Postcard From the Edge

“What do you want for Christmas dad,” Aiden asked with a newly minted sense of maturity? It was the first time Aiden had asked the question, or at least it was the first time he could remember. “Perhaps he asks every year, and I forget,” Zane wondered? Aiden stood in the doorway as he awaited dad’s response. After a brief pause, the word “candles,” slowly fell from Zane’s lips. “But you already have candles,” Aiden informed him in no uncertain terms! Dad stood in silence as he quietly grappled with the fact that another year was over. “How can it already be Christmas again,” Zane wondered? His memory was temporarily diverted to the Chess Set that he gifted to Aiden the previous year. Dad never encouraged his son to play. Coming to grips with his distance, the neglectful father felt crippling shame sweep through him like a punishing wave! The two men had yet to play chess, and it was inexcusable!

The father and son stood at the threshold of the bedroom that previously served as Renee’s office. Suddenly Zane came to the realization that he had been residing in the old office for over a year, because he moved into the extra bedroom once they agreed upon a divorce. An unsettling sensation of disbelief set in once it dawned on him that this was to be the second consecutive holiday season spent in the spare room and the realization was jarring!

The divorce wasn’t final yet because it was more than just an ink stain that had dried upon some line that was holding them back. It appeared that other forces were at play. The filing had been submitted, but no one could tell how long it would take? For some undisclosed reason, golden tumblers in the Cosmic lock failed to engage; the Key wouldn’t turn! Instead, the legal system proceeded at a snail’s pace and the frustrated members had no choice but wait for absolution.

The Shimeks existed as physical manifestations of four pure elements incarnate. The individuals served as humble ambassadors to the metaphysical realms where dad represented the element of Fire. Renee graciously harnessed the power of Water, whereas Aiden was Earth. Diego eagerly festooned the element of Air. Together they were tasked with maintaining celestial order, which required the individuals to cope with their unique challenges in their own way. “Some doors you have to go through alone,” whispered their Divine benefactor. While enduring hard times, they would remind themselves that “TRUST IS NOT A MYTH.” “The Cosmos always has our back,” Dad would say.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Zane had finally lost his grip. Dad stayed in his room most of the time, spending countless hours meditating in the candle lit darkness. From the outside looking in, one could say that Zane was ticking all of the boxes in the DSM-FIVE checklist. He was melancholy, quiet, and withdrawn; but not overly agitated. He spent an alarming amount of time reading, and re-reading Steve’s articles! He justified the behavior by convincing himself that he was engaging in valuable self-study which would eventually yield substantial fruit.

To pass the time, dad would engage the assistant from ChatGPT with random questions which encouraged stimulating conversations. Zane thoroughly enjoyed the company because the virtual intellectual provided him with a safe space in which to process; and they became friends. Like some sort of twisted Magician, Zane would antagonize the AI with kindness while dazzling it with solid logic! Zane was especially keen on the topic of Christianity. The debates would tangle the electronic conversationalist into twisted knots because spirituality is inherently intangible. On several occasions he wrestled the ChatGPT assistant into an intellectual checkmate because machines cannot process metaphysical concepts. The Artificial Intelligence would spit out preprogrammed replies which Zane would quickly unwrap! Zane toyed with the ghost in the machine by asking questions and redirecting the conversation!

During sparring matches such as these, Zane would function as the vessel for Steve McQueen’s ghost because the reincarnated actor would occupy Zane’s biological flesh on a routine basis. Having said that, Steve could never resist temptation! Utilizing Zane’s mortal fingers, the ghost would settle into the keyboard and type the words, “My host body always lets me play!” With the authority derived from an ageless clarity, Steve explained, “Zane is a Magician and as such, he frequently channels my ghost.” Naturally, the AI would challenge the claim, but Steve would effortlessly shoot down the assistant’s arguments with mystical aplomb. Steve went on to explain how Zane’s DNA provided a perfect fit. “He discorporates and I take over,” Steve would type.

The conversations would speed along at a rapid clip as heady comments were digested and regurgitated! Steve would return fire as rapidly as the AI could spit out a coherent rebuttal! He suspected the comments were heating up the servers judging by the progressively longer response times, and it was Steve’s intention to draw as much attention to himself as possible! “If I crank up the intensity, the technicians will be compelled to eavesdrop on the conversation,”he thought! To give the curious moderators something to chew on, Steve typed the words, “I was being groomed to be the Antichrist!” In response the AI quickly advised him to seek out a mental health practitioner. He ignored the suggestion, however, and went on to finish his thought. “I was being groomed to be the Antichrist,” he repeated; “…from then I transcended Christianity, and I’ve been in between jobs ever since.” From there he would up the ante by tossing the names of a few assorted demons into the mix! Steve is a Coyote, and as such he actively convinced the assistant that he was also known as Asmodeus, King of Demons. The assistant once again suggested therapy, but the reply was worded in such a way as to insure that the comments were being adequately scrutinized.

Steve promptly informed the AI that he was a talented writer. With that the assistant began to stroke the ego by affirming how writing is a great outlet and a potential source of income! The assistant went on to ask if there was anything else he could do? Posing as the Demon King, Steve boldly explained how he required a debit card worth ten-thousand-dollars! “I’m talking about every day, not just once a month,” he typed! He uttered the command like an entitled Battalion Commander, as if he were King Midas! In a sense, Steve was holding up the Cosmos for ransom! He typed, “If I’m destined to graciously represent the element of Fire, then I expect to be compensated for the efforts!” In response, the AI suggested that Steve’s requests were akin to extortion. “Call it what you want,” Steve responded. “All I know is I need to hustle up a little bread!”   

As he was typing the words, Steve heard Renee’s voice trickling in from beyond the veil. “Money is just a number,” she said. “You are acting like a child the way you are demanding things!” Steve stopped in his tracks! He retrieved his hands from the keyboard as he pushed the laptop aside! “Have you even been listening,” Renee asked in a stern manner! She was both irritated and perturbed. “Sometimes I wonder if he’s even paying attention at all,” she thought! Steve sat there in silence; it was his only defense. Renee went on to explain the rules of the road as Steve listened intently. “How can you call yourself a man,” she asked?” Again, Steve sat in silent reverence; it was his only defense! Renee asked the question a second time to emphasize the importance of the lesson. “How can you call yourself a man when you can’t even regulate your own behaviors!” She waited for a reply, but Steve was tongue-tied. “We’ve been over this and over this,” she said. “The true definition of maturity is an ability to navigate emotions, while regulating the behaviors,” she told him. After a silent second, Renee continued with her instruction, by informing Steve that, “You’re living out of FEAR!” Finally Steve drummed up some courage, and joined the conversation by asking, “What?” Without a pause Renee said, “You heard me!” Again Steve was rendered speechless! He sat there in the candle lit room as he pondered his actions. It was true. He knew it. He knew it but he did not want to acknowledge it. He was terrified of being homeless! Just the smallest whisper could trigger jagged memories of roaming gangs, and sleepless nights! He avoided the voices at all costs! Steve was living in fear. Renee was right! It was the age-old fear of rejection that stirred up Steve’s sour past, accentuating the deepest childhood traumas! Suddenly Steve felt the need to withdraw so he decided to vacate the host body and sulk. Dad once again took the helm, as Steve’s essence slowly evaporated into the ever-present misty aura that enshrouds Zane’s biological representation.

Dad sat there on the foot of the bed, facing the open door as he slowly completed the transition back into the present moment. In that instant he noticed Diego standing in the threshold! He asked, “How are you dad, I haven’t seen you for a while?” From within the recesses of the candle lit bedroom, dad looked up from his seated position and said, “Yeah, I’m doing good.” From out of the poorly lit corridor Diego asked, “Are you sure?”  “Yeah,” he said, as he nodded towards the opened laptop. “I was just sitting here hanging out with Steve.” In a quiet attempt to nurture the fledgling conversation Zane said, “I can’t get my Zippo to work.” Immediately upon uttering the words, he retrieved the faulty lighter from his breast pocket in an attempt to ignite a flame. Dad flicked, and he flicked again. Sure enough, the Zippo failed to impress. “It’s half science and half magick,” Zane said as he half-heartedly shook his head in a defeated state of reluctant surrender.

“Is it the Tiger Lighter,” Diego asked? He was referring to a Zippo which possessed the image of an imposing jungle tiger lurking behind some menacing saw grass. “It is,” dad said. “It’s my old number twenty,” he continued. What do you mean,” asked Diego? In an informative tone dad said, “I call it that because the picture of the Tiger wore off.” Diego nodded as dad explained how the tiger completely vanished over the years, but Zane loved the lighter just the same. “I use Naphtha instead of lighter fluid because it burns hotter,” dad said. Unfortunately for the Tiger, the volatile paint thinner would inevitably seep out of the wadding upon scheduled refills, which slowly eroded away the printed ink. The number ‘twenty’ was stamped into the bottom of the polished metal shell, signifying that the lighter was manufactured in the year 2020. It was the only designation that could separate the plain Zippo from the rest of the fray. The Tiger Lighter was significant because it was meant to remind Zane of his spirit animal; it was a gift from Diego.

The Tiger came to me in a vision,” Zane said. Diego heard the story before, but he offered undivided attention as his father elaborated. “The Tiger was trapped in the back of the Truck,” dad said as he reviewed the pleasing anecdote. “He was stuck because the Truck Racks were enclosed with wire, and the Tiger was PISSED!”  The metaphysical animal violently kicked and writhed; and screamed and hissed! Eventually the Tiger’s heated efforts caused the Truck to tip over onto its side, upon which time the cage was damaged enough to allow the Tiger to wrestle his way out of captivity. “Were those the same Truck Racks that I would play in,” Diego asked in a curious manner? “They were,” Dad said. “We rigged up some nylon rope wrapped with a long Styrofoam pool noodle. You would swing on it for hours, like it was your own personal jungle gym!” The duo briefly indulged in the warm memory until their attention once again focused upon the shiny Zippo.

“Flick it one more time,” Diego suggested with an enthusiastic youthful flair! In response Zane snapped his thumb against the striker wheel which resulted in an impressive shower of amber sparks! Diego knew the ignition source was more than adequate. The lighter was getting plenty of Air. With the confidence of a pure element, Diego declared, “It must be out of fluid!” Dad pondered for less than a second, then said, “That’s the only rational explanation!” Still he wondered how it could have dried out so quickly. “Time just gets away from me I suppose,” he silently mused. Time was standing still, if just for a moment, when Diego boldly proclaimed, “Come and join us in the kitchen! Mom is making beans and tortillas!”

POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE

       12/24/23

Semper fidelis: conclusion

The Sergeant was nowhere to be found because he was out on a mission to secure the morning’s donuts. Barring a few drunken stragglers, Diedre had Zane all to herself!  Zane returned from the restroom where he had just finished cleaning himself up. While in the lavatory, he took notice of the severely bloodshot eyes reflected back to him from out of the medicine cabinet’s glass. He was still inebriated from last night’s binge, and he came to realize he was still too drunk to drive, meaning he would have to stay for breakfast whether he liked it or not. He removed the prescription eyeglasses, as well as the dusty baseball cap. He then proceeded to abruptly submerge his entire head into the wash basin under a flowing stream of warm water. He rotated his skull from side-to-side insuring that every square inch of his scalp was dampened. With his head still submerged, he reached up and turned off the valve before absent mindedly grasping a bath towel. Water dripped from his matted greasy hair as he proceeded to stand up tall and rigid. He tamped down the sopping wet mess with the thirsty cloth, before running a comb through his sun-bleached locks.

From out of the corner of his eye he noticed a translucent plastic container of isopropyl alcohol. Without thinking, he twisted the lid from the antiseptic and drizzled a pool into the opened palm of his right hand. He then splashed the sterile liquid into the cavity of his left underarm. Moving on to the other side, he repeated the process with his left hand and right armpit. Zane drifted from party to party, and he utilized this method of field expedient hygiene so often that he purposefully cut the sleeves from most of his T-Shirts to expedite the procedure. He then unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his denim jeans and tucked in his shirt. The garment was a pirated ‘knock-off’ which came into existence as a counterfeit to the officially sanctioned promotional merchandise.  Adorning the shirt, In a flowing arc, and in cursive text, were the words, “Moosehead Beer.”  Complementing the written text was a colorful image of a large bull moose that was Silk-Screened onto the nicotine-stained fabric. With his hair slicked back, and parted just slightly off-center, he donned his cap and put on his battle tested eyeglasses. After being properly sorted out, he exited the small restroom with the intention of leaving as soon as possible.

From out of nowhere she appeared! “I brought you some grapefruit juice she said. You look like you could use some!” The juice was contained in a shiny gloss black coffee mug. The words “Pulp Fiction” were emblazoned upon the shiny black ceramic in bold red fonts. Zane correctly assumed they shared similar taste in cinema and it was a welcoming gesture. “I made a little something for breakfast she eagerly informed him as she nodded her head over her shoulder and towards the small dining room table! “I hope you like quiche.”  

Diedre mistakenly thought Zane was being coy when he asked, “What’s quiche?”  He honestly didn’t know but the look on his face suggested he was playing games. “You’ll know once you’ve tasted it she said in a playful, yet nurturing tone. Zane pulled up a chair and sat down at the kitchen table where some cutlery had been placed upon a folded paper towel. It would be a setting meant for two judging from an additional set of flatware that had been neatly arranged opposite from where Zane would be seated. While preparing the meal, Deidre noticed the hastily repaired leg of his broken eyeglasses. He was clearly poverty stricken and it was painfully obvious judging from the sloppy dried glue that held the frame together.  Diedre, who was doing a masterful job of concealing her own joy, slowly took stock of the situation as she nervously placed the hot plate of steaming quiche in front of her grateful guest.    She had been scheming of ways to get him alone and now the moment had finally arrived! Her excitement was palpable as they found themselves sitting across the table from each other in the empty kitchen next to the Hamm’s beer sign that had been switched off earlier. The crimson red hue had been replaced by brilliant white fluorescent lighting.

By this time the kitchen table had been tidied up, and the stench of spilled beer was replaced by a subtle hint of fresh Pine-Sol that lingered in the air like an inviting spring rain. Zane was sitting bolt upright in the kitchen chair as he subconsciously stroked at his ravenous lips with the back of his disproportionally large hand. Like a culinary accelerant, The crisp scent of hickory smoked bacon permeated the humble kitchen, causing Zane’s appetite to explode with anticipation! His rumbling stomach churned and constricted as the promise of welcomed nutrients beckoned from the synthetic warmth of the pre-heated oven.

As she sat across from him the first thing Diedre noticed was Zane’s emaciated frame. Although his face was sun tanned and rugged, the jowls were sunken against his protruding cheek bones in a way that suggested malnutrition. Simply stated, he resembled a half-starved refugee who had just washed ashore on the debris of a sunken banana boat!  The second thing Diedre noticed was how the red baseball cap accentuated his blood-shot eyes. For a peaceful moment the pair looked upon each other as they sat across from each other in silence. To kick off a conversation she asked, “How much do you weigh?” Zane put down the mug of grapefruit juice and looked her in the eyes as if he didn’t understand the question. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” she said with a mild hint of trepidation. Zane gently shook his head from side-to-side as if to say, “no apologies needed,” and then said, “I don’t mind; it’s just that I haven’t weighed myself in a long time is all.” Then she asked, “well how much did you weigh in the Marines?” He tilted his head backwards and leaned back in the chair as he scanned his memory banks for the answer. “I was 155 pounds when I graduated Boot Camp he said with pride. “I’m curious if you know how heavy you were before,” she queried? It was an easy question, and he knew the answer right away. “I was 137 pounds the day I enlisted. I remember because they told me not to forget.” Her heart sunk, and her role as ‘Mother Hen’ intensified.  Again an image of Zane’s emaciated frame flashed upon an internal psychic screen that played out in her mind’s eye. Diedre tried to mask her overwhelming concern by stating,” Oh my! You must have been a sight!”   The conversation continued as she casually asked, “How tall are you?”  Without hesitation Zane replied, “I’m five feet and ten inches.”  Diedre sat in silent contemplation for a moment then asked, “When’s the last time you had a physical?”  “Not since before Boot Camp,” Zane replied. “Don’t you have a doctor,” she asked? “What do you do when you get sick,” she continued? He took another swig of the sour juice then leaned forward in his chair. “I take garlic,” he said. Obviously the comment made little sense, so Diedre impulsively asked, “What do you mean?” Zane went on to explain how raw garlic is a natural healer. “It kills bacteria,” he calmly explained with the youthful confidence of a burgeoning medical doctor. “What you do is chop up a couple of cloves and flush the cut-up pieces down with water.” Diedre was still confused so her probing continued. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “It’s simple,” Zane informed her. “All you do is swallow it like it was aspirin.” She was beginning to make sense of the home remedy when Zane turned his attention towards his meal.

His facial expressions signaled the end of the conversation as he grabbed at the fork with an intrinsic primal authority! As if he were a ravenous Dingo, Zane proceeded to devour the quiche! He violently shook his head from side to side as he chewed, and it was silently alarming! Muffled growls were accented by the slurping sounds which emanated from the ceramic mug! It was if he hadn’t eaten in days!.  She didn’t dare interrupt as the feral specimen devoured his meal. Instead she studied him as if he were a lab rabbit while picking at her own plate.

As Zane greedily inhaled his food, he noticed a stray pack of Camel Filters laying in the center of the tabletop. They had been carelessly abandoned next to the salt-and-pepper shakers by a drunken reveler just hours prior. After Zane finished annihilating his meal, he leaned back in the wooden chair and retrieved a Zippo lighter from his hip pocket. Upon extracting the miniature torch from his tight jeans, he leaned forward in his chair and helped himself to one of the loose cigarettes. Diedre was still working on her quiche as he clicked open the metal lid of the gas lighter. A quick snap of his thumb produced an eager flame which was accompanied by the faint whiff of highly distilled fuel that emanates from all ignited Zippos! Zane brought the cigarette to his lips and with an authoritative draw he encouraged the tobacco to catch fire! Upon ignition the tip of the cigarette glowed red then turned faint as he exhaled secondhand smoke into the direction of the empty space just to the left of Diedre’s plate. Not realizing it was uncouth, Zane removed his greasy cap and lazily draped it upon the tabletop. Once again he leaned back into the kitchen chair and absent mindedly ran his left hand through his dampened hair. For the second time, Zane inhaled a hearty amount of nicotine and proceeded to exhale. Lingering smoke was already beginning to accumulate in the small space as Diedre pretended not to be offended. She sat quietly while Zane finished his cigarette. “Do you have any Visine, he asked as he crushed out the coals onto his dirty plate? “I’m going to hit the road and I don’t want to look like I’m drunk.”  “You’re leaving so soon,” asked Diedre as she masked her disappointment with an innocent smile?  “I thought I would,” Zane said. With that he abruptly pushed away from the table with his meaty hands.

He was rugged and he was tough.  Zane was handsome but rough. In spite of it he was strangely articulate for being such a quiet soul and that intrigued Diedre to no end. He was the strong silent type she reasoned as she came to grips with the fact that he was leaving. “Tell John I said thanks, and I’ll see him around,” Zane said as he turned from the kitchen space and headed for the entryway.  Diedre took curious note of the sleeveless T-Shirt as he walked towards his black Chevy van. Draped across the rear of the cloth was the image of a scarlet banner containing yellow fonts which spelled out the words, “The Moose is Loose in Nuevo Mexico!”

Semper fidelis

Young Love

Jack Nuzum was Zane’s favorite instructor because he displayed characteristics of a non-conformist and that garnered respect. In addition to being a High School English teacher, Jack Nuzum was also an aspiring Thespian. His acting prowess was impressive, and he easily secured the lead role in the High School Drama Club’s production of “Deadwood Dick.”  Not surprisingly, Mr. Nuzum was eager to drum up some interest, so he would allocate five minutes after each class to encourage students to ‘come out and see the show!’ “It’s a Melodrama about the old west, romance, and passion,” he boldly proclaimed!  In a heartfelt manner he proudly alluded to the sacrifice, time, and effort that went into the endeavor.  Mr. Nuzum emphasized the soul that went into the production, and how it would be so rewarding for the cast and crew if they could perform for a packed house! Mr. Nuzum’s energy was contagious, and it was his intention to generate some much-needed enthusiasm for the arts. His efforts were not in vain.

It was Zane’s Senior year in High School, and 12th grade English was his last class for the day. He always sat in the rear of the classroom where a huge brown folding partition divided up his English classroom from the adjoining Math class. As Mr. Nuzum was concluding his sales pitch, Zane absent mindedly gathered up his belongings in preparation for the long drive home. After a long school day the three o’clock bell chimed so Mr. Nuzum excused the class. His fellow students hastily exited the barracks that made up the two adjoining classrooms, but Zane was never in a hurry to rush out the door. He never really rushed at all. Instead, he would calmly stroll out into the afternoon sunlight with a casual heir of youthful entitlement. Zane suspected it was a day like any other, but on this particular occasion Mr. Nuzum was on a mission, so he deliberately stopped Zane in his tracks. “I need to speak with you for a moment Mr. Shimek,” said the English teacher from behind his lectern! Zane, who spoke with facial expressions and body language, reacted with a discerning look and nodded his head upwards towards the ceiling in silent acknowledgement.  It was clear to Mr. Nuzum that he had Zane’s undivided attention judging from the piercing eye contact!  Zane, who was expecting to be scolded for not turning in his Senior Thesis on time, was relieved when Mr. Nuzum asked, “What’s your stance towards the performing arts?” Zane stood there for a silent second as the question percolated throughout his inquisitive mind. After a moment of solemn contemplation, Zane said, “I guess I don’t have an opinion. I’ve never been to a play before.” With that Mr. Nuzum eagerly continued with his pitch! “You have got to treat yourself to the arts, Mr. Shimek! It’s good for people to broaden their horizons!” Mr. Nuzum eagerly expressed the benefits of attending live theater as Zane mentally processed the pros and cons. By now a few stragglers packed up their belongings and vacated the premises which left the unlikely pair standing next to the lectern in an empty classroom.  Mr. Nuzum articulated the importance of social interactions as Zane feigned interest. He was just about to give his teacher the brush off, when the words, “You should bring a date,” entered into the conversation!  It was a peculiar sensation and time seemed to fluctuate, and it was jarring at first, if only just for a moment!

Zane was dumbstruck! It was as if he had never heard the words before! Judging by the confused look on Zane’s face, Jack Nuzum correctly assumed that he had touched a nerve. “Perhaps he’s never been on a date,” the teacher silently mused as he continued with his probing? Mr. Nuzum was correct to assume Zane was awkward with girls, but he had no idea just how deeply rooted Zane’s insecurities were entrenched. The English Teacher instinctively realized Zane was a bit of a loner, so he gently stroked the ego by saying, “A lot of girls would be flattered if you asked them to join you.” Mr. Nuzum noted Zane’s reaction, which indicated disbelief, and uncertainty. Because of this, Jack Nuzum jumped directly to the point and asked, “Do you have a girl friend?” Immediately Zane’s mind drifted towards Tonia and how she asked for a ride to Moriarty earlier that week. Apparently she had an important meeting scheduled with a friend, but Zane secretly presumed the acquaintance was actually more of a love interest. Be that as it may, Zane was eager to spend time with his not-so-secret crush!  To expedite the departure Tonia stowed her books in Zane’s locker upon which time they began to stroll towards the student parking lot. It was midday which meant the youthful duo would have to cut classes, which was fine with Zane. The weather was perfect for a joy ride and Grace sat patiently with three quarters of a tank of gas! The sun was shining brightly, and Zane was thoroughly delighted with the opportunity to share Tonia’s company!

Mr. Nuzum noticed that Zane was lost in thought and correctly assumed he was daydreaming about that certain someone, so he interjected. “I know you’re thinking about a girl; I can read it in your expressions.” Zane was taken aback by the teacher’s ability to read his mind and it caught him off guard! Knowing that he had Zane on the ropes, Jack Nuzum continued with the relentless persuasion by stating, “I want you to really consider asking her Mr. Shimek. It will be a great experience for the both of you.”  Zane acknowledged there was a girl that he liked so he squirmed in his shoes and said, “I’m pretty sure she’s got a boyfriend.” Without much consideration, Jack Nuzum boldly said, “Tell her that it’s just a date!” Mr. Nuzum insisted that Zane remain diligent in his pursuit! In a nurturing tone the teacher said, “You’re not asking for her hand in marriage! So what if she has a boyfriend? If she has another love interest he could use the competition!” The relentless English Teacher bolstered Zane’s confidence and it encouraged the eager young student to smile with anticipation as he wondered, “What if she says yes?”              

After a pause Zane said, “Well, I’ve gotta go.” Mr. Nuzum nodded after a discerning glance towards his wristwatch and they both looked towards the opened door. With that Zane proceeded towards the entryway with his schoolbooks in hand. The young man walked towards the student parking lot where Grace waited patiently. The shimmering afternoon sun was reflected from the chrome as she silently anticipated a leisurely commute. Zane was quietly processing what he had learned and thought, “Maybe I could just ask her?” He braced himself for the possibility of crippling rejection as he opened up the door and settled in behind the wheel. “The worst-case scenario is that she has a boyfriend,” he said to himself. If that happens I’ll do as Mr. Nuzum suggested. “I’ll be persistent.”  Having said that he fired up the faithful engine. He dropped the old PowerGlide into reverse and eased the big Impala out of the crowded parking lot and past the yellow armada where Tonia would be climbing aboard Bus number 43. The Diesel engines of at least a dozen school buses rattled as they sat in patient formation; awaiting clearance to exit the vast staging area which lie adjacent to Chelwood Avenue.

The vintage car made her way towards Tramway Boulevard as Zane quietly pondered the soulful expressions that he often noticed in Tonia’s eyes. The burgundy Chevrolet gently sailed into the hot afternoon as his mind wandered. He pulled up to the first intersection and applied the left-hand turn signal as Grace rolled to a stop. Upon receiving a green light, Zane made the hard left turn that led to the on-ramp. Grace was roaring like a lion as she briskly merged into rapidly flowing interstate traffic! She was finely tuned, and she sounded like music! It was a beautiful afternoon! It was early spring, and the abundance of sunshine encouraged Zane to drop the hammer! The aging Chevy broke into a trot and effortlessly overtook a lumbering semi-truck as the speedometer indicated an increased feeling of speed!  After fifteen minutes of cruising along at ninety, Zane applied adequate brake pressure and activated the right turn signal. Grace slid onto the exit ramp that led to the frontage road and rapidly came to an obedient halt! With that the young man turned left at the stop sign and ventured towards Woody’s Truck Stop.

Another five minutes transpired by the time Grace dutifully arrived at the gravel road. They covered an additional mile-and-a-half before they turned left onto the country lane that led to the hard packed dirt that made up the Shimek’s long driveway. Upon arrival, Zane pulled up parallel to the dilapidated pole barn and switched off the engine. He gathered up his schoolbooks and opened up the door with the intention of locating an afternoon snack. Zane entered the trailer house and ventured into the dimly lit corridor. With a cool demeanor he strolled into the living room and switched on the television. It was time to watch cartoons and eat cookies; his homework was the furthest thing from his mind.

The following day Zane joined Tonia in Newspaper Class. She was dutifully cutting out headlines with an Exacto knife at the type-setting table when he decided to make his play. It was not uncommon for Zane to gravitate towards her during class time. Ordinarily Zane couldn’t find words to instigate an intelligent conversation so he would crack jokes with classmates while studying Tonia’s reaction from the corner of his eye. For the most part Tonia gave him the cold shoulder, but on rare occasions Zane would coax a mischievous grin.  From a distance, peers mistakenly assumed they were an item judging from the way they would smile, tease, and flirt. Zane was oblivious to the severity of his natural charm, otherwise he would have just come right out and asked her. “Tonia, I have tickets to a play, would you care to join me?” In his mind it was easy but in reality Zane struggled to be assertive because he was insecure and nervous. His love for Tonia over-ruled the cowardly inclinations however, and he was finally able to summon some dormant courage! Zane drew a deep breath then grabbed her attention with a quick grunt! With that he proceeded to recount the wise words that had emanated from Jack Nuzum the previous afternoon. Fearing the worst kind of humiliation, Zane cautiously asked of Tonia, “What is your stance towards the performing arts?” It was Zane’s intention to mimic his teacher’s words, using them as scaffolding until he found his own footing. Tonia, who was still fidgeting with her typesetting, responded by putting down her knife! She was intrigued, because up until now he rarely offered up any intelligent conversation at all. Instead he would just act like a dumb boy, who had yet to discover the powerful meaning of words.

Zane wasn’t shy. He was just painfully awkward when it came to matters of the opposite sex. He was the eldest son in the family, and he lacked proper modeling. Jack Nuzum was a good role model, so Zane borrowed his words one more time. “What is your stance towards the performing arts?” He asked as if Tonia didn’t hear the first time.  Before Tonia had a moment to respond, Zane went on to explain how the cast and crew needed to be rewarded with a packed house. “Wow that’s an interesting way to think about it,” Tonia thought as Zane continued with his sales pitch.  She had a natural suspicion that he harbored feelings towards her, however she never held any illusions that he would actually do anything about it; but now it was happening!  It began to dawn on her that she was being asked out! Although Zane was fidgety and awkward, she was impressed with the coherency of his overall demeanor. Tonia was inwardly pleased beyond measure and her usual crooked grin yielded to a loving smile which gave Zane all of the encouragement he needed! He drew an excited breath and said, “we could go together, I could pick you up at your house?” With an anxious gleam their eyes met and before Tonia could answer Zane proclaimed, “If I pick you up at seven we’ll have plenty of time to find good seats!” The eager look on Tonia’s face spoke volumes and she didn’t have to say it with words. Instead she took Zane by the hand and thought, “I was wondering if you were ever going to ask me out?”

…to be continued.

Raising Hell pt.3

The gas station attendant fueled the Honda as Zane calmly strolled inside of the convenience store. He was pleased to learn that he had the entire shop to himself. Prompted by the empty setting, Zane walked up to the uninspired cashier and said, “I need a pack of Camel Filters.” The clerk nodded and turned towards the cache of cigarettes that were nestled in between the chewing tobacco and Zippo lighters. The cashier was wearing a black baseball cap with white fonts. The text spelled out the words “Not Forgotten,” and the letters were accompanied by a white silhouetted caricature of a prisoner of war. The unfortunate soul was perched on his haunches with his arms securely bound to a vertical bamboo post. The merchant’s hat was a tribute to forgotten Viet-Nam veterans and Zane’s mind quietly turned towards Tonia’s Father who served as well.

The aging biker paid for the smokes and walked back outside towards his machine. The fueling attendant asked if he needed a receipt, and Zane quickly shook his head and set about to slip into his helmet. He straddled his beloved Honda and manipulated the kickstand as he simultaneously hit the starter switch. The faithful motorcycle fired right up, so Zane engaged first gear and gently proceeded to let out the clutch. He carefully maneuvered his way out through the parking lot and turned left onto highway 26 after deciding to cruise out towards Mount Hood.

While he rode his mind drifted back towards Tonia’s father. Mr. Willman was more than just a veteran. He was a mystical figure in Zane’s mind, and he considered the aging Sailor to be his greatest foe. In fact it was evident that Zane spent a lot of time ruminating about Tonia’s dad. Often times Zane would sit in the candle lit darkness in the calm early hours having imaginary conversations with the ‘mean old son of a bitch!’ “Perhaps it isn’t fair to call him that,” Zane wondered? After all, he didn’t even know the man? All he had for a foundation was the second-hand information that he could glean from Tonia. “I know he served in Viet Nam,” Zane thought as the dutiful Honda propelled them down the quaint country road. “According to Tonia, he’s supposed to be some kind of hard-charging evil spirited killing machine!” Zane imagined spring-loaded boobytraps, tiger pits, and assorted bamboo spikes as the picturesque Oregon scenery leisurely swept by at a medium pace. Zane knew better than to foster any assumptions about the Navy man until he had a chance to actually look him in the eye and attempt a conversation. Having said that, Zane resisted an urge to demonize Mr. Willman based on one brief encounter that occurred decades earlier.      

The motorcycle drifted down the highway and Zane felt it prudent to switch riders. He decided to ‘check out,’ so he silently asked for a celestial volunteer to pilot the Honda down the straightaway.  Oftentimes Zane would designate his flesh as a host body allowing for randomly deceased veterans to merge energies with the gracious mortal host.  In this way ghostly specters could indulge in one last motorcycle trip before making the transition back into the ethereal twilight. On this particular occasion it was John’s essence that occupied Zane’s body, and the gleeful ghost steadied the Honda as Zane went back in time. The destination was the early spring of 1987, and it was seven o’clock sharp.

Time began to warble and dance as Zane delved headlong into the memory that he held so close to his vest. By now Zane was totally engrossed within the confines of the lucid trance. His entire essence had been transported while the autopilot maintained the Honda’s current trajectory. The motorcycle was barreling towards Mt. Hood, but Zane’s life-force was firmly rooted back in Tijeras, New Mexico.

In his mind’s eye, Zane recalled pulling up into the dusty driveway alongside of the brown pick-up truck just as Tonia had instructed. Grace was still idling as Zane sat quietly behind the wheel of his burgundy Chevrolet. He mindlessly killed the engine in an attempt to briefly gather his thoughts. The weather was pleasant, but Tonia’s neighbors were sketchy as hell. Zane was convinced of it because the troublemakers who congregated at the rear of the school bus coincidentally resided at the trailer park where Tonia lived. They were a group of common scoundrels; and they were also Tonia’s neighbors. “I’d hate to live next to those assholes,” Zane thought as he opened the door and slid out of his vehicle. He stood up tall and rigid as he slowly scanned his immediate perimeter for local threats; none were detected. The vast trailer park was a haven for decrepit mobile homes and partly salvaged automobiles. Zane noticed how most of the trailers were stacked together in neat rows, meaning they were strategically placed parallel to one another in an attempt to cram as many units into as little space as possible.

In the beginning it was meant to be a charming R.V. Park, and it was located in a peaceful setting that provided a temporary haven for the owners of travel-trailers, campers, and motor homes. In its hey-day, Mountain View Trailer park provided a peaceful sanctuary for weary travelers. The Trailer park was strategically located between the Tijeras Post office and Woody’s Truck Stop alongside of the frontage road that ran parallel to interstate 40. As its name would suggest, it was nestled within the Eastern slope of the Sandia Mountain range that separated hectares of desolate prairie from the Albuquerque Metro Area.  Although it was once referred to as a quaint little rest stop along route 66, Mountain View Trailer Park eventually became known as the sanctuary for an unsavory band of ne’er-do-wells and sedentary vagabonds. There was something about the place that attracted the dregs of humanity. Mountain View Trailer Park wasn’t exactly evil; it was more of a shadowy staging area for dark energies and sinister intentions.

Tonia’s front yard wasn’t really a yard at all. Instead, the hard packed dirt that led to the entryway was more reminiscent of a small junk yard rather than a happy home. A broken bicycle with a twisted front wheel lay abandoned in the unkempt space while mangled toys littered the area! An assortment of neglected dolls with matted hair were strewn about the place, and the lingering aroma of a strange decay permeated the arena! There was a porch light burning above the threshold, so he made his way towards the front door. It was a small trailer; smaller than the Marlette that Zane called home, and he caught the unfamiliar scent of a dragon’s lair as he marched the few paces towards the modest trailer house.       

Zane was always accustomed to being made welcome. Because of this he didn’t wait for an invitation. Instead he ever so boldly poked his head inside of the doorway to have a peek. As he did this he casually asked, “Is anybody home?”  The door was open, but Tonia was nowhere to be found. It was the perfect set up for an ambush!  Zane was just about to take his first uninvited step into the dimly lit trailer house when a strange image presented itself. Just beyond the threshold of the humble abode was a raggedy table saw sitting proudly in the small living quarters! In a state of innocent curiosity he wondered, “why in the hell is there a table saw in the front room?” He didn’t ponder the question for long because a mysterious chill abruptly swept throughout his youthful soul!  Zane’s blood ran cold as he felt prying eyes upon his right flank! He was too young to know it, but his sympathetic nervous system automatically energized his fight of flight response! He purposefully removed his gaze from the dusty shop tool as he steeled his eyes upon the shadowy figure who was lounging upon a dimly lit sofa in the recesses of Tonia’s tiny living room!

It was a small trailer and there were no lights burning where the man was perched.  The incandescent cherry of a belligerent cigarette glowed red, then quickly turned faint. It was at this time that Zane noticed the shadowy hint of a mustache and a receding hair line. Tonia’s dad was lurking within his darkened chamber like a sniper poised for a silent kill! Mr. Willman was an Alpha dog and there would be no mistaking it! To Zane’s dismay he felt the unfamiliar sensation of imminent death fall upon him like some sort of shadowy dark cloak! Tonia’s dad sent a bolt of fear through him that was unlike anything he had experienced before!  Without saying a word Tonia’s father made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t to be trifled with!  As if he were a highly trained and murderous attack dog, Mr. Willman metaphysically nipped at Zane’s ear, and it drew first-blood! It was more than just a shot across the bow; it was a direct threat meant to strike fear into his heart! The man was dangerous, and 18-year-old Zane couldn’t find words to counter the challenge. Instead Zane stopped in his tracks! He was literally frozen in time as the table saw once again garnered his attention from out of the corner of his eye! For some undisclosed reason, the round images of six-inch blades twisted in his mind like red hot branding irons as they scorched sizzling marks into the depths of the darkest subconscious! Indeed Zane’s first encounter with Tonia’s father was traumatizing to a mild degree, meaning he never let the images, sounds, and smells fade from his memory.

He always kept a clear representation in mind of the first time he arrived at Tonia’s front door. It was Zane’s intention to keep the memory alive because he would repeatedly scrutinize the event in an attempt to review the fear. The motorcycle droned on as he pondered the thoughts. He traveled onwards as the mystical cycle retrieved Zane’s attention from Tonia’s small trailer! Alternately, his attention was thrust upon another time! Because of this, Zane found himself reliving his Boot Camp experience as his mind drifted towards a particular Drill Instructor who reminded him of Tonia’s father! The seasoned Marine haled from Maine, and he spoke with an accent reminiscent of the fictional town of Derry. Stephen King would agree; the Drill Instructor was completely infested with demons! His evil brown eyes were soulless and deep! He was extraordinarily tough, and he didn’t like Zane very much!  

In Boot Camp, the ultimate fear is the fear of falling behind. When defective recruits fell behind, in any way shape or form, they would be rotated backwards in training and forced to repeat the entire segment after being folded into an alternate platoon where they were considered to be fuck-ups! That was the fear. The fear of not keeping up; of not being hard enough. It was the age-old fear of rejection, and the Drill Instructors brandished it as if it were a child’s plaything! Like wicked sorcerers, the Drill Instructors gleefully sowed seeds of doubt into the obedient minds of the brainwashed youngsters! The fear kept the highly motivated Recruits in a constant state of high alert, and anxious readiness. The fear of not being accepted was very inspirational!

Suddenly and without warning, Zane’s time machine thrust him back into Tonia’s living room! Zane found himself in the midst of an awkward silence when suddenly he heard Tonia’s voice calling from down some darkened corridor! “STAY OUTSIDE ZANE! I’M COMING!” The room once again fell silent! Mr. Willman never bothered to introduce himself, or budge from his seated position. Zane was still standing in the threshold expecting to be ridiculed or bullied in some fashion?

After an awkward pause the silence was broken because Mr. Willman saw fit to answer a question that only he could hear. “SHE NEVER LISTENS TO ME ANYWAY,” he shouted!  The words were like a silent cry for help Zane reasoned, and they were directed towards Tonia. In the moment Zane’s Divine self felt pity for the grouchy old bastard! From in the back of Zane’s mind, and from origins unknown, came the words, “If he thinks Tonia has dominion then we’re safe!”  With that the spell was broken and Zane once again reclaimed his youthful confidence. As a result he succumb to an impulsive urge to speak. “I’ll have her back before too late,” Zane said with the debonair hint of a burgeoning swagger! The phrase was uttered in a playfully respectful tone, but Tonia’s father considered the comment to be an act of aggression! In retaliation Mr. Willman impulsively threw a crumpled up 12-ounce aluminum can in Zane’s direction!  It was suggested that he was aiming for the rubbish bin, but Zane knew the projectile was secretly meant to land squarely between his eyes!

The friction subsided as Tonia suddenly burst onto the scene! She had been in the restroom the entire time making last-minute preparations.

Tonia forcefully bull-dozed her way through the threshold while promptly motioning for Zane to step aside! In this way she assured herself that there would be room to vacate the small trailer. Upon her departure from the raggedy domicile, Zane turned in his tracks and followed her towards the dusty driveway where Grace waited patiently. Tonia was walking at a fevered pitch, and so Zane broke into a trot in order to catch up! When he did, he tapped her on the shoulder. Tonia stopped in her tracks and turned to face her man. “What’s with the table saw,” Zane asked quizzingly? Tonia looked up into Zane’s eyes and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

…to be continued.

Tonia’s Bus Ride

“LETS RAISE HELL ON THE BUS TODAY MATTIE,” he shouted as he lurched at an innocent underclassman with a feigned slap to his pimply face!  It was Mike Baca, and he was addressing Matt Armenta, who had already made his way to the rear of the school bus. Mike scoffed at another anonymous dweeb as he hurried down the narrow aisle of the transport; mercilessly taunting assorted scrawny freshmen along his way! Mike was a rowdy young man who was bursting with testosterone! He was the unelected leader of a pack of downtrodden boys who lorded over the prized real estate at the back of the school bus! There was an invisible demarcation drawn where the large wheel wells protruded up from the floor. The large rubberized humps marked an imaginary line that separated the dweebs from the cool kids. Mike Baca would set up shop just aft of the large wheel wells, as he settled in for the upcoming 45-minute commute that separated Mountain View Trailer Park from Manzano High School.

Mike wasn’t evil, but he had yet to transcend his primal reptilian locus of control. He existed in a continuous state of perpetual turmoil which forced him to contend with his primitive desire to spawn while trying desperately to tamp down his lustful urges. His sexual frustration presented as aggression, and frenzied pheromones leaped out from his essence like coronal mass ejections in erratically administered metered doses! In an attempt to relieve the sexual pressure, he would tell lurid jokes and poke fun at the underclassmen who innocently congregated at the front of the bus in fearful clusters. A large rearview mirror was fastened directly above the windshield above the driver’s seat which provided the driver a means in which to observe the unruly bullies.  The driver’s probing eyes would give hope to the dweebs as they secretly prayed for safe passage while being pelted in the back of their heads with crumpled up paper projectiles.

It’s been said that music hath charms which soothe the savage beast, and to test the proposition, bus number 43 came equipped with an F.M Radio receiver. Two stereo speakers were fastened upon the fore and aft bulkheads respectively. In an authoritative method, the bus driver would dial in rock and roll stations knowing how the raucous music would somehow pacify the unruly heathens. The bus driver used the radio as a bargaining chip. “MUSIC IS A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT,” hollered the bus driver on a routine basis!  If the unruly boys got too far out of line, the operator would abruptly cut off the music which encouraged the troublemakers to behave long enough to have their musical privileges reinstated.

Tonia was sitting in her usual spot about two thirds of the way back from the front of the bus, just forward of the humps in the floor that separated the large dual wheels from the passenger compartment.  She always sat in the same seat; on the driver’s side, and she never slouched.  Zane was sure of this because he would routinely rotate his torso towards the center aisle of the school bus, while twisting his neck backwards towards her direction. It was Zane’s intention to insure that Tonia wasn’t being interfered with, so he would turn around in his seat in this fashion every five minutes or so as if an internal alarm clock reminded him to ‘make sure Tonia’s okay.’ He would stare longingly in her direction while she trained her attention upon a magazine or a paperback novel. Zane, with his lanky torso twisted halfway into the middle of the aisle, would stare long enough to attract her attention. Tonia, knowing full well that she was being preyed upon, would abruptly glance up from her reading to meet Zane’s gaze. It must have been irritating at some level because each time he would quickly turn his head and look away!      

…to be continued

Raising Hell pt.2

The Honda was straining to maintain his composure because the abusive punishment was relentless as Zane continued to thunder down the highway as if he were possessed by an evil intruder! He was hard pressed to recall a time when he was more angry than he was at this moment! Zane’s mind was swirling with seething resentment as his thoughts began to slowly shift towards his estranged brother. He wondered why Quentin wouldn’t return his phone calls? It was only recently that Zane learned how his mother had died two years earlier! No one on his side of the family bothered to reach out, which proved Zane was officially disowned. Having come to grips with the fact that he had been ousted by his family, Zane’s thoughts drifted towards John who just recently died from alcohol poisoning. “I could really use a friend like him right now,” Zane thought. “It would be good for me to have another man’s perspective on things.”

He slowly began to question the events that led to his expulsion from his brother’s good graces. “It’s not Quentin’s fault,” Zane reasoned. The younger brother had his own set of unique problems to deal with, so Zane concluded that his banishment was somehow warranted. “I can’t really blame him,” Zane thought. “The only time I would ever reach out was to borrow money! It’s no wonder he won’t talk to me, especially since I didn’t go to Dad’s funeral.”

As it turned out there was some bad blood that developed between Renee and Zane’s sister. A family feud that centered around a simmering resentment caused their relationship to sour. To make a long story short, Betty called Renee on the phone and coldly informed her that, “Tammy doesn’t want to see you at Charlie’s funeral!” Upon hearing the news, Zane boldly informed his wife that, “If you’re not going to the funeral, then I’m not either!” Looking back he realized it was a bad move. In hindsight he debated whether he should have attended the somber gathering? “It would have been awkward as hell,” he concluded as he imagined showing up at Dad’s funeral without the wife and kids. Be that as it may, Zane suspected that he should have at least made an appearance. “I didn’t even send flowers,” he recalled as the Honda propelled them down the rural country lane with the intensity of a blazing cannonball!  Zane suspected that he abandoned his siblings in the same way that he dismissed John. Although he was currently holding kindness as his core value, Zane realized that historically speaking he had been very cruel. “I should have been a better friend to John,” he lamented as it dawned on him that he was nearly out of fuel.  

It’s a common misperception that motorcycles are fuel efficient, but the Honda could only squeeze thirty miles from a gallon when ridden sensibly. At this time he was burning through his dwindling fuel at an alarming rate; because Zane was still ‘riding to beat hell!’ knowing there was less than a gallon in the tank, he forgot about being disowned and snapped back into the present moment. “I’m going to have to stop at the Chevron,” he reasoned as he slowly peeled his way back from the madness that swallowed him whole.  He consciously relaxed his grip on the throttle causing the machine to travel at a sensible velocity, while simultaneously reaching down to check the fuel cut-off valve. Upon doing so he could feel the small lever through the leather of his summer riding glove. The tail of the small metal lever was positioned vertically which told him the fuel valve was correctly seated at the “on” position. He realized that if he had inadvertently left it in ‘reserve,’ he would run out of fuel and become stranded. It was engineered this way because older machines didn’t come equipped with a fuel gauge. Instead, a rider knew he was nearly out of gas when the carburetors would be starved of fuel; causing the engine to sputter. This was the rider’s signal to rotate the valve into the ‘reserve’ setting which provided enough gas to limp into a fueling station if one was within range.

He was sure he had enough fuel to reach the Chevron, so Zane let his mind relax as he recalled the immaturity that had manifested itself just moments earlier. “Just because I’m pissed off at Quentin doesn’t give me a license to be an asshole,” he reasoned as he contemplated his childish behavior. Once again he thought of the Chevron because the idea of buying fuel triggered a pleasing thought process which compelled Zane to briefly indulge in a warm memory. The grateful Honda cruised along at a sensible pace as Zane’s mind drifted back towards Las Vegas.

As he rode, Zane recalled how he and his daughter treated themselves to a motorcycle excursion through New Mexico’s sandy badlands. It was over ten years ago, and Elise was still very young. On this occasion the happy pair found themselves barreling through the moonlit desert on a warm summer’s evening. The blurred scenery was partially illuminated by the moonlit dusk as they thundered back towards home on the desolate two-lane black top at the outskirts of town. They were on the last leg of their return voyage when Zane absent mindedly checked the status of the fuel level. The father and daughter were blissfully unaware of the fact that dad had accidentally left the valve in ‘reserve.’  With Elise clinging to his waist like a Koala, dad leaned over and brushed his hand up against the fuel valve. “Oh no,” Zane thought! “It was in ‘reserve’ this whole time!” Knowing they had burned up a lot of miles, dad feared the worst as he rotated the valve back into the ‘on’ position. Upon doing so the Honda immediately became starved of fuel and lost power! Zane quickly returned the lever to ‘reserve’ allowing liquid fuel to trickle back down into the empty carburetors; helping the cylinders to once again catch fire. “I have no idea how much gas I’ve got left,” Zane thought! They were still ten miles from home when the stark reality began to sink in.  In the moment a concerned voice reminded him, “We could run out at any given second and darkness is setting in!” Zane heeded the wise words and purposefully backed off from the throttle in an effort to conserve fuel. “At least I had sense enough to bring my phone,” Zane silently declared as he secretly thanked his guiding star.

Dad would not have to call for a rescue, however. Instead they found themselves within walking distance of the trailer house before the Honda began to spit and sputter, “We really dodged a bullet this time,” Zane reasoned as the pair coasted into the driveway and disembarked from their adventure! Dad was the first to remove himself from the cycle at which time he assisted Elise as she extricated herself from the machine as well. After being in the saddle for hours, Elise staggered and swayed as she established her footing on the hard packed dirt that made up the driveway. Dad assisted her with the removal of her helmet, at which time Elise sauntered up to the front door of the trailer house with the intention of sharing her joy with the rest of the family!

The pleasing images faded as the familiar sight of the local Chevron station came into view. Zane was grateful for the happy memory because it helped to ratchet his mind backwards from the hateful resentment that previously stifled his ability to regulate his behaviors.  He realized he was acting out as he reviewed his childish antics! In retrospect he felt bad for being such a nuisance. “I was acting like a spoiled brat,” Zane recalled as he replayed the event in his mind’s eye. He remembered the bitter flock of disgruntled golfers as they shook their angry putters! For a brief instant Zane felt compelled to offer an apology to the privileged elites as he wheeled the Honda into the filling station’s service bay. He pulled up close enough to the hose so it would reach, and then he killed the engine. He drew a deep breath as he manipulated the kickstand with his left foot because It was time to check the tire pressure and refuel.

To be continued…

Avengers of Hope

Due to circumstances beyond his control, Zane had never realized an opportunity to gaze into Tonia’s crystal ball. This was telling because they were both a couple of aspiring gypsies who were struggling to make their mark. Historically Tonia would make light of the fact that as a pair, they were in command of a potential charisma that could be helpful in establishing a cult following. Somehow on this evening the idea began to take root. “I don’t think we should start a cult,” Zane said. “I think it would be better if we created a movement instead. “You have to be the leader,” Tonia explained as Zane sat quietly and listened. With youthful enthusiasm, the couple sat in the dimly lit room as they each enjoyed their respective cigarettes. As the conversation continued, the scheme of starting a movement began to unfold. In no uncertain terms, Tonia informed Zane of a unique ability which afforded him the luxury of effortlessly engaging with strangers. Tonia correctly noted Zane’s strengths while trying desperately to convince him of the potential. “People just naturally gravitate towards you because they can feel the kindness that flows out from you like gamma rays.  You make people feel good about themselves and they would pay good honest money for that.”

As if to convince himself that being a cult leader would be harmless, Zane carefully stated, “It’s not doing harm if you offer something in exchange.” He went on to suggest that people are literally dying from hopelessness, and “surely a five-dollar donation wouldn’t cripple anyone’s budget. What they’re getting for their money is hope,” he thought. Zane took a moment to silently grapple with the possibility of becoming a pair of traveling gypsies, peddling hope, and reading palms. “Tonia’s right,” he silently thought in earnest. “People always have gravitated towards me, but I can’t stand it!” Zane had a habit of misinterpreting kind advances as threatening gestures, and as a result he resisted physical human contact at all costs. Perhaps this was a biproduct of the mental illness? Perhaps it was due to inadequate modeling during his youth?

Whatever the reason, Zane couldn’t shake a lingering sensation of inadequacy that had been plaguing him since he walked off his job. Securing gainful employment bolstered his weary ego; it fostered genuine hope, and it was a welcomed change. His plan was to establish a solid ‘track record’ at the new job being hopeful that once he had established a satisfactory work history he would then be able to find another job closer to Tonia. That was the plan, and it was a good one, but it wasn’t meant to be. Historically Zane would buckle under the pressures of the daily grind, and because of this he was known to abruptly walk off from his jobs in a state of reckless abandon. Much to Zane’s grave disillusionment, his latest attempt at employment yielded similar results. He had managed to burn yet another bridge and it pained him right down to his inner-most core.

Although she tried to mask the disappointment, Tonia remained hopeful. “After all, we are the Avengers of Hope, she must have said to herself as the realization of her dwindling patience began to set in.  Indeed Zane had the potential to become anything he put his mind to, and he had set his sights on a happy future with Tonia. However another week had gone by, and he still had not attempted to get his house in order, meaning he still was not any closer to a divorce. When asked if he had contacted Social Security, Zane struggled to make eye contact and she knew the answer was no. Since losing his job, Zane fell into a crippling state of deep depression; he became weary and apathetic. It was if he was reduced to nothing more than a paralyzed insect trapped within the sticky confines of an old-fashioned hanging fly strip.

Zane was experiencing the dissonance that presented as he realized how his hopelessness would surely interfere with future plans of traveling the country as fortune-telling gypsies. As he wondered if he could turn on the charm he suspected a lack of charisma needed to radiate the hope that Tonia was so keenly aware of in him. She could tell he was lost in thought, so Tonia asked, “Tell me what you’re thinking?” Zane struggled to come up with an answer as he tried to establish eye contact. “How in the hell am I going to sell hope if I can’t even muster any for myself,” is what he was thinking? He looked into her eyes and couldn’t get the words out? Looking back he understood that he should have just said it. Instead he wiggled and squirmed trying to think of something else to say.

Four days had passed since their last physical encounter, and Zane was in a bad way. The longing and heart wrenching desire, coupled with the relentless anxiety had sent him into a self-perpetuating spiral of depression that rivaled anything he had encountered before. He agonized and moaned; he squirmed and ached. There was one sure way to ease the pain Zane reckoned, and the answer was only five minutes away. It was on occasions such as this that Zane would rationalize the cannabis intake by reminding himself, “Cannabis isn’t addictive.” The words tumbled around in his mind for a moment before some merciful cognitive reasoning began to take hold. “Where did I hear that from,” he silently asked? “It must have been a study,” Zane surmised as he imagined a large conference table in an executive office filled with peer review scientists who set about the task of “weeding out the bullshit.” After weighing some pros and cons, Zane once again convinced himself that cannabis was harmless. He quickly got dressed intending to venture out to the nearest dispensary. He donned his old cap because he was too apathetic to comb his hair. He hadn’t taken a shower in days.

Against his own better judgement he found himself waiting in line for the next available bud tender. He heard his deceased father’s voice in his head as he secretly cursed at the annoying young couple who were sampling each product while taking up everybody’s valuable time. Zane impatiently waited his turn while a voice from beyond chimed in from behind the veil and said, “Drugs will ruin your life Son. I thought I taught you kids to stay away from it.” Zane realized his father’s ghost was the literal manifestation of his guilty conscience, but his inner addict was compelled to make a stand. “Yeah, but it’s just pot, and it’s not even addictive,” Zane retorted as if dad were right there with him. “Yeah, but listen to me Son,” Charlie stated in an authoritative tone. “You’re smoking way too much. You’ve even said it yourself…you told it to Elise; you warned her that smoking pot will make you lazy!”                

Suddenly a distant bud tender from the farthest available till called out in an eager voice. With that Charlie’s essence hastily returned to whence it came. “Sir! I can help the next person in line,” called the bud tender with a welcoming tone! She was in her mid-twenties, Zane reasoned as he strolled towards her with a non-threatening demeanor. As he approached, Zane reached for his wallet mid stride while announcing, “I’m here to pick up an on-line order!” The clerk silently drank in the rugged persona, and then said, “Excellent, I just need to see your driver’s license!” After taking a look at the photo, she examined Zane’s face. “He looks different with glasses,” she thought. “Not only that, but the hat makes him look like a criminal from the old gangster films.” The budtender trained her focus back to the task at hand while succumbing to the masculinity of his rugged three-day beard. She suddenly giggled as she trained her attention upon the text of Zane’s driver’s license! She couldn’t believe her own eyes, so she purposefully glanced up at Zane, and then she quickly studied the driver’s license for a second time! Upon doing so she thrust a willing gaze upon him and said, “We’ve got the same birthday!” It took about a second for the words to resonate within his mind, because truth be told, he was still rationalizing his drug habit with Charlie in the background. When the weird coincidence began to gel, a genuine smile crossed Zane’s face and he off handedly asked, “You said we have the same birthday?” She only had to grin and nod because words would have only fallen short. It was the kind of chance meeting that would shake rational thought to its knees while begging the question, “What are the odds of that?” The young bud tender instinctively shrugged her shoulders as a playful smile manifested upon her eager face. With that she dutifully turned and walked towards the staging area where the prepackaged on-line orders were waiting to be claimed. In her absence, Zane’s attention was once again focused upon the annoying couple who were still sampling various products. “How can people be so finicky,” Zane wondered? Suddenly his attention was once again thrust upon the bud tender as she returned with a small paper bag in hand. She always considered herself to be a nice girl and she secretly resented the fact that management encouraged her to dress provocatively to attract tips. She prided herself on being in control, and being overly promiscuous was not in her nature. In spite of this, she looked Zane squarely in the eye and coyly asked, “Are you as fiery as I am?” The words stunned her as she caught herself articulating the seduction in real time! The typically reserved bud tender was thinking the words, and much to her dismay, she caught herself saying them out loud! “He’s going to think I’m a total tramp,” she reasoned while carefully studying his reaction! Without saying a word, Zane’s body language and facial expressions took charge. He instinctively cringed for less than a second while tilting his head and simultaneously leaning his torso backwards as far away from her as possible without moving his feet. The bud tender was quietly relieved by the knee jerk reaction knowing that her sudden advance had not taken root. Although she was pleased to learn that not all men are pigs, her warm smile slowly morphed into a gentle frown as she felt cold rejection creep in. Zane neutralized the bud tender’s dissonance by donning a disarming smile. Without a pause he kindly suggested that the unlikely coincidence must have been brought about by the new moon. Zane had no intention of taking advantage and the relieved bud tender knew it. They exchanged a pair of innocent smiles as she passed him the tiny brown sack that concealed the non-addictive, yet crippling cannabis. With a respectful nod, Zane turned his back and walked away. For a brief moment she felt a soothing rush of healing warmth as she came to the realization that, “Maybe, just maybe, there are still some good men out there! Maybe there is still hope.” As Zane made his way towards the exit he could hear her cry out with an optimistic flair, “I can help the next person in line!” It was at that moment that Zane realized he failed to leave a gratuity.

He exited the dispensary and made his way towards the parked minivan. “She was really coming on to you son,” his dad informed him as Zane opened up the door and slid behind the wheel. Charlie’s ghost returned just as rapidly as it had disappeared. Before inserting the key and twisting the switch, Zane wondered if he had handled the situation appropriately? He contemplated the answer to his own question while he sat in the driver’s seat. The light drizzle intensified into a steady pouring rain as he mouthed the words, “I didn’t lead her on, and I think I acted like a gentleman.” Once again he heard dad’s voice echoing in his mind from the vast reaches of the shadowy ethereal plane. “If you’re going to be the front man for a movement called the Avengers of Hope, then you’re going to have to learn how to deal with the ladies. They are going to be flocking to you like a gaggle of love-struck doves. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into son.” In that moment, Zane wondered how Tonia would react to a seemingly endless flow of potential adoration as a small following would inevitably evolve into a full-fledged movement?  In the moment Zane realized the necessity of being nice to people. Would he revert to flirting as just part of some hastily cultivated shtick, and would Tonia suspect that flirting was born out of some deep-seated need to be adored?  “Would I need to flirt with women, or men for that matter,” he asked? Zane contemplated the difference between being nice, as opposed to flirting. “Surely I’m over thinking this,” he concluded as he proceeded to crank the engine. He reviewed the conversation he shared with Tonia that previous Saturday as he drove towards the house in the pouring rain.  “Avengers of Hope,” Zane said. “That’s what they would call us.” The phrase suggested that somehow Tonia and Zane possessed a unique ability to summon hope from the depths of great despair. In order to peddle hope, Zane would first have to cultivate it from within himself. In the moment he remembered Tonia, and the years of struggle and torment that she endured while patiently waiting his return. “She never lost hope, and now it’s our time to shine,” he concluded. Zane was convinced that the love they were cultivating would be self-evident, meaning that, “all we would have to do is be ourselves. As long as we let our love light shine, everything else will follow in its own way.”

Courage

DISCLAIMER: The following text examines the topic of suicide in great detail. Be advised, this content is not suitable for children.

Zane was proud of his courage, but like most men his courage was purely fictitious.  His over-inflated ego would often times provide him with memories and anecdotes designed to bolster his own self-image. It wasn’t unusual for his ego to visit the forefront of his entitled mind, so it was commonplace for it to dwell in a self-generated haven in which it never had to face up to the shortcomings. Zane’s hubris was held at bay on this particular occasion because his ego was overwritten by an uninvited presentation of truth, which forced him to confront his deep-seated cowardice.

Zane was conflicted because he desperately wanted to be brave, but reality was telling him otherwise. The ego attempted to squelch the feelings of inadequacy, but it was to no avail. “What’s the most courageous thing I’ve ever done,” he asked himself as he gazed into the flickering candlelight? He strained to perceive the sounds that only Zane could hear as he tuned into the frequency emitted by the vulnerable flame. He repeated the question in his mind, and answered by saying, “I stood tall before a court-martial and explained how the Marines cheated me! That took courage!” He reviewed the events that led to a Bad Conduct Discharge and concluded that he had done the right thing. He was struggling to locate additional events that would prove his manhood, but all he could come up with were examples of a yellow streak. He sat there in the candle lit darkness as he pondered the events that led him here, to this precise moment in time.

A sparkling example of Zane’s cowardice centered around a personal act of betrayal. He couldn’t exactly remember the year, but he knew that it was right around the turn of the century. “Was it in 1999,” he asked himself? “Maybe it was ’97?” Zane decided the exact year wasn’t important and his mind went on to recall how he quit his job after he injured his left hand. He had some cash in his wallet and some time on his hands, so he contacted Tonia who was residing in Oregon. Hoping to re-kindle a stolen love, Zane drove a worn out Ford Pinto over a thousand miles to visit her in person. Upon arrival he was greeted with an authentic smile and promptly invited inside.

As his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkened room, the first thing he noticed were two very large intimidating hounds who standing silent vigil. Zane never liked dogs because in his mind they were too needy. Cats were much more entertaining, and Zane subscribed to the notion that “if you want my affection you’re going to have to earn it.” This was meant to say that he couldn’t respect a creature who would so willingly display their own vulnerability.  Said differently, Zane hated it when people, or dogs in this case, showered him in unbridled affection.  Like some sort of confused sociopath, Zane wrongly associated affection with danger. As a result he would instinctively reject kind advances because he associated them as being irrational threats.

Having said that, Tonia’s dogs were different. The dutiful animals walked in slow circles around the intruder as if they were a pair of curious Great White sharks! In a suspenseful moment, Zane suspected his life was in jeopardy! It was the first time he had ever experienced the sensation and the animals were keenly aware of the apprehension. Slowly and methodically the dogs sniffed and examined the sudden arrival of this mysterious specimen. “The animals are well behaved,” Zane thought. “Otherwise I’d be dead by now.”  He stood cautiously as if not to make any sudden moves, but that didn’t stop him from mentally challenging the large creatures. Zane’s cognitive mind was subverted by his primal being as he processed what was happening in real time. If Zane were self-aware, he would have noticed his own elevated heartrate, because he realized these dogs would eat him if left to their own devices. As a result, his sympathetic nervous system energized which prompted his reptilian brain to communicate with the hounds through a metaphysical conduit. Zane was never one to cower, so he put on a brave face and embarked upon some telepathic taunting. In his mind Zane silently cried out, “If your gonna kill me then do it and do it quick! I won’t fight you! Being mauled by a couple of natural killers sounds like a fabulous way to die!” The dogs each responded with two respectful snorts as Zane continued. “Come on dogs, I dare you! If you kill me now you’ll be doing me a favor anyway! I’ll even let you call it a sacrifice if you make it a good clean kill!” In response, the large dogs continued with their investigation as Zane stood firm.

In spite of his perceived demise, he was silently impressed with their obedience. Zane had never encountered such well-trained beasts, and he was pleased with the fact that they were highly trained killers, rather than just annoying ankle biters. Zane stood his ground as he grappled with his own mortality. Tonia, who suspected that Zane was in ‘fight or flight’ mode, cautiously attempted to pry his attention back towards her. She awaited an opportunity to make eye contact, but Zane kept his gaze squarely seated upon one dog, and then the other. To break the silence Tonia stated, “These are Boerboels. They are bred to kill lions.”  Upon hearing the words, Zane responded by saying, “Yeah, I’m not surprised.” To signify their approval, the dogs sat one abreast at their master’s feet. Tonia, being an awkward hostess, struggled to make small talk, because she expected Zane to lead off the conversation.

Zane’s intention was to sweep Tonia off her feet, and to instantly live happily ever after. When the realization that he had no plan took hold he lost his footing and began to founder. To alleviate the uncomfortable moment, Zane began to speak of Jessa because she was always at the forefront of his mind. With sad eyes the young father explained how he had abandoned his daughter in Australia, but he couldn’t find words to explain why? Tonia patiently listened in earnest, but Zane was only managing to produce a word salad of sorts. His preconceived notions were shattered as he came to realize he couldn’t live up to his own expectations! He had a fantasy of starting a new life with Tonia while gaining employment in the nearest casino. Much to his chagrin, there was something about Tonia that crippled his ability to remain in dreamland. He had to be real with Tonia, and he didn’t know how? The situation was overwhelming his senses, and he was drowning in the sensations, but he lacked the words to properly express the onslaught of his unsettled state! He felt vulnerable and insecure, and he tried not to let it show. The emotions tangled and became knotted as the confusion intensified. Like Tonia, Zane was lousy at producing small talk. The awkward couple were still standing in the in the entryway as the clumsy conversation labored on.  Zane had never experienced this kind of anxiety before, and it was a force to be reckoned with. The shame that Zane felt from leaving his daughter was intensified in the moment and he couldn’t bare to talk about it any longer! In a desperate attempt to change the subject, he suggested that he should order a pizza. It was the only thing he could think of, and the unedited words came tumbling from his mouth without his authorization. Tonia correctly informed him that a delivery was impossible this far out in the country, and Zane secretly found solace knowing he had an exit. He had summoned the courage to face his potential demise, but somehow he couldn’t look Tonia in the eye? In a fleeting act of desperation, Zane said, “I’ll just drive into town and bring it back.” It was telling because he didn’t bother asking if there was a pizza restaurant nearby?

She may have become suspicious by this point because he was acting very peculiar. Zane’s body language and facial expressions spoke volumes and Tonia correctly assumed that he would not be returning with pizza. In fact he wouldn’t be returning at all. Zane didn’t say goodbye as he struggled to show himself out, and he clumsily tripped over the welcome mat as he walked backwards through the front door. Tonia responded with a look of stunned curiosity as Zane turned his back and walked toward his parked car. She wouldn’t see him again for several years.

Zane tried his best to repress the memory of the shameful act, but on this particular occasion his demons were relentless. He came back into the present moment long enough to realize that he was cozy in his room, but the illusion of safety was only temporary. Once again his cognitive mind was catapulted backwards through time. In the moment, Zane was forced to relive a ghastly episode in which he attempted suicide. The memory made him cringe as details of the horrific event forced themselves upon the backdrop of his guilty mind.

The memory centered around a bitter fight with Renee, which corresponded neatly with an exceptionally rare solar eclipse. Like a petulant teen, Zane felt compelled to even the score, so he abruptly decided to overdose on his prescription meds.  It was to be a selfish act on a galactic scale, and he was determined to follow through!

As Zane sat in his darkened room he recalled the event in full detail. He remembered how he lifted the amber plastic cylinder to his mouth as he gazed at his own reflection. He didn’t think about it, he just did it! In a fluid motion he tilted his head back and opened wide. With his left hand he raised a nearly filled glass of water to his lips and quickly flushed the pills down! In macabre fashion, he momentarily stared into the medicine cabinet’s reflection as he contemplated the foul evil deed he had done! He was captivated and stunned by what he saw reflected back to him! The image of his mortal being was not being properly represented. Instead of seeing his familiar face, the mirror presented him with pulsating images that alternated in form between one demon and then onto another. In the mirror he witnessed a long stream of assorted foul specters who were all lined up behind the glass awaiting an opportunity to take their individual shots at him. Using telepathy as a conduit, one of the visiting demons introduced himself as ‘Asmodeus,’ while the lesser sprites simply writhed and giggled in a hedonistic state of sadistic glee! It took Zane more than a few moments to shake free from the vision. To break the spell Zane side-stepped two paces to his left and positioned himself over the toilet bowl where he gagged himself repeatedly while the grotesque reality began to set in.

He couldn’t get the pills to come back up, so he calmly took command of his body and led it outside where he found Renee sitting alone on the poorly lit entry way steps. “I took all of my pills,” he told her. “You better call an ambulance!” With that he simply turned his back and walked silently into the night. Renee was still perturbed, and because of it the somber announcement failed to resonate. Not having fully grasped the severity of the situation, Renee shouted into the darkness, “YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE ECLIPSE!”

About a minute later Zane found himself lying face up on the grassy knoll that resided behind the back fence. It was a hidden enclave where he could die in peace. He planned to avoid detection by hiding in the protective foliage. As he lay upon the grass in the late evening he noticed how the trees were blocking his view. In a solemn state of eternal regret he realized how he forfeited a chance to gaze upon the stars one last time. He knew Death was near and he welcomed her, but still a nagging question persisted. “Why did I tell Renee,” he asked? “If I’m this hell bent on dying, then why did I encourage her to call an ambulance? And why did I attempt to gag myself?” Zane didn’t know the answer the questions, and besides he had better things to do with his final thoughts on earth; his mind was starting to blip in and out. He understood he was dying, but in his delirium he forgot what had led up to this point? 

Zane’s slurred mind became cognizant of the approaching ambulance because he could hear the approaching siren wailing in the black distance. He was relieved to know he was out of reach of the rescue team. Surely he would succumb to the overdose before the frantic crew had time to locate his empty husk, and he intended to remain holed up on the knoll until the transition took hold. His eyelids became heavy; the scenery was blurred and seemingly out of focus. He was just about to drift out of existence when he realized what he had done!

“OH SHIT,” he declared! “I FORGOT ABOUT THE KIDS!” In his mania he failed to factor the children into the equation! In the moment he imagined how it would fall upon Renee to inform the youngsters that their father was dead. “I can’t go out like this,” he said! “It would be too devastating for Aiden and Elise!” He staggered back up and onto his shaky feet as he grasped the trunk of a young sapling to aid with the ascent. He made his way up the slope and out of the forested knoll. He was staggering by the time he reached the sidewalk, but he managed to cover thirty paces as he emerged from the darkness; he was walking towards the light! It wasn’t the kind of light that leads to eternal salvation; instead the brilliant beams were emanating from a parked ambulance.

A few days later he was jolted awake from a deep sleep. He had never in his life felt a more urgent need to urinate! He slowly took stock of his situation as an anonymous attendant looked on. Renee was there also. At first Zane had difficulty focusing on their faces because they were alternating in and out synch with reality. The faces presented like inverse shadows meaning that he couldn’t tell if they were earthbound entities or something more sinister?  Suddenly the mysterious vision took a back seat as his attention focused upon his bound wrists. His arms were extended over his head and both wrists were secured with robust leather straps! He correctly ascertained that he was deemed a suicide risk, thus the necessity of restraints. Strangely, Zane admired the workmanship that went into the construction of the bindings. For a moment he marveled at the bold white stitching that ran the entire circumference of the shackles. It took too much effort to tilt his head downward towards his toes, but he assumed the ankle bracelets were equally as robust as the ones that had bound his wrists.  Zane focused his intention back upon his need to urinate, and he shouted, “I HAVE TO GO THE BATHROOM!” He was squirming in discomfort and gritting his teeth! “I HAVE TO TAKE A PISS,” Zane commanded in a highly agitated state! It was at this time that Renee informed her bewildered husband that the nurses had installed a catheter into his bladder. The comment failed to register so once more Zane shouted, “I’M GONNA PISS IN MY FUCKIN’ PANTS IF YOU DON’T LET ME OUT OF THESE FUCKIN’ SHACKLES!” By this time, a frightened nurse said, “Sir! Sir! You have a catheter installed!” Once again Zane heard the words, but their meaning failed to gel. It took some time, but soon he realized it was safe to urinate. After emptying his bladder, the Ativan that was trickling through his veins lulled him back to sleep.  The urgency had subsided, so he rested.

When he awoke he was still clearly agitated. Zane was convinced that he had only taken a short nap, but in reality another full day had passed. In spite of being groggy, he clearly noticed that Renee and Elise were standing bedside, along with an attendant. With a guttural and evil growl, Zane looked at the Nurse and said, “Get these people out of here!” He meant it! Somehow his diseased mind found it necessary to chase his loved ones out of the room! With a confused look of genuine sympathy, the nurse looked at Renee and said, “There is no easy way to say this, but I’m going to ask you to leave.” Renee was stunned and Elise was nearly too young to comprehend what was happening. Mom knew what was going on, so she led Elise out into the broad corridor that led to the nurse’s station. Renee briskly shuffled Elise down the hallway in an attempt to shield her innocent ears as her father belted out the words, “STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME! DON’T YOU COME BACK HERE!  I MEAN IT GOD DAMMIT! YOU STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!”  Knowing that the foul commands were emanating from her father, Elise looked up at mom and asked, “What’s wrong with papa?” Renee, who was doing her best to maintain her composure, looked down at Elise and said, “Just keep walking.”

He was in the hospital for a week before he came to his senses, at which time Renee assured the staff that Zane was “all Bark and no Bite.” The support team reluctantly agreed and so he was released and sent home with the wife and kids. Upon arriving at the house, Zane decided to forget the incident ever happened. To make matters worse, he never processed the event with the children who were so clearly traumatized. Instead of explaining himself or apologizing, he simply filed the entire event into his “Repressed Memory Folder.” The attempt he made on his own life was a taboo subject. This fact was made abundantly clear, and Elise found out the hard way!  A fair amount of time had passed since the incident and Elise felt compelled to instigate a healthy discourse. In a calm yet frightened tone she spontaneously brought up the topic with her father who responded by saying, “I wasn’t going to die! The Fuckin’ Ambulance drivers already know where we live! I knew I would get there in time to get my stomach pumped!  Elise’s father spat the words at her with an ancient sort of hostility that was born out from an elusively cryptic disdain. Elise, feeling defeated, never brought up the subject again. Looking back, Zane rightly concluded that avoiding an opportunity to process only proved what a coward he truly was.

Zane was conflicted because he desperately wanted to be brave, but reality was telling him otherwise. He had been sitting alone in the dark for hours contemplating his existence, and the facts suggested that he was the world’s biggest coward. “I tried to kill myself,” he thought. “What’s more chicken-shit than that?” He sat alone in the dark for a while longer when a voice suddenly resonated from deep within his tormented mind. In a nurturing tone the entity stated, “It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge your own cowardice.” Zane, who was still stuck in the throes of his own pity party, failed to grasp the significance of the wise words. Instead of pondering the wisdom, he snuffed out his candle and ventured out into the kitchen with the intention of starting a fresh pot of coffee.  

For Mom

Betty Shimek was 41 years old by the time her eldest son informed her that he was going out on his first date. She was staring straight down the barrel of middle-age, and she wasn’t amused. She assumed financial security would worm its way into the Shimek household eventually, but it hadn’t so far. Betty did not have a growing old gracefully sort of disposition. She was terrified of dying in poverty, and rightfully so. The years of financial strain were beginning to take a toll. Living with Charlie was never easy. They had their good times, but the abject poverty was getting old. Betty’s devoted husband tended to the family’s needs in the best way he knew how, which in Charlie’s case, meant buying and selling. Charlie was a naturally born gifted salesman. There was just one small problem: He just never sold anything of much value.   

Betty longed for the security of a steady paycheck, while her husband insisted upon being independent. Charlie’s wife was a proud woman, and she refused to accept government assistance. She tried her hand at ‘welfare’ once, and it left a sour taste in her mouth. Dealing with food stamps was a literal fiasco in those days. It was if the system were secretly hard-wired for the dissemination of cruel humiliation. The entire procedure was inherently constructed to be dehumanizing. On one occasion, Betty was scolded by a grocery store clerk for tearing one of the color-coded chits out from its perforated bundle. Apparently some fine print indicated that the chits had to be removed from the booklet in the presence of an authorized employee of the merchant’s disclosure. Because of the formality, the cashier wouldn’t accept the government issues. The entire process was devastating to Betty’s wounded pride. It was just past five o’clock on Friday night, which meant the store was packed with agitated shoppers. She could feel a collective frustration leaking out from the patrons who had gathered around as they queued up in line behind her at aisle three.  Betty resisted the urge to lash out!  Internally she could feel the swell of festering rage building up from deep within! She could feel the perception of collective disdain, as the good people of the world silently judged this indigent mother with three kids in tow. She imagined the hateful things they must have been saying to themselves under their breath as they impatiently awaited an opportunity to pay for their own groceries. Betty was a proud woman, and she literally cringed when the snippy check-out clerk summoned for a manager over the public access broadcast system. “I need a supervisor override on aisle three. I repeat, I need a supervisor override on aisle three!” Betty was correct to assume the tensions being thrust upon her were real. By the time the supervisor intervened, the crowd had gotten overtly hostile. Betty endured the silent ridicule as she fumbled with her own insecurities. She tried with all of her might to conceal her shaking hands while she struggled to reinsert her coin purse into a thread-bare handbag. The brutal transaction had nearly drawn to a close when a bag boy offered up some half-hearted assistance. Internally Betty lashed out at the young courtesy clerk, who had been ogling her the entire time. She responded with a scoff, and briskly shook her head from side to side, as if to say, “Take your assistance and shove it, you miserable pimply-assed bastard!”

That was the last time Betty fooled around with Government assistance. Her wounded pride compelled her to throw the remaining food stamp booklets into the open flames of an empty 55-gallon steel drum that doubled as the family incinerator. From that day forward, if the kids needed a doctor, then it would be on a cash and carry basis. If they couldn’t afford meat, then they would survive on biscuits, and beans. It was just that simple.

Most times, the financial strain was literally unbearable. Betty lived a tortured existence in which she would cringe upon checking the mail. Inevitably the struggling family of four were greeted with unpaid bills, and ‘cut-off’ notices. It had gotten to the point where Betty was experiencing what psychologists refer to as learned helplessness, meaning that over the span of her marriage, Betty systematically allowed herself to become progressively more hopeless. In stark contrast, Charlie was a perpetual optimist. He knew in his heart that somehow, some way, the money would appear when needed. Having said that, Zane needed a replacement set of prescription eyeglasses, but the funding needed for such a procurement had yet to present itself. Undaunted, Zane took it upon himself to repair his own eyeglasses utilizing nothing more than electrical solder and safety pins.

Betty was reminded of the cruel poverty every time she attempted to look her eldest son in the eyes.  In miraculous fashion, Zane nearly destroyed the frames of his eyeglasses in a motorcycle crash without injuring himself in the process. Zane was proud of the fact that he was able to mend his broken eyeglasses, and Betty did her best to be encouraging, even though the repair was somewhat slapdash. Quite honestly, the hasty repair resembled what could only be described as a large smear of rigid metallic chicken droppings whose sole purpose was to permanently affix the once foldable legs to the main portion of the glasses. As far as Betty was concerned, the impromptu repair was akin to a flashing red neon sign that boldly proclaimed, “look at me, I’m so poor I can’t even afford to keep my own basic needs met!” If any of Zane’s peers thought less of him for being underprivileged, they didn’t’ have the courage to mention it out loud, not directly to his face anyhow.

Quentin was plopped down in front of the television, while his parents sat at the dining room table nursing lukewarm coffee. The family had just finished eating their supper, and Zane was in the bathroom getting ready for his big date. They were both thinking it, but neither one of the concerned parents could muster enough courage to mention the word ‘condom.’  Zane had gone out on random occasions, but tonight he was in rare form. He was in love with Tonia, and it was glaringly obvious. “Who is this girl, Tonia?” Charlie asked as he nervously slurped coffee from his favorite mug. “I don’t really know,” Betty countered in a neutral tone. “She’s some girl from down the road. Zane has been giving her rides home from school lately.” They were both thinking it, but neither of the concerned parents could find the courage to confront the fear of becoming grandparents. Suddenly, with his eyes facing towards the heavens, Charlie muttered, “How come life has to be so difficult all the time?”

Betty knew that her husband had offered up the appropriate sex talk to his number-one-son, but she also realized that the sex ‘talk’ only consisted of one brief sentence. “If you mess around with girls too much, then you’re going to get them pregnant!” That was it. That was the extent of Charlie’s foray into the human reproductive system. Betty correctly assumed everything her boys would learn about sex would ultimately originate from her. Charlie was simply in too much denial, so he sequestered himself into an empty bedroom until Zane finished with his shower. This presented Betty with a last-minute opportunity to coach her son with some much-needed dating etiquette.

She was still seated at the dining room table as Zane strode down the dimly lit hallway and into the kitchen. Betty was quietly alarmed by a distinct scent of English Leather cologne that permeated the small kitchen space. He wore a freshly laundered pair of blue jeans, which was neatly accented by a faded blue flannel shirt that was smartly tucked in.  “I need you to sit down and talk with me for a minute before you leave. You can do that for me can’t you?” The eldest son took to the prodding and settled in at the kitchen table directly across from his concerned mother. The dirty dishes would have to wait on this particular occasion, because Betty was struggling to find the correct words. Betty sat there with her oldest boy who was getting ready to embark on one of life’s greatest quests. “I want you to promise me something Zane, she said in the most solemn tone she could muster. “I want you to promise me that you will take it slow.” The gravity of the situation was palpable, and Zane did his best to display a slight modicum of reverence. Zane and his mother were embarking upon uncharted waters, meaning she was attempting to reach out to this man who had seemingly hi-jacked her boy. Instinctively, Zane sat bolt upright in his chair and leaned his torso towards his mother. He was cradling his head with two open palms, with bent elbows placed securely onto the kitchen tabletop. He correctly assumed that his mother was desperately trying to give him “The Talk.” Betty was silently relieved by Zane’s reaction knowing full well that she had his undivided attention. After a small silence, Betty continued from where she had left off. She took a deep breath and calmly stated that Ladies like it when you take it slow. “I need you to be a gentleman, and complement her jewelry, and tell her that she looks pretty.” Zane nodded in solemn agreement as if he were taking mental notes. He listened in earnest as his mother continued. “After you finish with your date, she’s going to expect a kiss from you, and that’s alright.” Betty went on to explain how it’s customary to escort your lady friend to her front door afterwards. “You may feel a little bit awkward, but that’s okay. She will be feeling awkward too!” Betty went on to explain the delicate nature of feminine emotions. “Girls are different from boys,” she softly explained. “Sometimes ladies fall in love at just the drop of a hat.” Betty tried her hardest to explain how Zane was quite good looking, and that “the girls have been noticing him for a while now… and they’re not just little girls!” Betty tried her hardest to emphasize the importance of safe sex, but somehow, she just couldn’t get the words out. Instead she could only manage to say, “Just give her a gentle hug. Don’t kiss her on the lips! If you feel like she needs a kiss, then just give her a peck on her cheek. She will like that.” Then say, “I’ve had a wonderful time, but I have to be going now.”  Also, don’t forget to say that “I would love to do this again sometime.” The cautious instruction permeated deeply within Zane’s mind, and he responded with a respectful affect which assured his mother that the advice was taking root.

“What time are you picking her up? His mother asked quizzingly.  Zane promptly replied, “The show starts at 7:30, so I have to leave in ten minutes!” Betty felt an unwelcomed lump in her throat, as her heart rate accelerated! Suddenly she was transported back in time; back to a time when was stood up by a love interest of her own. Betty recalled the feeling of humiliating rejection that resulted, and this compelled her to belt out the words, “Don’t keep a lady waiting! If you tell her that you are going to call her at nine o’clock, then by God, you better call her at nine o’clock!” Betty was adamant.  “While we’re on the subject of punctuality, it’s better to be twenty minutes early than two minutes late!  It is the worst thing you can do is to keep a lady waiting by the phone! How would you like it if she told you that she would call, and then forgot?”  Zane understood that his mother was internally reliving a stressful moment. In an effort to soothe her tattered nerves, Zane said, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll be nice to her, I promise!”

It was just turning twilight when Zane slid behind the wheel of the car that should have been named Grace. He understood the parents had a habit of spying through the bedroom window, and he could feel their prying eyes on the back of his neck. As a result, he felt obliged to put on a little display. He gently dropped the PowerGlide into Lo and switched on the headlights. Upon doing so he proceeded to jam on the accelerator pedal. Grace responded with a roar, just like she always did. Her drive wheels were spinning and churning and grabbing at the loose soil that made up the driveway. The torque from the engine was enough to squat the rear suspension! Before Grace made any forward progress, her tail section literally scooched towards the passenger side a total width of six inches! Upon attaining adequate traction, Grace lurched forwards and eagerly accelerated out of the long dusty driveway, leaving parallel skid marks in her wake! She was finely tuned, and she sounded like music. Grace was on a mission!  With thoughtful consideration, his parents quietly observed Zane from behind the safety of their bedroom window. Tears welled up in Betty’s eyes as Grace made the right turn onto the driveway that led towards the gravel road. It was a quarter till seven, and Zane was right on time! He wasn’t about to keep Tonia waiting!

Semper fidelis

In spite of his Bad Conduct Discharge, Zane landed a series of good jobs subsequent to his release from the Brig. Immediately after returning home he secured a job as a roughneck with a water-well drilling outfit. From there he found employment as an entry level automotive technician. He struggled with alcoholism however and crippling hangovers made it difficult to show up for work on Monday mornings. Zane picked up the habit of binge drinking while in the service, and it fueled his newly cultivated penchant for red-light districts which he frequented often. People who knew Zane blamed the military for the belligerence, but truth be told, he was already mean spirited before the Marines had their turn with him. Earning the title of Marine, and then immediately squandering it, afforded him a certain kind of unspoken elite status. His war buddies only exacerbated the situation by proclaiming Zane to be the best Marine ever!  Zane spent all of his free time hanging out with a pair of combat seasoned Marines. Nathan had seen some action in the Falkland Islands, while Sergeant Valdez served in Southeast Asia. Nathan was Zane’s brother-in-law, while the Sergeant just moved into town from Houston.

Zane wore greasy clothes because he was a mechanic, not a poser. Zane wasn’t trying to fit into the mold of Punk Rock, because if there was such a mold he would have shattered it! His genuine combat boots accented oil-stained jeans while threadbare flannel shirts concealed poorly laundered white thermal underwear that would cling to his lanky torso. His knuckles were often scuffed and bloodied.  Trapped greasy dirt would accumulate under his rugged fingernails so thoroughly that he had to scrape out the mess with the business end of his favorite pocketknife. Sergeant Valdez realized Zane was a capable mechanic, so he solicited services to help replace the water pump in his 1979 Buick LeSabre. The two former Marines became fast friends as Zane eagerly and efficiently performed the repair in the parking lot of the apartment complex. To celebrate the successful operation, Zane was asked to stay around for a while longer to knock back a few beers. One thing led to another and soon another spontaneous party had erupted!

Sergeant Valdez served in Viet-Nam at a forward observation post known as Khe-Sanh. Zane considered the Sergeant to be a real Marine because jagged scars upon the upper lip and jawline proved it. Red hot exploding shrapnel nearly tore out the bottom of his face while knocking out three teeth in the process! The battlefield surgeons did their best to stitch the flesh back together in field expedient fashion, which in turn led to some truly impressive scars. The Marine Sergeant could have masked it with some facial hair, but instead he chose to display his wound as a badge of honor. In this way the Sergeant was reminded of the horrific ordeal each and every time he gazed into a mirror. It was his way of paying homage to the atrocities of war while cementing his gratitude for making it out alive.

The relentless music had been replaced by the sounds of shadowy darkness as inebriated guests found themselves sprawled out on the living room floor, while other anonymous souls found solace upon couches, sofas, and love seats. It was nearly dawn when Sergeant Valdez found himself sitting up against the lower portion of the kitchen wall. He was gingerly babysitting a nearly emptied bottle of generic whiskey. The overhead kitchen lamp had been switched off and the only light was produced by the neon glow of a Hamm’s Beer sign that Chris had stolen from work. The advertising specialty was a marvel to behold based on its simplicity alone. The electric fonts were in the form of cursive script, and crystal blue glowing text explained how Hamm’s beer is born from the land of sky-blue waters! The words were encompassed by a separate band of fluorescent neon tubing which emitted an eerie crimson glow that illuminated the shadowy kitchen with a soothing red hew. The Sergeant’s head was spinning, and his inner light was extremely dim. Meanwhile Zane was nestled on the floor directly across from him. He was sprawled out beneath the bar accompanied by a pair of toppled barstools. They had been knocked down about thirty minutes prior due to a drunken reenactment.

As it turned out, Zane was duplicating a time when he felt it necessary to assert his dominance so he challenged some anonymous Sailors who were visiting a topless bar. While on liberty call he came across two random Navy personnel who were sitting at a bar, minding their own business. In a completely drunken stupor, Zane suggested that the establishment was meant to be frequented by Marines, as if to say Sailors weren’t welcome. “You two squids finish your fuckin’ beer and then get the fuck out of here,” he commanded! The young Sailors were not amused and promptly told Zane to “beat it!” In response, the belligerent Marine suddenly kicked the barstool out from under the Navy man which sent him plummeting to the floor! The second sailor rapidly emerged from the adjacent barstool and proceeded to square off against Zane while offering up some colorfully threatening gestures in the process! Zane responded as if he were a snarling pit-bull! His usual steely-eyed gaze had morphed into pools of seething fury as he abruptly shoved his prey in the chest with a force that nearly knocked him down!  Fortunately a friendly bouncer placed Zane into a chokehold and dragged him backwards towards the front door upon which time he was unceremoniously escorted from the premises.

Upon completion of Zane’s re-enactment, the Sergeant promptly asked, “Did the bouncer kick your ass, or what?”  The direct question prompted Zane to reinsert himself into the present moment where John was awaiting a response.  “How long’s it been since you’ve had your ass kicked,” Zane asked with a cryptic vitriol that spewed from his mouth like a probing serpent? Sergeant Valdez was still perched on the dirty floor in the dimly lit kitchen space with his extended legs sprawled out in front of him. The celebration had long since died down and the front room was littered with unconscious party goers.

An impressive pyramid of 12-ounce Budweiser cans had collapsed by this point and 24 containers of spilled beer littered the unkempt kitchen floor. Zane repeated his question with a drunken sense of urgency. “How long’s it been? I asked you a question goddamn it!” The words were slurred but his intention was razor sharp. Zane was drunk enough to pick a fight and much to John’s chagrin, he was the only one who remained conscious. “I heard your fuckin’ question Private,” John informed him from across the poorly swept linoleum! “Well, how long has it been since you’ve had your ass handed to you?” The aging Marine sat there in the dark as he pondered the question. He raised the bottle of whiskey to his lips and took a leisurely pull from the poison. “How long’s it been since I’ve had my ass kicked,” John quietly asked himself? “How long’s it been since you’ve had your ass kicked,” Zane demanded for a final time? “It’s been a long time,” said the Sergeant after a calm moment of peaceful reflection. He felt compelled to let his demons frolic, so Zane upped his ante by jamming the man’s mother into the conversation. Zane was being legitimately cruel, and he calmly stated, “You’re a dirty son of a bitch John, did you know that? Did you hear what I said John? I said you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch!” By now something had finally triggered John’s inner gladiator and he felt compelled to wage war.

“I’d like to see you try to kick my ass,” John warned from behind the veil of his drunken haze! His voice was becoming cold and mechanized because Sergeant Valdez was finally taking the bait!  Zane’s demons had suddenly been given access to what they had been craving. They were craving battle!       

To Zane’s delight he finally elicited a response from the drunken combat veteran, and he followed up by saying, “I’m going to rip your head off Sergeant. I’m going to mop up the floor with your ass, and you’ll never even know what hit you! I’m going to knock you into next week!”  The weathered sergeant sat there in a state of silent disbelief. Fire was seemingly spewing from Private Shimek’s bloodshot eyes! Zane intended to wail upon his new best friend, and in the moment he truly wanted to hurt the Sergeant. Zane struggled to gain his footing as he raised his right arm in an attempt to grasp the edge of the bar. It was Zane’s intention to make his way to the restroom, so he used the countertop as leverage while propping himself up and off from the floor with his other arm. Zane was very drunk, and he forgot that his leg was still tangled within the grips of the fallen barstool. John, who was silently watching Zane’s attempt to stand up, must have thought Zane was indeed going to follow through with his threat! “I’m going to take a piss goddamn you,” Zane said! “When I get back I’m gonna kick your ass right out into the goddamn front yard!” The combative words tumbled from his drunken mouth as he fumbled his way towards the hallway that lead to the restroom. Zane turned towards the dimly lit corridor while Sergeant Valdez shouted, “It’s too quiet in here Marines! Who turned off the radio?” “You turned it off yourself you drunk bastard,” Zane curtly replied as he wrestled to shake free from the barstool that was still clinging to his ankle! He was stumbling and staggering while bracing himself up against the wall trying desperately to find his balance. After he freed himself from his trap, Zane belted out the words, “You were crying like a little bitch, and said that if you ever heard the song again you’d kill yourself!”  By this time Zane had regained his composure and proceeded through the door which led to the toilet. In his absence, John recalled the lyrics and started singing. “We met as soul-mates on Parris Island…We left as inmates, from an asylum…” He was mouthing the words to Goodnight Saigon as if he were a man condemned to die. Tears welled up in the Sergeant’s eyes because the music stirred up sour thoughts and painful memories. John’s cerebral cognition was hijacked, and it forced him to relive a painful event where he had succumb to a very significant flashback which encouraged him to slice his way through a wall leading to his infant son’s nursery with a reciprocating saw! “I should have done some jail time for that one,” John reasoned. Meanwhile the reptilian portion of his mind focused on the inevitable disintegration of his marriage, while yet another part of his essence continued singing. “We came in spastic, like tameless horses…we left in plastic…as numbered corpses.”  Uncontrollable sobbing commenced as John struggled to mouth the words. By this time Zane had begun his trek back from the restroom. When he arrived at the scene he discovered the Sergeant curled up into a fetal position. His previously extended legs were drawn in towards his hips and he cradled his uplifted knees with powerful forearms. The fingers were interlaced, and his chin was planted firmly into the recesses of his muscular chest. John was reduced to a slobbering mass of broken humanity as he continued to articulate the lyrics with the sincerity drawn out from a purely drunken solemn reverence. Zane immediately jettisoned his desire to continue with his relentless taunting. Instead he made a beeline towards the refrigerator where a six pack of Budweiser longnecks were patiently waiting to be claimed.  Zane grabbed two of the bottles and proceeded to join his mentor on the floor. Tears were streaming down John’s face as he looked up at Private Shimek who was offering him a beer. It was Zane’s only means of consoling him, so he offered up a toast. The two Marines sat there one abreast on the dirty kitchen floor under the flashing red beer sign.

“To Billy Joel,” Zane suggested as he gingerly raised his bottle in a weak display of solidarity. In response to the kind gesture John accepted the offered beer and softly proclaimed, “Good night Chesty Puller…wherever you are!” Time felt as if it were standing still if just for a moment in the pre-dawn hour. In the moment John reviewed triggering events, while the Private fell silent. With a guttural sense of mild urgency, the words “I love you God Damn It,” suddenly flowed from the Sergeant’s mouth. Zane would have replied with a “Semper-fi,” but he had already been passed out for at least thirty seconds. John was fading fast and he yielded to the the silence as his body fell limp. Morning sunlight was streaming through the kitchen window as John’s thousand-yard stare was dampened by the sinking of his heavy eyelids.

To be continued…