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Embrace

He had gone running again. I looked at his legs covered in watery scabs, some not yet clotted. He had mud splatters on his shoes, and mulch under his fingernails. He kicked the side of the steps; I stepped forward with a kitchen towel and a beer. He took both with a nod. I followed him around the small house, ducking under the budding dogwood tree, the blossoms would open in a few days. The grass needed to be mowed, the neighbors would begin to complain, but I loved the way it covered my shoes and tickled my ankles.

“You know most runners drink water after running so far,” I asked with a laugh. I waited for his usual response, they’re doing it wrong, but he walked past me without speaking.

He brushed a few fire ants from a large stump. He sat gingerly. I could see his muscles straining. A bead of sweat dripped from the ends of hair. A roan mare looked over the fence, ears forward, eyes on me. I dug around in my pockets looking for a carrot. I found a small one in my back pocket. It had softened in the heat. I held it out to the mare, longing to put my arms around her neck and rest. I had tried once before. It had taken her three days to come close enough for me to touch again. The bribes were piling up, but I didn’t know if we were making any progress.

I kept my hands down by my side, and let the mare sniff my face. Her warm breath smelled of fresh grass and bran. She sneezed. I jumped at the shock of mucus hitting my face. She shied away, as though I had insulted her.

“I always expect it to be different,” he said from behind me. I slowly reached out one hand and gently touched the mare’s damp, velvet nose. Her ears flicked.

I spoke softly, “She came by?”

The mare danced back, tail swishing in agitation. I kept my hand up and my eyes on the ground. I watched her hooves strike at an imaginary foe. I wondered what she thought of, a mountain lion jumping on her back to break her spine? Wolves running her down by snapping at her hooves until she stumbled and they tore out her throat? A copperhead striking her fetlock?

The beer bottle hit wood with an empty thunk.

“She stopped by,” his voice rose in a fake falsetto, “just to see how I was doing. She dropped off a pie she won at a cake auction.”

The mare dropped her head to graze, but one ear, and therefore one eye, was pointed in my direction, taking in every tick of the pulse in my neck.

I turned to face him, leaning my back on the splintered wooden fence.

“I’m sorry.”

Jeff peeled dried mud off his leg.

“She’s convinced she knows what’s best. We haven’t had a real conversation in six years, but she’s goddamn sure that she can make me into the perfect little gent she adopted seventeen years ago.”

I felt untrimmed whiskers brush the back of my neck. Jeff stood up.

“You want anything?”

I shook my head. He marched to the patio, slamming the sliding door. The mare fled across the pasture, tail raised, throwing her head.

Show off, I thought. I mentally traced the path Jeff would have travelled. Miles of woods, empty except for the occasional white tailed deer.

Jeff turned on the light in the kitchen. I could see his head bent, black hair shiny with sweat. He pounded another beer before grabbing two more to carry outside.

He came up to me, hands snaking around my back. I could feel the tip of the beer chilling my neck. I didn’t move as he held me. I could see his shoulders shaking, whether from exhaustion or emotion, I didn’t know. His sweat dripped dripped onto my shoulder. I touched his back, my hand connecting with a solidly wet shirt slowly cooling in the afternoon breeze.

“How far did you go?” I asked. I kept my voice low.

“Eighteen miles.”

I thought about what he would have seen, how many logs he leapt over, how many dry creek beds marked by his footprint. I thought about his breath becoming ragged at mile thirteen, the stitch in his side two miles from home. Even the wildlife hides in the bushes until the air cools down and the shadows stretch. He has a fifteen minute encounter with his family, and he has to burn.

He opened another beer and slumped onto the ground, the curve of his back leaning against the fence post.

“She told me that Dad wants me to lead the company.”

I felt my pulse quicken. I faintly heard hooves behind me. The mare tentatively whinnied.  Jeff didn’t look at me. I kept my silence, wondering if his next words would make me want to flee into the woods too.

He took a shaky breath, his hands trembling as they ran through his hair.

“She wouldn’t take no for an answer. I mean, I told her that I was happy. We’re doing good. But she told me to come the company on Monday. I could talk to dad, learn my responsibilities.”

I closed my eyes. Strong, long lips grasped the edge of my tank top.

Jeff’s words came out more quickly. “I haven’t seen my dad in a few years, Heather. I mean, if he’s really ready to give me a chance, if he thinks he could make me a leader, I have to try don’t I?”

He stood up. I saw his thighs tremble with the weight of his body. I hoped he hurt. His hands touched my face, one on either side, a prison. I couldn’t move, not that I wanted to. I wanted to take both his hands in my own and tell him what an idiot he was being, how he had tried this before and only found sanity in a bottle. But I kept my body still and my voice silent.

“I have to give it a chance, don’t I?” His voice was pleading. Asking me to give him an out. Asking for my permission. I wondered how long his stepmom had talked to him before he had pulled on his Nikes. I wondered if he had secretly prayed for this opportunity, if he had courted the possibility. I knew the belles he had dated in high school, taken to prom, laid down on the backseat of an old but beautifully preserved Corvette. I knew the heavy gold ring his father would put on his finger if he would just come home.

“Heather, I want to try. I mean, for god’s sake, they’re my family.”

I thought about the nights he had held me and swore that I was his family, that he would never be manipulated by his father’s expectations again. If I had given him a child, I wondered, and then quickly killed the thought.

“Are you okay?” He moved his hands up and down my arms, as though trying to ward off a chill.

I nodded. My voice caught, “You should do it.”

He sagged in relief. He nodded, “They’re my family. I have to try.”

A nose punched my shoulders, demanding attention.

He smiled at me. “You’re the best, you know that, you really are. No one else would understand.”

He gathered me into  an embrace, and I wondered what number on the countdown this would be. He had already driven the wedge into the trunk, we both know which way the wind would eventually blow up.

“I should shower,” he said, talking fast. “What do you want for dinner? I’ll order pineapple rice, just for you, baby girl.” I closed my eyes and forced myself to smile at him. He bounded into the house, as though he hadn’t run at all.

The mare put her nose over my shoulder. Slowly I turned around and put my cheek against her neck. She stilled. I put one arm on the other side of her muscled neck. She let me hold onto her until I had composed myself. I swore I would bring her as many apples as I could hold tomorrow morning.

Inkling

She moved to his side with her hands outstretched. She knelt beside him, carefully taking his hand into her own. He smiled at her, the purple skin swollen around his eye. One of his teeth was chipped. His arm was strapped to his shoulder.

I moved behind Kim, shielding myself. I could smell the antiseptic and the smell of burned skin coated in iodine. Part of Justin’s hand was burned, his molted skin left out to dry, carefully embalmed. The scabs on his arm looked pockmarked as though someone had carved out his flesh with a spoon. I wonder if we looked closely at the road if we would find his skin burned on the concrete still growing small hairs.

Kim seemed to have no problems with the environment. “How you doing, baby?” She moved a lock of hair off his forehead as though doing inventory: one broken finger, a sprained shoulder, a few bruises and scabbed cuts.

“I’m fine. Glad to see you.” His voice was raspy.

Kim pulled an oxygen mask from the wall. She inhaled and I could see her smile distorted behind her mask.

“Ah, oxygen,” she laughed. “If only there was an easier way to get it.” Justin rewarded her with a shallow laugh.

I put my hand on his foot, “I’m glad you’re okay, man.”

“It’ll take more than a bike to kill me.”

I could feel the bike sliding, the wheels hitting a patch of dirt. The paramedics said they found Justin twenty feet away from the bike, his vest had been shredded and his helmet was cracked. But he had lived.

I moved over to a small table, covered in letters, cards and the remains of stale turkey sandwich. Kim knelt beside Justin. She reached into a small carafe with ice in it. She cupped it in her hand smiling at him. She gently touched his eye with the ice. I heard Justin sharply inhale.

“Does it hurt?” she asked. She didn’t move her hand. Justin shook his head. He leaned back against a pillow.

Kim kept the ice on his eye for a few minutes. I leaned against the window looking at the gray parking structure. A pigeon pecked at a piece of gum, flying away as a car drove by, tires spitting dirt.

A nurse came in carrying a clip board. I wondered how long it would take for them to get to funding to move into the digital age. She handed Justin a Dixie cup full of pills. Justin smiled and thanked her.

“Do you need more water?”

Kim reached for the carafe and held it up, “We’ll take care of him.”

The nurse looked between the two and sharply nodded.

“I’ll be back before my shift ends.” She softly shut the door behind her. The latch didn’t catch.

Kim poured a glass of water and took the pills from Justin. She carefully handed him pills watching as he swallowed them. Kim sat on the edge of his bed, her knee against his thigh, her other leg dangling off the bed. She leaned forward and fluffed his pillow. Justin looked down, not hurt enough to be apathetic to the sight. Kim had always had a thing for playing nurse.

The sky was starting to darken. I nodded to the door. Kim caught my eye.

Kim’s voice was soft, “I’m so glad you’re okay. We’ll come back again soon.”

I awkwardly waved at Justin.

“I’m glad you guys came.”

Kim kissed his cheek. “Take care of yourself.”

She pushed me into the hallway and yanked open the stairway exit. We ran down the stairs skipping every other step. She crashed against the exit bar. I felt heady. Outside I lost the smell of death and replaced it with hot pavement and the faint smell of irises.

Kim held up two large pink pills. Darvoset. She handed me one and dry swallowed the other.

Kim smiled at me, “What a fucking dumbass.” She peeled out of the parking lot leaving behind Justin and his broken skin.

 

Asleep

It’s been at least 6 months since I’ve written anything outside of a code editor. I don’t feel that I’m in the knack of it anymore. I suppose that’s the way things go.

I feel apprehension that time is slipping too quickly, and I won’t be able to become good enough at any marketable skill before it’s necessary for us to move forward. And there’s also the apprehension of opportunity cost: that all the time spent on code is time lost with my wife or with friends or working around the house, and vice-versa.

Life has been enjoyable. I need to enjoy the moments more. That’s where joy lives, in the simple moments that pass by unnoticed every day, not in achieving a lofty or difficult goal. That’s about everything I have to say for now.

I have a slow learning curve. My wife is amazing, and also a much better writer than I am. I spread myself pretty thin over too many skills I’m trying to learn and can never stay focused on any one for long enough. I’ve been thinking about the line “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” and “The flaw is in the one who finds the flaw.” and others.

Any art in me has been asleep. Tapping on this keyboard in this way is kind of like trying to wake up from a deep sleep. The mild desire to wake up is overwhelmed by the heavy desire for more sleep.

Themes for future writing (see middle of page)

I read The Once and Future King in high school. I finished the book on the plane to California. The final pages made me cry, and I sat trying to stiffle silent tears from my mom and dad. Thankfully, Dad had a Tempurpedic pillow under his head, UV protectant, wrap-around sunglasses, and Bose noise-reducing headphones. He never noticed. I kept my eyes down and wept for Wart.

I haven’t read the book in years, and I only vaguely remember what happens; I picked it up last night. Immediately I was transformed into the life of Wart, smart kid. It’s good to wake up eager to leave the warmth of a comforter to find out what happens next. Merlin has appeared, looking at Wart with sadness because he lives life backwards.

The most interesting part that I’ve come to so far is that T. H. White stops the narration to tell the audience what he’s doing. The details are a blend of created, historical, and modern tossed into the world for humor and familiarity. There is mention of town criers, but later Merlin has a newspaper lined with ants.

“It was not really Eton that he mentioned, for the College of Blessed Mary was not found unit 1440, but it was a place of the same sort. Also they were drinking Metheglyn, not port, but by mentioning the modern wine it is easier to give you the feel.” Back to the story. Brilliant.

I made a playlist last night from old songs that I hadn’t listened to in a few years. Songs that I had thrown into old blogs to emphasize a point, or because I wanted to live in the words. The notes are beautiful, some quite touching, but nothing like before. I’m thankful for that.

I’ve allowed Dave to be a contributor to this blog. I think it needs a bit of whiskey-poetry and shuffling stanzas. He’ll fascinate you. He’s a good writer, whether he’s writing poetry or code. I love him.

I’m trying to work through how to channel what I’ve learned into stories. I don’t know if I need to use creative non-fiction to help myself learn how to format it before putting it into a story or if I should just try until eventually something comes out. If you write long enough, something always comes out. Put in those hours. Stare at your computer. Write mindlessly. Eventually something will be born out of your discipline. I have little discipline these days, but I think a story a day should be manageable. Maybe not on Tuesdays, but on every other day, sure.

Here are some of the themes I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. We (I, at least) want to believe that we are autonomous. We are the ruler of our lives, and if we decide to do something, it’s okay for us. How many times have I told someone, “I’m only hurting myself”? It’s not true. I’m beginning to see how when we sin everyone around us becomes infected, whether that sin is stealing CDs and goldfish from Target or statuary rape. The spiral of effects whip-lashes everyone we know, whether now or later. And I’m convinced that the smaller things have the same effect. It’s easy to track the destruction of a father thrown into jail. It’s harder to track the effect of shoplifting when there seems to be fewer consequences, but I’m convinced it’s there. The destruction remains, and if it’s not dealt with immediately, it continues to come out of the water of our murky minds into our present until it is either killed or it takes over our lives.

2. You have to understand your past. If you do not know the ways you are like your parents, if you can’t understand your weaknesses, if you can’t quite figure out why your sister acts the way she does, or the effect of losing your favorite Batman action figure in third grade you may fall into the patterns that your ancestors have unintentionally set up for you. Know yourself. Understand the effect that the past had on you, without judgment, without anger, but understand what happened in your life to develop your personality, your thought patterns, your sexuality so that you know what to look for as life unfolds. History repeats.  Guard yourself.

3. Emotions are strong, but they need not rule you, and sometimes the only way to get an elixir out of the pain is to endure. You may not be joyful. But sometimes peace can be found on a bed lined with sanitary paper with your husband holding your face against his chest while you cry for willful mistakes you knew you were making. Forgiveness runs deep, and sometimes forgiveness is painful as we allow someone, something to remove the darkest pieces of our filthy intestines with the laser lines of love. It hurts and it seems impossible that grace could redefine a life, but it is effective, and a mystery that I never understood was so dark or so beautiful.

4. “People are like hooks who hang in you. The past may move on like a river, but they stay buried under your skin.”

Eventually the stories will resume. For now I’m glad to warm my finger with the movement of typing words that I may or may not delete. I’ve not put in an hour yet, but it’s close enough.

I’m going to try to get Dave to write a little something so you can see how lovely he is.

You See

I’ve been feeling like I’ve had nothing to say. Marriage has been good, better than I ever thought a relationship could be. I have a steady job. I’m sleeping decently with only a few nights a month turning into insomnia. I thought I was dry, out of words, but I don’t think that’s so.

I’ve been learning about people. They’re more complex than I believed. There is rarely a “right” way to look at things.

“I’ve been around fundamentalist all my life, and they think they’re combatting sin. Turns out that they’re sinning in the most unnatural, horrific ways, and they don’t even know.”

I had a boy sit across from me. I told him that before he could date some one he had to understand himself so he could determine what he wanted from what was good for him. “How do you know yourself?” he asked.

“You analyze your past. You see, without judgment, how your parents influenced you, and what traps you may fall into as you get older.”

“I want to know myself, but I don’t want to dig into my past. I can’t put it into words, but I feel like there’s something dark and ugly sitting just out of reach from my memory. When I run into it, when I remember, it’s going to hurt. ”

None of us want to return from the darkness of youth, but it can be rewarding to look at both the good and the bad and determine how to not relive that ugliness.

You see, now my goal is to figure out how to put everything I’ve been learning into story format so that others may glean something from my mistakes, my past, my ugliness.

headlights

“What do you think about?” he asked me. We sat quietly watching the stars slowly move over the hill and align in the night sky.

I wove a long piece of grass between my fingers without uprooting the life.

“Right now or in general?” I asked softly. I was having a hard time figuring out if I liked the probing question or if it annoyed me.

“Both.”

The wind picked up moving the open patches of sand roots had not claimed as soil. A car drove by a few yards away. The headlights rounded the bend, but we were sheltered from the light by the hill.

He laid beside me. His left hand moved over everything around him. He lightly touched the tips of the weeds, stroked my thigh, and returned his hand to the ground. I sat up, my legs crossed.

“I’m trying to figure out where all this beauty came from.”

He pushed himself onto his shoulder trying to see my face in the darkness.

“Fair enough. Any theories yet?”

I imagined touching the top of my head to my knees and rolling down the hill away from the whispered-loud tones that quieted the crickets and seemed to stop the breeze.

“No, not yet.”

His fingers reached for my neck, but he couldn’t reach from that position, so he fell back down onto his blanket of growth.

I knew if the headlights returned they would push me down the hill.

history repeats

Inhale the dulling taste of your favorite cigarette, over-used and over-smoked to be too appreciated in the moment. It’s just a feeble reminder of different days spent in a similar position, your shoulder against the corner of a wall, enjoying the texture of the paint and splintering wood that has endured many such rainy nights. The car alarm blinks a red light of warning, intruders beware and the lava ruby between your pointer and middle finger raising rhythmically breathing the same warning. Few people are out this time of night. Those who come home hustle with their heads down against the chill and the few scattered drops falling from the leaves of the oak trees lining the road. You keep music in your pocket, your thumb resting on the volume maximizing the experience. Crescendo with the sinking moon.