Gulliver’s Travels

Unlike Jonathan Swift, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything that could be deemed noteworthy. I don’t think I have the proper amount of seriousness to do something like that on my own. I’m pretty sure I haven’t written anything that could even be called interesting of late. If you’re looking for something noteworthy in this post, let me save you some time. You won’t find it here.

I might write something noteworthy someday, but if I do, I’ll probably be the last person to know it. And it’ll probably be the biggest mistake I’ll ever make. If you don’t believe me, read some of my previous posts. There’s over one hundred of them to choose from…

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that my lovely supermodel wife and I recently took a trip back to the States. It was our first return trip since retiring in Mexico.

If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you can send me a friend request, but my life on social media probably looks a whole lots more interesting than it actually is…

Other than me having a couple of allergic reactions to environmental stimuli in airports and sneezing into my shirt sleeve for about a thousand miles, and the cold that Lea came down with upon our return, our trip was a lots of fun and we had a great time.

We flew back to the States on Volaris Airlines. I don’t have a lots of experience flying on Mexican airlines, but from what I do know, Volaris is kind of the Mexican version of Frontier. The only difference is I don’t hate Volaris, and I loathe Frontier. The people treat you better in Mexico.

It’s a bit more complicated when you fly from Mexico back to the States. There’s the whole Customs thing. Not that it’s a big deal, because it’s not. There’s a show called Border Security on TV, and it makes international travel look like a blind date with the KGB. We’ve never had any problems flying to Mexico or back to the States.

In fact, the Culiacan airport had the most lax security I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Half of the staff looked like they were sleeping, and the other half looked like they just woke up. I probably could have smuggled an entire mule into the US from Culiacan if I could have trained it to sit in a chair and fasten a seat belt. If I owned a handgun, I probably could’ve taken it on the plane if I had told the sleepy looking young woman at the desk that it wasn’t loaded.

The main purpose of our trip was to attend Brea and Charlie’s Endless Wedding Celebration. I suppose it could be like unto Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, except I’ve never seen that movie, so I can’t really say what it’s about, but I’m going to guess that no one gets married in it.

We kind of figured Brea and Charlie would have a traditional wedding, you know, like normal people. I should have known better. I know Brea. I used to work with her. She’s one of my work daughters. My other work daughter was one of her bridesmaids. Brea is anything but normal. She’s extraordinary.

Brea and Charlie were married at Stonebridge Manor. It was without a doubt the most beautiful wedding I will ever attend in my life. Martha Stewart would’ve thought she’d died and gone to Wedding Heaven if she had been there. An elegant reception and brunch followed the beautiful and brief exchanging of vows and rings. In the evening there was an hors d’oeuvre bar and drinks at the Thirsty Lion Gastropub in the very fashionable Scottsdale Fashion Mall.

I ran into a few of the doctors I used to work with. A couple of them have been busy buying Ferraris. I know, right! Where the hell are you going to drive a Ferrari? You’re not taking it to the store when you run out of paper towels!

The next day, which I think was Friday, there was a party bike tour in downtown Scottsdale for the younger people who came to the wedding. If you’re like me and you have no idea what a party bike is, it’s essentially a bar on wheels propelled by any number of people pedaling while they drink at the mobile bar. You can Google it if you need more detailed information about this. On Saturday evening, there was a barbecue for anyone still able to stand at the Scottsdale Rotary Park.

I’ve had nothing but problems trying to figure out which day it is since we flew to Phoenix. Part of it is the change from Daylight Saving Time. I’ve never had this problem before, but that’s when it started. Mexico changes back to Daylight Standard Time one week before the US does. I’m still not sure how this one hour change ended up making me unsure which goddamn day of the week it is, but there you go.

And then Volaris changed the date of our return flight without telling us. If Lea wasn’t as OCD as she is, we wouldn’t have found out about that until we arrived at the airport on the wrong day. We were supposed to fly back on Tuesday, but ended up coming back on Monday. I think.

I thought yesterday was Friday, but now I’m pretty sure today is Friday. Lea tells me it is, and I trust her.

At any rate, there might have been more fun stuff associated with what will probably known as be the Social Event of Season, but that’s as much as I know. Lea and I had a great time, so thank you very much to Brea and Charlie. And we hope you two are as happy together as we are. May your marriage be blessed, and both of you as well.

* * * *

We had multiple reasons for traveling back to the States. As amazing as it is living in Mexico, there are some things that are difficult to obtain down here. A lots of ex-pats return to their country of origin to shop for things they can’t find and presumably can’t live without.

The first thing we did after we arrived in Phoenix and got into our rental car was drive halfway to California and ordered the largest pizza we could at Rosati’s Pizza, which is something I haven’t been able to find in Mexico, then we went to see Nikki and Jay and all of the stuff Lea ordered.

Lea bought a whole lots of things online and had them delivered to Nikki and Jay’s house. There were a whole lots of boxes. And bags. And bags in boxes. Our stuff covered one of Nikki’s kitchen counter tops. And then it filled the entire backseat of our rental car.

Rosati’s is our favorite pizza, it was the main reason we went there, but there was another reason. It was kind of a peace offering. Nikki and Jay are Packer fans. Lea and I are Vikings fans. Our team broke their all-star quarterback, and as a result the Packers are going to mostly suck for the rest of the season.

Pizza. It makes everything more better gooder. Even losing, maybe…

* * * *

If you’ve never been to the Phoenix area, it’s fucking huge. Our Packer fan friends live in the West Valley. The condo we had rented is in Fountain Hills, which is in the East Valley. It takes about an hour to drive from one side of the valley to the other.

The distances you had to drive are one of the things that fade from memory if you don’t do that kind of stuff on a regular basis. Almost any place we need to go in the Lakeside area is a five minute drive from our house. Another thing you forget is how wide and smooth the roads are. Honestly, driving on those roads was one of the most pleasant surprises about our trip.

Thankfully, we got to spend a whole lots of time driving on the very wide, very smooth and flat roads of the Phoenix area. In six days, we drove close to seven hundred miles, which is probably three hundred miles more than we’ve driven in the thirteen months since we’ve moved to Mexico.

After we ate a really big pizza, then packed all of our boxes and bags and stuff into our rental car and then drove for an hour as we headed east, we stopped at a supermarket near our condo in Fountain Hills and bought two pints of ice cream, coffee, coffee creamer and a bottle of Claritin. It cost over sixty dollars. That was an unpleasant surprise. Life is so much more inexpensive in Mexico. You could probably get all of those things, and a couple of tacos, for ten bucks down here.

Fountain Hills is a very beautiful, very affluent city. You really have to see the mansions built into the hillsides to truly appreciate them. Words, in this instance, just aren’t going to do it justice.

And, of course, there’s the fountain. It’s in a park near the downtown area. Our condo was right across the street from it. The fountain more or less erupts every hour from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM for about fifteen minutes, and shoots jets of water roughly 300 feet into the air. At night, it’s lit up. It’s pretty cool, for a fountain.

We did have some official business to take care of while we were in the States. We had to have our new Last Will and Testament notarized. Nikki and Jay graciously agreed to be our witnesses. Afterwards, we all went to the bowling alley to eat walleye. I guess you can find bowling alleys in some of the larger cities in Mexico, but there are none in the Lakeside area, nor can you find a walleye dinner here.

* * * *

So, there was a fabulously elegant wedding. Shopping. Pizza. Friends. Walleye. And more friends. Lea and I saw as many people as we could in the short amount of time we were there.

I even did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I went back to work. Okay, I didn’t actually work. I only visited my last employer, but one of my former co-workers did ask me if I could work for her on Friday.

Nurses. Gotta love them.

Work, it seems, has changed quite a bit since I retired. We rarely had any open beds when I worked at Aurora Behavioral Health, but several new hospitals have opened, and a couple more are being built. While this is good news for the people who need psychiatric help, it’s not good news for the people who manage psychiatric hospitals.

Something has to give, and not all of those places are going to survive. You can oversaturate any market, and that will very likely happen in Phoenix in a year or two. And then there won’t be enough psychiatric beds available, and everything will be right back where it was once more.

I know I’ve said this before, but I do not miss working for a living. At all. However, I was more than a little surprised by how many people said they missed working with me. That was actually very humbling, and anyone who knows me knows that I am not a humble guy.

So thank you all so very much for that, but I’m more than satisfied with my current position and I have no intention of changing that any time soon.

* * * *

Along with all of the cyber-shopping Lea did before we returned to the States, she wanted to do some real time shopping, so we did that, too. There are no Target® stores in the Lakeside area, nor are there any Kohl’s®. I’m not sure I can say I missed shopping at either one of those places.

I’m a guy, and guys don’t love shopping. Most of the time. Unless it’s for big screen TV’s or home theater systems. There were plenty of things I could have purchased, but there wasn’t anything I needed, so I ended up wandering around a lots looking at things I wasn’t going to purchase.

It was still kind of nice to sort of go shopping. All of the stores had their Christmas displays up, and some of the stores might have been playing Christmas music.

I love Christmas, even if it starts right after Halloween nowadays.

Lea bought a few things, on sale of course, but not as many as I thought she would. Even she was surprised by how little she bought in the stores. I’d have to call that a pleasant surprise as well.

In between traveling from one side of the valley to the other side of the valley, we hung out at our cozy condo in Fountain Hills and watched American TV. The only real difference I could see between American and Canadian shows is they don’t talk about Canadia as much on American TV.

* * * *

With what time that remained in the States, we spent catching up with our friends and our spiritual family at Joe’s Church. Okay, it’s really called Just Church, and it meets at Imagine Prep in Surprise, AZ. Lea and I used to be greeters there. I wandered over to Einstein Corner where I used to greet and took a selfie of myself and Brother Al.

Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: she has really weird dreams. Prior to our return trip to the States, she had a dream that we went to our old church. And no one spoke to us. Not the pastor. Not his wife. Nor any of our friends.

Luckily, my wife doesn’t have any prophetic talent either, and a lots of people talked to us, including the pastor. And his wife. And all of our friends. We invited all of them to come to Mexico, just not all at the same time.

* * * *

It’s football season, and the Vikings played the Redskins while we were in town, so we went to a sports bar to watch the game. Bill Sbiliris, one of the docs I used to work with met us there. So did Deb Goral, one of the nurses I used to work with.

Bill is a Vikings fan, so we had a great time watching the Vikings beat the Redskins on a really, really big TV. Deb is a Packers fan. Maybe I should have bought her a pizza…  But her team won that day, too, so she was happy, even without pizza.

There was another person/former co-worker who was supposed to meet us. Karen Rae Goff, one of my favorite social workers. But Karen forgot she was going to a NASCAR race when she said she’d come to the game, and then she remembered the race when she remembered that she hates football.

Maybe next time, Karen.

* * * *

We deliberately packed light when we flew back to the States so we’d have a lots of room in our luggage for the stuff Lea had purchased to bring back to Mexico, and that was a very good idea. We bought a lots of stuff. When we first saw all of the boxes and bags and more bags and boxes, Lea and I both thought we’d have to buy another suitcase to get all of our stuff home. Thanks to some creative packing, we were able to fit it all in our existing luggage, and even more surprising, we weren’t overweight on any of our luggage.

That was a very pleasant surprise.

And now we’re home once more, and it’s good to be home. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always good to be home. I have grown accustomed to my very stress-free lifestyle, and so has my lovely supermodel wife.

Everyone we talked to said Hell had a more mild summer than they had in Phoenix this year. It does get incredibly hot there.

Yeah, really unfortunate we missed that…

I’m sure we’ll travel back to the good old USA again someday, but neither Lea nor I want to be in Minnesota during the winter, or in Arizona during the summer. I’m sure Lea will plan accordingly, unless it’s some kind of dire emergency.

Life can do that to you sometimes. No matter how well you prepare for it, Life will surprise you.

The Writer’s Almanac

Before I get into whatever this piece is going to turn into, I’d like to say, Hi, Jane! And just so there’s no confusion, the picture isn’t me. That’s Garrison Keillor. Among his many achievements and accomplishments, Garrison Keillor is a very good writer.

I’ve been enjoying writing lately. It’s a good thing, I suppose. I could certainly do worse things with my time. And if the opening line of this installment leaves you feeling bewildered, welcome to the club. That’s how I usually feel when I start writing.

I sometimes have a very good idea of what I’m going to write about, but more often than not, I don’t. I usually have a topic or theme floating around in my head, and sometimes I have a sentence I like, and want to use it somewhere in my post. That’s about it. It’s like unto taking a sink to an architect’s office and saying, “Design and build a house around this.”

And if you’re wondering, Jane is probably the most ardent reader I have, so I thought I’d acknowledge that.

* * * *

The rainy season has impacted my latest hobby, hitting golf balls. I can’t golf in the rain. But it has given me something else to do. Drain our pool. Our rental house came equipped with an hydropool that we don’t use, so there’s usually no water in it. It’s essentially become a gigantic rain gauge and deathpit for insects. We got about an inch of rain yesterday, but we got an additional four inches this morning.

Rain water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, so I grab my shop vac and suck all the water out of the pool. I do not like mosquitoes. It’s a relatively simple procedure, so I don’t mind doing it. And the pool always looks great when I’m done.

The rainy season has brought forth a whole lots of tiny Mexican tree frogs. They come out at night, and sing in a chorus of peeppeeppeeppeep sounds. It’s kind of soothing, and it’s pretty cool to fall asleep to.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I went shopping today. We found everything we were looking for, except coffee filters. You’d think they’d be in the same aisle as the coffee, but that’s not the case at El Walmart.

Esto es Mexico…

I’m sure that news made a couple of hearts skip a beat, but fear not, and be of good faith. Coffee filters are available down here. I know I’ve bought them somewhere down here, probably not at Walmart, but somewhere. Most, if not all, of the retail stores down here go out of their way to cater to the gringo population. We are here, and we are legion.

This place really is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.

* * * *

A few days ago, one of my virtual friends asked me if I missed the United States, and the simple answer is no. Not at all. There are only two things I really miss. Rosati’s pizza and paved roads. Before my friends get offended, you are not things. 

Yesterday, I was notified by Facebook that I have 650 friends. I might’ve had around 300 friends before I retired, so I’ve been busy expanding my social circle. I accepted a virtual friend request from a gal yesterday, then waited. Within a matter of minutes, I received a message. I almost always get a message after I accept a request from someone.

Thankfully, she didn’t want to send me naked pictures. She wanted to sex chat, I think. I’m guessing about that, mostly because I’ve never been in this swamp before. She asked if I wanted to Skype and we could chat. She said I looked like an interesting guy and she wanted to know more about me.

I sent her link to my blog and told her anything she’d ever need to know about me was in here. I haven’t heard another word from her. I guess I’m not that interesting after all.

I’m not sure why, but I think that’s one of the funniest things, ever. And I should stop accepting friend requests from people I don’t know.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I are going out tonight with some friends. We’re going to Perry’s Pizza. He’s making his chicken fried chicken dinner especially for our group. I’m totally looking forward to that. There will be photos posted on my Facebook page.

I love being retired. I’m not sure how rewarding it is, but it’s most definitely a nice reward for all those years of working my ass off toward this end.

* * * *

One of my real friends and former co-workers has been writing something like unto her memoirs. She’s a nurse, and she’s one of the good ones. On her Facebook page this morning she confessed how difficult this process has been for her.

I knew going into writing this book that healed scars would be opened up again and feelings that I haven’t had in years would resurface. I was prepared for that. I was prepared for raw emotions and ready to share the deepest, darkest parts of my journey…  Or so I thought. 

Ah, Tiffany. I know your pain. I wasn’t planning on writing today until I read her post. I accidently ended up writing some Tales From the Darkside of my life after I started writing my blog. Unlike Tiffany, I wasn’t aware of what that can do to your soul, but I would find out quickly. It’s like unto crossing a swamp. It looks daunting when you get to it, but you tell yourself it won’t be that bad.

Look! There’s a little path here! If I just stay on that, I’ll be fine…

But that path will disappear quickly, and in front of you will be dark, fetid water of an undetermined depth and a shitload of mud and muck. Then you’re faced with a decision. Turn around and try to find a way around the swamp. That’s not going to be easy. It’s a big swamp. Or, you can keep going forward and try to get through the swamp as quickly as possible. You almost always decide to go forward. The mud sucks at your feet and legs as you try to slog your way forward, and the water is full of leeches.

That was the paragraph I had in my mind when I started this post.

Opening up old wounds is mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even physically draining. It hurts like hell. It’s like unto passing a fucking kidney stone, and I know that pain, too. Seeing how none of your old wounds were obtained in a vacuum, it’s not just your wounds that end up being opened.

After you’ve decided to go into that swamp once, you know what it looks like when you’re going to venture into it a second time. I’ve been there intentionally a few times. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost at least one reader of my blog by going there. And there’s nothing funny about that.

She was a real friend of mine, probably my oldest friend.

I like to joke about how no one ever reads my blog, but I’ve probably had a couple of thousand people who have at least visited my site, which isn’t all that bad. I follow a couple of other bloggers who are vastly more successful than I am. They have more visitors to their sites in a day than I get in a month.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous.

But I remind myself that I not doing this as a competition, and those bloggers have been doing this for a long time. Their blogs also have a more specific focus than mine, so their audience is there for a more specific reason.

I originally started writing my blog about my nursing career in Psychiatry, and it has gone off on some pretty weird tangents over time. While I’m sure there were compelling reasons for doing this, though they haven’t always been immediately recognizable to me. It’s one of the hazards of going through most of your life unconscious…

Waking up is hard to do.

I’ve been in the process waking up for about ten years now, and it hasn’t always been pretty. Be that as it may, the life I was living before that was a lots less pretty. I still get flashes of memories that hit me out of nowhere, leaving me wondering where that came from and what am I supposed to do with it now? Sometimes those flashbacks are unsettling and disturbing. Sometimes they’re just annoying. Sometimes they’re really funny, and I laugh out loud. If my life before was an almost endless binge, part of my healing process has involved a fair amount of purging.

And in the process, I’m sure I opened some old wounds that weren’t only mine. Many people have said I simply did what I had to do get all that poison out of my system, You did what you had to do! they said. And I probably said something like unto this at least once, It was never my intention to hurt anyone.

That said, if that’s your defense, you knew someone was going to get hurt in advance.

Life, and its many facets, can be an incredibly beautiful and poignant thing. It can also be very ugly and sordid. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. Life, for lack of a better description at this point in my waking up process, is what it is. It’s a description I’ve never especially liked because it’s so banal.

And yet…

Life, as messy as it can be, still beats the alternative. And before you get the idea I’m a tortured soul in search of peace, that would be wrong. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. I have learned to appreciate all that I’ve been given, and to see the Bigger Picture. I have a more balanced view of my life, and myself.

And I am mostly content.

In the long run, cleansing your soul and ridding yourself off all that unnecessary baggage is ugly and dirty work, but it’s worth it.

Night has fallen, and the frogs are peeping. This seems like a good place to stop. Good night, and sweet dreams to you.

Living in the Virtual World

¡Hola! ¿Que pasa?

Things are pretty chill down here in Mexico. The rainy season is still in progress, though it hasn’t rained for the last three days. My lovely supermodel wife and I are still in love with being retired. We’re still mostly happily adjusting to our new lives and the new culture in which we’re living.

The most significant change we’ve encountered at Casa del Selva has been the hummingbird population. We used to have seventy thousand hummingbirds at our feeders, and we’d have to refill them eight times a day. Lea was worried we’d burn through our pension funds buying sugar.

I wondered if we could claim them as dependents…

It turns out Mexican hummingbirds are migratory, and they go somewhere else to raise their young, probably Texas. I wonder if President Don Jon Un knows about the illegally immigrating Mexican hummingbirds, and how he’s planning on stopping them…

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We’re down to about seven hummingbirds. One feeder will last for eight days or more. Lea is really bummed out. I kind of miss the ravenous horde, too. They were fun to watch, and they kept me on my toes whenever I wandered out on the patio. But I’m sure they’ll be back this fall, and we’ll be happy to see them again.

* * * *

I’ve been working on my golf game by going to the driving range when the weather permits, and playing the occasional round or two. I spent a month working on my drives on the range, and I made a startling discovery the last time I played golf. You only hit a ball off of a tee once per hole.

Some of my drives were so pretty it almost brings a tear to my eye, but the rest of my shots were so abysmal it practically makes me cry to think about it. It took me five strokes to reach the green of the par four first hole. And then I three putted. After that, my composure was pretty much gone, and the next seventeen holes were mostly a nightmare with flashes of brilliance.

The other thing I discovered was I’m not as young as I once was. A shot I could easily make with a five iron ten years ago no longer has the distance it used to. I’ve had to come up with a completely new strategy to play the game I love that doesn’t love me in return.

So this week I’ve been practicing on the range with fairway woods and irons, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to need a whole lots more practice.

My lovely supermodel wife has been coming to the driving range with me this week, and she’s been a voice of encouragement to me. It’s been very sweet, and I appreciate my adorable wife even more because of it.

And then there’s putting. I’d probably be a pretty decent golfer if I didn’t have to putt. I’ve been doing some putting on the practice green. I sank a forty foot putt yesterday, and the best part was Lea saw it. I’m not sure who was happier, me or her.

* * * *

As for the rest of our life, we’re very slowly learning the language of our new country. Our landlord and Spanish teacher is Planet Janet. Back when she worked for a living, Janet taught English as a Second Language and Spanish as Another Language at university in Canadia before she retired in Mexico, so she graciously agreed to teach us when we moved into one of her houses. She charges us $200 pesos for a two hour session, once a week, and donates the money to buy wheelchairs for children whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

It’s a win/win/win situation. Janet gets to do something she loves, teach. We get to do something we need, learn. And we all get to help out someone in need.

And seeing how Janet’s been here for a quarter of a century, she’s been showing us some of the ropes and helping us find our way through some of the tricksier aspects of living in Mexico.

Legal things, like Wills, Advanced Directives, health insurance and residency visas. She has recommendations for doctors, dentists, mechanics and veterinarians. And reviews of the latest awesome restaurant she’s eaten at.

And then there are the unexpected things that happen out of the blue.

We ran out of water last weekend. Our main water supply line sprang a monster leak a couple of weeks ago, so we turned the main off and called Planet Janet and El Don Padrino. We have two huge water reservoirs under our carport, so we had plenty of water to tide us over until the leak could be repaired

Don and Janet sent their plumber, Mani, over the next day to fix the leak, then he called SAMAPA, the local water authority. SAMAPA said they had to send a guy over to turn the water back on–Mani was forbidden to open the valve–and the SAMAPA guy would come over ahorita.

Ahora is the Spanish word for now, but now isn’t a highly regarded reality based concept in most of Mexico. Even the Mexicans think it’s funny that there’s generally no such thing as now, especially when it concerns the government and some of the utility companies.

There’s another Spanish word, ahorita. It can mean really soon, however, in Mexico, ahorita can also mean something a whole lots closer to never than it does to now.

Well, the SAMAPA guy never showed up, and no one told us our water main hadn’t been turned back on. So, two weeks later we ran out of water, at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. I turned the water back on, probably illegally, and that solved the problem.

These kind of things happen, and not just in Mexico. When they happen here, we laugh and shrug and say, This is Mexico/Esto es Mexico, and move on. If you don’t like it, leave.

Mexico is not like the United States. Spanish isn’t the same as English. The language of Mexico is an amalgamation of Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, English and Arabic, as well as some words from the fifty-four indigenous languages of the native people who lived here before the Spaniards arrived and fucked up everything.

If you’re wondering how Arabic got thrown into the mix, the Moors invaded Spain in the year 711, and ruled the country for eight hundred years. Spain invaded Mexico in 1519, or roughly about the time the Spaniards finally kicked the Moors out of power in their own country. It took the Spaniards only two years to topple the Aztec empire and steal as much gold and silver from the Mexicans as they could.

Little Known Fact About the Spanish Language: there are probably four thousand Arabic words or phrases that are now part of the modern Spanish vocabulary.

The language barrier is certainly the tricksiest part of living in Mexico, especially since neither Lea nor I spoke any Spanish before we moved here. After almost nine months we can now say hello, how are you, goodbye and thanks, and a few phrases here and there, but we’re hardly fluent, and mostly lost with someone who speaks no English.

It can be kind of comical sometimes.

* * * *

Like unto practically everyone else on this planet, I probably have a form of addiction to my mobile devices and social media. I have a blog that maybe seven people read, including me. For my last installment I posted a picture of one of my former co-workers, and it was seemingly an huge hit. I had a lots of people reacting to the picture on my Facebook page. They loved it! But I don’t know if any of those people actually read the accompanying article.

Oh, look! A picture of Brea! That’s such a cute picture!! What’s this stuff? Eww! Words!! OMG, there’s, like, a thousand of them! Ick!

I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a Twitter account. Unlike our current President, I’ve never figured Twitter out, and I dislike being limited to the number of words I can use. I doubt anyone has ever read even one of my seven Tweets.

My lovely supermodel wife isn’t as addicted to social media as I am. She views Facebook the same way I view Twitter, and I doubt she knows Instagram is even a thing. Or SnapChamp.

Social media has become almost a necessary evil to me, now that I’m a retired guy living in a foreign country. It’s the most convenient way for me to stay up to date with the lives of my friends and family, and it’s the easiest way for them to keep tabs on me.

Before we retired, Lea and I discussed what we’d like to do after we retired. Travel was one of the things we both agreed on, but now that we’ve traveled to Mexico, I’m not sure how much more traveling we’re actually going to do. We’ll see what the future holds. Be that as it may, whether we embark on a tour of the world or not, thanks to the Interweb and social media, the world now comes to me. And so do all of my virtual friends.

I have far more friends now than I did back when I really had friends, people I knew and hung out with and did stuff with. My virtual friends come from all over the world: Canadia, England, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy. Poland, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Ohio. I doubt I’ll ever meet any of them face to face. But because of them and our virtual friendship, I get to see what their part of the world looks like, and what their lives are like.

By the way, Ohio is evidently a whole lots more interesting than I thought it was.

Back when I was a kid, the only way you could accomplish something like unto this without being a world traveler was with a National Geographic subscription. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.

My virtual friends post a lots of pictures of themselves, so I also get to see a lots of pictures of tattoos. Back when I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were drunken sailors, biker gangs and criminals. Tattoos were the mark of low life scumbags and losers.

Nowadays, almost everyone has at least one tattoo, even my lovely supermodel wife, and she’s probably the most conservative person I know. Tattoos have moved out of the darkened alleyways that only a fool would enter, and have become a legitimate mainstream art form of individual statement, beauty and color. Some of them are really quite stunning.

I don’t have any tattoos. I think tattoos look pretty cool on other people, but I’ve never wanted to get one. I’ll admit I don’t understand what the attraction is. For me, the same thing is true of Disneyland®. I have no idea why anyone would want to go there, unless you really like standing in line for hours.

Having a tattoo isn’t a requirement for me to send a friend request to someone on Facebook. I automatically receive an infinite number of profiles of people that I’ve never met every day with the suggestion from Facebook that I might know some of them. Ironically, Facebook will then ask me if I actually know the person I’m randomly sending a friend request to before I can submit it.

I don’t receive as many friend requests as I submit. If a guy sends me a request, it’s usually because he has a great business proposal and he wants me as an investor. If a woman sends me a request it’s usually one of those Click here to see naked pictures of me things. I have yet to knowingly accept one, but I always wonder, Where the hell were these girls when I was twenty? And the answer is they weren’t even alive.

Some of my newest BFF’s that I’ve never met send me personal messages and ask a few questions about me and my life. This always surprises me because it never occurs to me to do that with any of them. Some of my virtual friends disappear from my profile after they discover how boring I am, or that I don’t want to see any naked pictures of them, or I don’t want to invest in a ground-breaking business opportunity.

Many of my virtual friends live what appear to be interesting lives, and their careers run the gamut. I’m still partial to nurses. I have a lots of virtual friends that are nurses. It’s a brotherhood thing, or more probably a sisterhood thing.

A couple of my virtual friends are witches, one of whom does tarot card readings. Another one of my virtual friends sells cars in the GTA. If you’re not an intrepid, sophisticated virtual world traveler like me who watches Canadian television in Mexico, the GTA is the Greater Toronto Area.

Yet another of my virtual friends is an activist, warning the world about every possible conspiracy ever conceived. I used to have two friends like unto this. I could say I unfriended one of them because she was too crazy, but almost everyone on my FB page admits to some level of insanity. And, I used to be a psych nurse, so craziness in and of itself isn’t something that bothers me much.

It was her unstable anger/rage that I found so unsettling. Her rants/raves hit the airwaves every five minutes, and each was more outrageous than the last. I tried joking with her a couple of times to get her to lighten up a little, but she didn’t appreciate my humor. Clearly, we had unreconcilable differences, and something had to give.

I’ve become virtual friends with a whole lots of motivational speakers/health gurus/life coaches. They post videos of their exercise workouts, recipes for healthy meals and daily motivational quotes and videos. Several of them post live feeds of themselves giving motivational talks to break out of your rut and improve your life.

To be honest, I’m not personally interested in most of that stuff. I don’t exercise. I think my diet is healthy enough for me, and I don’t need to make any significant changes to improve my life. If I did, I’d likely already know what it is that I need to do differently. However, I do listen to them and take their advice into consideration.

Mental and emotional health are things that require a certain amount of intentional maintenance. They are perishable commodities. It takes an effort to keep your goddamn mind right. It’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and end up in the ditch, and before you know it you’re wondering how the hell could this happen to me?!?

So it’s good for me to be reminded of the things I used to preach lest I start backsliding. I’ve worked too hard to get away from that shit to ever want to go back again, even by accident.

* * * *

Before I retired and moved to Mexico, I would occasionally have breakfast with Brian. Brian Leach is the former lead pastor of one of the churches we formerly attended in Surprise. I liked Breakfast with Brian. He’s a pretty smart guy, and he’s the closest thing to a friend/pastor I’ve ever had.

We used to attend a small group/Bible study at Brian’s house. It was Brian who first made me a virtual celebrity by saying something like unto this at one of our group meetings: “I’m not a big fan of social media, but I think everyone should check out Mark Rowen’s Facebook page at least once a day.”

And I didn’t have to pay him to say that.

Just before we departed Arizona, I had one last breakfast with Brian. He spent the last few minutes trying to convince me to do a video blog.

“There’s a kid on YouTube who’s making a six figure income, just by posting videos!”

I replied that the kid was probably smart. And funny.

“Well, you’re smart and funny.”

I replied that the kid probably had a personality. If you’ve never met me in person, once you did, you’d probably wonder if I was ever going to come out of that coma. I don’t have an affect, and my voice lacks inflection. I posted a video on Facebook once. One of my real friends said I sound like Eeyore. Ben Stein sounds like Sam Kinison when compared to me.

I blame my life as a psych nurse for that. When you’ve seen as much strange stuff as I have, it’s hard to be surprised by anything. Also, I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan for fifty years. Therefore, I find it almost impossible to get too excited about anything anymore. If the Vikings ever win the Super Bowl, I might get a tattoo…

My virtual friends who post inspirational videos are excited by what they’re doing. They smile. They have a fire in their eyes, and they clearly have a passion about their messages. If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, most of them don’t have an inspirational message. I’m not sure any of them have even had a point.

In addition, the video blogs I’ve watched are short, or at least, short-ish. My written blogs don’t seem short to me. Even the shortest blog I’ve written has taken me hours to complete. And while I am sometimes spontaneously witty, I’m not a great impromptu speaker. I would probably end up writing a script that I would essentially end up reading, and I’d probably stumble through everything I’d written.

I’m trying to imagine that being entertaining to anyone. I might become the first person YouTube paid to stop posting videos…

It could be argued that if I started making video blogs, I could save myself a ton of time. If I weren’t retired, that argument might carry more weight. But I am retired. If I don’t have anything else, I have plenty of time, and very little of it is scheduled with any recurring activity, except my Spanish lessons.

A real friend of mine occasionally posts The Manitowoc Minute Vlog on his Facebook page. It’s a very funny commentary about life in Wisconsin, which, in retrospect, probably goes without saying. The idea of posting El Minuto Mexicano certainly has its appeal. I could ramble on incomprehensibly in a mixture of Spanglish, Latin and Japanese about life in Mexico.

“Buenas tetas, amigos y amigas! Bienvenidos a mi vlogarito lo que nostrodamos vidas fabulosos en Mexico! Nosotros tiene relocatado de los estados unidos. El gente de Mexico estás las más amable de todos los gente en el universario! Ellos tienen los más paciencia! Ellos dicen, “Poco y poco,” y sonrisa. Beauty, eh. A todo madre, la roma no está hecho en uno dia! Ergo, quid pro quo. Shigata ga ni, es los más awesomosa cosa en el mundo actualmente! No es mentira! Si, es verdad, daddy-o! Entonces, adios y omne datum optimum untiliarmos los hasta luego, y domo arigato por tu atención y de nadamashite.”

Maybe I’ll stick to writing. In English. It’ll greatly decrease the chances of me accidentally starting the next world war…

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.

The Horne

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

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

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

My Muse for this tale is Melpomene.

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

* * * *

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

FTA

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

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

Feeling emboldened, Randy wrote,

FUCK THE ARMY

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

Fuck the world and burn the babies

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

I stopped, pointed at her, and started laughing.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

The Horne gave me a new nickname, Wrongway.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

And then the sky exploded.

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

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

“Jaysus Christ!” Mike shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretty cool storm, man.” Roger said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fucking T in the road!!!

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

I decided there was only one way to go.

“Hold on!” I shouted.

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

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

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

“No. I spilled my beer.” I said.

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

I know. We were all so adult back then…

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Man, you must be really trippin’!”

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

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

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

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

Then I looked at The Horne.

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to do this now?” Mike said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the war–the war, was just beginning.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

I had to warn everybody.

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

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

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

That’s when I remembered I had a car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve never been back to Geronimo.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

I had completely forgotten about that tragic tale…

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

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

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

* * * *

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

I’m not making that up.

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

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

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

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

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

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me make some calls.”

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

It was perfect.

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

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

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You said you wanted your money back.”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Randy lit it.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Where’s your family?”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, maybe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

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

* * * *

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

After that, I don’t know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger and Me

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

But Roger got Sunshine’s phone number.

* * * *

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

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

“Yeah, at least twice.”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have a seat. Dinner’s almost ready.”

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

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

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

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

“Um, maybe after dinner would be better…”

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Too bad, bitch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn. My beer’s in there, man!”

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

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

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

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

“So, is Dave their…pimp?”

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

“No, it’s not.”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Got it.”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too.”

* * * *

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

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

“Thank you.” I said.

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

* * * *

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

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

I think it was around 7:30 AM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How about you?”

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

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

“I can’t let you do that.” I said.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

“Can I call you?” I asked Diane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

“Close your eyes.”

“God, I wish I had met you sooner…”

* * * *

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

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

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

And that’s when I knew.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

It was the last time we would ever see them.

* * * *

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

“Have you tried calling her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What? Did I hear that right?

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

“Unless he had them killed…”

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

“I’ll help you.”

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

“Maybe. But I’m going to miss Diane.”

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

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

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

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

“I felt it.”

* * * *

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

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

Oh well, I tried.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctors

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

I’m very serious about that.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

That was a pretty high compliment.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

The Virgin Mary

1980.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a bad thing?”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Believe it or not, that actually happened.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean, your mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls

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

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

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

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

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

His funeral was the first funeral I attended.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Forward.

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

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

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

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

And life, will go on.

Love is a Battlefield

Hey. How’s it going?

I’ve been taking a break from writing. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been going out into the town. We made a couple of trips to the Big City to buy some accessories for the house, and I’ve been doing some guy stuff in my bodega/workshop/man cave. It’s all been good.

My back is finally starting to feel better, and that’s another good thing. I actually screwed it up a couple of days ago, but I ended up screwing it up back to where it was before I screwed it up, if that makes any sense.

It feels good to be feeling better and doing something productive again.

* * * *

I started working for a living at the age of sixteen. I retired from the workforce at the age of sixty. During my years of gainful employment, I probably worked the night shift for thirty years, give or take.

I liked working nights, for the first twenty years. It was mostly quiet, and there were no bosses hanging around. I could pretty much do whatever I liked, and it gave me ample opportunity to read. I was a voracious reader at one time in my life.

But working nights takes its toll on you over time. You never really sleep, and you end up feeling kind of fuzzy all the time. I ended up hating working nights.

Some of my nocturnal positions included registered nurse, of course. I was also a long distance operator for the telephone company, a police dispatcher and perhaps the catchiest one of all: I worked 11-7 at a 7-11.

I was living in Lusk, WY at the time, and I think it was 1982. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. Lusk is a small town in eastern Wyoming. I was living with a gal named Nancy at that time. I met her when I was working as a surgical technician in Elbow Lake, MN. She was a lab technician at the hospital I worked at.

Nancy was married when I first met her, and before you start thinking I spent my life breaking the Seventh Commandment as often as I could, Nancy’s husband, Jerry, got dead very unexpectedly, and that was how we got together. When she decided to move to Wyoming, I decided to go with her.

Yeah, there’s another complicated story I’ll have to get around to telling someday…

I made some good friends during the year or so that I lived there. Jim, the town dentist, who came down with Guillain-Barré syndrome and almost got dead. His darling wife, Deb. Their best friend, a guy who called himself Spud because he was from Idaho.

Spud was a good guy. We drank a lots of beers together at one of the local bars and smoked a lots of weed. He got me involved with the Lusk Jaycees, and we did a lots of community service stuff.

There was Laurie and Dean, teachers at the high school. They got married. Dina, the hot little waitress at The Pub Saloon. That was the local bar. I kind of wanted to marry Dina. Spud really wanted to marry Dina. I hope he did.

They were good people. I loved them all. Perhaps somewhat noticeable in her absence in the above list is Nancy. Well, I didn’t love her, and she didn’t love me. Like I said, it was complicated.

I always thought I’d end up back in Lusk again someday, but that was not to be. It’s weird how life turns out sometimes…

* * * *

The 7-11 store I worked at was on Cedar Street, the main drag in Lusk. There were maybe 1,500 people living in and around Lusk, so there wasn’t a whole lots of customers in the store during the dead of night. Most of my customers at night were vacationers trying to get somewhere other than Lusk. Lusk was the kind of place people were from, not the place many people were going to.

The city cops and county sheriffs would drop in at the store from time to time and shoot the breeze, and I’d comp them coffee. That probably helped me get hired as their dispatcher.

Like all small towns, everyone knew everybody, and everybody knew everyone else’s business. Guys like me were a rarity. No one my age moved to Lusk, they usually moved out.

The hardest part of the job was staying awake until 5:00 AM until the morning rush when everyone in town dropped in to buy gas and coffee and stuff. I spent most of my shift cleaning the store and arranging display items.

When my shift ended, the day shift gal would relieve me. Her name was Wendy. She lived in an Airstream® trailer on the outskirts of town with her boyfriend and her three kids.

Yeah, you read that correctly. An Airstream®, about the size of a walk-in closet, maybe. It wasn’t even a trailer house. And I have no idea how she could do that either.

Wendy was a nice young gal. She was the assistant manager of the store, and she knew what she was doing at the store. Her kids were cute, like her. I didn’t like her boyfriend. No one in town did.

Well, his name was Rick.

* * * *

I think I had been working at the 7-11 for about a month the night it happened. It was a Friday night around 2:00 AM. I was sweeping the floor, so I could mop the floor, when a white Jeep pulled up to the gas pumps. I saw the Jeep out of the corner of my eye, but I didn’t give it much attention until I heard a woman scream.

I turned to the sound, and saw Rick’s fist smash into Wendy’s face. She fell heavily to the ground. As she crawled to her hands and knees trying to get up, Rick kicked her in the ribs several times, then delivered one last monster kick, like he was trying to kick an eighty yard field goal.

He had to have broken every rib on the left side of her body.

I dropped the broom and ran for the door. Did I just see what I thought I just saw? I wondered. Rick had gotten back into the Jeep by the time I reached the door, and started driving off. Fast!

I thought Wendy had to have gotten dead after the punch and all the kicks she had received, but she jumped up to her feet, and ran the Jeep down as it turned onto Cedar Street. Then she punched the window out of the passenger door and leapt inside the Jeep as it made the jump to lightspeed and disappeared in the darkness.

I stood in the parking lot for a minute or two, still trying to figure out if I had actually seen what I just saw, or if I had imagined it all. When I found Wendy’s purse by the gas pumps, and the thousands of pieces of tempered glass littering the parking lot, I knew it had been real.

I took Wendy’s purse inside and called the police.

* * * *

The cops arrived within minutes. They wrote down my statement, and decided to drive out to Wendy’s Airstream® to make sure she was still alive.

“Aren’t you going arrest him?” I asked.

“Well, if Wendy wants to press charges this time we will, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened, and she wouldn’t file charges any of the other times.”

“How many times are we talking about here?” I asked. The two officers looked at each other and scratched their heads.

“What is this? The fourth time?” one of them asked.

“I think it’s the fifth.” the other replied.

“Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“Jesus! That’s fuckin’ terrible!”

“Yep. Damn shame.”

* * * *

I swept the parking lot that night, cleaning up the blizzard of pieces of glass, then I went back inside the store and mopped the floor. The police returned in an hour or two. They had Rick with them. He wasn’t wearing handcuffs. The cops drove him to the store to retrieve Wendy’s purse. Rick was too drunk drive back to the store himself. I handed the purse over to him.

“I’m really sorry about what happened.” he said.

“I’m not the person you should be apologizing to.” I replied. As Rick was walking out the door, one of the cops turned to look at me.

“Who’s relieving you?” he asked.

“Wendy…”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. We tried to take her to the hospital. She refused. She won’t be back here for at least a week.”

* * * *

Wendy called around 5:00 AM to tell me she couldn’t come in. I told her I was surprised she was still alive.

“Oh, it was all my fault. I was drunk and I started nagging Rick about getting a job again. I had to open my big mouth, and, well, I had it coming.”

“Wendy, I don’t care what you said, no one deserves to be beaten the way you were! That guy should be in jail!”

“No, don’t say that! He’s a good guy, really.”

“He’s a scumbag! I can’t believe you’re defending him after what he did to you!”

But she did, like he was the fucking Hero of the World or something. It was my first exposure to Battered Woman Syndrome. It’s a psychological condition the victim develops after years of being abused, resulting in a sort of learned helplessness.

I would come to know a whole lots of battered women who seemingly had their brains turned into Silly Putty® by their abusive partners during my career as a psych nurse. It’s a tricksy thing to treat, surpassed only by eating disorders in my opinion.

Suffice to say my fifteen minute conversation with Wendy didn’t do much of anything to change her mindset or her situation. She eventually came back to work. She continued to live with Rick in their closet on wheels.

I would leave the 7-11 not long after witnessing the brutal beating Wendy received from the guy that loved her. The cops were hiring, and I became their night dispatcher. I can’t remember how long I worked for the police, but when my strange relationship with Nancy fell apart, I decided to get out of town, and moved back to Minnesota in 1983.

I would start nursing school in 1985.

Like most of the things in my past, memories pop into my head at odd times, unbidden, yet somehow insistent that they be recalled, and perhaps admired before they’re returned to shelf where memories are stored.

It surprises me how things that were once so shiny and bright fade over time, and how things that were dark and miserable can take on a glimmer and sheen that were unimaginable at the time they happened.

I’m doing a lots of reminiscing of late. Maybe that’s what people do when they retire. Life. So sad, and so beautiful. So strange at times, and so sweet. And sometimes, far too short.

The Seventh Commandment

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

I had a real talent for doing stupid stuff.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, there was that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew exactly who his wife had been fucking.

It was me.

* * * *

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

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

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

There’s a backstory to this, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha! What do I get if I beat you?”

“Then I have to have sex with you.”

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

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

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

Yeah, she was going to have to earn that.

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

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

“Bring a big spoon.”

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

Theresa honored our bet.

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Whew! Probably no strap ons then, I thought.

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

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

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

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

A tear ran down my cheek.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Raoul told me.

* * * *

“I played racquetball with your girlfriend yesterday.”

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

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

“So.”

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

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

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

“What about you?” I asked. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me.

“What if I had sex with Theresa?”

“Why the hell would you want to do something like that? You’re married to the most beautiful woman on the plan–Wait! Did you have sex with my girlfriend?”

“I thought you said she wasn’t your girlfriend!” he said. I started laughing, then Raoul joined in.

“Seriously,” I replied. “I don’t care who she fucks, as long as she saves some pussy for me. But I gotta tell you, what you’re doing is dangerous. You’re gonna ruin your marriage. You’re gonna fuck up your life. You’re gonna end up living in the goddamn barracks with a bunch of losers, like me.”

“Hey, you’re not a loser, amigo. You’re just a kid with a broken heart. You’ll get over–whatshername–”

“Maureen.”

“Yeah, Whatshername. You haven’t lived as long as I have. You have to forget her! Move on! Don’t tell me you think you two are going to get back together! Jesus Christ, Rowen! Get your head out of your ass! You’re gonna have to trust me on this one, but you’ll fall in love with someone again someday. And after you’ve been married for awhile, you’ll find its possible to love more than one woman at a time.”

“That, is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. You’re gonna have to trust me on this one. I may not know as much about life or the Army as you do. But I know about love. And you don’t fuck with love, ever! If you do, love will damn sure fuck you back.”

* * * *

I have to say, I’m very proud of that observation. I’m equally proud of the fact that Love backed me up after I said it. I can only wish this was where my story ended, but I still had a commandment to break.

I genuinely wasn’t upset that Raoul had sex with Theresa. We were not in a committed relationship. For all I know, she had sex with every guy she played racquetball with. I was by no means faithful to her. I still dropped in to see at least one of the fabric free shoe models I knew.

I didn’t feel any guilt about having multiple partners when I was with Theresa, but the weird thing was, I felt guilty having sex with any of them because it felt like I was cheating on Maureen. Yeah, try to figure that fucking mess out!

I’m not sure how Nadina found out about the infidelity of her husband, but she wasn’t stupid, and she was a woman. She knew. Neither Raoul nor I knew that she knew when we were having that conversation, but that would change in a very short time.

* * * *

Raoul had to go to Fort Sam Houston for some training of some sort, and he had to be gone for a week. While he was gone, he wanted me to do something for him.

“Hey, can I ask you a favor, amigo?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Can you swing by my house while I’m out of town and check on Dina? I mean, I keep a gun in my bedside table, and Dina knows how to use it. Hell, she’s a better shot than me! But I’d just feel better if there was a man around the house, especially in the evening. I’m going to be partying a lot, and I’m not going to call Dina once I start drinking. It’s a married guy thing. I’ll call her during the day! Just drop in and check on her, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I could do that. Maybe I can teach her how to play chess…”

“Forget it. I’ve tried. I end up playing myself. And I’m not suggesting you move in or anything, just drop in once or twice and make sure she’s okay. Okay?”

“Okay!”

* * * *

I can’t remember what day Raoul decided to head for San Antonio. Saturday, maybe. Sunday, probably. I figured Nadina could take care of herself for a day or two…  I called her on Monday.

“Hey, how’re you doing?”

“Oh Mark! I’m so glad you called! I was going to try to call you after work!”

“What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you could come over this evening. I’ve got margaritas chilling…”

As odd as this might sound, I didn’t really care for strawberry margaritas all that much. The only reason I drank them was because Raoul and Dina did, and they contained alcohol.

“Sure. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”

“I’ll see you at six.” Click.

I popped three or four Percodan before I went to check on Nadina. I was using pills pretty heavily by this time, and one or two just wasn’t cutting it anymore. And my use was just getting started. I rang the doorbell at five minutes after six.

“You’re late!” Nadina laughed as she answered the door. She was barefoot, wearing a T-shirt and tight jeans. Her hair was probably just past shoulder length at that time. She had a bright smile on her face.

The margaritas were already poured, the glasses were sweating. She lit a joint and we smoked and she talked. We drank and she talked. I had known Nadina for probably a year or so, but I think this was the first time she really talked to me.

Most of the stuff I knew about her I had heard from Raoul. And whenever I visited them, I mostly talked to Raoul. Dina might add some comments occasionally, but mostly she was quiet. She had a lots to say that night. I mostly nodded my head from time to time, like I would as a psych nurse listening to Harold ramble on and on at when I worked nights.

She told me her life story. I sat back and tried to keep up. I’m usually pretty good at remembering things like this, but I don’t think I can remember much of anything she said. I was hypnotized by her eyes, the brightness of her teeth, and the sound of her voice. I was mesmerized by her curves.

Nadina sat kind of sideways on the couch, one shapely leg curled under the other, one bare foot on the floor. Her body was facing mine, and I mimicked her pose so I could face her.

It just occurred to me, she reminds of someone. I would see a perfectly wrapped, hot little body like that a few years later when I went to Dallas with Shorty. Martha! Sonuvabitch! Maybe that’s why I ended up falling so head over heels in love with her!! Martha subconsciously reminded me of Nadina!

Wow. That was really weird.

Nadina was the perfect hostess. She refilled our drinks. She lit another joint. When the first pitcher of margaritas was empty, she made another. And she lit another joint…

“I rolled these today. Ray doesn’t think I know how to roll, but I can do a lot of things he doesn’t think I can do. Would you like another margarita?”

“Yes, please.” I said. She poured more slushy pinkish red drinks for both of us, then she said something I’ve never been able to forget.

“I know Ray’s been fucking your girlfriend.” and she turned her head to look me squarely in the eyes. “I know that’s what he’s been doing with her. And I know you know it, too. I know you’re Ray’s best friend, but you’re my friend, too. Don’t you dare fucking lie to me, Mark.”

I sat there for what had to have been an hour, trying to figure out how I could get out of the house without her noticing. But she had her eyes locked on mine, and she didn’t blink. And I knew if I so much as blinked, it was as good as a confirmation on my part. And how did she know all the stuff she said she knew? That, was spooky.

If there was ever a time I wished I could say, “Scotty, beam me up!” this was one of them. I stared back into her dark eyes, and I knew I whatever I said to her, it had better not be a fucking lie. There was only one thing I could say.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” I said. It wasn’t a lie…  It really wasn’t much of anything. I didn’t confirm her assertion that her husband was having an affair, but I didn’t say anything to deny it, either. So, it wasn’t what I said that initiated what happened next, it was how I didn’t say it.

“I knew it!” she whispered, very softly. I expected her to start crying. That’s what any other woman would’ve done, right? “I have to go to the bathroom.” she said. And she smiled! “I’ll be right back.”

I think I was so stunned I didn’t know what to think. And I was most definitely stunned.

“I want to thank you for being honest with me.” her voice floated down the hallway into the living room. She was in the bathroom in the hall, and she must have left the door open. I could hear her peeing. “I know that wasn’t easy for you, and I appreciate it.”

Well, she was right about the not easy part, but I didn’t feel very good about what I had done, no matter how much she appreciated it. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands.

“But you know what I think? I think what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.” Her voice grew louder as she walked back toward the living room.

“I think it’s the other way around.” I replied. I decided I needed a drink, and reached for my margarita. And then I froze.

“You know what I meant.” Nadina said. She stepped into the living room, struck a little pose, and smiled. She was totally naked. And then she said another thing I’ve never been able to forget. “I want to fuck your brains out.”

* * * *

There can’t be any confusion as to what happened next, can there? Raoul may not have been completely honest with me about the reasons for the marital discord between he and Nadina, but that part about her being a fucking goddess, that, was not a lie.

* * * *

I called Nadina on my lunch break on Tuesday.

“I’m baking lasagna. You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“And I have dessert, too!”

“Oh yeah? What did you make?”

“Pie. It’s really moist, and creamy!”

“See you at six.”

“Make it five.” Click.

She answered the door wearing an apron, and nothing else. She insisted I eat first. And then I had dessert.

* * * *

I called her on my lunch break on Wednesday.

“How are you feeling?” she giggled.

“Sore. How about you?”

“Horny. I’ve been playing with my pussy all morning. She really misses you.”

I finished my deliveries in record time that afternoon, and my van didn’t break down. After a couple erotic wrestling matches with Nadina, I wondered how Raoul had the energy to play racquetball. Or even get out of bed in the morning.

* * * *

I didn’t call Nadina on my lunch break on Thursday. I called her first thing in the morning. And at nine. And at noon. And every chance I got. When I rang the doorbell, she didn’t come to the door.

“Mark? Is that you?” her voice called out.

“Yes!”

“Then, come in! The door’s open!’

She was naked, sprawled across the couch, her legs spread wide.

“See how much I missed you? Did you miss me?”

“Yes!”

“Show me how much you missed me!”

And I did.

* * * *

By Friday, I didn’t have to wish I could got dead. I was pretty sure I was going to die to death. And I didn’t even care that I would go straight to Hell. I started taking four or five Percodan at a time. I could hardly walk. I thought my dick was going to fall off.

I called Nadina around 10:00 AM from one of the clinics. She sounded a little distracted, maybe. She wasn’t at all as…friendly…as she had the previous days.

“I’m out of weed. So I called Brian.”

Brian was the guy Raoul bought weed from. He was a civilian that worked on base. I can’t remember how Raoul met him, but Raoul had a nose for weed. Brian looked like Fat Freddy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. We used to tease him about that, but he had good weed, and he almost always had some to sell.

“I have weed. All you had to do was ask.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that. You always smoke Ray’s weed when you’re here…”

That was true. But that’s the kind of guy Raoul was. However, whenever he dropped in at the barracks he insisted we smoke mine.

“So, do you want to get together tonight?”

“Oh, yes! Yes, very much!” and her voice brightened appreciably. “Brian said he’d be over about four…  Why don’t you come by then.”

“Great! See you then!”

“And don’t be late this time!” Click.

I was outside her door at 3:55. I recognized Brian’s car as I pulled up, so I knew he was already inside. I was about to ring the doorbell, when I heard Nadina scream. I opened the door and saw Brian mauling Nadina, trying to kiss her. There were two glasses of water on the table, and an ounce of pot.

“Hey! What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” I shouted.

Brian was startled by my appearance. Nadina must not have told him I was coming over. He let go of Nadina, and she ran down the hallway.

“Hey, Mark! It’s not what it looks like! She–” And then Brian froze. Nadina had come back in the room, and she had a gun pointed at Brian’s head.

“Get out of my house, you motherfucker!”  she screamed.

“Hey! Heyheyhey! I’m leaving! I’m leaving! Just don’t shoot!”

Brian ran out the like Usain Bolt, only faster. Nadina followed his exit with the gun in her hands. He almost hit my car as he roared off. Nadina let her arms drop, but held on to the handgun. She was trembling.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Close the door, and lock it.”

I did, then I rushed over to her, and she just about flew into my arms. The tears I had expected to see four days earlier appeared now, and they would not stop.

“I can’t believe he did that to me!” she sobbed, and even I knew she wasn’t talking about Brian.

* * * *

Nadina eventually stopped crying, and then we had sex, if you can call it that. It was sex at its most primal level, and we fucked like lions! We were locked together for easily seven hours. We probably took bathroom breaks, and drank margaritas, but I don’t remember much of anything except being inside her, and her wanting more.

I remember taking a shower at about 6:00 AM. Nadina stood in the bathroom and watched me. She had a very satisfied smile on her face. She had put on a lacy little white robe. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the end of our affair. I was almost too weak to stand. If I had known our affair was over, I probably would’ve wept in relief.

“When my husband asks, this is what you tell him…”

I went back to the barracks and slept like a man that had been in battle for a week. I don’t think I woke up until Sunday.

* * * *

I know Raoul called me on Sunday. That’s the only reason I know I didn’t sleep straight through to Monday. I was sitting at my desk, naked. My dick wasn’t black and blue, it was black and purple! And it hurt! If I had had any razor blades close by, my dick probably would’ve cut itself off.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Fine. Business as usual. Did Dina tell you about Brian?”

“She didn’t have to. I was there.”

“See? I told you it was a good idea for you to check on her!”

“I thought she was going to shoot him!”

“Nah, I’ll probably shoot him first. At the very least, I’m gonna kick his Fat Freddy ass! So, how often did you come over?”

“Um, I called her on Monday. She made lasagna on Tuesday, so I came over for that.”

“She’s a good cook, huh.”

“Dude, I’ve eaten at your house a thousand times!”

“Yeah, she’s a good cook, huh.”

“She’s a great cook!”

“When else were you here? Did you see anything?”

“Um, I called her Wednesday. I dropped by the house on Thursday for about an hour, and I was there Friday for pretty much the entire night.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that was good. Thank you for taking care of my wife.”

“Yeah, just doing what you asked. How’s she doing now? She was pretty freaked out the last time I saw her.”

“She’s okay. I got back in town about noon on Saturday. And you’re not going to believe this, but she fucked my fuckin’ brains out! I mean, I thought she was trying to kill me!”

Raoul was right. I couldn’t believe it. Nadina must’ve had a crotch made from titanium!

“You’re a lucky man.”

“Yeah. So, what’re you doing? You wanna play some chess? I picked up a couple hits of acid…”

“It’s gonna have to be another time, man. I’ve been hitting it pretty hard this week. I need rest.”

“Yeah, okay. Well, see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

* * * *

Monday was business as usual. I went back to delivering supplies. Raoul went back to making dentures, and playing racquetball with Theresa. I don’t think I ever played another game of racquetball in my life.

Theresa’s term of enlistment ended that September, and then Raoul quit playing racquetball, too.

I don’t know if Raoul ever kicked Brian’s Fat Freddy ass or not, but he did find a different supplier for his weed, some guy named Lloyd or something, and I never saw Brian again.

I was a frequent guest at the home of Raoul and Nadina. Raoul and I played a lots of chess, and we all drank a lots of margaritas and smoked a lots of joints. And I took more and more pills. They were easy for me to get, I had half a dozen dentists writing scripts for me, and because I was in the Army, they were free.

Nadina wasn’t as quiet around me as she had been prior to to Raoul’s training trip, and he mentioned something about it a couple of times.

“He saved my life! Do you think I’m going to treat him like a stranger?” was Nadina’s response.

That satisfied Raoul. And it more than satisfied me. I was like unto a goddamn hero! But whenever we were alone, like, when Raoul went to the bathroom, or went into the kitchen to make another pitcher of margaritas, Nadina and I would pounce on each other like tigers, and kiss as much as we possibly could in two minutes, then assume positions of posed nonchalance before Raoul returned.

I have to admit, that was a pretty crazy time for me. I’m not sure if I fell in love with my friend’s fucking goddess wife or not, but I almost forgot about Maureen for a couple of months. And the reason for that was mostly I was worried that my friend would find out about me and his wife. And the only thing that really made that worry go away was an handful of pills.

Actually, worried doesn’t doesn’t come close to describing the sum of all my fears. I was closer to terrified. I wasn’t afraid that Nadina would tell Raoul she had an affair with me, though that was certainly a possibility. What terrified me was the greater possibility she’d confront Raoul about his affair with Theresa.

I was actually kind of confused about why she didn’t do either. I know I talked to her about it. I think her response was something like unto, Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing.

In October, Nadina dropped her bombshell on her cheating husband that she had been having an affair, and kicked him out of her house for good. She filed for divorce, and moved back to Texas. She was from the Corpus Christi area, and she moved back in with her parents while she figured what she was going to with her new life.

I went to see her one last time before she left. She couldn’t afford the house she and Ray had lived in, and she sure as hell didn’t have anything keeping her in Lawton anymore.

I’d like to say we had twelve hours of sex, but we didn’t even have twelve minutes of sex. We sat on the couch and held hands, and talked. She explained some of her rationale to me. She could have told Raoul she was having an affair earlier, but that would have made me the prime suspect.

She wanted to protect me. That’s why she didn’t confront her husband about his affair. I would have the only suspect in that case.

“However much I hate Ray right now, I have nothing against you. You told me the truth when you could have lied. You chose me instead of Ray. You were my only friend when I needed someone to be there for me. You gave me what I needed, when I needed it. In more ways than one.” She flashed a sly smile, and winked.

I told her how much I was going to miss her, and that I’d never forget her.

“I know you won’t.” she said, and she smiled again, but there was sadness in her eyes. And she kissed me. “I know you’re going to have a lot of memories about me, but this is the one I want you to remember the most. Your friend, kissing you goodbye.”

Clearly, I have other memories of Nadina. But our last kiss, it’s the one I treasure the most.

* * * *

Raoul moved back into the barracks, and that’s where we were when this story started. I bought a really nice camera with lots of lenses and stuff, and a metal Copal case from Raoul. And his stereo, and speakers.

He needed the cash because he had ruined his marriage and fucked up his life.

I became his best friend, and he became my best friend. We took many trips to Texas. On one of them, he would break my glasses, I would break his arm, and jump out of a speeding car after he turned into Satan the devil.

If he ever suspected me of having an affair with his wife, he never came right out and said it, but we talked about it a lots, and I was quick to point out I had been the one who warned him he was playing with fire when he fucked with Love. And I had also been the one who had saved his wife from being raped.

* * * *

I’ve occasionally wondered if Nadina set that whole thing with Brian up. He started to say something before Nadina pointed a gun at his head. If she did, she was damn good, and then she probably was every bit as crazy as Raoul claimed she was.

I choose to believe she wasn’t crazy, no matter what her husband said. After all, she never told Raoul she knew he was having an affair…

* * * *

“Yeah, you were right about that. You’re a pretty smart guy.” Raoul said. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to his former stereo. Dozens of pictures of my former girlfriend looked down at us from the wall.

“I’m not that smart. My girlfriend left me for a loser named Rick. How sad is that?”

“Oh yeah? My wife left me for… I don’t even know his fuckin’ name! How sad is that!” I want to find that sonuvabitch and, how do you say it? Kill him to death? That’s what I want to do! Hey! Would you fuck my wife?”

“What kind of question is that? She’s your wife. No way, man”

“Well, suppose she wasn’t my wife! Would you fuck her then?”

“You mean, I’m walking down the street, and I see Nadina, standing on the corner or something.”

“Yeah, like that!”

“Is she married?”

“I don’t know. What difference does it make? Would you fuck her?”

“So, I walk up to her, and say, ‘Hey baby, I got about ten hours to kill, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than in your pussy. Do you think that would work?”

“On Dina? No way! Answer the question!” he demanded, and sat up in his chair, staring at me. I sat up, and stared back.

“Look dude, the only way I would ever fuck your wife is she would have to come up to me, totally naked, and she would have to tell me that she wanted to fuck my brains out! Now, can you imagine that ever happening?”

“No. No, that would never happen…”

* * * *

See? I told you I was quite an accomplished liar.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There are times when God has my Muse by the short hairs, and there are times when my Muse has me by the short hairs. Today, it’s the latter. In my short history as a blogger guy, these posts have not been much fun for me.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and that’s never a good sign for me. And there was another oddity. All of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking, and they did so until about 4:00 AM. There’s been a lots of bands and explosives and stuff at night, but the dogs have never behaved like unto that before.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, as I measure time. It’s going to be painful to me. And probably to Maureen. She’s my former high school sweetheart, and this tells the story of the dissolution of our relationship.

We broke up almost forty-two years ago, but some parts of this tale I remember like they happened ten minutes ago. Other parts, I wouldn’t be able to recall if my life depended on it.

Memory, is a funny thing.

But I do remember this. I fell in love with Maureen the first moment I saw her our freshman year of high school. This should come as no surprise to anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis.

It seems to be the only way I fall in love.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from Loyola, and went to Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA in July of 1974. I learned to march, and shoot an M-16. I was a pretty good shot. I was well on my way to earning my Expert badge on the rifle range, when I received a letter from my high school sweetheart.

I had received a lots of letters from Maureen. And she had received many from me. I saved all of them and read them over and over. But this letter was different. Maureen wrote that she had met another guy. I read her letter just before I went out to qualify for my Expert badge, and I probably missed every target.

My drill sergeant chose to feel very disappointed in my performance–I had had the highest score of anyone in my company on the rifle range–and he had me do a lots of push ups to help me get my mind right.

I doubt I ever thanked him for his concern, but thank you, Drill Sergeant Byrum. That was really nice of you.

Maureen’s next letter said nothing about this other guy, nor did any of her following letters. I called her as often as I could from the phone booth outside the barracks, and she assured me everything was fine between us.

After I completed Basic, I was given a least two weeks of leave until my Advanced Individual Training began in the beginning of November. I flew back to Missoula around mid-October to see my high school sweetheart for the first time as a member of the US Armed Forces.

My sister, Colleen, was living in Missoula with her first husband, Rod. I had lived with them so I could complete my last year of high school in Missoula, rather than have to start over at a new school in Minnesota when my family moved back there at the end of my junior year. I think Colleen picked me up at the airport, and if she did, Maureen may have been with her. This is one of the things I can’t remember.

At any rate, Maureen and I had a very joyous reunion, whenever it was that we first saw each other again that October. I spent every waking and every sleeping moment I could with Maureen. She was studying to be an X-Ray Technician at St Patrick Hospital, and she had an apartment across the street from the hospital.

I vaguely remember being at my sister’s house, but I think I spent much more time with Maureen at her tiny apartment. We missed each other. A lots.

Maureen had class and clinicals during the day. I have no idea what I did while she was at school. I did meet her classmates, but the only one I remember was a stunning redhead with long hair. I think her name was Kelly…maybe…  Maureen tried to study, but I’m pretty sure I was able to distract her. We had really missed each other.

We would go out drinking and dancing in the evening, and some of our friends from high school would meet us at the bar. I seem to recall a semi-epic Halloween party at one of our favorite bars that booked decent bands. I’m going to say we were both ready for me to go Fort Sam Houston, TX for AIT when the end of October rolled around. I departed for Texas secure in the knowledge that we were still together as a couple, and our love for each other was strong.

* * * *

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday all by myself in Texas. I graduated third in my class, and received a promotion to PFC at the end of my training. And seeing how it was so close to Christmas, the Army gave me another couple of weeks off, and I flew back to Missoula through the worst storm I’ve ever flown through.

I think everyone on that flight prayed the entire time we were in the air. The turbulence was unreal. I kissed the tarmac when I got off the plane, and then I kissed Maureen. This was an especially joyous reunion. My sister and her husband were there. All of my closest friends in high school were home from college for the holidays. They were all at the airport to greet me, too.

One of Maureen’s sisters and her husband had flown to California for the holidays. They were going to be out of town for a couple weeks and they had asked Maureen to stay at their house while they were gone. Maureen asked me if I wanted to stay there with her.

It was Christmas. I was essentially living with my favorite person on the entire planet. That holiday could not have been any sweeter for me. It would be one of my most treasured memories for a very long time.

There was one dark spot. Maureen and I decided to throw a big holiday party at the house, and essentially invited everyone in our class to come. It was probably the last time our class got together like that until reunions became popular.

I know I got really drunk at the party. And I know Maureen wasn’t too pleased the next day. But that’s all I can remember. I’m sure I did something stupid, after all, this is me. I probably tried making out with all of our female classmates, or humped their legs. Or both. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This was perhaps the first warning shot my addiction would fire across my bow, but like any great athlete in training, I ignored the pain and kept on going.

* * * *

January, 1975. I reported to my permanent duty station in Fort Sill, OK. Toward the end of the month, I went for a walk in the rain because I missed my girlfriend, and broke my ankle.

Life. One thing happens after another, and before you know it, everything goes to hell. And that’s what happened in late April. I got another letter from Maureen. The mysterious guy she had met back when I was in Basic Training had reappeared, and it was evidently much more serious this time.

I told my CO I needed some personal time off immediately, and because I was still an exemplary soldier, he gave me a week off without hesitation. I called Maureen to let her know I was flying back to Missoula. She seemed surprised that I was coming to see her. I also called my sister to let her know I was coming.

My sister, Colleen, and her husband, Rod, were starting to go through the throes of their divorce. Colleen wasn’t going to be in town, but she would leave a key on the porch so I could stay at her house. I have no idea where Rod was, they weren’t together, and he wouldn’t be at home either. I did have two cars to choose from for transportation, and that would be about the thing I’d have going for me.

I think my flight landed in Missoula around 7:00 PM on May 2nd or 3rd. No one met me at the airport. It was one of the loneliest moments of my life, ever. For all time. I took a cab to Colleen’s house, and stared at the walls for a few hours.

Maureen had been at a Gordon Lightfoot concert with Rick, I think that was his name. To this day, I fucking hate Gordon Fucking Lightfoot, and I’ve hated almost every guy I ever met named Rick.

Well, I’ve never claimed to be sane.

Maureen came over to break up with me after the concert. She told me that was why she came over when she arrived, but then she added something like  unto this, “That’s why I came here, but I just realized I’m still in love with you…”

So, we didn’t break up that first night. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad now, but it was better than anything I could’ve hoped for at the time. We didn’t break up, but we didn’t exactly get back together either. All I knew for sure when she left was she was still my girl. Kind of.

Vague Musical Reference That No One Else Will Give A Damn About But Me: How Long by the British group Ace was getting a lots of airtime in Missoula at the time Maureen and I were going through our shared angst. It reached No. 3 in the US charts. I cannot hear that song without becoming an heartbroken teenager again. And the answer to that musical question ended up being since about August of 1974.

Maureen was no longer living in her tiny apartment across from the hospital. She had moved into a big place with a couple of girls from our high school class, Colleen and Priscilla, so on the odd occasions that I went to see her there, well, it was very odd.

I knew a lots of Colleens back when I was in high school. There was my sister. And the Colleen I took to the Prom. I have a vague memory of talking to her at her dorm on the U of M campus. And there was Maureen’s roommate, whom we both knew from high school. And at least one more more Colleen from our class. And my buddy Dave dated a different Colleen…  And after that time I think I’ve met two Colleens in forty years or so. I may be wrong about this, but I think Roommate Colleen introduced my then girlfriend to Rick, the guy my girlfriend would leave me for.

Maureen’s roommates did their best to comfort both Maureen and I during what was an extremely ackward situation for all of us, and that ackwardness was only accentuated whenever I was around. We had all gone to school with each other, we were all friends.

It was a painful experience for all of us. And then a very strange thing happened one night. Roommate Colleen and I were talking in her bedroom, and then we weren’t talking anymore. We started kissing.  And Maureen walked in on us. A situation I didn’t think could get any worse, did. I think I mostly stayed away from Maureen, Colleen and Priscilla’s house after that night.

* * * *

I didn’t have a lots of close friends back in high school. I wasn’t a Jock, and I wasn’t a Brain. I was kind of a Nobody until Maureen entered my life and made me a Somebody. She was the most important and incredible person/event that had ever happened to me in my young and haunted life.

Our first dates were double or triple dates. We got to know each other kind of vicariously through our mutual friends, and it wasn’t until we started liking each other that we started going out all by ourselves.

I was in love with Maureen from the moment I first saw her, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. We kind of joked around about it, and we might say something after we drank too much cheap wine at the drive in. And then, like it does in all romantic tales, it really happened.

We went to go see Live and Let Die. I can no longer remember the exact date, but the movie was released in June of 1973, so we probably saw it in early July of that year. Whatever day/date it was, that was the night Maureen told me she loved me for the first time.

I still remember the astonishment I felt at hearing her say those three words to me after the movie. And then she started crying. I told her I loved her, too, but I did not cry. I thought I might got dead from an overdose of Joy.

The fact that anyone could love me, especially Maureen Ann Browne–it proved there was a God, and He did more than answer prayers, He was an honest to God miracle worker! If Maureen could love me, maybe there was hope that my life wouldn’t always be some kind of fucking disaster. And if that was true, then Maureen had to be an angel. She was certainly as beautiful as an angel, and that is not an exaggeration.

Maureen was one of those people that other people couldn’t help but notice when she walked into a room. She was probably the same height as me, long dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, and the body of Venus de Milo, with arms. I thought she was the Goddess of Beauty and Light, and that’s not an exaggeration either. And she was spookysmart to boot.

Back when I was young, I believed you needed to have another person to make you whole. And I had found that person. As a result of my belief, I desperately wanted to be with Maureen, always and forever, but I also understood her position when she was trying to decide her future, and mine, almost two years later.

We were no longer physically together. She was living in Montana, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. And I was going to be in Oklahoma for another two and half years! I couldn’t just tell the Army that after giving it a lots of thought, I no longer felt being in the military was the best career choice for me, and I just wanted to go home and be with my girlfriend.

Well, I suppose I could’ve said that, but I knew the Army wasn’t going to be at all swayed by that sort of a plea.

I  knew where I wanted to be when Maureen decided what she was going to do with her life, and that was with her, but I had no tricks, no aces up my sleeve. I couldn’t make her choose me. So I anxiously waited for her to make up her mind, and while I waited, I hung out with the one other best friend I had in Missoula, Dave Nelson.

Dave was my first friend in high school. We practically became brothers. And Dave did what any guy would do when his best friend’s life was melting down. He introduced me to a few girls he knew, and we got drunk with them. We went canoeing, and got drunk. We went fishing, and got drunk. We drove around town in my sister’s Toyota Corolla or her husband’s Toyota Land Cruiser, and got drunk.

In retrospect, mostly, we just got drunk. Young guys. We didn’t have a lots of tools in the old tool box, eh.

* * * *

On the 8th of May, Maureen made her decision. She had most likely known all along what she was going to do, but that was the day she decided to tell me. She invited me over to her house and made me a really nice meal. I think we had sex, one last time. It was probably my going away present. As far as presents go, that’s a pretty nice present. But it wasn’t the same–there was no making love involved–and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed it anywhere near as much as we had in the past.

“I’ve made a decision.” She started out saying something like unto that after she had done everything she could to soften what would be the cruelest of blows to me, and that was all I really needed to hear. “I think we should break up. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. It’s the distance and being apart.” She may have said more, she probably did. I didn’t hear any of it.

“Okay. I understand.” I said something like unto that when she finished.

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Aren’t you going to fight for me?!?”

I don’t think I had any response to that. Who was I supposed to fight? Geography? Rick? Time and Space? The Army? Her? And what was I supposed to say? She already knew I loved her. That didn’t seem to be tipping the scales in my favor, and that was all I had to offer her.

I’m sure I should have said something. I should have said anything! But I had nothing to say, no answer to her demand. She had chosen someone else over me, and there was nothing left inside of me. Part of me got dead that night, and it stayed dead for a very long time. Actually, I’m not sure it ever came back to life. Maybe it was never there, that’s a possibility, too.

I drove back to the empty house I was occupying, and all I wanted to do was die. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that empty. I didn’t think it was wise for me to be alone, so I called my best friend. The one who had just stopped being my best friend.

I’m not sure if I talked to Maureen that night or not, but I did talk to Dan. I think he was Roommate Colleen’s boyfriend, and Dan did something extraordinary. He came over to talk to me, face to face, and kept me alive that night. We drank a lots of beer, of course, and talked all night.

I’m not sure if I ever thanked him, but thank you, Dan. That was a stand up thing to do.

* * * *

Friday, May 9, 1975. I was supposed to fly back to Oklahoma the following day, but I couldn’t do it. I called my CO, and he extended my leave for another week after listening to my tale of heart wretching woe.

I went out with Dave that night. I was a single man on the prowl, so I sat at the bar and cried in my beer. That’s pretty close to the truth. I was about as much fun to be around as a suicide bomber.

I no longer remember which bar we went to, but Dave and his girlfriend were there, and probably another girl Dave was hoping would distract me from my misery. The fact that I can’t remember her name indicates how successful she was. And just like that rainy January night in Oklahoma when I was overcome with despair and loneliness, I suddenly couldn’t stand being around anyone, and decided to go for a walk.

It wasn’t raining that night in Montana. I had nothing to impede my progress as I left the bar and marched in the darkness toward my sister’s house, which was on the far end of town from the bar I’d been at. I didn’t care. I probably would’ve walked all the way back to Oklahoma if the idea had occurred to me. Nothing slowed me down, I looked neither to the right or the left, until I ran into the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

The county fairgrounds are huge, and they’re surrounded by a tall wire fence with strands of barbed wire running across the top. I could’ve walked around the fairgrounds, but I was young and drunk and pissed off, and no goddamn fence was going to stand in my way.

I climbed the fence, and walked across the fairgrounds until I reached the fence on the far side of the grounds. I had conquered the first fence without an hiccough, so I scaled the second, but this time the fence fought back. As I was coming down, my right hand got kind of tangled in the barbed wire.

I sustained a wound on my right hand/wrist. I was bleeding, but not too badly. I ignored it until I reached my sister’s empty house, and I took a look at it in the bathroom.

I spent a fair amount of time staring at my reflection in the mirror. The abhorrence I felt toward everyone in the bar transferred itself to my reflection. The feelings I had been struggling not to feel  since the age of seven boiled over.

I saw a pack of razor blades on the counter…  My wrist was already bleeding…  Might as well open that sucker up and let everything out…  I knew I had to cut between the tendons and ligaments on my wrist…

My first few attempts were pretty lame, but that fourth one, that stuck gold. I was actually surprised I cut as deep as I did, but that feeling faded almost immediately. I didn’t feel anything after that, not even pain. I laid down on the floor, stretching my right arm out away from my body. I didn’t want to accidentally lay on it and impede the flow of blood out of my body, and said goodbye to my life and this world.

* * * *

A little background information here. It sounds as though I had done a lots of research into how to kill myself, and that is not true. One of my Army buddies was a guy named Joe Parnell, and Joe had spent some time in prison.

Life in prison isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV, and Joe decided he couldn’t take another minute of being incarcerated. So he slit his wrist. I noticed the scars on his wrist one day when we were getting high at the barracks, and asked him about them.

It was Joe who had explained the dynamics of cutting one’s wrist correctly to me. And that was why I extended my arm. Joe said he would’ve died to death except for one little thing. He didn’t extend his arm, and the weight of his body diminished the blood flow out of his body enough that he was still alive when the guards found him.

He said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. Even stupider than the stupid stuff he’d done to get his ass thrown into prison.

* * * *

It was weird. Great descriptive term there, but I lack any other word or phrase, and I’ve thought about this a lots.

I felt someone shaking my shoulder, waking me up. Leave me alone! I thought, but the shaking sensation persisted. I woke up and turned to see who was disturbing me.

There was no one there. Just a kind of ting-ly feeling in the air. It gave me goosebumps. Actually, it still does. It just did.

I saw my wrist, and the pool of blood on the floor. I have no idea how long I had laid there. I knew this was wrong, and stupid, and I needed to do something to stop it. I called the local crisis line, and told the person on the other end I needed urgent help, and I had no transportation.

While I waited for someone to come get me, I wrapped a towel around my wrist so I wouldn’t bleed all over everything, and cleaned up the pool of coagulating blood on the floor.

I’m pretty sure I wondered why I was still alive. I have given that a lots of thought over the years, and this was what I eventually concluded: I got lucky. I somehow managed to miss every artery in that area of my right wrist, so instead of quickly bleeding out, I more or less oozed however much blood I lost. The pool of blood I cleaned up was about one foot wide and maybe a foot and a foot and an half long.

Obviously, I didn’t lose enough blood to got dead, but it was enough to make me feel very lightheaded while I cleaned up. There was another reason I didn’t got dead, and that will be revealed shortly.

An orange Volkswagen microbus pulled into the driveway, and a hippie looking guy drove me to the St Patrick Hospital ER. My wound was cleaned, and sutured, and then the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. He could admit me to the pysch unit, but if I promised I wouldn’t try to harm myself again, I could go home.

I know, right! All of my psych nurse colleagues will have an hard time believing this. I would feel the irony of that for decades to come.

“I’m good. I made a bad decision, but I’m past that. I’ll go home, and sleep. I’ll be okay.” And I meant that. I would think about taking my life countless times over the following years, but I would never make an intentional attempt like that again.

The sun was coming up as the hippie looking guy drove me back to my sister’s house. I cried tears of joy to see that sunrise. And I told the hippie looking guy about the angel that woke me up, and saved my life.

“Wow, that’s far out, man. God must have another plan for you, man. That slash on your wrist looked pretty bad.”

That, was the other reason.

It was at that moment I started to believe God really did have a plan for me. I hadn’t narrowed it down to becoming a prophet yet, but I was alive, and I was alive for a reason. That was the precise moment my quest for God and the Truth began.

I have three scars on my right wrist, two fairly superficial, one very substantial. It’s about two inches long, and maybe half an inch at its widest point. The ER doc did a crappy job sewing me back up.

I’ve told a few people the entire story of how I got my scars, and several more a very condensed version of how I got them, but mostly I try to keep them from view.

* * * *

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone back to Oklahoma, rather than prolong my misery and hang around Missoula for another week. Dave showed up at my sister’s house early Saturday morning to check up on me, and saw the bandage on my wrist.

“Jesus, Rowen! You stupid sonuvabitch!! What the fuck did you do!!!” he said. I told him everything.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

I can’t remember everywhere we went, but we drove my brother-in-law’s Land Cruiser, and we eventually ended up at the Aber Day Kegger. The ADK was a monster beer bash sponsored by the University of Montana. It was legendary, back in the day. A lots and lots and lots of kegs and a lots of bands and live music. Thousands of people went to the ADK.

My right wrist was bandaged. I was wearing a T-shirt and a long sleeve wool shirt. But it was very warm that day, and I rolled the sleeves of my shirt up to cool down a little. I was alive and the sun was shining. I sat on the mountainside drinking beer and listening to the music. I think I actually felt almost not totally miserable for the first time in a week.

And who I did run into in that crowd of thousands of people?

Rick and Maureen. I think that was the only time I met him. We might have even shook hands. I can’t remember for sure.

“What did you do?” Maureen asked when she saw my bandaged wrist.

“It’s nothing.” I replied. Something like that. Rick stepped away and let us talk. I don’t think he was all that happy to do it, but he did, and that was very nice of him.

I eventually told Maureen a very condensed version of events, but enough for her to know it was no accident. She said she would’ve been devastated if anything had happened to me. And I know I thought, Good! Then you’d know how I feel!

I told her to have fun or something, and walked away. I stayed mostly in that general area, hoping to decrease the odds of us continually running into each other throughout the day.

Dave gave me a little pep talk at the ADK. Maureen wasn’t the only girl on the planet. There were millions of them out there. I’d meet a lots of girls, and all of them would be better than that fuckin’ two-timing, backstabbing bitch. I can’t remember how long Dave and I stayed at the kegger, and I can’t remember anything of what happened after we left. I’m pretty sure I actually slept that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I tried to make some sense out of everything that had happened. I stared at the self-inflicted wounds on my wrist. I remembered seeing Maureen at the ADK. I remembered the music, and Dave’s pep talk.

I decided I would take Dave’s advice and try to move on, and I would try like hell to hate Maureen, and fail miserably at both.

* * * *

I spent the last week of my extended vacation in Missoula howling at the moon and getting drunk with Dave. He did his best to cheer me up by trying to hook me up with girls, and I was such a pathetic mess I mostly talked to them about how much I loved the woman who had broken my heart into a hundred million pieces, like unto the Portland vase.

She was the girl of my dreams, literally.

Before I ever started dating Maureen, I dreamed about her almost every night. And it wasn’t a daydream dream where I imagined us being together. She would come to me in my sleep.

I can’t remember if I dreamed about her while we dated, but I probably did. I spent almost every night with her for two years after we broke up. I would dream of her with decreasing frequency as the years lengthened. I think the last time I dreamt of her was just before we moved to Mexico.

I’m guessing the next time she visits me in a dream she’ll tell me she’ll kill me in my fucking sleep if I ever write another post about her.

Ah, my once beloved, I am so sorry for any pain I’ve ever caused you.

* * * *

Maureen and I would talk several times on the phone that last week. I’m not sure we talked in person. It’s possible…  She listened politely while I cried and whined on her shoulder, like any best friend would. I was such a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby. It embarrasses me to think about it now.

It was really nice of her to do that, and I’m not joking when I say I was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle mess of an human being.

All good things must end, and so must all lousy things. The days and nights of that week flew by relatively quickly. This time I had to return to Oklahoma.

Saturday, May 17, 1975. Maureen came over to see me at my sister’s house before my flight back to Oklahoma. We both cried. And cried. And cried. I think I used up two decades worth of tears in two hours. I told her I would love her until the day after I died. She told me she would probably always love me too. She may have taken me to the airport. That’s also possible, but again, my memory fails me.

That was the last time I saw Maureen.

I’ve been back to Missoula several times since then. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope I’d run into her somewhere in town. Alas, it was not to be.

I would eventually stop crying and start dating again. I would break up with some of the girls I dated after Maureen. Some of them broke up with me. Either I grew tired of them, or they were tired of me, but there was no ambiguity about saying goodbye on anyone’s part.

That was perhaps the oddest thing about our breakup. We didn’t break up because we no longer loved or cared for one another, or one of us no longer felt that way. We broke up despite the fact that we were both still in love with each other.

It would take me at least five years to realize Maureen and I had actually broken up, and that’s why every relationship I was in during that timeframe failed.

It would probably take me another five years to realize that Maureen and I would never get back together again. And if my high school sweetheart didn’t think I was a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby, she probably will if she reads this.

I carried that torch for a long time.

Time heals all emotional wounds, right? Well, only if you make a choice that you want to be healed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed I am somewhat of an hopeless romantic. I have stated that I still have affectionate feelings for some of the darling women I dated before I got married.

I even have affectionate feelings for one woman I never actually dated.

Somewhere deep inside me, I still love Maureen, too.

I haven’t seen my former sweetheart in over four decades. Do I love her now like I loved her then? No, I don’t. Neither of us are nineteen anymore, thank God. We’ve traveled thousands of miles on different paths. She has a family, and children, and grandchildren. I doubt very much she’d trade any of that for what we once shared.

I’ve been married to my lovely supermodel wife for almost three decades. We have a great life together, and I wouldn’t change a thing that got us to the very satisfied and comfortable place we are now. We are, and always will be, very much in love. I cannot imagine my life without her.

There’s no going back to that place again, and it would be foolish to think it could ever be recreated. The flames of Love are like unto snowflakes, each unique and different. And once a flame goes out, it’s extinguished forever.

And then there’s this: there’s no guarantee that if we had decided to stay together back then, we’d still be together now. Given the path of self-destructive behavior I was walking back then, I probably would’ve destroyed her life as well as mine, and then I really would’ve had to end my life.

Plus, she would most likely be the mother of my children, and there’s no telling what sort of price the world would have to pay for that. I was cursed by my own mother, and even the thought of Mark Junior running rampant on this planet sends chills down my spine.

Everything happens for a reason.

Only God sees everything perfectly from beginning to end, if even He does. But the reason for this chapter of my life hasn’t been all that important to me for quite some time. Now that I’ve purged this chapter, maybe I can file it away in my Do Not Open Again Ever File.

My Muse and I can both move on. And I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Prom

I mentioned in a previous post that I went to the Prom three times, twice in high school, and a third time a couple of years after I got out of the Army.

I went to Loyola High School in Missoula, MT. With a name like Loyola, you know it has to be Catholic, and it has to be Jesuit. It was an all-boy school, but right across the street from Loyola was Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school.

LHS and SHA were essentially one high school in everything but name, and buildings. Loyola was a nondescript two story brick building that looked like an outhouse compared to Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart was an huge, antique-looking wooden building, three or four stories high. It wasn’t just a school, it was an historical landmark, and I think it used to be a convent. If you wandered the hallways on the top floors, you could find the rooms where the nuns or acolytes used to sleep. There were beds in some of the rooms. It was one of the coolest buildings in Missoula, ever.

The two schools shared classrooms and faculty. The cheerleaders for Loyola’s sports teams came from Sacred Heart. And the Loyola boys tended to date the Sacred Heart girls. LHS and SHA merged to officially become one school the year after I graduated, and moved to a new location.

The Loyola building is still standing, empty. It’s kind of sad. The old Sacred Heart building is now a parking lot for St Patrick Hospital, and that is very sad. I just about went into shock the last time I visited Missoula in 1999.

So many memories, good and not so good; that relatively idyllic time so long ago–before life started kicking me in the balls and my first dreams died–all turned bittersweet and more poignant in the realization that time waits for no one, and nuns can be even more mercenary than me.

It’s really too bad they were allowed to destroy that building, but they saw their opportunity to get rid of it, and they took it, those bitches.

* * * *

I wasn’t planning on going to the Prom when I was a junior. I didn’t have a girlfriend. And I was ridiculously shy around any member of the opposite sex. Well, it was high school…  There was one girl I wanted to ask out, but she was way out of my league, and there was no way I could even think about asking her out without dying to death in the process.

On the night in question, I was with my good friend, Andy Hyde. We dropped in to see one of our lay teachers, a skinny gal with long curly hair. I think her name was Rose, maybe…  I can’t remember how the subject of Prom got into the discussion, but it did.

I think Andy already had a date, MaryAnn Marshall. She was a rather buxom blonde who didn’t attend Sacred Heart. And I think he was probably trying to get me to go to the Prom because I had a car, and then he and his date could ride with me and my date.

I had a 1963 Dodge Dart stationwagon back then. I was the only one of my group of friends that had a car, so…

At any rate, following the strong encouragement of everyone in the room, I called Colleen Dowdall with the telephone in Rose’s kitchen and asked her to the Prom. It was a jump ball as to which of us was more surprised. It was probably the first time I had ever spoken to Colleen in the three years I had been going to school with her.

Colleen was a tiny girl with very long brown hair. She was attractive, and super smart. I had some classes with Colleen, so I knew who she was, and she knew who I was, and that probably surprised me. I saw myself as essentially invisible most of my time in high school.

I was probably the Guy Most People Would Forget in my class.

Colleen didn’t have a date for Prom. She was thrilled that I called to ask her. And that’s how I ended up going to the Prom the first time.

* * * *

Prom Night! I wore a powder blue tuxedo, and I totally rocked that sucker. Andy and I picked up our dates, Colleen and MaryAnn. We went to the restaurant at the Edgewater Inn, which might have been the nicest restaurant in Missoula back then.

Missoula has probably become the hipest, most eclectic city in Montana, and there are a lots of fine dining venues available now. But way back then it was a cowboy university town, and I doubt there were many hip places anywhere in the state.

I think some of the menu items were written in French, and I probably tried to impress my date by ordering in French because I was taking French in school, Je vais avoir l’éléphant à la mode, et un ordre de parapluies sur le côté. Thank God the restaurant was out of elephants. And umbrellas. Our server suggested I try one of the steaks instead.

After a delicious meal, we probably drank some beer in my car before we went to the Prom to dance the night away. And then a funny thing happened. Colleen and MaryAnn went to the bathroom, and when they returned, MaryAnn sat next to me and Colleen sat next to Andy.

“We decided to switch dates.” MaryAnn explained. “Colleen really likes Andy, and I think you’re really cute.”

So Andy and I and Colleen and MaryAnn kind of made history by being the first Prom date swappers at our high school.

And to crown the night off, we all went to the Go West Drive In Theater. Andy and I worked at the Go West, so we went there to show our gay bosses our dates. I think our gay bosses fell in love with dresses our dates were wearing.

I spent the rest of the night in the backseat of my car kissing my new date and playing with her ample chest. My time with MaryAnn would be brief. She would meet another guy she thought was really cute, my other good friend from high school, Dave Nelson, and MaryAnn and I were fini.

* * * *

Fast forward to senior year. I was dating my high school sweetheart, the beautiful and talented Maureen Ann Browne, the girl I didn’t think would give me the time of day one year earlier.

In one of those odd twists of fate, Colleen and Maureen were the best of friends, and I think it was Colleen who suggested I ask her friend out. I did, and I couldn’t believe she said, Yes! We kind of hit it off, and we went out a few more times, and then we really hit it off. We started seriously dating, and were a couple throughout our senior year.

I remember it as one of the happiest times of my life, and that simultaneously brief yet endless time with Maureen was probably the most head over heels in love that I would ever be with anyone. That whole first love thing, you know…

For my second Prom experience, I wore a light gray tuxedo. Maureen and I would double date with Andy and Colleen, but I think my buddy, Dave Nelson, and his date also rode along with us. I don’t think he was still dating MaryAnn. She probably dumped him for yet another really cute guy…

However many of us there were that night, we all went to eat at the restaurant at the Edgewater Inn again. Our server recognized me said he could check with the chef, but he was pretty sure they had just received a shipment of elephant. And umbrellas.

I ordered a steak. In English.

We probably drank beer in my car after our meal. Or Boone’s Farm! Remember that shit? God, that stuff was awful. But we drank it by the fuckin’ gallon. And then we danced the night away.

There was most likely another trip to the Go West, and our gay bosses fell in love with a different set of Prom dresses.

I know I spent that night kissing Maureen. She was very good at kissing. Almost exactly one year later, I would see Maureen for the last time in my life when we decided to break up.

I would shed tears like unto an hurricane of heartache and grief and loss. I had never cried like that before. Or since. And because I was young, stupid and heartbroken, I would try to intentionally take my life.

* * * *

Fast forward four years. I would go to the Prom for the last time in Minnesota, and I can probably thank Shorty Girtz for that.

Shorty owned and operated a service station in Rice, MN. And all the local potheads and misfits tended to congregate there. Shorty tended to bring home strays, I think that’s how someone described it. And one of the strays he brought into his station was Meredith.

Meredith was a senior in high school, and Shorty gave her job standing behind the cash register. I don’t know if she even knew how to open the cash register. She described herself as Shorty’s office manager, whatever the hell that meant. She may have tried to organize Shorty’s business, but it would’ve been easier to to colonize Mars. By building a bridge to walk there. From Earth. Meredith didn’t last long in any capacity at Shorty’s.

At any rate, there was a reason Meredith worked at Shorty’s, and she fit in perfectly with all the other misfits. And then came the day that I dropped in at Shorty’s to find his office manager crying uncontrollably in her boss’s office.

“Hey! What’s going on, Meri?” I decided to ask. I had a tendency to do stupid stuff like that, especially if a woman was crying. It would take me a few years working as a psych nurse to not be effected by a woman’s tears.

Somehow, between sobbing breaths, Meridith was able to inform me that she hadn’t been asked to the Prom, and she more or less wanted to die.

“Is that all? Hell, I’ll take you to the Prom if you’ll stop crying.”

“REALLY?!?”

And that was how I ended up going to the Prom for the third time.

I rented a black tuxedo, and took Meredith to a really nice restaurant on the Mississippi River called Portside. I asked our server if they had elephant à la mode.

“I could check with the kitchen…” she said. And she was serious. I ordered a steak, and a bottle of wine. I think I was able to talk our server into allowing my date to drink a couple glasses of wine, even though Meridith wasn’t of legal drinking age. It was the Prom!

I don’t really remember much about my last Prom, except I fell in love with Meredith’s best friend, Jackie. I would end up dating her for several months. She was a lots of fun for awhile there. When Jackie and I parted ways, I started dating the Banana Split Girls.

I won’t be going to another Prom in this lifetime, not even as a chaperone. I don’t think they have Proms in Mexico. I should talk to someone about that. It would give the Mexicans another reason to celebrate, and I have never seen a group of people that loves to party as much as the Mexicans do, including bikers.

I have to say I had a good time at all three Proms I attended, and I hope my four dates had a good time, too.

You Want To Do What?

I’ve been way too serious of late. So, here’s one of my favorite jokes.

* * * *

A guy comes home from a long day work at the pickle factory. He has a worried look on his face, and sits down at the kitchen table. His wife comes into the kitchen, and says, “Hi honey! How was your day?”

“I’ve got a problem.” he says after a few moments. “You can’t tell anyone about this, but I really want to stick my dick in the pickle slicer at work.”

“Oh, honey! You can’t do that!” she said. Her husband had been blessed by God, if you know what I mean, and as a result, so was she. “I mean, the pickle slicer?!? That sounds like a really bad idea!!

“You think I don’t know that! It’s a really, really bad idea!”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should see a doctor…”

“Oh, that’s great! Now you think I should see a shrink…”

“No! Not if you don’t want to, but honey, the pickle slicer…”

“I know, you’re right. I’ll tell you what. If this feeling doesn’t go away in a couple of days, I’ll go see a doctor.”

“Okay, but promise me you’ll be careful.”

The next day, the guy comes home from work. He still looks worried, and sits down at the table again. His wife rushes into the kitchen.

“How was work?” she asked, then held her breath.

“It was hell. I tried to ignore it, but I still want to stick my dick in the pickle slicer at work.”

“I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment for you. I’m really scared for your–I mean, you!”

“No, not yet. If it doesn’t get any better tomorrow, I’ll go see the doctor.”

“Okay…but promise me you’ll be careful, please! I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to your—to you.”

The next day, the guy comes home at noon. He sits down at the table, but he no longer looks worried. In fact, he has a big smile on his face.

“Honey? What’re you doing home so early? Is everything okay?”

“Honey, I tried to fight that feeling I’ve been having, but today I just said the hell with it, and I did it. I stuck my dick in the pickle slicer at work!”

“Noooooooooo!” his wife cried, and then she looked at her husband. He didn’t look like he was, you know, injured. “Well, what happened?”

“Duh! I got fired.”

“Well, what happened to the pickle slicer?”

“Oh, she got fired, too.”

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.

This Song Has No Title

It’s the first day of the new year. Our party went off without a hitch, thanks to the planning of my two wives, and the goodies our guests brought to the party.

I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until midnight to ring in the new year, but I was awake at midnight last night, thanks to the pyrotechnic barrage provided by the Mexican locals.

I’m getting used to the local customs. I barely notice the explosions most of the time now, and I was able to fall back asleep, even though the fireworks continued throughout the night.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

* * * *

Writing is a strange preoccupation. I can’t speak for any other writers, but I have to have a certain amount of inspiration in order to write successfully. Thankfully, not everything I do in life requires inspiration.

“Honey! The toilet is overflowing!!”

There’s no waiting for inspiration to strike in that situation. And if you have to wait to be inspired to act in that case, I don’t think there’s much help for you.

I’ve started writing three or four posts in last couple days, and I’ve scrapped them all. The thing I’ve been inspired to write about is pretty much the last thing I’d choose, but I’m going to be stuck here forever unless I heed the urging of my Muse. So let’s do this.

Several of my posts have been born out of a simple statement I made in a previous post, and I made one of those several days ago when I wrote about spending the summer months at my grandparents’ farm.

I casually mentioned my pedophile uncle.

One of the people that consistently reads my blog is my high school sweetheart, Maureen. She commented that this was something she didn’t know about me, and there’s a reason for that. I’m pretty sure I never told her that I had been sexually abused as a child.

It’s not something I’m proud of, and I can probably count the number of people I’ve talked to it about on one hand, if I don’t count my former patients. I don’t think I even talked about it in group when I was in treatment at the St Cloud VA. I wrote about it for my Fifth Step, and quickly covered that ground when I was talking to my counselor, then tried to bury it again.

It’s unfortunate I didn’t have the courage to face my demons when I was young. It would’ve saved me a whole lots of pain, misery and money in the long run because my main coping skill was drinking myself into a coma.

Since I decided to quit drinking, it’s been somewhat easier for me discuss, though I doubt I’ll ever be completely comfortable with the subject. Many of my former patients had the same issue I did, and I told a few of them my story, mostly to give them hope they could survive their trauma if they were willing to let go of it.

Sexual abuse is a profound psychic trauma, and it’ll flat out fuck with your mind. Two-thirds of people that seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse report being abused as a child. The sad fact of the matter is this is a much more pervasive problem than most people would care to admit.

I was a dysfunctional mess for most of my life, until I learned to apply a valuable lesson to my life. It’s not what happens to us that’s important. It’s how we respond to it that determines what sort of person we become.

I had to learn to stop reacting, and stupidly fucking up my life, over and over again. Logic and reason are nice tools, but they do not suffice when you’re trying to figure out how you became a victim of something so… indescribable and…horrific.

* * * *

Hey! How’s it going? My name’s Ron.

Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.

Man, I had the best weekend ever! It took me seventeen years, but I got my first blowjob! How about you? Have you ever had a blowjob?

Um, yeah…

Really? How old were you?

Um, six or seven, I think.

Seriously? What were you, some kind of porn star?

No. It was my uncle, and he was drunk, so…

* * * *

Even now, I have to make a joke out of it.

Like many, if not all survivors of sexual abuse, I was beyond ashamed of what happened. It was my darkest secret, and I hid it under a deep layer of defense mechanisms to keep it hidden.

The only mechanism I didn’t utilize was Denial. In retrospect, the only thing I can say is it was something I couldn’t deny, no matter how much I would’ve liked to make it disappear.

Like many things in my life, I have vague memories of events and when they occurred. My uncle started exploiting me when I was six or seven years old. And it happened for three or four years.

I can’t even say I was an unwilling participant in what happened, and that just makes me feel worse. I knew there was something wrong going on because it was a secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. It would be years before I spoke to anyone about it.

When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I decided to tell my parents what happened when I spent my summers down on the farm, and their response was one reason I decided not to talk about it to anyone else. They didn’t believe me. Even when my brothers backed me up and said they had been abused too, my parents still refused to believe what they already knew was true.

My uncle lived in a small town. There are no secrets in a small town, especially in Minnesota. There had been rumors and whisperings about him for years.

But my uncle was also a very talented and charming guy. He was loved and respected by almost everyone living in and around Browerville. He was my mom’s big brother, and he had been my dad’s best friend when they were in the Army. He introduced my dad to the woman he would marry.

When my uncle died, my mother found his secret stash of photos he had taken over the years. There are no words to describe her visceral reaction to what she saw. She carried those pictures in her purse for years as a reminder to herself of how she had failed to protect her children.

I think I convinced my mom to finally rid herself of that burden, and rip the pictures up. But it’s not the kind of thing you totally recover from. You just learn to move on. I can’t remember if my dad ever said anything about it. Seeing how I can’t recall ever having that conversation with him, I’m going to say it never happened.

It kind of amazes today just how much my uncle’s indiscretions totally fucked up my family.

One of the people I chose to discuss this subject with is my lovely supermodel wife. But when I did so, I wasn’t prepared for the number of questions she’d have.

Oh, look at the time. I forgot to feed my turtle.

You don’t have a turtle.

Then I clearly need to get one.

Where are you going?

The Turtle Store. Don’t wait up. I’ll be back in a couple weeks.

She probably still has a lots of questions. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to answer her.

* * * *

I generally enjoy working on my blog. Today, not so much. But it’s a new year. A new beginning, a new life. I’ve kept this part of my life locked up in the dark, buried in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. It’s time to get it out, time to stare it down and tell it how incredibly fucking meaningless it is anymore.

And it can go crawl off into a corner by itself, and die. It doesn’t need me anymore, and I certainly don’t need it. We’ve hung out together long enough.

I’m sure I’ll still be a fucked up human being until the day I die, but I’ll be more insightfully fucked up from now on. I’ll have a better plan of response. And I’ll be far less likely to do something stupid, though you should never discount that possibility when it comes to me.

And while I’m not planning on dying to death any time soon, I’m certainly getting closer to the day when that will happen. I don’t know if God takes things like circumstance into consideration when he judges us, but if He does, maybe I can do a little plea bargaining with Him.

I have a lots of stupid stuff I have to answer for.

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.

One of the Girls

Nursing is a primarily female dominated profession. There are probably a few others, but I wouldn’t know much about them, except strippers. I dated a few fabric free shoe models, back before I got married. And I probably spent a few hundred bucks or more hanging out in stripper bars, back when I drank.

I have an immense amount of respect for strippers. And nurses. For completely different reasons. Though, there are a few nurses I worked with that I wouldn’t have minded seeing as strippers. And then I would have doubly respected them.

Nurses are a breed apart. Not just anyone can handle being a nurse. It’s a tough job, and even the strongest nurses will have days when all they can do is go home and cry.

As a result, you make strong attachments to anyone that will help you get through your shift in one piece. You develop a level of trust with those people that transcends almost any other relationship you’ll have.

And as a result of that trust, you will sometimes hear the strangest things as a nurse, from other nurses.

“Ooh! I like your shirt! The bra and panties I’m wearing today are the same color!”

“My pee smells like coffee.”

“I’m having an affair.”

“My vagina is hemorrhaging blood!”

“My daughter’s boyfriend beat me up and broke my arm.”

“I just found out my husband has been having sex with our daughter.”

“I have cancer…”

Or, my personal favorite, “I have multiple orgasms.”

I mean, how are you supposed to respond to that? Well, this is how I did: “Um, yeah, me too.”

It wasn’t always pretty, or funny. As a guy, I wasn’t completely comfortable hearing about all the bodily functions of my female co-workers, or what they were doing with their bodies.

“Mark! I was sooo sick last night! I was puking my guts out, and I had diarrhea, at the same time!”

Yeah, it was like that. Especially when Shark Week rolled around. Shark Week was nursing code for when someone was hemorrhaging blood out of their vagina. But many of my female co-workers seemingly couldn’t contain their excitement when they had news to tell me.

I asked one of my vaginally hemorrhaging co-workers why she seemed to take so much delight in telling me about the most personal details of her life.

“I’m a guy. I don’t want to hear about that stuff.”

“Oh. I kind of think of you as one of the girls.”

Yeah, every guy wants to hear those words. But I should note that one of the ward clerks I worked with once described me as ladylike.

I needed a deeper explanation of that, and this is what she said: You’re very polite, and considerate. You have very good manners.

I had a response for her: Yeah, there’s another term for that. It’s called being a gentleman.

I was seemingly the safe sounding board for my female co-workers to tell their problems to. Especially when it came to their relationships. Bad boyfriends. Abusive husbands. Problem children. Problem dogs. I heard about them all. In detail.

Most of my colleagues weren’t seeking advice or counsel. They just wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen. But there are always exceptions.

One of my fellow nurses, Ann, would corner me in the Med Room and tell me all about her toxic relationship with her boyfriend, and then she’d ask me what she should do.

“I’m not giving you anymore advice.”

“Why not? You’re a smart guy.”

“Yes. And you’re a smart girl. You already know what to do.”

“But, your opinion means a lot to me. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Look, you’ve asked me for my opinion before, right?”

“Yes…”

“And have you done anything I’ve suggested?”

“No…”

“Okay. There you go. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

And then we would go through the same thing the following day. By the way, my advice to Ann was to dump her loser boyfriend. I don’t know what she ended up doing. She resigned her position, and was replaced by the nurse who had multiple orgasms.

As much as I disliked Ann, I fucking hated her replacement, that little troll.

Nurses, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, tend to make terrible decisions regarding their personal lives. I don’t know why that is. Even the nurses that make the terrible decisions probably couldn’t tell you why they make the ridiculous choices they make. But the answer might be something as simple as desperation.

“I want to meet a nice guy, and get married. I want babies, I want a family! I want a normal life!”

Yes. A normal life. Because the life of a nurse is anything but normal. Nurses work long hours, and then pick up an extra shift. A quiet day at work? What is that? If you could really work your ass off, it’d be easy to pick a nurse out of a crowd.

Nurses answer endless questions, answer call lights, dress wounds, check blood sugars, administer meds, respond to codes, save lives, and shed a tear when a life ends.

Nurses are tough, and smart, and dedicated. You have to love your job to be a nurse, or the job will eat you alive. And that’s why nurses want nothing more than a normal personal life. You can take only so much insanity in one day.

I don’t miss the crazy nurse life. I did that for thirty years. I’m quite content to read about the wild stuff that happened on social media. And I really don’t miss Shark Week.

I do miss the people. I genuinely loved and respected most of the people I worked with at Aurora, my last employer. They were probably the best group of people I worked with in my career, and I’ve worked with some of the best.

There’s been a management change at Aurora, and while I respected the former DON there, I absolutely love the new DON. I wish all of the people at Aurora a blessed and successful 2017.

I’ll try to keep up with you on Facebook. When you come visit, we’ll have a Girls Night Out.

Diagram of a Defense System

Back when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC, I worked with a lots of Vietnam vets. They were struggling to find their way through the morass of PTSD symptoms they were suffering from, mostly unsuccessfully.

PTSD is a complicated disease. It’s symptoms are legion, and stealthy. They’re like unto an army of ninjas, and just like ninjas, they attack without warning.

In an attempt to help my brother veterans gain some insight into what they were fighting, I came up with this presentation to help them see what they were up against.

Imagine your life as a game of chess. I actually used chess pieces in the group. I arranged them on a table and moved them around as I explained my idea.

Your opponent attacks. You go on the defensive to protect your position, and the pieces you employ are defense mechanisms. These are tools we use every day of our lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Defense mechanisms help us survive. But, do you have any idea what kind of weapons you’re using. Or why?

What I’m talking about is something I call a defense system. Anytime you have more than one component, you have a system. Think of it like unto an home theater stereo system. Multiple components working together to produce an integrated effect.

That’s what your defense system does. By utilizing a series of connected mechanisms, you create a buffer zone to keep you safe from the world around you. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of defense mechanisms, but let’s start with the basics. There are three fundamental building blocks that every defense system is built upon.

Repression. Suppression. And Denial. After that, the sky is pretty much the limit, but let’s start here.

Repression. If you’re confronted with a traumatic memory, your brain will automatically repress it. This reaction is hardwired into your brain. You don’t even have to think about it, it just happens.

Suppression. When repression doesn’t work, this kicks in. This takes some conscious effort, but these two mechanisms work together, and they’re pretty damn effective. But life can be complicated, and sometimes you need a lots of tools to get a job done, right?

Denial. When repression and suppression don’t work, you have to start bringing in the big guns. With denial, you can make stuff disappear. Denial is a total negation.

It did not happen.

Defense mechanisms are powerful weapons. And they are mobile! They can be deployed wherever they’re needed, and there are ga-zillion of them. You can lock and load and secure the perimeter, and blow shit up with a thousand different kinds of armament.

Minimization. Take a big problem, and make it small.

Maximization. Take a small problem, and make it big.

Rationalization. Logically analyze anything to pieces until it dies of boredom.

Intellectualization. Logically analyze something to pieces until it commits suicide to get away from you.

Shuffle the deck and play them when and where you need them. You can do this shit all day! And there’s a lots more where those came from. Deflection. Projection. Sublimation. Humor. Drug and alcohol use. Do a Google search. There’s a list of defense mechanisms a mile long.

But any effective system needs a fuel supply to keep it up and functioning. And we have that, too.

Anger!

Anger is almost always a secondary response. The precursor might be fear, or shame, or guilt–and it might only be present for the blink of an eye. None of us like feeling that way, but anger. Yeah, were good with that.

Anger, is a powerful fuel. And I’ve seen you guys. Anger is where all y’all have been living. Anger can also be a defense mechanism. No one wants to be around an angry person. Anger is like an electric fence. Only an idiot pisses on that, right?  Anger is like one of those multi-tools. It can do a lots of stuffs.

There’s one major downside to anger. It’s exhausting! I can stay angry for a couple weeks about something my wife or daughters do, and then I have to let it go. It wears me out. You guys have been pissed off for what–twenty or thirty years? How’s that going?

And what happens when you run out of fuel? Everything shuts down! The walls come crashing down, and then what?

Your defense is breached. You have to fall back. You bunker up. You run!

Yeah, you do all those things, but then you have to find a way to get your system back up and running, and that’s not easy to do when the enemy is looking over your shoulder watching you. That’s what brings you guys here. This is the place you come to when your defense system crashes, and you can’t do it on your own any more.

I mentioned drug and alcohol use earlier, but it’s such a pervasive problem I want to take a moment and talk about it. Eighty percent of the people that come here for treatment have a secondary diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse.

Only eighty?

Well, it could be higher, but that’s the statistic the administration here likes to throw around. I know I’ve tried these methods myself, and while they might be effective in the short term, they are completely ineffective in the long term.

Alcohol is a depressant. If you’re not already depressed, you’ll end up that way if you abuse alcohol long enough. Also, mass consumption of alcohol tends to short circuit the wiring of your defense system.

Yeah. That’d be true for me. That’s why I quit drinking.

I had not quit drinking, so it’s more than a little ironic that I was telling someone else to take a look at their drinking habits when that’s what I needed to do myself.

Well, there you have it. I’m not telling you guys to quit drinking. I’m just throwing this out there to give you something to think about. But even if alcohol isn’t an issue, look at all this other stuff. We all have these invisible walls that protect us from stuff we don’t want bombarding us. But it probably works in reverse, too. We’re expending all this energy to keep stuff from getting to us. How easy is it to let our emotions out?

Is it easy for us to let someone know we love them? These walls we have constructed are well built, and they are strong! But in the end, we have essentially created a state of siege mentality–nothing gets in, nothing gets out, and we have stopped living, in exchange for simply…existing. And I know what you’re all thinking, What the fuck am I supposed to do?

I don’t have any answers for your questions. I don’t have any solutions to your problems. Hell, I don’t have any answers or solutions for mine. But we have to start somewhere if we’re ever going to get our lives back.

Awareness is the first step. Once you’re aware of a problem, you can start to do something about it. What you do, well, that’s up to you. You’re gonna have to figure this out for yourself.

I been watching you, Mark. I see you up at the nursing station. Sometimes you just sit there, and stare. You have PTSD, don’t you. You’re one of us, ain’t you.

That was a guy named George. He diagnosed me in that group. I have to admit, I was a little freaked out to hear that. But I couldn’t argue with what he said.

The Nam vets called it the Thousand Yard Stare. Someone could be standing right in front of you, and you’d never see them. You were seeing shit in your head ten thousand miles away.

But however freaked out I might have been, it was nothing compared to what the guys in my group were feeling. They came up and analyzed the chess pieces as if they were going back into combat.

When that guy tried flanking you here–it opened a breach when you redeployed there. Your back is to the river…  You have no drop back position, no place to regroup. You’re about to be overrun.

We all are!

The guys in my group practically ran out of the room.

* * * *

About ten years later, I presented this to concept to my AA group, Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land. And when I finished, I was met with

Silence.

My group members finally came out from the tables they had been hiding under, and discussed my presentation. I’ve discussed bits and pieces of it with a lots of people over the years, but I’ve only presented it in its entirety twice. This makes three.

Sometimes I think it’s the most significant idea I’ve ever imagined, mostly based on the reactions of the people I presented it to, not because it’s actually been proven to be an effective therapy or educational tool.

Oh, and I do make the World’s Best Chili.

Most of the time I don’t think about my concept of an organized defense system at all. But I did this morning. Maybe someone will find it useful. And that’d be cool.

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

And the Truth Shall Make You Free

I had my second Bowen Therapy session today with Diamond Dave. I really like and appreciate this guy. He kind of reminds me of me, and that’s not a bad thing.

He’s pleased with my progress, and he figures a couple more times of beating the hell out of me will probably do the trick. That’s seriously what some of the stuff he does feels like. But I’ve always felt energized after being therapeutically assaulted by Dave. In fact, I’m feeling so good I’m going to write something profound. Maybe…

It’s a combination of what he does, and says. Dave makes me think. He likes to theorize about how I may have injured my back and neck.

Pain is a strange thing. When you’re no longer in agony, the memory of it f-a-d-e-s. My first kidney stone felt like getting kicked in the back by an angry mule, like, a couple hundred times.

I thought I was going to die to death at the time. Now, I’m like, Yeah, that wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had. Even my more recent back and neck pain is fading from my memory quickly, and in some ways it was even more better worser than my kidney stone.

“These things don’t happen in a vacuum.” Diamond Dave said. There had to be a cause that produced the agony I was in.

In much the same fashion, there was a cause that made me start thinking I wanted to be a prophet, or in other terms, a man of God.

Then why don’t you become a pastor? Or a chaplain? Or a priest?

Yeah, that’s a reasonable question.

I hope this sounds like a reasonable response. Some of my friends in Arizona were pastors. All of them agreed that being a pastor was a calling. It’s not so much of a vocation as it is a compulsion.

Plus, it’s a huge pain in the ass. You actually meet fewer crazy people as a psych nurse. And psych nurses have powerful medications at their disposal. Pastors do not. I think I got the better end of that deal in terms of vocations.

I have never wanted to lead a church. I’m more interested in starting a new religion. I know that’s probably going to sound a little weird, but hear me out.

I was raised Catholic. I went to Mass every Sunday. I was an altar boy. And I believed the things I did about God and the Trinity and everything else because that’s what I was taught to believe. If I had been raised in the Jewish or Muslim faith, I would’ve believed that dogma instead.

After I graduated from high school, I essentially dropped out of church, and abandoned all pretense of following any organized religion. I started exploring and researching everything I could about God and his many incarnations, and the many religions he spawned.

There’s essentially only one reason why anyone believes whatever it is they believe about God. They perceive it to be the truth. I mean, why would you believe something if you knew it was false? Even atheists, who don’t believe in God at all, do so because think they’re right, and all the fools that worship any God are wrong.

Jews worship the One, True God. His name is Yahweh. So do Christians, except their One, True God is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but still One God, somehow, and Jesus Christ is the King and Savior of the world. Muslims also worship the One, True God, but his name is Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.

Three different beliefs. All of them are the One Truth.

To break it down even further, there are different factions in all of the world’s three main religions, and they all believe a different version of the Truth.

Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and even Mormans are all Christians. Sunnis, Shiites and Sufis are all Muslims. There are Orthodox Jews, Hasidic Jews, Reformist Jews, Conservative Jews and even Messianic Jews.

These varied sects can’t even agree with each other about what the truth is in the larger scope of their unified religion. And I I haven’t even mentioned Hindus or Buddhists or Shintoists or any of the other thousands of religions floating around out there in the world.

Upon further review, I came to this ridiculous conclusion. Either all of them were the One, True Religion. Or none of them were.

I discussed this with Brian Leach, my friend and former lead pastor at Joe’s Church. He understood what I was trying to say.

“If anything can be the truth, nothing actually can be. There has to be a Ground Zero.”

Somewhere, out there, out where dreams come true…  There had to be One Original Truth. And that is what I have been seeking, like a dog chasing its tail.

* * * *

The real seeker of truth never seeks truth. On the contrary, he tries to clean himself of all that is untrue, inauthentic, insincere – and when his heart is ready, purified, the guest comes. You cannot find the guest, you cannot go after him. He comes to you; you just have to be prepared. You have to be in a right attitude.

* * * *

I’ve been seeking the Truth since I was in my early twenties. I’ve gone down every wrong road I could find, and every dead end. Twice. Just to make sure. The above paragraph probably sums up everything I’ve learned in roughly thirty years of being totally lost as well as anything I could say, but this is how I’d phrase it.

What is the truth? I can’t tell you what the truth is, but I can tell you what it isn’t.

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.

Horrible Bosses, Part II

I’m struggling to figure out how to start this installment of my blog. Maybe if I acknowledge that, I can get started.

My lovely supermodel wife was in the hospital recovering from her fourth, and most devastating surgery of the five surgeries she would have in that time period.

My mother-in-law had died on the table in the Operating Room. Lea’s dad and her sister, Leslie, were using my house as their headquarters to contact their family to inform everyone about Wanda’s passing, and plan her funeral.

I can’t remember exactly how I ended up being chosen to write her eulogy…  It might have been because of all the things I said about her when we went to see her body the night she died. Dave was touched, and may have asked me to say something at her memorial service. I would spend a few days camped in front of my computer monitor, writing and editing and rewriting what I wanted to say.

My boss and her boss, Marj and Mary, had done the unthinkable. They had questioned whether I really needed to take a week off after the sudden death of my mother-in-law.

And that’s how this story gets started.

* * * *

I wasn’t particularly close to anyone in Lea’s family at that time. Her parents lived almost two thousand miles away. I hadn’t actually seen them in person more than a handful of times. I liked Wanda, she was a sweet gal. Dave was a difficult guy to like. Even the people that knew him best agreed on that.

This was my first time meeting Lea’s sister and her husband. She didn’t come to our wedding, she didn’t approve of Lea marrying a man she had known less than six months. Leslie and Lea were as different as two sisters could be. I didn’t quite know what to think of her the first time we met. But I really liked her husband. Bill was a really sweet guy, and he had a great sense of humor. We became friends almost immediately.

The relatives started arriving. They dropped by the house to see Dave and Leslie and Bill.

Shirley, Dave’s sister. Pat, Wanda’s sister. Gene, Dave’s brother. And Joan, Gene’s wife. I met them all and listened to their stories about Wanda. And that’s how I learned about her life and what kind of woman she was. And those stories would become the eulogy I wrote.

I focused on that, but in the back of my mind I started writing another paper. One that would take my horrible boss and her even more horrible boss out at the knees.

I split time that week between my house and Fairview Medical Center. Lea’s fourth surgery had resulted in the removal of all of her colon, and about ten feet of her small bowel as well. And there was one more thing. She had an ileostomy with an external pouch.

My lovely supermodel wife was devastated.

It was a difficult time for us. Lea was reluctant to tell me the result of her surgery. She was distant and distracted. I attributed her response to the death of her mother. I knew I would’ve been distraught if my mother had died. Her surgeon had informed me about the results of Surgery #4, so I wasn’t completely in the dark about what had got happened.

I spent hours at the hospital, saying nothing, watching my wife sleep. She slept more after that surgery than any of the others. I had many whispered conversations with her nurses and the visitors that dropped in to see her.

It was maybe toward the middle of the week that she told me she had an ileostomy. Tears rolled down her face like rain. I think I asked her what took her so long to tell me.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t think of me as a whole person anymore.”

“Honey, if wanted someone who was all there, I never would’ve married you.”

Sometimes, a guy just has to reassure his wife.

* * * *

Lea’s doctor had to write an order for a pass so Lea could go to her mother’s funeral service on Friday. I brought an outfit she requested to the hospital. It was probably the first time she’d worn something besides an hospital gown in a month.

Wanda’s service was held at a funeral home. Dave wasn’t a big believer in God. He never went to church, and he wasn’t about to start now.

Bill had also been selected to say a few words at Wanda’s service. The gist of his words was knowing when you’ve had enough and when to say when. And that was one of Wanda’s graces. She knew when she’d had enough.

And then I took the podium.

I first met David and Wanda the day before Lea and I got married in 1988. I got the impression on our wedding day that Wanda was quite a character, but it wasn’t until the first Saturday after we were married that I truly realized how much of a character Wanda was. And that was when the telephone rang at 6:00 AM.

Lea says she has been trying unsuccessfully for 22 years to get her mother to call her at a later hour. Lea’s sister, Leslie, had been lobbying for 30 years. It’s a certainty that what the two of them couldn’t achieve in a combined 52 years, I wasn’t going to change in the 6 years that I knew Wanda. Dave and I were talking the other day and he said, “The girls are really going to miss their mother calling them on Saturday morning.” I think I can speak for Leslie and Lea when I say, “Dave, if you want to call us at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning, please pick up the phone and give us a call.”

Speaking only for myself, I’d like to point out that 8:00 AM is a very fine hour. 9:00 AM is a good hour, also. Seriously Dave; anytime, any day, you want to call, call us. Any time.

I remember the trip Lea and I took to Harlingen, TX a couple years ago to see her parents. You can practically spit into Mexico from their mailbox, so of course we took a trip to one of the border towns nearby. Dave and I found we aren’t very good at haggling with the street vendors in Mexico. I’d see something I like and ask how much it cost and the vendor would say, “$50.00.” And I’d say, “Okay.” Wanda came to my rescue. And she was a tough negotiator, so Dave and I did the only sensible thing we could do under the circumstances. We left the shopping to Wanda and Lea, and we went to go have a few beers.

Another story I have of Wanda is one that Dave told me recently. When Dave and Wanda lived up here in Minnesota, they had season tickets to the Vikings games. Back then, the Vikings played football outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium. It was out in the elements, and football was football. The players got their uniforms dirty and everything. Also back then, the fans would have tailgate parties out at the Met, set up their barbecues an partied in the parking lot at Met Stadium–did all that stuff that no one can do now that the Metrodome is here. After one of the games Dave and Wanda and their group had their tailgate party going, and there was another group or two not far away. Back then, some of the Viking players would stop in and have a beer and a burger with the fans, and a former Vikings wide receiver named Gene Washington was doing that with a group not far from where Dave and Wanda were at.

A crowd of young boys had gathered around Mr. Washington, hoping to get his autograph, but Mr. Washington wasn’t in an autograph signing mood. He told the kids to leave him alone. When Wanda saw that she went over to Mr. Washington and told him, “Those boys idolize you, you’re their hero. All they want from you is an autograph–You should be ashamed of yourself!” And I can just see Wanda doing that.

I won’t repeat Mr. Washington’s reply to Wanda, but needless to say he wasn’t very polite, nor did he sign any autographs for those boys.

I was probably the same age as some of those boys were when that incident happened. When I was a young boy I worshipped the Vikings, I watched all their games, I idolized the players. They were my heroes. And Gene Washington was one of my heroes. But I have a different hero now.

There’s a saying that goes, “When you’re Irish, you know that sooner or later the world’s going to break your heart.” And it is true. It is so true.

If there’s any consolation for those of us gathered here to remember Wanda, it is this: Heroes, true heroes, never die. Their actions, their deeds and their legacies live forever. 

It would be the first of the four eulogies I’ve done in my life. It was the most difficult public speech I had ever attempted. Only my dad’s eulogy would surpass it terms of personal heartache for me.

Lea returned to the hospital almost immediately after the service. I didn’t take her back–I think Gwen drove her–but I remember walking into her room when I got to the hospital after the meal. There’s always food after a funeral in Minnesota. Lea’s clothes were strewn on the floor. Lea never did that. I knew her suffering vastly surpassed mine. I was afraid this blow might be too much for her to take. She was asleep in bed, again. I folded her clothes and hung them in her closet, then sat down and watched her sleep.

But in my mind, I was writing the paper I would send to my Director of Nursing at the MVAMC. A paper that would more than even the score against the heartless bitches that were making my life miserable at work, and get them off my back.

It would be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

* * * *

There’s only problem I have with my greatest work of prose now. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote anymore, and I didn’t save a copy of it.

I know I outlined the situation regarding my wife’s lengthy illness, and the life and death situation it had become. And I was especially clear about what Marj and Mary had said after my mother-in-law died, and how she had travelled up to Minnesota from the bottom of Texas to see her daughter one last time.

I know I talked about the qualities of caring and compassion that nurses are endowed with, except when regarding our colleagues. That’s really all I wanted. I wanted to be treated with a little compassion, and I wanted my goddamn bosses to stop hitting me with a guilt trip every time I needed to take time off because my wife was in the hospital fighting for her life.

I think my write up was about five pages long. I returned to work to another stretch of nights. I put my paper into an intraoffice mailing envelope, and addressed it to the DON. I would hear from my co-workers about its effect.

The DON at the MVAMC was a gal named Betty Theis. She was a no-nonsense, tough as nails administrator. Steel wished it was made of Betty, and when she got angry, grown men had been known to start crying under her unrelenting gaze.

I really wish I could have been present when Betty summoned Marj and Mary to her office. My co-workers told me Marj looked like she had seen two ghosts when she returned to the unit, and closed the door to her office. Her eyes were red from crying when she left.

Marj called me into her office when I returned to working days.

“I know you’ve gone through a lot lately, and I haven’t been as supportive as I could.” That would be the closest thing to an apology I would receive from Marj. Mary would only speak to me one more time while she worked at the MVAMC, and it would not be an apology.

But it was what Marj said next that truly surprised me.

“I think you’re depressed and suicidal, and I’m sending you see an EAP counselor.” I think I may have started laughing at her, and at the very least, I had to have flashed her a smile of amusement. Of all the things I anticipated she might say, this was one thing I most certainly hadn’t expected.

Nurses might have a lots of duties and responsibilities, but no part of a my job description, or Marj’s for that matter, had anything to do with diagnosing anyone. I probably could have gotten her dumb ass fired for that remark, but that had never been part of my agenda.

So I went to the EAP Office to meet with my counselor. He met me at the door. He was a nice guy that had trouble believing I was the suicidal guy he was supposed to save.

“You drove here yourself? No one accompanied you? I heard you were an imminent suicide risk!”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”

I told my counselor my story. By the time I finished, I think he wanted to kill Marj.

“I don’t think you’re depressed, or suicidal. I think you’ve been through a lot of stress, for an extended period of time, and I think both you and your wife need some time to just take everything in so you can put your lives back together.”

I was hoping his recommendation would be for me to take a month off.

“Look. You won the battle. Don’t lose the war. Go back to work. Keep your head down, and I’d look for a new position if I were you. Your boss,” he said. “Is nuts!”

That guy gave me some good advice when I needed it most. The more I thought about Marj’s response, the more I started thinking maybe I should make getting her dumb ass fired part of my agenda.

But the last thing I needed at that time was to fight a war on a second front. I took his advice. I went back to work and kept my head down. I tried not to turn my back on my horrible boss, just in cases she had a knife in her hand.

And I took the first opportunity I had to apply for another pysch position at the MVAMC,. A staff nurse position opened up on the other psych unit, and I interviewed with Kevin. It would end up being the smartest career move I made at the VA, and once free of Marj, I would start to become a great psych nurse.

And more importantly, my wife would finally start getting better, and our lives together would finally begin to achieve some measure of balance.

But that would be in the future, and there would be plenty of challenges waiting for us to face. And one in particular that almost destroyed our marriage.