The piano plays on its own now, the keys moving ferocious at times, other times, the notes are soft as air.
'Would get up to urinate, or to turn off the alarm’s warning beeps, or even to eat something, but always seamlessly went back to bed.
If I brush too close to the bench as I step on my way to the kitchen, the piano music is upset, so I move the bicycle farther away from the end of the stairs so there is no bother.
'Awakened for good at four-thirty in the afternoon. The shifting lingers disturbing. I consistently mistake it for waking life and get confused when I awake to take a leak, or step downstairs to turn off the alarm’s warning beeps. There are moving photographs on the walls – more memories. There are relatives standing around, the older ones hang out as I move into this house from the one in God’s Country. Ray seems harmless, unloading the truck of file boxes.
Rachmaninoff's C Sharp Minor Prelude plays but none of the relatives ask why. Ray, Rose, Grace, the old relatives, many I don’t know in waking life, Grandpa, Grandma -- Ray’s side -- are all moving me into this house from God's Country. Everyone seems nice and genuinely glad to be there. After the relatives leave, House comes by to get the rest of his stuff. His girlfriend is unrealistically mature and capable. She packs House’s stuff and sets the pace of his move. I’m unusually charming for such a would-be-awkward situation. It takes him a long time; when he’s done he has a huge lime green truck loaded high against the horizon. After he and his truck exit the drive, I kneel down and sob into the China rug in front of the hearth because I do not know if I am asleep or awake.
The ancestors throw a party, seemingly ignoring me but actually it is their ease in my existence and their assumption that I already know everyone. Barefoot women in white robes like silk sheets and others in flowing dresses made of flower petals laugh gaily and skip up and down the stairs from the bedrooms in the loft with its adjacent balcony over the muscular stone fireplace downstairs shelved in by the two large porches, laughing splendidly in their chatter, pointing out to each other the wonderful details of the house with its flowing drapes and sparse furniture.
The men, some dressed in robes also like sheets, others in cotton linens and beige excitedly decide to open the front and back doors cut into the walls standing perpendicular to the fire place and throw themselves a parade, demanding Beethoven's Turkish march from the piano. Instruments are gathered from inside the five barns the balcony overlooks: trombones, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, french horns, and all kinds of drums, cymbals, chimes, and whistles. They decide to walk the circle that runs through the house beneath the railing of the loft and out to the left below the railing of the balcony as the house and rural acres fill with merry music.
'Saw Tommy with his one floppy ear, his small build, and German Shepherd breed. He does the same as when he was a puppy, making me chase him, my fingers just about to make contact before he twists away then looks back at me with his smiling pant. He races outside through the back door where the dusk has shimmered a golden dust upon the wood planks and railings and he bounds the three steps onto the grass as I bump through the loud, triumphant hustle and bustle of the marching band which has become a full circle through the garden and around the northern half of the house and I'm little and Tommy has turned a corner except I'm not in pursuit and there is Grace, smiling, throwing me a baseball we found at the summer party which is my first memory. There are green grass hills in all directions and a large, white, four-story house where garden salad and chicken salad and tuna salad and cut fruit and jellos are served on the first floor, grilled pig and cow and turkey and chicken served on the second floor, cold pastas and souffles and casseroles are served on the third floor, and on the fourth floor is the vanilla ice cream which I have managed through the adult legs to bring to Grace a cone along with mine while old birds give me snapping looks warning of carpeted stairs as I escape through more leg jungle. Everyone is dressed in white, including me. I notice how much I love Grace, my big sister who is not in kindergarten yet. She told Dawn last night on the car ride home: “Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to marry Ben,” and Dawn made that concerned expression as she watched the road, and how much I love Dawn and Ray, who are inside with Rose, the newest arrival in Kenley. Grace finds the baseball and we throw it between us until I miss and have to pick it up where a big, white dog is chained who bites my hand when I reach for the ball and throw it to Grace. It scars my right index finger which I notice, sitting in kindergarten class with all our names in cut outs on the classroom door and the huge, brown-hued woman who is our teacher who hates me because instead of writing the letters I draw them in cinder block form with shadows and shading and she calls me up to the desk and says, “Now was that really necessary,” and upon sitting down I am surprised by the scar on my finger and I first remember the memory. Tommy races through the classroom and afterward the green grass just between my overly-long legs, and just out of reach of my overly-long arms as I bump into a tall, blonde woman clashing cymbals who laughs and says something in a language I do not recognize. Her eyes beckon me to clap along with her and as I do I am carried along with the joyously violent momentum of the crowd three times around the circle while the people in the loft and the balcony empty baskets of sharp, clear smelling flower pedals onto us until a tight hand and strong arm pulls me into the first floor bathroom which is really a large green-carpeted bedroom with a shower placed in one corner, a toilet and sink in another, an old fashioned tub just below the window, and now a greyed woman with a wrinkle-less face sitting at a table in the center of the room, pleasantly laying cards as if for her own amusement until she sees me and drops her face into a sober expression as she rises, quickly steps toward me and closes the door, then backs away from me and playfully asks, “You a shifter for pleasure or by trade?” She steps to the table and sits down.
I sit down across from her, in the wooden chair I keep in the bathroom so as to take off my boots.
“Look at that,” she says pointing to a card with a young man on it. Several times she places the cards, then picks them back up again to place again in different formations some requiring the whole table and others as few as two or even one card. As music blasts from all around the closed room stomping begins above us in rhythm as ancestors clap and hoot tribally.
“The summer you were sixteen,” she begins as if she loves to tell stories. “A black rectangle half a football field wide and half that in length slowly moved just above the tree tops. It had no light on the outside but for the two rectangles of thick, cuuurrved glass on its underside. You moved across the yard to take in the details, confirming the metals of the craft were not of Earth. It continued across the field, over the house, then over the next field and over that horizon of fooorest. You were so young you figured the world was changing and in the future you might hear something about it.”
I stand. “I need to shift back.”
“I haven't read your future,” she says, her voice suddenly bolder.
“I was to see the Oscars.”
“You're the shifter.”
I step out of the room back into the noisy crowd of paraders. Pushing through the men and women chattering and singing correlating melodies in tongues not correlating as they blow and clang and dexterously manipulate their bellowing, clanging instruments I reach the stairs, keeping close to the wall as I climb as more men and women in more and more bizarre and outlandishly colorful outfits travel up and down past me in a chorus. On the second floor I pass by the first set of French doors. It is the bedroom with the balcony and full of throngs of people moving in and out. Stepping through to the second set of French doors, I expect my bedroom but instead the doors close behind me with my weight leaning back against them, my heels dug into the bit of floor sticking out beneath them as I hold the door knobs behind me because all below and above and in front of me is blue sky with puffy clouds. In front of me I see the Trickster performing a rain dance to the music of flocks of colorful birds playing in the wind he's creating as the cloud grows larger and larger. I look down because I've never seen a sky with no bottom and begin to tremble.
“Leap,” the Trickster calls as he skips about purposefully, watching his own feet land in particular ways.
I lift up on my right foot except my foot doesn't lift, what's inside it does. I look back towards him and call into the wind: “I'll rapture instead.”
His cloud grows so large and gray, bolts of lightning begin to strike, lighting up the insides of the cloud like rooms. I carefully dab at the cloud with my right toe, feeling for solid ground. Finding a patch, I twist around and step back into the French doors into the crowds and their excited mingling as a torrential rain descends pelting the house and the paraders who run laughing back to the five barns to put back their instruments, then back to the house to shield themselves from the dark ceiling of clouds. The people hug each other, the women kiss each other's cheeks, and the men call out Adieu and Goodbye and other secret sounds. Making my way downstairs to crowds thinning out, their laughter and milling lose ferocity until they're all gone but for Tommy who sees me standing alone in front of the fireplace on the china rug where he leaps forward to my outstretched arms, then dissipates into air.
The skies outside have darkened black and the only light in the house is from the television in the corner by the fireplace. I pull the recliner across the wooden floor and rest it in front, wrapping myself in a blanket and sitting down to Steve Martin turning toward Alec Baldwin beside him on the Kodak stage, "Now we'd like to introduce two beautiful actresses. Because frankly, we're sick and tired of bringing out all these ugly actresses."
In the night as I pack mementos properly and unpack according to how the house should be set up, the setting regularly switches to the house in God's Country. I am taking care of an enlarged industrial version of the House where Dawn is my boss, but keeps locking doors and refusing to open them. She blames me for the problems in the House’s upkeep. At one point me and another little boy are trying to figure out the plumbing. The pipes are enormous as we walk through them turning corners and entering archways. Finally I find where a typewriter is in the way. I wake in the hammock at sunset. The pecan trees towering above are the ones surrounding the house in God’s Country. I go back into the past whenever I want. I didn’t know the past could be forever. Shifted from a dream full of secrets. It begins in a kind of warehouse where outside is a war between the US and Iraq. I’m not really in it, I’m just there, with Willahford. Days go by and the logistics of living in the warehouse make up the dream. I notice in the dream how I don’t have a weapon of any kind, and wonder about my being in the war. Willahford wants to start working out regularly. We agree to start in the early morning. I agree to meet him there. Outside the warehouse is the House’s yard. Two trees fall, in the early morning, as I make my way across the yard to the warehouse’s gym to meet Willahford. The first one is small, like an indoor tree. The next tree is scarier when it falls, darker, bigger, and is a tree in the side yard, not the China berry tree, but maybe a young, thinner pecan tree, not like the ones I had known as a boy. I shifted back unnaturally, from the phone ringing. House’s gone. He came by, got his stuff, and left without hardly a word.
As I shower I can choose to remember and go so into the memory I can remember the sensations. I can go so into it that I forget the present moment or that there ever was a future. I can go so into the future I can make myself totally numb to the point where there is no past, no sensations, no remembrance.
Shifted to the house in God's Country which seemed to also be my workplace. There is dirt on my forearms and calluses on my palms. My boss, Sergeant Major Forester is there, and also Dawn and Grace. There was a killing of some kind, on a small boat I was standing on, motoring through the reservoir adjacent to the workplace’s land.
I thought about how beautiful it was, the difficulty of it all, and saw a beauty in the scenery.
I am in my room at the house in God's Country, talking to Sergeant Major Forester, defending Dawn’s intricate actions, explaining to him that I come from this place and that was the end of it.
He said for me to “Do whatever you have to do,” to free myself of her, as if he were my supervisor, some kind of mediator, letting me know he understood. Shifted back to my bed, wondering how on earth I could have defended such a person as Dawn.
Shifted to Camp Deer Lake, where I went for two weeks in the summer as a boy. I am amazed to feel the familiar material of a turquoise t-shirt I would wear back then. I keep trying to find the boy.
Shifted to an island facility I seemed to be serving a sentence at. I’m a teenager wearing a navy blue jumpsuit that is rough against my skin. I escape and ask another kid if he wants to come with me. We have to swim a long way.
He reminds me of my brother. I am surprised and appreciative that he chooses me over the scantily clad girls in the island facility. He’s smart and tells me the way. I go that way but the islands we run into are actually buoy boats. The facility counselor is a young man who runs after us through the buoy boats.
The buoy boats become a long chain of floating buildings that runs for miles. The kid with me gets caught first, and falls into the water. I keep running because my brother is dead.
I swing myself out of the hammock and step out to the pond by the house. I sit on the grass and watch the geese and sunset, listen to the sounds of frogs and crickets. I watch the ripples in the water and clear my head of words. I remember the ripples in the water of a small tub in first grade, where an empty two-liter-soda-bottle-boat floated with a balloon attached to it. When the balloon let the air out the boat shot across the tub. The teacher was trying to teach us science. I had forgotten that day.
The late night has been like a secret place I’ve been living my life. I went a few days and nights without sleep so now I’m starting to be up during the day. I have a hard time being out in public. I cannot remember the last time I spoke a word out loud. On one silent morning, I find an empty upside-down turtle shell placed in front of my front door. I step outside and the deer in the yard don’t mind me, sometimes they stare, but eventually go back to grazing. The birds who live in the bush across the walk from the front porch don’t fly away anymore, they scurry across the dew-soaked ground around my bare feet same as the others. I think it might be the squirrel leaving me these gifts. He acts familiar with me. I saw him recently with a little animal in his mouth, like a dark-brown baby mouse. He’ll watch me work outside the same way a dog would; sometimes he‘ll follow me through the yard through the tree tops. He’s around a lot. I notice he uses his senses, especially the tip of his nose, to experience and perceive the world. No words in his head.
Outside at the bird feeders the red cardinal never stays but for a few seconds, while the other birds hang out. He knows he is masculine beauty. He knows his masculine beauty, his bright red color, stands out and puts him in more danger. It’s the same for the black coyote out here that people talk about with awe. He’s rarely seen. He’s not dirt colored like the others. His blemish-less, black sheen, keeps him in greater danger.
'Remember as a little kid noticing that it took me over two weeks to register an event like a Tiger Cubs meeting or the first day of school. I remember the tricycle, I remember teaching myself how to ride a bike, I remember the restaurant we stopped at on the way home from visiting my grandparents in Florida.
In the afternoon, upon seeing “Food Inc.,” I become a vegetarian: for days and nights grocery shopping, looking through cookbooks, continuously washing rondeaus, sautoirs, and saunteuses, while more cover the lit stove and the tamis and chinois stay soaking. The house emits the new, subtle smells of plants and experiments even all the way to the pond, until I finally succumb.
'Played the piano drunkenly, for an hour., sometime past midnight. Unlike a slurring drunk slurred notes have their own appeal. I loved them so much reality was impossible, incest, violence, my siblings making fun of me, Grace’s eyes accusing me for not being aroused and for being aroused, me innocent, ignoring her intent, maneuvering away, the way Rose would analyze me, watch me, trying to steal qualities of mine that weren’t hers and never could be ... these were my loved ones, so even if reality happened they still didn’t mean it, I’d be okay; everything would be okay, all would be forgiven, all trauma healed, because I loved them to the death. I especially miss Dawn, she was effortlessly beautiful, intelligent, the kind that effortlessly outlives everyone.
Shifted to a different version of my house where dark clouds threaten from outside. Looking out onto the back porch through a window, Rose and I watch as a bear violently rips off the back half of a truck. I let Ginger, a white German shepherd we had as teenagers, watch, hoping her barking will scare it off but it doesn’t work. Rose is the only one terrified when we see that there is a skinny guy out there, acting oblivious to the huge beast. He wears the PICA t-shirt I had back then. He stands on the back porch, casually defiant. The bear calms down, scruffs around the young guy. Dawn is supposed to be taking Rose to a train. Rose is packed and ready, on her way to some sort of camp or school. The context says to call Royal, he’s coming to pick you up, like he promised. He’s so late. I understand it is rejection.
'Had three ways of getting more pills and each one failed. I am an hour late for the cookout.
“Oh -- hey Ben. I’m so glad you arrived,” Mrs. J__ says with a hug as I enter their house through the kitchen door. “We got to the point where we thought you might not arrive at all.”
“It was a long drive,” I reply.
They have a big family, many of whom I don’t really know. Whenever I visit it’s to see J__ and his wife, Mrs. J__. It’s uncomfortable having an audience as I talk to them.
When I arrive they both seemed haggard with how busy they are, J__ going in and out of the house depositing pans of grilled chicken, Mrs. J__ trying to boil Easter-eggs while finding enough chairs for everyone. I walk to get the chairs out of the shed outside, passing the male members of the family playing basketball.
Without a perception based in love, J__ and his wife’s offspring can come across distracted, always hooked up or focused on electronics. They’re always nice to me; I feel like they don’t have to be.
One of their daughters asks me where House is. “Easter weekend ... he’s with his family,” I answer.
“Oh okay. I’ve been hearing a lot about House ...“ she says, with a wry smile, as if she wants to make me smile. Suddenly she darts away to check on her small son.
Later, Mrs. J__ pulls me aside and asks about House. I tell her I ended up having him move out.
“Good, good,” she says. “Glad to hear it.”
It grows dark. “I need corn syrup,“ Mrs. J__ says to J__. “Will you go?”
When we arrive back from the grocery, we cross the front yard toward the house, I say from behind him, “Remember how I could never remember much before twelve years old?”
“Huh?” J__ says.
“Remember how I could hardly remember before twelve years old?”
“Was it good or bad?” he said, still walking.
“Maybe it’ll help you to, you know, ease on down,“ he replies, making a motion with his hands.
After we step into the house, I announce it is best I get going.
'Shifted to the floor of my kitchen, the back of my right shoulder leaning against a metal table leg. I feel relieved by the sight of endless pieces of paper littering the downstairs, sentences and dates scribbled all over. A wind from outside slowly thrashes the white linen of the open windows. The pieces of paper lift up with the wind, descending around me as I rise. I step into the downstairs bedroom of a bathroom and look into the mirror. The person in the mirror isn’t me. I’m on the inside. It’s going to be like this for eternity.
On a bright morning I woke and remembered the name: Principal Wood. I remember how all the men were monsters. They’d undo their pants and rape you in a minute. The females know it, they just never let on, never protect anyone, nothing more to life but the soul and death and the Who Knows place. I remember the lunchroom from when I was in kindergarten, Grace entering with her first grade class, them forming a line to the bar after us kindergartners had already gone through. The teachers know it, they pretend not to because what can they do. They allow him to rape me because so many men are that way. I’m not a monster, I’m not a male like the other males. I wouldn’t have thought that rape would be the ultimate crime, I would’ve thought murder. It was my job, my job alone, to not to get raped, those are the rules of honesty. Principal Wood was the principal of the elementary school I went to. I almost remembered him last night; I could only see the side of his face. I could never remember kindergarten before. All along the world was like a Henry Miller novel, vulgar, monstrous. Where a transsexual's insides are correct and the body wrong, my body is correct and my insides wrong, they don't match with my soul.
It is warm with a chilly wind blowing. It is a long, quiet drive; the radio in the Jeep stopped working while I was overseas. When I arrive at the receptionist’s window she is on the phone. “How may I help you?” the receptionist asks. I tell her I need to talk to someone about child abuse. She tells me they are in the next building.
In the correct building there is a receptionist’s window directly in front. Most of the florescent lights are off; the place is quiet. There are five empty waiting chairs set against a corner. “How can I help you?” the woman asks. I tell her I need to talk to someone about child sexual abuse. “Okay, someone will be out in a moment.”
The restroom is clean and filled with personal touches. I stand looking at nothing for a moment, the baby boy and the future me decided by fleeting moments. I did not know I hated my father. He had always been irrelevant, by his choice. Even when he seemed to choose the opposite, my little-boy-self had to realize he was trying to teach me as erroneously as possible. I catch myself needing the truth to be something specific.
In the empty waiting room I sit down in one of the five chairs, my elbows on my knees, my hands rubbing my face and head. A stout, young woman wearing glasses steps in. She acts like a manager would at a business, being called upon by one of her employees to handle a situation with a customer.
“Are you here to put in a report?” she asks in the waiting room.
The room she leads me to is full of cubicles; the florescent lights are kept at minimum and little lamps sit on each desk. “Um ... it looks like I’m doing intake. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” she says.
I give her the jist of it. Lowly, she asks me questions like my parents’ names, their date of births, their address, other siblings, the year I was born, when the sexual abuse started and when it ended.
“So you just want to see your file ... I don’t know if I could do that; I’d have to ask my supervisor ... Let me have your cell number so I can call you if we find anything. But you know, they probably didn’t practice good record keeping in the Eighties.”
When she says the last part I hear the laziness in it. I notice that she is writing notes at the corner of the back of a sheet of paper that has already been on her desk. I understand she is only writing them to humor me.
“Oh,“ I muster.
Shifted to the inside of a plane, flying through space. I sit in the window seat. I understand I've been sleeping because I've just gotten off deployment.
Shifted to a huge facility full of noise and commotion. My stomach suddenly turns and tightens so I won’t fall from having been sitting. The facility is like something off the show Star Trek Deep Space Nine, or Babylon 5. Familiar looking aliens walk by. I want to touch them to see if they are wearing elaborate costumes. The place is lined with restaurants and bars, temporary quarters, and laundry facilities. A large blob made up of thousands of twinkling, colored lights nears us, then stops, making clapping sounds even though it doesn’t have limbs; it waits silently as if it were expecting an answer. I don’t immediately know I have heard the sounds from him since he has no face or mouth. I exhale, “Huh .. ?”
The blob bows a little, taking the sound I make as the answer, then leaves.
Shifted to the hotel room I recognize from the Christmas before deployment. I feel the same way I did that day, as if deployment hadn’t happened yet. I look around for my cell phone so I can check the date, I wonder if I am running late.
'Sat on the edge of the bed, wondering when I’d shift again. I stand up, pull the heavy, cream-colored drapes away and look out the window. I realize the birds in the sky are stationary; it is a photograph, not a view, then sit down again. Time has a slow drip feel to it. I don’t understand why I haven’t shifted again. I wonder if I should try to force it. I hear a sound from the door. My brother steps in.
“I don't understand Adam and Eve,” I tell him while rubbing my hands over my head facing my Indian-cross-legged lap. “And what did happen to Cain...”
“I'd never harm you,” he says. “You'd never harm me.”
“And feminist libraries encourage lesbians while treating gays as the worst ... of more importance.”
“Who makes these rules?”
“But I’m lost.”
'Am expected at another family cookout; it is a two hour drive. This time it is at a ball park. J__ won’t be there, only his wife, his daughters, their husbands, and the grandchildren. Since J__ won’t be there I take eight pills as buffer. That’s the thing about taking too little, that period where the body makes the switch from not-high to high is longer, so you feel in between for a longer time, jittery and springy while you wait for the high to smooth out, just in time for athletics.
After the cookout and game -- our team won -- and having cleaned up, I turn out the lights of J__ and Mrs. J__'s upstairs latrine and step into the hall.
"It's like he lives a whole day and purposefully never gives a hint of it.” I overhear over sciffs and scuffs of hair being brushed, then adjusted. “... He allows the other person to assume he's living in the day of the person he's talking to ... or is in front of."
I stop movements, noticing the shadows of the hall from the sun setting in the west.
“For whose benefit I wonder.”
After wisps and whispers of moving cloths being donned and adjusted, the elder sister says: “... maybe he can convince others his irrelevance but he doesn't know everyone is already aware of the ... heavy subject matters of his ... days.”
“Frightening to any -- Woman in his life.”
Over tinks and clinks of bottles and discreet cases of makeup ingredients, the younger says, “I heard he told Sooks a long time ago he was gay. Then she secretly found out that he wasn't.”
“WHAt ...” the other whispers sharply.
Thuds implying heels being casually rejected from foot to closet, then clicks of earrings and necklaces, overwhelm their words.
“Awful opposite of kind ..."
"Ma joked yesterday he must've had a good mother -- after she noticed that his innocence --”
"Always saves him ..."
Silently moving toward the bottom of the stairwell, I overhear the matriarch and the patriarch talking.
“Yes, but look at his promise,” Ms. J___ says to J___ among the sounds of him adjusting in his kitchen chair and her placing dishes.
“In the end he'll have some big story, but really he'll have run off.”
It's sad, the orderliness witnessed in the chaos of God's Country's courthouse and station house: all one building of glass and trees and plants so that I never really feel indoors navigating elevators and labyrinths of hallways.
"I don't like to suffer fools neither," I mutter as he gapes at me from across his Sergeant's desk.
"You realize you might have memories that aren't true," he says as his countenance continues shifting from concerned to quizzical to investigative and interrogating then all back over again.
"What if some are ..."
"All that crazy negativity in people's lives," he says, as if suspicious. "They could look at it as a whole. Even identify with it."
Shifted to a good high, effortless, natural, that timelessness feeling strong, seamless. 'Had finished a bottle of Mondavi’s Merlot and had fallen asleep but don’t remember lying down. It’s the middle of the night, music is on, I‘m Awesome by Spose; the Bonnie Hunt Show plays on the television in the corner. Still on the pills the world is always a graveyard; I walk through the endless lines of tombstones at my feet as I run errands, walk through parking lots to the Jeep, deal with whatever present culture ... I feel like a soul, like in that first chapter in Invisible Man, where he is separate from life; life’s a distant thing he allows into his house through a record playing. He steps out the door, but not out of that place.
Without going back to sleep, I go on to work when the time comes. I work at a military installation, a bunch of shooting ranges and training areas: thousands of acres of wild country with a few buildings scattered about. They have me cut my post-deployment period short, only five weeks, due to a change of command where properties, sensitive items, and monies exchange hands – a hefty logistics operation.
'Drove out to pick up a special part from an Equipment Parts dealer. The front of the store is lined with riding lawnmowers and four by fours. Two guys are standing there, looking at me. People looking at me like that remind me that I’m in uniform and have ventured way out into the bizarre civilian world.
Woke up inebriated; didn’t know that could happen. I catch myself acting like no one should have respect for me because I’ve come to work drunk but then I walk in and see the workplace dog lying on the bathroom floor; there is something about the look he gives me, as if he knows me. I ask around; turns out he’s been lying on that floor for several days except to carefully go out to urinate sometimes. I insist to my colleagues I am shooting the dog.
The boss finally agrees on a grave site, but the colleagues remain up in arms. The dog has always been the responsibility of certain people, people the dog seemed to like best. The dog didn’t seem to like me that much.
'Asked SSG H__ for his M9 pistol, which he gives me. I dig the grave and earn two blisters for it. Digging the grave kills whatever is left of my inebriation. Standing in it at three feet deep I rest, leaning against the standing shovel. “You will hear the prayers of the damned,” I pray, staring at the ground a while before slowly making the sign of the cross. “You are the one true God and I do not approve of you and you will hear the prayers of the damned.” I make two grown men cry, one a retired Colonel, the other a retired Sergeant Major. Even the workplace bullies leave me alone, stay out of it. There’s only about a dozen people who work here full time. Some feel I have no right since I’d just come back from deployment; they feel I have no right to make decisions for the dog.
'Insisted on taking it to the vet, paying for it, making the subsequent decisions myself. I show them the grave, argue with them that the dog needs to be dead, now. “I don’t care whose fought it was, or what crime of neglect, has been committed,” I say.
They agree to take him to the vet and hear what the doctor has to say. I load the silent Scruff into the SUV of another coworker who would go with me, SFC Cray. I am the youngest and the lowest rank and haven't reached crying yet. That’s right when I would pull the trigger, just as I was apologizing to the dog for there being so many civilians in the world compared to humans.
SFC Cray is one of those animal-lover types. She drives like a maniac. Her phone rings and she answers it. I look back at Scruff as if to say: It’s gonna be the both of us shifting to eternity.
At the emergency hospital as soon as someone new touches him he yelps in pain. The vet checks him out, tells us what was wrong. “Scruff has gone septic several days ago,” she says. “... Meaning his stomach and intestines have burst inside him.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” SFC Cray says on the late-night drive back to Butler. “Even if old wounds do heal hardened.”
Before I deployed she tried to get me to take the pup, but it was obvious he liked being wild on Butler's five thousand untouched acres. “Dogs have an unwritten code,” she said in her purposefully, always kind voice. “You show up honest, and you fall into your place, whether as the leader of the pack or not. When I had Scruff at my house, my yard was immediately his, my house was immediately his, he's his own wherever he goes, always calm and centered. I felt like he wouldn't really fit in with my four dogs who had formed a kind of family.”
In the euthanasia room she cried, tried to speak but teared up to the point her throat choked up. “He’s my rock,” she had said through tears into the phone, jokingly, to her husband.
“When you're dying you don't remember the bad things,” she says, turning into the lot where my Jeep is parked. “Otherwise dying wouldn't be so awful for the dying.”
“It’s clear that it is time to end it, there is nothing left to hope for,” I remember thinking that night into the mirror. I woke in bed, remembering the specifics of the shift, how I was in my bathroom, looking in the mirror. I know I need to get up and commit suicide. I fall asleep.
'Shifted to little-boy-me starts crying and bolts out of the House into the night, towards the field, her chasing me, bigger than me, faster than me. I understand music, now, even classical, all those staccato orchestral hits, expressing the past, present, and future waves colliding as the house pulses with volume. I understand humor, I’m glad I was humorless as long as I was. Humor is about throwing your hands up and laughing – giving up. I get to be that little kid for the rest of my life. His perception is my perception, each perception the same soul that is me.
The ghosts in the field wear clothes like something in another country ... there are lots of them, even though only one speaks, the other laughs. The rest are outlines of people. One is a woman in a red bandana, looking on. They all rear up and I can see them in the light of the full moon as I shoot into the field. Once the multitude sees it is only Grace chasing me they melt back into outlines and on to empty air. The two men handle it, as the woman in the bandana watches on.
The woman in the red bandana never looks at me, never, no matter what reason I am shooting into the field for. She looks onward at the two bad men, at the edge of the field. She looks at Grace chasing me, trying to figure out where I shot off to. I stay crouched down in the field‘s green wheat, hiding, looking at the old woman in the bandana; the cloth of her faded blue skirt moving in the same night breeze against my skin.
One of the two slaves at the edge of the field hisses at Grace, their sounds cutting through moonlight like knives. “You GET away from this field,” he hisses in quick, low baritone. The other one laughs, his cackle drunken. She bolts away.
When I sing it’s a voice I’ve never heard before, a low base rumbling; it feels primal. I bet human beings learned to sing before they learned to speak, to moan and groan and hum before they articulated words with their lips and air and tongue.