For Love

It starts with my nephew, who is one of the kindest and most interesting people you could ever meet.

He is a person motivated almost entirely by love. He has worked since before his adult life even started with mentally or emotionally disadvantaged children. He married within the last twelve months, a beautiful girl with significant health challenges they now go through together. He met her out on one his many, many world travels: he has worked for years on the side for an airline to finance these voyages.

For love of children. For love of a girl. For love of travel, learning, and people everywhere. For love.

Christmas Eve of last year, he and I spoke about the girl. He wanted to propose on Christmas, but he was being counseled to wait. I was the only adult in the family who counseled otherwise.

“If you love her, do not wait. Follow your heart. Let love be urgent.”

I knew her health history. It is not exaggeration to say she is at risk of leaving this world at any time. Never leave love treading in the waters of regret.

He did propose the next day. She accepted. They are married now, and I know no two people happier, in spite of the reality of her health struggle.


For years I watched girls try (mostly unsuccessfully) to get his attention. In a room full of people, he would always talk to everyone with the same level of genuine interest, but never for long. He would then move on to other people.

To my eyes, he was a great friend to all, but a close friend to almost nobody. The exact opposite of someone like me, who would rather have one real, emotionally connected conversation than dozens of light touches encompassing every single person in the room. Yet, loving as he was, for that brief time, people would feel the connection.

As a natural consequence of who he was and is, he has thousands of friends. I have maybe six.

When I heard he was actually seriously dating someone, and when he spoke to me last Christmas Eve about her, I was dying to see what kind of girl had finally captured that roaming heart. It turns out, she’s pretty much a female version of him: she fairly radiates joy, and is instantly lovable to anyone who meets her.

She too, had gone years with people asking “when are you going to meet someone?” Always answering: “Don’t worry about it. I’ll know when I’ve met someone good enough.” But she never did, until he came along. Friends fixed them up, thinking they’d be perfect for each other.

They were and are.


I often think about my nephew when I’m having online exchanges. I’ll start a conversation with someone, and want it to be meaningful. However, many of the people I talk to are like my nephew: a few words to everyone, no real time to spend on anyone, unless it’s someone really special. You feel connected briefly, then that person moves on.

In addition, it came up recently with two different online acquaintances that they are tired of being asked the question “When are you going to meet someone?” or being told “You just haven’t met anyone good enough” when they say they have no real interest in dating.

I know people are trying to be kind in saying things like that, but it can tiresome to people hearing it. If people aren’t interested in dating, they aren’t. They don’t need advice that is essentially “yes, but you should date people you aren’t comfortable with or don’t like that much because it’s what we do” like life was some kind of “it’s what we do” GEICO commercial.


Here is the other realization I had. For me a blog post – such as this one – is frequently a continuation of a conversation I started having online with someone who essentially walked off. To talk to other people.

I wasn’t done; but they were, and conversations are voluntary.

Fortunately, we have these things called blogs, and they are there for all the things we didn’t get the chance to say in real life.

I’m looking forward to seeing my nephew and his wife this Christmas Eve. I’m sure we won’t talk much, but they will be a joy to observe, along with all my other myriad family members. Unlike the 50 plus people we spend Thanksgiving with, Christmas Eve is usually a more intimate group of 20 people or so: my wife’s mother, her kids, their spouses, her grandkids, their spouses, and her great grandkids. The great grandkids all (so far) belong to my family.

I’ve learned to be happy about love wherever I find it. Sometimes we reach for connections we don’t quite make in the same way as the people we’re connecting to, but that’s okay.

Love is love, and it’s just as good as a spice as it is a meal.

“Girls Are Mean — Boys Are Stupid”

[Author’s note: this is as accurate (as I can make it) of a recounting of a long-running series of conversations between my son and myself over a period of years. I became a single father when he was only three and remarried when he was five. We have had (and have) a pretty close relationship throughout all these years, and discussed any number of things, not the least of which has been the subject of relationships.

I realize, looking back on this, that I probably could have given him better advice than I did; but I was trying to find a way to deal with these issues using both honesty and humor, and this, for better or worse, is what resulted. – S.B.]


It started when my son was in second grade. He wanted to know why the girls on the playground would come up and push him, or hit him, and then would run away; or why sometimes they wouldn’t talk or respond to him.

“Because girls are mean,” I said. (I realized, of course, that the stock answer is, “That means they like you,” but I went with a different tack.)

“They are?” — he asked me.

“Yes. And boys are stupid.”

He looked at me as we drove along in the car, expecting more.

“It isn’t that boys aren’t mean sometimes, and girls aren’t stupid sometimes, because they are. But girls, no matter how mean they act, will hardly ever admit to being mean: and boys, no matter how stupid they act, will hardly ever admit to being stupid.”

“So, girls are mean… that’s why they hit me during P.E.?”

“Yes, and you don’t understand it because….”

“… because I’m a boy, and boys are stupid.”

“Right.”


So now, go forward about a year-and-a-half. We are at a party at my fabulously wealthy ex-boss’s house sprawled over 15 acres and a lake. My son is playing hide-and-seek with our host’s daughter and her friends (all girls) and I am standing on the back deck, drinking with a bunch of other guys from work and the husbands of women from work. My son walks by (cutting between two back doors in the back of the house), and we have this exchange:

“Whatcha doing, son?”

“I’m playing hide-and-seek with Aliza and her friends.”

“I think they might have left the house.”

“No, the one rule was, they couldn’t leave the house.”

“Okay, but I think they might have left the house.”

He shook his head and doggedly returned through another door back into the house to continue looking. Forty-five minutes later, he returned to the back porch, looking dejected.

“They left the house,” he said, as about twelve other men watched our conversation with intent.

“Yes. And why did they do that?”

“Because girls are mean…” he said in a weary, sing-song voice.

“And why did you fall for it?”

“Because boys are stupid…” The men all laughed and nodded their heads.

Later that night, in the car, driving in the dark, my son suddenly asked, “Does it ever change? Girls being mean and boys being stupid?”

“Yes,” I answered, wondering how exactly to say what came next. I added, slowly, after some silence, “One day, when you are much older, alcohol comes into the picture, and it turns all the boys mean and all the girls stupid.”

He had heard of this alcohol of which I spoke, so after a moment, he asked, pursuing a different angle, “Why are girls so mean?”

“Why are boys so stupid?” I asked in return. “I’m a boy, and I’ve wondered my whole life. You do what you can to try not to be stupid, but it happens sometimes. I don’t know why girls are so mean. They will swear up and down that they aren’t.”

“Have you ever had a trick played on you like Aliza played on me?”

“Yes. Many times and at almost every age.”

He sighed, and sipped some from one of the soft drinks we had brought back from the party. “Did mom? Is that why you guys got divorced? She says its because you took too many arguments.”

I had to smile at that use of the word ‘took’. “Yes, something like that. And of course, she’s in love with Amanda –”

“– and you fell in love with –”

Well, I had fallen in love with the woman who was now my wife, and she was the least mean woman I had ever known. I, however, was still woefully stupid, and I explained something to that effect to him as we arrived home.


My son has turned thirteen (the ages are getting clearer in my memory) and has a crush on a girl at school. He name is Ziena, although everyone just calls her “Z”. She is an artist. I pick him up from his middle school, and ask him about his day.

“If I ask Z to the Halloween dance, would you be able to take us?”

“Sure, it’s next Friday, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “Thank God,” he added, mumbling.

“You’ve already asked her, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. I didn’t mean to, because I don’t know how to dance, but she was standing, talking to me at my locker about how she’d like to go, and how much fun it would be, and how nobody’s asked her, and suddenly I heard myself asking her.”

“Did she wave her hand and say, ‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,’ too?”

“Dad, she didn’t play a Jedi mind trick on me…” then he paused for moment and started laughing. “She did, didn’t she? I’ve been Jedi mind-tricked!”

We both laughed at that, not so much because it was funny, but because it seemed so true.

Before Friday arrived, we had arranged it with Z’s parents that they would come pick my son up and take them both to the dance; I would go and pick both of them up and take her back home. This way, everybody got to meet each other, and we could assuage the universal fear that our children are dating axe murderers and cultists.

When they showed up at our house, her mother and father came up to the door with a dark-haired girl I’d seen my son talking to on the ramp at school for years. We exchanged pleasantries, and my son, who was dressed in what seemed to me to be an extremely eccentric fashion (that he was equally extremely pleased with), left.

The dance was not terribly long, so a couple of hours later, I drove the twelve miles out to his school, and joined a line of cars waiting for them to come out. When they got to the car, she was very chatty; he seemed oddly silent.

“Mr. Son’s-Dad, thanks for giving me a ride home. That was so much fun..” I got a little lost in the next part of her monologue, which mostly had to do with a “stuck-up” girl named Marissa and her “god-awful dress”.

We dropped her off, and I asked my son how it went.

“Oh, fine,” he said.

“That’s not very convincing. Did you dance?”

“One dance, yes. She spent most of the time with her friends.”

“How was the one dance? Slow or fast?”

“She wouldn’t slow dance, which I wanted to try, but I danced the very first dance with her. I had no idea what I was doing.”

“Do you remember the song?”

“‘Womanizer’.”

“Sounds perfect for eighth-graders,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know why she tricked me into asking her if she wasn’t going to hang out with me or really even dance with me,” he said. “And don’t say, it,” he added, “I know girls are mean like that. But she never seemed that way. I don’t think she likes me at all, she just wanted to tell her friends somebody asked her, and it could have been anybody.”

It seemed like we were always having these conversations in the car. I thought back on previous conversations, and added, “You may be right, but I don’t think she was trying to be mean to you. She danced a dance with you, came there with you, left with you. If she disliked you, she wouldn’t have wanted you to ask her in the first place. As you get older, it gets easier to focus directly on people you are on a date with, but it is uncomfortable at first. Did you see a lot of couples dancing every dance together?”

“No. Not many,” added, after thinking for a while. “Mostly, the girls stood together and talked, and the boys ran around and threw things at each other and acted like idiots.”

“That last part never changes.”


I entered my sixteen year old son’s bedroom to tell him it was time for dinner. He was staring at the cellphone in his hand, looking dazed.

“Emily just broke up with me.”

“What? Why?”

“She said, we need time apart. If its meant to be it will be. It would be good for us if we maybe saw other people.”

“Oh, she gave you both barrels, didn’t she? Is there somebody else in the picture she likes?”

“She says not.”

I thought back to my son’s football games (he was in the band) when I had seen his girlfriend hanging around rather closely with another guy, out of my son’s sight.

“I’m sorry. That sucks.” We headed downstairs for dinner.

At the dinner table was my wife and two of my son’s three older stepsisters, who were 21 and 24 at the time. “I have a question,” he said. “When a girl says, ‘we need time apart and it would be good to see other people,’ she’s breaking up, right?”

The older sister spoke first. “Yes. It also means she’s already dating someone else, usually.” The younger of the two sisters nodded her head in agreement.

“Did Emily break up with you?” my wife asked.

“Apparently so.”

Since my wife had an intense dislike of Emily, who she thought a selfish, spoiled rich girl, she tried not to look too pleased.

“Dad has told me how mean girls are my whole life, and how stupid boys are. But its really mean not to just tell the truth. All this stuff about whats ‘better for us’ and how ‘if we’re meant to be together, it will still happen’ is just a smokescreen. If she likes someone else, why doesn’t she just tell me the truth? Why are girls such cowards?”

This last characterization did not sit well with the women at the table. “All girls aren’t like that,” the eldest said, “She probably told herself she was trying to spare your feelings, but you’re right, she’s really doing it in a way that has the least sucky consequences for her.”

Later that week, he said to me, “I wish I didn’t care. It would be great to go through life not caring, just being mean to people, and doing whatever I want.”

“Please don’t do that. If you choose that road, you have no chance in hell of ever being really happy, because that’s where you’ll be — in hell.”

“But she’s already got her new boyfriend. And I still miss her, even though I’m starting to hate her.”

“Well, you are being honest about how you feel. Believe me son, it is better to be who you really are, and feel how you really feel than it is to lie just to get what you want that second. You have to believe me about this, if you don’t remember much I’ve told you as you get older, believe this: who you really are is good enough for the people you’re really meant to be with.”

“That’s not as easy to remember as ‘girls are mean, boys are stupid’,” he said, laughing.

Then say it with me:

“Who you really are is good enough for the people you’re really meant to be with.”

He still remembers that to this day — so maybe boys aren’t entirely stupid, after all.

Winter, Children’s Books & Epilepsy

Winter from the New Golden Almanac

I have been told that, astronomically, winter begins around December 21st, but, as a kid, learning about the seasons from reading books by (or illustrated by) Richard Scarry, I got the idea that winter starts when December does. You know,

Winter: December – February
Spring: March – May
Summer: June – August
Fall: September – November

When I hit school age, the fact that “Summer vacation” ran June through August where I lived seemed to confirm the idea.

Within a few years of that time, it began to bother me that people annually welcomed Winter roughly three weeks after it had actually started. By that point, I was reading a lot about astronomy, and I ran into this whole “winter begins with the solstice” rubbish that everyone else subscribed to.

But I still think Richard Scarry was right. It is already winter.


Of the first books I remember loving in my childhood, Richard Scarry’s were near or at the top of the list. It has to be admitted, though, that the book below gave me an idea that the English Channel was quite a bit smaller than it actually is.

Busy, Busy World

Fortunately, my actual favorite book as a child was the Rand-McNally World Atlas.

If anything, my love of children’s literature has only gotten stronger with age. Children’s books come with one set of limitations (subject matter) but without many other limitations that hamper much ‘adult’ literature — unwillingness to mix types media, for example. Children’s books might be full of stories, and poetry, and drawings, and paintings, and music – and no one thinks anything of it.

As we age, we go through various passage rites; one of them is to show we can deal with ugliness in our art as well as beauty or wonder. This is typically (and perhaps rightly) seen as a sign of maturity. Some people overdo it, however; they leave beauty and wonder completely behind in their art.

This can be a valid choice, of course; but it is sometimes reflexively adopted to display something like a posture of maturity. It is only when we have faced the ugliness life offers that the true value of beauty can be understood. And it is only when we know what guilt is that the value of innocence can be placed in fullest perspective.


In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition I have lived with ever since.

There are a number of things I have to either do or avoid doing to optimize my health, namely:

  1. Take my medication.
  2. Get plenty of rest.
  3. Avoid bright, flashing lights.
  4. Avoid alcohol, or anything else (like decongestants) that interferes with my medication.

So far, I’ve only had major seizures when something interferes with my medication; however, were I to have one while on medication properly I would never be able to drive a car again — a thing I would rather avoid. Hence, my focus on items 2 through 4, above.

I had to leave a wedding reception prematurely this last weekend when the dance floor lights started to bother me. I have had full-blown seizures set off by something as simple as seeing lights through a moving ceiling fan, and it’s not an experience I care to replicate.

While I have not had major seizures while on medication properly, I do have minor ones, which manifest themselves to others around me as tics or sudden jerks.

It’s not the greatest way to make a good impression on new people I meet.

These minor ones typically only start if I am really tired or externally overstimulated, such as I was by the wedding reception strobe lights. Since my wife and co-workers are the only people who regularly see me “really tired”, I don’t typically have to worry about the opinions of strangers on such matters.

There’s nothing cool about having seizures, but, for me, it’s like having freckles – I have a million freckles – it’s just how I am.

I remember my wife and I walking one winter evening, back when we were first married. We were letting the dog run loose in a big field near our old house, briskly walking along to keep up. The sun was setting. She was saying that she worried I wasn’t sleeping enough (work was really stressful at the time) and that I would end up back in the hospital if I wasn’t careful. And though I couldn’t say why, I realized, at that exact moment, that I was precious to her in spite of being damaged. I was not less of a man, I was more of a man she was worried about losing, if that makes any sense.

I remember it was winter, by the way, because it was December 1st. Richard Scarry taught me that.

 

Polymath

I wrote an essay about my father, and was recently taken to task over this passage:

“From an early age, I had just enough awareness to know I wasn’t really that good at anything… To be fair, I was good at reading, but that isn’t really a thing.”

The person* ubraiding me for this said:

“You can write essays and poems, and you can compose and perform music, so I don’t see why you wrote what you did. A lot of people would love to be able to do these things, and can’t; so it seemed disingenuous of you to say. Kind of false modesty.”

In the context of the essay, I was talking about how I felt as a ten-year old boy, roughly one year before I started taking piano lessons. I took up music deliberately to try to fill this void; I wanted to be good at something, and my first set of “somethings” (painting and athletics being the main two) had been failures.

I have since added many other failures so as to try to have as complete a collection of them as possible.

My comment about being “good at reading” was important, because, I ended up leveraging that into being reasonably widely read and venturing into writing. At the time, though, all I could have told you was that I liked to read.

As it happens, both my education and my current profession involve some smattering of languages and a lot of higher mathematics; however, I hardly qualify as a polymath. “Dilettante” is more the word that comes to mind.

The limits of my skills are nowhere more evident than in my complete lack of anything like practical knowledge. For instance, I cannot: hang a painting, build a shelf, fix a faucet or commode, figure out how to get rid of ants, string a Christmas tree, wrap a present, rewire anything, or fix anything that’s broken. I use this particular list because they are all things my wife has had to do recently if they were going to get done at all – or find some other person to do it, such as the “fix a faucet” part.

I can, however, change the oil in the car, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Many of the skills above are considered bare minimums to qualify for manhood in this country, so I entered that august state not feeling particularly good about myself. If you have ants coming out of your kitchen sink, playing an hour or so of Beethoven Piano Sonatas really doesn’t help — I know, I tried it.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be “good” at whatever I happened to be doing. Given that we are human and have limitations, that maybe a naive desire; nevertheless, there it is. When so many of the practical everyday parts of life are such as to highlight me as an incompetent oaf, I tended from an early age to just stay away from them.

In other words, I gave up even trying to learn a lot of these things years ago, because it seemed hopeless.

I could learn to do some of this, I’m sure, and my wife has been known to make comments to the same effect. The hardest thing about learning as you get older is the willingness to be a beginner, with all that entails.

But, if we aren’t willing to look foolish trying, we miss out on a lot, I think.

What are some things you’ve missed out on out of fear of looking foolish? What are some things you wish you could do, but either can’t or haven’t learned yet?


* Who kindly gave me permission to quote his remarks.


© Oleg Mashkov | Dreamstime.com – Statue of Pythagoras in a town of Pythagorion

Maundering Mondays: There’s No Plate Like Chrome for the Hollandaise

“Maundering Monday” is a new feature here at Consolations Many Forms, wherein I discuss various topics of no particular interest in a maddeningly random order. Today’s theme: how outrageously prescient Mark Twain was in comments made more than 100 years ago.


Some people are offended the Mall of America hired their first black Santa Claus; I am offended it has taken this long to do it.


… I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it.

I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being – that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.

– Mark Twain, Harpers Magazine, March 1898


December: the season when lights, shopping, family, music, commercialism, and hectoring diatribes about commercialism can all be found in equal abundance.


The approach of Christmas brings harrassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year.

– Mark Twain, “Following the Equator


I’ve been asked why I insist on trying to look for the good in people. There are two primary reasons: (1) I’m grateful for those who have looked for the good in me, given what I’m actually like in real life; and (2) we can’t build anything better without starting with the good we have.


It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.

Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar


If I wanted to avoid excessive discussion of politics, choosing to become a blogger was not the wisest choice. To me, human beings are very much like dogs in that individually we can be lovable, but in packs, we’re just dangerous.


The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.

– Twain, Mark (2013-10-05). Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (Autobiography of Mark Twain series) (p. 409). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.


It’s hackneyed I know, but I tend to feel more grateful this time of year. I also tend to feel more on edge. The former is my reaction to what the season should be; the latter is my reaction to what the season actually is.


If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

– Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson

Blind Spots

We all have them.

Things the people around us can see, that we just – miss. That we not only don’t see, that we somehow *can’t* see.

You’ll never find your own ghost,” my grandmother used to say, if she saw one of us looking in a mirror.

Hmmm.

I wonder if the things we can’t see are really us?

We see this person, and that person, and the location, and the situation, but we can’t ever quite see ourselves.

Maybe that’s part of why we do selfies, hoping to see what others see, or what we haven’t seen, or can’t see.

And if you don’t do selfies, maybe you think you’ve already seen all there is to see. But that’s another type of blind spot. When it comes to ourselves, maybe we’re not meant to see, but are meant to look.

To search.


I was asked by a female friend recently why men make clumsy sexual advances to women online. My response (as the apparent representative of all men everywhere) was:

“Men strongly desire sex, but we have only the vaguest idea why women might want it. So we literally try everything and anything, hoping maybe something will work at random.”

Sometimes, this unfolds in comment sections on blogs, acted out for all to see in its awkward, ham-fisted glory. It’s another type of blind spot, where we (and I’m talking to other men, now) attempt either to say the magic words or to perform perform the appropriate acts of buffoonery that will somehow press her “attraction” button.

This has seldom worked anywhere, so far as I know; and, in fact, is usually a rather strong turn-off. Women, of course, will already know that.


The fact that women don’t always know exactly why they’re attracted to this guy and not that guy does not provide much guidance for men in this area. In fact, frequently, women’s descriptions of their “perfect guy” and the guys they are actually attracted to are almost complete opposites. That’s a type of blind spot for many women.

One of my daughters told me, years ago, that what she valued and wanted most from a relationship – and would insist on, if it was to be serious – was that she and the guy would really talk about everything. She then fell in love with, and married, a emotionally unavailable, taciturn man, who, in the end, pretty much just used her. They’re now divorced.

She could not see him for who he was, because she only saw her projection of the qualities she wanted him to have.

She never saw her own ghost in all of that. We never do.


People who are comfortable within their own blindness are impatient of those attempting to escape it. Self-discovery, for them, is foolish: the “self” is the judge that stays in chambers – the unseen one whose job is to rule on everyone and everything else.

Pay no attention to that man [or woman] behind the curtain.


In search of eliminating or curtailing blind spots, some of us essay to begin new activities, such as to:

  • attend classes
  • read
  • exercise
  • travel
  • take on ridiculous tasks like writing blog posts daily
  • keep a diary
  • post selfies
  • write a book
  • put together a scrapbook
  • learn a craft
  • explore spiritual enlightenment as we see it
  • become more politically aware or active
  • write poetry or music
  • get a pet
  • try new social situations

or any number of other things. One of the paradoxes of existence is that we discover ourselves only by looking, in some sense, outside of ourselves.

We are more like sentences than novels; and sentences only make sense in context.


At the bottom of a blog post, we are supposed to put questions that invite interaction. What could I have asked here that would invite yours?

And why would people look for blind spots when they can’t see them by definition?

Inside Our House

(I’ve developed a sneaking envy for photo bloggers this last month, so, as a bonus, I thought I’d take a run at it. – S.B.)

My proctologist / spiritual advisor told my wife and me that our feng was nowhere near shui enough, so we’ve redecorated. I thought I’d share some of the results with you.

Here is the master bedroom:

1st Master Bedroom

It is amazing how much more energy we each have with this setup. However, the TV now only gets “The Brooklyn Bridge Channel”, which is kind of monotonous. In addition, finding a large enough dish towel to use as a carpet turned out to be a job only CraigsList could handle.

After that, we turned to remodeling the living room:

Living Room

For those of you who don’t recognize it, that is indeed the famous “Torn Band-Aid” painting of Picasso’s lesser known “Johnson & Johnson” period. Seeing as how we have our one and three year-old grandsons over daily, glass furniture built on frail bases seemed wise.

Next, we turned to remodeling one of the smaller of the guest cottages:

Guest Cottage

Just for fun, we went with a Castle Červená Lhota theme. “Czech yourself before you wreck yourself,” we always say. Since this turned out so well, we remodeled the larger guest cottage not long after:

Larger Cottage

Here, we made a more daring decorating choice, feeling Ulaanbaatar says “welcome” like nothing else could. If you look off to the left you can see parts of the lifelike city replica in the background. Next, it was back to the house, proper, for a remodeled exercise room:

Exercise Room

I’ve had a few people tell me this is not very practical, as you have to walk all the way around both pools to get to the weight room; we put in the chairs so people can rest along the way. “Exercise should be about so much more than strength and movement,” I always say. In fact, I say stuff much more often than I exercise.

We couldn’t forget to liven up the kitchen:

Kitchen

To tell the truth, my wife is not entirely happy with how this room turned out. She wanted help on the design from some guy named “Art Decko” (sp?) — whoever he is. I like the fact the room can double as a skating rink, though. Too few kitchens can do that.

She also wasn’t crazy about the privacy with our newly redone bathroom:

Bathroom

You can see we’re continuing the beige floor motif. As to privacy: there’s no reason why relieving yourself should involve claustrophobia, is how I see it. I told my wife, if she was uncomfortable here, it was only 7,860 steps to the bathroom off of the exercise room – I counted. Well, actually, I had the butler count.

Finally, we added on a small room just for the grandkids to play in:

Play Room

Some people think all of this is a bit much. “Balderdash,” I say. Children should have whatever it takes to help them grow and lead a healthy life, as long as I don’t have to miss watching ball games or anything to help them do it.

Well, there they are, our meager remodeling efforts. We hope you liked seeing them as much as we enjoyed doing them.

And remember, if you see and read it on the Internet, it has to be true.

 


 

And thank all that is holy, that ends Nano Poblano for this year! Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Ghost Out On The Railroad Tracks

Six more hours to go, just to get in state; six more after that, to make it home. I pulled over because my eyes were tired from driving.

I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around. Trains still ran on these tracks, I could tell. There was no one else in sight in the parking lot of the old train depot; no one on duty, no one on the street. The tracks were four deep in two directions.

No one on the street. Not that strange, I thought. College Football season.

I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and passed through a covered area that lead to a locked ticket office. There were several safety posters and two portraits; one of a a very old man who looked like a politician, and another of a standing middle-aged man with his standing wife and seated son and daughter. The kids both appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. I thought the man might have been the same man as the other portrait, just younger. There were no signs or placards to indicate who they were, however. Apparently, around here, everybody knew.

I walked over to the railing beside the tracks. I could hear a faint sound, like an old radio. Straining to hear it better, I realized it was what sounded like a radio program from the mid 1940’s. Big band music live from somewhere, in horrible fidelity. Muffled applause and a scratchy live announcer with an old-time radio voice between songs.

I looked around for the source. There were no houses or other buildings open to the railway tracks. I looked down the tracks instead and saw a girl.

She was walking away from me, down one of the tracks, wearing an oddly old-fashioned dress, and shoes, and hairstyle. She was walking in between the tracks, and music seemed to be coming from her as well, although it was entirely different music than the radio.

Instinctively, I started walking after her, wanting to gain a little ground before speaking so as not to yell. She was singing as she walked, in a sort of plaintiff, Celtic voice:

My love, I’ve waited for him long,
Along this stretch of track —
But it’s been many, many years;
I fear he won’t be back.

My golden youth has turned to age,
The friends I had are gone;
My love, I wish he’d come back soon;
I’ve waited for so long –

I had pulled up close enough to see her face. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen her. On a whim, I called out to her, “Miss –”

She was gone. Vanished.

I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear it. I looked up and down the track: no girl, although the old time distant radio was still playing, somewhere. I walked over to where I thought she last had been. There was a piece of gingham caught up on the track; I grabbed it right before the wind would have blown it away.

As I walked back to the car, I passed through the covered area. Glancing at the larger of the two pictures, I realized that the girl I had just seen – or thought I’d seen – was the daughter in the portrait. I looked up at the picture and studied it. The others were smiling, but she looked sort of distant and sad, wearing a gingham dress. Her smiling father’s hand was on her shoulder, right beneath where the his hand lay, I could tell the sleeve of her dress was torn.

I looked at the piece of gingham in my hand. It would have fit perfectly.

“That’s my family,” a faintly Irish girl’s voice said.

I jumped. She was standing ten feet away from me. I gathered myself, and said, “Why aren’t you with them?”

“They died. Years ago.”

“Did you?” I heard myself ask.

“Yes, but I’m not leaving. He told me he’d be back, you see. I thought maybe you were him, but, I can see up close that you’re not.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where did he go?”

“Ha,” she said, with a laugh. “To war.”

“To war? Then he – he was soldier?”

“A pilot,” she said proudly. “2nd Air Division.”

“So you’re waiting for him to come back from the war?”

“He hasn’t died. I would know if he had. I am waiting for him to come back here. He said he would.”

She turned and jumped back down to the tracks. In spite of myself, I walked after her.

“Miss –” I said, “What did you die from? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Polio,” she said. “Toward the end I was in a wheelchair. I was in one in the portrait. I sent him one picture of me in my wheelchair, but he didn’t write back for a long time after that. In fact, I died, and he still hadn’t written back. Well — goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.

I stood there, the wind blowing softly through the train station, and the old-time radio music still somewhere in the distance, and I thought

“That bastard…”

 


 

Don’t ask me why I would try to write a ghost story: I hate ghost stories, for one thing, and I’m not sure I actually know what they are supposed to be, as evidenced by the above. Oh, sorry, ahem… “For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.”, etc., etc.

Lonelier

When I met the woman who was to become the great love of my life, she was lonelier than I had ever been, even in my worst days.

Even with three daughters she adored.

She is (and was) an exceptionally beautiful woman by any objective standard. But beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In can, rather, be a guarantee of unwanted attention.

When I first saw her, my honest thoughts were, “Wow. She’s beautiful. Way out of my league.” And that would have been that, except…

… She was attracted to me.

Even now, I have to pause to let that sink in. She was attracted to me.

I was a single father raising a son (and, during the summers, my stepson). I had dated three women since my divorce; a woman who was way too young, a woman from work who just couldn’t relate to someone who had a child, and a third whose only interest in me was money related. Dating her (my future wife) seemed an extreme improbability.

What did I have going for me? I’m not exactly handsome; I certainly wasn’t her male equivalent in looks. She had frequently dated, and had even been married once, to that type of person.

I had a job, so check there… I was raising a child, so, whatever type of check that merits, I guess I had that…

[digression]

I had emerged from my first marriage and my dating years with a series of weird ideas about women, one of which was: women are every bit (if not more) appearance-conscious than men are reputed to be. They act like men are these shallow, appearance-driven creatures, and they’re half right.

We are shallow.

There was a post earlier this month among my fellow peppers where a woman was recommending a single guy she knew to any girls out there who were single.

Let’s just say I don’t (and never did) look anything like this guy. I know (or thought I knew) that this is what women want.

Some of this attitude goes back to my early teens, and my observation of what might be called mass, groupie-like behavior on the part of my female classmates.

They all wanted the same guys: the hot guys, the cool guys (which oddly enough, in English, are not opposites).

In other words, the not-me guys.

At one point in my life, I reasoned that humans had evolved in such a way that men were supposed to die off in war and the few survivors have multiple wives; this explained things like the fact that a higher percent of women have ever been married than men, meaning, all the women marry the same few guys.

Who, once again, were not me.

[/digression]

So I found this beautiful woman, who I was attracted to, attracted to me.

What’s more, it wasn’t the way she looked that got me. I actually fell in love with her when we started talking on the phone every night.

Remember: we each had kids to get to bed. My son was only four years old at the time; his half-brother was thirteen. Her girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. We worked our jobs, got our kids to bed, then we would talk on the phone.

For hours.

She was smart. She was creative. She was strong. She had lived a fascinating life.

She had actually been a professional model in her younger days, but she had a degree in sociology, and had worked at least fifty different jobs, by my count, including having taught a variety of subjects at college.

She had dark things in her past, though.

An alcoholic father.

Date rape.

An alcoholic husband.

She was lonelier, I came to realize, than I had ever been; mostly because, to the world, she was a beautiful person, and beautiful people (as we all know) don’t have problems.

The high school pageant winner doesn’t have father who steals money to buy alcohol. If she doesn’t socialize, it’s because she’s stuck-up, not because she’s virtually a prisoner in her own home.

The professional model has her pick of all the best guys. If she got raped, it’s probably her fault. Besides, I doubt she can keep track of how many guys she’s been with.

Look at her, with her good looks and her handsome husband, and now, three beautiful daughters. Certainly, neither she nor her girls could be afraid at night when he comes home drunk.

I came to see something I’ve seen repeatedly since: when you think someone else’s life is easy, it’s because you don’t know that person well enough.

Still, she had overcome these things, and I had fallen in love like I’d never thought possible. She encouraged me. She looked out for me.

She loved me.

She didn’t just say it, she actually did it.


When we decided to get married, our kids seemed excited about the idea. Mixed step-families do have problems they don’t tell you about in books, though, like her twelve year old daughter having a crush on my thirteen year old stepson.

And him breaking her heart.

Our first year of marriage was tough, as we struggled to integrate ourselves into each other’s lives.  She had learned to be conflict-avoidant. I had learned the opposite.

But we worked through it.

To me, in a relationship, respect is more fundamental than attraction, or even affection. I was attracted to her, and I loved her, but I respected her, and that meant more when times got tough than anything else, largely because respect prevents you from, ultimately, indulging in the type of corrosive criticism that destroys relationships from within.

When you are attracted to her, you want to sleep with her;
When you love her, you want her to be happy;
But when you respect her, you want to listen to and learn from her.

When you have nothing left to learn from the person you love, your relationship is probably in trouble.


So here we are.

We’ve been married now quite a while; we’ve seen all three of our daughters get married, and one of those get divorced.

I’m upwards of fifty years old; she’s a few months older than I am. We have grandchildren.

She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. “Beautiful” and “young” are different words for a reason.

We have challenges ahead, I’m sure. I’m also sure I have no idea what they will be. But we’ve both been through the valley.

We also know what is to lie out on the grass, and bathe in the sunlight, and know we are loved.

For love is not just the best thing, it’s the only thing.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Closest Moments

Sometimes, the closest moments are almost throwaways: times when, without planning it, we stumble into an interval, a place, and an activity where we are each totally present.

She remembers reading a book with her father, out on the beach; I remember reading poetry with my mother, sitting there on our old living room furniture.

Moments like these are so good, they always lose something in the telling; however, they are also so good, we should always tell them anyway.

Admissions

Like many of you, I struggle at times with how much of myself I should reveal here.

Should I tell people that every time I read the words “Nano Poblano” I think of them sung to the chorus of “Viva Las Vegas”?

Probably not.

Should I talk about how much I still love my wife after all these years, or how grateful I am for all the little things she does for me? No, because, number 1, it would seem uxorious, and number 2, nobody wants to hear about good things.

In fact, people seem to positively resent other people’s good things. How dare I, or anyone else, have good things to say about anything?

So that’s out.

Should I talk about how unpopular I was as a child? That, in elementary school, I once had a valentine returned to me, unopened?

That might be okay. People can relate to being unpopular. Oddly enough, even very popular people can relate to it.

You popular people know who you are. Popularity is a thing you would never admit to, of course.

Those type of admissions are very unseemly.

Given that much of my writing this month has been about dating and many of the relationships I’ve had along the way, I might want to write about why it took me so long to find that type of love, and about all the things I did to sabotage my own relationships. I could dress it up like it was some sort of sociological study…

… How about “no”. That style of writing is irritating: “Thirteen Things Men Do Because They’re Afraid of Love,” written by A. Nonymous:

“… I realized, for all my talk of equality, that I wanted to be in control in my relationships. So, I let one after another slip away, to feed my ego… People want more freedom in their lives, not less: love should promote that; but, for years, I couldn’t see it.”

Well. That has the merit of being true, I suppose. Judging from readership on the Internet, people hate truth: they prefer politics, just to mention one of the many more popular choices. Erotica would be another.

I have told a couple of stories here that involve sex, although the predominant theme in each was my general cluelessness. General cluelessness, and my knack for finding women who had a point to prove to their ex.

Speaking of being clueless, my wife is out of town for a few days, so I’m having hot dogs for breakfast. Should I admit to that?

I’m pretty sure I just did.

I also started working on a song. I stopped writing songs because inspiration only ever seem to hit while she was sleeping. I wasn’t going to wake her up trying to work out a song at the piano.

I write poetry instead, typing is less noisy. And less grating than my voice.

I hate my voice. I could write about that. People can certainly relate to that – you most likely hate yours too.

Even though they’re the only voices we have.

And we’d have a hard time admitting to anything without them.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Essays

Essays. I have to remember I’m writing essays now.

But I prefer poetry.

Poetry allows me to express feelings without being worried about getting facts right. Or grammar. Or where the hell to start and end paragraphs.

I have no idea where paragraphs should start or end.

Like the idiot I am, I agreed to write essays for National Blog Posting Month, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Fortunately for me, sweet and supportive people (i.e., other CheerPeppers) subtly help me out. They reprint a bit of an essay I wrote, changing the paragraph structure of what I wrote into what it should have been. When I do a Facebook post, I neglect to tag the people it is about; one of the moderators gently comes in and does it for me.

Essentially, I was raised by wolves and I am now attending tea, but the people here are really nice and don’t comment on my manners.


All through public school, whenever we were asked to do creative writing assignments, I was told, upon completion, that I just was not a writer. This was true in college as well, except for one professor, my Creative Writing teacher, who saw something in my writing no one else saw. Everyone else saw an inchoate mass of undeveloped ideas, poor sentence structure, and dizzying leaps from subject to subject.

They weren’t wrong, it’s just, with poetry, that can work in my favor. With essays, those things detract.

As I’ve mentioned to some people in comments here, I got my love of poetry from my mother. She, however, did not think much of my own efforts in the genre. My mother is not a critical or judgmental person – not at all – but she also was and is not prone to the common maternal habit of feigning enthusiasm, either.

Asking for an honest evaluation about something you’ve created from a loved one can create a significant tension in them between love and truth. They love us, so they want to say things that will make us feel good; however, honesty may impel them to say things that have the opposite effect.

I’ve solved that problem in my own life my never showing anyone who actually knows me in daily life any of my creative efforts*. They don’t need to lie; I don’t need to get my feelings hurt or wonder at their sincerity if they are positive.

It’s not exactly a “win-win”; it’s more like a “what the hell kind of choice is that” thing.

* Other than music.


Some people are analyzers; they take things apart to see if they make sense, examining them from as many angles as they can. I am a synthesizer: everything, to me, is related to everything else, and my mind is constantly trying to unify things into a coherent whole.

Which is crazy, of course. There is a “whole”, but any unity we find is liable to be one we put there.

I tell stories about my life, or the lives of those around me, trying to make sense out of it all. I feel like the story I’m meant to tell is in some way unified. My writing, however, is more like a mosaic than a single thing, with bits of this and that, discrete in themselves, that maybe, when examined from a distance, might form a single picture.

Love is what it is all about, of course. I was a young person in search of love, who wandered in and out of relationships, eventually becoming very ill, depressed, and broken; but, through a series of events having little to do with my own merit, gradually found a better life.

Even though I’m still ill, and most likely, broken.

So. I will continue to write more broken, love-seeking essays that border on poetry in my complete disregard for the rules of structure and paragraphing.

Then go back to live with the wolves.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Choice to Be

Photo credit : © Borjairas | Dreamstime.com – Coca Cola Cans, Coke Photo


She knew I was broken when she met me. Broken, but functioning.

The simplest choices had become agonizing. What to wear in the morning. What to say to someone. What to buy from a vending machine.

She knew all of this about me, but she liked me anyway. In fact, she said she loved me.

I hadn’t heard those words in a long time.

It was like a song you might have heard long ago; the tune seems familiar, now, but you just can’t remember where you heard it, or even, if you liked it. You think maybe you did. I thought maybe I did. Like being loved.

She became my first wife, and part of the choice I made to be with her involved, first, choosing to be, period.

The choice to be. We make it every day.

She, too was broken, by the way: broken into pieces so expertly put back together that only close inspection would show how thorough the shattering had been. But her breaking was, in many ways, more thorough than mine. She thought she was rescuing me by loving me, but she was only building up pressure within herself that eventually gave way, and we gave way with it.

She loved me, she told me at the end, so she thought she could live a straight life. But she was gay, and she was in love with someone else.

So, six years after we each said “I do”, we didn’t.

You won’t read a stream of negative words from me about my ex. She tried her hardest when we were together, and she’s tried hard since then. She already had a son when we met, and we had one together. Both of them are broken, too, in their different ways — particularly the one we had together. Broken but functioning. Moving forward. Choosing to be.

Ours was a tempestuous marriage; our personality types were very similar, both being what might charitably be described as “prone to wide mood swings”. Temperamental. Feisty. Confrontational.

Broken.

You stand in front of life’s vending machine, and you see all the pretty colors and flavors, and your money goes in, and you push a button.

You make a choice. I made a choice – we made a choice.

We chose to be together. We chose to have a child. We chose to be apart.

We chose to be.

Apart.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Among My Many Poor Decisions…

[Warning: adult(ish) content.]

I was twenty-eight years old, and one of six guys in the groom’s party at a friend’s wedding: we were to wear black tuxedos with pink cummerbunds. I was paired off with a bridesmaid who had long wavy brown hair, deep red lipstick, and who would be wearing the obligatory pink bridesmaid dress.

I had met her the night before at the rehearsal, and sat next to her at the rehearsal dinner, where we spent some time chatting, mostly about the bride and groom. Late in the dinner, she casually asked me if I was single… I said yes… I asked her the same question… she said she would be as of tomorrow, the wedding day, as her divorce was final then. Without really thinking about it, I asked her for the first open dance the next night. She said sure.

The church where the wedding was to be held was way out in the country, more or less in the middle of a wheat field. We had to stand outside for pictures, which were taken prior to the ceremony. I honestly felt like a scarecrow standing in a field like that.

I noticed, though, that she (my assigned bridesmaid) really took to getting her picture taken — and she looked good doing it.

I also had the impression the bridal party might have gotten an early start on the champagne.

I typically love weddings where I don’t have to be the one providing music: I actually get to watch. When the bride came in, she looked radiant, and the groom looked completely love struck. I remember glancing across the way at the bridesmaids; all of them were looking back and forth from the bride to the groom, some with tears in their eyes — except for my bridesmaid, who was looking squarely at me. She smiled when she saw me looking back, then turned to watch the bride, her eyes shining.

The reception was about ten miles away. When the bride and groom arrived, we began the usual festivities. First open dance, my bridesmaid and I danced, and the next dance, and the next two. We went back to the table holding hands. Several other of the bridal party were watching with interest. The rest of the groom’s party was at the bar, as I recall. There was food; there were toasts and speeches; and champagne was flowing freely. The bridesmaid and I danced again and drank again, back and forth, for several hours, and, well into the reception, when some slower dances came on, there wasn’t any doubt any more that she and I were ‘together’.

When we got back to the table, she told me she wanted to talk to me outside “for a minute”. I was fine with that. We took our champagne with us, and two glasses.

And went to my car.

And, umm… experienced each other’s bodies fully.

And were noticed.

And then went back in and tried to play it off.

I don’t exactly know who it was that saw us – given the way that car was made, it would have been virtually impossible, to really see us – but everyone there seemed to know what had happened. Particularly the bride, who was looking daggers at her rather unconcerned friend, the one with the long messed-up brown hair.

The groom caught up to me a few minutes later in the bathroom.

“Man — Elise is PISSED.”

“About what?”

“You and Redacted. Everyone knows what you two were doing out there.”

I looked at my watch. “Yeah, what you and Elise should be doing, by now. Do you know how long it has been for me? It’s been, like, years.”

“Dude, I don’t care what you were doing. I know Redacted’s ex, and he’s the world’s biggest prick. It’s nice to see you two having fun.”

“Then what’s Elise’s problem?”

“This is her night, nothing is supposed to detract from her.”

“Should I apologize?”

“Nah, just take Redacted and go. It would have been better if you two hadn’t come back in.”

I went back in and quietly suggested to my bridesmaid that we should go. “I’m not ready to go yet.”

“I think we’ve caused quite a commotion.”

“Good. I have to be sure enough people know that they tell my ex.”

“I am pretty sure everyone here knows, and the news is way the hell across town.”

“Alright, we can go, then, ” she said breezily, if unsteadily.

 


 

We were going to go back to my place, but I ended up taking her directly to her house because the champagne caught up to her in the car and she started to feel sick. She asked if I wanted to come in, but I honestly didn’t. I told her I’d call the next day to see how she was doing.

When I called her late the next afternoon, she sounded like she’d swallowed an entire bottle of remorse.

“Ugh. I’m so embarrassed about last night. Aren’t you?” she asked.

I wasn’t, but I thought it only polite to say, “We’d both had a lot to drink.”

“Too much,” she said, wearily. “Well, sorry about that. I appreciate you calling to check on me. I’ll be fine.”

And that was that.

 


 

Unbeknownst to me, my eventual first wife was at that wedding, and that wedding reception. We did not know each other at the time.

Three years later, we were planning our own wedding and realized that both she and I had been there.

“Oh, I remember that wedding!” she said, “One of the wedding party couples were, like, gettin’ busy in one of the limos during the reception. Do you remember that?”

“It wasn’t a limo, it was my car.”

“You let them use your car?”

Silence.

“Well, I didn’t want them using the bathroom,” I said.

“I guess that’s right,” she said, turning back to the invitation list.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Justified

I wish I could say I did the right thing, but I did not.

She was married, and even though she and her husband were having serious problems, I should have stayed away.

I was a friend, I was there, I would listen, and she — she was desperate to feel wanted.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never fantasized about her.

I was pretty young, but still, I knew better.

The first time it happened, a part of my brain pretended it wasn’t happening*. It felt like a reflex, like breathing — it’s just what your body does. She and I were there and we were doing things. Things people do.

She felt justified, because he had promised to love her, and then didn’t do it. He broke the vows; that made them void. I, on the other hand, struggled for a way to feel justified in what we were doing, because I was doing something I had long believed to be wrong to do.

In my life, faced with other relationship situations, I have sometimes done the right thing, and on other occasions, the wrong one. In this case, I rationalized that I was a single man and she was a soon-to-be divorced (almost separated) woman, and she was willing and it was consensual and various other phrases that effectively rhyme with YADDA.

Since careful readers may notice I used the phrase “the first time it happened”, there were, as you might guess, other times. By that point, my rationalizing capability had kicked into high gear: we were doing what we were doing because we were in love, I reasoned; yep, that was it.

Except somebody forgot to tell her.

I brought up my theory of how in love we were one day. She broke it off within seconds.

Two weeks later, I swallowed two bottles of sleeping pills. My capacity to rationalize had exploded in on itself.

 

* Incidentally, the “thing we were doing” was just making out. We never slept together.

 


 

For those keeping track of my tangled chronology, this was roughly a year before the events recounted in The Smallest Trace of Necessity, about 18 months prior to my trip to the food bank (That Empty Feeling), and almost three years prior to the date I went on in Sundresses. After my attempted suicide, I had other health issues that knocked me out of work for a long spell.

The girl involved was unconcerned. For years thereafter, she acted around me as though nothing had ever happened; and, from her perspective, she was right.

Since I became rather ill, I consoled myself as best I could by falling in love with nurses for the next couple of years. What woman can resist a sickly man with an IV?

All of them, it turned out; although, in fairness, at least one appeared to be tempted, in a “I’ve dropped all my standards” kind of way.

Looking back, as I have often done in these National Blog Posting Months posts, I see a pattern, but it isn’t anything unusual for a human being — I wanted to love and be loved. However, life is like a series of plays everyone is enacting: they say their lines, and you say yours, and you only gradually figure out that the plays have different endings. You keep looking, though, for someone whose story matches up with yours — preferably, until the end.

Most of my relationships (all of these things happened in my twenties) didn’t amount to much, but the feelings I had about them were everything to me. Because the married secretary down the hall from work was lonely and frustrated, she fooled around with me: I thought it was love, because my feeble heart and mind only had one category for me to file this stuff under. She had a category called “look – let’s just not talk about this, okay?” which I was – at that age – unfamiliar with.

 


 

A rational person deals with rejection by saying: “well, I’m in the same situation I was before, so, there’s not really any harm done.”

Just for the record, I know exactly zero rational persons, by that standard.

It wasn’t that I reasoned that my life was no longer worth living because she’d rejected me; in fact, I didn’t reason at all. What I felt, on the other hand, was deep, abiding shame that I had ever thought she would or could love me. I was angry: not at her, but at myself. Of course she didn’t love me, I thought.

As it happens, I was already being treated for depression before all of this started. I had (and have) a notable ability to mask my depression to the casual observer, but, that didn’t make it any less real. What happened with her was just one more step in a spiraling process.

Depression, for me, felt like anger turned inward, anger so deep and wide that it blocked any other feelings from getting either in or out.

I was, effectively, mad at myself for being me.

So as not to leave you wondering: I was prevented from killing myself by a friend (my long-time best friend) who happened by my apartment (he had a key) and who called an ambulance. We hadn’t seen each other in months and I didn’t know he was in town.

In the psychiatric wing, I took the meds prescribed me, went to individual and group therapy sessions, and transferred my erotic fascination from the married secretary at work to, variously, the admissions nurse at the clinic, the pretty social worker with the dark hair, and one of the female orderlies who I knew in younger days as working at a car wash.

My body kept trying to live even after my mind had given up on it.

 


 

I wish I could tell readers the day I stopped being depressed and the magic cure that got me over it, but I don’t think there was any such day. Within months of the events recounted above, I started having other health issues that made the depression much, much worse. But, over time, through both treatment and a process something like erosion, the worst parts of my condition gradually wore down (somewhat). We think of erosion as only effecting good things; but, time may wear down bad things, as well, and it seemed to do so for me.

I’m much happier now, but, I’ve come to believe that happiness is a combination of attitude and circumstance. I have, in recent years, enjoyed what might be called either blessedness or good fortune; within the context of my own beliefs about the world, I in no way believe that I created my own happiness. The closest description to how I feel can expressed in one sentence: I’ve been lucky.

The mental health diagnosis I was given at the time (severe bipolar) has never been changed; I am what I was. I know that circumstances in life can and will change, but I do not know in what way they will. As I often say:

The only thing I know
About what I don’t know
Is that I don’t know it.

When I think back now upon that girl (woman) who dallied with me when we were both in our twenties, I see things in a different light. She was every bit as lost as I was: but I saw her as having all the power then.

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that my ability to justify what I have done is quite a bit stronger than my ability to choose wisely. I’m not sure that I am alone in this.

Incidentally, the next time after the above events that I so much as kissed a woman was some years after all of this, and it was under rather outrageous circumstances. But — that story is for tomorrow’s post.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

That Time Will Come

The world is a strange place: strange and big. I know sometimes that it can be scary and that you are unsure.

It is okay to be unsure. It is okay to hesitate.

You’re stronger than you know. You may think you can’t do the things you see other people do, but you can.

You will.

People are going to tell you not to be afraid, but I’m not. It’s okay to be afraid.

Fear is there to tell us something might hurt us. It’s okay to listen to fear.

And always remember to love who you are.

People will try to confuse you. They’ll tell you to fear who you are and love what will hurt you.

Don’t listen to them.

Out here, on the edge of adventure, you have choices.

You have everything you need.

You have wings.

And one other thing —

A kite can be connected to the soul… did you know that?

Even though you touch it for just the briefest time, it stays connected to you. Forever.

Because you helped it fly.

Even though that time will come when you may not be here to watch it. Because you’ve gone on. To another field, maybe.

Somewhere, beyond the sunset.

So run, little one. Let your joy stream overhead like it was meant to do.

For you have wings.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry — sort of. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Power Trip

She started driving 150 miles north, to the big city. She wound her way through a seedy part of the city, around the dirty familiar streets, to the ugly green apartment building with the burn marks on its side.

Most of her time there, she had been high. She did remember her roommates cooking meth at the top the stairs, while one of the guys, who was perpetually drunk, looked on. She also remembered her abusive girlfriend slamming her down, throat first, onto the balcony railing.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, in the strongest voice she could muster.

Next was a restaurant an hour south, where she’d worked six months, bussing tables and running food. She was either drunk or high most of the time she worked there. Most of the people there didn’t like her, and several stole tips from her. They didn’t like working with a trans woman.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, as clearly as she could staring at the outside of the ritzy restaurant.

Next, it was back to the town she lived in and the house she grew up in. After her parents moved out, and after she left the meth house apartment, she lived here while she worked at the restaurant half an hour north. She had gotten so messed up on drugs there, she began to hear voices and see faces at the windows. Her father came and moved her out and into an apartment one night.

“You have no power over me anymore,” she said, mustering up as much courage as she had.

Finally, it was cross-town to the place she dreaded the most, where her abusive ex-girlfriend still lived. She actually shook in the car turning down the hated street. She stopped her car right in front of the house.

“You have no power over me anymore.”

{“yes i do”}

“YOU have no power over me ANYMORE.”

{“i always will, and you know it -“}

“YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME ANYMORE!!”

Silence.

 


 

She sat in her psychologist’s office, recounting her trip.

“I did exactly what you told me to do, all of it.”

“And how do you feel now?”

“Weird,” she said, sipping a Red Bull. “Cost a fortune in gas…”

“Go on.”

“I have had nightmares about all of those places, and it was good to face them, but…”

“But what?”

“It isn’t what was done to me that won’t leave me, it’s the things I did to myself.”

“Yes. But you aren’t that person anymore.”

“So I have no power over me anymore, either?”

Her therapist smiled. “The you that was has no power over the you that is anymore.”

“Who does, then? Where do I go with my life?”

“Forward. It’s the only way any of us can go.”

“So does this mean the nightmares will stop?”

“I can’t promise that. We’re just working on taking down whatever barriers keep you from moving forward.”

She left her therapist’s office and met her father down at the park to walk.

“How did it go at therapy today?”

“Oh, you know. Just the usual, breakthroughs and stuff.”

“Cool,” her father said, absent-mindedly.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Wandering Life

I love to walk, ride or drive with no particular destination in mind.

Some would say I write the same way. There’s truth in that.

Yesterday, I took a few hour drive through the countryside; I love to see the fields and forests dressed for autumn. I started down a familiar highway, then took a random turn. Within 45 minutes, I was traveling through a series of hills I’d never seen before.

I stopped to park at a scenic overlook – which I recognized as such because of the helpful sign there that said “SCENIC OVERLOOK” – and, after snapping a few pictures, pulled out my tablet to get caught up on other Poblano posts.

My reading is like my driving: I never know what I’ll see that will move me. Several of my fellow Peppers have become favorite bloggers of mine these last few weeks. In some ways, every set of eyes sees an entirely different world.

I also check the Facebook feeds, there are posts there I missed on the WP list. I enjoy the interplay there, though I rarely join in.

Another car pulls into the three parking spots that constitute the scenic overlook. From it, a young couple emerge who look like fitness models. The man looks at my rather endomorphic form with a disgusted glance that says

“Junk food. Poor guy is probably hopped up on Funyuns.”

Which sounds like a good idea to me, so I get back in my car and head down the highway in search of a convenience store.

 


 

I have this weird sort of fondness for convenience stores. For any of you who may live in other countries, what Americans call “convenience stores” are gas stations (usually) that also sell miscellaneous retail items, the most popular of which are cigarettes, lottery tickets, and beer. I never buy any of these things, except gas for my car. Convenience stores have become decidedly inconvenient since they started selling lottery tickets, as people can spend ten minutes picking out which games they want to throw their money away on. I typically buy things like soft drinks and snacks — including, on rare occasions, the aforementioned Funyuns.

In the area of the country I live in, many convenience stores have kitchens in them and serve various types of country cooking – and not necessarily this country, either. The store I find about ten miles away from the scenic overlook has Rajasthani cuisine, and it smells amazing. You might not think to drive to some unnamed town on the Florida-Alabama border to get Indian food, but there it is, and there I am, and it’s delicious.

“Dal-baati-churma” it’s called. I sit down in the little eating area, and watch the other customers.

I time one woman, who takes eight and one half minutes to complete all her lottery purchases. Another man has a long (but cordial) discussion with the woman behind the counter about the high price of cigarettes – which I’m relatively sure she can do nothing about – but he decides to buy them anyway, as I suspected he would. The woman behind the counter is very beautiful, by the way; not young, but beautiful in a careworn sort of way.

I am that guy who thinks all women are beautiful.

A man sits down in the booth next to me to eat, and immediately strikes up a conversation.

“Never seen you here before.”

“Yeah, I live up 331. Just out driving.”

“The food here’s addictive, although I still have no idea what’s in it.”

“How long have they been serving it?”

“This place served fried chicken and fish up to last year. The Johnston’s, who owned it for years, sold it to the new owners.”

“Are the new owners Indian?”

“No, no. They’re Mexican. But a friend of theirs runs the kitchen.”

I’ll have to put that on the blog. I believe I know at least one Mexican-Indian-American, although, if memory serves, she’s also part dinosaur.

 


 

Darkness fell well before I made it home. Turning onto the street our house is on, I realized that wandering, for me, is like writing, part of the balance I must strike between “making a living” and actually living. Tomorrow, I will be back at work, earning the money my family needs, and that’s okay. Not all who love the wandering life have the same luxury; as I didn’t, at one point in my life.

“Have you ever heard of ‘Dal-baati-churma’?” I ask my wife.

“Heavens, where did you drive today?” she asks.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

Motive

He had means and he had opportunity, but he had no motive.

In this case, the action in question wasn’t the commission of a crime, it was the living of a life.

All over the world, people struggle for the means to live, or the opportunity to make a better life; but, unless they also have a reason to live, means and opportunity are meaningless.

Selfish desire had been his sole motivation for years, but like a mirror that reflected only itself, he had examined his own life and found it empty.

He needed to care about something outside himself, something like love; he wasn’t quite sure where he should go to buy something like that.

Oh, my brother — all the means in the world cannot buy motive. For “reason to live” is not a thing you buy – it’s a thing you make.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.