Drawn

He had an old-fashioned, black pen-and-ink pen in his left hand, and he was sketching on an artist’s pad. I was about five, I think, and was trying to do the same thing with a black crayon.

We were at a park outside our hotel near Rochester, New York, where my dad was from; my mother, sister, and brother had gone down the street to a drug store. I had my own little artist’s sketchbook as well, although I think the pages were lined.

“I’m going to give my picture to grandma,” I said.

“She’ll like that,” he said.


I was fourteen years old; my sister and brother were grown by then, and had left home. I was reading on my bed, when I heard my mom, who had been down the hall giving my dad hell about something, suddenly give a screech. I heard the front door bang open and I tore out of my room to see what was going on. I could see them through the hall window.

There was my mom, standing out in the yard, looking back at my dad, who was standing in the doorway. They were just looking at each other. She looked wary.

I knew right away what had happened. He had been laying down on the couch, not feeling well, and had shot up off the couch to respond to her. She, who grew up in a home racked by domestic violence, hadn’t stuck around to see what his intentions were; she ran out at the first sign of sudden movement.

He hadn’t hurt her. But for a moment, she thought he might. And he was really angry.

He stepped back from the door and she came back inside.


“What happened today?” I asked at dinner that night. “I saw you out the hall window.”

“We had an argument,” my mom said.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

They looked at each other. I guess I wasn’t supposed to have noticed, let alone started asking questions about it.

“No,” my father said slowly. “But it will be. Sometimes couples argue.”

Now they were looking worried. They always saw me as the oversensitive type who couldn’t deal with the realities of life. I changed the subject.

“Dad, I’m supposed to a sketch of a tree for school. Could you help me after dinner?”

“Yes,” he said, relieved for the change of subject.


I was in college by this time, back home visiting for one day. My mom and I were talking about this and that.

“Your father and I have been going to counseling,” she said.

“How’s that going?”

“Turns out that your father has been depressed for something like twenty years.”

I thought “You’re just now realizing that?”, but I said, “Oh, wow. Um… what other things have you all learned?”

“Ways to understand and appreciate each other better. You know how difficult your father can be to communicate with.”

“Yes.”

“And apparently, I can be hard to please at times.”

“I had never noticed.”

She laughed. “Yes you have.”

“Okay, I have. So it’s… helping? Maybe?”

“We think so.”

We moved on to other subjects.

“I got together a few things you can take with you back to school”, she said.

They were on a chair by the telephone in the front hall. There was a jacket I had been looking for, a couple of books my friend Andy had returned, and one of my father’s old sketchbooks.

“He was throwing these out, and I told him you kids my like to keep them. Here.”

I thumbed through the pages. There was the clean, simple sketch of the Rochester park. I remembered being out there with him with my crayon, drawing my crummy picture.

“Thanks,” I said.


“We knew you owed a lot, on your medical bills,” he said, “but we never dreamed you’d go out and put them all on credit cards.”

I was in my mid-twenties, and I had been very ill. Very, very ill.

He said, “I cashed in a life insurance policy we had on me, and I’m going to lend you the money to help get square.”

He produced a very neatly drawn loan amortization schedule, in his almost calligraphic print. “You will pay me on the 15th of every month, until this is paid off.” In the sum borrowed, and with payments I could afford, it would stretch on for years and years.

“Thank you,” I said. “I will, I promise.”

“Credit, and family, are things that can be drawn upon, when needed, but — you have to be careful.”

My mom was sitting at the table with us, looking fondly at my dad. He got up and left the room to go back to work in his shop.

“Your dad loves you,” she said.

“I know,” I said. “I know you both do. And I’m grateful, I really am. Now that I can work again, I should be able to pay you back.”


Five years later, at my first wedding, he waived the remaining payments as a wedding gift. I still had his carefully penned loan amortization schedule.

That was twenty-five years ago. My dad died, a little over ten years ago.


The other morning, I was picking up various items to take out to recycling. Among them was a crayon drawing by my eldest grandson, who is four years old. I took it out of the items for recycling and put it up in my room.

“What is this?” my wife asked. “Why is this up?”

“Because it’s hand-drawn,” I said.

She brushed her hand lovingly over my hair before leaving the room.

Autumn Reverie

I’m headed out, and it doesn’t matter where. The autumn has exploded into color around me, and it’s taking me with it.

I’m a country guy, at heart; I like the arts and some other city things, but open stretches of road know my real name, and shorelines and hilltops speak a language I was born understanding.

Cities make feel trapped, and crowds are like leeches that suck the life out of me.

But, for today, I’ve got the open: road, sky, and heart.

The world is a cauldron of fantasy,
And life could be splendid for you and me
If we opened our hearts to the wonder inside,
And were less motivated by fear, or pride,
Or the feelings that come when we put our desire
Above what is right – maybe just a touch higher –

For there’re different songs that we’re all meant to sing,
It’s the rhythm and concord in everything.
And we all could be happier, yet, if we tried,
Not to say that there’d never be tears to be cried,
But we’ll never fix violence, hunger, or thirst,
If we don’t learn to fix
What is wrong with us
First

The Store

Many mornings, I stop at a convenience store near our house before or after going to the gym. It is typically before 5:00AM when I do.

There are three night-shift workers there, and they rotate nights. There is a young woman of about thirty or so; another young woman of about nineteen; and a man of around forty. I’ve gotten to know each of them fairly well, as I come in during a boring time of night for them and when there is rarely anyone (or anyone much) else there.

Yesterday, it was the youngest one. She and I have talked quite a bit in the past about sort of nerd-related topics: things like video games, and Star Wars, and comic books. I happened to be wearing a Hufflepuff House sweatshirt, and as I walked up to the counter, her eyes lit up. “You wear the coolest shirts.”

“Thanks,” I said, swelling a little with pride.

“I wish my grandfather would wear cool shirts,” she said as an afterthought.

“Maybe you could get him one,” I said as I turned to leave, considerably deflated.

Male ego. It’s the gift that keeps on taking.

As a matter of complete irony, the other woman at the store, the thirty-something, had, just a few days before, suddenly blurted out as I was about to leave with my purchase that I could call her if I wanted to.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m married,” I said, thinking that since I don’t wear my wedding ring to the gym, she probably just didn’t know.

“You can still call,” she said.

Well, I thought at the time, getting into my car, that was uncomfortable. Now, I’m thinking, Her co-workers would be shocked to know she’s trying to pick up grandfathers. Even ones with cool shirts.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of finding a new store to go to in the morning, thinking things would be really awkward going in there when she was on shift, but I decided not to. It’s not like she had committed a crime, and even if she had, she could plausibly plead temporary insanity.

As a sort-of-ongoing inside joke, the guy who works there always tries to sell me lottery tickets, knowing full well that I don’t buy lottery tickets.

It isn’t that I have anything against gambling, its more that since I’m in the professional statistics business, I shy away from anything outside of work that reminds me of it.

Once he realized I don’t buy them, however, it became a matter of humor for him to always ask me if I want any.

“What would you recommend?” I asked the most recent time.

He shows me the forty-eight kinds of scratch-off games, explaining that game #26 has been very lucky for people in our city.

“Nah, I think I’ll pass this time,” I said.

“Your taking more chances drinking those damned energy drinks then you would with these,” he said.

I had to laugh. “So I’ve heard.”


I have had, since my teen years, an incredible affection for convenience stores. I first learned to love them at the “Jr. Food Store,” a local convenience store in my hometown of Valparaiso, Florida. It would be a hundred degrees in the summer, and I would have just finished mowing the lawn; I’d ride my bicycle the four blocks down to the store just to feel breeze, and I’d leave with a cold Coke in a bottle and a couple of new comic books.

Cold drinks for a hot summer day and comic books. You name a store that sells anything better.

Convenience stores stopped selling comic books in this country back in the 1980’s and part of me died.

Even though I wasn’t buying comic books any more.


There is another convenience store, way over on the other side of town here in Georgia, that I have an extreme fondness for. It’s the place that hired my then-unemployed son after he’d been out of work for eighteen months.

He lives in Tennessee now, and is moving forward in his life. A big part of him progressing was that job and that convenience store.

Sometimes, on a weekend, I’ll drive over there while I’m out. I’ll stop in, pick up a few drinks and some chips or a hot dog, and look around the place. I still feel grateful there.

It’s kind of weird to be grateful towards a building, but, there you have it.


When I once again did encounter the woman who’d offered me her phone number back at my local store, she acted like nothing had ever happened. Which, in fact, nothing had.

“Headed to the gym, or coming back?” she asked.

“Headed to. You working later over at Hibachi Express?”

“No, thank God. I get to go home and SLEEP.”

“Well, you have a good one.”

“Thanks! You, too.”

And all of you, too. You all have good ones.

Waves

Gratitude comes in waves, leaving colored streaks as the Gulf inhales at my feet.

The world is reflected the surf, and time itself swirls in it’s eddies.

Friends, both met and as-yet-not-met gleam like flecks of paint on a well-composed canvas. I know them, because they let me; I love them, because I’ve come to know them.

The teal and green waters cover my feet again as the Gulf exhales. I ran joyfully here as a child. I walked pensively here as a young man. Now I stand here, awash in wonder.

And color.

And friends.

And love.

 

A Fantasy in Lights

In dreams, she’s always as I remember her: young, slight, and full of wonder.

She left this life in her late twenties from cancer, leaving behind a husband and two small children, the youngest being not quite a year old. That child is now around thirty.

I watch her slowly make her way towards the lights. The landscape is beautiful, otherworldly.

Towards the end, she was bitter; and I, young as I was, didn’t understand. She didn’t want to die. She had lived an open, joyful life. Why was this happening to her?

There is a light breeze blowing her hair, and beautiful music. There’s a sort of domed city at the edge of the trees.

She was the younger sister of a woman who was (and is) a very good friend. On the anniversary of her sister’s death, my friend posted a number of pictures of her late sister on Facebook. Love may come to terms with death, but the parameters of the negotiation are very one-sided.

It seems to be winter, but the dome is giving off warmth. She’s dressed to sleep.

I wish the good didn’t die young, but I’m not in control of that; none of us are. We’re in a play we didn’t write, and don’t produce: players leave the stage, sometimes, and we don’t see them again. Except in photographs and dreams.

She reaches her hand for a door. The dream dissolves.

The Shame

As I walk through a grocery store, trying to find extra-pulp orange juice and the specific type of flatbread my wife requested I buy, I see all kinds of people.

Young mothers with children riding in baskets. Couples, trying to figure out the most economical ways to do things. Individuals, some dressed up, some dressed down. Young men, older men, women of all ages. People of all ethnic and national backgrounds.

It’s a pretty big store.

People where I live tend to engage in any number of politeness rituals: “excuse me”-“no, you’re fine” and “sorry about that”-“oh, it’s no problem” type of exchanges are going on all over the store. People occasionally make eye contact and try to appear friendly, or, at least, not hostile.

Going around a corner, I nearly collide with a woman who was steering her cart through a very tight space. I apologize and back up, leaving her room to pass. I make myself look at her when I’m speaking. She smiles fleetingly, in a distracted sort of way.

I have to force myself to make eye contact, when I do. Becoming aware of this, walking by frozen foods, I try to think of why that is.

I realize it is because I was raised to believe that men should be ashamed of being men.

I stop.

Since I was pretty young, I have more-or-less tacitly assumed that every girl or woman I meet is innately hostile. I knew this was a psychological oddity (to say the least) but I never pinpointed exactly why I felt this way. But I just realized — just now — it’s because I have been told, over and over, that to be a man is to be something inherently bad.

So I’m standing here, looking at frozen Snickers bars (which look really good, by the way) trying to figure out if this is fair or not. I’m not sure.

That people are capable of great evil is beyond dispute.

That people have usually abused power when they have it is also beyond question.

I am capable of evil. And I have some power, such as it is. Do I abuse it?

Sometimes. I don’t sexually harass women, though. Most of the time, I don’t even make eye contact.

I notice them, of course, and I tend to think of all women as beautiful.

I have known any number of men in my life who were what one might call sexually amoral. Their view was that any woman who wanted to have sex with them was okay with them.

I’ve also known some (fewer) who were immoral (criminal): abusing their power, pushing themselves on women who didn’t want them. I’ve learned of three of these men at my current place of employment, and every one of them was fired over it, with one going to jail.

I never actually witnessed it, though. Not since I was eighteen, when I intervened (badly) in a situation where a waitress at a restaurant I was cooking for got cornered after hours by the assistant manager.

I helped her get away. I got fired.

I wasn’t proud of helping her. In fact, I felt ashamed.


Anyone with the patience to read my poetry blog knows: I think about all kinds of things, and sex is one of them.

For any female readers who want to know how men really think, or have wanted to know since they were girls how boys really think, I’ll let you in on a couple of secrets.

The first is this: when it comes to sex, boys don’t have thoughts, thoughts have them. It’s like having your body and mind and emotions taken over by an alien lifeforce. Since most boys aren’t that popular with girls in early adolescence (there’s usually around six boys in a school who get all the girls’ attention) it is a world of energy with no place to go.

It’s torture, basically. It wakes you when you’re sleeping, sometimes leaving embarrassing stains. It causes easily evident physical changes when you are around girls that they (and everyone else) notice.

And laugh at.

Meanwhile, all the female classmates who are the constant subject of your newfound erotic obsessions are mooning over pop stars and the six guys at school I mentioned earlier. Many boys grow up thinking that girls would all belong to harems, if they could.

Much that is unexplainable in male behavior goes with the view — and you can see it all too evidently in the news these days, although it shouldn’t be news to anybody — that if a man is a “star” every woman will really want to be his “groupie”.

Which is ridiculous, of course.

A second secret about how men look at sex is that many boys (men) give up even trying to understand how girls (women) view relationships (sex). Guys just know: sometimes gals like them, sometimes they don’t, and it all seems mysterious and unexplainable, so why try. Particularly if you often observe at a young age that girls seem to very often like guys who don’t treat them that well.

I went through a phase of my teen years where I consciously attempted to treat girls worse than my natural inclinations. Sure enough: suddenly, I had girls interested in me. The lesson I thought I learned, interestingly enough, wasn’t that girls liked “bad boys”, it was that girls liking me or not liking me really didn’t seem to have anything to do with me at all.

Essentially, I concluded at age seventeen that relationships, like weddings in this country, are completely about what the female wants, and the male is just along for the ride. Or so I thought.


I’m all the way over in the pharmaceutical section of the grocery store now, and I’m still thinking about the original question: should I be ashamed of being a guy?

No, I think. Ethical generalizations about groups of people are inherently wrong. There’s no difference in saying “All men are bad” and saying “All members of ethnic group X are bad”. It’s just wrong.

What should I be ashamed of, then, if anything?

Being a bad guy, not being a guy. And being a “bad” guy is what it has always been: abusing power and hurting people.

And what about these strongly rooted adolescent ideas you formed about relationships and sex?

They’re messed up. In every type of relationship, men and women have to be respectful of each other’s wishes and desires: to listen, and to respect the voluntary nature of all interactions — not to attempt to coerce or manipulate. Men have to understand and embrace the idea of… well, propriety, for lack of a better term. They also have to accept their own sexuality for what it is, and what it is not. Strong desire is not license.

Is that extra pulp orange juice?

It’s not even orange juice. I picked up some kind of mixed fruit concoction.

And did you ever actually get the flatbread?

Dang it. Now I have to go back.

You should be ashamed.

“The Haunting and the Haunted”

Headin’ in or headin’ out
Standing on the shore
Pause a moment to reflect
Which trip costs you more
Between the ever restless crowds
And the silence of your room
Spend an hour in no man’s land
You’ll be leaving soon

Victims come and victims go
There’s always lots to spare
One victim lives the tragedy
One victim stops to stare
And still another walks on by
Pretending not to see
They’re all out there in no man’s land
Cause it’s the safest place to be

But sanctuary never comes
Without some kind of risk
Illusions without freedom
Never quite add up to bliss

The haunting and the haunted
Play a game no one can win
The spirits come at midnight
And by dawn they’re gone again…

– “No Man’s Land”, Bob Seger


I remember her tear-streaked face looking at me. “Why? Why did all this have to happen? Why?”

I had no answer.

She left years ago, in search of answers. I hear she found them.

The years rolled by, doing the kind of damage only time can do. I stand here now, looking out at the restless movement of the Gulf, wondering, what could I have said? What do you say in the face of a grief that demands answers?

The problem was – and is – that I don’t really traffic in answers. I have found my own, of course, but I’m not their best exemplar — judging by the uniformity with which my own adult children have rejected them. My one, halting attempt to share what I’ve learned, summarily dismissed.

So I’ve moved on from my parenting stage, and I’m back where I was with her, all those years ago, both emotionally and geographically.

I don’t know why. I don’t know why all this had to happen.

Nor do I know why we ever thought it wouldn’t.


…And so it seems our destiny
To search and never rest
To ride that ever changing wave
That never seems to crest
To shiver in the darkest night
Afraid to make a stand
And then go back and do our time
Out there in no man’s land

Food for Thought

I read an article online about the 20 worst foods for you, and I saw (unsurprisingly) that I eat or drink most of things on the list, including diet drinks — both sodas and energy drinks.

One of the things about the list that I found most interesting, however, was that alcohol is no longer bad for me. I would have thought (for instance) that drinking a gallon of, say, Everclear would be worse for me than two 2-liter Diet Pepsis; apparently not, though.

I know that hardly a week goes by in this city that someone doesn’t have one Fresca too many and wrap their car around a telephone pole.

High fructose corn syrup and sugar apparently have lost whatever harmful effects they had, too. As it happens, I like to minimize my sugar intake for mood-related reasons; conditions like that and diabetes apparently aren’t real things now, either, according to health food “experts”.

If you have lived as long as I have, it appears the cycle works as follows:

  1. “Experts” complain about the baneful effects of some food.
  2. “Companies” produce food made with some other substance, instead.
  3. People flock to use this new food, having been convinced by the “Experts” that what they were eating in prior times was the most poisonous substance known to humankind.
  4. “Experts” change their mind, and decide the new thing is the worst thing ever. This becomes the new step A), and the process repeats to infinity.

The city I live in is home (or the original home) to a number of famous or semi-famous name brand foods; the people who I know from these companies are interested in providing foods

  • that people like;
  • that people can afford; and
  • that are reasonably nutritious.

From a mass production standpoint, however, these three things tend to pull in different directions.

  1. There’s quite a bit of food out there that is delicious, nutritious, and unaffordable.
  2. There’s a considerable amount of food out there that is affordable, tastes good, and is not that nutritious.
  3. There’s also affordable food that is good for you, but that few people find enjoyable. Like beets.

Parents tend to feed their kids food from each of the last two categories: vegetables and other things kids may not like the taste of, along with just enough of what they enjoy to balance out nutritional goals and having some enjoyment at mealtimes. That is what real parents do (and have done) everyday, in the real world.

Nutritional experts, however, like to encourage people to use category 1, or sometimes, an even less popular category 4, where the food is unaffordable, nutritious, and tastes horrible.

Every so often, nutritional “experts” try their new to them (old to us) theories out on school districts. They find, to their surprise, that kids will go hungry for a meal rather than eat food they don’t like. These experiments typically end when they realize the food is ending up in garbage cans.

Go figure.


Like most other things in life, balance turns out to be key in making choices that are both wise and sustainable. I am saying this as a person who has lived an unbalanced life along any number of dimensions. Which sucks, by the way.

I put the “20 Worst Foods” article aside, wondering: will wars soon be fought where opposing sides drop aspartame on each other?

Revenge is supposed to be sweet, after all.

Three Threes, and A Paradox

The more we have of any thing, the more devalued that thing becomes.

With abundance, comes scorn. This is a paradox.

The age we live in makes more “good” things possible than ever before. The largely unforeseen consequence of this has been a greatly heightened degree of anxiety. We have more choices than we are capable of making.

We all have economic limits, of course. But if you have an Internet connection — and if you are reading this, I can assume you do — you have more music, art, poetry, literature, news, and history available to you than did the most learned or affluent person of prior times.

As supply has become more plentiful, choice has become more difficult — even overwhelming, at times. Online, people nudge, wink, grab, and even scream for our attention.

As it is, two ultimate boundary conditions seem to dominate many of our discretionary choices:

  1. That a thing be completely new: a new movie, new book, new music. It did not exist before now, so it is a completely new choice.
  2. That a person be dead. When an artist, musician, actor, producer, or writer dies, it creates a new boundary: no new works by that artist or producer will ever be seen again. (With the exception of artists like Tupac who had a large unreleased library that almost no one was aware of.)

The first one above has been part of popular culture for as long as anyone can remember, but as to the second one: how many of you, within the last few years, have found yourself listening to musicians you hadn’t listened to in years, simply because they died? It’s not to say you didn’t enjoy or even love them all along, but limitations in supply, of whatever kind, make choice more appealing.


To add to our general level of anxiety, much of what we read that claims to be factual is not. This has been much discussed with news, but shows up in more homely places; for instance, the ubiquitous prevalence of quotes with false attributions. I come back to this example often, because few things seem more utterly depraved and pernicious than dressing up “inspiration” in falsehood.

For example: Albert Einstein did not say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I am willing to bet most of you reading this think he did, because the false attribution has been requoted (according to Google) a hundred and fifty gajillion times. Modern times have made reinforced falsehood something of a popular art form.


Lying has always been an art form, of course. Early novels in the English language gained much of their cachet at the time from being thought of as true stories.

Fiction is that form lying where the listener, reader or viewer, to use the popular phrase, “willingly suspends disbelief” in order to enter into the drama of the story. A good rule of thumb, then, when reading any story, is not to suspend disbelief when it either (a) doesn’t openly claim to be fiction, or (b) has been written by someone you feel is trustworthy on other grounds.

Much of marketing, then, (in its broad sense) consists of trying to create grounds for belief in one set of people, or to destroy any grounds for belief in opposing parties, brands, or ideologies. This is done using all of the psychological techniques available: good-looking people, artists or athletes we admire for what they can do, humor, or our desire for acceptance, or sex, and so on; or, by portraying opposing parties, views, products, and services through opposite means, as ugly, evil, humorless, socially unacceptable, or undesirable.


If limitations in supply make a commodity more valuable, my poetry must be nigh on worthless. I’ve posted 1,714 poems this year (as of this writing), which is an average of 6 poems per day.

I am not going to reread them all this moment, but hopefully there are no misattributed quotes in there.

However, as to the lying part, I freely confess that much of what I write is pretty heavy fictionalized.

Which is not lie, and you can quote me on it.

Recumbent Truth

When people are limited to clear and cautious truth, they often have very little to say. I know, because in much of my professional life I am limited in that way.

Here is a typical exchange from my work:

Me: “… we’ve seen incidence rates going down now for the last four years.”

Them: “Why is that?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Them: “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”

Me: “We’ve been able to eliminate some theories as to why this is happening, but we do not as yet know the underlying cause.”

Them: “Well, then, what good are you?”

Me: “I don’t know that, either.”


We human beings love cause-and-effect relationships; in fact, we often see them when they aren’t there, like some sort of ex-lover we mistakenly think we see pass in the streets. To some people, this might seem depressing; I find it hilarious, for whatever reason. In fact, I like to find faux cause-and-effect relationships wherever possible.

Her: Did you notice the neighbor’s recycling bin was in the street?

Me: Yes. I think maybe they’re protesting.

Her: Protesting what?

Me: The plight of recycling bins, abandoned to the streets, far too young.

Her: You are weird.

I get interesting reactions whenever I post any (other) of my wife and my bizarre, stream-of-consciousness sort of conversations. Reading back through them, we often are playing with whole concept of “causation”, which is slippery at best, and widely misused. Deliberate misuse seems a logical next step.

And I’m all about logical next steps.


In a former career, I worked for the United States federal government. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but I found myself one day, at work, standing with some coworkers and trying to see if we could come up with better euphemisms for “lying” than those we were currently hearing from various people higher up in the governmental structure. Here are a few stray bits of that conversation that I still remember:

  1. “It’s not lying. We’re creating ‘new truth’ where there was no truth before.”
  2. “Don’t think of it as lying… think of it as recumbent truth… just, you know, having a lie-down.”
  3. “Nothing that beautiful could possibly be a lie.”
  4. “This is war. Truth is a peacetime luxury.”

The first one of the above list was mine, and was based on something I heard an acquaintance of mine tell his girlfriend when she caught him cheating on her. He actually said, “I wasn’t lying, it’s just, there was some new truth out there I hadn’t gotten around to sharing yet.” She (thankfully for her) left him shortly thereafter, “shortly” here meaning about 1/2 second later.

I always loved the second one listed; the woman who said it was originally from Norwich, England, and she was employed as a writer. The word “recumbent” isn’t one you hear in this United States very often.

The third one was a guy who had formerly worked in the oil business, so I assume he had some experience with dissimulation, either as a purveyor or observer.

The last one, reminiscent of the quote “truth is the first casualty of war” was the one I found most disturbing, at the time, because I’m pretty sure the young man who advanced it, meant it.

It’s hard to achieve anything without honesty, because problematic situations can’t be bettered if we won’t see them for what they are.


While we’re on the subject of honesty, I want to talk for a moment about platonic male-female friendships. Here is what I’ve learned, from real-life experience: these can be easily maintained, as long as both parties want to, and are impossible to sustainably maintain otherwise.

Where honesty comes into play, however, is in realizing that what we “want” is often a set of conflicting wants, some one of which is “winning” at the time we are asked: some combination of circumstance, opportunity, and (often) alcohol may change what we want.

I have always been from the “no means no” school of interpersonal relationships. To use the language of mathematics, physical relationships have an asymmetrical risk distribution, therefore the greater power should always lie with the female. Young men (and I know, I was one) often find this to be frustrating and unfair. Too bad. We have to get over it.

If boys are not taught to protect girls before sexual madness kicks in, then these same boys (as men) are unlikely to protect women, and will often abuse them. “Protecting” here means protecting them even from us – especially from us.


So, what do cautious truth-telling, bizarre husband-wife conversations, sort-of-euphemisms for lying, and male-female friendships have in common?

Hyphens.

Come To Think Of It

It’s early on a Saturday morning, and I’m out at the River Walk. After some warm months, autumn has finally arrived, and it couldn’t be more welcome. As I head down the ramp for the walk, proper, the University is behind me to my left, and the River Club and the old mills are behind and to my right. Two young women jog by (college students) looking both healthy and determined.

I decide to walk south, the longer walk from where I’m starting. As recently as five or six years ago, I would have brought rollerblades out here; nowadays, though, I just walk. I gave up skating. I think I got tired of falling.

Come to think of it, I know a few people who have given up dating by employing the same principle.

I’m always “coming to think of it” – whatever “it” might happen to be. My whole day is a series of come-to-think-of-its.

I walk a ways past a little amphitheater. My wife performed her first marriage ceremony there. The couple from that wedding are one of the few couples she ever married who are still together. That got depressing for her after a while, so, she’s given up presiding over weddings, for the most part.

A half mile or so further, a woman is stretching by the rails in front of me. I recognize her from the gym I go to in the morning. We have never spoken: I don’t like to bother people when they are working.

Or any other time, come to think of it.

She always smiles at me when we make eye contact, which we’ve just done, so I return the smile, then keep going. Within a few seconds she runs off in the other direction.

This is, in a nutshell, pretty much every relationship I have, nowadays. All the friendship I can muster crammed into three second interactions.

As I round a bend in the river, the Civic Center looms up on my left. I know I’m at about the three mile mark here. I’ve taken my boys to that place to watch wrestling, including seeing Chris Benoit wrestle there days before the murders and suicide he became infamous for. His family lived within about 90 minutes drive from here.

That was in June, ten years ago. My son was only twelve at the time.

The year before that, in 2006, a Little League team from our city, managed by my brother-in-law, won the Little League World Series, defeating a team from Japan.

For any of you who might wonder, by male standards, my brother-in-law has (officially) accomplished something.

As I walk past the Civic Center, two young men on bicycles go by. The autumn colors are really beautiful this year, albeit late.

Come to think of it, a lot of really beautiful things happen later than we thought they should or ever would. Try as we may, we can’t really imagine the future to any practicable degree.

I reach a sort of wooden covered walkway, which I like to walk on, even though I turn around to head back the other way at the end. For some reason I’ve never quite figure out, the trail looks completely different when I’m headed in the opposite direction.

Come to think of it, a lot of things look different as our destinations change.

I pass two inline skaters, three skateboarders, and a busker. I thought about busking as a career when I was younger. However, busking is a little harder to bring off effectively when you play the piano as opposed to something more portable, like, for instance, a guitar.

This particular musician is playing a saxophone.

You don’t see a lot of musicians up this early. Nocturnal habits seem to go with that profession.

Of course, he might just be practicing, and decided to do it in an environment where tips were at least possible.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to choose a career – figure out something you like doing, then figure out how to get paid to do it.

I run into my “friend” from the gym again. She has that kind of seemingly careless beauty that comes with people for whom healthy living is a joy. At any rate, with this particular encounter she doesn’t happen to notice me, so, by the unwritten rules of our relationship, I head by her up the ramp (shown on the picture affixed to this piece) and back to my car.

Much of our behavior is a function of various unwritten rules, of course; there is little that simultaneously fascinates and frightens us quite like the freedom to make our own choices. Rules help, because they keep choices to a manageable set of alternatives.

As I’ve written elsewhere, anxiety itself is a function of having more choice than we are constructed to handle. I have chosen not to ever speak to the woman at the gym (or anyone else at the gym, for that matter), because it eliminates a potential cause of anxiety. I can’t say anything stupid if I don’t say anything, in a nutshell.

I’m not quite sure why I am always putting things in nutshells. A lot of people are allergic.

But then, come to think of it, I suppose there is a reason why “idiomatic” and “idiotic” are so close to being the same word. As is “idiopathic”, for that matter, a word I always hear used to characterize the seizures I have, and which means “of unknown origin”.

Much of the human condition is idiopathic, come to think of it.

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.

 

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.