Can You Help Move?

There are very few words that seem to strike fear into the minds and bodies of those we call friends and associates like…”Could you help us move?” I think we have all been on the receiving end of that phrase, that desperate plea for help or manipulative query that is uncomfortably uttered by us poor souls who’ve had to take part in that emotionally and physically daunting task. It had been a long time since my last move although I have been at the receiving end of that question a few times. I would have rather been cornered naked, in a dark basement by a Catholic Priest in an abandoned building. But alas the term “Friend” is often contingent upon these very five words.

Dependent upon the answer you give can determine whether or not you get invited to the next “core friends” BBQ. And there is no righteous outcome, if you are able to throw up a confident “yes” without choking, it won’t only be eight hours of your life you’ll never get back but you will forever afterwards be that friend, the one he/she can always count on and will not only state that at every social function but will take full advantage of it at every turn. Especially if it’s an old stanky toilet they need removed from the basement, or some massive piece of awkwardly shaped furniture trapped in the family room for the last twenty years that just simply won’t fit through any doorway in their house, no matter how many times you turn it or angle it or slam down another beer looking at it in a stern and threatening manner.

If however you return with a definitive and minimalistic “no”, you can kiss that next “Core friends” grilled steak and Saison DuPont goodbye in lieu of the neighborhood BBQ’d frozen chicken thigh and store bought lemonade mix. Not only will the person that asked you begin their request to every other friend with…”So and so refused to help me…”, but don’t even consider asking them for help when next you need it because no matter what they will always have some commitment that’ll quite “unfortunately” keep them from helping you out, but they will wish you good luck and offer their quite sympathetic apologies.

This has all led the human race to honing their improvisational skills in order to be that friend who didn’t come up with the same excuse as every other friend. This is nothing new, nothing contemporary about it; in fact it has been true throughout history. I am certain that back in the day, during a midweek plundering event, when Eric Bloodaxe asked ol’ Sweyn Forkbeard for help carrying the wench he kidnapped from some unfortunate village to his boat, Sweyn probably gave him the old “oh well dontchaknow dat me cousin Bjorn Ironside is in town and we just really wanted to spend some quality time catchin’ up”. He had skillfully offered the ancient my relative’s in town excuse; brilliantly played he didn’t have to say “no” and got out of the task honorably because family is always first. Everybody knows that, and you will never be asked to prove that ol’ Bjorn Ironside is not just your fire hearth repair guy.

Over time we have become proficient at coming up with all sorts of excuses or “unfortunate” and “regrettable” reasons why we can’t help. That’s why small residential moving companies like Two Men and a Truck and the sexist but growing Shirts Optional Moving Company have prevailed. They are doing well and it probably doesn’t help that manual labor is all but a thing of the past for the majority of us. We sit five days a week at our desks wearing away the characters on the little buttons on our keyboards and wonder why those jugs of milk seem to be getting heavier…”but it’s 1%, I just don’t get it.”

Most people would rather beg for money on the curb with which to pay for their fancy coffee than to ask their friends for help moving. But don’t worry, brush up on your improv skills and don’t you even dare use the much worn out…”yeah well I would but I promised my girl/guy we’d go shopping at the mall that weekend, sorry Bob, but hey, good luck moving and I’m really sorry I can’t help out this time” excuse.

In response to my friend Brian Garrity’s short story “Sirens of Franklin” in his new book “Cig”.

Go home
You all yell to the woman with the covered head
As you drive by bravely
And you all laugh again, except your heart is breaking
You yell together the N word as you pass a lone black man and you see the fear
Someone throws a beer can and it almost hits him
You see his fear, his anger
Your fear, your anger
Queer
Freak
Faggot
Fairy
Nasty mean words thrown up and out of the mouth
You yell as you drive by
Your friends
You all laugh and have another swig of beer
You, you yell your hate out, hoping somewhere inside it will go away
This is not how you want to be
You know that queer, that freak, that fairy, that faggot, that foreigner is in you
You are them
You don’t belong
You don’t want to be found out
You liked his/her dress and heels
The purse was beautiful
You envied her ability be who she was
You hated her being who she was because you can’t be who you are
The ‘boys’ want to beat her up
‘You’ want to beat her up
Beat yourself up
But no
You keep driving
Now you’re the pussy
Yes you are, but not because you won’t beat her up
You have another sip of beer and swallow everything

 

Copyright Don MacLeod

The Unliving

We are the unliving
Unliving our lives
Not wanting the life we live
Doing nothing to change it
Doing nothing to break the cycle
Dragging ourselves through the day
Afraid to ask for help
Afraid to tell the truth
Fear is our constant companion
Small most days, but constant
It dictates our every word
It dictates our every decision
This small worm, an infection making us the unliving
We have to take the medicine to cure this infection
We have to take the medicine that will make us brave
That medicine is called love
It’s a powerful medicine
But it’s hard for us to swallow
We don’t think that we deserve it
We fear it’s not true
We fear
Take your medicine
Share your medicine
Receive the medicine you are given
There is an abundant supply in every breath
Encourage others to take their medicine We can not live this life in fear
This world can not live this life in fear
Love is not sex
Sex is not love
We get those confused
Love comes from the heart
Love is received by the heart
It’s time to stop this unliving
It’s time just stop this unloving
For all of us
It’s time for all of us to live our lives
It’s  time for all of us to love our lives

The Pain I can’t Turn Away

The look in her eyes turns foggy, faded, as if she were pulling away.

Her lips pursed and her complexion sallow.

I am honest with her, I tell her what I think, and I think she is an alcoholic.

The air turns thick and rancid, I take a step back and she bites, and she bites hard.

Her sharp tongue lashing out like rogue flames from a roaring fire, her tone dark and mean.

I love who she is when the waters are calm, she is kind, and she is funny, but I hate her when

she is called to defend her behavior.

Like all of us she has her days and nights, her ups and down, her peaks and valleys.

And I accept her for who she is through-out all of it, in spite of her inaccurate accusations,

her scars, her shadows and her fears.

She is my little sister, she is my niece’s mother, she is my only full blood sibling, and she is the bane of my frustration.

It hurts when I am honest and she disappears, when she claims I don’t care and turns away, returning to the shadows again.

I know how it feels to melt away, to sink back into the dark pool of shame and fear.

I know what it means to want to simply vanish, from the pain, from what hurts and from the love

you can’t allow yourself to deserve.

I wish I could show her the way, but her map is different, it has places I have crossed off on mine,

scary places and hard places, and places I have succumb to and survived, and I hope that one day she may too.

In the meanwhile it hurts, to watch and to see, to hear and to feel.

There will be days again when she wanders by a little too closely, just enough to feel a little warmth, just to know it’s still there and I will respond in kind and absorb what I can of her then, knowing it won’t last, knowing soon after she will disappear again.

White Water Harry and the Clearwater rapids

As we coasted down the river I couldn’t help but look around like a small child standing in front of his stocking hung over the fireplace on Christmas morning; glassy eyed, knowing there were good things at hand, anticipating the excitement of what I might soon see.

The air was cool, the sky was blue and the mountains around us were dark, mysterious, and beautiful and covered in pines and waterfalls. The water beneath us was clear and cold. As we drifted ever further downstream the water began to run faster and there were whirl pools and giant rocks just under the surface pushed the water up and churned it over, suggesting more tumultuous currents ahead.

I looked around as my head began to wash over with a certain fear of the very near future; the faces on those around me suggested they were experiencing the same exhilarating feelings. My fiancée and my youngest daughter on the opposite side of the raft as me and one of my other daughters behind me, and our captain of this white water raft, only nineteen years old sat high at the rear of the craft, a huge twelve foot oar in each hand.

Even at his young age he expertly guided us through the bubbling and deftly flowing waters, he looked like he’d just stepped off of the beach with long blonde hair, tanned skin and necklaces of stone hung by hemp twine no doubt. He spoke with a fantastic thick accent, his name was Harry and he’d come to British Columbia from New Zealand. He was friendly, funny and precise. Each of us held a paddle of our own and under his command we would help pilot this huge rubber vessel over frightening rapids, spinning whirl pools and around massive rock outcroppings with little room for comfort.

Suddenly as Harry was spinning us stories of his desire to travel abroad to guide white water rafts he yelled out “get down”, each of us slid our outside leg off from the side of the boat and quickly planted ourselves on the bottom, our eyes wide and our breaths held we cut to the right, and the boat dipped violently downward, it felt as though we were falling and as water came flooding over the sides we frantically changed directions and the boat jumped from the surface of the water and landed precariously back into the fastly moving current, I look around and see my youngest daughter facing the wrong way and on her back; she had been thrown about like a leaf in the wind. When she found she was safe her face lit up with a mixture of residual fear and thrill.

That is how things went as we navigated the Clearwater River for a little over an hour; it was wonderful, scary and tense. When we reached a calm segment of the river Harry asked if we’d like to go for a dip since we were already soaked, so we all jumped overboard with elation and when we were submerged in the frigid glacial waters we gasped and begged for air. Then we all hooked our elbows together so as not to lose anyone, for a few moments it was stimulatingly refreshing. As soon as we began to move faster and faster Harry instructed we very quickly get back into the boat, this prompted a whole set of new logistical problems, like, how in hell do we do that!?

After one of us were able to climb aboard it was up to them to reach over and help by yanking those still in the water out by their life preserver, a difficult task for certain but one we all mastered hurriedly, for there were more rapids ahead of us and we would find ourselves cheering resolutely and celebrating our journey with high fives and gratitude at surviving, and finally opening the sleeves of our rain gear and fleece to let the water pour out when we made it ashore in the end.

The Kalaulau Trail

The trail was perilous and wonderful, dangerous and exciting; the stay on the remote beach was deliciously hot and sweet. The sunrises were only second to the sunsets, with the oceans waves shimmering in the late days astounding bright hues of drenched tangerines and warm golden light that almost seemed to drip into the bright blue water and wash up on shore.

There were wild cherry tomatoes lining the path to a thousand foot waterfall that fell to a cool, clear, fresh water pool in a small lush oasis where the beautifully tanned locals bathed nude, above the moss and the fragrant penny flowers, cliffs seemed to thrust forever skyward above the shoreline. Black rocks the size of softballs falling from crags overhead periodically to the hot sand below, landing with a soft thud, kicked from above by mountain goats.

Our stay on the beach was delightful, mourning doves cooed and pecked at the sandy ground in the grass around our campsite each afternoon, we ate by campfire and fell asleep to the sound of rushing waves upon the coastline. And our march back, our precarious and tremendous hike home came too soon. Our eleven and half mile trip to the beach was hot and dry, but our trip back would be anything but that.

It began under a blue sky peppered with a few clouds; the air was cooler than a few days before. We hoisted our packs and tightened the laces on our boots and stepped onto the trail once again, it was a bittersweet farewell but we had just under a dozen miles to leave behind us before we would rest the souls of our feet. The majority of our trip was fine enough though it had rained extensively on parts of the trail we had not reached yet. The ground was wet and slippery, the path barely wide enough to lay a school ruler across it and never flat and always sloping towards the edge looming thousands of feet above the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We passed over the area where my partner, only days before had lost her footing on ground that crumbled and slipped away, she fell to the path hugging the cliff to the inside, her left cheek crashing onto her heel as her right foot dangled weirdly off the ground and over the edge as rocks and dirt plunged into the sea far below. My heart stopped as I am certain hers did as well. It was scary and exhilarating all at once.

Then we made our way around the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge”, a section of the path that really isn’t any sort of path as it is described in Webster’s, but rather an almost vertical slope holding small rocks that one clings to, and steps across for about 200 meters around the face of a portion of a ridge, that frames the East side of the Hanakoa Valley. This section serves to eliminate many hikers from going further along the Kalaulau Trail, simply the site which seems to turn them around without any consideration at all.

We spent the second half of our nine and a half hour hike navigating wet, sloppy trails, boulder chasms and soggy rain forest valleys before coming to our final creek crossing. We had traversed many til now but this one had become a raging torrent of rushing water dropping thousands of feet from the mountains far above us. The sound of the rushing, ice-cold water was deafening, the site of it frightful. We assessed the crossing and considered staying put for a while but it seemed the rain wasn’t stopping and so neither would the creek for some time, could even be days.

Then to our delight we found there were a few men helping others across as they awaited their friends they’d been separated from what now looked now more like a swollen river. It wasn’t slowing but appeared to stay consistent for now. With much trepidation but a stronger desire to get off of the trail we made a decision to cross with help from the locals. One made his way to us and demanded we hand him our packs, he was of slighter frame, but tall and marvelously cut, he grabbed our huge packs and delivered them to the opposite shore with a honed skill. Then came back and threw his wet, pickled hand at Shira, she glanced back at me with fear and determination in her eyes, then stepped into the stream and grasped at his hand, her other firmly held in mine.

As we made our way, fighting the tremendous strength of the furious water beating against our chests, threatening to take our feet out from under us, we kept our eyes on the other muddy side. Half way across I mis-stepped, slipped and banged my knee on a rock under the surface, both of my numb legs flew back behind me, Shira looked back as I struggled to hold on and saw my legs floating straight behind me. She had to let go and leapt for the next man in the human chain, I found a crevice in the same boulder that drew blood from my knee and held on tight until the other guy was able to get to me, he pulled and I fought against the current and we made it eventually safely to shore. I would be lying if I were to say I wasn’t scared.

Soaked to the bone, our hiking boots now heavy and waterlogged, we grabbed our packs thanked those that helped us across and began our climb to complete the final two and a half miles of our incredible journey. A little over two hours later we stood at the trail head, tired, cold, wet and hungry. We did it though; together we survived the Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai. Number four on National Geographic’s top eleven best hikes around the world and Backpacker Magazine’s Top Ten Most Dangerous. There is a spiritual power that exists deep within the valleys along the Kalaulau, it is palpable and the locals call it mana. It seemed that each time we rounded a corner and looked out over the breathtaking scenes like that of Nu alolo Kai, one of the western most valleys, we got, again as the locals call it, chicken skin. I think that spirit will never leave us, it has made us stronger and it has left a mark on our souls.

You Know That Feeling?

Have you ever walked past the entryway to a dark alley, the open door to a room with no lights on or underneath an old rambling tree and think or feel like you’ve seen or felt something or somebody close by? Did you get the notion that someone or something was hiding there, watching you? Maybe you wondered if you were to reach out, reach into that darkness, take that little step out of the warmth of the sun or the safety of the light that you’d find it, touch it, feel it?

Have you ever walked past a mirror and not recognize the person looking back at you? Maybe you felt like you knew that person’s eyes, could see inside them and felt like you knew them but that the outside, the exterior was foreign, did you ever feel like you were wearing a suit just a little too big for you, like when you put on your fathers shirt as a boy? Have you ever felt like when someone touched you, you could feel their hands but not their touch? Or maybe at some point if someone touched you it seemed as though you had no skin and their touch hurt even though they hadn’t mean to hurt you, but like you were a solid grouping of raw, unprotected nerve endings, out there, susceptible to everyone, everything, every strange look, every unwelcome glance.

We all have haunts, impressions that have followed us throughout our lives, not all of them are bad, but some are, and they live in the shadows and those dark rooms and behind the trees in the forests and the damp corners of the alleys near our homes. I have learned to live and accept mine, sometimes we get so used to them that they become part of us and established element within our worlds. And sometimes we can convince them to leave, that there is no purpose here for them any longer, even the bad ones can protect us, but eventually if we take ownership we can learn to protect ourselves and even allow ourselves to just be vulnerable, to accept what lies ahead, what lurks where we fear to go. And maybe even find ourselves there, hiding out up in the thick canopy of that tree at the edge of the wood.

When we walk past those empty rooms, we feel the echoes of our shadows, within them are held our greatest fears, our haunts, our innocence and even our greatest desires. Challenge yourself to wander in there and poke around, see what you can find, accept it and welcome it and then celebrate it.