Falling Away

For years he walked against the wind, struggled against life’s gales, fighting for each step. He would turn his head from side to side straining to draw breath at times as he shielded his face from the stinging reach of his mistakes, and when the wind turned to a lesser breeze he’d look skyward for a light to show him the way, but all he found was reflections of shame.

He would sit down then, hunker in and wait for the storm to pass. Then when it did and he could stand and see around him all he saw was nothing, he couldn’t see into the future and he couldn’t see into his past, all there was, was nothing. He failed, failed to progress, failed to attain, he failed to be anything but present.

Like so many the present is unaccounted for, they wander between what came before and what happens next. Never knowing their fate, always looking for the solid, steady ground below their feet, which always seems to be there…until it isn’t.

When that moment comes and it always does, you have choices to make; you can surrender and fall away or reach out desperately and grab hold of the very edge and hang on. Then you fight, you fight with everything that’s left, you fight and claw and battle against gravity. You pull and struggle, and you as your fingers bleed and become cold and frozen and the feeling in your legs dissipates quickly you get angry and you spit as you cry out for a chance, just a little opportunity to show you have something left to give.

When you dig deep enough and you find that small flame buried somewhere in your soul you suck it in, and use it and crawl from that hole and roll over onto your back, exhausted, and weep. For you just learned that there is fight in you yet, that there is something worth saving and you love it and caress it and as you lay there contemplating the present, you realize that the clouds that kept your world dark and empty have begun to thin. You see blue sky and know there is something in your future if only you strive to put it there, there is something and you will find it.

Can’t See the Happiness through the Pain

It rained today as I walked along the shoreline of a pond; I stopped to watch the drops sink below the surface of the water strewn with dark red leaves, and studied the shallow ripples as they rolled together, slowly dying out.

The air was quiet, dull, thick and moist and as I walked the fallen leaves made no sound below my feet.

I didn’t mind the rain, it was light and the drops seemed to float to the ground in no big hurry.

I wasn’t really cold nor was I warm, and the rain on my neck didn’t bother me much.

I didn’t care that I had to go back to work soon and I didn’t care that the trees were bare and the sun was away.

In fact the only thing that seemed to matter was the lack of everything; I felt no connection to the Earth, the trees or the sky.

But pain is always there to welcome me, there is a sense of sadness, a feeling hidden somewhere beyond the colors of the fall and the reflections of me in the raindrops.

It’s there always, rising from the ground like humidity in the desert brilliantly reflecting everything back at me, making everything appear real, but I know it’s just a vision, a transparent image that hides the hurt until I need it again.

Sometimes though, the reflection hides even the good, the happiness, and then I can’t see it through the pain.

An Open Letter to another Father

From one father to another, shame on you Sir. You have abandoned your daughter during a time when she has made what may be one her greatest decisions, one based on love, unencumbered, selfless and undeterred love.

Don’t you know she dreams of you; she thinks of you and wishes she could be held by you.

Her days are spent sharing a life with someone she has fallen deeply in love with, someone whom offers her irrefutable devotion.

She loves this man because he works hard, seeks to be a better person each day than he was the day before and not because he has been bad but because she deserves the best he can offer.

Don’t you know she sought this man out as all little girls do, seeking someone she can trust, someone she respects, someone whom treats her to a world she dreamt of, one where she is greeted each morning with kisses, each night with satisfaction that she has found the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with?

Are you so wrapped up in your own sense of sadness that your little girl has not followed the path you thought she ought to but instead, has taken her path in her own hands and has become a healthy, successful, woman whose got her sights set on a man whom you have much in common with Sir?

Don’t you know, that some days when he looks into her eyes, that he sees the yearning of a daughter to be called upon by her father to witness her happiness, to celebrate with her what makes her most happy and he sees her heart breaking, everyday that her father refuses to speak to her.

I say again, Sir, shame on you. Is it not our jobs as fathers to see that our little girls grow up happy, that when the day comes she meets that guy, that you are there to hear that she loves him, that he adores her and that she knows, we as their fathers shall always be there for them, that we will always have a spot not just in our hearts but in our homes as well where they can come back to. That we must not abandon them because they didn’t fulfill some ideal we had set in our minds for them, that as women, they have stood up for themselves and taken charge of their lives to become grown, successful, healthy and loved?

Do not let her pass by without reaching out, she needs your love too, she also has fears, questions and apprehensions as we all do. And it’s your job as her father, as her daddy, to send her out with confidence that you will be ok, that you will stand behind her and support her, that you will not close your eyes and punish her for what makes her happy, or shun her because her heart has chosen a different path, but instead celebrate with her before she is gone for good.

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.

A Wretched Tone

The morning started out wrong right from the beginning; I had no coffee, and it seemed as though everyone on the road had it out for me, a narcissistic notion I know. But I was determined to turn it around. And I did.

The power of the musical note is amazing to me and it always has been, I knew early on as a young child that music did something to me; it got under my skin and made me feel things. I have never really had a particular distaste of a certain style, if the notes that rung out and the beat and the harmony struck my soul and made me feel good I accepted it, I absorbed it and let it wash over me like a cool spring rain.

My mother loved listening to Helen Reddy and Buffalo Springfield and all those bands from the 60’s and 70’s like Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin. Later when I was in high school she and I would share some smoke, the kind that whirls around inside your head and takes you to another place, a far off place and then we would crank the old wood box speakers up and lay vinyl on the Panasonic record player and jump around the room to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good and Funk #49 until we collapsed on the beige pit couch in the late afternoon sun.

When I was out of school for the summer I would climb up into the cab of my dad’s rumbling Mack truck and watch him manhandle that old manual transmission as we lurched forward down the road with Kenny Rogers’ smooth raspy voice spilling out of the cab’s speakers.

I loved music, I awoke for school to it and even had one of those giant portable tape cassettes attached to my belt and enjoyed that sharp plastic snapping sound when I changed out the tape for another. As I grew older my affection for music grew larger and more eccentric. It comforted me when I was alone and scared, and it pumped me up when I would crawl out and lie on the roof of the old house and bask in the sun and smoke a joint. The sounds of steel guitars and pulsating drums and the rich, heartfelt stories of pained artists crying out from somewhere deep inside themselves turned me on.

Sometimes I felt like the singer was telling my story and sometimes I fantasized I was the character they crooned about. When my father was killed I listened to music to quell the pain and celebrate him at the same time. When I started working I found a way to listen to music every chance I could, even now I play it all day at my desk, all kinds, Hank Williams, Hank Jr and his kid too, Heart, Green Day, Pure Prairie League and Wheezer. My kids have grown up with me singing to my favorite songs every time we climb into my car, and they have learned the words and enjoy hollering them out along with me on the way to the dentist.

I have a deep appreciation for music, it has a place in my heart and my life, always has, always will. We all have certain songs that mean something to each of us, the words are echoes of our own pains or celebrations or feelings we didn’t even know we had. Who knew “When the words are said, baby, I lose my head” from Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing would be my first love song to a girl in sixth grade.

But as much as I yearn every day to hear songs of old and discover new ones along the way that capture my changing spirit, I detest the times a treasured song strikes me deep where it hurts and continues to wrap it’s sharp claws around my bleeding heart. There are songs I couldn’t wait to hear that now I struggle to breathe to when it plays and flows like a strange icy breeze around my ears in the middle of an August heat. I hear the very first notes, and feel the rhythm and know my heart will break, but I can’t stop it, I need to hear it again and again even though it feels as though all of the blood has been drained from my body already, and I drift away once more with its wretched tone, because it holds a specific and intense paralyzing affect on me.

Music has its place in my world and it always will, it has become an enveloping, organic being that both comforts and destroys me repeatedly.

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.