Tuesday, January 28, 2014

West of Independence Soundtrack Part 4

To Recap:
1. Willy Porter "Unconditional"
2. David Bowie "Heroes"
3. Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"
4. Matt Hires "State Lines"
5. Toad the Wet Sprocket "Windmills"
6. The Damnwells "Texas"
7. Ian Axel "Gone"
8. Greg Holden "The Lost Boy"
9. Rick Springfield "Tear It All Down"
10. Greg Laswell "Sweet Dream"
11. HYUNA "Bubble Pop"

12. Pink "U and UR Hand"

You don't forget the song that's playing when you get goosed by a shirtless and sexy black man. Thanks Pink.

From West of Independence page 190:

The first few minutes on a dance floor had always been uncomfortable for me. Finding my feet and matching them to the beat seemed an impossible task. My hips tended to grind away like a fan unbalanced by a broken blade, my arms growing ever more cumbersome, ignoring my commands to be suave. Even my head felt lopsided and void of rhythm. Ella and Jared had never suffered the same dance floor afflictions, and that night in Ogunquit was no different. I looked on with envy as their bodies merged effortlessly with the thundering baseline.

Lights flashed, fog filled the room, and bubbles filtered down from above. People were writhing and jumping to the music. It seemed that everyone around me was finding his or her own groove. I stood like a pillar of anti-rhythm in the center of the pulsating crush. I was a white-heterosexual-married-male in his mid-thirties standing on the dance floor of a gay nightclub.

And then it happened.

The hands on my ass could not have been my wife's; Ella was in front of me, dancing like a diva. They weren't Jared's, because he too was in front of me, and my own brother, no matter how gay, would not have grabbed my butt in such a suggestive manner. This realization took but a fractured moment. I spun around to see whose hands had not only grabbed, but squeezed my cheeks.

A black man with a very muscular (and shirtless) build stood behind me, his hands only just removed from my butt, and a bright smile on his face. He winked at me before turning away, presumably to dance, but the thought occurred to me that perhaps he expected me to return the handy favor.

I didn't. Circling back to face Ella and Jared seemed to take several minutes. My dear wife was shaking what the good Lord had given her, but she stopped when she saw the look on my face.

"What?" She shouted, her hands gesturing confusion.

I leaned over to shout in her ear, and the words felt funny crossing my tongue. "I just got goosed by a very large, half-naked black man!"

13. Mat Kearney "Fire and Rain"

One of my greatest fears is that I will forget Jared. I remember the first week I went without crying at least a little every day, and the subsequent guilt that I felt for not grieving at a constant clip. It had been almost three years since his passing.

After Jared died I was told to "get over it," that "life is for the living," that "Jared was selfish to do what he did," and that there was "nothing" I could have done. The hollow words seemed to stack up around me like cordwood brought by (well-meaning?) people that hoped it would keep me warm through the sad and bitter cold of loss.

It didn't.

Even now, after going through such a terrible loss, I still don't know what to say to someone that has lost a loved one. That's okay though, because I have learned that it is better to just be there to listen, rather than to be there to advise or counsel. It's what I wanted, it's what I needed, and I was lucky in that a few of my friends were wise, compassionate, and patient enough to offer it to me.

Words of comfort are easy. Actions of comfort are hard.

From West of Independence page 213:

But ruin was hardly the right word to use when talking about the pueblo; the original owners had built their home to last. A formidable structure with straight edges, thick walls, and sharp corners, it had been standing strong against the elements for nearly a thousand years. The tower stood three stories high from the base of the rock upon which it was built, affording the occupants plenty of time to prepare for welcome or war. I doubted that anyone had ever snuck up undetected, and was sure that any attackers had suffered a nasty assault from high above.

We ducked through a tiny opening and entered the tower. I stood on the uneven dirt floor and cocked my head back to look at the cobalt patch of sky overhead, framed by the high red walls.

“Beautiful,” I marveled out loud. My voice bounced around inside the tower.

We took turns looking out through a hole that might have been a window. The walls were almost as thick as my arm was long. My imagination was hard at work as I looked out the window at the landscape. A band of enemy warriors was approaching, their lances held aloft. Connor and I rained arrows down on them from our fortress tower.

After repelling the attackers, I pulled my head back inside the pueblo and returned to reality. I turned to see Connor staring out through an even smaller square in the wall to my right. The camera cord hung out of his back pocket. I reached out and tugged the camera free without a sound.

Connor was lost in thought, as if he were searching for something or someone far away on the horizon. I snapped a photo of him from across the little room.

Leaving my brother to his daydreams, I crawled back through the little doorway and out into the sunlight. I looked out across the large open area that made up half of the pueblo. I could picture deerskins stretched and drying in the sun, baskets full of gathered foods, a fire pit ringed with stones, and children chasing a flea-ridden puppy in happy loud circles.

“That would have been a great place to stage battles with our Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures,” Connor mused, interrupting my imagination with good memories.

I looked down from the pueblo to the rocks below us, where Connor was pointing. “Definitely, look at all the great places for waiting in ambush,” I agreed.

As kids we had spent more of our playtime choosing our figures and vehicles, staging them on the battlefield, building their bases, and mapping out scenarios than we had in actual play. In fact, we took so much time to work out the details that we rarely played past the initial setup.

Connor and I stood in the ruins of an ancient Native American pueblo, reliving the best moments of our childhood. It was an unlikely moment in an even more unlikely setting.

And I hadn't forced it.

14. Ben Folds "Still Fighting It"

I have little time for adults who suck the joy out of life. Meetings, responsibilities, goals, and hard work are all well and good, but they have their place, and that place should often be much smaller than we make it.

No one ever accused me of being too mature, but I will be damned on the day that my children feel the urgent obligation of shaming me into being there for them in their time of need.

From West of Independence page 236:

“Could you sit down? I need to talk to you both and I need to focus.” I tried to mask the trembling in my voice, but failed.
“Oh, this must be serious, he wants our full attention,” Dad quipped, his tone taking an obnoxious dive into condescension as he sat at the table next to Mom.
“I just wanted to say that I think you should go to Jared. He tried to kill himself; he is sad, lonely, and feeling worthless. He needs to know that people care about him. He needs to feel love. He needs his parents telling him that they love him. He needs you.” The words came out in a calm rush until I spoke the final three, which were delivered through the onset of tears.
My parents sat in silence. I wiped my eyes and waited at the other end of the table that had served as the centerpiece for countless moments in our family history. We had gathered around it for happy dinners, arduous lectures, family meetings, and birthday celebrations. There wasn’t a grandchild that hadn’t slept for hours atop that table in a car seat, and most of them had probably had a diaper changed at least once on its surface. It had needed a few repairs over the years, but it had stood up against our abuse. The table had witnessed all of the good and the bad that our family had to offer.
“Well, it’s not as simple as that,” Dad said, breaking the silence with his all-too-familiar father-knows-best voice.
He could have stopped right there, at the end of that first sentence. I had heard that tone before, and I knew what was sure to follow.
“We don’t even know that they would let us in to see him once we got there. He is in the mental health ward, and in my experience that is not a place where they allow many visitors. We could fly all the way there just to stand in the hallway,” he explained, as if I were a child that had not considered such grown-up things.
“Then you stand in the hallway outside his room and shout through the door that you are there, and that you love him. You write notes to him, and give them to the nurses to give to him. He needs to hear that you love him. He needs his mother. He needs his father." My voice cracked, but I held the new threat of tears at arm's length.
“Look, we have to be realistic here. We can’t do him any good if we aren’t here to take or make phone calls relating to the situation. We don’t know how long they are going to keep him there. It might be quite a while, and what are we going to do, live in a hotel until they release him? We can do more good from here than we can out there.” Dad’s reply was exactly what I had expected, but not what I had hoped for.

15. Snow Patrol "You Could Be Happy"

Elizabeth stood in the closet, one of Jared's tee shirts in her hands. I sat on the bed, my eyes edged in tears.

I watched as she pulled the shirt up to her face, rubbing her cheek against it. "Oh, Matty, I can smell him," she cried suddenly.

I leapt from the bed, rushed across the room, and joined my wife in the closet. Together we buried our faces in the soft cotton fabric, taking in Jared's scent. Joy filled the tiny space, and the sweet tones of our own laughter sounded in our ears for the first time in recent memory.

From West of Independence Page 264:

Jared stopped rummaging in the closet and turned to face me. A sudden quiet fell over us both, filling the room. Jared started shaking as if he were cold, and his eyes widened with fright. After a long moment something inside him gave way, and he collapsed against me, his arms reaching around me for support.

“I am so scared...” he cried, his voice like that of a little boy afraid of the monsters under his bed.

I held him in my arms, his slender frame trembling against my chest.

“I know you are, I know you are,” I whispered into his hair.

“I love you, Matthew.”

I hugged him tighter, as if my strength could somehow cross over from my body into his.

“I love you too, Jared.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

West of Independence Soundtrack Part 3

To Recap:
1. Willy Porter "Unconditional"
2. David Bowie "Heroes"
3. Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"
4. Matt Hires "State Lines"

5. Toad the Wet Sprocket "Windmills"
6. The Damnwells "Texas"
7. Ian Axel "Gone"

8. Greg Holden "The Lost Boy"

The first time I ran away, my mother packed for me. I remember standing on the front walkway, my hand gripping the black metal handle of the red wagon into which she had placed my belongings. I was to start my new life with a bag of Mom's soft and sugary ginger snaps, my favorite blanket, and not much else.

I was four years old.

"You might want a big stick," Mom said, standing in the open doorway of the little white house that I would never call home again.

I looked up at her, seeking one final explanation.

"The neighbor's dog," she said, pointing at the fence up the street.

"Oh," I said to her back. She had already stepped inside and was shutting the door.

In spite of following that one last piece of advice from my mother, I never made it past the dog.

Some sticks just don't seem to carry enough weight.

From West of Independence page 90:

Just as it had to other states, the fight over the definition of marriage soon came to New Hampshire. Before long, the hallways and classrooms at church echoed with fearful comments and excited arguments against gay marriage. I was confused and frustrated; I loved my brothers, and I knew that Jared wanted nothing more in life than to be joined in happiness with someone that would love him without qualifications. That seemed reasonable to me, since it was exactly what Ella and I had been fighting for in our own marriage. The issue for most church members seemed to be the threat posed to the institution of marriage by legally joining two men or women. It was to me a silly notion, the thought that anyone could threaten a marriage other than the two people in it, but I listened earnestly to many of my fellow Mormons as they argued their case. I spent several weeks waiting for a clarity that never came.

I felt like a homeowner standing on his lawn with a dribbling garden hose, watching as a menacing brushfire crept ever closer to everything he owned. I could stand and try to fight back the inevitable, or I could admit defeat and run away. The trouble was that I wasn’t sure which side was the menacing fire.

In an effort to figure it all out and put a permanent end to my wondering, I accepted an invitation by church leaders to carpool up to a public debate on gay marriage at the statehouse in Concord.

We sat in the large auditorium-like chambers of the state legislature and waited for the debate. The government was as slow in action as it had ever been, and we spent a fair amount of time just growing ever more impatient.

I watched as a constant flow of citizens entered the room. The line of demarcation was clear; a long aisle between the many rows of seats separated the opposing points of view. Upon walking through the double doors, people would step almost immediately to the left or the right, heading for the security of their fellows. I found it disheartening that the very room in which people were meant to come together for the good of all had been built as if division were in fact its intended purpose.

Not everyone had clued in on the obvious segregation, however. At one point two men holding hands crossed in front of our group, the limited space between seats causing their legs to brush against the knees of everyone in the row. I was horrified as my father made a show of pulling his legs up into his chest to prevent the gay men’s legs from touching him. As he did so, I heard him half-mutter, “I wouldn’t want it to rub off on me.”

My head was floundering in a pool of disbelief. I knew Dad to be intolerant in private, but had never seen such an outward display of hatred from him in public. I felt a large measure of the respect I had for my father disappear before the two men had reached the end of our row.

9. Rick Springfield "Tear It All Down"

"And all that time, I wished that I could talk to you. I hated myself and all the terrible things I was doing, but I was too afraid, and embarrassed and guilty, and I didn't feel that I could come to you with any of it. I wanted more than anything to talk to you about it and hear you tell me that you knew what I was going through, and that I wasn't going to hell, and that you still loved me. But I was too afraid to tell you, and so I buried it and tried to live with all the guilt and hate that I felt for myself." 

Rain slapped against the windshield of Dad's parked minivan, blurring the world outside.

"I just wish it could have been different between us; I wish I could have talked to you," I added softly as the tears dried up.

Newly married and desperate for aid in overcoming my absolute misery, I had just revealed every one of my darkest secrets to my father. If he had ever wondered as to my carnal desires and what I might have done to either suppress or satisfy them, he wouldn't have to anymore. I felt vulnerable but good, having said things to my father that I had carried around deep within myself for years.

The engine clicked and pinged as it cooled. I sat still and quiet, fighting impatience as I allowed Dad time to process my confession and all that it meant for our relationship.

"I often wondered what I would tell you boys should one of you ever asked me if I had done any of those things," Dad began at last.

I looked at my father. This was our moment; after this evening we would move forward not so much as father and son, but rather as equals on level ground.

"And you know what I decided?"

I looked away and waited for his next words, knowing that after hearing them, things between us would be different.

"It's none of your damn business," he said curtly.

My side of the car seemed to sink as he opened his door and stepped out onto the pavement. He slammed the door behind him, and I wasn't startled by the sound. I turned to watch him cross the driveway, his shoulders hunched against the rain.

By the time he had disappeared into the house, I knew that things would indeed be different between us.

From West of Independence page 122:

But I knew for a fact that Dad had his own share of bad habits and carnal appetites to overcome. I had witnessed his hypocritical self-righteousness first hand. When I had once called him out on one of his own stumbling blocks, he had shared with me the ever popular “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” excuse that gave him and so many others the right to sin and run away from the consequences.

10. Greg Laswell "Sweet Dream"

Since Jared died, we have done a lot together. We have driven across burning deserts, paddled quiet rivers under the northern lights, watched movies in dark and empty theaters, and one night he even taught me to fly.

I love to hate waking up.

From West of Independence page 143:

Since he worked nights, Jared had to sleep at some point during the day. He would often crash on our couch, covering himself from head to toe in a blanket so that he could sleep in relative darkness. Ella would chase the kids outside or upstairs so he would not be disturbed.

While I loved having Jared there to laugh and joke with, it was while he lay sleeping on our couch that I felt the happiest. My little brother was asleep on my couch during daylight hours, and I was okay with it. I felt that I had become the loving brother that Jared had always needed, rather than the self-appointed surrogate father that I had always been.

11. HYUNA "Bubble Pop"

A co-worker once caught me dance-driving back to the office after a lunch meeting. She told the entire company that she had seen me popping my shoulders, bobbing my head, and singing into the steering wheel with an enthusiasm that made Richard Simmons seem comatose in comparison. I think it might have been a Cher song, but I can't won't recall...

The months after Jared's death were without question the darkest of my life, but there were a few sources of light that kept me from living under a total eclipse. One source was most unexpected, arriving in the form of my little brother (Connor). He would sit in our kitchen for hours, strumming his guitar to Korean pop songs that he had found on YouTube. Most of the kids' homework assignments that year were completed to the uplifting beats and cheerful foreign lyrics about bubbles and shy boys.

I have downloaded a number of those songs to my iPod, and they kept my feet on the pedals as I biked from the top of Utah to the bottom last year. I find it impossible to remain sad and still when these songs are sounding against my eardrums.

Plus, the girls are much cuter than Cher.

From West of Independence page 155:

As we passed them by and continued our way through the fallen stone trees, I felt sad for Connor. He knew what he wanted out of life, but for some time he had harbored less than little hope of getting it.
Had he asked me, I would have told Connor that he would know a relationship was worth having if the changes he was willing to initiate within himself to make it last were the most ambitious and difficult of his life. They would not be the juvenile changes that stem from an initial attraction. They would eclipse the willingness to shop for shoes, watch chick flicks, or enjoy the company of her overbearing best friend. The changes would be almost impossible to initiate, painful to follow through on, and would at times test his resolve beyond belief and reason.

Had he asked, I would have also told him that they would be worth it in the end.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

West of Independence Soundtrack Part 2

To Recap:
1. Willy Porter "Unconditional"
2. David Bowie "Heroes"
3. Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"

4. Matt Hires "State Lines"

Road trips are for me like therapy sessions without the couch. Wind from open windows blows the cobwebs from my mind and fills my lungs with the fresh air of adventure-fueled perspective. Junk food becomes healthy, familiar songs sound new, and strangers are made into friends. There is a healing power in those painted lines, and every mile marker passed offers new memories while troubles shrink away in the rear view mirror.

My family has a lot of healing to do. I haven’t had any great measure of a relationship with them for some time now, and I am not sure what the future holds for us. I am happy with my life, and sometimes the thought of never seeing them again is okay with me. There are moments, however, when I imagine one final family road trip to make it all right.

"we're crossing over state lines, and we're making up for lost time..."

Are there roads in the afterlife? I hope so.

From West of Independence page 46:

“And we are still in Oklahoma? I forgot how huge these states are out here.” Connor pulled out another cigarette.

“And flat,” I said, rolling down the windows. “You can see so far that you feel like you’re crawling, even when you’re doing close to ninety miles an hour.”

In the darkness, miles ahead of us, I could see the tiny flashing lights of a construction zone, proving my point. It took several minutes to reach the first blinking arrows, which indicated an impending split of the westbound lanes. When the time came I veered to the left, and we found ourselves speeding between parallel cement barriers. Our little car was so low to the ground that we couldn’t see over them, and it seemed as though we were driving through a canyon of grey.

“It feels like we're in the Death Star trench!” Connor turned to shout so I could hear.

I smiled and looked dead ahead, watching as the cement blurred into the grey walls of Darth Vader’s infamous death moon. The dark sky above, spotted with the bright twinkling of stars, added to the effect. I imagined Tie Fighters above us, the whine of their ion engines threatening as they gave chase. My imagination sent them careening into the walls behind us, their large, flat wings spinning off into space, leaving the ball-shaped cockpits to plow into the bottom of the trench with explosive displays of good winning over evil.

“Matthew, trust your feelings, feel the force within you!” I heard Connor shout over the thunder of battle, which was in truth just the wind whistling through the open windows.

I reached up and turned off the GPS, a young Jedi-in-training turning off his targeting system. We sped through the trench for another mile or so, and as it ended I swerved over to the right lane as if I had just fired the kill shot into that tiny exhaust port and wanted nothing more than to get away as the Death Star disintegrated into flaming space dust.

“Did you hear, that?” I shouted.

“Hear what?” Connor asked.

“I swear I just heard Han Solo shouting ‘Yahoo!”

5. Toad the Wet Sprocket "Windmills"

My demons lumber about on the horizon, just within sight. They never look my way, but why should they? I don't frighten them in the least. I am the one that is scared, and they know it. To say that I chase them is a delusion; the truth is that they lead me.

One day I will tilt against my windmills and chase them away for good. Until then, I give chase follow.

From West of Independence Page 50: 

As we neared the Texas border, the sun came up and my bladder neared its bursting point. Connor had been sleeping through the last stretches of highway that Oklahoma had to offer, and though I really had to pee, I had not wanted to pull over and risk waking him. He looked peaceful and at rest in the passenger seat, curled up as close to the fetal position as one could get while wearing a seat belt in such a tiny car.

To sacrifice an hour or more of internal pressure and let him sleep a while longer as we sped across the open plains was no small gift that I could give to my little brother. I knew that much like myself, Connor had slept very little over the past several months, the level of physical comfort having nothing to do with it.

Cotton fields began to line the highway, the acres of white blossoms laying low to the ground like clumps of melting snow. I decided that when Connor woke up we would pull over to pick some cotton.In the meantime I spied towering windmills dotting the plains in long white ranks, their blades turning lazily in the winds sweeping across the plains. In an instant Connor unwittingly became Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote, and together we gave chase to the savage titans that terrorized the land. I thought of Ella as my sweet Dulcinea back home. She had encouraged me to follow through on my quest, and I was lucky to have her.

“Are we in Texas yet?” Sancho was awake and wondering as to our progress.

“Almost. I have to piss like nobody’s business,” I said.

“Me too,” Connor yawned.

“Ok, we’ll stop at the border. I want some pictures of us at the welcome sign.”

We passed the next few miles in silence, and I returned to chasing windmills.

6. The Damnwells "Texas"

Have you ever been so far away from someone that you've never felt closer to them? Without separation, there can be no reunion. It is in those moments of loneliness, the times when I miss the ones I love, that I rediscover why it is that I love them.

From West of Independence page 57:

Back on the road, I looked in the mirror and threw Jared a smile. After a shaky start, the trip was shaping up to be everything I had hoped it would be.

7. Ian Axel "Gone"

I would like to think that homes creak and groan in the night out of memory reflex, because they miss someone whose life they shared. Floorboards chuckling as they think of tiny feet that once skipped across them, door frames creaking as they reach out to accept the imagined shoulder of someone who used to lean on them, and walls groaning in an attempt to recreate the happy sounds of laughter that bounced between them long ago.

Experience is telling me that the secret to a happy life isn't in leaving behind a big empty space that is difficult to fill when you die, but rather in making room in your life for others, and in appreciating the space that they fill around you.

Before they are gone.

From West of Independence Page 82:

Once through the fence, we ran towards the abandoned town like sixth graders let off the bus on the last day of school. We slowed to a walk and surveyed the area as we approached the front steps of the nearest building, a little house with front porch and boarded windows. To one side of the house we could see an ancient truck. The yellow paint of the cab was mottled with rust, and it had long ago settled comfortably onto flat tires that dug into the red earth beneath them.

I followed Connor up the steps and onto the sagging porch. He entered the house, but I stayed outside, fascinated by the yellow truck. I imagined the family that had lived there long ago. I pictured a husband, his wife, and their two little girls. The young couple had spotted each other across a dance hall in Albuquerque. He had been too scared to ask such a pretty girl to dance, but both his friends and hers had pushed them out onto the floor. They were married three weeks later. Soon a baby was on the way, and he had moved them out to their own little house, far away from the pressing matters of the “big” city.

They had been happy. A second baby girl had added to their joy, and his modest trucking business had provided well enough. His weeks were long, but coming home after a haul was the greatest feeling in the world. He would honk his horn as he drew up, and his girls would come running out, waving and laughing as he parked his bright yellow truck next to the little house. He would leap from the cab, scoop his daughters up in his arms and spin them around, kissing them and loving on them, their laughter and adoration renewing his will to live. As he put them down and they spun away in dizzy circles, his wife would step out onto the porch, an apron tied tightly around her tiny waist, a smile on her face. He would approach the porch, stopping before the top step so as to look straight into her happy eyes before kissing her deeply.

It was their heaven on earth, their own private eternity. Everything they could ever want was growing old within the walls of that house.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

West of Independence Soundtrack Part 1

Music will always be a part of West of Independence. A long playlist accompanied me as I wrote the book, and readers won't find a page of it that was written in silence. At every moment of the process, music was sounding in my ears, making me smile, causing my heart to race, or filling my eyes with tears.

I have long believed that books should be sold with a recommended playlist attached, and have often wondered why someone hasn't figured out a way to make it happen. Well, since writing West of Independence, I have come to understand why. Each chapter of such a personal story deserves to live with the music that helped to write it, and whittling the playlist down to something reasonable requires the elimination of songs that are not easily let go. I set out to do it, and the task has proven to be my Gordian Knot.

Nevertheless, I have done my best to build a "soundtrack" that I feel comfortable releasing to the world. But rather than list them all at once and be done with it, I am going to pay them each the respect that they deserve and post them a few at a time, along with carefully selected excerpts from the book and links to the best playable versions I could find on the web.

I hope that these songs adds to the experience of reading West of Independence, because it certainly added to the experience of writing it.

1. Willy Porter "Unconditional"

"maybe he was a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew...I hope that he was laughing when off that bike he flew...maybe he struggled to believe, just like me and you...as the ambulance is too late arriving...now he stares into the sky above, into the face of unconditional love..."

The words of this song inspire me while putting me to shame. I have learned the hard way that selfishness, no matter the driving force behind it, cannot exist in the same heart with unconditional love.

From West of Independence page 25:

"It was hard for me to accept that my older brother was gay, and so I didn’t. While I loved him for so many reasons, I also hated Harrison for causing so much confusion in my life. I was incapable of seeing his lifestyle as anything other than a bad choice, his failure to find love and comfort with girls driving him to decide that he must be gay. It disrupted my parent’s lives, and since I had blindly followed my parents into the black and white fog of unyielding religious beliefs, it disrupted my life as well. I felt committed to my parents and all that they had taught us growing up in the Mormon religion. Harrison had decided to be gay, and therefore was subject to harsh judgments, condemnation, and a life full of misery. He would never be truly happy, and would risk the dangers of a promiscuous and unnatural life, namely AIDS and a horrible death.

And Harrison's earthly life wasn't the only life at risk. My big brother was endangering his eternal soul, and along with it the eternal nature of our family. Without him we could not be an Eternal Family, a blessing promised to the obedient and faithful.
I didn’t want to believe this, and secretly hoped that God would have some small measure of mercy for my brother, if not for his sake, then for mine."

2. David Bowie "Heroes"

Anyone who knew Jared will remember that he loved David Bowie. We spent weeks worth of time in our attic bedroom listening to his Bowie records, and together we went to see Bowie's Glass Spider rock show in the late Eighties. I remember walking all around the stadium with Jared, looking for some part of the fence through which we could enter ahead of the crowd, since our tickets were general admission on the field, and I feared being so far back into the crowd that Jared wouldn't be able to soak up the full David Bowie experience. We found our gap, made a mad dash for the front, and ended up center stage. It was hot and humid that night, and people were passing out all around us as "Ziggy Stardust" wowed us with his voice, his music, and his theatrics. I will never forget the smile on Jared's happy face as he stood oblivious to the chaos around him, captivated by his musical hero. 

To do the same again with Jared, "just for one day" would be worth anything you might ask of me.

From West of Independence page 30:

"Weeks passed, and though it was tight quarters, no one complained. Jared slept while we were at work, and woke up to eat dinner and spend some time with us before walking to work. I was employed cleaning carpets at the time, and Jared would abandon sleep a couple of days a week to work with me and make some extra cash. We drove around Seattle together in a big van with a colorful carpet cleaning super hero painted on the sides.
The job sucked. Cleaning dirt, food, sewage, and various bodily fluids from stranger’s carpets was gross, but the time spent working with Jared became something to look forward to each week. We made a habit of raiding the customer’s kitchens for food, turning their stereos up too loud, and riding the carpet buffer across their living rooms. We dreamed aloud of being free and happy, living as we pleased someday, un-tethered by the worries of the average jerk. I hoped to become a published writer, and Jared a successful artist, but we gave little thought to the effort and heartache required to achieve such elusive aspirations.
To dwell on the hows was too depressing anyway. I had little hope or talent with which to materialize my own dream, while Jared was sure to succeed due to the raw creative genius that seemed to course through his veins and flow out his fingertips as he drew or painted."

3. Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"

Has anyone ever taken a road trip without listening to Journey? I am pretty certain there is a federal law that states "when crossing more than two state borders in a car, no fewer than six Journey songs must be played at full volume, without regard for embarrassment during vocals and air guitaring."

Tell me, what good is a road trip without nostalgia, and with that nostalgia, a little self inspection and regret?

From West of Independence page 41:

“Uh-huh,” Connor said, acknowledging my request. He dropped the Ipod back into the dock, and the car was filled with the sounds of keyboards, guitars, and the Eighties. The unmistakable music of our youth threatened to blow the speakers as we cruised down the highway in our tiny black rental car, trying to match the singer's long high notes and jamming out the well-known but never tiresome riffs on our air guitars. I knew it was silly and cliché, but it didn’t feel that way. We kept it up for miles, working our way through a long list of favorites.
When the playlist ended, Connor reclined his seat and settled in for a nap. The ability to sleep anywhere, at any time, was a skill that both my younger brothers had always possessed. On all of our many road trips as kids, outside on our trampoline, and while camping with our friends in high school, I had watched them drop to whatever disagreeable surface was available, falling asleep without too much trouble while I laid awake, uncomfortable and jealous of their deep breathing and unconscious state.
Connor had once slept in the bottom of our canoe for an entire day on a river, not even stirring when we ran some rapids. I was so worried he might be dead that I poked him hard with my paddle. It was like waking a sleeping bear by sticking a lit cherry bomb up his ass. Connor was so pissed off at me for waking him up that he thrashed around and nearly dumped us into the water.
I smiled at the memory, and at the realization that once more I had found myself awake with my little brothers at rest around me. Setting the cruise control at eighty-five, I sat up tall in the driver’s seat and gripped the wheel, my hands at ten and two in order to ensure that I would not relax too much and risk falling asleep. The white center lines whipped past, disappearing into the darkness as the miles stacked up behind us."