Vision

It’s the Independence Day weekend in Mexico. El dia de independencia. 16 de septiembre. On that date in the year 1810, the cry of freedom first rang out in Mexico, and the revolt against the fucking Spaniards began.

¡Viva, México!

This weekend inaugurates what I’ve come to call fiesta season in the Lakeside Area. It’s more or less one big party down here from now until Christmas. Lea has actually looked up all of the annual national and local holidays. There’s something like unto ten thousand of them.

I call it, Los Meses Que Nadie Duerme. The Months That No One Sleeps. The locals don’t sleep because they’re celebrating! And the gringos don’t sleep because there’s no such thing as a quiet celebration in Mexico.

Neither Lea nor I got any sleep last night. A loud party nearby kept us awake until 2:30 AM. There was music. And singing. And storytelling. And laughter. And I’m going to guess all of that was fueled by a lots of alcohol. Then our four kit-tens took over when the celebration finally died down. Yes, we now have four felines and Casa Tara has become a cathouse.

I’ll get to that later.

* * * *

The Minnesota Vikings played their arch rivals, the Green Bay Packers in their biggest game of the young NFL season today. The Vikings were favored to win, so they played their worst game and lost 21-16.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Or even disappointed. I’ve learned to accept the fact that my team just doesn’t do well with high expectations. I’m going to hope that they’re able to get their act together and play better. It’s either that or give up on football and take up ballet. Or fishing. Or anything else.

The Detroit Lions won yesterday. I’m still considering them as my new team. They’ve sucked for years, so any game they win is a pleasant surprise.

* * * *

The Vision is a fictional superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe®. He’s an android created by Ultron, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor. He possesses the Mind Stone, one of the Infinity Stones that Thanos collected so he could exterminate half of all life in the universe.

Vision is the faculty or state of being able to see. Sight is one of the five senses. It’s arguably the most important one of the bunch. Most people I know like to be able to see what they’re doing. When people talk about sight they rarely use the word vision. Vision seems to have taken on a long range connotation in the minds of many people.

Except when you’re drunk. Then there’s that whole double vision thing…

And that’s all I have to say about that.

* * * *

I haven’t been able to write lately. Actually, I haven’t been able to do much of anything. There’s a reason for that.

I recently got a new pair of glasses.

* * * *

Little Known Fact About Me: I’m more or less legally blind without corrective lenses. I’ve been wearing eyeglasses since the third grade. I probably should have been wearing them in the womb. I’m terribly nearsighted. I’m also farsighted. And I have astigmatism. Oh, and sometimes I can’t see colors so good. I probably should have learned Braille. But even if I had, the keyboard on my Notebook isn’t equipped with it, so there’s that.

* * * *

There’s nothing wrong with my old glasses. I’ve had my current pair of glasses for almost five years. The lenses are getting a little scratched up, but that’ll happen over time. I can still see out of them, and that’s really the only purpose eyeglasses serve.

I’m not sure why I decided to get new glasses. My lovely supermodel wife got new glasses this year. So did my golf wife. They both look super cute. Lea actually looks like a really hot librarian. It would appear I thought it was my turn…

Normally, something like this wouldn’t have a major impact in my life, but in this case there was one small, insignificant detail. I couldn’t see much of anything with my new glasses.

I wear progressive bifocals. Hey, I’m old, okay? I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain what went wrong, and this is the best I can do: I live in a Central Time Zone, but my right eye was seeing in the Eastern Time Zone, and my left eye was seeing in the Mountain Time Zone.

Everything was clear, then it was fuzzy, then it was blurry, then it was distorted. And then the process started all over again. It was déjà vu, jamais vu, and goo goo g’joob all rolled together into one disturbing optical illusion.

My eyes were sending so much contradictory stimuli to my brain I started hallucinating. For someone as loosely held together as myself, it was the last thing I needed. I was pretty sure a bunch of ninjas were trying to sneak up on me because that’s what I was seeing out of the corners of my eyes. When I tried to focus on them, the ninjas disappeared. It made sense to me at the time. That’s kinda what ninjas do…

* * * *

Another Little Known Fact About Me: I don’t look crazy, but I have at least four Axis I psychiatric diagnoses, and at least one Axis II diagnosis. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have more. I’m not going to elaborate on any of them, but I’ve never taken any psych meds. I’ve learned to adapt to the kooky way my brain works, mostly by trying to ignore it, and rarely taking anything that goes on inside of my head too seriously.

If you don’t know what Axis I or II are, look them up on the Google®. They’re all in the DSM-IV. It’s the Big Book of What’s Wrong With You for Psychiatry. And you should probably know that there’s no diagnosis of Normal.

Be that as it may, I…suffer…from frequent unpleasant intrusive thoughts. If they weren’t so unpleasant, I don’t think there’d be any suffering involved. It’s one of the reasons I tried drinking myself into a coma for three decades.

I don’t hear voices, but I do have thought insertions. They can also be intrusive. And unpleasant. And, they can sometimes be misinterpreted as voices. Thought insertion is a somewhat uncommon symptom: I sometimes feel my thoughts are not my own, but rather belong to someone else and have been inserted into my mind.

You know, like, whenever I actually have a good idea.

* * * *

I got my new glasses last Saturday, so that’s when my corrected vision problems started. I figured it was just the new prescription, you know, my eyes would adjust. I wore them last Sunday when I went golfing. It was the worst round of golf I’ve played since I quit drinking. I finally ended up doing this:

tf8kqZ

As ridiculous as it might sound, this classic bit of advice actually worked for me. Once I stopped trying to see the ball, I could actually hit it better. I might have accidentally learned something from essentially being blind, and Caddyshack.

Feeling the golf course, finding a form of oneness with it. Seeing not with your eyes, but with your mind. It was oddly spiritual, and even more oddly, relaxing. I don’t recommend this method to improve your golf game to anyone. To be honest, I’d rather be able to see.

I went golfing today with my old glasses, my new Tour Edge® putter, my golf wife, Phyllis, and our friends, Tom and Cheryl. For the most part, I think I putted better today, but I also discovered I’m still capable of three putting.

Motherfucker Osmond Brothers!

The biggest problem with any golf club is they all have manual transmissions. There’s no D for drive. There’s no cruise control. There’s no semi-autonomous driver-assist features. They are all subject to user error.

But something amazing happened to me on the front nine today. For the first time in my life, I did not fuck up a single fairway shot. I nailed every one of them, setting myself up for all of the things golfers dream about: eagles, birdies, and pars.

Unfortunately, reality decided to tag along. My chipping game still needs some serious tweaking.

* * * *

I think I tried getting used to my new glasses for four days, then gave up and put my old glasses back on, then went to see Kristi, the sweet young lady that runs the optical shop where I bought my glasses. My new glasses are under warranty, so she’s going to have a new pair made with my old prescription.

I’m sure there were several factors involved in the process that resulted in my incorrect corrective lenses. There have already been a few steps in the process to re-correct them, and there’ll probably be a few more. But it probably won’t be as arduous as getting our refrigerator fixed.

By the way, that’s still working. I’m starting to believe it’s not going to break down again this time.

* * * *

Last Thursday, we welcomed two more kit-tens into our household:

IMG_20190916_123442

Behold, Sadie and Sammy. We’re going to rid of all our dark clothing

Planet Janet, our former landlady, asked us if we could help out her best friend, Neelam. Neelam is being treated for cancer, and she could no longer care for her three dogs and two cats.

We didn’t want the dogs, so we took the kit-tens.

Sadie is a Champagne Tonkinese mix female. I’m not sure if she’s a Mexican kit-ten, or if she’s a gringa gatita, but she is the cutest, littlest little kit-ten, ever! She’s roughly seven weeks older than our purebred Mexican street kit-tens, Mika and Mollie.

Sammy is a five year old male of undetermined lineage, but he’s probably a purebred Mexican street kit-ten, too. I think he’s half white tiger — like unto the tigers Seigfried and Roy used to have in their magic act — and half polar bear. He. Is. One. BIG. Kit-ten.

His real name is Sonny, but Lea kept calling him Sammy because of Samantha, our first kit-ten. I suggested we change his name. He’s a cat. It’s not like he’s not going to come when you call his name, you know, like he’s a dog.

Sonny/Sammy. What’s the difference? If he wants anything from you, he’ll let you know. If he doesn’t, he’ll ignore you, like any other cat.

Sammy appears to understand that he’s the only male in a house full of kit-tens, and if he plays his cards right he’s going to end up with a harem of adoring females. He already has Lea won over. He is one cool cat, and he knows it.

* * * *

The transition hasn’t been easy for any of our kit-tens. Sadie and Sammy are freaked out because they’re in a new place and the woman who had taken care of them has disappeared. Mika and Mollie are freaked because of the new kit-tens on the block and no one asked them if they were okay with this new arrangement.

If anyone reading this knows any tricks to introducing new pets into a household, I am willing to hear anything you have to say.

I know as much about being a parent as I do about algorithms, and that would be next to nothing. You could ask my stepdaughters. I’m pretty sure I sucked at it. But I figured our new kit-tens would need a safe place to readjust to their new environment, so we set them up in the den. It’s a huge room, and we rarely use it.

Sadie and Sammy essentially hid in the den for one day. We checked on them frequently so they could get used to us and sound of our voices and stuff. Then they came out into the living room and started exploring.

Mika and Mollie jumped up to the top of one of the bookcases and looked down on everything with kit-ten amazement. It’s been sort of a North/South thing ever since. Sadie and Sammy mostly occupy the South Wing of the house. Mika and Mollie mostly hold the North Wing and occupy the high vantage points in the living room, dining room, and the kitchen.

I’m not Doctor Fuckin’ Doolittle. I can’t talk to the animals and explain that we took the new kit-tens in because they would have been put to sleep if we hadn’t. I’m sure our first rescue kit-tens wouldn’t want that to happen to any kit-ten, and then they’d settle down.

There haven’t been any battles, but there’s been some aggressive posturing and a fair amount of blustery speech. It’s like unto the cold war between the US and the USSR back in the day. Except Saturday night when all four kit-tens ran into each other in our bedroom and all hell broke loose.

That’s when Lea and I decided we needed to trim the needle sharp talons of death on all of our kit-tens. That job was actually a whole lots easier than either of us thought it would be. I almost feel like a psych nurse again, trying to keep the peace on my unit. That’s basically what psych nurses do: keep everyone safe in a confined space until they’re stable enough to go home and start making bad decisions all over again.

Maybe I should try giving all the kit-tens some Cativan…

* * * *

In retirement, Lea and I have become real life versions of Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers. We rescued our first two kit-tens when they were darlingpreshadorbs babies. We rescued Lord Mark’s sprawling villa from hideous interior design and general disrepair and turned it into the Chula Vista Resort and Spa. We rescued Todd from having to spend another winter in Idaho. And we rescued Neelam’s adult kit-tens from having to get dead.

Life is essentially one long recovery/rescue program. We’re all recovering from something. Every now and then we get to rescue something. We didn’t know it at the time but when we got married, Lea and I would end up rescuing each other.

But that’s another story for another day. For now, this is Mark Rowen signing off. Que tenga un buen dia y hasta luego.

Tumbling Dice

Hola, amigos. How’s it going?

I decided to try to write something today. I’m not sure what, so that always adds a degree of difficulty or two to this task. I have a lots of random thoughts rolling around inside of my head. The tricksiest part is putting them all together so they have a modicum of synchronicity.

Whenever I find myself in this dilemma, I tend to begin with updates about what’s been going on in our lives lately. I’m pretty sure that’s all this post is going to end up being, so if you could care less about that, you might as well do something else.

We’re retired. I doubt anything about our lives is all that interesting. But I did discover something cool the other day. The Spanish word for retirement is jubilación.

That’s right baby, jubilation. It sounds even more better gooder in Spanish.

* * * *

Retirement has been the most blissful time of our lives. I’ve said this before, it’s the least stressful time that I can remember. I literally don’t have a schedule, or an agenda, or an itinerary. There are very few things that I have to write on my calendar anymore. If I feel like doing something, I do it. If I don’t, well, there’s always tomorrow. Or next week. Or whenever…

And then two things happened that impacted our stress-free lives.

One, we adopted kit-tens.

This hasn’t increased the stress levels in our lives. Unless they’re attacking my feet, which they do like little furry ninjas. Little Known Fact About Me: my feet are incredibly ticklish. I just about fly through the roof if anyone touches my feet. I’ve had to practice godlike restraint to not punt them halfway across the living room.

Mika and Mollie have been growing up fast. Too fast. At this rate, they’ll be going to college by Christmas. They have adjusted to moving in with us, and they now rule the house. Anyone who has had a cat will know the truth of this statement.

I don’t really remember much about the last time we had kit-tens. It was twenty years ago, and I was still working. Plus, I wasn’t as much of a cat lover then, so I had other things on my mind.

I’ve had a lots of time to observe our kit-tens this time around, and it has been a blast. They were learning how to walk when we brought them home. They’ve graduated from that and are testing out what else they can do now.

I’ve been documenting the progression of kit-ten growth and development with videos on my Facebook page. Kit-tens are simply darlingpreshadorbs! Their antics are so entertaining. If you’re depressed, watch kit-ten videos. You won’t need medications.

Mika and Mollie have become very good at jumping, which is evidently something kit-tens love to do. Because the kit-tens have become so good at jumping, they can now get onto our bed. They join us at night and wrestle for an hour before their batteries die out and they fall asleep. When they wake up in the morning, so do we.

They love to help us, no matter what it is we’re doing. Folding laundry is something they can’t resist. They are absolutely fascinated when I clean out their litter box. They look up at me like they’re asking, What the hell are you doing? We buried that stuff in there!!

That reminds me. I should probably buy another litter box. Soon.

They love to add their perspectives to my blog. And Mika actually posted a picture on my Instagram account last week. The thing that pissed me off about it was she did it faster than I ever have.

The only thing the kit-tens have an aversion to is vacuuming. I vacuum the floors at least once a day now. It’s the only time I don’t have to worry about accidentally stepping on a kit-ten when they come racing out of nowhere to attack my feet.

* * * *

The second thing that happened is we have to move, and that has increased the stress levels in our lives. We’ve looked at several houses so far, but haven’t found anything we’ve fallen in love with.

One was way too small for us. The rest of them were large enough, but… A couple of them were gorgeous, but one was way out of our budget. Another looked like an art museum, but the owner wanted to keep all of her very expensive custom art and furniture in the house.

I would’ve been afraid to sneeze in there. And Lea said she would never feel like she was living in her house.

Another was reasonably close to what we wanted, except it felt like a prison yard, minus the armed guards. And someone had painstakingly painted verses of Scripture on several of the walls, so you could get your mind right with the Lord while you served out your term in solitary.

One was undergoing a major renovation. It’s going to be gorgeous, but that process is going to take several months. Also, the owner wasn’t sure how much he’s going to need for rent to get a return on his investment.

We looked at close to fifty houses before we bought our house in Surprise. I’m hoping we won’t have to repeat that process this time around.

That was more or less because of Lea. She had a detailed wish list of what she needed in a house. Open concept. Huge, modern kitchen. Split floor plan. Master suite with a spacious walk-in closet. A swimming pool.

Our realtor, Cynthia McNicol, understood Lea’s desires, and agreed all of those were requisite.

I’m a guy. Guys essentially live like bears with furniture, and not necessarily nice furniture. The only thing I wanted when we were looking for a house was a three car garage.

“That’s it?” Cynthia asked. If there’s a word that describes something beyond stunned, that’s what Cynthia was. She probably thought I was a moron. “As long as Lea is happy, that’s all I need.”

“Smart man.” Cynthia replied, and her opinion of me changed in a heartbeat. “Happy wife, happy life.”

Exactly. Happy husband–no one cares! They didn’t even bother to come up with a word that rhymes with husband. I didn’t see the house we’re living in before we moved here. I told Lea to find a place she liked and wrap it up.

Our friends here have been keeping an eye or two open, looking for potential houses for us. We got an alert from Cheryl about a house in Chula Vista. It’s a development a couple of miles east of where we live now, on the mountainside. It doesn’t have a scenic view of the lake, but the backyard looks down on the Chula Vista golf course.

I’ve never golfed there, and I doubt that I ever will. The course was carved out the side of the mountain, and there are no golf carts. If I still wanted to march over hill, over dale, and hit the dusty trail, I would have never left the Army.

The Chula Vista house is huge, much larger than our current home. Four bedrooms, four bathrooms. More closets than I’ve ever seen in one house. There’s a swimming pool in the backyard, and a casita. It’s like unto a little apartment where guests you don’t really like can stay if they come to visit.

The best part, it won’t cost more than the house we’re currently in.

We went to see it this morning. Lea loved it. And just like that, our home search ended. We can start moving in on November 1st. That was easier than I thought it would be.

* * * *

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me lately, but something feels amiss. It’s not a physical thing. I don’t feel any worse than I normally do. I’m not battling an infection, or an illness.

Last week was the anniversary of the death of Lea’s mom. I’ve written about that series of events in a previous post. I’m not going to say much about it here, but it was easily the worst week of my life. That could be the cause of my unease. Those ghosts of traumas past. It doesn’t matter where you go, those fuckers will always know where to find you.

There’s a good chance I was emotionally bindsided. Given my relatively stress-free life, I haven’t needed to expend much energy maintaining my defense system. That’s one of the hazards of PTSD. All it takes is one little trigger and things can unravel quickly.

My activity level is down, too. I used to golf three times a week. It’s been more like once a week lately. And it hasn’t been that much fun. The rainy season should be winding down soon… Probably.

When you know what the problem is, you can start working on a solution.

* * * *

If you’re still reading this, thank you. It hasn’t been easy to write, so it probably hasn’t been much fun to read. I may not have much time to write once our moving process kicks off.

But writing about my angst has helped me regain my sense of balance. And finding our next place of residence has removed that uncertainty. Things tend to have a way of working out in life if you don’t panic.

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.

The Time Machine

I used to facilitate a lots of groups back when I was a psych nurse. Just in cases you didn’t know this, there are two types of psych nurses: those that love to lead groups, and those that don’t. There’s no middle ground.

That’s the truth. You can ask around if you like.

I loved doing groups. Probably not a big surprise there. I did groups on mental illness, medications, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, cardiac health, whatever. I did groups on stuff no one had ever heard of before, like, the Ghost Dance of the 1890’s.

Maggie, did not like groups. She hated them. I worked with Maggie at the MVAMC. She wasn’t one of the best nurses I ever worked with. In fact, she was probably one of the worst.

Maggie would come to work early and check out her patient assignment, and then she started charting. Before her shift started, and before she even assessed any of her patients. She wrote the same two sentences on all of her patients:

Met with pt. Says he’s okay.  XOXO, Maggie.

Something like unto that. Everyone knew she did that, even her patients knew she did it. She spent most of her shift sitting behind the nursing station drinking coffee and taking cigarette breaks. Marj, my horrible boss, knew Maggie’s charting routine. And this is what she did about it.

Nothing.

Marj was an horrible boss in more ways than one.

* * * *

Want to hear a funny Maggie story? She had come in early and had done all of her charting before her shift started, as usual, and one of her patients had a seizure around the end of our shift. We called a code and ran down to his room to take care of him. And Maggie said this, “Goddammit! I just finished charting on this guy! I’m not writing another note on him!”

And everyone in the room stopped what they were doing, and turned to look at her. Even the guy having a seizure…

Another Maggie story. One of her patients had a condom cath, and she was supposed to remove it. A condom cath is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s an urinary catheter in the form of a condom. You unroll it you apply it, and it sticks to a penis like glue if it’s applied correctly. There’s actually an adhesive on the inside of a condom cath.

I probably put that catheter on that guy, so it was properly applied. Maggie had never removed one, so she asked me to come along. She told the guy what she was going to do, grabbed the tip of the catheter, braced one foot on the frame of his bed and started pulling, like she was trying to land a blue marlin or something.

I just about died to death. And you should’ve seen the look in that guy’s eyes. I made Maggie stop, and took it off myself. That guy thanked me every time he saw me.

And, one last Maggie story. Patient assignments were done by the charge nurse. I decided to have a little fun with Maggie one day, and assigned her to lead groups. Maggie just about had a fucking seizure.

“Are you kidding me!” she confronted me when I walked onto the unit that day. “I’m going to walk in there and look like an idiot for the first time!”

“Oh, it won’t be the first time.” was my response.

* * * *

One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. He kind of looked like Forrest, and although he was smarter than Forrest, it wasn’t by much. I can’t remember his real name, but he wanted us to let him use our time machine so he could go back in time to undo some horrendous mistake he had made years earlier.

I can’t remember what he’d done, but wasn’t something of all that much consequence, as least as far as the staff was concerned. I think most of the people involved in the care of FG’sSB all thought the same thing: Hell, I’ve done worse stuff than that! That wouldn’t even be in my Top Ten!

It probably wouldn’t have been in my Top Twenty-five. Or Top Fifty.

The Time Machine is the classic novel written by H.G. Wells in 1895. It’s been adopted into several movies and TV shows. My personal favorite is Time After Time, 1979, starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. It’s a romantic thriller where H.G. Wells travels to the future chasing Jack the Ripper.

I thought it was a great movie.

At any rate, a lots of staff members at the MVAMC talked to FG’sSB, and they all told him the same thing. We don’t have a time machine, but he refused to believe it. He was probably a little delusional, that guy.

Psychosis and delusions generally go hand in hand, like anxiety and depression. But I don’t remember him being that psychotic. He just wanted to use our time machine, and he was convinced we had one, probably somewhere in the basement. Where else would you store a time machine?

Delusions are incredibly difficult to treat. A delusion is a fixed false belief, and once a delusion is born, it never really dies. You know, like that one guy who wants to be a prophet someday.

According to some psychologists, all religious beliefs are delusions. And, the popular response to that would probably be something like unto, Um, not mine. Those other guys, maybe. But my God, is real!

I wasn’t FG’sSB’s nurse, but I had heard about him in report. One day, one of the docs had just spent about half an hour trying to convince FG’sSB we didn’t have a time machine, and I started laughing.

The doctor was one of our residents, and he walked over to me. He said something like unto he didn’t think this was funny, and added if I thought I could do a better job, I was more than welcome to take my best shot.

So, I did.

“Yo, FG’sSB. Let’s talk. You’re right. We do have a time machine.”

“What!?!” the resident doc shouted.

“I knew it!!!” FG’sSB exclaimed.

“But let me explain how time travel works. Have you ever heard of the Law of Equilibrium and Balance?”

“N-No…”

“It’s the primary principal of time travel. In essence, you can’t go back in time to undo a mistake. The only thing you can do is replace the mistake you made with a different mistake. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I think so…”

“That’s why the Federal government won’t let anyone use the time machine anymore. They tried it a couple of times. The Feds have made a lots of mistakes over the years, right?” I said, and FG’sSB nodded his head in agreement.

“Look. I’m not supposed to tell anyone about this, but I used to be a data analyst for the CIA, and I had access to all kinds of super top secret files. The Feds have a base somewhere in Greenland, and that’s where they did their tests with the time machine. The first time they tried to change something in the past, the Nazis ended up winning World War II.”

“No way!”

“Way! The Nazis ended up developing the atomic bomb before we did, and they nuked America off the face of the planet.”

“Wow!”

“So the Feds learned something from their experiments. You can’t actually fix anything by going back in time. You can only make things worse. They ended up having to go back and repeating their first mistake again to fix the shit they tried to fix! There has to be balance, get it?”

“Oh. I didn’t know that. So, if I went back in time…”

“You’ll only make everything worse. Do you still want to use our time machine?”

“Um, probably not. I don’t want to make things worse…”

Home run.

The best part of that, the resident doc came up to me and said this: “That, was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”

* * * *

I have no idea if there’s an actual Law of Equilibrium and Balance. And while time travel is theoretically possible, I’m not sure it’s actually possible. But it sounded convincing enough to FG’sSB that he abandoned his quest to travel back in time, and he was discharged shortly afterwards.

And I probably wouldn’t have tried that intervention on everyone, but I knew it would work with FG’sSB. You can’t talk someone out of a delusional belief, but maybe you can use their delusion against them, so to speak.

There was a guy named Steve that was a frequent flyer at the MVAMC, and every time he came in he accused the nursing staff of trying to kill him, and there would be an investigation. So I said this to him, “How many times have you been here? The nurses here are highly trained professionals. If we really wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead years ago.”

He never accused another nurse of trying to kill him to death.

* * * *

I’ve met more than one person that wished they could go back in time and undo some of the things they had done. I’m sure I’ve wished I could do that myself.

One of my desperately seeking time travel patients was Kathleen. She was at Aurora, and the first time I met her she was laying in bed, crying. I checked on her several times, and that’s what she did all morning.

At noon, I went into her room and said, “Hey, Kathleen. If you want something new to cry about, your lunch is here.” She got up to eat, and eventually stopped crying. And then we talked. Kathleen didn’t want to go back in time to change one thing in her life. She wanted to change all of it.

“Let’s say you could do that. Do you really think you wouldn’t make any mistakes if you could live your life over? As near as I can tell, everyone makes mistakes. I know I have. But those are the things that taught me my most important lessons. I might have had to repeat some of those lessons a few hundred times before the lights came on, but I wouldn’t be who and what I am now if not for those lessons learned.”

And then I told her about FG’sSB. And I told her some of the stories about my crazy life.

“And he believed your story about the time machine?”

“I’m evidently quite a convincing liar.”

“You must be. I can’t tell if you’re telling the truth or not.”

See? I told you.

“And you look pretty well put together now.”

“Years of putting together the pieces of my life. And now it’s your turn. Time to get your head out of your ass and get moving. Go take a shower. You’ll feel better.”

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I went for a walk down the Malacon in Ajijic yesterday. We’re planning to go for a walk down the Malacon in Chapala tomorrow. It’s supposed to prettier than the one in Ajijic, and the Malacon in Jocotopec is supposed to be the prettiest of them all.

I’ll bring my camera, and take a lots of pictures. I’ll post them on my Facebook page. This place is incredibly beautiful.

That should help me achieve better balance and equilibrium in my new life. I had no idea transitioning into retirement would be such a tricksy thing. If I had known that, I would’ve planned a little better, maybe. I might not have believed it.

There’s a couple of football games today to determine which teams will meet in the Super Bowl. I think Jim and Veronica are hosting a Super Bowl party. I’m going to make chili. It’s the only thing I cook anymore, but it’s the best damn chili you’ll ever have.

It takes a couple days to make the World’s Best Chili. If you want the recipe, let me know…

Let’s see if I’m any closer to being a prophet. Falcons over the Packers. Patriots beat the Steelers.

If I’m right about that, I’ll make a Super Bowl prediction.

Becoming…

I started thinking about the word becoming yesterday. It can mean something flattering, especially in regard to appearance.

That’s a very becoming outfit!

That’s not the definition I’m thinking of. It’s mostly used by women and spoken to other women, and if it were directed to me, it would indicate I’m wearing something that probably makes me look very ladylike, and that’s not at all something I’m trying to achieve.

It can also be the process of coming to be something different, or of passing into a another state.

That’s the definition I’ve been contemplating.

We’re all becoming something, and hopefully, something better. I think what I was becoming was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle whining crybaby, wandering in the dark. And that’s not what I want for my life. It’s not even what I wanted when it was the only truth of my life.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of friends that took care of me when I was incapable of doing so myself. In retrospect, that’s what Raoul and Nadina did for me back when they welcomed me into their home and fed me. And there were a lots of others through the years. I doubt I’d still be alive if not for them, so to all of you, named and unnamed, thank you.

Last night my lovely supermodel wife made spaghetti, and there’s nothing that will fill the emptiness of of one’s soul as deliciously as Italian food.

And then I did the dishes. I don’t cook, so I clean up.

There’s something therapeutic about cleaning up. It doesn’t require much thought, just repetitive scrubbing and rinsing until everything is clean once more. And that’s when my epiphany hit me.

Some things need to be cleaned. Some things do not.

It would appear I started cleaning out my closet, the place I chose to store the darker memories of my life. But as I was cleaning up after dinner last night I asked myself this question: Why?

And I asked myself that because of a question a friend of mine asked after she read one of my very dark posts. Who the hell is your Muse?

Just in cases you were wondering, there are nine Muses, and it took me a moment to realize she wasn’t asking me to identify which daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne was fucking up my life, and hers.

If that had been her real question, I’d pick Melpomene.

Her real question was, What in the hell do you think you’re doing?!?

And my internal response was, What have I done lately that would indicate I have any idea what I’m doing! And that’s when things started coming into focus.

As another friend of mine observed, I have lived a crazy life. And while some of that stuff is funny, a lots of it is not.

Thank you, Maureen. Thank you, Lorrie. I’m better now. I slept something like unto the sleep of bronze last night, and sleep is one of the most restorative things ever invented.

You know what else is very restorative? A hot shower. I feel better today than I have in over a month. Today, life is good again, and I’d like to keep it that way.

* * * *

So, back to my metaphysical closet of horrors. I can’t undo what I’ve done. Unfortunately. I may have originally thought I’d be doing something therapeutic by trying to clean out that space of fifty thousand shades of black, but I’m thinking now that I may do more harm than good in the attempt.

I mean, do I really need to clean that closet out?

In terms of physical closets, why does one clean a closet? Well, to get rid of stuff one doesn’t use anymore, and to make room for stuff one does use.

I’m not planning on putting more mean-icky-nasty stuff into that closet, so I don’t really need to create more storage space, do I?

No, I do not.

One of the things I learned as a psych nurse was not to take on other people’s burdens. For one thing, they weren’t my burdens, and even if I were willing to carry them, it’s not an effective intervention. Personal burdens cannot be transferred from one person to another.

Another thing I learned was more isn’t always better. One of the things psych nurses do is dispense medications, and sometimes nurses can develop a very narrowly focused field of vision.

For example, confusion can be a common reason for someone to be admitted to a psych facility, especially if the person in question isn’t normally confused.

I think confused is my natural state.

Confusion can be caused by a lots of things, and a very narrowly focused nurse might think the only reasonable treatment is to medicate the piss out of a confused patient. But what if it was a medication that caused the confusion in the first place? More meds would only make it worse.

I’m sure there were times when I fell into that trap, but there were also times I did not, and would advocate for what is called a medication holiday. Stop everything. If it’s the meds, the patient will start improving very quickly.

It was worth a try. More often than not, it worked.

There’s another thing I learned as a psych nurse. When you find yourself at the bottom of an hole, stop digging.

* * * *

Mental illness is a tricksy beast to battle, mostly because Psychiatry is such an imprecise science. We can’t pop open the skull and replace the worn out or damaged parts of the brain. If we could, I would’ve replaced mine a long time ago.

We used medications, and talk therapy, and refocusing and redirecting. And we did a lots of reminding about boundaries because that’s an area a lots of psych patients have problems with. And sometimes psych nurses do, too.

As a psych nurse, you have to have boundaries, lest ye be pulled into darkness and lose yourself. It’s like saving a drowning person. You have to be careful or might got dead yourself in the process.

It gets even tricksier when the person you’re trying to save is yourself. Until I inadvertently fucked up my life, I wasn’t even aware I needed saving.

Life is all about choices, and I can control the choices I make. I’m sure I made a mistake when I decided to do some metaphysical cleaning, but I don’t have to compound it by continuing to do something that isn’t beneficial to myself to anyone else. I’ve already done enough damage to myself and others to last a couple of lifetimes.

When I started my blog, I did so as an avocation. It’s become more of a vocation, and that has to stop. And it most definitely has to stop going in the direction it’s been heading. The last thing I need to create is a written record of all my crimes and misdemeanors.

As I recall, I spent most of my life trying to avoid that outcome. I really need to follow the very good advice many people have given me over the years and get my head out of my ass.

I need to refocus. I need to redirect myself. I really don’t need to revisit the darkness hidden in my metaphysical closet of horrors. I put all that crap in there for a reason, and I need to respect that.

I choose a different path today. I choose the Light. I’m sure I still have plenty of available storage space for good memories, and if I don’t, I know how to make more.

I have a lots of power tools in the old tool box now, and I know how to use them.

The Seventh Commandment

For the more than casual reader of my blog, one thing has probably become very apparent.

I had a real talent for doing stupid stuff.

It’s an odd incongruity, an oxymoronic contrast to my otherwise high intelligence. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for that. Please let me know if you ever figure me out.

In a previous post, I stated that I had broken all of the Ten Commandments, save one. To the best of my knowledge, I have never murdered anyone. I’ve certainly thought about it, and if Jesus is correct, then thinking about it is essentially the same thing as doing it. And if you count my suicide attempt, I’ve certainly tried to murder someone, even if the intended victim was myself, so there’s plenty of proof of intent. Maybe I’ve broken them all after all…

Spoiler Alert!!  This will be the most sexually explicit post I’m ever going to write, and there’s a whole lots of swear words, so don’t try to say you weren’t warned.

* * * *

To set the stage for this tale of the endless stupidity of my youth, I was in the Army. It was after my court-martial. I was no longer living off base with Raoul and Mike, I was living back in the barracks, in my old room. I was court-martialed in February of 1976, so it was probably around August of that year.

I’ve talked about my good friend, Raoul, before. He was an Hispanic Texan that was about ten years older than me, give or take. Raoul was kind of married. I mean, he was married, but he and his wife had what I can only describe as a volatile relationship. His wife, Nadina, might have been more than a little crazy. Well, that was according to Raoul.

Whatever the truth of that was I’ll never know, but as a result of the his crazy marriage, Raoul was kind of a nomad. Sometimes he lived with his wife, sometimes he lived in the barracks. Sometimes he lived in an apartment, or a rental house, or a trailer. He moved in and out of his house several times while I knew him, and I think I moved in with him at least twice when he wasn’t living with his wife.

I can’t remember how long they had been married. Five or six years, I think. I know it was less than ten.

Raoul moved into the barracks for the first time long before he advised me what to do when my van broke down and I incurred the wrath of my XO, who was backed up by the full weight of the US Army.

Then, I think, he moved back with Nadina. I know Raoul and I were living in a rental house together while I was going through my court-martial. And I know he moved back in with his wife when that ordeal ended.

I don’t think he was ever very clear about the source of their marital discord. But he appeared to blame his wife for all of it. Oh, it’s that time of the month again. She’s just like her mother. Didn’t you know? All latinas are fuckin’ loco en la cabeza, amigo!

Why do you stay married to her? I asked him once. Are you kidding me? You’ve seen her! She’s a fucking goddess! And when I say fucking goddess, I mean fucking goddess. Jesus and all the saints, amigo! I’ve been with a thousand women in my life, and she’s the most incredible piece of ass I’ve ever had!

So, there was that.

I’m not sure what else went on between them, but it clearly wasn’t all sexual bliss.

Raoul moved into the barracks for the second or third time at the time this story begins. But there was a different reason why he moved in that time.

“My fucking wife is having a fucking affair! And she’s going to divorce me! Can you believe that shit! That pinche puta!!”

That’s how he explained it to me. I think those were the exact words he spoke.

“What?!? That’s fucking…nuts! She’s crazy about you! How do you know she’s having an affair?” I decided to ask.

“No! She’s just crazy! And I know she’s having an affair because she fuckin’ told me she was, that’s how I know!!”

“Jesus. Christ. That’s fuckin’ cold. I’m–I’m sorry to hear that. Did she say who she’s having an affair with?” I decided to ask another question.

“No! The fuckin’ whore wouldn’t tell me who she was fucking! I have a couple of suspects in mind, and if I ever find out for sure who’s been fucking her, I’ll fucking kill him!!”

I had a pretty good idea that my high school sweetheart would read my last post, and I have to admit I was more than a little anxious about what her response would be. But I hope to God that Raoul never discovers my blog, and if he does, I doubly hope to God he never reads this post. I have no doubt he would make good on his vow for revenge.

I knew exactly who his wife had been fucking.

It was me.

* * * *

There have been many times in my life when I wished I had paid just a little more attention to detail when I tried to kill myself. If I had only severed my radial artery…

There are other times I wish I had built a cabin somewhere way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere and removed myself from all contact with everyone. That certainly would’ve decreased the chances of me ruining anyone else’s life.

Right now, I wish the long, complicated stories of my stupid life were very simple. And short.

There’s a backstory to this, of course.

When I finally decided to try to move on after the dissolution of my relationship with my high school sweetheart, the first couple of women I dated were fabric free shoe models. In other words, strippers.

Those relationships tended to be short, but intense, and all about sex. That was fine with me. I wasn’t capable of much beyond that.

My first relationship with a woman that wasn’t a stripper was with Theresa Besicca. She was a WAC at the Headquarters Dental Clinic. She was the only woman I’ve dated that was a lots taller than me. She was three or four inches taller than me, light brown hair, really big…eyes.

Theresa really loved to play racquetball, and she was very good. She had more or less demolished all of the guys at the clinic, except one, and none of them enjoyed getting their asses kicked by a girl. She challenged me to a game, and I accepted.

She totally kicked my ass, but unlike every other guy she beat, that only made me try harder. We started playing a lots of racquetball, and then we’d have a couple beers. We became friends as she taught me how to play racquetball.

I was lousy at racquetball at first, but Theresa was very good, and she was also a good coach. As I got better, our games became more intense, and because we were friends, there was a considerable amount of trash talk between us. And then came the day I made a preposterous proposition to Theresa.

“If I beat you, you have to have sex with me.”

“Ha! What do I get if I beat you?”

“Then I have to have sex with you.”

Theresa stood there for a long moment, looking at me, sizing up her opponent. And then she slowly nodded her head.

“Okay, but if I win, you have to do everything I say. You have to be my slave!

For a moment I thought about letting her beat me, but then I imagined her wearing black boots and a big strap on dildo, telling me to Bend over.

Yeah, she was going to have to earn that.

“And if I win, all you’ll have to do is get naked.”

“I’m going to eat you alive, little man.”

“Bring a big spoon.”

That, was one helluva racquetball match. She won the first set handily. I barely won the second. And I smoked her in the third.

Theresa honored our bet.

After that, we still played racquetball, but not as often. We had discovered a different form of exercise. Theresa still loved playing racquetball, so she needed another regular partner. And she found one. My good buddy, Raoul. He was a pretty good player, and they started making lots of racquetball dates. And then they moved on to a different form of exercise…

* * * *

As much as I loved and respected Raoul, I never understood why he stepped out on his supermodel fucking goddess wife. I never would have done that, so maybe that’s why I can’t understand it.

Nadina was a beautiful Hispanic porcelain doll of a woman. She was about my height, hair as dark as obsidian, dark brown eyes. She was younger than Raoul, but older than me by a few years. The length of her hair changed a few times while I knew her. It was really long, then very short, then she grew it long again. She was small, slender and perfectly proportioned. And, of course, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.

Nadina had once been in the Army. Raoul met her when they were both stationed at Fort Sam Houston. She had been a surgical technician. Like me, Raoul fell in love with her the moment he saw her. Unlike Raoul, Nadina had no intention of making the Army a career. When her term of enlistment ended she became an housewife, taking care of the beautiful home she and Raoul lived in. After she was discharged from active duty she talked about to go to school, but rarely left the house. She wanted to have a lots of children, but was unable to conceive.

She might have been Bipolar, Raoul thought she was, but I never saw any signs of mania during the time I knew her. To be sure, I’ve done my own a psych assessment on her over the years. She’s still kind of a gorgeous mystery to me. In retrospect, I think Nadina was the most attractive, possible nymphomaniac, chronically unhappy person I’ve ever met, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything better than that.

I would spend a lots of time hanging out with Raoul and his darling wife at their house. We drank a lots of strawberry margaritas, Nadina’s favorite drink. And we smoked a lots of dope while Raoul and I played chess.

During those times, she appeared to be happy and content to me. I had a very difficult time believing Raoul when he told me how crazy his gorgeous wife was, but in retrospect, I think Raoul played his part in her kookiness, whatever it might have been.

Be that as it may, they were both really good people, and they were a very welcome refuge to me during that time of my life. I was an emotional basketcase, and I would be one for years. But they welcomed me into their house and their lives, and they helped keep me alive when all I mostly wanted to do was die to death.

* * * *

Theresa also helped me. Our racquetball matches were probably the most consistent exercise I ever involved myself in. And if I was concentrating on playing racquetball I couldn’t stay focused on how miserable I was. And I actually started feeling pretty good.

Theresa was the first woman I told the story of the scars on my wrist to. It was after our titanic match, winner take all. Literally. We had showered at her cute little bungalow off base. She didn’t like the barracks. Too many goddamn lesbos…

Whew! Probably no strap ons then, I thought.

We were naked, and sitting cross legged on her bed, and she asked about the scars on my wrist.

My scars have faded to the point that they’re probably not as noticeable as I always think they are. But they were much more noticeable forty years ago, especially the largest one. It takes time for scars to fade, and because the ER doc did such a lousy job sewing me up, that wound ended up having to heal by granulation.

It’s a slower process, and the resulting scar is much larger. And because of that, it was very red to reddish pink for what seemed like forever to me.

I remember covering my scars with my left hand to hide them when Theresa asked me how I got them. I didn’t tell her the very long story I wrote yesterday; I told her the highlights, if they can be called that. When I finished, she very slowly reached out and moved my left hand, then very tenderly kissed the scars on my wrist.

A tear ran down my cheek.

Four decades later, I am still moved by what she did way back then. We made love for a very long time. It was the first time that act meant something more than just sex to me since Maureen.

I think that was the first time I thought I might be able to live again.

* * * *

I couldn’t have had a long term relationship with Theresa or anyone else at that time of my life, and if I didn’t yet realize that, Theresa certainly did. That may have been one reason why she decided to have an affair with Raoul. I’m guessing. I never asked her about it.

The fact that Raoul was convinced he was married to a certified bowl of Hispanic fruit loops probably gave him all the incentive he needed to see just how green the grass was on the other side of the fence. As to how I learned about their tryst, that was easy.

Raoul told me.

* * * *

“I played racquetball with your girlfriend yesterday.”

“Yeah, I know, but she’s not really my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, but you’re having sex with her.”

“So.”

“So, I thought you guys were kind of a couple…”

“Yeah, but it’s not that serious. I mean, it’s like this: If I were to call her and say, ‘Hey, can I come over? I want to fuck your brains out.’ And she says, ‘Um, now’s not good. I’m fucking the Marine Corps Band.’ My response would be, ‘Okay, how about tomorrow?’ And that would be that.”

“Seriously? I’d be pissed that she was fucking the fuckin’ Marines. Go Army!” he said, and we laughed. We were driving on the range roads, smoking a joint on our lunch break. “What about me?”

“What about you?” I asked. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me.

“What if I had sex with Theresa?”

“Why the hell would you want to do something like that? You’re married to the most beautiful woman on the plan–Wait! Did you have sex with my girlfriend?”

“I thought you said she wasn’t your girlfriend!” he said. I started laughing, then Raoul joined in.

“Seriously,” I replied. “I don’t care who she fucks, as long as she saves some pussy for me. But I gotta tell you, what you’re doing is dangerous. You’re gonna ruin your marriage. You’re gonna fuck up your life. You’re gonna end up living in the goddamn barracks with a bunch of losers, like me.”

“Hey, you’re not a loser, amigo. You’re just a kid with a broken heart. You’ll get over–whatshername–”

“Maureen.”

“Yeah, Whatshername. You haven’t lived as long as I have. You have to forget her! Move on! Don’t tell me you think you two are going to get back together! Jesus Christ, Rowen! Get your head out of your ass! You’re gonna have to trust me on this one, but you’ll fall in love with someone again someday. And after you’ve been married for awhile, you’ll find its possible to love more than one woman at a time.”

“That, is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one. I may not know as much about life or the Army as you do. But I know about love. And you don’t fuck with love, ever! If you do, love will damn sure fuck you back.”

* * * *

I have to say, I’m very proud of that observation. I’m equally proud of the fact that Love backed me up after I said it. I can only wish this was where my story ended, but I still had a commandment to break.

I genuinely wasn’t upset that Raoul had sex with Theresa. We were not in a committed relationship. For all I know, she had sex with every guy she played racquetball with. I was by no means faithful to her. I still dropped in to see at least one of the fabric free shoe models I knew.

I didn’t feel any guilt about having multiple partners when I was with Theresa, but the weird thing was, I felt guilty having sex with any of them because it felt like I was cheating on Maureen. Yeah, try to figure that fucking mess out!

I’m not sure how Nadina found out about the infidelity of her husband, but she wasn’t stupid, and she was a woman. She knew. Neither Raoul nor I knew that she knew when we were having that conversation, but that would change in a very short time.

* * * *

Raoul had to go to Fort Sam Houston for some training of some sort, and he had to be gone for a week. While he was gone, he wanted me to do something for him.

“Hey, can I ask you a favor, amigo?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Can you swing by my house while I’m out of town and check on Dina? I mean, I keep a gun in my bedside table, and Dina knows how to use it. Hell, she’s a better shot than me! But I’d just feel better if there was a man around the house, especially in the evening. I’m going to be partying a lot, and I’m not going to call Dina once I start drinking. It’s a married guy thing. I’ll call her during the day! Just drop in and check on her, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I could do that. Maybe I can teach her how to play chess…”

“Forget it. I’ve tried. I end up playing myself. And I’m not suggesting you move in or anything, just drop in once or twice and make sure she’s okay. Okay?”

“Okay!”

* * * *

I can’t remember what day Raoul decided to head for San Antonio. Saturday, maybe. Sunday, probably. I figured Nadina could take care of herself for a day or two…  I called her on Monday.

“Hey, how’re you doing?”

“Oh Mark! I’m so glad you called! I was going to try to call you after work!”

“What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you could come over this evening. I’ve got margaritas chilling…”

As odd as this might sound, I didn’t really care for strawberry margaritas all that much. The only reason I drank them was because Raoul and Dina did, and they contained alcohol.

“Sure. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”

“I’ll see you at six.” Click.

I popped three or four Percodan before I went to check on Nadina. I was using pills pretty heavily by this time, and one or two just wasn’t cutting it anymore. And my use was just getting started. I rang the doorbell at five minutes after six.

“You’re late!” Nadina laughed as she answered the door. She was barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and tight jeans. Her hair was probably just past shoulder length at that time. She had a bright smile on her face.

The margaritas were already poured, the glasses were sweating. She lit a joint and we smoked and she talked. We drank and she talked. I had known Nadina for probably a year or so, but I think this was the first time she really talked to me.

Most of the stuff I knew about her I had heard from Raoul. And whenever I visited them, I mostly talked to Raoul. Dina might add some comments occasionally, but mostly she was quiet. She had a lots to say that night. I mostly nodded my head from time to time, like I would as a psych nurse listening to Harold ramble on and on at when I worked nights.

She told me her life story. I sat back and tried to keep up. I’m usually pretty good at remembering things like this, but I don’t think I can remember much of anything she said. I was hypnotized by her eyes, the brightness of her teeth, and the sound of her voice. I was mesmerized by her curves.

Nadina sat kind of sideways on the couch, one shapely leg curled under the other, one bare foot on the floor. Her body was facing mine, and I mimicked her pose so I could face her.

It just occurred to me, she reminds of someone. I would see a perfectly wrapped, hot little body like that a few years later when I went to Dallas with Shorty. Martha! Sonuvabitch! Maybe that’s why I ended up falling so head over heels in love with her!! Martha subconsciously reminded me of Nadina!

Wow. That was really weird.

Nadina was the perfect hostess. She refilled our drinks. She lit another joint. When the first pitcher of margaritas was empty, she made another. And she lit another joint…

“I rolled these today. Ray doesn’t think I know how to roll, but I can do a lot of things he doesn’t think I can do. Would you like another margarita?”

“Yes, please.” I said. She poured more slushy pinkish red drinks for both of us, then she said something I’ve never been able to forget.

“I know Ray’s been fucking your girlfriend.” and she turned her head to look me squarely in the eyes. “I know that’s what he’s been doing with her. And I know you know it, too. I know you’re Ray’s best friend, but you’re my friend, too. Don’t you dare fucking lie to me, Mark.”

I sat there for what had to have been an hour, trying to figure out how I could get out of the house without her noticing. But she had her eyes locked on mine, and she didn’t blink. And I knew if I so much as blinked, it was as good as a confirmation on my part. And how did she know all the stuff she said she knew? That, was spooky.

If there was ever a time I wished I could say, “Scotty, beam me up!” this was one of them. I stared back into her dark eyes, and I knew I whatever I said to her, it had better not be a fucking lie. There was only one thing I could say.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” I said. It wasn’t a lie…  It really wasn’t much of anything. I didn’t confirm her assertion that her husband was having an affair, but I didn’t say anything to deny it, either. So, it wasn’t what I said that initiated what happened next, it was how I didn’t say it.

“I knew it!” she whispered, very softly. I expected her to start crying. That’s what any other woman would’ve done, right? “I have to go to the bathroom.” she said. And she smiled! “I’ll be right back.”

I think I was so stunned I didn’t know what to think. And I was most definitely stunned.

“I want to thank you for being honest with me.” her voice floated down the hallway into the living room. She was in the bathroom in the hall, and she must have left the door open. I could hear her peeing. “I know that wasn’t easy for you, and I appreciate it.”

Well, she was right about the not easy part, but I didn’t feel very good about what I had done, no matter how much she appreciated it. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands.

“But you know what I think? I think what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.” Her voice grew louder as she walked back toward the living room.

“I think it’s the other way around.” I replied. I decided I needed a drink, and reached for my margarita. And then I froze.

“You know what I meant.” Nadina said. She stepped into the living room, struck a little pose, and smiled. She was totally naked. And then she said another thing I’ve never been able to forget. “I want to fuck your brains out.”

* * * *

There can’t be any confusion as to what happened next, can there? Raoul may not have been completely honest with me about the reasons for the marital discord between he and Nadina, but that part about her being a fucking goddess, that, was not a lie.

* * * *

I called Nadina on my lunch break on Tuesday.

“I’m baking lasagna. You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“And I have dessert, too!”

“Oh yeah? What did you make?”

“Pie. It’s really moist, and creamy!”

“See you at six.”

“Make it five.” Click.

She answered the door wearing an apron, and nothing else. She insisted I eat first. And then I had dessert.

* * * *

I called her on my lunch break on Wednesday.

“How are you feeling?” she giggled.

“Sore. How about you?”

“Horny. I’ve been playing with my pussy all morning. She really misses you.”

I finished my deliveries in record time that afternoon, and my van didn’t break down. After a couple erotic wrestling matches with Nadina, I wondered how Raoul had the energy to play racquetball. Or even get out of bed in the morning.

* * * *

I didn’t call Nadina on my lunch break on Thursday. I called her first thing in the morning. And at nine. And at noon. And every chance I got. When I rang the doorbell, she didn’t come to the door.

“Mark? Is that you?” her voice called out.

“Yes!”

“Then, come in! The door’s open!’

She was naked, sprawled across the couch, her legs spread wide.

“See how much I missed you? Did you miss me?”

“Yes!”

“Show me how much you missed me!”

And I did.

* * * *

By Friday, I didn’t have to wish I could got dead. I was pretty sure I was going to die to death. And I didn’t even care that I would go straight to Hell. I started taking four or five Percodan at a time. I could hardly walk. I thought my dick was going to fall off.

I called Nadina around 10:00 AM from one of the clinics. She sounded a little distracted, maybe. She wasn’t at all as…friendly…as she had the previous days.

“I’m out of weed. So I called Brian.”

Brian was the guy Raoul bought weed from. He was a civilian that worked on base. I can’t remember how Raoul met him, but Raoul had a nose for weed. Brian looked like Fat Freddy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. We used to tease him about that, but he had good weed, and he almost always had some to sell.

“I have weed. All you had to do was ask.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that. You always smoke Ray’s weed when you’re here…”

That was true. But that’s the kind of guy Raoul was. However, whenever he dropped in at the barracks he insisted we smoke mine.

“So, do you want to get together tonight?”

“Oh, yes! Yes, very much!” and her voice brightened appreciably. “Brian said he’d be over about four…  Why don’t you come by then.”

“Great! See you then!”

“And don’t be late this time!” Click.

I was outside her door at 3:55. I recognized Brian’s car as I pulled up, so I knew he was already inside. I was about to ring the doorbell, when I heard Nadina scream. I opened the door and saw Brian mauling Nadina, trying to kiss her. There were two glasses of water on the table, and an ounce of pot.

“Hey! What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” I shouted.

Brian was startled by my appearance. Nadina must not have told him I was coming over. He let go of Nadina, and she ran down the hallway.

“Hey, Mark! It’s not what it looks like! She–” And then Brian froze. Nadina had come back in the room, and she had a gun pointed at Brian’s head.

“Get out of my house, you motherfucker!”  she screamed.

“Hey! Heyheyhey! I’m leaving! I’m leaving! Just don’t shoot!”

Brian ran out the like Usain Bolt, only faster. Nadina followed his exit with the gun in her hands. He almost hit my car as he roared off. Nadina let her arms drop, but held on to the handgun. She was trembling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Close the door, and lock it.”

I did, then I rushed over to her, and she just about flew into my arms. The tears I had expected to see four days earlier appeared now, and they would not stop.

“I can’t believe he did that to me!” she sobbed, and even I knew she wasn’t talking about Brian.

* * * *

Nadina eventually stopped crying, and then we had sex, if you can call it that. It was sex at its most primal level, and we fucked like lions! We were locked together for easily seven hours. We probably took bathroom breaks, and drank margaritas, but I don’t remember much of anything except being inside her, and her wanting more.

I remember taking a shower at about 6:00 AM. Nadina stood in the bathroom and watched me. She had a very satisfied smile on her face. She had put on a lacy little white robe. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the end of our affair. I was almost too weak to stand. If I had known our affair was over, I probably would’ve wept in relief.

“When my husband asks, this is what you tell him…”

I went back to the barracks and slept like a man that had been in battle for a week. I don’t think I woke up until Sunday.

* * * *

I know Raoul called me on Sunday. That’s the only reason I know I didn’t sleep straight through to Monday. I was sitting at my desk, naked. My dick wasn’t black and blue, it was black and purple! And it hurt! If I had had any razor blades close by, my dick probably would’ve cut itself off.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Fine. Business as usual. Did Dina tell you about Brian?”

“She didn’t have to. I was there.”

“See? I told you it was a good idea for you to check on her!”

“I thought she was going to shoot him!”

“Nah, I’ll probably shoot him first. At the very least, I’m gonna kick his Fat Freddy ass! So, how often did you come over?”

“Um, I called her on Monday. She made lasagna on Tuesday, so I came over for that.”

“She’s a good cook, huh.”

“Dude, I’ve eaten at your house a thousand times!”

“Yeah, she’s a good cook, huh.”

“She’s a great cook!”

“When else were you here? Did you see anything?”

“Um, I called her Wednesday. I dropped by the house on Thursday for about an hour, and I was there Friday for pretty much the entire night.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that was good. Thank you for taking care of my wife.”

“Yeah, just doing what you asked. How’s she doing now? She was pretty freaked out the last time I saw her.”

“She’s okay. I got back in town about noon on Saturday. And you’re not going to believe this, but she fucked my fuckin’ brains out! I mean, I thought she was trying to kill me!”

Raoul was right. I couldn’t believe it. Nadina must’ve had a crotch made from titanium!

“You’re a lucky man.”

“Yeah. So, what’re you doing? You wanna play some chess? I picked up a couple hits of acid…”

“It’s gonna have to be another time, man. I’ve been hitting it pretty hard this week. I need rest.”

“Yeah, okay. Well, see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

* * * *

Monday was business as usual. I went back to delivering supplies. Raoul went back to making dentures, and playing racquetball with Theresa. I don’t think I ever played another game of racquetball in my life.

Theresa’s term of enlistment ended that September, and then Raoul quit playing racquetball, too.

I don’t know if Raoul ever kicked Brian’s Fat Freddy ass or not, but he did find a different supplier for his weed, some guy named Lloyd or something, and I never saw Brian again.

I was a frequent guest at the home of Raoul and Nadina. Raoul and I played a lots of chess, and we all drank a lots of margaritas and smoked a lots of joints. And I took more and more pills. They were easy for me to get, I had half a dozen dentists writing scripts for me, and because I was in the Army, they were free.

Nadina wasn’t as quiet around me as she had been prior to to Raoul’s training trip, and he mentioned something about it a couple of times.

“He saved my life! Do you think I’m going to treat him like a stranger?” was Nadina’s response.

That satisfied Raoul. And it more than satisfied me. I was like unto a goddamn hero! But whenever we were alone, like, when Raoul went to the bathroom, or went into the kitchen to make another pitcher of margaritas, Nadina and I would pounce on each other like tigers, and kiss as much as we possibly could in two minutes, then assume positions of posed nonchalance before Raoul returned.

I have to admit, that was a pretty crazy time for me. I’m not sure if I fell in love with my friend’s fucking goddess wife or not, but I almost forgot about Maureen for a couple of months. And the reason for that was mostly I was worried that my friend would find out about me and his wife. And the only thing that really made that worry go away was an handful of pills.

Actually, worried doesn’t doesn’t come close to describing the sum of all my fears. I was closer to terrified. I wasn’t afraid that Nadina would tell Raoul she had an affair with me, though that was certainly a possibility. What terrified me was the greater possibility she’d confront Raoul about his affair with Theresa.

I was actually kind of confused about why she didn’t do either. I know I talked to her about it. I think her response was something like unto, Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing.

In October, Nadina dropped her bombshell on her cheating husband that she had been having an affair, and kicked him out of her house for good. She filed for divorce, and moved back to Texas. She was from the Corpus Christi area, and she moved back in with her parents while she figured what she was going to with her new life.

I went to see her one last time before she left. She couldn’t afford the house she and Ray had lived in, and she sure as hell didn’t have anything keeping her in Lawton anymore.

I’d like to say we had twelve hours of sex, but we didn’t even have twelve minutes of sex. We sat on the couch and held hands, and talked. She explained some of her rationale to me. She could have told Raoul she was having an affair earlier, but that would have made me the prime suspect.

She wanted to protect me. That’s why she didn’t confront her husband about his affair. I would have the only suspect in that case.

“However much I hate Ray right now, I have nothing against you. You told me the truth when you could have lied. You chose me instead of Ray. You were my only friend when I needed someone to be there for me. You gave me what I needed, when I needed it. In more ways than one.” She flashed a sly smile, and winked.

I told her how much I was going to miss her, and that I’d never forget her.

“I know you won’t.” she said, and she smiled again, but there was sadness in her eyes. And she kissed me. “I know you’re going to have a lot of memories about me, but this is the one I want you to remember the most. Your friend, kissing you goodbye.”

Clearly, I have other memories of Nadina. But our last kiss, it’s the one I treasure the most.

* * * *

Raoul moved back into the barracks, and that’s where we were when this story started. I bought a really nice camera with lots of lenses and stuff, and a metal Copal case from Raoul. And his stereo, and speakers.

He needed the cash because he had ruined his marriage and fucked up his life.

I became his best friend, and he became my best friend. We took many trips to Texas. On one of them, he would break my glasses, I would break his arm, and jump out of a speeding car after he turned into Satan the devil.

If he ever suspected me of having an affair with his wife, he never came right out and said it, but we talked about it a lots, and I was quick to point out I had been the one who warned him he was playing with fire when he fucked with Love. And I had also been the one who had saved his wife from being raped.

* * * *

I’ve occasionally wondered if Nadina set that whole thing with Brian up. He started to say something before Nadina pointed a gun at his head. If she did, she was damn good, and then she probably was every bit as crazy as Raoul claimed she was.

I choose to believe she wasn’t crazy, no matter what her husband said. After all, she never told Raoul she knew he was having an affair…

* * * *

“Yeah, you were right about that. You’re a pretty smart guy.” Raoul said. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to his former stereo. Dozens of pictures of my former girlfriend looked down at us from the wall.

“I’m not that smart. My girlfriend left me for a loser named Rick. How sad is that?”

“Oh yeah? My wife left me for… I don’t even know his fuckin’ name! How sad is that!” I want to find that sonuvabitch and, how do you say it? Kill him to death? That’s what I want to do! Hey! Would you fuck my wife?”

“What kind of question is that? She’s your wife. No way, man”

“Well, suppose she wasn’t my wife! Would you fuck her then?”

“You mean, I’m walking down the street, and I see Nadina, standing on the corner or something.”

“Yeah, like that!”

“Is she married?”

“I don’t know. What difference does it make? Would you fuck her?”

“So, I walk up to her, and say, ‘Hey baby, I got about ten hours to kill, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than in your pussy. Do you think that would work?”

“On Dina? No way! Answer the question!” he demanded, and sat up in his chair, staring at me. I sat up, and stared back.

“Look dude, the only way I would ever fuck your wife is she would have to come up to me, totally naked, and she would have to tell me that she wanted to fuck my brains out! Now, can you imagine that ever happening?”

“No. No, that would never happen…”

* * * *

See? I told you I was quite an accomplished liar.

The Long Way Home

If you are the one person that has read all of my blogs, I should probably buy you a beer. Or invite to spend a week or two at our spacious and beautiful retirement home in the even more beautiful Lakeside area.

I probably won’t turn into Satan if you decide to vacation here, but you might want to limit the amount of LSD you take, just in cases. I can promise I won’t pull a gun on you. And you probably won’t contract the Philadelphia flu, though Montezuma’s Revenge is always a possibility in Mexico…  And I won’t tie you up and stab you with a really big needle, or shove a garden hose down your dick.

The only reason I mention these disparate items is because all of them were things I saw, or were things that happened to me while I was in Texas.

I’ve been writing about the vacation from hell my lovely supermodel wife, her sister and I experienced way back in 1995 when we drove down to the bottom of Texas to help their father clear his house of his dead wife’s possessions after her death.

Driving vacations are twofold in the way they unfold. There’s the joyous drive to arrive at your highly anticipated destination part when your vacation begins. And then there’s the dreaded now we have to drive all the way home part as your vacation ends.

There’s usually a whole lots of fun and frolicking somewhere in between anticipation and dread, and that’s one reason why the dread part is so dreaded. You’re usually so exhausted from having fun, the only thing you want to do is sleep for forty-eight hours, not drive.

Neither Lea nor I, or her sister for that matter, could say we had had that much fun during our vacation. The sisters had cried their way through every room and closet, every nook and cranny in their father’s house as they sorted out their mother’s stuff into piles of stuff to keep, and stuff to get rid of.

We had all been struck down by the Philadelphia flu, and Lea had ended up in the hospital just this side of hell in the process. And then there was Andy, Leslie’s goat killing, hostage taking, leg breaking horse, who had lost his head in more ways than one. His misadventures would reverberate through Bill and Leslie’s lives for years to come.

And let’s not forget Muffy’s pants.

Leslie’s sudden change of plans would spare her from the dreaded drive home, and that was probably the only good thing that would come out of our vacation for her.

I can’t say I was dreading the trip home, except for the whole driving a big moving truck thing, and the having to tow our car behind the big truck thing. I had never done that before, but I figured it couldn’t be that tough. Guys nowhere near as smart as me did it everyday, and if someone named Rubber Ducky could do it, so could I.

The days after Leslie flew back to Wisconsin went by quickly. Lea and I hung out with Dave. We rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and a towing dolly for our car. We loaded truck with Leslie’s Stuff. And Lea’s Stuff. And we got rid of the Stuff No One Wants.

Dave had a lots of experience with driving a big rig and towing another vehicle. He owned a motorhome, and he had towed his car behind the motorhome all across the country.

Dave gave me three valuable rules for our trip.

“Now this truck you’re driving is much bigger than anything you’ve ever driven, and you’re going to be towing your car behind it. So give yourself plenty of time and space if you have to stop. This thing is not going to stop on a dime.

“And it’s not going to turn on a dime, either. You have to make wide turns, you understand? Just like those eighteen wheelers do. Don’t try to cut any corners, or you’ll probably lose half of your car.

“And the last thing is the most important. You can’t back up when you’re towing your car. So when you stop to get gas, or sleep, or whatever, make sure you can drive straight out of any place you pull in to, you understand? If you don’t, you’re going to have to take your car off of the dolly, and then you’ll have to unhook the dolly from the truck before you can even think about turning the truck around. And then you have to hook everything back up again.

“So be careful! Because it’s a real bugger if you have to do it, and it always happens at the most inopportune moment, of course.”

I really liked that car. It was a 1994 Mitsubishi Galant four door sedan. Metallic Forest Green, and it had a spoiler. Of all the cars I owned after I lost my little red sportscar in the fire that burned down my parents’ house, I probably liked that car the most.

Dave had good advice, so I damn near took notes. But that ended up being the extent of what he had to say about driving. Give yourself plenty of space when you stop or turn. And don’t drive into anywhere that you can’t drive straight out of.

Piece of cake.

And then Dave said something that caught me by surprise.

“You know, Lea is Wanda’s baby girl, and Wanda used to worry about her baby girl because that’s what mothers do, and Lea was living alone in the Big City, you know.

“And then you came along. Now, I’ll be honest. I didn’t quite know what to think of you when I first met you, but I tend to reserve my judgement about people, and that’s just me. But Wanda loved you–she said you were her angel–and that, well, that was good enough for me.

“But I’ve known you for awhile now, and I’ve gotten to know you better. And there’s no doubt that you love Lea, and she clearly adores you. And you’ve been there for her through some tough times.

“You’re a good man, Mark. You were Wanda’s angel, and, well, you’ve become mine, too.”

I’m sure I had no response to that. When Wanda told me I was her angel, I had an immediate response. I might be a lots of things, but I’m pretty sure an angel isn’t one of them.

Wanda could care less what I thought. I was the answer to her prayers, and that was all that mattered to her. But now I had somehow become Dave’s angel, and I have to admit, that mattered to me.

One of the truths about married life is you are rarely good enough for your in-laws, like, they’re royalty or something, and you’re fucking Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. But I had somehow transcended that status. Not only had I hit an home run, I had scored a touchdown, and an hat trick!

“I kind of doubt I’ll ever be an angel, Dave. But I’m working on that being a good man part. You won’t have to worry about Lea. I’ll take good care of her.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

You know what? Dave wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

* * * *

I think we picked up our rental truck on Monday, and spent the day loading that sucker up. The truck was quite a bit larger than what we needed for the stuff we were going to take back to the top of the country. The only reason we opted for a truck that big was for towing our car.

Dave gave me an hands-on in-service about connecting the dolly to the truck and hooking up the electricals, and putting the front wheels of our car on the dolly to tow it. It seemed simple enough…

We said our good-byes to Dave, and hit the road on Tuesday morning. It would probably take us three days to get back to Minnesota, but that would give me three days to rest and recuperate before I returned to work the following Monday.

It was the last time Lea or I would ever travel to Dave’s house.  Leslie would make one more trek down to the bottom of Texas, just before Dave died in 2011, but she would fly down. And fly back.

I remember being a little nervous as I drove the truck towing our car out of the driveway. You always wonder if you hooked everything up correctly, and you hope you did. After you’ve been driving for about an hour and nothing goes wrong, you relax and almost forget you’ve never done this before.

After a few hours, you give yourself a trucker name.

Ten-four there, good buddy! You got the Yellow Ryder over here on the flip-flop. I’m carrying a load of precious momentos, and I got my best girl by my side. We’re heading for the Great White North, so I’m keeping the pedal on them double nickels, and I got my eyes peeled for Smokey!

My lovely supermodel wife was smiling. This was going to be okay. I told Lea that I had become Dave’s angel. She was quiet for a time, and tears welled her eyes.

“He told me how much he loved me before we left. I think my mother’s death has changed him. He wasn’t like that when I was little.”

The only thing that concerned me was where my wife was sitting. She had moved from her seat to the cooler I had placed between our seats in the cab of the truck. She said she was too far away from me.

That was kind of cute, but the cooler didn’t come equipped with seatbelts, so if I had to come to a sudden stop, I was pretty sure Lea would end up flying through the windshield. And I doubted Dave would consider that taking good care of Wanda’s baby girl on my part.

But I didn’t have to come to any sudden stops. The first leg of our journey home was uneventful, and the miles flew by. And by. And by. If you’ve never driven across Texas, it seemingly goes on forever.

Our plan was to drive from San Benito to Dallas, and spend the night with Gary and Mary. Gary was my buddy that flew up to Minneapolis after Lea’s second surgery to save my life. He was living in Ferris, TX, a suburb on the southern end of Dallas.

Gary and I go way back. He was one of my brother Tom’s friends in high school, and we started doing a lots of stupid stuff together after I got out of the Army.

I can’t remember how he ended up in Texas, but he did. And then he married Mary. And then they had a kid. Spoiler alert! They would have another one nine months later. Yep. Our visit to Dallas would be a fertile one.

I hadn’t seen Gary in awhile, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. You know, drink a few beers, tell some stories, and just relax.

Lea grew tired of sitting on the cooler, and wanted to drive. I filled her in out Dave’s Driving Tips, and she took over somewhere around Austin. So Lea was driving when we hit the outskirts of Dallas at rush hour, and the route we were supposed to take to get to Gary and Mary’s was under major construction.

By the time Lea had traversed the detour, and all the twists and turns we had to take to get to our destination, she was pretty much done with driving on this trip.

* * * *

The first leg of our journey was under our belts. We had made it to Dallas. We sat out on the yard and sipped some adult beverages. I think we even listened to an album by Supertramp. They were Mary’s favorite group back in the day.

We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, and quite a few more beverages. As a result, we probably got off to a later start than I would have liked the next day.

Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

We had driven through Dallas on our way down to San Benito. Leslie had been praying for death after succumbing to the Philadelphia flu. I know I had some random thoughts about my vacation with Shorty bouncing around inside my head as I drove, but most of my attention was focused on not hitting any of the cars flying by us on the freeway. Rush hour traffic in Dallas, is a real rush.

I think the amount of traffic started thinning out a bit once we reached Denton. It was around 9:00 AM, maybe. I asked Lea to find some appropriate traveling tunes on the radio. But there was no music that morning. There was nothing but news reports. Something had happened in Oklahoma City. There had been an explosion.

A very big one.

The initial reports were chaotic and confused. It might have been a gas leak. It might have been a meteorite. Whatever it was, it had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were dead.

“Jesus. That’s crazy. A gas leak? That wouldn’t destroy a building that big. No way.” I said.

But you know what would? A yellow Ryder truck, the same size as the one I was driving, filled with explosives.

As we continued to listen to the reports, it occurred to me that our route back home went right through Oklahoma City, if anything was still moving through Oklahoma City.

“Get the map. Find another route.” I said. “We’re not going anywhere near Oklahoma City. I don’t care if we have to go through California. Find another way.”

I can’t remember the exact route Lea decided on, but she plotted a course around Oklahoma City that eventually brought us back to our original course just outside of Kansas City.

We were on the road for thirteen hours that day. We checked into an hotel at midnight, and we were back on the road at 4:00 AM Thursday morning.

* * * *

I can’t remember how many times I thought things couldn’t get any worse on this trip, but I know I was wrong every time.

It was a gray, cloudy day, and windier than hell on Thursday. I had to fight like two hells to keep the truck on the road. I was buffeted out of my lane more than once, and one of those times resulted in me careening rather close to a really big truck.

It wasn’t intentional on my part, but the truck driver’s response was. He decided to play a little trucker tag, and inched his rig toward mine. And he kept on inching.

Now I had a dilemma. This guy was clearly going to keep on inching closer to me because every time I slid to the right, so did he. So I decided to bail out and head for the shoulder of the road.

The shoulder of the road wasn’t in the best of shape, and we hit a lots of bumps and stuff. I was pretty sure we lost our car, and slowly came to a stop, then went to check on my car.

I was surprised to see it intact, but checked all the bindings and electricals, just to make sure they were still working, and those all checked out. I noticed were getting low on gas when I got back in the truck, lower than I thought we were, so I planned to stop at the very next gas station we saw.

We were in Southern Iowa by this time. The warm, shiny weather of Southern Texas had been replaced by a gray chill, and the clouds looked like rain was in the forecast.

I saw a gas station an heartbeat too late, but there was a Walmart or something like that, and all I had to do was drive around the back of the store and I could pull in right next to the pump.

“I don’t think this is going to work.” Lea said, as I headed for the back of the store.

And, she was right. I think I just about started crying.

There was no exit from the back of the store. I had broken Dave’s Third Driving Tip, and I was fucked. I was going to have to take the car off the dolly, then unhook the dolly from the truck, turn the truck around, reconnect the dolly, and put the car back on the dolly, and then find another gas station because there was no way to get to the one I missed.

“Oh, honey.” Lea said. “I’m sorry. At least it’s not raining!”

And then it started to rain.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife is really good at four things. No, five. Wait a minute, six. And, she’s really good at that, too. Okay. My wife is really good at a lots of stuffs. And one of those things is shopping.

The first thing she did after we got married was throw out most of my clothes, and she bought me a wardrobe. I’ve gotten a lots of compliments over the years about my style and taste in clothing.

That is not me. That’s Lea.

So when the rain started falling as I started the process to get us back on the road again, I was probably more fashionably equipped to handle the situation than I had been, ever.

I had a lightweight fleece jacket on, and more or less matching gloves. I had plenty of freedom of movement, and I stayed warm. Plus, I was so pissed off I think the rain evaporated the moment it hit me.

I’m sure it took me at least an hour to unhook everything, point the truck in right direction, and hook everything back up. I was able to find a different gas station before we ran out of gas, and that was pretty much the end of our adventures on what we would come to call our Vacation from Hell.

There are a couple of small details.

When we reached the Minnesota border, the rain turned to snow, and it snowed all the way back to Minneapolis.

About a month after our trip, we got a letter from the FBI. They noted that around April 19th, we had rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and we were driving it near the proximity of Oklahoma City, and the FBI wanted to know why.

I had hung onto that letter until we moved to Mexico, and then I figured it was time to let go of that, too.

I’ve let go of a lots of stuffs over the years. But I’ve hung on to a few things. Like being a Vikings fan. And wanting to be a prophet.

I should let God know that at least two of his masterpieces thought I was an angel.

It might make a difference. You never know…

Andy

Before I get started, a couple of things.

I need to fill in the back story about my lovely supermodel wife’s family dynamics before she shoves a garden hose down my dick and makes me cry a lots.

As you may know, my wife is the baby of her family. Her sister, Leslie, is eight years older than her. There was a brother in between them, David.

He killed himself when he was twelve.

Leslie and Lea were never best friends when they were young, simply because of their age difference. Leslie was more of a surrogate mother to her little sister than she was a friend, or even a sister.

I’ve made some references to the fact that my father-in-law wasn’t any easy man to like. He had a short fuse on his temper, and was prone to fits of rage, which I attribute to his untreated PTSD.

Dave had mellowed somewhat with age by the time I met him, but my wife told me stories about what he used to be like, back when she was a girl. Dave was downright mean and scary. He yelled and shouted, a lots. He broke stuff, on purpose. And he punched people, mostly his wife. And his son.

My parents spanked my ass a lots when I was young, but that was the extent of their discipline when I acted out.

Young David probably wouldn’t have dared to act out. A simple mistake would result in a beating. The penalty for intentionally misbehaving might well be death. And that’s probably what led to his decision to take his life at the tender age of twelve.

Lea and her family were living in Cannon Falls, MN when it happened. Dave and Wanda had gone to work. Leslie was fourteen at the time. David was twelve, and Lea was six. I can’t remember the circumstances, but they were all at home on that winter’s day.

The kids were horsing around as kids will do, and as is often the case, a piece of furniture sustained some damage in the process. The coffee table in the living room. It took me at least fifteen years of almost begging before Lea agreed to let me buy the table we now have in our living room.

David knew what was going to happen when his father got home, and decided he couldn’t take one more beating. He got his .22 rifle out of the closet, loaded it, and pointed the barrel at his head.

Lea sat next to her brother on the couch and pleaded with him to stop. Leslie stood on the far side of the room and said nothing, watching.

I didn’t think he’d actually do it, she would say during the one and only time I remember the sisters discussing what had happened in my presence.

And I knew he would, was Lea’s response.

I can see her, almost as if I had been there myself, a terrified little girl running through the snow in stocking feet, running down the street to flag down the first passing motorist she saw, tears running down her face.

And there was blood.

I may have fallen in love with Lea the first time I saw her, but it was the stories she told that sealed the deal for me. That she could pass through a fire so immense, a storm of such intensity, and survive…

* * * *

When viewed from this perspective, the weird dynamics of Lea’s family don’t look quite as weird. The fact they had any dynamics is probably some kind of miracle.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention while my wife was fighting her lengthy battle with Crohn’s disease, Leslie was also fighting for her life against a different opponent. Breast cancer.

Those Covington girls. You don’t want to mess with them. They are survivors, and so much more.

Lea and Leslie have grown much closer since the death of their mother, and father. They’ll never be best friends, and they both know that, and they are both at peace with that. But they are sisters now, and they call each other from time to time.

We used to go Bill and Leslie’s farm on a semi-frequent basis before they sold it, and before we moved to Arizona, then to Mexico.

Bill and Leslie came to visit us once in Arizona. I hope Bill and Leslie decide to visit us down here in the beautiful Lakeside area someday.

I can show Bill where the goats live.

* * * *

Okay. Where was I?

This happens to me more than I would like to admit. Last night, I walked into the bedroom to help Lea turn down the bed, and I forgot why I went into the bedroom before I got there. I went into my closet and started changing into my pajamas.

“Hey! Aren’t you going to help me?” Lea asked. So I went back to the bedroom to help with the bed, then forgot I had been changing into my pajamas.

So. Where was I?

Oh yes. I had helped my lovely supermodel wife escape from the local hospital where my father-in-law lived, down in the bottom of Texas. She had survived her bout of the Philadelphia flu, and she had survived the doctor who couldn’t believe she had Crohn’s disease, despite the fact she’d had four major abdominal surgeries, an ileostomy, and least two doctors in Minnesota that didn’t have any questions about her diagnosis. And she had also survived the fat slob of a nurse who had been too busy to take care of her.

There would be no adverse reactions for Lea from sneaking barefooted out the front door of the hospital in broad daylight, wearing little more than an hospital gown. Once the stomach flu passed, all she needed was her regularly scheduled meds at the times she was supposed to regularly receive them, and Lea could do that without any assistance from anyone.

Lea told her family what had happened to her during her brief but endless stay at the hospital while I more or less told the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, and then it was Leslie’s turn.

She also had a story to tell.

At the time my wife started feeling the first assault of the Philadelphia flu, my sister-in-law had been on the phone with her husband, Bill, the man who would unintentionally infect us all with the GI bug he had picked up on his last business trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

I’m not sure just where in the world Bill was when he called, but he wasn’t on the farm in Wisconsin anymore. And that was why he had called. Something had gone terribly wrong, back on the farm.

And that something was Leslie’s once cute miniature horse, Andy, whom was no longer cute, nor even remotely miniature anymore.

Andy had inexplicably morphed out of being a darlingpreshadorbs little horse about the size of one them Buttweiler dogs, into a bad tempered teenaged mutant medium-sized thug of a horse. Andy grown to roughly the size of an adult deer, and probably weighed close to three hundred pounds. And to prove how much of a badass he’d become, Andy had killed a goat just before we jumped in the car to start our trek to the bottom of Texas.

Bill figured Andy’s sudden behavioral changes could be attributed to the fact that he was transitioning from a colt into an young stallion. What Andy needed was the calming presence of an older father figure horse that could kick his ass when he got too boisterous. Or, he needed his balls cut off.

Unfortunately, there was no such horse living at Pfaff’s Happy Acres, just a bunch of dwarf goats, and they were clearly no match for Andy when he decided he wanted to be a bully. Nor was there any time to have Andy gelded. Bill was a business consultant, and he had consulting to do.

Bill had made arrangements with one his neighbors down the road. They had a teenage farmer’s daughter, I’ll call her Muffy, who was on spring break from college or something, and for a few dollars a day she would swing by the farm and take care of the tiny goats and the mutant miniature horse, and the cats that lived in the barn, and the mangy looking dog Bill had adopted.

It was only for a week. Bill would be back on the farm on Friday or Saturday night.

I don’t think I ever met Muffy, but just because I can do this, let’s say Muffy looked like Christina Aguilera, back when she was a genie in a bottle. And because Muffy was so cute and adorable, Bill warned her in all seriousness to be careful around Andy, given his predilection for unpredictable behavior.

That last part really did happen. And then Bill flew off to go take care of business.

Earlier on the day that Bill called, as Team Covington was returning from Mexico, Andy had somehow gotten out of his pen in Wisconsin, and had trotted down the driveway into the road. And he decided he would claim that part of the road as his own.

There wasn’t a whole lots of traffic on the road that ran past the farm, but there was some, and on that day, a school bus full of students needed to drive past Pfaff’s Happy Acres to drop off some kids a bit further down the road.

But in the middle of the road, stood a horse. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in the country. Livestock get out of their pens all the time, and the locals know how to deal with it. The bus driver honked the horn, that usually worked, but Andy shook his head and stood his ground.

As in all small towns, the bus driver knew Bill and Leslie, and everyone else up and down their road for that matter. She told her passengers to stay on the bus, then went out to put Andy back in his pen. She was a middle aged country gal, and she knew how to handle large farm animals.

Andy allowed her to walk up to him and grab his halter, and he even cooperated with her when she started leading him back to his pen.

And then, he changed his mind. Andy had evidently grown tired of the whole domesticated horse thing, and decided to become a lion, a tiger and a bear, all at once. And he became fierce!

I’m a little uncertain about the details, but Andy knocked the lady bus driver off her feet, then tossed her around a little as she struggled to regain her footing and keep her grip on the halter. As she regained her balance, Andy pushed her up against a large fence post with his not so miniature body. Forcefully. By the time Andy was done showing the bus driver where she could get off, he had broken her hip and one of her legs in two or three places.

The kids on the bus had all been raised on farms, and they raced out of the bus to save their driver, but Andy chased them all back to the bus, and he wouldn’t let them leave.

More vehicles arrived to find themselves stuck behind a school bus being held hostage by a terrorist horse. The sheriff and the fire department were called to save the kids trapped on the bus, and to rescue the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces.

It’s hard to negotiate with a terrorist, but it’s impossible to negotiate with a terrorist thug horse, straight outta Oshkosh.

The sheriff couldn’t get anywhere near the bus, or the horse. Andy had no intention of peacefully returning to his pen, and charged the sheriff when he approached. He chased anyone away that tried to approach the bus, or the injured bus driver laying on the ground nearby with one leg bent in at least two impossible angles. Andy had taken prisoners, and he wasn’t willing to let any them go.

The sheriff had a dilemma. Neither Bill nor Leslie were home, and he had no idea how to contact them. Their horse had become a menace to society. It had taken a bus full of children hostage, and had seriously injured the bus driver. He had to act, and he had to act quickly.

He got his shotgun, and walked toward the renegade horse. When Andy charged the sheriff, the sheriff pulled the trigger, and a shot echoed loudly across the fields and woods surrounding the farm. The children ran out of the bus. The fire department flew into action and rescued the bus driver. And some scientist guys from Madison showed up because the sheriff called them after he killed the psychotic terrorist horse. By Wisconsin State law, any crazy horse had to be tested for rabies.

And then the scientist guys had a dilemma. The rabies virus lives in brain cells, and nowhere else. The scientist guys could have taken all of Andy’s remains, but they didn’t need all of Andy to run their required tests, just his head. And Andy, well, he wasn’t a small horse anymore.

Seeing how Andy was dead and wouldn’t be needing his head anymore, and that was the only part of his body they needed…  It’s much, much easier to transport the head of a dead horse than it is to transport the entire dead horse, so that’s what the scientist guys decided to do. They left most of dead Andy laying in the driveway, and then drove back to Madison where their tests would eventually reveal Andy did not have rabies, nor did he have the Philadelphia flu.

He was just a misunderstood youth, an over-amped adolescent, a rebel without a cause. He was the Headless Horse of Trempealeau County.

And that would be the end of this story, except for a few small details.

You may remember that Bill had hired Muffy, the perhaps cute and adorable college coed farmer’s daughter that lived down the road to keep an eye on the farm while he was out of town.

I’m not sure where Muffy was on that day, or what she was doing, but she was nowhere near the farm when Andy decided to go rogue and terrorize the community. As she was driving home, cute and adorable Muffy decided to drop by the farm to check on the animals entrusted to her care, and found the headless body of a dead horse laying in the driveway. She pretty much shit her pants.

I don’t think she went back to Bill and Leslie’s farm. Ever. Her dad ended up taking care of the goats and cats and dog, and he probably made the arrangements to have the rest of Andy’s body disposed of.

I’m not sure if Muffy called Bill first, or if the sheriff did, but one of those two called Bill and told him about the demise of Andy the militant mutant miniature horse, and then Bill called Dave’s house to let his wife know her wicked horse was dead.

As for the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces, she ended up having several surgeries to put her back together again. And that was good. However, she had no health insurance, and that was bad. She ended up with a whole lots of medical expenses she had no way to pay, and ended up sueing Bill and Leslie for an enormous amount of money.

It would take a few years for all the legal wranglings to sort themselves out, and as both parties were walking into the courtroom, a settlement was reached.

Bill had wisely added an umbrella policy to his home owner’s insurance when he had purchased the farm, and the however many hundreds of thousands of dollars they settled on was paid by his insurance company.

Lea and I would also incur some medical expenses while we were deep in the heart of Texas. Our health insurance covered the majority of it, but we were billed for the balance. And Lea was given the opportunity to tell the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, too.

* * * *

“Sonuvafuckinbitch!” I probably said something like unto that when Leslie finished telling us about Andy. And the bus driver. And the kids. And the sheriff. And the fire department. And the scientist guys. And Muffy. And her pants. It was probably the most exciting thing that had happened in that part of Wisconsin in the last fifty years. “Man, I told Lea I had a bad feeling when Andy killed the goat, but I had no idea it’d turn out this bad!”

See? Not a prophet.

To say our plans would require some renovations would be an understatement. Leslie had to fly back to Wisconsin as soon as possible. She would not be able to drive our car while I drove the truck we were going to rent to get all of Wanda’s stuff back to the top of the country from way down at the bottom of the country.

“I’m really sorry.” she said.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out.” Lea replied.

There was one bright spot. Leslie and Lea had gone through Dave’s house like a pair of stormtroopers, and everything had been sorted, separated and mostly packed. Lea and I would finish that, and load everything in the truck we would rent. We would take care of the stuff to be sold or donated. Leslie suddenly had more than enough stuff of her own to deal with.

* * * *

Leslie flew back to Wisconsin the very next day to take care of the shitstorm of events related to her mutant miniature thug horse from Hell, and all the havoc he had unleashed.

We rode along as Dave drove her to the airport. Leslie and Lea went through a checklist to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. The last thing either of them wanted to do was make another trip to Texas.

We drove back to the house afterwards. I was going to miss Leslie. She had a way of handling Dave that neither Lea nor I possessed, not that Dave was a terrible management problem anymore.

But he did have his moments still, and Lea didn’t have the same technique her sister did. I was a pysch nurse. I wasn’t yet the elite nurse I would eventually become, but I was confident I could handle Dave if I needed to. And the tall Texas blonde ER nurse had just shown me a new intervention…

“Man, I still can’t believe what happened with that crazy horse!” Dave said, as he drove. He spoke for all of us. That was pretty fucking wild, no doubt.

“It’s been quite a trip so far, Dave. I think I’m going to need another vacation to recover from this vacation.” I said. And we all laughed.

Yeah, it was funny then. But in less than a week it wouldn’t be. Remember that thing I said about life? There might be times when things can’t get any better, but things can always get worse.

Yes. They could.

And, yes, they would.

Saving Captain Covington

One of the perks of working for the Federal Government is the amount of time you get off. For starters, you get all of the holidays. When was the last time you got Columbus Day off?

And, you get five weeks of paid vacation a year.

In April of 1995, I did something I had never done since I had started working at the MVAMC. I took two consecutive weeks off, but I did it for a good reason. My father-in-law had called, and said he needed help cleaning out his house after his wife had died.

Wanda had died the previous October after traveling all the way from the bottom of Texas to Minnesota to see her baby girl before her fourth abdominal surgery in three years. Wanda had had an heart attack after arriving in Minnesota, and needed another coronary bypass surgery before she could safely travel back to the bottom of Texas. She would die on the table in the OR, leaving a tidal wave of shock and grief in her wake.

My lovely supermodel wife called her sister, and plans were made. The three of us would drive down to the bottom of Texas and clean out Dave’s house. We would rent a truck, load that sucker up, then drive back home. I would drive the truck. Leslie would drive our car. Lea would ride with me or Leslie. Done deal.

Early Saturday morning on April 8th, Lea and I drove from our house in Minneapolis to just outside of Ettrick, WI where Bill and Leslie lived on their hobby farm, Pfaff’s Happy Acres.

I loved their farm. Bill had planted a bunch of apple trees, and collected himself an herd of miniature goats. He named all his goats after Biblical prophets. Amos. Isaiah. I think he even named one Elijah. And he had a girl goat named Ruth, of course.

Leslie had a kind of a miniature horse named Andy. Miniature horses are supposed to be, you know, small. But in the Spring of 1995, Andy went through a growth spurt, and had turned into a mutant, semi-large horse.

I was much taller than Andy the first time I met him. Andy was a few inches taller than me the second time we met. And he had developed a bad attitude.

As I was packing Leslie’s luggage in the trunk of our car, Andy grabbed one of the goats by the scruff of the neck and started shaking it around like a ragdoll. I raced into the house to tell Bill.

Bill was working as a consultant back then, and he traveled a lots. Bill had just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, where he had contracted a particularly virulent, though short-lived stomach virus, and he still looked a little green around the gills.

Despite his weakened state, Bill and I ran out to the barn to do try to save one of the prophetic goats from the psychotic horse. We were able to get the goat away from Andy, but we were too late to save it. Then Bill moved Andy into a different pen before he decided to kill any more goats, but Andy wasn’t exactly cooperative with the move, and Bill was shaking with anger and exhaustion by the time he was finished.

“I have a really bad feeling about this…” I whispered to Lea, as the goat we tried to save took one last gasping breath, and died. We said our good-byes to Bill, and climbed into the car, and headed off to San Benito, TX.

* * * *

It’s a little over 1500 miles from Ettrick to San Benito, and none of us felt like spending twenty-two consecutive hours in the car. Dusk was approaching when we reached Oklahoma City. We found an hotel in Purcell, OK, and checked in. We would resume our journey in the morning.

Lea and I were ready to roll early Sunday morning, but Leslie was not. She was pale and clammy looking. She just needed a few more minutes to compose herself. Before we hit the road, we stopped at a nearby Burger King for breakfast. Leslie took one bite of her breakfast sandwich, and turned a stunning color of green. She ran to the Ladies Room, and she stayed there.

“Maybe you should go check on your sister, and make sure she’s still alive.” I suggested to my wife.

“She’s laying on the floor.” Lea announced when she returned, and sat down to finish her coffee.

“What does that mean? Should we call 911?”

“No. She’s just being dramatic. She’ll be okay.”

This was my first exposure to the odd dynamics of my wife’s family. There would be more.

There was an Urgent Care office next door to the Burger King. I thought about dragging Leslie across the parking lot to be evaluated. She’s a much larger woman than her sister, but when Leslie finally emerged from the Ladies Room, she declined all offers of medical treatment, and crawled into the backseat of the car.

“Drive!” she ordered. I drove.

The next 700 miles were perhaps the longest miles of all our lives. Leslie was utterly miserable. She moaned and groaned and prayed for death.

“If she doesn’t shut up, I’ll fucking kill her myself!” Lea told me during one of our stops for gas.

As night started to fall, we pulled into Dave’s driveway. The first stage of our rescue mission was over. We had arrived safely, and more or less alive.

* * * *

Leslie looked a whole lots better on Monday morning. The Philadelphia flu had wreaked its’ havoc upon her, and then it was gone.

Lea and I slept in the guest room. Dave moved into his motorhome, so Leslie could sleep in the master suite. We usually went out to eat while we down in the bottom of Texas, except when Leslie or Lea felt like cooking. But I think those occasions were rare. The reason for our visit took an emotional toll on everyone.

Dave’s daughters surveyed the house like generals planning an invasion. They started sorting stuff into three piles: Leslie’s Stuff. Lea’s Stuff. Stuff No One Wants. The stuff no one wanted, like all of Wanda’s clothes, would be sold at a local consignment shop, or given away.

Leslie and Lea shed a lots of tears in the process. They understood the necessity of what they were doing, but it was tough duty.

Dave and I tried to stay out of their way as much as possible. He showed me his medals from the Army, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and casually told me how he got them. Dave had received a battlefield commission to captain during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea after all the officers in his unit had been killed to death. He had only been almost killed, and as the highest ranking surviving NCO, he instantly became the commanding officer of what remained of his unit.

Dave had to have been the luckiest unlucky bastard I ever met. He was at Anzio in WW II, which was one of the worst places you could be at that time. And he was at the Chosin Reservoir, which was one of the worst places to be, ever. For all time. He was lucky because he wasn’t killed or captured, but he was wounded twice. And he was an emotional basketcase for the rest of his life.

He showed me his pistol, a .45 automatic, and offered to let me handle it because I had been in the Army, and I could appreciate it. But I had seen one too many handguns up close and personal, the last one during my vacation in Dallas with my buddy, Shorty.

I declined.

Leslie and Lea would occasionally question Dave about what to do with a particular item. He almost always opted to get rid of it. The sorting continued daily, the three piles of stuff grew progressively larger. No one else started exhibiting the symptoms of the Philadelphia flu, and I thought the rest of us were going to dodge a bullet.

Leslie felt like cooking on Wednesday. She made beef stroganoff, and she made a lots of it. We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, then retired to the living room to relax. After watching TV for awhile, we all headed for bed. And I started feeling not so good.

I can’t remember how many times I vomited, but by the time I finished, I knew one thing for sure. I would never eat beef stroganoff again.

Being sick is one thing, but being puking sick is the worst. Ever. I’ve rarely been puking sick in my life, even when I drank to excess, and I did that a lots. If I had been prone to vomiting, I might have been inspired to quit drinking sooner because I fucking hate puking.

I eventually crawled into bed, and started praying for death, much like Leslie had a few days earlier. I tried not to moan or whine too much because I knew what my wife had endured when she had been trying to survive her battles with Crohn’s disease.

But I was miserable. I eventually said this to my wife, “Honey, I hope you don’t think I’m a sissy or anything, but I’m sicker than a dog, and… I… want… my…mom!”

* * * *

By the next morning, I was pretty sure I was going to live, though I was feeling very shaky. And then Dave came into the house from his motorhome. We took one look at each other, and knew we had both fought the same battle.

Dave thought we all needed a break, so we got into his car and drove the short distance to the Mexican border to do some shopping and stuff.

Leslie and Lea walked around some of the streets of Reynosa while Dave and I parked ourselves in a little cantina and tried to drink a beer. It was perhaps the least amount of fun I’ve ever had with a beer in my hand.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Reynosa, and I actually started feeling better. I was ready to back to the cantina, but everyone else wanted to go home. Lea said she wasn’t feeling too good. By the time we got back to Dave’s house, the Philadelphia flu was beginning its first assault on my wife’s already compromised body.

Lea’s health, or the lack thereof, had been the intense focus of our lives for the three previous years. She’d had four major abdominal surgeries, and had almost died at least three times. She had had about one third of her intestines removed, and had ended up with an ileostomy and an external pouch.

I wasn’t a medical nurse, but I knew enough about my wife and her medical issues to know she wouldn’t be able to survive the ravages of the Philadelphia flu without professional help. At the very least, she’d need IV fluids and electrolyte replacement therapy, or the consequences could be dire.

Lea ran into the house and down the hallway to the bathroom as soon as we got back to Dave’s house, and as the rest of us walked into the house, the phone rang. Bill was calling, from wherever he was in the world on business, and he needed to talk to Leslie. It was an emergency!

I had an emergency of my own to take care of. I tossed the phone to Leslie, got directions to the nearest hospital from Dave–fortunately, there was a little forty bed facility just a few miles from Dave’s–and helped Lea into the car, hoping she could get the medical attention she needed before she started having seizures. She said her muscles were starting to spasm, and I didn’t think a full blown grand mal seizure was far behind.

The local hospital had an emergency room. I got Lea checked in, and started explaining her complicated medical history to the admissions clerk while the staff started taking care of Lea. The ER staff all knew Dave and Wanda, and they assured me they wouldn’t let anything happen to Wanda’s baby girl.

But I knew this was going to be kind of an ordeal, no matter what anyone said. When I told the clerk at the desk my wife had an ileostomy, this was her response.

Illy-what? Can y’all spell that for me?

Like most ER’s, this one was busy. I gave the clerk a list of all the medications Lea was taking and the dosages of all of them. It was a very long list. I made her make a bunch of copies, and I would hand a copy to anyone that had anything to do with Lea’s care while we were in the ER. I stopped every staff person I saw, and told them I was a nurse, and what my wife needed. STAT!

The nurses in the ER were actually very helpful, and Lea had an IV running with a potassium piggyback running in no time. She didn’t have the same issue with vomiting that I had had, but her external pouch needed to be emptied constantly.

Lea’s nurse was a tall Texas blonde. Besides my wife, she was busy taking care of at least three other people, one of whom was a big hairy guy that had been brought in by a couple of Texas Department of Corrections Officers.

I don’t know what this guy had done, but I’m guessing jail isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV. This guy presented with chest pain, but didn’t appear to be in any apparent distress as he strolled into the ER. He had a big smile on his face, and he waved at everyone, making sure they saw the handcuffs on his wrists.

Per hospital policy, the big hairy guy was restrained to a litter because he came in under police escort. He totally cooperated with that, but he had stopped smiling. Once he was restrained, the tall Texas blonde nurse explained what was going to happen in no uncertain terms.

A nasal cannula was placed in his nose holes, and he was started on O2. An IV was started, and labs were drawn, using the biggest needle the nurse could find. And she made sure she missed his vein with her first attempt. Then she informed the big hairy guy she needed an urine sample.

“I can pee in a cup. I do it all the time for my PO.”

“Nope, y’all can just lay back and relax. I’m going to cath you.” And she did, using a catheter about the diameter of a small garden hose.

The big hairy convict guy probably wasn’t in any pain in any part of his body when he walked into the ER, but after roughly thirty minutes of tender loving care from the ER staff, he was hurting in at least two places.

“Hey! Take me back to jail! I’m good! Get me the fuck outta here!!” And once his lab results came back normal, back to jail he went.

* * * *

Just between you and me, that was the most beautiful intervention I’d ever seen on a malingering patient, ever.

A malingering patient endorses a plethora of symptoms to lengthen their stay in the hospital. We saw this all the time in Psychiatry. Some of our patients wanted to stay in the hospital as long as they could, for a multitude of reasons.

Some of them were homeless, and if you’ve never tried living on the streets, it totally sucks. Some of them were trying to avoid going to jail, and I’m going to guess that probably sucks, too.

It might have been legal to restrain a guy and stab him in the arm with a really big needle a couple of times, then shove a garden hose down his dick in Texas, but it wasn’t in Minnesota. If we had been allowed to use those interventions, we could have easily cut our recidivism rate in half, if not more. We couldn’t even carry tasers, which I thought every psych nurse should be issued, no matter which state they worked in.

Seeing how Lea’s nurse was busy taking care of a guy that didn’t need any care, I decided to take care of my wife because she did, and I was a nurse, too. I grabbed a box of gloves and a basin, and I informed her nurse each time I emptied Lea’s pouch, or she vomited, and the volume of fluids she expelled each time. Her nurse was grateful for the help, and offered me a job.

One of the other ER nurses heard I worked in Psych. She came over to quiz me about her ten year old son, who had recently been diagnosed as Bipolar. I can’t remember her name, but she was probably a couple of years younger than I was. She was kind of attractive, and clearly overwhelmed by the situation with her son, and practically started crying on my shoulder.

That seemed like a weird diagnosis for a ten year old to me, and to her, for that matter. I suggested she get a second opinion from a real doctor next time, and spent close to half an hour listening to her. I wished her luck, then we both went back to work.

Bipolar Disorder is a terrible disease.

Lea’s condition had stabilized somewhat. Her nausea had passed. She was no longer vomiting. In fact, I thought she looked good enough to go home, and even Lea thought she was going to be okay.

But given the fact she’d had multiple surgeries and she had an ileostomy, and then there was her family history of heart disease…  The ER doctor didn’t feel comfortable discharging my lovely supermodel wife, no matter what we said. He wanted to keep her overnight for observation, just in cases.

And that’s where the ordeal started. Given Lea’s cardiac history, the ER doctor wanted her to be admitted to a monitored bed. The only problem was there weren’t any open monitored beds in the hospital.

Now, you might be thinking, it’s an hospital! Aren’t all of the beds monitored? A monitored bed is hooked up via EKG leads and highly sophisticated circuitry to an alarm system behind the nursing station. If something goes awry in a monitored bed, alarms go off and every nurse on the floor goes running to that room with crash carts and oxygen and a shitload of medications to save a life.

I used to work in Cardiac Care, and I understood the rationale behind the ER doctor’s decision. So we waited for a bed. And we waited. And we waited.

The first symptoms of the Philadelphia flu hit Lea about 6:00 PM. I had called Dave’s house a couple of times with updates. My last call was probably around 10:00 PM. Lea was doing better, but the doctor wanted to keep her overnight. Dave said he and Leslie were going to bed, but they’d leave the door unlocked so I could get in the house when I got home. They’d see me in the morning.

When midnight arrived, Lea was still waiting for a bed. She was getting a little upset with the wait. I was way past that.

I’m an incredibly patient man. You can ask around if you like. But this situation was beyond ridiculous. I asked to see the Administrator on Duty, every hospital has one, and I wanted some answers. I was informed she was busy, of course, but she’d be down to see me in a few minutes

When 1:00 AM rolled around, I demanded to see the AOD. Now.

She actually came running into the ER. She was a very sweet woman who apologized profusely in her darling Texas accent. She offered her condolences to us. Wanda had been a friend of hers, then explained the difficulties she was facing.

There were a limited number of monitored beds in her hospital, and they were all currently occupied. She had called in the maintenance team, and they were moving heaven and earth to hook up a monitoring system in one of the rooms to the nursing station so Lea could be admitted.

In the meantime, was there anything she could do for us?

Well, yeah, there was. It was incredibly noisy in the ER. It was filled with a lots of unhappy people. Was there any place to put my lovely supermodel wife that wasn’t as loud and busy while we waited for the monitored bed was being set up?

Yes! Lea could be moved into a room in the ER, and a real bed could be put inside the room. Lea would be more comfortable, and the room would be much quieter…

Lea said that would be fine. And the very sweet woman left to see that this was taken care of immediately. And it was. As to how long it would take for Lea’s monitored bed to be ready, well, that was a mystery.

When 2:00 AM rolled around, I was falling asleep standing up. I told Lea I was going to go back to Dave’s house. I hoped her bed would be ready soon, but she was at least in a quieter place, and maybe she could even get some sleep, but I had run out of gas. I had to go.

I think I finally got back to Dave’s around 3:00 AM. I would find out later that Lea would wait in that room for at least another three hours before she was admitted to her hastily assembled monitored bed.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning around 9:30 AM because Dave knocked on the door and told me Lea was on the phone. My head was foggy, and full of cobwebs.

“Come and get me!” Lea’s voice said. She sounded terrible.

“Are you being discharged?” I asked. I was a nurse. I kind of understood how hospitals worked.

“No! The fucking doctor here doesn’t think I have Crohn’s disease! He wants to run a bunch of stupid tests on me! I told him to go to hell!”

“How did he take that?” I decided to ask.

“He’s not very happy with me right now.”

“How’s everything else going? Are you getting your meds?”

I knew getting her meds right would be complicated. That’s why I handed out a list of them to everyone, hoping the floor nurses would get a copy and get them ordered.

“No! I haven’t gotten anything! Not even morphine!”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I was so pissed I was shaking. I almost asked Dave for his gun.

* * * *

Lea wasn’t in the best of shape when I had taken her to the ER, but she looked even worse when I arrived at the hospital the next day. She was drenched with sweat, and writhing on her bed. I was a nurse, and I was a very good nurse. I knew what what was happening to her the moment I laid eyes on her. My wife, was going through serious opiate withdrawal.

I went to the nursing station, then tracked down her nurse in the hallway, and I tried to be polite, at first.

“Excuse me. I know you’re incredibly busy, but my wife is in that room down there at the end of the hallway, and you need to come see her now, please.”

Lea’s nurse was a young-ish slob wearing light blue scrub bottoms and a multicolored top about the size of a pup tent. She kind of shuffled when she walked, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed since March.

“Yeah, I’ll be down there just as soon as I can. I’m doing something right now.”

“I’m sure you are, but have you seen my wife lately? She hasn’t gotten any of her meds yet, not even her pain meds, and she’s going through withdrawal.”

“I haven’t had time to go over her meds yet. Like I said, I’m doing something right now.” she replied, not even bothering to look at me when she talked. And that was the last straw for me.

“You listen to me, and you better hear every word I say.” I said softly, but loud enough for her to hear me clearly. “I’m a nurse, too. So when I tell you you need to come to my wife’s room now, I mean right fucking now. And if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll have your ass in front of the Board of Nursing before your shift ends. Now, move!”

I appeared to have gotten her attention. She stopped doing whatever it was she’d been doing and turned to look at me for the first time. I nodded in the direction of Lea’s room, barely controlling the urge to push her down the hallway.

“Oh my word!” she said when she entered Lea’s room and saw my wife.”She didn’t look like this the last time I was here! Let me go check her meds. I’ll be right back, I promise!”

“That’s bullshit.” Lea said, as her slob of a nurse shuffled out of her room. “I’ve been like this for at least an hour!”

“Well, let’s give her a minute to fix this. Then I’ll kill her.” I said. I was only partially joking. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t ask Dave for his gun. Unlike Hillary, I probably would’ve used it.

In a very short amount of time, Lea’s nurse returned with a syringe filled with Demerol. She injected the drug into a port in Lea’s IV tubing, and by the time she shuffled out the door, Lea looked a whole lots better. My wife exhaled a huge sigh of relief, and smiled.

“That’s better!” she said.

“Can you walk?” I asked. I was making an assessment. Lea was wearing a hospital gown and a pair of panties. The only clothes she had with her were a pair of denim cutoffs, which I pulled out of the closet and handed to her. She didn’t even have a pair of shoes. I had taken her purse and the rest of her clothes home with me when I left the ER.

“Yes. I’m fine now. Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking if I don’t get you out of here, you’re going to die.”

“Then get me out of here!” she said, and pulled on her shorts.

I disconnected Lea’s IV, and covered her IV site with gauze and tape. Then I started disconnecting the leads of the monitor. This was the tricky part. Lea was in a monitored bed, and the moment I started messing with her leads, all kinds of alarms would go off. A veritable army of nurses would descend upon us, and even her slob of a nurse would eventually shuffle back to her room to check on her.

But a funny thing happened when I disconnected the first lead.

Nothing.

No alarms went off. No one came running. And I got even more pissed off, if that were possible. When Lea was disconnected from all her equipment, we walked out of her room, down the hallway past her slob of a nurse, who was so busy doing something she didn’t notice us walk by her, and got on the elevator.

We walked out the front door of the hospital, my barefoot, hospital gown wearing lovely supermodel wife and I, across the parking lot, and I drove us back to Dave’s house. I think we laughed the entire way.

* * * *

Dave was waiting for us at the front door when we pulled into the driveway. He had a puzzled look on his face.

“Mark! The hospital is on the phone!” he said. His expression was also one of concern. “They said you took Lea out of the hospital without permission! They want you to bring her back, right away!” Lea was his daughter. And he had just lost his wife a few months earlier. I don’t know if he ever understood how many times his daughter had almost died in the last few years, but he clearly thought I had done something to endanger her life now.

“This is Mark.” I said into the receiver. Lea was explaining what had happened while she was in the hospital to her her father and her sister, and that way her family would know I wasn’t trying to kill her to death.

“Mr Rowen, this is the hospital administrator.” a male voice said into my ear. “I understand you and your wife have had a bit of a bumpy ride while you were here, but we would certainly like the opportunity to fix that. You’re a nurse, right? You have to know your wife is very sick!”

“Yes, I know.” I replied. “And I’d like to keep her that way if you don’t mind.”

“I…I don’t understand, Mr Rowen.”

“Yes. My wife was very sick, but your hospital did a great job and she’s doing much better now.”

“But your wife is still very sick.”

“And, she’s still alive, and I’d really like to keep her that way. However, if she had much more care at your facility, I don’t think she would be.”

“Now, Mr Rowen, that’s–”

“I agree. That’s more than quite enough.” I interrupted, and hung up the phone.

We had driven from the top of the country to the bottom of the country to help Dave do something he didn’t have the heart to do himself. And it was a task that nearly broke the hearts of my wife and her sister. They were clearing their father’s home of most of the items that reminded him of his dead wife, and collecting the items that reminded them the most of their mother.

We had all come down with the Philadelphia flu, and we had all survived. Even Lea. There had been one casualty, an innocent goat had been murdered by a homicidal horse, but that had been way back in Wisconsin, before we had actually set off for the bottom of Texas.

Thank you, God, I thought. And I also thought at least nothing else could go wrong on this trip, and that the worst was over.

But life is a funny thing sometimes. And while there might be times when things can’t get any better, things can always get worse.

Sometimes, they can get a lots worse.

This Song Has No Title

It’s the first day of the new year. Our party went off without a hitch, thanks to the planning of my two wives, and the goodies our guests brought to the party.

I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until midnight to ring in the new year, but I was awake at midnight last night, thanks to the pyrotechnic barrage provided by the Mexican locals.

I’m getting used to the local customs. I barely notice the explosions most of the time now, and I was able to fall back asleep, even though the fireworks continued throughout the night.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

* * * *

Writing is a strange preoccupation. I can’t speak for any other writers, but I have to have a certain amount of inspiration in order to write successfully. Thankfully, not everything I do in life requires inspiration.

“Honey! The toilet is overflowing!!”

There’s no waiting for inspiration to strike in that situation. And if you have to wait to be inspired to act in that case, I don’t think there’s much help for you.

I’ve started writing three or four posts in last couple days, and I’ve scrapped them all. The thing I’ve been inspired to write about is pretty much the last thing I’d choose, but I’m going to be stuck here forever unless I heed the urging of my Muse. So let’s do this.

Several of my posts have been born out of a simple statement I made in a previous post, and I made one of those several days ago when I wrote about spending the summer months at my grandparents’ farm.

I casually mentioned my pedophile uncle.

One of the people that consistently reads my blog is my high school sweetheart, Maureen. She commented that this was something she didn’t know about me, and there’s a reason for that. I’m pretty sure I never told her that I had been sexually abused as a child.

It’s not something I’m proud of, and I can probably count the number of people I’ve talked to it about on one hand, if I don’t count my former patients. I don’t think I even talked about it in group when I was in treatment at the St Cloud VA. I wrote about it for my Fifth Step, and quickly covered that ground when I was talking to my counselor, then tried to bury it again.

It’s unfortunate I didn’t have the courage to face my demons when I was young. It would’ve saved me a whole lots of pain, misery and money in the long run because my main coping skill was drinking myself into a coma.

Since I decided to quit drinking, it’s been somewhat easier for me discuss, though I doubt I’ll ever be completely comfortable with the subject. Many of my former patients had the same issue I did, and I told a few of them my story, mostly to give them hope they could survive their trauma if they were willing to let go of it.

Sexual abuse is a profound psychic trauma, and it’ll flat out fuck with your mind. Two-thirds of people that seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse report being abused as a child. The sad fact of the matter is this is a much more pervasive problem than most people would care to admit.

I was a dysfunctional mess for most of my life, until I learned to apply a valuable lesson to my life. It’s not what happens to us that’s important. It’s how we respond to it that determines what sort of person we become.

I had to learn to stop reacting, and stupidly fucking up my life, over and over again. Logic and reason are nice tools, but they do not suffice when you’re trying to figure out how you became a victim of something so… indescribable and…horrific.

* * * *

Hey! How’s it going? My name’s Ron.

Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.

Man, I had the best weekend ever! It took me seventeen years, but I got my first blowjob! How about you? Have you ever had a blowjob?

Um, yeah…

Really? How old were you?

Um, six or seven, I think.

Seriously? What were you, some kind of porn star?

No. It was my uncle, and he was drunk, so…

* * * *

Even now, I have to make a joke out of it.

Like many, if not all survivors of sexual abuse, I was beyond ashamed of what happened. It was my darkest secret, and I hid it under a deep layer of defense mechanisms to keep it hidden.

The only mechanism I didn’t utilize was Denial. In retrospect, the only thing I can say is it was something I couldn’t deny, no matter how much I would’ve liked to make it disappear.

Like many things in my life, I have vague memories of events and when they occurred. My uncle started exploiting me when I was six or seven years old. And it happened for three or four years.

I can’t even say I was an unwilling participant in what happened, and that just makes me feel worse. I knew there was something wrong going on because it was a secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. It would be years before I spoke to anyone about it.

When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I decided to tell my parents what happened when I spent my summers down on the farm, and their response was one reason I decided not to talk about it to anyone else. They didn’t believe me. Even when my brothers backed me up and said they had been abused too, my parents still refused to believe what they already knew was true.

My uncle lived in a small town. There are no secrets in a small town, especially in Minnesota. There had been rumors and whisperings about him for years.

But my uncle was also a very talented and charming guy. He was loved and respected by almost everyone living in and around Browerville. He was my mom’s big brother, and he had been my dad’s best friend when they were in the Army. He introduced my dad to the woman he would marry.

When my uncle died, my mother found his secret stash of photos he had taken over the years. There are no words to describe her visceral reaction to what she saw. She carried those pictures in her purse for years as a reminder to herself of how she had failed to protect her children.

I think I convinced my mom to finally rid herself of that burden, and rip the pictures up. But it’s not the kind of thing you totally recover from. You just learn to move on. I can’t remember if my dad ever said anything about it. Seeing how I can’t recall ever having that conversation with him, I’m going to say it never happened.

It kind of amazes today just how much my uncle’s indiscretions totally fucked up my family.

One of the people I chose to discuss this subject with is my lovely supermodel wife. But when I did so, I wasn’t prepared for the number of questions she’d have.

Oh, look at the time. I forgot to feed my turtle.

You don’t have a turtle.

Then I clearly need to get one.

Where are you going?

The Turtle Store. Don’t wait up. I’ll be back in a couple weeks.

She probably still has a lots of questions. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to answer her.

* * * *

I generally enjoy working on my blog. Today, not so much. But it’s a new year. A new beginning, a new life. I’ve kept this part of my life locked up in the dark, buried in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. It’s time to get it out, time to stare it down and tell it how incredibly fucking meaningless it is anymore.

And it can go crawl off into a corner by itself, and die. It doesn’t need me anymore, and I certainly don’t need it. We’ve hung out together long enough.

I’m sure I’ll still be a fucked up human being until the day I die, but I’ll be more insightfully fucked up from now on. I’ll have a better plan of response. And I’ll be far less likely to do something stupid, though you should never discount that possibility when it comes to me.

And while I’m not planning on dying to death any time soon, I’m certainly getting closer to the day when that will happen. I don’t know if God takes things like circumstance into consideration when he judges us, but if He does, maybe I can do a little plea bargaining with Him.

I have a lots of stupid stuff I have to answer for.

The Inconstant Gardener

I kind of grew up on a farm, my grandparents’ farm, just outside of Browerville, MN. It’s a small town on the prairie in Central Minnesota.

Tom Brady’s mother, Gaylynn Johnson, is from Browerville. My mom and Tom Brady’s mom were cousins. I think Tom Brady and I are also cousins, but we’ve never met.

Tom Brady’s grandfather, Gordon Johnson, used to be my dad’s barber. Yeah, it’s a small world.

Whenever we were living anywhere near Minnesota, my parents would drop me and some of my siblings off at our grandparents’ farm at the beginning of the summer, and pick us up when school started again. For the record, I have four brothers and three sisters. We were free labor in the fields for my grandparents.

Life on the farm was mostly carefree, I guess. There was a lots of stuff to do on the farm, and we were kids. We had a lots of unfocused energy. My grandfather supplied the focus we lacked. We did whatever he told us to do, for as long as he wanted us to do it.

Weed the garden. Pick raspberries. Pick pickles. Haul rocks. Pick more weeds. We worked from sunrise to sunset, then did it all again the next day.

The only real downside to life on the farm was my pedophile uncle. He liked young boys…

I stopped spending summers at the farm when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, but I would spend almost the rest of my life trying to make some sense out of what happened to me way back when, back when I was young.

* * * *

It would be many years before I attempted any gardening again, but I the year I worked as a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, I decided to plant some seeds.

Marijuana seeds.

I had saved the seeds from the best bags of weed I smoked for years, and I had collected a gallon sized zip lock bag of seeds. My brother and I raised homing pigeons back then, and homing pigeons do four things really well.

Fly, make babies, eat and poop. We would clean all the crap out of our loft about once a week and over the years we amassed a rather substantial pile of pigeon poop. It made great fertilizer.

In a flash of brilliance, I decided to throw a lots of my marijuana seeds onto the pile of pigeon poop, and in a matter of weeks, I was growing a crop of marijuana in my parents front yard.

I was living in Elbow Lake, right next to an abandoned chicken hatchery. Someone had planted a row of lilac bushes along the side of the hatchery, but there was about a three foot space between the building and the bushes. I tossed the rest of my marijuana seeds in that space, and started watering the lilacs.

In a matter of weeks, I had another garden.

My plants grew like weeds. They were six feet tall in no time. I trimmed and pruned them. I pulled all the male plants so the female plants would produce more resin and increase the potency of my pot crop.

It was really good, and I wouldn’t need to buy any weed for at least a year.

* * * *

I wouldn’t attempt any gardening again for several years, until I married my lovely supermodel wife. Lea loves flowers, but she doesn’t love gardening. And that’s how I became a gardener again.

I have trouble remembering how many gardens I created for Lea at our house in Minneapolis. Four? Five? Something like that. I didn’t know shit about flowers, but I would learn a lots. My teacher was our neighbor, Donna. She was a Master Gardener, and her yard looked like unto the Garden of Eden, only nicer.

Donna gave me a lots of advice. And plants. And more plants. My gardens could never match hers, but Lea loved them, and that was all that mattered.

I kind of miss the gardens sometimes, but not enough to want to go back to them. We have a garden here, too.

* * * *

We moved to Arizona in 2007. We bought our Dream House, and the interior was stunning. But the previous owners had spent next to nothing on the landscaping. It was as boring as a statistics class. I decided to surprise my lovely supermodel wife with new landscaping to give our Dream House a Dream Yard.

Now, this might give you some idea of how stupid I can be. I wanted a complete overhaul of my yard. And I was willing to shell out, say, about eight thousand dollars to accomplish it.

I think the landscape architect I contacted for an estimate is still laughing. We probably ended up spending three times that amount, but the end result was stunning.

Lea loved our backyard. So did I, for that matter. It became the serene retreat I had intended it to be, and it was one of the reasons we were able to sell our house as quickly as we did when we decided to retire to Mexico.

* * * *

Now that I’m a retired guy, I find I have a lots of time on my hands. I spend some of it writing this blog. And rewriting it. But that still leaves huge blocks of unscheduled time in which I have essentially nothing to do.

Our retirement home came equipped with a housekeeper and a couple of gardeners. I do get to spend a few hours a week staying out of their way so they can get their work done. Life probably couldn’t get much easier for me.

Until the day the War of the Marigolds started.

There are a lots of flowers down here in the Lakeside area. During one of our forays to the Lake Chapala Society, I collected about a dozen pods of marigold seeds. We have several potted plants on our backyard patio, and I thought a little splash of color would brighten things up a bit.

So I threw the marigold seeds in a few pots, and just like when I was a marijuana farmer, I had plants in about a week or so. And I was well pleased.

But then a strange thing happened. One of our gardeners, who, as near as I can tell, never bothers to actually pull any weeds in our gardens, decided to pull some of my marigold plants out of the pots on the patio.

I thought it was actually kind of funny because he didn’t pull any of the weeds growing in the pots, just my flowers. And he didn’t even pull all of my baby marigolds, only half of them. I mean, if he thought they were weeds, why not pull them all? So I talked to our jardinero, and asked him in my very bad Spanish to please not do that again.

He understood me, somehow, and I redispersed my baby plants, and all was good once more. However, we have two gardeners. A few days later, Jardinero Numero Dos, came through and for whatever reason decided to pull half my marigold plants, again. And he left all the weeds in the pots, too.

It wasn’t funny the second time.

So I met with the gal that runs our HOA, and this was the solution I came up with. I would assume complete and total responsibility for the plants on our patio and in the carport. And if our goddamn gardeners pulled one more of my marigolds, I would buy a shotgun and shoot them.

That is something my dad would’ve said, so life has come full circle for me. I have essentially become my father. I’m sure he’d get a kick out of that if he were still alive.

The marigolds are doing well now. Jardinero Numero Uno laughs and smiles and tries to teach me Spanish whenever I see him. He asks how we’re doing and takes care of the shrubs and the lawn.

Jardinero Numero Dos just about pisses his pants if he even sees me. I’m going to have to tell him I wasn’t really serious about shooting him.

Someday…

Diagram of a Defense System

Back when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC, I worked with a lots of Vietnam vets. They were struggling to find their way through the morass of PTSD symptoms they were suffering from, mostly unsuccessfully.

PTSD is a complicated disease. It’s symptoms are legion, and stealthy. They’re like unto an army of ninjas, and just like ninjas, they attack without warning.

In an attempt to help my brother veterans gain some insight into what they were fighting, I came up with this presentation to help them see what they were up against.

Imagine your life as a game of chess. I actually used chess pieces in the group. I arranged them on a table and moved them around as I explained my idea.

Your opponent attacks. You go on the defensive to protect your position, and the pieces you employ are defense mechanisms. These are tools we use every day of our lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Defense mechanisms help us survive. But, do you have any idea what kind of weapons you’re using. Or why?

What I’m talking about is something I call a defense system. Anytime you have more than one component, you have a system. Think of it like unto an home theater stereo system. Multiple components working together to produce an integrated effect.

That’s what your defense system does. By utilizing a series of connected mechanisms, you create a buffer zone to keep you safe from the world around you. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of defense mechanisms, but let’s start with the basics. There are three fundamental building blocks that every defense system is built upon.

Repression. Suppression. And Denial. After that, the sky is pretty much the limit, but let’s start here.

Repression. If you’re confronted with a traumatic memory, your brain will automatically repress it. This reaction is hardwired into your brain. You don’t even have to think about it, it just happens.

Suppression. When repression doesn’t work, this kicks in. This takes some conscious effort, but these two mechanisms work together, and they’re pretty damn effective. But life can be complicated, and sometimes you need a lots of tools to get a job done, right?

Denial. When repression and suppression don’t work, you have to start bringing in the big guns. With denial, you can make stuff disappear. Denial is a total negation.

It did not happen.

Defense mechanisms are powerful weapons. And they are mobile! They can be deployed wherever they’re needed, and there are ga-zillion of them. You can lock and load and secure the perimeter, and blow shit up with a thousand different kinds of armament.

Minimization. Take a big problem, and make it small.

Maximization. Take a small problem, and make it big.

Rationalization. Logically analyze anything to pieces until it dies of boredom.

Intellectualization. Logically analyze something to pieces until it commits suicide to get away from you.

Shuffle the deck and play them when and where you need them. You can do this shit all day! And there’s a lots more where those came from. Deflection. Projection. Sublimation. Humor. Drug and alcohol use. Do a Google search. There’s a list of defense mechanisms a mile long.

But any effective system needs a fuel supply to keep it up and functioning. And we have that, too.

Anger!

Anger is almost always a secondary response. The precursor might be fear, or shame, or guilt–and it might only be present for the blink of an eye. None of us like feeling that way, but anger. Yeah, were good with that.

Anger, is a powerful fuel. And I’ve seen you guys. Anger is where all y’all have been living. Anger can also be a defense mechanism. No one wants to be around an angry person. Anger is like an electric fence. Only an idiot pisses on that, right?  Anger is like one of those multi-tools. It can do a lots of stuffs.

There’s one major downside to anger. It’s exhausting! I can stay angry for a couple weeks about something my wife or daughters do, and then I have to let it go. It wears me out. You guys have been pissed off for what–twenty or thirty years? How’s that going?

And what happens when you run out of fuel? Everything shuts down! The walls come crashing down, and then what?

Your defense is breached. You have to fall back. You bunker up. You run!

Yeah, you do all those things, but then you have to find a way to get your system back up and running, and that’s not easy to do when the enemy is looking over your shoulder watching you. That’s what brings you guys here. This is the place you come to when your defense system crashes, and you can’t do it on your own any more.

I mentioned drug and alcohol use earlier, but it’s such a pervasive problem I want to take a moment and talk about it. Eighty percent of the people that come here for treatment have a secondary diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse.

Only eighty?

Well, it could be higher, but that’s the statistic the administration here likes to throw around. I know I’ve tried these methods myself, and while they might be effective in the short term, they are completely ineffective in the long term.

Alcohol is a depressant. If you’re not already depressed, you’ll end up that way if you abuse alcohol long enough. Also, mass consumption of alcohol tends to short circuit the wiring of your defense system.

Yeah. That’d be true for me. That’s why I quit drinking.

I had not quit drinking, so it’s more than a little ironic that I was telling someone else to take a look at their drinking habits when that’s what I needed to do myself.

Well, there you have it. I’m not telling you guys to quit drinking. I’m just throwing this out there to give you something to think about. But even if alcohol isn’t an issue, look at all this other stuff. We all have these invisible walls that protect us from stuff we don’t want bombarding us. But it probably works in reverse, too. We’re expending all this energy to keep stuff from getting to us. How easy is it to let our emotions out?

Is it easy for us to let someone know we love them? These walls we have constructed are well built, and they are strong! But in the end, we have essentially created a state of siege mentality–nothing gets in, nothing gets out, and we have stopped living, in exchange for simply…existing. And I know what you’re all thinking, What the fuck am I supposed to do?

I don’t have any answers for your questions. I don’t have any solutions to your problems. Hell, I don’t have any answers or solutions for mine. But we have to start somewhere if we’re ever going to get our lives back.

Awareness is the first step. Once you’re aware of a problem, you can start to do something about it. What you do, well, that’s up to you. You’re gonna have to figure this out for yourself.

I been watching you, Mark. I see you up at the nursing station. Sometimes you just sit there, and stare. You have PTSD, don’t you. You’re one of us, ain’t you.

That was a guy named George. He diagnosed me in that group. I have to admit, I was a little freaked out to hear that. But I couldn’t argue with what he said.

The Nam vets called it the Thousand Yard Stare. Someone could be standing right in front of you, and you’d never see them. You were seeing shit in your head ten thousand miles away.

But however freaked out I might have been, it was nothing compared to what the guys in my group were feeling. They came up and analyzed the chess pieces as if they were going back into combat.

When that guy tried flanking you here–it opened a breach when you redeployed there. Your back is to the river…  You have no drop back position, no place to regroup. You’re about to be overrun.

We all are!

The guys in my group practically ran out of the room.

* * * *

About ten years later, I presented this to concept to my AA group, Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land. And when I finished, I was met with

Silence.

My group members finally came out from the tables they had been hiding under, and discussed my presentation. I’ve discussed bits and pieces of it with a lots of people over the years, but I’ve only presented it in its entirety twice. This makes three.

Sometimes I think it’s the most significant idea I’ve ever imagined, mostly based on the reactions of the people I presented it to, not because it’s actually been proven to be an effective therapy or educational tool.

Oh, and I do make the World’s Best Chili.

Most of the time I don’t think about my concept of an organized defense system at all. But I did this morning. Maybe someone will find it useful. And that’d be cool.

Kit-tens

We have a cat. My lovely supermodel wife calls her a kit-ten, which I think is so darlingpreshadorbs I can hardly stand it. Especially since our kit-ten is eighteen years old, and is about as far from being a kitten as a cat can be.

Her name is Samantha Rachel Markes-Covington Rowen. Yeah, I adopted the cat as my own, much like I adopted her original owner, Abigail Marjorie Markes-Covington. Actually, three of the last four cats living in our household were Abi’s cats.

Abi moved in with us when she turned eighteen, much like her older sister had. Gwen had just moved out of our house, making room for Abi’s arrival. Abi had two Himalayan cats at the time, Boots and Sheila, and she asked if she could bring her cats with her when she moved in.

I wasn’t a cat fan, but once I fell in love with Lea’s daughters, I’ve discovered the hardest thing for me to do was say No to them. For almost any reason. I could tell stories about how those girls have me wrapped around their fingers, but I won’t. I have to try preserve what little dignity I have.

So, Abi and her cats moved in with one proviso–the cats had to stay in the basement. I even built a cat barrier to keep them contained to the nether regions of the house. But they were cats, they jumped over it, and laughed at me. I can’t remember how long my edict lasted, save that it didn’t last long.

The cats roamed wherever they pleased. I did my best to herd them back into the basement when I found them brazenly strolling around upstairs, and at least they slept in the basement with Abi. I had to content myself with that pyrric victory.

Then Sheila became ill, and had to be put down, and we were down to one cat.

“I don’t think we should leave Boots in the basement.” my wife said to me one day. “She’s all alone, and I’m sure she misses her daughter.”

Boots had been Sheila’s mom.

I had never been married prior to marrying Lea, but one of the first things I learned as a married guy was it was futile to argue with my wife about almost anything. I don’t think I’ve ever won an argument with her, even when I knew I was right. By the time she got to her closing rebuttal, I was dead in the water.

I still don’t understand how she does that. I only know she does it, all the time. So, when she said she didn’t want any lonely cats in our house, I knew the best outcome I could hope for was a delaying action until I was overrun.

Boots was given total access to any part of the house she wanted to be in, including our bed. And Lea was so thrilled the first time Boots jumped onto our bed to sleep with her! Then this happened:

“Honey, could you get out of bed?”

“Why?”

“I have to go to the bathroom, and I don’t want to disturb the cat.”

That actually happened.

I didn’t argue. I got out of bed, and waited for my wife to return before I got back into bed. And that’s when I realized who the Boss was in my house, and it wasn’t me. The person that wore the pants in my house wasn’t a person, nor did she even wear pants.

Lea started feeding Boots tuna because she thought Boots was too skinny, and Boots was a cat. She loved tuna! I was glad Boots didn’t like lobster, or Lea would’ve started feeding her that.

Boots was an elderly cat when she moved in with us, and her health wasn’t the best. She eventually also had to be put down. It was a sad day for the two women living in my house.

But life goes on. I was perfectly content living without a cat. And Lea seemed to be okay with that arrangement, too. Then one day about six months after Boots had passed, Lea looked at me with a certain look in her eyes, and said,

“I want a kit-ten.”

And then Abi looked at me, and said, “I want one, too!”

And I knew I was doomed. There would be kit-tens.

* * * *

Lea wanted an Himalayan. She found a breeder and made arrangements to pick up Alison Marie, Ali, for short. Lea wanted an Ali cat.

Abi went to the Humane Society. She perused the glass display case that contained a pile of kittens, like a million kittens. At the very bottom of the pile, a small gray and white feline face made eye contact with Abi, and said, “Mew!”

And Abi’s heart melted. She named her kit-ten Samantha Rachel because, “…she kind of looks like a Rachel, but not a Rachel Rachel…” Or something along that line of logic.

Like mother, like daughter.

img_20161216_105241913
Samantha and Alison when they really were kit-tens

I have to admit, Ali and Sam were as cute as, well, kittens. They were fluff balls of manic energy, and their antics were hilarious. The kittens were best buds, and life was good.

And then they grew up and became cats, and everything seemed to change.

Alison was a purebred Himalayan, born to be a queen. It was no longer seemly for her to be seen with the mixed breed street urchin that had been her childhood best friend. Sam was part domestic tabby, part Maine Coon cat.

And Ali let Sam know it.

Their personalities went through a profound change. When the doorbell rang, Ali would answer the door because why else would anyone come to our door, if not to see her? Sam would run and hide.

Ali made friends with our neighbors, and would go next door to hang out with Donna while she worked in her gardens. Sam would hide in the hostas I planted for Lea because Lea wanted gardens, but she didn’t want to actually do any gardening. Sam became an expert at playing hide and seek.

As long as Sam was content to let Ali rule the roost, everything was fine. And Sam seemed to be content with that arrangement most of the time. However, Sam seemed to crave affection far more than Ali did. Ali seemed content to be worshipped from afar, unless Sam received more affection than she did.

Poor Sam. She couldn’t win when it came to her stepsister, and then karma stepped in and evened the score. Alison got sick, and then she got really sick, and just like that, she was gone.

That was a sad day, even for me. I told Lea she could never tell anyone, but I cried when Alison died.

And just like that, Samantha became the only cat in our house.

* * * *

I’m sure cats are capable of feeling grief and loss. I doubt Sam had much reason to grieve Ali’s passing, but every now and then she will let loose an yowl that sounds like a howl of mourning. It’s possible she’s still grieving the loss of her childhood companion…

But beyond that, Sam doesn’t appear to miss Alison at all. And I can’t blame her for that. Sam eventually realized she no longer had to play specond fiddle to anyone, and she has become without a doubt, the coolest cat I’ve ever known.

When Abi decided it was time for her to leave the nest and make it on her own, she had to make a hard decision. As much as Lea and I had grown attached to Samantha, Abi was Sam’s mom.

“I have a favor to ask you.” Abi said to me one day. She had made her hard decision. “I think Sam would do better if she stayed here with you. Would you adopt my cat and take care of her for me?”

Like I would’ve been able to say no to her.

As it turned out, Abi should have told Samantha I was going to be her dad because Sam had already decided whom she was going to devote her affection upon. And it wasn’t me.

One of the traits of Maine Coon cats is they adopt one person, and they are completely devoted to that person. In Sam’s case, she decided to adopt Lea, and there was no question about where her loyalties lay.

As in most cases with my lovely supermodel wife, I became the guy that everyone remembers in association with her. Sam never viewed me as her dad. I was guy with the Nice Lady. My purpose was to clean out her litter box. I’m sure she appreciates that in her way, but she lives for Lea.

Sam learned to accept me as a Lea substitute whenever Lea had to travel for work. But she forgot all about me the moment Lea returned home. Sam would run to her the moment she walked in the door, and meow and prance and purr, and follow Lea around like a puppy. It was actually very cute.

Business travel is a thing of the past for Lea nowadays, so Sam doesn’t have to miss her person for more than an hour or two at the most. Sam doesn’t follow her like a puppy anymore. She’s an old cat, and spends most of the day sleeping on the couch next to Lea.

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I think I can count the number of times I’ve sat on my couch in Mexico on one hand. I no longer question my position in the hierarchy of my household. In fact, when we decided to retire this year, Lea decided she would fly to Mexico with Sam, first class, to decrease the amount of travel stress Sam would have to endure.

I agreed without an argument. Lea’s love of her kit-ten has infiltrated my psyche. Whatever Lea wants, as far as Sam is concerned, is fine by me.

I have grown accustomed to having a cat tell me what to do. Like, when to get up in the morning to feed her. And when to let her outside so she can explore the backyard. Or when she wants to lifted onto the couch. She can jump on it any time she wants, but it’s better when I place her there. Or when she wants more food. She used to tell me when to go to bed, but since she’s retired, she tends to sleep on the couch longer before she comes to bed. I even bought a set of pet stairs for her so she can get on the bed. She can’t jump that high anymore.

It really is hell getting old.

I hope Sam’s health will allow her hang around and tell me what to do for a couple more years. I’m going to miss her when she’s gone. And Lea will be devastated.

But maybe six months down the road after Sam’s gone, it’ll be my turn. I’m going to give my wife a certain look and say,

“I want a kit-ten.”

Nice Guys

In case you’re wondering, I am Ryan Gosling in that picture. Russell Crowe is Shorty. They would actually make pretty good choices to portray us in the movie about our trip to Dallas. But only if our vacation adventure had happened, you know, four weeks ago, not forty years ago. Believe it or not, Shorty and I were young once…

Back when I wanted to be a rich and famous author, and I attempted to write this story, my working title for it was Brothers and Cousins. In the novel, Shorty and I were real brothers. Shorty had a twin brother named Allen, who was killed in a motorcycle accident. And Shorty was responsible for him gotting dead. Allen’s ghost would drop in from time to time and visit me, and he accompanied us on our trip to Dallas.

At least we didn’t have to buy a plane ticket for him…

In real life, Shorty had almost been killed in a motorcycle accident. He had been broken into a hundred pieces, but refused to got dead. When the doctors decided Shorty was going to live, they  told him he’d probably be lucky if he ever walked again, but he would never use his left arm again.

He would walk again. And not only did he regain use of his left arm, he regained full use of it. He does walk with a slight limp, and he has scars on his scars, but he was simply a guy that refused to give up on his dream, no matter what anyone said.

I doubt I can put into words how much I admire him.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for also not thinking of asking Martha out, you know, on a date, because he could have done that, too. But for whatever reason, it didn’t occur to him either, and as a result, we both ended up winning a trophy for the stupidest plan, ever, to get into angelic Martha’s heavenly panties.

What are the chances of that? Maybe we really are brothers…

Time, circumstance and distance have altered our relationship. I probably haven’t talked to him in two or three years, and when we do get together, our vacation in Dallas is the one thing neither of us will discuss. We’ll laugh, and say something like, Yeah, that was a wild time, for sure! if anyone brings it up, and move on to the next subject.

I think we tried to tell the story a couple of times when we first got back to Minnesota, but we both gave up. No one could believe what happened to us during that last weekend in Dallas. I can understand that. If I hadn’t been there, I doubt I’d believe this story either.

Full Disclosure Statement: What follows is a very condensed version of the actual events that occurred that afternoon. The real, actual, true story is simply just too incredible. Even if Hollywood tried to make this into a movie, people would walk out of the theater shaking their heads saying, There’s no way that’s a true story! You’re gonna have to trust me on this one. Remember, I’ve tried to tell this story before, and you haven’t. But all of the essential details will be included, and the net result will be the same.

I haven’t been very specific about the time of any of the events that day occurred, and that’s because I honestly have no idea. But just so we can add a little perspective, when you start reading the next paragraph, it’ll be 3:00 PM, Saturday afternoon.

* * * *

I was staring down the barrel of a gun. It was the second time in my life I was in a situation like that. The first time is yet another story I might have to get around to telling someday. It’s probably pretty long and complicated, too.

Hillary had assumed a two handed stance on the other end of the gun, just like in the movies. I didn’t have much time to come up with a plan to extricate myself from the situation I’d gotten myself into.

Summoning all of the self-defense techniques I had learned in the military delivering supplies and taking x-rays, I moved forward and disarmed Hillary. I grabbed the gun and twisted it sharply to the left. One second I was staring at a gun in my face, the next second, I was holding it. Without a single shot being fired.

Beat that, Steven Seagal!

That actually happened. If I had to attempt it again, I’d probably got dead. The only explanation I have is I live a blessed life.

Now, if this had been a movie, my next move would’ve been to punch Hillary in the face, and knock her unconscious. But what happened next was something that surprised me so much I forgot I was supposed to do that.

My best friend and brother, Shorty Girtz, stumbled through the door. And that, I think, is best term to describe his entrance. He looked like hell.

“Shorty!” Hillary and I both shouted.

“Hey.” he replied, and he collapsed on the floor, like he had been shot. For a moment, I thought the gun had gone off, and he had been hit. Hillary might have hated George enough that she wanted to kill him, but she loved Shorty enough to postpone her mad intent and knelt down to tend to her friend.

“Shorty! Get up and tell this motherfucker to give me back my gun!”

“What?” he replied. He looked up at me from the floor and said, “Give Hillary back her gun.” Then he looked at Hillary and said, “What the hell are going to do with a gun?”

“She wants to kill George.” I said.

“He had Michael arrested! Michael’s in jail, and it’s all George’s fault! He needs to die!”

“Michael’s in jail?” Shorty asked. His expression said that he thought his head was going to explode. I nodded. “Why?”

“He violated his restraining order. On Friday. When we were walking out of the office–”

“That’s right!” Shorty said. He started looking better. “George! Jesus. Jail?”

“He’ll be arraigned on Monday.”

“Shorty! I need my gun back! Get it from him!”

“No. I’m not going to let you ruin your life by doing something stupid.” He sat up and started looking more better gooder.

Hillary stood up and glared at me. I held the gun in my left hand. She took a step toward me. I curled my right hand into a fist.

“If you come near me, I promise you I’ll knock all of your teeth into the back of your throat.”

Hillary made a wide berth around me and went into the kitchen. She returned two seconds later holding a knife the size of a small machete. A very sharp knife. I knew that because one of the things I had done the week before when I was bored was sharpen all of the knives in the kitchen.

Machete in hand, Hillary moved in to attack. That’s when I pointed the gun at her.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Shorty yelled. He got off the floor and jumped between us. “What the hell is wrong with you two? We’re friends!”

“Remember when Jerry was asking us about guns that first day in the office? He thought Hillary brought us down here to kill George.”

“Is that true?” Shorty asked Hillary.

“Yes! But you’re not killers! You’re sissies!” I would have to become a psych nurse before I would see anyone replicate that level of hatred and venom glaring in Hillary’s eyes.

“Well, if that’s what you wanted us to do, why didn’t you say something?”

“You mean, you’ll kill George for me?” Hillary asked. I don’t think she was expecting Shorty to say that. I know I wasn’t. She changed the position of the knife in hand, taking it out of Attack mode.

“Sure,” he said, then turned and gave me a wink. “Why not? But first, we have to come up with a plan.”

I lowered the gun, and decided to follow Shorty’s lead. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but he at least seemed to be capable of thought, so he had me beat.

“I think you’re both nuts, but if you’re serious about killing George, we need a plan, and a diagram of his apartment.”

“Why don’t you just shoot him when he answers the door?”

“Could be witnesses on the street, and then we’d have to kill them, too.” I explained. “Better to do it inside. We could use a pillow as a silencer, or we could slice him up. But we have to know what we’re walking into.”

You want to kill George now?” Hillary asked. Her tone said she wasn’t buying it.

“I promised Michael I wouldn’t let you do anything… foolish. That’s why he wanted to talk to me. He made me promise to take care of you, and I keep my promises. Shorty loves you, and you already know I love you. If Shorty wants to kill George for you, that changes everything for me. He’s my brother. But if we’re gonna do this, I want to maximize our chances of success, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison. We need the layout of George’s apartment.”

That was either the most convincing lie I have ever told, or Hillary was so unbalanced that she would need years of medication and therapy to repair the damage to her brain. Maybe it was a little of both, with the scale tipped to the unbalanced part. But Hillary sat down at the table in the kitchen and started drawing the layout of George’s apartment while she explained everything to Shorty.

I turned on the radio, and as quietly as possible took the bullets out of the gun. When it was unloaded, I pulled the trigger. If Hillary had done that when she had the gun pointed at me, the back of my head would’ve resembled President Kennedy’s after his tour of downtown Dallas.

I was shaken. My hands were shaking. It was a good thing the gun was no longer loaded. I probably would’ve shot Hillary, if I could’ve hit her at that point in time. I was shaking so bad I probably would’ve missed the floor if I had tried to shoot it. I put the bullets in my pocket, and hid the gun under a pile of pillows.

* * * *

We sat down to discuss the best way to kill George. Hillary had drawn a detailed sketch of his apartment, and had thoroughly explained the layout to Shorty.

“Tell me about your gun.” I said to Hillary. “Is it registered to you?”

“Not… exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Jerry gave it to me. As a present. For protection. But–”

“It’s still registered to Jerry.” Shorty said.

“Yeah.”

That settled that. We would not tie Jerry to our dirty little secret in any way, shape or form.

“We’ll have to use knives.” I said.

“Damn! I wish I had brought mine.” Shorty said.

* * * *

Okay, class. After motorcycles, what do bikers like most?

Beer?

Okay. After motorcycles and beer, what do bikers like most?

Weed!

Okay. After motorcycles, beer and weed, what do bikers like most?

Chicks!

Okay! After all of that, what do bikers like?

Maybe you should just tell us.

Bikers love knives!

Michael and Shorty were bikers. And Michael had a knife collection. Hillary brought them into the kitchen. Shorty and I each selected a knife. The blades were in good shape, but I sharpened the edges to the point where you could’ve shaved with them.

Now all we needed was an edge. The sun wouldn’t be in George’s eyes. In fact, we wanted it to be dark as possible. And that’s when I remembered I had brought most of my camera equipment.

I not only had a camera, I had a detachable flash. All I had to do was turn it on, let it charge, and hit this little button, and…a blinding flash of light erupted in Hillary’s face.

“Jesus! I can’t see a fucking thing!”

Exactly.

“Okay, let’s go kill George!”

“You’re not part of this. You can’t be.” I said. Because Hillary really would kill George. Neither Shorty nor I had any doubts about that.

“Look, when the police find George’s body, who do you think the first person is they’ll want to question?”

“Probably me. Or Michael…”

“Michael’s in jail. He couldn’t kill George.”

“But I’m not going to rat you guys out to the police!”

“They’re gonna try to the pin the murder on you. But this is your story. We talked about killing George, right?” I looked at Shorty.

“Yeah, we did that all right.”

“You were upset, right?” We had no problem agreeing about that. “And, yeah, you said some stupid stuff, but only because your boyfriend was arrested…” Shorty said.

“But you were joking!” I added, and winked at Hillary.

“That’s right! I was joking!”  She actually laughed!

“If you’re at the scene of the crime, you’re not joking anymore. You’re an accomplice.”

“Right…  Well, what about you guys? What’s your story?”

“We didn’t kill George.”

“No way, we didn’t kill George. We don’t even know the guy!” Shorty added.

“We were having a big party.”

“We were?” Shorty asked.

“There’s a half a keg of beer downstairs.”

“What! How the hell did that happen?” Shorty didn’t believe me. We all went down to the party room.

“There’s a half a keg of beer in here!” he shouted. “How the fuck did that happen! Is it any good?”

I poured us all a glass. That was good beer. And it was ice cold.

“Now all we need is a bunch of people…” Hillary said.

“I could call my cousin…” Shorty suggested. And just like that, we had planned the perfect murder.

* * * *

While Shorty talked to Leroy on the phone, Hillary went into the bedroom to change. She insisted on coming with us, after all, she was the only one of us that knew where George lived, and she didn’t want us to kill an innocent person by mistake.

We would drive to George’s apartment in Michael’s van, and Hillary would wait outside as our getaway driver. She would keep the engine running, and the panel door would be open so Shorty and I could jump right in after we had killed George to death.

I grabbed Jerry’s gun and the bullets, and hid them in the trunk of Hillary’s car. I think it was around 5:00 PM. Dusk was approaching. Gray, ghostly clouds filled the sky. There was a threat of rain in the clouds. Maybe that would keep everyone in Dallas at home and off the streets. Shorty and I would need all of the planets to be in perfect alignment. And we needed all of the angels and saints to be in our back pockets.

For a reason I couldn’t explain, then or now, I disconnected the distributor cap on her engine. The engine would turn over, but it would never start. Shorty had explained that to me the day we did a tune up on her car. It just seemed to be the thing to do at the time.

* * * *

I’m not a biker guy. I have never been a biker guy, but I spent a lots of time hanging around them in my twenties because bikers really do love beer and weed. And chicks. Some of my best friends back then were bikers. So many of them got dead young.

One of the greatest things about bikers is they don’t need an actual reason to party. Shorty’s cousin was immediately on board when he heard there was an half a keg of beer left over from the party. And yeah, he had a few friends he knew that could rearrange their schedules to come over and help us kill off our keg.

Hillary had changed outfits. She was wearing all black, and had pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She sort of looked like a supermodel ninja. She gave Shorty and I a couple of Michael’s black T-shirts, and we put them on. We found some dark jackets, and put those on, too. And we were more or less ready to go kill George.

“Maybe we should call him. What if he’s not home…” I wasn’t planning on actually killing George, but this make-believe plan we had concocted was starting to feel just a little too real to me. I needed to stall for time, and I had already blown my chance to fuck Hillary’s brains out, so I couldn’t try that tactic again…  How the hell did I miss that?!? I wondered. I prayed no one would answer the phone. And I also hoped George wasn’t throwing a big, epic party.

Hillary dialed George’s number. A voice answered. She hung up immediately.

“That was George. He’s home! Let’s go do this!!”

I’m not sure if Shorty saw the look of…elation, perhaps, that lit up Hillary’s eyes as she said that. But I did.

It sends shivers down my spine even still.

Dallas, Part VI

I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this might not know that one of our Presidents was assassinated in Dallas. John F. Kennedy. Dealey Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald. Jack Ruby.

Ring any bells?

Well, all of those bells would toll for me that day.

Saturday, March 4, 1978.

* * * *

I asked the cops to wait, closed the door and left them outside the apartment, then knocked on the bedroom door where Michael and Hillary were resting.

“Yeah!” Michael’s voice responded.

“Michael, there’s a couple of guys here…” I didn’t know quite what to say. I opened the door. Michael and Hillary were laying on the bed.

“Are they cops?” he asked. I nodded. “Shit!” Michael and Hillary exchanged a glance that probably contained a thousand conversations. “Tell ’em I’ll be right out.” He got up and went to the bathroom.

“Michael, y’all need to come on out here!” Detective Riggs said from the doorway when I let them know what was going on. They had stepped inside once they knew they had their man.

“I have to take a piss!” Michael’s voice replied from the bathroom.

“Yeah, just don’t take too long now.” Detective Murtaugh replied. “If you shake it more than twice, yall’re playin’ with that thang.” His partner laughed. I might have even smiled. They seemed like nice guys, for cops.

Did I hide all my pot? I wondered. I hoped I had, or Michael might not be the only person in the apartment going to jail.

Hillary came out of the bedroom and started interrogating the cops, and they had to focus their attention on her. I know to God that I exhaled a huge sigh of relief. They answered her questions patiently and politely.

“I want to come along.” she said.

“Yes, ma’am. You can follow us if you want.”

“You motherfuckers wait for me!” Hillary shouted at the cops.

“Yes, ma’am.” they both replied.

Michael came out, and surrendered. Detective Riggs slapped a pair of cuff on Michael’s wrists, explaining his Miranda Rights as clicked the cuffs. Hillary grabbed her purse and we ran down the stairs.

Yeah, you read that correctly. We ran!

Hillary’s car tore out of the parking lot in hot pursuit of the police.

“I knew those fuckers wouldn’t wait!” she screamed, and gunned the engine. She flew through the intersections, regardless of red lights.

Little Known Fact About the Kennedy Assassination: When Kennedy’s body was being transported from Parkland Hospital to Love Field, the Secret Service didn’t stop at any red lights. They called them pink lights.

Hillary, it seemed, had become a Secret Service agent. She wasn’t wearing sunglasses, but she sure as hell wasn’t smiling.

I couldn’t tell you how many pink lights we encountered. A lots. The cops drove surface streets on their way to Dallas Police Headquarters. But thanks to Hillary’s complete and total disregard of traffic laws, we were right on the bumper of the unmarked police car carrying Michael.

Is that Dealey Plaza? I wondered. I think that’s the Texas School Book Depository! Holy shit! I thought. I could not believe it. I was traveling through Ground Zero, the place where President Kennedy had been assassinated. We continued tailing the cops until they turned into an underground parking garage at Dallas Police Headquarters.

Hillary stopped in the middle of the street, unsure about what to do.

“Can I park down there?”

“No sense in trying to play it safe now.” I said. “You didn’t let any red lights get in your way.”

“Good point.” she said, and roared into the garage. The cops were walking Michael into the building by the time we parked. Hillary shouted his name. He turned to look back toward us, but the cops kept him moving. We ran, trying to catch up.

Jesus! This is place Lee Harvey Oswald was jailed! And this is where Jack Ruby shot him! I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had just stepped back in time.

For those of you that weren’t alive when Kennedy was killed, there’s no way to explain the significance of his assassination. It was the sentinel event of my generation, transcending all else, including 9-11.

And here I was. I had been given a backstage pass to an area I shouldn’t have had access to, all because Michael had decided to go where he had been forbidden to enter, and because George was big enough of a dick to make him pay for it.

Fuckin’ George!

“What are we doing here?” I decided to ask Hillary as we rode the elevator to the main floor. Oswald probably rode in this elevator! Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.

“We’re going to get Michael out.”

“Is that possible?”

“I don’t know. I’ll call Jerry.”

* * * *

And she did, but there was nothing he could do. And even if he could’ve done something, he wouldn’t have done it.

“Michael broke the fucking law! He violated his restraining order!”

That’s how Jerry explained it to me when Hillary put me on the phone to reason with Jerry. After all, he adored me!

“So, what happens next?”

“Michael stays in jail until his arraignment on Monday. End of story. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Go home. There’s nothing you can do. Go. Home!”

“Jerry said we should go home.” I informed Hillary. “He said there’s nothing he can do.”

“That’s bullshit.” Hillary replied.

“We should leave.”

“No. I want to see Michael before we go.”

Michael had to be booked and processed before Hillary could see him. We could wait over there, one of the cops informed us, and waved in the general direction of some benches. Hillary lit up a cigarette. I wandered around. We were at police headquarters for at least an hour before Hillary was allowed to speak to Michael.

“He wants to talk to you.” Hillary told me when she returned.

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that either.

“How’s it going? Are you okay?” I asked when I saw Michael. We probably had to talk to each other via telephone, but I can’t remember for sure. I know we were separated by a thick plexiglass window, and the space was poorly lit.

“I’m good. I popped a couple ‘ludes while I was in the bathroom. I’ll probably sleep until tomorrow.” he laughed. “Listen, take care of Hillary while I’m in here. She’s a little…upset.”

“You got that right.” I agreed.

“I’ll get out of here Monday. I’ve already talked to Jerry. He’s gonna take care of everything. Don’t let her do anything… stupid. Okay?”

“I’ll take care of her. I promise.”

“Good luck.”

* * * *

I can’t remember if Hillary stopped for red lights on the way home or not. Probably not. I mean, why start now? The roads were mostly deserted anyway…  We drove past Dealey Plaza again. I imagined we were part of the motorcade on November 22, 1963. We drove under the triple underpass, and we were on the freeway. Parkland Hospital was… right there!

We didn’t say much on the way home. I did tell Hillary that Michael had talked to Jerry, and seemed sure that he’d be released on Monday. Hillary said nothing.

We returned to the apartment. I stopped off briefly at the party room, and added some ice to the keg. Other than that, the keg seemed to be doing fine, and the beer was still cold and carbonated.

I was more than a little surprised to find that Shorty still hadn’t returned when I reached the apartment. Where the fuck is he? I wondered, then totally forgot about Shorty when Hillary came out of the bedroom.

She had an handgun in her hands. In street slang, it was a Saturday Night Special. A snub nose .38 revolver.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, nonchalantly. I’m not sure how I sounded as calm as I did. “Can I see that?”

“No. I got it from Jerry. I borrowed it. He gave it to me. For protection. There’s a lot of crime around here.”

“I’m going to have a beer. Do you want anything?”

“Yes, a glass of white wine, please.”

I opened the refrigerator, pulled out a can of beer and a bottle of wine, then washed one of the wine glasses on the counter. I thought about spiking Hillary’s drink with a handful of Quaaludes, but I didn’t have any, and given the fact that Hillary popped them like peanuts, it’d probably take an entire bottle to knock her out. I handed her a wine glass that I had filled almost to the top. She popped a ‘lude in her mouth and chased it with wine. I prayed it would knock her out.

I walked over to the couch to sit down, but the coffee table was gone, and I had no place to set my beer. I sat down on the floor. Hillary joined me. She positioned herself between me and the door. I lit up a joint. There were actually a few left over from the party. Yeah, that was a nice surprise!

“What are you planning to do with that gun?” I decided to ask.

“I’m going to kill George.” Hillary replied, and smiled, taking a hit.

“Oh. Well, you’re going about this the right way. A little wine, a little weed, a Quaalude. You’ll be nice and relaxed when you go over to George’s place to shoot him.

“Good! I want to do this right.”

It was at that precise moment that all of Jerry’s warnings came flooding into my head. I finally understood what he had been trying to tell us. And this, this, was most definitely a minefield.

I have no idea what I said after that. I know Hillary explained her rationale for what she had decided to do, and I didn’t do anything to stop her from talking. I could only hope the holy trinity of wine, weed and methaqualone would kick in and knock her ass out before she could knock off George.

Hillary played with her gun while she talked. I hoped the safety was on, but I couldn’t tell–she flipped it around too quickly for me to tell for sure. I suppose I could’ve asked if she knew how to use it, but I didn’t really want to go there.

Please, be on! I prayed. And I knew one thing for sure. If it was on, I wasn’t going to tell her how to turn it off.

We sat on the floor, our drinks on the carpet nearby. I had the nicest conversation I would ever have with a homicidal maniac holding a loaded gun. We sipped our drinks, smoked more pot, and then it was time.

“Okay. I’m ready now. I’m going to go kill George.”

I tried to stall her. I said the first thing that popped into my mind.

“Hillary, I love you! I want to make love to you! I want to fuck your brains out!”

That actually stopped her in her tracks. She slowly turned around to look at me, and smiled.

“Of course you do. But, you had your chance.” She turned for the door.

“What? No, wait!” I was trying to figure out when my chance to fuck her brains out had actually happened because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity. But Hillary had made up her mind, and she would no longer be delayed. She was walking for the door, and she did not stop.

And that’s when I did perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life, and that covers a whole lots of stupid.

I ran past her, getting to the door before she did by a step. I may have lost my race to that door to Shorty, but I beat homicidal Hillary.

“If you’re really serious about killing George, you’re going to have to kill me first.” I said, blocking the door.

Hillary tilted her head fractionally. I could tell by the look in her her eyes that she was actually thinking about how she was going to get past me. And then she found a solution.

She raised the gun, in a very relaxed manner, and calmly pointed it at my head.