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.

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.

The Kingdom of Heaven

It would appear God has my Muse by the short hairs. Maybe that means something. That would be nice. It’s not the most comfortable position for my Muse to be in, for sure. But, as in all things, it could be far worse, she could have a bad back…  On the bright side, once I get this out of my system, I’ll be freed to write about other things, unless God starts speaking to me.

Now that I think about that prospect, I’m not sure if I’m excited or terrified. I guess it would depend on what He has to say.

* * * *

Back when I was a psych nurse, I would occasionally engage my co-workers in religious discussions. As I said, I spent a lots of time thinking about the subject, and it was probably safer than talking about their tits.

Except with my ex-work wife, former Wonder Twin, Tara Grant Molden. She could talk about either subject with the same amount of ease. What a gal!

But one of my colleagues said something like unto this one day, “I go to church, but it’s a bunch of Biblical stuff, and who can understand that?” I know, right! And she was smart! Nice tits too, by the way. And one of the most confusing Biblical things was the Kingdom of Heaven.

When Jesus started his ministry, he did so by announcing, “The Kingdom of Heaven is upon you.” That’s what the Good News was. I guess it’s still the Good News.

Okay, class. What do you need to have a kingdom?

A king!

Yes. And what else?

A queen?

Maybe. What else?

A castle, with a throne?

Sure, why not. What else?

Um, subjects?

And that’s pretty much it. A kingdom is a group of people united under, and ruled by, a king. And that, was the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was sent by God to create a divine government.

Somehow, that message has been diluted down over the years, and I think we can thank the Romans for that. The early Christians certainly had to be careful not to step on the toes of the Romans, or Rome would have stomped back, with both feet.

The Roman emperors were, well, jealous of anyone trying to usurp their status and power. Some of them were actually paranoid about it. The last thing the emperor wanted was a rival to his throne, even if that rival was a dead guy who became a god.

So, Jesus the King, was replaced by Jesus the Savior, and only a few-ish early Christians became martyrs, instead of all of them. And even though Christianity no longer has to worry about getting exterminated the Roman Empire, that message persists to this day. Jesus is mostly viewed as a savior first, and a king second, if at all.

But let’s review God’s purpose–what does God want? As near as I’ve been able to tell, what God wants, He tends to get.

“I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me.”

That is the Book of Isaiah. This phrase is repeated and reaffirmed in the New Testament in Romans 14: 11. It is repeated again in Philippians, Chapter 2. 9, but this time, the focus is on Jesus. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Think of any novel or movie that has a king in it. Whenever any of his subjects are brought before the king, they drop to one knee in respect/allegiance and say, “My Lord.”  

Let’s go back to the vision of John in the Book of Revelation. Jesus Christ is about to return. He rides a white horse. On his head are many crowns. On his robe is written King of all kings and Lord of all Lords. It doesn’t say Savior of all saviors or Redeemer of all redeemers or Deliverer of all deliverers.

King of all kings. Lord of all lords.

When he returns, he comes to reclaim his kingdom.

This, I think, is the message the Holy Spirit will deliver. This is why you must listen to him. The King is coming. Everyone knee shall bow, every tongue proclaim; Jesus Christ is my sovereign lord.

There’s a word for failure to obey a king. It’s called treason. And treason is punishable by death.

* * * *

Most of the pastors I knew back in Arizona loved to talk about God, and Jesus, and faith, and stuff. After all, it was their job. But there was one topic none of them were wild about discussing, and that was the End of Times.

The end of the world has been predicted countless times down through the centuries, and there’s one thing that all of the predictions have in common.

They’ve all been wrong.

So, my questions to the pastors about the end were mostly deflected or ignored, and that was probably a pretty smart thing for them to do. I sent several pastors copies of my theory about the Holy Spirit and his role at the End of Times. The most complementary thing I heard back from them was my ideas appeared to have a strong Biblical and Scriptural foundation, but none of them had ever seen or heard anything like my idea before.

“Yes, I know. I’ve looked. I can’t find anything like it either.” was my response. And because it was something not seen or heard before, it was impossible for them to accept it as something that could be true.

I don’t choose to feel disappointed in them. I don’t know if my idea is correct. If I knew I was right about this, my reaction would probably be different.

So, I pray, and I think, and pray some more. And all I hear is a ringing noise in my left ear. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from God in my mind. And even if God did speak to me, that would hardly make my idea more acceptable to anyone else, even a pastor. Actually, especially a pastor.

They think they know more God than anyone.

* * * *

Jesus said, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.”

So, how does one get into the Kingdom of Heaven? How else? You have to work for it. Jesus explained it like this: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’

“And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’

“But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

If I am nothing else, I am persistent. I’m not sure where it’s gotten me…

The most obvious question is, What am I supposed to ask for? Ask to be shown the Way. What am I supposed to seek? Seek the Truth. Well, why do I have to look? Because the Way and the Truth are hidden.

Jesus explained it this way: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.”

I’m not sure about the childlike part, but I have been described as ladylike. Maybe that will suffice.

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you have seen. I tell you, many prophets and kings longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.”

And what did they hear? They heard his voice.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

The most beautiful illustration of this comes from the Gospel of John, of course.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

And that was the precise moment she realized who he was. It was the way he said her name. I love that story.

* * * *

Jesus knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. And sometime prior to the end, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to gather the sheep that can hear his call. This idea came to me back in 2010. I was convinced at the time that the Holy Spirit would appear any minute! And, then he didn’t.

See? Not a prophet.

Nonetheless, I’m convinced he’ll show up someday. I hope I’ll be around to see it. And when he comes, he will gather together all of the sheep that hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and they will come to him when he calls. And those people will be the first subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, how does one get into the Kingdom of Heaven? For that, I think you have to be able to hear the invitation.

Jesus used the parable of the Great Feast to explain: “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited.

“But they all refused to come. So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business.”

When the Holy Spirit comes, I think he will invite those with ears to hear to the mother of all wedding feasts—the marriage of Jesus Christ to his Church. You may be invited to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Clearly, you can choose not to attend. But not only will you be invited to the great feast that has been so long in preparing, you will have a seat of honor at the groom’s table.

You will be seated right next to the King. From where he sits, Jesus Christ can lean over, take you by the hand, look you in the eye and say, “Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me that you are here.”

Pretty cool, huh?

* * * *

Jesus warned us repeatedly, “I will come as unexpectedly as a thief.” I’ve talked to many people about this passage, including several pastors. Most people assume Jesus means he will come when we least expect it. That is true, but Jesus almost always has multiple meanings whenever he speaks. So let’s break this down.

What does a thief do?

Well, thieves steal stuff, is that it?

If everything on earth already belongs to God, why would he need to steal his own possessions? What do we own, what quality do we possess that God does not already have in abundance? Jesus probably didn’t mean this.

So, what does a thief look like?

Who knows? Don’t they wear a disguise?

Now you’re on to something.

Keep your eyes, and your mind, open. Listen. And try to be ready.

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.

Burnin’ Down the House

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that was a lots of fun.

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

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

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

Truly the act of a desperate man.

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

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

Fuckin’ demons!

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

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

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

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

A little red sportscar. A Toyota MR2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I went to say goodbye to my baby car.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

And then my mom spoke.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Lea loves to drive fast.

What’s in a Name?

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

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

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

And she thinks I’m crazy…

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

“Nope. I’m good.”

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

“Please state your name for the court.”

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

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

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

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

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

“He was eaten by a lion.”

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

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

“Have you ever had sex with a goat?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box.

“And, your Honor,”

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

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

“Okay!”

* * * *

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

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

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

Elijah.

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you want to be a prophet, Mark?

That’s a fair question, but the answer…

That’s another story.

All My Darling Daughters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Will you teach me how to drive?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Can we start now?”

And everyone says raising girls is tough…

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I don’t know who that is.”

Oh well, she’s still an awesome nurse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem solved. Time for me to go.

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

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

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

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

That’s how blessed I am.

Charades End

It’s 4:30 AM. I’ve been awake for about an hour. I screwed up my neck again, somehow, and the pain is considerable.

My neighbor is also awake. He’s a crazy guy from Iceland named Ludwig. I’m not sure he ever sleeps. He looks like he’s about eighty, and he listens to loud Icelandic rap music all day long.

Yeah, I didn’t know that existed either.

My wife has been reading my stories, so in about a week or so she’ll probably ask me to kill Ludwig, now that she knows I used to be a hitman…

I’ve decided I’m going to finish this story today, and then I’m retiring from writing.

Well, for awhile, anyway.

I need to get back to my life, and say goodbye to this chapter of my life. I’m not sure what inspired me to start writing this, but this thing has become like unto an infection inside me, and I have to get it out. I was reluctant to start this story. I knew it would be painful, but I had no idea how just much it would hurt.

To the Muse that has been compelling me, I say, Avaunt, and be gone. Leave me in peace. I have done your bidding. I can only hope there was a good reason for me to do this.

* * * *

One of the unique aspects of this story at the time was Shorty and I didn’t have the same experiences. I went to Oklahoma, he didn’t. Shorty didn’t miss any opportunities with Hillary, I evidently missed all of them. He ventured out into the thunderstorm from hell with Martha, and I didn’t. And I haven’t tried to cover what happened to him that night. That’s probably a whole story in and of itself.

But I’m finishing this today. I’ll be brief.

* * * *

Shorty and Martha left the party as the sky opened up and the rain poured down. They made a brief pitstop at Martha’s apartment, maybe she wanted him to see it–I can’t remember the reason–then Martha was going to show Shorty some of the wonders of the Dallas night scene.

Martha took Shorty to her favorite bar, and that’s where Shorty’s plan of being alone with Martha fell apart. Martha, it seemed, had a reputation. If you had’ludes, you could probably have Martha. And just about every guy in Dallas seemed to know that. Her favorite bar was filled with a dozen guys that had brought handfuls of her favorite drug, and they were lined up at the door waiting for her to arrive.

Most of them were polite enough to leave her alone when they saw her with Shorty, but there was this one guy, let’s call him Craig, and he did not.

Craig was more than just one of Martha’s Friday night guys. I think Shorty said they had had a serious relationship at one point in time, and most likely, he wanted that back.

Cutting to the chase, Craig more or less abducted Martha of Dallas. Neither Shorty nor I would play the role of Paris. She went willingly against her will. I think that’s how Shorty described it. The pretext for the abduction of Martha was the bar they were in was lame, and Craig knew of a place just down the road that was the new hotspot in town. Martha would ride with Craig, and Shorty would follow in Martha’s car.

It was still raining like hell outside. Craig took off like an Indy racer, and in his haste to catch up, Shorty misjudged a turn and hit the raised concrete median dividing the road. He blew a tire, and bent the hell out of one the rims on Martha’s car. I think she drove a little cream colored Volvo. And yes. It was darling.

Shorty might be a master mechanic, but he is not a pit crew. By the time he had gotten Martha’s car off of the median, over to the side of the road, and changed the tire in the pouring rain–Craig and Martha were long gone.

Any other guy probably would’ve called it a night and gone home. But Shorty started canvassing any place that looked like a bar. He’d buy a beer, ask if anyone had seen a hot little blonde accompanied by an asshole, and what’s the name of that new hotspot place?

And that’s how Shorty ended up being broke, again. When he ran out of cash, he went back to Martha’s apartment. After all, he had her car and keys, and he needed to be there to let her in when she returned. Martha’s fridge was well stocked with beer, so Shorty started drinking while he waited for Martha to return.

He would wait for a very, very long time. There wouldn’t be a drop of liquor left in Martha’s apartment by the time she returned. He drank everything, and that’s why he looked like hell when he finally stumbled through the door on Saturday afternoon.

And that’s what got happened to Shorty when he won the Martha Lottery and incurred the Wrath of God by being in the wrong place at the right time and beating me to get to Martha first.

Like I said, I ended up getting the better end of that deal by ending up with Randi. That might be the only time in history when the guy who came in second actually ended up winning, unless you count the Tour de France.

Martha would eventually come home, also looking like hell, which I still cannot believe. Craig wanted a little somethin’-somethin’ from Martha, and possibly for the first time in her life, Martha said no. Craig told Martha he’d take her home once he got what he wanted. According to Martha, he was still waiting when he finally decided to take her home. Then Martha gave Shorty a ride to Michael and Hillary’s place. You know what got happened after that.

* * * *

Well, I woke up Sunday mornin’ with no way to hold my soul that didn’t hurt…

I’m not sure I actually woke up that morning. I would had to have gone to sleep first, and there was just way too much crap bouncing around inside of my head to let me do that.  I know I offered up a lots of prayers that night. I was sorely in need of some guidance.

The thoughts in my head finally stopped moving at the speed of light, and I was able to get a little rest. I was brought out of my reverie by the sound of footsteps. I could make out Hillary’s form tiptoeing across the living room, into the kitchen, where she picked up her car keys and then tiptoed toward the door.

“Going somewhere?” I asked, putting on my glasses so I could see. The sound of my voice startled the hell out of her two times. Man, she screamed, and damn near jumped out of her clothes and her skin. That still makes me laugh, now that I think about it. That’s the last good memory I have of Hillary.

“Jesus Christ! You scared me! I-I was just going to the…store. I need to buy some… tampons. I’ll be right back.” I waved goodbye, and rolled over to look at my knife collection. Just about everything in the apartment with a sharp edge or a point was hidden under the couch.

Shorty came out of the bedroom, wearing a pair of jeans and an upper torso of muscles and scars. I’m not sure how many surgeries he’d had after his motorcycle accident. A lots.

“Hillary left.” I said.

“And you just let her go? What did you do? Pull her distributor cap?”

“How did you know that?”

“I figured you had to do something. You’ve been two steps ahead of everyone since this whole thing got started.” He yawned a big yawn, and stretched.

“What are you talking about? This was your idea!” I said. I got up off the floor and followed him into the kitchen. He started making a pot of coffee.

“Nope. All I said was we needed a plan. I knew you’d come up with the rest. Man, that flash thing, that was beautiful!” he laughed.

“No! I feel like I’ve been drowning in quicksand! You don’t know what I went through before you got here! Hillary had a gun!”

“And who had it when I got here?”

I opened my mouth, but no words came out.

“Look, I’m a smart guy, but you’re so far beyond me, I’d never catch you if I spent the rest of my life in college. That’s what you should do.”

“What?”

“Go back to college. Get a degree. Get a life. Find yourself!”

Do you see now why I love this guy! Sonuvabitch! I’m going to start to cry…

I was too stunned to do much of anything but stare at him at the time. It took me a moment, but that’s when I realized Shorty knew more about me than I did. I had no response to Shorty’s assertion, so I changed the subject.

“Well, what do we do next?”

“I’ve been thinking about that. It won’t be as good as anything you could come up with, but I have an idea.” And we wouldn’t have to wait long to find out if his idea would work. The door flew open and the malevolent spirit of Hillary confronted us from the doorway.

“What did you bastards do to my car! It won’t start!”

“Don’t look at me. Look at him.” Shorty said.

“That’s it? That’s your idea?”

“You fuckers didn’t kill George, did you?”

“Nope.” Shorty replied.

“Godfuckingdammit! I knew it! Jesus! Why did I ever invite you two losers down here!”

“Because, we’re your friends, Hillary. Now, calm down and let us help you.”

“Fuck you!” Hillary screamed. “I’ll kill both of you, and then I’ll go kill George myself!” She stormed past us, into the kitchen. “Where are my goddamn knives!”

“Two steps ahead.” Shorty said. We exchanged a high five.

“Get out of here! Get out of my house!” she screamed.

“No.” Shorty replied, calmly.

“Get out, or I’ll call the police!”

“That’s a great idea. Call the cops.” I said, but I was not calm. “I have a story I’m dying to tell them!”

It was almost sad to see the fire go out of Hillary’s eyes. But it was also an huge relief.

“You need help, Hillary.” Shorty said. He didn’t leave any loopholes.

“I know, but, I don’t…know…what to do.” She looked completely and utterly defeated.

“We’re your friends.” Shorty said, and he went to hug her. “That’s why we’re here. Let us take care of it.”

“What–what are you going to do?”

“First, I’m going to make breakfast. Then we’re going to clean this place up, and then, we’ll figure it out.”

“Okay…” Hillary said, taking comfort where she could find it. It was a good thing Shorty was there for her.

I still wanted to kill her.

* * * *

Well, that’s just about the end of the story about my vacation in Dallas with Shorty. I only have a couple few several loose ends to tie up.

Shorty threw a bunch of stuff together from the leftovers of our epic party, cracked open about six eggs, and heated the concoction up in a skillet. It wasn’t the tastiest meal I’ve ever eaten, but it was warm and filling.

Shorty and Hillary attacked the pile of dishes in the kitchen and cleaned out the refrigerator. I tried to stay as far away from Hillary as I could, and decided to clean up the spacious party room.

Believe it or not, there was still beer in the keg! I have known a lots of kegs in my lifetime, but that keg is the only one I ever gave a name. Old Faithful would go down in history. It supplied the fuel for two epic parties, and still had enough gas to get Shorty and I through our last night in Dallas.

I brought the keg up to the apartment after I finished cleaning the party room, and put it on the balcony. A little ice, and it would be waiting for us after we completed the Herculanean task of helping Hillary help herself.

We would finally finish that sucker off at around 3:00 AM on Monday morning. And when she gave up her last glass of beer, we put our hands over our hearts in a moment of silence, and drank a toast to Old Faithful, the best damn keg that ever lived.

I gave Hillary all of her knives back after Shorty made her promise to stop trying to kill anybody, particularly me. But he kept one of Michael’s knives, just in cases.

Hillary was a humble Bumble for the reminder of our time together in Dallas. She retired to the bedroom after the kitchen was reasonably clean, and she mostly stayed there. Shorty would check on her from time to time. Like he said, he was her friend.

* * * *

Shorty’s plan to help Hillary was simple. He pulled Jerry’s card out of his wallet and dialed Jerry’s home number. Even he had trouble getting his wallet out of his pocket. Jerry wasn’t overly surprised to hear that Hillary had gone off the deep end.

“See? What did I tell you!” he said. Shorty and I listened to Jerry simultaneously. Shorty held the phone at an angle between our ears, and thanks to the natural volume of his voice, it was almost like being on a speakerphone.

But surprised wouldn’t even come close to describing Jerry’s reaction when Shorty mentioned the gun.

“Gun?!? What gun!!!”

“It’s a snub nose.38.” I said. Shorty had no idea what kind of gun it was beyond one of those pistol looking things.

“WHAT! THAT’S MY GUN!! THAT FUCKING BITCH STOLE MY GUN!!! Do not go ANYWHERE! I’m on my way over there! Jesus FUCKING Christ!!”

“Now what?” I decided to ask. After all, this was Shorty’s plan. He shrugged.

“We wait.”

Shorty decided it was a good time to take a shower. I decided it was a good time to smoke a joint, but I had maybe just enough weed remaining for one last joint, if I was lucky. I’d save that for after later, when we finally killed off the keg.

I took one of Hillary’s cigarettes and walked down to the parking lot. Jerry would no doubt want his gun back, and I was the only one that knew where it was. I grabbed Hillary’s keys and headed for her car.

As I closed the trunk, a car came speeding into the parking lot. It wasn’t Jerry. It was Bernie. I handed Jerry’s gun and bullets to Bernie. He quickly threw everything in his trunk.

“Jerry kept his gun in his office.” Bernie said, clearly disgusted that one of Jerry’s employees would do something like this. “Now, tell me what the fuck has been going on here!”

Bernie smoked two cigarettes as he listened to my story. He listened intently, never interrupting, until I got to the part where Hillary pointed the gun at my head.

“You said that! Jesus! Are you nuts! Holy shit! Were we ever wrong about you guys! We thought you came down here to kill George, but you end up saving his fucking life! Jesus!!”

I started telling him what Shorty and I did next. I think the only word to describe the look on his face might be bewildered. Thankfully, Shorty appeared. He wondered where I had wandered off to, and he helped me finish the story. I think the only thing Bernie could do by the time we finished was shake his head.

“Why the fuck didn’t you call the cops?”

See? I told you.

“Holy Christ! Man! Jesus! Jerry and I owe you one for this!” And that made Shorty smile.

Bernie thanked us a couple hundred times. He was going to see Jerry and tell him our story.

“Tell Jerry to call me when you see him. I need to talk to him.”

“Yeah, sure…”

Shorty was looking pretty good. He was smiling. He had a spring in his step. He put his arm around my shoulders and we headed back to the apartment.

“You should take a shower. You look like shit.” he laughed. I laughed my first real laugh since… I was with Randi!

Wow! Has it been that long? I wondered. It seemed so long ago…

* * * *

We were waiting by the phone when Jerry called. I had showered, done my hair and given myself a pedicure while we waited. Shorty held the phone between us again. We had no problem hearing Jerry.

“I’m going to fire her! Do you hear me! Fire her!”

“You can’t do that.” Shorty said.

“The fuck I can’t! Watch me!!”

“You owe me.” Shorty said, and then I knew why Shorty had started smiling. He was going to call in all of his markers if it meant it would save his friend.

What a guy!

“You? I don’t owe you shit! If I owe anyone it’s your hippie buddy over there. He’s the fucking hero!”

Shorty nugged me in the ribs. He was calling in all of my markers, too.

“Hey, Jerry, this is Shorty’s hippie buddy. You owe me.”

“Yeah? And what do you want from me?”

“Whatever Shorty wants, so try to be, you know, fuckin’ gracious and shit.”

There was a long silence. I’m pretty sure Jerry and Bernie were consulting one another, and probably a team of lawyers. Jerry was The Man. He always got what he wanted.

“Okay, guys. I’m listening. Name your terms.”

* * * *

Shorty’s terms were simple. There would be no charges filed against Hillary for stealing Jerry’s gun so she could kill George. Despite the seriousness of her intent, no one actually got dead, and Hillary was in an unstable state of mind. She needed treatment, not incarceration.

And there would be no charges filed against us for breaking and entering into George’s apartment and pretending to kill him to death.

That wasn’t even an issue, Jerry assured us. He had talked to George already. He thought George wanted to marry us.

Hillary would keep her job, and Jerry would pay for any and all treatment she would need to recover from her illness. That was all Shorty wanted from Jerry.

“Well, shit. Isn’t this a damn mess! Now I really can’t wait for you guys to get the hell out of here. You’re starting to cost me money. I don’t think I can afford having friends like you! Okay. Tentatively, we have a deal. Just make sure Hillary agrees to this. And if she argues about anything we agreed to, or gives me any shit, the deal’s off the table. I press charges, and she goes to jail. Understand?”

You know what I think?

I think everyone needs a friend like Shorty.

* * * *

Monday morning finally rolled around. Our flight back to Minnesota didn’t depart until something like 5:00 PM. We had plenty of time to take care of the last few items on our To Do List.

Shorty replaced the distributor cap on Hillary’s car. It started right up.

Check.

Shorty had talked to Hillary after he had concluded his negotiations with Jerry. Hillary then called Jerry and agreed to all the terms and conditions of the negotiated agreement, without so much as one bit of sass or lip. It was a first for both of them. Jerry told her to take Monday off. He had a few details to work out at the office concerning her continued presence, especially since the guy she had wanted to kill to death worked there, too.

Well, that was Jerry’s problem, but we had no doubt he’d be able to figure it out. In Jerry’s world, he always got what he wanted.

Hillary gave Shorty a big hug when we left, and she thanked him for everything he had done on her behalf. Shorty gave Hillary the knife he had held on to, just in cases, and we left the apartment for good. I watched from the doorway, luggage in hand. I didn’t even say goodbye. I would never see Hillary again, but I didn’t count that as an huge loss.

We drove Michael’s van, dropped off the keg and tap, collected our deposit, then drove to the office. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing to greet us. They knew all about the events that had transpired over the weekend, and Shorty was hailed as the hero that he was. He had done the impossible. He made Jerry do something he didn’t want to do. And, somehow, he he had managed to save Hillary’s job in the process.

In spite of her insanity, it seemed a lot of people liked Hillary. I was seemingly the only person in the office that didn’t like her, besides George. But we had encountered her instability on a far more visceral level than the others. So, there was that.

George didn’t spend much time around the sales zombies, mostly because of Hillary. And even on that day, when Hillary wasn’t present, he still stood on the periphery. I joined him.

“Wow. I should hire you guys to be my agents.”

“No, you should hire Shorty.”

“He’s something else. He was the reason I decided to go along with you when you guys dropped in to visit the other night–his little speech.” George waved at Shorty when he looked in our direction. Shorty smiled, and waved back. “I wanted to fuckin’ kill you.” We both laughed at that.

“Yeah, there’s been a lot of that going around lately.”

“I still can’t believe you did that for me, especially when you didn’t have any reason to do it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, George. I had every reason to do it. According to Shorty, that’s what friends do.”

“So are we friends now?”

“I don’t know what else you could call it.”

We gave each other a big hug, and then, there she was. Randi started walking in our direction, and she only had eyes for me.

“I’ve gotta go.”

“You’d be a fool if you didn’t, my friend.”

That was a nice touch.

* * * *

“Hi, girls!” I said to Randi’s tits as she wrapped her arms around me. “Did you miss me?”

“Stop that!” she blushed, and playfully punched me in the ribs.

Good thing she was just playing around. I thought she’d broken a couple of my ribs. That fuckin’ hurt!

She took me to the Supply Room and we kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed.

“You’re not coming back, are you.” It wasn’t really a question. She already knew the answer. I shook my head, then held her close.

“I will never forget you.” I promised.

“You better not!” She had tears in her eyes, and fought them back.

And we kissed some more. She was a good kisser.

Her memories are safely filed away, and I know where to find them. I can still see her, if I try. Some parts of her are easier to see than others. I never told her that I loved her, but I probably did, and in a way, I love her still. Jerry was right about Randi.

She was a good girl.

* * * *

The only person we didn’t see at the office was Martha, she wasn’t feeling good, so she took the day off. Shorty got her number from one of the sales zombies, and called her. We jumped in the van, stopping to buy a case of beer on the way to replace all of the beer Shorty had consumed waiting for her to return Friday night, and drove to her apartment.

Man, Friday seemed like it had happened a lifetime ago, and in a way, it had been.

Martha was wearing a gray sweatsuit. She apologized for looking like such a mess. To be honest, she was pale, and looked about as tired as I felt, but she was as beautiful as ever to my eyes. She really was stunning. And yes, her apartment was totally darling.

She gave me a tour while Shorty stocked her fridge. We held hands as she guided me from room to room. It wasn’t a big apartment, so it was a short tour, ending in her darlingpreshadorbs bedroom.

It was the most enjoyable home tour I’ve ever had, and the only thing I could think was, Damn, why don’t you live in Jerry’s house? I wanted her to never let go of my hand. She turned to look at me, and we gazed into each other’s eyes for a time.

“I’m really sorry about the way everything turned out. I thought we’d get a chance to spend more…time.. together. I really wanted that.” That looked like true regret in Martha’s eyes to me, and if it wasn’t, she deserves an Oscar, too.

“Martha, my dear, you have no idea how much those words mean to me.” I gave her a kiss I hoped she would never forget, and she gave me one I have never forgotten.

“Hey,” Shorty said from the doorway. “You ready?” We broke off our embrace, but stood there holding hands for a moment.

I love you, Martha. I said, silently. A tear welled in her eye, then slowly trickled down her cheek.

* * * *

“Thanks for doing that.” I said to Shorty as he drove Martha’s car, looking for a salvage yard where we could get a rim for Martha’s car.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said. “You know she’s in love with me, right?”

“We’re all in love with you, Shorty. We all are.”

That’s probably true, now that I think of it. I don’t know anyone who knows Shorty that doesn’t love him, including Hillary.

I gave Shorty every cent I had because he had none. He replaced the tire and bent rim. That was the real reason we went to see Martha. Shorty had damaged her car, and he had promised he would fix it before he left.

I never saw Martha again. I stayed outside when Shorty returned her car keys. I wanted to remember her with that tear running down her angelic face. That’s how I see her most of the time, when she drops in to visit. I tell her funny stories, and she smiles. But Shorty was probably right. She was in love with him.

After buying the beer, the new tire, and a replacement rim, we had eighty-eight cents left in our pockets when we left Dallas.

But we had checked off every item on our list. All we needed to do was catch our flight.

* * * *

We gave the keys to the van to Bernie. He shook our hands, and thanked us once again for everything we had done.

Jerry took us to lunch, his treat. It was the least he could do.

“So, are you staying? Are you leaving? You know what I think you should do?” Jerry talked rapid fire, like a machine gun.

“I’m not staying. I’m going home. I need a vacation.”

“Good. You don’t want to stay here. This place would eat you alive. So, did you enjoy your stay? Did you have a good time?”

I think all I could do was shrug in response. The last couple of days had cast a pretty dark pall over all the days of light and good cheer that had preceded them. I had been kicking around the idea of relocating to Dallas, and that would’ve changed the outcome of my life forever.

“You’re something else, hippie.” Jerry said. He was smiling. “I really gotta stop calling you that. How about, hero.”

“No. Call me hippie. I like that better.”

“That’s what you are, you know. A fuckin’ hero. Right, Girtz?” Shorty had half a sandwich in his mouth, so he simply nodded and kept on eating. I didn’t have as much of an appetite as Shorty. I think he ate half of my sandwich, too.

“Listen to me. Do something with your life! You’ve got too much talent to be a fuckin’ bum! Use it! Become a doctor. Become a lawyer. No, don’t do that, lawyers suck! Thanks to you guys, my lawyers are having a field day! I don’t even want to think about the bill they’re gonna send me! I should make you pay half of it, Girtz!”

“Fuck you.” Shorty laughed. And we all did.

“Listen, I know I’ve said this before, but I was wrong about you guys, and I’m never wrong! You guys–you guys are… I don’t know what you are. I want to thank you for everything you did. That, was incredible. I still can’t believe you did that.”

“You’re welcome, Jerry.” I said.

“There! You see how he does that! Beautiful! Listen to me, me and Girtz, we’re just working stiffs. You, you kid, you got a real chance to make a difference! You could change the world if you get your head out of your ass! You follow me?”

“I hear what you’re saying, Jerry. I heard something a lot like this the other day.” and looked at Shorty, then Jerry.

“We talked.” Jerry said.

“Okay, we’re good now? How’re you guys doing on cash? You need anything for your trip?” Shorty and I looked at each other for a moment.

“Nope, we’re good.”

“You both still have my card, right?” Jerry asked. We nodded. “Well, this is me being fuckin’gracious and shit, and I mean this. If either of you ever need anything, call me.” We thanked Jerry, and shook his hand. “You fucked up, Girtz, you should’ve asked me to make you my partner. I would’ve done it. I’d make you a rich man…”

“Yeah, I thought about it, but I’m not a big city kind of guy. There are some things money can’t buy.”

“You’re a smart man, Girtz. C’mon, I gotta get back to work. There are some things money can buy, and I gotta make sure I can pay the bill.”

Yeah, that was the last time I saw Jerry. I kept his card for many years, even though I knew I’d never use it to call in any additional markers. I probably bought a new wallet, and decided not to hang onto his card anymore. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Shorty still has his. And he probably has the same wallet he had back then, held together by duct tape…

* * * *

Jerry had his chauffeur drive us to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time to catch our flight. We walked past several restaurant/bars on the way to our gate.

“You know what I think?” Shorty said. “I think we should have hit up Jerry for enough cash to buy a couple beers!”

* * * *

And that, finally concludes my epic story of our trip to Dallas. I’ve been to Dallas several times since my vacation with Shorty, but I never tried to contact any of the people I met during that time. I was married when I returned, and I doubt my lovely wife would have appreciated me trying to hook up with Randi or Martha.

I have nothing but fond memories of Randi, and a whole lots of what ifs when it comes to Martha.

I hope they’re both happy.

Shorty would continue his telephone relationship with Hillary, I was at his station more than once when she called. He would ask if I wanted to talk to her.

“Tell Randi and Martha I said hi.” was my response.

Based on those conversations, I do know something about her life. Jerry kept his promise to Shorty. He paid for all of her treatment. She got more better gooder, and stopped trying to kill George. She married Michael, and they had a baby girl. And then Hillary stopped calling.

I finally decided to stop hating her when I decided to quit drinking. I hope she’s happy, too. And her family.

I don’t think I was ever the same after Dallas. I took the advice of Shorty and Jerry, and went back to school. I became a surgical technician, then a nurse, and though I didn’t change the world, I have helped a few people change the way they looked at their worlds, and I’m content with that.

I might have taken the same path without going to Dallas, but the feedback I received from Jerry and Shorty had more impact on me than it would have had if not for what I just had experienced.

Dallas would get me pointed in a direction that led down a path, and though I would stumble and stray from it, I would find my way back. I’m walking that path firmly, and I have no intention of losing my way again, ever.

I’m much older now, and hopefully, wiser. In retrospect, you can’t be found unless you’re lost. It took me awhile, but I found myself, and I mostly really like the person I’ve become.

There’s a saying in Mexico, poco y poco. Little by little, that’s how you do it. It might take longer, but the results are worth it. Be patient.

Thank you for that, Dallas. Y’all were pretty good to me, in that regard.

But there are times when the sky is cloudy, and a chill is in the air. And if the planets line up, just so, I can see inside the barrel of that .38 again. And I can hear George pleading for his life, and I can feel my soul screaming in pain and heartache, and those times are not so good.

There are other times I wonder if was real. How much of this story is true? Any of it? Or was it all just a dream?

I know I touched bases with some old friends, touched some other bases with new friends, lost at least one friend. I met a whole lots of great people. I wonder if any of them remember me, or am I the only one that remembers this time?

That thought… always makes me feel lonely, and alone.

I have not held a revolver since that trip. I’ve had several friends and relatives show me their handguns, and tried to hand them to me, but I can’t do it.

I cannot do it.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad. My lovely wife thinks it’s a good thing, but she has her own issues related to gun violence, and when I decide to write again, maybe I’ll write about that.

I love writing. I’m sure I’ll do it again someday. But not today. Of tomorrow. Nor the day after. I’m taking a vacation. I’m going on a Mexican road trip.

What’s the Spanish word for BUMP?

Dallas, Part VI

I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this might not know that one of our Presidents was assassinated in Dallas. John F. Kennedy. Dealey Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald. Jack Ruby.

Ring any bells?

Well, all of those bells would toll for me that day.

Saturday, March 4, 1978.

* * * *

I asked the cops to wait, closed the door and left them outside the apartment, then knocked on the bedroom door where Michael and Hillary were resting.

“Yeah!” Michael’s voice responded.

“Michael, there’s a couple of guys here…” I didn’t know quite what to say. I opened the door. Michael and Hillary were laying on the bed.

“Are they cops?” he asked. I nodded. “Shit!” Michael and Hillary exchanged a glance that probably contained a thousand conversations. “Tell ’em I’ll be right out.” He got up and went to the bathroom.

“Michael, y’all need to come on out here!” Detective Riggs said from the doorway when I let them know what was going on. They had stepped inside once they knew they had their man.

“I have to take a piss!” Michael’s voice replied from the bathroom.

“Yeah, just don’t take too long now.” Detective Murtaugh replied. “If you shake it more than twice, yall’re playin’ with that thang.” His partner laughed. I might have even smiled. They seemed like nice guys, for cops.

Did I hide all my pot? I wondered. I hoped I had, or Michael might not be the only person in the apartment going to jail.

Hillary came out of the bedroom and started interrogating the cops, and they had to focus their attention on her. I know to God that I exhaled a huge sigh of relief. They answered her questions patiently and politely.

“I want to come along.” she said.

“Yes, ma’am. You can follow us if you want.”

“You motherfuckers wait for me!” Hillary shouted at the cops.

“Yes, ma’am.” they both replied.

Michael came out, and surrendered. Detective Riggs slapped a pair of cuff on Michael’s wrists, explaining his Miranda Rights as clicked the cuffs. Hillary grabbed her purse and we ran down the stairs.

Yeah, you read that correctly. We ran!

Hillary’s car tore out of the parking lot in hot pursuit of the police.

“I knew those fuckers wouldn’t wait!” she screamed, and gunned the engine. She flew through the intersections, regardless of red lights.

Little Known Fact About the Kennedy Assassination: When Kennedy’s body was being transported from Parkland Hospital to Love Field, the Secret Service didn’t stop at any red lights. They called them pink lights.

Hillary, it seemed, had become a Secret Service agent. She wasn’t wearing sunglasses, but she sure as hell wasn’t smiling.

I couldn’t tell you how many pink lights we encountered. A lots. The cops drove surface streets on their way to Dallas Police Headquarters. But thanks to Hillary’s complete and total disregard of traffic laws, we were right on the bumper of the unmarked police car carrying Michael.

Is that Dealey Plaza? I wondered. I think that’s the Texas School Book Depository! Holy shit! I thought. I could not believe it. I was traveling through Ground Zero, the place where President Kennedy had been assassinated. We continued tailing the cops until they turned into an underground parking garage at Dallas Police Headquarters.

Hillary stopped in the middle of the street, unsure about what to do.

“Can I park down there?”

“No sense in trying to play it safe now.” I said. “You didn’t let any red lights get in your way.”

“Good point.” she said, and roared into the garage. The cops were walking Michael into the building by the time we parked. Hillary shouted his name. He turned to look back toward us, but the cops kept him moving. We ran, trying to catch up.

Jesus! This is place Lee Harvey Oswald was jailed! And this is where Jack Ruby shot him! I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had just stepped back in time.

For those of you that weren’t alive when Kennedy was killed, there’s no way to explain the significance of his assassination. It was the sentinel event of my generation, transcending all else, including 9-11.

And here I was. I had been given a backstage pass to an area I shouldn’t have had access to, all because Michael had decided to go where he had been forbidden to enter, and because George was big enough of a dick to make him pay for it.

Fuckin’ George!

“What are we doing here?” I decided to ask Hillary as we rode the elevator to the main floor. Oswald probably rode in this elevator! Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.

“We’re going to get Michael out.”

“Is that possible?”

“I don’t know. I’ll call Jerry.”

* * * *

And she did, but there was nothing he could do. And even if he could’ve done something, he wouldn’t have done it.

“Michael broke the fucking law! He violated his restraining order!”

That’s how Jerry explained it to me when Hillary put me on the phone to reason with Jerry. After all, he adored me!

“So, what happens next?”

“Michael stays in jail until his arraignment on Monday. End of story. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Go home. There’s nothing you can do. Go. Home!”

“Jerry said we should go home.” I informed Hillary. “He said there’s nothing he can do.”

“That’s bullshit.” Hillary replied.

“We should leave.”

“No. I want to see Michael before we go.”

Michael had to be booked and processed before Hillary could see him. We could wait over there, one of the cops informed us, and waved in the general direction of some benches. Hillary lit up a cigarette. I wandered around. We were at police headquarters for at least an hour before Hillary was allowed to speak to Michael.

“He wants to talk to you.” Hillary told me when she returned.

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that either.

“How’s it going? Are you okay?” I asked when I saw Michael. We probably had to talk to each other via telephone, but I can’t remember for sure. I know we were separated by a thick plexiglass window, and the space was poorly lit.

“I’m good. I popped a couple ‘ludes while I was in the bathroom. I’ll probably sleep until tomorrow.” he laughed. “Listen, take care of Hillary while I’m in here. She’s a little…upset.”

“You got that right.” I agreed.

“I’ll get out of here Monday. I’ve already talked to Jerry. He’s gonna take care of everything. Don’t let her do anything… stupid. Okay?”

“I’ll take care of her. I promise.”

“Good luck.”

* * * *

I can’t remember if Hillary stopped for red lights on the way home or not. Probably not. I mean, why start now? The roads were mostly deserted anyway…  We drove past Dealey Plaza again. I imagined we were part of the motorcade on November 22, 1963. We drove under the triple underpass, and we were on the freeway. Parkland Hospital was… right there!

We didn’t say much on the way home. I did tell Hillary that Michael had talked to Jerry, and seemed sure that he’d be released on Monday. Hillary said nothing.

We returned to the apartment. I stopped off briefly at the party room, and added some ice to the keg. Other than that, the keg seemed to be doing fine, and the beer was still cold and carbonated.

I was more than a little surprised to find that Shorty still hadn’t returned when I reached the apartment. Where the fuck is he? I wondered, then totally forgot about Shorty when Hillary came out of the bedroom.

She had an handgun in her hands. In street slang, it was a Saturday Night Special. A snub nose .38 revolver.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, nonchalantly. I’m not sure how I sounded as calm as I did. “Can I see that?”

“No. I got it from Jerry. I borrowed it. He gave it to me. For protection. There’s a lot of crime around here.”

“I’m going to have a beer. Do you want anything?”

“Yes, a glass of white wine, please.”

I opened the refrigerator, pulled out a can of beer and a bottle of wine, then washed one of the wine glasses on the counter. I thought about spiking Hillary’s drink with a handful of Quaaludes, but I didn’t have any, and given the fact that Hillary popped them like peanuts, it’d probably take an entire bottle to knock her out. I handed her a wine glass that I had filled almost to the top. She popped a ‘lude in her mouth and chased it with wine. I prayed it would knock her out.

I walked over to the couch to sit down, but the coffee table was gone, and I had no place to set my beer. I sat down on the floor. Hillary joined me. She positioned herself between me and the door. I lit up a joint. There were actually a few left over from the party. Yeah, that was a nice surprise!

“What are you planning to do with that gun?” I decided to ask.

“I’m going to kill George.” Hillary replied, and smiled, taking a hit.

“Oh. Well, you’re going about this the right way. A little wine, a little weed, a Quaalude. You’ll be nice and relaxed when you go over to George’s place to shoot him.

“Good! I want to do this right.”

It was at that precise moment that all of Jerry’s warnings came flooding into my head. I finally understood what he had been trying to tell us. And this, this, was most definitely a minefield.

I have no idea what I said after that. I know Hillary explained her rationale for what she had decided to do, and I didn’t do anything to stop her from talking. I could only hope the holy trinity of wine, weed and methaqualone would kick in and knock her ass out before she could knock off George.

Hillary played with her gun while she talked. I hoped the safety was on, but I couldn’t tell–she flipped it around too quickly for me to tell for sure. I suppose I could’ve asked if she knew how to use it, but I didn’t really want to go there.

Please, be on! I prayed. And I knew one thing for sure. If it was on, I wasn’t going to tell her how to turn it off.

We sat on the floor, our drinks on the carpet nearby. I had the nicest conversation I would ever have with a homicidal maniac holding a loaded gun. We sipped our drinks, smoked more pot, and then it was time.

“Okay. I’m ready now. I’m going to go kill George.”

I tried to stall her. I said the first thing that popped into my mind.

“Hillary, I love you! I want to make love to you! I want to fuck your brains out!”

That actually stopped her in her tracks. She slowly turned around to look at me, and smiled.

“Of course you do. But, you had your chance.” She turned for the door.

“What? No, wait!” I was trying to figure out when my chance to fuck her brains out had actually happened because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity. But Hillary had made up her mind, and she would no longer be delayed. She was walking for the door, and she did not stop.

And that’s when I did perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life, and that covers a whole lots of stupid.

I ran past her, getting to the door before she did by a step. I may have lost my race to that door to Shorty, but I beat homicidal Hillary.

“If you’re really serious about killing George, you’re going to have to kill me first.” I said, blocking the door.

Hillary tilted her head fractionally. I could tell by the look in her her eyes that she was actually thinking about how she was going to get past me. And then she found a solution.

She raised the gun, in a very relaxed manner, and calmly pointed it at my head.

The Epic Party at the End of the World

I have previously mentioned that I had an older brother named Allen, who unfortunately died from SIDS. He would’ve been two years older than me, if he hadn’t gotten dead.

In a strange twist of fate, my best friend, Shorty, was two years older than me, and he had been born in November, the same month as Allen.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe I adopted Shorty as my older brother back then. Like Jerry, I had real brothers that I loved far less than I loved Shorty. Our relationship would be tested by this trip, but it would not be destroyed. And when we really needed each other, we would have one another’s back.

That’s what brothers do.

* * * *

The Big Epic Amazing Party continued despite the fact that one of its hosts and the central figure that inspired it were no longer in attendance. And it continued despite the Wrath of God thunderstorm raging outside that seemed intent on washing Dallas off the face of the earth.

It rained like a bastard. Rain came down in buckets. It rained cats and dogs. In buckets. But the epic party would not be denied. The only thing the rain did was keep everyone inside. No one in their right mind wanted to venture out in that downpour.

Why should they? It was warm and dry inside. There was food, and beer. Pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, and beer. Whiskey, and beer. Vodka, and beer. Red wine, white wine, and beer. Quaaludes, and beer. And there was music!

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with

Thank you, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That was very good advice, and I took it. I mostly forgot about Shorty and Martha, and focused my attention on Randi, and on having as much fun as I could before the flood waters reached the sixth floor.

It rained like hell for at least two hours, and then it just rained. When the rain lightened, some of our guests decided to hit the road. I have no clear memory of when Phase One of our epic party came to a close, but at the end only four people remained: Michael, Hillary, Randi and me.

We sort of cleaned up, you know, threw stuff in the refrigerator, picked up abandoned glasses and plates, random trash. I checked the keg. I was sure it would be empty.

I was wrong. There was a lots of beer left in that keg. I know, right! How the hell was that even possible? And yet, it was. I pumped the taper to keep the pressure up, I didn’t want the beer going flat, and threw a half ton of ice on the keg to keep it cold. Then I turned off the lights in the party room and locked the door. Randi and I helped each other make it up the stairs.

The door to Michael and Hillary’s bedroom was closed when we returned to the apartment, so we tried keep the noise down, like there’s such a thing as a quiet, stumbling drunk.

“Where do you guys sleep?” Randi whispered loudly. The pillows we used as mattresses were easy to find, but where the hell did the blankets go? Oh yeah! Hillary put them in the closet!

I have no doubt half the stuff stored in the small closet came falling out with a crash when I opened the door. Randi came over to help me, and we laughed, not quietly, and kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed. We eventually extracted the blankets from everything else and shoved it all back in the closet to get it out of the way.

“I gottagottagotta amember not to open that door again!” I burped loudly. Randi shrieked! Yeah, we were quiet, all right.

“Oh, this is so…open.” Randi said when she surveyed the landscape in the living room. She had a point. Luckily, there was no longer a coffee table cluttering the space, so I scooted the far end of the couch out away from the wall a few feet, creating a semi-secluded space. I tossed several pillows into the space, and just like that, I had created a love nest.

“That’ll work.” Randi announced.

Home run!

I might kiss and tell, but I do not write Letters to Penthouse. The most I’ll say about this was there was a point in time when I wished I had saved a few of the condoms Raoul had so thoughtfully provided for me in Fort Sill.

I never went past a certain point if birth control was an issue.

Never.

It was the only thing I’ve ever been totally committed to and responsible about in my life. Yep, the Mother’s Curse would modify my behavior far more than all of the sex education classes I took in high school ever would.

“It’s okay. I’m on the pill.” Randi whispered in my ear.

Green light!

“Here, try one of these.” Randi offered me a ‘lude. I declined. “Well, then take half!” I agreed to that.

It has been written that Quaaludes enhanced sexual intensity and performance. Yeah, I don’t know about that. It has also been written that lions copulate approximately one hundred times a day when they’re mating. I can honestly state that neither Randi nor myself were lions, but we did make excellent use of the impromptu love nest I had created in the living room. I was actually still a little sore from my erotic wrestling match with Shelly, but not that sore.

* * * *

I woke up looking at the back of the couch. I was laying on a pile of pillows on the floor, and I was naked. But I knew how all of those variables had occurred this time, and that made me smile. I rolled over and found myself

Alone.

There are times when the emptiness deep inside your soul cannot be filled, no matter what you do to satiate that cavernous void, and this, was one of those times for me.

I missed Randi. I missed Martha. I missed Shelly, but I especially missed Maureen. We had broken up in May of  1975. I hadn’t seen her almost three years, and I missed her more than I missed Randi, Martha and Shelly combined. At that time, I thought she was the reason my soul was so inconsolably miserable, but the depth of my emptiness would far surpass her absence. And even if she had been present, it would’ve surpassed her ability to fill.

I curled up in a ball of spiritual pain, and cried. I mourned my losses, grieved over my heartaches, until I cried myself to sleep.

* * * *

It’s a good thing I didn’t have to respond to any emergencies when I woke up, like, you know, an actual flood. It had stopped raining. It was gray, and cloudy–just like the inside of my head. Michael and Hillary were in no better shape than I was. We slowly took turns taking showers. We slowly cleaned the apartment some more. Even the conversations I had with Michael and Hillary were slow. I’m not sure I ever completed a sentence before I ran out of the necessary energy to finish what I was saying. And just about the only thing I could say was, “Man. Was that a great party, or what.”

We ate leftover whateverthisstuffis for breakfast. I can’t remember if any of us felt any better after eating or not.

Shorty had not returned. I was still pissed off at him, so even if I was concerned, I wasn’t about to admit it. He was a big boy, he could take care of himself, even if he was in the foreign country of Dallas.

Besides, all he had to do was open his damn mouth and half of Dallas would’ve welcomed him into their homes, and the other half of Dallas would fight to take him into theirs. Shorty was all right. I kept telling myself that.

I think we all took a vote and decided the apartment was clean enough…and quit cleaning. Michael and Hillary laid on the couch. I mustered enough energy to go check on the keg and make sure she was safe and the beer was cold. The keg was fine. I could relax. I returned to the apartment and laid down on a pile of pillows in the middle of the living room.

We watched a black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. For all I know, it was the same movie I had kind of watched with Raoul my last night on Fort Sill.

One person could lay on the couch comfortably, but two people the size of Michael and Hillary could not. They tried changing positions, slowly, but they eventually gave up and retired to their bedroom because they could both lay down on the bed comfortably. And more than anything else in the world on that dreary day in Dallas, all three of us were sorely in need of comfort.

I had recovered from my attack of transient global heartbreak. There was a lingering sense of loneliness, or emptiness, somewhere deep inside my soul, but it was quiescent now. I was feeling more exhausted than anything, and it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. I was awakened by the sound of someone knocking on the door.

“Fuckin’ Shorty’s finally back.” I muttered to myself, and heaved myself off the floor. It seemed like it took me an hour to walk ten feet to the door. I opened the door to let Shorty in, and those two guys in suits… don’t… look… like… Shorty…

Actually, they looked like cops. I somehow mustered enough energy to be surprised.

“Hi, how’re y’all doin’? I’m Detective Murtaugh, and this is my partner, Detective Riggs. We’re here to serve a warrant on one Mr Michael Schrödinger. Is there any chance that Michael’s here today?”

“And if so, could y’all have him come to the door, please.” the other detective added. “We’re here to arrest him.”

A Dark and Stormy Night, Part II

I had a strange thought when I went to bed last night. Anyone reading my last few installments has to be thinking, Jaysus! Was this guy ever sober? I mean, the only thing he writes about is getting drunk!

Yeah, I did spend a fair amount of time drinking, but I did other stuff, too. Like, smoke pot. So, there!

And I remembered something I had failed to mention about Dallas. I brought my camera. I took a lots of pictures while we were on vacay in Big D. Hillary, Michael, Shorty. The sales zombies. Martha, Martha, Martha. Randi’s tits. Hillary even took a picture of me.

I lost them when I moved in with Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson. But Shorty has a set. If you want to see them, contact him. That picture of me with my afro looking like a dandelion that’s about to blow away, is so great. As much as I would I end up hating Hillary, I couldn’t fault her on that photo. It was quite possibly the best picture anyone has ever taken of me.

* * * *

The Big Epic Amazing Party that I had conceived on the spur of the moment while talking to the angelic Martha as a means to hook up with her was hitting its stride. It was about 9:00 PM. At least thirty people were present in either the apartment or the spacious party room four stories below.

Good old rock and roll was playing on stereos. Shorty had tuned in the same radio station he had found on the stereo in the party room to the boom box in the apartment. There was food galore, booze beyond galore, weed and cigarettes being smoked, Quaaludes being sectioned and popped openly. As far as all of those things went, they couldn’t be wenting any smoother.

Everyone was having a great time. I was having a blast. I had been having probably the best time I had ever had in my young life, and this party was just the icing on the cake. I was drinking a beer on the balcony of Hillary and Michael’s apartment. An extremely beautiful and talented young woman was at my side, and she only had eyes for me.

I’ll tell you what, life rarely gets much better than that. And in one tick of the clock, all that changed.

A choir of angels started singing. As the door of the apartment opened to admit the angelic being that had made all of this conceivable, an heavenly light radiated from the other side of door that slowly illuminated the entrance, blinding everyone with its brilliance.

And Martha stepped into the apartment.

Martha was always beautiful, even when she was a disheveled, crying sales zombie, but that night–OhmyGod! If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, Martha of Dallas could’ve launched two thousand.

And Helen could never have looked as good as Martha did wearing a cowboy hat. She was darlingpreshadorbs, squared.

Everyone in the room had turned their heads to watch Martha’s grand entrance. Everyone but Shorty. He was standing by the door, totally oblivious to what was happening behind him. He had somehow fucked up and was standing exactly where I was supposed to be standing.

This had been my idea! Spontaneously planned when I gazed into Martha’s wishing well eyes and my wish had been that on this night, she would be mine, and mine alone. I was supposed to be standing at the door, not Shorty!!

Even after all these years, and all things that transpired through the decades–after all this time, I still want to rip Shorty’s liver out of his body and eat it in front of him before he bled out.

My best friend stood where I should have been standing, grinning like two village idiots. He finally realized everyone was staring at the doorway. He turned to see what everyone else was looking at, and almost knocked my perfect little Martha off of her feet. He grabbed her reflexively, and pulled her into his uncouth arms, and then he gave her a big wet kiss on the cheek.

The room erupted in cheers, like Shorty had just won the fuckin’ Super Bowl or something.

Everyone cheered! Except me. And Randi. She didn’t cheer either. She hated Martha.

I have rarely felt that deflated in my life, and I have had plenty of reasons to feel deflated over the years. The world around me, which moments ago had been bright, shiny and euphoric, had become darkness, dust and ruin.

Just. Like. That.

There’s no way I could not have looked anything except devastated, but I found a bleak smile somewhere inside me, and feebly flashed it at Randi. I fashioned my arm as an escort, and extended it to her.

“Shall we?” I asked. She hooked her arm in mine, and smiled. I walked over to offer my congratulations to Shorty. To the victor go the spoils. The race had ended before I got out of the starting blocks, and Shorty had won.

* * * *

 For anyone reading this that feels sorry for me right now, all I can say is Thank you. For anyone that thinks I was a goddamn idiot, all I can say is, You are absolutely correct!

I mean, throwing a party that would end up lasting three days on the offhand chance that I’d end up with Martha was almost as stupid as Shorty buying drinks for everyone at the bar for exactly the same reason. And there was such a simple solution to this equation that it surprises me to this day that I didn’t think of it at the time.

Except I’ve never been very good at math…

What I should have done was ask Martha out, you know, on a date. Just the two of us. Yeah, we’ll get a bite to eat, take in a movie… Then we could go back to your place… I’ll bet it’s darling. Just as darling as you! And then, you know, you could fuck my brains out…  Well, that’s what Jerry says you want to do! Did I mention that I have a bionic dick?

I mean, what woman in her right mind could resist an offer like that?

* * * *

I wish I could say that I have total recall of everything that happened after I had lost what seemed to be at the time, the most important race of my life.

Alas, I have trouble remembering what happened last week, and I’ve been sober for almost ten years. Dallas Daze took place almost forty years ago, and I doubt I had ten consecutive days of sobriety back then.

Here goes nothing…

I like to think that Martha actually apologized to me for screwing up my grand design of screwing her silly by stupidly ending up with Shorty, not me.

And even if she didn’t come right out and say it, the look of almost sorrow in her eyes when I greeted her said as much. That actually did happen, and I would end up taking a ton of consolation from that.

Shorty couldn’t have been more elated. I’m surprised he didn’t jump on the railing of the balcony and crow like a rooster. He had won the Martha Lottery, and he wasn’t about to let anyone, specifically me, steal his winning ticket.

In a very short amount of time, he grabbed Martha by the arm and they vacated the premises. Yep, he left our epic party–abandoning me, leaving me all alone– with roughly thirty people, one of whom was head over heels in love with me–plus, there was a ton of food and more drugs and alcohol than all thirty of us could possibly handle.

I mean, seriously, what a jackass!

And at the precise moment he and Martha left, a huge flash of lightning lit up the night sky. A crack of thunder that sounded like a explosion ripped across the city. And it started raining like unto the time of Noah and the Great Flood.

That actually happened, too.

Shorty had clearly meddled with the primal forces of nature, and there was going to be hell to pay. And as ridiculous as that might sound, it would end up being the truth.

Every. Word.

Dallas, Part V

I have become somewhat obsessed with this story. I hadn’t thought about it much in the last couple of decades, but it’s pretty much consuming all of my waking moments of late.

I kind of need to get this sucker out of my system, though I couldn’t tell you why. My first attempt at being a rich and famous author was focused on telling this story. All of it. I’m not going into anywhere near that much detail with this telling, and it’s still taking forever.

I know I told my brother, Bruce, the whole story once. We drank an entire case of beer by the time I had finished. And Bruce probably slept through the last two hours of my narration. It has always been a long story, and I’m trying like hell to make this very long and convoluted story shorter. But the worst is yet to come…

* * * *

Michael and Hillary came home from work Monday afternoon. Shorty and I hailed them from the pool. They smiled and waved, and we decided that was as good a time as any to inform our hosts they were hosting our Big Epic Party on Friday, seeing how they were in a good mood.

Who were we inviting? Just the people from work. And maybe some of the bikini babes Shorty and I had met by the pool. And anyone they wanted to invite. I mean, it was their place…

Drinks? Um, we’re getting a keg of beer. Some sodas. Maybe a bottle of whiskey…  And we still had weed!

Food? Sure. We could get a party tray. Or something. Somewhere. Probably. And chips. We had to have chips, and dip, probably. And we still had weed!

And when Hillary was satisfied, everything was cool. 😎  We had Michael at party.

The apartment complex even had a spacious entertainment room more than ample enough to hold all the people were planning on inviting to our epic shindig. This just kept getting better and better, except the being broke part, and not having any idea how we were going to pay for it part.

Michael and Hillary were in better spirits than they had been when I returned from Fort Sill. But that didn’t mean all, or anything for that matter, had been forgiven.

George, evil George, mean and icky George had won custody of the glass topped coffee table with the black wrought iron frame, and Hillary’s improved mood vanished the moment she saw it.

That table became the object of her hatred for George. That table had to die. And if it couldn’t be killed, it had to be severely damaged at the very least. Hillary changed clothes. We smoked a joint, and gathered around the table with dark intent, armed with one instrument of mass destruction.

A ridiculously small hammer.

We all took turns trying to break the glass top, but that plane of glass was almost an half an inch thick, and it was able to withstand our initial half-hearted blows. Neither Shorty nor I held any animosity toward the table, and we felt more foolish than anything when we took our turns smacking the table top with the hammer. Even Michael’s attempts at breaking the table top were pretty lame, and he certainly didn’t like George.

We tried breaking the glass table for at least half an hour without success. We were all giggling like schoolgirls. Michael, Shorty and I were ready to call it quits. We had hit it with our best shots, but the table took them all and laughed at us. That, was an insult Hillary could not ignore.

We had all been sitting on the floor around the table as we enacted our dark ritual, but then Hillary rose to her feet. She uttered a string of curses that would’ve rivalled anything Rose could have come up with, and smote the the table with the hammer full force, and a small section of the corner of the glass top flew free.

We were all surprised, even Hillary. She might have been more than surprised, but whatever it was she started feeling, she converted it back into anger. And satisfaction.

George might be getting the table back, but it wasn’t going to be pristine.

* * * *

We all got up early on Tuesday. We were all going to work. Shorty and I had flipped a coin. He would go with Michael. I would go with Hillary. And we would trade off the next day. Neither of us really wanted to work with Michael, and not because we didn’t like him. We did. But Michael didn’t work with Martha, and Martha made the world go ’round.

Shorty and Michael went to Bernie’s House of Carpets. Hillary and I went to Jerry’s Emporium of Telemarketing and Stuff. We were making the big bucks in Big D.

My life as Jerry’s bitch was okay, I guess. I’ve certainly had worse jobs. The sales team didn’t drop everything to talk to me. They waved and said hi, and kept on working. I invited everyone to our party, and everyone said they would be there. But that’s about as far as our interactions went.

It clearly wasn’t me that disrupted productivity at the office, so it had to be Shorty. That was my take. I think it was the way he talked. That Minnesota accent was as foreign as a British accent in Texas, and people couldn’t get enough of it. And, he could spin a fairly funny tale. We both had a lots of funny stories about our lives and the characters we knew.

However, I did have one work related perk that Shorty wouldn’t have that day. I got to see 💕Martha. 💕 Angelic Martha. 😇 Beautiful Martha. 😍 I love you, Martha!❣And she looked marvelous!

We exchanged greetings, and I especially made sure she was still coming to our Big Epic Amazing Party. On Friday. At Michael and Hillary’s.

Yes! She was!!

However, we both had jobs to do, and that was just about the extent of our interactions. Martha had to sell stuff, and she had been in a slump. She was fueled up on caffeine and Quaaludes, and she was hitting it hard. She just needed some good leads.

I had been tasked with mastering the Supply Room. It was a big closet at the end of the hallway past Jerry’s office, ten by twenty, maybe. It was full of boxes, bags, stuff and junk. It looked like a bomb had gone off it in. A big bomb.

I took everything out of the room, and swept and mopped the floor. I found some pallets in the underground parking garage, and put them on the floor, then organized the hell out of everything I put back in supply room.

I was done by eleven o’clock. Jerry just about had an heart attack.

“What do you mean, you’re done already!” Jerry shouted as he walked over to the Supply Room to appraise my work. “I told you to–”

Jerry was speechless. I smiled a very satisfied smile.

“Je-sus Christ! I can’t believe this! This. Is. Beautiful!”

“Thanks. Anything else you want me to do?”

“Yeah…” Jerry’s voice trailed off. He looked at me in an entirely different way. He rattled off a list of things, then started pulling random people over to look at the Supply Room. “Do you see this? Do you see this! This, is a goddamn masterpiece, that’s what it is! I will fire the first person that fucks this up! Do you hear me! Fire!!”

I spent the rest of the day impressing the hell out of Jerry. And Jerry spent the rest of the day annoying the hell out of everyone by telling them how fucking awesome I was. By the time the day ended, I was sure no one was coming to our party. Not even me.

Shorty had a good day with Michael. There was a building boom in Dallas, and Bernie had a lots of carpeting that needed to be installed. Michael was happy to have the help, and the company. He usually worked alone.

Our first work day in Dallas had been a success. We had made forty bucks, and we didn’t spend it on beer. It couldn’t have gone much better.

“I think Jerry’s gonna ask you to marry him!” Hillary teased me when we were all together at the apartment. Except for that part. Her teasing was good-natured, thankfully. But Hillary’s good mood would vanish quickly. George was coming over to pick up his furniture.

* * * *

I have to confess, I was a complete dick to George when he showed up. I taunted him like I was one of the Brownies in Willow. I taunted him like I was a French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

To his credit, George kept his head down, and did not respond to me. He was a much better man than I. He picked up his stuff, he had gained custody of more than just the maimed coffee table, but I couldn’t tell you what. George said something about the broken glass top of the coffee table, but he was in enemy territory and he had no back up. He collected his stuff as quickly as he could, and got the hell out of Dodge.

* * * *

I called my mom on Wednesday on my lunch break. Michael and I had flown through our first job, then drove back to the office to meet Hillary, Randi and Shorty outside her office. I had laid carpet for a couple months during the summer when I was in high school, so I knew what Michael needed without being told. We made a good team.

I went inside the office while everyone else waited outside, and used Hillary’s phone to call Mom so I didn’t have to call her collect. I think that probably surprised her.

Apparently, a wire money transfer wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but Mom came through. She told me which bank to go. One hundred dollars was waiting there for me. Michael knew where the bank was, we went there after lunch. I gave fifty bucks to Shorty. We were in this together.

💖 Thanks, Mom. You were the best. 💖

The rest of the week was uneventful. Shorty and I were working stiffs. I think the only problem was I had been so efficient as Jerry’s bitch on Tuesday that Shorty didn’t have much of anything to do at the office on Wednesday. So Jerry spent half the day showing Shorty all the stuff I had done.

“Do you see that?” Jerry showed Shorty the Supply Room. “That, is a goddamn masterpiece! A masterpiece! I should have taken before and after pictures! No one fucks this up, and lives!”

Shorty spent the rest of the day disrupting the productivity of the sales zombies in the bullpen. They had a great day. They didn’t sell much, but they had the best day, ever. Hillary said her sides hurt from laughing so much.

The only person happy to see me in the office on Thursday was Jerry. I think I actually begged him to stop shouting my praises. Not even my parents loved me as loudly as Jerry did.

I didn’t ask if he had anything for me to do, I just did stuff. I cleaned the windows. Almost everyone in the office smoked, and there were no prohibitions against smoking indoors back then. When I finished, sunlight flooded the bullpen. Some of the sales zombies actually donned sunglasses.

Jerry simply nodded this time. I was sooo thankful.

I was able to spend some quality time with Martha on Thursday. Her sales slump had become a drought, and she was freaking out. She was crying and disheveled once more. Hillary and Randi tried to stop me as I headed for Martha’s desk, but I was immune to their black magicks that day.

I took Martha outside, and smoked a cigarette with her. I told her jokes and funny stories, and got her laughing. I gave her a little pep talk to get her focused. She even found the strength to flash a look of determination.

“You can do this. You’ve done it a thousand times. I believe in you. Now, get in there and make a sale!” And I gave her a little pat on the ass, for good luck.

I stood there alone in the underground garage, watching her cute little butt as she strode back inside. And I promised myself I would never wash that hand again.

Half an hour later, a shriek of exuberance reverberated out of the bullpen. Martha had made a sale! Her fellow sales zombies swarmed her to congratulate her. I stood just outside the bullpen, watching, and I made no movement to join them. Through the crowd of people that surrounded her, I could see Martha’s elated face. She had her eyes locked on me. Through the tears of joy that rolled down her angel face, she silently said, Thank you!

That memory is also filed in my Happy Box. I haven’t accessed that file in at least twenty years, probably longer. Good to know it’s still there.

* * * *

By Thursday afternoon, Shorty and I had almost two hundred seventy-fifty dollars between us. We could throw a big, epic, amazing party with that kind of coin. And we had almost an ounce of pot, too! We decided we’d work only half a day on Friday, if that was okay with our new employers and co-workers. We had a party to plan.

Yeah, that’s fine. We completely understand, our bosses said when we asked them on Friday morning. I invited Jerry and Bernie to the party. They said they’d think about it.

Michael and I were the A Team once more, and we finished the first job in record time. It was Friday. Shorty and I would be gone on Monday. Michael decided we deserved a treat. We went to a bar and had a couple of beers.

I didn’t spend as much time talking to Michael as Shorty did. They were both motorcycle guys, so they could talk for hours about bikes. I was not a bike guy. I knew they were the things with two wheels, right? And that was about the extent of my knowledge.

“Hey, it’s been surprisingly great having you and Shorty here. I wasn’t too wild about it at first, but you guys have been a real pleasure to have around.”

“I know what you mean. I had some serious doubts about this too, but hanging out with you and Hillary has been pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had. In fact, I’m not sure I want to go back to Minnesota.”

“No shit! Wow, it’d be cool if you stayed. Not with us…” Michael laughed. “No offense.”

“None taken.” We clinked beer bottles. I was going to miss this place, if I left. I had a pretty big decision to make, but first, I had an epic party to prepare.

Michael and I drove to Hillary’s office. We were meeting Shorty, Hillary and Randi for lunch. We walked to a nearby deli. I think we ate there frequently that week. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but when we returned to the office, Michael walked in with us.

Hillary’s office had the atmosphere of a carnival that day. Shorty had been in his glory, and no one did a fucking thing that morning. Not even Jerry, and he didn’t seem to care that no one in his office was doing what they were getting paid to do. He had been laughing his ass off. Shorty picked up where he left off when we returned.

Now, I’m a comedian. Okay, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian, much like I’ve almost always wanted to be a prophet. It was one of the things I wanted back in my Dallas Daze. And I’m sure I was more than a little jealous of Shorty, who was killing it at the office.

“Oh, God! Stop it, Girtz! You’re killing me, man!” Jerry said. He had rejoined the audience after lunch, and was laughing so hard he actually had tears running down his cheeks. “Oh, hey, Marco! Come with me. I want to talk to you.” He clapped me on the shoulder, pushing me toward his office, and closed the door once we were inside. He offered me a glass of bourbon. I actually declined.

Jerry couldn’t believe it either.

“Man, I am gonna be so glad when you guys leave. I can start making some money again!”

“I might stay in Dallas.”

“What?!?”

“I’m seriously considering staying here.” I repeated.

“No kidding? What are your plans?”

“There’s a lot of stuff up in the air. I need a job, and a place to live. I can’t stay with Michael and Hillary.”

“You–you’re serious! What happened? Did you fall in love or something?” Jerry chuckled at the thought, then he became serious. “Martha! You fell in love with Martha, didn’t you!”

Was it that obvious?

“No! Nonononono! Not Martha! You need a good girl, like Randi. Fall in love with Randi, she’s fucking crazy about you!”

“What?!?” It was my turn to be confused.

“What? You didn’t know that? What are you, blind?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea. Maybe I was so infatuated with Martha that I couldn’t see anything else. Plus, there was Shelly. I had been thinking about her a lots, even if it was because I was trying to put together the pieces of what really happened between us that night. Maybe she felt something similar to what I did, a sort of sacredness…  I like to think of Shelly as a virgin, and in a way, she was. Or maybe we actually had thrown water condoms at the Marines…

“I…don’t know what to say.” I finally said, for many reasons.

“Never mind. That’s not why I called you in here. I don’t care who you fall in love with. I called you in here because–because I wanted to thank you– to thank you for what you did, you cleaned up that closet, my supply…room…”

You know, I don’t think Jerry spent a lots of time thanking anyone for anything. This was the worst thank you speech I had ever heard, and Jerry looked so uncomfortable…

“Hey, Jerry. It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! Sheila tells me I’ve gotta work at this, goddammit! Can you believe this shit? I’m a grown man! I’m successful, right? And I can’t even tell someone thank you without fucking it up!”

If there was something I could’ve said then, I had no idea what it was. I said nothing, and even now, I think that was the best answer.

“Look, the work you did around here, it was great. You need a job, you got one. And that’s a promise! But that other thing you did, that thing you did with Martha the other day. That, was beautiful. I was wrong about you, hippie. I thought you were a killer when I met you. But you’re no killer. You’re a good man, and I…I just wanted you to know that.”

Years later, when I had become a legendary psych nurse, I would understand the therapeutic value of silence. Back then, standing in Jerry’s office, I had no idea what I was doing, but I sensed what I wasn’t saying was my best course of action. And then I knew what to say.

“Thank you.”

“There! You see that! How do you do that!” Jerry was practically screaming! “I should hire you to teach me how to be, you know, fuckin’ gracious and shit! You want to be my teacher, hippie? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t call you that! Whaddya think? You wanna work for me?” Jerry was on a roll. “Listen! The other reason I called you in here for was this.” Jerry reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He flipped through them until he found a Benjamin. “I wanted you to have this, too. You earned it, and I know you could use it. Go ahead, take it. But don’t tell Girtz I did this! Hell, I should make him pay me for fucking up my office! Naw, I’m just kidding. But you listen to me. Find yourself a good girl. You’ll save yourself a fortune…”

I took the C-note and silently put it in my wallet. Jerry was quite a guy. I liked him a lot, and I can tell you this in all seriousness. That guy didn’t miss a trick. He saw everything, and everything he told me was true.

Every word.

* * * *

By the time I left Jerry’s office, I wasn’t sure my hearing would ever be the same, but I was positive of one thing. My powers of observation were nowhere near as acute as I thought they were.

I took a long, hard look at Randi, and my eyes locked onto her tits. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t noticed the whole her being head over heels in love with me thing. Well, at least that explanation made sense to me. I got Shorty away from his crowd of admirers so we could get moving on setting up Party Central. I think the sales zombies were actually cheering us onward. I made sure to make eye contact with Martha.

Promise me you’ll come. I said, silently

I promise! she replied

And Randi saw that. I know she did.

It would have to do. The only way I could insure that Martha would actually show up was to kidnap her…  I’m kidding. No, I’m not. I totally would have kidnapped her if that’s what I had to do.

Shorty and I headed for the garage and Hillary’s car. We were going shopping for the epic party! Michael was still in the office, and he disengaged himself from the crowd to join us. As we started walking down the hallway, I vaguely saw a human form walking up the hallway toward us. And then I saw who that someone was.

It was George.

* * * *

Shorty and I said goodbye to Michael in the garage. If he was bothered by the fact that he had just violated the restraining order George had filed against him, he hid it well.

He was a little bummed out that he wouldn’t have a partner for the afternoon, but other than that…

Neither Shorty nor I gave the seemingly innocuous event that had just happened so much as a second thought. I mean, George didn’t even acknowledge our existence. Nor did he even speak to Michael, so even if we had thought about it, we wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal.

We were focused on the party. Well, okay. I did have a few other random thoughts bouncing around in my head, but all I wanted them to do was stop!

A shopping we did go. First stop, a liquor store, for a keg. We had to have a whole bunch of beer. Everything else was optional. We got a thirty gallon keg. And a couple sleeves of plastic cups. And then some sodas. And a bottle of whiskey. Or vodka. Or something like unto that.

Then we stopped at a grocery store, probably, and bought chips and dips and snacks and stuff. And napkins. And whatever else struck our fancy as something we could afford. Money was no longer our overriding concern.

All I know for sure about our out of pocket expenses for the party was both Shorty and I still had money in our pockets when we were through. And I still had Benjamin safely tucked away in my wallet. Just in cases…

Hillary had procured the key to the entertainment suite at the apartment, and I had it in my pocket. The liquor store had given us an enormous plastic container to put the keg in. We set the keg up in the party room. There was an ice machine in the party room, so we wouldn’t need to buy any ice to keep the keg cold, or for drinks.

We tossed anything that needed to be refrigerated in the fridge in the party room, and we were pretty much set. We showered and changed clothes. All we had to do after that was wait for Martha, I mean, our guests to arrive.

Michael and Hillary came home. They were quieter than usual, maybe, but I only say this in retrospect. I’m sure I didn’t give much thought to how Michael and Hillary were acting at the time. Shorty and I spent the majority of our time tending to the keg, getting it to produce a stream of beer at the perfect rate of flow.

There was even a stereo system in the party room. Shorty dialed through the stations, looking for one that played good old rock and roll while I rolled a bunch of joints. Shorty was a gifted mechanic, but there were two things he couldn’t do with his hands. He couldn’t snap his fingers, and he couldn’t roll a joint to save his life. This was something only I could do.

* * * *

Our guests started arriving around 7:00 PM. The guys in the sales force were the first ones to show up. Free booze. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Shorty’s cousin, Leroy, came. I have purposely kept him out of this story up to this point, or I’d be on Part X right now. Leroy was also an interesting guy. He had been in Texas for so long his Minnesota accent had been replaced by a smooth Texas drawl. He was a true urban cowboy.

Leroy was married to a cute Texas blonde. She was six months pregnant or so, and she didn’t come to the party. I know Leroy and she had visited Hillary’s office at least once and everyone at the office knew them, and all of them had fallen in love with her.

A couple of the bikini babes we had met at the pool dropped in, but they weren’t wearing bikinis, which was disappointing.

The redheaded hippie chick and her hippie dude boyfriend came. They looked like the King and Queen of all the Hippies. They thought the party was groovy. They were totally grooving to the music. And they loved the fact that I had pre-rolled a bunch of joints.

Bernie actually came to the party, but he took Michael into the bedroom and they stayed there for a long time. They eventually rejoined the party, but Michael pulled Hillary into the bedroom and then they stayed there for a long time. I figured they were having sex, and left it at that.

Bernie was tense, a little too agitated, maybe. I’d be able to pick up on little things like that that once I became a psych nurse, but at that time I didn’t think much about it. Bernie relaxed after drinking a couple beers. He even told a couple jokes. I have them filed in my Joke Box, but that’s so cluttered it’d take me the rest of my life if I ever tried to reorganize it, so…

Bernie didn’t stay long. He left before the party really got started

A bunch of people I had never met walked in. They were Hillary’s friends from Detroit. She never told us she had invited anyone. But they were probably the people I enjoyed meeting the most at our epic party. I can’t remember any of their names, but they were a blast!

I lit up a few joints when they arrived and passed them around. This party was starting to become a party!

There were maybe thirty people at the party by this time. Almost everyone brought something to eat. Before long, we had a smorgasbord. And everyone brought more booze, and Quaaludes.

We wandered back and forth from the party room to the apartment and back to the party room. My memory of this isn’t completely clear, but I think the party room was on the second floor, so you had to be prepared to handle at least four flights of stairs.

That in and of itself limited the migration for most of our guests, but Shorty and I probably ran into ourselves coming and going. We were here, then there, shuttling pitchers of beer, snacks and ice from Point A to Point B.

This was our party, and we made sure there was plenty of everything available for our guests, no matter which room they were in. I probably needed to take another shower by 8:30, which happened to be when Randi arrived.

“Hi.” a voice whispered in my ear. My heart skipped a beat. Her voice sounded exactly like Shelly’s. Now that I think about it, I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed that sooner. Maybe it was the whisper…  If Randi had been able to mimic Shelly’s cute little giggle, I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. I turned to the sound of the voice and saw…tits.

Well, they were wearing a tight red blouse, but I knew those tits, and thanks to Jerry’s repeated warnings, I knew they were in love with me.

“Hi there! I replied, seeing Randi, maybe for the first time. She. Looked. Radiant!

Randi was seriously smoking hot that night. I poured her a beer. I asked if she needed anything. She said she wanted some fresh air, and asked if I would join her on the balcony. Why certainly! I’d love to! And I meant it. I asked her about her day, her son, her parents. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and that is a testament to just how gorgeous she looked.

As busy as I had been busing beer and food and ice. As much as I had been enjoying meeting all of Hillary’s friends from Detroit, there was something always in the back of mind, something that made my head reflexively turn every time I heard someone enter the party room, or the apartment.

That something was a someone, and that someone was Martha. 

As keyed up as I was about this, as much as I had been anticipating this, and let me tell you something, I didn’t look forward to Santa with as much anticipation as I did to Martha’s arrival. I had even tried to position myself to be near the door at all times to give myself an edge over Shorty. I was not going to let him beat me to the finish line this time. Despite all that, I was totally caught off guard when I heard a chorus of angels burst into song, and that could mean only one thing.

💕Martha💕 had arrived!

And that’s when I realized where I was, and a crowd of about fifteen people were standing between me and the door where the angelic object of my desire was about to make her grand entrance.

And standing right there, mere feet from the doorway–just stupidly standing there like a goddamn idiot, was Shorty.

Back in the USSR

I departed from Dallas with Raoul on a Friday afternoon, heading for Oklahoma and Fort Sill, a place I was sure I’d never return to once I left. And yet, there I was…  The trip was uneventful. It was about a three hour drive from Dallas to Lawton. I talked a lots; about my life since leaving the Army, and how I was seriously thinking about staying in Dallas and not returning to Minnesota, ever. Raoul drove and listened.

Raoul could not get over my appearance. I did look a lots different–long haired afro and a beard. He couldn’t wait to show me off to the few people on base that still knew me. There weren’t many left.

Fort Sill didn’t look any different to me. The buildings were still familiar to my memory, and somehow foreign at the same time. It was an odd sensation. The Dental barracks wasn’t any different. It was a bland two story wooden building, ten rooms on each floor.

It was a full house of twenty guys when I lived there back in 1975. There were maybe an half a dozen guys living there in 1978. Raoul’s room was at the far end of hallway from the main entrance on the first floor. He was the sole occupant on that end of the building. Everyone else was living in the rooms nearest the main entrance on either the first or second floor.

There were a couple guys I knew living in the barracks, but I can’t remember their names. They were FNG’s about the time I left, and I didn’t spend much time getting to know them, but they welcomed me back as if we had been friends forever. They couldn’t get over my appearance either.

Everyone wanted to know what it was like being a civilian. It’s weird how the military brainwashes you into thinking you won’t survive once you get out. I assured them I had readjusted to civilian life, and they would, too. We sat in the dayroom, drinking beer, reminiscing about the past, waxing philosophic about the future. Every guy in that room looking at me had one similar thought: I am totally doing that when I get out of the fuckin’ Army!

After about an hour of talking to the guys, Raoul announced we had stuff to do. We headed down the hall to his room. He made a couple quick phone calls, and we waited for his mystery guests to arrive. He wouldn’t tell me whom he had called, but whomever he had called were on the way over. While we waited, he showed me the room he had set up for me.

The rooms in the barracks were identical, but you could decorate your room any way you chose, within reason. I had to change my design at least once because the Army didn’t approve. I recognized the carpeting in Raoul’s room. It had once been mine. Some of the posters in his room had also once been mine. I didn’t take much with me when I was discharged. Raoul had a couple of lounge chairs and lamps, and a pretty big console TV in his living area. A bookcase was centered in the passage between the living room and the bedroom. It was very cozy.

Each room had a living area and a sleeping area separated by a partition wall. There was a single bed and a sink in the sleeping area, and a shared bathroom between the the adjoining rooms. The bathroom had a toilet and a shower. My room was on the other side of Raoul’s bathroom. The only thing in it was a bed, and a side table, but the bed was made.

“Thanks for going all out for me.” I said.

“You’re not moving in! You’re only going to sleep here, if you get any sleep this weekend!”

“But I like what you did with my stuff.”

“We raped your room ten seconds after you left. I had to pull rank on the FNG’s to get the stuff I have. Part of you is in every occupied room in the barracks.”

I did have a pretty cool room, back in the day. I can’t remember if we went to look at it or not. We might have. Raoul had keys to all the rooms. I know my room was unoccupied, it was the third room from the stairway on the right on the second floor. Only the first two rooms on either side of the hallway were occupied on the second floor.

He opened the drawer of the bedside table in the room he had set up for me. There were six condoms inside.

“You never know when those will come in handy.”

I can’t remember if Raoul had been a Boy Scout or not, but he had been in the Army for a very long time. He was prepared for anything. If the Russians had ever attacked Fort Sill, Raoul would’ve been ready. He probably had a tank hidden under his bed.

We heard loud footsteps, and laughing and shrieking in hallway. Raoul smiled.

“Amigo, the putas are here!”

Puta is Spanish slang for slut, or whore. The putas Raoul was referring to were three WAC’s from my Army days. They were possibly the only three WAC’s left on base that knew me. And they had primed themselves for my party by drinking a lots of beers before they arrived.

Gloria, LaVerne and Shelly.

Gloria was recently divorced. She had been unhappily married when I knew her, and she generally looked miserable. She didn’t look miserable anymore! She had long, light brown hair, pale blue eyes framed by oval wire rimmed glasses, and she had lost at least fifty pounds. She was short and sleek. She looked great!

“Marky! Is that you?!? OhmyGod!” She ran to hug me.

“Oh. My. God.” LaVerne said from the doorway. She was a light skinned African American. We had the same hair. She broke into a grin and pushed Gloria out of my arms.

“Jesus Christ, Rowen. Is that you?!?!” Shelly said as she walked in. “I didn’t think you could get any uglier…  Actually, all that hair hides your ugliness.”

“Good to see you, too, Shelly.”

Shelly was a lesbian. She was my height, short, dark brown hair and eyes. She was an hot little package, and I had had the hots for her back when I was in the Army, but I didn’t have a vagina, so…  I was surprised to see her. She was pretty much the last person I expected to see. Back when we had our Get to Know You party at the barracks that the FNG’s had organized to meet the WAC’s, Shelly didn’t come. I would learn she had recently broken up with her girlfriend, so she had nothing better to do. She looked great, too.

“Man, I can’t get over the new you!” Shelly said, running her fingers over my afro, then all the girls were touching my hair and my beard.

“Hey, what about me?” Raoul said.

Gloria and LaVerne giggled and started messing up his hair. But Shelly stared at me is if I were a creature she had never seen before. And then she kissed me. And I kissed her back.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning looking at the bottom of the bedframe to my left. I was laying on a mattress on the floor. The mattress that had been on the bed was missing. It was probably the mattress I had been sleeping on, but I couldn’t figure out why I had taken it off the bed. Or why I was naked.

I rolled to my right, and rolled into Shelly. We were laying on two mattresses on the floor that had been placed next to each other to make one larger bed. And I wasn’t the only person that was naked. Shelly opened her eyes and giggled softly.

“Hi.” she whispered.

“Hi!” I replied, surprised. “Excuse me, but I have to pee.”

“Warm up the seat for me, please?”

“What?”

“Sit down, and warm up the seat for me, okay?” She smiled and kissed the tip of my nose.

“Oh, okay.”I said, once I understood what she wanted. I found my glasses and stumbled to the bathroom. Shelly giggled softly again. She had a really cute…giggle. I had gotten a glimpse of her body under the blankets when I got up. Shelly was cute all over.

I sat down–the toilet seat was cold, and peed. And I tried to put the pieces of the previous night together. I flushed the toilet and peered into Raoul’s room. Mattresses covered his floor too, and sprawled across the mattresses were Gloria, Raoul and LaVerne, in that order. They were sleeping in a heap. Clothing was strewn everywhere. And I think Raoul had a pair of panties on his head. Probably Gloria’s.

Shelly rushed into the bathroom, wrapped in a sheet. She lifted it above her waist as she sat down. I left so she could have some privacy, still trying to remember what got happened. I couldn’t remember much.

We had been drinking beer and smoking joints and cigarettes in Raoul’s room, listening to music, dancing, laughing. And kissing. There was a lots of hugging and kissing going on. I think I even kissed Raoul…  I sort of remembered that.

“Hi!” Shelly whispered, rushing back to bed and diving under the blankets. “I’m freezing!”

I was sitting on the edge of the box spring, staring at the sink.

“You look surprised.” Shelly said. I nodded, distractedly. “Actually, so am I. You’re first man I’ve ever slept with. Aren’t you cold?” I guessed I probably was, even though the radiator was emanating a fair amount of heat, and climbed under the blankets with Shelly. She snuggled close to warm up. She felt very warm to me.

“I was your first?” I asked, trying to take that in.

“Uh-huh. I’ve always liked girls.”

“Yeah, me too. Does that make me a lesbian too?” Shelly laughed, her dark eyes twinkled brightly.

“I don’t know, but if you didn’t have that beard you could probably convince a lot of girls you were one.”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but how was it, your first time with a guy?”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but it was amazing!”

I had to smile to myself when I heard that. And then I had to make sure it would be an experience I’d remember.

* * * *

I had a lots of Saturday mornings like that, not the making love to a lesbian part. I’m pretty sure that only happened once. The trying to remember what happened the night before, and putting together the pieces of my life as they drifted into my consciousness part. I had way more of those experiences than one person should have had.

There’s probably more of my life that I have little or vague recollection of than I have total recall of. That was perhaps the most disconcerting part of the early stages of my sobriety. I started remembering stuff–random images popped into my head when I least needed them–but all I got was pieces, never the complete picture. I had no idea where that piece fit into the puzzle of my life; what came before, what followed. I was like unto an amnesia victim, maybe…

Raoul and his girls eventually woke up. Shelly and I listened to them moaning and groaning and laughing as they untangled themselves from the blankets and made their way to the bathroom.

I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. Shelly was so content she was absolutely glowing. That memory of her is forever filed in my Happy Box, and I know where to find it.

Raoul and I walked the girls out to their car. Gloria and LaVerne looked bleary-eyed and pale. But Shelly smiled and glowed, and blew me a kiss as they drove off.  It was the last time I ever saw her.

* * * *

Raoul and I decided to take a booze cruise after cleaning up ourselves and Raoul’s room. Well, we didn’t do a lots of cleaning. We emptied the ashtrays, and policed empty beer cans. We left the mattresses on the floor, just in cases.

Raoul said the mattresses were my idea. It wasn’t safe for the girls to drive, as drunk as they were. There were a lots of empty rooms and available mattresses…  And the girls were drunk enough to agree. Even Shelly.

We went to a little diner just off base for breakfast, bought a twelve pack at the store next to the diner for the road, and headed out to the range roads on base.

The range roads led out to the firing ranges on Fort Sill. There was a lots of artillery training at Fort Sill, and the ranges were where all the training took place. Artillery fire is incredibly loud, so the ranges were placed as far from civilization as possible by design. There was probably five thousand miles of paved roads crisscrossing the outlying areas around the base, leading out to the ranges.

I liked the range roads. They weren’t greatly travelled, and once you learned your way around, you could get almost anywhere quicker on them than driving the main surface streets. There were even unmanned gates you could use to get into Lawton.

I’m sure those are long gone…

There wasn’t much to see on the range roads. There are some very scenic places in Oklahoma, but not so much out on the ranges. The terrain was hilly, covered in scrub brush, weeds and wild flowers. The vegetation was mostly brown and dead that February, awaiting Spring, and rebirth.

I was feeling reborn that morning, and couldn’t stop smiling, no matter how much I tried. I was driving, Raoul wanted to kick back and relax. Also, my new appearance was incredibly distracting to him, and he glanced at me frequently, as if he was trying to figure out who I was.

We were driving on a road neither of us had ever been on before, and we had put a lots of miles on our cars traveling the range roads.

“You look real happy, amigo.” he said.

“I am.”

“No, I mean, really happy! What happened with you and the lesbiana last night.”

Some guys don’t kiss and tell. I’m not one of them, obviously. The only real problem was I had no clear memory of what actually happened the previous night.

“I looked in the drawer, amigo. Four condoms were missing. Four!” Raoul said.

“Yeah, well. I think we filled a couple of them with water and threw them at the Marines.”

“Yeah, right! You fucked that little girl four times! In one night! You’re a fucking machine!! You must have one of them bionic dicks or something, amigo!”

Yeah, I’m still not sure about that, but I had noticed something while I was taking a shower. My groin was sore, and tender. And my penis was bruised. It was actually black and blue! I did tell Raoul about that. I may have even showed him my battered penis later…

I think Shelly had tried to kill me. That last erotic wrestling match in the morning was almost more pain than pleasure.

Almost.

“Me? What about you! You banged two girls! You, are the true fucking machine!” I countered.

We laughed a lots, and drank a toast to our penises, those brave little soldiers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that said, BUMP. I looked down the road, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a bump. And then the road… disappeared.

Seriously, it just vanished. The car fell into a pit about ten feet deep. The sides had a slight slope, and possibly looked something like unto this:

\___/

We flew through the air like stuntmen in a movie. We might have even been screaming. The car ricocheted heavily off the bottom of the pit, then bounced up the other side, and we were back on the road again. I hit the brakes and swiftly came to a stop.

“Whatever you do, don’t turn off the car!” Raoul’s voice said. I couldn’t see him. He was sprawled upside down on the floor. In the backseat. Spilled beer drenched the interior of the car. Raoul and I were soaked in beer.

“What the fuck was that?!?” we both shouted, and got out of the car to check it out.

I tried to find a dry spot on my shirt to clear the beer off my lenses so I could see again. The “bump” we had hit was a trench roughly ten feet deep, and maybe twenty feet wide. Raoul figured it was used to teach guys how to drive tanks.

I marvel about that event to this day because we probably should’ve gotten dead that day. And if we hadn’t been so incredibly lucky, we would have been. If we had been moving any slower, we would’ve fallen into the trench with no hope of ever getting out because we weren’t driving a tank. We would’ve been stuck there until someone came along. For all I know, we could be there still. If we had been moving any faster, we would’ve crashed headfirst into the far side of the trench and that would have killed us to death instantly. But we were moving at the perfect speed to bounce in and out of that deep sonuvabitchin’ crevasse without gotting dead.

We were stunned.

“My car!” Raoul said, and ran to look it over, swearing feverishly in Spanish as he ran. Another miracle! The car had sustained no external damage. We couldn’t even find any damage to the undercarriage!

We were so surprised and happy, there was only one thing to do. We popped open a couple of beers and drank another toast. While we were standing around in awe and wonder at our incredible good fortune, it started raining. We didn’t even care.

We laughed, and asked each other repeatedly, Are you okay? Did you get hurt? and laughed harder. Neither of us had so much as a scratch. We stood in the rain, letting it rinse the beer out of our hair and dilute the smell of beer in our clothes. When we were suitably wet, we climbed back into the car and turned the heat up.

Raoul drove. I don’t think he wanted me hitting any more bumps. And fortunately, there were no more bumps to hit. We found a gate, and headed for the nearest liquor store. What else do you do when you don’t got dead? We kept the car running until we got back to the barracks, just in cases. It started right up again. Yep, that was a miracle for sure.

We changed into dry clothes. I did some laundry, there was a washer and dryer at the barracks. We drank beer and smoked until we fell asleep watching TV, some black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. Then eventually crawled to the mattresses on the floor and slept until Sunday morning.

* * * *

Well I woke up Sunday mornin’, with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more, for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day

Thank you, Kris Kristofferson.

That’s how I felt that Sunday morning, February 25, 1979. I’m not sure you could call this blessed, but I rarely had serious hangovers back during my drinking days. I might have an headache, but I rarely vomited.

I think I did have a beer for breakfast that day. And another for dessert. By the time Raoul woke up, I was half drunk already. I was heading back to Dallas that day, and Raoul would be driving, so…

We moved all the excess mattresses into my room, then went to the little diner again, then headed for Dallas. I have no recollection of this trip. But Raoul safely delivered me to Dallas and Michael and Hillary’s apartment.

Raoul didn’t want to come up to the apartment. He just wanted to get back to the base and sleep.

“It’s been great, man.” I said, hugging him. He was one of the best, truest friends I’ve ever had.

“If you stay in Dallas, let me know, amigo. Maybe Shelly and I will come visit you.”

It was the last time I ever saw him.

* * * *

The mood in the apartment was noticeably different when I walked in. Hillary’s ex-boyfriend, George, had won his lawsuit against Hillary for their disputed possessions. Did I know about the lawsuit? I wondered. If I did, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Michael was sullen and aloof, and numbed out by ‘ludes. Hillary was livid! She was pissed beyond reasoning, and she was just getting started.

And to top it off, most of the pot I had smuggled into Texas was gone!

“Oh, I sold some of it while you were gone.” Shorty explained. “You brought so much of it, and I was running low on cash.”

I was initially irritated, but I got over it quickly. There was no way I was going to try to smuggle any dope back to Minnesota, so Shorty had actually done me a favor, and we still had enough weed to keep us high for the reminder of the week. I was running low on cash too, so I asked Shorty for half the cash he made selling my pot. He got a kind of sheepish look on his face, and handed me a twenty dollar bill.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“I kinda spent the rest…  We went out, and I started buying drinks…” I would later find out Martha was one of the people in the group Shorty went out with, and he wanted to greatly impress her.

Shorty had sold about five ounces of weed while I was gone. He had to have made at least two hundred bucks from his transactions, and he gave me twenty bucks. I shook my head, wondering if I should kill him now, or wait and make it look like an accident. I had about fifty bucks in my wallet. Shorty had less than me. And we weren’t leaving until the following Monday.

Eight more days, not much more than eighty bucks between us. It was going to be a long week.

Work Related Polygamy

Trepaliare is a Latin word that the Spanish word for work, trabajo, is derived from. It means to torture, or inflict suffering or agony.

Ironic that I’m writing about my many work wives, isn’t it?

I had never had a work wife until I moved to Arizona, and then I had so many of them if I had to pay them alimony, I couldn’t quit working until twenty years after I got dead.

Debra Goral was my first work wife. It was her idea to be my work wife. I was incredibly flattered. No one had ever wanted to be my work wife before. I’m not sure my lovely real wife wants to be my wife most of the time.

Deb is in my Top Five Greatest Nurses, ever. She knows her stuff and she gets stuff done. She’s better at following rules than I am, but Hannibal Lector is probably better at following the rules than I am.

We worked together on AP 5 at St Luke’s, or as we liked to think of it, Hell on Earth. When Deb and I started working the evening shift together, it was the worst shift–in terms of personnel–in the entire building.

We had one objective, fix that. And we did. We fashioned together a team of awesomeness. I told all the BHT’s they had been chosen to work with us because they were the best BHT’s in the building, and they performed like they were. I started calling them the A Team, and that’s what they became. I loved them all. I eventually left St Luke’s because that team dissolved.

Here’s how totally fucking awesome those guys were. We had eleven open beds at the beginning of our shift one evening. When the shift ended, there was one. We did ten admissions on top of all the other stuff we always did, in eight hours. When the night shift came in, the eleventh admit was searched and his belongings were inventoried.

Those guys were really good.

I’m from Minnesota. Deb is from Wisconsin. I’m a Vikings fan. Deb loves the Packers. So, it was a mixed marriage. Despite our inherent differences, we made a strong team.

There are a lots of things I love about Deb, but what I loved most about her was her candor. She has no deceit in her. She doesn’t beat around the bush. She just tells you how it is, and you better be grown up enough to handle it. It was so refreshing!

All good things must end. Deb decided to transfer to the day shift.

Enter Rhonda Dolatshahi.

I’m not sure Rhonda ever formally became my work wife, but she brought me coffee every time we worked together, and if that doesn’t say work wife, I don’t know what does.

Rhonda is also in my Top Five Greatest Nurses, ever. She’s the Original Rockstar Nurse. Rhonda’s from Pennsylvania, and she’s a Steelers fan, so another mixed marriage.

Rhonda and I had worked together at Del Webb. I was one of her managers. I loved Rhonda because she was so easy to work with. She showed up when she was scheduled. She picked up extra shifts all the time, and she didn’t bitch about stupid stuff. Working the floor with her was a breeze. She also knew her stuff and knew how to get ‘er done.

And then she left. And then I did. It’s the people you work with that make the suffering and agony of employment bearable, and I could not work with the crazy bitches that replaced my first two work wives.

On to Aurora. Enter Tara Grant Molden.

Tara was my one and only Wonder Twin, ever. She was also my first work wife at Aurora, so technically, I married my twin sister. See? I told you my relationships were complicated. Well, if it was good enough for Mausolus and Artemisia, who am I to disagree?

Tara was a Broncos fan, so, yet another mixed marriage. She once confessed to me that she would totally suck Peyton Manning’s cock. I spent the rest of the day saying, “Omaha! Omaha!” But I couldn’t convince her I was Peyton Manning.

Tara was a relatively new nurse. She hadn’t reached the plateau of greatness my previous work wives had, but you could tell she was going to be great someday, and she was easily the most fun to work with–not that Deb and Rhonda weren’t. They were. Maybe it was because it wasn’t AP 5, which was not a fun place…

My buddy at the MVAMC, Paul Anderson, made me laugh a lots, but I know he wouldn’t want to be considered as one of my work wives. Tara was a blast.

She also had a totally hot bod. I called her Tits McGee. You talk about cups running over…

My time with Tara was brief, maybe a couple months. She transferred to the second floor, then transferred one of the Banner hospitals to hone her Med/Surg skills. Now she’s a Travel Nurse, no doubt breaking hearts all across the country.

Enter Adina Boros.

Adina was from Romania. She was my Melania Trump. She could care less about football. I once asked her which she would rather have: brains, or big tits?

“Brains. Then I could make enough money to buy big tits.”

Smart, and pretty. That was Adina. I think she’s an NP now. And I know what she’s buying herself for Christmas.

My time with Adina was also short. You know what? I must’ve been hell to work with!

Enter Alison Aveson.

Ali looked like Dora the Explorer–if Dora were pregnant–because Alison was totally knocked up when we started working together. I don’t think Alison cared much about football either. Another really good nurse. Another heart wrenching break up for me, although that whole taking time off to be with Baby Nimrod was a pretty compelling excuse.

I was reunited with my first work wife, Deb Goral, after Alison. Deb came to Aurora as a House Supervisor. We didn’t technically work together, but it was great to have her back, my first ex-work wife.

Enter Michelle Warren.

Two L Michelle would be the last of my work wives. Yet another really awesome nurse to work with; knew her stuff, got it done, didn’t put up with any bullshit.

Michelle was also a lots of fun to work with. I have been blessed beyond anything I ever deserved to work with those women, those incredibly talented rockstar nurses/work wives.

Thank you Deb and Rhonda. Thank you Tara and Adina. Thank you Alison and Michelle. It was mostly sweet, and y’all were really sweet to work with. I miss you all, and hope all is well.

The guest room is ready whenever you are.

A Rose By Any Other Name

I first met Rose when I started working at MIHS, Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, otherwise known as the County. Maricopa Medical Center was the ancient hospital that was its primary treatment facility. And by ancient I mean it was built in the 1970’s. There’s not a lots of historical places in Phoenix.

MIHS also provided psychiatric care, and they had two facilities for that. The first was the Psych Annex. That’s where I worked. It was a nondescript two story building behind the medical center. The second was Desert Vista, a much newer, incredibly secure building in Mesa. It’s the place you’ll end up at if there’s ever a petition for court ordered examination/treatment filed against you.

I’m sure I’ve suppressed some of the memories I have of working there, mostly because I hated the management there so much. I really liked the people I worked with, and the patients I cared for weren’t terribly different than the patients I’d taken care of at the MVAMC.

I left the MVAMC in October of 2007, and started working for MIHS in November. And that’s when I met Rose.

What do you think of when you think of a rose? A beautiful, fragrant flower, right?

Yeah, that wasn’t Rose.

She was loud, intrusive, disruptive and did I mention loud? She was rude and undisciplined. Her hygiene was crude, her manners were random and unpredictable. And watching her eat could ruin your appetite for a few days. On top of that, she was also one of the most profoundly psychotic persons I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine what happened to her to transform her into the person she became.

Rose was possibly cute at one time, but those days were long gone by the time we crossed paths. She always looked disheveled, even after she had just showered. She had no fashion taste. Her outfits could cause seizures. Even if you were blind.

But the most distinctive thing about Rose was her voice. It was harsh, discordant and gravelly. Clint Eastwood sounded almost gay compared to Rose. And after listening to Rose for eight hours, even someone speaking into a megaphone sounded like they were whispering.

Rose could easily be described as a problem patient. She needed a lots of redirection. And there was no such thing as telling Rose something once. It was constant. And exhausting.

“Hey, Rose! Turn down the volume over there, okay!”

“YES, SIR!” I have no idea why, but Rose always called me Sir. She called other staff members by name, but not me. “I’M GONNA TURN DOWN THE VOLUME, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, JEFFREY?” Rose was constantly talking to Jeffrey MacDonald. You might remember him. He was the guy accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters. He was apparently Rose’s imaginary best friend. “YOU HEARD WHAT MISTER SIR SAID! TURN DOWN THE VOLUME OVER THERE, ROSE. WHAT ABOUT YOU, JOHANNES? He was one of the BHT’s at the Psych Annex. DO YOU THINK ROSE NEEDS TO TURN THE VOLUME DOWN? I KNOW JEFFREY THINKS I NEED TO TURN IT DOWN, RIGHT JEFFREY? THATS FUCKING RIGHT!”

And she swore more better gooder than two Portuguese sailors. I purposely deleted about seventeen swear words from Rose’s dialogue. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have any problem swearing, but even I was shocked by the amount of profanity Rose unleashed in casual conversation. And when she got upset, it was like getting hit by a fucking tsunami.

Rose was rarely violent, but she tended to provoke it in others. I think she wore on the nerves of everyone around her until they just couldn’t take it anymore. And most of the people on the same unit as Rose weren’t all that tightly wrapped either. She made more than one person lose it, and half of them were people I worked with.

I spent a lots of time with Rose. I may have even begged her to quiet down, I’m not sure anymore, but it’s not out of the question.

Rose was at the Psych Annex when I started working there. I’m pretty sure she was still there when I quit six months later. Rose was one of those people no one wanted within fifty feet of their facility, let alone inside it.

I worked Gero/Psych and did a stint in management at Banner Del E Webb for a few years, then moved on to St Luke’s Behavioral Health–straight psych–I was back in familiar territory. I hadn’t been there long, maybe a couple months, when I did something stupid. I started wondering what had happened to Rose.

There’s a rule when you work in Psychiatry: you never, ever mention the name of a discharged patient. You know, I wonder how So and so is doing? If you do, the person you invoked will invariably get admitted. The only way you’re safe doing this is if the person got dead, except if they had gotten dead, you wouldn’t have to wonder how they were doing…  For chronically frequent flying psych patients, the only way you can totally get rid of them is death. I know that sounds terribly callous, but it’s also true. You can ask around, if you so desire.

I never said Rose’s name aloud, not even to myself or any of my imaginary friends, nor to any of my co-workers–none of the people I worked with at St Luke’s knew Rose.

But they would.

Never underestimate the craftiness of a psych patient, especially the really crazy ones. They are spooky beyond belief. And like any other organism, they evolve. When I first started working as a psych nurse, a name had to be spoken out loud. By the time I was getting ready to retire, a simple thought would suffice.

I was walking into work at St Luke’s from the parking lot one day, and I ran into someone from the day shift.

“How was your day?” I asked. What happened on the day shift rarely had anything to do with how the evening shift would go, but it was always nice to ask.

“Oh. My. God. Turn around and leave now! We got a new admit today, wait until you meet Rose!”

I stopped in my tracks, and slowly turned toward my co-worker. I briefly described the Rose I knew, knowing there could be only one Rose that could effect that kind of reaction.

“Oh. I see you already know her.”

Yep. That was my Rose.

AP 5 was my home unit at St Luke’s. It was the court ordered unit. You didn’t have to be court ordered to be admitted to my unit, but if you were court ordered, it was the only unit you could be admitted to.

Rose was permanently court ordered. She was usually admitted to the Psych Annex, or Desert Vista. But the staff at those facilities were burned out by Rose. She was sent to St Luke’s purely out of desperation.

AP 5 was a chaotic place. It was two large dayrooms with the nursing station in-between. The patient rooms were dotted around the perimeter of the dayrooms. The unit was a giant echo chamber, it was concrete and linoleum. The other units had artwork. Some of them had carpeting. AP 5 was like the basement where your family locked up your crazy aunt, and no one ever talked about it. There was no no artwork, nothing for noise abatement. It was almost as loud as the artillery firing range at Fort Sill, way back when I was in the Army.

Added to the abnormally normal pandemonium, was Rose.

“WELL, HELLO, SIR! HOW ARE YOU! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN THREE AND A HALF YEARS!”

I had to stop and think about it, but she was correct, almost to the day.

“Hi Rose. Say, could you do me a favor, and turn down the volume a few hundred decibels.”

“TURN DOWN THE VOLUME! YES, SIR! WHAT DID I TELL YOU, JEFFREY! MISTER SIR STILL WANTS ME TO TURN DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME! YES, SIR! I’LL TURN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME DOWN!!”

I hadn’t even started my shift, and I already had a motherfuckin’ headache.

I filled my fellow evening shift staff members in on Rose. This was perhaps the best crew I would work with in my career. Deb Goral. Luis Hinojosa. Anthony Tafoya. Rachelle Carson. I loved those guys. We were a well oiled machine. And Rose had all of them pulling their hair out within the first hour.

I started herding Rose to her room to remove her from the mileau. She started peeing on the floor. I think Rachelle was ready to kill her.

I spent a lots of time talking to Rose once more. It didn’t happen right away, nor did it happen overnight. I didn’t even notice it at first, probably because it was always so noisy on AP 5, but Rose actually did turn down the motherfuckin’ volume of her voice. She didn’t swear anywhere near as much as she normally did, and she stopped peeing on the floor altogether. I think she actually became one of the better patients on the unit.

I have no reasonable explanation for it.

And then something really weird happened. Rose came up to the nursing station one evening and actually whispered something.

My name.

“Maaaaaaark!”

It was, like, the spookiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Deb could do a perfect imitation of it, and she did it often. But only because she loved me. She became my first work wife, ever. And then she became my first ex-work wife.

I’m in a lots of relationships, and they’re all complicated.

Unlike my first encounter with Rose at the County, her stay on AP 5 was relatively short. Maybe three weeks, maybe a month. She came back again almost immediately, but was discharged later that same week. We had to have set a record for her shortest hospitalization, ever.

I never saw her again, not that that’s a bad thing. There are people you meet in your life that you’ll never forget, but you don’t miss them when they’re gone.

I know a lots of people like that.

I like to think Rose was able to gain a measure of control of her insanity, and she’s doing better.

But that’s doubtful at best. More likely she’s standing on a sidewalk somewhere in Phoenix, saying, “Maaaaaaark!” Very softly.

Glenda K

Glenda was one of our patients at the Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. Prior to being acquired by BannerHealth, Del Webb and its sister facility, Boswell Hospital, were managed by SunHealth. SunHealth was a very small fish in the large healthcare pond in the Phoenix area. When Banner offered to purchase their facilities, SunHealth quickly agreed.

The employees weren’t thrilled with the acquisition. SunHealth was a very good employer. The mostly elderly population that used and staunchly supported the SunHealth facilities were extremely upset. Del Webb and Boswell hospitals were their hospitals. They didn’t want a bunch of strangers roaming the hallways of their getaway retreat hospital spas.

That’s exactly how they thought of them.

Those little old ladies even had bake sales to raise money for a new MRI machine! Do you have any idea how many cookies that is? That’s, like, a trillion fucking cookies!! Maybe they should’ve put on some cute outfits and stood on the corners in Sun City and Sun City West…

Gero/Psych nursing is a sub-specialty area of Psych nursing. Elderly psych patients generally come pre-equipped with a whole slew of medical issues, and all of those issues have to be effectively managed, as well as the psychiatric disorders they are admitted for.

Glenda was an older gal, all of our patients had to be at least fifty-fifty years old. Most of our patients were closer to one hundred seventy-fifty years old. Glenda was married, and she was a hot mess. Her husband was a sweet, supportive, long suffering man.

Glenda had asthma, emphysema and COPD. As a result of her respiratory disorders and diseases, she suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. She was a very frequent flyer on the SAGE Unit, the Gero/Psych Unit at Del Webb. I would get to know her and her husband very well in a relatively short amount of time.

In all honesty, I was extremely uncomfortable in Gero/Psych. I was not a Real Nurse. I was a psych nurse. I had worked in a strictly psychiatric setting for twenty years. When we had patients that were that physically sick at the VA, we transferred them to a Med/Surg Unit. I had to learn how to start an IV, how to draw blood all over again–even do blood transfusions. 😓 In order to transfer one of our SAGE patients to a Med/Surg Unit, they essentially had to be dead.

If you don’t use those skills, you lose those skills. I had to be retrained in almost everything. It was good to be able to master all those skills again, but I had the same underlying fear that I’d had way back in nursing school. I was sure I was going to kill one of my patients, or in a worst case scenario, all of them.

When my senior manager offered me a clinical management position, I took it out of self-preservation.

Glenda was probably what you would consider a difficult patient. We certainly did. She was anxious and depressed at home, so she desperately wanted to be hospitalized. She was depressed and anxious once she was admitted to the SAGE Unit, and she’d demand to be discharged. That’s where I came in. The staff nurses would call me and ask me to come try to reason with Glenda.

As a clinical manager, I didn’t have anything to do with her patient care, but I had a lots to do with patient and family education and satisfaction. One of my managerial duties was to round on a random sample of the patients on the SAGE Unit to assess their rating of the service being provided to them. In the world of BannerHealth, everything revolved around Patient Satisfaction Surveys. And do you know what I discovered? Old people suck!

Man, they hated everything!! That’s when I started calling them Raisins, the sunbaked asshole/bitches that they were. It was almost impossible to get them to give us high satisfaction ratings on any service we provided on those goddamn surveys, and we needed at least an eighty percent satisfaction rating or there was hell to pay! 😭😭😭

I had worked in healthcare for twenty years by this time. I knew when we were doing a great job. I knew when we were doing a bad job. The SAGE staff was extremely talented, and they did an amazing job. They should’ve gotten elevens on a scale from one to ten.

My Filipino Posse, that’s what I called them–a lots of the RN’s were from the Philippines–Al, Julius, Liligene, Wei, Jing. Julie and Ethel. I loved them all. Well, most of them. Almost all of them were great nurses. Except two. And everyone knows who they were. And they weren’t Julie and Ethel. Those two were so darlingpreshadorbs!!

I worked with another rockstar nurse there, Rhonda Dolatshahi. Rhonda told me she wanted to be listed in one of my Reflections posts someday. Well, Rhonda, today’s your lucky day.

I told she’d have to be naked in the story I wrote. So I want to thank Rhonda for coming into my office, closing the door, and taking off all her clothes and saying, “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

Yeah, that never happened. Unfortunately.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Glenda.

Glenda was unhappy about everything. The nurses were rude. They weren’t doing anything to help her. They never answered her call light when she turned it on. And so on, and so forth. Blah, blah, blah.

I did a lots of redirection and refocusing with Glenda. I doubt I did much of anything to actually change Glenda’s mind, but I did spend a lots of time with her, and that’s probably all she really wanted.

But there was that one thing about Glenda. And that one thing was her tooth.

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Glenda had one tooth. And it seriously looked like that picture. She had dentures, but she rarely wore them. So when I went to listen to her litany of complaints, her tooth jumped into my field of vision, and it was the only thing I could see. It was like her tooth was talking to me. It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.

I stared at her tooth as if it were the only thing that existed in the world. I knew I was staring at her tooth. And so did Glenda. She eventually started putting a finger to her mouth when she talked to me, obscuring her mutant tooth. I actually laughed the first time she did it. So did she, come to think of it.

Glenda’s respiratory problems eventually got the best of her. She died at home, thank God. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork involved when someone dies on a psych unit. And there’s always a follow up investigation, even if the person dies from natural causes.

Vaya con Dios, Glenda. I have to believe you went to a better place, and you’re at peace now. And you have all your teeth once more.

Sorry about that whole staring thing.

The Jawbone of an Ass

My jaw has been bothering me quite a bit lately. It’s been a little over eight months since I was assaulted, resulting in the nondisplaced mandibular fracture that certainly doesn’t feel all that nondisplaced to me.

My dentist at Surprise Smiles 😆 told me it could take up to a year for my jaw muscles to realign to the new profile of my bite. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear back then, but if it will truly take that long, the good news is I have a mere four months to go.

I have sustained several physical injuries during my career as a psychiatric nurse. I also sustained several more injuries during my career as a drunken moron. These two careers overlapped each other for at least ten years, so it’s hard for me to separate them sometimes. The net result is pain, and for anyone that lives with daily chronic pain, it really doesn’t matter where or how it originated. You simply have to learn to live with it.

I was physically assaulted on three separate occasions during my nursing career. That averages out to one assault roughly every ten years. Somewhat oddly, I was struck in the face each time.

The first time, I never saw the punch coming. I was working at the MVAMC. My back was turned to the guy that hit me. Merrill came up behind me and suckerpunched the right side of my face because he wanted to go smoke, but I had taken away his smoking privileges because he was being an asshole.

It took me a moment to figure out what the hell got happened, and then it hit me, so to speak. That sonuvabitch punched me! My first response was to immediately punch him back. Yeah, guy logic, if there is such a thing.

My co-workers intervened. Merrill was quickly whisked into a seclusion room. I was sent to Employee Health be evaluated. I sustained no serious injury, but the doctor gave me the rest of the day off, just because.

The second assault occurred at Aurora. It was my second year there. I remember it as The Year of the Borderlines. My unit was generally designated as the  Marginally Functional Psychotic Unit, but that year we got hit with a tsunami of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.

One Borderline can be enough to stand your unit on its head. A gaggle of Borderlines (?) A gossip of Borderlines…  I like that! A lots of Borderlines gathered together is rarely a good thing, particularly if you’re a psych nurse. And especially if the gossip is gaggling on your unit.

It takes an awesome skill set to effectively manage that.

The patient in question was Melissa, maybe. I used to remember everything about every one of my patients, but they eventually melded into one multi-headed mutant patient. Mel was having a difficult day obtaining the level of attention she desired, so she decided to go full on Drama Llama and had a VPM–Very Public Meltdown. Mel was good for usually one of these a day. She would set off a chain reaction with the rest of her Borderline buddies, and chaos would ensue.

On this particular day, I didn’t respond the way she wanted me to (I didn’t call the doctor to get injectable meds), so she stormed off to her room to slam the door and scream.

Karen Rae Goff, social worker extraordinaire, happened to be on the unit at the time. Karen also happened to be Melissa’s social worker, so we went to her room to see what Mel had planned for her next move.

“Get out of here!” Mel screamed at us as I opened the door.

“I need to know that you’re going to be safe.” I said, from the doorway.

“Leave me alone, or I’ll kick your fucking ass!” she screamed. And then I did something stupid:

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Melissa launched herself at me and started swinging. I blocked her first punch or two, but then she caught me with a left jab that knocked my glasses askew on my face.

That stirred something inside Karen, and she let loose on Melissa with her Mom Voice, and Mel was so stunned she stopped acting like a temper tantrum toddler.

“I can’t fucking believe you did that.” I said, and calmly readjusted my glasses.

“You asked for it.” Melissa replied.

“Are you going to press charges?” Karen asked me. It’s a felony to physically assault a healthcare worker in Arizona. Melissa let a momentary look of panic escape, and that’s when I fell in love with Karen. We never had another problem with Melissa. She was a little angel for the remainder of her stay.

And that brings us to Assault #3, which also happened at Aurora.

That day started out like any other day. Dr Sbiliris, the psychiatrist assigned to the Canyon Unit, came onto the unit to meet with his patients. One of them, a young kid named Desean asked to be discharged. Dr Sbiliris kind of laughed and said, “No, probably Friday. Maybe Wednesday.”

Desean seemed to accept that, even if it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.

And then something happened that should’ve sent my Spidey senses tingling. A patient on the Canyon Unit started loudly acting out, and when the staff from other units rushed over to aid and assist, Desean bolted out the unit doors and made a break for freedom.

We took care of the Yelling Guy. Desean fell short in his sprint to escape. He returned to the unit with an escort, and went to his room. And there was peace in the Canyon once more. Until 2:00 PM.

That’s when Desean entered the dayroom and started yelling and throwing stuff.

My boss of bosses, Lori Milus, must’ve been having a rare quiet day because she had come down to chat. I went into the day room. One of the BHT’s was trying to verbally redirect Desean, and I provided back up. But Desean wasn’t having any of that shit.

“Come on, man.” I said. “You know how this works. Sbiliris says that to everyone. He wants to see how you’ll respond. You know acting like this isn’t going to get you out of here. If anything, it’ll extend your stay, and you clearly don’t want that. Use your head, think about this!”

Desean and I were standing in the doorway of the dayroom. The nursing station and the unit doors were behind me. The hallway leading to the patient rooms was behind Desean.

He didn’t say anything, as if he were contemplating the veracity of my words. He appeared to me to start turning to his right, and I thought he would keep on going and go back to his room. I also started turning to my right, thinking my work was done. But Desean was merely loading up. He stopped turning to his right and reversed direction. His right fist came flying at me at about the speed of light, catching me squarely on the jaw.

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I was launched into space, much like that. I landed by the unit doors, seven or eight feet away. Desean may have howled in triumph. He ripped off his shirt, daring me to get up and fight him.

Like that was going to happen.

I didn’t lose consciousness. I even kept my head elevated so it wouldn’t hit the floor. But I don’t think I could’ve gotten off the floor just then if my life had depended on it.

One of the darling nurses I worked with, Lindsey Stirling, picked up my glasses and protectively leaned over me as I lay on the floor, trying to out figure out what I should do next. Another nurse, Brea Bils, one of my darlingpreshadorbs work daughters, tried to check my blood pressure. She later told me she no idea what she was doing. She thought I had gotten dead.

I knew I didn’t got dead, so I think I even said that.

“I’m not dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. My jaw…is really sore, but other than that, I’m okay.”

A group of BHT’s had escorted Desean into one of the Overflow rooms. Aurora was the only psychiatric facility I worked at that didn’t allow the use of seclusion and/or restraints to manage a behavioral crisis. Desean got several injections. And he was kept under close observation by several large men.

Once Desean was medicated and no longer actively assaultive, my boss asked me if I wanted to press charges. I did.

If Desean had been psychotic and responding to internal stimuli, that might’ve changed my decision. But Desean wasn’t psychotic. He didn’t get what he wanted, and he decided to act like a thug. That definitely was a factor in determining my decision.

The police took my statement. They took Desean into custody. Thankfully, Frankie Baby wasn’t there, or the police would’ve had to arrest him for murder. And there was peace in the Canyon once more.

I didn’t find out my jaw was broken until the following day when I had a CT scan. Because my fracture was nondisplaced, there wasn’t much of a treatment. I was on a soft diet for six to eight weeks; nothing but soups, smoothies and ice cream.

I bought the world’s most expensive smoothie. I lost ten pounds. I gained all of them back once I could eat real food again. And now I’m learning to live with my new occlusion pattern. It’s a process. Some days are better than others. Today, it hasn’t been too bad. Yesterday fucking sucked.

And as Forrest Gump said, That’s all I have to say about that.

Get out and vote.

The Worst Week

October, 1994.

Lea was once again hospitalized at Fairview Medical Center. She had taken another turn for the worse. Abdominal Surgery Number Three had been in the summer of 1993. Ninety-five percent of her colon had been removed. Abdominal Surgery Number Four was on deck, and I was beginning to wonder what the endgame was going to be with this.

I mean, how much more of Lea’s gut were they thinking about removing? How much more could they remove?

It was early Monday morning, around mid-October. The phone rang at our house. It was my father-in-law, David Covington. He and his wife, Wanda, were living in San Benito, TX. They had retired down there years ago. Lea and I had visited them a year or two earlier during one of Lea’s periods of relative stability, all the way down at the bottom of Texas.

My father-in-law wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was a combat veteran of World War II and Korea. He had been wounded in each conflict, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had a short fuse on his temper, and tended to yell a lots of the time. Dave had one bitch of a case of PTSD that he had never sought treatment for.

My mother-in-law was on the fast track to sainthood, in my opinion, for staying with her husband as long as she did.

“Hi Mark. It’s Dave. Say, I just wanted to let you know Wanda’s in the hospital. She’s actually in the same hospital that your wife is in.”

It took me a moment to process that. I was working a stretch of Nights at the MVAMC, and the ringing phone had awakened me.

“Why is she in the hospital. In Minneapolis.” I said. I don’t think it sounded like a question.

“Oh, well, she wanted to see her baby girl, and that’s Lea, you know. So, we drove up here over the weekend. And when we got here, Wanda had a small heart attack. So she’s in Fairview Hospital, on the fourth floor.” Dave may have even chuckled.

Dave was fairly nonchalant about it, but he was like that. When he told me the story about how he earned his Bronze Star, he made it sound as though he had been walking through the park. Except he and his men were being chased by an army of Nazis. Through a minefield. And the Nazis were desperately trying to kill them.

It was no big deal then, and this was likewise no big deal. The doctors wanted to run a couple tests, but Wanda was okay. She was resting comfortably. He thought she’d be well enough to travel back to Texas by the end of the week.

“Let me jump in the shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I met Dave in Fairview’s main lobby. He had visited both his wife and his daughter; Lea knew her mother was in the hospital, two floors below her. Lea’s room was on the sixth floor. Dave hadn’t had any sleep. He wanted to go to his hotel, take a nap and get cleaned up.

“Go ahead. I got this.” I said.

Lea was excited and very chatty when I got to her room. She had already talked to her mom on the phone, and wanted to go see her mom, of course. She had gotten all dolled up; hair, make up, everything. The sixth floor nurses had dropped everything else to help her. Those nurses had  become part of our family  through the multiple admissions and surgeries Lea had had over the previous couple of years.

Lea looked great. I wheeled her and all of her IV pumps and bags of IV fluids down to the fourth floor and Wanda’s room. Wanda also looked great. The fourth floor nurses, who didn’t know Wanda at all, had also given Lea’s mom every possible assistance to help her get all dolled up. The sixth floor nurses had called the fourth floor nurses and had explained the unique situation to them.

Those sixth floor nurses, they were total rockstars.

Lea and Wanda hugged and kissed and talked and talked. It had been Wanda’s idea to drive to Minneapolis. She felt an intense need to see her baby girl before this upcoming surgery. Her gut told her she needed to be here.

This would be my life for the next few days: Work nights at my hospital. Catch twenty to thirty winks of sleep. Shower. Eat something. Go visit my wife and her parents at the other hospital. Repeat.

I informed my boss of this latest wrinkle in the seemingly neverending saga that was my wife’s healthcare nightmare. Marj was actually supportive, verbally, though not enthusiastically so. I was too tired to give much thought to my boss’ reaction. I was pretty sure my life couldn’t get much worse.

On Day Three of my new routine, Wanda’s heart specialist doctor wanted to talk to Dave about his wife’s prognosis. Dave wanted me to be there when he met with the doctor. It turned out Wanda’s condition was much worse than Dave described.

Wanda’s family suffered from heart disease. In short, my wife comes from a long line of people that died young from heart attacks. Wanda was in her sixties. She had serious coronary artery disease, and already had one coronary bypass surgery about a decade earlier. She saw a team of heart specialists on a regular basis in Houston. Dave wanted to stabilize his wife enough to take her back to Houston for treatment.

“Yeah, you could do that,” Wanda’s Minnesota doctor said. “But she probably won’t survive the trip.” The results of Wanda’s angiogram showed an eighty to ninety percent blockage in three of her major coronary arteries. “She needs another bypass, immediately.”

Fairview Medical Center might not be the Texas Heart Institute, but it wasn’t the worst place to go to be treated for heart disease either. The hospital had an eighty percent success rate with their coronary bypass surgeries. Dave asked me what I thought.

“This is a decision for you and Wanda to make. You could call her team in Houston, and see what they think, if you have any major objections. And this isn’t my specialty area…  I haven’t worked in Cardiac Care for… six years. But if this were me, and this was my best option to save my wife, I’d have the surgery here. This is a good hospital. They’ve kept your daughter alive three times already when she could’ve died.”

And they’d be getting a chance at Number Four very soon.

“I’ve got to talk to Wanda…” Dave said.

It was a no-brainer for Wanda. She consented to the surgery. It was scheduled for Friday.

When Friday came, I slept almost all day, which was unusual for me, even when I worked Nights. I called Lea around 5:00 PM. Wanda had been the last case of the day. She went to the OR around 3:00 PM. There hadn’t been any recent updates, but everything had been going smoothly. The fourth and sixth floor nurses had talked to the OR staff, and they would keep everyone in the loop.

Sleep deprived and feeling foggy, I ate some leftovers and went back to bed. I woke up around 11:00 PM and went to work.

At around midnight, I got a phone call.

“Hi Mark. This is Dave. Say, the surgery went well, but then something happened.”

I felt my heart stop beating.

“The doctors haven’t been able to get Wanda’s heart to start beating on its own again. They’ve had her on life support since the end of the surgery…”

“How long has that been?”

“Oh, I think since about six o’clock.”

“Okay,” I tried to get my brain working. “Now what? Do they have any idea what they’re going to do?”

“Well, yeah.” he stammered. “They want to take her off life support. They’ve done everything they can, but Wanda’s heart just isn’t strong enough…  I think I’ve lost my co-pilot.”

I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I told my co-workers. And I called my horrible boss, Marj, to let her know I was leaving work and that she needed to come in and take my place.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she said. Marj walked on the unit about an hour later. She didn’t look pleased. I could care less what she thought or felt, but I briefly thanked her for coming in to relieve me, then drove like a bat out of hell to Fairview Medical Center.

I met Dave in the main lobby one more time. Wanda had been taken off of life support right after we had talked on the phone.

“Wanda’s gone…” he said. He was holding back his tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We hugged each other for a long time. Dave was saying something, I can’t remember what he said anymore. I wasn’t really listening anyway. I was thinking about my wife.

“Does Lea know?”

“No. No. I was waiting for you. I can’t tell her her mother is dead.”

I have no clear recollection of most of what followed. I think Dave went to call Lea’s ex-husband, so he could tell their daughters about their grandmother. I went to the sixth floor. The nurses came running up to me when I got off the elevator. All of them were crying. I hugged them all, they tearfully expressed their condolences.

“What does Lea know? Did you tell her?” I asked the sobbing nurses.

“No. You have to tell her.” one of the nurses said, drying her tears with a Kleenex. Her name was Mary, and of all the incredible rockstar nurses that took care of us, Pretty Mary was our favorite. We called her Pretty Mary because there was more than one Nurse Mary on the sixth floor, and she was the prettiest.

God, give me strength, I thought. I was sure I’d rather die than be the messenger bearing this news. I talked to Lea’s nurses for a moment, telling them how I heard the news and what my horrible boss had done. They knew all about my toxic relationship with Marj.

“Okay…” I said more to myself than anyone else, and headed down the hallway to Lea’s room.

“Oh my God! What time is it? Why are you here? What happened?” Lea said in a rush, the moment she saw me in her room in the dead of night.

“I don’t know any other way to tell you this. Your mom’s heart wasn’t strong enough…” I didn’t have to say anything else.

“Oh, no!” Lea cried. And I held her for the longest time as she started grieving the loss of her mother. “I want to go see her!”

The nurses were ready. They flowed into the room, and hugged Lea. Through their tears they checked all of Lea’s IV bags, helped her change into a fresh gown and robe, transferred her into a wheelchair and brushed her hair.

Dave and I were waiting in the hallway when the nurses rolled Lea out of her room. She cried with her dad for a time. He told her how much Wanda had wanted to see her, and how much Wanda loved her. And then he told Lea how much he loved her. Lea later said that was the most surprising thing that happened that night.

Lea’s daughters arrived at the hospital swiftly. Dave led the way to where Wanda’s body lay in state. The OR staff had cleaned her up, and left her body in the OR suite. No one was able to speak, so I said something appropriate for the situation– what a wonderful gal Wanda was, how much we loved her and how much we were all going to miss her…

The staff told us to take as much time as we wanted. We stayed with Wanda for at least half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s only so much crying you can do at one time. I don’t think the girls wanted to leave their grandmother alone in that room. But the transport crew was waiting to take Wanda’s body to the funeral home, and the cleaning crew still waiting to scrub the OR suite down.

I don’t know how long I stayed at the hospital. I took Lea back to her room after her dad took her daughters home. We talked about her mom.

“I didn’t go see her before her surgery.” Lea said. We were laying in her hospital bed, her head was on my chest. “You usually come in, and I thought I’d wait until you came in. But you didn’t, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses. They’re always so busy…  So I didn’t go see my mom, and now I’ll never be able to see her again.”

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting the most.

I know I eventually went home and slept. I may have actually had the weekend off because I don’t have any memory of going back to work until after Wanda’s funeral.

I called Marj on Monday morning, and view of the tragic circumstances, I requested the week off. Marj told me I’d have to talk to her boss, Mary Erdman. I called Mary and explained my situation to her. She already knew what was going on with my wife, but she didn’t know about my mother-in-law. In view of the circumstances, I thought requesting a week off was very reasonable.

“Do really you think you need the entire week off?” Marj’s boss asked me.

“No, I don’t think I need a week off. I need a month off, but I’ll settle for a week!” I replied, and slammed the telephone receiver down on the base without waiting to hear Mary’s response.

This, I thought, means war.

But first, I had to bury my mother-in-law.

Bon anniversaire

Almost twenty eight years ago I married my lovely supermodel wife, Lea. We actually got married on a Monday, and our anniversary falls on a Monday this year, so it’s kind of a double anniversary–day and date.

I’m not sure when I started to begin to commence to get ready to think about proposing, but I knew I would marry this woman. I was working at AMRTC. It was a Saturday in September in 1988. Lea and I were walking through the Crossroads Mall in St Cloud.  We were strolling along, holding hands, and we walked past DJ Bitzen’s Jewelers. On an impulse, I swerved in and asked the clerk if she had any engagement rings.

“What?!?” Lea exclaimed. I had surprised her.

“Do you see anything you like?”

“Ohh! All of them.” Lea sighed. This was going to be easier than I thought. I pointed to a ring. The clerk took it out of the display case and handed it to Lea to try on. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m so nervous.” she said to the clerk, and something like this happened:

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Yep, slippery little suckers, aren’t they? The clerk retrieved the ring. I shook my head, Not that one.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“Um, how about this one?” the clerk suggested. She handed it to Lea, whose hands were quite possibly shaking even more. And this happened:

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This ring flew even farther than the first. The clerk retrieved this ring and put it back in the case.

“I’m so sorry!” Lea apologized. “Let’s go–”

“Not yet. You pick a ring this time.” Lea took a couple of deep breaths, composed herself for a minute. She perused the selection of gold and diamonds, and pointed out a ring. The clerk looked like she didn’t know whether to hike the ring to Lea and go deep or what to do. She smiled at Lea, handing her the ring she had selected. I seriously think both of them held their breath. And this happened:

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Lea placed the ring on her finger without throwing it.

“This is the wedding band.” the clerk said. I guess they come in sets… Lea slipped the second ring onto her finger, and admired how it looked for a moment or two.

I thanked the clerk for all her hard work, and we left the store. We probably went to get something to eat. If it has anything to do with shopping, I get hungry. Not sure why that is.

I called DJ Bitzen’s on Monday morning. The store is closed on Sundays. As chance would have it, I ended up talking to the clerk that had waited on us. She had no problem recalling who we were.

“Do you remember which ring my girlfriend didn’t throw?” I asked.

“Yes, I do!” she laughed. I told her to upgrade the diamond, and wrap it up. I’d take it.

* * * *

A few weeks later, Lea’s ring was ready to be picked up. I called my cousin, Danny W. Long, and told him my devious plan to propose to my lovely girlfriend. He agreed. Now all I had to do was convince her.

Lea and I were living in Minneapolis. Her ring was in St Cloud. All I had to do was get Lea to go to St Cloud.

“No, I’m not interested in going to St Cloud…” was Lea’s response when I suggested it. As chance would have it, the day I was going to propose to Lea happened to be her birthday. I told her I needed a tune up and oil change on my car, and Cousin Dan and I were going to do that. Dan’s girlfriend would be there, so she’d have someone to talk to. And then we’d go grab something to eat…for her birthday…

Lea reluctantly agreed. We drove the seventy-five miles or so to St Cloud. I dropped Lea off at Cousin Dan’s. She and Margie were chatting away in the kitchen. Dan and I actually bought a bunch of tune up stuff, my car really did need an oil change. And we went over to DJ Bitzen’s.

Lea and Margie were still in the kitchen when we got back. I couldn’t wait to show Lea all the cool stuff I bought. Spark plugs, condenser, oil, oil filter and…a…ring!

I got down on one knee, and asked Lea to marry me:

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Lea said, “Yes!”

It was the last time I surprised her.

We were married thirty-four days later. I don’t think anyone at our wedding was giving us more than six months. I should’ve taken that bet.

There have been plenty of times when we could’ve gotten divorced. I know thought about a couple times. I have no idea how many times Lea contemplated it, but I know she did.

I think our secret for staying together has been this: we didn’t hate each other at the same time. It might sound weird, but I think that’s it.

I’m taking Lea out in a few minutes. We’re going out with a few of our Ajijic peeps tonight. Lea’s actually going shopping with the girls in Guadalajara on Monday, so we decided to celebrate our anniversary tonight. We’re going to Go. It’s one of the many fine dining establishments down here.

Happy anniversary, honey. Buen provecho.

The Witch Queen of New Orleans

I met the Witch Queen at St Luke’s Behavioral Health. I had just started there after fleeing Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. The Witch Queen had been on my unit–AP 5–for quite some time. She was what we in the business refer to as a ‘placement problem.’

Almost all psychiatric treatment centers are acute care facilities. In places such as these, patients are stabilized as quickly as possible and then discharged back home, or to a halfway house, a group home, a homeless shelter–something/anything like unto that. In essence, all patients have to be discharged to a some where.

Every now and then a patient will be admitted to your facility that finding the where place to send them to is supremely difficult. This is usually the result of said patient being an unimaginable, monstrous pain in the ass, and they have essentially been kicked out of every decent existing placement facility in your area. Even all the roach motel placement dives that will normally accept anyone with a pulse and the money to pay for their care won’t take them either.

What you’re left with is a nightmare because the person no one wants is stuck inside your facility, and you’re trapped inside with them. It’s like being in a horror movie, except it’s not a movie, and no one ever gets to say, “Cut!”

This is where having an amazing social worker comes in handy. In the world of Inpatient psychiatric treatment, the psychiatrist orders medications. The nurse administers the meds and manages any medical issues, as well as as a varied assortment of other duties as required. And the social worker drives the discharge bus. Social workers also perform a thousand and one other miscellaneous duties, much like nurses. Take it from me, a really good social worker is worth twice his or her weight in gold.

My personal favorite social workers based on the fact that I actually worked with them: Tom McClellan, best social worker at the MVAMC. Mike Greeman, second best social worker at the MVAMC. Brian Lockwood, great social worker at the MVAMC. Denise Blackfeet Wagner, really great social worker at the MVAMC. Michelle Zwemke Burns, great social worker at Del E Webb. Amy Bressler, great social worker at Del E Webb. Ray Young, great social worker at Aurora. Karen Rae Goff, my personal favorite greatest social worker at Aurora, ever. For all time.

Oddly, I can’t remember the names of any of the social workers at St Luke’s. I do remember one of the social workers–she dressed like a prostitute, right down to the fishnet stockings and the miniskirts. Maybe social worker was her day job…

Now then, where were we? Oh, yes. The Witch Queen.

Her name was Larue. I think ‘The Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ was written about her. If it wasn’t, it could’ve been. She was from New Orleans, and she ended up in Arizona in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, somehow. This is how I imagined it happened: someone, probably a social worker, bought her a bus ticket as far away from the Big Easy as they could afford, and that’s how she ended up in Phoenix.

It didn’t take long for Larue to develop a reputation once she arrived in Phoenix. She was quickly banned from all the nice placement facilities. The placement dumps followed suit quickly. She probably set a record for how quickly no place in Phoenix wanted her at their facility.

Larue was truly psychotic. Even when she was as stabilized as much as modern psychiatric treatment could possibly accomplish, she was still crazier than two Mad Hatters. She would sit quietly in the day room, absorbed by whatever it was that was playing inside her head. And then she’d get up and stroll toward the nursing station…

There are times when a narrative is just not sufficient to portray the quality of something, like Roya’s darlingpreshadorbs Persian accent. Or Larue’s psychotic Witch Queen motormouth, blackmagicmojo ramblings. It’s been probably five years or more since I’ve heard one, and I had to go make sure she wasn’t standing outside my front door before I started writing this.

There were three points of patient access at the AP 5 nursing station. There were Dutch doors on either end, and a window in the middle of the station. Larue would randomly pick one of those three spots, and for lack of a better descriptive term, go off like a motherfucker on the unfortunate nurse sitting at that spot in the nursing station.

Larue didn’t appear to have any preference. She didn’t single out any particular nurse. She just let whomever have it with both barrels at point blank range, and there was no such thing as verbally redirecting Larue once she got started. She was a laser guided, heat seeking missile of psychosis that delivered a payload of unintelligible insanity. Her speech was a combination of English, Creole, spittle and craziness delivered in an extremely loud shriek.

Larue would let her victim have it, and when she had completed her rambling voodoo curse, or whatever it was she was doing, she would take a deep breath, nod her head and walk away. And there was peace once more. Until the next time…

It was inevitable that Larue would pick me for one of her rants. In fact, I can remember a few. The first time, I wanted to die, maybe. I should’ve pretended to have a seizure, that might’ve distracted her–but if you’re going to fake a seizure, you really need to pee your pants or no one will ever take you seriously.

The second time I was better prepared and smiled every now and then, but mostly nodded in agreement a lots of times.

The third time, I actually don’t remember the third time, but my first ex-work wife, Deb Goral does. Larue went all batshit crazy on me, as usual. She’s shrieking at me in Chinese Creole English or something, and spitting all over the plexiglass window separating us. I think she wanted me to discharge her, “…or all your hair will fall out! Great googly-moogly, prolly nolly dictum!!”

I ran my hand over my head and said, “Oh my God, it worked!”

All things must pass. Nothing in this world is permanent. Larue was eventually discharged to a facility near Tucson. The Witch Queen was gone, the memory of her presence would fade. She would be replaced by other nightmare patients, some of whom would make the Witch Queen look like a fairy princess.

Psych nursing is a lots like working in a pawn shop. You never know what’s going to walk through that door. So be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Fabulous Roya

One of the most pleasant surprises I would experience working at Aurora was Roya, or as I came to think of her, Fabulous Roya. The photo above was taken at Christmas. Roya might be Iran’s Christmas present to America.

Roya was an RN. She worked full time at an Eye Surgery Clinic in Scottsdale when I first met her. She picked up extra shifts at Aurora on the weekends because, well, you never know what’s going to happen, and you shouldn’t put all your camels in the barn before the peacocks have their pajamas on.

I’ll tell you what. I used to spend a lots of time in Texas, and when it comes to turning a phrase, can’t nobody beat a Texan. They have a way with words, Texans do.

Now I’m gonna tell you damn what–Texans got nothing on Persians when it comes to turning a phrase. And not even a Texan can hold a candle to a Persian when they start waxing philosophic about life, or love, or food, or anything. And maybe it’s not all Persians. Maybe it was Roya. After all, she is fabulous.

I will never forget my first time working with Roya. My wife took one look at me when I got home and started dialing 911. I had to convince her I hadn’t been assaulted and ended up with a traumatic brain injury. I had a dazed look in my eyes.

“I’m fine. I just worked with Roya today.”

“What does that mean? What’s a ‘roya’?”

Roya’s family fled Iran after Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was ousted from the Peacock Throne in 1979. She was the youngest of something like fifty children; the Prophet David would’ve been proud. This was perhaps the only subject Roya wouldn’t expansively talk about, but I think Roya was an honest to Allah, 100% genuinely real princess in Iran.

She came to this country, learned to speak English and got her nursing license. She got a job, divorced her husband, bought a house, and renovated everything inside and outside of it. (Spoiler alert! It was fabulous!) She built a life of her choosing, and continued her education, getting her Master’s degree in Nursing and she’ll be nurse practitioner by the end of the year.

Roya told me she became a nurse because the nurses in Iran wore the cutest outfits back before the overthrow of the Shah. I did a Google search. Iranian fashion was very Western before the Ayatollah took charge and burned all the miniskirts and go-go boots, and I think that’s what Iranian nurses once wore. I encouraged Roya to dress like her nursing idols, but she declined. That doesn’t mean she donned a chador–I didn’t call her Fabulous Roya for nothing.

Roya was one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with. If there was a code of any color, Roya was always one of the first responders. There was one time I know of that she was the only responder. I used to be a first responder. The longer I worked in Psych, the less likely I was to actually respond to a code, unless it was on my unit. Also, the longer I worked in Psych, the less likely it was that there would be a behavioral code on my unit.

On the second day I worked with Roya, one of her patients started escalating. He probably wanted more meds, or different meds. And by different I mean Ativan, or maybe Subutex. Roya told the guy what she was willing to do for him, and she also told him what she wouldn’t do. She’d check his MAR, talk to his doctor; he was going to have to be patient and wait, but she was going to take care of him. And she called him Sweetheart. I can’t recall if the guy got what he wanted or if he was so stunned he simply walked away, but Roya was impressive.

“When I first saw you, I figured you were just another pretty face, but you’re a damn good nurse.”

“Seriously, you think I am just pretty, and nothing else? Markie! I can’t believe you would think that about me!” See? Fabulous.

Part of Roya’s charm was her voice and her accent. Replicating the sound of someone’s voice isn’t easy to do in a narrative. And in terms of Persians, what do most Americans think of when they hear that term? The Shahs of Sunset? I Dream of Jeannie?

Roya’s voice is what Jeannie’s voice should’ve sounded like. It was lilting, it was lyrical and musical. And it was non-stop.

In an earlier essay, I talked about my friend and mentor, Sondra, and I mentioned that she liked to talk. Sondra was a catatonic mute compared to Roya. Sondra was talkative. Roya was hyperverbal, on steroids. Seriously, I have never met anyone that wasn’t hypermanic, or on methamphetamine that talked as much as Roya. I doubt Roya had much self awareness about this aspect of her personality, and I know she had even less awareness about her volume. She even processed her thoughts out loud.

That part wasn’t so charming. In fact, for myself and almost everyone that ever worked with her, it was exhausting. I have described certain people I know as a force of nature, like, for instance, my wife. After working with Roya, I think Forces of Nature need to be measured on something like unto the Fujita scale for tornadoes. And based on that scale, Roya was an F-5. Maybe an F-6.

We all have our issues, right? Well, you do. As I sometimes tell my daughters, can’t everyone be perfect like me and you. And when it comes to fabulous, well, there’s only one Roya. The rest of us look like the Three Stooges trying to get a cat out of a tree compared to Roya.

I’ve been retired for a little over a month. Do I miss working for a living? I might, if I weren’t living in heaven on earth. Do I miss the people I worked with? Yes. And some of them I miss a lots.

Dooset daram, Fabulous Roya. I miss your koon.

The Guy With Lea

Having a social life when you’re a nurse can be a tricksy thing, especially if you’re trying to get together with another nurse. I never worked a set schedule until I moved to Arizona. During the two decades I worked at the VA, I never knew what my schedule would be from one month to the next, save that those two months would not be the same.

Here’s an example: Suppose I wanted to get together with my good friend, Sondra. We worked at different hospitals. Our schedules were different. Finding a date and a time we were both available required a supreme effort on both our parts

“What’s your schedule look like next week? Yeah, that’s no good. No, I’m working Nights on Wednesday. How about the week after that, I have Monday off. You’re working Nights. No, that’s the the only day that week that works for me. How about the week after that? You’re going to be in Chicago. Well, forget that week. What about the next week? The week after that? Seriously! I’m free on Thursday, too!”

Invariably, something would come up and we’d have to reschedule at least once. It took, on average, making plans about six to eight weeks in advance for us to get together for a couple hours. It got worse after Sondra got pregnant and had her daughter, Tanja.

Tanja was a cute baby kid, and she grew into an even cuter kid buddy. And she absolutely adored me.

“Tanja, we’re going to see Mark! The nurse I used to work with!” Sondra would tell her toddler kid buddy daughter.

“Yaaay! Yay, Mark! I love him!” Tanja would shout. It was so cute, so darlingpreshadorbs! I felt incredibly honored.

And then I got married. And I took my new bride to meet my friend and her daughter. And Tanja fell in love with Lea. Things would never be the same.

“Tanja! We’re going to see Mark!”

“Who?”

“Mark, the nurse I used to work with…”

“Um…Mark?”

“Yeah! The guy with Lea!”

“LEA! I love Lea!! Yay, Lea!!!”

Uh-huh. That’s right. I didn’t even have a name anymore. I had become the guy with Lea. I’ll admit it, that kind of stung a little, but I soon discovered Tanja’s reaction would not be a singular occurrence. There would be a lots of people that identified me by my relationship to my supermodel wife.

And who can blame them? Which would you remember seeing more? A bonfire, or the blazing flight of a comet?

My nieces and nephews–I had known those adorable brat kids their entire lives–I had been Uncle Mark, for the love of God! And two minutes after meeting my lovely wife, I was suddenly remembered as being Aunt Lea’s husband. And she had become Aunt Lea because she was married to me, goddamn it! I doubt any of nephews or nieces would’ve been able to pick me out of a police line up if I wasn’t standing next to my wife.

Back when Lea was in and out of Fairview Medical Center, we developed a post discharge tradition. Whenever Lea got out of the hospital, we’d drive a short distance down the road to the nearby Perkins restaurant and eat breakfast. On this particular occasion, I looked around as we walked in, and I recognized some of the people seated at the booths and tables. After we were seated, I looked around the room and realized I didn’t know some of the people, I knew all of them.

Everyone at this particular Perkins on that particular day were all former patients of mine from the MVAMC.

“Um, honey. I’m really sorry but you’re about to get surrounded by a bunch of crazy people.” I told Lea. She was incredibly gracious as she always is in those types of situations. One by one and two by two, all of my former patients approached our table.

“Hi, Mark! We don’t want to talk to you, we want to say hi to your beautiful wife!”

At least they called me by name…

Before we retired from the American workforce and moved to Mexico, Lea and I used to live in Surprise, AZ. We used to eat at a place near our house called Nick’s Diner II. Presumably there was a Nick’s Diner I somewhere, but we never ate there.

We were perusing the menu, and I noticed a group of servicemen sitting in the back. I asked Lea how she felt about buying lunch for them. She agreed, so we told our server to bring us their bill, and Lea paid for their meals.

We ate our meal and as we got up to leave there was, I kid you not, a freakin’ stampede of servicemen that almost knocked over three tables in their haste to hug my wife and thank her for her generosity. These guys had been sitting in the back for at least fifteen minutes, watching us. Their server had let them know who had picked up the tab for their meal. They had to have seen me sitting at the table with their benefactor. Did they care that it was my idea? Did they almost knock over even one table to come thank me?

It is as the Bard of Avon said, ‘Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’ Mere mortals can’t compete with something as immortal as that.

My Favorite Joke

Yep, that’s what it says. This is my favorite joke, ever. For all time.

This gal comes home, and she finds her husband sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands.

“Oh, honey! What happened? Is something wrong?”

“Yeah,” her husband replied after a moment. “I lost my job today, and if I don’t find another job soon, we’re going to lose everything! And with the economy being what it is…well, it just doesn’t look good for us”

“Well,” the gal says after a few minutes. “You know, I’m pretty good looking. I could put on that cute outfit you bought me for your birthday, and I could go stand on one of the corners downtown, and maybe I could make some extra money until you find another job”

So, the guy takes his wife downtown and puts her on a busy street corner, and then he parks across the street because this is his wife and he loves this woman. She looks really cute. She’s wearing a tight sweater with a little tartan skirt and high heel shoes. And as darling as she looks, it doesn’t take long before a guy in a sportscar pulls up.

“Hey, baby. I’m looking for some action. How much would it cost to have sex with you?”

“Um, just a minute,” And she runs across the street and tells her husband. “Honey, this guy wants to have sex with me! How much should I charge him?”

“A hundred bucks!” he says, and his wife runs back across the street.

“Hey, big boy, got a hundred bucks?” The guy shakes his head. “Um, just a minute.” and she runs across the street again. “He doesn’t have a hundred bucks, what should I do?”

“Ask him if he has twenty bucks, give him a blowjob.” So she runs across the street again.

“Hey handsome, got twenty bucks? I can give you a blowjob.”

“Hell yeah, I’ve got twenty bucks!” the guy says. She gets in the car. The guy unzips his fly and he…has…a…huge…cock!

“Um, just a minute!” And she runs across the street once more and asks, “Honey, can you loan this guy eighty bucks?”