Footsteps echo down the hall and a belt buckle jingles as a drawer closes and cigarette smoke wafts from somewhere outside and in a memory maybe, a goblin walking, a haunt, something.
Thomas, say the prayer.
I said say the prayer.
But I don’t usua….
That’s right, I do, but since you’re so perfect, you get to say it tonight.
My cheeks burned like I’d been smacked just sitting there…but then that had happened, too, during a prayer that he was saying, just reached over and hit me full in the mouth as he offered the blessing to his god and the god of our family…and my mom sat there on that Sunday afternoon much like she was sitting here on this one, whatever day it was…just sat there with her head bowed and her eyes closed, folded hands near her forehead, waiting…listening to her man…witness to the results of her betrayal, one that she wrought on some morning or afternoon after we had sat here at the same table, those two or three evenings ago as the house was quiet in sleep and we alone were awake, sharing moments of conversation and…shared trust…. I looked at the side of her face for a couple of seconds while my little sister looked across the table at me and wondered how I was suddenly so perfect…wondered why such sarcasm was brought to the dinner table when there had been no hint of anyone’s wrongdoing before we had all gathered there, me in my seat and all of them in theirs where they belonged…where we all belonged in someone else’s imagination of family and unity and the way things are or ought to be…beneath the decorated sign on the wall that said as for me and my house we will serve the lord.
I stumbled across prayed words said by rote, empty requests and thanks for whatever and bless the hands which prepared it, in jesus’s name, amen…and the words were there and the prayer said and dinner commenced and mouths moved only to eat and I looked through the back window at the gray concrete wall that separated our yard from the alley and the cemetery beyond with desert behind that and more…a slag heap of desiccated wreaths and green plastic covered stands all in a jumble as the ceremonies had passed and the tears had been shed…loved ones gone and buried and I wondered in my seat…cracks in the gray wall and mourning doves cooing beneath the young palo-verde…yellow feather-petals dropping lightly in the warm breeze, landing on the top of the wall and tumbling, scurrying away, floating to the yard below and remaining stuck in the un-watered grass, brown against the waning sun, forks scraping on plates, and water forming and glistening on the sides of glasses in the too warm air, becoming heavy with breath and rolling downward in a single droplet avalanche to pool on the polished wooden tabletop.
Kind of tuned-out there for a while, keeping my eyes forward, watching his hands and hearing him swallow, feeling the tightness of the tiny dining room, a nook really, feeling the desk and cabinets behind me, lightly pushing against the carpet beneath and the dog rang the bell at the back door to go out into the yard and do her business. I rose from the table and took those steps to the door and went out with her, stood there against the porch post and looked up at the dry-rotting wood of the overhang. No voices came through the door and I caught glimpses of arms moving in the window…I saw eyes behind their glasses behind the window watching me watching the little dog walk down the brick pathway towards the back gate, sniffing at the grass beneath the bottom edge, wondering at what might have recently passed down the alleyway.
My footsteps were loud in the dry brown grass as I crossed the yard walking toward the back wall, toward the tree stump that was my perch when I stood and gazed out into the alley and cemetery beyond, my haven and place where I didn’t need them anymore, where my heartbeat slowed and I learned not to care, to remove myself…they didn’t talk back out there, didn’t have glaring condemning eyes stuck in their empty faces…they were taking care of other things, being away…with echoes of a conversation ringing, bouncing in my head…why doesn’t he pray about it, ask god to help him stop…that’s what you guys say we should do…ask for his help…he’s done it since he was a kid and you don’t understand what it’s like…but it doesn’t seem like that should matter…isn’t he supposed to be stronger than our cravings…isn’t he supposed to help us overcome whatever it is that we need his help in overcoming…of course he is…then why doesn’t he…?
I don’t know anything about it, but I’ve seen it before and it struck me as strange and beautiful…and ironic, as it is just down the road from the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City…we are not all Saints….
It rained again in that place where memories are stored, where the synapses fire and storm and lay things waste and then they are gone again or whole again and the images and sounds and scents live in the memories where we laid them those years ago, where they got tucked away somehow and have been waiting, if memories can wait, for us to rekindle them to their cogent prescience, for us to make them live again.
Those pictures lived, then, they were images and words wrought together with footsteps down hallways, belts rattling into their drawer at the end of the day, a rough hand on a cheek, the smell of gum and tobacco smoke, and the image of a big yellow car slowly easing itself into the driveway,Vitalis in his hair and the shuffle and hitch of the arm or hand into his waistband, keys and coins rattling and black-framed glasses surrounding the dark, sad eyes again…and the gift of a shiny red pocket knife…and after sand through the glass, a car in a time of need, a gesture, an attempt…what can I do? Moments and years and two or three lifetimes and the breath stops and the cheeks are tucked into place with clay or toothpicks or whatever the embalmer uses, and a little smile lives and holds that rictus shape until the crematory’s fires take it away. He was an old man early, and gone, limiting his life by wanting to live only so long, so that’s what he did, just for so long…testify, prophecy…. And I wonder what he really wanted, what he really desired and didn’t quite get. What dream remained unfulfilled, what heights weren’t reached? I don’t know. I have tainted memories and the taste of ocher, but that was my experience…what was he to someone else, what was he to his friends, what redeemed him when nobody else was around, or when he was in some others’ eyes, and not mine? What unconfessed sins tormented his soul, or what happiness lived there, even, beyond others’ eyes and mine? I don’t know what made him happy, or sad, or what left him feeling empty, what defined loss for him, or love…what stranger did he long for, what living or dead person didn’t fill a void that he needed filling, what or whom did he mourn, or caused him to smile when nobody was watching? Did he really believe in a god, did he really believe that he was going to live with a heavenly father when he died, that he would walk on streets of gold up there when his life was informed by asphalt and broken concrete…was that going to be his reward, really, did he actually believe that…did he have to turn off a part of his brain to do so, or did it just come naturally, did he like flowers or football, or what about weeds and wild grasses that grow along rushing mountain streams? Did he love his father, or even know him…or forgive him…or sin against him and not forgive himself after all those years? I don’t know…and at the end of it all, it’s for naught anyway, the deeds are done, the tears fallen, the regret swallowed and poisoned the body to the marrow, and maybe the only redeeming truth is that he didn’t know how to be what he was, didn’t know how to be what he wouldn’t have chosen to be, and he had no guide along the way to steer him out of the footsteps that had been laid before him….
And it rained again as the thoughts fired upon themselves as the fingers tapped the keys and as the neurons kicked themselves and rocked themselves and curled around their own shadows again and shot again into the void, into the primordial abyss of eternity that ranges in the wasted spaces between the fibers and strands of the cerebral mass.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
*neuron activity photo found via google at www.darkgovernment.com
In those many orbits around the sun, and the moon around ourselves, in that figment of time and space that we call months and years, and in those days of our passing, in that time that I’ve been gone from that place where I had worked and worked and wondered for other years and gone, things changed and progressed and grew and became other things that someone else had imagined. Technology and practice and practice became new and better and more precise and less invasive in a personal sense, for some, for those in the practice of this medicine and art and then. Time has changed some of the occupants, too, of the circles in which and around which the plagues are passed and given and shared and transmitted in knowing and unknowing senses all. While some advances have been made in several of the related realms, some of the old and tried and true remain and serve as beacons and exemplars of what works and what lives still in our humanity and theirs. A handshake and an eye-to-eye look of greeting and acceptance or a touch on the arm or shoulder or a shared smiling frown still connects their lives and ours as we mix and meld in our humanity and striving so. There is the unknown and the fear and the real pain of their physical pain and non-understanding and guilt and shame and glistening eyes and downcast, as they ask questions and await answers as they stare at the lines in the tile on the floor. No quivering today in that unshaven and rugged chin on that young man, little boy, who described his estrangement from his parents, their disapproval of his life and his mom’s fears for his future and health and physical living. He spoke of church bonds that are harsh and unforgiving and uncompromising and are tied harder and faster and sharper than a love for a child. He said, too, that there is a sister of mom or dad who still loves and accepts him and will always be there. He wonders at what a test result might mean, in that it changes the way even friends look at you. They don’t joke the same, can’t tease the same way…maybe like stepping on an un-dug grave, so he couldn’t share it with them either. “You are so young,” I said, “and that is both good and bad. You believe in your invincibility, still, and in your right to conquer the obstacles in front of you, but you’re not old enough to remember your friends wasting away and dying from what they contracted during the fun and love of an earlier time. Your brain tells you that the others’ memories are true, but you live in your actions as if they aren’t.” We think it can’t happen to us, he said, unconsciously squirming at the sensation of what was leaking out of his front and back-sides as he has waited so long to come in for a simpler malady. He was quick to respond to my call that he’d been exposed and needed treatment. Whatever he had scheduled was suddenly less important because he now knew and understood that what he had been feeling for weeks and weeks was real and could be ignored no longer. And so he was there…and so was I.
No radio was in the background and I had no concern for a status-list. I couldn’t feel a headset cord at my side and there were no black-banded badges or shields on posters on the wall reminding me that it wasn’t how they died that made them heroes, it was how they lived. My heart wasn’t beating with an anxious pulse waiting and waiting for someone to clear that it was Code-4, it was beating in sympathy and empathy for the distraught young man who sat in front of me who was wondering at test results and the fact that his father hadn’t spoken to him in over three years because of who he loved, yes, both the father and the son, the “he” in their each and solitary selves…and the men they loved.
Many things have remained the same…since I’ve been gone.
Yellow flowers sway on the stems of bushes whose names I do not know in gardens of other flowers and shrubs of Rosemary and Mexican Fan-Palms and large chunks of purple, volcanic stone. The cement is gray like the January sky and the blue of the water is calm with no breeze ripples. The handle on the black and iron gate clinks with its signature sound as the rod slides back in the guide; the gate swings open and my oldest walks in. He stood without for several minutes calling my name, or Mommy’s name…. “Let me in!”
Peach, white, and yellow paint chips were sealed in the garage floor and the smell of gear oil and fiberglass and tools hung in the air. The large, black wheel with its pedals still…I don’t know what color the ‘Big-Wheel’ was. The not tiny, but small form of my second son lay floating in the corner of the pool – beautiful, blue water, not moving. I was wearing my brown corduroy overalls and I consciously ran to the other side of the pool instead of jumping into its February chill. Did I grab his arm or his body? I don’t know. I clutched him to my body and yelled “Oh my God! Oh Shit!” I saw the gray sky and the garage in the rear of the neighbor’s yard. “Oh my god!” This can’t be happening…what would I do with only two sons? I pounded on his back then lay him on the gray, cement patio…blew into his mouth…turned him over again…why isn’t he holding his head still? His forehead banged on the cement as I turned him over.
His mom was hysterical…long, blonde hair, panic-stricken face, gray eyes, red face, screaming, hitting herself…starting her period as her soul clenched down upon itself inside…and the blank, gray eyes, wide open…I wondered what they saw. I wonder what they saw. What was his almost two-year-old mind thinking? What rush of terror-induced hormones were crashing through his body as he sank below the air into the beautiful, blue water? As he was floating when I found him, how much air was in his lungs? The water being so cold would have caused him to gasp-in the air as he fell into it. Maybe that’s what saved him. And how many minutes had passed?
And where was God? This is when I first began to doubt. All I wanted was to be closer to Him…and He ran away. He became less. Bad happens to the good and the bad alike. Then why pray…why pray if He isn’t going to listen anyway…?
It seems that way, sometimes, like there’s nothing worth saying, and in those times, I usually don’t say anything. I’ve been accused or esteemed as not being involved or wishing I was somewhere else when everyone else around me was talking and chatting up a storm…but sometimes there’s simply nothing that needs to be said, or nothing that needs to be said by me…or anybody else, really. So it’s been a few days since I posted and I’ve felt kind of guilty about that, guilty because it seems that I should be here. I’ve hoped to have something of a regular readership and have hoped that I could maintain some type of stream of worthwhile material…and today it’s kind of dry…not much happening in the old noggin. When I’ve tried to measure my postings against those of my fellow bloggers, the ones that I read regularly, I see that they have several days or a week or more between some of their posts…and some show-up once a month…and they have no comments, nothing shared by their readers…maybe because the readers kept coming back to find nothing there more often than they did find something…and some folks start their blogs with a firestorm of wonderful stuff and then fizzle out and leave us hanging, hungering for what might have been…and there’s nothing there for some reason…and others started out wonderfully and poetically and covered their observations of the minutia of life and the beautiful happenstance or collision of events and thoughts and right-brained or youthful creativeness that was breath-taking and they have become daily rants on their discomfort in life with parents and school and their unhappiness and one even with combinations of words that would make a sailor or miner blush…no offense Noble Sailor…and from a youngster with all of their wonderful and exciting life ahead of them, living in a foreign country with ample opportunities…and my one blog-friend who started posting about a month or so before I did and filled her pages with absolutely wonderful, beautiful, ambiguously personal thoughts and sharings and then one day disappeared and went away…and we/I start to miss them when they’re gone and I check every other day to see if she’s brought it back again…and…anyway…so I didn’t have anything to say for a few days…my last post was about my grandson and what I imagined the thoughts that his dad, my son, had during the rather stressful process…and I’ve read that post so many times over the last few days that anything else almost seems like drivel, insubstantial empty hogwash that isn’t worth the time to type into this journal…so I’ve been dry…uncreative…and wondering.
So I thought about contrasts and perspectives and the things we compare our lives to when we look around at those who inhabit our lives…I wondered about having and not having, the fickleness of fate or the gods who do and don’t do the things we want them to do in our lives…sitting and watching the divisional playoffs for the football season and noting quietly the commercials about donating $10 to the relief efforts in that island nation that was so devastated by the earthquake the other day…let’s give $10, all of us…as we sit in the comfort of our homes and sports bars watching millionaire gladiators or ‘warriors’ run up and down the field catching a ball or slamming themselves and others into each other trying to prevent the other from crossing a certain line…as they show pictures of the homes and neighborhoods that were/are crushed and fallen…and ruined…and I wondered about the woman who called today to complain that her two year-old daughter was pepper-sprayed by our police officers as she carried her while marching in a demonstration against how the local sheriff treats his immigrant prisoners…a demonstration where four people were arrested for assaulting police officers who were trying to physically control the unruly crowd with two police helicopters and dozens and dozens of cops and sheriff’s deputies trying to maintain order…and her baby got pepper-sprayed by a woman cop on a horse…of all the places I would take my two year-old child, I cannot imagine taking him or her to a demonstration march…but then maybe my life isn’t deprived enough where I feel I need to do that…or my family members aren’t in that sheriff’s jail…or something like that…couldn’t she have found someone else to watch her for a few hours? It must have been really important for her to be there, I’m hoping…it must have been really personal, must have really meant something to participate in that protest march…and good for her…good for her and the other thousands of people who were pissed-off enough about something that they spent their Saturday afternoon en masse showing that they were so moved…I’ve never participated in a protest march. What would it take for me to do that? I don’t know.
As I sat in the comfort of my own home and watched the home-team lose a sad contest, I kept track of the commercials that the network showed during the last quarter of the game. Noticing repeated commercials for the same show in the earlier quarters of the game compelled me to keep track toward the end…and the network and sponsors want us to purchase their home, auto, and life insurance, eat their subway sandwiches, drink their various beers, eat their brand of sour-cream, drink their soda because it’s the official soda of the football league so it must be good, use their package delivery company, buy their trucks, use their brand of medicine to fix our erectile-dysfunction so “you can be ready” the same day or every other day or something…which made me think about the beer and condom theft today at work…the guys stole their suds and prophylactics in a stolen car…wonderful…and Burger King tells us that even a grown-man sized baby who was born yesterday knows that their quarter-pound double cheese-burgers are bigger and better than McDonalds’ burgers of the same style…and we were encouraged to watch a show that claims to bring us our nation’s idol…one painful episode and week at a time…and one car company told us that they’ve been environmentally sound and concerned since way back when peace-signs and tie-dyed shirts and long hair were in vogue and another car company told us that the economy sucks so badly that they’ll accept the car back that they just sold us if we lose our jobs…because while the news and politicians tell us the nation is recovering, it isn’t really recovering until every last goddamned one of us is financially recovered…and the dead Michael Jackson’s song about needing someone to trust and “I’ll be there” was used as a marketing ploy by State Farm to tell us that we should trust them and buy their insurance…and the network wants us to laugh tonight with the Wanda Sykes show…and Tuesday night we’re supposed to be in suspense with them as we watch “The Human Target” show which appears to be a rich-guy’s version of the drive-by shootings we encounter in our western and southern city neighborhoods on a near-nightly basis…or we can use a certain broadband 3G or 4G network to talk on the phone and check our email simultaneously or find the capital of Peru while talking to our friend who’s a contestant in a game-show…and we can trust that the particular ‘chubby’ lady really did lose 54 pounds by eating the light menu…the “Drive-thru Diet,” from Taco Bell and so should or can we…and there were 26 commercials in the last quarter of play…and that’s more than enough for me.
Maybe I should have stuck with the first thought…sometimes there’s nothing to say.
I started my evening walk earlier than usual tonight, as my little one and his mom were on their way over to our other son’s house where my youngest would/will spend the night and day tomorrow until I retrieve him after work and go to yet another son’s house for his son’s birthday party. Over the many years that we have lived here, we have found a circuit through the neighborhood that is exactly one mile in length, as measured by our various cars and trucks over the same years to make sure that we were accurate that one or several time(s) that we thought we measured it correctly and determined that it was really a mile…and it is almost a habit of sorts to make two rounds of the path or circuit of an evening, maybe once or twice or sometimes three times a week, if I’m in that particular habit at the particular moment, or week or month or whatever. So, again, I set out early tonight as the little one and his mom are gone and I knew that if I sat in my esteemed and favorite chair to begin reading a book, it would be only a matter of minutes until my already heavy eyelids would close and close and bother me in their desire to sleep and I would fall that way and then, and then I would be hitting some serious sleep several or a few hours before I needed to go that way for the evening…so I went walking earlier than normal, as I’ve said.
And the smells of our desert winter Friday evening ranged from someone frying some kind of food with nice spices to accent the flavor or cover their wanting skill in the kitchen, the wonderful something or other that they were preparing in the Chinese restaurant kitchen down the road and around the corner…maybe the empress or emperor’s chicken with sweetened brown hot sauce and smothered deep-fried chicken chunks or something that hopefully isn’t cat or dog or something we don’t normally eat…but it does look like chicken when you tear it open or cut it in half…and I noticed when passing the mobile-home park down the road from our neighborhood that all the fan-palm trees were leaning southward…really, they’ve got that lean. I understand their reaching upwards to the sun, but I guess they have altered their stretch and yearn to the south where the sun is more direct, I guess, and not exactly overhead…and some of the passing vehicles on my rounds were very quiet, some mostly quiet, and only one or two that were loud enough to make me want to get out of the street and stay on the sidewalk as I pondered my life and the smells of my evening walk…and one of the louder trucks had an exhaust that was a bit rich and I could smell the heavy gas linger in the cooling evening air as I looked beyond the leaning palm trees and watched the flaming orange and pink clouds of this January sunset roll into themselves from their vaporous lines and trails and become fat-bottomed and darkening masses of pink and gray cotton batting that would coat the underside of our nighttime sky…as I smelled dryer sheets and dust that one of the neighborhood dogs was kicking-up on the other side of his gate in his feisty demonstrating and complaining that I should be trespassing in his line of sight or within earshot with my worn tennies occasionally scraping the asphalt or kicking a loosened pebble as I made my way past his house and along the road and track and measured pathway of my walking, as I pondered my life and smelled what the approaching night offered me…in the way of corn tortillas being warmed or cooked on the raw burner of someone’s stove…or others that were being stuffed with some type of carne or another and wrapped and fried in the Mexican food restaurant just around the same different corner as the Chinese restaurant.
There were oil stains in front of some houses that had and have been rented two and three and more times over the last several years and have yards with weeds sticking up through the gravel and plastic and gum wrappers and the blown G2 bottle from someone’s careless aim at an open-lidded garbage can/dumpster that was parked on the sidewalk, and another house that used to belong to a lawyer and her pool-builder husband and their clan of dark-skinned and beautiful children and their grandmother, that had a lighted multi-tiered fountain in their front yard and beautiful queen palms and ocotillos and a sweetly-clipped lawn and flagstone walkway now has dead palm trees that have folded-over onto themselves and collapsed in their dying onto the dirt that remains from the not-watered lawn that has broken and blown away and they used to have a parrot in a cage on their backyard screened-in porch that would talk and squawk in the sweet sunrising spring-time mornings…and many of the other homes do not have oil stains in front of their curbs and their winter lawns are manicured and coifed and otherwise trimmed to an obsessive’s perfection as the living room or family room lamps illumine and reflect into and through their decorated rooms and offer window-framed glimpses into their comfy sanctuaries as their white and spotted boxer stands at the security door and huffs while their own little ones run pell-mell through and around the kitchen and living room and “I told you to settle down already” mixes with the boxer’s huff and the pebble that rolled under my shoe as I consider my children and the drama of life and my daughters-in-law and sons and daughters and coworkers and my sisters and mother and the things and situations that I have passed-through and observed in my figurative times around the block and wonder again or marvel again at the pink and closing sky and remember the images and renderings from the book I just finished, The Good Soldiers, that chronicled a year in the life of a battalion of soldiers in Iraq and the horrors they endured every single day over there, the lives and limbs and dreams that were lost in what I and some others perceive to be a senseless war as my eyes tear-up again and my throat is tight as I swallow in the evening air, and wonder again at what is significant and what matters and how we can write hurtful words that express our deepest thoughts, our truest thoughts, and somewhere along the line we should have learned that we’re not supposed to do that…sometimes we aren’t supposed to tell the truth because it is going to hurt too much. We’re not supposed to say anything…we’re not supposed to write those things…we’re supposed to keep them to ourselves…we abhor the game, yet we commit ourselves to playing it to spare the others’ feelings…and the one soldier had both of his legs blown off above the knee and his one arm at the shoulder and his other arm just below the elbow and a piece of shrapnel tore off the bottom of his jaw and his ears and eyelids were burned off and his 19 year-old wife and his mother sat at his bedside for months hoping that he would again be the husband and son that he had been those six or eight months ago before he went off and fought his fight in a country that didn’t want him there and did their goddamned best to get rid of him and his buddies who had taken that oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all foes, foreign and domestic…so help me God…SO HELP ME GOD!!!
And I noticed the one house that has a huge satellite dish on its roof with an accompanying smaller dish right next to it and even an old-timey UHF/VHF television antennae close-by…they must be a multi-generational-multiple-television-technology-viewing household, and while there were a handful of houses that still had their Christmas lights affixed to their roof trim, doors, and landscaping, only one house still had their lights on…blue-ish white lights strung and twisted around the columns in front of their door…that blue-white light that looks like the projector-lamps that you see on some cars…Merry Christmas brought to you by after-market lighting…and my one daughter-in-law/daughter is due to deliver her first child in two days, and my other daughter-in-law who is due in June learned today that her spotting or bleeding is due to the placenta having attached itself to the interior side of her cervix…which isn’t supposed to happen…and bed-rest and no nookie and no picking-up of her other child and no scooting of the laundry basket down the hall…and really take it easy, so said the doctor…and it’s a boy…at 20 weeks along…five grandkids and only one girl…and the one soldier who said he fell in love with the Army because of the testimony and promises of brotherhood and the friendship of his recruiter, one of the guys who had been there to uncover the spider-hole where Saddam Hussein was hiding, this soldier received a letter from his mom or girlfriend telling him that his recruiter friend had killed himself…he couldn’t deal with the pain of what he saw and did over there…all these years later…and the second time around the block or measured mile brings a breeze and the smell of my wife’s perfume from my hoodie as the black and white long-haired cat scampers in a low-crawl from the front tire of the red suburban and up to the house where the people are always sitting on the bench outside their front door smoking in the dark…the cigarette smell is there, the glowing tip of their smoke in front of their face, and the productive cough that speaks of sand in the glass and the ticking and tocking of the clock of their life as the guy across the street from them grinds something or other in his garage, making a shower and cascade of orange-yellow-white sparks and noise as the SUVs and passenger cars and full-sized and mid-sized pick-up trucks come around the corner and pull into their respective driveways and garages beneath winter mesquite trees and mercury-vapor lights that reveal or otherwise prevent from hiding what might be hiding in the shadows as the pink is wholly gone from the western sky and a dense gray has come to take its place as the lights from the jet-liners appear in an arc in their blinking and circling from that northern pathway and down to and around the western city and into the metropolitan middle where there is a sky harbor in the middle of an asphalt and literal desert.
And holy mother of Buddha! It was 30 years ago tonight that I first held the soft hand of that 17 year-old, tall, blonde, and gray-eyed little-girl-young-lady who became my girlfriend and wife and mother of my six kids…and I thank you, Lori Kim, for your love and patience and wisdom and understanding and forgiveness and guiding hand in bringing me from where and what I used to be to where and what I am today. I do love you so….
What do we really mean when we say ‘I hope so?’ Do we use the word ‘hope’ so casually that we have diminished its fullest meaning, or is it another one of those enigmatic things like love, that defy definition and measure, even though we find it clearly described in dictionaries? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb form of ‘hope’ as: “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; trust; to expect and desire.” We hope we make it to the gas station before we run out of gas; we hope we win the lottery in tonight’s drawing; we hope our sick dog is soon restored to full health; we hope we can keep our same days-off at work in our annual shift re-bid; we hope our adult children can be happy in their new relationships; we hope our kids’ chicken-pox sores heal before they have their school pictures taken; we hope our wives or husbands get their businesses up and running and that all the years of work and sacrifice pay-off and that our collective dreams finally come true; we hope so many other things that would make our temporal lives or circumstances however much better…we hope….
And then…a new cancer treatment gives hope to those suffering from likely terminal conditions where nothing else works; we hope that we can rescue victims instead of recovering bodies from the mine collapse or plane crash; we hope our co-worker and friend gets back to Kansas City before her father passes-away; collective prayer among believers and a favorite passage or two or ten from their holy text gives them hope when facing the end of their biological lives that they will continue to exist in the hereafter…even when there is no scientific or empirical evidence to even suggest that such places exist, be they heaven or hell or something in between or beyond; and we hope so many other things that are coming to a final or terminal end.
When we hope against hope, we are hoping for something even though there is little or no chance of our wish being fulfilled; we are hoping with little reason or justification. Yet, we hope…again, for that eternal resting place above and beyond the stars with our Savior and family members and other loved ones and pets (really, pets?)…we hope beyond hope that a lifetime of unhealthy living and destruction of our own bodies will be bettered by technology and medical ‘miracles’ and that our loved ones’ bodies will continue to persist against the abuses that they have wrought against themselves…and when they live or die – and ‘whether’ they live or die, it’s somehow seen as ‘God’s will’ regardless of our hopes. Well then, in that overly broad context, isn’t every single possible thing boiled-down to His will? That’s kind of lame when there’s no differentiation between what is/was His will and what is or wasn’t. It sounds rather like a cop-out or an easy resignation because either way it happens, you say that it’s His will. Why not just call it fate then…just give-up any connection with the Big Guy whatsoever…just bring it down to what it really is…shit happens…good happens…stuff happens…life just freaking happens, whether we surrounded ourselves with prayer or didn’t…stuff just happens, and depending on one’s mindset, I guess, we can give all the credit to a meddling God who isn’t too busy with all the shit that’s happening in the universe, actually in the millions of universes out there…really big stuff, like keeping all those planets and stars stuck up there in their orbits or stellar placements, preventing all the black-holes from vacuuming every damn thing into themselves, keeping the planets, in our lifetimes anyway, from continuing in their expansions away from their stars at an even faster pace that would cause our little speck of dirt and water from freezing its inhabitants to death…we can give all the credit to that meddling God for the things that He does and doesn’t do in our little insignificant lives…or…we can accept that we are just another organism that managed to survive and reproduce and evolve/change into something that could withstand the environmental pressures and struggles long enough to get to where we are today…and whose continued existence is dependent upon what miseries and poisons and precautions or preventions that we manage to bring to and upon ourselves. In the billions of years of the universe’s existence and in the lesser billions of years in which life has existed on our planet and in the millions to hundreds of thousands of years in which bi-pedal type homo species have existed, our lives as the general type and specific species that we have become isn’t squat compared to the numbers of species that have come and gone in the eons before us…we’re just another bug in a jar…but our arrogance causes us to devise such quantities of illogical hope for something so far beyond our biology…just face it…we’re bags of bones and dirt and minerals and star-dust…that’s probably the closest we’re going to get to heaven…it was in our celestial origins that our ‘stellar’ elements combined to ‘create’ life as it exists here on our floating, orbiting, chunk of rock and water…and still we hope; we hope against hope and ask God to hit the ‘pause’ button on the laws of the universe, that some believe He created/devised, so that He can answer our prayers and make the sun stand still (pre-Galilean understanding of the cosmos), make disease-ridden bodies suddenly free of pathogens and associated damage, and cure the addict’s arrested brain chemistry and change him/her into a mature contributing member of society, etc. We somehow hope against all the laws of nature that God will hear our prayers…that’s rather arrogant of us, isn’t it? Doesn’t that speak of a specialness or consideration that isn’t warranted by our measly human insignificance in the broader context of all of our universes’ lifetimes and existences, that we should hope for such things and that they be granted by our God above? While “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things” (according to Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption) that might help us endure some shitty circumstances, ‘hopefully’ temporal ones, shouldn’t we be more reasonable in our hopes? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves within the scope of our existence? I would hope so….
What is the self that is not explored, a half-lived life, unknown, abhorred.
The chastening call of reflection –
I am unknown. There is
You know what I mean –
You’ve been there too.
Behold the guise behind which lies
The hidden part that seeks its not self.
You are unknown. Behind my face –
There is me. I am mixed.
It’s a loathsome hideaway.
Repentance made – there is no God to forgive.
The soul is the self all connected –
To one not me inside of another.
You flee. I am found.
Dark wing flies to the hidden shore
Of remembrance held, gone not away.
Be not still in your finding.
Long nights of trees and lost beginning.
Where did he hide the newling that was
Not yet? Don’t ask for it’s not had.
Where is the newling not yet?
Ask around the place she could have
Been made. How Past.
What strange thing. The fog uncovered in its
Thinning. The shadow shape unmisted, ungone.
You are weird. You are that I find. To see
Two ways. Unbecoming, am.
“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”