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.

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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.

***

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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.

When you feel all alone

When the sun goes down and you feel all alone and the shadows are your only company,

When that feeling in the pit of your stomach makes you feel like you’ve missed out on something and you’re scared but won’t let go of the darkness,

When you feel like you should be crying but the tears just aren’t there

When you begin to retreat within your own skin so that you won’t feel so vulnerable,

Know that I love you, know that I’ll be there, that when I look at the ground I know that you are somewhere standing on the same earth that I am.

Walk outside and close your eyes, breath in a deeply, fill your lungs with the cool night air then look towards the starry sky, blow it out and let your sweet breath ride upon the late summer breeze to me.

And in the morning when the sun comes rising up behind the trees, step out into the light, close your eyes and feel the warmth of my body carried to you on the winds of a new day.

You know that Feeling?

Have you ever walked past the entryway to a dark alley, the open door to a room with no lights on or underneath an old rambling tree and think or feel like you’ve seen or felt something or somebody close by? Did you get the notion that someone or something was hiding there, watching you? Maybe you wondered if you were to reach out, reach into that darkness, take that little step out of the warmth of the sun or the safety of the light that you’d find it, touch it, feel it?

Have you ever walked past a mirror and not recognize the person looking back at you? Maybe you felt like you knew that person’s eyes, could see inside them and felt like you knew them but that the outside, the exterior was foreign, did you ever feel like you were wearing a suit just a little too big for you, like when you put on your fathers shirt as a boy? Have you ever felt like when someone touched you, you could feel their hands but not their touch? Or maybe at some point if someone touched you it seemed as though you had no skin and their touch hurt even though they hadn’t mean to hurt you, but like you were a solid grouping of raw, unprotected nerve endings, out there, susceptible to everyone, everything, every strange look, every unwelcome glance.

We all have haunts, impressions that have followed us throughout our lives, not all of them are bad, but some are, and they live in the shadows and those dark rooms and behind the trees in the forests and the damp corners of the alleys near our homes. I have learned to live and accept mine, sometimes we get so used to them that they become part of us and established element within our worlds. And sometimes we can convince them to leave, that there is no purpose here for them any longer, even the bad ones can protect us, but eventually if we take ownership we can learn to protect ourselves and even allow ourselves to just be vulnerable, to accept what lies ahead, what lurks where we fear to go. And maybe even find ourselves there, hiding out up in the thick canopy of that tree at the edge of the wood.

When we walk past those empty rooms, we feel the echoes of our shadows, within them are held our greatest fears, our haunts, our innocence and even our greatest desires. Challenge yourself to wander in there and poke around, see what you can find, accept it and welcome it and then celebrate it.