That One Day…

The babies were finally sleeping having drifted off somewhere near the border, they had all cried together – but the little ones had succumbed to the steady thrum of highway driving and Kate’s tears had finally dried. She could still feel the clench of her heart, the heat behind her eyes and the salty residue on her lips – she tried to stifle the occasional snuffle so as not to wake Jack Jr and his sister Sally. 

She turns the Christian station, she wasn’t feeling very Christian though; she had been trying to be a good wife, following the rules and doing all the things a church wife was expected to do, but at some point, you had to wonder who had really made all these rules? They didn’t seem to serve Jesus’ purposes, but husbands like her Jack sure seemed to be enjoying things. She bites her lip holding her tears at bay – and no doubt a big “I told you so…” was coming from her father; but she didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

The memories cascade and there’s no holding back the tears, everything had seemed so perfect a loving Christian man, the wedding of her dreams, the perfect little home… when she had found out she was pregnant she had cried for three days. She didn’t have the heart to tell him she wasn’t ready; Jack had been so excited about being a dad. Then two years later the little boy he had really wanted. All of a sudden, she was trying to be a good wife, raise two babies on her own and hold down a full-time job; it wasn’t fair and it was too much. She had prayed, cried, called her mother twice a day and even tried talking to Jack; but here she was driving a hastily packed car down the interstate forcing herself to stay strong and not turn around. 

Of course, it hadn’t been just one thing, it never was, she had spent hours Sunday cleaning the house and preparing meals for Jack to take for lunch that week, by evening she had been exhausted hoping for a little attention or at least a hand giving the kids a bath and getting them in the bed. Why that night should be any different than most every other weekend she couldn’t really say, wishful thinking maybe. 

It had been the FaceBook post that had been the last straw, “out to lunch with my homies” had been the caption – why had she bothered? Opening the fridge, she pulls out a yogurt for the kids and sees the carefully prepared lunch – her post it note with “Love you honey” still attached. It had taken forty minutes to pack a suitcase and the kids into the SUV – she had left his lunch on the counter, maybe he would figure it out. 

It was four hours and a little more than two hundred miles before her phone finally rings. She doesn’t want to answer it, doesn’t want to talk to him – what’s left to say after all? On the seventh ring she can’t take it any longer and pushes the button. “Hey honey go ahead and eat dinner I’m working late okay?” She doesn’t know what to say, no how was your day, or how are the kids, or even a simple love you baby. None of that comes out though all she says is OK as she hangs up and the tears start again…

Authors note: 

This isn’t a condemnation of Christianity or Christian men, but it is a commentary on marginalizing people – especially the people that love you and make a real effort every day on your behalf – whether you acknowledge it or not. It is a statement on abuse – you don’t have to hit someone to harm them… and maybe the most important question: when is enough, enough? The preservation of one’s self-worth requires taking action on your own behalf – even if it means packing the babies up and heading down the interstate – physically or metaphorically… 

So, don’t be an asshole and hurt the ones that love you the most… 

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – not sure if it’s her work or not, but it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe

Two Vases

A good friend was telling me a story about an abandoned home where the folks had left their “parents” or maybe “grandparents” cremated remains behind… that seemed incredibly sad and lonely to me… I imagine a conversation something like this…

Two Vases

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

I feel you near me dear
Do you remember my kiss
Now it’s just the two of us

Long passed are our days in the sun
The sand soft beneath us
The kids playing in the surf

I remember the stars above
The singing of a mountain stream
Marshmallows by the fire

It seemed so long I waited
Now you sit beside me
Matching vases in the shadows

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

Memories from a Georgia Cotton Field…

The bracken and small trees have overgrown the banks and begun to cover the top of the berm if you look closely you can still see the glint of steel tracks embedded in the coarse grass, the creosote ties have splintered and rotted no longer holding the rails in tight straight lines. The cotton fields extend on either side for hundreds of acres the red Georgia dirt baking in the late September sun – the bolls now dry and brown have split, their sharp claws clinging to the silky puffs loathe to give them up. The memories of a lonesome steam whistle mingle with the sharp cracks of the whips and the soft moans that linger in the quiet stillness of a fading afternoon.

Adelaide wipes her brow with the back of a hand, her mahogany skin’s a crisscross pattern of scars and creases never quite healed from the hundred sharp cuts the bolls inflict – the shadow of the overseer approaches and she bends back to her task hurrying forward hoping to avoid sharp sting of the leather through her thin cotton dress. She steals a glance over, Billy still lay where he had fallen, no amount of whipping was going to raise him up and they’d left him as an example to the rest of them, the men would bury him later but not now no now was for pickin’ 200 pounds didn’t come easy the second time through a field.

The green machines lumber along voraciously scavenging the white puffs in front of them, small strays play across the ground in their wake as they march forward. Along the tree line long bales wrapped tight in plastic keep the cotton from escaping, large enough to fill a tractor trailer they wait patiently for the long bed trucks to carry them onward. Gone are the picking bags, the cotton baskets at field’s end, the crack of the overseer’s whip – but the cotton remains and the soft glint of a steel track – and the memories of another day…

Author’s Note: I was traveling through Georgia this past weekend, past many a cotton field and old train bed… they spoke to me of times long past, but not forgotten.

Wonderin’

I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
Got Tom Petty playin’ the stories we could tell

I cant find the words to splain the way I’m feeling
And I don’t know how to stop starin at the ceiling

So the tears fall and the memories keep flowin’
And there aint nothing for it but to keep goin’

Cause I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
While Tom Petty’s playin’ the stories we could tell

Remembering 9/11

I have been meaning to write a follow up piece on 9/11 for many years, but I honestly somehow never seem to be able to properly capture how I feel about it, but I am going to give it another try this year.

It was October 2001 and I was flying back to Tampa after attending the memorial for my cousin Gary when I first tried to write down how I felt about 9/11, he had last been seen on the 92nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I watched that tower come down on television not knowing he was working there, but knowing I had family and friends in the city. If you grew up in NY or NJ the Trade Center was the very symbol of the City, it towered over everything, casting a shadow into the very consciousness of those who lived there.  I had been in those towers as a boy with my Father, and had attended a number of business meetings there as an adult; to see them in ruins I honestly was unable to wrap my mind around it. That was a difficult time, my kids were young and didn’t really understand the magnitude of what had happened, my Uncle Ray and his family were deep in their grieving, and the smoke was still rising over the NYC skyline as I flew home that chilly October afternoon.  We had begun to rally together as a country, but there was a palpable underlying anxiety as well, soldiers patrolling airports, the constant crush of media coverage and the feeling that things were never going to be the same.

We have all come to know more about the events of that fateful day than any of us probably care to, the fingers have been pointed, the conspiracies debated, wars continue to be fought over it, governments overthrown, and even some Old Testament justice delivered by Seal Team Six, and in spite of it all I still miss my cousin.

So sixteen years later I still wonder why, was anything really accomplished on either side, how many must we kill of theirs, how many need to be beheaded by this latest incarnation of radicalism and in the end will any of it really matter? I think we all know the answer as this supposed war of faith has been raging for centuries with no abatement in sight and no real answers either.

For me the very saddest part of this is that we all believe what we believe but somehow that isn’t enough for any of us, we feel obligated to propagate our belief system as the superior form of faith, philosophy, or even denomination and these beliefs of ours in their most radical form require the conversion or extinction of those that don’t believe as we do. How it’s possible to reconcile this with any positive interpretation of spirituality escapes me.

Many of my friends and family have visited the 9/11 Memorial, they say it’s a special place, a solemn place, that the spirits walk there and I am sure it’s true, but I have not visited. I want to, I have even made my travel reservations, but something holds me back and although I am sure I will eventually make it there and I will close my eyes and speak with my cousin we will share a laugh and the memories of long ago, but not yet, no the sadness is still too deep, too real, and the loss has not faded to a point where I can face it yet. So, till then I look at the pictures, listen to the stories of those who make the pilgrimage, and I miss my cousin.

Author’s Note:

I am posting this a day early as we are expecting to high winds and loss of power as #IRMA enters the Tampa Bay area later today and tonight.

Memories from 1984

It’s late 1984 and I am holed up in the freshman dorm on the East Campus of Duke University slaving over some awful English Comp paper on my IBM Selectric II, oh that was one sweet typewriter let me tell you, envy of the floor. The girl down the hall, now a Federal Judge, is confidently relaxed cause she is way better prepared for exams then I will ever be. I take a quick break and attempt to iron the triple creases on my Navy ROTC shirt, nothing easy about this on one of those small table top style mini ironing boards, and yes they measured our creases with a ruler.

The hell with it I think, time to break out the Häagen-Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond, I deserve it after all that typing. No worries though morning PT will definitely take care of the indulgence. Across the hall the Texas soccer playboys are trying to learn how to match colors on their newly pressed outfits… its a bitch living without your personal valet. Duke is a different environment, the brilliant, the brilliant super rich, the foreign super rich, and the rest of us struggling to survive. Crank up the Tom Petty, a little air guitar, couple more bites of ice-cream, and back to it…

You know the funny thing is I still play a mean air guitar, love my Vanilla Swiss Almond and can iron like a MFer…  I miss that IBM – but typing on my wireless keyboard and watching the words appear on the screen in front of me – well that’s just magic…

Time…

There is an interesting lesson to be learned about time and history, the older one gets the more compressed time seems and what appears to be ancient history to a young person is simply a memory to those that were there…

The Process…

I have been writing for a long time, I started with poetry and short stories in high school and have written for local magazines and newspapers, but mostly just for myself. I always considered it a hobby a way to infuse some artistic expression into what was and still is a very structured industry that I work in. My “day job” if you will, is providing executive management consulting to healthcare companies; everything from technology integration to revenue cycle management. I’ve spent thirty years in the industry and now have the luxury, really the privilege of working for myself. As much as I love what I do it wasn’t enough, two years ago I decided to get serious about my writing; I published my first novel last spring and my second this summer. It’s been a learning experience and like with most things I feel the more I invest in it the better I am becoming at it, imagine that right. Read more ›