Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hundreds Lost

A wildfire prowls just three miles from our home, hungry and searching. For the past five days the smell of smoke has been as constant as the fear in the collective belly of Colorado Springs. Channel 11 has been on the fire 24/7 since it began, providing much needed news and information, and telling me some things I never wanted to hear.

This morning we were listening on the car radio to the morning press conference from the base of operations just over the hill from our home. The worst news was spoken first and tears welled in my already burning eyes. The number of homes lost to Tuesday night’s blitzkrieg from a wind maddened blaze was in the hundreds. We have been shown some aerial views of evacuated neighborhoods with some houses standing, some nothing more than a mound of ashes, but we had no idea the loss was so great.

At a distance, deep in the mountains, threatening some other community, I worry over fires but can stay detached, can live my life, can do my work. Now it is at my doorstep, I taste the acrid air, see the grey ash of former trees in my yard, and I have seen the flames leap and taunt. Like some voracious wolf pack stalking unsuspecting sheep, the fire suddenly raced to the outer limits of homes and culled what it needed, what it longed for before being driven back into the hills by firefighters.

All day since hearing the damage estimate, I can’t help the images that creep about in my head. I see a home alone in the dark, not only without power, but powerless against a monstrous predator. So much is the beast’s advantage that it needs no stealth to takes its victim. Brutally gaining entry by primal raw power. In moves about the house, consuming all in its path melting what it can’t burn, feeding its endless hunger on belongings and memories.

I can’t keep these thoughts from my head. Even though we ourselves have not been touched, friends of ours have been evacuated, some may even have had their homes destroyed. We feel the violation of our town by wanton fire. Most of us can only weep out of fear and out of our own impotence at being unable to do anything.

Helpless I watch as the Air Force strafes the frontiers of the flames with slurry to impede its spread. Helpless I pace as in the dark of night, brave firemen in command of their fear make a stand along Highway 24, in our neighborhoods, in the wilds of the national forest. They only give ground grudgingly, and attack when able. Helpless I listen to the litany spewing from talking heads, fire officials, and politicians of the preparations, plans, victories, and defeats.

A close friend, Susan, and her dog Smokey were forced to evacuate and she came to stay with us. After two nights with us, she has moved to her sister’s place up in south Denver for the long wait until she can return to her home which is still standing for now. Another friend, a different Susan, opened her home to mutual friends who live among the foothills close to the mountains. To our knowledge they are still with Susan, and to their best guess they have lost their house.
We can be thankful to God that no lives have yet been lost. We can see silver linings in how the community has come forward in active support of the firefighters and the displaced. We talk to our children, friends, and family daily about what is happening, giving and receiving love in the contact, but until the fire is contained, until the only smoke left are the snaking tendrils of its dying breath rising from the scorched earth, we are still threatened and are still afraid. When this fire is gone, the ground will not be the only thing scarred, and as with many insults the wounds will take much longer to heal than the time they took to inflict.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Moving Memories

When I close my eyes I smell the scent of dryness and salty sweat, lately this scent comes to me readily and smells like the Atlantic with a stale undercurrent. It is not unpleasant, just familiar. This smell that has locked my senses these past few weeks comes from the efforts of moving from where we were to where we are.

Moving is an emotional and physical task whether you are going to another state, across town, or simply out the front door without a safety net. We move to take new jobs, to follow our children, to find more favorable climes, to reduce expenses, to improve status, and at times because we have no choice. The act of packing and unpacking our things stirs the memories and affects the heart. It is an act that forces us to relive times both good and bad, and forces us to consolidate our memories, putting some in storage, sending others off to Goodwill.

There is a story attached to most things I lift, load, and transport. Even more so since my wife is seventh generation Memphian. This means that much of our furniture can be traced back at least three of those generations. I never tire of touching a table and hearing that it belonged to her Great Grandmother, or looking at a black and white photograph of some starched relative long since settled back into the haze of time. Even though I am a first generation Southerner (second if you follow my momma’s tracks), the Southerner in me instinctively imprints my thoughts, hopes, dreams, and history on the objects I have accumulated.

I never knew how much I missed my books until I pulled them out of the attic (box after overloaded box). I bent over them, inhaled the aroma of dust, paper, and cloth and sighed audibly. I reached out to stroke dust jackets and covers, their familiar textures alive beneath the graze of my finger tips. I saw books that belonged to my Father. I was particularly drawn to a history of the Panama Canal, and found myself a child/young man (memories are foggy shifting things and I cannot place my age) listening to my father tell me of the courage of the men who connected two oceans. I found the journals of my paternal Grandfather, they are in Arabic, he was from Bethlehem. He is a man I never knew, he having died some time before I was born and I believe someplace far away. I flipped pages as I would with any book and catch myself. It is in Arabic, he wrote these (from my anglo-perspective) in reverse. Reverently, I flipped the now fragile volume in my hands and turn through pages “properly” – back to front, scanning right to left. Part of me wants to get these mysterious epistles of my father’s father translated. Part of me thinks that they are too personal to leave to a third party and I need to learn Arabic and translate them myself. Part of me is simply content with having a sense of connectedness to a man I have only visited in the tales my father told me.

I find in the basement my catchers mitt. The leather smells of baseball, and summer. It is well broken in, my hand flexes it with ease. I slip into a typical kid’s reverie, of being a big league player crouching behind a plate, smelling the groomed dirt, the chalk marking the boundaries of play, and grass that could only have come from heaven. I purchased this glove just a decade and half ago. I got it because our son pitched in high school and wanted to play in college more than anything (which he would do). I recall buying a home plate and a pitching rubber for home. I built a mound (10 ½ inches above home plate – no more, no less), and placed home plate exactly sixty feet six inches from the rubber (a sacred distance). We wouldn’t just play catch, I was the target where he first honed his skills. He threw much harder than I ever did or will, and I quickly had to invest in full catchers garb for my own protection, and still I came away with some bruises. The last time I remember a game of catch with him was a time he came home from college. He asked me to go to the park with him and toss the ball around. With no small swelling of pride, I grabbed my regular mitt, and drove with him to a nearby softball field. It was approaching dusk, and on his first throw to me, I lost the ball in the half light and caught it with my eye. We packed it up while laughing and have never really played catch sense.

In a load of clothing I brought downstairs, there was a translucent plastic garment bag in which a light blue dress was just visible. My wife’s wedding gown was inside. In that instant, the instant of seeing that lovely dress, I was transported sixteen years in time to our wedding. There I stood at the alter, looking up the aisle, and having my breath stolen at the sight of her. She was and is the most beautiful woman in the world. Her (now our) two daughters were the bridesmaids looking lovely in their own right. Her (now our) son gave her away as our gathered friends looked on. After an eternity and no time at all, she was in my arms before friends and family, we were married and kissing in the softly lit church in a world that belonged to just her and I. Afterwards, we stood outside the lovely and intimate Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade with a rainbow at our backs, greeting each of our friends with hugs and smiles. Sadly as I write this, Holy Rosary is being threatened by the raging Waldo Canyon fire – I pray she makes it.

It is two weeks since the move across town; we are still packing up the old house and setting up the new house. My fingers are stained with and smell of newsprint from unwrapping dishes and glasses. My muscles ache making me wish I was a younger, stronger man, but the past is set in concrete, and that young man is unreachable. However, the memories of him and his experiences can still bring a smile, still move me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reflections I Shut My Eyes To

There was a poem prompt I found as a member of WritersDigest.com. Poetry fascinates, the way men like Robert Frost and James Dickey can use words that make one really think, feel, cry, laugh. I have written poems with rarity to my wife, and I have written them only a little bit more frequently while journalling. This is my first public offering, to which I only ask (as I do with all my efforts) honesty in response.

Reflections I Shut My Eyes To

The border between wake and sleep
Continues to dull and fade with each cycle
As words written in sand kissed by the inching surf.
Thoughts in grey roll on steel rimmed wheels
Relentlessly on deeply rutted pathways,
Fed by my stress-weakened psyche.

Every night I walk the dream of the night before
Should sleep take me wine-numbed in the dark hours.
It is not terror but self-doubt that claims
My unconscious wanderings.
Dreams repeated only in context but never content.

Impotent self railing against my reflection.
Impotent self naked and exposed.
Impotent self moving in quicksand as the world passes.
Impotent self constantly pissing and never getting relief.
Impotent self unable to consummate much less to fuck.
Impotent self cowering in subconscious shadows as morning shakes my shoulder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Suffer the Little Children

I was planning on writing something completely different today until I saw the online headlines of the Sandusky trial. It is the horrific case of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual assault of young men under his care over at least a fifteen year period. I will not go into the details, the gore is splattered all over print, television, and internet to whatever graphic detail we may wish to feast upon like ghouls bent over a rotting corpse.

My stomach turns as I write and I want to give into tremors of disgust. I was sickened and appalled when these allegations first came to light, but I blocked out these outrages while the case was awaiting trial. I was able to go about my normal days, with their normal aches and pains, with the things I considered to be difficult. I retreated into my own problems because there was suffering going on that had nothing to do with me.

I WAS WRONG. There is no suffering that a child goes through that does not concern all adults. Too readily we turn our heads at child abuse/child assault. The Sandusky case is a typical example in that suspicions were raised and sent up the chain of command like a hot potato no one wished to touch, only to disperse as so much insubstantial smoke from a stack when it reached the top.

What is the mindset? Is it too much trouble to get one’s hands dirty over? Is the sanctity of the institution discovering the perversion (be it Penn State or the Catholic Church) more important than that of a victimized child? Or is it simply a case of “Not my problem”?

When allegations are made, the white hot interrogation light often first blinds the innocent eyes of the child. “These are serious charges, are you sure? This is a person’s life we are talking about?” As if misplaced shame isn’t burden enough, at these times the child is made to feel more offensive than the offender. The initial investigation into the perpetrator will often find, “He is too kind to have ever done that”, “He’s a good man, you must be mistaken”, “Look at all he has done”. Why is it a surprise that evil and pathological predators are proficient in the art of camouflage so to appear as people of authority and trust? Not all animals have sloped brows, dark stares, and slavering mouths.

The boogieman walks among us in our clothes, feigning our customs, pretending to eat what we eat, and to think what we think. When an enemy looks different than we look, and lives differently than we live, it is easy for us to defend ourselves. We don’t know what to do when the enemy could be smiling to us from across the table.

All too often these predators come to light only after multiple premeditated assaults on multiple children, leaving a blood red scar that swells hotly across generations. Each time a priest, or coach, or teacher is found guilty of this perversion we ask how could this have happen. We ask, we shrug, and we block it out and go about our lives until it happens again.

The Sandusky tragedy should not end when the trial ends, we must continue to ask why, and this time we must look for answers. Sandusky is a dark spirit that went so far as to start a foundation that would give him easy access to his prey to feed his grim unspeakable appetites. I am in favor of whatever judgment which will rush Sandusky into the judgment of a higher power. However, we cannot forget those that aided him by turning away. We cannot forget about men cowed into submission because they did not want to dirty their hands in the matter, wanted to pass the buck, and did not want to sully a revered institution. How many boys would have been spared had Sandusky been held accountable the first time he was caught “wrestling” in the shower with a young boy? We cannot just wait for things to improve, we need to push the system, scream to it, demand of it that children be protected, that the pedophiles that pursue them be more aggressively prosecuted, and that their support system, the people who see and pretend not to see share in the blame and punishment.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Love Letter

Last night we received some news that left our hearts in pieces, our souls ragged and frayed. Our dear friend Marc called us and told us that Dennis (his partner and love who has inoperable lung cancer) was showing no improvement from chemo and that his tumor was impinging on both his aorta and bronchial passage. The doctors are already starting radiation, but give him a 10% chance of surviving.

Ten percent, a slight chance but a chance, a small hope but reason to hope, but we are human and cannot help but despair as well. Marc and Den have been in our lives for twenty years. Over that time, friendship grew to realms of closeness and intimacy that are impossible to describe. When they laughed we laughed, when they smiled we smiled, we shared each others highs and lows and middle ground.

This is not a love letter to Dennis or to Marc, it is to them both. They are my definition of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. In and of their individual selves, they are role models, men of giving natures and social conscience, but together the strength of one complements the other’s weakness, they complete each other. Their love and belief in each other is not only shared between them, but with everyone around them. Not long after first meeting them, they were the couple that best defined caring, giving, and unconditional love for me.

I first noticed our closeness with them when we went through a stretch of not being able to be with them socially for more than 2 or 3 times in a year, and yet when we got together there was no awkwardness or formality; we met as if we had last seen each other yesterday. This elevated to the point where when we had good news we wanted to share it with them, when we were doing something they were first on our list to invite.

We embraced them, and they embraced not only us, but our children as well. They have developed distinct and deep relationships with each of them. Marc and Den are so dearly held by us all that they are Godparents to our grandson (and more attentive and loving Godparents no one could ask for).

Our lives have become entwined with theirs. We have taken vacations together; celebrated holidays together, all but lived together. We could feel no closer to anyone than we do to Marc and Den.

The years we have known each other have brought many changes in our lives, some good, and some bad, the same as for everyone. The years have also separated us by more than half a continent but still no more than a heart beat away. They live in Charleston, SC, and we still live in Colorado Springs. We miss them greatly and see each other whenever we can.

Now the gulf of miles is keenly felt, our need to be with them in love and support palpable. We call, we talk, we cry but touching the phone is no replacement for holding a hand, hearing there words over a speaker is no replacement for seeing their faces, saying to them we love you through the ether is no replacement for a physical hug. The desire to hold them, love them, and protect them is primal within us; they are extensions of our soul.

When we talked to Marc last night, just as he told Jean-Marie the news, the sky wept for Dennis, opening up at that moment to yield a three hour torrent. It seemed the earth was just as angry at what Marc and Den were going through as she pelted down hale in fits and burst of rage over the injustice of the fates to the kindest of souls. We echo and surpass nature’s sadness and pain. We ourselves rail against the cruelty of this disease that it dare touch our friends that it dare try to part them that it dare assault the fiber of a relationship which we greedily covet in our lives.

We hope (oh how we hope!), we pray in a seemingly continuous litany of Rosary and thoughts, we send love in waves that crash and roll in their intensity to them, and my wife and I cry and hold onto each other fearing that this is what the end of the world feels like. Marc and Den, we love you. Three simple words that carry such incredible strength and meaning, but in this instance falls woefully short of being a complete expression. We send our love and prayers, we hold out hope, we support each decision you must make, and we love you as unconditionally as you love each other.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Praying on Prayers

The world sits in an economic quagmire thrust upon us by the financial uber-complex and a complicitous government. How did we arrive (or more appropriately were herded) here? It is easy to point the blame at lack of federal guidelines, this hedge fund manager or that one, or a lapse banking industry, but we sowed the seeds of our demise through our prayers for the American Dream.

The soft underbelly of our vaunted American pride has always been in our belief in the invulnerability of those things we believe to be sacred and inviolable. In the present debacle we left ourselves exposed by one of the oldest of American dreams – home ownership. Before our declaration of independence, people sailed here for a chance at success, to have their own homestead, to use that to make their own mark on the world. This desire has grown to the point where we think that to own a home is not only the American promise, but an inalienable right. As such, it took only the proper greed to allow the economic power entities to rob us blind with the help of our dream turned to lust.

It has taken a long time for the financial industry to maneuver us into position with all the skill of a gifted maestro. We were first guided to the point that buying a home was something that you earned. We were encouraged to work hard and save our pennies and someday we could have a place of our own. This goal, available to some and tantalizingly out of the reach of others, fired our imagination and gave an emblem to our concept of success. Next we were shown that our homes were building equity which we could use to finance other hopes and desires. It wasn’t long before we were convinced that the equity could fuel not only the special hopes of life, but could fuel our lifestyle as well. This is when we really turned into a credit economy, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul without realizing that they were apostles of the same god of greed and usury.

We had bitten the forbidden fruit and were granted obscene false knowledge. No longer did we want a home to establish our clans, provide us security, and give us safe refuge when our hearts were heavy and spirits weak. We now craved bigger and better to prop us up on false pedestals of our own grandeur because we were told by financial institutions that it was our right and destiny, and they were only there to help.

We were blinded by the glaring smiles that offered us the world and told us not to worry about the price. They developed new financial instruments that allowed people to reach well beyond their means for a rotted carrot on a stick dangled before us. One hand doled out money, the other artificially raised prices, and all was good with the world. And why not share the wealth, why not put some lipstick on this pig and bundle bad loans with good ones and sell them to the world as grade A quality bacon.?

Untold amounts of money were reaped by the time the bubble burst. American markets crumbled, European purchasers of the rancid packages suffered as well. People of every economic strata lost homes and hopes, crying in the street. The government leapt into action and instead of helping the people, they saved the banks and Wall Street by pumping more money from our pockets into theirs. Hands were slapped, some cards shuffled, and we were left on the island of misfit housing with upside down mortgages, and payments that our income cannot support.

So here we sit, in an economy that will still take years to recover just in terms of job creation much less return of lost wealth. Why? It is because we dared to dream. We were so sure of the sanctity of this dream we cried of it from the hilltops. We let the predators in on our greatest weakness, rolled over and exposed our bellies. It will be difficult enough to establish any kind of accountability, and little hope shaking the government into substantive action. But we cannot remain silent. We have been raped. It is just that simple and we cannot afford to hide in shame, we have to face our attackers. If we don’t, they will fatten us with more dreams then feed on our bloated carcasses. We must be strong and unrelenting because if we are not, whether we resurrect this American Dream or call forth a new one, down the road it will just be twisted and used to profit others and crush our souls again. Cherish your dreams, share them sparingly, and above all else protect them.