On a Hill, Overlooking a Strawberry Farm

I stood on that hill overlooking the pond at the strawberry farm; there had been a few small rain drops and a slight threat of rain, so I flippantly stated we were going to go ahead with the ceremony in spite of the threat to those who’d gathered to witness the union between me and my love. The air was sweet, and the breeze light, flowing through the trees with a subtle hush. From behind me the sultry, honest tones of a cello and the yearning, mellow notes from a violin danced in my ear. I looked into the eyes of many of my friends, some of whom I’ve not seen in a while and some far longer. I glanced back to my left and then to my right to see the confident smile in my sons face and my lovely daughter’s who’ve chosen to share in this moment with me, they didn’t have to, but it means the world to me that they came together to celebrate as members of Shira and my wedding party, and waiting proud and graceful, the maid of honor. Then my eyes went to the sky, to the clouds over the fields around us, I thought of how beautiful this day has turned out to be, how proud my father might be of me and how I wished he were alive to be here, to share in this moment.

My palms began to sweat and my mind was awash with thoughts of fantasy and wonder at what the future might bring for my bride and me. As the ring bearers, handsome and proper took their seats and the flower girl made her way up the aisle, meandering and innocently curious what all the fuss was about as she dropped rose petals onto the cool green grass, I noticed a flock of blackbirds take sudden flight from the trees above us.

There was a moment of quiet, short and daunting, and from the guests seated there came a murmuring, then shallow gasps as they all turned around. Abruptly a quiet ringing entered my ear, a new song began to play and then everything was silent but for the guttural and fluid sounds of the beating of my own heart. And there, from behind a grand oak tree stepped out the most wondrous sight, the image of all that is good and decent and strong and magnificent, I was floored, as I watched her step to the back of the seats, I looked at her and nothing else in the world mattered to me in that moment. She stood elegant, poised in her wedding dress, and I just soaked in her image, her lips and her face.

Then, from somewhere deep inside of me a small boy, one whose been hiding for so long, slowly climbed down from his tree, stepped out onto the shoreline along the river and cast upon the cool dark waters his sail boat without care. He stood and watched as the small craft that’d been docked for so long, waiting for him, glided freely on the current, swiftly out of site. When the boy turned and looked at me I knew him, I felt him and as he stepped away, leaving no tracks in the sand I didn’t fall apart, I was no longer afraid, I no longer felt alone. Instead I felt empowered and free.

My heart had stopped but for a minute, I wanted to run to her when the tears began to roll along her cheeks, but she came to me, in the arms of her mother and her father, under a beautiful sky, amongst friends and family, she came to me and took my hand and we looked at each other, we saw each other, we shared in that moment all of our hopes and dreams and embraced a new beginning for each other, for us together. Everything appeared to be perfect, she seemed perfect, but with all of it stripped away, the people, the hill, the sun and the exquisite clothes, the symphony of pomp and circumstance, it was just us, alone and together, with our hearts and souls in each other’s arms. It was altogether, simply and extravagantly beautiful. It was indeed perfect.

 

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Open Wounds

The drive home is a long one, slow goin’ and frustrating stuck in heavy traffic barely edging along. His eyes began to wander to trees along the side of the highway, there was a squirrel running the branches from tree to tree, making better time than he was in his old truck. It began to seem as though every time he stepped on the gas the car in front of him hit their brakes and gal in the car next to him was applying lipstick as though she was tracing a Rembrandt. Since his move he made this trek every day, lately just to get to a Park n Ride so he could wait around to catch a shuttle to his work. It was a study in stress management and futility.

Today however he kept thinking of his sweet little girl and his son lying on the couch when he got home. He’d get there, fix a snack and take his girl to softball practice, and then they might go home and play cards or have a fire in the back yard. It wouldn’t exactly be like old times, before the divorce but it’d suit him just fine; in fact he looked forward to it. There’s something special about a man hugging his son, hugs are beautiful anyway but there’s certain fragility about a shared hug between father and son. Ever since the divorce he’s felt like he was lost, like he was driving in a thick fog, everything was different now and he’d have to figure out new ways to operate, to make things work between his kids and him. It wouldn’t be easy and he knew it. But he had the most wonderful gal he’d met and fell in love with since the end of his marriage; some say it might have been too soon, some outright stated as much but what can you do when your heart begins to keep time with someone else’s, between the two of them they were right. They both needed mending and they shared some of the same scars and injuries’ from previous lives, they understood each other and knew they didn’t want to be apart.

How much hurt can one heart take, how many times can it be stopped before it fails to start again?

As he pulled around the corner in the rain he saw his son’s car idling in the street, he was just pulling away. He pulled up next to his car and rolled down the window, his son rolled his down and sheepishly looked away. “Hey where are you going bud?” he asked him. His son looked up through the rain and said that his mom told him and his sister to go home since their dad had to work and no one would be home all day with them. His sister had been picked up earlier and his son said that he was supposed to call his mom; he said he was sorry and that he had to go. He rolled up the window and pulled away as the rain poured in over his door. He sat there in the street, the rain seemed heavier and the clouds appeared to grow darker. It felt as though his heart just stopped. This was supposed to be the beginning of a full week with his kids, sure he had to work during the day, the kids were out of school for the summer and he just couldn’t take the vacation. But he planned on eating dinners with them, maybe some ice cream before bed, play a little Ping Pong or Rummy Five Hundred. Then he’d see his daughter to bed and kiss her goodnight. Back in the day he used to have breakfast with her before he’d leave for work, it was a special time for him and one he used to cherish.

But today he sat in his truck, and watched the tail lights of his son’s car fade away in the falling rain. Today there would be no hugs, no kisses. No snuggles. He tried to breathe but it felt as though his heart just laid there in the bottom of his chest. And loneliness crept in closely and took his hands, they began to feel swollen and warm as he spread mortar on the bricks at his feet, the bricks seem to get heavier every time this wall gets built he thought. And he struggled to get it done quickly, his mind was awash in a heavy dose of pity and when he heard his ex-wife’s voice on the phone telling him the kids needed a parent, not an empty house, that they needed someone to care for them and love them he reached for a big swig of rage, he swallowed it and it built inside of him like a blustery fall wind and exploded from his mouth, he threw the phone down, and cleared the counter of something else before storming out the house. He’d walk I the rain, letting it soak his clothes, and his face, he’d walk it off, pushing it back down where it belongs.

How much hurt can one heart take, how many times can it be stopped before it fails to start again? Before it finally just lays there at the bottom of the cage, feeling sorry for itself, bleeding from its re-opened wounds.

 

Lost

How could she say no, he loved her and that’s why he gave her the pills, like he told her, if he didn’t care he wouldn’t spend his own hard earned money to buy her what she needs to get through her day. Now all she has to do is cook him and his kids, their kids’ dinner. He works so hard ya know, he was dealt a bad hand so he didn’t get a job making what he’s worth, but he found other ways to make money, and he couldn’t go to school because he wouldn’t be able to work and buy her pills. So when he came home from the bar and she questioned him about where he’d been and he lost his temper again and hit her, well it was her fault for being unfair and making him mad. That’s what she told the police anyway when they questioned her, and that’s when she turned to go to her room and ran into the edge of the door cutting her cheek.

So each day she washed his clothes, the kids clothes, cleaned the house, tried to study but after a while she knew it was unfair for her to take so much time away from his kids to study for some class he said she’d never be able to pass anyway, she wasn’t smart enough but he would take care of her…and like he said, he loved her.

There were parts of her day when she started to crash that she questioned whether or not she doing the right thing, there was a part of her that was struggling, a part somewhere inside of her that opposed him but that scared her and she kept it tucked away. That was dangerous thinking. And after a few years her relationship became one more recognizable as a caretaker than as a mother, she couldn’t play with them because she had to make them dinner, what kind of mother would deny her man and his kids dinner?

When the kids were fed and she’d washed the dishes he gave her what she needed, she swallowed them with some warm Pepsi and went off to her bedroom and sat, she waited with her eyes closed as her body began to slump and feel warmer, then her mind drifted off and she lay back on her bed and floated away to some place better. Some place where the sun shone upon her face, where the wind was sweet and she was free. Some place she could wander off to as he came in and stripped her clothes from her, used her, took advantage of her and then left her by herself afterwards to curl up in the corner and hold herself against the torment that came like a slow burning fire day after day. Night after night, and so on, and so on.

Eventually she was lost touch with the outside world, her support structure had been severed, she was manipulated and abused and her soul was in dire straits. When she saw or interacted with others it was through a sort of mask or body suit she wore that no one could see through to feel sorry for her. They didn’t know what was happening inside the dark, dangerous walls of her home, they didn’t know the rot that had infiltrated her body, her mind. Soon no one saw her and she knew it, she became lonely, not lonely like most people feel when they everyone leaves after the party but lonely like there is no one that knows how you feel, like no one understands the pain you feel, like when you find yourself inside of a nightmare and you try to scream aloud but nothing comes out, you have regressed inside of your own mind and lost your way.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon an aunt and uncle leaving the family cabin happened to pass her as she rolled up the driveway, they saw her, she looked into their eyes and smiled and they smiled back and waved as they drove on, they had someplace to be and couldn’t really stop to visit just then. They thought how she didn’t have the kids with her and she was alone but they’d get hold of her later on and check in with her then. So they continued on their way.

Three days later they called her husband because she wasn’t answering her cellphone. He told them how he was upset with her for just up and leaving her kids at home alone with no dinner, how he’d not heard from her either. They didn’t say anything then, not to him but they wondered about the cabin, maybe she finally ran away, no one in the family liked him, they all suspected that he wasn’t a good man. That was all, they were adults and could handle their own affairs.

So they drove to the cabin, there in the driveway was her car. It was cold and the keys were still in the ignition. They checked the cabin but it was empty, in fact the door was still locked from when they’d left, nothing had been disturbed, it appeared as though no one had even stepped inside. He stepped outside and called out to her, she stayed inside and made a few sandwiches, she probably went for a walk, and she’d be hungry when she came back. He began wandering around the cabin, there were a few trails off from the driveway and he thought he’d just wander a bit and see if he found any trace of her.

In a small clearing underneath a tall Poplar, he saw her from behind, she sat in the leaves, and he called to her. He stated that they’d been looking for her, that people were worried. He paused a few yards behind her because he felt sick in his stomach, he didn’t know why but he knew something was wrong. Then he saw her left hand, it lay palm up on the ground next to her hip, he didn’t need to go any further, next to her hand, in the grass, on top of some leaves was a gun. He saw the other side of her head and her hair was matted and darkened with blood.

What happens to a person when they get so lost, so lonely that there is no way out, that their lifeline cannot reach beyond the place within themselves, that dark place that becomes their only safe place? In what world does God allow a mother to go so adrift so as to go missing within themselves, to drown in such sadness that there is absolutely no other way out. And how do those around them not see her?

To my cousin, may she rest free.

The Procedure

“We’ll call you in two weeks to tell you what we found from the biopsies” the GI doctor told me, I could see his face moving, his lips seemed to be moving slower than the rest, his eyes even blinked slowly, I didn’t feel quite right either, I know I had a procedure, but I couldn’t quite remember what it was and why. Suddenly I was standing in a bathroom alone, in a set of hospital slippers and a robe on. Someone’s voice echoed in my head but there was no one in the bathroom with me. I looked in the mirror and saw myself, I looked hollow, lost. It took me a moment but then I realized I was holding a bag, I opened it and there were my clothes, I knew they were mine because I recognized them, so I put them on.

When I stepped out of the bathroom I was starting to land, I could feel my feet against the floor and then someone grabbed my arm at the elbow and when I turned I saw my daughter and she smiled at me and lead me out of the hospital and to the car. My head was still foggy but I remembered why I was there and then I remembered I was hungry. “To Cecil’s” I exclaimed the best damned deli in the state, it has been around for three generations and the fourth is now washing dishes. I refuse to eat a Rueben anywhere else, ever. And don’t get me started on the blueberry malt. I’m buyin’ I said and off we drove to Highland Park for an early dinner. After all I hadn’t eaten solid food in three darn days, and I felt like an old rug that’d sat outside in the rain; no matter how hard you try or how many times you wring that sucker out you still get cloudy, old water running from it as soon as you hang it back up.

Earlier the month prior I had my annual checkup with my doctor at the VA and he didn’t’ like the blood I gave him, so he asked for more and I obliged but he still didn’t like it and said I was anemic. He asked me a barrage of questions and didn’t like my answers so as punishment he said he’ll have to perform an endoscopy and a colonoscopy so he gave me a bottle of barium sulfate to drink with a jug ‘o salt water for a chaser. Now there’s a party folks.

One of my sweet daughters was the lucky one to take me to the VA for the procedure, she waited in the lobby while I was rotor rooted and aside from the dozen ulcers they saw at the top of my stomach they apparently found lots of goodies to remove and test. They talked to me about cancers, and Crohn’s disease and a host of other fun things that might explain my anemic state and other issues I might be having. Then they told me they’d get back to me in two weeks. Hmph.

A man tends to take his evaluation and consider what he’s doing in those two weeks afterwards and I did just that. And when my doctor finally called I was conflicted but nonetheless still relieved I suppose when he told me that they found no trace of cancer. However, he stated emphatically, you do have Celiac Sprue Disease. Now my take away at this point was quite as a matter of fact; stay away from hospitals, it’s just like taking your car in to the shop for a recalled part, damned if they don’t find something else wrong with it.

Her Broken Cocoon

The sun, try as it may couldn’t get through the clouds on Saturday morning, so she lay in bed, tucked under the covers, pulled up to her ear and tried to dream of warmer, sunnier days but the imagery was washed away by the pelting rain hitting the windows’ at the foot of her bed. The past week was dreary to say the least, no sun and too many clouds.

Leaving the house meant getting wet; normally this isn’t a huge issue, but day after day with no direct sunlight, no reprieve from the cold, barrage of precipitation makes it difficult to swallow. So she lay under her comforter attempting to fill her mind with thoughts of anything but negativity and her reach for any sort of respite was met with frustration and a growing darkness.

Eventually she slid from her broken cocoon, opened the shades and watched as rain drops rolled down the glass like unending tears. Against the heaviness she tried to breathe in deeply but her lungs felt shallow. She stripped the bed and attempted to push back the impending sadness.

She opened the bedroom door and the house felt empty, lonely and quiet, the floors cold and walls a little too close. Even a glass of water couldn’t rinse away the feelings of melancholy.

She brushed her teeth and searched her reflection in the mirror for comfort but in her dark eyes she saw only gloom. She brushed her hair and even that felt annoying, she was losing the battle, the weight of so many things began to bury her from the floor up, impeding her step, slowing her climb from this wretched valley no light seemed to reach. And her only companions, hiding in the shadows beside her are all the things that scare her, that threaten her well-being, her strength and the warmth of her soul.

Now with her sight skewed, the fog of depression manipulating all around her, making it difficult to see a way out, she swallows hard, reaches in and pulls out from behind her a rope, a heavy, old rope and throws it as far as she can. Hoping for someone to see it, to pull back and find her before its too late. Before her tears make it too difficult to hang on and she loses her grip.

Chalk Drawings in the Rain

Standing there alone, at the precipice of nightfall, the air turns cooler, daylight appearing a little dimmer and the shadows begin to fade away slowly. One moment his silhouette is beside him, it draws longer before simply dissipating in the pale, late afternoon ambient light, along with all the other shadows. It used to be so clear; his relationship with his kids, the expectations’, the experiences. But now they seem to be dissolving like a child’s chalk drawings in the rain.

It’s strange when you get older and your children do too, it’s not the same for you both. For one the days run by like a fast moving bus leaving one to yearn for what they may have missed and for the other they seem to draw on forever, full of opportunity, excitement for what may come, adventure and anticipation. For the parent there is a sense of loss, for the child freedom.

You knew it was coming, all the older folks say it’s so, that the time you have with them passes by so quickly and we take it for granted. That time passes by like a mid-winters day, and soon you’re wondering what happened, where did it all go, why do you feel as though they’ve forgotten you. You forget what it is like to be a teenager, cruising around with your pal’s, the freedom, no one looking over your shoulder.

Your daughter has a boyfriend, he gets more time than you now, she looks at him with that same lost essence in her eyes that she once had for you…when she was like five. It hurts, you feel betrayed, left behind, alone. They all grow older; your son leaps out the front door in his letterman jacket and the keys to his future, and his little tender hands not in yours, tugging you along. Finally the youngest glances back at you as she runs off to join her team mates on the field, it’s not fair you think, you used to throw her in the air and now her fellow ball players celebrate with her, they chant and cheer her on and they are louder than you and the sound of your voice diminishes as it gets carried away in the fall air.

Breakfast is lonely now; it feels unnecessary, like an old outdated custom. Like an old book you once loved to read over and over but it just seems like the words aren’t quite as bright as they used to be, the pages are more fragile and worn and the cover has seen its day in the sun, it eventually finds its way onto a shelf higher than the rest, it may be pulled out now and again but the air between its pages will grow stale and it’s binding dusty. Like all great books, once celebrated its now simply remembered.

You taught them, aimed them in the right direction, and gave them the tools they’ll rely on when they are all on their own. You are happy for them, and are yourself excited to see them flourish, grow and become adults. But somewhere along the way you forgot to prepare yourself, I suppose that’s what happens though, you love them, cherish them, teach them and watch them step away.

Miss Betty

She was beautiful, her white hair appropriately cut, her large, round, gold framed sunglasses reflecting the few clouds hovering above Parker’s Lake in the otherwise clear blue sky. Her thin, pale hand pulling on the pretty little leash attached to her small Bichon mix. She walked in her comfortable shoes towards me along the asphalt path. I had stopped to photograph a turtle sunning itself on a rock just off shore, and when I turned and saw her she smiled a crooked smile and wished me a sunny day. I responded with “me and the turtle wish you the same miss”.

She paused, she didn’t know me; I wore a blue t-shirt exposing my tattoos and faded jeans and cheap, dark sunglasses. Then she turned full round and stepped back towards me only a single step and threw her tired arms in the air and said “who couldn’t enjoy a day like this”. I introduced myself and said “indeed it’s a beautiful day, almost as much as you miss.” She stepped closer this time and stuck her hand out, I grasped her hand gently and gave her my name, she told me I seemed like a nice guy to which I replied…”my fiancée seems to think so” and she slapped her knee and whipped around and said “oh darn it’s always the nice one aint it!” I laughed and she asked about my fiancée.

Leaning against a rock wall along Parker’s Lake under a strong and warm spring sun we chatted about love and politics and travelling, OCD, addiction and recovery. I was already late getting back to work after lunch but I didn’t care, she was sweet and funny and we quickly became friends. She had spoken about a book she was reading called Switching on Your Brain by Caroline Leaf and how it had transformed how she saw things. She said it showed her how to be happier…by choosing to be happy, she has OCD she said and her husband is a recovering alcoholic and she spoke about how sometimes we just need to decide to be happy and that it doesn’t matter what others believe or whether or not they accept us as we are, it’s up to us whether or not we choose to be happy on our own terms.

She patted me on the arm and said that we were meant to meet today, we saw eye to eye on some things and not so on others but we both enjoyed each other’s company for a little while on what had already been a beautiful day, but now had become much more than that for me. When we allow ourselves to remain open to what’s around us we invite opportunities to be rewarded, sure that means we can be hurt too, there’s always an innate risk there when we make ourselves vulnerable, but I’ll take that risk any day! Thank you Miss Betty.