Thursday, April 29, 2010

Way Too Cool For This Block

The sun is out. Warmth abounds, drawing people out of their homes and into their yards. The clouds have gone, and I am reminded of the short story by Ray Bradbury entitled "All Summer in a Day," where the rains cease once every seven years, allowing the sun to shine for one hour. Neighbors are meeting in the street to chat, kids are riding bikes, and cars slow down as the people in them wave or shout hellos.

I am walking my daughter's bike to the garage, trying not to grumble about her carelessness at leaving it out in the yard. The bike, not yet hers for one complete day, is a lime green BMX style ride with funky black detailing, lots of shiny chrome, and foot pegs. I never had such a bike growing up, and so the urge to know how one feels underneath me is too great to resist. I swing my leg over the seat, drop down onto my butt, then head up the driveway and onto the street. I ride straight and fast up the road a bit before leaning from side to side to make large, swooping circles on the asphalt.
"Nice bike!" Shouts my neighbor as he runs past me. He is chasing his fiesty five-year-old daughter as she teeters on her tiny little pink bike, her red hair blowing behind her.
"Way to go Bella!" I offer encouragement, happy to see her braving the world without training wheels for the first time.
On our rock-star (for real) neighbor's front lawn there is a small gathering of people, so I head over to hear the latest neighborhood scuttlebutt. I brake to a halt, making myself a part of the circle. I sit low on the bike, dropping one foot to the ground and draping one arm lazily across my lap, striking a cool and casual pose. The circle erupts with a wave of laughter.
"Dude, sweet ride, I'm so jealous." This from the rock star, a motorcycle owner, as his wife snaps a photo of me with her phone.
"Yeah, I guess. I'm just out here trickin' with her, to see how she rides." I shrug my shoulders, indifferent to his praise. This brings another round of chuckles, and I am suddenly feeling quite heady and full of myself.
Jokes aside, a real conversation ensues. We discuss the Apple Ipad, our kids, workouts that work us out, bad movies, weird neighbors that should have moved away long ago, and health care reform (just kidding on that last one). I am feeling pretty good; I don't typically converse with the neighbors without Elizabeth around, and especially over the past several months. 
The wind picks up, and I feel a chill below my belt-line.

I look down. My underwear stares back. So much for being cool.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stripping Away The Pain

Running. Outside. On the battered roads of New Hampshire. Sand, trash, cigarette butts, mud, and exhaust. Dedicated? No, I love running inside on my treadmill, and I always will. Strap on the ankle weights, set the incline to the max, and fire up the Netflix. Pick a movie, something ninety minutes long, maybe an independent comedy, no subtitles (too hard to read while running), and hit the start button. Running inside on a treadmill is to train in relative comfort, unlike running outside. Running inside is like being tortured by the French instead of the Soviets; it hurts, but most of your body will continue to function when they are done with you.

So, I am running outside today, for no particular reason other than convenience, and the pain is with me from the start. These days pain is like breathing, it comes naturally to my soul. If it isn't physical, it's emotional, and if I am not in pain than I begin to doubt my own existence. I never understood cutters before; I thought them to be attention seeking teens in angst. Now I know, so my apologies to the cutter community. The pain starts in my lungs, following my breath up and into my nose. It isn't cold today, but it isn't quite hot either, making the moist, pollen-laden air that much harder to suck in. But I suck away at it, because my body is demanding it. It is angry with me; running is a different type of workout, it is not like the weight training and core work to which running has taken a back seat for the past several weeks.

I think I can hear my arms laughing at my lungs and legs, but it might be me. Music is great to run to, but these days music can bring about a paralyzing mood, and in order to make it through this run I have spun the Ipod wheel to a British radio comedy show. Keeping the drivers that pass by guessing, I am smiling and laughing out loud as I run. It is rare to see a runner cracking up as he self torments, and the thought of someone sitting at their dinner table tonight, shaking their head as they tell of the happy runner they witnessed on their drive home makes me laugh and smile even more.

I stop at some railroad tracks, dropping into a runner's stretch across a couple of ties. I bring my head up and look down the long straightaway. In an instant I am taken back to searching for Jared's body last summer. Elizabeth and I had walked the tracks near his home for a few hours. They were long, straight, and lined with trees all the way out to the bay. I shake my head at the emotions rushing through me like blood. My eyes are stinging from sweat, tears, and pollen. I collapse, surrender to the memory, and utter a few words of what might be considered a prayer. After a few moments, I remember that the kids will be waiting for me at the end of their music lessons; I must run.

I start back the way I came, and come to a hill. Halfway up, I am holding my own, my emotions running the show. Something bright catches my eye, and I turn my head as I pass a dirt driveway. There is a shed, set back from the road about forty feet or so. It is sheltered above by trees, and dark shadows have swallowed it's mossy walls. The door is open, and a light shines through. Inside stands a man fidgeting at a work bench.

He is naked.

Thanks Jared, I needed to laugh. And laugh I do, all the way back to my kids.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

These Dreams Go On... #3

My personal gulag, Siberian wilderness surrounding me. The darkness of a coal mine my days, the darkness of a moonless sky my nights. There are few guards, no towers, and little else to stop me from running away. And why should there be? What little I have seen above ground does not instill much hope for a successful flight from this misery. Sanctuary lies so far beyond reach that the distance cannot be measured in miles or time.

Of course, I am duty bound to escape, and so I occasionally make a go of it, getting as far as what I cannot tell; there is no fence, no boundary of any kind, the landscape is a cold and desolate plain. Before long my captors find me, wandering through snow drifts and leaning against the furious winds that blow as if commanded by something greater to push me back to my prison.

Back in the mine, I am led to the gauntlet; my emotions have missed me, and are due their pound of flesh. They exact their vengeance without mercy, striking me down with painful blows that send me to my knees. I crawl along the ground like an animal, unable to defend myself against their brutal onslaught. They stomp, grind, twist, hit, and pull at me until I call out for a relief that doesn't come. Once they have had their fill, their baleful thirst sated only by my wild, endless cries for help, they trudge off to a hidden corner of the mine to wait in the shadows for the next time.

I lay still, the cold stone beneath me chilling my bruises. This time, I wonder, was it worse than the last? Will my wounds close over with thick, wretched scar tissue, making me tougher, stronger, harder to break next time? The thought of being covered in a rough, callous, healed skin; that scares me more than the alternative. To develop an immunity to these stinging barbs and slashing attacks would be for me a fate worse than the suffering that wracks me now. It might mean freedom, to have the strength to walk out of here and into the bleak wilderness beyond the horizon. I could leave behind the fury of my captors, with their attacks and the pain they inflict, but to no longer feel this pain is to cease being who I am, and to end my suffering is to end me.

What then, my sentence? I will serve my time, and meanwhile dig for more Hope.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Deal with it? Why don't you just bugger off?

Many people expect grief to have run her course and been on her way by now.

She hasn't.

She has taken up residence. She is like an inconsiderate roommate that wakes me in the middle of the night with slamming doors. She eats my food, uses the last squares of toilet paper, and watches television with the volume up too loud. She doesn't pay rent, yet she roams freely throughout the house.
She washes her underwear in the sink, breaks the tip off every sharpened pencil in the house, and hides the fingernail clippers. Her wet towels lay about, her dishes grow moldy on the stairs, and her breath smells like a dumpster. She grinds her teeth, picks her nose, and belches during my favorite shows, books, and music.

Grief can really bother me at times, but I have been patient, and she has grown on me. She will sit with me when it's quiet and I am alone. She listens when I vent, takes it on the chin when I scream, and doesn't try to stop me from crying, because she knows that I need to. When I am scared, confused, and don't feel like going out, she shuts my bedroom door and guards it against intruders. I don't want her to leave just yet, because I am afraid that if she does I will begin to forget; I need her to remind me of what I have lost, and why it hurts so much.

She's kinda like Love, I think.

Again, many people expect grief to have run her course and been on her way by now.

She hasn't; deal with it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Whoever Closed The Door, Would They Please Open A Window?

Dear heaven above, that smell, what is that smell? Oh my, that's bad. It's her, or rather something wafting out of her. It must be coming from her; I am the only other person in the room, and the door is closed. Look at her; she sits behind her desk, crushing that tiny, desperate, overworked chair with her mass, pretending nothing is rotting inside of her, that nothing is trying to work its way out of her before it dies inside her bowels. She is teasing it, setting it free in little gasps, making it believe that soon it will be out, clouding up the room and poisoning the air around her like an airborne infection.

Oh, that one was bad, are my eyes actually watering? Can I breathe through my mouth? Will it taste like it smells? Would it be better to taste it than to smell it? Should these be my last thoughts? Shouldn't I be thinking of family and friends? Whatever I am thinking, I don't want to pass into the next phase of forever with this smell in my face. Will my last living act be to suck her warm cloud of stink into my nose, filling my lungs with invisible death?

It's so hot in here, why the hell has she got the heat on? How can she be cold with that inside of her? She is like a walking methane gas pocket, and I am without my canary in a cage. Would it hurt to open a window? I imagine I can see the air outside taunting me, but that may be a hallucination, a side effect of breathing in too deeply.

Oh no, she's on the move. She is going to walk right past me. I want to hold my breath, but I can't suck in a chest full of air and hold it, that would give some of it time to settle inside of my lungs, and I might become a carrier. No, it's best to take short, shallow breaths and hope my immune system can fight off the raging hoards of infection that surely cling to the air molecules in this room.

The door is opening, at last a savior! Oh no, that look, I know that look; they think I did this! Come on! Do I really look capable of bringing about such a smell? Ok, scratch that, I probably do, but that is stereotyping, and aren't we as a society past all that? Should I make a face, wave my hand past my nose, wrinkle it up in disgust? Would that make me look more guilty? Too late, there is no doubt in her eyes, the window for quietly passing blame is closed. Speaking of windows, my kingdom for an open one! My silent accuser grabs what she came in for and leaves, eager, I am sure, to escape my wrath. Soon I am alone with my tormentor once again.

Time crawls. Hours in misery pass. The afternoon is spent at last, and my work is done. Double-checks completed. Everything is running smooth, my tasks are finished. I can leave this room for cleaner pastures of air. I say my goodbyes, reach for the doorknob, and pull open the door. Cool air rushes over my skin; I breath it in, smile, and walk into the hallway. I close the door, leaving her behind with her sins. I am free at last.

On the way out, I think about her job title and laugh out loud.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

These Dreams Go On... #2

Were you to ride shotgun through my nights, you might...

shake your head at racist road signs,

pick some cotton,

and talk to strange and headless roadkill.

You could chance upon a 190 ft. Crucifix,

chase windmills,

or make new friends, like a plastic pony

or a plastic eating cow.

The sun will probably shine hot through the night

as you walk with me on Mars,

and see the sights.

You will more than likely play in the road,

and you might be lucky enough to stand with me as I relive the fulfillment of a bizarre childhood wish that I cannot explain.

There are many places we could go, and many things we might do, but there are two promises I can make to you;

You will at some point find yourself sitting in the parking lot of a lonely motel just off the 40 in Kansas City, Missouri,

and you will always get to see my favorite view of the Grand Canyon.