Life changes as it does and sometimes brings with it a peace that goes beyond words. My new home and new environment have returned my soul to the place where it was born. It is not the same locale where I fell in love with the outdoors, but the geography and essence are the same. Gone are the big city and desert…and here are the mountains…and peace restored. These are some of my new favorite places:
I saw Superman walk down my hallway today and he didn’t and doesn’t care what you think about him. He was a white-boy with dread-locked hair that’s long enough to tuck behind his ears and he smelled like the stink and rot of unwashed bodies in tight and closed places. I’ve smelled his kith and kin in hovels bare and small. I’ve sat and listened to their stories of life and things passed-by and wondered at their truth and then found that it didn’t matter, those things and they, well…they became true in the telling. And today, as he shuffled past me in his coke-bottle glasses with scratches and old and yellowed tint from age and sun and wear, the arms hooked over ears with huge and fearsome gauges stuck in the lobes causing holes that would be large as a ring on my thumb, he shuffled past in that mess and whatnot with torn jeans and ravaged converses as he huddled his face into the small baby of two months or less and whispered his whiskered and loving words into his tiny self. He whispered kind nothings and stink and I didn’t smell his breath, but neither did the baby as he lay there cuddled and warm against that chest in the torn and fake-leather jacket and was loved by him in all that it meant to him. That baby there was cherished in those moments where he existed in my life and Superman had him and rocked his world…and I hope he remembers that love when life comes on him hard and rough as it sometimes will…I hope he remembers that his Daddy loved him, then.
I saw your face and thought of a name, but was it yours, I wondered, and couldn’t say for sure. Was it at work, in the clinic, in front of the vet, or down the road at the gas-station, the gym, or…? I know, I remember now…it was when you were getting out of your car that day with your little ones in the grocery store parking lot and I hesitated before pulling into the spot next to you because your kids were standing there with big eyes looking at the car, my car, that was coming at them. I just sat there in my patience and waited for you to grab their hands or usher them in some other way out of “my” spot. You looked up and glared at me and angrily waved at me to drive on in. I still waited, as I do, for you to get the little ones’ hands, to offer them your security, that sense of “Daddy’s got you, so it’s ok” before in continued in with my car. You were swearing at me when I finally parked and you were walking away, little ones in tow. As my car alarm beeped in my leaving, your words of “What the fuck are you looking at?!” bounced into my ears and around in my head and I couldn’t imagine “what the fuck” you were talking about. I shouted “Hey!” and you yelled “What, bitch?!” and I said “I was waiting for your little ones to move.” You suggested that I “stop being such a fucking idiot and park your goddamned car” as your little ones’ eyes went from you to me as they were being tugged bodily up through the asphalted parking lot and into the store where the air-curtain above the door wooshed and splayed at their hair and yours and mine as I followed, not following, per se, just going in the same direction.
And it’s you I see again one day, inside of another store, with you waiting in line for the lady to ring-up your stuff and me walking past to go into another aisle. Your kids aren’t with you and we, consequently, have nothing to talk about, but you see me and I see you and I remember very clearly where I know you from. I see you looking after me as I turn into the aisle and my face is calm and your brow is furrowed. “Where do I know you from?” you’re wondering, maybe, as you were wondering, still, when I left the opening to the aisle and was gone again.
Today, literally, these years later, I still see your little ones’ eyes. Their tiny, large brown eyes looking at me through long and curly lashes and framed with clean black hair. I see them looking at me behind the windshield and then walking through the parking lot, seemingly at and after them and I wonder at their wondering. I see them looking up at you and your full brown angry face and silver black hair, first one and then the other, and then back at me. I see their little arms tugged in their tiny t-shirts as you hauled them out of the parking spot and across the lot and into the store. I see them still.
We get into our habits and routines and go about our lives in the steps and ways that become familiar to us and comfortable in their sameness, or we live differently and make chance and opportunity exciting, grabbing at anything different and charging full-steam toward that unknown end, relishing in the adrenaline of “what if” and laughing all the way to the inevitable end with whatever conclusion comes, made by our hands or not. We might find peace for our souls in that raging unknown, the unpredictable change or risk that we embrace in our fullness to invigorate our modern selves and lives…throw us into the wild and unknown to make us know that we’re alive…make the ledge we’re standing on give way beneath us and drop us those several yards or meters with our hearts hanging and nerves tingling in anticipation of what’s going to happen when we hit the ground again, and when we’re finally there intact and whole, we can look back up to where we’ve fallen from and have all of our senses awake and alert and buzzing with that rush of living, of being alive in that moment.
And then sometimes our habits and routines become too known, or at least observed enough by shadowed opportunists who contemplate our rhythms and mark us as prey, knowing when we’re here or gone, home or away, and how we go and return, on foot or bike or in a bronzed-colored four-door returning at this and that time, at night when the lights are out and the sun has fallen in its course or in the graying dawn when it’s rising again from its sleeping….
A few years ago, and in the second week of October, I returned from an evening class at the university to find the screen from the front window of my house propped-up against the outside wall next to the front door. I had never seen the screen in that location before, and in that immediate rush of thought and memory and consideration of the screen in that unusual spot, I knew that I hadn’t left it there and that nobody else was living in the house at the time who might have done so either. My wife and kids were living out-of-state for a while and it was just the dogs and cats and me residing in our home and house.
I had turned-off all the lights when I left for class some four hours earlier, knowing that my housemates wouldn’t need them. Why have the lights on when nobody’s there? Maybe the answer to that is precisely because nobody’s there. I/we want to give the illusion that someone is actually in that sacred place keeping watch over all that is special and dear and identifying and wrought with the history and histories of the people who live and have lived within those several walls. We want the boogie-man to understand that it’s not ok to come in right now because we’re actually there, even when we’re not.
I backed-out of the driveway a little bit and then pulled back in at an angle so the headlights of the car would be pointing toward the front door that was tucked into its alcove and darkness. As I then walked up to the door, I saw that the window whose screen had been removed and placed so neatly against the front wall had been kicked-in…kicked-in and inward and glass lay all about the tile floor of the entry-way and even up the stairs, and I could see that the “security” door was unlocked and opened, as was the front-door proper…the means, of course, of the bad-guys’ exiting the house. They were too encumbered to step or climb through the broken-out window frame with all of my “stuff” in their hands and arms…actually in my pillowcase and the seat cushion cover from “my” seat. My heart was pounding and my mind racing as I walked back outside after turning-on the front porch light. I called that ever familiar “9-1-1” and told the folks that I had just arrived home and found my front window kicked-in and didn’t know if anybody was inside or not. Those were the key words, I knew, from working where I did and “answering the call” when people called 9-1-1 in the city where I worked. “I don’t know if anybody is still inside.” I didn’t hear anything, and given that I had been gone from the house for over three hours, I didn’t know if they had just left or had been gone for hours. At any rate, my town’s cops were there in less than five minutes, really, and were rather professional, in their way, as they walked their dog through the house (on a leash so he/she/it wouldn’t attack my cats) and then had me walk through with them to identify what was missing or otherwise damaged or out of whack.
Working where I did, I had taken probably a couple hundred calls or more from people who were reporting that their homes or businesses had been burglarized. The situation itself sucked, listening to someone describe how they felt violated, how they were frustrated that the cops were not going to rush right out there, and then how they felt that someone had stolen more than their property from them. The people felt and knew that their sense of security was stolen, too. I suppose, in truth, their “illusion” of security had been stolen. They were probably never really secure to begin with, but it was comforting to them to think that they had been. And now the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak. I had made that call. I had asked for help. I had beseeched those armed and uniformed somebodies to come and check my house to see if they could find the bastards still inside who had the gall to break-in and steal those fine and important things that they had stolen. I wanted my city’s “finest” to loose their dogs on the shit-head who had stolen my illusion of security. I wanted to hear them clear on the radio and say “Hey Boss, we’ve got to do some paperwork tonight,” which would tell me and their boss and their dispatcher that the dog had found someone inside and taken a bite or two out of him. That would have been sweet.
So, aside from the two computers and monitors and modems and router and pillowcase and seat cushion cover and DVD player and birth-certificates for myself and my older sons, and the adoption papers for my older daughter, and my and my wife’s marriage certificate, and the savings-bonds for my little one and the CD case with the hundred and more CDs and the intact window…the bad guy or guys also stole my sense of safety in my own house. Actually, I don’t think I was fearful that they would come back when I was home, but I never drove away without wondering if they were going to come back when I was gone. Nobody else was going to be living in the house with me and be there during my odd hours away for another ten months or more. My “stuff” was going to be as vulnerable to being stolen again as it was the day or hour before it was stolen this first time.
I did manage to sleep that night. After the “emergency board-up” window/glass guy left sometime around midnight and after I had managed to clean-up probably 98% of the glass that had been kicked into the corners and crannies of our furnished living room, my racing heart finally settled and the waning level of adrenaline finally allowed my mind to slow to a calming pace…sleep finally came to my wondering self and brought a needed semblance of rest.
Morning found me walking through the house again looking for what I might find that would help in identifying the person or people who had broken-into my house, my home…our home, my family’s and mine, the sanctuary in which we worshipped and loved the people who were and are dear to us…the hallowed place where we believed we were safe from the evils and uncertainties of the world…that sacred place that had been violated by some unknown person or people who had left behind a single glove in his or their passing. He took all my stuff and only left me his glove and a sense of being wronged, a sense of wondering each time I drove away, what I would find when I returned, a feeling that hasn’t left me yet…three years later.
The morning light revealed the black smudges of finger-print dust that the cops had left behind after their attempts to find identifying clues as to who had been there when I was gone…black smudges and powder on my bedroom closet door, on the drawers to the filing-cabinet inside the closet, and on the front door in the living room. It also caught and reflected itself from and in the many tiny shards of window glass that I had missed the previous night. I found splinters for months, tiny pieces and large, laying under furniture and in the cracks along the baseboards…clear across the living room and under the piano, four and five steps up the staircase in the thick carpet…tiny sharp prisms of who’s been here and gone.
So what then and what now, these few years hence? I would drive away and wonder, as I do now. Living in the solitariness that my current situation demands, I know where everything is in my little apartment “home.” I know when I leave a closet door slightly ajar and remember where I laid the remotes the night before when I turned off the TV. And I have the serial numbers and model numbers for everything electronic and so labeled with those numbers of identification logged in their special place so that if they’re taken again, I can say which exact one is mine and ours. The phone calls I took from complaining citizens after I had been in their shoes were slightly different from the ones I had taken before…as I understood in my core what they were going through. I knew what they meant when they said they felt more wronged by the act and intrusion than they had ever felt before. I understood the loss of the illusion of their security…their extreme sense of violation, as it was also mine.
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.