A Brief History of Christianity

We watched Hacksaw Ridge the other night. It’s the Hollywood depiction of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enlisted in the Army during WW II and saved the lives of 75 men.

That’s one of the storylines in the movie. Desmond was also a Seventh-day Adventist who endured a considerable amount of torment and harassment because of his faith after he enlisted in the Army.

There’s one thing the US Army and organized religion have in common: conformity. Marching to the beat of a different drummer is highly discouraged in the Church. It’s essentially against the law in the Army.

I’m going to give the Army an edge in achieving conformity over the Church nowadays. KP, push-ups, bullying and blanket parties–I’m sure the Army no longer condones the last two tactics of enhanced peer pressure/alternative conformity techniques–be that as it may, they are very effective tools.

The Church hasn’t had that kind of control over people since the Inquisition. If the Inquisition were still in effect, I’m going to say the Church would win. Torture and possibly being burned at the stake beat the hell out of peeling potatoes and doing push-ups when it comes to getting your goddamn mind right.

I’ve never had my faith tested like Desmond. I’m not sure how I’d respond if it were. I’d like to think I’d stand firm in the face of opposition, trial and tribulation, but you’ll never really know until it happens.

* * * *

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that religious persecution has existed as long as there has been religion. And I’m going to guess that almost every religion has had their time in the spotlight when they waged a holy war or two against others that didn’t believe the same things they did.

I claim to be a Christian, so I’m probably more interested in how Christians have been persecuted. Besides, I want to keep these posts relatively short.

The first Christians were essentially Jews who thought they had seen The Messiah, however, the vast majority of the Jews didn’t see it that way. In regards to ‘persecuting’ the first Christians, the Jews saw their actions more along the lines of disciplining their misguided brethren. You know, for the sake of conformity.

Eerie Preview of Something I’ll Write About Someday: There was this guy named Saul. And he had a part in the death of at least one Christian martyr, possibly more. I’m going to have a lots more to say about Saul/ Paul of Tarsus.

In a previous post I stated the followers of Jesus tried to convince the rest of the Jews that their version of Judaism was the path all of the Jews should walk, but the majority of the Jews rejected that idea.

The Council of Jamnia was convened by the Jewish leadership late in the first century, and it may have been when the Jews decided to exclude the followers of Jesus from attendance at the local synagogue, but that was the extent of their decision. They certainly didn’t call for the deaths of all the Christians.

It wasn’t until the Bar Kokhba Rebellion that there was a clear delineation between the Jews and Christians in Judea. Simon bar Kokhba was the leader of the Jewish revolt that bears his name, and like a thousand other guys before him, he claimed to be the Messiah.

The Jewish leadership, and Simon, wanted all of the people to support him, and they urged the kooky followers of Jesus to get on board. After all, this Simon guy, he was the Messiah. And that’s when the unstaunchable breach between Jews and Christians opened. The Christians replied that they couldn’t support Simon. They already had a Messiah.

* * * *

A lots has been written and said about the Roman persecution of the early Christians, but they were only the latest in a very long list of peoples that had incurred the wrath of Rome. Ask the Etruscans. Ask the Carthaginians. Ask the Gauls, the Huns, the Celts and Picts. Or the Dacians.

There’s no doubt that the Romans made many early Christians martyrs, but it’s not as though the Romans were intent on wiping out the Christian faith. Nero possibly needed a scapegoat after the Great Fire in 64 AD, and blamed the Christians, and had a lots of Christians killed to death.

After Nero, persecution of Christians mostly ebbed and flowed throughout the empire until the reign of Diocletian. There are records of some misguided early Christians petitioning Roman officials to be killed to death so they could become martyrs! Martyrdom had a special status like unto a Fast Pass+ at Disney World®. Virtually all of the first saints were martyrs.

When Diocletian became emperor, he decided to restore good old fashioned Roman values and religion, and this newfangled Christian religion was one of the things that could no longer be tolerated. He issued a series of edicts against Christians in the year 303 AD.

The Great Persecution resulted, and many Christians were imprisoned, tortured or executed. When Diocletian resigned as emperor, most of the persecutions ceased, and by the year 311 AD they ceased entirely. Thirteen years later, Christianity would become the official religion of Rome.

The Romans loved many things, but they appear to have had an almost obsessive desire for order, uniformity and conformity. And because they were the biggest bully on the playground, they could kick the shit out of almost any other kid on the block until they agreed to get in line, or were exterminated.

It was this love of uniformity that led the Emperor Constantine to convene the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The early Christians were hardly united in what they believed, even the Church hierarchy wasn’t always on the same page, and for Constantine, that was unacceptable.

Constantine invited bishops from all around the known world to Nicaea to discuss the issues and establish, for the first time, an uniform doctrine of Christian belief. You can look it up if you want to know what the controversies were. The results of the Council were hardly unanimous, and a great deal of bickering and backstabbing went on for years. And because Constantine was a Roman, he probably ordered the execution of most of the dissenting members of the Council and their followers, you know, for the sake of conformity.

* * * *

Christianity would flourish. The Church would become incredibly powerful, and Christians would start persecuting non-Christians. Remember the Crusades? There were at least nine major campaigns, and it’s doubtful that anything meaningful was achieved by any of the crusades, beyond the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

I’m sure if I had been alive back during the time of the crusades, I would’ve been one of the crusaders, eager to defend my faith and free the Holy Land from the hands of the fucking infidels. And I would have devoutly slaughtered anyone that stood in my way, or I would have willingly got dead in the process.

The only reason I mention this is I was once in the Army, and during that time my country was fighting a war in the far away country of Vietnam. I had no moral objections to killing back then, and if I had been sent there, I would’ve done my best to kill the Vietcong, if that’s what the Army had wanted me to do. Even if we were foreign invaders that really didn’t have any business being in Vietnam.

There’s nothing on earth that would move me to take part in a war or a crusade if one were called for today. I have yet to see any examples of violence accomplishing anything but more violence.

I’m living in one of the most devoutly Christian countries on the planet. There’s a very slim chance that I’ll experience any ill will because of my religious beliefs. It’s beyond doubtful that my faith will ever be put to any sort of test.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with that. I’m not especially eager to be taunted and teased. After all, I was a psych nurse for thirty years…

Strawberry

I would meet Strawberry because of a seizure. He was a Vietnam vet, working as a janitor on the night shift at St Cloud State University. He was also an alcoholic, and it is assumed he had a seizure related to alcohol withdrawal.

In essence, Strawberry wasn’t as drunk as he usually was, and his body freaked out, resulting in the seizure that almost killed him to death.

Withdrawal seizures occur in about 5% of detoxing patients. 90% of withdrawal seizures occur within the first forty-eight hours. The mortality rate of alcohol withdrawal is pretty low nowadays, maybe 2%, but really severe alcohol withdrawal can kill you to death.

I doubt Strawberry had much of a meaningful life prior to the seizure that would irreparably damage his brain, but he had no life afterwards. He would only exist. The person he had once been would disappear, never to be seen again.

Strawberry was mopping the floor of a long hallway at SCSU when his seizure hit. No one knows how long he had been seizing when he was found laying on the floor, but he was in convulsive status epilepticus, a very serious medical emergency.

Convulsive status epilepticus is a seizure lasting more than five minutes, or a series of seizures that occur essentially one on top of the other, with no time in between for the person to recover. This results in hypoxia, a decreased supply of oxygenated blood to body tissues.

Brain cells start dying when deprived of oxygen for about five minutes. As a result of lengthy seizure activity, Strawberry’s brain was deprived of oxygen for an unknown, but extended period of time.

Someone found Strawberry laying on the floor, and called 911. EMT’s probably administered IV Ativan to control the seizures. He was taken to the St Cloud Hospital, and eventually was transferred to the MVAMC, where we would meet.

He was short, and slight; about the same size as me. Light brown hair, brown eyes. I think he had a mustache. He was six or seven years older than me. We probably had a lots of stuff in common.

I would be his nurse for at least the next six months or more.

* * * *

Strawberry was the most cognitively impaired person I’ve ever known. He could walk independently, but that was just about the extent of his skills. He needed help getting dressed. He could take his clothes off all by himself, and he did so semi-frequently.

He would eat if you put food in front of him. If you sat him down on a toilet, he’d poop and pee. He could speak, but he couldn’t converse. He’d randomly utter a word or words, maybe a complete sentence, but he couldn’t say where he was, how old he was, or even his name.

I started calling him Strawberry because he seemed to like the name, and he tended to be more cooperative when I asked Strawberry to do something, as opposed to John. That was his real name.

John...  No response.

Don’t like that name? How about Fritz? Nothing.

Yo, Strawberry…

Yeah.

You like that name? Strawberry?

Strawberry.

That’s how that got happened.

* * * *

For you cinematic aficionados, Strawberry was a character in Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke. He was Cheech’s buddy, a Vietnam vet with one bitch of a case of PTSD.

That’s where my inspiration for John’s nickname came from. He was also a Vietnam vet, and more than likely also had a bitch of a case of PTSD. There was probably more than one reason why he drank as much as he did.

At least one of the nurses I worked with wondered why I didn’t call John by his real name.

“He doesn’t know who is anymore. And he seems to like the name.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can call him whatever you want.”

“He doesn’t seem to mind.”

“John. John!” the other nurse said. John didn’t respond. “Hey, Strawberry!”

“Yeah.” Strawberry/John replied, probably randomly. He may have even looked at the other nurse.

“Wow. That’s really weird.”

“See? I told you.”

* * * *

I don’t think Strawberry had a seizure disorder before he had the seizure that would change his life forever, but he had one afterwards. We ended up buying him a magic helmet to keep him from splitting his skull open the next time he had a seizure.

It was your basic protective headgear, made of firm molded foam. But it was as magical as Siegfried’s Tarnhelm to me. It kept Strawberry as safe as humanly possible, as long as he kept it on.

Aside from major concerns about his safety, Strawberry wasn’t that difficult of a patient, most of the time. The hardest part of his care was getting him to cooperate with whatever it was we wanted him to do.

If you handed him a toothbrush, sometimes he brushed his teeth, sometimes he’d put it in his pocket. Sometimes he tried to put it in your pocket.

He wasn’t combative, but he could be very uncooperative and resistant to care. I came out of Strawberry’s room more than once with Strawberry clinging to one of my legs. It was easier than trying to wrestle with him, and overly strenuous resistance from Strawberry almost always triggered a seizure.

Actually, it didn’t take much to trigger seizure activity in Strawberry. He had a lots of seizures, despite the medications we gave him to control his seizures.

One day Strawberry came out of his room and headed down the hallway. When he didn’t return in a few minutes, I went looking for him, but he couldn’t be found. I asked my buddy Paul Anderson to help me find him.

We found him Carl’s shower. Carl was a frequent flyer, an old bipolar guy. Carl told us Helmet Boy was in his shower. Carl put him there when he started having a seizure.

“I turned the cold water on. I thought it’d do him some good.”

* * * *

I called Strawberry’s family to let them know he was in the hospital. He had a daughter. She was an ER nurse at Regions Hospital in St Paul. I can’t remember her name, but she was an attractive young woman.

Strawberry tried to take her clothes off the one and only time she came to visit. He had no idea who she was, and she left in tears.

His brother visited several times. Strawberry gave no indication he knew his brother, either.

“How long is he going to be like this. He’s going to get better, right?”

“No. He’s not going to get any better. He’s going to be like this for the rest of his life. He’ll never be able to live independently again. He needs twenty-four hour supervision.”

“Hey, John. It’s me, Scott! Wow, he acts like he doesn’t know who I am.”

“It’s not an act.”

It took three or four visits before reality finally set in for Scott. His brother was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. Scott eventually stopped visiting, too.

* * * *

It was my birthday. My shift was just about over. I was reviewing my notes when Strawberry walked out of his room and headed down the hallway. There was something weird about the way he came out. He almost looked like he knew what he was doing.

I probably sighed. It was my birthday. I’m pretty sure I was planning on going out for drinks and stuff with my lovely supermodel wife and some of my co-workers. The last thing I wanted to do was work right about then, but I went down the hallway to see what Strawberry was up to.

I found him about halfway down the hallway. He held a turd in his hands that was probably ten inches long.

I’ve tried to figure out how the hell he did that more than once. He was fully dressed when I found him, and he wasn’t out of my sight for more than five minutes. And that turd was a whopper, it took two hands to handle that sucker.

And then I had a dilemma. How the fuck was I going to get that thing away from him without both of us wearing it?

“Come on, Strawberry. Let’s go to the bathroom.” He came willingly, and I stood him in front of the toilet. But I couldn’t get Strawberry to understand what I wanted him to do. I pantomimed throwing stuff into the toilet, then I decided to have a little funeral service, much like you’d have for a pet goldfish.

“Dearly beloved, were gathered here today to say goodbye to this…turd. As far as turds go, it was a fine turd, one of the best turds ever, probably. But as in all things in this world, it’s time to say goodbye to this one, and let it complete its journey to the sewer system. So, with a heavy heart, and smelly hands, we bid thee farewell, O best of turds.”

I threw a crumpled wad of toilet paper in the toilet, and motioned to Strawberry to do the same. But that seemed to be more than Strawberry could do. He turned toward me. I don’t know if he wanted me to do the honors, or if he wanted to put it in my pocket.

Either way, I wasn’t going to let him complete that handoff. I grabbed Strawberry’s wrists and yelled for

“HELP!!!”

And the weirdest wrestling match in the history of the world ensued. A whole lots of nurses came running, then ran out to get gloves. I pulled Strawberry into his shower, which was, thankfully, huge. And that was a good thing because there were six nurses, one patient and a ten inch turd in it.

One of the nurses connected a showerhead and turned the water on. In a matter of moments we were all drenched with water and fecal matter.

We got Strawberry cleaned up and dressed again. If I could have burned my clothes before leaving the unit, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat, but it was December in Minnesota, and it was barely 20° that day.

I think my clothes froze walking through the parking lot to my car. I couldn’t get the smell of shit out of my noseholes. And there was a reason for that. I was literally wearing liquid poop.

I threw the clothes I was wearing in the garbage when I got home, and took one of the longest showers I’ve ever taken, and everything still smelled like crap.

I have no doubt I ended up getting totally drunk that night.

* * * *

I’m not sure how much longer Strawberry stayed on my unit after my birthday. It seemed like forever. Our biggest issue with him was placement, and there were very few facilities that were willing to take patients like him. In fact, there was only one.

Ah Gwah Ching was a state hospital way up near Walker, MN, originally built to treat people with tuberculosis. It eventually became the last stop for people like Strawberry, patients with challenging behaviors. It’s Minnesota’s version of the Hotel California. You can’t check out of The Ching. Death is the only way out.

I gave report to one of the nurses there. They said they’d discuss his case and get back to us. I know I couldn’t believe it when he was accepted. I packed up Strawberry and all of his worldly belongings and sent him off to Ah Gwah Ching.

He may still be there, but for his sake, I hope he isn’t.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I think I might be suffering from writer’s block. Hence, the ridiculous title for this. I decided to steal it because I couldn’t think of anything on my own, and because I have writer’s block I have no idea what I’m going to write about.

I purposely took a break from writing for a couple of reasons. One, it was just about the only thing I was doing, and writing about your life is hardly the same thing as living your life.

Two, my back was pretty much a disaster, and sitting on my ass all day was only aggravating my problem. In addition, my sitting posture pretty much sucked, so I was throwing gasoline on a blaze that hardly needed any more fuel.

I’ve been doing anything but writing lately. I haven’t even been thinking about writing, which is probably one reason I have writer’s block now.

I had an Ung Fu Chinese massage by a Mexican masseuse last week. I had my lovely supermodel wife walk on my back. I went to see my PCP, Dr Garcia, on Monday. He started me on muscle relaxers to calm the spasms in my back. I went to see Diamond Dave on Tuesday for hopefully my last Bowen Therapy treatment. And I’ve been exercising for the last two weeks.

This has been somewhat of a novel experience for me because other than kidney stones, I’ve never had anything physical go this wrong for this long, and even my kidney stones weren’t this bothersome.

And prior to this, none of my ideas about exercise actually included exercise. My idea of exercise at one time was drinking beer and playing Frisbee. Then I quit drinking. And I quit playing Frisbee. I gave all of my Frisbees to Two L Michelle before we moved to Mexico. She has two boys. I figured they might get some use out of them…

My other idea of exercise was watching Fitness Beach. If you never saw the show while it was televised, it was the greatest exercise program ever filmed. The title sort of sums up the show. Three or four hot babes in bikinis jumped up and down on the beach for half an hour.

I loved that show.

There are no beaches anywhere in the Lakeside area, and therefore there are no bikini babes jumping up and down anywhere near here. So this whole exercise thing, you know, me actually exercising, has been somewhat of a mystery to me. And I look absolutely ridiculous in a bikini.

Diamond Dave gave me a few exercises to do several times a day. They’re low impact, and mostly designed to stretch my spasming back muscles, hopefully chilling them out a bit. I’ve also been doing some stuff with light weights. And I haven’t been writing, forcing myself to do something/anything else.

My lovely supermodel wife and I have been doing some decorating around the house, so that means we gots to go shoppin’. While shopping isn’t technically exercise, it did get me out of the house, and we bought a lots of decorative vases and stuff to go inside of the vases.

And a lots pots and plants for the patio and Lea’s bathroom, turning the patio into a sort of a garden, and totally transforming Lea’s bathroom into a spa. This stuff is ridiculously inexpensive in Mexico. I could create a fucking rain forest if I wanted to for about a thousand dollars.

My new routine has been to stretch when I get up, water the plants on the patio, lift some weights, stretch some more, then take some muscle relaxers and pass out. Those suckers pretty much put me in a coma for the first few days.

My body is adjusting to the meds, and I’m taking them less often. My back is finally starting to feel better, and I’m liking the hell out of that.

Spoiler alert: Being retired has decreased my activity level. I’m not doing anywhere near as much as I did when I was a nurse, and I’ve clearly struggled with the transition. I’m relearning how to sit, however crazy that might sound.

But I’m starting to get a grip again, and I’m sure I’ll figure this whole retirement thing out. It’s not nearly as simple as it appears on paper.

Everyone that works for living dreams of the day they will retire, and not have to put up with all the bullshit that goes along with working for a living.

When I retire, I’m not going to do a goddamn thing for the rest of my life! I know a lots of people that said that. I probably said it myself. But of all the myriad of things our bodies were designed to do, nothing isn’t one of them.

I’ve discovered that going from running my ass off for eight or more hours a day to doing essentially nothing hasn’t been good for me. And I’m sure this is why Diamond Dave has been preaching to me about balance.

You’re preaching to the choir, dude. was my original response. It’s a line I heard a lots when I was nurse. It’s a phrase that means you’re trying to convince someone of something they already believe, therefore, you’re wasting your time.

But then I took a look at that phrase from outside the box, and came up this. What does a choir do? Well, they sing. And can a choir actually hear anyone preaching to them while they’re singing? Probably not. So that means you’re trying to convince someone of something they’re not listening to. Either way, you’re wasting your time by preaching to the choir.

Seeing how I have an abundance of time to think, I’ve been doing a whole lots of that of late, and I’ve been doing a serious root cause analysis of my back problem and how to fix it.

While I might have a high pain tolerance level, I’ve never found high levels of pain to be all that much fun, so I’m highly motivated to change that.

* * * *

I’m not the first person in the world to retire, and I’m certainly not going to be the last. But I’m beginning to think I should’ve given more thought about my retirement plan beyond the financial aspect of it.

Granted, the financial part is critical. If you can’t afford to retire, you pretty much have to keep working, and if you’re forced to keep working, you won’t have to worry about what you’re going to do with your free time. So, problem solved, I guess.

The fact that we unexpectedly retired may have played a part in my lack of planning. Neither Lea nor I were planning on retiring last year. The only reason we did was because Lea was suddenly reorganized out of her position, and Phyllis and her friends had filled us in on the benefits of living in Mexico.

I’m not the kind of guy that does a lots of research into this kind of thing, so even if I would’ve had more time, I doubt I would’ve utilized it by looking into the Lakeside area. My lovely supermodel wife does that kind of stuff. She did all kinds of research before we moved here, so I would’ve ended up singing to the choir.

Back when I was working for a living, I always gave myself six months to adjust to a new job or a new position. In six months you’ll know almost everything you’ll need to know–whether you can can perform the task, what kind of people your co-workers are–that kind of stuff.

I’ve been in Mexico for four and an half months. My probation period is still in effect, but it’ll be over soon. I have a short amount of time to figure a few things out. Luckily for me, I have a really good group of people helping me out.

The Doctors

You get to work with a lots of different disciplines as a nurse. Social Work. Adjunctive Therapy. Physical Therapy. Laboratory. Dietary. Even Housekeeping.

But the most challenging discipline you’ll likely encounter is the doctor. Well, Dietary can be a real pain sometimes. You know who the sweetest people are? The housekeepers. I loved them, especially the housekeepers at Aurora.

Doctor shows are incredibly popular on TV. I have no idea why. I’ve spent years hanging around doctors, and I never found most of them to be that interesting.

TV doctors have changed a lots over the years. They used to be older, wise, fatherly figures that made house calls and took care of you and your family from birth to death and everything in between. Nowadays they’re young, pill-popping, supersexy smartass mannequins who perform some obscure lifesaving surgery, then go get drunk and have sex with another supersexy doctor or the nurse with the big tits.

From a nurse’s point of view, doctors can either make or break your day, depending on a wide variety of factors and variables. Sometimes the most difficult part of being a nurse is getting what you need from your doctor.

And as a psych nurse, mostly what you need from your doctor is good coffee in the morning, and a shitload of medications to offer your patients.

* * * *

My first psych nurse position was at the Minnesota State Hospital. You had to be certified crazy to be a patient there, and some of them were downright scary.

Vincent was a certified crazy, angry young man, and he often made threats of death and other types of destruction to the staff. I never found those situations to be especially fun, so I asked his doctor to maybe increase his meds, just a little.

Vincent’s doc was a tall guy named Bruce, who spent about five minutes a month meeting with his patients. When I spoke to Doctor Bruce and informed him how his patient had decompensated of late, and was threatening death and destruction to pretty much everyone, Doctor Bruce had this classic response:

“Well, Mark, we all have to die from something.”

* * * *

The next stop in my career was at the MVAMC, and I would stay there for almost twenty years. I would meet a lots of doctors there.

Doctor Bob was an older, wise, father figure guy who had been at the VA for eons. He was an alcoholic, but had quit drinking some years before we met. But that was all he did, and he was a mixed bag of moods most of the time.

We had a guy on our unit named Duane. Duane was a was what we called a non-compliant patient. He refused to take any medications. He refused to take part in any programming. Duane just wanted to eat and sleep and he was rather rude in his interactions with the staff.

Doctor Bob walked onto the unit one morning, and walked into Duane’s room. They had a brief, loud interaction, then Duane started screaming. Two seconds later, Doctor Bob emerged from Duane’s room with Duane in tow. He had grabbed Duane by the ankle, pulled him out of bed, dragged him down the hallway to the nearest dayroom, and told him to stay there.

Doctor Bob was investigated by the hospital for alleged patient abuse, and ended up getting a three day suspension. Anyone other than Doctor Bob would’ve been terminated immediately and most likely would’ve lost any professional licensing they had.

* * * *

Lori Suvalsky was my favorite doctor at the MVAMC, and my personal favorite doctor of all time. She knew her stuff, and was a very good doc, and she was hotter than July in Phoenix.

I’m very serious about that.

We took care of a lots of crazy people together, and she was the first doc I worked with that seriously listened not just to me, but all the nurses. As hard to believe as that might seem, a lots of doctors weren’t all that interested in what the nurses had to say. Doctor Lori absolutely loved the nursing notes I wrote. It was so refreshing working with her.

Doctor Lori spent a lots of time talking to her patients, and she almost always took the nurse caring for a patient with her to get input from the patient and the nurses. She was the only doc I worked with that consistently did that.

Doctor Lori wasn’t just the first doc I formed a professional relationship with, she was the first doc that I counted as a friend. We went out for drinks and dinner after work. We talked about the problems we had in our personal lives. She threw elegant parties and invited me and my lovely supermodel wife.

She told me I needed to quit smoking. I told her she had a nice ass. She helped me survive the traumatic aftermath when one of our patients committed suicide on our unit. When the VA decided to create an assistant head nurse position, she lobbied for me to get the job, and she had my back when I quit finally drinking.

She cried when I left Minneapolis and moved to Phoenix. Of all the people I would miss when I left the MVAMC, I missed her the most.

* * * *

I worked at several psych facilities in the Phoenix area, but it wasn’t until my third job that I found a doc I really liked. I worked with some decent doctors at the County and Del Webb, but there were some real losers, too. Especially at the County.

Hey, Dr Loser. We have a guy starting to escalate here. He’s hyperventilating and pacing. He just punched a hole in the solid concrete wall, and he’s threatening to kill everyone. What kind of injections would you like us to give him. Immediately!

No injections. Offer him Haldol 2 mg by mouth, and a half a milligram of Ativan.

Seriously? This guy is six foot five, and weighs about four bills. With all due respect, we’ve had four Code Blacks with this guy in the last three days. Yesterday we gave him ten of Haldol, two of Ativan and a hundred of Benadryl. And it finally caught up with him after we gave him a repeat dose!

Are you a doctor? Do you think you know more about this than I do? You don’t give me orders, I give orders to you! Do what I say!!

That might be an extreme illustration, but shit like that happened occasionally. The big badass guy would inevitably go off. Fifty staff members would come running, and there would be an huge wrestling match. We’d shoot the guy up with what we knew would work, and then get orders. If Dr Loser still refused to give us orders for what we needed, we’d call the Medical Director, and he’d sign off on them, then he’d call Dr Loser and chew him a new asshole.

* * * *

My favorite doctor at St Luke’s was Naveen Cherukuri. My favoritest thing about Naveen was listening to him tell a funny story. He would start laughing so hard I couldn’t understand a thing he said, but was still thoroughly entertained listening to it.

Naveen was also a really good doc, and he took care of the nurses. St Luke’s could be a really scary place to work at times, and Naveen wasn’t afraid to lock and load. I really liked working with him.

He married one of my favorite St Luke’s nurses, Stacey Supermodel. They have a couple kids now. Hopefully, they look like their mom…  Just kidding, Naveen. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I hope I do.

* * * *

I ended my semi-legendary psych nursing career at Aurora Behavioral Health, and I would work with several doctors there that I would come to view as not just colleagues, but good friends.

Bill Sbiliris was the primary doc on the Canyon Unit, my home at Aurora. We didn’t get along all that great at first. We probably had a similar opinion about each other: That arrogant sonuvabitch thinks he knows everything!

And then we discovered between the two of us we really did know everything, and we were both Minnesota Vikings fans, which was rare in Arizona. After that, we made a great team. Too bad our football team didn’t achieve similar greatness…

Doctor Bill also wasn’t afraid to lock and load medications. He was pretty easy to work with in that regard, and that made it easy for the nurses to drop the Canyon Hammer if we ever needed to.

Doctor Bill wasn’t so great at spending a lots of time with his patients. They called him Dr Drive-by. Be that as it may, Doctor Bill was a good guy to work with, and we stabilized a lots of crazy people together.

Doctor Bill also took very good care of the nurses. He usually stopped at Starbucks on his way to work and brought in a wide variety of caffeinated beverages for the nurses. He bought lunch for the nurses more consistently than any other doc I worked with, and he also threw great parties.

* * * *

Michael Fermo was another Aurora doc. He was also a very good doc, and another wizard of psychopharmacological management, and he spent a reasonable amount of time meeting with his patients.

Doctor Mike used to transfer a lots of patients to my unit. Fiona, the Queen of the World, was one of his patients. The nurses on his unit used to say their patients needed to spend some quality time in the Canyon. Doctor Mike used to say this: “I think they need some quality Mark time.”

That was a pretty high compliment.

For his especially difficult patients on my unit, we would do a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Doctor Mike always played the Bad Cop, and would rip his patient a new asshole, and then I’d put a band-aid on it and make it all better. And then we would laugh our asses off. We were incredibly successful, and there was mostly peace on the Canyon.

“How’s my boy doing today? Do I need to get all medieval on his ass again?” he’d ask.

“Nope. He’s got his damn mind right now.” I’d reply.

“Good. I love it when a plan comes together.”

And when it came to throwing epic parties, none of the docs I worked with could hold a candle to Doctor Mike. The only thing he didn’t have at his parties was strippers, even though I lobbied hard for them the next time.

* * * *

But my favorite Aurora doc was Reyes Topete. He was the staff addictionologist, and he was a freaking dream to work with. Whatever I needed for my detox patients, El Topete delivered.

“Give him Ativan 2 mg now, and set up a taper, 2 mg QID. I’ll see him when I come in and take care of the rest.” Or “Give her Subutex 8 mg now, and set up a four day taper. You need anything else?”

If I wanted a Subutex taper extended, no problem. If I wanted one stopped, it was done. If I thought we should add something, like phenobarbital, sure, why not. It was the same if I thought we should remove something from a patient’s med profile.

“You’re my eyes and ears on the unit.” he told me one day. “And if you tell me one of my patients needs something, or doesn’t need something, I trust you.”

As far as compliments from doctors go, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I told him about my drug use history, and he had trouble believing parts of it. Mostly the quitting part.

“And you just stopped? Cold turkey? Man, don’t tell my patients that! I have kids in college!!”

El Topete is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico–the Big City about forty miles away from where we’re currently living. He was thrilled when I told him we were going on vacation here the year before we retired.

“Really? I’m grew up in Guadalajara. You’re gonna love it! You have to go here, and there…” He was so excited he started speaking a combination of English and Spanish and probably a couple of languages no one has ever heard before, outside of a Star Wars® movie.

And when I told him we were retiring down here, he was jealous. At my retirement party, he cried. To this day, that touches me more than I can say.

* * * *

I’ve said before that I don’t miss working for a living, and that’s true. I’ve also said that I miss some of the people I used to work with. That is also true. I’ll probably travel back up to the States again from time to time, but I have no intention of staying there, and I sure as hell don’t plan on rejoining the workforce.

I’ll try to see as many of my friends as I can cram into any of our Stateside visits. But we do have a guest room here…

The Virgin Mary

1980.

It was the year I was in school studying to become a surgical technician, and it was significant in several ways. It would be the first major step I took toward a career in healthcare.

I was very good at scholastic endeavors, once I got beyond high school, so I was at the top of my class academically. My instructor was a graduate of the St Cloud Hospital School of Nursing, and was the first person to encourage me to go into nursing. She thought I’d make an excellent nurse. I think she even wrote a letter on my behalf to Sister Mary Jude to help me get into school.

Her name was Terri, and she was totally infatuated with me. She mentioned that more than once, and not just to me. She announced it to the entire class. In Terri’s defense, I reminded her of her ex-husband, and while they were no longer married, they remained good friends. She became a very good friend of mine.

1980 was the year I kind of saved my own bro’s life after his spleen ruptured. It was the year my brother, Bruce, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma wrapped around his right optic nerve and and needed brain surgery to remove it.

It was the year I finally got over my break up with my high school sweetheart, five years earlier, and fell victim to the total agony of love once more. And it was the year I got my DWI and ended up going into CD treatment at the St Cloud VA.

A lots of stuffs happened in that twelve month period. Sometimes it seems to me that half of my life occurred in that one year.

* * * *

Her name was Mary Terese Pyka. She was a farmer’s daughter from Royalton, MN. I met her at a wedding reception at the Royalton American Legion, I think. I can’t remember who got married. I may not have even been invited to the wedding. Be that as it may, I walked into the Legion, and saw Mary sitting at a table with a few other girls.

And, yes, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

I bought a couple beers, walked over to her table, and asked if she wanted to dance. In between dances, we talked. She was going to St Cloud State University, business major, and was a couple of years younger than me. I had taken several General Education classes at SCSU after I was discharged from the Army, so we had that in common.

Mary was smart and beautiful, two of my favorite qualities in a woman. She was about my height, long blonde hair, eyes as blue as the sky, azure pools a guy like me could get lost in, and a totally hot body.

We drank and danced the night away, and had a really good time. I told her I’d like to see her again, and she gave me her phone number.

I’ve always been rather partial to brunettes, so I was actually kind of surprised that I liked Mary as much as I did. Most, if not all, of the women I dated post-Maureen had dark hair and eyes, much like Maureen. And the more they resembled her, the better I liked them.

Mary didn’t physically resemble Maureen at all. If she resembled any woman I’d previously had a crush on, it was Judy Kostelecky, my seventh grade classmate who got dead way too soon.

* * * *

I was about halfway through with my surgical technician training when I met Mary. I did half of my OR clinicals at the St Cloud Hospital, and the other half at Unity Medical Center in Coon Rapids. I had just moved into an apartment across the street from police department in Coon Rapids with my buddy, Gary Miklos. I think that was the last time we were roommates.

I called Mary a few days after the wedding reception, and we talked for a couple of hours. We talked on the phone a few times, and we really seemed to hit it off. I asked her out. We agreed to meet at the Ground Round in St Cloud. She went to school and worked in St Cloud, so she would already be in town. It was a Wednesday night in early May. I told Gary where I was going, and who I was meeting. He knew who Mary was. She was a sophomore at Royalton High when he was a senior there.

I bought a single long stemmed pink Gerbera daisy, and gave it to Mary when we met in the parking lot. We had a couple of drinks and dinner, and talked and talked. I told her some of my Army stories, and made her laugh a lots.

She told me a lots of stuffs about herself. And one of the things she disclosed was she had never had sex. I just about choked on a handful of peanuts.

“Let me get this straight. You’re twenty-two years old, and you’re still a virgin?”

“Yep. I’ve been saving myself for my husband, and my wedding night.”

“Wow. I didn’t think girls like you existed anymore.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, just a surprising thing. Given my checkered past, I didn’t think I’d ever meet the Virgin Mary in person.”

In the parking lot, I asked if I could kiss her. She smiled, and nodded. She was a very good kisser. In that regard, she reminded me very much of Maureen.

* * * *

I know I fell deeply in love with Mary in a very short amount of time, and she fell equally hard for me. I was the first guy she fell in love with, so everything was new and exciting to her. I was probably ready to give love another chance, but I was surprised by how quickly she broke through all of my defenses. No one had been able to do that since Maureen. We started dating seriously, and spent as much time with each other as we could fit into our schedules.

I drove out to the farm to meet her parents. Her dad loved me. Her mother hated me. I took her to The Ranch to meet my family. My parents loved her. She was a darling young woman.

I sent flowers to the farm, and her workplace. I sent her cutesy romantic cards. We talked on the phone almost every day that didn’t see each other. We talked about our respective days. We talked about getting married. We talked about everything and anything. My phone bill was off the charts.

When we were together, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We kissed for hours. More than once Mary looked me in the eye and said she no longer cared if she was still a virgin when she got married, but I thought her dream was really very sweet, and almost sacred. I actually declined to take advantage of her.

Yeah, I can’t believe it either. I think my affair with Nadina had everything to do with my response. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tempted to pluck that cherry, but by not plucking it when it was so freely offered would hopefully balance the scales a little more in my favor with God, maybe. It’s probably what I thought at the time at any rate.

That only made her love me more. As for me, I couldn’t have loved her more if I had tried. I was happier than I had been in years. I was finally getting my life together. I was doing well in school. I had job offers from both of the hospitals I was training at. And I had a gorgeous girlfriend that was crazy about me.

Life, as I saw it, couldn’t have gotten any better. And if that was true, it could mean only one thing.

* * * *

On Labor Day, Gary and I bought a keg, and had a little party at a park several miles from our apartment. It was a warm, sunny day. We played Frisbee and listened to music. It wasn’t a big party, maybe twelve to fifteen people, and I drank a whole lots of beer in a very short time.

I got a DWI driving back to my apartment in Coon Rapids. I was taken to the police department across the street from my apartment, and booked. My BAL was 0.28, almost three times the legal limit. I knew I was guilty of drinking and driving, so I decided to give my full and complete cooperation to the cop that was processing my violation. I was such a nice guy about the whole thing, the cop actually apologized to me.

“Most of the guys I bust for DWI’s are real dicks, you know, cussing and swearing and lots of lip. But you’ve been really nice about this. I almost feel sorry for busting you.”

“Hey, you were only doing your job. And I clearly deserved it.” I said. And I meant it.

I was given a ticket, and a court date. And because I had been such a decent guy about the whole thing, the cop drove me across the street to my apartment, rather than lock me up. He wished me well as he drove off to serve and protect the community once more.

Believe it or not, that actually happened.

I have no clear recollection of what happened the rest of that day. I’m not sure when I told Mary what happened, but I do know she cried herself to sleep that night. And the next time I saw her she told me I had broken her heart.

“I don’t know, maybe this is what happens when you fall in love.” she said, her eyes full of tears. I had no verbal response, so I held her close and we kissed until we both felt better. But it was only a temporary fix. My DWI was the beginning of the start of the end of our relationship.

* * * *

I made arrangements to check into the St Cloud VA before I ever set foot in the courtroom. I figured it would make me look better to the judge. I was given a $450.00 fine, and 45 days in jail. The jail time was suspended pending my successful completion of a licensed CD treatment program.

I had just successfully completed my surgical technician training, and then checked into treatment at the beginning of October. I would spend roughly the next ninety days at the St Cloud VA.

Mary came to visit me. She was still in love with me, and happy that I was getting the help I needed. However, there was this one little thing. Mary’s mother was very upset that I had entered an alcohol treatment program.

“Would she be happier if I just kept drinking?” I asked. Mary merely shrugged in response.

We talked frequently on the phone, and she visited occasionally, but her visits became less frequent, and she seemed distracted at the beginning of our visits. I attributed it to her being the only woman in a room with, like, fifty former drunk guys, and most of the them couldn’t stop staring at her. She was kind of totally gorgeous.

She came to see me on my birthday. I could tell by the look on her face something was very different this time.

“I have something very difficult to tell you. I started dating another guy.” she said, looking at the floor. “I think my relationship with you will be too complicated for my family.”

“You mean, your mom.”

“Yes.” she said, looking at me. “You’re a really sweet guy, but my family comes first to me. And especially my mom.”

“Man. This totally fucking sucks.” I said. “Just tell me his name isn’t Rick…”

I know I tried to talk her out of breaking up with me. It had taken me five years to give my heart to the extent that I had with her, and I really didn’t want to have it broken again. But Mary wouldn’t be swayed by anything I said, and that was that. I walked Mary out to her car, and kissed her goodbye. I watched her car as drove off, then stood in the parking lot for several minutes, holding the freshly broken pieces of my heart in my hands, thinking I was done with love forever.

It was the last time I ever saw Mary Terese Pyka.

As I was walking back into the hospital, I couldn’t help but think, I totally should have fucked her when I had the chance!!

* * * *

I was discharged from the hospital the following Friday. My counselors wanted to keep me in the hospital longer, in view of the fact that my relationship with Mary had just dissolved, and I had been very open with them about what had happened when my relationship with Maureen had gone south.

Yeah, I was still talking about that in my group therapy sessions, and how much of an impact it had had on my life.

My counselors didn’t think I’d be able to stay sober for an hour if I was discharged. I actually don’t know how I stayed sober as long as I did. In retrospect, I stayed sober to prove to my counselors and Mary’s mom that they were wrong about me.

I called Mary a couple of times after I got out of the hospital, but she had moved on, and asked me not to call her again. I called her mom once. I told myself it was part of my making amends, but mostly I wanted to know why she disliked me as much as she did.

“I just think my daughter could do better than you.” she said, and hung up the phone.

As much as I hated Mary’s mom for hating me, and most likely being the driving force behind her daughter’s decision to break up with me, I had an immense amount of respect for Mary for making the decision she made for the reasons that she did. I wouldn’t have chosen my family over her if our positions had been reversed. In fact, out of all the people I’ve ever known, she’s probably the only person who would’ve done that.

I spent hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. I thought about killing myself, but I knew that was something I would never attempt again, no matter how appealing it seemed at the time. My mom would drop into my room occasionally and give me short pep talks. My dad told me to get my head out of my ass and get a job.

Thanks, dad. I know I didn’t think much of your advice at the time, but you were right. You were right about a lots of things I never acknowledged.

I applied for a surgical technician position at St Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN. They were hiring, and I needed a change of scenery. I got a call from the hospital saying I wouldn’t be hired because I had just completed treatment for alcoholism. I thought about it for about a week, then filed a discrimination lawsuit against St Mary’s Hospital with the State of Minnesota.

Five years later, shortly after I enrolled in nursing school, my attorney and their team of attorneys would reach an agreement that I agreed to never discuss.

In essence, the hospital didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing when they decided not to hire me after getting treatment for my alcohol problem, and the hospital slipped me several thousand dollars to make me go away.

My attorney advised me to take the deal, and after five years of legal wranglings, I took it, even though I really wanted St Mary’s to have to admit to all kinds of wrongdoing.

* * * *

Of all the women I’ve loved and lost, I have the most questions about Mary. Would I have stayed sober if we had stayed together? I probably never would’ve met Nancy, or her dead husband. And then I never would’ve gone to Wyoming…

Sometimes I wonder, and that’s all. I don’t wish I had a time machine. Given the Law of Equilibrium and Balance that governs time travel, the South would probably end up winning the Battle of Gettysburg if I found a way to stay together with Mary, and I’m not willing to accept that as a fair and equitable trade.

Would her mom have ever changed her mind about me? Would my children with Mary really be as bad as I was in my youth? I think the answer to that has to be Yes! 

Maureen and Mary were the only two women I would’ve been willing to make babies with, and God made sure we didn’t stay together so He wouldn’t have to break His promise and flood the planet once more.

I’m grateful to God for that, as heartbreaking as it was for me.

And there’s this: God might have actually spoken to me if I had fathered any children, but He probably would’ve told me to kill them, like unto He did with Abraham. But unlike Abraham, He wouldn’t have offered me a way out.

That Mother’s Curse. That’s not something even God wants to mess with…

I’ve tried to find Mary on social media. She has a LinkedIn profile, but I’ve never tried to contact her as much as part of me wants to. I tell myself she got fat, and looks totally matronly now, like her mother, wearing those floral gingham dresses. And I think to myself, thank you, Lord, for sparing me from that fate!

I have no idea who she married. I’m sure he’s a decent man, but a better man than me? Yeah, that’s not happening. And in terms of a stellar life partner, I know I couldn’t have done any better than I did with my lovely supermodel wife.

All in all, my life has turned out far better than I expected it would. And I’ve lived far longer than I ever thought I would. I’m retired, and living in paradise. Except for varying degrees of back pain, life couldn’t get much better.

I’ll take the back pain. Maybe that’ll help postpone things going totally all to hell again any time soon…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

If you don’t die to death from SIDS, you’ll probably live long enough to lose someone you love to death. A friend, a sibling, a parent, grandparents, someone. Death is out there, waiting. Sooner or later, it will come calling for us all.

As a nurse, I was exposed to a fair amount of death. People are generally hospitalized because there’s something wrong with them, and sometimes that thing can kill you to death. As a result, people tend to sometimes got dead when they check into the hospital to be treated for whatever ailment they happen to be being treated for.

I couldn’t tell you how many of my former patients got dead during my career. A whole lots. That’s a guess. And as a nurse I can tell you, you get used to death. Some of those deaths were shocking, and saddening. Some of them were not.

But death isn’t always part of the job, and then it’s personal. And those are almost always very saddening.

The first person in my family I remember dying to death was my mother’s dad. My grandfather woke up one summer morning in 1972 complaining of a severe headache. My grandmother gave him a shot of brandy, her cure-all for everything, and then he collapsed to the kitchen floor. He died in the hospital a few hours later of a massive stroke.

His funeral was the first funeral I attended.

Death has taken a lots of my friends and family members over the years. The first of my friends was a girl I knew in the seventh grade. Judy Kostelecky. She was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Yeah, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. She might be the first girl I fell in love with. She died of leukemia in 1973.

Lou Ann Dougherty was one of my classmates in high school. She died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1974. She was one of my high school sweetheart’s best friends. Lou Ann’s death was an enormous collective shock to my entire class.

There was nothing I could’ve done to save any of them, but I might have been able to save Mike Perkins, the clerk of court at my court-martial, if I had believed Roy Bowman when he said he was going to kill Mike to death.

* * * *

Roy was a low-level drug dealer on Fort Sill when I met him, but he wanted to be an higher level drug dealer. I had made a few transactions with Roy in the year or so I that had known him. He sold a little bit of everything, weed, speed, PCP. His weed wasn’t the highest quality, but everything else he sold was top-notch.

Roy dropped in at my room in the barracks a few days before Mike’s murder. Roy was upset, and was venting to me as we got high and drank beer, and was hoping to gain some information from me.

Roy wanted my opinion on who had ratted him out. I’ll never be able to figure out why, but I was the guy a lots of guys talked to when they were trying to figure out certain aspects of their lives. Like I was so well put together or something.

“Roy, what you do is a supply and demand business. And you can supply what a lots of us are demanding. I can’t think of anyone, especially anyone in this barracks, who would rat you out.”

He told me he thought it was Mike, but I can’t remember why. I replied it could just as easily have been anyone else, but it most definitely wasn’t me. And then Roy said something like unto this, “Well, I know this. As soon as I find out who it is, I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!”

I’ve heard a lots of people say that line when they were upset, but the thing is, I doubt any of them would’ve actually killed anyone to death, even if they had the means and the opportunity. It’s something people say, but they rarely ever mean it. So I wasn’t overly concerned by Roy’s statement at the time.

As a matter of fact, I pretty much forgot all about it.

Four days after my court-martial proceedings, Roy  ran into Mike at one of the stripper bars in Lawton, the Play Pen Lounge. One of the fabric free shoe models I dated danced there. The place was a dump, and that’s a generous description of it.

There was a confrontation in the parking lot, and a lots of yelling and cursing and stuff. Roy shoved Mike into his car, and drove about twenty miles outside of town to Rush Lake. He beat Mike to death with his fists and a tire iron, then threw Mike’s body in the lake. Mike’s body was found the following day by a fisherman.

I was a little freaked out by Mike’s murder when I heard about it, but only because he had been murdered, and he was the first person I knew who got dead by being killed to death by another human being. I didn’t put two and two together until Roy was actually arrested.

I remembered my conversation with Roy when one of the guys in the barracks told me Roy had been arrested for murder, and I told him what Roy had said, but I didn’t think he would really kill Mike to death!

“Wow! You’re lucky Roy didn’t kill you, too!” he said. That was an unsettling thought, but in a few months I’d be too busy fucking up my life to give any thought to how Roy had fucked up his life.

* * * *

When I was a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, I worked at Grant County Hospital. It was maybe a thirty bed hospital, and it would close its doors a few years after I left. But while it existed, it provided a valuable service to the people in the community.

It was good for me, too. I had completed my alcohol rehab at the St Cloud VA in December of the previous year, and that was the only lengthy period of sobriety I would have for the next twenty-five years.

One of the people that I became friends with was a lab technician named Nancy. We were about the same age, and we had similar interests. Her parents lived just outside of Little Falls, just like mine. Nancy was married to a guy named Jerry. He was a biker guy and a professional house painter. They bought an old  farm house outside of Elbow Lake, and Jerry was systematically renovating the interior.

I helped him prep a couple of the rooms upstairs. He had a bad knee from a motorcycle accident, and kneeling was difficult for him. I would’ve helped him paint, but Jerry didn’t trust anyone else enough with a brush to accept any help with that.

About a week after he finished his renovations, one of his neighbors needed help erecting an utility pole in the yard of his farm. He wanted better lighting in his driveway, so he bought a telephone pole. All he needed to do was stand it up in his front yard.

Jerry was one of those guys that would do anything for a friend, and he volunteered to help. He held one of the guide ropes while the forty foot post was slowly raised. The operation was going smoothly, and then it wasn’t. A gust of wind caught the beam just right, it shifted and wobbled, then teetered and tottered, and then it fell. Everyone went running for cover, everyone but Jerry.

According to the neighbors, he stood where he was, watching the pole as desended toward him, and did not move. The pole hit him on the top of his head, killing him to death instantly.

* * * *

I was working in the OR that day. There weren’t any surgeries scheduled for that afternoon, so I was doing some random dusting and cleaning, and looking for something to do. I eagerly responded to the call for any available staff at the ambulance dock. When I saw who the passenger in the ambulance was, I had to sit down. The right side of Jerry’s head was unharmed. He looked like he could’ve been sleeping. But the left side of his head was a total fucking mess.

Jerry looked like he’d been beaten to death with a truckload of sledgehammers.

Nancy wasn’t in any shape to drive home, and I wasn’t in any shape to stay at work. My boss gave me the rest of the day off. I took Nancy home and stayed with her until her mother drove up from Little Falls. Then I went to the nearest bar, and ordered a beer. I had been sober for nine months. I didn’t get drunk that night, but I would a few nights later, and many, many times after that.

It was grief and loss and bereavement that brought Nancy and I together. Not exactly the things that are the foundation of most relationships. So, probably not a big surprise that our relationship went down the drain.

We moved to Wyoming, and we somehow managed to stay together for a year and an half. I moved out of our apartment in Lusk at least twice, but decided to give it another try or two before we both finally agreed staying together would be the worst thing we could do.

* * * *

Death can change your life. Ask Mary Todd Lincoln. Ask Lyndon Baines Johnson. And it’s impact is even more severe if you happen to be the person that gots dead.

Death is what it is. It’s a part of life, not an especially fun part, and its effects can be devastating. But life goes on, and it doesn’t stop and wait for you to catch up.

Life doesn’t care about death, no matter how intimately intertwined they might be. Life doesn’t care how torn up you are because of death, or how unready you might feel about getting back into the race.

Life only cares about what’s going to happen next, and that’s all. Life never stops to look back down the path. The vital force that is Life knows only one direction, and it only has one gear.

Forward.

When it comes to death, the only thing that eases the pain is time. And the amount of time required for each person to adjust to the loss caused by death can vary greatly. And for some people, not even time can heal those wounds.

A very good friend of mine just lost her mother, and she is in a world of pain right now. She happens to be a nurse, so she’s not a stranger to death, but it was her mother, and you only have one Mom.

I grieve with my friend, and feel her pain. I lost my mom nine years ago, and I miss her still. I lost my dad six years ago, and I miss him, too.

I’m getting to the point in my life where the generation that preceded mine has mostly passed on. My generation is now on the front line, and death is starting to pick us off, one by one. In another twenty years, most of us will have passed on. My nieces and nephews will become the Old Guard, and if we’re fortunate, they’ll remember us, and speak kindly of us, and maybe shed a tear or two.

And life, will go on.

Love is a Battlefield

Hey. How’s it going?

I’ve been taking a break from writing. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been going out into the town. We made a couple of trips to the Big City to buy some accessories for the house, and I’ve been doing some guy stuff in my bodega/workshop/man cave. It’s all been good.

My back is finally starting to feel better, and that’s another good thing. I actually screwed it up a couple of days ago, but I ended up screwing it up back to where it was before I screwed it up, if that makes any sense.

It feels good to be feeling better and doing something productive again.

* * * *

I started working for a living at the age of sixteen. I retired from the workforce at the age of sixty. During my years of gainful employment, I probably worked the night shift for thirty years, give or take.

I liked working nights, for the first twenty years. It was mostly quiet, and there were no bosses hanging around. I could pretty much do whatever I liked, and it gave me ample opportunity to read. I was a voracious reader at one time in my life.

But working nights takes its toll on you over time. You never really sleep, and you end up feeling kind of fuzzy all the time. I ended up hating working nights.

Some of my nocturnal positions included registered nurse, of course. I was also a long distance operator for the telephone company, a police dispatcher and perhaps the catchiest one of all: I worked 11-7 at a 7-11.

I was living in Lusk, WY at the time, and I think it was 1982. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. Lusk is a small town in eastern Wyoming. I was living with a gal named Nancy at that time. I met her when I was working as a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, MN. She was a lab technician at the hospital I worked at.

Nancy was married when I first met her, and before you start thinking I spent my life breaking the Seventh Commandment as often as I could, Nancy’s husband, Jerry, got dead very unexpectedly, and that was how we got together. When she decided to move to Wyoming, I decided to go with her.

Yeah, there’s another complicated story I’ll have to get around to telling someday…

I made some good friends during the year or so that I lived there. Jim, the town dentist, who came down with Guillain-Barré syndrome and almost got dead. His darling wife, Deb. Their best friend, a guy who called himself Spud because he was from Idaho.

Spud was a good guy. We drank a lots of beers together at one of the local bars and smoked a lots of weed. He got me involved with the Lusk Jaycees, and we did a lots of community service stuff.

There was Laurie and Dean, teachers at the high school. They got married. Dina, the hot little waitress at The Pub Saloon. That was the local bar. I kind of wanted to marry Dina. Spud really wanted to marry Dina. I hope he did.

They were good people. I loved them all. Perhaps somewhat noticeable in her absence in the above list is Nancy. Well, I didn’t love her, and she didn’t love me. Like I said, it was complicated.

I always thought I’d end up back in Lusk again someday, but that was not to be. It’s weird how life turns out sometimes…

* * * *

The 7-11 store I worked at was on Cedar Street, the main drag in Lusk. There were maybe 1,500 people living in and around Lusk, so there wasn’t a whole lots of customers in the store during the dead of night. Most of my customers at night were vacationers trying to get somewhere other than Lusk. Lusk was the kind of place people were from, not the place many people were going to.

The city cops and county sheriffs would drop in at the store from time to time and shoot the breeze, and I’d comp them coffee. That probably helped me get hired as their dispatcher.

Like all small towns, everyone knew everybody, and everybody knew everyone else’s business. Guys like me were a rarity. No one my age moved to Lusk, they usually moved out.

The hardest part of the job was staying awake until 5:00 AM until the morning rush when everyone in town dropped in to buy gas and coffee and stuff. I spent most of my shift cleaning the store and arranging display items.

When my shift ended, the day shift gal would relieve me. Her name was Wendy. She lived in an Airstream® trailer on the outskirts of town with her boyfriend and her three kids.

Yeah, you read that correctly. An Airstream®, about the size of a walk-in closet, maybe. It wasn’t even a trailer house. And I have no idea how she could do that either.

Wendy was a nice young gal. She was the assistant manager of the store, and she knew what she was doing at the store. Her kids were cute, like her. I didn’t like her boyfriend. No one in town did.

Well, his name was Rick.

* * * *

I think I had been working at the 7-11 for about a month the night it happened. It was a Friday night around 2:00 AM. I was sweeping the floor, so I could mop the floor, when a white Jeep pulled up to the gas pumps. I saw the Jeep out of the corner of my eye, but I didn’t give it much attention until I heard a woman scream.

I turned to the sound, and saw Rick’s fist smash into Wendy’s face. She fell heavily to the ground. As she crawled to her hands and knees trying to get up, Rick kicked her in the ribs several times, then delivered one last monster kick, like he was trying to kick an eighty yard field goal.

He had to have broken every rib on the left side of her body.

I dropped the broom and ran for the door. Did I just see what I thought I just saw? I wondered. Rick had gotten back into the Jeep by the time I reached the door, and started driving off. Fast!

I thought Wendy had to have gotten dead after the punch and all the kicks she had received, but she jumped up to her feet, and ran the Jeep down as it turned onto Cedar Street. Then she punched the window out of the passenger door and leapt inside the Jeep as it made the jump to lightspeed and disappeared in the darkness.

I stood in the parking lot for a minute or two, still trying to figure out if I had actually seen what I just saw, or if I had imagined it all. When I found Wendy’s purse by the gas pumps, and the thousands of pieces of tempered glass littering the parking lot, I knew it had been real.

I took Wendy’s purse inside and called the police.

* * * *

The cops arrived within minutes. They wrote down my statement, and decided to drive out to Wendy’s Airstream® to make sure she was still alive.

“Aren’t you going arrest him?” I asked.

“Well, if Wendy wants to press charges this time we will, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and she wouldn’t file charges any of the other times.”

“How many times are we talking about here?” I asked. The two officers looked at each other and scratched their heads.

“What is this? The fourth time?” one of them asked.

“I think it’s the fifth.” the other replied.

“Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“Jesus! That’s fuckin’ terrible!”

“Yep. Damn shame.”

* * * *

I swept the parking lot that night, cleaning up the blizzard of pieces of glass, then I went back inside the store and mopped the floor. The police returned in an hour or two. They had Rick with them. He wasn’t wearing handcuffs. The cops drove him to the store to retrieve Wendy’s purse. Rick was too drunk drive back to the store himself. I handed the purse over to him.

“I’m really sorry about what happened.” he said.

“I’m not the person you should be apologizing to.” I replied. As Rick was walking out the door, one of the cops turned to look at me.

“Who’s relieving you?” he asked.

“Wendy…”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. We tried to take her to the hospital. She refused. She won’t be back here for at least a week.”

* * * *

Wendy called around 5:00 AM to tell me she couldn’t come in. I told her I was surprised she was still alive.

“Oh, it was all my fault. I was drunk and I started nagging Rick about getting a job again. I had to open my big mouth, and, well, I had it coming.”

“Wendy, I don’t care what you said, no one deserves to be beaten the way you were! That guy should be in jail!”

“No, don’t say that! He’s a good guy, really.”

“He’s a scumbag! I can’t believe you’re defending him after what he did to you!”

But she did, like he was the fucking Hero of the World or something. It was my first exposure to Battered Woman Syndrome. It’s a psychological condition the victim develops after years of being abused, resulting in a sort of learned helplessness.

I would come to know a whole lots of battered women who seemingly had their brains turned into Silly Putty® by their abusive partners during my career as a psych nurse. It’s a tricksy thing to treat, surpassed only by eating disorders in my opinion.

Suffice to say my fifteen minute conversation with Wendy didn’t do much of anything to change her mindset or her situation. She eventually came back to work. She continued to live with Rick in their closet on wheels.

I would leave the 7-11 not long after witnessing the brutal beating Wendy received from the guy that loved her. The cops were hiring, and I became their night dispatcher. I can’t remember how long I worked for the police, but when my strange relationship with Nancy fell apart, I decided to get out of town, and moved back to Minnesota in 1983.

I would start nursing school in 1985.

Like most of the things in my past, memories pop into my head at odd times, unbidden, yet somehow insistent that they be recalled, and perhaps admired before they’re returned to shelf where memories are stored.

It surprises me how things that were once so shiny and bright fade over time, and how things that were dark and miserable can take on a glimmer and sheen that were unimaginable at the time they happened.

I’m doing a lots of reminiscing of late. Maybe that’s what people do when they retire. Life. So sad, and so beautiful. So strange at times, and so sweet. And sometimes, far too short.