The Bad Guy

There is always a bad guy and a good guy in every story, it’s the very existence of which, can make for a good read. It is possible that a single character can be both, or that the bad guy is an element or idea the Protagonist forms a front against. Like in the Never Ending Story the antagonist is the Nothing, it’s a non-existence, a lack of good that the protagonist fights against. They are elements we are taught to believe in from a very early age; as babies we aren’t born with the idea that anyone is bad, but soon thereafter we learn not to trust certain others, that our parents, in most cases are the good guys.

When my children were small I propagated that myself; I taught them that if they ever were lost to look for someone in a uniform like a police officer, because they are the “good guys”. I taught them never to trust someone they did not know, strangers are bad guys, right away they learned to fear what they did not know, and strangers are bad because you don’t know them or anything about them. It may be an unfortunate lesson but one I believed would serve them better than simply trusting everyone. And sometimes we as people may go so far as to convince them of that truth by making things up that aren’t or haven’t exactly been proven, or by lumping them in with others who’ve wrong us.

An author may work so hard trying to convince the reader that a certain character is the very antagonist that they take away the opportunity for the reader to make up their own minds, based on the strength of character of that person in the story, by demonizing the person they want so badly to portray as the antagonist they can put less energy into proving why the protagonist is the good guy. It seems to me we see this daily in politics, and in social media; by making someone else look so bad it can make me look better, it seems to be the basis of every campaign strategy.

As the audience or reader we are left with the daunting task of trying to filter through all of it to try and form our own unadulterated opinion, that’s not always an easy task, and for children it can be even harder, who do I believe, who must be the bad guy, maybe it’s the one I know less about, if even what I think I know about the other person is solely what they’ve told me. The quickest way to proving one is the good guy is by portraying them as a victim, suddenly as the victim the strength of their character is no longer a major consideration; a victim must always be protected and supported.

During my previous marriage I learned that even men can become a victim of abuse, even if it is just verbal abuse and I don’t mean to say that anyone whom suffers under verbal abuse is hurt any less than someone who may suffer physical abuse, it is all relative and it can all be just as abusive and destructive. For years I never saw it, I may have felt it but I was reared not to complain, as a man I was taught to suffer through things or I might be considered a wimp, a pussy. It wasn’t until late in my marriage when I realized that if I had witnessed one of my daughters in a relationship with someone who verbally abused them or neglected them I would have most certainly stepped in, I would have attempted to save them from such abuse. Then I thought about my son and wondered if I would do the same for him. Then I looked at myself in a mirror one day, and in the lines in my face, in the shadows in my eyes I saw someone I might save if he were not a guy. How sexist of me.

In many abuse cases the abuser, the antagonist usually treats only their partner or child abusively. I had a cousin who was verbally abused intensely; her spouse treated his extended family respectfully, but would tease my cousin, his wife from time to time in front of them, it grew til he constantly teased and degraded her in front of their friends and then their children. Then he began getting her drugs, and in what I can only assume was an attempt to soften the proverbial blow she began taking them. Once she was hooked he would tell people and this made her look, to her friends, family and children that she was bad because she was a drug addict. By making her look like a bad mother and friend it made it easier for him to portray her as the bad guy and him as the victim; the poor guy who had to take care of their kids all alone. That worked of course until she committed suicide, then the lines between antagonist and protagonist became blurred, who is the victim now, the kids? Was it her or could it be him? He may also be considered the savior for their children; it makes for a complex dilemma for the reader to sort through.

My marriage had essentially ended a year or two before the divorce, I wanted to renew our vows but she did not, she said she would never do that. I had known for some time that the marriage had failed, we had tried for so many years despite our growing in different directions, we had gone to counseling and with each one at some point my wife made the decision that that counselor was the wrong one for us. The verbal abuse had grown too, it was at the point where whenever we would join our friends for dinner and my wife would drink, she began to tease me, and it would start out with her poking fun at my strange sense of humor, that it didn’t make sense. By the end of dinner she was making derogatory remarks about my political views or how I would tear up at the start of the national anthem but not when each of my kids was born, finally joking about my inability to perform sexually. When we argued she would get into my face, yelling, cursing and even threatening me. This all may sound like I can’t handle myself, like I may just be complaining, as though I might need to “grow a pair”, but for someone whose never been in this situation to this extent, woman or man, it can grow and fester like a disease, I was already suffering from PTSD and this compounded my issues, emotionally and mentally it was destructive.

Eventually this would take place in other social situations, in front of her family and in front of our own children. She constantly spoke down to me in front of the kids and blamed any discrepancy in communication on my apparent inability to communicate successfully; mind you, my job, my career is centered around my teaching folks how to navigate complex programs and communicating with employees’ throughout the world from Japan to Mexico and here in the US. I am good at it and have been for over twenty years. I am a project manager and an Engineering Coordinator. Then she decided to quit having sex with me altogether, she said she just couldn’t do it and wouldn’t until we were in a better place and that went on for over a year.

We had begun counseling once again, we were attending our own sessions but then we would also attend a group session with an additional marriage counselor as well, two counselors and my wife and I. In these sessions my wife would begin being verbally confrontational and outright abusive. The counselors would address that behavior and suggest she change it, speak more appropriately. This began to happen in each session and be carried through in our home again. By this time I felt as though I couldn’t do it any longer. I had reached the end of my patience, I knew that we each had our own issues from the past, our own skeletons and demons to fight; mine stemmed from physical and sexual abuse as a child, Post-Traumatic Stress Dysfunction from the military when I was overseas too. She had her own but always made it a point to state outright how I was the issue; the thing that needed fixing, that she was not the problem.

In many successful stories the author recognizes the value of arguing for and against what makes the antagonist and protagonist exactly that, why is he/she bad, why should you, the reader consider whether or not the bad guy is such or whether or not the good guy really is a good guy.  What is it that makes them such; the author may go so far as to leave some ambiguity in those roles so as to leave it up to the reader to make those distinctions themselves, this lends to a much more intriguing and entertaining read. And the writer becomes less of a preacher per say and more of an objective story teller.

Finally one day I wrote a letter to my wife, I stated that I could no longer take her verbal abuse, that I thought it was not only inappropriate in front of our children but also down right damaging to the relationship I had with them and that if she were to promise to quit treating me in that manner, to stop being verbally abusive that I would stick around for a year to see if we can make things work. Her immediate and only response to that letter was…”how dare you call me abusive!” She never, at that time or any thereafter asked me why I would say such a thing, why was it I felt that way? She never addressed that situation but instead turned it around to me and accused me of calling her something she was not, that I was “a horrible person for having said such a thing” about her.

Later, when I finally stated, during a counselling session after my then wife ranted in a verbally abusive manner, and after the counselors’ having had to stop and correct her, that I had decided to be done, that I no longer could deal with her abuse, that for my own mental and emotional well-being and that of the relationship between me and our children, knowing very well that I may be the bad guy for doing so, I could not stay married to her and decided then and there to seek a divorce. It scared the hell out of me, saying those words, we had been married for over twenty years and I had just made that decision and truth be told, even after that in a corner of my mind up until standing in front of the judge, I still held out some measure of hope that things would suddenly change, if for no other reason than to save months if not years of emotional distraught from affecting my kids.  It was the single most difficult thing I had ever done; I had entered villages ruled by hordes of people whom hated me and whose mission it was to kill me on sight when I was overs seas with less fear than I had in the counselors office that day.

At that moment I was both the antagonist and protagonist; the bad guy and the victim, don’t get me wrong, I was not the only victim and in this situation there are always many victims. My sisters and I were children during my own parents’ divorce, in fact as a child I lived through three divorces. So my kids, my young daughters and my son would be trying to figure out how to feel, whom they ought to side with after all its only natural to assume roles on both parents, as children we taught them right and wrong, good and bad and now they are faced with a situation in where someone must be a victim, someone must be the bad guy.

This is something we as readers all end up doing near the end of the story, we simply cannot close the book without a clear thought as to whom filled those roles, we may struggle and we may even feel bad for the antagonist, we may judge the protagonist harshly but we need to, more times than not draw a clear line, assume those roles so that we can better understand how we feel about the characters, it makes it easier to accept how things are, we can figure out how to move on more easily. It’s the basis for our judicial system, how many times have you heard of a case where at the end the judge stands and says…”so here is the deal you are both wrong, there are no victims and there are no hero’s here, so let’s call it a draw and move on.” Instead, someone must pay; someone must have the finger pointed at them. Suddenly on social media my ex-wife was the victim, she was raising her children all alone, as a single mother.

I found a place where I felt safe, a friend from a writing group where I found solace in troubled times, a space I could spew out all that hurt me, that caused my greatest pain, my secrets and my haunts to no judgement from those I shared my experiences with. So when I needed someone to listen, to bounce my troubles off of, my friend was there without discrimination, she was there for me. That relationship turned quickly into something more involved after my divorce, I was not looking to get involved in another relationship and at the time I had actually swore to myself I would not get into a serious relationship or married again. Hell, I had nothing to offer anyone anyhow, financially since I had been married for twenty years the state decrees that my ex-wife would get a percentage of my income. And let me make things clear, I argued to stay with the kids in the house and let her leave to pursue her own desires, after all, she had stated a couple years before the divorce how much she missed dating since we had married so young and how much she regrets doing things the way she did, she regrets “wasting so many years.” Her response was to state that “a mother never leaves her children”. So I left, I had nowhere to go, couldn’t afford anywhere else and moved in with my friend.

Occasionally in a story the writer can rely on cultural expectations or assumptions to deliver a message or feeling about a character, this may depend on the writer’s chosen audience, if the content is political the writer can suggest that a character belongs to a certain party in order to guide the reader to a specific assumption. Sometimes it doesn’t hinder on the audience, if a character has a history of serving time in prison, even without knowing the basis for his or her conviction that person must be a bad person, at least initially, it puts the burden on the reader to determine at some point if that is really the case. And it is a given that in most places one only has to mention that a man whose left the home of his family and is involved with a younger woman after that, that he must be a bad guy and was tired of his older ex-wife, people might assume that the ex-wife was innocent and he is a jerk.

After my ex-wife and I divorced, people we had befriended through our children’s school suddenly turned away from me at school functions when I attempted to say hi. Assumptions had been made, whether through social media or other means, despite the fact that I still supported my ex-wife and my children by paying more than the state suggested for both child support and spousal support, covered my kids health insurance, having put additional funds away to cover co-pays and other extra costs for medications and all medical fees, cover the kid’s car insurance outright and even decided to sign over my half of our home to my ex-wife to ensure that the kids were able to remain there and have some sort of normality by retaining the safe place where they had all grown up. I still seemed to come off as the jerk. In the end, more than a third of my income went to the support of my ex-wife and my children, half of my 401K was written over to her and I had to find another place to live and get a second job to support myself and have my children over every other weekend.

Never mind that I no longer got to have breakfast with my kids before work and school, be home when they got there to talk about the tough times and the struggles, if they didn’t already assume I did something wrong and chose to leave them and their mother behind they seemed to struggle with whom to rally around, for them, their mother would appear to play the victim card and set a scene wherein she was wronged. It is difficult for others to accept that from time to time there are no clear lines, that everyone loses in some cases, that there is no clear or obvious person to blame. That is not an easy place for folks to be in, it is uncomfortable and emotionally taxing, and especially for children so sides must be chosen to better deal with the situation. It might not seem fair and it most certainly is not, for anyone, and as my mother use to tell me as a kid…”life isn’t fair kid, get over it”.

I told my counselor when I decided that I no longer could remain married to my ex-wife, that her and my relationship had gone sour and I grew bitter and angry as time went on, and the only way I saw to save my relationship with my children was to leave my ex-wife that I could accept being the bad guy. I knew my kids would hold it against me; I had been there myself as a kid and blamed my father for many years even though I knew my mother had cheated on him. My father must have done something wrong I thought.  So I would leave my ex-wife and pray that I could save my relationship with my son and daughters. There is a saying that reads “if I knew then what I know now”, I hate that saying now, and I writhe at the sound of it when someone repeats it. If I knew then what it would feel like to wake up in the morning without my children asleep in my home, without being able to hold them when they have a bad day, without the opportunity to be there when my son’s heart is broken by his first major crush, I am afraid I would not have made the decision I did, that’s a hard thought to swallow.

I am no longer an angry person, I have moved on and married my friend from the writing group, and I love her as I have never loved anyone. I feel like I am part of a team, a partner entirely. I still miss my children terribly; it’s all I can do when I see them to not beg for their forgiveness, when I see the misguided mistrust in their young eyes, and feel the absence of safety when I hug them. I am suspicious of what their mother tells them when they go back home, or what my ex-best friend says to them as he sits at the table and eats dinner with them and desert, but that’s none of my business. I must trust that one day they will understand or at the very least give me the benefit of doubt. And I have had to learn to live with that constant, emotional pain that comes along with thinking of my kids, and wishing I could have somehow kept them from living through this situation, hoping that they don’t see me as society might write me off as. That I am still the man that helped rear them, that still loves every aspect of their different, beautiful ways.

Every now and again there is a story we might read, one wherein we might categorize the characters and walk away feeling quite strongly about them and the roles we placed them in, but then as we live, as we go about our lives, day by day we might remember that story and for some reason we suddenly feel different about the characters we remembered, and it changes how we feel about them today. To that I can only hope, and for now, I suppose I’ll remain the bad guy.

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Why I Cry

I can talk all day about how I have a thick skin, how it’s not my business what others think of me and how I love myself and when folks talk poorly of me how it doesn’t affect me. But the truth is, it does, usually I can deal with it and especially from strangers’ I could care less, they aren’t part of my world and if I am not doing anything illegal, immoral or hurtful to anyone then why should I waste my time worrying about it right?

When I was married to my first wife she would say many times over to family and friends, in front of my children how I didn’t cry when my kids were born but I would tear up every time when our Nations anthem was played. She would mock me. Truth be told I always nearly cry outright every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner. That’s what it looks like when someone literally doesn’t understand, I would gamble to say that most veterans would get it at this point, they would know exactly what I am talking about, but there are segments of society whom will never get there, they just fundamentally cannot comprehend that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, for their entire lives I have altered my own to be there for them and care for them and love them. Everything I have done, including serving my country was for them even though they had not been born yet. I may not have teared up at their birth, I have never cried at happiness, but I was and still am proud of each one of them, I was the day they were born and am still today.

When I hear the national anthem of our great country I immediately think of all the opportunities my children and those of my friends and relatives, and all the people who’ve found their way here away from tyranny will have to become what makes them happy and successful. I think of all the freedoms they will enjoy in this land that so many around the world will never have. And I know the sacrifices that have been experienced to keep it that way for my children and all those who’ll come behind me. I think of my grandfather and his siblings fighting in Italy and France, my father and my cousins all serving to protect our freedoms, I think of those I have served with when I myself served over-seas whom didn’t come home and their families who’ve experienced those sacrifices. I think of all those soldiers who’ve come home to face protestors enjoying their freedom to speak out against those soldiers, the freedom they are given because of that soldier’s detriment. I think of all the soldiers who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder every day, and the guilt of being the ones to make it home.

You don’t have to agree with me and you don’t have to understand. But every day I spend free because someone from this country is somewhere around the world without their children, holding a blank check they have written to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life, is  another day I get to spend with my children and my loved ones.

That is why I cry.

Caden

Her laughter is genuine, not faked or pretentious. It echoes throughout the hospital room, bouncing off the sterile walls and tiled floor.  I imagine she would too if not for the IV or the wires and cords hanging from her as if to hold her down.

Her hair is matted and stuck to the side of her temples, shaved just above her brow, despite this a smile stretches across her young tender face when I see her, she pulls the thin hospital blanket up over her chest, sorta snuggles in a little, her small sock feet tapping against each other out the other end of the blanket.

A brain tumor they said. I suppose it explains a few things in her overly whimsical behavior. My mind races to understand the misfortune, which resonates in the pained faces of her parents and her older sister. She is my niece, she is funny, she is smart, she is beautiful and she is struggling for control against a dark and looming force, one that threatens to rob her of her, of her strength and that light in her eye that shines and sparkles like an early morning sun on the ripples of a lake.

It is unfair, it is unfortunate and it is hurtful to all those around her as well, it is a war only she can fight, from the inside. The rest of us can only attempt to comfort her and do what we can from behind enemy lines. We can see only the fragments of the pain through the growing darkness in her eyes.

That was twelve months ago, the doctors did what they could with what they knew, and now the beast is back, it showed itself in the scans of her brain, in sterile black and white images, new growth where it had once been erased, echoes of the pain felt the first time run through our minds and seem to pierce through the walls of our hearts as we try to reel in the madness and portray a strong front against the uninvited beast.

And as she smiles her unpretentious smile, we fear the thoughts running through her delicate mind, wanting to hold snugly her small, young frame to protect it, to protect her, to ward off the darkness from her heart, from her undeserved burden.

Maybe

Often in our lives we will happen upon a time when we must decide on a direction to travel, metaphorically speaking that is, sometimes the decision isn’t an easy one to make, sometimes the path we know we must turn to is away from our friends, colleagues, our safe places. It is easy to follow, it is less work to remain, it is more comfortable not to climb and meet the challenge you may face.

But what is the payoff, sometimes we might find that we have allowed ourselves to follow others or maybe for whatever reasons we just didn’t want to continue on the path we started down and now we have become lost, as the darkness closes in and we are too afraid to call out for help we lose sight of our way back, and as time goes on we learn to survive right where we are and grow weary of change because we know how to operate here, leaving that safe place if dangerous, the unknown is dangerous.

So we stop moving, we stop challenging ourselves and we stop growing. Our friends and family don’t see the pain we are in, they have lost sight of who we are and don’t understand our struggle. They say to us…”just turn around and come back, what are you doing? Why would you do that? Why have you left, that hurts me and what about me?” They don’t ask us what we need so they don’t know and that makes them uncomfortable so they just fade away and begin to blame us for their loss.

Now it’s just us, what do we do? We know we are lost, we know we are in pain, maybe we are ashamed of our choices, maybe we even begin to feel left behind and vulnerable. Maybe the thought of trying to climb out is overwhelming and scary, we don’t know what’s out there any more, maybe we feel like we are too far gone and nobody cares anyway and the trouble just isn’t worth it, maybe we just aren’t worth it.

Maybe.

But maybe we deserve more, maybe we are worth it. Maybe we made a mistake and have underestimated ourselves. Maybe we forgot how strong we are and how much we love ourselves, isn’t that all that really matters in the end, it’s been said that when we finally decide not to care what anyone else thinks of us is when we finally become free. And besides it is none of our business what anyone else thinks of us right? But we care, we are the only ones whom can make ourselves happy, it is us whom keeps us safe, it by ourselves that we have survived and that takes fortitude, strength and bravery. Those are characteristics that anyone should be proud of, and proud to know, and that makes us worth every bit. It is that sort of power that can beat the darkness and show us the light.

One foot, that’s all that it takes to begin the journey back, one foot in front of the other. Find your own way, cut a new path, and climb against the struggle and the pain because somewhere out there is a better place, a place with sunshine and warmth and people waiting for us to show them what it means to be strong and hopeful in the face of adversity. And with that experience, vigor and knowledge we become that person others look to for guidance because we have fought the demons that’ve held us. It isn’t an easy fight, it is hard, harder than most would understand but through it we shall grow and become proud of who we are. Because we are all worth it, and when we are sitting at the edge of that lake, on a sunny shore and we see our reflection in the surface of the water we will know what it means to love ourselves and be proud and be healthy. And then maybe, just maybe we can show others the way too.

Her Broken Cocoon

The sun, try as it may couldn’t get through the clouds on Saturday morning, so she lay in bed, tucked under the covers, pulled up to her ear and tried to dream of warmer, sunnier days but the imagery was washed away by the pelting rain hitting the windows’ at the foot of her bed. The past week was dreary to say the least, no sun and too many clouds.

Leaving the house meant getting wet; normally this isn’t a huge issue, but day after day with no direct sunlight, no reprieve from the cold, barrage of precipitation makes it difficult to swallow. So she lay under her comforter attempting to fill her mind with thoughts of anything but negativity and her reach for any sort of respite was met with frustration and a growing darkness.

Eventually she slid from her broken cocoon, opened the shades and watched as rain drops rolled down the glass like unending tears.  Against the heaviness she tried to breathe in deeply but her lungs felt shallow. She stripped the bed and attempted to push back the impending sadness.

She opened the bedroom door and the house felt empty, lonely and quiet, the floors cold and walls a little too close. Even a glass of water couldn’t rinse away the feelings of melancholy.

She brushed her teeth and searched her reflection in the mirror for comfort but in her dark eyes she saw only gloom. She brushed her hair and even that felt annoying, she was losing the battle, the weight of so many things began to bury her from the floor up, impeding her step, slowing her climb from this wretched valley no light seemed to reach. And her only companions, hiding in the shadows beside her are all the things that scare her, that threaten her well-being, her strength and the warmth of her soul.

Now with her sight skewed, the fog of depression manipulating all around her, making it difficult to see a way out, she swallows hard, reaches in and pulls out from behind her a rope, a heavy, old rope and throws it as far as she can. Hoping for someone to see it, to pull back and find her before its too late. Before her tears make it too difficult to hang on and she loses her grip.

***

If you are in need of help, if you suffer from eating disorders, there is help out there. One of those places is Living Proof Minnesota at http://www.livingproofmn.com

The Rain

He looked out over the parking lot through the windshield in his car. All was silent but for the heavy rain drops that pelted the sunroof above his head. He could hear his breathing, shallow, quick, stuttered. He kept trying to count the rain drops as a way of attempting to derail his thoughts, thoughts that took him down a path he knew well but didn’t want to go. In the middle of the lot there was a light, a tall, rusty steel lamp post atop a large round concrete footing. He watched as some guy walked across the lot to the lamp post, he stopped facing the post, and  just stood there looking at it, he couldn’t see the guys face, just him from behind as his jacket turned a much darker shade of its natural color as it became saturated from the freezing rain.

He sat in his car watching this person, his windshield wipers squeaked across the glass, leaving a small streak at eye level so he had to hunch to see this figure that just stood there. He couldn’t see his face but he could see plumes of the figures breath waft away and get broken up by the now driving rain. He opened his car window a crack and tried to yell at the person standing there, tried to get his attention to no avail. As he sat there in his warm car he thought, he thought about the woman he loves, about how he can’t have her, how he can’t give her what she wants, how he feels like such an idiot for taking things so far with her, knowing deep down inside there no finish line there.

He’s embarrassed and begins to cry. His stomach hurts, his mind seems tortured, his heart aches, imagines himself tearing open his chest just to pull out his heart and throwing it out the car window into the puddle there to keep it from hurting, he imagines watching it as it tries to beat but without a blood supply its color and movement begin to wane and the puddle grows deeper and swallows it. Now he feels nothing, the pain is gone and he is so lonely, in some attempt to reach out and feel he yells out again at the person in the rain. But the person doesn’t seem to hear him.

He got out of his car, looked around the lot, it was cloudy dark, he glanced down at his Bush Nuns which were soaked, half submerged in the puddle next to his still, faded heart. He pulled his collar up close to his chin and walked forward towards this figure in the rain, what would he say to this person, why is this person standing there and what is he or she doing? As he approached the person he began to feel afraid, something was telling him to stop, to turn back but he couldn’t just walk away, what if this person needed help. So he continued, the rain was driving sideways now and his face was dripping and he had to turn his head slightly to keep the rain out of his eyes.

Something about this person was recognizable, he paused just behind them, then spoke softly…”heh are you ok, do you need help, are you lost…did you love her too?” and suddenly the person turned, he knew this person, it was unmistakable, the black framed glasses, the empty look in his eyes staring back at him, all of sudden the rain just stopped, drops hung in the air all around them, there was no other noise but one of them breathing heavily, then abruptly he could hear what sounded like a roaring fire, he couldn’t see anything but the sound was unmistakable, the crackling of burning timber, the low rumble of billowing  smoke.

He looked down at his pants and saw they were completely soaked, he was shivering, he could hear his own teeth clattering against themselves, and when he turned round again to see the figure he was gone, and he facing the lamp post, alone, then something from deep inside of him, controlled him and before he realized what had happened he’d flung out his fisted hand and struck the lamp post hard. Pain shot through his hand, travelled up his arm and into his chest, it felt so good, so warm and real. He breathed deeply, closed his eyes and tilted his head back and allowed the rain to fall upon his face, blood dripped from his knuckles onto the flooded pavement and washed away.

He opened his mouth and let out a yell, a carnal, desperate yell, until the water filled his throat and his mouth drowning out his voice, it spilled from the corners of his lips and down over his ears. Then he fell backwards, all the sound came rushing back and when he hit the ground there was no pain, only water, spilling over his entire body, enveloping him as he sank below the surface of the icy water, when he opened his eyes he could see a light above him, maybe the sun, far above him, he floated just under the surface, he remained there for a long time.  He felt void of pain, desire, need and hope and he felt naked, free from the binds that usually restrain him, so he opened his mouth again to take a deep breath and found himself choking and gagging as he thrust himself upwards and vomited bath water over the side of his tub. He struggled to breathe as he pulled his body from the tub and onto the tile floor. He lay there as the shower continued to run, water rushing across the bathroom and out underneath the door. He lay exposed, cold, and vulnerable and began to weep.

When Did that Happen

I woke up this morning and stumbled through the living room, to the kitchen where I fixed a pot of coffee, only a half pot, any more and I get heart burn these days. Then on my way to the bathroom I stubbed my toe on a bench in the dining room, as I hopped around the table in the dark attempting to grab my foot and find the light switch I found I was more disturbed not by the fact that I haven’t yet learned that that bench has always been there, but more so that I could no longer just reach my foot without straining my back. I don’t know when that happened, I used to be so limber. When I reached the bathroom and found my tooth brush, the paste and looked into the mirror, I was frightened. Not by my reflection and mussed up hair, but by the crows’ feet and the creases around my mouth, the amount of gray facial hair along my jaw and the traces of so many years passed in my gaze.

I looked at my hands and saw my father’s, how long have I slept with my eyes open I wondered? The days and weeks seem to fly by without discretion now and climbing a ladder these days provokes more cautionary thought than it used to. When did that happen?

I woke up this morning and realized I turn fifty years old in a few short months. I’m scared, I‘m not prepared for this, and I am certain I knew it was coming and still let it happen; even my shadow looks longer now.

Suddenly I looked around at work and I realized I didn’t recognize at least half the people around me, and most of them look as though they just wandered away from preschool without their parents. “Excuse me Sir” they blurt out as they pass me by never looking up from their phones or their tablets, as if they have somewhere important to be…I don’t it seems, not nowadays anyhow. Not anymore.

How cruel is time when the sun gets close to the horizon before you realize it and when the days get colder and fly by as if on a train to some place out of the way. I feel like I am on a bus that suddenly stopped aggressively and I have no idea where I’ve been or why I’m being told to get off now. What did I miss, when did I last speak with my children, and why does that damned Cat Stevens song make so much sense now?

Turning fifty is no joke, and it’s not for the faint of heart either. I sat on the side of the tub, head in my hands, frantically trying to think of clues I may have missed, I didn’t see that last sign, not until now, it’s like fog finally lifting and there standing in the wet grass is me, bewildered, confused, afraid but I don’t know what it is I’m afraid of, I guess maybe it’s the thought that I missed something, that I should have taken advantage of my youth and done more, gotten lost more, played more when I had the chance. It feels like there is someone closing in behind me, I can’t see them but I know they are there, I can feel them. I turn the corner and then run as fast as I can for as long as I can and then I turn around again because I swear I heard something right behind me, but again, I can’t see them.

The shadows are crawling up the sides of the buildings all around me now, the warmer sun light out of my reach, I can feel the cooler, lonely air creep up the back of my legs and I shudder. As I stand there feeling as though I’ve missed something and can’t remember what it was I look across the street and there is another, just standing there looking lost, as lost as me, but doesn’t want to acknowledge me and turns away but can’t decide in which direction to go.

I stand up and grab my brush again; I force the last of the paste from the tube onto my brush and continue on. Isn’t that the point, to continue on in the face of it all, to attempt to stay a step ahead? I can hear the voice of my old platoon sergeant even now, of all the things…”Stand up soldier, carry on, so long as there is a single breath in you”. But there has to be more than that I think to myself. Adapt and overcome, those are words I can fight on in light of. So soldier on I will, but by gawd this soldier will adapt and overcome, I will go places I have not been yet, I will see things I have not seen. I am not done learning and will take advantage of every day that I have.

Then the door to the bathroom opens and it’s her, my Love, she doesn’t see the crow’s feet, she doesn’t see the loneliness and the fear. She holds me, my tired body, she lays her cheek against my back and whispers to me…”I love you, with everything, I love you”. And with that the cold melts away, the fear subsides a little and I feel stronger.

Dusty Cleats

Dusty cleats shifting back and forth in the dirt, her hands wrapped tightly around the shaft of her bat held high over her shoulder and the sun baking down upon her neck.

She peers out through her helmet into the eyes of the pitcher attempting to stare her down. Like some old western movie the moments pass slowly as they take measure of each other.

Suddenly the pitcher’s arm twitches and she winds up, her throwing hand comes out of her glove with haste and in a flash that bright yellow ball comes barreling towards home plate.

Georgia holds her breath, she counts in her head and the crowd gasps, it looks like a nice pitch and her teammates on second and third hunkers down against the bags getting ready to charge home.

All of a sudden the muscles in her back and shoulder tense up and Georgia cranks her hips round and her bat swings low and connects with the ball.

Crack!

She turns and plants her sights on first base, she drops the bat and her cleats tear away the gravel as she digs in and runs. Her heart beats fast and her focus is undeterred.

The last she saw of that ball was the reflection in the eyes of the pitcher as it passed over her head and then second base.

When she’s running round that diamond the screaming of the fans disappears, its quiet, except for the beating of her own heart and the rush of blood in her ears and when she slides into second base, gravel spewing from underneath her she knows she’s half way home.

She stands up atop that bag, proud, heart racing, mind swimming as her teammate’s rally cry echoes in her head and plants her dusty cleats back in the dirt again, the race is on and she’s hungry for home.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

Sitting against the wall in his room he looks around and at the old wood paneling and the green shag carpet. The sun flows through the window at the top of the wall, the glass is the color of root beer and textured, the light shining through is dark and mellow. Its 1979 and he listens to 10CC crooning out the lyrics “I’m not alone…” and gets mad. He wipes away the tears that stream down his cheeks onto the sleeve of his second hand Sergio Valente shirt. His bedroom shares the basement with the wet bar his parents entertain in periodically, no one is home but crawls behind and hides below the bar anyway and drinks his mom’s Drambuie. He is twelve.

His adoptive dad is travelling on the road, his mom is out with her boyfriend and boss, and his little sisters are at sleepovers. This is typical, if his mom is home she is drunk and passed out on the couch, so he would feed his sisters and then put them to bed. He can’t take his mom’s car this time so he takes his bike to Rockefeller’s arcade, scores some pot and rides to the river where he climbs down the sandstone cliffs to the shoreline, there he smokes and watches the dark, cool waters slowly drift by.

He feels powerless, abandoned, desperate and lost. He smokes until it doesn’t hurt as much, until the pain runs like an undercurrent; it never quite goes away but is always there just under the surface. He doesn’t quite realize it at first and when he does he doesn’t care that his Nikes are almost completely submerged in the dirty Mississippi River. He lets himself fall back until his long hair is trapped beneath his back and the grey mud that makes up the beach between the reeds and the water. He lies there staring up at the stars, he feels like he’s floating somewhere between the earth and the space, somewhere no one can reach him, where the pain and the angst falls away for a little while, into obscurity.

The trouble with obscurity is that no one is there to see you, or to feel you or hear you and he realizes that’s where he is already. With that he feels a sudden thud as he falls back to earth. Like opening a door in the midst of winter and catching the cold air in your face as it steals your breath, he is suddenly aware of everything that hurts, its late September and he can see his breath, its cold and when he rolls over to stand up he plants his hand in freshly fallen snow. He stands there looking out over the fast running water shimmering under the moons light at the darkness all around him and he makes a promise to himself. His father always told him that big boys don’t cry. It’s time for him to be a big boy.

The tears stopped flowing. He swallowed hard and buried the pain, and all of a sudden he felt awkwardly comfortable in the darkness, it made sense to him, it seemed to welcome him, there was a safety within it he liked and he would own it. And it would serve him well.