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.

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.

Arch-Angel Michael spoke in Parable

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of 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.

This past Sunday, I was supposed to meet with a casual female friend at Sunday service. Although I am a social person & enjoy meeting & greeting before & after service, I prefer to sit through the service alone. However, I ran into a casual friend from the same church while working out at our local gym earlier in the week. She hadn’t been to service in a while. I told her that she had been missing out because the sermons have been dead on & then mentioned where I normally sit. She volunteered that she would come sit with me. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about bringing someone else—even a friend–into my sacred square. Once I get my mind to “guard” something, I really hunker down like a German Shepherd. But soon I warmed up to the idea of having someone to share the message with on this day.

That morning, I had a difficult time getting out of bed. I was in danger of sleeping through Sunday service which, if nothing else, throws my entire Sunday–my only day off during the week–into a tailspin & I end up trying to play catch-up all day. Seriously, there’s no reason anyone should need that much sleep! Plus, I knew there would be someone waiting for me & that she would be disappointed if I didn’t show. So dutifully, I soldiered up, hopped out of bed, & made my hasty preparations for departure.

Well, we were already into the sermon & there was still no sign of her. It was no big deal. I wasn’t angry with her; she was just a casual friend who had a husband & family but expected to attend service alone on this particular morning. The gesture was more akin to inviting a co-worker or neighbor to Thanksgiving dinner when they had no one to share the holiday with. I wasn’t disappointed with my friend; but I was disappointed. My lips mouthed in silence the private lament that had already formed in my head: “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E!” It was my friend who had stood me up, but it was Lorraine who I missed. It was Lorraine’s tall, slender form & long flowing hair that I scanned the congregation in vain to catch a glimpse of. It was Lorraine who had discarded me; who had discredited me; who deserted me. It was Lorraine who had ABANDONED me. And so, it was her name that I spoke meekly in my mind, like a haunting echo pleading for help lost amid a cloudy sky of expansive nothing. It was Lorraine’s absence that made me suddenly feel so isolated.

All the same, the service was stellar as usual. The message from the sermon was difficult to hear but necessary to receive. The preacher asked us what it was that we treasured the most in our lives? Then he challenged us to assess whether or not that thing that we treasured so greatly meant more to us than our commitment to God? He inquired, “What is it that you’re holding onto–that you’re clinging to so obsessively as to reduce your commitment to God?” Before he even asked the question, my answer had already formed silently in my mind. “Lorraine.”

No matter who disappointed me or who let me down, the blame would always fall on Lorraine. No matter who stood me up or broke a promise, so long as she were female, my mind would register it as yet another failure of Lorraine to recognize my value. It probably sounds unfair, but understand this: No female on earth has ever made me feel such enthusiasm for even the simplest moments in life. But by the same token, no other female on earth has ever disappointed me in so devastating a manner. After service, I walked over to my fellow congregant & close confidant, Michael. He had known about my fascination with Lorraine from the beginning. I told him what happened & that I blamed Lorraine. He chuckled. But then I asked him in earnest, “How long will it be like this?” And then, this long-time Protestant & true student of the Bible answered me in an almost parable-like fashion: “Well, that’s up to you. How long are you going to hold on to your disappointment?”

I mourned an inescapable awareness that the chains of heartbreak that I carried over Lorraine would burden me indefinitely. I looked up to the morning sky, searching for answers; but all I saw was that rain from a sudden storm had begun to come down.

Every time it rains, I always seem to think of her.

Stained Glass

Today’s post marks the fifth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of 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.

Stained
Picture borrowed from online source.

I read somewhere that Canterbury Cathedral in England features over 3,600 square ft of stained glass. Stained glass had intrigued me from the time I learned about the topic during a childhood summer  camp. We were putting on a production of “The Pirates of Penzance” & every segment of the camp, even the art class, attempting to incorporate era appropriate themes into the daily activities. As a young boy growing up in the American Southeast, I was enthralled. “Wow!” I thought. “Pirates, sword fighting, cannons, &  now–treasure! What beautiful works of art!” I loved how a handful of basic colors like red, blue, white, & green could come together to create almost any image imaginable. I liked how the windows were like a jigsaw puzzle; with each piece representing a precious treasure all by itself. When they all came together, it was like a culmination of miniature jewels combining to create the ultimate MASTERPIECE! And when the sun shone through the other side of the glass, the entire structure would light up in an array of spectacular colors. In a time before electricity, a stained glass window with the sun’s rays behind it must have been the Medieval version of Times Square! Such a sight must have seemed like magic, or even better–a MASTERPIECE.

When I first saw Lorraine, I was dumbfounded by her physical beauty. I was a deer in the headlights; so unprepared to process the astounding scene of beauty before me that my entire body simply shut down. I’ve heard some religious texts describe this exact same state when a mortal finds himself in the presence of the divine. As I’ve made clear previously, (see“Breathless”), Lorraine is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. But what really blew me away about her was her demeanor. She was the sweetest girl I will ever meet.

Lorraine worked in an environment where she was surrounded by young, fit-bodied peers, including over-confident young men. I observed a great deal of fraternization, which is to be expected in any college-aged coed group. When Lorraine wasn’t studying or playing beach volleyball, she worked as a front desk attendant at the health club where I got my first job following my major surgery. And believe me–the “fraternization” wasn’t limited to similarly aged individuals. The managers were the worst–openly gawking & engaging female employees half their age while ignoring the male employees and frequently, even their responsibilities! But Lorraine somehow managed to remain coy in the midst of it all. She was so bashful, it was adorable! Somehow, she was able to keep all of the salivating wolves at bay & do so gracefully. And I say “bashful,” not “conceited” because she was amazingly modest. When she worked out, she always used the cardio equipment backed up against the wall so that people wouldn’t look at her backside while she got in her steps. When she worked on her abs or stretched, she’d always sneak off into one of the unoccupied yoga studios because she didn’t want the general public to catch her in a compromised position. And the greatest proof of her modest shyness emerged when she talked to any male co-workers. Lorraine never initiated a conversation; but if someone approached her, she would listen attentively & then respond cordially but briefly. She somehow managed to be polite without encouraging further interaction. The first time I actually talked to her, I must have looked like an imbecile! I was unprepared to receive her voice: how soft & feminine it was, but effortlessly confident. My mother had a jewelry box on her dresser when I was a child. It was crafted in the shape of a miniature chest of drawers. On top, it featured a bird cage with a fake parakeet perched on a swing. You could wind it up & the parakeet would swing back & forth while singing a calm music box melody. When I heard Lorraine’s voice for the first time, I thought of that music box. “Oh my gosh!” I remember thinking. “Even her VOICE is beautiful!” I probably looked like an imbecile because while I could think clearly in my head, I couldn’t say a word out loud.

Someway, somehow, I was able to get her to warm up to me. Lorraine behaved politely but cautiously around me for the first year-and-a-half or so, but eventually she started waving at me in the hallways or would stop to talk to me unsolicited. This was a big deal because Lorraine never waved to any guys much less stop & talk to them. She never caused problems for anyone & everyone who brought her up in conversation would describe her as “sweet” even if they had never spoken to her. She just exuded a peaceful, modest, non-judging persona that everyone seemed to appreciate from afar. But somehow, for a while at least, I got to the point where she would actually smile when she saw me! This was HUGE because Lorraine never smiled at ANYBODY! As I said earlier, (See“The Rain”) we were almost friends.

I even heard from a co-worker who had gone to high school with her that she had never even had a boyfriend. Despite her good looks, good grades, & aptitude in sports, she mostly kept to herself & a handful of close girl friends. I heard it was even a big deal when a group of her classmates observed her slow dancing with her date at her senior prom. This all matched up with what I had observed in my own experiences with her. Even at twenty-years old, Lorraine’s best friend was still her own mother, with whom she’d often work out. Lorraine was an absolute MASTERPIECE–to good to be true!

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 shock, it came opened. I heard laughter & the voice of that idiot, meat-head manager from just inside the ajar door. And then, to my 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.

It felt like a normal day on my drive home. I wasn’t particularly agitated despite what I had witnessed earlier. But when I came into my kitchen wanting something to drink, it hit me. I flung my coat across the room & yelled some obscenity at that meat-head boss. Then I collapsed onto the floor & cried. I didn’t cry for long. My sense of duty soon kicked in. I couldn’t work for a man who I didn’t respect. I got drunk on Jack & Coke & then wrote my resignation letter that night. Fuck the job. Fuck the boss. Fuck everything. If Lorraine can’t stay pure, nothing on this God-forsaken earth is pure. Everything if polluted. We live in filth. Before the liquor took too strong a hold on me, I remember trying to visualize her face–the same beautiful face that had appeared so often to me even during my deepest slumber–but tonight, all I could see was debauchery. “I can’t even LOOK at you ANYMORE!” I yelled into my glass of Jack Daniels, thinking I was talking to her. I know it sounds unfair. I know it sounds insensitive. I know she didn’t owe me so much as an explanation much less any loyalty. But I’m still allowed to mourn. I’m still allowed to hurt. All I hear about is that I need to be sensitive to everyone else’s feelings. I need to go out of my way not to offend anyone. But what, I’m not allowed to feel offended myself? Everyone else’s feelings & sentiments & world views matter except for mine, is that how it works? Is that how this SHIT works? Tonight, I was going to mourn the loss of something that I had held sacred so so long & I didn’t care if that was selfish of me or not!

For three years, when I’d look at Lorraine, I’d see God’s earthly MASTERPIECE. But now, every time I see her, even if it’s just in my mind, all I see is . . . .

Shattered, stained glass.

Secret Santa

Today’s post marks the fourth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of 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.

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I grew up in a close knit family, complete with a foundation of traditional values. Holidays were a particularly special time to revel in our unity within the household as well as our community. My parents would always throw a huge Christmas Eve party & every relative & close family friend & community member would make an appearance. This would go on from about 3pm till about 11pm at which time we would all abide by the Catholic tradition of attending Midnight Mass. Once we all grew up & moved away, however, these holiday gatherings became less frequent. During one such holiday season, however, my siblings & I were all able to secure time off at the same time & we somehow managed to spend Christmas eve under our parent’s roof just like old times. It should have been a happy time, but for me, it had occurred after the Fall of Lorraine & I was off in a corner by myself moping. My sister, without even looking up from her book, suddenly stated: “She’s just a girl.”

I questioned her & she clarified. “Lorraine is just a girl. No matter what else you think of her. She’s young & her world view isn’t even developed yet; it’s not even based on real world experience, just her parent’s ideas more than anything.” I didn’t respond. I disagreed entirely with my sister’s assessment but I didn’t feel like engaging in a conflict on Christmas Eve especially over a topic I had already made by mind up about. No one had to understand why she mattered so much to me. No one had to approve of the pain I felt; it was real regardless. And it didn’t matter why she mattered so much; just that she did. I sunk deeper into my reflective shell. The crackling of the logs in the fireplace made it easier to escape into the deep recesses of my memories. I would take a trip into the past in order to understand the present.

When I was a kid, Christmas was such a special season of joy & anticipation. School was about to be out. Family would be visiting from out of town. We would decorate the house & presents with my name on them would appear daily underneath the Christmas tree. Yes, this sounds a bit selfish but this is a childhood memory, after all. Even if my sentiments aren’t exactly philanthropic, they are at least–pure. I used to spend my evenings after school, back in the days when I didn’t have any homework to do yet, placing all my gifts in one area & then examining the boxes. I’d usually use a Goldilocks technique–pick the ones not too small or not too big & that were neatly wrapped in a tight square or rectangle. I’d filter two or three of these “just right” sized gifts & play the guessing game. What could it be? I’d pick them up & assess the weight. I’d shake them & listen for any excessive roll internally. I’d hold them close to my ear to see if the gift would whisper a hint to ease my childish curiosity. I loved the smell of the wrapping paper & Scotch tape especially after the gifts had been under the tree for a few days because the tape would often have pine needles stuck to it, adding an additional dimension to the holiday-themed sensory euphoria. On Christmas morning, when I finally opened the gift, I found myself bewildered to discover that the excitement of owning that highly sought after toy failed to linger as long as the anticipation of yearning for it. By the time night fell over Christmas day, although I was happy to have the toy I wanted–I was sad to see the gift boxes & wrapping paper thrown away. It was as if the presentation of a gift from someone who cared about me mattered more than the gift itself.

Well, one Christmas when I was older, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange at work. This quiet, brown-eyed girl from Accounting who I had always admired drew my name. I know the point of a Secret Santa is to conceal the identity of the gift giver, but I tend to be resourceful at solving puzzles. I asked around, made some inferences, caught some breaks, & boom! I discovered who drew my name. She placed a beautiful package under our company tree. It was long with a silver base color but covered with a pattern of green Christmas trees all over. In certain areas, you’d see prominent red ribbons available; & sitting atop the box, as if a crown, rested a beautiful red ribbon. For 12 days (You know, like “The 12 Days of Christmas”?) I wondered what hidden treasure lay inside. When I finally opened it up, I was stunned to find it empty except for a small piece of paper containing a short note that read: “I didn’t know what to get you, so I decided on the gift of excitement.” And you know what? Because of who this note came from, I wasn’t disappointed. I had been excited leading up to the moment I opened the box & peered inside. And for some strange reason, the excitement of receiving that special toy that would often wear off so quickly during my childhood seemed to linger longer this time around. All she gave me was a stupid piece of paper; but my reaction to that gift is what made it stick for so long.

When I tell people close to me the story of Lorraine & how I was almost friends with this girl–the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, the sweetest girl I will ever meet–they laugh. “Why are you still thinking about her?” they’d ask. “You two were never even together. How could you love someone you were never even really friends with?” They’d chide & ridicule relentlessly, trying to change my mind about how I should feel about my experience. I used to try to convince them that they were the ones who were blind not to see it, but I stopped. I don’t have to convince anyone else that she’s worth pining over or that the pain is real or that the feelings I had for her before The Fall were real. All I have to do is think back to the gift of my Secret Santa. It doesn’t matter that my story with Lorraine didn’t end the way it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter that all anyone remembers about my Secret Santa is that I received an empty box. Lorraine gave me the gift of excitement. She made waking up on cold, winter mornings fun for this life-long night owl. She gave me a reason to smile while I forced myself into a cold shower, half-asleep or as I sat in a cold snow-covered car waiting for it to thaw out. She made the painful ritual of awakening on a cold, cheerless workday happy because I burned with the anticipation of seeing her again, even for a few minutes. Lorraine, like my Secret Santa, gave me the gift of excitement . . . and she never even had to wrap it. I don’t care if no one else will ever understand it; but Lorraine’s gift to me never faded away into darkness the way Christmas Day would fade into Christmas Night. Even now, when I think of her, my heart leaps. The excitement she brought to my life remains in it, even if she herself is gone from it. I wish I could tell her “Thank you, Lorraine; my lifelong Secret Santa.”

I’m glad I can talk to you

Today’s post marks the second in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of 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. 

Photo illustration by Mindy Ricketts
Photo illustration by Mindy Ricketts

WARNING: Excerpt contains profanity & anger-driven language to enhance realism & achieve dramatic effect. 

It was an awful day at the office. Once again, I had to do all the dirty work. I had to field all the customer complaints. I had to resolve all the disputes. I had to run around like a one man “9-1-1” Emergency Service Operation for eight straight goddamn hours putting out one fire after another, breaking up a fight here & there, & even saving a kitten stuck in a tree! Okay. I’m not really an emergency first responder so I didn’t actually perform all those tasks throughout the city; I was stuck in an office building all day. But it sure felt like it. And what burns me up inside is that the tall, muscular, big-shot section chief got all the credit! Of course. He’s bigger than I am. He’s taller than I am. Everyone assumes he’s better than I am. But any time there’s a conflict, he manages to be somewhere else. And when I approach him for help, he shames me into handling the crisis myself. “Well, don’t tell me your too afraid to handle this on our own;” or, “Well, we expect that our staff should be able to handle such a routine scenario without help.” I used to believe him & feel ashamed; that the boss man was too busy & too important to handle these menial tasks that were my responsibility. But eventually I realized that he was just too scared to do it himself. “Holy Hell!” I thought. “What’s the point of being that damn tall & that damn big if you’re just going to be a big pussy?” It pissed me off so hard to know this about our huge boss & realize that all the pretty women in the office celebrate him as a demi-god while they simultaneously treated me like the neighborhood stray puppy. But I’m used to it. It’s fine. My goal in life isn’t  to stoke my own pride. I’m glad to have a job. I’m not worried about what every pretty female co-worker thinks about me.

I’m only worried about what she thinks about me. Lorraine (pronounced Lore Rain)– the purest of the pure, the apex of feminine virtue–as long as she saw through all the nonsense & recognized my value over Mr. Lucifer’s, then I was fine. I realized a while ago that we can’t spend our lives trying to please everyone; because that’s impossible. The trick is to pick the people who we absolutely cannot let down; along with the people who absolutely would not let us down–& focus on pleasing them. In the process, we will inevitably accomplish a life path that will please ourselves. That’s the goal, at least. To heck with what anyone else thinks; as long as Lorraine believed in me, I had all the motivation I will ever need. As long as Lorraine invests herself in my success, I had all the support I will ever need. I should take a step back to establish who this Lorraine is.

Lorraine is absolute beauty. I realize that beauty is relative–& there is hardly a consensus on physical beauty. But that’s the reason why I can say with clarity that Lorraine is absolute beauty. Her beauty transcends the physical. Her beauty transcends any individual sense. I can smell, taste, touch, see, & hear her beauty all at once. Even her voice is beautiful! The first time I witnessed her speak, I stood dumbfounded–unable to respond for a good two minutes or so. It was as though I had witnessed a divine being appear before me and, before I could even acknowledge the reality of such a fantastic moment, heard the delicate creature speak to me in that soft, melodious, music-box like voice. I often struggle with insomnia. Years ago, me & a couple of my bachelor buddies exchanged notes on living alone. I discovered that almost all of us slept with the TV on because the ambient noise off in the distance was the closest thing to having someone there with you. Whenever I relied on this tactic to fill a lonely void, it rarely produced positive results. But as soon as I heard even two syllables of that musical voice of hers, I instantly felt comforted enough to allow the spirit of drowsiness to take hold of me. “Wow,” I thought. “I would never have trouble falling asleep again if I had her to talk to at bedtime,” I thought.

But today at work, I saw Lorraine do something that was so out of character for her. She stopped when Hot-shot Boss Man approached her in the hallway. Instead of politely responding & then quickly excusing herself, she chose to linger for some reason. I wasn’t spying on them; I just happened to be on my way to the copy room. But Lorraine’s response was so far removed from what I’ve observed her do for the past three years, I stopped to watch. Was something wrong? Did Mr. Lucifer “Look-at-Me”/I’m so great” boss man have some bad news for this angel? I had to know.

They lingered for several minutes–way more time than was necessary for a quick, impromptu work-related update in the hallway. I took a closer look, & gasped at what I saw. Lorraine was smiling & laughing & carrying on with this insufferable CAVEMAN! I couldn’t believe it! Lorraine had worked with this dumb-ass Mastodon for three years & barely even acknowledged him outside of a clear job-function related directive. And what’s more is that she smiled! She NEVER smiles! I’ve only observed her smile at me a handful of times & that was enough to make me feel special. What now? Does this mean that Mr. Big Dick boss was suddenly special to her too? “He’s a fucking pussy!”I wanted to scream.

“Jack, I’m glad that I have you to talk to. I’m so pissed off by what I saw today. What do you think?”

Jack fell silent as he usually does when I pose an emotionally charged question to him. He usually does this because the answer is self-evident. I’m only asking someone else because I’m hoping they will talk me out of believing what I already know. After a prolonged silence, I lashed out, having answered my own dreadful question in my mind: “Fuck that worthless, 80-foot tall, 2800 lbs, DINOSAUR! He’s a NOBODY! He’s a NOTHING! Everything these pretty women think he is, he’s not! I’m the one who faces down conflict! I’m the one who charges into adversity! I’m the one who exudes every single goddamn allegedly “manly”quality that these confused women automatically attribute to Mr. Bigg Boss just because he’s so fucking big but I run this shit! I’m where the rubber hits the road! Fuck that gargantuan dumb-asss! He’s the NOBODY! But everyone treats me like I am. Why? Because I’m not as tall as he is? Because I don’t make as much as he does? Because I’m not in charge the way he is? Holy hell! Does every single woman have to follow this same blueprint & submit to the man with “authority”? He’s a fucking spineless wonder!”

“I don’t care, Jack.  I don’t fucking care! To hell with everyone else but as long as Lorraine was free from this trance, then my world would still turn.” It used to bother me–this paradigm of the hot girls always falling for the bad boy. I figured that only applied to the bad girls. But after I found myself on the short side of the straw too many times, I realized that even the good girls fall for the bad boys, no matter what they “claim” to be looking for. Fine. I made peace with that. I could do without the whole lot of them; as long as Lorraine stayed pure. “Damn it, Jack! Not her too!” I screamed.

“Excuse me sir,” a kind female voice pierced my frenzied state. “Do you mind cashing out now? We closed twenty minutes ago.”

“Oh yes. Sorry. I lost track,” I replied as I paid the bill. I looked around & was stunned to see what had been a crowded bar just minutes ago now appear empty save for the handful of staff left behind. I noticed chairs stacked against the walls, the floor wet in spots from having been mopped–oh, & it wasn’t even dark in there anymore. They had turned the lights on. Wow. I had really been lost in thought. I finished the last little bit of my drink & headed for the door. I felt warm & silly & the world was spinning; but I was still pissed as hell. I was sad. I was sad that I had a jerk-wad boss. I was sad that I did all the hard work & received none of the credit. I was sad that Lorraine had behaved just like a another pretty girl today when I know she is so much more. And I was sad that I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about my problems except for a bartender & a couple of waitresses who got paid to pretend to care . . .  oh, & of course, my good ‘ole pal Jack Daniels. Yes. At least I had Jack to help me get through life’s latest crisis. As I step outside I notice the ground is wet & think, “It must have rained the whole time I was inside.”

And then the rain came down

Today’s post marks the first in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of 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.

Eve

Her name was Lorraine (pronounced Lore Rain). But it should have been Eden; because when I first laid eyes on her, I swear to you I caught a glimpse of paradise. Laugh if you must. Write me off as trite. But you have no idea what it meant to me; meeting her. I had been through a rough stretch in life. I have had a rough time holding down a job of late although I had a decent education and a solid work history before it all started. The depression, that is–I had a solid work history before the depression started. My jobs required a lot of direct client interactions. I was sales & customer service–& somehow responsible for all the world’s ills, seemingly. Everything that went wrong was my fault. Any change in contract, drop in price, stipulation to a promotion–everything from my customer’s point of view was my attempt to squeeze another dollar out of them & I had the power to flip a switch & make everything right again if they just yelled enough. I’m sure someone was trying to squeeze another dollar out of them, but it wasn’t me! It was The Company. I’m a nobody to them. I can’t affect changes; I just sit at my desk & do as I’m told. But customers–they were convinced I was lining my own personal pockets with every ticky tack fee or every promotion that they almost qualified for. Holy Hell! It was like being stuck in a state of constant war. And I was getting it from both sides–stuck in “no man’s land” in a trench warfare style never-ending gunfight. These circumstances would sap the light out of even the kindest soul & replace it with darkness. And that’s what it did. In came the depression–or as I would later refer to it–the darkness.

I got to the point where I would call out sick & lay in bed all day, listening to the sounds of the world going on without me outside. At first, I thought “Ha, ha. I escaped & you guys out there don’t even realize you’re enslaved!” But this didn’t last. With the passage of each hour, then each day . . . it seemed odd. I knew I was somewhere I shouldn’t be. I either had to get up & join the rat race with everyone else, or I hide to really disappear. I couldn’t be part way in this world, part way out. The bed was no place to spend my day; not unless I was old & infirm. But I wasn’t; I was just . . . tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of conflict; tired of being caught in the middle of everyone’s self-serving manipulation. I felt like a ghost for hiding out & dodging life. Here I was in my bed taking up space, using electricity, racking up bills–but I wasn’t actively participating in the world around me.

It was a horrible feeling. Once I even considered jumping off the balcony onto the concrete parking lot below. I had called out sick from work so frequently that I was at the end of my accrued sick time as well as The Company’s patience. I tried to pep talk myself into getting up to “face the bully.” I told myself, “I’m throwing my life away by not getting up for work. I’m on the verge of termination. What do I tell my parents? What will I do for money? If I don’t get up, I’m as good as dead. I should just jump off the balcony before I call out sick again!” And for a moment, I considered what it would feel like to jump off the balcony, because I dreaded the thought of calling out sick that much! I imagined the wind in my face. I imagined serenity. Then I envisioned a graceful, slow-motion leap off the banister like you see in the movies . . . but then, I thought of gravity & the acceleration of the human body on a vertical drop. Somewhere along the line I learned about an equation that calculated this exact scenario–terminal velocity or something like that. Then I remembered that I don’t even like roller coasters because of the free fall! Then I envisioned that hard concrete getting closer & closer until–SPLAT! I got up. I wasn’t calling out sick on that day; I wasn’t going to break my parent’s heart by asking if I could move in with them again. But I wasn’t jumping off that balcony either. I went to work–that day, at least

I ending up leaving that work environment. Big surprise. And I had spent the last couple of years of my life just putting myself back together. I had gone back to teach myself the basics; as if I had to go through my entire upbringing all over again but in a period of months instead of years this time. I finally found a job with my regional health care provider. It wasn’t anything special, but it was something to do; & it was stable. And, after what I had been through during The Darkness, stability was the best I had hoped for. I hadn’t dared to ponder on any of life’s deeper questions, like love. But when I saw her . . . life suddenly meant more than simply getting out of bed & holding down a job. Life was more than just a checklist of responsibilities. Life’s purpose was more than just avoiding disappointment, which had been my state of mind during the recovery. I didn’t motivate myself but telling myself how great life could be again. I motivated myself by telling myself I could get to a place where it didn’t hurt as much anymore; and where I wouldn’t hurt the people who cared, like my parents. I wanted them to spare them sight of watching me flounder my life away yet again.

When I saw Lorraine–in an instant, I regained a lifetime of dreams that had eroded little by little over the years. Maybe now, you do understand what it meant to me; meeting her.

We were almost friends. Yeah, I know. This isn’t your typical love story–or even your typical heart break story. To have a bonafide heart break story you’d expect to see a demonstration of love. And while I think I loved her, I know she never loved me. No. She was more a metaphor for what life could be. She was the reason I got out of bed to make it to work on time on those cold winter early mornings when I hated to do so. She was, well, we’ll get to that later. She was symbolic to me. And then she disappointed me.

I speak of her in the past tense not because she’s gone; she’s still alive & well, & even young & strong. I wish her well. I speak of her in the past tense because she’s gone to me. Because I no longer have any contact with her or knowledge of her whereabouts. I speak of her in the past tense because, from my point of view, she’s part of my past. I’ll never see her again; never occupy the same space as she does, or even the same Time Zone! Call me a loser if you must, but I’ll confess that she’s never ceased being a part of my present. Because even now, I think of her constantly. And I declare that she will be part of my future, because I know that I’ll never meet someone like her again. That, “There’s someone out there for everyone! There a million fish in the sea” bullshit is a young man’s coping mantra. I’ve been alive long enough to realize that, at least for me, my time & opportunities are limited. Given my parameters, I will never meet someone like her again.

There are people who will say I got what I deserved. They’ll say it was unfair of me to place this heavy burden on her; this standard to uphold so that I could maintain faith in the world. They’re right; it was unfair. I should have never made her the force that pulled me away from the balcony ledge, should I ever sink to such despondency again. It was unfair for me to expect so much from her; but I don’t care. She still failed me. And I’m still angry with her for it. Spare me the, “This is more about you than it is about her.” I know all that shit; but know this–it still hearts like hell.

I still like to stand on balconies. I don’t plan to jump off any of them, I just like to feel the breeze. I like to watch the world for this secluded, unseen perch. When you’re at ground level, you only see what’s directly around you, & that’s it. But up here, you can see so much more. It’s like having a glimpse of past, present, & future all at once. Yeah; I like it up here. But what I like most of all about this balcony is watching the rain come in. I can see the clouds form in the distance. Up here, I even seem to catch a faint hint of thunder before everyone around me does. And then when those water pellets of rain start clashing with roof, with rock, with concrete & ground–I feel serene inside. It makes me want to reflect, which is good. I have a lot to reflect on. Maybe I can filter out this anger I have towards Lorraine for having let me down so miserably. Or maybe I’ll find a way to forgive her & move on. after all, even Eden didn’t last forever.

This is where my mind was as I stood on the balcony struggling to make sense of it all; and then the rain came down.