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….
****This is a Favorite Re-post from March, 2010
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
And how could we not see its fleeing?
There were baby hugs
And finger paints
Sand in her tennies
And potted beans on the windowsill
Pound-puppies and princess’s ponies
And bubble gum and pig-tails
Now she wants to drive
And her iPod is in her backpack
With her cell phone at her ear
Long curly hair ironed flat in the mirror
And she’s ready for the prom
When did the clock find the wind…to sprint like this?
When we were young, we noticed that it took forever for special days to get here; whether they were birthdays, Christmases, the last days of school, etc…they took an eternity, as marked by our child’s minds that registered time’s passing by those ultra-special days coming and going.
Now that the years have gathered, so many more things mark time…payday Fridays, her birthday, your birthday, her mom’s birthday, vacation, the first day of school, early-release every third Thursday, progress reports, report cards, the annual re-bid at work, a trainee for five weeks, the boss is gone for two, the weekend stand-by form on every Thursday, monitor each employee every month, we just checked your messages, it’s Thanksgiving and now it’s New Years and another move or not, and Christmas or winter break is passed and past, and one more semester until it’s done, and this process takes four weeks and that one takes seven, and the puppy needs his next set of shots and three more months until that movie comes out, another week to read the book, pay this bill on the 15th and that one on the first, and pay it again on the 15th, and the other one again on the first, and next month there are three paychecks for you and for me, so we look forward to yours and to mine and we pay extra on this one and it’s time to trim the bushes again, and the bug-guy is here again, and it’s time to change your oil and rotate the tires again, and it’s her birthday again then mine and her mom’s and my mom’s and school’s out again for the year and then she’s 21 weeks along and they can do the ultra-sound and see if it’s a boy or a girl, and which type of paint and trim do we get and we’ll know pretty soon…it does seem to rush by, unbidden, just passing with speed beyond belief, sometimes like tempests and torn in the way, and images of youth and what used to be has gone in the swirling of leaves and thought and remembrance, our encumbered spirits and minds loose (not lose) those things of yesterday and try to gather them back again before they are ungraspable in their passing, gone in that spirit of has-been and collected somewhere up in the ether where lost thoughts and radio waves linger unhitched for evermore.
We used to think that our grandparents and parents were old or getting that way and now we find ourselves noticing the little lines by our eyes…and the ones that run down into our cheeks or spread like the sun’s rays from the corners of our mouths…we find that the singular gray hairs have multiplied into a profusion that creeps into our vision until it’s time to dye them again…or not…and the moustache had a couple and the chin several more and it’s no longer possible to trim that one or pluck it away as before…they aren’t going away…our memories hold when our bodies won’t…and our children are getting older…the lines on the door frame that used to be fun to mark once or twice a year are slowly catching-up with our chin and eye-level reaches…and we wonder where it’s gone…we wonder how it not only learned to sprint and spring away but to indeed flee and leave us watching…making yet more notes of its passing…she was only 11 months-old when we saw her the first time and she just turned 13 years-old…another was captured in a picture at almost three years-old with her arm in a cast and now she’s 26 years-old…and the first-born is crowing at 28 years…and those in between with babies and lives and house-payments and then….
And my friend, Byron, whose gentle soul found the words that title this writing, noticed in awe the beauty and unbelievable 16 years of his daughter as he took her to school one day last week…it struck him how she’s not that little girl anymore who used to crawl into his lap with a favorite book or doll and sit there playing with his chin…time has fled with that little one and brought a beautiful young lady to take her place…unbeknownst to anyone watching…suddenly she is here…and we wonder again…where did the clock find the wind to sprint like this?
Thank you, Byron.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from December, 2009….it was brought to mind again after seeing my friend Byron for the first time in nearly four years…and he told me that his daughter is now married and recently graduated from college.
“Yesterday morning, on my drive home from the store where I had just purchased the week’s food and other household supplies, I was looking at the neighborhoods I passed and at the smoke and steam coming from roof-top chimneys and vent pipes. I also caught sight, through and beyond the clouds, of parts and pieces of the white and enormous mountains that line our eastern horizon. It was and is still amazing and weird and wonderful to find myself in this place in the middle hours of this last day of the year, in a place so new and strange and removed from where I was last year. As I drove those snow-lined streets back to our neighborhood proper, I happened to notice a mile-marker sign that was posted along the road. It said “Mile 11.” Now, I am familiar with state highways and roads that leave their freeway confines and become or pass along the same route as a city street, like US Highway 60 in Arizona that becomes or passes-along on Grand Avenue, bisecting the Valley of the Sun to take travelers on their way to Wickenburg or beyond, and I know of US Highway 89 that takes us from Flagstaff to Page, and to Kanab and Panguitch, and then marks a parallel course to I-15 as it leads north to Provo and Salt Lake, eventually becoming State Street that runs the central length of our city, but I was not familiar with any such state route or US highway that had turned into 700 East as it made its course through the city.
Seeing the sign made me wonder about the eleven miles that had passed on the other side of that mile marker and how many other miles existed in the opposite and other direction, whatever and whichever way that actually was. It struck me as odd, too, and maybe allegorical even, in the processing of what yesterday was and what today is in the marking of time in a year and this present time or era or segment of my life and my family’s lives in this time of crazy and dramatic change. We’ve come to this station and place in our lives, taken such drastic steps to find ourselves in a new state and locale, and work and living and natural environment and our heads and hearts and sometimes emotions are spinning and wondering and looking for something familiar to grasp and hold-on to as we attempt to regain our balance and direction. And here we are then, eleven miles from somewhere, remembering and thinking about the past and wondering about the future, holding-on to each other, leaning against one another in our little relocated family, awaiting the arrival of others and missing those who won’t or cannot join us…and our friends, of course, we remember and miss them too, those precious ones who, even from outside the circle of our family and intimates, loved us and brought us joy and companionship for the past twenty years and more.
So it’s not only us, but you, too, who on this first day of a new year are eleven miles from somewhere. Where are you going, what are you doing, how are you, and we, too, going to measure this year when it’s gone, like we’ve done to the one that is just passed and passing?”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from January 1, 2011.
I wanted you to know that I love you.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that, even with everything that has happened between us, and even not between us, but between those others who we loved or love, that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that there is a piece of my life that is missing because you aren’t a part of it like you used to be.
I wanted you to know that even when my words have been infrequent or nonexistent, my heart still speaks; it still loves you and misses you.
I wanted you to know that even when you’re gone, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I will still love you when I’m gone, whenever and however that might happen, or whatever that might mean.
I wanted you to know that even though you’re gone, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t taken you for granted.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t been uninterested in you and your life just because I haven’t asked you questions about you and your life…I was giving you space.
I wanted you to know that the others still ask about you, still think about you, still wonder about you.
I wanted you to know that it’s not too late.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I wasn’t what you needed me to be when you needed me to be different than I was.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t grow or change fast enough to make the difference that you needed me to make.
I wanted you to know that I was there when you thought I wasn’t, but I didn’t know how to make myself more known to you.
I wanted you to know that my anger was really sadness…or shame, but I didn’t know how to express it as such.
I wanted you to know that when I seemed to be distant and unconcerned, I was really hiding inside myself because I was hurting, too.
I wanted you to know that I never meant to hurt you…even though it appears that I didn’t try hard enough in meaning to not hurt you.
I wanted you to know that there were times that I was selfish and wasn’t thinking about you and others, and I’m sorry for being that way.
I wanted you to know that I know the past cannot be undone and that some things cannot be fixed.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I did what I did.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry that I hurt you when I said what I said and wrote what I wrote.
I wanted you to know that I will understand if you can’t forgive me, if you don’t forgive me, if you won’t forgive me.
I wanted you to know that I still love you.
I wanted you to know that what you did to the others hurts me, too, and I don’t know what to do about it.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you made yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year, I still love you.
I wanted you to know that regardless of the decisions you make right now, or tomorrow, I will still love you.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t protect you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I’m sorry I didn’t speak-up for you when I should have.
I wanted you to know that I don’t expect you to be like everyone else; I love you for who you are.
I wanted you to know that I don’t like the distance that exists between us, the obstacles of time and place and not-talking and isolation that have grown like fences and rivers and mountains and dotted lines on maps…like boundaries that split and divide us.
I wanted you to know that I love you, still.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from May, 2010.
“Your mom is dead!”
Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.
“I said your mom is dead.”
In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead. My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach. Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind. They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.
How could she know that my mom was dead? Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone? Why? Yes, my mom was sick. She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die. The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body. It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere. So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.
I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.
“What…what did you say?”
“Your mom is dead. You know…from your call.”
Oh…not my mom…the one from my call. The call I had taken 15 minutes ago. The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.
One beep at a time. We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?” The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.
A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning. In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling…. “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom. He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.” The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.
The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around. The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her. When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”
My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and…. I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.
“Radio,” she answered. “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694. We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122…. The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”
“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way. Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is? Do they know where he might have taken their mom? Do they remember what he was wearing? Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives? Can you ask the girls….”
…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them….
I was gone. I was lost. There was nobody else in the call-center. The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console. There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS. The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute. The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light. Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough. My mind couldn’t think fast enough. My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone. The lady was brave for them. Her strained voice rose and fell. I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them. My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks. I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own. My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.
Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else….
My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone. I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city. The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls. The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness. I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me. My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.
I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work. Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever. Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released. And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.
I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!” I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom. I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.
But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2009.
Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.
As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.
I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.
I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.
I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.
I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.
I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….
I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….
My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.
I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….
Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….
I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….
Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….
And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?
When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….
Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….
I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….
The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….
I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….
But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….
I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….
But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
We were sitting on the couch, my little one and I, with his mom on the love-seat across from us, watching a movie. We had a bowl of popcorn between us, and as my little one reclined into one of the pillows, he took handfuls of the popcorn and not so delicately or accurately plied the fluffy stuff into his mouth. When the majority of the bowl was gone, he started playing with the pieces of popcorn, alternately flicking them into his mouth or smashing them in his palm and then licking-up the pieces like a dog. We paused the movie occasionally to ask or answer a question, to run to the bathroom, get a refill of one of our drinks or the other…and then continued watching and eating and enjoying the movie and each other’s company. The further into the bowl we got, the more broken pieces of popcorn there were on the little one’s blanket, pillow, pajamas, and surrounding couch area.
I reached over to pick-up some of the crumbs and broken pieces to put them back in the bowl…and made a mistake….
“Do you think you’re making a big enough mess, you little slob?”
Did you just…call me a slob?
My little one asked this with a quivering chin and downcast eyes as he picked a piece of popcorn off of the blanket beneath his chin and placed it anxiously into his mouth.
“Well yeah, look at the mess…hey….”
There were big alligator tears and an immediately running nose and the sobbing of words and half words that I couldn’t understand between his crying and the movie and his mom and my questioning and….
“Hey there…I was just playing….”
Why…did you…call…me that? What was…why are you….
And more tears…and my heart was breaking at his breaking heart and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and oh….
“Hey, Buddy, look at me,” as I patted his foot, “I was only playing…you’re making such a mess here…hey…look…I was only playing.” I reached over and dragged him to me…. “Hey…I call your mom a slob too, sometimes…when she makes a mess…I wasn’t trying to be mean….”
And his chest was shaking and he was wiping tears across his face and his mom brought over a Kleenex to blow his nose…and I was holding back a smile in my amazement and tears in my sadness at how I had just crushed his little heart…his daddy calling him a slob.
“Hey there…why are you crying? I was only playing….”
I…don’t like…being…called names.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, Buddy. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or upset you…I was just playing with you.”
I accept your…apology. Sniff….
An important aspect of my little one’s life and existence, at this point in his eight years (now eleven), and possibly for many more years as he learns to decipher and remember the various meanings of our vast array of socially constructed and freighted expressions and intentions and nuanced meanings, is his acceptance of things as they are presented to him. He doesn’t see the gray or shading in many of our words and intentions. The idiosyncrasies of our speech and the subtle and not-so-subtle meanings of our paired words sometimes escape him, even when we’re joking around…they mean, to him, what they literally mean. In my playing, I forgot about the concreteness of his brilliant little mind…and the tenderness of his easily broken heart.
Oh…how it hurts sometimes….
This is a Favorite Re-post from April, 2010.
The following is from three years ago today, give or take, as the calendar changes with its dates and days, but the sentiment here is the same, maybe even a little richer, though. So much has changed in these three years…snow-covered mountains provide the backdrop instead of palm trees and bougainvillea…and all of my children will not be here…nor will other significant people from my life…but I still cherish them in their absence and think fondly of those memories from Thanksgivings gone-by…while hoping that today is full of its own wonderfulness again. So much to be thankful for…including you, my blogging-friends…. Wishing you well today….
“It is Thanksgiving morning and I alone am awake in the house…well, me and the two cats, the one whining for her can of food and the other sitting there politely waiting for her few teaspoons of milk. The smell is still in the house from the pecan pies that I baked last night and there are a couple pans still that have dried overnight on a towel on the counter by the coffee maker. I’ve managed to make it down the creaking stairs without waking the little one and his eight years. He told his mom the other day that now that he’s eight, he’s a man. His sudden adultness hasn’t gone any further than that conversation, but it was strange or cute that it went there anyway. The coffee-maker did its thing and the brown brew is sitting there waiting for me. My fingers are slow as I work-out their night-time stiffness on these keys and slowly-forming words.
I haven’t stepped outside yet, but I will do so here in a few minutes, as I want to feel some sort of crispness in the air on a Thanksgiving Day that will reach temperatures in the high seventies to eighties. Yes, we love the warmer temperatures in our Arizona winters and springs, but the holidays need to be laced with even a minimal amount of chilliness in order to have and bring the full emotional weight that they should or can possess. I mentioned to my wife the other day that the media shouldn’t show holiday or Christmas commercials on TV that have snow-covered content or whatevers in our desert land…it just isn’t right. They’re a tease to those of us who miss it and completely out of context for our holiday lives here with the sand and cacti and palm trees and shimmering pools in our backyards.
This is my quiet for the day and I won’t have it again until late in the night after everyone has gone home and the little one is put to bed. All of our grown children will be coming over today, some several hours before the festivities begin and others as the day proceeds and when they get off of work. The little ones will be and are here. Mom and Dad are also coming up from Tucson, but they will likely arrive later in the afternoon for the four pm dinner. Grandchildren and my children and the quiet will be vanquished to the extreme times. Hopefully there won’t be any meltdowns or breakdowns or tantrums or overwhelming situations that raise the roof…hopefully.
And the kitchen will be my haven, my working and hiding place from whatever else goes on during the day. Turkey and stuffing and ham and potatoes and corn and cranberries and yams and biscuits and beans and gravy and pies and and then….
I went outside to test my senses and feel the breaking day as I might and found it cool but not cold and quiet but not silent…there were a few lone drivers on the road whose tires spoke to the day and at least one dog who also had something to say…not telling any news but sharing that he too was awake…and someone’s heater kicked-in and the ringing was in my ears and shattering whatever might have been quieter…and someone was doing their laundry already at six-thirty, for the smell of fabric softener was in the air…and I spied someone’s newspaper lying in their driveway, so the paper-guy has already been through the neighborhood…maybe he got a later start today, or not…usually he zooms into and out of the cul-de-sac around four-forty or so…and he’s been here and gone…the leaves/fronds on the palm trees were still and the bougainvillea sat silently, not moving in the slightest…and the street light still shone as the sky was still too gray to turn it off.
And I am thankful today for my wife and children and their wives and children and my other family and friends and the good life that I have. It seems that things and life are sometimes or often too tight or too busy or too mundane or too trying or too whatever and again…and today, my life is good…today is carefree with only the dinner schedule to maintain…let happiness reign.”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
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 I 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 just park my 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 whooshed 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….
This is a Favorite Re-post from October 2010.
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.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2010.
Innocence smiles large as the boys rescue The Cube and ride their motorized scooter and roller-blades about the cul-de-sac, announcing to me in passing that they are on their way to destroy Megatron. Hood up on his sweatshirt jacket, my little one is on the roller-blades and moves awkwardly about, wheel-walking, not rolling, strange dance of plastic and clatter rushing off to secure some imagined zone.
The December sky is gray with fat and heavy clouds; an occasional breeze or gust of wind ripples the overgrown palm fronds and the garbage truck is making its Tuesday afternoon rounds in the neighborhood a couple streets in the distance. My grandson is on the motorized scooter and is wearing orange, star-shaped sunglasses to shield him against the glare of battle in his efforts to defeat the Transformers’ foes. My little one’s enthusiasm for the game is waning as a little trio of afternoon walkers enter and make a circuit of the cul-de-sac – a young mother-girl pushing her baby in a stroller as grandmother walks with her Down’s Syndrome old-man of a son in a straw cowboy hat who marvels at the Samoyed who is sticking his nose and white head through the hole at the bottom of the neighbor’s backyard wall. The cling-cling of the bicycle bell and the metallic crash as the bike crunches into the sidewalk and the garbage truck is still a few streets away.
“Can we go in now?”
“Don’t you want to play two-player on the Nintendo?” he says, as he kneels in the rocks and examines a pigeon feather, “Don’t you want to?”
“No, not really.”
“Dad, can we go inside in 15 minutes?”
He likes to orient things and events and know when they are going to happen. It helps him predict his world. He’s happier and less anxious that way. It settles his mind as the blanket of gray clouds part and roll into white balls with gray bottoms and a mini-bike just ripped and popped down the street behind us, throwing angry and irritating ripples and waves through the neighborhood air.
“How long has it been, Dad?”
I’m reading my new book, The Good Soldiers, between glances up and into the cul-de-sac and at the Transformer warrior-children and vehicles entering for deliveries or exiting for errands and whatnot.
“How much longer?”
“The post is loose on the scooter, Grandpa,” as he sucks the winter snot back into his nose and as the little one, his uncle, my youngest, talks to his dog through the side-yard gate….
“Hi Wilson,” sing-song, puppy-talk, baby-talk, talking-to-my-dog-through-the-gate-talk, sing-song “Hi buddy!”
Crunching gravel, walking scuffing, scraping, and dragging shoes through the landscaping stones. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! A piece of gravel rock on the basketball pole. Ping! Ping! Ping!
“How much longer, Papa? How mucho longa?”
I’m on page 27…For now, no one touched the tape dispenser. Eventually, Cummings would begin swatting flies just hard enough to stun them, stick them to a piece of tape, and drop them alive into his trash can, which would be something that did have an effect. “I hate flies,” he would say each time he did this. What?
“Is it time yet?”
Did you park your bike and scoot it all the way over so Mom can open her door after she’s parked the car?
“Are you done Blakie? Hey!”
“Do you want to go in now?”
Cling! Cling! Cling! “Beep beep!”
“There’s a warning.”
“There’s a warning.”
What kind of warning?
“There was a rain drop.”
And the garbage truck is getting nearer and the little one is dragging his toes across the driveway and he’s got a Kool-aid moustache as he grins at me and says “What?”
“How many more minutes? Dad?” as he stands on the apache-red boulder rock in his one-legged pose with his arms raised like a stork’s wings…from The Karate Kid…and a game of chicken in the roadway as my grandson comes at him on the motorized scooter…and repeated “Yaaaaah!” screams and “How much longer?” asked with a Pink Panther French accent this time.
“Hhow mush longherre?”
“Ok……Blakie!! It’s time to go in!”
***This is a Favorite Re-post from December, 2009.
It just dawned on me this evening that today is the three-year anniversary of my blog…
My first post was titled Where it Begins, and this is what it looked like:
“You reach into the black depths of your soul and draw forth words that are of such newness, so silent and naked that they must be blinking at the light and rubbing their eyes as if seeing it for the first time. They are so weak initially that they remind you of newborn mice, innocent and unadorned, without pretense or expectation – but they grow with such hope at each following syllable and sentence, like tiny hearts beating, that by the end they are roaring in their bold elegance, decrying the forces that barricaded them against life and…they speak of emotions and memories that have been so hidden that they were as lost inside their bearer. And you are there….”
A handful of you have been here for the entire time…others for several or a few months…and still others for just a couple of weeks or days…. Your visits, commentary, and feedback have been rewarding, encouraging, and inspiring…thank you for being here, for participating in my world…for sharing in my images and words….
And Jason…if you’re still out there, Noble Sailor…thank you again….
It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen? My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.
The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas. The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest. And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer. The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings. The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished. The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.
When the sun goes down, more people come out. The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless. Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious. In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies. Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim. In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:
West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality. On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue. There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver. The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree. A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old. The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital. Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.
South City Precinct – Death of Child. On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue. A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house. The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand. (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours? How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?) The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department. Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide. On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting. The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend. The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home. Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out. The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene. When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.
West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting. Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road. On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house. The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times. The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd. One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1. I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.
9-1-1, Where is the emergency?
“4321 West Why-Not Lane.” The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.
Is this medical?
“It’s kind of…yeah.”
Do you need paramedics?
What’s going on?
“I shot my wife and children.”
When did you do this?
This is Tuesday morning. You shot your wife on Friday?
Where is your wife now?
“She’s in her office, or my office. She’s laying on the floor.”
And where are the children?
“I don’t have any children.”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house. They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. You shot your wife on Friday, right?
And she’s dead?
Ok. And are your kids there in the house with you?
“I said I don’t have any kids. There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”
And the dogs…they’re ok?
“Yeah, the dogs are fine. I like them.”
You like the dogs.
“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”
And you said you might need paramedics. Are you hurt or something?
“Yeah. I shot myself in the chin.”
You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?
And you did this on Friday?
What’s your name?
And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?
Ok. Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?
“It’s there in the office. I put it up on the desk.”
Are there any other weapons in the house?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”
And where are you in the house right now?
“I’m in the living room.”
Are you going to be ok when the officers get there? We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.
“No. I’m fine. I’ve already fucked-up my life enough. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Ok. It looks like officers are in the area. Can you see any police cars outside yet?
“No. There’s nobody here yet.”
Ok. You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?
“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office. I can see a police car out front now.”
Ok. Are you outside?
And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?
“Nope, just the phone.”
On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.
“Should I put down the phone now? She’s telling me to.”
Yes. Set the phone down.
My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children. He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids. When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call. He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.” The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.” He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.
It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things. They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?
**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.
I sat inside the steel and glass monstrosity and watched the people walking past. Everyone was going somewhere. They were returning or leaving and found themselves all there, as I did, waiting or having waited. We were dressed in our fineries, or not; we were in a hurry, or not. Our faces held an eagerness or impatience with too little time, or we were in a set and staid complacency, as we had surrendered ourselves to wait. Patience was no longer needed. We just were and our time would come as it had for the rest.
I looked out through the large windows and beyond the technology that was in the foreground, beyond and beyond the miles between here/there and the object of my gaze.
A few hours earlier, I was out and among the mountains and streams, walking down earthen pathways that were wet with life and rich and gray and sandy and mulched and fine, and trees of every and sundry sort shaded my walking and allowed, too, the sun to shine on my pathway, to illuminate the great undergrowth and broad leaves and needles, nettle-like weeds of slight and fine stalk and stem and little branches and huge, fallen and leaning and upright in their rotting and decay.
Life was full and birds drifted and alighted sometimes and not, and the stream/river crashed over rocks and boulders and ran into side pools in their clean-ness, the large mess of aquamarine and clear and green and blue and white in its rushing and crashing in tons and gallons and my heart and soul wanted to stand there and stay there forever, being fed as they were with a food or nourishment so strange and beautiful and foreign to my desert-living self.
The greens were rich and lush beyond the holding of our dreams and the air was fresh with some kind of natural perfume, a fragrance wrought in the heady blooms of wildflowers and shrubs that found their anchors or homes in shaded caves and coves beneath large and tall pines and firs and oaks and cottonwoods and aspens.
I don’t know if I had ever seen streams or rivers running down the sides of mountains before that day, but I had now, or then, on that day, twice even, in their similar crevices or ravines among the rocks and tree-lined and covered mountain, a green sheet or blanket of trees covering that rich and fertile whatever with those ribbons of white and clean ice-cold foaming and bubbling tide that crashed over hundreds of yards from their beginnings in the craggy heights above.
If this land were to be my home, would all of this cause me to be happy? Would it continue to nourish my soul when I was pressed and oppressed by life and money and the nothingness of work?
Would all of this add meaning to my temporal existence and make-up for areas that I felt were lacking? Would I be fulfilled, or would it make me want to escape that much more? Would its nearness make me yearn to leave hearth and home to be among the boulders and trees and rivers and deer and snakes and squirrels?
Would I crave their company more than others’? Would I be drawn inside and away from those in my surround, seeking the company of myself over them – seeking the company of myself and away over them? Or would they seek this hideaway from the everyday and nourish their arid souls here, too? Would they treasure this natural sanctuary as I would and want to be in its raging stillness as I would and be so comforted in their awe and treasure it beyond words, taking refuge, as I would, in its splendor and remove?
I hope they would….
This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010…written after a visit to Salt Lake for a job interview in preparation for our eventual move to the area. The words are from exactly two years ago today…and the photographs are from two days ago…. Thank you for visiting and for sharing in the natural beauty of my “new” home….
He snapped alive with a sulfurous urging in his hallowed place, reflecting then on those around him. He pondered, considered, and postulated about what they and he might be. “What am I that, or who, is able to exist only softly, attached for life to my waxen, wick-ed anchor, knowing only what…I don’t know. Of what am I comprised? What constituent parts have been arrested to make my whole? What molecules render me soft enough to flee like a thought in a slight breeze? What have I to do, but to live and reflect? Who is to know? Who.
In a dark room, were I to be placed upon a post to shine from its center, would I be as bright as if I were placed next to a mirror at the side of the room, with only half of my light being real and shining as from my soul? Is that solitary, yellow dart of my being enough to light in half, though reflected, as though from that post in the middle of the otherwise dark room? What design orders this? Why do I live only anchored here and not aloft in the sky? Why do those around draw away from me as if in fear of harm?
I am a solitary, gilded whisper of light, shining upon those from whom I am ordered, without will, or otherwise. My stepward cousins and unrelative conflagrations burn with an unintelligible force, magnified and multiplied beyond reason, my small frame. What soft caress would touch my delicate skin? What gentle lace would adorn me? In the place of never-thought would it live beyond my kiss. It is unknown. For it is, and not being. If a scientist were to analyze my being, would he find only the mist of paraffin, or the shadowing remnants of tallow, rendered from the fatted calf? What am I? And why does my touch bite? I cannot win friends; I cannot feel the embrace of another. If I am drawn nigh unto my own kind I am lost and shall never be regained unto myself. Am lost.”
This is a Favorite Repost from September, 2009.
The man sat in the dark and thought of the pictures on the wall and the eyes that looked out from their frozen images of faces and whatnot in the chemicals that held them in such places from their making until they left in some manner or other, moved to another wall, moved to another house, passed among the things that leave when he would leave on that unknown date and then. The eyes that could bore through their selved-images into the eyes of the man who sat in the chair with heavy lids and pondered those things as night wound into itself and him and the sounds of day’s passing had become the creaking and yawning of the presence of its neighbor and twin, the one who exists on the other side of the thoughts of himself.
Picture frames glowing or reflecting the light that sneaks in through the windows from the posted light in the yard, that one thing that illuminates the darkened corners where what was present in the day has crawled into itself and themselves and exist only in shadow form or memory, but not sight, as they are hidden in the black and gray of their shadowed selves. Those eyes accuse and remember in their fixed gazes and the man stares at the blank middles of the frames at what he knows is there but cannot see for the passed and past day and the dark inside the four edges covers but doesn’t hide the faces he knows. Night doesn’t cover his heart and his wandering soul and it doesn’t relieve the ghosts that walk in his mind and in the fibers of the carpet and lay like a film inside the paint and wooded textures of stair railings and benches, those things that capture sounds and emotions as they are fleeing in their shouted births and deaths of echoes and remain.
Hollowed eyes and grins and thoughts and cheekbones and lips that lie in a stuck rictus, like painted and dead clowns and he doesn’t know who is inside, who is behind those portals of life and then, and he turns away and closes his eyes and hears the ringing in his ears as the cat talks not walks down the hall and a hidden beam somewhere in the wall creaks or sighs as the house wonders at the man in the chair in the dark, wonders at his thoughts and sitting there while others sleep and dream and think of nothing in the passing of the stars and moon in their circuits as the heater kicks on and whines through the vents and blows in its blowing and warmth of breath and stops with a shudder and how, as the man’s foot twitches as sleep tries to pull him deeper into the chair as his heart beats and beats and his eyes open at the cat’s passing and scratching on and of the one corner of the rug that has its frayed spot and spot as the eyes on the walls sleep in their openness and hide their thoughts in front of him as he looks away and remembers a younger self that fled a smile in furrowed brows and pursed lips of anger and rot, his eyes scorned and shaken and cast away and aside and down and away from any who would look.
He remembered the thick hand that smacked his mouth when his eyes were closed and thought the Divine was blind as the prayer was stuck in the swirl of ceiling paint as the black eyes bored into the smaller one’s eyes as his mouth throbbed and his heart ached and his mom sat at arm’s length away as her man’s hand smacked her child’s mouth and she kept her eyes closed as the sound echoed in her ears and she squeezed her eyes closed as she smelled the dinner cooling on the table in front of them and wondered how the paint could keep the prayer inside the ceiling as it rolled about and thinned against the summer air and finally withered and faded and was gone in the tears that rolled down his cheeks as hate breathes by itself in blank picture frames and white rocks cast along the way, tripping the travelers who dare not watch where they are walking, who are blind to the path and stumble in the dark footsteps that lumber ahead of them.
This is a Favorite Re-post from February, 2010.
From one day…so many years ago….
“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. She is singing ‘I love you’ 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.”
And from another….
“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.”
This is a Favorite re-post from March, 2010.
Does it ever exist in a pure form? If we are not deaf, can we really experience it? If we are deaf, do we really experience it at all? I cannot answer for the deaf. Their response may depend on the level or nature of their deafness. It may be that, for it to truly exist, one must have never heard words to have them become thoughts. For the hearing, however, I do not believe it exists. We are only familiar with its silhouette, the mere image of its self. This shadow is what we call “silence.”
When it appears that there is nothing present to stimulate our hearing, when we would normally say we are in the presence of silence, something creates a sound. Even when it is just our thoughts, fears, imagination, or blood coursing through our lobes urging a tingling hum, true silence is not there. Its image, however, is a normal part of our lives.
Sometimes, it enters with a sly, tiptoe step; other times, it is so vivid, one would think it is the resounding tromp of a platoon of soldiers. Casual circumstances, anticipated events and unexpected tragedies are all tinged with silence.
Walk with me…into the penumbra….
Overhead, the loudspeaker commanded certain somebodies to go or come to such and such station on the third floor. Swinging doors crashed open and closed, before and behind her. The gurney banged into the delivery-room table, jarring her through the pain, making her wonder, again, if this was all worthwhile.
A multitude of thoughts sped through her mind while she was lying there, exposed with disregard, looking up at the ceiling, pushing, breathing, hurting, waiting. But what about during that pause in her heart’s beating, in that long silence before the doctor spoke, what was she thinking then? Did that interminable moment incubate the seed of anguish or jubilation?
Agitating the silence was the lazy humming of the overhead lights, the clanging of instruments into stainless-steel bowls, the beeping of the baby’s monitor and the rustling of paper gowns. It seemed to go on forever. The silence was too long.
The doctor was quiet, he didn’t say a thing; he just worked. With swift, confident hands he untied the cord from their baby’s neck. Still the silence, a moment more. Did she dare breathe when her child had yet to take his first gasp of air? Could she live if he didn’t?
Finally…the tiny cry! “He’s fine – you’ve got a little boy!” Happier words were never spoken!
He was just standing there, trying to be someone or something that she needed, telling her how beautiful their baby was, how beautiful she was, asking her, awkwardly, how she felt. Snap-shot photographs of the last several months crashed through his mind as he watched with awe, this orchestration of birth. Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his cheeks. The silence was over!
For the last two months of his life, he would have spells where something inside of him would cause him to cry out, almost scream with a nameless pain. At first, they thought it was probably kidney-stones; then, they thought it might be his hips getting worse – they had known for years that they were bad.
Their veterinarian was businesslike in his description of a not-so-uncommon immune-disorder that affects older dogs. This miracle-worker for animals went on to detail the possibilities of tumors, intestinal bleeders, etc., that could be causing the myriad problems.
After their dog was on mood-altering, immune-system-enhancing medications for about four or five weeks, they came home one day to find the evidence of internal bleeding in several locations throughout the house and yard.
One more trip to the vet. One last trip to the vet. The doctor explained how there was really nothing he could do to fix their dog. There was nothing he could do to restore sound health to this old man of a canine they called their pet. It was time for him to go on – to go wherever it is that old dogs go when they die. After that last injection, that last yelp, that last beat of his heart, he just lay there. He was gone.
Normal sounds of life still ring throughout their home. The children and the other animals are still there; the planet hasn’t ceased its orbit; life still goes on, but…it is quieter than it used to be. He doesn’t follow the man up the stairs or down the stairs, out into the yard or around the yard and back into the house again. He’s not there waiting for a morsel to drop to the kitchen floor, not there to nudge a hand for some love. No longer is he heard breathing, lying next to the bed at night. They still step over his sleeping form when they get out of bed, but he’s not there. He is gone. Except for the quaking in his master’s heart, he is silent.
One could describe her life as very busy. There was seldom time for her and her husband to be alone. Hell, there was rarely a minute that she had to herself without interruption, without someone or something demanding her attention. Managing a house-full of children and pets, attending the university with a full schedule and perfect grades while holding down a full time job required an enormous amount of time. A full life. One with many facets. One with many colors. A life with many concerns.
Not a torment, but a near constant preoccupation with the deeper, heart-wrenching aspects of other people’s lives filled her mind. The lives of children. Not only her own kids, but the rest of them too. The ones whose lives were documented in the newspapers and chronicles of the day. Children whose lives were put to paper in big binders with case numbers attached to them. Innocent ones whose lives were casually thrown away by the give-a-damn adults who ran the world. These were the ones who filled her mind.
Most disconcerting to her was the fact that she could not do much for these children at the time. She still had to finish school. Until it was over, she was bound to her current occupation. Nowhere else could she make the kind of money she did and nowhere else could she have the time off from work to do the things she wanted to do. Essentially, she was indentured to her meaningless, mindless, of-no-consequence job. She would continue to be a flight-attendant until she had reaped every possible benefit from the company while pursuing her goal; until school was over.
From her occupation, one would be inclined to think that she liked dealing with people. One would think she was a people-person. One would also think she enjoyed the hundreds of faces and personalities she ‘mingled’ with every day at work. One could not be more wrong. She thought people were okay in the right setting, but not in those amounts and not in the confines of an airplane.
Where is refuge when one is inside a Boeing 737, traveling at 535 mph, at 35,000 feet? Where does one hide from the constant analyzing, discriminating and stereotyping eyes of everyone aboard the plane? Where does one go to flee the leering eyes of half-drunk, red-blooded males? Where does she go to escape? She locks herself in the bathroom. In that closet-sized hideaway, she finds solace from the airborne hundreds. She mutters oaths at the closed door and cries tears of anger and frustration in the company of her only friend, the woman in the mirror looking back at her. Aboard the plane, locked in the bathroom, she finds it. It has been there waiting for her. It removes her from the meaningless chores and takes her home, if only for a few minutes, where she is important, where she is loved. In spite of the engine noise and the storm of people on the other side of the door, it is there. She has found her silence.
They arrived on a Thursday afternoon in the last week of January. Nobody answered their knock at the door, but they knew where the extra key was hidden, so they let themselves in and made like they were home. In a sense, they were. This was where she had spent the last several years of her childhood and this was where they had started their courtship. Now, this was their haven from the adult world. They felt safe here. It was always a pleasure to come home after being away.
He went to visit some friends for a while and she stayed there with the kids, recuperating from the trip. After a bit, her sister came home from school and there was the usual heartwarming reunion that made the long drive worthwhile. It was so good to be home!
An hour or so later, he came home and went out to the shop to put together some toys that her mom had bought for the kids. Meanwhile, the older son was out in the acre, beyond the walled-in back yard, playing with his trucks. The younger son was following her and her sister around the yard and house, visiting and wondering at all the things that fascinate two-year-olds like himself. The phone rang and she and her sister went inside. In what may have been minutes later, the older son called from outside the gate for his dad to come and let him into the yard.
Leaving the shop, where he was still working on the toys, he noticed the big-wheel floating upside down in the pool. He let the older son into the yard and then went to see if he could reach the toy – floating out there, near the middle of the pool. He noticed that the big-wheel was just sitting there, upside down, not moving and not causing even the slightest ripple in the water. Just sitting there. Suddenly, everything was quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something floating near the opposite side of the pool. Not something, but someone, a very small someone, face-down in the pool.
Rushing to the other side, he noticed again the stillness of the pool. How long had his little one been there? What period of time would it have taken for the water to calm after he had ridden the big-wheel into the pool? How many minutes had his son been floating there in that god-damned silent pool? Where was the noise that water is supposed to make when someone falls into it? Why didn’t he hear the silence of the big-wheel? Why in the hell wasn’t he watching his son?
No! What would he do without his son? It wouldn’t be the same. Life would never be the same. No! He couldn’t die! He fought the numbness in his mind and began to do what he’d studied so many times in the past. Just last month he had taken a refresher course and he specifically remembered not to breathe too hard into his baby’s mouth. Pounding on his back as if there was something stuck in his throat, he cursed and prayed for him to come back. God, how long did this take? Over and over again, breathe into his mouth, not too hard. Push onto his tiny chest. Now flip him over and pound on his back some more. Come on! Breathe! Please, come on! Yes! Cry! That’s it! That’s it! Breathe! Come on – that’s it, cry, come on! Damn the silence – Cry!
The excitement of graduation night paled somehow in comparison to the spectacular event that would take place the next morning. She and her family were going up north for a vacation and they had asked him to go with them. Each of her sisters was bringing a special friend – and she invited him, her special friend. The trip was a graduation present from her parents. As a family, they had been to the lake several times in the past, so they knew he would enjoy it.
They left home early in the morning, hoping to reach the lake with enough daylight remaining so they could work on the boat when they got there. In return for letting them borrow the houseboat, her mom’s boss had asked them to replace the carpet and fix some things that needed to be repaired.
The six-hour drive seemed to pass in less time than it actually took. New scenery and friendly conversation caused the miles to slip away without notice. Before he knew it, they arrived at the lake-town, located the boat and started to work.
With all of the work completed and only an hour of daylight remaining, they set off to find a suitable spot to spend the night. When they pulled away from the marina he turned around and looked at the sky. It had been brushed with magnificent hues of orange, yellow, rose and gold. This sunset would have made the sun-god proud.
The whole experience was an adventure to him. In his seventeen years he had never been on a vacation with anyone other than his own family. Now, he was there, at the lake, with his girlfriend and her family preparing to enjoy one of the most memorable events of his life – ten days on a houseboat with absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy life and its offerings.
Their days were filled with leisure. They would cruise through the waterways of the lake’s filled canyons staring in awe at the massive boulders and rock lining their passage. At different times of the day, they would pull over to the bank, tie up the boat and go hiking. Climbing the rocks to the highest point they could reach and then just sitting there, admiring it all, wondering at the forces that combined to create such a marvel. Other times, they would get out the inflatable rafts and go off by themselves, paddling along, enjoying the theater of nature before them. Whatever they wanted to do, they did. Sleep, eat, drink or swim. Whenever they wanted to do these things, they just did them. No schedules were allowed.
One of the best things about the whole trip was the time the two of them had together. Uninterrupted, they could talk for hours. If there was nothing else to say, they would sit in the quiet splendor of their retreat and simply be together. Saying nothing, just being together. Near enough to touch, near enough to feel each other’s spirit within them. A time of true communion.
At night they would lie next to each other on the roof of the houseboat and watch for stars shooting across the sky. They felt as if they were in a cathedral, looking up past the darkness of the canyon walls to see the ceiling of stars overhead. It was truly a magnificent sight. The greatest artist ever commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling would have balked at the thought of trying to recreate the incredible brilliance of this heavenly portrait.
To say it was quiet on the lake would be an understatement. Barring all other experiences from their memory, this place would be the origin of silence. There were no clocks or schedules on the lake. There was no screaming society telling them what to do and when to do it. Silence ruled…and because it ruled, they were free.
Once again, I do not believe true silence exists. For a hearing person, I do not believe there is a condition possible where there is absolutely no sound. We can only recognize the shadow of silence, its image. Whether it is tarnished or golden, blatant or subtle, mediocre or spectacular, the silhouette is what we call “silence.”
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.
The man stood in the doorway for a moment before grabbing the elongated brass handle to open the door. He was looking at the house to the west of his and noticed how the image of the lowering sun was about to touch the roofline. The slate roof seemed to dip in the moment of the sun’s contact, causing the illusion that the weight of the sun was bearing down on the roof, or maybe the roof was molding itself to the shape of the sun to give it a more comfortable resting place at the end of its long day. The sun was bright, of course, but softened somehow in the closer atmosphere and haze of industry and pollen and life that existed above the horizon’s curving line, so the man stood there with unshielded eyes and continued to watch the sun’s dip into and below the roof line. He turned away and the golden glow remained in his eyes as he looked through the door’s glass to find his son. It was time for dinner and the boy was somewhere outside.
The door handle lowered without a sound and the door swung open quietly as the man pushed against it and walked out onto the back patio of the house. As he passed the mustard-colored and rectangular-shaped charcoal grill, he noticed that it still smelled of burnt sugar from the last time he barbequed ribs. It had been a couple weeks or more, but the scent still lingered. The man was barefoot and noticed, too, that the cement of the patio was still warm from the day’s sun, but the grass was cool as he stepped into it and began his search for his son. The man turned to the left from the patio and looked into the back-yard proper, gazing at the rock-fronted embankments that supported the tiered lawn that rose from the yard up to the street that ran behind his house. As he walked toward the front of the house that faced the town’s park, he craned his neck to look further into the yard to where the boy liked to play around the young, conical pine trees that resembled miniature Christmas trees when they were dusted or coated with December’s snow.
The evening was peaceful, now that the neighborhood kids had left the park and gone home or wherever after playing soccer for most of the afternoon. Looking toward the east and over the hills that fronted that side of the town, the man noticed the swallows darting over the park for their evening feeding and play-time. Overhead, the clouds were pink and orange and white and darkening gray with the falling sun and approaching night. Further north, he could still see the white line of a plane’s contrail that was still intact even though the plane had been gone for hours…just the singular, lined cloud was left in its passing. The man didn’t see his son anywhere, not in this side of the yard and not out in the park. He thought about calling-out for him, but didn’t want to break the quiet by raising his voice or yelling. Instead, he retraced his steps around the house, passed the back-door patio, and toward the other end of the yard, the side that fronted their street. The man walked along the low hedge that separated his yard from the neighbor’s and then past the gooseberry bushes and toward the side of the house where he could peek around the corner to see if his son was playing under the cherry trees. His step was quiet in the cool grass and the moss that grew thinly among the grass where he was, but was thicker under the trees.
Because the sun had completely lowered itself beneath the roofline of the neighbor’s house by now, there was no chance of the man’s son seeing his father’s shadow intrude into his quiet play. When the man slowly moved his head around the corner, he saw that his son was sitting cross-legged, facing away from him, and leaning forward with his hands busy at some task. The boy had his tan and green army-men positioned in loose rows and partially hidden in the moss, or situated behind various military vehicles and broken sticks from the trees above him. He occasionally leaned back or to the right or left to straighten a fallen man or to move a truck closer to the grouped men, enacting some strategy or maneuver of protection or attack. The boy even rolled a golf-ball or lightly tossed a shiny, black cherry in the direction of the men, imagining that they were rockets or some other projectile, sometimes knocking over one of the men or coming to rest next to or on top of one of the vehicles, and sometimes not. With the impact of the cherries or golf ball, the boy made his eleven year-old’s version of a soft explosion…a hushed “pkshew!” that he thought only he could hear.
The man smiled to himself as he watched and listened to his son. He saw the purplish-pink stains on the boy’s white t-shirt and imagined the cherry-fight that he had had with his friends earlier in the afternoon…the cherry-fight that he wasn’t supposed to have had. As the man attempted to kneel down into the moss and grass next to the house, his shorts scraped on the prickly stucco finish on the house and startled his son. The boy was in mid-reach across his battlefield and gasped and dropped one of his army men as he jerked and turned around to face his father.
The boy’s heart was pounding and his mouth was suddenly dry. “I didn’t know you were there,” he said. His mind was racing back through his day, wondering at what he might have done wrong, wondering what little or grand sin had been revealed and was now set to ruin what he thought was an otherwise good day, and wondering why, if he hadn’t done anything wrong, his father was there on the side of the yard looking for him…and getting ready to sit down like he was planning to stay for a while.
“Well, I wasn’t here for very long. What are you doing?”
The boy tried to swallow. “Just playing…Army.”
“Weren’t your friends out here earlier?”
“Yes Sir, but they had to leave.”
“Which friends were here?”
“You said your friends were here earlier. Which ones were here?”
The boy looked across the gravel and grass driveway and out into the park where the swallows were still darting around. He saw a couple boys at the water fountain at the far side of the park. “I…don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t remember.”
“But they were just here,” the man said, “who were they? You’re not in trouble, Stephan, I’m just asking which friends were here.”
“Hansi and Martin.”
“Isn’t Hansi’s father the butcher?”
“I don’t know. I think so…maybe.”
“Isn’t he one of those older boys that you were playing with in the spring and got into trouble with?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t remember,” the father said, “when you guys stole the bratwurst and then went off into the woods and cooked it? You don’t remember that?”
“Yes Sir…I…think I remember.”
“Wasn’t Hansi one of those older boys?”
The boys had moved from the water fountain and were now kicking a soccer ball out on the field at the park. “I don’t know.”
The man sat down in the grass and moss and leaned against the house. “Stephan…look at me. You’re not in trouble…we’re just talking…ok? You can answer me,” said the man. “Look…here,” he said, pointing to his eyes. “You’re ok.”
The boy turned his head from watching the boys with the soccer ball and met his father’s eyes. He didn’t answer him immediately, but just looked at him. This was unusual for him; the boy…he felt odd, bold somehow…maybe even brave. His father’s manner and voice were unsettling. There was none of the harshness or sarcasm that he was used to…and his eyes didn’t look angry. It looked like his father was really just asking him a question…not investigating an offense.
“Augie’s father is the butcher,” said the boy, “but Hansi was part of the group that did that, yes Sir.”
“Is that Hansi out there playing soccer?”
The boy looked at the two other boys out on the field for a couple seconds and then turned again to his father. “No Sir. Hansi had to go home. He said it was almost getting dark and he had to go in for dinner.”
“Why what?” said the man.
“Why’d you want to know if that’s Hansi out there playing soccer?”
“Nothing, Stephan. I was just asking…nothing. Relax, would you? And stop calling me ‘Sir.’”
The boy looked at his father’s hands for a couple seconds and then moved up to meet his eyes. The eyes were still dark brown and still set deep into his father’s head, but the prominent brow-ridge seemed less severe as his eye-brows were raised in a gentle and almost inquisitive arch.
“What? Just call me ‘Dad’ now. Say ‘Yes Dad,’ not ‘Yes Sir.’ That seems wrong somehow.”
“Can I ask you something and not get in trouble?”
“Yes…ask or say anything you want.”
The boy just looked at him.
“I’m serious…really…anything…you won’t get in trouble.”
“What happened to you in the wreck? I know you broke a couple ribs, but what happened…you know…inside your head? Mom said it went through the front window, right?”
The man looked at his son…intently, gently…and picked a tuft of moss from the ground. He moved his eyes to the moss and then asked, “What do you mean, ‘What happened in my head?’”
“You’re not like you used to be,” said the boy, looking past his father, but still watching him, trying to sense if he was going too far. “You’re different.”
“Almost dying in the wreck like that made me think about my life; it made me think about how I was treating people…how I treated you and your mom…and I decided that I needed to be different.”
The boy looked out into the park again. He didn’t want his father to see the tears that were starting to spill from his eyes. “Just like that…you ‘decided’ that you needed to be different?”
The man looked down and watched his fingers as they slowly tore the moss apart and let it drop back into the grass. “I guess so. When I was laying there in the hospital with my neck in that brace and my face all bandaged-up and tubes sticking out of my lungs, I thought about how lucky I was that my heart was still beating and that I wasn’t hurt as bad as I could have been considering what I had been through. It almost seemed like I was being given a second chance or something, you know…somehow…maybe…to do things right…if that’s possible.”
The boy turned back and looked toward his father, not meeting his eyes exactly, but looking through him at some point directly behind his head. “If you could just decide that you needed to be different when you were laying there in the hospital, why couldn’t you have decided a long time ago that you would be different…why didn’t you decide when I was a littler kid that you weren’t going to be so mean…that you could talk to me instead of hitting me, or that I could talk to you like you were just my dad and not some…kind…of…whatever you’ve been?”
“I don’t know, Stephan. I guess it took me almost dying to realize how much I love you…I don’t know.”
“Oh. Well, that’s when I figured out that I don’t love you,” said the boy, “when you were in the hospital almost dying. I always thought I did, or wanted to, maybe. I thought that if I loved you more you’d be nicer to me, but it didn’t work. So when Mom told me that you might die, I was hoping you would, because I knew I wouldn’t have to try to love you anymore. It would be ok that I didn’t…and now you’re not dead and I still don’t love you.”
The man turned his eyes to watch the neighbor drive past in his blue Saab. He followed the car until it stopped at the water fountain by the corner of the park and then turned down the hill where it disappeared behind the Vivo store on the opposite corner. Then he turned slightly in the other direction and watched the kids chasing each other and kicking the soccer ball for a few seconds. Finally, he looked back at his son and said, “Wow…I don’t know what to do with that, Stephan.”
“I don’t either,” said the boy as he reached for one of his army men.
“I guess I’ll have to work on that, won’t I? Give you a reason to love me?”
The boy pulled a handful of moss and began to gently tear it apart and lay the pieces across his army trucks, camouflaging them against the enemy that was lined-up behind the moss and grass berm that he had built close to the trunk of the nearest tree. He then absently grabbed a cherry from the ground and slipped it into his mouth. He bit down on the sweet flesh and then used his tongue to separate the seed as he slowly chewed and swallowed the tiny fruit.
“Stephan? I said I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?”
“I don’t know.”
The man slowly stood and then leaned over to stretch his legs that had been folded under him while he sat and talked with his son. He said “Ok,” and then turned to walk back around the corner of the house. After a couple steps, he turned around and leaned down so he could see his son better under the cherry trees. “You need to come in now. The streetlights are coming on and it’s time to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
The man raised his voice a little – “Stephan, I said you need to come in.”
This is a Favorite re-post from May, 2010.
Swirling beneath the surface or deeply embedded within the spoken word is yet another meaning, an additional understanding or interpretation that is dependent upon the receiver’s frame of mind or point of reference in accepting that word. The paths that the person has traveled in his life will have an impact on the message’s content as well. Often, trusting that the speaker has the same state of mind or set of references that he does, the receiver will take the word for its surface value, not thinking to look into the current that carried the speaker into giving it…or not.
Those additional meanings could also exist because those spoken words were wrought in deception as a ruse, to mislead, to cover wrong-doings and hidden or veiled thoughts. They were presented to protect others or the self or bring unjust scrutiny where it is not needed, diverting inspection from where it is due. Gossip, lies, and rumors bred to undermine, to make others feel secure in their own estimation…to shake foundations and crumble established ways of thinking, perceptions, and values. Visible or imagined circumstances are mated with ill-conceived thoughts and a new ‘truth’ is born. It breathes with a life of its own, spread and passed-along as righteousness…contextual and circumstantial truths that reek in filth and deception until they are discovered and ripped apart with the knife of examination, eviscerated under the light of explanation and detail…but the damage is still done, the seed was planted and doubt has grown, sprouted and thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’
How many of our lives’ courses have been steered aside by a single phrase or the circumstantial pairing of words? What lashes across the back have been felt because of either ill-spoken words or ones that were found to be false? What taste of blood was brought to mouth because of an offense, a broken bone or ringing of ears caused by a violence that spews from hands evil with wrongdoing; might over weakness, forcefulness over fearfulness; the victims’ souls splayed open by the sharp tongue. How many lives and reputations in past and present have been sullied by murmured falsehoods and contrived deeds?
But words also nurture and bind and comfort and heal and uplift and encourage and inspire and lead many from sickness to health and from self-doubt to greatness and success…love-spoken words can be salves that heal our wounds and reveal truths that wash-away the scourge and disease of the bitter tongue…that fortify, that vanquish evil and doubt and failure…and stir to a greatness unimagined. And sometimes, too, these soothing and healing and uplifting and inspiring words are lies bound in sweet hope that they will be believed and acted-upon and taken to magnificent ends…causing the receiver to believe the words and dig into themselves to make them true because the speaker said they were true so they must be true and that makes them become true…and that lie has become truth…and then.
And other times the utterances become opiates that relax our diligence and dull our senses, calmly deceiving and betraying us with Delilah’s alluring promises before robbing us of our strength or resolve, seducing us, leading us into temptation and delivering us unto evil where we ransom our souls and happiness and futures and eternities for ideas and notions and feelings and…in other times and circumstances we escape with and through them, these words, into our fantasies and beliefs, conjuring imaginings and hopes, falling prey to our lusts and desires…whispered in sinful darkness they feed our longings…and we covet what we have not…we resolve to tell stories of deeds done and then, twisted mysteries that complicate and turn like worms in our guts when trying to remember what happened or not as we weave that tangled web. Their partial truths and half-lies stringing us along and telling us in bits what we need to know…in power and ruse against us, controlling and subordinating and enslaving or making us free, causing us to rise indifferent to blood and ties.
Skillfully spoken with temper and might, those spoken symbols can cause us to rise-up in defiance against our natural selves and believe ghastly things about others, to strike-out with deadly consequence or they can inspire us to love and nurture others at the cost of our own lives, can lead us to unbelievable heights and lengths to sacrifice ourselves and others for a cause, sometimes just and sometimes not and so…and someone said that someone said that He said “I am that I am.”
Between friends they are casual, words of comfort and ease, gentle conversation about anything or nothing, rambling and disjointed wonderings and plans and hopes and disappointments and promises to do better and live stronger and try instead of not…and they know the sacred and the secret, the hallowed and irreverent…jingling jangling juggling jumbling jabbering and tossing about in the mixing of anything and nothing and sometimes the learned stumble for a lack of the right one and the not-so-learned has it in picture form and simple and more beautiful and from the earth or the tugging inside the heart and in the hum of nature and in the tick and tock of the silent passing on the pendulum’s path and so…to speak in word form.
What aspect of our being hasn’t been touched by the spoken word? Is there a single step in this labyrinthine effort that is a stranger to the audible thoughts and contrivances of verbal communication? I dare to offer that near every color of life’s prism has been and is painted by and with every manner of uttering by the human tongue – those simple expulsions of breath, twisted and rolled, compressed and urged through the vocal cords, throat, teeth, and lips to become the shouts and screams and soothing whispers and encouragements or curses that propel us through our collective existence.
This is a Favorite re-post from December, 2009.
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
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.