Darkness Falls

Skin against skin–blood & bone. You’re all by yourself but you’re not alone. You wanted in & now you’re here… Driven by HATE but consumed by FEAR.

—Lyrics by Drowning Pool, circa 2001

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

I Idecided to stop going to church. This is a significant life development because this wasn’t the church that I grew up in. This wasn’t my parent’s church. This was the church that, after a long absence from formal religion, I sought & found myself two years ago. For the first time since I left home for college, my discovery of this church made be feel anchored into a community. I finally belonged somewhere. I finally found a “home” that was independent of my parent’s home. While I’m grateful for the home my parent’s shared with me, I was anxious to establish a life of my own. And discovering this church made me feel as though I had finally done so. But I’ve decided to stop going–at least for now. This church preaches messages like forgiveness & compassion, even for our most wicked enemies! This church, while it has granted me incredible peaceful insight, has rendered me soft & weak.

It’s an evil world out there; a dark one. If I embark on a journey into that lawlessness with a heart full of compassion, then I’m setting myself up to be some predator’s next meal. I won’t let that happen. I need to be strong. I’m not that gullible anymore. I won’t be lulled into complacency by this promise of peace & harmony. Liturgy like this ensures that nice guys keep finishing last & the big bad wolf gets away with anything he wants —consequences, wreckage, carnage left for everyone involved except for the wolf. Well how many more lives have to be wrecked? How many more hearts broken? How many honorable women desecrated . . . just so the wolf can reign supreme atop the food chain? Hell no. You fight Alpha with Alpha. You don’t tame a wolf with an olive branch–that shit will get you EATEN! You tame a wolf with a weapon that’s bigger & meaner than the wolf.

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

I used to believe in that garbage. I used to live for love & peace & community. But then the Alpha Wolf showed up at the gate. And the people I cared about, the same people who were normally so cautious, let the predator right into our midst where he destroyed everything . After I saw ‘The Most Virtuous Lorraine” corrupted, I knew that there is nothing under the sky that can’t be violated. Everything can be turned to the darkness. I used to want to live for love; but now I realize that love is so difficult to find yet so easy to lose. No. I want to put the percentages in my favor. I need TO WIN!

My decision to forgo church for the foreseeable future is not one I made lightly. I went back & forth multiple times a day for many consecutive days. I’ve wrestled with this choice on some sleepless nights, a handful of angry karaoke sessions, & with the influence of several incarnations of alcohol. The struggle made me think back to the “Star Wars” movies. Over & over again, you’d hear about the “seduction of the Dark Side of the Force.” It seemed to be a shortcut to power. Darth Vader once pleaded with his son Luke: “If only you knew the power of the Dark Side.” However, the Dark side’s gift are not without their consequences. Jedi Master Yoda once warned, “If once you start down The Dark Path, forever it will dominate your destiny.”

Discussion over The Dark Side often questions its morality. I think it was Obiwan Kenobi who once cautioned Luke, “Don’t give in to your hate. That leads to The Dark Side.”

But in my own life experience, I realize that my anger–& eventually, my hate–has always made me strong, at least temporarily. I’m normally extremely considerate of others & deliberate with my actions. But when I’m overcome with rage, I disregard everything except for the target of my rage. I lose all inhibition & become brave. My aggression fuels my physical strength. I fear no consequences because, in that moment, nothing matters but the conquest. It’s liberating to feel unencumbered by the myriad of constraints we place on our every actions in this so-called “polite society” we share. But the problem is, invariably, some less than polite Wolf shows up & rides away with the spoils of our work, disregarding everything we learn to hold sacred. That’s why there can be nothing more sacred than winning. Because winning means we hold on to what we have, even if that means exterminating the wolf.

All the same, even the strength that accompanies hatred is questionable. When Anikan Skywalker turned to The Dark Side, one of his companions stated: “The fear of loss is a path to The Dark Side.” That’s true in the movies & it’s true in life. Even the lyrics that I opened my reflection with today states, “Driven by hate (but) consumed by fear.”

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

It’s true. I’m consumed by fear. I don’t want the monster that stole Lorraine away from the world of the righteous to plunder any other irreplaceable treasures. I turned to God for help in her case, but God turned His back on me. He allowed the Wolf to go free, unpunished. I asked my pastor how a just God could allow such an unjust conclusion to occur: he told me that I had to learn to forgive even the predator that devoured Lorraine. That’s when I knew that this church would yield no further answers for me. If even this MONSTER is not yet Hellbound, then what’s the purpose of Hell at all? No. Just as Lorraine is now removed from the world of the righteous, I must remove myself from that world, if only temporarily.

By turning away from the church, I’m not turning away from God. Nor am I turning to The Dark One for power. I’m not seeking strength from any outside source–I’m not seeking darkness from any external source. I, like everyone, have plenty of dark content within myself. Going to church & reflecting & praying helps us subdue our own dark selves. But now that all that hokus pokus has betrayed me, I seek to bring out my own inner-strength for a while; even if that strength comes from my dark side. There is no “Dark Side” that I’m giving myself to; there is no “Deal with the Devil.” This is a deal with myself. An evil predator has committed an unforgivable act in my presence, & I’m obligated to respond. My pastor tells me that God is the ultimate judge; that His hand is the only true hand of justice. Well, here’s my answer to that. Maybe so, but God’s justice is too slow. The man who raped Lorraine needs to be brought to account right now.

It’s time for the Alpha Wolf to recognize: he’s not the only carnivore at the table anymore. Darkness has fallen. I’ve arrived & I have my sights set on Alpha Status. It’s okay, Boy. You’ve had your time. But the sun has set on your reign. It’s only fair. If Lorraine can fall, then so can you. You took her away from me; so now, I’ll take your top spot away from you. The rain falls. Darkness falls. Lorraine falls. And soon, Alpha Wolf– so will you.

How do you vanquish a predator like the Big Bad Monster? Be becoming an even Bigger, Badder Monster . . . by giving in to your inner dark side.

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

SER VS ESTAR

Take a trip back into the past with me as we re-visit our introductory Spanish class. In English, we have one form of the verb “to be.” I am; You are; She is; They are– should cover the verb in all its present tense forms. Spanish takes things a step further in featuring two forms of the verb “to be.” These verbs are ser & estar. He’s the difference in a nutshell: we use “ser” to convey a permanent characteristic or familial relation. We use “estar” for conditions that are more transient states like location, mood, & health. For example, we should use “ser” to describe an adult’s height or gender. In contrast, we would use “estar” to describe a person’s well-being (are they feeling sick or healthy) or emotional state. As a fourteen-year-old studying Spanish for the first time, I found it odd to need two verb to represent the idea of being. We either are, or we aren’t–right? Remember Hamlet? To be, or not to be. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realize that we can achieve what we consider a permanent state–like the state of forgiveness–only to revert to resentment or even hatred only a short time down the road.

This idea brings to mind the Biblical account of the Pharaoh & Moses. Beleaguered by the plagues sent by Almighty God, the Pharaoh grants Moses & the refugees safe passage from Egypt. But even before the refugees can even wade into the Red Sea, the Egyptian monarch rescinds his peace offering & sends chariots of soldiers to eradicate Moses & his followers. The idea of God splitting the Red Sea in order to create a path for the refugees wasn’t what puzzled me as a child; after all, nothing is impossible for God! What did seem unrealistic was that someone could grant forgiveness one moment only to rain down fire & destruction upon the forgiven party shortly after. People tend to make their mind up & stick with it, right? Wrong.

Awh, things are simpler as a child. We see everything as black & white–straight forward. But as we get older, we become conditioned to consider so many other factors. Many are external, like social pressures & precedent. What would my neighbor do, for example? What do upstanding people typically do in this situation? But others are internal, & much more personal. Sometimes, it depends on how hardened our hearts are from the scar tissue of disappointments from experiences past. When Lorraine broke my heart, I erupted in anger. I was angry at her as well as the man who had, in my opinion, defiled her. I hated them both. I couldn’t get that disturbing image of the two of them sneaking around together, laughing deviously. I felt robbed of the comfortable image of warmth, peace, & security that I’d retreat to in my mind when I started to think the world was more bad than good. I had that comforting image–that image of Lorraine’s sweet innocence & enduring loyalty replaced with this disgusting image–this carnage of fidelity, this upside down cross! I couldn’t get the image out of my head; it haunted me in my sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, the image awaited me, as if burned onto the insides of my eyelids!

But with time away from that unsightly vision, I was able to rediscover all of Lorraine’s positive qualities. I started to recall all the times she made my day with a smile or brief conversation. I began to yearn for her closeness again even after she had brought me so much pain. I had forgiven her, so it seemed.

But now, after I saw her again & experienced the chill from her contrived lack of recognition as she passed me by, all the ill feelings resurfaced. I hated her again.

I know that I’m supposed to be above this. I believe that God has placed this challenge before me in order for me to break the cycle & evolve into a superior emotional state. But the pain is too great. The indignation, too great. The disappointment, too great. The hatred–still ready to flare up at a moment’s notice.

For the first three years I knew Lorraine, she awakened an enthusiasm for life within me. Just her presence, or even, the idea of her presence, would prompt inside me a hunger for life that overpowered fear, fatigue, despondence. But now, after that disgusting picture that she left burned into my eyes, I feel as though her presence in my life was nothing short of a Biblical plague.

I still don’t forgive her.

Ser & estar; I used to think it redundant to require two words to convey the single verb “to be.” But after Lorraine, I realize that my own life is less ser & more estar.

Right now, I still hate her.

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

RANGE: Friday, Sept 18

This day marked my second range session since completing the holster draw class. I would be shooting my M&P Shield 9mm, drawing from a Blade Tech IWB holster. I planned to shoot 30 rounds of Sig Elite Performance FMJ left over from my previous session as well as 36 of the 50 rounds of Remington Target FMJ that I purchased at check-in for a total of 66 rounds. All bullets weighed in at 115 gr. I hadn’t cleaned my pistol since last week’s session but I did lube it prior to dry firing at the target downrange. I always practice sight acquisition & dry firing before I fire my first live round at every range session. My pistol tends to run more reliably when it’s a little dirty; I haven’t decided yet whether or not this is good or bad.

This is a view of my pistol & the target set at 10 yds, which is a typical practice distance for a self defense pistol.
The results from my first live magazine of the day from a distance of 7 yds.

START TIME, 6:02PM–MAG#1: I began the live fire portion of the session the way I always do; no drawing from the holster, no rapid fire sequences. I used the flush 7 round mag. I was satisfied but not thrilled with the results. The group could have been tighter but it was adequate; and my sight picture was solid as I essentially left a pattern of a vertical line. I moved on to 10 yds with my (mag#2) extended 8 round magazine & produced satisfactory results (no picture provided).

Results from mag#3: The purple snow flake is much smaller than the blue one targeted on my first magazine. I essentially shot at a palm-sized target from 10 yds, scoring 3 direct hits & 2 near misses.

Mag#2: Mag#2 results left much to be desired. I was low & to the left on 1/2 of my 8 shots with one outlier landing way left. Angered, I reloaded the same extended mag for a do-over, aiming this time for the even smaller target at the top right corner of the rectangle: the purple snow flake! I even double tapped on I believe my last 4 rounds for good measure. The results (pictured above) were much better so I felt confident about moving the target out to 15 yds from mag#4.

Mag#4: I at least want to know that I can hit a target out to real world, less than perfect, crucial self-defense ranges. My ability to hit a plate-sized target at least 1/2 the time at 15 yds out is a must-do have any handgun that I will depend on for defense. I aimed for a clean snow flake, the light blue one on the bottom right corner. Satisfied with the results (pictured below) I wanted to assess my ability out to 20 yds; after which time, I would move on to the holster draw portion of the day’s practice.

Mag#5/Hail Mary: To save bullets for my holster draw practice, I only loaded the extended mag to 4 rounds. Bear in mind that this light blue snow flake (#19) is MINISCULE! Landing any of my 4 rounds in the vicinity of said snow flake while simultaneously avoiding any horrible miss would constitute a success. I passed (see below).

From 20 yds away, I aimed for the small, light blue, “19” snow flake at the bottom right. My four shots all landed in that vicinity with only one outlier to the left.

HOLSTER DRAW/ STAGING THE DRAW STROKE–6:16PM: Everything I covered so far took less than 15 minutes. I spent the next 8 minutes practicing the draw stroke, breaking it down into 3 major stages. At first I focus just on gripping the pistol firmly in the holster, without even drawing it. I later progress to pulling the weapon out, meeting both hands on the grip around chest area, then punching out to a shooting position while quickly acquiring good sight picture. I even dry fired once or twice towards the end of the 8 minutes. Well, once you’ve made your way up to the high dive at the pool, you have to jump some time. I was ready for live fire.

LIVE FIRE HOLSTER PRACTICE, 6:24PM–MAG#6: On my last 4 shots from mag#5, the ones from 20 yds out, I broke into my 2nd box of ammo–Remington Target FMJ. I actually had one flush mag filled with my last 7 rounds of Sig Elite Performance. I choose not to use the flush mag from distance because the extended mag of 8 would give me a better grip to help precision. Moreover, I like drawing from the holster with the flush mag because I am more likely to carry the pistol with the flush mag to enhance concealment. No big deal to start out; 5 yds out, no rapid fire. My focus was on safely & consistently drawing the weapon up to a shooting position, firing a shot, then re-holstering. The draw felt good all the way through the trigger pull. I was happy with the results except for one outlier. I think it was towards the end when I got greedy & double tapped. (See picture below.)

MAG#7: Still using the flush mag, I moved the target back to 7 yds. To maximize my holster draw/re-holster opportunities, I promised to outlaw double taps. From this point forward, I chose to load each mag to only 5 rounds.

From my notes (I’m writing this journal entry 2 days after the fact), it appears as if I fired 2 more mags loaded to 5 rounds. If memory serves, it believe I fired a 3rd mag with a total of 10 total mags used. On my last two, I backed the target out to 10 yds & drew from the holster to engage the target. I even captured video of my last or 2nd to last mag; my notes indicate the target was set to 10 yds.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I was pleased with the progress of my holster draw/re-holster technique. Oddly, it seems easier when I’m live firing then it does when I’m practicing with an empty pistol. The less I think about it, the smoother the operation seems to go. I felt vastly improved from the previous week, when I would complete a decent draw stroke but then pause to acquire target before I could squeeze off a shot. My practice of drawing the weapon then acquiring sight picture without taking the shot earlier seemed to help. The only thing that didn’t show vast improvement was my accuracy–which was adequate for self defense but nothing that would wow anyone. I want to “wow” everyone. In my defense, my groups with the 9 have been extremely tight both this week & last when not drawing from the holster. In addition, I had the target out out to 7 & even 10 yds for the majority of my holster draw practice & the group still looked a bit tighter than last week’s, when the target was only set to 5 & 7 yds. All in all, the day was a success. (66 shots fired, all fmj, all 115 grain: 30 Sig Elite Performance + 36 Remington Target.)

Open Heart Surgery

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

“How big will the scar be?” I asked tentatively. A surgeon had come into the room earlier to go over my post surgical life expectations. He made it seem as though this surgery was a good thing; as if I would feel like a better man & live a better life once it was all over –provided it wasn’t all over during the procedure! But for a moment, I got a glimpse of what it was I was working towards; a life without the constant pain & the struggles to achieve routine tasks. Oh, there would be pain, of course; but it would be pain that I could get through. It would be pain that wouldn’t kill me. So I took this opportunity to escape all the morbid thoughts & imagine myself down the road: post-surgery, post-rehabilitation, perfectly functional. “So how about the scar?” I posed my question again, this time not to a surgeon but to a barely out-of-college slender blonde who had come in to assess the blood vessels in my neck. She had just commented on how strong I appeared to look–relatively at least–& how the blood vessels in my neck seemed robust. “You should be fine during surgery,” she said in a comforting fashion. “Oh, and as far as the scars–chicks dig scars, so you don’t have to worry.” She winked at me as she made her way out of the room pushing her cart of equipment. Oddly, this informal, conversational interaction I had with this college girl had comforted me more than all the surgeons & nurse practitioners & cardiologists with all of their medical jargon & statistics. If I have a 99% chance of survival, that meant I had a chance of dying too. I just wanted the numbers thrown out. I just wanted an image of what my life would be life; what I would be like–afterwards. I needed to know what it was I was suffering so much for in the present to achieve in the future.

I ran into Lorraine unexpectedly this past week. A reasonable amount of time had elapsed since I had last seen her. I still remembered a time when we were friends–sort of, at least. There was a time when she would always at least greet me, as shy as she was. There were a handful of times when she smiled & actually beamed with enthusiasm to see me; but there was never any time in the three years I had known her when she would be rude . . . until she met him.

Anyway, when I saw her, I froze momentarily. It was like hiking in the woods of an area known for black bear. You realize that you are entering their territory. You realize there’s a possibility you can run into one; but your experience & everyone else tells you there’s a 99% chance you won’t see one! So you really don’t prepare yourself for a bear encounter; & when you do happen to see one, you freeze just like I did when I saw Lorraine post-fall from grace. You see why I hate percentages now?

I wondered if enough time had gone by. I wondered if she still hated me or if it simply the temporary condition of anger that prompted her coolness towards me following The Debacle. I looked up tentatively, looking for cues. I wasn’t going to make the first move, but if she chose to speak to me, I wouldn’t turn her away. So I watched for a clue to determine her intention as she walked towards me . . . and then walked straight past without breaking her stride, without so much as blinking in my direction. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess she still hates me.”

While looking back on the months following Lorraine’s expulsion from Eden, I recognized the pattern of a painful process from injury to healing. In the immediate aftermath, I felt absolute disgust. I literally went home & threw up, hoping to purge the image of seeing sweet Lorraine & hedonistic “Bad Boy” together in an area where they shouldn’t have been. Then my heart went dark. It was easier to hate him than to hate her, so my warrior spirit erupted in a turbulent volcano of rage. And I wanted to hold Mr. “Bad Boy” to account for his sin–for his sin against Lorraine; for his sin against Nature; for his sin against God; & most of all, for his sin against ME! Ultimately, I would decide on a more gentle approach to resolution. All the same, my blood once boiled to the point of a Biblical Plague! And then, I tried to hate her. Lorraine, the source of my most tender sentiments; the standard for lovable in my lexicon. I tried to hate her; but I couldn’t manage to maintain such negative feelings towards her for more than a few days at a time. Then I progressed to lamenting & finally to a place that approached the path to healing. This process took months to accomplish in real time, but somehow, when I ran into Lorraine & recognized that she was emotionally unchanged towards me, I went through that exact same cycle in the span of about ninety seconds. And that wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to run through that same cycle of emotions from disappointment to anger to despondence to peace even in that same day!

I heard this a long time ago, & experience has told me it’s true. Healing isn’t a linear process. It’s not a point A to point B proposition. It’s a point A to point B process in the beginning but then there’s the, “Great job! Now go do it again!” The process of healing isn’t linear; it’s a series of linear tasks that we must perform over & over again until we don’t have to anymore. It’s like recharging your smart phone. You run it down to “Critical Low” & then wind it back up to 100% at night. But that’s not the end of it. Chances are, the next day, you’ll have to perform the exact same process.

It may sound tedious but it’s just how things work. I’ve struggled with riddles of the heart just like this situation with Lorraine throughout my entire life. And it seems as if God is giving me numerous opportunities to achieve a breakthrough. God won’t accept that I just can’t do it; He won’t accept failure on this task, but rather demands that I work through the pain in order to achieve some lesson that I failed the grasp the previous time around. It’s a scenario akin to experiencing numerous reincarnations all within a single biological lifetime. It’s as though, emotionally, I’ve died & have been reborn to master the task that I failed to complete the previous time around. Drowning the pain away in alcohol, or writing her off as a lost cause, or teaching myself to hate her . . . those all ways I’ve addressed this same problem before. Those tactics, however, failed to achieve resolution, otherwise I wouldn’t have found myself right back where I always am.

So this time around, forget the pain. forget the discomfort, forget the indignation. I don’t mean ignore them, but just understand these thorns in my side will be along for the journey. I heard a wise man once say: “Peace isn’t the absence of conflict; but the acceptance of it.” Four years ago, I found myself undergoing open heart surgery & the humbling rehabilitation process that followed at a young age. I felt vulnerable & uncertain most of the way through. But I endured the suffering that shadowed each step to healing because I knew what it was that I was working towards. The pain I feel over Lorraine is the same thing. She broke my heart; & I’ve undergone emotional open heart surgery. Now, I’m struggling with the rehabilitation process.

I knew I had come all the way back from my physical heart surgery one day in the gym when an ex-military tough guy approached me & stated, “Dude. That’s one hell of a scar you’ve got there!”

“Yeah,” I replied. And then I thought to myself, “And this is just the scar he can see! It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what he’d say if he could see the real scar–the one inside?”

I try not to get too down on myself when I regress along my journey to repairing myself emotionally. There will be times when I take a few steps backward, but I have to believe that ultimately, I will always more forward. I know what I’m working towards now. I’m striving to reach the day when I can look back on the “Era of Lorraine” & say to myself, “Wow! That’s one hell of a scar.”

And that’s the day I’ll know I’m healed. Scars signify survival. Scars provide proof that healing has occurred. I long for the day when my open wound becomes a scar.

Stained Glass–Abridged

Picture borrowed from online source.

So you can imagine my shock when I happened on her rendezvous with that sinful manager. By this time, she was a nursing student & I was a security officer at our local hospital. There was a wing of the facility that was off limits to anyone but management & duty specific personnel. There were turbines & water heaters & electrical wires & such–big time OSHA hazards to leave opened to the general workforce. All doors in & out were locked. I was on patrol one afternoon. I know the schedule of everything that goes on at this hospital because it’s my job to know. The nursing students come in at 2 pm & they report to the 3rd Floor Conference Room before they do anything else. It was 2:10 when I came across those double doors for SECTOR A. To my surprise, it came opened. I heard laughter & the voice of that idiot, meat-head manager from just inside the ajar door. And then, to my utter SHOCK, I saw Lorraine emerge from behind the door–smiling, laughing, carrying on. When she saw that I was there, she stopped & when our eyes met, she had a horrified look on her face. I turned away & continued down the hallway to finish my patrol.

Green on the Vine

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

As I was speaking to Chelsea, a fellow congregant at my church after service, her toddler took a sudden interest in me. Her name is Haley, like the comet. She’s not quite three & seems tall for her age but is still very quiet, especially around strangers. Typically, she appears lost in her own world while she plays with her toys around the vicinity of her mother’s knees while her sociable mother engages in the joyous banter of her ever-expanding Sunday social circle. Haley looks like a doll; not a Barbie doll, mind you, but the kind of doll made to look & feel like a baby so that young children who, barely beyond toddler status themselves, can pretend to play parent with a child of their very own. Haley’s hair is incredibly long & manageable, almost too perfect to belong to anything but a toy. She also boasts all the typical traits of “cuteness” like over-sized eyes & a head nearly as wide as her shoulders. And then there’s that pout; no matter what she’s doing, whether she appears agitated or pacified, her face always seems to be frozen in a perennial pout. It’s not a sign of sadness for her; more a sign of an unshakable demeanor–as if, no matter what, this gal will always be a cool customer who will remain at peace with her environment, even if that means staying non-reactive with said environment. But today was different. She approached me with a handful of goodies like a toy, a ziploc bag of cookies, & a bottled water. Out of nowhere, she sauntered out from beyond the shadows of her mother’s legs towards me & upon meeting me, promptly handed me her bottled water.

I was touched by her gesture & began talking to her in soft, simple sentences. I don’t think she understood me but she seemed comforted by my kind tone, if nothing else. I knelt down on one knee to greet her & she promptly climbed up onto my opposite thigh. Her mother looked pleasantly surprised that the toddler, who had only seen me once or twice before & at brief intervals, had taken such bold action to befriend me. Not having any kids of my own but having had plenty of time to ponder my parent’s relationship with me, I decided to impart some of my worldly wisdom on the child; the kind of wisdom that doesn’t come through books, but only through blood & tears. I’d figure I’d save her that trouble.

“Wow, Haley” I began. “You’re so sweet! I wish you could stay like this forever! But I know you can’t, so at least let me tell you a story. Once I knew a girl who was as sweet & innocent & as un-corrupted by the world as you are now,” I stated as my mind began to drift backwards to an era when my heart had one less scar than it had presently. “Any what made this girl even more special was that she wasn’t a little girl like you, but a big one! She was almost a grown-up in many ways, but in others, still like a child.” The precursor to tears began to pool up in my eyes & the pace of my speech slowed as I took care not to succumb to emotion.

“I worked with her & she was much younger than I was, so I had to be cautious about what I said to her & how I said it,” I explained. “Still, I tried to befriend her–slowly, so as not to alarm her. But I wanted to befriend her so that, little by little, I could help her understand how special she was. And I came close to telling her the big secret,” I sighed & took a moment to rejoin the present, making eye contact with the toddler to determine whether or not she had been following along. Haley’s eyes seemed intently locked on mine. She giggled & then reached her hand towards my face then smiled. “Yeah,” I thought. “She’s listening. I guess I can continue.”

After a deep breath, I resumed: “All I wanted to tell her is that I hoped she’d never change. But before I could . . . ” overwhelmed by the reminder of a painful memory, I found myself unable to complete the sentence. After a pause, I concluded “But I was too late. By the time I was ready to tell her, The Serpent had already gotten to her & had changed her forever.”

A moment of silence passed as my mind flashed back to a passage I recorded previously in “Stained Glass.”

“Haley,” I resumed again. “I know you can’t stay this way forever. I know you will have many friends. But no one will ever love you as much as your mother loves you. When you grow up, you may feel embarrassed about this; but once you really grow up, you’ll realize that it’s okay.” By this time, the child had climbed up onto my shoulder & I pat her on the back while I finished my story. I looked up at her mother & nodded that I was in the process of handing the sleepy toddler back to her. “And a beautiful girl like you will have many suitors. But make sure you choose one who appreciates how sweet you are inside & not just how pretty you are on the outside,” I concluded as I handed the toddler back to her mother. Haley immediately swung her head back to look at me as I started to back away, prompting me to add: “But don’t be disappointed if you discover that no man ever loves you as much as your daddy loves you. That’s okay too. It just means that you were loved in all the ways you should have been loved.” Haley smiled at me & waved as her mother made her way towards her husband & the rest of their family. And then, more to myself than anyone, I whispered: “Just don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can.”

A deep sense of regret sank in. Despite the successful interaction I had just shared with a member of our near future, I couldn’t help but mourn a failure of the recent past. “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E,” I lamented as I looked down at the ground. “All this time, I’ve blamed her for failing me. But, as much as anything else, I failed her. I didn’t tell her what I wanted to say in time. And he (the serpent) beat me to it. And now, the quality that had made her so special for so long is gone forever.”

Growing up, I never liked country music. The youth in my area wrote it off as the entertainment option for old folks & rednecks. But today’s reflection brought to mind the lyrics from an old Deanna Carter song:

Oh, bittersweet . . . Green on the vine.

Like strawberry wine.

I always kind of liked that song. When I was in high school, admitting even the faintest appreciation for country music served as a social status kiss of death. Or at least, it guaranteed your demotion to the status of old folk or redneck.

Oh well. I guess I’m a little bit of both: old folk & redneck.

And then I said to no one in particular, “The green on the vine. Like strawberry wine. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can, Haley. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And what you’ll receive in place of your innocence will be both good & bad . . . .

Bittersweet. Just like my memories of L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E.”

Strawberry Wine.