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.


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
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

So this is it

So this is it, I sit nervously speaking directly into the small microphone on the desk in front me, to the judge poised above me and behind his big oak dais. To my left is my attorney, she is older, appears frail to a point with short, dark crimson hair but doesn’t hesitate to speak up. To her left, my soon to be ex-wife, she is dressed for success in a sleeveless blouse and nice pants. She has a look that seems to say she is somewhere far away. She never looks at me, even when we met in the hallway before hand, when she spoke to me she looked out the fourth floor window or at the floor. Now we all face the judge, it’s a very quiet room and we wait as he flips through the divorce decree page by page. He takes a sip of water from a clear glass and the folds his hands together and leans forward, in a deep and pudgy voice he says “You two have been very respectful and mature during this process, I don’t often deal with a couple like you whom manage to get through this with sensibility.” I respect that about you two and applaud you for it.

I don’t know how to feel just then, I am proud of us, my ex-wife and me. I am beginning to falter also, I look over at Angie and I see that her eyes are full of clouds; she uses the middle part of her index finger to check her eyes in an attempt at keeping the tears at bay. This has been a long process and I have been impatient at times but mostly I have felt great sadness as I do now. I feel a sense of loss for something that has lasted twenty two years.  When she and I met she was 16 and I was 20, we married in 1992 and moved far away from her parents. We have had four children, the first one is Aspergers, extremely high functioning; she is 21 and is in college studying to be a prosthetics engineer, the other ones are also all very educated and intelligent, kind and wonderful. We must have done something right, together. I think for many years our marriage was amazing, and I think for years we struggled, especially after my tours in the military overseas in South West Asia, and we both grew apart emotionally, trying to nurture and develop our own selves through-out strain and emotional neglect.

It’s at those times that a person must reach inside and rely on their skills at surviving and adapting, and neither of us ever had those lessons as we grew up kids in the homes in which we lived. For very different reasons, both homes were very dysfunctional and I am afraid we both learned inappropriate ways of dealing with emotional struggles. That didn’t serve us well later on in our lives, in our marriage. Eventually we looked for different things to make us happy and help us go on. We concentrated on the children, they were always our main focus, albeit with different ideas and styles but still it was about the kids.

Two people can only go on so long in that way, they become less of a couple and more of a team, and when that team begins to fade and fall apart, so too does the communication and support and success of that team. And that becomes obvious to the children and that becomes hurtful and neglectful to them as well. We practiced good front stage behavior for a while, but more and more time was spent in separate dressing rooms off stage. We tried counseling and tried a few different avenues and means of treatment both as a couple and as individuals.

Finally, in the end all we had left of each other in our hearts were echoes of past times when things were good, but even those have been muddied, covered over with a thin but rank layer of regret, anger, disappointment and misery. I still love her and I always will, I think she is responsible for saving me more than a few times, I am broken and always was and from the start she knew it but saw something then that she wanted, that had value, that she was attracted to. I guess that only lasts so long until its only shadows in the fog, drifting in and out around us until we don’t even recognize it any longer and then it melts into history.

So this is it, as the judge signs off on the twentieth page of a document that legally terminates our marriage I am conflicted, feel torn apart and opened up like a gutted fish. As we walk out the front door of the Family Justice Center in the middle of downtown, surrounded by cranes and jackhammers, cars and busses and trucks, I watch as she quickly, steadily and forever walks away from me, never looking back. Lost in the crowded streets, a friend, a wife, and a consort. I have lost someone I have loved for more than twenty two years. Regardless of the circumstances, the hurt, the deception, the anger, the heart still bleeds; even whilst it runs dry it will desperately continue to beat until there is nothing left to beat for. Then standing there, empty and alone, looking for a spark, for shelter from the approaching cold and waits.

Swimming in Thin Air

Sitting on a thin patch of carpet against a wall that seemed to be sweating with the overwhelmingly tangy odor of Polo, I could hear Dire Straits Walk of Life blaring from some old wooden tower speakers in another room. It was rich and cool in my ear. I couldn’t hardly feel my legs, shit in fact I couldn’t really feel much. And I liked not feeling things then, not the shame as my father beat me, or the loneliness of watching my mother drift away into her scotch filled tumbler. I took another toke of whatever magnificent smoke I’d taken from the chic lying in my lap before passing it to someone next to me.  I felt the warmth crawl down into my lungs, it burned at the bottom, I held my breath for a bit, resting my head against the wall with my eyes closed. It felt like I began to meld in with the wall, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t feel my legs any longer because I think I began to float up to the ceiling, I watched as I slowly let the smoke escape through my nose, it was a dirty yellow color, I looked pale and sick.

I seeped back into my body and tried to open my eyes but they were so heavy. I pushed the girl in my lap off onto the floor and climbed up the wall like it was Everest. When I was standing I felt as though I was on some old tug boat on the water and called out for the captain, but the captain never answered. The girl hollered “hey, where are you going man?”I ignored her and stumbled across the floor, littered with others, with beer cans and great big amber colored glass ash trays. I looked around for someone I knew and spotted one of my roommates in a corner smoking the filter end of a Marlboro Light, gawd he must’ve been stoned. I tried to laugh but choked, my lungs hurt almost as much as my head. I’d smoked some great stuff I thought but the shit I just inhaled wasn’t Sensimilia or Mexican Red, it must’ve been spiked. We were in a Frat house on Snelling Avenue, I remember now. Suddenly someone grabbed my leg and when I looked down at the couch behind me it was buddy from the Booth Brown House, a youth shelter we both stayed at for a few days last year.

“Dude” he exclaimed, his eyes red, swollen and glassed over, “You can’t leave dude, you are too dusted”. Fuck! I yelled, I’ve never smoked Angel Dust before, but that explains a few things. I turned the corner to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. After a while of staring at myself I splashed some water on my face and that felt so fucking weird I had to do it again, and then again what the hell. At that point I heard someone yell out “Cops”. I struggled against the flow of zombies to get back to the living room where my friends were and once I got there I grabbed them and pulled them along to the back door with everyone else. By the time we fell out the gate to the alley I could hear screaming and yelling from inside the house. My buddy from the shelter ran off and it was just me and my roommate. I rolled over to my hands and knees and saw Wes Standing in front of me, he pressed his fingers to his lips and tried to shoosh me but spit instead as he looked North down the alleyway. When I stood up and looked to see what he was staring at I saw the glow of flashlights pouring through the lilac bushes next door.

I said “We have to go Wes, we have to get outta here, we don’t have a ride so we are gonna have to find a bus”, suddenly someone came crashing through the bushes at the end of the red cedar fence we stood against, he landed on his knees and one hand and as he attempted to stand up there was a gun shot. My ears rang and I watched as he looked at us and fell straight to his face and rolled over onto his back. He didn’t move then, his right arm just awkwardly fell limp to the crumbled asphalt. Wes grabbed my shoulder and tugged as he started on a dead run in the opposite direction, and I joined him.

I hadn’t run so fast for so long as I did that night. We finally found ourselves lying in the grass behind somebody’s house in the remnants of the old Rondo Neighborhood. We laid there for a while, I was having an ever increasingly difficult time focusing, I felt like I was barely breathing anymore, and I felt like I was wearing snow shoes. Wes hadn’t smoked any of the weed that was passed around, so he was just drunk and was trying to pull me up to get moving, but I felt so heavy all over.

We finally did get to a bus stop, it was somewhere on University Avenue, somewhere deep in the night. It felt like we sat on that cold bench for hours, my eyes hurt like they were under lots of pressure but I couldn’t stop staring at everything, and Wes was falling asleep. We were far from home; we were living in a small store front on Martin Luther King Park in South Minneapolis. About a week before a girlfriend of one of the Crypts or Bloods was stabbed to death during a fight between the two gangs in the park, it was not a good place to live we could afford it.

It was a rainy night, it was drizzling as Wes and I sat on the curb outside of our place across the street from the park in the glow of the security lights of the Red Owl next door. We were tripping and watching the raindrops float to the asphalt when we heard voices coming from the shadows among the trees across the street. If we could have managed to get to our feet we might have investigated. But it wasn’t until we heard police sirens that we jumped up and ran inside for the night.

The days during that part of my life slowly passed like a Sunday afternoon. I was almost never sober and constantly trying to stay in front of the hurt. But sometimes late at night when everyone’s asleep and it’s so quiet you can hear the buzzing of the street lamps, it’s all about surviving. And surviving isn’t what the naked folks do so dramatically in front of the television camera. Surviving is swallowing enough water while you struggle to stay at the surface to give you an idea what it might feel like to drown, and just enough to take the focus off the pain for a moment, but not enough to stop it. We need the pain, to feel it; it’s the only thing real enough to hold onto.

As the Leaves Flutter By

We sat in the wind and watched the leaves flutter by

We spoke of the past, of dreams and loves lost.

Its quiet sitting there in the sun, she in her wheel chair,

me sitting beside her holding her hand.

She told me it wouldn’t be long, that she’d punched her ticket.

She said she wasn’t afraid, she said she had two husbands and a boyfriend she’d buried

waiting for her at the gates.

I told her I loved her and would miss her as I brushed the hair away from her quizzical eyes.

She told me not to fuss and that the next time I come not to bring her Key Lime Pie.

It’s been a year since my grandmother has passed, and on that next visit, that last day, I found myself

brushing aside her hair again.

She never made excuses; she never lied and never looked more beautiful, at peace, at rest.

I miss her today, and when I stand in the fall wind and close my eyes I can feel her all around me, she

will always be there, her voice carried in the breeze, her smile in rays of the sun.

Her love remains, as does mine.