head down and riding about in a singular and individual event of his own. I approached the chain-linked fence and said “Hey there!” My little one initially jumped up onto the fence and started to climb, but looked up and realized the ten feet would be a bit much to scale and dropped to the ground and turned and ran out the gate and around to where I was on the other side of the fence. It was a full-body hug that greeted me as I embraced him and noted his wet hair and shirt. His smile was big and his speech animated as he told me what was happening and where he and his class were supposed to go, immediately, as the lady just blew the air-horn that signified that the classes were to change events. The little one ran off to catch-up with his teacher as she marched in the direction of the long-jump track and pit that had been decorated with different colored construction paper signs that didn’t appear to mean anything, as they were not at marked intervals and nobody appeared to notice them until one of the contestants landed full-shin onto one of them. The child was checked for blood and bruise and the little papered stick was again inserted into the edge of the pit where it had earlier stood unchecked. My little one stood and milled-about with his friends, alternately drinking from his water bottle or recapping it and placing it into his shorts pocket. Somehow or other, he managed to stay toward the rear of the group of children who were progressing ever forward to it being their turn to run and jump, and in a few moments, he came running over to me and leaned against me and started telling me about his friend Justin being a real dork…as he stumbled over his words to give me examples of such dorkiness, but couldn’t find any, so just reasserted with a laugh, that he really was a dork and could I stay there so he could get Justin and bring him over to meet me. I told him that it would be ok, but asked first if he didn’t need to go and jump or something with the rest of his class. My little one said that we would go over there and see, but didn’t seem too concerned…as he walked over to Justin and kicked the wall and said something and turned to look at me and watched as Justin also kicked the wall and they talked for a few seconds and then both came running over to me. The introduction was less formal than I had thought it would be, given that my little one is very fond of making formal introductions with his friends, but greetings were made, the little one asserted again that Justin was a dork, and laughed and looked down at his shoes poking the dirt, and glanced sideways at Justin, trying to find an example, again, of his dorkiness…and still couldn’t…and then another kid came over with another less than formal introduction…and then the horn blew again and they all ran off together to participate in the Iceberg Relay. Strange, I don’t remember that event from all of the Field Days of my youth. Maybe it’s a new-teacher generational thing…or something more fitting of the earlier-than-spring-time Field Days of Arizona, as opposed to my early-summer Field Days of Germany. At any rate, the kids stretched into a line, full class length, and passed a two-liter soda-bottle shaped chunk of ice to each other in the full-length line of kids from one end of the class line to the other and then cheered as they were finished and won or didn’t win and I guess it didn’t or doesn’t matter…as the train rumbled past the southern edge of the school ground and honked or blew its own horn and clattered and clattered in its passing of its freighted self beyond the groups of kids and their same-colored shirts.
And my little one came over to me and leaned into me again and said he wondered if he could go home with me when it came time for me to leave, as he looked at the ground and mumbled his words and kicked the pebble or grass or something down there by his kicking and poking foot. He said the stuff they were going to do after lunch was probably so boring that he thought he’d fall asleep in class so wouldn’t it be better if he just came home with me…as it sounded like his chin was quivering. I told him that he’d probably be fine…and that it seems to make him sad when I come to school to see him…and I wanted to take him home then, or take him to the book store, or run by McDonalds and get him his favorite lunch with an M-n-M McFlurry for dessert…I wanted to give him the world because he asked for it, because he asked me for it…and he sensed the emptiness or meaninglessness of the day’s events and wanted to read, again, the book that he was reading in the truck on the way to school this morning, or climb in his swing-set tree-house kind of thing in his backyard with his dog watching him…and when he came running over to me later, when he was supposed to be participating in the 40 yard-dash, with the two little girls from his class, Arianna and Paris, they asked me if my little one really was a scientist…and how could I do anything other than answer that yes, he was working on being a scientist and he studies volcanoes and the bugs in his yard and he holds a vet-clinic in his bedroom when his dog is sick…so yes, he’s like a scientist, really.
And I was happy and sad when the last event was over and the kids in all of their different and same colored shirts aligned themselves into those lines by shirt color and teacher and marched and skipped or walked and made it, somehow, off the playground and away and back toward the building where they would spend the afternoon…as my little one went dutifully away in his sad or thoughtful self, walking and tossing his water bottle from one hand to the other or holding it still and kicking the air with a black-belt-ninja karate move…and going his dutiful way, back into school as I walked and went away without him…and Field Day was over…so soon and done.
About a month ago, in the wee hours of the morning, 34 minutes after midnight, to be exact, patrol officers from the West-City Precinct observed suspicious activity on the part of a vehicle’s occupants while it was parked in the roadway at 55th and McDoring. When officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop, the vehicle fled west-bound on McDoring. Officers terminated their attempt to stop the vehicle prior to reaching 59th. The suspect vehicle continued to 75th where it then accessed the east-bound freeway, entering and finally exiting it south-bound on 19th. A tactical surveillance had been implemented at 67th and the freeway, with only the air unit maintaining visual contact of the suspect vehicle. As the vehicle reached the intersection of 19th and Bridgeline Road, it ran a red light and struck an east-bound vehicle broadside, killing the driver instantly. There were no other occupants in the victim vehicle. The suspect driver and passenger were taken into custody…both with minor injuries. It was later learned that the occupants had done a beer-run in the West-City Precinct area earlier in the evening. The driver presented with obvious signs of intoxication. Detectives from the Vehicular Crimes Unit responded to handle the case.
A couple weeks later, in the same West-City Precinct, at a given convenience store that we’ll call “Triangle J,” at only 9:30 p.m. on the particular evening, an adult male suspect was in the process of stealing beer from the Triangle J store when he was stopped by the adult male victim and his wife. As the female victim, Mrs. Josette Citizen, tried to prevent the suspect from exiting the store with the stolen beer, the suspect struck her in the head with a semi-automatic handgun, causing non-life threatening injuries. The male victim, Mr. Joe Citizen, interceded on behalf of his injured wife and was shot once in the chest by the suspect. He died of his injuries, Mr. Joe Citizen did, right there, in the doorway of the Triangle J convenience store. The suspect fled on foot to a waiting vehicle. A search of the area was negative for the suspect. Detectives from the Homicide Unit responded to handle the case. A few days later, the suspect’s sister, having seen the Triangle J convenience store’s video surveillance tape on the morning news, called 9-1-1 and told our operator that it was her brother who committed the murderous beer-run. Two days later, officers and detectives arrested the suspect…and his parents and other family members…who had been hiding the suspect…and who had destroyed evidence that would have definitively linked the suspect to the crime.
I probably enjoy a bottle of ice-cold suds as much as the next person…but this is beyond my comprehension.