Guns. Let’s Start Over.

We need to make new symbols
Make new signs
Make a new language
With these we’ll define the world

lyrics to New Beginnings by Tracey Chapman

She’s on to something.

Imagine the conversation about guns if we had to start all over making terms for things. What if phrases like “gun control” and “second amendment remedies” were forgotten. What if groups like the NRA didn’t exist and Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense were not in existence.

WHAT IF we started over and all the arguments were new.

People with a negative view about guns didn’t use the Newtown Massacre as an opening argument. And people with a positive view of guns didn’t point to Chicago as the reason laws restricting use of guns don’t work.

Me personally, I’m one of those with a negative view. But just think if for one moment I could sit down with someone who has a positive view, and we could – as Tracey Chapman says “make a new language”.

I can sit down and express that I do NOT want to take guns away from everyone. My partner in this conversation could communicate that in fact they do NOT think all laws restricting guns are bad. We could find common ground. We could, together, look at the deaths from guns and agree that it is tragic. My conversation partner could tell me about the time their firearm was used to shoot a mountain lion attacking his dog. And I would listen. I could relay the experience I had with a loved one getting shot by someone. And they would listen.

I could express that gun ownership does not equate to someone being an “ammosexual” another term we would not remember. They could express that it’s good to hear a view from a liberal, without them being a libtard. And that word could be gone from our vocabulary.

What if we ALL just committed to listen. We talk past one another so much of the time. We want to TELL people what they should think. Instead of telling others, we could SHOW each other why we think the way we do.

We have an amendment to the Constitution. The second amendment. What if we each sat with each other and talked about the second amendment – about our Bill of Rights. The WHOLE Bill of Rights with the respect it deserves, and the scrutiny it deserves.What if that conversation took place at dinner tables, in bars, at PTA, at the grain elevator, at the beach, or in local caucuses. What if it took place with a commitment to listen.

WHAT IF?

We could create a new language. We could create terms like:

Firearm education: not training for shooting, but about statistics of gun ownership, gun use and accidental gun deaths. No spin to the statistics — just the facts. It could be taught in civics, at community colleges, at churches, at book clubs.

Gun population: not a gun registration but a look at where guns are located by city, state, or nation. Talk about the correlation of guns to regions. What does a rural citizen use guns for as opposed to an urban setting.

Potential Risk: not about gun safety, but about why people have guns. Talk about how those guns are used specifically. Let gun owners talk about the risks they face and how they are using guns to address those risks. Let those who do not use guns talk about their experiences without a gun, and how they avoided – or dealt with directly – the identified risks.

Americanization of Guns: not about manufacturing guns in the US, but how the US has a unique dynamic with guns. Look at gun use around the world and compare it to the US. Those who own guns can look at how other countries get along with out lots of guns. Those who don’t own guns can examine what is unique about America that might explain why gun use is popular.

I’m tired of the fight. My position feels intrinsic to me, because it is so personal. I imagine those who own guns feel that same intrinsic feeling. We need to talk to one another. We need to be a neighborhood, a city, a state, and a country that can think critically, act communally and address the issues related to guns.

There is much to be said and done around the issue of guns. Maybe we can just start talking to each other, rather than assuming things about one another. We’ve had so many tragedies. The latest being the shooter of several officers and a state Representative. He’s recuperating.

How can we make our country recuperate?

Therein lies the question.

Rushing the Can

At 91, Gladys sips bourbon from her grandmother’s floral teacup. It’s eleven in the morning. The teacup shakes slightly in her veined and big-knuckled hand. The saucer clinks several times as she sets it down. She’s given up reading the newspaper because her eyes are shot and she feels reading glasses are gauche.

Her radio, an original transistor radio picking up programs still broadcast in FM signal, plays light jazz music. She wears a light cotton gown. Her white wispy hair dances around her face catching the morning light. Her eyes are set deep within her wrinkled face, looking out her window to the yard she pays a young Hispanic man to mow and trim.

Her lips, moistened from the bourbon, tense every so often as she thinks of moments in her past. She dwells here more and more, in the thoughts of a youth so vivid in her mind. She revels in her thoughts, as they take her back to times before the dementia and the pains became the focal point of her life. Mornings are the best, with her bourbon and her thoughts.

She remembers the small apartment where she, her sister and parents lived. It was an Irish neighborhood. She remembers ‘rushing the can’ to her parents as they listened to Benny Goodman. The can, coming from the corner bar. Was filled with cold beer her parents would drink in clear glasses while dancing in the kitchen. At nine years old, she would give the slip of paper to the bartender for credit at the bar from her father. She remembers the smoky bar. She remembers neighbors sitting on the stoops of her New York City neighborhood.

Her older sister, Esther, would come home with stories from The Cotton Club where she was a coat check girl. She told her parents about the fur coats, the shimmering clothes and way the dancefloor pulsed with people dancing, drinking martinis, smoking unfiltered cigarettes. Gladys would sit in the window overlooking the alleyway watching her parents dance, wanting to be older. She remembers her mother moving to the icebox to get the beer can, cracking it open with a can opener. Her dad would pluck her from her window seat while her mother opened the beer. He would twirl her around to the happy music. She could smell the beer on his breath, the smoke on his clothes.

Gladys brings a hand up and feels the cotton collar of her house gown. She thinks of the sable furs her sister described from her job at The Cotton Club. In her silent reverie Gladys picks up the cork from her bourbon bottle. The weight in her hand reminds her of the Bazooka Joe bubble gum her mother would give to her. She’d unpeel the wrapper, read the joke to her parents and they would hoot and holler with tipsy delight.

Gladys’ toe is bouncing along to the jazz station on her FM radio. The bouncing reminds her of her sister bouncing on the bed as they both giggled together about a Barney Coogle cartoon called ‘Patch Mah Britches’. The character and his big bottom are covered by pants with a hole in the seat of his pants. They fell back onto the bed laughing at the picture of the man’s underwear poking through his britches.

The radio goes to a commercial and her thoughts stop as the advertisement for an erectile dysfunction. She looks wide eyed at the table, the plate from dinner with her remaining meal still on the table. She forgot to eat last night. She sips her bourbon. The next commercial for feminine hygiene products for maximum flow days causes her to scoff. She looks at the table again where her teeth are submerged in a glass next to her uneaten meal. She touches her mouth as if she’s surprised her teeth are across the table from her

The music begins again and she’s skipping down the sidewalk beneath her apartment, throwing  a stone onto the hopscotch square. She hops leaning forward to pick up the stone. A siren sounds down the street and she looks up as folks lean out their windows to watch the fire truck ramble by with it’s large water tank with firefighters hanging off the sides.

Finishing her hopscotch she says hello to Mrs. Finnegan the fat lady across the hall who wears enormous dresses and hands out candy. She gives Gladys three pieces of salt water taffy. She puts the candies into her pocket and runs upstairs to share with Esther. The radio in the kitchen is playing a rhumba song. Esther grabs Gladys and they try to copy the dance moves they’ve heard about. They both trip over each other falling into a pile, giggling on the kitchen floor.

“Mom!” Gladys hears snapping her away thoughts away from her childhood.

Gladys walks to the door. “”Yes?” she says.

“Mom,” the woman says, “Open up I have your groceries.”

“Groceries?” gladys says, “I didn’t order any groceries.”

“Mom,” the woman says, “it’s me. Your daughter.”

Gladys looks at the woman and says, “I don’t know. I need to call my daughter to see if she ordered these groceries.”

“Mom,” the woman said. “I’m your daughter.”

“Oh…” Gladys said.

A Prayer for Those Who Will Die.

America has an illness. Guns aren’t the problem. It’s the state of mind about guns that has been bastardized into fervor, gluttony and perversion.

There were two mass shootings today: one on a baseball field across the river from DC where congressional members were practicing in the early morning, and the second in San Francisco at a UPS where three victims and the shooter died. The second was less provocative because even though four people died, none were elected officials.

Now before emotions run high on second amendment arguments, please refrain. This article is not about that. It’s about the American psyche. An obsession.

An addiction.

Guns have perfectly good reasons for existing. It’s not about the second amendment which reads:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Constitutional scholars will argue over what a ‘militia’ is, or which ‘free state’ is referred to, or what is the definition of Arms. It doesn’t matter. Why? Because aside from having it tattooed on a forearm or hung on banner in a living room or mailed to a political candidate with second amendment remedies scrawled over it in a threatening manner — aside from all the bluster, aside from all the people speaking past each other —

ASIDE FROM ALL THE BULLSHIT

Americans are dying. Nowhere else on Earth…NOWHERE…outside of a war zone do people die at the rate they do in the U.S.

There have been 195 “mass shootings” (four or more victims)

in America so far

in 2017 alone. 

I don’t care about the second amendment. I don’t care about arguing about it.

I don’t care about that, because I care about you.

I care because I know what it’s like to lose a family member to gun violence. It’s been thirty years this year, and the loss seems real every time one of these 195 shootings this year has taken place. I care about you – that you should never have to go through such a thing.

I care about those who will be victimized today, tomorrow and for the rest of this year and all those going forward.

So I wrote this simple prayer, for those who will die in America by gun violence.

For those of you who will die, I pray for you.

For the four-year old brother showing his two-year old sister the gun…I pray for you.

For the people in the park, playing soccer…I pray for you.

For that lost soul who can’t find the strength to carry on…I pray for you.

For the kids eating lunch when the bullied kid in the trench coat opens fire…I pray for you.

For the black kids on the corner falling down as the car drives by…I pray for you

For the children in the movie theater as the assault rifle fires…I pray for you.

For the students in class who duck under their desks too late…I pray for you.

For the workers who die when their co-worker comes back with a pistol…I pray for you.

For the woman who left….but is followed and hunted…I pray for you.

For the brown-skinned man at the wrong place at the wrong time…I pray for you.

For the cop who is ambushed at a traffic stop…I pray for you.

For the gun instructor who teaches the kid who doesn’t pay attention…I pray for you.

For all of you who don’t know it yet, but will be dead tomorrow…I pray for you

And for those left behind…asking why….never getting an answer…I pray for you.

I wish prayer worked like this,

but it doesn’t,

because tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, 

it continues.

 

What are you doing?

Today I am walking along the path that many in my village, located on the Indian Coast of Madagascar, have walked. It leads me uphill, through thickets and jungle overgrowth, to a spring where our sacred water flows. It’s my job, at eleven years old, to bring the water to my mother so she can use it in the Sambatra ceremony where my five year old brother will be circumcised. What are you doing?

Redneck Blues

Folks ‘round here call me Jake. Ain’t short fer nuthin’, just Jake. I live in Chase. Chase ain’t got nuthin but a bar and a church. We used to have a school but now them kids get bussed to Herbertville. Everyone goes to Herbertville fer everythin’, ‘cept drinkin’ and preachin’. There’s two things folks in Chase are loyal ‘bout: brews and pews.

I work at Clancy’s Auto Parts on Route 19, just south of Herbertville, OK. I can tell ya just about any part that goes to any car, ‘cept maybe if it’s European. We don’t do Yer-A-Peein’ shit. All we get in here is Ford’s, GM’s and Chrysler’s.

Oh, right, that sweet little Megan Kisslooper out on Route 211 got a European car, a VW Beetle. Her dad spoils her rotten. Sweet Sixteen come around and she gets that little foreign job for her birthday. Her dad so proud of her. Makes me kinda laugh cause while she got that little foreign job everyone know she giving out her own kinda jobs inside her little foreign job. No joke. She give out more blow jobs than a tornado in a trailer park. Still though, I wisht she came into her for something, sometime. She’s ‘bout the prettiest thing ya ever saw.

“Jake” I hear bellowed out from back in inventory. It’s my boss, Crud. His name ain’t really Crud, it’s Crudemeier, Ross Crudemeier but ever since fourth grade he been called Crud. We the same age, but he still my boss. He gets three dollars more an hour just cuz he went right to work outta high school instead of me dickin’ around at the Community College for two years. I got an Associate’s Degree in Agro-economy. I know all the special genetically engineered crops of sunflower, but Crud still gets three dollars more an hour than I do.

“Yeah boss.” I holler back.

“Got Mrs. Breckenridge on the line, needs a head gasket”

“OK,” I holler back again and pick up the receiver out front by the register.

“Yes ma’am,” I say into the phone. I hear her coughing up a lung and pull the phone away from my ear a bit. Three bouts of cancer, an oxygen tank at her side and she still manages to smoke three packs of Pall Malls a day. She always asks for me and she always is coughing into the phone when I pick up.

“Jake?” she sputters,”That you?”

“Yes ma’am” I say.

“Sorry about that honey, must be allergies.”

‘Allergies to non-filtered tobacco,’ I think to myself

“No problem ma’am” I answer.

“Georgie says I need a new head gasket.” she says catching her breath again. Georgie is her son. He works in Herbertville at a hair salon. That’s right. A hair salon. Georgie’s about the biggest bone smuggler you ever t’meet. I mean that. Georgie played fullback in high school on the line with me, but I was just a half back. Georgie was a good four inches taller and forty pounds heavier than me. Georgie didn’t tell nobody in high school he was a ring raider, but I’ll be damned if the minute he didn’t git out of high school he started driving out to Charlesville where they had a gay bar. He was only eighteen, but he looked like he belonged in the NFL. I imagine those boys in Charlesville didn’t mind letting him into their bar. Aint no wonder he ended up in Miss Gloria School of Cosmetology. That’s just what donut punchers did ‘round these parts. He became a hairdresser, a big-ass hair dresser.

“Ok ma’am,” I answer, “Georgie mention if ya need a Fel Pro, Edelbrock or a Victor Reinz?”

“Oh now honey I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout that.”

“What car is it for ma’am?”

“The Buick.”

“Ok ma’am,” I answer, “I gotcha. I’ll have a Fel Pro waiting. Georgie gonna pick it up after work?”

“I’ll let him know shuga,” she said, “Georgie will be glad to see ya Jake.”

“Yup,” I said, “nice to see him too.”

I wasn’t lyin. I don’t have no problem with Georgie bein’ fancy. He was a damned good full back, and my Mom says he is the best colorist in the whole county. I don’t quite know what a colorist is, but what the hell. If that keister kisser was happy choppin’ locks all day, more power to him.

I set the receiver down and ran the sale on her account. I went back to running all the facebook and email order that came through and looked at the clock, ‘bout a half hour to go.

“Jake!”. It was Crud again.

“Yeah boss.” I hollered back, I don’t know why he couldn’t pick up the receiver and press Front Desk.

“Oil’s here.”

“Got it.” Freight Access truck just started pulling into the parking lot delivering our orders of motor oil and filters. We’s having a sale this Saturday and Sunday and this was the stock.

I picked up the receiver and pressed Garage

“Yeah,” came Cal’s thick drawl.

“Hey Cal, oil and filters just pulled up, can you grab a dolly and help him unload.

:Yeah.” came Cal’s thick drawl once again. I know he knew more words than that, I just don’t think I’d ever heard him say more than that.

I finished up the email and FB orders and looked at the clock again, fifteen minutes left and then the weekend was here. I had weekend off, finally. Took me six years of working weekends to finally get ‘em off. I was eager for this weekend to get here because Herbertville was having a gun show at the high school this weekend. Rumor had it they had a few Hatsan 125 Sniper C Vortex Air Rifle Combos. I’d been after one of them for a year or so.

I was just thinking about the weekend when Candy walked in.

‘Fuck.’ I thought to myself. Nothing good happened when Candy came through that door. Candy was Crud’s wife. She never set foot in the store except when she was about to cause a ruckus. The door jingles and then her heels clacked on the tile floor as she balanced herself on those damned four inch heels she always wore. What self-respecting Oklahoma wife walked around in those things instead of a pair of sure footed cowboy boots.

“Howdy Candy.” I said as she dumped a leather purse large enough to smuggle a spring pig with onto the counter knocking over the pen cup and stack of auto-parts magazines. Candy was what you’d call a handsome woman, sturdy across the bow. Her eyebrows were dark brown and perched halfway up her forehead. My thought was that Candy could benefit from seein’ ol Georgie boy at work.

“Hi John” she said hardly  breaking pace as she walked around the counter back into Crud’s office in the inventory. I’d been John to her for about three years. She knew my name was Jake. It was stitched right onto my damned shirt. Yeah, she was that much of a bitch.

Macy, the cute eighteen year old who ran parts, rolled her eyes at me when I looked over at her.

And then it began.

“I don’t care if you got a sale this weekend, we’re going out to Mothers!”

Inaudible on Crud’s part.

“You got eight employees who can run the damned sale. It’s Mother’s birthday!”

Inaudible.

“She’s seventy-two for Christ’s sake, she won’t be around forever!”

Inaudible.

“End of mother fucking story Ross!”

Crud’s door opened back up and Candy, with a self-satisfied look on her face, exited. Flipping her hair back over her shoulders, she picked up her purse with a hand sporting long red talons, clacked her way across the store and left through the jingly front door.

“Jake!” I heard Crud call out. I already knew what was coming.

“Yeah boss.” I said looking at Macy.

She and I both mouthed the words as he said them, “I need ya to work the weekend.”

Candy never came through the door without someone’s weekend getting shot ta hell.

“Yeah I figured as much.”

Ya did?” he asked, “Why?”

“Oh just a hunch.”

My rifle could wait another weekend until Hermiton had their gun show. Macy walked behind me, patted em hard on the shoulder in condolence and then went out the side door to the garage to help Cal with the filters.

I was just settin’ to shut down the front computers as it was three minutes before six on Friday when the door jangled again. The glass door was nearly covered in full as Georgie walked into the shop.

“Jake!” Georgie barked as he made his way across the store to the counter. “Did Mom get to you in time?”

“She sure did.” I said.

“Great,” he answered, “I’m gonna head over there and see if I can get it on before it gets dark.”

I stepped back from the desk and found the box with Georgie’s name on it and pulled the head gasket out. “Here it is bro.”

“Thanks man.” He reached out and took it with the biggest manicured hand ya ever saw. “How’d life treating you?”

“Oh just fine I suppose.” I answered, “You?”

“Me?” he said, “I couldn’t be better! I’m gettin’ married!”

“Married?” I said with surprise. “Tuh who? Anyone I know?” I asked trying to sound like this was no big deal.

Georgie smiled wide. “Yeah,” he said, “You know him.”

“Well who big guy?” I said

“To Cleat.” he said.

“Cleat?” I said with surprise obviously written across my face. “Hutch Cleater?”

Hutch went to school with us, but a year ahead. He was the soccer star of the school and was Prom King his Sophomore, Junior and Senior year. Since our school was so small, back then we still went to school in Chase, everyone in the school was eligible for Prom King and Queen. The girls used to swoon over Cleat. His thick black hair and pond blue eyes and athletic body from all that soccer made him the school stud. Yet with all that cred to his name, the girls just fawned over him because he was always such a gentlemen…..ooooooh.

“Yeah, Cleat.” Georgie laughed.

“Well shit,” I said reaching my hand out to shake his. “Congratulations.”

He met my hand and crushed it in his legendary fist crushing greetings.

“Thanks man.” he said.

“You married?” Georgie asked.

“Nope.’I said, “still chasing after the girls who were always chasing after you and Cleat!”

He laughed aloud, and so did Macy from a few aisles over.

“Well, you should come to the wedding.” he said, “it’s going to be a spectacle.”

“Sounds like a hoot.”

“Alright then,” Georgie said, “gotta go fix Mom’s land cruiser.”

“Alrighty then,’ I said.

I laughed to myself as his size fourteen cowboy boots somehow made it across the floor in a more ladylike fashion than Candy’s size three inch stilettos.

I turned the CLOSED sign over as Georgie left the shop. I walked back behind the counter and began counting out the register. I’d be back in eleven hours because Crud had no backbone and Macy didn’t know how to update the promo codes in the computer. Georgie and Cleat would be at home making out wedding plans. Megan Kisslooper was probably at home getting ready to go out. But hell, at least I wasn’t at home fighting with Candy. Small victories.  

An Easter Story

I received news that my mother had breast cancer on an Easter morning. She died a few days before Thanksgiving, seven months after her diagnosis. A lot can unfold in seven months, more than I ever expected. It’s an odd amount of time, seven months. It’s not a year, or a half year. It’s just seven months. It wasn’t enough time to solve our family problems, but it was enough time to ignite them.

I’m the youngest sibling in my family. I have an older brother and sister. We all grew up in the same household but we all grew into very different people. My older brother became a cop. My older sister became a teacher. I became a failure. We were three siblings with nothing in common except a bloodline. It is said that blood is thicker than water. I’m not sure if that adage holds up especially if water is blended with Bourbon and then poured over ice. That’s what I drink: bourbon and water over ice.

It’s not what you think. I’m not a failure because I drink. Failure came to me at an early age and now at age twenty-seven I am a pro at failure. The drinking, that’s just an added feature of my life that helps me from going over the edge. Some folks take anti-depressants or binge exercise to deal with their depression. Me? I’m a far simpler person than that, I just drink alcohol. Besides, it is delicious. Bourbon over water with a twist of lemon all chilled over some rocks, you should try it. You’d understand.

Neither my brother or sister drink. They chose to break the cycle. Mom and Dad were drinkers. Dad died about eight years ago from lung cancer. He was one of those poor bastards who never smoked but still ended up with lung cancer. Truth be told, he was a big inspiration for why I drink. If you can go a life without smoking and still get lung cancer, I could spend my life drinking and not become an alcoholic, so far so good.

I would like to think our family was special in some way. I think everyone wants to believe in that notion. Oh sure, there were special moments here and there. My brother the cop, he did well in sports and we had some victory parties every now and again when he won some tournament. My sister always did well in school so we sat in gymnasiums as she got a few awards for her academics. I didn’t garner any special occasions so Mom did her best to make my birthday something special. She tried to make me feel special. But how can someone who never felt special herself make someone else know what that feels like?

I graduated high school with a solid C average. I took a few classes at a Community College but nothing really stuck. My brother and sister had moved out of the house by the time I graduated so it was just me, Mom and Dad at home for those years after high school. The subject was broached a few times about what I would like to do with my life. I never formulated a good answer even though I had many years to ruminate on the matter. Those few years after high school were placid. Mom toiled about the house during the day. Dad would come home from work about 5:00 PM. We had dinner at 6:00PM. Then we all sat in the living room watching TV. Dad had his Gin and Tonic. Mom had her white wine.  And I watched.

By the age of nineteen I had joined them: Bourbon and water.

Dad was a Korean War veteran. Today he would be diagnosed with PTSD, but in the 1980’s soldiers carried their trauma close to the vest. If the house was silent, except for the television, he did ok. Mom, who had taught school for nineteen years sheltered a deeper wound. Today she would have been called a victim of date rape. But again, the 1980’s taught adults to keep their sorrows hidden. The sorrows in our house were indeed hidden, or perhaps submerged is a better description. Alcohol was the great equalizer.

I eventually did move out of the house. I got a job after I stopped going to Community College at a local dry-cleaner. At first I was pressing clothes with the commercial presser. It was amazingly hot and humid in there, but for some reason I stuck it out. I also made sure that the hangers did not get tangled up on the rotating racks of shorts and pants draped in their plastic dressings with the logo for Brick’s Cleaners. After a year, the owner had a stroke. His wife who ran the counter asked if I would step in and help with managerial things. I did. At twenty years old I became assistant manager of the dry-cleaning shop so I moved out, because that’s what people do.

I didn’t see my brother much, at least not until Mom was diagnosed with her cancer. I saw my sister every now and again at the house. I stopped in weekly at the house to see if Mom needed anything. I always brought her a few bottles of wine since there was a liquor store next to the dry cleaners. She patted my cheek each time I did. It was too awkward for her to thank me for alcohol, so she just patted my face. That was the extent of affection in our household.

After Dad died, my brother, sister and I tried to make a family night at Mom’s house at least once a month. My sister always organized it. I always showed up. My brother did his best but he was often on shift in the evenings, or at least that’s what he claimed. My brother and I shared a room growing up so you would imagine we would be close. We weren’t. He grew up to be a tightly wound, conservative, straight cop who drove a huge truck and had a vapid, beautiful wife and two quiet kids. I was a relaxed, ne’er-do-well, liberal -leaning gamer who secretly who had yet to start dating. My sister? She’s fine. We just never bonded. Occasionally she would give me a book to read, but that was about as deep as the two of us went.

Mom called that Easter morning. She hadn’t been feeling well so I picked up the phone thinking she needed me to run to the store for Tylenol or Thera-flu. Nope. She told me quietly, in a slightly slurred voice that she had breast cancer. She knew my brother would be angry and my sister would start crying, neither of which she wanted to deal with, so she asked me to tell them. She wanted us over for Easter Dinner as planned. She wanted me to tell them not to bring up cancer at dinner.

As expected, my brother flew off the handle shouting into the phone about second opinions and that he couldn’t take care of a sick parent because he was too busy with his own kids and family. He loved to use that excuse with me because with no kids and lack of apparent social life, I certainly had time.  It didn’t matter if it was fixing an appliance of Mom’s or helping out with cancer. Also, as predicted, my sister melted into tears stating how unfair it was and how would she ever be able to come to dinner and not talk about it. I replied, because that is what Mom wanted, that’s why.

My brother didn’t show up for dinner. While I helped Mom set the table my sister called saying she couldn’t possibly come over since she was so upset. Mom and I looked at each other, and for an odd intimate moment, we both laughed at the ridiculous behavior of her kids, my siblings. She and I sat at the table together. I was in Dad’s old seat and Mom was across from me. The food was great and the cocktails were tall. It was perhaps the loveliest evening either of us had in quite some time.  By the time, she was serving the cherry cobbler she had made, I had agreed to move back in and help her around the house. The cold she couldn’t shake was now cancer. She needed help.

Chemotherapy was horrendous. It made her weaker than the cancer. My brother exploded over how she was poisoning herself. My sister lamented that mother was too frail, it was just too hard on her to see Mom that way. She came by only in the afternoon when Mom napped. She feigned being sad that she missed Mom being awake, always leaving before she awoke. Mom managed while I was at work, and when I wasn’t at work I was at home helping Mom. My room was still there as it always was so it was an easy enough transition for me to stay and help.

Mom was not lucky enough to encounter spikes of energy some cancer patients receive while on chemotherapy. After two months, Mom had a double mastectomy to try and stop the tumors. For a month or so around June we thought she might enter remission. X-rays in early July showed that the cancer had metastasized into her lungs and brain. That was that. Mom stopped therapies and she and I made life at home for her as comfortable as possible. Ladies from Mom’s church stopped in with more food than I knew what to do with, which was ironic because Mom ate less and less each day.

My brother stopped in more often now that she was mostly confined to her bed. He always brought flowers. He always held her hand. And every time on his way out of the house he yelled at me for not doing more to help. He had a funny notion that his being oldest somehow made him in charge. My sister finally started visiting Mom while she was awake, usually just before dinner when she was done at school. They talked strictly about kids, education and the classroom. I can’t recall one conversation they had about Mom’s illness.

It was Halloween, when my sister came by to gather some kids costumes from the storage space in the garage, that things became quite serious. The only things Mom could eat was broth in a cup and, strangely, macaroons. The gravity of the situation finally broke through my brother’s hard exterior. His mother was dying, he was having trouble processing that concept. My sister, also noticing the change in Mom’s appearance, began coming over to the house more.

My brother had been made executor of Mom’s estate by my father before he died. I asked him if he thought it was time that we start going through Mom’s paperwork. I didn’t see it coming at all, but he punched my square in the face. I crumbled to the floor and he just stood over me, hands on his hips glaring at me. My sister was there and she just stood frozen with her hands over her mouth. My brother left.

At the beginning of November, the doctor who visited my Mother at home suggested I consider Hospice care for her. He explained it was a place for her to go for pain management to maximize her comfort. Mom still had power-of-attorney over herself despite my brother being executor of her estate. She looked at me with what I had come to know as her expression of consent. I told the doctor to make the arrangements. Three days later the ambulance arrived. I moved Mom over to Hospice care without telling my brother. Fuck him.

Hospice was a God send, and I say that as an atheist so you can imagine how good it was for Mom. Her feet were massaged. What was left of her hair was combed. A young nurse even painted her nails. They brought a small boombox in and I brought cassettes of music she liked: Anne Murray, Florence Henderson, Loretta Lynn. Mrs. Snyder at the dry-cleaners had given me all the time off I needed to help Mom. When she told that she patted my cheek, just like Mom had down when I brought her wine bottles after work. I grabbed her hand without thinking and cried openly. She let me hold her hand until I had composed myself. For the first time in my life I heard something I had never heard. Mrs. Snyder told me, “You’re a good son.”

Was I? The kid who amounted to nothing and had made little of himself? My brother and sister owned their own homes, had kids and had lives. What did I have to contribute? What about me would have made my parents proud? I left the dry-cleaners in something of a stupor. “You’re a good son.” Such a simple little phrase. My heart broke open. I cried all the way back to the Hospice Center.

When I got back to Mom’s room, I was surprised to see a man in a suit standing there with a nurse.  Noticing me standing outside, the nurse who I had come to know quite well, walked over to me and brought me inside.  The nurse explained to me that the man was their in-house legal counsel and that Mom had requested some assistance.  The attorney confirmed that Mom had signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. He also said that she had given me power-of-attorney and assigned me as executor of the estate. The nurse had acted as witness. That news all seemed to be overwhelming. Then the attorney said that Mom also asked to be moved back home.

The puzzled look on my face was noticed by the nurse who took my hand and said in a whisper, “She wants to die at home.” For the second time in a day a devolved into tears. I was so tired and so over-whelmed. But then I looked at my mother, whose eyes were now closed. Who was I to be tired when mom was fighting cancer with such grace and poise? “Of course,” I whispered.  We would transfer her home tomorrow after ten o’clock in the morning.  Their policy was to transfer clients in an ambulance. The nurse asked if I wanted to ride with Mom on her way home. I said yes.

I called my brother and sister from the phone at the Nurse’s station and told them of the change. My brother shouting that this was a dumb decision. I told him flat out that his opinion didn’t matter anymore because mom had made me power-of-attorney and executor of the restate. I added that he could fuck off.  My sister took the news better than I thought. It wasn’t until much later that I came to understand she took the news of Mom moving back home as a sign she was getting better. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The nurse said that since Mom had expended so much energy with the attorney they were going to bump her morphine so she could get some rest overnight. I left shortly after they started her drip knowing she would be floating comfortably numb for the rest of the night. I went to the house, to Mom’s house, and straightened things up. The house wasn’t messy, but when she was healthy she always kept the house immaculately in order. I didn’t even know if she would be able to see the house, but it didn’t matter. She was coming home to die so I wanted her home to be perfect. I had purchased some flowers, irises and gladioli, and arranged a vase on her bedroom dresser.  I pulled the comforter on her bed back into a neat triangle so she could slip into bed easily.

After that I checked messages. I had been gone from work for 2 weeks. Mrs. Snyder left a message asking if I needed anything. She never once asked me to come back to work. She was such a lovely woman. There was one more message from Mom’s ladies group at church asking when was a good time to bring by casseroles. I kept saying that mom wasn’t eating much anymore. It wasn’t until after the funeral one of the ladies said they weren’t bringing food by for her, they were bringing it by for me.

Mom never did make it home to die. About 2:00 AM her monitors let out that long, lonely tone indicating her heart had given out. No one rushed to her side, the nurses knew. Another client on a cloud of morphine had left this world. The night nurse clicked off the monitor, pulled Mom’s chenille blanket up over her head and held Mom’s hand for a moment saying a silent prayer.

They called me at home, at Mom’s home. The words came through the telephone and into my mind. I exhaled a few times quickly and the nurse asked if I had understood. I told her I did. She gave her condolences. I was too emotional to speak so I just put the phone down on the receiver. That was that. Mom had died. I reached up and touched my cheek, where she used to pat me so gently. Tears were on my cheeks. My breathing came in fits and starts. I walked back to Mom’s bedroom and laid down thinking she never made it back home.

It was just seven months ago we learned she had cancer. Now it was over. She was done with it. She was out of pain. She was released from that frail, unfamiliar body. Seven months ago, life changed for me, for the family, but not for the world in general. I sat up on Mom’s bed and saw the cars passing by in the street. The streetlights still shone.  I heard the heater click on and the soft hush of air come through the vents. I wanted so badly for the cars to stop, for the streetlight to flicker off and the heater to shut down. They didn’t.  Mom was gone but life persisted everywhere except in my Mom’s body. I touched my cheek again knowing mom would never touch it again.  I heard Mrs. Snyder’s words in my mind, “You’re a good son.”

I held that in my mind as I called my siblings.

Stones on the Desert Floor

 

I have died a dozen times, maybe more. Truth be told, I have lost count; or perhaps more accurately, I have lost interest in counting.

 

I died in Phoenix, AZ in 1987. My body was never found. Local newspapers posted a short public notice on page seven a few days after my disappearance. It ran on a Tuesday. It dropped from print by Friday.

 

A few years later I died in Jackson, MS. I had been working midnight shift at a warehouse assembling wrenches into kits packaged for a Father’s Day promotion for Sears. When I stopped showing up for work, inquiries were made. I don’t make friends though, so there really wasn’t anyone to ask. My landlord knew nothing. After a few days a new person from the temp agency who hired me sent a new worker to fill my spot at the warehouse. I imagine that was the last time I was thought about in Jackson.

 

This story gets repeated over and over: Reno, Monterrey, Yuba CIty.

 

The act of killing myself is hard wired. My neuroses keeps me away from people. I’ve learned to live a solitary life. In the arena of mental warfare I am my own worst enemy. I stand alone, girded by invisible walls fortified with paranoia.

 

I work at night. I sleep during the day. I’m not some teen-aged fantasy of a real life vampire. I am the mundane phenomenon of depression and anxiety left unchecked. My skin does not sparkle, it’s merely pale from preferring the shadows. I don’t rise at night to consume the sanguine blood of my victims, instead I eat from convenience stores at odd hours, at different times. I do this so I do not encounter the same people at the same time. That leads to acquaintances, and relationships. I am not interested in that paradigm. Not any longer.

 

I died in Baltimore, Poughkeepsie, Wilkes-Barre, and Coeur d’Alene too.

 

The warehouse work I seek through temp agencies is simple. As long as you can pass a drug test and you don’t have active warrants, you can get a job. Warehouse work involves placing different objects into baskets making consumer products to be sold in boutiques. I’ve made lotion baskets, dried goods baskets, candy baskets and hermetically colored condom baskets. I once made a dried fish, preserved eel and wasabi dried pea basket for something called the Shogatsu. I’m an expert on cobbling things together. It’s the process I use I recreate myself after I die.

 

I died in St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oakland.

 

As I insinuated, my deaths are not corporeal in nature; they are psychic. The seed of anxiety deposits in my thinking. It is nourished by the frenetic energy of my troubled cognition. The seed takes root and grows until the trunk and branches erode my lucidity. The only thing that has ever stopped the mental pain is to leave, simply walk away from whatever life I have. Each time I do, my psychical template descends into a malaise from which I cannot escape. So I die, and move on down the road to the next town.

 

That’s why now, as the vulture’s beak, strong with practice, pulls the remaining sinews from my skull I am surprised at my sadness. It’s an emotion I thought lost, but looking down upon my deteriorating body I find myself, unexpectedly, wanting to live. I have died so many times in the minds of others, I thought naught what it would feel like when I actually did depart from this plane.

 

I don’t like it.

 

I find myself pining to try again in life, to find a reason not to die away. I am struck with the irony of my seeking death as an escape, only to suddenly want to escape from the death I have so long sought..

 

I don’t remember anything from when the semi hit me. I had walked along the side of US Route 95. I was headed North, away from the heat and insular culture of the City of Yuma. I had enjoyed the sound of passing traffic, the white noise present during my northward trek out of Yuma. The truck had drifted a few feet to the right onto the shoulder without the driver’s knowledge. The moment of impact registered as a bright, white light.

 

Then nothing.

 

Nothing until I realized the yawn of morning and the presence of sunlight sufficient to see myself lying on the hardpan dirt of the Sonoran Desert. There I lay. My legs contorted unnaturally. My face immersed in the Earth. My backpack resting a good distance away seemingly unmolested. My body, just far enough away from traffic to lie unseen among the sage and stones, lay crumpled and still.

 

Time takes on a different role after death. It is no longer linear. The view I see of myself from wherever it is I am, is constant. I can see today, yesterday and tomorrow. Today I see the vulture, harvesting the final nutrients beneath my tattered clothing. The protuberance of a humerus bone clutching onto its radius counterpart with a weathered ligament poked through my clothing. My sun soaked skull revealed my occipital bone through scattered, matted blond hair. Blond hair tinged with dried blood.

 

I find myself in a perpetual orbit above the body I knew as mine. A body that had been given the chance to live a life, but whose mind never allowed it function.

 

I have truly died. I am now departed from myself, watching my body slowly become part of the lonely Sonoran Desert. My broken phalanges, now but small stones on the desert floor, lay scattered without intention or purpose akin to the lives I used to live.  

Looking down now, I recognize my future is extinguished. Yet here I am, still awash in the memories of the lives I lived. To what end have I come? I have become what I sought in life, to die and be released from life. And now, in a place absence of pain and anxiety, I mourn myself, my fettered existence.

 

Death, I realize, is not the answer; it is a premature conclusion without recourse, without remedy.

In life, I used death like a Tarot card placed in front of me time and time again. The Tarot card, depicting a skeleton with an arm raised toward the seeker, is not about death; it is about change. I see now my life repeatedly sought change, not death. I hungered change, a change I was unable to affect with my aberrant mental faculty.

 

I see that now. I see that now, as plainly as I see my body quartered among the sage and boulders.