Harvey

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know her phone number?”

“Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah.”

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

“Hi Mom. It’s me. Harvey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, who’s laughing now, nurses?

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

“I’m the hair dresser to the stars.”

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

“Stevie Nicks. Victoria Principal. Morgan Fairchild.”

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

“I’ve never been there.”

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

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

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

“Yeah, she’s beautiful. Thanks!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even your Xanax?”

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

“What happened to that?”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Ooh, shiny!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I started singing, softly.

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

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

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

“Smarter, not harder.”

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

You can lead a horse to water…

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

It was those moments that made the whole thing worthwhile.

Questions of my Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was totally fuckin’ cold, man.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I AM that I AM.

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

I wonder if God likes spinach…

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

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

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

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

The Long and Winding Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

I left it on the side of the road.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lots of questions, not many answers.

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

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

A Brief History of Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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