Tag Archives: Brookbank

The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender [seq. 6]

 The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender is  a 10-part series of fiction. Below is part 4. To read the introduction of the project, click here.

To read part 1, click here.

To read part 2, click here.

To read part 3, click here.

Otherwise, begin scroll.

 

[SEQ. VI] 1I open my eyes and I’m underwater, inside of a narrow tube and I can’t lift my arms. 2A creature has been placed over my mouth and my first thought is that it looks like a starfish and its “arms” have suckered to my face but it does not hurt and I realize that this thing is giving me oxygen and allowing me to breathe as we exist in some kind of symbiotic relationship in this water or liquid and I wonder what it is taking away from me. How am I paying it? 3Small creatures or blurs or people move outside of the tub and I can see them observing me but I can’t speak or motion for them. 4I blink my eyes and one of them points at me. It reaches up and opens its chest and pulls out a small trinket that looks like a slug and the creature places it on the counter and the water in the tank begins to drain and when it does, I feel myself poop but I do not feel any shame in the act. 5When the water is gone I see that there never was any glass and that the water was more like a jelly that was somehow held perfectly still, presenting its expected form. 6The jelly is spread out on the floor but it immediately begins to coagulate and then it pulls towards itself as though drawn by internal magnets. It gathers itself up to one another and then slides and slithers back to its cage. 7Is the liquid sentient? 8The starfish drops from my mouth and pulls a long proboscis from my throat, longer than I would have assumed. I feel it pulling up through my stomach and intestines. 9The thing licks it’s lips and says, “Thank you,” before dropping to the ground and scurrying towards the gelatin, it’s abdomen plump with my bacterial stew. 10It crawls into the cage with the gelatin and then crawls inside the gelatin and goes to sleep. It will live off of my secretions in hibernation until next it is needed. 11The creatures are greys of some kind but they’re not from outer space and they’re still watching me and now I’m back here and I just stare at them and they stare at me and I am so very sad because I can no longer sense what they’re saying. 12I have lost all form of communication with them. 13Something has been pulled away from me and I can’t remember anything or how to speak to them but I’m certain something is missing. 14I want to feel their thoughts and I want them to tell me that it’s going to be okay but they don’t [SEQ. VI2] 1and then I am lying in a bed, staring at the ceiling and a woman is standing over me and she is my wife and all of my memories come rushing back to me and I say, “Please don’t ever allow me to wake up again. It’s too painful to remember who I am. My journeys are eternal” [SEQ. VI2] 15instead they just stare at me and is it pity that I see in their eyes or is that just my imagination? 16Instead I speak out loud and say, “Where am I?” which is such an elementary question and I’m embarrassed that I have to ask it because I know that I should know and instead of answering the greys take a step back because the raw quality of my voice hurts them. 17One of them lifts up a finger and makes a motion through the air that opens up a small doorway in the air itself and we step through it, displacing ourselves. 18In the other room I see another man, a human man, who is Caucasian, what we would call European with gray hair and blue eyes. He has on a sweater and wears a kind smile that draws me in. 19The other greys are gone and there is no doorway and I say “Who are you?” and he says, “You don’t remember me?” And I say, “Am I crazy?” and he says, “What do you mean?” 20And I say, “Is this real?” And he says, all of this audibly, of course, out loud, which is why I think the greys left – because the sounds somehow hurt them or at least made them uncomfortable. 21He says, “What do you mean by real?” And I say, “Is the place I was at real – the land with the scarecrow and the fishermen? Or was it a kind of hypnosis? Did I experience it in the Dream Tank?” Dream Tank. Where did those words come from? 22I continue, “Was the rock a drug? Was the ship real? What is ultimate reality and what is false and where am I right now in all of this?” 23And the doctor says that everything is real. 24“All realities, even fake ones, are real. 25Aren’t we all processing things? Aren’t we all reacting to stimuli? 26If you are afraid of a ghost in the dark and you feel fear, isn’t that fear real even if the ghost is not?” 27And I think he is right but it seems like he’s avoiding handing over the information. Information that he has. Knowledge that he won’t share with me. 28I ask him how long I’ve been here and he tells me a few hours and I say, “In this room?” And he shrugs and says “Parts of it.” 29I go to his bookshelf but don’t recognize any of the titles. They look like they might be written in Danish or Dutch. I reach out to pick one up but the doctor says, “Please don’t do that,” but I do it anyways and inside I find that all of the pages are blank and I say, “Who are you?” and he says, 30“There are no answers in my name,” 31and then he says, “Who are you?” but he does not inflect his voice as though he is repeating a question. He doesn’t inflect at all. His voice is void of nuance. 32He’s trying to copycat me or all of us. Humans. 33He’s not like me. 34I turn inside of myself, reach inside of myself, looking for my letter but my letter has been stolen from me by the abyss and I find only hints of something that used to be there. Dust. There are warm feelings but I can’t attach them to an action or a memory. Just an empty room with a concrete bench. 35He tells me that he gave me something very important and I lost it and that I lost it stupidly and carelessly and now, he tells me, he has to talk to me in this primitive series of grunts and moans like a common animal 36and then he reaches up and he peels off his face like boiled skin from a tomato and underneath I see that he is a grey with sharp teeth. 37Like roasted kale, he eats the face and I hear it crunching between his teeth like tacks. 38He says, “Life is delicious,” 39and then he tells me that I’m doing it wrong. 40I’m viewing life from the wrong perspective. 41Here, look, he emotes to me and I turn to look at the painting on the wall when his emotions brush past me. Has he gifted me back with the communication? Can I feel him? 42“Look at the painting and tell me what you see.” And I tell him that I see a field with a light tower and I see two deer but I wonder if there are deer wherever this light tower exists and the grey sends to me: “What do you think of this painting? Tell me what you see,” and I begin to explain the image. 43There is a lake in the background, white water heads, a little bend on the horizon. The water disappears in the distance. 44In an eternal sunset. 45The cattle in the foreground walk off frame. Cattle? Deer? I’m not sure. Could it be both? 46He says “What do you see,” and I tell him again and then he says, “But what else do you see? Look beyond your own eyes. Stare at it with the artist’s own heart. When he painted it, what was he thinking about? As he painted the black strokes in the now dried paint, what was he thinking about? Was his mind set on the brush strokes or were they set on something else at hand? Was his heart in it at all? See it with those eyes. Feel the letters and the tools and bring them to me to feel and I can feel the breeze and I don’t see anything change at all but suddenly everything surrounds me and I can see into the amazing beautiful because that is ours and it belongs to nobody except us and I am insanely aware of the fact. 47“Tell me what you see in the painting,” and I tell him that I see a lighthouse and he says, “Yes. That is what your eyes see. But what else?” And I say that it makes me feel calm and he says, “Yes. It does. But why?” and I try to look deeper into the painting and 48I look at the eyes of the cows, which are black and bleak and I say, “The cows seem sad. They are surrounded by beauty and freedom but they look so hopeless.” The doctor nods his head and says, “That’s very interesting. I’ve always felt as though they looked calm because they had everything.” 49And I say, “If you have everything and need nothing, you no longer require goals.” 50The doctor says, “And?” I think and then say, 51“And if you don’t have goals, you don’t have a path.” 52“And if you don’t have a path?” “Then you are hopeless.” 53“So do you believe that being hopeless and being fully content, which most believe to be polar opposites, can actually co-exist in the same moment?” 54The question is not meant for me to answer aloud but to wonder at. 55He asks me what else I see and I tell him that I want to know what is in the lighthouse and he asks me why I care and I tell him that I don’t care but that I am curious. “You want to know what is in the light house simply for the sake of knowing what is in the lighthouse?” “Well, yes,” but I immediately feel inferior for requesting it. What is the purpose of my curiosity? 56“What if there were nothing inside?” “Then at least I would know.” “You would know what?” “I would know that there is nothing.” 57“And what if I told you that god resided in the lighthouse? What would you do with that information?” “I would go to the lighthouse.” “How? It is just a painting.” 58My eyes begin to sting. The air is very dry. I blink a lot. 59The doctor asks if I am okay and I tell him that I am fine. 60“I cannot go into the painting.” “No, that much is obvious. It is just the perception of colors and shapes on a canvas. So how do you find out what is in the lighthouse?” 61I take several steps towards the painting and I squint, trying to look inside. 62“The mouse hole is closed to humans,” the doctor says and then laughs. 63“I cannot know what is in the lighthouse. 64I can never see God. 65I can never know God. 66I can never know if He exists. Is that what you are suggesting?” and the doctor says, “No. You can know. You just have to stop looking at things like a human being. You’re so short sighted and your perception of the world around you is so limited. 67Often times I wonder what it must be like to see the universe through such flat eyes. 68Tell me, what color would you say my shirt is?” “Red.” “I really don’t mean to be rude – it truly isn’t my intent – but I must say that your view of things is fascinating. I wish I could see life through your eyes for a singular human day. I bet it would give me quite an appreciation for my own problems.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TEARING OFF THE GIANT HOLY PENIS OF GOD

 Do we put God in a box?

 

The word God is a very heavy one and so let’s break it down a little before we move on. If I say the word dad to someone, they may get fuzzy feelings because their dad was amazing. The word dad has very positive emotional baggage for them.

 

Now, same word, different person. Dad can mean something vicious and upsetting to an individual that was sexually assaulted or abandoned by their father.

 

Let’s simplify this even further.

 

Wine Glass means something positive to an individual who enjoys the intricate tastes and aromas of the drink. However, I have a personal friend who sliced his hand so severely while cleaning a wine glass that he had to undergo extensive surgery and physical therapy before regaining the use of his tendons. He can’t hear the word without shivers running up his spine.

 

We each apply personal emotional baggage, whether that be good or bad, to every word.

 

For someone that received his or her first kiss in a movie theater, it’s a very pleasant thing. For someone who survived a mass shooting inside of one, the word elicits a very different emotional experience.

 

These are all very simple concepts that bring forward very complicated emotions.

 

Let’s try another word.

 

God.

 

Oooh, that’s complex. There are quite a lot of feelings coming to our minds right now and based upon the context of the last few paragraphs, you understand that someone else reading these same words is having a very different thought than you are. We are each experiencing God, in this moment, in very different ways.

 

Let’s mix it up a bit more.

 

Let’s take that idea you have in your head of God, whatever that is, whether it makes you feel nurtured or abandoned, and let’s add another layer onto it.

 

Bible.

 

I’ve written a couple paragraphs here that have made you, with your unique experiences, feel certain things. Just through a simple handful of words you and I have each come to different conclusions and emotional reactions. Now let’s look at a book that is filled with thousands and thousands of words. Some of them are poetic. Some of them are literal. Some of them are parables. Some of them are historical.

 

Now let’s apply each of our personal understandings to those words and you can see how this idea of God quickly spirals insanely out of control.

 

Should we complicate it further?

 

How about a multitude of holy scriptures? The Holy Bible. The Book of Mormon. The Apocrypha. The Gnostic Gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls. The Torah. The Qur’an. This is to say nothing of the hundreds of scripture that exist outside of the Christian / Jewish / Islamic faiths.

 

Layers upon layers and words upon words written by people in different cultures in different eras that were influenced by different elements and then translated to other languages.

 

In fact, scholars believe that the pronoun Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit in the original Aramaic was feminine. SHE. And then it was lost in the Latin translation.

 

The image that I have in my mind right now is the world’s largest ball of yarn that has been knotted up to such a degree that it can never be untangled.

 

And perhaps that is exactly what God is. Something that can never be neatly laid out in front of us, dissected and examined.

 

How do we reconcile ourselves to this and find the true meaning behind anything? If I don’t know what you mean or feel when you say wine glass, how am I to know what you mean and feel when you talk about God?

 

The words of the Bible, even if you believe that they were inspired by the perfect hand of God, are still limited based entirely off of our unique interpretation of them.

 

Let that thought linger for a moment.

 

Even if the Bible is without flaw, our own unique flaws create problems where none existed because each of us interpret the words differently.

 

BIBLICAL MIC DROP.

 

So how do we come to know The Truth of God? How do we get to the pure emotion at the center of the words? An emotion carries so much weight. Explain love or fear in simple words. Use those grunts that tumble stupidly from your mouth to tell me what love does to your soul.

 

Perhaps we start this process by removing our labels. When we call God HE, we are applying thought and feeling to God based on our understanding of the word HE. Do we really believe that God is a male? That He has a giant holy penis? I mean, I’m being serious. Let’s talk this out. When we use the word HE, we are talking about a he / she scenario and we’re not ONLY saying that God is a HE but we are ALSO saying that God is NOT a SHE.

 

We have now placed a box around God. We have created parameters for God to exist within. Rather than God being big enough to exist outside of human sexuality, we have placed Him in a box that is human sexuality and then put Him over on the baby blue half. If we call God HIM then HE cannot, by nature of sex, be HER. We have now limited God.

 

Holy sausage party, Batman.

 

By doing this, we limit God through our label. And labels form expectations. When we call God HE we expect a certain type of individual. If nothing else, we immediately picture God as more of a father figure than a mother figure. That alone sends us spiraling into, what may be, a completely inaccurate understanding of The Immortal.

 

Just by the word HE.

 

Just by two simple letters pressed against one another.

 

Now let’s apply that understanding to something slightly more complex. Let’s try to understand The Holy Trinity. This idea that God The Father (male), Jesus The Son (male) and The Holy Spirit (once female, now neutered) are all single but different units. All separate but all together.

 

If that is our understanding of God, what word do we apply to it in our language? How do we describe that idea of three-in-one? A word must be attributed to it.

 

Alright guys, we are monks and we need a word to describe our understanding of God. God is all knowing and all powerful. God is within everything, dipped in our very existence. God is inside you and me and the air and our food and our thoughts and God has seeped into every nuance of our existence. God is both mortal and divine. God is both physical and spiritual. God is above and beyond our comprehension. God is outside of time. God is beyond form. God does not exist in many forms. God is above and beyond form. What word do we use to convey this sophisticated understanding? How do we convey a being that is above our understanding of shape? We need a word that means both all form and no form simultaneously.”

 

Trinity.

 

You can see how that word sort of works to convey that complex thought. You can see that they were trying to boil this very deep and sophisticated understanding of God down into this simple label. And you can also see that it’s a very bland word used to describe a very impressive idea. You can also see that the word Trinity is never found in the Bible and the concept was not created until well after the death of Jesus.

 

Another idea that was pitched and followed by the Christian church for a while was something called Adoptionism. This was the idea that Jesus was born a man, just like you and me. Absolutely no different. This is the belief that he was NOT born as the Son of God and that he didn’t become “divine” until his baptism later in life. An actual promotion from regular human to a God-figure.

 

And right now all the Christians are gasping at the heresy of… the Christian church’s early belief in the interpretation of the bible. This is our heritage.

 

These are just a few of the real beliefs that real Christians really followed based upon their very real personal interpretation of words. My, oh my, how we can pull so many conclusions from simple letters that have been mashed together to form words that are trying to explain emotions.

 

Words.

 

And so we start labeling God.

 

Even the word God is somehow limiting as to what we actually feel GOD to be. We see time and again in the Bible where it is clear that the authors were trying their absolute best to explain how massive this idea of God is while their words fail them miserably.

 

God is the Alpha and the Omega. Beginning and End. This guy is trying to say that God exists beyond and outside of time. He’s saying that God is not bound by our watches and calendars. Time has no bearing on God and means nothing to God. Time is a unit of simple measurement that creatures of this dimension are bound to. The way we can hold a film strip at arms length and examine both beginning and end simultaneously, God is not bound by our moments.

 

Whoa.

 

When Moses asks God what his name is and God responds with “I AM,” the author is NOT saying that God’s actual name is I AM. He’s saying that God cannot be bound by a name. God cannot be limited by a label. He’s saying that God IS. God is not a singularity with a face. God IS the breath of existence. The fabric of reality.

 

And perhaps through this understanding we also realize that even words like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, etc, etc, are all just more labels that we use to further ourselves from The Truth that is The Truth. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran. Just more splinter cells that are drifting further and further away as we carefully craft more and more labels to dissect God, placing him inside smaller and smaller boxes.

 

By our labeling of God, we are limiting our own understanding of God. We come to the wineglass and we apply ourselves to it. We decide whether it is good or bad based upon our personal experiences but not upon a truth.

 

We come to God and we limit the absolute magnitude that is The Eternal. And by doing so, we choose to live in a muted world where we intentionally sell ourselves short.

 

We must remove the labels and forget the simple grunting words. God is more a piece of art than a diagrammed sentence. Or, as Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet ponders, “Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation.”

 

If we put God in a box, we are putting God in a coffin and eventually He will become so sterilized and clinical that we’ll kill Him, bury Him and then kneel at the graveside and continue to mumble our empty prayers which are just words without emotion.

 

It is our overly simplistic, two dimensional understanding of God that destroys Him.

 

But maybe our understanding of HIM should die. Perhaps that spineless understanding of The Ever Present Always should be both castrated and killed. It is not until we tear off the giant holy penis of God that we stop picturing The Nameless Infinite as He. Perhaps The Real Truth is waiting for us to turn away from this mannequin we’ve been worshipping and come to understand that we will never understand.

 

Accept that the search is the answer because The Timeless Conscious has no end. God is not a math equation meant to be solved or a ball of yarn that is meant to be unknotted. We are meant to expand ourselves and mature our existence by experiencing God in our very lives.

 

We find God in kindness and compassion. We find God in empathy and sympathy. We find God in friendship and giving. We find God in a phone call or a smile to a stranger. We find God in holding a door for someone. We find God in helping a charity or doing dishes at a friend’s house.

 

That tingly sensation under our skin when we help an individual? That sorrow we experience when we see someone hurting? A high-five. An orgasm. Laughter at a birthday party. Tears at a funeral. Holding a new baby. Hugging your child. Laying in grass. A day off from work. A day at a job you love. A job well done. The smell of coffee beans.

 

This is God.

 

God does not exist in a box.

 

God does not belong in a coffin.

 

God is not a word. God is a poem.

 

God is the very beating of our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Talking to Strangers: Gary

I’m standing in my kitchen preparing to feed my dog when I suddenly hear an intense, gut-wrenching wail emanate from outside.  The pitch and tone of this noise is so off balance, so absurdly wild that it’s hard to equate it to anything that is “everyday” without bastardizing and perverting it first.  It is whale music if said whale lived on the land and had first consumed a large quantity of oxycontin; sort of a very slow motion ooo-waaaahhh

It is a sound so haunting and unearthly that I assume whatever creature is making it is probably either in the throws of its death rattle or a raging frenzy fueled by pure blood lust.  It is the sound of a cat dying while giving birth.  it is the sound of a real life tree frog so amped up on Monster energy drinks that it’s genuinely trying to sing something by Limp Bizkit.  It is the sound of eternal despair.  Standing at my window, an image from The Princess Bride pops into my mind wherein the main character screams and his friend mentions that it reminds him of The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

This is The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

I set the dog’s food on the counter and approach my side door, peering out, past my driveway and over the tall hedge that separates my family from The Neighbors – the nameless entities that exist within such close proximity to me without actually affecting or intruding upon my bubble of influence.

There in his driveway is The Man, walking by himself, shoulders slouched, head down, feet dragging.  He walks down the concrete path, turns at the sidewalk and heads towards the grocery store; his body shaking and wrenching and racking with sobs.  I am compelled to immediately leave my house and grip him and ask, “What’s wrong?” because he looks to be in so much emotional pain that my heart, as a human, is hurting just watching him… but it feels strange to me and the task feels like a true challenge that I’m not sure I can take on.  I want to call out to him but I don’t know his name.  After seven years of living next to this man and his wife… I don’t know their names.  This fault is a personal short coming of my own and says more about me than it does about them.

I watch him disappear out of sight and then the opportunity is gone…

A physical description of the pair would look something like this…

The guy is tall and slim with uniquely distorted facial features.  He looks to be in his late 50s / early 60s.  Huge eyes behind bigger glasses; long scraggly hair that cascades down his skeletal face but the crown of his head is hopelessly bald; jutting chin with small mouth; thin arms, big hands; long legs that take tiny steps; he’s an odd pairing at every angle and, every time I’ve overheard him speak while sitting outside, I can’t help but imagine Goofy, that famous Disney character, after having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the better half of a century.  His voice is bubbly and cartoonish while still maintaining a throaty quality, unexpectantly hitting the highest-highs and lowest-lows seemingly at random.

His wife is short and plump with long black hair and a featureless face.  I have probably glanced at her sideways 300 times and… I’m not even certain that I could pick her out of a line-up.  This, however, is not a short coming of her face.  This is a short coming of myself and my own awareness.

Everywhere the two go, they go together; always and forever the two are a pair.  In all the years that I’ve lived in this house, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either of them one without the other.  And this is why, on this particular day, I knew something was up.  Something was strange.  Something was wrong.  Something somewhere was not right…

On this day, disappearing from my sight, the man was walking alone.

The next day my sister, her husband, my niece and my wife are all packing into our cars, rushing out of the house; we have hot plans to hit the zoo in about 25 minutes and we’ve got free tickets if we can be there by one o’clock.  A friend of ours is doing us a favor by meeting us there to get us in even though it’s during her children’s nap time and so she’ll have the kids in tow and it’s just, y’know, it’s rude to keep people waiting.  Time is ticking and the kids aren’t listening and they won’t get in their car seats and the sun is beating down on me and dangit I’ve forgotten my phone inside so I run back into the house to grab it.  When I walk out, the first thing I see is my sister and her family sitting inside their car, waiting for me.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  The second thing I see is that my wife has successfully buckled in my children and is now sitting in the driver’s seat, waiting.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.

The whole show – hurry, hurry – is on my – hurry, hurry – back.

The third and final thing I see is my skinny, nameless neighbor standing in his driveway staring at me through the hedge, his eyes peering out between broken shrubbery.  I nod but he doesn’t move.  I step off my porch and say, “Hey,” but he doesn’t respond.  Just those eyes… watching me, staring at me, unblinking, vacant.  I open my gate and begin to walk down my driveway, wondering if this guy is in some kind of drug induced hallucination (because he strikes me as the type who has them once in a while) and I’m trying to debate just how weird this is about to get…

He sidles a few steps to his left to a vantage point wherein I can see him a bit better.  He stares at me and cocks his head and I say, “Hi, there.  How are you doing today?” and he says, in that haunting, helium-high voice, in a tone that suggests he’s done nothing worse than burn the meatloaf, “Well, today I am not doing very well,” fiddles with his hands, looks at his knuckles, looks up at me with direct, piercing eye contact, “You see… my wife died yesterday,” and immediately I am hyper aware of my surroundings.  My sister is watching me.  My brother-in-law is watching me.  My wife is watching me.  This man is watching me.  I do not know his name.  I do not know his wife’s name.  He has been my neighbor for seven years and I do not know their names.  I want to hug this man and give him some comforting words but, first and foremost, I don’t believe there are any words that will help him without simply minimizing his tragedy.  Secondly, there is a hedge separating us.  I pick up a leaf and begin tearing it apart.  I say, “Your… what!?  What happened?” and then immediately wonder if that’s a socially acceptable thing to ask.

How does one respond appropriately?

Why is this man telling me this?  Who am I to him?

And then I realize that, outside of his wife, I am perhaps the closest thing to a human in his life.  I don’t talk to him but when I see him I lift up my hand in recognition.  When we run into each other at the grocery store down the street I nod, I smile.  I say hi.  I do nothing.  I don’t do enough.  But I wonder if I’ve somehow done more than anyone else.  I wonder if most people turn their backs on this guy with his unique features and strange voice and ratty clothes.  I wonder if I, even in my state of absolute minimal contact, am The Guy Next Door for him; a familiar face.

Someone.

My phone in my pocket is on silent but it buzzes.  The Family is wondering what I’m doing; chatting up Mr. Tall Glass of Water when we gotta be hitting the street.  They can’t hear anything.  They don’t know.  They just see Johnny having a quiet conversation with The Neighbor.

I am acutely aware of their waiting and watching.

He gathers himself up and says, “Well… we used to live in Denver.  When we moved to Los Angeles several years back, she developed asthma.  Two days ago she caught a cold.  Night before last it got worse.  I told her that we’d take her into the hospital in the morning if she was still ill.  Yesterday morning we woke up and she was having troubles breathing.  She sat up and I said I’d get her some tea.  When I got back to our bedroom she… she had died.  I tried giving her CPR.  I tried like hell.  I called the paramedics.  This was at 7:45 in the ay-em.  They came and tried to revive her.  They really did try their best.  They took her away and pronounced her dead at Kaiser at 8:16 but… that’s not true.  She was dead at 7:45.  She died here.  In our bed.”

And then he stares at the hedge and picks up a crisp leaf of his own and begins to destroy it, bit by bit.  I don’t say, “Are you alright?” because I’m sure he’s not.  I don’t say, “How are you doing?” because I’m sure he’s not doing well at all.  I don’t say, “Do you need anything?” because I think he just wants to talk to someone and have someone, anyone, listen to him.  I think the words don’t matter as much as the physical presence of a human, leaning in, nodding, making eye contact.  I think he’s a lonely man who was living with a lonely wife and they both took care of stray cats and now…

I look at him and hear his voice and realize that the sound I heard earlier were his true wails of grief; a man sobbing with unexpected loss and inconsolable grief.  It truly was The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

He says, “We always thought I’d die first.  I’ve had Stage 4 cancer for 15 years.  I’m 57.  We talked about what she’d do when I died but we never… we never talked about this… she was only 46.  She was healthy…”

The phone in my pocket buzzes and I’m certain it’s my family again, asking me what gives.  I ignore it and instead say, “I had cancer… I had Stage 4 cancer…” and he says, “You and me… we are both miracles,” and I nod because the idea makes me feel like there is magic living inside of me, as though I somehow cheated death and now everyday is a bonus I wasn’t supposed to receive.

He says, “I don’t want to keep you,” and I say, “Don’t – you’re not…” and, while I am always physically uncomfortable making people wait I just… this is obviously too important to walk away from.  He sees I mean it and I’m not leaving until he’s done talking and so he opens a floodgate and begins drowning me in a very personal history about how he used to be addicted to oxycontin but now he only strictly consumes methadone (which he “pack rats away”).  He tells me horror stories about oxycontin and about his struggle with drug addiction and how he couldn’t let it go.  He calls it a Merry-Go-Round from Hell that I couldn’t get off of

He shrugs, done with his story.  Done talking.  Done, maybe, with everything.  I stick out my hand and say, “I’ve lived next to you for so many years but we’ve never met.”  He grabs my hand tightly, in a firm man-handshake that I would not expect from his physical frame, and says, “I’m Gary,” and I say, “I’m Johnny.  What is your wife’s name?” and then a thought runs through my mind that tells me I should have said, “What was your wife’s name,” but I don’t bother correcting my macabre grammar.

He says, “Veronica,” and I say, “Beautiful.”  I say, “Gary, I don’t know what you’re going through but let me know if there’s anything I can do…” and he says, “There is nothing you can do for me.  I see your kids.  Hug them.  Enjoy every day.  Because it will be taken away…”

And then he turns and walks up the driveway.

Two days later I see him returning yet again from the grocery store (alone) with a bag of cat food while I’m sitting on my front porch.  I raise my hand in the air and shout, “Hi, Gary!” and he stops in his tracks, stares at me for a quick moment before averting his eyes, mumbling something under his breath and disappearing out of my sight.

Another two days pass and, as I’m pulling into my driveway I see a couple of Jehova Witnesses walking up to Gary’s house, towards his front door.  They knock but there is no answer so they turn and try their luck elsewhere.

Another 48 hours have slipped by and still I’ve neither seen nor heard any sign of life from The Tall Man that Lives Over the Hedge.

It’s now been five days since I’ve seen him and I’m beginning to wonder at what point I realistically need to walk over there and knock on his door because, honestly, all I can think about is his large stockpile of methadone.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crumbling Castles

Image

I play rough with my kids; really rough.  Horseplay, in my house, is not only accepted, it is encouraged.  I love sitting with them and reading books and cuddling up to tell them stories but one of my favorite things to do is to chase them through our home, tackle them, tickle them and then drag them kicking and screaming back to me as they try to escape my clutches.  I hang them upside down and howl.  I pin them to the ground and growl in their ears.  I crawl across the floor like a primitive man pretending to be a primitive horse, snarling and thrashing after them.  I pick up pillows and I throw them at their fleeing backs.  Hard.  I hit them behind their knees with said pillows as they run, knocking them to the floor.  Usually they’re fine but sometimes they bang their hands / arms / heads / faces against the ground.  This is the cost of horseplay.

They run and laugh and squeal and scream and hide and then beg me to keep chasing them.  If I get tired they slowly approach me and say, “Get… my… fooo-hooot….” and then they wiggle and waggle their ankle at me just out of reach.  It goes without saying that I’ve been kicked in the teeth and headbutted more than once.  Last month my son stuck his finger knuckle deep into my eyeball… twice.  That is not an exaggeration.  My eye was pink and blood shot and everything went fuzzy for several hours.  It was both painful and horrifying.  Sometimes I lie on my back and my daughter jumps off the couch and gives me two knees to my ribcage, causing me to spit out a harsh, “WHOOF!”  This is also the cost of horseplay.

My children love me and I love my children and we know that we are just playing and we’ve had many conversations about Good Hit / Bad Hit and how a Hi-5 is a Good Hit but slapping someone when you’re angry is a Bad Hit and… children just have a very interesting way of not only absorbing information and processing it but they’re also amazing at outputting certain… enlightenments, I guess is a good word… that hit you in the gut harder than their tiny fists.

Image

Two days ago my daughter walked past me and I stuck out my foot and tripped her.  She stumbled, once, twice, caught herself, turned around and gave me the stankiest eye I’ve ever seen.  It cracked me up.  I thought it was absolutely hilarious.  Further, I thought that SHE thought it was absolutely hilarious… which is why I do it whenever I get a chance.  I thought our little game was like, “I pick on you in an endearing way and you think it’s playful and funny and it’s our quirky little relationship,” but, my wife, who apparently doesn’t “get” the thing I do with the kids, she says to me, “You’re so mean to the kids,” and I say, “Mean?  Mean?  What is this, mean?  Oh, give me a break.  I’m not mean.  I love them and I’m playing with them!  They love to play!” and she says, “No.  You pick on them.  You’re That Guy,” and my stomach churns because, to me, there is no worse insult than being called That Guy.  It could mean any number of horrible things but, whenever someone says it, you know exactly which one they’re talking about.

I say, “I am not That Guy,” and my wife, refusing to back off her horrible, stupid opinion, says, “Yes you are.  And you’re hurting their feelings.”  Yeah, right.  Didn’t she see how I was laughing when my daughter stumbled?  Didn’t she see how funny that was?  I push myself off the couch and lie down on our floor, calling my daughter over to me, “Quinn!  Quinn… C’mere a sec…” and Quinn approaches me and I pick her up under her arms and lie her down on top of me, belly to belly so we’re eye to eye.  She doesn’t flinch and she doesn’t fight it and I say to my wife, “Yeah, she looks really afraid of me…

I turn to Quinn and I say, “Quinn…” and my three year old daughter says, “Yes, Daddy?” and I say, “Is Daddy mean to you?” and Quinn, without skipping a beat says, “Yes,” and I literally feel something in my heart pop and snap like a crusty bungee chord.  I want to put my daughter down and run away, hide in a closet, shut off the light and live the rest of my days in complete hermitude.  Quinn, unaffected, continues.  “You tease me… you tease me a lot,” and I just stare at her, into her eyes and I wish I had one of those weird whipping devices that the albino in The DaVinci Code had.  I need it.  I need to use it on myself.  I am a horrible person.

However, since I don’t have that archaic whipping device, I decide to torture myself by just pressing on.  I need to hear it.  I need to hear all of it.  I say, “Does Daddy hurt your feelings?” and my daughter, instead of saying anything, she just sticks out her bottom lip (NO!  NO!  NOT THE QUIVERING BOTTOM LIP!  GIVE ME THE WHIP-THING!  NOT THE LIP!  NOT THE LIP!) and she just nods, her eyes wide and sad and… they’re just so… SAD!

I gulp hard and try to decide how much I hate myself right now.  Is it like an 8 or a 9?

My daughter, apparently recognizing my weakness, decides to deliver the coup de grace with the most despondent phrase I have ever heard a three year old utter.  She says to me, “You hurt me.  You hurt my feelings.  I take my feelings…” and then she reaches up and pretends to pluck something out of her hair before shoving it behind her back, “…and I hide them away.  I hide my feelings away from you.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no!!!!!!!!!

I feel like I’m going to puke and then pass out.  This vision and view of the world I had in front of me is crumbling and blowing away before me like a castle made of stale bread.  I grab her gently by the shoulders as my eyes begin to fill up with tears of remorse and stupidity and selfishness and I say, “Quinnie, Daddy is so sorry.  Daddy is so sorry for hurting you,” and she looks at me and then says, “Ohhhh-Kaaaaay,” and just like that, I am forgiven.

Kids are incredible.  What a lesson in humanity this three old just schooled me with.  “Hey, Dad!  KNOWLEDGE BOMB!”  KER-BOOOOOM!

Image

My daughter gets up and scurries away, leaving me feeling broken and alone.  I call my son over, deciding to get all the dirty work out of the way at once.  If I’m going to be emotionally flogged, let’s just be sure to break me completely…

“Rory… hey, Roar.  C’mere a sec…”  My son approaches me and flops down onto my chest, knocking the wind out of me.  He laughs and pretends to bite my chin.  “Yaaaahhhhsssss?” he says in some weird Southern drawl and, like tearing off a Band-Aid, I respond quickly with, “Is Daddy mean to you?” and, in matched speed he answers with, “Nope!” and I say, “Are you sure?” and he says, “You’re not mean, Daddy!” and I say, “Do I hurt your feelings?” and he says, “NO!  You don’t hurt my feelings!” and there is a little wash of relief that pours over me.

Good, good, good, good, good…

I say, “Okay.  Thanks, buddy.  I love you.  Go play,” and I stand him up before  shutting my eyes to recount this revelation as he begins to walk away but… too soon.  He doubles back while I’m not paying attention and drops both knees into my abdomen, his laughter the only sound breaking through my pain.

Image

It’s just another reminder that, no matter how many parenting books you read, seminars you attend or videos you watch, there is no right way to raise children because each and every child is so completely and stupendously different.  Just because you have two children (and this goes double for twins) doesn’t mean that you have two of the same child.  They are people, like you and I, each with their own sets of bends and interests.  Each has their own sets of needs and desires and wants and what hurts the feelings of one may actually be the fuel that powers the second.

My children never fail; they are unceasingly unapologetic in their quest to build me into a better man, father and human.  They constantly remind me how far I’ve come but are sure to keep me humble by reminding me how far I have yet to go.

Image

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,