Tag Archives: montana

Where Do Babies Come From?

While visiting our in-laws in Montana and patiently awaiting the arrival of our newest tribesmen, Jade and I decided to dip out and take a walk with the kids. Turning the corner on an overcast day, Quinn asked me, no doubt with thoughts of pregnant women on the brain, “How do babies get inside the mommy’s tummy?”

This train of logic makes sense. We show up to Montana, telling the children that Aunt Katie is going to have a baby. We tell the kids that there is a baby in her tummy. Green light, green light, green light. Who the heck put that thing there?

Gotta be honest. I was a little caught off guard with that one. I had certainly thought about what it would be like having that talk with my daughter and I’ve thought about what I’d say but I’d never actually come to any kind of conclusion. I’d never thought I will say THIS. I mean, even if you’re going to shoot totally straight about it, there’s no clean way to say, “A man gets an erection – uh, that’s when his penis gets really hard, and then he sticks it into a woman and rubs it until he ejaculates inside of her – oh, ejaculate is like this creamy puddy stuff. Yeah, it’s pretty gross. So anyway, the man shoots this creamy pudding stuff into the woman’s vagina and then badda-bing, bodda-boom, the baby is there.”

It’s gross, right? You’re cringing. No way am I saying that to my five year old. No way am I playing this one straight.

Not yet, anyway.

I just imagine that I damage them so irreparably that every sexual experience they have for the rest of their lives both begins and ends with spells of shivering and vomiting.

Anyway, I’m like, “You know our garden and how we pick vegetables?” “Yeah,” “And you know how we plant a seed and then a plant grows?” “Yeah,” “A daddy plants a seed in the mommy. And the seed grows into a baby and when the baby is ready, we pick it.”

I say, “Does that make sense?” and she says, “Yes,” and then peddles away on her big wheel. What is happening? I’m having sex talks with my children. I was in high school yesterday. How did I get here?

Well, as it turns out, who the heck put that thing there turned into who the heck put me here which turned into who the heck put us all here?

This is a process of several days, understand. She’d ask a question and it would seem to percolate with her for 24 – 48 hours before she’d come back with the raised ante.

So we’re driving home from Montana and Quinn asks me from the backseat, “Daddy? Where do we come from? I mean, all of us? Did God put us here?”

And this is a role defining moment for me. I was raised in a very traditional Catholic household before leaving the Catholic church and rolling “straight Christian.” My faith has gone through a number of peaks and valleys – or rather, my faith has always been what it is but it is my actions that have seemed to falter. The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak, you know?

And it wasn’t until recently, and probably I could write an entire piece on this, that I’ve begun to seriously question many of the tent pole beliefs of my faith. Was Jesus actually the son of God or was he simply one of the most amazing teachers history has ever seen? Did Jesus resurrect after death? Is God real?

I won’t get into the minutia of it here – perhaps another time – but I’ve found this really divine peace that I’ve never experienced before. I feel free.

My faith was chaining me to the ground. My blind faith only made me blind.

And so I don’t want to tell Quinn that God is real and that she should believe XYZ simply because I’m telling her that it’s true.

And so I let her wonder. So that when she does look for God, it is her own journey and it’s not crafted by me and it’s raw and rich and experiential. Instead of telling her what happens in the movie and how awesome it is, I’m just going to let her go see the movie herself.

I believe that there probably is a God. I believe that it probably isn’t the one that modern Christian culture is having us believe in. I think our perspective of God is disgustingly warped and perverted and I think the Christian faith, overall, is absolutely grotesque masked hatred. While most of the followers walk around preaching peace, they’re sitting on their hands at home, blasting pornography and talking about how important it is to keep men from loving men and how to best keep families that are in desperate need out of our country. Basically standing in direct opposition to Christ’s teachings.

By opposing gay marriage, they are saying, in short, that love should not happen. And by keeping out the Syrian refugees they are saying, in short, that empathy should not happen. They will tell you all day long that they don’t think this but words are wind.

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” That’s James. From the Bible. Calling this brand of religion worthless. 

“And you will know them by their fruits.” That’s Jesus.

Christian church, we all know you by your fruits. And your fruit is rotten and disgusting and it turns the stomach of the world. Your faith is off-putting. It is not attractive. You are not the victim. You are the predator.

Christianity as a whole is very wonderful. The teachings of Jesus can change your life and can change the world. I don’t want what I’m saying to be confused with modern day Christianity, which is – for the most part – just a stiff-necked mannequin. An imposter. A copy of the real thing.

It is a giant, rubber dildo. A phony.

Most (not all) modern day Christians are so consumed with the laws of their faith that they’ve lost the lessons. Modern day Christianity has come full circle and the practitioners are the very Pharisees that crucified Christ.

When the Bible says that you’ll call to God and he’ll say he never knew you, it’s talking about those people. When the Bible says that many are called and few are chosen, it’s talking about those people.

If you believe in the devil, you can rest assured that he’s just kicking back and watching Christians do all his work for him.

And I can’t get behind that way of thinking. And I don’t want to associate myself with any group of people who lead their lives with such fear. I believe in a God that kicks ass in peace. A God that lives inside all of us and in everything. A thing of beauty and love and a thing that we can each connect with in that beauty and love.

And I found this raw experience because I was willing to let go of everything I knew and I would have missed it if I had refused to let go of things that people taught me instead of the things I had experienced for myself. Who God was to me was always who God was to my parents. Does that make sense? My perception of God was crafted by other people.

And I don’t want to craft Quinn’s perspective of who God is. When the Bible says seek and you shall find, I believe this is what it’s talking about. You come look for me. And I’ll be here. I truly believe that. And if you believe that, then cutting your children out into the world shouldn’t be a problem. If you believe that God is great and God is the Ultimate Truth, then if your children seek the Ultimate Truth, they will find your God.

But we’re all afraid they won’t find God. We’re all afraid they’ll find something else. Because when it comes down to it, we have no faith in our faith. And so we nurture our beliefs into them. Better to keep these things in our own hands. Spoon feed them religion.

When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was speaking with the door-to-door Mormons and was reading The Book of Mormon, I was told that I should quickly run the other way. When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was reading Dianetics, I was told that I should drop it and run the other way.

Never trust an organization, institution or group of individuals, whether that be political, religious or otherwise, that demands you to not seek knowledge elsewhere. When someone suggests that you not look for true knowledge outside of the presented box, they do not have your best interest at heart.
Fear of knowledge is a fear of reality. And a fear of reality leads to a very limited understanding of the world. And a limited understanding of the world leads to a limited understanding of people. And a limited understanding of people leads to fear. Oh, my. That’s certainly cyclical. Look at your people group. Look at your friends. Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you to keep the Syrian refugees out? Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you that gay marriage is an abomination but not be able to tell you why?

Are the people that tend to fear the world the same people that tend to fear knowledge?

When Quinn experiences God, I want her to experience the closest thing she can. And when she looks for God, I want her to look on her own. I want to instill in her a sense of raw wonder of the universe. I love that she’s asking all these questions at five. I love that she’s already seeing the world and going, what is this? What is this? What is that thing? How does this work? She asked me about the sun and planets and outer space the other day and now she’s memorized what most of them look like – she knows that Saturn has rings and Neptune has rings (that go the other way) and Pluto is tiny and Jupiter (which she spells Gupiter) has a big red spot on it and that our planet is blue and she understands that the planets work on a “big loop around the sun.”

I’m like, excuse the French but, what the fuck?

Is this child freaking Carl Sagan reborn?

“Well, Quinn. We came from amoebas.”

Amoebas?” really, truly shocked. “What’s that?”

“It’s like a small thing that’s even smaller than you could ever see. You’d have to have a microscope to see it. It probably traveled here on an asteroid that contained ice when the world was forming.”

“Is it like this small?” and she holds up her fingers pinched almost together.

“Smaller. Way smaller. Like nothing at all.”

And then I try to explain evolution to her but quickly realize that there is just no easy way to explain this to a five year old. You try to talk about things changing and it doesn’t make sense to them and you try to talk about natural selection and it’s just too big an idea because they don’t really understand breeding and passing of traits. Is there not a children’s version of Darwin’s Origin of Species?

So I’m left to try and simply draw connections between monkeys, apes, Neanderthals and modern man. “What animal do humans look like the most, Quinn?”

“Uh… monkeys?”

“That’s right! I’m very impressed that a five year old noticed that.”

 

Crickets.

 

“Over millions and millions of years, monkeys slowly became man.”

“God did not put us here?”

“Well, some people believe that God put us here and some people believe that God put the amoebas here and some people believe…

Are you sure you want to say this? Once it’s out of your mouth, you cannot take it back. Is this a seed you really want to plant? You are about to make a major life decision and this may affect her faith in sweeping ways – in large ripple effects.

“Some people don’t believe in God at all.”

WHAT?!”

She doesn’t ask me if I believe in God.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say if she had…

 

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Talking to Strangers: Linda

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I dropped out of High School for a semester during my Junior year.  I was already bombing each and every one of my classes with such hard F’s that even making a D- in anything was out of the question.  I observed the situation, analyzed my statistics, spoke to my Guidance Counselor, read my horoscope and decided to draw a line in the sand.  “Self,” I said to myself, “We’re going on a small sojourn.”

And I did.  For the following 4 months of school and 3 months of summer break I became, what some would call, a Lump.  I didn’t become a “Productive Member of Society”, I didn’t get a full time job and I didn’t move out of my parent’s basement.  Instead, I continued working at Subway during the night and, always the avid reader, spent my days at the lake with my face buried in a book.

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It was incredible and, I think, a very formative experience for my adult life.  I was given the opportunity wherein I had the chance to examine what I was supposed to be doing ie school in a cement building but instead got to exist in the lush outdoors.  Even today I have a hard time crawling into my office when I know that there are trees and lakes and trails to be seen and explored.  It often feels like we are living life backwards and the system that we’ve set up isn’t really working for most of us.

Anyway, I never had plans to NOT go back.  I always assumed that when the school year started again, I’d count my losses and start with a fresh slate.  Really give it the ol’ college try.  SO… September rolled around and I DID go back… but not to the local High School.  Instead, I enrolled in “an experimental program” called The Alternative School; a place with a terrible rap that is doing incredible things for wandering and lost youth.  This is the place where kids who, frankly, can’t get their shit together, go in a last ditch effort.  You bomb Alt School, you’re gone for good.  There is no Third Chance High.

The program provides an environment with smaller classroom sizes wherein kids like myself have their feet held to the fire by a small handful of mentors.  It’s thanks to this school that I was able to graduate high school, leave my hometown, go to college and pursue a career that I’m passionate about.  Did my grades at the Alt School accomplish this?  No.  But the teachers at the school helped me to see what my worth was.  It’s very easy for a teenager to get stuck in the mentality of “This is What I Am This is What I’ll Always Be” and it simply isn’t true.

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I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who helped alter my course fairly early in my adult life.  I understand, however, that this is not the case for everyone.  Case in point: Linda, a 50-something who is still attempting to recognize her full potential, which just goes to show you that, even though school is over, you’re never too old to learn…

I’m sitting at a Mongolian BBQ with my extended family; wife, mother-in-law, 2 brother-in-laws and a sister-in-law, my two children and my 7 week old nephew.  The baby has been good so far as baby’s are concerned; sort of just lying there and counting dots on the ceiling and making the occasional fart.  My children, on the other hand, are nearing The Breaking Point.  Every parent is familiar with this.  It happens at around the 45 minute mark when you’re eating out and nothing can stop it; no amount of stern looks or promises of punishments can help it.  Even those lousy crayons buddied with the water-ringed paper place mat stand zero probability of success.

See also: Ants in the Pants.

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They’re out of their seats, climbing under the table, pushing chairs around, rolling on the ground, covering their eyes and darting left and right, squealing and laughing.  They’re not “misbehaving” so much as they are just “being rowdy”.  A fine line.  Luckily, the restaurant is about to close and there’s only one other couple that’s just getting ready to wrap things up.  It’s 9:30pm, an hour past the children’s bedtime but, since it’s our last night in town and, due to a few other scheduling issues, we decided to make an exception on a late supper.

Our waitress approaches us with the check and says, “These are cute kids,” and we give our customary, “Thank you,” and she asks, “How old?” and we say, “Two and a half,” and she says, “Twins?” and, because our son is enormous and our daughter is dainty, she, like everyone, says, “REALLY!?” and we smile.  But this woman, Linda, doesn’t care about our children.  She is, after all, a stranger.  She doesn’t care about how old they are or how well rounded their vocabulary is or that they can count to 11, recite their ABCs frontwards and backwards, sing Twinkle Twinkle and play Moonlight Sonata on the French horn.  Linda, like so many unfortunate people with blogs, is just waiting for her turn to speak.  Linda, like so many strangers, just wants a turn to tell their story.  Linda, God bless her, begins throwing down her personal demons onto my plate right on top of my leftover noodles and spicy chicken.

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In one long, nearly uninterrupted spew of rhetoric, she tells a table of six complete strangers…

“I have a daughter.  This girl is a mess.  A mess!  A real mess.  From day one.  She’s 26 now but still acts like she’s 13.  Had a child when she was 16 years old, didn’t drop out of high school, they just wouldn’t let her in.  The High School got a restraining order on her.  From the police.  Girl loved to fight.  Just loved to fight.  She went to an alt school; what do you call those….alt schools, yeah.  She went there but they kicked her out.”

I take a sip of my water and wonder if it’s rude of me to ask questions; the topic being so intimate.  I decide to, instead, make a personal statement by confessing that I, too, went to an Alt School but– she talks right over me.  This goose is cooking and there’s no stopping her.

“Her son – my grandson – cutest fella.  Eight years old.  He’s so quiet and nice and just – hates his mother.  Can’t be around her so I took her to court and gained custody of the child.  Now the kid just lives with my husband and I – Grandma and Grandpa.  This is supposed to be The Golden Years of our lives but, well —

I knew the martyr statement was coming next.  The point of it all.  The thing she was getting at from her first breath.  Whatever she said next was supposed to lift me off my feet and make me see her in a different light.

She finishes with, “You do what you gotta do.”

As she’s staring at my son and saying, “Hello.  Hello.  Hello, how are you?  Hello,” I try to imagine what this kind woman must be like in the quiet moments of life when no one is watching.  What was her reaction to her 16 year old getting pregnant and kicked out of school?  Did she scream?  Shout?  Did she throw something and break a mirror?  Did she tell her daughter to get out of her house in a fit of rage?  I begin to wonder what sort of guidance she gave her daughter; did she give her guidance / advice / encouragement?  Was this woman a good parent?  Did the courts have the right to hand over a child to a person that already tried to raise a human and turned out a hotdog?  I’m not saying they’re wrong.  I’m just saying that I don’t know.

I wonder if this woman, Linda, looks at her grandson and sees a second chance for herself.  Some sort of redemption to her “previous life”.  Something that pushes her to sacrifice her “Golden Years” for the peace of knowing that she didn’t drop the ball completely… or at the very least, for the peace of knowing that she picked it up and tried again.

We pay for our meal and Linda walks us to the door, locking it behind us.  I turn around before I step off the curb and see her waving at my daughter.  I squeeze her hand and think that this is my chance.  I don’t want to have to take a redo.

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Kaidance: Epilogue

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Three days after burying Kaidance we’re driving out of town on I-90, pointed for somewhere in Montana.  The van is quieter, cleaner and smells better but neither of us can shake the feeling that we’re abandoning our pet.  Logically, we know we’re not.  We understand life and we understand death but I think it’s the mourning that confuses everyone.  Driving away feels so… permanent.  Real life.

We hit a tourist attraction called 1880s town in South Dakota and stop for lunch.  I let Clementine out of the car and walk around the property with her, unleashed.  I sigh at the simplicity of the process.  Clementine runs up and jumps on a couple of strangers who immediately bend down and begin petting her.  Clementine, always the conversation starter.  She disappears under a dead train to chase a cat while I talk to this older couple about their adventures.  In case you’re wondering, they’re in their 60s, from Wyoming, headed to Washington and then back to Texas.  They have children all along the route.  They have a small camper they’re towing with them.  They’re living in it for the next three months.  I am jealous of their lives and secretly wish to be old.  To be retired.  To have the ability and freedom to run for three months without permission or consequence.

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We order a round of bacon cheeseburgers to go and hit the road.  I turn around and see Clementine staring out the window and suspect that she suspects that something is up.  I shout her name and pat my lap and she jumps into the driver’s seat and I quietly pet her for the next five hours until we arrive in Montana.  I’m fairly certain she’s depressed.

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A week later she’s eaten nothing more than a few scraps here and there.  She won’t touch her food and I’m not even certain she’s drinking water.  I hope it just has something to do with homesickness or carsickness or vacation overload; being around so many strangers and strange houses and strange dogs.  I shout her name and she doesn’t come.  I shout again.  Nothing.  Eventually I find her sleeping under a table in the dark.

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A week later we arrive back home just before midnight after an incredibly long eleven hour day on the road.  We drove from a campsite somewhere in Idaho back to The Valley.  Normally we wouldn’t do this but it just felt like everyone needed some space; cabin fever beginning to set in.

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I open the front door and am greeted with a blast of heat that my thermometer claims peaks around 105 degrees.  My house is not what one would call “insulated properly” so in the summer it’s an oven and in the winter it’s a freezer.  With no one around to open doors, turn on fans or, at the very least, try to battle the heat with the pathetic AC window unit, my home has turned into an Easy Bake Oven / Human Incinerator.  I gasp and fall to the floor, dragging myself, clawing myself over the hardwood and tile until I reach the backdoor and rip it open.  Cross breeze.  It’s incredible how wonderful 92 degrees feels after coming down from the triple digits.

Kaidance’s bed lies abandoned on the kitchen floor, a 2 x 3 ft genuine Orthopedic mattress.  She may have died of cancer / overdose of fatal poison but her back was in perfect condition.  The children still haven’t asked about her, which surprises me.  It surprises me that, even after seeing my brother-in-law’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, they didn’t at least inquire as to the whereabouts of their own dog.  With the proof of the empty mattress I’m certain the pieces are going to click… but they don’t.  Their lack of observation shocks me.

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I pull out Clementine’s dish to feed her for the evening, a task that Rory typically helps me with.  I fill it with salmon tasting nuggets that look like Peanut Butter Crunch and set it on the ground, feeling as though the chore is only half completed.  Rory looks at me and says, “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I say, “What’s that?”  I don’t know why I answer this way.  I heard him.  I heard his statement.  It’s just that, now that it’s here, I’m trying to figure out the best thing to say.  How honest should I be with a 2 year old?

He repeats himself.  “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I squat down and say, hesitantly, “Kadie doesn’t live with us anymore.  Kadie lives with Jesus,” and then, not certain if I should say it or not, I blurt out, “Kadie died.”  Rory repeats it, “Kadie died?” and I say, “Yes,” and he sits down and plays with his trains while I keep crying.  Stupid tears!

I pull out a broom and mop bucket and clean the floor of the last tracks of mud Kaidance will ever make.  With every swipe, I erase a little of her presence from the Earth until… she’s gone.

Six days later we’re still trying to get accustomed to life without a big dog; the baby gate has come down, Clementine roams the house and sleeps with us at night.  Our house and floors are eternally cleaner but there are more leftovers around.  After dinner, Jade jumps in the shower with Quinn, who asks to be picked up.  Jade complies.  Quinn asks for the bathroom window to be opened.  She says she wants to watch Kadie.  Jade sets her down and says, “Kadie is with Jesus,” and Quinn, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t want to live with Jesus.”

Jade strolls into the living room in her dead great-uncle’s housecoat that still smells like cigars, even after 45 years.  Quinn has a towel wrapped around her head and nothing else.  The towel is so heavy, her head tilts largely forward, forced to watch her feet as she walks.  We all lie on the couch together and feel The-Baby-In-Mommy’s-Tummy.  Rory places his hand ever so gently on her stomach and says, “Baby,” and it’s so sweet until he starts pushing so violently that I have to quickly restrain him and wonder if he didn’t purposefully lull us into a false sense of security.

Quinn turns to me and says, “Daddy, Kadie dead.”  I take two breaths and then nod.  This is the empire that I have built, the hole that I have dug.  “Yes, dear.  Kadie is dead.  She’s with Jesus now.”  The following conversation plays out like so…

Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus.
Jade: Well, you do… but not right now.
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus right now.  I don’t want to die.
Jade: You don’t have to worry about dying, honey.  Not for a very, very long time.
Rory: I can’t die!
Jade: Uh…….well, honey… You can die…
Rory: I don’t want to die!!!!
Jade: Don’t worry, you probably won’t, not for a long time.
Rory: I can die.
Me: It’s okay, Rory.  You don’t have to worry.
Rory: I can die……but I don’t want to!
Me: Neither do I.
Quinn: I want to live with Jesus!
Jade: Well, yes… but not right now.  Right now… let’s just play with Baby.  Remember the baby in–
Rory: I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!

Then, my daughter, who I legitimately suspect of being able to see into the spirit realm says, “Kadie does not want to go.  Kadie does not want to leave home,” and Jade says, “This conversation is over.”  We ultimately distract them with Skittles and beef jerky.

It’s been nearly a week since we’ve been home and Kaidance’s dog dish is still sitting on the counter and her bed is still sitting on the floor.  I know that it all has to go but I’m finding it difficult to corner a good chunk of time to walk it all out to the garbage can.

I still suspect Clementine of being depressed, although I think she might be coming out of it.  The Effexor I’ve been crushing up and placing in her food certainly seems to help, although I wish she wouldn’t drink so much.  She has escaped our yard twice from parts unknown since we’ve returned, has rolled in mud / poop once and has taken on a propensity for farting.  I believe there may be a strong possibility that Kaidance, in her last dying breath, expelled the Black Smoke Monster that had been living inside of her for so long and passed the torch to her smaller canine companion.

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This letter is to you Clementine.  I’m watching you.  I have my eyes on you.  I know your games.  I learned the rules from The Master.  Behave… because I know a guy that knows a guy… that knows a vet.

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Talking to Strangers: Dale

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I’m standing on a dirt road holding a rifle somewhere in Montana.  There are no bullets in the gun so, as of right now, it’s really nothing more than a fancy club.  I look around and, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but pasture.  It’s not even farm land.  It’s just… grass and weeds and rocks.  I suspect that people call it “God’s Country” because it looks just like it did on the day He created it.

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I’m at a shooting range just outside Billing’s city limits with my two brother-in-laws, each of them flanking either side of me, all of us trying to gather in the dwindling shade of the SUV’s popped hatch.  The first, to my left, is Jarod.  He’s just entered his mid-30s and has the body of a guy that used to be a wrestler (because he was) and dark wavy hair that covers his earlobes.  When he heard we were going to go shoot guns, he rolled out of bed and hopped in the car, sweatpants still on from the night before.  He holds a coffee and rubs sleep from his eyes.

On my right is Jarod’s younger brother and my other brother-in-law, a red-haired man named Jordan who is one of these people that, once you meet him, you won’t forget him.

Ever.

He has bright red hair that wafts out into tight curls, creating the illusion of sun-fire surrounding his head.  Underneath that, a scraggly red beard encompasses his face, ending somewhere around his collar bone.  His skin is pale and covered in freckles.  He’s one part Ronald McDonald and one part Unibomber.  He also has, what one may consider, an encyclopedic knowledge of guns and gun history and gun production and the mechanisms of guns and gun safety and what, in his opinion, is best and why and why you’re probably wrong.

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As I set the rifle down on the table, Jordan begins walking over the gun with me; Wikipedia giving me my own private lesson.  “This gun is called a such-and-such,”  Frankly, I can’t remember all / any of the details that were being thrown at me in rapid sucession so you’ll just have to bare with me, “This is the safety.  Red means fire.  You’ll see how the ergonomics of this gun works.  Your left hand goes here, your right hand goes here,” and he moves my hands so I know.  “Hug the gun, rest your cheek against the side of the stock and look through the scope.  Let me tell you about parallax,” and he does, “Here is the magazine, it’s loaded, insert it here; pull this back,” click-click, “Okay, you’ve got one in the chamber.  Once you take this gun off of safety, it’s ready to fire.  Keep your finger off the trigger until–”

“HOWDY FOLKS!”

I turn sideways and see a heavy set man approaching our car.  He’s got a shaved head and a mustache that resembles Monterrey Jack from the old Chip n’ Dale cartoon; shaved right down the middle but dangling in waxed shoestrings on either side of his mouth.  He looks like a Mongolian Warlord……. a white Mongolian Warlord.  His cream colored vest has a million pockets and a name-tag attached to it that reads, “DALE”.  He’s got, what appears to me, in my extremely limited knowledge of video game firearms, to be a shotgun slung over his shoulder which he carries around like an electric guitar.

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“WHATCHYOO FELLAS UP TO OVER HERE?!”  He talks like this, in all caps, his eyes enormous white orbs.  He laughs after almost everything he says and his jolly belly jiggles; Santa with a gun.  Jordan steps forward and tells the man that he’s just out here teaching me how to shoot a gun.  The subtext of this statement is, of course, “Leave us alone, we’re in the middle of some stuff.”

“TEACHIN’ SOME GUNPLAY, HUH?,”  Then, noticing the rifle, “OH!  SHE’S A PURTY ONE!  JUST A BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  SCOPE TOO?!  I HAD A BROTHER-IN-LAW THAT WAS A CRYPTOLOGIST IN THE MILITARY BUT THEN HE QUIT AND BECAME A SNIPER AND NOW I HUNT WITH HIM!  THE MAN CAN HIT A GOPHER AT 1/2 A MILE AWAY WITH A HANDGUN……..NO SCOPE!  NO SCOPE!”

Having no idea if this is possible or not, I look over at Jordan, who slowly crosses his arms and says, “Sounds like a real sharp shooter.”  Subtext, “No, he can’t.”

Monterrey Jack continues, “I WAS WATCHIN’ IN MY BINOCULARS!  SAW THE LITTLE CRITTER FLIP INTO THE AIR ON THE FIRST BLAST AND THEN, GET THIS, BEFORE HE EVEN HIT THE GROUND, MY OL’ BROTHER-IN-LAW SHOT HIM AGAIN, POPPED HIM RIGHT UP IN THE AIR AGAIN!  AND SIX BLOCKS AIN’T EVEN AN EXAGGERATION!  BELIEVE IT OR NOT, WE GOT BACK IN THAT CAR AND WATCHED THE ODOMETER AS WE DROVE OVER TO THIS LITTLE FELLA.  1/2 MILE, THERE IT IS!”

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Jordan says, “Impressive,” and then turns around and begins organizing his truck, hoping to shun the man out of existence.  Dale continues, “I WAS IN VIETNAM, ONE OF THOSE TINY BOATS; 1000 ROUNDS PER EVERY HIT OVER THERE!  HAR-HAR-HAR!  TODAY I MAKE MY OWN DYNAMITE!  MAKE MY OWN FUSES AND ALL!” at which point he goes into very long-winded detail about the best way to make a fuse.  Jordan, being a man that re-shells his own bullets and a perfectionist of the art, speaks up and says, “Okay, so you make this fuse.  Certainly we’re talking about human error in the process; how are you able to gauge how long the burn is?  How can you KNOW?” and Dale looks at him and says, “I JUST LIGHT THE SUNNABITCH AND THROW IT!”

Jordan walks away, back to organizing his truck.  His nature won’t allow him to entertain such idiocy.  Meanwhile, Jarod keeps throwing out the casual, “Wow, sounds like you’ve got a great thing – anyway – we’re just trying to–” “I JUST SOLD ALL MY GUNS!  HAD TO MOVE INTO A DIFFERENT APARTMENT!  BOUGHT THIS ONE INSTEAD!  FRONT LOADED, BLACK POWDER, SOMETHING-SOMETHING!”  Me, I can’t help it.  I find the man fascinating, like Daffy Duck with a shotgun, and just keep asking him questions.  “How long were you in the military?  What branch?  How many guns did you sell?  What is this one here?  What is black powder?  You make your own DYNAMITE?!  You make your own FUSES?!  Why do you need to make your own dynamite?  What are you using it for?”

No pause, “BLOW SHIT UP!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I give a laugh but it’s sort of nervous.

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“WELL, BOYS!”…. and just like that, he wanders back to his Jeep, presumably to leave.  Jordan shouts at me, “Let’s go, Cocheese!” (side note, I have no idea where this nickname came from but it has become a staple, along with Buford.)  I straddle up along the rifle again and find all the grips.  I shut my left eye against the sun and gaze through the scope.  I find the bright yellow gopher target we’ve placed at the end of the path, roughly 70 yards away, line up my sights and slowly exhale.  I’ve never sighted anything on a scope before and I could count the number of guns I’ve fired on two fingers and everything is silent and the wind is blowing and I’m trying to figure out how much the wind would effect my trajectory and mostly, I just want to nail that fake gopher to the ground and show my brothers (by law) that I can.

I push my thumb against the safety and hear it click.  To my right, Jordan says, very quietly, “That’s a live gun.  Just pull the trigger.”  I pull my index finger off the trigger guard and place it on the trigger proper.  “Lightly,” Jordan whispers.  I raise the cross-hairs from the gopher’s guts to his head.  We’re gonna make this one count.  I squeeze the gun to my body, brace myself, everything goes quiet and BANG!!!  It’s the loudest recoil I’ve ever heard… and I didn’t even have to pull the trigger.

I pull my face away from the sight, push my thumb onto the safety again and look over the gun stock.  Fifteen feet to my right, Dale has just fired his front loading shotgun into the wild.  He’s not aiming at anything, he’s just… firing huge bullets at dirt.

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“YEE-HAW!  SONNABITCH!  WUNNA YOU BOYS WANNA FIRE THIS BABY?  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  We all smile and turn back to our target.  I line it up again, test the wind again, pretend I’m a sniper again, exhale my breath, hold it, kick the safety off, touch the trigger and behind me Dale is yammering on about a magnum and blowing up gophers and the proper boar butter to use on a crossbow and world records and his old gun collection and statistics and how things have changed in the last 30 years and I am silent, trying to aim and Jordan is silent, standing in blatant refusal to partake in conversation with this man and Jarod just drinks his coffee, occasionally spitting and giving heavy sighs that are indicative of him being exhausted with your presence.

There is a blessed lull in the conversation and I take full advantage of it.  Pull the trigger and PHHTT!  The gun pops and barely kicks at all.  70 yards away the gopher spins on it’s stand; a direct hit.  “YEE-HAW!  NAILED HER!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  Jordan cracks his neck without using his hands and says, “There ya go, Cocheese.  You’ve killed the mama gopher.  Now, while all her youngins are moping around, mourning her death, you need to peg each of them,” and he points at the shattered remains of various clay pigeons.  “Make every shot count.  Clean house.”

I miss all of the imaginary fake gopher babies.

I kill a lot of dirt.

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ABOVE: How I feel when I hold a gun.

BELOW: How I look when I hold a gun.

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I look up and Dale is packing things up.  He says, “I GIVE YOU BOYS MY CARD?” and Jordan says, “Nope,” and Dale says, “WELL, HELL!  WHERE’S MY MANNERS!?” and he snaps a card out of his vest pocket.  Jordan stares at it for a moment before he says, “I knew I knew you!  You used to come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods Store here) a couple years ago!  I knew you looked familiar!” and Dale says, “OH, YEAH!  OH, YEAH!  I USED TO COME IN THERE BUT THEY SCREWED ME OVER,” and Jordan says, “I worked there for a couple years.  I knew I knew your face,” and the way Jordan says this makes me think something is up.

“SURE!  SURE!  SUPPOSE YOU DID!  I APPLIED TWICE BUT THE IDIOT MANAGER NEVER HIRED ME!  WHOEVER WAS RUNNING THAT GUN DEPARTMENT SURE AS SHIT DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WAS DOING!” and Jordan says, “Well… Corporate America.”

Dale gets into his Jeep and shouts, “HAVE FUN!” and then he’s driving away, gone forever, plumes of dirt chasing him down the road.

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ABOVE: Guns don’t kill people.  Richard kills people.

Jordan turns around and says, “That man would come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods store here) for hours and hours and ramble endlessly to anyone that would listen to his “knowledge” of guns.  He applied twice and the idiot manager who worked in the gun department that refused to hire him was ME.”

Har.  Har.  Har.

As I watched Dale’s car shrink into the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of his puffery were just a subtle F-You to the unforgettable face that wouldn’t hire him.  “LOOK HOW MUCH I KNOW!  LOOK WHAT YOU MISSED OUT ON!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I fire the rifle again and the fake mother gopher spins on her stand, leaving another round of imaginary gopher children orphaned.

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Dirty Dog

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I’m sitting in my car, alone, in a grossly lit parking garage.  My lips are curled back and pulled down, tugging my face-skin tight.  My nose crunches in on itself and everything goes blurry.  I’m doing that thing humans do when they’re sad; I’m crying… alone… in a parking garage… in the building where I work.

There’s a banana sitting in the passenger seat and, since I’m sort of hungry from an early lunch, I lift it up and start to peel it.  Tears streaming down my face, I quietly whimper and take a bite of the fruit.  FACT: You can’t cry and eat a  banana at the same time; you feel too foolish.  It’s like the two cosmic ends of the universe are colliding right into you – the mournfulness of tears and the comic genius that is representative in 1000 people slipping on banana peels over the years.  One must break.

I prioritize my hunger, finish eating the banana, set the peel down and then pick up where I left off with the crying.  I start my car and, through blurred vision, navigate out of the garage and start my journey home to my dying dog.

Kaidance is an eleven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that has been with my wife and I since we were in college.  She’s moved across the country with us, she was there when we got married, she was there when we had children (and when we were trying to have children, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-dog-in-the-room-while-you’re-having-sex-joke-wacka-wacka).  She watched me go through cancer and enter remission and has also dealt with her own battle which, sadly, she is finally succumbing to.

Over the last four years she’s been, like the Fast and Furious franchise, sick but active.  However, over the last four weeks, we’ve watched her go from an overweight bitch with a penchant for food and destruction to an overweight bitch who is blind and has trouble standing up and sitting down.  Even when she lies on her bed she just moans like every breath is killing her and I suppose, in some regards, it is.  That whole Ticking Clock Syndrome each of us suffers from.  Every second is closer to our own endings but there is something reassuring about not having any idea about when it is; next week, next year, next, next, next.  Not Kaidance.

Kaidance doesn’t have anymore NEXTS left.  This week Kaidance has only The Lasts.  The Last Bath.  The Last Night of Sleep.  The Last Walk.  The Last Meal.

My family and I are leaving on a road trip very soon.  We’re leaving Los Angeles and heading to South Dakota to see my sister’s new daughter.  From there we’ll hit Montana to see my sister-in-law’s new son.  When we leave LA we’ll have our two kids in tow along with our two dogs; Kaidance and a cocker spaniel named Clementine.  When we return, we’ll have only two children and the cocker spaniel.  When we get to South Dakota, we’ll stop at my mother-in-law’s farm and she’ll call her vet.  The vet will come out to the farm and we’ll put Kaidance to sleep somewhere in a field.  I will dig a grave and I will bury my dog.

We’re doing it this way because I cannot stand the thought of taking her to a vet clinic.  THE SMELL ALONE.  She hates going and begins shaking compulsively when we pull into the parking lot.  It’s not fair that her last feelings would be those of fear.  She is more valuable to me than that.  She is better than a cold steel table, the reek of cleaning supplies and a needle.  I just need her to know that we love her and I just want her to be as comfortable as possible.  Kaidance is not JUST A DOG.  No dog is JUST A DOG, the same as no person is JUST A PERSON.  Emotions, impulses, instincts, feelings; love, excitement, joy, hunger, thirst, fear.

Kaidance has five days left to walk the Earth.  She has seen her last Monday.  She has seen her last Tuesday.  The numbers on that stupid clock are getting smaller and smaller and sometimes I wonder if she can’t tell something is up.

Over the following week I’d like to share with you all the reasons I love and hate this stupid dog and my final journey to take her home.

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