Social Misfit

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings from Mexico!

I wish it felt more Christmassy this year. As I am constantly reminded by every Hallmark Christmas movie, this is a time of snow, family, and love. That’s one of the downsides of living in a temperate climate. Thousands of miles away from everyone in your family. In a foreign country.

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To be honest, I’m not sure anyone in my family would visit me even if we lived across the street from each other. That’s probably my fault. I burned a lots of bridges back when I was drunk all the time.

Some fault also has to be allocated to my siblings. We’re all fairly fucked up, and almost everyone in my family has decided it’s way easier to just keep drinking than it is to try to fix all of those broken personalities and relationships.

That’s just one of the many upsides to living in a temperate climate, thousands of miles away from everyone in your family, in a foreign country.

* * * *

Speaking of burning bridges, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be drunk to do that. For those of you who placed bets on how long it would take for my Twitter account to be permanently disabled, if you picked December 4, 2019, you win.

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Even I thought it would take me longer than that.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Twitter. It was the domain of mystic poets and nude selfies. I fucking hate poetry and no one wants to see me naked. Including me. Twitter is the social media equivalent of a moral wasteland. I never understood the language of the Twitter, which no doubt makes me the Ultimate Twit.

So? What did you do to piss off the Twitter police, dude?

According to the Twitter police, I was guilty of engaging in a pattern of hate themed speech, which was a repeated violation of the community standards that Twitter sometimes takes seriously.

In the interest of transparency, I am totally guilty of everything Twitter accused me of doing. But there was another person who consistently violated Twitter’s community standards, and he did so without any fear of repercussions.

Donald Trump consistently lied about his accomplishments, blamed his political opponents for his failings, and fired off endless insults, taunts, and disparaging names at anyone that didn’t kiss his ass.

I pointed out Mr. Trump’s pattern of inflammatory fabrication to the Twitter police more than once. They had a response. If I didn’t like the things that Mr. Trump wrote, I should simply stop reading them.

That was their official stance on the matter.

That was something I couldn’t do, so I called out The Donald every time he bragged about a success, or projected his shortcomings off onto others, or insulted Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, or any of his Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar. I could live with that if not for one, small, tiny, insignificant detail. He’s also the President of the United States. Because of his status, I find his actions morally reprehensible, even though I have often stated that I don’t have any morals or ethics.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Unfortunately, and I honestly feel it was an unfortunate course of action on my part, I tended to end the majority of my rebuttals to Mr. Trump with …you lying cocksucker! Or, …you motherfucking piece of shit!!

My Twitter account was temporarily suspended three or four times for saying bad things about the 45th President of the United States.

I was a psych nurse for thirty years. The one thing I hated more than anything was when someone started name-calling. I’m sure that can directly be tied to all of times I had to endure it when I was a child. That, and spitting. I really hated being spit on.

In a nutshell, because it was something I wouldn’t want to happen to me, I should never have engaged in that sort of behavior toward someone else. Even a fucking douchebag like Donald Trump.

Christians call it The Golden Rule. Everyone else calls it not being an asshole.

At some time during the day of December 3rd, I called Melania Trump a whore. And a mindless cunt. There’s probably not any evidence supporting my claim that The Donald ever literally sucked any cocks or had sex with his mother. And for that, my Twitter account was temporarily suspended several times.

However, there is a veritable ocean of evidence that indicates Melania Trump is both a whore, and a mindless cunt. And because those accusations were true, Twitter shut down my account forever the very next day.

I’m okay with that. I was engaging in behavior that I would never condone in another. Besides, getting into a Twitter war with The Donald isn’t just stupid, it’s a fruitless cause, and I already have one of those.

It’s called Golf…

* * * *

I’ve been a social misfit almost all of my life. I may still be one, but there’s one major difference between the old guy me and the young kid me. I no longer care what other people think of me.

Being an outsider looking in was easy for me when I was a kid. I was almost always the new kid in town. We moved a lots when I was in grade school. Minnesota, at least twice. Michigan. South Dakota. Arkansas. North Dakota, twice. California, twice. Missouri. And finally, Montana.

Eleven different school districts to complete eight years of school. I was either so far ahead of my classmates that they thought I was some kind of genius, or so far behind them that everyone thought I was a total moron.

Moving from one place to another in the Midwest was bad enough, but moving from the North to the South was absolute hell. Not only are you the New Kid in Town, you’re a Damn Yankee to boot. And back then, the only thing white southern kids hated more than damn Yankees was niggers.

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to say that anymore. But as I write this, it’s 1963. I was in the second grade when we moved to Little Rock. I was picked on so much in Arkansas that I shit my pants in school. Twice.

I vividly remember both of those incidents. What I don’t remember is why it didn’t happen more often. It’s possible that my heartless tormentors started feeling sorry for me, but it’s far more likely that they thought they might end up covered in shit, too.

Third grade, we were living in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was the only time I was considered the most popular kid in my class. And the only reason I know this is because my teacher whispered it into my ear one day.

I wasn’t the most popular kid in my class in Michigan. Or South Dakota. Or at either of the schools I attended in California. And I wasn’t even close to the most popular kid in my class when we moved back to Grand Forks because we lived in a different school district on the other side of town. 

1967. I was in seventh grade. That was the worst year of my grade school career. I started out the school year in Minnesota, spent something like six months in Missouri, then finished up the year in Montana.

Missouri might have been even worse than Arkansas when it came to being bullied because I was the New Kid/Damn Yankee in town, but that was one of the school districts where I was so far ahead of my classmates that even my teachers were in awe of me.

* * * *

There were no anti-bullying initiatives way back in the Middle Ages when I was a kid. As I reflect on this period of abject humiliation of my life, it’s a good thing my dad didn’t own any handguns.

I doubt that I ever would’ve been able to shoot anyone, but I’m pretty sure I thought about it. When I was a kid, there were probably a dozen different Western TV shows. Bonanza. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. Conflict resolution was usually handled with a six-shooter.

But it’s far more likely that I wouldn’t have been able to hit the broad side of a barn even if I had access to a handgun. I got my first pair of glasses when I was in the third grade because I was essentially blind, but I refused to wear them because it was just another thing the other kids could use to make fun of me. I didn’t want to give them any extra ammunition.

That changed when I started the eighth grade. My new teacher introduced me to my latest set of new classmates. And then she said this, And class, please remind Mark to wear his glasses. His mother told me he doesn’t like to wear them, but he really needs to wear them… 

It was something like that. I stopped listening when I started playing for God to quit fucking around and kill me to death for real this time.

* * * *

It was probably around the time that we were living in Missouri that I started utilizing a few defense mechanisms that would keep me and all of the people around me alive.

The first is called a reaction formation. It’s a complicated Freudian concept. In essence, negative emotions or impulses which are mastered by substituting the opposite emotion or impulse. The substitute reaction is usually overly exaggerated.  I’m not an expert in psychoanalysis, so I’m not sure if this is commonly used or not. I do know this: my substitute reactions are not overly exaggerated, and I’m pretty sure that’s not very common.

Another is mirroring, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. One person unconsciously imitates the gestures, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Almost everybody uses this, especially with family and close friends.

And the third is humor. People are less likely to want to punch you if you can make them laugh.

* * * *

When I was a freshman in high school, I achieved the dual distinctions of being both a genius and a moron in just a matter of months. The first semester of the year, I was in the Honor’s Math class where I struggled to get D’s. My math teacher actually announced to my entire class I had no business being in his class, and told me to get out of his classroom.

I didn’t need a second invitation. I picked up my books, walked out the door, and kept on walking until I got home, five miles later. I’ve told this story to my lovely supermodel wife. She said I must’ve felt humiliated. I suppose I did, but what I mostly remember is feeling relieved.

I was called into the Principal’s office the next day. I fully expected to be suspended or expelled. Instead, I received an apology and I was placed in a different math class. The second semester was an entirely different story. I was a straight A student in the Math for Morons class.

I’ve tried not to make a big deal out what happened to me on that day so long ago when Father Weiss told me to get out of his classroom. I’ve tried, but I still hate math.

* * * *

I didn’t really have a best friend until my freshman year of high school. That’s when I met Dave Nelson. We’re still buds. I didn’t have a girlfriend until my senior year. That’s when I fell in love with Maureen Browne. I think we’re still friends.

She asked me if I was going to attend our fifty year class reunion in 2024. I told her I was thinking about it, but I was terrified of seeing her face to face again. She said I should be. And then she said she was joking.

I told her I wasn’t. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Dave and Maureen both gave the best gifts I have ever received from anyone. Acceptance. Friendship. Love. They were the first people outside of my family that showed me there was also beauty in the world.

* * * *

The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That might be true, but from my point of view at this precise moment, examining your life doesn’t increase its value by any appreciable amount.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is supposed to be. No doubt there’s an Aesopian moral of the story that’s supposed to enlighten me. There’s only one small, tiny, insignificant problem.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t write it.

My writing process isn’t this organized. Nor is it usually this specific. My Muses apparently have a much better idea of what they’re doing than I ever will.

I hope they’re happy. Maybe they’ll take some time off for the holidays. My lovely supermodel wife and I are going to Mexico City. I’d like to be able to to enjoy it.

But you have any ideas for the moral of the story, leave me a comment.

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.

Till We Get the Healing Done

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All. Of. It. And it wasn’t cheap.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

That, was the last straw for me.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Way Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let’s not forget Muffy’s pants.

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

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

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

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

Dave gave me three valuable rules for our trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piece of cake.

And then Dave said something that caught me by surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

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

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

A very big one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it started to rain.

* * * *

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

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

That is not me. That’s Lea.

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

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

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

There are a couple of small details.

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

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

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

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

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

It might make a difference. You never know…

Andy

Before I get started, a couple of things.

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

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

He killed himself when he was twelve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was blood.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can show Bill where the goats live.

* * * *

Okay. Where was I?

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

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

So. Where was I?

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

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

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

She also had a story to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

See? Not a prophet.

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

“I’m really sorry.” she said.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. They could.

And, yes, they would.

Saving Captain Covington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Drive!” she ordered. I drove.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I declined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bipolar Disorder is a terrible disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s better!” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“I…I don’t understand, Mr Rowen.”

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

“But your wife is still very sick.”

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

“Now, Mr Rowen, that’s–”

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, they can get a lots worse.

A New Year

2016 was a strange year, for a multitude of reasons. Celebrity deaths by the dozens. And somehow, none of them were Kardashians. How the hell did that happen? Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States. How the…

I could go on, but…why?

While I can’t predict much of what’s going to happen next year, I’m absolutely sure more famous people will die in 2017. But it doesn’t take any special talent in prediction to be able to make a statement as bold as that.

None of us are getting out of this game alive.

2016 was an especially strange year for me and my lovely supermodel wife. At the beginning of the year, we were planning on remaining in the workforce for five more years, give or take. Then Lea’s employer decided to go through a major reorganization, and she was reorganized out of her job.

Our oldest daughter, the beautiful and talented Gwendolyn, is a Certified Financial Planner. I had given her the keys to my 401K many years ago, and also gave her a little motivational speech.

“If you make a lots of money for me, I won’t move in with you.” 

It would appear that Gwendolyn was very motivated by my speech, and she did quite well managing our retirement plans. When Lea found out she was going to be reorganized out of her job, the first person she called was her daughter/financial planner. Gwen crunched the numbers, and suggested we retire.

It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Fast forward seven months, and we’re living in Mexico. If you had asked me five years ago where I’d be today, this place wouldn’t have even been on the list. Now, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

I’m clearly not a psychic. As my wife is fond of reminding me, I can’t read your mind! I’m not sure I can either. Hell, I don’t know what I’m thinking half of the time.

This is perhaps one of the reasons I have not yet become a prophet. My track record for predictions hasn’t been all that impressive, not that I’ve predicted a lots of things.

In fact, I can think of only one thing. I predicted the Green Bay Packers would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl five years ago.

I was walking to my car after work on Super Bowl Sunday in 2011, when a voice in my head informed me the Packers would win. And I know that probably sounds a little weird, but I have no other term to describe it. I am not a Packer fan. I had not given any prior thought to the outcome of the game. And out of the blue, The Packers will win the game today.

My first response was, Seriously? Of all the things you could tell me, this is the best you could do? Then I called my buddy, Paul Anderson, because he’s a huge Packer fan, and told him his team would win. If you don’t believe me, you can ask him. Here’s his cellphone number: (715) 222-8120.

According to the Bible, it’s quite easy to determine if a prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet. If the event a prophet predicted happens, that’s a true prophet. If not…

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

That said, I’m not sure I qualify as a prophet of any significance. I’m sure there were a lots of people that predicted the Packers would win that game. But I’ll let you know if that voice in my head ever has anything else to say.

* * * *

The Lakeside area we retired to is pretty much heaven on earth. In fact, if I hadn’t had a spinal meltdown, I might think I had died and went to Heaven. Except I don’t believe we go to Heaven after we die.

So it’s probably a good thing I fucked up my back. I’m not sure I’d be able to reconcile my reality with my expectations.

Lea and I have been adjusting to our new lives. We’ve met a lots of really nice people that retired down here, so we decided to invite a few of them over tomorrow. We’re hosting a New Year’s party that my second retirement wife, Phyllis Gholson, is planning.

And yes, you read that correctly. Not only did I collect an harem of work wives back when I was gainfully employed, I’ve started collecting retirement wives now that I’m gainfully unemployed. I have no explanation for this phenomenon. Other than the fact that I’m irresistible to women.

One of my female bosses actually told me that during one of my performance reviews back when I worked at MVAMC.

Or, I’m the gender neutral, nonthreatenng big brother/spouse they never had or lack now.

Phyllis and Lea are best friends. They’re actually quite a bit alike. Their tastes and sensibilities are similar. They’re both very logical and analytical. So now I have two women telling me I can’t do something.

And if not for a series of events that revolved around Phyllis, we wouldn’t be here now, or probably ever. Nor would our transition to Mexico have gone anywhere near as smoothly as it has. Phyllis more or less found the house we’re living in for us. She introduced us to her friends, and they’re becoming our friends. As a result, I more or less adopted Phyllis as my second wife, and I’ve started introducing as such.

It’s good for a laugh.

I am a comedian at heart. I often thought of going to a comedy club and taking the stage, but I never got around to it when I lived in the States. There’s no such thing as a comedy club in the Lakeside area, so the likelihood of it happening has greatly decreased. Besides, my Spanish isn’t all that muy bien yet.

And everything is funnier in Spanish for some reason…

* * * *

May 2017 be kind to you, especially if you read my blog. I sometimes wonder if anyone reads what I write. I’ve received a few comments about some of my posts. One guy told me I didn’t have enough pictures, and my stories had, you know, too many words.

I replied that I wasn’t trying to entertain, you know, fifth graders. I haven’t heard back from him.

I hope the next year will be a good year, though I’m sure it will have its share of challenges, trials and sorrows.  They all do, don’t they? And if the worst befalls you, may you have the strength and support you need to see you through.

I hope 2017 will bring the fulfillment of some of your dreams, but not all of them. A life without dreams isn’t much of a life.

I hope you will have all the wealth you need next year. And that your health isn’t a major issue. Never take good health for granted. It is a gift beyond measure.

Find peace and beauty in the simple things, and you will find an endless supply of both. You will be happier and more content than you could believe possible.

Don’t forget to thank God for your blessings, and remember this: many blessings initially look like a crisis. Don’t panic. Take a couple deep breaths. Most of the things I thought were castastrophic when they happened turned out to be no big deal a few months later.

Never be afraid to learn something new, like, speaking Spanish.

You may unexpectedly find yourself in Mexico someday, too.

Feliz año nuevo, one and all.

The Island of Misfit Toys

I’ve been doing some musing about Christmas lately. Back when I was a nurse, I worked almost every Christmas. In fact, this is only the third Christmas Lea and I have spent together without me working.

We still celebrated the holiday, but my schedule would almost always dictate the timing of anything we did.

I spent twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine Christmases hanging out with people in the hospital who had no place better to be, mostly because they were caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom, generally because of the choices they made. Like Jacob Marley, they were busy making the chains that bound them.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’m watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this Christmas morning. My favorite part of the show is The Island of Misfit Toys. It was where I worked. I thought it was an appropriate monicker, and certainly nicer than some of the other names given to psych units.

I didn’t look at myself as a misfit, even though I am perhaps the King of the Misfits. I’ve had trouble finding my place in the world most of my life. Feeling comfortable in my own skin was something I had never been able to do, until recently, and even that has been difficult of late given the problems I’ve had with my back and neck.

And I like Yukon Cornelius, too. It’s hard not to like him.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have both been doing a lots of thinking about Christmases past this year. It’s our first Christmas in Mexico, the first Christmas of our retired lives. If we were isolated from our families when we lived in Arizona, well, this is taking that to a whole ‘nother level. If Christmas is meant to be spent with the people you love, then this Christmas has been bittersweet for both of us.

My family mostly lives in Minnesota. Both of our girls are up in the Great White North right now, spending Christmas with their Other Dad. Wait. Maybe that’s me. He’s their Real Dad. Either way, they’re about three thousand miles away.

And that’s probably been the toughest part of Christmas for us this year. I scroll through my Facebook page, and see all my friends’ posts with the tree and presents and family. And I am jealous.

You never miss something until its gone. I am relearning the truth of those words this year. And there are so many things, and so many people, that I am missing a lots this year.

When you’re young, you lack the capacity to see just how stupid you are. I took so many things for granted. When you’re young, you think nothing is ever going to change, and then life changes everything.

My mother died in 2007. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She decorated her house with enough lights and garland and trinkets to make Santa feel shamed. I used to look at spending the Christmas holiday with my parents as one of those odious and contemptible things I had to do. Like working for a living, and paying taxes.

I quit drinking the year before my mom died. I remember that first trip to my parents’ house to tell them. My dad offered me a beer when I walked in the house. I can still see the stunned look on his face when I told him I was an alcoholic, and I had quit drinking. Forever.

“I didn’t know you had a drinking problem!” he said.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table next to my dad. She turned her eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Thank God!” She later told me it was the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten her.

Merry Christmas, Mom. It’s been ten years now. Sorry it took me so long to get my head out of my ass, and I’m really sorry for the shit I put you through.

* * * *

The Christmas holiday is celebrated very differently in Mexico than it is in the States. American Christmas has become a commercialized celebration of material excess. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. None of these things existed in my youth, and they have become monsters.

American Christmas, sadly seems to have become more about the stuff than the substance. When saying, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays is an issue, there’s a problem.

No one camps out in front of the Walmart down here. There’s no such thing as Black Friday in the Lakeside area. Mexican Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Each neighborhood has a little posada. Two children are dressed up like Joseph and Mary, and they might be riding a burro. They go from house to house looking for a place to spend the night, and they’re turned away.

One house in the neighborhood is preselected as the party house. They welcome the weary travelers in, and it’s fiesta time! The parties last all night. There’s a lots of music, food and drink, and bonfires and fireworks.

Honestly, Lea and I wonder how any work ever gets done down here because there are something like seven hundred holidays in Mexico, and there are varying degrees of celebration that correspond with each of them.

But fireworks are seemingly mandatory for all of them.

Mexican fireworks aren’t the same as American fireworks, which are kind of pretty and spectacular. Mexicans are particularly fond of a kind of rocket called a cohetone. It’s essentially an half of stick of dynamite that shoots into the sky and explodes.

Loudly.

These incredibly loud fireworks are fired off almost every day of the year down here for seemingly any and every reason imaginable.

My first week in Mexico made me think I was back in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I have never been in Vietnam. I have kind of a bitch of a case of PTSD, and I am particularly sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. One of my neighbors is very fond of fireworks. I’ve been thinking about becoming an hitman again…

It was a very long night for the Mexican locals. The parties lasted all night. A veritable artillery explosion greeted the rising sun, and now it’s quiet. Christmas Day in Mexico is essentially a day of rest–all the Mexicans in this area have been celebrating their asses off for about the last two months–and eating leftovers. Small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually rather sweet and beautiful.

* * * *

As much as I miss my family, and especially my girls, I don’t want to give the impression Lea and I are sitting around the house contemplating suicide. Because we’re not.

We’ve made a few friends down here, thanks to Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis are best friends, and we retired in Ajijic because of her. I tell everyone we moved here to become Phyllistines, and it seems to be the truth.

Phyllis has been here several years. Actually, there’s a whole lots of Americans and Canadians living down here, and we’re getting to know some of them.

We went to Jim and Veronica’s house last night. They have an absolutely gorgeous home that should be declared a national treasure and an historical work of art. I almost feel like making the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when I’m at their place.

They actually have an antique confessional in their living room. I thought about going in it once, but I haven’t been to confession in over forty years. I’m going to be in there for a long time. And it might burst into flames…

Today, we’re going to Casa del Castleman, the home of Al and Jane. They’re one of the couples we’ve met as Phyllistines. Jane and Lea seem to be cut from the same cloth, so Jane is an easy person for me to like.

Al seems to be kind of a character, so I’m sure I’ll like him a lots once we get to know each other better. Last night, Al probably had the quote of the evening.

“Grunge rock is the greatest music of all time.”

What do you expect? We’re old. And we mostly hate young people. I think the only grunge rock song I like is Come as You Are by Nivana.

I invited him to come over and listen to the Icelandic rap music my crazy neighbor plays. Al didn’t know that was a musical genre either.

“I think rap music is a bunch of people bitching about stuff.” Al said.

“Yeah, but when they do it in Icelandic, you’re not sure what they’re bitching about.” But it sounds kind of cool.

Well, it’s about time to go to today’s get-together. And I’ve been working on keeping my blogs short since I finished my Dallas series. More than anything else, I attribute that series to messing up my spine.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

XOXO,

Mark

Burnin’ Down the House

My family moved a lots when I was a kid. My dad worked for the Aerospace Program, and then for the ICBM Defense Program. He was the project manager in charge of building the silos that housed the missiles America had aimed at the USSR.

It takes about two years to build a silo, so that was the longest period of time we lived in one place. I think the shortest was around eight months.

By the time I started high school, I had lived in eight different states: Minnesota, Michigan, South Dakota and Arkansas. North Dakota, California, Missouri and Montana. I’m gonna take a wild guess and estimate I had lived in about sixteen different houses. We lived in multiple locations in some of those states. My parents were very good at moving.

Worst Case Scenario: When I was in the seventh grade, I started the school year in Minnesota, completed most of the year in Missouri, and finished the year in Montana.

Yeah, that was a lots of fun.

Just before the start of my senior year in high school, my family moved back to Minnesota. I would not accompany them. My sister, Colleen, graciously offered to let me live with her and her husband so I could complete my high school education in Montana.

My parents bought a beautiful home set on the banks of the Mississippi River outside of Little Falls, MN. It’s the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, perhaps the most famous aviator of the 20th Century.

I was never a big fan of Little Falls. I have no evidence to support this, but I don’t think Charles Lindbergh cared much for Little Falls either. After all, he flew all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to get out of town. And he did it when no one else had ever succeeded in the attempt.

Truly the act of a desperate man.

I would rejoin my family after I was discharged from the Army. I’d be willing to bet I was a fairly desperate man myself. I was running from a horde of demons, but there’s a funny thing about demons.

You can’t run from them. They live inside of you. Wherever you go, they go.

Fuckin’ demons!

Regardless of my feelings about Little Falls, I loved my parents house. It is my favorite house of all the places we lived. The only other place that comes close is our house in Missoula, MT. That was a cool place too.

I called the Little Falls house The Ranch. My brother, Bob, and I raised homing pigeons there, and Bob had a herd of chickens. And some pheasants. We had a lots of good times at The Ranch. My family lived in that house longer than we lived anywhere else.

It was nice to stay in one place for awhile. I honestly can’t remember how many times I moved in and out of that house. Despite the sound advice I received from Jerry and Shorty in Dallas, it would take me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and find myself.

I know I moved out of The Ranch for good when I started nursing school. I would meet Lea after I had been working as a nurse for about a year, and became an home owner when I married her. And because I was suddenly making more money in one month than I had in half a year at most of my previous dead end jobs, I bought myself a present.

A little red sportscar. A Toyota MR2.

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It was my first car that wasn’t a piece of shit. I loved that car like I have never loved an automobile before, or since.

Because it was a sportscar, it wasn’t meant to be driven in a Minnesota winter. So I asked my parents if I could store it in their garage until Spring. They had a big garage, and I did not. I actually owned three cars at that point in my life. In terms of automobiles, I had arrived.

And then came the fateful morning in February when I received a call from my sister, Julie. It was Zero Dark Thirty in the morning. I may have just completed a stretch of nights, and I had the day off.

“I hope you had insurance on your car.” Julie’s voice said into my ear. I was half asleep when the phone rang, but I woke up in a hurry when I heard that.

“Yeah, good morning to you too, Sis. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Mom and dad’s house burned down this morning. They barely escaped with their lives, and they lost everything. Not that you care!”

There’s a reason I would feel so comfortable around crazy people when I was a nurse…

“Julie, I just woke up, so give me a break.” I laughed, and sat up in bed. “Okay, tell me what happened.”

As I struggled to clear the cobwebs out of my head, Julie related what she knew. The fire started in the garage. A couple of the neighbors saw the flames, and ran into the house, getting my parents out safely. They escaped with whatever clothes they were able to grab, and my dad was able to get his car out of the garage just before the flames spread to the house.

My baby car was consumed by the flames, and was a total loss.

* * * *

I called my brother, Tom. He was living in Monticello. It was on my route to Little Falls from Minneapolis, and I would pick him up on my way.

“I think I might have burned the house down.” he told me when I picked him up.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I put a heat lamp in the dog house this weekend, for Tabitha.”

Tabitha was the family dog. She was a black cocker spaniel, and she was about two hundred years old. Her dog house was in the garage, and my own bro thought he would do something nice for the dog because she was old, and it was winter. He put a heat lamp in the dog house to keep Tabitha warm at night.

“Maybe the lamp fell off the nail, and landed in the blankets. That would start a fire, right?”

Yes. Yes, it would. And the fire had started in the garage. Tabitha’s dog house was right next to where I had parked my car to keep it safe during the winter.

I seriously thought about pulling over on the highway and killing my own bro to death.

* * * *

I’m not sure if shock adequately described my feelings when I pulled into the driveway and saw what remained of my parents house. There were no fire hydrants anywhere near their house. The fire department went through the water in their tanker quickly, and there wasn’t much they could do to extinguish the flames after that. They had no way to refill their tanker. The fire fighters basically stood around and watched our house burn. When it burned itself out, they left.

The house, and almost everything in it, was a complete loss. And sitting in the burned out frame of the garage, was the scorched remains of my little red sportscar.

The two material things I had loved most were both gone forever.

* * * *

My parents had gone into town. One of their friends had welcomed them into their home so they could shower, and made them breakfast.

Tom and I cautiously entered the shell of our former home and looked around. The smell of smoke hung heavily in the air. The interior was dark, black and burnt. Most of the windows were gone. There had been a huge picture window that looked out toward the river. Now, it was just a massive hole in what remained of the wall. There was an equally huge hole in the living room floor where the couch had been. It had burned so hot the floor under it collapsed, and it ended up in the basement.

The basement was filled with about five feet of water. Various debris and flotsam and jetsam floated in the dark water. My bedroom had been in the basement, but given its state, exploring was out of the question. It was oddly bright in the basement. The huge hole in the ceiling of the basement/floor of the living room let a lots of light in.

My parents had done at least two major remodeling projects on their house, and the place had been gorgeous. Now it was garbage, damaged beyond any hope of repair.

The guys that had gotten my parents out of the house pulled in to the driveway. Their faces wore the same look of disbelief that my brother and I had on our faces. They filled in their part of the story.

They worked together in an office kind of kitty corner across the road from my parents’ house. As they were getting ready to start their day, they saw Tabitha shivering outside the door of their office.

“What’s Tabitha doing here?” one of them wondered. She was a very social dog, and all our neighbors knew her, but she didn’t usually visit that early in the morning. They looked over toward The Ranch, saw the garage on fire, and ran into the house to save my parents.

I shook their hands, and very sincerely thanked them. So did Tom. And we thanked Tabitha, too.

Then I went to say goodbye to my baby car.

“Sorry about your car, man.” Tom said.

“It’s just a car. It can be replaced.” I replied. And that’s when I remembered I still owed something like eight grand on it. But luckily, it was insured. And that was a very good thing.

* * * *

My parents and a handful of my siblings arrived. That particular look of disbelief was very popular that day. We carefully looked around what remained of our house. Somewhat amazingly, not everything was completely destroyed by the fire.

Some glassware and kitchenware survived. A box of family photos and a plush toy Santa Christmas decoration made it through the fire by hiding in a small closet in the hallway just outside the master bedroom.

The photos, and Santa, would smell like smoke for years to follow.

My mom was very quiet as she carefully explored what was left of her life. My dad, my siblings and I tried to keep up some sort of encouraging chatter, but we weren’t very successful. I mean, how do you pick up the pieces when there’s nothing to pick up?

And then my mom spoke.

“You know, I think I got rid of the mice this time.”

And that’s when we all knew everything was going to be all right.

* * * *

Life goes on. It always does, no matter what else happens. Our old house would be totally demolished. The new house my parents built was nicer than the old house would ever be, despite all the renovations and remodeling they had done. And the new furnishings were a major upgrade from the furniture we had grown up with.

But it wasn’t the same. I never formed an emotional attachment to that house, and when my parents decided to sell it and move into town, it was no great loss to me or anyone else in my family.

My insurance company mostly covered what I owed on my car. I think I had to come up with about eight hundred dollars to pay the bank.

My lovely supermodel wife would actually buy me another MR2 to replace my little red sportscar. My second MR2 was black, and a newer model than my first MR2. But just like the replacement house, my replacement car was nice, but it wasn’t the same. When I decided to sell it, I was done with sportscars for good.

In an odd twist of fate, my wife would fall in love with them, and all of the cars she bought after that would become increasingly sportier and fastier. Her last car was a Nissan 370 Z that could probably go 180 mph. I know for a fact it went 140 mph.

Lea loves to drive fast.

What’s in a Name?

When my youngest daughter, Gail, was nineteen years old, she decided she wanted to change her name to Abigail. I’m not sure why she wanted to do it, but she had given it a lots of thought, and it was important to her.

My lovely supermodel wife wasn’t exactly pleased with her daughter’s decision. She had also given a lots of thought to the name she had christened her youngest daughter with, and she didn’t like the idea of this whole name change thing. In fact, Lea took four days to find the perfect name for her second daughter. Lea and Steve had planned on naming her Sara, but…

“She doesn’t look like a Sara…” Lea said. They went through a lots of names before they settled on Gail. And what sold Lea on the name was one simple thing. “Yes, it’s perfect! She looks like a Gail.”

And she thinks I’m crazy…

“At least she’s not changing her name to Unicorn.” I said. “Or Butterfly. Or Queen Elizabeth III. Or Zeke. It could be so much worse.”

“I still don’t have to like it.” was Lea’s response.

Regardless of what anyone thought, Gail had made up her mind. She filed all the appropriate documentation, and made an appointment for Name Change Court. In order to legally change her name, she needed two witnesses to testify on her behalf. She chose Lea and I to represent her. Despite her feelings, Lea agreed to do this for her daughter.

* * * *

Changing your name is a relatively simple process in Minnesota. You have to be at least eighteen years of age, a resident of the State of Minnesota for at least six months, and your application has to be filed in the county in which you reside. You have to appear in front of a judge, answer a few questions, pay the court fees, and you have a new name.

I loved Name Change Court. The referee hearing Gail’s application was a friendly looking guy that reminded me of Fred Rogers from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. I imagined he was wearing a sweater under his robe.

There were several other petitioners in court that day. All of them were from Africa. We would hear all of their petitions before Gail took the stand to become Abigail. One attorney represented all of the guys from Africa. Gail didn’t have an attorney.

“Do you need an attorney?” I asked Gail, like I had a lawyer in my back pocket, or something.

“Nope. I’m good.”

Each petitioners’ case was presented separately. A petitioner was sworn in, and took the stand, then endured a grueling interrogation by Mr Rogers.

“Please state your name for the court.”

“My name is Inigo Montoya.” the first petitioner said.

“Okay.” Mr Rogers said, smiling, and checked off a box on the paperwork in front of him.

“According to the visa you entered the country with Mr Montoya, your name is Abdallah Akoya.”

“Yes. Abdallah Akoya was my cousin. He applied for the visa to come to this country.”

“Okay.” another box was checked off. “And how did you end up with your cousin’s visa?”

“He was eaten by a lion.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “Are you applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime?” Mr Rogers asked in his singsong voice. He was freaking brutal. No wonder these guys had hired an attorney.

“No. I am an honest man.” Inigo replied. Mr Rogers smiled, and checked off another box.

“Have you ever had sex with a goat?”

“No! I have never had sex with a goat!” Inigo Montoya indignantly replied. He had not been expecting that question. Mr Rogers kept on smiling, and checked off another box.

“Did you bring any witnesses who can verify the truth of your testimony?”

“I am representing Mr Montoya, and I have filed all of the appropriate documentation with the court.” the attorney replied.

“Okay!” Mr Rogers said, and that was it. Inigo Montoya had survived his grueling interrogation, and could become Abdallah Akoya.

I can’t remember how many guys from Africa endured their grueling interrogations under the benignly smiling gaze of Mr Rogers, or how many cousins had been eaten by lions, but all of them would take the stand before Gail did. And when she did, she was ready.

“My name is Gail Marjorie Markes. I want to change my name to Abigail Marjorie Markes-Covington. I’m not applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime. And I’ve never had sex with a goat.” She looked at me, and smiled a contented smile. I was so proud of her!

“Okay!” Mr Rogers smiled, and took a moment to check off all the boxes on Gail’s paperwork. “Did you bring any witnesses to testify on your behalf?”

“Yes. I brought my parents.” soon-to-be Abigail replied, and pointed to us.

“Would you please rise, and state your names?”

“I’m Lea Covington Rowen. I’m Gail’s mother, and I can vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “And you?”

“I’m Mark Edward Rowen. I’m Gail’s stepfather, and I can also vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box.

“And, your Honor,”

“Yes?” Mr Rogers smiled, and looked up from his paperwork.

“I’ve never had sex with a goat, either.”

“Okay!”

* * * *

And that was it. Gail became Abigail. And then she became Abi. And then she got married, and ended up with a new name, again.

I’ve thought about changing my name, but I’ve been putting it off for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t become a prophet yet, and I think I’d be more believable as a prophet if I had a name that sounded more, I don’t know, prophetic.

And two, the name I’ve been kicking around has already been taken by a prophet.

Elijah.

So? The guy’s been dead been dead for three thousand years!

Not so. Elijah is possibly the only man that ever lived that didn’t got dead. He was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire. He may return again someday, and how would he feel meeting another prophet who had taken his name?

Elijah is described as being a big, hairy guy. He could probably kick my ass with two hairy fingers, so, I’ve been waiting.

The day may come when my foolish dream is realized. I certainly hope so, even if the life of a prophet is one of scorn and suffering…

My lovely supermodel wife has gotten used to my delusion. And if she hasn’t, she’s at least become less vocal in her opposition. And I, I have become less convinced it will ever become a reality.

Why do you want to be a prophet, Mark?

That’s a fair question, but the answer…

That’s another story.

All My Darling Daughters

I know I said I was going to take some time off from writing. You know, get out of the house, go on a Mexican road trip. And then I screwed up my back. I can hardly make it to the kitchen to see if there’s anything in the refrigerator. Sitting in the car for a lengthy period of time would probably kill me to death, although my car has heated seats, and I love them almost as much as I love my daughters.

For those of you that have been reading my posts, you already know I was cursed by my mom when I was young.

Just wait until you grow up and have kids of your own! They’re going to be just like you!

I was a terrible human being in my youth, and my mother’s words scared me far more than any vague threats of spending an eternity in Hell ever did. For starters, you have to got dead to gain entry into Hell.

Like I was going to care about anything after I ceased living.

But children, children can make your life a living hell, and I knew all about that. After all, I done that to my parents.

So I purposed to not inflict that kind of suffering upon myself, and intentionally did not procreate. No birth control? Oh, look at the time! I forgot to feed my turtle today. Bye!

So, despite all of my precautions, I ended up with four darling daughters: Abigail and Gwendolyn, Nancy and Brea. I adopted the first two when I married my lovely supermodel wife. The last two adopted me when I worked with them at Aurora. And due to the fact that I’m not their biological father, they are four of the most darlingpreshadorbs women you could ever meet.

I also have two adopted work sons, Anthony and Luis. I may write about them someday. We’ll see.

When you marry a woman with children, you don’t marry her for her children. You marry her in spite of them.

I know when I fell in love with Lea. That was pretty much the moment I first saw her. It’s a guy thing. However, it would take a bit longer for me to fall in love with her girls. Abigail was twelve when I married her mom. Gwendolyn was fifteen. And they were Gail and Gwen back then. Gail legally changed her name to Abigail, and I will totally be writing about that someday. Gwen just started calling herself Gwendolyn.

I fell in love with Abigail first. She was a sweet kid, and could easily be described as a people pleaser. She just wanted everyone to be happy, and coming from a broken family only accentuated that need in her. Abigail actually reminds me of me. Sometimes I wonder how I couldn’t be her real dad. She’s more like me than she is either of her parents.

Gwendolyn was distant and aloof. She was kind of a moody little bitch when I first came into her life. She was probably pissed at her mom for divorcing her dad, and I was some guy that she’d have to talk during the holidays. Gwendolyn is so much like her mom it’s spooky. They even eerily resemble each other. Abigail looks like Lea too, but not as much as Gwendolyn does.

Gwen’s attitude would change when she turned eighteen. She would move in with us, and her emotional aloofness and distance toward us would thaw. That was also during the period of time that her mother became so deathly ill and was in and out of the hospital. Gwen and I would end up spending a lots of time together, and that’s when I fell in love with her. She is a big reason why I didn’t completely lose my mind during that period of time.

A lots of kids get into trouble with drugs or alcohol when they’re growing up. I have to give Lea and Steve a lots of credit because that wasn’t a major issue with her girls. They both would act out when they turned fourteen. I missed that stage with Gwen, but I would have my one and only father-daughter chat with Abigail when she hit that magic age.

She shaved the back of her head. I think she said she was bored or something. Her mom got really pissed or something, so I took Abi for a ride so we could be alone and chat.

“You know, when a kid gets into trouble these days, the parents look at each other and say, Where did we go wrong? But I’m from a different generation. When I did something stupid, my parents looked at me and said, What the hell is wrong with you! And if that wasn’t sufficient, they would spank my ass.

“You’re a good kid, and I’m only gonna tell you this once. Knock it off, or I will, I promise you, spank your ass until it glows like Rudolph’s nose. You got that?”

“Yep. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Will you teach me how to drive?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Can we start now?”

And everyone says raising girls is tough…

I have grown to love my girls so much, and they are my girls. They both became awesome adults, and I am so proud of both of them. They have enriched my life, and they both taught me a lots.

Thank you, Abigail. Thank you Gwendolyn. I miss you both, and hope you both have a wonderful and blessed holiday season. I can’t wait for you to come visit. You’ll love it down here. Bring Reese’s minis when you come…

* * * *

Brea was the first of my work daughters. She was a new grad, but you’d never know that watching her in action. It took me years to become a great psych nurse. Brea had me beat in about five minutes. I thought I might be in the presence of greatness. She was an amazing nurse, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with her.

I think I tried telling her how to do something once when we first started working together.

“Don’t get all up in my grille, son.” was her response. And that’s when I fell in love with Brea. That’s also when I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Brea, was gangsta. I knew it was time for me to start thinking about retirement. The torch had been passed to a new generation.

I would quote all kinds of famous dead people to Brea, like John Kennedy.

“Yeah, I don’t know who that is.”

Oh well, she’s still an awesome nurse.

And then I met Nancy. She would become the best partner I ever worked with, for many reasons. Nancy was a also a new grad, but I think she had worked in home healthcare before coming to Aurora. She didn’t have the same presence of greatness that Brea possessed, but she had potential.

Nancy was heavily into CrossFit training when I first met her. In fact, that was her main focus.

“I’m an elite athlete.” she said. “I’m Nancy Carolina Rodriguez!”

“I’m an elite psych nurse.” I replied.”And that’s what you’re going to be when I’m through with you.”

Nancy kind of looks like an Hispanic Smurfette, and that was her first nickname. And that’s how I became Papa Smurf. We gave nicknames to everyone! And that’s when I fell in love with Nancy. People actually begged us for a nickname because if you didn’t have our brand, you weren’t shit.

I had more fun working with Nancy than I had with anyone. We got stuff done, but we laughed all day doing it. The nurses on the nearby units were jealous because they weren’t having anywhere near as much fun as us.

Nancy was a good student. She learned fast. It was Nancy who patented the Canyon Hammer. If you got out of line on our unit, you got the hammer.

But I knew my job was done the day she didn’t break out the hammer. One of her patients started amping up. She wanted pain pills, and she wasn’t going to stop until she got them.

“I’ve already given you everything I can. Oh, how about an Ensure®?”

Problem solved. Time for me to go.

Brea and Nancy have both applied to NP school. They’ll probably rewrite the history books of nursing. Who knows? They really might change the world.

Ah, my darling work daughters, I miss both of you, too. And your Mom. But not enough to come back to work.

There are many ways to measure a man. If I had anything to do with helping my darlingpreshadorbs daughters become the people they’ve become, I am content.

Abigail and Gwendolyn. Brea and Nancy. You are my legacy.

That’s how blessed I am.