Mark’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize.

Creating unnecessary drama isn’t something I normally do. In all honesty, I have a deep-seated aversion to it. I was a pysch nurse. I saw enough of that crap to last me the rest of my life and half of my next life.

Normally, I would’ve kept any personal drama to myself. Well, I probably would’ve shared it with lovely supermodel wife. But this time I went outside of my usual boundaries. I did what any other person living in this day of social media frenzies would do. I shared it with the whole world. And it wasn’t just one overblown incident. There were two.

This is not to say that I have never been a drama queen with multiple pots boiling over. Every alcoholic has that skill listed on their resumé. The fact that this is something I’m no longer invested in makes me smile.

I have a need to explain some of what happened. So, without further ado, put on your hip waders and let’s jump into the swamp and get this over with.

* * * *

Drama #1: A Tale of Two Websites

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” That is the famous opening line of the novel, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The two cities in question are London and Paris, before and during the French Revolution. It’s a good book. If you haven’t read it, you might want to check it out.

In my case, the two sites are WordPress and Facebook. I write all of my blogs on WordPress, then link them to my Facebook page. The reason for that is simple. Facebook wasn’t designed for bloggers.

Facebook is a social networking site that makes it easy for you to connect and share with your family and friends online. WordPress is an open source website creation tool. It’s probably the easiest and most powerful blogging and website content management system in existence today.

In the past, all of my blog posts on WordPress were more or less automatically posted on to my Facebook page because you can share everything on WordPress with multiple sites, Facebook being only one of them. That was a good thing because something like 80% of the people who read my blog come from Facebook.

On August 1st, Facebook changed their policy regarding linking external sites to your profile page. Basically, you couldn’t do it anymore. I could create another Facebook page. That was the only way I could still post my blog installments to Facebook. It probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal to me if I wasn’t going to lose most of my audience.

Now, I could say I don’t really care if anyone reads my blog, but that would be a profound untruth. All artists want their work to be appreciated by others. If not, there wouldn’t be any reason to create anything.

My initial response to Facebook’s policy change was that I was 80% fucked. I’m not exactly skilled at a lots of computer stuff. I’m the opposite of a computer geek. I’m what most Help Desk Tech guys would call a moron.

What follows is a very condensed version of the events that occurred last Friday.

I stumbled through the easy to follow instructions and created a new Facebook page. Even I thought it seemed pretty simple, at first. Then everything I had done just disappeared, and I found myself back at the starting line again. When I stopped swearing at Mark Zuckerberg, I started all over, though I’m pretty sure I never actually stopped swearing.

When I finished, I announced the creation of new Facebook page on my old Facebook page, and I sent the link to my new page, out into the Cyberworld. I was seriously stunned by the response. I honestly had no idea so many of my friends read my blog.

I don’t get a lots of”Likes.” A few people might make a comment.  If neither of those options are employed, I wouldn’t know anyone had visited my site.

However, thank you, all of you. Your response touched me deeply.

It was somewhere around this point in time that I discovered I hadn’t created just one new Facebook page. I had created two of them.

Little Known Fact About The Facebook Pages I Had Just Created: there doesn’t appear to be any way to delete one of them. I mean, there probably is. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Thankfully, there was an option that allowed me to merge my pages.

That actually made me laugh because I’m apparently not the only moron who has made this mistake before and Facebook has had to take this into account.

When I merged my two new Facebook pages I discovered that I couldn’t merge them into the page I just created and announced to the Cyberworld. In addition, all of the content I had loaded onto my second new page had vanished.

It was right about this time that I wished I had never quit drinking.

I was a psych nurse. I’m a very patient man, with humans. Computers, on the other hand, can turn me into an axe murderer in about five seconds.

I suppose frustrated could describe my state of mind at about this point in time, but it doesn’t seem adequate. To make a long story, punctuated with a lots of profanity very short, I eventually created yet another new Facebook page then made yet another announcement to the Cyberworld, then I went to bed.

I’m reasonably confident this installment of my blog will automatically post to my new Facebook page. I really don’t want to contemplate any other outcome.

* * * *

Drama #2: My Idiot Brother

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The very next day, I had to Unfriend my brother from my Facebook page. I can’t say we were good friends. I’ve had problems being in the same room with him since 2007, and it’s only gotten worse with time.

I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities. I haven’t seen Our Idiot Brother. It’s probably very funny. Conversely, there’s nothing funny about my real life idiot brother. It’s not even a joke that he’s an idiot. It’s just a tragedy.

I’ve contemplated writing about my brother several times, but always found a way to write about anything else. Including nothing. That was a level of Hell I wasn’t willing to enter if there were any other options. I’m still not convinced this is a good idea, but I’m sure he’s saying a whole lots of outrageous things about me.

I want there to be a written rebuttal.

Little Known Fact About IQ Ratings: Way back in the day, Moron and Idiot were actual IQ classifications. According to a model designed by Albert Levine and Julius Marks, a moron had an IQ of 50 to 69. An idiot had an IQ of less than 20.

I have four brothers. John, Tom, Bruce and Bob. My brother in question is John. Like unto all brothers, we were fiercely competitive. Unlike all brothers, that competition became something of an obsession to John.

I wouldn’t discover this until years later, it was after John and I started writing to each other when he was in prison. I kept his letters for a long time, but only because I thought I might have to turn them over to the police one day. I decided to throw them all out when we moved to Mexico.

I could hold on to that poison for only so long.

* * * *

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family are the ones who just kept drinking. Historically, we haven’t raised the bar of our expectations very high. But as far as I know, John is the only person in my family tree who has ever been in prison.

Several years ago, John decided to become a meth dealer, and because he wasn’t an especially organized person, he got busted with a shitload of meth one day in 2012. I think he was originally sentenced to twenty years. His sentence was reduced to ten years because, according to John, there were a lots of busted meth dealers, and there wasn’t enough room in prison for all of them. In fact, there were so many meth dealers that John was incarcerated for only three years before he was released.

Yeah, go figure on that.

As a psych nurse, I had counseled a lots of people who were meth addicts. In retrospect, those people at least claimed that they wanted help. I figured if nothing else, I could help my wayward brother find a better path to choose when he got out of the Big House. I wrote him a couple of encouraging letters. Maybe being the  Meth Lord of Morrison County wasn’t the best career move for him…

You might be able to imagine my surprise when John replied that he rather liked being a Meth Lord, but I doubt it. Being a Meth Lord was cool. John had money. He had friends. He had power. He had women lined up outside of his door who would do anything he asked. Anything.

Try not to figure on that one too much. Your brain might explode. Mine almost did.

How much money do you have in the bank? I asked. How many of your friends have come to visit you? How many women are lined up outside of your prison cell? 

They seemed like reasonable questions to me because I was certain the answer to all of those questions was None.

John didn’t think they were reasonable. I think in terms of the war of words that would follow, John fired the first shot. Neither was this our first battle. The real war between us started back 1979 or something.

It’s safe to say that our relationship deteriorated even more about this time. John said a lots of unkind things about me and my holier than thou attitude. I’m pretty sure I called him a Scum Lord. I know I called him quite a few things when I wrote to him after that. But I think I called him this more than anything else: sociopath.

I was a psych nurse. I knew a sociopath when I saw one. And I knew one other thing: there’s no cure for sociopathy.

I’ve met a lots of sociopathic people in my life. They are not nice people. I engaged with them because I had to, but there was one thing I never did with any of them. I never told any of them what I thought they were. It’s one of the things that tends to really piss them off. I will have to admit, by this time I was no longer trying to be therapeutic with my brother. I was trying to hit him with a baseball bat, hoping that I might accidentally get his head out of his ass in the process.

I thought John’s situation would, you know, make him see the error of his ways. I mean, he was in prison! How much lower did he have to go? Amazingly, John didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. He felt he was a victim of the system. And there was more.

Like me, John had been sexually abused by our uncle. Like me, John had chosen self-destructive coping skills. But if you ever want to break out of that cycle, you have to start seeing yourself as something other than a victim. You have to stop blaming someone else and take responsibility for your actions.

That’s what I had to do. I think most people in this kind of situation would agree it’s true. To the best of my knowledge, John hasn’t been able to do that. What I do know is that he told me how I was responsible for fucking up his life because I had an affair with his first wife.

I’ve done a lots of shitty things in my life, but that wasn’t one of them. I told him that. I have no idea why we kept writing to each other, except once we had started venting our hatred of each other we couldn’t stop. It’s like we were seven years old and in the backseat punching each other. And our dad wasn’t there to warn us to knock it off before he had to stop the car.

John wasn’t about to let the facts about anything confuse him. He started flinging accusations at me that I will never understand. His letters actually made me physically ill. I think the only thing he hasn’t accused me of doing is having sex with a goat. The kindest thing I can say is prison gave John’s imagination free rein, and he has a very twisted imagination. The worst thing I can say is my brother should never have been released from prison.

I don’t know if my brother has started using meth again since his release from the slammer, but I do know he’s been drinking, a lots. I’ve talked to him on the phone several times. He was drunk every time. I quit calling him.

By his own admission, he’s been in treatment at least twice since he’s regained his freedom. That’s what he told me, but I have to take into consideration that he could be lying about treatment. If he has entered a recovery program, it hasn’t taken root yet. Much like our present President, he doesn’t seem to know how to tell the truth.

The reason I decided to Unfriend my brother is he threatened to kill me. Again. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s done that.

I’m going to kill you if you ever have the guts to meet me in person, you fucking chickenshit! Have a good day. You’re my brother and I love you…

Yeah, go figure on that one, too.

To be certain, he’ll never get the opportunity to make good on his threat. There’s no way he can find me in Mexico. I’m not sure he’d actually do it if we ever ran into each other again, but I don’t trust him enough to ever want to take the chance.

Goodbye, brother. I hope you find your way. It’s been said that God loves all of His children. You’ve got that going for you if nothing else.

* * * *

In brighter news, we started looking for a new kit-ten or two. We’ve been to a couple of kit-ten rescue shelters. The kit-tens were cute, of course, but Lea didn’t feel she’d made a special connection with any of them. Apparently, that’s very important in the kit-ten choosing process.

And then Lea got these pictures from a fellow cat lover in the Lakeside Area today:

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They’re so cuuuute!!! They’re sisters. Lea fell in love at first sight. She’s going to meet them tomorrow, and she’s already given them names. Mika and Mollie. I think Lea has found her kit-tens.

* * * *

I, too, have fallen in love. I fell in love with our rental car while we were on vacation. It was an Audi Q7. And what made me fall in love with it was the stereo system. It’s the only reason I buy cars. I test drove the stereo of the Buick Enclave I bought in Arizona. Then I told the salesman to write it up.

“Don’t you want to take it for a test drive first?” he asked. Nope. I just wanted to listen to the stereo. I’ll take it.

It was the easiest sale of his life.

The Q7 is way more car than I’ll ever need here in Mexico. It’s the same size as my Enclave was–roughly the size of a small school bus. But Audi makes a Q5, a somewhat smaller version of the Q7.

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It’s so cuuuute!! And Audis are made in Mexico. I’ll wait a couple of years until I have to replace my Buick Encore. Our Q7 was white, but I kind of like the red model.

I look good in red.

Viva Las Vegas

I love Las Vegas. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been there several times, and we’ve always had a blast. We don’t go there to gamble. And now that I’ve quit drinking, we don’t go there to party. We like staying in the luxurious hotels. We love the shows, and fine dining, and the people watching.

But the other day, something happened in Vegas that didn’t stay in Vegas.

Dear God, where were you that day? There are a whole lots of hurting people down here who could have really used your help and protection.

On the offhand chance you haven’t seen the news, a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of people attending a concert in Las Vegas with multiple automatic weapons, killing over fifty people and wounding something like unto five hundred.

And while we are left feeling stunned and shocked, and filled with dismay; there’s one thing none of us are.

Surprised.

It’s a sad fact of our lives that these occurrences have become all too commonplace. If a mass shooting can be described as four or more people, do you have any idea how many of those have happened in the last ten years? I don’t know the exact number, but I know there have been hundreds of them.

Hundreds. Let that sink in for a moment.

And the even sadder fact is almost all of us have come to believe that nothing can be done to change it. I am one of those people. And there’s a reason for that. The most obvious solution to this problem is the hands of our elected officials in Congress.

Need I say more?

It’s a gun issue! No, it’s a mental health issue!

Both of those arguments have merit, but the solution, if there is one, is hardly that black and white. So let’s take a look at them.

* * * *

It’s a gun issue.

We need better gun control.

That seems like the most obvious solution, doesn’t it? But there’s that whole Second Amendment thing. And the icing on that cake is the NRA. There are many powerful lobbyist organizations at work in America, but not many of the them have the political clout and power of the NRA.

What seems to be missing in this issue is another inalienable right, and that is all about not having to live in fear that you might got dead going to the movies, or to a concert, or going out to dinner.

If there weren’t a multitude of reasons for term limits in Congress, this issue in and of itself should be enough to mandate its implementation.

Guns don’t kill people!

Oh yes, Virginia, yes they do. And in the violent country of my birth, they kill a lots of people on a daily basis.

Personally, I’m not sure gun control is the only answer, and I don’t own a single gun. I know a lots of people who do, and none of them have killed so much as one person. And that’s true for the majority of gun owners. If this were strictly a gun issue, the gun owners living in an area as small as Northern Idaho could’ve killed everyone in the US already, twice.

That said, I can’t think of any reason why anyone would need to own an automatic assault weapon unless they needed to kill a whole lots of people to death at once in a very short amount of time. Without the arsenal he had, the guy in Las Vegas would’ve been hard pressed to kill even one person attending the concert from where he was.

Should there be a ban on the sale of assault weapons in the the United States? In my opinion, yes there should be. Will that be enough to stem the tide of future occurrences like what just happened in Las Vegas?

Good question. Let’s find out.

* * * *

It’s a mental health issue. 

I used to be a psych nurse, and this argument pisses me off so much I want to kill someone. If it’s only the crazy people killing everyone else to death, then working in Psychiatry would be the most dangerous job on the planet, and pysch nurses would have gone extinct years ago.

Most of the craziest people I’ve known have been too disorganized to figure out how to turn on the fucking shower, let alone plan and carry out a massacre of dozens of people.

There’s a whole lots of people working in law enforcement right now who are trying to figure out why the shooter in Las Vegas did what he did. Why don’t we ask him?

Oh. That’s right. He’s dead.

And that’s what has happened to almost every person who has chosen to take this course of action, so we’re never going to know exactly why he, or any of them, did what they did.

Was he mentally unstable? We’d certainly like to think so. Sane people don’t do these kinds of things, do they? No, they most certainly don’t! When trying to put the pieces of an investigation like unto this together, law enforcement officials generally find out the person they’re investigating is:

Well, he was a quiet guy. He kept to himself. He seemed like a normal person, you know. He liked to eat pizza. And burritos. No, he never said anything about wanting to kill anyone. I didn’t know he even owned a gun…

In other words, there were no warning signs, nothing that even hinted at any danger. In general, most mass murderers don’t seem to be anything beyond nondescript, until they do something that isn’t nondescript. It’s too bad because they’d be a whole lots more easier to stop if they were more up front about their intentions.

Oh yeah, he was always talking about killing people. In fact, that’s just about the only thing he talked about.

And did you take any actions to stop him?

We sure did! We got rid of all the hammers! And his mother hid the cheese grater in her underwear drawer in the bedroom!

For some reason, that part about the cheese grater seems to be something that actually happened with one of my former patients, but I might be wrong about that…

I have a theory about why people decide to kill a whole lots of people to death before they kill themselves, and Andy Warhol summed it up when he said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

We can’t all be Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashians…

Let’s suppose for a moment this actually is a mental health issue. What are we as a society doing to combat this crisis? Has there been an increase in resources to provide better care?

Um, no.

In fact, Congress has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And if you follow that logic, it’s probably because the NRA told them to do it.

* * * *

I felt like dying yesterday. If my lovely supermodel wife’s birthday wasn’t today, I would’ve been happy to check out, but that probably would’ve ruined her birthday today, so I’m glad to still be alive and be together with her.

The horrifying events that happened in Las Vegas will fade from our memories, and in a few months we’ll probably be collectively shocked and dismayed by another equally terrible and senseless event.

And nothing will be done to prevent it from happening again.

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.

From the Odds and Ends Department

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

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

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

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

Except me.

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

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

And how far I still have to go.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Well, it was the truth…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“So have you.” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the disease wins.

* * * *

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

All you really need to see that is a family.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

I asked Nikki to tell me what happened.

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

“And whom might that be?”

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

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

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

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

“It wasn’t me! It was Alexandra!”

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

“I’ll be safe, I promise! Please!!”

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

* * * *

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

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

And that is the fucking truth.

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

Or I’ll punch them in the mouth.

The Long and Winding Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

I left it on the side of the road.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lots of questions, not many answers.

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

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

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

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

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

* * * *

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

I’m not making that up.

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

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

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

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

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

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me make some calls.”

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

It was perfect.

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

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

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You said you wanted your money back.”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Randy lit it.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Where’s your family?”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, maybe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

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

* * * *

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

After that, I don’t know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger and Me

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Horne. Randy. Lightning Bob. Raoul, when he lived in the barracks. Roger had stapled a lots of cardboard Coors containers to one of his walls, and we wrote a lots of lines of inestimable profundity on his wall while we were getting high. And we laughed our asses off.

Roger had a lots of sayings. He was the first to tell me, “The Army might be able to fuck with you in a lots of ways, man, but they can’t stop the clock from ticking. Every minute that goes by gets you that much closer to getting out.”

I doubt I can remember all of his sayings now. Mostly they pop into my head if someone says something that reminds me of the wisdom of my mentor. The only one that immediately comes to mind is this one:

“There’s only two kinds of one. A good old big one and big old good one,” followed by that soft chuckle of his. He said that a lots.

Roger worked in the Dental lab at the Headquarters Clinic. He made dentures and stuff. Raoul was his boss. Come to think of it, Roger introduced me to him, too. Roger called him Ralool. Raoul insisted Roger call him Ray. I was just about the only person that called him Raoul. Even his wife called him Ray.

* * * *

After my personally devastating break up with Maureen, Roger became my best friend. He had suffered a similar situation with his high school sweetheart. Betty Jo Bialosky? Maybe her name was Melanie Haber. Or was it Audrey Farber?  Susan Underhill? But I think everyone knew her as Nancy.

At any rate, Roger took me under his wing and looked out for me while he taught me how to pick up the pieces of my life without me realizing what he was doing. He even convinced one of the orthodontists to put braces on my teeth and straighten them out.

Aside from the GI Bill, braces were the best thing I got from being in the Army.

He taught me about the drug trade, and the cops. “It’s not something you want to get into too deep, man. It’s like the ocean, you know? Stay in the shallows, but always keep your eyes open. That’s what the cops do. You have to learn to think like them.”

That was a bit of advice that actually came in very handy once I became a pysch nurse.

Roger wasn’t a big supplier of drugs, but he knew almost everyone on base that was, and he introduced me to all of them, something that would come in incredibly handy for me once Roger got out of the Army.

One of the largest suppliers was a guy named Dave Lovelace. Dave was the type of dealer that Roy Bowman dreamed of becoming. I only met Dave a few times, and we never became friends. He worked in one of the medical clinics on base, and when I met him, he was a short timer. I can’t remember how long Dave had left in the Army, maybe a week or two.

Come to think of it, Roger was a short timer, too. He was down to a couple of months, and that clock just kept on tickin’, man.

Dave was kind of the Milo Minderbinder of Fort Sill. Other than psych patients, Dave was perhaps the most selfish and manipulative person I’ve ever known. Dave, was in it for Dave. Selling drugs was easy money. Money opened a lots of doors, and girls like Sunshine and Diane, and however many other women Dave had at his beck and call, were just part of the package.

Dave introduced Roger to one of his part-time girlfriends/fabric free shoe models, a girl who called herself Sunshine. I have no idea what her real name was. Sunshine’s best friend was Diane, and because of Roger, I would get to know her.

Sunshine was an…interesting…young woman. She said she was from Nebraska, I think. Diane said she was from the same place, for that matter. Well, that’s the story they told everyone. God only knows what the truth is.

They were about the same height as Roger and I. Sunshine had light brown hair and really big…eyes. She had a seriously hot body, and was quite a popular dancer at the Play Pen Lounge.

Sunshine said she didn’t like wearing clothes, so being a stripper evidently came naturally to her. All I know is if I took all the time I spent around her–not counting when she was working–and added up the time she was fully dressed, it might total an hour and an half.

I met Dave and Sunshine at a McDonald’s. Roger and I were going to meet Dave there and do a little transaction action, and Sunshine came along for the ride. We all ordered something to eat and sat down at a table. I remember I had one helluva case of the munchies, and was mostly focused on inhaling my Quarter Pounder® and fries while everyone else talked.

Sunshine said it was too warm inside the McDonald’s, and she felt like she was going to faint.

“Then take off your shirt.” Dave said, not really paying much attention to her. However, that caught my attention, and I looked up as Sunshine’s awesome tits popped into view. I’m pretty sure hers were the two most perfect tits I’ve ever seen in my life.

My lower jaw dropped far enough to fit everyone’s orders at our table into my mouth. It was five or six o’clock on a Friday evening in July or August, and the place was packed. Everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, and turned to look at the half-naked woman. The other servicemen inside applauded.

“Is your friend okay?” Dave asked Roger. He didn’t know me well enough to actually speak to me. “He acts like he’s never seen a set of tits before.”

“Well, never in a McDonald’s…” I recovered enough to reply.

* * * *

Okay. It’s not like I was Hugh Hefner. I had seen exactly four naked breasts, in person, at that point in my life–Maureen’s, and a girl swimming in the river near my sister’s house in Missoula. She gave me a random flash of her bodacious ta-tas as I was walking by the river one summer afternoon and made me the happiest boy in the whole USA. So, seeing any real tits back then, well, it was better than Christmas as far as I was concerned.

* * * *

“I’m gonna change my order, man.” Roger said to Sunshine, smiling a huge smile. “I think I want those two Big Macs® instead.”

“You didn’t think I’d do it, did you?” Sunshine said to Dave, as  the manager started running to our table. She had a very satisfied smirk on her face.

We got kicked out of McDonald’s that day. And we didn’t score any weed–Dave said something about things being too hot with the cops. He didn’t have any weed to sell, and even if he did, it wasn’t worth the risk.

But Roger got Sunshine’s phone number.

* * * *

I didn’t see Roger again until late Sunday night. He looked immensely content and at peace. And he couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, Mark, man! You’re not gonna believe what happened to me!” And he told me. If I had been him, I might’ve thought I’d gotten dead and went to Heaven. “Did I tell you Sunshine doesn’t like to wear any clothes?”

“Yeah, at least twice.”

“She’s making me dinner tomorrow night. Spaghetti. Hey, you wanna come?”

As surprised as I was, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to see Little Miss Sunshine again. Probably all of her, and I wouldn’t have to throw her any money to do it. I immediately accepted.

* * * *

Monday evening couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I finished all my deliveries and was waiting for Roger at the barracks. I rolled a couple of joints while he changed, and we smoked one while Roger drove to Sunshine’s house. We stopped at a liquor store on the way. Roger wanted to bring some beer.

“We have to bring wine. Red wine goes with spaghetti.”

“I don’t know anything about wine, man.” Roger replied.

“Neither do I, but the guy that runs this place probably does.”

I’m sad to say that’s true. It would take me years to develop a taste for good red wine, and after ten years of sobriety, it’s the only alcoholic beverage I come close to missing occasionally.

The liquor store manager suggested what he thought was a very decent Cabernet, and I paid for it. Roger picked up a twelve pack of Stroh’s. Roger liked it because it was fire brewed. And then we were back on the road to Sunshine’s house.

I was soon to discover it was actually Dave’s house. He was renting it, and ran his ‘drug empire’ from it. I don’t know just how big of a player Dave was in the Lawton drug scene, but he was a big enough player to have attracted the attention of local law enforcement.

It was late summer of 1975 in Oklahoma. The heat was on in more ways than one.

Sunshine answered the door, Dave towered behind her.  He stood close to six feet tall, longish hair, for a serviceman. He was fair skinned, blondish hair, kind of blue-gray eyes that seemingly never stopped moving. Dave didn’t seem to be especially pleased to see me again–maybe that was me being paranoid–he didn’t make me leave.

Sunshine was happy to see both of us, and gave me a warm hug after smothering Roger with kisses. I was disappointed that she wasn’t naked. She was wearing a T-shirt that was practically transparent, and shorts.

“This is my friend, Diane.” Sunshine said, then pulled Roger into the kitchen.

“Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.” I handed her the bottle of wine.

“Nice to meet you, too.” she replied, then looked at the bottle, and smiled when she looked back up at me. “Hey, Dave. You want to open this?” It’s likely Dave actually knew something about wine. He seemed pleased with the selection.

“Have a seat. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Diane was a tiny young woman, very slender, shoulder length kind of curly dark hair, green eyes. I didn’t fall in love with Diane the moment I saw her, but I did like her eyes a whole lots. She was also wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She had a very cute butt and very nice legs.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. I drank my first beer quickly, and opened another. I mostly sat quietly, hoping I wouldn’t say or do anything stupid. Diane was probably the only person who noticed. Dave was too self-absorbed, and Roger and Sunshine were too focused on each other.

“Relax.” she said, smiling, and patted the back of my hand. She was sitting next to me on the couch. “It’s just dinner, not an execution.”

“It’s that noticable, huh? You want to smoke a joint?” I asked, and pulled the joint out of my shirt pocket.

“Um, maybe after dinner would be better…”

* * * *

I was starting to relax. It was a hot evening, the air conditioning was on. Good music on the stereo. I think it was Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon.

Even Dave seemed to loosen up a bit and at least feigned an interest in the rest of us. We drank a toast with glasses of wine, and started eating.

Dinner was delicious. Not only was Sunshine an extremely popular fabric free shoe model, she made really good spaghetti, too. And the wine was very good.

Right about the time Sunshine should’ve said something about it being too hot and she’d need to take off all her clothes, a veritable army of cops and sheriff’s burst into the living room, guns drawn and a thousand voices yelling one hundred different orders.

The door wasn’t locked, so they had opened it quietly, then rushed inside, yelling at the top of their lungs.

“Nobody move! Everybody on the floor! Keep your hands where we can see them! Hands on your heads! Keep your hands on the table! On your knees, dirtbags!”

I had a rolled ball of spaghetti twirled around the tines of my fork. It had almost reached my mouth. I turned to the left and for the first, but not the last time in my life, I was face to face with a loaded handgun. This time it was the service revolver of one of the sheriffs. I think it was a .45.

* * * *

The cops moved us into the living room. One of the cops produced a warrant. They were looking for drugs, of course, but the warrant also said something about prostitution(?)

Yeah, I was a bit confused by that. I knew prostitution existed, in the movies. I had never known anyone who worked the streets, so to speak, and I sure as hell didn’t want to believe that either Sunshine or Diane were doing something like that. They seemed like really nice girls…

We sat in the living room while the cops executed their search for drugs and other suspected illegal substances and/or activities at Dave’s house. I sat on the couch next to Diane. Sunshine sat at the far end of the couch to Diane’s right. Roger sat in a chair to our right. Dave sat in a recliner to our left.

That’s when I remembered I had a joint in my pocket. And as I turned to my right to look at Diane, her eyes widened. She remembered it, too.

“Excuse me, but I have to go to the bathroom.” Diane said to the cop who was keeping an eye on us. He might have been a nice guy, but he sure didn’t look like one. He was holding a shotgun, and his scowl looked like it had been tattooed on his face.

“Too bad, bitch.”

“Hey, officer, man.” Roger said. “No reason to be rude to the lady.”

“No one asked for your opinion, doughboy.” The cop snapped. Roger started to reply, and the cop focused his attention on him, moving closer. Diane quickly reached into my pocket and removed the joint. And Dave saw that.

“Hey, that’s totally uncalled for.” he said calmly. “We were just having dinner when you goons busted through my door.” He started to stand, and the cop moved to confront Dave. “There’s nothing illegal going on here. We’re innocent-” The cop shoved Dave back into his chair, and ordered him to shut up. Diane quickly slipped her hand into her cutoffs and very slickly slipped the joint into her vagina.

That was the precise moment I fell in love with Diane.

Our guard spun around to make sure none of us were trying to sneak up behind him.

“So. How about the bathroom, Barney?” Diane asked. I snickered. I couldn’t help it. That was funny.

“Hey! Let’s move these innocent citizens out of here!” our guard called out to the other cops, who were having no luck finding anything illegal in the house, and certainly not the pounds and pounds of marijuana they were expecting.

A few of the officers wandered in, clearly disappointed in their results. We were all handcuffed. Roger and I were escorted to the backseat of one squad car. Sunshine and Diane were escorted to another. Dave was left sitting in the living room.

“Just be cool, man.” Roger whispered to me when we were alone. “You don’t know anything. You just met Dave. You never tried to buy any drugs from him. You were just having dinner. That’s your story.”

Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to the cop shop.

* * * *

I was questioned by Detective Callahan. He was really nice, and offered me something to drink and a cigarette. He asked me a few benign questions, where was I from? Why did I join the Army? What was my MOS? What did I want to do with my life? We smoked together while I answered his questions.

And then he started asking about Dave, and what was I doing inside the house of a known drug dealer. And what was my relationship to the women of alleged ill repute residing at the residence in question?

I really didn’t know much about Dave. I had just met him. No, I didn’t know anything about Dave selling drugs. Yeah, I’d smoked pot, but I didn’t care for it much. No, no other drugs. Drinking beer was better, and it was legal. The only reason I was at Dave’s house was because of the dinner my buddy’s girlfriend had cooked for us. Yeah, I knew Roger. We worked together on base, and lived in the same barracks. I wasn’t in any relationship with either of the women. I had just met them, too.

That was my story, and for once, it happened to be mostly true. The cops kept Roger and I for a few hours, then released us to our First Sergeant, who drove us back to Dave’s house so Roger could get his car. Sergeant Garcia spent most of the time talking to me about my choice in friends, and how I was jeopardizing my military career by associating with guys like Dave. And Roger.

“Hey, Top, man. You know I’m here, right. Anyway, I love you too, man, you know. And thanks for doing this. I really do appreciate that, Sarge.”

There was no one at Dave’s house when we arrived. The place was dark, the front door was locked.

“Damn. My beer’s in there, man!”

“What about Dave and the girls!” I was a little keyed up. Roger started walking to his car.

“Oh, I’m guessing the cops will keep them for awhile, and try to get one of them to break, you know. But they aren’t gonna get anywhere, man.” We got in the car and Roger resumed. “This is why I told you not to get too deep into dealing. Sooner or later, you’re going to get caught. Dave almost did tonight.” Roger started his car and we headed back to base.

“What about that prostitution thing? Do you think…”

“Hey, listen up, man. Sunshine and Diane are strippers. It’s not like either of them are fuckin’ nuns, you know?”

“So, is Dave their…pimp?”

“Yeah, I don’t know, man. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he was. The guy has the morals of a snake, you know. Good for him.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Hey, man, you’re not in Montana anymore. And you’ve got a job and a place to live, thanks to the fuckin’ Army, man. You never know what you’ll have to do to survive until you’re put in that position, you know. Sunshine and Diane are doing what they have to do to survive. You don’t get to judge what you haven’t been through yourself, man. You follow me?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have to like it!” Roger chuckled softly.

“I fuckin’ love it.” he replied. “Did you see Diane slip that joint into her pussy. I don’t know about you, but I’d fuckin’ marry any woman that did that for me.”

* * * *

I was silent the rest of the trip. Clearly, I had a lots of things to think about. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I watched the sun come up, and got ready for work. When I was reasonably sure Roger was up, I went down to his room.

“Hey, man. I see you didn’t sleep either. Let me tell you what’s gonna happen today, okay?” I was about to ask that question, so I was ready to listen. “By ten o’clock everyone in the clinic is gonna know what happened to us. Garcia’s gonna tell anyone he sees all about it. By noon, everyone in the company will know.

“You need to keep a low profile, you understand?” I nodded, wondering how I was supposed to do that if everyone was going to know about…everything. “Your story hasn’t changed. You were invited to dinner. Period. End of story. Walk away.”

“Got it.”

“And if anyone asks you about Dave, run!” I laughed. “I’m not kidding, man. If he thought we were a risk to him, he’d kill you, me, Sunshine and Diane in a heartbeat. And don’t trust any of those lifers in Headquarters, especially Garcia. He’s gonna act like your buddy, and be your friend.

“You and me, we’re living to get out of the Army. Those guys, the Army is their fuckin’ life. But Garcia was right last night. I am a bad influence on you.” and he did that soft chuckle. I shrugged. “Yeah, what can I say? Just watch out for those guys. You never know when those fuckers will go all military on you, and that’s exactly what those assholes will do.”

* * * *

It’s not the greatest feeling in the world, looking back on your life and coming to the realization that you were, well, pretty goddamn dumb. There were so many things I couldn’t or didn’t see. So many hints that flew right by me without a clue or so much as a hint of awareness.

Granted, this was my first foray into this unexplored territory, where here there be monsters was the reality, not a line in a story. I was taking a road that was not only less traveled, I was taking a road that was clearly marked, Turn the fuck around! Now!

And, of course, I didn’t. But I did learn a whole lots of stuff.

* * * *

Would you be surprised to learn that Roger’s prediction was spot on? Probably not, but I was. First Sergeant Garcia called me into his office and was all buddy-buddy with me. He asked a lots of questions, and I gave very few answers. Then he told me to get my hair cut, and chine my choos.

After lunch, people from the clinics came up to me as I was making my deliveries, wanting to know the details about my dinner and an interrogation by the Lawton PD. I’d never been so happy to see a day end, and it had been a very long day. I didn’t finish my deliveries until late that afternoon.

I dropped my van off at the motor pool, and slowly walked back to the barracks, trying to make some sense out of the sudden change of events in my life that had blindsided me. I reached the barracks long before I reached any epiphanies.

Roger’s head popped out of his room as I started climbing the stairs to my room. I was tired from lack of sleep and stress. All I wanted to do was sleep.

“Hey! Where the hell have you been, man! Get cleaned up and changed! We have to go, pronto!”

“Where are we going?” I sighed, trying to think of an excuse so I could bail on whatever Roger had planned.

“Sunshine called! They’ve been released! We have to go get the girls, man!”

I’m pretty sure I ran the forty yard dash to my room, showered and changed in less than four seconds.

* * * *

I can’t remember where we picked the girls up at, but I know it wasn’t the cop shop. They had both showered and changed clothes. Diane’s hair was still damp. She smelled like the air after a rain.

“Oh my God! You came! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” she said when she saw me, and flew into my arms. I wasn’t sure I could I believe that, but her embrace seemed sincere enough.

I think I got down on my knee and thanked her for stashing my joint in her vagina, saving us all from a fate worse than death, and possibly death.

We went somewhere to eat, and laughed and it felt so good. We stopped to pick up some beer, then checked into the nearest decent no-tell motel. One room, two twin beds. Sunshine wasted no time shedding her clothes.

Diane and I tried not to pay any attention to the sounds coming from the other bed. I guess we didn’t waste a whole lots of time taking our clothes off either, but when we reached the point of no return, I stopped.

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but would you mind if I just held you?”

“Are you gay or something?” she asked. This was clearly something that hadn’t happened to her very often, if ever.

“Or something.” I replied, and tried to smile. I laid back and Diane cuddled close, resting her head on my chest, listening to the beat of my heart.

“She must’ve been something.” Diane said softly.

“Who?”

“The girl who broke your heart,” she whispered, looking up toward me. “I can feel it.”

I’m not sure how long my silent tears fell. Diane whispered and cooed to me, hugging me tightly, brushing and kissing my tears away, until we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

* * * *

I woke up around 2:30 AM. Diane was sleeping with her back to me. I found my glasses and slipped them on, then watched her breathe for a couple minutes, admiring her body. I could see the top half of her very cute butt. I wanted to touch her, but I didn’t want to wake her up.

I got out of bed carefully, and went into the bathroom to pee and wash my face. I could taste the salt from the tears I’d cried earlier. I took a deep breath, and told myself to get it together, then went back into the room where everyone was sleeping.

I opened a beer, and because I was trying to do it as quietly as possible, it sounded like a goddamn bomb going off. Roger and Sunshine didn’t move, and I exhaled a deep breath in relief. But Diane woke up, and rolled over.

“Hey.” I said softly, and took a drink. The beer was fairly cold, and it tasted good.

“Hey yourself,” she replied, equally softly, and reached for the beer. “Feel any better?”

“Yeah, I do.” I handed her the beer, and she took a long drink. “Thank you. I don’t know what to else to say. That was incredibly sweet of you.”

“Are you kidding me? I should thank you! I thought all men were alike, and then out of fuckin’ nowhere, you come along.”

“That’s funny. I was thinking the same thing about you.” We both smiled.

“So? Are you going to tell me about her?” she asked, handing the beer back to me. I took a drink.

“High school sweetheart. We broke up in May. I was here, she was back in Montana. It was too much for her.”

“You’re from Montana? You don’t look like a cowboy.” I handed her the beer, and gave her the quick version of my life story. Then she told me her story. We had more than a little in common. I climbed back into bed and Diane snuggled close to me.

“If you don’t want to do anything, it’s okay.” she whispered in my ear.

“Yeah, well, the thing is, you’re the first person I’ve been with since, you know…  But I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m ready to pick up where we left off.”

“Me too.”

* * * *

“That went better than I thought it would.” I said mostly to myself as Diane and I laid on our backs, looking at the ceiling, catching our breath.

“I don’t know why your girlfriend decided to dump you, but I think she’s a fucking idiot!” I had to laugh at that. I turned to look at her. Her eyes were bright, and sparkling in the dim light of the room.

“Thank you.” I said.

“You’re welcome.” She smiled and kissed me. “It was my pleasure. And I seriously mean that.”

* * * *

The next thing I knew I was hit in the head with a pillow, and Roger was almost yelling at me.

“Hey, Mark! Wake up, man! We overslept and we’re gonna be late for work! C’mon! Get dressed! We gotta get movin’! Shit! I gotta call Headquarters before they send the MP’s after us!”

I think it was around 7:30 AM.

Diane and I got dressed as quickly as we could while we hugged and kissed and giggled a lots. In retrospect, I think there’s something about being so… vulnerable…that breaks down all defensive walls and boundaries, and you bond to someone in a way that you normally wouldn’t.

I’m making an huge assumption about Diane. I never asked her how she felt. This will probably sound a little weird, but there was this unspoken thing between us. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry so succinctly stated: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Well, it makes sense to me, and it makes sense in terms of my relationship with Diane. I wasn’t in love with her, but after what we had experienced, I loved her, if that makes any sense.

We were in our own world that morning, and it was a very special place for both of us. We had accidentally given each other a type of healing, and as a result we had kind of stumbled into the Garden of Eden, where everything seemed new and pristine, including us. And like unto Eden, it was also a place neither of us would ever be able to completely find again once we left it.

While Roger lied his ass off to First Sergeant Garcia, Diane and I stared into each other’s eyes and whispered terms of endearment and affection that probably would’ve made anyone listening roll their eyes and puke. Neither one of us wanted that moment to end, and it would, as soon as we stepped outside.

As blind as I was to almost everything going on around me, even I was able to see that.

Roger told Headquarters we had run out of gas, or something like that, and we’d report for duty just as soon as we could. I can’t remember where we dropped the girls off at, maybe Dave’s house, maybe a cafe. I know they both wanted coffee.

“Did you have a good time?” Roger asked once we were alone in the car and racing back to base.

“Yeah, I did. Actually, I had a great time!”

“Good. I wasn’t too sure there at first. I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on you and Diane.”

“Hey, no problem, man. And yeah, things started out kind of shaky for me, but I regrouped.” And I told him what happened while he and Sunshine were asleep.

“That’s real good, man. I’m happy for you.”

“How about you?”

“Yeah, well, you saw how it was. I’ll tell you what, man. That lady really has my head in the blender. I’m gonna fall in love with her if I don’t watch my step.

“Hey, when we get to Headquarters, you just go along with everything I say, okay? Let me take the fall for this. I’m gonna be gone soon, and you have two more years to go at this dump. Just nod your head and agree with everything I say.”

“I can’t let you do that.” I said.

“Listen to me. You’re gonna go places. You’re gonna be someone someday. I’m going back to fuckin’ Indiana. I’ll probably end up working in the mines or some shit like that. Just do as I ask, okay? Don’t make me beg you, man.” He sounded like he might start crying.

“Okay, you win. But I think this is a bad idea.”

“Hey, man, name one good idea we’ve had in the last few days.”

* * * *

For the life of me, I have no idea what people saw in me back then that made almost everyone think I was on the path to greatness. I sure as hell didn’t see it. I’m not sure I do now.

Looking back doesn’t make anything jump out at me, other than how determined I was to be anything but great. It only shows me how strong a grip God must have had on me during that time of my life. I had lost more than my grip; I had lost my way, and I was going to get a lots more lost.

But God had taken me by the hand, though I knew it not, and He never let go of me, no matter what. Maybe that’s what everyone could see–things invisible to the eye… Clearly, there was a greater purpose at work than my self-destructive intent. I’ve perhaps ridiculously translated that into a desire to become a prophet.

Well, God has said He does stuff that won’t make any sense to us. In that aspect, God and I have something in common…

* * * *

I did as Roger asked, and nodded a whole lots and agreed with everything he said when we met with First Sergeant Garcia and Second Lieutenant Steffler.

We got a verbal reprimand–an ass chewing, but nothing else. And we were both ordered to get a haircut and chine our choos. We went to the barbershop on our lunch break.

That evening, Roger and I drank a few beers and smoked a few joints with the boys while we shined our shoes. We were asked to tell the story of our already legendary spaghetti dinner with the strippers and our trip to the cop shop. I let Roger tell the story. I wouldn’t have even been in it if it weren’t for him.

* * * *

Once Roger and I got haircuts, our shoes shined, and a good night’s rest, we pretty much lived at the Play Pen Lounge. Diane was happy to see me, and I tried hard to contain the joy my heart felt when I saw her. She was working, so the only thing she was wearing was a bikini bottom.

Sunshine practically tackled Roger when she saw him. A couple of burly guys appeared out of the shadows and grabbed Roger by the collar. Sunshine had to talk fast to keep Roger from getting the shit beat out of him.

Roger bought drinks for everyone, including the bouncers, and we talked to the girls when they took their breaks. We tried to set up dates with them, but they were busy. I don’t know how disappointed Roger was, but words do not suffice to describe my feelings.

“Can I call you?” I asked Diane.

“No, give me your number. I’ll call you.” I wrote my number on a napkin. She put it in her bikini bottom, right next to her very cute butt.

And true to her word, she called whenever she had the time. Our conversations were never long, nor were they all that satisfying, but they were better than nothing.

Be that as it may, we went back to see our girls almost every night, and did manage to spend several nights with them over the next few weeks at the no-tell motel, making sure we set the alarm to give us plenty of time to get back to base in the morning.

Those nights were very satisfying, and made all the unsatisfying time in between worth the wait. But the nights were short, and the days apart were long. And dating a stripper is, well, expensive, especially when part of the dating experience consists of hanging out at the bar where she works.

“Man, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Roger said to me one day. We were about three weeks into our new lives with our girls.

I had some money in the bank, and that was good, but after three weeks, it was almost gone, and that was bad. As much as I hated to admit it, Roger was right.

But that weekend, our girls surprised us by coming to visit us at the barracks on a Saturday night. Sunshine probably showed her tits to the guards at the gate, and even if she didn’t, it sounds like something she would’ve done.

They brought a case of beer and a whole lots of love, and we had ourselves a party that went down in history. We were in Roger’s room. He wasn’t about to let any of the guys in the barracks anywhere near Sunshine, especially once she took all her clothes off, and she did that within thirty seconds of arriving.

Diane kept her clothes on, and that was fine with me. Her very cute butt was on my lap and we did a lots of kissing and stuff. When she was around it was kind of a magical time for me.

Roger and Sunshine eventually moved into the bedroom, so Diane and I went up to my room, and she got to meet Maureen. One of my walls was covered with pictures of her.

“I love your room!” she said, looking around. I had painted the walls light blue, and I had painted pictures on the walls, random things that appealed to me at that time. There were a lots of black light posters, cheap blue and red carpeting on the floor.

“You didn’t tell me she was beautiful.” Diane said, taking a long look at Maureen’s picture gallery. Right next to all of her pictures I had painted an eye with a single tear. “Jesus. You must have really loved her.”

I didn’t say anything. I was holding my breath, afraid to even breathe. Diane finally turned to look at me, and smiled.

“I think it’s sweet. I wish someone missed me as much as you miss her. Now I really think she’s a fucking idiot!” And I could breathe again. I put an album on the stereo, and we danced and laughed until we fell to the floor.

“Are you planning on spending the night?” I asked. She was surprised by my question. “I didn’t want to assume anything, that’s all.” She took off her top and threw it in my face. “Wait right here.”

The room across the hall from mine was empty. It had been Johnny’s room, but he had gotten out of the Army and no one had taken his room yet. I slipped my ID card behind the jamb and popped the lock, and bought Johnny’s mattress into my room. I threw it on the floor then pulled the mattress off my bed and laid it next to the mattress I had borrowed.

“Oh! You’re good!” Diane laughed, and I threw my shirt in her face.

* * * *

We didn’t sleep that night, and when we weren’t entwined with each other we laid back and caressed each other endlessly. We talked about many things, and laughed a lots. I was happier than I had been in months. It would be years before I would be as well pleased as I was that night.

“What’s your favorite thing about me?” she asked. I turned my head to the left to look at her.

“You have the most beautiful eyes.” I replied immediately. “And you have a very cute butt.” She smiled. The light in her eyes danced. “Your turn.”

“You have the softest hands…  When you touch me, it feels like a dream..”

“Close your eyes.”

“God, I wish I had met you sooner…”

* * * *

“If something were to happen to me, would you miss me?” Diane asked, and I immediately became concerned.

“Why would you ask that! What’s going to happen to you?” I asked, raising up on one elbow to look at her.

“Relax! Nothing’s going to happen to me! It’s just a question! So, would you miss me?”

And that’s when I knew.

“Yes. I’d miss you very much.” I said, and I meant it. We stared into each other’s eyes for a time, and that twinkle appeared in her green eyes, like the first touch of sunlight as it laughed on the leaves.

“That’s what I needed to hear.” she smiled, and we wrapped ourselves together until the sun started to come up. We hung out my bedroom window, naked, smoking cigarettes, watching the sun rise.

The Marines marching passed the barracks that morning stopped singing their marching song when they saw Diane and gave me a Hurah!

“That’s the first and last time that’s ever gonna happen to me.” I beamed a smile to the Marines, and Diane. And we kissed.

* * * *

Diane and I got dressed and went down to Roger’s room. She woke up Sunshine and Roger and I escorted our girls out to their car in the morning sunshine. We hugged and kissed them goodbye and they drove off, smiling and waving and blowing kisses to us.

It was the last time we would ever see them.

* * * *

I slept most of Sunday, so I wasn’t too concerned when I didn’t hear from Diane. But Monday, and then Tuesday went by without a word from her, and I started feeling a tightness in the pit of my stomach. I asked Roger if he’d heard from Sunshine, and he shook his head. That was really bad. Diane wasn’t great at calling me, but Sunshine called Roger several times a day.

“Have you tried calling her?”

“Nope. I think our chicks have flown the coop, man.”

We went to the Play Pen on Wednesday night. Diane and Sunshine usually worked that night, but after walking around the bar, we couldn’t find them. I asked one of the dancers if she knew where Diane was.

“She’s not here!” was the reply she shouted over the music. I know I couldn’t hide the profound sadness I felt, and it flooded my face. The dancer couldn’t help but see it, and then her eyes grew wide. “You’re the guy! Don’t move! Wait right here!”

She returned a minute later with another dancer, and they cupped their hands so they could kind of whisper in each other’s ear, then the second dancer spoke to us.

“Are one of you guys named Roger?” Roger raised his hand. “And you must be Mark.” she said, looking at me. I nodded.

“Oh my God! We’ve heard so much about you guys!” she said. “Sunshine told us everything!”

“We didn’t think you were real!” the first dancer I had talked to added. “I’m Crystal!” and she extended her hand. We shook hands with Crystal.

She kind of looked like Diane, but her hair was straight, and longer and darker. She was about Diane’s height, maybe a little taller, with a bit more of a figure. She certainly had bigger…eyes…than Diane. She had a very cute butt, too.

“And I’m Katie!” the second dancer said. She was blonde, the same height and a similar body to Sunshine. We shook hands with her, too. “That has to be him! His hands are so soft!”

I do have soft hands. I tell everyone it’s because I’ve never done an honest day’s work in my life, which is possibly true.

“So, you’re the guy that melted the heart of the Ice Princess!” Crystal said, looking me up and down.

What? Did I hear that right?

“It must have been his hands! They’re so soft! And warm! We thought you had to be a wizard or something!” Katie added. That made Roger chuckle.

* * * *

I don’t remember my hands being warm. I was a nurse for thirty years, and if there’s one affliction most nurses suffer from, it’s cold hands. It’s a patient care profession, so cold hands are pretty much the last thing you need. It’s like we keep our hands on ice until we need to touch someone.

* * * *

“Yeah, I hear he’s pretty good with a wand, too! I want to be one of those, ” Roger turned to look at me. “A sexual wizard!”

“Ice Princess?” I said, in the general direction of the dancers.

“That’s what we called Diane!” Katie said loudly. “She was one cold bitch! But we loved Sunshine!”

“But Diane was different ever since she met you!” Crystal added. “She was actually nice to us! I think she’s in love!”

We bought the girls a couple of beers and tried to find out what happened to our girls over the music and the fairly constant interruptions from other patrons.

“They’re not here anymore! I think they said they were going back to–where was it? Fucking Nebraska or Kansas or something! They said something like it was too hot for them here and they had to get out of town!”

Roger and I looked at each other and he shook his head. We tried to get more information from Crystal and Katie, but they didn’t know much more than that. And they had no idea which town in Nebraska or Kansas Sunshine and Diane had gone to. Katie said sometimes the girls wrote a letter, to let the other girls they had landed safely and we’re doing okay. She’d let us know if Sunshine ever wrote. There was no way the Ice Princess would write to them. We thanked the girls for their time, and left them a tip, and got up to leave.

“Wait!” they shouted, and scurried off. When they returned, they handed me slips of paper with their phone numbers. “Call me!” they both said, then looked at each other and laughed. That was the first and last time that’s ever happened to me, too.

* * * *

“There’s no way those girls went back to Nebraska.” Roger said as we walked out to his car. “You know what happened? Dave got them out of town. They were probably too much of a liability for him. If the cops are that hot on his tail…”

“Unless he had them killed…”

“Then I’d have to kill him.” Roger decided.

“I’ll help you.”

“Nah, he wouldn’t do that, not yet. But they’re gone, man. They could be anywhere, except Nebraska. We’ll never see them again, and maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Maybe. But I’m going to miss Diane.”

“I hear that. I know what you mean, man. I know what you mean.” he sighed, and we rode silently for a few minutes. “Hey, Mark, man. Give me your hand, man.”

“Jesus. You can’t tell anyone about this, especially The Horne! If he hears about this, I’ll have to kill him. He’ll never let it go.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Okay. It dies with me. Wow. You really do have soft hands! Soft enough to melt a heart of ice, huh.” And he chuckled softly. I stared straight ahead, not seeing anything in front of me, seeing only the images that filled my mind.

“That wasn’t it. It was that first night together, at the motel. You and Sunshine were fucking like wild animals, and I started crying. Diane…Diane kissed away my tears. That’s when her heart melted…

“I felt it.”

* * * *

I eventually asked Roger if he wanted to go out with Crystal or Katie. Maybe one of them knew how to make spaghetti…

“Nah,” he replied, and chuckled softly. “Besides, they gave you their numbers, not me. I think I’m done with strippers for awhile, but I appreciate it, man, I really do. I need to start saving some money for the trip home. If I started dating another stripper, I’ll never get out of town.”

Oh well, I tried.

I wasn’t quite done with strippers yet. I went out with Crystal a few times. She wasn’t a cheap date, and I couldn’t keep up with her. She liked cocaine, and she liked it a lots. I couldn’t support her drug habit and mine, something had to go. Goodbye, Crystal.

I was never all that impressed by coke, hard to believe as that might sound, and it was probably the only drug I didn’t fall in love with back then.

I casually dated Katie on and off for the rest of the time I was in the Army. I liked her a lots, and we had a good time together. But Katie had plans and ambitions. Toward the end of my time at Fort Sill she met a second lieutenant and wasn’t about to do anything to mess that up. Goodbye, Mr Wizard.

We parted as friends. I hope her dreams came true. She was a sweet gal.

* * * *

Roger’s long awaited day finally came, and he packed up his car and hit the long road to Indiana. I never saw him again, but we talked on the phone from time to time for a couple of years before we finally lost contact with each other.

Writing this has made me realize how much I miss him. He was one of the best persons I’ve ever known, and he taught me more than I even knew.

Hey, Roger, man. If you ever read this, know that I love you, man.

And sometimes, when the sun is coming up, I think of Diane, naked in my window, rendering the fuckin’ Marines to silence. And I smile.

I hope she found some sort of a better life than the one she had. And Diane, if you ever read this, I sincerely missed you, probably more than I thought I would.

I know you tried to warn me, but I really wish you would’ve said goodbye.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved that show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Into Darkness

I almost feel compelled to apologize for my last two posts. One of the people that reads my blog commented, Who the hell is your Muse?

I’m wondering that myself. I do know this much about her. She’s not from Mexico. And I know this because she doesn’t speak Spanish. If she could do that, she might come in handy some day.

When I first started writing my posts, they were cute, sometimes poignant, but mostly light-hearted and funny. I miss those days.

I think things started drifting in a new direction when I wrote about my stay in Dallas. And when I opened that door into darkness, a whole lots more darkness than I anticipated came flooding out.

I didn’t need to start writing about my heart of darkness to know it was there. But I don’t think even I knew just how deep, and dark, it was. You want to hear something funny? There are stories inside of me that make my last two posts look like a trip to Disneyland®.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I need to be inspired in order to write. It has to feel right to me, even when there’s nothing right about the subject at hand. And where I used to feel uplifted and energized by my posts, I sometimes feel like a dog that has been beat too much of late.

I couldn’t sleep for two of the last three nights. I spent most of this morning curled up in a ball on the couch, wondering what the fuck just happened.

My lovely supermodel wife is probably going to have me committed to the nearest psych facility if I keep this shit up, and if she doesn’t, our cat will.

The ultimate cause of this distressing situation isn’t the darkness inside me. It’s the bringing it out into the light, and assessing it honestly. I could write a whole lots of stories about opening up rescue shelters, getting kittens out of trees and putting band-aids on boo-boos, but none of it would be true, and as skilled and talented as I used to be at fabricating truth, that’s not what I am anymore.

And I guess that begs the question, Then what are you?

I’ll tell you what I am. I am scared. I am almost terrified at times. I am not what I thought I was, and I’m not sure what the hell I’m going to do about it. I am far more broken than even I suspected. I am far more vulnerable than I could ever feel comfortable being.

Perhaps this is what happens when you become too adept at managing your defense system. You move one piece that had been perfectly placed for decades, and the next thing you know, you’re being overrun and your back is to the river.

Everything happens for a reason. I’ve been telling myself that a lots. It’s not helping. If there’s a reason for this, I’d love to know what it is. Now. Not twenty years from now. Unfortunately, that isn’t something under my control.

I don’t have the energy to write a lots of stuff today. Nor do I have the desire. I just wanted to say this, and sleep. And hope for a better tomorrow.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There are times when God has my Muse by the short hairs, and there are times when my Muse has me by the short hairs. Today, it’s the latter. In my short history as a blogger guy, these posts have not been much fun for me.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and that’s never a good sign for me. And there was another oddity. All of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking, and they did so until about 4:00 AM. There’s been a lots of bands and explosives and stuff at night, but the dogs have never behaved like unto that before.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, as I measure time. It’s going to be painful to me. And probably to Maureen. She’s my former high school sweetheart, and this tells the story of the dissolution of our relationship.

We broke up almost forty-two years ago, but some parts of this tale I remember like they happened ten minutes ago. Other parts, I wouldn’t be able to recall if my life depended on it.

Memory, is a funny thing.

But I do remember this. I fell in love with Maureen the first moment I saw her our freshman year of high school. This should come as no surprise to anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis.

It seems to be the only way I fall in love.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from Loyola, and went to Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA in July of 1974. I learned to march, and shoot an M-16. I was a pretty good shot. I was well on my way to earning my Expert badge on the rifle range, when I received a letter from my high school sweetheart.

I had received a lots of letters from Maureen. And she had received many from me. I saved all of them and read them over and over. But this letter was different. Maureen wrote that she had met another guy. I read her letter just before I went out to qualify for my Expert badge, and I probably missed every target.

My drill sergeant chose to feel very disappointed in my performance–I had had the highest score of anyone in my company on the rifle range–and he had me do a lots of push ups to help me get my mind right.

I doubt I ever thanked him for his concern, but thank you, Drill Sergeant Byrum. That was really nice of you.

Maureen’s next letter said nothing about this other guy, nor did any of her following letters. I called her as often as I could from the phone booth outside the barracks, and she assured me everything was fine between us.

After I completed Basic, I was given a least two weeks of leave until my Advanced Individual Training began in the beginning of November. I flew back to Missoula around mid-October to see my high school sweetheart for the first time as a member of the US Armed Forces.

My sister, Colleen, was living in Missoula with her first husband, Rod. I had lived with them so I could complete my last year of high school in Missoula, rather than have to start over at a new school in Minnesota when my family moved back there at the end of my junior year. I think Colleen picked me up at the airport, and if she did, Maureen may have been with her. This is one of the things I can’t remember.

At any rate, Maureen and I had a very joyous reunion, whenever it was that we first saw each other again that October. I spent every waking and every sleeping moment I could with Maureen. She was studying to be an X-Ray Technician at St Patrick Hospital, and she had an apartment across the street from the hospital.

I vaguely remember being at my sister’s house, but I think I spent much more time with Maureen at her tiny apartment. We missed each other. A lots.

Maureen had class and clinicals during the day. I have no idea what I did while she was at school. I did meet her classmates, but the only one I remember was a stunning redhead with long hair. I think her name was Kelly…maybe…  Maureen tried to study, but I’m pretty sure I was able to distract her. We had really missed each other.

We would go out drinking and dancing in the evening, and some of our friends from high school would meet us at the bar. I seem to recall a semi-epic Halloween party at one of our favorite bars that booked decent bands. I’m going to say we were both ready for me to go Fort Sam Houston, TX for AIT when the end of October rolled around. I departed for Texas secure in the knowledge that we were still together as a couple, and our love for each other was strong.

* * * *

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday all by myself in Texas. I graduated third in my class, and received a promotion to PFC at the end of my training. And seeing how it was so close to Christmas, the Army gave me another couple of weeks off, and I flew back to Missoula through the worst storm I’ve ever flown through.

I think everyone on that flight prayed the entire time we were in the air. The turbulence was unreal. I kissed the tarmac when I got off the plane, and then I kissed Maureen. This was an especially joyous reunion. My sister and her husband were there. All of my closest friends in high school were home from college for the holidays. They were all at the airport to greet me, too.

One of Maureen’s sisters and her husband had flown to California for the holidays. They were going to be out of town for a couple weeks and they had asked Maureen to stay at their house while they were gone. Maureen asked me if I wanted to stay there with her.

It was Christmas. I was essentially living with my favorite person on the entire planet. That holiday could not have been any sweeter for me. It would be one of my most treasured memories for a very long time.

There was one dark spot. Maureen and I decided to throw a big holiday party at the house, and essentially invited everyone in our class to come. It was probably the last time our class got together like that until reunions became popular.

I know I got really drunk at the party. And I know Maureen wasn’t too pleased the next day. But that’s all I can remember. I’m sure I did something stupid, after all, this is me. I probably tried making out with all of our female classmates, or humped their legs. Or both. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This was perhaps the first warning shot my addiction would fire across my bow, but like any great athlete in training, I ignored the pain and kept on going.

* * * *

January, 1975. I reported to my permanent duty station in Fort Sill, OK. Toward the end of the month, I went for a walk in the rain because I missed my girlfriend, and broke my ankle.

Life. One thing happens after another, and before you know it, everything goes to hell. And that’s what happened in late April. I got another letter from Maureen. The mysterious guy she had met back when I was in Basic Training had reappeared, and it was evidently much more serious this time.

I told my CO I needed some personal time off immediately, and because I was still an exemplary soldier, he gave me a week off without hesitation. I called Maureen to let her know I was flying back to Missoula. She seemed surprised that I was coming to see her. I also called my sister to let her know I was coming.

My sister, Colleen, and her husband, Rod, were starting to go through the throes of their divorce. Colleen wasn’t going to be in town, but she would leave a key on the porch so I could stay at her house. I have no idea where Rod was, they weren’t together, and he wouldn’t be at home either. I did have two cars to choose from for transportation, and that would be about the thing I’d have going for me.

I think my flight landed in Missoula around 7:00 PM on May 2nd or 3rd. No one met me at the airport. It was one of the loneliest moments of my life, ever. For all time. I took a cab to Colleen’s house, and stared at the walls for a few hours.

Maureen had been at a Gordon Lightfoot concert with Rick, I think that was his name. To this day, I fucking hate Gordon Fucking Lightfoot, and I’ve hated almost every guy I ever met named Rick.

Well, I’ve never claimed to be sane.

Maureen came over to break up with me after the concert. She told me that was why she came over when she arrived, but then she added something like  unto this, “That’s why I came here, but I just realized I’m still in love with you…”

So, we didn’t break up that first night. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad now, but it was better than anything I could’ve hoped for at the time. We didn’t break up, but we didn’t exactly get back together either. All I knew for sure when she left was she was still my girl. Kind of.

Vague Musical Reference That No One Else Will Give A Damn About But Me: How Long by the British group Ace was getting a lots of airtime in Missoula at the time Maureen and I were going through our shared angst. It reached No. 3 in the US charts. I cannot hear that song without becoming an heartbroken teenager again. And the answer to that musical question ended up being since about August of 1974.

Maureen was no longer living in her tiny apartment across from the hospital. She had moved into a big place with a couple of girls from our high school class, Colleen and Priscilla, so on the odd occasions that I went to see her there, well, it was very odd.

I knew a lots of Colleens back when I was in high school. There was my sister. And the Colleen I took to the Prom. I have a vague memory of talking to her at her dorm on the U of M campus. And there was Maureen’s roommate, whom we both knew from high school. And at least one more more Colleen from our class. And my buddy Dave dated a different Colleen…  And after that time I think I’ve met two Colleens in forty years or so. I may be wrong about this, but I think Roommate Colleen introduced my then girlfriend to Rick, the guy my girlfriend would leave me for.

Maureen’s roommates did their best to comfort both Maureen and I during what was an extremely ackward situation for all of us, and that ackwardness was only accentuated whenever I was around. We had all gone to school with each other, we were all friends.

It was a painful experience for all of us. And then a very strange thing happened one night. Roommate Colleen and I were talking in her bedroom, and then we weren’t talking anymore. We started kissing.  And Maureen walked in on us. A situation I didn’t think could get any worse, did. I think I mostly stayed away from Maureen, Colleen and Priscilla’s house after that night.

* * * *

I didn’t have a lots of close friends back in high school. I wasn’t a Jock, and I wasn’t a Brain. I was kind of a Nobody until Maureen entered my life and made me a Somebody. She was the most important and incredible person/event that had ever happened to me in my young and haunted life.

Our first dates were double or triple dates. We got to know each other kind of vicariously through our mutual friends, and it wasn’t until we started liking each other that we started going out all by ourselves.

I was in love with Maureen from the moment I first saw her, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. We kind of joked around about it, and we might say something after we drank too much cheap wine at the drive in. And then, like it does in all romantic tales, it really happened.

We went to go see Live and Let Die. I can no longer remember the exact date, but the movie was released in June of 1973, so we probably saw it in early July of that year. Whatever day/date it was, that was the night Maureen told me she loved me for the first time.

I still remember the astonishment I felt at hearing her say those three words to me after the movie. And then she started crying. I told her I loved her, too, but I did not cry. I thought I might got dead from an overdose of Joy.

The fact that anyone could love me, especially Maureen Ann Browne–it proved there was a God, and He did more than answer prayers, He was an honest to God miracle worker! If Maureen could love me, maybe there was hope that my life wouldn’t always be some kind of fucking disaster. And if that was true, then Maureen had to be an angel. She was certainly as beautiful as an angel, and that is not an exaggeration.

Maureen was one of those people that other people couldn’t help but notice when she walked into a room. She was probably the same height as me, long dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, and the body of Venus de Milo, with arms. I thought she was the Goddess of Beauty and Light, and that’s not an exaggeration either. And she was spookysmart to boot.

Back when I was young, I believed you needed to have another person to make you whole. And I had found that person. As a result of my belief, I desperately wanted to be with Maureen, always and forever, but I also understood her position when she was trying to decide her future, and mine, almost two years later.

We were no longer physically together. She was living in Montana, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. And I was going to be in Oklahoma for another two and half years! I couldn’t just tell the Army that after giving it a lots of thought, I no longer felt being in the military was the best career choice for me, and I just wanted to go home and be with my girlfriend.

Well, I suppose I could’ve said that, but I knew the Army wasn’t going to be at all swayed by that sort of a plea.

I  knew where I wanted to be when Maureen decided what she was going to do with her life, and that was with her, but I had no tricks, no aces up my sleeve. I couldn’t make her choose me. So I anxiously waited for her to make up her mind, and while I waited, I hung out with the one other best friend I had in Missoula, Dave Nelson.

Dave was my first friend in high school. We practically became brothers. And Dave did what any guy would do when his best friend’s life was melting down. He introduced me to a few girls he knew, and we got drunk with them. We went canoeing, and got drunk. We went fishing, and got drunk. We drove around town in my sister’s Toyota Corolla or her husband’s Toyota Land Cruiser, and got drunk.

In retrospect, mostly, we just got drunk. Young guys. We didn’t have a lots of tools in the old tool box, eh.

* * * *

On the 8th of May, Maureen made her decision. She had most likely known all along what she was going to do, but that was the day she decided to tell me. She invited me over to her house and made me a really nice meal. I think we had sex, one last time. It was probably my going away present. As far as presents go, that’s a pretty nice present. But it wasn’t the same–there was no making love involved–and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed it anywhere near as much as we had in the past.

“I’ve made a decision.” She started out saying something like unto that after she had done everything she could to soften what would be the cruelest of blows to me, and that was all I really needed to hear. “I think we should break up. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. It’s the distance and being apart.” She may have said more, she probably did. I didn’t hear any of it.

“Okay. I understand.” I said something like unto that when she finished.

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Aren’t you going to fight for me?!?”

I don’t think I had any response to that. Who was I supposed to fight? Geography? Rick? Time and Space? The Army? Her? And what was I supposed to say? She already knew I loved her. That didn’t seem to be tipping the scales in my favor, and that was all I had to offer her.

I’m sure I should have said something. I should have said anything! But I had nothing to say, no answer to her demand. She had chosen someone else over me, and there was nothing left inside of me. Part of me got dead that night, and it stayed dead for a very long time. Actually, I’m not sure it ever came back to life. Maybe it was never there, that’s a possibility, too.

I drove back to the empty house I was occupying, and all I wanted to do was die. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that empty. I didn’t think it was wise for me to be alone, so I called my best friend. The one who had just stopped being my best friend.

I’m not sure if I talked to Maureen that night or not, but I did talk to Dan. I think he was Roommate Colleen’s boyfriend, and Dan did something extraordinary. He came over to talk to me, face to face, and kept me alive that night. We drank a lots of beer, of course, and talked all night.

I’m not sure if I ever thanked him, but thank you, Dan. That was a stand up thing to do.

* * * *

Friday, May 9, 1975. I was supposed to fly back to Oklahoma the following day, but I couldn’t do it. I called my CO, and he extended my leave for another week after listening to my tale of heart wretching woe.

I went out with Dave that night. I was a single man on the prowl, so I sat at the bar and cried in my beer. That’s pretty close to the truth. I was about as much fun to be around as a suicide bomber.

I no longer remember which bar we went to, but Dave and his girlfriend were there, and probably another girl Dave was hoping would distract me from my misery. The fact that I can’t remember her name indicates how successful she was. And just like that rainy January night in Oklahoma when I was overcome with despair and loneliness, I suddenly couldn’t stand being around anyone, and decided to go for a walk.

It wasn’t raining that night in Montana. I had nothing to impede my progress as I left the bar and marched in the darkness toward my sister’s house, which was on the far end of town from the bar I’d been at. I didn’t care. I probably would’ve walked all the way back to Oklahoma if the idea had occurred to me. Nothing slowed me down, I looked neither to the right or the left, until I ran into the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

The county fairgrounds are huge, and they’re surrounded by a tall wire fence with strands of barbed wire running across the top. I could’ve walked around the fairgrounds, but I was young and drunk and pissed off, and no goddamn fence was going to stand in my way.

I climbed the fence, and walked across the fairgrounds until I reached the fence on the far side of the grounds. I had conquered the first fence without an hiccough, so I scaled the second, but this time the fence fought back. As I was coming down, my right hand got kind of tangled in the barbed wire.

I sustained a wound on my right hand/wrist. I was bleeding, but not too badly. I ignored it until I reached my sister’s empty house, and I took a look at it in the bathroom.

I spent a fair amount of time staring at my reflection in the mirror. The abhorrence I felt toward everyone in the bar transferred itself to my reflection. The feelings I had been struggling not to feel  since the age of seven boiled over.

I saw a pack of razor blades on the counter…  My wrist was already bleeding…  Might as well open that sucker up and let everything out…  I knew I had to cut between the tendons and ligaments on my wrist…

My first few attempts were pretty lame, but that fourth one, that stuck gold. I was actually surprised I cut as deep as I did, but that feeling faded almost immediately. I didn’t feel anything after that, not even pain. I laid down on the floor, stretching my right arm out away from my body. I didn’t want to accidentally lay on it and impede the flow of blood out of my body, and said goodbye to my life and this world.

* * * *

A little background information here. It sounds as though I had done a lots of research into how to kill myself, and that is not true. One of my Army buddies was a guy named Joe Parnell, and Joe had spent some time in prison.

Life in prison isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV, and Joe decided he couldn’t take another minute of being incarcerated. So he slit his wrist. I noticed the scars on his wrist one day when we were getting high at the barracks, and asked him about them.

It was Joe who had explained the dynamics of cutting one’s wrist correctly to me. And that was why I extended my arm. Joe said he would’ve died to death except for one little thing. He didn’t extend his arm, and the weight of his body diminished the blood flow out of his body enough that he was still alive when the guards found him.

He said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. Even stupider than the stupid stuff he’d done to get his ass thrown into prison.

* * * *

It was weird. Great descriptive term there, but I lack any other word or phrase, and I’ve thought about this a lots.

I felt someone shaking my shoulder, waking me up. Leave me alone! I thought, but the shaking sensation persisted. I woke up and turned to see who was disturbing me.

There was no one there. Just a kind of ting-ly feeling in the air. It gave me goosebumps. Actually, it still does. It just did.

I saw my wrist, and the pool of blood on the floor. I have no idea how long I had laid there. I knew this was wrong, and stupid, and I needed to do something to stop it. I called the local crisis line, and told the person on the other end I needed urgent help, and I had no transportation.

While I waited for someone to come get me, I wrapped a towel around my wrist so I wouldn’t bleed all over everything, and cleaned up the pool of coagulating blood on the floor.

I’m pretty sure I wondered why I was still alive. I have given that a lots of thought over the years, and this was what I eventually concluded: I got lucky. I somehow managed to miss every artery in that area of my right wrist, so instead of quickly bleeding out, I more or less oozed however much blood I lost. The pool of blood I cleaned up was about one foot wide and maybe a foot and a foot and an half long.

Obviously, I didn’t lose enough blood to got dead, but it was enough to make me feel very lightheaded while I cleaned up. There was another reason I didn’t got dead, and that will be revealed shortly.

An orange Volkswagen microbus pulled into the driveway, and a hippie looking guy drove me to the St Patrick Hospital ER. My wound was cleaned, and sutured, and then the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. He could admit me to the pysch unit, but if I promised I wouldn’t try to harm myself again, I could go home.

I know, right! All of my psych nurse colleagues will have an hard time believing this. I would feel the irony of that for decades to come.

“I’m good. I made a bad decision, but I’m past that. I’ll go home, and sleep. I’ll be okay.” And I meant that. I would think about taking my life countless times over the following years, but I would never make an intentional attempt like that again.

The sun was coming up as the hippie looking guy drove me back to my sister’s house. I cried tears of joy to see that sunrise. And I told the hippie looking guy about the angel that woke me up, and saved my life.

“Wow, that’s far out, man. God must have another plan for you, man. That slash on your wrist looked pretty bad.”

That, was the other reason.

It was at that moment I started to believe God really did have a plan for me. I hadn’t narrowed it down to becoming a prophet yet, but I was alive, and I was alive for a reason. That was the precise moment my quest for God and the Truth began.

I have three scars on my right wrist, two fairly superficial, one very substantial. It’s about two inches long, and maybe half an inch at its widest point. The ER doc did a crappy job sewing me back up.

I’ve told a few people the entire story of how I got my scars, and several more a very condensed version of how I got them, but mostly I try to keep them from view.

* * * *

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone back to Oklahoma, rather than prolong my misery and hang around Missoula for another week. Dave showed up at my sister’s house early Saturday morning to check up on me, and saw the bandage on my wrist.

“Jesus, Rowen! You stupid sonuvabitch!! What the fuck did you do!!!” he said. I told him everything.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

I can’t remember everywhere we went, but we drove my brother-in-law’s Land Cruiser, and we eventually ended up at the Aber Day Kegger. The ADK was a monster beer bash sponsored by the University of Montana. It was legendary, back in the day. A lots and lots and lots of kegs and a lots of bands and live music. Thousands of people went to the ADK.

My right wrist was bandaged. I was wearing a T-shirt and a long sleeve wool shirt. But it was very warm that day, and I rolled the sleeves of my shirt up to cool down a little. I was alive and the sun was shining. I sat on the mountainside drinking beer and listening to the music. I think I actually felt almost not totally miserable for the first time in a week.

And who I did run into in that crowd of thousands of people?

Rick and Maureen. I think that was the only time I met him. We might have even shook hands. I can’t remember for sure.

“What did you do?” Maureen asked when she saw my bandaged wrist.

“It’s nothing.” I replied. Something like that. Rick stepped away and let us talk. I don’t think he was all that happy to do it, but he did, and that was very nice of him.

I eventually told Maureen a very condensed version of events, but enough for her to know it was no accident. She said she would’ve been devastated if anything had happened to me. And I know I thought, Good! Then you’d know how I feel!

I told her to have fun or something, and walked away. I stayed mostly in that general area, hoping to decrease the odds of us continually running into each other throughout the day.

Dave gave me a little pep talk at the ADK. Maureen wasn’t the only girl on the planet. There were millions of them out there. I’d meet a lots of girls, and all of them would be better than that fuckin’ two-timing, backstabbing bitch. I can’t remember how long Dave and I stayed at the kegger, and I can’t remember anything of what happened after we left. I’m pretty sure I actually slept that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I tried to make some sense out of everything that had happened. I stared at the self-inflicted wounds on my wrist. I remembered seeing Maureen at the ADK. I remembered the music, and Dave’s pep talk.

I decided I would take Dave’s advice and try to move on, and I would try like hell to hate Maureen, and fail miserably at both.

* * * *

I spent the last week of my extended vacation in Missoula howling at the moon and getting drunk with Dave. He did his best to cheer me up by trying to hook me up with girls, and I was such a pathetic mess I mostly talked to them about how much I loved the woman who had broken my heart into a hundred million pieces, like unto the Portland vase.

She was the girl of my dreams, literally.

Before I ever started dating Maureen, I dreamed about her almost every night. And it wasn’t a daydream dream where I imagined us being together. She would come to me in my sleep.

I can’t remember if I dreamed about her while we dated, but I probably did. I spent almost every night with her for two years after we broke up. I would dream of her with decreasing frequency as the years lengthened. I think the last time I dreamt of her was just before we moved to Mexico.

I’m guessing the next time she visits me in a dream she’ll tell me she’ll kill me in my fucking sleep if I ever write another post about her.

Ah, my once beloved, I am so sorry for any pain I’ve ever caused you.

* * * *

Maureen and I would talk several times on the phone that last week. I’m not sure we talked in person. It’s possible…  She listened politely while I cried and whined on her shoulder, like any best friend would. I was such a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby. It embarrasses me to think about it now.

It was really nice of her to do that, and I’m not joking when I say I was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle mess of an human being.

All good things must end, and so must all lousy things. The days and nights of that week flew by relatively quickly. This time I had to return to Oklahoma.

Saturday, May 17, 1975. Maureen came over to see me at my sister’s house before my flight back to Oklahoma. We both cried. And cried. And cried. I think I used up two decades worth of tears in two hours. I told her I would love her until the day after I died. She told me she would probably always love me too. She may have taken me to the airport. That’s also possible, but again, my memory fails me.

That was the last time I saw Maureen.

I’ve been back to Missoula several times since then. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope I’d run into her somewhere in town. Alas, it was not to be.

I would eventually stop crying and start dating again. I would break up with some of the girls I dated after Maureen. Some of them broke up with me. Either I grew tired of them, or they were tired of me, but there was no ambiguity about saying goodbye on anyone’s part.

That was perhaps the oddest thing about our breakup. We didn’t break up because we no longer loved or cared for one another, or one of us no longer felt that way. We broke up despite the fact that we were both still in love with each other.

It would take me at least five years to realize Maureen and I had actually broken up, and that’s why every relationship I was in during that timeframe failed.

It would probably take me another five years to realize that Maureen and I would never get back together again. And if my high school sweetheart didn’t think I was a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby, she probably will if she reads this.

I carried that torch for a long time.

Time heals all emotional wounds, right? Well, only if you make a choice that you want to be healed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed I am somewhat of an hopeless romantic. I have stated that I still have affectionate feelings for some of the darling women I dated before I got married.

I even have affectionate feelings for one woman I never actually dated.

Somewhere deep inside me, I still love Maureen, too.

I haven’t seen my former sweetheart in over four decades. Do I love her now like I loved her then? No, I don’t. Neither of us are nineteen anymore, thank God. We’ve traveled thousands of miles on different paths. She has a family, and children, and grandchildren. I doubt very much she’d trade any of that for what we once shared.

I’ve been married to my lovely supermodel wife for almost three decades. We have a great life together, and I wouldn’t change a thing that got us to the very satisfied and comfortable place we are now. We are, and always will be, very much in love. I cannot imagine my life without her.

There’s no going back to that place again, and it would be foolish to think it could ever be recreated. The flames of Love are like unto snowflakes, each unique and different. And once a flame goes out, it’s extinguished forever.

And then there’s this: there’s no guarantee that if we had decided to stay together back then, we’d still be together now. Given the path of self-destructive behavior I was walking back then, I probably would’ve destroyed her life as well as mine, and then I really would’ve had to end my life.

Plus, she would most likely be the mother of my children, and there’s no telling what sort of price the world would have to pay for that. I was cursed by my own mother, and even the thought of Mark Junior running rampant on this planet sends chills down my spine.

Everything happens for a reason.

Only God sees everything perfectly from beginning to end, if even He does. But the reason for this chapter of my life hasn’t been all that important to me for quite some time. Now that I’ve purged this chapter, maybe I can file it away in my Do Not Open Again Ever File.

My Muse and I can both move on. And I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

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.

Andy

Before I get started, a couple of things.

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

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

He killed himself when he was twelve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was blood.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can show Bill where the goats live.

* * * *

Okay. Where was I?

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

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

So. Where was I?

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

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

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

She also had a story to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

See? Not a prophet.

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

“I’m really sorry.” she said.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. They could.

And, yes, they would.

Saving Captain Covington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Drive!” she ordered. I drove.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I declined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bipolar Disorder is a terrible disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s better!” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“I…I don’t understand, Mr Rowen.”

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

“But your wife is still very sick.”

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

“Now, Mr Rowen, that’s–”

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, they can get a lots worse.

This Song Has No Title

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

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

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

¡Feliz año nuevo!

* * * *

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

“Honey! The toilet is overflowing!!”

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

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

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

I casually mentioned my pedophile uncle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

Hey! How’s it going? My name’s Ron.

Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.

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

Um, yeah…

Really? How old were you?

Um, six or seven, I think.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t have a turtle.

Then I clearly need to get one.

Where are you going?

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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