Yes, sometimes…after a very long hike when I’m falling asleep and it feels like my boots are still on and the trail is still beneath my feet…when the sounds of the forest whisper quietly in my mind…chuckling streams and the breeze flowing through pine needles and leaves…sometimes then…sometimes in the middle of the day after a Yesterday’s hike, images come unbidden, scenes flash before my mind’s eye as I’m reaching for a pen or typing words into the screen…a flower-speckled meadow, silvery snail tracks across the trail and morning dew on a spider’s web, white broad-petaled flowers tucked into the shadows swaying…craggy skylines, and waterfalls drumming-up a mist before my eyes….yes…sometimes….
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.
They rage sometimes in distant echoes, those ghosts of living in by-gone years…
…they sing and howl, sometimes, at atrocities lean and harsh that were wrought upon the land, scars that remain in hardened shadow form, of skeletons in brick and steel….
…and when the sun is down, they wonder in silent tones, sometimes, as evening light creeps low, as tiny eyes blink awake in their hollowed places, not hallowed…
…carts ring and clang on rails laid, earth’s treasures brought from below, man’s hand and mind are joined, sometimes, from pick to truck to refiner’s fire, to jewelers’ purses to ladies’ hands to settled estates, and then…
…and come around again to distant echoes and ghosts of living in by-gone years….
The skinny black man sat in his tumbledown chair and stretched his legs out long and long across the patio there. He was wearing a tattered straw hat that had a bright red and frayed ribbon laying droopily around the brim; it might have been attached at some point in its various pasts, the ribbon, but today it was laying loose against the hat’s crown with its thrice-tied knot to keep it all together with itself. A hot breeze stirred through the patio columns and caused the screen door to complain with a creaky voice at having to move so when it was content not to at this time of an afternoon and summer day.
“I tol’ you and your partner the other day that I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Peaches,” he said from below his hat brim. His mouth moved like he was holding pebbles inside his cheeks, keeping his lips all in a pucker and moving still; I couldn’t see his teeth, as they were hiding behind his fleshy and purple lips, but I knew from a young lady’s description, that he was missing top and bottom twins on the left side of his mouth. He had caught a tire iron or a bottle there during a mid-alley brawl on a last-July evening; said people started calling him “Kissy” after that because of the way he always pursed his lips when talking so nobody could see the remnant and damaged teeth within.
– I never said anything about Peaches, Kissy; I never told you who sent me looking for you; I just said I talked with someone….
“Well, I still don’ know nothin’ about her; ain’t seen her none, leastways not in a long time, not this summer anyways.”
– Well that’s ok, really, we don’t need to talk about her. We just need to get you to the clinic and take care of those spots on your hands, that’s all. You need some medicine, Kissy.
“Yeah, you tol’ me about that before, you and that other Lionel boy from your office, but I’m ok; Kissy’ll be jus’ fine. These spots come and gone once before and I ‘spect they’ll do the same again, so you can go on now, Doctor Scott, don’ try and reason with me none either, just leave me set here of an afternoon, cuz it’s too hot to move and I’m waiting on my check besides. So go on now…and if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’m goin’ to have myself a little nap….”
Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.
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, and then, 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?
The notes dropped softly into the quiet air of the darkened room, falling easily like thick snowflakes on a wintry and wood-smokey night. They slid sometimes in icy wonder up the scales and tinkled down again and pattered along the floor like a baby’s footsteps as he’s learning to walk, all wobbly-legged and unsure, patting his bare toes in sprinkled notes and laughs of fancy and then. They remind the man of a music box that used to sit on the shelf in other babies’ rooms in days and nights of a past that is thin and fleeting. Cars and cars pass and the furnace clicks on and a smell of warm dust and human dander swirls against the cold walls as another tune steps from the stereo and moves him further along and into the night. The muted lights from something moving on the quiet television that glow through his closed eyelids make him wonder for a second why it’s on, but then it doesn’t matter…as the notes keep rising and falling like a tiny heartbeat. A tiny heartbeat that is just below the other notes and endures with its tender strength and doesn’t go away even when the music ends, that one little note that lay underneath and within and kept on with its steady, un-fading ping ping ping ping, and then, that heartbeat. There is an Indian running swiftly in tinkling notes of raindrops and teardrops of gentle cadence, a rushing of golden tango-notes like freckles falling on a fair and tender face, and a person dining alone in a happy sadness that isn’t sad, with a movement and sway that comforts and soothes in its quietude. They are notes in their touching caress and the passing of the minutes and hours of a night that lure the man into a wakeful sleep where his heart beats slow and calm and there is nothing else, just the song.
Life changes as it does and sometimes brings with it a peace that goes beyond words. My new home and new environment have returned my soul to the place where it was born. It is not the same locale where I fell in love with the outdoors, but the geography and essence are the same. Gone are the big city and desert…and here are the mountains…and peace restored. These are some of my new favorite places:
Several years ago, a friend asked me to write something about my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the transition from employee to supervisor within our workplace, from 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher to Radio Supervisor. When contemplating the paper, I thought I would discuss the relationships with my immediate co-workers, the relationships with peer supervisors from other shifts, the relationship with my supervisor, the aspects of the performance of my job that my supervisor evaluated, the relationships that I had with my employees and the employees of other supervisors, both on my shift and other shifts, and related to and intertwined with all of the above, the political nature of written communication, things said and/or not said, actual and implied or perceived intent, and the ever-present need to actually consider and weigh one’s reaction to any other word, intent, omission, look, possibility, idea, etc..
After discussing the changes in relationships and interactions with all of the people in the workplace, and when considering those changes, there was also the immediately personal aspect to look at – my evaluation of myself inside myself, the changes in my thought processes that included moving from a solitary person to one of community and all that it entailed, i.e., what I lost and gained, etc. And then more – my thoughts of the bureau, the department, the officers, the citizens; my responsibilities to my co-workers, my employees, my boss, the department, the citizens; how my perspective of liability had changed or remained the same; my dedication to the job; my thoughts of other people’s dedication to the job; my sense of belonging and not belonging; it was just a job, a means to a nice paycheck that provided for my family and the commitment I had to making sure I deserved what the city gave me for compensation; and then my occasional thoughts of demoting, or other thoughts of trying for another promotion where I would supervise my then co-worker supervisors.
All of that processing of my transition within that particular workplace got my mind going in similar yet unassociated areas and caused me to wonder about the different and many transitions that one undergoes in a lifetime – which I then applied to myself and the many aspects and experiences of my own existence that have led me from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. My mind went in directions ranging from being an innocent in every sense of the word and passing into and through the stages of gaining knowledge that removed the innocence and replaced it with experiences that changed me forever, even if only in the slightest ways. My thoughts wandered, then and now – if I’m going to have this current and up-to-date, down the trails of my childhood turning into adolescence and adulthood; the paths that led me from the Air Force to the health department, from the health department to the police department, and from there to my present workplace in another health department in an altogether different state and locale; from carelessness to concern, or selfishness to awareness; the journey from being a solitary person, as I mentioned earlier, to one who out of necessity or yearning became one of community with a participatory audience, be it large or small; the change from being a young father with little children to being an older father with young and older children; from being a Believer to being a non-believer or disbeliever…and…. So I wondered at change and transition.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to another article about a man who tossed caution to the wind and left his steady and secure job that paid well, but wasn’t fulfilling, and bought a boat and started a charter business and sailing school…and changed his life. He left the security for something he loved, something that spoke to or moved his “soul” or the core of his being. And I thought of transitions again and still. I thought of how I have done something similar to the guy who “quit” his former job and bought a boat so he could pursue his dreams, however unsteady they might have been. I thought of pursuing a simpler life, one less complicated, without and within, one that was rewarding and fulfilling and wrought with a different and compelling potential that didn’t exist in another place, for me and mine, anyway. I thought of how making that change will cause other transitions to occur within me as so many transitions and changes were occurring outwardly in my life.
Yes, I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but I actually look forward to going to work in the morning. I also look forward to waking and seeing that big beautiful mountain down at the end of my street, knowing that at the end of my work week, or even some afternoon after work, I will be out there driving or hiking among its hills and valleys, listening to its streams trickling or rumbling over its rocks, and hearing its scolding squirrels and singing birds touching the otherwise quiet and clean forest air. No…the monetary rewards won’t be there at work; I’m not going to be rich or even “well-to-do” after working there…but then I don’t have dreams of making millions. I’m looking for peace that lives within.
So the other day, when I was in the turn-lane to merge into the lane of traffic that was going to take me out and into Mill Creek Canyon, I suddenly saw and heard, racing toward me, three police cars in a line with their lights and sirens going full blast, “Code-3,” with a fourth one coming a minute or so later, flying so fast that they shook my truck in their passing. In my mind, and in my memory that has formed over the past eleven years, that many cops heading in the same direction, so close together, with lights and sirens screaming and blaring, could only mean one thing…someone got shot…some police officer got shot and the others were driving there as quickly as they could so they could render aid and catch the bad-guy. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
The view of the big beautiful mountain in front of me was suddenly absent as my former life and concerns came crashing and screaming into my very real and present and different life. I almost went back to my apartment to await the news flash on the television. But, I didn’t. I did, however, ask the mountain “Why?” and then sat there for another half-minute or so before venturing out into the traffic on the road that would take me away from my immediate concern and anxiety and out into the green embrace of that lush and welcoming “other world” that exists a few miles down the road from the everyday. I did watch the news that night, which I normally don’t do…and…regarding all the cops in a line with their lights and sirens and my imagined tragedy that struck or befell those brothers in blue…nothing. It was a “Big Fat Numba-Three.”
And today, with the “new employee” orientation that touched on emergency preparedness and the talk of 800MHz radios and interoperability and incident command and chain-of-command and what if our cell-phones won’t work and the radio towers are down and they’ve got two new fancy trucks with mobile antennas for the radios and stored rations and a cache of this and a cache of that and a 72-hour kit and we need to get help to those in need and 9-1-1 will be out of business and so will we and…and…what does all of this have to do with gonorrhea?
So…I am still somewhere in-between the past and the present, the “used-to-be” and the “is.”
I set out early and found that the sun was already risen and over the far ridge by the time I got out onto the trail. Although I had passed the trail-head probably half a dozen times or more, I had never been this particular way before. A steep path and rocks and scrub oak with their tiny, shiny acorns greeted me and caused me to wonder at the endurance that I had only a few weeks ago when I could and would play racquetball for three hours at a time. The intense climbing soon had my lungs and legs burning as I continued up the trail. Above and beyond me, the foothills and mountains rose in their way, causing a beautiful backdrop of scenery for my hike.
By the time I seriously needed a breather and had reached a relatively flat stretch in the trail, I came across and older man who was also catching his breath and admiring the view. We greeted each other cheerfully and commented on the hike and the scenery. He asked me how far I was going and I responded that I didn’t know yet. I’d never been on the trail before, I told him, so I was just going to walk until I needed to come back. We stood there for another five minutes or so as he told me the names of the reservoirs I would encounter on the trail, which way to turn if I wanted to go to such and such a place, etc. After another couple of minutes of talking about the area and the trail, he introduced himself to me by name and said it was nice to meet me…on a hike out on a trail in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Utah.
We parted ways and I continued on my morning hike. I soon found the first reservoir the man had mentioned and took the easternmost trail that skirted the lake and was up against the gaining mountain. I sloshed through the soggy, rich black earth and new grass and then found the dirt and rocky trail that led off and into the forested heights onto and along the mountain.
As I marched up and down the trails and looked at the hills and mountains around me, always searching for a good spot for a photo, I thought about my life and family and choices and preparations and how I would share with my Little One how to find the words to describe his feelings when he was alone or amazed or overwhelmed by whatever life was bringing him.
I thought about perspective and problems and turmoil and how the squirrels left behind a pile of shredded leaves and husks after they got the seeds out of a pine-cone. I pondered the folding of the mountains into cups and ridges and rocky slabbed sides on their ever reaching heights. I thought about pleasures in life that remain and don’t, about what today is and has been in the past several years, and about what the future holds for me and my family. I thought of those words again that I’d share with my Little One that come from the core of our being and know pain and suffering and joy like the heights of these mountains, of a close communing with the heart of a loved one, and the peace that comes sometimes when looking out over mountain ranges that help define perspective.
And then I remembered the words of a friend of mine when he said, “Climb a beautiful mountain for me.” Here you are, Sir Byron. And thank you.
My ears are still ringing and my head is still buzzing or humming from the road-wind and travel and my arms and legs can still feel the pulling and turning and little bumps in the roadway that have embedded themselves into the corporeal memory of my day and afternoon. We have traveled, I and me, from the south to here again and have resumed the new habits and routine that have become mine in these last days and week. I have returned to here from there, from my home and home to this place of preparation and waiting. The long road and miles took me back to that place that has been mine and ours for these many years, that place of rest and sanctuary from the world and its assailing us and me. I have found myself here again after being there for only a couple days and my mind is still there as these keys type and start and stop and wonder at the words as they come and go and form and don’t and retype themselves as the clothes tumble in the dryer and I wonder at who’s sleeping and not. I wonder at who has cried today and not. I wonder at the quiet here and the eyes in the pictures and the empty pillow and the couch that used to be there in our bedroom and is now here in my living room. It’s tall and large and greenish golden brown and fit in that first and intended place and is now huge in its occupying of space and then. It looks like it belongs somewhere else as I think of tomorrow and the people who will be in mine and the other people’s tomorrows in which I will not be in substance and form.
Words came to me in the turning of the wheels and the passing of the wind and sahuaros and stands of shoulder-high sunflowers in their patchiness and grounded and monster junipers with their blue-berried cones all jumping and a-gaggle in their hodge-podge placement and positioning on the hills and passing landscape with the prickled-pears and cow-tongued cacti that clung neatly and a-jumbled along the side of the carven hillsides that bound and bordered that twisting ribbon of concrete and asphalt for those many miles from there to here. Those many miles that spoke in sundry tongues and painted images with their palate of words and thoughts that fled in happenstance at and in their impermanence, their scattered thoughts and round again and between glimpses at the guardrail and the mountains that command in their presence, Do come and stay and make anew that home and home and prepare the way for those to follow like the earlier pioneers who made their trails and forded streams and were the first and first as they went away.
I pondered the thought of this not being home yet and the gentle pressing of keys that told of hating the place where lonely lives, that ghosted realm of things and people gone from where they used to be, gone from where they’ve always been and not within reach or touch or the distance of a cross-room glance, but gone…and it lives alone there and waits the knocking door, the familiar step, the simple look, and the…rolling tears and the empty chair.
And the images of faces known and voices left behind, those Sunday mornings of yesterday and what they held and laughter and friends and none await me yet and the past is full and the present bare and the mountains beckon me and tell me that they will be my first friend here, as I think of my first friend there and my last one, too, and note the passing of time that was short and the leaving soon…and here we are, wondering at what tomorrow will bring.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you might remember the posts Daydream, To go Away, The Remove, The Stuff of Life and…maybe not. I suppose it doesn’t matter, either you’ve read them or you haven’t, either you know me or you don’t, and that probably doesn’t matter either. Run, run, run away….
Life is moving hard and fast in the direction of great change. I am on the brink of leaving what I have known for ten and twenty years and starting all over again somewhere else, returning to a slightly familiar place where I will no longer be a visitor and returning to an occupation that I have once loved and hope to fully embrace again. I will not be a novice this time around, but things will be so different and in such a different place that my experience will only be a foundation for new learning.
The excitement of the past few weeks and the anticipation they held have been tucked under the emotional costs that I will soon pay for making the change. Rather, the excitement has been tucked under the “realization” or “coming to fullness” in acknowledging that cost, naming the faces that I will be leaving behind for good. Yes, I will be leaving my spouse and children for a time, but I will see them at intervals over the next few months, and the expectation is only that we’ll be separated for six months at most…but given the realities of life as I leave a part of it behind me and the circuits in which the loved ones travel, there is a strong likelihood that the six months will become only three or four and we will be joined again in our family fullness. The others, though, the friends and co-workers who have become special over the past years will likely be left behind in those worlds of our collective past where we existed together. Sure, we’ll see each other on Facebook and in occasional or seasonal emails and cards, but the truth and reality of life will probably dictate that we are going to exist more as memories than participants in our continuing lives. That is what the past tells me, anyway, those other laps around the proverbial block.
A week or so ago I went to dinner with two old and dear friends from a previous time in my life. The occasion for the dinner was to have one last get-together before I launched out into that other city and state that will likely be my home until I am no more. We had a nice couple of hours together, eating chips and enchiladas and drinking beer while we shared new stories from our lives since we parted and recounted memories from our time together. And when the evening was done and we all drove away in our different directions to our separate sides of town, it struck me that we had already parted. We had already made that divide of hearts and emotions and this new parting wasn’t sad, which at first struck me as sad in itself, but then just left me feeling a little empty somehow, like maybe anticlimactic, or post-climactic, if that’s an appropriate word. In truth, I guess that’s what it was. We had already parted; we had really already said goodbye. We had shed our tears eleven years earlier when I had first left them in our common workplace and had gone on to my new one. Even though we met probably half a dozen times or more in these past years, the hurt of the leaving had already been felt, we have already mourned; it’s done already…and it’s time for that whole experience to happen again with another group of people…another group of friends. We are cutting the cords, the ties that have bound us to each other for these past and passing years. I suppose I am cutting the cords and ties. It is my action, again, that is doing this, and then goodbye…. You have peopled my world, tugged on my heart, and will now live on in my memories and occasional contacts. I miss you already.
In that solitude there will be quiet and pain and the tinkling of only one spoon in the cup, one plate on the table, and only one head on the pillow. Shared voices will be found only on the telephone or in the crisp letters that travel through space and time and appear on a computer screen in an email at home and back and on the tiny text page of the phone. The nuances of expression will be gone and nobody else will wake with my stirring. The sounds of breathing will be my own and the thoughts abounding will all sound familiar.
And I am here and finally and up in the great northern place to which I have been yearning for all these months and weeks and days. I found myself here yesterday afternoon after only four hours’ sleep and about ten hours driving and the wind was blowing and the sky clouded with the salt plumes from the northern part of the landed city. I was hungry and tired and actually worn-out with what I had just done and I wondered what the hell I had actually done. I wondered if things were a mistake and I hadn’t even started the adventure. I’ll correct that…I have begun the adventure, as I have left family and friends and have stepped into the great and wide unknown that is up Here.
The wind has ceased in its craziness and is now just a strong breeze. The morning was quite chilly as I waited for the guy to arrive and connect the cable and internet services. I had the door open in waiting for him, along with the windows to create a cross-breeze that would do better at cooling the apartment than the central air-conditioning. And the day is now in its winding-down stages, coming to an end with only the evening remaining. My “house” is now as furnished as it needs to be to sustain me for these months, minus a chair-side table to hold my drink or remote, but otherwise, operational and looking something like a home, as it is known in the common sense.
I am feeling further out of sorts in my new surroundings. “Discombobulated” is a good word, I think. I know where I am, know why I am here, know where everyone else in my family is, and know when they will be joining me, but even with the familiar things in my little apartment home, the great outside is so different, the apartment is different, there are no pets, no kids, no wife, no backyard and no pool, and no police radio echoing in the background of my mind as I sit here in my late Sunday afternoon. I am feeling disjointed and un-centered…out of whack, out of sorts, half a bubble off plumb (in my life orientation, not my sanity), and maybe even like a ship without a rudder. I think that might speak to more serious problems than I really have going for me at the time, but it almost fits. I feel off. My bride told me that I should go for a drive or a hike to remind myself of the wonderful things that are here for me despite the aloneness I mentioned to her when we wrote each other earlier. So I did that…I went for a drive…down to Smith’s…where I had been so off kilter earlier that I left part of my groceries and other items there when I walked out of the store. I kept going, afterward, of course…drove southward down State Avenue to its end…some two or three towns south of my current home…my home away from home, my new home in transition from my old home…the home that I will call mine until my family gets up here in a few or several months…and then.
And later…I am in that strange and other place now and have left behind those I love and hold dear in different ways. It is a strange place and kind to my previous desert-dwelling soul, with morning kisses of chilly and promising breezes. My new home is only temporary, but it is and shall be my lodging and launching point as I head out into the wild beyond that shall nourish and sustain me until loved ones arrive in their time. There are familiar things here in this new and quiet place: my chair and music and pots and pans, the loving faces on the wall that have followed me and smile into my eyes as they will.
The quiet here is familiar, yet new and thick; there are no voices in the place, no cats to meow; only my thoughts populate these several walls. I should allow here that there are now voices and sounds, however, but they belong to people I haven’t met or seen; they only walk past my opened windows and talk as they get into the vehicles with the slamming doors and drive away to places I don’t know. The footsteps and sounds of a bath above me are from strangers, too. They are not of my children or kin and they exist as sounds only in this new world of my making.
Tomorrow will dawn and direct and urge me into another familiar unknown place and occupation. It will present new strangers to me and introduce new worlds that are waiting to be born. Time in its marching, plodding, and shuffling-along will open other doors, reveal new or different pathways, and bring experiences and lessons and stories of different shapes and hues.
“Goodbye brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas with a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.” – Joseph Conrad
“Here lies my past. Goodbye I have kissed it; Thank you kids. I wouldn’t have missed it.” – Ogden Nash
“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” – Robert Southey
“Can miles truly separate you from friends…. If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there? – Richard Bach
“Not to understand a treasure’s worth till time has stole away the slightest good, is cause of half the poverty we feel, and makes the world the wilderness it is.” – William Cowper
“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” – George Eliot
“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.” – Nicholas Sparks
“You and I will meet again – when we’re least expecting it – one day in some far off place – I will recognize your face – I can’t say goodbye my friend – for you and I will meet again.” – Tom Petty
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” – Flavia Weedn
“As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.” – Alcibiades
“Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.” – Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” – Kahlil Gibran
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel
“Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the parting sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart.” – Washington Irving
“If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk forever in my garden.” – Claudia Ghandi
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard to do.” – Carol Sobieski & Thomas Meehan
In the age-old conversation about work and life, are you one of those lucky or fortunate ones who stumbled upon or pursued and captured the job that drives your passions, or is driven by your passions? Did you have that childhood dream become a reality, and now, in your adulthood, you wake each day and can’t wait to get to your job because you just absolutely love it…because it so fulfills you, rewards you, or gives you the satisfaction at the end of the day in knowing that you participated in something that was so much bigger than yourself, or that you touched at least one life in a way that will be felt positively by that one life for their life’s duration? Or did you wake in the night and rise to embrace your creative dream and not stop until you were famished and your strength gone as you beheld the object of your creation and were able to say “Yes, I did that, I made that, I created that…and the world, or my own corner of it anyway, is all the better because I did so”? Is that you? Is that me? Or are we in the middle of a muddle where we just get up everyday and go to our jobs, walk the walk, go through the motions and maybe even have moments where we actually care about what we’re doing, maybe only to be rewarded every other Friday with a few more bones, or many more bones in our checking account? Or worse, are you in a job or place that you can’t stand, but you’re too numbed by your personally dissociated indifference to do anything about it? Is your job killing your sense of who you are or want to be? Have you resigned yourself to the daily grind and live only for the paydays that finance your weekends and postponed or neglected dreams? How do you live then? How do you do that? How do you surrender yourself so completely to someone else’s bidding? For the money only? Are we whores, then, when we resign ourselves to such a life, sacrificing our bodies, health, our minds, dreams, or our very souls, for that paycheck? What would we trade or willingly sacrifice, to have a job that we love, so that it is no longer work, but actively living and flourishing in ourselves and our dreams as we participate in that “making a living?” What would we sacrifice so that we don’t have to surrender…and what do we become if we don’t?
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….
The clouds forgave me for my shortcomings and unrealized dreams from their heights, and they did so without the condescension one might expect from someone or some thing of their station or stature. They acknowledged my temporal eternity and honored my striving. They hung up there in their desert afternoon in their high lightness and form. I gazed beyond the queen-palms’ efforts at obscuring their slow dance and noticed they were standing with an earthly stillness in that solitary spot above me. They moved not in their hanging there. They were beyond the effects of any high-minded breeze or jet-stream, like a kite stuck in a dream that had reached its height on the wings of a storm and had then become frozen in its ever place. So they forgave me, as I said, for the many things at which I have failed or fallen short…and for my impractical dreams and dreams and then. They told me that it’s ok, whatever it is and was. I can try again. I can dedicate myself anew to my pursuits and responsibilities. The dirt of the past is done. They said this as they started to shift, though, so I’m not sure I can believe them. They said this as their ethereal mass began to dissipate and their bodies became only mist with a thinness that belied their certainty. Their substance was fleeting, as was my confidence in their sentiment. I began to doubt their sincerity and wondered if I should believe in them or no. I think this may have irritated them, for they started to move together again, to join again unto their parted selves. Their furrowed brows darkened in their gathering and they moved with heavy footsteps. I heard their grumbling in the distance and wondered if it was at me that they were scowling and then. I had only doubted them. I had only questioned them as they began to flee after being so sure of themselves, as they were so insistent that my soul was salvageable. How could their confidence abide in me when their substance was so weak as to not be able to withstand the breeze? How could I trust their assertions when they couldn’t keep it together long enough for me to look to them for support from that one moment to the next? Their black and creasing brows continued to gather on that outside part of my periphery and the sky was soon dark in their brooding. The sun was inching itself away from them as they came together again in a mass of anger and self-righteousness. They fought in their glances and speared looks. They hurled insults on the breeze and tossed the winds upwards and down again. Dirt and detritus they caught in their absent hands and cast at my delicate skin and eyes, blinding and stinging me in their driven anger and storm. I thought they would have been more objective in their protesting, in their dissertation on slight and ignorance, but they weren’t. They were as insulted as I had originally been relieved in their forgiveness of my frail and human self. Their scorn became arrow-like darts of light and flash; indeed, they were brazen and razor-sharp piercings of my skin and soul. They flew in their rage and black cavernous hate and stacked themselves anvil-like in a column of evil air and haughty turbulence. Had I seen through their façade when I doubted them? Had I roused their ire when I questioned their ability to be steadfast in a storm? I waited for them to get over themselves, those miserable black and gristly clouds, those temporal harbingers of fright and concern. I stood there in defiance of their anger and shot my own scornful black-eyed gaze into their bursting souls and surprised myself and them. They broke into tears and sobs of quaking anguish and sorrow as their black hearts emptied into the gray evening and they lightened in their form. Moments and hours passed and the sun was down and the black was gone in the breeze of their passing. Those vaporous beings that were so sure of themselves and angry in their confidence were indeed light and frail, just like me. Their substance was mist and their temporal hearts were tender. They possessed and gave life in their coming and going and asked only to be believed-in, to be trusted, and then, those clouds in their desert sky.
My name is Josef Müeller and I can remember when I was a child and used to run the path behind the town where I lived in Germany. The town was called “Bischofsdhron” and was named such because it was located near the ruin of a castle that had, in centuries passed, been occupied by a bishop of some renown. I can’t speak to the town’s acreage or square-kilometer coverage, but I know we entered the town after crossing a stream at the bottom of a hill and proceeded up the hill, taking the main road, to an intersection of sorts where we could proceed or turn one of three different directions and exit the town into the various meadows and hillsides or forests that were found along the town’s borders.
If one were to continue in the direction of the main road, which my memory of the various awakenings and settings of the sun would indicate to be southward, one would take a lesser-used road, Idarwaldstrasse, past the sportsplatz and into the forest where one would encounter even less-traveled logging trails that led to only god-knows-where. I do know that my friends and I found a set of railroad tracks and more forest in that southern direction during our several wanderings, but we never came upon another town or settlement of any sort.
Proceeding westward from that particular intersection, we would pass what my parents and other adults referred to as “knob hill.” I don’t know that I was ever made privy to the reasoning behind the rubric, and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than it did then…unless the people who lived up there were a bunch of dick-heads…but, I don’t know. The road or street we lived on, Sonnenstrasse, which led to a neighboring town named “Morbach,” passed several other homes where the Americans lived. It also passed the house of the Burgermeister, or mayor, of the town. If I remember correctly, the man was rather old and stooped and gray-haired. He was also something more of a symbol than an actual participating entity in the town’s affairs. I was told that his daughter did more governing or directing than he did.
I have wondered how strange I might have appeared, as a German nine year-old, wearing my cut-off blue-jean shorts and a yellow t-shirt, pulling an American G.I. Joe jeep and trailer by a string, as I headed out of Bischofsdhron one summer morning, walking the Morbach road. I think I may have seemed a bit odd. I might have looked rather “American” in my German-ness…or maybe it looked like my mother was German and my father was in the American military, stationed at the base nearby…whatever it was or appeared to be, it was just me wearing American clothes that I had gotten from the charity box at church and playing with American toys that I had received at the German-American community’s friendship toy-drive Christmas party a few months earlier. Anyway, the G.I. Joe was dressed in full camouflage gear with his black combat boots, shiny green helmet and plastic brown rifle, sitting behind the steering wheel, and appeared to be driving the WWII jeep that was pulling a trailer that contained a tripod-mounted rocket or bomb launcher. I don’t remember if there was another G.I. Joe in the passenger seat or not, but we were going to Morbach. I don’t know why I chose to make the journey, either, but it was summer and there was little else to do. Another little tidbit is that the road to Morbach passed through a forest where rabid bats were known to live. Whether that was a rumor supported by truth or entirely fabricated is unknown to me. What I do know, however, is that I spent several long minutes looking skyward, craning my neck and squinting my eyes to see if I could find any bat-like creatures hanging in the branches of the oh-so-tall pine trees that lined the Morbach road.
Anyway, again, I’m telling a story here, or making a confession, really, and it has nothing to do with the Morbach road or my pulling a jeep anywhere with a little string. It also has nothing to do with that time my friends and I stole two kilos of bratwursts from the metzgerei, or butcher-shop, and ran off into the woods to roast them wonderfully and deliciously over a fire made of pine branches…. Ahh…we stood there watching their skins split and turn dark brown and then black as the juices dripped into the fire and made that greasy smoke that clings to your hair and clothes for hours afterward, telling the world and our parents and the metzler’s son what we professed we didn’t do on a certain springtime Saturday afternoon. That’s another story and one that doesn’t deserve much in the way of confessing. Not today, anyway. I’m just giving you the setting, that’s all, so you can understand or see where I was, maybe.
So, there was a path that ran the length of what I understand to be the western edge of Bischofsdhron. In some places it was cobbled, but mostly it was a white-ish crushed rocky kind of sandy stuff that had broken slate and shale mixed in with the dirt. Maybe it was decades-old construction detritus that had been swept in between the buildings and crushed and worn into a walkway over the years…I don’t know…but it started as something like an walkway or narrow alley behind or near the town’s primary school and led to the bottom of the hill, again appearing as an alley or pathway that came out from between two buildings that fronted another road that also led to Morbach. This road took a course at a lower elevation and entered the town from the northeastern to slightly northern border. The majority of the path skirted our town, having the backyards and gardens or backs of houses to the right (east) and empty fields or rolling hills on the left, or western side. As the path re-entered the town proper, it passed between a couple houses and a rickety, aged storage-shed that resembled more of an out-building from a no-longer existent barn or farm complex.
I had passed the houses and shed dozens of times on my way to and from the bus stop on schooldays and during the innumerable weekend and summer-time forays throughout the town and its surrounding countryside and hills and forests. The wooden planks that comprised the sides and door of the shed had been bleached gray by the elements and were barely held in place by a remnant of rusted nails and twisted wire. The bottom edges of the planks had been gnawed by rodents or had otherwise been chipped and were rotting away and any passerby could see some rags or old clothes or other manner of fabric material that was being stored or had been discarded in the shed.
On this particular day, as I was hiking up the path, I turned and looked into the window of the house on my left and saw an older man in a faded and dingy whitish gray tank-type t-shirt holding-on to a little boy’s arm with one hand and hitting him with the other, bashing him in the head and shoulder and arm as the kid ducked and thrashed and squirmed and tried to block the assault. The man’s free hand wasn’t open…the fingers were curled into a fist and his arm was cocked-back as his eye caught my movement through the window. He lowered his arm and turned to face me full-on…watery, red-rimmed eyes swimming in their hate and rage, glaring at me now, forgetting for an instant the little boy in his other hand. He yelled through the window at me – “What are you looking at, arshloch?!” The boy turned, as well, and I saw his crying and pleading eyes and reddened cheeks and bloodied nose. I felt his heart pounding in mine and could smell the old man’s rage and sweat and filthy breath filling the tiny room, suffocating the little one’s desires to do anything but survive the moment. In that instant of wondering why the man had called me an ass-hole, I kept my eyes fixed on his and started to turn my body to walk away, but my foot slipped on the slate and sandy dirt of the slanted and sloping pathway and I lost my balance. I fell sideways and back and crashed into the ancient shack on the other side of the narrow track. A board broke and my hand slid along the rough surface, picking-up splinters and scraping the skin from my palm and forearm as I tried to keep myself from falling full-length onto the slate and other rocks in the pathway. I regained my balance and looked back into the window as I reached blindly for my school bag. All I could see was the boy’s back as the man dragged him through the doorway and out of my view. There were muffled shouts that came out from the other room and back into the little kitchen where I had first seen the man and boy. As I stood there and looked through the window at the remnants of sausage and potato on their dinner plates, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said, but I heard the boy cry-out a couple times after particular shouts from the man and what I thought was the smacking of a hand on flesh. Memories and sensations of dread and having done something wrong crashed through my mind and added to the pounding in my chest. My father had done the same to me many times and I’m sure it wouldn’t have sounded any different if some passerby had been close enough to our house to hear it when it happened. Their rage was the same, the other man and my father…and it looked the same as it fell on the boy and me…from our fathers.
A few days later, I happened to pass through that alley pathway again. I walked slowly and listened carefully before I rounded the corner and turned up and into the walkway that led between the boy’s house and the shed. I don’t know where the thought came from…other than from having witnessed the boy getting a beating those few days before, but for some reason, I decided to light a match to the cloth that was sticking-out from beneath the worn and tattered edge of the shed. Aside from my anger at the boy’s father…and my own, I’m sure, I can’t imagine what other motive would have possessed me to do so. I knew the dangers of playing with matches. I had received a couple beatings for merely lighting them in the house while my parents were outside or somehow occupied and out of my sight. I was nine years-old and knew what fire could do, yet I lit the rags anyway and sped off, pumping myself up the hill as fast as I could, out of the alley pathway and beyond.
I don’t remember the events immediately following that particular afternoon’s misdeed and I can’t recall how long I waited to make a trip up or down that walkway again, but eventually I did. There were no longer any rags or clothes visible from the path side of the shed, and given the fact that I was the hoodlum who had started the fire, I knew well enough not to linger too long or show too much interest in whatever I happened to pass in this particular juncture of the alley or passage. My hasty survey of the damage showed that the bottom 18 inches of the shed door had been burned in a near triangle-shaped pattern that didn’t seem to have burned very long. The man, or boy, or someone must have seen the smoke from their back window and rushed outside to extinguish the fire.
One might say that I’m lucky I didn’t get caught. I do feel a certain level of doubt that I would have survived the beating I would have received if I had been discovered. That’s probably too strong of a statement regarding my father’s harsh treatment of me when I was a child, but it might be more accurate than I’ll ever know. I feel fortunate, today, to have found that the fire was no more extensive than it was those many years ago. Considering the proximity of the other buildings along the path, the results could have been much worse. And I wonder, still…what does it mean that I set fire to the shed? What outcome was I hoping for that afternoon? What was I looking for…why did I do it? Could it have been the desire to burn those images of hate and rage from my memory, or was there some deeper drive or force that compelled me to do something that I knew was so wrong?
One of the defining characteristics of the human animal is that of self-awareness, being able to understand the notion that we are an individual entity, a separate person, and are different and exist apart from other individual people and animals, or other given entities…we have a sense of “me” or “I,” and are likewise able to name “you” and “they” and “other.” When we look at those others and others who populate our lives, who accompany us in our temporal existences, we see and understand those others in the roles they play and the contexts in which they abide, sometimes as a continuous presence, and other times as singular or occasional appearances or presentations. We identify people and sometimes think of them only within the contexts that they appear in our lives. We forget that the mail-carrier is a mom or dad, sibling, child, or college class-mate of other people. They aren’t just the people who drive around in those little ass-backward steering-wheeled white jeep-type-truck things that deliver our bills and catalogues and letters and junk-mail…they are people who exist as we do, getting up in the morning, showering and shaving (?), making or buying coffee to drink on the way to work, rushing home or to the day-care provider to pick-up their child after work, buying groceries on their day-off…all those things, just like us…but we usually see them only in the roles they play. It makes us pause for a second to see the mail-carrier or postal employee who we normally only see behind the counter at the post office walking down the aisle in the grocery store in non-postal-worker clothes. They catch our eye and we search our brains for a second and then realize who they are…and we wonder for a second second if it’s weird that the postal employee buys Mountain Dew.
How often do we think about ourselves in relation to the others in our lives? How often do we see ourselves or examine ourselves as our siblings’ sibling, our parents’ child, our supervisor’s employee, or our employees’ supervisor, our child’s mom or dad, our neighbor’s neighbor, our professor’s student? When we do actually do that, though, what do we see? Who are we or what are we like as that “other” person in another person’s life? If we were to look outwardly from within their eyes, what and who would we see when we looked at ourselves? What things or aspects of ourselves would we still find appealing…what things would we suddenly not like…could we stand to be around ourselves if we were actually someone else watching us or living as a family member or co-worker of ourselves? How would we describe ourselves through that other person’s eyes? And then, how have we acted in the past to make them see us as they do…? What would they identify as our strengths and weaknesses? Where would they say we need improvement? Where would we say we needed improvement if we looked at ourselves, if we watched our interactions with others through those others’ eyes? Could we stand ourselves? Would we call ourselves a phony, a two-faced bitch, a back-stabber…or someone who was genuine, dependable, sincere, and respectful…all while being real?
What about when we look at ourselves through our own eyes? Who are we when we examine ourselves in the roles that we play? Who is that person who exists behind the façade of “Dad,” or “brother,” or “spouse or husband,” or “employee,” or “friend,” or “coworker”? How much of our true selves do we reveal to the other people in our lives? Do the characteristics that combine to make us “Dad” or “Mom” show themselves when we are in settings that demand that we conduct ourselves as “employee” or “boss” or “neighbor” or “student” or “bank-customer” or “citizen who got pulled-over by a cop for doing 45 in a 30”? Does our real persona show itself in all the social contexts in which we move and exist? When a person looks at us in one role, are they able to see or know how we behave or exist in one or all of the other contexts of our lives? Are we shallow in some settings and deep in others; are we obtuse or dense in crowded public settings and witty and intelligent in more private settings; are we tough and strong in one place and weak and needing protection in another; are we confident and fearless at work and meek and doubtful at home; or are we arrogant and cock-sure in front of our friends or at work in front of our employees and coworkers, but really a “fraidy-cat” when we’re home and among our intimates where we can let-down our guard? Are we really unsure of ourselves, unconfident, unfocused, unbalanced, lost and wandering in our deepest soul, but we put-on the opposite face and appearance when we’re out with anyone else and everyone else who crosses our path, intimates, familiars, or strangers?
So, who are you when the world looks away and you are only accountable to yourself? When the day is done and the house is quiet and you are alone with your thoughts and reflections, examinations and recriminations…who are you as you sit there in the dark and wonder at the faces on the wall, the family portraits and school pictures whose members’ faces are staring at you and the beyond…who are you? What ghosts come loose from their hiding places and moorings and remind you of the dreams that you put on hold or forsook for whatever reason? What pieces of yourself that you sacrificed along the way come out in the dark and dance and wave their hands and banners of “What about Me?” and ask where you went; where did you hide the promises you made to yourself about the things you’d do when…? And what injured child of yourself crawls into your lap and wonders what you learned since you were your own little self…and asks you why you didn’t do things differently?
Who did you turn-into as you were becoming who you have become? Who are you?
Do you ever wonder sometimes, or have you ever wondered what your life would be like if the words went away? Not all words, really, and not anyone else’s words, just yours. What would your life be like if you no longer had the ability to express yourself with words, if they were gone, somehow? And no, not if you simply didn’t have the desire to speak with anyone, or otherwise communicate with them, any particular someone or other somebodies, but across the board, what would your life be like if you lost the ability to simply express yourself with words, as if they vanished from your brain somehow, in concept, in application, in their entirety…gone. I had this thought this morning as I was making my way back from another bike ride along the waterway that I wrote about in Skunk Creek Crossing a few weeks ago. I was looking over the watered and watery plain that exists within the confines of the natural and man-made walls of the river or creek bed and was discussing with myself the many colors of green and brown and velvety silvery gray and yellow and pink and orange and others that were within my view and wondered suddenly how I would feel if I couldn’t describe them as such. I wondered how my life would be so different than it is now if I couldn’t express myself with words…again, not just any words, but mine. I was drawing up one of the last hills that would bring me to the Rio Vista Community Center with its fountain and desert flora, playground, picnic area, etc, when the thought came to me. I almost had to stop riding for a second there as the magnitude of what just occurred to me began to sink in, as it nestled itself and drew its roots down into the fiber of my being and the curiosity became more of a frightening worry as those colors fled past me in my riding, as they moved from my suddenly unfocused forefront and into and beyond the periphery of my view as my words worked themselves frantically to describe themselves and themselves and what they were and meant to me. They struggled against the pumping of my legs as I shifted into a lower gear and pumped faster and harder to make the top of the hill as the sun shone on my back and made the navy blue zippered sweat-jacket hoodie thing that much hotter as I wasn’t moving as fast and making enough of a breeze to cool myself as the words fought themselves still and my throat got choked up as I looked to my left and saw the ugly brown of the washed river bed and looked again and harder and thought that “ugly” wasn’t a good word as the browns and greens spoke to me, as the grays and browns and black and slate and rolled and tumbled porous lava-looking something type river rocks and gravel mixed with some kind of basalt-like something or other as they lay all a-jumble in their bed and touched and rubbed and bumped the little weeds that were so green and bright in their newborn-ness and living and processing of their light energy in their chloroplast-ic photosynthesis factories in their cells and the little fuzz that radiates and collects the warmth and the moisture depending on the time of day and the clouds and the humidity and my fingers are typing wrong and awry as I search for the words that I want and they’re hiding and a-mix in the wash of the fan near me and the cat on the counter meowing as the jet passes overhead and the computer hums; again and still. The top of the hill… and I looked at the scarlet and pink trumpet-shaped flowers on their almost bare-leaved stems and stalks of a bush and wondered how I could tell anyone or myself what they looked like when I had passed them and they existed only in my mind and those little neuronic snaps and fizzles that connect and fire and live in the passing of images into what used to be words or might be “used-to-be” words as I contemplated them and their existence or non-such. I reached the top of the hill and I was sad and I looked again and hoped that my brain wouldn’t be starved of this expression, this vent and outlet and necessary contrivance from our evolutionary past, those things and symbols and articulations that express, and sometimes don’t, the thoughts that ride and ramble and hide away and gone in my cerebral recesses and processes and solitude when they are searched for and longed for by loved ones and others when I keep them inside myself with my reluctance to share and speak and open my mouth and emit those sounds of whatever that make and mean and are words from the inside where they are born and live and hide and rejoice and are mixed and lost and find themselves and me inside themselves and then. I made the top of the hill and didn’t stop but kept pedaling and came to the place where the walking or foot bridge goes to the other side of that river and kept pedaling and came to the playground sidewalk and I thought of words and writing them here and I looked at the rock tower and saw the little brown haired girl standing up there and leaning and looking down at her dad and realized that I knew and know her dad and how could that be, for I don’t know many people and I don’t often see the ones I do know outside the contexts of my knowing them, but yes, it was Elmo, Saint Elmo, my friend from the gym, the one whose mom I met in November or June or some other kind of month, as we shopped in Walgreens, both of us looking for cards for some occasion, as Elmo introduced us and we talked and I was anxious because we weren’t in the gym and I didn’t know what to say, but my friend did and his mom was gracious and laughed at what her son and I said to each other in that nervous exchange for me…as my words hid themselves and I felt the sweat form on my brow and hoped it wouldn’t start to pour like it does sometimes when I don’t know how to bring my words out and use them and share them and have them make sense to those around me…when they usually stay inside and I hurry to do something else or away. And Elmo was gentle with his little daughter and her friend as he played with them and reached up for them and carried them down fast in a “Whoosh! There you go!” as my words jumped and bounced from the yellow sunflower type selves of themselves to “Hey there!” His words came easy again and I marveled at how warm it was and still and it was truly nice to have a friend out there on the path and in the world and be recognized by someone other than my bike seat and “I’ll see you next week; my wife has to work tomorrow,” he said…. “Ok, take care….”
And my words came again and tossed themselves around in my brain and I wondered again and still at what I would do without them. I didn’t think of the commas and periods and semicolons…or even the ellipses and blanks or dashes and whether I should use a single or double quotation mark…but I did wonder about what the color orange looks like and how I would tell someone or you what it was or meant when I said that word, that orange word, orange. I wondered how, if my words were gone, how I could convey what the vibrant orange of an Arizona born, rain-washed, February orange looked like on its tree when that tree had been planted with or near a bougainvillea bush that had mated or entwined itself with that tree and became a collage of scarlet purple blood-red flowers and rich green leaves of both beings and those vibrant oranges and orange that struck out and beckoned to me in my passing, trying to seduce me with its richness, and I had to look back quickly to avoid the parked car along the roadway and circle about again to ride past one more last time as the bright freaking yellow Hummer with the “For Sale” sign taped to the windshield announced in its pregnant yellowness that the oranges were orange and not yellow with the scarlet purple blood-red flowers alongside them and among and with them; it was a rich and fire-blown orange from the great orb in the sky that sheds and imbues the hues and ranges of what is color and then…not the wanna-be orange of a Little Caesar’s pizza box laying in the roadway flattened and smashed and lost of meaning, a has-been with the road film and dirt and grime of tires and sand and oil and asphalt and cheese-grease smeared into the cardboard of a used-to-be sometimey kind of orange. How could I share that without my words?
If they went away, those words and mine, how could I tell you and myself and other somebodies that my mind rushed back to my childhood and young adulthood in Germany, again, as the scent of wild grass and weeds and the wet fecundity of that riverine plain dragged me back to where the outdoors came to live in my deepest heart and mind, to where the staunched soul of my child-self escaped, and where solace was gained and given in the smell of the rich earth and pine sap and crushed leaves and needles and ferns and the scrap and ruin and rant of the forest’s floor in thick mulch and pondering earthworms with squirrel scat and scrape along and beside the trees’ trunks and bushes’ shadowing cover and form. Images and emotions flooded from the smelling parts of my brain and memories born there comforted me strange and new as the words thought in their fleeing of their fleeing as I couldn’t grasp what I wanted to say again as the asphalt moved under the bike tires’ turning and brought me into the same and other regions of the morning ride.
As I and we, the bike and me, and I and my memories rode past and along, we encountered people on their rides and walks in the scented fields and plains and long grasses and wild flowers and the desert bed and we said “Good Morning” to each other as those from my past would mumble or brightly start with their “Guten Morgen, or “Morja,” or “Ja” as we went along, cheerful or not, wanderers that marched or stepped or glided along those hillside roadways in their knitted and woolen pants and tweeded jackets or knit sweaters from the colors of the earth and antiquity and from among the nestled sheep and lambs and the Alsatian dog that sat in his long brown golden red hair with perked ears and watched the tree-line with black brown eyes and lifted quivering nostrils that snuffed and blew in our passing and at the other scents that populated his springtime morning in hill and vale. My desert-ed pathway led past bushes with yellow buttercup type flowers that flashed back to Germany, again and still, and covered the wandering meadows and sundry hillsides with the same and other flowers, those of dandelions and milkweed and bluebells and daisies along black dirt and rutted tractor and wagon roads that paralleled hedges of rock and twisted fences with apple trees in bloom and falling and fallen pink and white petals with bees’ buzz and hum and then. This walkway along the floodway brought the dark-skinned soldier in his desert and storm hued combat boots and overstuffed and loaded green and gray digitized camouflage patterned ruck-sack backpack with his crew-cut and dark wrap-around sunglasses with a march and a cadence that told me he was a new soldier and maybe home on leave and not one tested and fired-upon, not the veteran who might instead be at home curled up in the comfort of his blanket trying to hide from his dreams or racing down the freeway on his crotch-rocket in defiance of normal things that scare us, as the sun glistened in the sweated drops on his forehead and how, I wondered, would I say those things, could I describe those things, if the words were away and gone and had left me in my quaking?
How would I describe those things or the happiness that grew and now hides in a staunched soul that seeks forgiveness and light and wonders at fun and joy if it’s not spontaneous and then, if it enjoys things and others but doesn’t call them so, doesn’t name them so, doesn’t record their lasting imprints and touches as those and then. It sees and smiles inside and changes names and lines of sight in diverting and looking askance and it wasn’t a glare, but a look away and that’s not what you’re thinking; you’re wrong. A shuddering and questioning self bred in scorn and grown aside and apart and not the same as it was then and not, and wonders at the lies and lived agonies of past and forgiveness’ dream as the cycles ebb and flow in their drawing, and if that was a lie is it all a lie, as the driven sands slip through their glasses and the words flee into their surround and marvel and rage as their quiet rings and hums and becomes something they were not, as a muted love screams at the loss of touch and sound and reason as wisdom departs for other seas and oceans of abide and then, if the words fled and died and were lost and gone.
The old man sat in his chair, waiting for his grandson and the boy’s new wife to show up. They were supposed to be coming down so he and his wife, the boy’s grandmother, could meet the new relation. They said they’d be here around ten or so, but it was pressing eleven and the old man’s patience was wearing thin. He’d been to the doctor again yesterday and was made to sit for hours and there was nothing he could do about it. The doctor had been called out shortly before the old man got there and he had to wait till the doctor returned because he, and only he, could give the older man his test results. At any rate, the young upstart doctor, when he finally got to the office and had taken care of the two patients ahead of the old man, had told him that all the tests were looking good, but that he still had to take it easy and to make sure that he came back for the follow up tests in three months. So, the old guy was still tired of waiting from yesterday, and now he had to wait for the kid and his new wife to get there today. At least he was home, he told himself, and not waiting in a small, plastic waiting room with a bunch of old people who could do nothing but talk about the weather and the treatments they were receiving. The old man reached up and removed his U of A baseball cap to scratch his head. The cap was an odd adornment that he’d taken to wearing since they’d put him on chemo and his hair started falling out. The only times he’d worn a ball cap in the past was when he was in the service, and that was only so he’d be in uniform. When the decision came to buy a cap for everyday use, he didn’t know which one to choose because he didn’t give a damn about anything, and knowing this about himself, he didn’t want to appear as such, so he chose a cap that showed he supported the local university, the alma mater of people who were a bit more initiated than himself, the innovative ones, or the ones whose parents were footing the bill for their advance. “What the hell,” he thought; it was a sharp looking hat, clean and crisp white with the red and blue logo. It almost even looked patriotic. He pulled the hat off his thinning pate and rubbed his scalp with the old, chubby fingers whose nails were thick and hard and yellow with many years of cigarette smoke. Their jaundiced hue matched the yellow stripe under his nostrils where he still sported a thick white moustache. For some reason, the chemo had only affected the hair on top of his head and his beard and moustache were untouched. Go figure. He had been sitting in his recliner for going on an hour and a half and the reflected heat from his body into and back out of the Styrofoam cushion was beginning to make his scalp sweat. His fingers were glistening as he removed them from his hair and looked at them, noticing the little scab that had come loose from his scratching and was caught under his index finger’s nail. Unconsciously he wiped his hand and fingertips against the slate blue, crushed-velvet upholstery, and after that, against his crisp, dark denim pants when he discerned that the velvet didn’t absorb the sweat from his fingertips. He looked into the kitchen where his wife was sitting at the little desk making calls to citizens from her list, checking to see if they had anything to donate to the Lighthouse Foundation. The local charity sponsored an elementary school of the same name that was exclusively for developmentally disabled kids and ran a couple thrift stores that were located in strip-malls in the poorer sections of town. He didn’t mind her being on the phone for several hours a day. “It keeps her off my ass,” he thought. Since he retired and she stopped taking her anxiety medicine, she’d been riding him to do something more constructive with his time. Putt-ing around in the garage and spending ten and fifteen minutes walking around the yard trying to kick the weeds loose from the rocks while he picked up the dog turds just wasn’t cutting it for her. He would go outside and smoke on the patio while reading a book, but that would get tiresome quickly as the days were still warm and the humidity still up a bit too high. He didn’t need to go get his hair cut since he’d started the chemo and he couldn’t go to the commissary at the base nearby as he’d just gone last Friday. And besides, the kids are on the way down. “Maybe they won’t stay too long,” he thought, “I’m ready for a nap.”