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#390229 - 03/22/12 05:14 PM _
tommyb Offline

Registered: 11/29/10
Posts: 921
Loc: American South
(a chapter)


(Wednesday, 7SEP2011)


In Charlie Hall we set up tables for a banquet.

�This is the PBS Evening News ... The only reason the Postal Service could report in three-digit millions in the red was because it considered its saved-future-pensions funds spent.�

�The rules must be followed,� J__ says, before falling into conservative silence. The tables are set in rows with burgundy table cloths draped over them. �Layoffs are the answer.�

�The savings accounts were listed in three digit billions.�


(Saturday, 10SEP2011)

Due to the rains outside building up on the sidewalks, this is the third time I've had to clean the church barefooted, leaving my wet shoes by the door.

It becomes a quick-moving, methodical ritual when I clean all three buildings at the same time; all those lines in the Bible of preparing the place for worship, must've made sense at the time.


Shifted to a factory floor, the air heavy with dust and shavings. I'm about to punch my time card into a clock.

�We're the same team,� he whispers as he sets his umbrella, then stirs a cup of coffee as if purposefully.

I clench my jaw. Treason, I catch myself think.

�The evidence against that is everything,� I whisper back, as I finish punching in and move quickly down the aisles of machinery and working men toward my position. �The evidence is the dust all around you.�

�There has been change,� he whispers from behind my right shoulder.

Communist, I catch myself think, as I walk faster and begin rolling up my sleeves.

�A new end result.�

�No one can see the big picture but for God and Nature,� I reply firmly, turning around in the dark corner housing my workbench. The storm outside has become a blizzard, whispering its evidence.

�But the direction!� he cries out, as other workers leave their areas to see what is happening.

I quickly grab his arm as a rolling door is opened and the snow reflects gold onto machinery. �It's Roosevelt,� I say to the other men, their faces hardened and adorned with burly mustaches. �Read too many newspaper stories this morning.�

They chuckle. They turn away.


(Sunday, 11SEP2011)

At Arthur Ashe stadium in New York City, the twenty-nine year old Serena Williams gives an athletic �Hieoh!� as her opponent fails to match Williams' serve.

The referee correctly gives the point to William's opponent, Samantha Stosur, due to the aggressiveness of Serena's distracting sound.

Williams is angered.

Two years ago Williams' anger caused her to be booted from the tournament. Today she regulates while Stosur clenches her jaw, seemingly unnerved by an undeserved sense of guilt.

�Once Serena focuses her anger like this and starts playing one point at a time,� the commentator explains. �She becomes unstoppable.�

Serena's anger seems to convert into a cumbersome negativity. In a major upset, Stosur wins the women's U.S. Open.


(Monday, 12SEP2011)

In the first set of the U.S. Open Championship at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Rafeal Nadal's athletic prowess struggles against Novak Duckovic's intricate, toying strategies. Only Nadal's sense of urgency keeps him alive.

The second set lasts seventeen minutes, some rallies involving more than twenty-five swings as Nadal gives his loud �Heeuh� to Duckovic's cool silence.

The third set involves rallies with swings in the thirties.

Duckovic lands the ball exactly in the corners, then front court, then back, keeping Nadal on the defensive until Nadal wins the third set's tie-breaker.

�No one in tennis tries harder than Nadal,� Dick Enberg commentates. �This is as physical a battle as you'll ever see on a tennis court.�

By the fourth hour Duckovic's lower back threatens seizure regularly as Nadal's legs threaten cramps.

�This is the first time Nadal has ever shown a look of resignation.�


(Tuesday, 13SEP2011)

�I will lecture from the liberal point of view,� the history professor begins, quick and loud, as if he's forcing himself to keep the rhythm slow. �Because I am in the South East. One,� he continues. �But also because the text book teaches in a certain, blunt way, and I feel the need to balance that out.�

The story-line structure that the history text book uses concerns the beginning of ships crossing oceans, and the impacts, all the way to present day.

�But what will be on the test,� a confident, small blonde sitting against the wall asks. �Your lectures or the text? And will the tests be multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank.�

�Each test will have an essay,� he says to her lowly, �But it is YOUR KNOWledge,� he lectures, as he paces, trying not to treat her personally but also trying to make a point. �That will be tested.�

His voice has a young quality, despite his mustache and beard. His face is upper twenties, maybe lower thirties; he looks like one of those young bucks on his way to the Civil War, knowing as little about the war as people did after nine-eleven.

�At some point in this class we will have to discuss Vietnam,� the professor continues, moving past a bookcase of artifacts, strange looking bowls and plates of brown and rust colorings. �And it's going to be difficult because of how modern the history is."

Last semester, when taking another class, I made a joke concerning the priceless artifacts displayed against such efficient, modular design and architecture.

�Yeah, concrete blocks don't do them justice,� the professor deadpanned, looking up from a stack of papers.

�And also the liberal, more comPLEX point of view.�

�The most valuable points to be made will be on the test. The logistics of it � time, place, event � is what you should have learned in highschool. RECKoning with history is what you will learn HERE.�

To handle his debates I realize I'm so conservative I'm liberal, him convincing me so liberal I'm conservative � something like true historians do not write history because they are concerned about judgment day, their reader is live flesh.

The professor suggests war films in order to score the brevity of his subject matters, but those films don't work on soldiers; instead he or she witnesses a war reenactment, sitting for hours noticing sets, characters, actors from other productions, and styles of directing. I can't decide if the impossibility of 'film magic' occurring means the soldier would make a good director or a fraught one, already aware of the limits of film.

(late morning)

�The Europeans were being born, learning the sounds �Mom� and �Dad� in a certain language, with a certain accent, inflecting a certain culture and history,� I begin. �Then growing up to discover that it was all arbitrary compared to their being live flesh on land round instead of flat, surrounded by galaxies ...�

�Now that they understood there was no sunrise,� the same history professor says, �But the Earth turns and revolves around the sun.�

�They experienced freedom ...�

�A new sensibility,� he answers.


(Wednesday, 14SEP2011)

�I'm a loser,� I say to her, �Juggling bills as if I only now turned eighteen and struck out on my own. By the time I stepped up to the counter,� I say to her, �To tell her I couldn't pay my rent quite yet, she had already handled two others, the first fifteen-hundred dollars behind in monthly rents, the second over three-thousand dollars behind in rent. I had never been so relieved by the fact that it was a recession.�

She smiles, laughing softly.


(Sunday, 26SEP2011)

Every employee is entitled to a raise, same as every corporation must grow to survive.

The American Civil War never ended because both versions of American capitalism is inherently wrong due to the horror of each extreme: slavery and apathy. While the North insists the wealthy has no responsibility for an employee's well-being and the South demands credit for their familial structure, the employee mistakes the North's version for 'liberty' � a word as abstract and universal as the word 'war'. Capitalism is dependent on the impossible: the wealthy and the poor genuinely caring for each other. For over a hundred years this has been known as: the American Experiment.

�There was no middle class left,� J__ says. �Only huge plantations and poor people. When that happens, horrific happens. If the working class was still there � religious, Republican, Democrat, or nothing -- the Civil War would've never happened and the blacks would've been freed anyway.�

That night I negotiate with J__ over my hours and pay. For a minute our friendship seems on the line, but then I won, he relented.


(Saturday, 1OCT2011)


�Don't you see � � Kid says to me.

�Why are you here � � I ask him, sleepy-eyed and yawning, surprised he has come to my house on a Saturday. Usually he parties Friday night and calls before he comes over because he wants to smoke.

He is breathless, pacing in front of the piano, whispering. �You've wandered in the desert and you've wandered in the wilderness same as every man and now you're in the Garden of Gethsemane.�

He waits for my response, still pacing, getting nothing. "You're a sinner � just like me � You're my brother now � now that I've met you, now that you've met me.�

�Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,� I whisper back to him. �But made himself nothing, Taking the very nature of a servant, Being made in human likeness, And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself, And became obedient to death, Even death on a cross � back when the cross was a cursed symbol of humiliation instead of selfless sacrifice.�

He turns his face from my expression.

�Males take on their relatives' sins as if they were his own,� he says, still pacing, quickly, rhythmically, still looking down at the beige carpet. "To make it royal."

Wilton culture.


"I would never be in front of my mom ... high," Guy says, right before he leaves. He emphasizes the last word as if it spoke his view of me alone, hence his kind tone. He says the sentence the same way I have heard guys articulate their conscience, they say: "Would my Mom be proud of me ... "

I remember a dream of us growing up together through one foster home after another. We erroneously assume we are brothers because neither of us can remember anything before us, but I write him off.

I remember Charlotte's Web, the Delton's kitchen, and me telling Sylvester everything in a torrent of words so fast and genuine I cannot remember much of them, only my surprise at the detail of my own wet-eyed account. Even at fourteen, my famous childhood silence remained in effect, only seemingly broken the moment I saw that no one notices the silent one remaining silent if he is talking regularly. Dawn had begged Sylvester and Denise to take me for the two weeks of the rehearsals and performance dates, lamenting, "That look in his eyes is too much!"

"There's no way any of that's true," Sylvester said, as if he had commented on the weather or had said something humorous and expected me to chuckle in agreement as he rose from leaning against the counter to show me where I would sleep.


(Sunday, 2OCT2011)


With a flourish, I step into the brick-walled apartment of my old, plant-loving neighbor, Mrs Marrissa.

�Want to go on an adventure today � �

She cackles with delight.

I was going to church down the street, but she is already an off-and-on-again member of Wilton Community Church.

(morning services)

�The cross is such a graphic image � � the Pastor's son, Stephen, says to me.

�The nature of a man, A spirit as eternal as God � � the congregation sings.

�Set your spirit and heart on above,� Pastor Romes preaches. �Because you are already God's � your body and mind haven't caught up yet.�


(Monday, 3OCT2011)


�Monday � � I whisper to the man sitting beside me at Wilton Community Church's Men's Bible study. �All day I keep thinking it's Wednesday ...�

A fellow soldier is present. He is now a cop.

�When the guys come back from deployment,� I say to him as we take down the chairs and tables. �It's like they still need a structure. They become cops, firefighters � I can't remember the other one.�

�Scofflaws,� he says with a laugh.


(Tuesday, 4OCT2011)

(early morning)

Since the most ancient civilization of matriarchs in Northern China, �Dow�ism exists, followed by Confucianism � confusion � because articulation remains impossible. A people deciding its own fate in history � the highest power's sin matching equally with the lowest pauper's crime � remains true on its own instead. Life springs bountiful: what's sown is reaped.

�With the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck reports the image of California farmers burning fresh crop to keep the prices from bottoming while the farmland is surrounded by camps of starving Americans � � I find myself saying to the world history professor. �Capitalism naturally faces depression but not the common sense that all human beings are the same.�

�The Communists would have used military force to stop the burning, feeding the people, ensuring common sense.� the professor says.

Communism seems an interesting attempt of an answer to Old World � ways, while Capitalism remains dependent on human character � a character requiring freedom. It can turn humans into slaves for hundreds of years; it can make the bit of sugar in British hot tea more important than the religion spat upon their counterparts.

�And the Socialists would have � systematically educated the people ...� I say.

�Something to that effect,� he answers. �Though some might call it brainwashing.�


The word problems concern Realty.

�So what is Escrow � � I ask the professor.

He looks at me but stays silent, scratching his head.

�Does the escrow go to the previous owners or the bank?� the professor asks.

�Do we need to know that � � the girl with glasses says.



�At least when we were young we had false hope to cling to,� Mrs. Marrissa says with a half-embarrassed chuckle, telling a story about her girlhood days on the Arkansas farm as she waits at the butcher's counter in her �dressed-for-the-doctor� clothes. Still listening, I acquire fresh meat for our WCC's Small Group Bible study's cookout. The television in the corner shows news from Afghanistan.

�... Back in them days they were slaughtering men like cattle,� she says, �And not just at the noose ...�

Later she looks around the apartment. �All them babies born without respect,� she continues. She slides the tips of her fingers against the surface of the baby grand. With a quick nod, she looks at the tall, shiny-black Kobalt tool chest standing against the wall between the kitchen and the kitchen table.

�All this stuff...� she says, before continuing.

At the Bible Study Mrs. K___ explains how much medication she is on while she can't get off the bottle. �I got up to double digits,� I whisper to her.

�At the emergency room the doctor told me if I didn't stop I'll eventually die in my sleep or wake blind,� she whispers back.


(Thursday, 6OCT2011)


�The Supreme Court ruled it as such,� the Survey of Mathematics professor says. �So when doing partial-loan interest word problems, we use three-hundred and sixty days for the year instead of three-hundred and sixty-five.�

�Like made-up math � � I reply.

�Financial math,� he answers.


�About what?� asks Guy as he leads through his parent's silent house.

�That numbers came before letters.�

It is like when a wealthy friend offers you his laundry room while he goes out of town and you notice the nine hundred channels on the cable television, down to the exact song you want to hear. The music video is offensive, presuming the viewer ignorant, the egos of the singer and music makers are vulgar, but that's what sells. All I know is how nice the underlying melodies have been.


(Tuesday, 18OCT2011)


�Some argue one sentence covers modern history,� the professor lectures. �White people happened.�

As I step into history class, a guy glances at my abdominal as I step past his seat to mine.

�But isn't that propoganda... � I ask the professor. "Everything currently wrong is the winner's fault?�

I give the student a quick, angry look, causing him to look away, as if in trouble.

I didn't do it on purpose; it happened in a knee-jerk way. When he looks at me during class I am kind, resolving it, but I remember those years when I was a-sexual and would notice attractive people from both genders, that heterosexual look of hate flashed in my direction, that same look I'd flash at anyone interested.

�That group can't help being good at mathematics,� the world history professor says, concerning an ethnic group.

�But isn't racism the ultimate form of propaganda � � I ask.

�I'm not saying you're wrong,� says the professor.


Fall evident in the breeze blows against our short-sleeved arms.

�I'm glad I ain't in any trouble like that,� Mrs. Marrissa says, concerning the past due taxes on my Jeep, as we stroll through the now-matured bayou of stolen-plants and pass by Billy and Miss's old apartment. �I think I'd be scared all the time.�

�Hook or by crook,� I reply, ducking under the tropically-shaped leaves of a Samosa. �Juggling bills.�

She laughs. �No, you just playin' cool,� she says from in front of me. �One of them people hanging by guts and a prayer.�


The Survey of Math professor is an ex-football player. In the word problem on the board he adds up the interest charged in the thirty-year loan with the original cost of the house.

�Either the person is crazy for thinking the house will appreciate that much in thirty years,� I ask. �Or the banker is crazy for lending the homeowner that much ...�

�That's the gamble,� he answers. �Over thirty years the money value of land may have less to do with the actual property and more to do with the character of the person standing on it.�

I think about the sounds: �South,� �American,� translating monetary value according to who can keep a promise.


(3AM, Thursday, 3NOV2011)

I've found a way to acquire the same medication over-the-counter; I only have to take more. In the back of my mind I notice I've been on something, alcohol or not, straight through since September. Sleep seems as silly as writing did back on June first.

�She's wearing shades at night, even indoors,� I say to the guy at the register of the all-night drug store.

�Night owl,� he mutters as answer, his werewolf facial features making me envious.

�Guess weirder stuff happens around here overnight,� I reply as I slide the pills across the counter toward him.

�Yeah,� he says, eying me kindly as he rings up the pills. �The ones who are different stop by.�


(Tuesday, 22NOV2011)


Wilton Christian Academy is run by the same beings as the Wal-mart where I got my five-year pin. �Just do it,� Michelle says, the ultimate polyvore. The church I take care of has now been expanded into a school.

Shifted to a fine restaurant. Not only are Grace's friends there, sitting around a long table covered with a white-table cloth, but many also work there. Grace is popular with our Wilton peers.

Shifted to a set of townhouses surrounding two sides of a street. One is mine, the one beside it turns out to be rented by Grace. Uninvited and assuming, her and her friends walk inside mine. The second story has two restrooms not ten feet from each other, one in each corner of the foyer-like room at the top of the stairs. �So this one should be mine,� Grace says. She decorates it throughout the afternoon as her friends help her.

On the way to the restaurant where her friends are waiting to meet us for dinner, we make a stop to the outskirts of town where trailers and one-story, dilapidated houses line the streets at odd angles, as if the street had once not existed, only divvied-up land. We have to drive through a special wooden door to get there. I step out of Mrs. Marrissa's long, white Lincoln and unlock the locks on the door, then open it for Grace to drive through, then close it behind her. Inside is a long, dusty-equipment-lined street inside an enormous garage leading to an opening at the other end.

No telling what crowd Grace's into. She has a paper bag of money to drop off at a trailer but the guy is not home so we walk across to his noisy relatives' house. Upon first sight they are a family of criminals, a loud, blunt-talking woman the matriarch. Grace realizes the woman, and invariably, her son, do not realize Grace owes the money so Grace suddenly makes no mention of it and plays it off as a laughingly-friendly visit.

Drew appears. He is their heavily-built, family guard dog. As soon as he sees me he smiles with a panting tongue and races out their door to the woman's offspring's lazy annoyance. Outside in the dusk, Grace quickens her steps as we near the car. I open the back door and Drew jumps in with me. Grace acts under-pressure.

Rose, suddenly sitting in the passenger seat, rolls her eyes at our non-Christian ways and cheerily talks about her life. Her story is the usual self-promoting manipulations; I let Grace deal with her. Drew breathes heavy growls as he changes his position against me according to what window he's decided to look out.

Suddenly there is trouble, the matriarch�s son is seen in the yard of a passing house. He gives an expression of recognition and looks to be running toward his truck in order to over take us.

After Grace carefully races through the long garage, I step out to open the large, wooden doors again. Rose lets Drew out of the vehicle as I step out of the open back-door of the Lincoln but I don't realize until Grace has driven through the doorway and I've locked it back from the outside.

I am instantly mournful for Drew and inconsolably angry at Rose as Grace races away, exhaling her relief.

�Oh, stop,� Rose retorts with a sharp laugh. �He wasn't your dog anyway.�

We return to the restaurant with Rose. The young waitress is extra cordial as she leads us to a linen-dressed table, having noticed we are close siblings living long-apart. Grace's friends fill the restaurant and keep around the table. Finally, I escape from them, pretending I am hanging out at the bar in the back of the restaurant, its long, tree-trunk of a bar making me feel like my rural self. Planning to sneak back to my townhouse and move out while they are eating, I step outside the restaurant into an enormous, Christmas-decorated shopping mall, a maze I remain unable to find the way out of.


(Wednesday, 23NOV2011)


�Busy on holiday eves,� the emergency room nurse says.

I tell them triple C's, a part of House's methodical school of narcotics, because I figure they won't call the police.


(Wednesday, 30NOV2011)


Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude for two-years now, I keep getting farther, then going back, making it last, aging to a hundred years old. Seven days ago I began the last chapter and started the book over again. That night I shifted to Mocando silent in the dead of night as the last Aureliano stepped out of the Buendia house onto the veranda surrounded by pots of oregano and ferns and begonias resting on a railing of blossomed rose bushes clinging. I reached the last chapter again within this sleepless week as ancient secrets fell into place like puzzle pieces.

�It's like jumping seasons,� I say to her.

She absent-mindedly hums a note in place of the question.

�You're doing it faster than the other guy, maybe too fast � might have accomplished it in the wrong season.�

�Never scratch the whole thing.�

Everything about her means baby.

Somehow I know Mother Nature gave birth to her immaculately. I wanted to write a short story about a guy who literally suspected he was dating an angel, but the fun, difficult articulations would be on what every guy already knew.

�... Like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde,� I am telling her. �Dr. Jeckyl must know and understand Mr. Hyde, otherwise he is an innocent dunce fighting insanity ... � In the twilight of caressed skin and satisfied limbs she loves me to make up stories. �It's called the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil...� I tell her. �The more aware you are, the braver and more purposeful you have to be about being good. But also the more adaptable you are. As you grow older you get happier and unhappier at the same time, like an old tree, witnessing as civilizations rise and fall.� Her skin is like salve to mine, her legs intimidating, saying: dare you.

Deep in the silence of night, as she sleeps on her back, her right forearm against her forehead, I pack methodically for no reason, same as I did to the house following deployment. I made daily trips to the landfill, the Jeep full of boxes. At night while watching bad television I minimized my wardrobe, undressing and trying on clothes as if I were deciding their worth to carry. Two hours later I hide the two suitcases � one large and leather, the other small and hard enough to sit on when upright � under the bed, then crawl under the sheets as she turns toward me, her right hand landing between my neck and chest, her eyes closed and her lips slightly open in that expression her and Royal always have when they sleep.

�More professors have gotten a hold of the writings,� I whisper. At first it was fun, like in the summer, when Seda and Theresa were using up all their ammo over a short story already titled: The Edit. I wonder about the journals and notebooks of writings, if they will be needed or should be burned. �The professors are making fools of themselves again.� I pause listening to the wind outside, as if that would be what wakes her up. �I'll have to figure something out.�


(Wednesday, 7DEC2011)

After Bible study last week, Mrs Marrissa, Mrs. Rose, and I sat and talked for hours in confidence. Before leaving I share with them the anonymously written work online.

�Read it like fiction,� I say to her as Mrs. Marrissa and I step down the steps of her brick, story-book house. �It was to be a novel.�

This week the Bible study hides little. It takes till the end to realize they've judged the work as if it were written selfishly.

�Homosexuality is abominable,� insists Mrs. Rose for ten minutes. �They're storytellers � lazy heterosexuals. Our successful society is now destroying itself due to its own wealth, modernism, and hedonism.�

�The world is over-populated,� I offer from my chair. �What if the homosexuals were intended.�

�What's wrong with him not wanting to end up with someone not his equal,� the husband says.

�It's all about attitude,� another woman says. �Some people don't have thick skin. Can't get over things.�

�It has to be understood that women are subordinate,� says Mrs. Rose.

"So are women equal or not ... " I ask Mrs. Rose.

She gapes at me.

�He could've been a sports writer � I mean,� the husband of the woman suddenly says. He turns his head toward me across Mrs Rose's rose colored couch: �Not everyone's born to be a preacher.�

�Called by God and doesn't even know it,� says the leader of our group, Mr Wheat, across to Mrs. Rose.

�An actual church would be like a needle in a haystack,� I reply to the husband, confused. �If someone has a knack for it, they fill the voids at the other churches.�

�I don't mean there's anything wrong with our church,� he says, as if in apology to the rest of the group.

�Instead they're sitting around, studying micro-biology,� replies Mrs. Rose replies to his wife.

�Keeping some kind of personal score card,� Mr. K__ says suddenly, as if to no one, but he does that. �Boys are born around bad men and their worst nightmare is to grow up because they don't believe the male gender is inherently good.�

�Would you rather have your conscience, or the Bible � � I ask Mr. Wheat.

�The Bible,� he answers.

�Oh � � I reply.

I am called upon to read aloud from Hebrews, chapter twelve, where God disciplines his sons: �You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons,� I recite slowly.

As I read Mr. K__ leans against my couch cushion, so that his head is near my shoulder. He looks down at the Bible, then up to my reading eyes, then repeats, mockingly.

�'My son,� I continue. �Do not make light of the Lord's discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as son.�

�Hallelujah,� exclaims Mrs. K__ into sober silence.


(Saturday, 24DEC2011, Christmas Eve)

I notice the pictures on the old man's wall. Two grandsons stand beside each other, one clench-jawed, his girlfriend at his side with a similar, insecure expression, the other smiling, exuberant, with a good-looking girl at his side.

�He's � tough,� the grandfather tells me of the younger grandson, as if he wants to say more.

�Yeah, my youngest was a boxer � into sports,� the father, Mr. K__, tells me later over cigarettes. �Hellova left hook. My eldest is a computer guy. Making good money now. They've both just graduated from college.�

�You know how I built my credit?� the younger grandson says that night, kindly looking toward me as if I were apart of the conversation. �I went to American Eagle and signed up for one of their cards. A year later I happened to have enough credit for a regular credit card, so I gave the American Eagle one up.�

�You should have kept it,� says Mr. K__, sitting beside him on the couch.

The two sons and the father interrupt each other for a few seconds.

�You don't know what you're talking about,� the younger says to his father. �Yeah � but don't have to ARgue,� the younger says as if to his brother sitting beside him, but really he says it in general. �Google it,� he says to Mr. K__.

I'd rather be absent than have to handle my father that way, even though the son had little choice, leaning into his temper, despite the father's embarrassed expression. Otherwise, the younger treats everyone genuinely well, is effortlessly kind. He keeps his eye on me but he doesn't smoke so we merely exchange understanding looks as socializing commences at the dinner party.

Upon leaving, we both shake firmly. �Good to have met you,� I say.

�And I hope to see you again sometime,� he says.

�Yes, absolutely,� I reply lowly, wary of how he makes me sad and white-knuckled same as with Willahford and Royal � live flesh with human dignity retained this whole time.


(Monday, 9JAN2012)


�History is the record of what people have done in the past. In this context the past can mean ten thousand years ago or yesterday. History depends on evidence of the past. What has happened but been forgotten or for which no evidence exists � which is, of course, the vast majority of what has happened � is technically not history,� � World Civilizations, Volume 1: To 1700, Fifth Edition, Philip J. Adler, Randall L. Pouwels, page nine � �Why this happened is problematic. Some believe bloody warfare erupted between competing species of hominoids; others posit a peaceable, gradual absorption by the more advanced species. A good example of these failed species is the famous Neanderthal Man, who flourished in many parts of Europe until thirty-thousand years ago and then disappeared at about the same time that Homo sapiens appeared in Europe.�

�Every civilization includes what we call a Creation Myth,� the World Civilizations professor says. �Why might that be?�

�A story that could be told to kids � � I reply. �As close to the truth without being vulgar.�

�Maybe,� he says as other classmates join in and the story of Adam and Eve is told and referenced.

�So we're supposed to feel ashamed for breaking from the animals and putting on clothes � � I ask. �Ashamed of our own sense of shame � our own conscience.�

�The fall of man,� he says with a twinkle in his eye, holding his hand up in parenthesis.



�Economics is a social science,� the Macroeconomics professor lectures. �Judging what society is demonstrating, thinking ...

�If you can choose not to satisfy a need it is not a need. Notice how suicidals do not believe there is any more satisfaction available to them. Notice how the elderly will choose human dignity over survival ...

�Money is not a resource. Time is. You are your own asset, one that invests in him or herself so as to sell to the highest bidder ...

�Economics is the allocation of limited resources toward the end result of satisfaction � happiness. Every human whether the masses or the few at the top � every human is motivated the same...

"Overseas, we are the joke of the world because we find anything not directly marketed to us distasteful. I think it is really the consumer. Ask a sociology professor why selfless acts are always viewed with selfish eyes."



�A willingness to give up resources,� lectures the Macroeconomics professor. �We are � willing to buy. This is called Demand. Demand does not mean product is available or possible to obtain. Everyone of you is willing to buy a new car. Will you trade that Sprite bottle for a new Mustang?�

�Yes,� I reply.

�Willingness to sell is what we call Supply. Both are occurring in what is called The Market � One man in Canada began with one red paper clip and traded his way up to a house. A kid in America started with a used Motorola and traded up to a Porsche Boxer � His parents made him turn it in for an Explorer.

�Money is simply a trade simplification, because this is a pure-trade economy ... What is it that most decides Value?� he says in aside to a student. �The price influencing whether or not you buy it is the final peace of the puzzle, not the first. Do not overestimate the consumer � they have their own situations, their own wants.

�There are normal goods: things we naturally buy more of when income is increased: gas, groceries � And there are inferior goods: things you would spend less on if you had more money: Ramen Noodles. The second factor: Taste and Preference. Do we always want the highest quality good ...�


(Monday, 23JAN2012)


�And do you not find this email to sound angry?� the Dean asks.

�No,� Cain replies. �Your professors are still harassing me. Your psychology and religions professors tried to drive me crazy so I wouldn't remember what they already knew. Now you've got two history professors and a biology professor trying the same. �

�We have to do an investigation,� the Dean replies. �Maybe you can continue here, maybe not.�


Standing over the kitchen sink, I am so calm I know I can watch my wrist bleed out for hours. Raging on chemicals, calm as death, Cain turns away, steps outside the apartment, drives away.


At the church, Cain says: �I need to be driven to the nearest VA.�

�Why?� Pastor Tango asks. �What do I tell them you need?�

�I don't know,� Able sighs, looking away, then back to the pastor.

�Immediately,� Cain says.

Pastor Tango grabs his keys.


The psychology-student's rapid fire questions, the pastor present, acting stunned by the clear, tragic answers.

�And sex?� he asks.

�I was the only one in my family with sexual boundaries.�


The hospital is only a few miles from my Castro grandparents. Grandma answers the phone.

�None of us in the family agreed with the war, and there you were in uniform,� she explains.

While we are exchanging more pleasantries a nurse walks up to me to let me know the VA had claimed me � I was honorably discharged in November � but the only bed open in the State was in the mountains, a long drive from here. I'd be leaving in the morning.

�I've got to go, Grandma,� I say into the phone.

She asks about Grace. �The more she is in my life, the more trouble in my life,� I tell her. �The less, the less. It�s always been like that, since I was eighteen.�

�Apparently she was offended by her grandfather. We never heard from her after that.�

�When she knocked on your door she was expecting a grandfather, not him.�

�If Grandpa answers the phone next time you call, just ask for me.�


#390243 - 03/22/12 06:19 PM Re: J) [Re: tommyb]
SamV Offline

Registered: 12/13/09
Posts: 5972
Loc: Sunnny, South East USA
what seems a new psyche but is actually the new-and-burgeoning one of my early teenage years.
The boy in me has approved of me. My movements are his movements, his original ease of movements, terribly familiar and mine.
I hadn't realized it worked that way. I feel like a teenager because I was once a teenager, if only for a few days; I can feel like the boy because I was once a boy, even if I was pseudo-grown; I feel my age because I am my age, all at the same time.

Not "yeah" but "Heck Yeah", man does that connect. Peace tommy.

MaleSurvivor Moderator Emeritus 2012 - 2014

#390534 - 03/24/12 05:44 PM Re: J) [Re: SamV]
peroperic2009 Offline

Registered: 10/09/11
Posts: 3869
Loc: South-East Europe
Hey Tommy,
are those chapters part of some nearly coming book wink ?
It was pleasure to read your stories; I have feeling that I know you, you are good writer, keep it going like that:
"It's amazing to be that natural and free"


My story

#440837 - 07/14/13 07:21 AM Re: K) Mountains [Re: tommyb]
tommyb Offline

Registered: 11/29/10
Posts: 921
Loc: American South

(Tuesday, 24JAN2012)


The retired cop acts like his heart is breaking. He applies the handcuffs, the legs irons. I appreciate your service, he manages.

I was only a common soldier.

In his white golf shirt and black, creased pants, he bends down to click closed the ankle cuffs.

In shackles in the back of the police car, there is a chain leading from my handcuffs to the chain tight around my waist.

The chains are merely a safety formality so I can drive you, the cop keeps saying.

Another chain leads from the cuffs around my ankles, connecting them. A third chain connects that chain to the one around my waist. The back of the police car is tight, with a fence of thick metal separating the front from the back.

The retired cop chooses a gas station off an exit out in the middle of nowhere. So it's less embarrassing for you, he says.

After filling the tank he parks the police car near the door. Upon entering and managing to the latrine the cop and I continue our banter while two employees and a customer witness in stillness.


Ward One Echo is beige and white with a lounge, patio, nurse's station, and a square hallway with rooms along the way.

John is forty-years-old, boisterous for a recluse, grateful for the conversation as we play cards in the day-room of the VA's stabilization ward.

The real crazies are lying, he says. While the doctors try to understand them. If the docs aren't honest people themselves, they'll never pick up on the fact that the patient is lying.

They diagnose you instead, Daniel says. Trying to box you up."

Daniel is an ornery old man inside a thirty-two year old body. Bipolar with a tendency toward chronic depression, he was admitted yesterday. I am in the beginning stages of the a divorce, he says. He used to work in computer software but his mental illness made working unsustainable. I'm on disability through the Air Force, he explains. She finally got tired of my depression it's like I'm low and can't get back up toward manic like I usually do. I have three daughters. Didn't know what else to do.


Spike disorder, Reyn, my roommate, says in his rough auto. Frontal lobe dementia. Turns out my dad has it. A Marine. When he retired in two-thousand-thirteen, I joined the Army and deployed ...

He is my size and frame with short, brown hair and a twenty-four-year-old-stoner's happy-but-sedated-expression.

Eighteen months from the end of two-thousand-three to two-thousand-five. We were two days from shipping home and got extended. I started showing symptoms upon getting home.

He leans back into the chair by his bed, exhaling. They got me on all kinds of drugs. At the S__ burg VA, man, they'll take you off totally and start you on a different regimen, like they're trying to get you to lose your mind.

He has a wife he's been with for nine years. The first time he was hospitalized he threw a rock through a windshield. This time he saw two men step into his house.

I was watching my kids playing at my feet in the living room, he explains. Then went nuts when I saw them. Then my wife who was in the kitchen and my kids who were playing in their bedroom come out of nowhere and I'm like, how did you do that?

... Beta blockers, Reyn says later. Keeps you from remembering your dreams all those combat nightmares it's funny how in real life there's not so much blood but this red mist that shoots out of the head when it's shot ... nothing like the movies ... Sometimes I'll get up and perform a whole fight in my sleep.


(Thursday, 25JAN2012)

What's your genealogy, man? Mike asks.

He is Bromsden, stands like Bromsden; I call him Bromsden and we laugh, though my personality is more like Bromsden in the novel, his more like Nickolson in the movie.

We talk about Kesey and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as we walk laps along the ward's one hallway, shaped like a square.

Do the hokie-pokie, one attendant says as we pass the nurse's station.

That's what it's all about, answers the other.


(Friday, 26JAN2012)

They prescribe me Quetiapine because I still haven't slept.

Prozoan, Johns says. Beta blockers, up to 30 mg. Don't let them prescribe that to you if you want to remember your dreams.

They'll stop working after awhile anyway, Mike says.

Quetiapine? Reyn says. They start everyone out on that stuff. I swear they must have some sort of endorsement.



When I was manic, I was at my most happiest, Daniel says. The smallest detail around me was God speaking directly to me symbolically saying the kindest, most uplifting things.

Were you on anything ...

Never. I didn't even know I was bipolar or had depressions.


(Saturday, 28JAN2012)

'Could see the truth inherent in admitting all the bad thoughts along the way. Seems understandable, even comfortably normal. Still, they added up, detail by detail.

Shifted to the inside of a steam engine train racing through American frontier. In the latrine I notice my glasses. I hate to wear glasses, but these fit my face perfectly. I walk through the boxcars, excited to meet up with my loved ones so they can see my glasses straight from God.

Shifted to a recurring dream. The Oscars are being held in Wildwood Church, located miles into the forest. Ray, who I haven't seen in so long, suddenly asks if I will give him a ride. I jump up from the pew in the back, as if, of course.


Though the last dosage of Quetiapine wore off hours ago, rarely do the shows playing on the television in the background not sound like bad actors running lines.


We use our whole brain all at once, all the time, Sarah says, walking laps beside me as she lectures on what it's like to have schizophrenia. While most people only use a small section that then connects to the other parts of the brain as needed. She is tall, slinky, blemish-less, with milky-white skin and light red hair an Irish goddess.

Schizophrenia begins for some people very young, she says in her auto tones. You realize you're more sane than the adults and peers around you. You then continue to look for the big picture, only seeing the world in that way, always, constantly looking at the whole-world-picture.

Right now psychologists believe schizophrenia is caused by an overly-controlling mother. I have a hard time with that because I am a mother. They used to say the same thing about autism, which used to be called infantile schizophrenia. Some crucial moment where the mother failed and a bond was catastrophically severed. Now they do not consider autism a psychological condition.

"I used to travel Europe regularly, she says later, summing up her world travels. The fashions there are years ahead of us. I'll see the latest thing in an American high end store and recognize it from years ago.


The VA is only a few miles from Uncle Saul Castro and Aunt Karen, the forever-young, 'cool,' aunt and uncle of my childhood. The VA encouraged me to contact them, but by the time they arrived I had already handled my logistics so the contact was unnecessary.

You're both exactly the same, I say to them in the private meeting room -- which is doubly true, they really do look the same.

Though we have only been passing pleasantries and giving comments concerning the war, suddenly Aunt Karen hmmphs. "Didn't you used to never speak -- not even cry as a baby -- and then you would walk around in circles around cars, tables, trampolines ..." she says, ending with a certain smile I had thought only my blood female relatives could pull off.

"Obviously you now understand you shouldn't put things online," Saul interjects, as if mediator, as if I was supposed to know this had been what we were talking about all along.


(Sunday, 29JAN2012)

(0600) 50mg Quetiapine
(1100) 50mg Quetiapine
(1630) 50mg Quetiapine
(2030) 300mg Quetiapine

I was once in an orange jumpsuit, too, says Briar, our boisterously confident evening attendant, in aside to another patient. When a soldier comes through that door into Ward One Echo, he or she is in a state of destroyed.

You're normal, Briar says later. But not average.


(Monday, 30JAN2012)


He was tantruming, an RN says to an attendant as we pass by. So I got down on the floor and tantrumed, too.

The attendant laughs.

He was like, is that what I really look like?


That certain physical-self-awareness showed up again, here and there.

I've learned the attendants ways well enough to reach over their counter while it is unmanned. In my file the daily entries describe me as 'disheveled.'

That night, after showering, I stand alone in the latrine wondering about it. I do a workout of pushups and situps every morning, walk for miles in the afternoons. I wash and dry my one white t-shirt each night. They have me where a pair of polyester pajama bottoms as part of their color system. With my bald head I look like some kind of monk.


(Tuesday, 31JAN2012)


The young attorney provided appears like a gumshoe: old-style tennis shoes, the kind made of canvas laced past the ankle and a half-circle of white rubber over the toes. He wears a blue suit with a red bow tie. This is only for formality, he says. When you get out of here there will be no legal actions concerning you.


While playing basketball with Daniel there is no backboard I could feel our energies silently communicating as I win at Horse.

A new patient, Kirsten, a young girl who weeps into her food, turns out to be good at basketball. A Marine athletically built but small, she leans forward when she walks, jutting her neck and face forward, her eyes always in a lost expression, her lips held in a gape.

She wins at All Around the World.


(Thursday, 2FEB2012)

(0900 1100)

A psychology P.h.D candidate administers a series of psychological tests ... Ink blots, setting up blocks to match designs, figuring out three-piece puzzles, and a series of memory games.

You handled yourself very well, he says at the end.



(1700) know I'm a mess, I tell her through the phone.

Then how is it I know you exist.

You're safe, I tell her. You could live the life most women in the world only dream of. You can have anyone you want.



Sarah, Daniel, and I walk laps discussing our meds. All of us are on an anti-psychotic and a mood stabilizer. Mine and Sarah's anti-psychotics are actually sedatives, while Daniel's is Ambilify, which is an upper. Though I am only on two drugs, they have others to counteract side-effects.

Addicts are looking for only two things, Briar is saying to a patient as we pass by. Euphoria or numbness.


(Friday, 3FEB2012)

(0600) 50 mg Quetiapine; 300 mg Lithium
(1100) 50 mg Quetiapine
(1630) 50 mg Quetiapine
(2000) 300 mg Quetiapine; 300 mg Lithium.

Somehow I've lost who I am, Kirsten wails in the phone, her head in her hands as she sits in a chair against a wall.

Not five minutes later she energetically walks laps with me, smiles at my jokes.

After a few laps she gets on the phone again, crying, sitting curled up in the corner of the hallway.


(Saturday, 4FEB2012)

Stand sideways, the blonde-haired attendant says. He is my age with hair down to his jawbone and two rings in his right ear lobe. Let the football sit in your palm. Then kind of flick it off your finger tips for the spin.

Sometimes he'll teach things with the basketball. He seems to choose our units' outdoor-times according to when I've just taken a dose of Quetiapine.


Now that Kirsten's discharged, I say to Daniel as we walk our two miles of laps. We've got nobody to play cards with except old men.

Actually, that's pretty normal, Daniel replies in his deadpan way.

What about females ... I ask him.

They're pretty random, he says as a new-one-our-age, Sharon, walks by.



You're getting so good at that, says Mrs. Phylla, an attendant. And with no backboard.

I work in a circle, making each two-pointer, then begin the circle of three-pointers.

Somehow I'm going to learn to dribble, I reply.


Throw it like a baseball, Briar says. Except you're releasing higher up.

He adjusts the football in my palm.

Hold it toward the back of the ball, then throw it with force, trusting it to spin.

I adjust my footing, standing sideways about to throw to my left with my right hand.

You're position should allow you to hold the ball away from you vertically with one hand without it slipping out of your palm.

I make the throw across the court.

THERE! You go ...


(watching the Super Bowl)

I don't understand how they went from a twelve point score to fifteen ... I ask Daniel.

There's touchdowns and field goals, he replies. And there's the two-point conversion. The fourth way is called a safety. If you're tackled in your own end zone, the tacklers get two points.


(Monday, 6MON2012)


Walking laps, I pass the same office window several times. Sharon sits against the window, while Dr. Hotel, the ward's psychologist, sits at the desk in front of her. Upon Sharon being excused, I am called in.

He is a large, over-weight man in his fifties. He exhales slowly, heavily, before speaking.

Please don't use drugs, he says, suddenly friendly. Please, please, please. You know I knew a few acquaintances of Hunter Thompson's. He accomplished great things but he wasn't exactly a hero. He pauses. You overdosed because your heart stopped beating, then beat erratically, then stopped again. Apparently you once safely drove yourself to the emergency room in this state. He pauses again. If you've got some streak in you that wants to reckon with death, remember, please, prolonged experiences with mortal danger either desensitizes you or drives you insane, more often than not.

Upon stepping out and resuming laps, Sharon joins me and cheerily asks what was up.

Begging me not to use, I answer.

She is short and petite, energetic and quick with a zinger. She's the life of our party.

He kept begging me not to date anyone in this ward. He kept going on and on.


And what about childhood? Mrs Sierra asks during my interview for the twenty-eight day program in another ward of the hospital.

I got out okay.

When you left that place, were you diagnosed with PTSD?

No, of course not.


(Tuesday, 7FEB2012)

(On white board:) As a person thinks, so they become.


Why did you move back to Wilton? Dr. Foxtrot, the ward psychiatrist, asks.

We're thinking of a more long-term facility, Dr. Hotel, sitting across from her, finishes.

I'm familiar with Wilton, says Dr. Farris. Theres nothing there.

We're advising you to move up here, Dr. Hotel says. There is a beautiful long-term rehab facility here, called Rustic. The dormitories are log cabins nestled in the mountains.



I joined for the college money, William says as our group plays cards. He is twenty-three, hit by four IEDs, and now so cocky he can't even control himself, not to mention fit into a civilian work force.

Only thing I told the recruiter was: I want to JUMP out of planes, says Sharon. Make that happen.

It's called the 4H club, Daniel later explains concerning the city we're in. Hippies, Homos, Hicks, and Hobos.

I heard if you see a ring around the moon, Sharon says she places a nine of clubs. It's going to snow. The stars in it are how many days until it snows.

They're raising the rents, the property values, Daniel continues. Rich people love it here; they're pushing the lower classes off this land.

Meanwhile the downtown gets seedier and seedier, she says, placing a three of diamonds. As more and more homeless collect.


(Wednesday, 8FEB2012)


Williams' wife arrives in order to be present with him during rounds when each patient steps into the ward's conference room and reports to the treatment team. She keeps checking me out while I walk laps, stolen looks I'm not supposed to catch.

She doesn't love him, Sharon tells me. Pregnant with his baby and talking to him like he ain't nothing.


The woman is sweet, older, short, sharply dressed underneath the white, Egyptian cotton bathrobe she always wears. Been doin' this a long time, she says as we wait in line for rounds. I was in Denver, Colorado at a long-term mental facility it was awful.

She leans back against the wall and sighs. They just medicated the veterans. Men would be laying down in the hallways, the stairway, outside all over the grass. Sleeping men everywhere.

This facility must be pretty great, I reply.

No. All of them are like this now. With the war, they shut that place down, changed the standards. These places are excellent now.

She has the shakes. I'll go three, maybe four years sober, she says. Then fall off the wagon and start from scratch again. These shakes are the alcohol affecting me neurologically common with withdrawals.

What was the catalyst for getting you here..."

I started to feel my liver hurting.


What's this trend in the ward where everyone's got some autobiography in the works... I ask the treatment team. What is that ...

There's an author named Ira Progoff highly respected psychologist, Dr. Hotel says. Who wrote a book called At a Journal Workshop. That should answer all your questions.

Still, it helps the patient put their thoughts in order, interjects the social worker.


(Thursday, 9FEB2012)

(on white board:) The heart has reasons that reason cannot know Pascal.


(Friday, 10FEB2012)

Shifted to being deployed with Moser. He is so happy to see me. He had become a cop in the civilian war and can't wait to show me his badge.

After some sort of morning meeting of Moser's coworkers I walk with him to chow, where we stand in line.

Chuck, he says. This is like, the greatest day.

(on white board)

Thoughts manifest into words, and words manifest into deeds, deeds turn into habit, and habit hardens into character, so watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring forth with love for all beings. Buddhist quote.


My psychological tests have been rolled up.

You scored exceptionally high all around, Dr. Hotel says as if this were a mounting problem for him. That's why I wanted to do this instead of one of my underlings. He looks through the paperwork as if he doesn't know where to start. Someone with your brain is SUPPOSED to be in school. Its functions actually improve with scholastic use. Also, this brain type is especially susceptible to damage from drug and alcohol abuse. He almost seems angry, pausing for measure. I don't understand how it is that you haven't killed or damaged any brain cells, the alcohol alone should have shrunk certain areas. He pauses again, as if to let it sink in. The colleges here are some of the best in the state. You ARE to take advantage.


She has read the short stories.

"It's only a game they've been playing for twenty-nine-years.


(Saturday, 11FEB2012)

(0600) 50 mg Quetiapine; 300 mg Lithium
(1100) 50 mg Quetiapine
(1630) 50 mg Quetiapine
(2030) 300 mg Quetiapine; 600 mg Lithium


(Monday, 13FEB2012)

Dr. Foxtrot and Dr. Hotel are of two minds Dr. Hotel, the psychologist, insists, even demands, I get myself to college henceforth, while Dr. Foxtrot, the psychiatrist, fears such pressure and promotes the CWT program of the VA's, which gives veterans temporary jobs in the VA, while keeping a close, even doting, eye on them. It's a year long job, she says. Paying tax-free minimum wage.

The two throw their weight around, careful not to actually argue with each other, as I stand in front of the conference table, having presented myself for rounds.

No one has ever been on CWT a year, or even close to a year, Missy, a young attendant, whispered once in private. It has always led to a job.

Both the doctors and the social worker want me to live at the rehab program. After you perform your initial three months, you will be given a per-diem bed in the veteran's cabins, the social worker explains. You wake every morning in rehab, then go to school or work, then go to sleep each night in rehab. You can do this for two years without spending any of your own money. After that, you can continue on there for a small monthly fee four-hundred and twenty dollars, I think.


I work for an ornery, gray haired man in an underground shaft loud and thick with dust from distant explosions. Sometimes I work as a miner, other times I am his acquirer. In the middle of the three rooms in the shaft, I receive instructions from him, sitting at his plugged-in laptop behind his paper cluttered desk. I am to acquire two dogs.

At the house in God's Country, the gigantic pecan trees still stand strong over the yard. Inside the silent house, the furniture is covered in white sheets, the air stale. I find Susie Q, what's left of her tail wagging. I remember how she jumped into my lap and had her pups. I take two of them.

I need two German Shepherds, I say to the lab-coat wearing woman at the counter in Wilton. She takes the pups as trade. What happens to them ... I ask her as if confidentially, implying euthanasia.

Sir, this store front is empty and sterile, she says.

At the underground shaft, my boss acts as if I am late, his wrinkled face contorting. The German Shepherds are large, hardy; the workers are pleased. Back at the white, sterile storefront I am to think quickly. By Susie's expression she wants me to trade her for the pups. I would, except I am aware of the euthanasia, which I cannot do to her.

If she could see her pups, I say to the same blonde woman manning the counter as before. She is the mother.

She silently agrees, and Susie, the pups, and I visit in the farthest corner where I sit on the floor thinking, watching the woman in my peripheral. Suddenly I see Dawn's car pull into the drive thru of the restaurant across the street. I place one puppy into the right front pocket of my coat, then place the other into the left as I move to scoop up Susie. The woman nears me, stopping my motion.

Sir? she says over and over. Sir?

She places a hand on my shoulder and I back hand her face, sending her to the ground. Grabbing Susie, I race out, crossing the four lane traffic at the expense of blasting horns, darting into the backseat of Mom's green Oldsmobile.

Looking abstractly out the windshield, she wears a slight smile, like she is thinking to herself. I gather she is on her way to see Mrs. Linda, her friend and protector during the Marissa case, because Wilton looks that time period. I empty my pockets of life forms; they curl up with Susie on the passenger back-seat floor mat. I sit in the middle, straddling the carpeted green hump in the floor at my feet, as she drives through stop lights. We approach Marissa's neighborhood. It's sad ... I say. The neighborhood's the same twenty years later. Still poor. The houses like they have huge cracks in them.

The dusk is gray, the inside of the Oldsmobile slate blue. She seems preoccupied with her smile. I forgot how used to me she is, how important each friend is to her, how wide and limitless her hope while her loneliness had taken on a life of its own.

Mom, I say quietly, leaning forward toward the space between the front seats. Are you going to become a school teacher ...

Are you? she answers.

We listen to the hum of the car for several seconds before I speak again. I've never met a happy teacher.



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