Harvey

Things are heating up here in the Lakeside area. Believe it or not, May is the hottest month of the year down here. According to everyone we know, it should cool off in June once the rainy season starts.

That’ll be nice. I think it’s rained once since November, and there have been a thousand fires in the last month or so. It’s so smoky/hazy now, there are days when you can’t see the other side of the lake.

* * * *

If you’re a classic movie buff, I don’t need to tell you about Harvey. 1950. Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dodd, an eccentric man whose best friend is a pooka named… what else? Harvey is Elwood’s best friend, and he’s a six foot three and an half inch tall invisible rabbit. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a darling movie.

I knew a guy named Harvey. He was maybe five foot four. He had kind of a weather-beaten appearance, and he wasn’t invisible. Harvey was an older guy. He was in his seventies when I first met him. I can’t remember if he was bipolar or schizophrenic. He might have been both. If he was bipolar, he was the quietest manic guy I’ve ever met. And if he was schizophrenic, he kept his psychosis to himself.

Harvey was pretty much an enigma. He was more imp than pooka, and was, at least once, like unto a gremlin that had been fed after midnight. That’s how I remember him. One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. Harvey was probably their grandfather.

And I should add this: The female nurses loved him. They thought he was cute.

I probably first met Harvey around the year 2000 or so. He came up the nursing station one day and said, “I want to call my mom. My mom. My mom!”

I took a long look at Harvey and seriously wanted to ask if his mother was still alive, but I asked a different question.

“Do you know her phone number?”

“Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah.”

So I set a phone in front of him, and he dialed a number.

“Hi Mom. It’s me. Harvey.”

I decided to look up Harvey’s contact information in the computer. His mother, Olive, was listed. As near as I could discern from his file, his mother was still alive. She had to be in her nineties.

Harvey had a very nice conversation with someone, and a few hours later, a frail little old lady who smelled of cat urine, walked onto the unit with a man whom, I think, was Harvey’s brother.

They brought in a bag of clothes for Harvey, and his glasses. When Harvey was showered and shaved and wearing his own clothing, he looked like he could’ve been a college professor.

All the female nurses wanted to talk to Olive–they might have seventy year old sons to raise someday, and they wanted all the information they could get about Harvey. I can’t remember what he did for a living anymore–if he ever had a job, or if he was on some sort of disability, or if he had a place to live, or much of anything else about him.

There was a lesson for me to be learned. Just because I didn’t think something could be possible, didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

For example, the guy who knew Milton Berle. His name was Steve. He was a local radio personality/comedian who had relapsed on alcohol. His detox was uneventful, and we were getting him set up with follow up care.

For those of you who don’t know who Uncle Miltie was, he was a comedian, and one of the pioneers of early television. He might have been a pooka, but he stood only five feet ten inches tall, and he wasn’t invisible.

Steve was talking on the phone at the nursing station one Saturday morning, and when he hung up, one of the nurses I was working with asked who he was talking to.

“Milton Berle.” he replied, and all of the nurses started laughing. So Steve went to his room and returned with a photo album that contained dozens of pictures of him with none other than Milton Berle.

Yeah, who’s laughing now, nurses?

The sad fact is most psych patients lie about almost everything, so as a psych nurse, you tend not to believe practically anything they say.

“I’m the hair dresser to the stars.”

“No kidding! If you don’t mind me asking, who are some of your clients?”

“Stevie Nicks. Victoria Principal. Morgan Fairchild.”

“Wow. When was the last time you were in Southern California?”

“I’ve never been there.”

“So, they fly here so you can do their hair?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

“By the way, I love what you do with Stevie’s hair.”

“Yeah, she’s beautiful. Thanks!”

I met at least two guys who were the hair dresser to the stars, and neither of them had ever been to California. And then there were the guys who were mysteriously drugged at their local watering hole.

“Well, I was at the bar, and then I can’t remember anything. I think they ​slipped me a mickey!”

“Yeah, that’s why I quit going to bars. I got tired of getting drugged, too.”

“See? This guy knows what I’m talking about!”

I always got a kick out of that story. Fictional private detectives from the 1940’s, like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, were always getting slipped a mickey, but I don’t think it ever consistently happened to anyone in real life. Until Ruffies became popular, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it was mostly girls who were the target of Rohypnol. Even the girls had their tales of misfortune.

“We just discharged you two days ago. Why are you coming back today?”

“Someone on the bus stole all of my meds!”

“Even your Xanax?”

“No, that’s the only thing they didn’t steal!”

“What happened to that?”

“Oh, I accidentally dropped the bottle in the toilet!”

Well, there are a lots of fun filled activities to do on the bus, so it’s easy to see how that could happen…  And toilets clearly can’t be trusted anywhere near controlled substances. But every now and then, you meet someone who actually tells the truth. So, try to remember that.

* * * *

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lots of Harvey stories. He was a mostly benign, very quiet guy, who sometimes looked quite professorial.

He did have his Harvey moments. He would randomly bolt down the hallway as fast as could, for no apparent reason. I think that was Harvey. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

He was one of those guys that randomly uttered words of inestimable profundity, most of which I can’t remember, but he did say this:

“Ooh, shiny!”

It became our catchphrase whenever someone went off on a tangent, or for someone with a short attention span who was easily distracted. Like me.

And then there was Harvey’s hallmark admission. And like so many hallmark moments, it happened in the dark of night.

It was probably around 2005. Harvey had been a patient on my unit a couple of times. None of his admissions had been especially remarkable. We stabilized him and sent him home, or somewhere, until the next time.

On this particular night, it just after midnight. Harvey was admitted once more. We got him changed into VA pajamas and settled into his room by the nursing station. There wasn’t much point in trying to do a thorough admission assessment because Harvey wouldn’t answer any questions, so we got all our information from his old charts and our previous knowledge about Harvey.

Most people admitted in the middle of the night just want to go to bed, but that night, for no apparent reason, Harvey decided to demo his room.

I think he started with the baseboard molding, and ripped it all off of the walls. One of the nurses I was working with asked me what we should do. He wasn’t harming anyone, but he was systematically tearing his room apart.

We tried medicating him with Haldol and Ativan. The meds didn’t touch him.

After he removed all of the baseboards, anything that Harvey could disassemble with his bare hands was fair game. We would check on his progress periodically, and remove all the debris from his room from time to time.

When he started to take his bed apart, we rolled the frame out of his room, leaving the mattress and bedding on the floor. By 5:00 AM, the only thing Harvey hadn’t demolished was the light fixture on the wall where the head of his bed had once been.

Around 5:30 AM, we heard a loud crash. Harvey had somehow ripped the monster light fixture out of the wall, leaving behind a few live electrical wires. We were forced to move him across the hall into one of the seclusion rooms. I can’t remember if we locked him in or not, but we probably gave him another cupful of meds, that would have no more effect than an handful of Tic-tacs. Then I entered a whole lots of work orders into the computer so the maintenance guys would start putting the room back together again.

* * * *

It took the VA Corps of Engineers at least five days to repair what Harvey had done in roughly five hours.

I had at least one day off between getting off of Nights and transitioning to Days. I asked the night nurses how Harvey was doing when I returned to work. He hadn’t demolished anything else, but he hadn’t slept since he was admitted.

I have a couple of clear memories of that day. One, I was assigned to do Meds. Two, it was the first time I met Darrell. He was an LPN, and a new hire. He had never worked in a Psych setting before, and my boss asked me to show him the ropes.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I can play this song in any key. I can tell you how you’re supposed to do this job, or I can tell you how I do it. If you do it my way, you’ll work smarter, not harder.”

“I was hoping I’d meet a nurse like you.” Darrell replied. I was going to like working with this guy.

I spent the first couple of hours explaining my unorthodox philosophy to Darrell, and then I decided to show off a little to the new guy. I pulled Haldol and Ativan from the Pyxis, and told Darrell to follow me. And we went hunting for Harvey. He was standing in the hallway by the dayroom.

“Harvey hasn’t slept since he got here. I’m going to send him to the Land of Nod.” I told Darrell.

“Yeah, the nurses tried like hell to put him down for the count yesterday, but nothing touched him.”

“Hey, little buddy. I’ve got a couple meds for you.” I said, and handed Harvey a med cup with a couple pills, which he readily took. Then we escorted Harvey back ​to his room, and laid him down on his bed.

And I started singing, softly.

“Lullaby, and good night. Go to sleep lit-tle Harvey. Close your eyes, count some sheep, a-and go to fucking sleep…”

I didn’t know many of the actual lyrics, so I kind of made them up on the fly. I sang a few more verses of my impromptu lullaby, and when we tiptoed out of Harvey’s room, he was snoring.

“I don’t know what you just did, but I can’t believe what I just saw.”

“Smarter, not harder.”

“Well, I hope you don’t expect me to sing a lullaby to every one of these guys, because there’s no goddamn way I’m doing that!”

“Nope. It’s probably the only lullaby I’ve ever sung.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t. It was a gut feeling. Always follow your gut. It’s never wrong.”

* * * *

I know some of the stuff I write is hard to believe, but that actually happened. And as weird as it might sound, I had no doubt my intervention would work. I probably didn’t even need the meds.

However, I didn’t have any qualms about giving them to Harvey. I figured if my lullaby worked, the meds would help him stay asleep, and that’s probably what my little buddy needed more than anything.

Almost every field of Nursing is a science, except Psychiatry. At best, it’s an imprecise science, but it’s mostly an art. Only the really good psych nurses understand this.

The essence of psych nursing is guiding people out of the maze of darkness or whatever else they’ve created inside their minds, and teaching them a few new coping strategies, so they can try to avoid having to repeat it again in the future.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is the majority of the patients we took care of weren’t all that interested in doing anything different.

You can lead a horse to water…

That part of the job was frustrating, but every now and then, someone would come along, and all they wanted was a second chance. And every now and then, you could sing someone a lullaby.

It was those moments that made the whole thing worthwhile.

In Memoriam

Mother’s Day is almost upon us. I decided I’d try to write about my mom, but it hasn’t been easy. I have a million memories of my mom, but I’m thinking mostly about her death today. She died at the end of this month in 2007, and this year will mark​ ten years since her death.

You’d think this subject would get easier over time. I thought it would, until I started writing about it. I’ve had to chop this into very small bites, with a whole lots of breaks in between. At the rate this is going, I might be finished by Mother’s Day. Next year.

* * * *

It was in October of 2006. I think it was a Friday. I got a phone call at work from my youngest sister, Julie. My work day at the MVAMC was almost over, and I was checking my notes at the nursing station. Our mom had been visiting our oldest sister, Colleen, in Montana. Julie had gone to the airport to pick up our mom, but there was something wrong with our mother.

“She’s really confused and acting strange.” Julie said.

“Is she drunk?” I asked. My mom had been sober for at least ten years, but she could have had a relapse. I did, maybe a month before all of this happened.

“No. She’s just weird. I want to take her to the ER.”

“Do that. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I replied, then called my lovely supermodel wife to let her know we’d be taking an unplanned trip to St Cloud. I’m sure my memories of this are muddled, but I know I had a bad feeling about this situation, and I’m sure I tried to tell Lea that as we raced up Highway 10 to the St Cloud Hospital.

I think this is what I really said.

“My mom has cancer.”

* * * *

I wasn’t an Oncology nurse, or even a Med/Surg nurse. I was a Psych nurse, so you might think I would’ve thought my mom had had a psychotic break, not cancer. And you might wonder how I came up with that diagnosis when it was so far out of my wheelhouse, so to speak.

My mom smoked cigarettes, and she had smoked for something like unto sixty years. You hardly have to be a medical professional to know that smoking is bad for you. And I might be wrong about this, but one of the first major lawsuits against Big Tobacco was filed by a nurse, and in her sworn testimony, she stated she had no idea that smoking was harmful. If that is correct, she has to be the most stupidest fucking douchebag nurse, ever.

I already knew what the ER doc was going to say before I ever saw him. Be that as it may, I have to admit I was stunned to hear his pronouncement when he showed me my mother’s CT scan.

The first stage of the Grief and Loss process is denial…

“You’re the nurse in the family, right? Okay, well, the news I’ve got for you isn’t good. Your mother has lung cancer. She has a nodule in her lung, right there. Normally, we’d need to do a biopsy to be sure, but that’s not all. There’s another one right here, in her liver. Once cancer metastasizes there, well, I probably don’t have to tell you how bad that is. The oncologist can tell you more, but from my experience, your mom has about six months to live. Probably less.”

“What’s causing her confusion?” I asked. I think I saw my mom before I met with the doctor, and my sister wasn’t joking about mom being confused. She didn’t seem to have any idea where she was.

“Oh. That’s from SIADH.” he replied, like I’d know what the hell he was talking about. I didn’t.  So he tried explaining it to me. I tried to comprehend what he said, but even after his explanation, I still didn’t understand what he was saying. I would have to call my nursing buddy, Don Nelson, for some clarification. He had worked in ICU, and he was the only person I could think of who might be able to translate this into understandable terms, but even his explanation left me confused.

If you want to try to understand this, you’re going to have to Google it, and even that may not help. I don’t think it helped me much. This surpassed me, and it confused me almost as much as it did my mom.

Even now, I doubt I’d understand it any better. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is something like unto this: it’s probably similar to what happens when an elderly person gets an UTI. Somehow, a bladder infection more or less scrambles their brains. Treat the infection, and they’re better in a couple of days. So, I figured that would happen with my mom.

It didn’t.

* * * *

My mom was admitted to the hospital so she could be monitored and treated with Lasix to get rid of some of the excess fluid in her body, and then, hopefully, she’d be less confused. That’s what the nurses said, and they were confident she’d be better in a couple of days.

I can’t remember how many of my siblings were at the hospital that day, but we helped mom get settled into her room. She didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about being in the hospital. All she cared about was her purse, and going to the bathroom, and the first thing she did once she was in the bathroom was light up a cigarette.

She was so pissed when I took her cigarettes from her and gave them to the nurses, she wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye.

I probably had to work that weekend. I had every other weekend off, and I know I would’ve been with my mom if I wasn’t working. She was released from the hospital on Sunday. I think Lea and I took another trip to my parents’ house. The Lasix didn’t appear to have made much difference. My mom seemed to be every bit as confused as she had been on Friday.

I have a vague memory of my mother when she returned home. She was sitting on the couch, so I sat down next to her and held her hand. Then I smiled, and said softly, “You realize that you’re fucking up everything, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I probably am. Your father was supposed to die first.”

* * * *

I know my dad asked me to be present when they met with the oncologist. After all, I was a nurse, and if anyone would understand what was going to be said, it was probably me. My dad wasn’t very medically attuned. He rarely listened to his own doctors, so why would he start listening to his wife’s doctor? Plus, my dad was essentially deaf in one ear, and he couldn’t hear so good out of the other one.

The oncologist was a nice guy from India. He outlined his plan of attack, but what surprised me the most was he seemed to think he could save my mother’s life, which I thought was a total crock of shit.

“Your mother needs this treatment, and she’ll get better as long as she stays on it. If she doesn’t agree to the chemo, or if she decides to stop treatment, she’ll be dead in two weeks.” And then he left the room while I discussed the options with my parents.

“Realistically, the best this guy’s gonna be able to do is extend her life for a few months.” I told my mom and dad.

“Well, I’m not ready to let her go.” my dad said.

“I don’t think any of us are ready for that, but it’s not your decision, or my decision. It’s her decision, as long as she understands what she’s doing.” I said, then turned to my mom.  “Mom, do you understand what the doctor said?”

“Yeah, I think so. I have cancer, and I’m going to die.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The only question is, do you want to go through chemo or not. It’ll keep you alive a bit longer, but there are a whole slew of potentially serious side effects from the treatment. This doctor thinks he’s going to cure you, but I don’t think he’s being very realistic. I think the best he’ll be able to do is keep you alive a bit longer, and you might spend most of that time feeling sicker than a dog.”

“But the doctor said he thought he could cure your mother,” my dad said. “And you’re just a psychiatric nurse.”

“Fair enough.” I replied. “But if this guy thinks he’s going to cure Mom, he’s fucking crazy. Mom has metastatic cancer, it’s already in her liver, and God knows where else it’s spread to. This is not going to be a life saving intervention, Dad.” I looked him squarely in the eyes until that sunk in, then turned to my mom. “But it’s your decision, Mom. I hope you can understand your options, and if you do, we’re going to support you, no matter what you decide.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I can’t advise you what to do.” I replied, and I turned my gaze to the floor. I may have held my breath. She turned to my dad. “What do you think?”

“I don’t want to lose you, ever.”

“Okay. I think I know what I want to do. I’ll try the chemo.”

* * * *

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of that actually happened, other than the visit. I don’t have any clear recollection of the conversations we had. Whatever it was that was actually said, my mom seemed to be able to understand the situation, and she opted for the chemo. That was good enough for me. We called the doctor back into the office and let him know.

* * * *

If you never had the opportunity to meet my mom, you would have loved her. Sally as a good old gal. She’s one of the few people I’ve known that everybody loved. She was smart and sassy, and sharp witted. She was a dynamo, always doing something, always working a project or two.

And then, in seemingly one day, that person vanished, like unto a magic trick gone terribly wrong. The person she once was made sporadic visits over the following months, but those visits were brief. What I remember most was my mom sitting silently on the couch, staring out the window at nothing, or playing with the remote control, flipping through the channels without watching anything.

One of the local hospice programs came over to do an assessment, and they were critical in helping us manage my mother’s care at home. I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for us.

They set up a pain management program for my mom that was miraculously effective. Prior to that, it was a goddamn nightmare. We had to buy a lock box to put her pain meds in, or she would’ve taken all of them at once. The hospice program also set up an adjustable bed in the living room, and that’s where my mom slept. She would fall asleep watching TV, and that was the only time she stopped clicking through the channels.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages in the Grief and Loss process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know we all got together as a family to discuss what we going to do once we all found out our mom was ruining everything by dying. I didn’t have a lots to say, but I offered a brief rundown of Grief and Loss, and asked everyone to remember that our emotions were going to be all over the map.

“It’s not a linear progression, you bounce back and forth, and it can take a long time to work through.”

As a family, we decided to do whatever we had to to take care of our parents. My mom had taken care of our dad forever. Healthwise, my dad was pretty much a trainwreck, and all of us thought he’d be the first to check out. Even him. There was no way he could suddenly become mom’s caretaker.

We had a meeting in the dining room at our parents’ house to discuss our plan of attack. It led to the most memorable reappearance of ​my mom that I remember during those days. As we were discussing how we were going to care for Mom and Dad, and make sure they could stay in their house, my mom got up from the couch and walked into the dining room.

“If you’re planning on putting me in a nursing home, I’ll kill each and every one of you fuckers!” she said. There was real fire in her eyes.

“Mom, we’re not going to do that. We’re trying to find a way to take care of you here, at home.” everyone replied at once.

“Oh. Well, okay then.” she replied, and returned to staring aimlessly out the window from the couch.

After we all stopped laughing, two of my sisters, Denise and Julie, would walk point, so to speak. They lived the closest to our parents. They would manage everything Monday through Friday. The rest of us would fill in when we could, and on the weekends.

* * * *

Sally would go through two rounds of chemo before she decided enough was enough. It would take seven months for the cancer inside of her to kill her to death, but my mom essentially died in October, leaving a shadow figure of the person she’d once been.

We got to spend one last Thanksgiving together, one last Christmas. One more New Year’s Eve, and we got to celebrate her birthday in February. I wish I could say these were happy, joyous occasions. I don’t remember them that way. I’m not sure anyone in my family does.

My mom was drastically different in personality, and then in physical appearance. The chemo changed her so much. By the time she got dead, she was hardly recognizable as the person I knew as my mom.

It’s beyond ironic. I know people who suddenly lost their mother who wish they would’ve gotten an extra six months of time. For me, I’d probably swap places with them.

* * * *

My mom loved Perry Como. I bought a couple of his CD’s, and played them over and over on the weekends I spent as caregiver in Little Falls. Taking care of my parents wasn’t physically demanding. Our duties as caregivers mostly entailed cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking meals–and making sure my mom didn’t accidentally walk out the door and wander off.

As a nurse, I had cared for a lots of patients who were dying, but none of them had been my mom. I had no idea how emotionally exhausting it would be. I remember returning home from those weekends being too exhausted to even cry.

I remember one weekend clearly. I was semi-asleep on the couch. My mom was sound asleep on the hospital bed. It was about 3:00 AM, when I heard this:

“BILLY MAYS HERE, FOR OXICLEAN!” 

I just about had a fucking heart attack. I leapt off the couch, and fumbled around, trying to find my glasses. Once I could see again, I located the remote and turned the TV off.

“Hey!” my mom said, sitting up in bed. “I was watching that!”

* * * *

Times of crisis bring out the best, and worst, in people. And sometimes within five minutes of each other. It’s a good thing I had quit drinking before this happened. Otherwise, my reactions wouldn’t have been pretty…  As it turned out, the collective reactions of my family certainly had their ugly moments.

Watching our mother die took a toll on all of us. My youngest brother, Bob, couldn’t take it, and asked to be taken out of the caregiver rotation. My brother, John, couldn’t even come to grips with the fact that our mom was going to die. I can’t remember if he ever attempted any caregiver roles.

I don’t hold that against him. It wasn’t an easy task. I don’t hold what he couldn’t do against him. It’s what he did, and what he did was criticize everything the rest of us did while he drank himself into an ambulatory coma. I don’t hold his drinking against him. Drinking was pretty much the only coping strategy my family had. There was a whole lots of drinking going on during that time. If I hadn’t quit drinking before my mother died, I might be drinking still.

I remember spending a lots of time trying to reason with my unreasonable brother. And I was not always gracious, nor very professional, in my sometimes not so private interactions with John.

For that, I am eternally embarrassed, and very sorry.

About the time that my mother was dying, my lovely supermodel wife got a job offer in Phoenix, AZ. I encouraged her to accept the offer. If the position worked out, it would be a great opportunity for her. As for me, I needed to get as far away from my brother as I could.

For the longest time, all I wanted to do was kill him.

I’m better now, and I probably won’t kill my brother if I ever see him again. But I’m not going to lie. It’d probably be better if we never saw each other again.

* * * *

My mother endured two rounds of chemo. I think the side effects were worse for her the second time around, maybe. They certainly were for me. My mother no longer resembled herself. She had gained what looked like one hundred pounds on her tiny frame, and her face was bloated. As terrible as this is going to sound, she looked like Jabba the Hutt’s wife.

Her oncologist was right about one thing. She died two weeks after stopping her chemo treatments. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. Lea and I drove up to Little Falls to see her before she died, but she had already slipped into something like unto a coma by the time we arrived.

I held her hand, and told her all the things a mom would want to hear. And then we drove home. And went back to our life, and our respective jobs. And waited.

* * * *

My mother died early in the morning on May 28, 2007. It was the Memorial Day weekend. I worked a twelve hour shift on Friday, a double shift on Saturday and Sunday, and another twelve hours on Monday. I was at work when my dad called at around 5:00 AM.

“I just wanted to let you know your mother is gone. And I knew you’d be awake.”

We talked for a few minutes, there wasn’t a whole lots to say. I wasn’t the only person on my unit that lost someone that weekend. One of the nurses lost her mother-in-law. Another lost her cousin. Bad things happen in threes…

I took a break after talking to my dad. I went outside. The birds were chirping, the sun was starting to come up, a gray-blue light filled the sky. I looked up, and three Canada geese flew overhead. They honked, as if saying goodbye, and disappeared from view.

* * * *

I did my mother’s eulogy. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was beautiful. Lea and I stayed at the Country Inn Suites in Little Falls. I had a dream about my mom the morning of her funeral.

She was driving our old car, a faded green 1963 Chevy Impala station wagon. My mom learned to drive when we were living in Modesto, CA. She drove that station wagon when we moved from California to North Dakota. When we  arrived in Grand Forks, she handed my dad the keys and never drove again. As the car neared me in my dream, she rolled down the window, and waved as she drove past. And then I woke up.

“Really? That’s how you’re going to say goodbye!” I said to the ceiling of our room. “Couldn’t you have at least stopped? At the very least, couldn’t you have found a nicer car?”

* * * *

It’s been almost ten years. I miss my mom. I’m sure I always will.

Wherever she is, I hope she’s at peace. And I hope she’s driving a better car.

Blogger Vance

I went golfing for the first time in a decade the other day. After I had to take three swings at my ball before I finally hit it on the first tee, I knew why I could take a ten year hiatus from the game and not miss it in the least, which is probably going to sound a little weird because I love the game of golf.

There are a few of reasons why I decided to play golf again. First of all, I have an endless amount of time on my hands now that I’m retired. I have a set of golf clubs, and I already confessed my love of the game.

Most of my irons were my dad’s at one time. I bought his old clubs after he had custom made clubs built. My woods used to belong to Don Nelson. He sold them to me when he upgraded to metal woods. My woods are actually made of wood, not metal. I’ve never liked the sound a metal wood makes when it hits a ball. And I have a random assortment of clubs that I bought at Goodwill for a couple bucks a piece.

One of my former golfing buddies said he had one club in his bag that cost more than all of my clubs combined, plus the clothes I was wearing, and if I ever beat him, he’d beat me to death with his very expensive club.

Given my level of play, I doubt I was ever close to that type of death.

Another reason I took up golf again is there are no bowling alleys in Mexico, not that I’m an avid bowler. There are basically two types of bowlers, the kind who have their own balls and shoes and stuff, and the kind who don’t. Most of the latter probably love bowling. The remainder go bowling in lieu of committing suicide.

I think I’ll kill myself…  Well, I guess I could go bowling…

I probably fall into that spectrum when it comes to bowling.

Golf, on the other hand, is something I love doing even though I suck at it.

* * * *

Golf is a good walk spoiled. Mark Twain may or may not have said that about golf. And for me, the quote has no bearing on my game. I ride in golf cart. Unlike many people who play the game, I’m not interested in exercise or fitness. A guy named Merle Williams is credited with inventing the modern, motorized the golf cart, and all I have to say to Merle is, Thank you!

After some of my drives, I don’t need a cart to transport myself ten feet to hit my ball again. Other times, I need an ATV or a bulldozer, not a cart, to get to my ball. Most of the time, I don’t even bother looking for those balls. I’ve gotten very skilled at taking a stroke and hitting another ball. I have hundreds of golf balls. I’m not afraid to lose one. Or ten. Or twenty.

The game of golf was invented by the Scots back in the 1400’s apparently because living under the repressive rule of the English just wasn’t frustrating enough. And like any sport, the rules of golf have been renovated and modified over the years, not that I’ve ever read them. I’m confident if I ever tried to play golf the way it was intended, I’d never play.

I am a mostly terrible golfer. I have about five good shots a game, and they’re rarely consecutive shots. I rarely play the fairway, but not by design. I think it’d be safe to say that nothing I do on the golf course is by design. When I hit the ball, the best I can do is hope it’ll go in the general direction I want it to. If there is a tree within one hundred yards of my ball, in any direction, I will probably hit it. If there’s a water hazard on the course, I will find it.

There are three skills essential to golf: driving, chipping and putting. I’ve never been very good at any of them. If I’m having decent drives, I can’t chip. And vice versa. My putting skills are somewhere in the abysmal range. I totally suck at putting.

You might then wonder why I play? I certainly do. And the answer to that is simple. It’s my dad’s fault.

My dad was an avid golfer, and he pretty much lived on the local courses around Little Falls. That’s why I started playing. Well, that, and the fact that I could drink beer and smoke cigarettes while I played. Those two things were really the only two things I liked about golf in the beginning.

* * * *

Rannulph Junuh: Now, the question on the table is how drunk is drunk enough? And the answer is that it’s all a matter of brain cells.
Hardy Greaves: Brain cells?

Rannulph Junuh: That’s right, Hardy. You see, every drink of liquor you take kills a thousand brain cells. Now, that doesn’t much matter ’cause we got billions more. And first the sadness cells die so you smile real big. And then the quiet cells go so you just say everything real loud for no reason at all. That’s okay because the stupid cells go next, so everything you say is real smart. And finally, come the memory cells. These are tough sons of bitches to kill.

* * * *

I’m not a great golfer, but I was once a great alcoholic, if that’s an achievement that can be considered great. Like any great alcoholic, I had a plethora of reasons why I drank, and like any haunted human, I had a closet full of ghosts and skeletons and traumas that could only be kept at bay by drinking them into oblivion.

In retrospect, my ghosts had the ​power to terrify me only because I gave them that power. If I only knew then what I know now…  I could tell Rannulph Junuh that it didn’t make any difference how much you drank, you could never kill those memories. Those sons of bitches never die.

* * * *

There was another reason why I decided to start playing golf. It was the only way I could talk to my dad. I wasn’t all that keen to talk to my dad when I was in my teens and twenties. We didn’t have that much in common. And then I married my lovely supermodel wife, and if we didn’t have anything else in common, we were both married men, so there was that.

And there was golf. Golf is a beautifully​ simple, frustratingly​ complex game. Much like bowling, you either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to golf.

I love golf. Golf courses are almost always scenic, green and serene. There might be some competition between players, but it’s essentially you, the course and your skills, or lack thereof, and that’s all. You don’t need anyone to set a screen for you. You don’t need anyone to block a defender.

I know my dad loved the game of golf, but I don’t know if he actually enjoyed playing golf. You wouldn’t know by playing with him. He was intense on the golf course. He rarely displayed that level of intensity anywhere else in his life.

For example, we were golfing at the Little Falls Country Club one summer weekend. My dad hit a shot he wasn’t pleased with, and then he hit the roof.

“Jee-sus Christ! Why in the hell did I ever I ever take up this goddamn game? Son of a bitch! I should take all of my clubs and throw them in the fuckin’ river!”

“Hey, dad. It’s just a game. Lighten up, man. Have a little fun.” I said. That’s more or less my philosophy about golf, among other things.

“Who the hell asked you? Shut the fuck up!”

Clearly, that wasn’t my dad’s philosophy, nor would he ever embrace that kind of attitude. Not when it came to golf anyway.

I played many rounds of golf with my dad. There was a time when I didn’t totally suck at golf, and I merely kind of sucked. I challenged my dad a couple of times, and almost beat him once. It wasn’t until age and poor health had taken away most of his skills that I actually had a lower score than him. But I hardly count that as a win.

On the day I almost beat my dad, I was playing the best round of golf I’d ever played, and my dad was playing one of his worst. I had a two stroke lead heading to the ninth tee.

My drive was right down the middle of the fairway. I had about one hundred yards to the green. All I had to do was chip my ball onto the green, and sink a putt. Even if I two putted the green, I’d still beat my dad. His tee shot was mediocre, and his  second shot landed in a sand trap. I could almost taste victory.

If that was a day that I had temporarily found my swing, I lost it when I tried to chip my ball onto the green. I hit that ball so fat. It didn’t float through the air and drop neatly onto the green. It tore off down the fairway about a foot off the ground, moving at the speed of light.

I knew it was wrong the moment I hit it. I turned to my lovely supermodel wife, and asked if she saw where my shot landed. I knew it wasn’t going to land anywhere near the green.

“It’s still rolling across the parking lot.” she replied. The parking lot was on the far side of the ninth green. “And it just rolled down the hill. That’s where the eighteenth green is, isn’t it?”

Yes. Yes it was. And that’s where my ball ended up, and any chance of ever beating my dad ended. My dad chipped out of the bunker and sank a long putt. I left my ball sitting on the eighteenth green, and shook my dad’s hand. And then we drank a lots of beer, laughed and talked about how I almost beat him.

Almost a decade ago, I golfed with my dad for the last time. He died the following year. I hadn’t been golfing since, and when I went golfing last week, I became acutely aware of his absence, and how much I missed my dad.

And then I hit a tree with one of my many errant shots, and I smiled. My dad would’ve gotten a kick out of that.

* * * *

I talked a lots about going golfing before I retired. People asked what I was going to do after I quit working, and I figured I’d need to do something. Golf seemed like the perfect retirement activity, and a lots of retired guys spend their time on the golf course. My dad did. If he could do it…  And I secretly kind of hoped if I spent enough time hitting a golf ball, I might actually get good at it someday, many years from now. I suppose that’s still theoretically possible.

There have been many movies made about golf. Caddy Shack. Hard to find anyone my age that doesn’t love that movie. There are so many great lines from that movie, and none of them have anything to do with golf, except one.

* * * *

Ty Webb: I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

* * * *

Billy Madison. The only thing I like about that movie is the scene where Bob Barker beats the shit out of Adam Sandler. I don’t like Adam Sandler. Or his movies.

The Legend of Bagger Vance. My personal favorite golf movie. It’s a beautifully filmed Zen movie about golf, and the most important thing about being Zen isn’t whether you win or lose, just that you look cool in the attempt.

I am just about the coolest looking golfer you’ve ever seen, until I actually play golf. I have a beautifully smooth swing. You’d think I’d be a much better golfer than I am. I have no real idea what’s wrong with my golf game, other than almost everything. I lift my head, I don’t keep my shoulders square. If I do manage to accomplish those two things, I certainly don’t do either of them consistently. Perhaps, like unto Rannulph Junuh, I just need to find my my swing.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: What I’m talkin’ about is a game… A game that can’t be won, only played…
Rannulph Junuh: You don’t understand…
Bagger Vance: I don’t need to understand… Ain’t a soul on this entire earth ain’t got a burden to carry he don’t understand, you ain’t alone in that… But you been carryin’ this one long enough… Time to go on… lay it down…
Rannulph Junuh: I don’t know how…
Bagger Vance: You got a choice… You can stop… Or you can start…
Rannulph Junuh: Start?
Bagger Vance: Walkin’…
Rannulph Junuh: Where?
Bagger Vance: Right back to where you always been… and then stand there… Still… real still… And remember…
Rannulph Junuh: It’s too long ago…
Bagger Vance: Oh no sir, it was just a moment ago… Time for you to come on out the shadows Junuh… Time for you to choose…
Rannulph Junuh: I can’t…
Bagger Vance: Yes, you can… but you ain’t alone… I”m right here with ya… I’ve been here all along… Now play the game… Your game… The one that only you was meant to play… The one that was given to you when you come into this world… You ready?… Strike that ball, Junuh, don’t hold nothin’ back, give it everything… Now’s the time… Let yourself remember… Remember YOUR swing… That’s right, Junuh, settle yourself… Let’s go… Now is the time, Junuh…
* * * *

The movie is sort of about golf, but it’s mostly a movie about redemption and restoration. Being who I am, I’m pretty much a sucker for stories like that. In my case, I wish golf was an integral part of my recovery process. It might imply some sort of personal proficiency at the game. For that to be true, I most definitely would need a Bagger Vance in my back pocket.

If you didn’t read the book, Bagger Vance, and the story of his legend, are based on the Hindu epic and scriptural poem, the Bhagavad-Gita. In the epic, Bhagavan is the Supreme Personality who helps his follower, Arjuna, understand life.

In the movie, Bagger Vance is a caddy who appears in the middle of the night to help Rannulph Junuh find his golf swing again, right after Junuh agrees to play a golf tournament sponsored by his totally hot former girlfriend. And there was that whole World War I thing, too.

Before the war, Rannulph Junuh was a very good golfer living in Savannah, Georgia. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a life of privilege, and a future that could only be described as bright. After the war, he was a drunken gambler living on the fringes of society. He had no one in his life, and his future could only be described as bleak.

Bagger takes Mr Junuh under his wing for the price of five dollars, guaranteed, and what follows is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. For a caddy, Bagger rarely spoke about golf in golfing terms. He described the game in esoteric terms. “The rhythm of the game is just like the rhythm of life,” he says, and describes the game as one that “can’t be won, only played.”

For me, that is is an undisputed truth. For my dad, it would probably be the biggest crock of shit he’d ever heard. My dad played golf like he was landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Perhaps life was a battle for my dad. I don’t know if anything came easily to him. My dad became a very good golfer not by talent, but by determination, and a ridiculous amount of practice.

See? I told you we didn’t have much in common.

On the other hand, I’ve become the lackadaisical duffer that I am by not applying myself to master the game to any great degree, which I’m afraid is also the way I’ve lived most of my life. Almost everything I’ve ever done came easily to me. The biggest battles in my life were the ones I created.

When I first started playing golf, I was far more interested in keeping my beer cold on the course than I was in the game, and one of the most surreal experiences for me was golfing sober for the first time.

* * * *

Rannulph Junuh: I can win Adele… I can beat both of ’em… Look into my eyes and tell me what you see…
Adele Invergordon: Determination… Pure determination…
Rannulph Junuh: Panic, Adele… Pure panic… I’m eight strokes behind two of the greatest golfers in the sport, they’ve never blown a lead in their lives and I’m gonna win… Ya know why?
Adele Invergordon: Panic?
Rannulph Junuh: That’s right…

* * * *

I’m trying to think of one thing I did once I quit drinking that didn’t evoke a sense of panic inside me. I can’t think of any. Fear can certainly be a great motivator, but it’s hard to even breathe when you’re in panic mode.

Making any great change in your life can be a terrifying prospect, even if it’s a change for the better. And for many, the greatest hurdle to overcome is that fear, that overwhelming sense of panic you feel. Rebuilding your life requires a whole lots of hard work. It’s so much easier to maintain the status quo, however much it sucks, than it is to try something different.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: You wanna quit, Mr. Junuh? You know you can just go ahead and creep off somewhere, I’ll tell folk you took sick… Truth be told, ain’t nobody gonna really object… In fact, they’d probably be happy as bugs in a bake shop to see you pack up and go home…
Rannulph Junuh: You know I can’t quit.
Bagger Vance: I know… Just makin’ sure you know it too…

* * * *

Bagger Vance wasn’t around when I decided to quit drinking. Sobriety wasn’t an easy thing for me to achieve, and I had a major relapse just before I reached one year of sobriety. That had to have been one of the lowest points in my life, and that’s when I realized the full extent of what I was doing, and that it would be a lifelong task.

That’s when I had to make a decision. Was I going to see this through to the end, or would I quit trying and settle for a life I had nothing but loathing for.

Once I was able to see quitting wasn’t a viable option, my path suddenly became clear, and I felt at peace for possibly the first time in my life since I was seven years old.

I live an incredibly idyllic life now. I am truly at peace, and generally at one with the universe. I feel the rhythm of nature, and life, and I am content on level that I never would have dreamed was possible.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: Yep… Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…

Put your eyes on Bobby Jones… Look at his practice swing, almost like he’s searchin’ for something… Then he finds it… Watch how he settle hisself right into the middle of it, feel that focus… He got a lot of shots he could choose from… Duffs and tops and skulls, there’s only ONE shot that’s in perfect harmony with the field… One shot that’s his authentic shot, and that shot is gonna choose him… There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us… All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us… Can’t see that flag as some dragon you got to slay… You got to look with soft eyes… See the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin’ of the Earth, all come together… where everything that is, becomes one… You got to seek that place with your soul Junuh… Seek it with your hands, don’t think about it… Feel it… Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be… Now I can’t take you there Junuh… Just hopes I can help you find a way… Just you… that ball… that flag… and all you are…

* * * *

I’m not overly anxious about improving my golf skills. I figure I’ll get better if I play more often, and even if I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world. I’ll still love playing golf as much as I ever did. And the world will still be just as beautiful.

Perhaps it will happen this year. I’ll step up to my ball. The leaves in the trees will be dancing on the wind, and laughing​ in the sunshine. The birds will be singing, and then everything will grow quiet. And still.

I will see it, and know it, and there will be no mystery.

I will find my swing, and be the ball. And great things will happen.

I Don’t Want to Complain, But…

Just in cases you were wondering, I’m totally loving being a retired guy. I find it almost impossible to find anything about my life that isn’t great. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been trying to avoid using the P word.

Perfect.

It’s been our experience that saying stuff like that will inevitably incur the wrath of the gods, and then things won’t be perfect anymore.

I’ve been staying busy doing anything but writing for awhile. I built a golldarn thing that ended up being more of a really stout shelf than a golldarn thing. I still have the materials for a golldarn thing, and I may build one someday, but I have to replace my drill/power screwdriver first.

I’ve been doing a lots of small maintenance jobs around the house. I lavish attention on my plants on the patio. They’re looking good, and most of the plants we inherited from Planet Janet are looking better. The jade plants are even starting to look better, and they were in terrible shape when we moved in.

I bought a hammock for the frame that looks like unto a Viking longship, and I’ve been practicing getting in and out of it so I don’t look like a complete idiot on the offhand chance someone comes down to visit us.

And we bought a very darlingpreshadorbs table and chairs for the patio for the same reason. It’s a work of art. Seriously. The chairs are all signed by  the artist that painted them. I wonder if he’s a famous guy, like Van Gogh…  If we keep this up, we’re going to need a much bigger patio…

I’ve been practicing my golf swing. I’m going golfing for the first time in eight or nine years next Friday with Phyllis, Tom and Cheryl. I’ve never been a great golfer, so I don’t have to worry too much about sucking. That’s pretty much a given, and if I needed something to complain about, I’ll probably have it after about ten minutes of golf…

And even though I don’t have an actual story in mind, I decided it was time to write something, lest I forget how to do it altogether, and I end up with a permanent case of writer’s block.

I have no Muse for this story. It’s more of a status update on our lives than an actual story.

* * * *

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, we have had a few bumps in the road since we’ve moved to Mexico. Literally, and figuratively. Literally, the roads are nothing but bumps. The roads here were probably built during the time of the Roman Empire, using the same materials the Romans would’ve used.

The village of Ajijic has been here for about six hundred years. It has more history than any other place we’ve ever lived. There’s only one paved road in the Lakeside area, the carretera. It’s the major thoroughfare in the area. It’s a two lane highway that quickly becomes clogged with traffic during the weekend and any major holiday.

Take, for example, Easter. The village of Ajijic hosts a live Passion Play each year. Thousands of people come to see it. If you have no desire to fight the crowds, your best bet is to stay at home, which is what we did. Last week was pretty damn crazy/crowded here. It was worse than Snowbird season, and most of those people had just departed, returning to the Great White North for the summer.

If anything like unto a serious natural or unnatural disaster happens here, you’d better be the first person out of town, otherwise, you may as well stay home. You won’t be going anywhere…

Everyone complains about traffic, it’s an universal complaint, no matter where you live. So even if you don’t have anything else to complain about, you’ll always have that. Or the weather. Although the weather here is extremely hard to complain about. It’s, well, pretty much per–

It’s okay.

But some people have a deep and abiding love of complaining. Back when I was a nurse, I knew a lots of people that loved to bitch and moan, and not all of them were patients. Some of the nurses I knew seemingly thought it was part of their job description.

Even here, in Heaven on Earth, there are people who look for things to complain about. I think they go through withdrawal, and they’ll jump on the most insignificant thing they can find, simply because they don’t have anything else to complain about. Lea and I got to meet a couple of these types of people a few weeks ago, and the issue at hand was the placement of our satellite dish.

We subscribed to Shaw Direct when we moved here. There are no cable companies in the Lakeside area. I don’t know if there are any cable companies in all of Mexico. Shaw is a Canadian television company, so we get a lots of Canadian shows, plus a few American networks. I’ve learned a lots about Canadia in the last several months, eh.

Beauty.

And like unto everyone else that lives in our development, we had our satellite dish placed on our roof. I mean, it seemed like the best place to put it…

The guy that lives two houses west of us on the other side of the street filed a complaint with the owner of the house we’re renting about our dish, but he didn’t say anything about it until six months after we had it installed. Six fucking months! This guy told Planet Janet that our dish was obstructing his scenic view, and he wanted our dish moved.

There’s a backstory to this. Planet Janet and her husband, Don Padrino del Basura, used to live in Casa del Selva. (That’s the really cool name of our house. It means House of the Forest, or something like unto that.) About fifteen years ago, the guy that complained about our dish got into some sort of an argument with Don and Janet, and he hadn’t spoken to either of them since. Until we moved in and had a satellite dish placed on our roof.

I contacted the guy who installed our dish, Michael E. Merryman. He’s a darling man, and sur’n he’s Irish. He came over, and we went up on the roof to survey the scene, and scouted out possible placement options, and he said wherever we moved it on the roof, someone would be able to see it, and they might object to its new position.

Our satellite dish is about four feet in diameter. It’s a good sized dish, no doubt. However, I’m not sure how much of an obstruction it would’ve posed to the guy living two houses west of us. It would certainly impact the view of the people living directly behind us, but they didn’t have any complaints that I’m aware of.

Michael couldn’t believe this had actually become an issue, and why did it take six months for someone to complain about?!?

Yeah, that was a good question.

Michael asked me to call him once we figured out where we wanted to put it, and he’d send his crew out to move it. And he added that we should make the guy who complained pay for having it moved. See? I told you he was a darling man. And although I liked the idea of making the guy two doors down pay for moving our dish, we decided not to do that.

Planet Janet came over, and Lea and I went up on the roof with her to survey the scene.  We looked everything over, and started brainstorming possible options for a new place for our satellite dish.

Yes, it would be visible no matter where it was on the roof. Lea and Planet Janet thought a good place would be on the western wall of our house, or possibly the southwestern part of the wall, right above my bathroom window.

I made this observation: the only place we could put our dish that it wouldn’t obstruct anyone’s view was way down by the bodega on the western side of our backyard, just off of our terraced patio.

“Then it’ll obstruct our view.” Lea replied.

The guy who registered the complaint happened to be outside, so we invited him to come up on the roof and give us his opinion. He told me he wasn’t trying to create any problems. I told him it was a little late for that. From my point of view, if he really didn’t want to create any problems, all he had to do was keep his mouth shut. And just for the record, the complaining guy has two satellite dishes on the roof of his house.

Be that as it may, he was reasonably pleased with our possible solutions and said any of them would be fine with him.

When we finished our negotiations on the roof, I decided I better check with the guy who lives next to us to make sure he didn’t have any objections to our possible placement solutions. Having a satellite dish on our roof didn’t impact his view of the world in the least. However, if we moved it to the wall next to his house, it might, and I didn’t want to have to move it a third time.

It’s probably a good thing I decided to talk to my neighbor because he turned out to be an asshole, and he didn’t want our dish on a wall that faced his house, whether he could see it or not.

“It wasn’t here when we left for the summer, and no one told me it was going to be there when we got back.”

He actually said that. Like we were supposed to contact him in Canadia to get his permission to install our satellite dish. For a moment, I thought about killing him…

To wrap this story up, our neighbor was okay with placing our dish down by the bodega, and that’s where it sits now, hidden from the view of all of our neighbors. And there is peace in our development once more.

* * * *

There was one other less than perfect event, and concerned our kit-ten, Samantha. About nine days ago, Lea and Sam went outside in the early morning hours. It was still dark. Sam, being a cat, decided to go look for things to chase in the bushes. She used to be really good at chasing things, but it’s something she rarely does anymore now that she’s old. She’s something like unto eighty years old in human years.

On this morning, Sam encountered what Lea thinks was another cat, and there was muchos hissing and howling in the bushes. Whatever it was that Sam had encountered had fled by the time Lea ran down into the yard, and it took another forty minutes for Sam to calm down enough to let Lea examine her.

Sam was clearly in pain. She limped when she walked, and every movement she made was done at great cost. We decided to take our kit-ten to see the vet.

Good news, no major injuries were discovered, but Sam was clearly in a lots of pain. The vet gave Sam an injection of a low dose of morphine, and Sam looked a whole lots better by the time we got her home.

Bad news, morphine is a narcotic, and one of the side effects of morphine can be constipation. After three days of no cat poop in the litter box, we decided to take our kit-ten back to the vet.

It turns out that feline constipation is more prevalent of a problem than one might think. The vet gave Sam an enema. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. About an hour later, Sam pooped, and we took her home. She’s pretty much back to her old self again, and I doubt Lea will ever let her kit-ten explore the yard in the dark again.

* * * *

You may not know this about me, but I love music. I have a few hundred CD’s, and I downloaded a ton of songs onto our PC. And the only reason I ever got a smartphone was because you can download music onto it.

And it was easy to do. Just plug your phone into your computer, pick the songs you want to load and Click! It was so simple, even I could do it!

And then we moved to Mexico, and I had to buy a Mexican cellphone. My Mexican cellphone and my American computer wouldn’t interface, and I couldn’t directly download any of my music onto my new mobile device.

I had to set up a Music Manager application on my computer through my Google Play® account, and download every single song, all seven thousand of them. It took eight days.

As the songs downloaded to Google Play®, they were then wirelessly transferred to my Mexican cellphone. I’ve spent the last eight days going through the seemingly endless list of songs, deleting the songs I didn’t want on my phone, and keeping the roughly one thousand songs I wanted to keep on my playlist.

My lovely supermodel wife thinks I am totally insane.

She may be right about that.

However, I have a playlist that is pretty much perfect for my life, and I don’t care who knows it. If you ever have about eighty hours that aren’t scheduled with other things to do, you could come down and listen to it. But you’d probably hate it here.

You could lay in the hammock, in the equatorial sunshine, and try to not look like an idiot getting out of it. The weather is…okay…at best. There are only a few thousand amazing places to eat, and you wouldn’t believe the prices. You do have to pay cash for almost everything, so you’ll  have to adjust to carrying a lots of  Monopoly® money. The Mexican people are incredibly friendly and polite, and they don’t care how badly you butcher their language. They simply appreciate that you make the attempt to learn Espanish.

It’s a lots to get used to, and not everyone is up to the task.  But the roads and the traffic, that’ll be the last straw.

Questions of my Childhood

A friend of mine recently posted something on FB the other day that created quite a buzz on social media. This is his post, complete with typos, which I totally want to correct:

Honestly I HATE the phrase “its Gods will” or “God doesn’t make mistakes” and blah blah. If your God lets cancer hit kids as his will, I will take another God for 200 alex. And your God can gtfo. Your God sucks.

It’s been an interesting discussion. At last count, there were 95 comments, two from me. The obvious question here is, How can a loving God allow something as devastating as cancer destroy the life a child? 

It’s a question we all ask sooner or later. I think the first time I asked it was when Judy Kostelecky got dead from leukemia. I was seventeen when she died. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked that question through the years, and to quote the progressive rock group Kansas, the questions of my childhood weave a web of mystery.

Implied in the above question is, What did the child do to deserve that? When we all know of at least one person who more than deserves to be smitten with a double dose of pain and suffering, and that sonuvabitch is still running around without any penalty.

My good friend, Don Nelson, had the most beautiful answer to this mystifying question, God doesn’t want to hang out with assholes any more than we do. Why would He take them? Why wouldn’t He take someone perfect, like my son?

I doubt I would’ve been able to be as gracious as he was if our positions had been switched.

The fairness of life isn’t even a question worth debating. Life isn’t fair. Period. But which is the greater tragedy? A childhood cancer victim, or a mass shooting in a theater, or a nightclub, or a rock concert? Which of those sucks more, and what’s up with God? How can He allow any of those things to happen?

My pastor friends would probably say something like unto these tragedies are tests and challenges of our faith in God, and I’m going to have to agree with that. However, disease and tragedy are hardly recent phenomena. Ever heard of the Black Plague? The Spanish Influenza?  Or the AIDS epidemic? Anyone remember the Trail of Tears? Slavery? The Bataan Death March?

I learned about those things studying History. Seeing how I suck at predicting the future, I try not to forget the past. And I’m positive anyone that was touched by the above events found their faith tested to the breaking point and beyond.

Personally, I’m not outraged by those things, or the fact that God does nothing to prevent them. There are a few things God has done that have left me scratching what’s left of my hair. When the Hebrews first entered what they believed to be their Promised Land, God ordered His Chosen People to kill everyone already living in the area. Every man, woman, child–kill ’em all, I’ll sort them out. Even their animals.

That was totally fuckin’ cold, man.

Another one of topics that was brought to the floor on my friend’s post was free will, and do we, as human beings, actually have free will?

You may not have given this much thought, but a lots of really smart people have pondered this question, going back to ancient Greece. Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus and Socrates all wrote essays about the subject roughly 1600 years ago. The debate continues today.

You can look up what these guys had to say if you’re interested, but to me, this issue can be reduced to one thing.

Is God really All-knowing, or not. And if so, how does He do that?

* * * *

It’d be nice if I could settle this matter once and for all, but I doubt I’ll be able to pull that off. If I could settle the matter inside of my own head I’d be accomplishing something.

I am certainly not all knowing. As I once said, I don’t even know what I’m thinking half of the time, let alone what’s going on around me. However, there are a lots of highly intuitive people on this planet, and they can see things most ordinary people can’t.

Take, for example, the Psychic Network. Remember that? How did they not foresee that they were going to go bankrupt? Oh, yeah. That’s probably not a very good example, is it…

The idea of an All-knowing God is something I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around. The only way I can conceive this whole all knowing thing being remotely possible is if everything that will ever happen has already been predetermined. Otherwise there are just too many variables at play to possibly know everything that’s ever going to happen.

I would ask the Psychic Network for their input, if they hadn’t gone belly up.

I’ve discussed the concept of free will versus determinism with some of my pastor friends in Arizona. And just so there’s no confusion, they all believe that God is All-knowing, and they also believe in free will. They see no conflict with these two incongruent concepts. And I think they described their argument something like unto this:

Suppose you come to a fork in the road. You have a choice to make, which road to take. That’s free will. However, no matter which way you chose, God will know in advance because He knows all. I said if that were true, then our path has been predetermined, and they said, No, you still get to choose which way you’re going to go. 

Pastors are clearly big on faith, and I have no issue with that. Faith is their profession. But this is also a philosophical question, and not all of my pastor friends have a strong background in Philosophy. And this is the question:

If God knows everything you’re going to do in advance, is anything you do actually your choice? And if nothing you do is actually your choice, how can you have free will? Is free will a reality, or merely an illusion?

Just in cases you were wondering, The Impersonal Life states that free will is an illusion, and God determines all of our choices, even the bad ones.

If God is able to know all things even if everything isn’t predestined, this question, to me, becomes a matter of God’s relationship to Time. In order for God to be the entity that He claims to be, His relationship to Time has to be vastly different than ours. There are only a couple ways this could be possible.

Here on Earth we exist in something we call real time. Time is essentially a river flowing in one direction, and we are carried along on the prevailing current of Time. We live exclusively in the present, and there are no time outs in life. We can’t jump ahead to the future to see what’s going to happen, neither can we jump back to the past to change anything that’s already happened.

Please don’t ask if you can use the Time Machine.

Theoretically, I suppose God could exist outside of the TimeSpace Continuum, but I’m not sure that’s even theoretically possible. In this theoretical scenario, Time would no longer be a flowing river. Time would have to be frozen, more like unto a glacier, and as God traversed up and down the length of frozen Time, he could see past, present and future depending on his perspective. And, as I understand this, because everything is frozen in Time, everything that had happened, is happening right now, and is going to happen in the future would have to be predetermined.

I dislike this hypothesis simply because it makes God appear to be nothing more than a Netflix® viewer with Double Platinum Premium membership able to binge watch everything from the original Big Bang to the current Big Bang Theory, without having to interact with any of it, unless He yells at the TV like my dad used to do.

The other possibility is TimeSpace is part of the essential fabric of God, like blood is to humans. Everything in the universe would then be touched by God, and everything that happens would touch God. Free will could theoretically exist in this framework, and God being the highly intuitive entity that He is, He could possibly discern those events in the flow of Time.

I prefer the second explanation. The struggles and successes we endure and celebrate are somehow more intimately tied to our Creator, not that I see Him as an overly passionate parent. If He were, He might be more inclined to personally intervene to prevent at least some of these seemingly senseless tragedies from happening.

Alas, that doesn’t appear to part of God’s job description. God once had a lots to say about what He did for a living, but that was way back in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus stated he works, and his Father works, then implied that he and his Father were going to go on an extended vacation, and there’d probably by hell to pay when they got back. Whenever that might be…

At any rate, if that’s true, I’m sure there are going to be a lots more tragedies on the road ahead, and we’ll all be given ample opportunities to scratch our heads and wonder what the hell God is thinking, how can our loving God allow this to continue, and what kind of God is He anyway?

I AM that I AM.

That was God’s enigmatic response to Moses when Moses asked God for His name. The noted American pugilistic philosopher, Popeye the Sailorman said something very similar: I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.

I wonder if God likes spinach…

God is what He is, whatever He is. He’ll do what He wants, whenever He wants, and He’s not going to check with the focus groups or spin doctors first to see how popular His decision is going to be with the general public. As near as I can tell, human opinion has never been part of God’s decision making process.

And the bottom line is this: whether or not free will exists; whether we humans can choose our destinies or not, God’s Will cannot be denied. God’s Purpose is going to trump anything we can conceive every time.

You don’t have to like it, but you have to live with it.

Hmm…  Really not much of a mystery there after all.

From the Odds and Ends Department

Have you ever watched something on TV, or read something, and thought, Man, I could do so much better than that! You might even be thinking that right now…  Especially if you’ve read more than one of my blog posts.

I mean, all this guy writes about is getting wasted, his slutty girlfriends, and how all of his relationships fell apart! There was that story about his nympho Russian girlfriend, Ivana Sukyurkokov. And his heartbroken Chinese girlfriend, Wat Wen Wong. Jeez, his blog is dumber than putting wheels on a ball! I liked him more when he wrote about crazy people!

And I hear you. Before I started writing my blog, I thought bloggers were people who needed to get a fucking life, man. They were probably people who thought Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian were the epitome of American society and they all wanted to be Paris-ites, or biffles, or twat waffles with them or something.

I’ve started reading some of the blogs that are out there on the Interweb, and I was wrong about bloggers. Most of them appear to have lives.

Except me.

I’m retired. If I were to write about my day-to-day life now, my blog would consist of restaurant reviews in the Lakeside area, and stories about how much I love my Sleep Number bed®.

And to be honest, I probably liked me more when I was writing about crazy people, too. But those stories are relatively easy to write, and like everything else in life, it’s only when you step outside of your comfort zone that anything meaningful happens. It’s the stories I didn’t want to write that taught me the most about myself. It was the stories that hurt like hell that showed me how far I’ve come.

And how far I still have to go.

And the other thing about writing about my nursing career is not every person I cared for resulted in a story worth telling.  Knife wielding homicidal maniacs were the exception, not the rule, thank God. Most of my patients were never a problem, unlike medical dramas on TV. I’d probably hate being a TV nurse, unless my work partner was the hot nurse with the big tits…

The majority of my nursing career was pretty ho-hum. Mischief was managed. Shit got done. No one died. And that was that. But there were a lots of snippets and moments and oneliners, and if I could patchwork a lots of them together, I might be able to spin a tale or two…

* * * *

I’ve discovered that time management is still necessary once you retire. I certainly have more time to do things I enjoy now, like reading. And because other bloggers sometimes read my posts, I feel a certain obligation to read some of their posts, too. My favorite blogger is a young woman in New York who writes about her struggle to overcome her eating disorder. Her blog is called Beauty Beyond Bones. And while I love her now, I probably would’ve hated her as a patient.

Back when I was a psych nurse in Arizona, there were a couple of eating disorder treatment facilities in the little town of Wickenburg, about thirty miles northwest of Surprise. Remuda Ranch and Rosewood Ranch. She’s never come out and said if she was a patient at either of them, but I’m going to guess she was at Remuda. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that. I interviewed at both facilities, but decided not to take a position at either one of them. I absolutely sucked at working with eating disorder patients.

Remuda is a Christian based treatment facility. One of the questions they asked me in the interview was did I think the Bible was the sole source of truth. I said no, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t even sure all of the things written in the Bible were true. After my interview, they told me I wasn’t Christian enough to meet their criteria. I told them that was okay. They weren’t the first Christians to tell me that.

A few weeks later they called me back and told me that they had changed their mind about me, and asked if I was still interested in working there. I wanted to say something like, God, you guys must be fucking desperate! But instead I thanked them for thinking of me, and told them I had found another position and I wasn’t available anymore.

Well, it was the truth…

Like most every psychological/psychiatric disorder, eating disorders are caused by a multitude of complex factors, and as with every psychological/psychiatric disorder–except dementia–the successful treatment of anorexia or bulimia depends completely on the patient. If they don’t want to change their behavior, there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do for them once they’re discharged from the hospital.

It’s like alcoholism or drug addiction, only worse. Just as the drinking and chemical use are usually a symptom of a deeper, darker pathology, eating disorders are about far more than food.

Eating disorders are incredibly difficult to treat, mostly because eating disorder patients are the spawn of Satan. I mean that in a Christian way. They are sneakier than a ninja. They can vomit silently so they can purge without anyone knowing. They stockpile food so they can binge feed when no one is looking. And if their lips are moving, they’re probably lying.

The other thing I remember most clearly about most of these women, and they were all females, is the majority of them were gorgeous. And that is truly one of the great mysteries that used to keep me awake at night when I was learning how to be a psych nurse. How could someone so beautiful be so fucking miserable?

One of my first posts was about one of my patients at the MVAMC. I called him the Piano Man because he liked to play the piano. About the time he walked onto the unit for one of his many admissions, we had just discharged a gal with anorexia. She had been on our unit for a couple of weeks, and none of the staff were sad to see her go.

After we got the Piano Man admitted, he sat down at the piano and started playing, and the piano sounded like a wounded moose. We opened the top to find the eating disorder girl had hid enough food inside of the piano to feed Hannibal’s entire army when he crossed the Alps to attack Rome. Including the elephants.

For someone who has never worked in a psychiatric setting, it would be easy to say that we, as staff members, totally sucked at our job, and I really don’t have much of anything to say in our defense. We were hardly specialists at treating eating disorders, and the fact we were so happy to see that particular patient leave speaks volumes to the level of struggle we all had with her.

* * * *

To be sure, it’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback or a wheelchair general, and criticize someone doing a job you’ve never attempted. And when you’re in a service oriented occupation like Nursing, you are never going to be able to make everybody happy. No one is that good, and people can be incredibly demanding/entitled. And it is generally the people who were making the least positive contribution to anything who were the most demanding and entitled.

You guys have to be the worst fucking nurses I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. And it was usually a guy that you and your team had spent a month busting your asses trying to arrange housing and follow up for, who had been discharged from your unit forty-eight hours earlier, and was already back because he chose to drink as much alcohol and smoke as much meth as he possibly could before he came crawling back to the hospital.

Most of the time it’s better to just agree with someone like that, and walk away. But there were times when I couldn’t.

“Maybe you should get out more…  That means a lots coming from you…”

I said something like unto that to one of my unhappy frequent flyer guys at the MVAMC who probably spent as much time in the hospital as I did. His name was Ray. I’m going to guess that the total bill for the many, many times we detoxed him off of alcohol, sobered him up and set him up to succeed was in excess of one million dollars, and he had this response, “You used to be a good guy, but you need a new job. You’ve been inpatient too long.”

“So have you.” I replied.

He froze to death one cold December night in Minneapolis. He had gotten drunk and was walking to the hospital so he could be admitted again. His body was found propped up against a tree across the street from the hospital in the morning. He had stopped to rest before making his final stumbling trek to the ED, and had fallen asleep.

You meet a lots of guys like unto that when you’re a psych nurse. There was Charles. He was another MVAMC guy who spent an inordinate amount of time getting drunker than fifty guys combined, and the rest of his time detoxing on my unit.

We had safely detoxed Charles for the umpteenth time, and discharged him at 9:00 AM on a Friday morning. At 2:30 PM that same day, I answered the phone. It was Charles.

“Hey, I don’t think this discharge thing is going to work, man. I’ve been out of the hospital for about six hours, and I’m pretty fuckin’ wasted, man.” he slurred.

“Hey, Charles. Has it ever occurred to you that you need to quit drinking?” I decided to ask. There was a long silence, and then Charles said this,

“Is there anyone else there I can talk to?”

For one of the few times in my life, I had no response. I handed the phone to one of my co-workers. Charles would also die to death as a result of his alcohol abuse.

Sometimes the disease wins.

* * * *

You never know what you’ll see or hear as a psych nurse, and there’s a reason for that. People are capable of an infinite amount of kooky stuff, not that you have to be a psych nurse to experience the full spectrum of kookiness available out there.

All you really need to see that is a family.

But one thing you may not experience unless you’re a psych nurse is the dreaded Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more commonly, Multiple Personality Disorder. In my thirty year career, I met a lots of people who claimed to have multiple personalities, but none of them ever seemed to be legitimate to me, or anyone else I worked with.

Multiple Personality Disorder was virtually unheard of until the 1970’s. That’s when the book Sybil was published, 1973 to be exact. Three years later, the TV movie of the same name was broadcast on NBC, starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, and like magic, suddenly everyone had multiple personalities.

For my money, all of the people I met who claimed to have multiple personalities were just assholes looking for an easy excuse for their behavior.

* * * *

I was working nights at the MVAMC fairly early in my career. I was the Med nurse that night, so anyone needing any medications had to see me. Enter Sam. It was around 2:00 AM. We had detoxed Sam off of alcohol with a Valium protocol. Once someone had been safely detoxed, the protocol was discontinued.

Sam had been off the protocol for a day or two, but he wanted more Valium. I explained to him how the protocol worked, and Sam had a five star meltdown. He screamed at me, waking up everyone on the unit. One of the other nurses called the POD and got a one time order of Valium for Sam, and he went back to bed.

At 6:00 AM, Sam came up to the nursing station to get his morning meds. He was quite pleasant, and I remarked that he was much nicer than he had been at 2:00 AM.

“Oh, that. That wasn’t me. That was Samuel.”

“No kidding. He looks just like you.” I said.

Sam gave me, and anyone else willing to listen, a detailed description of his three personalities: Sam, Samuel and Sheryl. A line of patients had formed behind Sam. They were waiting to get their meds so they could go smoke. According to Sam, Samuel was the troublemaker. Sheryl was the lover, and Sam was the drunk. I listened to Sam, and gave him his meds.

“Well, the next time you talk to Samuel, give him a message.” I said. “If he ever talks to me like that again, I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ mouth.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. He turned to the guys standing behind him, “Did you hear that! He threatened me!”

“Hey! Take your goddamn meds and get the hell out of the way! And if you ever pull that shit again, if he doesn’t punch you in the fuckin’ mouth, I will.” one of the Nam vets growled.

Yeah, not one of my better moments, but Samuel never made another appearance.

* * * *

I think the last time I met anyone who claimed to have multiple personalities was at Aurora. I walked onto the Canyon Unit, and Nikki was on a 1:1. She was a frequent flyer, and I was usually her nurse.

A 1:1 is a special precaution, usually reserved for patients that are acutely suicidal. In essence, one staff person is assigned to one patient, and that patient is never more than an arm’s length away from the person assigned to watch over them.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s rarely played out that way.

I went over to talk to Nikki. She had scratched her wrist with a plastic spoon on the evening shift. She didn’t even break the integrity of her skin, and her nurse had placed her on the 1:1.

I’m shaking my head while I write this. I don’t usually like to criticize the actions of other nurses, but that was a lazy-ass intervention. If the evening nurse had taken even five minutes to talk to Nikki, that ridiculous waste of manpower and resources wouldn’t have been needed. We barely had enough staff to cover the units, let alone have one staff assigned to watch someone for no good reason.

I asked Nikki to tell me what happened.

“I didn’t do anything! It was Alexandra!”

“And whom might that be?”

“She’s one of my three personalities! She–”

“Stop. Cut the crap, Nikki. You’re on a 1:1. You can’t smoke if you’re on a 1:1.” I said.

“But they let me smoke last night, and this morning!”

“I don’t care what they did last night. This is my unit, my rules. If I can’t trust you to be safe on the unit, I’m sure as hell not going to trust you to be safe off the unit, with a lit cigarette in your hand. What if you decide to burn yourself?”

“It wasn’t me! It was Alexandra!”

“I don’t care who did it. None of you get to smoke.”

“I’ll be safe, I promise! Please!!”

Less than five minutes. Mischief managed. And I never heard another word about Alexandra again. Ever.

* * * *

There was a fairly consistent response whenever I told someone that I had just met that I was a psychiatric nurse. Their eyes would widen, and they would say something like unto, “I bet you’ve seen it all, huh.”

I would reply, “No. I’ve seen a lots of strange stuff, but the kookiness of humans is infinite.”

And that is the fucking truth.

Every time I thought I had seen it all, something I didn’t think was humanly possible walked through the door. I eventually made peace with the fact that I would never see it all, and I was okay with that. My two other personalities are still sulking about that a bit, but they’ll get over it.

Or I’ll punch them in the mouth.

The Long and Winding Road

I come from a big family. Two parents, Les and Sally Rowen. Four brothers, three sisters.

ColleenMarkJohnTomDeniseBruceBobJulie. My dad would say that when he was talking to one us and he couldn’t remember which one of us he was talking to. That happened more often than you might think. My dad seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion when we were growing up.

One my younger brothers had a friend sleep over on a Friday night. We were eating breakfast in the kitchen the next morning when my dad walked into the kitchen looking like unto a bear that had just awakened from hibernation.

“Are you one of mine?” he grumbled at the kid, who froze, with a Cheerio hanging from his lower lip. The kid shook his quickly. “Okay. Real good then.” my dad said in relief, and poured a cup of coffee. “You had me scared there for a minute.”

My dad had worked for the ICBM Defense Program for most of my childhood. We moved roughly every two years from the time I started grade school until I was in the eighth grade. In 1968, my dad quit working for the missle guys, and we moved to Missoula, MT  My dad said we were going to live in Missoula for the rest of our lives.

We had all  heard that line before, many times. I doubt any of us believed it, including my mother. But two years came and went, and we didn’t move. And then another two years passed, and we were still in Missoula in 1972.

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

My sister Colleen is three years older than me. My brother that got dead from SIDS was born and died in between us. I think Colleen had graduated from high school 1971, but that’s where she met Rod Sanderson.

Rod was a year older than Colleen, and like unto a lots of guys, he fell in love with my sister the moment he saw her. Back in the day, Colleen was what was referred to as a stone cold fox. She was maybe 5′ 4″ tall, long light brown hair, and according to all my classmates, she looked like an angel. Actually, all of sisters are very attractive, except when they’re pissed off. Then they’re fucking scary. Real scary.

Colleen used to drop me off at school in the morning, and some of the guys in my class would hang around the front of the school, hoping to get a glimpse of her, or if God was truly benevolent, a word or two with her. All of my friends were in love with my sister, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She already had a boyfriend.

Rod was an okay guy, I guess. He was the baby of his family, and I don’t know if spoiled is the correct term to describe him, but it’s the best term I can think of. If there was an easy way out of something that Rod didn’t want to do, he would find it. That didn’t make him a bad guy, but it hardly made him a stellar role model.

Rod’s parents, Vern and Jackie, doted on their only son. Like me, he had an older sister, but I didn’t really know her. Rod lacked nothing when he was growing up, and Rod liked toys. So, when he got older and his parents stopped buying him toys, if he saw something he liked, he bought it whether he could afford it or not.

All of Rod’s friends had hot muscle cars. Rod bought a Fastback Boss 302 Mustang. Dark blue. It was a beautiful car. He liked to hunt, and bought himself an arsenal of guns and rifles. And he bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It wasn’t a big old good one kind of Harley hog, it was a 300 cc bike. As far as Harleys go, it wasn’t much of a street cruiser, but it was a street bike. Rod used it to cruise the backroads in the mountains to scout for good areas to shoot deer and elk and stuff. And he bought my sister an 80 cc Yamaha so she could ride the backroads with him. That was nice, but my sister didn’t really care for it much, and rarely rode it, but I loved it. Rod and I probably bonded riding the mountain roads outside of Missoula.

I know he also bought helmets, but we never used them.

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

Rod might have been a poser/wannabe all around he-man outdoorsman kind of guy, but his dad was the real deal. Vern was nothing short of legendary in certain circles. He was a hunter/fisherman/guide kind of guy. He had a lots of firearms and a whole lots of rods and reels and fishing tackle. And a boat.

Vern had a garage full of tools, and he knew how to use them all. He was a woodworker/carpenter.  He was a stonemason and a bricklayer. He was a plumber and an electrician.

Vern was essentially the opposite of my dad. Les didn’t hunt or fish. He wasn’t an outdoorsman. He probably would’ve gotten lost in our huge backyard if it hadn’t been fenced in. Les wasn’t an handy man. He had maybe seven tools, and he didn’t know how to use any of them.

Be that as it may, as Colleen and Rod’s relationship progressed, so did their relationship with each other’s family, and Vern and Les became pretty good drinking buddies. It was probably the only thing that they had in common.

Well, and they both loved Colleen. Seriously. I think Vern once asked Colleen what she saw in his deadbeat son.

Because she was the oldest daughter in my family, and the first girl to start dating, my dad spent a fair amount of time threatening to kill Rod to death for a list of infractions both real and imagined.

Getting drunk with his buddies. Getting my sister drunk. Getting me drunk. Bringing my sister home late. Bringing my drunk sister home late then passing out in his car in the driveway.

Rod eventually gave my dad a nickname: Ornery. And despite the fact that my dad did everything he could to make Rod’s life a living hell, Rod asked Colleen to marry him. And she said Yes!

* * * *

That’s probably enough of the backstory leading up the events that were about to unravel.

It was the Memorial Day weekend in 1972. Saturday, May 27th, to be precise. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. I was sixteen years old, and I had just started working at the Go West Drive In.

My family went to a state park a few hours out of town to celebrate the holiday weekend. My mom cooked enough food and made enough sandwiches to feed an army. We were joined there by Rod and his parents. Vern had brought the motorcycles along in the back of his truck.

You never know, they might be fun, he said. And because Vern was anything but a fuckin’ sissy, he didn’t bring the helmets.

* * * *

I know I was reluctant to go with my family that day. I had to work, and I didn’t trust my dad when he said he’d drive me back to town in time to get to work. But Rod said not to worry, he’d drive me back in his Mustang. I quit arguing after that.

I know I drove out to the park with Rod and Colleen. We listened to one of my 8 track tapes on the way out. The Stylistics, a Philadelphia soul group that hit the top of the charts in the early 70’s. Rod was more of Country/Western guy, but even he liked their music.

“They’re pretty good for a bunch of niggers.” he said.

I can’t remember the name of the park anymore. I’m not sure I knew the name back then. It was a very scenic green valley at the foot of some mountains. A creek ran across the valley floor. There was a lots of room to run and play Frisbee. A rocky gravel road led up into the mountains. And the motorcycles turned out to be a flash of genius. Rod or Vern rode the Harley while me and two oldest brothers, John and Tom, took turns riding Colleen’s Yamaha up and down the road with one of our younger siblings as a passenger.

The road probably wasn’t all that different from any other mountain road in Montana. It had been blasted out of the side of the mountain in the 1940’s, maybe. The rock and boulders that been blasted loose building the road were moved to either side, forming a guardrail of granite. Some of those boulders were the size of a house.

I’m going to guess I spent roughly four hours or so out at the park, and then I had to go. As I was hugging my mom goodbye, my dad and Vern were climbing aboard the motorcycles. John and Tom were sulking because they couldn’t ride along on the bikes. True to his word, Rod drove me back to town, driving as fast as he dared down the curving road that cut through the mountains back into Missoula. And we listened to The Stylistics again.

I know I made it to work on time, and I know it was pretty much the same as any other night at the Go West. It was probably around 11:00 PM. We were cleaning up the concession stand and checking inventory when one of my gay bosses came out of his office and said, “Umm, Maark, could you come here? Your mother is on the phone…”

I walked to the office, and my other gay boss handed me the phone. I heard my mother crying.

“Mark? Oh, God! I don’t know where to begin, but right after you left, there was a terrible accident…”

* * * *

What follows is what I can remember hearing from the people who were there, and I also have to admit I have repressed, suppressed and denied these memories for so long it’s almost as if I had completely forgotten it even happened. But when I was writing my last post, Melpomene whispered in my ear, and the memories came flooding back.

* * * *

My dad wasn’t a outdoorsman/sportsman guy. He wasn’t handy at fixing anything. And he wasn’t very good at riding motorcycles either, so in that regard, it’s fortunate he didn’t take a passenger when he and Vern went for their ride on the bikes that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

I don’t think my dad was drunk when I left. He’d been drinking that day, but my dad was Irish, and he could knock down some beers without outwardly appearing to be impaired. And to be fair, Vern had had his share of beer that day, too.

Vern drove Rod’s Harley. My dad drove Colleen’s Yamaha, and away they went, climbing up the mountain road. I have no idea how far up the road they went, no idea how long they were gone. I’m not even sure if they were driving up the road, or back down it when my dad lost control of his bike.

And sadly, the details I remember are sketchy. He was either going too fast and braked too hard, or he wasn’t going fast enough and lost control when he gunned the engine to increase his speed. He kind of weebled and wobbled, but didn’t fall over, then careened off the road, running headfirst into a pretty goddamn big boulder. The impact crumpled the front wheel of Colleen’s Yamaha like it was made of tin foil, and sent my dad flying over the handlebars.

The boulder my dad hit was big, but it wasn’t especially tall. The way I understand it, my dad essentially did a somersault over the boulder, just kind of kissing the top of the boulder with his forehead enough to sustain a couple of superficial cuts to his scalp. If he had collided with a taller boulder, he would’ve taken the top of his head off, and if he had been wearing an helmet, the only thing he would’ve injured would’ve been his pride.

Well, and the front wheel of my sister’s bike.

As I nurse, I can tell you that your scalp is a very vascular area, and even a small cut can bleed like the dickens. My dad was essentially uninjured, save for a couple of superficial cuts that bled like hell, creating the illusion that my dad had been mauled by a fucking Grizzly bear, and was about five minutes away from dying to death.

Vern possibly knew my dad wasn’t badly injured–he wasn’t unconscious, none of his bones were broken–but he was bleeding like a stuck pig, and that’s probably all Vern saw. He told my dad to lay still, and apply pressure to the cuts on his forehead, then Vern jumped on the Harley and tore off down the mountain.

Rod used his motorcycle to cruise up and down the mountain roads, but it wasn’t modified in any way to be a mountain bike. It was a street bike, and if you’re curious about the differences in the way the bikes look, you can do a Google search.

Even still, some explanation is required. Off road bikes have a beefed up suspension, and the engine and foot pedals are set on higher the frame for better clearance over things, like, rocks in the road and stuff like that.

I stated earlier this mountain road was probably much like any other mountain road, meaning it was dirt with rocks of varying sizes imbedded in the dirt, covered with varying levels of loose gravel. It was never designed to be driven at an excessive rate of speed, and certainly not a motorcycle designed for street use.

I doubt any of those things occurred to Vern on that day. His buddy had been injured, and was bleeding, a lots, and he needed help. Fast! Vern was a very good motorcyclist, but even good cyclists make mistakes, especially if they aren’t being careful, and Vern had thrown caution to the wind. I’m sure he never saw the rock sticking up out of the road, sticking up just high enough to catch the brake pedal on the unmodified bike he was driving, turning low to make that corner, racing down into the valley to get help for his friend.

* * * *

I don’t know how long my dad waited for Vern to return. I don’t think he even knew, but he did as he was told until he started thinking it was taking Vern an overly long time to return.

“I really wasn’t injured,” he told me later. “There was a little stream running along the side of the road. I soaked my handkerchief, and held it to my head. Once the bleeding slowed down, and Vern still hadn’t returned, I started walking down the mountain. I figured I would meet him on the way.”

And he did, only it wasn’t the way he had imagined. Instead of finding Vern leading a motorcade of vehicles coming to rescue him, he found Vern laying face up in the middle of the road, a large pool of blood under his head. Rod’s Harley was piled up on the boulders lining the side of the road about thirty feet away from Vern, the brake pedal bent at an impossibly acute angle.

Vern was breathing, but that’s all he was doing. He was unconscious, and he would not awaken. My dad checked to see where all the blood was flowing from. The back of Vern’s skull felt like a bag of loose change.

“I started running down the road, for maybe for a quarter of a mile,” my dad said. “And luckily, a car was coming up the road. I flagged them down, then we put Vern in the backseat, and drove down the mountain. When we got back to the valley, Jackie climbed in the car with him and they took off like a bat out of hell. Your mother and I packed up everything and the kids and followed them to the hospital.”

* * * *

One of my gay bosses volunteered to take me back to town immediately. The Go West was something like twenty miles outside of Missoula, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was further out of town than the airport. It was probably closer to Frenchtown than it was to Missoula. The only thing remotely close to it was the paper mill where Vern and Rod worked. Vern had gotten his son a job there after Rod graduated from high school.

I was in a state of shock, and it took me a minute or two to respond.

“I don’t think you need to do that. It doesn’t sound like I need to be anywhere immediately. My dad’s okay, but it doesn’t sound like Vern’s going to make it.”

Vern had been rushed to the hospital. His condition remained unchanged once he reached the hospital, he was breathing on his own, but still unconscious. The doctors told Jackie there wasn’t much of anything they could do. Vern had suffered a massive injury to his occipital lobe and cerebellum. The back of his skull had caved in like unto a broken eggshell. He might wake up, and then again…

“If he had only been wearing a helmet…” the ICU doctor said.

* * * *

My gay bosses dropped me off at the hospital around midnight, and gave me the rest of week off. If I needed more time, all I had to do was ask. I went up to the ICU waiting room where everyone else had gathered–Rod’s mother and sister, my mother and sister–and the person they had gathered around was my father. A couple of steri-strips had been applied to the cuts on his forehead. I think his clothes were dotted with his blood, and smeared with Vern’s, but I’m unsure about that. He probably changed when he took my brothers and sisters home before returning to the hospital.

My dad was beyond inconsolable. He blamed himself for the accident; placing full responsibility for what had happened squarely on his own shoulders. He kept saying he wished he could trade places with Vern. The women were trying to comfort him. I went over to talk to Rod. He told me everything he knew about what had happened, and he kept saying this,

“I wish to God I had never bought those goddamn motorcycles.”

After that, I sat down, and waited. There was nothing else to do, but wait.

That’s when I saw the book. It was small, rectangular black book, less than fifty pages, very plain in appearance. It was titled, The Impersonal Life. I picked it up and started reading. I finished it in less than half an hour, then started re-reading it from the beginning, slowly. I slipped it into my pocket, and took it home when I left the hospital. I hid it in my bedroom like it was a Penthouse® magazine. I’ve read it thousands of times over the years.

It was the book that would eventually lead me to believe that I was going to be a prophet someday.

* * * *

You can look it up online if you’re interested. You can even download a copy of it if you like, in PDF format. I have a copy on my Galaxy Tab S2®. And while I could probably wax philosophic about the contents of the book for hours, all I will say about it is this: it either contains the most sublime, simple truth about God and His Purpose ever written, or it’s the most convincing complicated lie about life and everything ever told. And to be sure, a very convincing lie has to contain at least some small measure of the truth

I’ve never been able to decide which of those two statements are correct.

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

I spent all day Sunday and Monday at the hospital, sitting with Jackie. She was surprised to see me there, and it wasn’t as if she had no one else to lean on during that time. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people dropped in to see her at the hospital and hold hands with her and cry.

On Monday evening, there was a change in Vern’s condition. He started having trouble breathing on his own. He was intubated. By Tuesday, he was no longer breathing on his own. Jackie decided to take her husband off of life support Tuesday evening, and Vern stopped breathing. He died on May 30th.

Little Known Footnote in History: both of my parents died in May. My mom in 2007, my dad in 2011.

Vern’s funeral was probably on Friday, maybe Saturday. I can’t remember when it was, I have no memory of even being there, but I know that I was. I remember how quiet it was in our house during that period of time, and our house was never quiet.

I remember sitting up in the living room with my dad after the funeral. It was late. Everyone else had gone to bed. We didn’t say much. We didn’t talk to each other much during that time, and that is all on me. But my dad finally spoke, and this is what he said,

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why this had to happen.”

“This might help.” I said, and I gave my dad the little black book I had taken from the ICU waiting room, and he read it. It would be just about the only thing we had in common for the next fifteen years or so.

* * * *

Rod took me along when he and his buddies went back to the park to pick up the motorcycles. They were still laying on the side of the road. The rock Vern hit with the brake pedal had a noticeable dent in it. Thirty feet away was another large rock in the road, this one covered with dried blood.

Rod attacked the bloody rock with tools and his hands, screaming and crying until he got it loose, then threw it as far as could down the side of the mountain, leaving a crater in the road. We drank a beer, and everyone said some words of farewell to Vern, then Rod gave me my 8 track tape back.

“I’m sorry, Mark. I can’t ever listen to it again.”

I left it on the side of the road.

I know the mangled motorcycles languished in Vern’s workshop for a very long time. I think Jackie finally made her son get rid of them, and he sold them to someone for parts. He never bought another motorcycle. And he traded his Mustang in on a four wheel drive pick up.

* * * *

Colleen married Rod in June of 1973. Maybe it was July. She was a beautiful bride, and Rod was happier than he had been in an year. I’m sure they loved each other, but as Colleen told me when her marriage was falling apart, “I just had to get out of the house. I couldn’t fucking take it anymore. I would’ve married the milkman if he had asked me. But I almost felt like I had to marry Rod, you know, especially after Vern died. Dad wasn’t the only one who felt responsible for Vern’s death. I did, too. It was my motorcycle!”

About ten years later, Jerry would be standing under a falling telephone pole, and I would learn the hard way that grief is the wrong reason to get involved with someone. Nancy and I stayed for maybe a year and a half before we called it quits. Colleen and Rod stayed married for maybe three years before they got divorced.

I think even Rod realized they had made a mistake. I talked to him a couple of times on the phone during that time, but I was fucked up on every drug on the planet, and I was drinking. My memories of this aren’t the best, but I have a vague, hazy, whisper of a memory of Rod saying that Colleen was just another toy in his collection. He didn’t value her for who and what she was, and he didn’t blame her for divorcing him.

* * * *

A lots of time has passed since Vern got killed to death, and a whole lots of stuff has happened since then. I have traveled a very long and winding road to get where I am, but my journey is not yet over. There may be a lots more twists and turns I’ll have to encounter before it ends. Life will do that to you in the blink of an eye.

I can’t say that I’ve spent much time thinking about this story. It’s a story that I’ve rarely told, if ever. Hell, until last week I had pretty much forgotten it even happened. But there is one issue that always rises to the surface whenever I think about it, and it popped into my head as I was writing this.

It’s probably why I’ve tried so hard to forget it.

My dad felt responsible for Vern’s death because he was a lousy motorcyclist, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help him. My sister felt responsible because our dad had crashed her motorcycle, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help our dad. Rod felt responsible because he had bought those goddamn motorcycles in the first place…

But I have my own what if in this story. What if God recycled Vern’s energy because He knew I would see that little black book in the ICU waiting room, and it was the only way He could think of to get it into my hands?

If that what if is true, then Vern’s death rests on my shoulders, and mine alone.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, does He not? I’ve always thought that was just another way of saying, isn’t that ironic? And yes, He does work in ironically mysterious ways. I don’t know anyone who believes in God that would argue against that statement.

And there’s this: what if I failed to achieve the qualities God requires of a prophet? What if I had my chance, and choked? What if I missed the critical free throws at the end of regulation, and I lost the game? If that is true, then Vern’s death was wasted, and God made an huge mistake, inflicting many people with unnecessary grief and loss for no good reason. And He should have recycled my energy long ago, rather than keeping my stupid ass alive when I was so determined to die young.

That’s a possibility, but it’s also possible that the time for me to assume that role is yet to come. The fact that I’m still alive and pondering this is enough to keep my hope alive that my delusional dream could still come true.

And finally, it’s possible that I misunderstood everything and my desire to be a prophet is nothing more than a delusion, as my lovely supermodel wife insists. And if that is true, then I have nothing do with any of this, and Vern died to death simply because he got careless when he was riding a motorcycle too fast for the terrain and road conditions. And I can go back to forgetting any of this shit ever happened.

Maybe The Horne was right about me when he nicknamed me Wrongway…

A lots of questions, not many answers.

There’s only one thing that’s clear to me. No matter how much I want this, I’m no prophet, and I know that to be the undisputed truth.

That’s one bit of truth I don’t have to do any seeking to find.

The Horne

I’ve been dreading this post for longer than I can say.

I’ve written about some of my military madness in previous posts, and I was hesitant to even mention The Horne, knowing if that door were opened, I’d end up walking through it eventually. Once it became clear to me I’d be writing about some of my Army buddies, I knew I’d be writing about this chapter in my life, too.

Like Sarah McLachlan said, for this is gonna hurt like hell.

My Muse for this tale is Melpomene.

* * * *

Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

* * * *

Of all the people who would impact my life once I arrived at Fort Sill and settled into life at the Dental barracks, the most profound, for good or ill, was Mike Horne. Or simply, The Horne.

Mike was from Washington State, just outside of Seattle. He was a few years older than me, taller by a couple of inches, at least twenty pounds heavier. He was loud, brash, confident and in your face. He was essentially everything I wasn’t, and therefore, he was everything I decided I needed to be.

In previous posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that there were two camps in the barracks, and on the line of demarcation between them, stood The Horne. You either loved him or hated him. And being who he was, even the people who loved him hated him sometimes.

The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy all hated The Horne. All of them had almost come to blows with him, except Tommy, who probably could’ve killed all of us with one punch.

Fighting was strictly prohibited by the Army, and there were any number of punishments the Army could level upon anyone caught engaging in such behavior.

Additionally, the two Dons and Tommy were planning on becoming dentists after getting out of the Army. They even went to college classes while they were in the Army to further their goals. The last thing they needed was anything negatively impacting their military record. They mostly walked away from The Horne in disgust.

Randy and I were The Horne’s biggest fans. Roger tolerated him, but only because Roger was some kind of Zen Master or something.

“The Horne just wants to be a big fish, but he’s in a small pond.”

* * * *

To be honest, I can’t think of another way to describe my early relationship with Mike, other than I worshipped him. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone like him before. I was in awe of The Horne.

We hung out together. I started emulating him. We were going to rule the world together. Well, he was going to rule. I was going to be his trusty sidekick. And then, slowly, we started becoming rivals. I’m sure I didn’t notice that at first, but The Horne did, mostly because in his world, he had to better at everything than everybody.

* * * *

We were sitting in Roger’s room, thinking of lines of wisdom to add to Roger’s wall. I wanted to express my contempt for the military, so I grabbed a Sharpie® and wrote,

FTA

I wrote it low on the wall, in an obscure place where hardly anyone could see it.

“Ooh!” Mike said. “That was a chicken shit move.”

Feeling emboldened, Randy wrote,

FUCK THE ARMY

Eye level. In the middle of the wall. Then Mike approached the wall, and wrote,

Fuck the world and burn the babies

The next day, Mike and I went into town to a Target®. As we were walking in, a middle aged woman in a wheelchair came rolling out.

I stopped, pointed at her, and started laughing.

“Jesus Christ,” Mike whispered loud enough for me to hear. “I’ve created a fucking monster.”

* * * *

The first minor breach in our relationship was when I was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class. Mike had reached that rank before anyone else in the barracks, and you better believe he let everyone know it. I beat him by a week. Next, I could throw a Frisbee better than him. And I could draw. And paint.

Yeah, pretty big deals, huh? But to Mike, the struggle between us was real, and everything was a big deal. Everything became a contest, and I eventually started actively challenging his supreme authority. Especially when it came to drugs.

Did I mention there were a lots of drugs available back then? Well, there were. If Mike did three hits of speed, I did five. If Mike didn’t sleep for two days, I didn’t sleep for three. Or four.

They were a lots of stupid little things, but a lots of  stupid little things eventually add up to a big stupid thing…

* * * *

It was The Horne’s idea to become storm chasers. After all, Oklahoma is smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. We jumped into his car one stormy night with a some weed and a lots of beer and drove to the top of Mt Scott to watch the thunderstorms roll in.

That was pretty cool, but we didn’t see any tornadoes, and I wanted to see a tornado.

The next time we went out, we went in my car, and I headed for the countryside, looking for backroads in the rainy darkness. I got off of the highway and started zigzagging my way across the country down roads none of us had ever traveled before. And I got lost. Like, halfway to Dallas lost before anyone figured out where the hell we were.

The Horne gave me a new nickname, Wrongway.

I wasn’t going to let a little thing like getting lost stop me. I drove out to the country during the day so I could get the lay of the land until I was reasonably sure I knew where I was going, and what I was doing.

* * * *

A big storm front was rolling into Lawton from the west, so Randy, Roger, Mike and I snorted a lots of PCP and headed out in that direction, then I drove out among the backroads, looking for a tornado.

This trip went a whole lots better than the first, and we were feeling pretty damn excited. The radio was playing Riders on the Storm. A light rain was falling, but the sky was blacker than sin, and the atmosphere was ready to riot.

There wasn’t another car in sight. Actually, there wasn’t much of anything in sight, except a grove of trees that I could barely see in the twilight with my headlights, about a quarter mile down the road on the right.

Cool song, cold beer, weed and good friends with a good buzz.

“This is pretty cool, man.” Roger said.

And then the sky exploded.

A flash of intensely bright lightning ripped across the sky right above us. A blast of thunder so intense–it felt as if it erupted inside of my car–roared and rumbled and shook the very earth. Dozens of flashes of lightning appeared, as if the storm were trying to smite us. And then the rain came.

I had never seen anything like unto it before. It was like driving into Niagara Falls. Rain fell in buckets floating in barrels riding in a fucking river. It rained so hard my wipers couldn’t keep the windshield clear. And then the wind hit.

“Jaysus Christ!” Mike shouted.

“Hey, Mark, man. We should probably get out of here, you know what I mean.” Roger said.

As near as I could tell, there was only one place to go, except I couldn’t see where the grove of trees had disappeared to, and then I saw them.

Barbwire fences ran along both sides of the road, but there was a road that led into the grove, like it was sort of a rural wayside rest area or something. I saw the road, and turned into the grove.

“What the hell are you doing? Trying to get us killed?” Mike shouted. “This is the worst place you can go in a storm!”

“Not tonight.” I replied, and pulled as close to the trees on my right as I could, then put the car in Park and turned off the engine and the headlights.

Hailstones the size of cherries and golf balls fell like rain, occasionally breaking through the trees to bounce loudly, but harmlessly, off my car.

The storm raged, and I mean raged for fifteen minutes, maybe a little longer. Everything in the world had been reduced to lightning, thunder, wind, rain and hail–and then it was gone.

“Goddamn! That was fuckin’ bitchin’, man!” Randy said, laughing. We all laughed in relief.

“I thought we were going to die, honest to God!” Mike said. “What in the hell were you thinking, parking under twenty fucking trees? What if one of them had fallen on us?”

“I had to do it” I said. “That storm was trying to kill us, the only way I could save us was hiding from it so it couldn’t see us anymore.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Roger said. “That did seem kind of… personal…didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it kinda did.” Mike said, actually agreeing with someone for once, but it was Roger. “And its anger seemed to disperse a bit once we got under the trees…”

“And you fuckers think I’m cosmic.” Randy said.

* * * *

Tornado season was drawing to a close. We had mostly driven to the top of Mt Scott to watch the panorama unfold after the Storm of Murderous Intent.

The Horne said we had gotten lucky, and he didn’t feel like tempting fate again with someone who was was as hell-bent on killing themselves as I clearly was. I didn’t argue that point. I couldn’t.

The weather report said there was a storm front moving in, a big one. I decided it was time to tempt fate once more. I had done a lots of scouting on backroads with Randy or Roger.

I would do a lots of ‘scouting’ with Katie once I started casually dating her. She loved driving down the backroads. And that grove of trees we had hidden in to hide from the storm became our favorite best place to park.

We headed south, into the wilderness and the night. It was raining hard, so that wasn’t going to catch us by surprise this time. The gravel road we were on was mostly straight. Farm fields flanked either side of the road. Thunder and lightning were flaring and grumbling all around us.

We decided not to do any PCP this time, sticking to weed and beer, which we were smoking and drinking as we drove through the countryside.

“Pretty cool storm, man.” Roger said.

“They’re easier to see from Mt Scott.” Mike said. “And safer.”

“Hey, it’s just a little storm, man.” Roger said.

“At least this one’s not trying to kill us!” Randy said.

It was at that precise moment that the field to our right kind of exploded. Wind swirled, the cornstalks started bobbing and bowing and bending and weaving like they were having a group seizure or something.

“What the fuck is that?!?” Randy screamed.

“Um, I think that’s a fuckin’ tornado, man.” Roger said, peering out into the darkness.

“Sonuvafuckingbitch! Why the hell did I do this again! Move it, Rowen! And whatever you do, don’t turn right!!”

I sped up to get away from whatever it was that was tearing up the cornfield. At the time, I was mostly pissed that I couldn’t see what it was. After all, that was the reason why we were doing this in the first place.

“Faster! Faster!” Mike and Randy kept shouting, and I did my best to comply without getting us all killed. I think I was going about sixty-five. I was afraid to go much faster. What if there was

A fucking T in the road!!!

Yeah. That road came to an abrupt halt. The road it connected to went to the right, but whatever I did I wasn’t going to turn right. It also turned to the left, but I doubted I’d make the corner, given my speed and the amount of time I had to react.

I decided there was only one way to go.

“Hold on!” I shouted.

We flew through the intersection, just missing a telephone pole by six inches to the right. We smashed through a wooden fence, just missing the posts in the ground, coming to a swift stop in a field of weeds and wildflowers.

And the bogeyman wind that had been tearing up the field to our right.. vanished.

“Hey, are you all right, man?” Roger said. “Is everyone okay?”

“No. I spilled my beer.” I said.

* * * *

My car sustained no discernible damage. We were even able to drive it back onto the road. But that was the last time we ever went searching for tornadoes in the night.

I had reached an uneasy truce with Life. I was depressed beyond a doubt. I’m going to describe myself as passively suicidal. I would never try to slash my wrist again, but the risk taking behavior I was exhibiting could hardly be called playing it safe.

And then just to prove I wasn’t afraid to gamble, The Horne and I decided to move out of the barracks together.

* * * *

It was around this moment in time that my van would break down and I would eventually end up being court-martialed for Willful Dereliction of Duty.

I can’t believe that I was the first person ever to be court-martialed by my company, but no one there at the time could remember the last time someone had been court-martialed.

Even if I was the first in recent memory, I wouldn’t be the last, and Second Lieutenant Steffler would have to lose to more courts-martial before he would earn his silver bar and become a First Lieutenant.

Raoul had talked to me about being his roommate after God knows how many times he had moved out of the house he shared with his fucking Goddess wife. I suggested Mike join us. More roommates, fewer expenses…

Raoul wasn’t too wild about the idea, but I found a three bedroom house for rent that wasn’t a dump for $300/month. We packed our stuff and moved in. I’m going say that lasted a month, but it might have been less than that.

Raoul fucking hated The Horne, and decided living with his crazy nymphomaniac wife would be easier than trying to live with Mike. He moved out, and back in with the beautiful and talented Nadina.

* * * *

It was around this time that Roger got out of the Army, and that was one big reason I wanted to be anywhere but there. It took me awhile to realize Roger had been teaching me everything he could, and once he was gone I realized how much more I had to learn.

I wasn’t ready to do this on my own, and I really missed my very wise and wonderful teacher.

After Raoul moved out the house, The Horne felt, for lack of a better word, violated, and didn’t want to live in a place where his general greatness had been held in such low esteem. He wanted to move to a place that had been unsullied by Raoul’s presence.

I know. We were all so adult back then…

As luck would have it, Joe Parnell, the guy who accidentally gave me an in-service on how to successfully slit my wrist, had a trailer house.

The trailer was in a little town called Geronimo, about ten miles south of Lawton. Joe, his wife, and three boys had lived in the trailer, but had recently moved into a bigger house, and Joe’s trailer was available for something like $200/month.

So, we moved to Geronimo. The Horne and I were still friends despite Mike’s increasing paranoia about me, and the ever-increasing rivalry and competition between us.

By this time, even I was aware of it, but I had decided to try to do one of those Zen Master Roger things, and simply abide, man. We were still going to rule the world, but my role as trusty sidekick was no longer etched in stone.

I didn’t really think that much about it, but I would eventually learn it was just about the only thing The Horne could focus on. When we moved out to the trailer, Mike decided it was time to reestablish his place in the hierarchy. And I decided not to make any waves. After all, it was a really small pond…

* * * *

Right next to our trailer was another trailer. Living in that trailer were, I don’t know, twenty people. They were the Joneses, and we they were Joe Parnell’s cousins from Arkansas.

The two oldest brothers were Harold and Charlie. Their nicknames were Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie. And they had earned those names.

They were probably about my age. Both of them had been dishonorably discharged from the Army for a list of infractions two miles long. I been introduced to the boys relatively early during my time at Fort Sill. Roger and Joe were good friends, and he took me out to meet Joe and his family within the first three months of my arrival. I had partied with Joe and his weird/crazy cousins several times. They sold good weed, so they were all right by me.

Also living in the trailer was a sweet young girl, Cindy. I hadn’t met her before. She was Harold and Charlie’s cousin. She was pretty, petite, and blonde. Cindy was barely eighteen, but she had packed a lots of living into those years, and her life story was something that left me in a stunned silence. She took a liking to me. And I took a liking to her.

I can’t remember what happened, but Cindy came over to our trailer one day, crying. She said she couldn’t live with her cousins anymore, and was moving back to Arkansas.

“We have plenty of room here. Why don’t you move in with us?” I suggested.

“Really? You’d let me do that?” Cindy asked, breaking into a smile. She looked expectantly at me, then at Mike.

“So, you two want to live together, in my house. He’s gonna be getting laid every night, and I’m gonna be in my room with my dick in my hand. I don’t think I like this setup.”

“Well, I could sleep with you, too.” Cindy offered, then looked back at me.

“Sounds like a marriage made in Heaven to me.” I said.

* * * *

You’re boned like a saint…  With consciousness of a snake — Blue Öyster Cult, The Revenge of Vera Gemini

* * * *

I never sank to the level of Dave Lovelace, probably, but after Diane disappeared, I dated Crystal, then Katie, and Theresa. Casual sex was something I was more than a little acquainted with. And when it came to being able to deal with the interweavings of a potentially complicated relationship like that, I was light-years ahead of The Horne.

I was no longer a naive kid from Montana. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore, but naive was no longer part of the package.

My decision to have Cindy move in with us had nothing to do with Cindy. This was all about who was going to rule the world. Me. Or Mike. And I already knew who was going to win this pissing contest between us.

* * * *

Mike and I drove to work every morning to work. Cindy stayed at home and cleaned the trailer, read some of my books, and cooked. We would watch TV and chat in the evening. At night, Cindy slept with either me or Mike.

On the nights she slept with Mike, I slept. On the nights she was with me, neither of us slept. And neither did Mike. It wasn’t because we made too much noise, or anything like that. Our bedrooms were on opposite ends of the trailer, so noise was never an issue.

The issue was Cindy was falling in love me, even though I told her that was the one thing she couldn’t do. I’m guessing having multiple spouses is like having kids, you can’t have a favorite. But even a blind man could see Cindy favored me, and Mike was jealous. Our arrangement with Cindy lasted two weeks, tops.

Mike kicked her out of the trailer, and she went back to Arkansas. I didn’t even care. I had won that battle, and it was an overwhelming defeat for Mike. I would never be his loyal sidekick again. He had forfeited his right to rule the world.

* * * *

The weekend after Cindy left, I bought ten hits of LSD. I got them from Crazy Charlie, and gave him two hits, one for him, one for Weird Harold. I offered some to Mike. He took two. I took three.

The world didn’t turn Technicolor® that afternoon. It turned weird. I had hallucinations like unto nothing I’d ever experienced before.

For starters, I was really tall, like, twenty feet tall, but only when I walked through a doorway. I didn’t become a giant, I had Daddy Longlegs legs. I had to walk like I was plowing through a deep snowdrift, and I had to duck so I wouldn’t hit my head, which looked totally ridiculous.

“What are you doing, man?” Crazy Charlie asked.

“I don’t want to hit my head.” I replied.

“Man, you must be really trippin’!”

We went outside to play Frisbee, and the first time I tried to catch a disc, all of the fingers on my left hand fell to the ground. Weird Harold came over to help me find my fingers, but there they were, back on my hand! ✋

Playing Frisbee without any fingers isn’t easy. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. The grass turned multicolored, and…plastic. I dropped to the ground to look for my fingers again, and little faces appeared on the blades of grass.

“Get off! Go away!” the grass said. “We don’t like it!”

I couldn’t get off the grass fast enough. We went back inside to listen to some tunes and kick back. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie turned into clowns, then jesters, then ballerinas. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Then I looked at The Horne.

He was sitting across from me in the living room. At first, he appeared regal, like unto a king with a crown, sitting on a splendid throne. I stopped laughing, and almost felt like bowing to him.

But then he changed. The crown disappeared, he no longer appeared regal. His form melted and shifted, and changed. He morphed into something like unto Gollum, then into a little boy, then into something else.

And I saw The Horne for exactly who and what he really was.

“I hate your fuckin’ guts.” I said to the man I had once worshipped.

“Whoa, look at the time!” Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie said, and pretty much ran out the door.

“You want to do this now?” Mike said.

“No, I wanted to do it a month ago, but now will do.” I replied. Mike started to reply, but I cut him off. “You tried to turn me into your puppet!”

“No, you don’t get to hang that shit on me. You wanted to be my puppet!”

“Well, I don’t anymore! You’re my puppet!” I shouted, and I pantomimed the movements of a puppeteer, making the puppet I saw in front of me jump and turn.

“Man, you are totally fucking gone, aren’t you.” Mike said. “Hey,” he said softly. “Mark, you’re on acid, man. Nothing you’re seeing right now is real!” It was almost a plea.

Shut up! I am not gone! I’m here! Maybe for the first time in my life! But you!” I looked around the room, almost frantically, and picked up a sword I saw on the table, and brandished it with a flourish. “You! Get the fuck out of my house!”

The next morning I would see the sword I had threatened Mike with was a flyswatter.

“Okay, Prince Valiant, you win. Just let me grab a few things.” He grabbed his bag of weed, a pack of cigarettes, a few beers out of the fridge, and left.

Todd Rundgren was playing on the stereo. As Mike walked out the door, Todd sang, Tell them Groucho said, you’re just another onionhead…  But I didn’t know if Todd was talking to Mike, or me.

I heard Mike’s car start, heard his tires squeal as he drove off. I had defeated the Dark Lord, and claimed my castle.

But the war–the war, was just beginning.

* * * *

It was probably about 9:00 PM when I heard the planes. I looked out the front door. The night sky was filled with hundreds of airplanes. Their wings were marked with the red hammer and sickle emblem of the USSR.

Out of the low flying planes, thousands of paratroopers were floating to the ground, shooting their rifles as they slowly descended upon the sleepy town of Geronimo, OK.

If I had been a pysch nurse with highly trained powers of observation and advanced critical thinking, I would have noticed that although the sky was filled with enemy soldiers, there weren’t any soldiers on the ground.

But I wasn’t a nurse, and even though Mike had told me I was tripping on acid, and nothing I was seeing was real, I forgot all about that and did the only thing a soldier in my position could do.

I had to warn everybody.

The words came to me from The Return of the King.

Awake!  Awake!  Fear, Fire, Foes!  Awake!  Fire, Foes!  Awake!

I ran down the street, yelling at the top of my lungs. I turned the corner, and kept yelling. What I really needed, I decided, was a horse. But I didn’t know if there were any horses in town, and if there were, I had no idea where to find one.

That’s when I remembered I had a car.

I ran back to my trailer, and grabbed my keys. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie met me as ran to my car, screaming all the way.

“Hey! Mark! What the fuck’s happening, man! Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

“The Russians are attacking! Look!” I pointed to the sky. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie looked up, then looked at each other and shrugged. “We gotta warn everybody, man!” I screamed.

“Hey! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Weird Harold said to his brother.

“Yeah! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Crazy Charlie agreed. We jumped in my car and rolled down the windows, all of us screaming,

“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!! Grab your gear! Grab your M-16!! The Russians are coming!”

I’m not sure how long we drove around the very small town of Geronimo, honking the horn and shouting, but it didn’t take long before everyone in town was standing in the streets, scratching their heads and looking around in wonder. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie yelled their heads off, then finally looked at each other and said, “Okay, man. That was fun. Now what?”

That’s when I remembered I was tripping on acid, man.

The Russian planes disappeared. The paratroopers vanished. And I felt like a goddamn idiot. I pulled into my driveway and went into the trailer without a word.

* * * *

I have no idea how long the residents of Geronimo talked about me. The Russian Invasion of 1976 was certainly the most exciting thing that had ever happened there, and it probably still would be, if not for one very real, very tragic event.

On December 14, 1984, shortly after 1:00 PM, Jay Wesley Neill entered the First Bank of Chattanooga in Geronimo, and forced three tellers to the back room. He had them lie face down on the floor, and stabbed them to death. The three employees, Kay Bruno, 42; Jerri Bowles, 19; Joyce Mullenix, 25: were stabbed a total of 75 times. Mullenix was six months pregnant.

After that very real tragedy, I’m sure the residents of Geronimo forgot all about me, forever.

* * * *

When I crawled out of the bathtub Sunday morning, I discovered Mike had not returned. I had spent the night in the bathtub, venturing out only to change albums on the stereo, then returned to the tub.

Please don’t ask me to try to explain my rationale for doing that.

I had finally stopped hallucinating. The post-acid trip jingle-jangly feeling in my nerves was still present in body, making every movement I made sort of an adventure.

I remembered everything that had happened the day before, and I was shocked to the core of what was left of my soul by what I had done.

I flushed the remaining hits of acid I had down the toilet, packed everything I owned into my car, and moved back into my room at the barracks.

I’ve never been back to Geronimo.

* * * *

I can’t remember how or when I heard The Horne had been arrested. I can’t remember how that happened, but when he was taken to the cop shop, he had to empty his pockets, and that’s when the cops busted him for possession of marijuana.

Mike moved back into the barracks, too. He moved into Roger’s old room. I think he had Randy help him move all of his stuff out of the trailer and into the barracks.

I became part of the group that avoided The Horne as if he were the Plague, and that’s what he had become to me. The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy welcomed me to the club of Horne Haters.

And that would probably be the end of this story if not for one thing. I was done with The Horne, but he wasn’t done with me.

* * * *

There came a Friday night when we were all at the barracks. Raoul was there. Nadina had kicked him out of the house for the last time after he had an affair with my girlfriend, and Nadina had an affair with The Mystery Man. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to Santana. Black Magic Woman.

My door was open, and The Horne appeared in my doorway. He was also drunk. Randy stood behind him in the hall.

“I can’t believe you didn’t do anything the night I got arrested. I can’t believe you didn’t try to find out if I was dead or alive or anything. You’re a real piece of shit.”

“You just don’t get it, do you.” I replied. “I didn’t care what happened to you. I still don’t.”

Mike rushed into my room. Randy and Raoul tried to stop him. I stood up, and glared at him.

“Let’s finish this, bitch.” I said, taking off my glasses, and stepped into the hallway.

* * * *

Raoul was the ranking NCO in the barracks, and according to Army protocol, he had to do something, so he started yelling for everyone to take a deep breath and get our heads out of our asses. That brought the Horne Haters Club out into the hall, and they started adding their eight cents to the kitty.

“Kick his ass, Radar!” the two Dons yelled. Other Mike and Tommy joined in, and Raoul quickly found himself in a situation out of his control, so he jumped between Mike and I and set down the ground rules.

“Are you two serious about doing this? Walk away, now!” Mike and I shook our heads and told him to get the hell out of our way. “Okay! The rest of you, y’all didn’t see a goddamn thing! You got that? Okay! Either one of you throw any punches to the mouth, I stop this!”

As weird as that might sound, we were in the Dental Detachment, and teeth were our primary focus. Mike had had a buttload of work done on his mouth, and I had braces on. One wrong punch and we both might lose all our teeth.

“Are you done, Pedro?” The Horne sneered at Raoul. He grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and whispered, “Kick his fuckin’ ass, amigo.”

* * * *

I would love to be able to say that’s what I did. I did land a couple of good punches, and Mike would end up with a huge honker of a black eye, but I was no match for The Horne in hand to hand combat. He beat the crap out me, and threw me to the floor.

“Get up, pussy!” he screamed. I did. We scrapped some more, and I ended up on the floor again. “Had enough, bitch?” he said, breathing heavily. I got up. And was thrown halfway down the hallway.

“Stay down, man!” everyone said. I got up, and stumbled back toward Mike. We rained body punches on each other until I missed and fell once more.

“Stay down, man! Mike! Walk away, man! You won!” the barracks bums pleaded. I got up again, and turned to face The Horne.

“Haven’t you had enough yet, puppet?” he gasped. We took turns punching each other as hard as we could, and I went down yet another time after Mike kicked me in the balls.

I thought I might puke as I lay on floor, my crotch felt like a grenade had exploded in my dick. But I forced myself to get up again.

“That’s it! That’s enough!!” Raoul yelled. Everybody jumped in between us. I could barely stand. The Horne looked like he might fall over.

“Hey, sorry about that kick, man.” he panted. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“You kick, like a fuckin’ girl.” I panted in response. Randy and the two Dons started escorting The Horne down the hallway. Tommy and Raoul were helping me stand up. I couldn’t do it on my own. “A fuckin’ girl!” I shouted at The Horne’s back. “You didn’t beat me, you hear? I’m still standing, bitch!”

* * * *

My memories of this time in my life are like unto a collapsed tower of Jenga® pieces. It’s pretty much a chaotic pile, begging to be put into some sort of order.

I had been beaten to a pulp, and kicked in the balls. I was bruised and battered from head to foot. I know I called Roger and told him about my titanic battle with The Horne. He wasn’t surprised, but he had no words of wisdom for me.

“Make peace with him,” Roger advised me. “And with yourself.”

* * * *

My clearest memory of this time is the mass departures that occurred. The two Dons and Other Mike left within days of each other. The Horne hit the road for Washington shortly afterwards. We avoided each other at all costs until he left.

I thought I was forever rid of him, but maybe three months after he left, he called me in the middle of the night. We talked for a long time.

“You’re the only person I’ve never been able to figure out.” he said. “You were such a…chameleon…  You were one thing one day, and something completely different the next. And I couldn’t keep up with you. None of us could.

“You were quicksilver, moving at the speed of light. You were fucking nobody, and then you were legendary, just like that. You were the one thing I needed to be, but you were too fucked up on every drug on the planet to see what you had become.

“In the entire history of the Dental barracks, no one changed as much you did. The rest of us basically stayed whatever we were before we got there, but you were different, man. You changed more than all the rest of us combined. I wish I could say I had the privilege of seeing it, but even now I can’t tell if the change was for the better or the worse…

“There was this weird rivalry between us. I’ve always needed to feel better than everybody else, even if I knew it wasn’t true. But you, you fuckin’ kicked my ass at everything, without even breaking a sweat!

“I was so fucking jealous of you–especially with Cindy. She would sit at your feet, looking up at you with those puppy dog eyes, and you acted like you didn’t even know she was in the room! I didn’t know if you were really that cool, or really that cruel. I still don’t. You’re like the fuckin’ Sphinx, man.”

I was glad we were finally able to talk about some of the weird dynamics of our relationship, and I was really glad we were a thousand miles apart when it happened. I agreed with the weird rivalry assessment.

“If I had had a better idea of who I was, probably none of that would’ve happened, but I didn’t just want to be like you, I wanted to be you. At one point in time, if I could’ve possessed you, I would’ve done it. I loved you, man, but I fuckin’ hated you, too.”

“Sounds like every relationship I’ve ever been in, man.” Mike said.  “I love you with all my heart too, and I hate you with all my guts. By the way, I think you broke my nose.” he laughed.

“Good,” I replied, laughing. “I broke my hand breaking your nose.” He laughed at that, too.

“Hey, I talked to the Cosmic Kid the other day. He thinks you’re a fucking god or something.”

“Why is that?” I asked, not really caring what the reason was. It was good to hear from my friend, and it was good that we could still be friends.

“I think it has something to do with all those strippers you were dating. He was pretty impressed with some chick you were banging, but he wouldn’t tell me her name.”

I had brought Crystal and Katie back to the barracks a couple of times. It could’ve been either of them, I guessed. Randy had been quite impressed with Crystal…

* * * *

And that, finally, is the end of my trilogy about my closest Army buds, and I think I can close this chapter, for awhile at the very least. My Muses seem content, and their voices are fading…

But before they left, they whispered stories in my ears, and they’ll return again someday. I know Melpomene will be the first to show up again.

I had completely forgotten about that tragic tale…

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

I’ve mentioned the names of some of the guys I shared the Dental barracks with, way back when I was in the Army. It would seem my Muse, or Muses, have decided it’s time to elaborate on at least some of them.

Today’s Muse is probably Urania, but Thalia will certainly be whispering in my other ear.

* * * *

I arrived at Fort Sill in January of 1975. It was my permanent duty station according to the contract I’d signed with my recruiter, Sergeant First Class Robin Hood.

I’m not making that up.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, I had to be processed in because I was new to Army life, and the half a ton of paperwork the Army had already generated on me just wasn’t enough. I was delivered to the Main Processing Station. It was a huge building about the size of a football field with an huge office filled with desks and clerks and stuff. The rest of the building was bunks and latrines and stuff.

It was essentially a way station, like unto the Army’s version of Purgatory. Once all your paperwork was processed, a clerk from the MPS would contact your company, and someone would come pick you up so you could begin your Army career. It usually took two or three days.

I was at the MPS for a week. The clerk handling my paperwork was new to his position, and he forgot to call my company.

I didn’t mind hanging out at the MPS. I didn’t have much of anything to do except get cleaned up and dressed in the morning, and march to the nearest mess hall to eat with the rest of the guys being processed in. The rest of my day was free time, which I spent reading, or writing to Maureen.

I would’ve been happy to do that for the next two and an half years, but someone in the MPS finally asked what the hell I was still doing there and my company was notified that I had been processed, and someone came to pick me up.

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

Randy was from Los Angeles, CA. If there’s such a thing as a Valley Guy, Randy would’ve been one. Totally, man. He was a tall, pudgy guy with a huge honker of a nose. He looked like an older kid that had never lost his baby fat. Or a really tall cartoon penguin…

“Hey, are you PFC Rowen?” he asked. I was lounging on my bunk, reading. I looked up at him and nodded. “Well, c’mon, let’s go! I’m here to take you to Dental Headquarters. My name’s Randy. You can be my roommate.

“Well, okay, we won’t be roommate roommates, but we’ll be kinda roommates. There’s a shared bathroom between our rooms at the barracks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. The room next to mine is empty, so you can bunk there.

“I’m so fuckin’ glad you’re here, man! Now you can take over my job and I can become a dental lab technician! I’ve been waiting to do that for a year…”

* * * *

I’m pretty sure Randy talked nonstop for the next six hours, like he was a manic bipolar trying to tell me his life story and everything I’d need to know about the Army without taking a breath in between. Randy’s monologue was punctuated with a whole lots of “…you’ll see what I mean–You’ll figure it out–It’ll all fall into place.” And, “Fuck the Army!!”

Well, it’s not like he was trying to do that. That’s exactly what he did. And years later, when I was a psych nurse, I’d discover Randy really was bipolar…

Our first stop was Dental Headquarters, where I would learn I wouldn’t be a dental assistant, I would become the new supply driver, and Randy would train me to replace him. James Toney, the clerk who would possibly save my ass with his testimony during my court-martial, couldn’t stop shaking my hand.

“Thank God you’re here.” he kept saying.

That first day was a blur to me. We stopped off at the barracks to drop off my gear, and Randy showed me my room, and I got to see what he meant when he said we’d be kinda roommates.

I accompanied Randy as he picked supplies up at the warehouse, linens from the laundry, and he introduced me to everyone at the four dental clinics on base. And when the work day ended, he introduced me to everyone in the barracks. They actually threw a little impromptu Welcome to the Barracks party for me in the dayroom.

Don One and Don Two. Mike. There were two Mikes, but Mike Two was called The Horne. If you fuck with the bull, you get The Horne. Tommy. Johnny. Virg. Brother Al. Lightning Bob. Jesse. Roger. And, Randy.

We drank beer and I tried to remember everyone’s names. They told me where they were from, and stuff. I told them where I was from, and stuff. And Randy rambled on philosophically about anything and everything.

“So, what do you think about your new kinda roommate?” The Horne asked me, when Randy finally did stop talking long enough to take a breath.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. He’s too…cosmic…for me.”

A stunned silence filled the room, and you could actually see it, the lightbulbs coming on over their heads.

“Yeah, cosmic!” Roger said softly, followed by an equally soft chuckle.

“W-w-wow!” Don One said. “W-w-we’ve been trying to figure him out for a year, and you fuckin’ nail it in five minutes!”

“It’s like he has radar or something.” Don Two said.

“He fuckin’ looks like Radar!” Johnny added.

So two nicknames were born that day. Randy and I became Radar and the Cosmic Kid.

* * * *

What can I say? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. You might think I’m overly critical of myself, and I probably am. I tend to see clearly now the things I couldn’t see at all back then, but I’ve skipped ahead, and I know how this chapter turned out.

And the things I was able to see, well, they were so obvious that probably anyone could’ve seen them.

My early adult life appears to be the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t have a plan. How I ended up faring as well as I did is probably one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but only if you don’t believe in God.

What I see looking back is a really smart guy who was seemingly addicted to doing stupid stuff. Add in loss, heartbreak, rue and regret. Gently mix in drug and alcohol abuse. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the part that kind of chaps my ass now. I really wish I had chosen to do something differently sooner.

* * * *

So, I moved into the barracks and essentially disappeared for about a month while I painted and decorated my room. I hated the pale puke green color the interior of the barracks had been painted back in World War II. I picked up some cheap ass carpeting and folded it to fit the two parts of my room.

Then I went for a cross country night march in the rain and broke my ankle. Randy and I started spending a fair amount of time with each other while my ankle healed, and we talked a lots.

“Wow. You might have a lotta book smarts, but you really don’t know much about life, do you.” was the Cosmic Kid’s assessment of me. I couldn’t really argue much with that.

We hung out with Roger and I unknowingly became his student.

Maureen and I broke up, and my free fall into Hell began. I started smoking pot, and because it’s a gateway drug, the Doorway to Oblivion opened, and I walked through.

Hashish. Amphetamines. PCP. LSD. Cocaine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Codeine. Oxycodone. Peyote. Mescaline. Heroin.  I eventually added all of them to my resume.

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

Some of my cousins did a family history, tracing back our ancestry to the 1700’s. I discovered that I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family tree were the ones who kept drinking.

So, the question is, would I have wandered down the path I chose even if Maureen and I had stayed together? The answer is yes. I wasn’t a leader back then, I was a follower. And seeing how all the cool kids in the barracks were doing drugs, and I wanted to be cool, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up where I did.

The only other question is, would I have embraced the drug culture as fully as I did if I hadn’t gone completely rudderless in the prevailing currents of the time?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

As exhausting as being around Randy could be, given his manic energy and cosmic consciousness, we ended up becoming good friends. We played Frisbee. We became storm chasers during tornado season. We played pool and fooseball in the dayroom. I helped Randy paint his room.

We drank and smoked and snorted and popped pills while we did all of the above.

Randy bought me a set of Mickey Mouse ears when he went home on vacation, and I wore them one day when I made my deliveries.

I went to dinner with Roger one evening and became a superstar the next day. I was found innocent of all charges when I was court-martialed, and became an even more legendary superstar.

“You have done well, my son.” Randy said. “Maybe you should go back to reading books…”

* * * *

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” – Freewheelin’ Franklin

* * * *

The life of a marijuana aficionado revolves around weed. When it’s abundant, life is good. When it isn’t, there are no words to describe the indescribable hell that life becomes.

Back then, pot wasn’t legal anywhere, and you had to know a guy or twenty to make sure you could almost always get it. Thanks to Roger, I knew a lots of guys, and after he left, I became the guy everyone came to see when they couldn’t get what they needed.

I never became a dealer, but I became a great middle man.

There came a time when no one had any pot, and there was a great drought of weed, and a terrible famine lay all upon the land, and all the people languished.

“Man, you gotta do something!” Randy said to me. “I’m fucking dying here!”

“Let me make some calls.”

From Roger, I knew I had to be smarter than the cops, and you never knew who might be listening in on your conversations. So I invented a code word for weed with the guys I dealt with most. I would say I was looking for Bob, and had had they seen him lately?

It was perfect.

But the cupboard was bare at the home of every dealer I knew, and none of them had seen Bob in awhile. One of them said he didn’t know who Bob was anymore, and even I started panicking.

I decided to call a guy I had met once. I tended not to deal with guys I didn’t know very well, but desperate times require desperate actions.

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

“You know, weed.” I whispered into the phone.

“Oh! That Bob! I’ve got one ounce. Forty bucks. You get here first, you get it” Click.

I have no idea what an ounce of pot sells for now, but back then the going rate was twenty bucks, so what this guy was asking was ridiculous.

“I’ll split it with you.” Randy said, handing me a twenty.

I had a little trouble finding the guy’s place. I had only been there once, but he still had the bag when I got there. He was a Mexican guy named Felix or something. There was only one problem. The weed he wanted to sell me didn’t look like any bag of weed I’d ever seen before. It looked like dried beans sprouts or something. And the baggie wasn’t half full, it was totally full, and was as fat as a proverbial singing lady.

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

“If that shit doesn’t knock you on your ass, man, I’ll give you your fuckin’ money back.”

Drugs never come with a money back guarantee, so I gave the guy forty bucks and drove back to the barracks.

“What the fuck is this shit? This isn’t even dope! What is that? Bean sprouts?!? Give me my money back! Let’s go back to that beaner’s house and beat the shit out of him!!!”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we try it first.”

“Well, it doesn’t taste bad…” Randy said as we smoked a bowl. “Actually, that tastes pretty good!” he decided. “Holy shit! What is this stuff? My head feels like it just floated away…” Randy said, and his voice sounded like it was floating away with his head. “Jesus, man! I think you better take me to the Emergency Room…”

I turned to look at Randy. He was pale as a winter morning, and drenched with enough sweat that he looked like he’d been standing outside during a monsoon. Swarms of beads of perspiration were literally running down his face in waves.

“I’m serious, Mark. I think I’m going to die. You gotta do something, man.”

“Where would you like to be buried?” I asked, then started laughing as if that was the funniest line ever spoken.

“Goddamn! That’s cold, man! I can’t believe you’re gonna just sit there and let me die! You’ve become a real bastard, man!”

“Hey, Cosmo, take a couple of deep breaths and get a grip. I smoked the same stuff you did, and I’m not dying. Suppose I take you to the ER. What am I gonna tell them? Well, doc, we were just sitting around the barracks, and we weren’t smoking pot or anything, when all of a sudden my buddy decided he was fuckin’ dying? I’m not taking you to the ER, try taking a cold shower or something. Maybe that’ll help.”

And, it did. Fifteen minutes later Randy returned, and he no longer looked like the world’s worst weather system.

“What’s that?” Randy asked, as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

“You said you wanted your money back.”

“I changed my mind. Give me my half of the bean sprouts, bitch.”

I have no idea what the fuck was in that bag, but I know it wasn’t pot. And even if it was bag of baby pot plants, those suckers had to have been laced with something, but again, I have no idea what.

Whatever it was we smoked, it was enough to get to get us through the drought, and there was much rejoicing.

* * * *

Life can be unpredictable when you’re in the military, but one thing that you can count on is the people you’re stationed with are only temporary. The Old Timers started leaving. Roger left, then Don One, and Don Two, and Mike. The Horne, Virg and Lightning Bob were gone. The FNG’s came in to replace them.

Tommy, who had never been part of our group–he’d hung out with the Dons and Mike–started hanging out with me and Randy.

“I at least know what to expect from you two. Nothing but trouble. But it’s better than getting to know someone that just got here.”

Tommy was a good old boy from Texas, and that was his given name. Not Thomas or Tom. He was a big man, and he didn’t look anything like a Tommy.

Tommy and Randy actually became real good friends, I wasn’t at the barracks a whole lots by that time in my life. I had become a legendary party animal, and I had rounds to make in my community.

Randy was next up to depart, so Tommy decided we should take him out for dinner, seeing how we were the only three Old Timers left. We decided to take Randy to a place somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. And seeing how it was the last time we’d ever be together, Randy decided to pull a nothing but trouble prank on Tommy Boy.

I know it wasn’t in Lawton, it was an out of the way place that you had to know about to find, but just where it was I have no idea. It was a big place, one of those family style country restaurants that serve Mom’s Home Cooking kind of meals.

The huge restaurant was packed. The tables were filled with families, Mom and Dad, a lots of bunches of kids of every age. Gramps and Granny were sporadically dotted around the tables in the restaurant.

We had drinks. We had appetizers. We had a down home meal with all the fixin’s, and dessert, then Randy unleashed his surprise attack.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 70’s when drugs were cool and paraphernalia was even cooler, you could buy strawberry flavored rolling papers that were an electric pink color.

The only thing anyone ever smoked in a paper that color was pot, but Randy rolled a tobacco cigarette in an electric pink paper, a good old big one, and put it in his pocket.

“Man, that was a damn fine meal. Good food, good friends, cold beer, man, I can’t think of anything else that I need right now. Actually, there is one thing. The only thing that could make this better is a joint. Oh! I have one right here in my pocket, and I’m going to fire this bad boy up!”

He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the electric pink cigarette. You could smoke cigarettes in restaurants back then. Tommy’s eyes just about jumped out of his skull.

“Randy! Jesus! What the fuck are doing, man!” Tommy whispered furiously at Randy. “What are trying to do, get us arrested?!?” as Randy put the monster pink cigarette to his lips. “Randy! Have you lost your fucking mind!! If you light that–”

And Randy lit it.

I wish you could have been there to see it, the range of emotions that raced across Tommy’s face as Randy lit that cigarette. Surprise. Shock. Stunned shock. Fear. Anger, rage and then relief, followed by,

“Oh, you sonuvabitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for that. Did you know about this, Radar? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, too!”

* * * *

Randy left in early October of 1976. Only Tommy and I, and Raoul remained of the original barracks bums.

We sent Randy off in the evening, he got off to a late start for a guy that was getting out of the fucking Army! But then, he wasn’t the most organized guy I’ve ever known.

“I’m gonna miss that cosmic motherfucker.” Tommy said.

* * * *

I wouldn’t have to. Randy and I stayed in contact for years. He called me all the time when I was still in the Army. He even came to visit me once, driving from California in an old pick up truck. He couldn’t believe Raoul and I were best friends.

He’d call me at work when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC. He called me at home. My lovely supermodel wife would shake her head and leave the room when he called. Randy moved to Wichita, KS, got married, had a daughter.

He called me at home early one morning after I gotten off of a stretch of nights. This was probably in the mid-ninties. He said he was depressed. He had a loaded gun, and he was going to kill himself.

“Where’s your family?”

His daughter was in school. His wife was at work, but she’d be home at noon. I kept him on the phone for four hours until his wife came home and convinced him to go to the VA for help. He was assessed, and sent home.

I called to see how he was doing the next day.

“Oh, they told me I was bipolar or some bullshit like that, and they wanted me to start taking a bunch of fuckin’ meds, man. I told them to go fuck themselves, and they told me to go home.”

* * * *

He called several months later at work again to tell me he had six months to live. He had cancer. It was a Friday in April. I told my horrible boss what my Army buddy had just told me on the phone, and  I was driving to Wichita as soon as my shift ended, but I’d probably be at work on Monday.

“Go! Let me know if you need anything!”

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

Lea and I arrived in Wichita at 4:00 AM. We checked into a no-tell motel, got a couple hours of sleep, took a shower, then went to see my dying buddy. His wife answered the door.

“Hi. I’m Mark. I’m Randy’s Army buddy–”

“Mark!! Oh my God! I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” she said, giving me a bone crushing hug. She was a big woman. “What’re y’all doing in Wichita?” She saw my wife, so she stepped outside to hug her, too.

“I’m so sorry,” Lea said. “This must be so terrible for you. Randy called yesterday and told Mark he had six months to live. We jumped in the car and drove all night, but we’re here!”

“What? Six months?? There’s nothing wrong with Randy! He’s not going to die!”

“The hell he isn’t!” my wife said. “I’m going to fucking kill him myself!”

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

“Oh God no! The doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, or he’d die from cancer…  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Thank God you’re here. Thank God!”

I explained to Lea that Randy was bipolar, and she decided not to kill Randy. She finally calmed down, but I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Randy for that.

We spent the day with Randy and his family. As evening fell, Randy and I went for a walk so I could explain Bipolar Disorder to my friend, and the treatments available. Randy actually listened to me without interrupting every five seconds, and he appeared to be thinking about what I’d said.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked. We were sitting on a picnic table in a park near his house.

“Yeah. What was it like fucking Raoul’s wife? Man, she was hot! Jesus, Rowen, you should see your face! You look just like Tommy did when I lit up that fake joint in the restaurant!” Randy said, laughing as if he’d just uttered the funniest line ever spoken.

I have no doubt that my face perfectly mimicked Tommy’s face that night. And for a moment, I thought I might kill Randy myself.

My affair with Nadina had happened just before Randy left. I know I didn’t tell him I was tapping Nadina while her husband was out of town. Did I?

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

“Because you went over to her house every day after work that week Raoul was at Fort Sam, and you didn’t come back to the barracks until the sun was coming up! What else could you have been doing? Playing cards? You should have seen yourself, man, you looked like you were going to die, man! And every day you looked worse! By the end of the week, you could barely walk!”

“Who else knew?” I asked, when I could finally speak.

“Only me. I was kinda your roommate, remember? I knew when you were home and when you weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone, I promise! Not even The Horne, or Tommy. And I sure as hell didn’t tell Raoul!”

I was able to breathe again, and that was good, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I stared at the ground for the longest time, unable to even think.

“Hey, are you okay? Jesus, maybe I should take you to the ER. Or maybe you should take a cold shower…”

Yeah, maybe…

I eventually looked up, and found that I could smile.

“I gotta tell you something, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever known. And the most guts. Remember when we met? You were that naive kid from Montana who didn’t know the difference between pot and acid.

“You were the FNG who walked halfway across Fort Sill on a broken ankle, man! We went tornado chasing in the dark because you said you’d never seen one in person! We goddamn near died at least twice, but you never let a little thing like almost dying to death stop you!

“You were a heartbroken trainwreck that tried to kill himself and couldn’t smile for a month, and next thing anyone knows, you’re dating strippers, smoking weed, dropping acid, snorting drugs and popping pills like candy, and getting drunker than everyone else in the barracks, combined!

“You were the ultimate party animal, man! No one could keep up with you! You beat the fucking Army at its own fucking game! You took those fuckin’ fucks in Headquarters on, and you won! Remember that!

“You didn’t have a clue who you were, but you became the leader of the barracks. You fucked with The Horne, and you put that fuckin’ loudmouth in his place! Man, I still can’t believe you did that!

“And to top it off, you make love to the most beautiful woman on the planet, and then become best friends with the guy whose marriage you destroyed, and you didn’t even blink! If that doesn’t take balls, I don’t know what does!

“And look at you now, all straightened out, registered nurse, married to a fucking supermodel! You aren’t human, man. You have to be some kind of a god!”

“Oh, I’m not all that straight.” I finally replied. That was a lots for me to take in. “I still drink, and smoke pot. I’m human, man. Just like you. Just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in the same light you do. It seems pretty dark to me now, looking back. I have no idea how I survived.”

“Dude, no one else does either! I’ll tell you something, I never knew if you’d be dead or alive when the morning came. None of us did! We were going to have a pool on how long you were going to live, but Roger wouldn’t let us.”

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

“We all did, he was the best. But you became even better than him.”

* * * *

I never saw Randy again. We talked on the phone frequently. His daughter grew up and went to college. His wife left him, she told him she couldn’t take it anymore and had to get off the roller coaster.

After that, I don’t know…

A friend of mine who reads my posts once commented that I have lived a crazy life. Well, I did hang out with a lots of crazy people.

If you ever want to know what’s happening on a psych unit, ask a patient. Randy was never one of my patients, but he had a psychiatric disorder or two. He never missed a trick, and he never forgot anything. Randy’s assessment of me was spot on.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of really tremendous friends, even when I probably didn’t deserve the kind of friendship they offered.

Thank you Randy, for your honesty and candor, and your cosmic viewpoint. I credit Roger the most for helping me become the person I’ve become. His humility and common sense were qualities I’ve tried to incorporate into the man that I am.

Okay, I haven’t done so good with the humility part…

But there’s a part of Randy in me, too. That’s the part that looks at almost everything from a different point of view. The part that looks for other solutions than the accepted ones. The part that seeks the Truth. The part that keeps searching in the dark, even if it’s dangerous.

Hey, you can’t let a little thing like the threat of death stop you. You only live once, and we all have to die from something.

Roger and Me

Prologue: I’ve been thinking about this story for about a month or more, mulling it over, mostly doing what I call a lateral drift, letting ideas fall into place. I thought I knew what I was going to write about…

What follows isn’t the story I started out writing. It blindsided me, much like this series of events did when they originally occurred.

All I can say, as far as this story goes, is my Muse is back! And for this story, she is Erato.

* * * *

I was never a cool kid when I was growing up, including high school. I’m not sure exactly when I became cool. Most likely it was when I stopped trying to be cool, and that was probably way back when I was in the Army in Oklahoma.

Back then, you couldn’t look for solutions to your personal problems on the Interweb. Your best hope was maybe an After School Special on TV about whatever your problem was. Or, if you were incredibly blessed, a wise and wonderful teacher would appear to show you the ropes. In my case, that person was a guy named Roger Hume.

If it’s true that I became the Obi Wan Kenobi of psych nursing, then Roger was my first Qui-Gon Jinn. I think he had about a year left in his enlistment when I first met him at the Dental barracks on Fort Sill.

Roger was from Evansville, Indiana. We were roughly the same height and weight. He was probably three years older than me, but light-years ahead of me in experience. He had chosen to join the Army rather than go to jail.

You had that option back then. The Draft had been suspended, and the Army wasn’t looking for a few good men, it was looking for any man.

“Yeah, when the judge gave me that choice, I jumped on it, man. Instead of being locked up, I got to learn a trade, and I still get to smoke dope and drink beer. It was an easy decision for me.”

I can’t remember what sort of offense Roger had committed. He hadn’t killed anyone to death, like our buddy Roy Bowman would, but it was serious enough to be incarcerated for. Roger would introduce me to Roy, and quite a few other dealers on and around Fort Sill.

He would introduce me to a lots of stuff. Like pot. He taught me how to roll a perfect joint. And speed, and LSD, and PCP. And strippers.

“The first one’s free.” he had chuckled, then added. “You’ll be back.” And he was right. I pretty much fell in love with drugs, especially after my high school sweetheart and I broke up.

Roger’s room was the first door on the left past the laundry room on the first floor. While Roger lived in the barracks, his room was the de facto gathering place for me and my group of friends.

The Horne. Randy. Lightning Bob. Raoul, when he lived in the barracks. Roger had stapled a lots of cardboard Coors containers to one of his walls, and we wrote a lots of lines of inestimable profundity on his wall while we were getting high. And we laughed our asses off.

Roger had a lots of sayings. He was the first to tell me, “The Army might be able to fuck with you in a lots of ways, man, but they can’t stop the clock from ticking. Every minute that goes by gets you that much closer to getting out.”

I doubt I can remember all of his sayings now. Mostly they pop into my head if someone says something that reminds me of the wisdom of my mentor. The only one that immediately comes to mind is this one:

“There’s only two kinds of one. A good old big one and big old good one,” followed by that soft chuckle of his. He said that a lots.

Roger worked in the Dental lab at the Headquarters Clinic. He made dentures and stuff. Raoul was his boss. Come to think of it, Roger introduced me to him, too. Roger called him Ralool. Raoul insisted Roger call him Ray. I was just about the only person that called him Raoul. Even his wife called him Ray.

* * * *

After my personally devastating break up with Maureen, Roger became my best friend. He had suffered a similar situation with his high school sweetheart. Betty Jo Bialosky? Maybe her name was Melanie Haber. Or was it Audrey Farber?  Susan Underhill? But I think everyone knew her as Nancy.

At any rate, Roger took me under his wing and looked out for me while he taught me how to pick up the pieces of my life without me realizing what he was doing. He even convinced one of the orthodontists to put braces on my teeth and straighten them out.

Aside from the GI Bill, braces were the best thing I got from being in the Army.

He taught me about the drug trade, and the cops. “It’s not something you want to get into too deep, man. It’s like the ocean, you know? Stay in the shallows, but always keep your eyes open. That’s what the cops do. You have to learn to think like them.”

That was a bit of advice that actually came in very handy once I became a pysch nurse.

Roger wasn’t a big supplier of drugs, but he knew almost everyone on base that was, and he introduced me to all of them, something that would come in incredibly handy for me once Roger got out of the Army.

One of the largest suppliers was a guy named Dave Lovelace. Dave was the type of dealer that Roy Bowman dreamed of becoming. I only met Dave a few times, and we never became friends. He worked in one of the medical clinics on base, and when I met him, he was a short timer. I can’t remember how long Dave had left in the Army, maybe a week or two.

Come to think of it, Roger was a short timer, too. He was down to a couple of months, and that clock just kept on tickin’, man.

Dave was kind of the Milo Minderbinder of Fort Sill. Other than psych patients, Dave was perhaps the most selfish and manipulative person I’ve ever known. Dave, was in it for Dave. Selling drugs was easy money. Money opened a lots of doors, and girls like Sunshine and Diane, and however many other women Dave had at his beck and call, were just part of the package.

Dave introduced Roger to one of his part-time girlfriends/fabric free shoe models, a girl who called herself Sunshine. I have no idea what her real name was. Sunshine’s best friend was Diane, and because of Roger, I would get to know her.

Sunshine was an…interesting…young woman. She said she was from Nebraska, I think. Diane said she was from the same place, for that matter. Well, that’s the story they told everyone. God only knows what the truth is.

They were about the same height as Roger and I. Sunshine had light brown hair and really big…eyes. She had a seriously hot body, and was quite a popular dancer at the Play Pen Lounge.

Sunshine said she didn’t like wearing clothes, so being a stripper evidently came naturally to her. All I know is if I took all the time I spent around her–not counting when she was working–and added up the time she was fully dressed, it might total an hour and an half.

I met Dave and Sunshine at a McDonald’s. Roger and I were going to meet Dave there and do a little transaction action, and Sunshine came along for the ride. We all ordered something to eat and sat down at a table. I remember I had one helluva case of the munchies, and was mostly focused on inhaling my Quarter Pounder® and fries while everyone else talked.

Sunshine said it was too warm inside the McDonald’s, and she felt like she was going to faint.

“Then take off your shirt.” Dave said, not really paying much attention to her. However, that caught my attention, and I looked up as Sunshine’s awesome tits popped into view. I’m pretty sure hers were the two most perfect tits I’ve ever seen in my life.

My lower jaw dropped far enough to fit everyone’s orders at our table into my mouth. It was five or six o’clock on a Friday evening in July or August, and the place was packed. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, and turned to look at the half-naked woman. The other servicemen inside applauded.

“Is your friend okay?” Dave asked Roger. He didn’t know me well enough to actually speak to me. “He acts like he’s never seen a set of tits before.”

“Well, never in a McDonald’s…” I recovered enough to reply.

* * * *

Okay. It’s not like I was Hugh Hefner. I had seen exactly four naked breasts, in person, at that point in my life–Maureen’s, and a girl swimming in the river near my sister’s house in Missoula. She gave me a random flash of her bodacious ta-tas as I was walking by the river one summer afternoon and made me the happiest boy in the whole USA. So, seeing any real tits back then, well, it was better than Christmas as far as I was concerned.

* * * *

“I’m gonna change my order, man.” Roger said to Sunshine, smiling a huge smile. “I think I want those two Big Macs® instead.”

“You didn’t think I’d do it, did you?” Sunshine said to Dave, as  the manager started running to our table. She had a very satisfied smirk on her face.

We got kicked out of McDonald’s that day. And we didn’t score any weed–Dave said something about things being too hot with the cops. He didn’t have any weed to sell, and even if he did, it wasn’t worth the risk.

But Roger got Sunshine’s phone number.

* * * *

I didn’t see Roger again until late Sunday night. He looked immensely content and at peace. And he couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, Mark, man! You’re not gonna believe what happened to me!” And he told me. If I had been him, I might’ve thought I’d gotten dead and went to Heaven. “Did I tell you Sunshine doesn’t like to wear any clothes?”

“Yeah, at least twice.”

“She’s making me dinner tomorrow night. Spaghetti. Hey, you wanna come?”

As surprised as I was, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to see Little Miss Sunshine again. Probably all of her, and I wouldn’t have to throw her any money to do it. I immediately accepted.

* * * *

Monday evening couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I finished all my deliveries and was waiting for Roger at the barracks. I rolled a couple of joints while he changed, and we smoked one while Roger drove to Sunshine’s house. We stopped at a liquor store on the way. Roger wanted to bring some beer.

“We have to bring wine. Red wine goes with spaghetti.”

“I don’t know anything about wine, man.” Roger replied.

“Neither do I, but the guy that runs this place probably does.”

I’m sad to say that’s true. It would take me years to develop a taste for good red wine, and after ten years of sobriety, it’s the only alcoholic beverage I come close to missing occasionally.

The liquor store manager suggested what he thought was a very decent Cabernet, and I paid for it. Roger picked up a twelve pack of Stroh’s. Roger liked it because it was fire brewed. And then we were back on the road to Sunshine’s house.

I was soon to discover it was actually Dave’s house. He was renting it, and ran his ‘drug empire’ from it. I don’t know just how big of a player Dave was in the Lawton drug scene, but he was a big enough player to have attracted the attention of local law enforcement.

It was late summer of 1975 in Oklahoma. The heat was on in more ways than one.

Sunshine answered the door, Dave towered behind her.  He stood close to six feet tall, longish hair, for a serviceman. He was fair skinned, blondish hair, kind of blue-gray eyes that seemingly never stopped moving. Dave didn’t seem to be especially pleased to see me again–maybe that was me being paranoid–he didn’t make me leave.

Sunshine was happy to see both of us, and gave me a warm hug after smothering Roger with kisses. I was disappointed that she wasn’t naked. She was wearing a T-shirt that was practically transparent, and shorts.

“This is my friend, Diane.” Sunshine said, then pulled Roger into the kitchen.

“Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.” I handed her the bottle of wine.

“Nice to meet you, too.” she replied, then looked at the bottle, and smiled when she looked back up at me. “Hey, Dave. You want to open this?” It’s likely Dave actually knew something about wine. He seemed pleased with the selection.

“Have a seat. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Diane was a tiny young woman, very slender, shoulder length kind of curly dark hair, green eyes. I didn’t fall in love with Diane the moment I saw her, but I did like her eyes a whole lots. She was also wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She had a very cute butt and very nice legs.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. I drank my first beer quickly, and opened another. I mostly sat quietly, hoping I wouldn’t say or do anything stupid. Diane was probably the only person who noticed. Dave was too self-absorbed, and Roger and Sunshine were too focused on each other.

“Relax.” she said, smiling, and patted the back of my hand. She was sitting next to me on the couch. “It’s just dinner, not an execution.”

“It’s that noticable, huh? You want to smoke a joint?” I asked, and pulled the joint out of my shirt pocket.

“Um, maybe after dinner would be better…”

* * * *

I was starting to relax. It was a hot evening, the air conditioning was on. Good music on the stereo. I think it was Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon.

Even Dave seemed to loosen up a bit and at least feigned an interest in the rest of us. We drank a toast with glasses of wine, and started eating.

Dinner was delicious. Not only was Sunshine an extremely popular fabric free shoe model, she made really good spaghetti, too. And the wine was very good.

Right about the time Sunshine should’ve said something about it being too hot and she’d need to take off all her clothes, a veritable army of cops and sheriff’s burst into the living room, guns drawn and a thousand voices yelling one hundred different orders.

The door wasn’t locked, so they had opened it quietly, then rushed inside, yelling at the top of their lungs.

“Nobody move! Everybody on the floor! Keep your hands where we can see them! Hands on your heads! Keep your hands on the table! On your knees, dirtbags!”

I had a rolled ball of spaghetti twirled around the tines of my fork. It had almost reached my mouth. I turned to the left and for the first, but not the last time in my life, I was face to face with a loaded handgun. This time it was the service revolver of one of the sheriffs. I think it was a .45.

* * * *

The cops moved us into the living room. One of the cops produced a warrant. They were looking for drugs, of course, but the warrant also said something about prostitution(?)

Yeah, I was a bit confused by that. I knew prostitution existed, in the movies. I had never known anyone who worked the streets, so to speak, and I sure as hell didn’t want to believe that either Sunshine or Diane were doing something like that. They seemed like really nice girls…

We sat in the living room while the cops executed their search for drugs and other suspected illegal substances and/or activities at Dave’s house. I sat on the couch next to Diane. Sunshine sat at the far end of the couch to Diane’s right. Roger sat in a chair to our right. Dave sat in a recliner to our left.

That’s when I remembered I had a joint in my pocket. And as I turned to my right to look at Diane, her eyes widened. She remembered it, too.

“Excuse me, but I have to go to the bathroom.” Diane said to the cop who was keeping an eye on us. He might have been a nice guy, but he sure didn’t look like one. He was holding a shotgun, and his scowl looked like it had been tattooed on his face.

“Too bad, bitch.”

“Hey, officer, man.” Roger said. “No reason to be rude to the lady.”

“No one asked for your opinion, doughboy.” The cop snapped. Roger started to reply, and the cop focused his attention on him, moving closer. Diane quickly reached into my pocket and removed the joint. And Dave saw that.

“Hey, that’s totally uncalled for.” he said calmly. “We were just having dinner when you goons busted through my door.” He started to stand, and the cop moved to confront Dave. “There’s nothing illegal going on here. We’re innocent-” The cop shoved Dave back into his chair, and ordered him to shut up. Diane quickly slipped her hand into her cutoffs and very slickly slipped the joint into her vagina.

That was the precise moment I fell in love with Diane.

Our guard spun around to make sure none of us were trying to sneak up behind him.

“So. How about the bathroom, Barney?” Diane asked. I snickered. I couldn’t help it. That was funny.

“Hey! Let’s move these innocent citizens out of here!” our guard called out to the other cops, who were having no luck finding anything illegal in the house, and certainly not the pounds and pounds of marijuana they were expecting.

A few of the officers wandered in, clearly disappointed in their results. We were all handcuffed. Roger and I were escorted to the backseat of one squad car. Sunshine and Diane were escorted to another. Dave was left sitting in the living room.

“Just be cool, man.” Roger whispered to me when we were alone. “You don’t know anything. You just met Dave. You never tried to buy any drugs from him. You were just having dinner. That’s your story.”

Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to the cop shop.

* * * *

I was questioned by Detective Callahan. He was really nice, and offered me something to drink and a cigarette. He asked me a few benign questions, where was I from? Why did I join the Army? What was my MOS? What did I want to do with my life? We smoked together while I answered his questions.

And then he started asking about Dave, and what was I doing inside the house of a known drug dealer. And what was my relationship to the women of alleged ill repute residing at the residence in question?

I really didn’t know much about Dave. I had just met him. No, I didn’t know anything about Dave selling drugs. Yeah, I’d smoked pot, but I didn’t care for it much. No, no other drugs. Drinking beer was better, and it was legal. The only reason I was at Dave’s house was because of the dinner my buddy’s girlfriend had cooked for us. Yeah, I knew Roger. We worked together on base, and lived in the same barracks. I wasn’t in any relationship with either of the women. I had just met them, too.

That was my story, and for once, it happened to be mostly true. The cops kept Roger and I for a few hours, then released us to our First Sergeant, who drove us back to Dave’s house so Roger could get his car. Sergeant Garcia spent most of the time talking to me about my choice in friends, and how I was jeopardizing my military career by associating with guys like Dave. And Roger.

“Hey, Top, man. You know I’m here, right. Anyway, I love you too, man, you know. And thanks for doing this. I really do appreciate that, Sarge.”

There was no one at Dave’s house when we arrived. The place was dark, the front door was locked.

“Damn. My beer’s in there, man!”

“What about Dave and the girls!” I was a little keyed up. Roger started walking to his car.

“Oh, I’m guessing the cops will keep them for awhile, and try to get one of them to break, you know. But they aren’t gonna get anywhere, man.” We got in the car and Roger resumed. “This is why I told you not to get too deep into dealing. Sooner or later, you’re going to get caught. Dave almost did tonight.” Roger started his car and we headed back to base.

“What about that prostitution thing? Do you think…”

“Hey, listen up, man. Sunshine and Diane are strippers. It’s not like either of them are fuckin’ nuns, you know?”

“So, is Dave their…pimp?”

“Yeah, I don’t know, man. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he was. The guy has the morals of a snake, you know. Good for him.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Hey, man, you’re not in Montana anymore. And you’ve got a job and a place to live, thanks to the fuckin’ Army, man. You never know what you’ll have to do to survive until you’re put in that position, you know. Sunshine and Diane are doing what they have to do to survive. You don’t get to judge what you haven’t been through yourself, man. You follow me?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have to like it!” Roger chuckled softly.

“I fuckin’ love it.” he replied. “Did you see Diane slip that joint into her pussy. I don’t know about you, but I’d fuckin’ marry any woman that did that for me.”

* * * *

I was silent the rest of the trip. Clearly, I had a lots of things to think about. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I watched the sun come up, and got ready for work. When I was reasonably sure Roger was up, I went down to his room.

“Hey, man. I see you didn’t sleep either. Let me tell you what’s gonna happen today, okay?” I was about to ask that question, so I was ready to listen. “By ten o’clock everyone in the clinic is gonna know what happened to us. Garcia’s gonna tell anyone he sees all about it. By noon, everyone in the company will know.

“You need to keep a low profile, you understand?” I nodded, wondering how I was supposed to do that if everyone was going to know about…everything. “Your story hasn’t changed. You were invited to dinner. Period. End of story. Walk away.”

“Got it.”

“And if anyone asks you about Dave, run!” I laughed. “I’m not kidding, man. If he thought we were a risk to him, he’d kill you, me, Sunshine and Diane in a heartbeat. And don’t trust any of those lifers in Headquarters, especially Garcia. He’s gonna act like your buddy, and be your friend.

“You and me, we’re living to get out of the Army. Those guys, the Army is their fuckin’ life. But Garcia was right last night. I am a bad influence on you.” and he did that soft chuckle. I shrugged. “Yeah, what can I say? Just watch out for those guys. You never know when those fuckers will go all military on you, and that’s exactly what those assholes will do.”

* * * *

It’s not the greatest feeling in the world, looking back on your life and coming to the realization that you were, well, pretty goddamn dumb. There were so many things I couldn’t or didn’t see. So many hints that flew right by me without a clue or so much as a hint of awareness.

Granted, this was my first foray into this unexplored territory, where here there be monsters was the reality, not a line in a story. I was taking a road that was not only less traveled, I was taking a road that was clearly marked, Turn the fuck around! Now!

And, of course, I didn’t. But I did learn a whole lots of stuff.

* * * *

Would you be surprised to learn that Roger’s prediction was spot on? Probably not, but I was. First Sergeant Garcia called me into his office and was all buddy-buddy with me. He asked a lots of questions, and I gave very few answers. Then he told me to get my hair cut, and chine my choos.

After lunch, people from the clinics came up to me as I was making my deliveries, wanting to know the details about my dinner and an interrogation by the Lawton PD. I’d never been so happy to see a day end, and it had been a very long day. I didn’t finish my deliveries until late that afternoon.

I dropped my van off at the motor pool, and slowly walked back to the barracks, trying to make some sense out of the sudden change of events in my life that had blindsided me. I reached the barracks long before I reached any epiphanies.

Roger’s head popped out of his room as I started climbing the stairs to my room. I was tired from lack of sleep and stress. All I wanted to do was sleep.

“Hey! Where the hell have you been, man! Get cleaned up and changed! We have to go, pronto!”

“Where are we going?” I sighed, trying to think of an excuse so I could bail on whatever Roger had planned.

“Sunshine called! They’ve been released! We have to go get the girls, man!”

I’m pretty sure I ran the forty yard dash to my room, showered and changed in less than four seconds.

* * * *

I can’t remember where we picked the girls up at, but I know it wasn’t the cop shop. They had both showered and changed clothes. Diane’s hair was still damp. She smelled like the air after a rain.

“Oh my God! You came! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” she said when she saw me, and flew into my arms. I wasn’t sure I could I believe that, but her embrace seemed sincere enough.

I think I got down on my knee and thanked her for stashing my joint in her vagina, saving us all from a fate worse than death, and possibly death.

We went somewhere to eat, and laughed and it felt so good. We stopped to pick up some beer, then checked into the nearest decent no-tell motel. One room, two twin beds. Sunshine wasted no time shedding her clothes.

Diane and I tried not to pay any attention to the sounds coming from the other bed. I guess we didn’t waste a whole lots of time taking our clothes off either, but when we reached the point of no return, I stopped.

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but would you mind if I just held you?”

“Are you gay or something?” she asked. This was clearly something that hadn’t happened to her very often, if ever.

“Or something.” I replied, and tried to smile. I laid back and Diane cuddled close, resting her head on my chest, listening to the beat of my heart.

“She must’ve been something.” Diane said softly.

“Who?”

“The girl who broke your heart,” she whispered, looking up toward me. “I can feel it.”

I’m not sure how long my silent tears fell. Diane whispered and cooed to me, hugging me tightly, brushing and kissing my tears away, until we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

* * * *

I woke up around 2:30 AM. Diane was sleeping with her back to me. I found my glasses and slipped them on, then watched her breathe for a couple minutes, admiring her body. I could see the top half of her very cute butt. I wanted to touch her, but I didn’t want to wake her up.

I got out of bed carefully, and went into the bathroom to pee and wash my face. I could taste the salt from the tears I’d cried earlier. I took a deep breath, and told myself to get it together, then went back into the room where everyone was sleeping.

I opened a beer, and because I was trying to do it as quietly as possible, it sounded like a goddamn bomb going off. Roger and Sunshine didn’t move, and I exhaled a deep breath in relief. But Diane woke up, and rolled over.

“Hey.” I said softly, and took a drink. The beer was fairly cold, and it tasted good.

“Hey yourself,” she replied, equally softly, and reached for the beer. “Feel any better?”

“Yeah, I do.” I handed her the beer, and she took a long drink. “Thank you. I don’t know what to else to say. That was incredibly sweet of you.”

“Are you kidding me? I should thank you! I thought all men were alike, and then out of fuckin’ nowhere, you come along.”

“That’s funny. I was thinking the same thing about you.” We both smiled.

“So? Are you going to tell me about her?” she asked, handing the beer back to me. I took a drink.

“High school sweetheart. We broke up in May. I was here, she was back in Montana. It was too much for her.”

“You’re from Montana? You don’t look like a cowboy.” I handed her the beer, and gave her the quick version of my life story. Then she told me her story. We had more than a little in common. I climbed back into bed and Diane snuggled close to me.

“If you don’t want to do anything, it’s okay.” she whispered in my ear.

“Yeah, well, the thing is, you’re the first person I’ve been with since, you know…  But I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m ready to pick up where we left off.”

“Me too.”

* * * *

“That went better than I thought it would.” I said mostly to myself as Diane and I laid on our backs, looking at the ceiling, catching our breath.

“I don’t know why your girlfriend decided to dump you, but I think she’s a fucking idiot!” I had to laugh at that. I turned to look at her. Her eyes were bright, and sparkling in the dim light of the room.

“Thank you.” I said.

“You’re welcome.” She smiled and kissed me. “It was my pleasure. And I seriously mean that.”

* * * *

The next thing I knew I was hit in the head with a pillow, and Roger was almost yelling at me.

“Hey, Mark! Wake up, man! We overslept and we’re gonna be late for work! C’mon! Get dressed! We gotta get movin’! Shit! I gotta call Headquarters before they send the MP’s after us!”

I think it was around 7:30 AM.

Diane and I got dressed as quickly as we could while we hugged and kissed and giggled a lots. In retrospect, I think there’s something about being so… vulnerable…that breaks down all defensive walls and boundaries, and you bond to someone in a way that you normally wouldn’t.

I’m making an huge assumption about Diane. I never asked her how she felt. This will probably sound a little weird, but there was this unspoken thing between us. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry so succinctly stated: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Well, it makes sense to me, and it makes sense in terms of my relationship with Diane. I wasn’t in love with her, but after what we had experienced, I loved her, if that makes any sense.

We were in our own world that morning, and it was a very special place for both of us. We had accidentally given each other a type of healing, and as a result we had kind of stumbled into the Garden of Eden, where everything seemed new and pristine, including us. And like unto Eden, it was also a place neither of us would ever be able to completely find again once we left it.

While Roger lied his ass off to First Sergeant Garcia, Diane and I stared into each other’s eyes and whispered terms of endearment and affection that probably would’ve made anyone listening roll their eyes and puke. Neither one of us wanted that moment to end, and it would, as soon as we stepped outside.

As blind as I was to almost everything going on around me, even I was able to see that.

Roger told Headquarters we had run out of gas, or something like that, and we’d report for duty just as soon as we could. I can’t remember where we dropped the girls off at, maybe Dave’s house, maybe a cafe. I know they both wanted coffee.

“Did you have a good time?” Roger asked once we were alone in the car and racing back to base.

“Yeah, I did. Actually, I had a great time!”

“Good. I wasn’t too sure there at first. I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on you and Diane.”

“Hey, no problem, man. And yeah, things started out kind of shaky for me, but I regrouped.” And I told him what happened while he and Sunshine were asleep.

“That’s real good, man. I’m happy for you.”

“How about you?”

“Yeah, well, you saw how it was. I’ll tell you what, man. That lady really has my head in the blender. I’m gonna fall in love with her if I don’t watch my step.

“Hey, when we get to Headquarters, you just go along with everything I say, okay? Let me take the fall for this. I’m gonna be gone soon, and you have two more years to go at this dump. Just nod your head and agree with everything I say.”

“I can’t let you do that.” I said.

“Listen to me. You’re gonna go places. You’re gonna be someone someday. I’m going back to fuckin’ Indiana. I’ll probably end up working in the mines or some shit like that. Just do as I ask, okay? Don’t make me beg you, man.” He sounded like he might start crying.

“Okay, you win. But I think this is a bad idea.”

“Hey, man, name one good idea we’ve had in the last few days.”

* * * *

For the life of me, I have no idea what people saw in me back then that made almost everyone think I was on the path to greatness. I sure as hell didn’t see it. I’m not sure I do now.

Looking back doesn’t make anything jump out at me, other than how determined I was to be anything but great. It only shows me how strong a grip God must have had on me during that time of my life. I had lost more than my grip; I had lost my way, and I was going to get a lots more lost.

But God had taken me by the hand, though I knew it not, and He never let go of me, no matter what. Maybe that’s what everyone could see–things invisible to the eye… Clearly, there was a greater purpose at work than my self-destructive intent. I’ve perhaps ridiculously translated that into a desire to become a prophet.

Well, God has said He does stuff that won’t make any sense to us. In that aspect, God and I have something in common…

* * * *

I did as Roger asked, and nodded a whole lots and agreed with everything he said when we met with First Sergeant Garcia and Second Lieutenant Steffler.

We got a verbal reprimand–an ass chewing, but nothing else. And we were both ordered to get a haircut and chine our choos. We went to the barbershop on our lunch break.

That evening, Roger and I drank a few beers and smoked a few joints with the boys while we shined our shoes. We were asked to tell the story of our already legendary spaghetti dinner with the strippers and our trip to the cop shop. I let Roger tell the story. I wouldn’t have even been in it if it weren’t for him.

* * * *

Once Roger and I got haircuts, our shoes shined, and a good night’s rest, we pretty much lived at the Play Pen Lounge. Diane was happy to see me, and I tried hard to contain the joy my heart felt when I saw her. She was working, so the only thing she was wearing was a bikini bottom.

Sunshine practically tackled Roger when she saw him. A couple of burly guys appeared out of the shadows and grabbed Roger by the collar. Sunshine had to talk fast to keep Roger from getting the shit beat out of him.

Roger bought drinks for everyone, including the bouncers, and we talked to the girls when they took their breaks. We tried to set up dates with them, but they were busy. I don’t know how disappointed Roger was, but words do not suffice to describe my feelings.

“Can I call you?” I asked Diane.

“No, give me your number. I’ll call you.” I wrote my number on a napkin. She put it in her bikini bottom, right next to her very cute butt.

And true to her word, she called whenever she had the time. Our conversations were never long, nor were they all that satisfying, but they were better than nothing.

Be that as it may, we went back to see our girls almost every night, and did manage to spend several nights with them over the next few weeks at the no-tell motel, making sure we set the alarm to give us plenty of time to get back to base in the morning.

Those nights were very satisfying, and made all the unsatisfying time in between worth the wait. But the nights were short, and the days apart were long. And dating a stripper is, well, expensive, especially when part of the dating experience consists of hanging out at the bar where she works.

“Man, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Roger said to me one day. We were about three weeks into our new lives with our girls.

I had some money in the bank, and that was good, but after three weeks, it was almost gone, and that was bad. As much as I hated to admit it, Roger was right.

But that weekend, our girls surprised us by coming to visit us at the barracks on a Saturday night. Sunshine probably showed her tits to the guards at the gate, and even if she didn’t, it sounds like something she would’ve done.

They brought a case of beer and a whole lots of love, and we had ourselves a party that went down in history. We were in Roger’s room. He wasn’t about to let any of the guys in the barracks anywhere near Sunshine, especially once she took all her clothes off, and she did that within thirty seconds of arriving.

Diane kept her clothes on, and that was fine with me. Her very cute butt was on my lap and we did a lots of kissing and stuff. When she was around it was kind of a magical time for me.

Roger and Sunshine eventually moved into the bedroom, so Diane and I went up to my room, and she got to meet Maureen. One of my walls was covered with pictures of her.

“I love your room!” she said, looking around. I had painted the walls light blue, and I had painted pictures on the walls, random things that appealed to me at that time. There were a lots of black light posters, cheap blue and red carpeting on the floor.

“You didn’t tell me she was beautiful.” Diane said, taking a long look at Maureen’s picture gallery. Right next to all of her pictures I had painted an eye with a single tear. “Jesus. You must have really loved her.”

I didn’t say anything. I was holding my breath, afraid to even breathe. Diane finally turned to look at me, and smiled.

“I think it’s sweet. I wish someone missed me as much as you miss her. Now I really think she’s a fucking idiot!” And I could breathe again. I put an album on the stereo, and we danced and laughed until we fell to the floor.

“Are you planning on spending the night?” I asked. She was surprised by my question. “I didn’t want to assume anything, that’s all.” She took off her top and threw it in my face. “Wait right here.”

The room across the hall from mine was empty. It had been Johnny’s room, but he had gotten out of the Army and no one had taken his room yet. I slipped my ID card behind the jamb and popped the lock, and bought Johnny’s mattress into my room. I threw it on the floor then pulled the mattress off my bed and laid it next to the mattress I had borrowed.

“Oh! You’re good!” Diane laughed, and I threw my shirt in her face.

* * * *

We didn’t sleep that night, and when we weren’t entwined with each other we laid back and caressed each other endlessly. We talked about many things, and laughed a lots. I was happier than I had been in months. It would be years before I would be as well pleased as I was that night.

“What’s your favorite thing about me?” she asked. I turned my head to the left to look at her.

“You have the most beautiful eyes.” I replied immediately. “And you have a very cute butt.” She smiled. The light in her eyes danced. “Your turn.”

“You have the softest hands…  When you touch me, it feels like a dream..”

“Close your eyes.”

“God, I wish I had met you sooner…”

* * * *

“If something were to happen to me, would you miss me?” Diane asked, and I immediately became concerned.

“Why would you ask that! What’s going to happen to you?” I asked, raising up on one elbow to look at her.

“Relax! Nothing’s going to happen to me! It’s just a question! So, would you miss me?”

And that’s when I knew.

“Yes. I’d miss you very much.” I said, and I meant it. We stared into each other’s eyes for a time, and that twinkle appeared in her green eyes, like the first touch of sunlight as it laughed on the leaves.

“That’s what I needed to hear.” she smiled, and we wrapped ourselves together until the sun started to come up. We hung out my bedroom window, naked, smoking cigarettes, watching the sun rise.

The Marines marching passed the barracks that morning stopped singing their marching song when they saw Diane and gave me a Hurah!

“That’s the first and last time that’s ever gonna happen to me.” I beamed a smile to the Marines, and Diane. And we kissed.

* * * *

Diane and I got dressed and went down to Roger’s room. She woke up Sunshine and Roger and I escorted our girls out to their car in the morning sunshine. We hugged and kissed them goodbye and they drove off, smiling and waving and blowing kisses to us.

It was the last time we would ever see them.

* * * *

I slept most of Sunday, so I wasn’t too concerned when I didn’t hear from Diane. But Monday, and then Tuesday went by without a word from her, and I started feeling a tightness in the pit of my stomach. I asked Roger if he’d heard from Sunshine, and he shook his head. That was really bad. Diane wasn’t great at calling me, but Sunshine called Roger several times a day.

“Have you tried calling her?”

“Nope. I think our chicks have flown the coop, man.”

We went to the Play Pen on Wednesday night. Diane and Sunshine usually worked that night, but after walking around the bar, we couldn’t find them. I asked one of the dancers if she knew where Diane was.

“She’s not here!” was the reply she shouted over the music. I know I couldn’t hide the profound sadness I felt, and it flooded my face. The dancer couldn’t help but see it, and then her eyes grew wide. “You’re the guy! Don’t move! Wait right here!”

She returned a minute later with another dancer, and they cupped their hands so they could kind of whisper in each other’s ear, then the second dancer spoke to us.

“Are one of you guys named Roger?” Roger raised his hand. “And you must be Mark.” she said, looking at me. I nodded.

“Oh my God! We’ve heard so much about you guys!” she said. “Sunshine told us everything!”

“We didn’t think you were real!” the first dancer I had talked to added. “I’m Crystal!” and she extended her hand. We shook hands with Crystal.

She kind of looked like Diane, but her hair was straight, and longer and darker. She was about Diane’s height, maybe a little taller, with a bit more of a figure. She certainly had bigger…eyes…than Diane. She had a very cute butt, too.

“And I’m Katie!” the second dancer said. She was blonde, the same height and a similar body to Sunshine. We shook hands with her, too. “That has to be him! His hands are so soft!”

I do have soft hands. I tell everyone it’s because I’ve never done an honest day’s work in my life, which is possibly true.

“So, you’re the guy that melted the heart of the Ice Princess!” Crystal said, looking me up and down.

What? Did I hear that right?

“It must have been his hands! They’re so soft! And warm! We thought you had to be a wizard or something!” Katie added. That made Roger chuckle.

* * * *

I don’t remember my hands being warm. I was a nurse for thirty years, and if there’s one affliction most nurses suffer from, it’s cold hands. It’s a patient care profession, so cold hands are pretty much the last thing you need. It’s like we keep our hands on ice until we need to touch someone.

* * * *

“Yeah, I hear he’s pretty good with a wand, too! I want to be one of those, ” Roger turned to look at me. “A sexual wizard!”

“Ice Princess?” I said, in the general direction of the dancers.

“That’s what we called Diane!” Katie said loudly. “She was one cold bitch! But we loved Sunshine!”

“But Diane was different ever since she met you!” Crystal added. “She was actually nice to us! I think she’s in love!”

We bought the girls a couple of beers and tried to find out what happened to our girls over the music and the fairly constant interruptions from other patrons.

“They’re not here anymore! I think they said they were going back to–where was it? Fucking Nebraska or Kansas or something! They said something like it was too hot for them here and they had to get out of town!”

Roger and I looked at each other and he shook his head. We tried to get more information from Crystal and Katie, but they didn’t know much more than that. And they had no idea which town in Nebraska or Kansas Sunshine and Diane had gone to. Katie said sometimes the girls wrote a letter, to let the other girls they had landed safely and we’re doing okay. She’d let us know if Sunshine ever wrote. There was no way the Ice Princess would write to them. We thanked the girls for their time, and left them a tip, and got up to leave.

“Wait!” they shouted, and scurried off. When they returned, they handed me slips of paper with their phone numbers. “Call me!” they both said, then looked at each other and laughed. That was the first and last time that’s ever happened to me, too.

* * * *

“There’s no way those girls went back to Nebraska.” Roger said as we walked out to his car. “You know what happened? Dave got them out of town. They were probably too much of a liability for him. If the cops are that hot on his tail…”

“Unless he had them killed…”

“Then I’d have to kill him.” Roger decided.

“I’ll help you.”

“Nah, he wouldn’t do that, not yet. But they’re gone, man. They could be anywhere, except Nebraska. We’ll never see them again, and maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Maybe. But I’m going to miss Diane.”

“I hear that. I know what you mean, man. I know what you mean.” he sighed, and we rode silently for a few minutes. “Hey, Mark, man. Give me your hand, man.”

“Jesus. You can’t tell anyone about this, especially The Horne! If he hears about this, I’ll have to kill him. He’ll never let it go.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Okay. It dies with me. Wow. You really do have soft hands! Soft enough to melt a heart of ice, huh.” And he chuckled softly. I stared straight ahead, not seeing anything in front of me, seeing only the images that filled my mind.

“That wasn’t it. It was that first night together, at the motel. You and Sunshine were fucking like wild animals, and I started crying. Diane…Diane kissed away my tears. That’s when her heart melted…

“I felt it.”

* * * *

I eventually asked Roger if he wanted to go out with Crystal or Katie. Maybe one of them knew how to make spaghetti…

“Nah,” he replied, and chuckled softly. “Besides, they gave you their numbers, not me. I think I’m done with strippers for awhile, but I appreciate it, man, I really do. I need to start saving some money for the trip home. If I started dating another stripper, I’ll never get out of town.”

Oh well, I tried.

I wasn’t quite done with strippers yet. I went out with Crystal a few times. She wasn’t a cheap date, and I couldn’t keep up with her. She liked cocaine, and she liked it a lots. I couldn’t support her drug habit and mine, something had to go. Goodbye, Crystal.

I was never all that impressed by coke, hard to believe as that might sound, and it was probably the only drug I didn’t fall in love with back then.

I casually dated Katie on and off for the rest of the time I was in the Army. I liked her a lots, and we had a good time together. But Katie had plans and ambitions. Toward the end of my time at Fort Sill she met a second lieutenant and wasn’t about to do anything to mess that up. Goodbye, Mr Wizard.

We parted as friends. I hope her dreams came true. She was a sweet gal.

* * * *

Roger’s long awaited day finally came, and he packed up his car and hit the long road to Indiana. I never saw him again, but we talked on the phone from time to time for a couple of years before we finally lost contact with each other.

Writing this has made me realize how much I miss him. He was one of the best persons I’ve ever known, and he taught me more than I even knew.

Hey, Roger, man. If you ever read this, know that I love you, man.

And sometimes, when the sun is coming up, I think of Diane, naked in my window, rendering the fuckin’ Marines to silence. And I smile.

I hope she found some sort of a better life than the one she had. And Diane, if you ever read this, I sincerely missed you, probably more than I thought I would.

I know you tried to warn me, but I really wish you would’ve said goodbye.