Stinkin’ Thinkin’

When I was a teenager and my depressive cycle started, my sister would tell me,

That’s stinkin’ thinkin’, stop it

She and her husband ran a sales office and motivation was their game. Positive thinking would drive a man to enter a strange place and do something completely out of character, and after that the money was addictive.

I always tried, for her, goddamn I worshipped her. She had always seen good in me, and told me.

That’s important, that you tell people good things you see in them. Not everyone can see good in themselves.

……

So my depression isn’t a constant. I have cycles that don’t run on a clock or a schedule. Most of the time I’m just normal depressed, and I’ve learned some good coping mechanisms for that.

I write, I focus on my children and wife, I watch funny movies or I play games and try to get out of my head.

It works for me.

Then comes the darkness… I never know when it’s going to happen but once it starts I can feel it

Suddenly there’s less to say

There’s a growing weight on my eyes, my shoulders start to slump

It gets hard to laugh

My mind goes numb

and for a week or two or a month

Watching The Princess Bride doesn’t fill me with nostalgia and laughter

I have to avoid most of the songs I love because they’ll send me into uncontrollable fits of sobbing

Stray thoughts float around and if I pull the thread

I’ll find death at the other end of the line

Ol’ Grim doesn’t give up…

As patient as death, is that a thing?

……….

When it passes, it does so like an Iowa summer thunderstorm. Rip through, make a lot of noise and leave a quiet sunny day in its wake.

I’ve felt it leave often enough that now I just ride it out, hoping it goes quickly.

I can tell my wife it’s starting and she loves me a little louder. As I fall into myself she holds my hand and won’t let me fall alone.

The second day (the one I’m on as I write this) is when the numbness dissipates and the memories flood my mind.

Standing up and speaking for the dead. I remember the words coming out of other’s mouths, telling me

She’s gone

He’s dead

Or I’ll be not thinking about anything in particular and suddenly I’m reliving some awful shit from my childhood

Sneaky fingers sneaky toes

Keep the secret no-one knows

And I can’t find my grown-up strength, I can’t find my walls, my mechanisms are seized up and nothing will help

….

Until it passes

I have to be very careful with

Stinkin’ thinkin’

Because the wrong thought has almost done Ol’ Grim’s work, before

Like the night I was in the bedroom closet with my knife and my wife, my savior, my angel,

Wrestled it out of my hands and damn near cut her thumb off

And I can try to make excuses to myself but I can’t look into her eyes and say words that are less than true

So I ride the darkness

and wait for the light.

I know it’s coming.

Reaching Back

I saw him.

He held a razor to his wrist, tears streaming freely down his cheeks.

He kept whispering, “Just do it. Just do it. Just do it.”

I saw him, trying to convince himself to cut his life off, and I had no idea how to stop him, or if I should try.

When animals are suffering, we kill them, and call it humane. Wasn’t he an animal? Aren’t we all? How could I tell him to prolong his suffering?

What could I say which would be honest enough to be accepted, and change his mind about life?

He lowered the razor to his wrist, prepared to cut open his veins, vertically, so there wouldn’t be time to save him, if they found him before he died.

He had a plastic bag, spread open below him, trying to be considerate, not wanting to leave too big a mess, for the unlucky soul which would find his body. An open bottle of aspirin lay on the counter, he had taken it to thin his blood. He had thought this through, maybe for years.

I could see him, but he didn’t see me, yet. I watched him deliberate his existence, and my heart broke for him. I could see that the perspective I had gained through life’s experience had not been revealed to him. He was fighting a battle which he was bound to lose, searching for meaning in a meaningless life. His pain was palpable as he swam back and forth through the waters of depression, and all I wanted was to throw him a line, help him back to shore, give him some way to make sense of it all.

Over and over he lowered the razor, then pulled it away, shaking his head, face twisted with pain and sadness. He was dancing with demons, first leading, and then being led. The agonizing march was tapping its way toward oblivion.

I resolved to cut in on his dance, and I made my move cautiously.

Trying not to startle him, I softly whispered, “Don’t do it.”

He looked up, finally seeing me. A brief recognition crossed his face, then the storm clouds crossed his sight again, and he asked, “Who are you?” I shook my head slightly, responding, “You’ll find out. What’s more important is who you are, and who you might be.”

Anger flashed as he caught my eyes, shaking his head violently, and said, “This life is too cruel, for me. I have tried to be happy. I have tried to be true. The two mix like oil and fire. Humanity spends all its energy trying to destroy each other, and greed is the law of the land. Because I’m young, they tell me I don’t understand, but I understand better than they do. This life is wrong. For me, for everyone. We are not animals, we are a virus, an infection. I won’t be a party to it, anymore. I will go, on my own terms. Now.”

He once again lowered the blade, this time touching the soft, thin skin at his wrist, piercing his skin and drawing blood. A look of determination had fixed upon his youthful features, and a small grin peeked out between his teeth.

Mind racing, desperate, I cried weakly, “Please, don’t do this.”
He looked up from his bloody wrist and stared into my eyes again. He angrily spat at me, “Nobody loves me. Not the real me. They don’t know me, and they don’t want to know me. Nobody will even take the time to find out who I am, what I need. They have no time for anything but their selfish pursuits, and I won’t feed their egos nor wallets. They don’t care to know me.”

I tried to send all of the love I possessed into his eyes as I whispered, “I do.”

Laughing angrily, caught off guard but unwilling to concede a single inch of battled-for ground, he walked toward me a step and thrust his face toward mine. The rage flew out of his eyes and his voice shook as he yelled, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!”

His point was valid. I nodded agreement, and put my hands up to show my surrender to his fury. I said, “I want to know you. If you die today, I never will.”

Shocked by my statement, he stepped away, looking down at his bleeding forearm. A crimson pool was collecting on the plastic below him, as his blood dripped down his fingers. He looked at me, then back at his arm. He started to speak, and his voice cracked.

Tears started flowing again, and he shook his head side-to-side. Shoulders slumping, he pointed his bloody hand at me, again tried to speak, but could only issue a mournful groan as the sobs ripped their way out of his throat. His anger faded, and he crumbled, limply collapsing, sobbing, to the floor.

I let him cry, speaking softly.

“You have only just begun. You will find your way to people who see you, understand you, and love the real you. You have more to be. You are needed. Your life has hurt you, and if you stick around, life will hurt you more. But you will grow strong. You have a purpose. There are people not yet born who need to know you. Would you leave them to their hurt, without your help? Without your love? Who will help them, if not you? Who can help the next young person to see their place in this life? The cruelty and suffering you see is real. You may be the only thing standing between someone and their grave. Someone will need you, and someone will love you. If you are here, breathing, living, fighting against the sorrow, the cruelty. To that person, to those people, you are already their life. Somewhere, someone is drowning in their own misunderstood sea…you have to be the driftwood to which they cling. You have to let them be saved, by your presence. If not you, there will be none. No rescuer, no lifeline, no hand reaching back to their flailing grasp. Your pain will not cease, but without you, they will never learn how to carry their own weight.”

When I finished speaking, a look of understanding was on his face. He stood, put the razor down, and looked me in the eyes.
“You’re right. I don’t know who they are, yet, but I need to be here, to be there for them.”

He picked up the plastic and placed it in the trashcan. Looking at me again, he said, “thank you”, and walked away from the mirror.

Again The Night

Through the darkness, the beast stalks
slowly, cautiously, tasting the air, peering through the shadows
perked ears straining for the slightest shift, the indrawn breath
silently probing the impenetrable darkness
for sign of the prey
prey which too suddenly could become predator
there, the whisper of flesh against tree-trunk
frozen, the beast fixes upon targeted shadow
swift and sudden, one fluid motion to the creature’s throat
teeth crushing breath, metallic life spurting as molten lava
death incarnate, the beast ends the creature
blood staining his fangs-

a noise
suddenly awake from my dream of predatory tension, lying next to her, I am a coiled spring, in my bed. Did I hear that, or-
again, a soft thud
a sharply indrawn breath
she shifts next to me, and now sure that my dream is over, I time my movements with her deep breaths, so I am not heard
inhale- my feet to the floor, softly
exhale- I stand and slowly move to the open door of our bedroom,
stopping just to the side of the opening. Knees slightly bent, head cocked to the side, I taste the air, searching the darkness for any unfamiliar scent
perked ears strain for the slightest sound, waiting for my prey to give away its location
there, a rustle of flesh against soft carpet
my mind sharpens, as my heartbeat increases slightly, adrenaline coursing through my body, in anticipation
I visualize my movements, I will be prepared,
sudden and swift I will be through the door and upon the intruder,
hand to throat as I attack, force the creature to the ground and overwhelm with ferocity, gathering violence in my bones, I aim towards the sound, swiftly and suddenly through the door-

my son lies on the floor, beside his bed, twists again to escape the monsters in his head… so much like me.
Calm, now, I scoop his sleeping body up, and he curls toward me, puts his hand on my chest and murmurs softly, still lost in his dream world
I gently lay him back in his bed, covering him with his soft baby blanket, then the thick comforter

I lie back in bed, mentally laughing at myself, careful not to disturb my wife from her all-too infrequent sleep. As I curl up next to her she reaches out for my hand

I close my eyes
Through the darkness, the beast stalks

Lasting First

In the time before the life I know

there was, basically,

everything that has ever been.

Life is long, so long it seems impossible. The first day of life is perfectly terrible and a lot of boulders roll down slopes after.

I know right here you’re expecting that I’ll tell you how short life is, that it moves too fast and you can’t get back your time and everyone you know will die before you do, maybe, if you’re lucky you might have enough time to do all you want.

But that sentiment has been shared ad infinitum and I think it’s bullshit.

Life is long, so amazingly and insanely long that there’s time to do everything. Every day is 23 hours and 56 minutes long, each of those minutes has time for me to live a minute, to torture myself for some pain I caused twenty-six years ago, to live in a memory of passionate lust and desire that went away seventeen years ago. One minute in so many days and what do I do with these minutes…

I’ve just spent three writing that paragraph. Considering the words and how I want to make my point, to cast the hook and see if I can get you to bite.

If you’re reading this sentence I’d guess that you’re interested enough to get to my point.

Life isn’t short. Even for a baby that dies on her second day, life is not immediate. Awareness creates perception which in turn creates a clock ticking, this breath and that heartbeat.

When Matt Wafer flew out of the rolling SUV and died as a nineteen year old kid, his life wasn’t short. He made it through about 7200 days full of minutes and seconds and thoughts and hopes and laughter and love.

When Ethan Eayre, great big goofy kid wrapped in the sins of his father, his mother, his older brother, died from a simple infection that became the descriptive and fun-to-remember labels “morbidly obese” when he lived and died, he still does, I’m in that moment now, telling my mother in the lobby that, yes,

She can do this.

She can say goodbye to her youngest son, she can carry herself through that moment, because he lived all of his days as a loving and confusingly decent person, a fluffy and smiling friendly-bear going around making people happy, mostly… In part. He lived a life as he could, and it is over, so, Mother, you won’t freak out

you’ll go in there and cry for him, cry for yourself, you’ll give his life the respect which is due.

The time we live is not short.

I live those days every day…and more.

That night in 2001 I walked into a room and was claimed by grey eyes that want to see me, the smile that needs to kiss me, the mind that needs my mind and my time, I’ve lived that moment a thousand times in the seventeen years and a few months since… I can still feel the first kiss,

it’s still the first kiss every time.

That moment has lasted all of these years and been added to all of the eternal and looping events I’ve seen and touched, I could try to forget what it was

but those pains and joys matter so much, I’ve lived those days with my grandmother, I’ve laughed with the boys and wrestled my brother, I’ve had parties and road trips and I’ve been to weddings and my own,

my own wedding has never ended,

she just walked out into the sun, and

my head got funny.

In a swirl of heat and love and pressure building inside a dynamite keg, she was there, looking just like the only thing that has ever been real.

I’m in that moment, right now.

And the backyard when we were kids.

I’m driving through mountains with her and the kids and we’ve pulled over to a rest stop without lights,

13,000 feet above sea level

and we can see the galaxy,

we’re watching the spin of infinite depths of time and light, in our little remote spot

I looked up as we held hands for a moment and I almost disappeared.

I’ve lived those moments,

Every day.

So don’t tell me that life is short,

because people died and you got to keep living, you get to keep living those laughs and smiles and hugs and tears, those days with calendar stars, the days that got pinned to the pages of a photo album, you get to live those every day until you go.

Life is long, incredibly and depressingly long. Life is longer than everything else.

You’ll never do anything that lasts longer than life.

The trick is making it through each moment and remembering.

A Miss Before Flying


i want to run away,

To stay,

And I can’t find the way,

No method in my mind

To leave this behind,

The traps that I find
I want to go home

Too tired to roam

I left a feeling alone

And never touched it,

But now It’s reaching me,

It’s begging and beseeching me

To return from the far away roads

To the place that I know

To where I started the show,

My heart started to grow,

My mind started to know,

All that matters
I want a ticket on a plane

Before I can’t afford it

I want a place to remain

Where all my love won’t be hoarded

In tiny boxes and bags

In finery and rags

On a throne or in the gutter

Commanding armies or

Churning butter

I want a plan for escape

With minimal red tape

And a happily-ever-after at the end

I want more than I’ve earned

But look how I’ve learned

I won’t leave any stones unturned

To find my home, to not be alone, to remove from my bones this longing and aching, to seal up the cracks in my breaking, to once again start giving more than I’m taking,
I need a vacation

And I don’t want to take me along

Through A Mist

I will not see your face with my eyes, nor touch your hands with my own.

I will never hear your voice outside of my dreams, I cannot watch you live.

A life is not made of time.

Supposing I knew you, I weep in secrecy for what I might have known.

I can tell the story of what may have been and what was, I can interpret my intuitive emotions into language and create a space for you in the hearts that might understand.

When I was twelve I had a kitten, he ran away before he was two months old.

When I was nineteen I had a crush on a girl that didn’t return the favor.

When I was thirty-two I forced life to my will and captured love and family.

When you were-

When you were-

You weren’t.

Perhaps I didn’t do it right, maybe a mistake on my part left you on the other side of the veil. It could be that I wish it was my fault, I’ve always been more comfortable wearing blame than my own face. It could be that random chance left me an unintended consequence.

When you were… No.

You were not, you were almost.

I will never forget your name, the sound that means my smile. I will never let go of your possibility. I will be what is, I will be your life. You exist in me.

I will hold your image, bouncing curls and sad eyes over a glowing, crooked smile.

I will say your name in privacy, I will call your name through the mist of what might have been until my lungs stop drawing breath and my mind can finally let go.

There is at least a small chance, still, that this life is my dream and one day I will wake to find that nothing was lost.

Madness and Other Games

I wouldn’t tell you that it was magical, no, the way she smiled and turned her head to the side, glancing sideways at me. 

My breathing didn’t change, I was forged in fires and tempered by vigilance. 

I wouldn’t say it was supernatural or otherworldly, when she asked me to light her cigarette and cupped her palms around my hand, softly brushing my knuckles with her pinky. 

She took a draw and the cherry glowed and as she pulled back she winked at me. 

“Thank you,” she breathed around the smoke and I couldn’t remember the response, decades of polite conversation guidelines gone in one second, 

but, no, I wouldn’t try to tell you it was poetic, or momentous, it was just a normal, ordinary, every day type of life-altering instance, boy meets girl, girl smiles, 

boy forgets how to do the thing, with the words and the voice, that thing. 

I couldn’t ask you to believe that love can really happen in a moment, at&first&sight. You’ve read the stories and you’ve seen real life and there’s no chance that you would take my story as something real. 

The light through the window fell only and directly on her mouth, and I had to kiss her, and I knew I loved her when she said “Hi” and I knew that she loved me when I smiled, I knew that I could have asked her to go with me, for coffee, for a beer, for a wedding, for a lifetime, after three seconds. 

I’m not asking you to believe this and hope that you’ll find that kind of connection. 

Sixteen years and ten months later she sits next to me as I write of that moment, and I’ll read this to her as soon as I am finished. 

I don’t need you to accept these words. 

She did. 

Anniversary

He took the microphone and walked to the center of the dance floor with her, as everyone pushed back. She clutched her dress nervously, never liking the spotlight.
The music started, and she smiled like the sun breaking through clouds. ‘Butterfly’ had long been one of ‘their’ songs, he would sing to her in front of people with no fear, and seeing him free made her happy, so he kept doing it.

he sat down next to her hospital bed, again. the chemo treatment always took so much out of her that she slept for hours afterward. he sat and waited for her to wake up every time. lately it had been longer each time, he would sit, and watch her sleep. the pain showed on her face even though she was drugged for pain… the brain never let anything happen without noticing.

He slowly danced around her as he sang, touching her shoulder then pressing up behind her, spinning away and leaning toward her as he sang the sexy words to her- always, only her.
She began to loosen up a little, swaying back and forth and staring at his eyes and mouth as he sang, reaching up to caress his cheek, then yanking on his beard lightly with a mischievous grin. He started really feeling his voice as he got further into the song, serenading his love on their anniversary.

she woke from her drugged sleep to see him sitting next to her, as always. “Hi, love” she said. he rubbed her hand softly in his grasp, looking at her face without meeting her eyes. she noticed the evasion, of course. she always saw everything he felt.
“what’s wrong, baby?” she asked, squeezing his fingers softly, as firmly as she could.
“they said it’s over”, he whispered. he continued looking at her hand, caressing her fingers lightly. “they said hospice care is the only option left.”
she smiled, a wry, half-smile. she had known this was coming. the fight had been long and painful, and each step had been a step backwards. a step toward death. she tried to make him smile, tried to put the old familiar sarcastic tone in her voice, “what do they know?”
it came out weakly, quivering, feeling every bit as sad as she felt.
he looked at her eyes then, his eyes glowing with fervent emotion. “I won’t let it happen this way, baby.”

Then he got to the part of the song where lyrics disappear in favor of scat- and he stumbled. Trying to find the rhythm again, he did a very poor imitation of the singer.
It was agonizingly painful. The look of delight which had painted every face in the room turned to embarassment and sympathy as he kept going.

the plane ride was awful. fourteen hours from San Francisco to Greece, with several painful moments along the way. he held her hand as they landed, and said, “we made it baby. we made it.”

A voice broke out of the back of the room, “Stop, that’s not right.”
Shocked gasps spread across the room as horrified onlookers all turned to the owner of the voice. Her angry face stabbed daggers through the low light, livid that someone had interrupted her husband’s loving but awful singing.
A slight figure walked forward, wearing his signature hat, holding a guitar. Recognition turned all the shock to outright disbelief as everyone assembled realized who it was. She looked over to her husband to see a huge grin across his face as he looked back at her. Understanding followed immediately, as she realized what her husband had done.

they walked slowly out onto the beach, white sand gleaming in the sunlight. she was barely alive, but his love carried her all the way to the waterline, where they sat down in the clear blue waves. he cradled her body against his, her now frail body leaning against his healthy bulk. she nestled her face against his neck as he held her, water washing against their hips as they sat in the gentle surf. he whispered imagined tales of their life to her, telling her of all the things they would have done, explaining all the adventures they were going to miss. they sat there for the entire day, he whispering in her ear, she feeling her life slowly fade from her body as the water took their stories away into the Mediterranean.

The singer walked over to the couple, and said, “Can I help?”
They quickly gave assent, he laughing and she with her eyes wide. She mouthed the singer’s name as she went into her husband’s arms, shaking her head. She smiled up at him, tears glistening in their beautiful home before escaping down her cheeks.
The singer looked at the band, and signaled them to resume, then he picked up right where the man had faltered, scatting through the difficult part. The happy couple danced through the end of the song, and everyone joined them, The singer played their other songs, all of them, and had the man join in on a few parts.
After the music stopped, the man once again took the microphone. He walked to the center of the floor with his wife again, and raised the microphone to his mouth.

she stopped moving just after night fell. he sat there with her as the moon rose, soft white light shining and reflecting off the water as they sat. beginning to shiver with cold as darkness surrounded her, he told her now, still form, the story of their love- stories of imagined times being painted on an invisible canvas. after he finished, he stood up, cradling her lifeless form close to his chest. he walked slowly up to the resort hotel, mentally preparing for the job ahead- the last duties he had as a husband, seeing to her body’s last disposal. the tears flowed freely down his face as he walked, her body not much more than a bundle of sticks in cloth. the disease had taken away all of her substance.

Voice trembling, he said, “You have been my life. You are every word and every poem and every song, all the words and thoughts I have been trying to wrap around your heart. You have lifted me from my grave, given me safety and inspiration, you have held me through every storm that has ever raged in my soul. I would marry you again, every day, just to hear you promise to be mine. You are the only place I have ever wanted to be, and I am yours forever. As long as I exist, I will be needing you.”

they took her body away, and he sat alone in the hotel room. they had dreamed for so long of being here, in Santorini. they had not foreseen the path life had chosen for them- their journey here had been only a defiant gesture. he sat in the room, unable to sleep without her. he cried without sound, sitting on the end of the bed. there was no solace for him, no hope of home. his only home had died in his arms, and there was no longer a reason for him to hold his sadness back. finally free of hope, his lifelong melancholy flowed through him, as he dissolved over and over in his hotel room in paradise. he held a photo of her, smiling at him, and repeated over and over again, “I love you, my soul.”

Beaming at him, shining at him, looking at him as though he were the only thing that existed, smiled as wide as she could, and said,

“Likewise.”

In Pieces or Whole

I had a dream that I was sitting with my dead sister and my dead brother

and I was describing to them the way that Dennis the Menace park in Monterey had been dismantled, destroyed and abandoned

which was strange because the park hasn’t been, it’s still there and functional

but I told them in detail the way that the train had been melted down 

and the big slide ripped out

and the tables were burned

and as I told them, in my dream, it never occurred to me that they were dead

or that I was describing an important part of my childhood that was gone

and when I woke I felt the pieces come together and the picture fell apart

because somewhere between a group of kids playing at the park and an almost-forty-year-old man having a dream 

some dreams were lost, some dreamers woke, some nightmares came true

and I massaged my temples for at least twenty minutes while my wife slept and the darkness changed to dawn, my head and neck and shoulders aching and refusing my request to slip back into sleep

when we were kids we would play and laugh and it never mattered if we got hurt because we were going to live forever

and the secrets behind the daytime smiles were never told

In loving memory of Ruane Richardson and Ethan Eayre