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.

Divine Intervention

Hola, amigos.

I’d apologize for not writing more often, but I have no regrets about not writing, so I won’t. I hate receiving insincere apologies, so I hate giving them, too. I’ve been busy working on my golf swing with my golf wife. Judging by our scores, we’ll both be busy refining that aspect of our games for awhile.

If you thought this story was going to be about the miraculous hole in one I shot the last time I played, you’re going to be disappointed. Not as disappointed as I was, but still…

I’m not sure why I love doing something I’m so mediocre at, but life is full of mysteries. Golf is but one of them. I might feel the same way about bowling, but there aren’t any bowling alleys here, so I can’t fall in love with bowling.

I broke down and joined the Chapala Country Club a couple of weeks ago. I was spending roughly the amount of my monthly dues there anyhow, so it seemed like the thing to do.

I hear membership has its privileges, but I have no idea what they might be. I got a membership packet when I joined, but I haven’t read it. I figure if there’s something important, Phyllis will tell me. Phyllis is my golf wife, and she reads instructions.

And there’s our Spanish lessons. I think I’m picking up Spanish about as quickly as I’m improving in golf.

There are basically three types of gringos here. The ones who spoke Spanish before they got here. The ones who have no intention of learning Spanish, and act like fools when they go to the Telmex® office. And then there’s the ones like us who feel they have an obligation to learn the language of their new home.

We’re probably the minority of those three.

Poco y pinche poco. It’s a slow process, and frustrating at times. But it’s not like I have all that much on my schedule anymore. And the money we pay to learn Spanish is donated to help pay medical expenses for needy children.

As Lea says, at least someone is getting something out it.

* * * *

How’s everyone doing?

Life is still pretty sweet down here south of the border. It’s been chilly enough for us to use the fireplace, but seeing how someone who reads this might have actually frozen their ass off this winter, I’m not going to make too big a deal about the weather.

I’m still not sure how we ended up here when we did, so I tend to attribute wondrous things I can’t understand to God. If I didn’t believe in God I might attribute them to our cat, but I’ve never seen her do anything I could remotely call miraculous, so that’s too much of a stretch even for me.

I’m not sure I’ve ever outlined the chain of events that led us here in my blog. I’ve told the story a lots of times, and I’m too lazy to go back and read through my previous posts to find out…

I’m pretty sure all of this started when we moved from Minnesota to Arizona in 2007. My lovely supermodel wife became Phyllis’ boss. Phyllis, as in my current golf wife, Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis worked together for several years and eventually became good friends. In 2012, Phyllis and her husband, Max, were getting ready to retire. They were thinking about North or South Carolina because they were big NASCAR fans, and there’s a lots of race tracks in that part of the country.

Max has a brother, Rick. Rick was living in Ajijic, and he suggested Max and Phyllis come check the place out before they moved to either of the Carolinas. And that was the end of that plan. Max fell in love with Mexico. When Phyllis returned to work, she put in her notice, and my wife just about had a heart attack. Six weeks later, Max and Phyllis jumped in their car, and their retirement days began.

And that was almost the end of this story, except Phyllis sent Lea an email at work long after she moved away, I think it was 2014. A lots had happened in a couple years. Max had died. Phyllis missed her friend, and really wanted Lea to come visit her. After multiple invitations, we decided to check the place out in September of 2015, and flew to Guadalajara.

Phyllis had a little party for us while we were visiting. We met all of her best friends, and we listened to the promotional speeches they gave about why we should move to Mexico. We liked the Lakeside area. It was as pretty as a picture. However, at that time, neither of us were thinking about retiring, not for several years at least. And neither of us had even remotely considered retiring in Mexico. But it was certainly something to consider.

And then a whole lots of kooky things happened in rapid succession. In February of 2016, Lea’s company went through a major reorganization, and Lea found out she was going to be reorganized out of her job.

Just. Like. That.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. Please clear out all of your personal belongings by the end of business today.

Lea called her daughter, Gwen, who just happens to be our financial planner, and Gwen crunched some numbers. Gwen told her mother based on our savings and our Social Security income, Lea didn’t need to work anymore if she didn’t want to. And by virtue of that fact, neither did I. That memory still makes me smile.

It was at that precise moment that moving to Mexico started looking like a very real possibility.

Lea called Phyllis and they would have a lots of conversations over the next several months. Phyllis was instrumental in helping us navigate the obstacles of moving to a foreign country. Additionally, our landlord, Planet Janet, and all of Phyllis’ friends have been a great resource in assisting us in our transition. We haven’t had to face most of the pitfalls many expats run into when they move here.

Getting back to my story, we put our dream house in Surprise on the market and sold it in seven days.

Lea flew to Mexico and found a very spacious rental house three doors down from Casa del Phyllis. And she met Janet, who has become one of my favorite people.

The Mexican Moving Company came and packed up all our stuff, and headed south.

We rented a condo about five miles from the hospital I worked at and stayed there for three months until I retired at the end of September. Our furniture was waiting for us in our house when we arrived.

Everything that happened in this process fell into place so neatly. If we had planned it for years, it still wouldn’t have happened so perfectly. It was that slick.

Some might say it was nothing more than a series of coincidences. But I tend not to believe in coincidence. I’m more of an everything happens for a reason kind of guy. Besides, it’s more romantic when there’s a reason.

And that’s how we ended up in Mexico. I had a vague feeling something devastating was going to happen, you know, like unto a natural disaster. The Yellowstone Supervolcano was going to explode. That’s why we needed to get out of the US as quickly as we did.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. See? Still not a prophet…

Also, the fact that nothing terrible happened has left me wondering why we needed to get here so quickly. Well, Trump was elected President…  And however tragic I might view his election, it still wouldn’t have added up to anything equalling imminent danger to myself or Lea.

I’m not complaining about being here. I’m merely curious about the why.

Lea says that God is blessing us with this time together because we worked hard and we’ve been granted some peace and relaxation time.

It makes more sense than the volcano thing…

* * * *

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that almost everyone that believes in God has a Divine intervention story, and if it weren’t for God, they wouldn’t be here right now. We have, all of us believers, certainly prayed for divine intervention for any number of reasons.

Health. Illness. Love. Relationships. Life. Death.

The Bible is full of stories about God interceding for his people. There’s a lots of stories about prayers being answered by God and lives being changed for generations. I might write more about those someday. I spend more time thinking about that kind of stuff than anything else.

Lea’s not a big fan of my spiritual/ religious ramblings. She thinks it makes me appear, you know, crazy.

When I was a nurse, I used to pray for my patients. I used to pray for personal patience, understanding, and wisdom. When I was drunk I used to pray for a life changing intervention. Or death. And then I realized that’s one prayer that will always be granted, eventually.

It just never happens at the moment that you’re praying for it.

I see a lots of divine intervention in my sobriety. I doubt it’s an achievement I could have done on my own. Something greater than myself or my addiction came into play, and without that, I shudder to think what my life would be like now.

You can think what you like. For me, God saved my life, though I often wonder why He chose to do so.

* * * *

If you know me personally, or follow me on Facebook, you know my lovely supermodel wife and I are Minnesota Vikings fans. The Vikings had a very good season and are in the playoffs this year.

If you know anything about the Vikings history, you know the Vikings haven’t had the best results in playoffs. I have drowned many gridiron sorrows back in my drinking days, and celebrated scores of regular season wins. The Vikings have been to the NFC Championship game ten times. They’ve been NFC Champions four times. In their four Super Bowl appearances, they’ve come away with exactly zero Lombardi Trophies.

Divine intervention hasn’t been on the Vikings side in the playoffs. Miraculous plays always happened to the other team. But all that changed last Sunday night when the Vikings came from behind to beat the New Orleans Saints by scoring a 61 yard touchdown with ten seconds left on the clock.

The Vikings played a perfect first half, scoring seventeen points and shutting out the Saints. The Vikings defense was stellar, intercepting Drew Brees twice and keeping two of the best running backs in the game out of the end zone.

The second half was another story. The Saints scored twenty four points. The Vikings only six, and with twenty five seconds left in the game, the Vikings were down by one, and their season was about to end.

Lea and I were devastated. I was trying to figure out if we had enough medications to successfully overdose.

And then came the Minneapolis Miracle.

images (1)

For once, God decided to favor the Vikings. For a brief moment, Jesus wore a Vikings uniform, and as Stefon Diggs trotted into the end zone, there was surprise and disbelief, then jubilation! Even the players couldn’t believe what happened. You can Google® it if you haven’t seen it. It really was incredible. And beautiful.

On Sunday, the Vikings play the Eagles for the NFC Championship. The winner goes to the Super Bowl, which will be played in Minneapolis this year. The Vikings might be the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

It could happen. Hopefully, they won’t need any miracles to beat the Eagles because there were at least three miracles involved in the winning touchdown play last Sunday. It was kind of an Angels in the Outfield thing. Seriously.

I’m not sure how much more miracles they have left.

I don’t know how much God has to do with the outcomes of football games. Personally, I’d think he’d have bigger fish to fry. But if God truly orchestrated a miracle or three to beat the Saints, then please keep the miracles coming for two more games.

I’ve never prayed for something as trivial as a football victory before. Like I said, I think God has better things to do, but I’m going to pray for not one, but two more wins for the Vikings this season. Let there be any number of miracles, and let the Vikings win just one Super Bowl, before I die.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us. Just because the Vikings had a great season this year doesn’t mean they’ll have an equally impressive season next year.

I’m not getting any younger, so they might as well do it now.

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.

The Horne

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

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

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

My Muse for this tale is Melpomene.

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

* * * *

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

FTA

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

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

Feeling emboldened, Randy wrote,

FUCK THE ARMY

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

Fuck the world and burn the babies

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

I stopped, pointed at her, and started laughing.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

The Horne gave me a new nickname, Wrongway.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

And then the sky exploded.

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

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

“Jaysus Christ!” Mike shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretty cool storm, man.” Roger said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fucking T in the road!!!

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

I decided there was only one way to go.

“Hold on!” I shouted.

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

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

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

“No. I spilled my beer.” I said.

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

I know. We were all so adult back then…

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Man, you must be really trippin’!”

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

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

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

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

Then I looked at The Horne.

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to do this now?” Mike said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the war–the war, was just beginning.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

I had to warn everybody.

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

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

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

That’s when I remembered I had a car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve never been back to Geronimo.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

I had completely forgotten about that tragic tale…

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

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

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

* * * *

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

I’m not making that up.

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

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

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

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

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

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me make some calls.”

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

It was perfect.

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

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

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You said you wanted your money back.”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Randy lit it.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Where’s your family?”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, maybe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

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

* * * *

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

After that, I don’t know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctors

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

I’m very serious about that.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

That was a pretty high compliment.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

The Virgin Mary

1980.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a bad thing?”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Believe it or not, that actually happened.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean, your mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls

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

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

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

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

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

His funeral was the first funeral I attended.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Forward.

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

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

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

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

And life, will go on.

Till We Get the Healing Done

If you’ve never listened to the above album, I highly recommend it. Good stuff. The title of this post is one of the songs on the album.

* * * *

I’ve said something like unto this in many of my posts, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. And while that is true on a superficial level, I’ve been a victim of the total agony of love only three times in my life.

Apparently that adage about the third time being the charm is true. Lea was the third of my deep loves. Maureen was the first. There was a second gal I might write about someday, we’ll see…

My lovely supermodel wife and I have been together for almost three decades, but there was a time when we almost didn’t make it.

It happened in 1995. We had survived our vacation from Hell in April. Lea had survived abdominal surgery #4 the year before, but she ended up having an ileostomy with an external pouch. That small, but enormous, detail changed everything in my wife’s world.

She fucking hated it and everything about it. She never felt comfortable with the external pouch, and it showed. She almost always looked tense and tightly wrapped, and she had been like that before she had anything to worry about. My lovely supermodel wife took it to a new level, and her self image was altered on a level even I couldn’t comprehend.

By chance, she saw a very small advertisement in the Sunday newspaper about the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir, and decided to go to the seminar. After that, she was a woman on a mission.

The BCIR is a surgically created internal pouch. Google it if you need more information. I’m pretty sure that’s what I had to do, but the bottom line is if she had this surgery, her external pouch would be replaced by an internal pouch made out of a portion of her small bowel. There are only a few hospitals in the United States that perform the procedure. Lea’s gastroenterologist was more than happy to write a referral for her. Then she took on our healthcare insurance company.

Our insurance company thought it was an elective surgery, but Lea was able to convince them it wasn’t just a cosmetic surgery in her case, and she had recommendations from her her doctor and her employer backing her up. For all I know, Lea is the only person that has ever achieved this. Blue Cross/Blue Shield finally agreed to foot the bill and they covered the entire procedure.

All. Of. It. And it wasn’t cheap.

Lea’s boss was far more supportive of her than my horrible boss would ever be. He went to bat for her to help get the insurance company on board, and he approved the month she’d need off for her surgery, and an additional two months for recovery and rehab without so much as a blink.

The BCIR people expected anyone having their very specialized surgery to bring one support person along for the ride, so to speak. In lieu of me, our darling daughter, Abigail, flew to Florida with her mother to be at her side during the surgery and recovery program. They would be in St Petersburg, FL for three weeks in August.

* * * *

It wasn’t the three weeks apart that was the last straw. It wasn’t even another surgery. Lea appeared to be stabilizing from her lengthy major flare up of Crohn’s disease, and it was slowly becoming quiescent. But…  She had appeared to improve in the past, only to take two or three steps back each time.

My buddy, Dan, was working a job in the Twin Cities area at that time, and he crashed at our house during the week, and drove home for the weekends. We spent most evenings while my wife and daughter were out of town drinking beer and talking about guy stuff. And even our discussions weren’t what pushed me over the edge.

Dan is my friend, and a good guy, but he didn’t understand the disease or its pathology. Nor was he in love with my wife anywhere near as much as I was. But he could probably see how worn out I was better than I could. He mostly wanted to see me happy again.  So, we drank and joked and laughed, and I have to admit, it felt really good just to be able to do that.

I would turn forty in 1995. In a previous post I stated that my drinking problem started becoming more of a problem when I turned forty, and five years later it would be totally out of control. I cannot discount my alcohol abuse as a factor in my mindset, as much as I would like to. But neither can I blame everything on it, although that would make the rest of this story so much easier.

For three years Lea’s illness tore up our lives, much like it tore up her body. She almost died at least three times, if not more. We had somehow gotten through the worst Crohn’s could throw at us, and we were both still standing, if barely.

Lea was getting better, maybe, hopefully, possibly, probably–I was afraid to think anything would ever get better on the offhand chance that thinking it would jinx everything, and we’d have to start all over again. For all I know, Lea was equally spooked and gun-shy. I can’t imagine she felt any different than I did in this regard.

The simple truth was this: I was completely exhausted from three years of essentially neverending high stress levels, living in two hospitals and visiting our house, and wondering if this was the time that her illness would win out and claim another victim.

I hadn’t run out of love for my wife. I’d run out of everything else.

* * * *

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to go to Florida with Lea. We talked every day, and she gave me daily status updates. The surgery went as smoothly as it could. She had never had such effective post-op pain control in her life. The nurses were as good as the nurses at Fairview Medical Center, or better. She was in good hands, she was doing as more better gooder as anyone could expect, and I felt like I could relax for the first time in three years.

The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the hurricane that was going to hit Florida while Lea and Abi were there. I had never been in an hurricane, and I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to see that.

Hurricanes don’t make it to Minnesota. Remnants of hurricanes did make it to the Phoenix area while we were there, but the remnant of a hurricane is a rainstorm, and I’ve seen plenty of those in my lifetime. I doubt I’ll encounter an hurricane down here in the Lakeside area.

Lea said it was a pretty uneventful event to her. The hospital was constructed to withstand the winds of an hurricane; neither she nor Abi were in any real danger, but just in cases the staff were ready to evacuate everyone at a moment’s notice. Lea said she’d never seen rain like that before in her life. Abi mostly slept through Hurricane Erin.

The rest of Lea’s hospitalization went smoothly, and my girls came back home.

* * * *

I’m sure my memories of this aren’t completely clear, mostly because I don’t want to remember it. I’ve asked my wife to help fill in the blanks in my memory. It seems to me that within a couple of days of returning to Minnesota, Lea was back in the hospital.

That, was the last straw for me.

I made an appointment with a divorce attorney. His initial consultation was free, and he said it was always easier to try to work things out with your spouse than to get a divorce. Lea had owned our house before we got married, and she would keep the house if we didn’t stay married. He told me to seriously think it through, and to contact him again if I needed him.

Then I drove to the hospital to tell my wife I wanted a divorce.

* * * *

I really had no idea what I was going say. In the first two times I’d been deeply in love, it wasn’t my idea to end the relationship. And I was beyond conflicted regarding my intentions with Lea. We weren’t just in a relationship, we’d been married for almost seven years.

Not only that, I was her mother’s angel, and by default, I had become her father’s angel, too. That’s not the kind of thing you just blithely walk away from.

We had survived three years of pretty much living hell, life and death, endless illness and hospitalizations. It’s possible Lea checked herself into the hospital when she returned home because it was probably the safest place in the world for her. I have no doubt–even though she was improving and she’d just had a surgery that would greatly improve her life–she was scared out of her mind.

To this day, I am amazed and humbled by the dignity and grace she demonstrated when she was so incredibly ill. I know I could never have done that. Lea’s nurses loved her. If our positions had been switched, my nurses probably would’ve thrown me down the stairwell.

Nonetheless, I informed my lovely supermodel wife I had met with a divorce attorney. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, I just couldn’t live on the edge anymore.

Lea was probably surprised, but I think there was also a part of her that had been expecting something like unto it. Women are spooky that way. She cried a little, but mostly we talked. She regrouped quickly and gave me an option I hadn’t considered.

“Give me six months. I’ll either conquer this, or it’ll kill me. But give me that much time, and then decide what you want to do. Give me six months. If you still want a divorce then, I won’t even fight you.”

Writing this, it seems like a pretty good option to me, and I probably jumped at it as an acceptable alternative to divorce and being homeless. I didn’t really want to get a divorce, I just wanted something like my life, and my wife, back. However, at the time I didn’t think I’d have either.

Lea says I rejected her option. And left. She called her dad and told him what happened and cried on the phone for hours. As emotionally distant as Dave was, I can only imagine his response. Lea says he didn’t have any idea what to say or do.

I have no problem believing that part of her story. Dave was the Mount Everest of emotional isolation. Not even Tenzing Norgay would’ve been willing to scale that emotional wilderness.

It was probably one of the worst nights either of us had to endure. Lea probably cried herself to sleep. I’m not sure I slept. But when I went to the hospital the next day I gave her an option that must have come to me in the middle of the night.

“I can’t watch you die anymore, but I’ll give you three months.”

I had no hope I could last that long. I had no hope she would either.

* * * *

In retrospect, this is one example of God answering prayers in His perfect time. When hope fades, and all else is crumbling around you, God remains. Lea was released from the hospital. It would be the last time she was admitted for a Crohn’s related inflammatory process.

I’m not sure that was a miracle, or if the beast in her belly had finally worn itself out. But either way, our prayers were heard, and answered.

The worst three years of our lives had ended without fanfare. Even if there had been fanfare, I doubt I would’ve believed it. It would probably take me at least a year, or more, to relax and stop waiting for any more shoes to drop. I think when this chapter of our lives finally closed forever, it felt like I’d been hit by Imelda Marcos’ entire shoe closet.

Lea’s been hospitalized for other reasons, mostly blood transfusions secondary to incredibly low hemoglobin levels. Lea’s gut is kind of like unto the Kīlauea volcano, she’s more or less constantly oozing blood, and it’s something that needs to be monitored even today. But the beast in her belly had finally run its course, and while it has reared its head from time to time, it has never tried to devour her from the inside out since 1995.

Flash forward twenty-two years. We’re still together. We can’t imagine our lives any other way. And that BCIR thing Lea fought so hard for, it was worth it. It would’ve been worth it if we had had to pay twice the amount our insurance company did ourselves. It’s made an huge difference in Lea’s life. I’m not sure how she would’ve recovered to the extent she has without it.

Thank you, honey, for giving me an option that was brilliant on the level of something that only a genius could’ve come up with. Thank you for staying with me when I totally lost it and tried drinking myself into a coma. Thank you for supporting me when I finally decided to get a grip and face my demons.

It’s been mostly sweet, and you were the sweetest of all. I wish we’d have another thirty years together.

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.

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.

It’s Good Work (If You Can Get It)

I’ve been working on a few projects around the house for the last few days. Our dining room chairs need to be reupholstered, so I’ve been removing the staples, the hundreds of staples, that secured the old fabric to the chairs.

It’s been slow going, but there’s no deadline for me to finish this task, so I have that going for me. My back is still bothering me, and I have to pace myself. I do about one chair a day. I’ve finished four, and have two to go.

The current fabric is a kind of hideous blue, and the only reason it’s an hideous shade of blue is it doesn’t match anything else in our house. Lea wants to put a faux animal print on our refurbished chairs, I think it’s leopard, and that will totally match the jungle themed niches in the dining room. The finished product will be darling, I’m sure.

I’ll post pictures on my Facebook page when it’s all done.

I’m also planning on building a goldarn thing in the carport bodega. Bodega is a vague-ish Mexican term for a storage area. There are two bodegas at our house. The carport bodega is the smaller of the two. The larger bodega is down the patio stairs and to the right. It’s where I keep most of my tools and our Christmas decorations.

Goldarn things are immensely useful. They have a thousand and one uses, and can be made out of anything, and can be pretty much any shape. I’m planning on making my goldarn thing out of wood in a rectangle shape with a couple of doors on the front, and I plan on storing kit-ten supplies in it. I’ve got a couple of other ideas I’m kicking around, but nothing has crystallized yet

However, Lea has forbidden me to start working on any of my projects until my back is better. This could take awhile. To give you an idea how bad it is, I didn’t even argue with her, not that I would’ve won even if I had offered an argument…  I’ve basically had two pain free days since this started, and today is not one of them.

I’ve been watching a lots of HGTV and the DIY Network since I retired. That makes me a consistent viewer, not a master carpenter. I’m not interested in knocking down any walls to create a more open concept. Besides, we’re renting this house. I doubt Planet Janet would be pleased if I decided to do any major renovations her lovely house.

I’m kind of an handy guy to have around the house. I probably inherited that talent from my mom. My dad wasn’t very handy when it came to fixing anything. In fact, whenever he had a tool in his hand, we would make popcorn and gather around him to watch. It was better than cartoons.

My handyman talents were something my lovely supermodel wife didn’t realize or appreciate when we first got married. She was actually pretty handy, too. However, once she realized this, she bought me a truckload of power tools, and I’ve gotten a lots of use out of them over the years.

Acts of Service speak volumes to Lea, it’s her favorite Language of Love, but what she says she appreciates most is that I don’t overestimate my skills and take on a job that surpasses my talents.

Major plumbing repairs? Um, I’ll call a plumber. Electrical issues? Not going there. I peed on an electric fence at my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid. Once. I’ve had a very healthy respect for electricity ever since.

I did a lots of stuff around our house in Minneapolis. It was built in 1921, and it needed a lots of repairs and maintenance. Lea and I painted every room in our house. Twice. I painted the master bedroom three times, and added crown molding. I built a whole lots of shelves in the basement for storage.

Little Known Fact About Storage Space: The amount of stuff you have will automatically expand to fill the storage space you have available.

I made the end tables that compliment our coffee table. They’re all made of old barn wood, and while they’re technically not antiques, they look old as all get out. And I made an entertainment center to hold my TV and stereo equipment.

Not bad for a guy that had a hard time making a chopping board in shop class.

My home repairs in Arizona were mostly limited to my garage, and I did a lots of stuff out there to make it more functional, and create more storage space. The house was essentially a new house, and didn’t need much of anything from me. I limited myself to minor repairs, like repairing cosmetic issues and touch up paint jobs, though Lea and I did install a custom closet system in the master suite.

It wasn’t a lot, but it created the illusion I was providing a valuable service. That’s basically what I do now. And it gives me something to do. By the way, if you plan on doing anything like unto a repair, buy a pair of overalls and put some tools in your pockets. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ll look like you do. And sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

One of the things I learned when I worked Gero/Psych was many of our patients had lost their sense of purpose after they retired. As a result, they became depressed, or started drinking a lots.

Having too much time on your hands is not a good thing. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. I didn’t know the devil even had a workshop. Maybe that’s where platypuses came from…

Much like God, people need to have a purpose. After all, we’re created in His image, are we not? Purpose appears to be a necessary component of life. Like, oxygen.

Yeah, it’s that important.

More than a few retired people I’ve talked to have had problems transitioning from their work life to their retirement life.

I had nothing to do!

Most of us dream of the day when we’ll have nothing to do, right? And then we discover that doing nothing is, well, boring as hell. And when that’s all you have to do, it can be overwhelming. It may or may not have been the reason why my back is just about killing me now. I still like to think I’m better adjusted than that, but I cannot deny that my back is a disaster area right now. And the fact that there was no identifiable cause only makes it more suspicious.

And while the concept of doing nothing being stressful and difficult to adapt to might sound like the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever heard, let me assure you, it’s not. They call it a retirement plan for a reason.

Like it or not, what we do for a living becomes a big part of what we are. When you meet someone new, What do you do? is probably going to be in your top five questions. And the answer to that question had better be something. Especially if you want a second date.

If nothing else, working for a living gave me a reason to get out of bed and practice good oral hygiene. And it paid the bills. It also allowed me to start saving for our retirement, and I would encourage anyone that reads this to start doing that, if you’re not already doing so.

I took a lots of pride in what I did when I was a psych nurse, and I had high standards of performance not only for myself, but for all the people on my team. You better bring your ‘A’ game. That was one of the reasons people liked working with me. They knew I would do my job, and that made it easier for them to do their job.

Almost everyone wants to do a good job doing whatever it is they’re doing, even strippers. And if you don’t mind having a bunch of strangers seeing you naked, in terms of technical difficulty, taking your clothes off while you dance seems like it would be one of the easiest jobs ever invented.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from one of my co-workers. As I was sitting on the floor outside of my DON’s office waiting to clock in, she said, “I was so happy to your car in the parking lot this morning! I knew I was going to have a good day because you’re here!”

It doesn’t get much better than that. I almost had a multiple orgasm. And speaking of that little troll, one of the reasons I hated working with her was because I ended up doing half her job, along with all of mine.

I don’t receive many compliments for a job well done these days. For one thing, I don’t really do much anymore, and I don’t get paid for the things I do. I’m not going to be getting any more promotions or bonuses. The most consistent task I’m responsible for is cleaning out the litter box every morning, and does my cat ever thank me? No. The ungrateful little feline…

And watering my marigolds. They’re looking pretty good, now that the gardeners know not to fuck with them again. Ever.

Our self image is greatly tied to our ability to do something/anything well. And it’s not just how we view ourselves, it’s how others view us, too. We are judged by the quality of our work. It starts in grade school, and it never really ends. Fair or not, that’s just the way it is, and it’s not going to change anytime soon.

So, go forth, and be successful. Do good work, and take pride in what you do. Bring your ‘A’ game, every day. If you’re contemplating becoming a stripper, send me a demo video, I’ll let you know what I think. Be one of those people that makes the lives of your co-workers better. Don’t be a troll that makes everyone groan when they see your car in the parking lot.

Success is measured by your accomplishments, and nothing else. No one gives a damn about the shit you almost did. What do you call the team that almost won the Super Bowl?

Losers.

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.

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.

Wild and Crazy Guys

When you’re a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. Even if you’re not a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. But they’re your friends, or your parents, and they don’t count.

I’ve met so many kooky people, I can’t keep them all straight anymore. But these are some that stick out in my mind.

The Tin Man. He was a patient at the MVAMC. I would meet him only once, which was actually quite rare at the VA.  He was an incredibly muscular young man, which probably explained all the people that escorted him to the unit. Almost all of the Outpatient staff had walked him over. You could tell right away he was going to be interesting. For starters, he drew a crowd.  For another, he was wearing a hat made of aluminum foil.

“What’s with the hat?” I asked.

“Aliens.”

“Like, from Outer Space? Those kind of aliens?”

“Yessir.”

“What does the hat do?”

“Mind control.”

“Ah! It…prevents…mind control?”

“Yessir.”

We did skin assessments on all of our patients when they were admitted. We needed to know if they had any open wounds, or lice. Stuff like that. We also wanted to make sure they weren’t concealing any contraband items, like guns. Or knives. Or drugs.

When we did our initial skin assessment on the Tin Man, we discovered he wasn’t wearing just a hat made of aluminum foil, he was wearing a suit made of aluminum foil. Hence, the nickname.

“That has to be incredibly uncomfortable.” I observed.

“Yessir, but you get used to it.”

I was able to convince the Tin Man to surrender his special suit to us with the assistance of my good friend, Paul Anderson. I told the Tin Man he was in a government facility, and all government buildings have a secret layer of lead added when the building is constructed.

“For real?” the Tin Man asked. I am apparently quite a convincing liar. I’ve had many people tell me they couldn’t tell if I was telling the truth or not. Even when I said something ridiculous. And those were people I worked with.

“Oh yeah,” Paul said. “We have a lot of politicians and high powered dignitaries that visit here, and the last thing they want is space aliens taking over their minds.”

“Definitely.” I added. “They might do something unthinkable, like their jobs.”

* * * *

Wally World. He was also a patient at the MVAMC, and he would check in every few years or so. Wally was homeless. Well, he said he lived in a dumpster, so he wasn’t technically homeless in his mind. You wouldn’t believe how awful he smelled when he was admitted. Be that as it may, he was quite kooky, and he collected things.

That’s what he called it. His roommates called it stealing, and threatened to beat the shit out of him. We had two private rooms right by the nursing station, but we generally filled those rooms with old confused guys. I moved Wally into a seclusion room for his safety. Then I ended up locking him in it to keep him from getting killed to death. He couldn’t stop collecting things.

Some of the guys on the unit were combat veterans, guys who had fought in wars, and had killed other human beings in the service of their country. And some of them were the last person you’d want to piss off because they probably would kill you.

Being homeless, well, living in a dumpster, Wally probably didn’t have a lots of stuff. I doubt any of the stuff he had could be classified as nice. I’m sure the temptation to have nice stuff was overpowering to Wally. If he saw anything he liked, he simply took it. Being crazy as a loon probably didn’t make it any easier…

The rules and regulations for seclusion and restraints were the parts of my job that changed the most during my nursing career. When I started in Psychiatry, patients were secluded and restrained for almost any reason. Locking Wally in his room because he couldn’t stop stealing may seem punitive today, but it was acceptable back then. My boss had no problem with my decision, as long as I tried setting Wally free every day.

Nowadays, you need overwhelming evidence of a clear and present danger to self or others before you even think about using S & R. Especially in the private sector.

I worked for the VA. Technically, each VA hospital is supposed to follow the statutes of the state it’s in, but the VA is a Federal institution, and the Federal government doesn’t like the States telling it what to do. We pretty much did whatever we wanted to when it came to controlling the unit and managing the behavior of our patients.

I met with Wally every day that I worked while he was there during that admission. I thoroughly explained my expectations about his behavior to him. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. If it’s not already in your room, it doesn’t belong to you!

I’m not sure if Wally didn’t listen, or if he couldn’t process what I was saying. I stepped between him and a very pissed off person more than once to prevent bloodshed. I’d return whatever he had taken, and then I’d lead Wally back to his room and lock the door.

“I don’t like you,” Wally told me one day as I was locking him back up again, after I saved his life and returned the item or items he had collected while he was free. “You’re mean, and icky. The only reason you’re doing this is because I can rap better than you!”

See what I mean?

Wally eventually came back to earth. He stopped collecting things, and we discharged him back to his dumpster until the next time.

* * * *

National Security. The Secret Service would bring people to the MVAMC from time to time because they had threatened to kill the President. It was always in conjunction with a Presidential visit to Minnesota.

If you’ve never met a Secret Service agent, they’re intimidating. They’re all tall, and their muscles have muscles. They all wear black suits and sunglasses. And they never, ever smile.

“Lock this man up in that room until we tell you to let him go.” a non-smiling agent would say, and point to a seclusion room.

“This is a locked unit. He’s already locked up.” I said, once.

“Locked up, in that room. Or you can join him. It’s a matter of national security.” When the President’s visit was over, the Secret Service would call and give us the green light, and we could discharge the person they had delivered into our custody.

And we would comply. Once we even put a man in four point restraints and locked the door because the Secret Service ordered us to. Several hours later we cut him loose, again, at the direction of the Secret Service. It was the only time I ever released someone that had been restrained and secluded directly to the street.

I have to admit, I’m not sure who was kookier now. The people that hated the President, the Secret Service, or us.

* * * *

The Mad Crapper. He was one of the kooky guys that liked to strip and go naked at the MVAMC. Truly crazy people emit an aroma or pheromone or something. I could tell how psychotic someone was simply from their smell.

That was true with the Mad Crapper, but he had a little something extra in his mix. That guy had a seemingly endless supply of shit inside him. He would crap like a moose. Nay, he would crap like a herd of moose. Yea, verily, he crapped like unto a veritable elephant.

The Mad Crapper crapped like no one you had ever seen. Or smelled. You would think after taking a dump like that, the guy wouldn’t need to poop again for a month.

After he downloaded enough crap to fill the halls of Congress, he would paint himself and the walls of the seclusion room with fecal matter. We would clean him up, and his room. And he would shit all over everything again with the same incredible amount of crap.

There’s something they never showed the nurses having to do on Days of Our Lives.

* * * *

The Piss Guzzler. His name was Patrick. I met him at the Minnesota State Hospital. You can probably guess why I gave him his nickname.

Patrick used to drink water by the gallon, and then he’d go crazier than hell. We’d have to lock him up with a few urinals and empty them as soon as he filled one, or he’d guzzle his piss like it was a bucket of beer.

Patrick was generally a pretty nice guy, unless he was intoxicated on water. He once charged my friend and mentor, Sondra, with deadly intent in his eyes. She had to lock herself in the report room. She later told me she was sure Patrick would have killed her if he had caught her.

Patrick climbed the flagpole one day. I’m not sure if I was there when it happened or not, but I have a vague memory of someone telling me I had to get him down from there. That was a very tall flagpole, and Patrick had climbed all the way to the top.

“The hell I do. Haven’t you heard of gravity?” I think I responded, if I was there.

Patrick eventually came down from the flagpole, all by himself, whether I was there or not.

* * * *

The Stalker. I met this guy at the County Hospital in Arizona. He looked to be a kind of a sweet, benign kooky guy. He mostly sat on the couch in the lounge, staring off into the distance at nothing, smiling to himself. I called him The Stalker because he had convinced himself one of local news anchors, Beverly Kidd, had fallen in love with him. He wrote her love letters, and started hanging around her TV station. He gave her flowers and candy. She filed a restraining order against him, which he ignored. He was arrested, and then he started writing letters to Beverly telling her how he was going to kill her and her children. The next thing he knew, he was locked up in a psych hospital.

He had two warnings taped to his chart. One, we were supposed to notify Beverly Kidd immediately upon his release. And two, we weren’t supposed to let him watch the news on Channel 3. That was Beverly’s network.

I think I left the County before he did, so I don’t know how his story ended.

* * * *

When it comes to my personal wild and crazy guys, this is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I’ll visit this neighborhood again.

Sometimes the memories are still so real I’m not sure I ever left.

What Was I Thinking?

Anyone that has been in more than one serious relationship probably has a story about that time they got involved with someone that was totally wrong for them. If you have more than one story, you should probably consider not dating for maybe a decade. If you have more than five, you should consider becoming a priest or a nun.

For me, that person was Cynthia Jamieson. I met her right around the time I was having my final showdown with Sister Mary Hitler, so she initially presented herself as a very welcome distraction in my already troubled life.

Cynthia was roughly my age and height, and thin–almost too thin. I asked her out. She agreed. We met at a restaurant/bar that had live music on the weekends. We ate, had a few drinks, and danced a lot. She was attractive with short, kind of platinum blonde hair–I don’t know what her natural hair color was. She was smart, witty, funny, and she was a good dancer. She could also sing. She could sing arias from Puccini and Mozart and classical guys like that. And she was good! I was totally impressed.

Cynthia was divorced, she was the first previously married woman I seriously dated. She had two boys, Bert and Pete. I think Bert was maybe ten years old, and Pete was around eight. They were good kids, we all got along.

Cynthia had some vague GI problem that she was seeing three doctors for treatment–two in St Cloud, one in Minneapolis. And she was getting at least one prescription medication from all three of them. She saw each of her doctors about every two or three weeks on a rotating basis. Her vague problem didn’t seem to be serious, and the medication, whatever it was, seemed to be managing her illness, whatever it was…

Things were going mostly smoothly with Cynthia and the boys. I moved into Cynthia’s’s apartment after a couple months of dating her. Things were getting kinda serious. It was only after I moved in with Cynthia I got my first inkling there was something not quite right.

Cynthia was…moody. And sometimes she was darkly moody. And when it got really bad, she always played one special song on the stereo: Harden My Heart by Quarterflash.

“Oh, God,” Bert said, the first time Cynthia played that song after I moved in. “Mom’s in a bad mood. She always plays this song when she’s in a bad mood.”

“What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know, maybe cuz dad divorced her.”

“Yeah, but that was, like, two or three years ago, wasn’t it?”

“All I know is she plays this song, and then she starts yelling.”

I had to investigate this phenomena, and what Bert said was absolutely true. Cynthia went off on me like she was the Witch Queen of New Orleans. I grabbed the boys and fled. We went to my old apartment and hung out with my brother until it was safe to return.

This was not a frequent occurrence, but it wasn’t a singular event either. If Cynthia was upset with her ex-husband, I could understand that, but when Cynthia got into one of these moods, her ire wasn’t focused toward her ex-husband. It was seemingly directed toward anyone/everyone with a penis.

Cynthia’s ex’s name was also Bert. Cynthia’s son was actually Bert II. Bert the First was a semi-wealthy guy, and he had derailed Cynthia’s very comfortable lifestyle by divorcing her. Cynthia had very nice, very expensive tastes. Everything she owned was designed by a Somebody. Cynthia was my first high maintenance woman, and she would become my first serious fashion consultant.

I think it was around this time that my youngest sister got married. Cynthia sang ‘Ave Maria’ a cappella at Julie and Curt’s wedding and brought the house down. She really did have an amazing voice. I think that was the moment I fell in love with her.

Weddings. Never make any serious life decisions immediately after going to a wedding. I bought a ring. I proposed, all that stuff. And then things went all to hell.

Cynthia not only had an ex-husband, she also had an ex-boyfriend. I can’t remember his name, but he couldn’t get over the fact that Cynthia had dumped him. He used to call frequently. I hung up on him whenever I answered the phone. He wrote letters. He sent cards. He followed us around sometimes. And one time he even kidnapped her.

Okay, maybe he didn’t actually kidnap her, but that’s what it felt like. I can’t remember all the details… Cynthia’s ex-husband had the boys, so it must’ve been the weekend. We were out at a park, maybe playing Frisbee. My brother Tom was there. Mr XBF walked up, said he needed to talk to Cynthia. I kind of lost it, and told him to walk away before I killed him to death. But Cynthia agreed to talk to him! Privately!! They went over to his car. Tom and I followed them, and immediately lost them in traffic after Mr XBF drove off with her. I was sure he was going to kill her, then kill himself.

Okay, maybe he didn’t actually kill her. My brother thought I was being a drama llama and told me to get a fucking grip already. He dropped me off at my apartment where I waited for a call from the police, informing me my fiancée had been brutally murdered. By her psychotic ex-boyfriend. Who then committed suicide…

The phone rang, but it wasn’t the police. Or Mr XBF, outlining his perverted ransom demands. Or even Cynthia, calling to say goodbye to me before she got dead at the hands of the psycho guy she never should’ve dated. It was Cynthia’s best friend, Patricia. I told her what had happened in a rush. We talked for at least an hour, and she filled in a whole lots of blanks in Cynthia’s storyline.

Mr XBF was bad news. Patricia had never liked that creepy bastard, and had been telling Cynthia to dump him from Day One. I had met Patricia couple times, and I thought she was okay, but now I thought Patricia was brilliant and I loved her. And then came the bombshells. Cynthia didn’t have anything wrong with her stomach or any other portion of her GI tract. And the medication she was getting to treat her malady was phenobarbital. I couldn’t believe it! My darling opera singer, fashion plate fiancée was a drug addict!!

My head was spinning after I hung up the phone. Cynthia walked in the door a short time, or maybe a long time later. I really can’t remember how long I waited. All I know is, I should’ve been playing Quarterflash when she walked through the door.

I confronted my then fiancée. She countered with any number of reasonable sounding explanations. I called Patricia. She wanted to talk to Cynthia. I handed the phone to my fiancée. She had the shortest conversation she would have with her best friend, ever, but about half an hour later Patricia walked in the door and we ended up doing a tag team intervention on Cynthia that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I doubt any of the people living in the vicinity of our apartment got any sleep that night. Thinking back on it now, I’m surprised no one called the police.

Cynthia fought us tooth and nail, but Patricia was beyond amazing that night. When Cynthia finally broke down and admitted she had a problem and needed help, it was because of Patricia, not me. Cynthia packed a bag, and we drove her to the St Cloud Hospital ER to get her admitted into the Chemical Dependency Treatment Program.

I talked to Cynthia’s ex-husband the next day to let him know what had happened. He wasn’t as surprised as I was, but agreed he should keep his sons until their mother got out of drug rehab.

I supported Cynthia while she was in treatment. I visited her every day. I went to Family Night. I participated in her program whenever my presence was required. Cynthia’s parents and siblings even got involved, and they started mending their relationships, but I knew I was done.

Given my history, her drug abuse wasn’t the issue. I probably made her look like a grade school kid in terms of drug and alcohol use. It wasn’t the drugs, it was her crazy behavior–the yelling and screaming, the diffuse rage that rained down pell-mell and helter skelter. And there was also Mr XBF. The fact that she had voluntarily disappeared for several hours with him…

I told Cynthia we were through near the end of her hospitalization. She took it better than I thought she would, and gave me my ring back. I didn’t ask for it, she simply took it off her finger and placed it in my hand. I packed up my stuff and moved out of her place just before she was released.

The last thing I did before I left her apartment was break her Quarterflash album in two.

I ran into Cynthia about a month after she completed rehab. She was smiling and relaxed. I just about had a heart attack. Cynthia looked about the same, except for one surprising physical anomaly. Her ass had become huge! She looked to be about the same otherwise, but(t)…

And that was when she became Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson to me.

I know. It doesn’t say much about me, does it. I make no excuses, nor do I apologize. I’m a guy. I’m not always sensitive to the pain of others, despite my training and my inherent compassion. I rarely care what others think or feel about me and my words or actions.

I’ve done a lot of work fixing the broken parts of me. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is essentially an endless recovery program. Recovery never ends, you simply move on to the next issue. We all have areas that need some work and tuning up.

I hope Cynthia’s life turned out great. I hope she conquered her demons and is prospering at whatever it is she’s doing now. I hope her sons grew up to be decent men, and that they married nice girls, and gave their mother grandchildren to spoil.

But I really wish I had never seen Cynthia’s gigantic ass. It’s an image I’ve never been able to erase from my brain. And I can’t listen to Quarterflash without damn near having a panic attack.

In some ways, that’s the biggest tragedy of this story. I love music, and Quarterflash had a few decent songs back in the 80’s. And I love the 80’s.

A Football Life

I love football. My favorite NFL team is the Minnesota Vikings. They were one of best teams in the NFL three short weeks ago. They were the only undefeated team in the entire NFL. Last night, they lost to the Chicago Bears, a team that has been one of the worst NFL teams all season. Honestly, after the way the Vikings have performed over the last two weeks, they look like they’ll be fortunate to win another game this year.

The Vikings have been in the NFL since 1961. They’ve fielded some impressive teams over the years, most notably on the defensive side of the ball. Marshall, Eller, Page and Larson–the Purple People Eaters–were one of the best defensive lines of all time.

The Vikings have been to the Super Bowl four times. They have yet to win a Super Bowl. It’s like a friend of mine once said, “Oh yeah, the Vikings. Man, you know they’re gonna tear it up in the regular season, but they’ll break your heart in the playoffs.”

Ahem. Did you hear that guys? You have roughly nine weeks of not sucking left! Jaysus, Mary and Joseph!! Saints presarve us!!!

For those of you that don’t watch football, it’s a violent, contact sport. It’s a game of big hits–torn ACL’s, torn MCL’s and concussion protocols. Injuries are part of the game. They are a given. You have to prepare for them.

Last year, the Vikings were an young, upstart team that came out of nowhere to win the NFC North division. This year, they were an early pick to be in the Super Bowl. I was really excited about this team. If they can just stay healthy, I thought…

You can’t make excuses, but injuries have been the one thing this year’s Vikings haven’t been able to avoid. And they have been almost catastrophic. The Vikings lost their starting quarterback before the season even started, then lost arguably the best running back in the game in Week Two. Well, all I can say is those are going to seriously alter your game plan.

The Vikings did go out and get a replacement starting quarterback. Sam Bradford looked like he was going to be more than a stopgap solution. He looked freaking awesome–until the Vikings played the Philadelphia Eagles, Sam Bradford’s former team. And that’s when a glaring weakness in the Vikings lineup was revealed.

Today’s NFL has evolved into a precise, high tech game of complex offensive formations and big plays. The passing game has eclipsed the running game in terms of importance and fan approval. It has become an exciting game to watch, most of the time.

However, in order to achieve this finely tuned aspect of the modern game, you need at least one throwback fundamental element from the old school game of the ancient 1930’s. You still need the big guys on your offensive line to block the big guys on the opposing team’s defensive line.

And this is the glaring weakness that has been revealed in the last two games, the Vikings apparently don’t have an offensive line.

I know, right! How the hell does that happen? Well, the injury bug has been feasting at that buffet this year, too. And so, a year that started out with such promise has suddenly become a season that cannot end too soon, and I love football! I never want the season to end!!

I haven’t been this disappointed since 1998. That was a year that will live in infamy for every Vikings fan.

In 1998, the Vikings unleashed something that had never been seen before. The Vikings had a high powered offense. The Vikings could seemingly score at will, from anywhere on the field. They tore up the regular season, coasting to a 15-1 record. They were easily the best team in football that year. They were the odds on favorite to win the NFC title, and they were a shoe in to win the Super Bowl. It was the greatest season ever to be e a Vikings fan because this was our year! 😄👍😄👏

I’m not sure I can finish this without needing to be on suicide precautions. To make an incredibly heartbreaking story very short, the Vikings got beat in the NFC Championship game by the Atlanta Falcons. By a fucking field goal. And the big story the next day wasn’t that the Falcons won, but rather that the Vikings lost. I lost one thousand dollars on that game. It was the last time I ever placed a bet on any football game, let alone a Vikings game.

I howled like a dog for three days. I cried like two toddlers that had dropped their ice cream cones. I think the only thing that hurt me more, in terms of heartbreaking anguish, was when my high school sweetheart and I broke up.

My lovely wife finally bitchslapped me back to life with these words, “If you want to kill yourself, I’ll drive you to the IDS Center and push you off myself! For the love of God, snap out of it!! Be a man!!!”

I’ve tempered my passion for football since that year. You have to do that, especially if you’re a Vikings fan. I try not to get too high, so I can avoid having to fall so very, very low. And despite that, I’m still disappointed when the Vikings don’t play well.

I guess that’s why they call us fans. We vicariously live and die by our respective teams. It looks like it’s gonna be another year of death for Vikings fans. Too bad we can’t request a bullet to the head, instead of having to watch while someone eats our livers in front of us before we bleed out.

Frankie Baby

One of my favorite patients at Aurora was Frank. He was my patient so many times I kind of adopted him after awhile. He was an Hispanic guy in his fifties. He was about my size, so he was essentially a Latino hobbit junkie.

Frankie Baby was a heroin addict. I detoxed him at least five times in three and a half years, but it was probably more like seven. And that’s not counting all the times he was admitted to other units. On the odd occasion that happened, Frank always dropped by the Canyon Unit nursing station to say hi.

Now that I think about it, I had a lots of guys like Frankie Baby during my time at Aurora. There was Kevin. And Justin. And Thomas. And Robert. And Bob. And other Robert. We’d detox them all, give them a little sober time, then DC them. And, they’d be back in a week or two. It’s a testament to the nefariousness of the disease, the tenacious grip of the addiction and the high probability of an addict making yet one more really bad decision.

After years of struggling with this myself, I’ve come to believe that addicts are more addicted to making bad decisions than they are to their actual drug of choice. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would disagree with this, but, yeah well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

I’ve had many discussions with my unrepentant drug buddies over the years. None of them had any major objections to my theory. In fact, most of them supported it. It didn’t make them any less susceptible to their foibles, but it did give them something new to think about. Sometimes you look at a thing from the same perspective for so long you don’t think there’s any other way to see it…

Opiate addiction has become something of an epidemic in the United States of late, kind of like the obesity epidemic, only not as tasty.  Like obese people, opiate addicts leave a distinct carbon footprint in their wake. Frankie Baby used to come to the nursing station and verbalize multiple multitudinous somatic complaints in the hopes that I would transfer him to the nearest ED. The only symptom Frank didn’t endorse was already being dead, otherwise he had everything. Twice. And a bag of chips.

When I refused to give in, Frank would request any and all PRN comfort meds that were available. Opiate addicts were some of the most med seeking people I ever cared for. One of my opiate detox guys received thirty PRN’s in eight hours. Thats an average of five pills an hour. They can be exhausting people to manage, physically, because you’re in and out of the med room a hundred times a shift. And they’re emotionally exhausting, too. You give them everything you’ve got, and they’ll still want more.

“Hey, I just want to thank you.” Frank told me after a particularly exhausting day for both of us. “I just wanted to get high, and you knew that. That’s why you didn’t listen to any of my bullshit. I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, but I just wanted to thank you. You really care, man. And that’s not an easy thing to do with me.”

I had a hard time seeing when I drove home after that shift.

I was assaulted in February of this year, and my jaw was fractured as a result. Frankie Baby wasn’t in the hospital when it happened, but he was admitted shortly afterwards.

“Hey brother, I heard what happened to you.” Frank said when he swung by my unit to visit. He had been admitted to one of the units on the second floor. “I just want you to know, if I had been here, I would’ve fuckin’ killed that guy.”

I have to admit, I have always been in awe of the way psych patients know everything that happens in the hospital. Seriously, if you want to know what’s really going on in a psychiatric facility, don’t ask the staff. Ask one of the patients.

I don’t know if Frank would’ve actually killed the guy that broke my jaw, but I do know this: he very likely would have died trying if he ever made the attempt.

Hey, Frankie Baby. I want to publicly thank you for that. That came from your heart, brother. I love you for that, amigo. And caring for me hasn’t always been an easy thing to do.

The Devil Drives a Chevy

Back when I was in Oklahoma, I had a couple of Army buddies that were from the Great State of Texas, which just happened to be conveniently located due south of Oklahoma. Several of us would pile into a car after work on Friday afternoon, fill up the gas tank, load up on beer and munchies–and hit the road. It was party time.

We’d end up at Johnny’s parents’ house. Or Kim’s parents’ house. Or Tommy’s parents’ house. Or Raoul’s parents’ house. The parental units were always happy to see their son and almost always happy to meet his new friends. We were happy to be out of Oklahoma and the Army, if only for a couple of days.

On the weekend that the devil went down to Texas, we ended up at Raoul’s parents’ house, and it was just Raoul and myself, not half the company. He had a blue, two door Chevy Nova. It was a beautiful car.

Raoul’s parents lived somewhat west of the middle of nowhere, if memory serves me right. We got in late Friday night, grabbed a couple hours of sleep, ate breakfast (Raoul’s mom could’ve made one of my boots taste great), and headed out to party down with a couple of Raoul’s cousins.

Raoul was about ten years older than I was. He was divorced, and that, is going to be one fuck of a story if I ever find the courage to write it. Raoul was an Hispanic guy, and the first group of his cousins we partied with were on par with his age. We met up at a little bar in a little town, and started drinking our way toward the geographic center of the middle of nowhere.

Sometime around midnight, maybe, we ran into another group of Raoul’s cousins that were closer to my age, and they knew about this monster party out by the river that was east of the middle of nowhere. So we all decided to go to that.

Raoul’s younger cousins were less into booze, and more into pot and psychedelics. They asked if I wanted to try some acid. I said make mine a double, and smiled. This was going to be an epic night.

I’m sure my memories of what happened next are a bit blurry, but they’re the only ones I have. The Party at the River was huge! It was like Woodstock, only smaller. And there were no live bands. And it didn’t last three days. There was music, and people dancing in the moonlight. Lots of beer, lots of pot. And then the acid kicked in and the world went Technicolor®.

I wandered around the party grounds with Raoul’s electric younger cousins while the Old Guard kicked back by the tables where the audio system was set up, and drank beer.

At around 3:30 AM, the party was still going strong, I was tripping my balls off, but Raoul thought we should head for home and catch a few hours of sleep. We still had to drive back to base, and go back to the Army, and all that buzzkill crap.

I was going to be up all night tripping the Light Fantastique, so to speak, so I told him what I thought he could do with his idea. Raoul got really pissed! He started yelling and swearing. His electric cousins told him to chill out, man. He started yelling at them in Spanish. The Old Guard Cousins formed a line, facing off against their younger Electric Cousins. And then there were a lots of people, all of them yelling.

The Electric Cousins and I decided enough was enough, and started to walk off. And then Sergeant Raoul Killjoy got all up in my grille and said, “Get in the goddamn car! We’re leaving!”

I refused. Raoul shoved me in what I think was the general direction of his car, then he punched me in the jaw. That’s when I lost my glasses. A brawl broke out, and we were all kicked out of the Epic Party at the River, East of the Middle of Nowhere.

Once we got kicked out of the party, Raoul’s cousins started laughing and helping each other up, clapping each other on the back. Raoul and I were not laughing. I was essentially blind without my glasses, and I had somehow broken Raoul’s arm when I retaliated against his unprovoked aggression, though neither of us knew that yet.

We said goodbye to all the cousins, got on the highway and drove off into the night. Raoul was pissed off as two hells at me for being such a goddamn hammerhead, and not listening to him and disobeying a direct order. He did outrank me. He was an E5. I was an E4.

I was tripping on maybe a couple thousand micrograms of LSD, and I wasn’t too happy either. I couldn’t see anything clearly, except the hallucinations I was having, and they were vividly intense. I looked over at Raoul, but he wasn’t there. In his place was the Devil!

Yes. Satan himself was my chauffeur, driving across Texas as the sun was starting to come up. I had been raised Catholic and the stereotypical image of the Devil–horns growing out of his head, red skin, pointed tail, glowing eyes, evil smile–it was all there, just to my left, driving the car down the highway to hell.

I’m not sure if I screamed, but I think it would’ve been appropriate, don’t you? At the very least, I should’ve done the Home Alone face, but I know I didn’t do that. I did what any other hallucinating former Catholic would’ve done in that situation. I opened the door and jumped out of the car. The moving car, that was traveling at least 55 mph.

Whatever you think should have happened to me for doing what I did, probably didn’t happen. I didn’t got dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. I didn’t break any bones. I don’t think I even ended up with road rash after sliding across the highway. What I did end up with was a very small, very superficial cut on the top of my head.

Raoul slammed on the brakes and got out of the car. It was right about this point in time he figured out he had a broken arm because his left arm hurt like hell when he tried to open the door.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?!” he screamed at me. I could kind of make out Raoul’s features in the distance, and this was a relief to me. Satan, the real Prince of Darkness, was gone. And at that moment the sun rose over the horizon.

We drove to a military base that was kind of in the general direction of Oklahoma. Raoul had x-rays taken, his bones manipulated back into place, and a cast put on his left arm. He also got a bottle of Percodan for dessert, which we washed down with a twelve pack we bought at a convenience store to get us back to Ft Sill.

I’m not sure anyone believed the story we told them–and the story you just read is the story we told everyone–when they asked us what happened.

If I hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t believe it either, but I have had a blessed life and what appears to be ten thousand guardian angels protecting me or I wouldn’t be here now.

You might think Raoul and I would be anything BUT friends after this. Nope, we were buds right up to the day I got out of the Army. He came to see me when I took a trip to Dallas in 1978 with my then almost best bud ever, Gerald ‘Shorty’ Girtz.

And if you think The Devil Went Down to Texas trip is the weirdest thing that ever happened to me, you’d be wrong. It’s in the Top Five, for sure. Maybe the Top Three.

That trip to Dallas though, that might be Number One.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for ten years. Prior to that I drank for probably thirty-five years. When people ask if I was always an alcoholic, I used to say yes. It’s not easy to defend my former drinking habits. But while we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at them.

I started drinking when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. A beer here, a sip of whiskey there. The legal drinking age back then was eighteen. I went to high school in Montana in the 1970’s, when the legal age was more of a suggestion than a law. Things were very different then.

I joined the Army after high school. The Vietnam War was winding down, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. There was no chance I would fight in ‘Nam. And there were no more Indians to fight in Oklahoma, so me and the boys sat around the barracks drinking beer and smoking joints, and talked about what we’d do if there was ever another Indian uprising, or if the Vietcong decided to invade Oklahoma.

And for the record, there was never a successful Vietnamese invasion of Oklahoma while I was stationed there. You could look it up if you like…

I discovered the Wide World of Drugs while I was in the Army. Weed, pills, powders, liquids. I never met a drug or drink I didn’t like, except tequila. Yeah, that was a night to remember, if only I could remember it. I’ve heard stories though…

I liked to drink back then. It was fun. Lots of good times. Was I an alcoholic then? No, and yes. I say no only because I need to have a end game, but I had all the hallmarks of someone who would become an addict. I drank, I smoked, I took pills. I was the embodiment of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. It was the 70’s, man! All the cool kids were doing it.

When I got out of the Army, I quit popping pills. I no longer had access to the pipeline of drugs that were so readily available on base or in an Army town.

One down, two to go.

I think I liked smoking pot more than I liked drinking at this stage in my life. I seriously loved weed. I’m still not sure why I stopped smoking it. I woke up one morning and I didn’t feel like getting high. I’ve never actually quit smoking pot, I’ve simply never lit up again. Oddly enough, given my affinity for it, not smoking weed again was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Two down, one to go.

I discovered microbrews and craft beer. Oh. My. God. Grey Goose vodka and the Famous Grouse scotch. And I discovered that my nursing career enabled me to purchase mass quantities of all of the above. I didn’t hang out in bars. When I drank alone, I preferred to be by myself.

You have to be especially inspired to engage in a behavior this destructive against your better judgment. Almost all alcoholics have some major traumatic issues they’re avoiding. I’m no exception to this. I have some serious demons.

Mark Twain’s saying (illustration above) is no doubt true, but when you’re an addict, there’s also a B side to that record that is equally true. I embarrassed my wife. I embarrassed my daughters. If I hadn’t been so out of it, I would’ve realized I was embarrassing myself as well.

I have very few regrets from this stage in my life that are related to the things I didn’t say or do.

Drinking was still fun, most of the time, I think. I certainly told myself it was, but it was also starting to become less and less so. And then I turned forty. I don’t know what it was about forty, but the brakes on the bus started to fade. When I turned forty-five, the brakes failed altogether. Looking back, I’d say I wasted at least half of my life getting wasted. I can’t change that, but I don’t have to perpetuate that behavior any more.

And that brings us back to the beginning and the answer to the question, Were you always an alcoholic? Here’s my vague differentiation regarding my early and late drinking habits.

Early: Was it fun to drink? Yes. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? No.

Late: Was it fun to drink? No. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? Oh hell yes.

That’s where the whole alcoholic thing set in as I see it now. Any time you have to get drunk to feel ‘normal,’ you have a serious problem. For ten years I persisted in a behavior I really didn’t enjoy all that much, but getting drunk was the only thing that mattered to me. It makes no sense, but logic and rational thought don’t apply when it comes to addiction.

The end to my drinking career came in late 2005. I went on an epic binge drunk and almost killed myself to death. When I came to, I knew I had to do something, or I might not survive the next one. I talked to my lovely wife, and she helped me decide what to do. She told me she would support me, and added if I didn’t quit drinking, I had to leave our home. She had had enough.

I reluctantly started going to AA. As I was driving to my first meeting, which just happened to be held at Fairview Medical Center, the hospital that saved my wife, I was praying for the road to open up and swallow me before I got there. I think I cried tears of relief all the way home afterwards. To the members of Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land, you all contributed to saving my life, and I want to take this time to say,

Thank you.

I had one relapse about one year into my first year of sobriety–in September of 2006–picked up right where I left off. I don’t need to go down that road again to find where it might lead. That was ten years, one month and eight days ago. It took me a long time to come to this realization, but sobriety is the coolest drug I’ve ever tried. If I’d only been willing to try it sooner…