“Why are you still single?” (re-visited)


weddingring

A while back, I wrote a scathing rant about why I was still single. So scathing that some men actually stopped talking to me for awhile.

I was okay with that.

I didn’t feel like I needed to apologize for breaking bad in a blog about things that at the time I felt really needed to be said. But I was harsh.

Let’s just say I wrote the blog on a day when I was really pissed off about how  men sometimes treat women.

At the time, it had been assumed by a guy with an unrequited crush (and some major personality issues) that I was a lesbian because 1. He hadn’t gotten anywhere with me and 2). I had suggested that humanity should be kinder and less judgmental to all–including non-heterosexuals.

I knew I was fighting a losing cause, at least with this guy. So much of our population, male and female, are unbelievably messed up about their sexuality. But his assumptions made me mad enough to speak my piece.

It isn’t easy to be  ’50-something’ and single. Especially if you’re reasonably attractive and have certain expectations about what you consider to be reasonable and fair.

Yet, when I went back and re-read my blog, I found that in that year, I’d made quite a journey away from the frustrated single person who wrote it. Yet, some things were still the same.

I have lived, for the most part, for almost 10 years in a very conservative small town. This town, which proclaims itself ‘the Holy City’ has shown me some of the most unholy people I’ve ever met. I sometimes wonder why the cross that some get so worked up about doesn’t fall off the water tower in celestial disgust.

In that small town, I’ve had women treat me badly while clinging to their unattractive, creepy and sometimes leering husbands  as if I, by my very single status, must want them. I’ve even been told by a church secretary that if a woman is single, other women assume that she must be ‘on the make.’

I had one woman accuse me, because I met and began a relationship with a male of a small devotional group, of treating that group like ‘a singles bar.’

I don’t have anything to do with these individuals anymore. At some point, something in me rose up and cried “Nonsense” to such silly women and equally silly men. If a marriage is so fragile that a woman has to stare down every single woman they meet as possible competition, I suggest they go ahead and call a lawyer. They really don’t have a marriage.

These days, if I encounter women who act like that, I immediately distance myself and don’t give such foolishness dignity. I don’t need to. While I am not a fan of marriage, I honor it. If a couple has gone to that trouble, there is no way that I’m going to do anything to rock their boat–not even if the guy really wants me to do so.

And yes, there are those men–often in the church or religious community. I’ve had ministers and other respected church members leer, make suggestive comments, even feel way too compelled to stare at my chest during conversations. I’ve had fellow church members contact me for what I thought was going to be a date, when it turned out that all they wanted was quick, easy sex.

Or, when some men get caught flirting by their mates, they have blamed me, saying that I had the wrong idea about their intent (when you really couldn’t get another idea about their behavior.) Their wives believed them because it was easier to blame me than to address with their husbands why they lacked self control or respect for their marriage or their wife.

I have certain expectations about how I think men and women should act. When such ham-handed attempts at getting their desires met are not successful, I am shocked about how nasty and childish such men can be. It makes me angry.  And it reminds me of why I choose to be single, even when I’m often judged for doing so.

I’ve been engaged twice, but I never really wanted to get married. I’ve only recently realized that. The two engagements took place in my twenties when I was still buying into what I thought society expected me to do–get married, settle down, have a few kiddos and then start pressuring others to follow suit.

For years, I found myself in one go-nowhere relationship after another. Some were really painful, because I really loved the men involved. Some of them said they loved me, and I believed them. At least, until their consistent actions showed me that their words could not be trusted. Or worse, once they realized that the relationship might take some work, they jumped ship and acted like there’d never been a relationship.

This can be especially hurtful in the church, where men I’ve known break up by saying “God” told them to do it. You know, sometimes, that is valid. But I think that is  often an immature excuse by someone who really needs to man up. If God is going to end a relationship, I really think he’s going to tell both parties.

Or, you find the super spiritual guy (or thinks he is) who confesses all his sins in the relationship, usually on social media or at a church service. Of course, the ex-girlfriend is made out to be some unstable Jezebel type. He gets the forgiveness of his fans in church, and goes on to create relational havoc elsewhere.

Lastly, you find the couple who have, in their pasts, been up to everything immoral under the sun. Things that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Some of it while in church leadership positions. Yet, they are the first to lecture the single person struggling with very real temptation to sexual immorality. They are the first to pretend they are  something they are not.

In my journey as a single woman, I was once treated as a sexual ‘hit and run.’ I got pregnant during that brief relationship. The man in question had married a former girlfriend by this time and never knew he was a father. I had a miscarriage, alone and without medical care. It took years to forgive myself for going from a college ‘good girl’ set to go to seminary that Autumn to whatever it was that becoming sexually active (with the wrong guy) had made me.

At a later point in that journey, I  tried to turn my sexuality over to God. So much so that I gave him permission to even decide who gave me the next romantic kiss. Now some would say it would be foolish to think God would be that much of a micromanager. However, I didn’t. And time went by.

Lots of time. Decades even.

During that time I was in relationships with men who couldn’t commit, were abusive, who hid behind the church and did very inappropriate things. I was determined, that when I next had sex, that it wouldn’t be a booty-call or a one night stand. It would be making love on both sides, something that God could look at while it was happening and smile, knowing that two of his kids had finally gotten it right.

Recently, I was talking to a male friend, discussing my most recent ‘go nowhere’ relationship attempt. He’d been there for all of it, from its exciting beginning to its sputtering end. He’d seen me cry about the guy involved. He’d held back his opinion for the most part. But finally he didn’t.

He just called it as he saw it. He told me that I purposely chose men who were not appropriate relationship choices. The narcissists, the users, the spoiled brats, the men who see women in full color stereotype–with no room for adjustment. He said, “Laura, if you wanted to be married, you would have been by now. You just don’t want to commit.”

I was almost ready to admit this. Almost. But my friend’s revelation shocked me. I wanted, at least a little, to blame someone else. The men who treated me badly. The women who tried to make me fit their stereotypes of a old maid. The churches who made me feel as if I were a leper because of the absence of that little band of gold. But not me!

But you know, my friend was right.

It’s just not possible, unless we’re living in a really ugly world, that there could be that many men who are that relationally inappropriate. And yes, I’d had some great platonic guys for pals. But had ‘friend-zoned’ them like crazy. Like a person who was….terrified.

I just was not willing to believe that there was a man who would treat me right. I told myself I had never seen it. And maybe I hadn’t–because I was too busy looking for the cheaters, players, Peter-Pans, and abusers.

Having said all that, I remembered recently joining a dating site. I put up what I thought was a honest profile, and by the next morning got 5 hits. I took that profile down in an emotion that I can only, in retrospect describe as terror.

I don’t like some parts of being single. Having better boundaries now that when I first came to my town, I can stare down the weirdos and the wanna be wandering husbands. I can choose to avoid the men who stare at my breasts as if they’ve never been weaned. I can choose not to be in friendships with insecure women who want to act like they are in some petty 50’s sitcom.

Yet, I still meet the types that drove me to write my earlier, angry blog. That day, I announced to the interested world why I was growing old with my cat instead of the latest dream-guy.  I described the guys who use inappropriate behavior to try to pencil women into a certain box, but instead just proclaim to the world why they don’t have healthy relationships.

I guess I will always meet them.

However, now, I’m willing to believe that there are also nice guys out there too. I’ve met them. I work with them. If they are eligible, and the interest is mutually there, well, I guess we’ll see. I’ll ask God about it. And believe that He, being the loving Father (not micro-manager) that he is, will take as much interest (if not more) in arranging a match for one of his daughters.

Till then, I remain single. Not because I hate, or am frustrated, or even because I match some stereotype of some equally hating and frustrated male. Because I choose.

And also because I think I am worthy of someone who will treat me as the gift God  has been making me into all these years.

I choose health in how I deal with others, and how others deal with me. It’s not negotiable. And I will wait, even if that wait takes years or a lifetime, because finally, thankfully, I know my worth.

Finally, I expect others to recognize it as well.

And that, my friends, is, one healing year later, why I’m still single.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bride


By Laura Kathryn Rogers

I resented getting the assignment.

After all, I, Lawrence Fishbien, was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. At 62, I was regularly beating out much younger reporters for choice assignments all over the world. I might have not been the most handsome or youthful, but I was one of the best.

The assignment was in Italy, and it was all-expense paid. It was in Tuscany, a part of the country that I’d never experienced. There would be time after the interview was wrapped up to be a tourist. Maybe find a gorgeous young Italian girl with lots of charm and no inhibitions. Why would I resent an assignment with such potential rewards?

Well, let me tell you. This assignment smacked of tabloid  news. I’d interviewed presidents, rock stars, even the Queen of England. I’d broke exclusives on world news. And they were sending me to see a 92-year- old woman in an obscure village. Simply because she claimed to be the bride of Christ.

Tabloid stuff, I tell you. Tabloid. Of course there were the tales that sprang from the village–how the woman never seemed to age, how people had been healed after spending time with her, how when she walked in the most heavy storm, the rain fell all around her, but never touched her body.

I wondered as I spent a restless 18-hour flight to Italy, if this was the beginning of the end. When you got assigned stories like this, it usually meant that there was blood in the water. The sharks were circling. Being stuck with reporting what Jerry Springer eats for breakfast could not be far off.

We touched down, and I was grouchy, exhausted, and I wanted a drink. The village was rustic, and didn’t seem to have any of the charms of Manhattan, where I lived and from where I based my work.

I barely identified their one lodging place, which called itself the equivalent of a hotel, but mostly looked like a large mass of bricks and thatch, miles away from Florence or any other location that a sensible person would like to visit. I had noted, as we drove to the town, about ten meters from Alberese, that large herds of wild horses and cows freely roamed the area.

The air smelled sweet. I noted grape vineyards, and many small, neat plots of vegetables. People worked, but it was a casual kind of labor, as if they were in a hurry for nothing. The people at my accommodations greeted me with a casual curiosity, but nothing more. Looking around, I was struck with the sense of going back in time, maybe even to medieval times. I was brought to my room, told about meal times, and left alone.

That evening, even my journalist instincts were put on hold, as I lay down on the surprisingly comfortable bed, and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke,  it was mid-morning. I opened a window and stood, looking out. From a distance, I heard a lilting song, very beautiful, feminine and moving. Was it from the local church parish? I could not be sure.

A knock interrupted my musing. The man at the door was very slender and tall, his face of mass of sharp points, high cheek-bones and bushy dark eye-brows. He spoke excellent English, which was just as well, because the most Italian I knew was a few swear words that I doubted would be appropriate.

“I am Stefano Pieri, the guide the Times paid for,” He said, “I’m supposed to take you to Sister Maria. She’s willing to spend an hour talking to you, no more.” He seemed in a hurry to go. “You are fortunate. She usually turns strangers away, at least ones with paper and pens.” He gave me a wolfish grin, and gestured towards the doorway. “Are we ready?”

I decided we were. On the way out, we were offered warm cloth-covered items that smelled wonderful. As I got in Stefano’s vehicle, an ancient gray Jeep, I opened the cloth and found fresh pastry covered with what appeared to be honey.

I took a bite, and all the food I’d ever eaten faded into memory. This was like some food of the gods. Stefano grinned again (the man grinned too much in my opinion) as he saw me savor this food, and handed me a bottle of warm liquid. It was wine, of course, and the warmth of it did not take away from the taste. It was sweet and sharp all at the same time.  “See, we do some things right,” He said,  “Maybe not New York City, but we hold our own.”

I felt a bit ashamed. Was my initial disdain so obvious? I swallowed a bite of my excellent breakfast and cleared my throat. “I’ve never had anything so wonderful.” I said, honestly.

Stefano nodded. “The village women are up before sunrise, baking for their families and the village guests. Some of the recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter for centuries.”

He then settled into a satisfied kind of silence, navigating the increasingly rough road leaving the village and headed up into the mountains nearby. I wasn’t much of a talker by nature, but had picked up the habit of small talk in my noisy home city. Years there had made me see silence as an enemy. However, in this quiet, pastoral place, a sense of peace filled me, and I felt no need to speak.

Time passed. Miles were covered, and finally Stefano spoke.

“So what would you like to know?” He asked. “About Sister Maria, that is. You haven’t asked the usual questions. Why we honor her. What she claims to be. The basis of her claim.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Honestly, I am not sure what I want to know, which is unusual. Normally I’d have a few pages of notes. She thinks she is the bride of Christ. Back in my neighborhood, we’d call that a Nun. What’s so special about that?”

Stefano laughed sharply. “Sister Maria is so much more than a nun. She can heal by touching you. Any wild creature that comes within sight of her immediately becomes docile, and allows themselves to be touched. When we had a drought, three years ago, she asked for it to be lifted, and it was.”

“Who did she ask?” I said and noticed an expression of exaggerated patience on my guide’s face.

“Who do you think, Man? Her husband of course.”

“You mean Jesus Christ.” I say. He nods. “Wouldn’t that be kind of difficult? Didn’t he ascend upstairs about 2000 years ago?”

“Sometimes he comes back.” Stefano said shortly. “I’ve never seen it, but there are many stories. The cave dwellers talk about it. Do you know, that even now there are those who would rather live in a cave than in a house?”

He turned on a very rocky one-lane road, and we jolted in our seats as he took sharp turns expertly. “The old ones talk about her as well.  I’ve only seen her a few times. She looks the same as when I was a young boy. She never changes.”

He stopped the jeep where the road became a trail. “This is where we walk. It’s not too much further.”

I had brought the small remains of my breakfast with me, and the small cask of wine, which revived me as I walked next to my guide. Just as I started to be winded, we came out into a circular clearing. There were half a dozen provincial looking thatch cottages, a  central fire-pit in the middle and several little children running around, playing the whooping and gleeful games of childhood.

The adults, mostly women, ignored us, as if everyday they saw a strange American and his guide. Finally, the oldest woman, with a face that was so crisscrossed with age that her features seemed to sink into the wrinkles, approached us. Her eyes, bright blue (the only youthful thing about her), lit up at the sight of Stefano.

“This is the one you told me about, is it?” She asked, her voice heavily accented, but understandable. “Sister is….over there. She is waiting. But she wants to see the stranger alone.”

I went the way that she pointed, to a hut that was slightly larger than the others but not more ornate. On either side of the doorway, I noted a thriving vegetable garden. And coming from the hut, I heard the song again, the one I had heard that morning down in the village. The same pure, feminine voice. Could a song travel that far? Or had the singer been in the village this morning?

I felt the urge to knock on the simple door, but before I could, a voice summoned me. The voice of the singer.

I was speechless when I saw her. The girl who summoned me looked to be in her early 20’s and was beautiful in the way that Aphrodite might have been. She had her long, black hair rolled into an intricate style on her head. Her olive skin was lush, free of any indication of age. Her eyes were bright and intuitive. I waited for her to take me to Sister Maria, but wouldn’t have minded if she delayed that a bit.

“You are the stranger, the one who wants to know me.” She said, simply.

I nearly choked on nothing. “You are supposed to be….are you….her?”

A faint smile played about well shaped lips that lipstick had never touched, and had never needed to. This was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

“I am 92 years old. And yes, I said I wanted to meet you alone. I am Sister Maria.”

It’s hard to remember a lot of that first visit. She talked, I listened, but mostly I drank in her beauty, the cadence of her lovely voice, the gentle, yet powerful way she had about her. She talked about her life there, her daily work within the village, her singing which summoned villagers to vespers. The only subject we didn’t discuss was the one that I’d been sent to ask about.

Finally, it was she, not I, that brought it up.

“You have been told about my special….relationship.” She said, simply. I nodded. “You want to know what it means.” I nodded again, feeling a superstitious thrill rising up in me.

“I was the daughter of a shepherd. Papa has been dead so many years. He was a wonderful man. Very stern, but he wanted his daughter to be pure, and with a spotless reputation. Mother taught me to read and write. Father taught me how to plant a garden and sew. I was their only child and they cherished me.”

“Many young men came to visit to ask for my hand, but my parents refused them all. Eventually they stopped coming. Mama died, then Papa. I was alone in our little hut, but I had everything I needed. I raised and harvested my food. Papa had left me some gold coins. I sold wool from the sheep. It was a joyful life.”

“One day, I was out with the sheep and was sleepy, gathering flowers. I sat under a tree and napped. I dreamed of a young man, the most handsome one that I ever had seen. His eyes were full of love, he had a light about his face. He said to me, “I choose you.”

“When I awoke, the sheep were all around me, lying down, peaceful and all accounted for. At my feet was a banquet of fruit and vegetables. There was a chalice of sweet wine. I ate, and refreshed myself. Then, I noticed. On my hand, there was this ring.”

She stretched out a beautiful, youthful looking hand, and I saw a delicate, exquisitely carved silver wedding ring.

Sister Maria continued to speak. “After that, people would come to me. Some were ill. Some were lonely. Some were angry. They would sit with me, and I would talk to them. I would look at my ring and know what to say. Or as they were leaving, I would touch their hands and they would immediately recover.”

“Over the years, he comes to me. We have wonderful talks. He sings songs of love to me. I sing to him in reply. What you heard before you came in, that’s the newest song I composed.”

“So, why have you never aged? I asked. “You’re supposed to be 92.” “Yes.” She said simply. “After his visits, I wake up feeling renewed. “I suppose I need to be. The people keep coming, just like you did.” She leaned close, her breath making me think of the scent of roses. “What is your need?” She asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t think I have one. Except to bring back a good story. I think my supervisors took this story too literally. You said you dreamed of Christ. They thought you had a relationship with the real guy, outside of dreams.”

“I do.” She said, sweetly. “Maybe I should be more clear. I sometimes call them dreams, because I really can’t give you a word for what they really are. When he visits, he surrounds me, with light, joy, with love. He tells me about the people who will come to me and what they will need. He told me about you. He even told me that you would have to much pride to ask for the help you need.”

She then grabbed the hand that was nearest to her, and I felt a shock like electricity, but not painful. She closed her eyes and the room suddenly seemed brighter. She began to sing. I tried to get loose, but her grip was too firm to break.

Memories surged through my mind. My divorce, my distant relationship with my two sons, my feeling of separation and meaningless striving. My fear of coming age and possible dependence on a world that could be cruel. I felt it all, and heard myself cry out, tears pouring down my face.

Then, Sister Maria let go.

For a second, I saw a very old woman in front of me, ancient beyond ancient, fragile. Then the light again brightened, burning at my eyes. I shut them tight, and backed into the opening of the hut. The sensation of light faded. I opened my eyes. The young, beautiful woman was back.

“When you go back to the village, you are to call your sons. They will listen to you. They will no longer be bitter. Call your wife. She has forgiven you. And…..when you go home, go to your doctor. I think he will tell you the ulcer is gone.” She smiled warmly. “Go now…go in peace.”

I found Stefano playing in the clearing with the young children, chasing them, letting them chase him. He looked at me, and for a moment, had an expression of concern. “Can you eat something?” He asked. I looked at him, dumb for a moment. “Of course. Thank you.”

We ate panzella, drank more of the delicious wine, and I felt that a feeling inside of me akin to excitement, I felt that my body was tingling with energy that I had never felt before. We said goodbye to the villagers, and rode down the mountain in silence.

When I got back to my room, I went to wash the dust from my face, and dropped my washcloth when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I had came to Tuscany with a full head of silver hair, my face full of the march of time. The man that looked at me from the mirror had the dark brown hair of my youth. The face was that of the same young man.

I sat down, weak, from the surprise of it all, and tried to figure it out. Something had happened up there with Sister Maria, something. I remembered what she had said to me, and knew that I had to follow her instructions. I picked up the phone and made three calls.

The following day, I should have been writing my article about Sister Maria. I could not. I sat outside my lodging place and contently watched the village go about its business.  I thought about the night before. My sons and I had talked. We covered years of parental neglect and their resentment. I asked their forgiveness, they surprised me by agreeing to give it. We made plans for when I would return. I would meet my grandchildren for the first time.

My ex-wife had told me that she still loved me, and wanted us to meet for a meal and conversation. I agreed. When I lay down to sleep, it was easy, deep sleep. I woke in the morning with a refreshment I had never felt before.

There was enough for an amazing story, but the problem was, convincing my audience. If I did straight reporting, it would still sound like science fiction. I was known for my hard-hitting factual journalism. I knew that this story had to have further verification.

I had to go back.

Later, that afternoon, without contacting Stefano, I borrowed a sturdy truck with four-wheel drive, and headed out of the village. It was nearly nightfall before I reached the path where I had to walk. This time, the place had many people, and they all seemed to notice and gawk at me. The formerly friendly old woman who had greeted us before, came up to me with a stern look on her face. “Why are you here?” She asked.

“I want to see Sister Maria.” I insisted.

“No, no. You had your time with her. She can’t help you anymore. It is forbidden.”

Nothing I said would move her. She allowed me to sleep there for the evening, stating that trying to get back to the village could get me lost or worse. I settled into a comfortable pallet, having been fed an excellent supper of goat’s milk, sweet wine and Pappa el papdormo. I slept almost immediately.

It was deep night. Silence was all around me like a thick blanket. The fire was down to coals in the center of the settlement. Yet, something woke me. Was it a song?

Yes, it was a song, the one I heard in the village and later when I met Sister Maria. When I stood there, looking about, the song faded. Was it a dream?

I walked softly to the doorway of Sister Maria. Gently, I tried the door. It opened easily.

When the door opened, I was stunned with the presence of intense light. But, a different light than what I recalled. This light enfolded a very old woman, who seemed to have difficulty standing up. She stood in a nightgown, arms outstretched. The shape of another individual stood next to her, reaching to take her into an embrace.

As I stared, the shape took on further human form. I saw that it was the form of the young man she had described to me.

“It is time, my beloved.” He said to Sister Maria, stepping back and touching her face tenderly. Her countenance began to change. She was once again the young girl, the ageless beauty.

“But who will be here to do my work?” She asked the young man, who looked at her intently, gentleness on his face.

“Another will be chosen. It’s time to come home, my bride.”

I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. I stood transfixed as the young man and Sister Maria rose from the ground, maintained their places in midair for a moment, and finally both took notice of me.

Sister Maria was not angry for the invasion of her privacy. “Tomorrow, they will find that I’ve disappeared. Tell no one what you have seen.”

I gulped out agreement, and they began to fade away until only the light in the room remained. Then, that also faded.

I went back to New York the following day. Met with my sons. Had dinner with my ex-wife. Made an appointment with my doctor, who couldn’t believe the way I looked thirty years younger. The way my ulcer had seemed to disappear.

I never completed the article. Ultimately, to keep from being in a lawsuit, I repaid the paper the expenses of the trip. By that time, I’d re-married my wife, had retired, and was watching my youngest grandchildren frolic at a beach house I’d invested in years before, but had never used. Until now.

And as time went by, whenever I thought about the trip and the events which occurred, and remembered Sister Maria, all I could think of was how beautiful she was.

-30-

The Silencing of America


 

 

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I’m a bit scared as I write this. So, in effect, I’ve been silenced too.

In just the last few months, I have heard of documented accounts of people being punished by governmental authorities, by their supervisors, or being shunned because they expressed an opposing political opinion.

I am a single woman who needs my job to survive. I’ve been homeless, more than once. I do not want to live that life ever again.

So, I have a lot to lose by angering the wrong person. Yet, still, I write my opinions. In blogs, captions, and commentary.

When I DO write it is usually posted on a Facebook page secured so that only my friends will see it.

However, my blog is out there for everyone to see.  That makes me a bit nervous.

What if my blog gets in the hands of someone with enough political power to negatively impact me on the job?

As much as I often get called a ‘bleeding heart’ by my fiscally conservative boss, I do have some moderate views. Even some pretty conservative ones. They pop up now and again, when my triggers get pushed.

I have liked and supported Republicans. Even voted for a few.

For example, I loved Bob Dole. Okay, he’s the only one I can think of–but he was a Republican.

I stunned my fellow bleeding hearts in Florida when I requested time off to go see Mr. Dole at a campaign rally in Panama City, Florida. I got teased a bit. Regardless, I went.

I was a bit nonplussed by Dole standing on the platform and yelling at a bunch of well-fed, screaming, Caucasian yuppies “It’s your money!”

He wouldn’t have been a Republican if he hadn’t said that.

And, not everyone jumped up and cheered. Me, being one. But no one gave me the side-eye for not doing so. I guess it was assumed that if I had been supporting Clinton, I would not have been there.

Years before, I was at a George Bush rally in my very conservative home town of Ozark, Alabama. I had pretty much been dragged there by my biological mother, who loved any chance she could get to be in the ‘in’ crowd. This was shortly after the first Gulf War started.

I already privately doubted the ‘good’ motives for this war, and wondered (along with my very liberal fiancé) if this was not more about oil than human rights.

I was still strongly under my biological mother’s thumb, however, beholden to her financially as well as in a co-dependently emotional fashion. So, I went.

The meeting organizers passed out flags, and the speakers whipped the crowd into a ‘patriotic’ frenzy.

I held the flag, but didn’t wave it. My biological mother, determined to keep up appearances, snarled at me, “Wave that flag!”

I snarled back that I was an adult, and she could no longer tell me what to do. She backed off.

Yet, in this crowd of over-excited and under-informed people, I felt definitely silenced. If I had spoken up, I would likely have been shouted down by some Billy-Bob spewing the 90’s equivalent of “Make America Great Again.”

Prior to that, I  had a college professor whose views I found to be alarming. She was a proud fascist who called herself a ‘socialist.’ However, there was none of the love and good intentions (with which I’ve come to view socialism) present.

She tried to pit classmate against classmate; race against race. When I wrote a paper with the opposite view, she gave me a “D” and wrote that “you better cool down your fire and get with the program.’

Needing that class for the general studies part of my degree, I cooled down.

I let my spirit be broken out of fear, at least for a time. I showed up at class the minimum times I could and still pass. I sat there and read my textbook or worked on creative writing rather than participated. I passed and never took a class she taught again.

These experiences are about being silenced.

The message, increasingly thrust out today, is one of great concern for our democracy.

Liberty, throughout the ages, has been bought with blood, sweat and sacrifice. Some people have risked all to defend the individual freedom to say what they wish. Even if the howling (seeming majority) seem to be in total disagreement.

However, in this age of “MAGA”, I find that more of the people around me (myself included),  are thinking and then re-thinking about what they write or say before they write or say it.

Or, they are simply throwing up their hands in resignation.

Trump is our current leader, like it or not. Never mind how he has diminished the image of the president’s office. He has called former female employees ‘dogs.’ He acknowledges that it is wrong, but doesn’t apologize.

Never mind that Putin loves him, likely because he knows how easily he can manipulate him (with Trump telling himself that he’s walked away the winner.)

Never mind that people who once would have never dared utter racial epithets, now do so freely–because they no longer feel ‘silenced.’ There is a type of ‘silencing’ that can be just–when a evil voice is made quiet. But somehow, in the partisan climate which our nation now lives, when does ‘good’ silencing happen, and when does ‘bad’ silencing take over?

This is America. Our country was founded over 200 years ago to allow freedom, as long as that freedom isn’t harmful to others. The freedom to practice one’s first amendment rights shouldn’t be tampered by someone shouting ‘fake’ just because the truth is inconvenient, or because it hurts their narcissistic view of themselves.

It’s a different world than when I grew up.

I  don’t think we have the liberty we had 30, or even 20 years ago. Some of us have given it up for the luxury of a good paying job, three square meals and a comfortable place to lay our heads. Some of us no longer believe that speaking up will do any good. A few have become so cynical about our government that they tell themselves that they no longer care.

A few fight on, like the pioneers before them, willing to risk all to preserve their right to express themselves forthrightly, even if it means pointing out that the current emperor is both blind and naked.

I would like to be more like those few, remaining patriots, and not be silenced anymore.

Still, the fear remains.

What price am I willing to pay?

Why I turned off the Savage Nation (and a few others)


 

I ended an online friendship today.

Any time you terminate a human relationship (especially one that has lasted many years) it is cause for sadness and reflection. That this was an acquaintance from high school, who I stayed in touch with only over social media, didn’t make it any less sad.

As hard as I try, I can’t be a Trump supporter. However, as much as I can, I accept and respect those individuals who are. My motto is the same as the one that Voltaire was credited with: “I may disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.”

Apparently, my former friend didn’t want to give me the same respect.

We had talked about it before. When she would put snarky responses underneath news or memes I had posted on Facebook about Trump or other Republicans. I had very gently reminded her that she was welcome to be as snarky as she liked, but not on my page. That’s what her page was for.

Because what she put on her page often struck me as childish and painfully ignorant, I stopped looking at what she posted. It was an agree to disagree understanding.

Until today.

Today, she told me I was being petty, and posted MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) in all caps on my page under some comments I made about Donald and Melania Trump.

I have very little patience with what I consider ‘ignorant’ behavior. She had been repeatedly warned. It was time to put a stop to her actions on my Facebook page.

And so, I did.

Which brings us to recent decisions about what I listen to on the radio.

A lot of my job requires me to travel in my car. I have a large number of CD’s that help that not be boring. I also listen to the news-talk stations quite a bit. I happened upon Michael Savage shortly before the world took a harrowing step into surreal-ville and elected Donald Trump as president.

It was hard listening. I found myself loudly disagreeing with what Mr. Savage was saying. I knew he had a right to say it, and I was curious as to the logic behind his remarks. I wanted to find some grain of truth or wisdom.

I couldn’t find anything.

Not a thing.

I believe in respectful debate. Michael Savage yelled, name-called, and basically acted like a school-yard bully. He said things about then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that seemed to me to be very close to libel.

If you disagreed with him on the call in part of his show, he ridiculed you. Or, hung up on you. He openly said that calls to the show were screened beforehand to ensure the ‘right’ kind of callers got airtime.

If someone dared to be kind or express concern for the environment, women’s rights, and ending racism they were called ‘snowflakes.’ When his radio show time was changed on the news talk station I most frequently listened to, I was very relieved.

Having said that, NPR, my other preferred station, sometimes gives me the heebie jeebies too.

I’m not a touchy-feely person. There is a time and a place to stop, be real, and say what the truth is. Even if it hurts someone else’s feelings. What government today is sadly lacking is people who mean what they say, and say what they mean. Someone who will actually answer a question.

I don’t want to call a world-wide pity party. But I do want honest discussion with respect for all ideas. 16 years as a social worker in tough environments has led me to be compassionate– all day long—but not enabling.  I don’t think I’d fit Mr. Savage’s definition of a snowflake–unless his snowflakes have ingredients which include steel.

If the Savage Nation was meant to be entertainment, it had no place on news radio. Unless there was a disclaimer, saying this was meant to be comedy.  NPR has a great comedy show, “Wait, wait, don’t tell me,”  that has quizzes, sometimes on current events. But I have never thought that they were trying to propagandize, or spread hatred.

After having listened to his show for over 6 months (before it was moved to a different part of the schedule late at night) I definitely think that Michael Savage is a warped, angry man, hell-bent on spewing his hate-filled views to anyone who will listen, and then calling himself a ‘legitimate’ journalist.

I wondered if there were others like Mr. Savage on news stations. I found that there were. Rush Limbaugh had been there forever, but I had long ago discounted him as a crude reactionary. There was one local guy, last name Kruser,  who was long winded, but fair. He did not veer too far to the left or the right. He gave his listeners credit for having both intelligence and maturity.

And then, there was Chris Plante.

If Michael Savage was bad, then Chris Plante manages to be worse. He not only name-calls, but calls people mentally ill (he doesn’t have MD after his name to my knowledge). He freely throws out petulant insults, seeming to stop up his ears if anyone disagrees with him. He talks about women in view of his attraction to them, calls them ‘gals,’ and sounds like Archie Bunker on a really bad day.

I am open to hearing what people who don’t agree with me have to say. As long as it is done respectfully. As long as the content has actual facts included. When mud-slinging happens, that’s when I put on my hat and coat and exit the political shit storm.

Some say that the events which recently put a unprepared man with a proven unethical and exploitative track record in the oval office were the result of back-lash. The voters for Trump were tired of pity-parties, people not wanting to work, people who didn’t want to follow the rules. People who tried to enforce what you could say and not say.  I’m willing to admit some of that did happen over the years before Trump.

However, at some point the backlash turned into a tsunami and now it seems we have the Barnum Bailey Circus having a daily show at our nation’s capitol.

I am the first to admit that I have ridiculed Trump. I have put up some wicked memes about him. However, I do that on my personal space, and not on the space of another person.

If someone doesn’t like what my Facebook, blog or other social media accounts say, they are welcome to not visit. They are welcome to try to change my mind with documented facts. However, they are not welcome to act like a 3rd grader thumbing their nose, which is largely what my former Facebook friend did today.

Even when I ridicule, I am responding to something factual from a respected news source. If you have other sources, sure, show me. But don’t try to annihilate me because what I say contradicts your personal world view.

I am (I’d like to think) a fair person. However, my tolerance only stretches so far. If anyone, liberal, conservative, tea-party, whatever steps too far and tries to ram their views down my throat, they’re going to get push-back from me.

If you disagree with what I say, don’t label me, don’t throw silly acronyms at me. Sensibly tell me why you disagree. Make sure those facts are from legitimate reporters who lean neither to the left or the right. I’ll listen to you if you treat me with respect.

And I promise, I will not turn you off.

Mixed Blessings


Here’s a few previously unpublished poems from the last couple of years….

ALL THAT I NEED

I love how you chase me

Back into your arms

When I so often stray away

How many times you go searching for me

When I go looking for other things

Things that appear to be tantalizing

But are really not what I need

You set me back on my feet

Lord, you love me so well

You are all that I need.

**********************************

COULD I LOVE YOU MORE

Could I love you more

If I had never been without you?

Or if shades of what could have been

Had sooner become

Shades of what I no longer wanted?

Could I love you more

If I had always known you

Seen you progress from year to year

Age to age?

Could I love you more if I’d always known about you

Your passion, your faith, your heart for all that matters

Your tender, sweet soul that means more than precious treasure?

Could I have loved you more

If I had been awakened from gloom far sooner

And saw a fellow wandering heart?

All I can say, is… this is the beginning

And right now I can’t possibly see

How I could

Love you more.

********************************************************

 

LAND OF A THOUSAND WONDERS

 

Somewhere, in the midst of waiting for Spring

It came, like incandescent butterflies

And settled all around me

Somehow, while waiting for the dance to begin

I found myself already moving to the music’s time

Without knowing how it all began

I found myself playing the ancient tune

Unaware that the music had even started.

In a land of a thousand wonders

I found that the gift was you.

 

**************************************************

WELCOME DARKNESS 

Come, welcome darkness

Floating in an un-poisoned womb

Sitting here beside you

In a nearly empty room

What is left, once there is nothing?

What more can be said?

Each moment, emptiness magnifies

Until there is nothing left.

 

******************************************************

WHEN LOVE COMES

When love, true love, finally comes

It comes disguised as a gentle touch

An extra effort on a hot day

A smile that makes everything seem worthwhile.

 

When love, true love, comes

You don’t waste time questioning,

Worrying, second guessing

You seize the moment, love the day

Because true love isn’t about pain.

 

When love, true love finally comes

In the Autumn of a journey

You have traveled enough to know the difference

Between lust or mere fantasy

 

When you are loved, really loved

And find yourself able to really love in return

You dance in the garden of God’s creation

And every moment awaited is ‘soon.’

 

EMBRACING HOPE


It had been several days. The apartment that we had moved to with such hope and excitement was empty. Empty of spirit, empty of joy, empty of life.

Of course, I was still there, still breathing, still alive. But the reason that got me up out of bed on the most difficult of days, the one who had taught me about love, commitment and being a real adult, the one who’d saved my life every bit as much as I’d once saved hers was gone. Gone.

She was sick, we all knew that. For the last year, I had seen so much that told me of her coming demise. But hope kept me believing. I would see my 17-year-old cat jump, or meow or visit her litter box regularly, and I would hope. Maybe we would have another few years.

Maybe?

But then, over 24 hours, I could no longer hope, because hoping would have been cruel. There was no point in keeping even a greatly beloved pet around just to have them there. Still, even at the vet before she was put to sleep, I hoped my cat’s vet would scold me for being an over-reactive pet owner, and send us both home with meds for her and recommendations for me.

I had such hope upon entering the clinic. Going out was another matter. I left empty, as if something inside me had also been euthanized.

Hope can be a dangerous thing, especially if you are stubborn person like me. Over the years, I have placed hope in people that everyone else long since had given up on. I have placed hope in romantic relationships long after it was a foregone conclusion that I was doing 95percent of the work, and they, at best, were doing 5 percent. Still, some nice moment, some half-hearted gesture kept me going. If I didn’t have hope, what would I have?

Hope can also be healthy. If we didn’t hope for a good day, it would be hard to venture out. If on some level, I didn’t hope that my car would run, my job would be productive, my volunteer work would be satisfying, would I even bother?

We have to have hope. It is as essential as the air we breathe. Hope can keep our souls alive.

The week after my cat died, I felt like I was in a gray tunnel. Nothing felt good or right. My apartment was no longer home. I found myself coming in, and looking for my cat. A dozen, dozen decisions I was used to making in the morning and evening were no longer necessary to make. I no longer had to worry about being late home. I could stay out as long as I wanted! There was no pet to upset, no feeling of neglect on my part. There was total freedom.

And I didn’t want a bit of it.

I know now, that the life I lived for the last few years was actually unhealthy. I hovered. I fussed, I worried. I hoped, despite mounting evidence that my cat was not only elderly, but declining rapidly. Hope kept me from having to make the decision to take that final trip to the vet.

A few weeks later, I adopted a young cat, a Siamese male. He is as unlike my former pet as could be possible. You would think with a younger cat, there would be a whole lot more responsibility. However, there is much less. I had no idea how hard I worked keeping my former cat alive. How attuned I was to her behaviors, her routine, always on the alert for something off kilter. In the last few years, I’d made my whole schedule around making sure she had enough attention and care.

I was surprised at the overwhelming positive response from family, loved ones and friends when I adopted so soon. I felt in a way like I was just brushing my cat aside, as if she never mattered. The grief had moved inside me now, and was still very real and searing. It could not be seen, only felt. So, I expected judgment, maybe even wanted it, for bringing a new pet in my home so soon after my cat’s death.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps it is the sheer number of healthy people that I surround myself with now. After a small group at church, I sheepishly confided to a group member my concerns about how adopting so soon would be perceived. Her comment blew me away.

She told me I was embracing hope by welcoming new life in my world. Hope.

In this way, hope could be good. I could sit in the coffin of a place that my home had become, or I could willfully choose to bring life back into it. I chose life. Several weeks later, I don’t regret it.

The trees on my road are blooming right now. We just had two nearly back-to-back snowstorms, and this past Saturday was full of snow, freezing rain and sleet. Yet, the trees are putting out their blooms. Hope in the face of evidence that should have called the act hopeless.

I know trees have no living spirits within them, but seeing those blooms in the midst of sleet and snow stopped me short. There are times that despite what is around you, hope can be a good thing. A necessary thing. In fact, hope can be the only thing when you are walking in the dark night of your soul.

Soon, we will celebrate an empty tomb. The celebration of good hope brought to life. Even in the darkest of times, we may need to examine the deadness within, and look to those stubborn buds that insist on trying to grow. Hope, healthy hope is there. It takes root in the darkest of times.

Embrace HOPE.

 

 

To Dig a Grave (new short story)


 

By Laura Kathryn Rogers

 

Even tragic figures should not be annoying.

This was my thought as I finished digging what I intended to be the grave of my brother, Aaron.

You’d think that every Cain and Abel story that could ever be told had been by now. I mean, what new light could be shed on the subject? The details are mostly the same. You have the overachieving brother, loved and praised by all, even by the God-figures in life.

And then you had me, the n’ver do well, the consistent disappointment. My best efforts made people cringe. My very best day, an embarrassment when put next to my stellar older brother, Aaron. Nothing he touched could fail. He was going to forge a path to stardom, be the epitome of every Dad and Mom’s all-American dream.

That he seemed to do this effortlessly just made me hate him more.

It was bad enough, all those years the locusts ate, standing in the deepening shadow of Aaron’s inspirational success story. Bad enough waiting, counting down minutes until high school was over and I could set out on my own, never see any of them again.

I would have done it too. Just as soon as I, diploma in hand, had turned 18 and could legally go, I was ready. Past ready. Aaron, by that time was a Fullbright scholar on his way to Oxford.

Yet, somehow I stayed in this small town after graduation, waiting for our parents to notice that I got a job, lived independently, didn’t ask them for a dime. I waited for the accolades that never were to come.

I would have done so much if I’d just had a little support, a fighting chance. However, there was one problem.

Aaron insisted on following me.

Not in the literal sense. But his presence was palpable. He was everywhere. Even the guys in my trade school had heard about him. Each time someone found out my last name, they asked about Aaron.

It wasn’t like Lane was an unusual surname. It was frankly, common as could be. However, no matter where I went, what small achievement I incremented on my scale of minor ambitions, Aaron’s name, his damn name, came up. “Oh yes, that’s wonderful, Jacob (me). Very good. It reminds me of something I read about Aaron Lane. You wouldn’t happen to be related would you? Now, he’s a genius of the first order.”

It was the same everywhere. Friends, employers, girlfriends. Somehow they all seemed to have heard about Aaron.

Of course, it was easy to know a little about him. He’d written two bestsellers while in his doctoral program at Oxford. He’d been on countless television shows, one with Simon Schama. He’d had his own PBS special for a while about tracing his roots.

During the show, any number of celebrities came and went, wanting to find out who they might have been related to in the shadows of history. In tracing our history, Aaron found that we were directly descended from King John, the tyrant king, and through him to William the Conqueror. Through another line we were directly related to Charlemagne. That was as far back as he could legitimately go, but wasn’t it enough? No wonder he was so great! It was in his blood!

Note that I say ‘his.’ When Aaron was on that show, he mentioned every damn family member in the tree. Almost. He somehow managed to leave me out.

Almost like I never had existed. No one but Aaron existed, it seemed. He had it in his mind that of the two of us, the decision had already been made. He was the only significant one.

There were more bestsellers, more television shows, more news and magazine stories. He became an in demand speaker on popular and social history, and turned down professorships at Harvard and Yale. One year, during some horrible storm somewhere, he got out and saved half a dozen lives. He was given the key to our town and to the city where he saved the people.

I was appalled. Hadn’t he done enough to eclipse me?

This triumph led to him running for public office, and easily becoming a U.S. senator from Maryland, our home state.

Last year, he made it to the cover of Time magazine as Man Of The Year. In the article, it showed his manor-style home, the home he’d had built for our parents on the property, his perfect blond wife, Paula, and adorable 3 children—Gretchen, Mark, and I don’t know the other kid’s name. They never let me meet the kids.

It wasn’t enough to be the most favored child of the two of us, it seemed that Aaron wanted to be so successful that no one would bother asking about me, his only sibling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a decent guy, not really prone to bitterness. I had a good life. I too, had married, had a nice wife, Annie and two great girls, Meggie and Sarah. Our parents never gave them gifts, cards or the slightest recognition. Luckily Annie’s family adored our girls, and more than made up for my parents blindness. They were nearly grown now and hardly ever asked about our parents.

However, they did ask about Aaron. A lot.

They wanted to meet him. They thought that he was fantastic. He made history sound like fun on You-Tube videos. The legislation he sponsored was surely going to improve the world. Heck, he even sort of resembled the paintings of our Norman ancestors. Not like their plain Dad, who was nearly gray and showed his age. Who worked a boring job delivering snack foods to grocery stores. Why couldn’t I be more like Aaron? My children had a hard time believing we had been formed in the same womb.

I kept giving them excuses, but finally, I knew. Soon Meggie and Sarah would be out of the house, able to go wherever they wanted, and they’d go to him. He would win them over, be the perfect uncle. And I just could not have that. I could not lose one more thing to the brother I finally had to admit that I hated.

It wasn’t as if I were some home-grown psychopath. I never terrorized my classmates, hurt animals, vandalized property, assaulted sweet little old ladies. No, I was just beige in Aaron’s bright palate. So colorless that no one noticed me.

And, so, the year that he turned 45 and I turned 41 I decided it was time for him to experience some failure—of a permanent kind.

It was time for my brother to die.

Three days ago, I decided that the job had to be done. And quickly.

Aaron and his family were going to go to Europe on holiday. One of their many trips there, of course. They lived an amazing, opulent existence, when myself and my wife were struggling to just keep the bills paid. The unfairness of the inequities in our lives rankled me.

Aaron was a devotee of long-invigorating hikes. He loved them, and missed getting to do them as much as before he became a senator. Now, he had armed protection, and it didn’t seem kosher to force them to share his passion for sport. But this day, he’d gotten away from his secret service agent. Pulled on his expensive track shoes and left his fine leather loafers in his office.

Wink, blink, gone. Within minutes, he was deep in the woods that surrounded his mansion.

And I was there, waiting for him.

You see, my stupid brother didn’t think to fence the property. Some nonsense about wild animals getting caught in the fencing and hurting themselves. Well, golly-gee. Give the man an honorary sainthood. Aaron had thought of everything that would add to his blindingly already bright image.

Despite his success, he still lived in the same town, and so I was familiar with his comings and goings. Every day after I made my decision, I would sit just inside his woods and wait—hoping, hoping.

My family thought I was at the library. Never mind where I really was. They rarely seemed to care. I was the disposable, see-through dad, who just kept them fed, clothed and sheltered. What did I matter to them?

Finally, I would make this blandness work for me.

First, I had dug a grave. I wondered how hard it would be to drag his well-shaped, healthy corpse to that grave if I got him in another part of the woods, but he made it easy for me. He actually saw me first.

It didn’t occur to him that there might be something strange about his easily forgotten brother being on his property. When was the last time we had spoken? He saw me, and his bright blue eyes lit up in recognition.

He stepped forward, saying my given name with great pleasure, reaching out his hand. He noticed the hole behind me, and I think he started to ask about it. But, I didn’t give him time to ask. I shot him once in the temple. He dropped to the ground less than a yard from where his grave had been dug.

At last, I told myself, something was going my way.

He was lighter than I expected him to be, and so it wasn’t hard to get him in the grave. What was hard was what had to happen next. I had to make him literally disappear.

It would be tragic. All of it. However, I was ready.

I had made no speech to him, given him no explanation about why he had to die that day. I thought it was obvious. He had spent his whole life making me invisible, now I was going to return the favor.

The pathos of the situation amused me. Tragic, so tragic. The young, vital senator with everything to live for at the bottom of a hole on his fancy property. Who would think to look for him? No one had even known where he had gone! There would be no body to mourn, no over-wrought funeral that perhaps even had the President in attendance. No grieving trophy wife trying to look strong in the best Jackie Kennedy Onassis fashion. Only I would know where he was. And I wouldn’t be telling.

Could there have been room in the same world for the two of us? Perhaps. I would have been willing to share. If only he had. But Aaron had been selfish, selfish, his whole life, and now it would be my time to shine. Perhaps I would console his widow, be a ‘super’ uncle to his kids. Maybe I’d even use the sympathy vote to run for his terminally vacated senate seat.

And there wasn’t a damn thing Aaron could do about it.

I noted that the first shovelful of dirt had not landed where I had aimed it. I wanted to cover his face first. That handsome, ridiculously charming face. The eloquent tongue had been silenced, now it was time to make him totally obsolete.

Time for my total vindication.

I tried another shovel full of dirt. The same result. Again, again, again. No matter how many times I tried, not one of my carefully aimed loads of dirt touched his handsome, lifeless face. I began to grow anxious. Could he be annoying even in death?

Then, he sat up.

That made me scream. Because he was dead. I knew he was. He had to be. No one could take a direct shot in the head and live. Not even my perfect brother.

He looked at me and gave me a smile. Shook a finger at me as if I were still the pesky kid brother that was getting on his nerves. “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk.” He said softly.

He stood up, and using his powerful forearms, hoisted himself out of the grave. The dirt fell off him, as if repulsed by his perfection. We stood there, in an eye-lock that made me feel that I was in a surreal situation. One that was growing more odd by the moment.

“You should have known.” Aaron said, “I always win.”

Suddenly, he had me by my shoulders, and picked me up in the air like a hawk going after some prey that had no chance, no chance at all. Before I could scream again, I was in the hole.

I felt a leg break as I hit the ground. I knew I could not crawl out.  I was at his mercy. As I had been all of my life.

“Your turn, now.” He said quietly.

Suddenly I saw it, for the first time, on his face. Hatred.

The reason for the things he had done. The mark of Cain on his perfect features. It had been there all along, but I was only now recognizing it.

I saw it. I was Abel, not Cain. The things Aaron had done to shine had been out of hatred. All of his successes had been his way of striking at me, making me feel….the way I had felt my entire life. Inadequate. Unsuccessful. Unloved.

Now I knew the source of his hatred. My birth had kept him from being an only child. And that, my brother could never forgive. It didn’t explain my parents obsession with him and total indifference to me, but it explained everything else. This had been war, from day one. Only I didn’t know that he had actually fired the first shot.

I stared up at him, waiting for the inevitable. He stood at the very edge, his grin beatific, his teeth shining as if they’d been polished. He picked up the shovel and prepared to throw in the dirt.

Then, it happened.

I’m not sure how. His feet held up by the ground next to the hole no longer were secure.

I made a sound of pain as his strong body landed on top of mine. This time, he was dead. The bullet had been delayed, but it had ultimately done its work.

But now, the grave I had dug would not be for my brother alone.

It would be one that we would finally, forever share.

Funeral for a Friend (new short story)


It was dreary in the bar, a real dive.

An experienced connoisseur of places that stank of fear and desperation, I found this place dismal even by my admittedly low standards. Every stereotype was being played out here; the unfaithful husband on business but also on the make, the wayward wife supposedly out at ‘girl’s night’ but really looking to hook up with the stranger.

The place smelled of sweat, perfume of varying costs, spilled liquor and cigarettes. You saw the long-time alcoholic who had given up hope and drank alone in the corner. You saw the barman eying him, knowing exactly when to cut him off and send him on his way–likely to another bar. You saw the hooker who was sizing up who might pay her the most with the least effort on her part.

I was in a great place to view it all without being disturbed.

Mostly, because I was invisible.

At least to those in the temporal state.

What I am and what I represent is hard to explain. I don’t remember ever NOT being around. I don’t remember ever NOT being busy. Tonight, there was a lull in business, so I decided to take a well-deserved rest.

I had about an hour. An old lady with lung problems at 11:20. She would be found in the morning by her landlady, who had come to collect the rent. A young kid who wandered into a area with a non-fenced swimming pool would be at midnight. The parents would wonder how he got out of the house, which of them should have watched him more closely, and later would divorce over it. It was an old, sad tale.

Because of the nature of my busy trade, I had numerous staff who worked for me. They handle the usual sad, but inevitable things, the heart attacks, the car wrecks, the suicides and murders. These days, I picked only those that had some element of interest for me. Whether it was something about the person being dispatched or something about their lives, or impending deaths.

I suppose you’ve guessed by now, who I am. Over time I’ve been called a number of things. Anubis, Yama, Thanatos, or just plain Death. My favorite is the Grim Reaper. That one really cracks me up. For there is nothing grim about me. I’m the guy you’d gravitate towards at a really good party. Rod Serling had it right. If a human actor were to portray me, I’d more likely resemble Robert Redford than Billy Bob Thornton.

Tonight, I was just soaking up the atmosphere. I never expected to have company.

Here she came, though. Beautiful, sexy, the kind you would hate to see take their last breath. Long, raven hair, ruby lips with the perfect bow curve. Emerald eyes. The kind of woman who would be beautiful without makeup first thing in the morning. A full, womanly body, plump in all the right places. I’m not a man, never have been, but for a moment, this goddess made me wish that I were.

I decided to be casual as she approached me. Perhaps an applicant for a job? If so, she was hired. Who wouldn’t want to follow her to the grave–or anywhere else for that matter?

She sat by me, watched the scene as I did for a time, commenting on nothing. Then, slowly, almost as if thinking about every half inch she turned, she faced me. She drew out a graceful, slender hand. “Irkalla” She said, her voice sultry and appealing, just deep enough to make a man think of all sorts of delights. But then again, I’m not a man.

I thought quickly. No need to play games. “I suspect you know who I am,” I said, meeting her smoldering eyes directly.

“Yes.” She turned back to watch the predictable, sad antics of the mortals around us. “I have been one of them. Or, at least when it amused me to do so.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I’m very well traveled. Athens, Milan. Constantinople. London, most of Europe.” She drawled out the itinerary as if talking about a not particularly exciting grocery list. As if it had all become boring for her. I heard that bit of world weariness in her voice that made her seem for a moment….vulnerable?

With a momentary surge of a lust I’d never before felt, I leaned toward her, feeling greedy to savor this lush morsel, and not just in the earthly sense. Would she be an unexpected addition to my list tonight? It seemed odd that I didn’t know in advance. I didn’t keep track of all deaths, there were far too many, but as I said, I did stay informed of the impending interesting ones.

“Easy now,” She said calmly, reaching a hand to push at my chest. Gently, gently, she pushed, but the pressure felt like fire. I had never breathed, but I felt like I needed to catch a breath. I’d never had a heart beat, but something inside me was making a frightful noise. I felt the sensation of a new emotion….fear?

“I feel like we’ve met before.” I said, pulling back, hoping that these previously unknown sensations would go away. She smiled impishly, her green eyes seeming to reach out and grab at my own. Or what passed as my eyes. I had the outward appearance of a body so that I wouldn’t frighten those who I came to dispatch.

“We have.” She said, “In all the places I mentioned.”

Her hints were maddening. Yes, I’d been in all those places. Sometimes for prolonged periods of time, but not in centuries.

I again had the perception of having bodily sensations. I could feel blood pumping in veins where there should not be veins. A shiver in skin that had never responded to cold, heat or anything else. I’d been on ships–the Titanic, and guided hundreds out of life. I never felt the icy cold of those waters. Now, I felt a positive chill.

“Are you ready to go?” She asked gently.

“I’m not sure what you mean.” I said, fear now a true part of what I feeling. Who was this woman? What did she want with me?

She pursed her lush lips. “I’m disappointed.  After all, I’ve told you my name.”

I thought  hard, conscious of a headache, something that had never happened before. Those places she’d visited, places I too had once visited, long ago. They had a common thread, I was certain of it, something to do with my job…..

Milan. Constantinople. Europe. London.

Plague.

I saw her smile. But she worked for me if that was what she was. She must. Why did she want me to come along with her?

“You don’t quite get it, do you?” She asked. I shook my head.

“Well, its nothing like a hostile takeover. I hate confrontation.” She held up a mirror. I looked, now completely horrified. The face looking back at me was not immortal. The hair was straw white, lusterless. The eyes cloudy with age. The face, lined as if it had survived multiple eons. The mouth, toothless. I was old beyond belief. I felt the ache of every joint in a body I now realized was my own.

I had become a man.

“Yes, I am plague.” She said, gently, putting the mirror down. “I’m also earthquake, I was there at Pompeii. I have been here forever. Long before you. You thought you were in charge of things. I merely let you work for me. But as with everyhing, there is a time to end things. You were getting too jaded. I need to promote someone else, who will take the job seriously. I am Irkala. Do you know me now?”

And suddenly, I did. Irkala was the goddess of the dead. I hadn’t heard much about her in a few millennia. Hadn’t known that while I was unaware of her, she was very much aware of me. She was in fact, if you wanted to call it thus, my supervisor, my boss.

“You may think I am unkind. I’m not. I fear that you might be at times. You were looking only for enjoyment from this job, not seeing it as a necessary part of life. Part of the order of the universe.”

She waved her hand, and I saw several heads drop on tables as if falling naturally to sleep. However, I knew that they were not asleep.

She touched my arm, and I stood up, following her towards the door. I took a last look at my bar-mates who were no more.

Soon, I knew, I would understand what it was like.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Petty–Why we didn’t want it to be the last dance


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I know where I was when Elvis died.

Well, sorta.

But only because we were on vacation, where I had access to a beach and all the fun stuff that goes along with that. Instead of that, or organizing food drives for the army park’s homeless (but extremely well fed) cats, I had to sit by my mother, as she held a personal wake for the King.

We listened to all of his songs, because that was all there was on the radio. Then we listened again. I was in 8th grade with an attention span to rival a snails, and I suffered through the day long experience.

To hear my mother, it would have seemed that everything good in life died with Mr. Presley. Once home, she then went out and bought all his records. I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about.

Which brings me to Tom Petty.

I was driving down the road to my apartment. I heard a DJ say, as if everyone knew what he was talking about (and I think most everyone did, I’d just not been on social media that day) how the world was better ‘just because Tom Petty had been in it.

WHAT?

That was my immediate reaction, then a heartfelt ‘Oh, no!” Surely it could not be true.

And, actually, it wasn’t–yet. At the time I heard that, news sources were jumping the gun, reporting the singer’s demise, when he had been taken off life support, but was still, as the papers later put it, ‘clinging to life.’

I had a pessimistic feeling about it though, as being taken off life support is rarely a move towards recovery for many of my clients. I woke up, early that morning, and it was confirmed. Tom Petty had truly died.

I was tearful, shocked, and felt that it could not be happening. How could someone as young and full of life as Tom Petty be dead? In the weeks since, I still fight a sense of it being surreal to me. I sort of know (or think I know) how my mother felt when her idol, Elvis Presley, died.

Maybe.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that Tom Petty was my idol, but he was definitely one of my top three favorite singers for many years, along with such heavy hitters as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. In company with Jimmy Hendrix and Neil Young who sometimes jockeyed for position.

It really wasn’t for the work with the Heartbreakers. I got into Tom Petty for his solo work, and stayed into him because of that. “Mary Jane’s last dance,’ and “You don’t know how it feels” especially.

The latter was my theme song while in Wilmore. I liked to blast that one from car windows as I passed near the seminary in hopes that one of the judgmental souls who named me unworthy of being a student there were listening, and might have an “Aha” moment about themselves–and perhaps about me.

Honestly, I laugh about that now. A little more maturity and common sense down the road, I know that a song that encourages folks to ‘roll another joint’ is not likely to make a person more redeemable.

However, it spoke for my defiance, and anger, as well as my hurt at being rejected. Tom Petty sang perfectly, with just enough attitude, for my generation and others, the soundtrack of angst. Made it sound universal. Relatable. And his words gave hope that ‘this too, shall pass.’ It would eventually get better.

He was the face of everyone who has ever been unfairly treated, underestimated, or screwed by the Establishment. He was out there, living, doing his best, because even if others didn’t understand him, he knew that he really was okay–perhaps even more okay than those who judged him.

One of my first reactions was that he was ‘too young’ to be gone. Then I found by reading various accounts, that he was in his late sixties. Listening to his music, I always thought he had to be my age. He seemed to really get what it was like to be in my shoes, in my life, what it was like to ‘be me.’

Weeks past, I have wondered why I haven’t seen more coverage about his demise. It was all over the internet of course, but you didn’t see it taking front cover of major magazines, or even sleazy tabloids.

Now, the later would have pissed me off, because in death, Tom Petty had become saint like to me, not to be spoken of with any sort of slur. But Tom would have been the first to tell you that he was no saint.

He drank and partied hard in the early years, he-chain-smoked, and he considered himself ‘a reefer guy.’ He’d seen a long time marriage end in divorce. He’d experienced deep depression after his friend, George Harrison died. He could be, ‘cantankerous.’ He freely used the ‘f’ bomb, and didn’t care if it offended those around him. He was an admitted recovering Heroin addict. He didn’t like those whose politics he didn’t favor using his music for propaganda, but loved it when Barrack Obama used one of his songs.

In short, he was real.

And truly, I think the media, even the tabloids, have treated Tom Petty’s death with respect because the man demanded respect. Even if you didn’t like or get his music, you had to respect the man himself for the stands that he took in a world where he could have chosen to back down and take an easier road.

And, I’m not saying that we should all run to the nearest head shop and light up, folks. I wasn’t really thrilled about the ‘let’s roll another joint’ part of the song that I loved, not if it led one young person to think drug use was cool. However, Petty, an adult, was talking about HIS life. He was the rebel who didn’t compromise, who didn’t back down.

As with the true greats, once he became financially comfortable, his music, in my opinion, got immeasurably better. Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers proved that. It took me longer to appreciate the Traveling Wilburys. I have a knee jerk tendency at times to reject anything ‘weird’ and the team of Wilburys seemed that way. Later, I listened and learned not to judge so quickly.

With his death, I thought you’d hear, as when Elvis died, a day of his music on radio stations. Didn’t happen, at least in my neck of the woods. A Rolling Stone Commemorative Magazine came out, and I snapped it up. While waiting for an oil change, I bought his greatest hits including most of those with the Heartbreakers.

I had pretty much worn out Wildflowers, but wanted to listen, post Petty’s life, with a different ear. And, as I listened, I found that music that I had largely ignored such as “American Girl,” “Refugee,” and “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” took on a new life to me.

From reading, I found that Tom Petty had penned most of the lyrics. And when it wasn’t sandwiched in between music that meant more to me in the late seventies, or stuck in the backwash that was the eighties, I realized, with a bit of shame, that this stuff was original…..and worth listening to again. Then, again after that.

Tom Petty and his band didn’t go into the cheesy prom song mode like Journey and Foreigner after their original success. They didn’t repeat the same song over and over as did some of the Hair bands of the 80’s. Each song was different. Each song had something that made it special. A chord, a turn of a phrase, or maybe a totally crazy (but unforgettable) video.

It’s been three weeks now since the world got the news. The guy that everyone (at least his fans) thought would live forever, didn’t. And if you look at his final pictures, he looked exhausted. Ready for a long rest.

The family have been the epitome of class throughout in how they have privately mourned, and laid the legend to rest. Wherever Tom is, I’m sure he would likely approve–and possibly be humbled.

His career was 40 years of original, ass-kicking rock and roll that will be remembered after all the bubble gum and ear-rot of the 80’s and 90’s and the ‘dull’enium are forgotten.

He showed us that some things were worth taking a stand for. He reminded us to be, as he learned to be, grateful for the good stuff.

He was a man who made mistakes, but one of those mistakes was definitely not a tendency to compromise. That was what made him and his music great.

Rest in Peace, Tom. We didn’t want the dance to end.

However, we’re glad that it went on as long as it did.

 

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ON HONORING


About two years ago, I started blogging about my take on the ten commandments.

I got off to a good start.

Then, I came to “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” I came to a screeching halt. I didn’t want to sound hypocritical. How could I talk about what I no longer do?

You see, I’ve not seen nor spoken to either of my parents since 1993-4. For years, if anyone challenged me on this, I trotted out my dog and pony show of parental horrors visited on me from a young age. Sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Neglect. Total unwillingness, years later to take responsibility for it. Insistence on shifting the blame towards me, saying, in my father’s words, that I was ‘delusional.’

This former Youth Director/Sunday School teacher and vestry member didn’t want the light to fall on him that way. Never mind that he had molested two younger sisters and a cousin by a young age. Never mind that his work history was littered with problems with people because he expected everyone to do things his way or they were bad people.

Never mind the neighbor who saw the marks on me from my mother and said, “I don’t want to get involved.” Then wondered why I wanted nothing more to do with her.

If I think much about it, I can still touch some anger. Despite a lot of counseling, prayer, healing, and let’s face it, a lot of learning from some lengthy bad choices, I can still feel like that abused (and not believed) little girl. Sometimes, with authority figures who act angry and impatient, I inwardly curl up, anticipating a frenzied, out of control beating.

There’s a lot I chose not to do out of fear of my parents passing on trauma to the next generation after me. Not having children being a big decision. I didn’t want another person, especially someone I had conceived, nurtured and loved having to go through the type of junk that was my life for 28 years. Or to have to spend the next 24 years after that struggling just to be a semi-functioning adult.

What was there to honor about these two individuals? That they did what was necessary to bring me into the world? That they fed, clothed and housed me until a certain age? Were those privileges worth the price? There came a time when I decided not.

And there came a time, just prior to that, that I knew that I no longer wanted to be as unkind as I had to be to make either parent, especially my birth mother, back off. Just to get her to respect a simple boundary, I had to verbally hurt her to the point that she would leave me alone. It felt like beating a cow sometimes. She never seemed to get that her need to control and manipulate weren’t okay. Just as my father never seemed to get that treating me like a girlfriend rather than a daughter wasn’t okay.

I’d started growing closer to God in a real way about that time, and my conscience got to me about the things I would have to do and say just to have them treat me with a bit of respect (fear?). Finally, I knew that backing away–for life was the only way that we could have peace between us. Their sickness just wouldn’t allow them to show me respect. They couldn’t stop trying to get their unhealthy needs met, because getting those needs met meant more to them than I did. So, I stepped away. Geographically, physically, and legally.

Years later, I have very little patience for a manipulative or controlling person. I try to get away from them if I can’t get them to treat me with respect.  I have left jobs, church congregations, friendships and love relationships where I felt dishonored.

Honoring wasn’t just a one way street.

So, what is this thing called honor? How do you honor long distance? How do you honor when a relationship is broken beyond repair?

I never thought I would forgive my parents as much as I have. There’s still more to do. But I finally learned that carrying the anger, hate and grudges was tantamount to carrying them on my backs as I walked through life. Big load. So, for the most part, I stopped.

I never thought I would ask God to forgive my parents. Or, to bless them. Help them. But, with God’s help, I have done that more and more as I’ve gotten older. I can’t honor them by being in their lives, making sure that they, as seniors, get what they need. I know that the manipulation and attempts to abuse and control would just start again. I escaped once, at 28. I’m not sure I could escape twice.

Honor, finally, to me, means what you do to be able to show respect. To not abuse or manipulate back. I’ve seen adult children ‘snap’ and abuse formerly abusive parents. I swore that I would never be that person. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not always go together, sad to say.  Honor for me, meant walking away.

And so, on a late January day in 1994, I picked up a court order that gave me a new legal name and a chance for a new life. It wasn’t easy. I had to suddenly, at 28, learn things that many teenagers take for granted. Life skills that perhaps some children have. But, again, with God’s help, I’ve done a lot of work on that. I’m still lacking in many ways. If someone angers me once too often, its far easier to end the relationship than to do the tough work of figuring out a solution.

Sometimes, to honor means to stay.

Sometimes, it means to go–so that the sickness no longer has an outlet.

Today, at 52, I honor my birth parents by accepting that we just can’t be around each other in peace. I honor them by trying very hard not be like them. I honor them, despite some near misses in my 30’s and early 40’s by having survived.

It doesn’t really matter that I can’t honor them face to face. I honor in a way that is least destructive to me.

I honor by giving  my parents to God and letting him sort it out. Ultimately, they will stand before him, as will I, and no manipulation, lies or denial will be accepted–from any of us. On that day, we all will have to account for what we have done and left undone.

I walk the earth as a woman broken in some places, healed in others. I walk this journey by knowing what is healthy for me, and what would just break me down again.

Most of all, I honor my father and mother by doing what honors God, others and, just as importantly, what honors myself.