“Idiot,” her brain screamed when her feet stopped running at the edge of the wood. Her heart entered the darkness, even though it was folly going through the dense undergrowth, especially at her age.
Entering the field behind her, her followers screeched her name, “Ella, Ella.”
They would follow her path, etched by her own feet which had forged a damned line through the tall grasses straight to her current location.
What choice did she have?
She crashed through the brush. Branches ripped at her bare legs and arms. “More path paving,” she muttered.
So much anger, so much time spent at the end of a rope. She couldn’t blame them. She wasn’t any better off than the lot of them, struggling with the emptiness thrust upon them. She understood the burden she had become, but couldn’t agree to their solutions.
A patch of sunlight caught her eye. She pushed through the foliage and gasped as the first wash of light engulfed her. She knew this place. Knew it as the end of the line.
Ahead of her was a thirty-five foot plunge into a raging river.
Branches snapped as her followers entered the forest.
She walked toward the cliff.
At the edge, a single lily waved, lifted to and fro by a gentle breeze, a white flag of surrender.
She sighed and sat, legs dangling, and stared at the water below.
Once, then twice, the wind pushed the lily against her bare arm.
She looked at the sky: quiet, clear serenity above her. “Three hours until nightfall.”
The lily nudged her arm a third time.
It was possible. If she was as quiet as the sky, she could hide in the undergrowth until dark.
I am very grateful for my sisters of Women Writers of the Well. If you are an aspiring writer reading this, I recommend the idea of joining or creating a group of like-minded people who meet with the intent to support each other’s writing efforts. The magic of connection is everything. It’s a miracle. Without the support of these women, it would have taken much longer to find my way out of the dark, uninspired hole into which my creativity fell. They shone a light into that darkness and helped me crawl out step by step. I am still climbing, but I can see the way ahead.
In an effort to get me working on this blog again, I asked my writing sisters to share work with me any time they wanted it published. Anne B. Jeffries shared my last blog. This blog I share with Shari Anderson. She sees the Light everywhere and shines it brightly for her students, her musical sisters and brothers, her family, and her friends of which I am so blessed to be considered. Shari combines musicality within her prose and poetry. She isn’t afraid of experimentation. She publishes songs and chants, and is a beloved performer in this lovely area of California. She is one of those people that prefers to see the positive even when others can’t see it. Here is the sample of her writing she has sent to share with you:
Her voice –
warm and compassionate
Magically weaving wisdom and breath
Loving head to knowing heart
In, through and around
A creative dance from impulse Divine
traveling as words into our minds
Why does the word, dynamics, when paired with family, feel so very different than the same word applied to music?
“Family Dynamics” feels complicated, determined by emotional responses and past triggers, but talked about with rational, linear vocabulary completely insufficient to the task.
Dynamics in music evokes: expressiveness, freedom, flow, creativity, give and take, communication.
Maybe the key to better family dynamics is a musical approach, an excitement, a curiosity, an impulse to dive in so we can soar.
“So, we can soar.”
I agree with this wholeheartedly, having come up with a different viewpoint from the prompt “Family Dynamics” using words such as: responsibility, expectations of generations, fear tactics, grief dynamics, frustration with education, anger and growth – family – it is what it is: life shared.
The fact is, we all come out of families with a better understanding of who we are, and how to love.
That is cause for celebration. That’s enough to make us all take flight.
Shari is the one that pointed out that my attempts at creating acrostics with the word ‘practice,’ amounted to a journey through a lifetime study of music. My words take flight here because she found the value in them. I didn’t read these in this order because I didn’t write them in this order, but she saw it this way and now I do too:
Thank you Shari.
Thank you Readers. May you take flight until next time you land on my blog space.
In June of 2020 I ‘graduated’ from teaching. Teaching requires mindfulness and extreme focus, a one-hundred percent investment of love during time spent one-on-one with a child or with a group in the classroom. It requires setting aside self to see and hear others instead.
One of my sister writers, author of “Cross Roads,” Anne B. Jeffries, agreed to post on my blog this week. She had just finished a full day of commitment at school but she came to write with us. She is adept at pouring Heart. When she attends our Wise Women Writing group, she feeds our souls. In a mere ten minutes, she addresses each prompt with profound honesty. Her act is an inspiration for the rest of us. She demands authenticity for herself, while maintaining curiosity, joy, love, and compassion for the rest of us.
Dear Readers, I don’t know what some of you do, but I do know that if you are reading my blog you have a sincere desire to connect with heart. Anne’s heart makes a big connection.
Anne, thank you. I feel honored that you have given me your words to give to my readers. Fellow teacher, fighter for children, fighter for people, Anne, I love your heart. You pour out all it carries every day and I know your students feel your intent. Your writing takes away my breath and reminds me that teaching is something I still love to do.
It’s not just my memories sleeping,
It’s all of it.
A honey drip slowness.
I can catch up tomorrow.
Just want to sink down in sleep.
Like a frenetic fall.
What is the charge?
Is it my nervous system that signals the experience to fizzle,
Lose its edges?
Then, sink away in categories and compartments,
With no present security access?
Where is my agency?
Who is filing these memories and who granted permission for this protocol?
Or, maybe, it’s all chaos and no “thing” has access.
My consciousness just sifts above it all like a metal detector pulling up old coins.
What about the pieces made of wood and plastic?
What loosens those?
He said it’s like wearing a lie on his face.
I feel that way all the time.
In class- with him- with them.
Like I’m a puppet driven by a motor I did not program, or know how to run.
I peered out from below the lip where I stuffed myself down into a pouring cup,
Until all the drops of the eternal minutes,
Ran out against the automaticity
Of that forced time.
There is something about the inability to walk away.
A fabric woven together?
Fabric doesn’t work
because it’s made of thread that can be woven into something else.
My sentiment is too deep to separate out –
Like color in the sky?
Color is only light.
What holds us together?
Is it, in fact,
Check it out
If you would like to read more of Anne’s work, check it out here:
Author’s Notes: Writer’s block. Everyone has heard about it, jokes made, condolences offered. It’s a real thing, a time most Creatives face. The well of ideas runs dry, the lake of inspiration empties and a desert of despair stretches farther than one can see. I had it bad, wandering that desert for at least six months.
One of my writing sisters sympathized, stating her creativity had recently become dormant. We discussed the idea. She was taking a course by David Whyte who offered a solution.
She shared it with me. “Ask yourself, what do you want to say that you are not saying?”
It is a question any creative person can mold to unblock many avenues of stagnation. For an artist, “What do I need to see that I won’t look at?” For musicians, dancers, actors, “What do I need to feel that I haven’t allowed?”
When Lynnea Paxton-Honn shared this with me, my re-awakening began. “What do I want to say that I am not saying?”
In California, where we live, January roared into our state with a deluge capable of filling dry lakes and ponds, and creating new ones, seemingly overnight. It ferociously filled rivers, washing away many things. Tides surged, waves plundered. From Earth’s perspective the rain was needed even though it was so destructive. From a spiritual viewpoint, it was a physical expression of the need to wash away all that no longer serves, a process that caused great grief, but also opened new solutions and opened hearts. It awakened memories, and filled our creative lakes and wells with words for both of us…I am thrilled to present Lynnea’s poem Memories Sleeping.
(Author’s Note: This read is less than five minutes, just in case…).
On Mondaymorning, while olive oil heated in her favorite skillet, Mary broke a white, pasture-raised egg into a glass bowl, picked up her whisk, and froze. She was hungry. Did she want two eggs? Deciding she did, she whacked the second on the edge of the bowl.
Her hand slipped.
The top half of the shell fell into the bowl with the first egg. The other half, the half with most of the egg, dropped onto the counter. The yolk broke and bled into the sticky whites which slowly dripped onto the floor.
She grabbed the bowl with one hand and held it under the dripping egg while she scooped the slimy whites, yolk, and shell into the bowl with the other. Then she grabbed a cloth and wiped the counter.
“What a mess,” she thought.
She reached into the bowl to fish out the shells….
Mary stood in front of the stove with an empty skillet in her hand. She set it on a back burner and poured approximately one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan. Then she turned the gas under the burner on low, and went to the porch to retrieve the egg carton from her refrigerator.
While the olive oil in the skillet heated, she broke a pasture-raised white egg into the glass bowl, stared at it for a moment, then decided she wanted two eggs. She whacked the second on the edge of the bowl.
At that moment, her hand spasmed.
One-half of the shell fell into the bowl with the first egg. The other half dropped onto the counter. The yolk broke and bled into the sticky whites which slowly dripped onto the floor.
“Sheee-it,” she said.
She grabbed the bowl and with one hand, held it under the dripping egg….
Mary sipped at her coffee wondering what to cook for breakfast….
The coffee finished dripping. Mary reached for her favorite mug. It was in the sink with yesterday’s grounds. She squirted a drop of Dawn Antibacterial Apple Blossom scented soap into it. She did not wait for any hot water because the soap claimed to be antibacterial. She quickly scrubbed the mug, rinsed it, and dried the outside before she filled it with coffee.
She sipped her coffee as she walked to the refrigerator to grab a carton of eggs, which she set upon the counter before grabbing a small iron skillet. She set it on a back burner and poured approximately one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan. Then she turned the burner on low. While it heated, she cracked one egg into a small glass bowl. “Should I eat two eggs,” she said to absolutely no one….
Where had the days and nights gone? It was already Friday and Mary couldn’t remember a single event except the broken eggs on her counter. Oh. She was tired and hungry.
She oozed out of bed, wondering why in the world she should be so exhausted. She slumped to the kitchen and filled the water kettle. She pushed the switch to heat the water, grabbed the small French press on the counter and measured exactly three precisely filled scoops of Peet’s French Italian dark roast into the small thermal press.
While she waited for the water to heat, she wondered if it would be fun to mix it up this particular morning. Maybe pancakes would be more fun than a couple of fried eggs would. She walked to the back porch hoping she still had a bag of Bob’s Redmill Gluten-free pancake mix.
She hunted both the cold box and the freezer units. There was no pancake mix, so she grabbed the carton of eggs, walked back into the kitchen and set it onto the counter.
The water pot clicked off, so she filled her press and set the timer for four minutes to brew the dark roast.
Grabbing her favorite skillet for frying eggs….
While Mary lay in bed, she thought about the weekend ahead of her and hoped….
On September 6, 2022, authors that know or work with DC LIttle Publications are having a launch party on Facebook from 10:30am to 8:00 pm. You have a chance to meet many authors, win prizes, and play fun games. Use this link to find join in the fun.
Synopsis of Shaman’s Mirror: ( See the end of this blog for information on preordering this novel. Thank you Readers. Your support means the world to me!)
“He isn’t really here…it is just a dream.” Sara Tyler, a divorced empty nester from Olympia, Washington, feels grateful that the man with the flashing, gold-flecked eyes is only a recurring character in her dreamscapes. Much younger than she, her own ageism raises its ugly head in the form of an old shaman who throws her and her dream lover into the belly of a mountain. The repetitive, haunting dream threatens to upend her mundane reality, and sense of personal worth.
In Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Jason E. Scott is troubled. Funding for a major project will end if he cannot give his trustees results. While drunk and hiding in the desert, Jason confronts a shaman resembling the one who haunts Sara Tyler’s dreams. The shaman magics him into the living room of a woman he does not know, but somehow recognizes.
During a trip to visit her best friend in Tucson, Sara cannot escape the shamanistic specter who ominously reminds her, “Now is the time.” A vision reminds her: the man with the gold-flecked eyes cannot be real; dreams are merely neurons firing during the night or heat-induced mirages.
Sara’s friend begs her to leave her old life and move into the cottage next door. The Anthropology department at the University posts an assistant job, wanting an expert in Paleolithic art, the job Sara has always wanted.
On her way to the interview, Sara hits Dr. Jason E. Scott’s car in the parking lot. The man with the gold-flecked eyes is real. Bull-headed and obnoxious, Jason attempts to discourage her acceptance. She takes the job. He creates impossible situations hoping to convince her that she cannot handle it. His fear for her teaches him that the Mirror has called her as well.
Backpacking, they look for the probable site. She and Jason fall into the belly of a mountain known as Old Granite Woman. In its heart, they are convinced that the only way out is to find the Mirror. While searching, they develop a camaraderie that begins to feel romantic. Their presence in the cavern awakens the magic that resides there. The shaman appears and thrusts them deeper into the belly of Mother Earth to face their pasts. Jason relives the loss of his best friend, whom he considered his true brother. Sara falls into the Mirror and disappears, deserting Jason to suffer his private hell.
Sara awakens as Saw-ra, a Homo erectus woman with a simpler outlook on life. She meets her mate, Jin, whom she instantly recognizes as Jason. She experiences simple day-to-day living until she meets a sea creature. There are no words for such an animal. Saw-ra, compelled to tell her story, draws it upon the cave wall. Her clan sees this as strong, dark magic. Terrified of the creature seemingly alive on the back wall of their home, the clan abandons the woman who put it there, Jin, and their desecrated cave.
While living without the protection of their clan family, Saw-ra and Jin witness fire for the first time and learn to use it. Their child is born with evolved traits inherited from Saw-ra. A cruel and vengeful alpha male returns with the clan. Reactive and violent he kills Jin because of the magic of the drawings and the fire in the hearth. The clan stones Saw-ra, but they take her daughter when they leave the cave with its terrible magic. After death, Saw-ra awakens in the presence of the old shaman, who explains her journey.
Jason, trapped in the chamber during Sara’s long journey, cannot return to freedom without her nor does he want to. While waiting for her return, he searches for a way out. He discovers a chamber filled with wondrous paintings adjacent to the Mirror. His heart tells him he has found Sara.
The old Shaman returns Sara to Jason. They acknowledge and consummate their love. An Earthquake opens the cave, freeing them. With the evidence buried by the quake, they cannot share their historic find, but Sara now understands more about life, and discovers how worthy she is.
You can preorder and e-book on the following links. A paperback version is scheduled to go live by the end of the month.
When I woke in the morning, I could feel it. A miracle was coming. My heart wanted me to see the full eclipse of the super moon in Scorpio. I looked out my window. Overcast. I would see it only if the clouds in the sky moved on. I wished with all my will for a strong breeze to push them along.
As the day slipped by, my anticipation grew. Something would change tonight. I felt sure of it. Whether I witnessed it or not would be another story, but if I couldn’t see it with my own eyes, I could still sit under the canopy of the sky and feel it…maybe.
Ghrian set late. His orange arms wrapped the sky for one last hug as he slipped beyond the Pacific horizon.
Ghealach lan was exasperatingly slow to rise. I did not know the exact location she would appear, and I didn’t want to miss anything so I did not wait on my property for a chance to see her through the branches that umbrella my yard. Instead, I walked up and down the hill trying to glimpse her from a view that was not obstructed by tall trees.
My cats wondered what I was up to and sat on the front stairs watching me crest the rise, disappear, and then reappear.
My neighbors must have wondered, “What’s up with her,” because ordinarily I keep to myself. This moon was drawing me out, asking me to venture forth, to witness…something. I had to go.
I made several trips waiting…waiting…waiting. Would she rise above the Sierra Nevada in time for me to see this event?
Finally, the imperative to walk away from my property to a place up the street paid off. Ghealach lan rose slowly, peering through the trees which sat on a higher point of the hill to the southeast.
It took forever to show her entire face. I sat and prepared to wait. People were out. I could hear their voices, but no one came down the road upon which I sat. The sky was clear. I was a grateful witness.
My faithful black cat, venturing out of his territory to check on me, wondered what I was doing sitting in the road. I pulled him into my lap and said, “I am safe. I can’t go home. I have to be here.”
Time stopped as Ghealach lan floated higher against the black sky. Purpose obscured her light. She looked like a dull, orange marble floating in a black sea. I felt her stealth, a wolf taking her place as guardian of the pack. Her energy increased, though her light did not. She prepared for something….
Slowly, she inched toward the zenith until she settled within the ‘v’ between two trees.
As I gazed, my heart reached toward her. Blood stilled in my veins. I held my breath. Even the twinkling stars fell quiet.
Shadows trembled around me, rising one by one.
“Come,” said Ghealach lan. “Your time here is done.”
Releasing their hold on Earth, shadows slowly rose at her bidding. They swirled through the air, catching zephyrs as they followed an inescapable impulse to join her.
My bones loosened. I felt my energy sink into the Earth. Shadows long wrapped around me let loose.
“Come,” said Ghealach.
My shadows drifted toward the heavy darkness that swirled toward the moon. She gathered them one by one, accepting each as a long lost child. When she grew heavy with their darkness, she silently slipped away, leaving the sky and my heart to grieve her disappearance.
Intellectually, I know what happened in that brief instance, but I prefer the magic. I could no longer see her or feel the comfort of knowing she was there, hovering watchfully above us. In my heart, I saw her release each shadow to the Universe, Itself a willing swallower of sorrows. As the shadows slipped from Ghealach’s grasp, her face, a mere promise of orange against the matted sky, became visible to a sharp eye watching for her.
I breathed a prayer, “Thank you, Seanmhair.”
She had willingly taken my shadows from me.
They had answered her command.
I heard her say, “From this moment, your life is forever changed.”
I folded my hands against my heart and took a deep breath. Then I bowed as I felt the gravity of that.
Slowly, her dull orange face glowed brighter.
I slipped back whence I came, to the shelter of my trees and my home.
I don’t believe in lawns. I don’t like wasting water. I certainly don’t like mowing a swath of grass that has no purpose except to use water to stay green. I do appreciate a plant that resembles a lawn in the springtime: three-cornered leeks (Allium triquetrum), commonly known as Snowbells.
They are not natives to California. Settlers brought these Mediterranean beauties with them when they settled here during the Gold Rush. Considered an invasive plant, and by some folks, noxious weeds, I love them. As a reluctant gardener, I am always happy when plants, especially edible plants, invite themselves into my yard. I especially love the plants that grow prolifically because they crowd out any Bermuda Grass, which I consider a noxious weed. My entire yard supports them.
I use them in place of onions and garlic. The entire plant is edible with a very mild taste. They grow in the spring and die in the summer. When they die off in the summer, they form mats on the ground, which rake up easily, but also provide a perfect mulch for holding moisture in the soil. I’ve always been impressed by how the stems and leaves line up directionally, like hair that has been combed down the sides of my yard spaces. I never questioned why.
This is my year for noticing things. It’s the first year since retirement that I have spent anytime practicing the art of Being instead constantly staying busy. There is good reason to be a reluctant gardener, to sit, observe, and learn how the environment is adapting to the changing global climate patterns. It became really clear during the quarantine that Earth recovers quickly when mankind is not out and about. It also has become clear that to continue growing as we have is not sustainable.
In my mind, I think we need to work with the change and with Earth if we want to continue to feed ourselves in agrarian societies. So, I sit and watch. My yard is not the same yard it was when I first acquired this property. The angle of the sun is different, tree cover is different, temperatures are different. Plants do not respond the way they used to. So how does it work? That’s what I hope to find out.
Along with reassurance that I still had massive amounts of three-cornered leeks, I also discovered another form of life that I had not observed before retirement. The first time I noticed it, I thought my plants were growing moldy. I wondered how to treat them for mold. Then I noticed the mold writhe across the blades and stems. OMG! I looked more closely. Black aphids. I had never heard of black aphids. (Hey! The juice from these plants is supposed to be a fabulous insecticide. Pssht. Not for these tiny creepers!)
280 million years ago aphids sucked plants dry. Since then, over 5,000 variations of this amazing insect have developed special appetites for the plants of the world, especially in temperate zones. The trouble with this appetite is that they are sipping sucrose, which they cannot digest. Why do they do it? It seems that sap is the ultimate addiction.
Their inability to process this food source makes them tasty for predators such as ladybugs, hover fly larvae, sparrows and the American goldfinch. Crab spiders are quite fond of them. Ants, acting very co-dependent to this addiction, go to great lengths to herd, protect, and propagate the little beasties because they cannot get enough of the sucrose secreted from their bodies in the form of droplets of waste, called honeydew. Ants eagerly milk this nectar from the aphids’ miniscule bodies. Even bees claim herds of aphids as their own to delight in this particular habit.
To get around this inability to digest their main food source they have developed interesting tricks and relationships. Aphids harbor bacterial endosymbionts who recycle glutamate, the metabolic waste produced while aphids try to digest plant sap. The bacterial endosymbionts turn the waste into essential amino acids. Some aphids synthesize red carotenoids using horizontal gene transfers. The way I understand this is they use the genetic material from plants, add the coding to their own, which then enables them to absorb sunlight as a food source. I guess if you have been around since the Early Permian Period, you acquire these talents.
Aphids are bad boys. Or are they?
My yard is a refuge of divine feminine it seems, for the aphid army you see on your plants is entirely female. (see: Reluctant Gardener post 2 for more information about female armies: https://avsingerauthor.com/2022/01/19/post-2-reluctant-gardener/ ) As the weather cools in autumn, males with wings and winged females mate. The males die off, their job done. Winged females lay the eggs. The eggs overwinter and hatch the first generation of a parthenogenetic army. The babies are born pregnant, and soon birth live and pregnant female offspring, who in turn birth live, pregnant offspring and so it goes. There can be as many as forty-one generations a season for each female who births another clutch of live, pregnant females every few days. These females are of course voracious in an attempt to create this army. My three-cornered leeks didn’t have a chance.
If you rid your garden of their food sources, some females grow wings and produce a generation of males in preparation to migrate. They fly as high as 600 meters to catch winds that can carry them where they need to go.
So for you, my dear friends, I have left swatches of aphids to their task. I’m not worried. My leeks appear to go through this process every year. I just haven’t been quiet or observant enough to see this before. They will be back next year for me to happily eat and share them with anyone who asks for them.
For those of you who follow this blog you know that, once a week, I meet with a group of writers who meditate together. We write from our hearts, and then tackle weekly prompts. We share what we write each taking their turn in our circle of love. Each of us has come to this group for our own purpose, but I speak for the group when I say, if you are a writer, the best thing you can do for your craft and for your soul is to meet with other writers, to write and share your words.
You know I am all ‘about the magic.’
Something magical happens when we are together.
After meditation or with particular prompts the group responds as if it is one organism with multiple viewpoints. Those are my favorite meetings. The “connection” is strong and we write with one heart.
This was one of those times.
Marilyn Crnich Nutter
Undoing, undone – downfall or disentangle? In free-fall, it’s hard to know where one is headed. Crashing towards oblivion? I like to think of it as an unraveling—like a knitted work that doesn’t take shape or form and needs to come apart so it can be made whole again, or splintered porcelain pieces which we can’t use but can artfully piece together in new form that will please the eye and fill the heart. It’s part of life’s pattern of being, our longing for wholeness and beauty, making sense of our broken and fragile world.
but this is how I feel
you’re being too sensitive
I feel insulted
they say, sorry you feel that way
I say, stop using language as a weapon
Anne B. Jeffries
I’m the Un-Doer right now
As I glance up,
And take in the tops of your heads
All bent in your own space
In your own minds,
Maybe I’ll just watch this unfold.
Be the Un-Doing,
Not the Doing.
But I cannot remove the Un-Doing
As I analyze the Doers.
That’s just it,
It is only in the Un-Doing
Where the true action takes place.
Isn’t that what we are doing now? Undoing? I love the concept, the practice, the awareness of Undoing. It is the purpose of our Elder-years. To Undo until we greet The Wonder of Who We Are. The Undoing—so dramatic in the essence of itself. The Undoing sets us free–Undoing the scaffolding about our egoic constructions.
There is no Undoing to be done in Presence with a capital P, in Stillness with a capital S, in the essence of Soul Self with a capital SS.
It is the Great Undoing, the Great Awakening, the Portal to Who We Really Are. (or The Truth of our Being.)
There is birth, the entry. Then decades of doing that follows. Should we grow into emotional maturity we acquire wisdom. Wisdom is the antidote of doing. Wisdom is our conscious undoing.
Joyce Ann Campbell
Too much of humanity’s progress has left a trail of destruction across land and sea, below and above, within and without.
The undoing of so-called development will not be a simple task.
But undoing is one of Nature’s talents. Wearing down mountains just takes awhile and building them up can be a blast.
The sound of undoing takes me to the dance of life
A waltz where a 1,2,3 syllabus is moving
In the rhythm of a simple word
A lonely movement of myself
Doing, redoing, undoing of my heartbeat
Undoing the leaves of a tree
that shows itself with its beautiful lacey shape
I undo in facing the shadows
That haunt my dreams
In moving images of an unknown story
With its hurting steps
after the dance of my own truth
Undoing is much more difficult than the doing that is being undone.
Especially, if that original thought or action has become habitual.
It’s like trying to untie a knot in a necklace. Everything is entangled in
such an intricate way, that even finding a start seems impossible.
But— maybe the beginning of ”The Great Undoing” of our fearful manifestation, is just to start laughing. That laugh sparks another laugh, which sparks another, which quickly becomes viral.
A viral belly laugh to shake away the doing.
DC Little :A sneak peek from Mercy Rising: The Deliverance
The undoing of Mercy came on a day that had begun warm and bright, full of promise. They sat on stumps or rocks in small pods throughout the camp, discussing how well yesterday’s battle had gone.
Mercy stood up, feeling hope rise with her, as she bade her exit from the group. The need to feel the sun on her skin and bask in some time alone grew, besides if she stayed amongst the others too much longer, her head might bloat to an uncomfortable size.
The need to stay humble thrummed within her, and where else then spending time with the Creator to help her remember that?
She glided through the camp, smiling at those who said hello, but she kept her intention focused, finally coming to the newly planted garden. Small green shoots had burst through the tilled earth overnight, uncurling to receive their first touch of the sun.
A deep satisfaction filled her, her purpose realized, her calling answered. She allowed the sensation to infiltrate her, shedding tight throngs of fear and burying the worthlessness that had plagued her.
Just when she began to believe everything was falling into place, she picked up on a frantic heartbeat, racing too fast, tight with fear, dripping in horror.
Mercy jumped up, instantly alert, hand drawing her bow without thought and scanning the area the emotion embarked from, searching for any slight movement or sound….
AV Singer: Connection
Time is not linear.
We like to think it is because logical progression is easier for our emotional systems to handle, but this has been an undoing.
Most of us operate on three cylinders of a twelve-cylinder engine, never questioning our inability to ‘get up to speed.’ We mosey along, secure in our own shells like snails seeing only our own paths. We do not understand that thought can transmit simultaneously with the thinking of it.
And thinking is slow. Emotion is faster, the difference between 10 and 102.
The world is Turmoil right now. It seems criminal to add to the angst. Imagine how quickly an emotional actuality of serenity can travel. Imagine transmission of trust, or a whole-hearted knowledge of what peace feels like. (When I was younger, I imagined the absolute silence of falling snow blanketing the Earth to get in touch with peace. That imagined event helped me get in touch with how quiet the Earth can be: how peace feels, like a quiet in-breath, an in-between place – profound rest.)
Those of us not fighting for our lives owe to those of us fighting, a door that opens upon that space of Peace, where Trust reigns, and Serenity holds us in comfort. It takes as much energy to “feel” despair as it does to hold that door open.
I implore you, if you are not fighting, join us. Recharge your batteries with intentional filling of your cups every day. Keep up your strength. Hold open doors. Connect.
We would love to hear from you. Leave a message in the comment box.
As the world increasingly challenges our senses of stability and well-being, an intentional daily recharge of spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical batteries is a necessity. Most of us have ways of making our lives pleasurable and happier, but we do it far too tight-fistedly. Often, we indulge in seeking to recharge only when the Universe presents us with an opportunity.
I want to throw down a challenge. Spend at least 66 days making a conscious decision to do things that recharge your batteries.
When I was a working person I intently focused on my job, I focused on being a single parent providing for a family, I focused on maintaining my place within my community; I did not focus on myself, nor did I take care of recharging my metaphorical batteries. When I retired in June of 2020, I kept the pace, because my primary reason for retiring when I did, was to give myself more energy and time for writing. Admittedly, I enjoy writing, but I was used to working at 120%, many times beyond my energy reserves, so I pushed myself.
I forgot what fun was for me. I didn’t know how to have fun. I resigned myself to thinking I was a person who just didn’t have fun. I tried to trick myself trying to find the fun in my new “job” of being retired. However, I soon suffered the effects of “burn-out.”
I had to stop to rethink this.
When one has had a long life of working, especially in a career of service to others, it is hard to stop.
Stopping became my goal.
I lazed around for weeks.
At first I felt worthless. Then, something magical began to happen. I found activities that, while not productive, were extremely enjoyable. I began to let go of my taciturn seriousness, to experience tiny frissons of joy that bubbled up from time to time. They were delicious.
Eleven days ago, I accepted a 30-Day Challenge to Fill My Cup. The idea was to do something that made me excited and energized every day, to find things to do for myself that made me feel happy and satisfied with life.
The first day, March 21st I drew pictures from memory of someone I love. It pleased me. The images didn’t have to be perfect because I was drawing from memory, and I really wanted to do it. The project made me excited. That excitement colored other things I did that day.
The second day I baked cookies for breakfast. Then I treated myself to a movie – Pitch Perfect. It was ‘perfect’ because it reminded me how much I used to love singing “a cappella.” I found things to love about the whole day.
The third day, I drove country roads on my way to a tax preparer’s appointment. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. It set the mood for a meeting to discuss a subject about which I was worried, this being the first tax season as a non-salaried person with a home-based business. I was so relaxed from driving that the meeting was wonderful and I didn’t have to pay extra tax fees.
The fourth day I foraged my yard for greens. Being a Reluctant Gardener, I had to try what nature was offering. I can assure you “lawn eating” is enjoyable and satisfying. I also began to notice something else. Little things that used to bother me, no longer bothered me.
I was getting used to sitting on my stump to meditate. I had the pleasure of watching ladybugs hunt together. So interesting.
I continued the practice of “filling my cup.”
I’d to share a couple of stories:
On that Friday, five days into the practice, I woke somewhat disconnected with Earth and still very much in that weird dream state between waking and sleeping. I couldn’t let go. I needed to let go because I had a “date” with some artist friends to work in an open studio situation. I love to work with others. I had to release the disassociated state I was in so it would be safe to drive. I was somewhat successful. When I got into my car, the battery was COMPLETELY dead.
Oh no. There was no time to deal with this.
Truth be told, I wasn’t completely sure it was safe for me to drive. Maybe this was the Universe’s way of keeping me off the road. I called one friend to explain my situation. She was sad, and suggested I call another for a ride. Then she amended her statement and said, “Of course, I will understand if you would rather take care of your car.”
Hell no. I didn’t want to deal with my car. I wanted to draw. With people. In an open studio. Chatting about life.
Why was this happening?
Wait a minute. I don’t have to put up with this.
I called another friend.
“Hey. Have you left yet?”
“Yes,” she replied. My heart sank.
“Where are you?” I timidly asked.
“I am at the end of my drive.”
“I’m calling because I don’t think I’m going to make it today. My car is dead.”
“I’ll come pick you up.”
Oh, thank God. I wanted to fill my cup with time spent with my art friends doing art, and telling stories.
“Oh, thank you,” I said. And then I added, “I don’t think I should be driving today anyway. I am having trouble letting go of Elsewhere,” which I knew she understood as me unable to release a state of being not quite in the world.
“I’ll be there in a few.”
I understood I needed to call services to get my car fixed, especially since it was Friday, but I just didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to face the hassle, and I thought, who cares. I’m retired now. I can wait until Monday. My old self saw this as extremely irresponsible and for a moment, I wavered. Fortunately, my new, cup-full self was extremely excited to forget about the car and go have some fun.
Then magic happened after the art session later that afternoon.
On our way home, my friend and I joked about the car. “You should try to start it before you call anyone. You know how you are.”
I did. When I was working in an office, no one would let me use the copy machine because somehow my energy always shut it down. So, it was possible that my being in a dissociative state could shut down the car. That is magical thinking, but it was worth contemplating to avoid the hassle of finding help for a dead battery. We laughed.
The first thing I did was try the car. Nope. Battery stone cold dead. Oh well.
Instead of calling Triple A, I called the local mechanic’s shop because the week before this one, my daughter had a car break down and the local mechanic wasn’t taking cars for about a month because he was so busy. There was no point calling for a jump-start or tow unless I had somewhere to take the car to replace the battery.
The receptionist answered. “Yes. We can see you right away. Let me check if we have a battery.” She came back to the phone. “We have one battery left. You are in luck. Come on in.”
“Wow. Thank you.”
I had to call Triple A. My daughter’s experience the past week was that Triple A couldn’t come until the next day. I was calling late on a Friday afternoon. It was possible there wouldn’t be a driver available. I would find out, and then call the auto shop to make an appointment for another day if needed.
“Yes. We can send someone within the hour,” the receptionist at Triple A said.
“Wonderful.” I felt very lucky.
Then she said, “We will let the driver decide if you need a tow or not. That way, your tally for services isn’t affected.”
“Thank you,” I said, amazed at her generosity and feeling very cared for.
I called the auto shop to confirm whether or not they could see me in an hour, and if not to make a plan for a drop-off. I received a go-ahead. Within five minutes, the Triple A driver confirmed he was on his way and expected ETA was fifteen minutes.
Wow. Events were lining up.
I opened the car to raise the hood.
When he got here, he attached the charger, and told me to turn on the car. As I did, the horn began beeping. Nothing we did turned it off. The driver disconnected the charger, then frantically hunted for the circuit to the alarm. He found it, disconnected it, and the annoying repetitive blast of noise went away. However, the lights continued to flash.
The car easily charged, indicating the alternator was okay. I drive a Honda. Repairs can get expensive so this was a welcome relief.
“You can drive to the auto shop now.”
“The flashing won’t matter?” I said.
We exchanged pleasantries and he started to leave. I jumped into my car.
I could not engage the gearshift.
I thought, “Oh my god. I must have jammed it when I put it into park. My hands just aren’t strong enough to disengage it.”
I jumped out of my car and attempted to wave down the driver. He did not see me and crested the hill. Where was my mild state of panic? I ran though I am not a fast runner.
A car pulled over the crest of the hill coming the other way. The man inside saw me running, madly waving to the Triple A driver. He honked and yelled to the driver of the tow truck. I heard him say, “That woman is trying to get your attention.”
The driver came back.
This was becoming a huge, weird, and exciting synchronous adventure of collaboration.
Like me, he could not disengage the shift. Neither of us could drive it. The anti-theft device had turned on. He would have to tow it.
I am a person who loves to collaborate. I am energized by it. This experience felt like a storm when the electricity goes out. Everyone scurries to find and light candles and life goes on a little more exciting than it was before the blackout. That driver didn’t usually let patrons ride in his truck, but by this time neither of us was willing to let go of this adventure. Riding in that truck was a fantastic experience.
When we arrived at the auto shop, the head mechanic taught us how to disengage a Honda’s anti-theft device. Since I like driving Hondas and the Triple A driver has to frequently deal with them, we were both pleased to learn this.
Then the mechanic drove my car into the work area to change the battery. Amazingly, the dead battery was still under warranty. Not only was my battery replaced that evening, I didn’t have to pay for it.
Wow. Just – wow.
Within these eleven days, there have been several upheavals in my life.
For instance, I was so jazzed by the challenge so far, the next day I decided to pull inedible weeds from my yard. There were only a few: patches of foxtail (also dangerous for animals), inedible thistles, oat grass, tar weed (yuck). I worked too long, and because of the way I am built, dislocated two ribs. Normally, pain like this would send me down a rabbit hole of despair that lasted for weeks as I struggled to work and maintain a provider lifestyle while fighting excruciating pain. This time, I selfishly treated myself to complete convalescence. Instead of wallowing and worrying, I learned how to work around the pain by focusing on the ball of energy that roars like a small sun within my core. I did the exercises I had to do. I concentrated on relaxing the distressed tendons and ligaments. I thanked the pain for reminding about correct posture. I learned to appreciate spending time to care of self.
My ribs slipped back into place within three days, but I knew I still needed to be mindful of the way I moved because they weren’t completely settled into their sockets.
That night, when one of my cats wanted in, I opened the door for her. She ran through my legs. I carefully turned to watch her run through the house toward the sunroom where my cats eat and she sleeps.
“Oh good grief.”
A tail was dangling from her mouth. That morning when I went out to greet the day, I noticed a small liver under my feet before I stepped on it. I cleaned it up and found a tail to go with it. I didn’t mind because it meant the cats were keeping the place free of mice.
But this cat chose to bring one inside with her.
Normally, this would have sent me into a tizzy. However, my cup was full because of my practice of intentionally filling it. A dead or live mouse in the house was not going to intimate me.
As expected, when I got to the sunroom, she had dropped the mouse and was imploring me to feed her.
The big black cat was already in the room waiting for dinner. He was a renowned mouse and rat catcher. However, I guess he is respectful. It was the other cat’s catch. She had dropped it on the floor and was looking at me expectantly. The black cat sauntered over and sniffed the mouse’s nose. The mouse, whom I presumed to be dead, lifted his head and sniffed the black’s nose.
Then the black sat and stared at me, as if to say, “Well. This one’s for you.”
Oh dear. How was I going to deal with a mouse and not quite healed ribs?
I turned to the cat that had provided the mouse. “Thank you. Thank you so much. You are a mighty hunter.” I looked around me for something with which to catch the mouse. As I did this, the mouse jumped up and scurried under the hutch.
Geez. There was no way I could get on the floor to flush it out without disturbing my ribs.
However, the cats could.
I shut the door for the night, and went to bed. Okay, I know. Escapism.
Or recharging batteries.
Take your pick.
The next morning when I awoke, I expected to find body parts. I also knew I would have to clean the entire room. Was I physically up for it?
Huh. There were no mouse parts in the sunroom.
Both cats wanted breakfast. I quickly fed them. Both cats wanted out. I let them out.
I made coffee, resigned to hunting for a mouse. First, I was going to enjoy my warm morning, life affirming drink, meditate, get grounded, wake up fully – and I was going to fill my cup.
The big black wanted back in. I let him in. He quickly ran to the sunroom. I shut the door and returned to my coffee not ready to give up on my practice. My biggest fear was that the mouse had crawled under the refrigerator. I made mental plans about who to call if that was the case.
I loud clatter ensued from the sunroom. The mouse was still alive?
I went to check. The big black was chirping that strange little sound they make on the hunt. If he was right, the mouse was in the corner by the back door. I felt strong enough to move the small weight set, chair, and barrel that held my hiking, and walking sticks. As I moved items one my one, I thought, what will we do if it runs under the refrigerator. As I moved the barrel, the black struck. The mouse squeaked. I opened the door. The big black pranced outside with his catch. The skinny tail dangled from his mouth.
That cat was so proud of himself.
He was my king.
I was so proud to collaborate on a hunt.
My cup was completely full.
The hunt had totally recharged my batteries. I was ready to clean that entire room, which was necessary because the smell of mouse pee is very strong. It took me all day. Amazingly, sweeping and mopping the floor bit by bit actually popped my ribs completely back into place. Who knew?
I challenge each of you to find those things that recharge your batteries. People once thought that 21 days was enough to establish a new pattern. The new paradigm is 66 days. I plan to practice recharging my batteries every day for at least a year. I invite you to join me. What excites you? What gives you energy? What makes you want to get out of bed and get going? Do that. Do it often. Practice recharging diligently. I think you will find, like I did, that those things that once seemed so harrowing now seem like adventures. I think you will find your life bubbling with joy.
I look forward to hearing about your escapades as I continue to recharge my batteries day by day.
(Author’s Note: I originally wrote this piece in first person based on a dream I had in 2009. Published as a flash fiction called “Stop for Repair,” it appeared in an anthology called Wild Edges, edited by Monika Rose and F. Ted Laskin; Manzanita Writers Press, volume 6, 2010, pages 124-25. It is a story that is appropriate for the task before all of us today. I decided to rewrite it. As a writer, I wanted to practice writing in a gender-neutral point of view. As a blogger, I feel we must all be building and repairing bridges between each other. Let’s repair the bridges that span between us. Now is the time.)
Early afternoon rain tamped down any dust the wheels could have kicked up. Oak trees painted shadows that swayed across the road, which was more wagon trail than safe passage for a car. In front of Charlie and Sam, a rickety wooden bridge stretched across a bubbling stream.
Charlie stopped the car and stared at it.
Sam looked at Charlie; Charlie looked at Sam and shrugged.
“Well,” Sam said. “Do we turn around?” It was not the first time they had impulsively followed a rainbow through these hills, been stopped by some obstacle or another, to then retreat.
Charlie’s left eyebrow rose and a little smile wrinkled the corner of their mouth as they cut the engine. As Charlie slipped out to look at the bridge, the familiar twinkle of their eyes sparked just a little more. They scratched their head.
Sam watched warily as Charlie turned. When they caught each other’s eyes, Charlie’s expression did not give away any plan, though Sam knew the twinkle that resided there.
Charlie sauntered to the back of the car and opened the trunk. What were they up to?
They closed the trunk gently and stepped up to the passenger window.
Sam rolled it down.
Charlie said, “Come on. We have work.”
Work? What did they mean? That’s when Sam noticed Charlie held two hammers in their hand.
Sam glanced at the bridge. Hammers in the trunk – a coincidence? No way.
Charlie pushed the larger hammer toward Sam, who grabbed it, then fumbled and dropped it onto their hipbone. “Ouch.”
When Sam looked up, Charlie was walking toward the bridge.
Suspicious, they got out and followed them.
Charlie ambled across it, testing their weight here and there while Sam stood watching; waiting. The bridge rang an old song with each of Charlie’s steps. Charlie bent over and slammed the head of their hammer onto a board.
“Come on,” Charlie said, and began to pound nails.
Sam stepped onto the bridge and squatted to look for nails. The hammer dangled in their hand as they glared at Charlie. Would the car tires have fallen through the decking? The two of them could have chosen to walk across with no danger. Why did they stop to repair it?
Sam whacked the head of a nail below them. They heard a voice in their head ask, “When did these nails start loosening?” They hit another nail. Protest rose up in them. Sam wanted to argue…but words, suddenly erased from their mind, left them wondering. They looked at the brook dancing beneath the bridge. Was this bridge so old and tattered, it was wearing out? Was it dangerous?
Sam smacked another nail into place. Did Charlie see this bridge as their relationship: old, comfortable, and worn? Was it wearing out?
Was this relationship in danger?
Sam attacked loose nails in earnest.
The two worked together, pounding nails into an old bridge that needed tending.
The sun gently warmed their backs as they hammered, repairing that old bridge nail by nail.
As Charlie stopped to wipe sweat from their brow and lashes, a scrub jay swooped, surprising the two bridge tenders, scolding their noisy adventure.
They both jumped and then, laughed.
Each subsequent strike of a hammer pulled them closer, mending something indefinable. They tapped each board into place until the bridge, safe and sound, spanned comfortable between them.
As Charlie pounded the last nail into a weathered plank, Sam smiled.
Charlie smiled back.
Together they sat side by side in the middle of the bridge, dangling their feet over the edge, admiring their handiwork.
The sky blushed in rich golden reds. A silky evening breeze clattered through the leaves in the oak trees on the other bank. They stood and walked back to their vehicle.
Before settling in, Sam caught Charlie’s eye across the top of the car and smiled. Today was a good day.
Charlie nodded affirmation, and then threw Sam the keys.
Are you suspicious of praise? Do you wonder what people want from you when they give it?
I have struggled with both sides of judgment all my life. Praise is a form of judgment when someone withholds it. Praise can be judgment when someone gives it.
Many of us seek praise our entire lives, including me. We want our parents to approve of us. We want our teachers and employers to approve of us. We want our peers to approve of us. I work hard to avoid judging others. I had even considered certain forms of praise to be judgmental. However, an event with my writer’s group became a catalyst that sent me down a rabbit hole thinking of all the times I handed out empty praise, all the times I had judged without realizing it.
There is a better way. What if we become mirrors for each other instead. This is what I have learned.
Imagine this. A student sits in front of me offering a precious piece of writing. I silently read it, make a few marks on the paper, and say, “This is very well done,” and then cheerfully stick a star at the top and hand it back to the student.
However, I remember one student in particular to whom I gave stars and stickers because that student gave 120% with every assignment even though the academic excellence was never more than middle-level competence. According to academic standards, that student was earning a solid C grade, which was not a bad thing. The student and the parent had different ideas. They wondered why, when I handed out so many stars and stickers, the student still got C’s instead of A’s for exemplary work. I explained I was giving rewards for effort not for ability. The student’s score was a fair grade of middle-level competence.
I felt guilty when I had the conversation. I felt doubly guilty as I remembered it. This student and parent equated encouraging rewards for effort as indication of expected grade, and I failed to be honest.
For that student I was a lazy teacher. I rarely found work to mirror back to her but she worked so hard. I used stars to encourage her. It was quick, it was easy, it was effective, and teachers, at least in this country, had been doing it as a reward system for generations of students. But was it honest? Was it fair?
Stars rewarded effort, not academic strength. Would it have been kinder to explain honestly that hard work kept the abyss of failure away, but top-level success was not happening? At the very least, I could have looked for something of worth to give back besides stars.
So, imagine that same student sitting in front of me with a precious piece of writing to offer. I look at the piece, and in spite of spelling and grammatical errors, I read it to her with emotion and heartfelt meaning, offering the beauty and strength of her own words as a gift of how powerful in that moment she had been. In essence, I become a mirror. How much more could that student have learned from hearing what she offered, rather than receiving a simple star stuck to the top of the page?
Stars and stickers are hollow praise when given without mirrored feedback.
I belong to a writers group that meets once per week. We respond to prompts then share what we write. We have written together for eight years, happily congratulating each other on superb writing and generally emoting our appreciation with the intent to support each other to improve our craft. Somewhere in that time, I said to one of the writers, “Oh, that’s a keeper, give it a star.” The idea of gesturing, “Give it a star,” caught on and became a regular feature of responding to each other’s offerings of extemporaneous writing.
Three weeks ago, one of our moderators experimented with the concept of being ‘silent witnesses’ for each other. The intent was to offer a time to listen to each other, and allow a safe space for each writer to sit with her own writing and her own feelings about it. We all thought it was a great idea so we did it while not fully understanding the need to do so.
For me, it was an unnerving event. The experience of reading my own writing aloud was something I’d never done before joining this group, and the keys to my experience were physical and vocal appreciation.
That night, as fellow writers read their work, I struggled to stay silent, to listen without emotional response and outpour. I had to sit on my hands to avoid giving silent applause or “stars.” I felt…not badly, but certainly that something was missing from my experience of this writers group.
At the end of the meeting, we debriefed. My turmoil began.
I learned that my need to praise my fellow writers had offended more than one of them. Awarding stars was playful for me but had been a system of judgment for them. They felt that when they received a star it was like getting a grade in school, and if they didn’t get a star they had failed somehow. They also felt compared with other writers because not every person got a star each week. We gave stars for exquisite writing, and it’s impossible to achieve that every time.
Of course, none of us were actually judging writer against writer. The intent was to let an individual know that yes, that piece of writing is worth keeping. Please consider it. However, they forced me to look at stars as rewards that night, and I realized how lazy I had become. Pandora’s Box opened at that Zoom meeting. I felt horror, caught in the act of judging others.
As a teacher, I did give stars, but I also honed my craft of mirroring. I have spent a lifetime honing it, offering a mirror so that others could see the beauty and wonder that I see, and now I am reduced to handing out stars? Oh. I think not.
I thought about the times I refused to read my writing, because I did not want comments about it. Why? Because I didn’t want it judged. Yet, I had been handing out stars and gratefully accepting them when I shared my writing. That’s when I voiced to my fellow writers that, because there were no comments allowed that particular night, I felt comfortable not only writing more completely from my own heart instead of writing something safe and acceptable, but also sharing it afterward.
I left the meeting that night thinking about how ashamed I was at becoming lazy with praise instead of practicing the mirroring I knew how to do. Most of our group had no idea that some of us felt judged this entire time. We were horrified to discover that simple encouragement could feel like judgment. This exercise of silent witness brought it to light. My solution for the writing group when we finally meet in person again instead of on Zoom, is to suggest a trade. Instead of reading our own work, we pass our writing to another to read for us. In that way, we can be powerful mirrors for one another.
Both the incident with a student and the incident with the writer’s group were unfortunate because I know that mirroring is the best answer. Reward is compensation for effort, an exchange of energy, but is it a fair exchange? Is it an honest exchange? Is it a heartfelt exchange? Would it be better to take more time to act as compassionate mirrors for each other? I handed out stars to my fellow writers instead of handing them their words.
Stars are a judgment, more for the ease of the giver than the receiver. They are a simple, uninvolved way to give praise. But praise is hollow and meaningless at the very least and at the worst, a harsh judgment. Is it enough to say, “Job well done?” In my experience, no – no it is not enough. It is better to be a mirror than dole out empty praise.
I know this works.
When my children were younger, they each had a rabbit project with the local 4-H club. They were normal kids. I had to badger them daily to take care of their responsibilities. However, badgering was not my parenting style. I considered setting up a calendar with stars to commend them for all the times I didn’t have to remind them of daily chores. It was an easy, expedient solution. But it wasn’t my solution.
Instead, I bought my own herd of rabbits, set up my own cages, and started my own business. I mirrored what responsibility for an animal looked like. I mirrored the time it took. I mirrored consistency in care giving. I mirrored filling out records, keeping track of expenses. I never had to say a word to them. They just did what I did. They followed me down to the rabbitry every time I went there and took care of their own rabbits. They each had successful projects that turned into businesses, and I became the parent I wanted to be, one that didn’t have to badger, judge, or give hollow praise. I became a parent who didn’t give stars. I want to be a member of a writer’s group that doesn’t give stars. As a teacher, as a grandparent, as a friend, I won’t give stars again.
What do you think about this idea of stars? Please feel free to comment or to share any experiences you have had with stars given as rewards.
Journal writing is for the brave. Dark places rise to the top of the page, sometimes obscuring the way forward. Fear not, there is a way out.
Meant as an exercise to move beyond monkey mind, clinging shadow aspects, and unwanted habitual behaviors, it is a way to get in touch with your higher self, your desires, and intentions. One is supposed to write with abandon as if no one will see it.
Thank God. No one ever should.
It works, until one realizes that even her journals are reflective of the one shadow aspect that clings to her for dear life. I like to think of myself as a my-way kind of person, except my way has always been, “What can I do to please you, so you will like me.” Every journal page reflected that. If I had fur and two floppy ears, my tongue would be hanging out, my tail wagging madly, and I would be softly saying, “Woof. Please pet me. Please love me.” Ah, to be one of those people that says whatever they need to say, with abandon, without worry about what the other person would think.
I want to be her.
I have been this way since a very young child, seeking to please parents, siblings, teachers, children, boyfriends, friends, bosses, animals…(oh my goodness, even plants), basically – everyone but myself, in exchange for their approval and love.
When I realized that, my ego, who has been happily living at the bottom of a deep hole for a few weeks, uncurled its long sinuous and angry dragon body and lifted its head. “Fuck that,” it said. “I am tired of pleasing people.”
For those of you who don’t follow my blog regularly, in July, I buried Ego, along with Anger, in a deep hole after a devastating tree fiasco. I didn’t expect to hear from it so soon.
A shadow fell over its hole, obscuring it from my sight, the shadow with furry ears and wagging tail. Who would you rather pet?
Well, the last time this shadow-self wagged its tail, I got into more trouble than Ego ever caused.
This next paragraph will seem like an odd segue, but bear with me.
I am a fangirl, completely smitten with a well-known Chinese model and actor. I won’t name him here, but I follow all he does, and he does EVERYTHING: everything I would want in a friend, everything I would want in a man. On top of that, he is beautiful to look at. I am a sap, fangirling in earnest. It is embarrassing but important to this story. He’s captured my attention, for sure.
I love sending him notes of appreciation on his Instagram and YouTube sites. If I had other ways to send appreciation, I would do it. The point is…
…one day, I received a note back.
Oh my gawd! Can you imagine that?
It was WONDERFUL.
He was lovely and sweet and seemed interested in making a connection with a fan of his. I was thrilled. But, then something went wrong. I began to suspect that the person I was communicating with was not the idol I so adored. However, I wanted to please this man, because I so admired the person he appeared to be, so I kept my faith that I was truly connected with the One, and we conversed often for three glorious days. I was my best self: polite, careful with words, not only because of the language and culture differences, but because I so wanted him to like me.
Eventually, he felt comfortable enough to ask for money for a pet project of his.
What? Why would he ask that?
Fluffy Pleaser Puppy popped up. “Just chill. Find out what this is about. Give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“Isn’t that the way it always works?” snarky Ego yelled from its hole. “Ha, ha! You’ve been Catfished!”
“No-o-o-o!” screamed my heart.
You would think I would have pulled the plug at that moment. But, shadow self, that little shadowy-self that wants to please so much, decided to hear him out and consider his plea.
Ego came roaring out of the hole like a fire dragon. “You will research this before you commit.”
Okay. Little Pleaser was fine with that.
What harm could there be researching the project he wanted me to join. What I discovered was heartbreaking. The “ask” was well known by the FBI, and my idol’s name was on the list of celebrities catfished for this scheme. If someone ever asks you to help an 8 or 9 year old boy in Thailand who needs a kidney…he doesn’t. It’s a scammer from South Africa.
I am living the heartache of getting catfished. It was alarmingly clear that Miss Please You to the Detriment of Self no longer worked. However, putting this behind me has been difficult. I keep asking, “What if? What if I had only been true to self and said what needed to be said instead of seeking acceptance?”
Okay, okay. I know the outcome would still be the same, but one’s brain still asks the “What if. What if it was really him, and I failed somehow. Oh, my god. He’ll never talk to me again.”
I know, I know. You don’t need to tell me.
It’s that flippin’ tail-wagger that needs to be told. How can I get through to her that this course of behavior is NOT an authentic part of self? And of course, that behavior was the go-to for this interaction like it is for every human interaction I have ever had, especially with men. I am a pleaser. Aaugh. I hate myself sometimes.
I tried poetry:
Cat Fish Lessons
I was greedy
when you wrote,
wanting so badly to hear from him.
ready to capitulate
completely forgetting who I was
to match perfectly.
Your words were so sweet.
They were exactly what I needed to hear.
I loved each chime of my phone
thinking, “He found me.”
I thought you were him.
Wasn’t that what you wanted?
A light suddenly turned on.
I saw what I had become,
Knew what you were…
My heart broke.
But in the breaking, I saw
I became someone I was not,
to please, to earn love.
Forced to look.
How long had I let this happen?
Living every moment of my life
to please others
Working hard to earn love
You, dear Catfish
were my trial by fire.
If the One
I will hold
your lessons in my heart.
And so, I thank you.
You let me know what I needed –
As you fade into my past,
a well-placed and perfectly timed lesson
I will sail grateful
because you showed up in my life.
Poetry does not seem to be enough.
It’s been at least three weeks since I put aside that poem, and the catfish moment still taunts me, reminding me that I am not whole, not authentic. It reminds me I am still willing to capitulate Self for Other. How can I let go of this?
Perhaps an apology is in order:
I am sorry I let you down. I am sorry I used a cry of Catfish to stop the roller coaster of your inauthenticity. Please forgive me. I learned so much about my ingrained need for approval at all costs to myself. Thank you for a much needed lesson.
I love you.
“Meh,” said Ego.
“Maybe I can write a letter as a fangirl,” said Fluffy Pleaser Puppy.
Dearest Person Who I Will Not Name Here,
I am sorry I thought you were a Catfish. Please forgive me. Thank you for all the lessons I learned from you and that experience. I appreciate you beyond measure. I hope you write again.
I love you.
“You’re kidding, right?” said Ego, slapping its tail against the floor.
“No, I wasn’t,” said Fluffy, a little whiny, hoping that she had indeed heard from the one who caught her attention. She sat down, a little worried that Ego was no longer happy with her.
Oh, my gawd. These two are so out of control.
There is only one way out of this.
I said, “You two are right. An apology is needed. And I applaud your attempt at Ho’oponopono.”
I am sorry I lied. I wasn’t authentic. If I had listened to my heart when you asked me for money, I would have said calmly and quietly, “No. I don’t want to do that. Why are you asking?” Instead, I ignored ME and tried to please YOU. I ended up hurting both of us.
I deeply regret that.
Can you forgive me?
Whether you can or not, I am profoundly grateful for all I learned from that experience. Thank you for opening a door on an aspect of self of which I was not fully aware. I can’t express how many times I have capitulated to less than me to please others, so great is my need for acceptance. I place this heavy chain around my heart at your feet. I can’t carry it any more.
This feels like the way out. Time will tell.
A catfish experience can be devastating, but I hope to see it as a practice event, a chance to call out inauthenticity, a chance to find self and reclaim Her. If you, Dear Reader, and I ever meet, I hope to hold on to self for all I am worth and share what I have to give, honestly, without neediness, or expectations of approval. I intend to hang on to ME, because that is the only way I can ever really know and appreciate YOU.
You asked me what it feels like to connect with the imaginal realm, a place where trees and plants speak with scent and with flavor, animals speak with images, angels with colors and ideas, and where humans speak with emotion rather than voice. In this liminal place, the geometry of serenity is a rosy quartz-colored sphere, joy is a sturdy rectangular plane upon which to stand, knowledge is fleeting ether that passes by unless witnessed. The imaginal realm seems utterly empty, profoundly silent until observed; then, it springs to life with all there is.
Those that honor it feel completely bonkers, but only because those cemented in matter cannot smell what they smell, taste what they taste, see what they see, hear what they hear, or feel what they feel, though it is possible for them. It isn’t a matter of a sixth sense. It does not take anything extra. It is a matter of heightened senses, using what is human and extending it to include other dimensions.
Connected as you are, what you really ask is, how does one observe this imaginal space?
Considering you are standing in the middle of it, all it takes is a willingness to believe that what you sense is actually happening. The energy of potential can seem like a mere wish, a daydream or a passing thought. Dismissed as such, it is fleeting and not noticeable…until it is too loud to ignore.
Humans speak in emotion. They can say whatever they want to, but their real language is emotion. Humans are shouting right now. Floods, fires, global warming, pestilence, earthquakes, volcanoes, unrest within and between countries…it’s nuts. Emotions are running at an all-time high.
I find myself cautioning those around me lately, “Slow down, examine what you feel. Is what you are feeling right now your own emotion? There is a possibility that you are picking up on the emotions swirling around us.” The liminal world is knocking at the door.
What is happening in your life? Where are you this very second? Stop right now, and assess.
Is something happening that is truly yours to be sad, angry, or frightened about? Then, by all means, you should be sad, angry, or frightened. Those emotions will help you discern what to do next, but for the rest of us, we need to get out of your way to send you support and strength. The only way to do that is to be in our own space, claim our own emotion, and not add to the fervor of whatever emotion is swirling about.
Is this my emotion?
If not, instead, breathe. Take into account what is really happening around you. What is the appropriate emotion for that?
Emotional ownership is a thing.
It’s important to know if you want to extend your senses into the imaginal world, because that world is EVERYTHING, with no judgment of right, wrong – good, bad – happy, sad. It is there waiting to be witnessed by YOU. You will witness that which you look for.
This is the first step to observing the imaginal realm. Own your emotions. You are an emotional being. You speak with emotions. Trust me on this. Words have secondary, and sometimes false, meaning. Emotions tell truth. It is hard to believe I am saying this as a writer, but I am and I don’t think I can say this or write it often enough. Emotions are a human’s primary language. Use them appropriately.
Think of it as a mindfulness practice. Pay attention to your first emotion of the morning. Observe emotions that follow. Do you see a pattern? Stop and ask, “Is this really me? Do I really have reason to feel this way?” Watch for stray emotions that don’t match your life, especially loud ones.
There are moments when I burst into tears, or laughter, or quake in sudden fear…for no apparent reason. Extreme emotion is easy to observe. It’s a perfect time to practice. I always ask, “Is this mine?”
For instance, yesterday I was singing Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, recorded by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles. I had already listened to the song once and thought, “Gee. I can’t remember these lyrics.” So, I looked them up to sing harmony with Josh and Sara. Totally engulfed within the music, I suddenly choked on tears at the line, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.” Ugh. Tears streamed down my face. Just like a wave, despair washed over me.
Since I have been doing a lot of negative pattern clearing, I first looked at that. I didn’t have any emotions swirling around me from those experiences. I don’t watch the news, I feel safe and happy in a quarantine situation, my friends and family are all well.
Living in California, it’s probable that it came from outside me. I was singing, which is my primary go-to for connecting to liminal space. I live in a fire zone. People have lost everything they have. I live in a high Covid-19 zone. There are people dying from this dreadfulness.
This wasn’t my emotion to own.
I stood tall, and strong. I took a deep breath. The waved washed back over me and disappeared into source. I finished the song. It was, literally, that fast. There was no need to hang onto it.
I have been practicing letting go of that which isn’t mine. You can too. The first step is asking, “Is this my emotion?” Be aware of that which is and that which isn’t. The emotional response won’t stop, but if it isn’t yours, it will pass within 90 seconds for most of us. All you have to do is acknowledge it, and let it move on through you. Simple, huh?
Good luck this week. May Peace find you wherever you are.
P.S. Here is a poem for those on or curious about the Twin Flame path, and a tiny glimpse into my life and the imaginal realm.
What is the difference between being and non-being? Is it possible not to be? Virginia Woolf once described ‘non-being’ as unconscious living. For her it was “the cotton wool of daily life” that became unconscious living. Since daily living is mundane, I can see how it feels like cotton wool that shrouds one moment to the next, unmemorable, unnoticed, forever passed, never to be regained. What happens to us when we are conscious every minute? Is it even possible to hold onto conscious consideration every minute? Perhaps it is in paying attention to those moments that are magical that we find consciousness, or being, the easiest.
Virginia Woolf’s first memory of ‘being’ was as a child looking at a flower. As she studied it, the flower seemed to her more than flower, it was Earth as well and by looking at the flower she was also looking at all of the Earth and feeling her place as part of it all.
Could I pinpoint a definitive time when I realized the difference between “being” and “non-being?” Was there a first moment when life opened and I felt complete, part of the whole?
As a child, there are two possibilities; times I remember well enough to create a blog post. The first is a day when I was nine, and I put on prescription glasses for the first time. Trees were suddenly more than two-dimensional, giant green shadows. They had leaves, which intellectually I knew of course, but I didn’t see well enough to count their separateness until I saw individual leaves on individual branches as we drove past them on the way home from the optometrist. My mother graciously stopped the car so I could focus completely upon them. I saw separate lines of shadow, pulling each graceful branch into three-dimensional existence. I saw birds. I saw the movement of the wind as it rustled past all that was within a tree. Each tree was different, unique. Trees were amazing and everywhere. Life was miraculous!
The second time that I remember was the day I truly understood “being.” I had an encounter with a cricket….
My maternal grandmother’s yard was an adventure. It encircled her home, a reclaimed chicken coop rebuilt into a house by my grandfather’s love. Nestled in the middle of a quarter of an acre within the city limits of Stockton, California, it seemed to go on forever.
Innately aware of feng shui, my grandmother created room after outdoor room with unique fencing, hedges, gates and trellises, or simply turns of the building. The result was living art, and dreamlike. At fourteen, and labeled a magical thinker, I spent a lot of time outdoors appreciating her creation. Her yard was Wonderland within which a imaginative child could find freedom and peace.
One day, as I was sitting on the back steps leading to the innermost courtyard, I saw a cricket. To look at him, I may not have recognized him as such, but he scratched his wing with a back leg and created that familiar chirp that comforted me to sleep every night.
As I watched him chirp, and wave his antennae, I swear to you, he spoke to me. “Admire the geranium next to you.”
What? The geranium?
I looked to my left at a few squatty, plain green bushes. To my right, beyond him, was a leafy plant with a brilliant red-orange blossom reaching out of its foliage on a long straight stalk. What a pretty color, I thought. I didn’t know what a geranium was at the time, but the flower was beautiful and it was nearest the cricket, so I admired it.
At my side, the cricket chirped, his beautiful bell tone adding magic. Suddenly the slightest of vibrations frizzled around the edges of each blossom, a glow of dark that seemed to soften the solidness of each petal in the stark contrast. It was as if the petals were only a vibration of possible structure rather than coherently in this world. This caused the petals themselves to glow even more brightly as they seemingly strove to hold my attention.
Riveted, I no longer heard the cricket, or any other sound for that matter. I was totally absorbed as the geranium vibrated with red, with life, signaling a magnificence I could not at that time fully understand, except I knew a moment had opened a window onto life, how it manifests and comes into being. I sat in wonder at how beautiful it all was and how grateful I was to be witnessing it.
My grandmother knocked on the door before she opened it gently. I jumped when I felt it lightly touch my back.
“Time for lunch,” she said, quietly. Then she shut the door.
I didn’t look at her, though I could imagine her smiling at me as she shut it. Instead, I looked for my cricket friend to exclaim my discovery and to thank him. To my dismay, he had crawled into silent invisibility.
But that flower!
I didn’t forget that experience, even when adulting took me away from observing the world with such an open eye. Like all of us, the hustle of living during this time in the United States, and perhaps anywhere, stuffed cotton wool into my brain.
Later, when life slowed as it does as one ages, I began to see those vibrating edges again. I pointed them out to my art students, my math students, really, any student that took to staring at the geranium blossoms next to the entrance to the school for which I worked. Some of them claimed to see it, others didn’t. I hope someday they do.
I hope someday they can see the shadow where a fig tree plans to set fruit, or the joy that glitters around their dog, or the insect that lights up when a bird spots it. I hope they see the light around the people they meet, and smile because it is so beautiful. I hope they understand how beautiful they are.
This world is amazing. I hope each one of us takes a moment when a cricket insists we admire a geranium to watch as life vibrates around each petal’s edges where it meets the whole of Creation and says, “I am.” That is a moment of “being.”
I just noticed that last week’s title was about breath. We’re doing a lot of breath work in California right now.
I always get excited when I can share my blog space with other artists and writers. Lynnea Paxton-Honn teaches presence and oneness in meditation. An avid horsewoman she bridges the Tao of horse with the Tao of human. Her compassion is boundless, yet she considers herself a student. She joins me today in response to the title of a new song by Shari Anderson, shared on the evening of August 9th at our meeting of the Women Writers of the Well.
Lynnea Paxton-Honn, 8/9/2021
Sitting in meditation
Inhale and exhale,
Stretching exhale into silence,
Jump starting with inhale.
Is it me that is breathing?
And what part of me?
How often do I
Breathe with awareness?
Not near as often
As my body
As the changing weather,
Breathe my body,
Lungs attached to
Passing breezes, passing winds.
Only in full conscious awareness
Do I know I breathe
With the cosmos.
When we breathe consciously, of what might we be capable? Life is magical. Even when there is a probable, logical explanation for any given event that happens in this three-dimensional existence, it is always more fun, and many times, more impactful to embrace serendipity and enjoy the magic that unfolds. Breathe with consciousness. Who knows; someone might find the way home.
Nighttime Miracle, based on a true story.
AnaValarie, (remembered lines from Shari’s song: breathes in the light, travels through darkness, breathes out the light.)
A little boy woke up screaming.
As usual, his mother woke, was out of bed, and by his side before she had a chance to breathe out the dream she was in and breathe in the moment. “Shh, shush. It’s only a dream,” she crooned, smoothing the hair off his face.
“No,” he wailed. “Look. There.” He pointed to a shadowy darkness in the corner nearest the closet.
If she squinted, she could almost believe something was there. “Hush, Darling. It’s just a shadow.”
“It’s not. He’s, he’s talking to me. It’s a monster.” He hid his tear-stained face in his pillow. His shoulders shook, his breath labored. Worried that her little one wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, and quite frankly, neither would she, she said, “This is what we’re gonna do. Sit in my lap.”
The boy climbed out of bed and grabbed her neck. She wrapped him into her arms. “You know how much I love you.”
“Bigger than the Earth? Bigger than forever?”
“Yes. Bigger than all the Earth. Bigger than forever. Let that big love fall right into your lap and hold it there.”
The little boy’s tummy expanded and then tightened as breath filled him with remembered love.
“When you let the air go, blow all that love right into the center of that shadow.” She pointed to the blackness near the closet.
The little boy’s breath whooshed outward as he stared into the shadow, blowing with all his might.
“Let’s keep doing that together; remembering our love, letting it fall into our laps, and then blowing that loving energy right at that monster.”
They hugged each other tightly.
“Stare right into the shadow and think about how much I love you and you love me,” she reminded him.
As they sat together, breathing love into a monster, she felt warmth build between herself and her son. A strong connection had always been there, but she perceived that this was a special moment. She stared at the shadow and pushed that feeling toward it, mother and son breathing in love, breathing out love, sending it to the shadow in the corner by the closet.
The shadow began to quiver.
Must be a trick of the eyes, she thought but she held her concentration, thinking only of the love she had for her son, and offering that love to his monster.
Slowly, a glow of light began around the edges, diffusing its darkness. Suddenly, bright white light flashed in that corner by the closet and disappeared.
She blinked. The corner looked normal again.
“There,” she said, “All gone.”
She couldn’t let on how mystified she felt by what just happened.
“Mom, Mom. It went home. It belongs with angels.”
“Yes. I believe it did,” she replied. She looked into his bright eyes. “That’s what happens when you send monsters love instead of fear. Can you sleep now?”
“Yes,” he said. He climbed off her lap and snuggled into his bed.
His little boy snores greeted her ears by the time she reached his door to return to her own room. What were the chances that someone had flashed car lights in this quiet cul-de-sac at the exact moment a little boy and his mother needed comfort and strength?
She sat on her bed and replayed the event. She was not aware of hearing a car’s engine roar to life, or tires against the gravely road, but…she shrugged. Snuggling under her own covers, she lay content that for this night, something happened that made life a little easier and a little more magical.
The first is by Lyla Fain, a poet who through her writing constantly pushes to see beyond Self, thereby teaching us to do so as well. It only takes a moment to calm down and see through another’s eyes, to see through one’s heart.
Life Time, by Lyla Fain: Meditation response, Women Writers of the Well, 8/4/21
Breath in love.
Breath out love.
That truck guy
cut in front of my car.
Now I’ve waited
of my life
to get my prescription,
which I prepaid
for faster service.
Breathe in, breathe out.
on the back bumper
says, Vietnam Vet.
I’m totally against armed conflict, handgun to military weapon,
having read, “The Red Badge of Courage” in high school
and still grieving
my brother, David’s,
while at work,
shot and killed by a robber.
World conflict continues.
Breath in love.
Feel so relieved
this veteran survived that war
Breath out love.
Such a calming thought
to let go of my anger.
All it takes is a moment, as Lyla reminds us. Breath is life.
The second offering was inspired by Nadia Colburn’s class 31+ Days Meditation and Writing Course. The prompt was from Marie Howe’s poem, “The Gate,” and the line “This is what you’ve been waiting for – this.” Nadia asked, “What is this ness?” The word bank she offered was: sheet, water, gate, sandwich. In this class, we have 10 minutes to synthesize and then write, but really, she expects open-heart writing. A memory popped up for me.
This is what you’ve been waiting for… AnaValarie Singer, 8/8/21
The evening my father died
my sister and I waited,
watching him breathe.
In, out, pause…in, out, pause.
The room at Kit Carson
was calm and quiet
like my father’s breath.
We dared not touch him.
Those that had come earlier
in sobbing regret, held his hand,
stroked his cheek.
fighting a body that no longer wished to carry him.
Plants are teachers. Their lessons are as subtle as their language; lesson that are easy to ignore if one isn’t mindful, and time moves so slowly for them, requests never seem urgent.
I felt the Liquid Ambers’ threats. Occasionally I would feel a slight shudder when I walked under them. I envisioned one or both crashing to the Earth. If that happened they would take out fences, smash windows, perhaps hurt animals, or gods-forbid – people. The Chinese Hackberry needed a trim, as did all the trees on this property, but I felt I had time. I made a decision. I would tend to this in January, after leaf fall. It was healthier for the trees.
The trees had another plan.
I was minding my own business when I received a call from a neighbor. “Have you eaten?” He often does this.
There have been times I forget about food. When he offers, I accept with deep gratitude because I am creative and become too caught up in whatever it is I do to deal with simple acts of three-dimensionality like eating.
That day I remembered. “I just ate,” I said.
“I’m bringing it over, anyway. You can reheat it later.”
I said, “Okay.”
Perhaps I should have refused him.
Since moving here less than two years ago, he has hated my trees. I am the crazy tree lady. For him, my yard is an eyesore. There are too many trees. When oxalis and three-corner leaks spread underneath the trees in the spring, the yard looks wild and unkempt. He hates the seedpods that the Ambers drop. Leaf fall upsets him. The trees obstruct his view of the corner above us. But, what he really hates is the shade in his yard. He worries it will kill his grass. There hasn’t been a single time that we have spoken across the fence that he hasn’t complained about my trees. Usually, it seems like banter, a conversation opener, a place to meet in the middle.
However, that day when he brought over the food, he very cautiously informed me that he had called a tree specialist to get a diagnosis for my Chinese Hackberry. It was very sick and needed to come down before it killed somebody.
I was puzzled and said, “My arborist didn’t notice that. Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”
I then explained to him my worry about the Liquid Ambers. They are fragile trees and have grown quite tall, but arborists don’t like to trim them because it makes them weaker. “I plan to deal with them in January.”
“Well that front tree is very sick. It has ants.”
Around here, all trees have ants. “I think my arborist would have told me if there was a problem,” I said.
“I knew you would be like this. You are so irresponsible.”
“Why do you have to be such an immature baby about this?”
Ego raised one eyebrow.
It suddenly occurred to me that this had been a plan before he bought the house next to mine. He intended to get rid of the tall, offensively shading trees next door. Wow! Was it possible he shared food with me so that he could wear me down? Was he thinking I now owed him? Did he expect I would cut my trees for him because he had fed me so often?
Ego insisted, “Give the food back. Right now!”
I tried. It was sad letting go of Nori sprinkled rice with pickled plums, but I pushed the dish toward him.
He backed away. “Just take it,” he shouted. “Take it.”
My mistake occurred when I said, “Oh, I see now. This was a plan. Well it works for you, doesn’t it? You have wanted this since you moved in.”
The instant the words left my mouth, I felt my mistake.
He retorted, “My house isn’t made of cardboard. It will be expensive to rebuild, and I will be suing for it.” As an afterthought he added, “It will be way more money than you have.”
Ego snapped. An avenging tree angel took over my voice. I have no idea what it said, but I know it called him out.
“I knew it,” he said as he stormed back toward his house. “You are crazy. God-damned fucking crazy.”
I felt crazy.
Shaking and dazed, I called my tree specialist. He came that evening.
“This is probably the healthiest Hackberry I have ever seen,” he said.
I knew this but…, “I need proof. Something in writing from an expert that says my tree is healthy.”
“Who are you doing this for?” he asked.
“My neighbor wants to sue me.”
He shook his head, but he called in another specialist who came later that night who confirmed what we all knew. My tree was healthy. If I wanted to trim it, I didn’t have to wait until leaf fall. He understood my misgivings about the Ambers. He said they could wait until leaf fall, or come down right now. Either way, I was right, Ambers in general weren’t suited for this climate or in such close proximity to houses.
Would my neighbor approach the City with a complaint about my trees while I waited for leaf fall? Would I have to take them all down? Would the unprecedented heat of California cause some unforeseen disaster? “Will you write a report? I need to protect myself,” I said.
He had to drive to the Bay Area that night, but he promised to write and send it when he arrived.
I received it that night.
Two weeks later, my Ambers felled and Hackberry severely trimmed, acts that bring pain and tears even today, the neighbor had the nerve to write me a thank you letter for fixing my trees for him.
Ego awakened again and said, “Shit.”
How does one shut up inner dialog when every step onto the front porch reminds my poor little Ego that it no longer has the protection of three loyal trees? How can I stop anger when I see my burned roses, and dead blackberry vines no longer sheltered from the brutal sun? How can I stop the tears as I watch my generous fig tree that has lived its life as understory burn away in the heat?
A few nights after that tragedy, I went to my weekly meeting with the Women Writers of the Well. Driving there, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about this event. It was time to let go.
Who was I kidding? I couldn’t find equilibrium. I didn’t know who I had turned into that day. What kind of person blindly lashes out after downloading information that should have remained a hidden knowing? I wish I could have quelled his fears instead of adding to the insanity of his accusations.
Then, one of the writers shared this prompt: a big hole.
A door opened. My pen flew across the page.
I picked up Ego, along with Anger and threw them into a big hole. I watched them fall, until darkness sucked them up.
Like all things, Valarie, they didn’t stay in that deep oblivion. As I turned, Anger grabbed me.
“Fix this,” it growled.
“No,” I said, fully prepared to kick whatever crawled out of that hole back into its depths.
“Where is this going?” Ego pleaded.
“Back into the hole, with you,” I shouted, pointing an angry finger.
Shaking my head, I stormed off. Sometimes it’s best to turn your back on a thing.
As if reading my mind, it shouted, “Not true. I’ve always been there for you. You need someone to protect you, guard against that world out there that doesn’t understand.”
I flashed a middle finger at it. “I can protect myself. I make good decisions. I don’t need anybody telling me how to run my life. I have rights, you know. I deserve to be free of the likes of you.”
“Oooh. And you’re gone,” I said, shoving at it, hard enough to knock it back into the big hole.
It wouldn’t stay there. I knew better than to expect that, but I didn’t want to listen anymore.
“You need me,” I heard it shout from a deep, deep place. It wasn’t going to leave me alone until I grappled with it.
“Dammit!” I hate when Ego whines like that.
Sometimes it is hard to see a train wreck coming. Sometimes we can’t step out of the way. So, here I stand in front of the computer, grappling with the story I started during a writer’s meeting a few weeks ago; writing and rewriting, wondering if it will ever be smooth enough for a blog. Time will tell.
In the meantime, does anyone have a shovel I can borrow?
I can’t do this. I don’t have the talent. It has dripped off my fingers to sully the floor instead of inking this paper.
Dang, it’s dusty in here. Where’s the broom?
I forgot to wash the dishes.
I need to wash clothes for tomorrow…
…I don’t have the time to do this right now.
Time. What else do I have? I live alone with no one to attend but myself, I retired from twenty-four years of teaching one year ago precisely to make more time for projects like this…I have time.
I need another excuse to avoid this impenitent white.
I’ve accomplished a lot this year avoiding this project: published a novel, finished another. I maintain a blog site, I have created two book covers for projects not mine, taught art lessons, voice lessons, drawn 36 portraits. I have done all kinds of things that have ousted the premier project I promised to do, a project of the heart, a project for and with a writer whom I love, my son.
I ask my body, listening to the senses given to navigate this dimension. What does it have to say when I think about this project? I imagine the heroine, Colenso, and all the people with whom she connects. I start to feel hollow, constricted…saddened.
Tears start flowing from my eyes.
Aaaugh. There is so much pain here.
She is beautiful. She is brave. She is creative. She has the energy of a younger woman desperate to follow her purpose on Earth. Where will it take her?
Abandoned by parents, raised by a grandmother who committed suicide to escape untenable lower class working conditions, and burdened by magical gifts that drive her to right impossible wrongs…I…I feel…I feel trapped by her. I do not know how to express a grief that closely matches the vibrational magnitude of my own pain, the pain of a single mother raising two fatherless children, another layer of generational abandonment heaped upon generations behind us, so much suffering.
Will Colenso find peace before she ages and becomes inexorably tired? Will the monsters that hunt her catch up before the Old Ones bring her to her proper place?
Only if I can forget that I am the old, tired one.
There must be a way to reclaim my youthful strength, an ability to put myself in her shoes, to jump ship and put myself in the shoes of the other characters, to face the evil with her, and not flinch from my ego who warns me of my own reflections, “Don’t go there.”
I will go there…when I find the strength…when the dishes and floor are clean and I find enough self-love for both of us. I will go there. I will.
I knew the instant he turned and looked into the camera that he was the emerald I had lost so many lives ago. Also, he was the man I had sketched into the middle of the night, nineteen years ago.
For as long as I can remember, I have been looking for another, the one that vibrates with me, someone who was supposed to come to Earth when I did. I often felt him even as a child, but I could not see him. During the summer Solstice of 2002, his presence was strong. I attended a full moon ceremony with some friends. The hostess and I were chatting when she stopped, stared over my shoulder, and loudly proclaimed, “Who is that tall, dark man standing behind you?”
I could feel him.
She could see him.
I was jealous.
That night, after settling my children, I took up pencil and paper and asked, “Who are you. What do you look like?”
Hours and several attempts later, I had an image that spoke to my heart. I hung it on my wall, grateful that he had appeared. I no longer felt alone as a single woman raising two young children on her own.
I have drawn him often through the years when I have felt his presence touching mine.
Trapped inside by Covid-19, I watched endless hours of Netflix. Suddenly – there he was. My phantom friend, no longer a ghost as narrowly defined by me.
Like a hawk, I hunted through vaults of images on the internet, seeking matches to my own images of him. It felt surreal when I found them, creating more questions than answers. Six thousand, seven hundred, ninety-two miles away, there is a man I have been drawing for years, standing next to me in some other dimension, who is actually alive and successful.
How does that happen? Why does that happen? We don’t speak the same earthly language, but somehow there is a communication between us.
I hope he is blissfully happy. I am forever grateful he has graced my life with his presence from time to time. I don’t know if we will ever meet during this lifetime, but I hope we do.
Caring For Others – May 31, 2021 Women Writers of the Well
The week prior to May 31st was rough for most of us in the writers group. I was in the middle of a course called Healing the Mother Wound, an exploration of shadows held within me, some created by myself, some by my own mother in our dance together, some passed down to the two of us from the women who came before us. I was in a fragile spot. A tiny shimmer of compassion for all involved slowly blossomed and I wanted to care for it.
Another woman had an awakening encounter with a homeless man, and realized her first reaction was fear, fear of him simply because he was a man and then because he lived wild, and looked it. It was the learned behavior of a woman growing up in the United States of America, most probably the reaction of any woman meeting a man in an unpredictable situation anywhere in the world. In the end, this one experience was positive, opening a door for both of them, but it left her in a fragile space wondering how, as women, we had come to fear men so.
A third woman in our group was caring for a devastatingly ill family member. She was inexorably disappearing as the ‘caretaker’ role took over. Alone with the task and afraid of losing herself, she was extremely fragile. Because many of us in the group have grappled with the same situation, her story, along with the meditative prompt, sent us over an emotional edge, which became public to each other when we read our pieces aloud.
This was mine:
“As a woman, caring for others is easier than caring for self. Caring for self requires looking too closely at who we are, what we are, how we define ourselves. Healing ancestral mother wounds has opened my eyes to how much my personal definition has been shaped by patriarchal conditioning handed down, not by the men in our lives, but the women.”
While reading, I looked up at the screen. Heads were nodding, eyes filled with tears. I thought, Oh dear, how will I read the rest of this to them?
I took a breath, and continued, “All of us define our worth according to how we care for others, whether on the job, in the home or within our communities. We ignore Self because we are valued only as Helper. We keep the machinery of life running.
“As I breathe in, I realize how much I don’t know about the “who” of me. I know what I am, I know what I do, I know about the people I tend. As I breathe out, do I freely let go, giving to others, or is there a part that I zealously hold onto, knowing there is not enough, not enough – not enough. Who am I? How do I define myself? What information could I give so that you could decide whether or not we would trust each other? If I don’t have full Self on board, I don’t have full Self to give and right now, in today’s world, it is paramount we offer full Self.”
Some of the comments to this piece were:
We are sic not whole if not perfect.
You can murder a woman without taking her life.
We are always whole, but it’s hard to see it if we tired, distracted, or sick.
How do we fill empty moments, spaces of silence?
How do we choose to fill them? Who are we in those empty moments not spent tending others? Recently, my Guides advised me to sit at the base of one of my trees to ground myself. It was less a suggestion and more an imperative. I was to sit and let the tree do the work. This is not easy for me, to sit and let others do…even trees. The Guides advised me that if I wanted to continue journaling, I should do it grounded at the base of a tree. After these past three weeks of doing so, I finally started asking, Who am I? – not my placement in the world as daughter, wife, mother, ex-wife, teacher, retiree – not that which I do to fill the empty moments and spaces of silence: writer, artist, singer, gardener, housekeeper, reader, student, dreamer, (well, maybe dreamer).
What snippet of information could I come up with to give you a hint of who I am? What bits do you need to decide whether or not we will enjoy each other’s company, work well as a team, or just simply “be” together. What do you need to know to decide a friend stands before you?
Who am I?
I calculate risks before I take them,
Then jump in with my whole, tenacious heart.
Informs me of past, present, and future
I dream in color
A seamless wave
I see the path before me
Before I take a single step.
I fly on wings of music.
Therefore, sound distracts me because
Music is EVERYWHERE.
Creates a space to regroup
I want to fly again,
Let the beats of a song
Erase my stasis.
I am an empath.
Your fear, your sorrow
I feel it; I feel you.
Sometimes I cannot tell
The difference between us.
You wear that separate meat suit.
Intuition guides me
To recognize and honor authenticity
But, I have no time for masks
Once I see your true self
Shining from your eyes
I will love and honor you
Hold space for you.
I soften with sensuality
Drawn by sound, texture,
Color, smell and taste.
I lose myself
With a single touch.
In the trappings of sensation
I have to work to stay present.
I am grateful for trees.
…so very grateful for trees. I am learning a lot from them. I plan to make sitting under trees a regular part of my meditation practice. For the first time, I am beginning to feel as if I belong, as if I am a part of Earth, as if I am an amazing contribution to all there is. I am re-establishing who I am.
Who are you?
I would love to know you. Are you a risk taker? Are you someone who will reach out, leave a comment? Have I given you enough information to make such a decision?
Thank you, Dear Reader, for waiting these last three weeks for another post. I appreciate your interest and the time you are willing to spend with me. May you find Peace and a sense of Self as you go about your days.
Do songs or melodies stick in your head? Like me, and my good friend Danae, do you find comfort or inspiration in them? Danae C. Little, author of Grant Us Mercy, an inspirational tale about survival after an apocalypse, shares my blog space this week. An amazing, empathetic person she is always willing to give any help she can. In our group, Women Writers of the Well, she leads the rest of us towards becoming published authors. As a teacher, she leads softly, but determined that we have success.
She has had several bestseller titles. You can see her collection of work on her Amazon author’s page:
She wrote this piece during our group meeting last Monday and when I asked her to share it, she agreed. I am elated to share her words with you.
Music – Soundtrack to Life, by Danae C. Little
Music is our soundtrack to life. Oftentimes I wake with a song in my head. The melody strumming forth, the words repeating like a stuck needle. In those moments between sleep and wake, I swear I actually hear the song as if I’m being serenaded until the notes fade out as I open my eyes.
I find that these mornings when I wake with my own soundtrack, my life follows the tune, my perception shifts towards the song’s meaning.
Music has always been an important part of my life, drawing on emotion, deepening moments, and pushing back depressing thoughts. I used to sing my way through the day as a child, much to my brother’s dismay, who would repeatedly ask my mom to make the tone deaf girl stop.
I was tone deaf. I’ve had three surgeries on my ears, two of them major leaving me mostly deaf on one side. It never stopped me from enjoying music though.
I spent my childhood, before the self-conscious years of adolescence, performing in church musicals. Then came my years of silence, years of only freeing my voice when I was alone.
When I became a mom, something shifted and released, freeing my voice once more. It started with softly sung lullabies to soothe my infant, turning into silly songs to make my toddler laugh, and now we sing popular songs together while smiling at each other.
I had missed singing, but I’m back, and maybe not even as tone deaf. At least, my son never complains about me being off key. Now, if I’m feeling down, I’ll find my favorite artist on YouTube and belt out the lyrics. It always lifts my spirits.
So, I’ve decided to choose my own soundtrack for life. What will yours be?
(Author’s Note: I want to start this last installment with the words of two writers I admire. Their words speak to me.).
David Roddy co-writes the podcast “Worker’s Cauldron” with Mercedas Castillo. He advocates for the marginalized and homeless. The “Worker’s Cauldron” originally called “Sh!t Gets Weird” focuses on “the cultural politics of the paranormal.” Each program is a lesson about history you probably did not learn in school, at least not here in the United States. You can catch the podcast at: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-workers-cauldron.
The most dangerous person is one who never questions the efficacy of his or her hard work to overcome adversity, who doesn’t take into account circumstance, outside help, or sheer luck. It is dangerous to disconnect racial disadvantages, disadvantages that are especially hard for those who are single mothers. A person is doomed to callousness and a heartless inconsideration of others as long as they idealize that hard work is the sole cause of success.
The other is poet Lyla Osmundsen, a member of the Women Writers of the Well. At our Monday evening meeting, she responded to the prompt: “Have I invented the world I see?” Vibrant with emotion, shining Love with the heart of an angel, Lyla wrote from the core of her being, which she does – always. She completed the first two lines during our meeting and read them to us. I was so touched I asked if she could complete it to add to this blog entry. Thankfully, she agreed. Her book is available at: Wa(o)ndering to Poetry (9781717396556): Osmundsen, Lyla Fain: Books
Have I Invented the World I See? – Lyla Osmundsen, 3/10/21
Does my anger vibrate in unison
with the anger of others,
causing volcanic eruptions of
daily gun violence?
Does my careless waste
constitute a crime
against a starving individual?
Does stuffing my house
with thoughtless trifle
transform into the tragedy
of a child with no home?
Lyla asked the hard questions of herself. Those of us that hear her words, in turn ask them of ourselves. What are the ramifications of our emotions, our patterns, our wants and desires? We all need to ask, “What world have I created?” Is it the one we want to see?
To live, a human needs water, food, and shelter. These are not privileges. These are necessities. According to most articles that I read, the top four reasons for homelessness are: lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and low wages. Contrary to popular belief, more than one third of people who are homeless are not jobless. They work long hours, sometimes more than one job, even more than two or three jobs at a time. Housing is too expensive and there aren’t enough developments to house all the people that need housing. Even if there were, the average wages for the average worker cannot cover mortgages, or even skyrocketing rental costs.
The housing problem compounded in California when yearly firestorms became the norm, forcing people to leave established living accommodations. As a teacher, I worked with families displaced by fire. Some lived out of their cars, more fortunate ones found safety with family or friends. Others, unable to find work in California, left the state, abandoning their old lives entirely. These were the lucky people.
The rest careened into homelessness and took to the streets, or the edges of parks, or under overpasses of highways. People of small towns and rural areas, areas with limited job availability especially develop an attitude of looking down on the displaced citizens that hover in their areas. The typical response I heard was that the hardworking taxpayer shouldn’t have to subsidize lazy vagrants.
Then Covid-19 hit. Stimulus packages were not enough and came too late. Workplaces were shut down, people lost their businesses, mortgage holders weren’t compassionate enough because their own livelihood was compromised. Homelessness was no longer an issue of “you just have to work hard.” I wonder, do those angry people bemoaning their taxes still feel the same? Are some of them now living on the edges of society, possibly still working hard, still paying taxes, living under makeshift tents on the edges of town?
Covid-19 gave most of us time to realize our good fortune is largely due to luck. Having or not having is often a matter of who you know. It’s almost always a matter of what color am I?
As early as the 1970’s Federal investment in housing was threatened. In the 1980’s there was already an unwarranted number of families with children considered homeless. In 2008, financial crises created foreclosures forcing people to give up their homes and take rentals instead. Unfortunately, affordable and safe rental construction could not meet the demand of displaced homeowners. Rents rose, but working class wages did not. By the time Covid-19 was a pandemic, rents were too high for most people working full time year round as minimum wage workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in a survey completed in 2019, 82.3 million workers 16 years and older, represent well over half (58.1 percent) of all wage and salary workers in the United States. These are people struggling to maintain shelter. Six percent of white households are extremely low-income renters. (2,3,4)
For people of color, the statistics are bleak. “Twenty percent of Black households, 17 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native households, 15 percent of Hispanic households, and 10 percent of Asian households (compared to the white households), are extremely low-income renters and are often locked out of affordable housing due to systemic and structural racism and decades of racist policies.” (1)
I think about other single mothers like myself. What are those statistics? Over 85% of homeless families are headed by women, specifically, by single women with children, and domestic violence is a principal cause of homelessness among single mother families. (5)
Reading a statistic such as this raises the ugly face of my own fear. My fear was real. I was afraid of homelessness, however, that fear was as irrational then as it is now. I always had people who cared for me. I had places I could go. I am white. Job opportunities, even in this rural area, were presented to me, largely because of who my family knew. There was no way I would find myself on the street.
Even now, as a retired person living on barely adequate retirement wages, when the fear stops me in my tracks, the truth is – I remember that money is adequate. I have shelter. I have water. I have food.
I will never know who that huddled person in front of Starbucks was. I didn’t stop to ask their story. Where was that person’s luck? Did my callousness leak some of it away? Were they as terrified of me, as I was of them? Were they huddled under the mound of clothing in defense and shame? Could I have alleviated part of that shame for one transitory moment if I had stopped to smile, at the very least? Could that one moment have made all the difference in the world for that one person?
December 31, 2019 was a lost opportunity. Today, as I rewrite this article, terror washes over me again as I remember being a single mother of two very young children. My heart crumbles as I remember the person I left behind at Starbucks. Before my fingers touched the keyboard, I sat on my bed sobbing. I lived on the brink of disaster, that person lives the disaster.
I have to own that terror and let it go. I also have to own the pride that covered it up and made me callous. Yes, I worked hard, but I was fortunate. I was presented with opportunities that I was in a position to grab; opportunities that a great many of us don’t have.
In the future, will I find, at the very least, the courage to smile if I have nothing else to give? I need to look behind the pride that covers my near miss and move forward one encounter, one opportunity, one story at a time.
Pride pushed me to achieve stability for myself and my small family. I took advantage of opportunities available to a white person with education. I bought a house from my parents’ estate, taking advantage of a generous, no interest payment plan. I raised my two children in a safe, small-town homeschooling situation while working as a teacher in the school they attended. All the things one expects out of life came true. I was proud of my achievements, proud of my children, and happy in my situation. Ironically, pride is a powerful screen that can hide something as huge as the terror of living through untenable uncertainty. Terror not faced cropped up in a mysterious, inconvenient, and unfortunate way. Last year, twenty-four years after becoming a teacher with a steady income. I published an article about my failure to respond to someone in need. It seemed a lifetime had passed since living with the terror of the world falling out from under my feet as a single mother and sole provider for two souls, a lifetime since I had worried about homelessness. I was hard working and successful. I had avoided the calamity of which I was most afraid. People were impressed with my story. I had come far. I believed them when they congratulated my strength and fortitude. I was finally in a league to “pay it forward” by seriously donating to charities and food drives. Like me, many of us experience the act of “paying it forward” whether in a grocery line, contributing to Food for Families, or donating to local food pantries. Perhaps like me, many purchase a sandwich or a cup of soup for a cleanly dressed person on a street corner who approaches and asks politely. Most of us donate money to organizations like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, or causes for veterans. There is an endless list of worthy causes to make us feel we are doing something to help. Those efforts are safe. They don’t take much time, they don’t require person to person contact. This is all fine, but what happens when one is confronted with an individual buffeted by a pauper’s life on the street? On December 31, 2019, the last day of a difficult year that cinched my decision to retire at the end of the second school term, and with no way of knowing that in seven short weeks, 2020 would be a worse year, I pulled into Starbucks. This was my special treat for coping with a drive to Stockton, California. Stockton is a rough town, rated 3 on a scale where 100 is safest. I went there to see a pain specialist because of injuries sustained while struggling as an apartment manager, exasperated by single motherhood, and a bad fall. Good news or bad news, I always stopped to give myself some sugary, caffeinated love. Even though I did not feel safe in Stockton, the treat had a calming effect that negated my need to race home beyond the posted speed limit like a barn-sour horse. I entered Starbucks’ parking lot. A beggar huddled on the island in the middle of the entrance/exit split off Hwy 88 and Hwy 99. To enter Starbucks, a driver had to pass him (or her) coming and going. I shut down, as I often do when confronted with this choice. I could not tell if the person was a man or a woman, crouched as the person was under a mountain of clothing. Was he or she young, old, black, white, or any other color in between? Were they on drugs, did they have hidden weapons? He or she held a sign, but the lettering was so faded I could not read it from the car. Did it say, “Out of work,” or “Homeless,” or “Need money,” or “Clothes,” or “Food?” This was Stockton. The unidentifiable person under the mound of clothing was panhandling, either by default or by “choice,” as so many people insist. I entered Starbucks wrapped in thought, eager to use a gift card one of my dear students had given me for this treat, but seeing a person huddled and begging for something brought forth a deluge of anxiety I didn’t really define at the time. When I stepped outside, the person was still there, unmoving. I took a few steps toward him or her and tried to catch their eyes, figuring I might be able to size up the situation if I could see their expression. When I couldn’t, I didn’t look twice. Truth be told, I didn’t try very hard. My heart was pounding with unreasonable fear, and I think pride was blocking my access to the real cause of that fear. However, I blamed it on the gift card I held in my hand. There was money left on it. I could hand my gift card through the car window, but what if caffeine was detrimental to their mental or physical health? What if Starbucks wouldn’t let them in? Should I step back into the shop and buy a banana? What if they, like me, reacted poorly to bananas? Did my student have a re-gift in mind when she gave it? For this particular student, her gift had been a tremendous act of generosity. From the safety of my car, I regarded the person on the island through my side mirror. My heart was crying for action, but my ego justified not acting. As a young girl, I heard grandfather stories. One story taught me, don’t give money. There was a McDonald’s next door. I didn’t have much cash on me. The amount I had wasn’t enough for a hamburger, which was at best a momentary fix. Would coffee do? What if they needed shoes, or medication? What if, what if, what if? My anxiety told me – run away. My head argued with my heart, calculating all the ramifications of helping or not helping. Was I prolonging someone’s helplessness, the same helplessness I felt when raising two small children by myself? Was this someone taking advantage of others panhandling like this? The guilt I felt taking advantage of Food Stamps, and payment plans grew like a swarm of locusts as I sat there. People in need taking advantage was another common stereotype and one I had worked hard to get out from under. A percentage of homeless people lacking jobs and living on the streets have severe anxieties and mental health disorders. They can’t find jobs; or if they do, they can’t keep them. Housing prices in California are astronomical, and housing is generally unavailable. It was a stroke of luck that I found the job I did. Or was it? Had that luck come from white privilege? The question pummeled my ego which took a different tact. I was older, less equipped to defend myself should the need arise, even though I knew that it was more likely that a homeless person would be attacked rather than perpetuate an attack. Still, my ego told me, don’t get out of the car. For a few moments I sat there in conflict, trying to intuit the right course of action. In the end, I ignored the huddled person on the island and drove home. The treat did not slow my flight as it usually did, nor did I enjoy it. I fumbled.
What was this huddled person’s story? I will never know. I threw away my chance to ask. It was an opportunity to reach out, to ease a moment, to hear Story and I drove away. There are many reasons for homelessness, seldom is it a choice like some would believe. I invite you to check out next week, Fumble – Part Three, when I explore some of those reasons.
My eyes snapped open. It was dark, but I didn’t need to see. A familiar, heavy weight pushed against my chest. My heart pounded against it. I gasped, frantically gulping air. Terror, a nightly visitor, was back to remind me I was one step away from losing all I had worked for.
I jumped out of bed to check on my children. They slept soundly in the second bedroom of the small apartment. I closed their door, fighting against the consuming tears that threatened to shut me down, and tiptoed to the kitchen.
It was dark and private, especially if I huddled in the corner against the cupboards under the sink. With cupboard handles digging into my back, crushing despair overwhelmed me, and I dissolved into quiet, painful, body-consuming sobs. I couldn’t handle this – single motherhood, sole support of two young children, working as an apartment manager, a job my body was not equipped to handle. There was nothing else…no job that paid enough to keep me and my two babies housed. I had made my bed. Now it was up to me to lay in it.
I was a survivor. I felt a sense of pride that while I was a single mother that received no child support, I could keep us off the streets. That sense of pride pushed me to achieve more stability, stability I had not had before.
As an artist, I was always one dollar away from destitution, but that one dollar kept me off the streets and under a roof. So, when my marriage dissolved, it took a long time for me to find the courage to initiate a divorce. Once I found courage, I took full custody of our two small children without support from their father. In fairness, he had more than he could handle fighting mental illness. It was unfair to ask for support, so I didn’t.
My parents, while available for occasional help, were not emotionally equipped to live full time with two small children. They had earned their freedom after raising four kids of their own. I felt the idea of a grown child coming home with two of her own children was too great a burden; so, I wheedled my way into an apartment manager’s job, a job set up for a married couple. It would now be handled by one, unqualified, single mother. Even though the job was more than I could handle, I never let people know what I was going through. In fact, except for shameful nighttime sob-sessions, I didn’t admit it to myself. After all, I was a strong American woman. The world could hear me roar. I had put a roof over my children’s heads. I wasn’t the daughter leaching off her parents.
The apartment job took its toll physically, mentally, and emotionally. My five foot, two and a half inch body was not equipped to handle the manual labor part of the job. My poor little vessel had not yet fully recovered from gestation complications nor had it fully recovered from breast feeding. But payment was a free apartment in exchange for that work. All I needed money for was life in general.
In Northern California there is a lot of resentment towards people who use the welfare systems. People using it are caught in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. In the State of California, at that time, to be eligible for public assistance, one could not work more than forty (40) hours per month. Let me write that again. To qualify for help, I could not legally work more than forty hours per month. I was required to be on call 24/7 as the apartment manager. I was not eligible for Welfare assistance because it was considered a full time job, but I still needed money to pay for utilities, groceries, and childrens’ needs.
I took odd jobs on top of the management position. At the end of the first year, I discovered that the Federal and State governments counted free rent as income for which I owed taxes, but had never received a monetary exchange. My family wasn’t keen on helping me pay that. I complained but didn’t ask for help because I had been raised to believe that if you made your bed, you laid in it. I had made that bed getting divorced. The management company that hired me found out I was working off the premises and frowned upon the odd jobs I had taken because I was to be available to their clients 24/7. I could quit the jobs and be a full-time manager and not be able to buy food or keep the jobs and lose housing.
I cried on the floor of my kitchen in the middle of the night.
Because I was a single mother with two small children and had a bill for Federal taxes, I was eligible for Food Stamps. However, using this type of assistance embarrassed my family, which in turn shamed me.
I cried on the floor of my kitchen.
But what does one do? One takes care of the kids and moves on. That’s what. No matter what it takes. So I felt a sense of pride in this, or at least pretended that I did. I went without health care for myself so I could set up payment plans to pay for my children’s health care and dental needs.
Too many times, I heard family and friends talking about “What a shame it was” that I had put myself in this situation.
I cried in the dark on the kitchen floor.
Pride kept me going. I took out student loans to go back to school for a teaching credential, something I could do because I had a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Art with a minor in music, but hadn’t made a lot of money as a street or gallery artist. I had not yet made any money as a musician. “What a shame,” I heard. “So much talent going to waste.”
Teaching brought in a steady income, something I had not experienced before. Yet, I still feared homelessness. To remind myself how close I still felt to it, I practiced the art of facing my fear by dressing every Halloween as a bag lady. My kids and family were not impressed with my choice of costume, but it helped me face the fear that was still haunting me. Dressing up in such a way confirmed that I had something to be proud of: at least I wasn’t a bag lady living on the street.
Pride of accomplishment can be a powerful smoke screen. It can hide something as huge as the terror of living through untenable uncertainty and color one’s memory of that uncertainty with self-aggrandizement. Pride-cloaked terror popped up in a mysterious, inconvenient, and unfortunate way. Next week, read Part Two of “Fumble,” when I share the memory of a missed opportunity to help someone else facing homelessness.
I am delighted to share my blog space again, with another writer from Women Writers at the Well, Dianne Chapman McCleery. She is a talented essayist, and her fiction always explores the depths of relationship no matter the era. Usually, her stories have a western theme, such as her novelette, Seeking Solace, about a woman who lost her significant other, her trusted horse, and her peace of mind all at once. I will post a link to this book at the bottom of this offering.
Lately she has been shining as a flash fiction writer. Flash fiction stories are the same as any story be it in short story form, novel, or any designation in between. The difference is they are typically only 100 to 1000 words long. This story is 183 words, yet it is perfectly delightful and paints a full picture. You will not be able to forget it after you read it because it will have touched your heart, which most of her stories do.
This was prompted by our opening meditation on April 12, 2021. I was so enchanted I wrote to her afterward (we are still meeting on Zoom) and asked, “Please, please, please, may I share this?” Immediately, she responded, “Yes.” Thank you, Dianne!
She presents to you:
Tiny Balls of Light – Dianne Chapman McCleery
For as long as she could remember, they were there, tiny balls of light, sometimes so many she couldn’t count them, but at least one kept her company at all times.
If she were sad, many showed up, tickling her so the sadness couldn’t stay. If she were happy, usually three would circle around her, joining in her joy.
As she grew old enough to go to school, they hid in her backpack, snuck into her desk, and at recess hid under her hair.
For some reason, she knew never to mention them to others. Somehow, she knew that not everyone, maybe no one, had balls of light as friends.
She grew older, wiser, and surprisingly, happier. Eventually, her thoughts and her gaze turned to boys. She held herself apart, never really knowing how to interact with other girls, much less boys. Then one day in English class, sitting behind Brian, Brian of the blue eyes and friendly smile, she saw a tiny ball of light peek over his collar and disappear again. She realized that finally she might have found a friend.
A petite, tow-headed, ten-year-old girl slumped in the last pew in the dark corner at the back of the old Methodist Church. Her feet didn’t touch the ground, so she curled against the bench as a shield against the physical discomfort of having to sit there quietly. Today’s sermon had already lost meaning for her. Instead of sitting inside a building listening to old words that in her mind had little relevance, she had to leave, to find solace under the sky, to sit under an oak tree by the creek that meandered through town. Making herself as quiet and as invisible as possible, she slipped out of the pew. She could feel the Pastor’s scowl with the entire left side of her face and body, though she steadfastly ignored it as she walked out the door, down the steps, and into the light of freedom.
It didn’t take long to get to the creek. She sat on the bank near a deep pool watching water warmed by the summer’s sun bubble past rocks. Her mind wandered and she closed her eyes. Sound, scent, sensation washed over her. Usually, her inner eye opened onto a similar scene, one from a past that felt like hers alone, though she had recently discovered that it was an ancestral place of prayer. This place was nestled in a wilder valley, its creek shadowed with heavy vegetation. There she listened to colder water burble over rocks, listened to different animals than the ones in her town rustling the foliage on the far bank, watched birds flutter from branch to branch. She found comfort when a sharper wind brushed past her, making her fine hair float around her head. Sunlight played against nature’s surfaces with a soothing exchange of color. This mental place was where she felt close to her concept of God. This is what she thought: Just sitting, listening to nature was more informative than stale words written by humans.
But today, when she closed her eyes to slip into the subtle world of her inner mind, she was on the top of a hill like the ones that surrounded the little town in which she lived. The hill was steep and the sky above was big. She found a stump to sit upon and looked up at the blue expanse above her. A flock of starlings danced in the air. They twirled in and out of fantastical, amorphous shapes like a gigantic organism responding to stimuli that pushed them one direction, then another.
She heard someone approach and looked to her left.
A youthful-looking, dark skinned man, dressed in a dusty, white tunic, tramped up the sharp incline toward her. His appearance was exotic, like he was from somewhere on the other side of the world. When he reached her position, he smiled and sat next to her, crossing his legs in front of him. He arranged his tunic and smoothed it with his graceful hands. He didn’t look directly at her. Instead, he watched the birds and their aerial display. She immediately felt a kinship.
Intellectually, she knew she should be alarmed, but she wasn’t. His energy was calm and focused. He smelled like sweet, wood smoke, and for some reason that soothed her.
He said, “Hi,”while watching the dance in the sky. His low voice seemed to rumble in his chest.
Alert, she replied timidly, “Hi.”
One of his eyebrows rose up as if he was surprised. “You don’t remember me?”
Something about him seemed familiar.
He sighed. Then, he bumped shoulders with her. “I want to tell you something,” he whispered.
She thought, Don’t tell me to go back to church. She turned to him with more than a little defiance and said, “What?”
He chuckled and said, “Not that. You are here to develop Self. That is why you came to this planet, in this Now. Do you know what that means?”
Of course she knew what he meant, she was smart for a ten-year-old. It was just that she was expecting admonishment for ditching. Furthermore, she was already a Self, like everybody else, wasn’t she? She spent a lot of energy trying to change that. Why would she want to develop it?
Intelligence had made her a target, so she was learning to hide it. Where she lived, smart kids were looked down upon. It was fine to be pretty, but not if you were smart. She worked to fit in: pretended she didn’t know answers in school, pretended to find humor in the antics of other children her age, pretended she was at least entitled to hover at the edge of the “it” crowd. Compliance was important for acceptance. Unfortunately, in her heart, she was as far from compliant as a person could get. All anyone had to do was ask her parents. Her entire Self didn’t fit in, and she didn’t like it. Why develop something one didn’t like?
Though she had not uttered a single word, he said, “I can’t say I disagree with your assessment, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? I would really like to see you develop who you are. That’s why you are here, to explore and grow your individuality, your Self.”
It suddenly occurred to her who she might be sitting with. “Have I died?” she asked.
He laughed and then he looked at her and said, “No.”
His smile was so warm, and his laugh so inviting, she decided that if she had died, she would want to go with him wherever he ended up going.
He shook his head and bumped her shoulder again. Still reading her thoughts, he said, “You won’t always feel so all alone. Developing your individual Self is what this World needs. I want you to do that, whatever it takes.” He shook his head, sadly. “Most people just stumble through life, never finding out who they are, what makes them happy, sad, scared, angry, ashamed. What makes them, THEM.
“What do you like, what do you dislike? Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be with? What do you like to do? When do you like to do it? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What makes you, YOU?”
She crossed her arms in defense. He was asking a lot of a ten-year-old.
“I’m not asking, I’m telling,” he replied to her unspoken retort. He pushed the spot between her eyes with his forefinger. “That is your job. Develop Self. Individuality is everything.” He seemed like an authority on the subject. He patted her head and looked straight into her eyes. “I love you.”
She could see that love. She mumbled, “Okay.” It suddenly seemed like a logical thing for a child to do anyway, to develop who they were as a person. Who was she to question him?
He stood, brushed dried grass off his tunic, and sauntered down the hill. She watched as he disappeared into a beam of light and immediately missed him. Her soul felt deep longing for the first time. Her heart squeezed as if it was struggling to hold its shape, to beat the next beat, to keep her here on Earth.
She quietly woke up, sneezed, and sat up under the oak tree next to the creek that ran through town. She didn’t question what had happened. She believed it had happened. Now she just had to figure out what Self was and how to develop it.
Self is elusive. Finding It is still a struggle. This is what I think I know so far: It is not the same as Me. Self is something one holds inside as a pillar of assuredness and strength. It allows one to reach out to others without concern for Me. Me is the opposite. Me is wanting, Me has needs, Me is lacking, and it worries about what others think of it.
It seems Self is a journey, not a destination. It’s a practice: mindful, deliberate attention paid to as many moments as one can, a gathering of sensation, feeling, desire, and pleasure, with the understanding that even adversity is part of life and therefore a treasure to be experienced and gathered. It is not knowing, yet having deep knowledge at the same time. It is an act of generosity and a road to compassion. It is holding gratitude as a precept for life. Self comes in moments of clarity, flashes of perception that disappear as soon as one becomes aware of the ah-ha that comes with them because one has to live Self, not be Self. Self is weird.
However, as Self, life is FUN, especially on Earth. Earth is a playground, NOT a battleground. Filled with wondrous life, diversity has no boundaries. Surrounded by such breathtaking beauty and Light, it is sometimes achingly difficult to assimilate all the colors, sounds, and sensations.
When I, as Self, think about the diversity this planet offers, I feel joy, the bubbly, roly-poly joy of a playful puppy, ecstatically happy to see its person. I want to feel that all the time, but then Self disappears because I want to hang on to joy. Joy shatters my patience for a quest for Self. So each moment and whatever it offers, I refocus, attempt mindfulness, and open to the practice of awareness. Practice never ends. There is too much to learn.
Occasionally, like today, I remember the meeting on that hill and feel grateful that He caught me at a time when my questioning was clear enough to turn into Quest. This Quest has given me a compass with which to navigate life and a reason to share Story about that life.
Think about your quest for Self. Collect your joys, your troubles, your Story. Collect it all. There is Story unfolding right this very second. A story that becomes your Self.
Have you ever tried to imagine a scene only to discover you couldn’t? Have you ever looked at a common word and suddenly it looked foreign to you, or like it wasn’t spelled correctly, or you wondered “how the heck is this word spelled?” even though you have been writing it for all your life, or maybe especially because you have been writing it your entire life? You will want to share Anne Jeffries experience.
Every Monday night, a group of women called Women Writers of the Well, meet for about an hour and a half to respond to prompts, read what we have written, and feel like we are a part of something larger than ourselves. As writers, words are important. But sometimes words are coyotes, tricksters, puzzles to brain and sanity.
Anne is one of those rare writers whose written word is truly authentic. That is why when she shares her prompt response during our group time, the rest of us say to ourselves, “Oh yeah. Been there, done that,” or “My gosh. I wish I was that alert.”
During the week she tends to children in need either virtually or in a physical classroom. Monday nights she joins us to get away from that, but does she? I can’t tell you how many Monday nights I have walked away from our meetings marveling at how much I have learned about spirit, authenticity and…quite frankly, prose. She is a poet, a story-teller, and a sharer of life. Words come from somewhere deep in her soul, crawl out of her psyche, or simply escape before she can catch them. We are so lucky she doesn’t catch them.
She has published a book, filled with heart-based writing called Crossroads. Check it out. You can find it here:
Please keep reading. Her poetry shows up on this blog site after this graphic.
In the meantime, I present her offerings from the prompts of March 29, 2021. The first was a meditation. Anne connected with the word “Imagination” in a unique way, but perhaps you have experienced the same. The second was a simple one-word prompt, “Vision.” Perhaps, you identify with this dilemma. As usual, I walked away enchanted. I asked her to share them with you and she lovingly agreed.
Imagination by Anne B. Jeffries, March 29, 2021
Why don’t we say, Image -In-ation?
Because imAgine is the verb?
When I think of the concept of imagination,
Visual imagery doesn’t come up.
It is essence, and story, and texture, and movement.
If I actively try to see a chicken in my mind,
It’s like a broken projector:
Flashes of clawed feet,
a smooth white back,
Maybe the uneven ground and dirt clods underfoot
But not the whole chicken.
And if I REALLY try to will an image,
There is nothing.
It’s like an imprint of “chicken”;
What it leaves behind.
My Image -in-ator is stubborn.
Vision by Anne B. Jeffries, March 29, 2021
Here we go again.
What Vision are we settling on?
A Vision of Jesus?
What is your vision of the future?
As I repeat it in my head
What vision do I have for the word?
While I close my eyes and feel,
See what words come,
What concept drops in place most prominently?
Which one wants to speak?
It’s less of a vision and more of an experience.
Ever say the word, “the” enough times that you wonder if it is a real word at all?
And that it cannot possibly be spelled like THAT?
What the hell?
How does my mind categorize “the” and pull it up without any conscious effort?
But, then to LOOK,
Really look at it,
Use your conscious vision,
Your actual retinas and corneas.
Looks like a jumble.
My God, early onset Alzheimer’s?
Probably not far off.
Like a ViewFinder (that toy),
I turn to a new picture,
A new Vision.
Thank you, Anne, for this moment and for sharing this week’s blog space. And thank you Readers for visiting my blog and allowing me to share one of my favorite authors.
Here in Northern California the angle of the sun speaks Spring, but at this moment, it is only a promise, not reality. I want to nurture plants, sit in the sun, and enjoy time spent outdoors. The weather is capricious, and it is too cold. Outside my backdoor, the temperature gauge reads 36ºF. Winter’s wood smoke hangs in the air. Cats snuggle on chairs and the back of the couch.
Yesterday, a cold wind roared through the valley and slammed tree branches with their fragile buds against my windows, ratcheting a level of anxiety I could barely contain. My friendly, Yellow Warbler, Jenn, did not come to visit.
Yet Spring’s promise compels me.
Those wiser than I am remind me again and again, “Be patient. It is not yet time.”
Monday night, during a meeting of the Women Writers at the Well, one of our prompts was “The Promise of Spring.” A perfect antidote to this malaise of waiting, my sister writers poured out their hearts during ten, intense minutes of recording an inspiration based on that prompt. Then we read our offerings to each other. Marilyn Crnich Nutter, scholar and author of “On the Path of Sophia – A Catholic Woman’s Journey to Wholeness,” a brilliant book speaking to anyone’s spiritual journey no matter the path, offered this and touched all of us.
The Promise of Spring
Marilyn Crnich Nutter, 3/22/2021
Winter lags on and on, or so it seems. Like the song says, “Funny, that rainy day is here,” the Winter of our lives comes all too quickly and memories enter in, which we cannot relive in flesh but only in thought, snap shots held close in hopes that time will somehow go backwards and we are there again with loved ones long gone and babies now grown.
So, in the Winter we wait, for Spring comes in ways we least expect. Hugs from grandchildren, a husband’s sweet recollections of our first meeting, laughing about past events that make us blush with embarrassment—how much of life we lived, and loved, and worked, and made those memories that keep us warm while waiting for spring blossoms to come once again.
Thank you, Marilyn, for allowing me to share this here.
I offer a humble wish:
The Promise of Spring
AnaValarie – 3/22/2021
Promise of Spring –
This time of year quickens our mood, sends our souls to the stars, and makes laughter bubble up over the tiniest act of silliness.
I will bury a sliver of Spring in my heart where it will prick the oppressing heat of Summer into a remembering that when the sun sets, the cool of night will be delicious.
I want that sliver to itch when the leaves fall, reminding me that here there is also joyous color.
Let that sliver of Spring ache during the cold, harsh dark of Winter when I miss a warm touch most of all. Remind me that Spring is just under the surface, waiting to sprout into a rush of glory.
Promise of Spring – sing.
Sing to me
May Spring quicken your mood; send your soul to the stars, and make laughter bubble up over the tiniest act of silliness.
Ana had to get out. Erupting, Mt. Shasta incarnate, she ran past the staleness of cigarettes and coffee on her mother’s breath and clothes, the sickly sweet Jean Nate she used to cover them up.
Bang! Hurtful words followed through the back door that slammed against the sill as if shot from a slingshot. They didn’t stop her. She jumped down all four steps off the porch, dashed out the back gate, and hit the pavement running. The slap, slap of her tennis shoes echoed like buckshot fired across the river.
Her mother called her name, once, twice, but Ana was too far along her escape route for the sharpness of her mother’s voice to pin her in place. Stares from three blocks of curious neighbors goose bumped the hair on her arms. She ran until she reached the field. There she crumbled, resting shaky and sweaty palms upon the pricks of the barbed wire. Somehow, the pain felt right.
He nickered when he looked up from grazing in the middle of the pasture. Green drooled from his mouth as he lipped a wad of succulent grass past his teeth. He shook flies from his sides, and his earthy scent beckoned.
She pulled open the wire gate and slipped through.
He took three lazy steps toward her and stopped.
She stopped and gazed at him.
He lowered his head, unsure of her intent.
She whispered his name.
He shook his head. His ears flopped from side to side. He licked his lips.
She softened and slowly walked toward him. When she reached him, she slipped her fingers under his thick mane. The soft warmth of his new, coppery, spring coat underneath the long, black, stranded curtain soothed her in ways she had yet to define, wouldn’t define, could not define. His salty scent spoke of dark woody roots, freshly turned fertile Earth, hugs, and safety.
He took another step, offering himself.
She wrapped her fingers around a handful of mane, jumped, and threw her leg over his broad back.
He sighed, lowered his head, and continued to graze. Muscles on his shoulder twitched, releasing tension between them.
She leaned back until his round rump became a welcome pillow.
The blue, Spring sky was all she could see. For a long time he rocked her with his gentle search across the field for the choicest clumps of grass.
Her heartbeat slowed. Flies buzzed. His tail swished, and flies scattered. A flock of tiny, brown birds landed in the arms of the big oak beside them, chittering from branch to branch, appearing in sunlight and then disappearing into shadow. Traffic rolled down the main road. Neighborhood boys played a rollicking game of dodgeball in the church parking lot down the street.
It seemed like just yesterday that she used to play too, not as one of the guys but not separate either. That had all changed with this awful, crushing metamorphosis.
For a moment, anger rose its ugly head like a rattler coiled at the base of a rock, daring her to come closer. But the clouds were so fluffy, so starkly white against the blue. They rolled into passing sailing vessels, which sent her dreaming about faraway places. An ostrich rose up, then melted just as fast. A wave of rolling boulders tumbled toward the Sierra Nevadas. Anger gave her up and slithered back under its rock. Beneath her, her horse shifted his weight as he grazed, swaying her back to sanity.
As the sun slipped behind a bank of heavy clouds, her thoughts turned to “mother.” Mother took bits of Ana’s soul with her words of warning: You have to watch your weight. We have to do something with that stringy hair. Must you sniff like that? Boys won’t like it. Your belly is getting too round. Put on that bra.
Why was her body betraying her? Why did her mother constantly point it out?
Her horse jerked, raising his head to watch a dog snooping around the edges of the field. For a moment, Ana’s mind blanked as she prepared for the possibility that her horse would chase the dog. But, the dog moseyed on, and her horse lowered his head to graze. She settled back onto the pillow of his rump.
Hadn’t “mother” also given her this refuge? Hadn’t she insisted upon it, even after the first mare died of extreme old age, and the second one met her fate in a tragic, heartbreaking, trailering accident? Hadn’t Mother brought the Goddess into herself to fight for this union of girl and horse?
Maybe the bits she stole were nothing more than unneeded facsimiles of self, little girl bits that would no longer serve who Ana was to become. Could that be true?
Her horse snorted. He stamped his back left foot, shaking her off the center of his back.
She scooted back into place.
Maybe this was truth, right here, on this warm, rocking back with cool breezes gentling past her under a clear, blue, Spring sky. Maybe this was all she needed. Nothing more.
The sweet scent of freshly broken grass under his feet that sent a warm, welcome rush of pleasure through her body was a portent to womanhood. Nothing more.
The awful burden of budding Goddess scared the desperate little girl living inside. Nothing more.
Her steady companion, who swayed beneath her, was a fearless steed who could carry her away from the mischief-maker of puberty for one more day.
Maybe this was all she needed. Her steed was a Mother’s gift.
As we wrap up Self-Love this month, I “celebrate” February 24, 2021, three-hundred, sixty-nine days of isolation, house-bound due to Covid-19. It’s a familiar story that many Americans share. One would think after all this time spent alone, that plenty of opportunities presented themselves with which to grapple with anger and get rid of it.
Well, I am still angry. However, it is not serving my best interests, nor is my anger serving anyone else. In fact, I think anger is contagious.
The idea that emotions are contagious hit me hard yesterday as I was working with a fifteen-year-old art student. He expressed how exhausted and sad he was, angered by environmental destruction, political upheaval, and, in general, adults who can’t understand that there needs to be change in our thinking, our attitudes, and our behaviors. He is a compassionate warrior on the precipice of starting his life and it sickens me that at fifteen he is sad and exhausted.
As one of those adults, I need to sever my ties with anger. At my age, I have accrued anger that colors my reactions to most life events, but I have to let go. I want a clean slate.
This idea was heavy on my mind when I joined my writing sisters at the Well on Monday. We always begin our gatherings with a meditative circle, and that didn’t change when we switched to Zoom meetings last March. Now, we circle virtually. During Monday’s meditation, I grabbed the words: roundness, circle, soul star, and higher self. Our first writing always reflects the meditative message. We have ten minutes to write, but I couldn’t let go of my conflict with anger.
Then this happened:
It is impossible to entertain anger in Circle. Circle is consideration, compassion, round, buoyant Love. Circle is a Never-Ending Begin Again. Mistakes have nowhere to stick in Circle, and so they become unjudged experience as they fall away.
Anger is angular. Mistakes stick in corners and crevasses and fester. Eventually, rigid structure devolves and softens, morphing into Circle, becoming a Never-Ending Begin Again.
Hmm. I want a Never-Ending Begin Again. How do I soften the rigid structures of my anger so they can fall out of Circle?
That night I remembered a vivid experience that occurred during my childhood. It was a tiny piece of anger that had hidden in a corner.
As a pre-teen, sometime between the ages of ten and twelve, I was studying to become a pianist. I am from a musical family, and it was logical as the eldest child to follow in the footsteps of my elders. I liked the piano. I didn’t really hate practicing for at least an hour a day, but I resented that my younger siblings didn’t have to, especially since I had been working since a very early age, competing in State and National competitions. Maybe my parents could only handle one child at a time who brutalized notes as they learned them. I was a successful performer. It was, however, not my dream. My dream was to sing.
So one afternoon after school while I was practicing on the keys, I was also singing along with the music created by my fingers. I don’t really remember which one of my brothers was responsible for this heinous act. They were twins, so perhaps they were both in on it. In the middle of producing a high note, one of them threw a live grasshopper into my mouth.
They knew I was terrified of grasshoppers!
You can imagine the chaos. I believe a double glass door was broken, perhaps a lamp, and a screen door was pulled off the hinges in my desperation to escape and get the grasshopper off my tongue.
As I write this, I can’t stop laughing. I wonder if either of them remembers this incident. Today, this event became Story, and because of this telling, the rigid structure of this tale has devolved and become Circle. I judge it funny, but I am still disgusted.
A grasshopper in my mouth!? How can I change that?!?
So, Monday night, after having this ridiculous memory, I dreamed I was at a fancy restaurant and the menu was indigenous food. One of the offerings was grasshopper. It was sautéed in lemon and spices, all sharp parts had been removed, and I was brave enough to try one. It was tasty, but in this dream, I wanted to eat a whole, unflavored grasshopper. I didn’t want any happy flavorful colors clouding the confrontation between my foe and myself.
The chef honored my wish. He brought a roasted hopper, head and all. I picked it up with chopsticks and held it in front of me. I looked at it a long time, wondering if I should eat it with the exoskeleton or peel it. In the dream, mind you, I left it intact. I told it my story. I forgave it for terrorizing me. I thanked it for offering its life for my nourishment. I popped in my mouth and tasted buttery sweetness. Then I abruptly woke up.
Instead of feeling disgusted, I felt a kinship for this creature that originally I had abhorred. I have tasted Never-Ending Begin Again.
It is time now to use this tool to hunt in the corners and crevasses of my psyche and create Circle wherever I find a hidden anger. I must cut ties with this contagious polluter.
It is impossible to entertain anger in Circle. Circle is consideration, compassion, round buoyant Love. Circle is a Never-Ending Begin Again. I hope you do not battle anger, but if you do, maybe gathering it into Circle can give you peace as well.
This weekend, I read in a Facebook post that the body holds onto trauma. If that is true, might it also hold onto pleasure and delight?
Seductively, night draped its dark cape over California. Crickets sang in the bushes outside the dining room window. A soft breeze brushed leaves against the pane. A dog barked, joyfully, down the street. Perhaps someone had thrown it a ball. My brothers and sister had left the table. My mother was fussing in the kitchen. My dad still sat beside me, waiting I guess, for me to finish dinner.
I took another bite. Homemade mashed potatoes. I squished the mouthful between my tongue and palate. The smooth, warm nubbles were a silky textured ecstasy for my mouth. Did life get any better than this?
“Hurry up and eat. Other people have things to do, and you’re holding them up. Honestly, you are the slowest person I know,” snapped my mother as she started clearing the table.
Slow. It was a word used often to describe me. I was slow. Not intellectually, I knew they didn’t mean that, but I moved slowly through the world. There were other words used: “Get your head out of the clouds, daydreaming again, why does it take you so long to do anything, you can’t just sit there, get up and do something.” Why was how I moved through the world so hard for them? Granted, all those words described what others saw in me, and they were true, but I took offense to “slow.”
I was a dreamer, creating worlds in my head, dreaming about imaginary people that I had yet to meet, sensing the world around me. My skin felt each breeze, each stroke of fabric, sometimes even sound as it rumbled past me. Scents filled my nose, throat, and sinuses with a rush of pleasure, or revulsion, both of which stopped me in my tracks. Everything I put into my mouth created what as an adult I would name an orgasmic experience or I never put it in my mouth again. And the world was loud. It was so loud, I found it difficult to decipher whether or not someone was speaking to me because of the sound around me. The one sense that wasn’t acute was sight. At seven I saw green leaves on the trees for the first time with a pair of thick lensed glasses. The world that I “saw” sensuously became so much more, and consequently, I spent more time observing.
Why use the word slow? Why not observant, meticulous, contemplative, introspective, and a dozen other words that do not connote slow?
In my group of friends, we have declared February as Self-Love Month. I realized this week that I use the term “slow” on myself. I worry because it takes so long to pound out a novel, and then I spend months rewriting while others I know are publishing a book a month. I am lucky to be publishing a book a year.
The graphic novel I am working on will take forever. It is daunting. It is daunting because I am slow. Shouldn’t I be able to whip out a page a day? It takes three, working fast, I assure you, to get one drawing done. And while I sit here typing my thoughts for this blog, my attention is arrested by flashing beads of light strung along each tiny branch in the winter trees outside my window. Rain left them as a reminder that the sun still lights Earth. A memory sings across my awareness. A perfectly placed sunbeam turns dew into diamonds that flash and spark on the delicate filaments of a spider’s web. I am riveted. Time loses all meaning in one long moment of wonder. How long have I been sitting? A minute? Twenty?!? Does it matter? Has time been lost or added? It is this very reason I am so damn slow. I need to retrieve some body memories of all those childhood years I spent gathering timelessness. Back then, every day, all day long, I was deliberately attentive as the world enveloped me with thousands of little pleasures or signals that captured me just like today. (Wow, this cotton shirt floats against my skin. Lovely. I am never getting rid of it.)
Dang, another moment lost or added?
Do other people have this issue? In the United States, it feels like we rush around as if we are constantly battling a fire. Most of us burden ourselves with incredible industriousness trying to reach status quo. Because of this, do we ever take time to notice what is around us?
What have I noticed lately? The plush throw blanket I added to my bedding for extra warmth is so fat and fluffy against my palm. I could rub it all day long. The house ticks and creaks as the rain patters against it. In this light, there seems to be a vibrating halo around each leaf of every houseplant in this room. It reminds me of spring when each petal of the red geraniums sports a shimmering green halo. I see ghosts of figs on the tree to my right, as it plans where to place its fruit this year. A cat is purring in the living room, grateful to be inside. She must be dreaming, because she squeaks every so often, and her feet rub against the grain of the chair’s fabric. Is she remembering the hunt? What does that feel like to be so focused, on task, and persistent?
When later I draw, the pencil will scritch-scratch against the paper like a welcoming relief for an itch. My keyboard clacks in percussive rhythm with my thoughts and visions. Everything around me is music.
At night, the dark will shroud me in velvet silence. My blankets become a comforting hug as I sink into the mattress under their weight. The house will settle as the air cools, and I will remember how it ticked-ticked as the old wood warmed up in the sun just yesterday afternoon.
I don’t know when I stopped feeling so aware, but I am returning to this state of wonder. I suspect it had to do with adulting in America, completely convinced that I was slow. In this society, we aren’t putting out fires; we are fire, busy as hell, conquering whatever profession or lifestyle we have chosen. We are all striving to be “Not Slow.”
As a retiree, I return to myself. I have discovered a deep pool of quiet energy I had forgotten. I believe that is what confused the people around me when I was young into thinking I was slow. I prefer to consider that I am deliberately attentive, savoring little moments of pleasure that offer themselves multiple times a day. I am collecting them, storing them in my body, building muscle, tendons, and fascia with delight. I wish to become a bottomless pool of quiet strength and energy as Earth constantly delights and renews me.
What are you collecting? I invite you to join me when you next eat. How does your food feel as you savor each mouthful? Did the taste of it sing to you? I hope so. Are you sitting in a room where the light creates luscious shadows through which your eyes can dance? Are there soothing sounds around you? How does the napkin feel on your fingertips, against your lips? How is your food settling? I hope you feel full and happy. I hope you find your own deep pool of quiet energy.
As I sit here avoiding the work I have to do on an illustration for a graphic novel I am working on, I try to figure out why I am so afraid of starting it. I have such confidence in other areas of my work and my life, but not this. Drawing terrifies me. As I grapple with “why,” my thoughts turn toward a question that came up in one of my illustration classes and again in a life studio class while I was in college.
What is the difference between a work of art and an illustration? When I was young, I argued that there was no difference. My fellow students disagreed with me. They were of the mind that there were two camps: those that were artists and therefore creators, and the others, those that were mere renderers.
The argument was that an artist portrays the soul while an illustrator merely depicts what is seen.
I always took offense to this. At the time, I was preparing to become a scientific illustrator, eventually focusing on botanical illustration. When I studied a plant, was I less of an artist because I strove to capture the reality of it instead of its essence? Or did I capture both with my intense scrutiny of its architecture?
What is architecture? Everything in this three-dimensional world is built with arranged atoms, electro-magnetic force, and desire to hold a shape, the tao of becoming, if you will. Eventually, energy dissipates, chaos wins, and the physical form dissolves. However, for that moment in time when all is organized and held together in perfect order, a miracle has transpired – in the case of my study, a plant shimmers in Light. At this point, it does indeed appear that Life is the artist, and I, the mere observer of its architecture.
However, what happens the moment a person captures that plant by pencil, ink, paint, three-dimensional or soft media, or even film? Is this a mere portrait of its architecture? Do we call it illustration or art? What if that plant is captured in the agony of dissolution as chaos overwhelms it? Is this then art because of a possible emotional component, or is it still mere illustration? If not art, what is the additional ingredient that makes it more than “mere.”
In my opinion, anyone who attempts to communicate by form or picture creates art. By the very act of attempting, that extra “something” occurs. The renderer adds Self in the act of observing and recording. No one can negate this factor.
Is every attempt to intentionally render order to be considered art? I found strength for this conviction decades after attending college for the first time, when I re-enrolled to work with clay. In class, the age-old argument was still taking place. What is the difference between a potter and a sculptor? One is utilitarian; the other creates. Really? The professor was lovely, stating that even though one threw a pot that conformed to size, shape, and utility, no two could ever be alike because each potter put his or her hands on the object, thereby changing it and making it uniquely precious.
Her words struck me.
The truth is: There is no difference. The instant a person picks up a lump of clay and squishes it into his or her hand, the mille-second a thought forms as to what that lump of clay will become, creation takes place. The holder of the clay ceases to be merely human and instead becomes creator, transferring essence from Self to object, thereby creating art.
It is the same with everything we do. When clothing is folded with care into a converted shape to accommodate placement into a drawer in such a manner that it won’t lose texture, art has taken place. When dishes are lovingly stacked in a rack to dry in an order specific to the person stacking them, art has taken place. When a shovel is shoved into the ground with the intent of the shoveler’s vision of change upon Earth, art has taken place. When (insert an activity, any activity) is done with intent, art has taken place.
Finally, when an illustrator puts pen to paper and creates an image where there was none – art is created. The question “what is the difference between art and illustration?” is ridiculous, because there is no difference.
I suppose professors will continue to allow the argument to zing around their classrooms, lovingly aware that each artist has to form a conclusion for him or herself.
Right now, it is time for me to stop worrying whether or not these illustrations are “art enough” and just become the artist that I am.
A dear friend and fellow author invited her readers to join her this February for a self-love fest. She inquired, “Have you ever written yourself a love letter, addressed to you, as you are?”
No. No, I haven’t. What would that feel like?
Last night, as I was lying in bed planning today, I thought, “I am going to do it. I am going to write a love letter to myself.”
It sounded so simple last night as I was nodding to the world around me and slipping into dreamland. But this morning I wonder, “How should I address myself?” Should I start out with “Dear Valarie,” the name most people use when they refer to me? Perhaps I would use the name my father wanted to give me, “Dear AnaValarie,” or the name on my birth certificate, Valarie Jane. Maybe I should simply use “Ana,” which at least one friend uses. I could address myself as AV, which is the pseudonym I use as a fiction writer, but then it occurred to me, “How can I write a love letter to someone whose name I don’t even know?”
So, I started listening to self-talk. This is a mistake. I assure you. Forget the self-talk. It will not get you near enough to love to pen a letter, especially when you are two days into foregoing coffee due to the multiple requests of body and spirit screaming “Enough.”
I am left with nowhere to go except to the computer for research, something every writer spends hours doing. I looked up my various names. The name Valarie, spelled multiple ways including the way I spell it, has a couple of meanings: In French it means STRENGTH, in Latin it means BRAVE.
A writer with the handle Nisse mjukr offered a definition in The Urban Dictionary on February 4, 2010. This writer defines Valarie as: Brave. Strong heart. Heroine of the people; She who walks with steadfast surety. (She is) the female form of eternal innocence battling eternal evil…born from a seemingly ‘other-worldliness’ who takes to battle the evil ones who recognize and fear her powerful seeing of the good and the evil in others…
…strong heart, steadfast surety, innocence, ‘other-worldliness….” Hmmm. Is that who I am? This writer goes on to saythat: Valarie is one who refuses to be victimized and confronts injustice…she uses her gifts to protect others who are unknowingly, or deny being, the victims of lies and injustice. Others less hardy will avoid her with the fear of being targeted by the corruption that she takes to battle, but when in dire need will seek her wisdom, and guidance as she lovingly gathers them under her protective wings. She carries great strength and inner beauty even as she mourns the human/earth condition. Valarie will lead us to the truth.
Oh! Well, in that case, maybe I do deserve a love letter. I wonder, what does Ana mean?
In Spanish it means gracious and merciful. It has a similar meaning in Chinese. In the Urban Dictionary one writer, who uses the pen name Lifey, wrote on April 14, 2015:
Ana is very caring. She is always there for you and you can trust her…she is also very funny. She has a childish style that will cheer you. Ana is sensitive and (a) very beautiful girl. She is always full of joy and ready for a new day.
Full of joy, ready for a new day, that’s true. Lastly, I looked up Jane, a name from my mother’s heart. In Hebrew, it means, “God is merciful,” or “God is gracious.” Gracious and merciful. Didn’t I just read that following the name Ana? It seems my parents were on the same mental wavelength, pulling ideas of who I was from different cultures, using different names for it. What is grace? What is mercy? Do I embody either of those attributes?
I decided to use the name I have always favored the name my father wanted to give me. The letter goes like this:
Your teaching style was certainly a reflection of your name. You defied convention and did for each student what she or he needed, holding their precious images up to a mirror so they could see how lovely, competent, and brave they were and how much you valued them. They grew to understand and trust themselves, and when you let them out from under your wings, they flew straight and true.
You treated your own children like equal creators in life, which they certainly have become, admiring, guiding, and cherishing them each moment as they grew under your care. You will cherish any grandchildren that grace your life and feel a deep kinship with them as well.
You bravely took roads less traveled with choices taken as a teen, as a young adult, becoming a single mother, an alternative education teacher, following your dreams of becoming a vocal soloist, a graphic artist, a writer. You provided for your family as both male and female. It took guts to buy a house, wrangle ownership of cars, figure out the ins and outs of doing it all on your own. You appreciated help when offered. That took bravery. I love that you are brave. You lived up to your name.
I love that your primary focus is peace, an attitude reflective of grace and mercy. You are compassionate and seek connections with and between others. You find those connections when sometimes others do not see them for themselves.
Now, we bring in a new way of being, one that favors the path you have always walked. Here is your chance. When you write, sing, or draw, your words, songs, and images will be true to your needs as well as to those who receive them. I appreciate this ability so much.
I appreciate how easily amused you are. This is something not reflected in your lofty name, but you are silly. Life amuses you. I love that.
I love you. I love being here, a participant in this journey. Let’s live a long time. There is much yet to give, and I know you want to do that. I will make space for you to shine because in doing so, we all shine.
Thank you, dear AnaValarie for being here on Earth. You mean the world to me.
How do I feel now? I feel empowered. I feel renewed strength. I am ready to move forward.
I invite you to write a love letter to yourself, especially right now at the start of this month. There is a lot we have all been through with world conflict, the pandemic, and personal tragedies. I will hold a space for you and your love letter to self. I love you, even if I don’t know you. I know you are there, struggling in this world. We are the same in that, as is everyone. That makes you brave and strong no matter what your name means. My name gives me the power to see that in you, so please accept my gift, Brave One.
If you wish to share your experiences of this love-thyself-month, or be a member of my newsletter, please contact me at:
(Author’s Note: The following is AV’s response to a meditative prompt offered on 1/18/2021, by a member of the writing group she belongs to. It is a 10-minute, raw (unedited) quick write, followed by a drawing she promised her writing Sisters at the Well. AV lives in California. Though it is a continent away from the US Capitol, the state of California is also prepared for upheaval. We are all trying to find our place of balance as the political world around us heaves like an earthquake.)
From the cave within, I see the ocean. The waves roll in…and out, matching my breath, washing away the detritus of anger from the glittering sand.
Why didn’t I think of coming here earlier?
This cave reminds me of life as Homo erectus, a time when hominids were territorial, before we became city builders. It seems we have returned to our brutish ways of late.
However, in this cave, I am safe. There is room for my family, which includes a tribe of people I love, people they love. There is room for any and all who need to come.
Here we have peace.
The ocean provides, in…out, in…out, bringing gifts, taking refuse. We’ve learned to be thankful for what it gives us. We’ve learned to be mindful of what we leave behind.
Sometimes I wish we could return to those simpler ways, to find a way to make life quiet, attuned to the world around us. Sometimes…I wish.
But, I must find a way to look forward, past contrived dates, to what is beyond the horizon. A vessel of change is blowing this way. I can feel it. I just don’t see it.
Background: I belong to a writers group, a collection of strong, wise, and creative women who meet on a weekly basis for an hour and a half to meditate together, respond to crazy prompts with a ten-minute quick-write, and then share what we have written. I have been working with these women for four years; the group has been together for seven. Sometimes…actually often… the members write as if their minds coalesce into one mind. This offering is one of those times. A few members have agreed to share with me, and allowed me to publish their writing on a meditation prompt for the night of December 14, 2020.
I present their voices, and my own, as I invite you to think about what it means to express your truth. I would love to hear from you. (To any man that reads this blog, I do not mean to exclude you. I just happen to be a woman who belongs to an all-female writers group. There is no discrimination, here.)
Either reply to this post, or if you feel you don’t want to share publicly you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include “blog reply” in the message in case your unknown email gets sent to my spam file. I will look for you.
Joyce Ann Campbell
In the quantum view of this world, I am a vibrating, radiating field of electrical energy dressed for winter in the Sierra foothills.
Magnetic forces within me attract exactly what I need, but not always what I want.
Activity in the back of my head goes round and round in memories, alternating with my imagination, fishing for the future. In between, my mind rests in the present, witnessing and resounding to life within and surrounding me.
And, beyond that, my energies ripple endlessly into space, and flow back to me, pen in hand.
To freely express my truth…what does that mean?
It means to express in an unhindered way, without restraint, holding guilt or fear.
It means to let out what calls to be released in a space expansive enough to allow it to exist. A space in which it is able: to wind its way along rivers of tears and oceans of heartache, to waft through foggy memories and unexplored fields, to percolate up from the muck and mire and finally find the sun.
Laurayne Mae offers the second prompt of the night, “I Am This Kind of Person – But Not Like That.” Her writing always speaks her truth and her piece, Big Grief, is no exception.
Stuck. Sticky stuck.
Can’t lift my feet to see what kind of person I am – let alone what I am not like.
Who I am in this moment is one who feels. I feel sadness and loss. They weave themselves into grief.
Amel Tafsout returns to the original meditation prompt, “Freely Express Your Truth” in Don’t Burn the Chicken Wings!
“Don’t burn the chicken wings!” he said.
“You already told me that!” I said.
“Why do you react this way?” he said.
“I just would like you not to repeat it to me so many times!” I said.
“I want to be free to talk to my wife… you are never here!” he said.
“You are picking on me all the time!” I said.
“Here we go, that’s why I am afraid of you!” he said.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me, but try to understand me!” I said.
“I just want a peaceful morning!” he said.
“Me too, but you don’t realize that you are picking on me most of the
time!” I said.
“Here we go again with your pride!” he said.
“I may overreact but there is a reason and I am asking you not to do it!” I
“Now my morning is destroyed!” he said.
I kept quiet thinking why can he not see my way when I am trying to make him understand that I have been blamed so many times in my life and I want to change that to heal myself from it? Am I talking another language? Obviously, I am!
Here is another from Amel Tafsout, called Beheading Me. I choose to leave it as is, with no editing from me. It is a powerful piece about an actual event. Amel is a powerful dancer and one of her online photos was defiled.
Hey, You, how dare you delete my face, decapitate me and replace me with a Western white blond blue eyed woman, a sexual object such as Marilyn Monroe!
In my real photo my face is all power, a power that you will never understand – standing my ground in strength, power and beauty like our Amazigh-Berber warrior Queen Kahina, looking at you directly and saying to you I am!
I am that woman from the era of shamans and priestesses, who can make of you dust in one look!
A primal woman connected with ai, water, earth, fire and ether!
A woman who can rip you in pieces while doing nothing.
I am that Amazigh woman, proud of her roots and transcending her ancestry that you are ignoring and disrespecting!
Beheading me will harm you, replacing my powerful womanhood to a sexual object won’t work!
Making money off of me will follow you in hell! And you will get served what you deserve!
I am the power of all energies, gathered in the eye of the tornado that will sweep you away in a second!
AV Singer – Now I ask you
Is it fair for me to express my truth freely? For me, to myself, it is essential. For others, I find it more prudent to allow them space to express their truths while not imposing upon them mine. Why do I do this? Is it a lack of trust? Maybe. But, do we give others a chance to speak their truths or are we so wrapped in self? Maybe I feel most are not yet steady enough in truths of their own to carry my burdens. So I keep it hidden while remaining softly alert, waiting for their truth to manifest.
This is true for many women in the world. They quietly wait. Subjugated and repressed, not only are they silent, many have not had the chance to explore self, to know they have truths. They need space to learn what it means to be fully feminine. They need teachers. Those of us given time and guidance to do so must afford them the space for this vital expression of what it means to fully own womanhood.
Postscript: Waiting…waiting…waiting. Peace be with you as you travel through your week. AnaValarie
(Author’s Note: This is my last blog entry of 2020 and the last chapter of BROKEN. I am honored you have followed this story. Thank you, Dear Readers.)
Night shadowed the small party of investigators by the river. Storm clouds wrestled, throwing spears of lightning. A cold rain was set to dump on Detroit and the surrounding area. Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson stood over the shallow grave of a teenager as the ME and her team exhumed him.
Lordy, she needed a vacation. For the third time, in less than two weeks, she stood by the river staring at another dumped soul that had found him or herself in the deadly aftermath of a criminal act. Three bodies, three cases strung together by the mishaps of a single boy. It hardly seemed believable.
Cadaver dogs had pinpointed this grave using information provided by Jack’s runaway son. Jon and the undercover agent known as Rat Snatcher had done what they could in a grotesquely out-of-control situation. They buried young Lincoln in a beautiful spot overlooking this goddamned river. What was it about this pair of rival gangs that used the river as their dumping ground?
The department could not arrest the men responsible for the death of Lincoln. Charlie Marchesi was an ex mob boss in Witness Protection. They could not arrest him, or his son, Evan Fischer, for child endangerment or murder. Nor could they arrest Rat Snatcher, who also worked for Marchesi, though he was an undercover agent for the FBI. The FBI had jurisdiction and had taken over those cases. Detroit PD couldn’t seek justice from Allessandro Santorini, Marchesi’s right hand man, even though he had organized Lincoln’s rape. Santorini was lying in their morgue, shot by rival gang members. She guessed they would soon find out if Santorini had brutality killed Lincoln, or if he had died of a heart problem, as Snatcher explained to Jon.
Maureen ran Lincoln’s name through missing persons’ records but could not find him. It probably wasn’t his name. She suspected most of the teens embroiled in the dark world of sex trafficking and illegal fight clubs used aliases. Jonathan did. Why wouldn’t Lincoln? Now that she would have a chance to run fingerprints there was a greater chance they would identify him. She would keep looking, for Jonathan’s sake, but she knew in her gut that Lincoln had died anonymously and would remain so.
A sharp breeze blew the hem of her coat. She looked at the darkened sky. Her team needed to hustle before the storm hit them. “Let’s get Lincoln out of bed,” she said. So much had happened to bring them to this place.
As the ME pulled Lincoln’s body from the shallow trench and carefully set him upon the tarp, she thought about the young Taiwanese man left to rot by the river’s waters. This fiasco had started that night. Though she had no proof, Evan Fischer, or someone associated with him, shanked the boy from Taiwan in a dirty fight and dumped him. Like Lincoln, he would remain anonymous, but his journey had been different. He had most likely been lured by the promise of a glorious fighting career, taken from his home in Taiwan to the city of Detroit. Now he would be forgotten. She was still piecing together possible stories about him. Either he had been sent by the infamous Morelli brothers, suspected of human trafficking but slippery as eels, or had volunteered for increased status within their organization to punish Evan Fischer for impregnating their sister, Sobrina.
The same night Maureen stood over the young Taiwanese man’s body, Evan’s grandmother reported him missing. Was it coincidence that she called Jack Tyler to take the missing person’s call on the same night Jack’s son, Jonathan Tyler, had stepped off a bus and walked into the unfolding drama between the missing and the dead. You couldn’t make this shit up. No one would believe it.
Jon huddled against his father where they stood nestled under a tree about twenty-five yards from the burial site. Jack didn’t want his son to see or smell the gruesomeness that was sure to follow as they exhumed his friend’s body. Maureen would just as soon they leave, but Jon was adamant. Something inside him needed to see it through, to see his friend taken care of correctly. She hoped it would give him some closure for this nightmare.
The ME guessed that death had occurred at least six days ago. She collected insect evidence and soil samples to help confirm her guess. It was illegal to bury a body this way, but Maureen didn’t plan to process Jonathan for this one. She suspected that in some twisted way, Agent Phillip Morris, aka Rat Snatcher, was trying to protect Jon by not reporting Lincoln’s demise to his superiors, though she didn’t see how any of this could have reflected upon Jon. Maybe there just hadn’t been the time, but obviously, Snatcher had not told the FBI, or they would have found traces but not Lincoln’s body. People did weird shit when they were desperate. She’d probably never understand all that had happened.
Jon had recognized the man who beat him up in a line of purported Morelli henchmen. The guy had stupidly worn a plaid shirt to the lineup, and that caught Jon’s attention. The tip offs were the boots that Jon had memorized as the man hauled him to the garbage bin, and a large ring he wore on his finger. Maureen had photo evidence of an imprint the ring made above Jon’s eye.
Because he identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered the hit, a troop of uniformed cops were currently approaching his reported residence. She expected to hear from them any moment now.
The ME approached her. “We are ready to move him.”
“Good. Let’s do it.” She walked over to Jack and his son. “The next stop for Lincoln is the morgue. The ME will perform an autopsy. He’ll be cleaned up and held until we can identify his true identity.”
“You will look for his family?” said Jon.
“Yes. I will personally let you know if we find them. You two should get home before the storm lands on top of us.”
“Thank you, Maureen,” said Jack.
Social Services had decided it was in Jon’s best interest to stay out of the system until the courts determined the outcomes of his charges. Meghan lost it when they awarded Jack temporary custody. She had conveniently packed their divorce papers and pulled it out so they could see the custody agreement. She threatened to take Jack and Social Services, if necessary, to court. The caseworker would not back down. Evidently, a hotel room situation was not as secure as Jack’s apartment situation, and Jack was a valued citizen of Detroit and therefore trusted.
Meghan tried to use Jack’s OCD against him, but Social Services didn’t buy it. Her son had run away from home three times, a dilemma that they couldn’t reconcile without more research.
“I want to see your so-called apartment,” she had demanded. What did she expect? That he lived in squalor?
Jack invited her and Phillip to join him for lunch. Jon wouldn’t be released until that evening. It gave him plenty of time to quell her fears.
Meghan sashayed in with an air of disdain. She slowly walked from room to room. She opened the refrigerator. She opened every cupboard and closet. She finally sat on the couch and ran her hands across the fabric on the arm. “I guess this place is okay.”
“Be fair, Meg. This is a nice apartment,” said Phillip as he sat in the easy chair to the left of her. “And it is secure with a twenty-four hour concierge service.”
“I’m going to order lunch and have it delivered,” said Jack. “What would you like?”
They settled on Thai food.
“He was bullied at school,” Jack said.
“Oh, bullied. He was picked on. The kid’s too sensitive,” scoffed Meghan.
Phillip didn’t disagree, but he had set up mixed martial arts lessons for Jon and had encouraged him to join a club at school.
Meghan said, “Phil set up a practice floor in the garage. We tried to toughen him up.”
Jack sighed. Would he have done the same if he had remained in Jon’s life? “The bullying was worse than he led you to believe. I don’t think he told Rick how bad it was. I don’t believe Hank knew either,” said Jack.
It saddened him that Jon had not felt comfortable enough to tell anyone how bad it was. From Meghan and Phillip’s comments, he was not sure they would have listened. He would be happy if Jon didn’t return to California.
“What’s next?” said Phillip.
Meghan was quick to explain. “His case will be adjudicated in a special court because he has been charged as a minor. He’ll most likely be placed in a safe house, here in Michigan.”
Worst case scenario was that he would be assigned to a Detention Center. The thought made Jack sick. The possibility of his son being placed in a safe house when he could stay with an actual parent wasn’t much better.
Meghan and Phillip went to the hospital to say goodbye to Jon as he was released into Jack’s custody. Jack was pleased that Meghan held herself together. Jon didn’t whine, he didn’t gaze sadly as they drove away, he seemed content, perhaps because at that point, he was resigned to his fate, but he had a smile on his face when Jack drove him to the apartment. Jon seemed settled as he curled up on Jack’s couch and watched TiVo after dinner.
That night, after Jon went to sleep, Jack sat at the end of the bed and watched him breathe, so grateful that he was alive. Many homeless children didn’t live through the experience. Rick, Jon’s older brother, was right to worry about him becoming a statistic. He was broken to be sure, but not another number on a death list.
He stood and straightened the blanket around his son’s shoulders and padded to the living room.
He picked up his phone and punched in Tom’s number.
Tom picked up on the third ring. “Hey.”
“Were you asleep?”
“Dozing. There isn’t much else to do when one is confined as a convalescent.”
“Just a few more days.”
“Three. Three more days, if physical therapy goes well. How is the kiddo?”
“Sleeping. Social Services trusted me enough to let him stay here until his case comes up.”
“Pssht. I guess you better take time off. Don’t let him out of your sight.”
“I don’t think he is going to be running again anytime soon.”
“How are you doing, Jack?”
“I don’t know. Exhausted, I guess. I still haven’t recovered from our last case.”
“I know. We need a vacation after this.”
“You’ve had a vacation.”
“This is not a vacation. It’s hard getting well.”
Jack laughed, but it really was no laughing matter. It was hard recovering from injuries as serious as Tomi’s were. Jack then said, “I’m going to apply for custody.”
Tom was quiet.
“Are you there?”
“I can’t stand the thought of him being in a detention center.”
“He’s only fifteen. They’ll put him in a safe house with people trained to help him.”
“My OCD will factor into their decision. I want to claim you as my second.”
“You’ve thought a lot about this.”
“He thought I left because I didn’t love him. I left because I did love him.”
“So think about that, Jack. Love him and think about what is best for the both of you.”
Tears filled Jack’s eyes. He let them fall.
“If I was with you, I would wipe those damn tears off your face,” said Tom.
“How did you know?”
“No worries. I’m not getting your psychic shit. I can hear it in your voice.”
Jack chuckled. “I don’t know if I can visit tomorrow.”
“I’m fine. My niece and nephew have worn me out. I’m pretty sure they plan to come tomorrow again.”
“If I can, I will, too. I’ll bring Jon if he is up to it.”
“Don’t force him. We don’t even know what we are, yet.”
“Good night, Jack.”
“Good night, Tom.”
Tom was right. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. There was time to think about this decision. He did know one thing: He loved Jonathan and would do anything he had to, to protect him.
Jack checked the doors and shut off the lights. He checked Jon one more time. He settled into a sleeping bag at the base of his bedroom door so he would wake easily if his son needed him. He hadn’t been a father for most of Jon’s life, but he could start now by standing guard every night for as long as necessary.
His runaway days were over.
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( Author’s Note: For a few weeks now, I have been asking those of you who read my newsletter or my Facebook posts, who read my blog, to find what makes your heart sing. What did you find?
One of my friends told me her heart sings whenever she reads the words of poetry her significant other writes. I could tell it felt like a profound gift. I know her heart sings when she sits outside on her patio surrounded by the natural world. She shared that with me too. I felt honored. Nature was glorious, and my heart sang while I sat there enjoying her company. I will always be able to picture it, and my heart will always sing when I think on it.
For myself, it is the connections I have made with others: family, friends (human, animal, and plant), all both near and far; connections made with colleagues and students in the teaching, art, writing, and music communities, past and present, near and far. My heart is full of songful memories and present experiences. I found my voice again, literally, and sing myself into bliss, a quiet zone of deep meditation, regeneration, and connection.
So, what makes your heart sing? Gather it up. I am inviting you to join me on a short journey, and you will need to take it with you.
The 2020 election is upon us. No matter the outcome of it, a tidal wave of emotion is heading toward us with breathtaking height and speed. My advice: Pick up all that makes your heart sing and come with me to the metaphorical high ground. Go to the mountaintop where you will sit and watch the influx and efflux of rushing emotion below you, because our course of action – manifesting compassion, equality, unity – has not changed. We are still heading for that which we seek. We will find the path when the tidal waters recede, and we will continue building.
When I come off the mountain, I will find that the fear I have been hanging onto these past four years will be gone, because I plan to leave it here where the deluge can roll over it and wash it away. My joy and optimism, all that makes my heart sing, I will take with me.
Grab what makes your heart sing and join me on the mountain. We will wait out the tidal wave TOGETHER, and I promise you: We will survive this no matter who wins the election. Our journey toward tomorrow is just beginning. Keep reading to enjoy the second to last chapter of BROKEN.)
Pick Up Pieces
Marcus Balmario returned with steamed, hot chocolate for Jonathan Tyler. As the boy sipped, he found strength to knit himself together. Marcus clicked on the recorder so Jon could continue witnessing his experience. Marcus had to remember to use less technical, less forceful words. Jon wasn’t a hardened street kid. He was the product of professional parents. He had stepped into a world that had punched him in the face, literally.
“Jon, do you know for sure that Evan Fischer was the father of the baby?” Marcus could barely believe Jon had been tasked with the horrendous job of taking a dead baby from a tumultuous birth to presumably dispose of it.
“I assumed he was, since Sobrina Morelli was his girl. Did Sobrina die?”
“What?” said Balmario.
Chief Maureen Thompson, who was attending Jon’s interview, leaned forward to hear his answer clearly.
“I heard one of the Morellis say his sister was dead. They had guns. Evan was on the ground with Charlie. They were looking for me.”
“The Morellis were looking for you?”
“How do you know this?” said Maureen.
“When Rat and I got back from burying Lincoln, there was a confronta – .”
“Stop. I want to hear about that,” said Maureen. “You buried Lincoln. The kid you met at the MMA meet?”
Jon was shaking so badly, his hands bounced against the table. “I think I need to eat something,” he said.
Balmario said, “Finish your chocolate. Tell us about Lincoln.”
Jon slurped the foamy concoction and set the cup on the table. “I was following Rat’s orders.”
Marcus Balmario shook his head. He tamped down the frustration that was boiling in a spot between his shoulder blades. “Back up. What happened after you left the baby in the alcove?”
“I ran back to Marchesi’s and heard men shouting from a garage behind it. When I went to investigate, some of Marchesi’s men were cheering because Alles had forced Lincoln to the ground. I tried to break in, to get him out of there, but they grabbed me. Then Rat saved me. He pulled me out of the building, but I knew they were gang raping him. I’ve seen a pack of ramped up testosterone more than once. I was jumped by a pack at school. They stopped short of rape, but they sure made a show of it. That’s when Phillip enrolled me in an MMA club.”
Jackson Tyler, his parent in attendance, said, “You fight?”
Balmario didn’t want to get into a side conversation between estranged father and son, so he said, “Continue, “ though being disciplined in an MMA organization was probably why Jon was sitting in front of them today, instead of rotting at a dump site after being beaten and thrown away as garbage.
“Rat pulled me away, and then we got into a fight. I tried to use moves I learned in my MMA club, but I was no match for him. Rat whipped me.” Jon was clearly ashamed about that.
He said, “Rat told me he knew about the baby, so the Morellis did, too. I was wrecking his plans. I don’t know what plans those were. We went back to Marchesi’s, and I gave Charlie the hundred dollars. Told him I got it doing a blow job.”
Jack looked away and shook his head.
Jon looked at his father and said, “I didn’t do one, Dad.”
Jack said, “I know.”
“Continue,” said Balmario.
“After that, Charlie ordered Rat out to the garage and told him to take me with him. Rat was so sad. So was Hawg. I think they knew.”
“That Lincoln was dead. We took him to a wooded place by the river and buried him.”
“Let me recap. You left the baby in the alcove.”
Jon’s shaking intensified.
Marcus leaned across the table to look directly into Jon’s eyes. “I am just going to state it as fact. We need to do this.” Dammit, Jon’s eyes were so big and sad. “You ran to Marchesi’s, saw a gang rape.”
“I didn’t see it. I heard him screaming.”
“Okay. You witnessed the boy Lincoln on the ground.”
“Then Rat Snatcher pulled me away from that. We fought.”
“Then you went back to the Bar and Grill where Charlie told you and Rat Snatcher to take care of Lincoln.”
“Do you think you can show me where you took him on a map?”
The intercom clicked on, and Captain Jamison said, “Map is on the way. Assembling a team to verify.”
Jon jumped. “Is someone else listening?” he said.
Jack petted Jon’s hair on the back of his neck. “Yeah. They are right behind that darkened window.”
“Huh,” said Jon. He stared at it a minute and then leaned into his father. “Have they been listening the whole time?”
Jon spoke in a whisper. “They saw me blubbering.”
Jack whispered, “They understand. Nobody is going to worry about that. You shouldn’t either.”
“I’m sorry I am such a big baby,” said Jon.
“I don’t see a big baby in this room,” said Jack. “I just see my beautiful, brave son, who has battled the streets of Detroit.”
“Are they going to find Lincoln?”
Jack caught Marcus’s glance. Would they find anything? The FBI had most likely cleaned up after them. It wouldn’t hurt to try for Jon’s sake.
“With your help. Yes,” said Marcus.
“He was a nice guy, Dad.”
“Yeah. He was caught up in something that was too big for him. Just like you.” Jack continued to pet his hair.
“While they find a map and assemble a team, let’s finish the story, Jon. Then you can go to your father’s house and rest.”
“Are they letting me do that?” He looked toward the woman from Social Services.
“Temporarily, yes,” she said.
Maureen Thompson asked, “What happened after you buried Lincoln.”
“Rat and I went back to Marchesi’s. Rat was nervous about everything that day so he parked a few blocks away. I followed him and stayed quiet like he asked me to. He was afraid of something. He kept stopping to look around. Each time he did it, he was like a mother hen, hiding me behind him. When he got to the restaurant, we heard shouting behind the bar. We snuck around. That’s when I saw the gunmen. Alles had his hands tied behind him and was on his knees. They pulled Charlie and Evan down, too, and tied them up. I heard one of them ask for the other kid, the one that took the money to the curan…curan….”
“Curandera,” said Maureen. “Sobrina’s midwife.”
“Yes. That’s when the gunman said he wanted to thank me, too, for the death of his sister. Rat told me to run. I did. I ran. I heard guns, but I kept running. I didn’t stop. I found a sheltered alley to stay the night, but a homeless man chased me away. The cops chased me away from a small park fountain. I found another alley. It wasn’t as nice as the first, but I felt safe there. Morning came. I had the ten from Rat. I bought food. I wandered the rest of the day. I didn’t want to be seen. I was worried I would get shot because of the money I gave to the midwife.”
“Geezus,” said Jack.
Maureen urged Jon to continue. “Then what happened.”
“I wandered pretty far, I guess. It was late, the sun was setting. I was hungry. I saw people panhandling. I thought it looked pretty futile. Then people started giving me money. I was only sitting there. It was amazing. I had a little over thirty dollars and decided to go into the restaurant across the street. I got mugged. The mugger took my wallet and ran. I ran after him. He threw my wallet away. It landed in a dumpster. He took all my money and your letter, Dad. He left my ID, so I guess that’s something. I had to start over. I sat back down in the spot where people had given me money, but that didn’t happen again.”
Jon sighed. “I guess you’ll arrest me after I tell you what happened next.”
“Go on,” said Maureen.
“A car pulled up to the curb, and a guy offered me twenty dollars for a hand job. I took the money.”
Jack said. “Shit.”
“Oh, Lordy,” said Maureen. Jack had told her about the dream he had, how he hoped he’d been superimposing his attraction to Tomio over his worry about Jon.
Jon looked at him with a questioning look on his face.
Jack shook his head. “We’ll talk later. Continue the story.”
Balmario thought, thank god.
Jon said, “I didn’t get any more offers that night. And panhandling did not work the next day.”
“Why didn’t you just go to a soup kitchen?” said Maureen.
“I couldn’t. My face was plastered everywhere on those FBI posters.”
“Unbelievable,” said Jack.
Jon’s rushed his words together when he said, “Okay, I suspect this is really illegal, but I did it again. It doesn’t pay as well as I thought it would. You know you’d think if you gave of yourself, it would be worth more, but it isn’t. You have to keep giving and giving.”
“Okay, okay,” said Marcus Balmario. They were way beyond worrying about this kid implicating himself in prostitution. He had no clear plan. He was just a kid stupidly responding to each moment as it presented itself with a typical teenaged lack of logic. He was in over his head, like so many of them he pulled off the street. It was one of the reasons that so many states had adopted Safe Harbor Laws. He decided it would do Jon good to tell his story completely, no matter what implications it presented.
He recapped, “You were mugged and lost money you obtained while panhandling.”
“Yes. I had no money.”
“So you committed an act of prostitution.”
“And got money.”
Marcus Balmario wasn’t sure this child knew the exact definition of prostitution, but it didn’t matter at this point.
“I met these three people who reminded me of Lincoln. In fact they knew him. They took me in and showed me a good place to work. That’s where I met the guy who beat me up.”
“Where did you go after you escaped from the dumpster,” said Balmario.
“I sat under a tree for a while. Then I don’t remember much. I guess I am lucky you arrested me trying to solicit Rodney Heathe, huh?”
“You solicited him?”
“I heard he paid well.”
“Who told you that?”
Jon froze. The fire behind his eyes shut off. “I…I don’t remember. I heard it somewhere.”
“You climbed out of the dumpster, sat under a tree, and someone told you that Rodney Heathe paid well.”
“I don’t remember. Days and days passed. I was hungry, and I hurt all over. I was ready to do anything. I wanted to feel safe for a while.”
He approached a predator to keep him safe. Unbelievable. Marcus was disgusted. If he ever got his hands on the schmuck that told an obviously injured and scared boy about Rodney Heathe, he would kill him.
A knock on the door alerted the team. A clerk stepped in and handed a folded map to Marcus. He opened it and spread it on the table so that Jon could look at it. “Okay. Show us where you buried your friend.”
One tear fell from Jon’s eye, but he quickly wiped it away. He studied the map. “It’s not here, we left the city and drove toward a lake. There was a hiking trail.”
The person from Social Services spoke up. “I know what he’s talking about. There’s a nature preserve on the river.”
“Yes, we were following the river when Rat pulled off the road. He drove down a dirt lane for a while.”
The woman stood up and flipped over the map. Then she pointed. “Here it is.”
“Did you walk the trail?”
“No, we walked off trail so people couldn’t see us. Jon looked at the line of the river. He pointed to a small indentation. “I think it’s about here.”
“We’ll get a team to start investigating.”
Jon said, “I want to go.”
Maureen said, “You’re tired and hungry, Jon.”
“I want to help find Lincoln,” he said.
The entire team collectively sighed, but Jon’s expression was resolute. Marcus knew he would need this closure to battle demons later on.
Maureen said, “If I bring you a sandwich, can you give our artist a description of Lincoln?”
Author’s Note: Three chapters of BROKEN remain, including this one. Thank you so much for following this story. America’s presidential election cycle is upon us and I am wondering if anyone else feels like they are holding their breath, hoping to ride out the tidal wave no matter which way it turns? I wish my metaphorical cave was deeper. I plan to take a short hiatus after posting the end of this book. I need to focus on a graphic novel I am working on, while writing my next novel which I am currently calling The Shaman’s Mirror. I will start blogging again after we usher in 2021. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading weekly, follow the link at the end of this chapter.
A court could argue that everything that happened to Jonathan Tyler was because of a choice he made, but Inspector Marcus Balmario had worked vice too long. He had seen too many unaware teens fall into webs designed to trap them. Hell, adults fell into them. “When did you meet Charlie Marchesi?” he asked.
Jonathan said, “The night I arrived in Detroit. He offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t afford it, but he said I could work the morning shift at his Bar and Grill to pay for expenses.” The boy squirmed, uncomfortable in the cold, metal chair across from Marcus at the table in one of the 12th’s interrogation rooms. His injuries were far from healed, but he had been released from the hospital, and the sooner they conducted this interview, the sooner a decision could be made about his future.
“And did you accept his offer?”
“So you stayed the night and worked for him the next day. How long did you work for Charlie?”
“I worked that morning, a full shift. He paid me, and it covered my bill, but people don’t make very much here.”
“Just the facts,” said Balmario.
Jon took a deep breath. “The pay for all that work wouldn’t cover the cost of the room for another night. He offered me a job on the night shift.”
“Did he know you were fifteen?”
“No. I led him to believe I was an adult.”
All heads turned toward him. Today’s team consisted of Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler as Jon’s parent in attendance, Chief Maureen Thompson, a defense attorney, and a counselor from Social Services. They knew that Charlie Marchesi, as he was known by this boy, did not believe for one moment that Jon was anything other than a fifteen year old runaway that stepped into his trap. But Marchesi was in Witness Protection, and therefore any crimes committed were FBI business.
“So, he hired you for a night shift. Doing what?”
“Well, I expected to do the same, wait tables, clean, help in the kitchen.”
“But that is not what you did?” said Balmario. What Jon did, he assumed, was probably illegal.
Jon was clearly thinking how to proceed with the story. He had to hand it to the kid. He was quick on his feet. He would either make a good cop or a good criminal. Jon surely suspected that Charlie knew he was a minor, but he had probably used every trick he could to lead everyone around him to the belief that he was an adult. It was an important distinction. Guilty sweat beaded across Jon’s upper lip.
Why feel guilt all of a sudden? What just changed? “Jon, just spit it out.”
“They probably knew I was fifteen. Shit. Rat knew that. He called me on it. I don’t know how to continue.” he said.
Of course. Jon knew he would implicate himself. Balmario said, “Let’s start with the shift you worked in the morning.”
“It was hard work.”
Balmario leaned forward. “We need to know exactly what you did at Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.”
“I worked the kitchen, slicing meat, making sandwiches, cleaning dishes. I set tables, took orders, served brunch. Then I swept so the next shift wouldn’t have to.”
“So you sliced meat.” It was an illegal job activity for someone Jon’s age. “Did you serve alcohol?”
“Not on that shift,” said Jon. “I did whatever I was told that day. The head cook, his name was Hawg, made sure I got breaks and had food to eat. Rat Snatcher took me under his wing.”
Balmario said, “Rat Snatcher, tell me about him.”
“Is he a suspect in one of your open cases?”
“It was weird. Dad?”
“Go on.” It was the first time Jack spoke up.
Jon said, “It was like he was sent there to watch over me. At the MMA meet that night, Charlie was serving food and drinks. Snatcher was a bouncer or something. Whenever Alles gave me trouble, Snatcher pulled me out of it.”
“Alles? Allessandro Santorini?” said Balmario.
“Yes. Rat sent me home that night because I spilled drinks on one of the patrons, and Alles was already on my case. He gave me a hundred dollars and told me to run back to the bar. I was supposed to wait for him there.”
“Who gave you a hundred dollars?”
“Rat Snatcher. He gave me ten more for food. He said the money was for Charlie. Then he told me to run back to the bar and made me follow the man whose suit I ruined with the drinks. I followed him out the door. He tried to pick me up for a ride, but I told him no and ran instead.”
“Let me ask you something,” said Balmario. “Did you know what the hundred was for?”
“I didn’t then, but I do now.” Jon paused.
“I followed the man so that everyone would think I had picked up some work.”
“What kind of work?”
Jon gazed at his father. Balmario could see the wheels turning. What was he leaving out of his story because his father was sitting next to him? Then, Jon’s resolve kicked in, and his eyes lit with fire behind them.
“Rat wanted everyone to think I was going to have sex with that man.” Then his eyes filled with tears. Shit.
Balmario said, “Let me recap this. You worked two shifts for Marchesi that day. One at the Bar and Grill, the other at an MMA meet where Marchesi’s Bar and Grill provided food and drink. Part of the expectations were that you make yourself available for sex. Did you know that when you agreed to the second shift?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you know that sexual favors might be expected of you?”
“No, but Rat was weird about it.”
“He was weird about it?”
“Yes. He told me to keep my head down, and to avoid talking to the patrons.”
Balmario nodded. Maybe Rat Snatcher was trying to keep this kid safe. “What else did you do? Did you serve food? Drink?”
“I was serving drinks.”
“Was alcohol being offered?”
“Did you serve it?”
“Yes.” Jon wiped tears from his eyes.
“You spilled drinks on a man and then were expected to follow him and offer sexual services.”
“Yes, no. No. I was supposed to pretend to offer them.”
“If you had to pretend, I am assuming that if you left the meet for any other reason, you would have been in trouble?”
“I guess.” Jon shrugged.
“Were you bullied by these people?”
“I don’t know.”
Jack rolled his eyes, sat back into his chair, and crossed his arms.
If Balmario could throw darts with his eyes, he’d do it now. “Let me put it this way. Was your life in danger?”
“I don’t know.” Jon shrugged. “I didn’t want to be put into a cage.”
“It’s a thing I saw.”
“I want to know more about these cages,” said Marcus Balmario.
“I saw men in cages, fighters. I was told not to look at them. I know Rat didn’t want to get thrown into one. He said if I was thrown into a cage, people would gladly pay to see me fight and die. Then, he told me to leave. I was supposed to run back to Marchesi’s, and to wait for him there. He gave me the money so I could pretend I had a reason to get out of there.”
Dammit. Balmario and the Vice team had been trying to break into one of these illegal MMA meets for months. They never met in the same place twice. He and his team were still unclear about the method of invitation to one of these things. If Rat Snatcher was part of the staff, the FBI had an in. Jon could have put their entire operation into jeopardy. He was sure that is why the Bureau pulled Snatcher, Evan Fischer, and Marchesi out from under their jurisdiction so quickly.
There was still the matter of under aged children working illegally. “Were there other children at the meet serving drinks and soliciting sex?”
“There were others. I don’t know if they were children.” Jon shuddered and he gasped as tears flooded his face
His father grabbed his hand. “Hey, hey.”
Balmario waited for it to pass.
Jon took his hand from his father’s and wiped his face on his sleeve. He took a couple of deep breaths. “There was another boy at the MMA meet. His name was Lincoln.” Jon hiccoughed. “Lincoln knew how to do the business. He flirted with the patrons. He told me I could make more money that way. He was surprised that Marchesi let me work the fight so quickly. Most of the others had to do grunt work first. That’s what Lincoln said.”
“Okay,” said Balmario.
Jack said, “But Rat didn’t want you participating in the secondary business of sex trafficking.”
“I figured that out the next day.”
Balmario said, “You stayed a second night at Marchesi’s?”
“Yes, uhm, no. My things did. I left my bag there, my letter jacket, but I was out all night. It took me a long time to run back to the bar from the warehouse. I was supposed to wait for Rat, but the boy upstairs called me up for a favor.”
Jon was shaking again. Balmario wondered how far he could push him before he broke down completely. Social Services was getting antsy, but the attorney was calm and attentive. Jack was a rock, and Maureen was madly making notes of her own. He said, “Let me recap this favor, because you have already told this story.”
Jon sniffed and nodded.
“Evan Fischer, purported son of Charlie Marchesi, aka Calogero Conti, had a liaison with Sobrina Morelli. She was pregnant and had asked for help with midwife fees. You were asked to run the money to the midwife. There you witnessed a birth. The baby was dead, at which point you took it, and ran away from the scene.”
Jon gasped. “She handed me the baby and told me to run. Someone was trying to break down her door.”
“You left the baby on the street.”
“In an alcove of a pharmacy. I left it somewhere safe, and it was dead.” Jon was clearly getting worked up.
Clearly hitting a touchy point, Balmario backed up. “This was during the meet, after the meet, on another day?”
“I ran from the meet, and Evan asked me as soon as I arrived back at Charlie’s. I ran to the midwife, and then I ran back towards the Bar and Grill. I got lost, I stopped. I put the baby down. I couldn’t pick it back up. It was dead. It was dead.”
Jon dissolved. Great, wracking sobs choked him. Balmario let the recorder run for ten more seconds, capturing his agony, and then clicked it off. “We’re going to take a ten minute break. Does he drink chocolate? I’m going to get him some.”
Maureen and Jack hovered over Jon as Balmario stepped out the door. Teen interviews were always messy, but this one was heartbreaking, not just because the boy was one of their own, but because in the short time he was in Detroit, his life view had been completely shattered. How was he still holding up his head? Poor kid had lived through enough traumas to be considered at risk for severe PTSD. He would spend a lifetime knitting broken pieces together.
(Author’s Note: This is the first of the last four chapters of BROKEN. Thank you so much for following this story. It was important for me to write it, and I am grateful to the characters for agreeing to take part in it, but also to all of you for following their story. I will be taking a short hiatus after the end, and will start the blog again after the new year of 2021 starts. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading week to week, follow this link. The chapter starts right after it.)
Inspector Marcus Balmario reached for the door to Jonathan Tyler’s room when he saw his father, Inspector Jackson Tyler get off the elevator and walk toward him. He had invited Jack to sit in as Jon’s attending parent while he interviewed him.
“Balmario,” said Jack.
“Tyler.” Balmario nodded. “How’s the ex and her new hubby?”
Jack cocked his head. “He’s hardly new. I suspect she had him lined up in the wings before she divorced me,” he said, but there was not a trace of bitterness in his voice. “However, they are settling into the hotel. Are we ready?”
“Still waiting on Social Services,” said Balmario.
The Social Services Recorder stepped off the elevator.
“I guess your wish is his command,” said Jack.
Balmario said, “Let’s get this over with.”
While Jack explained the proceedings to his son, Marcus set up a small table for the Recorder near the bed. When he finished, he said, “Is everybody ready?”
“I’m ready, Sir,” said the Recorder.
“How about the two of you?” said Balmario, catching Jack’s attention.
“Jon?” said Jack.
“I’ll ask questions for clarity, but mostly I just want to hear your story,” said Balmario.
Jon said, “Okay.”
“For the record, please state your name and age.”
“Jonathan Tyler, fifteen.”
Marcus said, “Let it be known that the subject, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by a parent, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD. Jon has suffered a brutal attack and has agreed to answer questions. Please confirm this is correct.”
“Use words, Jon,” said Jack.
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Jon, do you understand you have been arrested for three crimes: truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution?”
“If, during the course of this interview, it is determined that you have broken laws, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?”
“Who beat you, Jon and why?”
“I don’t know the name of the man.”
“Can you describe him?”
“He was tall, wore a plaid shirt. He wore boots. His face was angry.”
“Do you think you could describe him to an artist?”
“Maybe. I was scared.”
“How did you meet this man?”
“Uhm. He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me.”
“What corner was that, Jon?” said Balmario.
Jon shook his head.
“Words, Jon,” said his father.
“We were near the university. The guys I was with said – “
“There were others with you at the time you were beaten?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I was working a corner with them, but they had left. That’s when the man drove up. He came after they left.”
Marcus paused a moment and regarded Jon. His gut told him that this kid was about to admit to a crime. Whether or not he was a teen and protected by Safe Harbor laws, there were still consequences, especially if he was there of his own free will. “Jon, it’s very important to be careful with details and the timeline. Do you understand?”
Jon avoided his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.”
If Balmario could have a penny for every teen that looked away while shrugging and saying ‘I don’t know’ to avoid answering a question that could possibly get them into trouble, he would be a rich man.
“Just tell me in your own words.”
He could always re-question Jon to clarify if necessary.
The Recorder said, “He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me. Start there.”
“He grabbed me. It hurt. He shoved me in his car and drove away.”
“Can you describe the car?”
“It was silver. I’m sure it was a CT6. My grandfather and I saw one at a show.”
“Let’s get back to what happened next.”
“I tried the doors, but they wouldn’t open. Neither would the windows. I was locked in. I told him I didn’t want to work for him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Balmario glanced at Jack. It seemed that Jon was guilty of more than one prostitution charge.
Jack bowed his head.
Balmario said, “Go on.”
“He stopped at an auto body-shop.”
“Do you think you can identify it?”
“Maybe. I wasn’t thinking about it. It had lights across the ceiling. I saw them when we went inside. Another man came out of an office. I recognized him.”
“He was in an alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The Morelli brothers had taken Alles, Charlie, and Evan as prisoners.”
“Please stop the recording.”
“Sir, I really can’t.”
“This interview may be over. Jon, sit tight a minute. Jack, and you,” he pointed to the Recorder, “hallway.”
Marcus shut the door behind them. “We should have counsel for this kid before we continue. If Morelli is involved in this, I want everything by the book.”
“Agreed,” said Jack.
“I don’t understand,” said the Recorder. “Isn’t this a simple child endangerment case?”
“Child endangerment, yes. Simple no,” said Balmario. “If the person that Jon claims was present, his testimony could be pertinent to at least two dozen open cases of human trafficking and homicide. At the very least, we should call Chief Thompson and Captain Jamison.”
Jack said, “Agreed.”
“The Recorder said, “I have another testimony to take in forty minutes.”
“We’ll have to get our own people in here to finish. Do you have some sort of paperwork I can sign that would exonerate you from derelict of duty and allow our tapes to be used for your purposes?”
“Sure. They’re in my briefcase.”
“Good. Jack, you get the papers, reassure your son. I’ll call Thompson and Jamison and the usual attorney that works for Vice. Maybe we can move a conference table in.” He pointed at Jon’s room.
The Recorder said, “I will have to notify the custodial parents.”
“Understood,” said Jack.
An hour and a half later, Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson said, “For the record, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen, is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by in situ parentis, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and custodial parent, Meghan Bordeaux, Hartmann Law Firm, Stockton, California, and her husband, Mr. Phillip Bordeaux. In attendance are Inspector Marcus Balmario and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson, both 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and defense attorney, Mary Styfford.
“Jonathan is a victim of a brutal attack and has previously stated that he was grabbed from the corner of Forest Avenue and Mitchell by a man driving silver CT6. Said man was tall, wearing a plaid shirt and boots. Jonathan has given a description to the Precinct artist and a bolo has been issued. This man took Jon to an auto body shop, which Jon has yet to identify.
“Another man was at the body shop. Jon recognized him as a Morelli. Jonathan. Please verify that this is correct.”
“You have to say, ‘That is correct,’” said the attorney.
“That is correct,” said Jon.
“Jon. I want you to tell us what happened after the man you identified as Morelli stepped out of the office.”
“He hit me. Then he stole my money and found my ID card.”
“Jon. Is this the man who stole my letter?”
Jon’s face colored. “That was other money. I had money stolen two times. God, is it illegal if someone just gives you money when you are sitting on the street?”
Maureen knew she’d be talking to this boy again. “Jon let’s get back to this story. Morelli stole money and took your ID. Then what happened?”
“He told the man in the plaid shirt to teach me a lesson.”
“What lesson was that?”
“He said I couldn’t work one of his corners.”
“Then what,” said Maureen.
“Then Morelli told him to throw my body into the dumpster so the garbage men would take it away.” Jon burst into tears. “First it was Lincoln, now me? How is that fair?”
“Lincoln?” said Maureen.
“He was my friend. He made it seem like I could earn a lot of money working….” Jon shut his mouth and looked at his lap.
Meghan was horrified if the expression on her face was any indication. Jack wasn’t too far behind her. She caught the eyes of both of them. “Jon, before we open too many cans of worms, if I showed you some pictures, could you pick out Morelli?”
“Yes, I think so.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with his hand.
“I’m going to get some pictures sent over. Then I want to hear about all the things you did, all the people you met, all the places you went while you’ve been in Detroit. Do you think you can do that?”
“Balmario,” she said.
“On it.” He quickly left the room.
Ten minutes later, he returned with a folder of mugshots which included any they had of Morelli brothers. He passed it to Maureen. She put it into Jon’s lap and said, “Take your time. Look at them one by one, and let me know if you recognize any of them.”
Jon looked at each of the five pictures one by one. He said, “No,” after the first two and turned them face down on the bed beside him. He stared at the third one for a long time and set it aside. He looked at a fourth and added it to the pile that was face down. He gasped when he saw the fifth. Emilio Morelli, the youngest brother in the Morelli triad. Then he picked the picture he’d placed to the side and said, I think he was at the confrontation behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, also.”
It was the oldest brother. “You know about that?”
“Yeah. Rat Snatcher and I were there, but Rat told me to run.”
“Why were you there?”
“We were going back to Charlie’s. We had just buried Lincoln.”
Meghan gasped, again. Jack reached for her.
“That sounds like something we want to talk about later. Right now, we are talking about the people who hurt you. Are you positive that this man…,” she held up the picture of Emilio Morelli, “was the one who ordered the lesson?”
“Okay. For the record, Jonathan, were you afraid for your life?”
With tears streaming down his face, he said, “Yes.”
“Jonathan Tyler has identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered a beat-down to teach Jon a lesson. Jon has indicated it was a death threat.” Maureen clicked off the recorder. “You, young man.” She poked the bed beside him when she said, “You and I are going to record your whole story tomorrow. You read me?”
“Yes,” said Jon. He looked relieved.
She hoped she could find some peace for him, and perhaps his telling of his story would exonerate him from some of his crimes. For now, she decided she had enough information for warrants. She hoped someone would find the man in the plaid shirt. She’d like to give him a beat-down.
Jonathan Tyler stared at the stark hospital room. Dear ol’ Dad sat in the chair at the end of his bed. His snoring reminded him of a cat. But, what was foremost in his mind was the day his father left him, the day he walked away without ever looking back. Jon’s ever-present anger rose, and his stomach churned. Why was he sleeping there? Why the hell didn’t he just go home?
The anger made the machine next to him beep a warning.
Jack woke and slowly straightened his back until he was upright in the chair. “Hey,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
It was a dumb question. He hated the concern in his father’s eyes, so he avoided them as best he could.
“Well, you will have to speak to someone, because officers will be here soon to get a statement from you. They want to know what happened.” Jack scratched his head. “I want to know what happened.”
Jon was pissed. “I want to know why you left.” It was difficult forcing his voice through his swollen lips, but he was pleased his voice was gravelly and deep. It made him sound tough.
“Whoa. Is that what this adventure of yours was about? Why didn’t you just ask me? Why go through all this?”
“You think I planned this?”
“I don’t know, Jon. Did you?” His father stood and paced toward the door.
A nurse bustled in to check on Jon.
Jack said, “I’m going to get some coffee. Can he have hot chocolate?”
The nurse said, “Yes.”
Jon leaned against the pillows and let the nurse fuss over him. Shame, guilt, he didn’t know what to call it, but he was sorry he snapped.
“Are you okay?” said the nurse. “Should I keep him out of here?”
“No.” He smiled at her. “I’m fine.”
“Your job is to rest,” she told him, and then she left.
Jack returned with coffee and hot chocolate. He handed Jon a one of the bananas he had brought with him. “A peace offering,” he said. He set Jon’s cup of chocolate on the bedside table next to him.
“Sorry,” Jon said.
“I’m sorry,” said Jack. “You were too young to understand, and when I tried to explain, I guess it seemed cowardly to do it in a letter.”
“The letter was stolen with my money. I didn’t come here on purpose. It just happened.”
“I’m listening,” said Jack.
Jon sipped his chocolate.
Jack said, “What happened?”
“I have no idea where to start.”
Jack said, “Why did you get on that bus?”
“I needed to get away from school, so I ran. When I saw the bus station, I went there because I was afraid I would get caught if I stayed on the street. People were staring at me like they knew I had run away. I stepped up to the counter and asked for the first city I could think of. Detroit.” He laughed, but his laugh turned into a cough when he struggled with the extra spit forming in his mouth. He struggled a moment then said, “I’d already been to Sacramento. I didn’t want to go again.”
Jack looked at his hands. Jon couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He didn’t know this man. He had never known how to talk to him.
Jack said quietly, “Do you always carry enough money to buy a ticket as far away as Detroit?”
Jon had saved for months. If he was honest, he had started saving the day after his parents brought him home from Sacramento, the second time he had run away. He wasn’t running from them. They had worked hard to make him happy. It wasn’t their fault his life sucked. He stared at Jack.
Jack’s gaze didn’t falter. “Carrying money like that implies you planned to run.”
“Fine,” he said, a little more belligerently than he should have. “I planned to run away sometime, just not that day. Geez, I’ve been prepared to run away for a long time, but I didn’t know I was coming to Detroit. That part is true.”
“Fair enough,” said Jack. “Why did you run that day?”
“I was tired of the bullshit.” He looked up to see if his father was shocked.
His father said, “What bullshit?”
Jon shut his eyes. How could he admit that he didn’t have the cojones to stand up for himself at school.
“I know about the bullying,” said his father. “Rick told me.”
“He had no business telling you that.” His brother was such a perfect prick.
“Why didn’t you tell your mother, or Phillip?”
“What was I going to say to them? Hey, I’m a screw up because kids at school are picking on me. What could they do anyway? There isn’t anything that could stop it.”
“They could have talked to the principal,” said Jack.
“He doesn’t give a shit. No one does. It’s dog eat dog there. Always has been, always will be. That’s what Rick said.”
Jack said, “Is that why you ran that day?”
Jon arched away from him and stared at the curtains. What was he supposed to say? He was a total loser, a wimp who practically shit his pants every time one of those jocks threatened him. This man used to be his sun and his moon. Now he sat here as his judge. He said, “They took my only copy of Tom Sawyer, the one Hank bought for me. They threw it in the toilet. They tried to flush it. I was pissed.”
“They took it. How many were there?” said Jack.
Did it matter how many there were? If there was only one, did it make a difference in how Dear ol’ Dad would see him? He said, “Five.”
“Shit,” yelled Jon. “Does it matter? It was one guy and another outside the restroom. The point is I was sick of the bullshit.”
“Let me see if I understand this. A bully tried to flush a treasured book down the toilet; you ran from campus, ended up at the bus station, and on a whim, boarded a bus to Detroit. Does that sum it up?”
“Yes.” He glared at his father defiantly. It seemed so monumentally stupid the way his father said it. Why couldn’t everyone just leave him the fuck alone?
To be a snot, he said, “Why did you leave?”
Jack sighed. “I don’t know how much your mother has told you about me.”
“I know you’re fucking crazy.”
“Is that why you left?” said Jon.
“I left because your mother convinced me that my crazy was hurting you and Rick. By staying, I was ruining your lives. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done.”
Jon blurted, “I never got to play basketball with you and Rick. You never even turned around. I yelled your name, and you never once turned to say goodbye.”
Jack sat quietly, gazing at him.
“Don’t even look at me.”
Jack said softly, “Maybe we can fix that now.”
Could they? Would the play of a simple basketball game erase all the hurt he’d felt his whole damn life?
“How could somebody as crazy as you work for the police? How in hell did you solve a case like the Vampire Killer?”
“That crazy helped me solve the case.” Jack looked mystified, like he hardly believed the words he was saying.
“That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” said Jon.
“Did your brother tell you about that case?”
“I saw it in a newspaper after I got here.”
Pain scrunched up Jack’s face. “We lived in San Francisco when the crazy started. I didn’t know how to handle it back then. I am still learning.
“The serial killer, known as The Vampire, was my last case. Huh. It ended just a few days ago. Geez. Anyway, I was one of the lead investigators. It was rough. The officer who helped you yesterday, he lost his partner. Two others were injured, including my partner, Tomio.
“Sometimes, I step into a world that isn’t in front of me. It’s like a vision, but all of my senses are involved, as if I am there. It’s as if I am living the experience of someone else, in that case, the killer.
“Something happened to you. I saw those garbage men throw rocks. I was there when the baby was born.”
The world stopped for Jon. Maybe his heart did too. He hesitated before he said, “I felt disembodied, as if it wasn’t me experiencing that. But I was.” He took a deep breath. “You were there,” he said.
“I was. The police are going to need details and names. It’s one of our open cases. I could verify certain things, but the process isn’t exact. I am not the person whose experience I am sharing. I couldn’t read your mind.”
Jon wiped a tear. Then he wiped another. Dammit. His eyes were flooding. “What happened to the baby?”
“It’s safe in the morgue. It was born dead. You didn’t cause anything to happen to it.”
Jon felt the world slip out from under him as he struggled to breathe. His heart lurched. A sob escaped. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I put it down, and I couldn’t pick it back up.”
Jack moved to the bed and sat.
Why was he such a blubbering fool?
Jack said softly, “Hey, come here.” Then he pulled Jon forward and snuggled him against his chest.
Jon caved then. He sobbed so hard, he couldn’t catch a breath.
Jack crooned softly, “Just breathe, just breathe,’ while he petted his hair.
When Jon could talk again, he said, “I don’t know why she handed the baby to me. Why did she do that?”
“I suspect she knew it was illegal to dump human remains in dumpsters unless wrapped properly. She only had the little baby blanket to put it in. I suppose she had her hands full with the girl and wanted to hand off the responsibility of the baby to someone else. You were there.”
“I didn’t leave it in a dumpster.”
“I know. Balmario and my chief found it in the alcove of a pharmacy.”
Jon sniffed and wiped his face with his good hand. He didn’t want to leave the shelter of Jack’s embrace, but he didn’t want to be a baby, either, so he sat up and looked at his father.
“When I first met her, I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. Watching her like that….” Jon hiccoughed. “There was so much blood. Blood smells. I didn’t know that. I don’t ever want to do that to a woman.”
“You know why she struggled like that, don’t you?”
No, he didn’t.
“When they are born, babies add hormones that help the mother give birth. This baby wasn’t alive, so it couldn’t add those hormones. When everything goes right, the process looks like a beautiful dance. Jon, you and your mother danced beautifully together. I have never seen anything so wondrous in my life. You were beautiful.” Jack patted his arm. “You remember that.” Then he smiled. “I suspect you have a few more stories about your time in Detroit.”
“Save the rest for now.”
A nurse walked in with two breakfast trays. “Are you gentlemen hungry?” he said.
Hungry didn’t even begin to describe the hole in his gut.
Phillip and Meghan Bordeaux arrived at ten-thirty. Meghan looked exhausted, and Phillip looked lost. Jack shook Phillip’s hand and said, “You look like hell.”
Phillip said, “I could say the same of you.”
Jack huffed. “Meghan,” he turned to his ex-wife. “Beautiful as always.”
“Liar. Where’s Jon?”
“He’s upstairs. We need to talk first.”
Phillip said, “Whatever you have to say can wait, Jack. We’ve been worried sick. We just want to get him home.”
“Well, that’s one of the things we need to talk about. Let’s go upstairs. There’s a quiet room where we can talk before you see Jon.”
When they were in the elevator, Meghan said, “I just don’t know why he would do this.”
Phillip added, “We give him everything.”
Jack said, “Maybe I can clear things up for you.” He ushered them to the darkened, quiet room and shut the door. “We’ll have some privacy here for a few minutes.”
“So, get on with it. I want to see Jon,” snapped Meghan. The woman he remembered so vividly suddenly made herself visible.
“First of all, someone gave him a good beating. We are investigating. He’ll be questioned today about it. It will most likely interrupt your visit. Be prepared for that. His injuries will heal, but they’re bad. You need to prepare for that also. Don’t expect to take him out of here. Detroit PD arrested Jon for truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution.”
“What?” shouted Phillip.
Meghan’s eyes threw darts when she looked at him. “Michigan has Safe Harbor laws. You know he can’t be prosecuted for prostitution, so why are you even bringing it up.”
“I’m well aware of the law, Meghan, but when he was arrested, he was an unidentified person because of the brutal beating. The charge will need to be resolved. Also, Jon is a three-time runaway, and the court needs proof that his mistreatment wasn’t a direct result of our actions.”
“That’s insane,” said Phillip.
Meghan deflated. “I was expecting that. It just hurts to hear it.”
As a lawyer, Meghan would know the ins and outs of the law. Children’s welfare wasn’t her specialty, but after Jon ran away the second time, Jack was sure she had done her research.
Jack clapped his hands onto his knees and stood up. “Now you know. He’s hurting. I only heard a small portion of his story, because he only started talking this morning. I hope you have plans to stay. It’s going to be a while to get through the process.”
“I want to see my son,” said Meghan, cool as ice.
Jack led them down the hall to his son’s room. Jon was dozing again, but when they walked in, his eyes popped open. Meghan flew to his side and burst into tears. Mother and son grabbed each other and sobbed together.
Phillip walked to the other side of the bed. When he was close, Jon let go of his mother and reached for him. Phillip gathered him into his arms.
Jack watched them for a moment, a family huddled together, something he didn’t have. Meghan had clearly created a new life for his sons. He knocked lightly on the door.
Jon looked up. “I’ll be back later, Kiddo.”
Jack walked away to the sound of them sobbing. For the space of two breaths, he was in San Francisco, walking toward the front gate. Behind him, his littlest was sobbing, “Dada. I want my dada.”
(Author’s Note: Click the following link to find the entire story on Amazon.)
Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson suspected she needed to be his strength, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found: Jackson Tyler in skivvies, socks on his feet, socks on his hands. His beard was two or three days old, his hair unkempt. He huddled on the floor in front of his couch rocking back and forth.
“The garbage men, the garbage men said,” he mumbled. “They said, the garbage men said.”
“What did they say Jack?” she said as if crooning to a frightened child.
“The garbage men told him he was trash. He was in the trash. The garbage men said.” Jack looked up at her. In a very clear, authoritative voice, he stated, “They threw rocks at him. They thought he was a vagrant. We have to do something about that.”
Then he caved in on himself and began rocking again. “The garbage men, he was in the trash. He was in the trash.”
Maureen sat on the couch near him.
He shied away from her, but he quit mumbling. After a few seconds, he quit rocking.
It was obvious he had been drinking. She wondered how that worked with the medications she was sure he took. Even so, she didn’t see evidence of abandoned bottles or glasses. Did he clean as he drank?
Was he cognizant enough to understand that the team had found Jon? Was it safe for his brutalized son to see him like this? If Jon was as badly beaten as Benny Brown indicated, would seeing his son throw Jack over an emotional and psychic cliff he couldn’t climb up again?
“Did you find him? Did you find him? He was in the trash,” said Jack. “Did you find him in the trash?”
It was better to stick with simple truth and then try to get Jack back on his feet. She contemplated calling Tomio Dubanowski, but he was dealing with his own shit right now and did not need to worry about his partner.
Slowly and quietly she said, “Yes, Jack. We found him. He is safe now.”
Jack sat up. “I want to see him.”
“I want that too, but you can’t go like this. What can I do to help?”
Jack rubbed his face with his socked hands. “I don’t know.”
Her thumb hovered over the keys on her phone. What would Tomio do? He seemed like a tough love kind of guy. She said, “Get up, take a shower, clean up that scruffy beard. Put on professional looking clothes.”
Jack started rocking. “Get up, get up, get up.”
Maureen, mother instincts on full alert, realized Jack wasn’t capable of retaining a string of commands at the moment. “Get up, Jack.”
He got up.
“Shower and shave,” she said.
“Shower and shave, shower and shave.” He walked to the bathroom mumbling shower and shave over and over. Then he shut the door.
She heard the water turn on.
She stood and went to his closet. All his work clothes were on the floor where he’d heaped them and too wrinkled for a professional presentation. She found a pair of jeans hanging next to a nice gray Henley. She had never seen him in a Henley. He probably looked good in it. It was fatherly, softer and more approachable than what she had first had in mind.
She pulled his trashed bed together and left the clothes on top of it. She hoped he would see them when he stepped out from the bathroom.
She partially closed the bedroom door to give him some privacy. Then she went to his kitchen. It was spotless. The refrigerator was stocked and orderly. The carton of milk smelled fresh and was empty by half. Damn, had he been eating?
She found sliced turkey, lettuce, and a tomato which she sliced, and made a sandwich. If he could stomach it, the food might settle his anxiety.
Jack joined her, shaved and dressed. He had shoes on. He was shaking like a leaf, but he seemed calm. “Is he okay?” he asked.
“He is safe, Jack. Eat this sandwich, and then we will go see him.”
“What aren’t you telling me, Maureen?”
He sounded like the Jack she knew, but she had only worked through an OCD attack with him on one other occasion. He needed to stay calm if she was going to take him to a hospital to see his broken son. “I know he has some injuries, but they are caring for him, and he is able to move around on his own. That much I know.”
“He’s a strong kid,” he said. Then he gobbled the sandwich.
Jack strode into the hospital ahead of Maureen then stopped abruptly. He didn’t seem to recognize who was approaching as Balmario stepped up to greet him. When Balmario reached out to shake his hand, for a moment, she worried Jack was going to recoil. Instead, he took Balmario’s offered hand and shook it.
“We found your son. I need to speak with you.” Balmario could have been less terse, she thought.
“Not now, Balmario. I need to see my son.”
Balmario hesitated before he said, “We need to talk first.”
Jack was a statue. His eyes were distant as if his focus was on a scene that only he could see.
Marcus was visibly unnerved and looked to her for direction.
She nodded and mouthed, “Not here.”
Marcus said, “There is a private waiting room upstairs. The X-ray lab is there, and he is in a treatment room on the same floor. Let’s go there.”
As they stepped into the elevator, Jack’s eyes watered. He said, “He was thrown in the trash.”
Maureen stepped close and grabbed his elbow.
Jack said, “I went there, you know. I went to that alley. I couldn’t find him. They threw him in the trash, like garbage.” One tear rolled down his face.
Balmario looked at Maureen. She shook her head.
The waiting room was quiet, and the lights were low. Maureen was grateful for the sudden peace that enveloped them. Marcus sat across from Jack, but she sat next to him in case she needed to ground him with a touch. She had seen Tomio do it often. It was one of the reasons everyone thought they were a couple.
Marcus took a deep breath. “Jonathan hasn’t said a word since we arrested him.”
“You arrested him?” said Jack. “He’s a runaway, not a criminal.”
“Well, Jack. That is one of the things I need to talk to you about.”
Jack stood. “I want to see my son.”
Maureen put a hand on his arm and said, “Jack, sit down, and let’s get the report first.”
It was the right thing to say. Jack sat, focused on Balmario, and said, “Get on with it.”
“Okay. We picked your son up at Walgreens for shoplifting.” Marcus took another deep breath. “But also for prostitution.”
Jack stood again. “Safe Harbor laws,” he barked.
“Yeah, we hope so,” said Marcus, alarmed at the reaction. “But we need all the facts first.”
Jack rubbed his face with his hands. Then he sat.
Marcus continued. “Someone beat the crap out of him. It isn’t pretty. The arresting officers did not recognize him. You won’t recognize him, Jack, but his fingerprints matched the ones we have on file. That boy is your son.”
“How bad?” said Jack.
“It’s bad. He’s broken,” said Marcus. “Social Services has called for a psych to evaluate his emotional state. You also need to know that Social Services won’t return him to his family until everyone is evaluated. That probably includes you. Is Tomio staying with you? It may include him.”
Jack looked at the ceiling.
Balmario said, “It’s a lot to process.”
Maureen said, “He’s alive, Jack.”
Jack sniffed and nodded. “I gotta get it together. I’m going to wash my face. I need to call Meghan, my ex-wife. I’ll be right back.” He strode to the door. When he got there, he turned and said, “Thank you Marcus. Thank you for watching out for my boy. Where’s the nearest restroom?”
Balmario nodded. “Across the hall,” he said.
Jack sat in a chair at the foot of the bed, watching Jon sleep. His nose had been set, his ribs taped. He wore a brace on his left wrist, another on his shoulder. He wore compression stockings. The doctor had told him that two vertebrae were cracked, but they would heal with rest. Internal organs were bruised. Jon’s body was a battleground, but Jack recognized him. He would have recognized his son without the warning. His dark eyelashes feathered against his cheek, and he had curled his arm, fisted his hand, and rested his chin against it, just as he had always done from the very beginning of his life. One foot stuck out from under the warming blankets. That was just like Jon.
When Jon was little, Jack woke him up with a little shake of his bare toes. He always said, “Hey, sunshine. Time to get up.” Jon’s eyes would pop open a second before he scrambled from under the covers and into Jack’s arms. They’d laugh together, and Jack would blow raspberries against his neck. He couldn’t imagine Jon doing that now, but he reached for the foot and gently tucked it back under the blankets. The touch forced memories of missed dinners and late nights after a long day of battling the streets of San Francisco, of sneaking in to watch his sons sleep.
Twice, a nurse came in and checked Jon’s IV. They were pumping him full of antibiotics and electrolytes. Jon had not moved once since Jack entered his room. He took comfort in the steady quiet rhythm of his breathing.
He hadn’t been able to reach his ex-wife the first time he called. Meghan had answered the second time. She and Phillip had booked a flight to Detroit as soon as she heard his first message. They would arrive mid-morning. There was no need to leave Jon to pick them up. Phillip had reassured Jack that they would rent a car. Jack didn’t have the heart to tell them about Social Services. It was Jon’s third time running away from their home. The court would not allow him to live with them while he served time. If the court didn’t place him with Jack or a safe house in Detroit, his son was looking at an extended stay in a detention facility.
He lowered his elbows to his knees and cradled his head. How had Jon’s life turned into this nightmare?
His phone buzzed. Tomio.
Two days ago, Tomio’s medical team had moved him to a convalescent unit in the annex across the parking lot. Until the move, Jack had spent as much time as possible with him.
Tomi’s text read, “How’s Jon?”
Jack texted, “Same.”
“How are you?” The real question was, ‘How crazy are you?’
“Pulling it together.”
Tom quickly texted back, “You’ve got this.”
Jack wanted to write, “Love you,” but instead he wrote, “Quit worrying.”
Tom texted, “Bye.”
Jack stood and quietly stepped out of Jon’s room to call Tomio’s sister.
“Kimi, it’s Jack Tyler.”
“Jack, Tomio called me. I am relieved to hear that Jon is safe. I’m driving in with the kids. They are looking forward to seeing their uncle.”
“Good. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days and was feeling guilty.”
“Take care of your son, Jack.”
“I will. Thanks, Kimi.”
He stepped back into the room. Jon’s eyes were open. “Hey, kiddo,” said Jack.
Jon turned his face toward the window, avoiding Jack’s gaze.
“I’m not going to grill you, although I have a ton of questions. I’m just glad you’re safe now.” Jack pulled the chair a little closer to the head of the bed and sat.
Jon looked at him but didn’t say anything.
“Someone worked you over pretty bad,” said Jack, surveying the multiple colored injuries on Jon’s face.
Jon squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head. He lifted his uninjured hand to the railing and curled his fingers around it.
Jack gently laid his hand over them.
Immediately, Jon uncurled his fingers and pulled his hand out from under his father’s touch. Then he turned his face away again and stared at the curtains.
“That’s okay,” said Jack. “That’s okay.” He stood and lifted the chair to the foot of the bed. For now, he could give his son space. However, he planned to stay and informed the nursing staff that he would be spending the night with his son. Then he settled in the chair and dozed while Jon slept.
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A biting cold wind whipped around the corner of East Jefferson and Mt. Elliot. The boy wrapped his arms more tightly around his ribs. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to ignore cramps that had taken up residence in the muscles of his hips and legs. He stared at the Walgreens building across the street.
People pointedly avoided him as they stepped around his position. He was aware of it, but didn’t have the energy to stare at them. Nor did he have the desire. Dead people didn’t interact with the living, so why should he pay them any mind?
How long had it been? He wasn’t sure how many times night had fallen, how many mornings had come, and how many yesterdays there were.
The pedestrian light changed and people brushed past him to cross the avenue. It took him a moment to remember how to move his feet. Halfway across, the yellow warning started. He was not able to move as fast as it suggested. He was still a car’s length from the curb when the light flashed, “Wait.”
A driver honked.
He looked up. Was the driver looking for a boy?
The driver hit the dash with his hand, and thrust his middle finger into the air. He honked his horn two more times and revved his engine.
The boy put one foot in front of the other. It was the best he could do.
When he reached the sidewalk, the man honked again. His tires squealed as he peeled away.
The boy stumbled onto the curb and lurched toward the Walgreens building. He hesitated at the door. Was this the best choice? He had heard that there was a man here who always wore a cobalt tie on the days he was looking for someone. He paid really well, but he would probably want more than a hand job. Soul sapped by the stress of life on the streets, and a beating he had survived, he would probably do whatever the man asked.
He shouldered the door and kept his head down. Edging toward the left row of shelves, he glanced quickly at the cashier’s counter to see if the person there noticed him. She was staring off into space, seemingly unaware of anyone. As fast as he could manage, he hid behind the first shelf, just out of her sight.
His heart was in his throat. God, this was a stupid idea. He could slip out again and take his chances on the avenue.
“Can I help you?” said a man to his right. He was dressed in a hoodie with a ripped front pocket; his jeans had big holes at the knees and rode low on his hips. His runners were impressive and did not match the rest of his outfit.
“Can you see me?” said the boy.
“Are you high on something?” said the man in the hoodie.
“Do you work here?” said the boy. He was looking for the man in the cobalt tie.
“Sure,” said the man. He was not wearing a nametag.
The boy shook his head and backed away from him. He turned and headed toward the back of the store. When he glanced back toward the man in the hoodie, he was playing with his phone. Perhaps aware that someone was observing, he looked up and caught the boy’s eye.
Shit, shit, shit. This was a stupid idea.
On the shelf in front of him was a display of Nabisco’s Fig Newtons. His stomach suddenly cramped with hunger. Did dead men feel hunger? He hesitated a moment trying to remember why he had come into the store. It must have been for food. He grabbed a package and ripped it open.
The man in the hoodie moved closer. He stood quietly in the aisle perusing shaving supplies. When he looked up, he caught the boy’s eyes. Once again, he smiled.
Mouth full of fig cakes, the boy moved farther into the store. The pharmacy area was empty. Beyond that was a section filled with fishing gear. He stuffed one more fig cake into his mouth and shoved the partially emptied package into his pants. Then he covered it with his shirt and went toward the fishing supplies.
From behind him, someone said, “Excuse me.”
The boy looked up. A thin man in a silver suit with a crooked cobalt tie leaned against the counter of the pharmacy, arms crossed, staring at him.
Oh, yeah. He was looking for a man with a tie.
“Did you pay for that?” The man with the tie spoke quietly.
“Pay for what?” said the boy.
“The Fig Newtons,” said the man. He uncrossed his arms and disappeared for a second. Then he came through a door labeled ‘Employees Only.’ He stepped close. He carefully skimmed his hand over the boy’s torso to the hem of his shirt. Then he pulled it up. “These,” he said. “Have you paid for them?”
“N, n, not yet,” the boy stammered.
“I see.” said the man. “I can help you with that.” As he said it, he lowered the boy’s shirt, letting his fingers gently skim the bruised skin beneath it. “I can help with those, too.”
The boy backed up one step, but the man reached out and wrapped his long, graceful fingers around his wrist. He pulled the boy close enough to whisper, “I pay very well.”
The boy shivered as the man placed a foot in the space between his feet and scooted his knee up his thigh. His cobalt tie tickled his arm where it brushed against it. He leaned into the boy and nipped his ear.
The boy shrank from the touch, but he didn’t step away. He needed food. He needed a warm place to stay. He needed someplace safe where he didn’t have to keep watch for predators.
Behind the man in the cobalt tie, the man in the hoodie stepped into view. “Detroit Police,” he said, flashing a badge that had been hidden under his sweatshirt.
The boy pulled away from the man in the silver suit and tried to run, but he tripped. While he was down, the man in the hoodie cuffed the man in the silver suit. “You two are under arrest for solicitation and prostitution.”
Another man, dressed in uniform, pulled the boy off the floor. He sneered at his face and said, “You like it rough, huh?”
The man in the silver suit swooned.
“Shit,” said the officer in the hoodie. He slapped the suited man’s cheek until he got a reaction.
The uniformed officer patted down the boy and found the Fig Newtons. “Looks like we’re charging you with shoplifting as well,” he said, jerking on the zip ties around the boy’s wrists.
“Hey, careful with that one,” said the officer in the hoodie. “He may be a minor.”
“Well, wouldn’t that be dandy for you,” said the uniformed officer to the boy, but he was gentle as he hauled him out of the store and into the back of his squad car.
Marcus Balmario sat at the counter mulling over the cases he and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson were working. It was something to do while he waited for the two squads bringing in the prostitution and solicitation cases. The first was a younger man, the second, from his description, was none other than Rodney Heathe. Marcus had a gut feeling that no matter what happened in the next nine hours, today was a win if they could slam cell doors on that man.
Benny Brown strode in dressed in his favorite hoodie, the one he wore undercover all the time. It was a miracle the crooks in Detroit didn’t recognize him by now. He had with him a dapper man dressed in a silver suit accented with a cobalt tie.
“Well, well, well,” said Marcus. “Mr. Heathe. Here you are again.”
Benny said, “We may have a child prostitution case on our hands. Smith is worried about bringing the other one in here. He’s wondering if he should just head over to the hospital.”
Marcus stepped up to Heathe and looked him up and down. He smiled. “Book him.” Then he strode out the door to check on the other detainee.
The uniformed officer was leaning against the roof of his cruiser with one arm. With the other hand, he held the back passenger door open, leaning in toward the person in his backseat cage. He looked up and nodded to Marcus when he stepped out of the building. Then he said, “This one was trembling when I cuffed his hands behind him, sir. Now he’s shaking down to his bones and breathing funny. I’m worried.”
Balmario took his place at the open door and looked at the passenger. His face was a battleground. His gut told him he was looking at a child if fifteen – maybe sixteen years old. “What’s your name, son,” he said softly.
The boy lifted his head, but he was too shaky to look directly at him.
“Are you on something?” said Balmario.
The boy shook his head no and lowered his gaze to his lap.
Balmario ducked into the back seat and propped himself on a knee to get low enough to catch his young prisoner’s eyes. “What’s your name?”
The boy hiccoughed, trying to catch his breath.
Balmario backed out of the vehicle and said, “Get a camera and a fingerprint kit. We’ll start booking here and finish at the hospital. His face looks like someone used him as a punching bag.”
The boy shuddered.
“I know, son. We’re going to take a couple of pictures and get your prints. Then we’ll go to the hospital, probably take more pictures when we clean you up. I want to have a doctor look at those contusions on your face.”
The next breath that the boy took was a sob. Marcus patted his knee.
The boy flinched.
Balmario uttered quietly, “Damn.” Then he backed off and reassured the boy. “We’ll be quick about it.”
Twenty minutes later, Balmario told his officer, “I’ll drive him. You get on those fingerprints. I want to know if this one is in the system as soon as possible.” He was getting a hunch about this boy. The hair color and height matched the description, but he didn’t want to sound the alarm until he knew if he was right, and the boy had no ID and wasn’t speaking to him.
In the hospital, Marcus Balmario stayed with him as witness for the exams but also for comfort. The boy stared into an abyss, shivering while a photographer recorded his injuries. Balmario had never seen such deep contusions. How was this kid alive? He bagged the boy’s clothes. Then he tied his hospital gown so he was fully covered, and helped him sit on the exam table.
A male nurse from Special Services stepped into the room. “I am here for the forensics exam.”
The boy looked at Balmario with big eyes, eyes that said, “I’ve been through enough already. Can’t you stop this?” His shivering intensified.
Balmario shook his head. “It’s protocol. I will be just outside the door.
When done, the Special Services nurse joined Balmario in the hall. He said, “I see no indication that he has been raped. I took samples anyway. He wouldn’t tell me who beat him or why. He didn’t say anything at all. He just stared at me with those big, sad eyes. I’ll set up Protective Services. Do we know who he is?”
“I’m waiting on fingerprints.”
“Okay. Well, that one cannot go back to his family until we clear them.”
“You’ve seen the FBI BOLO about Inspector Tyler’s son?”
“The runaway? You think that’s who this is?”
Balmario put his hands up. “I hope to God not, but word cannot get out about any of it. We have this kid’s solicitor in booking right now. Jackson Tyler cannot get wind of this until I can confirm my hunch.”
“Keep me in the loop.” He handed Balmario his card.
“I will.” Balmario handed the nurse his.
Balmario opened the door for a second nurse who was entering to start IV’s. He asked her, “Are you testing for drugs?”
She said, “Yes. We are following all the protocols. We’ll be taking him to get X-rays as soon as we have him set up. Has his family been notified? We’ll need signatures.”
“Family has not been determined yet. I’d like to stay with him if I may. Social Services will sign if necessary.”
“Of course.” She held the door with her back, letting him enter first.
While the boy was getting X-rays, Balmario’s phone buzzed. “Benny, what do ya’ got?”
“It’s what you got, man. Jonathan Tyler.”
“Shit,” said Marcus. “Has Tyler been notified?”
“Chief’s on her way to pick him up. No way we’re letting him in here with Heathe.”
“If it’s any consolation, Jon wasn’t raped.”
“Well, that’s one bit of good news then. I’ll pass the word.”
Marcus rubbed his forehead. “ETA on Tyler?”
“Twenty, at most, I’d say. Chief Thompson flew out of here.”
“Got it. I’ll keep an eye.”
“Good. See ya,” said Benny.
“Yeah,” said Balmario. He walked up to Registration and flashed his badge to move forward to the counter. “Anyway I can get word to the folks inside with the boy I brought in?”
“Tell them his name is Jon Tyler, and his father is on his way.”
“Got it.” She finished scrawling the information.
“How long will he be in there?”
“I don’t know.”
“I am going to go to the main reception area to wait for his father. Please have them call me as soon as he is done in there.” He handed over his card.
Balmario hoped to meet Jack at the door and fill him in before he saw his brutalized son. He sure as hell would want some warning if the kid was his.
(Author’s Note: Reading about life on the street is not for the faint or heart. You have been duly warned.)
Jackson Tyler often woke disoriented and unsure of reality. It’s just the way his life was. Sometimes his mind focused on reality, sometimes it focused elsewhere. Right now, it was elsewhere. He suspected his host was his son, Jonathan; that this weird dreamscape superimposing the breakfast in front of him was Jon’s actual landscape: dark alleys, hulking dumpsters, street people, and last night a sexual encounter he prayed was his own fantasy about his partner overlaid onto the worry about his son. His right hand still tingled as if he had done the deed himself.
With that hand, he dipped a piece of toast in his second cup of coffee. His phone buzzed in the distance. He threw the toast onto the table and ran to get it from the bedside table where he’d left it. He missed the call, but a text buzzed through. It was from Maureen.
Officers pursued teen. Pulled prints. Matched Jon. Presumed alive & hiding in the city. Alive, Jack.
He punched in her number.
She answered, “Thompson.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“We have people on the street actively looking. Jack, we’ll find him. Keep your phone with you.”
“Thank you,” he said, again.
She clicked off.
Jon grabbed food from a breakfast bar on the Riverwalk. He had money left for a thrift shop purchase. He needed a jacket. He stayed in shadows when he could, dipped into alcoves to watch traffic, and tried to stay alert. Running into a Morelli was a death sentence. Relief washed over him when he stepped through the door of the thrift shop with its jumbled shelves and friendly looking people. He found a jacket right away that fit him. He also bought a knit hat that could fold down over his ears at night. An older woman found a fifty-cent sale on a pair of mittens for him that coincidently matched the hat.
After his purchases, he still had enough money for snacks, but he needed more for a good meal. He couldn’t take a chance at any of the soup kitchens, because his picture was plastered on the walls.
However, what he needed to do to earn money didn’t seem like a daylight activity. So, he wandered for the rest of the day, sticking to shadows and studying people. Lincoln came often to his mind. He spoke as if offering sexual favors was an ideal way to make money. Jon wished he were here so he could learn more from him. His death was a heavy weight to bear. Jon had no illusions about how he died. It wasn’t from a heart attack. The simple fact was that he died from the punishment for skimming money. Jon had no desire to go the same way, face down on the filthy cement with his hole reamed by a dozen brutal men. Lincoln’s problem was that he worked for a pimp. Jon planned to be his own man. All he had to do now was to figure out where sex workers plied their trade when the sun set.
By the time the sun went down, the only people Jon passed were a couple of panhandlers. Where did people congregate to solicit sex? There had to be a district somewhere that folks felt safe enough to advertise their talents.
His wanderings took him back to the soup kitchen where he’d first discovered that the FBI had plastered posters with his face all over the walls inside and out. By chance, he saw the group of three colorfully dressed people that had stood behind him in line yesterday. They were going in to the building, presumably for dinner. He waited outside for them to leave the kitchen, then, quietly followed them.
After traversing one block, the tallest, a young man dressed in flowing silk tie-dye turned and said to him, “Are you following us Young Warrior?”
The young man laughed. “We have ourselves a shadow,” he said to his fellow walkers.
The other two turned as one and smiled at him. A short, stocky boy with a wolfish grin said, “I remember you. You stood in front of us in line yesterday.”
Jon took a step toward them and stopped.
“So, come on,” said the first young man. “You might as well hang for now. It’s pretty clear you don’t have a damn clue what you are about.” He introduced himself as Sparkle.
The one that grinned was aptly named Smiley, and the other was Girlie, though Jon couldn’t decide whether Girlie was male or female. Jon introduced himself as Sawyer, because by now he was used to responding to it.
Jon told them about his experience the night before and the twenty dollars he had made.
“Damn, girl,” said Girlie, which may have been why he or she was so named. “That’s a lot. Most I ever made was twelve, and that was because the guy gave me a twenty percent tip.”
Jon asked, “Do you work for yourselves or for someone?”
“No one works for themselves, gorgeous,” said Smiley.
Jon told them Lincoln’s story and why he wanted to. Sparkle sniveled and tears ran down his face. “Poor Lincoln. We all hoped he’d be okay when Charlie snapped him up. But then, Alles Santorini came along, and we worried. Rightly so, I guess,” he said with a sob.
“I don’t know if any of them are alive. Rat Snatcher told me to run, and I did. I heard gunshots, but I…I just don’t know.”
“Rat Snatcher watched out for you,” crooned Smiley. He reached out and fingered a lock of hair that was peeking from under Jon’s knit cap. He smoothed it behind Jon’s ear. “Well, you need to learn the trade, then,” he said. “You hang with us, tonight.”
“Are you sure?” said Jon.
“Absolutely,” they chorused.
“A friend of Lincoln’s is a friend of ours,” said Sparkle.
The three friends had a car. They drove north to the University and then turned east, explaining that Downtown was too heavily policed to ply the trade there anymore. They had better luck here, where the lines between city and suburbia were fuzzy. After a couple of hours, Jon wondered where he got the idea that he could make a sizable amount of money doing this? As soon as he thought it, he earned ten dollars for a quick ‘handy.’ Ten dollars wasn’t bad for a few minutes of effort.
Sparkle threw him at two women who wanted to finger each other while watching him jerk off. He earned ten dollars from each of them and had the thrill of his life. He smiled at his money and stuffed it into his wallet. He now had thirty dollars, which seemed like a lot considering that physical effort was minimal and pleasurable.
The trio then decided to move on, and because Jon was having luck with that corner, they wished him luck and left to pursue their business elsewhere. His business as a self-employed man slowed down. It was possible that a corner was good for only a couple of tricks. Maybe this was part of the lesson he had to learn. The others had each worked a couple of johns and then moved on. All totaled, that was quite a lot of business for that one corner. Besides, in his opinion, three was already a crowd. They had graciously added him as a fourth. He didn’t blame them for leaving.
He was about to give up. Thirty dollars would get him through tomorrow. As he stepped away from the corner, a silver CT-6 rolled up and parked in front of him. Jon was a half inch shy of six feet tall, but the man who got out of the black sedan was taller by at least two inches. Wearing a plaid button down and jeans, he grabbed Jon’s upper arm with a grip of iron.
“Ow,” said Jon.
“Shut up, bitch,” said the man. He threw Jon into the back seat of the sedan.
Jon tried the door. Childproof locks prevented him from opening it.
The man sat behind the wheel and slammed the front door. As he engaged the engine, Jon jerked the back door again. The man glared at him in the mirror as he gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb.
Jon trembled in the back seat with eyes wide open, watching the city roll past. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, in a voice that was not as deep or mature as he would have liked.
“You’ll see when we get there,” said the man.
The tone in the man’s voice set off louder warning bells. “What will we be doing?”
“You’ll see soon enough.”
Terror crawled into Jon’s throat. His voice cracked when he screamed, “Let me out. I don’t want to work for you.”
“You ain’t got a choice, bitch.”
Jon jerked the handle on the back door, even though he knew the safety lock was engaged. He tried opening the window, but it was inoperable as well.
Just when his panic was big enough for him to jump into the front seat and take his chances with the driver, the man pulled into a lot in front of a small auto body shop.
Jon prepared to run as soon as the door opened.
The man got out of his seat and slammed the front door in one fluid motion. When he opened the back door, he must have been ready for Jon’s reaction, because as Jon flew out the door, the man grabbed and jerked his left arm. A shout of pain ripped from his throat and then he fell hard onto his butt in front of the man’s boots. The man hauled Jon to his feet and marched him into the garage, which surprisingly didn’t have any cars in it even though it was lit with flood lights across the ceiling.
A man who was taller than the one that had a vice grip on his arm, stepped out of the office. He seemed familiar, and Jon’s memory flashed on the confrontation he’d witnessed between Marchesi and the Morelli brothers. He couldn’t help gasping.
“Who’s the tough guy, now?” sneered the taller man. “You think you can work one of my corners for free?”
“What?” Jon gulped. “What are you talking about?”
The man swung his hand, using the force of his entire arm to backhand Jon’s face.
Jon flew, landing flat against the filthy garage floor.
“I don’t take kindly to fresh meat comin’ in here thinkin’ they can take over my territory. You owe me.”
“What are you saying?” Jon didn’t want to snivel, but that’s how the question flowed past his lips. In his mind, Alles was shaking his head and saying, “Topino. What did you get yourself into?”
Alles was dead. This man and his brother killed him. They probably killed Charlie and Evan, too. For all Jon knew, Rat Snatcher and Hawg were dead as well, and now he was going to join them. They’d find his body in the river, and his father would be told. He would probably have to identify him. Would Jack be sad?
“Check him for money,” the man said to the driver.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Morelli,” said the man in the plaid shirt.
Morelli. The man in plaid confirmed his worst fear. Jon lay on the cement, unresponsive as the man in plaid emptied his pockets. He found Jon’s wallet and threw it at Morelli.
Morelli took the money. Then he said, “What have we here?” He had found Jon’s ID. “Says here, you go to school in Stockton, California.” He kicked Jon’s hip viciously. The toe of his boot was sharp, and Jon barely heard him say, “You ain’t in Stockton no more,” because the sudden pain took all his attention.
“Auntie Em, Auntie Em,” chided the man in the plaid shirt.
“Teach him a lesson, then throw him in the garbage. A truck will pick up the body for us in the morning.”
So, he was dead. Would his parents, all three of them, miss him when he was gone? Jon looked out the door, calculating his chance to make one last, mad dash for it. A short, stocky kid leaned against the sill. When he noticed Jon staring at him, he grinned. His big, toothy smile gleamed in the glare of the flood lights. Smiley.
The driver grabbed Jon’s aching arm and dragged him toward a door at the back of the garage. Jon scrabbled to get his feet under him, but the man’s strides were swift and long. His spine scraped against the cement, and a flare of burning pain made him woozy. The best he could do was a one-legged kick against the floor, which lifted his body long enough for cool air to sooth his raw skin each time he managed it. The relief from the burn helped him focus.
Outside the man dropped him.
Jon pushed himself up against the wall. He faced the man and crouched into first position, ready for whatever the man threw at him. He didn’t expect the strike from above as the man jumped up and came down double fisted on his left shoulder. Jon crumpled to the ground.
The man hauled him up and slammed him against the wall. Then the punches kept striking, one after the other until Jon could no longer catch his breath without sniffing blood into his sinuses. The man didn’t stop. He pounded Jon’s ribs and stomach until he couldn’t catch his breath. When Jon fell to the ground, the man savagely kicked him repeatedly.
Barely conscious, Jon was aware of flopping over the man’s shoulder. He could see sidewalk flow past as one foot and then the other heeled into view. The surface of his boot was weirdly reflective, and one drop of blood splattered onto it as the foot passed beneath Jon’s face. Then his vision blacked out.
He was aware of falling, of hitting cardboard, empty cans, and something wet and squishy. Rubber slammed against metal. There was sudden, muffled quiet. He was thankful when he heard the man walk away.
Jon lay in the dark on a bed of trash, wondering if consciousness continued after death. He didn’t believe so before now, but he didn’t see how he could have survived that beating. Time passed. Jon slept and woke, and then slept again.
Beep, beep, beep. The vibrations of a large garbage truck roused him. Beep, beep, beep. The signal was infinitesimally louder with each beep. He needed to sit up. More than that, he needed to climb out of this dark cave.
He felt more than heard the claws bump against the dumpster. It was enough to galvanize his resolve. If he was going to live, he had to leave, now. He pushed on the lid and grabbed the edge of the dumpster. With sudden strength, he pulled and slid through the opening between lid and lip. He fell onto dirt as the great truck lifted the big, metal canister over a gaping maw in its side and shook it.
He limped away from the truck and the dumpster, but not fast enough to avoid the earthquake under his feet when the truck dropped the heavy can back onto the ground. Not fast enough to avoid the small pebbles thrown at him by the truck operator as he hollered, “Get the hell outta here, you filthy vagrant.”
He stopped on the corner, clutching his ribs and peering at the city around him. He had no idea where he was. There was a vacant lot across the street, though, with a small scraggly tree. He stumbled across the pavement, over the sidewalk, and into the empty lot. He sank to the ground. It was all he was capable of for now.
(Author’s Note: Warning, warning. Strong sexual content. Do not read if that offends you. You can contact me with a note at the bottom of this blog to get a synopsis, if you want to avoid graphic content.)
Jack gazed out the window in Emilia Rodriguez’s apartment. She was another casualty of this weird, convoluted convergence of cases. Emilia, stressed to near hysteria on the night of the miscarriage and involved with factions addicted to vengeance, undoubtedly suspected that the birth would be fatal. Had she guessed that it would kill the mother also? Had she suspected her own demise? Is that why she chased Sawyer out the window with the evidence? Was she convinced that the people knocking might kill him as well? He couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to experience someone else’s death as if it was his own.
He shook the dream from his mind. He didn’t question the Morellis’ involvement. There was just no proof. Even if the DNA from hair follicles tied mother to baby, there was no proof that she was a Morelli. There was only his story, and that was nothing substantial. There was no case. As usual. What the hell good was he?
CSI had found multiple fingerprints on the window. There was enough detail for a clear comparison. He had called his ex-wife for copies of his son’s prints, made with a kit she ordered from the National Child ID program that she had stuck in his keepsake book. She had sent them within minutes. It was just a matter of time now as AIFIS compared the prints to a national database, and the shop techs compared them to the ones Jonathan’s mother had sent.
CSI technicians were packing up their equipment. There was nothing more they could do in Emilia’s flat.
The young tech he was working with said, “Sir, would you like to talk about it?”
He turned his attention from the window and directed at her. What could he say that would not sound completely insane?
Her phone buzzed. She listened a moment, nodding and mumbling affirmative. Then, she hung up. Her jaw was clenched, her fingers fisted and then relaxed.
He said, “No match?”
“Not on AIFIS, sir. But, the prints your wife sent….”
Jack’s knees folded, and he sat hard onto the bed. It bounced a couple of times.
She said, “Sir?”
He stared at the floor, but in reality, he saw nothing. The strings in his heart, the strong cords that bound him to the people he loved, tangled and twisted into a hard knot that was difficult to breathe around. “Jonathan, Jonathan. What the hell have you done?”
Jonathan wandered most of the day, staying close to buildings to take advantage of shadows. As the sun fell, he stopped across the street from Wahlburgers. Two people were panhandling next to it. He sat in the shadow and watched as they begged for money. One person stopped to throw a couple of bills at the first person. The second he ignored, just like the rest of the people who scuttled past, avoiding the predicament as best they could. What a futile way to make money.
Two people walked past Jonathan on his side of the street. The second threw a fiver at his feet.
“Uh, sir? You dropped this?” he said.
“No, son, I didn’t. Go buy yourself a sandwich.” Then he walked on.
“Well,” said Jon, shocked. “Thank you,” he yelled after the man. In the next three minutes, two more people threw dollar bills at him. Each time it surprised him and each time he managed to croak out, “Thank you.”
After two more people walked past, an elderly woman with a big purse stopped in front of him. He prepared himself for a chastising.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He automatically said, “Sawyer.”
“As in Tom? By Samuel Clemens?” she said.
“Then, I am sure that is not your real name, is it?”
He looked at her and smiled weakly.
She opened her big purse and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “There is a thrift shop two blocks from here.” She pointed behind her. “I just dropped off some old jackets. Buy yourself a coat, young man.” She walked on.
Jon stood and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He carefully tucked the bills next to the three dollars he had left. He did need a coat. His was in the back of Rat’s van. Right now, though, he needed food. Wahlburgers looked like a safe place to eat, and it wasn’t crowded.
As he neared the restaurant, a man ran up behind him and pushed him into the wall. As the man twirled around him, Jon caught a glimpse of his wallet in the man’s hand. “Hey. Hey, that’s mine,” he shouted.
The man took off running. Jon ran after him.
The man dashed down a side street. As he passed a small, garbage bin, he threw Jon’s wallet into the air behind him. It landed on the lip of the bin and then fell into it. The man turned left at the end of the alley and was gone.
Jon peered over the rim. Thankfully, the bin was empty except for a sheaf of cardboard. His wallet lay open next to it. Jon leaned into the bin and retrieved it. His money and the letter from his father were gone. His ID was still in place.
There was no point staying here. He slumped against the wall and covered his face in his hands. He really wanted to eat, but without money….
This adventure had been his choice. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked around. He dusted off his pants and wandered to the back of the restaurant. The establishment had garbage bins locked behind a chain link fence. Who locked up garbage?
He decided to sit in the shadow where he sat before, across the street. Maybe the evening crowd would throw money at him.
No one stopped. He sighed. It was time to hunt for a food kitchen.
He headed toward the thrift shop, which seemed a likely place to connect with others needing a helping hand. He was right. Next to the thrift shop was a building marked St. John’s House of Rest. The doors weren’t open, but there was a small line of people against the wall waiting. He stood at the end of it. Three colorfully dressed people got into line behind him. They jostled each other and laughed. His ears perked up when he heard one of them say, “He paid fifty dollars just to get a stiffy. He didn’t want to take it all the way.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” said another one.
The people behind him reminded him of Lincoln. Eager to work the MMA meet, he promised it was worth it for the money. When he and Rat tended Lincoln’s body, Rat had confirmed there was a lot of money to be made working the ‘corners.’ At the meet, he had handed Jon a hundred dollar bill which Jon used to impress Marchesi. Jon’s story was that he hooked up with the man whose suit he ruined with spilled drinks. When he gave Marchesi the money, he claimed, “Blowjob.” Neither Charlie, Hawg, the cook, nor Rat batted an eye. A hundred dollars for a blowjob was unimaginable. Was it something he could do? He just didn’t roll that way. However, he couldn’t imagine doing a woman either.
What he could imagine was a hand job. As a freshman at Stagg High School, he had witnessed a couple of the football jocks at school giving each other a hand job. He was shocked, not by the act itself, but because they were touching each other. He and Rollo, his best friend back home, had whacked off together a couple of times, but sleeping bags covered them, and they didn’t touch each other, so he knew what to do. How much money he could get for that was the question.
His ears perked up, but the conversation of the people behind him had moved on. One of their friends had signed up for business classes at Wayne County Community College. He snorted. He guessed business classes would be helpful in the ‘profession.’
As he sat down at a table to eat the warm meal handed him, he looked at the art on the wall. Most of it was poster work, inviting folks to this or that prayer meeting. One caught his eye. It was a picture of his face on an FBI flyer.
He crouched over his food and shoveled it in. It took him less than two minutes, by his reckoning, to wolf it down. When he returned his tray, he averted his eyes. He couldn’t fly out of there fast enough. To his horror, he noticed that there were flyers posted outside as well. Shit, shit, shit. Why didn’t he notice that before he walked inside?
He ducked into an alley and started walking. Discovering that he was close to the alley near the fountain, he hastened his speed, hoping that his place by the dumpster was free.
Before he got there, a car pulled up alongside him. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the passenger side window rolled down. Dressed in a button down shirt opened at the collar, the driver, a grey haired man who was leaning across the passenger seat, said, “Hey, baby. Are you working tonight?”
Jon looked at him, and pointed to himself.
“Got twenty dollars for a quick hand job,” said the man.
Of course the universe would gift him. He had practically asked for it. “Sh-sh-sure,” said Jon.
The man leaned across the passenger seat and unlocked the door.
Was he going to do this? Twenty dollars could pay for a coat and another meal tomorrow. He jerked open the door and climbed in.
The man drove another block until he found a parking place protected from streetlights. He set his keys on the dash, pushed his seat back so he could stretch out, and slid open his zipper. “Pull it out,” he said to Jon.
Jon was sure his eyes betrayed his horror, but the man had leaned back and wasn’t watching him. Jon slipped his fingers into the pocket of the man’s whitey tighties and curled them around his floppy organ. He felt a flash of fear. The man was old. What if he broke it?
“Well, what are you waiting for?” said the man. “I’m paying you to get the damn thing going.”
Jon pulled the penis out and wrapped his fingers around it. Then he started pumping it as if it was his own. Nothing happened.
“Come on, kid. Get going. You gotta squeeze the old thing to wake it up.”
Oh god. Jon squeezed. It jerked to life. As the organ stiffened, Jon was shocked at how the slack skin filled out as he ran his hand up and down the shaft. When the skin was taught against firm muscle beneath it, it felt like silk slipping through his fingers.
He almost stopped at the shock of it. When he stroked himself, he never paid attention to the sensations in his hand. He was too intent on the rising heat of the volcano within.
The old guy started grunting, “Come on, come on, come on.” He bucked his hips, and his spunk drooled over Jon’s hand. Jon averted his face. If he couldn’t see it, he could pretend it was something other than another man’s jizz.
The man fell back into his seat, slack and silent.
Jon stared at his sticky hand. He tried wiping it off on the floor mat at his feet, but that didn’t get rid of it.
The man snorted awake, gave Jon a stiff, new twenty and a pat on his cheek. Then he stuffed his gear back into his pants, zipped himself in, and told Jon, “Get the hell out.”
Jon stumbled over the curb and backed away from the vehicle, clutching the twenty in his clean hand. His soiled hand, like a foreign appendage he didn’t recognize, was balled up, held at an odd angle away from his body so it wouldn’t accidentally touch him anywhere.
The man gunned his car as he speeded away, never once looking back at him.
Jon shoved the twenty-dollar bill into the front pocket of his jeans, jamming it into the bottom as best he could. All he could think about was washing his hand. However, he wasn’t dying, he wasn’t getting sick. He wasn’t sorry. He had money. He scurried to the drinking fountain to wash his hand.
Holding the spigot in his clean hand, he let cool water rush over his tainted hand. He stopped after humming all of “Happy Birthday” twice and scrubbed his hands together. Then he wiped them on his pants, and for good measure, held open the spigot while he rinsed off the memory of pleasuring a man other than himself for the first time in his life.
He didn’t see the policemen until it was almost too late. He looked up briefly and saw the officer in the passenger seat step out of the marked vehicle. The officer looked at him squarely in the eye. Jon backed up two steps, staring back, and then turned and ran.
“Hey, stop,” yelled the officer. Jon heard a car door slam behind him and knew the officer’s partner had joined in the chase. Jon didn’t stop running for blocks.
When he stopped to catch his breath, he did not see or hear his pursuers. He couldn’t go back to his alley. Lost and tired, he wandered. He wandered until he was standing on the corner where it all started, across from Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The building was dark. The business sign was off. Yellow police tape criss-crossed the door and the windows. He wandered to the alley behind the building. Tape cordoned off both ends. He slipped under it.
Huddled in the corner between the staircase and the back wall, and shivered to sleep.
I love listening to and singing along with all kinds of music from many different countries. Since retiring, I also watch a lot of television/movie programming from many different countries because I love story.