Friday, January 7, 2011

"Hummingburp." From my unpublished autobiographical novel, "Entertaining Naked Folks."

From Light on the Path:
“Know, O disciple, that those who have passed through the silence,
and felt its peace and retained its strength,
they long that you shall pass through it also.”

Chapter Twenty-one.

Magic in the Desert.

San Diego has been called the best climate in the world, forever blossoming into spring. Homes were hedged with lavender and roses. Eucalyptus, cypress, olive, and frangipani trees accented their yards. Fields bloomed in acres of flowers for florists to ship all over the world. Life was a fragrant, sensuous celebration of joy, beauty, and unbridled delight.
In class we learned one body part at a time. They’d teach us a session for the front of the arms, one for neck and shoulders, and so on until we had enough to integrate into whole body sessions. Every hour or so, in that big open room, there’d be fifteen students taking all of their clothes off and climbing onto tables as their partners were getting dressed right beside them.
One teacher sometimes brought in a psychologist buddy, and had the whole class strip naked and line up around the walls where we’d talk about how it felt to be completely naked in front of strangers. That buddy was later arrested for some kind of perversion with his clients.
Graduation parties from the first level of training were held nude in private rooms at public hot tubs, but by that time, we didn’t much care. We were exhausted. Those of us continuing on just wanted to rest up for the advanced classes.
As we moved on, work got harder and friendships more intimate. Our anatomy and physiology teacher, Tony, was a breasty, brassy, ballsy nurse who twisted things into bawdy jokes and sexual innuendoes. I’d never met a woman so openly raunchy. She singled out a few male students and leaned in over our notes to drive her dirty jokes home.
But I loved the brilliance and clarity of her mind, how clearly she communicated tough concepts. We learned so much in so little time. I stayed late after her second class to thank her and she asked me to rub her shoulders. Early on in massage school, you rub everyone around you, but her groans sounded different than most…

… Back at my place, Tony had taped a note to my door. She was out of her car and heading toward me as I read it. We walked the beach, chatting about our lives. She touched me with her wisdom and compassion. So much mouth, mind, and heart in one woman. At Mt. Soledad we sat quietly together, gazing out over the ocean, the city, and Mexico at night.
But she got a headache and drove me to her place where I could do some Therapeutic Touch on her. As I rubbed knots out of her shoulders, she started groaning and writhing. That woman was achingly sensuous, but that’s where we cut it off; that’s how we left it.
A couple weeks later, we were just sitting around her apartment, chatting, when she disappeared. She was gone a while, but then stepped back down the hall and just stood there at the edge of the room, hanging her head. She didn’t have any clothes on.
I caught my breath and fought to look her in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Would you rather I didn’t stare at you? I’m getting really good at sneaking peeks these days.”
“I’ll bet you are,” she said.
“Right now, though, Tony, I have got to admit, I’d really like to gawk.”
She told me, “I just want to get this over with. Let you see I don’t have a great figure.”
“You don’t?” I said. “Well, then, whose is that, and when do you have to give it back?”
She flew across the room, all booming laughter and soft, bouncing breasts, and threw herself all over me. We stayed that way the rest of the night, most of it knotted together in her rumpled, cracker crumb-strewn bed, but parts of it on the rug. I think there were crackers there, too.
We were lovers, but more than that, dear friends for months. And then one night, well after we’d moved on, she pounded on my door in the wee morning hours clutching a grocery bag full of Gatorade. She’d been carousing in Mexico and given herself diarrhea so bad she was on the edge of hallucinating. Tony gave me detailed instructions so I’d know when to call an ambulance. I settled her into my bed, then stood over her, studying her in the dark as I worried and prayed. I watched over her until the next afternoon without rest, trying to coax her back to sleep every few minutes after each bathroom stampede.
I cleaned the toilet after she’d left. We had stopped being lovers long before, but if we hadn’t, that one night might have driven some of the magic out of it.
I have pictures of a birthday party Theresa threw for me, in which of the other five guests, three of the women, including Tony, had been my lovers. We were all over each other for the camera. But I was also finding out that there are deeper levels of intimacy than sex.
One friend had her house broken into and her purse stolen. Then someone broke in and raped her. She started coming by my place for cookies; what a lot of folks did when they needed to talk something out. She wanted to scream out to the world that she’d been raped, but never quite managed to. She’d just eat her cookies, share her feelings, and try to keep going back to get naked in massage classes. If the sun had set before she left my apartment, I’d walk her to her car. The world had become a scary place.
She wanted to move in with me, but I had a roommate named Dorothy, and Dorothy had a boyfriend who sometimes stayed over. It wouldn’t have been fair to them. I found two lady friends to take her in, but on evenings when the sun set while she was in class I’d walk to school and meet her there so she’d have a friend to chat playfully with on the way to her car.
She graduated, moved home to Alabama, and we wrote each other for years.
The business director offered me a job as a massage teacher before I’d finished all the courses. I hadn’t even asked for one. Life was definitely changing around.
I met a young lady named Gayla at a party one night. Not the Gayla I’d eventually marry, but my world’s always been such a maze of intertwining “coincidences” that I had long before stopped believing in that whole concept. Now I worry maybe something’s gone wrong with my life if nothing truly bizarre has plowed through me in a while; if my days and nights have been listing toward normalcy. So it doesn’t seem odd to me that I’ve loved two women named Gayla, even spelled the same way, and that each took me camping in the desert for our first date.
With the second Gayla, we drove deep into the sands of Mexico until we ran out of roads, and then paths, and then gullies. Then we grabbed up what we could and started hiking. We packed in without a tent, but she did bring along an Australian named Digby.
That first Gayla took me into the Anza Borrego; just the two of us, no Australians, but at least we had a little tent. Among my fondest memories is her full-throated laughter as she cartwheeled nude over sand dunes. To this day I dream I’m cartwheeling, though I’ve never actually tried it.
With the second Gayla, the one whose childhood I’ve been telling you about, I remember rolling together down a grassy hill in a park, landing dizzy by the VW she lived in with Digby. Then she invited me to join them in the desert, where, on a romantic, moon-kissed night, she asked his permission to move from his sleeping bag to mine (he refused.) She would basically do the same thing to me later on. Only she wouldn’t ask my permission.
But there are two basic rules to story writing. Rule number one: Show; don’t tell.
Rule number two: Stick to one Gayla at a time.
I met that first Gayla at a party, and enticed her back to my apartment for a massage. I must’ve been a bit of a lust bucket back then, finally escaping so many years of repression. I didn’t respect myself for it, but I sure had fun. Gayla’s massage, though, was just a massage; no wandering hands, erotic interruptions, or primal afterbursts. Then she drove home in her pickup.
She called the next day, and the day after that. We started phoning each other two or three times a week. She kept writing and mailing letters from her job at the bank, telling me, “ Your wisdom, guidance, and deep spirituality are helping me straighten out my life.” So then she invited me out on a little road trip, where she put a new kink into mine.
Letting someone haul you out into the desert is like placing all your chips on forever. First, it seems to take that long to get there. Then, it seems like forever since you left that cozy apartment where you keep all your “stuff;” that stuff that keeps you anchored into who you are. Or at least who you thought you were. Forever since you saw that last place to buy gas, or stop for a snack or a nice iced tea. Forever since you’d consigned yourself to your fate and stopped wondering, why am I trusting this strange woman with my life? Forever since she’d first suggested it’d be a fun thing to do and you had thought, “Wow! What a great idea!”
Gayla was tiny, high energy, and socially unfettered. I called her Hummingburp. She serenaded me in belches as she drove. We were crunching across the sands for a while before she finally just set the brake and shut off the engine. Why here, for God’s sake? Climbing out of the pickup and stretching, I scanned across vast reaches of nothing but bleak and barren. Stones scattered like the surface of the moon, hills like nubs of teeth, ground down by unfriendly eons. It’s like I could just search all the way through eternity in any direction; just peer completely across the world, around to the other side, and see myself standing there from behind, but all I’d find anywhere would be whispering sands, gnarled mesquite and cactus, and other dead things.
Dead, but stirring.
I had been warned. It’s things you don’t see that can get you. Anything you might step on in the night, anything you may disturb up out of the sands or dead wood could kill you. Snakes. Scorpions. We left our sleeping bags rolled and tied tightly in the back of the truck to make it harder for anything to crawl in before we did. After that, of course, all bets would be off.
I could see one of us writhing or paralyzed in pain for days (I prayed it wouldn’t be her), and then one morning just waking up dead. Some think dead is forever, though in my life the dead don’t always stay that way. But painful isn’t how I want to get there. I want to die on a cool, starry night, lying on my back in moist clover, floating through a chorus of crickets and katydids, gazing up into the Milky Way as it draws my soul home.
Scorpions would not be my first choice.
So I just shut myself off from thinking about all that. It was easy. Whether it’s in the desert; on a craggy, thundering shoreline; or gazing out from a steep mountain precipice; peering out into the heart of God entrances me deep into mindless wonder. I just hang there, suspended in bliss. And so that one night I stood, motionless, rapt, beside Gayla’s truck, giving myself over to that vast, inspiring emptiness. Darkness oozed out of gnarled shrubs, clumps, and rocks. It sang in brilliant scarlets and crimsons. Liquid vermilions and indigos bled slowly across the heavens, and pooled among shadows on the sands.
I turned to see if she was sharing in this magic, in this time beyond all time. If she and I were lost together in some ineffable essence that, like the name of God, could never be spoken.
She had yanked off her pants and was squatted beside me, peeing onto dirt.
I’d never seen a woman do that. I jerked my head away to study nothing for a while, but I studied it very intensely.
I did watch, though, as she tossed her clothes across the hood, and just wandered off over the sands, wearing only flip flops and a head scarf. The woman was fascinating.
She found a flat spot, kicked off her shoes, and dived over onto her hands, raising up into a perfect handstand. She then held there, as though offering some yogic salutation to the setting sun; but on her own terms. Like those carved red rock spires in Utah, where you feel you’ve just landed on some bizarre alien planet, her beauty in that wasteland looked unnatural, even miraculous. Gayla arched to perfection. Each white curve of flesh set itself off against a deepening sky.
She offered her bare toes up to heaven.
Slowly, then, she lowered her legs to the sides, and offered it her pubic hair.
She did have a lot of that. Sometimes I couldn’t tell my beard from hers.
Her scarf dropped away, leaving her nude in the desert.
I think maybe God had reached down and flicked it off Himself. His way of telling her, “With you, kiddo, it’s always all or nothing.” That’s how she ran through her life. Sending each moment up to all deities, in all realms, on the wings of her full-hearted laughter.
She held there for the longest time, then lowered her legs back to the sand. She stood up. Smirked at me. Started to slink slowly closer, vamping it up until I, too, had to laugh. When she reached me, she peeled off my clothes, too, and we didn’t put them back on for a couple of days.
She reached down and caught hold of me, but I won’t say where. Like she had a pet on a leash, she pulled me over by a cactus, pushed me down onto the sands, spread my limbs in all directions, and crawled all over me for a while.
By the time we settled out from ecstasy, stars had spread themselves everywhere.
We searched out a flat stretch on which to set up her tiny blue tent and circle some stones for a fire. She’d brought one of those big five gallon bottles of water from a cooler. We put up the tent, but never went inside.
Instead, we sat quietly under the stars, and made love from time to time. But mostly we sat quietly under the stars. I don’t see how there could possibly be as many sparkling orbs in the universe as we gaped up at all that night. Maybe there aren’t. God probably ordered up a few thousand extra just for that one performance.
Sometimes you feel all of your soul is on the outside. That mystical night crawled up out of the desert floor. It reached through heavens more vast than the outer walls of imagination. So I gave in. All I’d ever known dissolved away until there was nothing left but pure magic. I felt lost and found at the same time. Saw time as just some dumb concept we’d made up when we had been old and foolish.
Temperature drops suddenly when night hits the wastelands. Small winds howl in greeting. I could feel shuffling and voices I couldn’t quite hear. Desert sands and spirits settled and stirred, whispered furtive secrets and sidled away. Why does sadness flow in with such sweetness; like recognition of some primordial loss?
 “Sprite would have been three now,” she told me softly in the darkness.
“My daughter.”
“I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“I didn’t. I lost her.”
I reached beside me under starlight to rest my hand on hers.
“Sometimes I come out here to hear her little voice.”
I turned and listened; I wanted to hear her child, too; I wanted to share that with Gayla. I heard so many things that could have been a child. So many souls that may once have had a body, and a life. So many others that never had.
She crawled up onto my lap, wrapped her arms and her legs around my middle. She snuggled her smile, along with a few tears, in against my chest.
“I was a gymnast.”
“Really? I can see that.”
“Yep. Loved it.” She turned back around to face forward, out into all that eerie, shifting mystery. I opened my legs so she could nestle down between them, then raised them up and crossed my ankles to wall her in. I wrapped a warm caring hug all around her. “Mmmm,” I murmured, loving her; and she drank it all in. I paused to admire the moonlight threading her hair before resting my chin on the top of her head.
“Wanted to go all the way,” she said, after a time. “We traveled, exhibitions for kids in special homes, some competitions. Managed to get myself knocked up by a gymnast from another school. Now that was something to watch.” Her laughter rang off the rocks for a while.
She pulled my arms more firmly into her breasts, and laid her head sideways and back against my left shoulder. I snuggled a kiss softly into her hair, and rocked her for a while. We lost ourselves deep inside what felt like a long night of rocking, holding, and being held. But I sensed there was more she wanted to share.
“What happened? May I ask? Is it okay?”
She laughed, but it didn’t echo this time. “He was cute is what happened. You should have seen his iron cross. And don’t get me started on those shoulders.”
“No, I meant, with your daughter, with Sprite. Is it okay for me to ask?”
“Sure. She’s up there somewhere. Named a star after her. Can’t find it tonight in all that.”
She had snuggled one of her hands back between her butt and my lower belly and was absent-mindedly toying with some hair she found there. She’d dropped her other hand forward to rest it gently, caringly, mid-thigh on my inner leg. I reached down and lifted that one up. I held it, brushed the back of it, probed and explored each finger, each knuckle, each tendon. It was a strong hand, and yet so tiny in mine. Squarish and unmanicured. She turned her face up to watch me studying her, smiled up at me. “God, I love you!” she told me. Then, she reached to settle her other hand over mine. “I can’t see ever not having you in my life.”
Four hands intertwined; oozing in and out of moon glow and shadows.
She let her words drift upwards after a while, as though sharing some rare and precious secret. “I feel you sending me some kind of energy sometimes. – Like you’re surrounding me with love when my boss is getting on me and I’m about ready to shove her stupid clay duck ashtray up her ass and storm outa there. But then I feel you hugging me and it’s like, ‘Mmmm.’ – Y’now? Like you just said to my hair?
“That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“Don’t give me too much credit; I’m no psychic or something. I’ve just been thinking about you fondly, sending you a little love. I like to think about you. You’re really fun.” Privately, I didn’t know whether or not to believe I’d sent her anything she could actually have picked up on; but if it was doing her some good to think I was capable of that, then I wasn’t about to take that away from her.
“Still the same, I feel you,” she told me, her words snuggling in with her bare flesh.
She looked out across crawling shadows, and up among the hills, as we both turned outward to listen for her little girl’s voice.
“Actually, she was never born,” she entrusted to me. “City bus sideswiped my pickup in my second trimester. They say I probably lost her instantly. Everyone was so sure I wasn’t going to live. Then they thought I’d never walk again. But guess what?”
She climbed out and flipped more cartwheels at the stars. Any scorpions or copperheads lying in wait were just going to have to watch out for her! I sat on a rock, watching her dart, and roll, throwing her arms and legs wide and free, no hairs trimmed or waxed, the full moon rising up between her legs as her laughter rolled and frolicked across the sands. I sat there and wished I could join her, just wished I could ever feel that free.
In that one interminable moment she was ravishing.
I called out to her, “You sure know how to throw one heck of a first date!”
“It won’t be our last,” she called back through her crotch as she barreled into me.
She landed straddling my head, shoving me onto my back, with her knees by my ears.
“Oh, skunk farts,” she said, hands on hips, looking down at me in mock perturbation, “Look why I done!” Her thighs were so short I only had to raise my face a few inches to kiss her.
We spent the rest of those hours until morning wrapped around each other in one way or another, most of them lying down in a still pile of wonder. She may have slept; I’m sure I didn’t. Spirits moved about, rustled and stirred. Gliding, pausing, shuffling all around us in a dance they had danced since before man, and time.
Spooky, yes. Absolutely. But by taking me into the desert, Gayla had set something free inside me. She’d probably been born that way, but I had to learn it.
We continued to write almost every day. She wrote things like, “Hello, you beautiful man, you! I can’t stop thinking about all that we said and felt. I am beginning to connect with myself. The thought that maybe the time could ever come that I could not be part of your life is very unsettling and I am praying we will always be together. God I Love you! I Want You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! With you, I can become whole. I can finally learn to love.”
I maybe should have found it a bit unnerving that she’d call me after each visit, before I could even reach home, to tell me she was already missing me, but all I could think was, God, she’s exciting!
Then she wrote, “Well, Mr. Hug Master, you gorgeous, lovely young man, I WILL be part of your life from now on.”
She was nothing if not intense. And self-assured.
“Words can’t come close to expressing the total fullness or intensity of Love I’ve never felt before. My soul has been crying out so long for you that it is hard to believe you are truly here and we have finally meet. Our paths have come together and we are partners. I now understand more of my purpose and can feel my Love for you reaching Oh, so deep into my soul. I am finally complete! Our Love … Our lives linked now as always and always.”
She got angry when classes kept me from spending weekends with her. We picnicked in the park. I told her where I hid my spare key. She typed and mailed me letters from her job.
I started finding them around my apartment. “I stopped by while you were at work and laundered your sheets and towels. I thought it could make up for last night. I thought you might think of me with all that freshness wrapped around you. Maybe you and I could start fresh? You Beautiful Man, I truely Love you. I’m sorry for all my mixed up feelings that sometimes must hurt. I keep getting all selfish wanting to be the only one in your life, above all else, but please don’t feel pressured by that. When I come to my senses I see there will always be others out there who need you like I have. I’m so very, very sorry. And so very happy to be a part of your life, even if I can’t be all of it - Yet.”
One day I came home from work to find a note on the scrap pad by my pillow. She’d apparently come over to take a nap on my side of the bed, and then had left her underwear there. “Hello, sweetheart. Just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ for all the caring and sharing you show me. The love I feel flowing from you is the sweetest, purest feeling I’ve ever known. Please know I Love you, too, although I may not always show it. I am striving for the same purity as the energy and love I feel you sending.
“God I want you!!!!!!! Maybe what I’m feeling isn’t always so pure?
“Forgive me?”
Her best friend had been one of my massage students; a sweet and playful little lady. The three of us liked to picnic in the park. Right there in an open field in Kate Sessions, or Balboa Park, low-key couples lingering over lunch baskets and blankets scattered around us, Gayla would whip off her t-shirt and wave her tiny breasts in my face as she tied a red farmer’s bandanna around her chest like a sleeveless, backless, sideless blouse.
Then she’d flip out her handstands, cartwheels, and laughter for the world.
But there was one part of her free spirit I just was not prepared to handle.
Her naturopath practiced kundalini; bottling up one’s sexual energy, and channeling it into healing. I’d been taught to heal by bringing energy down through my crown and heart from the heavens. I’d always had a problem with any kundalini practices that brought it up from the sexual organs. But Gayla told me she and her doctor would lock into a sexual position, her seated on his lap, him inside her, and then go into meditation, unmoving. His wife was the receptionist in his outer office, so Gayla assured me it was all on the up and up.
But that whole kundalini thing never did settle in well with me.
Gayla had no time to wait for anyone so bound up and prudish, so one day she just up and ran off with the man I kept finding in her living room. A sailor of some kind. A friend of her cousin’s. And a much freer spirit than me.
Hell, he may even have been her cousin.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From my as yet unpublished novel, "The Mourning After."

Dogs don’t echo in the city.
Under a low, sodden moon, one far distant and solitary beast
called out to a world that had turned away.
His plaintive baying haunted me, echoing unanswered through the wooded hills.
His loneliness drew up into a soft little fist of tears inside my chest.
The evening was just gathering;
this poor empty creature would have a long time to cry uncomforted.
- Then I sensed forsaken spirits wandering lost among the trees around me,
keeping silent company,
themselves uncherished and unanswered.

When Spirits Speak.

It’s hard to think “was” about your mom.
I’d dropped down on the threshold, not quite inside, rocking a plain cardboard packing box on my lap. I was coming all apart, blubbering. I wanted so badly to hug it. I didn’t think I’d ever find the courage to open it again.
Inside it: nothing, really. A few old tarnished and thread-worn nothings anyone else might have thrown away. Mom’s fuzzy blue robe she’d always worn at the table over her Nescafe Instant Coffee on my rare visits home. I’d tried so many times to buy her special percolators and gold filters and exotic coffee grinds from Jamaica and Guatemala and beyond, but she’d always had to have her instant. She’d lean in over her cup, embracing it with both hands, listening intently to anything I wanted to share, no matter how trivial.
Her glasses. Glasses she’d never take off. I’d caught her dozing off in them once and asked if she wanted me to take them before she passed out and scrunched them into her face. She’d told me she’d forgotten she’d had them on. She’d been so used to them.
Those glasses had known her better than I had. I didn’t deserve to touch them.
Her ring. A mother’s ring with a single faded birthstone. Mine.
Looking up and far away between the trees, I watched the deflating sun flatten as it fell.
With one last soul-draining sigh, it drenched the world in crimsons and blues, gnawing at my heart as something wept in the pit of my guts.
Slowly it gave up and let go, drooping away, down behind the fuzzy edge of nowhere.
Its fading residue lingered, cherishing Nature’s farewells, like that moody iridescence you sometimes catch wandering among graves.
I held the carton, rocking it oh so gently on my lap. I watched out into the gathering night and have rarely felt so lost.
Her last moments weep through me even now; as they did back then, holding that box; as they have most nights ever since when I haven’t been able to sleep.
Sitting with Mom day and night before the end. Rubbing that blue swelling out of her feet, trying to chat, but muted by helplessness and guilt. Massage school had taught me how to love with my hands, but not how to fully express my heart; taught me how to help, but not how to heal someone truly and irrevocably broken. It had left me useless and choking in the shadow of inevitability.
I could remember Mom coughing a few times when I’d phoned her but I just hadn’t put it together. She’d called it just a little cold, or another time maybe her allergies acting up. Maybe it was mildew during rainy spells. How long had she known? How long had she suffered the incoming fears without telling me? Had she just been marching to her death, always the brave soldier, as my father had? Had I suspected, but shaken off the most dire possibilities, denied her mortality and simply prayed harder? How blind, how foolish had I been? Or had I just been too selfish, too wrapped up in my own stuff, off somewhere in another part of the country? Should I have pressed her on it?
I should have called her more. But it had hurt to hear the distance growing between me and the woman who had once formed, guided, even been my whole world, knowing I was the one who’d been pulling away, leaving her alone and isolated. Abandoning his mom when she’d needed him. She’d never even hinted; never would have.
In the hospital I spent her final days and nights crushed by all of that and more.
That pallid, grey body in front of me had been my entire life. Those split lips had taught me to speak. She’d been my model, my teacher; she’d been my goal, and the only destiny I could imagine. She’d home-schooled me back when everyone had thought I’d die first, that I would never grow up to see this moment.
Tubes digging into her everywhere, strapped down to her bed so she couldn’t pull them loose. I prayed she was completely out of it, where that total and undeserved degradation couldn’t reach her, the pain, the chapped dry mouth. But there was still some selfish little boy part of me that wanted her to know I was there, loving her, rubbing the awful blue swelling out of her ankles and feet, to know that she wasn’t alone.
Nurses let me spend her last three days and nights by her bed, but her doctor told me she had no idea I was there, that rubbing her feet was just a waste of time, that I was doing it more for me than for her.
How could they know? She was my mom. She was hurting. I was losing her.
Sometimes Mom opened her eyes just a little, but she never seemed to notice any of the ruckus around her in the ICU. That helped me focus back in on true priorities. Sometimes she even tried to smile. The doctors said that was impossible, what with that horrendous fat tube taped down her throat; all the drugs keeping her shut down and out of it. So maybe she smiled only in my imagination, or whatever other realms my mind’s always carried me off to, but I still believe it. I was just beginning to suspect at that time, that my “imagination” might actually be much more than that. Like some silent, low-riding flatboat, plying the heavy-laden shadows across the River Styx to a land where the dead and dying hurt to share with the living, but can’t. That sometimes I saw things that wanted to be seen. Even if no one else saw them.
Did she really speak to me? I think she must have. I went into that hospital with no thought at all for my father, my heart long closed and sealed to him, but then came out knowing he had loved me. Where would that have come from if not from her? I remember her words.  “Your father really loved you, you know. He just couldn’t show it. He knew you’d have to be tough to survive.” She’d never told me that before. Where else could I have heard it if not in some lost lucid moment in that hospital?
She told me, “When you first came home, all wrapped up in your tiny blue outfit, and your little blue blanket, all he saw was this bright round head with eyes that never wanted to close, peeking out over the rest of the world like you saw something maybe we didn’t. Your dad took one look at you and called you Moonface.”
She sighed.
Or I imagined she sighed. And then she added, “You were probably five years old before he stopped calling you that. He called you Moonface and BubbleBum. And sometimes still did back in our room late at night where you couldn’t hear him.”
How could she have grabbed my hand when she was all trussed up like that? She couldn’t have. So where is this memory coming from? “You have no idea how hard that was on him, Sweetie,” Mom confided through tears.
I’m sure she looked away for a while.
Then she told me, without turning back, “He knew those weren’t strong names for a man.”
And she was gone again.
I couldn’t be making this up.
It feels too real.
It hurts too bad.
And yet all the while she was building a world for her frail little son, she had herself been sadly thwarted, cut off, diminished. She’d been the keeper of my keys, but in taking that on, she’d locked herself out of her own life and possibilities.
As I’d survived, only because of her; and as I’d grown; I’d needed distance for my sake alone. I hadn’t meant to hurt her. hadn’t wanted to bury her any deeper when I’d left. While I’d been off gallivanting all over everywhere, the one woman who had always meant love to me had been dying.
I hadn’t even known it.
I’d raced, hell-bent, out of the childhood she’d worked so long, hard and selflessly to build and hold together, just as soon as my legs were big enough to carry me. I couldn’t wait to get away. I’d deserted the one woman who could never ever have deserted me.
Mom had pushed me off to study in another city, to learn to survive. “Your dad would’ve wanted you to.” She had forcefully cut the strings.
Now, a tumor the size of a grapefruit was eating away at her heart and lungs from behind, all wrapped up in the nerves from her backbone where surgeons couldn’t cut through to it. Her doctor and his team were standing right in front of me in the emergency room, face to face, telling me the tubes were just keeping her heart and lungs functioning, but that she wasn’t really alive. She’d never get better, never wake up or get out of that bed or open her eyes again. He was calling on me, the selfish son who’d abandoned her so long before, to finish the job. It was time; it was “what’s best for her” to pull the plug. He was asking me to kill my own Mom.
I stood there, all locked up inside, needing to do something right for her for a change, aching to end her suffering right now, this minute. But I was also that little kid with the bad heart who used to hide behind the couch, waiting for the world to go away, and all I could do was bury us both in her past. Hold on to our history a little bit longer.
I recalled how much my one and only friend, Emma, had loved my mom. She’d always want to come over to my house to be part of our classes. Sometimes we’d pull little pranks on Teacher, like trading her pencil for one that was all eraser, or giving her an apple out of the bowl of plastic fruit. Sometimes I’d wad up paper and toss it at Emma’s head; an easy shot since she’d sat right beside me. I’d have to lean way back and curl my hand to keep from swatting her as I’d released. She’d know it was coming, let it hit her, but keep right on listening to my mother, enthralled.
Mom had played along, pretending to punish us by making us lick sheets of Top Value stamps that had come with her groceries, and paste them into her bulging little books. Once she’d collected a few million stamps in a dozen books or so, she’d trade them in for a pillowcase or a can opener or something.
Mom had known all the time that we’d enjoyed all that licking and slapping, making faces at each other as the sticky stuff had built up on our tongues. She’d rewarded good behavior with Bazooka Bubble Gum. We’d carried on her tradition then, saving the comics that came with the gum for quietly exploding battleships or whistles Dad would never let us blow.
Dad had saved the Raleigh coupons that had come with his cigarettes, too, but would never have traded them in for anything. That would’ve been like admitting we’d been poor. The fact that he’d had to let Mom get a job at Woolworth’s toward the end of his life must have been like unfurling the blazing yellow banner of his defeat.
Back in the hospital, the doctor’s mouth was moving and then pausing and then moving again, but he hadn’t known my mom.
Emma and I used to get so excited in those classes we’d both be waving our hands for recognition as if there had been actual crowds to get lost in. Who else could have brought that out of two strange and silence-locked kids but my mom? She’d stand up in front of us so happy and proud.
This doctor didn’t know that about her. Cripe, he may have gone to med school, but he was practically still a kid himself. What could he know about anything? How could he just stand there, so calmly, with such deadly arrogance, and ask anything that mean and ugly of anyone?
There were ducks outside the hospital windows, but Mom couldn’t see them. Or maybe she could. Maybe that anesthesia set her free of her body, let her spirit roam out by the lake, or back to her roses with Dad. I watched one ratty, wounded duck, kind of auburn and tan with a twisted foot, limping around, and imagined Mom out there bending over and talking gently to it, maybe even trying to heal it, somehow magically uncurl its foot. She and I had always been suckers for anything that limped.
“Did you hear what I said?” The doctor broke through. “Look. I know how hard this must be…
Where was all the joy Mom brought? And not just to me. Emma had laughed with a delightful little snorting giggle. She’d written with her right hand, but drawn with her left. Mom had called her her little Da Vinci. Her “second favorite genius.”
“Mr. Tierney, Denys, Mr. Tierney, we need a decision.”

I hugged Mom as she died, watched her inside and out, saw her turning blue, and felt the gathering cold. The breathing machine kept clacking out its rhythm, but all her vital signs zeroed out. She slipped away quietly as I felt her love. She was eager to get on with it, but I felt her love. She came back just long enough to plant words in my head. Her hands were tied to the metal frame of her bed, but I felt both of them slip around one of mine, and I felt from her, of all things, gratitude.
I felt so loved it hurt.
I heard her words. “Your dad says,” and she kind of laughed. “He says he plumb forgot to tell you he’s always been proud of you. He hopes you’ll forgive his little oversight.”
And then inside her, all tears melted; and her smile was absorbed into a smile so vast I had to turn away. In that moment I lost her.
I didn’t look around as I parted the curtains with as much dignity and aloofness as I could muster for appearance’s sake, and walked quietly out and away.
I could feel others watching.
They were holding themselves back. They were silent.
I walked out of Intensive Care, off the floor, to a quiet room near a bank of phones, where I cried, having no one to call.

I sat in that room wanting to be alone with my mom, but memories of my father kept forcing their ways in.
He’d had to fortify himself to come home to his family. I’d hear him out there in the driveway, belting out a robustly cadenced song about caissons rolling, and field artillery. No longing or reverence, just stampeding over the enemy with arrogant pride. He’d fought the Nazis on their own turf, hand-to-hand and face-to-face, but somehow come home with no stories, and no regrets. And least none he could bring into the house.
Mom and I would hear the war song and know where he’d been. We’d know he’d be coming in stinking of smokes and beer. He’d march to the vestibule, into the front room, and slam up against our alternate reality. I wouldn’t need to look up to watch his face and spirit sag as he was forced once again to acknowledge the son who would never be a hero. He probably figured if I didn’t actually watch him sigh, I wouldn’t hear it either.
I’d feel him staring at me as he greeted my Mom. Checking his disappointment at the door, stuffing his sense of loss into private pockets he thought we couldn’t poke into.
After a long moment of readjustment, of just standing there, putting his war buddies back on their shelves, he’d step the rest of the way into our home and, as much as he could, into our lives. He’d ease his sample case down onto the floor so slowly it wouldn’t make a sound. I’d try so hard to imagine his hand, hovering just over my head, almost ready to finally call me Son, maybe give me a little pat; but not quite.
But then he would always ask my mom, “How’s the boy?”

At her funeral, I finally reached a point after all those years, all the guilt and the pain and loss, when I just couldn’t take any more. I was bending over her coffin when it all busted loose.
I started to bawl.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Even after all those lost years I still recognized it. It was my father’s, old Sergeant Carl’s tight grip. Of course my logic tried to fight that off for a moment, but that was no time for logic. Then our history tried to tell me that if dad was really there, if he’d returned from his grave with a message, he must have been telling me to “suck it up,” not to cry – that it’s not manly. It’s not tough, like a man had to be.
But all of that had to let go. There was no room in that moment for anything but love, and it was in a total state of love that I finally heard my dad; heard what he was, and what he had always been.
In words just as clear as if he’d been standing there, breathing, I heard, “Attaboy, Son. Let ’er rip! I wish I could have cried like that.”

From my as yet unpublished autobiographical novel, "Entertaining Naked Folks."

Hide and Seek.

I was drowning in grief and some days unable to move as I stayed at a friend’s apartment in Baltimore, surviving by sneaking fingers of peanut butter and an occasional vitamin when I grew desperately hungry. If I absolutely had to survive, if life was going to be forced on me, I’d have to start it all over from the beginning, because this old one was tearing me apart.
I’d always crammed every opportunity into a box, sealing it in up on all sides with tapes saying, “I can’t.” The only thing I knew for sure was that if I ever actually tried anything, I could fail.
Then I had taken a half-hearted shot at college, but only because it had been forced on me. I ended up quitting. That’s when everything slammed shut that I’d never really opened in the first place. Within weeks, I dropped out, turned twenty-one, my dad died unexpectedly, my favorite cousin was sent home in pieces from Viet Nam, and an induction notice came to tell me I was next.
Such a chain of dire “coincidences” could only have been divine synchronicity. Or retribution as only heaven can sow it. Payback for something I must have done in some past life, since I sure hadn’t gotten out to do much damage in this one. I felt His breath whispered across every wracking, crawling moment. Could a God Who really cared be so cruel?
My last night home before college, Dad had made the whole family watch “The Ten Commandments” again so we could feel “The Lord’s mighty power” as I headed off to take the world on.
It had scared the heck out of me.
I saw myself jumping blindly into the hands of that same Divine Overseer who’d forced Moses to take a life or death stand against the pharaoh, wander the desert for forty years, everybody attacking him, but then, after all that, told him, “Mood swing! Everyone can go in but you. You just have to stand outside and watch.” And that’s not even mentioning all those poor innocent horses He drowned. God was killing children right and left, but then told Moses he shalt not kill. Told Moses to lie to the Pharaoh, but then made it a commandment not to.
Some great, inspiring flick that turned out to be. I was going to need a much kinder God to pray to.
And yet, someone I had thought was God had called to me so gently when I’d been a child, soothed me when I’d felt lost; which had been pretty much most of the time. He’d hugged me behind the couch when life and sadness had seemed the same thing. Or when I was holding pictures of Jesus. Or holding butterflies, or ladybugs. We petted bunnies and birds together when they came up to me in the yard. He fed chipmunks out of my hand. He smiled at me through sunshine and moon glow.
That God I’d loved since toddlerhood still hummed to me sometimes through the stars.
But then He started playing hide-and-seek and He always had to be the one who hid. I filled in the blank spots and lost years with doubts.
 I tried experimenting with services at different places of worship. I’d never felt quite settled into a place until I’d found a church with more spirit than words. It didn’t even have to be a happy, hopeful spirit. I just needed to know there was more to it than stone walls, wood benches, and empty sermons. I needed to feel clearly that God knew it was there. That I could catch a whiff of Him inside, a taste of His simmering compassion. Feel Him sharing their sorrows, and feeding their joys. That He could have found me there if He ever really wanted to. But most of them seemed stuffed with stiff and itchy families who looked to be just reining it in and playing along for an hour or so a week.
But how would I know? I never gave anything a real try.
I’d thought that by sitting my life out on the sidelines I’d been handing it over to Him, but then everything kept falling apart. It felt like I’d been huddled in my tight nest of fears like a featherless bird baby, squeaking with my mouth open, waiting for someone to stuff in a half-eaten worm. Truth is, though, I was really getting really tired of trying to survive on just vomited worms.
So after that one awful month, when even those few things I had counted on had been jerked out from under me, I decided to head out, and start fresh.
I called the new me Devin Morgan; which meant sensitive poet in my twenty-five cent pocket book of names. My druggy art school friend, Michael. called me Darvon. Another guy called me Dildo.
That was okay. I wasn’t all that committed to the name. Or to anything, really.
Something had to change. Whoever I was; Devin, Darvon, or Dildo; I’d never hitchhiked before, but one day just stepped out onto the road and stuck my thumb out with no plans on coming back. A young man, a clean cut Republican type, said he was off for Colorado and would go all the way with me. I didn’t realize that was street talk. When he found out I wasn’t gay, he left me on the side of the road before I’d even made it out of Pennsylvania.
A hippie picked me up, his hair even longer than mine. That, and his beard, were all bushy scraggly, while I kept mine neatly trimmed and carefully under control, like my emotions. He, too, was heading for Colorado; probably more than mere coincidence. His van was classic painted-all-over hippie. His name was “Jeremy G. Tripe, the G stands for Gabriel, as my family is of a religious persuasion and right proud of the fact.”
As I climbed in, he asked, “Y’all got a ink pen I could borra? Been drivin’ maybe forty miles with a thought scratchin’ around in my head just ain’t gonna leave me be ’til I git it wrote down. But I don’t got no pen.”
I’d just been writing on a piece of roadside scrap that had blown against my feet. He’d clunked and rattled to a stop just ahead of me. I didn’t even have my thumb out; my pen had pulled him over. I asked him, “What are the chances of that?”
“Oh, normally I’d say, pick some number on the slender side of zero,” he said, eyeing the ballpoint with finger-itchy hunger. I handed it over. “But if things is meant to happen, they’ll just find themselves a way.” He pointed to the glove box. “Got some paper in there somewheres under the wrenches. Might could be a bit greasy, but I can still dig a few words into it.”
I reached, pushed the button, but it wouldn’t budge. I rammed harder, with my thumb, and then the heel of my hand. The door was jammed tight. I slammed at it, harder each time, but that latch had other ideas. Weeks, years, of bottled up angst came growling through like a coalmine threatening to give. “Dammit!” I gritted the word, temples throbbing. Shoring timbers began to creak. Under my breath, but then gradually louder: “DammitDammitDammitDammitDammit!”
“That your magic incantation for stuck buttons?” he asked with an ornery smile. “Does it work? I might could try it if it works.”
 “Nothing ever works…”
“Then maybe cussin’ at it ain’t your best first choice.”
I slammed the latch button again.
“Now, ya might wanna try easing up on that a mite, friend; it falls all to shambles on a whisper.” He studied me. I fought off the urge to look back, sitting rigid in that brittle old seat, watching a train of cars crawl along behind a rusted-out sedan. He saw all that, in no particular hurry to jot his thought down. “Much like your life, lately, I suspect.”
“Oh, I’m okay,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Don’t look okay to me; settin’ there lookin’ like a smacked nerve. Them words dripped out of you like a squeezed out carwash sponge. Been under some pressure?”
“I guess.”
“Talkative fella, ain’t ya?”
“I’m sorry.”
“Sokay. Silence holds its own truth; you play yours close to the vest if you wanna. Just seems things been tryin’ to beat into my dim skull that you don’t get nowheres just sulking along not sayin’ much. Gotta learn to trust more than your horse. – And you ain’t even got a horse.”
I just sat there.
 He started up again. “Got so I just had to talk to someone with a couple less legs.
“Him and a family filled with Jesus and nothin’ but. So I just wandered on out into the world.”
“Yeah, well, some of us can’t even get that right.”
“All locked up inside, right? Feels like you just can’t cut your way out nohow?”
“Yeah, I guess. - Uh-huh. - Exactly.”
“Ah-hyup. Know that’n, alright.” He turned away and studied his steering wheel for a while, petting long tracks through the prairie grit built up thick on the column. Then he said, “Y’know, sometimes the why of things just don’t much matter. Don’t none of us know the real why behind most things, anyways. But here we are, two strangers parked beside a long stretch of nowhere, trying to coax ourselves outa the same problems.”
“Karma again,” I said, mainly to myself.
“Karma. Fate. Possibilities. Burnin’ off the old to take on the new. They say it ain’t where you think you wanna go that counts s’much as where life trips you up tryin’ to get there.”
“Never heard it put that way before.”
He watched for a while; like he was meditating on me, waiting for me to stir. It was unnerving; me aching to let him, to let anyone in; him just quietly watching. “My roommate in college used to call me just an outsider looking in; said I wasn’t letting myself come alive.”
“Did ya try it any different after that? Did that work for ya?”
“Not really.”
I started talking to this guy like I’d just been released from solitary confinement; told him about never being able to talk to people, especially those I most ached to be close to, about screwing up college, and my whole list of grievances. But just couldn’t get close to that hard-edged grief over my dad. “I’m just trying to get through life quietly. Do the right thing. Be a nice guy. But it’s like God doesn’t really care.”
“Ah-hyup!” he said, “Sometimes, sure feels like if God ain’t quite dead yet, He is most assuredly lying on his back in the doorway. But you know, deep inside us, there’s this little tiny light glowing just enough we don’t quite give up. Not quite; not entirely. It’s how things is all planned out. Otherwise the good folks woulda offed themselves long ago from caring too much.”
He handed my pen back without writing. He reached down, shifted gears, stomped the pedals. The van lurched and belched, ground metal against metal, but didn’t quite move, and didn’t quite die. I thought hard about how much that was like my life, but didn’t say anything.
He caught it anyway. “Sometimes this old car does seem to be listening in on ya, don’t it?” he asked.
A red Trans Am roared past, horn blaring. “Okay, there, cowboy,” he said, watching it, but also me, “Got you some real twisty roads comin’ up; might wanna show ’em some respect, you ever wanna make it back home.” I didn’t know which of us he was talking to.
We broke down somewhere in Indiana near a buffalo farm.
Off in a field, crawling over the engine, he told himself, “Boy, Jeremy, you just do not have a thimbleful of brain cells to rub together in there, do ya? Couldn’t think your way outa bed in the mornin’ if Ma didn’t embroider instructions on your sheets.” He looked up at me. “Won’t be an expensive fix,” he said, “But I will have to ease her along to that service station we just passed. Good thing you come along or we’d never make it. May have to push her a bit. Poor old lady don’t seem to have much scoot in her gitalong no more, but we can still get there if we coax her real nice.”
We sat a while in a prairie that stretched out across forever, grass bowing to soothing breezes like waves across a gentle green sea, as the engine and I cooled. I sighed, stretched, letting go of things. I asked, “When you sit out here in the middle of nowhere and nothingness like this, do you feel like you’re running away from something; or towards it?”
“Feels like just being with it.” He tossed a clod of dirt. “Just losing m’self in the soul of things.”
“Well, now that seems ’bout right,” I drawled. He smiled. I sounded kinda like him.

At a seedy motel we found a clerk watching a tiny TV under a dull, matted buffalo head. When he heard the door open, he called without turning around, “Hey, how y’all doin’?” The dead, glass-eyed animal bothered me. Jeremy busted out in a grin as the little man stood up. He was wearing lime plaid Bermuda shorts, a t-shirt with a flag on it, and cowboy boots with high white socks. Through a gap-toothed smile he answered a question we hadn’t even asked. “Oh, cain’t complain,” he said. “Wouldn’t do no good, know what I mean?” And he laughed at his tired old joke like he hadn’t heard it a thousand times in a world looking out at life through shallow clichés. “Cain’t kick about it. Considering the alternative …Ha ha ha … Know what I mean? …”
Jeremy said, “Death? Oh, I don’t know; dead ain’t s’bad. Been dead myself many times.”
I liked this guy. This was going to be an interesting evening.

“You said your family’s religious?” I asked. Ours was one of maybe ten rooms in this long, flat motel; each, no doubt, with the same faded interiors. Each a tossed salad of Salvation Army furniture, a bland and mismatched scrapbook of stains, but they did share a porch looking out on the sunset. The two of us sat there, on gouged and splintered rockers, their cane backs unraveling. As I was. There were three or four old wrecks parked along the strip, a couple of them thrashing and moaning; occasional screams of, “Yes! Yes! Yes, Honey, Yes!” But we had the porch to ourselves.
“Born again fundamentalist,” he told me. “Daddy was a minister. Seems in my family, at least, the earth’s only a few thousand years old. They all keep losing track of the exact number; can’t find the reference in the Bible nowheres, but they’d fight to the death it’s in there, and it’s true. Sun and stars orbit the earth. Just cause man’s here, no other reason. Rest of the world should bow down and kiss American butt cause Jesus is coming to save us, and us alone. Somethin’ to do with the flag, it seems.”
I held my tongue. “Now me,” he said, “Guess I lean more toward being a kind of a pantheist.” He looked over at me, stopping to scratch at the knee of his jeans, watching as I felt the dull thud of the word ‘pantheist’ falling so casually from the mouth of a cowpoke who had earlier been talking about karma.
“Does that mean you worship a whole bunch of Gods?” I asked.
“Just means everything’s holy; everyone’s got their own layers of how it all fits together, and you gotta listen to everybody. All religions play their parts.”
“That must’ve gone over big.”
“Didn’t set so well with Daddy, I’m afraid, no.” He shook his head slowly. “He was out there preachin’ some things that just didn’t quite fit in with how the world looked to me. When he wasn’t herding cattle, he was herding minds and souls. But you know, it’s kinda hard to keep ’em penned in once the cattle’s learned to think. So one day I just wandered off.”
“To think things through your own way.”
“More like listening. Seems you can figure out a lot by just listening in on the soul of things. Starts to look like there really is some kinda meaning out there and it’s not cutting us all apart; it’s taking us all somewheres together.”
Who was this hippie cowboy? Why was I opening up to him; how was he drawing me out? “Like I read once in a book called ‘The Way of the Lonely Ones,’ …”
“The Path to God, Yup. That’s what they call it. Can go way beyond just being lonesome.”
“Right - so – yeah – but - if all I’m doing is just standing around listening, not doing anything with my own life, just listening in on everybody else’s, then what good am I really doing anybody?”
“That there’s probably the first step.”
“Uhhh … mmm … What … where?”
“Wantin’ to do good for folks. Not just settin’ around waitin’ for God to drop your share in your lap. ‘I put my faith in Him, so He owes me.’ Been figger’n on that’n a long time. All things don’t necessarily come to folks who don’t do nothin’ but wait. Even if they’re prayin’ while they’re settin’ there. You can put all the faith in God you want to, but you try crammin’ Him behind the wheel while you nap in the back seat; you’re still gonna drive into a tree.”
I’ve never been able to laugh full out, but he got a couple of snorts out of me with that one. I really liked this guy. I told him, “I’ve been writing this lady from this group called The Theosophical Society. She says we can draw special teachers into our lives. If we’re ready. I’m starting to think you might be one?”
“Don’t wanna give me too much credit, now. We’re all ready for somethin’; and meant to be each other’s teachers. It’s all about takin’ the heart and soul of ever’body ’n’ ever’thang in til it grows into just one great big hum. That there’s the singin’ voice of God. Then it just becomes a matter of how we’re gonna sing back. Still tryin’ to figure that’n out for m’self. Danged straight ain’t no theosophical adept, if that’s what you’re sayin’.”
“Adept? You know about the mahatmas, the great teachers?”
“No more’n I’m meant to, I guess. Just seems if you’re ‘ready,’ as you call it, they might be listening in right now. You’d never know it. Seem to like answerin’ your best questions by dropping a letter on your head from the other side o’ the planet.” He suddenly crossed himself hurriedly, but with reverence. “Not that I’m makin’ sport of you folks,” he told the open air. “I’d never do that.” He waited a moment, as though listening. Then he laughed, relieved.
“You know about the mahatma letters. This is great,” I told him. “I’ve been reading them. About Colonel Olcott and how their notes fell on his head on the train. Asks a question and the answer falls out of his napkin. There really is still magic in the world, isn’t there? They just hide it until people can handle it.”
“Kinda peeks out at ya when you’re a kid, just so’s you see it’s there; but then you gotta go huntin’ for it again. If you don’t go chasing magic, it’s never gonna catch ya.”
“It wants you to chase it.”
“Seems that way.”
“That thing you were saying about how it’s all about the journey, not the goal?”
“Could be.”
 “Marie says that, too.”
“Marie Chord?”
“You know the name?”
“Sure. Used to live with her. Sweet little grey-haired angel.”
“You used to live with Marie Chord.”
“Well, no, not like that. We both lived, along with about forty or so other folks, at Olcott, at Theosophical Headquarters. Didn’t know her personally, no.” He made a quiet clucking sound. “So sweet, and gentle. All meek and unobtrusive. Cain’t much help but love her if you’re drawn to the quiet, bashful side o’ nature. Cain’t say we ever really talked none.”
Then something he’d said earlier struck home. The voice of God, he’d said. I’ve always wondered what people meant when they said God spoke to them. Especially now when I was beginning to have my doubts about a big bearded white guy in the clouds with a guard at the gate and streets of gold massed with billions of people. Did He actually have a voice?
I thought back to that time in the woods with Thomas’s German friend Angie, and how I’d felt my heart reaching out to tap into her unspoken pains and history. There hadn’t been any words, no one had said anything, but it had felt like listening. I thought of those old homes and battlefields of my childhood where long-stilled miseries had just seemed to invade me. I thought of brief visits with the eternal among the stars when I seemed to be hearing everyone and everything in the silence. I wondered how this all fed together.
And why was it just coming to me now? After all those years of suffering and searching why was it all plowing into me at once? The world had just torn everything away that I cared about, it had completely broken me, and now it was handing me a gift?
I felt my face and heart sucking in, like a hardening fist getting ready to strike.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
 “Karma, theosophy, all this weird stuff just keeps coming at me from everywhere these days. Which should be cool, which should be wonderful, but since all that’s been popping up, things have been getting awfully ugly, and harsh.”
“Really? Good for you.”
“Good for me? What do you mean, good for me?”
“Maybe it’s getting you ready for tryin’ on somethin’ a size bigger’n you was.”
“Why can’t I just keep quiet, mind my own business, and let God just drop all the good stuff on my plate where I don’t have to go out looking for it? You know; just cut it up in little bites, maybe even do the chewin’ for me?” I was starting to talk more like him.
“Nope. Don’t work that way. Gotta earn it. Work yourself hard to get ready, then claw your way through to the deep stuff. If it’s all handed to ya, it just ain’t yours yet.”
“That’s what Marie’s been telling me.”
“Sweet little Marie. Say ‘Hi’ for me, will ya?”
“We only write. She lives in Illinois. Don’t even know what she looks like. I seriously doubt I’m ever going to meet her.”
“Yeah you will.” He turned back toward the sunset and lost himself inside it for a while before he spoke again.
Without taking his eyes and heart out of the rich hues of approaching evening and the first tentative chirps of the locusts, he said, very quietly, but with conviction, “And you really gotta start workin’ on all this ‘seriously doubting’ business.”