Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Is Yet To Come?

"Grow old with me . . . the best is yet to come."

Tomorrow I celebrate 37 years of marriage to the boy who turned my life upside down in the most wonderful way. He borrowed my binoculars at a Doobie Brother's concert and two weeks later when he cleaned off the top of his chest-of-drawers, he found a telephone number scribbled on the back of the ticket. He braved the call, vaguely remembering the concert (the bottle of Black Velvet he and his roommate shared prior to the concert may have played a part) and confessed later, he couldn't remember what I looked like until he showed up at my front door. When I walked out to his truck, he said it all came back to him. "I remember you had a great ass!" Yep. Out of all the guys I dated who wooed me with roses and even written romantic prose, I picked him! Why? He made me laugh. Our life together has been every bit as unconventional and unpredictable as our chance meeting.

We thought we knew what the hell we were doing...both had great jobs, I just bought a new Camaro, he had an awesome 4-wheel drive truck, we moved into a fantastic apartment (had a gas fireplace!) and we were in lust. Not love. We believed we were, said the words and took the vows, but looking back, we were kids. We had no clue what constituted "true love," but we soon found out.  Yes, we had a couple of great years where our priorities centered solely on each other, but then our daughter was born, followed by the tag team, a miscarriage, and the oops child. It would be at least 25 years later, after a lot of tears, slammed doors, heated words, nights on the sofa, and even the threat of giving up by both of us at different times, before we realized we were truly soul mates. Until you've weathered the heartache of life changes that comes from raising children, economic issues, and health problems together, (and I consider watching the my svelte curves melt into a pear-shaped puddle a major health issue) and yet can still see the sparkle in your beloved's eyes -- set behind thick glasses -- do you really gain the understanding of "love."
Did I picture this in my head when I stared into hazel eyes as I swore my undying love before a room full of friends of family? Yes, as a matter of fact I did. I knew his teasing smile, the way it made his eyes crinkle, would look the same a hundred years later, and the gentle arms that cradled me when I cried after burning our first dinner, would still be my most favorite place on earth many decades later.

November 21, 1975 - I married my best friend. 
Thirty-seven years later . . . I'm still falling in love.

As we start the celebrations for the "season of thanks," hold tight to those things that bring joy in you life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


     Dawn is about to break, the sky turning from lavender to apricot. A few clouds drift overhead, stretched into thin gauzy lines. If I were home, I'd be thinking about all the things I could do with the new day. Stupid stuff like hanging with friends, meeting up for a burger, or maybe load up my dirt bike and check out a new trail or race the old favorite. I'd probably call my girlfriend later, because that's what boyfriends do, and see if she wants to come over to my place, maybe rent a movie we'll halfway watch while we stretch out on my sofa and engage in serious lip lock. Maybe she'd spend the night and we'd have mind-blowing sex before falling into a deep sleep, wrapped in each others' arms…satisfied and in love. Or so we'd both want to believe.

     But I'm not home. I haven't fallen into a deep sleep for over a year, had a decent cheeseburger, or dared believe in the word "love," let alone feel it. The dust I'd taste from a hard motorcycle ride is the only thing that seems to be global, but here, it doesn't have the earthy flavor of the forest or a sunflower field covered in fresh dew. No, here, dust is laced with unmentionable, unforgettable horrors that settle at days end, waiting to be resurrected by a footstep, a gust of wind, or a simple gasp of air when stumbling upon a sight to be forever scored in your memory.

     The letters from home, a steady flow at the beginning, are sporadic. Mom writes, tells me what Dad says and keeps me abreast of family things. The girlfriend? Her words sounded different in the last letter. There's someone else, I sense it, and I'm sure the next letter, if there is one, will be the grand kiss off…"you're a really great guy…what we had was special…I've found someone…take care of yourself…be safe…" all the shit that says "goodbye forever."

     "Forever" isn't something I can afford to believe in anymore, just as I can't hold onto a fantasy life where the girl waits, her heart and body solely yours, and nothing changes. Yeah, some things will be etched in stone, if… —the look of worry always constant in my mother's eyes; my older sister's meddling in my life; the pressure to be a good example for my younger brother; and Dad's expression, words, undecided—neither accepting nor condemning. Maybe after this hell is over, if "ever," there'll be a tone of approval, even pride in the son who vacated the house in a huff at eighteen, slamming the front door hard enough to rattle the windows. A bad night…sad memory—one that haunts my half-awake nights. If I could change anything, it would be that moment. Too bad life doesn't give us "do-overs," only tomorrows filled with regret and the hope for something better.

     "Hope." Another feeling locked in a heart chamber. A dangerous emotion if freed, along with "faith." Empty promises.

     A spider crawls across my leg and I flip it with my fingers, gauging how many feet I propelled the injured arachnid. Six feet is my furthest target. Depends on size and if I've got time to even care. Sometimes a mere brush off works, but most of the time, it's a slam—instant death
     "Death." The stench of it reeks in the air. At first, the metallic smell of blood crashed into me like a freight train, bile constantly licking the back of my throat. But now, it's a familiar scent, along with sweat, decay, and other acrid aromas blending into the air filling my lungs, day in…day out. My clothes and skin are stained with the remnants of other lives that no longer exist.

     "Exhausted." I'm always on high alert, every muscle tensed to the point of hot pain by days end, teeth ground down and sensitive from always being clenched, dirt crusted in my ears and around the edges of my nose, the corners of my eyes, and rimming my lips. I learned quickly not to lick my lips. After a day of pushing the nervous system to extreme limits, sometimes, breathing, but most the time not, your mouth is dry, lips cracked and caked with the world around you. Nothing savory, trust me.

     The sun pops over the hills in the distance, a beacon—announcement that the day has begun, the game in play. All things making noise are in motion, the smell of fuel mixing with the faint aroma of weak coffee. Dust curls around me as bodies move through the dirt, shuffling to the required destinations. My back aches from sleeping at odd angles, my elbow raw from leaning on small rocks while I write this—a necessary discomfort.

     Something in my gut tells me I need written proof of my existence today—that I woke, urinated, and consumed my morning rations before swinging my armor clad body into the seat I'll occupy for today's tour. Someone else sat here yesterday. I didn't see them at breakfast.

     The tank starts its slow crawl, the power oozing through each metal screw, rivet, and around the bullet dents, proof the design of the iron shield worked at the moment. Beneath me, I feel the rumble of the enormous treads mashing the ground and the remains of yesterday into the pasty pallid earth. I have to hurry and finish these last words. I can already hear the ear piercing whistles of missiles in the distant, the burnt scent of innocent, and not-so-innocent, lives terminated wafting up my nostrils.

     To my lost girlfriend…be happy. That's all I ever want for you.

     To my sister…love your kids unconditionally. Hug and kiss them everyday, once for me, and tell them how terrific they are, even if you feel like strangling them.

     To my little brother…I don't know if you won the state championship in basketball, but know that the victory isn't what matters. It's the journey in getting there where you'll learn about yourself—what you're made of. Don't let anything anyone says to you ever define you, got that? Praise swells your head, criticism drains your self worth. Be true to yourself and whatever the hell you become, give it your all. I'll kick your ass, otherwise. And be nice to Mom and Dad. They're saints and love you…all of us.

     Mom, you're my first and only true love. You hold my heart and because of you, I have the strength to face today. Thanks for loving me, despite my efforts to change your mind.

     Lastly, Dad…sorry for being such a screw-up those last weeks. I was scared—still am. I've crapped my pants and cried more than when I was an infant. I want to make you proud. I want to be everything you've hung your hopes on…I want to be like you.

     A plume of black smoke blinds me, turning daylight to the darkest night in an instant. My cue to fold this paper into a tiny square and tuck it in the pocket over my heart. Hopefully, tonight I can burn it in the "Dear John" can we ceremoniously turn all the bad shit to ash. 

     If not…

Take a moment during your day, the one filled with all the things you get a choice in doing, and remember those who, while fighting for our freedom, don't have the luxury of choosing how their day may end. Granted, none of us do, but those overseas...far from home, family, and all the things we enjoy at this moment are more likely to find a grim reaper around the corner than you or me. Say a prayer, wish on a star, send a message of hope into the universe that those who lost the battles of old, will stand watch over those fighting the new ones. And to those who have lost loved ones, know that this author is grateful for the sacrifice and will never take for granted the freedoms I have in my life through the loss of theirs.  

Blessed Veteran's Day to all deserving of the title and those who love them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hallowed Secrets - The End


Fresh dirt ironically smells clean—raw and untouched. If it didn't stain, dirt could almost be considered sterile. Except for the worms. I dug my fingers into the floor I lay on, attempting to push myself up. A sharp pain squeezed around my ankle and grounded me.
"Help!" My plea was met with a mouthful of damp loam. Maybe even a worm. Another pile of soil showered over my head. "Stop!" I screeched. I didn't dare turn my face up for fear of getting dirt in my eyes.
"Sam? Sam are you all right? I'm so sorry, I didn't know there was a hole—"
"It's a grave, Ashley! A freakin' grave!"
Ashley leaned over the edge stretching out her arm. "Grab my hand, Sam." Another clump of damp loam tumbled over the back of my shoulders, a rock hitting my head.
"Ouch! Ashley, don't move. Every time you get near the edge, more dirt falls in. I'm afraid I'm going to be buried alive! Besides, I think I've twisted my ankle. You can't possibly pull me out."
"What can I do?"
A flat drop of water splashed my cheek, followed by by a couple more. Unbelievable! I was living the cliché horror movie. The thunderstorm…the power flickering out…the sixteen year old babysitting for some strangers at a remote house on the outskirts of civilization... All I needed was the—
Bang! Boom!
A loud clap of thunder rearranged my internal organs. In my reverie I pictured the doorbell ringing with a slasher-dude in a hockey mask waiting on the other side, but a flash of lightning zigzagging across the sky with an ear-piercing crack at the end was definitely worse. Now I could just sit in this hole and wait for either the sides to slither away and cover me in mud, or water to fill up my earthen bathtub until I drowned.
Ashley lowered a shovel handle. "Here, hold on to this."
I wrapped my cold fingers around the rough wood and struggled to get on my knees but my leg wouldn't cooperate. "I can't!" I cried out, feeling my hands slip down the shaft, a splinter slicing the delicate skin on the end of my index finger.
Ashley bent over the side of the grave, pushing a small landslide my direction. "Damn! I'm sorry, Sam! I'm going to get help. Don't move!"
Real funny. Another clap of thunder sent me cowering in a slimy corner. "Ashley? Ashley! Don't leave me!"
"Sam, I have to. I can't get you out. I promise I'll be right back."
She peered over the side, her hair hanging like wet spaghetti over a strainer. "What?"
"Tell me the truth. Were you there the night of Kevin's accident? Were you in the middle of the road?"
Ashley sat on the side of the hole, her mud-covered legs pulled tight to her chest. "Sam, I didn't know it was Kevin. Jason was supposed to meet me at a party, but he texted me and told me to go to hell. He was going to talk to you and didn't want to see me anymore. I smoked some pot with a group of people out by the pool. Of course I spilled my guts to some guy, tried to make out with him, but he pushed me away. Another rejection."
More raindrops started falling and Ashley stood. I panicked, trying one last time to get to my knees, but landed with a splash.
"Sam, I got really messed up at the party. I texted Jason to come get me, or I thought it was Jason. I told him where to get me and I stood in the road. I wanted to teach him a lesson for hurting me. When the car came around the bend, it was your car and I thought 'how fitting' that you and he would be together to play the ultimate dare game. But it wasn't you…or Jason. It was Kevin. He didn't know how to play the game. I froze, Sam. I couldn't jump out of the way in time. He swerved—the wrong way. He didn't go into the parking lot…"
"…He went over the edge," I finished. "Ashley, was Kevin the guy who rejected you at the party?" She nodded, her arms folding tight across her. I could see her shoulders shake with the sobs.
"He must have punched his number in my phone before…he must have got the text…"
My heart sank. I'd taken the keys to Kevin's car when Jason picked me up, but left mine behind without thinking. Of course his number would have been the last one in Ashley's phone when she texted…he would have come to her rescue. Kevin was like that."
"Ashley, don't…"
She dropped to her knees. "I didn't sleep with Jason either. I lied. I've been so hurt, so lost and scared. Jason was all I had left and he chose you. Maybe that's why I thought your brother's death was the trade off. Sick, I know."
A stolen soul for a broken heart.
She jumped to her feet. "I'm going to get help. Keep yelling out, in case someone comes into the cemetery. I'll be back, I promise."
Another crack of thunder split the heavens open. I yelled after Ashley, but my cry came back to me, flat…unheard. Enough water had pooled in my muddy hole to cover my feet. I shouted for help several times, but no answer.
What if Ashley left me here on purpose? Maybe she dug the grave herself…lured me to gaping hole hoping to bury me? She knew where to find a shovel.
Rain poured in heavy sheets. I had no idea how long Ashley had been gone. No one knew I'd wandered into the cemetery. No clue was ever found because I had tucked it in my pocket. Ashley could have gone back to the school and if any one questioned my whereabouts, she could simply shrug her delicate shoulders and innocently deny having seen me. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day…or next week, they'd find my shriveled body under a thick blanket of caked mud.
No connection to Ashley would ever be made…just like the night of Kevin's death. The truth would die with me. Not even Jason knew the whole truth…how she wanted to punish him, maybe even me. If Jason had been driving—the thought made my stomach hurt.
Kevin? No answer from beyond either.
I propped my head on a folded arm. Cold water lapped against my cheek and my throat was the only hot part of my body, scorched from yelling. So this would be my fate. I'd shut my eyes and simply go to sleep. No fanfare…no dramatic exit. I'd take all the hallowed secrets from tonight with me. I closed my eyes, the streamlets of water filling my exposed ear…

"Sam? Wake up sleepy head." A light kiss graced each eyelid and warm arms wrapped me tight. "I need to go before your parents find me."
"W-what?" I bolted upright. My bedroom remained shrouded in the lavender shades of early morning. "H-how did I get here?"
Jason sat up, his expression puzzled. "Uh, we ditched the fundraiser and had our own private Halloween Party. Your parents were gone….remember?"
I scrambled out of bed and wrapped in my robe, feeling a slight jolt of pain in my ankle. "Ouch. When did I twist my foot?"
"When we were running from my car to your porch. You slipped on the wet grass. Does it hurt still?"
"A little." Why can't I remember? I whirled around. Bedding covered Jason's lower body and I wondered if the rest of him was as bare as his chest…or me. "Did we?"
Jason dropped his eyes, a ghost of a smile curling his mouth. "Wow, one beer and you don't remember? Maybe I should give you a refresher course—"
Dazed, I was about to ask how I went from muddy hellhole to in bed with my boyfriend, when someone tapped on my window. Startled, I jumped, just as Jamie crawled through. She looked at her twin brother.
"Dude, you better be dressed or stay put until I leave."
"Shhh!" Jason said. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought you guys might want to know the latest. I snuck over to the Gas-N-Go early this morning to meet the chemistry geek, Marcus, for coffee, who you were right, Sam, is not such a geek—"
"Long story shortened, sis?"
"Patience, bro. Anyway, we're sitting in the booth back by the coffee machine and these two cops come in—not anyone who's pulled me over before. They're talking about some girl they found dead in an open grave in Johnstown Cemetery. Guess who?"
Jason and I exchanged a glance waiting. "Who?" I finally asked.
"Ashley. Guess she slipped and fell in somehow. She must have been unconscious because she was face down and sadly, drowned in a puddle."
I felt the room sway. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Marcus's brother is a cop and he verified with him. Last night when it started raining, the party broke up. You two had already split. Me and the 'geek twins' never did get to the cemetery to find the last clue. Maybe if we had, we'd have seen something or heard her. Everyone's going to be freaked out when the news breaks later. Anyway, loverboy, you better get home before Mommy discovers you're gone." Jamie gave a small wave and slipped back out my bedroom window.
"Jason, you sure you didn't talk to Ashley last night? About Ike's party? Kevin's accident?"
Jason pulled on his boxers and jeans. Crap.
"No. Should I have? And why would I talk to Ashey about Kevin's accident? It's not like she was there or anything."
"I thought you two—" Jason looked genuinely bewildered. Had I dreamt everything? The conversation? The scene in the graveyard? The fight between Jason and Ashley?"
"Babe, did you and Ashley ever have sex at Ike's party?"
"No! I went to the party and she was there, but I was too worried about you and didn't stay. Yeah, she tried her usual tricks, but I never even kissed her—I swear. Babe, we already talked about this." Jason tipped my chin, stared in my eyes. "Sam, I know you've had a hard time since Kevin died, but are you all right?"
"Did I disappear last night?"
He kissed me gently. "Only with me." He lifted the window. "Wanna catch a movie tonight?"
He slipped out and I walked into the bathroom and checked myself in the mirror. My hair showed no sign of being caked in mud. My clothes were in a heap at the foot of the bed, also clean. I picked up my jeans. Dry. A piece of paper stuck out of the pocket. 

A stolen soul for a broken heart seemed like a fair trade.
But things went wrong, the timing off, the game suddenly changed.
I took my place on the stage waiting for a rescue that never came.
The lights too bright, the edge too close—the faces not the same.
Life is never what it seems and soon everyone will forget
Except for one who holds the clue and keeps the hallowed secret.

            I ran the mysterious poem through the shredder next to my desk and picked up my clothes, only to drop them with a sudden prick. I lifted my finger to the sunlight peeking through the blinds and removed a splinter from the tip of my index finger.